“There comes the call again!” whispered Curt. “It was ‘help!’”
Bob sent the boat through the mirrorlike water. He headed for the
immersed nose of the airplane and as they rounded the cabin, part of it
sticking up forlornly, Curt lifted a hand to point.
“Look! There is the parachute, partly inflated, floating on the water.”
“It looks as though the pilot tried to get out of the cabin, and either
pulled his ripcord too soon, or else some part of the harness caught and
held him—until too late!”
Sobered and worried, wondering just what to do and who had called, they
sent their eyes questing here and there—into as much of the cabin as
they could see from the window just under the transparent surface of
Rocky Lake, but without result.
“I thought he might be caught in the cabin,” said Bob. “But I can’t see
“There he is—see! Out on the lake!” Curt pointed. “He’s swimming.”
Bob pushed away from the fuselage of the sinking craft, and with a sweep
brought the bow of their boat around.
“Oh!” he caught sight of a head bobbing in the water, “oh, Curt—I’m so
Rowing hard, he sent the boat toward the swimmer.
“So am I.” Curt’s voice was relieved. “The pilot escaped.”
“But—it can’t be the pilot, Curt.”
“Why not?”
“He has been swimming toward the ’plane, from out in the lake.”
“I know, Bob, but he may have seen us.”
“But he’d have part of the parachute harness on,” Bob objected.
“Probably he slashed it off. Maybe he saw it was too late to get out,
that the ’chute was too low, and he slashed himself free and started to
swim across the water——”
“No. He’d have come to this closer shore, and landed on the wharf.”
They watched the man, treading water as he saw them coming.
Across the water a call floated clearly to them.
“Did you hear—a call—for help?”
“We thought we did,” Bob called back, and, as they came closer the man
spoke less loudly.
“I don’t see anybody.”
“Then you aren’t the pilot?”
“He can’t be!” Curt commented when the man failed to reply, being busy
clearing water from his eyes to look around the lake again.
“Haven’t seen anybody at all,” the man spoke as he caught the gunwale
and pulled himself up and into the boat with Curt’s aid. “Heard a shout,
though. Row back boys, to that thing.”
They went back over the course. The stranger, studying the aircraft,
seemed very much disturbed and worried. He had a hand ready to catch the
struts of a wing as they swung under the tilted airfoil: while Bob
stowed the needless oar on that side he drew the boat forward.
“We didn’t see anything in the cabin. We looked, before,” Bob explained.
“Untie that painter,” the stranger ordered. “I’m going down under the
nose, and the mud might hold me—so, if I signal, you pull.” As Curt
unknotted the tying rope and threw it to him, the man looped an end
under his arms, knotting it swiftly, flung the short coil to Bob and
lowered himself, disappearing into the water, his descent stirred up
mud, moiling the water. Down he went, hidden almost at once in the murky
Paying out the rope until it grew slack, Bob took a turn around a
rowlock, and they waited breathlessly. Some bubbles floated up and
broke. Then came a tug on the rope.
Curt, who had already come to the midships section, helped Bob tug and
haul in the wet manilla strands. The stranger came up through the murky
water, emerged, shook himself free of the liquid, caught the boat and
shook his head.
“Not in the cabin—only thing I can think of is—if he tried to jump and
got under the thing.”
Very soberly the youths helped him back into the boat.
People were arriving on the bank, shouting to one another, calling for
information, shipping oars in boats. Al, having met several motorists,
had spread the alarm, and then had ridden on to telephone the police and
to report the crash.
Al, having returned, was in the second boat to arrive by the slowly
sinking craft.
Bob gave him a concise report while they pushed away from the place to
enable a deputy sheriff to take command and to jot down the stranger’s
explanation and their own, from Curt.
“I wish you boys would row me across the little bayou, here,” the man
said. Al had transferred to their boat by that time.
“Take me to that point, over there,” the man added. “It’s closest to
where I dropped my motorcycle when I saw the thing happen.”
Bob nodded. The presence of the motorcycle beyond the lake, where it was
nearest to the road, explained why they had seen the man swimming toward
them. He must have heard and seen the airplane, watched its descent, and
then rushed to see what he could do.
“But won’t the police want you to testify, or whatever it is?” asked Al.
The man shook his head.
“No,” he replied. “If they do, they can find me soon enough. I’m off to
get into dry duds. I didn’t waste time riding around the end of the
lake. I dropped my motorcycle and ran in to see what I could see.” He
smiled, sadly. “I guess I was too late, even at that.”
Thanking them as he climbed onto the rocky shore, he pushed the bow of
their boat into the stream again, and watched them turn in the still
“You can tell the police I didn’t think they’d need me right away,” he
called. “I’m passing through this section, and I don’t want to be held
up and kept here for any sort of investigation. You saw as much as I
did. Well—goodbye!”
He turned, and as they heard the “crash ’bus” arriving from the airport
in a nearby city of which they lived in the suburbs, Bob rowed his two
young companions back toward the airplane.
The police came, and many others with them and after them.
Preparations were made to drag under the craft, and to lift it, if
tackle could be gotten into suitable position, to see if any trace of
the missing pilot could be discovered.
Nothing further developed, however, and one of the “mechs” with the
airport ’bus told Bob it would be afternoon before they got the
monoplane out. The three comrades had given the police lieutenant all
the information they could. There was a healthy appetite making itself
felt among them.
“Let’s go home,” Bob suggested.
“Wait, all of you,” urged the reporter for a small suburban daily. “I’ll
make heroes of you yet.”
Protesting that they had done nothing heroic and that they did not want
to be “put in the paper” for doing their duty, Curt and Bob refused to
answer any questions. The police, Bob said, might not want information
published. He did not know, but he would prefer not to talk. “Oh, I
see—there is a mystery, then!” the reporter declared. “Well, if you
won’t talk—” he began to write swiftly.

“If we won’t talk,” Bob commented as the trio walked toward their
bicycles. “He’ll write something anyhow.”
“It’s queer that there isn’t any trace of the pilot.” Al’s mind returned
to the tragic part of the crash.
“Maybe he jumped clear, got away and went into the water, and then,
coming up, got to land. He may be on shore, somewhere, hurt, or too weak
to make himself known.”
Curt’s explanation renewed their hope.
“Let’s hope it’s that way,” said Bob. “Well, we’ve got a long road to
breakfast. Mother will be just about wild. I left a note, but she will
worry about Al and me, just the same. If we go to the ball park and
don’t get home within half an hour after the game, she frets.”
“Excuse me, boys.” A pleasant voice behind them caused the three to
wheel around. They saw a pleasant-faced man, beside an automobile,
parked close to the bicycles they were disentangling. “If you want to
get home in a hurry, pile the bicycles in that little comfort station
over there, and tell the attendant ‘Barney’ said to look out for them.
I’m from the aircraft plant, and as long as I can’t do anything here, if
you’ll hop into my car I’ll ride you home while you give me the facts as
well as you know them about this smash. It’s a bad thing, and I want to
get as straight as I can what happened.”
They were very grateful to Barney, who neglected to furnish any other
name. He waited until they had stowed away the bicycles, and while he
drove them toward the village he questioned them rapidly.
“I think you are all very brave, and quick, and fine,” he commented,
after they had, in turn, recited their adventures. “You acted splendidly
and I thank you very much.”
Al looked surprised.
“We did our duty,” he replied. “But why are you thanking us? I know it
was one of the Tredway airplanes because we were in it, with Lang,
yesterday on check-up. But who was in it, and what do you think
“The owner of the manufacturing plant was in it,” said Barney, very
soberly and sadly. “Mr. Tredway was flying it himself. He wanted to
deliver it in person—for a reason.”
“For a reason?” Bob repeated, inquiringly.
“Yes,” said Barney. “There is a mystery behind that crack-up—it’s more
likely it’s a ‘washout.’ Anyhow, there is something behind the smash,
and—I’ve heard there is a private detective, a Mr. Wright, at Forty-one
Elm. If you can tell me the quickest way to get there, I’ll appreciate
it. I want to consult him—on this case.”
Bob, Curt and Al stared.
“That’s father!” said Al.
“Indeed! Then I am glad I offered you a ‘lift.’”
They directed him, and eventually he drew up the car before the neat,
cozy cottage. Curtis, accepting the invitation to stay for their
somewhat belated breakfast, sat, with Bob and Al, in the cheerful
breakfast room, finishing up a stack of pancakes thickly syruped, when
Bob was sent for.
Returning, after a few minutes, he showed his younger brother and his
best friend a face of elation.
“There is a mystery, all righty,” he declared. “And you’re to come with
“Why?” asked Curt.
“Because,” retorted Bob, “we’re—in—on—it!” As the others jumped up he
added, “Father’s home and he’s taken a real air mystery case!”