Friday, December 4, 2009

Fiction Friday: Part 2 of Chapter 1 of The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship!

or see it in annotated form at:

Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship, Chapter 1, Annotated

But as she crossed the threshold Peggy’s wild swoop became a decorous stroll, so to speak. She paused, all out of breath, beneath a spreading expanse of yellow balloon silk, braced and strengthened with brightly gleaming wires and stays – one wing of the big monoplane upon which her brother had spent all his spare time for the past year. The flying thing was almost completed now. It stood in its shed, with its scarab-like wings outspread like a newly alighted yellow butterfly, which, by a stroke of ill luck, had found itself installed in a gloomy cage instead of the bright, open spaces of its native element.

In one corner of the shed was a large crate surrounded by some smaller ones. The large one had been partially opened and Peggy gave a little squeal of delight as her eyes fell on it.

“Oh, Roy, that’s it?”

“That’s it,” rejoined the boy proudly, lifting a bit of sacking from the contents of the opened crate, “isn’t it a beauty?”

The lifted covering had exposed a gleam of bright, scarlet enamel, and the glint of polished brass. To Roy the contents of that crate was the splendid new motor for his aeroplane. But to Peggy, just then, it was something far different. A bit of a mist dimmed her shining eyes for an instant. Her voice grew very sober.

“Three thousand dollars—oh Roy, it scares me!”

Roy crossed the shed and threw his arm around his sister’s neck.

“Don’t be frightened, sis, he breathed in an assuring tone, “it’s going to be all right. Why, can’t you see that the first thing that happens is a chance to win $5,000?”

“I know that. But that contest is not to come off for more than a month and—and supposing someone should have a better machine than you?”

For an instant that air of absolute assurance, which truth to tell, had made Roy some enemies, and which was his greatest fault, left him. His face clouded and he looked troubled. But it was as momentary as the cloud-shadow that passed over a summer wheat field.

“It’ll be all right, sis,” he rejoined, confidently, “and if it isn’t, I can always sell out to Simson Harding. You know he said that his offer held good at any time.”

“I know that, Roy,” rejoined Peggy, seriously, “but we could never do that. We could neither of us go against father’s wishes like that. He—well, Roy, it’s not to be thought of. Poor dad—”

Her bright eyes filled with tears as her mind travelled back to a scene of a year before when Mr. Prescott had ceased from troubling with the affairs of the world, and commended his children to the care of their maiden aunt—his sister with whom, since their mother’s death some years before, the little family had made their home.

Poor Mr. Prescott had been that hopelessly impractical creature—an inventor. Fortunately for himself, however, he had a small fortune of his own, so that he had been enabled to carry on his dreaming and planning without embarrassing the family. Roy and Peggy had both been sent to good boarding schools, and had known, in fact, very little of home life after their mother’s death which had occurred several years before, as already said.

Mr. Prescott, in his dreamy, abstract way, had cared dearly for his children. But those other children of his—the offsprings of his brain—that surrounded him in his workshop, had, somehow, seemed always to mean more to him. And so the young Prescotts had grown up without the benefit of home influences.

On Peggy’s naturally sweet, vivacious character, this had not made so much difference. But Roy had developed, in spite of his real sterling worth and ability, into a headstrong, rather self-opinionated lad. His success at school in athletics and the studies which he cared about “mugging” at had not tended to decrease these qualities.

It had come as a shock to both of them a year before when two telegrams had been dispatched –one to Peggy’s school up the Hudson, and the other to Roy up in Connecticut, telling them to return to the Long Island village of Sandy Bay at once. Their father—that half-shadowy being—was very ill.

The messages had not exaggerated the seriousness of the situation. Three days after his children reached his side Mr. Prescott gently breathed his last, dying as he had lived, so quietly, that the end had come before they realized it. But in those last brief moments Roy came to know his father better than ever before. He learned that the dream of his parent had been to produce an aeroplane free from the defects of its predecessors—a safe vehicle for passengers or freight. How far he had progressed in this there was no time for him to tell before the end came. But Roy, interested already in aeronautics at school, where he had been president of “The High Flyers”—a model aeroplane association—eagerly took up his father’s desire that he would try to carry on his work, and began to take lessons in flying.

In the shed which had been Mr. Prescott’s workshop the framework of an aeroplane already stood. And with the aid of what money his father had left him, Roy had carried on the work till now it was almost completed. But the three thousand dollars which had gone for the motor had completely exhausted the lad’s legacy. As Peggy put it, all their eggs were in an “aerial basket.”

But how much Peggy had aided him, in what had, in the last few months, possessed all his thoughts, Roy did not guess. To what extent her encouragement had spurred him on to surmount seemingly unconquerable difficulties, and how she had actually aided him in constructing the machine, his ambition never realized. Not innately selfish, Roy was yet too used to having his own way to attribute his success to any one but himself.

Sometimes, brave, loyal little Peggy, try as she might, could not disguise this from herself, and it pained her a good deal. But she had uncomplainingly, ungrudgingly, aided her brother, without hoping for, or expecting, the appreciation she sometimes felt she was really entitled to. But her great love for her brother kept Peggy from ever betraying to him or anyone else an iota of her inner feelings.

So intent had the brother and sister been on their talk that neither of them had noticed, while they conversed, that a big fore-door touring car, aglitter with gleaming maroon paint, and with a long, low hood concealing a powerful engine, had glided up to the white gate in the picket fence surrounding Miss Prescott’s old-fashioned cottage.
FORE-DOOR – not a typo

From it a frank, pleasant-faced lad and an unusually striking girl, tall, slender and with a glossy mass of black hair coiled attractively on her shapely head, had alighted.

Hearing the sound of voices from the open door of the shed in which The Golden Butterfly, as Peggy had christened it, was nearing completion, they, without ceremony, at once made their way toward it. Peggy, glancing up from her sad reverie at the sound of footsteps, gave a glad little cry as she beheld the visitors standing framed in the sunlight of the open door. While she and the tall, dark-haired girl mingled their contrasting tresses in an exuberant school-girl caress, the lad and Roy Prescott were, boy-fashion, slapping one another on the back and shaking hands with just as much enthusiasm.

“Why, if this isn’t simply delightful, Jess, you dear old thing,” cried the delighted Peggy, as, with both hands on her chum’s shoulders, she held Jess Bancroft off at arm’s length, the better to scrutinize her handsome face, “and Jimsy, too,” as she turned to the lad with a bright smile of welcome; “wherever did you two come from?”

“From the clouds?” demanded Roy.

“No, hardly, although I don’t wonder at your asking such a question,” laughed Jess, merrily, exchanging greetings with Roy. “Roy Prescott, positively I can see your wings sprouting.”

They all laughed heartily at this, while Jess ran on to explain that she and her brother were stopping for the summer at Seaview Towers, a summer estate which their father, a Wall Street power, had leased for the season. Of course, explained the merry girl, who had been Peggy’s chum at school, her first thought had been top take a spin over in her new motor car and look up her friends, for Roy and James—or Jimsy—Bancroft had been almost as close chums as the girls.

“And so this is the wonderful Golden Butterfly that you wrote to me about?” exclaimed Jess enthusiastically after the first buzz of conversation subsided.

“Yes, this is it,” said Roy with great satisfaction in his tones, “and I’m proud of it, I can tell you. I think I’ve made a success of it.”

Jess and Jimsy exchanged glances. And then Jess stole a look at Peggy, but no cloud had crossed the face of Roy’s sister.

“Oh, you darling,” thought Jess, “you’re too sweet for anything. I just know how much you contributed to the Golden Butterfly’s existence, and yet you won’t detract a bit from Roy’s self satisfaction.”

As for Jimsy Bancroft, he said nothing. He glanced rather oddly at Roy for an instant. Then his eyes turned to Peggy’s face. Perhaps they dwelt there for rather a long period of time. At any rate, they were still fixed on her brave beauty when a sudden shadow fell across the stream of sunlight that poured into the open portal of the workshop.

“Ah! So this is the place in which young genius finds it habitation,” grated out a rather harsh, unpleasant voice.

They all looked up. Perhaps none of them—Jimsy least of all—was pleased at the interruption. The newcomer was a tall, angular man, with a withered, clean-shaven face—what Peggy called a “monkey making face”; and surely that described Simon Harding, as he stood there’re in his black, none-to-new garments, and his square-toed shoes. One could fairly catch the avaricious glint in his eyes as he squinted rapidly over the new aeroplane’s outlines.

By his side stood a youth who was, so far as dress went at any rate, the exact opposite of the elder man. Fanning Harding—or Fan as he was usually called—was dressed in elaborate motoring costume. His goggles, of the latest and most exaggerated design, were shoved up off his countenance now, exposing to view a good looking browned face. It was marred, however, by the same restless, strained look that could be seen on his father’s visage.

“We’re not intruding, I hope,” he hastened to say, coming forward with a cordiality that seemed somewhat forced.

“Not in the least,” said Peggy, hastily, realizing that none of them had perhaps looked very cordial, “won’t you come in?”

Fan Harding, bestowing an admiring glance on her, seemed to be about to accept. His father, however, struck in:

“I’ll leave you with the young folks, my boy, while I go up to the house. I have some business with Miss Prescott.”

As he shuffled off, Peggy and Roy exchanged somewhat uneasy glances. What business could this old man—in some respects a power financially and otherwise in Sandy Beach—have with their aunt?

“Say Peggy,” spoke up Fan Harding, suddenly, “ain’t you going to introduce me to your friends? And how about inviting us all to have some of those strawberries Pop and I noticed as we came down the path?”

“Well, he isn’t a bit backward about coming forward!” thought Jess as the young couple, with due formality, went through the ceremony of introductions.

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