Smaller and smaller grew the circles, as with engine shut off he volplaned. The field was hard-packed and smooth and the plane alighted finally with practically no jar. When it came to a dead stop at last, Bob drew a long breath of relief. He had not been up for several weeks. And night flying above strange country to a landing on unfamiliar ground had been a strain upon him.
There were no mechanics running out to greet the alighting plane and trundle it into its hangar. Had this been a well-appointed landing field, such absence would have been suspicious. But to Bob and Jack it meant only confirmation of Roy Stone’s remark that they were a “careless lot at the ranch.”
“Now for it,” said Jack, clambering out of the plane.
The two chums stared around them, trying to pierce the darkness. They were in the middle of a long and wide field. A ring of low hills encircled them, the tops clearly outlined against the velvety sky. Overhead twinkled stars, brighter, warmer and apparently closer than when viewed in their Long Island home.
The hills on either hand were close. So, too, was the rampart at their back, over which they had flown. Those ahead were more distant, for it was in that direction extended the valley. Behind them was the radio plant with its tracery of tower and antenna against the sky and the windows of the power house gleaming from the light within. Ahead was a long, irregular clump of buildings set among trees. Some were dark. But the main structure, which they knew from Stone’s description was the ranch house, was brightly lighted.
Try as they would to pierce the darkness, the boys were unable to discern anything other than this. There was not a human figure in sight.
They gazed with especial interest toward the ranch house, because it was somewhere within those walls that Mr. Hampton was held prisoner. Soon, if all went well, Jack would be making his way within in search of his father. At the thought, his heart which heretofore had been calm enough, began to beat rapidly and for a moment he felt as if he were about to suffocate. His breath almost failed him. It was a not unnatural feeling, and soon passed, but Bob noting the labored breathing climbed from the airplane and put an arm over his chum’s shoulder.
“Steady, Jack,” he said. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
The friendly gesture and the sympathy in his chum’s voice did steady Jack.
“All right, now, Bob,” he said. “Just at first, though——”
“Righto,” the big fellow answered. “I’m scared stiff myself, and I’m not even going into the ranch. If I were in your boots I’d probably be shaking myself loose from them.”
The pleasantry was what Jack needed. He grinned at the thought of big Bob shaking so much with fear as to shake off his shoes, and his recovery was complete.
The plan was for Jack, in the dress and character of Morales, to go to the ranch house, enter boldly and make his way to the room where his father was held prisoner. Bob was to stay with the plane. Releasing his father, Jack would return with him. Then they would all three fly away across the international boundary to the north.