Cracking an order at them in his best garbled Spanish, Bob clambered into the pilot’s seat. He was understood, and better, was obeyed. One man gingerly approached the propeller and started twirling it, while the other went to the side of the plane and helped push it forward.
The propeller began to whirl furiously as Bob worked the starting mechanism. The Mexicans leaped out of the way. The plane began to bump ahead.
Shouts of anger burst forth at the same moment, there was the crack of a rifle, and a bullet sang unpleasantly close to Bob’s ears. Out of the tail of his eye he could see a number of dark figures running toward him from the grove.
But Bob did not wait to be interviewed. With a swoop, the airplane left the ground and started upward. His pursuers were so close at hand they could almost grasp the wheels, as they leaped upward. Yet not quite. Bullets whistled about him, and several pinged against the body of the machine with a sharp metallic ring. Bob thanked his stars that the plane had an all-metal body. Once above pursuit, he was safe from stray rifle shots.
With a curse the baffled Muller, who had been quick to realize that if one masquerader was not Morales, then the other was not Von Arnheim, watched the airplane shoot away at dizzying speed and disappear beyond the guarding hills to the north.
Then he turned back toward the ranch house, eager to learn how the pursuit of Jack had ended.
But for young Herr Muller and the Calomares ranch in general the night alarms were not ended. In fact, they had just begun.
Before Muller on his return trip had reached the belt of trees, while the search for Jack, who had mysteriously disappeared, went on merrily within the Calomares palace, and while Bob was yet flying over the hills to the north, rebel pickets below him were attacked by Mexican government troops.
It was an attack in force.
“Viva, Obregon,” shouted the attackers.
The rebels on the northern rampart of hills defending the natural amphitheatre where the Calomares ranch was located, fell back hurriedly. They were outnumbered.
Out of the huddled buildings, which the boys had only glimpsed at the rear of the great ranch house boiled scores of rebel soldiery, rubbing the sleep from their eyes, hugging their rifles as they trotted forward in bare feet. Within the house, the search for Jack was temporarily abandoned, while the peppery little Don Fernandez Calomares, alarmed at this night attack which might mean that the government troops were in force, hastened to take command outdoors.
To Bob, who having crossed the crest of the hill had shut off his motor and volplaning, the shots and cries of the attackers came distinctly. He had intended making a hazardous landing beyond the rebel lines and returning afoot to try and rescue Jack. But this newest development in the situation caused him to open the motor and start to spiralling upward.