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THE PROFESSOR'S UNKNOWN LAND.

from The Lost City





There was neither time nor opportunity for taking notes, for that
long rope straightened out in the fraction of a second, throwing
all prostrate as the flying-machine was jerked upward with awful
force.

All around them raged and roared the mighty winds, while missiles
of almost every description pelted and pounded both machine and
inmates during those few seconds of extraordinary peril.

Fortunately neither the professor nor his nephews could fairly
realise just what was taking place, else their brains would
hardly have stood the test; and fortunately, too, that ordeal was
not protracted.

A hideous experience while it lasted, those vicious currents
dragging the aerostat upward out of the air-chamber by means of
grapnel and rope, then casting all far away in company with
wrecked trees and bushes, and even solider materials, all
shrouded for a time in dust and debris, which hindered the
eyesight of both uncle and nephews.

Through it all the brothers were dimly aware of one fact uncle
Phaeton was shrilly bidding them cling fast and have courage.

All at once they felt as though vomited forth from a volcano
which alternately breathed fire and ice, the clear light of
evening bursting upon their aching, smarting eyes with actual
pain, while that horrid roar of warring elements seemed to pass
away in the distance, leaving them--where, and how?

"We're falling to--merciful heavens! Hold fast, all!" screamed
the professor, desperately striving to regain full command of
their air-ship. "The tiller is jammed, but--"

To all seeming, the aerostat had sustained some fatal damage
during that brief eruption caused by the professor's little
experiment, for it was pitching drunkenly end for end, refusing
to obey the hand of its builder, bearing all to certain death
upon the earth far below.

Half stupefied with fear, the brothers clung fast to the
life-line and glared downward, noting, in spite of themselves,
how swiftly yonder dark tree-tops and gray crags were shooting
heavenward to meet them and claim the sacrifice.

With fierce energy Professor Featherwit jerked and wrenched at
the steering-gear, uttering words such as had long been foreign
to his lips, but then--just when destruction appeared
inevitable--a wild cry burst from his lungs, as a broken bit of
native wood came away in his left hand, leaving the lever free as
of old!

And then, with a dizzying swoop and rapid recovery, the gallant
air-ship came back to an even keel, sailing along with old-time
grace and ease, barely in time to avoid worse mishap as the crest
of a tall tree was brushed in their passage.

"Saved,--saved, my lads!" screamed the professor, as his
heart-pet soared upward once more until well past the
danger-line. "Safe and sound through all,--praises be unto the
Lord, our Father!"

Neither brother spoke just then, for they lay there in half
stupor, barely able to realise the wondrous truth: that their
lives had surely been spared them, even as by a miracle!

That swooping turn now brought their faces towards the tornado,
which was at least a couple of miles distant, rapidly making that
distance greater even while continuing its work of destruction.

"And we--were in it!" huskily muttered Bruno, his lids closing
with a shiver, as he averted his face, unwilling to see more.

"Heap sight worse than being in the soup, too, if anybody asks
you," declared Waldo, beginning to rally both in strength and in
spirit. "But--what's the matter with the old ship, uncle
Phaeton?"

For the aerostat was indulging itself in sundry distressing
gyrations, pretty much as a boy's kite swoops from side to side,
when lacking in tail-ballast, while the professor seemed unable
to keep the machine under complete control.

"Nothing serious, only--hold fast, all! I believe 'twould be as
well to make our descent, for fear something--steady!"

Just ahead there appeared a more than usually open space in the
forest, and, quite as much by good luck as through actual skill,
Professor Featherwit succeeded in making a landing with no more
serious mishap than sundry bruises and a little extra
teeth-jarring.

As quickly as possible, both Bruno and Waldo pitched themselves
out of the partially disabled aeromotor, the elder brother
grasping the grapnel and taking a couple of turns of the strong
rope around a convenient tree-trunk, lest the ship escape them
altogether.

"No need, my gallant boy!" assured the professor, an instant
later. "All is well,--all IS well, thanks to an over-ruling
Providence!"

In spite of this expressed confidence, he hurriedly looked over
his pet machine, taking note of such injuries as had been
received during that remarkable journey, only giving over when
fairly satisfied that all damage might be readily made good,
after which the aerostat would be as trustworthy as upon its
first voyage on high.

Then, grasping the brothers each by a hand, he smiled genially,
then lifted eyes heavenward, to a moment later sink upon his
knees with bowed head and hands folded across his bosom.

Bruno and Waldo imitated his action, and, though no audible words
were spoken, never were more heartfelt prayers sent upward, never
more grateful thanks given unto the Most High.

Boy, youth, and man alike seemed fairly awed into silence for the
next few minutes, unable to so soon cast off the spell which had
fallen upon them, one and each, when realising how mercifully
their lives had been spared, even after all earthly hope had been
abandoned.

As usual, however, Waldo was first to rally, and, after silently
moving around the aerostat, upon which the professor was already
busily at work by the last gleams of the vanished sun, he paused,
legs separated, and hands thrust deep into pockets, head perking
on one side as he spoke, drawlingly:

"I say, uncle Phaeton?"

"What is it, Waldo?"

"It'll never do to breathe even a hint of all this, will it?"

"Why so, pray?"

"Whoever heard it would swear we were bald-headed liars right
from Storytown! And yet,--did it really happen, or have I been
dreaming all the way through?"

Professor Featherwit gave a brief, dry chuckle at this, rising
erect to cast a deliberate glance around their present location,
then speaking:

"Without I am greatly mistaken, my dear boy, you will have still
other marvellous happenings to relate ere we return to what is,
rightfully or wrongfully, called civilisation."

"Is that so? Then you really reckon--"

"For one thing, my lad, we are now fairly entered upon a terra
incognita, so far as our own race is concerned. In other
words,--behold, the Olympics!"

Both Bruno and Waldo cast their eyes around, but only a
circumscribed view was theirs. The shades of evening were
settling fast, and on all sides they could see but mighty trees,
rugged rocks, a mountain stream from whose pebbly bed came a
soothing murmur.

"Nothing so mighty much to brag of, anyway," irreverently quoth
Waldo, after that short-lived scrutiny. "It wouldn't fetch a
dollar an acre at auction, and for my part,--wonder when the gong
will sound for supper?"

That blunt hint was effective, and, letting the subject drop for
the time being, even the professor joined in the hurry for an
evening meal, to which one and all felt able to do full justice.

Although some rain had fallen at this point as well, no serious
difficulty was experienced in kindling a fire, while Waldo had
little trouble in heaping up a bounteous supply of fuel.

Through countless ages the forest monarchs had been shedding
their superfluous boughs, while here and there lay an entire
tree, overthrown by some unknown power, and upon which the
brothers made heavy requisition.

Professor Featherwit took from the locker a supply of tinned
goods, together with a patent coffee-pot and frying-pan, so
convenient where space is scarce and stowage-room precious.

With water from the little river, it took but a few minutes more
to scent the evening with grateful fumes, after which the
adventurous trio squatted there in the ruddy glow, eating,
sipping, chatting, now and again forced to give thanks for their
really miraculous preservation after all human hopes had been
exhausted.

Although Professor Featherwit was but little less thankful for
the wondrous leniency shown them, he could not altogether refrain
from mourning the loss of his camera, with its many snap-shots at
the tornado itself, to say nothing of what he might have secured
in addition, while riding the storm so marvellously.

More to take his thoughts away from that loss than through actual
curiosity in the subject offered by way of substitute, Bruno
asked for further light upon the so-called terra incognita.

"Of course it isn't really an unknown land, though, uncle
Phaeton?" he added, almost apologetically. "In this age, and
upon our own continent, such a thing is among the
impossibilities."

"Indeed? And, pray, how long since has it been that you would,
with at least equal positivity, have declared it impossible to
enter a tornado while in wildest career, yet emerge from it with
life and limb intact?"

"Yes, uncle, but--this is different, by far."

"In one sense, yes; in another, no," affirmed the professor, with
emphatic nod, brushing the tips of his fingers together, as he
moved back to assume a more comfortable position inside the
air-ship, then quickly preparing a pipe and tobacco for his
regular after-meal smoke.

A brief silence, then the professor spoke, clearly, distinctly:

"Washington has her great unknown land, quite as much as has the
interior of Darkest Africa, my boys, besides enjoying this
peculiar advantage: while adventurous white men have traversed
those benighted regions in every direction, even though little
permanent good may have been accomplished, this terra incognita
remains virgin in that particular sense of the word."

"You mean, uncle?"

"That here in the Olympic region you see what is literally an
unknown, unexplored scope of country, as foreign to the foot of
mankind as it was countless ages gone by. So far as history
reads, neither white man nor red has ever ventured fairly within
these limits; a mountainous waste which rises from the level
country, within ten or fifteen miles of the Straits of San Juan
de Fuca, in the north, the Pacific Ocean in the west, Hood's
Canal in the east, and the barren sand-hills lying to the far
south.

"This irregular range is known upon the map as the Olympics, and,
rising to the height of from six to eight thousand feet, shut in
a vast unexplored area.

"The Indians have never penetrated it, so far as can be
ascertained, for their traditions say that it is inhabited by a
very fierce tribe of warriors, before whose might and strange
weapons not one of the coast tribes can stand."

"One of the Lost Tribes of Israel, shouldn't wonder," drawlingly
volunteered Waldo, stifling a yawn, and forced to rub his
inflamed eyes with a surreptitious paw.

Professor Featherwit, though plainly absorbed in his curious
theory, was yet quick to detect this evidence of weariness, and
laughed a bit, with change of both tone and manner, as he spoke
further:

"That forms but a partial introductory to my lecture, dear lads,
but perhaps it might be as well to postpone the rest for a more
propitious occasion. You have undergone sore trials, both
of--Hark!"

Some sound came to his keen ears, which the brothers failed to
catch, but as they bent their heads in listening, another noise
came, which proved startling enough, in all conscience,--a
shrill, maniacal screech, which sent cold chills running races up
each spine.





Next: A BRACE OF UNWELCOME VISITORS.

Previous: THE PROFESSOR'S LITTLE EXPERIMENT.



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