RESCUED AND RESCUERS.





Despite their very natural excitement, caused by this peril and

its

foiling, Professor Featherwit retained nearly all his customary

coolness and presence of mind.



Readily realising that after such a grim ordeal would almost

certainly come a powerful revulsion, his first aim was to swing

the stranger far enough away from the whirlpool to give him a

fair chance for life, in case he should fall, through dizziness

or physical collapse, from the end of the drag-rope.



This took but a few seconds, comparatively speaking, though,

doubtless, each moment seemed an age to the rescued stranger.

Then the professor slowed his ship, looking around in order to

determine upon the wisest route to take.



For one thing, it would be severe work to draw the stranger

bodily up and into the aerostat. For another, unless he should

grow weak, or suffer from vertigo, both time and labour would be

saved by taking him direct to the shore of this broad lake.



As soon as the rope was made fast, and the strain taken off their

muscles as well as their minds, Bruno flashed a look around,

naturally turning his eyes in the direction of the whirlpool.



Although less than a couple of minutes had elapsed since the man

was lifted off the circling drift, even thus quickly had the end

drawn nigh; for, even as he looked that way, Gillespie saw the

great trunk sucked into the hidden sink, the top rising with a

shiver clear out of the water as the butt lowered, a hollow,

rumbling sound coming to all ears as--



"Gone!" cried Bruno, in awed tones, as the whole drift vanished

from sight for ever.



"Sucked in by Jonah's whale, for ducats!" screamed Waldo,

excitedly. "Fetch on your blessed 'sour-us' of both the male and

female sect! Trot 'em to the fore, and if my little old suck

don't take the starch out of their backbones,--they DID have

backbones, didn't they, uncle Phaeton?"



Professor Featherwit frowned, and shook his head in silent

reproof. More nearly, perhaps, than either of the boys, he

realised what an awful peril this stranger had so narrowly

escaped. It was far too early to turn that escape into jest,

even for one naturally light of heart.



He leaned over the hand-rail, peering downward. He could see the

rescued man sitting firmly in the bend of the grapnel, one hand

tightly gripping the rope, its mate shading his eyes, as he

stared fixedly towards the whirling death-pool, from whose jaws

he had so miraculously been plucked.



There was naught of debility, either of body or of mind, to be

read in that figure, and with his fears on that particular point

set at rest, for the time being, Professor Featherwit called out,

distinctly:



"Is it all well with you, my good friend? Can you hold fast

until the shore is reached, think?"



"Heaven bless you,--yes!" came the reply, in half-choked tones.

"If I fail in giving thanks--"



"Never mention it, friend; it cost us nothing," cheerily

interrupted the professor, then adding, "Hold fast, please, and

we'll put on a wee bit more steam."



The flying-machine was now fairly headed for a strip of shore

which offered an excellent opportunity for making a safe landing,

and as that accelerated motion did not appear to materially

affect the stranger, it took but a few minutes to clear the lake.



"Stand ready to let go when we come low enough, please," warned

the professor, deftly managing his pet machine for that purpose.



The stranger easily landed, then watched the flying-machine with

painfully eager gaze, hands clasped almost as though in prayer.

A more remarkable sight than this half-naked shape, burned brown

by the sun, poorly protected by light skins, with sinew

fastenings, could scarcely be imagined; and there was something

close akin to tears in more eyes than one when he came running in

chase, arms outstretched, and voice wildly appealing:



"Oh, come back! Take me,--don't leave me,--for love of God and

humanity, don't leave me to this living death!"



Professor Featherwit called back a hasty assurance, and brought

the air-ship to a landing with greater haste than was exactly

prudent, all things considered; but who could keep cool blood and

unmoved heart, with yonder piteous object before their eyes?



When he saw that the flying-machine had fairly landed, and beheld

its inmates stepping forth upon the sands with friendly

salutations, the rescued stranger staggered, hands clasping his

temples for a moment of drunken reeling, then he fell forward

like one smitten by the hand of sudden death.



Professor Featherwit called out a few curt directions, which were

promptly obeyed by his nephews, and after a few minutes'

well-directed work consciousness was restored, and the stranger

feebly strove to give them thanks.



In vain these were set aside. He seemed like one half-insane

from joy, and none who saw and heard could think that all this

emotion arose from the simple rescue from the whirlpool. Nor did

it.



Wildly, far from coherently, the poor fellow spoke, yet something

of the awful truth was to be gleaned even from those broken,

disjointed sentences.



For ten years an exile in these horrible wilds. For ten years

not a single glimpse of white face or figure. For ten ages no

intelligible voice, save his own; and that, through long disuse,

had threatened to desert him!



"Ten years!" echoed Waldo, in amazement. "Why didn't you rack

out o' this, then? I know I would; even if the woods were full

of--'sour-us' and the like o' that! Yes, SIR!"



A low, husky laugh came through those heavily bearded lips, and

the stranger flung out his hands in a sweeping gesture, sunken

eyes glowing with an almost savage light as he spoke with more

coherence:



"Why is it, young gentleman? Why did I not leave, do you ask?

Look! All about you it stretches: a cell,--a death-cell, from

which escape is impossible! Here I have fought for what is ever

more precious than bare life: for liberty; but though ten awful

years have rolled by, here I remain, in worse than prison!

Escape? Ah, how often have I attempted to escape, only to fail,

because escape from these wilds is beyond the power of any person

not gifted with wings!"



"Ten years, you say, good friend? And all that time you have

lived here alone?" asked the professor, curiously.



"Ten years,--ten thousand years, I could almost swear, only for

keeping the record so carefully, so religiously. And--pitiful

Lord! How gladly would I have given my good right arm, just for

one faraway glimpse of civilisation! How often--but I am

wearying you, gentlemen, and you may--pray don't think that I am

crazy; you will not?"



Both the professor and Bruno assured him to the contrary, but

Waldo was less affected, and his curiosity could no longer be

kept within bounds. Gently tapping one hairy arm, he spoke:



"I say, friend, what were you doing out yonder in the big suck?

Didn't you know the fun was hardly equal to the risk, sir?"



"Easy, lad," reproved the professor; but with a a smile, which

strangely softened that haggard, weather-worn visage, the

stranger spoke:



"Nay, kind sir, do not check the young gentleman. If you could

only realise how sweet it is to my poor ears,--the sound of a

friendly voice! For so many weary years I have never heard one

word from human lips which I could understand or make answer to.

And now,--what is it you wish to know, my dear boy?"



"Well, since you've lived here so long, surely you hadn't ought

to get caught in such a nasty pickle; unless it was through

accident?"



"It was partly accidental. One that would have cost me dearly

had not you come to my aid so opportunely. And yet,--only for

one thing, I could scarcely have regretted vanishing for ever

down that suck!"



His voice choked, his head bowed, his hands came together in a

nervous grip, all betokening unusual agitation. Even Waldo was

just a bit awed, and the stranger was first to break that silence

with words.



"How did the mishap come about, is it, young gentleman?" he said,

a wan smile creeping into his face, and relaxing those tensely

drawn muscles once more. "While I was trying to replenish my

stock of provisions, and after this fashion, good friends.



"I was fishing from a small canoe, and as the bait was not taken

well, I must have fallen into a day dream, thinking of--no

matter, now. And during that dreaming, the breeze must have

blown me well out into the lake, for when I was roused up by a

sharp jerk at my line, I found myself near its middle, without

knowing just how I came there.



"I have no idea what sort of fish had taken my bait,--there are

many enormous ones in the lake,--but it proved far too powerful

for me to manage, and dragged the canoe swiftly through the

water, heading directly for the outlet, yonder."



"Why didn't you let it go free, then?"



"The line was fastened to the prow, and I could not loosen it in

time. I drew my knife,--one of flint, but keen enough to

serve,--only to have it jerked out of my hand and into the water.

Then, just as the fish must have plunged into the suck, I

abandoned my canoe, jumping overboard."



"That's just what I was wondering about," declared Waldo, with a

vigorous nod of his head. "Yet we found you--there?"



"Because I am a wretchedly poor swimmer. I managed to reach a

drift which had not yet fairly entered the whirl, but I could do

nothing more towards saving myself. Then--you can guess the

rest, gentlemen."



"And the canoe?" demanded Waldo, content only when all points

were made manifest.



"I saw it dragged down the centre of the suck," with an

involuntary shiver. "The fish must have plunged into the

underground river, whether willingly or not I can only surmise.

But all the while I was drifting yonder, around and around, with

each circuit drawing closer to the awful end, I could not help

picturing to myself how the canoe must have plunged down, and

down, and--burr-r-r!"



A shuddering shiver which was more eloquent than words; but Waldo

was not yet wholly content, finding an absorbing interest in that

particular subject.



"You call it a river: how do you know it's a river?"



"Of course, I can only guess at the facts, my dear boy," the

stranger made reply, smiling once more, and, with an almost timid

gesture, extending one hairy paw to lightly touch and gently

stroke the arm nearest him.



Bruno turned away abruptly, for that gesture, so simple in

itself, yet so full of pathos to one who bore in mind those long

years of solitary exile, brought a moisture to his big brown eyes

of which, boy-like, he felt ashamed.



Professor Featherwit likewise took note, and with greater

presence of mind came to the rescue, lightly resting a hand upon

the stranger's half-bare shoulder while addressing his words to

the youngster.



A tremulous sigh escaped those bearded lips, and their owner drew

closer to the wiry little aeronaut, plainly drawing great comfort

from that mere contact. And with like ease uncle Phaeton lifted

one of those hairy arms to rest it over his own shoulders,

speaking briskly the while.



"There is only one way of demonstrating the truth more clearly,

my youthful inquisitor, and that is by sending you on a voyage of

exploration. Are you willing to make the attempt, Waldo?"



"Not this evening; some other evening,--maybe!" drawing back a

bit, with a shake of his curly pate to match. "But, I say, uncle

Phaeton--"



"Allow me to complete my say, first, dear boy," with a bland

smile. "That is easily done, though, for it merely consists of

this: yonder sink, or whirlpool, is certainly the method this

lake has of relieving itself of all surplus water. Everything

points to a subterranean river which connects this lake with the

Pacific Ocean."



"Wonder how long I'd have to hold my breath to make the trip?"





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