RIDING THE TORNADO.





Whether it was that the air-ship itself had increased its speed

during those few moments of dense obscurity, or whether the madly

whirling winds had taken a retrograde movement at that precise

time, could only be a matter of conjecture; but the ominous fact

remained.



The aerostat was fairly over the danger-line, and, despite all

efforts being made to the contrary, was being drawn directly

towards that howling, crashing, thundering mass of destructive

energy.



Already the inmates felt themselves being sucked from the

flying-machine, and instinctively tightened their grip upon

hand-rail and floor, gasping and oppressed, breath failing, and

ribs apparently being crushed in by that horrible pressure.



"Hold fast--for life!" pantingly screamed Professor Featherwit,

as he strove in vain to check or change the course of his

aeromotor, now for the first time beyond control of that

master-hand.



A few seconds of soul-trying suspense, during which the

flying-machine shivered from stem to stern, almost like a human

creature in its death-agony, creaking and groaning, with shrill

sounds coming from those expanded, curved wings, as the suction

increased; then--



A merciful darkness fell over those sorely imperilled beings, and

the vessel itself seemed about to be overwhelmed by an avalanche

of sand and dirt and mixed debris. Then came a dizzy, rocking

lurch, followed by a shock which nearly cast uncle and nephews

from their frantic holds, and the air-ship appeared to be whirled

end for end, cast hither and yon, wrenched and twisted as though

all must go to ruin together.



A blast as of superheated air smote upon them one moment, while

in the next they were whirled through an icy atmosphere, then

tossed dizzily to and fro, as their too-frail vehicle spun upward

as though on a journey to the far-away stars.



A shrieking blast of wind served to briefly clear away the

choking dust, affording the trio a fleeting glimpse of their

immediate surroundings: hurtling sticks and stones, splintered

tops of trees, shrubs with wildly lashing roots freshly torn from

the bed of years, all madly spinning through a blinding,

scorching, freezing mass of crazily battling winds, the different

currents twining and weaving in and out, as so many hideous

serpents at play.



A moment thus, then that horrid uproar grew still more deafening,

and the air-ship was whirled high and higher, in a dizzy dance,

those luckless creatures clinging fast to whatever their frenzied

hands might clutch, feeling that this was the end of all.



Further sight was denied them. They were powerless to move a

limb, save as jerked painfully by those shrieking currents.

Breath was taken away, and an enormous weight bore down upon

them, threatening to produce a fatal collapse through their ribs

giving way.



Upward whirled the flying-machine, powerless now as those

wretched beings within its cunning shape, smitten sharply here

and there by some of those ascending missiles, yet without

receiving material injury; until a last shivering lurch came,

ending in a sudden fall.



A dizzying swoop downward, but not to death and destruction, for

the aerostat alighted easily upon what appeared to be a sort of

air-cushion, and, though unsteady for a brief space, then settled

upon an even keel.



"Cling fast--for life!" huskily gasped the professor, unwittingly

repeating the caution which had last crossed his lips, which he

had ever since been striving to enunciate, faithful to his

guardianship over these, his sole surviving relatives.



"I don't--where are we?"



Waldo lifted his head to peer with half-blind eyes about them, in

which action he was imitated by both brother and uncle; but, for

a brief space, they were none the wiser.



All around the aeromotor rose a wall of whirling winds, seemingly

impenetrable, apparently within reach of an extended arm,

changing colour with each fraction of a second, hideously

beautiful, yet never twice the same in blend or mixture.



A hollow, strangely sounding roar was perceptible; one instant

coming as from the far distance, then from nigh at hand, causing

the air-ship to quiver and tremble, as a sentient being might in

the presence of a torturing death.



"Look--upward!" panted Bruno, a few seconds later, his face as

pale as that of a corpse, in spite of the dirt and blotches of

sticky mud with which he had been peppered during that dizzy

whirl.



Mechanically his companions in peril obeyed, catching breath

sharply, as they saw a clear sky and yellow sunshine far

above,--so awfully far they were, that it seemed like looking

upward from the bottom of an enormously deep well.



And then the marvellous truth flashed upon the brain of Phaeton

Featherwit, almost robbing him of all power of speech. Still he

managed to jerkily ejaculate:



"We're inside,--riding the--tornado--itself!"



Then those whirling winds closed quickly above them, shutting out

the sunlight, hiding the heavens from their view, enclosing that

vehicle and its occupants, as they were borne away into unknown

regions, within the very heart of the tornado itself!



Yet, incredible as it surely seems, no actual harm came to the

trio or to their flying-machine as it swayed gently upon its airy

cushion, although from every side came the horrid roar of

destruction, while ever and anon they could glimpse a wrestling

tree or torn mass of shrubbery whizzing upward and outward, to be

flung far away beyond the vortex of electrical winds.



Once more came that awful sense of suffocation. That painted

pall closed down upon them, robbing their lungs of air, one

instant fairly crisping their hair with a touch of fire, only to

send an icy chill to their veins a moment later.



In vain they struggled, fighting for breath, as a fish gasps when

swung from its native element. While that horrid pressure

endured, man, youth, and boy alike were powerless.



Again the pall lifted, folding back and blending with those madly

circling currents, once again affording a glimpse of yonder

far-away heavens, so marvellously clear, and bright, and peaceful

in seeming!



Weakened by those terrible moments, Bruno and Waldo lay gasping,

trembling, faint of heart and ill of body, yet filling their

lungs with comparatively pure air,--pity there was so little of

it to win!



Professor Featherwit still had thought and care for his nephews

rather than himself alone, and pantingly spoke, as he dragged

himself to the snug locker, where many important articles had

been stowed away:



"Here--suck life--compressed air!"



With husky cries the brothers caught at the tubes offered, the

method of working which had so often been explained by their

relative.



Once more the tube became a chamber, and that horrid force

threatened to flatten their bodies; but the worst had passed, for

that precious cylinder now gave them air to inhale, and they were

enabled to wait for the lifting of the cloud once more.



Thanks to this important agency, strength and energy both of body

and of mind now came back to the air-voyagers, and after a little

they could lift their heads to peer around them with growing

wonder and curiosity.



There was little room left for doubting the wondrous truth, and

yet belief was past their powers during those first few minutes.



All around them whirled and sped those maddened winds, curling

and twisting, rising and falling, mixing in and out as though

some unknown power might be weaving the web of destiny.



Now dull, now brilliant, never twice the same, but ever changing

in colour as in shape, while stripes and zigzags of lightning

played here and there with terrifying menace, those walls of wind

held an awfully fascinating power for uncle and nephews.



From every side came deadened sounds which could bear but a

single interpretation: the tornado was still in rapid motion,

was still tearing and rending, crushing and battering, leaving

dire destruction and ruin to mark its advance, and these were the

sounds that recorded its ugly work.



In goodly measure revived by the compressed air, which was

regulated in flow to suit his requirements by a device of his

own, Professor Featherwit now looked around with something of his

wonted animation, heedless of his own peril for the moment, so

great was his interest in this marvellous happening.



So utterly incredible was it all that, during those first few

minutes of rallying powers, he dared not express the belief which

was shaping itself, gazing around in quest of still further

confirmation.



He took note of the windy walls about their vessel, rising upward

for many yards, irregular in shape and curvature here and there,

but retaining the general semblance of a tube with flaring top.

He peered over the edge of the basket, to draw back dizzily as he

saw naught but yeasty, boiling, seething clouds below,--a

veritable air-cushion which had served to save the pet of his

brain from utter destruction at the time of falling within--



Yes, there was no longer room for doubt,--they were actually

inside the distorted balloon, so dreaded by all residents of the

tornado belt!



"What is it, uncle?" huskily asked Bruno, likewise rallying under

that beneficial influence. "Where are we now?"



"Where I'm wishing mighty hard we wasn't, anyhow!" contributed

Waldo, with something of his usual energy, although, judging from

his face and eyes, the youngster had suffered more severely than

either of his comrades in peril.



Professor Featherwit broke into a queerly sounding laugh, as he

waved his free hand in exultation before speaking:



"Where no living being ever was before us, my lads,--riding the

tornado like a--ugh!"



The air-ship gave an awkward lurch just then, and down went the

little professor to thump his head heavily against one corner of

the locker. Swaying drunkenly from side to side, then tossing up

and down, turning in unison with those fiercely whirling clouds,

the aeromotor seemed at the point of wreck and ruin.



Desperately the trio clung to the life-lines, clenching teeth

upon the life-giving tubes as that terrible pressure increased so

much that it seemed impossible for the human frame to longer

resist.



Fortunately that ordeal did not long endure, and again relief

came to those so sorely oppressed. A brief gasping, sighing,

stretching as the aerostat resumed its level position, merely

rocking easily within that partial vacuum, and then Waldo huskily

suggested:



"Looks like the blame thing was sick at the stomach!"



No doubt this was meant for a feeble attempt at joking, but

Professor Featherwit took it for earnest, and made quick reply:



"That is precisely the case, my dear lad, and I am greatly joyed

to find that you are not so badly frightened but that you can

assist me in taking notes of this wondrous happening. To think

that we are the ones selected for--"



"I say, uncle Phaeton."



"Well, my lad?"



"If this thing is really sick at the stomach, when will it erupt?

I'd give a dollar and a half to just get out o' this, science or

no science, notes or no notes at all!"



"Patience, my dear boy," gravely spoke the little man of science,

busily studying those eddying currents like one seeking a fairly

safe method of extrication from peril. "It may come far sooner

than you think, and with results more disastrous than feeble

words can tell. We surely are a burden such as a tornado must be

wholly unaccustomed to, and I really believe these alternations

are spasmodic efforts of the cloud itself to vomit us forth;

hence you were nearer right than you thought in making use of

that expression."



Just then came a rush of icy air, and Bruno pantingly cried:



"I'm swelling up--like Aesop's--bullfrog!"





RIDING SONG RIPPLE, THE WATER-SPIRIT. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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