THE PROFESSOR'S LITTLE EXPERIMENT.





Again those involuntary riders of the tornado were tossed

violently to and fro in their seemingly frail ship, while the

balloon itself appeared threatened with instant dissolution,

those eddying currents growing broken and far less regular in

action, while the fierce tumult grew in sound and volume a

thousandfold.



All around the air-ship now showed ugly debris, limbs and boughs

and even whole trunks of giant trees being whirled upward and

outward, each moment menacing the vessel with total destruction,

yet as frequently vanishing without infringing seriously upon

their curious prison.



Sand and dirt and fragments of shattered rock whistled by in an

apparently unending shower, only with reversed motion, flying

upward in place of shooting downward to earth itself.



Speech was utterly impossible under the circumstances, and the

fate-tossed voyagers could only cling fast to the hand-rail, and

hold those precious air-tubes in readiness for the worst.



Never before had either of the trio heard such a deafening crash

and uproar, and little wonder if they thought this surely must

herald the crack of doom!



The tornado seemed to reel backward, as though repulsed by an

immovable obstacle, and then, while the din was a bit less

deafening, Professor Featherwit contrived to make himself heard,

through screaming at the top of his voice:



"The mountain range, I fancy! It's a battle to the--"



That sentence was perforce left incomplete, since the storm-demon

gave another mad plunge to renew the battle, bringing on a

repetition of that drunken swaying so upsetting to both mind and

body.



A few seconds thus, then the tornado conquered, or else rose

higher in partial defeat, for their progress was resumed, and

comparative quiet reigned again.



The higher clouds curved backward, affording a wider view of the

heavens far above, and, as all eyes turned instinctively in that

direction, Bruno involuntarily exclaimed:



"Still daylight! I thought--how long has this lasted?"



"It's the middle o' next week; no less!" positively affirmed his

brother. "Don't tell me! We've been in here a solid month, by

my watch!"



Instead of making reply such as might have been expected from one

of his mathematical exactness, Professor Featherwit gave a cry of

dismay, while hurriedly moving to and fro in their contracted

quarters, for the time being forgetful of all other than this,

his great loss.



"What is it, uncle Phaeton?" asked Bruno, rising to his knees in

natural anxiety. "Surely nothing worse than has already happened

to us?"



"Worse? What could be worse than losing for ever--the camera,

boys; where is the camera, I ask you?"



Certainly not where the professor was looking, and even as he

roared forth that query, his heart told him the sad truth; past

doubting, the instrument upon whose aid he relied to place upon

record these marvellous facts, so that all mankind might see and

have full faith, was lost,--thrown from the aerostat, to meet

with certain destruction, when the vessel first came within the

tornado's terrible clutch.



"Gone,--lost,--and now who will believe that we ever--oh, this is

enough to crush one's very soul!" mourned the professor, throwing

up his hands, and sinking back to the floor of the flying-machine

in a limp and disheartened heap for the time being.



Neither Bruno nor Waldo could fully appreciate that grief, since

thoughts and care for self were still the ruling passion with

both; but once more they were called upon to do battle with the

swaying of the winds, and once again were they saved only through

that life-giving cylinder of compressed air.



Presently, the heart-broken professor rallied, as was his nature,

and, with a visible effort putting his great loss behind him,

endeavoured to cheer up his comrades in peril.



"So far we have passed through all danger without receiving

material injury,--to ourselves, I mean,--and surely it is not too

much to hope for eventual escape?" he said, earnestly, pressing

the hands of his nephews, by way of additional encouragement.



"Yes," hesitated Bruno, with an involuntary shiver, as he glanced

around them upon those furiously boiling clouds, then cast an eye

upward, towards yonder clear sky. "Yes, but--in what manner?"



"What'll we do when the cyclone goes bu'st?" cut in Waldo, with

disagreeable bluntness. "It can't go on for ever, and when it

splits up,--where will we be then?"



"I wish it lay within my power to give you full assurance on all

points, my dear boys," the professor made reply. "I only wish I

could ensure your perfect safety by giving my own poor remnant of

life--"



"No, no, uncle Phaeton!" cried the brothers, in a single breath.



"How cheerfully, if I only might!" insisted the professor, his

homely face wearing an expression of blended regret and unbounded

affection. "But for me you would never have encountered these

perils, nor ever--"



Again he was interrupted by the brothers, and forced to leave

that regret unspoken to the end.



"Only for you, uncle Phaeton, what would have become of us when

we were left without parents, home, fortune? Only for you,

taking us in and treating us as though of your own flesh and

blood--"



"As you are, my good lads! Let it pass, then, but I must say

that I do wish--well, well, let it pass, then!"



A brief silence, which was spent in gripping hands and with eyes

giving pledges of love and undying confidence; then Professor

Featherwit spoke again, in an entirely different vein.



"If nothing else, we have exploded one fallacy which has never

met with contradiction, so far as my poor knowledge goes."



"And that is--what, uncle Phaeton?"



"Observe, my lads," with a wave of his hand towards those

whirling walls, and then making a downward motion. "You see that

we are floating in a partial vacuum, yet where there is air

sufficient to preserve life under difficulties. And by looking

downward--careful that you don't fall overboard through

dizziness, though!"



"Looks as though we were floating just above a bed of ugly wind!"

declared Waldo, after taking a look below.



"Precisely; the aerostat rests upon an air-cushion amply solid

enough to sustain far more than our combined weight. But what is

the generally accepted view, my dear boys?"



"You tell, for we don't know how," frankly acknowledged Waldo.



"Thanks. Yet you are now far wiser than all of the scientists

who have written and published whole libraries concerning these

storm formations, but whose fallacies we are now fully prepared

to explode, once for all, through knowledge won by personal

investigation--ahem!"



Strange though it may appear, the professor forgot the mutual

danger by which they were surrounded, and trotted off on his

hobby-horse in blissful pride, paying no attention to the hideous

uproar going on, only raising his voice higher to make it heard

by his youthful auditors.



"The common belief is that, while these tornadoes are hollow,

even through the trunk or tongue down to its contact with the

earth, that hollow is caused by a constant suction, through which

a steady stream of debris is flowing, to be sown broadcast for

miles around after emerging from the open top of the so-called

balloon."



"But it isn't at all like that," eagerly cried Waldo, pointing to

where the fragments were flowing upward through those walls

themselves, yet far enough from that hollow interior to be but

indistinctly seen save on rare occasions. "Look at 'em scoot,

will ye? Oh, if we could only climb up like that!"



Professor Featherwit was keenly watching and closely studying

that very phenomena through all, and now he gave a queer little

chuckle, as he nodded his head with vigour, before dryly

speaking.



"Well, it might be done; yes, it might be done, and that with no

very serious difficulty, my lad."



"How? Why not try it on, then?"



"To meet with instant death outside?" sharply queried Bruno. "It

would be suicidal to make the attempt, even if we could; which I

doubt."



Waldo gave a sudden cry, pointing upward where, far above that

destructive storm, could be seen a brace of buzzards floating on

motionless wings, wholly undisturbed by the tumult below.



"If we were only like that!" the lad cried, longingly. "If a

flying-machine could be built like those turkey-buzzards! I

wish--well, I do suppose they're about the nastiest varmints ever

hatched, but just now I'd be willing to swap, and wouldn't ask

any boot, either!"



Apparently the professor paid no attention to this boyish plaint,

for he was fumbling in the locker, then withdrew his hand and

uncoiled an ordinary fish-line, with painted float attached.



Before either brother could ask a question, or even give a guess

at his purpose, Professor Phaeton flung hook and cork into those

circling currents, only to have the whole jerked violently out of

his grip, the line flying upward, to vanish from the sight of

all.



That jerk was powerful enough to cut through the skin of his

hand, but the professor chuckled like one delighted, as he sucked

away the few drops of blood before adding:



"I knew it! It CAN be done, and if the worst should come to

pass, why should it not be done?"



Before an answer could be vouchsafed by either of the brothers,

the pall swooped down upon them once more, and again the supply

of natural air was shut off, while their vessel was rocked and

swayed crazily, just as though the delayed end was at last upon

them.



For several minutes this torture endured, each second of which

appeared to be an hour to those imperilled beings, who surely

must have perished, as they lay pinned fast to the floor of the

aerostat by that pitiless weight, only for the precious air-tubes

in connection with that cylinder of compressed air.



After a seeming age of torment the awful pressure was relaxed,

leaving the trio gasping and shivering, as they lay side by side,

barely conscious that life lingered, for the moment unable to

lift hand or head to aid either self or another.



In spite of his far greater age, Professor Featherwit was first

to rally, and his voice was about the first thing distinguished

by the brothers, as their powers began to rally.



"Shall we take our chances, dear boys?" the professor was saying,

in earnest tones. "I believe there is a method of escaping from

this hell-chamber, although of what may lie beyond--"



"It can't well be worse than this!" huskily gasped Bruno.



"Anything--everything--just to get out o' here!" supplemented

Waldo, for once all spirits subdued.



"It may be death for us all, even if we do get outside," gravely

warned the professor. "Bear that in mind, dear boys. It may be

that not one of us will escape with life, after--"



"How much better to remain here?" interrupted Bruno. "I felt

death would be a mercy--then! And I'd risk anything, everything,

rather than go through such another ordeal! I say,--escape!"



"Me too, all over!" vigorously decided Waldo, lifting himself to

both knees as he added: "Tell us what to do, and here I am, on

deck, uncle."



Even now Professor Phaeton hesitated, his eyes growing dimmer

than usual as they rested upon one face after the other, for

right well he knew how deadly would be the peril thus invited.



But, as the brothers repeated their cry, he turned away to

swiftly knot a strong trail-rope to a heavy iron grapnel, leaving

the other end firmly attached to a stanchion built for that

express purpose.



"Hold fast, if you value life at all, dear boys!" he warned, then

added: "Heaven be kind to you, even if my life pays the forfeit!

Now!"



Without further delay, he cast the heavy grapnel into that mass

of boiling vapour, then fell flat, as an awful jerk was given the

aerostat.





THE PROFESSOR'S GREAT ANTICIPATIONS. THE PROFESSOR'S UNKNOWN LAND. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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