THE PROFESSOR'S LITTLE EXPERIMENT.
: The Lost City
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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!
Without further delay, he cast the heavy grapnel into that mass
of boiling vapour, then fell flat, as an awful jerk was given the