ON A TORN-AWAY WORLD
The Captives of the Great Earthquake
BY ROY ROCKWOOD
Other titles by ROY ROCKWOOD
THE GREAT MARVEL SERIES
THROUGH THE AIR TO THE NORTH POLE
UNDER THE OCEAN TO THE SOUTH POLE
FIVE THOUSAND MILES UNDERGROUND
THROUGH SPACE TO MARS
LOST ON THE MOON
ON A TORN-AWAY WORLD
DAVE DASHAWAY, THE YOUNG AVIATOR
DAVE DASHAWAY AND HIS HYDROPLANE
DAVE DASHAWAY AND HIS GIANT AIRSHIP
DAVE DASHAWAY AROUND THE WORLD
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS ON MOTOR CYCLES
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS AND THEIR RACING AUTO
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS AND THEIR POWER LAUNCH
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS IN A SUBMARINE
I. SHOT INTO THE AIR!
II. MARK HANGS ON
III. THIS FLIGHT OF THE "SNOWBIRD" IV. "WHO GOES THERE?"
V. BETWEEN TWO PERILS
VI. ON THE WINGS OF THE WIND
VII. DROPPED FROM THE SKY
VIII. PHINEAS ROEBACH, OIL HUNTER
IX. THE EARTHQUAKE
X. THE BLACK DAY
XI. THE WONDERFUL LEAP
XII. THE GEYSER
XIII. NATURE GONE MAD
XIV. ON THE WING AGAIN
XV. A PLUNGE TO THE ICE
XVI. PROFESSOR HENDERSON REVEALS THE TRUTH
XVII. ON AN ISLAND IN THE AIR
XVIII. IMPRISONED IN THE ICE
XIX. A NIGHT ATTACK
XX. THE HEROISM OF THE SHANGHAI ROOSTER
XXI. MARK ON GUARD
XXII. THE WOLF TRAIL
XXIII. THE FIGHT AT ALEUKAN
XXIV. THE FLIGHT TOWARD THE COAST
XXV. THE HERD of KADIAKS
XXVI. THE ABANDONED CITY
XXVII. THE WHALE HUNT ASHORE
XXVIII. ON THE WHALING BARK
XXIX. WHEN THE SEA ROLLED BACK
XXX. AN ENDURING MONUMENT—CONCLUSION
SHOT INTO THE AIR
"Hurrah!" shouted Jack Darrow, flicking the final drops of lacquer from the paintbrush he had been using. "That's the last stroke. She's finished!"
"I guess we've done all we can to her before her trial trip," admitted his chum, Mark Sampson, but in a less confident tone.
"You don't see anything wrong with her, old croaker; do you?" demanded Jack, laughing as usual.
"'The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof; not in chewing the pudding bag string'," quoted Mark, still with a serious countenance.
But like Jack he stood off from the great body of the wonderful airship, and looked the completed task over with some satisfaction. Having emergency wings, she was also a plane. She was white all over and her name was the Snowbird. Jack and Mark had spent most of their time during this vacation from their college in building this flying machine, which was veritably an up-to-the-minute aerial vehicle, built for both speed and carrying capacity.
The hangar in which the machine had been built was connected with Professor Amos Henderson's laboratory and workshop, hidden away on a lonely point on the seacoast, about ten miles from the town of Easton, Maine. At this spot had been built many wonderful things—mainly the inventions of the boys' friend and protector, Professor Henderson; but the Snowbird, upon which Jack and Mark now gazed so proudly, was altogether the boys' own work.
The sliding door of the hangar opened just behind the two boys and a black face appeared.
"Is eeder ob you boys seen ma Shanghai rooster?" queried the black man, plaintively. "I suah can't fin' him nowhars."
"What did you let him out of his coop for?" demanded Mark. "You're always bothering us about that rooster, Washington. He is as elusive as the Fourth Dimension."
"I dunno wot dat fourth condension is, Massa Mark; but dat rooster is suah some conclusive. When I lets him out fo' an airin' he hikes right straight fo' some farmer's hen-yard, an' den I haster hunt fo' him."
"When you see him starting on his rambles, Wash, why don't you call him back?" demanded Jack Darrow, chuckling. "If I did, Massa Jack, I'spect he wouldn't know I was a-hollerin' fo' him."
"How's that? Doesn't he know his name?"
"I don't fo' suah know wedder he does or not," returned the darkey, scratching his head "Ye see, it's a suah 'nuff longitudinous name, an' I dunno wedder he remembers it all, or not."
"He's got a bad memory; has he?" said Mark, turning to smile at Washington White, too, for Professor Henderson's old servant usually afforded the boys much amusement.
"Dunno 'bout his memory," grunted Wash; "he's gotter good forgettery, suah 'nuff. Leastways, when he starts off on one o' dese perambulationaries ob his, he fergits ter come back."
"Let's see," said Jack, nudging his chum, "what is that longitudinous' name which has been hitched onto that wonderful bird, Wash? I know it begins with the discovery of America and wanders down through the ages to the present day; but a part of it has slipped my memory—or, perhaps I should say, 'forgettery'."
With a perfectly serious face the darkey declaimed:
"Christopher Columbus Amerigo Vespucci George Washington Abraham Lincoln Ulysses Grant Garibaldi Thomas Edison Guglielmo Marconi Butts."
"For goodness sake! Will you listen to that!" gasped Mark, while Jack went off into a roar of laughter.
"Don't—don't it make your jaw ache to say it, Wash?" cried the older lad when he could speak.
"Not a-tall! not a-tall!" rejoined the darkey, shaking his woolly head. "I has practised all ma life speakin' de berry longest words in de English language—"
"And mispronouncing them," giggled Jack.
"Mebbe, Massa Jack, mebbe!" agreed Washington, briskly. "But de copy book say dat it is better to have tried an' failed dan nebber to have tried at all."
"And did you ever try calling the rooster back, when he starts to play truant, with all that mouthful of words?" queried the amused Mark.
"Yes, indeedy," said Washington, seriously.
"Don't he mind, then?"
"I should think he'd be struck motionless in his tracks," chuckled Jack.
"No, sah," said Washington. "Dat's de only fault I kin fin' with dat name—it don't 'pear to stop him. An' befo' I kin git it all out he's ginerally out ob sight!"
That sent both boys off into another paroxysm of laughter. Meanwhile the darkey had come into the great shed and was slowly walking around the flying machine. "What do you think of her, Wash, now that she's finished?" asked Mark.
"Is she done done?" queried the darkey, wonderingly.
"She certainly is," agreed Jack.
"De chile is bawn and done named Nebbercudsneezer, heh? Well! well!"
"No; it's named the Snowbird," Mark retorted. "And to-morrow morning, bright and early, we shall sail on its trial trip. The professor is going with us, Washington. Of course, you will come, too?"
"Lawsy me! don't see how I kin!" stammered Washington White, who always wished to be considered very brave, but who was really as timid as a hare. "Yo' see, Massa Mark, I'spect I shall be right busy."
"What will you be busy at?" demanded Jack.
"Well—well, sah," said Wash, "if dat Shanghai don't come back befo', I shall hab ter go snoopin' aroun' de kentry a-huntin' fo' him. He'll be crowin' 'bout sun-up, an' he suah can't disguise his crow."
"If Andy was here, he would surely want to go with us," declared Jack to Mark. "Andy Sudds isn't afraid of anything."
"My! my!" cried Washington. "Yo' don't fo' one moment suppose, Massa Jack, dat I's afeared; does yo'?" "No, you're not afraid, Wash," returned Jack, chuckling. "You're only scared to death. But you go ahead and hunt your rooster. See that you keep him from flying too high, however, or we'll run him down in the Snowbird."
"Pshaw!" said Mark. "That rooster is so fat he couldn't fly high, anyway."
"And perhaps the Snowbird won't fly very high; eh?" retorted Jack, letting a little anxiety creep into his voice.
"But dat rooster suah kin fly high," said Washington White, eagerly. "Yo' gemmens knows dat he's flowed as high as de moon—he, he!"
"And 'flowed' is a mighty good word, Wash," chuckled Jack. "Ah! here is the professor, Mark."
Professor Henderson was an aged man with snow white hair and beard. Although he was not physically as strong as he once was, his brain and energy were not in the least impaired by advancing years. He had taken the two lads, Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson, both orphans, under his care some years before, and under his tuition and by his aid they were much farther advanced in knowledge of the practical sciences than other boys of their age.
The professor welcomed them cordially and at their request gave a thorough scrutiny to the various mechanical contrivances that went to the make-up of the flying machine. He pronounced it, as far as could be known before a practical test, a perfect mechanism.
"And we will try it to-morrow morning, boys," he said, with almost as much enthusiasm as Jack and Mark themselves displayed. "You have completed the machine in excellent time, and I "un likewise ready to make the experiment."
"What experiment, Professor?" asked the boys in chorus.
"Haven't you noticed what I was tinkering on at the other end of the shop?" queried Professor Henderson, in surprise.
"Why, I see that you have a long steel plank there, with some kind of a compressed air contrivance at one end," said Jack.
"Is that what you mean, Professor?" queried Mark.
"That, boys," said the scientist, with some pride, "is a modern catapult—an up-to-the-minute catapult which, had it been known to the ancients, would have enabled the hosts of Joshua, for instance, to batter down the walls of Jericho without the trouble of marching so many times around the city."
"And what has a compressed air catapult got to do with the Snowbird?" queried Jack. "You propose launching your flying machine in the usual way," said the professor. "I see you have wheel trucks all ready to slip under her. We will not use those wheels, boys. I have a better plan. We will launch the Snowbird into the air from my catapult."
"Great goodness, Professor!" cried Mark. "Is that practicable?"
"We'll know after we have tried it," retorted Professor Henderson, drily.
"How did you happen to start working on this catapult idea?" asked Jack.
"Well, I can't tell you everything," replied the inventor, "for it is partly a secret."
"Huh," laughed Mark. "You're mysterious. You haven't joined forces with some department of our government, or with another country?"
The professor smiled, thinking how keen this young man always proved himself to be.
"You've guessed it," he replied. "And I'm sorry I can't explain more to you."
"We understand," said Jack. "And no doubt this machine is a super-catapult."
"True," was the answer. "Of untold use to the scientific world. For the present I shall confine testing its efficiency right in this place. Now is my chance."
"But of what advantage will it be to our flying machine to start it in this way?" "Stop and think, my boy," said the professor. "Just as an aeroplane can literally be shot into the air within a very short space, so can your airship. Of course, this is not necessary, but we will be able to start the ship much faster that way than we could withjust the motors."
"You'll make history, Professor," added Jack. "Exciting headlines for the papers."
"Sure enough," said Mark enthusiastically.
"The publicity doesn't interest me," replied the scientist. "Moreover, my super-catapult must remain a secret, as I told you a while ago."
"So you really propose to launch the Snowbird in this way?" asked Jack.
"We will be shot into the air. If you are sure of your machine, I am sure of my catapult, and we will try the two contrivances together."
In the morning all rose bright and early and prepared the Snowbird for her trial flight. Washington White had indeed disappeared—possibly in search of his Shanghai rooster—and Andy Sudds was off on a hunt. Therefore the professor and his two young comrades essayed the trip alone.
Jack and Mark tossed a coin to see who should first guide the great air machine, and Mark won the preference. He, as well as his chum and the professor, had already donned their aeronautic uniforms, and he now strapped himself into the pilot's seat. The steering apparatus, the levers that controlled the planes, and the motor switch were all under his hand. While in flight the Snowbird need be under the control of but one person at a time.
The professor had rigged his catapult so that he could release the trigger from the flying machine. Mark said he was ready; the professor reached for the cord which would release the trigger.
"Start your motor, Mark, a fraction of a second before I release the compressed air," commanded Mr. Henderson. "Now!"
The motor of the flying machine buzzed faintly. Jack's eyes were on the speed indicator. He suddenly felt the great, quivering flying machine, which had been run out of the hangar on to the steel plank of the catapult, lurch forward. The feeling affected him just as the sudden dropping of an elevator from a great height affects its passengers.
The finger of the speed indicator whirled and marked forty miles an hour ere the flying machine left the steel plank, and shot into the air with the fearful force of the compressed air behind it.
Both Mark and Jack were well used to guiding aeroplanes and other air machines. But this start from the ground was much different from the easy, swooping flight of an airship as usually begun. Like an arrow the Snowbird was shot upward on a long slant. It was a moment ere Mark got the controls to working. The propellers were, of course, started with the first stroke of the motor.
But Mark Sampson was nervous; there was no denying that. At the instant when the nose of the airship should have been raised, so as to clear the tops of the forest trees and every building on the Henderson place, Mark instead guided the rapidly flying Snowbird far to the left.
It skimmed the corner of the stable by a fraction of a foot, and Jack yelled:
His cry made Mark even more nervous. The tall water-tank and windmill were right in line. Before the young aviator could swerve the flying machine to escape the vane upon the roof of the tower, and the long arms of the mill, they were right upon these things!
The fast-shooting Snowbird was jarred through all her members; but she tore loose. And then, in erratic leaps and bounds, she kept on across the fields and woods towards Easton, never rising very high, but occasionally sinking so that she trailed across the treetops, threatening the whole party with death and the flying machine itself with destruction, at every jump.
MARK HANGS ON
Professor Henderson and his adopted sons—Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson—had been in many perilous situations together. Neither one nor the other was likely to display panic at the present juncture, although the flying Snowbird was playing a gigantic game of "leap-frog" through the air.
The professor had himself constructed many wonderful machines for transportation through the air, under the ground, and both on and beneath the sea; and in them he and his young comrades had voyaged afar.
Narrated in the first volume of this series, entitled, "Through the Air to the North Pole," was the bringing together of the two boys and the professor,—how the scientist and Washington White rescued Jack and Mark after a train wreck, took them to the professor's workshop, and made the lads his special care. In that workshop was built the Electric Monarch, in which flying ship the party actually passed over that point far beyond the Arctic Circle where the needle of the compass indicates the North Pole.
Later, in the submarine boat, the Porpoise, the professor, with his young assistants and others, voyaged under the sea to the South Pole, the details of which voyage are related in the second volume of the series, entitled "Under the Ocean to the South Pole."
In the third volume, "Five Thousand Miles Underground," is related the building of that strange craft, the Flying Mermaid, and how the voyagers journeyed to the center of the earth. The perils connected with this experience satisfied all of them, as far as adventure went, for some time. Jack and Mark prepared for, and entered, the Universal Electrical and Chemical College.
Before the first year of their college course was completed, however, Professor Henderson, in partnership with a brother scientist, Professor Santell Roumann, projected and carried through a marvelous campaign with the aid of Jack and Mark, which is narrated in our fourth volume, entitled, "Through Space to Mars." In this book is told how the projectile, Annihilator, was built and, the projectile being driven by the Etherium motor, the party was transported to the planet Mars.
Later, because of some knowledge obtained from a Martian newspaper by Jack, they all made a trip to the moon in search of a field of diamonds, and their adventures as related in "Lost on the Moon" were of the most thrilling kind. The projectile brought them safely home again and they had now, for some months, been quietly pursuing their usual avocations.
The knowledge Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson had gained from textbooks, and much from observation and the teachings of Professor Henderson, had aided the lads in the building of the Snowbird. It was the first mechanism of importance that Jack and Mark had ever completed, and they had been quite confident, before the flying machine was shot from Mr. Henderson's catapult, that it was as near perfect as an untried aeroplane could be.
"Hang on, Mark!" yelled Jack, as the great machine soared and pitched over the forest.
Her leaps were huge, and the shock each time she descended and rose again threatened to shake the 'plane to bits. Mark swayed in his seat, clutching first one lever and then another, while Professor Henderson and Jack could only cling with both hands to the guys and stay-wires.
The sensation of being so high above the earth, and in imminent danger of being dashed headlong to it, gripped Mark Sampson like a giant hand. He felt difficulty in breathing, although it was not the height that gave him that choking sensation. There was a mist before his eyes, still the sun was shining brightly. The startling gyrations of the flying machine for some time shook the lad to the core.
But Jack's cheerful cry of "Hang on!" spurred Mark to a new activity—an activity of hand as well as brain. He knew that something had fouled and that this accident was the cause of the machine making such sickening bounds in the air. She was overbalanced in some way.
With Jack's encouraging shout ringing in his ears, Mark came to himself. He would hang on! His friends depended upon him to control the machine and to save them from destruction, and he would not be found wanting.
One lever after another he gripped and tried. It was one controlling the rising power that was fouled. He learned this in a moment. He sought to move it to and fro in its socket and could not do so. He had overlooked this lever before.
Again the Snowbird dashed herself from a height of five hundred feet toward the earth.
They still flew over the forest. The tops of the trees intervened, and Mark managed to counteract the plunge before the prow of the machine burst through the treetops. She rose again, and using both hands, Mark jerked the wheel stick into place.
At once the flying machine responded to the change. She rode straight on, slightly rising as he had pointed her, and Mark dared touch the motor switch again. Instantly the machine speeded ahead.
"Hurrah for Mark!" shrieked Jack. "He's pulled us through."
"He has indeed," agreed the professor, and they settled into their seats and gave attention to the working of the apparatus. Mark now had the Snowbird well under control.
Jack changed places with his chum and managed the Snowbird equally well. At his touch she darted upward at a long slant until the altimeter registered two thousand feet above the sea. And the sea was actually below them, for Jack had guided the flying machine away out from the land.
"Boys," said Professor Henderson, quietly, "you have done well—remarkably well. I am certainly proud of you. Some day the people of the United States will be proud of you. I am sure that the inventor's instinct and the scientist's indefatigable energy are characteristics you both possess."
"That's praise indeed!" exclaimed Jack, smiling at his chum. "When the professor says we've won out, I don't care what anybody else says."
"Do you think the Snowbird is fit for long-distance travel?" asked Mark of Professor Henderson, now displaying more eagerness than before.
"I do indeed. I think you have a most excellent flying machine. I would not hesitate to start for San Francisco in her."
"Or farther?" asked Jack.
"Across the ocean?" queried Mark, quickly.
"I do not see why any one could not take a trip to the other side of the Atlantic in your 'plane," replied the professor. "With proper precautions, of course."
They reached the land and came safely to rest before the hangar without further accident. The professor was delighted with the working of his catapult and at once made ready to call the attention of the Navy Department to his improvement in the means of launching an airship from the deck of a vessel. Ere he had written to the Department, however, he and his young friends were suddenly made interested in a scheme that was broached by letter to Professor Henderson from a fellow-savant, Dr. Artemus Todd, of the West Baden University.
Professor Henderson and Dr. Todd had often exchanged courtesies; but the university doctor was mainly interested in medical subjects, while Mr. Henderson delved more in the mysteries of astronomy and practical mechanics.
The doctor's letter to Professor Henderson read as follows:
"I am urged to write to you again because of something that has recently come to my knowledge regarding a subject we once discussed. As you know, for some years past I have been investigating not the cause of aphasia and kindred mental troubles (for we know the condition is brought about by a clot of blood upon the brain), but the means of quickly and surely overcoming the condition and bringing the unfortunate victim of this disorder back to his normal state. In our age, when mental and nervous diseases are so rapidly increasing, aphasia victims are becoming more common. Scarcely a hospital in the land that does not have its quota of such patients under treatment—patients who, in many cases, have completely forgotten who and what they are and have assumed a totally different identity from that they began life with."
"We know that, in some cases, hypnotism has benefited the aphasia and amnesia victim. His condition is not like that of the mentally feeble; he has merely lost his memory of what and who he previously was. Believing that all disease, of whatsoever nature, can be safely treated only through the blood, this ill to which human flesh is heir particularly must be treated in that way, for we know that a stagnant state of the blood in one spot, at least, is the cause of the patient's malady. Therefore I have been experimenting botanically to discover a remedium for the state in question—something that will act swiftly upon the blood, and directly dissipate such a clot as is spoken of above."
"My dear Professor! I can announce with joy that this remedium is discovered. I obtained a specimen of a very rare plant brought back from Alaska by a miner who wandered into the fastnesses of the Endicott Range, far beyond the usual route of gold miners and in a district which, I understand, is scarcely ever crossed by whites and which is, indeed, almost impassable, even in the summer months. With the aid of this herb—Chrysothele-Byzantium (it was known to the ancients, but very rare)—I have brewed a remedium which, in one case at lest, instantly cleared the blood vessels of the patient and brought him back to a knowledge of his real self."
"But my supply of the herb is gone. It reached me in its dry state, or I should have first tried to propagate it. It seeds but once in seven years and therefore is rare and hard to grow. But I must have a supply of the Chrysothele-Byzantium seeds, plants, and all. I look to you, my dear Professor Henderson, for help. To you space and the flight of time are merely words. You can overcome both if you try. I need somebody to go to the northern part of Alaska—that is, beyond the Endicott Range—to obtain this rare plant for me. You have already flown over the North Pole and a trip which carries one only three or four degrees beyond the Arctic Circle is a mere bagatelle to you."
"Yes! it is in you I place my hope, Professor. The hopes of many, many afflicted people may be placed in you, too. I ask you to fly to this distant place and obtain for me the herb that will do humanity such great good. Under another enclosure I send you drawings of the plant in its several states and a full and complete description of how it was found. You can make no mistake in the Chrysothele-Byzantium. You know that I am a cripple, or I would offer to join with you in this search. But at least I am prepared to pay for any expense you may be under. Draw upon me for ten thousand dollars to-morrow if you so desire, and more if you need before the start. The Massachusetts Bay Trust Company, of Boston, will honor the draft. Make up the expedition as you see fit. Take as many men with you as you think necessary. Make all preparations which seem to you fit and needful. I limit you in nothing—only bring back the herb."
"Remember I shall impatiently await your return and look for your success—I expect nothing but unqualified success from your attempt. You who have achieved so much in the past surely cannot fail me in this event. I await your agreement to attempt this voyage with confidence. I must have the herb and you are the only person who can obtain it for me."
"Your friend and co-worker for the betterment of humanity, ARTEMUS TODD, M.D., Ph.D."
Professor Henderson read this strange letter aloud in the evening as he and his friends were sitting before the small, clear fire of hickory logs in the big living room of the bungalow in the woods, built beside the great workshops and laboratory. With the scientist and the two boys was Andy Sudds, the old hunter, who sat cleaning his rifle, and Washington White was busy in and out of the room as he cleared away the supper and set the place in order.
"Well! what do you know about that!" exclaimed Jack Darrow, always ready with a comment upon any subject. "Dr. Todd is certainly some in earnest; isn't he?" "But what a cheek he has to ask you to go on such a journey!" cried Mark. "He talks as though he expected you to start immediately for the Arctic Circle."
"There would be good hunting up there in the mountains," said Andy Sudds, succinctly. "I wouldn't mind that."
"An'disher chrysomela-bypunktater plant he wants," grunted Washington. "Hi, yi! ain't dat de beatenest thing? Who ebber heard of sech a plant befo'?"
"Nobody but you, I guess, Washington," said the professor, quietly. "That seems to be a plant of your own invention."
"But, sir!" cried Mark, "you have no idea of taking this trip he suggests; have you?"
"Dr. Todd has done me many a favor in the past," said Professor Henderson, thoughtfully.
"Well, if you're going, count me in," said Jack, quickly. "I don't mind a summer trip to the Arctic. Say! it can't be much cooler up there than it is here right now. This fire doesn't feel bad at all."
"Humph!" muttered Mark, who never was as sanguine as his chum. "This cool spell will only last a day or two here; but I understand the tops of the Endicott Range are always white."
"B-r-r!" shivered Washington, at this statement. "Dis chile don't t'ink much ob such a surreptitious pedestrianation as dat, den. Don't like no cold wedder, nohow! And Buttsy don' like it, needer."
"Who's Buttsy?" demanded Jack, grinning.
"Why, fo' suah," said the darkey, gravely, "you knows Christopher Columbus Amerigo Vespucci George Washington Abraham Lin——"
"But you wouldn't expect to take Christopher Columbus And-so-forth to Alaska with us; would you?" asked Andy Suggs.
"Why not?" demanded the darkey. "He flowed to de moon in de perjectilator; didn't he? Huh! In co'se if de perfessor goes after disher chrysomela-bypunktater, I gotter go, too; and in co'se if I go, Buttsy done gotter go. Dat's as plain as de nose on yo' face, Andy."
The hunter rubbed his rather prominent nasal organ and was silenced. Jack and Mark had turned more eagerly to the professor as the latter began to speak:
"Yes, Dr. Todd is my good friend. He turns to me for help quite properly; who else should he turn to?"
"But, Professor!" ejaculated Mark, warmly. "Are you to be driven off to Alaska at your age to hunt for this herb—which is perhaps only the hallucination of a madman?" "Mark's hit the nail on the head, Professor!" declared Jack. "I believe this Todd must certainly be 'touched' in his upper story."
"Am I touched, as you call it, Jack?" demanded Professor Henderson, in some indignation.
"But you don't believe Todd is on the trail of any great discovery?" cried Mark.
"Why not? Mind may yield to herbal treatment. Todd is an advanced botanical adherent. He believes almost anything can be accomplished by herbs. And he says he has successfully treated one case."
"One swallow doesn't make a summer," remarked Mark, doubtfully.
"But it is enough that he wants us to find the herb," said the professor, more vigorously.
"'Us'!" repeated Jack.
"And he will pay us any reasonable price for our work," added their mentor.
"He really means to go!" cried Mark.
"I certainly do. I think you and Jack will accompany me," said the professor, quietly. "I know that Washington will, and of course Andy will not be left behind."
"Not if there'll be a chance at big game," declared the hunter. "I'm with you, Professor Henderson."
"Yo' suah can't git erlong widout me, I s'pose?" queried the darkey, in some uncertainty. "I'se mighty busy right yere jes' now."
"And you'll be busy if we go to Alaska, Wash!" cried Jack. "Hurrah! I am willing to start to-morrow, Professor."
"And you, Mark?" queried the old gentleman of his other adopted son.
"How will we go, sir? We shall be until fall traveling to the Arctic Circle by any usual means."
"True," said the professor. "And haste is imperative. I cannot spend much time in this matter. We must take unusual means of getting to the Endicott Range."
"What do you mean?" asked the boys in chorus.
"Your Snowbird is ready for flight. It can be provisioned and will take us all quicker than by any other means. Therefore in the Snowbird we will make the journey."
THE FLIGHT OF THE SNOWBIRD
Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson were glad enough to be of the party aiming to reach northern Alaska and the Endicott Range, if Professor Henderson really intended going to find the strange herb for which Dr. Todd was willing to pay so generously.
Of discussion, pro and con, there was much. Indeed, they sat up until after midnight after the reading of Dr. Todd's letter, talking over the contemplated journey, and gradually the details of the trip, including all preparations for it, were worked out.
Jack and Mark put into the affair, once they were determined to aid the professor, their characteristic energy. Professor Henderson wired his brother scientist that he would undertake the journey to Alaska, and accepted the ten thousand dollars to defray expenses. Andy Sudds made characteristic preparations for hunting the big game of the Alaskan mountains. Washington White built a traveling coop of very light but strong material for his pet Shanghai, and then announced himself as ready to depart for the Arctic Circle.
The instructions and map furnished by Dr. Todd, locating the very spot beyond the Endicott Range where the rare herb had been plucked by the miner, showed it to be in a very wild region indeed. There was a native settlement named Aleukan within a hundred miles of the valley where the herb was supposed to grow in abundance. Professor Henderson determined to lay their course for this place.
But the nearest white man's town was Coldfoot, on the other side of the mountains. There was a trail, however, passable in summer for a dogtrain from Coldfoot to Aleukan; and a dogtrain could likewise pass from the native village to the valley where the miner had found the herb.
These facts the professor and his young associates discovered as soon as Dr. Todd's instructions arrived. They made their plans accordingly.
By telegraph the professor ordered a trainload of supplies to be started at once from Fort Yukon. First, these supplies would go by boat down the Yukon Flats and up the Chandler River, past Chandler and Caro, beyond which latter town there was a good road over a small range of hills to Coldfoot. This trail was open at all seasons and there was a regular system of transportation into Coldfoot.
From that town dogs and men would be hired to take the supplies on to Aleukan. These arrangements were made through an express company, and in three days the professor received word that the supplies were already aboard a small steam vessel which had left the Fort Yukon dock for the trip to Caro.
The trip by boat and overland for the supply train would consume about a week or two, providing nothing untoward happened to delay it. And the season was favorable to a quick journey.
But the professor and his young comrades figured that the Snowbird, following the shortest air-line to the far side of the Endicott Range, could make the trip in much shorter time. The distance "as the crow flies" was from 3,700 to 3,800 miles from their point of departure. Under favorable conditions the great flying machine should travel ninety miles an hour on the average. Unless there was a breakdown, or they ran into a heavy storm, which would necessitate their descending to the earth, they could count upon the Snowbird being in the vicinity of Aleukan within three or four days' time at the longest.
In the flying machine itself they could carry a supply of concentrated foods, medicines, necessities of many kinds, and their arms. It was probable that meat could be had for the killing in the valley to which they were bound, and the Indians at Aleukan could be hired to supply necessary food for a time. But the professor did not propose to take his friends into the wilderness without completely warding off disaster.
Considerable space in the Snowbird was occupied by Professor Henderson's scientific instruments. He was amply supplied with powerful field glasses, a wonderful telescope, partly of his own invention; instruments for the measuring of mountains heights, the recording of seismic disturbances, and many other scientific paraphernalia of which Jack and Mark did not know even the uses.
The boys were as well supplied with firearms as Andy Sudds himself. They knew that they would probably see and be obliged to kill dangerous beasts; and although the several tribes of Indians inhabiting Alaska are all supposed to be semi-civilized and at peace with the whites, they had had experience enough in wild countries before to warn them that the temper of aboriginal man is never to be trusted too far.
Their own readiness for departure in the Snowbird had been gauged by the telegraph dispatches from Fort Yukon. When the final message came that the boat bearing the supplies had started, Professor Henderson asked: "And now, boys, when can we leave by the air route?"
Jack and Mark glanced at each other and nodded. Jack said:
"All you have to do, Professor, is to put your bag aboard the ship and step in. We are ready to start the Snowbird at any moment. Andy has his guns aboard, and plenty of ammunition. Mark and I are all ready. At your word we will leave."
"It is already dark," said the professor, slowly. "Shall we wait until morning?"
"The moon will be up in an hour—and it is almost at its full," Mark said, quickly. "The quicker we are off the better, it seems to me."
"Very well," agreed Professor Henderson. "If you boys say the word, we will start. Is Andy here?"
"He is already aboard—asleep in his bunk," said Jack, "with his best rifle cuddled in the hollow of his arm. He does not propose to be left behind," and the young fellow chuckled.
"And where is Washington White?"
"He's done yere," answered the darkey for himself, and he appeared bearing the traveling coop of Christopher Columbus And-so-forth in his arms.
"Here, Wash!" ejaculated Jack. "Surely you are not going to clutter up the flying machine with that thing?"
"An' why fo' not?" sputtered the darkey. "Whatebber has Buttsy done ter yo', Massa Jack, dat yo' should be obfendicated at his 'pearance in de present state ob de obsequies?"
"Then the rooster accompanies the expedition," chuckled Jack. "Only remember, if we have to throw out anything to lighten ship, Buttsy goes first—even before we are obliged to dispense with your services, Wash!"
"Den we are ready to start," declared the darkey, solemnly. "Nottin' will now disturb de continuity ob de ebenin's enj'yment. Forward, march, is our motter!"
And he marched away to the flying machine and got aboard with the coop and Buttsy in his arms.
The professor had found the last of his possessions he wished to take with him. He followed the negro aboard. The Snowbird was already outside the hangar and on its wheels, ready for the start. This time they dispensed with the professor's catapult, for it would be necessary to have the trucks attached to the aeroplane to enable her to start properly from any point on which they might land. The workshop and plant in general were left in charge of a watchman and caretaker, and only this man was present when Jack took his place in the controller's seat and Mark started the powerful motor and clambered aboard.
The craft ran across the field, at first slowly and then more rapidly as Jack increased the speed. The flying machine began to lift almost immediately.
"Hurrah!" shouted the irrepressible Jack. "We're off!"
"About nor-norwest is the course, Jack," cried Mark Sampson, likewise inspired by the flight of the Snowbird.
As for Washington White, he gazed down to the dusky earth below them and his eyes rolled.
"Gollyation!" he muttered. "If Buttsy should fall down dere, he'd suah jounce himself some; wouldn't he?"
"WHO GOES THERE?"
With the moonlight lying like a benediction over the fields and forests of Maine, the Snowbird, her motor humming like a huge bumble-bee, and her propellers and controls working in perfect order, swept on her course into the northwest. The lights of Easton, ten miles from their home, melted into the earth-shadow behind the sky-voyagers within the first hour of the sure-to-be eventful journey.
Jack Darrow did not force the pace of the flying machine. They had a long and trying flight before them. The machine as a whole had been tried out only two or three times during the few days that had elapsed since she was completed and this present expedition had been planned. These short flights had served merely to put the parts in good working trim; but the lad knew better than to make the pace that of top-speed from the start.
He wanted her to "warm up." He knew that the Snowbird could make one hundred twenty-five miles an hour. But such speed was likely to shake something loose and cripple the mechanism.
A flight of seventy or eighty miles an hour would bring them well into Canada by noon of the next day. They would have to there descend at, or near, some town, and report themselves and the nature of their flight to the authorities. This was to be done as a precaution in case they had a breakdown somewhere in crossing British possessions. A passport would then aid them if they were obliged to call upon the authorities in the heart of Canada for aid.
But at present none of these things bothered the party much. Sudds and the professor slept as though they were in their beds at home. The old hunter could sleep anywhere, and awake instantly with all his faculties about him. And the scientist slept profoundly because his body was exhausted.
Under the brilliant moon the Snowbird swung along the air-way like a veritable bird. Jack increased the revolutions of the propellers a trifle and the ship responded like a spirited horse to the spur. She darted ahead at a ninety mile speed and Washington White emitted a mournful groan.
"What's the matter with you now, Wash?" shouted Mark, for they all wore ear-tabs and had to shout to make one another hear.
"Oh, lawsy-massy on us!" groaned Wash. "I'se got sech a misery, Massa Mark, I dunno but ma time has camed."
"What time has come?" demanded Mark, without much sympathy. "It'll be time for you to hustle and get us something to eat before long."
"For de goodness gracious Agnes' sake!" gasped the negro, "yo' suahly ain't a-gwine ter dribe me ter wo'k up in disher flyin' contraption? Dat would suah be cruelty ter animiles, boy—it. suah would!"
"We've got to eat, Wash," said Jack, chuckling, "and you are steward and cook of this craft."
"Gollyation! did I ship fo' sech wo'k? I nebber knowed it. It does seem to me dat de consanguinity ob de 'casion done call fo' notting but de quietest kind o' verisimilitude. De qualmishness dat arises in de interiorness of ma diaphragm ev'ry time I circumnavigates erbout in disher flyin' ship makes me wanter express mahself in de mos' scatterin' kin' ob er way—I hopes you gits ma meanin' clear?"
Jack was laughing so that he could not speak, but Mark managed to say:
"You mean that the motion of the aeroplane gives you a feeling of mal de mer?"
"Dat's wot I done said," Wash replied, seriously. "I nebber in ma life felt so mal-der-merry as I do at dis present onauspicious 'casion; an' if dat mal don't stop merryin' purty quick, I suah shall be—ugh!—sick ter ma stummick!"
This wail fairly convulsed Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson; but they knew that if Wash paid more attention to his duties and thought less about his own situation he would be better off. Mark insisted on his going at once into the tiny, covered "galley," as the boys called it, hung amidships, in which were the means of heating water, making coffee, and cooking certain simple viands in their stores.
Wash went to his duties grumblingly; but he was an ingenious and skillful cook and when he got to work he forgot his "feeling of mal-de-merry."
It was now approaching midnight and the flying machine had been steadily traveling northward for some hours. Both Andy Sudds and the professor awoke and offered to relieve the boys in their work. But Mark had taken Jack's place in the controller's seat and neither he nor his chum felt that he wished to give over the guidance of the Snowbird to anybody else.
Now, some distance ahead, the peak of Mt. Katahdin, gloriously mantled in moonlight, rose before them. Their direct course lay over the summit of this eminence, and Mark decided that it would be better to rise to a higher strata and cross the mountain than to swing around it. Therefore Mark raised the bow of the flying machine and she darted upward on a long slant, drawing ever nearer to the shining peak of the great mountain. The night air was chill—it had been cool when they left the earth—and as they rose to the rarer ether it was evident that they would find a degree of temperature far lower than the usual summer heat.
Mark kept the Snowbird scaling swiftly upward, mile after mile; but the long tangent at which he had started to clear the summit of Katahdin did not prove sufficient, and by and by they found themselves within a very few yards of the rocky side of the peak.
Out of a dark glen a spark of light suddenly shot—almost like a rocket in swiftness. Jack saw it first and cried:
"See that! What is it? What do you make of it?"
"A shootin' star, I declare!" said Andy Sudds.
"Nothing of the kind," exclaimed Jack, quickly. "A star could not shoot up from the earth."
"Wot's dat says somebody's a-shootin' at us?" gasped Washington White. "If dey punctuates our tire, we'll suah go down wid a big ker-smash!"
The professor, however, watched the "shooting star" for some moments without speaking, and then rapidly made his way to Mark's side.
"Send your 'plane up in spirals, boy I" he commanded. "Don't let that light rise over us. Be quick, now!"
"What is it, Professor?" asked young Sampson, as he obeyed the scientist's injunction.
"I am sure it is a light in the bow of another airship—but what manner of ship she is, or who drives her, I cannot guess," declared Professor Henderson, gravely.
"Another airship!" cried Jack, who overheard him. "What do you know about that?"
Mark handled the Snowbird with great skill, and the powerful craft mounted much more swiftly than the distant spark of light. The spiral course the 'plane now followed carried it at times much farther from the mountain side than it had been when first the strange light was noticed. That light followed the Snowbird up and up in similar spirals, and the boys were soon convinced that Professor Henderson's discovery was a fact. The lamp was in the bow of another air craft.
"But why should we keep over them?" asked Jack. "There is no danger; is there?"
"We do not know who they are," said the professor, shortly. "The craft came right out of a fastness in the mountain-side—a place difficult to reach, and which would not seem to attract aviators of the ordinary class." "I know what he is thinking of," cried Mark, suddenly. "I read in the paper that the Department of Justice officers are after some big smugglers and that it is believed the criminals, in going back and forth into Canada, use some kind of an aerial craft. Isn't that so, Professor Henderson?"
"I had the fact in mind. The flying machine is being put already to uses that are not commendable, to say the least. The Maine and Canadian border has for years been used by bands of smugglers, and if one of these gangs have purchased and can use a flying craft, they may make the revenue men a deal of trouble."
"You're right, sir. And I read likewise that the government officers proposed using an aeroplane themselves to track the smugglers. Perhaps the villains, if that is their ship below us, may take us for secret service men."
As he spoke the lamp so far below them darted up at a sudden and sharp angle, there sounded the sharp crack of some weapon, and Washington White jumped and screamed.
"Gollyation!" he bawled. "Dem fellers is suah tryin' ter punctuate us!"
Through the blackness of the night a distant voice hailed the pilot of the Snowbird.
"Ahoy! ahoy! Who goes there?" was the cry, and it was repeated twice.
BETWEEN TWO PERILS
Mark Sampson, having all the mechanism of the flying machine under his immediate control, had it in his power to increase speed and seek to escape the second airship. And Jack wondered why his chum did not immediately send the Snowbird flying at increased speed over the top of Mt. Katahdin and so seek to escape the menace below.
But the young fellow at the controls of the Snowbird had an advantage over his companions that Jack had forgotten. He could hear sounds at a much greater distance than they, and much clearer.
This was because of an invention of Professor Henderson—a small instrument similar to part of the ordinary telephone. The sensitive disk was a form of radio receiver which could be attached to any aviator's helmet, and was being put into general use by pilots. The two boys always adjusted this whenever they were strapped upon the pilot's seat.
Thus, although the report of the gun had sounded but faintly to the other members of the party, to Mark it seemed as though the explosion was within a hundred yards. The voice hailing them likewise seemed to ring in his ears very plainly; and beyond the words somewhat distinguished by his companions the young operator of the Snowbird could make out a further phrase spoken by the person who hailed from the other air-craft.
"Halt in the name of the law!"
Those were the sharp words Mark had caught, and for that reason he hesitated to increase the Snowbird's speed.
In a strap hung near his left hand was a transmitter. Without taking the advice of any of his companions in the flying machine, Mark seized it, put it to his lips, and replied to the hail:
"Ahoy! what do you want?"
Instantly the voice rose from the black abyss below them:
"Heave to! Stop in the name of the law!"
That time the professor and Jack heard the words spoken by their pursuer.
"What do you know about that?" demanded Jack. "'In the name of the law', no less!"
Professor Henderson jumped to the same conclusion that Mark had, and that instantly. "It may be the Secret Service men themselves," he said. "Ah, Andrew! it is just as well to withhold your fire until we know for sure."
For Andy Sudds had seized his rifle and stood ready to withstand an attack, should such an act become necessary.
Up from the depths came the cry again:
"Hold your ship. I propose to come aboard and search her. In the name of the United States Government!"
Mr. Henderson took the radio telephone out of Mark's hand and replied:
"We wish to know who and what you really are. We will not put ourselves in your power without knowing. We are amply armed."
"Don't you dare to fire upon a United States officer in the discharge of his duty," cried the voice from below, and now the strange airship was much nearer to them. "Who do you claim to be?"
"This is the Snowbird, from Easton, Maine, She is manned by her builders, Darrow and Sampson. She carries as passengers Washington White, Andrew Sudds and Amos Henderson," declared the professor, in reply. "And she is bound for Alaska."
"Well, well!" exclaimed the voice of their pursuer. "That may all be so. But I have my suspicions. I am Ford, special agent of the Department of Justice. Stand by. Now I am coming aboard."
At a nod from the professor, Mark had already brought the Snowbird to a halt. She lay floating, with all planes extended and without motion of propellers, poised over the summit of Mt. Katahdin.
The descending moon threw its beams over the height and revealed to the vaguely anxious occupants of the Snowbird, the other machine darting up from below.
This was a craft of much different aspect from their own. It was a great deal smaller and apparently without half the power possessed by the one built by Jack and Mark.
She shot into the air above their heads at a swift pace, however, and immediately poised over them. In this attitude Ford, as he called himself, had the occupants of the Snowbird completely at his mercy. A bomb dropped upon the huge flying machine would have blown her to pieces. Or, with a gun, he could have picked off one after another of the five people below.
"Stand out of the way, there!" commanded Ford.
Instantly those upon the larger air-craft saw a figure swing down from the framework of the airship above their heads. A light rope ladder unrolled and fell upon the upper deck, or platform of the Snowbird, and the man came down this ladder, hand under hand, and in half a minute stood in their midst.
He was a small, gray man—gray suit, gray hair and close-cropped mustache, and gray face, colorless and deeply lined. His age would be hard to judge.
"The Snowbird; eh?" he observed, looking sharply from one to the other of the five passengers of the huge flying machine. "You are Amos Henderson, sir?" he pursued, nodding to the professor. "I believe I have heard your name before. Professor Henderson, whose scientific discoveries have made us all marvel of late?"
"I am Professor Henderson," said the old gentleman, quietly. "And I can vouch for my companions. These boys, my adopted sons, have built this flying machine, and we are bound for Alaska."
"Indeed! Then I fear I have caused you some slight trouble, not to say delay," said Mr. Ford. "We revenue agents are extremely anxious to overhaul and interview all aviators along the border. You understand?"
"I believe that you have cause to suspect certain flying machines operating between the Canadian towns and Maine settlements," admitted Professor Henderson. "Quite right. And if our suspicions are based on fact, innocent flying men like yourselves may well beware of the fellows we are after. To be frank with you," pursued Mr. Ford, "a band of desperate smugglers are operating by aid of one or more aeroplanes. And piracy in the air may soon became as frequent—and as grave a peril to innocent aviators—as was ever piracy on the Spanish Main."
"It seems impossible!" said the professor. "Who are these desperate criminals?"
"A man named Bainbridge is at their head. He was originally a diamond dealer and finally was caught smuggling gems into the port of New York. He had to pay a huge fine and served a term at Atlanta for that crime and since then has sworn to be revenged upon the Government that punished him.
"We learned of late that he was operating on the Mexican border—bringing into the States diamonds that had paid no duty—by aid of a flying machine. But the uprising in Chihuahua and along the border made his work exceedingly dangerous, and he was driven away from that part of the country.
"Now we believe he has joined forces hereabout with ancient enemies of the Federal officers. At least, there is a strange aeroplane reported from both sides of the border, and some fine gems have appeared in the hands of certain suspected dealers in Maine, and as far south as Boston and Providence.
"Bainbridge is known to be a desperate man. Look out for him, Professor. If you are hailed by another machine, better keep away from it," and the secret service agent laughed. "Had I been in your place I would not have halted on this occasion. You certainly can outsail any airship I have ever seen operated."
Mr. Ford seemed quite satisfied that our friends were law-abiding and he ascended to his waiting craft in a few moments; and the Snowbird started onward again through the starlight.
But the warning of the special agent had impressed the boys as well as the professor. Andy Sudds refused to lie down again, although Jack and Mark continued to operate the flying machine. The old hunter sat with a rifle in his hand for the rest of the night. But the professor went to bed.
An hour after midnight a cloud from the west completely masked the moon and the whole heavens became misty. This cloud brought both wind and rain, and low upon its edge the lightning played fitfully.
"There will be a heavy tempest about dawn," Andy promised the boys. "I have seen a thunderstorm gather like this before." "But not while you were in a flying machine," chuckled Jack.
"No, sir. But on a mountain top a tempest looks much the same."
Mark, while at the controls, had scaled the machine down the air-ways until they were not more than fifteen hundred feet from the earth. But the boys decided to let the storm gather beneath them, and so shot the Snowbird up again until the indicator registered three thousand feet.
Near the earth it must have been very warm and sultry; but up here it was down to freezing, and the party were all warmly dressed. The clouds soon hid the whole earth from them and the great flying machine traveled in space, with the star-lit heavens above and the rolling mass of vapor, streaked now and then with lightning flashes, beneath.
The deafening roll of the thunder awoke Washington White from a short nap, and the darkey was not at all sure that he was safe from the lightning bolts.
"How d'I know dem bolts won't fly disher way?" he demanded of the boys when they tried to reassure him.
"Why, the earth attracts the electric bolt, and that attraction is much stronger than any the Snowbird may have for the electricity in the clouds," Mark told him. "I don't know erbout dat," grumbled Wash. "An' if jest one o' dem crazy lightning bolts should take it into its haid ter segastuate eround disher flying merchine—biff! bang! dat would be erbout all. Dere would be a big bunch o' crape hung on Wash White's do', suah as you is bawn, boy!"
But although the roar of the thunder and whining of the wind nearly drowned other sounds in and about the flying machine, save for a freshening of the gale the Snowbird was at first but little disturbed by the tempest which raged with such fury a thousand feet below.
Suddenly Mark caught sight of something moving across the red streak in the eastern sky—the light that warned them of the approach of the sun.
"What is that—a huge bird?" he demanded of Andy Sudds, pointing this moving figure out to the hunter.
Andy's eyes were very keen, for he was used to sighting along a rifle and gazing over long distances in search of game. But he, too, thought the object must be a bird.
"I declare, I didn't know birds flew so high," said Mark. "It must be an eagle. No other fowl could fly so high."
"'Nless it were Buttsy," remarked Washington, sotto voce. The professor was still asleep and the boys paid little attention to the flying object for some time. It was coming up behind the Snowbird, and they had no occasion to look behind.
The sun arose, angry and red, while the thunder continued to roll below them, and the crackling of the electric flashes was like minute guns. The Snowbird was winging its way along at about seventy-five miles per hour. Wash had gone into the covered galley to prepare breakfast. Jack was still in the operator's seat.
Suddenly Andy Sudds uttered a loud shout. A huge shadow was thrown athwart the flying Snowbird. Some object was hovering over them and they cast their eyes upward, at Andy's cry, to see another aeroplane swooping down directly upon them.
It was not the machine manned by Secret Service Agent Ford and his companion, but a much heavier and more rapid vehicle. And until its shadow fell across the Snowbird, the boys had had no warning of its approach.
At first glance it was apparent that the strange aircraft intended mischief. It was shooting down from a higher level, its sharp bow aimed directly for the Snowbird. Jack pushed over the switch and raised the bow of their own ship. She leaped forward and began to slant upward, too.
But instantly the course of the stranger was deflected to meet this change in the movement of the Snowbird. She had the advantage of the boys' craft, too. She evidently proposed to retain her overhead position, and as she shot in closer, Jack was constrained to descend again to escape collision with her.
"Keep away!" he shouted through the transmitter, and at his cry, and the bustle about him, the professor was awakened.
But no reply came from the strange aeroplane, although they could see several figures moving upon her. It swooped down upon them, and Jack had to deflect his planes again and slant downward toward the storm-cloud.
And then he saw the other peril. He was between two great dangers. If the reckless aviator tried to ram him from above, his only escape was by plunging through the tempest which raged just below them.
Down came the stranger upon the Snowbird again. She surely meant them ill—she was bent on their destruction. And meanwhile the thunder roared below and the crackling of the lightning was almost incessant.
Jack Darrow had to decide quickly—and he must determine which of the two risks to take.
ON THE WINGS OF THE WIND
Speedy as the Snowbird was, she could not get out from under the shadow of the strange aeroplane. That was driven at a sharp angle down upon the boys' flying machine, and it seemed to all those in the lower 'plane that a collision was imminent.
The thunder fairly deafened them all. Around them rolled the mists and the wind shrieked through the stays of the aeroplane and shook the structure like a dog worrying a bone.
Down they fell, and in an instant the rushing rain, emptied in a torrent from the clouds, swept about them, saturating their garments and beating the flying machine itself toward the distant earth.
During the next few moments Jack Darrow, Mark Sampson, and their companions were in as grave peril as had ever threatened them in their eventful lives.
The torrents of water all but beat the flying machine to the earth—and to be dashed down from such a height spelled death to all and destruction to the aeroplane.
Jack, however, had been taught to keep cool in moments of danger, and he realized that their lives depended entirely upon his handling of the great machine. They had descended below the level of the storm-cloud at a most inopportune moment. They were caught in the midst of a veritable cloudburst.
Shaken desperately by the wind, and beaten upon by tons upon tons of water, it was a wonder that the great planes, or wings, of the flying machine were not torn away. All Jack could do was to guide her the best he could, and all his companions could do was to cling to a slender hope and endure the lashing of the gale.
But Jack Darrow did not propose to be cast to the ground—and the flying machine and his friends with him—without some further attempt to avert such a catastrophe.
After the first breath-taking rush of the storm he diverted the course of the machine again upward. He could scarcely see, the driving rain was so blinding; nor could he observe the indicators before him with any clearness. But he was quite sure that the enemy that had driven him down into the storm-cloud could see the Snowbird no better than he could see that strange aeroplane that had threatened to collide with them.
So he shot the Snowbird upward again at a long slant, and put on all the power of the engine to drive her onward. The flying machine shook and throbbed in every part. The power of the engines would have driven her, under other and more favorable conditions, at more than one hundred miles an hour—possibly a hundred and twenty-five.
Jack himself was almost blinded and deafened. He was strapped to his seat, so could give both hands to the work of manipulating the levers. He brought the Snowbird through the cloud and—with startling suddenness—they shot out of the mass of rolling moisture and into the sunlight of the dawn. But they were far off their course.
The change from the chaos of the storm-cloud to the almost perfect calm of the upper ether was so great that it was almost stunning. For a minute none of the five spoke a word.
Then it was Mark who shouted:
"There's that 'plane again, Jack I Look out for her!"
The enemy had missed them. She was some miles away, and although still on a level above, at the pace the Snowbird was now traveling it would take a fast flying machine indeed to overtake her.
The pursuit of the enemy (which they all believed to be the smuggler, manned by Bainbridge and his friends) was not kept up for long. By eight o'clock the Snowbird had dropped the other machine below the horizon, and the swift pace at which they had driven the Snowbird was rapidly bringing them once more toward Canada.
The storm had broken, but the clouds still hovered below them. They descended about noon, passing harmlessly through the vapor which had so long hidden the earth from them, and so came to within a thousand feet of the ground, where they swung along at fair speed for some hours.
They crossed the line, but did not descend until near St. Thomas. They went out of their way a good bit to land near this town on the shore of the St. Lawrence, for the flying machine had been so shaken in its struggle with the thunderstorm that some repairs were needed.
They descended in a field on the edge of the town, gave the farmer who owned the place a five-dollar bill to allow the machine to stand on his land, and then engaged him to drive Professor Henderson and the boys into town.
While the professor saw the authorities and obtained a legal document recommending the exploring party to the good offices of all British-Canadian officers whom they might meet, the boys went to a machine shop to have a rod repaired. The party took supper with the farmer, and an hour later the flying machine being pronounced by both Mark and Jack in perfect order, they got off amid the cheers of the onlookers, whose numbers were by that time swelled to almost five hundred persons.
It was long after dark and the moon had not risen. It was a cloudless night, however, and as the flying machine soared heavenward the voyagers could look deep into the seeming black-velvet of the skies, picked out by the innumerable sparkling stars, and thought they had never seen so wonderful or beautiful a sight.
As they cast their gaze downward, too, they beheld the torches at the Canadian farm rapidly receding, and then, in a few minutes, they were flying over St. Thomas, where the lights twinkled, too. Then they shot over the broad, island-dotted bosom of the St. Lawrence River, and so on across country and town toward the vast Canadian wilderness.
The professor and Andy had the watch and Jack and Mark went to bed. The excitement of the previous twenty-four hours had kept the boys up; but once they closed their eyes, they slept like logs all night. Andy Sudds relieved the professor now and then in the operator's seat, and they did not call the boys until Washington White made breakfast at daybreak. By that time the Snowbird had passed Lake St. John, far to the north and east, and was heading for Hudson Bay. The earth below them was a checker-board of forest and field, with here and there a ribbon of river, and occasionally a group of farmsteads, or a small town. Suddenly they were forced down, and had to remain many hours for repair work before ascending again.
The ranges of hills—some of them dignified enough to be termed "mountains"—which they crossed necessitated their flying high. They were generally at an altitude of two thousand feet and the rarefied atmosphere so far above the earth was cool, anyway. Since leaving St. Thomas, on the bank of the St. Lawrence, they had averaged eighty miles an hour, and before moonrise they were cognizant of the fact that they were approaching a great sheet of water.
"St. James Bay, the lower part of Hudson Bay," Professor Henderson explained.
Soon the moonlight shimmered upon the waves beneath them. Jack, who was guiding the craft, deflected the wings and they slid down the airways toward the water. They traveled all night over this great inland sea, at times so close to the surface that the leaping waves sprinkled them with their spray—for there was a stiff breeze.
A gale broke in earnest over the Hudson Bay territory that day, and despite the efforts of the voyagers they could not rise in the Snowbird above the tempest. Had there been solid ground beneath them they could easily have descended and remained upon terra firma until the storm was past.
This gale was favorable to their course, but it gripped them in its giant grasp and hurled them on into the northwest at a speed that imperiled the safety of the flying machine each moment. There was no sleep for any of the party now, and Washington White came pretty near (as Jack said) "making good his name in his face"—for if ever a darkey of Wash's ebony complexion turned pale, the professor's servant did so at this juncture.
On and on they were driven hour after hour. Scarcely a word was spoken the entire time. There was no cessation of the gale. The great body of water was passed and they knew that there was land beneath them again. But each time they tried to descend they found the storm near the earth-crust far heavier than at the upper levels.
To descend through the belt of the storm might partially wreck their flying machine and the professor knew, by the study of his recording instruments, that they were passing over an utter wilderness in which no help could be obtained and from which, should they be wrecked, they could not escape before the rigorous Arctic winter set in.
Hour after hour they drove on. The speed of the Snowbird at times, when driven by the full force of the gale, had mounted to one hundred thirty miles an hour.
Great Slave Lake was far south of their route; yet the professor told them that, had it been clear, at the altitude they traveled, they could have seen and marked this great body of water.
They actually crossed the Great Bear Lake and the Mackenzie River, however, and saw the ragged peaks of the Rocky Mountains, which here almost touch the shores of the Arctic Sea. Blown on and on, with little diminution of speed, it was not many hours before the Snowbird was flying over Alaskan wilds. The flying machine had kept closely to the course the professor had laid out for her when they left Maine. They were still headed for the slopes of the Endicott Range and the native town of Aleukan.
The question paramount in all their minds, however, was this: Would they reach their destination in safety?
DROPPED FROM THE SKY
A thick mantle of fog masked the heavens; but beneath this the wind—traveling at great velocity—drove the ragged clouds like frightened sheep across the pastures of the firmament.
The moon and stars gave so little light that the earth seemed but a vague and shadowy mass—nothing more. The wind shrieked in many voices, as though a troop of goblins raced through the air, or rode the strangely formed and hurrying clouds.
Driven on with the tumbling banks of vapor, as vaguely outlined in the gloom as the clouds themselves, was the great flying machine, which the wind buffeted and harried about as though against it Old Boreas had some special spite.
Jack was in the operator's seat; but there was little to do but hang on to the steering wheel. The wind blew them as it listed.
"I don't well see how anybody can sleep in this horrid storm," complained Mark Sampson. "And the machine rocks so—ugh! I'm as sick as though we were at sea." "And we are pretty completely 'at sea,'" chuckled the more volatile Jack. "I hope the professor knows where we are. I don't!"
"And I don't see how he can tell," grumbled his chum.
"Pluck up your spirits, old man!" returned the older lad, but Mark interrupted him, still crossly:
"I hope I am as courageous as the next. We've done some funny stunts together, Jack Darrow—you and I and the old professor. But this caps them all, I declare. It's a mystery to me how Mr. Henderson and Andy Sudds can remain asleep."
"Well, they are both tired out, I reckon. They had a long watch—and we slept, you know."
"That was a long time ago," grunted Mark,
"It's pretty tough, I admit," said Jack, when Washington White broke in with:
"Hi, yi! Whuffo' you boys be sech cowards? Is I skeert? Huh!"
"You bet you're scared," returned Jack, emphatically. "When we got caught in that flaw yesterday afternoon he wanted to jump out; didn't he, Mark?"
"Wash certainly tried to climb out," rejoined Mark. "Well, den! dat showed I warn't no coward," crowed the black man, though in a very shaky voice. "If I'd been scart', would I really have wanted ter jump? It was a might long way to de groun' right den, I guess."
Suddenly the Shanghai crowed loudly. "Tell yo' what!" cried the black man, scratching his head. "Dat rooster done crow fo' company."
"Company!" gasped Mark. "What does he think he hears up here—angels' wings? We're about as near being in the company of the celestial hosts as we'll ever be and remain alive, I reckon."
"No, sah!" retorted Washington. "Dat Shanghai done know dat we is near some oder fow-el——"
"Up here in the air, Wash?" cried Jack.
"Dunno whar dey is," said the darkey, doggedly. "Dar he crows ergin! Dar is suttenly critters ob his kind nearby—yes—sah!"
It may have been the Shanghai's raucous tone that aroused Andy. The old hunter suddenly appeared on the platform behind the operator's seat, where the boys and Wash were clinging, and Andy brought his rifle with him.
"Hullo!" he said. "Is the watch called?"
"I'm sorry if we awoke you, Andy," Jack said. "There is nothing for you to do."
"Nothing to shoot at; eh?" said the old hunter. "I reckon I ain't of much use in a flying machine, anyway. Sort of 'up in the air'; ain't I?"
"That's where we all are," complained Mark. "And I, for one, wish we were down again."
"Guess we're all with you in that wish, old man," agreed Jack.
As he spoke, the wind-blown figure of the professor hove into view from the small, sheltered cabin. He glanced at the various indicators and the compass in front of Jack.
"We are all in safety yet; are we, boys?" he queried.
"If you can call being driven helplessly before such a gale and about a mile above the earth safe," retorted Mark.
"Surely not as high as that," exclaimed Professor Henderson. He examined the instruments again, and said, quickly: "We are descending! How is that, Jack?"
"Not with my knowledge, sir," returned the boy aviator. "I think we have remained on the thousand-foot level since crossing the Rocky Mountains."
"I believe you have been faithful, my boy," returned the professor, quickly. "But the earth is certainly less than three hundred feet below us—ah! see that? The indicator registers 250 feet. Now 240!" "We are falling!" cried Mark.
"No!" said the professor. "The earth is rising. We are being blown against the mountainside. We must be within a few hundred miles, at least, of our destination. Those are the Endicott Mountains yonder," and he waved a hand at the darkness to the south of them.
"Hark!" cried Andy Sudds, suddenly.
There was a momentary lull in the wind. From below came the broken crowing of a cock in answer to the Shanghai's challenge. Then a dog barked.
"There's a farmhouse down there," said the hunter.
"What did I tell yo'?" cried Washington White. "Dat Buttsy knows his business, all right!"
"We must descend," commanded the professor. "Deflect the planes, Jack. Watch the indicator. Reduce the speed. Let us float down as easily as possible."
But, wrestling as the flying machine was with the wind, she could not descend easily. She scaled earthward with fearful velocity. The irrepressible Jack yelled:
"Go-ing down! We're going to bump hard in a minute!"
The aged professor and Andy Sudds showed no perturbation. Jack and Mark had been through so many wonderful experiences with the professor, Andy, and the negro, that they were not likely to be panic-stricken. Yet all realized that death was imminent.
The finger on the dial showed a hundred feet from earth, and still they descended. Fifty feet!
"Hold hard!" commanded the professor. "We'll be down in a minute."
There seemed to be a break in the hurrying clouds. There was light in the sky—the twilight of the Long Day, for they were far beyond the Arctic Circle.
Looking down they could dimly see objects on the earth—trees, a house of some kind—several houses, in fact.
And then suddenly there was added to their perils an unlooked-for danger. Out of the murk which covered the earth below the flying machine sprang a point of light and the explosion of a gun echoed in the aviators' ears.
A rifle bullet tore right through to the inside and passed between the professor and Andy Sudds. There were men with firearms below, and they were firing point blank at the flying machine.
PHINEAS ROEBACH, OIL HUNTER
As has been said, the boys and their older companions had been in many perilous situations; but no adventure promised to end more tragically than this flight of the huge airship. The descent of the Snowbird, punctuated by the rifle shot below, seemed likely to be fatal to them all.
"What kind of people can they be?" gasped Mark. "They are trying to shoot us."
"Give me my rifle! I'll show 'em!" exclaimed the old hunter.
"You'll do nothing of the kind, Andy," commanded Professor Henderson. "Do not make a bad matter worse by yielding to your passions."
A second shot was fired by those upon the ground; but the bullet went wide of the mark. Jack shouted:
"We are drawing away from them. Look out! we all but hit that tree!"
"Steady, Jack," admonished the professor. "We'll be down in a minute, my lads. Cling to anything handy. She will bounce some, but I believe we shall not be injured." The calmness of the aged scientist would have shamed the others into some semblance of order, were it needed; but both the boys were courageous, Andy Sudds did not know fear, and if Washington White was in a panic of terror, he did not get in the way of the others to hamper their movements.
The Snowbird was fluttering over the ground like a wounded bird, while so black were their surroundings that none of the party could distinguish anything of nearby objects. The clouds had broken but little, and only for a moment.
"She's down!" suddenly shouted Mark Sampson, and the flying machine jounced on its rubber-tired wheels, and then struck the ground again almost immediately.
Mark leaped down on one side and Andy Sudds on the other. Instantly, relieved of their weight, the flying machine was carried on again and Mark and Andy were thrown to the ground.
Perhaps that was well, for several rifles were again fired behind them and they heard the bullets whistle above their heads.
"Low bridge, Mark!" cried the old hunter, meaning for the boy to keep close to the earth. "I've got my gun."
"Don't fire on them, Andy," responded young Sampson, remembering the professor's warning. "We don't know who they are or what they mean by their actions."
"We don't want to be shot down without making any fight; do we?" cried Andy.
"Let us escape without a fight if possible," urged the cautious youth, feeling sure that Professor Henderson would approve of this advice.
But the pounding of many feet approaching over the rising ground—evidently, as Mr. Henderson had said, the foothills of the mountain range—warned Mark and the hunter to keep still. In the partial light they saw a group of tall men, all armed, running past them in the direction the wounded Snowbird had been blown.
"Hush!" whispered Andy. "Indians!"
Mark had seen their long hair and beardless faces, and believed the hunter was right. The enemy were dressed in clothing of skins and were without hats. Yet Mark knew that the Indians of Alaska were much different from the savages of the western territories of the United States. He did not believe these Alaskan aborigines would attack white men.
It was growing lighter about them every moment. The lad and the tall hunter arose and stood listening for a further alarm—or for some cry from their comrades in the flying machine.
As the light increased they saw that they were in a grove of huge trees. Somehow the Snowbird had fluttered away through these forest monarchs and was now out of sight.
"I wonder what's happened to them?" gasped Mark.
"Them Indians haven't attacked yet," growled Andy Sudds. "If they begin to shoot we'll know which way to go, and we'll foller them."
But the first sound they heard came from behind them. There was the crash of heavy footsteps and a big man suddenly came panting up the slope. Cold as it was, his shirt was open at the neck, he was bare-headed, and he had not stopped to pull on his boots when he arose from his bed. In his right hand he carried a battered "fish-horn," and without seeing Mark and Andy he stopped and put this instrument to his lips, blowing a blast that made his eyes bulge and his cheeks turn purple.
"Hold on, Mister!" ejaculated the hunter. "What you got to sell? Or be you callin' the cows?"
"Mercy on me!" cried the fat man, and in a high, squeaky voice that seemed to be a misfit for his huge body. "I am sure I'm glad to meet you. You must have just arrived," and he squinted at the strangely clad hunter and his boy companion, for Mark wore a helmet with ear-tabs.
"We just landed, that's sure," admitted Andy. "From an airship, I fancy," exclaimed the other. "That is what is the matter with my Aleuts, then. They never have seen such a thing as an airship, I'll be bound. Have they hurt any of your party?"
"I don't know," Mark said, hastily. "If you are in command of those Indians, call them off, please. There are three of our party somewhere with the flying machine, and the Indians have been shooting at them."
"I'll try it," declared the man, instantly. "I can usually call them together with this horn," and he raised it to his lips again and blew another mighty blast.
"I have had this bunch of Aleuts six months," he explained, when he got his breath again. "They are good workers, but as superstitious as you can imagine. They are particularly shaky just now, for a number of queer things have happened lately in these parts. There is a volcano somewhere in action—we had a storm of ashes a week ago. And night before last there was a positive earth-shock."
"You seem like a pretty intelligent man," grunted Andy Sudds, in his blunt way. "What are you doing up here in this heaven-forsaken country?"
"Why, I am an oil hunter," said the fat man, simply. "A what?" repeated Andy and Mark together.
"Oil hunter. My name is Phineas Roebach, and I am in the employ of the Universal Oil Company. I am here—as I have been in many lands—boring for petroleum. You understand that my mission is semi-secret. If we find oil here we shall obtain a grant from the Government, or something like that."
Just at that moment Mark Sampson was not particularly interested in the odd-looking Mr. Roebach or his business.
"Blow your horn again, sir," he begged. "Call off your Indians. They may shoot our friends."
"If your party is all dressed as peculiarly as yourself, young sir," said Phineas Roebach, "my Aleuts could scarcely be blamed for taking a pot shot at them."
Then he blew the horn mightily for the third time.
The long twilight which preceded full day had now grown so strong as to reveal matters more plainly about the spot where Mark and Andy Sudds had disembarked from the flying machine. They soon saw several objects running through the grove toward them, and these objects proved to be the returning Indians.
There were half a dozen of them, and they were all armed with rifles. The moment they beheld the old hunter and the youth, with Phineas Roebach, they gave every indication of shooting, for they stopped and raised their rifles, pointing them at Mark and Andy.
Mr. Roebach sprang between his Aleuts and his visitors and began to harangue them angrily in their own harsh dialect. However, his huge body so entirely sheltered Mark and Andy that neither was much terrified by the Indians. Besides, the Maine hunter advanced his own rifle and calculated he could do considerable execution with it while the red men were hesitating.
"They believed you all spirits of the air," said the oil man, turning finally to speak to his new friends. "They were much frightened."
"Ask them for news of Professor Henderson and the others," begged the anxious Mark.
"They chased the crippled flying machine for some distance, but did not find it. My horn bade them return," replied Mr. Roebach.
Even as they started to walk with the oil man and his sullen Indians toward various shacks which they saw through the trees, and lower on the mountain side, they heard a hail and looked up to see Professor Henderson, Jack Darrow, and the negro, Washington White, descending the mountain in their rear.
"This is your party; is it?" demanded Mr. Roebach.
"Yes, sir," said Mark.
"Bring them directly to my cabin. The Aleuts will not hurt you, now that they know we are friends."
He hurried away, but Andy handled his rifle very suggestively and kept both eyes on the red men. The latter, however, kept to themselves and only stared at the crew of the Snowbird with great curiosity.
"Hurrah!" quoth Jack, when in earshot. "Here they are, safe and sound, Professor!"
"We have been just as afraid that something bad was happening to you," Mark said, quickly. "Where's the machine?" "Your beautiful 'plane is badly wrecked, Mark, my boy," said Professor Henderson. "But I believe we shall be able to repair it in time. We are not, however, I feel sure, far from Aleukan. Do those men speak English?"
"Not much of it, I reckon, Professor," said Andy Sudds. "But they have got mighty nasty dispositions. If it wasn't for the fat man I reckon they would jump on us."
"He told us to follow along to his cabin," Mark proposed. "I do not think these Indians will touch us."
"They'd better think twice about it," said the belligerent Andy, pushing in between the professor and the Aleuts, as the whole party descended the mountain side toward the place where the oil man had pitched his camp.
As they proceeded the light grew and the newcomers to Alaska identified objects about them more clearly. Near at hand was the framework of a boring machine, or derrick. The professor began to notice a deposit of ash that lay thickly on the ground in sheltered places.
"How remarkable—how very remarkable!" he ejaculated. "One would think there was a volcano in action very near here."
Mark repeated what Phineas Roebach had said about the 'quake and the storm of ashes. The professor began to rub his hands together and his eyes twinkled. "I declare! I declare!" he repeated. "A seismic disturbance in this locality? Ah! our visit to Alaska for Dr. Todd may repay us nobly indeed."
Washington White's eyes opened very wide and he demanded:
"What's disher t'ing yo' calls 'sezmik', Professor Henderson? I suah don't understand no sech langwidge."
"He means an earthquake, Wash," said Jack, as the professor paid no attention to the darkey's question.
"Gollyation! is we goin' ter collek a nearthquake along wid dat chrisomela-bypunktater plant? And what good's a nearthquake w'en you got him?"
This unanswerable question of the darkey's fell flat, for the party just then reached the huge, two-roomed log cabin in which Phineas Roebach made his headquarters. The "oil hunter," as he called himself, appeared in a costume more fitted to the rigor of the weather.
"Come right in, gentlemen," was his cordial cry. "I have an Indian woman here who can cook almost as well as white folks. At any rate, she can make coffee and fry bacon. This is Professor Henderson? Glad to meet you, sir," and so went on, being introduced to the whole party.
The professor immediately began to question the oil hunter regarding the exact situation of his camp and learned that they were but a hundred and fifty miles from Aleukan. Phineas Roebach had a plentiful supply of dogs and sleds, too, with a goodly store of provisions. If worse came to worst and the flying machine could not be at once prepared, Mr. Roebach could supply the party with transportation to the Indian settlement where Professor Henderson would meet his own supplies from Coldfoot and there could obtain other dogs and sleds to go on to the valley where the Chrysothele-Byzantium was supposed to flourish.
"And the road from here to Aleukan is a good one at this season of the year. More than half the way you travel over a glacier, and as the icefield has not been in motion for ages, it makes a fine highroad," the oil hunter declared.
They were discussing these matters during breakfast, and everybody was feeling particularly thankful over the safe descent of the aeroplane, when they were startled by a sudden, jarring shock. The cabin rocked and the boys, at least, felt a qualmishness in the pit of the stomach that forbade further eating.
"What's that?" demanded Andy Sudds.
Washington White dropped the plate he was carrying to the table and ran to the door. Before he could open it, the door was broken in by the Indians, who came pouring in, loudly jabbering in their native tongue.
"A 'quake, sure enough!" ejaculated Phineas Roebach, getting quickly on his feet.
As he spoke, there was a repetition of the shock, only greatly increased. The oil hunter was thrown to the floor, as was everybody else in the house who was not seated. The roof of the cabin creaked and threatened to descend upon their heads.
The Indians, uttering cries of alarm, scrambled out of the cabin faster than they came in. But they had nothing on Washington White there. He was the first person to get through the door.
The white people followed the others in quick time. Jack and Mark felt that if the cabin was going to fall, the open air was the safer place. Here, however, it seemed that they could not keep their feet. They reeled about like drunken men, and the forest trees bent and writhed as though an invisible wind tore at them, whereas the fact was that the wind had fallen and it was a dead calm.
The air about them seemed to rock with the shock, there was a dull roaring sound which hummed continually in their ears, and the vibrations of the earth continued. They were indeed experiencing a most serious earthquake.
THE BLACK DAY
The 'quake was over in a very few moments; the Indians and Washington White, however, cowered upon the ground for some time, crying out their fear of what they considered supernatural phenomena. Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson were not frightened in the same way as the darkey and the Aleuts; nevertheless they were much shaken.
Professor Henderson, however, displayed naught but the keenest interest in the scientific side of the happening. He clambered to his feet the moment he could stand, and observed: