Chapter XV. The Rescue on the Lake
 

For a time the Falcon shot onward through the storm and darkness, for Tom did not want to give up. With but a single shaded light in the pilot house, so that he could see to read the gauges and dials, telling of the condition of the machinery in the motor room, he pushed his stanch craft ahead. At times she would be forced downward toward the angry waters of Lake Ontario, over which she was sailing, but the speed of her propellers and the buoyancy of the gas bag, would soon lift her again.

"How much longer are you going to stay?" called Ned in his chum's ear--called loudly, not to be heard above the noise of the airship, but above the racket of the gale.

"Oh, I guess we may as well start back," spoke Tom, after a look at the clock on the wall. "We can just about make our camp by daylight, and they won't see us."

"It won't be light very early," observed Mr. Whitford, looking in the pilot house from the cabin, just aft of it. "But there is no use waiting around here any more, Tom. They gave us a false clew, all right."

"Bless my police badge!" cried Mr. Damon. "They must be getting desperate."

"I believe they are," went on the custom officer. "They are afraid of us, and that's a good sign. We'll keep right after 'em, too. If we don't get 'em this week, we will next. Better put back."

"I will," decided the young inventor.

"It certainly is a gale," declared Ned, as he made his way along a dim passage, as few lights had been set aglow, for fear of the smugglers seeing the craft outlined in the air. Now, however, when it was almost certain that they were on the wrong scent, Tom switched on the incandescents, making the interior of the Falcon more pleasant.

The giant came into the pilot house to help Tom, and the airship was turned about, and headed toward Logansville. The wind was now sweeping from the north across Lake Ontario, and it was all the powerful craft could do to make headway against it.

There came a terrific blast, which, in spite of all that Tom and Koku could do, forced the Falcon down, dangerously close to the dashing billows.

"Hard over, Koku!" called Tom to his giant.

As the airship began to respond to the power of her propellers, and the up-tilted rudder, Tom heard, from somewhere below him, a series of shrill blasts on a whistle.

"What's that?" he cried.

"Sounds like a boat below us," answered Mr. Whitford.

"I guess it is," agreed the young inventor. "There she goes again."

Once more came the frantic tooting of a whistle, and mingled with it could be heard voices shouting in fear, but it was only a confused murmur of sound. No words could be made out.

"That's a compressed air whistle!" decided Tom. "It must be some sort of a motor boat in distress. Quick, Mr. Whitford! Tell Ned to switch on the searchlight, and play it right down on the lake. If there's a boat in this storm it can't last long. Even an ocean liner would have trouble. Get the light on quick, and we'll see what we can do!"

It was the work of but an instant to convey the message to Ned. The latter called Mr. Damon to relieve him in the motor room, and, a few seconds later, Ned had switched on the electricity. By means of the lazy-tongs, and the toggle joints, the bank clerk lifted the lantern over until the powerful beam from it was projected straight down into the seething waters of the lake.

"Do you see anything?" asked Mr. Damon from the motor room, at one side of which Ned stood to operate the lantern.

"Nothing but white-caps," was the answer. "It's a fearful storm."

Once more came the series of shrill whistles, and the confused calling of voices. Ned opened a window, in order to hear more plainly. As the whistle tooted again he could locate the sound, and, by swinging the rays of the searchlight to and fro he finally picked up the craft.

"There she is!" he cried, peering down through the plate glass window in the floor of the motor room. "It's a small gasolene boat, and there are several men in her! She's having a hard time."

"Can we rescue them?" asked Mr. Damon.

"If anybody can, Tom Swift will," was Ned's reply. Then came a whistle from the speaking tube, that led to the pilot house.

"What is it?" asked Ned, putting the tube to his ear.

"Stand by for a rescue!" ordered Tom, who had also, through a window in the floor of the pilot house, seen the hapless motor boat. The men in it were frantically waving their hands to those on the airship. "I'm going down as close as I dare," went on Tom. "You watch, and when it's time, have Koku drop from the stern a long, knotted rope. That will he a sort of ladder, and they can make it fast to their boat and climb up, hand over hand. It's the only plan."

"Good!" cried Ned. "Send Koku to me. Can you manage alone in the pilot house?"

"Yes," came back the answer through the tube.

Koku came back on the run, and was soon tying knots in a strong rope. Meanwhile Ned kept the light on the tossing boat, while Tom, through a megaphone had called to the men to stand by to be rescued. The whistle frantically tooted their thanks.

Koku went out on the after deck, and, having made the knotted rope fast, dropped the end overboard. Then began a difficult feature of airship steering. Tom, looking down through the glass, watched the boat in the glare of the light. Now coming forward, now reversing against the rush of the wind; now going up, and now down, the young inventor so directed the course of his airship so that, finally, the rope dragged squarely across the tossing boat.

In a trice the men grabbed it, and made it fast. Then Tom had another difficult task--that of not allowing the rope to become taut, or the drag of the boat, and the uplift of the airship might have snapped it in twain. But he handled his delicate craft of the air as confidently as the captain of a big liner brings her skillfully to the deck against wind and tide.

"Climb up! Climb up!" yelled Tom, through the megaphone, and he saw, not a man, but a woman, ascending the knotted rope, hand over hand, toward the airship that hovered above her head.