Chapter XVI. Koku's Prisoner
 

"Bless my knitting needles!" cried Mr. Damon, as be looked down, and saw, in the glare of the great light, the figure of the woman clinging to the swaying rope. "Help her, someone! Tom! Ned! She'll fall!"

The eccentric man started to rush from the motor room, where he had been helping Ned. But the latter cried:

"Stay where you are, Mr. Damon. No one can reach her now without danger to himself and her. She can climb up, I think."

Past knot after knot the woman passed, mounting steadily upward, with a strength that seemed remarkable.

"Come on!" cried Tom to the others. "Don't wait until she gets up. There isn't time. Come on--the rope will hold you all! Climb up!"

The men in the tossing and bobbing motor boat heard, and at once began, one after the other, to clamber up the rope. There were five of them, as could be seen in the glare of the light, and Tom, as he watched, wondered what they were doing out in the terrific storm at that early hour of the morning, and with a lone woman.

"Stand by to help her, Koku!" called Ned to the giant.

"I help," was the giant's simple reply, and as the woman's head came above the rail, over which the rope ran, Koku, leaning forward, raised her in his powerful arms, and set her carefully on the deck.

"Come into the cabin, please," Ned called to her. "Come in out of the wet."

"Oh, it seems a miracle that we are saved!" the woman gasped, as, rain-drenched and wind-tossed, she staggered toward the door which Tom had opened by means of a lever in the pilot house. The young inventor had his hands full, manipulating the airship so as to keep it above the motor boat, and not bring too great a strain on the rope.

The woman passed into the cabin, which was between the motor room and the pilot house, and Ned saw her throw herself on her knees, and offer up a fervent prayer of thanksgiving. Then, springing to her feet, she cried:

"My husband? Is he safe? Can you save him? Oh, how wonderful that this airship came in answer to our appeals to Providence. Whose is it?"

Before Ned got a chance to answer her, as she came to the door of the motor room, a man's voice called:

"My wife! Is she safe?"

"Yes, here I am," replied the woman, and a moment later the two were in each other's arms.

"The others; are they safe?" gasped the woman, after a pause.

"Yes," replied the man. "They are coming up the rope. Oh, what a wonderful rescue! And that giant man who lifted us up on deck! Oh, do you recall in Africa how we were also rescued by airship--"

"Come on now, I got you!" interrupted the voice of Koku out on the after deck, and there was a series of thumps that told when he had lifted the men over the rail, and set them down.

"All saved!" cried the giant at last.

"Then cut the rope!" shouted Tom. "We've got to get out of this, for it's growing worse!"

There was the sound of a hatchet blow, and the airship shot upward. Into the cabin came the dripping figures of the other men, and Ned, as he stood by the great searchlight, felt a wave of wonder sweep over him as he listened to the voices of the first man and woman.

He knew he had heard them before, and, when he listened to the remark about a rescue by airship, in Africa, a flood of memory came to him.

"Can it be possible that these are the same missionaries whom Tom and I rescued from the red pygmies?" he murmured. "I must get a look at them."

"Our boat, it is gone I suppose," remarked one of the other men, coming into the motor room.

"I'm afraid so," answered Ned, as he played the light on the doomed craft. Even as he did so he saw a great wave engulf her, and, a moment later she sank. "She's gone," he said softly.

"Too bad!" exclaimed the man. "She was a fine little craft. But how in the world did you happen along to rescue us? Whose airship is this?"

"Tom Swift's," answered Ned, and, at the sound of the name the woman uttered a cry, as she rushed into the motor room.

"Tom Swift!" she exclaimed. "Where is he? Oh, can it be possible that it is the same Tom Swift that rescued us in Africa?"

"I think it is, Mrs. Illingway," spoke Ned quietly, for he now recognized the missionary, though he wondered what she and her husband were doing so far from the Dark Continent.

"Oh, I know you--you're Ned Newton--Tom's chum! Oh, I am so glad! Where is Tom?"

"In the pilot house. He'll be here in a moment."

Tom came in at that juncture, having set the automatic steering geer to take the ship on her homeward course.

"Are they all saved?" he asked, looking at the little group of persons who had climbed up from the motor boat. "Mr. Damon, you had better make some hot coffee. Koku, you help. I--"

"Tom Swift!" cried out Mr. and Mrs. Illingway together, as they made a rush for the young inventor. "Don't you know us?"

To say that Tom was surprised at this, would be putting it mildly. He had to lean up against the side of the cabin for support.

"Mrs. Illingway!" he gasped. "You here--were you in that boat?"

"Yes. it's all very simple. My husband and I are on a vacation for a year. We got fever and had to leave Africa. We are staying with friends at a resort on the lake shore. These are our friends," she went on, introducing the other gentlemen.

"We went out for a trip in the motor boat," the missionary continued, "but we went too far. Our motor broke down, we could get no help, and the storm came up. We thought we were doomed, until we saw your lights. I guessed it was a balloon, or some sort of an airship, and we whistled; and called for help. Then you rescued us! Oh, it is almost too wonderful to believe. It is a good thing I have practiced athletics or I never could have climbed that rope."

"It is like a story from a book!" added Mr. Illingway, as he graspsd Tom's hand. "You rescued us in Africa and again here." I may say here that the African rescue is told in detail in the volume entitled, "Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle."

The shipwrecked persons were made as comfortable as possible. There was plenty of room for them, and soon they were sitting around warm electric heaters, drinking hot coffee, and telling their adventures over again. Mr. and Ms. Illingway said they soon expected to return to Africa.

Tom told how he happened to be sailing over the lake, on the lookout for smugglers, and how he had been disappointed.

"And it's a good thing you were--for our sakes," put in Mrs. Illingway, with a smile.

"Where do you want to be landed?" asked Tom. "I don't want to take you all the way back to Logansville."

"If you will land us anywhere near a city or town, we can arrange to be taken back to our cottage," said one of the men, and Tom sent the airship down until, in the gray dawn of the morning, they could pick out a large village on the lake shore. Then, in much better condition than when they had been saved, the rescued ones alighted, showering Tom and the others with thanks, and sought a hotel.

"And now for our camp, and a good rest!" cried the young inventor, as he sent the airship aloft again.

They reached their camp in the forest clearing without having been observed, as far as they could learn, and at once set about making things snug, for the storm was still raging.

"I don't believe any of the smugglers were abroad last night," remarked Mr. Whitford, as he prepared to go back into town, he having come out on horseback, leaving the animal over night in an improvised stable they had made in the woods of boughs and tree branches.

"I hope not," replied Tom. but the next day, when the government agent called again, his face wore a look of despair.

"They put a big one over on us the night of the rescue." he said. "They flew right across the border near Logansville, and got away with a lot of goods. They fooled us all right."

"Can you find out who gave the wrong tip?" asked Tom.

"Yes, I know the man. He pretended to be friendly to one of my agents, but he was only deceiving him. But we'll get the smugglers yet!"

"That's what we will!" cried Tom, determinedly.

Several days passed, and during the night time Tom, in his airship, and with the great searchlight aglow, flew back and forth across the border, seeking the elusive airships, but did not see them. In the meanwhile he heard from Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, who sent him a letter of thanks, and asked him to come and see them, but, much as Tom would liked to have gone, he did not have the time.

It was about a week after the sensational rescue, when one evening, as Tom was about to get ready for a night flight, he happened to be in the pilot house making adjustments to some of the apparatus.

Mr. Damon and Ned had gone out for a walk in the woods, and Mr. Whitford had not yet arrived. As for Mr. Koku, Tom did not know where his giant servant was.

Suddenly there was a commotion outside. A trampling in the bushes, and the breaking of sticks under feet.

"I got you now!" cried the voice of the giant.

Tom sprang to the window of the pilot house. He saw Koku tightly holding a man who was squinting about, and doing his best to break away. But it was useless. When Koku got hold of any one, that person had to stay.

"What is it, Koku!" cried Tom.

"I got him!" cried the giant. "He sneaking up on airship, but I come behind and grab him," and Koku fairly lifted his prisoner off his feet and started with him toward the Falcon.