Chapter XI. A Night of Terror

After the first shock of Tom's announcement, the two men, who were traveling with him in the airship, showed no signs of fear. Yet it was alarming to know that one was speeding over the mighty ocean, before a terrific gale, with nothing more substantial under one that a comparatively frail airship.

Still Mr. Damon knew Tom of old, and had confidence in his ability, and, while Mr. Fenwick was not so well acquainted with our hero, he had heard much about him, and put faith in his skill to carry them out of their present difficulty.

"Are you sure you can't turn around and go back?" asked Mr. Fenwick. His knowledge of air-currents was rather limited.

"It is out of the question," replied Tom, simply. "We would surely rip this craft to pieces if we attempted to buffet this storm."

"Is it so bad, then?" asked Mr. Damon, forgetting to bless anything in the tense excitement of the moment.

"It might be worse," was the reply of the young inventor. "The wind is blowing about eighty miles an hour at times, and to try to turn now would mean that we would tear the planes loose from the ship. True, we could still keep up by means of the gas bag, but even that might be injured. Going as we are, in the same direction as that in which the wind is blowing, we do not feel the full effect of it."

"But, perhaps, if we went lower down, or higher up, we could get in a different current of air," suggested Mr. Fenwick, who had made some study of aeronautics.

"I'll try," assented Tom, simply. He shifted the elevating rudder, and the Whizzer began to go up, slowly, for there was great lateral pressure on her large surface. But Tom knew his business, and urged the craft steadily. The powerful electric engines, which were the invention of Mr. Fenwick, stood them in good stead, and the barograph soon showed that they were steadily mounting.

"Is the wind pressure any less?" inquired Mr. Damon, anxiously.

"On the contrary, it seems to be increasing," replied Tom, with a glance at the anemometer. "It's nearly ninety miles an hour now."

"Then, aided by the propellers, we must be making over a hundred miles an hour." said the inventor.

"We are,--a hundred and thirty," assented Tom.

"We'll be blown across the ocean at this rate," exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Bless my soul! I didn't count on that."

"Perhaps we had better go down," suggested Mr. Fenwick. "I don't believe we can get above the gale."

"I'm afraid not," came from Tom. "It may be a bit better down below."

Accordingly, the rudder was changed, and the Whizzer pointed her nose downward. None of the lifting gas was let out, as it was desired to save that for emergencies.

Down, down, down, went the great airship, until the adventurers within, by gazing through the plate glass window in the floor of the cabin, could see the heaving, white-capped billows, tossing and tumbling below them.

"Look out, or we'll be into them!" shouted Mr. Damon.

"I guess we may as well go back to the level where we were," declared Tom. "The wind, both above and below that particular strata is stronger, and we will be safer up above. Our only chance is to scud before it, until it has blown itself out. And I hope it will be soon."

"Why?" asked Mr. Damon, in a low voice.

"Because we may be blown so far that we can not get back while our power holds out, and then--" Tom did not finish, but Mr. Damon knew what he meant--death in the tossing ocean, far from land, when the Whizzer, unable to float in the air any longer, should drop into the storm-enraged Atlantic.

They were again on a level, where the gale blew less furiously than either above or below, but this was not much relief. It seemed as if the airship would go to pieces, so much was it swayed and tossed about. But Mr. Fenwick, if he had done nothing else, had made a staunch craft, which stood the travelers in good stead.

All the rest of that day they swept on, at about the same speed. There was nothing for them to do, save watch the machinery, occasionally replenishing the oil tanks, or making minor adjustments.

"Well," finally remarked Mr. Damon, when the afternoon was waning away, "if there's nothing else to do, suppose we eat. Bless my appetite, but I'm hungry! and I believe you said, Mr. Fenwick, that you had plenty of food aboard."

"So we have, but the excitement of being blown out to sea on our first real trip, made me forget all about it. I'll get dinner at once, if you can put up with an amateur's cooking."

"And I'll help," offered Mr. Damon. "Tom can attend to the airship, and we'll serve the meals. It will take our minds off our troubles."

There was a well equipped kitchen aboard the Whizzer and soon savory odors were coming from it. In spite of the terror of their situation, and it was not to be denied that they were in peril, they all made a good meal, though it was difficult to drink coffee and other liquids, owing to the sudden lurches which the airship gave from time to time as the gale tossed her to and fro.

Night came, and, as the blackness settled down, the gale seemed to increase in fury. It howled through the slender wire rigging of the Whizzer, and sent the craft careening from side to side, and sometimes thrust her down into a cavern of the air, only to lift her high again, almost like a ship on the heaving ocean below them.

As darkness settled in blacker and blacker, Tom had a glimpse below him, of tossing lights on the water.

"We just passed over some vessel," he announced. "I hope they are in no worse plight than we are." Then, there suddenly came to him a thought of the parents of Mary Nestor, who were somewhere on the ocean, in the yacht Resolute bound for the West Indies.

"I wonder if they're out in this storm, too?" mused Tom. "If they are, unless the vessel is a staunch one, they may be in danger."

The thought of the parents of the girl he cared so much for being in peril, was not reassuring to Tom, and he began to busy himself about the machinery of the airship, to take his mind from the presentiment that something might happen to the Resolute.

"We'll have our own troubles before morning," the lad mused, "if this wind doesn't die down."

There was no indication that this was going to be the case, for the gale increased rather than diminished. Tom looked at their speed gage. They were making a good ninety miles an hour, for it had been decided that it was best to keep the engine and propellers going, as they steadied the ship.

"Ninety miles an hour," murmured Tom. "And we've been going at that rate for ten hours now. That's nearly a thousand miles. We are quite a distance out to sea."

He looked at a compass, and noted that, instead of being headed directly across the Atlantic they were bearing in a southerly direction.

"At this rate, we won't come far from getting to the West Indies ourselves," reasoned the young inventor. "But I think the gale will die away before morning."

The storm did not, however. More fiercely it blew through the hours of darkness. It was a night of terror, for they dared not go to sleep, not knowing at what moment the ship might turn turtle, or even rend apart, and plunge with them into the depths of the sea.

So they sat up, occasionally attending to the machinery, and noting the various gages. Mr. Damon made hot coffee, which they drank from time to time, and it served to refresh them.

There came a sudden burst of fury from the storm, and the airship rocked as if she was going over.

"Bless my heart!" cried Mr. Damon, springing up. "That was a close call!"

Tom said nothing. Mr. Fenwick looked pale and alarmed.

The hours passed. They were swept ever onward, at about the same speed, sometimes being whirled downward, and again tossed upward at the will of the wind. The airship was well-nigh helpless, and Tom, as he realized their position, could not repress a fear in his heart as he thought of the parents of the girl he loved being tossed about on the swirling ocean, in a frail pleasure yacht.