Chapter XII. A Downward Glide
 

They sat in the cabin of the airship, staring helplessly at each other. Occasionally Tom rose to attend to one of the machines, or Mr. Fenwick did the same. Occasionally, Mr. Damon uttered a remark. Then there was silence, broken only by the howl of the gale.

It seemed impossible for the Whizzer to travel any faster, yet when Tom glanced at the speed gage he noted, with a feeling of surprise, akin to horror, that they were making close to one hundred and fifty miles an hour. Only an aeroplane could have done it, and then only when urged on by a terrific wind which added to the speed produced by the propellers.

The whole craft swayed and trembled, partly from the vibration of the electrical machinery, and partly from the awful wind. Mr. Fenwick came close to Tom, and exclaimed:

"Do you think it would be any use to try once more to go above or below the path of the storm?"

Tom's first impulse was to say that it would be useless, but he recollected that the craft belonged to Fenwick, and surely that gentleman had a right to make a suggestion. The young inventor nodded.

"We'll try to go up," he said. "If that doesn't work, I'll see if I can force her down. It will be hard work, though. The wind is too stiff."

Tom shifted the levers and rudders. His eyes were on the barograph-- that delicate instrument, the trembling hand of which registered their height. Tom had tilted the deflection rudder to send them up, but as he watched the needle he saw it stationary. They were not ascending, though the great airship was straining to mount to an upper current where there might be calm.

It was useless, however, and Tom, seeing the futility of it, shifted the rudder to send them downward. This was more easily accomplished, but it was a change for the worse, since, the nearer to the ocean they went, the fiercer blew the wind.

"Back! Go back up higher!" cried Mr. Damon,

"We can't!" yelled Tom. "We've got to stay here now!"

"Oh, but this is awful!" exclaimed Mr. Fenwick. "We can never stand this!"

The airship swaged more than ever, and the occupants were tossed about in the cabin, from side to side. Indeed, it did seem that human beings never could come alive cut of that fearful ordeal.

As Tom looked from one of the windows of the cabin, he noted a pale, grayish sort of light outside. At first he could not understand what it was, then, as he observed the sickly gleams of the incandescent electric lamps, he knew that the hour of dawn was at hand.

"See!" he exclaimed to his companions, pointing to the window. "Morning is coming."

"Morning!" gasped Mr. Damon. "Is the night over? Now, perhaps we shall get rid of the storm."

"I'm afraid not," answered Tom, as he noted the anemometer and felt the shudderings of the Whizzer as she careened on through the gale. "It hasn't blown out yet!"

The pale light increased. The electrics seemed to dim and fade. Tom looked to the engines. Some of the apparatus was in need of oil, and he supplied it. When he came back to the main cabin, where stood Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick, it was much lighter outside.

"Less than a day since we left Philadelphia," murmured the owner of the Whizzer, as he glanced at a distance indicator, "yet we have come nearly sixteen hundred miles. We certainly did travel top speed. I wonder where we are?"

"Still over the ocean," replied Mr. Damon, as he looked down at the heaving billows rolling amid crests of foam far below them. "Though what part of it would be hard to say. We'll have to reckon out our position when it gets calmer."

Tom came from the engine room. His face wore a troubled look, and he said, addressing the older inventor:

"Mr. Fenwick, I wish you'd come and look at the gas generating apparatus. It doesn't seem to be working properly."

"Anything wrong?" asked Mr. Damon, suspiciously.

"I hope not," replied Tom, with all the confidence he could muster. "It may need adjusting. I am not so familiar with it as I am with the one on the Red Cloud. The gas seems to be escaping from the bag, and we may have to descend, for some distance."

"But the aeroplanes will keep us up," said Mr. Daman.

"Yes--they will," and Tom hesitated. "That is, unless something happens to them. They are rather frail to stand alone the brunt of the gale, and I wish--"

Tom did not complete the sentence. Instead, he paused suddenly and seemed to be intently listening.

From without there came a rending, tearing, crashing sound. The airship quivered from end to end, and seemed to make a sudden dive downward. Then it appeared to recover, and once more glided forward.

Tom, followed by Mr. Fenwick, made a rush for the compartment where the machine was installed. They had no sooner reached it than there sounded an explosion, and the airship recoiled as if it had hit a stone wall.

"Bless my shaving brush! What's that?" cried Mr. Damon. "Has anything happened?"

"I'm rather afraid there has," answered Tom, solemnly. "It sounded as though the gas bag went up. And I'm worried over the strength of the planes. We must make an investigation!"

"We're falling!" almost screamed Mr. Fenwick, as he glanced at the barograph, the delicate needle of which was swinging to and fro, registering different altitudes.

"Bless my feather bed! So we are!" shouted Mr. Damon. "Let's jump, and avoid being caught under the airship!"

He darted for a large window, opening from the main cabin, and was endeavoring to raise it when Tom caught his hand.

"What are you trying to do," asked the lad, hoarsely.

"Save my life! I want to get out of this as soon as I can. I'm going to jump!"

"Don't think of it! You'd be instantly killed. We're too high for a jump, even into the ocean."

"The ocean! Oh, is that still below us? Is there any chance of being saved? What can be done?" Mr. Damon hesitated.

"We must first find out how badly we are damaged," said Tom, quietly. "We must keep our heads, and be calm, no matter what happens. I need your help, Mr. Damon."

This served to recall the rather excited man to his senses. He came back to the centre of the cabin, which was no easy task, for the floor of it was tilted at first one angle, and then another. He stood at Tom's side.

"What can I do to help you?" he asked. Mr. Fenwick was darting here and there, examining the different machines. None of them seemed to be damaged.

"If you will look and see what has happened to our main wing planes, I will see how much gas we have left in the bag," suggested Tom. "Then we can decide what is best to be done. We are still quite high, and it will take some time to complete our fall, as, even if everything is gone, the material of the bag will act as a sort of parachute."

Mr. Damon darted to a window in the rear of the cabin, where he could obtain a glimpse of the main wing planes. He gave a cry of terror and astonishment.

"Two of the planes are gone!" he reported. "They are torn and are hanging loose."

"I feared as much," retorted Tom, quietly, "The gale was too much for them."

"What of the lifting gas?" asked Mr. Fenwick, quickly.

"It has nearly all flowed out of the retaining bag."

"Then we must make more at once. I will start the generating machine."

He darted toward it.

"It will be useless," spoke Tom, quietly.

"Why?"

"Because there is no bag left to hold it. The silk and rubber envelope has been torn to pieces by the gale. The wind is even stronger than it was last night."

"Then what's to be done?" demanded Mr. Damon, with a return of his alarmed and nervous manner. "Bless my fingernails! What's to be done?"

For an instant Tom did not answer. It was constantly getting lighter, though there was no sun, for it was obscured by scudding clouds. The young inventor looked critically at the various gages and indicators.

"Is--is there any chance for us?" asked Mr. Fenwick, quietly.

"I think so," answered Tom, with a hopeful smile. "We have about two thousand feet to descend, for we have fallen nearly that distance since the accident."

"Two thousand feet to fall!" gasped Mr. Damon. "We can never do it and live!"

"I think so," spoke Tom.

"Bless my gizzard! How?" fairly exploded Mr. Damon.

"By vol-planing down!"

"But, even if we do, we will fall into the ocean!" cried Mr. Fenwick. "We will be drowned!"

"No," and Tom spoke more quietly than before. "We are over a large island." he went on, "and I propose to let the disabled airship vol- plane down to it. That is our only chance."

"Over an island!" cried Mr. Damon. He looked down through the floor observation window. Tom had spoken truly. At that moment they were over a large island, which had suddenly loomed up in the wild and desolate waste of the ocean. They had reached its vicinity just in time.

Tom stepped to the steering and rudder levers, and took charge. He was going to attempt a most difficult feat--that of guiding a disabled airship back to earth in the midst of a hurricane, and landing her on an unknown island. Could he do it?

There was but one answer. He must try. It was the only chance of saving their lives, and a slim one at best

Down shot the damaged Whizzer like some giant bird with broken wings, but Tom Swift was in charge, and it seemed as if the craft knew it, as she began that earthward glide.