Chapter XIII. On Earthquake Island
 

Mingled feelings possessed the three adventurers within the airship. Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick had crowded to the window, as Tom spoke, to get a glimpse of the unknown island toward which they were shooting. They could see it more plainly now, from the forward casement, as well as from the one in the bottom of the craft. A long, narrow, rugged piece of land it was, in the midst of the heaving ocean, for the storm still raged and lashed the waves to foam.

"Can you make it?" asked Mr. Damon, in a low voice.

"I think so," answered Tom, more cheerfully.

"Shall I shut down the motor?" inquired the older inventor.

"Yes, you might as well. We don't need the propellers now, and I may be better able to make the glide without them."

The buzzing and purring electrical apparatus was shut down. Silence reigned in the airship, but the wind still howled outside. As Tom had hoped, the ship became a little more steady with the stopping of the big curved blades, though had the craft been undamaged they would have served to keep her on an even keel.

With skillful hand he so tilted the elevating planes that, after a swift downward glide, the head of the Whizzer would be thrown up, so to speak, and she would sail along in a plane parallel to the island. This had the effect of checking her momentum, just as the aviator checks the downward rush of his monoplane or biplane when he is making a landing.

Tom repeated this maneuver several times, until a glance at his barograph showed that they had but a scant sixty feet to go. There was time but for one more upward throwing of the Whizzer's nose, and Tom held to that position as long as possible. They could now make out the topography of the island plainly, for it was much lighter. Tom saw a stretch of sandy beach, and steered for that.

Downward shot the airship, inert and lifeless. It was not like gliding his little Butterfly to earth after a flight, but Tom hoped he could make it. They were now within ten feet of the earth, skimming forward. Tom tried another upward tilt, but the forward planes would not respond. They could get no grip on the air.

With a crash that could have been heard some distance the Whizzer settled to the sand. It ran along a slight distance, and then, as the bicycle wheels collapsed under the pressure, the airship seemed to go together in a shapeless mass.

At the first impact with the earth, Tom had leaped away from the steering wheel and levers, for he did not want to be crushed against them. Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick, in pursuance of a plan adopted when they found that they were falling, had piled a lot of seat cushions around them. They had also provided some as buffers for Tom, and our hero, at the instant of the crash, had thrown himself behind and upon them.

It seemed as if the whole ship went to pieces. The top of the main cabin crashed down, as the side supports gave way, but, fortunately, there were strong main braces, and the roof did not fall completely upon our friends.

The whole bottom of the craft was forced upward and had it not been for the protecting cushions, there might have been serious injuries for all concerned. As it was they were badly bruised and shaken up.

After the first crash, and succeeding it an instant later, there came a second smash, followed by a slight explosion, and a shower of sparks could be seen in the engine room.

"That's the electrical apparatus smashing through the floor!" called Tom. "Come, let's get out of here before the gasolene sets anything on fire. Are you all right, Mr. Damon, and you, Mr. Fenwick?"

"Yes, I guess so," answered the inventor. "Oh, what a terrible crash! My airship is ruined!"

"You may be glad we are alive," said Mr. Damon. "Bless my top knot, I feel--"

He did not finish the sentence. At that moment a piece of wood, broken from the ceiling, where it had hung by a strip of canvas came crashing down, and hit Mr. Damon on the head.

The eccentric man toppled over on his pile of cushions, from which he was arising when he was struck.

"Oh, is he killed?" gasped Mr. Fenwick.

"I hope not!" cried Tom. "We must get him out of here, at all events. There may be a fire."

They both sprang to Mr. Damon's aid, and succeeded in lifting him out. There was no difficulty in emerging from the airship as there were big, broken gaps, on all sides of what was left of the cabin. Once in the outer air Mr. Damon revived, and opened his eyes.

"Much hurt?" asked Tom, feeling of his friend's head.

"No--no, I--I guess not," was the slow answer. "I was stunned for a moment. I'm all right now. Nothing broken, I guess," and his hand went to his head.

"No, nothing broken," added Tom, cheerfully, "but you've got a lump there as big as an ostrich egg. Can you walk?"

"Oh, I'm all right. Bless my stars, what a wreck!"

Mr. Damon looked at the remains of the airship. It certainly was a wreck! The bent and twisted planes were wrapped about the afterpart, the gas bag was but a shred, the frame was splintered and twisted, and the under part, where the starting wheels were placed, resembled a lot of broken bicycles. The cabin looked like a shack that had sustained an explosion of dynamite.

"It's a wonder we came out alive," said Mr. Fenwick, in a low voice.

"Indeed it is," agreed Tom, as he came back with a tin can full of sea water, with which to bathe Mr. Damon's head. The lad had picked up the can from where it had rolled from the wreck, and they had landed right on the beach.

"It doesn't seem to blow so hard," observed Mr. Damon, as he was tenderly sopping his head with a handkerchief wet in the salt water.

"No, the wind is dying out, but it happened too late to do us any good," remarked Tom, sorrowfully. "Though if it hadn't blown us this far, we might have come to grief over the ocean, and be floundering in that, instead of on dry land."

"That's so," agreed Mr. Fenwick, who was carefully feeling of some bruises on his legs. "I wonder where we are, anyhow?"

"I haven't the least idea," responded Tom. "It's an island, but which one, or where it is I don't know. We were blown nearly two thousand miles, I judge."

He walked over and surveyed the wreck. Now that the excitement was over he was beginning to be aware of numerous bruises and contusions, His legs felt rather queer, and on rolling up his trousers he found there was a deep cut in the right shin, just below his knee. It was bleeding, but he bandaged it with a spare handkerchief, and walked on.

Peering about, he saw that nearly the whole of the machinery in the engine room, including most of the electrical apparatus, had fallen bodily through the floor, and now rested on the sand.

"That looks to be in pretty good shape." mused Tom, "but it's a question whether it will ever be any good to us. We can't rebuild the airship here, that's certain."

He walked about the wreck, and then returned to his friends. Mr. Damon was more like himself, and Mr. Fenwick had discovered that he had only minor bruises.

"Bless my coffee cup!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I declare, I feel hungry. I wonder if there's anything left to eat in the wreck?"

"Plenty," spoke Tom, cheerfully. "I'll get it out. I can eat a sandwich or too myself, and perhaps I can set up the gasolene stove, and cook something."

As the young inventor was returning to the wreck, he was halted halfway by a curious trembling feeling. At first he thought it was a weakness of his legs, caused by his cut, but a moment later he realized with a curious, sickening sensation that it was the ground- -the island itself--that was shaking and trembling.

The lad turned back. Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick were staring after him with fear showing on their faces.

"What was that?" cried the inventor.

"Bless my gizzard! Did you feel that, Tom?" cried Mr. Damon. "The whole place is shaking!"

Indeed, there was a stronger tremor now, and it was accompanied by a low, rumbling sound, like distant thunder. The adventurers were swaying to and fro.

Suddenly they were tossed to the ground by a swaying motion, and not far off a great crack opened in the earth. The roaring, rumbling sound increased in volume.

"An earthquake! It's an earthquake!" cried Tom. "We're in the midst of an earthquake!"