Chapter XII. An Accident

For a few moments it seemed as if the Falcon would surely turn turtle and plunge into the seething ocean. The storm had burst with such suddenness that Tom, who was piloting his air craft, was taken unawares. He had not been using much power or the airship would have been better able to weather the blast that burst with such fury over her. But as it was, merely drifting along, she was almost like a great sheet of paper. Down she was forced, until the high-flying spray from the waves actually wet the lower part of the car, and Ned, looking through one of the glass windows, saw, in the darkness, the phosphorescent gleam of the water so near to them.

"Tom!" he cried in alarm. "We're sinking!"

"Bless my bath sponge! Don't say that!" gasped Mr. Damon.

"That's why I called you," yelled the young inventor. "We've got to rise above the storm if possible. Go to the gas machine, Ned, and turn it on full strength. I'll speed up the motor, and we may be able to cut up that way. But get the gas on as soon as you can. The bag is only about half full. Force in all you can!

"Mr. Damon, can you take the wheel? It doesn't make any difference which way we go as long as you keep her before the wind, and yank back the elevating rudder as far as she'll go! We must head up."

"All right, Tom," answered the eccentric man, as he fairly jumped to take the place of the young inventor at the helm.

"Can I do anything?" asked the Russian, as Tom raced for the engine room, to speed the motor up to the last notch.

"I guess not. Everything is covered, unless you want to help Mr. Damon. In this blow it will be hard to work the rudder levers."

"All right," replied Ivan Petrofsky, and then there came another sickening roll of the airship, that threatened to turn her completely over.

"Lively!" yelled Tom, clinging to various supports as he made his way to the engine room. "Lively, all hands, or we'll be awash in another minute!"

And indeed it seemed that this might be so, for with the wind forcing her down, and the hungry waves leaping up, as if to clutch her to themselves, the Falcon was having anything but an easy time of it.

It was the work of but an instant however, when Tom reached the engine room, to jerk the accelerator lever toward him, and the motor responded at once. With a low, humming whine the wheels and gears redoubled their speed, and the great propellers beat the air with fiercer strokes.

At the same time Tom heard the hiss of the gas as it rushed into the envelope from the generating machine, as Ned opened the release valve.

"Now we ought to go up," the young inventor murmured, as he anxiously watched the barograph, and noted the position of the swinging pendulum which told of the roll and dip of the air craft.

For a moment she hung in the balance, neither the increased speed of the propellers, nor the force of the gas having any seeming effect. Mr. Damon and the Russian, clinging to the rudder levers, to avoid being dashed against the sides of the pilot house, held them as far back as they could, to gain the full power of the elevation planes. But even this seemed to do no good.

The power of the gale was such, that, even with the motor and gas machine working to their limit, the Falcon only held her own. She swept along, barely missing the crests of the giant waves.

"She's got to go up! She's got to go up!" cried Tom desperately, as if by very will power he could send her aloft. And then, when there came a lull in the fierce blowing of the wind, the elevation rudder took hold, and like a bird that sees the danger below, and flies toward the clouds, the airship shot up suddenly.

"That's it!" cried Tom in relief, as he noted the needle of the barograph swinging over, indicating an ever- increasing height. "Now we're safe."

They were not quite yet, but at last the power of machinery had prevailed over that of the elements. Through the pelting rain, and amid the glare of the lightning, and the thunder of heaven's artillery, the airship forced her way, up and up and up.

Setting the motor controller to give the maximum power until he released it, Tom hastened to the gas-generating apparatus. He found Ned attending to it, so that it was now working satisfactorily.

"How about it, Tom?" cried his chum anxiously.

"All right now, Ned, but it was a close shave! I thought we were done for, platinum mine, rescue of exiles, and all."

"So did I. Shall I keep on with the gas?"

"Yes, until the indicator shows that the bag is full. I'm going to the pilot house."

Running there, Tom found that Mr. Damon and the Russian had about all they could manage. The young inventor helped them and then, when the Falcon was well started on her upward course, Tom set the automatic steering machine, and they had a breathing spell.

To get above the sweep of the blast was no easy task, for the wind strata seemed to be several miles high, and Tom did not want to risk an accident by going to such an elevation. So, when having gone up about a mile, he found a comparatively calm area he held to that, and the Falcon sped along with the occupants feeling fairly comfortable, for there was no longer that rolling and tumbling motion.

The storm kept up all night, but the danger was practically over, unless something should happen to the machinery, and Tom and Ned kept careful watch to prevent this. In the morning they could look down on the storm-swept ocean below them, and there was a feeling of thankfulness in their hearts that they were not engulfed in it.

"This is a pretty hard initiation for an amateur, remarked Mr. Petrofsky. "I never imagined I should be as brave as this in an airship in a storm."

"Oh, you can get used to almost anything," commented Mr. Damon.

It was three days before the storm blew itself out and then came pleasant weather, during which the Falcon flew rapidly along. Our friends busied themselves about many things, talked of what lay before them, and made such plans as they could.

It was the evening of the fifth day, and they expected to sight the coast of France in the morning. Tom was in the pilot house, setting the course for the night run, and Ned had gone to the engine room to look after the oiling of the motor.

Hardly had he reached the compartment than there was a loud report, a brilliant flash of fire, and the machinery stopped dead.

"What is it?" cried Tom, as he came in on the run, for the indicators in the pilot house had told him something was wrong.

"An accident!" cried Ned. "A breakdown, Tom! What shall we do?"