Chapter XI. An Elephant Stampede

"Lower away!"

"Stand by the life boats!"

"Let go! Pull hearty!"

These and other commands marked the beginning of the rescue, as the sailors manned the davit-falls, and put the boats into the water. The burning steamer had now come to a stop, not far away from the Belchar, which was also lay-to. There was scarcely any sea running, and no wind, so that the work of rescuing was not difficult from an ordinary standpoint. But there was grave danger, because the fire on the doomed vessel was gaining rapidly.

"That's oil burning," remarked an officer, and it seemed so, from the dense clouds of smoke that rolled upward.

"Is she working, Tom?" asked Ned, as he helped his chum to hold the wonderful camera steady on the rail, so that a good view of the burning steamer could be had.

"Yes, the film is running. Say, I wonder if they'll get 'em all off?"

"Oh, I think so. There aren't many passengers. I guess it's a tramp freighter."

They could look across the gap of water, and see the terrified passengers and crew crowding to the rail, holding out their hands appealingly to the brave sailors who were lustily and rapidly, pulling toward them in life boats.

At times a swirl of smoke would hide those on the doomed vessel from the sight of the passengers on the Belchar, and on such occasions the frightened screams of women could be heard. Once, as the smoke cleared away, a woman, with a child in her arms, giving a backward glance toward the flames that were now enveloping the stern of the vessel, attempted to leap overboard.

Many hands caught her, however, and all this was registered on the film of Tom's camera, which was working automatically. As the two vessels drifted along, Tom and Ned shifted the lens so as to keep the burning steamer, and the approaching lifeboats, in focus.

"There's the first rescue!" cried Ned, as the woman who had attempted to leap overboard, was, with her child, carefully lowered into a boat. "Did you get that, Tom?"

"I certainly did. This will make a good picture. I think I'll send it back to Mr. Period as soon as we reach port."

"Maybe you could develop it on board here, and show it. I understand there's a dark room, and the captain said one of his officers, who used to be in the moving picture business, had a reproducing machine."

"Then that's what I'll do!" cried Tom. "I'll have our captain charge all the Belchar passengers admission, and we'll get up a fund for the fire sufferers. They'll probably lose all their baggage."

"That will be great!" exclaimed Ned.

The rescue was now in full swing, and, in a short time all the passengers and crew had been transferred to the life boats. Tom got a good picture of the captain of the burning steamer being the last to leave his vessel. Then the approaching life boats, with their loads of sailors, and rescued ones, were caught on the films.

"Are you all off?" cried the captain of the Belchar to the unfortunate skipper of the doomed ship.

"All off, yes, thank you. It is a mercy you were at hand. I have a cargo of oil. You had better stand off, for she'll explode in a few minutes."

"I must get a picture of that!" declared Tom as the Belchar got under way again. "That will cap the climax, and make a film that will be hard to beat."

A few moments later there was a tremendous explosion on the tramp oiler. A column of wreckage and black smoke shot skyward, and Tom secured a fine view of it. Then the wreck disappeared beneath the waves, while the rescuing steamer sailed on, with those who had been saved. They had brought off only the things they wore, for the fire had occurred suddenly, and spread rapidly. Kind persons aboard the Belchar looked after the unfortunates. Luckily there was not a large passenger list on the tramp. And the crew was comparatively small, so it was not hard work to make room for them, or take care of them, aboard the Belchar.

Tom developed his pictures, and produced then in one of the large saloons, on a machine he borrowed from the man of whom Ned had spoken. A dollar admission was charged, and the crowd was so large that Tom had to give two performances. The films, showing the burning steamer and the rescue, were excellent, and enough money was realized to aid, most substantially, the unfortunate passengers and crew.

A few days later a New York bound steamer was spoken, and on it Tom sent the roll of developed films to Mr. Period, with a letter of explanation.

I will not give all the details of the rest of the voyage. Sufficient to say that no accidents marred it, nor did Tom discover any suspicious characters aboard. In due time our friends arrived at Calcutta, and were met by an agent of Mr. Period, for he had men in all quarters of the world, making films for him.

This agent took Tom and his party to a hotel, and arranged to have the airship parts sent to a large open shed, not far away, where it could be put together. The wonderful scenes in the Indian city interested Tom and his companions for a time, but they had observed so many strange sights from time to time that they did not marvel greatly. Koku, however, was much delighted. He was like a child.

"What are you going to do first?" asked Ned, when they had recovered from the fatigue of the ocean voyage and had settled themselves in the hotel.

"Put the airship together," replied our hero, "and then, after getting some Durbar pictures, we'll head for the jungle. I want to get some elephant pictures, showing the big beasts being captured."

Mr. Period's agent was a great help to them in this. He secured native helpers, who aided Tom in assembling the airship, and in a week or two it was ready for a flight. The wonderful camera, too, was looked over, and the picture agent said he had never seen a better one.

"It can take the kind of pictures I never could," he said. "I get Calcutta street scenes for Mr. Period, and occasionally I strike a good one. But I wish I had your chance."

Tom invited him to come along in the airship, but the agent, who only looked after Mr. Period's interests as a side issue, could not leave his work.

The airship was ready for a flight, stores and provisions had been put on board, there was enough gasoline for the motor, and gas for the balloon bag, to carry the Flyer thousands of miles. The moving picture camera had been tested after the sea voyage, and had been found to work perfectly. Many rolls of films were taken along. Tom got some fine views of the Durbar of India, and his airship created a great sensation.

"Now I guess we're all ready for the elephants," said Tom one day as he came back from an inspection of the airship as it rested in the big shed. "We'll start to-morrow morning, and head for the jungle."

Amid the cries from a throng of wondering and awed natives, and with the farewells of Mr. Period's agent ringing in their ears, Tom and his party made an early start. The Flyer rose like a bird, and shot across the city, while on the house tops many people watches the strange sight. Tom did not start his camera working, as Mr. Period's agent said he had made many pictures of the Indian city, and even one taken from an airship, would not be much of a novelty.

Tom had made inquiries, and learned that by a day's travel in his airship (though it would have been much longer ordinarily) he could reach a jungle where elephants might be found. Of course there was nothing certain about it, as the big animals roamed all over, being in one district one day, and on the next, many miles off.

Gradually the city was left behind, and some time later the airship was sailing along over the jungle. After the start, when Ned and Tom, with Mr. Damon helping occasionally, had gotten the machinery into proper adjustment, the Flyer almost ran herself. Then Tom took his station forward, with his camera in readiness, and a powerful spyglass at hand, so that he might see the elephants from a distance.

He had been told that, somewhere in the district for which he was headed, an elephant drive was contemplated. He hoped to be on hand to get pictures of it, and so sent his airship ahead at top speed.

On and on they rode, being as much at ease in the air as they would have been if traveling in a parlor car. They did not fly high, as it was necessary to be fairly close to the earth to get good pictures.

"Well, I guess we won't have any luck to-day," remarked Ned, as night approached, and they had had no sight of the elephants. They had gone over mile after mile of jungle, but had seen few wild beasts in sufficient numbers to make it worth while to focus the camera on them.

"We'll float along to-night," decided Tom, "and try again in the morning."

It was about ten o'clock the next day, when Ned, who had relieved Tom on watch, uttered a cry:

"What is it?" asked his chum, as he rushed forward. "Has anything happened?"

"Lots!" cried Ned. "Look!" He pointed down below. Tom saw, crashing through the jungle, a big herd of elephants. Behind them, almost surrounding them, in fact, was a crowd of natives in charge of white hunters, who were driving the herd toward a stockade.

"There's a chance for a grand picture!" exclaimed Tom, as he got the camera ready. "Take charge of the ship, Ned. Keep her right over the big animals, and I'll work the camera."

Quickly he focused the lens on the strange scene below him. There was a riot of trumpeting from the elephants. The beaters and hunters shouted and yelled. Then they saw the airship and waved their hands to Tom and his friends, but whether to welcome them, or warn them away, could not be told.

The elephants were slowly advancing toward the stockade. Tom was taking picture after picture of them, when suddenly as the airship came lower, in response to a signal to Ned from the young inventor, one of the huge pachyderms looked up, and saw the strange sight. He might have taken it for an immense bird. At any rate he gave a trumpet of alarm, and the next minute, with screams of rage and fear, the elephants turned, and charged in a wild stampede on those who were driving them toward the stockade.

"Look!" cried Ned. "Those hunters and natives will be killed!"

"I'm afraid so!" shouted Tom, as he continued to focus his camera on the wonderful sight.