Chapter XXIII. At the Volcano
 

"And you've got to snap-shot a volcano?" remarked Ned to his chum, after a moment of surprised silence. "Any particular one? Is it Vesuvius? If it is we haven't far to go. But how does Mr. Period know that it's going to get into action when we want it to?"

"No, it isn't Vesuvius," replied Tom. "We've got to take another long trip, and we'll have to go by steamer again. The message says that the Arequipa volcano, near the city of the same name, in Peru, has started to 'erupt,' and, according to rumor, it's acting as it did many years ago, just before a big upheaval."

"Bless my Pumice stones!" cried Mr. Damon. "And are you expected to get pictures of it shooting out flames and smoke, Tom?"

"Of course. An inactive volcano wouldn't make much of a moving picture. Well, if we go to Peru, we won't be far from the United States, and we can fly back home in the airship. But we've got to take the Flyer apart, and pack up again."

"Will you have time?" asked Mr. Nestor. "Maybe the volcano will get into action before you arrive, and the performance will be all over with."

"I think not," spoke Tom, as he again read the cablegram. "Mr. Period says he has advices from Peru to the effect that, on other occasions, it took about a month from the time smoke was first seen coming from the crater, before the fireworks started up. I guess we've got time enough, but we won't waste any."

"And I guess Montgomery and Kenneth won't be there to make trouble for us," put in Ned. "It will be some time before they get away from that African town, I think."

They began work that day on taking the airship apart for transportation to the steamer that was to carry them across the ocean. Tom decided on going to Panama, to get a series of pictures on the work of digging that vast canal. On inquiry he learned that a steamer was soon to sail for Colon, so he took passage for his friends and himself on that, also arranging for the carrying of the parts of his airship.

It was rather hard work to take the Flyer apart, but it was finally done, and, in about a week from the time of arriving in Paris, they left that beautiful city. The pictures already taken were forwarded to Mr. Period, with a letter of explanation of Tom's adventures thus far, and an account of how his rivals had acted.

Just before sailing, Tom received another message from his strange employer. The cablegram read:

"Understand our rivals are also going to try for volcano pictures. Can't find out who will represent Turbot and Eckert, but watch out. Be suspicious of strangers."

"That's what I will!" cried Tom. "If they get my camera away from me again, it will be my own fault."

The voyage to Colon was not specially interesting. They ran into a terrific storm, about half way over, and Tom took some pictures from the steamer's bridge, the captain allowing him to do so, but warning him to be careful.

"I'll take Koku up there with me," said the young inventor, "and if a wave tries to wash me overboard he'll grab me."

And it was a good thing that he took this precaution, for, while a wave did not get as high as the bridge, one big, green roller smashed over the bow of the vessel, staggering her so that Tom was tossed against the rail. He would have been seriously hurt, and his camera might have been broken, but for the quickness of the giant.

Koku caught his master, camera and all, in a mighty arm, and with the other clung to a stanchion, holding Tom in safety until the ship was on a level keel once more.

"Thanks, Koku!" gasped Tom. "You always seem to be around when I need you." The giant grinned happily.

The storm blew out in a few days, and, from then on, there was pleasant sailing. When Tom's airship had been reassembled at Colon, it created quite a sensation among the small army of canal workers, and, for their benefit, our hero gave several flying exhibitions.

He then took some of the engineers on a little trip, and in turn, they did him the favor of letting him get moving pictures of parts of the work not usually seen.

"And now for the volcano!" cried Tom one morning, when having shipped to Mr. Period the canal pictures, the Flyer was sent aloft, and her nose pointed toward Arequipa. "We've got quite a run before us."

"How long?" asked Ned.

"About two thousand miles. But I'm going to speed her up to the limit." Tom was as good as his word, and soon the Flyer was shooting along at her best rate, reeling off mile after mile, just below the clouds.

It was a wild and desolate region over which the travelers found themselves most of the time, though the scenery was magnificent. They sailed over Quito, that city on the equator, and, a little later, they passed above the Cotopaxi and Chimbarazo volcanoes. But neither of them was in action. The Andes Mountains, as you all know, has many volcanoes scattered along the range. Lima was the next large city, and there Tom made a descent to inquire about the burning mountain he was shortly to photograph.

"It will soon be in action," the United States counsel said. "I had a letter from a correspondent near there only yesterday, and he said the people in the town were getting anxious. They are fearing a shower of burning ashes, or that the eruption may be accompanied by an earthquake."

"Good!" cried Tom. "Oh, I don't mean it exactly that way," he hastened to add, as he saw the counsel looking queerly at him. "I meant that I could get pictures of both earthquake and volcano then. I don't wish the poor people any harm."

"Well, you're the first one I ever saw who was anxious to get next door to a volcano," remarked the counsel. "Hold on, though, that's not quite right. I heard yesterday that a couple of young fellows passed through here on their way to the same place. Come to think of it, they were moving picture men, also."

"Great Scott!" cried Tom. "Those must be my rivals, I'll wager. I must get right on the job. Thanks for the information," and hurrying front the office he joined his friends on the airship. and was soon aloft again.

"Look, Tom, what's that?" cried Ned, about noon the next day when the Flyer, according to their calculations must be nearing the city of Arequipa. "See that black cloud over there. I hope it isn't a tornado, or a cyclone, or whatever they call the big wind storms down here."

Tom, and the others, looked to where Ned pointed. There was a column of dense smoke hovering in the air, lazily swirling this way and that. The airship was rapidly approaching it.

"Why that--" began Tom, but before he could complete the sentence the smoke was blown violently upward. It became streaked with fire, and, a moment later, there was the echo of a tremendous explosion.

"The volcano!" cried Tom. "The Arequipa volcano! We're here just in time, for she's in eruption now! Come on, Ned, help me get out the camera! Mr. Damon, you and Mr. Nestor manage the airship! Put us as close as you dare! I'm going to get some crackerjack pictures!"

Once more came a great report.

"Bless my toothpick!" gasped Mr. Damon. "This is awful!" And the airship rushed on toward the volcano which could be plainly seen now, belching forth fire, smoke and ashes.