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   Chapter 9 CUT ADRIFT

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 5804

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

For some time Grace Krowl remained at her small table awaiting some further message from the mysterious whisperer. No further message came. Had this whisper told the truth? Was he a mile away? She could not believe it.

On descending to the floor below, she found her strange uncle prepared to leave his odd store.

"Today I go to an auction," he said to her with a smile. "Today there is nothing to unpack. Not many people will come. They come only when there are trunks. Tomorrow there will be trunks, perhaps many trunks."

"Trunks," Grace thought with an involuntary shudder.

"Today," her uncle went on, "Margot will tend store." He nodded toward an aged woman bending over a pile of soiled garments. "Today you are free. You may make yourself at home in your new place."

All that day in her little parlor, Grace had one ear open for the Whisperer. She heard nothing. He spoke, apparently, only at dawn. The day was, for her, quite uneventful.

The same could not be said for our young friend Johnny. Late that day, with a narrow bandage still about his head, he returned to the "House of Magic." And, almost at once, adventure struck him squarely between the eyes.

"You are just in time!" Felix, the inventor's son, greeted him. "I have not tried that new thing. We will begin at dusk, in an hour or two in a captive balloon,-"

"A captive balloon!" Johnny felt a thrill course up his spine.

"On the Fair grounds," Felix added. "There is one over there. The grounds are deserted. I have permission to use the balloon. I have had it inflated. No one will bother us there."

It is better sometimes to do things where there are crowds. Felix was to learn this. There is safety in numbers.

At the gate of the deserted Fair grounds Felix presented his pass. They were admitted.

"Sent the equipment over in a small truck," he explained to Johnny. "Rather heavy."

"What equipment?" The words were on Johnny's tongue. He did not say them. Just in time he recollected that he was to look, listen, help all he could and not ask questions. "I'll be told all I need to know in good time," he assured himself. Had he but known it, that night he was to need wisdom not written in any book.

The streets they were passing through now were strange. The falling darkness gave to everything an air of mystery. Here some great man-made dragon opened its mouth as if to swallow them, there a tattered sign fluttered and cracked in the wind. "The great Century of Progress!" Johnny whispered. "Here thousands swarmed along the Midway. Now all is still. Now-

"What was that?" He stopped dead in his tracks. Had he caught the sound of scurrying feet? Yes, he was sure of it. And there, well defined against a wall, were the shadows of two half crouching figures. One was tall, the other short. Johnny felt a chill run up his spine.

Felix apparently had seen nothing, heard nothin

g. He had gone plodding stolidly on into the gathering darkness; was at this moment all but lost from sight.

With a little cry of consternation, Johnny sprang after him.

By the time he caught up to him they were at the spot where the balloon was kept.

"We just release this clutch when we are ready to go up," Felix explained, "then up we go. There is a time arrangement that will set the electrically operated drum, winding us back down again in two hours. We only go up about three hundred feet. Cable holds us. Quite safe tonight, no wind to speak of."

Johnny thought this a rather strange arrangement. "No guard here?" he asked.

"No need. No one's allowed in the grounds unless they have a pass. Climb in. All set."

Johnny did climb in, and up they went.

Johnny had been in the air many times. For all that, he experienced a strange sense of insecurity as they rose a hundred, two hundred, three hundred feet into the murky air of night. "Pooh!" he exclaimed in a low breath. "It is nothing!"

That he might throw off this feeling of dread, he busied himself with other thoughts. His gaze swept the city where lights were gleaming. "Where," he thought, "are Drew and Tom? Hunting pickpockets perhaps. And where is Captain Burns? I'm going to like him, I'm sure. He is so solid and real; but jovial for all that. He said he'd take me places. What places? I wonder. Dangerous places? He said-"

His thoughts were broken in upon by Felix's voice:

"Here we are at the top. Now for the test."

The young inventor flashed on a powerful searchlight. "All I have to do is to connect this through a switch, aim my light at a window in our house, take up this microphone and say, 'Hello father!' He hears me and no one else in the world can. He-

"What!" he exclaimed in consternation. "The current is off. Someone cut the light cable!"

"More than that!" Johnny's tone was sober. He was looking over the side of the balloon basket in which they rode. "The cable that holds us has been cut! We're drifting!"

"You're right!" Consternation sounded in the older boy's voice. "We're going out into the night, over black waters. And there is no ballast!"

"They got us, those two!" Johnny muttered.

"What two?" Felix demanded.

"I saw them on the grounds, a tall one and a short one-anyway I saw their shadows. Should have told you."

"Oh!" Felix groaned. "Wonder what we've done to them. But they haven't got us-not yet!" There was courage and high resolve in Felix Van Loon's tone. "We'll beat them yet. You'll see!"

Would they? Johnny silently wondered.

Strangely enough, at that moment thoughts not related at all to this adventure passed through his mind. He was once more in that place of mystery, the professor's house, in the hallway seeing eyes in the wall, shuddering at sight of his own skeleton. "How could all that have happened?" he asked himself.

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