MoboReader> Literature > Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye

   Chapter 10 A RUNAWAY CAPTURED

Whispers at Dawn; Or, The Eye By Roy J. Snell Characters: 9520

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Johnny had known a thrill or two, but none quite like drifting through the night in a balloon that was not meant for drifting.

"Not an ounce of ballast!" Felix groaned. "And the night so dark we may plunge without a moment's notice into those cold, black waters. And then-oh well, what's the good of thinking about that?"

There truly was no use at all of thinking about it. If worse came to worst and they were able to tell the moment of great danger, they might throw his instruments and the searchlight over to lighten the balloon.

"All this equipment," Felix moaned, "cost plenty of money!"

In spite of their predicament, Johnny found himself wondering about that equipment and what they had been about to do.

For a time Johnny was silent. Then of a sudden he exclaimed, "Felix, we are drifting northeast! That means we'll be over the lake for hours. If the wind rises, if a strong gust drags us down, or if the gas bag leaks and we are plunged into the lake we are lost! A three hundred foot cable hangs beneath this balloon. It is weighting us down. Suppose we could cut it away?"

"It's an idea!" Felix was all alert. "But it hangs from below. How'll you reach it?"

"Here's a rope. I'll go over the side. You hang on to the rope."

"That," said Felix slowly, "will be taking a long chance."

"Whole thing's a chance." Johnny was tying a loop in the rope. "Now I'll put a foot in this loop, hold to the rope with one hand and work with the other. Flashlight will tell me all I need to know. Can hold the light in my teeth."

"You should be in a circus." Felix laughed. For all that, he made the other end of the rope fast, then prepared to lower his companion.

As he climbed up and over, Johnny felt his heart miss a beat. It was strange, this crawling out into space. All was dark below. Was the water a hundred or a thousand feet down? He could not tell. The majestic Lindbergh light swept the sky, but its rays did not touch them.

"If only it did," he murmured, "someone would see us."

Strangely enough, at this very moment the professor's golden-haired daughter, Beth, was making strenuous efforts to bring that very thing to pass, to get one of those eyes of the night, a powerful searchlight, focussed upon the runaway balloon.

Her father, sensing that something had gone wrong with the balloon, had hurried her away to the spot from which the balloon had risen. Arrived there after a wild taxi ride, she had discovered on the instant what had happened.

"Some-someone cut the cable with an electric torch!" In vain her eyes searched the sky for the balloon. She was about to hurry away when a hand gripped her arm.

"Where would you go?"

"Why! I-"

Taking one look at the man, she sent forth an involuntary scream. She had seen that man before. He carried a knife in his sleeve. She was terribly afraid.

Her scream had electrifying results. A huge bulk of a youth with tangled red hair emerged from somewhere.

"Here you!" he growled, "Let her go!"

Releasing the girl, the small dark man sprang at her protector.

"Look out!" the girl screamed. "He-he has a knife!"

Her warning was not needed. The little man's knife went coursing through the air. Next instant the little man followed it into the dark. The big fellow's fists had done all this.

"Now, sister," the young giant turned to Beth, "where was it you wanted to go?"

"The-the Skidmore Building."

"The Skidmore? O.K."

Fairly picking her up, he rushed her to the taxi that was waiting for her, then climbed in beside her. "Skidmore Building. Make it snappy!"

Once in the taxi and speeding away, Beth was able to collect her thoughts. There was, at the top of the tall Skidmore Building, a searchlight. This was not always in operation, but was held in readiness for any emergency either on the water or in the air. If only she could get that light searching the air for the runaway balloon something, she felt sure, could be done about it.

The taxi came to a sudden jarring halt.

"Here you are!"

"Here." She dropped a half dollar in the taxi driver's hand. At the same instant something was pressed into the palm of her left hand. She looked up. Her powerful young protector was gone. In her hand was a card.

A moment later as she shot toward the stars in an elevator she looked at that card and smiled.

"Gunderson Shotts, 22 Diversey Way" it read. And in the lower right hand corner, "Everybody's Business."

She smiled in spite of herself as she murmured, "Gunderson Shotts, Everybody's Business. What a strange calling!"

* * * * * * * *

At that same moment Johnny was going over the side into the dark. It was strange, this adventure. "Must be careful," he told himself. And indeed he must.

Dark waters awaited him. A drop from that height would probably kill or at least maim him.

"No chance," he murmured.

The bright lights of the city called to him from afar. He had seen much of that bright and terrible city; had meant to see much more. "Must see it all," he told himself.

"But now I must forget it," he resolved.

And surely he must, for now he was beneath the basket. The tiny finger of light from his electric torch shot about here and there.

Steadying its motion, directing it toward the end of the cable, he began studying the problem at hand.

And then-something happened. Did his hand slip? Did the noose about his foot give away? He will never know. Nor will he forget that instant when his flashlight, slipping from his chattering teeth, shot downward and he, by the merest chance, escaped following it.

How it happened he will never be able to tell. This much he knew: he hung there in all that blackness supporting his weight by one desperately gripping hand.

Somewhere below was the noose that should offer him footing. Somewhere far, far below were black waters waiting. And through his mind there flashed a thousand pictures of the bright and beautiful world he might, in ten seconds' time, leave behind.

All this in the space of a split second, then groping madly, he found the rope with his other hand. After that began the heart-breaking task of groping in the dark with his foot for the dangling rope loop, while the muscles in his arms became burning bands of fire.

"I must win!" he whispered. "I must!"

"Johnny! Johnny Thompson!" came from above. "What has happened?"

"Don't know. I-I'm dangling. Dra-draw me up if you can."

Came a sudden tug on the rope that all but tore the rope from his grip. "No! No! Wait!"

Once again he sought that noose with his toe.

* * * * * * * *

As for Beth, she had gone shooting up in that express elevator in the Skidmore Building.

Like a rubber ball she bounded from the car, then raced for a cubby-hole in a corner where two men were standing.

"The balloon!" she exclaimed. "The captive balloon! It's loose, drifting! You must find it with your light!"

"What's that?" one man demanded sharply. "Impossible! There's no gale. That cable couldn't break!"

"It's loose! Drifting!" the girl insisted. "They cut the cable, someone cut it. My brother and another boy are in the balloon. You must save them."

One man glanced at the other. "All right, we better try it, Ben!"

At that a long finger of white light began feeling its way through the blackness that is sky above Lake Michigan on a cloudy night.

Johnny, unable to find the loop in the rope, feeling his strength unequal to a climb hand over hand, felt the muscles of his arms weaken until all seemed lost.

And then, as if some miracle had been done, night turned into day. The powerful light had reached him only for a second, but that was enough. His keen eye had caught the loop in the rope. It was by his knee. A sudden fling and his knee was resting in that loop.

"All-all right now!" he called. "Try to pull me up."

And at that the gleam of that powerful searchlight returned to rest on the spot of air in which the runaway balloon hung.

"I'll step over and call the sausage balloon, Ben," one of the men in the great steel tower said to the other as Beth, at sight of the balloon still drifting high, began breathing more easily. "They'll have to go to the rescue."

One more fierce struggle and Johnny tumbled over the side into the balloon's basket.

"It-it's put on with steel rings," he panted.

"It-what is?" Felix stared.

"The cable. What did you think?" Johnny laughed in spite of himself. "That's what I went over to see about."

"Yes," Felix grinned. "But now they've found us. All the honest people in that great city will want to save us. Isn't it wonderful when you think of it?" he marveled. "So many good people in the world! So many willing to give a fellow a lift when he's in trouble. If only we could all pull together all the time, what a world this would be!"

After that, each occupied with his own thoughts, they drifted on into the night.

A half hour later a dark bulk came stealing toward them. This was a small dirigible balloon owned by an advertising firm. Soon they were alongside. Instruments were taken aboard, the runaway balloon deflated, then they went gliding back toward the city of a million lights.

"Should have had this old sausage in the beginning," Felix grumbled. "Will next time perhaps."

Johnny wondered if he would be invited to participate in that next endeavor and, if so, what he would learn.

In due time they were back on good solid earth. But the day, for Johnny, was not yet over.

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