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"Then we will make the attempt," the professor added. "Now all aboard for the place where the water shoots up!"
Questioning Hankos, the professor learned how to reach the strange place. It was in the midst of a desolate country where none of the giants ever went, so afraid were they of the strange phenomenon.
It was a week's journey. Sometimes the Mermaid flew through the air, and again it sailed on vast lakes or inland seas. On the trip they met with big waterfalls and terrible geysers that spouted a mile or more into the air. They traveled by night as well as day, though it was necessary to keep a sharp watch.
Sometimes the ship pa.s.sed through great flocks of birds that surrounded her and sought to pierce the aluminum hull with their sharp beaks and talons. Over the mountains and valleys the ship sailed until, one evening, there sounded through the air a strange rumbling sound.
"It is thunder," said Old Andy.
"It is the water column," replied the scientist. "We are at the end of our trip. May the remainder be as successful!"
The ship was lowered to the surface, as it was deemed best to approach the column when the lights were shining. No one slept much that night, for the roaring and rumbling never ceased.
In the morning the ship was sent forward slowly. Ever and ever the terrific sound increased, until it was almost deafening. They had to call to each other to be heard.
Then, as the Mermaid pa.s.sed over a mountain, the adventurers saw, in a valley below them, the up-shooting water.
It was a vast column, nearly three hundred feet in thickness, and as solid and white as a shaft of marble. Up, up, up, it went, until it was lost to sight, but there were no falling drops, and not even a spray came from the watery shafts.
"There is a terrible power to it," the professor said. "May it prove our salvation!"
The ship was lowered about a hundred feet away from the waterspout.
All around them the ground was vibrating with the force of the fluid.
"To think that connects with the world above!" exclaimed Jack.
"It's a good thing for us that it does," Mark answered.
"We must lose no time," the professor put in. "If the earthquake destroyed the downward shaft, it may effect this one in time. We must escape while we can."
Then, for the first time, he opened the storeroom and the big cylinder was disclosed to view. It was made of aluminum, and shaped like an immense cigar. The hull was double, and it was strongly braced. Inside were padded berths for the occupants, and there was just room enough for the seven adventurers. Once they had entered they could not move about, but must stay in their little compartment.
Compressed air in strong cylinders furnished a means of breathing, and there were tiny electric lights operated by a storage battery. There was also a chamber to be filled with the lifting gas. The cylinder was so arranged that it would float on it's long axis if thrown into the water. A trap door hermetically sealed gave access to the interior. A small propeller, worked by compressed air, furnished motive power.
The food supply consisted of compressed capsules on which a man could subsist for several days. There was also some water, but not much, since that can not be compressed and would, therefore, take considerable room.
"The only thing for us to do," said the professor, "is to get into the cylinder, seal it up, and trust to Providence. This is what I intended to use when we were caught in the draught."
"How can we get into the column of water after we shut ourselves into the cylinder?" asked Mark.
"The cylinder fits into a sort of improvised cannon," said Mr.
Henderson. "It is fired by electricity and compressed air. We will aim it at the column, press the b.u.t.ton and be projected into the midst of the water. Then----" He did not finish the sentence, but the others knew what he meant.
"When are we to start?" asked Mark.
"As soon as possible," replied the professor. "I must arrange the cylinder, compress the air and lay out the food supply."
It took the rest of the day to do this, as the inventor found it would be advisable to attach a weight to the end of the cylinder, to hold it upright in the column of water. The weight could be detached automatically when they were shot up into the midst of the ocean, where, as Hankos had told them, the column spurted forth.
Then some food was stored in the tiny ship that was destined to be their last hope, and some tanks of water were placed in it.
"I think we are almost ready," Mr. Henderson said about noon the next day.
"What about our gold and diamonds?" asked Jack suddenly. "Can we take them with us in the cylinder?"
"That's so!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson. "I forgot about them. I'm afraid we'll have to leave the riches behind. We will not be able to carry them and the food we need, for it may be a week or more before we can leave the cylinder. Gold and diamonds will be a poor subst.i.tute for something to eat."
"I'm goin' t' take mine!" said Washington with much conviction. "I might as well starve rich as starve poor!"
"We may be able to take a few diamonds," the professor answered. "The gold will be too heavy. Let each one select the largest of the diamonds he has and put them in his pockets."
Then began a sorting of the wealth. It was strange, as they recalled afterward, throwing away riches that would have made millionaires envious, but it had to be done. All the wealth in the world would not equal a beef capsule when they were starving, and they realized it. So they only saved a few pieces of gold as souvenirs, and took the best of the diamonds. But even then they had a vast fortune with them.
At last all was in readiness. The cylinder had been placed in the tube from which it was to be shot gently forth by compressed air, so that it would fall into the upward spouting column of water. The charge of compressed air was put in and the electric wires arranged.
"Are we all ready?" asked Mr. Henderson.
"I think so," said Jack, in what sounded like a whisper, but which was loud, only the noise of the water m.u.f.fled it.
"Then we had better enter the cylinder," spoke the inventor. "Take a last look at the Flying Mermaid, boys, for you will never see again the ship that has borne us many thousand miles. She served us well, and might again, but for the freak of nature that has placed us in this position."
For the first time the adventurers realized that they must abandon the craft in which they had reached the new world. So it was with no little feeling of sadness that they climbed up the ladder that had been arranged and slid down into the cylinder. One by one they took their places in the padded berths arranged for them. It was a snug fit, for the professor knew if there was too much room he and the others might be so tossed about as to be killed.
Mr. Henderson was the last to enter. Standing at the manhole he took a final look at his pet creation, the Mermaid. Through the opened windows the colored lights came, shifting here and there. Outside the terrible column of water was roaring as if anxious to devour them.
"Good-bye, Mermaid!" said the professor softly.
Then he closed down the manhole cover and tightened the screws that held it in place. He touched a b.u.t.ton that turned on the electric lights and the interior of the cylinder was illuminated with a soft glow.
"Are you all ready?" he asked.
"Jest as much as I ever will be," replied Washington, who, as the crisis approached, seemed more light-hearted than any of the others.
"Then here we go!" exclaimed Mr. Henderson.
His fingers touched the b.u.t.ton that connected with the electric machine, which operated the compressed air.
There sounded a m.u.f.fled report. Then it seemed to those in the cylinder that the end of the world had come. They shot upward and outward, through the top of the conning tower which had been removed.
The cylinder, launched straight at the column of water struck it squarely and, an instant later was caught in the grasp of the giant force and hurled toward the upper world.
Up and up and up the ma.s.s of metal with its human freight went. Now it was spinning like a top, again it shot toward the earth's crust like an arrow from the archer's bow.
It was moving with the velocity of a meteor, yet because of being surrounded with water, and traveling with the same velocity as the column, there was no friction. Had there been, the heat generated would have melted the case in an instant.
For the first few seconds those in the cylinder were dazed by the sudden rush. Then as it became greater and greater there came a curious dull feeling, and, one after another lost consciousness. The terror of the water column, and the frightful speed, had made them senseless.