The sensations of the voyagers in the airship, who meanwhile, were flying along over the country surrounding Shopton, were not very different than when they had undertaken some trial flights. In fact Mr. Damon was a little disappointed after they had waved their farewells to Mr. Swift and Mrs. Baggert.
"I declare I'm not at all nervous," he remarked, as he sat in an easy chair in the enclosed car or cabin, and looked down at the earth through the plate-glass windows in the floor.
"I thought you'd be all right once we got started," commented Mr. Sharp. "Do you think you can stand going a trifle higher?"
"Try it," suggested the eccentric man. "Bless my watch chain, but, as I said, I might as well die this way as any other. Hitting a cloud-bank is easier than trying to climb a tree on a motorcycle, eh, Tom?"
"Very much so, Mr. Damon," conceded the young inventor, with a laugh.
"Oh, we'll not attempt any cloud heights for a day or two," went on Mr. Sharp. "I want you, to gradually get used to the rarefied atmosphere, Mr. Damon. Tom and I are getting to be old hands at it. But, if you think you can stand it, I'll go up about a thousand feet higher."
"Make it two thousand, while you're at it," proposed the odd character. "Might as well take a long fall as a short one."
Accordingly, the elevation rudder was used to send the Red Cloud to a greater height while she was still skimming along like some great bird. Of course the desired elevation could have been obtained by forcing more gas from the machine into the big, red container overhead, but it was decided to be as sparing of this vapor as possible, since the voyagers did not want to descend to get more material, in case they used up what they had. It was just as easy to rise by properly working the rudders, when the ship was in motion, and that was the method now employed.
With the great propellers, fore and aft, making about a thousand revolutions a minute the craft slanted up toward the sky.
The ship was not being run at top speed as Mr. Sharp did not care to force it, and there was no need for haste. Long distance, rather than high speed was being aimed at on this first important flight.
Tom was at the steering wheel, and, with his hand on the lever controlling the elevation rudder, kept watch of the face of Mr. Damon, occasionally noting what height the hand on the gauge registered. He fancied he saw the cheeks of his friend growing pale, and, when a height of thirty-five hundred feet was indicated, with a yank the young inventor put the airship on a level keel.
"Are you distressed, Mr. Damon?" he asked.
"Ye—yes, I—I have—some—some difficulty in breathing," was the answer.
Tom gave his friend the same advice the aeronaut had given the lad on his first trip, and the eccentric man soon felt better.
"Bless my buttons!" he ventured to explain. "But I feel as if I had lost several pounds of flesh, and I'm glad of it."
Mr. Sharp was busy with the motor, which needed some slight adjustments, and Tom was in sole charge of navigating the airship. He had lost the nervous feeling that first possessed him, and was becoming quite an expert at meeting various currents of wind encountered in the upper regions.
Below, the voyagers could see the earth spread out like a great map. They could not tell their exact location now, but by calculating their speed, which was about thirty miles an hour, Tom figured out that they were above the town of Centreford, near where he had been attacked once by the model thieves.
For several hours the airship kept on her way, maintaining a height of about a mile, for when it was found that Mr. Damon could accommodate himself to thirty-five hundred feet the elevation rudder was again shifted to send the craft upward.
By using glasses the travelers could see crowds on the earth watching their progress in the air, and, though airships, dirigible balloons and aeroplanes are getting fairly common now, the appearance of one as novel and as large as the Red Cloud could always be depended upon to attract attention.
"Well, what do you say to something to eat?" proposed Mr. Sharp, coming into the main cabin, from the motor compartment. "It's twelve o'clock, though we can't hear the factory whistles up, here."
"I'm ready, any time you are," called Tom, from the pilot house. "Shall I cook grub, Mr. Sharp?"
"No, you manage the ship, and I'll play cook. We'll not get a very elaborate meal this time, as I shall have to pay occasional visits to the motor, which isn't running just to suit me."
The electrical stove was set going, and some soup and beefsteak from among the stores, was put on the fire. In spite of the fact that the day was a warm one in October, it was quite cool in the cabin, until the stove took off the chill. The temperature of the upper regions was several degrees below that of the earth. At times the ship passed through little wisps of vapor-clouds in the making.
"Isn't this wonderful!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as he sat in an easy chair, partaking of some of the food. "To think that I have lived to see the day when I can take my lunch a mile in the air, with a craft flying along like a bird. Bless my knife and fork but it certainly is wonderful."
Mr. Sharp relieved Tom at the wheel, while the young inventor ate, and then, with the airship heading southwest, the speed was increased a trifle, the balloonist desiring to see what the motor could accomplish under a heavy load.
A drop of several hundred feet was made about an hour later, and, as this made it warmer, Mr. Damon, who was a great lover of fresh air, decided to go out on the platform in front of the cabin. This platform, and a similar one at the rear, was railed about, to prevent accidents. A fine view could be had from them much better than through the floor windows of the car.
"Be careful of the propeller," advised Tom, as his friend went outside. "I don't believe you're tall enough to be hit by the blades, but don't take any chances of standing on your tiptoes."
"Bless my pocket handkerchief, indeed I'll not," came the answer. "But I think I shall wrap up my throat in the scarf I brought along. I am subject to neuralgia, and the breeze may bring on an attack of it."
Wrapping a long, woolen scarf about his neck, the eccentric man ventured out on the open platform. About the middle of it, but sufficiently high to be above a person's head, was the forward propeller, whirring around at swift speed.
Tom, with his eye on the various gauges and the compass, was steering the airship. He glanced at Mr. Damon, who appeared to be enjoying the view from the platform. For an instant the eyes of the lad were taken from the form of his friend. He looked back suddenly, however, his attention attracted by a smothered cry. He was horrified by what he saw.
Mr. Damon was leaning far over the edge of the railing, with nothing between him and the earth a thousand feet below. He seemed to have lost his balance and had toppled forward, being doubled up on the iron pipe railing, his hands hanging limply over. Then, as Tom cried to Mr. Sharp to shut off the motor, the lad saw that, hanging to the blade of the propeller, and being whirled around in its revolutions, was a part of Mr. Damon's red scarf.
"Hurry! Hurry, Mr. Sharp!" yelled Tom, not daring to let go the steering wheel, for fear the ship would encounter a treacherous current and tilt. "Hurry to Mr. Damon!"
"What's the matter?" asked the balloonist.
"He's dead—or unconscious—hanging over the railing. He seems to be slipping! Hurry, or it will be too late!"