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CHAPTER IV.THE BALLOON COMES DOWN.
 Hello!’ exclaimed Lucius. ‘What have they put out the torches for, I wonder.’  
‘So they hev,’ said Ephraim, peering over. ‘Sh! keep mum! Maybe thar’s some wan1 tryin’ ter head us off. I wish they’d let her go.’ Then, as no sound broke the stillness of the night, nor could any noise of footsteps be heard, he called softly, ‘Let her go!’
 
Instantly came back a response in his own words, as a bo’sun repeats the orders of the mate, ‘Let her go!’
 
But the balloon remained stationary2, and at last, after waiting for a moment or two, Ephraim cast prudence3 to the winds and shouted at the top of his voice: ‘Let her go, ye durned fools. Why don’t ye let her go?’
 
‘Ye durned fools, why don’t ye let her go?’ was hurled4 back at him with savage5 emphasis.
 
‘By time!’ began Ephraim—when Lucius interrupted with, ‘That was echo, Grizzly7.’
 
‘Echo in this yer field!’ retorted Ephraim. ‘Thar ain’t any echo. If thar war, why didn’t she up ’n answer when I gave the boys good-bye and ye hollered out yer message?’
 
‘Well, it sounded like it,’ persisted Lucius. ‘Try again and make sure.’
 
‘Let her go, can’t ye?’ howled Ephraim, unable, in his anxiety to be quit of mother earth, to think of any other test. But this time there was no reply.
 
‘What’d I tell ye?’ cried Ephraim excitedly. ‘Thar warn’t no echo. The or’nery skunks8 hev been playin’ it back on us, and now they’ve skedaddled and left us anchored hyar.’
 
‘Perhaps some one came along and scared them,’ suggested Lucius.
 
‘I’ll scare ’em wanst I git down agen,’ grumbled10 Ephraim. ‘However, it don’t amount ter a cob er corn. I’ll soon cut her loose, though sutt’nly I didn’t want ter lose that extry bit er rope.’
 
‘It’s grown very cold all of a sudden,’ remarked Lucius, as Ephraim hunted round for the lantern he had brought. ‘And wet, too. Oh!’ as the Grizzly drew the slide and flashed the light here and there. ‘It’s raining hard, and never a sound on the balloon. How very odd.’
 
‘Hyar’s the rope,’ exclaimed Ephraim at this juncture11. ‘Ketch hold on the light, Luce, while I cut her through.’
 
He handed the lantern to Lucius, and having opened a formidable clasp-knife, put his hand through the cords which rose from the car, and laid hold of the detaining rope.
 
Instantly an exclamation12 of deep surprise escaped him. The rope was slack.
 
‘What’s wrong now?’ inquired Lucius, still occupied in wondering why the rain had made no sound. ‘It has stopped raining. I can see the stars again.’
 
For answer Ephraim broke into peal13 after peal of laughter. ‘Co’se ye kin14! Co’se ye kin!’ he shouted. ‘Why, don’t ye know ye must be nigh on a mile nearer ter ’em than when ye started. Ho! ho! ho!’
 
‘What do you mean?’ asked Lucius. ‘We can’t have gone up so high just since you cut the rope.’
 
‘Cut the rope!’ cried Ephraim. ‘I never did cut the rope. See hyar.’ He hauled in the slack and flung it on the floor of the car. ‘While us two fust-class samples er prize ijots hez been growlin’ and howlin’, ole Blue Bag hyar hez been cuttin’ through space like a wheel-saw goin’ through a block er pine.’
 
‘My!’ exclaimed Lucius. ‘Then the torches were not put out by the men?’
 
‘Not them,’ chuckled15 Ephraim. ‘The old balloon jest lit out fer the sky and left ’em.’
 
‘I didn’t feel any movement then, and I don’t now,’ said Lucius incredulously. ‘Are you sure we are off?’
 
‘You kin smile,’ returned Ephraim. ‘You’ve looked yer last on the old world fer a bit. Why, that echo might hev told me, fer I read about jest such a thing in my book; but I war that flabbergasted et what ye said about the torches that I clean forgot it.’
 
‘Was the echo in the air then?’ asked Lucius.
 
‘It p’intedly war. Thar and nowhar else. Then we got out er that belt and whoosh16! through thet cloud and rain-storm, and hyar we air bright and early, all ready to give howdy to the little twinklin’ stars. Hurroo!’
 
‘But are you sure?’ persisted Lucius. ‘I can’t believe it.’
 
52‘Waal, it’s so, sonny. Ye kin see fer yerself.’ Ephraim tore up some paper and flung the pieces over the side of the car, and as he flashed the light upon them, Lucius observed that they appeared to be fluttering down. ‘Thet shows we’re goin’ up, ye onderstand,’ said Grizzly.
 
‘No, I do not understand,’ answered Lucius; ‘and since you know so much about it, you’d better explain.’
 
Ephraim needed no second bidding, but at once began a learned discourse17 on ballast, valves, and everything pertaining18 to the manufacture and management of balloons, when Lucius suddenly shrieked19 out: ‘My ears are beating like drums, and I think my head is going to burst.’
 
‘Ye don’t say so!’ responded Ephraim in unaffected alarm. ‘Hello! so’s mine. We must be goin’ up too high. Hold on! I’ll fetch her down.’
 
He pulled the cord which opened the valve as he spoke20, and presently they were conscious of pleasanter surroundings.
 
‘That’s better,’ said Lucius. ‘Do you know, I think it was rather rash to come up in the dark.’
 
‘Maybe it war,’ admitted Ephraim; ‘but ef we’d tried ter start in the daytime, we’d never hev come up at all.’
 
‘We should have been stopped, sure enough,’ assented21 Lucius, who with the absence of motion on the part of the balloon had lost most of the fear which had possessed22 him at the start. ‘All the same, I think we might as well have waited for the dawn.’
 
‘I don’t suppose thar’s much risk er a collision up hyar,’ said Ephraim quaintly23. ‘I ’magine we’ve got the sky pretty much ter ourselves. But ye won’t hev long ter wait fer dawn on a June night; and meantime, ef we watch the valve we’ll hev no trouble.’
 
‘That brings us down?’ said Lucius.
 
‘Ezacly. It’s all jest ez easy ez fallin’ off’n a log, this yer balloonin’. When we want ter git up, ye chuck out a bag of ballast, and when ye want ter come down, ye pull the valve cord and let out a smart lump of gas. That’s about the lot of it.’
 
‘When we get back to Staunton,’ advised Lucius, ‘you ought to turn professional.’
 
‘Professional what?’ inquired Ephraim, who was busy setting things to rights in the car by the light of the lantern.
 
‘Why, professional—what d’ye call him? The man who goes up in balloons.’
 
‘Airy-nort!’ shouted Ephraim joyously24. ‘By time! Luce, thet’s a perfectly25 grand idee. So I will. I’ll turn airy-nort and take folks up and down fer five dollars the trip. Luce, I’m obleeged ter ye fer thet idee. I p’intedly am.’
 
‘If it helps you to get back your pile, I shall be very glad,’ said Lucius rather sadly. ‘I’m sure I’ll be very willing to act as conductor, and rush around and get passengers for you.’
 
‘Shucks!’ observed Ephraim. ‘Who’s thinkin’ of the pile?’
 
‘I am,’ said Lucius, ‘and shall never cease to think of it until I have made it up to you in some way. I really do believe that aeronaut notion is a good one.’
 
‘It is thet,’ affirmed Ephraim with conviction, ‘and I’ll fix it up too; you see ef I don’t.’
 
‘I suppose you know that you are still holding the valve cord,’ said Lucius. ‘How are we to get up again if you let out all the gas?’
 
‘By time! I forgot,’ exclaimed Ephraim, releasing the cord. ‘I ’low thar’s more in this yer airy-nortin’ than I thort thar war. We’re about steady now,’ he went on, throwing out some more paper in the stream of lamplight; ‘but of co’se I dunno whar we air; fer I han’t no notion how fast or how slow old Blue Bag kin travel.’
 
‘Well, there’s not much wind,’ said Lucius, ‘so I don’t suppose we have gone very far. It would be rather a joke if we found ourselves standing26 still over Staunton, wouldn’t it?’
 
‘It would thet!’ grinned Ephraim, ‘or, better still, ef we went hoverin’ over the Yanks jest ez they war gittin’ their breakfasts.’
 
‘By the way, where do you expect to get to?’ inquired Lucius. ‘I suppose you thought it all out before we started?’
 
‘Waal, I kinder did, ez fur ez might be,’ replied Ephraim, ‘though sutt’nly it war like enuff ter wanderin’ blindfold27 through a wood; but I knew jest ez well ez everybody else thet old Stonewall war gobblin’ up the Yanks somewhar in the valley, and I ’lowed we wouldn’t git much beyond Winchester ’thout lightin’ on his trail.’
 
‘Winchester! All that long way off!’
 
‘Oh, come. It ain’t so very fur ez all thet comes to, and besides, ye air carried free, gratis28, and fur nuthin’. ’Tisn’t ez ef ye war asked ter walk.’
 
‘That’s all very well; but supposing the wind changes, or has changed, and blows us to goodness knows where. What are you going to do then? 55Will there be enough gas left to bring us back again?’
 
‘Oh! I reckon yes,’ answered Ephraim rather uncomfortably, for this was a point which he had left unconsidered. ‘But it don’t matter much after all. It wouldn’t be such a trial ez all thet ter do it on foot!’
 
‘I shouldn’t mind,’ assented Lucius. ‘I suppose we could find our way, and as to food—why, Grizzly, did you bring any with you? I never remembered it.’
 
‘Thet’s all right,’ said Ephraim, relieved at the turn given to the conversation; ‘ye’ll find plenty in this bag—bread and meat and milk—and ef ye’re hungry, why, ye’d better pitch in.’
 
‘I don’t mind if I do,’ laughed Lucius, ‘though, to be sure, it is rather early for breakfast. Oh, Grizzly,’ he went on, munching29 the viands30, ‘I was in a horrible fright when we first started. I was in two minds about stepping out of the car, when old Blue Bag, as you seem to have named the balloon, shot up to the length of the rope, and then of course I was done for.’
 
‘Ye war,’ chuckled Ephraim, following suit with the provisions; ‘but now ye see it’s jest the nicest kind er travellin’ ever invented. I ’low I warn’t quite sure myself how it would be when fust we started, but I wouldn’t ask nuthin’ better than this. Wait till mornin’ comes and we’ll show our flag.’
 
‘Flag!’ echoed Lucius. ‘Have you brought a flag?’
 
‘Rayther!’ said Ephraim; ‘a proper one, too—stars and bars and all. I didn’t want our boys ter fire on us ye know, sposin’ we came too close to the ground.’
 
‘But the Yanks will fire on us if they see the flag,’ argued Lucius.
 
‘By time! I never thort er thet,’ confessed Ephraim with humility31. His reasoning was not infrequently like that of Sir Isaac Newton with regard to his cat and her kitten. ‘Waal, never mind, we’ll do without the flag. And ez ter shootin’,’ he muttered under his breath, ‘ef it comes ter thet, I reckon we kin stand a siege.’
 
Lucius did not hear this remark, and in response to his request for its repetition, Grizzly merely asserted that it didn’t matter.
 
Providence32 was kind to the two lads in their ignorance, and for a couple of hours they floated peacefully along, sublimely33 unconscious of the dangers to which they were exposed, and chatting, with boyish disregard of the awfulness of the theme, over their chances of witnessing the most horrible sight in nature—men struggling together in bloody34 strife35, like savage beasts of prey36.
 
Then suddenly a red light flared37 up in the east, and Ephraim exclaimed cheerfully: ‘Thar comes the mornin’. We’ll soon larn our wharabouts now.’
 
But, even as he said the words, the fires of day were extinguished, a wet veil enveloped38 the balloon, which heeled over as a blast of bitter cold wind rushed shrieking39 through the cordage. A long, jagged stream of blinding light rent the cloud-bank into which they had entered, while, almost simultaneously40, a stunning41 thunder roll reverberated42 all around them.
 
‘Oh!’ shrieked Lucius, burying his face in his hands. ‘How awful! Let us go down. Quick! quick! The balloon will burst.’
 
‘We can’t!’ gasped43 Ephraim, also temporarily out of his senses with fright. ‘I’ve lost my grip of the valve cord.’
 
It was true. Not expecting such a contretemps, he had neglected to secure the valve cord, which at the first lurch44 of the balloon had swung through the cordage, and now dangled45 out of reach and invisible in the darkness.
 
Meanwhile the thunder roared and crackled, and the lightning blazed about them, and the balloon, driven this way and that by contrary currents of wind, swung from side to side, staggering back to the perpendicular46; while the frail47 car, falling with each lurch and recovery to the utmost limit of the binding48 ropes, shook and whirled and bumped its miserable49 occupants till they were actually sick with terror and physical discomfort50.
 
‘Oh! oh!’ moaned Lucius. ‘I shall die! Oh! why did I ever come? I shall be killed! Oh! if it were only not so very dark!’
 
Suddenly there was a shout from Ephraim. Lucius knew in a dim unconscious way that he had risen to his feet and was leaning over the car during a temporary lull51 in the mad gyrations of the balloon, and in a few moments more old Blue Bag, bursting grandly through the storm, soared peacefully amid tranquil52 skies into the broad light of day.
 
‘By time!’ ejaculated Ephraim, wiping the sweat from his face, which was deadly pale. ‘Thet war on’y jest in time. Thet war none too soon. What an or’nery skunk9 I must hev been ter fergit it.’
 
‘What did you do?’ chattered53 Lucius, still in deadly terror.
 
‘Why, hove out a big lump er ballast, er co’se,’ returned Ephraim, who was fast getting his quivering nerves under control again. ‘And I do hope it’ll fall plump on one er them pesky Yanks and knock the nat’al stuffin’ out er him.—Don’t ye take on so, Luce. I ’low it war awful while et lasted—awful; but we’re all right now. Old Blue Bag don’t set me back again, I tell ye.’
 
Lucius cast one despairing look upwards54.
 
‘Right!’ he groaned55. ‘Can’t you see that we’re going up and up, and we’ll never come down again until the balloon has been shivered into atoms. You’ve lost the cord.’
 
Ephraim followed the glance. Matters were certainly about as bad as they could be. The valve cord, tangled56 in the rigging of the balloon, lay twisted far up on the side of the latter, absolutely out of reach.
 
‘Umph!’ grunted57 Ephraim. ‘Waal, it’s a mercy thar’s more ways than one. I’ll make a hole in her side.’
 
He pulled out his clasp-knife, and with a sigh for the dire58 necessity of it, prepared to stab the child of his invention. But, as he stood at the edge of the car, his fingers, numbed59 with cold and wet, lost grip of the knife in their efforts to open the strong blade, and with a silence more eloquent60 than the loudest crash, it slipped down into the cloud depths below.
 
A cry of horror broke from Lucius as what seemed to him their only means of salvation61 disappeared, but Ephraim shouted loudly: ‘Lend us yourn, quick! It’s gettin’ ez cold ez a iceberg62. Smart, sonny!’
 
‘I haven63’t got it,’ whimpered Lucius. ‘I put it out to bring, but I forgot it. Oh! oh! oh! I shall be killed! I shall be killed!’ He flung himself upon the floor of the car, grovelling64 abjectly65 in the desolation of his spirit.
 
Another nature might have upbraided66 Lucius and reminded him that the danger was at least equal for both of them, and that his was not the only life at stake. Not so the old Grizzly. He stooped down, and patting the cowering67 boy on the shoulder, said in strong, tender voice, in which lurked68 no perceptible note of anxiety: ‘What, Luce! ’Tain’t your par’s son ter be kyar’in’ on like thet. Stand up now—thar’s a lamb—and be ready ter ketch hold on thet cord ez I sling69 her in.’
 
‘What are you going to do?’ Lucius would have said, but the words froze upon his lips, and with eyes that bulged70 with terror he watched his intrepid71 friend, who had kicked off his boots, and with an ashen72 face, but steely eyes and hard-set lips, climbed upon the rim73 of the car and grasped the mass of cordage above his head.
 
For a moment Lucius felt inclined to faint, but by a violent effort he collected his scattered74 wits, and shaking like an aspen leaf, leaned with outstretched hand against the side of the car.
 
Truly it was a fearful sight. As Ephraim, his feet twined among the cordage, slowly mounted towards the network, the balloon, drawn75 by his weight, careened over, so that he hung sideways—above him the illimitable blue—below, thousands of feet below him, the earth he has so rashly left. Lucius shut his eyes, and his brain reeled with the horror of the thing; but 60brave old Grizzly never faltered76, never hesitated, only mounted inch by inch to where the valve cord rested on the bellying77 curve of the balloon.
 
At last he reached it, and freeing it swiftly, sent it inwards with a turn of the wrist. As one in a dream, Lucius saw it waving towards him, opened and shut his hand mechanically, caught it, and pulled with all his might.
 
‘Hold on!’ roared Ephraim, scrambling78 once more into the car. ‘Don’t ye lug79 like thet. Ye’ll hev the whole gimbang ter bits, and we’ll go whirlin’ down quicker ’n we came up.’
 
He gently took the cord from Luce’s trembling hand and made it fast. ‘Thar,’ he said, ‘I reckon we’ve about exhausted80 the possibilities fer a spell. We’ll take a rest, now, thank ye.—Hello!’ For as he turned, Lucius flung his arms about him.
 
‘Oh, you dear, brave old Grizzly,’ sobbed81 the overwrought boy. ‘You’ve saved my life. Oh! How could you go up there in that dreadful place?’
 
The colour rushed back to Ephraim’s face in a great wave, and while he satisfied himself by a look that the balloon was falling, he fondled and soothed82 the boy by his side as a mother might have done.
 
‘Thar now, Luce; thar now,’ he said tenderly, ‘don’t take on no more. Shucks! It warn’t nuthin’, now it’s over. We’re going down now. Steady, bub, steady; we’re jist gittin’ ter thet bank of storm-clouds. Thar’—drawing Lucius close to him, as the boy shivered with apprehension—‘now we’re through that lot, and none the worse er it. Look, Luce, look—thar’s old Mother Earth. Bullee! Reckon ye’ll prefer to stay down wanst ye git thar.’
 
‘Oh, yes,’ sobbed Lucius. ‘We’ll get home somehow, but not in this awful balloon.’
 
Old Blue Bag was now rapidly nearing the earth, and had the boys had the heart to consider it, a wonderful panorama83 lay stretched out below them. But earth in their regard held but one joy just then—it was a resting-place, a sure haven of safety, and for its beauties they had no eye. With one hand on the valve cord, and holding a bag of ballast in the other, Ephraim regulated their descent. The grapnel was out, and as the balloon slowly sank, dragged through the tops of the trees in a thick wood. Now they were past this, and floating over open spaces again. The grapnel swept along the ground, caught under the bole of a fallen tree—and they were safe.
 
‘Whoop!’ screeched84 Ephraim, flinging out a rope. ‘I reckon we’ve got thar. Over ye go, Luce.’
 
Lucius did not wait to be told twice. He simply flung himself upon the rope, and scrambling down, sank in a confused heap upon the ground. Ephraim followed quickly, saw that the balloon was fast and secure, and was just bending anxiously over his companion, when a sudden sound caused him to look up.
 
From all directions men in blue uniforms, and guns with bayonets fixed85 in their hands, were running towards them.
 
‘Gloryful gracious!’ murmured Ephraim, straightening up. ‘Ef thet ain’t the peskiest kind er luck. We’ve been and tumbled right inter6 a nest er Yanks!’

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