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Charley's Balloon Voyage by Frank H. Taylor


"Bal-loon! balloon! Oh, Charley! where are you, Charley? There's a balloon a-comin'."

Charley's big brother Harry came running excitedly down the road, and vaulted the farm-yard fence in a state of great excitement. "Oh, Charley, come out quick and see the balloon."

Charley was nowhere to be found. He had wandered off hours before to his favorite rock by the brook to have a "good cry." And this was the reason of it: One day, a short time before, he had been into the town of Wayneburg, not many miles distant, with Harry. Charley didn't often have a chance to go to town, and you may be sure he made the best use of his eyes. The one thing which he remembered above everything else was the big poster-board near the market, covered over every inch of it with bright-colored pictures of leaping horses, trick mules, flying riders jumping through hoops, comical clowns, and, above all, a big balloon just rising out of the crowd, everybody swinging their hats.

For two weeks Charley had talked of nothing, thought of nothing, dreamed of nothing but the coming show, and so, when his mother promised to take him to see it all, he was the happiest little boy in the county. But, alas! Charley's mother was taken sick just before the circus came, and there was no one else to go with him. Harry was too young and wild to be trusted, she said, and so poor Charley staid at home, and, sitting upon the big gate-post, watched the wagon-loads of people rattling merrily into town, bound for a day's fun. With swelling heart he wished he was a full-grown man. Then he strayed down by the creek, as I have said, to tell his grief to the fishes.

Harry, who had felt almost as badly as Charley, though he scorned to cry about it, kept on shouting until Charley peeped above the orchard wall to see what was wanted. Then he too spied the balloon. It didn't look bigger than his top, away up among the fleecy clouds, but it rapidly grew to the size of a pippin, and then over the hill came two or three galloping horsemen, swinging their hats, and shouting as they rode.

Now the balloon began to descend, and shortly disappeared behind the woods back of the house. Charley didn't know whether to run or stand still, and while he was doubting, the great yellow dome arose into sight again, and this time Charley could see the men in the basket. They were looking down, and calling to the men in the road to take hold of the long drag-rope, and pull them down.

This was not hard to do, as a balloon is so prettily balanced when in the air that in a light wind a little boy like Charley could pull it to the earth. It is not so easy when the balloon is going rapidly. I once saw a plucky dog catch hold of the rope with his teeth, and it jerked him along over fences and through a stubble field on his back, and I guess when he let go he had but very little hair left. Well, they pulled the balloon down, and before the men got out several large stones were put into the basket to hold it down, and the rope was tied to a strong post. One of the men was tall and stoop-shouldered, with a long sandy beard; they called him "Professor" (a queer title for a balloon man, is it not?). The second man was tall and good-looking; he belonged to the circus company. And the third was the artist, whose sketches you see in this paper.

After a little, Charley's mother came to the door, and invited the three strangers into the house, but they preferred to sit on the step; and the Professor took Charley upon his knee, and asked him how he would like to travel in the way they did. How odd! Why, that was the very thing he was wishing for at the moment. He had often watched the birds, and longed for their wings for a little while. The Professor said, "I'll tell you what we'll do, Charley; you and I will get into the basket, and tell them to let us up to the end of the rope." Charley's mother was afraid to allow him to go; but the tall man told her the Professor often took children up that way, where he came down when voyaging. Sometimes he had seen a dozen in the basket at once; so she consented, and shortly they were seated with plenty of stout hands hold of the rope, "paying out," as the sailors say. Above the barn they rose, then higher than the big elm. Up, up, until the folks below looked very short and funny, with all their faces turned up to the sky. Charley's mother didn't look larger than a doll.

I wish I could tell you all that Charley and the Professor saw as they sat there so high and secure. Away over the hill was the town, and, beyond, a winding river and another village that he had never seen before; indeed, there were several towns in sight. He was sure they must be Boston, New York, and Chicago. He thought he could see the ocean and the Rocky Mountains; but the one was only distant plains, and the other the Catskills, about fifty miles away.

The Professor told Charley a great many things about his voyages. Once he was blown out to sea, and when he had almost given up hope, the rope was overtaken by a sail-boat in pursuit, and he was towed ashore; again, he had floated over burning forests, and once came to the earth from the weight of snow on the balloon; and once, too, his balloon was torn in the top of a high tree.

Suddenly a great shout was heard from below, and the Professor looked down. He quickly said to Charley: "Now, my boy, don't be frightened. They have made a mistake down there, and let loose the rope. We are going up into the clouds, but I will bring you down all right."

Charley was a brave little fellow, and besides this, he had confidence in the Professor, who seemed to manage his "air-ship," as it is often called, so skillfully. What a great thing it is to have confidence in a leader!

The shouting below was very faint and distant now. They were among the clouds, and in a moment were enveloped in one of them. It was just like a fog. The soft white masses rolled and whirled close beside the basket; it was very cool and damp.

In a minute the Professor exclaimed, "Look, Charley! we are above the clouds."

"What a funny smell the clouds have!" said Charley; upon which the Professor laughed heartily, and showed him that the neck of the balloon was open, and some of the gas was flowing out. He explained that the gas took up more room as they arose, until it finally escaped in this way. Then he pulled on a small rope which was fastened to the top of the balloon, and a rushing sound was heard. This was caused by the escaping gas going through the valve. This interested Charley, who wanted to know the "why" of everything.

When he looked about again, they had once more passed through the clouds, and far below were square light and dark spots, which he knew were woods and fields. These kept growing in size, and finally right below appeared a mill where he had often gone with Harry for grist. What a commotion there was among the cattle and pigs and chickens! The miller and his men ran out and caught hold of the rope as it rattled noisily over the roof, pulling them down in the adjoining field. They were greatly astonished to find such a little fellow in the basket. As it was only five miles from where they had started, some of the horsemen who had been there were speedily at the mill. The Professor proposed that they should take the balloon back along the road to the town, which could easily be done. So the drag rope was tied to the axle of a heavy wagon with a number of men riding on it, and the balloon was allowed to float about a hundred feet from the ground. Charley still rode with the Professor in his basket, and so they reached his home. He was the hero of the day, and, to crown all, the town newspaper printed Charley's story of his trip, just as he told it to them, with his name in capitals at the top of the page.

I would like to be there, behind the door, when Charley gets this paper and sees the pictures. I advise him to cut them out and put them in a frame, and when he looks at them to resolve that he will always be as brave and manly as upon the day of his balloon trip.