The eyes that regarded them, as the creature stood dripping before them, wer_right and mild in expression, and the queer addition to their party made n_ttempt to attack them and seemed quite as surprised by the meeting as the_ere.
"I wonder," whispered Trot, "what it is."
"Who, me?" exclaimed the creature in a shrill, high- pitched voice. "Why, I'_n Ork."
"Oh!" said the girl. "But what is an Ork?"
"I am," he repeated, a little proudly, as he shook the water from his funn_ings; "and if ever an Ork was glad to be out of the water and on dry lan_gain, you can be mighty sure that I'm that especial, individual Ork!"
"Have you been in the water long?" inquired Cap'n Bill, thinking it onl_olite to show an interest in the strange creature.
"why, this last ducking was about ten minutes, I believe, and that's abou_ine minutes and sixty seconds too long for comfort," was the reply. "But las_ight I was in an awful pickle, I assure you. The whirlpool caught me, and —"
"Oh, were you in the whirlpool, too?" asked Trot eagerly
He gave her a glance that was somewhat reproachful.
"I believe I was mentioning the fact, young lady, when your desire to tal_nterrupted me," said the Ork. "I am not usually careless in my actions, bu_hat whirlpool was so busy yesterday that I thought I'd see what mischief i_as up to. So I flew a little too near it and the suction of the air drew m_own into the depths of the ocean. Water and I are natural enemies, and i_ould have conquered me this time had not a bevy of pretty mermaids come to m_ssistance and dragged me away from the whirling water and far up into _avern, where they deserted me."
"Why, that's about the same thing that happened to us," cried Trot. "Was you_avern like this one?"
"I haven't examined this one yet," answered the Ork; "but if they happen to b_like I shudder at our fate, for the other one was a prison, with no outle_xcept by means of the water. I stayed there all night, however, and thi_orning I plunged into the pool, as far down as I could go, and then swam a_ard and as far as I could. The rocks scraped my back, now and then, and _arely escaped the clutches of an ugly sea- monster; but by and by I came t_he surface to catch my breath, and found myself here. That's the whole story, and as I see you have something to eat I entreat you to give me a share of it.
The truth is, I'm half starved."
With these words the Ork squatted down beside them. Very reluctantly Cap'_ill drew another biscuit from his pocket and held it out. The Ork promptl_eized it in one of its front claws and began to nibble the biscuit in muc_he same manner a parrot might have done.
"We haven't much grub," said the sailor-man, "but we're willin' to share i_ith a comrade in distress."
"That's right," returned the Ork, cocking its head sidewise in a cheerfu_anner, and then for a few minutes there was silence while they all ate of th_iscuits. After a while Trot said:
"I've never seen or heard of an Ork before. Are there many of you?"
"We are rather few and exclusive, I believe," was the reply. "In the countr_here I was born we are the absolute rulers of all living things, from ants t_lephants."
"What country is that?" asked Cap'n Bill.
"Where does it lie?"
"I don't know, exactly. You see, I have a restless nature, for some reason, while all the rest of my race are quiet and contented Orks and seldom stra_ar from home. From childhood days I loved to fly long distances away, although father often warned me that I would get into trouble by so doing.
"'It's a big world, Flipper, my son,' he would say, 'and I've heard that i_arts of it live queer two- legged creatures called Men, who war upon al_ther living things and would have little respect for even an Ork.'
"This naturally aroused my curiosity and after I had completed my educatio_nd left school I decided to fly out into the world and try to get a glimps_f the creatures called Men. So I left home without saying good-bye, an act _hall always regret. Adventures were many, I found. I sighted men severa_imes, but have never before been so close to them as now. Also I had to figh_y way through the air, for I met gigantic birds, with fluffy feathers al_ver them, which attacked me fiercely. Besides, it kept me busy escaping fro_loating airships. In my rambling I had lost all track of distance o_irection, so that when I wanted to go home I had no idea where my country wa_ocated. I've now been trying to find it for several months and it was durin_ne of my flights over the ocean that I met the whirlpool and became it_ictim."
Trot and Cap'n Bill listened to this recital with much interest, and from th_riendly tone and harmless appearance of the Ork they judged he was not likel_o prove so disagreeable a companion as at first they had feared he might be.
The Ork sat upon its haunches much as a cat does, but used the finger-lik_laws of its front legs almost as cleverly as if they were hands. Perhaps th_ost curious thing about the creature was its tail, or what ought to have bee_ts tail. This queer arrangement of skin, bones and muscle was shaped like th_ropellers used on boats and airships, having fan-like surfaces and bein_ivoted to its body. Cap'n Bill knew something of mechanics, and observing th_ropeller- like tail of the Ork he said:
"I s'pose you're a pretty swift flyer?"
"Yes, indeed; the Orks are admitted to be Kings of the Air."
"Your wings don't seem to amount to much," remarked Trot.
"Well, they are not very big," admitted the Ork, waving the four hollow skin_ently to and fro, "but they serve to support my body in the air while I spee_long by means of my tail. Still, taken altogether, I'm very handsomel_ormed, don't you think?"
Trot did not like to reply, but Cap'n Bill nodded gravely. "For an Ork," sai_e, "you're a wonder. I've never seen one afore, but I can imagine you're a_ood as any."
That seemed to please the creature and it began walking around the cavern, making its way easily up the slope. while it was gone, Trot and Cap'n Bil_ach took another sip from the water-flask, to wash down their breakfast.
"Why, here's a hole — an exit — an outlet!" exclaimed the Ork from above.
"We know," said Trot. "We found it last night."
"Well, then, let's be off," continued the Ork, after sticking its head int_he black hole and sniffing once or twice. "The air seems fresh and sweet, an_t can't lead us to any worse place than this."
The girl and the sailor-man got up and climbed to the side of the Ork.
"We'd about decided to explore this hole before you came," explained Cap'_ill; "but it's a dangerous place to navigate in the dark, so wait till _ight a candle."
"What is a candle?" inquired the Ork.
"You'll see in a minute," said Trot.
The old sailor drew one of the candles from his right-side pocket and the ti_atchbox from his left- side pocket. When he lighted the match the Ork gave _tartled jump and eyed the flame suspiciously; but Cap'n Bill proceeded t_ight the candle and the action interested the Ork very much.
"Light," it said, somewhat nervously, "is valuable in a hole of this sort. Th_andle is not dangerous, I hope?"
"Sometimes it burns your fingers," answered Trot, "but that's about the wors_t can do — 'cept to blow out when you don't want it to."
Cap'n Bill shielded the flame with his hand and crept into the hole. It wasn'_ny too big for a grown man, but after he had crawled a few feet it gre_arger. Trot came close behind him and then the Ork followed.
"Seems like a reg'lar tunnel," muttered the sailor- man, who was creepin_long awkwardly because of his wooden leg. The rocks, too, hurt his knees.
For nearly half an hour the three moved slowly along the tunnel, which mad_any twists and turns and sometimes slanted downward and sometimes upward.
Finally Cap'n Bill stopped short, with an exclamation of disappointment, an_eld the flickering candle far ahead to light the scene.
"What's wrong?" demanded Trot, who could see nothing because the sailor's for_ompletely filled the hole.
"Why, we've come to the end of our travels, I guess," he replied.
"Is the hole blocked?" inquired the Ork.
"No; it's wuss nor that," replied Cap'n Bill sadly. "I'm on the edge of _recipice. Wait a minute an' I'll move along and let you see for yourselves.
Be careful, Trot, not to fall."
Then he crept forward a little and moved to one side, holding the candle s_hat the girl could see to follow him. The Ork came next and now all thre_nelt on a narrow ledge of rock which dropped straight away and left a hug_lack space which the tiny flame of the candle could not illuminate.
"H-m!" said the Ork, peering over the edge; "this doesn't look very promising, I'll admit. But let me take your candle, and I'll fly down and see what'_elow us."
"Aren't you afraid?" asked Trot.
"Certainly I'm afraid," responded the Ork. "But if we intend to escape w_an't stay on this shelf forever. So, as I notice you poor creatures canno_ly, it is my duty to explore the place for you."
Cap'n Bill handed the Ork the candle, which had now burned to about half it_ength. The Ork took it in one claw rather cautiously and then tipped its bod_orward and slipped over the edge. They heard a queer buzzing sound, as th_ail revolved, and a brisk flapping of the peculiar wings, but they were mor_nterested just then in following with their eyes the tiny speck of ligh_hich marked the location of the candle. This light first made a great circle, then dropped slowly downward and suddenly was extinguished, leaving everythin_efore them black as ink.
"Hi, there! How did that happen?" cried the Ork.
"It blew out, I guess," shouted Cap'n Bill. "Fetch it here."
"I can't see where you are," said the Ork.
So Cap'n Bill got out another candle and lighted it, and its flame enabled th_rk to fly back to them. It alighted on the edge and held out the bit o_andle.
"What made it stop burning?" asked the creature.
The wind," said Trot. "You must be more careful, this time."
"What's the place like?" inquired Cap'n Bill.
"I don't know, yet; but there must be a bottom to it, so I'll try to find it."
With this the Ork started out again and this time sank downward more slowly.
Down, down, down it went, till the candle was a mere spark, and then it heade_way to the left and Trot and Cap'n Bill lost all sight of it.
In a few minutes, however, they saw the spark of light again, and as th_ailor still held the second lighted candle the Ork made straight toward them.
It was only a few yards distant when suddenly it dropped the candle with a cr_f pain and next moment alighted, fluttering wildly, upon the rocky ledge.
"What's the matter?" asked Trot.
It bit me!" wailed the Ork. "I don't like your candles. The thing began t_isappear slowly as soon as I took it in my claw, and it grew smaller an_maller until just now it turned and bit me — a most unfriendly thing to do.
Oh — oh! Ouch, what a bite!"
"That's the nature of candles, I'm sorry to say," explained Cap'n Bill, with _rin. "You have to handle 'em mighty keerful. But tell us, what did you fin_own there?"
"I found a way to continue our journey," said the Ork, nursing tenderly th_law which had been burned. "Just below us is a great lake of black water, which looked so cold and wicked that it made me shudder; but away at the lef_here's a big tunnel, which we can easily walk through. I don't know where i_eads to, of course, but we must follow it and find out." "why, we can't ge_o it," protested the little girl. "We can't fly, as you do, you mus_emember."
"No, that's true," replied the Ork musingly. "Your bodies are built ver_oorly, it seems to me, since all you can do is crawl upon the earth'_urface. But you may ride upon my back, and in that way I can promise you _afe journey to the tunnel."
"Are you strong enough to carry us?" asked Cap'n Bill, doubtfully.
"Yes, indeed; I'm strong enough to carry a dozen of you, if you could find _lace to sit," was the reply; "but there's only room between my wings for on_t a time, so I'll have to make two trips."
"All right; I'll go first," decided Cap'n Bill.
He lit another candle for Trot to hold while they were gone and to light th_rk on his return to her, and then the old sailor got upon the Ork's back, where he sat with his wooden leg sticking straight out sidewise.
"If you start to fall, clasp your arms around my neck," advised the creature.
"If I start to fall, it's good night an' pleasant dreams," said Cap'n Bill.
"All ready?" asked the Ork.
"Start the buzz-tail," said Cap'n Bill, with a tremble in his voice. But th_rk flew away so gently that the old man never even tottered in his seat. Tro_atched the light of Cap'n Bill's candle till it disappeared in the fa_istance. She didn't like to be left alone on this dangerous ledge, with _ake of black water hundreds of feet below her; but she was a brave littl_irl and waited patiently for the return of the Ork. It came even sooner tha_he had expected and the creature said to her:
"Your friend is safe in the tunnel. Now, then, get aboard and I'll carry yo_o him in a jiffy."
I'm sure not many little girls would have cared to take that awful rid_hrough the huge black cavern on the back of a skinny Ork. Trot didn't car_or it, herself, but it just had to be done and so she did it as courageousl_s possible. Her heart beat fast and she was so nervous she could scarcel_old the candle in her fingers as the Ork sped swiftly through the darkness.
It seemed like a long ride to her, yet in reality the Ork covered the distanc_n a wonderfully brief period of time and soon Trot stood safely beside Cap'_ill on the level floor of a big arched tunnel. The sailor-man was very gla_o greet his little comrade again and both were grateful to the Ork for hi_ssistance.
"I dunno where this tunnel leads to," remarked Cap'n Bill, "but it surel_ooks more promisin' than that other hole we crept through."
"When the Ork is rested," said Trot, "we'll travel on and see what happens."
"Rested!" cried the Ork, as scornfully as his shrill voice would allow. "Tha_it of flying didn't tire me at all. I'm used to flying days at a time, without ever once stopping."
"Then let's move on," proposed Cap'n Bill. He still held in his hand on_ighted candle, so Trot blew out the other flame and placed her candle in th_ailor's big pocket. She knew it was not wise to burn two candles at once.
The tunnel was straight and smooth and very easy to walk through, so they mad_ood progress. Trot thought that the tunnel began about two miles from th_avern where they had been cast by the whirlpool, but now it was impossible t_uess the miles traveled, for they walked steadily for hours and hours withou_ny change in their surroundings.
Finally Cap'n Bill stopped to rest.
"There's somethin' queer about this 'ere tunnel, I'm certain," he declared, wagging his head dolefully. "Here's three candles gone a'ready, an' only thre_ore left us, yet the tunnel's the same as it was when we started. An' ho_ong it's goin' to keep up, no one knows."
"Couldn't we walk without a light?" asked Trot. "The way seems safe enough."
"It does right now," was the reply, "but we can't tell when we are likely t_ome to another gulf, or somethin' jes' as dangerous. In that case we'd b_illed afore we knew it."
"Suppose I go ahead?" suggested the Ork. "I don't fear a fall, you know, an_f anything happens I'll call out and warn you."
"That's a good idea," declared Trot, and Cap'n Bill thought so, too. So th_rk started off ahead, quite in the dark, and hand in band the two followe_im.
When they had walked in this way for a good long time the Ork halted an_emanded food. Cap'n Bill had not mentioned food because there was so littl_eft — only three biscuits and a lump of cheese about as big as his tw_ingers — but he gave the Ork half of a biscuit, sighing as he did so. Th_reature didn't care for the cheese, so the sailor divided it between himsel_nd Trot. They lighted a candle and sat down in the tunnel while they ate.
"My feet hurt me," grumbled the Ork. "I'm not used to walking and this rock_assage is so uneven and lumpy that it hurts me to walk upon it."
"Can't you fly along?" asked Trot.
"No; the roof is too low," said the Ork.
After the meal they resumed their journey, which Trot began to fear woul_ever end. When Cap'n Bill noticed how tired the little girl was, he pause_nd lighted a match and looked at his big silver watch.
"Why, it's night!" he exclaimed. "We've tramped all day, an' still we're i_his awful passage, which mebbe goes straight through the middle of the world, an' mebbe is a circle — in which case we can keep walkin' till doomsday. No_nowin' what's before us so well as we know what's behind us, I propose w_ake a stop, now, an' try to sleep till mornin'."
"That will suit me," asserted the Ork, with a groan. "My feet are hurting m_readfully and for the last few miles I've been limping with pain."
"My foot hurts, too," said the sailor, looking for a smooth place on the rock_loor to sit down.
"Your foot!" cried the Ork. "why, you've only one to hurt you, while I hav_our. So I suffer four times as much as you possibly can. Here; hold th_andle while I look at the bottoms of my claws. I declare," he said, examinin_hem by the flickering light, "there are bunches of pain all over them!"
"P'r'aps," said Trot, who was very glad to sit down beside her companions,
"you've got corns."
"Corns? Nonsense! Orks never have corns," protested the creature, rubbing it_ore feet tenderly.
"Then mebbe they're - they're - What do you call 'em, Cap'n Bill? Something
'bout the Pilgrim's Progress, you know."
"Bunions," said Cap'n Bill.
"Oh, yes; mebbe you've got bunions."
"It is possible," moaned the Ork. "But whatever they are, another day of suc_alking on them would drive me crazy."
"I'm sure they'll feel better by mornin'," said Cap'n Bill, encouragingly. "G_o sleep an' try to forget your sore feet."
The Ork cast a reproachful look at the sailor-man, who didn't see it. Then th_reature asked plaintively: "Do we eat now, or do we starve?"
"There's only half a biscuit left for you," answered Cap'n Bill. "No one know_ow long we'll have to stay in this dark tunnel, where there's nothin_hatever to eat; so I advise you to save that morsel o' food till later."
"Give it me now!" demanded the Ork. "If I'm going to starve, I'll do it all a_nce — not by degrees."
Cap'n Bill produced the biscuit and the creature ate it in a trice. Trot wa_ather hungry and whispered to Cap'n Bill that she'd take part of her share; but the old man secretly broke his own half-biscuit in two, saving Trot'_hare for a time of greater need.
He was beginning to be worried over the little girl's plight and long afte_he was asleep and the Ork was snoring in a rather disagreeable manner, Cap'_ill sat with his back to a rock and smoked his pipe and tried to think o_ome way to escape from this seemingly endless tunnel. But after a time h_lso slept, for hobbling on a wooden leg all day was tiresome, and there i_he dark slumbered the three adventurers for many hours, until the Ork rouse_tself and kicked the old sailor with one foot.