So smoothly did the balloon rise into the air that our brave explorers were quite unaware of it. Only a minute later when they glanced over the side, did they see the crowd of Mites far down below waving their hands and throwing their caps into the air. And they caught faint sounds of "Hurrah!"
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"Good-bye!" called Doono and his friends in reply.
They, too, began to wave their caps. Scatterbrain lifted his hand to take off his cap only to discover that he was without one.
"Stop the balloon!" he cried out. "I've forgotten my cap!"
"You're always forgetting something," grumbled Grumps.
"The balloon can't be stopped now," said Doono. "It will keep on going until the air cools off, and then it will settle to the earth."
"What am I supposed to do, go without a cap?” said Scatterbrain in an offended tone.
"But I thought you found your cap under the bed?” said Roly-Poly.
"So I did," said Scatterbrain, "but I was hot and took it off and put it on the table and forgot to take it at the last moment."
"You're always forgetting something at the last moment," grumbled Grumps.
"Look, we've left our house behind!” cried Dunno all of a sudden.
Everybody laughed, and Grumps said: "Did you think we could take it with us?"
"No, I didn't," said Dunno sullenly. "I just noticed it down there and thought how funny it was that we used to live in a house and now here we are sailing away in a balloon."
"Well," warned Grumps, "we don't know where this sailing will take us yet."
"You're always grumbling, Grumps," said Dunno. "You spoil everybody's fun even in a balloon."
"If you don't like it, get out and walk," said Grumps.
"How can I get out and walk?" said Dunno.
"Oh, stop it!" said Doono. "A balloon is no place to quarrel in."
By this time the balloon had risen so high that the whole of Flower Town could be seen at a glance. The houses were mere specks, and the Mites could not be seen at all. The wind kept driving the balloon before it, and soon the town lay far behind them.
Doono took a compass out of his pocket to find out the direction in which the balloon was sailing.
A compass is a little metal box with a magnetic needle inside. The needle always points to the North, and so if you watch it you can always tell where you are going and how to go back. That is why Doono had taken the compass with him.
"The wind is taking us due north,” said Doono, "which means we must go back southwards."
The balloon was very high in the air by this time and was sailing over some fields. The town had faded into the distance. The brook which the Mites called Cucumber River wound like a tiny ribbon far down below. Some trees here and there in the fields looked like fluffy bushes.
Suddenly Roly-Poly noticed a little dark spot down below. It was moving quickly over the ground, as if it were running after the balloon.
"Look! Somebody's running after us!" cried Roly-Poly.
They all stared down at the dark spot.
"It leaped straight over the river," cried Scatterbrain.
"What could it be?” asked Swifty. "Now it's leaping over the trees!"
At that moment the balloon was sailing over a wood. The spot could be seen sliding over the tops of the trees. Dr. Pillman put on his spectacles, but even so he could not make out what the spot was.
"I know!" called out Dunno all of a sudden. "I'm the first to find out! It's Dot. We forgot to take Dot with us and he's running after us!"
"He is not," said Shot. "Dot is sitting under the bench at my feet."
"Then what could it be? Can you tell us, Doono?"
Doono put away his compass and looked down.
"Why, it's our shadow!” he said with a laugh.
"What? Our shadow?" asked everybody in surprise.
"Yes. Our balloon casts a shadow which follows us over the ground."
The Mites kept their eyes fixed on the shadow, which grew smaller and smaller until at last it disappeared altogether.
"What has happened to it?" they asked in alarm.
"We're too high up in the air to see our shadow," explained Doono.
"That's the limit," grumbled Grumps. "I never bargained to fly so high that we can't even see our own shadow!"
"Grumbling again!" said Dunno. "You don't give anybody any peace!"
"Peace!" scoffed Grumps. "If it's peace you want, you'd better sit at home and not go sailing away in a balloon!"
"Sit at home yourself."
"It's not me who wants peace."
"There you go again!" said Doono. "I'll have to land and put both of you out."
This frightened Grumps and Dunno so badly that they stopped quarrelling.
Just then the balloon sailed into what seemed to be smoke or fog. They could no longer see the ground. They seemed to be hung round with white curtains.
"What is it?" they all cried. "Where does that smoke come from?"
"It's not smoke," said Doono, "it's clouds. We've reached the clouds, and now we're in them."
"You're just making that up,” said Dunno. "Clouds are all white and fluffy, like meringue, but this is like fog."
"What do you think clouds are made of?” asked Doono. "They're made of fog. They just look solid from a distance."
Dunno did not believe him.
"Don't listen to him," he said to the others. "He's trying to make us think he knows a lot, but he really doesn't know anything. Trying to make us think clouds are made of fog! They're made of meringue! As if I had never tasted meringue!"
The balloon kept rising higher and higher, and soon it came out of the clouds and sailed above them. Dunno looked down and saw them. They stretched out on all sides, cutting off a view of the earth.
"Goodness!" exclaimed Dunno. "The sky's underneath us! We're sailing upside down!"
"What makes you think we're upside down?" asked everybody.
"Because the sky's underneath, as we all can see."
"We're sailing up above the clouds," said Doono. "We've climbed higher than the clouds, and so they are no longer over our heads but under our feet."
But again Dunno did not believe him. He sat there holding his breath and clutching his hat with both hands for fear it might fall off.
The wind carried them swiftly above the clouds, but soon all the Mites noticed that the balloon was going down.
"Why is that?” they asked in alarm.
"The air in the balloon is cooling off," said Doono.
"And will we soon reach the ground?" asked Swifty.
"What do you think the sacks of sand are for?” said Doono. "If we throw out the sand the balloon will rise again."
P'raps seized a sack and threw it out.
"What are you doing?” cried Doono. "You mustn't throw out a whole sack! It might hit somebody on the head!"
"Perhaps it won't," said P'raps.
"P'raps it won't!"" jeered Doono. "You've got to untie the sacks and throw the sand out a little at a time."
"I'll do it," volunteered Prob'ly.
He untied another one of the sacks and poured the sand out on the floor of the basket.
"You're as bad as your brother," said Doono with a shake of his head. "What good can come of pouring the sand in the basket? That won't make the basket any lighter."
"P'raps I'd better throw it overboard," said P'raps, picking up a handful and tossing it out.
"Look out!" said Scatterbrain. "You'll get sand in my eyes!"
"P'raps I won't," said P'raps, but at that very moment he did.
Everybody began to scold him, and while they were doing this Prob’ly took out a knife and made a hole in the bottom of the basket for the sand to pour through.
"Stop! What are you doing!" cried Doono when he saw him. "The basket will go to pieces and we'll all pour through!"
"It prob'ly won't," replied Prob'ly.
"They're the only two words you and your brother know- 'perhaps' and 'probably'," said Doono, and he took the knife away from him.
As the sand poured through the hole in the basket, the balloon became lighter and climbed into the sky again. The Mites looked about them with satisfaction. They were glad to see the balloon climbing. The only one who was dissatisfied was Grumps, and he always found something to grumble about.
"Up and down, up and down,” he said. "Is that the way for a respectable balloon to behave?"
Unable to think of anything else to say, he looked at Roly-Poly, who was munching a lump of sugar. "What's that you're gnawing at?” he asked.
"A lump of sugar. Took it out of my pocket and began gnawing."
"A fine time to gnaw sugar! Can't you wait until you get down on the ground?"
"Why should I carry extra weight around with me?" said Roly-Poly. "If I eat the sugar, the balloon will grow lighter and rise higher."
"You'll gnaw yourself into a jelly," grumbled Grumps.
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