Thanks to Brenton Harper-Murray of Poor Brenton's Almanac for this two-parter!
Cyril awoke to the clacking of gunfire and the thrum of a monstrous engine. Cyril was the first to the door. He stood on his toes and peeked through the little barred window and gasped. Bad men were running to and fro, scampering like ants, firing their rifles into the air. Suddenly, a rope ladder dropped into sight and a man with a flight cap and aviator goggles slid down, bristling with pistols like a gunpowder hedgehog. He let off shot after shot, the bad men falling about him like so many tasteless rugs, dropping a revolver when it was empty and pulling a fresh one from his bandoleer with a flash of blued steel and a mad grin.
"Ha! Ha! You shan't mistreat these children any longer you scoundrels!" He shouted and turned, noticing Cyril in the window.
"Stand clear of the door lad!" He shouted and pointed one of the pepper box pistols in Cyril's direction.
He dove away and the latch disappeared, the door swung open of its own accord.
"We're free!" Cyril cheered, and turned to the other boys, expecting to see them jubilant, but they were all cowering in their bunks, gibberingly scared. The boy closest to him grabbed his shoulder.
"Don't go, it's dangerous!"
Cyril turned away. "Cowards!" He screamed and ran out the door. The man grinned pointed at the ladder.
"Climb like a lemur, lad! We haven't much time!" And indeed, they didn't. More men were pouring out of the jungle, rifles popping like deadly corn. Cyril scrabbled up the ladder adeptly, a simple task compared to climbing a banana tree. The great gas bag of the airship soon blotted out the sky as he ascended, the brassy hull gleaming darkly, and soon his head poked through the open hatch and he pulled himself in.
He was surrounded by oily brass and dull steel, pipes and wheels, splendidly decorated meters with twitching needles, belts turning gears that turn other gears. The hiss of steam punctuated by the pings of bullets hitting the hull, sounding only like pebbles striking the running board of a carriage. There was a small hallway to the rear that looked like it was lined with doors, most likely cabins for the crew.
"Ha ha!" The man burst through the hatch as though propelled by an explosion. "I've done it again!"
He began to withdraw round bombs from a satchel hanging on the wall and lighting them with an exposed safety lantern.
"God bless the little children!" He would shout, each time he dropped one of them through the hatch.
Soon the bullets stopped striking the hull. The man, breathing heavily, cranked the ladder back up and closed the hatch. Cyril sat silently in awe of all that had happened in the last few minutes as the man busied himself turning knobs, and pulling levers while glancing out the narrow windows.
"I wish I could taken them all." He said, twisting his smart mustache, "If only I had more room."
He suddenly turned to Cyril, as if just remembering he was there. "At least I've got you. My name Leston Flinchwright. What's your name?"
"Cyril." He said, blinkingly.
"Ah, you will be happy to know, young Cereal, that we shall land in England within a week and three and you will be reunited with your family."
Cyril beamed. "Thank you sir! Thank you!"
"Ha ha! There is no need for thanks. My work is my reward. But, no more talk. You must be exhausted, and I need to tend to the boiler, you can sleep in the fourth door on the left."
Cyril bowed and the man grinned and saluted, turning to a bank of dials. The boy walked down the narrow hall, peeking in the windows of the rooms. Each one had a sleeping child lying in a bed. Surely other unfortunate children the man had rescued. Cyril's room was the only unoccupied one. The door clicked cleanly shut behind him and he sat on the spartan but comfortable bed. He wasn't very tired at all, the excitement still had his pulse up and he couldn't stop imagining the amazing adventures he was about to embark upon with Leston Flinchwright and the airship children. Why, any number of capers could be had in the week and three that stood between them and England...
A hissing filled the air, followed by an odd smell. Cyril stood to investigate but found his legs uncooperative. Very soon it seemed quite prudent to doze off face down on the floor.
He rose to half consciousness from time to time, brief dreamlike flashes of being fed and moved about. When he finally had all of his wits about him he was in a place very much unlike an airship.
He was shackled with his hands above his head to a chillish stone wall, the chamber was a cave and lit by a single oil lamp that leaked with smoke. The children from the airship where chained up similarly to his left and right, some of them awake, some asleep, none of them very sociable at all. The rough wooden door on the far wall opened, and a man who had a perpetual wince, as though someone was pinching him, wearing high boots and a big fuzzy hat. He was followed by two guards with rifles and...
"Leston Flinchwright!" Shouted Cyril, excited to be rescued again.
"Shove it." Said Leston. And he did.
"This is all?" Said the pinched man. He had a russian accent. He walked down the wall, feeling the boy's bones and looking at their teeth. "They are too thin, they won't last month down here, probably couldn't lift pick ax."
"You could feed them more." Leston said dryly. They both had a good laugh.
"I'll give you forty rubles each."
"Forty five and no more."
Leston received a pouch of coins, gave a miniature salute to the boys, and was gone.
The man winced at the boys and said, "Dmitri, get the whip and wake the sleeping ones up."
The guard left and the man began to pace up and down the line, shouting at them like a madman.
"I am Tsarevich, the overseer of this mine. You will do as you are told or you will be-"
He was cut off by a rumbling noise, seeming to come from the rocks.
"Cave in!" he shouted, and ran for the door, but before he could there was a tremendous explosion of rubble and debris. When the dust cleared, both he and the guard were crushed beneath boulders. Where there had once been a face of living rock now stood a huge machine with a drill on the front, halfway exposed. The drill stopped its grinding and fell silent. A hatch in the side opened and out sprang a squat but sprightly man in a top hat with thick spectacles, one of the lenses protruded like a telescope. He carried a pair of bolt cutters.
"Thank science I found you boy's in time! My name is Doctor Ochrebaum and I'm here to save you from this terrible place!" He ran down the line of boys shearing their bonds. They cried with glee and scampered to the machine, helping each other along.
"Yes boy's! Run to the Magnificent Mole! The ceiling will soon give in!" And there was a rumbling all around them, stalactites crashing to bits, narrowly missing them.
Each one of them made it into the Magnificent Mole unscathed, and Doctor Ochrebaum leaped in, closing the hatch just before everything caved in. He lead a cheer.
"Hip, hip, huzzah!" He threw his hat into the air. After the Doctor pulled a lever and spun a wheel they felt the behemoth move beneath their feet.
"Are we really going back to England?" Cyril's eyes glittered like moist emeralds.
"Of course! I am a man of my word!"
One month later they were all shackled in the basement of Archibald's Cyanide Distillery on the east end of London, mopping spills before they could eat through the floor.
Moral: Child labor is cheap and a great way to provide excellent products at competitive prices.