TOM SWIFT AMONG THE FIRE FIGHTERS
Battling with Flames from the Air
I A BAD PLACE FOR A FIRE II NO USE OF LIVING! III TOM'S NEW IDEA IV AN EXPERIMENT V THE EXPLOSION VI TOM IS WORRIED VII A FORCED LANDING VIII STRANGE TALK IX SUSPICIONS X ANOTHER ATTEMPT XI THE BLAZING TREE XII TOM IS LONESOME XIII A SUCCESSFUL TEST XIV OUT OF THE CLOUDS XV COALS OF FIRE XVI VIOLENT THREATS XVII A TOWN BLAZE XVIII FINISHING TOUCHES XIX ON THE TRAIL XX A HEAVY LOAD XXI THE LIGHT IN THE SKY XXII TRAPPED XXIII TO THE RESCUE XXIV A STRANGE DISCOVERY XXV THE LIGHT OF DAY
TOM SWIFT AMONG THE FIRE FIGHTERS
A BAD PLACE FOR A FIRE
"Impossible, Ned! It can't be as much as that!"
"Well, you can prove the additions yourself, Tom, on one of the adding machines. I've been over 'em twice, and get the same result each time. There are the figures. They say figures don't lie, though it doesn't follow that the opposite is true, for those who do not stick closely to the truth do, sometimes, figure. But there you have it; your financial statement for the year," and Ned Newton, business manager for Tom Swift, the talented young inventor, shoved a mass of papers across the table to his friend and chum, as well as employer.
"It doesn't seem possible, Ned, that we have made as much as that this past year. And this, as I understand it, doesn't include what was taken from the wreck of the Pandora?"
Tom Swift looked questioningly at Ned Newton, who shook his head in answer.
"You really didn't get anything to speak of out of your undersea search, Tom," replied the young financial manager, "so I didn't include it. But there's enough without that."
"I should say so!" exclaimed Tom. "Whew!" he whistled, "I didn't think I was worth that much."
"Well, you've earned it, every cent, with the inventions of yourself and your father."
"And I might add that we wouldn't have half we earn if it wasn't for the shrewd way you look after us, Ned," said Tom, with a warm smile at his friend. "I appreciate the way you manage our affairs; for, though I have had some pretty good luck with my searchlight, wizard camera, war tank and other contraptions, I never would have been able to save any of the money they brought in if it hadn't been for you."
"Well, that's what I'm here for," remarked Ned modestly.
"I appreciate that," began Tom Swift. "And I want to say, Ned—"
But Tom did not say what he had started to. He broke off suddenly, and seemed to be listening to some sound outside the room of his home where he and his financial and business manager were going over the year's statement and accounting.
Ned, too, in spite of the fact that he had been busy going over figures, adding up long columns, checking statements, and giving the results to Tom, had been aware, in the last five minutes, of an ever-growing tumult in the street. At first it had been no more than the passage along the thoroughfare of an unusual number of pedestrians. Ned had accounted for it at first by the theory that some moving picture theater had finished the first performance and the people were hurrying home.
But after he had finished his financial labors and had handed Tom the first of a series of statements to look over, the young financial expert began to realize that there was no moving picture house near Tom's home. Consequently the passing throngs could not be accounted for in that way.
Yet the tumult of feet grew in the highway outside. Ned had begun to wonder if there had been an attempted burglary, a fight, or something like that, calling for police action, which had gathered an unusual throng that warm, spring evening.
And then had come Tom's interruption of himself when he broke off in the middle of a sentence to listen intently.
"What is it?" asked Ned.
"I thought I heard Rad or Koku moving around out there," murmured Tom. "It may be that my father is not feeling well and wants to speak to me or that some one may have telephoned. I told them not to disturb me while you and I were going over the accounts. But if it is something of importance—"
Again Tom paused, for distinctly now in addition to the ever-increasing sounds in the streets could be heard a shuffling and talking in the hall just outside the door.
"G'wan 'way from heah now!" cried the voice of a colored man.
"It is Rad!" exclaimed Tom, meaning thereby Eradicate Sampson, an aged but faithful colored servant. And then the voice of Rad, as he was most often called, went on with:
"G'wan 'way! I'll tell Massa Tom!"
"Me tell! Big thing! Best for big man tell!" broke in another voice; a deep, booming voice that could only proceed from a powerfully built man.
"Koku!" exclaimed Tom, with a half comical look at Ned. "He and Rad are at it again!"
Koku was a giant, literally, and he had attached himself to Tom when the latter had made one of many perilous trips. So eager were Eradicate and Koku to serve the young inventor that frequently there were more or less good-natured clashes between them to see who would have the honor.
The discussion and scuffle in the hall at length grew so insistent that Tom, fearing the aged colored man might accidentally be hurt by the giant Koku, opened the door. There stood the two, each endeavoring to push away the other that the victor might, it appeared, knock on the door. Of course Rad was no match for Koku, but the giant, mindful of his great strength, was not using all of it.
"Here! what does this mean?" cried Tom, rather more sternly than he really meant. He had to pretend to be stern at times with his old colored helper and the impulsive and powerful giant. "What are you cutting up for outside my door when I told you I must be quiet with Mr. Newton?"
"No can be quiet!" declared the giant. "Too much noise in street—big crowds—much big!"
He spoke an English of his own, did Koku.
"What are the crowds doing?" asked Ned. "I thought we'd been hearing an ever increasing tumult, Tom," he said to the young inventor.
"Big crowds—'um go to see big—"
"Heah! Let me tell Massa Tom!" pleaded Rad. Poor Rad! He was getting old and could not perform the services that once he had so readily and efficiently done. Now he was eager to help Tom in such small measure as carrying him a message. So it was with a feeling of sadness that Tom heard the old man say again, pleadingly:
"Let me tell him, Koku! I know all 'bout it! Let me tell Massa Tom whut it am, an'—"
"Well, go ahead and tell me!" burst out Tom, with a good-natured laugh. "Don't keep me in suspense. If there's anything going on—"
He did not finish the sentence. It was evident that something of moment was going on, for the crowds in the street were now running instead of walking, and voices could be heard calling back and forth such exclamations as:
"Where is it?"
"Must be a big one
"And with this wind it'll be worse!"
Tom glanced at Ned and then at the two servants.
"Has anything happened?" asked the young inventor.
"Dey's a big fire, Massa Tom!" exploded Rad.
"Heap big blaze!" added Koku.
At the same time, out in the street high and clear, the cry rang out:
"Is it any of our buildings?" exclaimed Tom, in his excitement catching hold of the giant's arm.
"No, it's quite a way off, on de odder side of town," answered the colored man. "But we t'ought we'd better come an' tell yo', an'—"
"Yes! Yes! I'm glad you did, Rad. It was perfectly right for you to tell me! I wish you'd done it sooner, though! Come on, Ned! Let's go to the blaze! We can finish looking over the figures another time. Is my father all right, Rad?"
"Yes, suh, Massa Tom, he's done sleepin' good."
"Then don't disturb him. Mr. Newton and I will go to the fire. I'm glad it isn't here," and Tom looked from a side window out on many shops that were not a great distance from the house; shops where he and his father had perfected many inventions.
The buildings had grown up around the old Swift homestead, which, now that so much industry surrounded it, was not the most pleasant place to live in. Tom and his father only made this their stopping place in winter. In the summer they dwelt in a quiet cottage far removed from the scenes of their industry.
"We'll take the electric runabout, Ned," remarked Tom, as he caught up a hat from the rack, an example followed by his friend. Together the young inventor and the financial manager hurried out to the garage, where Tom soon had in operation a small electric automobile, that, more than once, had proved its claim to being the "speediest car on the road."
As they turned out of the driveway into the street they became aware of great crowds making their way toward a glow of sinister red light showing in the eastern sky.
"Some blaze!" exclaimed Tom, as he turned on more power.
"You said it!" ejaculated Ned. "Must be a general alarm," he added, as they caught the sound from the next street of additional apparatus hurrying to the fire.
"Well, I'm glad it isn't on our side of town," remarked Tom, as he looked back at the peaceful gloom surrounding and covering his own home and work buildings.
"Where do you reckon it is?" asked Ned, as they sped onward.
"Hard to say," remarked the young inventor, as he steered to one side to pass a powerful imported automobile which, however, did not have the speed of the electric runabout. "A fire at night is always deceiving as to direction. But we can locate it when we get to the top of the hill."
Shopton, the suburb of the town where Tom lived, was named so because of the many shops that had been erected by the industry of the young inventor and his father. In fact the town was named Shopton though of late there had been an effort to change the name of the strictly residential section, which lay over the hill toward the river.
Tom's car shot up the slope with scarcely any slackening of speed, and, as he passed a group of men and boys running onward, Tom shouted:
"Where is it?"
"The fireworks factory!" was the answer.
"Fireworks factory!" cried Ned. "Bad place for a fire!"
"I should say so!" exclaimed Tom.
The chums had become gradually aware of the gale that was blowing, and, as they reached the summit of the hill and caught sight of the burning factory, they saw the flames being swept far out from it and toward a collection of houses on the other side of a vacant lot that separated the fireworks industrial plant from the dwellings. As Tom Swift glimpsed the fire, noted its proportions and the fierceness of the flames, and saw which way the wind was blowing them, he turned on the power to the utmost.
"What are you doing, Tom?" yelled Ned.
"I'm going down there!" cried Tom. "That place is likely to explode any minute!"
"Then why go closer?" gasped Ned, for his breath was almost taken away by the speed of the car, and he had to hold his hat to keep it from blowing away. "Why don't you play safe?"
"Don't you understand?" shouted Tom in his chum's ear. "The wind is blowing the fire right toward those houses! Mary Nestor lives in one of them!"
"Oh—Mary Nestor!" exclaimed Ned. Then he understood—Mary and Tom were engaged to be married.
"They may be all right," Tom went on. "I can't be sure from this distance. Or they may be in danger. It's a bad fire and—"
His voice was blotted out in the roar of an explosion which seemed to hurl back the electric runabout and bring it to a momentary stop.
NO USE OF LIVING!
Only momentarily was Tom Swift halted in his progress toward the scene of the blaze in the fireworks factory. To him, and to the chum who sat beside him on the seat of the electric runabout, it appeared that the blast had actually stopped the progress of the car. But perhaps that was more their imagination than anything else, for the machine swept on down the hill, at the foot of which was the conflagration.
"That was a bad one, Ned!" gasped Tom, as he turned to one side to pass an engine on its way to the scene of excitement.
"I should say so! Must have been somebody hurt in that blow-up!"
"I only hope it wasn't Mary or her folks!" murmured Tom. "The wind is sweeping the fire right that way!"
"What are you going to do, Tom?" yelled his chum, as the business manager saw the young inventor heading directly for the blaze. "What's the idea?"
"To rescue Mary, if she's in danger!"
"I'm with you!" was Ned's quick response. "But you can't go any closer. The police are stretching the fire lines!"
"I guess they'll let me through!" said Tom grimly.
He slowed his car as he approached a place where an officer was driving back the throng that sought to come closer to the blaze.
"Git back! Git back, I tell you!" stormed the policeman, pushing against the packed bodies of men and boys. "There'll be another blow-up in a minute or two, and a lot more of you killed!"
"Are there any killed?" asked Tom, stopping the car near the officer.
"I guess so—yes. And some of the houses are catching. Git back now! You, too, with that car! You'll have to back up!"
"I've got to go through!" replied Tom, with tightening lips. "I've got to go through, Cassidy!" He knew the officer, and the latter now seemed, for the first time, to recognize the young inventor.
"Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Swift?" he exclaimed. "Well, go ahead. But be careful. 'Tis dangerous there—very dangerous, an'—"
His voice was lost in the roar of another explosion, not as loud or severe as the first, but more plainly felt by Tom and Ned, for they were nearer to it.
"Now will you git back!" cried Policeman Cassidy, and the crowd did, without further urging.
Tom started the runabout forward again.
"We've got to rescue Mary!" he said to Ned, who nodded.
In another moment the two young men were lost to sight in a swirl of smoke that swept across the street. And while they are thus temporarily hidden may not this opportunity be taken of telling new readers something of the hero of this story?
The young inventor was introduced in the first volume of this series, called "Tom Swift and his Motor Cycle." It was Tom's first venture into the realms of invention, after he had purchased from Mr. Wakefield Damon a speedy machine that tried to climb a tree with that excitable gentleman.
Tom, with the help of his father, an inventor of note, rebuilt the motor cycle adding many improvements, and it served Tom in good stead more than once.
From then on the career of Tom Swift was steadily onward and upward. One new invention led to another from his second venture, a motor boat, through an airship and other marvels, and eventually to a submarine. In each of these vehicles of motion and travel Tom and his friends, Ned Newton and Mr. Damon, had many adventures, detailed in the respective volumes.
His venture in proceeding to save Mary Nestor from possible danger in the blaze of the fireworks factory was not the first time Tom had rendered service to the Nestor family. There was that occasion on which he had sent his wireless message from Earthquake Island, as related in an earlier volume.
Space forbids the detailing of all that had happened to the young inventor up to the time of the opening of this story. Sufficient to say that Tom's latest achievement had been the recovery of treasure from the depths of the ocean.
Tom Swift's activities in connection with his inventions had become so numerous that the Swift Construction Company, of which Ned Newton was financial manager and Mr. Damon one of the directors, had been formed. And when the rumor came that there was a chance to salvage some of the untold wealth at the bottom of the sea, Tom was interested, as were his friends.
It was decided to search for the wreck of the Pandora, sunk in the West Indies, and one of Tom's latest submarine craft was utilized for this purpose.
Not to go into all the details, which are given in the last volume of this series, entitled "Tom Swift and His Undersea Search," suffice it to say that the venture was begun. Matters were complicated owing to the fact that Mary Nestor's uncle, Barton Keith, was in trouble over the loss of valuable papers proving his title to some oil lands. Mary mentioned that a person, Dixwell Hardley, was the man who, it was supposed, was trying to defraud her relative. And the complications may be imagined when it is said that this same Hardley was the man who had interested Tom in the undersea search for the riches of the Pandora.
Tom had been at home some time now, and it was while going over his accounts with Ned, and, incidentally, planning new activities, that the cry of fire broke in on them.
"Whew, Tom, some heat there!" gasped Ned, lowering his arm from his face, an action which had been necessitated by Tom's daring in driving the car close to the blazing fireworks factory.
"I should say so!" agreed Tom. "I can almost smell the rubber of my tires burning. But we're out of the worst of it."
"Lucky she didn't take the notion to blow up as we were passing," grimly commented Ned. "Where are you aiming for now?"
"Mary's house. It's just beyond here. But we can't see it on account of the smoke."
A few seconds later they had passed through the black pall that was slashed here and there with red slivers of flame, and, coming to a more open space, Ned and Tom cleared their eyes of smoke.
"I guess there's no immediate danger," remarked Tom, as he saw that the home of Mary Nestor and the houses near her residence were, for the time being, out of the path of the flames. The explosion had blown down part of the blazing factory nearest the residential section, and the flames had less to feed on.
But the conflagration was still a fierce one. Not half the big factory was yet consumed, and every now and then there would sound dull, booming reports, causing nervous screams from the women who were out in front of their homes, while the men would crouch down as though fearing a shower of fiery embers.
"Oh, Tom, I'm so glad you're here!" cried Mary, as the runabout drew up in front of her home. "Do you think it will be much worse?" and she clutched his arm, as he got down to speak to her.
"I think the worst is over, as far as you people here are concerned," the young inventor replied. "The wind has shifted a bit."
"And there are several engines near us, Tom," said Mr. Nestor, coming forward. "The firemen tell me they will play streams of water on the roofs and outsides of our houses if the flames start this way again."
"That ought to do the trick," said Tom, with a show of confidence. "Anybody hurt around here?" he asked. "One of the policeman said he heard several were killed."
"They may have been—in the factory," said Mr. Nestor. "Of course if the fire and explosions had taken place in the daytime the loss of life would have been great. But most of the workers had left some time before the blaze was discovered. There are a few men on a night shift, though, and I shouldn't be surprised but what some of them had suffered."
"Too bad!" murmured the young inventor. "You're not worried about your home, are you, Mrs. Nestor?" he asked of Mary's mother.
"Oh, Tom, I certainly am!" she exclaimed. "I wanted to bring out our things, but Mr. Nestor said it wouldn't be of any use."
"Neither it would, if we've got to burn, but I don't believe we have—now," said her husband. "That last explosion and the shift of the wind saved us. I appreciate your coming over, Tom," he went on. "We might have needed your help. It's queer there isn't some better, or more effective, way of fighting a fire than just pouring on a comparatively insignificant bit of water," he added, as, from what was now a safe distance, they watched the firemen using many lines of hose.
"They do have chemical extinguishers," said Ned.
"Yes, for little baby blazes that have just started," went on Mr. Nestor. "But in all the progress of science there has not been much advance in fighting fires. We still do as they did a hundred years ago—squirt water on it, and mighty little of it compared to the blaze. It would take a week to put this fire out by the water they are using if it were not for the fact that the blaze eats itself up and has nothing more to feed on."
"We'll have to get Tom to invent a new way of fighting fire," remarked Ned.
The young inventor was about to reply when several firemen, equipped with smoke helmets which they adjusted as they ran, came running down the street.
"What's the matter?" asked Tom of one whom he knew.
"Some men are trapped in a small shed back of the factory," was the answer. "We just heard of it, and we're going in after them. Oh! Oh—my—my heart!" he gasped, and he sank to the sidewalk. Evidently he was either overcome by the smoke and poisonous gases or by his exertions.
Tom grasped the situation instantly. Taking the smoke helmet from the exhausted fire-fighter, the young inventor shouted:
"I'll fill your place! See if you can grab a hat, Ned, and come on!"
One of the other firemen had two helmets, and he offered Ned one. Pausing only long enough to see that Mr. Nestor and some others were looking after the exhausted "smoke-eater," Ned raced on after Tom. The two young men, following the firemen, made their way around the end of the factory to the smoke-filled yard in the rear. But for the helmets, which were like the gas masks of the Great War, they would not have been able to live.
One of the firemen pointed through the luridly-lighted smoke to a small structure near the main building. This was beginning to burn. With quick blows of an axe the door was hewed down, and the rescue party, including Tom and Ned, made its way inside. In the light from the blaze, as it filtered through the windows, it could be seen that a man lay in a huddled heap on the floor.
By motions the leader of the rescue squad made it clear that the man was to be carried out, and Tom helped with this while Ned, using an axe, cleared away some debris to enable the door to be opened fully so the men could pass out carrying their burden.
The man was taken to the Nestor yard and stretched out on the grass. Word was relayed to one of the ambulance doctors who were on the scene attending to several injured firemen, and in a short time the man, who, it appeared, had been overcome by smoke, was revived.
"Well, that was a narrow squeak for you," said one of the firemen, glad to breathe without a mask on.
"Yes, it was touch and go," remarked the young doctor, who had used heroic measures to bring the man back from the brink of the grave. "But you'll live now, all right."
The revived man looked dully about him. He seemed somewhat bewildered.
"Of what use to live?" he murmured. "You might as well have let me die in there. Life isn't worth living now," and he sank into a stupor, while Tom and the others looked wonderingly at one another.
TOM'S NEW IDEA
"What's the matter with him, Doctor?" asked Tom in a low voice of the young physician who had been working over the man. "Do you think he is worse hurt than appears? Is he dying, and is his mind wandering?"
"I don't believe so," answered the doctor. "At least I don't believe that he is dying, though his mind may be wandering. He isn't injured—at least not outwardly. Just temporarily overcome by smoke is what it looks like to me. But of course I haven't made a thorough examination."
"Hadn't we better get him into the house, Doctor?" asked Mr. Nestor, who stood with Tom, Ned and a group of men and boys about the inert form of the man lying on the grass. The rescued one was again seemingly unconscious.
"The best medicine he can have is fresh air," the doctor replied. "He's better off out here than in the house. Though if he doesn't revive presently I will send him to the hospital."
The man did not appear to be so badly off but what he could hear, and at these words he opened his eyes again.
"I don't want to go to the hospital," he murmured. "I'll be all right presently, and can go home, though—Oh, well, what's the use?" he asked wearily, as though he had given up some fight. "I've lost everything."
"Well, you've got a deal of life left in you yet; and that's more than you could say of some who have come out of smaller fires than this," said one of the firemen who, with Tom, had carried the man out of the shed. "Come on, we'd better be getting back," he said to his companion. "The worst of it is over, but there'll be plenty to do yet."
"You said it!" commented the other grimly.
They went out of the Nestor yard, many of the crowd that had gathered during the rescue following. The doctor administered some more stimulant in the shape of aromatic spirits of ammonia to the man, who, after his momentary revival, had again lapsed into a state of stupor.
"Who is he?" asked Tom, as the physician knelt down beside the silent form.
"I don't know," said Mr. Nestor. "I know quite a number connected with the fireworks factory, but this man is a stranger to me."
"I've seen him going into the main offices several times," remarked Mary, who was standing beside Tom. "He seemed to be one of the company officers."
"I don't believe so, Mary," stated her father. "I know most of the fireworks company officials, and I'm sure this man is not one of them. Poor fellow! He seems to be in a bad way."
"Mentally, as well as physically," put in Ned. "He acted as if sorry that we had saved his life."
"Too bad," murmured Mary, and then a policeman, who had just come into the yard to get the facts for his report, looked at the figure lying on the grass, and said:
"I know him."
"You do?" cried Tom. "Who is he?"
"Name's Baxter, Josephus Baxter. He's a chemist, and he works in the fireworks factory here. Not as one of the hands, but in the experiment laboratory. I've seen him there late at night lots of times. That's how I got acquainted with him. He was going in around two o'clock one morning, and I stopped him, thinking he was a thief. He proved his identity, and I've passed the time of day with him many a time since."
"Where does he live?" asked Mr. Nestor.
"Down on Clay Street," and the officer mentioned the number. "He lives all alone, so he told me. He's some sort of an inventor, I guess. At least I judged so by his talk. Do you want an ambulance, Doctor?" he asked the physician.
"No, I think he's coming around all right," was the answer. "If we had an auto we could send him home."
"I'll take him in the runabout," eagerly offered Tom. "But if he lives all alone will it be safe to leave him in his house?"
"He ought to be looked after, I suppose," the doctor stated. "He'll be all right in a day or so if no complications set in, but he'll be weak for a while and need attention."
"Then I'll take him home with me!" announced Tom. "We have plenty of room, and Mrs. Baggert will feel right at home with some one to nurse. Bring the runabout here, will you please, Ned?"
As Ned darted off to run up the machine, the man opened his eyes again. For a moment he did not seem to know where he was or what had happened. Then, as he saw the lurid light of the flames which were now dying away and realized his position, he sighed heavily and murmured:
"It's all over!"
"Oh, no, it isn't!" cheerfully exclaimed the doctor. "You will be all right in a few days."
"Myself, yes, maybe," said the man bitterly, and he managed to rise to his feet. "But what of my future? It is all gone! The work of years is lost."
"Burned in the fire?" asked Tom, wondering whether the man was a major stockholder in the company. "Didn't you have any insurance? Though I suppose you couldn't get much on a fireworks plant," he added, for he knew something of insurance matters in connection with his own business.
"Oh, it isn't the fire—that is directly," said the man, in the same bitter tones. "I've lost everything! The scoundrels stole them! And I—Oh, never mind!" he cried. "What's the use of talking? I'm down and out! I might just as well have died in the fire!"
Tom was about to make some remark, but the doctor motioned to him to refrain, and then Ned came up with the runabout. At first Josephus Baxter, which was the name of the man who had been rescued, made some objections to going to Tom's home. But when it was pointed out that he might lapse into a stupor again from the effects of the smoke poisons, in which event he would have no one to minister to him at his lonely home, he consented to go to the residence of the young inventor.
"Though if I do lapse into unconsciousness you might as well let me keep on sleeping until the end," said Mr. Baxter bitterly to Tom and Ned, as they drove away from the scene of the fire with him.
"Oh, you'll feel better in the morning," cheerfully declared Ned.
The man did not answer, and the two chums did not feel much like talking, for they were worn out and weary from their exertions at the fire. The factory had been pretty well consumed, though by strenuous labors the blaze had not extended to adjoining structures. The home of Mary Nestor was saved, and for this Tom Swift was thankful.
Mrs. Baggert, the Swift's housekeeper, was indeed glad to have some one to "fuss over," as Tom put it. She prepared a bed for Mr. Baxter, and in this the weary and ill man sank with a sigh of relief.
"Can I do anything for you?" asked Tom, as he was about to go out and close the door.
"No—thank you," was the halting reply. "I guess nothing can be done. Field and Melling have me where they want me now—down and out."
"Do you mean Amos Field and Jason Melling of the fireworks firm?" asked Tom, for the names were familiar to him in a business way.
"Yes, the—the scoundrels!" exclaimed Mr. Baxter, and from his voice Tom judged that he was growing stronger. "They pretended to be my friends, giving me a shop in which to work and experiment, and when the time came they took my secret formulae. I believe that is what they started the fire for—to conceal their crime!"
"You don't mean that!" cried Tom. "Deliberately to start a fire in a factory where there was powder and other explosives! That would be a terrible crime!"
"Field and Melling are capable of just such crimes as that!" said Josephus Baxter, bitterly. "If they took my formulae they wouldn't stop at arson."
"Were your formulae for the manufacture of fireworks?" asked Tom.
"Not altogether," was the reply. "I had several formulae for valuable chemical combinations. They could be used in fireworks, and that is why I could use the laboratory here. But the main use of my discoveries is in the dye industry. I would have been a millionaire soon, with the rise of the American dye industry following the shutting out of the Germans after the war. But now, with my secret formulae gone, I am no better than a beggar!"
"Perhaps it will not be as bad as you think," said Tom, recognizing the fact that Mr. Baxter was in a nervous and excited state. "Matters may look brighter in the morning."
"I don't see how they can," was the grim answer. "However, I appreciate all that you have done for me. But I fear my case is hopeless."
"I'll see you again in the morning," Tom said, trying to infuse some cheerfulness into his voice.
He found Ned waiting for him when he came downstairs.
"How is he?" asked the young business manager.
"In rather a bad way—mentally, at least," and Tom told of the lost formulae. "Do you know, Ned," he went on, "I have an idea!"
"You generally do have—lots of 'em!" Ned rejoined.
"But this is a new one," went on Tom. "You saw what trouble they had this evening to get a stream of water to the top stories of that factory, didn't you?"
"Yes, the pressure here isn't what it ought to be," Ned agreed. "And some of our engines are old-timers."
"Why is it necessary always to fight a fire with water?" Tom continued. "There are plenty of chemicals that will put out a fire much quicker than water."
"Of course," Ned answered. "There are plenty of chemical fire extinguishers on the market, too, Tom. If your idea is to invent a new hand grenade, stay off it! A lot of money has been lost that way."
"I wasn't thinking of a hand grenade," said Tom, as he drew some sheets of paper across the table to him. "My idea is on a bigger scale. There's no reason, Ned, why a big fire in a tall building, like a sky-scraper, shouldn't be fought from above, as well as from below. Now if I had the right sort of chemicals I could—"
Tom paused in a listening attitude. There was the rush of feet and a voice cried:
"I'll get them! I'll get the scoundrels!"
"That can't be Koku and Rad in one of their periodic squabbles, can it?" asked Ned.
"No. It's probably Mr. Baxter," Tom answered. "The doctor said he might get violent once or twice, until the effects of his shock wore off. There is some quieting medicine I can give him. I'll run up."
"Guess I'd better go along," remarked Ned. "Sounds as if you'd need help."
And it did appear so, for again the frenzied shouts sounded:
"I'll get 'em! I'll get the scoundrels who stole my secret formulae that I worked over so many years! Come back now! Don't put the match near the powder!"
Tom and Ned hurried to the room where the unfortunate chemist had been put to bed, to find him out in the hall, wrapped in a bedquilt, and with Mrs. Baggert vainly trying to quiet him. Mr. Baxter stared at Tom and Ned without seeing them, for he was in a delirium of fever.
"Have you my formulae?" he asked. "I want them back!"
"You shall have them in the morning," replied Tom soothingly. "Lie down, and I'll bring them to you in the morning. And drink this," he added, holding out a glass of soothing mixture which the doctor had ordered in case the patient should become violent.
Josephus Baxter glared about with wild eyes, but between them Tom and Mrs. Baggert managed to get him to drink the mixture.
"Bah! It's as bad as some of my chemicals!" spluttered the chemist, as he handed back the glass. "You are sure you'll have my formulae in the morning?" he asked, as he turned to go back to his room.
"I'll do my best," declared Tom cheerfully. "Now please lie down."
Which, after some urging, Mr. Baxter consented to do. Eradicate wanted to lie down in the hall outside the excited chemist's door to guard against his emerging again, but Tom decided on Koku. The giant, though not as intelligent as the colored man, was more efficient in an emergency because of his great strength. Eradicate was getting old, and there was a pathetic droop to his figure as he shuffled off when Koku superseded him.
"Ah done guess Ah ain't wanted much mo'," muttered Rad sadly.
"Oh, yes, you are!" cried Tom, as, the excitement over, he walked downstairs with Ned. "I'm going to start something new, Rad, and I'll need your help."
"Will yo', really, Massa Tom?" exclaimed faithful Rad, his face lighting up. "Dat's good! Is yo' goin' off after mo' diamonds, or up to de caves of ice?"
"Not quite that," answered the young inventor, recalling the stirring experiences that had fallen to him when on those voyages. "I'm going to work around home, Rad, and I'll need your help."
"Anyt'ing yo' wants, Massa Tom! Anyt'ing yo' wants!" offered the now delighted Rad, and he went to bed much happier.
"Well, to resume where we left off," began Ned, when he and Tom were once more by themselves, "what's the game?"
"Oh, I don't know that it's much of a game," was the answer. "But I just have an idea that a big fire in a towering building can be fought from above with chemicals, as well as from the ground with streams of water.
"Well, I guess it could be," Ned agreed. "But how are you going to get your chemicals in at the top? Shoot 'em up through a hose? If you do that you'll need a special kind of hose, for the chemicals will rot anything like rubber or canvas."
"I wasn't thinking of a hose," returned Tom. "What then?" asked the young financial manager.
"An airship!" Tom exclaimed with such sudden energy that Ned started. "It just came to me!" explained the youthful inventor. "I was wondering how we could get the chemicals in from the top, and an airship is the solution. I can sail over the burning building and drop the chemicals down. That will douse the blaze if my plans go right."
Ned was silent a moment, considering Tom's daring plan and project. Then, as it became clearer, the young banker cried:
"Blamed if I don't think that's just the thing, Tom! It ought to work, and, if it does, it will save a lot of lives, to say nothing of property! A fire in a sky-scraper ought to be fought from above. Then the extinguisher element, whether chemicals or water, could be dropped where they'd do the most good. As it is now, with water, a lot of it is wasted. Some of it never reaches the heart of the fire, being splashed on the outside of the building. A lot more turns to steam before it hits the flames, and only a small percentage is really effective."
"That's my notion," Tom said.
"Then go ahead and do it!" urged his friend. "You have my permission!"
"Thanks," commented Tom dryly. "But there are several things to be worked out before we can start. I've got to devise some scheme for carrying a sufficient quantity of chemicals, and invent some way of releasing them from an airship over the blaze. But that last part ought to be easy, for I think I can alter my warfare bomb-dropping attachment to serve the purpose.
"What I really need, however, is some new chemical combination that will quickly put a really big blaze out of business. There are any number of these chemicals, but most of them depend on the production of carbon dioxide. This is the product of some solution of a carbonate and sulphuric acid, and I suppose, eventually, I'll work out something on that order. But I hope I may get something better."
"You haven't delved much into chemistry, have you?"
"No. And I wish now that I had. I see my limitations and realize my weakness. But I can brush up a little on my chemistry. As for the mechanical part, that of dropping the extinguisher on the blaze, I'm not worrying over that end."
"No," agreed Ned. "You have enough types of airships to be able to select just the best one for the purpose. But, say, Tom!" he suddenly cried, "why not ask him to help you?"
"Mr. Baxter. He's a chemist. And though he says his formulae are about dyes and fireworks, maybe he can put you in the way of inventing a chemical solution that will be death to fires."
"He might," Tom agreed. "But I think he'll be out of business for some time. This shock—being overcome by smoke and his secret formulae having been stolen—seem to have affected his mind. I don't know that I could depend on him."
"It's worth trying," declared Ned. "What do you suppose he means, Tom, saying that Field and Melling stole his formulae?"
"Haven't the least idea. I only know those fireworks firm members slightly, if at all. I'm not sure I'd recognize them if I met them. But they are reputed to be wealthy, and I hardly think they would stoop to stealing some inventor's formulae.
"We inventors are a suspicious lot, Ned, as you probably have found out," he added with a smile. "We imagine the rest of the world is out to cheat us, and I presume Josephus Baxter is no exception. Still, there may be some truth in his story. I'll give him all the help I can. But I'm going into the aerial fire-fighting game. I've been waiting for something new, and this may be it."
"You may count on me!" declared Ned. "And now, unless you're going to sit up all night and start studying chemistry, you'd better come to bed."
"That's right. Tomorrow is another day. I hope Mr. Baxter gets some rest. Sleep will improve him a lot, the doctor said."
"I know one friend of yours who will be glad to know that you are going to start something," remarked Ned, as he and Tom started for their rooms, for the young manager was staying with his friend for the night.
"Who?" Tom wanted to know.
"Mr. Wakefield Damon," was the answer. "He hasn't been over lately, Tom."
"No, he's been off on a little trip, blessing everything from his baggage check to his suspender buttons," laughed the young inventor, as he recalled his eccentric acquaintance. "I shall be glad to see him again."
"He'll be right over as soon as he learns what's in the wind," predicted Ned.
The hopes that Mr. Baxter would be greatly improved in the morning were doomed to disappointment. He was in no actual danger, the doctor said, but his recovery from the effects of the smoke he had breathed was not as rapid as desired or hoped for.
"He's suffering from some shock," said the physician, "and his mental condition is against him. He ought to be kept quiet, and if you can't have him here, Mr. Swift, I can arrange to have him sent to a hospital."
"I wouldn't dream of it!" Tom exclaimed. "Let him stay here by all means. We have plenty of room, and Mrs. Baggert has been wishing for some one to nurse. Now she has him."
So it was arranged that the chemist should remain at the Swift home, and he gave a languid assent when they spoke to him of the matter. He really was much more ill than seemed at first.
But as everything possible had been done, Tom decided to go ahead with the new idea that had come to him—that of inventing an aerial chemical fire-fighting machine.
"And if we get a chance, Ned, we'll try to get back those secret formulae Mr. Baxter claims to have lost," Tom declared. "I have heard some stories about that fireworks firm, which make me believe there may be something in Baxter's story."
"All right, Tom, I'm with you any time you need me," Ned promised.
The young inventor lost little time in beginning his operations. As he had said, the chief need was a fire extinguishing chemical solution or powder. Tom resolved to try the solution first, as it was easier to make. With this end in view he proceeded to delve into old and new chemistry books. He also sought the advice of his father.
And one day, when Ned called, Tom electrified his chum with the exclamation:
"Well, I'm going to give it a try!"
"My aerial chemical fire-fighting apparatus. Of course I only have the chemical yet. I haven't worked on the carrying apparatus nor decided how I will attach it to an airship. But I'm going up now with some of my new solution and drop it on a blaze from above."
"Where are you going to get the fire?" asked Ned. "You can't have a sky-scraper blaze made to order, you know."
"No, but as this is only an experiment," Tom said, "a big bonfire will answer the purpose. I'm having Koku and Rad make one now down in our big meadow. As soon as it gets hot enough and fierce enough, I'll sail over it in my small machine, drop the extinguisher on it, and see what happens. Want to come?"
"Sure thing!" cried Ned. "And I hope the experiment is a success!"
"Thanks," murmured Tom. "I'm about ready to start. All I have to do is to take this tank up with me," and he pointed to one containing his new mixture. "Of course the arrangement for dumping it out of the aircraft is very crude," Tom said. "But I can work on that later."
Ned and he were busy putting the can of Tom's new chemical extinguisher in the airship when the door of the hangar was suddenly opened and a very much excited man entered crying:
"Fire! Fire! Bless my kitchen sink, your meadow's on fire, Tom Swift! It's blazing high! Fire! Fire!"
Tom and Ned were so startled by the entrance of the excited man with his cry of "Fire!" that the young inventor nearly dropped the tank of liquid extinguisher he was helping to hoist into the aeroplane. Then, as he caught sight of his visitor, Tom exclaimed:
"Hello, Mr. Damon! We were wondering whether you'd be along to witness our first experiment."
"Experiment, Tom Swift! Experiment! Bless my Latin grammar! but you'd much better be calling out the fire department to play on that blaze down in your meadow. What is it—your barns or one of your new shops?"
"Neither one, Mr. Damon," laughed Ned. "It's only a blaze that Koku and Rad started."
"And the fire department is here," added Tom.
"Where?" inquired the eccentric man.
"Here," and Tom pointed to his airship—one of the smaller craft—into which the tank of chemicals had been hoisted.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Something new, eh, Tom?" His eyes glistened.
"Yes. Fighting fires from the air. I got the idea after the fireworks factory went up in smoke. Will you come along? There's plenty of room."
"I believe I will," assented Mr. Damon. It was not the first time, by any means, that he had gone aloft with Tom. "I happened to be coming over in my auto," he went on to explain, "when I happened to see the fire down in the meadow. I was afraid you didn't know about it."
"Oh, yes," replied Tom. "I had Rad and Koku light a big pile of packing boxes, to represent, as nearly as possible, on a small scale, a burning building. I plan now to sail over it and drop the tins of chemicals. They are arranged to burst as they fall into the blaze, and I hope the carbon dioxide set loose will blanket out the fire."
"Sounds interesting," commented Mr. Damon. "I'll go along."
The airship was wheeled out of the hangar and was soon ready for the flight. A big cloud of black vapor down in the meadow told Tom and Ned that Koku and Eradicate had done their work well. The giant and the colored man had poured oil over the wood to make a fierce blaze that would give Tom's new chemical combination a severe test.
A mechanic turned the propeller of the airship until there was an accumulation of gas in the different cylinders. Then he stepped back while Tom threw on the switch. This was not one of the self-starting types, of which Tom possessed one or two.
"Contact!" cried Tom sharply, and the man stepped forward to give the big blades a final turn that would start the motor. There was a muffled roar and then a steady staccato blending of explosions. Tom raced the motor while his men held the machine in place, and then, satisfied that all was well, the young inventor gave the word, and the craft raced over the ground, to soar aloft a little later.
Tom, Ned and Mr. Damon could look down to the meadow where the bonfire was blazing. A crowd had collected, but the heat of the blaze kept them at a good distance. Then, as many of the throng caught sight of the airship overhead, there was a new interest for them.
Tom had told Ned and Mr. Damon, before the trio had entered the machine, what he wanted them to do. This was to toss the chemicals overboard at the proper time. Of course in his perfected apparatus Tom hoped to have a device by which he could drop the fire extinguishing elements by a mere pressure of his finger or foot, as bombs were released from aircraft during the war. But this would serve for the time being.
Nearer and nearer the blaze the airship approached until it was almost above it. Tom had had some experience in bomb-dropping, and knew when to give the signal.
At last the signal came. Mr. Damon and Ned heaved over the side the metal containers of the powerful chemicals.
Down they went, unerring as an arrow, though on a slant, caused by the impetus given them by the speed of the airship.
Tom and his friends leaned over the side of the machine to watch the effect. They could see the chemicals strike the blaze, and it was evident from the manner in which the fire died down that the containers had broken, as Tom intended they should to scatter their contents.
"Hurray!" cried Ned, forgetting that he could not be heard, for no head telephones were used on this occasion and the roar of the motor would drown any human voice. "It's working, Tom!"
Truly the effect of the chemicals was seemingly to cause the fire to go out, but it was only a momentary dying down. Koku and Rad had made a fierce, yet comparatively small, conflagration, and though for a time the gas generated by Tom's mixture dampened the blaze, in a few seconds—less than half a minute—the flames were shooting higher than ever.
Tom made a gesture of disappointment, and swung his craft around in a sharp, banking turn. He had no more chemicals to drop, as he had thought this supply would be sufficient. However, he had guessed badly. The fire burned on, doing no damage, of course, for that had been thought of when it was started in the meadow.
"Something wrong!" declared the young inventor, when they were back at the hangar, climbing out of the machine.
"What was it?" asked Ned.
"Didn't use the right kind of chemicals," Tom answered. "From the way the flames shot up, you'd think I had poured oil on the blaze instead of carbon dioxide."
"Bless my insurance policy, Tom!" cried Mr. Damon, "but I'd hate to trust to your apparatus if my house caught."
"Don't blame you," Tom assented. "But I'll do the trick yet! This is only a starter!"
During the next two weeks the young inventor worked hard in his laboratory, Mr. Swift sometimes helping him, but more often Koku and Eradicate. Mr. Baxter had recovered sufficiently to leave the Swift home. But though the chemist seemed well physically, his mind appeared to be brooding over his loss.
"If I could only get my secret formulae back!" he sighed, as he thanked Tom for his kindness. "I'm sure Field and Melling have them. And I believe they got them the night of the fireworks blaze; the scoundrels!"
"Well, if I can help you, please let me," begged Tom. And then he dismissed the matter from his mind in his anxiety to hit upon the right chemical mixture for putting out fires from the air.
One afternoon, at the end of a week in which he had been busily and steadily engaged on this work, Tom finally moved away from his laboratory table with a sigh of relief, and, turning to Eradicate, who had been helping him, exclaimed:
"Well, I think I have it now!"
"Good lan' ob massy, I hopes so!" exclaimed the colored man. "It sho' do smell bad enough, Massa Tom, to make any fire go an' run an' drown hisse'f! Whew-up! It's turrible stuff!"
"Yes, it isn't very pleasant," Tom agreed, with a smile. "Though I am getting rather used to it. But when it's in a metal tube it won't smell, and I think it will put out any fire that ever started. We'll give it a test now, Rad. Just take that flask of red stuff and pour it into this one of yellow. I'll go out and light the bonfire, and we'll make a small test."
Leaving Rad to mix some of the chemicals, a task the colored man had often done before, Tom went out into the yard near his laboratory to start a blaze on which his new mixture could be tested.
He had not got far from the laboratory door when he felt a sudden jar and a rush of air, and then followed the dull boom of an explosion. Like an echo came the voice of Eradicate:
"Oh, Massa Tom, I'se blowed up! It done sploded right in mah face!"
TOM IS WORRIED
Dropping what he had in his hands, Tom Swift raced back to the laboratory where he had left Eradicate to mix the chemicals. Again the despairing, frightened cry of the colored man rang out.
"I hope nothing serious has happened," was the thought that flashed through Tom's mind. "But I'm afraid it has. I should have mixed those new chemicals myself."
Koku, the giant, who was at work in another part of the shop yard, heard Rad's cry and came running up. As there was always more or less jealousy between Eradicate and Koku, the latter now thought he had a chance to crow over his rival, not, of course, understanding what had happened.
"Ho! Ho!" laughed Koku. "You much better hab me work, Master Tom. I no make blunderstakes like dat black fellow! I never no make him!"
"I don't know whether Rad has made a mistake or not," murmured Tom. "Come along, Koku, we may need your help. There has been an explosion."
"Yep, dat Rad he don't as know any more as to blow up de whole place!" chuckled Koku.
He thought he would have a chance to make fun of Eradicate, but neither he nor Tom realized how serious had been the happening. As the young inventor reached the laboratory, which he had left but a few seconds before, he saw the interior almost in ruins. All about were scattered various pieces of apparatus, test tubes, alembics, retorts, flasks, and an electric furnace.
But what gave Tom more concern than anything else was the sight of Eradicate lying in the midst of broken glass on the floor. The colored man was moaning and held his hands over his face, and the young inventor could see that the hands, which had labored so hard and faithfully in his service, were cut and bleeding.
"Rad! Rad! what has happened?" cried Tom quickly.
"It sploded! It done sploded right in mah face!" moaned Eradicate. "I—I can't see no mo', Massa Tom! I can't see to help yo' nevah no mo'!"
"Don't worry about that, Rad!" cried Tom, as cheerfully as possible under the circumstances. "We'll soon have you fixed up! Come in here, Koku, and help me carry Rad out!"
Though the fumes from the chemicals that had exploded were choking, causing both Tom and Koku to gasp for breath, they never hesitated. In they rushed and picked up the limp figure of the helpless colored man.
"Poor Rad!" murmured the giant Koku tenderly. "Him bad hurt! I carry him, Master Tom! I take him bed, an' I go for doctor! I run like painted pig!"
Probably Koku meant "greased pig," but Tom never thought of that. All his concern was for his faithful Eradicate.
"Me carry him, Master Tom!" cried Koku, all the petty jealousy of his rival passing away now. "Me take care ob Rad. Him no see, me see for him. Anybody hurt Rad now, got to hurt Koku first!"
It was a fine and generous spirit that the giant was showing, though Tom had no time to speculate on it just then.
"We must get him into the house, Koku," said the young inventor. "And two of us can carry him better than one. After we get him to a bed you can go for the doctor, though I fancy the telephone can run even quicker than you can, Koku."
"Whatever Master Tom say," returned the giant humbly, as he looked with pity at the suffering form of his rival—a rival no longer. It seemed that Rad's working days were over.
Tenderly the aged colored man was laid on a lounge in the living room, Mr. Swift and Mrs. Baggert hovering over him.
"Where are you worst hurt, Rad?" asked Tom, with a view to getting a line on which physician would be the best one to summon.
"It's all in mah face, Massa Tom," moaned the colored man. "It's mah eyes. Dat stuff done sploded right in 'em! I can't see—nevah no mo'!"
"Oh, I guess it isn't as bad as that," said Tom. But when he had a glimpse of the seared and wounded face of his faithful servant he could not repress a shudder.
A physician was summoned by telephone, and he arrived in his automobile at the same time that Mr. Damon reached Tom's house.
"Bless my bottle of arnica, Tom!" exclaimed the eccentric man, with sympathy in his voice. "What's this I hear? One of your men tells me old Eradicate is killed!"
"Not as bad as that, yet," replied Tom, as he came out, leaving the doctor to make his first examination. "It was an explosion of my new aerial fire-fighting chemicals that I left Rad to mix for me. If anything serious results to him from this I'll drop the whole business! I'll never forgive myself!"
"It wasn't your fault, Tom. Perhaps he did something wrong," said Mr. Damon.
"Yes, it was my fault. I should not have let him take the chance with a mixture I had tried only a few times. But we'll hope for the best. How is he, Doctor?" Tom asked a little later when the physician came out on the porch.
"He's doing as well as can be expected for the present," was the answer. "I have given him a quieting mixture. His worst injury seems to be to his face. His hands are cut by broken glass, but the hurts are only superficial. I think we shall have to get an eye specialist to look at him in a day or two."
"You mean that he—that he may go blind?" gasped Tom.
"Well, we'll not decide right away," replied the doctor, as cheerfully as he could. "I should rather have the opinion of an oculist before making that statement. It may be only temporary."
"That's bad enough!" muttered Tom. "Poor old Rad!"
"Me take care ob him," put in Koku, who had been humbly standing around waiting to hear the news. "Me never be mad at dat black man no more! Him my best friend! I lub him like I did my brudder!"
"Thank you, Koku," said Tom, and his mind went back to the time when he had escaped in his airship from the gigantic men, of whom Koku and his brother were two specimens. The brother had gone with a circus, and Koku, for several years, only saw him occasionally.
Everything possible was done for Eradicate, and the doctor said that it would be several days, until after the burns from the exploding chemicals had partly healed, before the eye-doctor could make an examination.
"Then we can only wait and hope," said Tom.
"And hope for the best!" advised Mr. Damon.
"I'll try," promised Tom. He went back to the laboratory with his eccentric friend and with Ned, who had come over as soon as he heard the news. Not much of an examination could be made, as the place was in such ruins. But it was surmised that in combining the two chemical mixtures a new one had been created, or at least one that Tom had not counted on. This had exploded, blowing Eradicate down, flaring a sheet of flame up into his face, scattering broken glass about, and generally creating havoc.
"I can't understand it," said Tom. "I was trying to make a fire extinguishing liquid, and it turned out to be a fire creator. I don't see what was wrong."
"One chemical might have been impure," suggested Ned.
"Yes," agreed Tom. "I'll check them over and try to find out where the mistake happened."
"This place will have to be rebuilt," observed Ned. "It's in bad shape, Tom."
"I don't mind that in the least, if Rad doesn't lose his eyesight," was the answer of the young inventor, and his friends could see that he was much worried, as well he might be.
In silence Tom Swift looked about the ruins of what had been a fine chemical laboratory.
"It will take a month to get this back in shape," he said ruefully. "I guess I shall have to postpone my experiments."
"Why not ask Mr. Baxter to help you?" suggested Ned.
"What can he do?" Tom wanted to know. "He hasn't any laboratory."
"He has a sort of one," Ned rejoined. "You know you told me to keep track of him and give him any help I could."
"Yes," Tom nodded.
"Well, the other day he came to me and said he had a chance to set up a small laboratory in a vacant shop near the river. He needed a little capital and I lent it to him, as you told me to."
"Glad you did," returned Tom. "But do you suppose his plant is large enough to enable me to work there until mine is in shape again?"
"It wouldn't do any harm to take a look," suggested Ned.
"I'll do it!" decided Tom, more hopefully than he had spoken since the accident.
A FORCED LANDING
Josephus Baxter seemed to have recovered some of his spirits after his narrow escape from death in the fireworks factory blaze. He greeted Tom and Ned with a smile as they entered the improvised laboratory he had been able to set up in what had once been a factory for the making of wooden ware, an industry that, for some reason, did not flourish in Shopton.
"I'm glad to see you, Mr. Swift," said the chemist, who seemed to have aged several years in the few weeks that had intervened since the fire. "I want to thank you for giving me a chance to start over again."
"Oh, that's all right," said Tom easily. "We inventors ought to help one another. Are you able to do anything here?"
"As much as possible without my secret formulae," was the answer. "If I only had those back from the rascals, Field and Melling, I would be able to go ahead faster. As it is, I am working in the dark. For some of the formulae were given to me by a Frenchman, and I had only one copy. I kept that in the safe of the fireworks concern, and after the fire it could not be found."
"Was the safe destroyed?" asked Tom.
"No. But the doors were open, and much of what had been inside was in ashes and cinders. Amos Field claimed that the explosion had blown open the safe and burned a lot of their valuable fireworks formulae too."
"And you believe they have yours?" asked Ned.
"I'm sure of it!" was the fierce answer. "Those men are unprincipled rogues! They had been at me ever since I was foolish enough to tell them about my formulae to get me to sell them a share. But I refused, for I knew the secret mixtures would make my fortune when I could establish a new dye industry. Field and Melling claimed they wanted the formulae for their fireworks, but that was only an excuse. The formulae were not nearly so valuable for pyrotechnics as for dyes. The fireworks business is not so good, either, since so many cities have voted for a 'Sane Fourth of July.'"
"I can appreciate that," said Tom. "But what we called for, Mr. Baxter, is to find if you have room enough to let me do a little experimenting here. I am working on a new kind of fire extinguisher, to be dropped on tall buildings from an airship."
"Sounds like a good idea," said the chemist, rather dreamily.
"Well, I have the airship, and I can see my way clear to perfecting a device to drop the chemicals in metal tanks or bombs," went on Tom. "But what bothers me is the chemical mixture that will put out fires better than the carbon dioxide mixtures now on the market."
"I haven't given that much study myself," said Mr. Baxter. "But you are welcome to anything I have, Mr. Swift. The whole place, such as it is, will be at your disposal at any time. I intend to have it in better shape soon, but I have to proceed slowly, as I lost nearly everything I owned in that fire. If I could only get those formulae back!" he sighed.
"Perhaps you may recall the combinations," suggested Ned. "Or can't you get them from that Frenchman?"
"He is dead," answered the chemist. "Everything seems to be against me!"
"Well, it's always darkest just before daylight," said Tom. "So let us hope for the best. We both have had a bit of bad luck. But when I think of Rad, who may lose his eyesight, I can stand my losses smiling."
"Yes," agreed Mr. Baxter, "you have big assets when you have your health and eyesight."
Three days later the eye specialist looked at Rad. Tom stood by anxiously and waited for the verdict. The doctor motioned to the young inventor to follow him out of the room, while Mrs. Baggert replaced the bandages on the colored man's eyes and Koku stood near him, sympathetically patting Rad on the back.
"Well?" asked Tom nervously, as he faced the physician.
"I am sorry, Mr. Swift, that I can not hold out much hope that your man will ever regain his sight," was the answer.
Tom could not repress a gasp of pity.
"I do not say that the case is altogether hopeless," the doctor went on; "but it would be wrong to encourage you to hope for much. I may be able to save partly the sight of one eye."
"Poor Rad!" murmured Tom. "This will break his heart."
"There is no need for telling him at once," Dr. Henderson said. "It will only make his recovery so much the slower. It will be weeks before I am able to operate, and, meanwhile, he should be kept as comfortable and cheerful as possible."
"We'll see to that," declared Tom. "Is he otherwise injured?"
"No, it is merely his eyesight that we have to fear for. And, as I said, that is not altogether hopeless, though it would not be honest to let you look for much success. I shall see him from time to time until his eyes are ready to operate on."
Tom and his friends were forced to take such comfort as they could from this verdict, but no hint of their downcast feelings were made manifest to Eradicate.
"Whut de doctor man done say, Massa Tom?" asked Eradicate when the young inventor went back into the sick room.
"Oh, he talked a lot of big Latin words, Rad—bigger words than you used to use on your mule Boomerang," and Tom forced a laugh. "All he meant was that you'd have to stay in bed a while and let Koku wait on you."
"Huh! Am dat—dat big—dat big nice man heah now?" asked Rad, feeling around with his bandaged hand; and a smile showed beneath the cloth over his eyes.
"I here right upsidedown by you, Rad," said Koku, and his big hand clasped the smaller one of the black man.
"Koku—yo'—yo' am mighty good to me," murmured Eradicate. "I reckon I been cross to yo' sometimes, but I didn't mean nuffin' by it!"
"Huh! me an' you good friends now," said the giant. "Anybody what hurt my Rad, I—I—bust 'im! Dat I do!" cried the big fellow.
"Come on," whispered Tom to Ned. "They'll get along all right together now."
But Eradicate caught the sound of his young employer's footsteps and called:
"Yo' goin', Massa Tom?"
"Yes, Rad. Is there anything you want?"
"No, Massa Tom. I jest wanted to ast if yo' done 'membered de time mah mule Boomerang got stuck in de road, an' yo' couldn't git past in yo' auto? Does yo' 'member dat?"
"Indeed I do!" laughed Tom, and Eradicate also chuckled at the recollection.
"That laugh will do him more good than medicine," declared the doctor, as he took his leave. "I'll come again, when I can make a more thorough examination," he added.
For Tom the following days, that lengthened into weeks, were anxious ones. There was a constant worry over Eradicate. Then, too, he was having trouble with his latest invention—his aerial fire-fighting apparatus. It was not that Tom was financially dependent on this invention. He was wealthy enough for his needs from other patented inventions he and his father owned.
But Tom Swift was a lad not easily satisfied. Once embarked on an enterprise, whether it was the creation of a gigantic searchlight, an electric rifle, a photo telephone or a war tank, he never rested until he had brought it to a successful consummation.
But there was something about this chemical fire extinguishing mixture that defied the young inventor's best efforts. Mixture after mixture was tried and discarded. Tom wanted something better than the usual carbonate and sulphuric combination, and he was not going to rest until he found it.
"I think you've struck a blind lead, Tom," said Ned, more than once.
"Well, I'm not going to give up," was the firm answer.
"Bless my shoe laces!" cried Mr. Damon, when he had called on Tom once at the Baxter laboratory and had been driven out, holding his breath, because of the chemical fumes, "I should think you couldn't even start a fire with that around, Tom, much less need to put one out."
"Well, it doesn't seem to work," said the young inventor ruefully. "Everything I do lately goes wrong."
"It is that way sometimes," said Mr. Baxter. "Suppose you let me study over your formulae a bit, Mr. Swift. I haven't given much thought to fire extinguishers, but I may be able, for that very reason, to approach the subject from a new angle. I'll lay aside my attempt to get back the lost formulae and help you."
"I wish you would!" exclaimed Tom eagerly. "My head is woozie from thinking! Suppose I leave you to yourself for a time, Mr. Baxter? I'll go for an airship ride."
"Yes, do," urged the chemist. "Sometimes a change of scene is of benefit. I'll see what I can do for you."
"Will you come along, Ned—Mr. Damon?" asked Tom, as he prepared to leave the improvised laboratory, the repairs on his own not yet having been finished.
"Thank you, no," answered Ned. "I have some collections to make."
"And I promised my wife I'd take her riding, Tom," said the jolly, eccentric man. "Bless my umbrella! she'd never forgive me if I went off with you. But I'll run you to your first stopping place, Ned, and you to your hangar, Tom."
His invitation was accepted, and, in due season, Tom was soaring aloft in one of his speedy cloud craft.
"Guess I'll drop down and get Mary Nestor," he decided, after riding about alone for a while and finding that the motor was running sweetly and smoothly. "She hasn't been out lately."
Tom made a landing in a field not far from the home of the girl he hoped to marry some day, and walked over to her house.
"Go for a ride? I just guess. I will!" cried Mary, with sparkling eyes. "Just wait until I get on my togs."
She had a leather suit, as had Tom, and they were soon in the machine, which, being equipped with a self-starter, did not need the services of a mechanician to whirl the propellers.
"Oh, isn't it glorious!" said Mary, as she sat at Tom's side. They were in a little enclosed cabin of the craft—which carried just two—and, thus enclosed, they could speak by raising their voices somewhat, for the noise of the motor was much muffled, due to one of Tom's inventions.
Other rides on other days followed this one, for Tom found more rest and better refreshment after his hours of toil and study in these rides with Mary than in any other way.
"I do love these rides, Tom!" the girl cried one day when the two were soaring aloft. "And this one I really believe is better than any of the rest. Though I always think that," she added, with a slight laugh.
"Glad you like it," Tom answered, and there was something in his voice that caused Mary to look curiously at him.
"What's the matter, Tom?" she asked. "Has anything happened? Is Rad's case hopeless?"
"Oh, no, not yet. Of course it isn't yet sure that he will ever see again, but, on the other hand, it isn't decided that he can't. It's a fifty-fifty proposition."
"But what makes you so serious?"
"I should say so! You haven't told me one funny thing that Mr. Damon has said lately."
"Oh, haven't I? Well, let me see now," and he sent the machine up a little. "Well, the other day he—"
Tom suddenly stopped speaking and began rapidly turning several valve wheels and levers.
"What—what's the matter?" gasped Mary, but she did not clutch his arm. She knew better than that.
"The motor has stopped," Tom answered, and the girl became aware of a cessation of the subdued hum.
"Is it—does it mean danger?" she asked.
"Not necessarily so," Tom replied. "It means we have to make a forced landing, that's all. Sit tight! We're going down rather faster than usual, Mary, but we'll come out of it all right!"'
There was a rapid and sudden drop. Mary, sitting beside Tom Swift in the speedy aeroplane, watched with fascinated eyes as he quickly juggled with levers and tried different valve wheels. The girl, through her goggles, had a vision of a landscape shooting past with the speed of light. She glimpsed a brook, and, almost instantly, they had skimmed over it.
A jar, a nerve-racking tilt to one side, the creaking of wood and the rattle of metal, a careening, and then the machine came to a stop, not exactly on a level keel, but at least right side up, in the midst of a wide field.
Tom shut off the gas, cut his spark, and, raising his goggles, looked down at Mary at his side.
"Scared?" he asked, smiling.
"I was," she frankly admitted. "Is anything broken, Tom?"
"I hope not," answered the young inventor. "At least if it is, the damage is on the under part. Nothing visible up here. But let me help you out. Looks as if we'd have to run for it."
"Run?" repeated Mary, while proving that she did not exactly need help, for she was getting out of her seat unaided. "Why? Is it going to catch fire?"
"No. But it's going to rain soon—and hard, too, if I'm any judge," Tom said. "I don't believe I'll take a chance trying to get the machine going again. We'll make for that farmhouse and stay there until after the storm. Looks as if we could get shelter there, and perhaps a bit to eat. I'm beginning to feel hungry."
"It is going to rain!" decided Mary, as Tom helped her down over the side of the fusilage. "It's good we are so near shelter."
Tom did not answer. He was making a hasty but accurate observation of the state of his aeroplane. The landing wheels had stood the shock well, and nothing appeared to be broken.
"We came down rather harder than I wanted to," remarked Tom, as he crawled out after his inspection of the machine. "Though I've made worse forced landings than that."
"What caused it?" asked Mary, glancing up at the clouds, which were getting blacker and blacker, and from which, now and then, vivid flashes of lightning came while low mutterings of thunder rolled nearer and nearer. "Something seemed to be wrong with the carburetor," Tom answered. "I won't try to monkey with it now. Let's hike for that farmhouse. We'll be lucky if we don't get drenched. Are you sure you're all right, Mary?"
"Certainly, Tom. I can stand a worse shaking up than that. And you needn't think I can't run, either!"
She proved this by hastening along at Tom's side. And there was need of haste, for soon after they left the stranded aeroplane the big drops began to pelt down, and they reached the house just as the deluge came.
"I don't know this place, do you, Tom?" asked Mary, as they ran in through a gateway in a fence that surrounded the property. A path seemed to lead all around the old, rambling house, and there was a porch with a side entrance door. This, being nearer, had been picked out by the young inventor and his friend.
"No, I don't remember being here before," Tom answered. "But I've passed the place often enough with Ned and Mr. Damon. I guess they won't refuse to let us sit on the porch, and they may be induced to give us a glass of milk and some sandwiches—that is, sell them to us."
He and Mary, a little breathless from their run, hastened up on the porch, slightly wet from the sudden outburst of rain. As Tom knocked on the door there came a clap of thunder, following a burst of lightning, that caused Mary to put her hands over her ears.
"Guess they didn't hear that," observed Tom, as the echoes of the blast died away. "I mean my knock. The thunder drowned it. I'll try again."
He took advantage of a lull in the thundering reverberations, and tapped smartly. The door was almost at once opened by an aged woman, who stared in some amazement at the young people. Then she said:
"Guests must go to the front door."
"Guests!" exclaimed Tom. "We aren't exactly guests. Of course we'd like to be considered in that light. But we've had an accident—my aeroplane stopped and we'd like to stay here out of the storm, and perhaps get something to eat."
"That can be arranged—yes," said the old woman, who spoke with a foreign accent. "But you must go to the front door. This is the servant's entrance."
Mary was just thinking that they used considerable formality for casual wayfarers, when the situation dawned on Tom Swift.
"Is this a restaurant—an inn?" he asked.
"Yes," answered the old woman. "It is Meadow Inn. Please go to the front door."
"All right," Tom agreed good-naturedly. "I'm glad we struck the place, anyhow."
The porch extended around three sides of the old, rambling house. Proceeding along the sheltered piazza, Tom and Mary soon found themselves at the front door. There the nature of the place was at once made plain, for on a board was lettered the words "Meadow Inn."
"I see what has happened," Tom remarked, as he opened the old-fashioned ground glass door and ushered Mary in. "Some one has taken the old farmhouse and made it into a roadhouse—a wayside inn. I shouldn't think such a place would pay out here; but I'm mighty glad we struck it."
"Yes, indeed," agreed Mary.
The old farmhouse, one of the best of its day, had been transformed into a roadhouse of the better class. On either side of the entrance hall were dining rooms, in which were set small tables, spread with snowy cloths.
"In here, sir, if you please," said a white-aproned waiter, gliding forward to take Tom's leather coat and Mary's jacket of like material. The waiter ushered them into a room, in which at first there seemed to be no other diners. Then, from behind a screen which was pulled around a table in one corner, came the murmur of voices and the clatter of cutlery on china, which told of some one at a meal there.
"Somebody is fond of seclusion," thought Tom, as he and Mary took their places. And as he glanced over the bill of fare his ears caught the murmur of the voices of two men coming from behind the screen. One voice was low and rumbling, the other high-pitched and querulous.
"Talking business, probably," mused Tom. "What do you feel like eating?" he asked Mary.
"I wasn't very hungry until I came in," she answered, with a smile. "But it is so cozy and quaint here, and so clean and neat, that it really gives one an appetite. Isn't it a delightful place, Tom? Did you know it was here?"
"It is very nice. And as this is the first I have been here for a long while I didn't know, any more than you, that it had been made into a roadhouse. But what shall I order for you?"
"I should think you would have had enough experience by this time," laughed Mary, for it was not the first occasion that she and Tom had dined out.
Thereupon he gave her order and his own, too, and they were soon eating heartily of food that was in keeping with the appearance of the place.
"I must bring Ned and Mr. Damon here," said Tom. "They'll appreciate the quaintness of this inn," for many of the quaint appointments of the old farmhouse had been retained, making it a charming resort for a meal.
"Mr. Damon will like it," said Mary. "Especially the big fireplace," and she pointed to one on which burned a blaze of hickory wood. "He'll bless everything he sees."
"And cause the waiter to look at me as though I had brought in an escaped inmate from some sanitarium," laughed Tom. "No use talking, Mr. Damon is delightfully queer! Now what do you want for dessert?"
"Let me see the card," begged Mary. "I fancy some French pastry, if they have it."
Tom gazed idly but approvingly about as she scanned the list. The sound of the rumbling and the higher-pitched voices had gone on throughout the entire meal, and now, as comparative silence filled the room, the clatter of knives and forks having ceased, Tom heard more clearly what was being said behind the screen.
"Well, I tell you what it is," said the man whom Tom mentally dubbed Mr. High. "We got out of that blaze mighty luckily!"
"Yes," agreed he of the rumbly voice, whom Tom thought of as Mr. Low, "it was a close shave. If it hadn't been for his chemicals, though, there would have been a cleaner sweep."
"Indeed there would! I never knew that any of them could act as fire extinguishers."
Tom seemed to stiffen at this, and his hearing became more acute.
"They aren't really fire extinguishers in the real sense of the word," went on the other man behind the screen. "It must have been some accidental combination of them. But in spite of that we put it all over Josephus Baxter in that fire!"
"What's this? What's this?" thought Tom, shooting a glance at Mary and noting that apparently she had not heard what was said. "What strange talk is this?"
"What's that?" exclaimed Mary Nestor, giving such a start as she sat opposite Tom at the restaurant table that she dropped the bill of fare she had been looking over.
A crash had resounded through the room, but it spoke well for the state of Tom's nerves that he gave no indication that he had heard the noise. It was caused by a waiter when he dropped a plate, which was smashed into pieces on the floor. The noise was startling enough to excuse Mary for jumping in her chair, and it seemed to put an end to the strange talk of "Mr. High" and "Mr. Low" back of the screen, for after the crash of china only indistinct murmurs came from there. But Tom Swift did not cease to wonder at the import of the talk about chemicals, fire, and the mention of the name of Josephus Baxter.
"I think I'll try some of those Murolloas, as they call them, Tom," announced Mary, having made her selection of the pastry. "And may I have another cup of tea?"
"Two if you like," answered the young inventor. "They say tea is good for the nerves, and you seem to need something, judging by the way you jumped when that plate fell."
"Oh, Tom, that isn't fair! After the way we had to come down in your 'plane!" objected Mary.
"That's right!" he conceded. "I forgot about that. My fault, entirely!"
Mary smiled, and seemed to have regained her composure. Tom glanced at her anxiously, not because of what he thought might be the state of her nerves, but to see if she had sensed anything the two men behind the screen had said. But the girl gave no indication that her mind had been occupied with anything more than the selection of her dessert.
"I wonder who they are, and what they meant by that talk," mused Tom, as the waiter served the Murolloas to him and Mary. "Poor Baxter! It looks as if he might have more enemies than the fireworks men he accuses of having taken his valuable formulae. I must see him soon, and have a talk with him. Yes, I must make a special point to see Josephus Baxter. But first I'd like to have a glimpse of these men."
Tom's wish in this respect was soon gratified, for before he and Mary had finished their pastry and tea there was a scraping of chairs back of the sheltering screen, and the two men, "Mr. Low" and "Mr. High," who had finished their meal, came forth.
Tom's judgment as to the statures of the men, based on the quality of their voices, was not exactly borne out. For it was the big man who had the high pitched, squeaky voice, and the little man who had the deep, rumbling tones.
They passed out, without more than a glance at Tom and his companion, but the young inventor peered at them sharply. As far as he could tell he had seen neither of them before, though he had an idea of their identity.
Tom took the chance to make certain this conjecture when Mary left her seat, announcing that she was going to the ladies' parlor to arrange her hair, which the run to escape from the rain had disarranged.
"Some storm," Tom observed to the waiter, who came up when the young inventor indicated that he wanted his check.
"Yes, sir, it came suddenly. Hope you didn't have to change a tire in it, sir."
"No, my machine isn't that kind," replied Tom, as he handed out a generous tip. "If I need a new tire I generally need a whole new outfit."
"Oh, then—" Obviously the man was puzzled.
"We came in an aeroplane," Tom explained. "But we had to make a forced landing. Is there a garage near here? I may need some help getting started."
"We accommodate a few cars in what was once the barn, and we have a good mechanic, sir. If you'd like to see him—"
"I would," interrupted Tom. "Tell the young lady to wait here for me. I'll see if I can get the Scud to work. If not, I'll have to telephone to town for a taxi. Did those men who just left come in a car?" and he nodded in the direction taken by the two who had dined behind the screen.
"Yes, sir. And they had engine trouble, I believe. Our man fixed up their machine."
"Then he's the chap I want to see," thought Tom. "I'll have a talk with him." He reasoned that he could get more about the identity of the two mysterious men from the mechanic than from the waiter. Nor was he wrong in this surmise.
"Oh, them two fellers!" exclaimed the mechanician, after he had agreed to go with Tom to where the airship Scud was stalled. "They come from over Shopton way. They own a fireworks factory—or they did, before it burned."
"Are they Field and Melling?" asked Tom, trying not to let any excitement betray itself in his voice.
"That's the names they gave me," said the man. "Little man's Field. He gave me his card. I'm going to get a job overhauling his car. There isn't enough work here to keep a man busy, and I told 'em I could do a little on the outside. This place just started, and not many folks know about it yet."
"So I judge," Tom said. "Well, I'll be glad to have you give me a hand. I fancy the carburetor is out of order."
And this, when the young inventor and the mechanician from Meadow Inn reached the stranded Scud, was found to be the case. The storm had passed, and Mary told Tom she would not mind waiting at the Inn until he found whether or not he could get his air craft in working order.
"There you are! That's the trouble!" exclaimed the mechanician, as he took something out of the carburetor. "A bit of rubber washer choked the needle valve."
"Glad you found it," said Tom heartily. "Now I guess we can ride back."
While preparations were being made to test the Scud after the carburetor had been reassembled, Tom's mind was busy with many thoughts, and chief among them were suspicions concerning Field and Melling.
"If their talk meant anything at all," reasoned the young inventor, "it meant that there was some deal in which Josephus Baxter got the worst of it. 'Putting it over on him in the fire,' could only mean that. Of course it isn't any of my business, in a way, but I don't think it is right to stand by and see a fellow inventor defrauded.
"Of course," mused Tom, while his helper put the finishing touches to the carburetor, "it may have been a business deal in which one took as many chances as the other. There are always two sides to every story. Baxter says they took his formulae, but he may have taken something from them to make it even. The only thing is that I'd trust Baxter sooner than I would those two fellows, and he certainly had a narrow squeak at the fire.
"But I have my own troubles, I guess, trying to perfect that fire-fighting chemical, and I haven't much time to bother with Field and Melling, unless they come my way."
"There, I reckon she'll work," said the mechanician, as he fastened the last valve in the carburetor. "It was an easier job than I expected. Wasn't as much trouble as I had over their car those two fellers you were speaking of—Field and Melling. They're rich guys!"
"Yes?" replied Tom, questioningly.
"Sure! They've started a big dye company."
"A dye company?" repeated the young inventor, all his suspicions coming back as he recalled that Baxter had said his formulae were more valuable for dyes than for fireworks.
"Yes, they're trying to get the business that used to go to the Germans before the war," went on the man.
"Yes, the Germans used to have a monopoly of the dye industry," said Tom, hoping the man would talk on. He need not have worried. He was of the talkative type.
"Well, if these fellers have their way they'll make a million in dyes," proceeded the mechanician, as he stepped down out of the airship. "They've built a big plant, and they have offices in the Landmark Building."
"Where's that?" asked Tom.
"Over in Newmarket," the man went on, naming the nearest large city to Shopton. "The Landmark Building is a regular New York skyscraper. Haven't you seen it?"
"No," Tom answered, "I haven't. Been too busy, I guess. So Field and Melling have their offices there?"
"Yes, and a big plant on the outskirts for making dyes. They half offered me a job at the factory, but I thought I'd try this out first; I like it here."
"It is a nice place," agreed Tom. "Well, now let's see if she'll work," and he nodded at the Scud.
It needed but a short test to demonstrate this and soon Tom went back to the Inn for Mary.
"Are you sure we shall not have to make another forced landing?" she asked with a smile, a she took her place in the cockpit.
"You can't guarantee anything about an aeroplane," said Tom. "But everything is in our favor, and if we do have to come down I have a better landing field than this." He glanced over the meadow near the wayside inn.
"I suppose I'll have to take a chance," said Mary.
However, neither of them need have worried, for the Scud tried, evidently, to redeem herself, and flew back to Shopton without a hitch. After making sure that his engine was running smoothly, Tom found his mind more at ease, and again he caught himself casting about to find some basis for his suspicious thoughts regarding the two men who had talked behind the screen.
"What is their game?" Tom found himself asking himself over and over again. "What did they 'put over' on poor Baxter?"
Tom had a chance to find out more about this, or at least start on the trail sooner than he expected. For when he landed he saw Koku, the giant, coming toward him with an appearance of excitement.
"Is Rad worse? Is there more trouble with his eyes?" asked the young inventor.
"No, him not much too bad," answered Koku. "I keep him good as I can. He sleep now, so I come out to swallow some fresh air. But man come to see you—much mad man."
"Mad?" queried Tom.
"Well, what you say—angry," went on Koku. "Man what was in Roman Skycracker blaze."
"Oh, you mean Mr. Baxter, who was in the fireworks blaze," translated Tom. "Where is he, and what's the matter?"
Koku managed to make Tom understand that the dye inventor was in the main office of the Swift plant talking to Tom's father. The young inventor sent Mary home in his electric runabout in company with Ned Newton, who, fortunately, happened along just then, and hurried to his office.
"Oh, Tom, I'm glad you have arrived," said his father. "You remember Mr. Baxter, of course."
"I should hope so," Tom answered, extending his hand. He noticed that the man whom he had helped save from the fireworks blaze was under the stress of some excitement.
"I hope he hasn't been getting on dad's nerves," thought Tom, as he took a seat. The elder Mr. Swift had been quite ill, and it was thought for a time that he would have to give up helping Tom. But there had been a turn for the better, and the aged inventor had again taken his place in the laboratory, though he was frail.
"What's the trouble now?" asked Tom. "At least I assume there has been some trouble," he went on. "If I am wrong—"
"No, you are right, unfortunately," said Mr. Baxter gloomily. "The trouble is that everything I do is a failure. Up to a little while ago I thought I might succeed, in spite of Field and Melling's theft of the formulae from me. I made a purple dye the other day, and tested it today. It was a miserable failure, and it got on my nerves. I came to see if you could help me."
"In what way?" asked Tom, wondering whether or not he had best tell Mr. Baxter what he had overheard at the Inn.
"Well, I need better laboratory facilities," the man went on. "I know you have been very kind to me, Mr. Swift, and it seems like an imposition to ask for more. But I need a different lot of chemicals, and they cost money. I also need some different apparatus. You have it in your big laboratory. That wouldn't cost you anything. But of course to go out and buy what I need—"
"Oh I guess we can stand that, can't we, Dad?" asked Tom, with a genial smile. "You may have free access to our big laboratory, Mr. Baxter, and I'll see that you get what chemicals you need."
"Oh, thank you!" exclaimed the inventor. "Now I believe I shall succeed in spite of those rascals. Just think, Mr. Swift! They have started a big new dye factory."
"So I have heard," replied Tom.
"And I'm almost sure they're using the secret formulae they stole from me!" exclaimed Mr. Baxter. "But I'll get the best of them yet! I'll invent a better dye than they ever can, even if they use the secrets the old Frenchman gave me. All I need is a better place to work and all the chemicals at my disposal."
"Then we'll try to help you," offered Tom.
"And if I can do anything let me know," put in Mr. Swift. "I shall be glad to get in the harness again, Tom!" he added.
"Well, if you're so anxious to work, Dad, why not give me a hand with my fire extinguisher chemical?" asked Tom. "I haven't been able to hit on the solution, somehow or other."
"Perhaps I may be able to give you a hint or two after I get settled down," suggested Mr. Baxter.
"I shall be glad of any assistance you can give," replied Tom Swift. "And now I'm going to start right in. Dad, you can make the arrangements for Mr. Baxter to use our big laboratory. And let him have credit for any chemicals he needs. Have them put on my bill, for I am buying a lot myself."
"I'll never forget this," said Mr. Baxter, and there were tears in his eyes as he shook hands with Tom, who tried to make light of his generous act.
Tom, after the wrecking of his laboratory, in which accident poor Eradicate was injured, had built himself another—two others, in fact, after having shared Mr. Baxter's temporary one for a time. Tom put up the most completely equipped laboratory that could be devised, and he also erected a smaller one for his own personal use, the main one being at the disposal of his father and the various heads of the different departments of the Shopton plant.
The little conference broke up, and Tom was on his way to his own special private laboratory when there came the sound of some excitement in the corridor outside and Mr. Damon burst in.
"Bless my accident policy, Tom! what's this I hear?" he asked, all in a fluster.
"I'm sure I don't know," answered the young inventor, with a smile. "What about?"
"About you and Mary Nestor being killed!" burst out Mr. Damon. "I heard you fell in the aeroplane and were both dashed to pieces!"
"If you can believe the evidence of your own eyes, I'm far from being in that state," laughed Tom. "And as for Mary, she just left here with Ned Newton."
"Thank goodness!" sighed Mr. Damon, sinking into a chair. "Bless my elevator! I rushed over as soon as I heard the news, and I was almost afraid to come in. I'm so glad it didn't happen!"
"No gladder than I," said Tom. "We had to make a forced landing, that was all," and he made as light of the incident as possible when he saw the look of terror in his father's eyes.
"Some people in Waterford saw you going down," went on Mr. Damon, "and they told me."
"It was a false alarm," replied Tom. "And now, Mr. Damon, if you want to smell some perfumes come with me."
"Are you going into that line, Tom?" asked the eccentric man. "Bless my handkerchief, my wife will be glad of that!"
"I mean I'm going to experiment some more with fire-extinguishing chemicals," laughed the young inventor. "If you want to—"
"Bless my gas mask, I should say not!" cried Mr. Damon. "I don't see how you stand those odors, Tom Swift."
"Guess I'm used to 'em," was the answer. And then, leaving his father to entertain Mr. Damon and to make arrangements for Mr. Baxter's use of the main laboratory, he betook himself to his own private quarters.
The next week or so was a busy time for Tom; so busy, in fact, that he had little chance to see Mr. Baxter. All he knew was that the unfortunate man was also laboring in his own line, and Tom wished him success. He knew that if the man made any discoveries that would help with the fire-extinguishing fluid he would report, as he had promised.
"Well, Tom, how goes it?" asked Ned one day when he came over to call on his chum. "Are you ready to accept contracts for putting out skyscraper blazes in all big cities?"
"Not yet," was the answer. "But I'm going to make another attempt, Ned."
"You mean another experiment?"
"Yes, I have evolved a new combination of chemicals, using something of the carbonate idea as a basis. I found that I couldn't get away from that, much as I wanted to. But my application is entirely new, at least I hope it will prove so."
"When are you going to try it?" asked Ned.
"Right away. All I have to do is to put the chemicals in the metal tank."
"Then I'd better get my leather suit on," remarked Ned, starting to take off his street coat. Tom kept for his chum a full outfit of flying garments, one suit being electrically heated.
"Oh, we aren't going up in any airship," Tom said.
"Why, I thought you were going to test your aerial fire fighting dingus!" exclaimed Ned.
"So I am. But I want to stay on the ground and watch the effect on the blaze as the tank bursts and scatters the chemical fluid."