TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIR GLIDER
Seeking the Platinum Treasure
I A Breakdown II A Daring Project III The Hand of the Czar IV The Search V A Clew from Russia VI Rescuing Mr. Petrofsky VII The Air Glider VIII In a Great Gale IX The Spies X Off in the Airship XI A Storm at Sea XII An Accident XIII Seeking a Quarrel XIV Hurried Flight XV Pursued XVI The Nihilists XVII On to Siberia XVIII In a Russian Prison XIX Lost in a Salt Mine XX The Escape XXI The Rescue XXII In the Hurricane XXIII The Lost Mine XXIV The Leaking Tanks XXV Homeward Bound—Conclusion
TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIR GLIDER
"Well, Ned, are you ready?"
"Oh, I suppose so, Tom. As ready as I ever shall be."
"Why, Ned Newton, you're not getting afraid; are you? And after you've been on so many trips with me?"
"No, it isn't exactly that, Tom. I'd go in a minute if you didn't have this new fangled thing on your airship. But how do you know how it's going to work—or whether it will work at all? We may come a cropper."
"Bless my insurance policy!" exclaimed a man who was standing near the two lads who were conversing. "You'd better keep near the ground, Tom."
"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Damon," answered Tom Swift. "There isn't any more danger than there ever was, but I guess Ned is nervous since our trip to the underground city of gold."
"I am not!" indignantly exclaimed the other lad, with a look at the young inventor. "But you know yourself, Tom, that putting this new propeller on your airship, changing the wing tips, and re-gearing the motor has made an altogether different sort of a craft of it. You, yourself, said it wasn't as reliable as before, even though it does go faster."
"Now look here, Ned!" burst out Tom. "That was last week that I said it wasn't reliable. It is now, for I've tried it out several times, and yet, when I ask you to take a trip with me, to act as ballast—"
"Is that all you want me for, Tom, to act as ballast? Then you'd better take a bag of sand—or Mr. Damon here!"
"Me? I guess not! Bless my diamond ring! My wife hasn't forgiven me for going off on that last trip with you, Tom, and I'm not going to take any more right away. But I don't blame Ned—"
"Say, look here!" cried Tom, a little out of patience, "you know me better than that, Ned. Of course your more than ballast—I want you to help me manage the craft since I made the changes on her. Now if you don't want to come, why say so, and I'll get Eradicate. I don't believe he'll be afraid, even if he—"
"Hold on dar now, Massa Tom!" exclaimed an aged colored man, who was an all around helper at the Swift homestead, "was yo' referencin' t' me when yo' spoke?"
"Yes, Rad, I was saying that if Ned wouldn't go up in the airship with me you would."
"Well, now, Masa Tom, I shorely would laik t' 'blige yo', I shore would. But de fack ob de mattah am dat I has a mos' particular job ob white washin' t' do dish mornin', an' I 'spects I'd better be gittin' at it. It's a mos' particular job, an', only fo' dat, I'd be mos' pleased t' go up in de airship. But as it am, I mus' ax yo' t' 'scuse me, I really mus'," and the colored man shuffled off at a faster gait than he was in the habit of using.
"Well, of all things!" gasped Tom. "I believe you're all afraid of the old airship, just because I wade some changes in her. I'll go up alone, that's what I will."
"No, I'll go with you," interposed Ned Newton who was Tom's most particular chum. "I only wanted to be sure it was all right, that was all."
"Well, if you've fully made up your mind," went on the young inventor, a little mollified, "lend me a hand to get her in shape for a run. I expect to make faster time than I ever did before, and I'm going to head out Waterford way. You'd better come along, Mr. Damon, and I'll drop you off at your house."
"Bless my feather bed!" gasped the man. "Drop me off! I like that, Tom Swift!"
"Oh, I didn't mean it exactly that way," laughed Tom. "But will you come."
"No, thanks, I'm going home by trolley," and then as the odd man went in the house to speak to Tom's father, the two lads busied themselves about the airship.
This was a large aeroplane, one of the largest Tom Swift had ever constructed, and he was a lad who had invented many kinds of machinery besides crafts for navigating the upper regions. It was not as large as his combined aeroplane and dirigible balloon of which I have told you in other books, but it was of sufficient size to carry three persons besides other weight.
Tom had built it some years before, and it had seemed good enough then. Later he constructed some of different models, besides the big combination affair, and he had gone on several trips in that.
He and his chum Ned, together with Eradicate Sampson, the colored man, and Mr. Damon, had been to a wonderful underground city of gold in Mexico, and it was soon after their return from this perilous trip that Tom had begun the work of changing his old aeroplane into a speedier craft.
This had occupied him most of the Winter, and now that Spring had come he had a chance to try what a re-built motor, changed propellers, and different wing tips would do for the machine.
The time had come for the test and, as we have seen, Tom had some difficulty in persuading anyone to go along with him? But Ned finally got over his feeling of nervousness.
"Understand, Tom," spoke Ned, "it isn't because I don't think you know how to work an aeroplane that I hesitated. I've been up in the air with you enough times to know that you're there with the goods, but I don't believe even you know what this machine is going to do."
"I can pretty nearly tell. I'm sure my theory is right."
"I don't doubt that. But will it work out in practice?"
"She may not make all the speed I hope she will, and I may not be able to push her high into the air quicker than I used to before I made the changes," admitted Tom, "but I'm sure of one thing. She'll fly, and she won't come down until I'm ready to let her. So you needn't worry about getting hurt."
"All right—if you say so. Now what do you want me to do, Tom?"
"Go over the wire guys and stays for the first thing. There's going to be lots of vibration, with the re-built motor, and I want everything tight."
"Aye, aye, sir!" answered Ned with a laugh.
Then he set at his task, tightening the small nuts, and screwing up the turn-buckles, while Tom busied himself over the motor. There was some small trouble with the carburetor that needed eliminating before it would feed properly.
"How about the tires?" asked Ned, when he had finished the wires.
"You might pump them up. There, the motor is all right. I'm going to try it now, while you attend to the tires."
Ned had pumped up one of the rubber circlets of the small bicycle wheels on which the aeroplane rested, and was beginning on the second, when a noise like a battery of machine guns going off next to his ear startled him so that he jumped, tripped over a stone and went down, the air pump thumping him in the back.
"What in the world happened, Tom?" he yelled, for he had to use all his lung power to be heard above that racket. "Did it explode?"
"Explode nothing!" shouted Tom. "That's the re-built motor in action."
"In action! I should say it was in action. Is it always going to roar like that?"
Indeed the motor was roaring away, spitting fire and burnt gases from the exhaust pipe, and enveloping the aeroplane in a whitish haze of choking smoke.
No, I have the muffler cut out, and that's why she barks so. But she runs easier that way, and I want to get her smoothed out a bit.
"Whew! That smoke!" gasped his chum. "Why don't you—whew—this is more than I can stand," and holding his hands to his smarting eyes, Ned, gasping and choking, staggered away to where the air was better.
"It is sort of thick," admitted Tom. "But that's only because she's getting too much oil. She'll clear in a few minutes. Stick around and we'll go up."
Despite the choking vapor, the young inventor stuck to his task of regulating the motor, and in a short while the smoke became less, while the big propeller blades whirled about more evenly. Then Tom adjusted the muffler, and most of the noise stopped.
"Come on back, and finish pumping up the tires," he shouted to Ned. "I'm going to stop her now, and then I'll give her the pressure test, and we'll take a trip."
Having cleared his eyes of smoke, Ned came back to his task, and this having been finished, Tom attached a heavy spring balance, or scales, to the rope that held the airship back from moving when her propellers were whirling about.
"How much pressure do you want?" asked Ned.
"I ought to get above twelve hundred With the way the motor is geared, but I'll go up with ten. Watch the needle for me."
It may be explained that when aeroplanes are tested on the earth the propellers are set in motion. This of course would send a craft whizzing over the ground, eventually to rise in the air, but for the fact that a rope, attached to the craft, and to some stationary object, holds it back.
Now if this rope is hooked to a spring balance, which in turn is made fast to the stationary object, the "thrust" of the propellers will be registered in pounds on the scale of the balance. Anywhere from five hundred to nine hundred pounds of thrust will take a monoplane or biplane up. But Tom wanted more than this.
Once more the motor coughed and spluttered, and the big blades whirled about so fast that they seemed like solid pieces of wood. Tom stood on the ground near the levers which controlled the speed, and Ned watched the scale.
"How much?" yelled the young inventor.
Tom turned on a little more gasolene.
"How much?" he cried again.
"Ten hundred. That'll do!"
"No, I'm going to try for more."
Again he advanced the spark and gasolene levers, and the comparatively frail craft vibrated so that it seemed as if she would fly apart.
"Now?" yelled Tom.
"Eleven hundred and fifty!" cried Ned.
"Good! That'll do it. She'll give more after she's been running a while. We'll go up."
Ned scrambled to his seat, and Tom followed. He had an arrangement so that he could slip loose the retaining rope from his perch whenever he was ready.
Waiting until the motor had run another minute, the young inventor pulled the rope that released them. Over the smooth starting ground that formed a part of the Swift homestead darted the aeroplane. Faster and faster she moved, Ned gripping the sides of his seat.
"Here we go!" cried Tom, and the next instant they shot up into the air.
Ned Newton had ridden many times with his chum Tom, and the sensation of gliding through the upper regions was not new to him. But this time there was something different. The propellers seemed to take hold of the air with a firmer grip. There was more power, and certainly the speed was terrific.
"We're going fast!" yelled Ned into Tom's ear.
"That's right," agreed the young inventor. "She'll beat anything but my Sky Racer, and she'd do that if she was the same size." Tom referred to a very small aeroplane he had made some time before. It was like some big bird, and very swift.
Up and onward went the remodeled airship, faster and faster, until, when several miles had been covered, Ned realized that the young inventor had achieved another triumph.
"It's great, Tom! Great!" he yelled.
"Yes, I guess it will do, Ned. I'm satisfied. If there was an international meet now I'd capture some of the prizes. As it is—"
Tom stopped suddenly. His voice which had been raised to overcome the noise of even the muffled motor, sounded unnaturally loud, and no wonder, for the engine had ceased working!
"What's the matter?" gasped Ned.
"I don't know—a breakdown of some kind."
"Can you get it going again?"
"I'm going to try."
Tom was manipulating various levers, but with no effect. The aeroplane was shooting downward with frightful rapidity.
"No use!" exclaimed the young inventor. "Something has broken."
"But We're falling, Tom!"
"I know it. We've done it before. I'm going to volplane to earth."
This, it may be explained, is gliding downward from a height with the engine shut off. Aeroplanists often do it, and Tom was no novice at the art.
They shot downward with less speed now, for the young inventor had thrown up his headplanes to act as a sort of brake. Then, a little later they made a good landing in a field near a small house, in a rather lonely stretch of country, about ten miles from Shopton, where Tom lived.
"Now to see what the trouble is," remarked our hero, as he climbed out of his seat and began looking over the engine. He poked in among the numerous cogs, wheels and levers, and finally uttered an exclamation.
"Find it?" asked Ned.
"Yes, it's in the magneto. All the platinum bearings and contact surfaces have fused and crystallized. I never saw such poor platinum as I've been getting lately, and I pay the highest prices for it, too. The trouble is that the supply of platinum is giving out, and they'll have to find a substitute I guess."
"Can't we go home in her?" asked Ned.
"I'm afraid not. I've got to put in new platinum bearings and contacts before she'll spark. I only wish I could get hold of some of the better kind of metal."
The magneto of an aeroplane performs a service similar to one in an automobile. It provides the spark that explodes the charge of gas in the cylinders, and platinum is a metal, more valuable now than gold, much used in the delicate parts of the magneto.
"Well, I guess it's walk for ours," said Ned ruefully.
"I'm afraid so," went on Tom. "If I only had some platinum, I could—"
"Perhaps I could be of service to you," suddenly spoke a voice behind them, and turning, the youths saw a tall, bearded man, who had evidently come from the lonely house. "Did I hear you say you needed some platinum?" he asked. He spoke with a foreign accent, and Tom at once put him down for a Russian.
"Yes, I need some for my magneto," began the young inventor.
"If you will kindly step up to my house, perhaps I can give you what you want," went on the man. "My name is Ivan Petrofsky, and I have only lately come to live here."
"I'm Tom Swift, of Shopton, and this is my chum, Ned Newton," replied the young inventor, completing the introductions. He was wondering why the man, who seemed a cultured gentleman, should live in such a lonely place, and he was wondering too how he happened to have some platinum.
"Will that answer?" asked Mr. Petrofsky, when they had reached his house, and he had handed Tom several strips of the precious silverlike metal.
"Do? I should say it would! My, but that is the best platinum I've seen in a long while!" exclaimed Tom, who was an expert judge of this metal. "Where did you get it, if I may ask?"
"It came from a lost mine in Siberia," was the unexpected answer.
"A lost mine?" gasped Tom.
"In Siberia?" added Ned.
Mr. Petrofsky slowly nodded his head, and smiled, but rather sadly.
"A lost mine," he said slowly, "and if it could be found I would be the happiest man on earth for I would then be able to locate and save my brother, who is one of the Czar's exiles," and he seemed shaken by emotion.
Tom and Ned stood looking at the bearded man, and then the young inventor glanced at the platinum strips in his hand while a strange and daring thought came to him.
A DARING PROJECT
While Tom and his chum are in the house of the Russian, who so strangely produced the platinum just when it was most needed, I am going to take just a little time to tell you something about the hero of this story. Those who have read the previous books of this series need no introduction to him, but in justice to my new readers I must make a little explanation.
Tom Swift was an inventor, as was his father before him. But Mr. Swift was getting too old, now, to do much, though he had a pet invention—that of a gyroscope—on which he worked from time to time. Tom lived with his father in the village of Shopton, in New York state. His mother was dead, but a housekeeper, named Mrs. Baggert, looked after the wants of the inventors, young and old.
The first book of the series was called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle," and in that I related how Tom bought the machine from a Mr. Wakefield Damon, of Waterford, after the odd gentleman had unintentionally started to climb a tree with it. That disgusted Mr. Damon with motor-cycling, and Tom had lots of fun on the machine, and not a few daring adventures.
He and Mr. Damon became firm friends, and the oddity of the gentleman—mainly that of blessing everything he could think of—was no objection in Tom's mind. The young inventor and Ned Newton went on many trips together, Mr. Damon being one of the party.
In Shopton lived Andy Foger, a bullying sort of a chap, who acted very meanly toward Tom at times. Another resident of the town was a Mr. Nestor, but Tom was more interested in his daughter Mary than in the head of the household. Add Eradicate Sampson, an eccentric colored man who said he got his name because he "eradicated" dirt, and his mule, Boomerang, and I think you have met the principal characters of these stories.
After Tom had much enjoyment out of his motor-cycle, he got a motor boat, and one of his rivals on Lake Carlopa was this same Andy Foger, but our hero vanquished him. Then Tom built an airship, which had been the height of his ambition for some years. He had a stirring cruise in the Red Cloud, and then, deserting the air for the water, Tom and his father built a submarine, in which they went after sunken treasure. In the book, "Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout," I told how, in the speediest car on the road, Tom saved his father's bank from ruin, and in the book dealing with Tom's wireless message I related how he saved the Castaways of Earthquake Island.
When Tom went among the diamond makers, at the request of Mr. Barco Jenks, and discovered the secret of phantom mountain the lad fancied that might be the end of his adventures, but there were more to follow. Going to the caves of ice, his airship was wrecked, but he and his friends managed to get back home, and then it was that the young inventor perfected his sky racer, in which he made the quickest flight on record.
Most startling were his adventures in elephant land whither he went with his electric rifle, and he was the means of saving a missionary, Mr. Illingway and his wife, from the red pygmies.
Tom had not been home from Africa long before he got a letter from this missionary, telling about an underground City in Mexico that was said to be filled with gold. Tom went there, and in the book, entitled, "Tom Swift in the City of Gold," I related his adventures.
How he and his friends were followed by the Fogers, how they eluded them, made their way to the ruined temple in a small dirigible balloon, descended to the secret tunnel, managed to turn aside the underground river, and reach the city of gold with its wonderful gold statues—all this is told in the volume.
Then, after pulling down, in the centre of the underground city, the big golden statue, the door of rock descended, and made our friends prisoners. They almost died, but Andy Foger and his father, in league with some rascally Mexicans and a tribe of head-hunters, finally made their way to the tunnel, and most unexpectedly, released Tom and his friends.
There was a fight, but our hero's party escaped with considerable gold and safely reached Shopton. Now, after a winter spent in work, fixing over an old aeroplane, we again meet Tom.
"Would you mind telling me something about where this platinum comes from, and if you can get any more of it?" asked Tom, after a pause, following the strange statement made by the Russian.
"I will gladly tell you the story," spoke Mr. Petrofsky, "for I am much interested in inventions, and I formerly did something in that line myself, and I have even made a small aeroplane, so you see I know the need of platinum in a high power magneto."
"But where did you get such pure metal?" asked Tom. "I have never seen it's equal."
"There is none like it in all the world," went on the Russian, "and perhaps there never can be any more. I have only a small supply. But in Siberia—in the lost mine—there is a large quantity of it, as pure as this, needing only a little refining.
"Can't we get some from there?" asked the young inventor eagerly. "I should think the Russian government would mine it, and export it."
"They would—if they could find it," said Ivan Petrofsky dryly, "but they can't—no one can find it—and I have tried very hard—so hard, in fact, that it is the reason for my coming to this country—that and the desire to find and aid my brother, who is a Siberian exile."
"This is getting interesting," remarked Ned to Tom in a low voice, and the young inventor nodded.
"My brother Peter, who is younger than I by a few years, and I, are the last of our family," began Mr. Petrofsky, motioning Tom and Ned to take chairs. "We lived in St. Petersburg, and early in life, though we were of the nobility, we took up the cause of the common people."
"Nihilists?" asked Ned eagerly, for he had read something of these desperate men.
"No, and not anarchists," said Mr. Petrofsky with a sad smile. "Our party was opposed to violence, and we depended on education to aid our cause. Then, too, we did all we could in a quiet way to help the poor. My brother and I invented several life-saving and labor-saving machines and in this way we incurred the enmity of the rich contractors and government officials, who made more money the more people they could have working for them, for they made the people buy their food and supplies from them.
"But my brother, and I persisted, with the result that we were both arrested, and, with a number of others were sent to Siberia.
"Of the horrors we endured there I will say nothing. However, you have probably read much. In the country near which we were quartered there were many mines, some of salt and some of sulphur. Oh, the horrors of those mines! Many a poor exile has been lost in the windings of a salt mine, there to die miserably. And in the sulphur mines many die also, not from being lost so much as being overcome by stifling gases. It is terrible! And sometimes they are purposely abandoned by their guides, for the government wants to get rid of certain exiles.
"But you are interested in platinum. One day my brother and I who had been sent to work in the salt mines, mistook a turning and wandered on and on for several miles, finally losing our way. We had food and water with us, or we would have perished, and, as it was, we nearly died before we finally found our way out of an abandoned opening.
"We came out in the midst of a terrible snowstorm, and wandered about almost frozen. At last we were found by a serf who, in his sled, took us to his poor cottage. There we were warmed and fed back to life.
"We knew we would be searched for, as naturally, our absence would lead to the suspicion that we had tried to escape. So as soon as we were able, we started back to the town where we were quartered. The serf wanted to take us in his sled, but we knew he might be suspected of having tried to aid us to get away, and he might be arrested. So we went alone.
"As might have been expected, we became lost again, and wandered about for several days. But we had enough food to keep us alive. And it was during this wandering that I came upon the platinum mine. It was down in a valley, in the midst of a country densely wooded and very desolate. There was an outcropping of the ore, and rather idly I put some of it in my pockets. Then we wandered on, and finally after awful suffering in terrific storms, were found by a searching party and brought back to the barracks."
"Did they think you had escaped?" asked Tom.
"They did," replied the Russian, "and they punished us severely for it, in spite of our denials. In time I managed secretly to smelt the platinum ore, and I found I had some of the purest metal I had ever seen. I was wishing I could find the mine, or tell some of my friends about it, when one of the officers discovered the metal in my bed.
"He demanded to know where I had gotten it, and knowing that refusal would only make it the worse for me I told him. There was considerable excitement, for the value of the discovery was recognized, and a search was at once made for the mine.
"But, even with the aid we were able to give, it could not be located. Many expeditions went out to hunt for it but came back baffled. They could not penetrate that wild country."
"They should have used an aeroplane," suggested Tom.
"They did," replied the Russian quickly, "but it was of no use."
"Why not?" the young inventor wanted to know.
"Because of the terrific winds that almost continually sweep over that part of Siberia. They never seem to cease, and there are treacherous air currents and 'pockets' that engulfed more than one luckless aviator. Oh, you may be sure the Russian government spared no means of finding the lost platinum mine, but they could not locate it, or even get near the place where they supposed it to be.
"Then, perhaps thinking that my brother and I were concealing something, they separated us. Where they sent him I do not know, but I was doomed to the sulphur mines. I was heartbroken, and I scarcely cared whether I lived or died. But an opportunity of escape came, and I took it. I wanted to save my brother, but I did not know where he was, and I thought if I could make my way to some civilized country, or to free America, I might later be able to save my brother.
"I went to England, taking some of my precious platinum with me, and stayed there for two years. I learned your language, but my efforts to organize an expedition to search for the lost mine, and for my brother, failed. Then I came here, and—well, I am still trying."
"My! That is certainly interesting!" exclaimed Ned, who had been all attention during the telling of the story.
"And you certainly had a hard time," declared Tom. "I am much obliged for this platinum. Have you set a price on it? It is worth much more than the ordinary kind."
"The price is nothing to you," replied the Russian, with a smile. "I am only too glad to help you fix your aeroplane. Will it take long? I should like to watch you."
"Come along," invited Tom. "I can soon have it going again, and I'll give you a ride, if you like."
"No, thank you, I'm hardly up to that yet, though I may be some day. The machine I made never flew well and I had several bad falls."
Tom and Ned worked rapidly on the magneto, and soon had replaced the defective bits of platinum.
"If the Russians had such a machine as this maybe they could have gotten to that mine," suggested Ned, who was very proud of Tom's craft.
"It would be useless in the terrific winds, I fear," answered Ivan Petrofsky. "But now I care little for the mine. It is my brother whom I want to save. He must be in some of the Siberian mines, and if I had such a craft as this I might be able to rescue him."
Tom Swift dropped the file he was using. A bright light sparkled in his eyes. He seemed strangely excited.
"Mr. Petrofsky!" he cried, "would you let me have a try at finding your brother, and would you come with me?"
"Would I?" asked the Russian eagerly. "I would be your debtor for life, and I would always pray for you, if you could help me to save my brother Peter."
"Then we'll have a try at it!" cried Tom. "I've got a different airship than this—one in which I can travel three thousand miles without coming down. I haven't had any excitement since I got back from the city of gold. I'm going to Russia to help you rescue your brother from exile, and I'm also going to have a try for that lost platinum treasure!"
"Thank heaven, there is some hope for poor Peter at last," murmured Mr. Petrofsky earnestly.
"You never can get to the platinum mine," said Ned. "The winds will tear your airship to pieces."
"Not the kind I'm going to make," declared Tom. "It's going to be an air glider, that will fairly live on high winds. Ho! for Siberia and the platinum mines. Will you come?"
"I don't know what you mean by an air glider, Tom Swift, but I'll go to help rescue my brother," was the quick answer, and then, with the light of a daring resolve shining in his eyes, the young inventor proceeded to get his aeroplane in shape for the trip back to Shopton.
THE HAND OF THE CZAR
"Then you won't take a ride with me to-day?" asked the young inventor, of the Russian, as he completed the repairs to the magneto. "I'd like to have you meet my father, and a friend of his, Mr. Damon. Most likely he'll go to Siberia with us, if his wife will let him. I'd like to talk some plans over with you."
"I shall certainly call on you," answered Ivan Petrofsky, "but," he added with a smile, "I think I should prefer to take my first ride in your larger airship—the one that doesn't come down so often."
"Well, perhaps it is a little easier on an amateur," admitted Tom. "If you'll come over to our house at any time I'll take you out in it, or I'll call for you."
"I'll come over in a few days," answered the escaped exile. "Then I'll tell you all I know of the locality where the platinum mine is located, and we can make our plans. In the meanwhile don't say anything about what I have told you."
"Why?" asked Ned quickly.
Mr. Petrofsky approached closer to the lads, and in a low voice said:
"I am not sure about it, but of late I think I have been shadowed. I have seen strange men in the village near here and they have eyed me rather suspiciously. Then, too, I have surprised several men around my house. I live here all alone, you know, and do most of my own work, a woman coming in occasionally to clean. But I don't like these suspicious characters hanging about.
"Who do you think they are?" asked Tom
"I'm almost afraid to think, but from my past experience I think—nay, I fear—they may be spies, or agents of the Russian government."
"Spies!" cried Ned.
"Hush. Not so loud," cautioned Mr. Petrofsky. "They may even now be in hiding, especially since your aeroplane landed so near my house. They may see something suspicious even in that."
"But why should the Russian government set spies on you?" asked Tom in a low voice.
"For two reasons. I am an escaped exile, and I am not a citizen of the United States. Therefore I may be sent back to the sulphur mines. And another reason is that they may think I know the secret of the platinum treasure—the lost mine."
"Say this is getting interesting!" exclaimed Tom. "If we are going to have a brush with some of the spies of the Russian government so much the better. I'm ready for 'em!"
"So am I!" added Ned.
"You don't know them," said Mr. Petrofsky, and he could not repress a shudder. "I hope they are not on my trail, but if they are—" he paused a moment, straightened himself up, and looked like what he was, a strong man—"if they are let them look out. I'd give my life to save my brother from the awful, living death to which he is consigned!"
"And we're with you!" cried Tom, offering the Russian his hand. "We'll turn the trick yet. Now don't forget to come and see us. Come along, Ned. If I'm going to build an air glider I've got to get busy." And waving farewells to their new friend, the lads took their places in the aeroplane and were soon on their way to Shopton.
"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Ned of his chum, as they sped along at a good elevation, the engine going at half speed to be less noisy and make talking easier.
"Lots. I think we're in for a good time, an exciting one, anyhow, if what he says is true. But what in the world is an air glider, Tom?"
"It's the last word in aeroplanes. You don't need a motor to make it go."
"Don't need a motor?"
"No, the wind does it all. It's a sort of aeroplane, but the motion comes from the wind, acting on different planes, and this is accomplished by shifting weights. In it you can stand still in a fierce gale, if you like."
"How, by tying her fast on the ground?"
"No, hovering in the air. It's all done by getting the proper balance. The harder the wind blows the better the air glider works, and that's why I think it will be just the thing for Siberia. I'm going to get right at work on it, and you'll help me; won't you?"
"I sure will. Say, is platinum worth much?"
"Worth much? I should say it was! It's got gold beat now, and the available supply is very small, and it's getting more scarce. Russia has several mines, and the metal is of good quality. I've used some Russian platinum, but the kind Mr. Petrofsky gave me to-day was better than the best I ever had. If we can only find that lost mine we'll be millionaires all right."
"That's what we thought when we found the city of gold, but the gold wasn't of as fine a grade as we hoped."
"Well, nothing like that can happen in this platinum deal. It sure is rich ore that Mr. Petrofsky and his brother found. Poor fellow! To think of being an exile in that awful country, not knowing where you may be sent next. No wonder Mr. Petrofsky wants to rescue him."
"That's right. Well, here we are. I wonder what your father will say when he hears you're thinking of another expedition, Tom?"
"Oh, he'll want me to go when he hears about the exile."
"And I'm sure my folks will let me go. How about Mr. Damon?"
"I don't believe we can hold him back. It will make a nice party, just you and I, and Mr. Damon and Mr. Petrofsky. That will leave room for the other Russian—if we can rescue him," and with that Tom shut off the engine and glided to earth.
It may well be imagined that Mr. Swift was surprised when his son told him the latest news, but he did not offer any serious objection to the young inventor going to Siberia.
"Only you must be careful," he said. "Those Russian officers are ugly when it comes to trying to take away any of their prisoners. And this air glider—I don't exactly know about that. It's a new machine, and you want to be sure it works before you trust yourself to it."
"I will," promised Tom. "Say, I've got plenty of work ahead of me,—to get my big airship in shape, and build the glider. You'll have to help me, dad."
"I will, son. Now tell me more about this Mr. Petrofsky." Which Tom did.
The days that followed were indeed busy ones for Tom. The young inventor made a model air glider that sailed fairly well, but he knew it would have to work better to be successful, and he bent all his energies in that direction. Meanwhile Mr. Damon had been told of the prospective trip.
"Bless my bank book! Of course I'll go," he said. "But don't say anything about it to my wife—that is, just yet. I'll bring her around to it gradually. She has always wanted a diamond ring set in platinum, and now I can get it for her. I know she'll let me go if I break it to her gently."
It may be mentioned here that many valuable diamonds are now set in platinum instead of gold.
"I want to keep busy," said Mr. Damon, so Tom set him, Ned and Eradicate at the task of getting the big airship in shape for the trip. This air craft has not figured in any of my previous stories, but as it is so nearly like the one that was crushed in the caves of ice, I will not give a description of it here. Those who care to may refer to the book telling of Tom's trip to the caves of ice for a detailed account of the craft.
Sufficient to say that this latest airship, named the Falcon, was the largest Tom had ever built. It contained much room, many comforts, and could sail for several thousand miles without descending, except in case of accident. It was a combined dirigible balloon and aeroplane, and could be used as either, the necessary gas being made on board. It was large enough to enable the air glider to be taken on it in sections.
It was about a week after their first meeting with him, that Ivan Petrofsky paid a visit to the Swift home. He was warmly welcomed by the aged inventor and Mr. Damon, and, closeted in the library of the house, he proceeded to go more into details of his own and his brother's exile to Siberia, and to tell about the supposed location of the lost platinum mine.
"I don't believe we can start for several weeks yet," said Tom, after some discussion. "It will take me that long to make the glider."
"And I, too, need a little time," said the Russian. "I will write to some friends in St. Petersburg and perhaps they can get some information for us, as to where my brother is.
"That will be good," declared Mr. Damon. "Bless my icicle! But the more I think of this trip the better I like it!"
It was arranged that the Russian should call again soon, when the plans would be nearer in shape, and in the meanwhile he must learn all he could from revolutionary friends in Siberia.
It was a week after this, during which Tom, Ned and the others had been very busy, that Tom decided to take a trip to see their Russian friend. They had not heard from him since his visit, and Tom wanted to learn something about the strength of the Siberian winds.
He and Ned went in one of the small airships and soon they were hovering over the grounds surrounding the lonely house where Ivan Petrofsky lived.
"He doesn't seem to be at home," remarked Ned, as they descended and approached the dwelling.
"No, and it looks quite deserted," agreed the young inventor. "Say, all the doors are open, too! He shouldn't go away and leave his house open like that—with the valuable platinum there."
"Maybe he's asleep," suggested Ned.
They knocked on the opened door, but there was no answer. Then they went inside. To their surprise the house was in confusion. Furniture was overturned, tables and chairs were broken, and papers were scattered about the room.
"There's been a fight here!" cried Tom.
"That's right," agreed Ned. "Maybe he's been hurt—maybe burglars came for the platinum!"
"Come on!" cried Tom, making a dash for the stairs. "We'll see if he's here."
The house was small, and it took but a moment to show that Mr. Petrofsky was not there. Upstairs, as below, was the same confusion—the overturned furniture and the papers scattered about.
Tom stooped and picked up a scrap that looked like a piece torn from a letter. On top was a seal—the black seal of Russia—the imperial arms of the Czar!
"Look!" cried Tom, holding out the paper.
"What is it?" asked Ned.
"The hand of the Czar!" answered his chum. "It has reached out from Russia, and taken Mr. Petrofsky away!"
For a moment Ned could scarcely understand what Tom meant. It scarcely seemed possible that such a thing could happen. That some one in far-off Russia—be it the Czar or one of the secret police—could operate from such a distance, seeking out a man in an obscure house in a little American village, and snatching him away.
"It isn't possible!" declared Ned breathlessly.
"What difference does that make?" asked Tom. "The thing has happened, and you can't get out of it. Look at all the evidence—there's been a fight, that's sure, and Mr. Petrofsky is gone."
"But maybe he went away of his own accord," insisted Ned, who was sometimes hard to convince.
"Nonsense! If a man went away of his own accord would he smash up his furniture, leave his papers scattered all about and go off leaving the doors and windows open for any one to walk in? I guess not."
"Well, maybe you're right. But think of it! This isn't Russia!"
"No, but he's a Russian subject, and, by his own confession an escaped exile. If he was arrested in the usual way he could be taken back, and our government couldn't interfere. He's been taken back all right. Poor man! Think of being doomed to those sulphur mines again, and as he escaped they'll probably make it all the harder for him!"
"But I thought our government wouldn't help other nations to get back prisoners convicted of political crimes," suggested Ned. "That's all Mr. Petrofsky was guilty of—politics, trying to help the poor in his own country. It's a shame if our government stands for anything like that!"
"That's just the point!" exclaimed Tom. "Probably the spies, secret police, or whoever the Russian agents were, didn't ask any help from our government. If they did there might be a chance for him. But likely they worked in secret. They came here, sneaked in on him, and took him away before he could get help. Jove! If he could only have gotten word to me I'd have come in the airship, and then there'd be a different ending to this."
"I guess you're right, Tom. Well, that ends it I suppose."
"Our trip to the platinum mine."
"Not a bit of it. I'm going to have a hunt for it."
"But how can you when Mr. Petrofsky can't go along to show us the way? Besides, we wanted to help rescue his brother, and now we can't."
"Well, I'm going to make a big try," declared the young inventor firmly. "And the first thing I'm going to do is to get our friend out of the clutches of the Russian police."
"You are? How?"
"I'm going to make a search for him. Look here, Ned, he must have been taken away some time to-day—perhaps only a few hours ago—and they can't have gone far with him."
"How do you make that out?" Ned wanted to know.
"Well, I guess I'm detective enough for that," and Tom smiled. "Look here, the doors and windows are open. Now it rained last night, and there was quite a wind. If the windows had been open in the storm there'd be some traces of moisture in the rooms. But there isn't a drop. Consequently the windows have been opened since last night."
"Say, that's so!" cried Ned admiringly.
"But that's not all," went on Tom. "Here's a bottle of milk on the table, and it's fresh," which he proved by tasting it. "Now that was left by the milkman either late last night or early this morning. I don't believe it's over twelve hours old."
"Well, what does this mean?" asked Ned, who couldn't quite follow Tom's line of reasoning.
"To my mind it means that the spies were here no later than this morning. Look at the table upset, the dishes on the floor. Here's one with oatmeal in it, and you know how hard and firm cooked oatmeal gets after it stands a bit. This is quite fresh, and soft, and—"
"And that means—" interrupted Ned, who was in turn interrupted by Tom, who exclaimed:
"It means that Mr. Petrofsky was at breakfast when they burst in on him, and took him away. They had hard work overpowering him, I'll wager, for he could put up a pretty good fight. And the broken furniture is evidence of that. Then the spies, after tying him up, or putting him in a carriage, searched the house for incriminating papers. That's as plain as the nose on your face. Then the police agents, or whoever they were, skipped out in a hurry, not taking the trouble to close the windows and doors."
"I believe it did happen that way," agreed Ned, who clearly saw what Tom meant. "But what can we do? How can we find him?"
"By getting on the trail," answered his chum quickly. "There may be more clews in the house, and I'm sure there'll be some out of doors, for they must have left footprints or the marks of carriage wheels. We'll take a look, and then we'll get right on the search. I'm not going to let them take Mr. Petrofsky to Russia if I can help it. I want to get after that platinum, and he's the only one who can pilot us anywhere near the place; and besides, there's his brother we've got to rescue. We'll make a search for the exile."
"I'm with you!" cried Ned. "Jove! Wouldn't it be great if we could rescue him? They can't have gotten very far with him."
"I'm afraid they have quite a start on us," admitted Tom with a dubious shake of his head, "but as long as they're in the United States we have a chance. If ever they get him on Russian soil it's all up with him."
"Come on then!" cried Ned. "Let's get busy. What's the first thing to do?"
"Look for clews," replied Tom. "We'll begin at the top of the house and work down. It's lucky we came when we did, for every minute counts."
Then the two plucky lads began their search for the kidnapped Russian exile. Had those who took him away seen the mere youths who thus devoted themselves to the task, they might have laughed in contempt, but those who know Tom Swift and his sturdy chum, know that two more resourceful and brave lads would be hard to find.
A CLEW FROM RUSSIA
"Nothing much up here," remarked Tom, when he and Ned had gone all over the second floor twice. "That scrap of paper, which put me on to the fact that some one from the Russian government had been here, is about all. They must have taken all the documents Mr. Petrofsky had."
"Maybe he didn't have any," suggested Ned.
"If he was wise he'd get rid of them when he knew he was being shadowed, as he told us. Perhaps that was why they broke up the furniture, searching for hidden papers, or they may have done it out of spite because they didn't find anything. But we might as well go downstairs and look there."
But the first floor was equally unproductive of clews, save those already noted, which showed, at least so Tom believed, that Mr. Petrofsky had been surprised and overpowered while at breakfast.
"Now for outside!" cried the young inventor. "We'll see if we can figure out how they got him away."
There were plenty of marks in the soft ground and turf, which was still damp from the night's rain, though it was now afternoon. Unfortunately, however, in approaching the house after leaving the aeroplane, Ned and Tom had not thought to exercise caution, and, not suspecting anything wrong, they had stepped on a number of footprints left by the kidnappers.
But for all that, they saw enough to convince them that several men had been at the lonely house, for there were many marks of shoes. It was out of the question, however, to tell which were those of Mr. Petrofsky and which those of his captors.
"They might have carried him out to a carriage they had in waiting," suggested Ned. "Let's go out to the front gate and look in the road. They hardly would bring the carriage up to the door."
"Good idea," commented Tom, and they hurried to the main thoroughfare that passed the Russian's house.
"Here they are!" cried Ned, Who was in the lead. "There's been a carriage here as sure as you're a foot high and it's a rubber-tired one too."
"GOOD!" cried Tom admiringly. "You're coming right along in your detective training. How do you make that out?"
"See here, where a piece of rubber has been broken or cut out of the tire. It makes a peculiar mark in the dirt every time the wheel goes around."
"That's right, and it will be a good thing to trace the carriage by. Come on, we'll keep right after it."
"Hold on a bit," suggested Ned, who, though not so quick as Tom Swift, frequently produced good results by his very slowness. "Are you going off and leave the airship here for some one to walk off with?"
"Guess they wouldn't take it far," replied the young inventor, "but I'd better make it safe. I'll disconnect it so they can't start it, though if Andy Foger happens to come along he might slash the planes just out of spite. But I guess he won't show up."
Tom took a connecting pin out of the electrical apparatus, making it impossible to start the aeroplane, and then, wheeling it out of sight behind a small barn, he and Ned went back to the carriage marks in the road.
"Hurry!" urged Tom, as he started off in the direction of the village of Hurdtown, near where the cottage stood. "We will ask people living along the highway if they've seen a carriage pass."
"But what makes you think they went off that way?" asked Ned. "I should think they'd head away from the village, so as not to be seen."
"No, I don't agree with you. But wait, we'll look at the marks. Maybe that will help us."
Peering carefully at the marks of horses' hoofs and the wheel impressions, Tom uttered a cry of discovery.
"I have it!" he declared. "The carriage came from the village, and kept right on the other way. You're right, Ned. They didn't go back to town.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course. You can see for yourself; if the carriage had turned around the track would show, but it doesn't and, even if they turned on the grass, there'd be two lines of marks—one coming out here and one returning. As it is there is only a single set—just as if the carriage drove up here, took on its load, and continued on. This way, Ned."
They hurried down the road, and soon came to a cluster of farm houses. Inquiries there, however, failed to bring anything to light, for either the occupants of the house had failed to notice passing vehicles, or there had been so many that any particular carriage was not recalled. And there were now so many impressions in the soft dirt of the highway—so many wheel tracks and hoof imprints—that it was impossible to pick out those of the carriage with the cut rubber tire. "Well, I guess it isn't of much use to go on any farther," spoke Ned, when they had traveled several miles and had learned nothing.
"We'll try one more house, and then go back," agreed Tom. "We'll tell dad about what's happened, and see what he says."
"Carriage?" repeated an old farmer to whom they next put the question. "Wa'al, now, come t' think of it, I did see one drivin' along here early this morning. It had rubber tires on too, for I recollect remarkin' t' myself that it didn't make much noise. Had t' talk t' myself," he added in explanation, "'cause nobody else in the family was up, 'ceptin' th' dog."
"Did the carriage have some Russians in it?" asked Tom eagerly, "and was one a big bearded man?"
"Wa'al, now you've got me," admitted the farmer frankly. "It was quite early you see, and I didn't take no particular notice. I got up early t' do my milkin' 'cause I have t' take it t' th' cheese factory. That's th' reason nobody was up but me. But I see this carriage comin' down th' road, and thinks I t' myself it was pretty middlin' early fer anybody t' be takin' a pleasure ride. I 'lowed it were a pleasure ride, 'cause it were one of them hacks that folks don't usually use 'ceptin' fer a weddin', or a funeral, an' it wa'n't no funeral."
"Then you can't tell us anything more except that it passed?" asked Ned.
"No, I couldn't see inside, 'cause it was rather dark at that hour, and then, too, I noticed that they had th' window shades down."
"That's suspicious!" exclaimed Tom. "I believe they are the fellows we re after," and, without giving any particulars he said that they were looking for a friend who might have been taken away against his will.
"Could you tell where they were going?" asked Tom, scarcely hoping to get an affirmative answer.
"Wa'al, th' man on th' seat pulled up when he see me," spoke the farmer with exasperating slowness, "an' asked me how far it was t' th' Waterville station, an' I told him."
"Why didn't you say so at first?" asked Tom quickly. "Why didn't you tell us they were heading for the railroad?"
"You didn't ask me," replied the farmer. "What difference does it make."
"Every minute counts!" exclaimed the young inventor. "We want to keep right after those fellows. Maybe the agent can tell us where they bought tickets to, and we can trace them that way.
"Shouldn't wonder," commented the farmer. "There ain't many trains out from Waterville at that time of day, an' mighty few passengers. Shouldn't wonder but Jake Applesauer could put ye on th' trail."
"Much obliged," called Tom. "Come on, Ned," and he started back in the direction of the house where the kidnapping had taken place.
"That ain't th' way t' 'vaterville!" the farmer shouted after them.
"I know it, we're going to get our airship," answered Tom, and then he heard the farmer mutter.
"Plumb crazy! That's what they be! Plumb crazy! Going after their airship! Shouldn't wonder but they was escaped lunatics, and the other fellers was keepers after 'em. Hu! Wa'al, I've got my work to do. 'Tain't none of my affair."
"Let him think what he likes," commented Ned as he and his chum hurried on. "We're on the trail all right."
If Jake Applesauer, the agent at the Waterville station, was surprised at seeing two youths drop down out of an aeroplane, and begin questioning him about some suspicious strangers that had taken the morning train, he did not show it. Jake prided himself on not being surprised at anything, except once when he took a counterfeit dollar in return for a ticket, and had to make it good to the company.
But, to the despair of Tom and Ned, he could not help them much. He had seen the party, of course. They had driven up in the hack, and one of the men seemed to be sick, or hurt, for his head was done up in bandages, and the others had to half carry him on the train.
"That was Mr. Petrofsky all right," declared Ned.
"Sure," assented Tom. "They must have hurt and drugged him. But you can't tell us for what station they bought tickets, Mr. Applesauer?"
"No, for they didn't buy any. They must have had 'em, or else they paid on the train. One man drove off in the coach, and that's all I know."
As Tom and Ned started back to Shopton in the aeroplane they discussed what could be done next. A hard task lay before them, and they realized that.
"They could have gotten off at any station between here and New York, or even changed to another railroad at the junction," spoke Tom. "It's going to be a hard job."
"Guess we'll have to get some regular detectives on it," suggested Ned.
"And that's what I'll do," declared the young inventor. "They may be able to locate Mr. Petrofsky before those spies take him out of this country. If they don't—it will be too late. I'm going to talk to dad about it, and if he agrees I'll hire the best private detectives."
Mr. Swift gave his consent when Tom had told the story, and, a day later, one of the best detectives of a well known agency called on Tom in Shopton and assumed charge of the case.
The early reports from the detective were quite reassuring. He got on the trail of the men who had taken Mr. Petrofsky away, and confirmed the suspicion that they were agents of the Russian police. He trailed them as far as New York, and there the clews came to an end.
"Whether they are in the big city, which might easily be, or in some of the nearby towns, will take some time to learn," the detective wrote, and Tom wired back telling him to keep on searching.
But, as several weeks went by, and no word came, even Tom began to give up hope, though he did not stop work on the air glider, which was nearing completion. And then, most unexpectedly a clew came—a clew from far-off Russia.
Tom got a letter one day—a letter in a strange hand, the stamp and postmark showing that it had come from the land of the Czar.
"What do you suppose it contains?" asked Ned, who was with his chum when the communication was received.
"Haven't the least idea; but I'll soon find out."
"Maybe it's from the Russian police, telling you to keep away from Siberia."
"Maybe," answered Tom absently, for he was reading the missive. "I say!" he suddenly cried. "This is great! A clew at last, and from St. Petersburg! Listen to this, Ned!
"This letter is from the head of one of the secret societies over there, a society that works against the government. It says that Mr. Petrofsky is being detained a prisoner in a lonely hut on the Atlantic sea coast, not far from New York—Sandy Hook the letter says—and here are the very directions how to get there!"
"No!" cried Ned, in disbelief. "How in the world could anybody in Russia know that."
"It tells here," said Tom. "It's all explained. As soon as the secret police got Mr. Petrofsky they communicated with the head officials in St. Petersburg. You know nearly everyone is a spy over there, and the letter says that Mr. Petrofsky's friends there soon heard the news, and even about the exact place where he is being held."
"What are they holding him for?" asked Ned.
"That's explained, too. It seems they can't legally take him back until certain papers are received from his former prison in Siberia, and those are now on the way. His friends write to me to hasten and rescue him."
"But how did they ever get your address?"
"That's easy, though you wouldn't think so. It seems, so the letter explains, that as soon as Mr. Petrofsky got acquainted with us he wrote to friends in St. Petersburg, giving my address, and telling them, in case anything ever happened to him, to notify us. You see he suspected that something might, after he found he was being shadowed that way.
"And it all worked out. As soon as his friends heard that he was caught, and learned where he was being held, they wrote to me. Hurrah, Ned! A clew at last! Now to wire the detective—no, hold on, we'll go there and rescue him ourselves! We'll go in the airship, and pick up Detective Trivett in New York."
"That's the stuff! I'm with you!"
"Bless my suspender buttons! So am I, whatever it is!" cried Mr. Damon, entering the room at that moment.
RESCUING MR. PETROFSKY
"We ought to be somewhere near the place now, Tom."
"I think we are, Ned. But you know I'm not going too close in this airship."
"Bless my silk hat!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I hope we don't have to walk very far in such a deserted country as this, Tom Swift."
"We'll have to walk a little way, Mr. Damon," replied the young inventor. "If I go too close to the hut they'll see the airship, and as those spies probably know that Mr. Petrofsky has been dealing with me, They'd smell a rat at once, and run away, taking him with them, and we'd have all our work to do over again."
"That's right," agreed Detective Trivett, who was one of the four in the airship that was now hovering over the Atlantic coast, about ten miles below the summer resorts of which Asbury Park was one.
It was only a few hours after Tom had received the letter from Russia informing him of the whereabouts of the kidnapped Russian, and he had acted at once.
His father sanctioned the plan of going to the rescue in one of Tom's several airships and, Mr. Damon, having been on hand, at once agreed to go. Of course Ned went along, and they had picked up the private detective in New York, where he was vainly seeking a clew to the whereabouts of Mr. Petrofsky.
Now the young inventor and his friends were hovering over the sandy stretch of coast that extends from Sandy Hook down the Atlantic seaboard. They were looking for a small fishing hamlet on the outskirts of which, so the Russian letter stated, was situated the lonely hut in which Mr. Petrofsky was held a prisoner.
"Do you think you can pick it out from a distance, Tom?" asked Mr. Damon, as the airship floated slowly along. It was not the big one they intended taking on their trip to Siberia, but it was sufficiently large to accommodate the four and leave room for Mr. Petrofsky, should they succeed in rescuing him.
"I think so," answered the young inventor.
In the letter from Russia a comparatively accurate description of the prisoner's hut had been given, and also some details about his guards. For there is little goes on in political circles in the realm of the Czar that is not known either to the spies of the government or those of the opposition, and the latter had furnished Tom with reliable information.
"That looks like the place," said Tom at length, when, after peering steadily through a powerful telescope, during which time Ned steered the ship, the young inventor "picked up" a fishing settlement. "There is the big fish house, spoken of in the letter," he went on, "and the Russians know a lot about fish. That house makes a good landmark. We'll go down now, before they have a chance to see us."
The others thought this a good idea, and a little later the airship sank to the ground amid a lonely stretch of sand dunes, about two miles from the hamlet on the outskirts of which the prison hut was said to be located.
"Now," said Tom, "we've got to decide on a plan of Campaign. It won't do for all of us to go to the hut and make the rescue. Some one has got to stay with the airship, to be ready to start it off as soon as we come back with Mr. Petrofsky—if we do come.
"Then there's no use in me staying here," spoke Detective Trivett. "I don't know enough even to turn on the gasolene."
"No, it's got to be Ned or me," said the young inventor.
"I'll stay," volunteered Ned quickly, for though he would very much have liked to be in at the rescue, he realized that his place was in the airship, as Mr. Damon was not sufficiently familiar with the machinery to operate it.
Accordingly, after looking to everything to see that it was in working order, Tom led the advance. It was just getting dusk, and they figured on getting to the hut after dark.
"Have everything ready for a quick start," Tom said to Ned, "for we may come back running."
"I will," was the prompt answer, and then, getting their bearings, the little party set off.
They had to travel over a stretch of sandy waste that ran along the beach. Back in shore were a few scattered cottages, and not yet opened for the summer, and on the ocean side was the pounding surf. The hut, as Tom recalled the directions, lay just beyond a group of stunted hemlock trees that set a little way hack from the ocean, on a bluff overlooking the sea. It was not near any other building.
Slowly, and avoiding going any nearer the other houses than they could help, the little party made its way. They had to depend on their own judgement now, for the minor details of the location of the hut could not be given in the letter from Russia. In fact the spies themselves, in writing to their head officers about the matter, had not described the location in detail.
"That looks like it over there," said Tom at last, when they had gone about a mile and a half, and saw a lonely hut with a light burning in it.
Cautiously they approached and, as they drew nearer, they saw that the light came through the window of a small hut.
"Looks like the place," commented the detective.
"We'll have a look," remarked Tom.
He crept up so he could glance in the window, and no sooner had he peered in, than he motioned for the others to approach.
Looking under a partly-drawn curtain, Mr. Damon and Mr. Trivett saw the Russian whom they sought. He was seated at a table, his head bowed on his hands, and in the room were three men. A rifle stood in one corner, near one of the guards.
"They're taking no chances," whispered Mr. Damon. "What shall we do, Tom?"
"It's three to three," replied the young inventor. "But if we can get him away without a fight, so much the better. I think I have it. I'll go up to the door, knock and make quite a racket, and demand admittance in the name of the Czar. That will startle them, and they may all three rush to answer. Mr. Damon, you and the detective will stay by the window. As soon as you see the men rush for the door, smash in the window with a piece of driftwood and call to Mr. Petrofsky to jump out that way. Then you can run with him toward the airship, and I'll follow. It may work."
"I don't see why it wouldn't," declared the detective. "Go ahead, Tom. We're ready."
Looking in once more, to make sure that the guards were not aware of the presence of the rescuing party, Tom went to the front door of the hut. It was a small building, evidently one used by fishermen.
Tom knocked loudly on the portal, at the same time crying out in a voice that he strove to make as deep and menacing as possible:
"Open! Open in the name of the Czar!"
Looking through the window, ready to act on the instant, Mr. Damon and the detective saw the three guards spring to their feet. One remained near Mr. Petrofsky, who also leaped up.
"Now!" called the detective to his companion. "Smash the window!"
The next instant a big piece of driftwood crashed through the casement, just as the two men were hurrying to the front door to answer Tom's summons.
"Mr. Petrofsky! This way!" yelled Mr. Damon, sticking his head in through the broken sash. "Come out! We've come to save you! Bless my putty blower, but this is great! Come on!"
For a moment the exile stared at the head thrust through the broken window, and he listened to Tom's emphatic knocks and demands. Then with a cry of delight the Russian sprang for the open casement, while the guard that had remained near him made a leap to catch him, crying out:
"Betrayed! Betrayed! It's the Nihilists! Look out, comrades!"
THE AIR GLIDER
Mr. Damon continued to hammer away at the window sash with the piece of driftwood. There were splinters of the frame and jagged pieces of glass sticking out, making it dangerous for the exile to slip through.
"Come on! Come on!" the eccentric man continued to call. "Bless my safety valve! We'll save you! Come on!"
Mr. Petrofsky was leaping across the room, just ahead of the one guard. The other two were at the open door now, through which Tom could be seen. Then the spies, realizing in an instant that they had been deceived, made a dash after their comrade, who had his hand on the tails of the exile's coat.
"Break away! Break loose!" cried Mr. Damon, who, by this time had cleared the window so a person could get through. "Don't let them hold you!"
"I don't intend to!" retorted Mr. Petrofsky, and he swerved suddenly, tearing his coat, from the grasp of the guard.
In another instant the exile was at the casement, and was being helped through by Mr. Damon, and there was need of it, for the three guards were there now, doing their best to keep their prisoner.
"Pull away! Pull away!" cried Mr. Damon.
"We'll help you!" shouted Tom, who, now that his trick had worked, had sped around to the other side of the hut.
"Don't be afraid, we're with you!" exclaimed the detective, who was with the young inventor.
"Grab him! Keep him! Hold him!" fairly screamed the rearmost of the three guards. "It is a plot of the Nihilists to rescue him. Shoot him, comrades. He must not get away!"
"Don't you try any of your shooting games, or I'll take a hand in it!" shouted the detective, and, at the same moment he drew his revolver and fired harmlessly in the air.
"A bomb! A bomb!", yelled the guards in terror.
"Not yet, but there may be!" murmured Tom. The firing of the shot produced a good effect, for the three men who were trying to detain Ivan Petrofsky at once fell back from the window and gave him just the chance needed. He scrambled through, with the aid of Mr. Damon, and before the guards could again spring at him, which they did when the echoes of the shot had died away. They had realized, too late, that it was not a bomb, and that there was no immediate danger for them.
"Come on!" cried Tom. "Make for the airship! We've got to get the start of them!"
Leading the way, he sprinted toward the road that led to the place where the airship awaited them. He was followed by Mr. Damon and the detective, who had Mr. Petrofsky between them.
"Are you all right?" Tom called back to the exile. "Are you hurt? Can you run?"
"I'm all right," was the reassuring answer. "Go ahead; But they'll be right after us."
"Maybe they'll stop when they see this," remarked the detective significantly, and he held his revolver so that the rays of the newly-risen moon glinted on it.
"Here they come!" cried Tom a moment later, as three figures, one after the other, came around the corner of the house. They had not taken the shorter route through the window, as had Mr. Petrofsky, and this gained a little time for our friends.
"Stop! Hold on!" cried one of the guards in fairly good English. "That is our prisoner."
"Not any more!" the young inventor yelled back. "He's ours now."
"Look out! They're going to shoot!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my gunpowder! can't you stop them some way or other, Mr. Detective?"
"The only way is by firing first," answered Mr. Trivett, "and I don't want to hurt them. Guess I'll fire in the air again."
He did, and the guards halted. They seemed to be holding a consultation, as Tom learned by glancing hastily back, and he caught the glisten of some weapon. But if the three men had any notion of firing they gave it up, and once more came on running. Doubtless they had orders to get their prisoner back to Russia alive, and did not want to take any chances of hitting him.
"Leg it!" cried Tom. "Leg it!"
He was well ahead, and wanted the others to catch up to him, but none of the men was a good runner, and Mr. Petrofsky, by reason of being rather heavily built, was worse than the other two, so they had to accommodate their pace to his.
"I wonder if we can make it," mused Tom, as he realized that the airship was a good distance off yet the guards, though quite a way in the rear now were coming on fast. "It's going to be a close race," thought the young inventor. "I wish we'd brought the airship a little nearer."
It was indeed a race now, for the guards, seeming to know that they would not be shot at, were coming on more confidently, and were rapidly lessening the distance that separated them from their recent prisoner.
"We've got to go faster!" cried Tom.
"Bless my shoe leather!" yelled Mr. Damon. "I can't go any faster."
Still he did make the attempt, and so did the exile and the detective. Little was said now, for each of the parties was running a dogged race, and in silence. They had gone possibly half a mile, and the first advantage of Tom and his friends was rapidly being lost, when suddenly there sounded in the air above a curious throbbing noise.
"Bless my gasolene! What's that?" cried Mr. Damon.
"The airship! It's the airship!" yelled Tom, as he saw a great dark shape slowly approaching. "Ned is bringing her to met us."
"Good!" cried the detective. "We need it I'm about winded!"
"This way, Ned! This way!" cried Tom, and, an instant later, they were in the midst of a brilliant glow, for Ned had turned the current into the great searchlight on the bow of the air craft, and the beams were focused on our friends. Ned could now see the refugees, and in a moment he sent the graceful craft down, bringing it to a halt on the ground near Tom.
"In with you!" cried the lad. "She's all ready to start up again!"
"Come on!" yelled Tom to the others. "We're all right now, if you hustle!"
"Bless my pin cushion!" gasped Mr. Damon, making a final spurt.
The three guards had halted in confusion on seeing the big, black bulk of the airship, and when they noted the gleaming of the searchlight they must have realized that their chances were gone. They made a rush, however, but it was too late. Over the side of the craft scrambled Tom, Mr. Damon, the detective and Ivan Petrofsky, and an instant later Ned had sent it aloft. The race was over, and the young inventor and his friends had won.
"You're the stuff!" cried Tom to Ned, as he went with his chum to the pilot house to direct the progress of the airship. "It's lucky you came for us. We never could have made the distance. We left the ship too far off."
"That's what I thought after you'd gone," replied his chum. "So I decided to come and meet you. I had to go slowly so as not to pass you in the darkness."
They were speeding off now, and Ned, turning the beams of the great searchlight below them, picked up the three guards who were gazing helplessly aloft after their fast disappearing prisoner.
"You're having your first ride in an airship, Mr. Petrofsky," remarked Tom, when they had gone on for some little distance. "How do you like it?"
"I'm so excited I hardly know, but it's quite a sensation. But how in the world did you ever find me to rescue me?"
Then they told the story of their search, and the unexpected clew from Russia. In turn the exile told how he had been attacked at the breakfast table one morning by the three spies—the very men who had been shadowing him—and taken away secretly, being drugged to prevent his calling for help. He had been kept a close prisoner in the lonely hut, and each day he had expected to be taken back to serve out his sentence in Siberia.
"Another day would have been too late," he told Tom, when he had thanked the young inventor over and over again, "for the papers would have arrived, and the last obstacle to taking me back to Russia would have been removed. They dared not take me out of the United States without official documents, and they would have been forged ones, for they intended trumping up a criminal charge against me, the political one not being strong enough to allow them to extradite me."
"Well I'm glad we got you," said Tom heartily. "We will soon be ready to start for Siberia."
"In this kind of a craft?"
"Yes, only much larger. You'll like it. I only hope my air glider works."
By putting on speed, Tom was able to reach Shopton before midnight, and there was quite an informal celebration in the Swift homestead over the rescue of the exile. The detective, for whom there was no further need, was paid off, and Mr. Petrofsky was made a member of the household.
"You'd better stay here until we are ready to start," Tom said, "and then we can keep an eye on you. We need you to show us as nearly as possible where the platinum field is."
"All right," agreed the Russian with a laugh. "I'm sure I'll do all I can for you, and you are certainly treating me very nicely after what I suffered from my captors."
Tom resumed work on his air glider the next day, and he had an additional helper, for Mr. Petrofsky proved to be a good mechanic.
In brief, the air glider was like an aeroplane save that it had no motor. It was raised by a strong wind blowing against transverse planes, and once aloft was held there by the force of the air currents, just like a box kite is kept up. To make it progress either with or against the wind, there were horizontal and vertical rudders, and sliding weights, by which the equilibrium could be shifted so as to raise or lower it. While it could not exactly move directly against the wind it could progress in a direction contrary to which the gale was blowing, somewhat as a sailing ship "tacks."
And, as has been explained, the harder the wind blew the better the air glider worked. In fact unless there was a strong gale it would not go up.
"But it will be just what is needed out there in that part of Siberia," declared the exile, "for there the wind is never quiet. Often it blows a regular hurricane."
"That's what we want!" cried Tom. He had made several models of the air glider, changing them as he found out his errors, and at last he had hit on the right shape and size.
Midway of the big glider, on which work was now well started, there was to be an enclosed car for the carrying of passengers, their food and supplies. Tom figured on carrying five or six.
For several weeks the work on the air glider progressed rapidly, and it was nearing completion. Meanwhile nothing more had been heard or seen of the Russian spies.
"Well," announced Tom one night, after a day's hard work, "we'll be ready for a trial now, just as soon as there comes a good wind."
"Is it all finished?" asked Ned.
"No, but enough for a trial spin. What I want is a big wind now."
IN A GREAT GALE
There was a humming in the air. The telegraph wires that ran along on high poles past the house of Tom Swift sung a song like that of an Aeolian harp. The very house seemed to tremble.
"Jove! This is a wind!" cried Tom as he awakened on a morning a few days after his air glider was nearly completed. "I never saw it so strong. This ought to be just what I want I must telephone to Mr. Damon and to Ned."
He hustled into his clothes, pausing now and then to look out of his window and note the effects of the gale. It was a tremendous wind, as was evidenced by the limbs of several trees being broken off, while in some cases frail trees themselves had been snapped in twain.
"Coffee ready, Mrs. Baggert?" asked our hero as he went downstairs. "I haven't got time to eat much though."
In spite of his haste Tom ate a good breakfast and then, having telephoned to his two friends, and receiving their promises to come right over, our hero went out to make a few adjustments to his air glider, to get it in shape for the trial.
He was a little worried lest the wind die out, but when he got outside he noted with satisfaction that the gale was stronger than at first. In fact it did considerable damage in Shopton, as Tom learned later.
It certainly was a strong wind. An ordinary aeroplane never could have sailed in it, and Tom was doubtful of the ability of even his big airship to navigate in it. But he was not going to try that.
"And maybe my air glider won't work," he remarked to himself as he was on his way to the shed where it had been constructed. "The models went up all right, but maybe the big one isn't proportioned right. However, I'll soon see."
He was busy adjusting the balancing weights when Ned Newton came in.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed the lad, as he labored to close the shed door, "this is a blow all right, Tom! Do you think it's safe to go up?"
"I can't go up without a gale, Ned."
"Well, I'd think twice about it myself."
"Why, I counted on you going up with me."
"Burr-r-r-r!" and Ned pretended to shiver. "I haven't an accident insurance policy you know."
"You won't need it, Ned. If we get up at all we'll be all right. Catch hold there, and shift that rear weight a little forward on the rod. I expect Mr. Damon soon."
The eccentric man came in a little later, just as Tom and Ned had finished adjusting the mechanism.
"Bless my socks!" cried Mr. Damon. "Do you really mean to go up to-day, Tom?"
"I sure do! Why, aren't you going with me?" and Tom winked at Ned.
"Bless my—" began Mr. Damon, and then, evidently realizing that he was being tested he exclaimed: "Well, I will go, Tom! If the air glider is any good it ought to hold me. I will go up."
"Now, Ned, how about you?" asked the young inventor.
"Well, I guess it's up to me to come along, but I sure do wish it was over with," and Ned glanced out of the window to see if the gale was dying out. But the wind was as high as ever.
It was hard work getting the air glider out of the shed, and in position on top of a hill, about a quarter of a mile away, for Tom intended "taking off" from the mound, as he could not get a running start without a motor. The wind, however, he hoped, would raise him and the strange craft.
In order to get it over the ground without having it capsize, or elevate before they were ready for it, drag ropes, attached to bags of sand were used, and once these were attached the four found that they could not wheel the air glider along on its bicycle wheels.
"We'll have to get Eradicate and his mule, I guess," said Tom, after a vain endeavor to make progress against the wind. "When it's up in the air it will be all right, but until then I'll need help to move it. Ned, call Rad, will you?"
The colored man, with Boomerang, his faithful mule, was soon on hand. The animal was hitched to the glider, and pulled it toward the hill.
"Now to see what happens," remarked Tom as he wheeled his latest invention around where the wind would take it as soon as the restraining ropes were cast off, for it was now held in place by several heavy cables fastened to stakes driven in the ground.
Tom gave a last careful look to the weights, planes and rudders. He glanced at a small anemometer or wind gage, on the craft, and noted that it registered sixty miles an hour.
"That ought to do," he remarked. "Now who's going up with me? Will you take a chance, Mr. Petrofsky?"
"I'd rather not—at first."
"Come on then, Ned and Mr. Damon. Mr. Petrofsky and Rad can cast off the ropes."
The wind, if anything, was stronger than ever. It was a terrific gale, and just what was needed. But how would the air glider act? That was what Tom wanted very much to know.
"Cast off!" he cried to the Russian and Eradicate, and they slipped the ropes.
The next moment, with a rush and whizzing roar, the air glider shot aloft on the wings of the wind.
"We're certainly going up!" yelled Ned, as he sat beside Tom in the cabin of the air glider.
"That's right!" agreed the young inventor rather proudly, as he grasped two levers, one of which steered the craft, the other being used to shift the weights. "We're going up. I was pretty sure of that. The next thing is to see if it will remain stationary in the air, and answer the rudder."
"Bless my top knot!" cried Mr. Damon. "You don't mean to tell me you can stand still in a gale of wind, Tom Swift."
"That's exactly what I do mean. You can't do it in an aeroplane, for that depends on motion to keep itself up in the air. But the glider is different. That's one of its specialties, remaining still, and that's why it will be valuable if we ever get to Siberia. We can hover over a certain spot in a gale of wind, and search about below with telescopes for a sign of the lost platinum mine.
"How high are you going up?" demanded Ned, for the air glider was still mounting upward on a slant. If you' ever scaled a flat piece of tin, or a stone, you'll remember how it seems to slide up a hill of air, when it was thrown at the right angle. It was just this way with the air glider—it was mounting upward on a slant.
"I'm going up a couple of hundred feet at least," answered Tom, "and higher if the gale-strata is there. I want to give it a good test while I'm at it."
Ned looked down through a heavy plate of glass in the floor of the cabin, and could see Mr. Petrofsky and Eradicate looking up at them.
"Bless my handkerchief!" cried Mr. Damon, when his attention had been called to this. "It's just like an airship."
"Except that we haven't a bit of machinery on board," said Tom. "These weights do everything," and he shifted them forward on the sliding rods, with the effect that the air glider dipped down with a startling lurch.
"We're falling!" cried Ned.
"Not a bit of it," answered Tom. "I only showed you how it worked. By sliding the weights back we go up."
He demonstrated this at once, sending his craft sliding up another hill of air, until it reached an elevation of four hundred feet, as evidenced by the barograph.
"I guess this is high enough," remarked Tom after a bit. "Now to see if she'll stand still."
Slowly he moved the weights along, by means of the compound levers, until the air glider was on an "even keel" so to speak. It was still moving forward, with the wind now, for Tom had warped his wing tips.
"The thing to do," said the young inventor, "is to get it exactly parallel with the wind-strata, so that the gale will blow through the two sets of planes, just as the wind blows through a box kite. Only we have no string to hold us from moving. We have to depend on the equalization of friction on the surfaces of the wings. I wonder if I can do it."
It was a delicate operation, and Tom had not had much experience in that sort of thing, for his other airships and aeroplanes worked on an entirely different principle. But he moved the weights along, inch by inch, and flexed the tips, planes and rudders until finally Ned, who was looking down through the floor window, cried out:
"Good!" exclaimed Tom. "Then it's a success."
"And we can go to Siberia?" added Mr. Damon.
"Sure," assented the young inventor. "And if we have luck we'll rescue Mr. Petrofsky's brother, and get a lot of platinum that will be more valuable than gold."
It would not be true to say that the air glider was absolutely stationary. There was a slight forward motion, due to the fact that it was not yet perfected, and also because Tom was not expert enough in handling it.
The friction on the plane surfaces was not equalized, and the gale forced the craft along slightly. But, compared to the terrific power of the wind, the air glider was practically at a standstill, and this was remarkable when one considers the force of the hurricane that was blowing above below and through it.
For actually that was what the hurricane was doing. It was as if an immense box kite was suspended in the air, without a string to hold it from moving, and as though a cabin was placed amidships to hold human beings.
"This sure is great!" cried Ned. "Have you got her in control, Tom?"
"I think so. I'll try and see how she works."
By shifting the weights, changing the balance, and warping the wings, the young inventor sent the craft higher up, made it dip down almost to the earth, and then swoop upward like some great bird. Then he turned it completely about and though he developed no great speed in this test made it progress quarteringly against the wind.
"It's almost perfect," declared Tom. "A few touches and she'll be all right."
"Is it all right?" asked Ivan Petrofsky anxiously, as the three left the cabin, and Eradicate hitched his mule to the glider to take it back to the shed.
"I see where it can be improved," he said, as they made ready to descend. "I'll soon have it in shape."
"Then we can go to Siberia?"
"In less than a month. The big airship needs some repairs, and then we'll be off."
The Russian said nothing, but he looked his thanks to Tom, and the manner in which he grasped the hand of our hero showed his deep feelings.
The glider was given several more trials, and each time it worked better. Tom decided to change some of the weights, and he devoted all his time to this alteration, while Ned, Mr. Damon, and the others labored to get the big airship in shape for the long trip to the land of the exiles.
So anxious was Tom to get started, that he put in several nights working on the glider. Ned occasionally came over to help him, while Mr. Damon was on hand as often as his wife would allow. Mr. Petrofsky spent his nights writing to friends in Russia, hoping to get some clew as to the whereabouts of his brother.