Tom Swift and His Airship
I An Explosion II Ned Sees Mysterious Men III Whitewashed IV A Trial Trip V Colliding With A Tower VI Getting Off The Roof VII Andy Tries A Trick VIII Winning a Prize IX The Runaway Auto X A Bag of Tools XI The "Red Cloud" Departs XII Some Startling News XIII Mr. Damon in Danger XIV Andy Gives the Clue XV Fired Upon XVI Over a Fiery Furnace XVII "Wanted—For Robbery!" XVIII Back for Vindication XIX Wrecked XX Tom Gets a Clue XXI On the Trail XXII The Sheriff on Board XXIII On To the Camp XXIV The Raid XXV Andy Gets His Reward
"Are you all ready, Tom?"
"All ready, Mr. Sharp," replied a young man, who was stationed near some complicated apparatus, while the questioner, a dark man, with a nervous manner, leaned over a large tank.
"I'm going to turn on the gas now," went on the man. "Look out for yourself. I'm not sure what may happen."
"Neither am I, but I'm ready for it. If it does explode it can't do much damage."
"Oh, I hope it doesn't explode. We've had so much trouble with the airship, I trust nothing goes wrong now."
"Well, turn, on the gas, Mr. Sharp," advised Tom Swift. "I'll watch the pressure gauge, and, if it goes too high, I'll warn you, and you can shut it off."
The man nodded, and, with a small wrench in his hand, went to one end of the tank. The youth, looking anxiously at him, turned his gaze now and then toward a gauge, somewhat like those on steam boilers, which gauge was attached to an aluminum, cigar-shaped affair, about five feet long.
Presently there was a hissing sound in the small frame building where the two were conducting an experiment which meant much to them. The hissing grew louder.
"Be ready to jump," advised Mr. Sharp.
"I will," answered the lad. "But the pressure is going up very slowly. Maybe you'd better turn on more gas."
"I will. Here she goes! Look out now. You can't tell what is going to happen."
With a sudden hiss, as the powerful gas, under pressure, passed from the tank, through the pipes, and into the aluminum container, the hand on the gauge swept past figure after figure on the dial.
"Shut it off!" cried Tom quickly. "It's coming too fast! Shut her off!"
The man sprang to obey the command, and, with nervous fingers, sought to fit the wrench over the nipple of the controlling valve. Then his face seemed to turn white with fear.
"I can't move it!" Mr. Sharp yelled. "It's jammed! I can't shut off the gas! Run! Look out! She'll explode!"
Tom Swift, the young inventor, whose acquaintance some of you have previously made, gave one look at the gauge, and seeing that the pressure was steadily mounting, endeavored to reach, and open, a stop-cock, that he might relieve the strain. One trial showed him that the valve there had jammed too, and catching up a roll of blue prints the lad made a dash for the door of the shop. He was not a second behind his companion, and hardly had they passed out of the structure before there was a loud explosion which shook the building, and shattered all the windows in it.
Pieces of wood, bits of metal, and a cloud of sawdust and shavings flew out of the door after the man and the youth, and this was followed by a cloud of yellowish smoke.
"Are you hurt, Tom?" cried Mr. Sharp, as he swung around to look back at the place where the hazardous experiment had been conducted.
"Not a bit! How about you?"
"I'm all right. But it was touch and go! Good thing you had the gauge on or we'd never have known when to run. Well, we've made another failure of it," and the man spoke somewhat bitterly.
"Never mind, Mr. Sharp," went on Tom Swift. "I think it will be the last mistake. I see what the trouble is now; and know how to remedy it. Come on back, and we'll try it again; that is if the tank hasn't blown up."
"No, I guess that's all right. It was the aluminum container that went up, and that's so light it didn't do much damage. But we'd better wait until some of those fumes escape. They're not healthy to breathe."
The cloud of yellowish smoke was slowly rolling away, and the man and lad were approaching the shop, which, in spite of the explosion that had taken place in it, was still intact, when an aged man, coming from a handsome house not far off, called out, "Tom, is anyone hurt?"
"No, dad. We're all right."
"Well, we had another explosion. We can't seem to get the right mixture of the gas, but I think we've had the last of our bad luck. We're going to try it again. Up to now the gas has been too strong, the tank too weak, or else our valve control is bad."
"Oh dear, Mr. Swift! Do tell them to be careful!" a woman's voice chimed in. "I'm sure something dreadful will happen! This is about the tenth time something has blown up around here, and—"
"It's only the ninth, Mrs. Baggert," interrupted Tom, somewhat indignantly.
"Well, goodness me! Isn't nine almost as bad as ten? There I was, just putting my bread in the oven," went on Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, "and I was so startled that I dropped it, and now the dough is all over the kitchen floor. I never saw such a mess."
"I'm sorry," answered the youth, trying not to laugh. "We'll see that it doesn't happen again."
"Yes; that's what you always say," rejoined the motherly-looking woman, who looked after the interests of Mr. Swift's home.
"Well, we mean it this time," retorted the lad. "We see where our mistake was; don't we. Mr. Sharp?"
"I think so," replied the other seriously.
"Come on back, and we'll see what damage was done," proposed Tom. "Maybe we can rig up another container, mix some fresh gas, and make the final experiment this afternoon."
"Now do be careful," cautioned Mr. Swift, the aged inventor, once more. "I'm afraid you two have set too hard a task for yourselves this time."
"No we haven't, dad," answered his son. "You'll see us yet skimming along above the clouds."
"Humph! If you go above the clouds I shan't be very likely to see you. But go slowly, now. Don't blow the place up again."
Mr. Swift went into the house, followed by Mrs. Baggert, who was loudly bewailing the fate of her bread. Tom and Mr. Sharp started toward the shop where they had been working. It was one of several buildings, built for experimental purposes and patent work by Mr. Swift, near his home.
"It didn't do so very much damage," observed Tom, as he peered in through a window, void of all the panes of glass. "We can start right in."
"Hold on! Wait! Don't try it now!" exclaimed Mr. Sharp, who talked in short, snappy sentences, which, however, said all he meant. "The fumes of that gas aren't good to breathe. Wait, until they have blown away. It won't be long. It's safer."
He began to cough, choking from the pungent odor, and Tom felt an unpleasant tickling sensation in his throat.
"Take a walk around," advised Mr. Sharp. "I'll be looking over the blue prints. Let's have 'em."
Tom handed over the roll he had grabbed up when he ran from the shop, just before the explosion took place, and, while his companion spread them out on his knee, as he sat on an upturned barrel, the lad walked toward the rear of the large yard. It was enclosed by a high board fence, with a locked gate, but Tom, undoing the fastenings, stepped out into a broad, green meadow at the rear of his father's property. As he did so he saw three boys running toward him.
"Hello!" exclaimed our hero. "There are Andy Foger, Sam Snedecker and Pete Bailey. I wonder what they're heading this way for?"
On the trio came, increasing their pace as they caught sight of Tom. Andy Foger, a red-haired and squint-eyed lad, a sort of town bully, with a rich and indulgent father, was the first to reach the young inventor.
"How—how many are killed?" panted Andy.
"Shall we go for doctors?" asked Sam.
"Can we see the place?" blurted out Pete, and he had to sit down on the grass, he was so winded.
"Killed? Doctors?" repeated Tom, clearly much puzzled. "What are you fellows driving at, anyhow?"
"Wasn't there a lot of people killed in the explosion we heard?" demanded Andy, in eager tones.
"Not a one," replied Tom.
"There was an explosion!" exclaimed Pete. "We heard it, and you can't fool us!"
"And we saw the smoke," added Snedecker.
"Yes, there was a small explosion," admitted Tom, with a smile, "but no one was killed; or even hurt. We don't have such things happen in our shops."
"Nobody killed?" repeated Andy questioningly, and the disappointment was evident in his tones.
"Nobody hurt?" added Sam, his crony, and he, too, showed his chagrin.
"All our run for nothing," continued Pete, another crony, in disgust.
"What happened?" demanded the red-haired lad, as if he had a right to know. "We were walking along the lake road, and we heard an awful racket. If the police come out here, you'll have to tell what it was, Tom Swift." He spoke defiantly.
"I've no objection to telling you or the police," replied Tom. "There was an explosion. My friend, Mr. Sharp, the balloonist, and I were conducting an experiment with a new kind of gas, and it was too strong, that's all. An aluminum container blew up, but no particular damage was done. I hope you're satisfied."
"Humph! What you making, anyhow?" demanded Andy, and again he spoke as if he had a right to know.
"I don't know that it's any of your business," Tom came back at him sharply, "but, as everyone will soon know, I may as well tell you. We're building an airship."
"An airship?" exclaimed Sam and Pete in one breath.
"An airship?" queried Andy, and there was a sneer in his voice. "Well, I don't think you can do it, Tom Swift! You'll never build an airship; even if you have a balloonist to help you!"
"I won't, eh?" and Tom was a trifle nettled at the sneering manner of his rival.
"No, you won't! It takes a smarter fellow than you are to build an airship that will sail. I believe I could beat you at it myself."
"Oh, you think you could?" asked Tom, and this time he had mastered his emotions. He was not going to let Andy Foger make him angry. "Maybe you can beat me at racing, too?" he went on. "If you think so, bring out your Red Streak and I'll try the Arrow against her. I beat you twice, and I can do it again!"
This unexpected taunt disconcerted Andy. It was the truth, for, more than once had Tom, in his motor-boat, proved more than a match for the squint-eyed bully and his cronies.
"Go back at him, Andy," advised Sam, ire low voice. "Don't take any of his guff!"
"I don't intend to," spluttered Andy. "Maybe you did beat me in the races, because my motor wasn't working right," he conceded, "but you can't do it again. Anyhow, that's got nothing to do with an airship. I'll bet you can't make one!"
"I don't bet," replied Tom calmly, "but if you wait a few weeks you'll see me in an airship, and then, if you want to race the Red Streak against that, I'll accommodate you. Or, if you want to enter into a competition to build a dirigible balloon or an aeroplane I'm willing."
"Huh! Think you're smart, don't you? Just because you helped save that balloonist from being killed when his balloon caught fire," went on Andy, for want of something better to say. "But you'll never build an airship!"
"Of course he won't!" added Sam and Pete, bound to side with their crony, to whom they were indebted for many automobile and motor-boat rides.
"Just wait," advised Tom, with a tantalizing smile. "Meanwhile, if you want to try the Red Streak against the Arrow, I'm willing. I have an hour or so to spare."
"Aw, keep still!" muttered Andy, much discomfited, for the defeat of his speedy boat, by a much smaller and less powerful one, was a sore point with him. "You just wait, that's all. I'll get even with you!"
"Look here!" cried Tom, suddenly. "You always say that whenever I get the best of you. I'm sick of hearing it. I consider that a threat, and I don't like it. If you don't look out, Andy Foger, you'll have trouble with me, and at no very distant date!"
Tom, with flashing eyes, and clenched fists, took a step forward. Andy shrank back.
"Don't be afraid of him," advised Sam. "We'll stand by you, Andy."
"I ain't afraid," muttered the red-haired lad, but it was noticed that he shuffled off. "You just wait, I'll fix you," he added to Tom. The bully was plainly in a rage.
The young inventor was about to reply, and, possibly would have made a more substantial rejoinder to Andy than mere words, when the gate opened, and Mr. Sharp stepped out.
"The fumes have all cleared away, Tom," he said. "We can go in the shop, now."
Without further notice of Andy Foger, Tom Swift turned aside, and followed the aeronaut into the enclosed yard.
Ned Sees Mysterious Men
"Who were those fellows?" asked the balloonist, of his companion.
"Oh, some chaps who think we'll never build our airship, Mr. Sharp. Andy Foger, and his crowd."
"Well, we'll show them whether we will or not," rejoined the man. "I've just thought of one point where we made a mistake. Your father suggested it to me. We need a needle valve in the gas tank. Then we can control the flow of vapor better."
"Of course!" cried Tom. "Why didn't I think of that? Let's try it." And the pair hurried into the machine shop, eager to make another test, which they hoped would be more successful.
The young inventor, for Tom Swift was entitled to that title, having patented several machines, lived with his father, Barton Swift, on the outskirts of the small town of Shopton, in New York State. Mr. Swift was quite wealthy, having amassed a considerable fortune from several of his patents, as he was also an inventor. Tom's mother had been dead since he was a small child, and Mrs. Baggert kept house for the widower and his son. There was also, in their household, an aged engineer, named Garret Jackson, who attended to the engine and boilers that operated machinery and apparatus in several small shops that surrounded the Swift homestead; for Mr. Swift did most of his work at home.
As related in the first volume of this series, entitled "Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle," the lad had passed through some strenuous adventures. A syndicate of rich men, disappointed in a turbine motor they had acquired from a certain inventor, hired a gang of scoundrels to get possession of a turbine Mr. Swift had invented. Just before they made the attempt, however, Tom became possessed of a motor-cycle. It had belonged to a wealthy man, Mr. Wakefield Damon, of Waterford, near Lake Carlopa, which body of water adjoined the town of Shopton; but Mr. Damon had two accidents with the machine, and sold it to Tom cheap. Tom was riding his motorcycle to Albany, to deliver his father's model of the turbine motor to a lawyer, in order to get a patent on it, when he was attacked by the gang of bad men. These included Ferguson Appleson, Anson Morse, Wilson Featherton, alias Simpson, Jake Burke, alias Happy Harry, who sometimes masqueraded as a tramp, and Tod Boreck, alias Murdock. These men knocked Tom unconscious, stole the valuable model and some papers, and carried the youth away in their automobile.
Later the young inventor, following a clue given him by Eradicate Sampson, an aged colored man, who, with his mule, Boomerang, went about the country doing odd jobs, got on the trail of the thieves in a deserted mansion in the woods at the upper end of the lake. Our hero, with the aid of Mr. Damon, and some friends of the latter, raided the old house, but the men escaped.
In the second book of the series, called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Boat," there was related the doings of the lad, his father and his chum, Ned Newton, on Lake Carlopa. Tom bought at auction, a motor-boat the thieves had stolen and damaged, and, fixing it up, made a speedy craft of it so speedy, in fact that it beat the racing-boat Red Streak—owned by Andy Foger. But Tom did more than race in his boat. He took his father on a tour for his health, and, during Mr. Swift's absence from home, the gang of bad men stole some of the inventor's machinery. Tom set out after them in his motor boat, but the scoundrels even managed to steal that, hoping to get possession of a peculiar and mysterious treasure in it, and Tom had considerable trouble.
Among other things he did when he had his craft, was to aid a Miss Mary Nestor, who, in her cousin's small boat, the Dot, was having trouble with the engine, and you shall hear more of Miss Nestor presently, for she and Tom became quite friendly. Events so shaped themselves that Andy Foger was glad to loan Tom the Red Streak in which to search for the stolen Arrow, and it was in the later craft that Tom, his father and Ned Newton had a most thrilling adventure.
They were on their way down the lake when, in the air overhead they saw a balloon on fire, with a man clinging to the trapeze. They managed to save the fellow's life, after a strenuous endeavor. The balloonist, John Sharp, was destined to play quite a part in Tom's life.
Mr. Sharp was more than an aeronaut—he was the inventor of an airship—that is, he had plans drawn for the more important parts, but he had struck a "snag of clouds," as he expressed it, and could not make the machine work. His falling in with Mr. Swift and his son seemed providential, for Tom and his father were at once interested in the project for navigating the upper air. They began a study of Mr. Sharp's plans, and the balloonist was now in a fair way to have the difficulty solved.
His airship was, primarily an aeroplane, but with a sustaining aluminum container, shaped like a cigar, and filled with a secret gas, made partly of hydrogen, being very light and powerful. It was testing the effect of this gas on a small model of the aluminum container that the explosion, told of in the first chapter, occurred. In fact it was only one of several explosions, but, as Tom said, all the while they were eliminating certain difficulties, until now the airship seemed almost a finished thing. But a few more details remained to be worked out, and Mr. Swift and his son felt that they could master these.
So it was with a feeling of no little elation, that the young inventor followed Mr. Sharp into the shop. The balloonist, it may be explained, had been invited to live with the Swifts pending the completion of the airship.
"Do you think we'll get on the right track if we put the needle valve in?" asked Tom, as he noted with satisfaction that the damage from the explosion was not great.
"I'm sure we will," answered the aeronaut. "Now let's make another model container, and try the gas again."
They set to work, with Mr. Swift helping them occasionally, and Garret Jackson, the engineer, lending a hand whenever he was needed. All that afternoon work on the airship progressed. The joint inventors of it wanted to be sure that the sustaining gas bag, or aluminum container, would do its work properly, as this would hold them in the air, and prevent accidents, in case of a stoppage of the engine or propellers.
The aeroplane part of the airship was all but finished, and the motor, a powerful machine, of new design, built by Mr. Swift, was ready to be installed.
All that afternoon Tom, his father and Mr. Sharp labored in the shop. As it grew dusk there sounded from the house the ringing of a bell.
"Supper time," remarked Tom, laying aside a wrench. "I wish Mrs. Baggert would wait about an hour. I'd have this valve nearly done, then."
But the housekeeper was evidently not going to wait, for her voice supplemented the bell.
"Supper! Sup-per!" she called. "Come now, Mr. Swift; Tom, Mr. Sharp! I can't wait any longer! The meat and potatoes will be spoiled!"
"I s'pose we'd better go in," remarked Mr. Sharp, with something of a sigh. "We can finish to-morrow."
The shop, where certain parts of the airship were being made, was doubly locked, and Jackson, the engineer, who was also a sort of watchman, was bidden to keep good guard, for the fear of the gang of unscrupulous men, who had escaped from jail during a great storm, was still in the minds of Mr. Swift and his son.
"And give an occasional look in the shed, where the aeroplane is," advised Mr. Sharp. "It wouldn't take much to damage that, now."
"I'll pay particular attention to it," promised the engineer. "Don't worry, Mr. Sharp."
After supper the three gathered around the table on which were spread out sheets of paper, covered with intricate figures and calculations, which Mr. Swift and the balloonist went over with care. Tom was examining some blue prints, which gave a sectional view of the proposed ship, and was making some measurements when the bell rang, and Mrs. Baggert ushered in Ned Newton, the most particular chum of the young inventor.
"Hello, Ned!" exclaimed Tom. "I was wondering what had become of you. Haven't seen you in a dog's age."
"That's right," admitted Ned. "We've been working late nights at the bank. Getting ready for the regular visit of the examiner, who usually comes along about this time. Well, how are things going; and how is the airship?" for, of course, Ned had heard of that.
"Oh, pretty good. Had another explosion today, I s'pose you heard."
"No, I hadn't."
"I thought everyone in town had, for Andy Foger and his two cronies were on hand, and they usually tell all they know."
"Oh, Andy Foger! He makes me sick! He was scooting up the street in his auto just as I was coming in, 'honking-honking' his horn to beat the band! You'd think no one ever had an auto but him. He certainly was going fast."
"Wait until I get in our airship," predicted Tom. "Then I'll show you what speed is!"
"Do you really think it will go fast?"
"Of course it will! Fast enough to catch Anson Morse and his crowd of scoundrels if we could get on their track."
"Why, I thought they were in jail," replied Ned, in some surprise. "Weren't they arrested after they stole your boat?"
"Yes, and put in jail, but they managed to get out, and now they're free to make trouble for us again."
"Are you sure they're out of jail?" asked Ned, and Tom noted that his chum's face wore an odd look.
"Sure? Of course I am. But why do you ask?"
Ned did not answer for a moment. He glanced at Tom's father, and the young inventor understood. Mr. Swift was getting rather along in age, and his long years of brain work had made him nervous. He had a great fear of Morse and his gang, for they had made much trouble for him in the past. Tom appreciated his chum's hesitancy, and guessed that Ned had something to say that he did not want Mr. Swift to hear.
"Come on up to my room, Ned. I've got something I want to show you," exclaimed Tom, after a pause.
The two lads left the room, Tom glancing apprehensively at his father. But Mr. Swift was so engrossed, together with the aeronaut, in making some calculations regarding wind pressure, that it is doubtful if either of the men were aware that the boys had gone.
"Now what is it, Ned?" demanded our hero, when they were safe in his apartment. "Something's up. I can tell by your manner. What is it?"
"Maybe it's nothing at all," went on his chum. "If I had known, though that those men had gotten out of jail, I would have paid more attention to what I saw to-night, as I was leaving the bank to come here."
"What did you see?" demanded Tom, and his manner, which had been calm, became somewhat excited.
"Well, you know I've been helping the paying-teller straighten up his books," went on the young bank employee, "and when I came out tonight, after working for several hours, I was glad enough to hurry away from the 'slave-den,' as I call it. I almost ran up the street, not looking where I was going, when, just as I turned the corner, I bumped into a man."
"Nothing suspicious or wonderful in that," commented Tom. "I've often run into people."
"Wait," advised Ned. "To save myself from falling I grabbed the man's arm. He did the same to me, and there we stood, for a moment, right under a gas lamp. I looked down at his hands, and I saw that on the little finger of the left one there was tattooed a blue ring, and—"
"Happy Harry—the tramp!" exclaimed Tom, now much excited. "That's where he wears a tattooed ring!"
"That's what I thought you had told me," resumed Ned, "but I didn't pay any attention to it at the time, as I had no idea that the men were out of jail."
"Well, what else happened?" inquired Tom
"Not much more. I apologized to the man, and he to me, and we let go of each other."
"Are you sure about the ring on his finger?"
"Positive. His hand was right in the light. But wait, that isn't all. I hurried on, not thinking much about it, when, I saw another man step out of the dark shadows of Peterby's grocery, just beyond the bank. The man must have mistaken me for some one else, for he spoke to me."
"What did he say?"
"He asked me a question. It was: 'Is there any chance to-night?'"
"What did you tell him?"
"Well, I was so surprised that I didn't know what to say, and, before I could get my wits together the man had seen his mistake and hurried on. He joined the man I had collided with, and the two skipped off in the darkness. But not before a third man had come across the street, from in front of the bank, and hurried off with them."
"Well?" asked Tom, as his chum paused.
"I don't know what to think," resumed Ned. "These men were certainly acting suspiciously, and, now that you tell me the Anson Morse gang is not locked up—well, it makes me feel that these must be some of their crowd."
"Of course they are!" declared Tom positively. "That blue ring proves it!"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," declared Ned. "The man certainly had a blue ring tattooed on his finger—the same finger where you say Happy Harry had his. But what would the men be doing in this neighborhood? They certainly have had a lesson not to meddle with any of your things."
"No, I don't believe they are after any of dad's inventions this time. But I tell you what I do believe."
"Those men are planning to rob the Shopton Bank, Ned! And I advise you to notify the officers. That Morse gang is one of the worst in the country," and Tom, much excited, began to pace the room, while Ned, who had not dreamed of such an outcome to his narrative, looked startled.
"Let's tell your father, Tom," suggested Ned, after a pause. "He'll know what to do."
"No, I'd rather not," answered the young inventor quickly. "Dad has had trouble enough with these fellows, and I don't want him to worry any more. Besides, he is working on a new invention, and if I tell him about the Happy Harry gang it will take his attention from it."
"What invention is he planning now?"
"I don't know, but it's something important by the way he keeps at it. He hardly spares time to help Mr. Sharp and me on the airship. No, we'll keep this news from dad."
"Then I'll inform the bank officials, as you suggest. If the place was robbed they might blame me; if they found out I had seen the men a failed to tell them."
"Well, that gang would only be too glad to have the blame fall on some one else."
Tom little knew how near the truth he had come in his chance expression, or how soon he himself was to fall under suspicion in connection with this same band of bad men.
"I'll telephone to the president on my way home," decided Ned, "and he can notify the watchman at the bank. But do you really expect to have your airship in shape to fly soon?"
"Oh, yes. Now that we have found out our mistake about the gas, the rest will be easy."
"I think I'd like to take a trip in one myself, if it didn't go too high," ventured Ned.
"I'll remember that, when we have ours completed," promised his chum, "and I'll take you for a spin."
The boys talked for perhaps an hour longer, mostly about the airship, for it was the latest mechanical affair in which Tom was interested, and, naturally, foremost in his thoughts. Then Ned went home first, however, telephoning from Tom's house to the bank president about having seen the suspicious men. That official thanked his young employee, and said he would take all necessary precautions. The telephone message was not sent until Mr. Swift was out of hearing, as Tom was determined that his father should have no unnecessary worry about the unscrupulous men. As it was, the news that the gang was out of jail had caused the aged inventor some alarm.
It was not without some anxiety that Tom arose the next morning, fearing he would hear news that the bank had been broken into, but no such alarming report circulated in Shopton. In fact having made some inquiries that day of Ned, he learned that no trace had been seen of the mysterious men. The police had been on the lookout, but they had seen nothing of them.
"Maybe, after all, they weren't the same ones," suggested Ned, when he paid Tom another visit the next night.
"Well, of course it's possible that they weren't," admitted the young inventor. "I'd be very glad to think so. Even if they were, your encounter with them may have scared them off; and that would be a good thing."
The next two weeks were busy ones for Tom and Mr. Sharp. Aided occasionally by Mr. Swift, and with Garret Jackson, the engineer, to lend a hand whenever needed, the aeronaut and the owner of the speedy Arrow made considerable progress on their airship.
"What is your father so busy over?" asked Mr. Sharp one day, when the new aluminum gas holder was about completed.
"I don't know," answered Tom, with a somewhat puzzled air. "He doesn't seem to want to talk about it, even to me. He says it will revolutionize travel along a certain line, but whether he is working on an airship that will rival ours, or a new automobile, I can't make out. He'll tell us in good time. But when do you think we will finish the—well, I don't know what to call it—I mean our aeroplane?"
"Oh, in about a month now. That's so, though, we haven't a name for it. But we'll christen it after it's completed. Now if you'll tighten up some of those bolts I'll get the gas generating apparatus in readiness for another test."
A short description of the new airship may not be out of place now. It was built after plans Mr. Sharp had shown to Tom and his father soon after the thrilling rescue of the aeronaut from the blazing balloon over Lake Carlopa. The general idea of the airship was that of the familiar aeroplane, but in addition to the sustaining surfaces of the planes, there was an aluminum, cigar-shaped tank, holding a new and very powerful gas, which would serve to keep the ship afloat even when not in motion.
Two sets of planes, one above the other, were used, bringing the airship into the biplane class. There were also two large propellers, one in front and the other at the rear. These were carefully made, of different layers of wood "built up" as they are called, to make them stronger. They were eight feet in diameter, and driven by a twenty-cylinder, air-cooled, motor, whirled around at the rate of fifteen hundred revolutions a minute. When operated at full speed the airship was capable of making eighty miles an hour, against a moderate wind.
But if the use of the peculiarly-shaped planes and the gas container, with the secret but powerful vapor in it were something new in airship construction, so was the car in which the operator and travelers were to live during a voyage. It was a complete living room, with the engine and other apparatus, including that for generating the gas, in a separate compartment, and the whole was the combined work of Tom and Mr. Sharp. There were accommodations for five persons, with sleeping berths, a small galley or kitchen, where food could be prepared, and several easy chairs where the travelers could rest in comfort while skimming along high in the air, as fast as the fastest railroad train.
There was room enough to carry stores for a voyage of a week or more, and enough gas could be manufactured aboard the ship, in addition to that taken in the aluminum case before starting, to sustain the ship for two weeks. The engine, steering apparatus, and the gas machine were within easy reach and control of the pilot, who was to be stationed in a small room in the "bow" of the ship. An electric stove served to warm the interior of the car, and also provided means for cooking the food.
The airship could be launched either by starting it along the ground, on rubber-tired wheels, as is done in the case of the ordinary aeroplane, or it could be lifted by the gas, just as is done with a balloon. In short there were many novel features about the ship.
The gas test, which took place a few days later, showed that the young inventor and Mr. Sharp had made no mistake this time. No explosion followed, the needle valve controlling the powerful vapor perfectly.
"Well," remarked Mr. Sharp, one afternoon, "I think we shall put the ship together next week, Tom, and have a trial flight. We shall need a few more aluminum bolts, though, and if you don't mind you might jump on your motor-cycle and run to Mansburg for them. Merton's machine shop ought to have some."
Mansburg was the nearest large city to Shopton, and Merton was a machinist who frequently did work for Mr. Swift.
"All right," agreed Tom. "I'll start now. How many will you need?"
"Oh, a couple of dozen."
Tom started off, wheeling his cycle from the shed where it was kept. As he passed the building where the big frame of the airship, with the planes and aluminum bag had been assembled, he looked in.
"We'll soon be flying through the clouds on your back," he remarked, speaking to the apparatus as if it could understand. "I guess we'll smash some records, too, if that engine works as well when it's installed as it does now."
Tom had purchased the bolts, and was on his way back with them, when, as he passed through one of the outlying streets of Mansburg, something went wrong with his motor-cycle. He got off to adjust it, finding that it was only a trifling matter, which he soon put right, when he was aware of a man standing, observing him. Without looking up at the man's face, the young inventor was unpleasantly aware of a sharp scrutiny. He could hardly explain it, but it seemed as if the man had evil intentions toward him, and it was not altogether unexpected on Tom's part, when, looking up, he saw staring at him, Anson Morse, the leader of the gang of men who had caused such trouble for him.
"Oh, it's you; is it?" asked Morse, an ugly scowl on his face. "I thought I recognized you." He moved nearer to Tom, who straightened up, and stood leaning on his wheel.
"Yes; it's me," admitted the lad.
"I've been looking for you," went on Morse. "I'm not done with you yet, nor your father, either."
"Aren't you?" asked Tom, trying to speak coolly, though his heart was beating rather faster than usual. Morse had spoken in a threatening manner, and, as the youth looked up and down the street he saw that it was deserted; nor were there any houses near.
"No, I'm not," snapped the man. "You got me and my friends in a lot of trouble, and—"
"You didn't get half what you deserved!" burst out Tom, indignant at the thought of what he and his father had suffered at the hands of the gang. "You ought to be in jail now, instead of out; and if I could see a policeman, I'd have you arrested for threatening me! That's against the law!"
"Huh! I s'pose you think you know lots about the law," sneered Morse. "Well, I tell you one thing, if you make any further trouble for me, I'll—"
"I'll make all the trouble I can!" cried Tom, and he boldly faced the angry man. "I'm not afraid of you!"
"You'd better be!" and Morse spoke in a vindictive manner. "We'll get even with you yet, Tom Swift. In fact I've a good notion now to give you a good thrashing for what you've done."
Before Tom was aware of the man's intention, Morse had stepped quickly into the street, where the lad stood beside his wheel, and grasped him by the shoulder. He gave Tom a vicious shake.
"Take your hand off me!" cried Tom, who was hampered by having to hold up his heavy machine.
"I will when I've given you what I owe you!" retorted the scoundrel. "I'm going to have satisfaction now if I never—"
At that instant there came from down the street the sound of a rattling and bumping. Tom looked up quickly, and saw approaching a rattletrap of a wagon, drawn by a big, loose-jointed mule, the large ears of which were flapping to and fro. The animal was advancing rapidly, in response to blows and words from the colored driver, and, before the uplifted fist of Morse could fall on Tom's head, the outfit was opposite them.
"Hold on dar, mistah! Hold on!" cried the colored man in the wagon. "What are yo' doin' to mah friend, Mistah Swift?"
"None of your business!" snapped Morse. "You drive on and let me manage this affair if you don't want trouble! Who are you anyhow?"
"Why doan't yo' know me?" asked the colored man, at whom Tom looked gratefully. "I's Eradicate Sampson, an' dish yeah am mah mule, Boomerang. Whoa, Boomerang! I reckon yo' an' I better take a hand in dish yeah argument."
"Not unless you want trouble!" cried Morse.
"I doan't mind trouble, not in de leastest," answered Eradicate cheerfully. "Me an' Boomerang has had lots of trouble. We's used to it. No, Mistah Man, you'd better let go ob mah friend, Mistah Swift, if yo' doan't want trouble yo' ownse'f."
"Drive on, and mind your business!" cried Morse, now unreasoningly angry. "This is my affair," and he gave Tom a shake.
Our hero was not going to submit tamely, however. He had one hand free, and raised to strike Morse, but the latter, letting go his hold on the lad's shoulder, grasped with that hand, the fist which the young inventor had raised. Then, with his other hand, the scoundrel was about to hit Tom.
"Break away four him, Mistah Swift!" directed the colored man. "Yo' can fight him, den!"
"I guess he'll have his own troubles doing that," sneered Morse.
"Not ef I help him," answered Eradicate promptly, as he climbed back off the seat, into the body of his ramshackle vehicle.
"Don't you interfere with me!" stormed the man.
An instant later Tom broke away from his tormentor, and laid his motor-cycle on the ground, in order to have both hands free for the attack he felt would follow.
"Ha! You think you're going to escape, do you?" cried Morse, as he started toward Tom, his eyes blazing. "I'll show you who you're dealing with!"
"Yes, an' I reckon I'll show yo' suffin yo' ain't lookin' fer!" suddenly cried Eradicate.
With a quick motion he picked up a pail of white-wash from his wagon, and, with sure aim, emptied the contents of the bucket over Morse, who was rushing at Tom. The white fluid spread over the man from head to foot, enveloping him as in a white shroud, and his advance was instantly checked.
"Dar! I reckon dat's de quickest white-washin' job I done in some time!" chuckled Eradicate, as he grasped his long handled brush, and clambered down from the wagon, ready for a renewal of the hostilities on the part of Morse. "De bestest white-washin' job I done in some time; yais, sah!"
A Trial Trip
There was no fear that Anson Morse would return to the attack. Blinded by the whitewash which ran in his eyes, but which, being slaked, did not burn him, he grouped blindly about, pawing the air with his outstretched hands.
"You wait! You wait! You'll suffer for this!" he spluttered, as soon as he could free his mouth from the trickling fluid. Then, wiping it from his face, with his hands, as best he could, he shook his fist at Tom. "I'll pay you and that black rascal back!" he cried. "You wait!"
"I hopes yo' pays me soon," answered Eradicate, "'case as how dat whitewash was wuff twenty-five cents, an' I got t' go git mo' to finish doin' a chicken coop I'm wurkin' on. Whoa, oar Boomerang. Dere ain't goin' t' be no mo' trouble I reckon."
Morse did not reply. He had been most unexpectedly repulsed, and, with the white-wash dripping from his garments, he turned and fairly ran toward a strip of woodland that bordered the highway at that place.
Tom approached the colored man, and held out a welcoming hand.
"I don't know what I'd done if you hadn't come along, Rad," the lad said. "That fellow was desperate, and this was a lonely spot to be attacked. Your whitewash came in mighty handy."
"Yais, sah, Mistah Swift, dat's what it done. I knowed I could use it on him, ef he got too obstreperous, an' dat's what he done. But I were goin' to fight him wif mah bresh, ef he'd made any more trouble."
"Oh, I fancy we have seen the last of him for some time," said Tom, but he looked worried. It was evident that the Happy Harry gang was still hanging around the neighborhood of Shopton, and the fact that Morse was bold enough to attack our hero in broad day-light argued that he felt little fear of the authorities.
"Ef yo' wants t' catch him, Mistah Swift," went on Eradicate, "yo' kin trace him by de whitewash what drops offen him," and he pointed to a trail of white drops which showed the path Morse had taken.
"No, the less I have to do with him the better I like it," answered the lad. "But I can't thank you enough, Rad. You have helped me out of difficulties several times now. You put me on the trail of the men in the deserted mansion, you warned me of the log Andy Foger placed across the road, and now you have saved me from Morse."
"Oh, dat's nuffin, Mistah Swift. Yo' has suah done lots fo' me. 'Sides, mah mule, Boomerang, am entitled t' de most credit dish yeah time. I were comin' down de street, on mah way t' a whitewashin' job, when I seen yo', an yo' lickitysplit machine," for so Eradicate designated a motorcycle. "I knowed it were yo', an' I didn't laik de looks ob dat man. Den I see he had hold ob you, an' I t'ought he were a burglar. So I yelled t' Boomerang t' hurry up. Now, mostly, when I wants Boomerang t' hurry, he goes slow, an' when I wants him t' go slow, he runs away. But dish yeah time he knowed he were comin' t' help yo', an' he certainly did leg it, dat's what he done! He run laik he were goin' home t' a stable full ob oats, an' dat's how I got heah so quick. Den I t'ought ob de whitewash, an' I jest used it."
"It was the most effective weapon you could have used," said Tom, gratefully.
"Deed no, Mistah Swift, I didn't hab no weapon," spoke Eradicate earnestly. "I ain't eben got mah razor, 'case I left it home. I didn't hab no weapon at all. I jest used de whitewash, laik yo' seen me."
"That's what I meant," answered Tom, trying not to laugh at the simple negro's misunderstanding. "I'm ever so much obliged to you, just the same, and here's a half dollar to pay for the whitewash."
"Oh, no, Mistah Swift, I doan't want t' take it. I kin make mo' whitewash."
But Tom insisted, and picked up his machine to sprint for home. Eradicate started to tell over again, how he urged Boomerang on, but the lad had no time to listen.
"But I didn't hab no weapon, Mistah Swift, no indeedy, none at all, not even mah razor," repeated Eradicate. "Only de pail ob whitewash. That is, lessen yo' calls mah bresh a weapon."
"Well, it's a sort of one," admitted Tom, with a laugh as he started his machine. "Come around next week, Rad. We have some dirt eradicating for you to attend to."
"Deed an' I will, Mistah Swift. Eradicate is mah name, an' I eradicates de dirt. But dat man such did look odd, wif dat pail ob whitewash all ober him. He suah did look most extraordinarily. Gidap, Boomerang. See if yo' can break some mo' speed records now."
But the mule appeared to be satisfied with what he had done, and, as he rode off, Tom looked back to see the colored man laboring to get the sleepy, animal started.
The lad did not tell his father of the adventure with Morse, but he related the occurrence to Mr. Sharp.
"I'd like to get hold of that scoundrel, and the others in the gang!" exclaimed the balloonist. "I'd take him up in the airship, and drop him down into the lake. He's a bad man. So are the others. Wonder what they want around here?"
"That's what's puzzling me," admitted Tom. "I hope dad doesn't hear about them or he will be sure to worry; and maybe it will interfere with his new ideas."
"He hasn't told you yet what he's engaged in inventing; has he?"
"No, and I don't like to ask him. He said the other day, though, that it would rival our airship, but in a different way."
"I wonder what he meant?"
"It's hard to say. But I don't believe he can invent anything that will go ahead of our craft, even if he is my own father, and the best one in the world," said Tom, half jokingly. "Well, I got the bolts, now let's get to work. I'm anxious for a trial trip."
"No more than I am. I want to see if my ideas will work out in practice as well as they do in theory."
For a week or more Tom and Mr. Sharp labored on the airship, with Mr. Jackson to help them. The motor, with its twenty cylinders, was installed, and the big aluminum holder fastened to the frame of the planes. The rudders, one to control the elevation and depression of the craft, and the other to direct its flight to the right or left, were attached, and the steering wheel, as well as the levers regulating the motor were put in place.
"About all that remains to be done now," said the aeronaut one night, as he and Tom stood in the big shed, looking at their creation, "is to fit up the car, and paint the machine."
"Can't we make a trial trip before we fit up the car ready for a long flight?" asked the young inventor.
"Yes, but I wouldn't like to go out without painting the ship. Some parts of it might rust if we get into the moist, cloudy, upper regions."
"Then let's paint it to-morrow, and, as soon as it's dry we'll have a test."
"All right. I'll mix the paint the first thing in the morning."
It took two days to paint the machine, for much care had to be used, and, when it was finished Tom looked admiringly up at it.
"We ought to name it," suggested Mr. Sharp, as he removed a bit of paint from the end of the nose.
"To be sure," agreed Tom. "And hold on, I have the very name for it—Red Cloud!"
"Red Cloud?" questioned Mr. Sharp.
"Yes!" exclaimed Tom, with enthusiasm. "It's painted red—at least the big, aluminum gas container is—and we hope to go above the clouds in it. Why not Red Cloud?"
"That's what it shall be!" conceded the balloonist. "If I had a bottle of malted milk, or something like that, I'd christen it."
"We ought to have a young lady to do that part," suggested Tom. "They always have young ladies to name ships."
"Were you thinking of any particular young lady?" asked Mr. Sharp softly, and Tom blushed; as he replied:
"Oh no—of course that is—well—Oh, hang it, christen it yourself, and let me alone," he finished.
"Well, in the absence of Miss Mary Nestor, who, I think, would be the best one for the ceremony," said Mr. Sharp, with a twinkle in his eyes, "I christen thee Red Cloud," and with that he sprinkled some water on the pointed nose of the red aluminum gas bag, for the aeronaut and Tom were on a high staging, on a level with the upper part of the airship.
"Red Cloud it is!" cried Tom, enthusiastically. "Now, to-morrow we'll see what it can do."
The day of the test proved all that could be desired in the way of weather. The fact that an airship was being constructed in the Swift shops had been kept as secret as possible, but of course many in Shopton knew of it, for Andy Foger had spread the tidings.
"I hope we won't have a crowd around to see us go up," said Tom, as he and Mr. Sharp went to the shed to get the Red Cloud in readiness for the trial. "I shouldn't want to have them laugh at us, if we fail to rise."
"Don't worry. We'll go up all right," declared Mr. Sharp. "The only thing I'm at all worried about is our speed. I want to go fast, but we may not be able to until our motor gets 'tuned-up'. But we'll rise."
The gas machine had already been started, and the vapor was hissing inside the big aluminum holder. It was decided to try to go up under the lifting power of the gas, and not use the aeroplane feature for sending aloft the ship, as there was hardly room, around the shops, for a good start.
When enough of the vapor had been generated to make the airship buoyant, the big doors of the shed were opened, and Tom and Mr. Sharp, with the aid of Garret and Mr. Swift, shoved it slowly out.
"There it is! There she comes!" cried several vices outside the high fence that surrounded the Swift property. "They're going up!"
"Andy Foger is in that bunch," remarked Tom with a grim smile. "I hope we don't fail."
"We won't. Don't worry," advised Mr. Sharp.
The shouts outside the fence increased. It was evident that quite a crowd of boys, as well as men, had collected, though it was early in the morning. Somehow, news of the test had leaked out.
The ship continued to get lighter and lighter as more gas was generated. It was held down by ropes, fastened to stakes driven in the ground. Mr. Sharp entered the big car that was suspended, below the aeroplanes.
"Come on, Tom," the aeronaut called. "We're almost ready to fly. Will you come too, Mr. Swift, and Garret?"
"Some other time," promised the aged inventor. "It looks as though you were going to succeed, though. I'll wait, however, until after the test before I venture."
"How about you, Garret?" asked Tom of the engineer, as the young inventor climbed into the car.
"The ground is good enough for me," was the answer, with a smile. "Broken bones don't mend so easily when you're past sixty-five."
"But we're not going to fall!" declared Mr. Sharp. "All ready, Tom. Cast off! Here we go!"
The restraining ropes were quickly cast aside. Slowly at first, and then with a rush, as though feeling more and more sure of herself, the Red Cloud arose in the air like a gigantic bird of scarlet plumage. Up and up it went, higher than the house, higher than the big shed where it had been built, higher, higher, higher!
"There she is!" cried the shrill voices of the boys in the meadow, and the hoarser tones of the men mingled with them.
"Hurrah!" called Tom softly to the balloonist. "We're off!" and he waved his hand to his father and Garret.
"I told you so," spoke Mr. Sharp confidently. "I'm going to start the propellers in a minute."
"Oh, dear me, goodness sakes alive!" cried Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, running from the house and wringing her hands. "I'm sure they'll fall!"
She looked up apprehensively, but Tom only waved his hand to her, and threw her a kiss. Clearly he had no fears, though it was the first time he had ever been in an airship. Mr. Sharp was as calm and collected as an ocean captain making his hundredth trip across the Atlantic.
"Throw on the main switch," he called to our hero, and Tom, moving to amidships in the car, did as directed. Mr. Sharp pulled several levers, adjusted some valves, and then, with a rattle and bang, the huge, twenty-cylinder motor started.
Waiting a moment to see that it was running smoothly, Mr. Sharp grasped the steering wheel. Then, with a quick motion he threw the two propellers in gear. They began to whirl around rapidly.
"Here we go!" cried Tom, and, sure enough, the Red Cloud, now five hundred feet in the air, shot forward, like a boat on the water, only with such a smooth, gliding, easy motion, that it seemed like being borne along on a cloud.
"She works! She works!" cried the balloonist. "Now to try our elevation rudder," and, as the Red Cloud gathered speed, he tilted the small planes which sent the craft up or down, according to the manner in which they were tilted. The next instant the airship was pointed at an angle toward the clouds, and shooting along at swift speed, while, from below came the admiring cheers of the crowd of boys and men.
Colliding With A Tower
"She seems to work," observed Tom, looking from where he was stationed near some electrical switches, toward Mr. Sharp.
"Of course she does," replied the aeronaut. "I knew it would, but I wasn't so sure that it would scoot along in this fashion. We're making pretty good speed, but we'll do better when the motor gets to running smoother."
"How high up are we?" asked Tom.
The balloonist glanced at several gauges near the steering wheel.
"A little short of three thousand feet," he answered. "Do you want to go higher?"
"No—no—I—I guess not," was Tom's answer. He halted over the works, and his breath came in gasps.
"Don't get alarmed," called Mr. Sharp quickly, noting that his companion was in distress because of the high altitude. "That always happens to persons who go into a thin air for the first time; just as if you had climbed a high mountain. Breathe as slowly as you can, and swallow frequently. That will relieve the pressure on your ear drums. I'll send the ship lower."
Tom did as he was advised, and the aeronaut, deflecting the rudder, sent the Red Cloud on a downward slant. Tom at once felt relieved, both because the action of swallowing equalized the pressure on the ear drums, and because the airship was soon in a more dense atmosphere, more like that of the earth.
"How are you now?" asked the man of the lad, as the craft was again on an even keel.
"All right," replied Tom, briskly. "I didn't know what ailed me at first."
"I was troubled the same way when I first went up in a balloon," commented Mr. Sharp. "We'll run along for a few miles, at an elevation of about five hundred feet, and then we'll go to within a hundred feet of the earth, and see how the Red Cloud behaves under different conditions. Take a look below and see what you think of it."
Tom looked low, through one of several plate glass windows in the floor of the car. He gave a gasp of astonishment.
"Why! We're right over Lake Carlopa!" he gasped.
"Of course," admitted Mr. Sharp with a laugh. "And I'm glad to say that we're better off than when I was last in the air over this same body of water," and he could scarcely repress a shudder as he thought of his perilous position in the blazing balloon, as related in detail in "Tom Swift and His Motor-Boat."
The lake was spread out below the navigators of the air like some mirror of silver in a setting of green fields. Tom could see a winding river, that flowed into the lake, and he noted towns, villages, and even distant cities, interspersed here and there with broad farms or patches of woodlands, like a bird's-eye view of a stretch of country.
"This is great!" he exclaimed, with enthusiasm. "I wouldn't miss this for the world!"
"Oh, you haven't begun to see things yet," replied Mr. Sharp. "Wait until we take a long trip, which we'll do soon, as this ship is behaving much better than I dared to hope. Well, we're five hundred feet high now, and I'll run along at that elevation for a while."
Objects on the earth became more distinct now, and Tom could observe excited throngs running along and pointing upward. They were several miles from Shopton, and the machinery was running smoothly; the motor, with its many cylinders purring like a big cat.
"We could have lunch, if we'd brought along anything to eat," observed Tom.
"Yes," assented his companion. "But I think we'll go back now. Your father may be anxious. Just come here, Tom, and I'll show you how to steer. I'm going down a short distance."
He depressed the rudder, and the Red Cloud shot earthward. Then, as the airship was turned about, the young inventor was allowed to try his hand at managing it. He said, afterward, that it was like guiding a fleecy cloud.
"Point her straight for Shopton,". counseled Mr. Sharp, when he had explained the various wheels and levers to the lad.
"Straight she is," answered the lad, imitating a sailor's reply. "Oh, but this is great! It beats even my motor-boat!"
"It goes considerably faster, at all events," remarked Mr. Sharp. "Keep her steady now, while I take a look at the engine. I want to be sure it doesn't run hot."
He went aft, where all the machinery in the car was located, and Tom was left alone in the small pilot house. He felt a thrill as he looked down at the earth beneath him, and saw the crowds of wonder-gazers pointing at the great, red airship flying high over their heads. Rapidly the open fields slipped along, giving place to a large city.
"Rocksmond," murmured Tom, as he noted it. "We're about fifty miles from home, but we'll soon be back in the shed at this rate. We certainly are slipping along. A hundred and fifty feet elevation," he went on, as he looked at a gauge. "I wonder if I'll ever get used to going several miles up in the air?"
He shifted the rudder a bit, to go to the left. The Red Cloud obeyed promptly, but, the next instant something snapped. Tom, with a startled air, looked around. He could see nothing wrong, but a moment later, the airship dipped suddenly toward the earth. Then it seemed to increase its forward speed, and, a few seconds later, was rushing straight at a tall, ornamental tower that rose from one corner of a large building.
"Mr. Sharp! Mr. Sharp!" cried the lad. "Something has happened! We're heading for that tower!"
"Steer to one side!" called the balloonist.
Tom tried, but found that the helm had become jammed. The horizontal rudder would not work, and the craft was rushing nearer and nearer, every minute, to the pile of brick and mortar.
"We're going to have a collision!" shouted Tom. "Better shut off the power!"
The two propellers were whirling around so swiftly that they looked like blurs of light. Mr. Sharp came rushing forward, and Tom relinquished the steering wheel to him. In vain did the aeronaut try to change the course of the airship. Then, with a shout to Tom to disconnect the electric switch, the man turned off the power from the motor.
But it was too late. Straight at the tower rushed the Red Cloud, and, a moment later had hit it a glancing blow, smashing the forward propeller, and breaking off both blades. The nose of the aluminum gas container knocked off a few bricks from the tower, and then, the ship losing way, slowly settled to the flat roof of the building.
"We're smashed!" cried Tom, with something like despair in his voice.
"That's nothing! Don't worry! It might be worse! Not the first time I've had an accident. It's only one propeller, and I can easily make another," said Mr. Sharp, in his quick, jerky sentences. He had allowed some of the gas to escape from the container, making the ship less buoyant, so that it remained on the roof.
The aeronaut and Tom looked from the windows of the car, to note if any further damage had been done. They were just congratulating themselves that the rudder marked the extent, when, from a scuttle in the roof there came a procession of young ladies, led by an elderly matron, wearing spectacles and having a very determined, bristling air.
"Well, I must say, this is a very unceremonious proceeding!" exclaimed the spectacled woman. "Pray, gentlemen, to what are we indebted for this honor?"
"It was an accident, ma'am," replied Mr. Sharp, removing his hat, and bowing. "A mere accident!"
"Humph! I suppose it was an accident that the tower of this building was damaged, if not absolutely loosened at the foundations. You will have to pay the damages!" Then turning, and seeing about two score of young ladies behind her on the flat roof, each young lady eying with astonishment, not unmixed with admiration, the airship, the elderly one added: "Pupils! To your rooms at once! How dare you leave without permission?"
"Oh, Miss Perkman!" exclaimed a voice, at the sound of which Tom started. "Mayn't we see the airship? It will be useful in our natural philosophy study!"
Tom looked at the young lady who had spoken. "Mary Nestor!" he exclaimed.
"Tom—I mean Mr. Swift!" she rejoined. "How in the world did you get here?"
"I was going to ask you the same question," retorted the lad. "We flew here."
"Young ladies! Silence!" cried Miss Perkman, who was evidently the principal of the school. "The idea of any one of you daring to speak to these—these persons—without my permission, and without an introduction! I shall make them pay heavily for damaging my seminary," she added, as she strode toward Mr. Sharp, who, by this time, was out of the car. "To your rooms at once!" Miss Perkman ordered again, but not a young lady moved. The airship was too much of an attraction for them.
Getting Off The Roof
For a few minutes Mr. Sharp was so engrossed with looking underneath the craft, to ascertain in what condition the various planes and braces were, that he paid little attention to the old maid school principal, after his first greeting. But Miss Perkman was not a person to be ignored.
"I want pay for the damage to the tower of my school," she went on. "I could also demand damages for trespassing on my roof, but I will refrain in this case. Young ladies, will you go to your rooms?" she demanded.
"Oh, please, let us stay," pleaded Mary Nestor, beside whom Tom now stood. "Perhaps Professor Swift will lecture on clouds and air currents and—and such things as that," the girl went on slyly, smiling at the somewhat embarrassed lad.
"Ahem! If there is a professor present, perhaps it might be a good idea to absorb some knowledge," admitted the old maid, and, unconsciously, she smoothed her hair, and settled her gold spectacles straighter on her nose. "Professor, I will delay collecting damages on behalf of the Rocksmond Young Ladies Seminary, while you deliver a lecture on air currents," she went on, addressing herself to Mr. Sharp.
"Oh, I'm not a professor," he said quickly. "I'm a professional balloonist, parachute jumper. Give exhibitions at county fairs. Leap for life, and all that sort of thing. I guess you mean my friend. He's smart enough for a professor. Invented a lot of things. How much is the damage?"
"No professor?" cried Miss Perkman indignantly. "Why I understood from Miss Nestor that she called some one professor."
"I was referring to my friend, Mr. Swift," said Mary. "His father's a professor, anyhow, isn't he, Tom? I mean Mr. Swift!"
"I believe he has a degree, but he never uses it," was the lad's answer.
"Ha! Then I have been deceived! There is no professor present!" and the old maid drew herself up as though desirous of punishing some one. "Young ladies, for the last time, I order you to your rooms," and, with a dramatic gesture she pointed to the scuttle through which the procession had come.
"Say something, Tom—I mean Mr. Swift," appealed Mary Nestor, in a whisper, to our hero. "Can't you give some sort of a lecture? The girls are just crazy to hear about the airship, and this ogress won't let us. Say something!"
"I—I don't know what to say," stammered Tom.
But he was saved the necessity for just then several women, evidently other teachers, came out on the roof.
"Oh, an airship!" exclaimed one. "How lovely! We thought it was an earthquake, and we were afraid to come up for quite a while. But an airship! I've always wanted to see one, and now I have an opportunity. It will be just the thing for my physical geography and natural history class. Young ladies, attention, and I will explain certain things to you."
"Miss Delafield, do you understand enough about an airship to lecture on one?" asked Miss Perkman smartly.
"Enough so that my class may benefit," answered the other teacher, who was quite pretty.
"Ahem! That is sufficient, and a different matter," conceded Miss Perkman. "Young ladies, give your undivided attention to Miss Delafield, and I trust you will profit by what she tells you. Meanwhile I wish to have some conversation concerning damages with the persons who so unceremoniously visited us. It is a shame that the pupils of the Rocksmond Seminary should be disturbed at their studies. Sir, I wish to talk with you," and the principal pointed a long, straight finger at Mr. Sharp.
"Young ladies, attention!" called Miss Delafield. "You will observe the large red body at the top, that is—"
"I'd rather have you explain it," whispered Mary Nestor to Tom. "Come on, slip around to the other side. May I bring a few of my friends with me? I can't bear Miss Delafield. She thinks she knows everything. She won't see us if we slip around."
"I shall be delighted," replied Tom, "only I fear I may have to help Mr. Sharp out of this trouble."
"Don't worry about me, Tom," said the balloonist, who overheard him. "Let me do the explaining. I'm an old hand at it. Been in trouble before. Many a time I've had to pay damages for coming down in a farmer's corn field. I'll attend to the lady principal, and you can explain things to the young ones," and, with a wink, the jolly aeronaut stepped over to where Miss Perkman, in spite of her prejudice against the airship, was observing it curiously.
Glad to have the chance to talk to his young lady friend, Tom slipped to the opposite side of the car with her and a few of her intimate friends, to whom she slyly beckoned. There Tom told how the Red Cloud came to be built, and of his first trip in the air, while, on the opposite side, Miss Delafield lectured to the entire school on aeronautics, as she thought she knew them.
Mr. Sharp evidently did know how to "explain" matters to the irate principal, for, in a short while, she was smiling. By this time Tom had about finished his little lecture, and Miss Delafield was at the end of hers. The entire school of girls was grouped about the Red Cloud, curiously examining it, but Mary Nestor and her friends probably learned more than any of the others. Tom was informed that his friend had been attending the school in Rocksmond since the fall term opened.
"I little thought, when I found we were going to smash into that tower, that you were below there, studying," said the lad to the girl.
"I'm afraid I wasn't doing much studying," she confessed. "I had just a glimpse of the airship through the window, and I was wondering who was in it, when the crash came. Miss Perkman, who is nothing if not brave, at once started for the roof, and we girls all followed her. However, are you going to get the ship down?"
"I'm afraid it is going to be quite a job," admitted Tom ruefully. "Something went wrong with the machinery, or this never would have happened. As soon as Mr. Sharp has settled with your principal we'll see what we can do."
"I guess he's settled now," observed Miss Nestor. "Here he comes."
The aeronaut and Miss Perkman were approaching together, and the old maid did not seem half so angry as she had been.
"You see," Mr. Sharp was saying, "it will be a good advertisement for your school. Think of having the distinction of having harbored the powerful airship, Red Cloud, on your roof."
"I never thought of it in that light," admitted the principal. "Perhaps you are right. I shall put it in my next catalog."
"And, as for damages to the tower, we will pay you fifty dollars," continued the balloonist. "Do you agree to that, Mr. Swift?" he asked Tom. "I think your father, the professor, would call that fair."
"Oh, as long as this airship is partly the property of a professor, perhaps I should only take thirty-five dollars," put in Miss Perkman. "I am a great admirer of professors—I mean in a strictly educational sense," she went on, as she detected a tendency on the part of some of the young ladies to giggle.
"No, fifty dollars will be about right," went on Mr. Sharp, pulling out a well-filled wallet. "I will pay you now."
"And if you will wait I will give you a receipt," continued the principal, evidently as much appeased at the mention of a professor's title, as she was by the money.
"We're getting off cheap," the balloonist whispered to Tom, as the head of the seminary started down the scuttle to the class-rooms below.
"Maybe it's easier getting out of that difficulty than it will be to get off the roof," replied the lad.
"Don't worry. Leave that to me," the aeronaut said. It took considerable to ruffle Mr. Sharp. .
With a receipt in full for the damage to the tower, and expressing the hope that, some day, in the near future, Professor Swift would do the seminary the honor of lecturing to the young lady pupils, Miss Perkman bade Mr. Sharp and Tom good-by.
"Young ladies, to your rooms!" she commanded. "You have learned enough of airships, and there may be some danger getting this one off the roof."
"Wouldn't you like to stay and take a ride in it?" Tom asked Miss Nestor.
"Indeed I would," she answered daringly. "It's better than a motor-boat. May I?"
"Some day, when we get more expert in managing it," he replied, as he shook hands with her.
"Now for some hard work," went on the young inventor to Mr. Sharp, when the roof was cleared of the last of the teachers and pupils. But the windows that gave a view of the airship in its odd position on the roof were soon filled with eager faces, while in the streets below was a great crowd, offering all manner of suggestions.
"Oh, it's not going to be such a task," said Mr. Sharp. "First we will repair the rudder and the machinery, and then we'll generate some more gas, rise and fly home."
"But the broken propeller?" objected Tom.
"We can fly with one, as well as we can with two, but not so swiftly. Don't worry. We'll come out all right," and the balloonist assumed a confident air.
It was not so difficult a problem as Tom had imagined to put the machinery in order, a simple break having impaired the working of the rudder. Then the smashed propeller was unshipped and the gas machine started. With all the pupils watching from windows, and a crowd observing from the streets and surrounding country, for word of the happening had spread, Tom and his friend prepared to ascend.
They arose as well as they had done at the shed at home, and in a little while, were floating over the school. Tom fancied he could observe a certain hand waving to him, as he peered from the window of the car—a hand in one of the school casements, but where there were so many pretty girls doing the same thing, I hardly see how Tom could pick out any certain one, though he had extraordinarily good eyesight. However, the airship was now afloat and, starting the motor, Mr. Sharp found that even with one propeller the Red Cloud did fairly well, making good speed.
"Now for home, to repair everything, and we'll be ready for a longer trip," the aeronaut said to the young inventor, as they turned around, and headed off before the wind, while hundreds below them cheered.
"We ought to carry spare propellers if we're going to smash into school towers," remarked Tom. "I seem to be a sort of hoodoo."
"Nonsense! It wasn't your fault at all," commented Mr. Sharp warmly. "It would have happened to me had I been steering. But we will take an extra propeller along after this."
An hour later they arrived in front of the big shed and the Red Cloud was safely housed. Mr. Swift was just beginning to get anxious about his son and his friend, and was glad to welcome them back.
"Now for a big trip, in about a week!" exclaimed Mr. Sharp enthusiastically. "You'll come with us, won't you, Mr. Swift?"
The inventor slowly shook his head.
"Not on a trip," he said. "I may go for a trial spin with you, but I've got too important a matter under way to venture on a long trip," and he turned away without explaining what it was. But Tom and Mr. Sharp were soon to learn.
Andy Tries a Trick
Without loss of time the young inventor and the aeronaut began to repair the damage done to the Red Cloud by colliding with the tower. The most important part to reconstruct was the propeller, and Mr. Sharp decided to make two, instead of one, in order to have an extra one in case of future accidents.
Tom's task was to arrange the mechanism so that, hereafter, the rudder could not become jammed, and so prevent the airship from steering properly. This the lad accomplished by a simple but effective device which, when the balloonist saw it, caused him to compliment Tom.
"That's worth patenting," he declared. "I advise you to take out papers on that."
"It seems such a simple thing," answered the youth. "And I don't see much use of spending the money for a patent. Airships aren't likely to be so numerous that I could make anything off that patent."
"You take my advice," insisted Mr. Sharp. "Airships are going to be used more in the future than you have any idea of. You get that device patented."
Tom did so, and, not many years afterward he was glad that he had, as it brought him quite an income.
It required several days' work on the Red Cloud before it was in shape for another trial. During the hours when he was engaged in the big shed, helping Mr. Sharp, the young inventor spent many minutes calling to mind the memory of a certain fair face, and I think I need not mention any names to indicate whose face it was.
"She promised to go for a ride with me," mused the lad. "I hope she doesn't back out. But I'll want to learn more about managing the ship before I venture with her in it. It won't do to have any accidents then. There's Ned Newton, too. I must take him for a skim in the clouds. Guess I'll invite him over some afternoon, and give him a private view of the machine, when we get it in shape again."
About a week after the accident at the school Mr. Sharp remarked to Tom one afternoon:
"If the weather is good to-morrow, we'll try another flight. Do you suppose your father will come along?"
"I don't know," answered the lad. "He seems much engrossed in something. It's unusual, too, for he most generally tells me what he is engaged upon. However, I guess he will say something about it when he gets ready."
"Well, if he doesn't feel just like coming, don't argue him. He might be nervous, and, while the ship is new, I don't want any nervous passengers aboard. I can't give them my attention and look after the running of the machinery."
"I was going to propose bringing a friend of mine over to see us make the trip to-morrow," went on the young inventor. "Ned Newton, you know him. He'd like a ride."
"Oh, I guess Ned's all right. Let him come along. We won't go very high to-morrow. After a trial rise by means of the gas, I'm going to lower the ship to the ground, and try for an elevation by means of the planes. Oh, yes, bring your friend along."
Ned Newton was delighted the next day to receive Tom's invitation, and, though a little dubious about trusting himself in an airship for the first time, finally consented to go with his chum. He got a half holiday from the bank, and, shortly after dinner went to Tom's house.
"Come on out in the shed and take a look at the Red Cloud," proposed the young inventor. "Mr. Sharp isn't quite ready to start yet, and I'll explain some things to you."
The big shed was deserted when the lads entered, and went to the loft where they were on a level with the big, red aluminum tank. Tom began with a description of the machinery, and Ned followed him with interest.
"Now we'll go down into the car or cabin," continued the young navigator of the air, "and I'll show you what we do when we're touring amid the clouds."
As they started to descend the flight of steps from the loft platform, a noise on the ground below attracted their attention.
"Guess that's Mr. Sharp coming," said Ned.
Tom leaned over and looked down. An instant later he grasped the arm of his chum, and motioned to him to keep silent.
"Take a look," whispered the young inventor.
"Andy Foger!" exclaimed Ned, peering over the railing.
"Yes, and Sam Snedecker and Pete Bailey are with him. They sneaked in when I left the door open. Wonder what they want?"
"Up to some mischief, I'll wager," commented Ned. "Hark! They're talking."
The two lads on the loft listened intently. Though the cronies on the ground below them did not speak loudly, their voices came plainly to the listeners.
"Let's poke a hole in their gas bag," proposed Sam. "That will make them think they're not so smart as they pretend."
"Naw, we can't do that," answered Andy.
"Why not?" declared Pete.
"Because the bag's away up in the top part of the shed, and I'm not going to climb up there."
"You're afraid," sneered Sam.
"I am not! I'll punch your face if you say that again! Besides the thing that holds the gas is made of aluminum, and we can't make a hole in it unless we take an axe, and that makes too much noise."
"We ought to play some sort of a trick on Tom Swift," proposed Pete. "He's too fresh!"
Tom shook his fist at the lads on the ground, but of course they did not see him.
"I have it!" came from Andy.
"What?" demanded his two cronies.
"We'll cut some of the guy wires from the planes and rudders. That will make the airship collapse. They'll think the wires broke from the strain. Take out your knives and saw away at the wires. Hurry, too, or they may catch us."
"You're caught now," whispered Ned to Tom. "Come on down, and give 'em a trouncing."
Tom hesitated. He looked quickly about the loft, and then a smile replaced the frown of righteous anger on his face.
"I have a better way," he said.
"What is it?"
"See that pile of dirt?" and he pointed to some refuse that had been swept up from the floor of the loft. Ned nodded. "It consists of a lot of shavings, sawdust and, what's more, a lot of soot and lampblack that we used in mixing some paint. We'll sweep the whole pile down on their heads, and make them wish they'd stayed away from this place."
"Good!" exclaimed Ned, chuckling. "Give me a broom. There's another one for you."
The two lads in the loft peered down. The red-headed, squint-eyed bully and his chums had their knives out, and were about to cut some of the important guy wires, when, at a signal from Tom, Ned, with a sweep of his broom, sent a big pile of the dirt, sawdust and lampblack down upon the heads of the conspirators. The young inventor did the same thing, and for an instant the lower part of the shed looked as if a dirtstorm had taken place there. The pile of refuse went straight down on the heads of the trio, and, as they were looking up, in order to see to cut the wires, they received considerable of it in their faces.
In an instant the white countenances of the lads were changed to black—as black as the burnt-cork performers in a minstrel show. Then came a series of howls.
"Wow! Who did that!"
"I'm blinded! The shed is falling down!"
"Run fellows, run!" screamed Andy. "There's been an explosion. We'll be killed!"
At that moment the big doors of the shed were thrown open, and Mr. Sharp came in. He started back in astonishment at the sight of the three grotesque figures, their faces black with the soot, and their clothes covered with sawdust and shavings, rushing wildly around.
"That will teach you to come meddling around here. Andy Roger!" cried Tom.
"I—I—you—you—Oh, wait—I—you—" spluttered the bully, almost speechless with rage. Sam and Pete were wildly trying to wipe the stuff from their faces, but only made matters worse. They were so startled that they did not know enough to run out of the opened doors.
"Wish we had some more stuff to put on 'em," remarked Ned, who was holding his sides that ached from laughter.
"I have it!" cried Tom, and he caught up a bucket of red paint, that had been used to give the airship its brilliant hue. Running to the end of the loft Tom stood for an instant over the trio of lads who were threatening and imploring by 'turns.
"Here's another souvenir of your visit," shouted the young inventor, as he dashed the bucket of red paint down on the conspirators. This completed the work of the dirt and soot, and a few seconds later, each face looking like a stage Indian's ready for the war-path, the trio dashed out. They shed shavings, sawdust and lampblack at every step, and from their clothes and hands and faces dripped the carmine paint.
"Better have your pictures taken!" cried Ned, peering from an upper window.
"Yes, and send us one," added Tom, joining his chum. Andy looked up at them. He dug a mass of red paint from his left ear, removed a mass of soot from his right cheek, and, shaking his fist, which was alternately striped red and black, cried out in a rage:
"I'll get even with you yet, Tom Swift!"
"You only got what was coming to you," retorted the young inventor. "The next time you come sneaking around this airship, trying to damage it, you'll get worse, and I'll have you arrested. You've had your lesson, and don't forget it."
The red-haired bully, doubly red-haired now, had nothing more to say. There was nothing he could say, and, accompanied by his companions, he made a bee-line for the rear gate in the fence, and darted across the meadow. They were all sorry enough looking specimens, but solely through their own fault.
Winning a Prize
"Well, Tom, what happened?" asked Mr. Sharp, as he saw the trio running away. "Looks as if you had had an exciting time here."
"No, those fellows had all the excitement," declared Ned. "We had the fun." And the two lads proceeded to relate what had taken place.
"Tried to damage the airship, eh?" asked Mr. Sharp. "I wish I'd caught them at it; the scoundrels! But perhaps you handled them as well as I could have done."
"I guess so," assented Tom. "I must see if they did cut any of the wires."
But the young inventor and his chum had acted too quickly, and it was found that nothing, had been done to the Red Cloud.
A little later the airship was taken out of the shed, and made ready for a trip. The gas ascension was first used, and Ned and Mr. Swift were passengers with Tom and Mr. Sharp. The machine went about a thousand feet up in the air, and then was sent in various directions, to the no small delight of a large crowd that gathered in the meadow back of the Swift property; for it only required the sight of the airship looming its bulk above the fence and buildings, to attract a throng. It is safe to say this time, however, that Andy Foger and his cronies were not in the audience. They were probably too busy removing the soot and red paint.
Although it was the first time Mr. Swift had ever been in an airship, he evinced no great astonishment. In fact he seemed to be thinking deeply, and on some subject not connected with aeronautics. Tom noticed the abstraction of his father, and shook his head. Clearly the aged inventor was not his usual self.
As for Ned Newton his delight knew no bounds, At first he was a bit apprehensive as the big ship went higher and higher, and swung about, but he soon lost his fear, and enjoyed the experience as much as did Tom. The young inventor was busy helping Mr. Sharp manage the machinery, rudders-planes and motor.
A flight of several miles was made, and Tom was wishing they might pay another visit to the Rocksmond Seminary, but Mr. Sharp, after completing several evolutions, designed to test the steering qualities of the craft, put back home.
"We'll land in the meadow and try rising by the planes alone," he said. In this evolution it was deemed best for Mr. Swift and Ned to alight, as there was no telling just how the craft would behave. Tom's father was very willing to get out, but Ned would have remained in, only for the desire of his friend.
With the two propellers whirring at a tremendous speed, and all the gas out of the aluminum container, the Red Cloud shot forward, running over the level ground of the meadow, where a starting course had been laid out.
"Clear the track!" cried Mr. Sharp, as he saw the crowd closing up in front of him. The men, boys, several girls and women made a living lane. Through this shot the craft, and then, when sufficient momentum had been obtained, Tom, at a command from the aeronaut, pulled the lever of the elevation rudder. Up into the air shot the nose of the Red Cloud as the wind struck the slanting surface of the planes, and, a moment later it was sailing high above the heads of the throng.
"That's the stuff!" cried Mr. Sharp. "It works as well that way as it does with the gas!"
Higher and higher it went, and then, coming to a level keel, the craft was sent here and there, darting about like a bird, and going about in huge circles.
"Start the gas machine, and we'll come to rest in the air," said the balloonist, and Tom did so. As the powerful vapor filled the container the ship acquired a buoyancy, and there was no need of going at high speed in order to sustain it. The propellers were stopped, and the Red Cloud floated two thousand feet in the air, only a little distance below some fleecy, white masses from which she took her name. The demonstration was a great success. The gas was again allowed to escape, the propellers set in motion, and purely as an aeroplane, the ship was again sent forward. By means of the planes and rudders a perfect landing was made in the meadow, a short distance from where the start had been made. The crowd cheered the plucky youth and Mr. Sharp.