TOM SWIFT AND HIS PHOTO TELEPHONE
OR THE PICTURE THAT SAVED A FORTUNE
BY VICTOR APPLETON
AUTHOR OF "TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR CYCLE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS GIANT CANNON," "THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS," "THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS IN THE JUNGLE," "THE MOTION PICTURE CHUMS' FIRST VENTURE," ETC.
I. A MAN ON THE ROOF II. BAD NEWS III. TOM'S FAILURE IV. RUN DOWN V. SHARP WORDS VI. A WARNING VII. SOFT WORDS VIII. TOM IS BAFFLED IX. A GLEAM OF HOPE X. MIDNIGHT VISITORS XI. THE AIRSHIP IS TAKEN XII. A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE XIII. THE TELEPHONE PICTURE XIV. MAKING IMPROVEMENTS XV. THE AIRSHIP CLUE XVI. SUCCESS XVII. THE MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE XVIII. ANOTHER CALL XIX. THE BUZZING SOUND XX. SETTING THE TRAP XXI. THE PHOTO TELEPHONE XXII. THE ESCAPE XXIII. ON THE TRAIL XXIV. THE LONELY HOUSE XXV. THE AIRSHIP CAPTURE
TOM SWIFT AND HIS PHOTO TELEPHONE
A MAN ON THE ROOF
"Tom, I don't believe it can be done!"
"But, Dad, I'm sure it can!"
Tom Swift looked over at his father, who was seated in an easy chair in the library. The elderly gentleman—his hair was quite white now—slowly shook his head, as he murmured again:
"It can't be done, Tom! It can't be done! I admit that you've made a lot of wonderful things—things I never dreamed of—but this is too much. To transmit pictures over a telephone wire, so that persons cannot only see to whom they are talking, as well as hear them—well, to be frank with you, Tom, I should be sorry to see you waste your time trying to invent such a thing."
"I don't agree with you. Not only do I think it can be done, but I'm going to do it. In fact, I've already started on it. As for wasting my time, well, I haven't anything in particular to do, now that my giant cannon has been perfected, so I might as well be working on my new photo telephone instead of sitting around idle."
"Yes, Tom, I agree with you there," said Mr. Swift. "Sitting around idle isn't good for anyone—man or boy, young or old. So don't think I'm finding fault because you're busy."
"It's only that I don't want to see you throw away your efforts, only to be disappointed in the end. It can't be done, Tom, it can't be done," and the aged inventor shook his head in pitying doubt.
Tom only smiled confidently, and went on:
"Well, Dad, all you'll have to do will be to wait and see. It isn't going to be easy—I grant that. In fact, I've run up against more snags, the little way I've gone so far, than I like to admit. But I'm going to stick at it, and before this year is out I'll guarantee, Father, that you can be at one end of the telephone wire, talking to me, at the other, and I'll see you and you'll see me—if not as plainly as we see each other now, at least plainly enough to make sure of each other."
Mr. Swift chuckled silently, gradually breaking into a louder laugh. Instead of being angry, Tom only regarded his father with an indulgent smile, and continued:
"All right, Dad. Go ahead, laugh!"
"Well, Tom, I'm not exactly laughing at YOU—it's more at the idea than anything else. The idea of talking over a wire and, at the same time, having light waves, as well as electrical waves passing on the same conductor!"
"All right, Dad, go ahead and laugh. I don't mind," said Tom, good-naturedly. "Folks laughed at Bell, when he said he could send a human voice over a copper spring; but Bell went ahead and to-day we can talk over a thousand miles by wire. That was the telephone."
"Folks laughed at Morse when he said he could send a message over the wire. He let 'em laugh, but we have the telegraph. Folks laughed at Edison, when he said he could take the human voice—or any other sound—and fix it on a wax cylinder or a hard-rubber plate—but he did it, and we have the phonograph. And folks laughed at Santos Dumont, at the Wrights, and at all the other fellows, who said they could take a heavier-than-air machine, and skim above the clouds like a bird; but we do it—I've done it—you've done it."
"Hold on, Tom!" protested Mr. Swift. "I give up! Don't rub it in on your old dad. I admit that folks did laugh at those inventors, with their seemingly impossible schemes, but they made good. And you've made good lots of times where I thought you wouldn't. But just stop to consider for a moment. This thing of sending a picture over a telephone wire is totally out of the question, and entirely opposed to all the principles of science."
"What do I care for principles of science?" cried Tom, and he strode about the room so rapidly that Eradicate, the old colored servant, who came in with the mail, skipped out of the library with the remark:
"Deed, an' Massa Tom must be pow'fully preragitated dis mawnin'!"
"Some of the scientists said it was totally opposed to all natural laws when I planned my electric rifle," went on Tom. "But I made it, and it shot. They said my air glider would never stay up, but she did."
"But, Tom, this is different. You are talking of sending light waves—one of the most delicate forms of motion in the world—over a material wire. It can't be done!"
"Look here, Dad!" exclaimed Tom, coming to a halt in front of his parent. "What is light, anyhow? Merely another form of motion; isn't it?"
"Well, yes, Tom, I suppose it is."
"Of course it is," said Tom. "With vibrations of a certain length and rapidity we get sound—the faster the vibration per second the higher the sound note. Now, then, we have sound waves, or vibrations, traveling at the rate of a mile in a little less than five seconds; that is, with the air at a temperature of sixty degrees. With each increase of a degree of temperature we get an increase of about a foot per second in the rapidity with which sound travels."
"Now, then, light shoots along at the rate of 186,000,000 miles a second. That is more than many times around the earth in a second of time. So we have sound, one kind of wave motion, or energy; we have light, a higher degree of vibration or wave motion, and then we come to electricity—and nobody has ever yet exactly measured the intensity or speed of the electric vibrations."
"But what I'm getting at is this—that electricity must travel pretty nearly as fast as light—if not faster. So I believe that electricity and light have about the same kind of vibrations, or wave motion."
"Now, then, if they do have—and I admit it's up to me to prove it," went on Tom, earnestly—"why can't I send light-waves over a wire, as well as electrical waves?"
Mr. Swift was silent for a moment. Then he said, slowly:
"Well, Tom, I never heard it argued just that way before. Maybe there's something in your photo telephone after all. But it never has been done. You can't deny that!"
He looked at his son triumphantly. It was not because he wanted to get the better of him in argument, that Mr. Swift held to his own views; but he wanted to bring out the best that was in his offspring. Tom accepted the challenge instantly.
"Yes, Dad, it has been done, in a way!" he said, earnestly. "No one has sent a picture over a telephone wire, as far as I know, but during the recent hydroplane tests at Monte Carlo, photographs taken of some of the events in the morning, and afternoon, were developed in the evening, and transmitted over five hundred miles of wire to Paris, and those same photographs were published in the Paris newspapers the next morning."
"Is that right, Tom?"
"It certainly is. The photographs weren't so very clear, but you could make out what they were. Of course that is a different system than the one I'm thinking of. In that case they took a photograph, and made a copper plate of it, as they would for a half-tone illustration. This gave them a picture with ridges and depressions in copper, little hills and valleys, so to speak, according to whether there were light or dark tints in the picture. The dark places meant that the copper lines stood up higher there than where there were light colors."
"Now, by putting this copper plate on a wooden drum, and revolving this drum, with an electrical needle pressing lightly on the ridges of copper, they got a varying degree of electrical current. Where the needle touched a high place in the copper plate the contact was good, and there was a strong current. When the needle got to a light place in the copper—a depression, so to speak—the contact was not so good, and there was only a weak current."
"At the receiving end of the apparatus there was a sensitized film placed on a similar wooden drum. This was to receive the image that came over the five hundred miles of wire. Now then, as the electrical needle, moving across the copper plate, made electrical contacts of different degrees of strength, it worked a delicate galvanometer on the receiving end. The galvanometer caused a beam of light to vary—to grow brighter or dimmer, according as the electrical current was stronger or weaker. And this light, falling on the sensitive plate, made a picture, just like the one on the copper plate in Monte Carlo."
"In other words, where the copper plate was black, showing that considerable printing ink was needed, the negative on the other end was made light. Then when that negative was printed it would come out black, because more light comes through the light places on a photograph negative than through the dark places. And so, with the galvanometer making light flashes on the sensitive plate, the galvanometer being governed by the electrical contacts five hundred miles away, they transmitted a photograph by wire."
"But not a telephone wire, Tom."
"That doesn't make any difference, Dad. It was a wire just the same. But I'm not going into that just now, though later I may want to send photographs by wire. What I'm aiming at is to make an apparatus so that when you go into a telephone booth to talk to a friend, you can see him and he can see you, on a specially prepared plate that will be attached to the telephone."
"You mean see him as in a looking-glass, Tom?"
"Somewhat, yes. Though I shall probably use a metal plate instead of glass. It will be just as if you were talking over a telephone in an open field, where you could see the other party and he could see you."
"But how are you going to do it, Tom?"
"Well, I haven't quite decided. I shall probably have to use the metal called selenium, which is very sensitive to light, and which makes a good or a poor electrical conductor according as more or less light falls on it. After all, a photograph is only lights and shadows, fixed on sensitive paper or films."
"Well, Tom, maybe you can do it, and maybe you can't. I admit you've used some good arguments," said Mr. Swift. "But then, it all comes down to this: What good will it be if you can succeed in sending a picture over a telephone wire?"
"What good, Dad? Why, lots of good. Just think how important it will be in business, if you can make sure that you are talking to the party you think you are. As it is now, unless you know the person's voice, you can't tell that the man on the other end of the wire is the person he says he is. And even a voice can be imitated."
"But if you know the person yourself, he can't be imitated. If you see him, as well as hear his voice, you are sure of what you are doing. Why, think of the big business deals that could be made over the telephone if the two parties could not only hear but see each other. It would be a dead sure thing then. And Mr. Brown wouldn't have to take Mr. Smith's word that it was he who was talking. He could even get witnesses to look at the wire-image if he wanted to, and so clinch the thing. It will prevent a lot of frauds."
"Well, Tom, maybe you're right. Go ahead. I'll say no more against your plans. I wish you all success, and if I can help you, call on me."
"Thanks, Dad. I knew you'd feel that way when you understood. Now I'm going—"
But what Tom Swift was going to do he did not say just then, for above the heads of father and son sounded a rattling, crashing noise, and the whole house seemed to shake Then the voice of Eradicate was heard yelling:
"Good land! Good land ob massy! Come out yeah, Massa Tom! Come right out yeah! Dere's a man on de roof an' he am all tangled up suthin' scandalous! Come right out yeah befo' he falls and translocates his neck! Come on!"
With startled glances at each other, Tom and his father rushed from the library to the side of the house, whence came the cries of Eradicate.
"What is it, Rad! what is it?" questioned Tom.
"Is someone hurt?" Mr. Swift wanted to know.
"He mighty soon will be!" exclaimed the colored man. "Look where he am holdin' on! Lucky fo' him he grabbed dat chimbley!"
Tom and his father looked to where Eradicate pointed, and saw a strange sight. A small biplane-airship had become entangled in some of the aerials of Tom's wireless apparatus, and the craft had turned turtle, being held from falling by some of the wire braces.
The birdman had fallen out, but had managed to cling to the chimney, so that he had not reached the ground, and there he clung, while the motor of his airship was banging away, and revolving the propeller blades dangerously close to his head.
"Are you hurt?" cried Tom, to the unknown birdman.
"No, but I'm likely to be unless I get out of here!" was the gasped-out answer.
"Hold fast!" cried Tom. "We'll have you down in a jiffy. Here, Rad, you get the long ladder. Where's Koku? That giant is never around when he's wanted. Find Koku, Rad, and send him here."
"Yas, sah, Massa Tom; directly, sah!" and the colored man hastened off as fast as his aged legs would take him.
And while preparations are thus under way to rescue the birdman from the roof, I will take just a few minutes to tell you a little something more about Tom Swift and his numerous inventions, as set forth in the previous books of this series.
"Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle" was the first book, and in that I related how Tom made the acquaintance of a Mr. Wakefield Damon, of the neighboring town of Waterford, and how Tom bought that gentleman's motor cycle, after it had tried to climb a tree with its rider in the saddle. Mr. Wakefield Damon was an odd man, whose favorite expression was "Bless my shoelaces!" or something equally absurd. Waterford was not far from Shopton, where Tom and his father made their home.
Mr. Swift was also an inventor of note, and Tom soon followed in his father's footsteps. They lived in a large house, with many shops about it, for their work at times required much machinery.
Mrs. Baggert was the housekeeper who looked after Tom and his father, and got their meals, when they consented to take enough time from their inventive work to eat. Another member of the household was Eradicate Sampson, a genial old colored man, who said he was named Eradicate because he used to eradicate the dirt about the place.
Koku, just referred to by Tom, was an immense man, a veritable giant, whom Tom had brought back with him from one of his trips, after escaping from captivity. The young inventor really brought two giants, brothers they were, but one had gone to a museum, and the other took service with our hero, making himself very useful when it came to lifting heavy machinery.
Tom had a close friend in Ned Newton, who was employed in the Shopton bank. Another friend was Miss Mary Nestor, a young lady whose life Tom had once saved. He had many other friends, and some enemies, whom you will meet from time to time in this story.
After Tom had had many adventures on his motor cycle he acquired a motor boat, and in that he and Ned went through some strenuous times on Lake Carlopa, near Tom's home. Then followed an airship, for Tom got that craze, and in the book concerning that machine I related some of the things that happened to him. He had even more wonderful adventures in his submarine, and with his electric runabout our hero was instrumental in saving a bank from ruin by making a trip in the speediest car on the road.
After Tom Swift had sent his wireless message, and saved the castaways of Earthquake Island, he thought he would give up his inventive work for a time, and settle down to a life of ease and quiet.
But the call of the spirit of adventure was still too strong for him to resist. That was why he sought out the diamond makers, and learned the secret of Phantom Mountain. And when he went to the Caves of Ice, and there saw his airship wrecked, Tom was well-nigh discouraged, But he managed to get back to civilization, and later undertook a journey to elephant land, with his powerful electric rifle.
Marvelous adventures underground did Tom Swift have when he went to the City of Gold, and I have set down some of them in the book bearing the latter title. Later on he sought the platinum treasure in his air glider. And when Tom was taken captive, in giant land, only his speedy airship saved him from a hard fate.
By this time moving pictures were beginning to occupy a large place in the scientific, as well as the amusement world, and Tom invented a Wizard Camera which did excellent work. Then came the need of a powerful light, to enable Uncle Sam's custom officers on the border to detect the smugglers, and Tom was successful in making his apparatus.
He thought he would take a rest after that, but with the opening of the Panama Canal came the need of powerful guns to protect that important waterway, and Tom made a Giant Cannon, which enabled the longest shots on record to be fired.
Now, some months had passed, after the successful trial of the big weapon, and Tom longed for new activities. He found them in the idea of a photo telephone, and he and his father were just talking of this when interrupted by the accident to the birdman on the roof of the Swift home.
"Have you got that ladder, Rad?" cried the young inventor, anxiously, as he saw the dangerous position of the man from the airship.
"Yas, sah, Massa Tom! I'se a-camin' wif it!"
"And where's Koku? We'll need him!"
"He's a-camin', too!"
"Here Koku!" exclaimed a deep voice, and a big man came running around the corner of the house. "What is it, Master?"
"We must get him down, Koku!" said Tom, simply. "I will go up on the roof. You had better come, too. Rad, go in the house and get a mattress from the bed. Put it down on the ground where he's likely to fall. Lively now!"
"Yas, sah, Massa Tom!"
"Me git my own ladder—dat one not strong 'nuff!" grunted Koku, who did not speak very good English. He had a very strong ladder, of his own make, built to hold his enormous bulk, and this he soon brought and placed against the side of the house.
Meanwhile Tom and his father had raised the one Eradicate had brought, though Tom did most of the lifting, for his father was elderly, and had once suffered from heart trouble.
"We're coming for you!" cried the young inventor as he began to ascend the ladder, at the same time observing that the giant was coming with his. "Can you hold on a little longer?"
"Yes, I guess so. But I dare not move for fear the propellers will strike me."
"I see. I'll soon shut off the motor," said Tom. "What happened, anyhow?"
"Well, I was flying over your house. I was on my way to pay you a visit, but I didn't intend to do it in just this way," and the birdman smiled grimly. "I didn't see your wireless aerials until I was plumb into them, and then it was too late. I hope I haven't damaged them any."
"Oh, they are easily fixed," said Tom. "I hope you and your biplane are not damaged. This way, Koku!" he called to the giant.
"Say, is—is he real, or am I seeing things?" asked the aviator, as he looked at the big man.
"Oh, he's real, all right," laughed Tom. "Now, then, I'm going to shut off your motor, and then you can quit hugging that chimney, and come down."
"I'll be real glad to," said the birdman.
Making his way cautiously along the gutters of the roof, Tom managed to reach the motor controls. He pulled out the electrical switch, and with a sort of cough and groan the motor stopped. The big propellers ceased revolving, and the aviator could leave his perch in safety.
This he did, edging along until he could climb down and meet Tom, who stood near the ladder.
"Much obliged," said the birdman, as he shook hands with Tom. "My name is Grant Halling. I'm a newcomer in Mansburg," he added, naming a town not far from Shopton. "I know you by reputation, so you don't need to introduce yourself."
"Glad to meet you," said the young inventor, cordially. "Rather a queer place to meet a friend," he went on with a laugh and a glance down to the ground. "Can you climb?"
"Oh, yes, I'm used to that. The next thing will be to get my machine down."
"Oh, we can manage that with Koku's help," spoke Tom. "Koku, get some ropes, and see what you and Rad can do toward getting the aeroplane down," he added to the giant. "Let me know if you need any help."
"Me can do!" exclaimed the big man. "Me fix him!"
Tom and Mr. Halling made their way down the ladder, while the giant proceeded to study out a plan for getting the airship off the roof.
"You say you were coming over to see me, when you ran into my wireless aerials?" asked Tom, curiously, when he had introduced his father to the birdman.
"Yes," went on Mr. Halling. "I have been having some trouble with my motor, and I thought perhaps you could tell me what was wrong. My friend, Mr. Wakefield Damon, sent me to you."
"What! Do you know Mr. Damon?" cried Tom.
"I've known' him for some years. I met him in the West, but I hadn't seen him lately, until I came East. He sent me to see you, and said you would help me."
"Well, any friend of Mr. Damon's is a friend of mine!" exclaimed Tom, genially. "I'll have a look at your machine as soon as Koku gets it down. How is Mr. Damon, anyhow? I haven't seen him in over two weeks."
"I'm sorry to say he isn't very well, Mr. Swift."
"Is he ill? What is the trouble?"
"He isn't exactly ill," went on Mr. Halling, "but he is fretting himself into a sickness, worrying over his lost fortune."
"His lost fortune!" cried Tom, in surprise at the bad news concerning his friend. "I didn't know he had lost his money!"
"He hasn't yet, but he's in a fair way to, he says. It's something about bad investments, and he did speak of the trickery of one man, I didn't get the particulars. But he certainly feels very badly over it."
"I should think he would," put in Mr. Swift. "Tom, we must look into this. If we can help Mr. Damon—"
"We certainly will," interrupted Tom. "Now come in the house, Mr. Halling. I'm sure you must be quite shaken up by your upset."
"I am, to tell you the truth, though it isn't the first accident I've had in my airship."
They were proceeding toward the house, when there came a cry from Koku, who had fastened a rope about the airship to lower it.
"Master! Master!" cried the giant. "The rope am slippin'. Grab the end of it!"
"Come on!" cried Tom, quickly, as, turning', he saw the accident about to happen. "Your craft will surely be smashed if she slips to the ground, Mr. Halling!"
"You're right! This seems to be my unlucky day!" The birdman, limping slightly from his fall, hurried with Tom to where a rope trailed on the ground. Koku had fastened one end to the airship, and had taken a turn of the cable about the chimney. He had been lowering the biplane to the ground, but he had not allowed for its great weight, and the rope had slipped from his big hands.
But Tom and Mr. Halling were just in time. They grabbed the slipping hempen strands, and thus checked the falling craft until Koku could get a better grip.
"All right now," said the giant, when he had made fast the rope. "Me fix now. Master can go."
"Think he can lower it?" asked Mr. Halling, doubtfully.
"Oh, surely," said Tom. "Koku's as strong as a horse. You needn't worry. He'll get it down all right. But you are limping."
"Yes, I jammed my leg a little."
"Don't you want a doctor?"
"Oh, no, not for a little thing like that."
But Tom insisted on looking at his new friend's wound, and found quite a cut on the thigh, which the young inventor insisted on binding up.
"That feels better," said the birdman, as he stretched out on a couch. "Now if you can look my machine over, and tell me what's the matter with it, I'll be much obliged to you, and I'll get on my way."
"Not quite so fast as that!" laughed Tom. "I wouldn't want to see you start off with your lame leg, and certainly I would not want to see you use your aircraft after what she's gone through, until we've given her a test. You can't tell what part you might have strained."
"Well, I suppose you are right. But I think I'd better go to a hotel, or send for an auto and go home."
"Now you needn't do anything of the kind," spoke Tom, hospitably. "We've got lots of room here, and for that matter we have plenty of autos and airships, too, as well as a motor boat. You just rest yourself here. Later we'll look over your craft."
After dinner, when Mr. Halling said he felt much better, Tom agreed to go out with him and look at the airship. As he feared, he found several things the matter with it, in addition to the motor trouble which had been the cause for Mr. Halling's call on the young inventor.
"Can she be fixed?" asked the birdman, who explained that, as yet, he was only an amateur in the practice of flying.
"Oh, yes, we can fix her up for you," said Tom. "But it will take several days. You'll have to leave it here."
"Well, I'll be glad to do that, for I know she will be all the better when you get through with her. But I think I am able to go on home now, and I really ought to. There is some business I must attend to."
"Speaking of business," remarked Tom, "can you tell me anything more of Mr. Damon's financial troubles?"
"No, not much. All I know is that when I called on him the other day I found him with his check book out, and he was doing a lot of figuring. He looked pretty blue and downcast, I can tell you."
"I'm sorry about that," spoke Tom, musingly. "Mr. Damon is a very good friend of mine, and I'd do anything to help him. I certainly wouldn't like to see him lose his fortune. Bad investments, you say it was?"
"Partly so, and yet I'm inclined to think if he does lose his money it will be due to some trickery. Mr. Damon is not the man to make bad investments by himself."
"Indeed he is not," agreed Tom. "You say he spoke of some man?"
"Yes, but not definitely. He did not mention any name. But Mr. Damon was certainly quite blue."
"That's unlike him," remarked Tom. "He is usually very jolly. He must be feeling quite badly. I'll go over and have a talk with him, as soon as I can."
"Do. I think he would appreciate it. And now I must see about getting home."
"I'll take you in one of my cars," said Tom, who had several automobiles. "I don't want to see you strain that injured leg of yours."
"You're very good—especially after I tangled up your wireless aerials; but I didn't see them until I was right into them," apologized Mr. Halling.
"They're a new kind of wire," said Tom, "and are not very plain to see. I must put up some warning signs. But don't worry about damaging them. They were only up temporarily anyhow, and I was going to take them down to arrange for my photo telephone."
"Photo telephone, eh? Is that something new?"
"It will be—if I can get it working," said Tom, with a smile.
A little later Tom had taken Mr. Halling home, and then he set about making arrangements for repairing the damaged airship. This took him the better part of a week, but he did not regret the time, for while he was working he was busy making plans for his newest invention—the photo telephone.
One afternoon, when Tom had completed the repairs to the airship, and had spent some time setting up an experimental telephone line, the young inventor received a call from his chum, Ned Newton.
"Well, well, what are you up to now?" asked Ned, as he saw his chum seated in a booth, with a telephone receiver to his ear, meanwhile looking steadily at a polished metal plate in front of him. "Trying to hypnotize yourself, Tom?"
"Not exactly. Quiet, Ned, please. I'm trying to listen."
Ned was too familiar with his chum's work to take offense at this. The young banker took a seat on a box, and silently watched Tom. The inventor shifted several switches, pressed one button after another, and tilted the polished metal plate at different angles. Then he closed the door of the little telephone booth, and Ned, through the ground glass door, saw a light shining.
"I wonder what new game Tom is up to?" Ned mused.
Presently the door opened, and Tom stuck out his head.
"Ned, come here," he invited. "Look at that metal plate and see if you can notice anything on it. I've been staring at it so steadily that my eyes are full of sticks. See what you can make out."
"What is this?" asked Ned. "No trick; is it? I won't be blown up, or get my eyes full of pepper; will I?"
"Nonsense! Of course not. I'm trying to make a photo telephone. I have the telephone part down pat, but I can't see anything of the photo image. See if you can."
Ned stared at the polished plate, while Tom did things to it, making electrical connections, and tilting it at various angles.
"See anything, Ned?" asked Tom.
The other shook his head.
"Whom am I supposed to see?" he asked.
"Why, Koku is at the other end of the wire. I'm having him help me."
Ned gazed from the polished plate out of a side window of the shop, into the yard.
"Well, that Koku is certainly a wonderful giant," said Ned, with a laugh.
"How so?" asked Tom.
"Why he can not be in two places at once. You say he ought to be at the other end of this wire, and there he is out there, spading up the garden."
Tom stared for a second and then exclaimed:
"Well, if that isn't the limit! I put him in the telephone booth in the machine shop, and told him to stay there until I was through. What in the world is he doing out there?"
"Koku!" he called to the giant, "why didn't you stay at the telephone where I put you? Why did you run away?"
"Ha!" exclaimed the giant, who, for all his great size was a simple chap, "little thing go 'tick-tick' and then 'clap-clap!' Koku no like—Koku t'ink bad spirit in telumfoam—Koku come out!"
"Well, no wonder I couldn't see any image on the plate!" exclaimed Tom. "There was nobody there. Now, Ned, you try it; will you, please?"
"Sure. Anything to oblige!"
"Then go in the other telephone booth. You can talk to me on the wire. Say anything you like—the telephone part is all right. Then you just stand so that the light in the booth shines on your face. The machine will do the rest—if it works."
Ned hurried off and was soon talking to his chum over the wire from the branch telephone in the machine shop. Ned stood in the glare of an electric light, and looked at a polished plate similar to the one in the other booth.
"Are you there, Ned?" asked Tom.
"Yes, I'm here."
"Is the light on?"
"And you're looking at the plate?"
"Sure. Can you see any reflection in your plate?"
"No, not a thing," answered Tom, and there was great discouragement in his voice. "The thing is a failure, Ned. Come on back," and the young banker could hear his chum hang up the telephone receiver at the other end.
"That's too bad," murmured Ned, knowing how Tom must feel. "I'll have to cheer him up a bit."
When Ned Newton got back to where Tom sat in the small telephone booth, the young banker found his chum staring rather moodily at the polished metal plate on the shelf that held the talking instrument.
"So it was no go; eh, Tom?"
"No go at all, Ned, and I thought sure I had it right this time."
"Then this isn't your first experiment?"
"Land no! I've been at it, off and on, for over a month, and I can't seem to get any farther. I'm up against a snag now, good and hard."
"Then there wasn't any image on your plate?"
"Not a thing, Ned. I don't suppose you caught any glimpse of me in your plate?" asked Tom, half hopefully.
"No. I couldn't see a thing. So you are going to try and make this thing work both ways, are you?"
"That's my intention, But I can fix it so that a person can control the apparatus at his end, and only see the person he is talking to, not being seen himself, unless he wishes it. That is, I hope to do that. Just now nobody can see anybody," and Tom sighed.
"Give it up," advised Ned. "It's too hard a nut to crack, Tom!"
"Indeed, I'll not give it up, Ned! I'm going to work along a new line. I must try a different solution of selenium on the metal plate. Perhaps I may have to try using a sensitized plate, and develop it later, though I do want to get the machine down so you can see a perfect image without the need of developing. And I will, too!" cried Tom. "I'll get some new selenium."
Eradicate, who came into the shop just then, heard the end of Tom's remarks. A strange look came over his honest black face, and he exclaimed:
"What all am dat, Massa Tom? Yo'ah gwine t' bring de new millenium heah? Dat's de end of de world, ain't it-dat millenium? Golly! Dish yeah coon neber 'spected t' lib t' see dat. De millenium! Oh mah landy!"
"No, Rad!" laughed Tom. "I was speaking about selenium, a sort of metallic combination that is a peculiar conductor of electricity. The more light that shines on it the better conductor it is, and the less light, the poorer."
"It must be queer stuff," said Ned.
"It is," declared Tom. "I think it is the only thing to use in this photo telephone experiment, though I might try the metal plate method, as they did between Monte Carlo and Paris. But I am not trying to make newspaper pictures."
"What is selenium, anyhow?" asked Ned. "Remember, Tom, I'm not up on this scientific stuff as you are."
"Selenium," went on Tom, "was discovered in 1817, by J. J. Berzelius, and he gave it that name from the Greek word for moon, on account of selenium being so similar, in some ways, to tellurium. That last is named after the Latin word tellus, the earth."
"Do they dig it?" Ned wanted to know.
"Well, sometimes selenium is found in combination with metals, in the form of selenides, the more important minerals of that kind being eucharite, crooksite, clausthalite, naumannite and zorgite—"
"Good night!" interrupted Ned, with a laugh, holding up his hands. "Stop it, Tom!" he pleaded. "You'll give me a headache with all those big words."
"Oh, they're easy, once you get used to them," said the young inventor, with a smile. "Perhaps it will be easier if I say that sometimes selenium is found in native sulphur. Selenium is usually obtained from the flue-dust or chamber deposits of some factory where sulphuric acid is made. They take this dust and treat it with acids until they get the pure selenium. Sometimes selenium comes in crystal forms, and again it is combined with various metals for different uses."
"There's one good thing about it. There are several varieties, and I'll try them all before I give up."
"That's the way to talk!" cried Ned. "Never say die! Don't give up the ship, and all that. But, Tom, what you need now is a little fun. You've been poking away at this too long. Come on out on the lake, and have a ride in the motor boat. It will do you good. It will do me good. I'm a bit rusty myself—been working hard lately. Come on—let's go out on the lake."
"I believe I will!" exclaimed Tom, after thinking it over for a moment. "I need a little fresh air. Sitting in that telephone booth, trying to get an image on a plate, and not succeeding, has gotten on my nerves. I want to write out an order for Koku to take to town, though. I want to get some fresh selenium, and then I'm going to make new plates."
Tom made some memoranda, and then, giving Koku the order for the chemist, the young inventor closed up his shop, and went with Ned down to Lake Carlopa, where the motor boat was moored.
This was not the same boat Tom had first purchased, some years ago, but a comparatively new and powerful craft.
"It sure is one grand little day for a ride," remarked Ned, as he got in the craft, while Tom looked over the engine.
"Yes, I'm glad you came over, and routed me out," said the young inventor. "When I get going on a thing I don't know enough to stop. Oh, I forgot something!"
"What?" asked Ned.
"I forgot to leave word about Mr. Railing's airship. It's all fixed and ready for him, but I put on a new control, and I wanted to explain to him about it. He might not know how to work it. I left word with father, though, that if he came for it he must not try it until he had seen me. I guess it will be all right. I don't want to go back to the house now."
"No, it's too far," agreed Ned.
"I have it!" exclaimed Tom. "I'll telephone to dad from here, not to let Halling go up until I come back. He may not come for his machine; but, if he does, it's best to be on the safe side Ned."
Accordingly, Tom 'phoned from his boat-house, and Mr. Swift promised to see the bird-man if he called. Then Ned and Tom gave themselves up to the delights of a trip on the water.
The Kilo, which name Tom had selected for his new craft, was a powerful boat, and comfortable. It swept on down the lake, and many other persons, in their pleasure craft, turned to look at Tom's fine one.
"Lots of folks out to-day," observed Ned, as they went around a point of the shore.
"Yes, quite a number," agreed Tom, leaning forward to adjust the motor. "I wonder what's got into her?" he said, in some annoyance, as he made various adjustments. "One of the cylinders is missing."
"Maybe it needs a new spark plug," suggested Ned.
"Maybe. Guess I'll stop and put one in."
Tom slowed down the motor, and headed his boat over toward shore, intending to tie up there for a while.
As he shifted the wheel he heard a cry behind him, and at the same time a hoarse, domineering voice called out:
"Here, what do you mean, changing your course that way? Look out, or I'll run you down! Get out of my way, you land-lubber, you!"
Startled, Ned and Tom turned. They saw, rushing up on them from astern, a powerful red motor boat, at the wheel of which sat a stout man, with a very florid face and a commanding air.
"Get out of my way!" he cried. "I can't stop so short! Look out, or I'll run you down!"
Tom, with a fierce feeling of resentment at the fellow, was about to shift the course of the Kilo, but he was too late.
A moment later there came a smashing blow on the stern port quarter and the Kilo heeled over at a dangerous angle, while, with a rending, splintering sound of wood, the big red motorboat swept on past Tom and Ned, her rubstreak grinding along the side of the Kilo.
"Great Scott, Tom! What happened?"
"I know as much as you, Ned. That fellow ran us down, that's all."
"Are we leaking?" and with this question Ned sprang from his place near the bow, and looked toward the stern, where the heaviest blow had been struck.
The Kilo had swung back to an even keel again, but was still bobbing about on the water.
"Any hole there?" cried Tom, as he swung the wheel over to point his craft toward shore, in case she showed a tendency to sink.
"I can't see any hole," answered Ned. "But water is coming in here."
"Then there's a leak all right! Probably some of the seams are opened, or it may be coming in around the shaft stuffing-box. Here, Ned, take the wheel, and I'll start up the engine again," for with the blow the motor had stopped.
"What are you going to do?" asked Ned, as he again made his way forward.
"Take her to shore, of course. It's deep out here and I don't want her to go down at this point."
"Say, what do you think of that fellow, anyhow, Tom?"
"I wouldn't like to tell you. Look, he's coming back."
This was so, for, as the boys watched, the big red motor boat had swung about in a circle and was headed for them.
"I'll tell him what I think of him, at any rate," murmured Tom, as he bent over his motor. "And, later on, I'll let the lawyers talk to him."
"You mean you'll sue him, Tom?"
"Well, I'm certainly not going to let him run into me and spring a leak, for nothing. That won't go with me!"
By this time Tom had the motor started, but he throttled it down so that it just turned the propeller. With it running at full speed there was considerable vibration, and this would further open the leaking seams. So much water might thus be let in that the craft could not be gotten ashore.
"Head her over, Ned," cried Tom, when he found he had sufficient headway. "Steer for Ramsey's dock. There's a marine railway next to him, and I can haul her out for repairs."
"That's the talk, Tom!" cried his chum.
By this time the big, red motor boat was close beside Tom's craft.
The man at the wheel, a stout-bodied and stout-faced man, with a complexion nearly the color of his boat, glared at the two young men.
"What do you fellows mean?" called out the man, in deep booming tones—tones that he tried to make imposing, but which, to the trained ears of Tom and Ned, sounded only like the enraged bellow of some bully. "What do you mean, I say? Getting on my course like that!"
Ned could see Tom biting his lips, and clenching his hands to keep down his temper. But it was too much. To be run into, and then insulted, was more than Tom could stand.
"Look here!" he cried, standing up and facing the red-faced man, "I don't know who you are, and I don't care. But I'll tell you one thing—you'll pay for the damage you did to my boat!"
"I'll pay for it? Come, that's pretty good! Ha! Ha!" laughed the self-important man. "Why, I was thinking of making a complaint against you for crossing my course that way. If I find my boat is damaged I shall certainly do so anyhow. Have we suffered any damage, Snuffin?" and he looked back at a grimy-faced mechinician who was oiling the big, throbbing motor, which was now running with the clutch out.
"No, sir, I don't think we're damaged, sir," answered the man, deferentially.
"Well, it's a lucky thing for these land-lubbers that we aren't. I should certainly sue them. The idea of crossing my course the way they did. Weren't they in the wrong, Snuffin?"
The man hesitated for a moment, and glanced at Tom and Ned, as though asking their indulgence.
"Well, I asked you a question, Snuffin!" exclaimed the red-faced man sharply.
"Yes—yes, sir, they shouldn't have turned the way they did," answered the man, in a low voice.
"Well, of all the nerve!" murmured Tom, and stopped his motor. Then, stepping to the side of his disabled and leaking boat, he exclaimed:
"Look here! Either you folks don't know anything about navigation rules, or you aren't heeding them. I had a perfect right to turn and go ashore when I did, for I found my engine was out of order, and I wanted to fix it. I blew the usual signal on the whistle, showing my intention to turn off my course, and if you had been listening you would have heard it."
"If you had even been watching you would have seen me shift, and then, coming on at the speed you did, it was your place to warn me by a whistle, so that I could keep straight on until you had passed me."
"But you did not. You kept right on and ran into me, and the only wonder is that you didn't sink me. Talk about me getting in your way! Why, you deliberately ran me down after I had given the right signal. I'll make a complaint against you, that's what I will."
If possible the red-faced man got even more rosy than usual. He fairly puffed up, he was so angry.
"Listen to that, will you, Snuffin!" he cried. "Listen to that! He says he blew his whistle to tell us he was going to turn in."
"That's what I did!" said Tom, calmly.
"Preposterous! Did you hear it, Snuffin?" puffed the important man.
"Yes—yes, I think I did, sir," answered the machinist, in a hesitating voice.
"You did? What! You mean to tell me you heard their whistle?"
"Why—why—er—I—" the big man puffed and blew, but seemed to find no words in which to express himself. "Snuffin, I'll have a talk with you when we get home," he finally said, most significantly. "The idea of saying you heard a whistle blown! There was nothing of the kind! I shall make a complaint against these land-lubbers myself. Do you know who they are, Snuffin?"
"Yes—yes, sir," was the answer, as the man glanced at Tom. "At least I know one of them, sir."
"Very good. Give me his name. I'll attend to the rest."
Tom looked at the big man sharply. He had never seen him before, as far as he could recall. As for the machinist, the young inventor had a dim recollection that once the man might have worked in his shop.
"Go ahead, Snuffin!" said the big man, mopping his face with a large silk handkerchief, which, even at that distance, gave out a powerful perfume. "Go ahead, Snuffin, and we will settle this matter later," and, adjusting a large rose in his buttonhole, the self-important individual took his place on the cushioned seat at the wheel, while the big red motor boat drew off down the river.
"Well, of all the nerve!" gasped Ned. "Isn't he the limit?"
"Never mind," spoke Tom, with a little laugh. "I'm sorry I lost my temper, and even bothered to answer him. We'll let the lawyers do the rest of the talking. Take the wheel, Ned."
"But are you going to let him get away like this, Tom? Without asking him to pay for the damage to your boat, when he was clearly in the wrong?"
"Oh, I'll ask him to pay all right; but I'll do it the proper way. Now come on. If we stay here chinning much longer the Kilo will go down. I must find out who he is. I think I know Snuffin—he used to work for me, I now recall."
"Don't you know who that big man is?" asked Ned, as he took the wheel, while Tom again started the motor. The water was now almost up to the lower rim of the fly wheel.
"No; who is he?" asked Tom.
"Well, I know as much as I did before," laughed Tom. "That doesn't tell me anything."
"Why, I thought everybody in the town knew Shallock Peters," went on Ned. "He tried to do some business with our bank, but was turned down. I hear he's gone to the other one, though. He's what we call a get-rich-quick schemer, Tom—a promoter."
"I thought he acted like that sort of a character."
"Well, that's what he is. He's got half a dozen schemes under way, and he hasn't been in town over a month. I wonder you haven't seen or heard of him."
"I've been too busy over my photo telephone."
"I suppose so. Well, this fellow Peters struck Shopton about a month ago. He bought the old Wardell homestead, and began to show off at once. He's got two autos, and this big motor boat. He always goes around with a silk hat and a flower in his buttonhole. A big bluff—that's what he is."
"He acted so to me," was Tom's comment. "Well, he isn't going to scare me. The idea! Why, he seemed to think we were in the wrong; whereas he was, and his man knew it, too."
"Yes, but the poor fellow was afraid to say so. I felt sorry for him."
"So did I," added Tom. "Well, Kilo is out of commission for the present. Guess we'll have to finish our outing by walking, Ned."
"Oh, I don't mind. But it makes me mad to have a fellow act the way he did."
"Well, there's no good in getting mad," was Tom's smiling rejoinder. "We'll take it out of him legally. That's the best way in the end. But I can't help saying I don't like Mr. Shallock Peters."
"And I don't either," added Ned.
"There, she's about right now, Ned. Hold her there!"
"Aye, aye, Captain Tom!"
"Jove, she's leaking like a sieve! We only got her here just in time!"
"That's right," agreed Ned.
Tom and his chum had managed to get the Kilo to Ramsey's dock, and over the ways of the inclined marine railway that led from the shop on shore down into the river. Then, poling the craft along, until she was in the "cradle," Ned held her there while Tom went on shore to wind up the windlass that pulled the car, containing the boat, up the incline.
"I'll give you a hand, as soon as I find she sets level," called Ned, from his place in the boat.
"All right—don't worry. There are good gears on this windlass, and she works easy," replied Tom.
In a short time the boat was out of the water, but, as Tom grimly remarked, "the water was not out of her," for a stream poured from the stuffing-box, through which the propeller shaft entered, and water also ran out through the seams that had been opened by the collision.
"Quite a smash, Tom," observed the boat repairer, when he had come out to look over the Kilo. "How'd it happen?"
"Oh, Shallock Peters, with his big red boat, ran into us!" said Ned, sharply.
"Ha, Peters; eh?" exclaimed the boatman. "That's the second craft he's damaged inside a week with his speed mania. There's Bert Johnson's little speeder over there," and he pointed to one over which some men were working. "Had to put a whole new stern in her, and what do you think that man Peters did?"
"What?" asked Tom, as he bent down to see how much damage his craft had sustained.
"He wouldn't pay young Johnson a cent of money for the repairs," went on Mr. Houston, the boatman. "It was all Peters's fault, too."
"Couldn't he make him pay?" asked Tom.
"Well, young Johnson asked for it—no more than right, too; but Peters only sneered and laughed at him."
"Why didn't he sue?" asked Ned.
"Costs too much money to hire lawyers, I reckon. So he played you the same trick; eh. Tom?"
"Pretty much, yes. But he won't get off so easily, I can tell you that!" and there was a grim and determined look on the face of the young inventor. "How long will it take to fix my boat, Mr. Houston?"
"Nigh onto two weeks, Tom. I'm terrible rushed now."
Tom whistled ruefully.
"I could do it myself quicker, if I could get her back to my shop," he said. "But she'd sink on the home trip. All right, do the best you can, Mr. Houston."
"I will that, Tom."
The two chums walked out of the boat-repair place.
"What are you going to do, Tom?" asked Ned, as they strolled along.
"Well, since we can't go motor boating, I guess I may as well go back and see if that new supply of selenium has come. I do want to get my photo telephone working, Ned."
"And that's all the outing you're going to take—less than an hour!" exclaimed Ned, reproachfully.
"Oh, well, all you wanted to do was to get me out of a rut, as you called it," laughed Tom. "And you've done it—you and Mr. Peters together. It jolted up my brain, and I guess I can think better now. Come on back and watch me tinker away, Ned."
"Not much! I'm going to stay out and get some fresh air while I can. You'd better, too."
"I will, later."
So Tom turned back to his workshop, and Ned strolled on into the country, for his day's work at the bank was over. And for some time after that—until far into the night—Tom Swift worked at the knotty problem of the photo telephone.
But the young inventor was baffled. Try as he might, he could not get the image to show on the metal plate, nor could he get any results by using a regular photographic plate, and developing it afterward.
"There is something wrong with the transmission of the light waves over the wire," Tom confessed to his father.
"You'll never do it, Tom," said the aged inventor. "You are only wasting a whole lot of time."
"Well, as I haven't anything else to do now, it isn't much loss," spoke Tom, ruefully. "But I'm going to make this work, Dad!"
"All right, son. It's up to you. Only I tell you it can't be done."
Tom, himself, was almost ready to admit this, when, a week later, he seemed to be no nearer a solution of the problem than he was at first. He had tried everything he could think of, and he had Eradicate and Koku, the giant, almost distracted, by making them stay in small telephone booths for hours at a time, while the young inventor tried to get some reflection of one face or the other to come over the wire.
Koku finally got so nervous over the matter, that he flatly refused to "pose" any longer, so Tom was forced to use Eradicate. As for that elderly man of all work, after many trials, all unsuccessful, he remarked:
"Massa Tom, I reckon I knows what's wrong."
"Yes, Rad? Well, what is it?"
"Mah face am too black—dat's de trouble. You done want a white-complected gen'man to stand in dat booth an' look at dat lookin' glass plate. I'se too black! I suah is!"
"No, that isn't it, Rad," laughed Tom, hopelessly. "If the thing works at all it will send a black man's face over the wire as well as a white man's. I guess the truth of it is that you're like Koku. You're getting tired. I don't know as I blame you. I'm getting a bit weary myself. I'm going to take a rest. I'll send for another kind of selenium crystals I've heard of, and we'll try them. In the meanwhile—I'll take a little vacation."
"Get out my small airship, Rad, and I'll take a little flight."
"Dat's de way to talk, Massa Tom," was the glad rejoinder.
"I'm going over to see Mr. Damon, Father," announced Tom to Mr. Swift a little later, when his speedy monoplane was waiting for him. "I haven't seen him in some time, and I'd like to get at the truth of what Mr. Halling said about Mr. Damon's fortune being in danger. I'll be back soon."
"All right, Tom. And say—"
"Yes, Dad, what is it?" asked Tom, as he paused in the act of getting in the seat.
"If he wants any ready cash, you know we've got plenty."
"Oh, sure. I was going to tell him we'd help him out."
Then, as Koku spun the propeller blades, Tom grasped the steering wheel, and, tilting the elevating rudder, he was soon soaring into the air, he and his craft becoming smaller and smaller as they were lost to sight in the distance, while the rattle and roar of the powerful motor became fainter.
In a comparatively short time Tom had made a successful landing in the big yard in front of Mr. Damon's house, and, walking up the path, kept a lookout for his friend.
"I wonder why he didn't come out to meet me?" mused Tom, for usually when the eccentric man heard the throbbing of Tom's motor, he was out waiting for the young inventor. But this time it was not the case.
"Is Mr. Damon in?" Tom asked of the maid who answered his ring.
"Yes, Mr. Swift. You'll find him in the library," and she ushered him in.
"Oh, hello, Tom," greeted Mr. Damon, but the tone was so listless, and his friend's manner so gloomy that the young inventor was quite embarrassed.
"Have a chair," went on Mr. Damon. "I'll talk to you in a minute, Tom. I've got to finish this letter, and it's a hard one to write, let me tell you."
Now Tom was more astonished than ever. Not once had Mr. Damon "blessed," anything, and when this did not happen Tom was sure something was wrong. He waited until his friend had sealed the letter, and turned to him with a sigh. Then Tom said boldly:
"Mr. Damon, is it true that you're having hard luck—in money matters?"
"Why, yes, Tom, I'm afraid I am," was the quick answer. "But who told you?"
"Grant Halling. He was over to get me to fix his airship," and Tom briefly related what had happened.
"Oh, yes, I did mention the matter to him," went on Mr. Damon, and his tone was still listless. "So he told you; did he? Well, matters aren't any better, Tom. In fact, they're worse. I just had to write to a man who was asking for help, and I had to refuse him, though he needs it very much. The truth is I hadn't the money. Tom, I'm afraid I'm going to be a very poor man soon."
"Impossible, Mr. Damon! Why, I thought your investments—"
"I've made some bad ones of late, Tom. I've been pretty foolish, I'm afraid. I drew out some money I had in government bonds, and invested in certain stocks sold by a Mr. Shallock Peters."
"Shallock Peters!" cried Tom, almost jumping out of his chair. "Why, I know him—I mean I've met him."
"Have you, Tom? Well, then, all I've got to say is to steer clear of him, my boy. Don't have anything to do with him," and, with something of a return of his usual energy Mr. Damon banged his fist down on his desk. "Give him a wide berth, Tom, and if you see him coming, turn your back. He'd talk a miser into giving him his last cent. Keep away from Shallock Peters, Tom. Bless my necktie, he's a scoundrel, that's what he is!" and again Mr. Damon banged his desk forcibly.
"Well, I'm glad of one thing!" exclaimed Tom, when the ink bottle and the paper cutter on Mr. Damon's desk had ceased rattling, because of the violence of the blow. "I'm glad of one thing."
"What's that, Tom?" asked his friend.
"I heard you bless something at last—the first time since I came in."
"Oh!" and Mr. Damon laughed. "Well, Tom, I haven't been blessing things lately—that's a fact. I haven't had the heart for it. There are too many business complications. I wish I'd never met this Peters."
"So do I," said Tom. "My motor boat would not have been damaged then."
"Did he do that, Tom?"
"He certainly did, and then he accused me of being at fault."
"That would be just like him. Tell me about it, Tom."
When the young inventor finished the story of the collision Mr. Damon sat silent for a moment. Then he remarked slowly:
"That's just like Peters. A big bluff—that's what he is. I wish I'd discovered that fact sooner—I'd be money in pocket. But I allowed myself to be deceived by his talk about big profits. At first he seemed like a smart business man, and he certainly had fine recommendations. But I am inclined to believe, now, that the recommendations were forged."
"What did he do to you, Mr. Damon?" asked Tom, with ready sympathy.
"It's too complicated to go into details over, Tom, but to make a long story short, he got me to invest nearly all my fortune in some enterprises that, I fear, are doomed to failure. And if they do fail, I'll be a ruined man."
"No, you won't!" exclaimed Tom. "That's one reason why I came here to-day. Father told me to offer you all the ready money you needed to get out of your trouble. How much do you need, Mr. Damon?"
"Bless my collar button! That's like your father, Tom," and now Mr. Damon seemed more like his old self. "Bless my shoes, a man never knows who his real friends are until trouble comes. I can't say how I thank you and your father, Tom. But I'm not going to take advantage of him."
"It wouldn't be taking any advantage of him, Mr. Damon. He has money lying idle, and he'd like to have you use it."
"Well, Tom, I might use it, if I had only myself to think about. But there's no use in throwing good money after bad. If I took yours now this fellow Peters would only get it, and that would be the last of it."
"No, Tom, thank you and your father just the same, but I'll try to weather the storm a bit longer myself. Then, if I do go down I won't drag anybody else with me. I'll hang on to the wreck a bit longer. The storm may blow over, or—or something may happen to this fellow Peters."
"Has he really got you in his grip, Mr. Damon?"
"He has, and, to a certain extent, it's my own fault. I should have been suspicious of him. And now, Tom, let me give you a further word of warning. You heard me say to steer clear of this Peters?"
"Yes, and I'm going to. But I'm going to make him pay for damaging my boat, if I possibly can."
"Maybe it would be wiser not to try that, Tom. I tell you he's a tricky man. And one thing more. I have heard that this man Peters makes a specialty of organizing companies to take up new inventions."
"Is that so?" asked Tom, interestedly.
"Yes, but that's as far as it goes. Peters gets the invention, and the man, out of whose brain it came, gets nothing."
"In other words, he swindles them?"
"That's it, Tom. If not in one way, then in another. He cheats them out of the profits of their inventions. So I want to warn you to be on the lookout."
"Don't worry," said Tom. "Peters will get nothing from my father or me. We'll be on our guard. Not that I think he will try it, but it's just as well to be warned. I didn't like him from the moment he ran into me, and, now that I know what he has done to you, I like him still less. He won't get anything from me!"
"I'm glad to hear you say so, Tom. I wish he'd gotten nothing out of me."
"Are you sure you won't let my father help you, financially, Mr. Damon?"
"No, Tom, at least not for the present. I'm going to make another fight to hold on to my fortune. If I find I can't do it alone, then I'll call on you. I'm real glad you called. Bless my shoestring! I feel better now."
"I'm glad of it," laughed Tom, and he saw that his friend was in a better state of mind, as his "blessings" showed.
Tom remained for a little longer, talking to Mr. Damon, and then took his leave, flying back home in the airship.
"Gen'man t' see yo', Massa Tom," announced Eradicate, as he helped Tom wheel the monoplane back into the shed.
"Is that so, Rad? Where is he?"
"Settin' in th' library. Yo' father am out, so I asted him in dere."
"That's right, Rad. Who is he, do you know?"
"No, sah, Massa Tom, I doan't. He shore does use a pow'ful nice perfume on his pocket hanky, though. Yum-yum!"
"Perfume!" exclaimed Tom, his mind going back to the day he had had the trouble with Mr. Peters. "Is he a big, red-faced man, Rad?"
"No, sah, Massa Tom. He's a white-faced, skinny man."
"Then it can't be Peters," mused Tom. "I guess perhaps it's that lawyer I wrote to about bringing suit to get back what it cost me to have the Kilo fixed. I'll see him at once. Oh, by the way, it isn't Mr. Grant Halling; is it? The gentleman who got tangled up in our aerials with his airship? Is it he?"
"No, sah, Massa Tom. 'Tain't him."
"I thought perhaps he had gotten into more trouble," mused Tom, as he took off his airship "togs," and started for the house. For Mr. Halling had called for his repaired airship some time ago, and had promised to pay Tom another and more conventional visit, some future day.
Tom did not know the visitor whom he greeted in the library a little later. The man, as Eradicate had said, was rather pale of face, and certainly he was not very fleshy.
"Mr. Tom Swift, I think?" said the man, rising and holding out his hand.
"That's my name. I don't believe I know you, though."
"No, I haven't your reputation," said the man, with a laugh that Tom did not like. "We can't all be great inventors like you," and, somehow, Tom liked the man less than before, for he detected an undertone of sneering patronage in the words. Tom disliked praise, and he felt that this was not sincere.
"I have called on a little matter of business," went on the man. "My name is Harrison Boylan, and I represent Mr. Shallock Peters."
Instinctively Tom stiffened. Receiving a call from a representative of the man against whom Mr. Damon had warned him only a short time before was a strange coincidence, Tom thought.
"You had some little accident, when your motor boat and that of Mr. Peters collided, a brief time ago; did you not?" went on Mr. Boylan.
"I did," said Tom, and, as he motioned the caller to be seated Tom saw, with a start, that some of the drawings of his photo telephone were lying on a desk in plain sight. They were within easy reach of the man, and Tom thought the sheets looked as though they had been recently handled. They were not in the orderly array Tom had made of them before going out.
"If he is a spy, and has been looking at them," mused Tom, "he may steal my invention." Then he calmed himself, as he realized that he, himself, had not yet perfected his latest idea. "I guess he couldn't make much of the drawings," Tom thought.
"Yes, the collision was most unfortunate," went on Mr. Boylan, "and Mr. Peters has instructed me to say—"
"If he's told you to say that it was my fault, you may as well save your time," cut in Tom. "I don't want to be impolite, but I have my own opinion of the affair. And I might add that I have instructed a lawyer to begin a suit against Mr. Peters—"
"No necessity for that at all!" interrupted the man, in soft accents. "No necessity at all. I am sorry you did that, for there was no need. Mr. Peters has instructed me to say that he realizes the accident was entirely his own fault, and he is very willing—nay, anxious, to pay all damages. In fact, that is why I am here, and I am empowered, my dear Mr. Swift, to offer you five hundred dollars, to pay for the repairs to your motor boat. If that is not enough—"
The man paused, and drew a thick wallet front his pocket. Tom felt a little embarrassed over what he had said.
"Oh," spoke the young inventor, "the repair bill is only about three hundred dollars. I'm sorry—"
"Now that's all right, Mr. Swift! It's all right," and the man, with his soft words, raised a white, restraining hand. "Not another word. Mr. Peters did not know who you were that day he so unfortunately ran into you. If he had, he would not have spoken as he did. He supposed you were some amateur motor-boatist, and he was—well, he admits it—he was provoked."
"Since then he has made inquiries, and, learning who you were, he at once authorized me to make a settlement in full. So if five hundred dollars—"
"The repair bill," said Tom, and his voice was not very cordial, in spite of the other's persuasive smile, "the bill came to three hundred forty-seven dollars. Here is the receipted bill. I paid it, and, to be frank with you, I intended bringing suit against Mr. Peters for that sum."
"No need, no need at all, I assure you!" interrupted Mr. Boylan, as he counted off some bills. "There you are, and I regret that you and Mr. Peters had such a misunderstanding. It was all his fault, and he wants to apologize to you."
"The apology is accepted," said Tom, and he smiled a trifle. "Also the money. I take it merely as a matter of justice, for I assure you that Mr. Peters's own machinist will say the accident was his employer's fault."
"No doubt of it, not the least in the world," said the caller. "And now that I have this disagreeable business over, let me speak of something more pleasant."
Instinctively Tom felt that now the real object of the man's call would be made plain—that the matter of paying the damages was only a blind. Tom steeled himself for what was to come.
"You know, I suppose," went on Mr. Boylan, smiling at Tom, "that Mr. Peters is a man of many and large interests."
"I have heard something like that," said Tom, cautiously.
"Yes. Well, he is an organizer—a promoter, if you like. He supplies the money for large enterprises, and is, therefore, a benefactor of the human race. Where persons have no cash with which to exploit their—well, say their inventions. Mr. Peters takes them, and makes money out of them."
"No doubt," thought Tom, grimly.
"In other cases, where an inventor is working at a handicap, say with too many interests, Mr. Peters takes hold of one of his ideas, and makes it pay much better than the inventor has been able to do."
"Now, Mr. Peters has heard of you, and he would like to do you good."
"Yes, I guess he would," thought Tom. "He would like to do me—and do me good and brown. Here's where I've got to play a game myself."
"And so," went on Mr. Boylan, "Mr. Peters has sent me to you to ask you to allow him to exploit one, or several, of your inventions. He will form a large stock company, put one of your inventions on the market, and make you a rich man. Now what do you say?" and he looked at Tom and smiled—smiled, the young inventor could not help thinking, like a cat looking at a mouse. "What do you say, Mr. Swift?"
For a moment Tom did not answer. Then getting up and opening the library door, to indicate that the interview was at an end, the young inventor smiled, and said:
"Tell Mr. Peters that I thank him, but that I have nothing for him to exploit, or with which to form a company to market."
"Wha—what!" faltered the visitor. "Do you mean to say you will not take advantage of his remarkable offer?"
"That's just what I mean to say," replied Tom, with a smile.
"You won't do business with Mr. Peters? You won't let him do you good?"
"No," said Tom, quietly.
"Why—why, that's the strangest—the most preposterous thing I ever heard of!" protested Mr. Boylan. "What—what shall I say to Mr. Peters?"
"Tell him," said Tom, "tell him, from me, and excuse the slang, if you like, but tell him there is—nothing doing!"
TOM IS BAFFLED
Amazement held Mr. Boylan silent for a moment, and then, staring at Tom, as though he could not believe what he had heard the young inventor say, the representative of Mr. Peters exclaimed:
"That's what I said," repeated Tom, calmly.
"But—but you don't understand, I'm afraid."
"Oh, but indeed I do."
"Then you refuse to let my friend, Mr. Peters, exploit some of your inventions?"
"I refuse absolutely."
"Oh, come now. Take an invention that hasn't been very successful."
"Well, I don't like to boast," said Tom with a smile, "but all of my inventions have been successful. They don't need any aid from Mr. Peters, thank you."
"But this one!" went on the visitor eagerly, "this one about some new kind of telephone," and he motioned to the drawings on the table. "Has that been a success? Excuse me for having looked at the plans, but I did not think you would mind. Has that telephone been a success? If it has not perhaps Mr. Peters could form a company to—"
"How did you know those drawings referred to a telephone?" asked Tom, suspiciously, for the papers did not make it clear just what the invention was.
"Why, I understood—I heard, in fact, that you were working on a new photo telephone, and—"
"Who told you?" asked Tom quickly.
"Oh, no one in particular. The colored man who sent me here mentioned—"
"Eradicate!" thought Tom. "He must have been talking. That isn't like him. I must look into this."
Then to his caller he said:
"Really, you must excuse me, Mr. Boylan, but I don't care to do any business with Mr. Peters. Tell him, with my thanks, that there is really nothing doing in his line. I prefer to exploit my own inventions."
"That is your last word?"
"Yes," returned Tom, as he gathered up the drawings.
"Well," said Mr. Boylan, and Tom could not help thinking there was a veiled threat in his tones, "you will regret this. You will be sorry for not having accepted this offer."
"I think not," replied Tom, confidently. "Good-day."
The young inventor sat for some time thinking deeply, when his visitor had gone. He called Eradicate to him, and gently questioned the old colored man, for Eradicate was ageing fast of late, and Tom did not want him to feel badly.
It developed that the servant had been closely cross-questioned by Mr. Boylan, while he was waiting for Tom, and it was small wonder that the old colored man had let slip a reference to the photo telephone. But he really knew nothing of the details of the invention, so he could have given out no secrets.
"But at the same time," mused Tom, "I must be on guard against these fellows. That Boylan seems a pretty slick sort of a chap. As for Peters, he's a big 'bluff,' to be perfectly frank. I'm glad I had Mr. Damon's warning in mind, or I might have been tempted to do business with him."
"Now to get busy at this photo telephone again. I'm going to try a totally different system of transmission. I'll use an alternating current on the third wire, and see if that makes it any better. And I'll put in the most sensitive selenium plate I can make. I'm going to have this thing a success."
Tom carefully examined the drawings of his invention, at which papers Mr. Boylan had confessed to looking. As far as the young inventor could tell none was missing, and as they were not completed it would be hard work for anyone not familiar with them to have gotten any of Tom's ideas.
"But at the same time I'm going to be on my guard," mused Tom. "And now for another trial."
Tom Swift worked hard during the following week, and so closely did he stick to his home and workshop that he did not even pay a visit to Mr. Damon, so he did not learn in what condition that gentleman's affairs were. Tom even denied himself to his chum Ned, so taken up was the young inventor with working out the telephone problem, until Ned fairly forced himself into the shop one day, and insisted on Tom coming out.
"You need some fresh air!" exclaimed Ned. "Come on out in the motor boat again. She's all fixed now; isn't she?"
"Yes," answered Tom, "but—"
"Oh, 'but me no buts,' as Mr. Shakespeare would say. Come on, Tom. It will do you good. I want a spin myself."
"All right, I will go for a little while," agreed Tom. "I am feeling a bit rusty, and my head seems filled with cobwebs."
"Can't get the old thing to come out properly; eh?"
"No. I guess dad was more than half right when he said it couldn't be done. But I haven't given up. Maybe I'll think of some new plan if I take a little run. Come along."
They went down to the boat house, and soon were out on the lake in the Kilo.
"She runs better since you had her fixed," remarked Ned.
"Yes, they did a good job."
"Did you sue Peters?"
"Didn't have to. He sent the money," and Tom told of his interview with Mr. Boylan. This was news to Ned, as was also the financial trouble of Mr. Damon.
"Well," said the young banker, "that bears out what I had heard of Peters—that he was a get-rich-quick chap, and a good one to steer clear of."
"Speaking of steering clear," laughed Tom, "there he is now, in his big boat," and he pointed to a red blur coming up the lake. "I'll give him a wide enough berth this time."
But though Mr. Peters, in his powerful motor boat, passed close to Tom's more modest craft, the big man did not glance toward our hero and his chum. Nor did Mr. Boylan, who was with his friend, look over.
"I guess they've had enough of you," chuckled Ned.
"Probably he wishes he hadn't paid me that money," said Tom. "Very likely he thought, after he handed it over, that I'd be only too willing to let him manage one of my inventions. But he has another guess coming."
Tom and Ned rode on for some distance, thoroughly enjoying the spin on the lake that fine Summer day. They stopped for lunch at a picnic resort, and coming back in the cool of the evening they found themselves in the midst of a little flotilla of pleasure craft, all decorated with Japanese lanterns.
"Better slow down a bit," Ned advised Tom, for many of the pleasure craft were canoes and light row boats. "Our wash may upset some of them."
"Guess you're right, old man," agreed Tom, as he closed the gasoline throttle, to reduce speed. Hardly had he done so than there broke in upon the merry shouts and singing of the pleasure-seekers the staccato exhaust of a powerful motor boat, coming directly behind Tom's craft.
Then came the shrill warning of an electrical siren horn.
"Somebody's in a hurry," observed Tom.
"Yes," answered Ned. "It sound's like Peters's boat, too."
"It is!" exclaimed Tom. "Here he comes. He ought to know better than to cut through this raft of boats at that speed."
"Is he headed toward us?"
"No, I guess he's had enough of that. But look at him!"
With undiminished speed the burly promoter was driving his boat on. The big vibrating horn kept up its clamor, and a powerful searchlight in front dazzled the eyes.
"Look out! Look out!" cried several.
Many of the rowers and paddlers made haste to clear a lane for the big, speedy motor craft, and Peters and his friends (for there were several men in his boat now) seemed to accept this as a matter of course, and their right.
"Somebody'll be swamped!" exclaimed Ned.
Hardly had he spoken than, as the big red boat dashed past in a smother of foam, there came a startled cry in girls' voices.
"Look!" cried Tom. "That canoe's upset! Speed her up, Ned! We've got to get 'em!"
A GLEAM OF HOPE
"Where are they?"
"Who are they?"
"Over this way! There's their canoe!"
"Look out for that motor boat!"
"Who was it ran them down? They ought to be arrested!"
These were only a few of the cries that followed the upsetting of the frail canoe by the wash from the powerful red boat. On Tom's Kilo there was a small, electrical searchlight which he had not yet switched on. But, with his call to Ned Newton to speed up the motor, that had been slowed down, Tom, with one turn of his fingers, set the lamp aglow, while, with the other hand, he whirled the wheel over to head his craft for the spot where he saw two figures struggling in the water.
Fortunately the lanterns on the various canoes and row-boats, as well as the light on the bow of Tom's Kilo, made an illumination that gave the rescuers a good chance to work. Many other boats besides Tom's had headed for the scene, but his was the more practical, since the others—all quite small ones—were pretty well filled.
"There they are, Ned!" Tom suddenly cried. "Throw out the clutch! I'll get 'em!"
"Want any help?"
"No, you stay at the engine, and mind what I say. Reverse now! We're going to pass them!"
Ned threw in the backing gear, and the screw churned the water to foam under the stern of the Kilo.
Tom leaned over the bow, and made a grab for the gasping, struggling figure of a girl in the water. At the same time he had tossed overboard a cork life ring, attached to a rope which, in turn, was made fast to the forward deck-cleat. "Grab that!" cried Tom. "Hold on, and I'll have you out in a second! That's enough, Ned! Shut her off!"
The Kilo came to a standstill, and, a second later, Tom had pulled into his boat one of the girls. She would have collapsed, and fallen in a heap on the bottom boards, had not Ned, who had come forward from the engine, caught her.
Then Tom, again leaning over the side, pulled in the other girl, who was clinging to the life ring.
"You're all right," Tom assured her, as she came up, gasping, choking and crying hysterically. "You're all right!"
"Is—is Minnie saved?" she sobbed.
"Yes, Grace! I'm here," answered the one Ned was supporting.
"Oh, wasn't it terrible!" cried the second girl Tom had saved.
"I thought we would be drowned, even though we can swim."
"Yes, it—it was so—so sudden!" gasped her companion. "What happened?"
"The wash from that big boat upset you," explained Tom. "That fellow ought to be ashamed of himself, rushing along the way he did. Now, can I take you girls anywhere? Your canoe seems to have drifted off."
"I have it!" someone called. "It's turned over, but I can tow it to shore."
"And I'll take the girls home," offered a gentleman in a large rowboat. "My wife will look after them. They live near us," and he mentioned his own name and the names of the two girls Tom had saved. The young inventor did not know them, but he introduced himself and Ned.
"This is the annual moonlight outing of our little boat club," explained the man who had offered to look after the girls, "and it is the first time we ever had an accident. This was not our fault, though."
"Indeed it was not," agreed Tom, after he had helped the two dripping young ladies into the rowboat. "It was due to Mr. Peters's speed mania."
"I shall make a complaint against him to the navigation authorities," said Mr. Ralston, who was looking after the girls. "He must think he, alone, has any rights on this lake."
With renewed thanks to Tom and Ned, the rescued girls were rowed off to their homes, while the interrupted water carnival was continued.
"Some little excitement; eh, Tom?" remarked Ned, when they were once more under way.
"Yes. We seem to run into that fellow Peters, or some of his doings, quite often lately."
"And it isn't a good sign, either," murmured Ned.
For some minutes after that Tom did not speak. In fact he was so silent that Ned at last inquired:
"What's the matter, Tom—in love?"
"Far from it. But, Ned, I've got an idea."
"And I've got a wet suit of clothes where that nice young lady fainted in my arms. I'm soaked."
"That's what gave me the idea—the water, I mean. I noticed how everything was reflected in it, and, do you know, Ned, I believe I have been working on the wrong principle for my photo telephone."
"Wrong, Tom, how is that?"
"Why, I've been using a dry plate, and I think I should have used a wet one. You know how even in a little puddle of water on the sidewalk you can see yourself reflected?"
"Yes, I've often seen that."
"Well then, 'bless my watch chain!' as Mr. Damon would say, I think I've got just what I want. I'm going to try a wet plate now, and I think it will work. Come on now. Speed up! I'm in a great big hurry to get home and try it!"
"Well, Tom, I sure will be glad if you've got the right idea," laughed Ned. "It will be worth getting wet through for, if you strike something. Good luck!"
Tom could hardly wait to fasten up his boat for the night, so eager was he to get to his shop laboratory and try the new idea. A gleam of hope had come to him.
It was still early evening, and Tom, when enticed out by Ned, had left his photo telephone apparatus in readiness to go on with his trials as soon as he should have come back.
"Now for it, Ned!" exclaimed the young inventor, as he took off his coat. "First I'll sensitize a selenium plate, and then I'll wet it. Water is always a good conductor of electricity, and it's a wonder that I forgot that when I was planning this photo telephone. But seeing the sparkle of lights, and the reflection of ourselves in the lake to-night, brought it back to me. Now then, you haven't anything special to do; have you?"
"Not a thing, Tom."
"That's good. Then you get in this other telephone closet—the one in the casting shop. I'll put a prepared plate in there, and one in the booth where I'm to sit. Then I'll switch on the current, and we'll see if I can make you out, and you notice whether my image appears on your plate."
It took some little time to make ready for this new test. Tom was filled with enthusiasm, and he was sure it was going to be successful this time. Ned watched him prepare the selenium plates—plates that were so sensitive to illumination that, in the dark, the metal would hardly transmit a current of electricity, but in the light would do so readily, its conductivity depending on the amount of light it received.
"There, I guess we're all ready, Ned," announced Tom, at last. "Now you go to your little coop, and I'll shut myself up in mine. We can talk over the telephone."
Seated in the little booth in one of the smaller of Tom's shops, Ned proceeded with his part in the new experiment. A small shelf had been fitted up in the booth, or closet, and on this was the apparatus, consisting of a portable telephone set, and a small box, in which was set a selenium plate. This plate had been wet by a spray of water in order to test Tom's new theory.
In a similar booth, several hundred feet away, and in another building, Tom took his place. The two booths were connected by wires, and in each one was an electric light.
"All ready, Ned?" asked Tom, through the telephone.
"All ready," came the answer.
"Now then, turn on your switch—the one I showed you—and look right at the sensitized plate. Then turn out your light, and slowly turn it on. It's a new kind, and the light comes up gradually, like gas or an oil lamp. Turn it on easily."
"I get you, Tom."
Ned did as requested. Slowly the illumination in the booth increased.
"Do you get anything, Tom?" asked Ned, over the wire.
"Not yet," was the somewhat discouraged answer. "Go ahead, turn on more light, and keep your face close to the plate."
Ned did so.
"How about it now?" he asked, a moment later.
"Nothing—yet," was the answer. And then suddenly Tom's voice rose to a scream over the wire.
"Ned—Ned! Quick!" he called. "Come here—I—I—"
The voice died off into a meaningless gurgle.
Ned Newton never knew exactly how he got out of the telephone booth. He seemed to give but one jump, tearing the clamped receiver from his ear, and almost upsetting the photo apparatus in his mad rush to help Tom. Certain it is, however, that he did get out, and a few seconds later he was speeding toward the shop where Tom had taken his position in a booth.
Ned burst in, crying out:
"Tom! What is it? What happened? What's the matter?"
There was no answer. Fearing the worst, Ned hurried to the small booth, in one corner of the big, dimly lighted shop. He could see Tom's lamp burning in the telephone compartment.
"Tom! Tom!" called the young banker.
Still there was no answer, and Ned, springing forward, threw open the double, sound-proof door of the booth. Then he saw Tom lying unconscious, with his head and arms on the table in front of him, while the low buzzing of the electrical apparatus in the transmitting box told that the current had not been shut off.
"Tom! Tom!" cried Ned in his chum's ear. He shook him by the shoulder.
"Are you hurt? What is the matter?"
The young inventor seemed unconscious, and for a moment Ned had a wild idea that Tom had been shocked to death, possibly by some crossed live wire coming in contact with the telephone circuit.
"But that couldn't have happened, or I'd have been shocked myself," mused Ned.
Then he became aware of a curious, sweet, sickish odor in the booth. It was overpowering. Ned felt himself growing dizzy.
"I have it—chloroform!" he gasped. "In some way Tom has been overcome by chloroform. I've got to get him to the fresh air."
Once he had solved the puzzle of Tom's unconsciousness, Ned was quick to act. He caught Tom under the arms, and dragged him out of the booth, and to the outer door of the shop. Almost before Ned had reached there with his limp burden, Tom began to revive, and soon the fresh, cool night air completed the work.
"I—I," began the young inventor. "Ned, I—I—"
"Now take it easy, Tom," advised his chum. "You'll be all right in a few minutes. What happened? Shall I call your father, or Koku?"
"No—don't. It would only—only alarm dad," faltered Tom. "I'm getting all right now. But he—he nearly had me, Ned!"
"He had you? What do you mean, Tom? Who had you?"
"I don't know who it was, but when I was talking to you over the wire, all of a sudden I felt a hand behind me. It slipped over my mouth and nose, and I smelled chloroform. I knew right away something was wrong, and I called to you. That's all I remember. I guess I must have gone off."
"You did," spoke Ned. "You were unconscious when I got to you. I couldn't imagine what had happened. First I thought it was an electrical shock. Then I smelled that chloroform. But who could it have been, Tom?"
"Give it up, Ned! I haven't the slightest idea."
"Could they have been going to rob you?"
"I haven't a thing but a nickel watch on me," went on Tom. "I left all my cash in the house. If it was robbery, it wasn't me, personally, they were after."
"What then? Some of your inventions?"
"That's my idea now, Ned. You remember some years ago Jake Burke and his gang held me up and took one of dad's patents away from me?"
"Yes, I've heard you mention that. It was when you first got your motor cycle; wasn't it?"
"That's right. Well, what I was going to say was that they used chloroform on me then, and—"
"You think this is the same crowd? Why, I thought they were captured."
"No, they got away, but I haven't heard anything of them in years. Now it may be they have come back for revenge, for you know we got back the stolen property."
"That's right. Say, Tom, it might be so. What are you going to do about it?"
"I hardly know. If it was Jake Burke, alias Happy Harry, and his crowd, including Appleson, Morse and Featherton, they're a bad lot. I wouldn't want father to know they were around, for he'd be sure to worry himself sick. He never really got over the time they attacked me, and got the patent away. Dad sure thought he was ruined then."
"Now if I tell him I was chloroformed again to-night, and that I think it was Burke and his crowd, he'd be sure to get ill over it. So I'm just going to keep mum."
"Well, perhaps it's the best plan. But you ought to do something."
"Oh, I will, Ned, don't worry about that. I feel much better now."
"How did it happen?" asked Ned, his curiosity not yet satisfied.
"I don't know, exactly. I was in the booth, talking to you, and not paying much attention to anything else. I was adjusting and readjusting the current, trying to get that image to appear on the plate. All at once, I felt someone back of me, and, before I could turn, that hand, with the chloroform sponge, was over my mouth and nose. I struggled, and called out, but it wasn't much use."
"But they didn't do anything else—they didn't take anything; did they, Tom?"
"I don't know, Ned. We'll have to look around. They must have sneaked into the shop. I left the door open, you see. It would have been easy enough."
"How many were there?"
"I couldn't tell. I only felt one fellow at me; but he may have had others with him."
"What particular invention were they after, Tom?"
"I'm sure I don't know. There are several models in here that would be valuable. I know one thing, though, they couldn't have been after my photo telephone," and Tom laughed grimly.
"Why not?" Ned wanted to know.
"Because it's a failure—that's what! It's a dead, sure failure, Ned, and I'm going to give it up!" and Tom spoke bitterly.
"Oh, don't say that!" urged his chum. "You may be right on the verge of perfecting it, Tom. Didn't you see any image at all on the plate?"
"Not a shadow. I must be on the wrong track. Well, never mind about that now. I'm going to look around, and see if those fellows took anything."
Tom was feeling more like himself again, the effects of the chloroform having passed away. He had breathed the fumes of it for only a little while, so no harm had been done. He and Ned made an examination of the shop, but found nothing missing.
There were no traces of the intruders, however, though the two chums looked carefully about outside the building.
"You were too quick for them, Ned," said Tom. "You came as soon as I called. They heard me speaking, and must have known that I had given the alarm."
"Yes, I didn't lose any time," admitted Ned, "but I didn't see a sign of anyone as I ran up."
"They must have been pretty quick at getting away. Well, now to decide what's best to do to-night."
After some consultation and consideration it was decided to set the burglar alarms in every building of the Swift plant. Some time previous, when he had been working on a number of valuable inventions, unscrupulous men had tried to steal his ideas and models. To prevent this Tom had arranged a system of burglar alarms, and had also fitted up a wizard camera that would take moving pictures of anyone coming within its focus. The camera could be set to work at night, in connection with the burglar alarms.
The apparatus was effective, and thus an end was put to the efforts of the criminals. But now it seemed Tom would have to take new precautionary measures. His camera, however, was not available, as he had loaned it to a scientific society for exhibition.
"But we'll attach the burglar wires," decided Tom, "and see what happens."
"It might be a good plan to have Koku on guard," said Tom's chum. "That giant could handle four or five of the chaps as easily as you and I could tackle one."
"That's right," agreed Tom. "I'll put him on guard. Whew! That chloroform is giving me a headache. Guess I'll go to bed. I wish you'd stay over to-night, Ned, if you haven't anything else to do. I may need you."
"Then of course I'll stay, Tom. I'll telephone home that I won't be in."
A little later Tom had put away his new photo telephone apparatus, and had prepared for the warm reception of any unbidden callers.
"I wish I hadn't started on this new invention," said Tom, half bitterly, as he locked up the main parts of his machine, "I know it will never work."
"Oh, yes it will," spoke Ned, cheerfully. "You never failed yet, Tom Swift, in anything you undertook, and you're not going to now."
"Well, that's good of you to say, Ned, but I think you're wrong this time. But I'm not going to think any more about it to-night, anyhow. Now to find Koku and put him on watch."
The giant listened carefully to Tom's simple instructions.
"If any bad men come in the night, Koku," said the young inventor, "you catch them!"
"Yes, master, me catch!" said Koku, grimly. "Me catch!" and he stretched out his powerful arms, and clenched his big hands in a way that boded no good to evildoers.
Nothing was said to Mr. Swift, to Mrs. Baggert, or to Eradicate about what had happened, for Tom did not want to worry them. The burglar alarms were set, Koku took his place where he could watch the signals, and at the same time be ready to rush out, for, somehow, Tom had an idea that the men who had attacked him would come back.
Tom and Ned occupied adjoining rooms, and soon were ready for bed. But, somehow, Tom could not sleep. He lay awake, tossing from side to side, and, in spite of his resolution not to think about his photo telephone invention, his mind ran on nothing but that.
"I can't see what next to do to make it work," he told himself, over and over again. "Something is wrong—but what?"
At length he fell into a fitful doze, and he had a wild dream that he was sliding down hill on a big mirror in which all sorts of reflections were seen—reflections that he could not get to show in the selenium plates.
Then Tom felt the mirror bobbing up and down like a motor boat in a storm. He felt the vibration, and he heard a voice calling in his ear:
"Get up, Tom! Get up!"
"Yes! What is it?" he sleepily exclaimed,
"Hush!" was the caution he heard, and then he realized that his dream had been caused by Ned shaking him.
"Well?" whispered Tom, in tense tones.
"Midnight visitors!" answered his chum "The burglar alarm has just gone off! The airship hangar drop fell. Koku has gone out. Come on!"
THE AIRSHIP IS TAKEN
Tom leaped silently out of bed, and stood for a moment half dazed, so soundly had he been sleeping.
"Come on!" urged Ned softly, realizing that his chum had not fully comprehended. "Koku will hold them until we get there. I haven't roused anyone else."
"That's right," whispered Tom, as he began putting on his clothes. "I don't want father to know. When did it happen?"
"Just a little while ago. I couldn't sleep very well, but I fell into a doze, and then I heard the buzzer of the alarm go off. I saw that the drop, showing that the hangar had been entered, had fallen. I got to the window in time to see Koku going toward the shed from his little coop. Then I came to you."
"Glad you did," answered Tom. "I didn't think I was sleeping so soundly."
Together the two chums made their way from their rooms down the dimly-lighted hall to a side door, whence they could reach the airship hangar, or shed.
"Won't we need something—a gun or—" began Ned.
"Clubs are better—especially at night when you can't see to aim very well," whispered back Tom. "I've got a couple of good ones downstairs. I could use my electric rifle, and set it merely to disable temporarily whoever the charge hit, but it's a little too risky. Koku has a habit of getting in the way at the most unexpected times. He's so big, you know. I think clubs will be best."
"All right, Tom, just as you say," agreed Ned. "But who do you think it can be?"
"I haven't the least idea. Probably the same fellows who were after me before, though. This time I'll find out what their game is, and what they're after."
The chums reached the lower hall, and there Tom picked out two African war clubs which he had brought back with him from one of his many trips into wild lands.
"These are just the thing!" exclaimed Ned, swinging his about.
"Careful," cautioned Tom, "If you hit something you'll rouse the house, and I don't want my father and Mrs. Baggert, to say nothing of Eradicate, awakened."
"Excuse me," murmured Ned. "But we'd better be getting a move on."
"That's right," agreed Tom. He dropped into a side pocket a small but powerful electric flash lamp, and then he and Ned let themselves out.
There had been a bright moon, but it was now overcast by clouds. However, there was sufficient light to enable the two lads to see objects quite clearly. All about them were the various buildings that made up the manufacturing and experimental plant of Tom Swift and his father. Farthest away from the house was the big shed where once Tom had kept a balloon, but which was now given over to his several airships. In front of it was a big, level grassy space, needed to enable the aircraft to get a "running start" before they could mount into the clouds.
"See anything of Koku?" whispered Ned.
"No," answered Tom, in the same cautious voice. "I guess he must be hiding—"
"There he goes now!" hissed Ned, pointing to a big figure that was approaching the hangar. It was undoubtedly that of the giant, and he could be seen, in the dim light, stalking cautiously along.
"I wonder where the uninvited guests are?" asked Tom.
"Probably in the airship shed," answered Ned. "Koku was after them as soon as the alarm went off, and they couldn't have gotten away. They must be inside there yet. But what can their game be?"
"It's hard to say," admitted Tom. "They may be trying to get something belonging to me, or they may imagine they can pick up some valuable secrets. Or they may—" He stopped suddenly, and then exclaimed:
"Come on, Ned! They're after one of the airships! That's it! My big biplane is all ready to start, and they can get it in motion inside of a few seconds. Oh, why didn't I hurry?" he added, bitterly.
But the hangar was still some distance away, and it would take two or three minutes of running to reach it.
Meanwhile, and at the instant Tom had his thought of the possible theft of his biggest aircraft, something happened.