Tom Swift and his Sky Racer - or, The Quickest Flight on Record
by Victor Appleton
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The Quickest Flight on Record




I The Prize Offer II Mr. Swift Is Ill III The Plans Disappear IV Anxious Days V Building the Sky Racer VI Andy Foger Will Contest VII Seeking a Clue VIII The Empty Shed IX A Trial Flight X A Midnight Intruder XI Tom Is Hurt XII Miss Nestor Calls XIII A Clash with Andy XIV The Great Test XV A Noise in the Night XVI A Mysterious Fire XVII Mr. Swift Is Worse XVIII The Broken Bridge XIX A Nervy Specialist XX Just in Time XXI "Will He Live?" XXII Off to the Meet XXIII The Great Race XXIV Won by a Length XXV Home Again—Conclusion


Chapter One

The Prize Offer

"Is this Tom Swift, the inventor of several airships?"

The man who had rung the bell glanced at the youth who answered his summons.

"Yes, I'm Tom Swift," was the reply. "Did you wish to see me?"

"I do. I'm Mr. James Gunmore, secretary of the Eagle Park Aviation Association. I had some correspondence with you about a prize contest we are going to hold. I believe—"

"Oh, yes, I remember now," and the young inventor smiled pleasantly as he opened wider the door of his home. "Won't you come in? My father will be glad to see you. He is as much interested in airships as I am." And Tom led the way to the library, where the secretary of the aviation society was soon seated in a big, comfortable leather chair.

"I thought we could do better, and perhaps come to some decision more quickly, if I came to see you, than if we corresponded," went on Mr. Gunmore. "I hope I haven't disturbed you at any of your inventions," and the secretary smiled at the youth.

"No. I'm through for to-day," replied Tom. "I'm glad to see you. I thought at first it was my chum, Ned Newton. He generally runs over in the evening."

"Our society, as I wrote you, Mr. Swift, is planning to hold a very large and important aviation meet at Eagle Park, which is a suburb of Westville, New York State. We expect to have all the prominent 'bird-men' there, to compete for prizes, and your name was mentioned. I wrote to you, as you doubtless recall, asking if you did not care to enter."

"And I think I wrote you that my big aeroplane-dirigible, the Red Cloud, was destroyed in Alaska, during a recent trip we made to the caves of ice there, after gold," replied Tom.

"Yes, you did," admitted Mr. Gunmore, "and while our committee was very sorry to hear that, we hoped you might have some other air craft that you could enter at our meet. We want to make it as complete as possible, and we all feel that it would not be so unless we had a Swift aeroplane there."

"It's very kind of you to say so," remarked Tom, "but since my big craft was destroyed I really have nothing I could enter."

"Haven't you an aeroplane of any kind? I made this trip especially to get you to enter. Haven't you anything in which you could compete for the prizes? There are several to be offered, some for distance flights, some for altitude, and the largest, ten thousand dollars, for the speediest craft. Ten thousand dollars is the grand prize, to be awarded for the quickest flight on record."

"I surely would like to try for that," said Tim, "but the only craft I have is a small monoplane, the Butterfly, I call it, and while it is very speedy, there have been such advances made in aeroplane construction since I made mine that I fear I would be distanced if I raced in her. And I wouldn't like that."

"No," agreed Mr. Gunmore. "I suppose not. Still, I do wish we could induce you to enter. I don't mind telling you that we consider you a drawing-card. Can't we induce you, some way?"

"I'm afraid not. I haven't any machine which—"

"Look here!" exclaimed the secretary eagerly. "Why can't you build a special aeroplane to enter in the next meet? You'll have plenty of time, as it doesn't come off for three months yet. We are only making the preliminary arrangements. It is now June, and the meet is scheduled for early in September. Couldn't you build a new and speedy aeroplane in that time?"

Eagerly Mr. Gunmore waited for the answer. Tom Swift seemed to be considering it. There was an increased brightness to his eyes, and one could tell that he was thinking deeply. The secretary sought to clinch his argument.

"I believe, from what I have heard of your work in the past, that you could build an aeroplane which would win the ten-thousand-dollar prize," he went on. "I would be very glad if you did win it, and, so I think, would be the gentlemen associated with me in this enterprise. It would be fine to have a New York State youth win the grand prize. Come, Tom Swift, build a special craft, and enter the contest!"

As he paused for an answer footsteps were heard coming along the hall, and a moment later an aged gentleman opened the door of the library.

"Oh! Excuse me, Tom," he said, "I didn't know you had company." And he was about to withdraw.

"Don't go, father," said Tom. "You will be as much interested in this as I am. This is Mr. Gunmore, of the Eagle Park Aviation Association. This is my father, Mr. Gunmore."

"I've heard of you," spoke the secretary as he shook hands with the aged inventor. "You and your son have made, in aeronautics, a name to be proud of."

"And he wants us to go still farther, dad," broke in the youth. "He wants me to build a specially speedy aeroplane, and race for ten thousand dollars."

"Hum!" mused Mr. Swift. "Well, are you going to do it, Tom? Seems to me you ought to take a rest. You haven't been back from your gold-hunting trip to Alaska long enough to more than catch your breath, and now—"

"Oh, he doesn't have to go in this right away," eagerly explained Mr. Gunmore. "There is plenty of time to make a new craft."

"Well, Tom can do as he likes about it," said his father. "Do you think you could build anything speedier than your Butterfly, son?"

"I think so, father. That is, if you'd help me. I have a plan partly thought out, but it will take some time to finish it. Still, I might get it done in time."

"I hope you'll try!" exclaimed the secretary. "May I ask whether it would be a monoplane or a biplane?"

"A monoplane, I think," answered Tom. "They are much more speedy than the double-deckers, and if I'm going to try for the ten thousand dollars I need the fastest machine I can build."

"We have the promise of one or two very fast monoplanes for the meet," went on Mr. Gunmore. "Would yours be of a new type?"

"I think it would," was the reply of the young inventor. "In fact, I am thinking of making a smaller monoplane than any that have yet been constructed, and yet one that will carry two persons. The hardest work will be to make the engine light enough and still have it sufficiently powerful to make over a hundred miles an hour, if necessary.

"A hundred miles an hour in a small monoplane! It isn't possible!" cried the secretary.

"I'll make better time than that," said Tom quietly, and with not a trace of boasting in his tones.

"Then you'll enter the meet?" asked Mr. Gunmore eagerly.

"Well, I'll think about it," promised Tom. "I'll let you know in a few days. Meanwhile, I'll be thinking out the details for my new craft. I have been going to build one ever since I got back, after having seen my Red Cloud crushed in the ice cave. Now I think I had better begin active work."

"I hope you will soon let me know," resumed the secretary. "I'm going to put you down as a possible contestant for the ten-thousand-dollar prize. That can do no harm, and I hope you win it. I trust—"

He paused suddenly, and listened. So did Tom Swift and his father, for they all distinctly heard stealthy footsteps under the open windows of the library.

"Some one is out there, listening," said Tom in low tones.

"Perhaps it's Eradicate Sampson," suggested Mr. Swift, referring to the eccentric colored man who was employed by the inventor and his son to help around the place. "Very likely it was Eradicate, Tom."

"I don't think so," was the lad's answer. "He went to the village a while ago, and said he wouldn't be back until late to-night. He had to get some medicine for his mule, Boomerang, who is sick. No, it wasn't Eradicate; but some one was under that window, trying to hear what we said."

As he spoke in guarded tones, Tom went softly to the casement and looked out. He could observe nothing, as the night was dark, and the new moon, which had been shining, was now dimmed by clouds.

"See anything?" asked Mr. Gunmore as he advanced to Tom's side.

"No," was the low answer. "I can't hear anything now, either."

"I'll go speak to Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper," volunteered Mr. Swift. "Perhaps it was she, or she may know something about it."

He started from the room, and as he went Tom noticed, with something of a start, that his father appeared older that night than he had ever looked before. There was a trace of pain on the face of the aged inventor, and his step was lagging.

"I guess dad needs a rest and doctoring up," thought the young inventor as he turned the electric chandelier off by a button on the wall, in order to darken the room, so that he might peer out to better advantage. "I think he's been working too hard on his wireless motor. I must get Dr. Gladby to come over and see dad. But now I want to find out who that was under this window."

Once more Tom looked out. The moon had emerged from behind a thin bank of clouds, and gave a little light.

"See anything?" asked Mr. Gunmore cautiously.

"No," whispered the youth, for it being a warm might, the windows were open top and bottom, a screen on the outside keeping out mosquitoes and other insects. "I can't see a thing," went on Tom, "but I'm sure—"

He paused suddenly. As he spoke there sounded a rustling in the shrubbery a little distance from the window.

"There's something!" exclaimed Mr. Gunmore.

"I see!" answered the young inventor.

Without another word he softly opened the screen, and then, stooping down to get under the lower sash (for the windows in the library ran all the way to the floor), Tom dropped out of the casement upon the thick grass.

As he did so he was aware of a further movement in the bushes. They were violently agitated, and a second later a dark object sprang from them and sprinted along the path.

"Here! Who are you? Hold on!" cried the young inventor.

But the figure never halted. Tom sprang forward, determined to see who it was, and, if possible, capture him.

"Hold on!" he cried again. There was no answer.

Tom was a good runner, and in a few seconds he had gained on the fugitive, who could just be seen in the dim light from the crescent moon.

"I've got you!" cried Tom.

But he was mistaken, for at that instant his foot caught on the outcropping root of a tree, and the young inventor went flat on his face.

"Just my luck!" he cried.

He was quickly on his feet again, and took after the fugitive. The latter glanced back, and, as it happened, Tom had a good look at his face. He almost came to a stop, so startled was he.

"Andy Foger!" he exclaimed as he recognized the bully who had always proved himself such an enemy of our hero. "Andy Foger sneaking under my windows to hear what I had to say about my new aeroplane! I wonder what his game can be? I'll soon find out!"

Tom was about to resume the chase, when he lost sight of the figure. A moment later he heard the puffing of an automobile, as some one cranked it up.

"It's too late!" exclaimed Tom. "There he goes in his car!" And knowing it would be useless to keep up the chase, the youth turned back toward his house.

Chapter Two

Mr. Swift is Ill

"Who was it?" asked Mr. Gunmore as Tom again entered the library. "A friend of yours?"

"Hardly a friend," replied Tom grimly. "It was a young fellow who has made lots of trouble for me in the past, and who, lately, with his father, tried to get ahead of me and some friends of mine in locating a gold claim in Alaska. I don't know what he's up to now, but certainly it wasn't any good. He's got nerve, sneaking up under our windows!"

"What do you think was his object?"

"It would be hard to say."

"Can't you find him to-morrow, and ask him?"

"There's not much satisfaction in that. The less I have to do with Andy Foger the better I'm satisfied. Well, perhaps it's just as well I fell, and couldn't catch him. There would have been a fight, and I don't want to worry dad any more than I can help. He hasn't been very well of late."

"No, he doesn't look very strong," agreed the secretary. "But I hope he doesn't get sick, and I hope no bad consequences result from the eavesdropping of this Foger fellow."

Tom started for the hall, to get a brush with which to remove some of the dust gathered in his chase after Andy. As he opened the library door to go out Mr. Swift came in again.

"I saw Mrs. Baggert, Tom," he said. "She wasn't out under the window, and, as you said, Eradicate isn't about. His mule is in the barn, so it couldn't have been the animal straying around."

"No, dad. It was Andy Foger."

"Andy Foger!"

"Yes. I couldn't catch him. But you'd better go lie down, father. It's getting late, and you look tired."

"I am tired, Tom, and I think I'll go to bed. Have you finished your arrangements with Mr. Gunmore?"

"Well, I guess we've gone as far as we can until I invent the new aeroplane," replied Tom, with a smile.

"Then you'll really enter the meet?" asked the secretary eagerly.

"I think I will," decided Tom. "The prize of ten thousand dollars is worth trying for, and besides that, I'll be glad to get to work again on a speedy craft. Yes, I'll enter the meet."

"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Gunmore, shaking hands with the young inventor. "I didn't have my trip for nothing, then. I'll go back in the morning and report to the committee that I've been successful. I am greatly obliged to you."

He left the Swift home, after refusing Tom's invitation to remain all night, and went to his hotel. Tom then insisted that his father retire.

As for the young inventor, he was not satisfied with the result of his attempt to catch Andy Foger. He had no idea why the bully was hiding under the library window, but Tom surmised that some mischief might be afoot.

"Sam Snedecker or Pete Bailey, the two cronies of Andy, may still be around here, trying to play some trick on me," mused Tom. "I think I'll take a look outside." And taking a stout cane from the umbrella rack, the youth sallied forth into the yard and extensive grounds surrounding his house.

While he is thus looking for possible intruders we will tell you a little more about him than has been possible since the call of the aviation secretary.

Tom Swift lived with his father, Barton Swift, in the town of Shopton, New York State. The young man had followed in the footsteps of his parent, and was already an inventor of note.

Their home was presided over by Mrs. Baggert, as housekeeper, since Mrs. Swift had been dead several years. In addition, there was Garret Jackson, an engineer, who aided Tom and his father, and Eradicate Sampson, an odd colored man, who, with his mule, Boomerang, worked about the place.

In the first volume of this series, entitled "Tom Swift and his Motor-Cycle," here was related how he came to possess that machine. A certain Mr. Wakefield Damon, an eccentric gentleman, who was always blessing himself, or something about him, owned the cycle, but he came to grief on it, and sold it to Tom very cheaply.

Tom had a number of adventures on the wheel, and, after having used the motor to save a valuable patent model from a gang of unscrupulous men, the lad acquired possession of a power boat, in which he made several trips, and took part in many exciting happenings.

Some time later, in company with John Sharp, an aeronaut, whom Tom had rescued from Lake Carlopa, after the airman had nearly lost his life in a burning balloon, the young inventor made a big airship, called the Red Cloud. With Mr. Damon, Tom made several trips in this craft, as set forth in the book, "Tom Swift and His Airship."

It was after this that Tom and his father built a submarine boat, and went under the ocean for sunken treasure, and, following that trip Tom built a speedy electric runabout, and by a remarkable run in that, with Mr. Damon, saved a bank from ruin, bringing gold in time to stave off a panic.

"Tom Swift and His Wireless Message" told of the young inventor's plan to save the castaways of Earthquake Island, and how he accomplished it by constructing a wireless plant from the remains of the wrecked airship Whizzer. After Tom got back from Earthquake Island he went with Mr. Barcoe Jenks, whom he met on the ill-fated bit of land, to discover the secret of the diamond makers. They found the mysterious men, but the trip was not entirely successful, for the mountain containing the cave where the diamonds were made was destroyed by a lightning shock, just as Mr. Parker, a celebrated scientist, who accompanied the party, said it would be.

But his adventure in seeking to discover the secret of making precious stones did not satisfy Tom Swift, and when he and his friends got back from the mountains they prepared to go to Alaska to search for gold in the caves of ice. They were almost defeated in their purpose by the actions of Andy Foger and his father, who in an under-hand manner, got possession of a valuable map, showing the location of the gold, and made a copy of the drawing.

Then, when Tom and his friends set off in the Red Cloud, as related in "Tom Swift in the Caves of Ice," the Fogers, in another airship, did likewise. But Tom and his party were first on the scene, and accomplished their purpose, though they had to fight the savage Indians. The airship was wrecked in a cave of ice, that collapsed on it, and the survivors had desperate work getting away from the frozen North.

Tom had been home all the following winter and spring, and he had done little more than work on some small inventions, when a new turn was given his thoughts and energies by a visit from Mr. Gunmore, as narrated in the first chapter of the present volume.

"Well, I guess no one is here," remarked the young inventor as he completed the circuit of the grounds and walked slowly back toward the house. "I think I scared Andy so that he won't come back right away. He had the laugh on me, though, when I stumbled and fell."

As Tom proceeded he heard some one approaching, around the path at the side of the house.

"Who's there?" he called quickly, taking a firmer grasp of his stick,

"It's me, Massa Swift," was the response. "I jest come back from town. I got some peppermint fo' mah mule, Boomerang, dat's what I got."

"Oh! It's you, is it, Rad?" asked the youth in easier tones.

"Dat's who it am, Did yo' t'ink it were some un else?"

"I did," replied Tom. "Andy Foger has been sneaking around. Keep your eyes open the rest of the night, Rad."

"I will, Massa Tom."

The youth went into the house, having left word with the engineer, Mr. Jackson, to be on the alert for anything suspicious.

"And now I guess I'll go to bed, and make an early start to-morrow morning, planning my new aeroplane," mused Tom. "I'm going to make the speediest craft of the air ever seen!"

As he started toward his room Tom Swift heard the voice of the housekeeper calling to him:

"Tom! Oh, Tom! Come here, quickly!"

"What's the matter?" he asked, in vague alarm.

"Something has happened to your father!" was the startling reply. "He's fallen down, and is Unconscious! Come quickly! Send for the doctor!"

Tom fairly ran toward his father's room.

Chapter Three

The Plans Disappear

Mr. Swift was lying on the floor, where he had fallen, in front of his bed, as he was preparing to retire. There was no mark of injury upon him, and at first, as he knelt down at his father's side, Tom was at a loss to account for what had taken place.

"How did it happen? When was it?" he asked of Mrs. Baggert, as he held up his father's head, and noted that the aged man was breathing slightly.

"I don't know what happened, Tom," answered the housekeeper, "but I beard him fall, and ran upstairs, only to find him lying there, just like that. Then I called you. Hadn't you better have a doctor?"

"Yes; we'll need one at once. Send Eradicate Tell him to run—not to wait for his mule—Boomerang is too slow. Oh, no! The telephone, of course! Why didn't I think of that at first? Please telephone for Dr. Gladby, Mrs. Baggert. Ask him to come as soon as possible, and then tell Garret Jackson to step here. I'll have him help me get father into bed."

The housekeeper hastened to the instrument, and was soon in communication with the physician, who promised to call at once. The engineer was summoned from another part of the house, and then Eradicate was aroused.

Mrs. Baggert had the colored man help her get some kettles of hot water in readiness for possible use by the doctor. Mr. Jackson aided Tom to lift Mr. Swift up on the bed, and they got off some of his clothes.

"I'll try to see if I can revive him with a little aromatic spirits of ammonia," decided Tom, as he noticed that his father was still unconscious. He hastened to prepare the strong spirits, while he was conscious of a feeling of fear and alarm, mingled with sadness.

Suppose his father should die? Tom could not bear to think of that. He would be left all alone, and how much he would miss the companionship and comradeship of his father none but himself knew.

"Oh! but I mustn't think he's going to die!" exclaimed the youth, as he mixed the medicine.

Mr. Swift feebly opened his eyes after Tom and Mr. Jackson had succeeded in forcing some of the ammonia between his lips.

"Where am I? What happened?" asked the aged inventor faintly.

"We don't know, exactly," spoke Tom softly. "You are ill, father. I've sent for the doctor. He'll fix you up. He'll be here soon."

"Yes, I'm—I'm ill," murmured the aged man. "Something hurts me—here," and he put his hand over his heart.

Tom felt a nameless sense of fear. He wished now that he had insisted on his parent consulting a physician some time before, when Mr. Swift first complained of a minor ailment. Perhaps now it was too late.

"Oh! when will that doctor come?" murmured Tom impatiently.

Mrs. Baggert, who was nervously going in and out of the room, again went to the telephone.

"He's on his way," the housekeeper reported. "His wife said he just started out in his auto."

Dr. Gladby hurried into the room a little later, and cast a quick look at Mr. Swift, who had again lapsed into unconsciousness.

"Do you think he—think he's going to die?" faltered Tom. He was no longer the self-reliant young inventor. He could meet danger bravely when it threatened himself alone, but when his father was stricken he seemed to lose all courage.

"Die? Nonsense!" exclaimed the doctor heartily. "He's not dead yet, at all events, and while there's life there's hope. I'll soon have him out of this spell."

It was some little time, however, before Mr. Swift again opened his eyes, but he seemed to gain strength from the remedies which Dr. Gladby administered, and in about an hour the inventor could sit up.

"But you must be careful," cautioned the physician. "Don't overdo yourself. I'll be in again in the morning, and now I'll leave you some medicine, to be taken every two hours."

"Oh, I feel much better," said Mr. Swift, and his voice certainly seemed Stronger. "I can't imagine what happened. I came upstairs, after Tom had received a visit from the minister, and that's all I remember."

"The minister, father!" exclaimed Tom, in great amazement. "The minister wasn't here this evening! That was Mr. Gunmore, the aviation secretary. Don't you remember?"

"I don't remember any gentleman like that calling here to-night," Mr. Swift said blankly. "It was the minister, I'm sure, Tom."

"The minister was here last night, Mr. Swift," said the housekeeper.

"Was he? Why, it seems like to-night. And I came upstairs after talking to him, and then it all got black, and—and—"

"There, now; don't try to think," advised the doctor. "You'll be all right in the morning."

"But I can't remember anything about that aviation man," protested Mr. Swift. "I never used to be that way—forgetting things. I don't like it!"

"Oh, it's just because you're tired," declared the physician. "It will all come back to you in the morning. I'll stop in and see you then. Now try to go to sleep." And he left the room.

Tom followed him, Mrs. Baggert and Mr. Jackson remaining with the sick man.

"What is the matter with my father, Dr. Gladby?" asked Tom earnestly, as the doctor prepared to take his departure. "Is it anything serious?"

"Well," began the medical man, "I would not be doing my duty, Tom, if I did not tell you what it is. That is, it is comparatively serious, but it is curable, and I think we can bring him around. He has an affection of the heart, that, while it is common enough, is sometimes fatal.

"But I do not think it will be so in your father's case. He has a fine constitution, and this would never have happened had he not been run down from overwork. That is the principal trouble. What he needs is rest; and then, with the proper remedies, he will be as well as before."

"But that strange lapse of memory, doctor?"

"Oh, that is nothing. It is due to the fact that he has been using his brain too much. The brain protests, and refuses to work until rested. Your father has been working rather hard of late hasn't he?"

"Yes; on a new wireless motor."

"I thought so. Well, a good rest is what he needs, and then his mind and body will be in tune again. I'll be around in the morning."

Tom was somewhat relieved by the doctor's words, but not very much so, and he spent an anxious night, getting up every two hours to administer the medicine. Toward morning Mr. Swift fell into a heavy sleep, and did not awaken for some time.

"Oh, you're much better!" declared Dr. Gladby when he saw his patient that day.

"Yes, I feel better," admitted Mr. Swift.

"And can't you remember about Mr. Gunmore calling?" asked Tom.

The aged inventor shook his head, with a puzzled air.

"I can't remember it at all," he said. "The minister is the last person I remember calling here."

Tom looked worried, but the physician said it was a common feature of the disease from which Mr. Swift suffered, and would doubtless pass away.

"And you don't remember how we talked about me building a speedy aeroplane and trying for the ten-thousand-dollar prize?" asked Tom.

"I can't remember a thing about it," said the inventor, with a puzzled shake of his head, "and I'm not going to try, at least not right away. But, Tom, if you're going to build a new aeroplane, I want to help you. I'll give you the benefit of my advice. I think my new form of motor can be used in it."

"Now! now! No inventions—at least not just yet!" objected the physician. "You must have a good rest first, Mr. Swift, and get strong. Then you and Tom can build as many airships as you like."

Mr. Swift felt so much better about three days later that he wanted to get right to work planning the airship that was to win the big prize, but the doctor would not hear of it. Tom, however, began to make rough sketches of what he had in mind changing them from time to time, He also worked on a type of motor, very light, and modeled after one his father had recently patented.

Then a new idea came to Tom in regard to the shape of his aeroplane, and he worked several days drawing the plans for it. It was a new idea in construction, and he believed it would give him the great speed he desired.

"But I'd like dad to see it," he said. "As soon as he's well enough I'll go over it with him."

That time came a week later, and with a complete set of the plans, embodying his latest ideas, Tom went into the library where his father was seated in an easy-chair. Dr. Gladby had said it would not now harm the aged inventor to do a little work. Tom spread the drawings out in front of his father, and began to explain them in detail.

"I really think you have something great there, Tom!" exclaimed Mr. Swift, at length. "It is a very small monoplane, to be sure, but I think with the new principle you have introduced it will work; but, if I were you, I'd shape those wing tips a little differently."

"No, they're better that way," said Tom pleasantly, for he did not often disagree with his father. "I'll show you from a little model I have made. I'll get it right away."

Anxious to demonstrate that he was right in his theory, Tom hurried from the library to get the model of which he had spoken. He left the roll of plans lying on a small table near where his father was seated.

"There, you see, dad," said the young inventor as he re-entered the library a few minutes later, "when you warp the wing tips in making a spiral ascent it throws your tail wings out of plumb, and so—"

Tom paused in some amazement, for Mr. Swift was lying back in his chair, with his eyes closed. The lad started in alarm, laid aside his model, and sprang to his father's side.

"He's had another of those heart attacks!" gasped Tom. He was just going to call Mrs. Baggert, when Mr. Swift opened his eyes. He looked at Tom, and the lad could see that they were bright, and did not show any signs of illness.

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed the inventor. "I must have dozed off, Tom, while you were gone. That's what I did. I fell asleep!"

"Oh!" said Tom, much relieved. "I was afraid you were ill again. Now, in this model, as you will see by the plans, it is necessary—"

He paused, and looked over at the table where he had left the drawings. They were not there!

"The plans, father!" Tom exclaimed. "The plans I left on the table! Where are they?"

"I haven't touched them," was the answer. "They were on that table, where you put them, when I closed my eyes for a little nap. I forgot all about them. Are you sure they're missing?"

"They're not here!" And Tom gazed wildly about the room. "Where can they have gone?"

"I wasn't out of my chair," said Mr. Swift, "I ought not to have gone to sleep, but—"

Tom fairly jumped toward the long library window, the same one from which he had leaped to pursue Andy Foger. The casement was open, and Tom noted that the screen was also unhooked, It had been closed when he went to get the model, he was sure of that.

"Look, dad! See!" he exclaimed, as he picked up from the floor a small piece of paper.

"What is it, Tom?"

"A sheet on which I did some figuring. It is no good, but it was in with the plans. It must have dropped out."

"Do you mean that some one has been in here and taken the plans of your new aeroplane, Tom?" gasped his father.

"That's just what I mean! They sneaked in here while you were dozing, took the plans, and jumped out of the window with them. On the way this paper fell out. It's the only clue we have. Stay here, dad. I'm going to have a look." And Tom jumped from the library window and ran down the path after the unknown thief.

Chapter Four

Anxious Days

Peering on all sides as he dashed along the gravel walk, hoping to catch a glimpse of the unknown intruder in the garden or shrubbery, Tom sprinted on at top speed. Now and then he paused to listen, but no sound came to him to tell of some one in retreat before him. There was only Silence.

"Mighty queer," mused the youth. "Whoever it was, he couldn't have had more than a minute start of me—no, not even half a minute—and yet they've disappeared as completely as though the ground had opened and let them down; and the worst of it is, that they've taken my plans with them!"

He turned about and retraced his steps, making a careful search. He saw no one, until, turning a corner, a little later, he met Eradicate Sampson.

"You haven't seen any strangers around here just now, have you, Rad?" asked Tom anxiously.

"No, indeedy, I hasn't, Massa Tom. What fo' kind ob a stranger was him?"

"That's just what I don't know. Rad. But some one sneaked into the library lust now and took some of my plans while my father dozed off. I jumped out after him as soon as I could, but he has disappeared."

"Maybe it were th' man who done stowed hisself away on yo' airship, de time yo' all went after de diamonds," suggested the colored man.

"No, it couldn't have been him. If it was anybody, it was Andy Foger, or some of his crowd. You didn't see Andy, did you, Rad?"

"No, indeedy; but if I do, I suah will turn mah mule, Boomerang, loose on him, an' he won't take any mo' plans—not right off, Massa Tom."

"No, I guess not. Well, I must get back to dad, or he'll worry. Keep your eyes open, Rad, and if you see Andy Foger, or any one else, around here, let me know. Just sing out for all you're worth."

"Shall I call out, Massa Tom, ef I sees dat blessin' man?"

"You mean Mr. Damon?"

"Dat's de one. De gen'man what's allers a-blessin' ob hisself or his shoelaces, or suffin laik dat. Shall I sing out ef I sees him?"

"Well, no; not exactly, Rad. Just show Mr. Damon up to the house. I'd be glad to see him again, though I don't fancy he'll call. He's off on a little trip, and won't be back for a week. But watch out, Rad." And with that Tom turned toward the house, shaking his head over the puzzle of the missing plans.

"Did you find any one?" asked his father eagerly as the young inventor entered the library.

"No," was the gloomy answer. "There wasn't a sign of any one."

Tom went over to the window and looked about for clues. There was none that he could see, and a further examination of the ground under the window disclosed nothing. There was gravel beneath the casement, and this was not the best medium for retaining footprints. Nor were the gravel walks any better.

"Not a sign of any one," murmured Tom. "Are you sure you didn't hear any noise, dad, when you dozed off?"

"Not a sound, Tom. In fact, it's rather unusual for me to go to sleep like that, but I suppose it's because of my illness. But I couldn't have been asleep long—not more than two minutes."

"That's what I think. Yet in that time someone, who must have been on the watch, managed to get in here and take my plans for the new sky racer. I don't see how they got the wire screen open from the outside, though. It fastens with a strong hook."

"And was the screen open?" asked Mr. Swift

"Yes, it was unhooked. Either they pushed a wire in through the mesh, caught it under the hook, and pulled it up from the outside, or else the screen was opened from the inside."

"I don't believe they could get inside to open the screen without some of us seeing them," spoke the older inventor. "More likely, Tom, it wasn't hooked, and they found it an easy matter to simply pull it open."

"That's possible. I'll ask Mrs. Baggert if the screen was unhooked."

But the housekeeper could not be certain on that point, and so that part of the investigation amounted to nothing.

"It's too bad!" exclaimed Mr. Swift. "It's my fault, for dozing off that way."

"No, indeed, it isn't!" declared Tom stoutly.

"Is the loss a serious one?" asked his father. "Have you no copy of the plans?"

"Yes, I have a rough draft from which I made the completed drawings, and I can easily make another set. But that isn't what worries me—the mere loss of the plans."

"What is it, then, Tom?"

"The fact that whoever took them must know what they are the plans for a sky racer that is to take part in the big meet. I have worked it out on a new principle, and it is not yet patented. Whoever stole my plans can make the same kind of a sky racer that I intended to construct, and so stand as good a chance to win the prize of ten thousand dollars as I will."

"That certainly is too bad, Tom. I never thought of that. Do you suspect any one?"

"No one, unless it's Andy Foger. He's mean enough to do a thing like that, but I didn't think he'd have the nerve. However, I'll see if I can learn anything about him. He may have been sneaking around, and if he has my plans he'd ask nothing better than to make a sky racer and beat me."

"Oh, Tom, I'm so sorry!" exclaimed Mr. Swift "I—I feel very bad about it!"

"There, never mind!" spoke the lad, seeing that his father was looking ill again. "Don't think any more about it, dad. I'll get back those plans. Come, now. It's time for your medicine, and then you must lie down." For the aged inventor was looking tired and weak.

Wearily he let Tom lead him to his room, and after seeing that the invalid was comfortable Tom called up Dr. Gladby, to have him come and see Mr. Swift. The doctor said his patient had been overdoing himself a little, and must rest more if he was to completely recover.

Learning that his father was no worse, Tom set off to find Andy Foger.

"I can't rest until I know whether or not he has my plans," he said to himself. "I don't want to make a speedy aeroplane, and find out at the last minute that Andy, or some of his cronies, have duplicated it."

But Tom got little satisfaction from Andy Foger. When that bully was accused of having been around Tom's house he denied it, and though the young inventor did not actually accuse him of taking the plans, he hinted at it. Andy muttered many indignant negatives, and called on some of his cronies to witness that at the time the plans were taken he and they were some distance from the Swift home.

So Tom was baffled; and though he did not believe the red-haired lad's denial, there was no way in which he could prove to the contrary.

"If he didn't take the plans, who did?" mused Tom.

As the young inventor turned away after cross-questioning Andy, the bully called out:

"You'll never win that ten thousand dollars!"

"What do you know about that?" demanded Tom quickly.

"Oh, I know," sneered Andy. "There'll be bigger and better aeroplanes in that meet than you can make, and you'll never win the prize."

"I suppose you heard about the affair by sneaking around under our windows, and listening," said Tom.

"Never mind how I know it, but I do," retorted the bully.

"Well, I'll tell you one thing," said Tom calmly. "If you come around again it won't be healthy for you. Look out for live wires, if you try to do the listening act any more, Andy!" And with that ominous warning Tom turned away.

"What do you suppose he means, Andy?" asked Pete Bailey, one of Andy's cronies.

"It means he's got electrical wires strung around his place," declared Sam Snedecker, "and that we'll be shocked if we go up there. I'm not going!"

"Me, either," added Pete, and Andy laughed uneasily.

Tom heard what they said, and in the next few days he made himself busy by putting some heavy wires in and about the grounds where they would show best. But the wires carried no current, and were only displayed to impress a sense of fear on Andy and his cronies, which purpose they served well.

But it was like locking the stable door after the horse had been stolen, for with all the precautions he could take Tom could not get back his plans, and he spent many anxious days seeking them. They seemed to have completely disappeared, however, and the young inventor decided there was nothing else to do but to draw new ones.

He set to work on them, and in the meanwhile tried to learn whether or not Andy had the missing plans. He sought this information by stealth, and was aided by his chum, Ned Newton. But all to no purpose. Not the slightest trace or clue was discovered.

Chapter Five

Building the Sky Racer

"What will you do, if, after you have your little monoplane all constructed, and get ready to race, you find that some one else has one exactly like it at the meet?" asked Ned Newton one day, when he and Tom were out in the big workshop, talking things over. "What will you do, Tom?"

"I don't see that there is anything I can do. I'll go on to the meet, of course, and trust to some improvements I have since brought out, and to what I know about aeroplanes, to help me win the race. I'll know, too, who stole my plans."

"But it will be too late, then."

"Yes, too late, perhaps, to stop them from using the drawings, hot not too late to punish them for the theft. It's a great mystery, and I'll be on the anxious seat all the while. But it can't be helped."

"When are you going to start work on the sky racer?"

"Pretty soon, now. I've got another set of plans made, and I've fixed them so that if they are stolen it won't do any one any good."

"How's that?"

"I've put in a whole lot of wrong figures and measurements, and scores of lines and curves that mean nothing. I have marked the right figures and lines by a secret mark, and when I work on them I'll use only the proper ones. But any one else wouldn't know this. Oh, I'll fool 'em this time!"

"I hope you do. Well, when you get the machine done I'd like to ride in it. Will it carry two, as your Butterfly does?"

"Yes, only it will be much different; and, of course, it will go much faster. I'll give you a ride, all right, Ned. Well, now I must get busy and see what material I need for what I hope will prove to be the speediest aeroplane in the world."

"That's going some! I must be leaving now. Don't forget your promise. I saw Mary Nestor on my way over here. She was asking for you. She said you must be very busy, for she hadn't seen you in some time."

"Um!" was all Tom answered, but by the blush that mounted to his face it was evident that he was more interested in Mary Nestor than his mere exclamation indicated.

When Ned had gone Tom got out pencil and paper, and was busily engaged in making some intricate calculations. He drew odd little sketches on the margin of the sheet, and then wrote out a list of the things he would need to construct the new aeroplane.

This finished, he went to Mr. Jackson, the engineer, and asked him to get the various things together, and to have them put in the special shop where Tom did most of his work.

"I want to get the machine together as soon as I can," he remarked to the engineer, "for it will need to be given a good tryout before I enter in the race, and I may find that I'll have to make several changes in it."

Mr. Jackson promised to attend to the matter right away, and then Tom went in to talk to his father about the motor that was to whirl the propeller of the new air craft.

Mr. Swift had improved very much in the past few days, and though Dr. Gladby said he was far from being well, the physician declared there was no reason why he should not do some inventive work.

He and Tom were deep in an argument of gasoline motors, discussing the best manner of attaching the fins to the cylinders to make them air-cooled, when a voice sounded outside, the voice of Eradicate:

"Heah! Whar yo' goin'?" demanded the colored man. "Whar yo' goin'?"

"Somebody's out in the garden!" exclaimed Tom, jumping up suddenly.

"Perhaps it's the same person who took the plans!" suggested Mr. Swift.

"Hold on, dere!" yelled Eradicate again.

Then a voice replied:

"Bless my insurance policy! What's the matter? Have there been burglars around? Why all these precautions? Bless my steam heater! Don't you know me?"

"Mr. Damon!" cried Tom, a look of pleasure coming over his face. "Mr. Damon is coming!"

"So I should judge," responded Mr. Swift, with a smile. "I wonder why Eradicate didn't recognize him?"

They learned why a moment later, for on looking from the library window, Tom saw the colored man coming up the walk behind a well-dressed gentleman.

"Why, mah goodness! It's Mr. Damon!" exclaimed Eradicate. "I didn't know yo', sah, wif dem whiskers on! I didn't, fo' a fac'!"

"Bless my razor! I suppose it does make a difference," said the eccentric man. "Yes, my wife thought I'd look better, and more sedate, with a beard, so I grew one to please her. But I don't like it. A beard is too warm this kind of weather; eh, Tom?" And Mr. Damon waved his hand to the young inventor and his father, who stood in the low windows of the library. "Entirely too warm, bless my finger-nails, yes!"

"I agree with you!" exclaimed Tom. "Come in! We're glad to see you!"

"I called to see if you aren't going on another trip to the North Pole, or somewhere in the Arctic regions," went on Mr. Damon.

"Why?" inquired Tom.

"Why, then this heavy beard of mine would come in handy. It would keep my throat and chin warm." And Mr. Damon ran his hands through his luxuriant whiskers.

"No more northern trips right away," said Tom. "I'm about to build a speedy monoplane, to take part in the big meet at Eagle Park."

"Oh, yes, I heard about the meet," said Mr. Damon. "I'd like to be in that."

"Well, I'm building a machine that will carry two," went on Tom, "and if you think you can stand a speed of a hundred miles an hour, or better, I'll let you come with me. There are some races where a passenger is allowed."

"Have you got a razor?" asked Mr. Damon suddenly.

"What for?" inquired Mr. Swift, wondering what the eccentric man was going to do.

"Why, bless my shaving soap! I'm going to cut off my beard. If I go in a monoplane at a hundred miles an hour I don't want to make any more resistance to the wind than possible, and my whiskers would certainly hold back Tom's machine. Where's a razor? I'm going to shave at once. My wife won't mind when I tell her what it's for. Lend me a razor, please, Tom."

"Oh, there's plenty of time," explained the lad, with a laugh. "The race doesn't take place for over two months. But when it does, I think you would be better off without a beard."

"I know it," said Mr. Damon simply. "I'll shave before we enter the contest, Tom. But now tell me all about it."

Tom did so, relating the story of the theft of the plans. Mr. Damon was for having Andy arrested at once, but Mr. Swift and his son pointed out that they had no evidence against him.

"All we can do," said the young inventor, "is to keep watch on him, and see if he is building another aeroplane. He has all the facilities, and he may attempt to get ahead of me. If he enters a sky craft at the meet I'll be pretty sure that he has made it from my stolen plans."

"Bless my wing tips!" cried Mr. Damon. "But can't we do anything to stop him?"

"I'm afraid not," answered Tom; and then he showed Mr. Damon his re-drawn plans, and told in detail of how he intended to construct the new aeroplane.

The eccentric man remained as the guest of the Swift family that night, departing for his home the next day, and promising to be on hand as soon as Tom was ready to test his new craft, which would be in about a month.

As the days passed, Tom, with the help of his father, whose health was slightly better, and with the aid of Mr. Jackson, began work on the speedy little sky racer.

As you boys are all more or less familiar with aeroplanes, we will not devote much space to the description of the new one Tom Swift made. We can describe it in general terms, but there were some features of it which Tom kept a secret from all save his father.

Suffice it to say that Tom had decided to build a small air craft of the single-wing type, known as the monoplane. It was to be a cross between the Bleriot and the Antoinette, with the general features of both, but with many changes or improvements.

The wings were shaped somewhat like those of a humming-bird, which, as is well known, can, at times, vibrate its wings with such velocity that the most rapid camera lens cannot quite catch.

And when it is known that a bullet in flight has been successfully photographed, the speed of the wings of the humming-bird can be better appreciated.

The writer has seen a friend, with a very rapid camera, which was used to snap automobiles in flight, attempt to take a picture of a humming-bird. He got the picture, all right, but the plate was blurred, showing that the wings had moved faster than the lens could throw them on the sensitive plate.

Not that Tom intended the wings of his monoplane to vibrate, but he adopted that style as being the best adapted to allow of rapid flight through the air; and the young inventor had determined that he would clip many minutes from the best record yet made.

The body of his craft, between the forward wings and the rear ones, where the rudders were located, was shaped like a cigar, with side wings somewhat like the fin keels of the ocean liner to prevent a rolling motion. In addition, Tom had an ingenious device to automatically adapt his monoplane to sudden currents of air that might overturn it, and this device was one of the points which he kept secret.

The motor, which was air-cooled, was located forward, and was just above the heads of the operator and the passenger who sat beside him. The single propeller, which was ten feet in diameter, gave a minimum thrust of one thousand pounds at two thousand revolutions per minute.

This was one feature wherein Tom's craft differed from others. The usual aeroplane propeller is eight feet in diameter, and gives from four to five hundred pounds thrust at about one thousand revolutions per minute, so it can be readily seen wherein Tom had an advantage.

"But I'm building this for speed," he said to Mr. Jackson, "and I'm going to get it! We'll make a hundred miles an hour without trouble."

"I believe you," replied the engineer. "The motor you and your father have made is a wonder for lightness and power."

In fact, the whole monoplane was so light and frail as to give one the idea of a rather large model, instead of a real craft, intended for service. But a careful inspection showed the great strength it had, for it was braced and guyed in a new way, and was as rigid as a steel-trussed bridge.

"What are you going to call her?" asked Mr. Jackson, about two weeks after they had started work on the craft, and when it had begun to assume shape and form.

"I'm going to name her the Humming-Bird," replied Tom. "She's little, but oh, my!"

"And I guess she'll bring home the prize," added the engineer.

And as the days went by, and Tom, his father and Mr. Jackson continued to work on the speedy craft, this hope grew in the heart of the young inventor. But he could not rid himself of worry as to the fate of the plans that had disappeared. Who had them? Was some one making a machine like his own from them? Tom wished he knew.

Chapter Six

Andy Foger Will Contest

One afternoon, as Tom was working away in the shop on his sky racer, adjusting one of the rear rudders, and pausing now and then to admire the trim little craft, he heard some one approaching. Looking out through a small observation peephole made for this purpose, he saw Mrs. Baggert hurrying toward the building.

"I wonder what's the matter?" he said aloud, for there was a look of worriment on the lady's face. Tom threw open the door. "What is it, Mrs. Baggert?" he called. "Some one up at the house who wants to see me?"

"No, it's your father!" panted the housekeeper, for she was quite stout. "He is very ill again, and I can't seem to get Dr. Gladby on the telephone. Central says he doesn't answer."

"My father worse!" cried Tom in alarm, dropping his tools and hurrying from the shop. "Where's Eradicate? Send him for the doctor. Perhaps the wires are broken. If he can't locate Dr. Gladby, get Dr. Kurtz. We must have some one. Here, Rad! Where are you?" he called, raising his voice.

"Heah I be!" answered the colored man, coming from the direction of the garden, which he had been weeding.

"Get out your mule, and go for Dr. Gladby. If he isn't home, get Dr. Kurtz. Hurry, Rad!"

"I's mighty sorry, Massa Tom," answered the colored man, "but I cain't hurry, nohow."

"Why not?"

"Because Boomerang done gone lame, an' he won't run. I'll go mahse'f, but I cain't take dat air mule."

"Never mind. I'll go in the Butterfly," decided Tom quickly. "I'll run up to the house and see how dad is, and while I'm gone, Rad, you get out the Butterfly. I can make the trip in that. If Dr. Kurtz had a 'phone I could get him, but he lives over on the back road, where there isn't a line. Hurry, Rad!"

"Yes, sah, Massa Tom, I'll hurry!"

The colored man knew how to get the monoplane in shape for a flight, as he had often done it.

Tom found his father in no immediate danger, but Mr. Swift had had a slight recurrence of his heart trouble, and it was thought best to have a doctor. So Tom started off in his air craft, rising swiftly above the housetop, and sailed off toward the old-fashioned residence of Dr. Kurtz, a sturdy, elderly German physician, who sometimes attended Mr. Swift. Tom decided that as long as Dr. Gladby did not answer his 'phone, he could not be at home, and this, he learned later, was the case, the physician being in a distant town on a consultation.

"My, this Butterfly seems big and clumsy beside my Humming-Bird," mused Tom as he slid along through the air, now flying high and now low, merely for practice. "This machine can go, but wait until I have my new one in the air! Then I'll show 'em what speed is!"

He was soon at the physician's house, and found him in.

"Won't you ride back with me in the monoplane?" asked Tom. "I'm anxious to have you see dad as soon as you can.

"Vot! Me drust mineself in one ob dem airships? I dinks not!" exclaimed Dr. Kurtz ponderously. "Vy, I vould not efen ride in an outer-mobile, yet, so vy should I go in von contrivance vot is efen more dangerous? No, I gomes to your fader in der carriage, mit mine old Dobbin horse. Dot vill not drop me to der ground, or run me up a tree, yet! Vot?"

"Very well," said Tom, "only hurry, please."

The young inventor, in his airship, reached home some time before the slow-going doctor got there in his carriage. Mr. Swift was no worse, Tom was glad to find, though he was evidently quite ill.

"So, ve must take goot care of him," said the doctor, when he had examined the patient. "Dr. Gladby he has done much for him, und I can do little more. You must dake care of yourself, Herr Swift, or you vill—but den, vot is der use of being gloomy-minded? I am sure you vill go more easy, und not vork so much."

"I haven't worked much," replied the aged inventor. "I have only been helping my son on a new airship."

"Den dot must stop," insisted the doctor. "You must haf gomplete rest—dot's it—gomplete rest."

"We'll do just as you say, doctor," said Tom. "We'll give up the aeroplane matters, dad, and go away, you and I, where we can t see a blueprint or a pattern, or hear the sound of machinery. We'll cut it all out."

"Dot vould he goot," said Dr. Kurtz ponderously.

"No, I couldn't think of it," answered Mr. Swift. "I want you to go in that race, Tom—and win!"

"But I'll not do it, dad, if you're going to be ill."

"He is ill now," interrupted the doctor. "Very ill, Dom Swift."

"That settles it. I don't go in the race. You and I'll go away, dad—to California, or up in Canada. We'll travel for your health."

"No! no!" insisted the old inventor gently. "I will be all right. Most of the work on the monoplane is done now, isn't it, Tom?"

"Yes, dad."

"Then you go on, and finish it. You and Mr. Jackson can do it without me now. I'll take a rest, doctor, but I want my son to enter that race, and, what's more, I want him to win!"

"Vell, if you don't vork, dot is all I ask. I must forbid you to do any more. Mit Dom, dot is different. He is young und strong, und he can vork. But you—not, Herr Swift, or I doctor you no more." And the physician shook his big head.

"Very well. I'll agree to that if Tom will promise to enter the race," said the inventor.

"I will," said Tom.

The physician took his leave shortly after that, the medicine he gave to Mr. Swift somewhat relieving him. Then the young inventor, who felt in a little better spirits, went back to his workshop.

"Poor dad," he mused. "He thinks more of me and this aeroplane than he does of himself. Well, I will go in the race, and I'll—yes, I'll win!" And Tom looked very determined.

He was about to resume work on his craft when something about the way one of the forward planes was tilted attracted his attention.

"I never left it that way," mused Tom. "Some one has been in here. I wonder if it was Mr. Jackson?"

Tom stepped to the door and called for Eradicate. The colored man came from the direction of the garden, which he was still weeding.

"Has Mr. Jackson been around, Rad?" asked the lad.

"No, sah. I ain't seed him."

"Have you been in here, looking at the Humming-Bird?"

"No, Massa Tom. I nebber goes in dere, lessen as how yo' is dere. Dem's yo' orders."

"That's so, Rad. I might have known you wouldn't go in. But did you see any one enter the shop?"

"Not a pusson, sab."

"Have you been here all the while?"

"All but jes' a few minutes, when I went to de barn to put some liniment on Boomerang's So' foot."

"H'm! Some one might have slipped in here while I was away," mused Tom. "I ought to have locked the doors, but I was in a hurry. This thing is getting on my nerves. I wonder if it's Andy Foger, or some one else, who is after my secret?"

He made a hasty examination of the shop, but could discover nothing more wrong, except that one of the planes of the Humming-Bird had been shifted.

"It looks as if they were trying to see how it was fastened on, and how it worked," mused Tom. "But my plans haven't been touched, and no damage has been done. Only I don't like to think that people have been in here. They may have stolen some of my ideas. I must keep this place locked night and day after this."

Tom spent a busy week in making improvements on his craft. Mr. Swift was doing well, and after a consultation by Dr. Kurtz and Dr. Gladby it was decided to adopt a new style of treatment. In the meanwhile, Mr. Swift kept his promise, and did no work. He sat in his easy-chair, out in the garden, and dozed away, while Tom visited him frequently to see if he needed anything.

"Poor old dad!" mused the young inventor. "I hope he is well enough to come and see me try for the ten-thousand-dollar prize—and win it! I hope I do; but if some one builds, from my stolen plans, a machine on this model, I'll have my work cut out for me." And he gazed with pride on the Humming-Bird.

For the past two weeks Tom had seen nothing of Andy Foger. The red-haired bully seemed to have dropped out of sight, and even his cronies, Sam Snedecker and Pete Bailey, did not know where he had gone.

"I hope he has gone for good," said Ned Newton, who lived near Andy. "He's an infernal nuisance. I wish he'd never come back to Shopton."

But Andy was destined to come back.

One day, when Tom was busy installing a wireless apparatus on his new aeroplane, he heard Eradicate hurrying up the path that led to the shop.

"I wonder if dad is worse?" thought Tom, that always being his first idea when he knew a summons was coming for him. Quickly be opened the door.

"Some one's comin' out to see you, Massa Tom," said the colored man.

"Who is it?" asked the lad, taking the precaution to put his precious plans out of sight.

"I dunno, sah; but yo' father knows him, an' he said fo' me to come out heah, ahead ob de gen'man, an' tell yo' he were comin'. He'll be right heah."

"Oh, well, if dad knows him, it's all right. Let him come, Rad."

"Yes, sah. Heah he comes." And the colored man pointed to a figure advancing down the gravel path. Tom watched the stranger curiously. There was something familiar about him, and Tom was sure he had met him before, yet he could not seem to place him.

"How are you, Tom Swift?" greeted the newcomer pleasantly. "I guess you've forgotten me, haven't you?" He held out his hand, which Tom took. "Don't know me, do you?" he went on.

"Well, I'm afraid I've forgotten your name," admitted the lad, just a bit embarrassed. "But your face is familiar, somehow, and yet it isn't."

"I've shaved off my mustache," went on the other. "That makes a difference. But you haven't forgotten John Sharp, the balloonist, whom you rescued from Lake Carlopa, and who helped you build the Red Cloud? You haven't forgotten John Sharp, have you, Tom?"

"Well, I should say not!" cried the lad heartily. "I'm real glad to see you. What are you doing around here? Come in. I've got something to show you," and he motioned to the shop where the Humming-Bird was housed.

"Oh, I know what it is," said the veteran balloonist.

"You do?"

"Yes. It's your new aeroplane. In fact, I came to see you about it."

"To see me about it?"

"Yes. I'm one of the committee of arrangements for the meet to be held at Eagle Park, where I understand you are going to contest. I came to see how near you were ready, and to get you to make a formal entry of your machine. Mr. Gunmore sent me."

"Oh, so you're in with them now, eh?" asked Tom. "Well, I'm glad to know I've got a friend on the committee. Yes, my machine is getting along very well. I'll soon be ready for a trial flight. Come in and look at it. I think it's a bird—a regular Humming-Bird!" And Tom laughed.

"It certainly is something new," admitted Mr. Sharp as his eyes took in the details of the trim little craft. "By the way, Shopton is going to be well represented at the meet."

"How is that? I thought I was the only one around here to enter an aeroplane."

"No. We have just received an entry from Andy Foger."

"From Andy Foger!" gasped Tom. "Is he going to try to win some of the prizes?"

"He's entered for the big one, the ten-thousand-dollar prize," replied the balloonist. "He has made formal application to be allowed to compete, and we have to accept any one who applies. Why, do you object to him, Tom?"

"Object to him? Mr. Sharp, let me tell you something. Some time ago a set of plans of my machine here were stolen from my house. I suspected Andy Foger of taking them, but I could get no proof. Now you say he is building a machine to compete for the big prize. Do you happen to know what style it is?"

"It's a small monoplane, something like the Antoinette, his application states, though he may change it later."

"Then he's stolen my ideas, and is making a craft like this!" exclaimed Tom, as he sank upon a bench, and gazed from the balloonist to the Humming-Bird, and hack to Mr. Sharp again. "Andy Foger is trying to beat me with my own machine!"

Chapter Seven

Seeking a Clue

John Sharp was more than surprised at the effect his piece of information had on Tom Swift. Though the young inventor had all along suspected Andy of having the missing plans, yet there had been no positive evidence on this point. That, coupled with the fact that the red-haired bully had not been seen in the vicinity of Shopton lately, had, in a measure, lulled Tom's suspicions to rest, but now his hope had been rudely shattered.

"Do you really think that's his game?" asked Mr. Sharp.

"I'm sure of it," replied the youth. "Though where he is building his aeroplane I can't imagine, for I haven't seen him in town. He's away."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Well, not absolutely sure," replied Tom. "It's the general rumor that he's out of town."

"Well, old General Rumor is sometimes a person not to be relied upon," remarked the balloonist grimly. "Now this is the way I size it up: Of course, all I know officially is that Andy Foger has sent in an entry for the big race for the ten-thousand-dollar prize which is offered by the Eagle Park Aviation Association. I'm a member of the arrangements committee, and so I know. I also know that you and several others are going to try for the prize. That's all I am absolutely sure of.

"Now, when you tell me about the missing plans, and you conclude that Andy is doing some underhanded work, I agree with you. But I go a step farther. I don't believe he's out of town at all."

"Why not?" exclaimed Tom.

"Because when he has an airship shed right in his own backyard, where, you tell me, he once made a craft in which he tried to beat you out in the trip to Alaska, when you think of that, doesn't it seem reasonable that he'd use that same building in which to make his new craft?"

"Yes, it does," admitted Tom slowly, "but then everybody says he's out of town."

"Well, what everybody says is generally not So. I think you'll find that Andy is keeping himself in seclusion, and that he's working secretly in his ship, building a machine with which to beat you."

"Do you, really?"

"I certainly do. Have you been around his place lately?"

"No. I've been too busy; and then I never have much to do with him."

"Then take my advice, and see if you can't get a look inside that shop. You may see something that will surprise you. If you find that Andy is infringing on your patented ideas, you can stop him by an injunction. You've got this model patented, I take it?"

"Oh, yes. I didn't have at the time the plans were stolen, but I've patented it since. I could get at him that way."

"Then take my advice, and do it. Get a look inside that shed, and you'll find Andy working secretly there, no matter if his cronies do think he's out of town."

"I believe I will," agreed Tom, and somehow he felt better now that he had decided on a plan of action. He and the balloonist talked over at some length just the best way to go about it, for the young inventor recalled the time when he and Ned Newton had endeavored to look into Andy's shed, with somewhat disastrous results to themselves; but Tom knew that the matter at stake justified a risk, and he was willing to take it.

"Well, now that's settled," said Mr. Sharp, "tell me more about yourself and your aeroplane. My! To think that the Red Cloud was destroyed! That was a fine craft."

"Indeed she was," agreed Tom. "I'm going to make another on similar lines, some day, but now all my time is occupied with the Humming Bird."

"She is a hummer, too," complimented Mr. Sharp. "But I almost forgot the real object of my trip here. There is no doubt about you going in the race, is there?"

"I fully expect to," replied Tom. "The only thing that will prevent me will be—"

"Don't say you're worried on account of what Andy Foger may do," interrupted Mr. Sharp.

"I'm not. I'll attend to Andy, all right. I was going to say that my father's illness might interfere. He's not well at all. I'm quite worried about him."

"Oh, I sincerely hope he'll be all right," remarked the balloonist. "We want you in this race. In fact, we're going to feature you, as they say about the actors and story-writers. The committee is planning to do considerable advertising on the strength of Tom Swift, the well-known young inventor, being a contestant for the ten-thousand-dollar prize."

"That's very nice, I'm sure," replied Tom, "and I'm going to do my best. Perhaps dad will take a turn for the better. He wants me to win as much as I want to myself. Well, we'll not worry about it, anyhow, until the time comes. I want to show you some new features of my latest aeroplane."

"And I want to see them, Tom. Don't you think you're making a mistake, though, in equipping it with a wireless outfit?"

"Why so?"

"Well, because it will add to the weight, and you want such a small machine to be as light as possible."

"Yes, but you see I have a very light engine. That part my father helped me with. In fact, it is the lightest air-cooled motor made, for the amount of horsepower it develops, so I can afford to put on the extra weight of the wireless outfit. I may need to signal when I am flying along at a hundred miles an hour."

"That's so. Well, show me some of the other good points. You've certainly got a wonderful craft here."

Tom and Mr. Sharp spent some time going over the Humming-Bird and in talking over old times. The balloonist paid another visit to Mr. Swift, who was feeling pretty good, and who expressed his pleasure in seeing his old friend again.

"Can't you stay for a few days?" asked Tom, when Mr. Sharp was about to leave. "If you wait long enough you may be able to help me work up the clues against Andy Foger, and also witness a trial flight of the Humming-Bird."

"I'd like to stay, but I can't," was the answer. "The committee will be anxious for me to get back with my report. Good luck to you. I'll see you at the time of the race, if not before."

Tom resolved to get right to work seeking clues against his old enemy, Andy, but the next day Mr. Swift was not so well, and Tom had to remain in the house. Then followed several days, during which time it was necessary to do some important work on his craft, and so a week passed without any information having been obtained.

In the meanwhile Tom had made some cautious inquiries, but had learned nothing about Andy. He had no chance to interview Pete or Sam, the two cronies, and he did not think it wise to make a bald request for information at the Foger home.

Ned Newton could not be of any aid to his friend, as he was kept busy in the bank night and day, working over a new set of books.

"I wonder how I can find out what I want to know?" mused Tom one afternoon, when he had done considerable work on the Humming-Bird. "I certainly ought to do it soon, so as to be able to stop Andy if he's infringing on my patents. Yet, I don't see how—"

His thoughts were interrupted by hearing a voice outside the shop, exclaiming:

"Bless my toothpick! I know the way, Eradicate, my good fellow. It isn't necessary for you to come. As long as Tom Swift is out there, I'll find him. Bless my horizontal rudder! I'm anxious to see what progress he's made. I'll find him, if he's about!"

"Yes, sah, he's right in dere," spoke the colored man. "He's workin' on dat Dragon Fly of his." Eradicate did not always get his names right.

"Mr. Damon!" exclaimed Tom in delight, at the sound of his friend's voice. "I believe he can help me get evidence against Andy Foger. I wonder I didn't think of it before! The very thing! I'll do it!"

Chapter Eight

The Empty Shed

"Bless my dark-lantern! Where are you, Tom?" called Mr. Damon as he entered the dim shed where the somewhat frail-appearing aeroplane loomed up in the semi-darkness, for it was afternoon, and rather cloudy. "Where are you?"

"Here!" called the young inventor. "I'm glad to see you! Come in!"

"Ah! there it is, eh?" exclaimed the odd man, as he looked at the aeroplane, for there had been much work done on it since he had last seen it. "Bless my parachute, Tom! But it looks as though you could blow it over."

"It's stronger than it seems," replied the lad. "But, Mr. Damon, I've got something very important to talk to you about."

Thereupon Tom told all about Mr. Sharp's visit, of Andy's entry in the big race, and of the suspicions of himself and the balloonist.

"And what is it you wish me to do?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Work up some clues against Andy Foger."

"Good! I'll do it! I'd like to get ahead of that bully and his father, who once tried to wreck the bank I'm interested in. I'll help you, Tom! I'll play detective! Let me see—what disguise shall I assume? I think I'll take the part of a tramp. Bless my ham sandwich! That will be the very thing. I'll get some ragged clothes, let my beard grow again—you see I shaved it off since my last visit—and I'll go around to the Foger place and ask for work. Then I can get inside the shed and look around. How's that for a plan?"

"It might be all right," agreed Tom, "only I don't believe you're cut out for the part of a tramp, Mr. Damon."

"Bless my fingernails! Why not?"

"Oh, well, it isn't very pleasant to go around in ragged clothes."

"Don't mind about me. I'll do it." And the odd gentleman seemed quite delighted at the idea. He and Tom talked it over at some length, and then adjourned to the house, where Mr. Swift, who had seemed to improve in the last few days, was told of the plan.

"Couldn't you go around after evidence just as you are?" asked the aged inventor. "I don't much care for this disguising business."

"Oh, it's very necessary," insisted Mr. Damon earnestly. "Bless my gizzard! but it's very necessary. Why, if I went around the Foger place as I am now, they'd know me in a minute, and I couldn't find out what I want to know."

"Well, if you keep on blessing yourself," said Tom, with a laugh, "they'll know you, no matter what disguise you put on, Mr. Damon."

"That's so," admitted the eccentric gentleman. "I must break myself of that habit. I will. Bless my topknot! I'll never do it any more. Bless my trousers buttons!"

"I'm afraid you'll never do it!" exclaimed Tom.

"It is rather hard," said Mr. Damon ruefully, as he realized what he had said. "But I'll do it. Bless—"

He paused a moment, looked at Tom and his father, and then burst into a laugh. The habit was more firmly fastened on him than he was aware.

For several hours Tom, his father and Mr. Damon discussed various methods of proceeding, and it was finally agreed that Mr. Damon should first try to learn what Andy was doing, if anything, without resorting to a disguise.

"Then, if that doesn't work, I'll become a tramp," was the decision of the odd character. "I'll wear the raggedest clothes I can find Bless—" But he stopped in time.

Mr. Damon took up his residence in the Swift household, as he had often done before, and for the next week he went and came as he pleased, sometimes being away all night.

"It's no use, though," declared Mr. Damon at the end of the week. "I can't get anywhere near that shed, nor even get a glimpse inside of it. I haven't been able to learn anything, either'. There are two gardeners on guard all the while, and several times when I've tried to go in the side gate, they've stopped me."

"Isn't there any news of Andy about town?" asked Tom. "I should think Sam or Pete would know where he is."

"Well, I didn't ask them, for they'd know right away why I was inquiring," said Mr. Damon, "but it seems to me as if there was something queer going on. If Andy Foger is working in that shed of his, he's keeping mighty quiet about it. Bless my—"

And once more he stopped in time. He was conquering the habit in a measure.

"Well, what do you propose to do next?" asked Tom.

"Disguise myself like a tramp, and go there looking for work," was the firm answer. "There are plenty of odd jobs on a big place such as the Foger family have. I'll find out what I want to know, you see."

It seemed useless to further combat this resolution, and, in a few days Mr. Damon presented a very different appearance. He had on a most ragged suit, there was a scrubby beard on his face, and he walked with a curious shuffle, caused by a pair of big, heavy shoes which he had donned, first having taken the precaution to make holes in them and get them muddy.

"Now I'm all ready," he said to Tom one day, when his disguise was complete. "I'm going over and try my luck."

He left the house by a side door, so that no one would see him, and started down the walk. As he did so a voice shouted:

"Hi, there! Git right out oh heah! Mistah Swift doan't allow no tramps heah, an' we ain't got no wuk fo' yo', an' there ain't no cold victuals. I does all de wuk, me an' mah mule Boomerang, an' we takes all de cold victuals, too! Git right along, now!"

"It's Eradicate. He doesn't know you," said Tom, with a chuckle.

"So much the better," whispered Mr. Damon. But the disguise proved almost too much of a success, for seeing the supposed tramp lingering near the house, Eradicate caught up a stout stick and rushed forward. He was about to strike the ragged man, when Tom called out:

"That's Mr. Damon, Rad!"

"Wh—what!" gasped the colored man; and when the situation had been explained to him, and the necessity for silence impressed upon him, he turned away, too surprised to utter a word. He sought consolation in the stable with his mule.

Just what methods Mr. Damon used he never disclosed, but one thing is certain: That night there came a cautious knock on the door of the Swift home, and Tom, answering it, beheld his odd friend.

"Well," he asked eagerly, "what luck?"

"Put on a suit of old clothes, and come with me," said Mr. Damon. "We'll look like two tramps, and then, if we're discovered, they won't know it was you."

"Have you found out anything?" asked Tom eagerly.

"Not yet; but I've got a key to one of the side doors of the shed, and we can get in as soon as it's late enough so that everybody there will be in bed."

"A key? How did you get it?" inquired the youth.

"Never mind," was the answer, with a chuckle. "That was because of my disguise; and I haven't blessed anything to-day. I'm going to, soon, though. I can feel it coming on. But hurry, Tom, or we may be too late."

"And you haven't had a look inside the shed?" asked the young inventor. "You don't know what's there?"

"No; but we soon will."

Eagerly Tom put on tome of the oldest and most ragged garments he could find, and then he and the odd gentleman set off toward the Foger home. They waited some time after getting in sight of it, because they saw a light in one of the windows. Then, when the house was dark, they stole cautiously forward toward the big, gloomy shed.

"On this side," directed Mr. Damon in a whisper. "The key I have opens this door."

"But we can't see when we get inside," objected Tom. "I should have brought a dark lantern."

"I have one of those pocket electric flashlights," said Mr. Damon. "Bless my candlestick! but I thought of that." And he chuckled gleefully.

Cautiously they advanced in the darkness. Mr. Damon fumbled at the lock of the door. The key grated as he turned it. The portal swung back, and Tom and his friend found themselves inside the shed which, of late, had been such an object of worry and conjecture to the young inventor. What would he find there?

"Flash the light," he called to Mr. Damon in a hoarse whisper.

The eccentric man drew it from his packet He pressed the spring switch, and in an instant a brilliant shaft of radiance shot out, cutting the intense blackness like a knife. Mr. Damon flashed it on all sides.

But to the amazement of Tom and his companion, it did not illuminate the broad white wings and stretches of canvas of an aeroplane It only shone on the bare walls of the shed, and on some piles of rubbish in the corners. Up and down, to right and left, shot the pencil of light.

"There's—there's nothing here!" gasped Tom.

"I—I guess you're right!" agreed Mr. Damon "The shed is empty!"

"Then where is Andy Foger building his aeroplane?" asked Tom in a whisper; but Mr. Damon could not answer him.

Chapter Nine

A Trial Flight

For a few moments after their exclamations of surprise Tom and Mr. Damon did not know what else to say. They stared about in amazement, hardly able to believe that the shed could be empty. They had expected to see some form of aeroplane in it, and Tom was almost sure his eyes would meet a reproduction of his Humming Bird, made from the stolen plans.

"Can it be possible there's nothing here?" went on Tom, after a long pause. He could not seem to believe it.

"Evidently not," answered Mr. Damon, as he advanced toward the center of the big building and flashed the light on all sides. "You can see for yourself."

"Or, rather, you can't see," spoke the youth. "It isn't here, that's sure. You can't stick an aeroplane, even as small a one as my Humming Bird, in a corner. No; it isn't here."

"Well, we'll have to look further," went on Mr. Damon. "I think—"

But a sudden noise near the big main doors of the shed interrupted him.

"Come on!" exclaimed Tom in a whisper. "Some one's coming! They may see us! Let's get out!"

Mr. Damon released the pressure on the spring switch, and the light went out. After waiting a moment to let their eyes become accustomed to the darkness, he and Tom stole to the door by which they had entered. As they swung it cautiously open they again heard the noise near the main portals by which Andy had formerly taken in and out the Anthony, as he had named the aeroplane in which he and his father went to Alaska, where, like Tom's craft, it was wrecked.

"Some one is coming in!" whispered Tom.

Hardly had he spoken when a light shone in the direction of the sound. The illumination came from a big lantern of the ordinary kind, carried by some one who had just entered the shed.

"Can you see who it is?" whispered Mr. Damon, peering eagerly forward; too eagerly, for his foot struck against the wooden side wall with a loud hang.

"Who's there?" suddenly demanded the person carrying the lantern.

He raised it high above his head, in order to cast the gleams into all the distant corners. As he did so a ray of light fell upon his face. "Andy Foger!" gasped Tom in a hoarse whisper.

Andy must have heard, for he ran forward just as Tom and Mr. Damon slipped out.

"Hold on! Who are you?" came in the unmistakable tones of the red-haired bully.

"I don't think we're going to tell," chuckled Tom softly, as he and his friend sped off into the darkness. They were not followed, and as they looked back they could see a light bobbing about in the shed.

"He's looking for us!" exclaimed Mr. Damon with an inward laugh. "Bless my watch chain! But it's a good thing we got in ahead of him. Are you sure it was Andy himself?"

"Sure! I'd know his face anywhere. But I can't understand it. Where has he been? What is he doing? Where is he building his aeroplane? I thought he was out of town."

"He may have come back to-night," said Mr. Damon. "That's the only one of your questions I can answer. We'll have to wait about the rest, I'm sure he wasn't around the house to-day, though, for I was working at weeding the flower beds, in my disguise as a tramp, and if he was home I'd have seen him. He must have just come back, and he went out to his shed to get something. Well, we did the best we could."

"Indeed we did," agreed Tom, "and I'm ever so much obliged to you, Mr. Damon."

"And we'll try again, when we get more clues. Bless my shoelaces! but it's a relief to be able to talk as you like."

And forthwith the eccentric man began to call down so many blessings on himself and on his belongings, no less than on his friends, that Tom laughingly warned him that he had better save some for another time.

The two reached home safely, removed their "disguises," and told Mr. Swift of the result of their trip. He agreed with them that there was a mystery about Andy's aeroplane which was yet to be solved.

But Tom was glad to find that, at any rate, the craft was not being made in Shopton, and during the next two weeks he devoted all his time to finishing his own machine. Mr. Jackson was a valuable assistant, and Mr. Damon gave what aid he could.

"Well, I think I'll be ready for a trial flight in another week," said Tom one day, as he stepped back to get a view of the almost completed Humming-Bird.

"Shall you want a passenger?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Yes, I wish you would take a chance with me. I could use a bag of sand, not that I mean you are to be compared to that," added Tom quickly, "but I'd rather have a real person, in order to test the balancing apparatus. Yes, we'll make a trial trip together."

In the following few days Tom went carefully over the aeroplane, making some slight changes, strengthening it here and there, and testing the motor thoroughly. It seemed to work perfectly.

At length the day of the trial came, and the Humming-Bird was wheeled out of the shed. In spite of the fact that it was practically finished, there yet remained much to do on it. It was not painted or decorated, and looked rather crude. But what Tom wanted to know was how it would fly, what control he had over it, what speed it could make, and how it balanced. For it was, at best, very frail, and the least change in equilibrium might be fatal.

Before taking his place in the operator's seat Tom started the motor, and by means of a spring balance tested the thrust of the propellers. It was satisfactory, though he knew that when the engine had been run for some time, and had warmed up, it would do much better.

"All ready, I guess, Mr. Damon!" he called, and the odd gentleman took his place. Tom got up into his own seat, in front of several wheels and levers by which he operated the craft.

"Start the propeller!" he requested of Mr. Jackson, and soon the motor was spitting fire, while the big, fan-like blades were whirring around like wings of light. The engineer and Eradicate were holding back the Humming-Bird.

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