TOM SWIFT AND HIS WAR TANK
Doing His Bit For Uncle Sam
I Past Memories II Tom's Indifference III Ned is Worried IV Queer Doings V "Is He a Slacker?" VI Seeing Things VII Up a Tree VIII Detective Rad IX A Night Test X A Runaway Giant XI Tom's Tank XII Bridging a Gap XIII Into a Trench XIV The Ruined Factory XV Across Country XVI The Old Barn XVII Veiled Threats XVIII Ready for France XIX Tom Is Missing XX The Search XXI A Prisoner XXII Rescued XXIII Gone XXIV Camouflaged XXV Foiled
Ceasing his restless walk up and down the room, Tom Swift strode to the window and gazed across the field toward the many buildings, where machines were turning out the products evolved from the brains of his father and himself. There was a worried look on the face of the young inventor, and he seemed preoccupied, as though thinking of something far removed from whatever it was his eyes gazed upon.
"Well, I'll do it!" suddenly exclaimed Tom. "I don't want to, but I will. It's in the line of 'doing my bit,' I suppose; but I'd rather it was something else. I wonder—"
"Ha! Up to your old tricks, I see, Tom!" exclaimed a voice, in which energy and friendliness mingled pleasingly. "Up to your old tricks!"
"Oh, hello, Mr. Damon!" cried Tom, turning to shake hands with an elderly gentleman—that is, elderly in appearance but not in action, for he crossed the room with the springing step of a lad, and there was the enthusiasm of youth on his face. "What do you mean—my old tricks?"
"Talking to yourself, Tom. And when you do that it means there is something in the wind. I hope, as a sort of side remark, it isn't rain that's in the wind, for the soldiers over at camp have had enough water to set up a rival establishment with Mr. Noah. But there's something going on, isn't there? Bless my memorandum book, but don't tell me there isn't, or I shall begin to believe I have lost all my deductive powers of reasoning! I Come in here, after knocking two or three times, to which you pay not the least attention, and find you mysteriously murmuring to yourself.
"The last time that happened, Tom, was just before you started to dig the big tunnel—No, I'm wrong. It was just before you started for the Land of Wonders, as we decided it ought to be called. You were talking to yourself then, when I walked in on you, and—Say, Tom!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon eagerly, "don't tell me you're going off on another wild journey like that—don't!"
"Why?" asked Tom, smiling at the energy of his caller.
"Because if you are, I'll want to go with you, of course, and if I go it means I'll have to start in as soon as I can to bring my wife around to my way of thinking. The last time I went it took me two weeks to get her to consent, and then she didn't like it. So if—"
"No, Mr. Damon," interrupted Tom, "I don't count on going on any sort of a trip—that is, any long one. I was just getting ready to take a little spin in the Hawk, and if you'd like to come along—"
"You mean that saucy little airship of yours, Tom, that's always trying to sit down on her tail, or tickle herself with one wing?"
"That's the Hawk!" laughed Tom; "though that tickling business you speak of is when I spiral. Don't you like it?"
"Can't say I do," observed Mr. Damon dryly.
"Well, I'll promise not to try any stunts if you come along," Tom went on.
"Where are you going?" asked his friend.
"Oh, no place in particular. As you surmised, I've been doing a bit of thinking, and—"
"Serious thinking, too, Tom!" interrupted Mr. Damon. "Excuse me, but I couldn't help overhearing what you said. It was something about going to do something though you didn't want to, and that it was part of your 'bit'. That sounds like soldier talk. Are you going to enlist, Tom?"
"Um! Well, then—"
"It's something I can't talk about, Mr. Damon, even to you, as yet," Tom said, and there was a new quality in his voice, at which his friend looked up in some surprise.
"Oh, of course, Tom, if it's a secret—"
"Well, it hasn't even got that far, as yet. It's all up in the air, so to speak. I'll tell you in due season. But, speaking of the air, let's go for a spin. It may drive some of the cobwebs out of my brain. Did I hear you say you thought it would rain?"
"No, it's as clear as a bell. I said I hoped it wouldn't rain for the sake of the soldiers in camp. They've had their share of wet weather, and, goodness knows, they'll get more when they get to Flanders. It seems to do nothing but rain in France."
"It is damp," agreed Tom. "And, come to think of it, they are going to have some airship contests over at camp to-day—for the men who are being trained to be aviators, you know. It just occurred to me that we might fly over there and watch them."
"Fine!" cried Mr. Damon. "That's the very thing I should like. I'll take a chance in your Hawk, Tom, if you'll promise not to try any spiral stunts."
"I promise, Mr. Damon. Come on! I'll have Koku run the machine out and get her ready for a flight to Camp. It's a good day for a jaunt in the air."
"Get out the Hawk, Koku," ordered the young inventor, as he motioned to a big man—a veritable giant—who nodded to show he understood. Koku was really a giant, one of a race of strange beings, and Tom Swift had brought the big man with him when he escaped from captivity, as those will remember who have read that book.
"Going far, Tom?" asked an aged man, coming to the door of one of the many buildings of which the shed where the airship was kept formed one.
"Not very far, Father," answered the young inventor. "Mr. Damon and I are going for a little spin over to Camp Grant, to see some aircraft contests among the army birdmen."
"Oh, all right, Tom. I just wanted to tell you that I think I've gotten over that difficulty you found with the big carburetor you were working on. You didn't say what you wanted it for, except that it was for a heavy duty gasolene engine, and you couldn't get the needle valve to work as you'd like. I think I've found a way."
"Good, Dad! I'll look at it when I come back. That Carburetor did bother me, and if I can get that to work—well, maybe we'll have something soon that will—"
But Tom did not finish his sentence, for Koku was getting the aircraft in operation and Mr. Damon was already taking his place behind the pilot's seat, which would be occupied by Tom.
"All ready, are you, Koku?" asked the young inventor.
"All ready, Master," answered the giant.
There was a roar like that of a machine gun as the Hawk's engine spun the propeller, and then, after a little run across the sod, it mounted into the air, carrying Tom and Mr. Damon with it.
"Mind you, Tom, no stunts!" called the visitor to the young inventor through the speaking tube apparatus, which enabled a conversation to be carried on, even above the roar of the powerful engine. "Bless my overshoes! if you try, looping the loop with me—"
"I won't do anything like that!" promised Tom.
Away they soared, swift as a veritable hawk, and soon, after there had unrolled below their eyes a succession of fields and forest, there came into view rows and rows of small brown objects, among which beings, like ants, seemed crawling about.
"There's the Camp!" exclaimed Tom.
"I see," and Mr. Damon nodded.
As they approached, they saw, starting up from a green space amid the brown tents, what appeared to be big bugs of a dirty white color splotched with green.
"The aircraft—and they have camouflage paint on," said Tom. "We can watch 'em from up here!"
Mr. Damon nodded, though Tom could not see him, sitting in front of his friend as he was.
Up and up circled the army aircraft, and they seemed to bow and nod a greeting to the Hawk, which was soon in the midst of them. Tom and Mr. Damon, flying high, though at no great speed, looked at the maneuvers of the veterans and the learners—many of whom might soon be engaging the Boches in far-off France.
"Some of 'em are pretty good!" called Tom, through the tube. "That one fellow did the loop as prettily as I've ever seen it done," and Tom Swift had a right to speak as one of authority.
Tom and his friend watched the aircraft for some time, and then started off in a long flight, attaining a high speed, which, at first, made Mr. Damon gasp, until he became used to it. He was no novice at flying, and had even operated aeroplanes himself, though at no great height.
Suddenly the Hawk seemed to falter, almost as does a bird stricken by a hunter's gun. The craft seemed to hang in the air, losing motion as though about to plunge to earth unguided.
"What's the matter?" cried Mr. Damon.
"One of the control wires broken!" was Tom's laconic answer. "I'll have to volplane down. Sit tight, there's no danger!"
Mr. Damon knew that with so competent a pilot as Tom Swift in the forward seat this was true, but, nevertheless, he was a bit nervous until he felt the smooth, gliding motion, with now and then an upward tilt, which showed that Tom was coming down from the upper regions in a series of long glides. The engine had stopped, and the cessation of the thundering noise made it possible for Tom and his passenger to talk without the use of the speaking tube.
"All right?" asked Mr. Damon.
"All right," Tom answered, and a little later the machine was rolling gently over the turf of a large field, a mile or so from the camp.
Before Tom and Mr. Damon could get out of their seats, a man, seemingly springing up from some hollow in the ground, walked toward them.
"Had an accident?" he asked, in what he evidently meant for a friendly voice.
"A little one, easily mended," Tom answered.
He was about to take off his goggles, but at sight of the man's face a change came over the countenance of Tom Swift, and he replaced the eye protectors. Then Tom turned to Mr. Damon, as if to ask a question, but the stranger came so close, evidently curious to see the aircraft at close quarters, that the young inventor could not speak without being overheard.
Tom got out his kit of tools to repair the broken control, and the man watched him curiously. As he tinkered away, something was stirring among the past memories of the inventor. A question he asked himself over and over again was:
"Where have I seen this man before? His face is familiar, but I can't place him. He is associated with something unpleasant. But where have I seen this man before?"
"Did you make this machine yourself?" asked the stranger of Tom, as the young inventor worked at the damaged part of his craft.
Mr. Damon had also alighted, taken off his goggles, and was looking aloft, where the army aircraft were going through various evolutions, and down below, where the young soldiers were drilling under such conditions, as far as possible, as they might meet with when some of their number went "over the top." Mr. Damon was murmuring to himself such remarks as:
"Bless my fountain pen! look at that chap turning upside down! Bless my inkwell!"
"I beg your pardon," remarked Tom Swift, following the remark of the man, whose face he was trying to recall. It was not that Tom had not heard the question, but he was trying to gain time before answering.
"I asked if you made this machine yourself," went on the man, as he peered about at the Hawk. "It isn't like any I've ever seen before, and I know something about airships. It has some new wrinkles on it, and I thought you might have evolved them yourself. Not that it's an amateur affair, by any means!" he added hastily, as if fearing the young inventor might resent the implication that his machine was a home-made product.
"Yes, I originated this," answered Tom, as he put a new turn-buckle in place; "but I didn't actually construct it—that is, except for some small parts. It was made in the shop—"
"Over at the army construction plant, I presume," interrupted the man quickly, as he motioned toward the big factory, not far from Shopton, where aircraft for Uncle Sam's Army were being turned out by the hundreds.
"Might as well let him think that," mused Tom; "at least until I can figure out who he is and what he wants."
"This is different from most of those up there," and the stranger pointed toward the circling craft on high. "A bit more speedy, I guess, isn't it?"
"Well, yes, in a way," agreed Tom, who was lending over his craft. He stole a side look at the man. The face was becoming more and more familiar, yet something about it puzzled Tom Swift.
"I've seen him before, and yet he didn't look like that," thought the young inventor. "It's different, somehow. Now why should my memory play me a trick like this? Who in the world can he be?"
Tom straightened up, and tossed a monkey wrench into the tool box.
"Get everything fixed?" asked the stranger.
"I think so," and the young inventor tried to make his answer pleasant. "It was only a small break, easily fixed."
"Then you'll be on your way again?"
"Yes. Are you ready?" called Tom to Mr. Damon.
"Bless my timetable, yes! I didn't think you'd start back again so soon. There's one young fellow up there who has looped the loop three times, and I expect him to fall any minute."
"Oh, I guess he knows his business," Tom said easily. "We'll be getting back now."
"One moment!" called the man. "I beg your pardon for troubling you, but you seem to be a mechanic, and that's just the sort of man I'm looking for. Are you open to an offer to do some inventive and constructive work?"
Tom was on his guard instantly.
"Well, I can't say that I am," he answered. "I am pretty busy—"
"This would pay well," went on the man eagerly. "I am a stranger around here, but I can furnish satisfactory references. I am in need of a good mechanic, an inventor as well, who can do what you seem to have done so well. I had hopes of getting some one at the army plant."
"I guess they're not letting any of their men go," said Tom, as Mr. Damon climbed to his seat in the Hawk.
"No, I soon found that out. But I thought perhaps you—"
Tom shook his head.
"I'm sorry," he answered, "but I'm otherwise engaged, and very busy."
"One moment!" called the man, as he saw Tom about to start "Is the Swift Company plant far from here?"
Tom felt something like a thrill go through him. There was an unexpected note in the man's voice. The face of the young inventor lightened, and the doubts melted away.
"No, it isn't far," Tom answered, shouting to be heard above the crackling bangs of the motor. And then, as the craft soared into the air, he cried exultingly:
"I have it! I know who he is! The scoundrel! His beard fooled me, and he probably didn't know me with these goggles on. But now I know him!"
"Bless my calendar!" cried Mr. Damon. "What are you talking about?"
But Tom did not answer, for the reason that just then the Hawk fell into an "air pocket," and needed all his attention to straighten her out and get her on a level course again.
And while Tom Swift is thus engaged in speeding his aircraft along the upper regions toward his home, it will take but a few moments to acquaint my new readers with something of the history of the young inventor. Those who have read the previous books in this series need be told nothing about our hero.
Tom Swift was an inventor of note, as was his father. Mr. Swift was now quite aged and not in robust health, but he was active at times and often aided Tom when some knotty point came up.
Tom and his father lived on the outskirts of the town of Shopton, and near their home were various buildings in which the different machines and appliances were made. Tom's mother was dead, but Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, was as careful in looking after Tom and his father as any woman could be.
In addition to these three, the household consisted of Eradicate Sampson, an aged colored servant, and, it might almost be added, his mule Boomerang; but Boomerang had manners that, at times, did not make him a welcome addition to any household. Then there was the giant Koku, one of two big men Tom had brought back with him from the land where the young inventor had been held captive for a time.
The first book of this series is called "Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle," and it was in acquiring possession of that machine that Tom met his friend Mr. Wakefield Damon, who lived in a neighboring town. Mr. Damon owned the motor cycle originally, but when it attempted to climb a tree with him he sold it to Tom.
Tom had many adventures on the machine, and it started him on his inventive career. From then on he had had a series of surprising adventures. He had traveled in his motor boat, in an airship, and then had taken to a submarine. In his electric runabout he showed what the speediest car on the road Could do, and when he sent his wireless message, the details of which can be found set down in the volume of that name, Tom saved the castaways of Earthquake Island.
Tom Swift had many other thrilling escapes, one from among the diamond makers, and another from the caves of ice; and he made the quickest flight on record in his sky racer.
Tom's wizard camera, his great searchlight, his giant cannon, his photo telephone, his aerial warship and the big tunnel he helped to dig, brought him credit, fame, and not a little money. He had not long been back from an expedition to Honduras, dubbed "the land of wonders," when he was again busy en some of his many ideas. And it was to get some relief from his thoughts that he had taken the flight with Mr. Damon on the day the present story opens.
"What are you so excited about, Tom?" asked his friend, as the Hawk alighted near the shed hack of the young inventor's home. "Bless my scarf pin! but any one would think you'd just discovered the true method of squaring the circle."
"Well, it's almost as good as that, and more practical," Tom said, with a smile, as he motioned to Koku to put away the aircraft "I know who that man is, now."
"What man, Tom?"
"The one who was questioning me when I was fixing the airship. I kept puzzling and puzzling as to his identity, and, all at once, it came to me. Do you know who he is, Mr. Damon?"
"No, I can't say that I do, Tom. But, as you say, there was something vaguely familiar about him. It seemed as if I must have seen him before, and yet—"
"That's just the way it struck me. What would you say if I told you that man was Blakeson, of Blakeson and Grinder, the rival tunnel contractors who made such trouble for us?"
"You mean down in Peru, Tom?"
Mr. Damon started in surprise, and then exclaimed:
"Bless my ear mufflers, Tom, but you're right! That was Blakeson! I didn't know him with his beard, but that was Blakeson, all right! Bless my foot-warmer! What do you suppose he is doing around here?"
"I don't know, Mr. Damon, but I'd give a good deal to know. It isn't any good, I'll wager on that. He didn't seem to know me or you, either—unless he did and didn't let on. I suppose it was because of my goggles—and you were gazing up in the air most of the time. I don't think he knew either of us."
"It didn't seem so, Tom. But what is he doing here? Do you think he is working at the army camp, or helping make Liberty Motors for the aircraft that are going to beat the Germans?"
"Hardly. He didn't seem to be connected with the camp. He wanted a mechanic, and hinted that I might do. Jove! if he really didn't know who I was, and finds out, say! won't he be surprised?"
"Rather," agreed Mr Damon. "Well, Tom, I bad a nice little ride. And now I must be getting back. But if you contemplate a trip anywhere, don't forget to let me know."
"I don't count on going anywhere soon," Tom answered. "I have something on hand that will occupy all my time, though I don't just like it. However, I'm going to do my best," and he waved good-bye to Mr. Damon, who went off blessing various parts of his anatomy or clothing, an odd habit he had.
As Tom turned to go into the house, the unsettled look still on his face, some one hailed him.
"I say, Tom. Hello! Wait a minute! I've got something to show you!"
"Oh, hello, Ned Newton!" Called back the young inventor. "Well, if it's Liberty Bonds, you don't need to show me any, for dad and I will buy all we can without seeing them."
"I know that, Tom, and it was a dandy subscription you gave me. I didn't come about that, though I may be around the next time Uncle Sam wants the people to dig down in their socks. This is something different," and Ned Newton, a young banker of Shopton and a lifelong friend of Tom's, drew a paper from his pocket as he advanced across the lawn.
"There, Tom Swift!" he cried, flipping out an illustrated page, evidently from some illustrated newspaper. "There's the very latest from the other side. A London banker friend of mine sent it to me, and it got past the censor all right. It's the first authentic photograph of the newest and biggest British tank. Isn't that a wonder?"
Ned held up the paper which had in it a fullpage photograph of a monster tank—those weird machines traveling on endless steel belts of caterpillar construction, armored, riveted and plated, with machine guns bristling here and there.
"Isn't that great, Tom? Can you beat it? It's the most wonderful machine of the age, even counting some of yours. Can you beat it?"
Tom took the paper indifferently, and his manner surprised his chum.
"Well, what's the matter, Tom?" asked Ned. "Don't you think that great? Why don't you say something? You don't mean to say you've seen that picture before?"
"Then what's the matter with you? Isn't that wonderful?"
Ned is Worried
Tom Swift did not answer for several seconds. He stood holding the paper Ned had given him, the sun slanting on the picture of the big British tank. But the young inventor did not appear to see it. Instead, his eyes were as though contemplating something afar off.
"Well, this gets me!" cried Ned, his voice showing impatience. "Here I go and get a picture of the latest machine the British armies are smashing up the Boches with, and bring it to you fresh from the mail—I even quit my Liberty Bond business to do it, and I know some dandy prospects, too—and here you look at it like a—like a fish!" burst out Ned.
"Say, old man, I guess that's right!" admitted Tom. "I wasn't thinking about it, to tell you the truth."
"Why not?" Ned demanded. "Isn't it great, Tom? Did you ever see anything like it?"
"You did?" Cried Ned, in surprise. "Where? Say, Tom Swift, are you keeping something from me?"
"I mean no, Ned. I never have seen a British tank."
"Well, did you ever see a picture like this before?" Ned persisted.
"No, not exactly like that But—"
"Well, what do you think of it?" cried the young banker, who was giving much of his time to selling bonds for the Government. "Isn't it great?"
Tom considered a moment before replying. Then he said slowly:
"Well, yes, Ned, it is a pretty good machine. But—"
"'But!' Howling tomcats! Say, what's the 'matter with you, anyhow, Tom? This is great! 'But!' 'But me no buts!' This is, without exception, the greatest thing out since an airship. It will win the war for us and the Allies, too, and don't you forget it! Fritz's barbed wire and dugouts and machine gun emplacements can't stand for a minute against these tanks! Why, Tom, they can crawl on their back as well as any other way, and they don't mind a shower of shrapnel or a burst of machine gun lead, any more than an alligator minds a swarm of gnats. The only thing that makes 'em hesitate a bit is a Jack Johnson or a Bertha shell, and it's got to be a pretty big one, and in the right place, to do much damage. These tanks are great, and there's nothing like 'em."
"Oh, yes there is, Ned!"
"There is!" cried Ned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean there may be something like them—soon."
"There may? Say, Tom—"
"Now don't ask me a lot of questions, Ned, for I can't answer them. When I say there may be something like them, I mean it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that some one—perhaps the Germans—may turn out even bigger and better tanks."
"Oh!" And Ned's voice showed his disappointment. "I thought maybe you were in on that game yourself, Tom. Say, couldn't you get up something almost as good as this?" and he indicated the picture in the paper. "Isn't that wonderful?"
"Oh, well, it's good, Ned, but there are others. Yes, Dad, I'm coming," he called, as he saw his father beckoning to him from a distant building.
"Well, I've got to get along," said Ned. "But I certainly am disappointed, Tom. I thought you'd go into a fit over this picture—it's one of the first allowed to get out of England, my London friend said. And instead of enthusing you're as cold as a clam;" and Ned shook his head in puzzled and disappointed fashion as he walked slowly along beside the young inventor.
They passed a new building, one of the largest in the group of the many comprising the Swift plant. Ned looked at the door which bore a notice to the effect that no one was admitted unless bearing a special permit, or accompanied by Mr. Swift or Tom.
"What's this, Tom?" asked Ned. "Some new wrinkle?"
"Yes, an invention I'm working on. It isn't in shape yet to be seen."
"It must be something big, Tom," observed Ned, as he viewed the large building.
"And say, what a whopping big fence you've got around the back yard!" went on the young banker. "Looks like a baseball field, but it would take some scrambling on the part of a back-lots kid to get over it."
"That's what it's for—to keep people out."
"I see! Well, I've got to get along. I'm a bit back in my day's quota of selling Liberty Bonds, and I've got to hustle. I'm sorry I bothered you about that tank picture, Tom."
"Oh, it wasn't a bother—don't think that for a minute, Ned! I was glad to see it."
"Well, he didn't seem so, and his manner was certainly queer," mused Ned, as he walked away, and turned in time to see Tom enter the new building, which had such a high fence all around it. "I never saw him more indifferent. I wonder if Tom isn't interested in seeing Uncle Sam help win this war? That's the way it struck me. I thought surely Tom would go up in the air, and say this was a dandy," and Ned unfolded the paper and took another look at the British tank photograph. "If there's anything can beat that I'd like to see it," he mused.
"But I suppose Tom has discovered some new kind of air stabilizer, or a different kind of carburetor that will vaporize kerosene as well as gasolene. If he has, why doesn't he offer it to Uncle Sam? I wonder if Tom is pro-German? No, of Course he can't be!" and Ned laughed at his own idea.
"At the same time, it is queer," he mused on. "There is something wrong with Tom Swift."
Once more Ned looked at the picture. It was a representation of one of the newest and largest of the British tanks. In appearance these are not unlike great tanks, though they are neither round nor square, being shaped, in fact, like two wedges with the broad ends put together, and the sharper ends sticking out, though there is no sharpness to a tank, the "noses" both being blunt.
Around each outer edge runs an endless belt of steel plates, hinged together, with ridges at the joints, and these broad belts of steel plates, like the platforms of some moving stairways used in department stores, moving around, give motion to the tank.
Inside, well protected from the fire of enemy guns by steel plates, are the engines for driving the belts, or caterpillar wheels, as they are called. There is also the steering apparatus, and the guns that fire on the enemy. There are cramped living and sleeping quarters for the tank's crew, more limited than those of a submarine.
The tank is ponderous, the smallest of them, which were those first constructed, weighing forty-two tons, or about as much as a good-sized railroad freight car. And it is this ponderosity, with its slow but resistless movement, that gives the tank its power.
The tank, by means of the endless belts of steel plates, can travel over the roughest country. It can butt into a tree, a stone wall, or a house, knock over the obstruction, mount it, crawl over it, and slide down into a hole on the other side and crawl out again, on the level, or at an angle. Even if overturned, the tanks can sometimes right themselves and keep on. At the rear are trailer wheels, partly used in steering and partly for reaching over gaps or getting out of holes. The tanks can turn in their own length, by moving one belt in one direction and the other oppositely.
Inside there is nothing much but machinery of the gasolene type, and the machine guns. The tank is closed except for small openings out of which the guns project, and slots through which the men inside look out to guide themselves or direct their fire.
Such, in brief, is a British tank, one of the most powerful and effective weapons yet loosed against the Germans. They are useful in tearing down the barbed-wire entanglements on the Boche side of No Man's Land, and they can clear the way up to and past the trenches, which they can straddle and wriggle across like some giant worm.
"And to think that Tom Swift didn't enthuse over these!" murmured Ned. "I wonder what's the matter with him!"
There was a subdued air of activity about the Swift plant. Subdued, owing to the fact that it was mostly confined to one building—the new, large one, about which stretched a high and strong fence, made with tongue-and-groove boards so that no prying eyes might find a crack, even, through which to peer.
In and out of the other buildings the workmen went as they pleased, though there were not many of them, for Tom and his father were devoting most of their time and energies to what was taking place in the big, new structure. But here there was an entirely different procedure.
Workmen went in and out, to be sure, but each time they emerged they were scrutinized carefully, and when they went in they had to exhibit their passes to a man on guard at the single entrance; and the passes were not scrutinized perfunctorily, either.
Near the building, about which there seemed to be an air of mystery, one day, a week after the events narrated in the opening chapters, strolled the giant Koku. Not far away, raking up a pile of refuse, was Eradicate Sampson, the aged colored man of all work. Eradicate approached nearer and nearer the entrance to the building, pursuing his task of gathering up leaves, dirt and sticks with the teeth of his rake. Then Koku, who had been lounging on a bench in the shade of a tree, Called:
"No more, Eradicate!"
"No mo' whut?" asked the negro quickly. "I didn't axt yo' fo' nuffin yit!"
"No more come here!" said the giant, pointing to the building and speaking English with an evident effort. "Master say no one come too close."
"Huh! He didn't go fo' t' mean me!" exclaimed Eradicate. "I kin go anywheres; I kin!"
"Not here!" and Koku interposed his giant frame between the old man and the first step leading into the secret building. "You no come in here."
"Who say so?"
"Me—I say so! I on guard. I what you call special policeman—detectiff—no let enemies in!"
"Huh! You's a hot deteckertiff, yo' is!" snorted Eradicate. "Anyhow, dem orders don't mean me! I kin go anywhere, I kin!"
"Not here!" said Koku firmly. "Master Tom say let nobody come near but workmen who have got writing-paper. You no got!"
"No, but I kin git one, an' I's gwine t' hab it soon! I'll see Massa Tom, dat's whut I will. I guess yo' ain't de only deteckertiff on de place. I kin go on guard, too!" and Eradicate, dropping his rake, strolled away in his temper to seek the young inventor.
"Well, Rad, what is it?" asked Tom, as he met the colored man. The young inventor was on his way to the mysterious shop. "What is troubling you?"
"It's dat dar giant. He done says as how he's on guard—a deteckertiff—an' I can't go nigh dat buildin' t' sweep up de refuse."
"Well, that's right, Rad. I'd prefer that you keep away. I'm doing some special work in there and it's—"
"Am it dangerous, Massa Tom? I ain't askeered! Anybody whut kin drive mah mule Boomerang—"
"I know, Eradicate, but this isn't so dangerous. It's just secret, and I don't want too many people about. You can go anywhere else except there. Koku is on guard."
"Den can't I be, Massa Tom?" asked the colored man eagerly. "I kin guard an' detect same as dat low-down, good-fo'-nuffin white trash Koku!"
"I suppose I could get you a sort of officer's badge," he mused, half aloud.
"Dat's whut I want!" eagerly exclaimed Eradicate. "I ain't gwine hab dat Koku—dat cocoanut—crowin' ober me! I kin guard an' detect as good's anybody!"
And the upshot of it was that Eradicate was given a badge, and put on a special post, far enough from Koku to keep the two from quarreling, and where, even if he failed in keeping a proper lookout, the old servant could do no harm by his oversight.
"It'll please him, and won't hurt us," said Tom to his father. "Koku will keep out any prying persons."
"I suppose you are doing well to keep it a secret, Tom," said Mr. Swift, "but it seems as if you might announce it soon."
"Perhaps we may, Dad, if all goes well. I've given her a partial shop-tryout, and she works well. But there is still plenty to do. Did I tell you about meeting Blakeson?"
"Yes, and I can't understand why he should be in this vicinity. Do you think he has had any intimation of what you are doing?"
"It's hard to say, and yet I would not be surprised. When Uncle Sam couldn't keep secret the fact of our first soldiers sailing for France. How can I expect to keep this secret? But they won't get any details until I'm ready, I'm sure of that."
"Koku is a good discourager," said Mr. Swift, with a chuckle. "You couldn't have a better guard, Tom."
"No, and if I can keep him and Eradicate from trying to pull off rival detective stunts, or 'deteckertiff,' as Rad calls it, I'll be all right. Now let's have another go at that carburetor. There's our weak point, for it's getting harder and harder all the while to get high-grade gasolene, and we'll have to come to alcohol of low proof, or kerosene, I'm thinking."
"I wouldn't be surprised, Tom. Well, perhaps we can get up a new style of carburetor that will do the trick. Now look at this needle valve; I've given it a new turn," and father and son went into technical details connected with their latest invention.
These were busy days at the Swift plant. Men came and went—men with queerly shaped parcels frequently—and they were admitted to the big new building after first passing Eradicate and then Koku, and it would be hard to say which guard was the more careful. Only, of course, Koku had the final decision, and more than one person was turned back after Eradicate had passed him, much to the disgust of the negro.
"Pooh! Dat giant don't know a workman when he sees 'im!" snorted Eradicate. "He so lazy his own se'f dat he don't know a workman! Ef I sees a spy, Massa Tom, or a crook, I's gwine git him, suah pop!"
"I hope you do, Rad. We can't afford to let this secret get out," said the young inventor.
It was one evening, when taking a short cut to his home, that Mr. Nestor, the father of Mary Nestor, in whom Tom was more than ordinarily interested, passed not far from the big enclosure which was guarded, on the factory side, day and night. Inside, though out of sight and hidden by the high fence, were other guards.
As Mr. Nestor passed along the fence, rather vaguely wondering why it was so high, tight and strong, he felt the ground trembling beneath his feet. It rumbled and shook as though a distant train were passing, and yet there was none due now, for Mr. Nestor had just left one, and another would not arrive for an hour.
"That's queer," mused Mary's father. "If I didn't know to the contrary, I'd say that sounded like heavy guns being fired from a distance, or else blasting. It seems to come from the Swift place," he went on. "I wonder what they're up to in there."
Suddenly the rumbling became more pronounced, and mingled with it, in the dusk of the evening, were the shouts of men.
"Look out!" some one cried. "She's going for the fence!"
A second later there was a cracking and straining of boards, and the fence near Mr. Nestor bulged out as though something big, powerful and mighty were pressing it from the inner side.
But the fence held, or else the pressure was removed, for the bulge went back into place, though some of the boards were splintered.
"Have to patch that up in the morning," called another voice, and Mr. Nestor recognized it as that of Tom Swift.
"What queer doings are going on here?" mused Mary's father. "Have they got a wild bull shut up in there, and is he trying to get out? Lucky for me he didn't," and he hurried on, the rumbling noise become fainter until it died away altogether.
That night, after his supper and while reading the paper and smoking a cigar, Mr. Nestor spoke to his daughter.
"Mary, have you seen anything of Tom Swift lately?"
"Why, yes, Father. He was over for a little while the other night, but he didn't stay long. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, nothing special. I just came past his place and I heard some queer noises, that's all. He's up to some more of his tricks, I guess. Has be enlisted yet?"
"Is he going to?"
"I don't know," and Mary seemed a bit put out by this simple question. "What do you mean by his tricks?" she asked, and a close observer might have thought she was anxious to get away from the subject of Tom's enlistment.
"Oh, like that one when he sent you something in a box labeled 'dynamite,' and gave us all a scare. You can't tell what Tom Swift is going to do next. He's up to something now, I'll wager, and I don't believe any good will come of it."
"You didn't think so after he sent his wireless message, and saved us from Earthquake Island," said Mary, smiling.
"Hum! Well, that was different," snapped Mr. Nestor. "This time I'm sure he's up to some nonsense! The idea of crashing down a fence! Why doesn't he enlist like the other chaps, or sell Liberty Bonds like Ned Newton?" and Mr. Nestor looked sharply at his daughter. "Ned gave up a big salary as the Swifts financial man—a place he had held for a year—to go back to the bank for less, just so he could help the Government in the financial end of this war. Is Tom doing as much for his country?"
"I'm sure I don't know," answered Mary; and soon after, with averted face, she left the room.
"Hum! Queer goings on," mused Mr. Nestor. "Tom Swift may be all right, but he's got an unbalanced streak in him that will bear looking out for, that's what I think!"
And having settled this matter, at least to his own satisfaction, Mr. Nestor resumed his smoking and reading.
A little later the bell rang. There was a murmur of voices in the hall, and Mr. Nestor, half listening, heard a voice he knew.
"There's Tom Swift now!" he exclaimed. "I'm going to find out why he doesn't enlist!"
"Is He a Slacker?"
Mr. Nestor, whatever else he was, proved to be a prudent father. He did not immediately go into the front room, whither Mary and Tom hastened, their voices mingling in talk and laughter.
Mr. Nestor, after leaving the young folks alone for a while, with a loud "Ahem!" and a rattling of his paper as he laid it aside, started for the parlor.
"Good-evening, Mr. Nestor!" said Tom, rising to shake hands with the father of his young and pretty hostess.
"Hello, Tom!" was the cordial greeting, in return. "What's going on up at your place?" went on Mr. Nestor, as he took a chair.
"Oh, nothing very special," Tom answered. "We're turning out different kinds of machines as usual, and dad and I are experimenting, also as usual."
"I suppose so. But what nearly broke the fence to-night?"
Tom started, and looked quickly at his host.
"Were you there?" he asked quickly.
"Well, I happened to be passing—took a short cut home—and I heard some queer goings on at your place. I was speaking to Mary about them, and wondering—"
"Father, perhaps Tom doesn't want to talk about his inventions," interrupted Mary. "You know some of them are secret—"
"Oh, I wasn't exactly asking for information!" exclaimed Mr. Nestor quickly. "I just happened to hear the fence crash, and I was wondering if something was coming out at me. Didn't know but what that giant of yours was on a rampage, Tom," and he laughed.
"No, it wasn't anything like that," and Tom's voice was more sober than the occasion seemed to warrant. "It was one of our new machines, and it didn't act just right. No great damage was done, though. How do you find business, Mr. Nestor, since the war spirit has grown stronger?" asked Tom, and it seemed to both Mary and her father that the young inventor deliberately changed the subject.
"Well, it isn't all it might be," said the other. "It's hard to get good help. A lot of our boys enlisted, and some were taken in the draft. By the way, Tom, have they called on you yet?"
"No. Not yet."
"You didn't enlist?"
"Ned Newton tried to," broke in Mary, "but the quota for this locality was filled, and they told him he'd better wait for the draft. He wouldn't do that and tried again. Then the bank people heard about it and had him exempted. They said he was too valuable to them, and he has been doing remarkably well in selling Liberty Bonds!" and Mary's eyes sparkled with her emotions.
"Yes, Ned is a crackerjack salesman!" agreed Tom, no less enthusiastically. "He's sold more bonds, in proportion, for his bank, than any other in this county. Dad and I both took some, and have promised him more. I am glad now that we let him go, although we valued his services highly. We hope to have him back later."
"He can put me down for more bonds too!" said Mr. Nestor. "I'm going to see Germany beaten if it takes every last dollar I have!"
"That's what I say!" Cried Mary. "I took out all my savings, except a little I'm keeping to buy a wedding present for Jennie Morse. Did you know she was going to get married, Tom?" she asked.
"I heard so."
"Well, all but what I want for a wedding present to her has gone into Liberty Bonds. Isn't this a history-making time, Tom?"
"Indeed it is, Mary!"
"Everybody who has a part in it—whether he fights as a soldier or only knits like the Red Cross girls—will be telling about it for years after," went on the girl, and she looked at Tom eagerly.
"Yes," he agreed. "These are queer times. We don't know exactly where we're at. A lot of our men have been called. We tried to have some of them exempted, and did manage it in a few cases."
"You did?" cried Mr. Nestor, as if in surprise. "You stopped men from going to war!"
"Only so they could work on airship motors for the Government," Tom quietly explained.
"Oh! Well, of course, that's part of the game," agreed Mary's father. "A lot more of our boys are going off next week. Doesn't it make you thrill, Tom, when you see them marching off, even if they haven't their uniforms yet? Jove, if I wasn't too old, I'd go in a minute!"
"Father!" cried Mary.
"Yes, I would!" he declared. "The German government has got to be beaten, and we've got to do our bit; everybody has—man, woman and child!"
"Yes," agreed Tom, in a low voice, "that's very true. But every one, in a sense, has to judge for himself what the 'bit' is. We can't all do the same."
There was a little silence, and then Mary went over to the piano and played. It was a rather welcome relief, under the circumstances, from the conversation.
"Mary, what do you think of Tom?" asked Mr. Nestor, when the visitor had gone.
"What do I think of him?" And she blushed.
"I mean about his not enlisting. Do you think he's a slacker?"
"A slacker? Why, Father!"
"Oh, I don't mean he's afraid. We've seen proof enough of his courage, and all that. But I mean don't you think he wants stirring up a bit?"
"He is going to Washington to-morrow, Father. He told me so to-night. And it may be—"
"Oh, well, then maybe it's all right," hastily said Mr. Nestor. "He may be going to get a commission in the engineer corps. It isn't like Tom Swift to hang back, and yet it does begin to look as though he cared more for his queer inventions—machines that butt down fences than for helping Uncle Sam. But I'll reserve judgment."
"You'd better, Father!" and Mary laughed—a little. Yet there was a worried look on her face.
During the next few nights Mr. Nestor made it a habit to take the short cut from the railroad station, coming past the big fence that enclosed one particular building of the Swift plant.
"I wonder if there's a hole where I could look through," said Mr. Nestor to himself. "Of course I don't believe in spying on what another man is doing, and yet I'm too good a friend of Tom's to want to see him make a fool of himself. He ought to be in the army, or helping Uncle Sam in some way. And yet if he spends all his time on some foolish contraption, like a new kind of traction plow, what good is that? If I could get a glimpse of it, I might drop a friendly hint in his ear."
But there were no cracks in the fence, or, if there were, it was too dark to see them, and also too dark to behold anything on the other side of the barrier. So Mr. Nestor, wondering much, kept on his way.
It was a day or so after this that Ned Newton paid a visit to the Swift home. Mr. Swift was not in the house, being out in one of the various buildings, Mrs. Baggert said.
"Where's Tom?" asked the bond salesman.
"Oh, he hasn't come back from Washington yet," answered the housekeeper.
"He is making a long stay."
"Yes, he went about a week ago on some business. But we expect him back to-day."
"Well, then I'll see him. I called to ask if Mr. Swift didn't want to take a few more bonds. We want to double our allotment for Shopton, and beat out some of the other towns in this section. I'll go to see Mr. Swift."
On his way to find Tom's father Ned passed the big building in front of which Eradicate and Koku were on guard. They nodded to Ned, who passed them, wondering much as to what it was Tom was so secretive about.
"It's the first time I remember when he worked on an invention without telling me something about it," mused Ned. "Well, I suppose it will all come out in good time. Anything new, Rad?"
"No, Massa Ned, nuffin much. I'm detectin' around heah; keepin' Dutchmen spies away!"
"And Koku is helping you, I suppose?"
"Whut, him? Dat big, good-fo'-nuffin white trash? No, sah! I's detectin' by mahse'f, dat's whut I is!" and Eradicate strutted proudly up and down on his allotted part of the beat, being careful not to approach the building too closely, for that was Koku's ground.
Ned smiled, and passed on. He found Mr. Swift, secured his subscription to more bonds, and was about to leave when he heard a call down the road and saw Tom coming in his small racing car, which had been taken to the depot by one of the workmen.
"Hello, old man!" cried Ned affectionately, as his chum alighted with a jump. "Where have you been?"
"Down to Washington. Had a bit of a chat with the President and gave him some of my views."
"About the war, I suppose?" laughed Ned.
"Did you get your commission?"
"Commission?" And there was a wondering look on Tom's face.
"Yes. Mary Nestor said she thought maybe you were going to Washington to take an examination for the engineering corps or something like that. Did you get made an officer?"
"No," answered Tom slowly. "I went to Washington to get exempted."
"Exempted?" Cried Ned, and his voice sounded strained.
For a moment Tom Swift looked at his chum. Then something of what was passing in the mind of the young bond salesman must have been reflected to Tom, for he said,
"Look here, old man; I know it may seem a bit strange to go to all that trouble to get exempted from the draft, to which I am eligible, but, believe me, there's a reason. I can't say anything now, but I'll tell you as soon as I can—tell everybody, in fact Just now it isn't in shape to talk about."
"Oh, that's all right, Tom," and Ned tried to make his voice sound natural. "I was just wondering, that's all. I wanted to go to the front the worst way, but they wouldn't let me. I was sort of hoping you could, and come back to tell me about it."
"I may yet, Ned."
"You may? Why, I thought—"
"Oh, I'm only exempted for a time. I've got certain things to do, and I couldn't do 'em if I enlisted or was drafted. So I've been excused for a time. Now I've got a pile of work to do. What are you up to Ned? Same old story?"
"Liberty Bonds—yes. Your father just took some more."
"And so will I, Ned. I can do that, anyhow, even if I don't enlist. Put me down for another two thousand dollars' worth."
"Say, Tom, that's fine! That will make my share bigger than I counted on. Shopton will beat the record."
"That's good. We ought to pull strong and hearty for our home town. How's everything else?"
"Oh, so-so. I see Koku and Eradicate trying to outdo one another in guarding that part of your plant," and Ned nodded toward the big new building.
"Yes, I had to let Rad play detective. Not that he can do anything—he's too old. But it keeps him and Koku from quarreling all the while. I've got to be pretty careful about that shop. It's got a secret in it that—Well, the less said about it the better."
"You're getting my curiosity aroused, Tom," remarked Ned.
"It'll have to go unsatisfied for a while. Wait a bit and I'll give you a ride. I've got to go over to Sackett on business, and if you're going that way I'll take you."
"That's me!" cried Ned. "I haven't been in an aircraft for some time."
"Tell Miles to run her out," requested Tom. "I've got to go in and say hello to dad a minute, and then I'll be with you."
"Seems like something was in the wind, Tom—big doings?" hinted Ned.
"Yes, maybe there is. It all depends on how she turns out."
"You might be speaking of the Hawk or—Mary Nestor!" said Ned, with a sidelong look at his chum.
"As it happens, it's neither one," said Tom, and then he hastened away, to return shortly and guide his fleet little airship, the Hawk, on her aerial journey.
From then on, at least for some time, neither Tom nor Ned mentioned the matters they had been discussing—Tom's failure to enlist, his exemption, and what was being built in the closely guarded shop.
Tom's business in Sackett did not take him long, and then he and Ned went for a little ride in the air.
"It's like old times!" exclaimed Ned, his eyes shining, though Tom could not see them for two reasons. One was that Ned was sitting behind him, and the other was that Ned wore heavy goggles, as did the young pilot. Also, they had to carry on their talk through the speaking tube arrangement.
"Yes, it is a bit like old times," agreed Tom. "We've had some great old experiences together, Ned, haven't we?"
"We surely have! I wonder if we'll have any more? When we were in the submarine, and in your big airship Say, that big one is the one I always liked! I like big things."
"Do you?" asked Tom. "Well, maybe, when I get—"
But Tom did not finish, for the Hawk unexpectedly poked her nose into an empty pocket in the air just then, and needed a firm hand on the controls. Furthermore, Tom decided against making the confidence that was on the tip of his tongue.
At last the aircraft was straightened out and the pilot guided her on toward the army encampment.
"That's the place I'd like to be," called Ned through the tube as the faint, sweet notes of a bugle floated up from the parade ground.
"Yes, it would be great," admitted Tom. "But there are other things to do for Uncle Sam besides wearing khaki."
"Tom's up to some game," mused Ned. "I mustn't judge him too hastily, or I might make a mistake. And Mary mustn't, either. I'll tell her so."
For Mary Nestor had spoken to Ned concerning Tom, and the curiously secretive air about certain of his activities. And the girl, moreover, had spoken rather coldly of her friend. Ned did not like this. It was not like Mary and Tom to be at odds.
Once more the Hawk came to the ground, this time near the airship sheds adjoining the Swift works. Just as Tom and Ned alighted, one of the workmen summoned the young inventor toward the shop, which was so closely guarded by Koku and Eradicate on the outside.
"I'll have to leave you, Ned," remarked Tom, as he turned away from his chum. "There's a conference on about a new invention."
"Oh, that's all right. Business is business, you know. I've got some bond calls to make myself. I'll see you later."
"Oh, by the way, Ned!" exclaimed Tom, turning back for a moment, "I met an old friend the other day; or rather an old enemy."
"Hum! When you spoke first, I thought you might mean Professor Swyington Bumper, that delightful scientist," remarked Ned. "But he surely was no enemy."
"No; but I meant some one I met about the same time. I met Blakeson, one of the rival contractors when I helped dig the big tunnel."
"Is that so? Where'd you meet him?"
"Right around here. It was certainly a surprise, and at first I couldn't place him. Then the memory of his face came back to me," and Tom related the incident which had taken place the day he and Mr. Damon were out in the Hawk.
"What's he doing around here?" asked Ned.
"That's more than I can say," Tom answered.
"Up to no good, I'll wager!"
"I agree with you," came from Tom. "But I'm on the watch."
"That's wise, Tom. Well, I'll see you later."
During the week which followed this talk Ned was very busy on Liberty Bond work, and, he made no doubt, his chum was engaged also. This prevented them from meeting, but finally Ned, one evening, decided to walk over to the Swift home.
"I'll pay Tom a bit of a call," he mused. "Maybe he'll feel more like talking now. Some of the boys are asking why he doesn't enlist, and maybe if I tell him that he'll make some explanation that will quiet things down a bit. It's a shame that Tom should be talked about."
With this intention in view, Ned kept on toward his chum's house, and he was about to turn in through a small grove of trees, which would lead to a path across the fields, when the young bond salesman was surprised to hear some one running toward him. He could see no one, for the path wound in and out among the trees, but the noise was plain.
"Some one in a hurry," mused Ned.
A moment later he caught sight of a small lad named Harry Telford running toward him. The boy had his hat in his hand, and was speeding through the fast-gathering darkness as though some one were after him.
"What's the rush?" asked Ned. "Playing cops and robbers?" That was a game Tom and Ned had enjoyed in their younger days.
"I—I'm runnin' away!" panted Harry. "I—I seen something!"
"You saw something?" repeated Ned. "What was it—a ghost?" and he laughed, thinking the boy would do the same.
"No, it wasn't no ghost!" declared Harry, casting a look over his shoulder. "It was a wild elephant that I saw, and it's down in a big yard with a fence around it."
"Where's that?" asked Ned. "The circus hasn't come to town this evening, has it?"
"No," answered Harry, "it wasn't no circus. I saw this elephant down in the big yard back of one of Mr. Swift's factories."
"Oh, down there, was it!" exclaimed Ned. "What was it like?"
"Well, I was walking along the top of the hill," explained Harry, "and there's one place where, if you climb a tree, you can look right down in the big fenced-in yard. I guess I'm about the only one that knows about it."
"I don't believe Tom does," mused Ned, "or he'd have had that tree cut down. He doesn't want any spying, I take it. Well, what'd you see?" he asked Harry aloud.
"Saw an elephant, I tell you!", insisted the younger boy. "I was in the tree, looking down, for a lot of us kids has tried to peek through the fence and couldn't I wanted to see what was there."
"And did you?" asked Ned.
"I sure did! And it scared me, too," admitted Harry. "All at once, when I was lookin', I saw the big doors at the back of the shed open, and the elephant waddled out."
"Are you sure you weren't 'seeing things,' like the little boy in the story?" asked Ned.
"Well, I sure did see something!" insisted Harry. "It was a great big gray thing, bigger'n any elephant I ever saw in any circus. It didn't seem to have any tail or trunk, or even legs, but it went slow, just like an elephant does, and it shook the ground, it stepped so hard!"
"Nonsense!" cried Ned.
"Sure I saw it!" cried Harry. "Anyhow," he added, after a moment's thought, "it was as big as an elephant, though not like any I ever saw."
"What did it do?" asked Ned.
"Well, it moved around and then it started for the fence nearest me, where I was up in the tree. I thought it might have seen me, even though it was gettin' dark, and it might bust through; so I ran!"
"Hum! Well, you surely were seeing things," murmured Ned, but, while he made light of what the boy told him, the young bank Clerk was thinking: "What is Tom up to now?"
Up a Tree
"Want to come and have a look?" asked Harry, as Ned paused in the patch of woods, which were in deeper darkness than the rest of the countryside, for night was fast falling.
"Have a look at what?" asked Ned, who was thinking many thoughts just then.
"At the elephant I saw back of the Swift factory. I wouldn't be skeered if you came along."
"Well, I'm going over to see Tom Swift, anyhow," answered Ned, "so I'll walk that way. You can come if you like. I don't care about spying on other people's property—"
"I wasn't spyin'!" exclaimed Harry quickly. "I just happened to look. And then I seen something."
"Well, come on," suggested Ned. "If there's anything there, we'll have a peep at it."
His idea was not to try to see what Tom was evidently endeavoring to conceal, but it was to observe whence Harry had made his observation, and be in a position to tell Tom to guard against unexpected lookers-on from that direction.
During the walk back along the course over which Harry had run so rapidly a little while before, Ned and the boy talked of what the latter had seen.
"Do you think it could be some new kind of elephant?" asked Harry. "You know Tom Swift brought back a big giant from one of his trips, and maybe he's got a bigger elephant than any one ever saw before."
"Nonsense!" laughed Ned. "In the first place, Tom hasn't been on any trip, of late, except to Washington, and the only kind of elephants there are white ones."
"Really?" asked Harry.
"No, that was a joke," explained Ned. "Anyhow, Tom hasn't any giant elephants concealed up his sleeve, I'm sure of that."
"But what could this be?" asked Harry. "It moved just like some big animal."
"Probably some piece of machinery Tom was having carted from one shop to another," went on the young bank clerk. "Most likely he had it covered with a big piece of canvas to keep off the dew, and it was that you saw."
"No, it wasn't!" insisted Harry, but he could not give any further details of what he had seen so that Ned could recognize it. They kept on until they reached the hill, at the bottom of which was the Swift home and the grounds on which the various shops were erected.
"Here's the place where you can look down right into the yard with the high fence around it," explained Harry, as he indicated the spot.
"I can't see anything."
"You have to climb up the tree," Harry went on. "Here, this is the one, and he indicated a stunted and gnarled pine, the green branches of which would effectually screen any one who once got in it a few feet above the ground.
"Well, I may as well have a look," decided Ned. "It can't do Tom any harm, and it may be of some service to him. Here goes!"
Up into the tree he scrambled, not without some difficulty, for the branches were close together and stiff, and Ned tore his coat in the effort. But he finally got a position where, to his surprise, he could look down into the very enclosure from which Tom was so particular to keep prying eyes.
"You can see right down in it!" Ned exclaimed.
"I told you so," returned Harry. "But do you see—it?"
Ned looked long and carefully. It was lighter, now that they were out of the clump of woods, and he had the advantage of having the last glow of the sunset at his back. Even with that it was difficult to make out objects on the surface of the enclosed field some hundred or more feet below.
"Do you see anything?" asked Harry again.
"No, I can't say I do," Ned answered. "The place seems to be deserted."
"Well, there was something there," insisted Harry. "Maybe you aren't lookin' at the right place."
"Have a look yourself, then," suggested Ned, as he got down, a task no more to his liking than the climb upward had been.
Harry made easier work of it, being smaller and more used to climbing trees, a luxury Ned had, perforce, denied himself since going to work in the bank.
Harry peered about, and then, with a sigh that had in it somewhat of disappointment, said:
"No; there's nothing there now. But I did see something."
"Are you sure?" asked Ned.
"Positive!" asserted the other.
"Well, whatever it was—some bit of machinery he was moving, I fancy—Tom has taken it in now," remarked Ned. "Better not say anything about this, Harry. Tom mightn't like it known."
"No, I won't."
"And don't come here again to look. I know you like to see strange things, but if you'll wait I'll ask Tom, as soon as it's ready, to let you have a closer view of whatever it was you saw. Better keep away from this tree."
"I will," promised the younger lad. "But I'd like to know what it was—if it really was a giant elephant Say! if a fellow had a troop of them he could have a lot of fun with 'em, couldn't he?"
"How?" asked Ned, hardly conscious of what his companion was saying.
"Why, he could dress 'em up in coats of mail, like the old knights used to wear, and turn 'em loose against the Germans. Think of a regiment of elephants, wearin' armor plates like a battleship, carryin' on their backs a lot of soldiers with machine guns and chargin' against Fritz! Cracky, that would be a sight!"
"I should say so!" agreed Ned, with a laugh. "There's nothing the matter with your imagination, Harry, my boy!"
"And maybe that's what Tom's doin'!"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean maybe he is trainin' elephants to fight in the war. You know he made an aerial warship, so why couldn't he have a lot of armor plated elephants?"
"Oh, I suppose he could if he wanted to," admitted Ned. "But I guess he isn't doing that. Don't get to going too fast in high speed, Harry, or you may have nightmare. Well, I'm going down to see Tom."
"And you won't tell him I was peekin'?"
"Not if you don't do it again. I'll advise him to have that tree cut down, though. It's too good a vantage spot."
Harry turned and went in the direction of his home, while Ned kept on down the hill toward the house of his chum. The young bond salesman was thinking of many things as he tramped, along, and among them was the information Harry had just given.
But Ned did not pay a visit to his chum that evening. When he reached the house he found that Tom had gone out, leaving no word as to when he would be back.
"Oh, well, I can tell him to-morrow," thought Ned.
It was not, however, until two days later that Ned found the time to visit Tom again. On this occasion, as before, he took the road through the clump of woods where he had seen Harry running.
"And while I'm about it," mused Ned, "I may as well go on to the place where the tree stands and make sure, by daylight, what I only partially surmised in the evening—that Tom's place can be looked down on from that vantage point."
Sauntering slowly along, for he was in no special hurry, having the remainder of the day to himself, Ned approached the hill where the tree stood from which Harry had said he had seen what he took to be a giant elephant, perhaps in armor.
"It's a good clear day," observed Ned, "and fine for seeing. I wonder if I'll be able to see anything."
It was necessary first to ascend the hill to a point where it overhung, in a measure, the Swift property, though the holdings of Tom and his father were some distance beyond the eminence. The tree from which Ned and Harry had made their observations was on a knob of the hill, the stunted pine standing out from among others like it.
"Well, here goes for another torn coat," grimly observed Ned, as he prepared to climb. "But I'll be more careful. First, though, let's see if I can see anything without getting up."
He paused a little way from the pine, and peered down the hill. Nothing could be seen of the big enclosed field back of the building about which Tom Was so careful.
"You have to be up to see anything," mused Ned. "It's up a tree for me! Well, here goes!"
As Ned started to work his way up among the thick, green branches, he became aware, suddenly and somewhat to his surprise, that he was not the only person who knew about the observation spot. For Ned saw, a yard above his head, as he started to climb, two feet, encased in well-made boots, standing on a limb near the trunk of the tree.
"Oh, ho!" mused Ned. "Some one here before me! Where there are feet there must be legs, and where there are legs, most likely a body. And it isn't Harry, either! The feet are too big for that. I wonder—"
But Ned's musings were suddenly cut short, for the person up the tree ahead of him moved quickly and stepped on Ned's fingers, with no light tread.
"Ouch!" exclaimed the young bank clerk involuntarily, and, letting go his hold of the limb, he dropped to the ground, while there came a startled exclamation from the screen of pine branches above him.
"Who's there?" came the demand from the unseen person in the tree.
"I might ask you the same thing," was Ned's sharp retort, as he nursed his skinned and bruised fingers. "What are you doing up there?"
There was no answer, but a sound among the branches indicated that the person up the tree was coming down. In another moment a man leaped to the ground lightly and stood beside Ned. The lad observed that the stranger was clean shaven, except for a small moustache which curled up at the ends slightly.
"For all the world like a small edition of the Kaiser's," Ned described it afterward.
"What are you doing here?" demanded the man, and his voice had in it the ring of authority. It was this very quality that made Ned bristle up and "get on his ear," as he said later. The young clerk did not object to being spoken to authoritatively by those who had the right, but from a stranger it was different.
"I might ask you the same thing," retorted Ned. "I have as much right here as you, I fancy, and I can climb trees, too, but I don't care to have my fingers stepped on," and he looked at the scarified members of his left hand.
"I beg your pardon. I'm sorry if I hurt you. I didn't mean to. And of course this is a public place, in a way, and you have a right here. I was just climbing the tree to—er—to get a fishing pole!"
Ned had all he could do to keep from laughing. The idea of getting a fishing pole from a gnarled and stunted pine struck him as being altogether novel and absurd. Yet it was not time to make fun of the man. The latter looked too serious for that.
"Rather a good view to be had from up where you were, eh?" asked Ned suggestively.
"A good view?" exclaimed the other. "I don't know what you mean!"
"Oh, then you didn't see anything," Ned went on. "Perhaps it's just as well. Are you fond of fishing?"
"Very. I have—But I forget, I do not know you nor you me. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Walter Simpson, and I am here on a visit I just happened to walk out this way, and, seeing a small stream, thought I should like to fish. I usually carry lines and hooks, and all I needed was the pole. I was looking for it when I heard you, and—"
"I felt you!" interrupted Ned, with a short laugh. He told his own name, but that was all, and seemed about to pass on.
"Are there any locomotive shops around here?" asked Mr. Simpson.
"Locomotive shops?" queried Ned. "None that I know of. Why?"
"Well, I heard heavy machinery being used down there;" and he waved his hand toward Tom's shops, "and I thought—"
"Oh, you mean Shopton!" exclaimed Ned. "That's the Swift plant. No, they don't make locomotives, though they could if they wanted to, for they turn out airships, submarines, tunnel diggers, and I don't know what."
"Do they make munitions there—for the Allies?" asked Mr. Simpson, and there was an eager look on his face.
"No, I don't believe so," Ned answered; "though, in fact, I don't know enough of the place to be in a position to give you any information about it," he told the man, not deeming it wise to go into particulars.
Perhaps the man felt this, as he did not press for an answer.
The two stood looking at one another for some little time, and then the man, with a bow that had in it something of insolence, as well as politeness, turned and went down the path up which Ned had come.
The young bank clerk waited a little while, and then turned his attention to the tree which seemed to have suddenly assumed an importance altogether out of proportion to its size.
"Well, since I'm here I'll have a look up that tree," decided Ned.
Favoring his bruised hand, Ned essayed the ascent of the tree more successfully this time. As he rose up among the branches he found he could look down directly into the yard with the high fence about it. He Could see only a portion, good as his vantage point was, and that portion had in it a few workmen—nothing else.
"No elephants there," said Ned, with a smile, as he remembered Harry's excitement. "Still it's just as well for Tom to know that his place can be looked down on. I'll go and tell him."
As Ned descended the tree he caught a glimpse, off to one side among some bushes, of something moving.
"I wonder if that's my Simp friend, playing I spy?" mused Ned. "Guess I'd better have a look."
He worked his way carefully close to the spot where he had seen the movement. Proceeding then with more caution, watching each step and parting the bushes with a careful hand, Ned beheld what he expected.
There was the late occupant of the pine tree the man who had stepped on Ned's fingers, applying a small telescope to his eye and gazing in the direction of Tom Swift's home.
The man stood concealed in a screen of bushes with his back toward Ned, and seemed oblivious to his surroundings. He moved the glass to and fro, and seemed eagerly intent on discovering something.
"Though what he can see of Tom's place from there isn't much," mused Ned. "I've tried it myself, and I know; you have to be on an elevation to look down. Still it shows he's after something, all right. Guess I'll throw a little scare into him."
As yet, Ned believed himself unobserved, and that his presence was not suspected was proved a moment later when he shouted:
"Hey! What are you doing there?"
He had his eye on the partially concealed man, and the latter, as Ned said afterward, jumped fully two feet in the air, dropping his telescope as he did so, and turning to face the lad.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he faltered.
"No one else;" and Ned grinned. "Looking for a good place to fish, I presume?"
Then, at least for once, the man's suave manner dropped from him as if it had been a mask. He bared his teeth in a snarl as he answered:
"Mind your own business!"
"Something I'd advise you also to do," replied Ned smoothly. "You can't see anything from there," he went on. "Better go back to the tree and—cut a fishing pole!"
With this parting shot Ned sauntered down the hill, and swung around to make his way toward Tom's home. He paid no further attention to the man, save to determine, by listening, that the fellow was searching among the bushes for the dropped telescope.
The young inventor was at home, taking a hasty lunch which Mrs. Baggert had set out for him, the while he poured over some blueprint drawings that, to Ned's unaccustomed eyes, looked like the mazes of some intricate puzzle.
"Well, where have you been keeping yourself, old man?" asked Tom Swift, after he had greeted his friend.
"I might ask the same of you," retorted Ned, with a smile. "I've been trying to find you to give you some important information, and I made up my mind, after what happened to-day, to write it and leave it for you if I didn't see you."
"What happened to-day?" asked Tom, and there was a serious look on his face.
"You are being spied upon—at least, that part of your works enclosed in the new fence is," replied Ned.
"You don't mean it!" Cried Tom. "This accounts for some of it, then."
"For some of what?" asked Ned.
"For some of the actions of that Blakeson, He's been hanging around here, I understand, asking too many questions about things that I'm trying to keep secret—even from my best friends," and as Tom said this Ned fancied there was a note of regret in his voice.
"Yes, you are keeping some things secret, Tom," said Ned, determined "to take the bull by the horns," as it were.
"I'm sorry, but it has to be," went on Tom. "In a little while—"
"Oh, don't think that I'm at all anxious to know things!" broke in Ned. "I was thinking of some one else, Tom—another of your friends."
"Do you mean Mary?"
"She feels rather keenly your lack of explanations," went on the young bank clerk. "If you could only give her a hint—"
"I'm sorry, but it can't be done," and Tom spoke firmly. "But you haven't told me all that happened. You say I am being spied upon."
"Yes," and Ned related what had taken place in the tree.
"Whew!" whistled Tom. "That's going some with a vengeance! I must have that tree down in a jiffy. I didn't imagine there was a spot where the yard could be overlooked. But I evidently skipped that tree. Fortunately it's on land owned by a concern with which I have some connection, and I can have it chopped down without any trouble. Much obliged to you, Ned. I shan't forget this in a hurry. I'll go right away and—"
Tom's further remark was interrupted by the hurried entrance of Eradicate Sampson. The old man was smiling in pleased anticipation, evidently, at the same time, trying hard not to give way to too much emotion.
"I's done it, Massa Tom!" he cried exultingly.
"Done what?" asked the young inventor. "I hope you and Koku haven't had another row."
"No, sah! I don't want nuffin t' do wif dat ornery, low-down white trash! But I's gone an' done whut I said I'd do!"
"What's that, Rad? Come on, tell us! Don't keep us in suspense."
"I's done some deteckertiff wuk, lest laik I said I'd do, an' I's cotched him! By golly, Massa Tom! I's cotched him black-handed, as it says!"
"Caught him? Whom have you caught, Rad?" cried Tom. "Do you suppose he means he's caught the man you saw up the tree, Ned? The man you think is a German spy?"
"It couldn't be. I left him only a little while ago hunting for his telescope."
"Then whom have you caught, Rad?" cried Tom. "Come on, I'll give you credit for it. Tell us!"
"I's cotched dat Dutch Sauerkrauter, dat's who I's cotched, Massa Tom! By golly, I's cotched him!"
"But who, Rad? Who is he?"
"I don't know his name, Massa Tom, but he's a Sauerkrauter, all right. Dat's whut he eats for lunch, an' dat's why I calls him dat. I's cotched him, an' he's locked up in de stable wif mah mule Boomerang. An' ef he tries t' git out Boomerang'll jest natchully kick him into little pieces—dat's whut Boomerang will do, by golly!"
A Night Test
"Come on, Ned," said Tom, after a moment or two of silent contemplation of Eradicate. "I don't know what this cheerful camouflager of mine is talking about, but we'll have to go to see, I suppose. You say you have shut some one up in Boomerang's stable, Rad?"
"Yes, sah, Massa Tom, dat's whut I's gone an done."
"And you say he's a German?"
"I don't know as to dat, Massa Tom, but he suah done eat sauerkraut 'mostest ebery meal. Dat's whut I call him—a Sauerkrauter! An' he suah was spyin'."
"How do you know that, Rad?"
"'Cause he done went from his own shop on annuder man's ticket into de secret shop, dat's whut he went an' done!"
"Do you mean to tell me, Rad," went on Tom, "that one of the workmen from another shop entered Number Thirteen on the pass issued in the name of one of the men regularly employed in my new shop?"
"Dat's whut he done, Massa Tom."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause I detected him doin' it. Yo'-all done made me a deteckertiff, an' I detected."
"Go on, Rad."
"Well, sah, Massa Tom, I seen dish yeah Dutchman git a ticket-pass offen one ob de reg'lar men. Den he went in de unlucky place an' stayed fo' a long time. When he come out I jest natchully nabbed him, dat's whut I done, an' I took him to Boomerang's stable."
"How'd you get him to go with you?" asked Ned, for the old colored man was feeble, and most of the men employed at Tom's plant were of a robust type.
"I done fooled him. I said as how I'd lest brought from town in mah mule cart some new sauerkraut, an' he could sample it if he liked. So he went wif me, an' when I got him to de stable I pushed him in and locked de door!"
"Come on!" cried Tom to his chum. "Rad may be right, after all, and one of my workmen may be a German spy, though I've tried to weed them all out.
"However, no matter about that, if he was employed in another shop, he had no right to go into Number Thirteen. That's a violation of rules. But if he's in Rad's ramshackle stable he can easily get out."
"No, sah, dat's whut he can't do!" insisted the colored man.
"Why not?" asked Tom.
"'Cause Boomerang's on guard, an' yo'-all knows how dat mule of mine can use his heels!"
"I know, Rad," went on Tom; "but this fellow will find a way of keeping out of their way. We must hurry."
"Oh, he's safe enough," declared the colored man. "I done tole Koku to stan' guard, too! Dat low-down white trash ob a giant is all right fo' guardin', but he ain't wuff shucks at detectin'!" said Eradicate, with pardonable pride. "By golly, maybe I's too old t' put on guard, but I kin detect, all right!"
"If this proves true, I'll begin to believe you can," replied Tom. "Hop along, Ned!"
Followed by the shuffling and chuckling negro, Tom and Ned went to the rather insecure stable where the mule Boomerang was kept. That is, the stable was insecure from the standpoint of a jail. But the sight of the giant Koku marching up and down in front of the place, armed with a big club, reassured Tom.
"Is he in there, Koku?" asked the young inventor.
"Yes, Master! He try once come out, but he approach his head very close my defense weapon and he go back again."
"I should think he would," laughed Ned, as he noted the giant's club.
"Well, Rad, let's have a look at your prisoner. Open the door, Koku," commanded Tom.
"Better look out," advised Ned. "He may be armed."
"We'll have to take a chance. Besides, I don't believe he is, or he'd have fired at Koku. There isn't much to fear with the giant ready for emergencies. Now we'll see who he is. I can't imagine one of my men turning traitor."
The door was opened and a rather miserable-looking man shuffled out. There was a bloody rag on his head, and he seemed to have made more of an effort to escape than Koku described, for he appeared to have suffered in the ensuing fight.
"Carl Schwen!" exclaimed Tom. "So it was you, was it?"
The German, for such he was, did not answer for a moment He appeared downcast, and as if suffering. Then a change came over him. He straightened up, saluted as a soldier might have done, and a sneering look came into his face. It was succeeded by one of pride as the man exclaimed:
"Yes, it is I! And I tried to do what I tried to do for the Fatherland! I have failed. Now you will have me shot as a spy, I suppose!" he added bitterly.
Tom did not answer directly. He looked keenly at the man, and at last said:
"I am sorry to see this. I knew you were a German, Schwen, but I kept you employed at work that could not, by any possibility, be considered as used against your country. You are a good machinist, and I needed you. But if what I hear about you is true, it is the end."
"It is the end," said the man simply. "I tried and failed. If it had not been for Eradicate—Well, he's smarter than I gave him credit for, that's all!"
The man spoke very good English, with hardly a trace of German accent, but there was no doubt as to his character.
"What will you do with him, Tom?" asked Ned.
"I don't know. I'll have to do a little investigating first. But he must be locked up. Schwen," went on the young inventor, "I'm sorry about this, but I shall have to give you into the custody of a United States marshal. You are not a naturalized citizen, are you?"
The man muttered something in German to the effect that he was not naturalized and was glad of it.
"Then you come under the head of an enemy alien," decided Tom, who understood what was said, "and will have to be interned. I had hoped to avoid this, but it seems it cannot be. I am sorry to lose you, but there are more important matters. Now let's get at the bottom of this."
Schwen was, after a little delay, taken in charge by the proper officer, and then a search was made of his room, for, in common with some of the other workmen, he lived in a boarding house not far from the plant.
There, by a perusal of his papers, enough was revealed to show Tom the danger he had escaped.
"And yet I don't know that I have altogether escaped it," he said to Ned, as they talked it over. "There's no telling how long this spy work may have been going on. If he has discovered all the secrets of Shop Thirteen it may be a bad thing for the Allies and—"
"Look out!" warned Ned, with a laugh. "You'll be saying things you don't want to, Tom and not at all in keeping with your former silence."
"That's so," agreed the young inventor, with a sigh. "But if things go right I'll not have to keep silent much longer. I may be able to tell you everything."
"Don't tell me—tell Mary," advised his chum. "She feels your silence more than I do. I know how such things are."
"Well, I'll be able to tell her, too," decided Tom. "That is, if Schwen hasn't spoiled everything. Look here, Ned, these papers show he's been in correspondence with Blakeson and Grinder."
"What about, Tom?"
"I can't tell. The letters are evidently written in code, and I can't translate it offhand. But I'll make another attempt at it. And here's one from a person who signs himself Walter Simpson, but the writing is in German."
"Walter Simpson!" cried Ned. "That's my friend of the tree!"
"It is?" cried Tom. "Then things begin to fit themselves together. Simpson is a spy, and he was probably trying to communicate with Schwen. But the latter didn't get the information he wanted, or, if he did get it, he wasn't able to pass it on to the man in the tree. Eradicate nipped him just in time."
And, so it seemed, the colored man had done. By accident he had discovered that Schwen had prevailed on one of the workmen in Shop 13 to change passes with him. This enabled the German spy to gain admittance to the secret place, which Tom thought was so well guarded. The man who let Schwen take the pass was in the game, too, it appeared, and he was also placed under arrest. But he was a mere tool in the pay of the others, and had no chance to gain valuable information.
A hasty search of Shop 13 did not reveal anything missing, and it was surmised (for Schwen would not talk) that he had not found time to go about and get all that he was after.
Soon after Schwen's arrest the "Spy Tree," as Tom called it, was cut down.
"Eradicate certainly did better than I ever expected he would," declared Tom. "Well, if all goes well, there won't be so much need for secrecy after a day or so. We're going to give her a test, and then—"
"Give who a test?" asked Ned, with a smile.
"You'll soon see," answered Tom, with an answering grin. "I hereby invite you and Mr. Damon to come over to Shop Thirteen day after to-morrow night and then—Well, you'll see what you'll see."
With this Ned had to be content, and he waited anxiously for the appointed time to come.
"I surely will be glad when Tom is more like himself," he mused, as he left his chum. "And I guess Mary will be, too. I wonder if he's going to ask her to the exhibition?"
It developed that Tom had done so, a fact which Ned learned on the morning of the day set for the test.
"Come over about nine o'clock," Tom said to his chum. "I guess it will be dark enough then."
Meanwhile Schwen and Otto Kuhn, the other man involved, had been locked up, and all their papers given into the charge of the United States authorities. A closer guard than ever was kept over No. 13 shop, and some of the workmen, against whom there was a slight suspicion, were transferred.
"Well, we'll see what we shall see," mused Ned on the appointed evening, when a telephone message from Mr. Damon informed the young bank clerk that the eccentric man was coming to call for him before going on to the Swift place.
A Runaway Giant
"What do you think it's all about, Mr. Damon?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Ned."
The two were at the home of the young bank clerk, preparing to start for the Swift place, it being nearly nine o'clock on the evening named by the youthful inventor.
"Bless my hat-rack!" went on the eccentric man, "but Tom isn't at all like himself of late. He's working on some invention, I know that, but it's all I do know. He hasn't given me a hint of it."
"Nor me, nor any of his friends," added Ned. "And he acts so oddly about enlisting—doesn't want even to speak of it. How he got exempted I don't know, but I do know one thing, and that is Tom Swift is for Uncle Sam first, last and always!"
"Oh, of course!" agreed Mr. Damon. "Well, we'll soon know, I guess. We'd better start, Ned."
"It's useless to try to guess what it is Tom is up to. He has kept his secret well. The nearest any one has come to it was when Harry figured out that Tom had a band of giant elephants which he was fitting with coats of steel armor to go against the Germans," observed Ned, when he and Mr. Damon were on their way.
"Well, that mightn't be so bad," agreed Mr. Damon. "But—um—elephants—and wild giant ones, too! Bless my circus ticket, Ned! do you think we'd better go in that case?"
"Oh, Tom hasn't anything like that!" laughed Ned. "That was only Harry's crazy notion after he saw something big and ungainly careening about the enclosed yard of Shop Thirteen. Hello, there go Mary Nestor and her father!" and Ned pointed to the opposite side of the street where the girl and Mr. Nestor could be seen in the light of a street lamp.
"They're going out to see Tom's secret," said Mr. Damon. "There's plenty of room in my car. Let's ask them to go with us."
"Surely," agreed Ned, and a moment later he and Mary were in the rear seat while Mr. Damon and Mr. Nestor were in the front, Mr. Damon at the wheel, and they were soon speeding down the road.
"I do hope everything will go all right," observed Mary.
"What do you mean?" asked Ned.
"I mean Tom is a little bit anxious about this test."
"Did he tell you what it was to be?"
"No; but when he called to invite father and me to be present he seemed worried. I guess it's a big thing, for he never has acted this way before—not talking about his work."
"That's right," assented Ned. "But the secret will soon be disclosed, I fancy. But how is it you aren't going to the dance with Lieutenant Martin? He told me you had half accepted for to-night."
"I had." And if it had been light enough Ned would have seen Mary blushing. "I was going with him. It's a dance for the benefit of the Red Cross to get money for comfort kits for the soldiers. But when Tom sent word that he'd like to have me present to-night, why—"
"Oh, I see!" broke in Ned, with a little laugh. "'Nough said!"
Mary's blushes were deeper, but the kindly night hid them.
Then they conversed on matters connected with the big war—the selling of Liberty Bonds, the Red Cross work and the Surgical Dressings Committee, in which Mary was the head of a junior league.
"Everybody in Shopton seems to be doing something to help win the war," said Mary, and as there was just then a lull in the talk between her father and Mr. Damon her words sounded clearly.
"Yes, everybody—that is, all but a few," said Mr. Nestor, "and they ought to get busy. There are some young fellows in this town that ought to be wearing khaki, and I don't mean you, Ned Newton. You're doing your bit, all right."
"And so is Tom Swift!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as if there had been an implied accusation against the young inventor. "I heard, only to-day, that one of his inventions—a gas helmet that he planned—is in use on the Western front in Europe. Tom gave his patents to the government, and even made a lot of the helmets free to show other factories how to turn them out to advantage."