Chapter VII. The Black Hawk Flies

It was with no little surprise that the news of the plight that was said to have befallen Andy Foger was received by Tom and his associates. The newspaper had quite an account of the affair, and, even allowing the usual discount for the press dispatches, it looked as if the former bully was in rather distressing circumstances.

"He won't have to be carried very far into Africa to be in a bad country," said the old hunter. "Of course, some parts of the continent are all right, and for me, I like it all, where there's hunting to be had. But I guess your young friend Foger won't care for it."

"He's no friend of ours." declared Ned, as Tom was reading the newspaper account. "Still, I don't wish him any bad luck, and I do hope he doesn't become the captive of the red pygmies."

"So do I," echoed the old hunter fervently. There was no news of Andy in the papers the next day, though there were cable dispatches speculating on what might have happened to him and the airship. In Shopton the dispatches created no little comment, and it was said that Mr. Foger was going to start for Africa at once to rescue his son. This, however, could not he confirmed.

Meanwhile Tom and his friends were very busy over the Black Hawk. Every hour saw the craft nearer completion, for the young inventor had had much experience in this sort of work now, and knew just how to proceed.

To Mr. Damon were intrusted certain things which he could well attend to, and though he frequently stopped to bless his necktie or his shoelaces, still he got along fairly well.

There would be no necessity of purchasing supplies in this country, for they could get all they needed in the African city of Majumba, on the western coast, where they planned to land. There the airship would be put together, stocked with provisions and supplies, and they would begin their journey inland. They planned to head for Buka Meala, crossing the Congo River, and then go into the very interior of the heart of the dark continent.

As we have described in detail, in the former books of this series, the construction of Tom Swift's airship, the Red Cloud, and as the Black Hawk was made in a similar manner to that, we will devote but brief space to it now. As the story proceeds, and the need arises for a description of certain features, we will give them to you, so that you will have a clear idea of what a wonderful craft it was.

Sufficient to say that there was a gas bag, made of a light but strong material, and capable of holding enough vapor, of a new and secret composition, to lift the airship with its load. This was the dirigible-balloon feature of the craft, and with the two powerful propellers, fore and aft (in which particular the Black Hawk differed from the Red Cloud which had two forward propellers);--with these two powerful wooden screws, as we have said, the new ship could travel swiftly without depending on the wing planes.

But as there is always a possibility of the gas bag being punctured, or the vapor suddenly escaping from one cause or another, Tom did not depend on this alone to keep his craft afloat. It was a perfect aeroplane, and with the gas bag entirely empty could be sent scudding along at any height desired. To enable it to rise by means of the wings, however, it was necessary to start it in motion along the ground, and for this purpose wheels were provided.

There was a large body or car to the craft, suspended from beneath the gas bag, and in this car were the cabins, the living, sleeping and eating apartments, the storerooms and the engine compartment.

This last was a marvel of skill, for it contained besides the gas machine, and the motor for working the propellers, dynamos, gages, and instruments for telling the speed and height, motors for doing various pieces of work, levers, wheels, cogs, gears, tanks for storing the lifting gas, and other features of interest.

There were several staterooms for the use of the young captain and the passengers, an observation and steering tower, a living-room, where they could all assemble as the ship was sailing through the air, and a completely equipped kitchen.

This last was Mr. Damon's special pride, as he was a sort of cook, and he liked nothing better than to get up a meal when the craft was two or three miles high, and scudding along at seventy-five miles an hour.

In addition there were to be taken along many scientific instruments, weapons of defense and offense, in addition to the electric rifle, and various other objects which will be spoken of in due time.

"Well," remarked Tom Swift one afternoon, following a hard day's work in the shop, "I think, if all goes well, and we have good weather, I'll give the Black Hawk a trial tomorrow."

"Do you think it will fly?" asked Ned.

"There is no telling," was the answer of the young inventor. "These things are more or less guesswork, even when you make two exactly alike. As far as I can tell, we have now a better craft than the Red Cloud was, but it remains to be seen how she will behave."

They worked late that night, putting the finishing touches on the Black Hawk, and in the morning the new airship was wheeled out of the shed, and placed on the level starting ground, ready for the trial flight.

Only the bare machinery was in her, as yet, and the gas bag had not been inflated as Tom wanted to try the plane feature first. But the vapor machine was all ready to start generating the gas whenever it was needed. Nor was the Black Hawk painted and decorated as she would be when ready to be sent to Africa. On the whole, she looked rather crude as she rested there on the bicycle wheels, awaiting the starting of the big propellers. As the stores and supplies were not yet in, Tom took aboard, in addition to Mr. Damon, Ned, his father, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Durban, some bags of sand to represent the extra weight that would have to be carried.

"If she'll rise with this load she'll do," announced the young inventor, as he went carefully over the craft, looking to see that everything was in shape.

"If she does rise it will be a new experience for me," spoke the old elephant hunter. "I've never been in an airship before. It doesn't seem possible that we can get up in the air with this machine."

"Maybe we won't," spoke Tom, who was always a little diffident about a new piece of machinery.

"Well, if it doesn't do it the first time, it will the second, or the fifty-second," declared Ned Newton. "Tom Swift doesn't give up until he succeeds."

"Stop it! You'll make me blush!" cried the Black Hawk's owner as he tried the different gages and levers to see that they were all right.

After what seemed like a long time he gave the word for those who were to make the trial trip to take their places. They did so, and then, with Mr. Jackson, Tom went to the engine room. There was a little delay, due to the fact that some adjustment was necessary on the main motor. But at last it was fixed.

"Are you all ready?" called Tom.

"All ready," answered Mr. Damon. The old elephant hunter sat in a chair, nervously gripping the arms, and with a grim look on his tanned face. Mr. Swift was cool, as Ned, for they had made many trips in the air. Outside were Eradicate Sampson and Mrs. Baggert.

"Here we go!" suddenly cried Tom, and he yanked over the lever that started the main motor and propellers. The Black Hawk trembled throughout her entire length. She shivered and shook. Faster and faster whirled the great wooden screws. The motor hummed and throbbed.

Slowly the Black Hawk moved across the ground. Then she gathered speed. Now she was fairly rushing over the level space. Tom Swift tilted the elevation rudder, and with a suddenness that was startling, at least to the old elephant hunter, the new airship shot upward on a steep, slant.

"The Black Hawk flies!" yelled Ned Newton. "Now for elephant land and the big tusks!"

"Yes, and perhaps for the red pygmies, too," added Tom in a low voice. Then he gave his whole attention to the management of his new machine, which was rapidly mounting upward, with a speed rivalling that of his former big craft.