Chapter III. Tom's Failure
 

"Come on!" cried Tom, quickly, as, turning', he saw the accident about to happen. "Your craft will surely be smashed if she slips to the ground, Mr. Halling!"

"You're right! This seems to be my unlucky day!" The birdman, limping slightly from his fall, hurried with Tom to where a rope trailed on the ground. Koku had fastened one end to the airship, and had taken a turn of the cable about the chimney. He had been lowering the biplane to the ground, but he had not allowed for its great weight, and the rope had slipped from his big hands.

But Tom and Mr. Halling were just in time. They grabbed the slipping hempen strands, and thus checked the falling craft until Koku could get a better grip.

"All right now," said the giant, when he had made fast the rope. "Me fix now. Master can go."

"Think he can lower it?" asked Mr. Halling, doubtfully.

"Oh, surely," said Tom. "Koku's as strong as a horse. You needn't worry. He'll get it down all right. But you are limping."

"Yes, I jammed my leg a little."

"Don't you want a doctor?"

"Oh, no, not for a little thing like that."

But Tom insisted on looking at his new friend's wound, and found quite a cut on the thigh, which the young inventor insisted on binding up.

"That feels better," said the birdman, as he stretched out on a couch. "Now if you can look my machine over, and tell me what's the matter with it, I'll be much obliged to you, and I'll get on my way."

"Not quite so fast as that!" laughed Tom. "I wouldn't want to see you start off with your lame leg, and certainly I would not want to see you use your aircraft after what she's gone through, until we've given her a test. You can't tell what part you might have strained."

"Well, I suppose you are right. But I think I'd better go to a hotel, or send for an auto and go home."

"Now you needn't do anything of the kind," spoke Tom, hospitably. "We've got lots of room here, and for that matter we have plenty of autos and airships, too, as well as a motor boat. You just rest yourself here. Later we'll look over your craft."

After dinner, when Mr. Halling said he felt much better, Tom agreed to go out with him and look at the airship. As he feared, he found several things the matter with it, in addition to the motor trouble which had been the cause for Mr. Halling's call on the young inventor.

"Can she be fixed?" asked the birdman, who explained that, as yet, he was only an amateur in the practice of flying.

"Oh, yes, we can fix her up for you," said Tom. "But it will take several days. You'll have to leave it here."

"Well, I'll be glad to do that, for I know she will be all the better when you get through with her. But I think I am able to go on home now, and I really ought to. There is some business I must attend to."

"Speaking of business," remarked Tom, "can you tell me anything more of Mr. Damon's financial troubles?"

"No, not much. All I know is that when I called on him the other day I found him with his check book out, and he was doing a lot of figuring. He looked pretty blue and downcast, I can tell you."

"I'm sorry about that," spoke Tom, musingly. "Mr. Damon is a very good friend of mine, and I'd do anything to help him. I certainly wouldn't like to see him lose his fortune. Bad investments, you say it was?"

"Partly so, and yet I'm inclined to think if he does lose his money it will be due to some trickery. Mr. Damon is not the man to make bad investments by himself."

"Indeed he is not," agreed Tom. "You say he spoke of some man?"

"Yes, but not definitely. He did not mention any name. But Mr. Damon was certainly quite blue."

"That's unlike him," remarked Tom. "He is usually very jolly. He must be feeling quite badly. I'll go over and have a talk with him, as soon as I can."

"Do. I think he would appreciate it. And now I must see about getting home."

"I'll take you in one of my cars," said Tom, who had several automobiles. "I don't want to see you strain that injured leg of yours."

"You're very good--especially after I tangled up your wireless aerials; but I didn't see them until I was right into them," apologized Mr. Halling.

"They're a new kind of wire," said Tom, "and are not very plain to see. I must put up some warning signs. But don't worry about damaging them. They were only up temporarily anyhow, and I was going to take them down to arrange for my photo telephone."

"Photo telephone, eh? Is that something new?"

"It will be--if I can get it working," said Tom, with a smile.

A little later Tom had taken Mr. Halling home, and then he set about making arrangements for repairing the damaged airship. This took him the better part of a week, but he did not regret the time, for while he was working he was busy making plans for his newest invention--the photo telephone.

One afternoon, when Tom had completed the repairs to the airship, and had spent some time setting up an experimental telephone line, the young inventor received a call from his chum, Ned Newton.

"Well, well, what are you up to now?" asked Ned, as he saw his chum seated in a booth, with a telephone receiver to his ear, meanwhile looking steadily at a polished metal plate in front of him. "Trying to hypnotize yourself, Tom?"

"Not exactly. Quiet, Ned, please. I'm trying to listen."

Ned was too familiar with his chum's work to take offense at this. The young banker took a seat on a box, and silently watched Tom. The inventor shifted several switches, pressed one button after another, and tilted the polished metal plate at different angles. Then he closed the door of the little telephone booth, and Ned, through the ground glass door, saw a light shining.

"I wonder what new game Tom is up to?" Ned mused.

Presently the door opened, and Tom stuck out his head.

"Ned, come here," he invited. "Look at that metal plate and see if you can notice anything on it. I've been staring at it so steadily that my eyes are full of sticks. See what you can make out."

"What is this?" asked Ned. "No trick; is it? I won't be blown up, or get my eyes full of pepper; will I?"

"Nonsense! Of course not. I'm trying to make a photo telephone. I have the telephone part down pat, but I can't see anything of the photo image. See if you can."

Ned stared at the polished plate, while Tom did things to it, making electrical connections, and tilting it at various angles.

"See anything, Ned?" asked Tom.

The other shook his head.

"Whom am I supposed to see?" he asked.

"Why, Koku is at the other end of the wire. I'm having him help me."

Ned gazed from the polished plate out of a side window of the shop, into the yard.

"Well, that Koku is certainly a wonderful giant," said Ned, with a laugh.

"How so?" asked Tom.

"Why he can not be in two places at once. You say he ought to be at the other end of this wire, and there he is out there, spading up the garden."

Tom stared for a second and then exclaimed:

"Well, if that isn't the limit! I put him in the telephone booth in the machine shop, and told him to stay there until I was through. What in the world is he doing out there?"

"Koku!" he called to the giant, "why didn't you stay at the telephone where I put you? Why did you run away?"

"Ha!" exclaimed the giant, who, for all his great size was a simple chap, "little thing go 'tick-tick' and then 'clap-clap!' Koku no like--Koku t'ink bad spirit in telumfoam--Koku come out!"

"Well, no wonder I couldn't see any image on the plate!" exclaimed Tom. "There was nobody there. Now, Ned, you try it; will you, please?"

"Sure. Anything to oblige!"

"Then go in the other telephone booth. You can talk to me on the wire. Say anything you like--the telephone part is all right. Then you just stand so that the light in the booth shines on your face. The machine will do the rest--if it works."

Ned hurried off and was soon talking to his chum over the wire from the branch telephone in the machine shop. Ned stood in the glare of an electric light, and looked at a polished plate similar to the one in the other booth.

"Are you there, Ned?" asked Tom.

"Yes, I'm here."

"Is the light on?"

"Yes."

"And you're looking at the plate?"

"Sure. Can you see any reflection in your plate?"

"No, not a thing," answered Tom, and there was great discouragement in his voice. "The thing is a failure, Ned. Come on back," and the young banker could hear his chum hang up the telephone receiver at the other end.

"That's too bad," murmured Ned, knowing how Tom must feel. "I'll have to cheer him up a bit."