Chapter VI. A Warning
 

"There, she's about right now, Ned. Hold her there!"

"Aye, aye, Captain Tom!"

"Jove, she's leaking like a sieve! We only got her here just in time!"

"That's right," agreed Ned.

Tom and his chum had managed to get the Kilo to Ramsey's dock, and over the ways of the inclined marine railway that led from the shop on shore down into the river. Then, poling the craft along, until she was in the "cradle," Ned held her there while Tom went on shore to wind up the windlass that pulled the car, containing the boat, up the incline.

"I'll give you a hand, as soon as I find she sets level," called Ned, from his place in the boat.

"All right--don't worry. There are good gears on this windlass, and she works easy," replied Tom.

In a short time the boat was out of the water, but, as Tom grimly remarked, "the water was not out of her," for a stream poured from the stuffing-box, through which the propeller shaft entered, and water also ran out through the seams that had been opened by the collision.

"Quite a smash, Tom," observed the boat repairer, when he had come out to look over the Kilo. "How'd it happen?"

"Oh, Shallock Peters, with his big red boat, ran into us!" said Ned, sharply.

"Ha, Peters; eh?" exclaimed the boatman. "That's the second craft he's damaged inside a week with his speed mania. There's Bert Johnson's little speeder over there," and he pointed to one over which some men were working. "Had to put a whole new stern in her, and what do you think that man Peters did?"

"What?" asked Tom, as he bent down to see how much damage his craft had sustained.

"He wouldn't pay young Johnson a cent of money for the repairs," went on Mr. Houston, the boatman. "It was all Peters's fault, too."

"Couldn't he make him pay?" asked Tom.

"Well, young Johnson asked for it--no more than right, too; but Peters only sneered and laughed at him."

"Why didn't he sue?" asked Ned.

"Costs too much money to hire lawyers, I reckon. So he played you the same trick; eh. Tom?"

"Pretty much, yes. But he won't get off so easily, I can tell you that!" and there was a grim and determined look on the face of the young inventor. "How long will it take to fix my boat, Mr. Houston?"

"Nigh onto two weeks, Tom. I'm terrible rushed now."

Tom whistled ruefully.

"I could do it myself quicker, if I could get her back to my shop," he said. "But she'd sink on the home trip. All right, do the best you can, Mr. Houston."

"I will that, Tom."

The two chums walked out of the boat-repair place.

"What are you going to do, Tom?" asked Ned, as they strolled along.

"Well, since we can't go motor boating, I guess I may as well go back and see if that new supply of selenium has come. I do want to get my photo telephone working, Ned."

"And that's all the outing you're going to take--less than an hour!" exclaimed Ned, reproachfully.

"Oh, well, all you wanted to do was to get me out of a rut, as you called it," laughed Tom. "And you've done it--you and Mr. Peters together. It jolted up my brain, and I guess I can think better now. Come on back and watch me tinker away, Ned."

"Not much! I'm going to stay out and get some fresh air while I can. You'd better, too."

"I will, later."

So Tom turned back to his workshop, and Ned strolled on into the country, for his day's work at the bank was over. And for some time after that--until far into the night--Tom Swift worked at the knotty problem of the photo telephone.

But the young inventor was baffled. Try as he might, he could not get the image to show on the metal plate, nor could he get any results by using a regular photographic plate, and developing it afterward.

"There is something wrong with the transmission of the light waves over the wire," Tom confessed to his father.

"You'll never do it, Tom," said the aged inventor. "You are only wasting a whole lot of time."

"Well, as I haven't anything else to do now, it isn't much loss," spoke Tom, ruefully. "But I'm going to make this work, Dad!"

"All right, son. It's up to you. Only I tell you it can't be done."

Tom, himself, was almost ready to admit this, when, a week later, he seemed to be no nearer a solution of the problem than he was at first. He had tried everything he could think of, and he had Eradicate and Koku, the giant, almost distracted, by making them stay in small telephone booths for hours at a time, while the young inventor tried to get some reflection of one face or the other to come over the wire.

Koku finally got so nervous over the matter, that he flatly refused to "pose" any longer, so Tom was forced to use Eradicate. As for that elderly man of all work, after many trials, all unsuccessful, he remarked:

"Massa Tom, I reckon I knows what's wrong."

"Yes, Rad? Well, what is it?"

"Mah face am too black--dat's de trouble. You done want a white- complected gen'man to stand in dat booth an' look at dat lookin' glass plate. I'se too black! I suah is!"

"No, that isn't it, Rad," laughed Tom, hopelessly. "If the thing works at all it will send a black man's face over the wire as well as a white man's. I guess the truth of it is that you're like Koku. You're getting tired. I don't know as I blame you. I'm getting a bit weary myself. I'm going to take a rest. I'll send for another kind of selenium crystals I've heard of, and we'll try them. In the meanwhile--I'll take a little vacation."

"Get out my small airship, Rad, and I'll take a little flight."

"Dat's de way to talk, Massa Tom," was the glad rejoinder.

"I'm going over to see Mr. Damon, Father," announced Tom to Mr. Swift a little later, when his speedy monoplane was waiting for him. "I haven't seen him in some time, and I'd like to get at the truth of what Mr. Halling said about Mr. Damon's fortune being in danger. I'll be back soon."

"All right, Tom. And say--"

"Yes, Dad, what is it?" asked Tom, as he paused in the act of getting in the seat.

"If he wants any ready cash, you know we've got plenty."

"Oh, sure. I was going to tell him we'd help him out."

Then, as Koku spun the propeller blades, Tom grasped the steering wheel, and, tilting the elevating rudder, he was soon soaring into the air, he and his craft becoming smaller and smaller as they were lost to sight in the distance, while the rattle and roar of the powerful motor became fainter.

In a comparatively short time Tom had made a successful landing in the big yard in front of Mr. Damon's house, and, walking up the path, kept a lookout for his friend.

"I wonder why he didn't come out to meet me?" mused Tom, for usually when the eccentric man heard the throbbing of Tom's motor, he was out waiting for the young inventor. But this time it was not the case.

"Is Mr. Damon in?" Tom asked of the maid who answered his ring.

"Yes, Mr. Swift. You'll find him in the library," and she ushered him in.

"Oh, hello, Tom," greeted Mr. Damon, but the tone was so listless, and his friend's manner so gloomy that the young inventor was quite embarrassed.

"Have a chair," went on Mr. Damon. "I'll talk to you in a minute, Tom. I've got to finish this letter, and it's a hard one to write, let me tell you."

Now Tom was more astonished than ever. Not once had Mr. Damon "blessed," anything, and when this did not happen Tom was sure something was wrong. He waited until his friend had sealed the letter, and turned to him with a sigh. Then Tom said boldly:

"Mr. Damon, is it true that you're having hard luck--in money matters?"

"Why, yes, Tom, I'm afraid I am," was the quick answer. "But who told you?"

"Grant Halling. He was over to get me to fix his airship," and Tom briefly related what had happened.

"Oh, yes, I did mention the matter to him," went on Mr. Damon, and his tone was still listless. "So he told you; did he? Well, matters aren't any better, Tom. In fact, they're worse. I just had to write to a man who was asking for help, and I had to refuse him, though he needs it very much. The truth is I hadn't the money. Tom, I'm afraid I'm going to be a very poor man soon."

"Impossible, Mr. Damon! Why, I thought your investments--"

"I've made some bad ones of late, Tom. I've been pretty foolish, I'm afraid. I drew out some money I had in government bonds, and invested in certain stocks sold by a Mr. Shallock Peters."

"Shallock Peters!" cried Tom, almost jumping out of his chair. "Why, I know him--I mean I've met him."

"Have you, Tom? Well, then, all I've got to say is to steer clear of him, my boy. Don't have anything to do with him," and, with something of a return of his usual energy Mr. Damon banged his fist down on his desk. "Give him a wide berth, Tom, and if you see him coming, turn your back. He'd talk a miser into giving him his last cent. Keep away from Shallock Peters, Tom. Bless my necktie, he's a scoundrel, that's what he is!" and again Mr. Damon banged his desk forcibly.