Chapter VII. Soft Words
 

"Well, I'm glad of one thing!" exclaimed Tom, when the ink bottle and the paper cutter on Mr. Damon's desk had ceased rattling, because of the violence of the blow. "I'm glad of one thing."

"What's that, Tom?" asked his friend.

"I heard you bless something at last--the first time since I came in."

"Oh!" and Mr. Damon laughed. "Well, Tom, I haven't been blessing things lately--that's a fact. I haven't had the heart for it. There are too many business complications. I wish I'd never met this Peters."

"So do I," said Tom. "My motor boat would not have been damaged then."

"Did he do that, Tom?"

"He certainly did, and then he accused me of being at fault."

"That would be just like him. Tell me about it, Tom."

When the young inventor finished the story of the collision Mr. Damon sat silent for a moment. Then he remarked slowly:

"That's just like Peters. A big bluff--that's what he is. I wish I'd discovered that fact sooner--I'd be money in pocket. But I allowed myself to be deceived by his talk about big profits. At first he seemed like a smart business man, and he certainly had fine recommendations. But I am inclined to believe, now, that the recommendations were forged."

"What did he do to you, Mr. Damon?" asked Tom, with ready sympathy.

"It's too complicated to go into details over, Tom, but to make a long story short, he got me to invest nearly all my fortune in some enterprises that, I fear, are doomed to failure. And if they do fail, I'll be a ruined man."

"No, you won't!" exclaimed Tom. "That's one reason why I came here to-day. Father told me to offer you all the ready money you needed to get out of your trouble. How much do you need, Mr. Damon?"

"Bless my collar button! That's like your father, Tom," and now Mr. Damon seemed more like his old self. "Bless my shoes, a man never knows who his real friends are until trouble comes. I can't say how I thank you and your father, Tom. But I'm not going to take advantage of him."

"It wouldn't be taking any advantage of him, Mr. Damon. He has money lying idle, and he'd like to have you use it."

"Well, Tom, I might use it, if I had only myself to think about. But there's no use in throwing good money after bad. If I took yours now this fellow Peters would only get it, and that would be the last of it."

"No, Tom, thank you and your father just the same, but I'll try to weather the storm a bit longer myself. Then, if I do go down I won't drag anybody else with me. I'll hang on to the wreck a bit longer. The storm may blow over, or--or something may happen to this fellow Peters."

"Has he really got you in his grip, Mr. Damon?"

"He has, and, to a certain extent, it's my own fault. I should have been suspicious of him. And now, Tom, let me give you a further word of warning. You heard me say to steer clear of this Peters?"

"Yes, and I'm going to. But I'm going to make him pay for damaging my boat, if I possibly can."

"Maybe it would be wiser not to try that, Tom. I tell you he's a tricky man. And one thing more. I have heard that this man Peters makes a specialty of organizing companies to take up new inventions."

"Is that so?" asked Tom, interestedly.

"Yes, but that's as far as it goes. Peters gets the invention, and the man, out of whose brain it came, gets nothing."

"In other words, he swindles them?"

"That's it, Tom. If not in one way, then in another. He cheats them out of the profits of their inventions. So I want to warn you to be on the lookout."

"Don't worry," said Tom. "Peters will get nothing from my father or me. We'll be on our guard. Not that I think he will try it, but it's just as well to be warned. I didn't like him from the moment he ran into me, and, now that I know what he has done to you, I like him still less. He won't get anything from me!"

"I'm glad to hear you say so, Tom. I wish he'd gotten nothing out of me."

"Are you sure you won't let my father help you, financially, Mr. Damon?"

"No, Tom, at least not for the present. I'm going to make another fight to hold on to my fortune. If I find I can't do it alone, then I'll call on you. I'm real glad you called. Bless my shoestring! I feel better now."

"I'm glad of it," laughed Tom, and he saw that his friend was in a better state of mind, as his "blessings" showed.

Tom remained for a little longer, talking to Mr. Damon, and then took his leave, flying back home in the airship.

"Gen'man t' see yo', Massa Tom," announced Eradicate, as he helped Tom wheel the monoplane back into the shed.

"Is that so, Rad? Where is he?"

"Settin' in th' library. Yo' father am out, so I asted him in dere."

"That's right, Rad. Who is he, do you know?"

"No, sah, Massa Tom, I doan't. He shore does use a pow'ful nice perfume on his pocket hanky, though. Yum-yum!"

"Perfume!" exclaimed Tom, his mind going back to the day he had had the trouble with Mr. Peters. "Is he a big, red-faced man, Rad?"

"No, sah, Massa Tom. He's a white-faced, skinny man."

"Then it can't be Peters," mused Tom. "I guess perhaps it's that lawyer I wrote to about bringing suit to get back what it cost me to have the Kilo fixed. I'll see him at once. Oh, by the way, it isn't Mr. Grant Halling; is it? The gentleman who got tangled up in our aerials with his airship? Is it he?"

"No, sah, Massa Tom. 'Tain't him."

"I thought perhaps he had gotten into more trouble," mused Tom, as he took off his airship "togs," and started for the house. For Mr. Halling had called for his repaired airship some time ago, and had promised to pay Tom another and more conventional visit, some future day.

Tom did not know the visitor whom he greeted in the library a little later. The man, as Eradicate had said, was rather pale of face, and certainly he was not very fleshy.

"Mr. Tom Swift, I think?" said the man, rising and holding out his hand.

"That's my name. I don't believe I know you, though."

"No, I haven't your reputation," said the man, with a laugh that Tom did not like. "We can't all be great inventors like you," and, somehow, Tom liked the man less than before, for he detected an undertone of sneering patronage in the words. Tom disliked praise, and he felt that this was not sincere.

"I have called on a little matter of business," went on the man. "My name is Harrison Boylan, and I represent Mr. Shallock Peters."

Instinctively Tom stiffened. Receiving a call from a representative of the man against whom Mr. Damon had warned him only a short time before was a strange coincidence, Tom thought.

"You had some little accident, when your motor boat and that of Mr. Peters collided, a brief time ago; did you not?" went on Mr. Boylan.

"I did," said Tom, and, as he motioned the caller to be seated Tom saw, with a start, that some of the drawings of his photo telephone were lying on a desk in plain sight. They were within easy reach of the man, and Tom thought the sheets looked as though they had been recently handled. They were not in the orderly array Tom had made of them before going out.

"If he is a spy, and has been looking at them," mused Tom, "he may steal my invention." Then he calmed himself, as he realized that he, himself, had not yet perfected his latest idea. "I guess he couldn't make much of the drawings," Tom thought.

"Yes, the collision was most unfortunate," went on Mr. Boylan, "and Mr. Peters has instructed me to say--"

"If he's told you to say that it was my fault, you may as well save your time," cut in Tom. "I don't want to be impolite, but I have my own opinion of the affair. And I might add that I have instructed a lawyer to begin a suit against Mr. Peters--"

"No necessity for that at all!" interrupted the man, in soft accents. "No necessity at all. I am sorry you did that, for there was no need. Mr. Peters has instructed me to say that he realizes the accident was entirely his own fault, and he is very willing-- nay, anxious, to pay all damages. In fact, that is why I am here, and I am empowered, my dear Mr. Swift, to offer you five hundred dollars, to pay for the repairs to your motor boat. If that is not enough--"

The man paused, and drew a thick wallet front his pocket. Tom felt a little embarrassed over what he had said.

"Oh," spoke the young inventor, "the repair bill is only about three hundred dollars. I'm sorry--"

"Now that's all right, Mr. Swift! It's all right," and the man, with his soft words, raised a white, restraining hand. "Not another word. Mr. Peters did not know who you were that day he so unfortunately ran into you. If he had, he would not have spoken as he did. He supposed you were some amateur motor-boatist, and he was--well, he admits it--he was provoked."

"Since then he has made inquiries, and, learning who you were, he at once authorized me to make a settlement in full. So if five hundred dollars--"

"The repair bill," said Tom, and his voice was not very cordial, in spite of the other's persuasive smile, "the bill came to three hundred forty-seven dollars. Here is the receipted bill. I paid it, and, to be frank with you, I intended bringing suit against Mr. Peters for that sum."

"No need, no need at all, I assure you!" interrupted Mr. Boylan, as he counted off some bills. "There you are, and I regret that you and Mr. Peters had such a misunderstanding. It was all his fault, and he wants to apologize to you."

"The apology is accepted," said Tom, and he smiled a trifle. "Also the money. I take it merely as a matter of justice, for I assure you that Mr. Peters's own machinist will say the accident was his employer's fault."

"No doubt of it, not the least in the world," said the caller. "And now that I have this disagreeable business over, let me speak of something more pleasant."

Instinctively Tom felt that now the real object of the man's call would be made plain--that the matter of paying the damages was only a blind. Tom steeled himself for what was to come.

"You know, I suppose," went on Mr. Boylan, smiling at Tom, "that Mr. Peters is a man of many and large interests."

"I have heard something like that," said Tom, cautiously.

"Yes. Well, he is an organizer--a promoter, if you like. He supplies the money for large enterprises, and is, therefore, a benefactor of the human race. Where persons have no cash with which to exploit their--well, say their inventions. Mr. Peters takes them, and makes money out of them."

"No doubt," thought Tom, grimly.

"In other cases, where an inventor is working at a handicap, say with too many interests, Mr. Peters takes hold of one of his ideas, and makes it pay much better than the inventor has been able to do."

"Now, Mr. Peters has heard of you, and he would like to do you good."

"Yes, I guess he would," thought Tom. "He would like to do me--and do me good and brown. Here's where I've got to play a game myself."

"And so," went on Mr. Boylan, "Mr. Peters has sent me to you to ask you to allow him to exploit one, or several, of your inventions. He will form a large stock company, put one of your inventions on the market, and make you a rich man. Now what do you say?" and he looked at Tom and smiled--smiled, the young inventor could not help thinking, like a cat looking at a mouse. "What do you say, Mr. Swift?"

For a moment Tom did not answer. Then getting up and opening the library door, to indicate that the interview was at an end, the young inventor smiled, and said:

"Tell Mr. Peters that I thank him, but that I have nothing for him to exploit, or with which to form a company to market."

"Wha--what!" faltered the visitor. "Do you mean to say you will not take advantage of his remarkable offer?"

"That's just what I mean to say," replied Tom, with a smile.

"You won't do business with Mr. Peters? You won't let him do you good?"

"No," said Tom, quietly.

"Why--why, that's the strangest--the most preposterous thing I ever heard of!" protested Mr. Boylan. "What--what shall I say to Mr. Peters?"

"Tell him," said Tom, "tell him, from me, and excuse the slang, if you like, but tell him there is--nothing doing!"