Chapter VIII. Tom is Baffled
 

Amazement held Mr. Boylan silent for a moment, and then, staring at Tom, as though he could not believe what he had heard the young inventor say, the representative of Mr. Peters exclaimed:

"Nothing doing?"

"That's what I said," repeated Tom, calmly.

"But--but you don't understand, I'm afraid."

"Oh, but indeed I do."

"Then you refuse to let my friend, Mr. Peters, exploit some of your inventions?"

"I refuse absolutely."

"Oh, come now. Take an invention that hasn't been very successful."

"Well, I don't like to boast," said Tom with a smile, "but all of my inventions have been successful. They don't need any aid from Mr. Peters, thank you."

"But this one!" went on the visitor eagerly, "this one about some new kind of telephone," and he motioned to the drawings on the table. "Has that been a success? Excuse me for having looked at the plans, but I did not think you would mind. Has that telephone been a success? If it has not perhaps Mr. Peters could form a company to--"

"How did you know those drawings referred to a telephone?" asked Tom, suspiciously, for the papers did not make it clear just what the invention was.

"Why, I understood--I heard, in fact, that you were working on a new photo telephone, and--"

"Who told you?" asked Tom quickly.

"Oh, no one in particular. The colored man who sent me here mentioned--"

"Eradicate!" thought Tom. "He must have been talking. That isn't like him. I must look into this."

Then to his caller he said:

"Really, you must excuse me, Mr. Boylan, but I don't care to do any business with Mr. Peters. Tell him, with my thanks, that there is really nothing doing in his line. I prefer to exploit my own inventions."

"That is your last word?"

"Yes," returned Tom, as he gathered up the drawings.

"Well," said Mr. Boylan, and Tom could not help thinking there was a veiled threat in his tones, "you will regret this. You will be sorry for not having accepted this offer."

"I think not," replied Tom, confidently. "Good-day."

The young inventor sat for some time thinking deeply, when his visitor had gone. He called Eradicate to him, and gently questioned the old colored man, for Eradicate was ageing fast of late, and Tom did not want him to feel badly.

It developed that the servant had been closely cross-questioned by Mr. Boylan, while he was waiting for Tom, and it was small wonder that the old colored man had let slip a reference to the photo telephone. But he really knew nothing of the details of the invention, so he could have given out no secrets.

"But at the same time," mused Tom, "I must be on guard against these fellows. That Boylan seems a pretty slick sort of a chap. As for Peters, he's a big 'bluff,' to be perfectly frank. I'm glad I had Mr. Damon's warning in mind, or I might have been tempted to do business with him."

"Now to get busy at this photo telephone again. I'm going to try a totally different system of transmission. I'll use an alternating current on the third wire, and see if that makes it any better. And I'll put in the most sensitive selenium plate I can make. I'm going to have this thing a success."

Tom carefully examined the drawings of his invention, at which papers Mr. Boylan had confessed to looking. As far as the young inventor could tell none was missing, and as they were not completed it would be hard work for anyone not familiar with them to have gotten any of Tom's ideas.

"But at the same time I'm going to be on my guard," mused Tom. "And now for another trial."

Tom Swift worked hard during the following week, and so closely did he stick to his home and workshop that he did not even pay a visit to Mr. Damon, so he did not learn in what condition that gentleman's affairs were. Tom even denied himself to his chum Ned, so taken up was the young inventor with working out the telephone problem, until Ned fairly forced himself into the shop one day, and insisted on Tom coming out.

"You need some fresh air!" exclaimed Ned. "Come on out in the motor boat again. She's all fixed now; isn't she?"

"Yes," answered Tom, "but--"

"Oh, 'but me no buts,' as Mr. Shakespeare would say. Come on, Tom. It will do you good. I want a spin myself."

"All right, I will go for a little while," agreed Tom. "I am feeling a bit rusty, and my head seems filled with cobwebs."

"Can't get the old thing to come out properly; eh?"

"No. I guess dad was more than half right when he said it couldn't be done. But I haven't given up. Maybe I'll think of some new plan if I take a little run. Come along."

They went down to the boat house, and soon were out on the lake in the Kilo.

"She runs better since you had her fixed," remarked Ned.

"Yes, they did a good job."

"Did you sue Peters?"

"Didn't have to. He sent the money," and Tom told of his interview with Mr. Boylan. This was news to Ned, as was also the financial trouble of Mr. Damon.

"Well," said the young banker, "that bears out what I had heard of Peters--that he was a get-rich-quick chap, and a good one to steer clear of."

"Speaking of steering clear," laughed Tom, "there he is now, in his big boat," and he pointed to a red blur coming up the lake. "I'll give him a wide enough berth this time."

But though Mr. Peters, in his powerful motor boat, passed close to Tom's more modest craft, the big man did not glance toward our hero and his chum. Nor did Mr. Boylan, who was with his friend, look over.

"I guess they've had enough of you," chuckled Ned.

"Probably he wishes he hadn't paid me that money," said Tom. "Very likely he thought, after he handed it over, that I'd be only too willing to let him manage one of my inventions. But he has another guess coming."

Tom and Ned rode on for some distance, thoroughly enjoying the spin on the lake that fine Summer day. They stopped for lunch at a picnic resort, and coming back in the cool of the evening they found themselves in the midst of a little flotilla of pleasure craft, all decorated with Japanese lanterns.

"Better slow down a bit," Ned advised Tom, for many of the pleasure craft were canoes and light row boats. "Our wash may upset some of them."

"Guess you're right, old man," agreed Tom, as he closed the gasoline throttle, to reduce speed. Hardly had he done so than there broke in upon the merry shouts and singing of the pleasure- seekers the staccato exhaust of a powerful motor boat, coming directly behind Tom's craft.

Then came the shrill warning of an electrical siren horn.

"Somebody's in a hurry," observed Tom.

"Yes," answered Ned. "It sound's like Peters's boat, too."

"It is!" exclaimed Tom. "Here he comes. He ought to know better than to cut through this raft of boats at that speed."

"Is he headed toward us?"

"No, I guess he's had enough of that. But look at him!"

With undiminished speed the burly promoter was driving his boat on. The big vibrating horn kept up its clamor, and a powerful searchlight in front dazzled the eyes.

"Look out! Look out!" cried several.

Many of the rowers and paddlers made haste to clear a lane for the big, speedy motor craft, and Peters and his friends (for there were several men in his boat now) seemed to accept this as a matter of course, and their right.

"Somebody'll be swamped!" exclaimed Ned.

Hardly had he spoken than, as the big red boat dashed past in a smother of foam, there came a startled cry in girls' voices.

"Look!" cried Tom. "That canoe's upset! Speed her up, Ned! We've got to get 'em!"