Chapter IX. A Gleam of Hope
 

"Where are they?"

"Who are they?"

"Over this way! There's their canoe!"

"Look out for that motor boat!"

"Who was it ran them down? They ought to be arrested!"

These were only a few of the cries that followed the upsetting of the frail canoe by the wash from the powerful red boat. On Tom's Kilo there was a small, electrical searchlight which he had not yet switched on. But, with his call to Ned Newton to speed up the motor, that had been slowed down, Tom, with one turn of his fingers, set the lamp aglow, while, with the other hand, he whirled the wheel over to head his craft for the spot where he saw two figures struggling in the water.

Fortunately the lanterns on the various canoes and row-boats, as well as the light on the bow of Tom's Kilo, made an illumination that gave the rescuers a good chance to work. Many other boats besides Tom's had headed for the scene, but his was the more practical, since the others--all quite small ones--were pretty well filled.

"There they are, Ned!" Tom suddenly cried. "Throw out the clutch! I'll get 'em!"

"Want any help?"

"No, you stay at the engine, and mind what I say. Reverse now! We're going to pass them!"

Ned threw in the backing gear, and the screw churned the water to foam under the stern of the Kilo.

Tom leaned over the bow, and made a grab for the gasping, struggling figure of a girl in the water. At the same time he had tossed overboard a cork life ring, attached to a rope which, in turn, was made fast to the forward deck-cleat. "Grab that!" cried Tom. "Hold on, and I'll have you out in a second! That's enough, Ned! Shut her off!"

The Kilo came to a standstill, and, a second later, Tom had pulled into his boat one of the girls. She would have collapsed, and fallen in a heap on the bottom boards, had not Ned, who had come forward from the engine, caught her.

Then Tom, again leaning over the side, pulled in the other girl, who was clinging to the life ring.

"You're all right," Tom assured her, as she came up, gasping, choking and crying hysterically. "You're all right!"

"Is--is Minnie saved?" she sobbed.

"Yes, Grace! I'm here," answered the one Ned was supporting.

"Oh, wasn't it terrible!" cried the second girl Tom had saved.

"I thought we would be drowned, even though we can swim."

"Yes, it--it was so--so sudden!" gasped her companion. "What happened?"

"The wash from that big boat upset you," explained Tom. "That fellow ought to be ashamed of himself, rushing along the way he did. Now, can I take you girls anywhere? Your canoe seems to have drifted off."

"I have it!" someone called. "It's turned over, but I can tow it to shore."

"And I'll take the girls home," offered a gentleman in a large rowboat. "My wife will look after them. They live near us," and he mentioned his own name and the names of the two girls Tom had saved. The young inventor did not know them, but he introduced himself and Ned.

"This is the annual moonlight outing of our little boat club," explained the man who had offered to look after the girls, "and it is the first time we ever had an accident. This was not our fault, though."

"Indeed it was not," agreed Tom, after he had helped the two dripping young ladies into the rowboat. "It was due to Mr. Peters's speed mania."

"I shall make a complaint against him to the navigation authorities," said Mr. Ralston, who was looking after the girls. "He must think he, alone, has any rights on this lake."

With renewed thanks to Tom and Ned, the rescued girls were rowed off to their homes, while the interrupted water carnival was continued.

"Some little excitement; eh, Tom?" remarked Ned, when they were once more under way.

"Yes. We seem to run into that fellow Peters, or some of his doings, quite often lately."

"And it isn't a good sign, either," murmured Ned.

For some minutes after that Tom did not speak. In fact he was so silent that Ned at last inquired:

"What's the matter, Tom--in love?"

"Far from it. But, Ned, I've got an idea."

"And I've got a wet suit of clothes where that nice young lady fainted in my arms. I'm soaked."

"That's what gave me the idea--the water, I mean. I noticed how everything was reflected in it, and, do you know, Ned, I believe I have been working on the wrong principle for my photo telephone."

"Wrong, Tom, how is that?"

"Why, I've been using a dry plate, and I think I should have used a wet one. You know how even in a little puddle of water on the sidewalk you can see yourself reflected?"

"Yes, I've often seen that."

"Well then, 'bless my watch chain!' as Mr. Damon would say, I think I've got just what I want. I'm going to try a wet plate now, and I think it will work. Come on now. Speed up! I'm in a great big hurry to get home and try it!"

"Well, Tom, I sure will be glad if you've got the right idea," laughed Ned. "It will be worth getting wet through for, if you strike something. Good luck!"

Tom could hardly wait to fasten up his boat for the night, so eager was he to get to his shop laboratory and try the new idea. A gleam of hope had come to him.

It was still early evening, and Tom, when enticed out by Ned, had left his photo telephone apparatus in readiness to go on with his trials as soon as he should have come back.

"Now for it, Ned!" exclaimed the young inventor, as he took off his coat. "First I'll sensitize a selenium plate, and then I'll wet it. Water is always a good conductor of electricity, and it's a wonder that I forgot that when I was planning this photo telephone. But seeing the sparkle of lights, and the reflection of ourselves in the lake to-night, brought it back to me. Now then, you haven't anything special to do; have you?"

"Not a thing, Tom."

"That's good. Then you get in this other telephone closet--the one in the casting shop. I'll put a prepared plate in there, and one in the booth where I'm to sit. Then I'll switch on the current, and we'll see if I can make you out, and you notice whether my image appears on your plate."

It took some little time to make ready for this new test. Tom was filled with enthusiasm, and he was sure it was going to be successful this time. Ned watched him prepare the selenium plates --plates that were so sensitive to illumination that, in the dark, the metal would hardly transmit a current of electricity, but in the light would do so readily, its conductivity depending on the amount of light it received.

"There, I guess we're all ready, Ned," announced Tom, at last. "Now you go to your little coop, and I'll shut myself up in mine. We can talk over the telephone."

Seated in the little booth in one of the smaller of Tom's shops, Ned proceeded with his part in the new experiment. A small shelf had been fitted up in the booth, or closet, and on this was the apparatus, consisting of a portable telephone set, and a small box, in which was set a selenium plate. This plate had been wet by a spray of water in order to test Tom's new theory.

In a similar booth, several hundred feet away, and in another building, Tom took his place. The two booths were connected by wires, and in each one was an electric light.

"All ready, Ned?" asked Tom, through the telephone.

"All ready," came the answer.

"Now then, turn on your switch--the one I showed you--and look right at the sensitized plate. Then turn out your light, and slowly turn it on. It's a new kind, and the light comes up gradually, like gas or an oil lamp. Turn it on easily."

"I get you, Tom."

Ned did as requested. Slowly the illumination in the booth increased.

"Do you get anything, Tom?" asked Ned, over the wire.

"Not yet," was the somewhat discouraged answer. "Go ahead, turn on more light, and keep your face close to the plate."

Ned did so.

"How about it now?" he asked, a moment later.

"Nothing--yet," was the answer. And then suddenly Tom's voice rose to a scream over the wire.

"Ned--Ned! Quick!" he called. "Come here--I--I--"

The voice died off into a meaningless gurgle.