Chapter IV. A Perilous Flight
 

There was silence for a moment--there had to be--for Eradicate was doubled over with mirth and could not even laugh aloud, and as for Andy the whitewash running down his face and over his mouth effectually prevented speech. But the silence did not last long.

Just as Eradicate caught his breath, and let out a hearty laugh, Andy succeeded in wiping some of the liquid from his face so that it was safe to open his mouth. Then he fairly let out a roar of rage.

"I'll have you put in jail far that, Eradicate Sampson!" he cried. "You've nearly killed me: You'll suffer for this! My father will sue you for damages, too! Look at me! Look at me!"

"Dat's jest what I'se doin', honey! Jest what I'se doin'!" gasped Eradicate, hardly able to speak from laughter. "Yo' suah am a most contrary lookin' specimen! Yo' suah is! Ha! Ha!"

"Stop it!" commanded Andy. "Don't you dare laugh at me, after throwing whitewash on me."

"I didn't throw no whitewash on you!" protested the colored man. "Yo' done poured it over yo'se'f, dat's what yo' done did. An' I jest cain't help laughin', honey. I jest natchally cain't! Yo' look so mortally distressed, dat's what yo' does!"

Andy's rage might have been dangerous, but the very excess of it rendered him incapable of doing anything. He was wild at Eradicate and would willingly have attacked him, but the whitewash was beginning to soak through his clothes, and he was so wet and miserable that soon all the fight oozed out of him.

Then, too, though Eradicate was old, he was strong and he still held the long handle of the whitewash brush, no unformidable weapon. So Andy contented himself with verbal abuse. He called Eradicate all the mean names he could think of, ending up with:

"You won't hear the last of this for a long time, either. I'll have you, and your old rack of bones, your mule Boomerang, run out of town, that's what I will."

"What's dat? Yo' all gwine t'hab Boomerang run out ob town?" demanded Eradicate, a sudden change coming over him. His mule was his most beloved possession. "Lemme tell yo' one thing, Massa Andy. I'se an old colored man, an' I ain't much 'count mebby. But ef yo' dare lay one finger on mah mule Boomerang, only jest one finger, mind you', why I'll--I'll jest natchally drown yo'--all in whitewash, dat's what I'll do!"

Eradicate drew himself up proudly, and boldly faced Andy. The bully shrank back. He knew better than to arouse the colored man further.

"You'll suffer for this," predicted the bully. "For not going to forget it. Tom Swift put you up to this, and I'll take it out of him the next time I see him. He's to blame."

"Now looky heah, honey!" said Eradicate quick. "Doan't yo' all git no sich notion laik dat in yo' head. Massa Tom didn't tell me to do noth'in an I ain't. He ain't eben 'round yeh. An' annudder thing. Yo'se t' blame to' this yo' own se'f. Ef yo' hadn't gone fo' is kick de bucket it nebber would 'a happened. It's yo' own fault, honey, an' doan't yo' forgit dat! No, yo' better go home an' git some dry clothes on."

It was good advice, for Andy was soaking wet. He glared angrily at Eradicate, and then swung off down the road, the whitewash dripping from has garments at every step.

"Land a massy! But he suah did use up all mah lime." complained Eradicate, as he picked up the overturned pail. "I's got t' make mo'. But I doan't mind," he added cheerfully, and then, as he saw the woe-begone figure of Andy shuffling along, he laughed heartily, fitted the brush on the handle and went to tell Tom and Ned what had happened, and make more whitewash.

"Hum! Served him right," commented the young inventor.

"I suppose he'll try to play some mean trick on you now," commented Ned. "He'll think you had some hand in what Rad did."

"Let him," answered Tom. "If he tries any of his games I'll be ready for him."

"Maybe we'll soon be able to start for the city of gold," suggested Ned.

"I'm afraid not in some time," was his chum's reply. "It's going to take quite a while to get ready, and then we've got to wait to hear from Mr. Illingway. I wonder if it's true that Mr. Foger has lost his fortune; or was that only a trick?"

"Oh, it's true enough," answered Ned. "I heard some of the bank officials talking about it the other day." Ned was employed in one of the Shopton banks, an institution in which Tom and his father owned considerable stock. "He hasn't hardly any money left, and he may leave town and go out west, I heard."

"He can't go any too soon to suit me," spoke Tom, "and I hope he takes Andy with him."

"Your father isn't going to have any business dealings with Mr. Foger then?"

"I guess not. Dad doesn't trust him. But say, Ned, what do you say to a little trip in my sky racer? I want to go over to Waterford and see Mr. Damon. We can talk about our trip, and he was going to get some big maps of Central Mexico to study. Will you come?"

"I will this afternoon. I've got to go to the bank now."

"All right, I'll wait for you. In the meanwhile I'll be tuning up the motor. It didn't run just right the other night."

The two chums separated, Ned to go downtown to the bank, while Tom hastened to the shed where he kept his speedy little air craft. Meanwhile Eradicate went on whitewashing the fence, pausing every now and then to chuckle at the memory of Andy Foger.

Tom found that some minor adjustments had to be made to the motor, and they took him a couple of hours to complete. It was nearly noon when he finished, and leaving the sky racer in the open space in front of the shed, he went in the house to wash up, for his face and hands were begrimed with dirt and oil.

"But the machine's in good shape," he said to the housekeeper when she objected to his appearance, "and Ned and I will have a speedy spin this afternoon."

"Oh, you reckless boys! Risking your lives in those aeroplanes!" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert.

"Why, they're safer than street cars!" declared Tom with a laugh. "Just think how often street cars collide, and you never heard of an aeroplane doing that."

"No, but think what happens when they fall."

"That's it!" cried Tom gaily, "when they fall you don't have time to think. But is dinner ready? I'm hungry."

"Never saw you when you weren't." commented the housekeeper laughing. "Yes, you can sit right down. We won't wait for your father. He said he'd be late as he wants to find something about his gyroscope. I never did any such people as inventors for spoiling their meals," she added as the put dinner on the tab's.

Mr. Swift came in before his son had finished.

"Was Andy Foger here to see me again?" he asked.

"No, why do you ask?" inquired Tom quickly.

"I just saw him out by the aeroplane shed, and--"

Tom jumped up without another word, and hurried to where his sky racer rested on its bicycle wheels.

He breathed more easily when he saw that Andy was not in sight, and a hurried inspection of the aeroplane did not disclose that it had been tampered with.

"Anything the matter?" asked Mr. Swift, as he followed his son.

"No, but when you mentioned that Andy was out here I thought he might have been up to some of his tricks. He had a little trouble with Eradicate this morning, and he threatened to get even with me for it." And Tom told of the whitewashing incident.

"I just happened to see him as I was coming to dinner," went on the aged inventor. "He hurried off--when he noticed me, but I thought he might have been here to leave another letter."

"No," said Tom. "I must tell Eradicate to keep his weather eye open for him, though. No telling what Andy'll do. Well, I must finish eating, or Ned will be here before I'm through."

After dinner, Ned arrived, and helped Tom start the motor. With a roar and a bang the swift little machine rapidly got up speed, the propellers whizing so fast that they looked like blurs of light. The sky racer was held back by a rope, as Tom wanted to note the "pull" of the propellers, the force they exerted against the air being registered on a spring balance.

"What does it say, Ned?" cried the young inventor as he adjusted the carburettor.

"A shade over nine hundred pounds."

"Guess that'll do. Hop in, and I'll cast off from the seat."

This Tom frequently did when there was no one available to hold the aeroplane for him while he mounted. He could pull a cord, loosen the retaining rope, and away the craft would go.

The two chums were soon seated side by side and then Tom, grasping the steering wheel, turned on full power and jerked the releasing rope.

Over the ground shot the sky racer, quickly attaining speed until, with a deft motion, the young inventor tilted the deflecting rudder and up into the air they shot.

"Oh, this is glorious!" cried Ned, for, though he had often taken trips with Tom, every time he went up he seemed to enjoy it more.

Higher and higher they rose, rose and then with the sharp nose of the craft turned in the proper direction they sailed off well above the trees and houses toward Waterford.

"Guess I'll go up a bit higher," Tom yelled into his chums ear when they were near their destination. "Then I can make a spiral glide to earth. I haven't practiced that lately."

Up and up went the sky racer, until it was well over the town of Waterford, where Mr. Damon lived.

"There's his place!" yelled Ned, pointing downward. He had to yell to be heard above the noise of the motor. Tom nodded in reply. He, too, had picked out Mr. Damon's large estate. There were many good landing places on it, one near the house for which Tom headed.

The aeroplane shot downward, like a bird darting from the sky. Tom grasped the rudder lever more firmly. He looked below him, and then, suddenly he uttered a cry of terror.

"What is it?" yelled Ned.

"The rudder! The deflecting rudder! It's jammed, and I can't throw her head up! We're going to smash into the ground, Ned! I can't control her! Something has gone wrong!"