Chapter I. A Strange Request
 

Tom Swift closed the book of adventures he had been reading, tossed it on the table, and got up. Then he yawned.

"What's the matter?" asked his chum, Ned Newton, who was deep in another volume.

"Oh, I thought this was going to be something exciting," replied Tom, motioning toward the book he had discarded. "But say! the make- believe adventures that fellow had, weren't anything compared to those we went through in the city of gold, or while rescuing the exiles of Siberia."

"Well," remarked Ned, "they would have to be pretty classy adventures to lay over those you and I have had lately. But where are you going?" he continued, for Tom had taken his cap and started for the door.

"I thought I'd go out and take a little run in the aeroplane. Want to come along? It's more fun than sitting in the house reading about exciting things that never have happened. Come on out and--"

"Yes, and have a tumble from the aeroplane, I suppose you were going to say," interrupted Ned with a laugh. "Not much! I'm going to stay here and finish this book."

"Say," demanded Tom indignantly. "Did you ever know me to have a tumble since I knew how to run an airship?"

"No, I can't say that I did. I was only joking."

"Then you carried the joke too far, as the policeman said to the man he found lugging off money from the bank. And to make up for it you've got to come along with me."

"Where are you going?"

"Oh, anywhere. Just to take a little run in the upper regions, and clear some of the cobwebs out of my head. I declare, I guess I've got the spring fever. I haven't done anything since we got back from Russia last fall, and I'm getting rusty."

"You haven't done anything!" exclaimed Ned, following his chum's example by tossing aside the book. "Do you call working on your new invention of a noiseless airship nothing?"

"Well, I haven't finished that yet. I'm tired of inventing things. I just want to go off, and have some good fun, like getting shipwrecked on a desert island, or being lost in the mountains, or something like that. I want action. I want to get off in the jungle, and fight wild beasts, and escape from the savages!"

"Say! you don't want much," commented Ned. "But I feel the same way, Tom."

"Then come on out and take a run, and maybe we'll get on the track of an adventure," urged the young inventor. "We won't go far, just twenty or thirty miles or so."

The two youths emerged from the house and started across the big lawn toward the aeroplane sheds, for Tom Swift owned several speedy aircrafts, from a big combined aeroplane and dirigible balloon, to a little monoplane not much larger than a big bird, but which was the most rapid flier that ever breathed the fumes of gasolene.

"Which one you going to take, Tom?" asked Ned, as his chum paused in front of the row of hangars.

"Oh, the little double-seated monoplane, I guess that's in good shape, and it's easy to manage. When I'm out for fun I hate to be tinkering with levers and warping wing tips all the while. The Lark practically flies herself, and we can sit back and take it easy. I'll have Eradicate fill up the gasolene tank, while I look at the magneto. It needs a little adjusting, though it works nearly to perfection since I put in some of that new platinum we got from the lost mine in Siberia."

"Yes, that was a trip that amounted to something. I wouldn't mind going on another like that, though we ran lots of risks."

"We sure did," agreed Tom, and then, raising his voice he called out: "Rad, I say Rad! Where are you? I want you!"

"Comin', massa Tom, comin'," answered an aged colored man, as he shuffled around the corner of the shed. "What do yo'-all want ob me?"

"Put some gasolene in the Lark, Rad. Ned and I are going to take a little flight. What were you doing?"

"Jest groomin' mah mule Boomerang, Massa Tom, dat's all. Po' Boomerang he's gittin' old jest same laik I be. He's gittin' old, an' he needs lots ob 'tention. He has t' hab mo' oats dan usual, Massa Tom, an' he doan't feel 'em laik he uster, dat's a fac', Massa Tom."

"Well, Rad, give him all he wants. Boomerang was a good mule in his day."

"An' he's good yet, Massa Tom, he's good yet!" said Eradicate Sampson eagerly. "Doan't yo' all forgit dat, Massa Tom." And the colored man proceeded to fill the gasolene tank, while Tom adjusted the electrical mechanism of his aeroplane, Ned assisting by handing him the tools needed. Eradicate, who said he was named that because he "eradicated" dirt, was a colored man of all work, who had been in the service of the Swift household for several years. He and his mule Boomerang were fixtures.

"There, I guess that will do," remarked Tom, after testing the magneto, and finding that it gave a fat, hot spark. "That ought to send us along in good shape. Got all the gas in, Rad?"

"Every drop, Massa Tom."

"Then catch hold and help wheel the Lark out. Ned, you steady her on that side. How are the tires? Do they need pumping up?"

"Hard as rocks," answered Tom's chum, as he tapped his toe against the rubber circlets of the small bicycle wheels on which the aeroplane rested.

"Then they'll do, I guess. Come on now, and we'll give her a test before we start off. I ought to get a few hundred more revolutions per minute out of the motor with the way I've adjusted the magneto. Rad, you and Ned hold back, while I turn the engine over."

The youth and the colored man grasped the rear supports of the long, tail-like part of the monoplane while Tom stepped to the front to twist the propeller blades. The first two times there was no explosion as he swung the delicate wooden blades about, but the third time the engine started off with a roar, and a succession of explosions that were deafening, until Tom switched in the muffler, thereby cutting down the noise. Faster and faster the propeller whirled about as the motor warmed up, until the young inventor exclaimed:

"That's the stuff! She's better than ever! Climb up Ned, and we'll start off. You can turn her over, Rad; can't you?"

"Suah, Massa Tom," was the reply, for Eradicate had been on so many trips with Tom, and had had so much to do with airships, that to merely start one was child's play for him.

The two youths had scarcely taken their seats, and the colored man was about to twist around the fan-like blades of the big propeller in front, when from behind there came a hail.

"Hold on there! Wait a minute, Tom Swift! Bless my admission ticket, don't go! I've got something important to tell you! Hold on!"

"Humph! I know who that is!" cried Tom, motioning to Eradicate to cease trying to start the motor.

"Mr. Damon, of course," agreed Ned. "I wonder what he wants?"

"A ride, maybe," went on Tom. "If he does we've got to take the Scooter instead of this one. That holds four. Well, we may as well see what he wants."

He jumped lightly from his seat in the monoplane and was followed by Ned. They saw coming toward them, from the direction of the house, a stout man, who seemed very much excited. He was walking so fast that he fairly waddled, and he was smiling at the lads, for he was one of their best friends.

"Glad I caught you, Tom." he panted, for his haste had almost deprived him of breath. "I've got something important to tell you. I hurried over as soon as I heard about it."

"Well, you're just in time," commented Ned with a laugh. "In another minute we'd have been up in the clouds."

"What is it, Mr. Damon?" asked Tom. "Have you got wind of a city of diamonds, or has some one sent you a map telling where we can go to pick up ten thousand dollar bills by the basket?"

"Neither one; Tom, neither one. It's something better than either of those, and if you don't jump at the chance I'm mistaken in you, that's all I've got to say. Come over here."

He turned a quick glance over his shoulder as he spoke and advanced toward the two lads on tiptoe as though he feared some one would see or hear him. Yet it was broad daylight, the place was the starting ground for Tom's aeroplanes and save Eradicate there was no one present except Mr. Damon, Ned and the young inventor himself.

"What's up?" asked Tom in wonderment.

"Hush!" cautioned the odd gentleman. "Bless my walking stick, Tom! but this is going to be a great chance for you--for us,--for I'm going along."

"Going where, Mr. Damon?"

"I'll tell you in a minute. Is there any one here?"

"No one but us?"

"You are sure that Andy Foger isn't around."

"Sure. He's out of town, you know."

"Yes, but you never can tell when he's going to appear on the scene. Come over here," and taking hold of the coat of each of the youths, Mr. Damon led them behind the big swinging door of the aeroplane shed.

"You haven't anything on hand; have you, Tom?" asked the odd gentleman, after peering through the crack to make sure they were unobserved.

"Nothing at all, if you mean in the line of going off on an adventure trip."

"That's what I mean. Bless my earlaps! but I'm glad of that. I've got just the thing for you. Tom, I want you to go to a strange land, and bring back one of the biggest men there--a giant! Tom Swift, you and I and Ned--if he wants to go--are going after a giant!"

Mr. Damon gleefully clapped Tom on the back, with such vigor that our hero coughed, and then the odd gentleman stepped back and gazed at the two lads, a look of triumph shining in his eyes.

For a moment there was a silence. Tom looked at Ned, and Ned gave his chum a quick glance. Then they both looked sharply at Mr. Damon.

"A--a giant," murmured Tom faintly.

"That's what I said," replied Mr. Damon. "I want you to help me capture a giant, Tom."

Once more the two youths exchanged significant glances, and then Tom, in a low and gentle voice said:

"Yes, Mr. Damon, that's all right. We'll get you a giant right away. Won't we, Ned? Now you'd better come in the house and lie down, I'll have Mrs. Baggert make you a cup of tea, and after you have had a sleep you'll feel better. Come on," and the young inventor gently tried to lead his friend out from behind the shed door.

"Look here, Tom Swift!" exclaimed the odd gentleman indignantly. "Do you think I'm crazy? Lie down? Rest myself? Go to sleep? Say, I'm not crazy! I'm not tired! I'm not sleepy! This is the greatest chance you ever had, and if we get one of those giants--"

"Yes, yes, we'll get one," put in Ned soothingly.

"Of course," added Tom. "Come on, now, Mr. Damon. You'll feel better after you've had a rest. Dr. Perkinby is coming over to see father and I'll have him--"

Mr. Damon gave one startled glance at the young inventor and his chum, and then burst into a peal of hearty laughter.

"Oh, my!" he exclaimed at intervals in his pyroxisms. "Oh, dear! He thinks I'm out of my head! He can't stand that talk about giants! Oh dear! Tom Swift, this is the greatest chance you ever had! Come on in the house and I'll tell you all I know about giant land, and then if you want to think I'm crazy you can, that's all I've got to say!"