Chapter Three. Mr. Berg is Astonished

Following his father and the stranger whom the aged inventor had addressed as Mr. Berg, Tom and Mr. Sharp entered the house, the lad having first made sure that Garret Jackson was on guard in the shop that contained the sub marine.

"Now," said Mr. Swift to the newcomer, "I am at your service. What is it you wish?"

"In the first place, let me apologize for having startled you and your friends," began the man. "I had no idea of sneaking into your workshop, but I had just arrived here, and seeing the doors open I went in. I heard no one about, and I wandered to the back of the place. There I happened to stumble over a board--"

"And I heard you," interrupted Tom.

"Is this one of your employees?" asked Mr. Berg in rather frigid tones.

"That is my son," replied Mr. Swift.

"Oh, I beg your pardon." The man's manner changed quickly. "Well, I guess you did hear me, young man. I didn't intend to hark my shins the way I did, either. You must have taken me for a burglar or a sneak thief."

"I have been very much bothered by a gang of unscrupulous men," said Mr. Swift, "and I suppose Tom thought it was some of them sneaking around again."

"That's what I did," added the lad. "I wasn't going to have any one steal the secret of the submarine if I could help it."

"Quite right! Quite right!" exclaimed Mr. Berg. "But my purpose was an open one. As you know, Mr. Swift, I represent the firm of Bentley & Eagert, builders of submarine boats and torpedoes. They heard that you were constructing a craft to take part in the competitive prize tests of the United States Government, and they asked me to come and see you to learn when your ship would be ready. Ours is completed, but we recognize that it will be for the best interests of all concerned if there are a number of contestants, and my firm did not want to send in their entry until they knew that you were about finished with your ship. How about it? Are you ready to compete?"

"Yes," said Mr. Swift slowly. "We are about ready. My craft needs a few finishing touches, and then it will be ready to launch."

"Then we may expect a good contest on your part," suggested Mr. Berg.

"Well," began the aged inventor, "I don't know about that."

"What's that?" exclaimed Mr. Berg.

"I said I wasn't quite sure that we would compete," went on Mr. Swift. "You see, when I first got this idea for a submarine boat I had it in mind to try for the Government prize of fifty thousand dollars."

"That's what we want, too," interrupted Mr. Berg with a smile.

"But," went on Tom's father, "since then certain matters have come up, and I think, on the whole, that we'll not compete for the prize after all."

"Not compete for the prize?" almost shouted the agent for Bentley & Eagert. "Why, the idea! You ought to compete. It is good for the trade. We think we have a very fine craft, and probably we would beat you in the tests, but--"

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," put in Tom. "You have only seen the outside of our boat. The inside is better yet."

"Ah, I have no doubt of that," spoke Mr. Berg, "but we have been at the business longer than you have, and have had more experience. Still we welcome competition. But I am very much surprised that you are not going to compete for the prize, Mr. Swift. Very much surprised, indeed! You see, I came down from Philadelphia to arrange so that we could both enter our ships at the same time. I understand there is another firm of submarine boat builders who are going to try for the prize, and I want to arrange a date that will he satisfactory to all. I am greatly astonished that you are not going to compete."

"Well, we were going to," said Mr. Swift, "only we have changed our minds, that's all. My son and I have other plans."

"May I ask what they are?" questioned Mr. Berg.

"You may," exclaimed Tom quickly; "but I don't believe we can tell you. They're a secret," he added more cordially.

"Oh, I see," retorted Mr. Berg. "Well, of course I don't wish to penetrate any of your secrets, but I hoped we could contest together for the Government prize. It is worth trying for I assure you--fifty thousand dollars. Besides, there is the possibility of selling a number of submarines to the United States. It's a fine prize."

"But the one we are after is a bigger one," Cried Tom impetuously, and the moment he had spoken the wished he could recall the words.

"Eh? What's that?" exclaimed Mr. Berg. "You don't mean to say another government has offered a larger prize? If I had known that I would not have let my firm enter into the competition for the bonus offered by the United States. Please tell me."

"I'm sorry," went on Tom more soberly. "I shouldn't have spoken. Mr. Berg, the plans of my father and myself are such that we can't reveal them now. We are going to try for a prize, but not in competition with you. It's an entirely different matter."

"Well, I guess you'll find that the firm of Bentley & Eagert are capable of trying for any prizes that are offered," boasted the agent. "We may be competitors yet."

"I don't believe so," replied Mr. Swift

"We may," repeated Mr. Berg. "And if we do, please remember that we will show no mercy. Our boats are the best."

"And may the best boat win," interjected Mr. Sharp. "That's all we ask. A fair field and no favors."

"Of course," spoke the agent coldly. "Is this another son of yours?" he asked.

"No but a good friend," replied the aged inventor. "No, Mr. Berg, we won't compete this time. You may tell your firm so."

"Very good," was the other's stiff reply. "Then I will bid you good night. We shall carry off the Government prize, but permit me to add that I am very much astonished, very much indeed, that you do not try for the prize. From what I have seen of your submarine you have a very good one, almost as good, in some respects, as ours. I bid you good night," and with a bow the man left the room and hurried away from the house.