Chapter Twenty-Two. Off to the Meet
 

Softly Tom tiptoed into the room where his father lay. At the bedside were the three doctors, and the nurse followed the young inventor in. Mrs. Baggert stood in the hall, and near her was Garret Jackson. The aged housekeeper had been weeping, but she smiled at Tom through her tears.

"I think he's going to get well," she whispered. She always looked on the bright side of things. Tom's heart felt better.

"You must only speak a few words to him," cautioned the specialist, who had performed such a rare and delicate operation, near the heart of the invalid. "He is very weak, Tom."

Mr. Swift opened his eyes as his son approached. He looked around feebly.

"Tom--are you there?" he asked in a whisper.

"Yes, dad," was the eager answer

"They tell me you--you made a great trip to get Dr. Hendrix--broken bridge--came through the air with him. Is that right?"

"Yes, dad. But don't tire yourself. You must get well and strong."

"I will, Tom. But tell me; did you go in--in the Humming-Bird?"

"Yes, dad."

"How did she work?"

"Fine. Over a hundred, and the motor wasn't at its best."

"That's good. Then you can go in the big race, and win."

"No, I don't believe I'll go, dad."

"Why not?" Mr. Swift spoke mort strongly

"I--because--well, I don't want to."

"Nonsense, Tom! I know; it's on my account. I know it is. But listen to me. I want you to go in! I want you to win that race! Never mind about me. I'm going to get well, and I'll recover all the more quickly if you win that race. Now promise me you'll go in it and--and--win!"

The invalid's strength was fast leaving him.

"I--I---," began Tom.

"Promise!" insisted the aged inventor, trying to rise. Dr. Hendrix made a hasty move toward the bed.

"Promise!" whispered the surgeon to Tom.

"I--I promise!" exclaimed Tom, and the aged inventor sank back with a smile of satisfaction on his pale face.

"Now you must go," said Dr. Gladby to Tom. "He has talked long enough. He must sleep now, and get up his strength."

"Will he get better?" asked Tom, anxiously.

"We can't say for sure," was the answer. "We have great hopes."

"I don't want to enter the race unless I know he is going to live," went on Tom, as Dr. Gladby followed him out of the room.

"No one can say for a certainty that he will recover," spoke the physician. "You will have to hope for the best, that is all, Tom. If I were you I'd go in the race. It will occupy your mind, and if you could send good news to your father it might help him in the fight for life he is making."

"But suppose--suppose something happens while I am away?" suggested the young inventor.

The doctor thought for a moment. Then he exclaimed:

"You have a wireless outfit on your craft; haven't you?"

"Yes."

"Then you can receive messages from here every hour if you wish. Garret Jackson, your engineer, can send them, and you can pick them up in mid-air if need be."

"So I can!" cried Tom. "I will go to the meet. I'll take the Humming-Bird apart at once, and ship it to Eagle Park. Unless Dr. Hendrix wants to go back in it," he added as an after thought.

"No," spoke Dr. Gladby, "Dr. Hendrix is going to remain here for a few days, in case of an emergency. By that time the bridge will have been repaired, and he can go back by train. I gather, from what he said, that though he liked the air trip, he will not care for another one."

"Very well," assented Tom, and Mr. Damon and he were kept busy, packing the Humming-Bird for shipment. Mr. Jackson helped them, and Eradicate and his mule Boomerang were called on occasionally when boxes or crates were to be taken to the railroad station.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Swift, if he did not improve any, at least held his own. This the doctors said was a sign of hope, and, though Tom was filled with anxiety, he tried to think that fate would be kind to him, and that his father would recover. Dr. Hendrix left, saying there was nothing more he could do, and that the rest depended on the local physicians, and on the nurse.

"Und ve vill do our duty!" ponderously exclaimed Dr. Kurtz. "You go off to dot bird race, Dom, und doan't vorry. Ve vill send der with-out-vire messages to you venever dere is anyt'ing to report. Go mit a light heart!"

How Tom wished he could, but it was out of the question. The last of the parts of the Humming-Bird had been sent away, and our hero forwarded a telegram to Mr. Sharp, of the arrangement committee, stating that he and Mr. Damon would soon follow. Then, having bidden his father a fond farewell, and after arranging with Mr. Jackson to send frequent wireless messages, Tom and the eccentric man left for the meet.

There was a wireless station at Eagle Park, and Tom had planned to receive the messages from home there until he could set up his own plant. He would have two outfits. One in the big tent where the Humming-Bird was to be put together, and another on the machine itself, so that when in the air, practicing, or even in the great race itself, there would be no break in the news that was to be flashed through space.

Tom and Mr. Damon arrived at Eagle Park on time, and Tom's first inquiry was for a message from home. There was one, Stating that Mr. Swift was fairly comfortable, and seemed to be doing well. With happiness in his heart, the young inventor then set about getting the parts of his craft from the station to the park, where he and Mr. Damon, with a trusty machinist whom Mr. Sharp had recommended, would assemble it. Tom arranged that in his absence the wireless operator on the grounds would take any message that came for him.

The Humming-Bird, in the big cases and boxes, had safely arrived, and these were soon in the tent which had been assigned to Tom. It was still several days until the opening of the meet, and the grounds presented a scene of confusion.

Workmen were putting up grand stands, tents and sheds were being erected, exhibitors were getting their machines in shape, and excited contestants of many nationalities were hurrying to and fro, inquiring about parts delayed in shipment, or worrying lest some of their pet ideas be stolen.

Tom and Mr. Damon, with Frank Forker, the young machinist, were soon busy in their big tent, which was a combined workshop and living quarters, for Tom had determined to stay right on the ground until the big race was over.

"I don't see anything of Andy Foger," remarked Mr. Damon, on the second day of their residence in the park. "There are lots of new entries arriving, but he doesn't seem to be on hand."

"There's time enough," replied Tom. "I am afraid he's hanging back until the last minute, and will spring his machine so late that I won't have time to lodge a protest. It would be just like him."

"Well, I'll be on the lookout for him. Have you heard from home to-day, Tom?"

"No. I'm expecting a message any minute." The young inventor glanced toward the wireless apparatus which had been set up in the tent. At that moment there came the peculiar sound which indicated a message coming through space, and down the receiving wires. "There's something now!" exclaimed Tom, as he hurried over and clamped the telephone receiver to his ear. He listened a moment.

"Good news!" he exclaimed. "Dad sat up a little to-day! I guess he's going to get well!" and he clicked back congratulations to his father and the others in Shopton.

Another day saw the Humming-Bird almost in shape again, and Tom was preparing for a tryout of the engine.

Mr. Damon had gone over to the committee headquarters to consult with Mr. Sharp about the steps necessary for Tom to take in case Andy did attempt to enter a craft that infringed on the ideas of the young inventor, and on his way back he saw a newly-erected tent. There was a young man standing in the entrance, at the sight of whom the eccentric man murmured:

"Bless my skate-strap! His face looks very familiar!"

The youth disappeared inside the tent suddenly, and, as Mr. Damon came opposite the canvas shelter, he started in surprise.

For, on a strip of muslin which was across the tent, painted in gay colors, were the words:

THE FOGER AEROPLANE

"Bless my elevation rudder!" cried Mr. Damon. "Andy's here at last! I must tell Tom!"