Chapter Twenty-Five. Home Again--Conclusion
 

Mr. Sharp pushed his way through the crowd.

"The committee has the certified check ready for you, Tom," called the balloonist. "Will you come and get it?"

"Send it to me, please," answered the young inventor. "I must go to my father."

"Huh! I'd have beaten him in another round," boasted Andy Foger. No one paid any attention to him.

"Monsieur ezz plucky!" said the Frenchman, Perique. "I am honaired to shake his hand! He has broken all ze records!"

"Dot's der best machine I effer saw," spoke the Dutchman, De Tromp, ponderously. "Shake hands!"

"Ver' fine, ver' good!" came from the little Japanese, and all the contestants congratulated Tom warmly. Never before had a hundred miles been covered so speedily.

A man elbowed his way through the press of people.

"Is your machine fully protected by patents?" he inquired earnestly.

"It is," said Tom.

"Then, as a representative of the United States Government, I would like an option to purchase the exclusive right to use them," said the man. "Can you guarantee that no one else has any plans of them? It will mean a fortune to you."

Tom hesitated. He thought of the stolen plans. If he could only get possession of them! He glanced at Andy Foger, who was wheeling his machine hack into the tent. But there was no time now to have it out with the bully.

"I will see you again," said Tom to the government agent. "I must go to my father, who is dying. I can't answer you now."

The tanks were filled. Tom gave a hasty look to his machine, and, bidding his new friends fairwell, he and Mr. Damon took their places aboard the Humming-Bird. The little craft rose in the air, and soon they had left Eagle Park far behind. Eagerly Tom strained his eyes for a sight of his home town, though he knew it would be several hours ere he could hover over it.

Would he be in time? Would he be in time? That question came to him again and again.

For a time the Humming-Bird skimmed along as though she delighted in the rapid motion, in slipping through the air and sliding along on the billows of wind. Tom, with critical ears, listened to the hum of the motor, the puffing of the exhaust, the grinding of the gear wheels, and the clicking of the trips, as valve after valve opened or closed to admit the mixture of air and gasoline, or closed to give the compression necessary for the proper explosion.

"Is she working all right?" asked Mr. Damon, anxiously, and, such was the strain on him that he did not think to bless anything. "Is she all right, Tom, my lad?"

"I think so. I'm speeding her to the limit. Faster than I ever did before, but I guess she'll do. She was built to stand a strain, and she's got to do it now!"

Then there was silence again, as they slid along through the air like a coaster gliding down a steep descent.

"It was a great race, wasn't it?" asked Mr. Damon, as he shifted to an easier position in his seat. "A great race, Tom. I didn't think you'd do it, one spell there."

"Neither did I," came the answer, as the young inventor changed the spark lever. "But I made up my mind I wouldn't be beaten by Andy Foger, if I could help it. Though it was taking a risk to shut off the current the way I did."

"A risk?"

"Yes; it might not have started again," and Tom looked down at the earth below them, as if measuring the distance he would have fallen had not his sky racer kept on at the critical moment.

"And--and if the current hadn't come on again; eh, Tom? Would we--?"

Mr. Damon did not finish, but Tom knew what he meant.

"It would have been all up with us," he said simply. "I might have volplaned back to earth, but at the speed we were going, and at the height, around a curve, we might have turned turtle."

"Bless my--!" began Mr. Damon, and then he stopped. The thought of Tom's trouble came to him, and he realized that his words might grate on the feelings of his companion.

On they rushed through the air with the Humming-Bird speeded up faster and faster as she warmed to her task. The machinery seemed to be working perfectly, and as Tom listened to the hum a look of pleasure replaced the look of anxiety on his face.

"Don't you think we'll make it?" asked Mr. Damon, after another pause, during which they passed over a large city, the inhabitants exhibiting much excitement as they sighted the airship over their heads.

"We've got to make it!" declared Tom between his clenched teeth.

Ne turned on a little more gasoline, and there was a spurt in their speed which made Mr. Damon grasp the upright braces near him with firm hands, and his face became a little paler

"It's all right," spoke Tom, reassuringly. "There's no danger."

But Tom almost reckoned without his host, for a few moments later, as he was trying to get more revolutions out of the propellers, he ran into an adverse current of air.

In an instant the Humming-Bird was tilted up almost on her "beams' ends," so to speak, and had it not been that the young inventor quickly warped the wing tips, to counteract the pressure on one side, there might have been a different end to this story.

"Bless my----!" began Mr. Damon, but he got no further, for he had to bend his body as Tom did, to equalize the pressure of the wind current.

"A little farther over!" yelled the lad. "A little farther over this way, Mr. Damon!"

"But if I come any more toward you I'll be out of my seat!" objected the eccentric man.

"If you don't you'll be out of the aeroplane!" cried Tom grimly, and his companion leaned over as far as he could until the young pilot had brought the craft to an even keel again.

Then Tom speeded up the motor, which he had partly shut down as they passed through the danger zone, and again they were racing through space.

They were nearing Shopton now, as the lad and Mr. Damon could tell by the familiar landmarks which loomed up in sight. Tom strained his eyes for the first view of his home.

Suddenly, as they were skimming along, there came a cessation of the hum and roar that told of the perfectly- working motor. It was an ominous silence.

"What's--what's wrong?" gasped Mr. Damon.

"Something's given way," answered Tom quickly. "I'm afraid the magneto isn't sparking as it ought to."

"Well, can't we volplane hack to earth?" asked the odd man, for he had become familiar with this feat when anything happened to the motor.

"We could," answered Tom, "but I'm not going to."

"Why not?"

"Because we're too far from Shopton--and dad! I'm going to keep on. I've got to--if I want to be there in time!"

"But if the motor doesn't work?"

"I'll make her work!"

Tom was desperately manipulating the various levers and handles connected with the electrical ignition system. He tried in vain to get the magneto to resume the giving out of sparks, and, failing in that, he switched on the batteries. But, to his horror, the dry cells had given out. There was no way of getting a spark unless the little electrical machine would work.

The propellers were still whirring around by their own momentum, and if Tom could switch in the magneto in time all might yet be well.

They had started to fall, but, by quickly bringing up the head plane tips, Tom sent his craft soaring upward again on a bank of air.

"Here!" he cried to Mr. Damon. "Take the steering-wheel and kept her on this level as long as you can."

"What are you going to do?"

"I've got to fix that magneto!"

"But if she dips down?"

"Throw up the head planes as I did. It's our only chance! I can't go down now, so far from Shopton!"

Mr. Damon reached over and took the wheel from Tom's hands. Then the young inventor, leaning forward, for the magneto was within easy reach, looked to see what the trouble was. He found it quickly. A wire had vibrated loose from a binding-post. In a second Tom had it in place again; and, ere the propellers had ceased revolving, he had turned the switch. The magneto took up the work in a flash. Once more the spark exploded the gasoline mixture, and the propellers sent the Humming-Bird swiftly ahead.

"We'll make it now!" declared Tom grimly.

"We're almost there," added Mr. Damon, as he relinquished the wheel to the young pilot. The craft had gone down some, but Tom sent her up again.

Nearer and nearer home they came, until at last the spires of the Shopton churches loomed into view. Then he was over the village. Now he was within sight of his own house.

Tom coasted down a bank of air, and brought the Humming- Bird up with a jerk of the ground brakes. Before the wheels had ceased turning he had leaped out.

"It's Massa Tom!" cried Eradicate, as he saw Tom alight.

The young inventor hurried into the house. He was met by the nurse, who held up a warning finger. Tom's heart almost stopped beating. He was aware that Dr. Gladby came from the room where Mr. Swift lay.

"Is he--is he--am I too late?" gulped Tom.

"Hush!" cautioned the nurse.

Tom reeled, and would have fallen had not the doctor caught him, for the lad was weak and wornout.

"He is going to get well!" were the joyful words he heard, as if in a dream, and then his strength suddenly came back to him. "The crisis is just passed, Tom," went on Dr. Gladby, "and your father will recover, and be stronger than ever. Your good news of winning was like a tonic to him. Now let me congratulate you on the race." Tom had flashed by wireless a brief message of his success.

"Dad's news is better than all the congratulations in the world," he said softly, as he grasped the doctor's hand.

     *       *       *       *       *       *

It was a week later. Mr. Swift improved rapidly once the course of the disease was permanently checked, and he was soon able to sit up. Tom was with him in the room, talking of the great race, and how he had won. He fingered the certified check for ten thousand dollars that had just come to him by mail.

"You certainly did wonderfully well," said the aged inventor, softly. "Wonderfully well, Tom. I'm proud of you."

"You may well be," added Mr. Damon. "Bless my shoelaces, but I thought Andy Foger had us there one spell; didn't you, Tom?"

"Indeed I did. But you helped me win, Mr. Damon."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the odd man.

"Yes, you did. You helped me a lot."

"Well, are you going to keep after more air-prizes, Tom, or are you going to try for something else?" asked his father.

"I don't believe I'll go in any more aeroplane races right away," answered the young inventor. "For some time I've been wanting to complete and perfect my electric rifle. I think I'll begin work on that soon."

"And go hunting?" asked Mr. Damon.

"I think so," answered Tom, dreamily. "I don't know just where, though."

Where he went, and what he shot, will be told in the next volume of this series, to be called: "Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle; or, Daring Adventures in Elephant Land."

For a few moments after Tom's announcement no one spoke, then the young inventor said:

"It's too bad that first set of plans were stolen. If I had them I could make a good deal with the Government about my little aeroplane. But they don't want to take up with it as long as there is a chance of some foreign nation getting information about the secret parts, and my patents won't hold abroad. I wonder if there is any way of getting those plans away from Andy Foger? I don't understand why he hasn't used them before this. I thought sure he would make a craft like the Humming-Bird to race against me."

"What plans are those?" asked Mr. Swift.

"Why, don't you remember?" asked Tom. "The ones I showed you one day, in the library, when you fell asleep, and some one slipped in and stole them."

A curious look came over Mr. Swift's face. He passed his hand across his brow.

"I am beginning to remember something I have been trying to recall ever since I became ill," he said slowly. "It is coming back to me. Those plans--in the library--I fell asleep, but before I did so I hid those plans, Tom!"

"You hid those plans!" Tom fairly shouted the words.

"Yes, I remember feeling a drowsy feeling coming on, and I feared lest some one might see the drawings. I got up and put them under the window, in a little, hollow place in the foundation wall. Then I came back in through the window again, and went to sleep. Then, on account of my illness, just as I once before forgot something, and thought the minister had called, I lost all recollection of them. I hid those plans."

Tom leaped to his feet. He rushed to the place named by his father. Soon his triumphant shout told of his success. He came hurrying back into the house with a roll of papers in his hands.

And there were the long-missing plans! damp and stained by the weather, but all there. No enemy had them, and Tom's secret was safe.

"Now I can accept the Government offer!" he cried. And a few weeks later he made a most advantageous deal with the United States officials for his patents.

Dr. Gladby explained that Mr. Swift's queer action was due to his illness. He became liable to lapses of memory, and one happened just after he hid away the plans. Even the hiding of them was caused by the peculiar condition of his brain. He had opened the library window, slipped oat with the papers, and hastened in again, to fall asleep in his chair, during the short time Tom was gone.

"And Andy Foger never took them at all," remarked Mary Nestor, when Tom was telling her about it a few days afterward.

"No. I guess I must apologize to him." Which Tom did, but Andy did not receive it very graciously, especially as Tom accused him of trying to destroy the Humming-Bird.

Andy denied this and denied having anything to do with the mysterious fire, and, as there was no way to prove him guilty, Tom could not proceed against him. So the matter was dropped.

Mr. Swift continued to improve, and was soon himself again, and able to resume his inventive work. Tom received several offers to give exhibition flights at big aero meets, but refused, as he was busy on his new rifle. Mr. Damon helped him.

Andy Foger made several successful flights in his queer aeroplane, which turned out to be the product of a German genius who was supplied with money by Mr. Foger. Andy became very proud, and boasted that he and the German were going abroad to give flights in Europe.

"I'd be glad if he would," said Tom, when he heard of the plan. "He wouldn't bother me then."

With the money received from winning the big race, and from his contracts from the Government, Tom Swift was now in a fair way to become quite wealthy. He was destined to have many more adventures; yet, come what might, never would he forget the thrilling happenings that fell to his lot while flying for the ten-thousand dollar prize in his sky racer.