Chapter XVI. Telegraph Orders

There was confusion aboard the airship. Tom, hearing Ned's cry, left his camera, to rush to the engine room, but not before he had set the picture apparatus to working automatically. Mr. Damon, Mr. Nestor and Koku, alarmed by Ned's cries, ran back from the forward part of the craft, where they had been watching the mighty mass of ice and earth as it rushed down the side of the mountain.

"What's wrong, Ned?" cried Tom excitedly.

"I don't know! The propellers have stopped! We were running as an aeroplane you know. Now we're going down!"

"Bless my suspenders!" shouted Mr. Damon. "If we land in the midst of that conglomeration of ice it will be the end of us."

"But we're not going to land there!" cried Tom.

How are you going to stop it?" demanded Mr. Nestor.

"By the gas machine!" answered Tom. "That will stop us from falling. Start it up, Ned!"

"That's right! I always forget about that! I'll have it going in a second!"

"Less than a second," called Tom, as he saw how near to the mighty, rushing avalanche they were coming.

Ned worked rapidly, and in a very short time the downward course of the airship was checked. It floated easily above the rushing flood of ice and earth, and Tom, seeing that his craft, and those on it, were safe, hurried back to his camera. Meanwhile the machine had automatically been taking pictures, but now with the young inventor to manage it, better results would be obtained.

Tom aimed it here and there, at the most spectacular parts of the avalanche. The others gathered around him, after Ned had made an inspection, and found that a broken electrical wire had caused the propellers to stop. This was soon repaired and then, as they were hanging in the air like a balloon, Tom took picture after picture of the wonderful sight below them. Forest after forest was demolished.

"This will be a great film!" Tom shouted to Ned, as the latter informed him that the machinery was all right again. "Send me up a little. I want to get a view from the top, looking down."

His chum made the necessary adjustments to the mechanism and then, there being nothing more to slide down the mountainside the avalanche was ended. But what a mass of wreck and ruin there was! It was as if a mighty earthquake had torn the mountain asunder.

"It's a good thing it wasn't on a side of the mountain where people lived," commented Ned, as the airship rose high toward the clouds. "If it had been, there'd be nothing left of 'em. What hair-raising stunt are you going to try next, Tom?"

"I don't know. I expect to hear from Mr. Period soon.

"Hear from Mr. Period?" exclaimed Mr. Nestor. "How are you going to do that, Tom?"

"He said he would telegraph me at Berne, Switzerland, at a certain date, as he knew I was coming to the Alps to try for some avalanche pictures. It's two or three days yet, before I can expect the telegram, which of course will have to come part way by cable. In the meanwhile, I think we'll take a little rest, and a vacation. I want to give the airship an overhauling, and look to my camera. There's no telling what Mr. Period may want next."

"Then he didn't make out your programme completely before you started?" asked Mr. Nestor.

"No, he said he'd communicate with me from time to time. He is in touch with what is going on in the world, you know, and if he hears of anything exciting at any place, I'm to go there at once. You see he wants the most sensational films he can get."

"Yes, our company is out to give the best pictures we can secure," spoke Mary's father, "and I think we are lucky to have Tom Swift working for us. We already have films that no other concern can get. And we need them."

"I wonder what became of those men who started to make so much trouble for you, Tom?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Well, they seem to have disappeared," replied our hero. "Of course they may be after me any day now, but for the time being, I've thrown them off my track."

"So then you don't know where you're going next?" asked Ned.

"No, it may be to Japan, or to the North Pole. Well, I'm ready for anything. We've got plenty of gasolene, and the Flyer can certainly go," said Tom.

They went down to earth in a quiet spot, just outside of a little village, and there they remained three days, to the no small wonder of the inhabitants. Tom wanted to see if his camera was working properly. So he developed some of the avalanche pictures, and found them excellent. The rest of the time was spent in making some needed repairs to the airship, while the young inventor overhauled his Wizard machine, that he found needed a few adjustments.

Their arrival in Berne created quite a sensation, but they were used to that. Tom anchored his airship just outside the city, and, accompanied by Ned, made his way to the telegraph office. Some of the officials there could speak English, though not very well.

"I am expecting a message," said Tom.

"Yes? Who for?" asked the clerk.

"Tom Swift. It will be from America."

As Tom said this he observed a man sitting in the corner of the office get up hurriedly and go out. All at once his suspicions were aroused. He thought of the attempts that had been made to get his Wizard Camera away from him.

"Who was that man?" he quickly asked the agent.

"Him? Oh, he, too, is expecting a message from America. He has been here some time."

"Why did he go out so quickly?" Ned wanted to know.

"Why, I can not tell. He is an Englishman. They do strange things."

"My telegram? Is it here?" asked Tom impatiently. He wanted to get whatever word there was from Mr. Period, and be on his way to whatever destination the picture man might select. Perhaps, after all, his suspicions, against the man who had so suddenly left, were unfounded.

"Yes, there is a cablegram here for you, Monsieur Swift," said the man, who was French. "There are charges on it, however."

"Pay 'em, Ned, while I see what this is," directed the young inventor, as he tore open the envelope.

"Whew!" he whistled a moment later. "This is going some."

"Where to now?" asked Ned. "The North Pole?"

"No, just the opposite. Mr. Period wants me to go to Africa-- the Congo Free State. There's an uprising among the natives there, and he wants some war pictures. Well, I guess I'll have to go."

As Tom spoke he looked toward the door of the telegraph office, and he saw the man, who had so hurriedly gone out a few moments before, looking in at him.