Chapter IV. Held Fast
 

"Here, Tom! Come back! Where are you going?" cried aged Mr. Swift, as his son started toward the window.

"I'm going to see what's up, and who it is that Koku is chasing," replied the young inventor.

As he spoke he opened the window, which went all the way down to the floor. He stepped out on a small balcony, put his hand on the railing, and was about to leap over. Back of him was his father, Mr. Period and Ned.

"Come back! You may get hurt!" urged Mr. Swift. He had aged rapidly in the last few months, and had been obliged to give up most of his inventive work. Naturally, he was very nervous about his son.

"Don't worry, dad; replied the youth. "I'm not in much danger when Koku is around."

"That's right, agreed the moving picture man. "I'd sooner have that giant look after me than half a dozen policemen."

The noise had now grown fainter, but the sound of the pursuit could still be heard. Koku was shouting in his hearty tones, and there was the noise of breaking twigs as the chase wound in and out of the garden shrubbery.

Tom paused a moment, to let his eyes get somewhat used to the darkness. There was a crescent moon, that gave a little light, and the snow on the ground made it possible to notice objects fairly well.

"See anything?" asked Ned, as he joined his chum on the balcony.

"No, but I'm going to have a closer look. Here goes!" and Tom leaped to the ground.

"I'm with you," added Ned, as he followed.

Then came another voice, shouting:

"Dat's de way! Catch him! I'se comm', I is! Ef we gits him we'll tie him up, an' let Boomerang walk on him!"

"Here comes Eradicate," announced Tom, with a look back toward his chum, and a moment later the aged colored man, who had evidently started on the chase with Koku, but who had been left far behind, swung totteringly around the corner of the house.

"Did ye cotch him, Massa Tom?" asked Eradicate. "Did ye cotch de raskil?"

"Not yet, Rad. But Koku is after him. Who was he, and what did he do?"

"Didn't do nuffin yit, Massa Tom, 'case as how he didn't git no chance," replied the colored man, as he hurried along as rapidly as he could beside the two youths. "Koku and I was too quick for him. Koku an' me was a-sittin' in my shack, sort of talkin' togedder, when we hears a racket neah de chicken house. I'se mighty partial t' de chickens, an' I didn't want nobody t' 'sturb 'em. Koku was jes' de same, an' when we hears dat noise, up we jumps, an' gits t' chasm.' He runned dis way, an' us was arter him, but land lub yo', ole Eradicate ain't so spry as he uster be an' Koku an' de chicken thief got ahead ob me. Leastwise he ain't no chicken thief yit, 'case as how he didn't git in de coop, but he meant t' be one, jes' de same."

"Are you sure he was after the chickens?" asked Tom, with quick suspicion in his mind, for, several times of late, unscrupulous persons had tried to enter his shop, to get knowledge of his valuable inventions before they were patented.

"Course he were arter de chickens," replied Eradicate. "But he didn't git none."

"Come on, Ned!" cried Tom, breaking into a run. "I want to catch whoever this was. Did you see him, Rad?"

"Only jes' had a glimpse ob his back."

"Well, you go back to the house and tell father and Mr. Period about it. Ned and I will go on with Koku. I hope to get the fellow."

"Why, Tom?" asked his chum.

"Because I think he was after bigger game than chickens. My noiseless motor, for the new airship, is nearly complete, and it may have been some one trying to get that. I received an offer from a concern the other day, who wished to purchase it, and, when I refused to sell, they seemed rather put out."

The two lads raced on, while Eradicate tottered back to the house, where he found Mr. Swift and the picture man awaiting him.

"I guess he got away," remarked Ned, after he and his chum had covered nearly the length of the big garden.

"I'm afraid so," agreed Tom. "I can't hear Koku any more. Still, I'm not going to give up."

Pantingly they ran on, and, a little later, they met the big man coming back.

"Did he get away?" asked Tom.

"Yes, Mr. Tom, he scaped me all right."

"Escaped you mean, Koku. Well, never mind. You did your best."

"I would like to have hold of him," spoke the giant, as he stretched out his big arms.

"Did you know who he was?" inquired Ned.

"No, I couldn't see his face," and he gave the same description of the affair as had Eradicate.

"Was it a full grown man, or some one about my size?" Tom wanted to know.

"A man," replied the giant.

"Why do you ask that?" inquired Ned, as the big fellow went on to resume his talk with Eradicate, and the two chums turned to go into the house, after the fruitless chase.

"Because, I thought it might be Andy Foger," was Tom's reply. "It would be just like him, but if it was a man, it couldn't be him. Andy's rather short."

"Besides, he doesn't live here any more," said Ned.

"I know, but I heard Sam Snedecker, who used to be pretty thick with him, saying the other day that he expected a visit from Andy. I hope he doesn't come back to Shopton, even for a day, for he always tries to make trouble for me. Well, let's go in, and tell 'em all about our chase after a chicken thief."

"And so he got away?" remarked Mr. Swift, when Tom had completed his story.

"Yes," answered the young inventor, as he closed, and locked, the low library window, for there was a chilly breeze blowing. "I think I will have to rig up the burglar alarm on my shop again. I don't want to take any chances."

"Do you remember what we were talking about, when that interruption came?" asked Mr. Period, after a pause. "You were saying, Tom, that you had made up your mind, and that was as far as you got. What is your answer to my offer?"

"Well," spoke the lad slowly, and with a smile, "I think I will--"

"Now don't say 'no'"; interrupted the picture man. "If you are going to say 'no' take five minutes more, or even ten, and think it over carefully. I want you--"

"I wasn't going to say 'no,'" replied Tom. "I have decided to accept your offer, and I'll get right at work on the electrical camera, and see what I can do in the way of getting moving pictures for you."

"You will? Say, that's great! That's fine! I knew you would accept, but I was the least bit afraid you might not, without more urging."

"Of course," began Tom, "it will take--"

"Not another word. Just wait a minute," interrupted Mr. Period in his breezy fashion. "Take this."

He quickly filled out a check and handed it to Tom.

"Now sign this contract, which merely says that you will do your best to get pictures for me, and that you won't do it for any other concern, and everything will be all right. Sign there," he added, pointing to a dotted line, and thrusting a fountain pen into Tom's hand. The lad read over the agreement, which was fair enough, and signed it, and Ned affixed his name as a witness.

"Now when can you go?" asked Mr. Period eagerly.

"Not before Spring, I'm afraid," replied Torn. "I have first to make the camera, and then my airship needs overhauling if I am to go on such long trips as will be necessary in case I am to get views of wild beasts in the jungle."

"Well, make it as soon as you can," begged Mr. Period. "I can have the films early next Fall then, and they will be in season for the Winter runs at the theatres. Now, I'm the busiest man in the world, and I believe I have lost five hundred dollars by coming here to-night. Still, I don't regret it. I'm going back now, and I'll expect to hear from you when you are ready to start. There's my address. Good-bye," and thrusting a card into Tom's hand he hurried out of the room.

"Won't you stop all night?" called Mr. Swift after him.

"Sorry. I'd like to but can't. Got a big contract I must close in New York to-morrow morning. I've ordered a special train to be at the Shopton station in half an hour, and I must catch that. Good night!" and Mr. Period hurried away.

"Say, he's a hustler all right!" exclaimed Ned.

"Yes, and I've got to hustle if I invent that camera," added Tom. "It's got to be a specially fast one, and one that can take pictures from a long distance. Electricity is the thing to use, I guess."

"Then you are really going off on this trip. Tom?" asked his father, rather wistfully.

"I'm afraid I am," replied his son. "I thought I could stay at home for a while, but it seems not."

"I was in hopes you could give me a little time to help me on my gyroscope invention," went on the aged man. "But I suppose it will keep until you come back. It is nearly finished."

"Yes, and I don't like stopping work on my noiseless motor," spoke Tom. "But that will have to wait, too."

"Do you know where you are going?" inquired Ned.

"Well, I'll have to do considerable traveling I suppose to get all the films he wants. But once I'm started I'll like it I guess. Of course you're coming, Ned."

"I hope so."

"Of course you are!" insisted Tom, as if that settled it. "And I'm sure Mr. Damon will go also. I haven't seen him in some time. I hope he isn't ill."

Tom started work on his Wizard Camera, as he called it, the next day--that is he began drawing the designs, and planning how to construct it. Ned helped him, and Koku was on hand in case he was needed, but there was little he could do, as yet. Tom made an inspection of his shop the morning after the chicken thief scare, but nothing seemed to have been disturbed.

A week passed, and Tom had all the plans drawn for the camera. He had made several experiments with different forms of electricity for operating the mechanism, and had decided on a small, but very powerful, storage battery to move the film, and take the pictures.

This storage battery, which would be inside the camera, would operate it automatically. That is, the camera could be set up any place, in the jungle, or on the desert, it could be left alone, and would take pictures without any one being near it. Tom planned to have it operate at a certain set time, and stop at a certain time, and he could set the dials to make this time any moment of the day or night. For there was to be a powerful light in connection with the camera, in order that night views might be taken. Besides being automatic the camera could be worked by hand.

When it was not necessary to have the camera operate by the storage battery, it could be connected to wires and worked by an ordinary set of batteries, or by a dynamo. This was for use on the airship, where there was a big electrical machine. I shall tell you more about the camera as the story proceeds.

One afternoon Tom was alone in the shop, for he had sent Koku on an errand, and Eradicate was off in a distant part of the grounds, doing some whitewashing, which was his specialty. Ned had not come over, and Mr. Swift, having gone to see some friends, and Mrs. Baggert being at the store, Tom, at this particular time, was rather isolated.

He was conducting some delicate electrical experiments, and to keep the measuring instruments steady he had closed all the windows and doors of his shop. The young inventor was working at a bench in one corner, and near him, standing upright, was a heavy shaft of iron, part of his submarine, wrapped in burlap, and padded, to keep it from rusting.

"Now," said Tom to himself, as he mixed two kinds of acid in a jar, to produce a new sort of electrical current, "I will see if this is any better than the first way in which I did it."

He was careful about pouring out the powerful stuff, but, in spite of this, he spilled a drop on his finger. It burned like fire, and, instinctively, he jerked his hand back.

The next instant there was a series of happenings. Tom's elbow came in contact with another jar of acid, knocking it over, and spilling it into the retort where he had been mixing the first two liquids. There was a hissing sound, as the acids combined, and a thick, white vapor arose, puffing into Tom's face, and making him gasp.

He staggered back, brushed against the heavy iron shaft in the corner, and it fell sideways against him, knocking him to the floor, and dropping across his thighs. The padding on it saved him from broken bones, but the shaft was so heavy, that after it was on him, Tom could not move. He was held fast on the floor of his shop, unable to use his legs, and prevented from getting up.

For a moment Tom was stunned, and then he called:

"Help! Help! Eradicate! Koku! Help!"

He waited a moment, but there was only a silence.

And then Tom smelled a strange odor--an odor of a choking gas that seemed to smother him.

"It's the acids!" he cried. "They're generating gas! And I'm held fast here! The place is closed up tight, and I can't move! Help! Help!"

But there was no one at hand to aid Tom, and every moment the fumes of the gas became stronger. Desperately the youth struggled to rid himself of the weight of the shaft, but he could not. And then he felt his senses leaving him, for the powerful gas was making him unconscious.