Chapter VI. Trying the Camera
 

"Well, what do you think of that?" cried Ned, as his chum finished.

"It certainly isn't very pleasant," replied Tom. "I wonder why those chaps can't let me alone? Why don't they invent cameras of their own? Why are they always trying to get my secret inventions?"

"I suppose they can't do things for themselves," answered Ned. "And then, again, your machinery always works, Tom, and some that your rivals make, doesn't."

"Well, maybe that's it," admitted our hero, as he put away the letter. "I will be on the watch, just as I have been before. I've got the burglar alarm wires adjusted on the shop now, and when these rival moving picture men come after me they'll get a short answer."

For several days nothing happened, and Tom and Ned worked hard on the Wizard Camera. It was nearing completion, and they were planning, soon, to give it a test, when, one afternoon, two strangers, in a powerful automobile, came to the Swift homestead. They inquired for Tom, and, as he was out in the shop, with Ned and Koku, and as he often received visitors out there, Mrs. Baggert sent out the two men, who left their car in front of the house.

As usual, Tom had the inner door to his shop locked, and when Koku brought in a message that two strangers would like to see the young inventor, Tom remarked:

"I guess it's the rival picture men, Ned. We'll see what they have to say."

"Which of you is Tom Swift?" asked the elder of the two men, as Tom and Ned entered the front office, for our hero knew better than to admit the strangers to the shop.

"I am," replied Tom.

"Well, we're men of business," went on the speaker, "and there is no use beating about the bush. I am Mr. Wilson Turbot, and this is my partner, Mr. William Eckert. We are in the business of making moving picture films, and I understand that you are associated with Mr. Period in this line. 'Spotty' we call him."

"Yes, I am doing some work for Mr. Period," admitted Tom, cautiously.

"Have you done any yet?"

"No, but I expect to."

"What kind of a camera are you going to use?" asked Mr. Eckert eagerly.

"I must decline to answer that," replied Tom, a bit stiffly.

"Oh, that's all right," spoke Mr. Turbot, good naturedly. "Only 'Spotty' was bragging that you were making a new kind of film for him, and we wondered if it was on the market."

"We are always looking for improvements," added Mr. Eckert.

"This camera isn't on the market," replied Tom, on his guard as to how he answered.

The two men whispered together for a moment, and then Mr. Turbot said:

"Well, as I remarked, we're men of business, and there's no use beating about the bush. We've heard of you, Tom Swift, and we know you can do things. Usually, in this world, every man has his price, and we're willing to pay big to get what we want. I don't know what offer Mr. Period made to you, but I'll say this: We'll give you double what he offered, for the exclusive rights to your camera, whenever it's on the market, and we'll pay you a handsome salary to work for us."

"I'm sorry, but I can't consider the offer," replied Tom firmly. "I have given my word to Mr. Period. I have a contract with him, and I cannot break it."

"Offer him three times what Period did," said Mr. Eckert, in a hoarse whisper that Tom heard.

"It would be useless!" exclaimed our hero. "I wouldn't go back on my word for a hundred times the price I am to get. I am not in this business so much for the money, as I am for the pleasure of it."

The men were silent a moment. There were ugly looks on their faces. They looked sharply at Tom and Ned. Then Mr. Eckert said:

"You'll regret this, Tom Swift. We are the biggest firm of moving picture promoters in the world. We always get what we want."

"You won't get my camera," replied Tom calmly.

"I don't know about that!" exclaimed Mr. Turbot, as he made a hasty stride toward Tom, who stood in front of the door leading to the shop--the shop where his camera, almost ready for use, was on a bench. "I guess if we--"

"Koku!" suddenly called Tom.

The giant stepped into the front office. He had been standing near the door, inside the main shop. Mr. Turbot who had stretched forth his hand, as though to seize Tom, and his companion, who had advanced toward Ned, fairly jumped back in fright at the sight of the big man.

"Koku," went on Tom, in even tones, "just show these gentlemen to the front door--and lock it after them," he added significantly, as he turned back into the shop, followed by Ned.

"Yes, Mr. Tom," answered the giant, and then, with his big hand, and brawny fist, he gently turned the two men toward the outer door. They were gasping in surprise as they looked at the giant.

"You'll be sorry for this, Tom Swift!" exclaimed Mr. Turbot. "You'll regret not having taken our offer. This Period chat is only a small dealer. We can do better by you. You'll regret--"

"You'll regret coming here again," snapped Tom, as he closed the door of his shop, leaving Koku to escort the baffled plotters to their auto. Shortly afterward Tom and Ned heard the car puffing away.

"Well, they came, just as Mr. Period said they would," spoke Tom, slowly.

"Yes, and they went away again!" exclaimed Ned with a laugh. "They had their trip for nothing. Say, did you see how they stared at Koku?"

"Yes, he's a helper worth having, in cases like these."

Tom wrote a full account of what had happened and sent it to Mr. Period. He received in reply a few words, thanking him for his loyalty, and again warning him to be on his guard.

In the meanwhile, work went on rapidly on the Wizard Camera. Briefly described it was a small square box, with a lens projecting from it. Inside, however, was complicated machinery, much too complicated for me to describe. Tom Swift had put in his best work on this wonderful machine. As I have said, it could be worked by a storage battery, by ordinary electric current from a dynamo, or by hand. On top was a new kind of electric light. This was small and compact, but it threw out powerful beams. With the automatic arrangement set, and the light turned on, the camera could be left at a certain place after dark, and whatever went on in front of it would be reproduced on the moving roll of film inside.

In the morning the film could be taken out, developed, and the pictures thrown on a screen in the usual way, familiar to all who have been in a moving picture theatre. With the reproducing machines Tom had nothing to do, as they were already perfected. His task had been to make the new-style camera, and it was nearly completed.

A number of rolls of films could be packed into the camera, and they could be taken out, or inserted, in daylight. Of course after one film had been made, showing any particular scene any number of films could be made from this "master" one. Just as is done with the ordinary moving picture camera. Tom had an attachment to show when one roll was used, and when another needed inserting.

For some time after the visit of the rival moving picture men, Tom was on his guard. Both house and shop were fitted with burglar alarms, but they did not ring. Eradicate and Koku were told to be on watch, but there was nothing for them to do.

"Well," remarked Tom to Ned, one afternoon, when they had both worked hard, "I think it's about finished. Of course it needs polishing, and there may be some adjusting to do, but my camera is now ready to take pictures--at least I'm going to give it a test."

"Have you the rolls of films?"

"Yes, half a dozen of 'em And I'm going to try the hardest test first."

"Which one is that?"

"The night test. I'm going to place the camera out in the yard, facing my shop. Then you and I, and some of the others, will go out, pass in front of it, do various stunts, and, in the morning we'll develop the films and see what we have."

"Why, are you going to leave the camera out, all night?"

"Sure. I'm going to give it the hardest kind of a test."

"But are you and I going to stay up all night to do stunts in front of it?"

"No, indeed. I'm going to let it take what ever pictures happen to come along to be taken after we get through making some special early ones. You see my camera will be a sort of watch dog, only of course it won't catch any one--that is, only their images will be caught on the film.

"Oh, I see," exclaimed Ned, and then he helped Tom fix the machine for the test.