Chapter IX. Off for India
 

"Bless my hose reel!" cried Mr. Damon, as the airship took a quick lurch toward the earth. "Things are always happening to you, Tom Swift! Your shop on fire! How did it happen?"

"Look!" suddenly cried Ned, before Tom had a chance to answer. "There's a man running away from the shop, Tom!"

All saw him, and, as the airship rushed downward it could be seen that he was a fellow dressed in ragged garments, a veritable tramp.

"I guess that fire didn't happen," said Tom significantly. "It was deliberately set. Oh, if we can only get there before it gains too much headway!"

"I like to catch that fellow!" exclaimed Koku, shaking his big fist at the retreating tramp. "I fix him!"

On rushed the airship, and the man who had probably started the fire, glanced up at it. Tom suddenly turned the lens of his Wizard Camera toward him. The mechanism inside, which had been stopped, started clicking again, as the young inventor switched on the electric current.

"What are you doing?" cried Ned, as he guided the airship toward the shop, whence clouds of smoke were rolling.

"Taking his picture," replied Tom. "It may come in useful for evidence."

But he was not able to get many views of the fellow, for the latter must have suspected what was going on. He quickly made a dive for the bushes, and was soon lost to sight. Tom shut off his camera.

"Bless my life preserver!" cried Mr. Damon. "There comes your father, Tom, and Mrs. Baggert! They've got buckets! They're going to put out the fire!"

"Why don't they think to use the hose?" cried the young inventor, for he had his shop equipped With many hose lines, and an electrically driven pump. The hose! The hose, dad!" shouted Tom, but it is doubtful if his father or Mrs. Baggert heard him, for the engine of the airship was making much noise. However, the two with the buckets looked up, and waved their hands to those on the Flyer.

"There's Eradicate!" yelled Ned. "He's got the hose all right!" The colored man was beginning to unreel a line.

"That's what it needs!" exclaimed Tom. "Now there's some chance to save the shop."

"We'll be there ourselves to take a hand in a few seconds!" cried Mr. Damon, forgetting to bless anything.

"The scoundrel who started this fire, and those back of him, ought to be imprisoned for life!" declared Mr. Nestor.

A moment later Ned had landed the airship within a short distance of the shop. In an instant the occupants of the craft had leaped out, and Tom, after a hasty glance to see that his valuable camera was safe, dashed toward the building crying:

"Never mind the pails, dad! Use the hose! there's a nozzle at the back door. Go around there, and play the water on from that end."

Eradicate, with his line of hose, had disappeared into the shop through the front door, and the others pressed in after him, heedless of the dense smoke.

"Is it blazing much, Rad?" cried Tom.

"Can't see no blaze at all, Mass a Tom," replied the colored man. "Dere's a heap of suffin in de middle ob de flo', an' dat's what's raisin' all de rumpus."

They all saw it a moment later, a smoldering heap of rags and paper on the concrete floor of the shop. Eradicate turned his hose on it, there was a hissing sound, a cloud of steam arose, and the fire was practically out, though much smoke remained.

"Jove! that was a lucky escape!" exclaimed Tom, as he looked around when the vapor had partly cleared away. "No damage done at all, as far as I can see. I wonder what the game was? Did you see anything of a tramp around here?" he asked of his father.

"No, Tom. I have been busy in the house. So has Mrs. Baggert. Suddenly she called my attention to the smoke coming from the door, and we ran out."

"I seen it, too," added Eradicate. "I was doin' some whitewashin', an' I run up as soon as I could."

"We saw the tramp all right, but he got away," said Tom, and he told how he had taken pictures of him. "I don't believe it would be much use to look for him now, though."

"Me look," spoke Koku significantly, as he hurried off in the direction taken by the tramp. He came back later, not having found him.

"What do you think of it, Tom?" asked Ned, when the excitement had calmed down, and the pile of burned rags had been removed. It was found that oil and chemicals had been put on them to cause a dense smoke.

"I think it was the work of those fellows who are after my camera," replied the young inventor. "They are evidently watching me, and when they saw us all go off in the airship they thought probably that the coast was clear."

"But why should they start a fire?"

"I don't know, but probably to create a lot of smoke, and excitement, so that they could search, and not be detected. Maybe the fellow after he found that the camera was gone, wanted to draw those in the house out to the shop, so he could have a clear field to search in my room for any drawings that would give him a dew as to how my machine works. They certainly did not want to burn the shop, for that pile of rags could have smoldered all day on the concrete floor, without doing any harm. Robbery was the motive, I think."

"The police ought to be notified," declared Mr. Nestor. "Develop those pictures, Tom, and I'll take the matter up with the police. Maybe they can identify the tramp from the photographs."

But this proved impossible. Tom had secured several good films, not only in the first views he took, giving the spectators the impression that they were going up in an airship, but also those showing the shop on fire, and the tramp running away, were very plain.

The police made a search for the incendiary, but of course did not find him. Mr. Period came to Shopton, and declared it was his belief that his rivals, Turbot and Eckert, had had a hand in the matter. But it was only a suspicion, though Tom himself believed the same thing. Still nothing could be accomplished.

"The thing to do, now that the camera works all right, is for you to hit the trail for India at once," suggested the picture man. "They won't follow you there. Get me some pictures of the Durbar, of elephants being captured, of tiger fights, anything exciting."

"I'll do my--" began Tom.

"Wait, I'm not through," interrupted the excitable man. "Then go get some volcanoes, earthquakes--anything that you think would be interesting. I'll keep in touch with you, and cable occasionally. Get all the films you can. When will you start?"

"I can leave inside of two weeks," replied Tom.

"Then do it, and, meanwhile, be on your guard."

It was found that a few changes were needed on the camera. And some adjustments to the airship. Another trial flight was made, and some excellent pictures taken. Then Tom and his friends prepared to take the airship apart. and pack it for shipment to Calcutta. It was to go on the same steamer as themselves, and of course the Wizard Camera would accompany Tom. He took along many rolls of films, enough, he thought, for many views. He was also to send back to Mr. Period from time to time, the exposed rolls of film, so they could be developed, and printed in the United States, as Tom would not have very good facilities for this on the airship, and to reproduce them there was almost out of the question. Still he did fit up a small dark room aboard the Flyer, where he could develop pictures if he wished.

There was much to be done, but hard work accomplished it, and finally the party was ready to start for India. Tom said good-bye to Mary Nestor, of course, and her father accompanied our hero from the Nestor house to the Swift homestead, where the start was to take place.

Eradicate bade his master a tearful good-bye, and there was moisture in the eyes of Mr. Swift, as he shook hands with his son.

"Take care of yourself, Tom," he said. "Don't run too many risks. This moving picture taking isn't as easy as it sounds. It's more than just pointing your camera at things. Write if you get a chance, or send me a message."

Tom promised, and then bade farewell to Mrs. Baggert. All were assembled, Koku, Mr. Damon, who blessed everything he saw, and some things he did not, Ned, Mr. Nestor and Tom. The five were to go by train to New York, there to go aboard the steamer.

Their journey to the metropolis was uneventful. Mr. Period met them at the steamship dock, after Tom had seen to it that the baggage, and the parts of the airship were safely aboard.

"I wish I were going along!" exclaimed the picture man. "It's going to be a great trip. But I can't spare the time. I'm the busiest man in the world. I lose about a thousand dollars just coming down to see you off, but it's a good investment. I don't mind it. Now, Tom, good luck, and don't forget, I want exciting views."

"I'll try--" began our here,.

"Wait, I know what you're going to say!" interrupted Mr. Period. "You'll do it, of course. Well, I must be going. I will-- Great Scott!" and Mr. Period interrupted himself. "He has the nerve to come here!"

"Who?" asked Tom.

"Wilson Turbot, the rascal! He's trying to balk me at the last minute, I believe. I'm going to see what he means!" and with this, the excited Mr. Period rushed down the gangplank, toward the man at whom he had pointed--one of the men who had tried to buy Tom's picture taking camera.

A moment later the steamer's whistle blew, the last belated passenger rushed up the gangplank, it was drawn in, and the vessel began to move away from the dock. Tom and his friends were on their way to India, and the last glimpse they had of Mr. Period was as he was chasing along the pier, after Mr. Turbot.