Chapter VI. Mr. Nestor's Letter
 

"Got t' git a good strong box fo' dish yeah," murmured Eradicate, as he looked at the beautiful mahogany present Tom had turned over to him to take to Mary. "Mah Landy! Dat suttinly am nice; Ah! Um! Jest laik some ob de old mahogany furniture dat was in our fambily down Souf." Eradicate did not mean his family, exactly, but the one in which he had been a slave.

"Yassum, dat shore am nice!" he went on, talking to himself as he admired the present. "I shore got t' put dat in a good box! An' dish year note, too. Let's see what it done say on de outside."

Eradicate held the envelope carefully upside down, and read--or rather pretended to read--the name and address. Eradicate knew well enough where Mary lived, for this was not the first time he had gone there with messages from his young master.

"Massa Tom shore am a fine writer," mused the negro, as he slowly turned the envelope around. "I cain't read nobody's writin' but hisen, nohow."

Had Eradicate been strictly honest with himself, he would have confessed that he could not read any writing, or printing either. His education had been very limited, but one could show him, say, a printed sign and tell him it read "Danger" or "Five miles to Branchville," or anything like that, and the next time he saw it, Eradicate would know what that sign said. He seemed to fix a picture of it in his mind, though the letters and figures by themselves meant nothing to him. So when Tom told him the envelope contained the name and address of Miss Nestor, Eradicate needed nothing more.

He rummaged about in some odds and ends in the corner of the laboratory, and brought out a strong, wooden box, which had a cover that screwed down.

"Dat'll be de ticket!" Eradicate exclaimed. De mahogany present will jest fit." Eradicate took some excelsior to pad the box, and then, dropping inside it the gift, already wrapped in tissue paper, he proceeded to screw on the cover.

There was something printed in red letters on the outside box, but Eradicate could not read, so it did not trouble him.

"Dat Miss Nestor shore will laik her present," he murmured. "An' I'll be mighty keerful ob it' laik Massa Tom tole me. He wouldn't trust dat big lummox Koku wif anyt'ing laik dis."

Screwing on the cover, and putting a piece of wrapping paper outside the rough, wooden box. with the letter in his hand, Eradicate, full of his own importance, set off for Miss Nestor's house. Tom had not returned from the telephone, over which he was talking to Mr. Titus.

The message was an important one. The contractor said he had received word from his brother in Peru that his presence was urgently needed there.

"Could you arrange to get off sooner than we planned, Tom?" asked Mr. Titus. "I am afraid something has happened down there. Have you sent the first shipment of explosive?"

"Yes, that went three days ago. It ought to arrive at Lima soon after we do. Why yes, I can start to-night if we have to. I'll find out if Mr. Damon can be with us on such short notice."

"I wish you would," came from Mr. Titus. "And say, Tom, do you think you could take that giant Koku with you?"

"Why?"

"Well, I think he'd come in handy. There are some pretty rough characters in those Andes Mountains, and your big friend might be useful."

"All right. I was thinking of it, anyhow. Glad you mentioned it. Now I'll call up Mr. Damon, and I'll let you know, in an hour or so, if he can make it."

"Bless my hair brush, yes, Tom!" exclaimed the eccentric man, when told of the change in plans. "I can leave to-night as well as not."

Word to this effect was sent on to Mr. Titus, and then began some hurrying on the part of Tom Swift. He told Koku to get ready to leave for New York at once, where he and the giant would join Mr. Titus and Mr. Damon, and start across the continent to take for steamer for Lima, Peru.

"Rad, did you send that present to Miss Nestor?" asked Tom, later, as he finished packing his grip.

"Yas, sah. I done did it. Took it mase'f!"

"That's good! I guess I'll have to say good-bye to Mary over the telephone. I won't have time to call. I'm glad I thought of the present."

Tom got the Nestor house on the wire. But Mary was not in.

"There's a package here for her," said the girl's mother. "Did you--?"

"Yes, I sent that," Tom said. "Sorry I won't he able to call and say good-bye, but I'm in a terrible rush. I'll see her as soon as I get back, and I'll write as soon as I arrive."

"Do," urged Mrs. Nestor. "We'll all be glad to hear from you," for Tom and Mary were tentatively engaged to be married.

Tom and Koku went on with their hurried preparations to leave for New York. Eradicate begged to be taken along, but Tom gently told the faithful old servant that it was out of the question.

"Besides, Rad," he said, "it's dangerous in those Andes Mountains. Why, they have birds there, as big as cows, and they can swoop down and carry off a man your size."

"Am dat shorely so, Massa Tom?"

"Of course it is! You get the dictionary and read about the condors of the Andes Mountains."

"Dat's what I'll do, Massa Tom. Birds as big as cows what kin pick up a man in dere beaks, an' carry him off! Oh, my! No, sah, Massa Tom! I don't want t' go. I'll stay right yeah!"

Shortly before Tom and Koku departed for the railroad station, where they were to take a train for New York, Mary Nestor returned home.

"Tom called you on the telephone to say good-bye," her mother informed her, "and said he was sorry he could not see you. But he sent some sort of gift."

"Oh, how sweet of him!" Mary exclaimed. "Where is it?"

"On the dining room table. Eradicate brought it with a note."

Mary read the note first.

In it Tom begged Mary to accept the little token, and to think of him when she used it.

"Oh! I wonder what it can be," she cried in delight.

"Better open it and see," advised Mr. Nestor, who had come in at that moment.

Mary cut the string of the outside paper, and folded back the wrapper. A wooden box was exposed to view, a solid, oblong, wooden box, and on the top, in bold, red letters Mary, her father and her mother read:

DYNAMITE! HANDLE WITH CARE!

"Oh! Oh!" murmured Mrs. Nestor.

"Dynamite! Handle with care!" repeated Mr. Nestor, in a sort of dazed voice. "Quick! Get a pail of water! Dump it in the bathtub! Soak it good, and then telephone for the police. Dynamite! What does this mean?"

He rushed toward the kitchen, evidently with the intention of getting a pail of water, but Mary clasped him by the arm.

"Father!" she exclaimed. "Don't get so excited!"

"Excited!" he cried. "Who's excited? Dynamite! We'll all be blown up! This is some plot! I don't believe Tom sent this at all! Look out! Call the police! Excited! Who's getting excited?"

"You are, Daddy dear!" said Mary calmly. "This is some mistake. Tom did send this--I know his writing. And wasn't it Eradicate who brought this package, Mother?"

"Yes, my dear. But your father is right. Let him put it in water, then it will be safe. Oh, we'll all be blown up. Get the water!"

"No!" cried Mary. "There is some mistake. Tom wouldn't send me dynamite, There must be a present for me in there. Tom must have put it in the wrong box by mistake. I'm going to open it."

Mary's calmness had its effect on her parents. Mr. Nestor cooled down, as did his wife, and a closer examination of the outer box did not seem to show that it was an infernal machine of any kind.

"It's all a mistake, Daddy," Mary said. "I'll show you. Get me a screw driver."

After some delay one was found, and Mr. Nestor himself opened the box. When the tissue paper wrappings of the mahogany gift were revealed he gave a sigh of relief, and when Mary undid the wrappings, and saw what Tom had sent her, she cried:

"Oh, how perfectly dear! Just what I wanted! I wonder how he knew? Oh, I just love it!" and she hugged the beautiful box in her arms.

"Humph!" exclaimed Mr. Nestor, a slowly gathering light of anger showing in his eyes. "It is a nice present, but that is a very poor sort of joke to play, in my estimation."

"Joke! What joke?" asked Mary.

"Putting a present in a box labeled Dynamite, and giving us such a scare," went on her father.

"Oh, Father, I'm sure he didn't mean to do it!" Mary said, earnestly.

"Well, maybe he didn't! He may have thought it a joke, and he may not have! But, at any rate, it was a piece of gross carelessness on his part, and I don't care to consider for a son-in-law a young man as careless as that!"

"Oh, Daddy!" expostulated Mary.

"Now, now! Tut, tut!" exclaimed Mr. Nestor. "It isn't your fault, Mary, but this Tom Swift must be taught a lesson. He was careless, if nothing worse, and, for all he knew, there might have been some stray bits of dynamite in that packing box. It won't do! It won't do! I'll write him a letter, and give him a piece of my mind!"

And in spite of all his wife and his daughter could say, Mr. Nestor did write Tom a scathing letter. He accused him of either perpetrating a joke, or of being careless, or both, and he intimated that the less he saw of Tom at the Nestor home hereafter the better pleased he would be.

"There! I guess that will make him wish he hadn't done it!" exclaimed Mr. Nestor, as he called a messenger and sent the letter to Tom's house.

Mary and her mother did not know the con tents of the note, but Mary tried to get Tom on the wire and explain. However, she was unable to reach him, as Tom was on the point of leaving.

The messenger, with Mr. Nestor's letter, arrived just as our hero was receiving the late afternoon mail from the postman, and just as Tom and Koku were getting in an automobile to leave for the depot.

"Good-bye, Dad!" Tom called. "Good-bye, Mrs. Baggert!" He thrust Mr. Nestor's letter, unopened, together with some other mail matter, which he took to be merely circulars, into an inner pocket, and jumped into the car.

Tom and Koku were off on the first stage of their journey.