Chapter IV. The Bomb
 

Tom Swift and Mr. Titus withdrew a little way down the corridor, around a bulkhead and out of sight of any one who might look out from the stateroom whence had come the appeal for help. But, at the same time, they could keep watch over it.

"I tell you Waddington is in there!" insisted Mr. Titus, hoarsely whispering.

"Well, perhaps he may be," admitted Tom. "But several times I have seen the bearded man going in there, and it's only a single stateroom, for it's so marked on the deck plan."

"Waddington might be disguised with a false beard, Tom."

"Yes, he might. But did the man who just now looked out have a beard?"

"I couldn't tell, as I saw only the upper part of his face. But those were Waddington's shifty eyes, I'm positive."

"If Waddington were on board don't you suppose you would have seen him before this?"

"Not positively, no. If he and the bearded man are one and the same that would account for it. But I haven't noticed the bearded man once since he came aboard in such a hurry."

"Nor have I, now that I come to think of it," Tom admitted. "However, there is an easy way to prove who is in there."

"How?"

"We'll knock on the door and go in."

"Perhaps he won't let us."

"He'll think it's the steward he called for. Come, you know Waddington better than I do. You knock and go in."

"I don't know Waddington very well," admitted the contractor. "I have only seen him a few times, but I am sure that was he. But what shall I do when he sees I'm not the steward?"

"Tell him you have sent for one. I'll go with the message, so it will be true enough. Even if you have only a momentary glance at him in close quarters you ought to be able to tell whether or not he has on a false beard, and whether or not it is Waddington."

Mr. Titus considered for a moment, and then he said:

"Yes, I guess that is a good plan. You go for the steward, Tom, and I'll see if I can get in that stateroom. But I'm sure I'm not mistaken. I'll find Waddington in there, perhaps in the person of the bearded man, disguised. Or else they are using a single stateroom as a double one." And while Tom went off down the pitching and rolling corridor to find a steward, Mr. Titus, not without some apprehension, advanced to knock on the door of the suspect.

"If it is Waddington he'll know me at once, of course," thought the contractor, "and there may be a row. Well, I can't help it. The success of my brother and myself depends on finishing that tunnel, and we can't have Waddington, and those whose tool he is, interfering. Here goes!"

He tapped on the door, and a faint voice called:

"Come in!"

The contractor entered, and saw the bearded man lying in his berth.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" asked the contractor, bending close over the man. He wanted to see if the beard were false. Somewhat to his surprise the contractor saw that undoubtedly it was real.

"Steward, will you kindly get me--Oh, you're not the steward!" the bearded man exclaimed.

"No, my friend and I heard you call," replied the contractor. "He has gone for the steward, who will be here soon. Can I do anything for you in the meanwhile?"

"No--not a thing!" was the rather snappish answer, and the man turned his face away. "I beg your pardon," he went on, as if conscious that he had acted rudely, "but I am suffering very much. The steward knows just what I want. I have had these attacks before. I am a poor sailor. If you will send the steward to me I will be obliged to you. He can fix me up."

"Very well," assented Mr. Titus. "But if there is anything I can do --"

At that moment footsteps and voices were heard in the corridor, and as the door of the bearded man's stateroom was opened, Mr. Titus had a glimpse of Tom and one of the stewards.

"Yes, I'll look after him," the steward said "He's been this way before. Thank you, sir, for calling me."

"I guess the steward has been well tipped," thought Tom. As Mr. Titus came out and the door was shut, the young inventor asked in a whisper

"Well, was it be?"

The contractor shook his head.

"No," he answered. "I never was more surprised in my life. I felt sure it was Waddington in there, but it wasn't. That man's beard is real, and while he has a look like Waddington about the eyes and upper part of his face, the man is a stranger to me. That is I think so, but in spite of all that, I have a queer feeling that I have met him before."

"Where?" Tom inquired.

"That I can't say," and the tunnel contractor shook his head. "Whew! That was a bad one!" he exclaimed, as the steamer pitched and tossed in an alarming manner.

"Yes, the storm seems to be getting worse instead of better," agreed Tom. "I hope none of the cargo shifts and comes banging up against my new explosive. If it does, there'll be no more tunnel digging for any of us."

"Better not mention the fact of the explosives on board," suggested Mr. Titus.

"I won't," promised Tom. "The passengers are frightened enough as it is. But I watched the powder being stored away. I guess it is safe."

The storm raged for two days before it began to die away. Meanwhile, nothing was seen, on deck or in the dining cabins, of the bearded man.

Tom and Mr. Titus made some guarded inquiries of the steward who had attended the sick man, and from him learned that he was down on the passenger list as Senor Pinto, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was traveling in the interests of a large firm of coffee importers of the United States, and was going to Lima.

"And there's no trace of Waddington?" asked Tom of Mr. Titus, as they were discussing matters in their stateroom one day.

"Not a trace. He seems to have dropped out of sight, and I'm glad of it."

"Perhaps Blakeson & Grinder have given up the fight against you."

"I wish they had, though I don't look for any such good luck. But I'm willing to fight them, now that we have an even chance, thanks to your explosive."

The storm blew itself out. The Bellaconda "crossed the line," and there was the usual horseplay among the sailors when Father Neptune came aboard to hold court. Those who had never before been below the equator were made to undergo more or less of an initiation, being lathered and shaved, and then pushed backward into a canvas tank of water on deck.

While Tom enjoyed the voyage, with the possible exception of the storm, he was anxious, and so was Mr. Titus, for the time to come when they should get to the tunnel and try the effect of the new explosive. Mr. Damon found an elderly gentleman as fond of playing chess as was the eccentric man himself, and his days were fully occupied with castles, pawns, knights, kings, queens and so on. As for Koku he was taken in charge by the sailors and found life forward very agreeable.

Senor Pinto had recovered from his seasickness, the steward told Tom and Mr. Titus, but still he kept to his stateroom.

It was when the Bellaconda was within a day or two of Callao that a wireless message was received for Mr. Titus. It was from his brother. The message read:

"Have information from New York office that rivals are after you. Look out for explosive."

"What does that mean?" asked Tom.

"Well, I presume it means our rival contractors know we have a supply of your new powder on board, and they may try to get it away from us."

"Why?" Tom demanded.

"To prevent our using it to complete the tunnel. In that case they'll get the secret of it to use for themselves, when the contract goes to them by default. Can we do anything to protect the powder, Tom?"

"Well, I don't know that we'll need to while it's stowed away in the cargo. They can't get at it any more than we can, until the ship unloads. I guess it's safe enough. We'll just have to keep our eyes open when it's taken out of the hold, though."

Tom and Mr. Titus, both of whom were fond of fresh air and exercise, had made it a practice to get up an hour before breakfast and take a constitutional about the steamer deck. They did this as usual the morning after the wireless warning was received, and they were standing near the port rail, talking about this, when they heard a thud on the deck behind them. Both turned quickly, and saw a round black object rolling toward them. From the object projected what seemed to be a black cord, and the end of this cord was glowing and smoking.

For a moment neither Tom nor Mr. Titus spoke. Then, as a slow motion of the ship rolled the round black thing toward Tom, he cried:

"It a bomb!"

He darted toward it, but Mr. Titus pulled him back.

"Run!" yelled the contractor.

Before either of them could do anything, a queer figure of an elderly gentleman stepped partly from behind a deck- house, and stooped over the smoking object.

"Look out!" yelled Mr. Titus, crouching low. "That's an explosive bomb! Toss it overboard!"