Chapter V. "Is He a Slacker?"
 

Mr. Nestor, whatever else he was, proved to be a prudent father. He did not immediately go into the front room, whither Mary and Tom hastened, their voices mingling in talk and laughter.

Mr. Nestor, after leaving the young folks alone for a while, with a loud "Ahem!" and a rattling of his paper as he laid it aside, started for the parlor.

"Good-evening, Mr. Nestor!" said Tom, rising to shake hands with the father of his young and pretty hostess.

"Hello, Tom!" was the cordial greeting, in return. "What's going on up at your place?" went on Mr. Nestor, as he took a chair.

"Oh, nothing very special," Tom answered. "We're turning out different kinds of machines as usual, and dad and I are experimenting, also as usual"

"I suppose so. But what nearly broke the fence to-night?"

Tom started, and looked quickly at his host.

"Were you there?" he asked quickly.

"Well, I happened to be passing--took a short cut home-- and I heard some queer goings on at your place. I was speaking to Mary about them, and wondering--"

"Father, perhaps Tom doesn't want to talk about his inventions," interrupted Mary. "You know some of them are secret--"

"Oh, I wasn't exactly asking for information!" exclaimed Mr. Nestor quickly. "I just happened to hear the fence crash, and I was wondering if something was coming out at me. Didn't know but what that giant of yours was on a rampage, Tom," and he laughed.

"No, it wasn't anything like that," and Tom's voice was more sober than the occasion seemed to warrant. "It was one of our new machines, and it didn't act just right. No great damage was done, though. How do you find business, Mr. Nestor, since the war spirit has grown stronger?" asked Tom, and it seemed to both Mary and her father that the young inventor deliberately changed the subject.

"Well, it isn't all it might be," said the other. "It's hard to get good help. A lot of our boys enlisted, and some were taken in the draft. By the way, Tom, have they called on you yet?"

"No. Not yet"

"You didn't enlist?"

"Ned Newton tried to," broke in Mary, "but the quota for this locality was filled, and they told him he'd better wait for the draft. He wouldn't do that and tried again. Then the bank people heard about it and had him exempted. They said he was too valuable to them, and he has been doing remarkably well in selling Liberty Bonds!" and Mary's eyes sparkled with her emotions.

"Yes, Ned is a crackerjack salesman!" agreed Tom, no less enthusiastically. "He's sold more bonds, in proportion, for his bank, than any other in this county. Dad and I both took some, and have promised him more. I am glad now that we let him go, although we valued his services highly. We hope to have him back later."

"He can put me down for more bonds too!" said Mr. Nestor. "I'm going to see Germany beaten if it takes every last dollar I have!"

"That's what I say!" Cried Mary. "I took out all my savings, except a little I'm keeping to buy a wedding present for Jennie Morse. Did you know she was going to get married, Tom?" she asked.

"I heard so."

"Well, all but what I want for a wedding present to her has gone into Liberty Bonds. Isn't this a history-making time, Tom?"

"Indeed it is, Mary!"

"Everybody who has a part in it--whether he fights as a soldier or only knits like the Red Cross girls--will be telling about it for years after," went on the girl, and she looked at Tom eagerly.

"Yes," he agreed. "These are queer times. We don't know exactly where we're at. A lot of our men have been called. We tried to have some of them exempted, and did manage it in a few cases."

"You did?" cried Mr. Nestor, as if in surprise. "You stopped men from going to war!"

"Only so they could work on airship motors for the Government," Tom quietly explained.

"Oh! Well, of course, that's part of the game," agreed Mary's father. "A lot more of our boys are going off next week. Doesn't it make you thrill, Tom, when you see them marching off, even if they haven't their uniforms yet? Jove, if I wasn't too old, I'd go in a minute!"

"Father!" cried Mary.

"Yes, I would!" he declared. "The German government has got to be beaten, and we've got to do our bit; everybody has--man, woman and child!"

"Yes," agreed Tom, in a low voice, "that's very true. But every one, in a sense, has to judge for himself what the 'bit' is. We can't all do the same."

There was a little silence, and then Mary went over to the piano and played. It was a rather welcome relief, under the circumstances, from the conversation.

"Mary, what do you think of Tom?" asked Mr. Nestor, when the visitor had gone.

"What do I think of him?" And she blushed.

"I mean about his not enlisting. Do you think he's a slacker?"

"A slacker? Why, Father!"

"Oh, I don't mean he's afraid. We've seen proof enough of his courage, and all that. But I mean don't you think he wants stirring up a bit?"

"He is going to Washington to-morrow, Father. He told me so to-night. And it may be--"

"Oh. well, then maybe it's all right," hastily said Mr. Nestor. "He may he going to get a commission in the engineer corps. It isn't like Tom Swift to hang back, and yet it does begin to look as though he cared more for his queer inventions--machines that butt down fences than for helping Uncle Sam. But I'll reserve judgment."

"You'd better, Father!" and Mary laughed--a little. Yet there was a worried look on her face.

During the next few nights Mr. Nestor made it a habit to take the short cut from the railroad station, coming past the big fence that enclosed one particular building of the Swift plant.

"I wonder if there's a hole where I could look through," said Mr. Nestor to himself. "Of course I don't believe in spying on what another man is doing, and yet I'm too good a friend of Tom's to want to see him make a fool of himself. He ought to be in the army, or helping Uncle Sam in some way. And yet if he spends all his time on some foolish contraption, like a new kind of traction plow, what good is that? If I could get a glimpse of it, I might drop a friendly hint in his ear."

But there were no cracks in the fence, or, if there were, it was too dark to see them, and also too dark to behold anything on the other side of the barrier. So Mr. Nestor, wondering much, kept on his way.

It was a day or so after this that Ned Newton paid a visit to the Swift home. Mr. Swift was not in the house, being out in one of the various buildings, Mrs. Baggert said.

"Where's Tom?" asked the bond salesman.

"Oh, he hasn't come back from Washington yet," answered the housekeeper.

"He is making a long stay."

"Yes, be went about a week ago on some business. But we expect him back to-day."

"Well, then I'll see him. I called to ask if Mr. Swift didn't want to take a few more bonds. We want to double our allotment for Shopton. and beat out some of the other towns in this section. I'll go to see Mr. Swift."

On his way to find Tom's father Ned passed the big building in front of which Eradicate and Koku were on guard. They nodded to Ned, who passed them, wondering much as to what it was Tom was so secretive about.

"It's the first time I remember when he worked on an invention without telling me something about it," mused Ned. "Well, I suppose it will all come out in good time. Anything new, Rad?"

"No, Massa Ned, nuffin much. I'm detectin' around heah; keepin' Dutchmen spies away!"

"And Koku is helping you, I suppose?"

"Whut, him? Dat big, good-fo'-nuffin white trash? No, sah! I's detectin' by mahse'f, dat's whut I is!" and Eradicate strutted proudly up and down on his allotted part of the beat, being careful not to approach the building too closely, for that was Koku's ground.

Ned smiled, and passed on. He found Mr. Swift, secured his subscription to more bonds, and was about to leave when he heard a call down the road and saw Tom coming in his small racing car, which had been taken to the depot by one of the workmen.

"Hello, old man!" cried Ned affectionately, as his chum alighted with a jump. "Where have you been?"

"Down to Washington. Had a bit of a chat with the President and gave him some of my views."

"About the war, I suppose?" laughed Ned.

"Yes."

"Did you get your commission?"

"Commission?" And there was a wondering look on Tom's face.

"Yes. Mary Nestor said she thought maybe you were going to Washington to take an examination for the engineering corps or something like that. Did you get made an officer?"

"No," answered Tom slowly. "I went to Washington to get exempted."

"Exempted?" Cried Ned, and his voice sounded strained.