Chapter XIV. The Telephone Call
 

The defect in the motor which had caused Tom Swift to shut off the power and drift down to earth was soon remedied, once the young inventor began an examination of the craft. One of the oil feeds had become choked and this automatically cut down the gasoline supply, causing one or more cylinders to miss. It was a safety device Tom had installed to prevent the motor running dry, and so being damaged.

Once the clogged oil feed was cleared the motor ran as before, and just as silently, though, as Tom had said, he was not entirely satisfied with the quietness, but intended to do further work toward perfecting it.

"I'll start the propellers now, Mr. Damon," said Tom, when the trouble had been remedied. "You know how to throw the switch, don't you?"

"I guess so," was the answer. Mr. Damon and Tom had traveled so often together in gasoline craft that the young inventor had taught his friend certain fundamentals about them, and in an emergency the eccentric man could help start an aeroplane. This he now did, taking charge of the controls which could be operated from his seat as well as from Tom's. Tom whirled the propellers, and soon the motor was in motion.

Mr. Damon, once the big wooden blades were revolving, slowed down the apparatus until Tom could jump aboard, after which the latter took charge and soon speeded up the machine, sending it aloft.

As the green meadow, dimly seen in the light of the moon, seemed to drop away below them, and the clump of trees vanished from sight, both Tom and Mr. Damon wondered who it was that had called for help, and if the matter were at all serious. They were inclined to think it was not, but Tom could not rid himself of a faint suspicion that there might have been trouble.

However, thoughts of his new silent Air Scout soon drove everything else from his mind, and as he guided the comparatively silent machine on its quiet way toward his own home he was thinking how he could best improve the muffler.

"Well, here we are again, safe and sound," remarked Tom, as he brought the craft to a stop in front of the hangar, and Jackson and his helpers, who were awaiting the return, hurried out to take charge.

"Yes, everything seems to point to success, Tom," agreed Mr. Damon. "That is, unless the slight accident we had means trouble."

"Oh, no, that had nothing to do with the operation of the silencer. But I'm going to do better yet. Some day I'll take you for a ride in a silent machine which will make so little noise that you can hear a pin drop."

"Well," remarked Mr. Damon' with a laugh, "I don't know that listening to falling pins will give me any great amount of pleasure, Tom, but I appreciate your meaning."

"Everything all right?" asked Mr. Swift, as he came out to hear the details from his son. "Do you think you have solved the problem?"

"Not completely, but I'll soon be able to write Q. E. D. after it. Some refinements are all that are needed, Dad."

"Glad to hear it. I was a bit anxious."

Mr. Swift questioned his son about the technical details of the trip, asking how the motor had acted under the pressure caused by so completely muffling the exhaust, and for some minutes the two inventors, young and old, indulged in talk which was not at all interesting to Mr. Damon. They went into the house, and Tom asked to have a little lunch, which Mrs. Baggert set out for him.

"It's rather late to eat," said the young inventor, "but I always feel hungry after I test a new machine and find that it works pretty well. Will you join me in a sandwich or two, Mr. Damon?"

"Why, bless my ketchup bottle, I believe I will."

And so they ate and talked. Tom was on the point of telling his father something of the queer cry for help they had heard on the lonely meadow when Mrs. Baggert produced a letter which she said had come for Tom that afternoon, but had been mislaid by a new maid who had been engaged to help with the housework.

"She took it to the shop after you had left, and only now told me about it," explained Mrs. Baggert. "So I sent Eradicate for it."

"How long ago was that?" asked Tom, as he took the missive.

"Oh, an hour ago," answered Mrs. Baggert, with a smile. "But don't blame poor Rad for that. He wanted to deliver the letter to you personally, and so did Koku. The result was your giant kept after Rad, trying to get the letter from him, and Rad kept hiding and slinking about for a chance to see you himself until I saw what was going on, a little while ago, and took the letter myself. Else you might never have gotten it, so jealous are those two," and Mrs. Baggert laughed.

"Guess it isn't of much importance," Tom said, as he tore open the envelope. "It's from the Universal Flying Machine Company, of New York, and I imagine they're trying to get me to reconsider my refusal to link up with them."

"Yes," he went on, as he read the missive, "that's it. They've raised the amount to thirty thousand a year now, Dad, and they say they feel sure I shall regret it if I do not accept.

"This is a bit queer, though," went on the young inventor. "This letter was written three days ago, but it reached Shopton only to-day. And it says that unless they hear from me at once they will have to take steps that will cause me great inconvenience. They have nerve, at any rate, and impudence, too! I won't even bother to answer. But I wonder what they mean, and why this letter was delayed?"

"The mails are all late on account of the transportation congestion caused by moving troops to the camps," said Mr. Damon. "Some of my letters are delayed a week. But, as you say, Tom, these fellows are very impudent to threaten that way."

"It's all bluff," declared Tom. "I'm not worrying. And now, Dad, since I've almost reached the top of the hill with my Air Scout, I may be able to help you on that new electric motor you're puzzling over."

"I wish you would, Tom. I am trying to invent a new system of interchangeable brush contacts, but so far I've been unable to make them work. However, there is no great hurry about that. If you are going to offer your silent machine to the government finish that first. We need all the aircraft we can get. The battles on the other side seem to be all in favor of the Germans, so far."

"We haven't got into our stride yet," declared Mr. Damon. "Once Uncle Sam gets the boys over there in force, there'll be a different story to tell. I only wish--"

At that moment the telephone set up an insistent ringing, breaking in on Mr. Damon's remarks.

"I'll answer," said Tom, as Mrs. Baggert moved toward the instrument, which was an extension from the main one.

"Hello!" called the young inventor into the transmitter, and as he received an answer a look of pleasure came over his face.

"Yes, Mary, this is Tom," he said. He remained silent a moment, while it was evident he was listening to the voice at the other end of the wire. Then he suddenly exclaimed:

"What's that? Tell him to come home? Why, he isn't here. I just came in and--what--wait a minute!"

With a rather strange look on his face Tom covered the mouth- piece of the instrument with his hand, and, turning to his father, asked:

"Is Mr. Nestor here?"

"No," replied Mr. Swift slowly, "He was here, though. He came a little while after you and Mr. Damon started off in the Air Scout. But he didn't stay. Said he wanted to see you about something and would call again."

"Oh," remarked the young man. "I didn't know he had been there."

"I meant to tell you," said Mrs. Baggert; "but getting the lunch made me forget it, I guess."

Tom uncovered the transmitter of the telephone again, and spoke to Mary Nestor.

"Hello," he said. "I was wrong, Mary. Your father was here, but he left when he found I wasn't at home. How long ago? Wait a minute and I'll inquire.

"How long ago did Mr. Nestor leave?" asked the young inventor of the housekeeper. "Nearly an hour," he said into the instrument, after he had received the answer. Then, after listening a moment, he added: "Yes, I guess he'll be home soon now. Probably stopped down town to see some of his friends. Yes, Mr. Damon and I tried out the Air Scout. Yes, she worked pretty well, for a starter, but there is something yet to be done. Oh, yes, now I'll have time to come over to see you, and take you for a ride too. We won't have to talk through a speaking tube, either. Tell your father I am sorry I was out when he called. I'll come to see him to-morrow, if he wants me to. Yes--yes. I guess so!" and Tom laughed, it being evident that his remarks at the end of the conversation had to do with personal matters.

"A telegram has come for Mr. Nestor and they were anxious that he should get it," Tom explained to his little audience as he hung up the receiver and put aside the telephone. "I wonder what he wanted to see me about?"

"He didn't say," replied Mrs. Baggert.

Mr. Damon, Tom, and his father remained in conversation a little while longer, and the eccentric man was thinking that it was about time for him to return home, when the telephone rang again.

"Hello," answered Tom, as he was nearest the instrument. "Oh, yes, Mary, this is he. What's that? Your father hasn't reached home yet? And your mother is worried? Oh tell her there is no cause for alarm. As I said, he probably stopped on his way to see some friends."

Tom listened for perhaps half a minute to a talk that was inaudible to the others in the room, and they noticed a grave look come over his face. Then he said:

"I'll be right over, Mary. Yes, I'll come at once. And tell your mother not to worry. I'm sure nothing could have happened. I'll be with you in a jiffy!"

As Tom Swift hung up the receiver he said:

"Mr. Nestor hasn't reached home yet, and as he promised to return at once in case he didn't find me, his wife is much worried. I'll go over and see what I can do."

"I'll come along!" volunteered Mr. Damon. "It isn't late yet."

"Yes, do come," urged Tom. "But I suppose when we get there we'll find our friend has arrived safely. We'll go over in the electric runabout."