Chapter XVIII. Suspicions
 

"Who's there?" suddenly called Tom, and in such a sharp voice that Mr. Damon started, ready as he was for something unusual.

There was no answer and Tom suddenly switched on all the lights in the shed. Up to then there had been only a few glowing--just enough for him to show the new Air Scout to his friend.

"Who's there?" asked Tom again, sharply.

"Bless my opera glasses, Tom!" cried Mr. Damon, "but are you seeing things?"

"No; but I'm hearing them," answered Tom with a short laugh. "Did you think you heard some one moving around near the rudders of Silent Sam, Mr. Damon?"

"No, I can't say that I did. Everything seems to me to be all right."

"Well, it doesn't to me," went on Tom grimly. "I think there is an intruder in this shed, though how any one could get in when the doors have been locked all day, is more than I can figure out. But I'm going to have a look."

"I'll help you," offered Mr. Damon, and, in the bright glare from many electric lights, the two began a search of the big hangar where the new craft was kept.

But though the young inventor and his friend went around to the rear of the aeroplane, walking in opposite directions, they saw no one, nor did any one try to escape past them.

"And yet I was sure I heard some one in here," declared Tom, when a search had revealed nothing. "It sounded as if some one were scuffling softly about in rubber-soled shoes, trying to hide."

"Bless my suspenders!" cried Mr. Damon, "who do you think it could have been, Tom?"

"Who else but some spy trying to get possession of my secrets?" was the answer. "But I guess I was too quick for them. They couldn't learn much from looking at the outside of my muffler, and it hasn't been disturbed, as far as I can see."

"Who would want to gain a knowledge of it in that unlawful way?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Perhaps some of the Universal crowd. They may have been disappointed in perfecting a silent motor themselves, and think stealing my idea would be the easiest way out of it."

"Do they know you are working on such a model as this Silent Sam of yours, Tom?"

"Yes, I imagine they do. One of the firm members, as you recall, overheard something, I think, that gave them a hint as to what my plans were, though, thanks to the time I fooled the spy, they haven't any real data to go by, I believe."

"Let us hope not," said Mr. Damon.

Tom and he made a thorough search of the big shed, but found no one, nor was there any trace of an intruder. Tom notified Jackson, who, in turn, told the guards and watchmen to be on the lookout for any suspicious strangers, but none was seen in the vicinity of the Swift works.

"Well, everything seems to be all right, so we'll have the test," remarked Torn, after a further search of the premises. "Now, Mr. Damon, if all goes as I hope you will see what my new machine can do. Strain your ears for a sound, and let me know how much you hear."

His men helping him, Tom started the new motor which was tried for the first time attached to the new craft. No flight was to be made yet, the motor being tested as though on the block, though, in reality, the craft was ready for instant flight if need be.

Slowly the great propellers began to revolve, and then Tom, taking his place in the cockpit, turned on more power. The new craft--Silent Sam--was made fast so it could not progress even though the propellers revolved at high speed.

"I'm not sending her to the limit," said Tom to his friend, as the young inventor throttled down the motor. "If I did I'd tear her loose from the holding blocks."

"Her!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my typewriter, Tom! but I thought Silent Sam was a gentleman aeroplane.

"So he is!" laughed the young man, frankly. "I forgot about 'Silent Sam.' Guess I'll have to say 'him' instead of 'her,' though the latter sounds more natural. Anyhow what do you think?"

"I think it's wonderful!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "There the motor is, going at almost full speed, and I can hardly hear a thing. You can the easier believe that when I say that I can hear you talk perfectly well. And I guess you hear me, don't you?"

"Yes," replied Tom. "And we don't have to shout, either. This is the best test ever! I think everything is a success."

"Are you going to take her aloft, Tom?" the eccentric man went on.

"Yes, now that I'm sure the engine is all right. Will you go for a flight with me?"

"I certainly will! I only wish we could find him, though. I'd go with a better heart."

"Oh! Mr. Nestor?"

"Yes, I can't imagine what has become of him. It is almost as if the earth had opened and swallowed him. His disappearance is a great mystery."

"It surely is," agreed Tom. "Can't seem to get any trace of him. But if we hear another cry for help, when we have to land, you can make up your mind I'll investigate more quickly than I did at first."

"I agree with you," said Mr. Damon.

It was nearly evening then, and until it was dark enough for his flight Tom spent the time tuning up the engine and seeing that all was in readiness for the latest test. He had decided not to go aloft while it was light enough for curiosity seekers to note the flight.

Tom rather wished Mary Nestor might have a sail with him in his latest improved silent Air Scout, but the girl was too much occupied at home and in trying to find some trace of her father.

Tom, his father, and Mr. Damon had helped all they could, but there were no results. A private detective had been engaged, but he had no more of a clew than the regular police.

At last it was dark enough for the flight, and Tom and Mr. Damon took their places in the machine. Once more the propellers were turned around, and when the compression had been made, and the spark switched on, around spun the big wooden blades, and the great craft moved over the grass.

On and on and up and up sailed Tom and Mr. Damon, and as they left behind them the shops and the Swift homestead, the two passengers were aware of their almost silent flight. The big aeroplane, the exhaust of which, ordinarily, would have nearly deafened them, was now as silent as a bird.

"Silent Sam for Uncle Sam!" cried Tom in delight, as he went on faster. "I'm sure the government ought to be glad to get this plane for air scout work. It's a success! A great success!"

"Yes, so it is!" agreed Mr. Damon. "You do well to speak of it so, Tom."

For, modest as the young inventor was, he felt, in justice to himself, that he must acknowledge the fact that his craft was a success. For it rose and sailed almost as silently as a bat, and a few hundred feet away no one, not seeing it, would have believed a big aeroplane was in motion.

Tom and Mr. Damon flew about twenty miles at a swift pace, and all the fault Tom had to find was that the machine was not as steady in flight as she should have been.

"But I can remedy that with the use of some of dad's gyroscope stabilizers," he told Mr. Damon.

They returned to the hangar safely, and the first trip of the new Silent Sam was an assured success.

It was the following day, when Tom was busy in the machine shop installing the gyroscopes spoken of, that Jackson came to tell him there was a visitor to see him.

"Who is it?" asked the young inventor.

"Mr. Gale of the Universal Company," was the answer.

"I don't want to see him!" declared Tom quickly. "I have nothing to say to him after his clumsy threats."

"He seems very much in earnest," said Jackson. "Better see him, if only for a minute or so."

"All right, I will," assented Tom. "Show him in."

Mr. Gale, as blusteringly bluff as ever, entered the shop. Tom had carefully put away all papers and models, as well as the finished machines, so he had no fear that his visitor might discover some secret.

"Oh, Mr. Swift!" began the president of the Universal Company, when he met the young inventor, "I wish to assure you that what has been done was entirely without our knowledge. And, though this man may have acted as our agent at one time, we repudiate any acts of his that might

"What are you talking about?" asked Tom in surprise. "Have I been so impolite as to sleep during part of your talk? I don't understand what you are driving at."

"Oh, I thought you did," said Gale, and he showed surprise. "I understood that the man who--"

"Do you mean there was some one here in the shed last night?" cried the young inventor suddenly, all his suspicions aroused.

"Some one here last night?" repeated Mr. Gale. "No, I don't refer to last night. But perhaps I am making a mistake. I--er--I--"

"Some one is making a mistake!" said Tom significantly.