Chapter IX. After a Spy
 

Curious as it may seem, Eradicate, the oldest and certainly not the most energetic of the party assembled in the experiment room, was the first to recover himself and arise. Tottering to his feet he gave one look at the testing block, whence the motor had torn itself. Then he looked at the prostrate figures around him, none of them hurt, but all stunned and very much startled. Then the gaze of Eradicate traveled to the hole in the roof. It was a gaping, ragged hole, for the motor was heavy and the roof of flimsy material. And then the colored man exclaimed:

"Good land ob massy! Did I do dat?"

His tone was one of such startled contrition, and so tragic, that Tom Swift, rueful as he felt over the failure of his experiment and the danger they had all been in, could not help laughing.

"I take it, hearing that from you, Tom, that we're all right," said Ned Newton, as he recovered himself and brushed some dirt off his coat. Ned was a natty dresser.

"Yes, we seem to be all right," replied Tom slowly. "I can't say what damage the flying motor has done outside, but--"

"Bless my insurance policy! but what happened?" asked Mr. Damon. "I saw Eradicate pull on that lever as you told him to, Tom, and then things all went topsy-turvy! Did he pull the wrong handle?"

"No, it wasn't Rad's fault at all," said Tom. "The trouble was, as I guess I'll find when I investigate, that I put too much power into the motor, and the muffler didn't give any chance for the accumulated exhaust gases to expand and escape. I didn't allow for that, and they simply backed up, compressed and exploded. I guess that's the whole explanation."

"I'm inclined to agree with you, Son," said Mr. Swift dryly. "Don't try to get rid of all the noise at once. Eliminate it by degrees and it will be safer."

"I guess so," agreed Tom.

By this time a score of workmen from the other shops had congregated around the one though the roof of which the motor had been blown. Tom opened the door to assure Jackson and the others that no one was hurt, and then the young inventor saw the exploded motor had buried in the dirt a short distance away from the experiment building.

"Lucky none of us were standing over it when it went up," said Tom, as he made an inspection of the broken machine. "We'd have gone through the roof with it."

"She certainly went sailing!" commented Ned. "Must have been a lot of power there, Tom."

And this was evidenced by the bent and twisted rods that had held the motor to the testing block, and by the cylinders, some of which were torn apart as though made of paper instead of heavy steel. But for the fact that all the force of the explosion was directly upward, instead of at the sides, none might have been left alive in the shop. All had escaped most fortunately, and they realized this.

"Well," queried Ned, as Tom gave orders to have the damaged machine removed and the roof repaired, "does this end the wonderful silent motor, Tom?"

"End it! What do you mean--"

"I mean are you going to experiment any further?"

"Why, of course! Just because I've had one failure doesn't mean that I'm going to give up. Especially when I know what the matter was--not leaving any vent for the escaping gases. Why this isn't anything. When I was perfecting my giant cannon I was nearly blown up more than once, and you remember how we got stuck in the submarine."

"I should say I did!" exclaimed Ned with a shudder. "I don't want any more of that. But as between being blown through a roof and held at the bottom of the sea, I don't know that there's much choice."

"Well, perhaps not," agreed Tom. "But as for ending my experiments, I wouldn't dream of such a thing! Why, I've only just begun! I'll have a silent motor yet!"

"And a non-explosive one, I hope," added Mr. Damon dryly. "Bless my shoe buttons, Tom, but if my wife knew what danger I'd been in she'd never let me come over to see you any more."

"Well, the next time I invite you to a test I'll be more careful," promised the young inventor.

"There isn't going to be any next time as far as I'm concerned!" laughed Ned. "I think it's safer to sell Liberty Bonds."

And, though they joked about it, they all realized the narrow escape they had had. As for Eradicate, once he knew he had not been the one who caused the damage, he felt rather proud of the part he had taken in the mishap, and for many days he boasted about it to Koku.

True to his determination, Tom Swift did not give up his experimental work on the silent motor. The machine that had been blown through the roof was useless now, and it was sent to the scrap heap, after as much of it as possible had been salvaged. Then Tom got another piece of apparatus out of his store room and began all over again.

He worked along the same lines as at first--providing a chamber for the escaping gases of the exhaust to expend their noise and energy in, at the same time laboring to cut down the concussion of the explosions in the cylinder without reducing their force any. And that it was no easy problem to do either of these, Tom had to admit as he progressed. All previous types of mufflers or silencers had to be discarded and a new one evolved.

"Jackson, I need some one to help me," said Tom to his chief mechanician one day. "Haven't you a good man who is used to experimental work that you can let me take from the works?"

"Why, yes," was the answer. "Let me see. Roberts is busy on the new bomb you got up, but I could take him off that--"

"No, don't!" interposed Tom. "I want that work to go on. Isn't there some one else you can let me have?"

"Well, there's a new man who came to me well recommended. I took him on last week, and he's a wonderful mechanic. Knows a lot about gas engines. I could let you have him--Bower his name is. The only thing about it, though, is that I don't like to give you a man of whom I am not dead certain, when you're working on a new device."

"Oh, that will be all right," said Tom. "There won't be any secrets he can get, if you mean you think he might be up to spy work."

"That's what I did mean, Tom. You never can tell, you know, and you have some bitter enemies."

"Yes, but I'll take care this man doesn't see the plans, or any of my drawings. I only want some one to do the heavy assembling work on the experimental muffler I'm getting up. We can let him think it's for a new kind of automobile."

"Oh, then I guess it will be all right. I'll send Bower to you."

Tom rather liked the new workman, who seemed quiet and efficient. He did not ask questions, either, about the machine on which he was engaged, but did as he was told. As Tom had said, he kept his plans and drawing under lock and key--in a safe to be exact--and he did not think they were in any danger from his new helper.

But Tom Swift held into altogether too slight regard the powers of those who were opposed to him. He did not appreciate the depths to which they would stoop to gain their ends.

He had been working hard on his new device, and had reached a point further along than when the other motor had exploded. He began to see success ahead of him, and he was jubilant. Whether this made him careless does not matter, but the fact was that he left Bower more to himself, and alone in the experimental shop several times.

And it was on one of these occasions, when Tom had been for some time in one of the other shops, where he and Jackson were in consultation over a new machine, that as he came back to the test room unexpectedly, he saw Bower move hastily away from in front of the safe. Moreover, Tom was almost certain he had heard the steel door clang shut as he approached the building.

And then, before he could ask his helper a question, Tom looked from a window and saw a stranger running hastily along the side of the building where his trial motor was being set up.

"Who's that? Who is that man? Did he come in here? Was he tampering with my safe?" cried Tom. He saw Bower hesitate and change color, and Tom knew it was time to act.

The window was open, and with one bound the young inventor was out and running after the stranger he had seen departing in such a hurry. The man was but a short distance ahead of him, and Tom saw he was stuffing some papers into his pocket.

"Here! Come back! Stop!" ordered Tom, but the man ran on the faster.

"That's a spy as sure as guns!" reflected Tom Swift. "And Bower is in with him!" he added. "I've got to catch that fellow!" and he speeded his pace as he ran after the fellow.