Chapter X. Startling Revelations
 

"OH, Tom! And so you are really ready to start on that perilous trip!" exclaimed Mary Nestor, a little later that same evening, when Tom called at Mary's house in his speedy electric runabout, a car in which he had once made a sensational ride.

"Perilous? I don't know why you call it that!" exclaimed the young inventor.

"Didn't you tell me you were stuck in a mud bank away down under the river and had hard work to get loose?" asked the young lady, as she made a place for Tom on the sofa beside her.

"Oh, that! Why, that wasn't anything!" he declared.

"It would have been if you hadn't come up."

"Ah, but we did come up, Mary."

"Suppose you get in a similar position when you find the wreck of the Pandora? You won't get up so easily, will you?"

"No. But there aren't any mud banks in that part of the Atlantic, so I can't be stuck in one," answered Tom.

For some time Tom Swift and Mary talked of mutual friends and happenings in which they were both interested. Mr. and Mrs. Nestor stepped into the room for a minute, to wish the young inventor good luck on his voyage, and when they had gone out, promising to see Tom before he left for the night, the latter remarked to Mary:

"Did your uncle ever find the oil-well papers and get his affairs straightened out?"

"No," was the answer, "he never did. And we feel very sorry for him. Just think, he had a fortune in his grasp, and now it is slipping away."

"Just what happened?" asked Tom, hoping there might be some way in which he could aid Mary's uncle. Of course, Tom wanted to help Mary, and this was one of the ways.

"Well, I don't exactly understand it all," she replied. "Father says I'll never have a head for business. But as nearly as I can tell, my uncle, Barton Keith, went into partnership with a man to prospect for oil in Texas. My uncle has been in that business before, and he was very successful. He supplied the working knowledge about oil wells, I believe, and the other man put up the money. My uncle was to have a half share in whatever oil wells he located, and his partner supplied the cash for putting down the pipe, or whatever is done."

"I believe putting down a pipe is the proper term," said Tom.

"Well, anyhow," went on Mary, "my uncle spent many weary months prospecting in Texas. In fact, he made himself ill, being out in all sorts of weather, looking after the drilling. At last they struck oil, as I believe they call it. They drilled down until they brought in what my uncle called a 'gusher,' and there was a chance of him and his partner getting rich."

"Why didn't he?" asked Tom. "A gusher, I believe, is one of the best sort of oil wells. Why didn't your uncle clean up a fortune, to use a slang term?"

"Because he lost the papers showing that he had a right to half the oil well," answered Mary. "At least my uncle thinks he lost them, but he was so ill, directly after the well proved a success, that he says he isn't sure what happened. At any rate, his partner claims everything and my uncle can do nothing. He has been hoping he might find the papers somewhere, or that something would happen to prove the rights of his claim."

"And nothing has?" inquired Tom.

"Not yet. My father and mother have been trying to help him, and dad engaged a lawyer, but he says nothing can be done unless my uncle recovers the partnership and other papers. As it stands now, it is my uncle's word against the word of his partner, and both are equally good in a court of law. But if Uncle Barton could find the documents everything would come out all right. He could claim his half of the oil well then."

"Is it still producing?" Tom questioned.

"Yes, better than ever. But that's all the good it does my uncle. He is ill, discouraged, and despondent. All his fortune was eaten up in prospecting, and he depended on the gusher to make him rich again. And now, because of a rascally partner, he may be doomed to die a poor man. Of course we will always help him, but you know what it is to be dependent on relatives."

"I can imagine," conceded Tom. "It is tough luck! I wish I could help, and perhaps I can after I get back from this trip."

"The only way you or any one could help, would be to get back my uncle's missing papers," said Mary. "And as he himself isn't sure what became of them, it seem hopeless."

"It does," Tom agreed. "But wait until I get back."

"I wish you weren't going," sighed Mary.

"So do I--more than a little," was Tom's remark. "I'm sorry I ever let Mr. Damon persuade me to go into this deal with Dixwell Hardley!"

Mary sat bolt upright on the couch.

"What name did you say?" she cried.

"Dixwell Hardley," repeated Tom. "That's he name of the man who claims to know where the wreck of the Pandora lies. He says she has two millions or more in gold on board, and I'm to get half."

"Well!" exclaimed Mary, with spirit, "if you don't get any bigger share out of the wreck than my uncle got out of the oil well, you won't be doing so very nicely, Tom."

"What do you mean?" asked the young inventor. "What has the oil well to do with recovering gold from the wreck?"

"A good deal, I should say," answered the girl, "seeing that the same man is mixed up in both."

"What same man?"

"Dixwell Hardley!"

"Is he the man who cheated your uncle?" cried Tom.

"I won't say that he cheated him," said Mary. "But Dixwell Hardley is the man who furnished the money when my uncle went into partnership with him to locate oil wells in Texas. The oil wells were located, Mr. Hardley got his share, and my uncle got nothing. And just because he can't prove there was a legal partnership! I hope you won't have the same experience with Mr. Hardley, Tom."

"Whew!" whistled the young inventor. "This is news to me! I can say one thing, though. Mr. Hardley doesn't take a dollar out of that wreck unless I get one to match it. I think I hold the best cards on this deal. But, Mary, are you sure it's the same man?"

"Pretty sure. Wait, I'll call my father and make certain," she answered, and as she went from the room to summon Mr. Nestor, Tom felt a vague sense of uneasiness.