Chapter VI. Mary's Odd Story
 

"HELLO! Hello! Yes, this is Tom Swift. What's that? You've had an accident? Great Scott, Mary! I hope you aren't hurt."

Ned overheard these words as he stood outside the temporary office, from inside which Tom Swift was telephoning.

"There's been an accident!" thought the financial manager. "I wonder if I can help?"

He was about to hurry in to offer his services when he heard Tom laugh, and then he knew it was all right. He heard his chum say:

"I'll be right over and get you. Just where are you?"

Then followed a period of listening on the part of Tom, to be broken by the words:

"All right, I'll be right with you. Lucky I have my Air Scout with me. You aren't afraid to ride in that, are you? No, that's good! I'll be right over. Ned is here with me, and I'll have him telephone to your father and mother."

With that Tom hung up the receiver and joined his chum.

"Mary had a slight automobile accident about five miles from here," Tom told his chum. "Some green driver ran into her and dished one of her wheels. No one hurt, but she hasn't a spare wheel and can't navigate. She called me up at the house, not wishing to alarm her father, and Mrs. Baggert told her you and I had come down to the dock, so she reached me here. I'll go in the small aeroplane and get her. Luckily I left it here the last time I made a trip. Will you call up Mary's home and let them know she's all right and that I'll soon be home with her? They might hear an exaggerated account of the accident."

Ned promised to do this, and at once put in a call for the home of his chum's fiancee, while Tom had one of his men run out the Air Scout. This was an aeroplane recently perfected by the young inventor which slipped through space with scarcely a sound. So silent was it that the craft had been dubbed "Silent Sam," and it stood Tom in good stead as those of you know who have read the volume just before the present book. This sky glider Tom would now use in going to the rescue of Mary Nestor was not, however, the same large craft that figured in the previous story. That airship had been given to the United States government for war purposes. But Tom had built himself a smaller one for his own use. It had the advantage of enabling him to carry on a conversation with his passenger when he took one aloft.

About a week before Tom and Ned had flown from Shopton to the dry dock where the submarine was being reconstructed in this small airship. Engine trouble had developed after they had landed, and they had gone back by automobile, leaving the Air Scout to be repaired. This had been done, and now Tom intended to use it in going to Mary's rescue.

Now, when the Air Scout had been run out of the hangar, Tom climbed into it.

"Sorry I can't take you along," he called to Ned, who had finished telephoning to Mary's home, "but, under the circumstances--"

"Two's company and three's a crowd!" laughed Ned. "I know!"

"No, I didn't mean that," Tom said. "You know Mary likes you, but this will carry only two."

"I know!" answered his chum. "On your way!"

And with an almost noiseless throb of her engine and a whirr of her propeller, the aeroplane rolled swiftly over the level starting ground and took the air like a swan leaving its lake.

Tom did not rise to a great height, as he would need only a few minutes to reach the place where Mary was stalled by the accident to her machine. Soon he was hovering over a level field, one of several that lined the country highways in that section. A small crowd on the turnpike gathered about an evidently disabled automobile gave Tom the clew he needed, and presently he made a landing. Instantly the throng of country people who had gathered to look at the automobile crash deserted that for a view of something more sensational--an airship.

Cautioning the boys who gathered about not to "monkey" with any of the mechanism, Tom hastened over to where Mary was standing near her car.

"Are you sure you aren't hurt?" he asked her anxiously.

"Oh, yes, very sure," she replied, smiling at him. "It isn't much of an accident--only one wheel smashed. We were both going slowly."

"But it was all my fault!" insisted a young fellow who had been driving the car that crashed into Mary's. "I'm all kinds of sorry, and of course I'll pay all damages. I wanted this young lady to let me drive her home and then send a garage man to tow her car, but she said she had other plans. I don't blame her for not wanting to ride in my jitney bus when I see what kind of car you have," and he looked over toward Tom's aeroplane.

"Thank you, just the same," murmured Mary. "I'm not quite sure that it was all your fault. But if you will be so good as to send a man after my machine I'll go back with Mr. Swift. Wait until I get my bag," she added, and she extracted it from the seat in her automobile. "There'll be room for this, won't there?" she asked. "I've been shopping."

"You must have made some large purchases," laughed Tom, looking critically at the small bag. "Yes, there'll be room for that, all right."

He made a brief examination of Mary's machine, ascertaining that the dished wheel was the main damage, and then, having given the young man who caused the accident directions for the garage attendant, Tom led his pretty companion across the field to the waiting airship.

Of course a crowd gathered to see them start off, and this was not long delayed, as Tom was not fond of curiosity seekers. In a few minutes he and Mary were soaring aloft.

"Well, how are you?" he asked Mary, when they were alone well above the earth.

"Fine and dandy," she answered, smiling at him, for they were riding side by side and could converse with little difficulty owing to the silent running of Tom's latest invention. "I'm sorry to have called you away from your work," she added, "but when Mrs. Baggert told me you were at the submarine dock I thought perhaps you could run out and get me in your machine. I didn't expect you to fly to me."

"I'm always ready to do that!" exclaimed Tom, as he shot upward to avoid a bank of low-lying clouds. "Were you frightened at the crash in the machine?"

"Not greatly. I saw it coming, and knew it was unavoidable. That chap hasn't been running autos very long, I imagine, and he lost his head in the emergency. But I had my brakes on and he just coasted into me. I was lucky in that it wasn't worse."

"I should say so! Do you want to get right home?"

"I think I'd better. Mother and father may be a little worried about me. And they've had trouble enough of late."

"Trouble!" exclaimed Tom, in a questioning voice. "Anything serious?"

"No, just family financial matters. Not ours she hastened to add, as she saw Tom look quickly at her. "A relative. I shouldn't have mentioned it, but father and mother are a little worried, and I don't want to add to it."

"Of course not," agreed Tom. "If there's anything I can do?"

"Oh, I expected you to say that!" laughed Mary. "Thanks. If there is we'll call on you. But it may all be straightened out. Father was expecting a message from Uncle Barton today. So, though I'd like to take a cloud-ride with you, I think I'd better get home."

"All right," agreed Tom. "I told Ned to telephone that you were all right, so they won't worry. And now try to enjoy yourself."

"I'll try," promised Mary, but it was obvious, even from the quick glances Tom gave her, that she was worried about something. Mary was not her usual, spontaneous, jolly self, and Tom realized it.

"Well, here we are!" he announced a little later, as they soared above a level field not far from her home. "Sorry I can't let you down right on your roof, but it isn't flat enough nor big enough."

"Oh, I don't mind a little walk, especially as I didn't have to hike it all the way in from Bailey Corners," she said, referring to the place of the automobile accident. "I suppose the time will come when everybody who now has an auto will have an airship and a landing place, or a starting place, for it at his own door," she added.

"Either that, or else we'll have airships so compact that they can set off and land in as small a space as an auto now requires," said Tom. "The latter would be the best solution, as one great disadvantage of airships now is the manner of starting and stopping. It's too big."

Tom left his Air Scout in a field owned by Mr. Nestor, where he had often landed before, and walked up to the house with Mary.

"Oh, I'm glad you're back!" exclaimed Mrs. Nestor, when she saw the two coming up the steps.

"You weren't worried, were you, after Ned telephoned?" asked Tom.

"Not exactly worried, but I thought perhaps he was making light of it. Do tell me what happened, Mary!"

Thereupon the girl related all the circumstances of the smash, and Tom added his share of the story.

"Did father hear anything from Uncle Barton?" asked Mary, after her mother's curiosity had been satisfied.

"Yes," was the answer, in rather despondent tones, "he did, but the news was not encouraging. The papers cannot be found."

"It's mother's brother we're talking about," Mary explained to Tom. "Barton Keith in his name. Perhaps you remember him?"

"I've heard you speak of him," Tom admitted.

"Well," resumed Mary, "Uncle Barton is in a. peck of trouble. He was once very rich, and he invested heavily in oil lands, in Oklahoma, I believe."

"No, in Texas," corrected Mrs. Nestor.

"Yes, it was Texas," agreed Mary. "Well he bought, or got, somehow, shares in some valuable oil lands in Texas, and expected to double his fortune. Now, instead, he's probably lost it all."

"That's too bad!" exclaimed Tom. "How did it happen?"

"In rather an odd way," went on Mary. "He really owns the lands, or at least half of them, but he cannot prove his title because the papers he needs were taken from him, and, he thinks, by a man he trusted. He's been trying to get the documents back, and every day we've been expecting to hear that he has them, but mother says there has been no result."

"No," said Mrs. Nestor. "My brother thought sure he had a trace of the man he believes has the papers, or who had them, but he lost track of him. If we could only find him--"

At that moment a maid came into the room to announce that Tom Swift was wanted at the telephone.