Chapter XVI. Violent Threats
 

Tom Swift's companion in the automobile was sufficiently acquainted with this old expression to understand readily what it meant. And as he directed his car as close as was safe to the blazing car, Mr. Damon asked:

"Are you going to put out that fire for them, Tom?"

"I'm going to try," was the grim answer.

The young inventor was rapidly taking out of wrapping paper a metal cylinder with a short nozzle on one end and a handle on the other. It was, obviously, a hand fire extinguisher of a type familiar to all.

"Wait Tom, I'll slow up a little more," said Mr. Damon, as he applied the brakes with more force. "Bless my court plaster! don't jump and injure yourself."

But Tom Swift was sufficiently agile to leap from the automobile when it was still making good speed. He did not want Mr. Damon to approach too close to the burning car, for there might be an explosion. At the same time, he rather discounted the risk to himself, for he ran right in, while the two men, who had leaped from the blazing machine, hurried to a safe distance.

Tom held in readiness a small hand extinguisher. It was one he had constructed from an old one found in the shop, but it contained some of his own chemicals, the original solution having been used at some time or other. It was the intention of the young inventor to put on the market a house-size extinguisher after he had disposed of his big airship invention.

"Look out there! The gasoline tank may go up!" cried Field, the small man with the big voice.

Tom did not answer, but ran in as close as was necessary and began to play a small stream from his hand extinguisher on the blazing car. He was thus able to direct the white, frothy chemical better than when he had shot it from the airship, and in a few seconds only some wisps of curling smoke remained to tell of the presence of the fire. The automobile was badly charred, but the damage was not past redemption.

"Bless my check book! you did the trick, Tom," cried Mr. Damon, as he alighted and came up to congratulate his companion.

"Yes. But this wasn't much," Tom said. "I didn't use half the charge. Short circuit?" he asked Field and Melling who were now returning, having seen that the danger was passed.

"I--I guess so," replied Melling, in his squeaky voice. "We--we are much obliged to you."

"No thanks necessary," said Tom, a bit shortly, as he turned to go back with Mr. Damon to their car. "It's what any one would do under like circumstances."

"Only you did it very effectively," observed Field.

Tom was wondering if they knew who he was and of his association with Josephus Baxter. He did not believe the men recognized him as the person who had been at the Meadow Inn one day with Mary. They had hardly glanced at him then, he thought.

"That's a mighty powerful extinguisher you have there, young man," said Melling. "May I ask the make of it? We ought to carry one like it on our car," he told his companion.

"It is the Swift Aerial Fire Extinguisher," said Tom gravely, with a glance at Mr. Damon.

"The Swift--Tom Swift?" exclaimed Melling. "Do you mean--"

"I am Tom Swift," put in the young inventor quickly. "And this is one of my inventions. I might add," he said slowly, looking first Melling and then Field full in the face, "that I was aided in perfecting the chemical extinguisher by Josephus Baxter."

The effect on the two men, whom Tom believed were scoundrels, was marked.

"Baxter!" cried Field.

"Is he associated with you?" demanded Melling.

"Not officially," Tom answered, delighted at the chance to "rub it in," as he expressed it later. "I have been helping him, and he has been helping me since he lost his dye formulae in--in your fire!"

"Does he say he lost them in the fire of our factory?" demanded Field aggressively.

"He believes he did," asserted Tom. "I helped carry him out of the laboratory of your place when he was almost dead from suffocation. He remembers that he had the formulae then, but since has been unable to find them."

"He'd better be careful how he accuses us!" blustered Field, in his big voice.

"We could have the law on him for that!" squeaked the bigger Melling.

"He hasn't accused you," said Tom easily. "He only says the formulae disappeared during the fire in your place, and he is just wondering. that is all--just wondering!"

"Well, he--we, I--that is, we haven't anything from Baxter that we didn't pay for," declared Field. "And if he goes about saying such things he'd better be careful. I am going--"

But he suddenly became silent as his companion's elbow nudged him. And then Melling took up the talk, saying:

"We're much obliged to you, Mr. Swift, for putting out the fire in our car. But for you it would have been destroyed. And if you ever want to sell the extinguisher process of yours, you'll find us in the market. We are going into the dye business on a large scale, and we can always use new chemical combinations."

"My extinguisher is not for sale," said Tom dryly. "Come on, Mr. Damon. We can take you into town, I suppose," Tom went on, looking at his eccentric friend for confirmation, and finding it in a nod. "But I doubt if we could tow you, as we are in a hurry, and--"

"Oh, thank you, we'll look over our machine before we leave it," said Melling. "It may be that we can get it to go."

Tom doubted this, after a look at the charred section, but he easily understood the dislike of the men, upon whose heads he had heaped coals of fire, to ride with him and Mr. Damon.

So Field and Melling were left standing in the road near their stranded car, which, but for Tom Swift's prompt action, would have been only a heap of ruins.

Tom first visited the man who had a candy machine, in which the owner wanted to interest Mr. Damon. After seeing a demonstration and giving his opinion, he attended to his own affairs, in which his hand extinguisher played a part. Then he called on Mary Nestor at her relative's home.

"Oh, but it's good to see you again, Tom!" cried Mary, after the first greeting. "What have you been doing, and what's all that white stuff on your coat?"

"Fire extinguisher chemical," Tom answered, and he related what had happened.

"What's the matter with your aunt, Mary? She seems worried about something," he said, after the aunt with whom Mary was staying had come in, greeted Tom briefly, and gone out again.

"Oh, she and Uncle Jasper are worried over money matters, I believe," Mary said. "Uncle Jasper invested heavily in the Landmark Building here, and now, I understand, it is discovered that it was put up in violation of the building laws--something about not being fire-proof. Uncle Jasper is likely to lose considerable money.

"It isn't that it will make him so very poor," Mary went on. "But Uncle Barton Keith--you remember you went on the undersea search with him--Uncle Barton warned Uncle Jasper not to go into the Landmark Building scheme."

"And Uncle Jasper did, I take it," said Tom.

"Yes. And now he's sorry, for not only may he lose money, but Uncle Barton will laugh at him, and Uncle Jasper hates that worse than losing a lot. But tell me about yourself, Tom. What have you been doing? And is Eradicate going to get better?"

"I hope so," Tom said. "As for me--"

But he was interrupted by loud voices in the hall. He recognized the tones of Mary's Uncle Jasper saying:

"They're scoundrels, that's what they are! Just plain scoundrels! When I accuse them of swindling me and others in that Landmark Building deal they have the nerve to ask me to invest money in some secret dye formulae they claim will revolutionize the industry! Bah! They're scoundrels, that's what they are-- Field and Melling are scoundrels, and I'm going to have them arrested!"