Chapter XVII. A Town Blaze
 

Mary's uncle, Jasper Blake, always an impetuous man, opened the door so quickly that Tom, who was standing near it talking to Mary, barely had time to move aside.

"Oh, Tom, excuse me! Didn't see you!" bruskly went on Mr. Blake. "But this thing has gotten on my nerves and I guess I'm a bit wrought up.

"There isn't any guessing about it, Uncle Jasper," said Mary, with a laugh and a look at Tom to warn him not to tell her relative that he had just befriended Field and Melling. "For," as Mary said to Tom later, "he would positively rave at you."

Tom was wise enough to realize this, and so, after some laughing reference to the effect that he would have to wear protective armor if he stood near doors when Mary's uncle opened them so suddenly, the conversation became general.

"I hope you never get roped in as I have been," said Mr. Blake, as he sat down. "Those scoundrels, Field and Melling, would rob a baby of his first tooth if they had the chance!"

"No, I am not likely to have anything to do with them; though I have met them," and Tom gave Mary a glance. "But did I hear you say they are embarking on a dye enterprise?" he asked. "I couldn't help overhearing what you said in the hall," he explained.

"That's the story they tell," said Uncle Jasper. "I was foolish enough to invest in the Landmark Building, and now I'm likely to lose it all in a lawsuit."

"I mentioned it," said Mary.

"And that isn't the worst," went on Mr. Blake. "But Barton-- that's your friend of the submarine--will give me the laugh, for he was asked to invest in the same building, and didn't."

"Oh, maybe it will all turn out right," said Tom consolingly. "My friend Mr. Damon has a little stock in the same structure."

"Nothing those two scoundrels have anything to do with will turn out right," declared Mary's uncle. "And to think of their nerve when they ask me to go in with them on a dye scheme!"

"That's what interests me," said Tom.

"Well, take my advice and don't become interested to the extent of investing any money," warned Mr. Blake. "I'm not going to."

"I didn't mean that way," said Tom. "But I happen to be acquainted with an expert dye maker who lost some secret formulae during a fire in Field and Melling's factory."

"You don't say so!" cried Mr. Blake. "Tom Swift, there's something wrong here! Let you and me talk this over. I begin to see how I may be able to take a peep through the hole in the grindstone," a colloquial expression which was as well understood by Tom as were some of Mr. Damon's blessing remarks.

"If you're going to talk business I think I'll excuse myself," said Mary.

"Don't go," urged Tom, but she said to him that she would see him before he left, and then she went out, leaving her uncle and the young inventor busily engaged in talking.

But though Mr. Blake had certain suspicions regarding Field and Melling, and though Tom Swift, too, believed they had something to do with the disappearance of Baxter's secret formulae, it was another matter to prove anything.

Impetuous as he often was, Mr. Blake was for calling in the police at once, and having the two men arrested. But Tom counseled delay.

"Wait until we get more evidence against them," he urged.

"But they may skip out!" objected Mary's uncle.

"They won't with that Landmark Building on their hands," said the young inventor.

"Their hands! Huh! They'll take precious good care that the trouble and responsibility of it are on other people's hands before they go," declared Mr. Blake. "However, I suppose you're right. Barton Keith sets a deal by your opinion since that undersea search, and while I don't always agree with him, I do in this case. Especially since he is likely to have the laugh on me."

"Oh, I wouldn't count everything lost in that building deal," said Tom. "A way may be found out of the trouble yet. But I must be getting back. Dr. Henderson was to give a report today on the condition of Eradicate's eyes, and I want to be there."

"Mary was saying something about your faithful old retainer being in trouble," said Mr. Blake. "I'm sorry to hear about it."

"We are all sorry for poor Rad," replied Tom slowly. "I only hope he gets his sight back. His last days will be very sad if he doesn't."

Tom found Mary waiting for him after he had left her uncle, and, after a short talk with her, he made ready to ride back with Mr. Damon, who, after having attended to several other matters, was now outside in his car.

"When are you coming home, Mary?" Tom asked.

"In a week or two," she answered. "I'll send word when I'm ready and you can come and get me."

"Delighted!" declared Tom. "Don't forget!" During the ride home the young inventor was unusually silent, so much so that Mr. Damon finally exclaimed:

"Bless my phonograph, Tom Swift! but what is the matter? Has Mary broken the engagement?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," was the answer. "Only I'm wondering about Eradicate, and--other matters."

Other matters had to do with what Mary's uncle had told Tom about the interest manifested by Field and Melling in some dye industry.

Tom's forebodings regarding his colored helper were nearly borne out, for Dr. Henderson gloomily shook his head when asked for the verdict.

"It's too early to say for a certainty," replied the medical man, "but I am not as hopeful as I was, Tom, I'm sorry to say."

"I'm sorry to hear it," returned Tom. "Is there anything we can do--any hospital to which we can send him for special treatment?"

"No, he is doing as well as he can be expected to right here. Besides, he has his friends around him, and the companionship of that giant of yours, absurd as it may seem, is really a tonic to Eradicate. I never saw such devotion on the part of any one."

"Koku has certainly changed," said Tom. "He and Rad used always to be quarreling. But I guess that is all over," and Tom sighed.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," declared the medical man. "I haven't given up, though there are some symptoms I do not like. However, I am going to wait a week and then make another test."

Tom knew that the week would be an anxious one for him, but, as it developed, he had so much to do in the next few days that, for the time being, he rather forgot about Eradicate.

Field and Melling, he heard incidentally, had their machine towed to a garage for repairs, but beyond that no word came from the two men. Josephus Baxter remained at work over his dye formulae in one of Tom's laboratories, but the young inventor did not see much of the discouraged old man.

Tom did not tell of the encounter with Field and Melling and of extinguishing the fire in their car, for he knew it would only excite Mr. Baxter, and do no good.

It was within a few days of the time when Tom was to call in a committee of fire insurance experts to give them a demonstration of the efficiency of his aerial fire-fighting machine. He was putting the finishing touches to his craft and its extinguishing- dropping devices when he received a call from Mr. Baxter.

"Well, how goes it?" asked Tom, trying to infuse some cheer into his voice.

"Not very well," was the answer. "I've tried, in every way I know, to get on the track of the missing methods perfected by that Frenchman, but I can't. I'd be a millionaire now, if I had that dye information."

"Do you really think they have them--actually have the formulae?" asked Tom.

"I certainly do. And the reason I believe so is that I was over at a chemical supply factory the other day when an order came in for a quantity of a very rare chemical."

"What has that to do with it?" asked Tom.

"This chemical is an ingredient called for by one of the dye formulae that were stolen from me. I never heard of its being used for anything else. I at once became suspicious. I learned that this chemical had been ordered sent to Field and Melling in their new offices in the Landmark Building."

"Maybe they intend to use it in making a new kind of fireworks," suggested Tom.

Mr. Baxter shook his head.

"That chemical never would work in a skyrocket or Roman candle," he said. "I'm sure they're trying to cheat me out of my dye formulae. If I could only prove it!"

"That's the trouble," agreed Tom. "But I'll give you all the help I can. And, come to think of it, I believe you might interest Mr. Blake. He has no love for Field and Melling, and he has several keen lawyers on his staff. I believe it would be a good thing for you to talk to Mr. Blake."

"Please give me a letter of introduction to him," begged Mr. Baxter. "What I need is legal talent and capital to fight these scoundrels. Mr. Blake may supply both."

"He may," agreed Tom. "I'll fix it so you can meet him. But what do you think of this combination, Mr. Baxter? It is my very latest solution for putting out fires. I'm loading an airship up with some of the bomb containers now, and--"

Tom's further remarks were interrupted by the noise of shouting and tumult in the street, and a moment later yells could be heard of:

"Fire! Fire! Fire!"

"Another blaze!" exclaimed Mr. Baxter, raising the shades which had been drawn, since night had fallen.

"And not far away," said Tom, as he caught the reflection of a red gleam in the sky.

There was a ring at the front doorbell, and almost at once Ned Newton's voice called:

"Tom! Tom Swift! There's quite a fire in town! Don't you want to try your new apparatus on it?"

"The very chance!" exclaimed the young inventor. "Come on, Mr. Baxter. There's room in the airship for you and Ned. I want you to see how my chemical works!"

Without waiting for a reply from the chemist, Tom caught him by the hand and led him toward the side door that gave egress to the yard where one of the airships was housed. Tom caught sight of Ned, who was hastening toward him.

"Big fire, Tom!" said the young manager again. "Fierce one!"

"I'm going to try to put it out!" Tom answered. "Want to come?"

"Sure thing!" answered Ned.