Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope/2
"Yes," said Ned dubiously, "if you can do it. Oh, I'll admit that your invention improves a telescope marvelously. But to see life on another world, millions of miles away--well, that sounds like a pretty tall order even for you, Tom Swift!"
"Let's go back in the lab and I'll tell you more about the project."
Tom directed Koku to carry the telescope inside. As the three walked back, the giant suddenly gave a yell.
With that the servant let go the big instrument, placing it with a thud none too gently on the hard ground. In a bound he was off. Tom and Ned caught a glimpse of someone just disappearing around the edge of the building. Had the stranger sneaked into the laboratory while Koku's back was turned?
"I hope the space eye isn't smashed!" exclaimed Tom, examining the instrument. "Or the telescope lens."
Anxiously Ned waited as his chum detached the green disk and held it up.
"I--I guess it's O.K.," said Tom at length. "I'll test it in the lab and see."
At this moment Koku reappeared, saying the intruder had vanished. Moreover, he was very contrite about having handled the telescope roughly. In a few seconds the fears of the three vanished. Put to the electric test, the disk was found to be all right.
"Who do you suppose was sneaking around here?" asked Ned.
"No telling," replied Tom. "But nothing seems to be missing," he added, glancing around.
"I hope you're right," said Ned. "Now tell me more about this green disk. How did you happen to discover the stuff?"
"As to just what it is," replied the other slowly, "I'm not sure yet. When I analyzed it, I found a substance absolutely new to chemistry."
"Where did you get it?" asked Ned.
"I scraped it from that meteorite down in Koku's country in South America."
Ned whistled. "Ever since we found that thing which we called a planet stone, you've been discovering all sorts of things about it."
"Right now I hope to revolutionize the field of astronomy with it," said Tom.
"Tell me more about this wonderful green substance."
"It may be a new compound or it may be an unknown element. Anyway, in experimenting with it I found that heat and electricity both change the stuff. The former has an apparently permanent effect, while an electric current, as you saw, alters it only temporarily."
"Why didn't you make a big disk? Then you could have tested your theory right away," stated Ned Newton.
"For two good reasons," replied Tom, opening a drawer and taking out a small vial filled with yellow powder. "I wasn't sure it would improve a telescope for one thing, and this is the other." He handed the bottle to Ned. "This is all I have on hand of the new stuff."
"'X,'" murmured Ned, reading the label. "But this powder isn't green. And why the X?"
"When the stuff is melted and then cooled it changes color," explained Tom. "As for the X, if you remember your algebra you know that letter stands for the unknown quantity."
"Too bad you can't make a huge green disk."
"Don't worry about that," smiled his friend. "I'll soon have plenty of the powder. You haven't forgotten how the natives of Giant Land feared the meteorite and insisted that we take it away. It seems, however, that we got but a small piece of it. Evidently when it struck the ground the thing split, the heavier portion burying itself deep in the earth while the part we found remained near the surface."
"About six weeks ago Koku got a letter from his brother, King Amo of Giant Land, telling of an earthquake which caused the upheaval of the huge stone. His people think we are great magicians or else witch doctors, and Amo wrote begging us to take the meteorite from his land. Of course, I was only too glad to oblige 'em."
"Then you plan going to South America--"
"Bless my passport, but I'm glad to hear that!" exclaimed a voice from the open doorway. "It seems as if I'm just in time!"
"Mr. Damon!" cried both boys together.
A jolly-looking, rather portly gentleman entered, swinging his cane excitedly. Tom and Ned gave him a warm welcome, for he was a friend of long standing and had accompanied them on many an expedition to remote quarters of the globe.
"Come in," invited Tom. "Sit down, Mr. Damon, and tell us the news."
"And what was it you were so tickled to hear just now?" added Ned.
"I'll tell you," said the rather eccentric man, for once forgetting to bless something. "I'm in trouble, boys, and I need your help."
"You know we'll do anything we can, Mr. Damon," Tom assured him. "Just what is the difficulty?"
"My wife," said the caller glumly. "She's the trouble."
On hearing this both boys experienced no little difficulty in keeping their faces straight. Although Mrs. Damon was a fine woman in many ways, she was inclined to be very domineering where her husband was concerned. Ever since Tom Swift had rescued the man from a band of kidnapers, Mrs. Damon had had a great liking for the youthful scientist. Yet she felt that her husband should remain quietly at home with her and not go off on any wild trips, as the good lady called them.
"But I don't see--well, suppose you explain," suggested Tom.
"My wife wants me to go on a week-end house party with her next Friday and I detest 'em. Bless my headache pills, but it's enough to drive a man distracted. Now, I heard you boys talking about South America as I came in and I want to go along!"
"Well, Mr. Damon, if we were going South you know I'd be only too pleased to have you a member of the party. But Ned and I were merely talking about a shipment of freight I'm expecting from Giant Land."
"Koku's country?" asked Mr. Damon, somewhat astonished. "I thought Ambolata was still unknown to commerce. Bless my bill-of-lading, if the world isn't moving faster than I thought!"
Tom smiled. "I had to arrange for an expedition through the consular office at Buenos Aires to get what I want. It seems we didn't receive all of that strange meteorite even with the help of your magic wig."
Even Mr. Damon had to laugh when he recalled the ludicrous situation in which he had been placed in the jungles of South America. Surrounded by savages, he had absent-mindedly taken off his wig, thereby frightening the simple natives half out of their wits. They had thought he could scalp himself at will. Nevertheless, this action had saved the lives of Tom Swift and his party, ultimately enabling them to escape when the giants turned against them.
"Ah, those were the days, Tom," sighed the eccentric man, "those were the days! Even if you're not going off to the wilds, maybe you might give me some kind of a job here so that my wife can't drag me off to that house party. I feel it in my very bones that old Hiram Leatherby will be there and he ALWAYS singles me out to talk about his fossil collection!"
"I can sympathize with you," muttered Ned. "Mr. Leatherby used to be a director in the bank where I worked before Tom made me his business manager, and I've often thought he was a bit fossilized himself!"
"Well, Mr. Damon, I'll see what can be done," promised Tom.
"Good!" came an enthusiastic exclamation. "Bless my cup of tea, I'm counting on you!"
"In the meantime, why don't you go up to the house and have our housekeeper, Mrs. Baggert, make you a cup of tea? Stop in the library and see Dad. He's been working too hard lately on his electrical book and he needs company."
"I will, Tom. Your father is a mighty fine man. Oh, my goodness! Bless my poor memory, Tom, but I had some news for you. Good or bad I don't know, but I feel uneasy about it."
"Tell us what it is," suggested the young inventor.
"It's a rather odd thing. You see, last evening I was reading my paper on the porch when two men called on me. Said they were long-lost relatives--cousins, or something of the sort--just back from a stay in South Africa. They seemed nice enough fellows, but bless my family tree, I had never heard of 'em! At any rate, they seemed to know a good deal about the Damon family and so I asked them to dinner. What got me thinking something might not be right was the way those chaps tried to pump me about you, Tom."
"Pump you?" asked young Swift, a puzzled look on his face. "About what?"
"Glass," said the eccentric character promptly. "Some kind of glass. Bless my windshield-wiper, what was it? Oh, yes! Flexible glass, that was it."
Tom and Ned exchanged startled glances. For many months experiments directed toward the production of a glass as bendable as rubber had been going forward in the Swift plant. Every possible precaution had been taken to cloak the work in deepest secrecy, yet somewhere evidently a leak had developed among Tom's employees.
"Are these men still at your home, Mr. Damon?" asked Ned, a worried look on his face.
"No, they left after dinner. Mr. Brown said they had some important business up state. Is this glass business some new invention, Tom?"
"I hope it will be. So far my experiments haven't turned out successfully. But I can't understand how anyone outside our plant could have known about them."
Mr. Damon could tell little more about his self-styled relatives. After giving a description of the two men he took his leave. The boys were rather worried about the information he had brought along.
"It's not so much the glass," said Tom, "for we don't know if it will be a success. What bothers me is the idea of there being a traitor in the shops. I thought we had weeded out all unscrupulous employees."
"The Apex Glass Works are located in Portville," said Ned, struck with an idea, "fifty miles north of here. Mr. Damon's visitors claimed to have business up state. To my mind that's more than a coincidence, especially since the Apex people would give their back teeth to get hold of your formula, Tom!"