Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope/3
"Oh, I think you're letting your imagination run away with you, Ned," grinned Tom. "I know Mr. Stern, the president of Apex, very well, and I'm positive that he wouldn't stand for any underhanded tactics."
"I hope you're right," said his business manager. "But you know better than anyone else how unscrupulous gangs have tried to steal your inventions. At first it was Happy Harry the tramp, and the last was Doctor Bane. No telling how many thugs were after you and your father in between. You'd be wise to get some extra guards."
"I think Koku is well able to handle any intruder," declared Tom confidently. "Besides, I think you're getting excited over nothing. You know Mr. Damon is inclined to make mountains out of molehills."
"That's all very well," persisted his friend stubbornly, "but just suppose Mr. Damon is right in his suspicions? It'd be too late then to do anything about it."
"Don't worry, old man. My Chest of Secrets will hold its contents secure against any burglar's attack. Now it's late. You'd better stay to dinner. Afterward, if you care to and have no other date, we can talk over some unfinished business."
"Thanks, Tom. I'll be glad to spend the evening with you."
Locking up the laboratory, the two boys walked leisurely through the warm June twilight toward the big white house. Low in the sky hung the silvery crescent of the new moon, while almost overhead Mars glowed brightly.
"There's our goal, Ned," murmured Tom, pointing to the red planet. "I feel sure that our meteorite came from that far-off world!"
"Granting that it did come from another planet," objected Ned, "I don't get the reason why you're so sure it came from Mars. There are nine planets circling the sun, including the earth. Ruling out the sun, it seems to me that there is but one chance in eight that you are right."
"If it were simply a matter of chance, there'd be a lot of weight behind your argument, Ned. But a lot of other factors enter the problem. I should say that the only planets where life as we know it might exist are Mars and Venus. The latter I ruled out, for astronomers have found that it is forever covered thickly with dense clouds. Thus the inhabitants, if any, must be ignorant of any world but their own."
"What have people on the planets got to do with the question, anyhow?" asked Ned. "Huge chunks of metal break off of any heavenly body and go hurtling through space. The inhabitants don't throw them off!"
"But our meteor was no ordinary one as we have proved already," replied Tom. "I firmly believe that someone on another planet deliberately fired that missile into space, hoping it would reach this world. Since scientists agree that Mars probably is inhabited by a highly intelligent race, that planet is a reasonable guess."
"Whew!" whistled Ned. "Such ideas are beyond me."
As he finished speaking, the boys reached the Swift residence. The young inventor's father had built the handsome white house many years before his son was born. Beyond were the several buildings where the inventions of Tom Swift and his father, Barton Swift, were manufactured.
Of recent years the latter had not been active, but had put the affairs in the hands of his capable son Tom, ably assisted by Ned Newton. The older man now spent most of his time writing scientific books and articles.
The boys washed as quickly as possible so as not to delay dinner, for both possessed healthy appetites. Joining Mr. Swift in the library, they found him and Mr. Damon deep in a game of chess.
"Check!" cried Tom's father triumphantly, moving his king. "Got you again, Damon!"
"Bless my pawns and castles!" exclaimed the eccentric gentleman. "You've won three straight games!"
"Hello, Dad!" said Tom suddenly. "I see you're up to your old tricks!" In spite of his bantering tone the young inventor was pleased that his father was relaxing in a friendly game.
"Your father shouldn't be in the amateur class any more, Tom!" Mr. Damon grumbled playfully. "Bless my trophy cup, but I'm afraid to play with him!"
"Better luck next time," consoled Mr. Swift, a twinkle in his eye.
Mr. Damon left, refusing an invitation to dinner and saying that he had to take his car to a garage for a minor repair job before starting for his home in Waterford, a near-by town.
"How goes it with you, son?" asked Mr. Swift when Tom returned from seeing his guest to the door. "Your new space eye, as you call it--is it working out?"
"I think so, Dad, but wait until I get the big model built!"
"Genmens, dinnah am serbed!" An old negro thrust his white-fringed head through the library door. "An' it sho' am good!" Eradicate Sampson, so-called for his work in younger days of eradicating dirt from the homes of Shopton, had been attached to the Swift household for many years and now regarded himself as one of the family.
As they sat at table the conversation of the three turned naturally to Tom's latest invention. Mr. Swift had not heard yet all Tom's ideas of the proposed telescope and was full of eager questions.
"Just how long do you think it will take to make your big disk, son?" asked Mr. Swift. "That is, if you find any more of the new material."
"The meteorite is already on board a north-bound freight steamer," answered Tom, "and ought to get here within the next ten days. It'll require at least three weeks to extract all the X and cast it into shape. Taking everything into consideration, I should say it will be at least six weeks before we can test the device. The matter depends entirely on finding a lot of X in the planet stone. But I'm sure I shall."
After dinner the boys went over to the main office of the Swift Construction Company to clear up a number of routine business matters which required Tom's personal attention. He had postponed them for a while to give more time to his new experiments.
"Now, young fellow, I'm not letting you get away until you've looked over these papers!" declared Ned, pretending to threaten his chum with a yardstick. "I've been after you for a week about 'em!"
Tom dodged and pretended to be scared. "You're right, though," he admitted.
The two worked rapidly. Within an hour the seemingly endless stack of documents had shrunk to a few letters and bills. Just as Ned was reaching for one of them the telephone rang in the outer office.
"I'll get it, Tom," his chum said.
"Sit still," replied the young inventor. "I'll switch it to my private phone."
"Tom Swift speaking," he said into the mouthpiece a moment later. "Oh, hello, Mrs. Damon. What's that? But I don't understand. No, there must be some mistake!" A loud click sounded in the receiver and Tom jerked the instrument from his ear.
"What's wrong?" asked Ned, noting his friend's serious face.
"Mr. Damon's been hurt in an auto accident. For some reason his wife is blaming it on me! Come, we must get to the hospital at once!"