Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope/6
Tom had headed the ship up at a steep angle so as to get as much altitude as possible before the other motor should stop. But he knew in his heart that he could not hope to glide so heavy a plane as far as the lake.
In some surprise Ned observed that Captain Britten was fumbling with the straps about his big, old-fashioned valise. Young Newton wondered what the elderly man was looking for so intensely.
"Ahoy there, Tom Swift!" boomed the old diver, straightening up with a bottle in his hand. "I've got a drop o' gasoline here that may help ye!"
"What's that?" gasped the pilot. Turning, he saw the quart bottle. Already the remaining engine was dying of thirst. "Quick, Ned!" he ordered, snatching the container. "Take the controls and hold the ship level."
Five seconds later the inventor was creeping out along one wing toward the intake valve of the port gas tank. Their hearts almost in their mouths, his companions watched his hazardous progress. In spite of the clutching hand of the wind and the quavering of the ship under Ned's inexpert guidance, Tom managed to reach his goal.
Removing the cap with no little difficulty, he dumped the precious drops of gasoline into the tank. In a few moments he got back to the cabin. As he closed the door the laboring engine once more resumed its full-throated roar.
"Lad, you've got what it takes!" rumbled Captain Britten, shaking Tom's hand approvingly. "You're a mighty brave young fellow!"
"You mean YOU had what it takes," laughed the inventor, taking over the controls preparatory to landing on Carlopa. "Without that extra bit of gas we'd be piled up in a tree by now!"
The quart of fuel was just sufficient to carry the ship safely down to the lake's surface at a point about three miles from the town. Fortunately one of Tom's friends was sailing near-by in his cat-boat and gladly offered to take the three over to the Swift dock, which jutted out from the grounds behind Tom's home.
It was mid-afternoon before the "Winged Arrow" was towed across to the dock and her tanks refilled with high-test gasoline. While this was being done, Tom and Ned went to the home of Mr. Damon to ask if he would like to accompany them to the West Indies.
The man was found to be sitting in an easy chair on his front porch, where he spent much time, now that he was home from the hospital.
"Bless my parachute, I'd like nothing better than to make the trip!" he said a trifle wistfully. "To tell you the truth, though," his voice sank to a whisper, "between the doctors and Mrs. Damon I'll be lucky if I'm allowed to walk around the block alone for some time to come!"
"Well, that's too bad, Mr. Damon. We were counting on you."
"Bless my fishing tackle, Tom, I'm sorry too. But tell me! How did Captain Britten happen to be carrying a quart of gasoline in his satchel?" asked the eccentric gentleman after he had been told of the airplane's narrow escape.
"I thought it strange myself," said Tom, "but he claimed he always carries some with him to remove grease spots from his clothes."
"Ha! He must be quite a character. I suppose aboard a salvage boat folks get their clothes pretty dirty, at that."
After the boys returned home it was decided that they and Mr. Britten would set out for Florida the next morning. In the meantime, the elderly diver telegraphed his caretaker to get the "Betsy B." in order and arrange to hire a tug-boat.
Late in the afternoon Tom called his chum on the phone. "Can you spare me a few minutes?" he asked. "Think I'm going to have something interesting to show you."
"Be right over," replied Ned. "Where are you?"
"In the lab."
A few minutes later young Newton had joined his friend. "What's up?" he asked Tom as he entered.
Tom had discovered that his bendable glass mixture had cooled to a critical temperature, making it necessary to remove it from the furnace at once lest it be ruined. In a small secret chamber beneath his private laboratory he had set up a sort of miniature glass works which would have astonished any ordinary glass worker, for the young inventor had devised an entirely new method of procedure. As to its outcome, well, even to its inventor that feature remained in doubt.
"Do you think it'll work, Tom?" asked Ned Newton anxiously as he followed the youthful scientist down the stairs. "Your experiments have cost a mint of money already--"
"Don't croak," chuckled Tom. "I've a few pennies left, haven't I?"
"You won't have so very many after you finish with your new telescope idea," declared Ned grimly. "And THAT certainly won't bring in any dividends."
"Nor is it intended to," said Tom a bit sharply. "There is, you know, such a thing as pursuing knowledge for its own sake."
"I'm sorry. You ought to know, though, that I'm thinking only of your interests, not of mine," he said as they reached the room below.
"Forgive me, old man!" Tom clapped Ned warmly on the back. "Don't feel for a minute that I don't appreciate everything you've done for me. To tell you the truth, I'm as worried about this new glass as you are. That's why I jumped on you. Let's forget it!"
The two were standing now before the cylindrical furnace containing the mixture of silicates and other ingredients from which Tom Swift hoped would emerge a glass as flexible as rubber and as strong as steel. The thermometer on the front stood at twenty-one degrees Centigrade.
"She's just right," muttered the inventor, consulting a complicated chart hanging on the wall. "Now we'll see!"
The asbestos-coated door clanged open. Tom drew out a shallow tray, the contents of which were buried in a black powder.
"Charcoal!" he explained, setting the pan on a table. "It prevents any rapid temperature change. Even common glass must be cooled slowly or it becomes as brittle as peanut candy."
With the aid of a wooden rod Tom pulled out a glass bar about ten inches long and an inch thick. After picking it up carefully he examined it closely. In no way did the object appear different from ordinary glass.
"Well, here goes!" said the inventor and forthwith bent the bar into the shape of a horseshoe!
"Hurrah!" yelled Ned, clapping his friend on the back. "You've done it again, Tom Swift!"
"Don't crow too soon. Perhaps it won't bend back again. If a rod of copper is annealed in a certain way it can be bent ONCE like rubber but then the crystal breaks up and it becomes as rigid as ever. Maybe this glass will act the same way."
"Then try it! Don't keep me in suspense!"
Perhaps Tom had been tantalizing his business manager, or maybe he really was doubtful about the flexibility of the bar. At any rate, when he applied pressure he did not seem surprised when the glass became straight again. Then he proceeded actually to tie a knot in it, so bendable was the new substance.
"This will revolutionize the glass industry!" declared Ned, noting that even the blows of a heavy sledge-hammer failed even so much as to crack the rod.
"It's not half as wonderful as that other kind of glass," said Tom, dreamily.
"Your glass eye, d'you mean?" chuckled Ned in high good humor. In his mind he could already see fat profits for the company.
"I'll give you a pair of black eyes if you make another bad joke!" laughed Tom, giving his chum a playful push. "But seriously, I'm mighty well pleased with this stuff; it turned out better than I dared hope. You know, I got the idea for bendable glass while I was trying to figure out a way to make a huge telescope mirror. That was before we found the meteorite."
"And I suppose you'll go back to the glass mirror if you can't find the big stone so you can make the large green disk."
"Yes, that's what I'll have to do if the salvage attempt fails. But I'm sure we'll succeed."
Captain Britten had been given a room at the Swift home. When the boys got there they found their guest and Tom's father deep in a game of chess.
"Well, son," laughed Mr. Swift, "I've met my match at last. John Britten has beaten me three straight games! But don't tell Damon about it!"
"I won't, Dad," grinned Tom. "What do you think of this?" He handed his father the bar of bendable glass.
"What do I think of it? Why, it looks like a glass rod, that's all I can see."
"Then watch!" Tom took the bar and deftly twisted it into the shape of a fat pretzel.
"You've done it, son!" cried Mr. Swift. "And to think I told you such a thing was impossible! Congratulations!"
At dinner that evening the conversation turned mainly to the projected flight to the West Indies. It was decided to start the next day at sunrise, as Captain Britten had received word from Florida that his barge had been made ready. A tug was getting up steam to haul it to the Cuban coast.
"Mr. Damon can't go with us, Dad," said Tom. "His wife won't let him! By the way," he added with a laugh, "she was looking up the names of all his relatives--Mr. Damon said she was glad of the excuse to do so!--but she could find none named Jones or Brown. So that definitely proves those two fellows were fakes and that they merely pretended relationship in order to pump him about my work."
After supper Ned went to his home to pack a suitcase, for he was to spend the night at the Swifts' to be on hand for the early start that was being planned. Tom spent the evening in his office studying the latest available data on diving operations, and plotting the route over which the party would travel to the coast of Cuba.
Immersed in his work, he at first paid but little attention to a peculiar odor that gradually was pervading the atmosphere.
Suddenly he realized that something was wrong; a strange buzzing filled his ears and the lights seemed to be growing dim. He started to get up, but instead fell across his desk.
As Tom lay there motionless, a window opened noiselessly. Stealthily a masked figure climbed in. After a hasty glance around the room, the intruder hastened to the desk and leaned over the unconscious youth.