Tom Swift and His Wireless Message/Chapter 6
THE NEW AIRSHIP
For a brief instant after the stopping of the motor, and the consequent sudden dropping toward the earth of the monoplane, Tom glanced at Mr. Damon. The latter's face was rather pale, but he seemed calm and collected. His lips moved slightly, and Tom, even in those tense moments, wondered if the odd gentleman was blessing anything in particular, or everything in general.
Tom threw up the tilting plane, to catch more air beneath it, and bring the Butterfly in a more parallel position to the earth. This, in a manner, checked the downward flight, and they glided along horizontally for a hundred feet or more.
"Is—is there any great danger, Tom?" asked Mr. Damon.
"I think not," answered the young inventor, confidently. "I have done this same thing before, and from greater heights. The only thing that bothers me is that there are several cross-currents of air up here, which make it difficult to manage the planes and wing tips. But I think we'll make a good landing."
"Bless my overcoat!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I certainly hope so."
Conversation was more easily carried on now, as the motor was not spitting fire and throbbing like a battery of Gatling guns. Tom thought perhaps it might start on the spark, as the propeller was slowly swinging from the force of air against it. He tried, but there was no explosion. He had scarcely hoped for it, as he realized that some part of the mechanism must have broken.
Down they glided, coming nearer and nearer to the earth. The crowd in the big athletic field grew larger. Shouts of wonder and fear could be heard, and people could be seen running excitedly about. To Tom and Mr. Damon they looked like dolls.
Reaching the limit of the parallel glide the monoplane once more shot down on an incline toward the earth with terrible speed. The ground seemed to rush up to meet Mr. Damon.
"Look out!" he cried to Tom. "We're going to hit something!"
"Not yet," was the calm answer "I'm going to try a new stunt. Hold fast!"
"What are you going to do?"
"Some spirals. I think that will let us down easier, but the craft is likely to tilt a bit, so hold on."
The young inventor shifted the movable planes and rudder, and, a moment later, the Butterfly swung violently around, like a polo pony taking a sudden turn after the ball. Mr. Damon slid to one side of his seat, and made a frantic grab for one of the upright supports.
"I made too short a turn!" cried Tom, easing off the craft, which righted itself in an instant. "The air currents fooled me."
Under his skillful guidance, the monoplane was soon slowly approaching the earth in a series of graceful curves. It was under perfect control, and a smile of relief came on the face of the young inventor. Seeing it Mr. Damon took courage, and his hands, which had grasped the uprights with such firmness that his knuckles showed white with the strain, were now removed. He sat easily in his seat.
"We're all right now," declared Tom. "I'll take a couple of forward glides now, and we'll land."
He sent the machine straight ahead. It gathered speed in an instant. Then, with an upward tilt it was slackened, almost as if brakes had been applied. Once more it shot toward the earth, and once more it was checked by an up-tilted plane.
Then with a thud which shook up the occupants of the two seats, the Butterfly came to the ground, and ran along on the three bicycle wheels. Swiftly it slid over the level ground. A more ideal landing place would have been hard to find. Scores of willing hands reached out, and checked the momentum of the little monoplane, and Tom and Mr. Damon climbed from their seats.
The crowd set up a cheer, and hundreds pressed around the aviators. Several sought to reach, and touch the machine, for they had probably never been so close to one before, though airship flights are getting more and more common.
"Where did you come from?"
"Are you trying for a record?"
"How high did you get?"
"Did you fall, or come down on purpose?"
"Can't you start your motor in mid-air?"
These, and scores of other questions were fairly volleyed at Tom and Mr. Damon. The young inventor good-naturedly answered them as best he could.
"We were coming down anyhow," he explained, "but we did not calculate on vol-planing. The motor was stalled, and I had to glide. Please keep away from the machine. You might damage it."
The arrival of several policemen, who were attracted by the crowd, served to keep the curious ones back away from the Butterfly, or the men, boys and women (for there were a number of the latter in the throng) might have caused serious trouble.
Tom made a hasty examination of the motor, and, having satisfied himself that only a minor difficulty had caused it to stop, he decided to put the monoplane in some safe place, and proceed to Mr. Fenwick's house.
The lad was just asking one of the officers if the air craft could not be put in one of the grandstands which surrounded the field, when a voice on the outskirts of the crowd excitedly exclaimed:
"Let me pass, please. I want to see that airship. I'm building one myself, and I need all the experience I can get. Let me in, please."
A man pushed his way into the crowd, and wormed his way to where Tom and Mr. Damon stood. At the sight of him, the eccentric individual cried out:
"Why bless my pocket-knife! If it isn't Mr. Fenwick!"
"Mr. Fenwick?" gasped Tom.
"Yes. The inventor we came to see!"
At the same moment the newcomer cried out:
"That's who I am," answered Tom's friend, "and let me introduce you to Mr. Swift, the inventor of more machines than I can count. He and I were coming to see you, when we had a slight accident, and we landed here. But that didn't matter, for we intended to land here anyhow, as I knew it was near your house. Only we had to vol-plane back to earth, and I can't say that I'd care for that, as a steady diet. Bless my radiator, but I'm glad we've arrived safely."
"Did you come all the way from your home in that?" asked Mr. Fenwick of Tom, as he shook hands with him, and nodded at the monoplane.
"Oh, yes. It's not much of a trip."
"Well, I hope my airship will do as well. But something seems to be wrong with it, and I have hopes that you can help me discover what it is. I know your father, and I have heard much of your ability. That is why I requested your aid."
"I'm afraid I've been much overrated," spoke Tom, modestly, "but I'll do all I can for you. I must now leave my monoplane in a safe place, however."
"I'll attend to that," Mr. Fenwick hastened to assure him. "Leave it to me."
By this time a lieutenant of police, in charge of several reserve officers, had arrived on the scene, for the crowd was now very large, and, as Mr. Fenwick knew this official, he requested that Tom's machine be protected from damage. It was arranged that it could be stored in a large, empty shed, and a policeman would be left on guard. Then, seeing that it was all right, Tom, Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick started for the latter's house.
"I am very anxious to show you the Whizzer," said Mr. Fenwick, as they walked along.
"The Whizzer?" repeated Tom, wonderingly.
"Yes, that's what I call my electric airship. It hasn't 'whizzed' any to speak of yet, but I have hopes that it will, now that you are here to help me. We will take one of these taxicabs, and soon be at my house. I was out for a stroll, when I saw your monoplane coming down, and I hastened to Franklin Field to see it."
The three entered an automobile, and were soon being driven to the inventor's home. A little later he led them out to a big shed which occupied nearly all of a large lot, in back of Mr. Fenwick's house.
"Does it take up all that room?" asked Tom.
"Oh, yes, the Whizzer is pretty good size. There she is!" cried Mr. Fenwick proudly, as he threw open the doors of the shed, and Tom and Mr. Damon, looking in, saw a large triplane, with a good-sized gas bag hovering over it, and a strange collection of rudders, wings and planes sticking out from either side. Amidships was an enclosed car, or cabin, and a glimpse into it served to disclose to the young inventor a mass of machinery.
"There she is! That's the Whizzer!" cried Mr. Fenwick, with pride in his voice. "What do you think of her, Tom Swift?"
Tom did not immediately answer. He looked dubiously at the electric airship and shrugged his shoulders. It seemed to him, at first glance, that it would never sail.