Tom Swift considered a few minutes. On the face of it, the proposition appealed to him. He had been home some time now after his adventures on Earthquake Island, and he was beginning to long for more excitement. The search for the mysterious mountain, and the cave of the diamond makers, might offer a new field for him. But there came to him a certain distrust of Mr. Jenks.
"I don't like to doubt your word," began Tom, slowly, "but you know, Mr. Jenks, that some of the greatest chemists have tried in vain to make diamonds; or, at best, they have made only tiny ones. To think that any man, or set of men, made real diamonds as large as the ones you have, doesn't seem�well�" and Tom hesitated.
"You mean you can hardly believe me?" asked Mr. Jenks.
"I guess that's it," assented Tom.
"I don't blame you a bit!" exclaimed the odd man. "In fact, I didn't believe it when they told me they could make diamonds. But they proved it to me. I'm ready now to prove it to you."
"I'll tell you what I'll do. Here's this one stone, cut ready for setting. Here's another, uncut," and Mr. Jenks drew from his pocket what looked like a piece of crystal. "Take them to any jeweler," he resumed�"to the one in whose place I saw you to-night. I'll abide by the verdict you get, and I'll come here to-morrow night, and hear what you have to say."
"Why do you come at night?" asked Tom, thinking there was something suspicious in that.
"Because my life might be in danger if I was seen talking to you, and showing you diamonds in the daytime�especially just now.
"Why at this particular time?"
"For the reason that the diamond makers are on my trail. As long as I remained quiet, after their shabby treatment of me, and did not try to discover their secret, they were all right. But, after I realized that I had been cheated out of my rights, and when I began to make an investigation, with a view to discovering their secret whereabouts, I received mysterious and anonymous warnings to stop."
"But I did not. I came East, and tried to get help to discover the cave of the diamond makers, but I was unsuccessful. I needed an airship, as I�said, and no person who could operate one, would agree to go with me on the quest. Again I received a warning to drop all search for the diamond makers, but I persisted, and about a week ago I found I was being shadowed."
"Shadowed; by whom?" asked Tom.
"By a man I never remember seeing, but who, I have no doubt, is one of the diamond-making gang."
"Do you think he means you harm?"
"I'm sure of it. That is the reason I have to act so in secret, and come to see you at night. I don't want those scoundrels to find out what I am about to do. On my return from Earthquake Island, I again endeavored to interest an airship man in my plan, but he evidently thought me insane. Then I thought of you, as I had done before, but I was afraid you, too, would laugh at my proposition. However, I decided to come here, and I did. It seemed almost providential that my first view of you was in a jewelry shop, looking at diamonds. I took it as a good omen. Now it remains with you. May I call here to-morrow night, and get your answer?"
Tom Swift made up his mind quickly. After all it would be easy enough to find out if the diamonds were real. If they were, he could then decide whether or not to go with Mr. Jenks on the mysterious quest. So he answered:"I'll consider the matter, Mr. Jenks. I'll meet you here to-morrow night. In the meanwhile, for my own satisfaction, I'll let an expert look at these stones."
"Get the greatest diamond expert in the world, and he'll pronounce them perfect!" predicted the odd man. "Now I'll bid you goodnight, and be going. I'll be here at this time to-morrow."
As Mr. Jenks turned aside there was a movement among the trees in the orchard, and a shadowy figure was seen hurrying away.
"Who's that?" asked the diamond man, in a hoarse whisper. "Did you see that, Tom Swift? Some one was here�listening to what I said! Perhaps it was the man who has been shadowing me!"
"I think not. I guess it was Eradicate Sampson, a man who does work for us," said Tom. "Is that you, Rad?" he called.
"Yais, Tom, heah I am!" answered the man, but it came from an entirely different direction than that in which the shadowy figure had been seen.
"Where are you, Rad?" called the young inventor.
"Right heah," was the reply, and the man came from the direction of the stable. "I were jest out seein' if mah mule Boomerang were all right. Sometimes he's restless, an' don't sleep laik he oughter."
"Then that wasn't you over in the orchard?" asked Tom, in some uneasiness.
"No, sah, I ain't been in de orchard. I were sleepin' in mah shack, till jest a few minutes ago, when I got up, an' went in t' see Boomerang. I had a dream dat some coon were tryin t' steal him, an' it sort ob 'sturbed me, laik."
"If it wasn't your man, it was some one else," said Mr. Jenks, decidedly.
"We'll have a look!" exclaimed Tom. "Here, Rad, come over and scurry among those trees. We just saw some one sneaking around."
"I'll sure do dat!" he cried. "Mebby it were somebody arter Boomerang! I'll find 'em."
"I don't believe it was any one after the mule," murmured Mr. Jenks, "but it certainly was some one�more likely some one after me."
The three made a hasty search among the trees, but the intruder had vanished, leaving no trace. They went out into the road, which the moon threw into bold relief along its white stretch, but there was no figure scurrying away.
"Whoever it was, is gone," spoke Tom. "You can go back to bed, Rad," for, of late, had been sleeping in a shack on the Swift premises.
"And I guess it's time for me to go, too," added Mr. Jenks. "I'll be here to-morrow night, Tom, and I hope your answer will be favorable."
Tom did not sleep well the remainder of the night, for his fitful slumbers were disturbed by dreams of enormous caves, filled with diamonds, with dark, shadowy figures trying to put him into a red-hot steel box. Once he awakened with a start, and put his hand under his pillow to feel if the two stones Mr. Jenks had given him, were still there. They had not been disturbed.Tom made up his mind to find out if the stones were really diamonds, before saying anything to his father about the chance of going to seek Phantom Mountain. And the young inventor wished to get the opinion of some other jeweler than Mr. Track�at least, at first.
"Though if this one proves to be a good gem, I'll have Mr. Track set it in a brooch, and give it to Mary for her birthday," decided the young inventor.
"Guess I'll take a run over to Chester in the Butterfly, and see what one of the jewelers there has to say."
In addition to his big airship, Red Cloud, Tom owned a small, swift monoplane, which he called Butterfly. This had been damaged by Andy Foger just before Tom left on the trip that ended at Earthquake Island, but the monoplane had been repaired, and Andy had left town, not having returned since.
Telling his father that he was going off on a little business trip, which he often did in his aeroplane, Tom, with the aid of Mr. Jackson, the engineer, wheeled the Butterfly out of its shed.
Adjusting the mechanism, and seeing that it was in good shape, Tom took his place in one of the two seats, for the monoplane would carry two. Mr. Jackson then spun the propellers, and, with a crackle and roar the motor started. Over the ground ran the dainty, little aeroplane, until, having momentum enough, Tom tilted the wing planes and the machine sailed up into the air.
Rising about a thousand feet, and circling about several times to test the wind currents, Tom headed his craft toward Chester, a city about fifty miles from Shopton. In his pocket, snugly tucked away, were the two stones Mr. Jenks had given him.
It was not long before Tom saw, looming up in the distance the church spires and towering factory chimneys of Chester, for his machine was a speedy one, and could make ninety miles an hour when driven. But now a slower speed satisfied our hero.
"I'll just drop down outside of the city," he reasoned, "for too much of a crowd gathers when I land in the street. Besides I might frighten horses, and then, too, it's hard to get a good start from the street. I'll leave it in some barn until I want to go back."
Tom sent his craft down, in order to pick out a safe place for a landing. He was then over the suburbs of the city, and was following the line of a straight country road.
"Looks like a good place there," he murmured. "I'll shut off the motor, and vol-plane down."
Suiting the action to the word, Tom shut off his power. The little craft dipped toward the ground, but the lad threw up the forward planes, and caught a current of air that sent him skimming along horizontally.
As he got nearer to the ground, he saw the figure of a lad riding a bicycle along the country highway. Something about the figure struck Tom as being familiar, and he recognized the cyclist a moment later.
"It's Andy Foger!" said Tom, in a whisper. "I wondered where he had been keeping himself since he damaged the Butterfly. Evidently he doesn't dare venture back to Shopton. Well, here's where I give him a scare."
Tom's monoplane was making no more noise, now, than a soaring bird. He was gliding swiftly toward the earth, and, with the plan in his mind of administering some sort of punishment to the bully, he aimed the machine directly at him.
Nearer and nearer shot the monoplane, as quietly as a sheet of paper might fall. Andy pedaled on, never looking up nor behind him, A moment later, as Tom threw up his headplanes, to make his landing more easy, and just as he swooped down at one side of the cyclist, our hero let out a most alarming yell, right into Andy's ear.
"Now I've got you!" he shouted. "I'll teach you to slash my aeroplane! Come with me!"
Andy gave one look at the white bird-like apparatus that had flown up beside him so noiselessly, and, being too frightened to recognize Tom's voice, must have thought that he had been overtaken by some supernatural visitor.
Andy gave a yell like an Indian, about to do a stage scalping act, and fairly dived over the handlebars of his bicycle, sprawling in a heap on the dusty road.
"I guess that will hold you for a while," observed Tom, grimly, as he put on the ground-brake and brought his monoplane to a stop not far from the fallen rider.
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