Meantime Rob rose to a higher altitude, and sped swiftly across the great continent. By noon he sighted Chicago, and after a brief inspection of the place from the air determined to devote at least an hour to forming the acquaintance of this most wonderful and cosmopolitan city.
18. A Narrow Escape
The Auditorium Tower, where "the weather man" sits to flash his reports throughout the country, offered an inviting place for the boy to alight. He dropped quietly upon the roof of the great building and walked down the staircase until he reached the elevators, by means of which he descended to the ground floor without exciting special attention.
The eager rush and hurry of the people crowding the sidewalks impressed Rob with the idea that they were all behind time and were trying hard to catch up. He found it impossible to walk along comfortably without being elbowed and pushed from side to side; so a half hour's sight-seeing under such difficulties tired him greatly. It was a beautiful afternoon, and finding himself upon the Lake Front, Rob hunted up a vacant bench and sat down to rest.
Presently an elderly gentleman with a reserved and dignified appearance and dressed in black took a seat next to the boy and drew a magazine from his pocket. Rob saw that he opened it to an article on "The Progress of Modern Science," in which he seemed greatly interested.
After a time the boy remembered that he was hungry, not having eaten a tablet in more than twenty-four hours. So he took out the silver box and ate one of the small, round disks it contained.
"What are those?" inquired the old gentleman in a soft voice. "You are too young to be taking patent medicines."
"There are not medicines, exactly," answered the boy, with a smile. "They are Concentrated Food Tablets, sorted with nourishment by means of electricity. One of them furnishes a person with food for an entire day."
The old gentleman stared at Rob a moment and then laid down his magazine and took the box in his hands, examining the tablets curiously.
"Are these patented?" he asked.
"No," said Rob; "they are unknown to any one but myself."
"I will give you a half million dollars for the recipe to make them," said the gentleman.
"I fear I must refuse your offer," returned Rob, with a laugh.
"I'll make it a million," said the gentleman, coolly.
Rob shook his head.
"Money can't buy the recipe," he said; "for I don't know it myself."
"Couldn't the tablets be chemically analyzed, and the secret discovered?" inquired the other.
"I don't know; but I'm not going to give any one the chance to try," declared the boy, firmly.
The old gentleman picked up his magazine without another word, and resumed his reading.
For amusement Rob took the Record of Events from his pocket and began looking at the scenes reflected from its polished plate.
Presently he became aware that the old gentleman was peering over his shoulder with intense interest. General Funston was just then engaged in capturing the rebel chief, Aguinaldo, and for a few moments both man and boy observed the occurrence with rapt attention. As the scene was replaced by one showing a secret tunnel of the Russian Nihilists, with the conspirators carrying dynamite to a recess underneath the palace of the Czar, the gentleman uttered a long sigh and asked:
"Will you sell that box?"
"No," answered Rob, shortly, and put it back into his pocket.
"I'll give you a million dollars to control the sale in Chicago alone," continued the gentleman, with an eager inflection in his smooth voice.
"You seem quite anxious to get rid of money," remarked Rob, carelessly. "How much are you worth?"
"Nothing at all, young man. I am not offering you my own money. But with such inventions as you have exhibited I could easily secure millions of capital. Suppose we form a trust, and place them upon the market. We'll capitalize it for a hundred millions, and you can have a quarter of the stock--twenty-five millions.