TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE
Two Miles a Minute on the Rails
I A TEMPTING OFFER II TROUBLE STARTS III TOM SWIFT'S FRIENDS IV MUCH TO THINK ABOUT V BARBED WIRE ENTANGLEMENTS VI THE CONTRACT SIGNED VII THE MAN WITH BIG FEET VIII AN ENEMY IN THE DARK IX WHERE WAS KOKU? X A STRANGE CONVERSATION XI TOUCH AND GO XII THE TRY-OUT DAY ARRIVES XIII HOPES AND FEARS XIV SPEED XV THE ENEMY STILL ACTIVE XVI OFF FOR THE WEST XVII THE WRECK OF FORTY-EIGHT XVIII ON THE HENDRICKTON & PAS ALOS XIX PERIL, THE MOTHER OF INVENTION XX THE RESULT XXI THE OPEN SWITCH XXII A DESPERATE CHASE XXIII MR. DAMON AT BAT XXIV PUTTING THE ENEMY TO FLIGHT XXV SPEED AND SUCCESS
TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE
A Tempting Offer
"An electric locomotive that can make two miles a minute over a properly ballasted roadbed might not be an impossibility," said Mr. Barton Swift ruminatively. "It is one of those things that are coming," and he flashed his son, Tom Swift, a knowing smile. It had been a topic of conversation between them before the visitor from the West had been seated before the library fire and had sampled one of the elder Swift's good cigars.
"It is not only a future possibility," said the latter gentleman, shrugging his shoulders. "As far as the Hendrickton and Pas Alos Railroad Company goes, a two mile a minute gait—not alone on a level track but through the Pas Alos Range—is an immediate necessity. It's got to be done now, or our stock will be selling on the curb for about two cents a share."
"You do not mean just that, do you, Mr. Bartholomew?" asked Tom Swift earnestly, and staring at the big-little man before the fire.
Mr. Richard Bartholomew was just that—a "big-little man." In the railroad world, both in construction and management, he had made an enviable name for himself.
He had actually built up the Hendrickton and Pas Alos from a narrow-gauge, "jerkwater" road into a part of a great cross-continent system that tapped a wonderfully rich territory on both sides of the Pas Alos Range.
For some years the H. & P. A. had a monopoly of that territory. Now, as Mr. Bartholomew intimated, it was threatened with such rivalry from another railroad and other capitalists, that the H. & P. A. was being looked upon in the financial market as a shaky investment.
But Tom Swift repeated:
"You do not mean just that, do you, Mr. Bartholomew?"
Mr. Bartholomew, who was a little man physically, rolled around in his chair to face the young fellow more directly. His own eyes sparkled in the firelight. His olive face was flushed.
"That is much nearer the truth, young man," he said, somewhat harshly because of his suppressed emotion, "than I want people at large to suspect. As I have told your father, I came here to put all my cards on the table; but I expect the Swift Construction Company to take anything I may say as said in confidence."
"We quite understand that, Mr. Bartholomew," said the elder Swift, softly. "You can speak freely. Whether we do business or not, these walls are soundproof, and Tom and I can forget, or remember, as we wish. Of course if we take up any work for you, we must confide to a certain extent in our close associates and trusted mechanics."
"Humph!" grunted the visitor, turning restlessly again in his chair. Then he said: "I agree as the necessity of that last statement; but I can only hope that these walls are soundproof."
"What's that?" demanded Tom, rather sharply. He was a bright looking young fellow with an alert air and a rather humorous smile. His father was a semi-invalid; but Tom possessed all the mental vigor and muscular energy that a young man should have. He had not neglected his Athletic development while he made the best use of his mental powers.
"Believe me," said the visitor, quite as harshly as before, "I begin to doubt the solidity of all walls. I know that I have been watched, and spied upon, and that eavesdroppers have played hob with our affairs.
"Of late, there has been little planned in the directors' room of the H. & P. A. that has not seeped out and aided the enemy in foreseeing our moves."
"The enemy?" repeated Mr. Swift, with mild surprise.
"That's it exactly! The enemy!" replied Mr. Bartholomew shortly. "The H. & P. A. has got the fight of its life on its hands. We had a hard enough time fighting nature and the elements when we laid the first iron for the road a score of years ago. Now I am facing a fight that must grow fiercer and fiercer as time goes on until either the H. & P. A. smashes the opposition, or the enemy smashes it."
"What enemy is this you speak of?" asked Tom, much interested.
"The proposed Hendrickton & Western. A new road, backed by new capital, and to be officered and built by new men in the construction and railroad game.
"Montagne Lewis—you've heard of him, I presume—is at the head of the crowd that have bought the little old Hendrickton & Western, lock, stock and barrel.
"They have franchises for extending the road. In the old days the legislatures granted blanket franchises that allowed any group of moneyed men to engage in any kind of business as side issues to railroading. Montagne Lewis and his crowd have got a 'plenty-big' franchise.
"They have begun laying iron. It parallels, to a certain extent, our own line. Their surveyors were smarter than the men who laid out the H. & P. A. I admit it. Besides, the country out there is developed more than it was a score of years ago when I took hold.
"All this enters into the fight between Montagne Lewis and me. But there is something deeper," said the little man, with almost a snarl, as he thrashed about again in his chair. "I beat Montagne Lewis at one big game years ago. He is a man who never forgets—and who never hesitates to play dirty politics if he has to, to bring about his own ends.
"I know that I have been watched. I know that I was followed on this trip East. He has private detectives on my track continually. And worse. All the gunmen of the old and wilder West are not dead. There's a fellow named Andy O'Malley—well, never mind him. The game at present is to keep anybody in Lewis's employ from getting wise to why I came to see you."
"What you say is interesting," Mr. Swift here broke in quietly. "But I have already been puzzled by what you first said. Just why have you come to us—to Tom and me—in reference to your railroad difficulties?"
"And this suggestion you have made," added Tom, "about a possible electric locomotive of a faster type than has, ever yet been put on the rails?"
"That is it, exactly," replied Bartholomew, sitting suddenly upright in his chair. "We want faster electric motor power than has ever yet been invented. We have got to have it, or the H. & P. A. might as well be scrapped and the whole territory out there handed over to Montagne Lewis and his H. & W. That is the sum total of the matter, gentlemen. If the Swift Construction Company cannot help us, my railroad is going to be junk in about three years from this beautiful evening."
His emphasis could not fail to impress both the elder and the younger Swift. They looked at each other, and the interest displayed upon the father's countenance was reflected upon the features of the son.
If there was anything Tom Swift liked it was a good fight. The clash of diverse interests was the breath of life to the young fellow. And for some years now, always connected in some way with the development of his inventive genius, he had been entangled in battles both of wits and physical powers. Here was the suggestion of something that would entail a struggle of both brain and brawn.
"Sounds good," muttered Tom, gazing at the railroad magnate with considerable admiration.
"Let us hear all about it," Mr. Swift said to Bartholomew. "Whether we can help you or not, we're interested."
"All right," replied the visitor again. "Whether I was followed East, and here to Shopton, or not doesn't much matter. I will put my proposition up to you, and then I'll ask, if you don't want to go into it, that you keep the business absolutely secret. I have got to put something over on Montagne Lewis and his crowd, or throw up the sponge. That's that!"
"Go ahead, Mr. Bartholomew," observed Tom's father, encouragingly.
"To begin with, four hundred miles of our road is already electrified. We have big power stations and supply heat and light and power to several of the small cities tapped by the H. & P. A. It is a paying proposition as it stands. But it is only paying because we carry the freight traffic—all the freight traffic—of that region.
"If the H. & W. breaks in on our monopoly of that, we shall soon be so cut down that our invested capital will not earn two per cent.—No, by glory! not one-and-a-half per cent.—and our stock will be dished. But I have worked out a scheme, Gentlemen, by which we can counter-balance any dig Lewis can give us in the ribs.
"If we can extend our electrified line into and through the Pas Alos Range our freight traffic can be handled so cheaply and so effectively that nothing the Hendrickton & Western can do for years to come will hurt us. Get that?"
"I get your statement, Mr. Bartholomew," said Mr. Swift. "But it is merely a statement as yet."
"Sure. Now I will give you the particulars. We are using the Jandel locomotives on our electrified stretch of road. You know that patent?"
"I know something about it, Mr. Bartholomew," said the younger inventor. "I have felt some interest in the electric locomotive, though I have done nothing practical in the matter. But I know the Jandel patent."
"It is about the best there is—and the most recent; but it does not fill the bill. Not for the H. & P. A., anyway," said Mr. Bartholomew, shortly.
"What does it lack?" asked Mr. Swift.
"Speed. It's got the power for heavy hauls. It could handle the freight through the Pas Alos Range. But it would slow up our traffic so that the shippers would at once turn to the Hendrickton & Western. You understand that their rails do not begin to engage the grades that our engineers thought necessary when the old H. & P. A. was built."
"I get that," said Tom briskly. "You have come here, then, to interest us in the development of a faster but quite as powerful type of electric locomotive as the Jandel."
"Stated to the line!" exclaimed Mr. Bartholomew, smiting the arm of his chair with his clenched fist. "That is it, young man. You get me exactly. And now I will go on to put my proposition to you."
"Do so, Mr. Bartholomew," murmured the old inventor, quite as much interested as his son.
"I want you to make a study of electric motive power as applied to track locomotives, with the idea of utilizing our power plants and others like them, and even with the possibility in mind of the continued use of the Jandel locomotives on our more level stretches of road.
"But I want your investigation to result in the building of locomotives that will make a speed of two miles a minute, or as near that as possible, on level rails, and be powerful enough to snake our heavy freight trains through the hills and over the steep grades so rapidly that even two engines, a pusher and a hauler, cannot beat the electric power."
"Some job, that, I'll say," murmured Tom Swift.
"Exactly. Some job. And it is the only thing that will save the H. & P. A.," said Mr. Bartholomew decidedly. "I put it up to you Swifts. I have heard of some of your marvelous inventions. Here is something that is already invented. But it needs development."
"I see," said Mr. Swift, and nodded.
"It interests me," admitted Tom. "As I say, I have given some thought to the electric locomotive."
"This is the age of speed," said Mr. Bartholomew earnestly. "Rapidity in handling freight and kindred things will be the salvation, and the only salvation, of many railroads. Tapping a rich territory is not enough. The road that can offer the quickest and cheapest service is the road that is going to keep out of a receivership. Believe me, I know!"
"You should," said Mr. Swift mildly. "Your experience should have taught you a great deal about the railroad business."
"It has. But that knowledge is worth just nothing at all without swift power and cheap traffic. Those are the problems today. Now, I am going to take a chance. If it doesn't work, my road is dished in any case. So I feel that the desperate chance is the only chance."
"What is that?" asked Tom Swift, sitting forward in his chair. "I, for one, feel so much interested that I will do anything in reason to find the answer to your traffic problem."
"That's the boy!" ejaculated Richard Bartholomew. "I will give it to you in a few words. If you will experiment with the electric locomotive idea, to develop speed and power over and above the Jandel patent, and will give me the first call on the use of any patents you may contrive, I will put up twenty-five thousand dollars in cash which shall be yours whether I can make use of a thing you invent or not."
"Any time limit in this agreement, Mr. Bartholomew?" asked Tom, making a few notes on a scratch pad before him on the library table.
"What do you say to three months?"
"Make it six, if you can," Tom said with continued briskness. "It interests me. I'll do my best. And I want you to get your money's worth."
"All right. Make it six," said Mr. Bartholomew. "But the quicker you dig something up, the better for me. Now, that is the first part of my proposition."
"All right, sir. And the second?"
"If you succeed in showing me that you can build and operate an electric locomotive that will speed two miles a minute on a level track and will get a heavy drag over the mountain grades, as I said, as surely as two engines of the coal-burning or oil-burning type, I will pay you a hundred thousand dollars bonus, besides buying all the engines you can build of this new type for the first two years. I've got to have first call; but the hundred thousand will be yours free and clear, and the price of the locomotives you build can be adjusted by any court of agreement that you may suggest."
Tom Swift's face glowed. He realized that this offer was not only generous, but that it made it worth his while dropping everything else he had in hand and devoting his entire time and thought for even six mouths to the proposition of developing the electric locomotive.
He looked at his father and nodded. Mr. Swift said, calmly:
"We take you on that offer, Mr. Bartholomew. Tom has the facts on paper, and we will hand it to Mr. Newton, our financial manager, in the morning. If you will remain in town for twenty-four hours, the contract can be signed."
"Suits me," declared. Richard Bartholomew, rising quickly from his chair. "I confess I hoped you would take me up quite as promptly as you have. I want to get back West again.
"We will see you in the office of the company at two o'clock tomorrow," said Tom Swift confidently.
"Better than good! And now, if that trailer that I am pretty sure Montagne Lewis sent after me does not get wise to the subject of our talk, it may be a slick job we have done and will do. I admit I am rather afraid of the enemy. You Swifts must keep your plans in utter darkness."
After a little talk on more ordinary affairs, Mr. Bartholomew took his departure. It was getting late in the evening, and Tom Swift had an engagement. While old Rad, their colored servant, was helping him on with his coat preparatory to Tom's leaving the house, his father called from the library:
"Got those notes in a safe place, Tom?"
"Safest in the world, Dad," his son replied. But he did not go into details. Tom considered the "safest place in the world" just then was his own wallet, which was tucked into an inside pocket of his vest "I'm going to see Mary Nestor, Father," said Tom, as he went to the front door and opened it.
He halted a moment with the knob of the door in his hand. The porch was deep in shadows, but he thought he had seen something move there.
"That you, Koku?" asked Tom in an ordinary voice. Sometimes his gigantic servant wandered about the house at night. He was a strange person, and he had a good many thoughts in his savage brain that even his young master did not understand.
There was no reply to Tom's question, so he walked down the steps and out at the gate. It was not a long distance to the Nestor house, and the air was brisk and keen, in spite of the fact that threatening clouds masked the stars.
Two blocks from the house he came to a high wall which separated the street from the grounds of an old dwelling. Tom suddenly noticed that the usual street lights on this block had been extinguished—blown out by the wind, perhaps.
Involuntarily he quickened his steps. He reached the archway in the wall. Here was the gate dividing the private grounds from the street. As he strode into the shadow of this place a voice suddenly halted Tom Swift.
"Hands up! Put 'em up and don't be slow about it!" A bulky figure loomed in the dark. Tom saw the highwayman's club poised threateningly over his head.
The fact that he was stopped by a footpad smote Tom Swift's mind as not a particularly surprising adventure. He had heard that several of that gentry had been plying their trade about the outskirts of the town. To a degree he was prepared for this sudden event.
Then there flashed into Tom's mind the thought of what Mr. Richard Bartholomew had said regarding the spy he believed had followed him from the West. Could it be possible that some hired thug sent by Montagne Lewis and his crooked crowd of financiers considered that Tom Swift had obtained information from the president of the H. & P. A. that might do his employers signal service?
Tom Swift had fallen in with many adventures—and some quite thrilling ones—since, as a youth, he was first introduced to the reader in the initial volume of this series, entitled "Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle." His first experiences as an inventor, coached by his father, who had spent his life in the experimental laboratory and workshop, was made possible by his purchase from Mr. Wakefield Damon, now one of his closest friends, of a broken-down motor cycle.
Through a series of inventions, some of them of a marvelous kind, Tom Swift, aided by his father, had forged ahead, building motor boats, airships, submarines, monoplanes, motion picture cameras, searchlights, cannons, photo-telephones, war tanks. Of late, as related in "Tom Swift Among the Fire Fighters," he had engaged in the invention of an explosive bomb carrying flame-quenching chemicals that would, in time, revolutionize fire-fighting in tall buildings.
The matter that Mr. Richard Bartholomew, the railroad magnate, had brought to Tom's and his father's attention had deeply interested the young inventor. Thought of the electric locomotive, the development of which the railroad president stated was the only salvation of the finances of the H. & P. A., had so held Tom's attention as he walked along the street that being stopped in this sudden way was even more startling than such an incident might ordinarily have been.
Tom was a muscular young fellow; but a club held over one's head by a burly thug would have shaken the courage of anybody. Dark as it was under the archway the young fellow saw that the bulk of the man was much greater than his own.
"That's right, sonny," said the stranger, in a sneering tone. "You got just the right idea. When I say 'Stick 'em up' I mean it. Never take a chance. Ah—ah!"
The fellow ripped open Tom's overcoat, almost tearing the buttons off. Another masterful jerk and his victim's jacket was likewise parted widely. He did not lower the club for an instant. He thrust his left hand into the V-shaped parting of the young fellow's vest.
It was then that Tom was convinced of what the fellow was after. He remembered the notes he had made regarding the contract that was to be signed on the morrow between the Swift Construction Company and President Richard Bartholomew of the H. & P. A. Railroad. He remembered, too, the figure he thought he had seen in the dark porch of the house as he so recently left it.
Mr. Bartholomew had considered it very possible that he was being spied upon. This was one of the spies—a Westerner, as his speech betrayed. But Tom was suddenly less fearful than he had been when first attacked.
It did not seem possible to him that Mr. Bartholomew's enemies would allow their henchman to go too far to obtain information of the railroad president's intentions. This fellow was merely attempting to frighten him.
A sense of relief came to Tom Swift's assistance. He opened his lips to speak and could the thug have seen his face more clearly in the dark he would have been aware of the fact that the young inventor smiled.
The fellow's groping hand entered between Tom's vest and his shirt. The coarse fingers seized upon Tom's wallet. Nobody likes to be robbed, no matter whether the loss is great or small. There was not much money in the wallet, nor anything that could be turned into money by a thief.
These facts enabled Tom, perhaps, to bear his loss with some fortitude. The highwayman drew forth the wallet and thrust it into his own coat pocket. He made no attempt to take anything else from the young inventor.
"Now, beat it!" commanded the fellow. "Don't look back and don't run or holler. Just keep moving—in the way you were headed before. Vamoose."
More than ever was Tom assured that the man was from the West. His speech savored of Mexican phrases and slang terms used mainly by Western citizens. And his abrupt and masterly manner and speech aided in this supposition. Tom Swift stayed not to utter a word. It was true he was not so frightened as he had at first been. But he was quite sure that this man was no person to contend with under present conditions.
He strode away along the sidewalk toward the far corner of the wall that surrounded this estate. Shopton had not many of such important dwellings as this behind the wall. Its residential section was made up for the most part of mechanics' homes and such plain but substantial houses as his father's.
Prospering as the Swifts had during the last few years, neither Tom nor his father had thought their plain old house too poor or humble for a continued residence. Tom was glad to make money, but the inventions he had made it by were vastly more important to his mind than what he might obtain by any lavish expenditure of his growing fortune.
This matter of the electric locomotive that had been brought to his attention by the Western railroad magnate had instantly interested the young inventor. The possibility of there being a clash of interests in the matter, and the point Mr. Bartholomew made of his enemies seeking to thwart his hope of keeping the H. & P. A. upon a solid financial footing, were phases of the affair that likewise concerned the young fellow's thought.
Now he was sure that Mr. Bartholomew was right. The enemies of the H. & P. A. were determined to know all that the railroad president was planning to do. They would naturally suspect that his trip East to visit the Swift Construction Company was no idle jaunt.
Tom had turned so many fortunate and important problems of invention into certainties that the name of the Swift Construction Company was broadly known, not alone throughout the United States but in several foreign countries. Montagne Lewis, whom Tom knew to be both a powerful and an unscrupulous financier, might be sure that Mr. Bartholomew's visit to Shopton and to the young inventor and his father was of such importance that he would do well through his henchmen to learn the particulars of the interview.
Tom remembered Mr. Bartholomew's mention of a name like Andy O'Malley. This was probably the man who had done all that he could, and that promptly, to set about the discovery of Mr. Bartholomew's reason for visiting the Swifts.
Without doubt the man had slunk about the Swift house and had peered into one of the library windows while the interview was proceeding. He had observed Tom making notes on the scratch pad and judged correctly that those notes dealt with the subject under discussion between the visitor from the West and the Swifts.
He had likewise seen Tom thrust the paper into his wallet and the wallet into his inside vest pocket. Instead of dogging Mr. Bartholomew's footsteps after that gentleman left the Swift house, the man had waited for the appearance of Tom. When he was sure that the young fellow was preparing to walk out, and the direction he was to stroll, the thug had run ahead and ensconced himself in the archway on this dark block.
All these things were plain enough. The notes Tom had taken regarding the offer Mr. Bartholomew had made for the development of the electric locomotive might, under some circumstances, be very important. At least, the highwayman evidently thought them such. But Tom had another thought about that.
One thing the young inventor was convinced about, as he strode briskly away from the scene of the hold-up: There was going to be trouble. It had already begun.
Tom Swift's Friends
Tom was still walking swiftly when he arrived in sight of Mary Nestor's home. He was so filled with excitement both because of the hold-up and the new scheme that Mr. Richard Bartholomew had brought to him from the West, that he could keep neither to himself. He just had to tell Mary!
Mary Nestor was a very pretty girl, and Tom thought she was just about right in every particular. Although he had been about a good deal for a young fellow and had seen girls everywhere, none of them came up to Mary. None of them held Tom's interest for a minute but this girl whom he had been around with for years and whom he had always confided in.
As for the girl herself, she considered Tom Swift the very nicest young man she had ever seen. He was her beau-ideal of what a young man should be. And she entered enthusiastically into the plans for everything that Tom Swift was interested in.
Mary was excited by the story Tom told her in the Nestor sitting room. The idea of the electric locomotive she saw, of course, was something that might add to Tom's laurels as an inventor. But the other phase of the evening's adventure—"Tom, dear!" she murmured with no little disturbance of mind. "That man who stopped you! He is a thief, and a dangerous man! I hate to think of your going home alone."
"He's got what he was after," chuckled Tom. "Is it likely he will bother me again?"
"And you do not seem much worried about it," she cried, in wonder.
"Not much, I confess, Mary," said Tom, and grinned.
"But if, as you suppose, that man was working for Mr. Bartholomew's enemies—"
"I am convinced that he was, for he did not rob me of my watch and chain or loose money. And he could have done so easily. I don't mind about the old wallet. There was only five dollars in it."
"But those notes you said you took of Mr. Bartholomew's offer?"
"Oh, yes," chuckled Tom again. "Those notes. Well, I may as well explain to you, Mary, and not try to puzzle you any longer. But that highwayman is sure going to be puzzled a long, long time."
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"Those notes were jotted down in my own brand of shorthand. Such stenographic notes would scarcely be readable by anybody else. Ho, ho! When that bold, bad hold-up gent turns the notes over to Montagne Lewis, or whoever his principal is, there will be a sweet time."
"Oh, Tom! isn't that fun?" cried Mary, likewise much amused.
"I can remember everything we said there in the library," Tom continued. "I'll see Ned tonight on my way home from here, and he will draw a contract the first thing in the morning."
"You are a smart fellow, Tom!" said Mary, her laughter trilling sweetly.
"Many thanks, Ma'am! Hope I prove your compliment true. This two-mile-a-minute stunt—"
"It seems wonderful," breathed Mary.
"It sure will be wonderful if we can build a locomotive that will do such fancy lacework as that," observed Tom eagerly. "It will be a great stunt!"
"A wonderful invention, Tom."
"More wonderful than Mr. Bartholomew knows," agreed the young fellow. "An electric locomotive with both great speed and great hauling power is what more than one inventor has been aiming at for two or three decades. Ever since Edison and Westinghouse began their experiments, in truth."
"Is the locomotive they are using out there a very marvelous machine?" asked the girl, with added interest.
"No more marvelous than the big electric motors that drag the trains into New York City, for instance, through the tunnels. Steam engines cannot be used in those tunnels for obvious, as well as legal, reasons. They are all wonderful machines, using third-rail power.
"But that Jandel patent that Mr. Bartholomew is using out there on the H. & P. A. is probably the highest type of such motors. It is up to us to beat that. Fortunately I got a pass into the Jandel shops a few months ago and I studied at first hand the machine Mr. Bartholomew is using."
"Isn't that great!" cried Mary.
"Well, it helps some. I at least know in a general way the 'how' of the construction of the Jandel locomotive. It is simple enough. Too simple by far, I should say, to get both speed and power. We'll see," and he nodded his head thoughtfully.
Tom did not stay long with the girl, for it was already late in the evening when he had arrived at her house. As he got up to depart Mary's anxiety for his safety revived.
"I wish you would take care now, Tom. Those men may hound you."
"What for?" chuckled the young inventor. "They have the notes they wanted."
"But that very thing—the fact that you fooled them—will make them more angry. Take care."
"I have a means of looking out for myself, after all," said Tom quietly, seeing that he must relieve her mind. "I let that fellow get away with my wallet; but I won't let him hurt me. Don't fear."
She had opened the door. The lamplight fell across porch and steps, and in a broad white band even to the gate and sidewalk. There was a motor-car slowing down right before the open gate.
"Who's this?" queried Tom, puzzled.
A sharp voice suddenly was raised in an exclamatory explosion.
"Bless my breakshoes! is that Tom Swift? Just the chap I was looking for. Bless my mileage-book! this saves me time and money."
"Why, it's Mr. Wakefield Damon," Mary cried, with something like relief in her tones. "You can ride home in his car, Tom."
"All right, Mary. Don't be afraid for me," replied Tom Swift, and ran down the walk to the waiting car.
"Bless my vest buttons! Tom Swift, my heart swells when I see you—"
"And is like to burst off the said vest buttons?" chuckled the young fellow, stepping in beside his eccentric friend who blessed everything inanimate in his florid speech.
"I am delighted to catch you—although, of course," and Tom knew the gentleman's eyes twinkled, "I could have no idea that you were over here at Mary's, Tom."
"Of course not," rejoined the young inventor calmly. "Seeing that I only come to see her just as often as I get a chance."
"Bless my memory tablets! is that the fact?" chuckled Mr. Damon. "Anyway, I wanted to see you so particularly that I drove over in my car tonight—"
"Wait a minute," said Tom, hastily. "Is this important?"
"I think so, Tom."
"Let me get something else off of my mind first, then, Mr. Damon," Tom Swift said quickly. "Drive around by Ned's house, will you, please? Ned Newton's. After I speak a minute with him I will be at your service.
"Surely, Tom; surely," agreed the gentleman.
The automobile had been running slowly. Mr. Damon knew the streets of Shopton very well, and he headed around the next corner. As the car turned, a figure bounded out of the shadow near the house line. Two long strides, and the man was on the running board of the car upon the side where Tom Swift sat. Again an ugly club was raised above the young fellow's head.
"You're the smart guy!" croaked the coarse voice Tom had heard before. "Think you can bamboozle me, do you? Up with 'em!"
"Bless my spark-plug!" gasped Mr. Wakefield Damon.
Either from nervousness or intention, he jerked the steering wheel so that the car made a sudden leap away from the curb. The figure of the stranger swayed.
Instantly Tom Swift struck the man's arm up higher and from under his own coat appeared something that bulked like a pistol in his right hand. He had intimated to Mary Nestor that he carried something with which to defend himself from highwaymen if he chose to. This invention, his ammonia gun, now came into play.
"Bless my failing eyesight!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as he shot the motor-car ahead again in a straight line.
The man who had accosted Tom so fiercely fell off the running board and rolled into the gutter, screaming and choking from the fumes from Tom's gun.
"Drive on!" commanded the young inventor. "If he keeps bellowing like that the police will pick him up. I guess he will let us alone here-after."
"Bless my short hairs and long ones!" chuckled Mr. Damon. "You are the coolest young fellow, Tom, that I ever saw. That man must have been a highwayman. And it is of some of those gentry that I drove over to Shopton this evening to talk to you about."
Much to Think About
Although it was now nearing ten o'clock on this eventful evening, Tom knew that he would find Ned Newton at home. When Mr. Damon's car stopped before the house there was a light in Ned's room and the front door opened almost as soon as Tom rang. Mr. Damon left the car and entered with the young inventor at his invitation.
"What's up?" was Ned's greeting, looking at the two curiously as he ushered them in. "I see this isn't entirely a social call," and he laughed as he shook the older man's hand.
"Bless my particular star!" exclaimed the latter excitedly. "Of all the thrilling adventures that anybody ever got into, it is this Tom Swift who cooks them up! Why, Newton! do you know that we have been held up by a highwayman within two blocks of this very house?"
"And that of course was Tom's fault?" suggested Ned, still smiling.
"It wouldn't have happened if he had not been with me," said Mr. Damon.
"I am curious," said Ned, as they seated themselves. "Who was the footpad? What drew his attention to you two? Tell me about it."
"Bless my suspender buckles!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "You tell him, Tom. I don't understand it myself, yet."
"I think I can explain. But whatever I tell you both, you must hold in secret. Father and I have been entrusted with some private information tonight and I am going to take you, Ned, and Mr. Damon, into the business in a confidential way."
"Let's have it," begged Newton. "Anything to do with the works?"
"It is," answered Tom gravely. "We are going to take up a proposition that promises big things for the Swift Construction Company."
"A big thing financially?"
"I'll say so. And it looks as though we were mixing into a conspiracy that may breed trouble in more ways than one."
Tom went on to sketch briefly the situation of the Hendrickton & Pas Alos Railroad as brought to the attention of the Swifts by the railroad's president. First of all his two listeners were deeply interested in the proposition Mr. Richard Bartholomew had made the inventors. Ned Newton jotted down briefly the agreement to be incorporated in the contract to be drawn and signed, by the Swift Construction Company and the president of the H. & P. A. road.
"This looks like a big thing for the company, Tom," the young manager said with enthusiasm, while Mr. Damon listened to it all with mouth and eyes open.
"Bless my watch-charm!" murmured the latter. "An electric locomotive that can travel two miles a minute? Whew!"
"Sounds like a big order, Tom," added Ned, seriously.
"It is a big order. I am not at all sure it can be done," agreed Tom, thoughtfully. "But under the terms Mr. Bartholomew offers it is worth trying, don't you think?"
"That twenty-five thousand dollars is as good as yours anyway," declared his chum with finality. "I'll see there is no loophole in the contract and the money must be placed in escrow so that there can be no possibility of our losing that. The promise of a hundred thousand dollars must be made binding as well."
"I know you will look out for those details, Ned," Tom said with a wave of his hand.
"That is what I am here for," agreed the financial manager. "Now, what else? I fancy the building of such a locomotive looks feasible to you and your father or you would not go into it."
"But two miles a minute!" murmured Mr. Damon again. "Bless my prize pumpkins!"
"The idea of speed enters into it, yes," said Tom thoughtfully. "In fact electric motor power has always been based on speed, and on cheapness of moving all kinds of traffic.
"Look here!" he exclaimed earnestly, "what do you suppose the first people to dabble in electrically driven vehicles were aiming at? The motor-car? The motor boat? Trolley cars? All those single motor sort of things? Not much they weren't!"
"Bless my glove buttons!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, dragging off his gauntlets as he spoke. "I don't get you at all, Tom! What do you mean?"
"I mean to say that the first experiments in the use of electricity as a motive power were along the electrification of the steam locomotive. Everybody realized that if a motor could be built powerful enough and speedy enough to drag a heavy freight or passenger train over the ordinary railroad right of way, the cost of railroad operation would be enormously decreased.
"Coal costs money—heaps of money now. Oil costs even more. But even with a third-rail patent, a locomotive successfully built to do the work of the great Moguls and mountain climbers of the last two decades, and electrically driven, will make a great difference on the credit side of any rails road's books."
"Right-o!" exclaimed Ned. "I can see that."
"That was the object of the first experiments in electric motive power," repeated Tom. "And it continues to be the big problem in electricity. The Jandel locomotive is undoubtedly the last word so far as the construction of an electric locomotive is concerned. But it falls down in speed and power. I thought so myself when I saw that locomotive and looked over the results of its work. And this Mr. Bartholomew has assured father and me this evening that it is a fact.
"It has a record of a mile a minute on a level or easy grade; but it can't show goods when climbing a real hill. It slows up both freight and passenger traffic on the Hendrickton & Pas Alos road. That range of hills is too much for it.
"So the Swift Construction Company is going to step in," concluded the young inventor eagerly. "I believe we can do it. I've the nucleus of an idea in my head. I never had a problem put up to me, Ned and Mr. Damon, that interested me more. So why shouldn't I go at it? Besides, I have dad to advise me."
"That's right," agreed Ned. "Why shouldn't you? And with such a contract as you have been offered—"
"Bless my bootsoles!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, getting up and tramping about the room in his excitement. "I thought the trolley cars that run between Shopton and Waterfield were about the fastest things on rails."
"Not much. The trolley car is a narrow and prescribed manner of using electricity for motive power. The motor runs but one car—or one and a trailer, at most," said Tom. "As I have pointed out, the problem is to build a machine that will transmit power enough to draw the enormous weight of a loaded freight train, and that over steep grades.
"A motor for each car is a costly matter. That is why trolley car companies, no matter how many passengers their cars carry, are so often on the verge of financial disaster. The margin of profit is too narrow.
"But if you can get a locomotive built that will drag a hundred cars! Ah! how does that sound?" demanded Tom. "See the difference?"
"Bless my volts and amperes!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I should say I do! Why, Tom, you make the problem as plain as plain can be."
"In theory," supplemented Ned Newton, although he meant to suggest no doubt of his chum's ability to solve almost any problem.
"You've hit it," said Tom promptly. "I only have a theory so far regarding such a locomotive. But to the inventor the theory always must come first. You understand that, Ned?"
"I not only appreciate that fact," said his chum warmly; "but I believe that you are the fellow to show something definite along the line of an improved electric locomotive. But, whether you can reach the high mark set by the president of that railroad—"
"Two miles a minute!" breathed Mr. Damon in agreement. "Bless my wind-gauge! It doesn't seem possible!"
Tom Swift shrugged his shoulders. "It is the impossible that inventors have to overcome. If we experimenters believed in the impossible little would be done in this world, to advance mechanical science at least. Every invention was impossible until the chap who put it through built his first working model."
"That's understood, old boy," said Ned, already busily scratching off the form of the contract he proposed to show the company's legal advisers early in the morning.
When he had read over the notes he had made Tom O.K.'d them. "That is about as I had the items set down myself on the sheet that fellow stole from me."
"Wait!" exclaimed Ned, as Tom arose from his chair. "Do you know what strikes me after your telling me about your second hold-up?"
"What's that?" asked his chum.
"Are you sure that was the same fellow who stole your wallet?"
"Then his second attack on you proves that he got wise to the fact that your notes were in shorthand. He had a chance to study them while you visited with Mary Nestor."
"I wonder if it doesn't prove that the fellow has somebody in cahoots with him right here in Shopton?" ruminated Ned.
"Bless my spare tire!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, who had already started for the door but now turned back.
"That's an idea, Ned," agreed Tom Swift. "It would seem that he had consulted with some superior," said the young manager of the Swift Construction Company. "This hold-up man may be from the West; but perhaps he did not follow Bartholomew alone."
"I'd like to know who the other fellow is," said Tom thoughtfully. "I would know the man who attacked me, both by his bulk and his voice.
"Me, too," put in Mr. Damon. "Bless my indicator! I'd know the scoundrel if I met him again."
"The thing to do," said Ned Newton confidently, "is to identify the man who robbed you tonight as soon as possible and then, if he hangs around Shopton, to mark well anybody he associates with."
"Perhaps they will not bother me any more," said Tom, rather carelessly.
"And perhaps they will," grumbled Mr. Damon. "Bless my self-starter! they may try something mean again this very night. Come on, Tom. I want to run you home. And on the way, I tell you, I've got something to put up to you myself. It may not promise a small fortune like this electric locomotive business; but bless my barbed wire fence! my trouble has more than a little to do with footpads, too."
He led the way out of the house and to the motor car again. In a minute he had started his engine, and Tom, jumping in beside him, was borne away toward his own home.
Barbed Wire Entanglements
"This gets us to your particular trouble, Mr. Damon," Tom Swift said, while the motor car was rolling along. "You intimated that you had something to consult me about."
"Bless my windshield! I should say I had," exclaimed the eccentric gentleman, swinging around a corner at rather a fast clip.
"And has it to do with highwaymen?" asked Tom, much amused.
"Some of the same gentry, Tom," declared Mr. Damon. "I haven't any peace of my life, I really haven't!"
"Who is troubling you, sir?"
"Why, what nonsense that is, to ask that!" ejaculated the gentleman. "If I knew who they were I wouldn't ask odds of anybody. I'd go after them. As it is, I've left my servant with a gun loaded with rock-salt watching for them now."
"Burglars?" exclaimed Tom, with real interest.
"Chicken-house burglars! That's the kind of burglars they are," growled Mr. Damon. "Two or three times they have tried to get my prize buff Orpingtons. Last night they got me out of bed twice fooling around the chicken house and yard. Other neighbors have lost their hens already. I don't mean to lose mine. Want you to help me, Tom."
"Is that all that is worrying you, Mr. Damon?" laughed the young fellow.
"Bless my radiator! isn't that enough?"
"I know you set your clock by those buff Orpingtons," agreed Tom.
"That's right. That ten-months cockerel, Blue Ribbon Junior, never fails to crow at three-thirty-three to the minute. Bless my combs and spurs; a wonderful bird!"
"But let's see how I can help you regarding the chicken thieves," Tom said, as they sighted the lights of the Swift house beyond the long stockade fence that surrounded the Construction Company's premises.
"You know I have a barbed wire entanglement around the whole yard and hen-house. I don't take any more chances than I can help. Those prize huff Orpingtons are a great temptation to chicken lovers—both blond and brunette," and in spite of his anxiety, Mr. Damon could chuckle at his own joke. "Even your old Eradicate's friend fell for chickens, you know."
"And Rad promptly cured him of the disease," laughed Tom.
"And I'm trying to cure these others. I've charged my shotgun with rock-salt—as he did. My servant has orders to shoot anybody who tampers with my chicken house tonight.
"But bless my shirt!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "I'll never be able to sleep comfortably until I know that no thief can get at my buff Orpingtons. I want you to fix it so I can sleep in peace, Tom."
He slowed to a stop in front of the Swift's door. Tom stared at his eccentric friend questioningly.
"Bless my gaiters!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, "don't you see what I want? And your head already full of this electrified locomotive you are going to build?"
"Hush!" murmured Tom, with his hand upon his companion's arm. "But what do you want me to do?"
"I want you to fix it so that I can turn a current of electricity into that barbed wire chicken fence at night that will shock any thief that touches the wires. Not kill 'em—though they ought to be killed!" declared the eccentric man. "But shock 'em aplenty. Can't you do it for me, Tom Swift?"
"Of course it can be done," said the young fellow. "You use electricity in your house. There is a feed cable in the street. We will have to change your lighting switch for another. Fix it with the Electric Supply Company. It will cost you more—"
"Bless my pocketbook! I don't care how much it costs. It will be ample satisfaction to see just one low-down chicken thief squirming on those wires."
Tom laughed again. He meant to help his friend; but he did not propose to rig the wires so that anybody, even a chicken thief, would be seriously injured by the electric current passing through the strands.
"I'll come down to Waterfield tomorrow in the electric runabout and fix things up for you. Get a permit from the Electric Supply Company early in the morning. Tell them I will rig the thing myself. They can send their inspector afterward."
"That's fine, Tom! What—Ugh! what's this? Another footpad?"
Out of the darkness beside the fence a bulky figure started. For a moment Tom thought it was the same man who had attacked him twice. Then the very size of this new assailant proved that suspicion to be unfounded.
"Koku!" exclaimed Tom. "What's the matter with you, Koku?"
The huge and only half-tamed giant gained the side of the car in seemingly a single stride. In the dark they could not see his face, but his voice distinctly showed excitement.
"Master come good. 'Cause there be enemy. Koku find—Koku kill!"
"Bless my magnifying glass!" ejaculated Mr. Damon. "That fellow is the most bloodthirsty individual that I ever saw."
"All in his bringing up," chuckled Tom who knew, as the saying is, that Koku's bark was a deal worse than his bite. "Killing and maiming his enemies used to be Koku's principal job. But he has his orders now. He doesn't kill anybody without consulting me first."
"Bless my buttons!" murmured Mr. Damon. "That is certainly a good thing too. What's the matter with him now?"
That is exactly what Tom himself wanted to know. He had dropped a hand upon the arm of the giant as he stood beside the car.
"Who is the enemy, Koku?" he asked.
"Not know, Master. See him footmarks. Follow him footmarks. Not find. When do find—kill!"
"That is, after first obtaining my permission," said Tom dryly.
"It is so," agreed the imperturbable Koku. "See! Show Master footmarks. Him look in at window. See! Koku have got the wonder lamp."
He flashed the electric torch in his hand. He left the car and strode into the yard. Tom followed him, and Mr. Damon's curiosity brought him along.
The giant pointed the ray of the flashlight at the ground below the porch. Several footprints—the marks of boots at least number twelve in size—were imbedded in the soil. Koku went around the house to the other side, following repeated marks of the same boots.
"How came you to find them, Koku?" asked Tom softly.
"Me look. All around stockade," and he waved a generous gesture with his free hand including the fence about the works. "Enemy may come. Anytime he come. Now he come."
"Bless my slippery shoes!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, who had hard work to keep up both physically and mentally with the giant. "What does he mean?"
"Koku has always had it in his head," explained Tom, "that we built that fence about the works to keep out enemies. And, to tell the truth, we did! But all that is over—"
"Is it?" asked Mr. Damon pointedly. "Enemy here," added Koku, flashing the lamplight upon the footprints on the ground.
"Those bootmarks," added Mr. Damon, "are doubtless those of that fellow who jumped upon the running board of the car."
"Humph! And who robbed me of my wallet," added Tom musingly. "Well, it might be. And, if so, Koku is right. The enemy has come."
"Me kill!" exclaimed the giant, stretching himself to his full height.
"We'll consider the killing later," said Tom, who well knew his influence with this big fellow. "You are forbidden to kill anybody, or chase anybody away from here, until I have a talk with them. Enemy or not—understand?"
"Me understand," said Koku in his deep voice. "Master say—me do."
"Just the same," Tom said, aside to Mr. Damon, "there has been somebody around here. I guess Mr. Bartholomew was right. He is being spied upon. And now that we Swifts are going to try to do something for him, we are likely to be spied upon too."
"Bless my statue of Nathan Hale!" murmured the eccentric gentleman. "I believe you. And you've been already attacked twice by some thug! You are positively in danger, Tom."
"I don't know about that. Save that the fellow who robbed me was sore because I fooled him. Naturally he might like to get square about those shorthand notes. He knows no more now about Mr. Bartholomew's business with us than he did before he held me up."
"That is a fact," agreed Mr. Damon.
"And that brings me to another warning, Mr. Damon," added Tom earnestly, as his friend climbed into the motor car again. "Keep all that has happened, and all that I told you and Ned about the H. & P. A. railroad, to yourself."
"If Mr. Bartholomew's rivals continue to keep their spies hanging around the works here, we'll handle them properly. Trust Koku for that," and Tom chuckled.
"And don't forget my barbed wire entanglements," put in Mr. Damon, starting his engine. "I want to fix those chicken thieves.''
"All right. I'll be over tomorrow," promised Tom Swift.
Then he stood a minute on the curb and looked after the disappearing lights of Mr. Damon's car. The latter's problem dovetailed, after all, into this discovery of possible marauders lurking about the Swift premises. Koku had made no mistake in bringing his attention to the matter of the footprints. Tom had seen somebody dodging into the darkness outside the house when he had come out on his way to visit Mary Nestor.
"And sure as taxes," muttered Tom, as he finally turned toward the front door again, "the fellow who twice attacked me this evening wore the boots the prints of which Koku found.
"Those fellows, whoever they are, whether Montagne Lewis and his associates, or not, have bitten off several mouthfuls that they may be unable to chew. Anyhow, before they get through they may learn something about the Swifts that they never knew before."
The Contract Signed
Tom Swift went to bed that night without the least fear that the man who had twice attacked him in the streets of Shopton would be able to trouble him unless he went abroad again. Koku was on guard.
The giant whom Tom had brought home from one of his distant wanderings was wholly devoted to his master. Koku never had, and he never would, become entirely civilized.
He was naturally a born tracker of men. For generations his people had lived amid the alarms of threat and attack. He could not be made to understand how so many "tribes," as he called them, of civilized men could live in anything like harmony.
That somebody should prowl about the Swift house at night with a desire to rob his young master or injure him, did not surprise Koku in the least. He accepted the fact of the marauder's presence as quite the expected thing.
But the man who had robbed Tom and later tried to repay him for playing what appeared to be a practical joke on the robber, did not trouble the Swift premises with his presence before morning. Koku, thrusting Eradicate Sampson aside and striding to his bedroom to report this fact, was what awoke Tom at eight o'clock.
"Hey! What you want, tromping in here for, man?" demanded old Rad angrily. "An' totin' that spear, too. Where you t'ink yo' is? In de jungle again? Go 'way, chile!"
Both Rad and Koku were rapidly outliving the sudden friendship of Rad's sick days, when it was thought he might be blind for life, and were dropping back into their old ways of bickering and rivalry for Tom's attention.
"I report to the Master," declared the giant, in his deep voice.
"You tell me, I tell him," Rad said pompously. "No need yo' 'sturbing Massa Tom at dis hour."
"Koku go in!" declared the giant sternly.
"Jes' stay out dere on de stair an' res' yo'self," said Rad.
Koku lost his temper with old Rad. There was a feud between them, although deep in their hearts they really were fond of each other. But the two were jealous of each other's services to young Tom Swift.
Suddenly Tom heard the old negro utter a frightened squeal. The door which had been only ajar, burst inward and banged against the door-stop with a mighty smash.
Rad went through the big bedroom like a chocolate-colored streak, entered Tom's bathroom, and the next moment there was the sound of crashing glass as Eradicate Sampson went through the lower sash of the window, headfirst, out upon the roof of the porch!
"What do you mean by this?" shouted Tom, sitting up in bed.
Koku paused in the doorway, bulking almost to the top of the door. His right arm was drawn back, displaying his mighty biceps, and he poised a ten foot spear with a copper head that he had seized from a nest of such implements which was a decoration of the lower hall.
Had the giant ever flung that spear at poor Rad's back, half the length of the staff might have passed through his body. Little wonder that the colored man, having roused the giant's rage to such a pitch, had given small consideration to the order of his going, but had gone at once!
"You want to scare Rad out of half a year's growth?" Tom pursued sternly, slipping out of bed and reaching for his robe and slippers. "And he's broken that window to smithereens."
"Koku come make report, Master," said the giant.
"You go put that spear back where you found it and come up properly," commanded the young fellow, with difficulty hiding his amusement. "Go on now!"
He shuffled into the bathroom while the giant disappeared. He peered out of the broken window. It was a wonder Rad had not carried the sash with him! The broken glass was scattered all about the roof of the porch and the old colored man lay groaning there.
"What did you do this for, Eradicate?" demanded Tom. "You act worse than a ten-year-old boy."
"I's done killed, Massa Tom!" groaned Rad with confidence. "I's blood from haid to foot!"
There was a scratch on his bald crown from which a few drops of blood flowed. But with all his terror, Eradicate had put both arms over his head when he made his dive through the window, and he really was very little injured.
"Come in here," repeated Tom. "Fix something over this broken window so that I can take my bath. And then go and put something on that scratch. Don't you know better yet, than to cross Koku when he is excited?"
"Dat crazy ol' cannibal!" spat out Rad viciously. "I'll fix him yet. I'll pizen his rations, dat's what I'll do."
"You wouldn't be so bad as that, Rad!"
"Well, mebbe not," said the colored man, crawling in through the bathroom window. "It would take too much pizen, anyway, to kill that giant. Take as much as dey has to give an el'phant to kill it. Anyways, I's bound to fix him proper some time, yet."
These quarrels between Eradicate and Koku were intermittent. They almost always arose, too, because of the desire of the two servants to wait upon Tom or his father. They were very jealous of each other, and their clashes afforded Tom and his friends a good deal of amusement.
While the young inventor was in his bath the giant strode back into the bedroom, out of which Rad had scurried by another door, and proceeded to report the result of his night watch about the premises.
He had not much to tell. In fact, after Tom had gone into the house Koku had seen nobody lurking about at all. The fact remained that, earlier in the evening, somebody had made a close surveillance of the Swift house, but the mysterious marauder had not come back.
"All right, Koku. Keep your eyes open. I expect that enemy may return sometime. Too bad," he added to himself, "that I didn't get a better look at him."
"Koku know him next time," declared the giant.
"Why! you didn't even see him this time," cried Tom.
"See him boots. See marks him boots make. Know him boots. Waugh!"
"'Waugh!' yourself," returned Tom, shaking his head. "You are altogether too sure, Koku. You couldn't tell a man from his bootprints in the mud."
"Koku know," said the giant, just as confidently. "Wait. Him catch—see—show Master."
"Don't you go to grabbing every stranger who comes around the house or the works for a spy, and make me trouble. Remember now."
Koku nodded gravely and went away. When he met Rad suddenly in the hall with Mr. Swift's breakfast tray, the giant said "boo!" and almost cost the old colored man the loss of the tray.
"Dat big el'phant ought to be livin' in a barn," declared Rad. "Look at dat spear he come near runnin' me t'rough wid! If he had, yo' could ha' driv a tipcart full o' rubbish in after it. Lawsy me!"
But an hour later when Tom and his father started for the offices of the Swift Construction Company down the street, Rad and Koku were sitting before an enormous breakfast in the back kitchen and chatting together as companionably as ever.
The old inventor and his son arrived at the offices of the Swift Construction Company not long ahead of Mr. Richard Bartholomew. Tom had merely found time to read over the contract that had been jointly prepared by Ned Newton and the firm's legal advisers, before the railroad man came.
"No getting out of the provisions of that paper, Tom," Ned had whispered, when he saw Mr. Bartholomew coming into the outer office. "Is this your man?"
"A sharp looking little fellow," commented Ned. "But even if he were bent on tricking us, this contract would hold him. He is solvent and so is his road—as yet. If it has a bad name in the market that is more because of slander by the Montagne Lewis crowd than from any real cause. I've found that out this morning."
"Faithful Nero!" chuckled Tom. "Aren't going to let the Swifts get done, are you?"
"Not if I can help it," declared Ned Newton emphatically.
A clerk brought Mr. Bartholomew into the private office and he was introduced to Newton. If he considered the financial manager of the Swift Construction Company very young for his responsible position, after he had read the contract he felt considerable respect for Ned Newton.
"You've got me here, young man, hard and fast," Mr. Bartholomew said. "If I was inclined to want to wriggle out, I see no chance of it. But I don't. You have set forth here exactly my meaning and intent. I want your best efforts in this matter, Mr. Swift, and if you give them to me I'll foot the bill as agreed."
"You've got me interested, I confess," said Tom. "By the way, were your friends following you when you came here this morning?"
"My friends?" repeated Mr. Bartholomew, for a moment puzzled.
"The spy that you mentioned," said Tom, smiling.
"That Andy O'Malley?" exclaimed Bartholomew. "Haven't spotted him today."
"He spotted me last night," said Tom grimly, and proceeded to relate what had happened.
"You fooled 'em that time, young man!" exclaimed the railroad president, with satisfaction. "I am convinced that Montagne Lewis is behind it. Look out for these fellows when you get to work, Mr. Swift. They will stop at nothing. I tell you that the fight is on between the Hendrickton & Pas Alos and the Hendrickton & Western. I have either got to break them or they will break me."
"You seem very sure that there is a conspiracy against you, Mr. Bartholomew," said the senior Swift reflectively.
"I am sure," was the reply. "And I am likewise sure that this scheme of electrification of my road through the Pas Alos Range is the only salvation for my railroad."
"I should call it a big contract," Ned Newton said, thoughtfully.
"You have said it! But it is not a visionary scheme I have in mind. You must know—you Swifts—how successful such an electrification through the Rockies has been made by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway."
"I've looked that up," confessed Tom, with enthusiasm. "That was a great piece of work."
"It is. It is. But I hope for even a greater outcome of your experiments, Mr. Swift. Of course, I do not expect to compete with that great road. They had millions to spend, and they spent them. Those Baldwin-Westinghouse locomotives the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul built in nineteen hundred and nineteen are wonderful machines. They have got forty-two freight locomotives, fifteen passenger locomotives and four switchers of that new type.
"The Jandel patent that my road uses is, in some degree, the equal of those Baldwin-Westinghouse locomotives. At least, our machines equal the C., M. & St. P. on our level road. They can reach a mile-a-minute gait. But when it comes to speed and pull on steep grades—Ah! that is where they fail."
"You will have to get power in the hills for your stations," suggested Tom, thoughtfully.
"I know that. I know where the power is coming from. I gathered those waterfalls in years ago. Lewis and his crowd can't shut me off from them. But I have got to have a speedier and more powerful type of electric locomotive than has ever yet been built to protect the Hendrickton & Pas Alos Railroad from any rivalry.
"I am looking to you Swifts to give me that. I am risking this twenty-five thousand dollars upon your succeeding. And I am offering you the hundred thousand dollars bonus for the right to purchase the first successful locomotives that can be built covered by your patents. Is it plain?"
"It is eminently satisfactory," said Mr. Swift, quietly.
"I will do my very best," agreed Tom, warmly. "There isn't a thing the matter with the agreement," declared Ned Newton, with confidence. "Gentlemen, sign on the dotted line."
Five minutes later the twin contracts were in force. One went into the safe of the Swift Construction Company. The other, Mr. Richard Bartholomew bore away with him.
The Man with Big Feet
The consultation in the private office of the Swift Construction Company after the departure of Mr. Richard Bartholomew between the two Swifts and Ned Newton had more to do with a vision of the future than with mere present finances.
"I expect you know just about how you are going to work on this new invention, Tom?" suggested the financial manager, and Tom's chum.
"Haven't the first idea," rejoined the young inventor, promptly.
"What do you mean?" ejaculated Ned. "You talked just now as though you knew all about electric locomotives."
"I know a good deal about those that have been built, both under the Jandel patent and those built for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul in the great Philadelphia shops.
"But when you ask me if I know how I am going to improve on those patents so as to make my locomotive twice as speedy and quite as powerful as those other locomotives—well, I've got to tell you flat that I have not as yet got the first idea."
"Humph!" grumbled Ned. "You say it coolly enough."
"No use getting all heated up about it," returned his friend. "I have got to consider the situation first. I must look over the field of electrical invention as applied to motive power. I must study things out."
"I don't just see myself," Ned Newton remarked thoughtfully, "why there should be such a great need for the electrification of locomotives, anyway. Those great mountain-hogs that draw most of the mountain railroad trains are very powerful, aren't they? And they are speedy."
"Locomotives that use coal or oil have been developed about as far as they can be," said Mr. Swift, quietly. "A successful electric locomotive has many advantages over the old-time engine."
"What are those advantages?" asked the business manager, quickly. "I confess, I do not understand the matter, Mr. Swift."
"For instance," proceeded the old gentleman, "there is the coal question alone. Coal is rising in price. It is bulky. Using electricity as motive power for railroads will do away with fuel trains, tenders, coal handling, water, and all that. Of course, Mr. Bartholomew will generate his electricity from water power—the cheapest power on earth."
"Humph! I've got my answer right now," said Ned Newton. "If there is no other good reason, this is sufficient."
"There are plenty of others," drawled Tom, smiling. "Good ones. For instance, heat or cold has nothing to do with the even running of an electric locomotive. It can bore right through a snowbank—a thing a steam engine can't do. It runs at an even speed. Really, grade should have nothing to do with its speed. There is a fault somewhere in the construction of the Jandel machine or the H. & P. A. would have little trouble with those locomotives on its grades.
"Then, all you have to do to start an electrified locomotive is to turn a handswitch. No stoking or water-boiling. Does away with the fireboy. One man runs it!"
"Why!" cried Ned, "I never stopped to think of all these things."
"No ashes to dump," went on Tom. "No flues to clean, no boilers to inspect, and none to wear out. And they say that on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, at least, their freight locomotives handle twice the load of a steam locomotive at a greatly reduced cost."
"Sounds fine. Don't wonder Mr. Bartholomew is eager to electrify his entire tine."
"On the side of passenger traffic," continued Tom Swift, "the electric locomotive is smokeless, noiseless, dirtless, and doesn't jerk the coaches in either stopping or starting. And in addition, the electric locomotive is much easier on track and roadbed than the old 'iron horse' driven by steam generated either from coal or oil."
"It is a great field for your talents, Tom!" cried Ned, warmly.
"It is a big job," admitted Tom, and he said this with modesty. "I don't know what I may be able to do—if anything. I would not feel right in taking Mr. Bartholomew's twenty-five thousand dollars for nothing."
"Quite right, my boy," said Mr. Swift, approvingly.
"Never mind that," said the financial manager, rather grimly. "It was his own offer and his risk. That twenty-five thousand comes to our account."
Tom laughed. "All business, Ned, aren't you? But there is more than business for the Swift Construction Company in this. Our reputation for fair dealing as well as for inventive powers is linked up with this contract.
"I want to show the Jandel people—to say nothing of the bigger firms—that the Swifts are to be reckoned with when it comes to electric invention. Other roads will be electrifying their lines as fast as it is proved that the electric-driven locomotive has the bulge on the steam-driven.
"In the case of the Hendrickton & Pas Alos there are very steep grades to overcome. Supposedly an electric motor-drive should achieve the same speed on a hill as on the level. But there is the weight of the train to be counted on.
"The H. & P. A. has a two per cent. grade in more than one place. Mr. Bartholomew confessed as much to me last night. The electric-driven locomotive of the powerful freight type, which the Jandel people built for Mr. Bartholomew, can make about sixteen miles an hour on those grades, although they can hit it up to thirty miles an hour on level track.
"His passenger locomotives turn off a mile a minute and more, on the level road; but they can not climb those steep grades at a much livelier pace than the freight engines. That is why he is talking about two-mile-a-minute locomotives. He must get a mighty speedy locomotive, for both freight and passenger service, to keep ahead of Montagne Lewis's rival road, the Hendrickton & Western."
"You don't suppose it can be done, do you?" demanded Ned. "The two-mile-a-minute locomotive, I mean, Tom."
"That is the target I am to aim for," returned his friend, soberly. "At any rate, I hope to improve on the type of locomotive Mr. Bartholomew is now using, so that the hundred thousand dollars bonus will come our way as well as this first twenty-five thousand."
"That wouldn't pay for one engine, would it?" cried Ned.
"Nor is it expected to. The bonus has nothing to do with payment for any model, or patent, or anything of the kind. To tell you the truth, Ned, I understand those big locomotives used by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul cost them about one hundred and twelve thousand dollars each."
"Whew! Some price, I'll tell the world!" murmured the youthful financial manager of the Swift Construction Company.
When the conference was over, and Tom had been through the workshop to overlook several little jobs that were in process of completion by his trusted mechanics, it was lunch time. He left word that he would not be back that day, for this new task he was to attack was not to be approached with any haphazard thought.
Tom knew quite as well as his father knew that the idea of improving the Jandel patent on electric locomotives was no small thing. The Jandel people had claimed that their patent was the very last word in electric motor-power. And Tom was quite willing to acknowledge that in some ways this claim was true.
But in invention, especially in the field of electric invention, what is the last word today may be ancient history tomorrow.
It was because this field is so broad and the possibility of improvement in every branch of electrical science so exciting, that Tom had accepted Mr. Bartholomew's challenge with such eagerness.
Tom went back to the house for lunch, and as he joined his father in the dining room he remarked to Eradicate:
"I want the electric runabout brought around after lunch. I am going to Waterfield. Tell Koku, will you, Rad?"
"Tell that crazy fellow?" demanded the old colored man heatedly. "Why should I tell him, Massa Tom? Ain't I able to bring dat runabout out o' de garbarge? Shore I is!"
"You can't do everything, Rad," said Tom, soberly. "That is humanly impossible."
"But dat Koku can't do nothin' right. Dat's inhumanly possible, Massa Tom."
"Give him a chance, Rad. I have to take Koku with me this afternoon. You must give your attention to the house and to father."
"Huh! Umm!" grunted Eradicate.
Rad was jealous of anybody who waited on Tom besides himself. Yet he was proud of responsibility, too. He teetered between the pride of being in charge at home and accompanying his young master, and finally replied:
"Well, in course, you ain't going to be gone long, Massa Tom. And yo' father does like to get his nap undisturbed. And he'll want his pot o' tea afterwards. So I'll let dat irresponsible Koku go wid yo'. But yo' got to watch him, Massa Tom. Dat giant don't know what he's about half de time."
As Koku was not within hearing to challenge that statement, things went all right. When Tom came out of the house after eating, he found his very fast car waiting for him, with the giant standing beside it at the curb.
"Get in at the back, Koku," said Tom. "I am going to take you with me."
"Master is much wise," said Koku. "That man with big feet will not hurt Master while Koku is with him."
To tell the truth Tom had quite forgotten the supposed spy that had attacked him the night before. He needed Koku for a purpose other than that of bodyguard. But he made no comment upon the giant's remark.
They stopped at one of the gates of the works, and Tom instructed Koku to bring out and put into the car certain boxes and tools that he wished to take with him. Then he drove on, taking the road to Waterfield.
This way led through farmlands and patches of woods, a rough country in part. A mile out of the limits of Shopton the road edged a deep valley, the sidehill sparsely wooded.
Almost at once, and where there was not a dwelling in sight, they saw a figure tramping in the road ahead, a big man, roughly dressed, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Somehow, his appearance made Tom reduce speed and he hesitated to pass the pedestrian.
The man did not hear the runabout at first; or, at least, he did not look over his shoulder. He strode on heavily, but rapidly. Suddenly the young inventor heard the giant behind him emit a hissing breath.
"Master!" whispered the giant.
"What's up now?" demanded Tom, but without glancing around.
"The big feet!" exclaimed Koku.
The giant's own feet were shod with difficulty in civilized footgear, but compared with his other physical dimensions his feet did not seem large. The man ahead wore coarse boots which actually looked too big for him! Koku started up in the back of the car as the latter drew nearer to the stranger.
The man looked back at last and Tom gained a clear view of his features—roughly carved, dark as an Indian's, and holding a grim expression in repose that of itself was far from breeding confidence. In a moment, too, the expression changed into one of active emotion. The man glared at the young inventor with unmistakable malevolence.
"Master!" hissed Koku again. "The big feet!" The fellow must have seen Koku's face and understood the giant's expression. In a flash he turned and leaped out of the roadway. The sidehill was steep and broken here, but he went down the slope in great strides and with every appearance of wishing to evade the two in the motor-car.
The giant's savage war cry followed the fugitive. Koku leaped from the moving car. Tom yelled:
"Stop it, Koku! You don't know that that is the man."
"The big feet!" repeated the giant. "Master see the red mud dried on Big Feet's boots? That mud from Master's garden."
Again Koku uttered his savage cry, and in strides twice the length of those of the running man, started on the latter's trail.
An Enemy in the Dark
The situation offered suggestions of trouble that stung Tom to immediate action. The impetuousness of his giant often resulted in difficulties which the young inventor would have been glad to escape.
Now Koku was following just the wrong path. Tom Swift knew it.
"Koku, you madman!" he shouted after the huge native. "Come back here! Hear me? Back!"
Koku hesitated. He shot a wondering look over his shoulder, but his long legs continued to carry him down the slope after the dark-faced stranger.
"Come back, I say!" shouted Tom again. "Have I got to come after you? Koku! If you don't mind what you're told I'll send you back to your own country and you'll have to eat snakes and lizards, as you used to. Come here!"
Whether it was because of this threat of a change of diet, which Koku now abhorred, or the fact that he had really become somewhat disciplined and that he fairly worshiped Tom, the giant stopped. The man with the big shoes disappeared behind a hedge of low trees.
"Get back up here!" ejaculated Tom sternly. "I'll never take you away from the house with me again if you don't obey me."
"Master!" ejaculated the giant, slowly approaching. "That Big Feet—"
"I don't care if he made those footprints in the yard last night or not. I don't want him touched. I didn't even want him to know that we guessed he had been sneaking about the house. Understand?"
"Of a courseness," grumbled Koku. "Koku understand everything Master say."
"Well, you don't act as though you did. Next time when I want any help I may have to bring Rad with me."
"Oh, no, Master! Not that old man. He don't know how to help Master. Koku do just what Master say."
"Like fun you do," said Tom, still apparently very angry with the simple-minded giant. "Get back into the car and sit still, if you can, until we get to Mr. Damon's house." Then to himself he added: "I don't blame that fellow, whoever he is, for lighting out. I bet he's running yet!"
He knew that Koku would say nothing regarding the incident. The giant had wonderful powers of silence! He sometimes went days without speaking even to Rad. And that was one of the sources of irritation between the voluble colored man and the giant.
"'Tain't human," Rad often said, "for nobody to say nothin' as much as dat Koku does. Why, lawsy me! if he was tongue-tied an' speechless, an' a deaf an' dumb mute, he couldn't say nothin' more obstreperously dan he does—no sir! 'Tain't human."
So Tom had not to warn the giant not to chatter about meeting the stranger on the road to Waterfield. If that person with dried red mud on his boots was the spy who had followed Mr. Richard Bartholomew East and was engaged by Montagne Lewis to interfere with any attempt the president of the H. & P. A. might make to pull his railroad out of the financial quagmire into which it was rapidly sinking, Tom would have preferred to have the spy not suspect that he had been identified after his fiasco of the previous evening.
For if this Western looking fellow was Andy O'Malley, whose name had been mentioned by the railroad man, he was the person who had robbed Tom of his wallet and had afterward attempted reprisal upon the young inventor because the robbery had resulted in no gain to the robber.
Of course, the fellow had been unable to read Tom's shorthand notes of the agreement that he had discussed with Mr. Bartholomew. Just what the nature of that agreement was, would be a matter of interest to the spy's employer.
Having failed in this attempt to learn something which was not his business, the spy might make other and more serious attempts to learn the particulars of the agreement between the railroad president and the Swifts. Tom was sorry that the fellow had now been forewarned that his identity as the spy and footpad was known to Tom and his friends.
Koku had made a bad mess of it. But Tom determined to say nothing to his father regarding the discovery he had made. He did not want to worry Mr. Swift. He meant, however, to redouble precautions at the Swift Construction Company against any stranger getting past the stockade gates.
Arrived at Mr. Damon's home in Waterfield, Tom got quickly to work on the little job he had come to do for his old friend. Of course, Tom might have sent two of his mechanics from the works down here to electrify the barbed wire entanglements that Mr. Damon had erected around his chicken run. But the young inventor knew that his eccentric friend would not consider the job done right unless Tom attended to it personally.
"Bless my cracked corn and ground bone mixture!" ejaculated the chicken fancier. "We'll show these night-prowlers what's what, I guess. One of my neighbors was robbed last night. And I would have been if I hadn't set a watch while I drove over to see you, Tom. Bless my spurs and hackles! but these thieves are getting bold."
"We'll fix 'em," said Tom, cheerfully, while Koku brought the tools and wire to the hen run. "After we link up your supply of the current with this wire fence it will be an unhappy chicken burglar who interferes with it."
"That was an unhappy fellow who got your charge of ammonia last evening," whispered Mr. Damon. "Heard anything more of him?"
"I think I have seen him. But Koku spoiled everything by trying to eat him up," and Tom laughingly related what had occurred on the way from Shopton.
"Bless my boots!" said Mr. Damon. "You'd better see the police, Tom."
"Why, they ought to know about such a fellow lurking about Shopton. If he followed that Western railroad president here—"
"We'll hope that he will follow Mr. Bartholomew away again," chuckled Tom. "Mr. Bartholomew won't stay over today. When that chap finds he has gone he probably will consider that there is no use in his bothering me any further."
Whether Tom believed this statement or not, he was destined to realize his mistake within a very short time. At least, the fact that he was being spied upon and that the enemy meant him anything but good, seemed proved beyond a doubt that very week.
Having done the little job for Mr. Damon, Tom allowed no other outside matter to take up his attention. He shut himself into his private experimental workshop and laboratory at the works each day. He did not even come out for lunch, letting Rad bring him down some sandwiches and a thermos bottle of cool milk.
"The young boss is milling over something new," the men said, and grinned at each other. They were proud of Tom and faithful to his interests.
Time was when there had been traitors in the works; but unfaithful hands had been weeded out. There was not a man who drew a pay envelope from the Swift Construction Company who would not have done his best to save Tom and his father trouble. Such a thing as a strike, or labor troubles of any kind, was not thought of there.
So Tom knew that whatever he did, or whatever plans he drew, in his private room, he was safely guarded. Yet he always took a portfolio home with him at night, for after dinner he frequently continued his work of the day. Naturally during this first week he did not get far in any problem connected with the proposed electric locomotive. There were, however, rough drafts and certain schedules that had to do with the matter jotted down.
It was almost twelve at night. Tom had sat up in his own room after his father had retired, and after the household was still.
Eradicate was in bed and snoring under the roof, Tom knew. Just where Koku was, it would have been hard to tell. Although a fine and penetrating rain was falling, the giant might be roaming about the waste land surrounding the stockade of the works. The elements had no terrors for him.
Tom locked his portfolio and stepped into his bathroom to wash his hands before retiring. Before he snapped on the electric light over the basin he chanced to glance through the newly set windowpane which had replaced the one Rad had shattered in escaping threatened impalement on Koku's spear.
Although the clouds were thick and the rain was falling, there was a certain humid radiance upon the roof of the porch under the bathroom window. At least, the wet roof glistened so that any moving figure on or beyond it was visible.
"What's that?" muttered Tom, and he sank down lower than the sill and crept slowly to the window. He merely raised himself until his eyes were on a level with the sill.
Coming up over the edge of the porch roof was a bulky figure. It was so dimly outlined at first that Tom could scarcely be sure that it was that of a man.
However, it was not possible that any creature but a man would be able to mount the lattice supporting the honeysuckle vines and so creep out upon the porch roof. Once making secure his footing, the enemy in the dark approached directly the bathroom window at which Tom crouched.
Where was Koku?
Tom reached up swiftly and pushed over the lever that locked the two window sashes. In doing this he set his own patent burglar alarm. If that lever was turned back again, or broken, the buzzers would be set ringing all over the house, and in Koku's room over the garage.
He did not believe that the marauder on the roof of the porch could have seen the flash of his shirt-sleeved arm. But he took no chance of being observed from outside by rising to his feet.
On his hands and knees he crept away from the window, and out of the bathroom. Once there, he stood up, grabbed the portfolio, and without coat or vest and as he was, dashed out of the bedroom. He had been positive that nobody but himself was astir in the big house, and he was right.
He did not punch the light button when he entered the library. He knew where to put his hand upon an electric torch in the table drawer, and he gained possession of this.
Then he went to the safe and twirled the knob and watched the indicator find the four numbers which were the "open sesame" to the burglar and fire-proof door.
He flung the portfolio into the inner compartment, closed both doors, and twirled the combination-knob. Then Tom tiptoed to the foot of the front stairs to listen. He could hear no sound from above.
He did not want his father to be startled, if the enemy did break in; and he knew that old Rad, awakened out of a sound sleep, would be worse than useless at such a time.
After all, the giant, Koku, was his main dependence under these circumstances. Tom crept to the outer door, opened it carefully, and slipped out, letting the spring lock click behind him. For the first time he realized that he was in his shirt and trousers and wore only felt slippers on his feet.