TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RUNABOUT
The Speediest Car on the Road
Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout
I TOM HOPES FOR A PRIZE II MR. DAMON'S STEERING III THE MOTOR-CYCLE WINS IV TALE OF A NEW BANK V A MIDNIGHT ENCOUNTER VI BUILDING THE CAR VII TOM IS CAPTURED VIII A BLINDING FLASH IX TOM IS RESCUED X TOM HAS A FALL XI CROSSED WIRES XII THE TRYOUT XIII TOWED BY A MULE XIV A GREAT RUN XV ANDY FOGER'S BLACK EYE XVI TROUBLE AT THE BANK XVII A RUN ON THE BANK XVIII AFTER THE CASH XIX STOPPED ON THE ROAD XX ON TIME XXI OFF TO THE BIG RACE XXII IN A DITCH XIII THE POWER GONE XIV ON THE TRACK XXV WINNING THE PRIZE
TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RUNABOUT
TOM HOPES FOR A PRIZE
"Father," exclaimed Tom Swift, looking up from a paper he was reading, "I think I can win that prize!"
"What prize is that?" inquired the aged inventor, gazing away from a drawing of a complicated machine, and pausing in his task of making some intricate calculations. "You don't mean to say, Tom, that you're going to have a try for a government prize for a submarine, after all."
"No, not a submarine prize, dad," and the youth laughed. "Though our Advance would take the prize away from almost any other under-water boat, I imagine. No, it's another prize I'm thinking about."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I see by this paper that the Touring Club of America has offered three thousand dollars for the speediest electric car. The tests are to come off this fall, on a new and specially built track on Long Island, and it's to be an endurance contest for twenty-four hours, or a race for distance, they haven't yet decided. But I'm going to have a try for it, dad, and, besides winning the prize, I think I'll take Andy Foger down a peg.
"What's Andy been doing now?"
"Oh, nothing more than usual. He's always mean, and looking for a chance to make trouble for me, but I didn't refer to anything special He has a new auto, you know, and he boasts that it's the fastest one in this country. I'll show him that it isn't, for I'm going to win this prize with the speediest car on the road."
"But, Tom, you haven't any automobile, you know," and Mr. Swift looked anxiously at his son, who was smiling confidently. "You can't be going to make your motor-cycle into an auto; are you?"
"Then how are you going to take part in the prize contest? Besides, electric cars, as far as I know, aren't specially speedy."
"I know it, and one reason why this club has arranged the contest is to improve the quality of electric automobiles. I'm going to build an electric runabout, dad."
"An electric runabout? But it will have to be operated with a storage battery, Tom, and you haven't—"
"I guess you're going to say I haven't any storage battery, dad," interrupted Mr. Swift's son. "Well, I haven't yet, but I'm going to have one. I've been working on—"
"Oh, ho!" exclaimed the aged inventor with a laugh. "So that's what you've been tinkering over these last few weeks, eh, Tom? I suspected it was some new invention, but I didn't suppose it was that. Well, how are you coming on with it?"
"Pretty good, I think. I've got a new idea for a battery, and I made an experimental one. I gave it some pretty severe tests, and it worked fine."
"But you haven't tried it out in a car yet, over rough roads, and under severe conditions have you?"
"No, I haven't had a chance. In fact, when I invented the battery I had no idea of using it on a car I thought it might answer for commercial purposes, or for storing a current generated by windmills. But when I read that account in the papers of the Touring Club, offering a prize for the best electric car, it occurred to me that I might put my battery into an auto, and win."
"Hum," remarked Mr. Swift musingly. "I don't take much stock in electric autos, Tom. Gasolene seems to be the best, or perhaps steam, generated by gasolene. I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. All the electric runabouts I ever saw, while they were very nice cars, didn't seem able to go so very fast, or very far."
"That's true, but it's because they didn't have the right kind of a battery. You know an electric locomotive can make pretty good speed, Dad. Over a hundred miles an hour in tests."
"Yes, but they don't run by storage batteries. They have a third rail, and powerful motors," and Mr. Swift looked quizzically at his son. He loved to argue with him, for he said it made Tom think, and often the two would thus thresh out some knotty point of an invention, to the interests of both.
"Of course, Dad, there is a good deal of theory in what I'm thinking of," the lad admitted. "But it does seem to me that if you put the right kind of a battery into an automobile, it could scoot along pretty lively. Look what speed a trolley car can make."
"Yes, Tom, but there again they get their power from an overhead wire."
"Some of them don't. There's a new storage battery been invented by a New Jersey man, which does as well as the third rail or the overhead wire. It was after reading about his battery that I thought of a plan for mine. It isn't anything like his; perhaps not as good in some ways, but, for what I want, it is better in some respects, I think. For one thing it can be recharged very quickly."
"Now Tom, look here," said Mr. Swift earnestly, laying aside his papers, and coming over to where his son sat. "You know I never interfere with your inventions. In fact, the more you think of the better I like it. The airship you helped build certainly did all that could be desired, and—"
"That reminds me. Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon are out in it now," interrupted Tom. "They ought to be back soon. Yes, Dad, the airship Red Cloud certainly scooted along."
"And the submarine, too," continued the aged inventor. "Your ideas regarding that were of service to me, and helped in our task of recovering the treasure, but I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed in the storage battery. You may get it to work, but I don't believe you can make it powerful enough to attain any great speed. Why don't you confine yourself to making a battery for stationary work?"
"Because, Dad, I believe I can build a speedy car, and I'm going to try it. Besides I want to race Andy Foger, and beat him, even if I don't win the prize. I'm going to build that car, and it will make fast time."
"Well, go ahead, Tom," responded his father, after a pause. "Of course you can use the shops here as much as you want, and Mr. Sharp, Mr. Jackson, and I will help you all we can. Only don't be disappointed, that's all."
"I won't, Dad. Suppose you come out to my shop and I'll show you a sample battery I've been testing for the last week. I have it geared to a small motor, and it's been running steadily for some time. I want to see what sort of a record it's made."
Father and son crossed the yard, and entered a shop which the lad considered exclusively his own. There he had made many machines, and pieces of apparatus, and had invented a number of articles which had been patented, and yielded him considerable of an income.
"There's the battery, Dad," he said, pointing to a complicated mechanism in one corner.
"What's that buzzing noise?" asked Mr. Swift. "That's the little motor I run from the new cells. Look here," and Tom switched on an electric light above the experimental battery, from which he hoped so much. It consisted of a steel can, about the size of the square gallon tin in which maple syrup comes, and from it ran two wires which were attached to a small motor that was industriously whirring away.
Tom looked at a registering gauge connected with it.
"That's pretty good," remarked the young inventor.
"What is it, Tom?" and his father peered about the shop.
"Why this motor has run an equivalent of two hundred miles on one charging of the battery! That's much better than I expected. I thought if I got a hundred out of it I'd be doing well. Dad, I believe, after I improve my battery a bit, that I'll have the very thing I want! I'll install a set of them in a car, and it will go like the wind. I'll—" Tom's enthusiastic remarks were suddenly interrupted by a low, rumbling sound.
"Thunder!" exclaimed Mr. Swift. "The storm is coming, and Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon in the airship—"
Hardly had he spoken than there sounded a crash on the roof of the Swift house, not far away. At the same time there came cries of distress, and the crash was repeated.
"Come on, Dad! Something has happened!" yelled Tom, dashing from the shop, followed by his parent. They found themselves in the midst of a rain storm, as they raced toward the house, on the roof of which the smashing noise was again heard.
MR. DAMON'S STEERING
Tom Swift was a lad of action, and his quickness in hurrying out to investigate what had happened when he was explaining about his new battery, was characteristic of him. Those of my readers who know him, through having read the previous books of this series, need not be told this, but you who, perhaps, are just making his acquaintance, may care to know a little more about him.
As told in my first book, "Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle" the young inventor lived with his father, Barton Swift, a widower, in the town of Shopton, New York. Mr. Swift was also an inventor of note.
In my initial volume of this series, Tom became possessed of a motor-cycle in a peculiar way. It was sold to him by a Mr. Wakefield Damon, a wealthy gentleman who was unfortunate in riding it. On his speedy machine, which Tom improved by several inventions, he had a number of adventures. The principal one was being attacked by a number of bad men, known as the "Happy Harry Gang," who wished to obtain possession of a valuable turbine patent model belonging to Mr. Swift. Tom was taking it to a lawyer, when he was waylaid, and chloroformed. Later he traced the gang, and, with the assistance of Mr. Damon and Eradicate Sampson, an aged colored man who made a living for himself and his mule, Boomerang, by doing odd jobs, the lad found the thieves and recovered a motor-boat which had been stolen. But the men got away.
In the second volume, called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Boat," Tom bought at auction the boat stolen by, and recovered from, the thieves, and proceeded to improve it. While he was taking his father out on a cruise for Mr Swift's health, the Happy Harry Gang made a successful attempt to steal some valuable inventions from the Swift house. Tom started to trace them, and incidentally he raced and beat Andy Foger, a rich bully. On their way down the lake, after the robbery, Tom, his father and Ned Newton, Tom's chum, saw a man hanging from the trapeze of a blazing balloon over Lake Carlopa. The balloonist was Mr. John Sharp and he was rescued by Tom in a thrilling fashion. In his motor-boat, Tom had much pleasure, not the least of which was taking out a young lady named Miss Mary Nestor, whose acquaintance he had made after stopping her runaway horse, which his bicycle had frightened. Tom's association with Miss Nestor soon ripened into something deeper than mere friendship.
It developed that Mr Sharp, whom Tom had saved from the burning balloon, was an aeronaut of note, and had once planned to build an airship. After his recovery from his thrilling experience, he mentioned the matter to Mr. Swift and his son, with whom he took up his residence. This fitted right in with Tom's ideas, and soon father, son and the balloonist were constructing the Red Cloud, as they named their airship. It was finally completed, as related in "Tom Swift and His Airship," made a successful trial trip, and won a prize. It was planned to make a longer journey, and Tom, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon agreed to go together. Mr. Damon was an odd individual, who was continuously blessing some part of his anatomy, his clothing or some inanimate object but, for all that, he was a fine man.
The night before Tom and his friends started off in their airship, the Shopton Bank vault was blown open and seventy-five thousand dollars was taken. Tom and his friends did not know of this, but, no sooner had the young inventor, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon sailed away, than the police arrived at Mr. Swift's house to arrest them. They were charged with the robbery, and with having sailed away with the booty.
It appeared that Andy Foger said he had seen Tom hanging around the bank the night of the robbery, with a bag of burglar tools in his possession. Search was immediately begun for the airship, the occupants of which were, meanwhile, speeding on.
Tom and his two friends had trouble. They were nearly burned up in a forest fire, and were fired upon by a crowd of people with rifles, who, reading of the bank robbery and the reward offered for the capture of the thieves, hoped to bring down the airship. The fact that they were fired upon caused Tom and the two aeronauts to descend to make an investigation, and for the first time they learned of the bank theft. How they got track of the real robbers, took the sheriff with them in the airship, and raided the gang will be found set down at length in the book. Also how Tom administered well-deserved thrashing to Andy Foger.
Mr. Swift did not accompany his son in the airship, and when asked why he did not care to make the trip, said he was working on a new type of submarine boat, which he hoped to enter in the government trials, to win a prize. In the fourth volume of the series, called "Tom Swift and his Submarine," you may read how successful Mr. Swift was.
When the submarine, called the Advance, was finished, the party made a trip to recover three hundred thousand dollars in gold from a sunken treasure ship, off the coast of Uruguay, South America. They sailed beneath the seas for many miles, and were in great peril at times. One reason for this was that a rival firm of submarine builders got wind of the treasure, and tried to get ahead of the Swifts in recovering it. How Tom and his friends succeeded in their quest, how they nearly perished at the bottom of the sea, how they were captured by a foreign war vessel, and sentenced to death, how they fought with a school of giant sharks and how they blew up the wreck to recover the money is all told of in the book.
On their return to civilization with the gold, Mr. Swift, Tom, and their friends deposited the money in the Shopton Bank, where Ned Newton worked. Ned was a bright lad, but had not been advanced as rapidly as he deserved, and Tom knew this. He asked his father to speak to the president, Mr. Pendergast, in Ned's behalf, and, as a result the lad was made assistant cashier, for the request of a man who controlled a three hundred thousand dollar deposit was not to be despised.
In building the submarine Tom and his father rented a large cottage on the New Jersey seacoast, but, on returning from their treasure-quest they went back to Shopton, leaving the submarine at the boathouse of the shore cottage, which was near the city of Atlantis. That was in the fall of the year, and all that winter the young inventor had been busy on many things, not the least of which was his storage battery. It was now spring, and seeing the item in the paper, about the touring club prize for an electric auto, had given him a new idea.
But all thoughts of electric cars, and everything else, were driven from the mind of the young man, when, with his father, he rushed out to see the cause of the crash on the roof of the Swift homestead.
"There's something up there, Tom," called his father, as he splashed on through the rain.
"That's right," added his son. "And somebody, too, to judge by the fuss they're making."
"Maybe the house has been struck by lightning!" suggested the aged inventor.
"No, the storm isn't severe enough for that; and, besides, if the house had been struck you'd hear Mrs. Baggert yelling, Dad. She—"
At that moment a woman's voice cried out:
"Mr. Swift! Tom! Where are you? Something dreadful has happened!"
"There she goes!" remarked Mr. Swift, as he splashed into a mud puddle.
"Bless my deflection rudder!" suddenly cried a voice from the flat roof of the Swift house. "Hello! I say, is anyone down there?"
"Yes, we are," answered Tom. "Is that you, Mr. Damon?"
"Bless my collar button! It certainly is."
"Where's Mr. Sharp? I don't hear him."
"Oh, I'm here all right," answered the balloonist. "I'm trying to get the airship clear of the chimney. Mr. Damon—"
"Yes, I steered wrong!" interrupted the odd man. "Bless my liver pin, but it was so dark I couldn't see, and when that clap of thunder came I shifted the deflection rudder instead of the lateral one, and tried to knock over your chimney."
"Are either of you hurt?" asked Mr. Swift anxiously.
"No, not at all," replied Mr. Sharp. "We were moving slowly, ready for a landing."
"Is the airship damaged?" inquired Tom.
"I don't know. Not much, I guess," was the answer of the aeronaut. "I've stopped the engine, and I don't like to start it again until I can see what shape we're in."
"I'll come up, with Mr. Jackson," called Tom, and he hastily summoned Garret Jackson, an engineer, who had been in the service of Mr. Swift for many years. Together they proceeded to the roof by a stairway that led to a scuttle.
"Is anyone killed?" asked Mrs. Baggert, as Tom hurried up the stairs. "Don't tell me there is, Tom!"
"Well, I don't have to tell you, for no one is," replied the young inventor with a laugh. "It's all right. The airship tried to collide with the chimney, that's all."
He was soon on the large, flat roof of the dwelling, and, with the aid of lanterns he, the engineer, and Mr. Sharp made a hasty examination.
"Anything wrong?" inquired Mr. Damon, looking out from the cabin of the Red Cloud where he had taken refuge after the crash, and to get out of the wet.
"Not much," answered Tom. "One of the forward planes is smashed, but we can rise by means of the gas, and float down. Is all clear, Mr. Sharp?"
"All clear," replied the balloonist, for the airship had now been wheeled back from the entanglement with the chimney.
"Then here we go!" cried Tom, as he and the aeronaut entered the craft, while Mr. Jackson descended through the scuttle.
There came a fiercer burst to the storm, and, amid a series of dazzling lightning flashes and the muttering of thunder, the airship rose from the roof. Tom switched on the search-light, and, starting the big propellers, guided the craft skillfully toward the big shed where it was housed when not in use.
With the grace of a bird it turned about in the air, and settled to the ground. It was the work of but a few minutes to run it into the shed. Then they all started for the house.
"Bless my umbrella! How it rains!" cried Mr. Damon, as he splashed on through numerous puddles. "We got back just in time, Mr. Sharp."
"Where did you go?" asked the lad.
"Why we took a flight of about fifty miles and stopped at my house in Waterfield for supper. Were you anxious about us?"
"A little when it began to storm," replied Tom.
"Anything new since we left?" asked Mr. Sharp, for it was the custom of himself, or some of his friends, to take little trips in the airship. They thought no more of it than many do of going for a short spin in an automobile.
"Yes, there is something new," said Mr. Swift, as the party, all drenched now, reached the broad veranda.
"Bless my gaiters!" cried Mr. Damon. "What is it? I hope the Happy Harry gang hasn't robbed you again; nor Berg and his men tried to take that treasure away from us, after we worked so hard to get it from the wreck."
"No, it isn't that," replied Mr. Swift. "The truth is that Tom thinks he has invented a storage battery that will revolutionize matters. He's going to build an electric automobile, he says."
"I am," declared the lad, as the others looked at him, "and it will be the speediest one you ever saw, too!"
THE MOTORCYCLE WINS
"Well, Tom," remarked Mr. Sharp, after a pause following the lad's announcement. "I didn't know you had any ambitions in that line. Tell us more about the battery. What system do you use; lead plates and sulphuric acid?"
"Oh, that's out of date long ago," declared the lad.
"Well, I don't know much about electricity," admitted the aeronaut. "I'll take my chances in an airship or a balloon, but when it comes to electricity I'm down and out."
"So am I," admitted Mr. Damon. "Bless my gizzard, it's all I can do to put a new spark plug in my automobile. Where is your new battery, Tom?"
"Out in my shop, running yet if it hasn't been frightened by the airship smash," replied the lad, somewhat proudly. "It's an oxide of nickel battery, with steel and oxide of iron negative electrodes."
"What solution do you use, Tom?" asked Mr. Swift. "I didn't get that far in questioning you before the crash came," he added.
"Well I have, in the experimental battery, a solution of potassium hydrate," replied the lad, "but I think I'm going to change it, and add some lithium hydrate to it. I think that will make it stronger."
"Bless my watch chain!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "It's all Greek to me. Suppose you let us see it, Tom? I like to see wheels go 'round, but I'm not much of a hand for chemical terms."
"If you're sure you're not hurt by the airship smash, I will," declared the lad.
"Oh, we're not hurt a bit," insisted Mr. Sharp. "As I said we were moving slow, for I knew it was about time to land. Mr. Damon was steering—"
"Yes I thought I'd try my hand at it, as it seemed so easy," interrupted the eccentric man. "But never again—not for mine! I couldn't see the house, and, before I knew it we were right over the roof. Then the chimney seemed to stick itself up suddenly in front of us, and—well, you know the rest. I'm willing to pay for any damage I caused."
"Oh, not at all!" replied Tom. "It's easy enough to put on a new plane, or, for that matter, we can operate the Red Cloud without it. But come on, I'll show you my sample battery."
"Here, take umbrellas!" Mrs. Baggert called after them as they started toward the shop, for it was still raining.
"We don't mind getting wet," replied the young inventor. "It's in the interests of science."
"Maybe it is. You don't mind a wetting, but I mind you coming in and dripping water all over the carpets!" retorted the housekeeper.
"Bless my overshoes, I'm afraid we have wet the carpets a trifle now," admitted Mr. Damon ruefully, as he looked down at a puddle, which had formed where he had been standing.
"That's the reason I want you to take umbrellas this trip," insisted Mrs. Baggert.
They complied, and were soon in the shop, where Tom explained his battery. The small motor was still running and had, as the lad had said, gone the equivalent of over two hundred miles.
"If a small battery does as well as that, what will a larger one do?" asked Mr. Damon.
"Much better, I hope," replied the youth. "But Dad doesn't seem to have much faith in them."
"Well," admitted Mr. Swift, "I must say I am skeptical. Still, I acknowledge Tom has done some pretty good work along electrical lines. He helped me with the positive and negative plates on the submarine, and, maybe—well, we'll wait and see," he concluded.
"If you build a car I hope you give me a ride in it," said Mr. Damon. "I've ridden fast in the air, and swiftly on top of, and under, the water. Now I'd like to ride rapidly on top of the earth. The gasolene auto doesn't go very fast."
"I'll give you a ride that will make your hair stand up!" prophesied Tom, and the time was to come when he would make good that prediction.
The little party in the machine shop talked at some length about Tom's battery. He showed them how it was constructed, and gave them some of his ideas regarding the new type of auto he planned to build.
"Well," remarked Mr. Swift at length, "if you want to keep your brain fresh, Tom, you must get to bed earlier than this. It's nearly twelve o'clock."
"And I want to get up early!" exclaimed the lad. "I'm going to start to build a larger battery to-morrow."
"And I'm going to repair the airship," added Mr. Sharp.
"Bless my night cap, I promised my wife I'd be home early to-night, too!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I don't fancy making the trip back to Waterfield in my auto, though. Something will be sure to happen. I'll blow out a tire, or a spark plug will get sooty on me and—"
"It's raining harder than ever," interrupted Tom. "Better stay here to-night. You can telephone home." Which Mr. Damon did.
Tom was up early the next morning, in spite of the fact that he did not go to bed in good season, and before breakfast he was working at his new storage battery. After the meal he hurried back to the shop, but it was not long before he came out, wheeling his motor-cycle.
"Where are you going, Tom?" asked Mrs. Baggert.
"Oh, I've got to go to Mansburg to get some steel tubes for my new battery," he replied. "I thought I had some large enough, but I haven't." Mansburg was a good-sized town, near Shopton.
"Then I wish you'd bring me a bottle of stove polish," requested the housekeeper. "The liquid kind. I'm out of it, and the stove is as red as a cow."
"All right," agreed the lad, as he leaped into the saddle and pedaled off down the road. A moment later he had turned on the power, and was speeding along the highway, which was in good condition on account of the shower of the night before.
Tom was thinking so deeply of his new invention, and planning what he would do when he had his electric runabout built, that, almost before he knew it, he had reached Mansburg, purchased the steel tubes, and the stove polish, and was on his way back again.
As he was speeding along on a level road, he heard, coming behind him, an automobile. The lad turned to one side, but, in spite of this the party in the car began a serenade of the electric siren, and kept it up, making a wild discord.
"What's the matter with those fellows!" inquired Tom of himself. "Haven't I given them enough of the road, or has their steering gear broken?"
He looked back over his shoulder, and it needed but a glance to show that the car was all right, as regarded the steering apparatus. And it needed only another glance to disclose the reason for the shrill sound of the siren.
"Andy Foger!" exclaimed Tom. "I might have known. And Sam and Pete are with him. Well, if he wants to make me get off the road, he'll find that I've got as much right as he has!"
He kept on a straight course, wondering if the red-haired, and squint-eyed bully would dare try to damage the motor-cycle.
A little later Andy's car was beside Tom.
"Why don't you get out of the way," demanded Sam, who could usually be depended on to aid Andy in all his mean tricks.
"Because I'm entitled to half the road," retorted our hero.
"Humph! A slow-moving machine like yours hasn't any right on the road," sneered Andy, who had slowed down his car somewhat.
"I haven't, eh?" demanded Tom. "Well, if you'll get down out of that car for a few minutes I'll soon show you what my rights are!"
Now Andy, more than once, had come to personal encounters with Tom, much to the anguish of the bully. He did not relish another chastisement, but his mean spirit could not brook interference.
"Don't you want a race?" he inquired of Tom, in a sneering tone. "I'll give you a mile start, and beat you! I've got the fastest car built!"
"You have, eh?" asked Tom, while a grim look came over his face. "Maybe you'll think differently some day."
"Aw, he's afraid to race; come on," suggested Pete. "Don't bother with him, Andy."
"No, I guess it wouldn't be worth my while," was the reply of the bully, and he threw the second gear into place, and began to move away from the young inventor.
Tom was just as much pleased to be left alone, but he did not want Andy Foger to think that he could have matters all his own way. Tom's motor-cycle, since he had made some adjustments to it, was very swift. In fact there were few autos that could beat it. He had never tried it against Andy's new car, and he was anxious to do so.
"I wonder if I would stand any chance, racing him?" thought the young inventor, as he saw the car slowly pulling away from him. "I think I'll wait until he gets some distance ahead, and then I'll see how near I can come to him. If I get anywhere near him I'm pretty sure I can pass him. I'll try it."
When Andy and his cronies looked back, Tom did not appear to be doing anything save moving along at moderate speed on his machine.
"You don't dare race!" Pete Bailey shouted to him.
"Wait," was what Tom whispered to himself.
Andy's car was now some distance ahead. The young inventor waited a little longer, and then turned more power into his machine. It leaped forward and began to "eat up the road," as Tom expressed it. He had seen Andy throw in the third gear, but knew that there was a fourth speed on the bully's car.
"I don't know whether I can beat him on that or not," thought the lad dubiously. "If I try, and fail, they'll laugh at me. But I don't think I'm going to fail."
Faster and faster he rode. He was rapidly overhauling Andy's car now, and, as they heard him approach, the three cronies turned around.
"He's going to race you, after all, Andy!" cried Sam.
"You mean he's going to try," sneered Andy. "I'll give him all the racing he wants!"
In another few seconds Tom was beside the auto, and would have passed it, only Andy opened his throttle a little more. For a moment the auto jumped ahead, and then, as our hero turned on still more power, he easily held his own.
"Aw, you can never beat us!" yelled Pete.
"Of course not!" added Sam.
"I'll leave him behind in a second," prophesied Andy. "Wait until I throw in the other gear," he added to his cronies in a low voice. "He thinks he's going to beat me. I'll let him think so, and then I'll spurt ahead."
The two machines were now racing along side by side. Andy's car was going the limit on third gear, but he still had the fourth gear in reserve. Tom, too, still had a little margin of speed.
Suddenly Andy reached forward and yanked on a lever. There was a grinding of cogs as the fourth gear slipped into place, for Andy did not handle his car skillfully. The effect, however, was at once apparent. The automobile shot forward.
"Now where are you, Tom Swift?" cried Sam.
Tom said nothing. He merely shifted a lever, and got a better spark. He also turned on a little more gasolene and opened the muffler The quickness with which his motor-cycle shot forward almost threw him from the saddle, but he had a tight grip on the handle bars. He whizzed past the auto, but, as the latter gathered speed, it crept up to him, and, once more was on even terms. Much chagrined at seeing Tom hold pace with him, even for an instant, Andy shouted:
"Get over on your own side there! You're crowding me!"
"I am not!" yelled back Tom, above the explosions of his machine.
The two were now racing furiously, and Andy, with a savage look, tried to get more speed out of his car. In spite of all the bully did, Tom was gradually forging ahead. A little hill was now in view.
"Here's where I make him take my dust!" cried Andy, but, to his surprise Tom still kept ahead. The auto began to lose ground, for it was not made to take hills on high gear.
"Change to third gear quick!" cried Sam.
Andy tried to do it. There was a hesitancy on the part of his car. It seemed to balk. Tom, looking back, slowed up a trifle. He could afford to, as Andy was being beaten.
"Go on! Go on!" begged Pete. "You'll have to keep on fourth gear to beat him, Andy."
"That's what!" murmured the bully. Once more he shifted the gears. There was a grinding, smashing sound, and the car lost speed. Then it slowed up still more, and finally stopped. Then it began to back down hill.
"I've stripped those blamed gears!" exclaimed Andy ruefully.
"Can't you beat him?" asked Pete.
"I could have, easily, if my gears hadn't broken," declared the bully, but, as a matter of fact, he could not have done so. "I oughtn't to have changed, going up hill," he added, as he jammed on the brakes, to stop the car from sliding down the slope.
Tom saw and heard.
"I thought you were so anxious to race," he said, exultantly, as well he might. "I don't want to try a contest down hill, though, Andy," and he laughed at the red-haired lad, who was furious.
"Aw, go on!" was all the retort the squint-eyed one could think of to make.
"I am going on," replied our hero. "Just to show you that I can go down hill, watch me."
He turned his motor-cycle, and approached Andy's stalled car, for Tom was some distance in advance of it, up the slope by this time. As he approached the auto, containing the three disconcerted cronies, something bounded out of Tom's pocket. It was the bottle of stove blacking he had purchased for Mrs. Baggert. The bottle fell in the soft dirt in front of his forward wheel, and a curious thing happened. Perhaps you have seen a bicycle or auto tire strike a stone at an angle, and throw it into the air with great force. That was what happened to the bottle. Tom's front wheel struck the cork, which fitted tightly, and, just as when you hit one end of the wooden "catty" and it bounds up, the bottle described a curve through the air, and flew straight toward Andy's car. It struck the brass frame of the wind shield with a crash.
The bottle broke, and in an instant the black liquid was spattered all over Andy, Sam and Pete. It could not have been done more effectively if Tom had thrown it by hand. All over their clothes, their hands and faces, and the front of the car went the dreary black. Tom looked on, hardly able to believe what he saw.
"Wow! Wup! Ug! Blug! Mug!" spluttered Sam, who had some of the stuff in his mouth.
"Oh! Oh!" yelled Pete.
"You did that on purpose, Tom Swift!" shouted Andy, wiping some of the blacking from his left eye. "I'll have you arrested for that! You've ruined my car, and look at my suit!"
"Mine's worse!" murmured Sam, glancing down at his light trousers, which were of the polka-dot pattern now.
"No, mine is," insisted Pete, whose white shirt was of the hue of a stove pipe.
Andy wiped some of the black stuff from his nose, whence it was dropping on the steering wheel.
"You just wait!" the bully called to Tom. "I'll get even with you for this!"
"It was an accident! I didn't mean to do that," explained Tom, trying not to laugh, as he dismounted from his motor-cycle, ready to render what assistance he could.
TALK OF A NEW BANK
The three cronies were in a sorrowful plight. The black fluid dripped from them, and formed little puddles in the car. Andy had used his handkerchief to wipe some of the stuff from his face, but the linen was soon useless, for it quickly absorbed the blacking.
"There's a little brook over here," volunteered Tom. "You might wash in that. The stuff comes off easily. It isn't like ink," and he had to laugh, as he thought of the happening.
"Here! You quit that!" ordered Andy. "You've gone too far, Tom Swift!"
"Didn't I tell you it was an accident?" inquired the young inventor.
"It wasn't!" cried Sam. "You threw the bottle at us! I saw you!"
"It slipped from my pocket," declared the youth, and he described how the accident occurred. "I'll help you clean your car, Andy," he added.
"I don't want your help! If you come near me I'll—I'll punch your nose!" cried Andy, now almost beside himself with rage.
"All right, if you don't want my help I don't care," answered Tom, glad enough not to have to soil his hands and clothes. He felt that it was partly his fault, and he would have done all he could to remedy matters, but his good offers being declined, he felt that it was useless to insist further.
He remounted his motor-cycle, and rode off, the last view he had of the trio being one where they were at the edge of the brook, trying to remove the worst traces of the black fluid. As Tom turned around for a final glimpse, Andy shook his fist at him, and called out something.
"I guess Andy'll have it in for me," mused Tom. "Well, I can't help it. I owed him something on account, but I didn't figure on paying it in just this way," and he thought of the time the bully had locked him in the ballast tanks of the submarine, thereby nearly smothering him to death.
That night Andy Foger told his father what had happened, for Mr. Foger inquired the reason for the black stains on his son's face and hands. But Andy did not give the true version. He said Tom had purposely thrown the bottle of blacking at him.
"So that's the kind of a lad Tom Swift is, eh?" remarked Andy's father. "Well, Andy, I think you will soon have a chance to get even with him."
"I can't tell you now, but I have a plan for making Tom sorry he ever did anything to you, and I will also pay back some old scores to Mr. Swift and Mr. Damon. I'll ruin their bank for them, that's what I'll do."
"Ruin their bank, pop? How?"
"You wait and see. The Swift crowd will get off their high horse soon, or I'm mistaken. My plans are nearly completed, but I can't tell you about them. I'll ruin Mr. Swift, though, that's what I'll do," and Mr. Foger shook his head determinedly.
Tom was soon at his home, and Mrs. Baggert, hearing the noise of his machine, as it entered the front yard, came to the side door.
"Where's my blacking?" she asked, as our hero dismounted and untied the bundle of steel tubes he had purchased.
"I—I used it," he answered, laughing.
"Tom Swift! You don't mean to say you took my stove polish to use in your battery, do you?"
"No, I used it to polish off Andy Foger and some of his cronies," and the young inventor told, with much gusto, what had happened. Mrs. Baggert could not help joining in the laugh, and when Tom offered to ride back and purchase some more of the polish for her, she said it did not matter, as she could wait until the next day.
The lad was soon busy in his machine shop, making several larger cells for the new storage battery. He wanted to give it a more severe test. He worked for several days on this, and when he had one unit of cells complete, he attached the motor for an efficiency trial.
"We'll see how many miles that will make," he remarked to his father.
"Have you thought anything of the type of car you are going to build?" asked the aged inventor of his son.
"Yes, somewhat. It will be almost of the regulation style, but with two removable seats at the rear, with curtains for protection, and a place in front for two persons. This can also be protected with curtains when desired."
"But what about the motors and the battery?"
"They will be located under the middle of the car. There will be one set of batteries there, together with the motor, and another set of batteries will be placed under the removable seats in what I call the tonneau, though, of course, it isn't really that. A smaller set will also be placed forward, and there will be ample room for carrying tools and such things."
"About how far do you expect your car will go with one charging of the battery?"
"Well, if I can make it do three hundred miles I'll be satisfied, but I'm going to try for four hundred."
"What will you do when your battery runs out?"
"Suppose you're not near a charging station?" "Well, Dad, of course those are some of the details I've got to work out. I'm planning a register gauge now, that will give warning about fifty miles before the battery is run down. That will leave me a margin to work on. And I'm going to have it fixed so I can take current from any trolley line, as well as from a regular charging station. My battery will be capable of being recharged very quickly, or, in case of need, I can take out the old cells and put in new ones.
"That's a very good idea. Well, I hope you succeed."
A few evenings after this, when Tom was busy in his machine shop, he heard some one enter. He looked up from the gauge of the motor, which he was studying, and, for a moment, he could make out nothing in the dark interior of the shop, for he was working in a brilliant light.
"Who's there?" he called sharply, for, more than once unscrupulous men had endeavored to sneak into the Swift shops to steal ideas of inventions; if not the actual apparatus itself.
"It's me—Ned Newton," was the cheerful reply.
"Oh, hello, Ned! I was wondering what had become of you," responded Tom. "Where have you been lately?"
"Oh, working overtime."
"What's the occasion?"
"We're trying out a new system to increase the bank business."
"What's the matter? Aren't you folks getting business enough, after the big deposits we made of the bullion from the wreck?"
"Oh, it's not that. But haven't you heard the news? There is talk of starting a rival bank in Shopton, and that may make us hustle to hold what business we have, to say nothing of getting new customers."
"A new bank, eh? Who's going to start it?" "Andy Foger's father, I hear. You know he was a director in our bank, but he got out last week."
"Well, he had some difficulty with Mr. Pendergast, the president. I fancy you had something to do with it, too."
"I?" Tom was plainly surprised.
"Yes, you know you and Mr. Damon and Mr. Sharp captured the bank robbers, and got back most of the money."
"I guess I do remember it! I wish you could have seen the gang when we raided them from the clouds, in our airship!"
"Well, you know Andy Foger hoped to collect the five thousand dollars reward for telling the police that you were the thief, and of course he got fooled, for you got the reward. Mr. Foger expected his son would collect the money, and when Andy got left, it made him sore. He's had a grudge against Mr. Pendergast, and all the other bank officials ever since, and now he's going to start a rival bank. So that's why I said it was partly due to you."
"Oh, I see. I thought at first you meant that it was on account of something that happened the other day."
"What was that?"
"Andy, Sam and Pete got the contents of a bottle of stove blacking," and Tom related the occurrence, at which Ned laughed heartily.
"I wouldn't be surprised though," added Ned, "to learn that Mr. Foger started the new bank more for revenge than anything else."
"So that's the reason you've been working late, eh?" went on Tom. "Getting ready for competition. Do you think a new bank will hurt the one you're with?"
"Well, it might," admitted Ned. "It's bound to make a change, anyhow, and now that I have a good position I don't want to lose it. I take more of an interest in the institution now that I'm assistant cashier, than I did when I was a clerk. So, naturally, I'm a little worried."
"Say, don't let it worry you," begged Tom, earnestly.
"Because I know my father and Mr. Damon will stick to the old bank. They won't have anything to do with the one Andy Foger's father starts. Don't you worry."
"Well, that will help some," declared Ned. "They are both heavy depositors, and if they stick to the old bank we can stand it even if some of our smaller customers desert us."
"That's the way to talk," went on the young inventor. "Let Foger start his bank. It won't hurt yours."
"What are you making now?" asked Ned, a little later, looking with interest at the machinery over which Tom was bending, and to which he was making adjustments.
"New electric automobile. I want to beat Andy Foger's car worse than I did on my motor-cycle, and I also want to win a prize," and the lad proceeded to relate the incidents leading up to his construction of the storage battery.
Tom and Ned were in the shop until long past midnight, and then the bank employee, with a look at his watch, exclaimed:
"Great Scott! I ought to be home."
"I'll run you over in Mr. Damon's car," proposed Tom. "He left it here the other day, while he and his wife went off on a trip, and he said I could use it whenever I wanted to."
"Good!" cried Ned.
The two lads came from Tom's particular workshop. As the young inventor closed the door he started suddenly, as he snapped shut the lock.
"What's the matter?" asked Ned quickly.
"I thought I heard a noise," replied Tom.
They both listened. There was a slight rustling in some bushes near the shop.
"It's a dog or a cat," declared Ned.
Tom took several cautious steps forward. Then he gave a spring, and made a grab for some one or something.
"Here! You let me be!" yelled a protesting voice.
"I will when I find out what you mean by sneaking around here," retorted Tom, as he came back toward Ned, dragging with him a lad. "It wasn't a dog or a cat, Ned," spoke the young inventor. "It's Sam Snedecker," and so it proved.
"You let me alone!" demanded Andy Foger's crony. "I ain't done nothin' to you," he whined.
"Here, Ned, you hold him a minute, while I make an investigation," called Tom, handing his prisoner over to his chum. "Maybe Pete or Andy are around."
"No, they ain't. I came alone," said Sam quickly, but Tom, not heeding, opened the shop, and, after turning on the electric lights, procured a lantern. He began a search of the shrubbery around the shop, while Ned held to the struggling Sam.
A MIDNIGHT ENCOUNTER
The moment Tom disappeared behind his machine shop, Sam Snedecker began a desperate struggle to escape from Ned Newton. Now Ned was a muscular lad, but his work in the bank was confining, and he did not have the chance to get out doors and exercise, as Sam had. Consequently Ned had his hands full in holding to the squirming crony of Andy Foger.
"You let me go!" demanded Sam, as he tried to twist loose.
"Not if I know it!" panted Ned.
Sam gave a sudden twist. Ned's foot slipped in the grass, and in a moment he went down, with Sam on top of him. Still he did not let go, and, finding he was still a prisoner Sam adopted new tactics.
Using his fists Sam began to pound Ned, but the bank employee, though suffering, would not call for help, to summon back Tom, who was, by this time, at the rear of the shop, looking about. Silently in the dark the two fought, and Ned found that Sam was getting away. Then Ned's hand came in contact with Sam's ear. It was the misfortune of the bully to have rather a large hearing apparatus, and once Ned got his fingers on an ear there was room enough to afford a good grip. He closed his hold tightly, and began to twist. This was too much for Sam. He set up a lusty howl.
"Wow! Ouch! Let go!" he pleaded, and he ceased to pound Ned, and no longer tried to escape. Tom came back on the run.
"What's the matter?" he cried. Then his light flashed on the two prostrate lads, and he understood without asking any further questions.
"Get up!" he cried, seizing Sam by the back of his neck, and yanking him to his feet. Ned arose, and secured a better grip on the sneaking lad.
"What's up?" demanded Tom, and Ned explained, following it by the question:
"See any more of 'em?"
"No, I guess he was here all alone," replied the young inventor. "What do you mean by sneaking around here this time of night?" he demanded of the captive.
"Don't you wish you knew?" was Sam's answer, with a leer. He realized that he had a certain advantage.
"You'd better tell before I turn you over to the police!" said Tom, sternly.
"You—you wouldn't do that; would you?" and Sam's voice that had been bold, became shaky.
"You were trespassing on our property, and that's against the law," declared Tom. "We have signs posted, warning people to keep off."
"I didn't mean any harm," whined Sam.
"Then what were you doing here, at this hour?"
"I was just taking a short cut home. I was out riding with Andy in his auto, and it broke down. I had to walk home, and I came this way. I didn't know you didn't allow people to cross your back lot. I wasn't doin' anything."
Tom hesitated. Sam might be telling the truth, but it was doubtful.
"What happened to Andy's auto?" the young inventor asked.
"He broke a wheel, going over a big stone on Berk's hill. He went to tell some one in the repair shop to go after the car, and I came on home. You've got no right to arrest me."
"I ought to, on general principles," commented Tom. "Well, skip out, and don't you come around here again. I'm going to get a savage bull dog, and the first one who comes sneaking around here after dark will be sorry. Move along now!"
Tom and Ned released their holds of Sam, and the latter lost no time in obeying the injunction to make himself scarce. He was soon lost to sight in the darkness.
"Think he was up to some mischief?" asked Ned.
"I'm almost sure of it," replied Tom, "but I can't see anything wrong. I guess we were too quick for him. I believe he, Andy and Pete Bailey tried to put up some job on me."
"Maybe they wanted to damage your new battery or car," suggested Ned.
"Hardly that. The car hasn't been started yet, and as for the battery, no one knows of it outside of you and my friends here. I'm keeping it secret. Well, if I'm going to take you home I'd better get a move on. Wait here and I'll run out Mr. Damon's car."
In a short time Tom was guiding the machine over the road to Shopton, Ned on the seat beside him. The young assistant cashier lived about a mile the other side of the village, and the two chums were soon at his house. Asking his friend to come and see him when he had a chance. Ned bid his chum good night, and the young inventor started back home.
He was driving slowly along, thinking more of his new invention than anything else, even more than of the mysterious visit of Sam Snedecker, when the lights on Mr. Damon's car flashed upon something big, black and bulky on the road just ahead of him. Tom, brought suddenly out of his fit of musing, jammed on the brakes, and steered to one side. Then he saw that the object was a stalled auto. He had only time to note this when a voice hailed him:
"Have you a tire pump you could lend us? Ours doesn't work, and we have had a blowout."
There was something about the voice that was strangely familiar, and Tom was wondering where he had heard it before, when into the glare of the lamps on his machine stepped Mr. Foger—Andy's father!
"Why, Mr. Foger!" exclaimed Tom. "I didn't know it was you."
"Oh, it's Tom Swift," remarked the man, and he did not seem especially pleased.
"Hey! What's that?" cried another voice, which Tom had no difficulty in recognizing as belonging to Andy. "What's the matter, Dad?"
"Why it happens to be your—ahem! It's Tom Swift in this other auto," went on Mr. Foger. "I didn't know you had a car," he added.
"I haven't," answered the lad. "This belongs to Mr. Damon. But can you see to fix your tire in the dark?" for Mr. Foger and his son had no lamps lighted.
"Oh, we have it all fixed," declared the man, "and, just as we were going to pump it up out lamps went out. Then we found that our pump wouldn't work. If you have one I would be obliged for the use of it," and he spoke somewhat stiffly.
"Certainly," agreed Tom, cheerfully, for he had no special grudge against Mr. Foger, though had he known Andy's father's plans, perhaps our hero would not have so readily aided him. The young inventor got down, removed one of his oil lamps in order that there might be some light on the operation, and then brought over his pump.
"I heard you had an accident," said Tom, a chain of thoughts being rapidly forged in his mind, as he thought of what Sam had told him.
"You heard of it?" repeated Mr. Foger, while Andy was busy pumping up the tire.
"Yes, a friend who was out riding with you said you had broken a wheel on Berk's hill. But I see he was slightly wrong. You're a good way from Berk's hill, and it's a tire that is broken, not a wheel."
"But I don't understand," said Mr. Foger. "No friend has been out riding with us. My son and I were out on a business trip, and—"
"Come on, pop. I've got it all pumped up. Jump in. There's your pump, Tom Swift. Much obliged," muttered Andy hastily. It was very evident that he wanted to prevent any further conversation between his parent and Tom.
"But I don't understand," went on the banker, clearly puzzled. "What friend gave you such information, Mr.—er—Tom Swift?"
"Sam Snedecker," replied the lad quickly. "I caught him sneaking around my machine shop about an hour ago, and when I asked him what he was doing he said he'd been out riding with Andy, and that they broke a wheel. I'm glad it was only a blown-out tire," and Tom's voice had a curious note in it.
"But there must be some mistake," insisted Mr. Foger. "Sam Snedecker was not riding with us this evening. We have been over to Waterfield—my son and I, and—"
"Come on, pop!" cried Andy desperately. "We must hurry home. Mom will be worried."
"Yes, I think she will. But I can't understand why Sam should say such a thing. However, we are much obliged for the use of your pump, Swift, and—"
But Andy prevented any further talk by starting the car with the muffler open, making a great racket, and he hurriedly drove off, almost before his father was seated, leaving Tom standing there in the road, beside his pump and lantern.
"So," mused the young inventor, "there's some game on. Sam wasn't with Andy, yet Andy evidently knew where Sam was, or he wouldn't have been so anxious to choke off talk. Mr. Foger knew nothing of Sam, naturally. But why have Andy and his father been on a midnight trip to Waterfield?"
That last question caused Tom to adopt a new line of thought.
"Waterfield," he mused. "That's where Mr. Damon lives. Mr. Damon is a heavy depositor in the old bank. Mr. Foger is going to start a new bank. I wonder if there's any connection there? This is getting mysterious. I must keep my eyes open. I never expected to meet Andy and his father to-night, any more than I expected to find Sam Snedecker sneaking around my shop, but it's a good thing I discovered both parties. I guess Andy must have had nervous prostration when I was talking to his father," and Tom grinned at the thought. Then, picking up the pump, and fastening the lantern in place, he drove Mr. Damon's auto slowly back home.
Tom said nothing to his father or Mr. Sharp, the next morning, about the incidents of the previous night. In the first place he could not exactly understand them, and he wanted to devote more time to thinking of them, before he mentioned the matter to his parent. Another reason was that Mr. Swift was a very nervous person, and the least thing out of the ordinary worried him. So the young inventor concluded to keep quiet.
His first act, after going to look at the small motor, which was being run with the larger, experimental storage battery, was to get out pencil and paper.
"I've got to plan the electric auto now that my battery is in a fair way to success," he said, for he noted that the one cell he had constructed had done over twice as much mileage in proportion, as had the small battery. "I'll soon start building the car," mused Tom, "and then I'll enter it in the race. I must write to that touring club and find how much time I have."
All that morning the young inventor drew plan after plan for an electric runabout, and rejected them. Finally he threw aside paper and pencil and exclaimed:
"It's no use. I can't think to-day. I'm dwelling too much on what happened last night. I must clear my brain.
"I know what I'll do. I'll get in my motor-boat and take a run over to Waterfield to see Mr. Damon. Maybe he's home by this time. Then I can ask him what Mr. Foger wanted to see him about, if he did call."
It was a fine May morning, and Tom was soon in his boat, the Arrow, gliding over Lake Carlopa, the waters of which sparkled in the sun. As he speeded up his craft, the lad looked about, thinking he might catch sight of Andy Foger, for the bully also owned a boat, called the Red Streak and, more than once, in spite of the fact that Andy's craft was the more powerful, Tom had beaten him in impromptu races. But there was no sign of his rival this morning, and Tom kept on to Waterfield. He found that Mr. Damon had not yet returned home.
"So far I've had my run for nothing," mused the youth. "Well, I might as well spend the rest of the morning in the boat."
He swung his craft out into the lake, and headed back toward Mansburg, intending to run up to the head of the body of water, which offered so many attractions that beautiful morning.
As Tom passed a small dock he saw a girl just putting out in a rowboat. The figure looked familiar and, having nothing special to do, the lad steered over closer. His first view was confirmed, and he called out cheerfully:
"Good morning, Miss Nestor. Going for a row?"
"Oh! Mr. Swift!" exclaimed the girl with a blush. "I didn't hear you coming. You startled me."
"Yes, the engine runs quite silently since I fixed it," resumed Tom. "But where are you going?"
"I was going for a row," answered the girl, "but I have just discovered that one of the oar locks is broken, so I am not going for a row," and she laughed, showing her white, even teeth.
"That's too bad!" remarked the lad. "I don't suppose," he added doubtfully, "that I could induce you to accept a motor-boat as a substitute for a rowing craft, could I?" and he looked quizzically at her.
"Are you asking me that as a hypothetical question?" she inquired.
"Yes," said Tom, trying not to smile.
"Well, if you are asking for information, merely, I will say that I could be induced to make such a change," and her face was nearly as grave as that of the young inventor's.
"What inducement would have to be used?" he asked.
"Suppose you just ask me in plain English to come and have a ride?" she suggested.
"All right, I will!" exclaimed the youth.
"All right, then I'll come!" she retorted with a laugh, and a few minutes later the two were in the Arrow, making a pretty picture as they speeded up the lake.
BUILDING THE CAR
"Well," remarked Tom to himself, about two hours later, when he had left Mary Nestor at her dock, and was on his way home, "I feel better than I did, and now I must do some hard thinking about my runabout. I want to get it the right shape to make the least resistance." He began to make some sketches when he got home, and at dinner he showed them to his father and Mr. Sharp. He said he had gotten an idea from looking at the airship.
"I'm going to make the front part, or what corresponds to the engine-hood in a gasolene car, pointed," he explained. "It will be just like the front of the aluminum gas container of the airship, only built of steel. In it will be a compartment for a set of batteries, and there will be a searchlight there. From the top of some supporters in front of the two rear seats, a slanting sheet of steel will come right down to meet the sloping nose of the car. First I was going to have curtains close over the top of the driver's seat, but I think a steel covering, with a celluloid opening will be better and make less wind resistance. I'll use leather side curtains when it rains. Under the front seats will be a compartment for more batteries, and there will be a third place under the rear seats, where I will also carry spare wheels and a repair kit. The motors will be slung under the body of the car, amidships, and there will also be room for some batteries there."
"How are you going to drive the car?" asked Mr. Sharp. "By a shaft?"
"Chain drive," explained Tom. "I can get more power that way, and it will be more flexible under heavy loads. Of course it will be steered in the usual way, and near the wheel will be the starting and reversing levers, and the gear handle."
"Gears!" exclaimed the aged inventor. "Are you going to gear an electric auto? I never heard of that. Usually the motor directly connected is all they use."
"I'm going to have two gears on mine," decided Tom.
"That's a new idea," commented the aeronaut.
"It is," admitted the lad, "and that's why my car is going to be so speedy. I'll make her go a hundred miles an hour, if necessary!"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed his father.
"I will!" cried the young inventor, enthusiastically. "You just wait and see. I couldn't do it but for the gears, but by using them I'll secure more speed, especially with the big reserve battery power I'll have. I know I've got the right idea, and I'm going to get right to work."
His father and Mr. Sharp were much interested, and closely examined his sketches. In a few days Tom had made detailed drawings, and the aged inventor looked at them critically. He had to admit that his son's theory was right, though how it would work out in practice was yet to be demonstrated. Mr. Swift offered some suggestions for minor changes, as did Mr. Sharp, and the lad adopted some of them. Then, with Mr. Jackson to help him, work was started on constructing the car.
Certain parts of it could be better purchased in the open market instead of being manufactured in Mr. Swift's shop, and thus Tom was able to get his new invention into some sort of shape sooner than would otherwise have been the case. He also started making the batteries, many of which would be needed.
Gradually the car began to take form on the floor of Tom's shop. It was rather a curious looking affair, the sharp forward part making it appear like some engine of war, or a projectile for some monster gun. But Tom cared little for looks. Speed, strength and ease of control were the chief features the lad aimed at, and he incorporated many new ideas into his electric car.
He was busy in the shop, one morning, when, above the noise caused by filing a piece of steel he heard some one exclaim:
"Bless my gizzard! If you aren't as busy as ever!"
"Mr. Damon!" cried Tom in delight. "When did you get back?"
"Last night," replied the eccentric man. "My wife and I stayed longer than we meant to. And whom do you think we met when we were off on our little trip?"
"Some of the Happy Harry gang?"
"Oh no. You'd never guess, so I'll tell you. It was Captain Weston."
"Indeed! And how has he been since he went in the submarine with us, and helped recover the gold from the wreck?"
"Very well. The first thing he said to me was: 'How is Tom Swift and his father, if I may be permitted to ask?'"
"Ha! Ha!" laughed the lad, at the recollection of the odd sea captain, who generally tagged on an apologetic expression to most of his remarks.
"He was getting ready to take part in some South American revolution," went on Mr. Damon. "He used most of his money that he got from the wreck to help finance their cause."
"I must tell Mr. Sharp," went on the lad. "He'll be interested."
"Anything new since I've been away?" asked the odd man. "Bless my shoe laces, but I'm glad to get back!"
Tom told of the prospect of a new bank being started, and of Sam's midnight visit, as well as the encounter with Mr. Foger and Andy.
"I went over to see what Mr. Foger wanted of you," went on the young inventor, "but you weren't home. Did he call?"
"The servant said he had been there, not once, but several times," remarked Mr. Damon. "That reminds me. He left a note for me, and I haven't read it yet. I'll do so now."
He tore open the letter, and hastily perused the contents.
"Ha!" he exclaimed. "So that's what he wanted to see me about!"
"What?" inquired Tom, with the privilege of and old friend.
"Mr. Foger says he's going to start a new bank, and he wants me to withdraw my deposit from the old one, and put it in his institution. Says he'll pay me bigger interest. And he adds that some of the old employees have gone with him."
"I hope you're not going to change," spoke Tom, thinking of his chum, Ned.
"Indeed I'm not. The old bank is good enough for me. By the way, doesn't a friend of yours work there?"
"Yes, Ned Newton. I'm wondering how he'll be affected?"
"Don't you worry!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Bless my check book! I'll speak to Pendergast about your friend. Maybe there'll be a chance to advance him further. I've got some mortgages falling due pretty soon, and I'll deposit the money from them in the old bank. Then we'll see what we can do about Ned."
"They'll make you a bank director, if you keep on putting in money," remarked our hero, with a smile.
"Not much they won't!" was the quick answer
"Bless my stocks and bonds! I've got trouble enough without becoming a bank director. My doctor says my liver is out of order again, and I've got to eat a lemon every morning before breakfast."
"Eat a lemon?"
"Well, drink the juice! It's the same thing. But how is the electric runabout coming on?"
"Have you entered it in the races yet?"
"No, but I've written for information. I have until September to finish it. The races take place then."
"Let's see; they're on Long Island; aren't they? How do you calculate to do; run from here to there?"
"No, Dad still has the cottage he rented when we built the submarine and I think I'll make that my headquarters during the race. It's easy to run from there over to the Long Island track. They're building a new one, especially for the occasion.
"Well, I hope you win the prize. I must go to town now, as I have to attend to some business. I don't s'pose you want to come in my auto. I'm pretty sure something will break before I get there, and I'd like to have you along to fix it."
"Sorry, but I'm afraid I can't go," replied the lad. "I must get this car done, and then I've got to start on the batteries."
Mr. Damon rather reluctantly went off alone, looking anxiously at his car, for the machine got out of order on every trip he took.
It was a few days after this that Tom received a call from Ned one evening. The bank employee's face wore a happy smile.
"What's the matter; some one left you a fortune?" asked Tom.
"Pretty nearly as good. I've got a better position."
"What? Have you left the old bank, and gone to the new one?"
"No, I'm still in the same bank, but I'm one of the two cashiers now. Mr. Foger took several of the old employees when he opened his new bank, and that left vacancies. I was promoted, and so were one or two others. Mr. Damon spoke a good word for me."
"That's fine! He's a friend worth having."
"That's right. Your father also recommended me. But how are things with you? Has Andy made any more trouble?"
"No, and I don't believe he will. I guess he'll steer clear of me."
But Tom was soon to learn he was mistaken.
TOM IS CAPTURED
Meanwhile the young inventor, aided by his father, Mr. Sharp and Garret Jackson, the engineer, worked hard over his new car, and the powerful batteries. A month passed, and such was the progress made that Tom felt justified in making formal entry of his vehicle for the races to be held by the Touring Club of America.
He paid a contingent fee and was listed as one of the competitors. As is usual in an affair of this kind, the promoters of it desired publicity, and they sought it through the papers.
Consequently each new entrant's name was published. In addition something was said about his previous achievements in the speed line.
No sooner was the name of Tom Swift received by the officials of the club, than it was at once recalled that young Swift had had a prominent part in the airship Red Cloud, and the submarine Advance. This gave an enterprising reporter a chance for a "special" for the Sunday supplement of a New York newspaper.
Tom, it was stated, was building a car which would practically annihilate distance and time, and there were many weird pictures, showing him flying along without touching the ground, in a car, the pictorial construction of which was at once fearful and wonderful.
Tom and his friends laughed at the yarn, at first, but it soon had undesirable results. The young inventor had desired to keep secret the fact that he was building a new electric vehicle, and a novel storage battery, but the article in the paper aroused considerable interest. Many persons came a long distance, hoping for a sight of the wonderful car, as pictured in the Sunday supplement, but they had to be denied. The news, thus leaking out, kept the Swift shops almost constantly besieged by many curious ones, who sought, by various means, to gain admission. Finally Tom and his father, after posting large signs, warning persons to keep away, added others to the effect that undesirable visitors might find themselves unexpectedly shocked by electricity, if they ventured too close. This had the desired effect, though the wires which were strung about carried such a mild charge that it would not have harmed a child. Then the only bothersome characters were the boys of the town, and, fearless and careless lads, they persisted in hanging around the Swift homestead, in the hope of seeing Tom dash away at the rate of five hundred miles an hour, which one enthusiastic writer predicted he would do.
"I've got a plan!" exclaimed Tom one day when the boys had been particularly troublesome.
"What is it?" asked his father.
"We'll hire Eradicate Sampson to stand guard with a bucket of whitewash. He'll keep the boys away."
The plan was put into operation, and Eradicate and his mule, Boomerang, were installed on the premises.
"Deed an' Ah'll keep dem lads away," promised the colored man. "Ah'll splash white stuff all ober 'em, if dey comes traipsin' around me."
He was as good as his word, and, when one or two lads had received a dose of the stuff, which punishment was followed by more severe from home, for having gotten their clothes soiled, the nuisance ceased, to a certain extent. Sam Snedecker and Pete Bailey were two who received a liberal sprinkling of the lime, and they vowed vengeance on Tom.
"And Andy Foger will help us, too," added Sam, as he withdrew, after an encounter with Eradicate.
"Doan't let dat worry yo', Mistah Swift!" exclaimed the darkey. "Jest let dat low-down-good-fo-nuffin' Andy Foger come 'round me, an' Ah'll make him t'ink he's de inside ob a chicken coop, dat's what Ah will."
Perhaps Andy heard of this, and kept away. In the meanwhile Tom kept on perfecting his car and battery. From the club secretary he learned that a number of inventors were working on electric cars, and there promised to be many of the speedy vehicles in the race.
After considerable labor Tom had succeeded in getting together one set of the batteries. He had them completed one afternoon, and wanted to give them a test that night. But, when he went to his father's chemical laboratory for a certain powder, which he needed to use in the battery solution, he found there was none.
"I'll have to ride in to Mansburg for some," he decided. "I'll go after supper, on my motor-cycle, and test the battery to-night."
The young inventor left his house immediately after the evening meal. Along the road toward Mansburg he speeded, and, as he came to the foot of a hill, where once Andy Foger had put a big tree, hoping Tom would run into it and be injured, the youth recalled that circumstance.
"Andy has been keeping out of my way lately," mused Tom. "I wonder if he's up to any mischief? I don't like the way Sam Snedecker is hanging around the shop, either. It looks as if they were plotting something. But I guess Eradicate and his pail of whitewash will scare them off."
Tom got the powdered chemical he wanted in the drug store, and, after refreshing himself with some ice cream soda, he started back. As he rode along through the streets of the town he kept a lookout, and those of you who know how fond the lad was of a certain young lady, do not need to be told for whom he was looking. But he did not see her, and soon turned into the main highway leading to Shopton.
It was dark when he reached the hill, where once he had been so near an accident, and he slowed up as he coasted down it, using the brake at intervals.
Tom got safely to the bottom of the declivity, and was about to turn on the power of his machine, when, from the bushes that lined either side of the roadway, several figures sprang suddenly. They ranged themselves across the road, and one cried: "Halt!" in tones that were meant to be stern, but which seemed to Tom, to tremble somewhat. The young inventor was so surprised that he did not open the gasolene throttle, nor switch on his spark. As a consequence his motor-cycle lost momentum, and he had to take one foot from the pedal and touch the ground, to prevent himself from toppling over.
"Hold on there!" cried another voice. "We've got you where we want you, now! Hold on! Don't go!"
"I wasn't going to go," responded Tom calmly, trying to recognize the voice, which seemed to be unnatural. "What do you want, and who are you?"
"Never mind who we are. We want you and we've got you! Get off that wheel!"
"I don't see why I should!" exclaimed Tom, and he suddenly shifted his handle bars, so as to flash the bright headlight he carried, upon the circle of dark figures that opposed his progress. As the light flashed on them he was surprised to see that all the figures wore masks over their faces.
Tom started. Was this the Happy Harry gang after him again? He hoped not, yet the fact that the persons had on masks made the hold-up have an ugly look. Once more Tom flashed the light on the throng. There were exclamations of dismay.
"Douse that glim, somebody!" called a sharp voice, which Tom could not recognize.
A stone came whizzing through the air, from some one in the crowd. There was a smashing of glass as it hit the lantern, and the road was plunged in darkness. Tom tried to throw one leg over the saddle, and let down the supporting stand from the rear wheel, so the motor-cycle would remain upright without him holding it. He determined to have revenge for that act of vandalism in breaking his lamp.
But, just as he was free of the seat, he was surrounded by a dozen persons, and several hands were laid on him.
"We've got you now!" some one fairly hissed in his ear. "Come along, and get what's coming to you!"
Tom tried to fight, but he was overpowered by numbers and, a little later, was dragged off into the woods in the darkness by the masked figures. His arms were securely bound with ropes, and a handkerchief was tied over his eyes. Tom Swift was a prisoner.
A BLINDING FLASH
Stumbling on through the dark woods, led by his captors, Tom tried to pierce the gloom and identify the persons who had firm grips on either side of him. But it was useless. A little light sifted down from the starlit sky above, but it was not sufficient. The young inventor was beginning to think, after all, that he had fallen into the hands of the Happy Harry gang, and he knew that if this was so he need expect no mercy.
But two things were against this belief. One was that the principal members of the gang were still in jail, or at least they were supposed to be, and another was that there were too many of the captors. Happy Harry's crowd never numbered so many.
"Maybe they're highwaymen," thought our hero, as he was dragged along "But that can't be," he reasoned further. "If they wanted to rob me they'd have done it back there in the road, and not brought me off here in the woods. Besides, I haven't anything for them to steal."
Suddenly Tom stumbled over a projecting root, and nearly fell, dragging along with him the person who had hold of his left arm.
"Look out there! What's the matter with you?" exclaimed one of the throng quickly, and at the sound of the voice Tom started.
"Andy Foger!" cried the young inventor, as he recovered himself, for he had recognized the voice of the red-haired bully. "What do you mean by holding me up in this way?" he demanded.
"Quiet!" urged a voice in his ear, and the tones were unfamiliar. "Mention no names!"
"I'm on to your game!" retorted Tom. "I know you're here, Andy, and Sam and Pete; and Jack Reynolds and Sid Holton," and he named two rather loose-charactered lads, who were often in the company of Andy and his cronies. "You'd better quit this nonsense," Tom went on. "I'll cause the arrest of all of you if you make trouble for me. I know who you are now!"
"You think you do," answered the voice in his ear, and the young inventor concluded that it must be some lad whom he did not know. "Nor is this nonsense," the other went on. "You are about to receive the punishment due you."
Our hero did not answer, but he was doing some hard thinking. He wondered why Andy and his crowd had captured him.
Suddenly the blackness of the woods was illuminated by the fitful gleam of a distant fire. Tom could see more plainly now, and he managed to count about ten dusky figures hurrying along, four being close to him, to prevent his escape, and the others running on ahead. The light became stronger, and, a moment later the prisoner and his captors emerged into a little clearing, where a fire was burning. Two figures, masked with black cloth, as were all in the crowd, stood about the blaze, putting on sticks of wood.
"Did you get him?" asked one of these figures eagerly.
"Yes, they got me, Sam Snedecker," answered Tom quickly, recognizing Sam's tones. "And they'll wish they hadn't before I'm done with them."
"Quiet!" ordered an unknown voice. "Members of the Deep Forest Throng, the prisoner is here!" the lad went on.
"'Tis well, bind the captive to the sacrificial tree," was the response from some one in the crowd.
Tom laughed. He was at ease now, for he recognized that those who had taken him prisoner were all lads of Andy's character. Most of them were Shopton youths, but some, evidently, were strangers in town. Tom felt he had little to fear.
"Bring him over here," ordered one, and Tom cried out:
"You wouldn't be giving those orders, Andy Foger, if my arms weren't tied. And if you'll untie me, I'll fight any two of you at once," offered the young inventor fiercely, for he hated the humiliation to which he was being subjected.
"Don't do it! Don't untie him!" begged some one.
"No danger, they won't. They're afraid to, Pete Bailey," replied Tom quickly, for he had recognized the voice of the other one of Andy's particular cronies.
"Aw, he knows who we are," whispered Sam, but not so low but that our hero heard him.
"No matter," was Andy's retort. "Let's go ahead with it. Tie him to that tree."
It was useless for Tom to struggle. He was bound too tightly by the rope, and the crowd was too many for him. In a few minutes he was securely fastened to a tree, not far from the camp-fire, which was replenished from time to time.
"Now for the judgment!" called one of the masked lads, in what he meant to be a sepulchral tone. "What is the charge against the prisoner? Brother Number One of the Deep Forest Throng, what is your accusation?"
"He's a regular snob, that's what's the trouble," answered Andy Foger, though whether he was "Brother Number One," did not appear. "He's too fresh and—and—"
"I'll make you wish you felt fresh when I get hold of you, Andy," murmured Tom.
"Quiet!" cried a tall lad. "What's the next charge?"
"He keeps an old colored man on guard at his place," was the answer, and Tom had no difficulty in recognizing the voice of Sid Holton. "The coon throws whitewash all over us. I got some of it."
"You wouldn't have, if you'd minded your own business," retorted Tom. "It served you right!"
"What is the verdict on the prisoner?" asked one who seemed to be the leader.
"I say let's tar and feather him!" cried Andy suddenly. "There's a barrel of tar back in the woods here, and we can get some feathers from a chicken coop. That would make him so he wouldn't be so uppish, I guess!"
"That's right! Tar and feathers!" exclaimed several.
Our hero's heart sank. He was not afraid, but he did not relish the indignity that was proposed. He resolved to fight to the last ounce of his strength against the masked lads.
"Can we get a kettle to heat the tar in?" asked some one.
"We'll find one," answered Sam Snedecker. "Come on, let's do it. You'll look pretty, Tom Swift, when we're through with you," he exulted.
Tom did not answer, but there was fierce anger in his heart. The tar and feather proposal seemed to meet with general favor.
"Members of the Deep Forest Throng, we will hold a consultation," proposed the leader, in his assumed deep voice. "Come over here, to one side. Brother Number Six, guard the prisoner well."
"There ain't no need to," answered a lad who had been instructed to mount guard over Tom. "He's tied so tight he can't move. I want to hear what you say."
"Very well then," assented the leader, "But look to his bonds."
The lad made a hasty examination of the ropes binding the young inventor to the tree, and Tom was glad that the examination was a hasty one. For he feared the guard might discover that one hand had been worked nearly free. The young inventor had done this while he leered at his captors.
Tom was not going to submit tamely to the nonsense, and from the moment he had been tied, he had been trying to get loose. He had nearly succeeded in freeing one hand when the crowd of masked boys moved off to one side, where they presently began to talk in excited whispers.
"I wonder how they came to catch me," thought the prisoner, as he worked feverishly to further loosen the ropes. "This looks as if it was a put-up job, with the masks, and everything." Later he learned that the idea was the outcome of a proposal of one of the new arrivals in town. He had organized the "Deep Forest Throng," as a sort of secret society, and Andy and his cronies had been induced to join. It was Andy's proposal to capture Tom, though, and, having seen him depart for Mansburg on his motor-cycle, and knowing that he would return along a road that ran near the woods where the Throng met, suggested that they take Tom captive. The idea was enthusiastically received, and Andy and his cronies thought they saw a chance to be revenged.
Tom, while he picked at the ropes, listened to what the boys were saying. He heard frequent mention of tar and feathers, and began to believe, that unless he could get free, while they were off there consulting, he might be forced to submit to the humiliating ordeal.
He managed to get one hand comparatively free, so that he could move it about, but then he struck several hard knots, and could make no further progress. The conference seemed on the point of breaking up.
"One of you go for a big kettle to boil the tar in," ordered the leader, "and the rest of you dig up some feathers."
"I must get loose!" thought Tom desperately. "If they try to tar and feather me it will be a risky business. I've got to get loose! They may burn me severely!"
But, though he tried with all his strength, the ropes would not loosen another bit. He had one hand free, and that was all. The crowd was moving back toward him.
"My knife!" thought the captive quickly. "If I can reach that in my pocket I can cut the ropes! Once I get loose I'll fight the whole crowd!"
He managed to get his free hand into his pocket. His fingers touched something. It was not his knife, and, for a moment he felt a pang of disappointment. Then, as he realized what it was that he had grasped, a new idea came to him.
"This will be better than the knife!" he thought exultantly. The crowd of lads was now surrounding him, some distance from the fire, which burned in front of the captive.
"Sentence has been passed upon you," remarked the leader. "Prepare to meet thy doom! Get the materials, brothers!"
"One moment!" called Tom, for he wanted the crowd all present to witness what he was about to do. "I'll give you one chance to let me go peaceably. If you don't—"
"Well, what will you do?" demanded Andy sneeringly, as he pulled his mask further over his face. "I guess you won't do anything, Tom Swift."
"I'll give you one chance to let me go, and I'll agree to say nothing about this joke," went on Tom. "If you don't I'll blow this place up!"
For a moment there was a silence.
"Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho!" laughed Sam Snedecker. "Listen to him! He'll blow the place up! I'd like to see you do it! You can't get loose in the first place, and you haven't anything to blow it up with in the second. I'd like to see you do it; hey, fellers?"
"Sure," came the answering chorus.
"Would you?" asked Tom quickly. "Then watch. Stand back if you don't want to get hurt, and remember that I gave you a chance to let me go!"
Tom made a rapid motion with the hand he had gotten loose. He threw something to ward the blazing fire, which was now burning well. Something white sailed through the air, and fell amid the hot embers.
There was a moment's pause, and then a blinding flash of blue fire lighted up the woods, and a dull rumble, as when gun-powder is lighted in the open followed. A great cloud of white smoke arose, as the vivid blue glare died away, and it seemed as if a great wind swept over the place. Several of the masked lads were knocked down by the explosion, and when the rumble died away, and deep blackness succeeded the intense blue light, there came cries of pain and terror. The fire had been scattered, and extinguished by the explosion which Tom, though still bound to the tree had caused to happen in the midst of the Deep Forest Throng. Then, as the smoke rolled away, Andy Foger cried:
"Come on, fellows! Something's happened. I guess a volcano blew up!"
TOM IS RESCUED
The Deep Forest Throng needed no urging to flee from the place of the mysterious explosion. Their prisoner, helpless as he had seemed, had proved too much for them. Slipping and stumbling along in the darkness, the masked lads had but one thought—to get away before they saw more of that blue fire, and the force of the concussion.
"Gee! My eyebrows are all singed off!" cried Sam Snedecker, as he tore loose his mask which had been rent in the explosion, and felt of his face.
"And my hands are burned," added Pete Bailey. "I stood closer to the fire than any of you."
"You did not! I got the worst of it!" cried Andy. "I was knocked down by the explosion, and I'll bet I'm hurt somewhere. I guess—Oh! Help! I'm falling in a mud hole!"
There was a splash, and the bully disappeared from the sight of his companions who, now that the moon had risen, could better see to flee from their prisoner.
"Help me out, somebody!" pleaded Andy. "I'm in a mud hole!"
They pulled him out, a sorry looking sight, and the red-haired lad, whose locks were now black with muck, began to lament his lot.
"Dry up!" commanded Sid Holton. "It's all your fault, for proposing such a fool trick as capturing Tom Swift. We might have known he would get the best of us."
"What was that stuff he used, anyhow?" asked Cecil Hedden, the lad responsible for the organization of the Deep Forest Throng. "He must be a wonder. Does he do sleight-of-hand tricks?"
"He does all sorts of tricks," replied Pete Bailey, feeling of a big lump on his head, caused by falling on a stone in the mad rush. "I guess we were chumps to tackle him. He must have put some kind of chemical in the fire, to make it blow up."
"Or else he summoned his airship by wireless, and had that balloonist, Mr. Sharp, drop a bomb in the blaze," suggested another lad.
"But how could he do anything? Wasn't he tied fast to that tree?" asked Cecil, the leader.
"You never know when you've got Tom Swift tied," declared Jack Reynolds. "You think you've got him, and you haven't. He's too slick for us. It's Andy's fault, for proposing to capture him."
"That's right! Blame it all on me," whined the squint-eyed bully. "You was just as anxious as I was to tar and feather him."
"Well, we didn't do it," commented Pete Bailey, dryly. "I s'pose he's loose now, laughin' at us. Gee, but that was an explosion though! It's a wonder some of us weren't killed! I guess I've had enough of this Deep Forest Throng business. No more for mine."
"Aw, don't be afraid," urged Cecil. "The next time we get him we'll be on our guard."
"You'll never catch Tom Swift again," predicted Pete.
"I'll go back now to where he is, if you will," agreed Cecil, who was older than the others.
"Not much!" cried Pete. "I've had enough."
This seemed to be the sentiment of all. Away they stumbled through the woods, and, emerging on the road, scattered to their several homes, not one but who suffered from slight burns, contusions, torn and muddy clothes or injured feelings as the outcome of the "joke" on the young inventor.
But our hero was not yet free from the bonds of his enemies. When they scattered and ran, after the vivid blue light, and the dull explosion, which, being unconfined, did no real damage, Tom was still fast to the tree. As his eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness that followed the glare, he remarked:
"Well, I don't know that I'm much better off. I gave those fellows a good scare, but I'm not loose. But I can work to better advantage now."
Once more he resumed the effort to free himself, but in spite of the crude manner in which the knots had been made, the lad could not get loose. The more he pulled and tugged the tighter they seemed to become.
"This is getting serious," Tom mused. "If I could only reach my knife I could cut them, but it's in my pocket on the other side, and that bond's fast. Guess I'll have to stay here all night. Maybe I'd better call for help, but—"
His words, spoken half aloud, were suddenly interrupted by a crash in the underbrush. Somebody was approaching. At first Tom thought it was Andy and his cronies coming back, but a voice that called a moment later proved that this was not so.
"Is any one here?" shouted a man. "Any one hurt? What was that fire and explosion?"
"I'm here," replied Tom. "I'm not hurt exactly, but I'm tied to a tree. I'll be much obliged if you'll loosen me."
"Who are you?"
"Tom Swift. Is that you, Mr. Mason?"
"Yes. By jinks! I never expected to find you here, Tom. Over this way, men," he added calling aloud. "I've found him; it's Tom Swift."
There was the flicker of several lanterns amid the trees, and soon a number of men had joined Mr. Mason, and surrounded Tom. They were farmers living in the neighborhood.
"What in the name o' Tunket happened?" asked one. "Did you get hit by a meteor or a comet? Who tied you up; highwaymen?"
"Cut him loose first, and ask questions afterward," suggested Mr. Mason.
"Yes," added Tom, with a laugh, "I wish you would. I'm beginning to feel cramped."
With their knives, the farmers quickly cut the ropes, and some of them rubbed the arms of the lad to restore the circulation.
"What was it—highwaymen?" asked a man, unable to longer restrain his curiosity. "Did they rob you?"
"No, it wasn't highwaymen," replied the youth. "It was a trick of some boys I know," and to Tom's credit be it said that he did not mention their names. "They did it for a joke," he added.
"Boys' trick? Joke?" queried Mr. Mason. "Pretty queer sort of a joke, I think. They ought to be arrested."
"Oh, I fancy I gave them what was coming to them," went on the young inventor.
"Did they try to blow ye up, too?" asked Mr. Hertford. "What in th' name of Tunket was that blue light, and that explosion? I heard it an' saw it way over to my house."
"So did I," remarked Mr. Mason, and several others said the same thing. "We thought a meteor had fallen," he continued, "and we got together to make an investigation."
"It's a good thing for me you did," admitted Tom, "or I might have had to stay here all night."
"But was it a meteor?" insisted Mr. Hertford.
"No," replied the lad, "I did it."
"Yes. You see after they tied me I found I could get one hand free. I reached in my pocket for my knife, but instead of it I managed to get hold of a package of powder I had."
"Gunpowder?" asked Mr. Mason.
"No, a chemical powder I use in an electrical battery. The powder explodes in fire, and makes quite a blue flash, and a lot of smoke, but it isn't very dangerous, otherwise I wouldn't have used it. When the boys were some distance away from the fire, I threw the powder in the blaze. It went off in a moment, and—"
"I guess they run some; didn't they?" asked Mr. Mason with a laugh.
"They certainly did," agreed Tom.
TOM HAS A FALL
The young inventor told more details of his adventure in the woods, but, though the farmers questioned him closely, he would not give a single name of his assailants.
"But I should think you'd want to have them punished," remarked Mr. Mason.
"I'll attend to that part later," answered Tom. "Besides, most of them didn't know what they were doing. They were led on by one or two. No, I'll fight my own battles. But I wish you'd lend me a lantern long enough to find my motor-cycle. The moon doesn't give much light in the woods, and those fellows may have hidden my machine."
Mr. Mason and his companions readily agreed to accompany Tom on a search for his wheel. It was found just where he had dismounted from it in the road. Andy and his cronies had evidently had enough of their encounter with our hero, and did not dare to annoy him further.
"Do you think you can ride home?" asked one of the farmers of the lad, when he had ascertained that his machine was in running order.
"Well, it's risky without my lantern," answered Tom. "They smashed that for me. But I guess I can manage."
"No, you can't!" insisted Mr. Mason. "You're stiff from being tied up; and you can't ride. Now you just wheel that contraption over to my place, and I'll hitch up and take you home. It isn't far."
"Oh, I couldn't think of troubling you," declared Tom. At the same time he felt that he was in no condition to ride.
"It's no trouble at all," insisted Mr. Mason. "I guess your father and I are good enough friends to allow me to have my way. You can come over and get your choo-choo bicycle in the morning."
A little later Tom was being rapidly driven toward his home, where he found his father and Mrs. Baggert, to say nothing of Mr. Sharp, somewhat alarmed over his absence, as it was getting late. The youth told as much of his adventure as he thought would not alarm his father, making a sort of joke of it, and, later, related all the details to the balloonist.
"We'll have to get after Andy again," declared the aeronaut. "He needs another toning down."
"Yes, similar to the one he got when we nearly ran away with his automobile, by catching the airship anchor on it," added Tom with a laugh. "But I fancy Andy will steer clear of me for a while. I'm sorry I had to use up that chemical powder, though. Now I can't start my battery until to-morrow." But the next day Tom made up for lost time, by working from early until late. He went over to Mr. Mason's, got his motor-cycle, procured some more of the chemical, and soon had his storage battery in running order. Then he arranged for a more severe test, and while that was going on he worked at completing the body of the electric runabout. The vehicle was beginning to look like a car, though it was not of the regulation pattern.