Chapter X. Off to Albany
 

"Did you catch him, Tom?" asked Mr. Swift eagerly when his son returned, but the inventor needed but a glance at the lad's despondent face to have his question answered without words, "Never mind," he added, "there's not much harm done, fortunately."

"Did he get anything? Any of your plans or models, dad?"

"No; not as far as I can discover. My papers in the shop were not disturbed, but it looked as if the turbine model had been moved. The only thing missing seems to be a sheet of unimportant calculations. Luckily I had my most valuable drawings in the safe in the house."

"Yet that man seemed to be putting papers in his pocket, dad. Maybe he made copies of some of your drawings."

"That's possible, Tom, and I admit it worries me. I can't imagine who that man is, unless--"

"Why, he's one of the three men I saw in Mansburg in the restaurant," said Tom eagerly. "Two of them tried to get information here, and now the third one comes. He got away in a motor-boat," and Tom told how the fugitive escaped.

Mr. Swift looked worried. It was not the first time attempts had been made to steal his inventions, but on this occasion a desperate and well-organized plan appeared to be on foot.

"What do you think they are up to, dad?" asked Tom.

"I think they are trying to get hold of my turbine motor, Tom. You know I told you that the financiers were disappointed in the turbine motor they bought of another inventor. It does not work. To get back the money they spent in building an expensive plant they must have a motor that is successful. Hence their efforts to get control of mine. I don't know whether I told you or not, but some time ago I refused a very good offer for certain rights in my invention. I knew it was worth more. The offer came through Smeak & Katch, the lawyers, and when I refused it they seemed much disappointed. I think now that this same firm, and the financiers who have employed them, are trying by all the means in their power to get possession of my ideas, if not the invention and model itself."

"What can you do, dad?"

"Well, I must think. I certainly must take some means to protect myself. I have had trouble before, but never any like this. I did not think those men would be so unscrupulous."

"Do you know their names?"

"No, only from that telegram we found; the one which the first stranger dropped. One of them must be Anson Morse. Who the others are I don't know. But now I must make some plans to foil these sharpers. I may have to call on you for help, Tom."

"And I'll be ready any time you call on me, dad," responded Tom, drawing himself up. "Can I do anything for you right away?"

"No; I must think out a plan."

"Then I am going to change my motor-cycle a bit. I'll put some more improvements on it."

"And I will write some letters to my lawyers in Washington and ask their advice." It took Tom the remainder of that day, and part of the next, to arrange the gasolene and spark control of his machine to his satisfaction. He had to make two small levers and some connecting rods. This he did in his own particular machine shop, which was fitted up with a lathe and other apparatus. The lathe was run by power coming from a small engine, which was operated by an engineer, an elderly man to whom Mr. Swift had given employment for many years. He was Garret Jackson, and he kept so close to his engine and boiler-room that he was seldom seen outside of it except when the day's work was done.

One afternoon, a few days after the unsuccessful chase after the fugitive had taken place, Tom went out for a spin on his motor-cycle. He found that the machine worked much better, and was easier to control. He rode about fifteen miles away from home, and then returned. As he entered the yard he saw, standing on the drive, a ramshackle old wagon, drawn by a big mule, which seemed, at the time Tom observed him, to be asleep.

"I'll wager that's Boomerang," said Tom aloud, and the mule opened its eyes, wiggled its ears and started forward.

"Whoa dar, Boomerang!" exclaimed a voice, and Eradicate Sampson hurried around the corner of the house. "Dat's jest lake yo'," went on the colored man. "Movin' when yo' ain't wanted to." Then, as he caught sight of Tom, he exclaimed, "Why, if it ain't young Mistah Swift! Good lordy! But dat livery brake yo' done fixed on mah wagon suttinly am fine. Ah kin go down de steepest hill widout ropin' de wheel."

"Glad of it," replied Tom. "Did you come to do some work?"

"Yais, sah, I done did. I found I had some time t' spah, an' thinks I dere might be some whitewashin' I could do. Yo' see, I lib only 'bout two mile from heah."

"Well, I guess you can do a few jobs," said Tom. "Wait here."

He hunted up his father, and obtained permission to set Eradicate at work cleaning out a chicken house and whitewashing it. The darky was soon at work. A little later Tom passing saw him putting the whitewash on thick. Eradicate stopped at the sight of Tom, and made some curious motions.

"What's the matter, Rad?" asked the young inventor.

"Why, de whitewash done persist in runnin' down de bresh handle an' inter mah sleeve. I'm soakin' wet from it now, an' I has t' stop ebery onct in a while 'case mah sleeve gits full."

Tom saw what the trouble was. The white fluid did run down the long brush handle in a small rivulet. Tom had once seen a little rubber device on a window-cleaning brush that worked well, and he decided to try it for Eradicate.

"Wait a minute," Tom advised. "I think I can stop that for you."

The colored man was very willing to take a rest, but it did not last long, for Tom was soon back at the chicken coop. He had a small rubber disk, with a hole in the center, the size of the brush handle. Slipping the disk over the wood, he pushed it about half way along, and then, handing the brush back to the negro, told him to try it that way.

"Did yo' done put a charm on mah bresh?" asked Eradicate somewhat doubtfully.

"Yes, a sort of hoodoo charm. Try it now."

The darky dipped his brush in the pail of whitewash, and then began to spread the disinfectant on the sides of the coop near the top. The surplus fluid started to run down the handle, but, meeting the piece of rubber, came no farther, and dripped off on the ground. It did not run down the sleeve of Eradicate.

"Well, I 'clar t' goodness! That suttinly am a mighty fine charm!" cried the colored man. "Yo' suah am a pert gen'men, all right. Now I kin work widout stoppin' t' empty mah sleeve ob lime juice ebery minute. I'se suttinly obliged t' yo'."

"You're welcome, I'm sure," replied Tom. "I think some day I'll invent a machine for whitewashing, and then--"

"Doan't do dat! Doan't do dat!" begged Eradicate earnestly. "Dis, an' makin' dirt disappear, am de only perfessions I got. Doan't go 'ventin' no machine, Mistah Swift."

"All right. I'll wait until you get rich."

"Ha, ha! Den yo' gwine t' wait a pow'ful long time," chuckled Eradicate as he went on with his whitewashing.

Tom went into the house. He found his father busy with some papers at his desk.

"Ah, it's you, is it, Tom?" asked the inventor, looking up. "I was just wishing you would come in."

"What for, dad?"

"Well, I have quite an important mission for you. I want you to go on a journey."

"A journey? Where?"

"To Albany. You see, I've been thinking over matters, and I have been in correspondence with my lawyers in regard to my turbine motor. I must take measures to protect myself. You know I have not yet taken out a complete patent on the machine. I have not done so because I did not want to put my model on exhibition in Washington. I was afraid some of those unscrupulous men would take advantage of me. Another point was that I had not perfected a certain device that goes on the motor. That objection is now removed, and I am ready to send my model to Washington, and take out the complete patent."

"But I thought you said you wanted me to go to Albany."

"So I do. I will explain. I have just had a letter from Reid & Crawford, my Washington attorneys. Mr. Crawford, the junior member of the firm, will be in Albany this week on some law business. He agrees to receive my model and some papers there, and take them back to Washington with him. In this way they will be well protected. You see, I have to be on my guard, and if I send the model to Albany, instead of the national capital, I may throw the plotters off the track, for I feel that they are watching every move I make. As soon as you or I should start for Washington they would be on our trail. But you can go to Albany unsuspected. Mr. Crawford will wait for you there. I want you to start day after to-morrow."

"All right, dad. I can start now, if you say so."

"No, there is no special need for haste. I have some matters to arrange. You might go to the station and inquire about trains to the State capital."

"Am I going by train?"

"Certainly. How else could you go?"

There was a look of excitement in Tom's eyes. He had a sudden idea.

"Dad," he exclaimed, "why couldn't I go on my motor-cycle?"

"Your motor-cycle?"

"Yes. I could easily make the trip on it in one day. The roads are good, and I would enjoy it. I can carry the model back of me on the saddle. It is not very large."

"Well," said Mr. Swift slowly, for the idea was a new one to him, "I suppose that part would be all right. But you have not had much experience riding a motor-cycle. Besides, you don't know the roads."

"I can inquire. Will you let me go, dad?"

Mr. Swift appeared to hesitate.

"It will be fine!" went on Tom. "I would enjoy the trip, and there's another thing. If we want to keep this matter secret the best plan would be to let me go on my machine. If those men are on the watch, they will not think that I have the model. They will think I'm just going for a pleasure jaunt."

"There's something in that," admitted Mr. Swift, and Tom, seeing that his father was favorably inclined, renewed his arguments, until the inventor finally agreed.

"It will be a great trip!" exclaimed Tom. "I'll go all over my machine now, to see that it's in good shape. You get your papers and model ready, dad, and I'll take them to Albany for you. The motor-cycle will come in handy."

But had Tom only known the dangers ahead of him, and the risks he was to run, he would not have whistled so light heartedly as he went over every nut and bolt on his machine.

Two days later, the valuable model, having been made into a convenient package, and wrapped in water-proof paper, was fastened back of the saddle on the motor-cycle. Tom carefully pinned in an inside pocket the papers which were to be handed to Mr. Crawford. He was to meet the lawyer at a hotel in Albany.

"Now take care of yourself, Tom," cautioned his father as he bade him good-by. "Don't try to make speed, as there is no special rush. And, above all, don't lose anything."

"I'll not, dad," and with a wave of his hand to Mr. Swift and the housekeeper, who stood in the door to see him off, Tom jumped into the saddle, started the machine, and then, after sufficient momentum had been attained, he turned on the gasolene and set the spark lever. With rattles and bangs, which were quickly subdued by the muffler, the machine gathered speed. Tom was off for Albany.