Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle by Victor Appleton
Chapter XII. The Men in the Auto
Tom first made sure that the package containing the model was still safely in place back of his saddle on the motor-cycle. Finding it there he next put his hand in his pocket to see that he had the papers.
"They're all right," spoke Tom aloud. "I didn't know but what that chap might have worked a pickpocket game on me. I'm glad I didn't meet him after dark. Well, it's a good thing it's no worse. I wonder if he tried to get my machine away from me? Don't believe he'd know how to ride it if he did."
Tom wheeled his motor-cycle to a hard side-path along the old road, and jumped into the saddle. He worked the pedals preparatory to turning on the gasolene and spark to set the motor in motion. As he threw forward the levers, having acquired what he thought was the necessary momentum, he was surprised that no explosion followed. The motor seemed "dead."
"That's queer," he thought, and he began to pedal more rapidly. "It always used to start easily. Maybe it doesn't like this sandy road."
It was hard work sending the heavy machine along by "leg power," and once more, when he had acquired what he thought was sufficient speed, Tom turned on the power. But no explosions followed, and in some alarm he jumped to the ground.
"Something's wrong," he said aloud. "That tramp must have damaged the machine when he yanked it so." Tom went quickly over the different parts. It did not take him long to discover what the trouble was. One of the wires, leading from the batteries to the motor, which wire served to carry the current of electricity that exploded the mixture of air and gasolene, was missing. It had been broken off close to the battery box and the spark plug.
"That's what Happy Harry did!" exclaimed Tom. "He pulled that wire off when he yanked my machine. That's what he meant by hoping I'd get to Albany. That fellow was no tramp. He was disguised, and up to some game. And he knows something about motor-cycles, too, or he never would have taken that wire. I'm stalled, now, for I haven't got another piece. I ought to have brought some. I'll have to push this machine until I get to town, or else go back home."
The young inventor looked up and down the lonely road, undecided what to do. To return home meant that he would be delayed in getting to Albany, for he would lose a day. If he pushed on to Pompville he might be able to get a bit of wire there.
Tom decided that was his best plan, and plodded on through the thick sand. He had not gone more than a quarter of a mile, every step seeming harder than the preceding one, when he heard, from the woods close at his left hand, a gun fired. He jumped so that he nearly let the motor-cycle fall over, for a wild idea came into his head that the tramp had shot at him. With a quickly-beating heart the lad looked about him.
"I wonder if that was Happy Harry?" he mused.
There was a crackling in the bushes and Tom, wondering what he might do to protect himself, looked toward the place whence the noise proceeded. A moment later a hunter stepped into view. The man carried a gun and wore a canvas suit, a belt about his waist being filled with cartridges.
"Hello!" he exclaimed pleasantly, Then, seeing a look of alarm on the lad's face, he went on:
"I hope I didn't shoot in your direction, young man; did I?"
"No--no, sir," replied the youthful inventor, who had hardly recovered his composure. "I heard your gun, and I imagined--"
"Did you think you had been shot? You must have a very vivid imagination, for I fired in the air."
"No, I didn't exactly think that," replied Tom, "but I just had an encounter with an ugly tramp, and I feared he might be using me for a target."
"Is that so. I hadn't noticed any tramps around here, and I've been in these woods nearly all day. Did he harm you?"
"No, not me, but my motor-cycle," and the lad explained.
"Pshaw! That's too bad!" exclaimed the hunter. "I wish I could supply you with a bit of wire, but I haven't any. I'm just walking about, trying my new gun."
"I shouldn't think you'd find anything to shoot this time of year," remarked Tom.
"I don't expect to," answered the hunter, who had introduced himself as Theodore Duncan. "But I have just purchased a new gun, and I wanted to try it. I expect to do considerable hunting this fall, and so I'm getting ready for it."
"Do you live near here?"
"Well, about ten miles away, on the other side of Lake Carlopa, but I am fond of long walks in the woods. If you ever get to Waterford I wish you'd come and see me, Mr. Swift. I have heard of your father."
"I will, Mr. Duncan; but if I don't get something to repair my machine with I'm not likely to get anywhere right away."
"Well, I wish I could help you, but I haven't the least ingenuity when it comes to machinery. Now if I could help you track down that tramp--"
"Oh, no, thank you, I'd rather not have anything more to do with him."
"If I caught sight of him now," resumed the hunter, "I fancy I could make him halt, and, perhaps, give you back the wire. I'm a pretty good shot, even if this is a new gun. I've been practicing at improvised targets all day."
"No; the less I have to do with him, the better I shall like it," answered Tom, "though I'm much obliged to you. I'll manage somehow until I get to Pompville."
He started off again, the hunter disappearing in the woods, whence the sound of his gun was again heard.
"He's a queer chap," murmured Tom, "but I like him. Perhaps I may see him when I go to Waterford, if I ever do."
Tom was destined to see the hunter again, at no distant time, and under strange circumstances. But now the lad's whole attention was taken up with the difficulty in which he found himself. Vainly musing on what object the tramp could have had in breaking off the wire, the young inventor trudged on.
"I guess he was one of the gang after dad's invention," thought Tom, "and he must have wanted to hinder me from getting to Albany, though why I can't imagine." With a dubious shake of his head Tom proceeded. It was hard work pushing the heavy machine through the sand, and he was puffing before he had gone very, far.
"I certainly am up against it," he murmured. "But if I can get a bit of wire in Pompville I'll be all right. If I can't--"
Just then Tom saw something which caused him to utter an exclamation of delight.
"That's the very thing!" he cried. "Why didn't I think of it before?"
Leaving his motor-cycle standing against a tree Tom hurried to a fence that separated the road from a field. The fence was a barbed- wire one, and in a moment Tom had found a broken strand.
"Guess no one will care if I take a piece of this," he reasoned. "It will answer until I can get more. I'll have it in place in a jiffy!"
It did not take long to get his pliers from his toolbag and snip off a piece of the wire. Untwisting it he took out the sharp barbs, and then was ready to attach it to the binding posts of the battery box and the spark plug.
"Hold on, though!" he exclaimed as he paused in the work. "It's got to be insulated, or it will vibrate against the metal of the machine and short circuit. I have it! My handkerchief! I s'pose Mrs. Baggert will kick at tearing up a good one, but I can't help it."
Tom took a spare handkerchief from the bundle in which he had a few belongings carried with the idea of spending the night at an Albany hotel, and he was soon wrapping strips of linen around the wire, tying them with pieces of string.
"There!" he exclaimed at length. "That's insulated good enough, I guess. Now to fasten it on and start."
The young inventor, who was quick with tools, soon had the improvised wire in place. He tested the spark and found that it was almost as good as when the regular copper conductor was in place. Then, having taken a spare bit of the barbed-wire along in case of another emergency, he jumped on the motor-cycle, pedaled it until sufficient speed was attained, and turned on the power.
"That's the stuff!" he cried as the welcome explosions sounded. "I guess I've fooled Happy Harry! I'll get to Albany pretty nearly on time, anyhow. But that tramp surely had me worried for a while."
He rode into Pompville, and on inquiring in a plumbing shop managed to get a bit of copper wire that answered better than did the galvanized piece from the fence. The readjustment was quickly made, and he was on his way again. As it was getting close to noon he stopped near a little spring outside of Pompville and ate a sandwich, washing it down with the cold water. Then he started for Centreford.
As he was coming into the city he heard an automobile behind him. He steered to one side of the road to give the big car plenty of room to pass, but it did not come on as speedily as he thought it would. He looked back and saw that it was going to stop near him. Accordingly he shut off the power of his machine.
"Is this the road to Centreford?" asked one of the travelers in the auto.
"Straight ahead," answered the lad.
At the sound of his voice one of the men in the big touring car leaned forward and whispered something to one on the front seat. The second man nodded, and looked closely at Tom. The youth, in turn, stared at the men. He could not distinguish their faces, as they had on auto goggles.
"How many miles is it?" asked the man who had whispered, and at the sound of his voice Tom felt a vague sense that he had heard it before.
"Three," answered the young inventor, and once more he saw the men whisper among themselves.
"Thanks," spoke the driver of the car, and he threw in the gears. As the big machine darted ahead the goggles which one of the men wore slipped off. Tom had a glimpse of his face.
"Anson Morse!" he exclaimed. "If that isn't the man who was sneaking around dad's motor shop he's his twin brother! I wonder if those aren't the men who are after the patent model? I must be on my guard!" and Tom, watching the car fade out of sight on the road ahead of him, slowly started his motor-cycle. He was much puzzled and alarmed.