Chapter XIII. Caught in a Storm
 

The more Tom tried to reason out the cause of the men's actions, the more he dwelt upon his encounter with the tramp, and the harder he endeavored to seek a solution of the queer puzzle, the more complicated it seemed. He rode on until he saw in a valley below him the buildings of the town of Centreford, and, with a view of them, a new idea came into his mind.

"I'll go get a good dinner," he decided, "and perhaps that will help me to think more clearly. That's what dad always does when he's puzzling over an invention." He was soon seated in a restaurant, where he ate a substantial dinner. "I'm just going to stop puzzling over this matter," he decided. "I'll push an to Albany and tell the lawyer, Mr. Crawford. Perhaps he can advise me."

Once this decision was made Tom felt better.

"That's just what I needed," he thought; "some one to shift the responsibility upon. I'll let the lawyers do the worrying. That's what they're paid for. Now for Albany, and I hope I don't have to stop, except for supper, until I get there. I've got to do some night riding, but I've got a powerful lamp, and the roads from now on are good."

Tom was soon on his way again. The highway leading to Albany was a hard, macadam one, and he fairly flew along the level stretches.

"This is making good time," he thought. "I won't be so very late, after all; that is, if nothing delays me."

The young inventor looked up into the sky. The sun, which had been shining brightly all day, was now hidden behind a mass of hazy clouds, for which the rider was duly grateful, as it was becoming quite warm.

"It's more like summer than I thought," said Tom to himself. "I shouldn't be surprised if we got rain to-morrow."

Another look at the sky confirmed him in this belief, and he had not gone on many miles farther when his opinion was suddenly changed. This was brought about by a dull rumble in the west, and Tom noticed that a bank of low-lying clouds had formed, the black, inky masses of vapor being whirled upward as if by some powerful blast.

"Guess my storm is going to arrive ahead of time," he said. "I'd better look for shelter."

With a suddenness that characterizes summer showers, the whole sky became overcast. The thunder increased, and the flashes of lightning became more frequent and dazzling. A wind sprang up and blew clouds of dust in Tom's face.

"It certainly is going to be a thunder storm," he admitted. "I'm bound to be delayed now, for the roads will be mucky. Well, there's no help for it. If I get to Albany before midnight I'll he doing well."

A few drops of rain splashed on his hands, and as he looked up to note the state of the sky others fell in his face. They were big drops, and where they splashed on the road they formed little globules of mud.

"I'll head for that big tree," thought Tom "It will give me some shelter. I'll wait there--" His words were interrupted by a deafening crash of thunder which followed close after a blinding flash. "No tree for mine!" murmured Tom. "I forgot that they're dangerous in a storm. I wonder where I can stay?"

He turned on all the power possible and sprinted ahead. Around a curve in the road he went, leaning over to preserve his balance, and just as the rain came pelting down in a torrent he saw just ahead of him a white church on the lonely country road. To one side was a long shed, where the farmers were in the habit of leaving their teams when they came to service.

"Just the thing!" cried the boy; "and just in time!"

He turned his motor-cycle into the yard surrounding the church, and a moment later had come to a stop beneath the shed. It was broad and long, furnishing a good protection against the storm, which had now burst in all its fury.

Tom was not very wet, and looking to see that the model, which was partly of wood, had suffered no damage, the lad gave his attention to his machine.

"Seems to be all right," he murmured. "I'll just oil her up while I'm waiting. This can't last long; it's raining too hard."

He busied himself over the motor-cycle, adjusting a nut that had been rattled loose, and putting some oil on the bearings. The rain kept up steadily, and when he had completed his attentions to his machine Tom looked out from under the protection of the shed.

"It certainly is coming down for keeps," he murmured. "This trip is a regular hoodoo so far. Hope I have it better coming back."

As he looked down the road he espied an automobile coming through the mist of rain. It was an open car, and as he saw the three men in it huddled up under the insufficient protection of some blankets, Tom said:

"They'd ought to come in here. There's lots of room. Maybe they don't see it. I'll call to them."

The car was almost opposite the shed which was dose to the roadside. Tom was about to call when one of the men in the auto looked up. He saw the shelter and spoke to the chauffeur. The latter was preparing to steer up into the shed when the two men on the rear seat caught sight of Tom.

"Why, that's the same car that passed me a while ago," said the young inventor half aloud. "The one that contained those men whom I suspected might be after dad's patent. I hope they--"

He did not finish his sentence, for at that instant the chauffeur quickly swung the machine around and headed it back into the road. Clearly the men were not going to take advantage of the shelter of the shed.

"That's mighty strange," murmured Tom. "They certainly saw me, and as soon as they did they turned away. Can they be afraid of me?"

He went to the edge of the shelter and peered out. The auto had disappeared down the road behind a veil of rain, and, shaking his head over the strange occurrence, Tom went back to where he had left his motor-cycle.

"Things are getting more and more muddled," he said. "I'm sure those were the same men, and yet--"

He shrugged his shoulders. The puzzle was getting beyond him.