Chapter XIV. Attacked From Behind
 

Steadily the rain came down, the wind driving it under the shed until Tom was hard put to find a place where the drops would not reach him. He withdrew into a far corner, taking his motor-cycle with him, and then, sitting on a block of wood, under the rough mangers where the horses were fed while the farmers attended church, the lad thought over the situation. He could make little of it, and the more he tried the worse it seemed to become. He looked out across the wet landscape.

"I wonder if this is ever going to stop?" he mused. "It looks as if it was in for an all-day pour, yet we ought only to have a summer shower by rights."

"But then I guess what I think about it won't influence the weather man a bit. I might as well make myself comfortable, for I can't do anything. Let's see. If I get to Fordham by six o'clock I ought to be able to make Albany by nine, as it's only forty miles. I'll get supper in Fordham, and push on. That is, I will if the rain stops."

That was the most necessary matter to have happen first, and Tom arising from his seat strolled over to the front of the shed to look out.

"I believe it is getting lighter in the west," he told himself. "Yes, the clouds are lifting. It's going to clear. It's only a summer shower, after all."

But just as he said that there came a sudden squall of wind and rain, fiercer than any which had preceded. Tom was driven back to his seat on the log. It was quite chilly now, and he noticed that near where he sat there was a big opening in the rear of the shed, where a couple of boards were off.

"This must be a draughty place in winter," he observed. "If I could find a drier spot I'd sit there, but this seems to be the best," and he remained there, musing on many things. Suddenly in the midst of his thoughts he imagined he heard the sound of an automobile approaching. "I wonder if those men are coming back here?" he exclaimed. "If they are--"

The youth again arose, and went to the front of the shed. He could see nothing, and came back to escape the rain. There was no doubt but that the shower would soon be over, and looking at his watch, Tom began to calculate when he might arrive in Albany.

He was busy trying to figure out the best plan to pursue, and was hardly conscious of his surroundings. Seated on the log, with his back to the opening in the shed, the young inventor could not see a figure stealthily creeping up through the wet grass. Nor could he see an automobile, which had come to a stop back of the horse shelter--an automobile containing two rain-soaked men, who were anxiously watching the one stealing through the grass.

Tom put his watch back into his pocket and looked out into the storm. It was almost over. The sun was trying to shine through the clouds, and only a few drops were falling. The youth stretched with a yawn, for he was tired of sitting still. At the moment when he raised his arms to relieve his muscles something was thrust through the opening behind him. It was a long club, and an instant later it descended on the lad's head. He went down in a heap, limp and motionless.

Through the opening leaped a man. He bent over Tom, looked anxiously at him, and then, stepping to the place where the boards were off the shed, he motioned to the men in the automobile.

They hurried from the machine, and were soon beside their companion.

"I knocked him out, all right," observed the man who had reached through and dealt Tom the blow with the club.

"Knocked him out! I should say you did, Featherton!" exclaimed one who appeared better dressed than the others. "Have you killed him?"

"No; but I wish you wouldn't mention my name, Mr. Appleson. I--I don't like--"

"Nonsense, Featherton. No one can hear us. But I'm afraid you've done for the chap. I didn't want him harmed."

"Oh, I guess Featherton knows how to do it, Appleson," commented the third man. "He's had experience that way, eh, Featherton?"

"Yes, Mr. Morse; but if you please I wish you wouldn't mention--"

"All right, Featherton, I know what you mean," rejoined the man addressed as Morse. "Now let's see if we have drawn a blank or not. I think he has with him the very thing we want,"

"Doesn't seem to be about his person," observed Appleson, as he carefully felt about the clothing of the unfortunate Tom.

"Very likely not. It's too bulky. But there's his motor-cycle over there. It looks as if what we wanted was on the back of the saddle. Jove, Featherton, but I think he's coming to!"

Tom stirred uneasily and moved his arms, while a moan came from between his parted lips.

"I've got some stuff that will fix him!" exclaimed the man addressed as Featherton, and who had been operating the automobile. He took something from his pocket and leaned over Tom. In a moment the young inventor was still again.

"Quick now, see if it's there," directed Morse, and Appleson hurried over to the machine.

"Here it is!" he called. "I'll take it to our car, and we can get away."

"Are you going to leave him here like this?" asked Morse.

"Yes; why not?"

"Because some one might have seen him come in here, and also remember that we, too, came in this direction."

"What would you do?"

"Take him down the road a way and leave him. We can find some shed near a farmhouse where he and his machine will be out of sight until we get far enough away. Besides, I don't like to leave him so far from help, unconscious as he is."

"Oh, you're getting chicken-hearted," said Appleson with a sneer. "However, have your way about it. I wonder what has become of Jake Burke? He was to meet us in Centreford, but he did not show up."

"Oh, I shouldn't be surprised if he had trouble in that tramp rig he insisted on adopting. I told him he was running a risk, but he said he had masqueraded as a tramp before."

"So he has. He's pretty good at it. Now, Simpson, if you will--"

"Not Simpson! I thought you agreed to call me Featherton," interrupted the chauffeur, turning to Morse and Appleson.

"Oh, so we did. I forgot that this lad met us one day, and heard me call you Simpson," admitted Morse. "Well, Featherton it shall be. But we haven't much time. It's stopped raining, and the roads will soon be well traveled. We must get away, and if we are to take the lad and his machine to some secluded place, we'd better be at it. No use waiting for Burke. He can look out after himself. Anyhow, we have the model now, and there's no use in him hanging around Swift's shop, as he intended to do, waiting for a chance to sneak in after it. Appleson, if you and Simpson--I mean Featherton--will carry young Swift, I'll shove his wheel along to the auto, and we can put it and him in."

The two men, first looking through the hole in the shed to make sure they were not observed, went out, carrying Tom, who was no light load. Morse followed them, pushing the motor-cycle, and carrying under one arm the bundle containing the valuable model, which he had detached.

"I think this is the time we get ahead of Mr. Swift," murmured Morse, pulling his black mustache, when he and his companions had reached the car in the field. "We have just what we want now."

"Yes, but we had hard enough work getting it," observed Appleson. "Only by luck we saw this lad come in here, or we would have had to chase all over for him, and maybe then we would have missed him. Hurry, Simpson--I mean Featherton. It's getting late, and we've got lots to do."

The chauffeur sprang to his seat, Appleson taking his place beside him. The motor-cycle was tied on behind the big touring car, and with the unconscious form of Tom in the tonneau, beside Morse, who stroked his mustache nervously, the auto started off. The storm had passed, and the sun was shining brightly, but Tom could not see it.