Chapter XVI. Back Home
 

"We've got to organize a regular searchin' party," declared Jed Blackford, after he and his father, together with Tom and the farmer's hired man, had searched up and down the road by the light of lanterns. "We'll organize a posse an' have a regular hunt. This is the worst crime that's been committed in this deestrict in many years, an' I'm goin' to run the scoundrels to earth."

"Don't be talkin' nonsense, Jed," interrupted his father. "You won't catch them fellers in a hundred years. They're miles an' miles away from here by this time in their automobile. All you can do is to notify the sheriff. I guess we'd better give this young man some attention. Let's see, you said your name was Quick, didn't you?"

"No, but it's very similar," answered Tom with a smile. "It's Swift."

"I knowed it was something had to do with speed," went on Mr. Blackford. "Wa'al, now, s'pose you come in the house an' have a hot cup of tea. You look sort of draggled out."

Tom was glad enough to avail himself of the kind invitation, and he was soon in the comfortable kitchen, relating his story, with more detail, to the farmer and his family. Mrs. Blackford applied some home-made remedies to the lump on the youth's head, and it felt much better.

"I'd like to take a look at my motor-cycle," he said, after his second cup of tea. "I want to see if those men damaged it any. If they have I'm going to have trouble getting back home to tell my father of my bad luck. Poor dad! He will be very much worried when I tell him the model and his patent papers have been stolen."

"It's too bad!" exclaimed Mrs. Blackford. "I wish I had hold of them scoundrels!" and her usually gentle face bore a severe frown. "Of course you can have your thing-a-ma-bob in to see if it's hurt, but please don't start it in here. They make a terrible racket."

"No, I'll look it over in the woodshed," promised Tom. "If it's all right I think I'll start back home at once."

"No, you can't do that," declared Mr. Blackford. "You're in no condition to travel. You might fall off an' git hurt. It's nearly ten o'clock now. You jest stay here all night, an' in the mornin', if you feel all right, you can start off. I couldn't let you go to-night."

Indeed, Tom did not feel very much like undertaking the journey, for the blow on his head had made him dazed, and the chloroform caused a sick feeling. Mr. Blackford wheeled the motor-cycle into the woodhouse, which opened from the kitchen, and there the youth went over the machine. He was glad to find that it had sustained no damage. In the meanwhile Jed had gone off to tell the startling news to near-by farmers. Quite a throng, with lanterns, went up and down the road, but all the evidence they could find were the marks of the automobile wheels, which clues were not very satisfactory.

"But we'll catch them in the mornin'," declared the deputy sheriff. "I'll know that automobile again if I see it. It was painted red."

"That's the color of a number of automobiles," said Tom with a smile. "I'm afraid you'll have trouble identifying it by that means. I am surprised, though, that they did not carry my motor-cycle away with them. It is a valuable machine."

"They were afraid to," declared Jed. "It would look queer to see a machine like that in an auto. Of course when they were going along country roads in the evening it didn't much matter, but when they headed for the city, as they probably did, they knew it would attract suspicion to 'em. I know, for I've been a deputy sheriff 'most a year."

"I believe you're right," agreed Tom. "They didn't dare take the motor-cycle with them, but they hid it, hoping I would not find it. I'd rather have the model and the papers, though, than half a dozen motor-cycles."

"Maybe the police will help you find them," said Mrs. Blackford. "Jed, you must telephone to the police the first thing in the morning. It's a shame the way criminals are allowed to go on. If honest people did those things, they'd be arrested in a minute, but it seems that scoundrels can do as they please."

"You wait; I'll catch 'em!" declared Jed confidently. "I'll organize another posse in the mornin'."

"Well, I know one thing, and that is that the place for this young man is in bed!" exclaimed motherly Mrs. Blackford, and she insisted on Tom retiring. He was somewhat restless at first, and the thought of the loss of the model and the papers preyed on his mind. Then, utterly exhausted, he sank into a heavy slumber, and did not awaken until the sun was shining in his window the next morning. A good breakfast made him feel somewhat better, and he was more like the resourceful Tom Swift of old when he went to get his motor-cycle in shape for the ride back to Shopton.

"Well, I hope you find those criminals," said Mr. Blackford, as he watched Tom oiling the machine. "If you're ever out this way again, stop off and see us."

"Yes, do," urged Mrs. Blackford, who was getting ready to churn. Her husband looked at the old-fashioned barrel and dasher arrangement, which she was filling with cream.

"What's the matter with the new churn?" he asked in some surprise.

"It's broken," she replied. "It's always the way with those new- fangled things. It works ever so much nicer than this old one, though," she went on to Tom, "but it gets out of order easy."

"Let me look at it," suggested the young inventor. "I know something about machinery."

The churn, which worked by a system of cogs and a handle, was brought from the woodshed. Tom soon saw what the trouble was. One of the cogs had become displaced. It did not take him five minutes, with the tools he carried on his motor-cycle, to put it back, and the churn was ready to use.

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Mrs. Blackford. "You are handy at such things!"

"Oh, it's just a knack," replied Tom modestly. "Now I'll put a plug in there, and the cog wheel won't come loose again. The manufacturers of it ought to have done that. I imagine lots of people have this same trouble with these churns."

"Indeed they do," asserted Mrs. Blackford. "Sallie Armstrong has one, and it got out of order the first week they had it. I'll let her look at mine, and maybe her husband can fix it."

"I'd go and do it myself, but I want to get home," said Tom, and then he showed her how, by inserting a small iron plug in a certain place, there would be no danger of the cog coming loose again.

"That's certainly slick!" exclaimed Mr. Blackford. "Well, I wish you good luck, Mr. Swift, and if I see those scoundrels around this neighborhood again I'll make 'em wish they'd let you alone."

"That's what," added Jed, polishing his badge with his big, red handkerchief.

Mrs. Blackford transferred the cream to the new churn which Tom had fixed, and as he rode off down the highway on his motor-cycle, she waved one hand to him, while with the other she operated the handle of the apparatus.

"Now for a quick run to Shopton to tell dad the bad news," spoke Tom to himself as he turned on full speed and dashed away. "My trip has been a failure so far."