Chapter XVII. Mr. Swift in Despair
 

Tom was thinking of many things as his speedy machine carried him mile after mile nearer home. By noon he was over half way on his journey, and he stopped in a small village for his dinner.

"I think I'll make inquiries of the police here, to see if they caught sight of those men," decided Tom as he left the restaurant. "Though I am inclined to believe they kept on to Albany, or some large city, where they have their headquarters. They will want to make use of dad's model as soon as possible, though what they will do with it I don't know." He tried to telephone to his father, but could get no connection, as the wire was being repaired.

The police force of the place where Tom had stopped for lunch was like the town itself--small and not of much consequence. The chief constable, for he was not what one could call a chief of police, had heard of the matter from the alarm sent out in all directions from Dunkirk, where Mr. Blackford lived.

"You don't mean to tell me you're the young man who was chloroformed and robbed!" exclaimed the constable, looking at Tom as if he doubted his word.

"I'm the young man," declared our hero. "Have you seen anything of the thieves?"

"Not a thing, though I've instructed all my men to keep a sharp lookout for a red automobile, with three scoundrels in it. My men are to make an arrest on sight."

"How many men have you?"

"Two," was the rather surprising answer; "but one has to work on a farm daytimes, so I ain't really got but one in what you might call active service."

Tom restrained a desire to laugh. At any rate, the aged constable meant well.

"One of my men seen a red automobile, a little while before you come in my office," went on the official, "but it wasn't the one wanted, 'cause a young woman was running it all alone. It struck me as rather curious that a woman would trust herself all alone in one of them things; wouldn't it you?"

"Oh, no, women and young ladies often operate them," said Tom.

"I should think you'd find one handier than the two-wheeled apparatus you have out there," went on the constable, indicating the motor-cycle, which Tom had stood up against a tree.

"I may have one some day," replied the young inventor. "But I guess I'll be moving on now. Here's my address, in case you hear anything of those men, but I don't imagine you will."

"Me either. Fellows as slick as them are won't come back this way and run the chance of being arrested by my men. I have two on duty nights," he went on proudly, "besides myself, so you see we're pretty well protected."

Tom thanked him for the trouble he had taken, and was soon on his way again. He swept on along the quiet country roads anxious for the time when he could consult with his father over what would be the best course to take.

When Tom was about a mile away from his house he saw in the road ahead of him a rickety old wagon, and a second glance at it told him the outfit belonged to Eradicate Sampson, for the animal drawing the vehicle was none other than the mule, Boomerang.

"But what in the world is Rad up to?" mused Tom, for the colored man was out of the wagon and was going up and down in the grass at the side of the highway in a curious fashion. "I guess he's lost something," decided Tom.

When he got nearer he saw what Eradicate was doing. The colored man was pushing a lawn-mower slowly to and fro in the tall, rank grass that grew beside the thoroughfare, and at the sound of Tom's motor-cycle the negro looked up. There was such a woe-begone expression on his face that Tom at once stopped his machine and got off.

"What's the matter, Rad?" Tom asked.

"Mattah, Mistah Swift? Why, dere's a pow'ful lot de mattah, an' dat's de truff. I'se been swindled, dat's what I has."

"Swindled? How?"

"Well, it's dis-a-way. Yo' see dis yeah lawn-moah?"

"Yes; it doesn't seem to work," and Tom glanced critically at it. As Eradicate pushed it slowly to and fro, the blades did not revolve, and the wheels slipped along on the grass.

"No, sah, it doan't work, an' dat's how I've been swindled, Mistah Swift. Yo' see, I done traded mah ole grindstone off for dis yeah lawn-moah, an' I got stuck."

"What, that old grindstone that was broken in two, and that you fastened together with concrete?" asked Tom, for he had seen the outfit with which Eradicate, in spare times between cleaning and whitewashing, had gone about the country, sharpening knives and scissors. "You don't mean that old, broken one?"

"Dat's what I mean, Mistah Swift. Why, it was all right. I mended it so dat de break wouldn't show, an' it would sharpen things if yo' run it slow. But dis yeah lawn-moah won't wuk slow ner fast."

"I guess it was an even exchange, then," went on Tom. "You didn't get bitten any worse than the other fellow did."

"Yo' doan't s'pose yo' kin fix dis yeah moah so's I kin use it, does yo', Mistah Swift?" asked Eradicate, not bothering to go into the ethics of the matter. "I reckon now with summah comin' on I kin make mo' with a lawn-moah than I kin with a grindstone--dat is, ef I kin git it to wuk. I jest got it a while ago an' decided to try it, but it won't cut no grass."

"I haven't much time," said Tom, "for I'm anxious to get home, but I'll take a look at it."

Tom leaned his motor-cycle against the fence. He could no more pass a bit of broken machinery, which he thought he could mend, than some men and boys can pass by a baseball game without stopping to watch it, no matter how pressed they are for time. It was Tom's hobby, and he delighted in nothing so much as tinkering with machines, from lawn-mowers to steam engines.

Tom took hold of the handle, which Eradicate gladly relinquished to him, and his trained touch told him at once what was the trouble.

"Some one has had the wheels off and put them on wrong, Rad," he said. "The ratchet and pawl are reversed. This mower would work backwards, if that were possible."

"Am dat so, Mistah Swift?"

"That's it. All I have to do is to take off the wheels and reverse the pawl."

"I--I didn't know mah lawn-moah was named Paul," said the colored man. "Is it writ on it anywhere?"

"No, it's not the kind of Paul you mean," said Tom with a laugh. "It's spelled differently. A pawl is a sort of catch that fits into a ratchet wheel and pushes it around, or it may be used as a catch to prevent the backward motion of a windlass or the wheel on a derrick. I'll have it fixed in a jiffy for you."

Tom worked rapidly. With a monkey-wrench he removed the two big wheels of the lawn-mower and reversed the pawl in the cogs. In five minutes he had replaced the wheels, and the machine, except for needed sharpening, did good work.

"There you are, Rad!" exclaimed Tom at length.

"Yo' suah am a wonder at inventin'!" cried the colored man gratefully. "I'll cut yo' grass all summah fo' yo' to pay fo' this, Mistah Swift."

"Oh, that's too much. I didn't do a great deal, Rad."

"Well, yo' saved me from bein' swindled, Mistah Swift, an' I suah does 'preciate dat."

"How about the fellow you traded the cracked grindstone to, Rad?"

"Oh, well, ef he done run it slow it won't fly apart, an' he'll do dat, anyhow, fo' he suah am a lazy coon. I guess we am about even there, Mistah Swift."

"All right," spoke Tom with a laugh. "Sharpen it up, Rad, and start in to cut grass. It will soon be summer," and Tom, leaping upon his motor-cycle, was off like a shot.

He found his father in his library, reading a book on scientific matters. Mr. Swift looked up in surprise at seeing his son.

"What! Back so soon?" he asked. "You did make a flying trip. Did you give the model and papers to Mr. Crawford?"

"No, dad, I was robbed yesterday. Those scoundrels got ahead of us, after all. They have your model. I tried to telephone to you, but the wires were down, or something."

"What!" cried Mr. Swift. "Oh, Tom! That's too bad! I will lose ten thousand dollars if I can't get that model and those papers back!" and with a despairing gesture Mr. Swift rose and began to pace the floor.