Chapter XX. Eradicate Saws Wood
 

The farmer's family, including the son who was a deputy sheriff, was glad to see Tom. Jed said he had "been on the job" ever since the mysterious robbery of Tom had taken place, but though he had seen many red automobiles he had no trace of the three men.

From Dunkirk Tom went back over the route he had taken in going from Pompville to Centreford, and made some inquiries in the neighborhood of the church shed, where he had taken shelter. The locality was sparsely settled, however, and no one could give any clues to the robbers.

The young inventor next made a trip over the lonely, sandy road, where he had met with the tramp, Happy Harry. But there were even fewer houses near that stretch than around the church, so he got no satisfaction there. Tom spent the night at a country inn, and resumed his search the next morning, but with no results. The men had apparently completely disappeared, leaving no traces behind them.

"I may as well go home," thought Tom, as he was riding his motor-cycle along a pleasant country road. "Dad may be worried, and perhaps something has turned up in Shopton that will aid me. If there isn't, I'm going to start out again in a few days in another direction."

There was no news in Shopton, however. Town found his father scarcely able to work, so worried was he over the loss of his most important invention.

Two weeks passed, the young machinist taking trips of several days' duration to different points near his home, in the hope of discovering something. But he was unsuccessful, and, in the meanwhile, no reassuring word was received from the lawyers in Washington. Mr. Crawford wrote that no move had yet been made by the thieves to take out patent papers, and while this, in a sense, was some aid to Mr. Swift, still he could not proceed on his own account to protect his new motor. All that could be done was to await the first movement on the part of the scoundrels.

"I think I'll try a new plan to-morrow, dad," announced Tom one night, when he and his father had talked over again, for perhaps the twentieth time, the happenings of the last few weeks.

"What is it, Tom?" asked the inventor.

"Well, I think I'll take a week's trip on my machine. I'll visit all the small towns around here, but, instead of asking in houses for news of the tramp or his confederates, I'll go to the police and constables. I'll ask if they have arrested any tramps recently, and, if they have, I'll ask them to let me see the 'hobo' prisoners."

"What good will that do?"

"I'll tell you. I have an idea that though the burglar who got in here may not be a regular tramp, yet he disguises himself like one at times, and may be known to other tramps. If I can get on the trail of Happy Harry, as he calls himself, I may locate the other men. Tramps would be very likely to remember such a peculiar chap as Happy Harry, and they will tell me where they had last seen him. Then I will have a starting point."

"Well, that may be a good plan," assented Mr. Swift. "At any rate it will do no harm to try. A tramp locked up in a country police station will very likely be willing to talk. Go ahead with that scheme, Tom, but don't get into any danger. How long will you be away?"

"I don't know. A week, perhaps; maybe longer. I'll take plenty of money with me, and stop at country hotels overnight."

Tom lost no time in putting his plan into execution. He packed some clothes in a grip, which he attached to the rear of his motor-cycle, and then having said good-by to his father, started off. The first three days he met with no success. He located several tramps in country lock-ups, where they had been sent for begging or loitering, but none of them knew Happy Harry or had ever heard of a tramp answering his description.

"He ain't one of us, youse can make up your mind to dat," said one "hobo" whom Tom interviewed. "No real knight of de highway goes around in a disguise. We leaves dat for de story-book detectives. I'm de real article, I am, an' I don't know Happy Harry. But, fer dat matter, any of us is happy enough in de summer time, if we don't strike a burgh like dis, where dey jugs you fer panhandlin'."

In general, Tom found the tramp willing enough to answer his questions, though some were sullen, and returned only surly growls to his inquiries.

"I guess I'll have to give it up and go back home," he decided one night. But there was a small town, not many miles from Shopton, which he had not yet visited, and he resolved to try there before returning. Accordingly, the next morning found him inquiring of the police authorities in Meadton. But no tramps had been arrested in the last month, and no one had seen anything of a tramp like Happy Harry or three mysterious men in an automobile.

Tom was beginning to despair. Riding along a silent road, that passed through a strip of woods, he was trying to think of some new line of procedure, when the silence of the highway, that, hitherto, had resounded only with the muffled explosions of his machine, was broken by several exclamations.

"Now, Boomerang, yo' might jest as well start now as later," Tom heard a voice saying--a voice he recognized well. "Yo' hab got t' do dis yeah wuk, an' dere ain't no gittin' out ob it. Dis yeah wood am got to be sawed, an' yo' hab got to saw it. But it am jest laik yo' to go back on yo' ole friend Eradicate in dis yeah fashion. I neber could tell what yo' were gwine t' do next, an' I cain't now. G'lang, now, won't yo'? Let's git dis yeah sawmill started."

Tom shut off the power and leaped from his wheel. From the woods at his left came the protesting "hee-haw" of a mule.

"Boomerang and Eradicate Sampson!" exclaimed the young inventor. "What can they be doing here?"

He leaned his motor-cycle against the fence and advanced toward where he had heard the voice of the colored man. In a little clearing he saw him. Eradicate was presiding over a portable sawmill, worked by a treadmill, on the incline of which was the mule, its ears laid back, and an unmistakable expression of anger on its face.

"Why, Rad, what are you doing?" cried Tom.

"Good land o' massy! Ef it ain't young Mistah Swift!" cried the darky. "Howdy, Mistah Swift! Howdy! I'm jest tryin' t' saw some wood, t' make a livin', but Boomerang he doan't seem t' want t' lib," and with that Eradicate looked reproachfully at the animal.

"What seems to be the trouble, and how did you come to own this sawmill?" asked Tom.

"I'll tell yo', Mistah Swift, I'll tell yo'," spoke Eradicate. "Sit right yeah on dis log, an' I'll explanation it to yo'."

"The last time I saw you, you were preparing to go into the grass- cutting business," went on Tom.

"Yais, sah! Dat's right. So I was. Yo' has got a memory, yo' suah has. But it am dis yeah way. Grass ain't growin' quick enough, an' so I traded off dat lawn-moah an' bought dis yeah mill. But now it won't go, an' I suah am in trouble," and once more Eradicate Sampson looked indignantly at Boomerang.