Chapter XXI. Eradicate Gives a Clue
 

"Tell me all about it," urged Tom sympathetically, for he had a friendly feeling toward the aged darky.

"Well," began Eradicate, "I suah thought I were gwine to make money cuttin' grass, 'specially after yo' done fixed mah moah. But 'peared laik nobody wanted any grass cut. I trabeled all ober, an' I couldn't git no jobs. Now me an' Boomerang has to eat, no mattah ef he is contrary, so I had t' look fo' some new wuk. I traded dat lawn-moah off fo' a cross-cut saw, but dat was such hard wuk dat I gib it up. Den I got a chance to buy dis yeah outfit cheap, an' I bought it."

Eradicate then went on to tell how he had purchased the portable sawmill from a man who had no further use for it, and how he had managed to transport it from a distant village to the spot where Tom had met him. There he had secured permission to work a piece of woodland on shares, sawing up the smaller trees into cord wood. He had started in well enough, cutting down considerable timber, for the colored man was a willing worker, but when he tried to start his mill he met with trouble.

"I counted on Boomerang helpin' me," he said to Tom. "All he has to do is walk on dat tread mill, an' keep goin'. Dat makes de saw go 'round, an' I saws de wood. But de trouble am dat I can't git Boomerang to move. I done tried ebery means I knows on, an' he won't go. I talked kind to him, an' I talked harsh. I done beat him wif a club, an' I rub his ears soft laik, an' he allers did laik dat, but he won't go. I fed him on carrots an' I gib him sugar, an' I eben starve him, but he won't go. Heah I been tryin' fo' three days now t' git him started, an' not a stick hab I sawed. De man what I'm wukin' wif on shares he git mad, an' he say ef I doan't saw wood pretty soon he gwine t' git annuder mill heah. Now I axes yo' fair, Mistah Swift, ain't I got lots ob trouble?"

"You certainly seem to have," agreed Tom "But why is Boomerang so obstinate? Usually on a treadmill a horse or a mule has to work whether they like it or not. If they don't keep moving the platform slides out from under them, and they come up against the back bar."

"Dat's what done happened to Boomerang," declared Eradicate. "He done back up against de bar, an' dere he stay."

Tom went over and looked at the mill. The outfit was an old one, and had seen much service, but the trained eye of the young inventor saw that it could still be used effectively. Boomerang watched Tom, as though aware that something unusual was about to happen.

"Heah I done gone an' 'vested mah money in dis yeah mill," complained Eradicate, "an' I ain't sawed up a single stick. Ef I wasn't so kind-hearted I'd chastise dat mule wuss dan I has, dat's what I would."

Tom said nothing. He was stooping down, looking at the gearing that connected the tread mill with the shaft which revolved the saw. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation,

"Rad, have you been monkeying with this machinery?" he asked.

"Me? Good land, Mistah Swift, no, sah! I wouldn't tech it. It's jest as I got it from de man I bought it oh. It worked when he had it, but he used a hoss. It's all due to de contrariness ob Boomerang, an' if I--"

"No, it isn't the mule's fault at all!" exclaimed Tom. "The mill is out of gear, and tread is locked; that's all. The man you bought it off probably did it so you could haul it along the road. I'll have it fixed for you in a few minutes. Wait until I get some tools."

From the bag on his motor-cycle Tom got his implements. He first unlocked the treadmill, so that the inclined platform, on which the animal slowly walked, could revolve. No sooner had he done this than Boomerang, feeling the slats under his hoofs moving away, started forward. With a rattle the treadmill slid around.

"Good land o' massy! It's goin'!" cried Eradicate delightedly. "It suah am goin'!" he added as he saw the mule, with nimble feet, send the revolving, endless string of slats around and around. "But de saw doan't move, Mistah Swift. Yo' am pretty smart at fixin' it as much as yo' has, but I reckon it's too busted t' eber saw any wood. I'se got bad luck, dat's what I has."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Tom. "The sawmill will be going in a moment. All I have to do is to throw it into gear. See here, Rad. When you want the saw to go you just throw this handle forward. That makes the gears mesh."

"What's dat 'bout mush?" asked Eradicate.

"Mesh--not mush. I mean it makes the cogs fit together. See," and Tom pressed the lever. In an instant, with a musical whirr, the saw began revolving.

"Hurrah! Dere it goes! Golly! see de saw move!" cried the delighted colored man. He seized a stick of wood, and in a trice it was sawed through.

"Whoop!" yelled Eradicate. "I'm sabed now! Bless yo', Mistah Swift, yo' suttinly am a wondah!"

"Now I'll show you how it works," went on Tom. "When you want to stop Boomerang, you just pull this handle. That locks the tread, and he can't move it," and, suiting the action to his words, Tom stopped the mill. "Then," he went on, "when you want him to move, you pull the handle this way," and he showed the darky how to do it. In a moment the mule was moving again. Then Tom illustrated how to throw the saw in and out of gear, and in a few minutes the sawmill was in full operation, with a most energetic colored man feeding in logs to be cut up into stove lengths.

"You ought to have an assistant, Rad," said Tom, after he had watched the work for a while. "You could get more done then, and move on to some other wood-patch."

"Dat's right, Mistah Swift, so I had. But I 'done tried, an' couldn't git any. I ast seberal colored men, but dey'd radder whitewash an' clean chicken coops. I guess I'll hab t' go it alone. I ast a white man yisterday ef he wouldn't like t' pitch in an' help, but he said he didn't like to wuk. He was a tramp, an' he had de nerve to ask me fer money--me, a hard-wukin' coon."

"You didn't give it to him, I hope."

"No, indeedy, but he come so close to me dat I was askeered he might take it from me, so I kept hold ob a club. He suah was a bad-lookin' tramp, an' he kept laffin' all de while, like he was happy."

"What's that?" cried Tom, struck by the words of the colored man. "Did he have a thick, brown beard?"

"Dat's what he had," answered Eradicate, pausing in the midst of his work. "He suah were a funny sort ob tramp. His hands done looked laik he neber wuked, an' he had a funny blue ring one finger, only it wasn't a reg'lar ring, yo' know. It was pushed right inter his skin, laik a man I seen at de circus once, all cobered wid funny figgers."

Tom leaped to his feet.

"Which finger was the blue ring tattooed on?" he asked, and he waited anxiously for the answer.

"Let me see, it were on de right--no, it were on de little finger ob de left hand."

"Are you sure, Rad?"

"Suah, Mistah Swift. I took 'tic'lar notice, 'cause he carried a stick in dat same hand."

"It must be my man--Happy Harry!" exclaimed Tom half aloud. "Which way did he go, Rad, after he left you?"

"He went up de lake shore," replied the colored man. "He asked me if I knowed ob an ole big house up dere, what nobody libed in, an' I said I did. Den he left, an' I were glad ob it."

"Which house did you mean, Rad?"

"Why, dat ole mansion what General Harkness used t' lib in befo' de wah. Dere ain't nobody libed in it fo' some years now, an' it's deserted. Maybe a lot ob tramps stays in it, an' dat's where dis man were goin'."

"Maybe," assented Tom, who was all excitement now. "Just where is this old house, Rad?"

"Away up at de head ob Lake Carlopa. I uster wuk dere befo' de wah, but it's been a good many years since quality folks libed dere. Why, did yo' want t' see dat man, Mistah Swift?"

"Yes, Rad, I did, and very badly, too. I think he is the very person I want. But don't say anything about it. I'm going to take a trip up to that strange mansion. Maybe I'll get on the trail of Happy Harry and the men who robbed me. I'm much obliged to you, Rad, for this information. It's a good clue, I think. Strange that you should meet the very tramp I've been searching for."

"Well, I suah am obliged to yo', Mistah Swift, fo' fixin' mah sawmill."

"That's all right. What you told me more than pays for what I did, Rad. Well, I'm going home now to tell dad, and then I'm going to start out. Yesterday, you said it was, you saw Happy Harry? Well, I'll get right after him," and leaving a somewhat surprised, but very much delighted, colored man behind him, Tom mounted his motor-cycle and started for home at a fast pace.