Chapter XXV. The Capture--Good-By
 

Tom's story was soon told, and Mr. Damon quickly explained to his friends in the automobile how he had first made the acquaintance of the young inventor.

"But how does it happen that you are trusting yourself in a car like this?" asked Tom. "I thought you were done with gasolene machines, Mr. Damon."

"I thought so, too, Tom, but, bless my batteries, my doctor insisted that I must get out in the open air. I'm too stout to walk, and I can't run. The only solution was in an automobile, for I never would dream of a motor-cycle. I wonder that one of mine hasn't run away with you and killed you. But there! My automobile is nearly as bad. We went along very nicely yesterday, and now, just when I have a party of friends out, something goes wrong. Bless my liver! I do seem to have the worst luck!"

Tom lost no time in looking for the trouble. He found it in the ignition, and soon had it fixed. Then a sort of council of war was held.

"Do you think those scoundrels are there yet?" asked Mr. Damon.

"I hope so," answered Tom.

"So do I," went on the odd character. "Bless my soul, but I want a chance to pummel them. Come, gentlemen, let's be moving. Will you ride with us, Tom Swift, or on that dangerous motor-cycle?"

"I think I'll stick to my machine, Mr. Damon. I can easily keep up with you."

"Very well. Then we'll get along. We'll proceed until we get close to the old mansion, and then some of us will go down to the lake shore, and the rest of us will surround the house. We'll catch the villains red-handed, and I hope we bag that tramp among them."

"I hardly think he is there," said Tom.

In a short time the auto and the motor-cycle had carried the respective riders to the road through the woods. There the machines were left, and the party proceeded on foot. Tom had a revolver with him, and one member of Mr. Damon's party also had a small one, more to scare dogs than for any other purpose. Tom gave his weapon to one of the men, and cut a stout stick for himself, an example followed by those who had no firearms.

"A club for mine!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "The less I have to do with machinery the better I like it. Now, Tom Swift is just the other way around," he explained to his friends.

Cautiously they approached the house, and when within seeing distance of it they paused for a consultation. There seemed to be no one stirring about the old mansion, and Tom was fearful lest the men had left. But this could not be determined until they came closer. Two of Mr. Damon's friends elected to go down to the shore of the lake and prevent any escape in that direction, while the others, including Tom, were to approach from the wood side. When the two who were to form the water attacking party were ready, one of them was to fire his revolver as a signal. Then Tom, Mr. Damon and the others would rush in.

The young inventor, Mr. Damon, and his friend, whom he addressed as Mr. Benson, went as close to the house as they considered prudent. Then, screening themselves in the bushes, they waited. They conversed in whispers, Tom giving more details of his experience with the patent thieves.

Suddenly the silence of the woods was broken by some one advancing through the underbrush.

"Bless my gaiters, some one is coming!" exclaimed Mr. Damon in a hoarse whisper. "Can that be Munson or Dwight coming back?" He referred to his two friends who had gone to the lake.

"Or perhaps the fellows are escaping," suggested Mr. Benson. "Suppose we take a look."

At that moment the person approaching, whoever he was, began to sing. Tom started.

"I'll wager that's Happy Harry, the tramp!" he exclaimed. "I know his voice."

Cautiously Tom peered over the screen of bushes.

"Who is it?" asked Mr. Damon.

"It's Happy Harry!" said Tom. "We'll get them all, now. He's going up to the house."

They watched the tramp. All unconscious of the eyes of the men and boy in the bushes, he kept on. Presently the door of the house opened, and a man came out. Tom recognized him as Anson Morse--the person who had dropped the telegram.

"Say, Burke," called the man at the door, "have you taken the motor-boat?"

"Motor-boat? No," answered the tramp. "I just came here. I've had a hard time--nearly got caught in Swift's house the other night by that cub of a boy. Is the boat gone?"

"Yes. Appleson came back in it last night and saw some one looking in the window, but we thought it was only a farmer and chased him away. This morning the boat's gone. I thought maybe you had taken it for a joke."

"Not a bit of it! Something's wrong!" exclaimed Happy Harry. "We'd better light out. I think the police are after us. That young Swift is too sharp for my liking. We'd better skip. I don't believe that was a farmer who looked in the window. Tell the others, get the stuff, and we'd leave this locality."

"They're here still," whispered Tom. "That's good!"

"I wonder if Munson and Dwight are at the lake yet?" asked Mr. Damon. "They ought to be--"

At that instant a pistol shot rang out. The tramp, after a hasty glance around, started on the run for the house. The man in the doorway sprang out. Soon two others joined him.

"Who fired that shot?" cried Morse.

"Come on, Tom!" cried Mr. Damon, grabbing up his club and springing from the bushes. "Our friends have arrived!" The young inventor and Mr. Benson followed him.

No sooner had they come into the open space in front of the house than they were seen. At the same instant, from the rear, in the direction of the lake, came Mr. Munson and Mr. Dwight.

"We're caught!" cried Happy Harry.

He made a dash far the house, just as a man, carrying a box, rushed out.

"There it is! The model and papers are in that box!" cried Tom. "Don't let them get away with it!"

The criminals were taken by surprise. With leveled weapons the attacking party closed in on them. Mr. Damon raised his club threateningly.

"Surrender! Surrender!" he cried. "We have you! Bless my stars, but you're captured! Surrender!"

"It certainly looks so," admitted Anson Morse. "I guess they have us, boys."

The man with the box made a sudden dash toward the woods, but Tom was watching him. In an instant he sprang at him, and landed on the fellow's back. The two went down in a heap, and when Tom arose he had possession of the precious box.

"I have it! I have it!" he cried. "I've got dad's model back!"

The man who had had possession of the box quickly arose, and, before any one could stop him, darted into the bushes.

"After him! Catch him! Bless my hat-band, stop him!" shouted Mr. Damon.

Instinctively his friends turned to pursue the fugitive, forgetting, for the instant, the other criminals. The men were quick to take advantage of this, and in a moment had disappeared in the dense woods. Nor could any trace be found of the one with whom Tom had struggled.

"Pshaw! They got away from us!" cried Mr. Damon regretfully. "Let's see if we can't catch them. Come on, we'll organize a posse and run them down." He was eager for the chase, but his companions dissuaded him. Tom had what he wanted, and he knew that his father would prefer not to prosecute the men. The lad opened the box, and saw that the model and papers were safe.

"Let those fellows go," advised the young inventor, and Mr. Damon reluctantly agreed to this. "I guess we've seen the last of them," added the youth, but he and Mr. Swift had not, for the criminals made further trouble, which will be told of in the second volume of this series, to be called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Boat; or, The Rivals of Lake Carlopa." In that our hero will be met in adventures even more thrilling than those already related, and Andy Foger, who so nearly ran Tom down in the automobile, will have a part in them.

"Now," said Mr. Damon, after it had been ascertained that no one was injured, and that the box contained all of value that had been stolen, "I suppose you are anxious to get back home, Tom, aren't you? Will you let me take you in my car? Bless my spark plug, but I'd like to have you along in case of another accident!"

The lad politely declined, however, and, with the valuable model and papers safe on his motor-cycle, he started for Shopton. Arriving at the first village after leaving the woods, Tom telephoned the good news to his father, and that afternoon was safely at home, to the delight of Mr. Swift and Mrs. Baggert.

The inventor lost no time in fully protecting his invention by patents. As for the unprincipled men who made an effort to secure it, they had so covered up their tracks that there was no way of prosecuting them, nor could any action be held against Smeak & Katch, the unscrupulous lawyers.

"Well," remarked Mr. Swift to Tom, a few nights after the recovery of the model, "your motor-cycle certainly did us good service. Had it not been for it I might never have gotten back my invention."

"Yes, it did come in handy," agreed the young inventor. "There's that motor-boat, too. I wish I had it. I don't believe those fellows will ever come back for it. I turned it over to the county authorities, and they take charge of it for a while. I certainly had some queer adventures since I got this machine from Mr. Damon," concluded Tom. I think my readers will agree with him.