Chapter V. Mr. Swift is Alarmed
 

Stuffing the money which he intended to give to Mr. Damon in his pocket, Tom ran downstairs. As he passed through the living-room, intending to see what the disturbance was about, and, if necessary, aid his father, the owner of the broken motor-cycle exclaimed:

"What's the matter? What has happened? Bless my coat-tails, but is anything wrong?"

"I don't know," answered Tom. "There is a stranger about the shop, and my father never allows that. I'll be back in a minute."

"Take your time," advised the somewhat eccentric Mr. Damon. "I find my legs are a bit weaker than I suspected, and I will be glad to rest a while longer. Bless my shoelaces, but don't hurry!"

Tom went into the rear yard, where the shops, in a small cluster of buildings, were located. He saw his father confronting the man with the black mustache, and Mr. Swift was saying:

"What do you want? I allow no people to come in here unless I or my son invites them. Did you wish to see me?"

"Are you Mr. Barton Swift?" asked the man.

"Yes, that is my name."

"The inventor of the Swift safety lamp, and the turbine motor?"

At the mention of the motor Mr. Swift started.

"I am the inventor of the safety lamp you mention," he said stiffly, "but I must decline to talk about the motor. May I ask where you obtained your information concerning it?"

"Why, I am not at liberty to tell," went on the man. "I called to see if we could negotiate with you for the sale of it. Parties whom I represent--"

At that moment Tom plucked his father by the sleeve.

"Dad," whispered the youth, "I saw him in Mansburg. I think he is one of several who have been inquiring in Mr. Merton's shop about you and your patents. I wouldn't have anything to do with him until I found out more about him."

"Is that so?" asked Mr. Swift quickly. Then, turning to the stranger, he said: "My son tells me--"

But Mr. Swift got no further, for at that moment the stranger caught sight of Tom, whom he had not noticed before.

"Ha!" exclaimed the man. "I have forgotten something--an important engagement--will be back directly--will see you again, Mr. Swift-- excuse the trouble I have put you to--I am in a great hurry," and before father or son could stop him, had they any desire to, the man turned and walked quickly from the yard.

Mr. Swift stood staring at him, and so did Tom. Then the inventor asked:

"Do you know that man? What about him, Tom? Why did he leave so hurriedly?"

"I don't know his name," replied Tom, "but I am suspicious regarding him, and I think he left because he suddenly recognized me." Thereupon he told his father of seeing the man in the post-office, and hearing the talk of the same individual and two companions in the restaurant.

"And so you think they are up to some mischief, Tom?" asked the parent when the son had finished.

"Well, I wouldn't go quite as far as that, but I think they are interested in your patents, and you ought to know whether you want them to be, or not."

"I most certainly do not--especially in the turbine motor. That is my latest invention, and, I think, will prove very valuable. But, though I have not mentioned it before, I expect to have trouble with it. Soon after I perfected it, with the exception of some minor details, I received word from a syndicate of rich men that I was infringing on a motor, the patent of which they controlled."

"This surprised me for two reasons. One was because I did not know that any one knew I had invented the motor. I had kept the matter secret, and I am at a loss to know how it leaked out. To prevent any further information concerning my plans becoming public, I sent you to Mansburg to-day. But it seems that the precaution was of little avail. Another matter of surprise was the information that I was infringing on the patent of some one else. I had a very careful examination made, and I found that the syndicate of rich men was wrong. I was not infringing. In fact, though the motor they have is somewhat like mine, there is one big difference--theirs does not work, while mine does. Their patents are worthless."

"Then what do you think is their object?"

"I think they want to get control of my invention of the turbine motor, Tom. That is what has been worrying me lately. I know these men to be unscrupulous, and, with plenty of money, they may make trouble for me."

"But can't you fight them in the courts?"

"Yes, I could do that. It is not as if I was a poor man, but I do not like lawsuits. I want to live quietly and invent things. I dislike litigation. However, if they force it on me I will fight!" exclaimed Mr. Swift determinedly.

"Do you think this man was one of the crowd of financiers?" asked Tom.

"It would be hard to say. I did not like his actions, and the fact that he sneaked in here, as if he was trying to get possession of some of my models or plans, makes it suspicious."

"It certainly does," agreed Tom. "Now, if we only knew his name we could--"

He suddenly paused in his remark and sprang forward. He picked up an envelope that had dropped where the stranger had been standing.

"The man lost this from his pocket, dad," said Tom eagerly. "It's a telegram. Shall we look at it?"

"I think we will be justified in protecting ourselves. Is the envelope open?"

"Yes."

"Then read the telegram."

Tom drew out a folded yellow slip of paper. It was a short message. He read:

"'Anson Morse, Mansburg. See Swift to-day. Make offer. If not accepted do the best you can. Spare no effort. Don't give plans away.'"

"Is that all?" asked Mr. Swift.

"All except the signature."

"Who is the telegram signed by?"

"By Smeak & Katch," answered Tom.

"Those rascally lawyers!" exclaimed his father. "I was beginning to suspect this. That is the firm which represents the syndicate of wealthy men who are trying to get my turbine motor patents away from me. Tom, we must be on our guard! They will wage a fierce fight against me, for they have sunk many thousands of dollars in a worthless machine, and are desperate."

"We'll fight 'em!" cried Tom. "You and I, dad! We'll show 'em that the firm of Swift & Son is swift by name and swift by nature!"

"Good!" exclaimed the inventor. "I'm glad you feel that way about it, Tom. But we are going to have no easy task. Those men are rich and unscrupulous. We shall have to be on guard constantly. Let me have that telegram. It may come in useful. Now I must send word to Reid & Crawford, my attorneys in Washington, to be on the lookout. Matters are coming to a curious pass."

As Mr. Swift and his son started for the house, they met Mr. Damon coming toward them.

"Bless my very existence!" cried the eccentric man. "I was beginning to fear something had happened to you. I am glad that you are all right. I heard voices, and I imagined--"

"It's all right," Mr. Swift reassured him. "There was a stranger about my shop, and I never allow that. Do you feel well enough to go? If not we shall be glad to have you remain with us. We have plenty of room."

"Oh, thank you very much, but I must be going. I feel much better. Bless my gaiters, but I never will trust myself in even an automobile again! I will renounce gasolene from now on."

"That reminds me," spoke Tom. "I have the money for the motor-cycle," and he drew out the bills. "You are sure you will not regret your bargain, Mr. Damon? The machine is new, and needs only slight repairs. Fifty dollars is--"

"Tut, tut, young man! I feel as if I was getting the best of you. Bless my handkerchief! I hope you have no bad luck with it."

"I'll try and be careful," promised Tom with a smile as he handed over the money. "I am going to gear it differently and put some improvements on it. Then I will use it instead of my bicycle."

"It would have to be very much improved before I trusted myself on it again," declared Mr. Damon. "Well, I appreciate what you have done for me, and if at any time I can reciprocate the favor, I will only be too glad to do so. Bless my soul, though, I hope I don't have to rescue you from trying to climb a tree," and with a laugh, which showed that he had fully recovered from his mishap, he shook hands with father and son and left.

"A very nice man, Tom," commented Mr. Swift. "Somewhat odd and out of the ordinary, but a very fine character, for all that."

"That's what I say," added the son. "Now, dad, you'll see me scooting around the country on a motor-cycle. I've always wanted one, and now I have a bargain."

"Do you think you can repair it?"

"Of course, dad. I've done more difficult things than that. I'm going to take it apart now, and see what it needs."

"Before you do that, Tom, I wish you would take a telegram to town for me. I must wire my lawyers at once."

"Dad looks worried," thought Tom as he wheeled the broken motor-cycle into a machine shop, where he did most of his work. "Well, I don't blame him. But we'll get the best of those scoundrels yet!"