Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle by Victor Appleton
Chapter VII. Off on a Spin
Tom's first impulse was to run after the automobile, the red tail- light of which glowed through the blackness like a ruby eye. Then he realized that it was going from him at such a swift pace that it would be impossible to get near it, even if his bicycle was in working order.
"But if I had my motor-cycle I'd catch up to them," he murmured. "As it is, I must hurry home and tell dad. This is another link in the queer chain that seems to be winding around us. I wonder who that man was, and what he wanted by asking so many personal questions about dad?"
Trundling his wheel before him, with the chain dangling from the handle-bar, Tom splashed on through the mud and rain. It was a lonesome, weary walk, tired as he was with the happenings of the day, and the young inventor breathed a sigh of thankfulness as the lights of his home shone out in the mist of the storm. As he tramped up the steps of the side porch, his wheel bumping along ahead of him, a door was thrown open.
"Why, it's Tom!" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert. "Whatever happened to you?" and she hurried forward with kindly solicitude, for the housekeeper was almost a second mother to the youth.
"Chain broke," answered the lad laconically. "Where's dad?"
"Out in the shop, working at his latest invention, I expect. But are you hurt?"
"Oh, no. I fell easily. The mud was like a feather-bed, you know, except that it isn't so good for the clothes," and the young inventor looked down at his splashed and bedraggled garments.
Mr. Swift was very much surprised when Tom told him of the happening on the road, and related the conversation and the subsequent alarm of the man on learning Tom's identity.
"Who do you suppose he could have been?" asked Tom, when he had finished.
"I am pretty certain he was one of that crowd of financiers of whom Anson Morse seems to be a representative," said Mr. Swift. "Are you sure the man was one of those you saw in the restaurant?"
"Positive. I had a good look at him both times. Do you think he imagined he could come here and get possession of some of your secrets?"
"I hardly know what to think, Tom. But we will take every precaution. We will set the burglar alarm wires, which I have neglected for some time, as I fancied everything would be secure here. Then I will take my plans and the model of the turbine motor into the house. I'll run no chances to-night."
Mr. Swift, who was adjusting some of the new bolts that Tom had brought home that day; began to gather up his tools and material.
"I'll help you, dad," said Tom, and he began connecting the burglar alarm wires, there being an elaborate system of them about the house, shops and grounds.
Neither Tom nor his father slept well that night. Several times one or the other of them arose, thinking they heard unusual noises, but it was only some disturbance caused by the storm, and morning arrived without anything unusual having taken place. The rain still continued, and Tom, looking from his window and seeing the downpour, remarked:
"I'm glad of it!"
"Why?" asked his father, who was in the next room.
"Because I'll have a good excuse for staying in and working on my motor-cycle."
"But you must do some studying," declared Mr. Swift. "I will hear you in mathematics right after breakfast."
"All right, dad. I guess you'll find I have my lessons."
Tom had graduated with honors from a local academy, and when it came to a question of going further in his studies, he had elected to continue with his father for a tutor, instead of going to college. Mr. Swift was a very learned man, and this arrangement was satisfactory to him, as it allowed Tom more time at home, so he could aid his father on the inventive work and also plan things for himself. Tom showed a taste for mechanics, and his father wisely decided that such training as his son needed could be given at home to better advantage than in a school or college.
Lessons over, Tom hurried to his own particular shop, and began taking apart the damaged motor-cycle.
"First I'll straighten the handle-bars, and then I'll fix the motor and transmission," he decided. "The front wheel I can buy in town, as this one would hardly pay for repairing." Tom was soon busy with wrenches, hammers, pliers and screw-driver. He was in his element, and was whistling over his task. The motor he found in good condition, but it was not such an easy task as he had hoped to change the transmission. He had finally to appeal to his father, in order to get the right proportion between the back and front gears, for the motor-cycle was operated by a sprocket chain, instead of a belt drive, as is the case with some.
Mr. Swift showed Tom how to figure out the number of teeth needed on each sprocket, in order to get an increase of speed, and as there was a sprocket wheel from a disused piece of machinery available, Tom took that. He soon had it in place, and then tried the motor. To his delight the number of revolutions of the rear wheel were increased about fifteen per cent.
"I guess I'll make some speed," he announced to his father.
"But it will take more gasolene to run the motor; don't forget that. You know the great principle of mechanics--that you can't get out of a machine any more than you put into it, nor quite as much, as a matter of fact, for considerable is lost through friction."
"Well, then, I'll enlarge the gasolene tank," declared Tom. "I want to go fast when I'm going."
He reassembled the machine, and after several hours of work had it in shape to run, except that a front wheel was lacking.
"I think I'll go to town and get one," he remarked. "The rain isn't quite so hard now."
In spite of his father's mild objections Tom went, using his bicycle, the chain of which he had quickly repaired. He found just the front wheel needed, and that night his motor-cycle was ready to run. But it was too dark to try it then, especially as he had no good lantern, the one on the cycle having been smashed, and his own bicycle light not being powerful enough. So he had to postpone his trial trip until the next day.
He was up early the following morning, and went out for a spin before breakfast. He came back, with flushed cheeks and bright eyes, just as Mr. Swift and Mrs. Baggert were sitting down to the table.
"To Reedville and back," announced Tom proudly.
"What, a round trip of thirty miles!" exclaimed Mr. Swift.
"That's what!" declared his son. "I went like a greased pig most of the way. I had to slow up going through Mansburg, but the rest of at time I let it out for all it was worth."
"You must be careful," cautioned his father. "You are not an expert yet."
"No, I realize that. Several times, when I wanted to slow up, I began to back-pedal, forgetting that I wasn't on my bicycle. Then I thought to shut off the power and put on the brake. But it's glorious fun. I'm going out again as soon as I have something to eat. That is, unless you want me to help you, dad."
"No, not this morning. Learn to ride the motor-cycle. It may come in handy."
Neither Tom nor his father realized what an important part the machine was soon to play in their lives.
Tom went out for another spin after breakfast, and in a different direction. He wanted to see what the machine would do on a hill, and there was a long, steep one about five miles from home. The roads were in fine shape after the rain, and he speeded up the incline at a rapid rate.
"It certainly does eat up the road," the lad murmured. "I have improved this machine considerably. Wish I could take out a patent on it."
Reaching the crest of the slope, he started down the incline. He turned off part of the power, and was gliding along joyously, when from a cross-road he suddenly saw turn into the main highway a mule, drawing a ramshackle wagon, loaded with fence posts. Beside the animal walked an old colored man.
"I hope he gets out of the way in time," thought Tom. "He's moving as slow as molasses, and I'm going a bit faster than I like. Guess I'll shut off and put on the brakes."
The mule and wagon were now squarely across the road. Tom was coming nearer and nearer. He turned the handle-grip, controlling the supply of gasolene, and to his horror he found that it was stuck. He could not stop the motor-cycle!
"Look out! Look out!" cried Tom to the negro. "Get out of the way! I can't stop! Let me pass you!"
The darky looked up. He saw the approaching machine, and he seemed to lose possession of his senses.
"Whoa, Boomerang!" cried the negro. "Whoa! Suffin's gwine t' happen!"
"That's what!" muttered Tom desperately, as he saw that there was not room for him to pass without going into the ditch, a proceeding that would mean an upset. "Pull out of the way!" he yelled again.
But either the driver could not understand, or did not appreciate the necessity. The mule stopped and reared up. The colored man hurried to the head of the animal to quiet it.
"Whoa, Boomerang! Jest yo' stand still!" he said.
Tom, with a great effort, managed to twist the grip and finally shut off the gasolene. But it was too late. He struck the darky with the front wheel. Fortunately the youth had managed to somewhat reduce his speed by a quick application of the brake, or the result might have been serious. As it was, the colored man was gently lifted away from the mule's head and tossed into the long grass in the ditch. Tom, by a great effort, succeeded in maintaining his seat in the saddle, and then, bringing the machine to a stop, he leaped off and turned back.
The colored man was sitting up, looking dazed.
"Whoa, Boomerang!" he murmured. "Suffin's happened!"
But the mule, who had quieted down, only waggled his ears lazily, and Tom, ready to laugh, now that he saw he had not committed manslaughter, hurried to where the colored man was sitting.