Chapter VIII. Suspicious Actions
 

"Are you hurt?" asked Tom as he leaned his motor-cycle against the fence and stood beside the negro.

"Hurt?" repeated the darky. "I'se killed, dat's what I is! I ain't got a whole bone in mah body! Good landy, but I suttinly am in a awful state! Would yo' mind tellin' me if dat ar' mule am still alive?"

"Of course he is," answered Tom. "He isn't hurt a bit. But why can't you turn around and look for yourself?"

"No, sah! No, indeedy, sah!" replied the colored man. "Yo' doan't catch dis yeah nigger lookin' around!"

"Why not?"

"Why not? 'Cause I'll tell yo' why not. I'm so stiff an' I'm so nearly broke t' pieces, dat if I turn mah head around it suah will twist offen mah body. No, sah! No, indeedy, sah, I ain't gwine t' turn 'round. But am yo' suah dat mah mule Boomerang ain't hurted?"

"No, he's not hurt a bit, and I'm sure you are not. I didn't strike you hard, for I had almost stopped my machine. Try to get up. I'm positive you'll find yourself all right. I'm sorry it happened."

"Oh, dat's all right. Doan't mind me," went on the colored man. "It was mah fault fer gittin in de road. But dat mule Boomerang am suttinly de most outrageous quadruped dat ever circumlocuted."

"Why do you call him Boomerang?" asked Tom, wondering if the negro really was hurt.

"What fo' I call him Boomerang? Did yo' eber see dem Australian black mans what go around wid a circus t'row dem crooked sticks dey calls boomerangs?"

"Yes, I've seen them."

"Well, Boomerang, mah mule, am jest laik dat. He's crooked, t' begin wid, an' anudder t'ing, yo' can't never tell when yo' start him whar he's gwine t' land up. Dat's why I calls him Boomerang."

"I see. It's a very proper name. But why don't you try to get up?"

"Does yo' t'ink I can?"

"Sure. Try it. By the way, what's your name?"

"My name? Why I was christened Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, but folks most ginnerally calls me Eradicate Sampson, an' some doan't eben go to dat length. Dey jest calls me Rad, fo' short."

"Eradicate," mused Tom. "That's a queer name, too. Why were you called that?"

"Well, yo' see I eradicates de dirt. I'm a cleaner an' a whitewasher by profession, an' somebody gib me dat name. Dey said it were fitten an' proper, an' I kept it eber sence. Yais, sah, I'se Eradicate Sampson, at yo' service. Yo' ain't got no chicken coops yo' wants cleaned out, has yo'? Or any stables or fences t' whitewash? I guarantees satisfaction."

"Well, I might find some work for you to do," replied the young inventor, thinking this would be as good a means as any of placating the darky. "But come, now, try and see if you can't stand. I don't believe I broke any of your legs."

"I guess not. I feels better now. Where am dat work yo' was speakin' ob?" and Eradicate Sampson, now that there seemed to be a prospect of earning money, rose quickly and easily.

"Why, you're all right!" exclaimed Tom, glad to find that the accident had had no serious consequences.

"Yais, sah, I guess I be. Whar did yo' say, yo' had some whitewashin' t' do?"

"No place in particular, but there is always something that needs doing at our house. If you call I'll give you a job."

"Yais, sah, I'll be sure to call," and Eradicate walked back to where Boomerang was patiently waiting.

Tom told the colored man how to find the Swift home, and was debating with himself whether he ought not to offer Eradicate some money as compensation for knocking him into the air, when he noticed that the negro was tying one wheel of his wagon fast to the body of the vehicle with a rope.

"What are you doing that for?" asked Tom.

"Got to, t' git downhill wid dis load ob fence posts," was the answer. "Ef I didn't it would he right on to de heels ob Boomerang, an' wheneber he feels anyt'ing on his heels he does act wuss dan a circus mule."

"But why don't you use your brake? I see you have one on the wagon. Use the brake to hold back going downhill."

"'Scuse me, Mistah Swift, 'scuse me!" exclaimed Eradicate quickly. "But yo' doan't know dat brake. It's wuss dan none at all. It doan't work, fer a fact. No, indeedy, sah. I'se got to rope de wheel."

Tom was interested at once. He made an examination of the brake, and soon saw why it would not hold the wheels. The foot lever was not properly connected with the brake bar. It was a simple matter to adjust it by changing a single bolt, and this Tom did with tools he took from the bag on his motor-cycle. The colored man looked on in open-mouthed amazement, and even Boomerang peered lazily around, as if taking an interest in the proceedings.

"There," said Tom at length, as he tightened the nut. "That brake will work now, and hold the wagon on any hill. You won't need to rope the wheel. You didn't have the right leverage on it."

"'Scuse me, Mistah Swift, but what's dat yo' said?" and Eradicate leaned forward to listen deferentially.

"I said you didn't have the right leverage."

"No, sah, Mistah Swift, 'scuse me, but yo' made a slight mistake. I ain't never had no liverage on dis yeah wagon. It ain't dat kind ob a wagon. I onct drove a livery rig, but dat were some years ago. I ain't worked fo' de livery stable in some time now. Dat's why I know dere ain't no livery on dis wagon. Yo'll 'scuse me, but yo' am slightly mistaken."

"All right," rejoined Tom with a laugh, not thinking it worth while to explain what he meant by the lever force of the brake rod. "Let it go at that. Livery or no livery, your brake will work now. I guess you're all right. Now don't forget to come around and do some whitewashing," and seeing that the colored man was able to mount to the seat and start off Boomerang, who seemed to have deep-rooted objections about moving, Tom wheeled his motor-cycle back to the road.

Eradicate Sampson drove his wagon a short distance and then suddenly applied the brake. It stopped short, and the mule looked around as if surprised.

"It suah do work, Mistah Swift!" called the darky to Tom, who was waiting the result of his little repair job. "It suah do work!"

"I'm glad of it."

"Mah golly! But yo' am suttinly a conjure-man when it comes t' fixin' wagons! Did yo' eber work fer a blacksmith?"

"No, not exactly. Well, good-by, Eradicate. I'll look for you some day next week."

With that Tom leaped on his machine and speeded off ahead of the colored man and his rig. As he passed the load of fence posts the youth heard Eradicate remark in awestricken tones:

"Mah golly! He suttinly go laik de wind! An' t' t'ink dat I were hit by dat monstrousness machine, an' not hurted! Mah golly! T'ings am suttinly happenin'! G'lang, Boomerang!"

"This machine has more possibilities in it than I suspected," mused Tom. "But one thing I've got to change, and that is the gasolene and spark controls. I don't like them the way they are. I want a better leverage, just as Eradicate needed on his wagon. I'll fix them, too, when I get home."

He rode for several hours, until he thought it was about dinner time, and then, heading the machine toward home, he put on all the speed possible, soon arriving where his father was at work in the shop.

"Well, how goes it?" asked Mr. Swift with a smile as he looked at the flushed face of his son.

"Fine, dad! I scooted along in great shape. Had an adventure, too."

"You didn't meet any more of those men, did you? The men who are trying to get my invention?" asked Mr. Swift apprehensively.

"No, indeed, dad. I simply had a little run-in with a chap named Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, otherwise known as Rad Sampson, and I engaged him to do some whitewashing for us. We do need some white washing done, don't we, dad?"

"What's that?" asked Mr. Swift, thinking his son was joking.

Then Tom told of the happening.

"Yes, I think I can find some work for Eradicate to do," went on Mr. Swift. "There is some dirt in the boiler shop that needs eradicating, and I think he can do it. But dinner has been waiting some time. We'll go in now, or Mrs. Baggert will be out after us."

Father and son were soon at the table, and Tom was explaining what he meant to do to improve his motor-cycle. His father offered some suggestions regarding the placing of the gasolene lever.

"I'd put it here," he said, and with his pencil he began to draw a diagram on the white table cloth.

"Oh, my goodness me, Mr. Swift!" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert. "Whatever are you doing?" and she sprang up in some alarm.

"What's the matter? Did I upset my tea?" asked the inventor innocently.

"No; but you are soiling a clean tablecloth. Pencil-marks are so hard to get out. Take a piece of paper, please."

"Oh, is that all?" rejoined Mr. Swift with a smile. "Well, Tom, here is the way I would do that," and substituting the back of an envelope for the tablecloth, he continued the drawing.

Tom was looking over his father's shoulder interestedly, when Mrs. Baggert, who was taking off some of the dinner dishes, suddenly asked:

"Are you expecting a visitor, Mr. Swift?"

"A visitor? No. Why?" asked the inventor quickly.

"Because I just saw a man going in the machine shop," went on the housekeeper.

"A man! In the machine shop!" exclaimed Tom, rising from his chair. Mr. Swift also got up, and the two hurried from the house. As they reached the yard they saw a man emerging from the building where Mr. Swift was constructing his turbine motor. The man had his back turned toward them and seemed to be sneaking around, as though desirous of escaping observation.

"What do you want?" called Mr. Swift.

The man turned quickly. At the sight of Mr. Swift and Tom he made a jump to one side and got behind a big packing-box.

"That's queer," spoke Tom. "I wonder what he wants?"

"I'll soon see," rejoined Mr. Swift, and he started on a run toward where the man was hiding. Tom followed his father, and as the two inventors reached the box the man sprang from behind it and down the yard to a lane that passed in back of the Swift house. As he ran he was seen to stuff some papers in his pocket.

"My plans! He's stolen some of my plans!" cried Mr. Swift. "Catch him, Tom!"

Tom ran after the stranger, whose curious actions had roused their suspicions, while Mr. Swift entered the motor shop to ascertain whether anything had been stolen.