Chapter I. A Motor-Boat Auction
 

"Where are you going, Tom?" asked Mr. Barton Swift of his son as the young man was slowly pushing his motor-cycle out of the yard toward the country road. "You look as though you had some object in view."

"So I have, dad. I'm going over to Lanton."

"To Lanton? What for?"

"I want to have a look at that motor-boat."

"Which boat is that, Tom? I don't recall your speaking about a boat over at Lanton. What do you want to look at it for?"

"It's the motor-boat those fellows had who tried to get away with your turbine model invention, dad. The one they used at the old General Harkness mansion, in the woods near the lake, and the same boat that fellow used when he got away from me the day I was chasing him here."

"Oh, yes, I remember now. But what is the boat doing over at Lanton?"

"That's where it belongs. It's the property of Mr. Bently Hastings. The thieves stole it from him, and when they ran away from the old mansion, the time Mr. Damon and I raided the place, they left the boat on the lake. I turned it over to the county authorities, and they found out it belonged to Mr. Hastings. He has it back now, but I understand it's somewhat damaged, and he wants to get rid of it. He's going to sell it at auction today, and I thought I'd go over and take a look at it. You see---"

"Yes, I see, Tom," exclaimed Mr. Swift with a laugh. "I see what you're aiming at. You want a motor-boat, and you're going all around Robin Hood's barn to get at it."

"No, dad, I only---"

"Oh, I know you, Tom, my lad!" interrupted the inventor, shaking his finger at his son, who seemed somewhat confused. "You have a nice rowing skiff and a sailboat, yet you are hankering for a motor-boat. Come now, own up. Aren't you?"

"Well, dad, a motor-boat certainly would go fine on Lake Carlopa. There's plenty of room to speed her, and I wonder there aren't more of them. I was going to see what Mr. Hastings' boat would sell for, but I didn't exactly think of buying it' Still---"

"But you wouldn't buy a damaged boat, would you?"

"It isn't much damaged," and in his eagerness the young inventor (for Tom Swift had taken out several patents) stood his motor- cycle up against the fence and came closer to his father. "It's only slightly damaged," he went on. "I can easily fix it. I looked it all over before I gave it in charge of the authorities, and it's certainly a fine boat. It's worth nine hundred dollars-- -or it was when it was new."

"That's a good deal of money for a boat," and Mr. Swift looked serious, for though he was well off, he was inclined to be conservative.

"Oh, I shouldn't think of paying that much. In fact, dad, I really had no idea of bidding at the auction. I only thought I'd go over and get an idea of what the boat might sell for. Perhaps some day---"

Tom paused. Since his father had begun to question him some new plans had come into the lad's head. He looked at his parent and saw a smile beginning to work around the corners of Mr. Swift's lips. There was also a humorous look in the eyes of the older inventor. He understood boys fairly well, even if he only had one, and he knew Tom perfectly.

"Would you really like to make a bid on that boat Tom?" he asked.

"Would I, dad? Well---" The youth did not finish, but his father knew what he meant.

"I suppose a motor-boat would be a nice thing to have on Lake Carlopa," went on Mr. Swift musingly. "You and I could take frequent trips in it. It isn't like a motor-cycle, only useful for one. What do you suppose the boat will go for, Tom?"

"I hardly know. Not a high price, I believe, for motor-boats are so new on our lake that few persons will take a chance on them. But if Mr. Hastings is getting another, he will not be so particular about insisting on a high price for the old one. Then, too, the fact that it is damaged will help to keep the price down, though I know I can easily put it in good shape. I would like to make a bid, if you think it's all right."

Well, I guess you may, Tom, if you really want it. You have money of your own and a motor-boat is not a bad investment. What do you think ought to be the limit?"

"Would you consider a hundred and fifty dollars too high?"

Mr. Swift looked at Tom critically. He was plainly going over several matters in his mind, and not the least of them was the pluck his son had shown in getting back some valuable papers and a model from a gang of thieves. The lad certainly was entitled to some reward, and to allow him to get a boat might properly be part of it

"I think you could safely go as high as two hundred dollars, Tom," said Mr. Swift at length. "That would be my limit on a damaged boat for it might be better to pay a little more and get a new one. However, use your own judgment, but don't go over two hundred. So the thieves who made so much trouble for me stole that boat from Mr. Hastings, eh?"

"Yes, and they didn't take much care of it either. They damaged the engine, but the hull is in good shape. I'm ever so glad you'll let me bid on it. I'll start right off. The auction is at ten o'clock and I haven't more than time to get there."

"Now be careful how you bid. Don't raise your own figures, as I've sometimes seen women, and men too, do in their excitement. Somebody may go over your head; and if he does, let them. If you get the boat I'll be very glad on your account. But don't bring any of Anson Morse's gang back in it with you. I've seen enough of them."

"I'll not dad!" cried Tom as he trundled his motor-cycle out of the gate and into the country road that led to the village of Shopton, where he lived, and to Lanton, where the auction was to be held. The young inventor had not gone far before he turned back, leaving his machine standing on the side path.

"What's the matter?" asked his father, who had started toward one of several machine shops on the premises---shops where Mr. Swift and his son did inventive work.

"Guess I'd better get a blank check and some money," replied Tom as he entered the house. "I'll need to pay a deposit if I secure the boat."

"That's so. Well, good luck," and with his mind busy on a plan for a new kind of storage battery, the inventor went on to his workroom. Tom got some cash and his checkbook from a small safe he owned and was soon speeding over the road to Lanton, his motor- cycle making quite a cloud of dust. While he is thus hurrying along to the auction I will tell you something about him.

Tom Swift, son of Barton Swift, lived with his father and a motherly housekeeper, Mrs. Baggert, in a large house on the outskirts of the town of Shopton, in New York State. Mr. Swift had acquired considerable wealth from his many inventions and patents, but he did not give up working out his ideas simply because he had plenty of money. Tom followed in the footsteps of his parent and had already taken out several patents.

Shortly before this story opens the youth had become possessed of a motor-cycle in a peculiar fashion. As told in the first volume of this series, entitled "Tom Swift and His Motor-cycle," Tom was riding to the town of Mansburg on an errand for his father one day when he was nearly run down by a motorcyclist. A little later the same motorcyclist, who was a Mr. Wakefield Damon, of Waterfield, collided with a tree near Tom's home and was severely cut and bruised, the machine being broken. Tom and his father cared for the injured rider, and Mr. Damon, who was an eccentric individual, was so disheartened by his attempts to ride the motor-cycle that he sold it to Tom for fifty dollars, though it had cost much more.

About the same time that Tom bought the motor-cycle a firm of rascally lawyers, Smeak & Katch by name, had, in conjunction with several men, made an attempt to get control of an invention of a turbine motor perfected by Mr. Swift. The men, who were Ferguson Appleson, Anson Morse, Wilson Featherton, alias Simpson, and Jake Burke, alias Happy Harry, who sometimes disguised himself as a tramp, tried several times to steal the model.

Their anxiety to get it was due to the fact that they had invested a large sum in a turbine motor invented by another man, but their motor would not work and they sought to steal Mr. Swift's. Tom was sent to Albany on his motor-cycle to deliver the model and some valuable papers to Mr. Crawford, of the law firm of Reid & Crawford, of Washington, attorneys for Mr. Swift. Mr. Crawford had an errand in Albany and had agreed to meet Tom there with the model.

But, on the way, Tom was attacked by the gang of unscrupulous men and the model was stolen. He was assaulted and carried far away in an automobile. In an attempt to capture the gang in a deserted mansion, in the woods on the shore of Lake Carlopa, Tom was aided by Mr. Damon, of whom he had purchased the motor-cycle. The men escaped, however, and nothing could be done to punish them.

Tom was thinking of the exciting scenes he had passed through about a month previous as he spun along the road leading to Lanton.

"I hope I don't meet Happy Harry or any of his gang today," mused the lad as he turned on a little more power to enable his machine to mount a hill. "I don't believe they'll attend the auction, though. It would be too risky for them."

As Tom swung along at a rapid pace he heard, behind him, the puffing of an automobile, with the muffler cut out. He turned and cast a hasty glance behind.

"I hope that ain't Andy Foger or any of his cronies," he said to himself. "He might try to run me down just for spite. He generally rushes along with the muffler open so as to attract attention and make folks think he has a racing car."

It was not Andy, however, as Tom saw a little later, as a man passed him in a big touring car. Andy Foger, as my readers will recollect, was a red-haired, squinty-eyed lad with plenty of money and not much else. He and his cronies, including Sam Snedecker, nearly ran Tom down one day, when the latter was on his bicycle, as told in the first volume of this series. Andy had been off on a tour with his chums during the time when Tom was having such strenuous adventures and had recently returned.

"If I can only get that boat," mused Tom as he swung back into the middle of the road after the auto had passed him, "I certainly will have lots of fun. I'll make a week's tour of Lake Carlopa and take dad and Ned Newton with me." Ned was Tom's most particular chum, but as young Newton was employed in the Shopton bank, the lad did not have much time for pleasure. Lake Carlopa was a large body of water, and it would take a moderately powered boat several days to make a complete circuit of the shore, so cut up into bays and inlets was it.

In about an hour Tom was at Lanton, and as he neared the home of Mr. Hastings, which was on the shore of the lake, he saw quite a throng going down toward the boathouse.

"There'll be some lively bidding," thought Tom as he got off his machine and pushed it ahead of him through the drive and down toward the river. I hope they don't go above two hundred dollars, though."

"Get out the way there!" called a sudden voice, and looking back, Tom saw that an automobile had crept up silently behind him. In it were Andy Foger and Sam Snedecker. "Why don't you get out the way?" petulantly demanded the red-haired lad.

"Because I don't choose to," replied Tom calmly, knowing that Andy would never dare to speed up his machine on the slope leading down to the lake.

"Go ahead, bump him!" the young inventor heard Sam whisper.

"You'd better try it, if you want to get the best trouncing you ever had!" cried Tom hotly.

"Hu! I s'pose you think you're going to bid on the boat?" sneered Andy.

"Is there any law against it?" asked Tom.

"Hu! Well, you'll not get it. I'm going to take that boat," retorted the squint-eyed bully. "Dad gave me the money to get it."

"All right," answered Tom non-committally. "Go ahead. It's a free country."

He stood his motor-cycle up against a tree and went toward a group of persons who were surrounding the auctioneer. The time had arrived to start the sale. As Tom edged in closer he brushed against a man who looked at him sharply. The lad was just wondering if he had ever seen the individual before, as there seemed to be something strangely familiar about him, when the man turned quickly away, as if afraid of being recognized.

"That's odd," thought Tom, but he had no further time for speculation, as the auctioneer was mounting on a soapbox and had begun to address the gathering.