Chapter XX. News of a Robbery
 

With a hand that trembled so he could scarcely hold the receiver of the telephone, Mr. Swift placed it to his ear.

"Hello! Hello!" he cried into the transmitter. "Yes, this is Mr. Swift---yes, Garret. What is it?"

Then came a series of clicks, which Tom and Ned listened to. The inventor spoke again.

"What's that? The same men? Broke in early this evening? Oh, that's too bad! Of course, I'll come at once."

There followed more meaningless clicks, which Tom wished he could translate. His father hung up the receiver, turned to him and exclaimed:

"I've been robbed again!"

"Robbed again! How, dad?"

"By that same rascally gang, Garret thinks. This evening, when he and Mrs. Baggert were in the house the burglar alarm went off. The indicator showed that the electrical shop had been entered, and the engineer hurried there. He saw a light inside and the shadows of persons on the windows. Before he could reach the shop, however, the thieves heard him coming and escaped. Oh, Tom, I should never have come away!"

"But did they take anything, dad? Perhaps Garret frightened them away before they had a chance to steal any of your things. Did you ask him that?"

"I didn't need to. He said he made a hasty exanimation before he called me up, and he is sure a number of my electrical inventions are missing. Some of them are devices I never have had patented, and if I lose them I will have no recovery."

"But just what ones are they? Perhaps we can send out a police alarm to-night."

"Garret couldn't tell that," answered Mr. Swift as be paced to and fro in the hotel office. "He doesn't know all the tools and machinery I had in there. But it is certain that some of my most valuable things have been taken."

"Never mind. Don't worry, dad," and Tom tried to speak soothingly, for he saw that his father was much excited. "We may be able to get them back. How does Garret know the same men who stole the turbine model broke in the shop this evening?"

"He saw them. One was Happy Harry, he is positive. The others he did not know, but he recognized the tramp from our description of him."

"Then we must tell the police at once."

"Yes, Tom, I wish you would telephone. I'll give you a description of the things. No, I can't do that either, for I don't know what was stolen. I must go home at once to find out. It's a good thing the motor-boat is here. Come, let's start at once. What is my bill here?" and the inventor turned to the hotel proprietor, who had come into the office. "I have suffered a severe loss and must leave at once."

"I am very sorry, sir. I'll have it ready for you in a few minutes."

"All right. Tom, is your boat ready for a quick trip?"

"Yes, dad, but I don't like to make it at night with three in. Of course it might be perfectly safe, but there's a risk, and I don't like to take it."

"Don't worry about the risk on my account, Tom. I'm not afraid. I must get home and see of what I have been robbed."

The young inventor was in a quandary. He wanted to do as his father requested and to aid him all he could, yet he knew that an all-night trip in the boat down the lake would be dangerous, not only from the chance of running on an unknown shore or into a hidden rock, but because Mr. Swift was not physically fitted to stand the journey.

"Come, Tom," exclaimed the aged inventor impatiently, "we must start at once!"

"Won't morning do as well, dad?"

"No, I must start now. I could not sleep worrying over what has happened. We will start---"

At that instant there came a low, rumbling peal of thunder. Mr. Swift started and peered from a window. There came a flash of lightning and another vibrant report from the storm-charged clouds.

"There is your bill, Mr. Swift," remarked the proprietor, coming up, "but I would not advise you to start to-night. There is a bad storm in the west, and it will reach here in a few minutes. Storms on Lake Carlopa, especially at this open and exposed end, are not to be despised, I assure you."

"But I must get home!" insisted Tom's father.

The lace curtain over the window blew almost straight out with a sudden breeze, and a flash of lightning so bright that it reflected even in the room where the incandescent electrics were glowing made several others jump. Then came a mighty crash, and with that the flood-gates of the storm were opened, and the rain came down in torrents. Tom actually breathed a sigh of relief. The problem was solved for him. It would be impossible to start to-night, and he was glad of it, much as he wanted to get on the trail of the thieves.

There was a scurrying on the part of the hotel attendants to close the windows, and the guests who had been enjoying the air out on the porches came running in. With a rush, a roar and a muttering, as peal after peal of thunder sounded, the deluge continued.

"It's a good thing we didn't start," observed Ned.

"I should say so," agreed Tom. "But we'll get off the first thing in the morning, dad."

Mr. Swift did not reply, but his nervous pacing to and fro in the hotel office showed how anxious he was to be at home again. There was no help for it, however, and, after a time, finding that to think of reaching his house that night was out of the question, the inventor calmed down somewhat,

The storm continued nearly all night, as Tom could bear witness, for he did not sleep well, nor did his father. And when he came down to breakfast in the morning Mr. Swift plainly showed the effects of the bad news. His face was haggard and drawn and his eyes smarted and burned from lack of sleep.

"Well, Tom, we must start early," he said nervously. "I am glad it has cleared off. Is the boat all ready?"

"Yes, and it's a good thing it was under shelter last night or we'd have to bail it out now, and that would delay us."

An hour later they were under way, having telephoned to the engineer at the Swift home that they were coming. Garret Jackson reported over the wire that he had notified the Shopton police of the robbery, but that little could be done until the inventor arrived to give a description of the stolen articles.

"And that will do little good, I fear," remarked Tom. "Those fellows have evidently been planning this for some time and will cover their tracks well. I'd like to catch them, not only to recover your things, dad, but to find out the mystery of my boat and why the man took the tank braces."