Chapter I. Tom Hopes for a Prize
 

"Father," exclaimed Tom Swift, looking up from a paper he was reading, "I think I can win that prize!"

"What prize is that?" inquired the aged inventor, gazing away from a drawing of a complicated machine, and pausing in his task of making some intricate calculations. "You don't mean to say, Tom, that you're going to have a try for a government prize for a submarine, after all."

"No," not a submarine prize, dad," and the youth laughed. "Though our Advance would take the prize away from almost any other under-water boat, I imagine. No, it's another prize I'm thinking about."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I see by this paper that the Touring Club of America has offered three thousand dollars for the speediest electric car. The tests are to come off this fall, on a new and specially built track on Long Island, and it's to be an endurance contest for twenty-four hours, or a race for distance, they haven't yet decided. But I'm going to have a try for it, dad, and, besides winning the prize, I think I'll take Andy Foger down a peg.

"What's Andy been doing now?"

"Oh, nothing more than usual. He's always mean, and looking for a chance to make trouble for me, but I didn't refer to anything special He has a new auto, you know, and he boasts that it's the fastest one in this country. I'll show him that it isn't, for I'm going to win this prize with the speediest car on the road."

"But, Tom, you haven't any automobile, you know," and Mr. Swift looked anxiously at his son, who was smiling confidently. "You can't be going to make your motor-cycle into an auto; are you?"

"No, dad."

"Then how are you going to take part in the prize contest? Besides, electric cars, as far as I know, aren't specially speedy."

"I know it, and one reason why this club has arranged the contest is to improve the quality of electric automobiles. I'm going to build an electric runabout, dad."

"An electric runabout? But it will have to be operated with a storage battery, Tom, and you haven't--"

"I guess you're going to say I haven't any storage battery, dad," interrupted Mr. Swift's son. "Well, I haven't yet, but I'm going to have one. I've been working on--"

"Oh, ho!" exclaimed the aged inventor with a laugh. "So that's what you've been tinkering over these last few weeks, eh, Tom? I suspected it was some new invention, but I didn't suppose it was that. Well, how are you coming on with it?"

"Pretty good, I think. I've got a new idea for a battery, and I made an experimental one. I gave it some pretty severe tests, and it worked fine."

"But you haven't tried it out in a car yet, over rough roads, and under severe conditions have you?"

"No, I haven't had a chance. In fact, when I invented the battery I had no idea of using it on a car I thought it might answer for commercial purposes, or for storing a current generated by windmills. But when I read that account in the papers of the Touring Club, offering a prize for the best electric car, it occurred to me that I might put my battery into an auto, and win."

"Hum," remarked Mr. Swift musingly. "I don't take much stock in electric autos, Tom. Gasolene seems to be the best, or perhaps steam, generated by gasolene. I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. All the electric runabouts I ever saw, while they were very nice cars, didn't seem able to go so very fast, or very far."

"That's true, but it's because they didn't have the right kind of a battery. You know an electric locomotive can make pretty good speed, Dad. Over a hundred miles an hour in tests."

"Yes, but they don't run by storage batteries. They have a third rail, and powerful motors," and Mr. Swift looked quizzically at his son. He loved to argue with him, for he said it made Tom think, and often the two would thus thresh out some knotty point of an invention, to the interests of both.

"Of course, Dad, there is a good deal of theory in what I'm thinking of," the lad admitted. "But it does seem to me that if you put the right kind of a battery into an automobile, it could scoot along pretty lively. Look what speed a trolley car can make."

"Yes, Tom, but there again they get their power from an overhead wire."

"Some of them don't. There's a new storage battery been invented by a New Jersey man, which does as well as the third rail or the overhead wire. It was after reading about his battery that I thought of a plan for mine. It isn't anything like his; perhaps not as good in some ways, but, for what I want, it is better in some respects, I think. For one thing it can be recharged very quickly."

"Now Tom, look here," said Mr. Swift earnestly, laying aside his papers, and coming over to where his son sat. "You know I never interfere with your inventions. In fact, the more you think of the better I like it. The airship you helped build certainly did all that could be desired, and--"

"That reminds me. Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon are out in it now," interrupted Tom. "They ought to be back soon. Yes, Dad, the airship Red Cloud certainly scooted along."

"And the submarine, too," continued the aged inventor. "Your ideas regarding that were of service to me, and helped in our task of recovering the treasure, but I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed in the storage battery. You may get it to work, but I don't believe you can make it powerful enough to attain any great speed. Why don't you confine yourself to making a battery for stationary work?"

"Because, Dad, I believe I can build a speedy car, and I'm going to try it. Besides I want to race Andy Foger, and beat him, even if I don't win the prize. I'm going to build that car, and it will make fast time."

"Well, go ahead, Tom," responded his father, after a pause. "Of course you can use the shops here as much as you want, and Mr. Sharp, Mr. Jackson, and I will help you all we can. Only don't be disappointed, that's all."

"I won't, Dad. Suppose you come out to my shop and I'll show you a sample battery I've been testing for the last week. I have it geared to a small motor, and it's been running steadily for some time. I want to see what sort of a record it's made."

Father and son crossed the yard, and entered a shop which the lad considered exclusively his own. There he had made many machines, and pieces of apparatus, and had invented a number of articles which had been patented, and yielded him considerable of an income.

"There's the battery, Dad," he said, pointing to a complicated mechanism in one corner

"What's that buzzing noise?" asked Mr. Swift. "That's the little motor I run from the new cells. Look here," and Tom switched on an electric light above the experimental battery, from which he hoped so much. It consisted of a steel can, about the size of the square gallon tin in which maple syrup comes, and from it ran two wires which were attached to a small motor that was industriously whirring away.

Tom looked at a registering gauge connected with it.

"That's pretty good," remarked the young inventor.

"What is it, Tom?" and his father peered about the shop.

"Why this motor has run an equivalent of two hundred miles on one charging of the battery! That's much better than I expected. I thought if I got a hundred out of it I'd be doing well. Dad, I believe, after I improve my battery a bit, that I'll have the very thing I want! I'll install a set of them in a car, and it will go like the wind. I'll --" Tom's enthusiastic remarks were suddenly interrupted by a low, rumbling sound.

"Thunder!" exclaimed Mr. Swift. "The storm is coming, and Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon in the airship--"

Hardly had he spoken than there sounded a crash on the roof of the Swift house, not far away. At the same time there came cries of distress, and the crash was repeated.

"Come on, Dad! Something has happened!" yelled Tom, dashing from the shop, followed by his parent. They found themselves in the midst of a rain storm, as they raced toward the house, on the roof of which the smashing noise was again heard.