Chapter X. Tom Has a Fall
 

The young inventor told more details of his adventure in the woods, but, though the farmers questioned him closely, he would not give a single name of his assailants.

"But I should think you'd want to have them punished," remarked Mr. Mason.

"I'll attend to that part later," answered Tom. "Besides, most of them didn't know what they were doing. They were led on by one or two. No, I'll fight my own battles. But I wish you'd lend me a lantern long enough to find my motor-cycle. The moon doesn't give much light in the woods, and those fellows may have hidden my machine."

Mr. Mason and his companions readily agreed to accompany Tom on a search for his wheel. It was found just where he had dismounted from it in the road. Andy and his cronies had evidently had enough of their encounter with our hero, and did not dare to annoy him further.

"Do you think you can ride home?" asked one of the farmers of the lad, when he had ascertained that his machine was in running order.

"Well, it's risky without my lantern," answered Tom. "They smashed that for me. But I guess I can manage."

"No, you can't!" insisted Mr. Mason. "You're stiff from being tied up; and you can't ride. Now you just wheel that contraption over to my place, and I'll hitch up and take you home. It isn't far."

"Oh, I couldn't think of troubling you," declared Tom. At the same time he felt that he was in no condition to ride.

"It's no trouble at all," insisted Mr. Mason. "I guess your father and I are good enough friends to allow me to have my way. You can come over and get your choo-choo bicycle in the morning."

A little later Tom was being rapidly driven toward his home, where he found his father and Mrs. Baggert, to say nothing of Mr. Sharp, somewhat alarmed over his absence, as it was getting late. The youth told as much of his adventure as he thought would not alarm his father, making a sort of joke of it, and, later, related all the details to the balloonist.

"We'll have to get after Andy again," declared the aeronaut. "He needs another toning down."

"Yes, similar to the one he got when we nearly ran away with his automobile, by catching the airship anchor on it," added Tom with a laugh. "But I fancy Andy will steer clear of me for a while. I'm sorry I had to use up that chemical powder, though. Now I can't start my battery until to-morrow." But the next day Tom made up for lost time, by working from early until late. He went over to Mr. Mason's, got his motor-cycle, procured some more of the chemical, and soon had his storage battery in running order. Then he arranged for a more severe test, and while that was going on he worked at completing the body of the electric runabout. The vehicle was beginning to look like a car, though it was not of the regulation pattern.

For the next week Tom was very busy, so occupied, in fact, that he scarcely took time for his meals, which caused Mrs. Baggert no little worriment, for she was a housekeeper who liked to see others enjoy her cooking.

"Well, Tom, how are you coming on?" asked his father one night, as they sat on the porch, Mr. Sharp with them.

"Pretty well, Dad," was the answer of the young inventor. "I'll put the wheels on tomorrow, and then set the batteries. I've got the motor all finished; and all I'll have to do will be to connect it up, and then I'll be ready for a trial on the road."

"And you still think you'll beat all records?"

"I'm pretty sure of it, Dad. You see the amperage will be exceptionally high, and my batteries will have a large amount of reserve, with little internal resistance. But do you know I'm so tired I can hardly think. It's more of a job than I thought it would be."

Tom, a little later, strolled down the road. As he turned back toward the house and walked up the shrubbery lined path he heard a noise.

"Some one's hiding in there!" thought the lad, and he darted to an opening in the hedge to reach the other side. As he did so he saw a figure running away. Whether it was a man or a boy he could not tell in the darkness.

"Hold on there!" cried the young inventor, but, naturally, the fleeing one did not stop. Tom began to sprint, and as it was slightly down hill, he made good time. The figure ahead of him was running well, too, but Tom who could see better, now that he was out from under the trees, noticed that he was gaining. The fleeing one came to a little brook, and hesitated a moment before leaping across. This enabled Tom to catch up, and he made a grab for the figure, just as the man or boy sprang across the little stream.

Tom missed his grip, but he was not going to give up. He scarcely slackened his speed, but, with the momentum he had acquired in racing down the hill, he, too, leaped across the brook. As he landed on the other side he made another grab for the figure, a man, as Tom could now see, but he could make out no features, as the person's hat was pulled down over his face.

"I've got you now!" cried Tom exultantly, reaching out his hand. His fingers clutched something, but the next instant the young inventor went sprawling. The other had put out his foot, and tripped him neatly and, Tom throwing out his hands to save himself in the fall that was inevitable, went splashing into the brook at full length. The unknown, pausing a moment to view what he had done, turned quickly and raced off in the darkness.