Tom Swift And His Electric Runabout by Victor Appleton
Chapter XI. Crossed Wires
More surprised than hurt, and with a feeling of chagrin and anger at the trick which had been played on him, Tom managed to scramble out of the brook. The water was not deep, but he had splashed in with such force that he was wet all over. And, as he got up, the water drip-ping from his clothes, the lad was conscious of a pain in his head. He put up his hand, and found that contact with a stone had raised a large lump on his forehead. It was as big as a hen's egg.
"Humph! I'll be a pretty sight to-morrow," murmured Tom. "I wonder who that fellow was, anyhow, and what he wanted? He tripped me neatly enough, whoever he was. I've a good notion to keep on after him."
Then, as he realized what a start the fleeing one had, the young inventor knew that it would be fruitless to renew the chase. Slowly he ascended the sloping bank, and started for home. As he did so he realized that he had, clasped in his fingers, something he had grabbed from the person he was pursuing just before his unlucky tumble.
"It's part of his watch chain!" exclaimed Tom, as he felt of the article. "I must have ripped it loose when I fell. Wonder what it is? Evidently some sort of a charm. Maybe it will be a clue." He tried to discern of what style it was, but in the dark woods this was impossible. Then the lad tried to strike a match, but those in his pocket had become wet from his unexpected bath. "I'll have to wait until I get home," he went on, and he hastened his steps, for he was anxious to see what he had torn loose from the person who appeared to be spying on him.
"Why Tom, what's the matter?" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert, when he entered the kitchen, dripping water at every step. "Is it raining outside? I didn't hear any storm."
"It was raining where I was," replied Tom angrily. "I fell in the brook. It was so hot I thought I'd cool off."
"With your best suit on!" ejaculated the housekeeper.
"It isn't my best," retorted the lad. "But I went in before I thought. It was an accident; I fell," he added, lest Mrs. Baggert take his joking remarks seriously. He did not want to tell her of the chase.
The chief concern of the lad now was to look at the charm and, as soon as Mrs. Baggert's attention was attracted elsewhere, Tom glanced at the object he still held tightly clenched in his hand. As the light from the kitchen fell upon it he could hardly repress an exclamation of astonishment.
For the charm that he held in his hand was one he had seen before dangling from the watch chain of Addison Berg, the agent for Bentley & Eagert, submarine boat builders, which firm had, as told in "Tom Swift and His Submarine," tried unsuccessfully to secure the gold treasure from the sunken wreck. Berg and his associates had even gone so far as to try to disable the Advance, the boat of Tom and his father, by ramming her when deep down under the ocean, but Mr. Swift's use of an electric cannon had broken the steering gear of the Wonder, the rival craft, and from that time on Tom and his friends had a clear field to search for the bullion held fast in the hold of the Boldero. "Addison Berg," murmured Tom, as he looked at the watch charm. "What can he be doing in this neighborhood? Hiding, too, as if he wanted to overhear something. That's the way he did when we were building our submarine, and now he's up to the same trick when I'm constructing my electric car. I'm sure this charm is his. It is such a peculiar design that I'm positive I can't be mistaken. I thought, when I was chasing after him, that it would turn out to be Andy Foger, or some of the boys, but it was too big for them. Addison Berg, eh? What can he be doing around here? I must not tell Dad, or he'd worry himself sick. But I must be on my guard."
Tom examined the charm closely. It was a compass, but made in an odd form, and was much ornamented.
The young inventor had noticed it on several occasions when he had been in conversation with Mr. Berg previous to the attempt on the part of the owners of the rival submarine to wreck Tom's boat. He felt that he could not be mistaken in identifying the charm.
"Berg was afraid I'd catch him, and ask for an explanation that would have been awkward to make," thought the lad, as he turned the charm over in his hand. "That's why he tripped me up. But I'll get at the bottom of this yet. Maybe he wants to steal my ideas for an electric car."
Tom's musings were suddenly interrupted by Mrs. Baggert.
"I hope you're not going to stand there all night," she said, with a laugh. "You're in the middle of a puddle now, but when you get over dreaming I'd like to mop it up."
"All right," agreed the young inventor, coming to himself suddenly. "Guess I'd better go get some dry clothes on."
"You'd better go to bed," advised Mrs. Baggert. "That's where your father and Mr. Sharp are. It's late."
The more Tom thought over the strange occurrence the more it puzzled him. He mused over the presence of Berg as he went about his work the next day, for that it was the agent whom he had pursued he felt positive.
"But I can't figure out why he was hanging around here," mused Tom.
Then, as he found that his thoughts over the matter were interfering with his work, he resolutely put them from him, and threw himself energetically into the labor of completing his electric car. The new batteries, he found, were working well, and in the next two days he had constructed several more, joining them so as to get the combined effect.
It was the afternoon of the third day from Tom's unexpected fall into the brook that the young inventor decided on the first important test of his new device. He was going to try the motor, running it with his storage battery. Some of the connections were already in place, the wires being fastened to the side of the shop, where they were attached to switches. Tom did not go over these, taking it for granted that they were all right. He soon had the motor, which he was to install in his car, wired to the battery, and then he attached a gauge, to ascertain, by comparison, how many miles he could hope to travel on one charging of the storage battery.
"Guess I'll call Dad and Mr. Sharp in to see how it works, before I turn on the current," he said to himself. He was about to summon his parent and the aeronaut from an adjoining shop, where they were working over a new form of dynamo, when the lad caught sight of the watch charm he had left on his desk, in plain sight.
"Better put that away," he remarked. "Dad or Mr. Sharp might see it, and ask questions. Then I'd have to explain, and I don't want to, not until I get further toward the bottom of this thing."
He put the charm away, and then summoned his father and the balloonist.
"You're going to see a fine experiment," declared Tom. "I'm going to turn on the full strength of my battery."
"Are you sure it's all right, Tom?" asked his father. "You can't be too careful when you're dealing with electricity of high voltage, and great ampere strength.
"Oh, it's all right, Dad," his son assured him "Now watch my motor hum."
He walked over to a big copper switch, and grasped the black rubber handle to pull it over which would send the current from the storage battery into the combination of wheels and gears that he hoped, ultimately, would propel his electric automobile along the highways, or on a track, at the rate of a hundred miles an hour.
"Here she goes!" cried Tom. For an instant he hesitated and then pulled the switch. At the same time his hand rested on another wire, stretched across a bench.
No sooner had the switch closed than there was a blinding flash, a report as of a gun being fired, and Tom's body seemed to straighten out. Then a blue flame appeared to encircle him and he dropped to the floor of the shop, an inert mass.
"He's killed!" cried Mr. Swift, springing forward.
"Careful!" cautioned the balloonist. "He's been shocked! Don't touch him until I turn off the current!" As he pulled out the switch, the aeronaut gave a glance at the apparatus.
"There's something wrong here!" he cried. "The wires have been crossed! That's what shocked Tom, but he never made the wrong connections! He's too good an electrician! There's been some one in this shop, changing the wires!"