Chapter XII. The Try Out
 

Once the current was cut off it was safe to approach the body of the young inventor. Mr Sharp stooped over and lifted Tom's form from the floor, for Mr. Swift was too excited and trembled too much to be of any service. Our hero was as one dead. His body was limp, after that first rigid stretching out, as the current ran through him; his eyes were closed, and his face was very pale.

"Is--is there any hope?" faltered Mr. Swift.

"I think so," replied the balloonist. "He is still breathing- faintly. We must summon a doctor at once. Will you telephone for one, while I carry him in the house?"

As Mr. Sharp emerged from the shop, bearing Tom's body, an automobile drew up in front of the place.

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed a voice. "Tom's hurt! How did it happen? Bless my very existence!"

"Oh, Mr. Damon, you're just in time!" exclaimed Mr. Sharp, "Tom's had a bad shock. Will you go for a doctor in your auto?"

"Better than that! Let me take Tom in the car to Dr. Whiteside's office," proposed the eccentric man. "It will be better that way."

"Yes, yes," agreed Mr. Swift eagerly. "Put Tom in the auto!"

"If only it doesn't break down," added Mr. Damon fervently. "Bless my spark plug, but it would be just my luck!"

But they started off all right, Mr. Swift riding in front with Mr. Damon, and Mr. Sharp supporting Tom in the tonneau. Only a little fluttering of the eyelids, and a slow, faint breathing told that Tom Swift still lived.

Mr. Damon never guided a car better than he did his auto that day. Several speed laws were broken, but no one appeared to stop them, and, in record time they had the young inventor at the physician's house. Fortunately Dr. Whiteside was at home, and, under his skillful treatment Tom was soon out of danger. His heart action was properly started, and then it was only a question of time. As the doctor had plenty of room it was decided to let the lad remain that night, and Tom was soon installed in a spare bedroom, with the doctor's pretty daughter to wait on him occasionally.

"Oh, I'm all right," the youth insisted, when Miss Whiteside told him it was time for his medicine. "I'm all right."

"You're not!" she declared. "I ought to know, for I'm going to be a nurse, some day, and help papa. Now take this or I'll have to hold your nose, as they do the baby's," and she held out a spoonful of unpleasant looking mixture, extending her dainty forefinger and thumb of her other hand, as if to administer dire punishment to Tom, if he did not obey.

"Well, I give in to superior strength," he said with a laugh, as he noted, with approval, the laughing face of his nurse.

Then he fell into a deep sleep, and was so much better the next morning that he could be taken home in Mr. Damon's auto.

"But mind, no hard work for three or four days," insisted the physician. "I want your heart to get in shape for that big race you were telling me about. The shock was a severe strain to it."

Tom promised, reluctantly, and, though he did no work, his first act, on reaching home, was to go out to the shop, to inspect the battery and motor. To his surprise the motor was running for the lad had established the connection, in spite of his shock and his father and Mr. Sharp had decided to let the machinery run until he came back.

"And look at the record it's made!" cried Tom delightedly as he glanced at the gauge "Better than I figured on. That battery is a wonder. I'll have the fastest electric runabout you ever saw."

"If the wires don't get crossed again," put in Mr. Sharp. "You'd better make an examination, Tom," and, for the first time, the young inventor learned how he had been shocked.

"Crossed wires! I should say they were crossed!" he exclaimed as he looked at the switches and copper conductors. "Somebody has been tampering with them. No wonder I was shocked!"

"Who did it?" asked Mr. Sharp.

Tom considered for a moment, before answering. Then he said:

"I believe it was Addison Berg. He must have wanted to do some damage, to get even with us for getting that treasure away from him."

"Berg?" questioned the balloonist, and Tom told of the night he had been tripped into the brook, and exhibited the watch charm he had secured. Mr. Sharp recognized it at once. A further examination confirmed the belief that the submarine agent had sneaked into Tom's workshop, and had altered the wires.

"They were all right when I came out of the shop that night," declared Tom. "I left the old connections just as I thought I had arranged them, and only added the new ones, when I went to try my battery. The old connections were crossed, but I didn't notice it. Then when I turned on the current I got the shock. I don't s'pose Berg thought I'd be so nearly killed. Probably he wanted to burn out my motor, and spoil it. If it was Andy Foger I could understand it, but a man like Berg--"

"He's probably wild with anger because his submarine got the worst of it in the race for the gold," interrupted the balloonist. "Well, we'll have to be on our guard, that's all. What was the matter with Eradicate, that he didn't see him enter the shop?"

"Rad went to a colored dance that night," said Tom. "I let him off. But after this I'll have the shop guarded night and day. My motor might have been ruined, if that first charge hadn't gone through my body instead of into the machinery." The improper connections were soon removed and others substituted.

It was agreed between Tom and Mr. Sharp that they would say nothing regarding Mr. Berg to Mr. Swift. The aeronaut caused cautious inquiries to be made, and learned that the agent had been discharged by the submarine firm, because of some wrong- doing in connection with the craft Wonder, and it was surmised that the agent believed Tom to be at the bottom of his troubles.

In a few days the young inventor was himself again, and as further trials of his battery showed it to be even better than its owner hoped, arrangements were made for testing it in the car on the road.

The runabout was nearly finished, but it lacked a coat of varnish, and some minor details, when Tom, assisted by his father, Mr Sharp and Mr. Jackson, one morning, about a week later, installed the motor and battery units. It did not take long to gear up the machinery, connect the battery and, though the car was rather a crude looking affair, Tom decided to give it a try-out

"Want to come along, Dad?" he asked, as he tightened up some binding posts, and looked to see that the steering wheel, starting and reverse levers worked properly, and that the side chains were well lubricated.

"Not the first time," replied his father. "Let's see how it runs with you, first."

"Oh, I want some sort of a load in it," went on the lad. "It won't be a good test unless I have a couple of others besides myself. How about you, Mr. Damon?" for the old gentleman was spending a few days at the Swift homestead.

"Bless my shoe buttons! I'll come!" was the ready answer. "After the experience I've been through in the airship and submarine, nothing can scare me. Lead on, I'll follow!"

"I don't suppose you'll hang back after that; will you, Mr. Sharp?" asked the lad, with a laugh.

"I don't dare to, for the sake of my reputation," was the reply, for the balloonist who had made many ascensions, and dropped thousands of feet in parachutes, was naturally a brave man.

So he and Mr. Damon climbed into the rear seats of the odd- looking electric car, while Tom took his place at the steering wheel.

"Are you all ready?" he asked.

"Let her go!" fired back Mr. Sharp.

"Bless my galvanometer, don't go too fast on the start," cautioned Mr. Damon, nervously.

"I'll not," agreed the young inventor. "I want to get it warmed up before I try any speeding."

He turned on the current. There was a low, humming purr, which gradually increased to a whine, and the car moved slowly forward. It rolled along the gravel driveway to the road, Tom listening to every sound of the machinery, as a mother listens to the breathing of a child.

"She's moving!" he cried.

"But not much faster than a wheelbarrow," said his father, who sometimes teased his son.

"Wait!" cried the youth.

Tom turned more current into the motor. The purring and humming increased, and the car seemed to leap forward. It was in the road now, and, once assured that the steering apparatus was working well, Tom suddenly turned on much more speed.

So quickly did the electric auto shoot forward that Mr. Damon and Mr. Sharp were jerked back against the cushions of the rear seats.

"Here! What are you doing?" inquired Mr. Sharp.

"I'm going to show you a little speed," answered Tom.

The car was now moving rapidly, and there was a smoothness and lightness to its progress that was absent from a gasolene auto. There was no vibration from the motor. Faster and faster it ran, until it was moving at a speed scarcely less than that of Mr. Damon's car, when it was doing its best. Of course that was not saying much, for the car owned by the odd gentleman was not a very powerful one, but it could make fast time occasionally.

"Is this the best you can do?" asked Mr. Damon. "Not that it isn't fast," he hastened to add, "and I was wondering if it was your limit."

"Not half!" cried Tom, as he turned on a little more power. "I'm not trying for a record to-day. I just want to see how the battery and motor behaves."

"Pretty well, I should say," commented Mr. Sharp.

"I'm satisfied--so far," agreed the lad.

They were now moving along the highway at a good speed--moving almost silently, too, for the motor, save for a low hum, made no noise. So quiet was the car, in fact, that it was nearly the cause of a disaster. Tom was so interested in the performance of his latest invention, that, before he knew it, he had come up behind a farmer, driving a team of skittish horses. As the big machine went past them, giving no warning of its approach, the steeds reared up, and would have bolted, but for the prompt action of the driver.

"Hey!" he cried, angrily, as Tom speeded past, "don't you know you got to give warnin' when you're comin' with one of them ther gol-swizzled things! By Jehossephat I'll have th' law on ye ef ye do thet ag'in!"

"I forgot to ring the bell," apologized Tom, as he sent out a peal from the gong, and then, he let out a few more amperes, and the speed increased.

"Hold on! I guess this is fast enough!" cried Mr. Damon, as his hat blew off.

"Fast?" answered Tom. "This is nothing to what I'll do when I use the full power. Then I'll--"

He was interrupted by a sharp report, and a vivid flash of fire on a switch board near the steering wheel. The motor gave a sort of groan, and stopped, the car rolling on a little way, and then becoming stationary.

"Bless my collar button!" ejaculated Mr. Damon.

"What's the matter?" inquired Mr. Sharp.

"Some sort of a blow-out," answered Tom ruefully, as he shoved the starting handle over, trying to move the car. But it would not budge. The new auto had "gone dead" on her first tryout. The young inventor was grievously disappointed.