Chapter XIII. Towed by a Mule
 

"Bless my gizzard! Is it anything serious?" asked Mr. Damon. "Will it blow up, or anything like that?"

"No," replied the lad, as he leaped out of the car, and began to make an examination. Mr. Sharp assisted him.

"The motor seems to be all right," remarked the balloonist, as he inspected it.

"Yes," agreed our hero, "and the batteries have plenty of power left in them yet. The gauge shows that. I can't understand what the trouble can be, unless--" He paused in his remark and uttered an exclamation. "I've found it!" he cried.

"What?" demanded the aeronaut.

"Some of the fuses blew out. I turned on too much current, and the fuses wouldn't carry it. I put them in to save the motor from being burned out, but I didn't use heavy enough ones. I see where my mistake was."

"But what does it mean?" inquired Mr. Damon.

"It means that we've got to walk back home," was Tom's sorrowful answer. "The car is stalled, for I haven't any extra fuses with me."

"Can't you connect up the battery by using some extra wire?" asked Mr. Sharp. "I have some," and he drew a coil of it from his pocket.

"I wouldn't dare to. It might be so heavy that it would carry more current than the motor could stand. I don't want to burn that out. No, I guess we'll have to walk home, or rather I will. You two can stay here until I come back with heavier fuses. I'm sorry."

Tom had hardly ceased speaking, when, from around the turn in the road proceeded a voice, and, at the sound of it all three started, for the voice was saying:

"Now it ain't no use fer yo' to act dat-a-way, Boomerang. Yo' all ain't got no call t' git contrary now, jest when I wants t' git home t' mah dinner. I should t'ink you'd want t' git t' de stable, too. But ef yo' all ain't mighty keerful I'll cut down yo' rations, dat's what I'se goin' to do. G'lang, now, dat's a good feller. Ho! Ho! I knowed dat'd fetch yo' all. When yo' all wiggles yo' ears dat-a-way, dat's a suah sign yo' all is gwine t' move."

Then followed the sound of a rattletrap of a wagon approaching.

"Eradicate! It's Eradicate!" exclaimed Tom.

"And his mule, Boomerang!" added Mr. Sharp. "He's just in time!" commented Mr. Damon with a sigh of relief, as the ancient outfit, in charge of the aged colored man, came along. Eradicate had been sent to Shopton to get a load of wood for Mr. Swift, and was now returning. At the sight of the stalled auto the mule pricked up his long ears, and threw them forward.

"Whoa dar, now, Boomerang!" cried Eradicate. "Doan't yo' all commence t' gittin' skittish. Dat machine ain't gwine t' hurt yo'. Why good land a' massy! Ef 'tain't Mistah Swift!" cried the colored man, as he caught sight of Tom. "What's de trouble?" he asked.

"Broke down," answered the young inventor briefly. "You always seem to come along when I'm in trouble, Rad."

"Dat's right," assented the darkey, with a grin. "Me an' trouble am ole acquaintances. Sometimes she hits me a clip on de haid, den, ag'in Boomerang, mah mule, gits it. He jest had his trouble. Got a stone under his shoe, an' didn't want t' move. Den when I did git him started he balked on me. But I'se all right now. But I suah am sorry fo' you. Can't I help yo' all, Mistah Swift?"

"Yes, you can, Rad," answered Tom. "Drive home as fast as you can, and ask Dad to send back with you some of those fuses he'll find on my work bench. He knows what I want. Hurry there and hurry back."

Eradicate shook his head doubtfully.

"What's the matter? Don't you want to go?" asked Mr. Sharp, a trifle nettled. "We can't get the car started until we have some new fuses.."

"Oh, I wants t' go all right 'nuff, Mistah Sharp," was Eradicate's prompt answer. "Yo' all knows I'd do anyt'ing t' 'blige yo' or Mistah Swift. But hits dish yeah mule, Boomerang. I jest done promised him dat we were gwine home t' dinnah, an' he 'spects a manger full ob oats. Ef I got to Mistah Swift's house wid him, I couldn't no mo' git him t' come back widout his dinnah, dan yo' all kin git dat 'ar car t' move widout dem fusin' t'ings yo' all talked about."

"Bless my necktie!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "That's all nonsense! You don't suppose that mule understands what you say to him, do you? How does he know you promised him his dinner?"

"I doan't know how he know, Mistah Damon," replied Eradicate, "but he do know, jest de same. I know hit would be laik pullin' teeth an' wuss too, t' git Boomerang t' start back wid dem foosd t'ings until after he's had his dinner. Wouldn't it, Boomerang?"

The mule waved his long ears as if in answer.

"Bless my soul, I believe he does understand!" cried Mr. Damon.

"Of course he do," put in the colored man. "I'se awful sorry. Now if it were afternoon I could bring back dem what-d'ye-call- 'ems in a jiffy, 'cause Boomerang allers feels good arter he has his dinnah, but befo' dat--" and Eradicate shook his head, as if there was no more to be said on the subject.

"Well," remarked Tom, sadly, "I guess there's no help for it. We'll have to walk home, unless you two want to wait until I can ride back with Eradicate, and come back on my motor cycle. Then I'll have to leave the cycle here, for I can't get it in the car."

"Bless my collar button!" cried Mr. Damon. "It's like the puzzle of the fox, the goose and the bag of corn on the banks of a stream. I guess we'd better all walk."

"Hold on!" exclaimed Mr. Sharp. "Is your mule good and strong, Eradicate?"

"Strong? Why dish yeah mule could pull a house ober--dat is when he's got a mind to. An' he'd do most anyt'ing now, 'ca'se he's anxious t' git home t' his dinnah; ain't yo' all, Boomerang?"

Once more the mule waved his ears, like signal flags.

"Then I have a proposition to make," went on the balloonist. "Unhitch the mule from the load of wood, and hitch him to the auto. We've got some rope along, I noticed. Then the mule can pull us and the runabout home."

"Good idea!" cried Mr. Damon.

"Dat's de racket!" ejaculated Eradicate. "I'll jest sequesterate dish year load ob wood side ob de road, an' hitch Boomerang to de auto."

Tom said nothing for a few seconds. He gazed sadly at his auto, which he hoped would win the touring club's prize. It was a bitter pill for him to swallow.

"Towed by a mule!" he exclaimed, shaking his head, and smiling ruefully. "The fastest car in this country towed by a mule! It's tough luck!"

"'Tain't half so bad as goin' widout yo' dinnah, Mistah Swift!" remarked Eradicate, as he began to harness the mule to the electric runabout.

Boomerang made no objection to the transfer. He looked around once or twice as he was being made fast to the auto and, when the word was given he stepped out as if pulling home stalled cars was his regular business. Tom sat beside Eradicate on the front seat, and steered, while the colored man drove the mule, and Mr. Sharp and Mr. Damon were in the "tonneau" seats as Tom called them.

"I hope no one sees us," thought Tom, but he was doomed to disappointment. When nearly home he heard an auto approaching, and in it were Andy Foger, Sam Snedecker and Pete Bailey. The three cronies stared at the odd sight of Boomerang ambling along, with his great ears flapping, drawing Tom's speedy new car.

"Ha! Ha!" laughed Andy. "So that's the motive power he's going to use! Look at him, fellows. I thought his new electric, that was going to beat my car, and win the prize, was to be two hundred horse power. Instead it's one mule power! That's rich!" and Andy's chums joined in the laugh at poor Tom.

The young imventor said nothing, for there was nothing he could say. In dignified silence he passed the car containing his enemies, they, meanwhile, jeering at him.

"Dat's all right," spoke Eradicate, sympathizing with his young employer. "Maybe dey'll 'want a tow derselves some day, an' when dey does, I'll make Boomerang pull 'em in a ditch."

But this was small comfort to Tom. He made up his mind, though, that he would demonstrate that his car could do all that he had claimed for it, and that very soon.