Chapter XIV. A Great Run
 

Boomerang did not belie the reputation Eradicate had given him as a beast of strength. Though the electric runabout was heavy, the mule managed to move it along the road at a fair speed, with the four occupants. Perhaps the animal knew that at the end of his journey a good feed awaited him. At any rate they were soon within sight of the Swift home.

Mr. Damon and Mr. Sharp refrained from making any comments that might hurt Tom's feelings, for they realized the chagrin felt by the young inventor in having his apparatus go back on him at the first trial. But our hero was not the kind of a lad who is disheartened by one failure, or even half a dozen.

The humor of the situation appealed to him, and, as he turned the auto into the driveway, and noticed Boomerang's long ears waving to and fro, he laughed.

The lad insisted on putting new fuses in the car before he ate his dinner, and then, satisfied that the motor was once more in running order, he partook of a hasty meal, and began making several changes which he had decided were desirable. He finished them in time to go for a little run in the car all alone on a secluded road late that afternoon.

Tom returned, with eyes shining, and cheeks flushed with elation.

"Well, how did it go? asked his father.

"Fine! Better than I expected," responded his son enthusiastically. "When it gets to running smoothly I'll pass anything on the road."

"Don't be too sure," cautioned Mr. Swift, but Tom only smiled.

There was still much to do on the electric runabout, and Tom spent the next few days in adjusting the light steel wind-shield, that was to come down over the driver's seat. He also put in a powerful electric search-light, which was run by current from the battery, and installed a new speedometer and an instrument to tell how much current he was using, and how much longer the battery would run without being exhausted. This was to enable him to know when to begin re-charging it. When the current was all consumed it was necessary to store more in the battery. This could be done by attaching wires from a dynamo, or, in an emergency by tapping an electric light wire in the street. But as the battery would enable the car to run many miles on one charging, Tom did not think he would ever have to resort to the emergency charging apparatus. He had a new system for this, one that enabled him to do the work in much less than the usual time.

With his new car still unpainted, and rather rough and crude in appearance, the lad started out alone one morning, his father and Mr. Sharp having declined to accompany him, on the plea of business to attend to, and Mr. Damon not being at the Swift house.

Tom rode about for several hours, giving his car several severe tests in the way of going up hills, and speeding on the level. He was proceeding along a quiet country road, in a small town about fifteen miles from Shopton, when, as he flashed past the small railroad station, he saw a familiar figure standing on the platform.

"Why, Ned!" called Tom, "what are you doing over here?"

"I might ask the same thing of you. Is that your new car? It doesn't look very new."

"Yes, this is it. I haven't had a chance to paint and varnish it yet. But you ought to see it go. What are doing here, though?"

"I came over on some bank business. A customer here had some bonds he wanted to dispose of and I came for them. You see we're enlarging our business since the new bank started."

"Has it hurt your bank any?"

"Not yet, but Foger and his associates are trying hard to make us lose money. Say, did you ever see such a place as this? I've got to wait two hours for a train back to Shopton."

"No you haven't."

"Why not? Have they changed the timetable since I came over this morning?"

"No, but you can ride back with me. I'm going, and I'll show you what my new electric car can do."

"Good!" cried the young bank cashier. "You're just in time. I was wondering how I could kill two hours, but now I'll get in your new car and--"

"And maybe we'll kill a few chickens, or a dog or two when we get her speeded up," put in Tom, with a laugh in which Ned joined.

The two lads, seated in the front part of the auto, were soon moving down the hard highway. Suddenly Tom pulled a lever and the steel wind-shield came sliding down from the top case, meeting the forward battery compartment, and forming a sort of slanting roof over the heads of the two occupants.

"Here! What's this?" cried Ned.

"We're going to hit it up in a few minutes," replied the young inventor, "and I want to reduce the wind resistance."

"Oh, I thought maybe we were going through a bombardment. It's all right, go ahead, don't mind me. I'm game."

There was a celluloid window in the steel wind-shield, and through this the lads could observe the road ahead of them.

As they swung along it, the speed increasing, Ned saw an auto ahead of them.

"Whose car is that?" he asked.

"Don't know," replied Tom. "We'll be up to it in about half a minute, though."

As the electric runabout, more dilapidated looking than ever from the layer of dust that covered it, passed the other auto, which was a powerful car, the solitary occupant of it, a middle- aged man, looked to one side, and, seeing the queer machine, remarked:

"You fellows are going the wrong way to the junk heap. Turn around."

"Is that so?" asked Tom, his eyes flashing at the cheap wit of the man. "Why we came out here to show you the way!"

"Do you want to race?" asked the man eagerly, too eagerly, Ned thought. "I'll give you a brush, if you do, and a handicap into the bargain."

"We don't need it," replied the young inventor quickly.

"I'll wager fifty dollars I can beat you bad on this three-mile stretch," went on the autoist. "How about it?"

"I'll race you, but I don't bet," answered Tom, a bit stiffly.

"Oh, be a sport," urged the man.

Tom shook his head. He had slowed down his machine, and was running even with the gasolene car now. He noticed that it was a new one, of six cylinders, and looked speedy. Perhaps he was foolish to pit his untried car against it. Yet he had confidence in his battery and motor.

"Well, we'll race for the fun of it then," went on the man. "Do you want a handicap?"

Tom shook his head again, and there came around his mouth a grim look.

"All right," assented the other. "Only you're going to be beat badly. I never saw an electric car yet that could do anything except to crawl along."

"You're going to see one now," was all the retort Tom permitted himself.

"Here we go then!" cried the man, and he gave his gear handle a yank, and shoved over the sparking and gasolene levers.

His car instantly shot ahead, and went "chug chugging" down the road in a cloud of dust. At the same moment Tom, in answer to a look from Ned, who feared his friend was going to be left behind, turned more power into the motor. The humming, purring sound increased and the electric car forged ahead.

"Can you catch him?" asked Ned.

"Watch," was all Tom said.

The hum of the motor became a sort of whine, and the electric rapidly acquired speed. It crept up on the gasolene car, as an express train overtakes a freight, and the man, looking back, and expecting to see his rival far behind was surprised to note the queer looking vehicle lapping his rear wheels.

"Well, you are coming on, aren't you?" he asked. "Maybe you'll keep up now!" He shifted the gears, using a little more gasolene. For a moment his car opened a wide gap between it and Tom's, but the young inventor had only begun to race. Still louder purred the motor, and in a few minutes Tom was running on even terms with his competitor. The man looked annoyed, and tried, by the skilful use of gasolene and sparking levers, to leave Tom behind. But the electric held her own.

"I've got to go the limit I see," remarked the man at last, glancing sideways at the other car. "I'll tell 'em you're coming," he added, "though I must say your electric does better than any of its kind I ever came across."

"I'm not done yet," was the comment of our hero. But the man did not hear him, for he was yanking into place the lever that enabled him to run on direct drive for fourth speed.

Forward shot his car, and, for perhaps a quarter of a mile it led. The racers were almost at the end of the three-mile level stretch of road, and if Tom was going to win the impromptu contest it seemed high time he began.

"Can you catch him?" asked Ned anxiously.

"Watch," was his chum's reply. "I haven't used my high speed gear yet. I'm afraid the fuses won't stand it, but here goes for a try, anyhow."

He threw over a switch, changed a lever and then, having pushed into place the last gear, he grasped the steering wheel more firmly.

There was need of it, for, in an instant, the electric runabout, with the motors fairly roaring, swept up the road, after the gasolene car that was almost hidden from sight in a cloud of dust. Faster and faster went Tom's car. The young inventor was listening with critical ear to the song of the machinery. He wanted to learn if it was running sweet and true, for that is how a careful mechanic tests his apparatus. Foot by foot the distance between the two cars lessened. Now the electric was lapping the rear wheels of the gasolene machine, but the driver did not know it. His whole attention was on the road ahead of him.

"Half a mile more!" cried Ned, naming the distance which yet remained of the straight stretch. "Can you do it, Tom?"

His chum nodded. He shoved the controller handle over to the last notch, and then waited an anxious second. Would the fuse carry the extra load? It seemed so, for there was a slight increase of power.

An instant later Tom gave a sudden twist to the steering wheel. It was well that he did, for he was passing the gasolene car dangerously close. Then he was ahead of it, and in a second he was three lengths in advance.

Desperately the man opened his muffler, and sought to gain by this advantage, but though his car gave off explosions like a battery of guns in action, he could not gain on Tom. The electric shot around a curve in the road, winner of the impromptu race by an eighth of a mile.

"Well," asked Tom of his chum, as he slowed down, for the road now was not so good, "did I do it?"

"You certainly did. Whew! But we did scoot along?"

"Eighty miles an hour there one spell," went on the young inventor, glancing at a gauge. "But I've got to do better than that to win the big race."