Chapter XXIII. The Power Gone
 

"Bless my overshoes!" cried Mr. Damon. "Stuck in the mud, eh?"

"Hard and fast," added Tom, in disgust.

"What's to be done?" inquired Mr. Sharp.

"I should say we'll have to stay here until daylight, and wait for some other auto to come along and pull us out," was Mr. Damon's opinion. "It's might unpleasant, too, for there doesn't seem to be any place around here where we can spend the night in any kind of comfort. If we had the submarine or the airship, now, it wouldn't so much matter."

"No, and this won't matter a great deal," remarked the young inventor quickly. "We'll soon be out of this, but it will be hard work."

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Sharp.

"I mean that we've got to pull ourselves out of this mud hole," explained the lad, as he prepared to descend. "I was afraid something like this would happen, so I came prepared for it. I've got ropes and pulleys with me, in the car. We'll fasten the rope to the machine, attach one pulley to the bridge, another to the car, and I guess we can get out of the mud. We'll try, anyhow."

"Well, I must say you looked pretty far ahead," complimented Mr. Damon.

From a box under the tonneau Tom took out a thin but strong rope and two compound pulleys, which would enable considerable force to be applied. Mr. Sharp detached one of the powerful oil lamps, and the three travelers took a look at the auto. It was indeed deep in the mud and it seemed like a hopeless task to try to get it out unaided. But Tom insisted that they could do it, and the rope was soon attached, the hook of one pulley being slipped around one of the braces of the bridge.

"Now, all together!" cried the lad, as he and his friends grasped the long rope. They gave a great heave. At first it seemed like pulling on a stone wall. The rope strained and the pulleys creaked.

"I--guess--we--will--pull--the--bridge--over!" gasped Mr. Sharp.

"Something's got to give way!" puffed Tom. "Now, once more! All together!"

Suddenly they felt the rope moving. The pulleys creaked still more and, by the light of the lamp, they could see that the auto was slowly being pulled backward, out of the mud, and onto the hard road. In a few minutes it was ready to proceed again.

The rope and pulleys were put away, and, after Tom had made an examination of the car to see that it had sustained no damage, they were off again, making good time to the hotel in Burgfield, where they spent the night. They had an early breakfast, and, as Tom went out to the barn to look at his car, he saw it surrounded by a curious throng of men and boys. One of the boys was turning some of the handles and levers.

"Here! Quit that!" yelled Tom, and the meddlesome lad leaped down in fright. "Do you want to start the car and have it smash into something?" demanded the young inventor.

"Aw, nothin' happened," retorted the lad. "I pulled every handle on it, an' it didn't move.'~

"Good reason," murmured Tom, for he had taken the precaution to remove a connecting plug, without which the machine could not be started.

The three were soon under way again, and covered many miles over the fine country roads, the weather conditions being delightful. On inquiry they found that by taking an infrequently used highway, they could save several miles. It was over an unoccupied part of country, rather wild and desolate, but they did not mind that.

They were whizzing along, talking of Tom's chances for winning the race when, after climbing a slight grade, the auto came to a sudden stop on the summit.

"What's the matter?" asked Mr. Sharp. "Why are you stopping here, Tom?"

"I didn't stop," was the surprising answer, and the lad shoved the starting lever back and forth.

But there was no response. There was no hum from the motor. The machine was "dead."

"That's queer," murmured the young inventor

"Maybe a fuse blew out," suggested Mr. Damon, that seeming to be his favorite form of trouble.

"If it had you'd have known it," remarked Mr. Sharp.

"There's plenty of current in the battery, according to the registering gauge, murmured the lad. "I can't understand it." He reversed the current, thinking the wires might have become crossed, but the machine would move neither backward nor forward, yet the dial indicated that there was enough power stored away to send it a hundred miles or more.

"Perhaps the dial hand has become caught," suggested Mr. Sharp. "That sometimes happens on a steam gauge, and indicates a high pressure when there isn't any. Hit it slightly, and see if the hand swings back."

Tom did so. At once the hand fell to zero, indicating that there was not an ampere of current left. The battery was exhausted, but this fact had not been indicated on the gauge.

"I see now!" cried Tom. "It was those fellows at the hotel barn! They monkeyed with the mechanism, short circuited the battery, and jammed the gauge so I couldn't tell when my power was gone. If I had known there wasn't enough to carry us I could have recharged the battery at the hotel. But I figured that I had enough current for the entire trip, and so there would have been, if it hadn't leaked away. Now we're in a pretty pickle."

"Bless my hat band!" cried Mr. Damon. "Does that mean we can't move?"

"Guess that's about it," answered Mr. Sharp, and Tom nodded.

"Well, why can't we go on to some place where they sell electricity, and get enough to take us where we want to go?" asked the odd character, whose ideas of machinery were somewhat hazy.

"The only trouble is we can't carry the heavy car with us," replied Tom. "It's too big to pick up and take to a charging station."

"Then we've got to wait until some one comes along with a team of horses, and tows us in," commented Mr. Sharp. "And that will be some time, on this lonely road."

Tom shook his head despondently. He went all over the car again, but was forced to the first conclusion, that the reserve current had leaked away, in consequence of the meddling prank of the youth at the hotel. The situation was far from pleasant, and the delay would seriously interfere with their plans.

Suddenly, as Tom was pacing up and down the road, he heard from afar, a peculiar humming sound. He paused to listen.

"Trolley car," observed Mr. Sharp. "Maybe one of us could go somewhere on the trolley and get help. There it is," and he pointed to the electric vehicle, moving along about half a mile away, at the foot of a gentle slope.

At the sight of the car Tom uttered a cry. "I have it!" he exclaimed. "None of us need go for help! It's right at hand!" His companions looked curiously, as the young inventor pointed triumphantly to the fast disappearing electric.