Chapter III. The Motorcycle Wins
 

"Well, Tom," remarked Mr. Sharp, after a pause following the lad's announcement. "I didn't know you had any ambitions in that line. Tell us more about the battery. What system do you use; lead plates and sulphuric acid?"

"Oh, that's out of date long ago," declared the lad.

"Well, I don't know much about electricity," admitted the aeronaut. "I'll take my chances in an airship or a balloon, but when it comes to electricity I'm down and out."

"So am I," admitted Mr. Damon. "Bless my gizzard, it's all I can do to put a new spark plug in my automobile. Where is your new battery, Tom?"

"Out in my shop, running yet if it hasn't been frightened by the airship smash," replied the lad, somewhat proudly. "It's an oxide of nickel battery, with steel and oxide of iron negative electrodes."

"What solution do you use, Tom?" asked Mr. Swift. "I didn't get that far in questioning you before the crash came," he added.

"Well I have, in the experimental battery, a solution of potassium hydrate," replied the lad, "but I think I'm going to change it, and add some lithium hydrate to it. I think that will make it stronger."

"Bless my watch chain!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "It's all Greek to me. Suppose you let us see it, Tom? I like to see wheels go 'round, but I'm not much of a hand for chemical terms."

"If you're sure you're not hurt by the airship smash, I will," declared the lad.

"Oh, we're not hurt a bit," insisted Mr. Sharp. "As I said we were moving slow, for I knew it was about time to land. Mr. Damon was steering--"

"Yes I thought I'd try my hand at it, as it seemed so easy," interrupted the eccentric man. "But never again--not for mine! I couldn't see the house, and, before I knew it we were right over the roof. Then the chimney seemed to stick itself up suddenly in front of us, and--well, you know the rest. I'm willing to pay for any damage I caused."

"Oh, not at all!" replied Tom. "It's easy enough to put on a new plane, or, for that matter, we can operate the Red Cloud without it. But come on, I'll show you my sample battery."

"Here, take umbrellas!" Mrs. Baggert called after them as they started toward the shop, for it was still raining.

"We don't mind getting wet," replied the young inventor. "It's in the interests of science."

"Maybe it is. You don't mind a wetting, but I mind you coming in and dripping water all over the carpets!" retorted the housekeeper.

"Bless my overshoes, I'm afraid we have wet the carpets a trifle now," admitted Mr. Damon ruefully, as he looked down at a puddle, which had formed where he had been standing.

"That's the reason I want you to take umbrellas this trip," insisted Mrs. Baggert.

They complied, and were soon in the shop, where Tom explained his battery. The small motor was still running and had, as the lad had said, gone the equivalent of over two hundred miles.

"If a small battery does as well as that, what will a larger one do?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Much better, I hope," replied the youth. "But Dad doesn't seem to have much faith in them."

"Well," admitted Mr. Swift, "I must say I am skeptical. Still, I acknowledge Tom has done some pretty good work along electrical lines. He helped me with the positive and negative plates on the submarine, and, maybe--well, we'll wait and see," he concluded.

"If you build a car I hope you give me a ride in it," said Mr. Damon. "I've ridden fast in the air, and swiftly on top of, and under, the water. Now I'd like to ride rapidly on top of the earth. The gasolene auto doesn't go very fast."

"I'll give you a ride that will make your hair stand up!" prophesied Tom, and the time was to come when he would make good that prediction.

The little party in the machine shop talked at some length about Tom's battery. He showed them how it was constructed, and gave them some of his ideas regarding the new type of auto he planned to build.

"Well," remarked Mr. Swift at length, "if you want to keep your brain fresh, Tom, you must get to bed earlier than this. It's nearly twelve o'clock."

"And I want to get up early !" exclaimed the lad. "I'm going to start to build a larger battery to-morrow."

"And I'm going to repair the airship," added Mr. Sharp.

"Bless my night cap, I promised my wife I'd be home early to- night, too!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I don't fancy making the trip back to Waterfield in my auto, though. Something will be sure to happen. I'll blow out a tire, or a spark plug will get sooty on me and--"

"It's raining harder than ever," interrupted Tom. "Better stay here to-night. You can telephone home." Which Mr. Damon did.

Tom was up early the next morning, in spite of the fact that he did not go to bed in good season, and before breakfast he was working at his new storage battery. After the meal he hurried back to the shop, but it was not long before he came out, wheeling his motor-cycle.

"Where are you going, Tom?" asked Mrs. Baggert.

"Oh, I've got to go to Mansburg to get some steel tubes for my new battery," he replied. "I thought I had some large enough, but I haven't." Mansburg was a good-sized town, near Shopton.

"Then I wish you'd bring me a bottle of stove polish," requested the housekeeper. "The liquid kind. I'm out of it, and the stove is as red as a cow."

"All right," agreed the lad, as he leaped into the saddle and pedaled off down the road. A moment later he had turned on the power, and was speeding along the highway, which was in good condition on account of the shower of the night before.

Tom was thinking so deeply of his new invention, and planning what he would do when he had his electric runabout built, that, almost before he knew it, he had reached Mansburg, purchased the steel tubes, and the stove polish, and was on his way back again.

As he was speeding along on a level road, he heard, coming behind him, an automobile. The lad turned to one side, but, in spite of this the party in the car began a serenade of the electric siren, and kept it up, making a wild discord.

"What's the matter with those fellows!" inquired Tom of himself. "Haven't I given them enough of the road, or has their steering gear broken?"

He looked back over his shoulder, and it needed but a glance to show that the car was all right, as regarded the steering apparatus. And it needed only another glance to disclose the reason for the shrill sound of the siren.

"Andy Foger!" exclaimed Tom. "I might have known. And Sam and Pete are with him. Well, if he wants to make me get off the road, he'll find that I've got as much right as he has!"

He kept on a straight course, wondering if the red-haired, and squint-eyed bully would dare try to damage the motor-cycle.

A little later Andy's car was beside Tom.

"Why don't you get out of the way," demanded Sam, who could usually be depended on to aid Andy in all his mean tricks.

"Because I'm entitled to half the road," retorted our hero.

"Humph! A slow-moving machine like yours hasn't any right on the road," sneered Andy, who had slowed down his car somewhat.

"I haven't, eh?" demanded Tom. "Well, if you'll get down out of that car for a few minutes I'll soon show you what my rights are!"

Now Andy, more than once, had come to personal encounters with Tom, much to the anguish of the bully. He did not relish another chastisement, but his mean spirit could not brook interference.

"Don't you want a race?" he inquired of Tom, in a sneering tone. "I'll give you a mile start, and beat you! I've got the fastest car built!"

"You have, eh?" asked Tom, while a grim look came over his face. "Maybe you'll think differently some day."

"Aw, he's afraid to race; come on," suggested Pete. "Don't bother with him, Andy."

"No, I guess it wouldn't be worth my while," was the reply of the bully, and he threw the second gear into place, and began to move away from the young inventor.

Tom was just as much pleased to be left alone, but he did not want Andy Foger to think that he could have matters all his own way. Tom's motor-cycle, since he had made some adjustments to it, was very swift. In fact there were few autos that could beat it. He had never tried it against Andy's new car, and he was anxious to do so.

"I wonder if I would stand any chance, racing him?" thought the young inventor, as he saw the car slowly pulling away from him. "I think I'll wait until he gets some distance ahead, and then I'll see how near I can come to him. If I get anywhere near him I'm pretty sure I can pass him. I'll try it."

When Andy and his cronies looked back, Tom did not appear to be doing anything save moving along at moderate speed on his machine.

"You don't dare race!" Pete Bailey shouted to him.

"Wait," was what Tom whispered to himself.

Andy's car was now some distance ahead. The young inventor waited a little longer, and then turned more power into his machine. It leaped forward and began to "eat up the road," as Tom expressed it. He had seen Andy throw in the third gear, but knew that there was a fourth speed on the bully's car.

"I don't know whether I can beat him on that or not," thought the lad dubiously. "If I try, and fail, they'll laugh at me. But I don't think I'm going to fail."

Faster and faster he rode. He was rapidly overhauling Andy's car now, and, as they heard him approach, the three cronies turned around.

"He's going to race you, after all, Andy!" cried Sam.

"You mean he's going to try," sneered Andy. "I'll give him all the racing he wants!"

In another few seconds Tom was beside the auto, and would have passed it, only Andy opened his throttle a little more. For a moment the auto jumped ahead, and then, as our hero turned on still more power, he easily held his own.

"Aw, you can never beat us!" yelled Pete.

"Of course not!" added Sam.

"I'll leave him behind in a second," prophesied Andy. "Wait until I throw in the other gear," he added to his cronies in a low voice. "He thinks he's going to beat me. I'll let him think so, and then I'll spurt ahead."

The two machines were now racing along side by side. Andy's car was going the limit on third gear, but he still had the fourth gear in reserve. Tom, too, still had a little margin of speed.

Suddenly Andy reached forward and yanked on a lever. There was a grinding of cogs as the fourth gear slipped into place, for Andy did not handle his car skillfully. The effect, however, was at once apparent. The automobile shot forward.

"Now where are you, Tom Swift?" cried Sam.

Tom said nothing. He merely shifted a lever, and got a better spark. He also turned on a little more gasolene and opened the muffler The quickness with which his motor-cycle shot forward almost threw him from the saddle, but he had a tight grip on the handle bars. He whizzed past the auto, but, as the latter gathered speed, it crept up to him, and, once more was on even terms. Much chagrined at seeing Tom hold pace with him, even for an instant, Andy shouted;

"Get over on your own side there! You're crowding me!"

"I am not!" yelled back Tom, above the explosions of his machine.

The two were now racing furiously, and Andy, with a savage look, tried to get more speed out of his car. In spite of all the bully did, Tom was gradually forging ahead. A little hill was now in view.

"Here's where I make him take my dust!" cried Andy, but, to his surprise Tom still kept ahead. The auto began to lose ground, for it was not made to take hills on high gear.

"Change to third gear quick!" cried Sam.

Andy tried to do it. There was a hesitancy on the part of his car. It seemed to balk. Tom, looking back, slowed up a trifle. He could afford to, as Andy was being beaten.

"Go on! Go on!" begged Pete. "You'll have to keep on fourth gear to beat him, Andy."

"That's what!" murmured the bully. Once more he shifted the gears. There was a grinding, smashing sound, and the car lost speed. Then it slowed up still more, and finally stopped. Then it began to back down hill.

"I've stripped those blamed gears!" exclaimed Andy ruefully.

"Can't you beat him?" asked Pete.

"I could have, easily, if my gears hadn't broken," declared the bully, but, as a matter of fact, he could not have done so. "I oughtn't to have changed, going up hill," he added, as he jammed on the brakes, to stop the car from sliding down the slope.

Tom saw and heard.

"I thought you were so anxious to race," he said, exultantly, as well he might. "I don't want to try a contest down hill, though, Andy," and he laughed at the red-haired lad, who was furious.

"Aw, go on!" was all the retort the squint-eyed one could think of to make.

"I am going on," replied our hero. "Just to show you that I can go down hill, watch me."

He turned his motor-cycle, and approached Andy's stalled car, for Tom was some distance in advance of it, up the slope by this time. As he approached the auto, containing the three disconcerted cronies, something bounded out of Tom's pocket. It was the bottle of stove blacking he had purchased for Mrs. Baggert. The bottle fell in the soft dirt in front of his forward wheel, and a curious thing happened. Perhaps you have seen a bicycle or auto tire strike a stone at an angle, and throw it into the air with great force. That was what happened to the bottle. Tom's front wheel struck the cork, which fitted tightly, and, just as when you hit one end of the wooden "catty" and it bounds up, the bottle described a curve through the air, and flew straight toward Andy's car. It struck the brass frame of the wind shield with a crash.

The bottle broke, and in an instant the black liquid was spattered all over Andy, Sam and Pete. It could not have been done more effectively if Tom had thrown it by hand. All over their clothes, their hands and faces, and the front of the car went the dreary black. Tom looked on, hardly able to believe what he saw.

"Wow! Wup! Ug! Blug! Mug!" spluttered Sam, who had some of the stuff in his mouth.

"Oh! Oh!" yelled Pete.

"You did that on purpose, Tom Swift!" shouted Andy, wiping some of the blacking from his left eye. "I'll have you arrested for that! You've ruined my car, and look at my suit!"

"Mine's worse!" murmured Sam, glancing down at his light trousers, which were of the polka-dot pattern now.

"No, mine is," insisted Pete, whose white shirt was of the hue of a stove pipe.

Andy wiped some of the black stuff from his nose, whence it was dropping on the steering wheel.

"You just wait!" the bully called to Tom. "I'll get even with you for this!"

"It was an accident! I didn't mean to do that," explained Tom, trying not to laugh, as he dismounted from his motorcycle, ready to render what assistance he could.