Chapter VII. Tom is Captured

Meanwhile the young inventor, aided by his father, Mr. Sharp and Garret Jackson, the engineer, worked hard over his new car, and the powerful batteries. A month passed, and such was the progress made that Tom felt justified in making formal entry of his vehicle for the races to be held by the Touring Club of America.

He paid a contingent fee and was listed as one of the competitors. As is usual in an affair of this kind, the promoters of it desired publicity, and they sought it through the papers.

Consequently each new entrant's name was published. In addition something was said about his previous achievements in the speed line.

No sooner was the name of Tom Swift received by the officials of the club, than it was at once recalled that young Swift had had a prominent part in the airship Red Cloud, and the submarine Advance. This gave an enterprising reporter a chance for a "special" for the Sunday supplement of a New York newspaper.

Tom, it was stated, was building a car which would practically annihilate distance and time, and there were many weird pictures, showing him flying along without touching the ground, in a car, the pictorial construction of which was at once fearful and wonderful.

Tom and his friends laughed at the yarn, at first, but it soon had undesirable results. The young inventor had desired to keep secret the fact that he was building a new electric vehicle, and a novel storage battery, but the article in the paper aroused considerable interest. Many persons came a long distance, hoping for a sight of the wonderful car, as pictured in the Sunday supplement, but they had to be denied. The news, thus leaking out, kept the Swift shops almost constantly besieged by many curious ones, who sought, by various means, to gain admission. Finally Tom and his father, after posting large signs, warning persons to keep away, added others to the effect that undesirable visitors might find themselves unexpectedly shocked by electricity, if they ventured too close. This had the desired effect, though the wires which were strung about carried such a mild charge that it would not have harmed a child. Then the only bothersome characters were the boys of the town, and, fearless and careless lads, they persisted in hanging around the Swift homestead, in the hope of seeing Tom dash away at the rate of five hundred miles an hour, which one enthusiastic writer predicted he would do.

"I've got a plan!" exclaimed Tom one day when the boys had been particularly troublesome.

"What is it?" asked his father.

"We'll hire Eradicate Sampson to stand guard with a bucket of whitewash. He'll keep the boys away."

The plan was put into operation, and Eradicate and his mule, Boomerang, were installed on the premises.

"Deed an' Ah'll keep dem lads away," promised the colored man. "Ah'll splash white stuff all ober 'em, if dey comes traipsin' around me."

He was as good as his word, and, when one or two lads had received a dose of the stuff, which punishment was followed by more severe from home, for having gotten their clothes soiled, the nuisance ceased, to a certain extent. Sam Snedecker and Pete Bailey were two who received a liberal sprinkling of the lime, and they vowed vengeance on Tom.

"And Andy Foger will help us, too," added Sam, as he withdrew, after an encounter with Eradicate.

"Doan't let dat worry yo', Mistah Swift!" exclaimed the darkey. "Jest let dat low-down-good-fo-nuffin' Andy Foger come 'round me, an' Ah'll make him t'ink he's de inside ob a chicken coop, dat's what Ah will."

Perhaps Andy heard of this, and kept away. In the meanwhile Tom kept on perfecting his car and battery. From the club secretary he learned that a number of inventors were working on electric cars, and there promised to be many of the speedy vehicles in the race.

After considerable labor Tom had succeeded in getting together one set of the batteries. He had them completed one afternoon, and wanted to give them a test that night. But, when he went to his father's chemical laboratory for a certain powder, which he needed to use in the battery solution, he found there was none.

"I'll have to ride in to Mansburg for some," he decided. "I'll go after supper, on my motorcycle, and test the battery to- night."

The young inventor left his house immediately after the evening meal. Along the road toward Mansburg he speeded, and, as he came to the foot of a hill, where once Andy Foger had put a big tree, hoping Tom would run into it and be injured, the youth recalled that circumstance.

"Andy has been keeping out of my way lately," mused Tom. "I wonder if he's up to any mischief? I don't like the way Sam Snedecker is hanging around the shop, either. It looks as if they were plotting something. But I guess Eradicate and his pail of whitewash will scare them off."

Tom got the powdered chemical he wanted in the drug store, and, after refreshing himself with some ice cream soda, he started back. As he rode along through the streets of the town he kept a lookout, and those of you who know how fond the lad was of a certain young lady, do not need to be told for whom he was looking. But he did not see her, and soon turned into the main highway leading to Shopton.

It was dark when he reached the hill, where once he had been so near an accident, and he slowed up as he coasted down it, using the brake at intervals.

Tom got safely to the bottom of the declivity, and was about to turn on the power of his machine, when, from the bushes that lined either side of the roadway, several figures sprang suddenly. They ranged themselves across the road, and one cried: "Halt!" in tones that were meant to be stern, but which seemed to Tom, to tremble somewhat. The young inventor was so surprised that he did not open the gasolene throttle, nor switch on his spark. As a consequence his motor-cycle lost momentum, and he had to take one foot from the pedal and touch the ground, to prevent himself from toppling over.

"Hold on there!" cried another voice. "We've got you where we want you, now! Hold on! Don't go!"

"I wasn't going to go," responded Tom calmly, trying to recognize the voice, which seemed to be unnatural. "What do you want, and who are you?"

"Never mind who we are. We want you and we've got you! Get off that wheel!"

"I don't see why I should!" exclaimed Tom, and he suddenly shifted his handle bars, so as to flash the bright headlight he carried, upon the circle of dark figures that opposed his progress. As the light flashed on them he was surprised to see that all the figures wore masks over their faces.

Tom started. Was this the Happy Harry gang after him again? He hoped not, yet the fact that the persons had on masks made the hold-up have an ugly look. Once more Tom flashed the light on the throng. There were exclamations of dismay.

"Douse that glim, somebody!" called a sharp voice, which Tom could not recognize.

A stone came whizzing through the air, from some one in the crowd. There was a smashing of glass as it hit the lantern, and the road was plunged in darkness. Tom tried to throw one leg over the saddle, and let down the supporting stand from the rear wheel, so the motorcycle would remain upright without him holding it. He determined to have revenge for that act of vandalism in breaking his lamp.

But, just as he was free of the seat, he was surrounded by a dozen persons, and several hands were laid on him.

"We've got you now!" some one fairly hissed in his ear. "Come along, and get what's coming to you!"

Tom tried to fight, but he was overpowered by numbers and, a little later, was dragged off into the woods in the darkness by the masked figures. His arms were securely bound with ropes, and a handkerchief was tied over his eyes. Tom Swift was a prisoner.