Chapter VII. Up a Tree
 

"Want to come and have a look?" asked Harry, as Ned paused in the patch of woods, which were in deeper darkness than the rest of the countryside, for night was fast falling.

"Have a look at what?" asked Ned, who was thinking many thoughts just then.

"At the elephant I saw back of the Swift factory. I wouldn't be skeered if you came along."

"Well, I'm going over to see Tom Swift, anyhow," answered Ned, "so I'll walk that way. You can come if you like. I don't care about spying on other people's property--"

"I wasn't spyin'!" exclaimed Harry quickly. "I just happened to look. And then I seen something."

"Well, come on," suggested Ned. "If there's anything there, we'll have a peep at it."

His idea was not to try to see what Tom was evidently endeavoring to conceal, but it was to observe whence Harry had made his observation, and be in a position to tell Tom to guard against unexpected lookers-on from that direction.

During the walk back along the course over which Harry had run so rapidly a little while before, Ned and the boy talked of what the latter had seen.

"Do you think it could be some new kind of elephant?" asked Harry. "You know Tom Swift brought back a big giant from one of his trips, and maybe he's got a bigger elephant than any one ever saw before."

"Nonsense!" laughed Ned. "In the first place, Tom hasn't been on any trip, of late, except to Washington, and the only kind of elephants there are white ones."

"Really?" asked Harry.

"No, that was a joke," explained Ned. "Anyhow, Tom hasn't any giant elephants concealed up his sleeve, I'm sure of that."

"But what could this be?" asked Harry. "It moved just like some big animal."

"Probably some piece of machinery Tom was having carted from one shop to another," went on the young bank clerk. "Most likely he had it covered with a big piece of canvas to keep off the dew, and it was that you saw."

"No, it wasn't!" insisted Harry, but he could not give any further details of what he had seen so that Ned could recognize it. They kept on until they reached the hill, at the bottom of which was the Swift home and the grounds on which the various shops were erected.

"Here's the place where you can look down right into the yard with the high fence around it," explained Harry, as he indicated the spot.

"I can't see anything."

"You have to climb up the tree," Harry went on. "Here, this is the one, and he indicated a stunted and gnarled pine, the green branches of which would effectually screen any one who once got in it a few feet above the ground.

"Well, I may as well have a look," decided Ned. "It can't do Tom any harm, and it may be of some service to him. Here goes!"

Up into the tree he scrambled, not without some difficulty, for the branches were close together and stiff, and Ned tore his coat in the effort. But he finally got a position where, to his surprise, he could look down into the very enclosure from which Tom was so particular to keep prying eyes.

"You can see right down in it!" Ned exclaimed.

"I told you so," returned Harry. "But do you see--it?"

Ned looked long and carefully. It was lighter, now that they were out of the clump of woods, and he had the advantage of having the last glow of the sunset at his back. Even with that it was difficult to make out objects on the surface of the enclosed field some hundred or more feet below.

"Do you see anything?" asked Harry again.

"No, I can't say I do," Ned answered. "The place seems to be deserted."

"Well, there was something there," insisted Harry. "Maybe you aren't lookin' at the right place."

"Have a look yourself, then," suggested Ned, as he got down, a task no more to his liking than the climb upward had been.

Harry made easier work of it, being smaller and more used to climbing trees, a luxury Ned had, perforce, denied himself since going to work in the bank.

Harry peered about, and then, with a sigh that had in it somewhat of disappointment, said:

"No; there's nothing there now. But I did see something."

"Are you sure?" asked Ned.

"Positive!" asserted the other.

"Well, whatever it was--some bit of machinery he was moving, I fancy--Tom has taken it in now," remarked Ned. "Better not say anything about this, Harry. Tom mightn't like it known."

"No, I won't."

"And don't come here again to look. I know you like to see strange things, but if you'll wait I'll ask Tom, as soon as it's ready, to let you have a closer view of whatever it was you saw. Better keep away from this tree."

"I will," promised the younger lad. "But I'd like to know what it was--if it really was a giant elephant Say! if a fellow had a troop of them he could have a lot of fun with 'em, couldn't he?"

"How?" asked Ned, hardly conscious of what his companion was saying.

"Why, he could dress 'em up in coats of mail, like the old knights used to wear, and turn 'em loose against the Germans. Think of a regiment of elephants, wearin' armor plates like a battleship, carryin' on their backs a lot of soldiers with machine guns and chargin' against Fritz! Cracky, that would be a sight!"

"I should say so!" agreed Ned, with a laugh. "There's nothing the matter with your imagination, Harry, my boy!"

"And maybe that's what Tom's doin'!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean maybe he is trainin' elephants to fight in the war. You know he made an aerial warship, so why couldn't he have a lot of armor plated elephants?"

"Oh, I suppose he could if he wanted to," admitted Ned. "But I guess he isn't doing that. Don't get to going too fast in high speed, Harry, or you may have nightmare. Well, I'm going down to see Tom."

"And you won't tell him I was peekin'?"

"Not if you don't do it again. I'll advise him to have that tree cut down, though. It's too good a vantage spot."

Harry turned and went in the direction of his home, while Ned kept on down the hill toward the house of his chum. The young bond salesman was thinking of many things as he tramped, along, and among them was the information Harry had just given.

But Ned did not pay a visit to his chum that evening. When he reached the house he found that Tom had gone out, leaving no word as to when he would be back.

"Oh, well, I can tell him to-morrow," thought Ned.

It was not, however, until two days later that Ned found the time to visit Tom again. On this occasion, as before, he took the road through the clump of woods where he had seen Harry running.

"And while I'm about it," mused Ned, "I may as well go on to the place where the tree stands and make sure, by daylight, what I only partially surmised in the evening-- that Tom's place can be looked down on from that vantage point."

Sauntering slowly along, for he was in no special hurry, having the remainder of the day to himself, Ned approached the hill where the tree stood from which Harry had said he had seen what he took to be a giant elephant, perhaps in armor.

"It's a good clear day," observed Ned, "and fine for seeing. I wonder if I'll be able to see anything."

It was necessary first to ascend the hill to a point where it overhung, in a measure, the Swift property, though the holdings of Tom and his father were some distance beyond the eminence. The tree from which Ned and Harry had made their observations was on a knob of the hill, the stunted pine standing out from among others like it

"Well, here goes for another torn coat," grimly observed Ned, as he prepared to climb. "But I'll be more careful. First, though, let's see if I can see anything without getting up."

He paused a little way from the pine, and peered down the hill. Nothing could be seen of the big enclosed field back of the building about which Tom Was so careful.

"You have to be up to see anything," mused Ned. "It's up a tree for me! Well, here goes!"

As Ned started to work his way up among the thick, green branches, he became aware, suddenly and somewhat to his surprise, that he was not the only person who knew about the observation spot. For Ned saw, a yard above his head, as he started to climb, two feet, encased in well-made boots, standing on a limb near the trunk of the tree.

"Oh, ho!" mused Ned. "Some one here before me! Where there are feet there must be legs, and where there are legs, most likely a body. And it isn't Harry, either! The feet are too big for that. I wonder--"

But Ned's musings were suddenly cut short, for the person up the tree ahead of him moved quickly and stepped on Ned's fingers, with no light tread.

"Ouch!" exclaimed the young bank clerk involuntarily, and, letting go his hold of the limb, he dropped to the ground, while there came a startled exclamation from the screen of pine branches above him.