Chapter X. A Strange Conversation

Mr. Wakefield Damon frequently came to the shops, for he was not alone very friendly with the Swifts, but he was greatly interested in Tom's new invention.

"If it goes as good as what you did for my chicken run," he declared, chuckling, "bless my dampers! you'll beat all the electric locomotives in the market."

"That is easy, perhaps," said Tom smiling. "There are not many in the market at the present time. But I don't know what mine will be. This is going to be some job."

"Bless my flues and clinkers!" cried Mr. Damon, "you are not losing hope, Tom Swift? Look what you did for my chicken run. And believe me, that entanglement will give a shock that makes a man stand right up and shake."

"Have you tried it yourself?" asked Tom.

"No. But my servant did. I saw him through the window of my study doing some kind of a shimmy with the shovel. Thought he'd gone crazy. Then I saw what he had done. It was early in the morning and I hadn't turned the current off, and he had put one hand against the wires. When he dropped the shovel as I told him to, bless my plyers and nippers! he was all right."

"The current would not seriously hurt him," said Tom. "I was careful about that."

"It killed two tomcats," said Mr. Damon. "I certainly was glad of that, for those two ash-barrel cats kept the whole neighborhood awake. Bless my claws and whiskers! how those two cats did use to yell. But when one tried to climb the wires and the other sprang on him, it was all over! That is, all over but the burial party."

Mr. Damon was on the ground when the mechanical equipment and a part of the electrical equipment of the new locomotive arrived and was set up in the erection shed. The length of the machine was what first impressed Ned Newton as well as Mr. Damon.

"Bless my yardstick!" exclaimed the eccentric man, it's as long as a gossip's tongue. What a monster it will he!"

"How long is it, Tom?" asked Ned Newton.

"When completed, and standing on its drivers and bogie truck and trailer truck, from cow-catcher to rear bumper it will be a few inches over ninety feet. And that is slightly longer than the biggest electric locomotive so far built. But length does not so much enter into the value of the machine. I would have it built more compactly if I could."

"What is the horsepower?" asked Mr. Damon.

"I figure on forty-four hundred horsepower. The power must be received from a three thousand-volt direct-current trolley. There are twelve driving-wheels, as you can see. Each pair of drivers will be driven by a twin-motor geared to the axles through a system of flexible spring drive. Remember, I have got to obtain both speed as well as power in this locomotive, for it is being built to pull a passenger train--a fast cross-continent express--to compete with the best passenger equipment in the country."

"Bless my combination ticket!" murmured Mr. Damon. "You have picked out some task, and no mistake, Tom Swift."

"He'll do it," cried Ned, with his usual optimism when Tom had once started on any experimental work. "Of course he will. Just as she stands there now, only half put together, I would be willing to bet a farm that she is a better locomotive than the Jandel patent."

"Three cheers!" laughed Tom. "Ned is as enthusiastic as usual. But believe me, friends, we are not going to turn out a better locomotive than the Jandel without both thought and work."

His friends' enthusiasm was heartening, however. No doubt of that. He never let them into his experiment room, any more than he allowed his workmen in there. Aside from his own father, nobody really knew what Tom Swift was doing behind that always- locked door.

The huge structure of the locomotive was set up on the driving wheels and leading and trailing trucks by Tom's chief foreman and a picked crew. Just such another locomotive had never been seen anywhere about Shopton. Naturally the men at work on the monster began to speak of it outside the works.

Not that they betrayed any secrets regarding the locomotive. In fact, as yet none of them knew anything about what Tom intended to do with the big machine. But the story soon circulated that Tom Swift, the young inventor, was about to show all the previous builders of electric locomotives how such machines should be built.

It was even whispered that Tom's objective was a two-mile-a- minute locomotive. And when this was publicly known the information was not long in seeping to the ears of certain men who had been keeping as close a watch as they dared on the Swift Construction Company and the activities of Tom himself.

Ned Newton went to the bank one Friday for money for the payroll of the working and clerical force of the Swift Company. It was an errand he never relegated to any employee.

Ned had once worked himself in the bank, and naturally he knew many of its employees as well as the officials. With his back to the general waiting room, he sat at the vice president's desk discussing some minor matter. Only a railing divided the vice president's enclosure from the long settee on which waiting customers of the bank were seated.

Ned knew that there were two men directly behind him, whispering together; but he paid no attention to them until he heard this phrase:

"It's time to explode in just five hours; then good-night to that invention, whatever it is."

This statement might mean almost anything--or nothing. Ordinarily Ned Newton might not have paid any consideration to the words. But "invention" was a term that he could not over- look. His mind then was fixed upon Tom's invention almost as closely as the mind of the young inventor himself.

Ned turned around slowly, as though idly, indeed, and tried to see the faces of the two men behind him. One was a small, neatly dressed man of professional appearance. He wore a Vandyke beard and eyeglasses. The other's face Ned could not see; but as they both rose just then and strolled toward the door of the bank he could observe that the fellow was big and burly.

Ned wheeled to his friend, the vice president, and asked:

"Who are those men, Mr. Stanley? Do you know them?"

The pair were just going out through the revolving door. The vice president craned his neck for a look at them.

"Don't know the small man, Ned. But the other is named O'Malley, I believe. Somebody introduced him here and he gets a check cashed occasionally. Not a customer of the bank."

At that moment the name "O'Malley" did not mean anything to Ned Newton. But he bade his friend good-bye and went out after the two men. They had disappeared.

Rad was in the electric runabout, waiting for him. The words spoken by O'Malley (Ned thought it must have been he who spoke of the invention because of his deep voice) continued to disturb Ned's thought.

"Rad," he said, as he got into the runabout, "did you ever hear the name O'Malley?"

"Sure has," declared the colored man. "And it's a bad name and a bad man owns it."

"Do you mean that?" exclaimed the financial manager of the Swift Construction Company, with increasing apprehension. "Who is he?"

"Why, Mr. Newton, don't you 'member dat man?"

"Who is he?" repeated Ned.

"Dat Andy O'Malley is de one what tried to hold up Massa Tom dat time. O'Malley is de man what's been spyin' on Massa Tom--"

"Great grief!" exclaimed Ned, breaking in with excitement. "I'll drive as fast as I can, Rad. There is something wrong at the works, I do believe!"

"What's wrong, Mr. Ned?" demanded Rad. "We just come from dere, and everyt'ing was all right."

"I just heard something that O'Malley said. I want to get back in a hurry. I believe that scoundrel is attempting to blow up Tom's locomotive. We've got to get to the works just as quick as we can."