Chapter XVII. The Wreck of Forty-Eight
 

The two chums sought their berths that night in high fettle. Even Ned sloughed off his mood of apprehension which he had worn on boarding the train at Shopton.

For, true to the arrangement Tom had made with the railroad people, another reassuring telegram was brought to him before bedtime. The second conductor responsible for the management of the Western bound freight to which the Hercules 0001 was attached, sent back a brief statement of the safety of the electric locomotive.

Naturally the two chums would have passed the freight and got well ahead of it before reaching Hendrickton. But Tom had business in Chicago, and they stayed over in that city for twenty-four hours. The freight train went around the city, of course. But the telegrams continued to reach Tom promptly, even at the hotel where he and Ned stopped in the city.

Occasionally the trainmen in charge of the freight mentioned Koku. His eccentric behavior doubtless somewhat puzzled the railroaders.

"That's all right," chuckled Ned. "Let them think Koku is dangerous if they want to. That O'Malley person believed he was!"

"I'll say so!" replied Tom. "The way he ran when Koku started after him that time on the Waterfield Road seemed to prove that he didn't want to mix with Koku."

"If he--or other spies--learns that Koku is with the Hercules Three-Oughts-One, it ought to warn them away from the locomotive."

This was Ned's final speech before getting into his berth. He, as well as Tom, slept quite as calmly on this first night out of Chicago as they had before.

They knew exactly where the electric locomotive was. It was on the same road as this train they were traveling in, and, although on a different track, it was not many miles ahead. In fact, if the two trains kept to schedule, the transcontinental passenger train would pass the freight in question about five o'clock in the morning.

It lacked half an hour of that time when the Pullman train came suddenly to a jolting stop. Both Tom and Ned were awakened with the rest of the passengers in their coach.

Heads were poked out between curtains all along the aisle and a chorus of more or less excited voices demanded:

"What's the matter?"

"Nothin's the matter wid dis train, gen'lemens an' ladies," came in the porter's important voice. "Jest nothin' at all's happened. It's done happened up ahead of us, das all."

"Well, what has happened ahead of us, George?" asked Ned.

"Jest another train, Boss, been splatterin' itself all ober de right of way. We sort o' bein' held up, das all," replied the porter.

"That's good news--for us," said Ned, preparing to climb back into his berth. But he halted where he was when he heard his chum ask:

"What train left the track, George?"

"A freight train, sah. Yes, sah. Number Forty-eight. She jumped de rails, side-swiped de accommodation dat was holdin' us back, and has jest done spread herself all over de right of way."

"My goodness!" gasped Ned.

"Hear that, Ned?" exclaimed Tom. "Scramble into your clothes, boy. The Hercules Three-Oughts-One is hitched to Forty-eight."

"Suppose she's off the track?" murmured Ned.

"It's lucky if she isn't smashed to matchwood," groaned Tom, and almost immediately left the Pullman coach on the run.

Ned was not far behind him. When they reached the cinder path beside the freight train it was just sunrise. Long arms of rosy light reached down the mountain side to linger on the tracks and what was strewed across them. A glance assured the two young fellows from the East that it was a bad smash indeed.

Several of the rear boxcars were slung athwart the passenger tracks. The passenger train that had been ahead of the Pullman train on which Tom and Ned rode, had been badly beaten in all along its side. Scarcely a whole window was left on the inner side of the five cars. But those cars were not derailed. It was merely some of the freight cars that retarded the further progress of the transcontinental flyer. A derrick car must be brought up to lift away the debris before the fast train could move on.

Tom and Ned walked forward along the length of the wreck. Suddenly the anxious young inventor seized Ned's arm.

"Glory be!" he ejaculated. "It's topside up, anyway."

"The Hercules Three-Oughts-One?" gasped Ned.

"That's what it is!"

Tom quickened his pace, and his financial manager followed close upon his heels. The forward end of Forty-eight had not left the track and the electric locomotive stood upright upon the rails, being near the head end of the train.

"If this wreck was intentional, and aimed at your invention, Tom," whispered Ned Newton, "it did not result as the wreckers expected."

Tom scouted the idea suggested by his chum. And in a few moments they learned from a railroad employee that a broken flange on a boxcar wheel had caused the wreck.

"So that disposes of your suspicion, Ned," said Tom, approaching the huge electric locomotive.

"Hey, gents!" exclaimed another railroad man, one of the crew of the wrecked freight. "Better keep away from that locomotive."

"What's the matter with it?" Ned asked, curiously.

"Got some kind of an aborigine caged up in it. You put your hand on any part of it and he's likely to jump out and bite your hand off, or something. Believe me, he's some savage."

Both Tom and Ned burst into laughter. The former went forward to the door of the cab and knocked in a peculiar way. It was a signal that the giant recognized instantly.

"Master!" Koku cried from inside the cab. "Master! Him come in?"

"No, Koku," said Tom. "I'm not coming in. Are you all right?"

"Yes. Koku all right. Him come out?"

"No, no!" laughed Tom. "You are not at your journey's end yet, Koku. Keep on the job a while longer."

"Sure. Koku stay here forever, if Master say so."

"Forever is a long word, Koku," said Tom, more seriously. "I'll tell you when to open the door. I'll be at the end of the journey to meet you."

"It all right if Master say so. But Koku no like to travel in box," grumbled the giant.

Tom turned from the electric locomotive to see Ned staring across the tracks at a man who was talking to several of the train crew of the side-swiped accommodation train. That train was about to be moved on under its own power. None of the wreckage of the freight interfered with the progress of the accommodation.

Tom stepped to Ned's side and touched his arm. "Who is he?" the inventor asked.

The man who had attracted Ned's attention and now held Tom's interest as well was a solid looking man with gray hair and a dyed mustache. He was chewing on a long and black cigar, and he spoke to the train hands with authority.

"Well, why can't you find him?" he wanted to know in a hoarse and arrogant voice.

"Who is he?" asked Tom again in Ned's ear.

"I've seen him somewhere. Or else I've seen somebody that looks like him. Maybe I've seen his picture. He's somebody of importance."

"He thinks he is," rejoined the young inventor, with some disdain.

In answer to something one of the railroad men said the important looking individual uttered an oath and added:

"There's nobody been killed then? He's just missing? He was sitting in the coach ahead of me. I saw him just before the wreck. You know O'Malley yourself. Do you mean to say you haven't seen him, Conductor?"

"I assure you he disappeared like smoke, sir," said the passenger conductor. "I haven't an idea what became of him."

"Humph! If you see him, send him to me, and the solid man stepped heavily aboard the nearest coach and disappeared inside.

Tom and Ned stared at each other with wondering gaze. O'Malley! The spy who had represented Montagne Lewis and the Hendrickton & Western Railroad in the East.

"What do you know about that?" demanded Ned, wonderingly.

"Hold on!" exclaimed Tom. He sprang across the rails after the conductor of the accommodation train that was just starting on. "Let me ask you a question."

"Yes, sir?" replied the conductor

"Who was that man who just spoke to you?" "That man? Why, I thought everybody out this way knew Montagne Lewis. That is his name, sir--and a big man he is. Yes, sir," and the conductor, giving the watching engineer of his train the "highball," caught the hand-rail of the car and swung himself aboard as the train started.