Chapter III. Tom Swift's Friends
 

Tom was still walking swiftly when he arrived in sight of Mary Nestor's home. He was so filled with excitement both because of the hold-up and the new scheme that Mr. Richard Bartholomew had brought to him from the West, that he could keep neither to himself. He just had to tell Mary!

Mary Nestor was a very pretty girl, and Tom thought she was just about right in every particular. Although he had been about a good deal for a young fellow and had seen girls everywhere, none of them came up to Mary. None of them held Tom's interest for a minute but this girl whom he had been around with for years and whom he had always confided in.

As for the girl herself, she considered Tom Swift the very nicest young man she had ever seen. He was her beau-ideal of what a young man should be. And she entered enthusiastically into the plans for everything that Tom Swift was interested in.

Mary was excited by the story Tom told her in the Nestor sitting room. The idea of the electric locomotive she saw, of course, was something that might add to Tom's laurels as an inventor. But the other phase of the evening's adventure--"Tom, dear!" she murmured with no little disturbance of mind. "That man who stopped you! He is a thief, and a dangerous man! I hate to think of your going home alone."

"He's got what he was after," chuckled Tom. "Is it likely he will bother me again?"

"And you do not seem much worried about it," she cried, in wonder.

"Not much, I confess, Mary," said Tom, and grinned.

"But if, as you suppose, that man was working for Mr. Bartholomew's enemies

"I am convinced that he was, for he did not rob me of my watch and chain or loose money. And he could have done so easily. I don't mind about the old wallet. There was only five dollars in it."

"But those notes you said you took of Mr. Bartholomew's offer?"

"Oh, yes," chuckled Tom again. "Those notes. Well, I may as well explain to you, Mary, and not try to puzzle you any longer. But that highwayman is sure going to be puzzled a long, long time."

"What do you mean, Tom?"

"Those notes were jotted down in my own brand of shorthand. Such stenographic notes would scarcely be readable by anybody else. Ho, ho! When that bold, bad hold-up gent turns the notes over to Montagne Lewis, or whoever his principal is, there will be a sweet time."

"Oh, Tom! isn't that fun?" cried Mary, likewise much amused.

"I can remember everything we said there in the library," Tom continued. "I'll see Ned tonight on my way home from here, and he will draw a contract the first thing in the morning."

"You are a smart fellow, Tom!" said Mary, her laughter trilling sweetly.

"Many thanks, Ma'am! Hope I prove your compliment true. This two-mile-a-minute stunt--"

"It seems wonderful," breathed Mary.

"It sure will be wonderful if we can build a locomotive that will do such fancy lacework as that," observed Tom eagerly. "It will be a great stunt!"

"A wonderful invention, Tom."

"More wonderful than Mr. Bartholomew knows," agreed the young fellow. "An electric locomotive with both great speed and great hauling power is what more than one inventor has been aiming at for two or three decades. Ever since Edison and Westinghouse began their experiments, in truth."

"Is the locomotive they are using out there a very marvelous machine?" asked the girl, with added interest.

"No more marvelous than the big electric motors that drag the trains into New York City, for instance, through the tunnels. Steam engines cannot be used in those tunnels for obvious, as well as legal, reasons. They are all wonderful machines, using third-rail power.

"But that Jandel patent that Mr. Bartholomew is using out there on the H. & P. A. is probably the highest type of such motors. It is up to us to beat that. Fortunately I got a pass into the Jandel shops a few months ago and I studied at first hand the machine Mr. Bartholomew is using."

"Isn't that great!" cried Mary.

"Well, it helps some. I at least know in a general way the 'how' of the construction of the Jandel locomotive. It is simple enough. Too simple by far, I should say, to get both speed and power. We'll see," and he nodded his head thoughtfully.

Tom did not stay long with the girl, for it was already late in the evening when he had arrived at her house. As he got up to depart Mary's anxiety for his safety revived.

"I wish you would take care now, Tom. Those men may hound you."

"What for?" chuckled the young inventor. "They have the notes they wanted."

"But that very thing--the fact that you fooled them--will make them more angry. Take care."

"I have a means of looking out for myself, after all," said Tom quietly, seeing that he must relieve her mind. "I let that fellow get away with my wallet; but I won't let him hurt me. Don't fear."

She had opened the door. The lamplight fell across porch and steps, and in a broad white band even to the gate and sidewalk. There was a motor-car slowing down right before the open gate.

"Who's this?" queried Tom, puzzled.

A sharp voice suddenly was raised in an exclamatory explosion.

"Bless my breakshoes! is that Tom Swift? Just the chap I was looking for. Bless my mileage-book! this saves me time and money."

"Why, it's Mr. Wakefield Damon," Mary cried, with something like relief in her tones. "You can ride home in his car, Tom."

"All right, Mary. Don't be afraid for me," replied Tom Swift, and ran down the walk to the waiting car.

"Bless my vest buttons! Tom Swift, my heart swells when I see you--"

"And is like to burst off the said vest buttons?" chuckled the young fellow, stepping in beside his eccentric friend who blessed everything inanimate in his florid speech.

"I am delighted to catch you--although, of course," and Tom knew the gentleman's eyes twinkled, "I could have no idea that you were over here at Mary's, Tom."

"Of course not," rejoined the young inventor calmly. "Seeing that I only come to see her just as often as I get a chance."

"Bless my memory tablets! is that the fact?" chuckled Mr. Damon. "Anyway, I wanted to see you so particularly that I drove over in my car tonight--"

"Wait a minute," said Tom, hastily. "Is this important?"

"I think so, Tom."

"Let me get something else off of my mind first, then, Mr. Damon," Tom Swift said quickly. "Drive around by Ned's house, will you, please? Ned Newton's. After I speak a minute with him I will be at your service.

"Surely, Tom; surely," agreed the gentleman.

The automobile had been running slowly. Mr. Damon knew the streets of Shopton very well, and he headed around the next corner. As the car turned, a figure bounded out of the shadow near the house line. Two long strides, and the man was on the running board of the car upon the side where Tom Swift sat. Again an ugly club was raised above the young fellow's head.

"You're the smart guy!" croaked the coarse voice Tom had heard before. "Think you can bamboozle me, do you? Up with 'em!"

"Bless my spark-plug!" gasped Mr. Wakefield Damon.

Either from nervousness or intention, he jerked the steering wheel so that the car made a sudden leap away from the curb. The figure of the stranger swayed.

Instantly Tom Swift struck the man's arm up higher and from under his own coat appeared something that bulked like a pistol in his right hand. He had intimated to Mary Nestor that he carried something with which to defend himself from highwaymen if he chose to. This invention, his ammonia gun, now came into play.

"Bless my failing eyesight!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as he shot the motor-car ahead again in a straight line.

The man who had accosted Tom so fiercely fell off the running board and rolled into the gutter, screaming and choking from the fumes from Tom's gun.

"Drive on!" commanded the young inventor. "If he keeps bellowing like that the police will pick him up. I guess he will let us alone here-after."

"Bless my short hairs and long ones!" chuckled Mr. Damon. "You are the coolest young fellow, Tom, that I ever saw. That man must have been a highwayman. And it is of some of those gentry that I drove over to Shopton this evening to talk to you about."