Chapter V. Barbed Wire Entanglements
 

"This gets us to your particular trouble, Mr. Damon," Tom Swift said, while the motor car was rolling along. "You intimated that you had something to consult me about."

"Bless my windshield! I should say I had," exclaimed the eccentric gentleman, swinging around a corner at rather a fast clip.

"And has it to do with highwaymen?" asked Tom, much amused.

"Some of the same gentry, Tom," declared Mr. Damon. "I haven't any peace of my life, I really haven't!"

"Who is troubling you, sir?"

"Why, what nonsense that is, to ask that!" ejaculated the gentleman. "If I knew who they were I wouldn't ask odds of anybody. I'd go after them. As it is, I've left my servant with a gun loaded with rock-salt watching for them now."

"Burglars?" exclaimed Tom, with real interest.

"Chicken-house burglars! That's the kind of burglars they are," growled Mr. Damon. "Two or three times they have tried to get my prize buff Orpingtons. Last night they got me out of bed twice fooling around the chicken house and yard. Other neighbors have lost their hens already. I don't mean to lose mine. Want you to help me, Tom."

"Is that all that is worrying you, Mr. Damon?" laughed the young fellow.

"Bless my radiator! isn't that enough?"

"I know you set your clock by those buff Orpingtons," agreed Tom.

"That's right. That ten-months cockerel, Blue Ribbon Junior, never fails to crow at three-thirty-three to the minute. Bless my combs and spurs; a wonderful bird!"

"But let's see how I can help you regarding the chicken thieves," Tom said, as they sighted the lights of the Swift house beyond the long stockade fence that surrounded the Construction Company's premises.

"You know I have a barbed wire entanglement around the whole yard and hen-house. I don't take any more chances than I can help. Those prize huff Orpingtons are a great temptation to chicken lovers--both blond and brunette," and in spite of his anxiety, Mr. Damon could chuckle at his own joke. "Even your old Eradicate's friend fell for chickens, you know"

"And Rad promptly cured him of the disease," laughed Tom.

"And I'm trying to cure these others. I've charged my shotgun with rock-saltÄas he did. My servant has orders to shoot anybody who tampers with my chicken house tonight.

"But bless my shirt!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "I'll never be able to sleep comfortably until I know that no thief can get at my buff Orpingtons. I want you to fix it so I can sleep in peace, Tom."

He slowed to a stop in front of the Swift's door. Tom stared at his eccentric friend questioningly.

"Bless my gaiters!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, "don't you see what I want? And your head already full of this electrified locomotive you are going to build?"

"Hush!" murmured Tom, with his hand upon his companion's arm. "But what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to fix it so that I can turn a current of electricity into that barbed wire chicken fence at night that will shock any thief that touches the wires. Not kill 'em--though they ought to be killed!" declared the eccentric man. "But shock 'em aplenty. Can't you do it for me, Tom Swift?"

"Of course it can be done," said the young fellow. "You use electricity in your house. There is a feed cable in the street. We will have to change your lighting switch for another. Fix it with the Electric Supply Company. It will cost you more--"

"Bless my pocketbook! I don't care how much it costs. It will be ample satisfaction to see just one low-down chicken thief squirming on those wires.

Tom laughed again. He meant to help his friend; but he did not propose to rig the wires so that anybody, even a chicken thief, would be seriously injured by the electric current passing through the strands.

"I'll come down to Waterfield tomorrow in the electric runabout and fix things up for you. Get a permit from the Electric Supply Company early in the morning. Tell them I will rig the thing myself. They can send their inspector afterward."

"That's fine, Tom! What--Ugh! what's this? Another footpad?"

Out of the darkness beside the fence a bulky figure started. For a moment Tom thought it was the same man who had attacked him twice. Then the very size of this new assailant proved that suspicion to be unfounded.

"Koku!" exclaimed Tom. "What's the matter with you, Koku?"

The huge and only half-tamed giant gained the side of the car in seemingly a single stride. In the dark they could not see his face, but his voice distinctly showed excitement.

"Master come good. 'Cause there be enemy. Koku find--Koku kill!"

"Bless my magnifying glass!" ejaculated Mr. Damon. "That fellow is the most bloodthirsty individual that I ever saw."

"All in his bringing up," chuckled Tom who knew, as the saying is, that Koku's bark was a deal worse than his bite. "Killing and maiming his enemies used to be Koku's principal job. But he has his orders now. He doesn't kill anybody without consulting me first."

"Bless my buttons!" murmured Mr. Damon. "That is certainly a good thing too. What's the matter with him now?"

That is exactly what Tom himself wanted to know. He had dropped a hand upon the arm of the giant as he stood beside the car.

"Who is the enemy, Koku?" he asked.

"Not know, Master. See him footmarks. Follow him footmarks. Not find. When do find--kill!"

"That is, after first obtaining my permission," said Tom dryly.

"It is so," agreed the imperturbable Koku. "See! Show Master footmarks. Him look in at window. See! Koku have got the wonder lamp."

He flashed the electric torch in his hand. He left the car and strode into the yard. Tom followed him, and Mr. Damon's curiosity brought him along.

The giant pointed the ray of the flashlight at the ground below the porch. Several footprints --the marks of boots at least number twelve in size--were imbedded in the soil. Koku went around the house to the other side, following repeated marks of the same boots.

"How came you to find them, Koku?" asked Tom softly.

"Me look. All around stockade," and he waved a generous gesture with his free hand including the fence about the works. "Enemy may come. Anytime he come. Now he come."

"Bless my slippery shoes!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, who had hard work to keep up both physically and mentally with the giant. "What does he mean

"Koku has always had it in his head," explained Tom, "that we built that fence about the works to keep out enemies. And, to tell the truth, we did! But all that is over--"

"Is it?" asked Mr. Damon pointedly. "Enemy here," added Koku, flashing the lamplight upon the footprints on the ground.

"Those bootmarks," added Mr. Damon, "are doubtless those of that fellow who jumped upon the running board of the car."

"Humph! And who robbed me of my wallet," added Tom musingly. "Well, it might be. And, if so, Koku is right. The enemy has come."

"Me kill!" exclaimed the giant, stretching himself to his full height.

"We'll consider the killing later," said Tom, who well knew his influence with this big fellow. "You are forbidden to kill anybody, or chase anybody away from here, until I have a talk with them. Enemy or not--understand?"

"Me understand," said Koku in his deep voice. "Master say--me do."

"Just the same," Tom said, aside to Mr. Damon, "there has been somebody around here. I guess Mr. Bartholomew was right. He is being spied upon. And now that we Swifts are going to try to do something for him, we are likely to be spied upon too."

"Bless my statue of Nathan Hale!" murmured the eccentric gentleman. "I believe you. And you've been already attacked twice by some thug! You are positively in danger, Tom."

"I don't know about that. Save that the fellow who robbed me was sore because I fooled him. Naturally he might like to get square about those shorthand notes. He knows no more now about Mr. Bartholomew's business with us than he did before he held me up."

"That is a fact," agreed Mr. Damon.

"And that brings me to another warning, Mr. Damon," added Tom earnestly, as his friend climbed into the motor car again. "Keep all that has happened, and all that I told you and Ned about the H. & P. A. railroad, to yourself."

"Surely! Surely!"

"If Mr. Bartholomew's rivals continue to keep their spies hanging around the works here, we'll handle them properly. Trust Koku for that," and Tom chuckled.

"And don't forget my barbed wire entanglements," put in Mr. Damon, starting his engine. "I want to fix those chicken thieves.''

"All right. I'll be over tomorrow," promised Tom Swift.

Then he stood a minute on the curb and looked after the disappearing lights of Mr. Damon's car. The latter's problem dovetailed, after all, into this discovery of possible marauders lurking about the Swift premises. Koku had made no mistake in bringing his attention to the matter of the footprints. Tom had seen somebody dodging into the darkness outside the house when he had come out on his way to visit Mary Nestor.

"And sure as taxes," muttered Tom, as he finally turned toward the front door again, "the fellow who twice attacked me this evening wore the boots the prints of which Koku found.

"Those fellows, whoever they are, whether Montagne Lewis and his associates, or not, have bitten off several mouthfuls that they may be unable to chew. Anyhow, before they get through they may learn something about the Swifts that they never knew before."