Tom Swift and His Motor-Boat/Chapter 17
"THERE SHE IS!"
Anticipating that he would be some time on his search, the young inventor had gone prepared for it. He had a supply of provisions and he had told Mrs. Baggert he might not be back that night. But he did not intend to sleep aboard the Red Streak, which, being a racing boat, was not large enough to afford much room for passengers. Tom had planned, therefore, to put up at some hotel near the lake in case his hunt should last beyond one night.
That it would do this was almost certain, for all that morning he searched unavailingly for the Arrow. A distant mill whistle sounding over Lake Carlopa told him it was noon.
Dinner time," he announced to himself. "Guess I'll run up along shore in the shade and eat."
Selecting a place where the trees overhung the water, forming a quiet, cool nook, Tom sent the boat in there, and, tying it to a leaning tree, he began his simple meal. Various thoughts filled his mind, but chief among them was the desire to overtake the thieves who had his boat. That it was Happy Harry's gang he was positive.
The lad nearly finished eating and was considering what direction he might best search in next when he heard, running along a road that bordered the lake, an automobile.
"Wonder who that it?" mused Tom. "It won't do any harm to take a look, for it might be some of those thieves again. They probably still have their auto or Happy Harry couldn't have gotten from Sandport to Shopton so quickly."
The young inventor slipped ashore from the motor-boat, taking care to make no noise. Stealing silently along toward the road, he peered through the underbrush for a sight of the machine, which seemed to be going slowly. But before the youth had a glimpse of it he was made aware who the occupant was by hearing some one exclaim:
"Bless my shoe laces if this cantankerous contraption isn't going wrong again! I wonder if it's going to have a fit here in this lonely place. It acts just as if it was. Bless my very existence! Hold on now. Be nice! be nice!"
"Mr. Damon!" exclaimed Tom, and, without knowing it, he had spoken aloud.
"Hold on there! Hold on! Who's calling me in this forsaken locality? Bless my shirt studs! But who is it?" and the eccentric man who had sold Tom the motor-cycle looked intently at the bushes.
"Here I am, Mr. Damon," answered the lad, stepping out into the road. "I knew it was you as soon as I saw you."
"Bless my liver, but that's very true! I suppose you heard my unfortunate automobile puffing along. I declare I don't know what ails it. I got it on the advice of my physician, who said I must get out in the air, but, bless my gears, it's the auto who needs a doctor more than I do! It's continually out of order. Something is going to happen right away. I can tell by the way it's behaving."
Mr. Damon had thrown out the clutch, but the engine was still running, though in a jerky, uncertain fashion which indicated to the trained ear of the young inventor that something was wrong.
"Perhaps I can fix it for you as I did before," ventured Tom.
"Bless my eyebrows! Perhaps you can," cried the eccentric man hopefully. "You always seem to turn up at the right moment. How do you manage it?"
"I don't know. I remember the time you turned up just when I wanted you to help me capture Happy Harry and his gang, and now, by; a strange coincidence, I'm after them again."
"You don't say so! My good gracious! Bless my hatband! But that's odd. There!" he ejaculated suddenly as the automobile engine stopped with a choking sigh, "I knew something was going to happen."
"Let me take a look," proposed the lad, and he was soon busy peering into the interior of the machine. At first he could not find the trouble, but being a persistent youth, Tom went at it systematically and located it in two places. The clutch was not rightly adjusted and the carburetor float feed needed fixing.
The young inventor was not long in making the slight repairs and then he assured Mr. Damon that his automobile would run properly.
"Bless my very existence, but what a thing it is to have a head for mechanics!" exclaimed the odd man gratefully. "Now it would bother me to adjust a nutmeg grater if it got out of order, but I dare say you could fix it in no time."
"Yes," answered Tom, "I could and so could you, for there's nothing about it to fix. But you can go ahead now if you wish."
"Thank you. It just shows how ignorant I am of machinery. I presume something will go wrong in another mile or two. But may I ask what you are doing here? I presume you are in your motor-boat, sailing about for pleasure. And didn't I understand you to say you were after those chaps again? Bless my watch charm, but I was so interested in my machine that I didn't think to ask you."
"Yes, I am after those thieves again."
"In your motor-boat, I presume. Well, I hope you catch them. What have they stolen now?"
"My motor-boat. That's why I'm after them, but I had to borrow a craft to chase them with."
"Bless my soul! You don't tell me! How did it happen?"
Thereupon the lad related as much of the story as was necessary to put Mr. Damon in possession of the facts and he ended up with:
"I don't suppose you have seen anything of the men in my boat, have you?"
Mr. Damon seemed strangely excited. He had entered his auto, but as the lad's story progressed the odd gentleman had descended. When Tom finished he exclaimed:
"Don't say a word now—not a word. I want to think, and that is a process which, for me, requires a little time. Don't speak a word now. Bless my left hand, but I think I can help you!"
He frowned, stamped first one foot, then the other, looked up at the sky, as if seeking inspiration there, and then down at the ground, as if that would help him to think. Then he clapped his hands smartly together and cried out:
"Bless my shoe buttons!"
"Have you seen them?" asked Tom eagerly.
"Was your boat one with a red arrow painted on the bow?" asked Mr. Damon in turn.
"It was!" and the lad was now almost as excited as was his friend.
"Then I've seen it, and, what's more, this morning! Bless my spark plug, I've seen it!"
"Tell me about it!" pleaded the young inventor, and Mr. Damon, calming himself after an effort, resumed:
"I was out for an early spin in my auto," he said, "and was traveling along a road that bordered the lake, about fifteen miles above here. I heard a motor-boat puffing along near shore, and, looking through the trees, I saw one containing three men. It had a red arrow on the bow, and that's why I noticed it, because I recalled that your boat was named the Dart."
"Arrow," corrected Tom.
"The Arrow. Oh, yes, I knew it was something like that. Well, of course at the time I didn't think that it was your boat, but I associted it in my mind with yours. Do you catch my meaning?"
Tom did and said so, wishing Mr. Damon would hurry and get to the point. But the eccentric character had to do things in his own way.
"Exactly," he resumed. "Well, I didn't think that was your boat, but, at the same time, I watched the men out of curiosity, and I was struck with their behavior. They seemed to be quarreling, and, from what I could hear, two of them seemed to be remonstrating with the third one for having taken some sort of a piece of wood from the forward compartment. I believe that is the proper term."
"Yes!" Tom almost shouted. "But where did they go? What became of them? What was the man doing to the forward compartment—where the gasoline tank is?"
"Exactly. I was trying to think what was kept there. That's it, the gasoline tank. Well, the boat kept on up the lake, and I don't know what became of the men. But about that piece of wood. It seems that one of the men removed a block from under the tank and the others objected. That's why they were quarreling."
"That's very strange," exclaimed the lad. "There must be some mystery about my boat that I don't understand. But that will keep until I get the boat itself. Good-by, Mr. Damon. I must be off."
"Up the lake after those thieves. I must lose no time," and Tom started to go back to where he had left the Red Streak.
"Hold on!" cried Mr. Damon. "I have something to propose, Tom. Two heads are better than one, even if one doesn't know how to adjust a nutmeg grate. Suppose I come along with you? I can point out the direction the men took, at any rate."
"I'll be very glad to have you," answered the lad, who felt that he might need help if there were three of the thieves in his craft. "But what will you do with your automobile?"
"I'll just run it down the road a way to where a friend of mine has a stable. I'll leave it in there and join you. Will you let me come? Bless my eye glasses, but I'd like to help catch those scoundrels!"
"I'll be very glad to have you. Go ahead, put the auto in the barn and I'll wait for you."
"I have a better plan than that," replied Mr. Damon. "Run your boat down to that point," and he indicated one about a mile up the lake. "I'll be there waiting for you, and we'll lose no time, I can cover the ground faster in my auto than you can in your boat."
Tom saw the advantage of this and was soon under way, while he heard on shore the puffing of his friend's car. On the trip to the point Tom puzzled over the strange actions of the man in taking one of the braces from under the gasoline tank.
"I'll wager he did it before," thought the lad. "It must be the same person who was tampering with the lock of the forward compartment the day I bought the boat. But why—that's the question—why?"
He could find no answer to this, puzzle over it as he did, and he gave it up. His whole desire now was to get on the trail of the thieves, and he had strong hopes, after the clew Mr. Damon had given him. The latter was waiting for him on the point, and so nimble was the owner of the auto, in spite of his size, that Tom was not delayed more than the fraction of a minute ere he was under way again, speeding up the lake.
"Now keep well in toward shore," advised Mr. Damon. "Those fellows don't want to be observed any more than they can help, and they'll sneak along the bank. They were headed in that direction," and he pointed it out. "Now I hope you won't think I'm in the way. Besides, you know, if you get your boat back, you'll want some one to help steer it, while you run this one. I can do that, at all events, bless my very existence!"
"I am very glad of your help," replied the lad, but he did not take his eyes from the water before him, and he was looking for a sight of his boat with the men in it.
For three hours or more Tom and Mr. Damon cruised in and out along the shore of the lake, going farther and farther up the body of water. Tom was beginning to think that he would reach Sandport without catching sight of the thieves, and he was wondering if, after all, he might not better stop off and see his father when, above the puffing of the motor in the Red Streak, he heard the put-put of another boat.
"Listen!" cried Mr. Damon, who had heard it at the same time.
"They're just ahead of us," whispered his companion.
"If it's them," was the lad's reply.
"Speed up and we'll soon see," suggested Mr. Damon, and Tom shoved the timer over. The Red Streak forged ahead. The sound of the other boat came more plainly now. It was beyond a little point of land. The young inventor steered out to get around it and leaned eagerly forward to catch the first glimpse of the unseen craft. Would it prove to be the Arrow?
The put-put became louder now. Mr. Damon 'was standing up, as if that would, in some mysterious way, help. Then suddenly the other boat came into view. Tom saw it in an instant and knew it for the Arrow.
"There she is!" he cried.