Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle/24
Tom rushed on through the woods. The lighted room into which he had been looking had temporarily blinded him when it came to plunging into the darkness again, and he could not see where he was going. He crashed full-tilt into a tree, and was thrown backward. Bruised and cut, he picked himself up and rushed off in another direction. Fortunately he struck into some sort of a path, probably one made by cows, and then, as his eyes recovered their faculties, he could dimly distinguish the trees on either side of him and avoid them.
His heart, that was beating fiercely, calmed down after his first fright, and when he had run on for several minutes he stopped.
"That—that must—have been—the—the man—from the boat," panted our hero, whispering to himself. "He came back and saw me. I wonder if he's after me yet?"
Tom listened. The only sound he could hear was the trill and chirp of the insects of the woods. The pursuit, which had lasted only a few minutes, was over. But it might be resumed at any moment. Tom was not safe yet, he thought, and he kept on.
"I wonder where I am? I wonder where my motor-cycle is? I wonder what I had better do?" he asked himself.
Three big questions, and no way of settling them. Tom pulled himself up sharply.
"I've got to think this thing out," he resumed. "They can't find me in these woods to-night, that's sure, unless they get dogs, and they're not likely to do that. So I'm safe that far. But that's about all that is in my favor, I won't dare to go back to the house, even if I could find it in this blackness, which is doubtful. It wouldn't be safe, for they'll be on guard now. It looks as though I was up against it. I'm afraid they may imagine the police are after them, and go away. If they do, and take the model and papers with them, I'll have an awful job to locate them again, and probably I won't be able to. That's the worst of it. Here I have everything right under my hands, and I can't do a thing. If I only had some one to help me; some one to leave on guard while I went for the police. I'm one against three—no, four, for the man in the boat is back. Let's see; what can I do?"
Then a sudden plan came to him.
"The lake shore!" he exclaimed, half aloud. "I'll go down there and keep watch. If they escape they'll probably go in the boat, for they wouldn't venture through the woods at night. That's it. I'll watch on shore and if they do leave in the boat——" He paused again, undecided. "Why, if they do," he finished, "I'll sing out, and make such a row that they'll think the whole countryside is after them. That may drive them back, or they may drop the box containing the papers and model, and cut for it. If they do I'll be all right. I don't care about capturing them, if I can get dad's model back."
He felt more like himself, now that he had mapped out another plan.
"The first thing to do is to locate the lake," reasoned Tom. "Let's see; I ran in a straight line away from the house—that is, as nearly straight as I could. Now if I turn around and go straight back, bearing off a little to the left. I ought to come to the water. I'll do it."
But it was not so easy as Tom imagined, and several times he found himself in the midst of almost impenetrable bushes. He kept on, however, and soon had the satisfaction of emerging from the woods out on the shore of the lake. Then, having gotten his hearings as well as he could is the darkness, he moved down until he was near the deserted house. The light was still showing from the window, and Tom judged by this that the men had not taken fright and fled.
"I suppose I could sneak down and set the motor-boat adrift," he argued. "That would prevent them leaving by way of the lake, anyhow. That's what I'll do! I'll cut off one means of escape. I'll set the boat adrift!"
Very cautiously he advanced toward where he had seen the small craft put out. He was on his guard, for he feared the men would be on the watch, but he reached the dock in safety, and was loosening the rope that tied the boat to the little wharf when another thought came to him.
"Why set this boat adrift?" he reasoned. "It is too good a boat to treat that way, and, besides, it will make a good place for me to spend the rest of the night. I've got to stay around here until morning, and then I'll see if I can't get help. I'll just appropriate this boat for my own use. They have dad's model, and I'll take their boat."
Softly he got into the craft, and with an oar which was kept in it to propel it in case the engine gave out, he poled it along the shore of the lake until he was some distance away from the dock. That afternoon he had seen a secluded place along the shore, a spot where overhanging bushes made a good hiding place, and for this he headed the craft. A little later it was completely out of sight, and Tom stretched out on the cushioned seats, pulling a tarpaulin over him. There he prepared to spend the rest of the night.
"They can't get away except through the woods now, which I don't believe they'll do," he thought, "and this is better for me than staying out under a tree. I'm glad I thought of it."
The youth, naturally, did not pass a very comfortable night, though his bed was not a half bad one. He fell into uneasy dozes, only to arouse, thinking the men in the old mansion were trying to escape. Then he would sit up and listen, but be could hear nothing. It seemed as if morning would never come, but at length the stars began to fade, and the sky seemed overcast with a filmy, white veil. Tom sat up, rubbed his smarting eyes, and stretched his cramped limbs.
"Oh, for a hot cup of coffee!" he exclaimed. "But not for mine, until I land these chaps where they belong. Now the question is, how can I get help to capture them?"
His hunger was forgotten in this. He stepped from the boat to a secluded spot on the shore. The craft, he noted, was well hidden.
"I've got to go back to where I left my motor-cycle, jump on that, and ride for aid," he reasoned. "Maybe I can get the charcoal-burner to go for me, while I come back and stand guard. I guess that would be the best plan, I certainly ought to be on hand, for there is no telling when these fellows will skip out with the model, if they haven't gone already. I hate to leave, yet I've got to. It's the only way. I wish I'd done as dad suggested, and brought help. But it's too late for that. Well, I'm off."
Tom took a last look at the motor-boat, which was a fine one. He wished it was his. Then he struck through the woods. He had his bearings now, and was soon at the place where he had left his machine. It had not been disturbed. He caught a glimpse of the old mansion on his way out of the woods. There appeared to be no one stirring about it.
"I hope my birds haven't flown!" he exclaimed, and the thought gave him such uneasiness that he put it from him. Pushing his heavy machine ahead of him until he came to a good road, he mounted it, and was soon at the charcoal-burner's shack. There came no answer to his knock, and Tom pushed open the door. The old man was not in. Tom could not send him for help.
"My luck seems to be against me!" he murmured. "But I can get something to eat here, anyhow. I'm almost starved!"
He found the kitchen utensils, and made some coffee, also frying some bacon and eggs. Then, feeling much refreshed, and having left on the table some money to pay for the inroad he had made on the victuals, he started to go outside.
As our hero stepped to the door he was greeted by a savage growl that made him start in alarm.
"A dog!" he mused. "I didn't know there was one around."
He looked outside and there, to his dismay, saw a big, savage-appearing bulldog standing close to where he had left his motor-cycle. The animal had been sniffing suspiciously at the machine.
"Good dog!" called Tom. "Come here!"
But the bulldog did not come. Instead the beast stood still, showed his teeth to Tom and growled in a low tone.
"Wonder if the owner can be near?" mused the young inventor. "That dog won't let me get my machine, I am afraid."
Tom spoke to the animal again and again the dog growled and showed his teeth. He next made a move as if to leap into the house, and Tom quickly stepped back and banged shut the door.
"Well, if this isn't the worst yet!" cried the youth to himself. "Here, just at the time I want to be off, I must be held up by such a brute as that outside. Wonder how long he'll keep me a prisoner?"
Tom went to a window and peered out. No person had appeared and the lad rightly surmised that the bulldog had come to the cottage alone. The beast appeared to be hungry, and this gave Tom a sudden idea.
"Maybe if I feed him, he'll forget that I am around and give me a chance to get away," he reasoned. "Guess I had better try that dodge on him."
Tom looked around the cottage and at last found the remains of a chicken dinner the owner had left behind. He picked up some of the bones and called the bulldog. The animal came up rather suspiciously. Tom threw him one bone, which he proceeded to crunch up vigorously.
"He's hungry right enough," mused Tom. "I guess he'd like to sample my leg. But he's not going to do it—not if I can help it."
At the back of the cottage was a little shed, the door to which stood open. Tom threw a bone near to the door of this shed and then managed to throw another bone inside the place. The bulldog found the first bone and then disappeared after the second.
"Now is my time, I guess," the young inventor told himself, and watching his chance, he ran from the cottage toward his motor-cycle. He made no noise and quickly shoved the machine into the roadway. Just as he turned on the power the bulldog came out of the shed, barking furiously.
"You've missed it!" said Tom grimly as the machine started, and quickly the cottage and the bulldog were left behind. The road was rough for a short distance and he had to pay strict attention to what he was doing.
"I've got to ride to the nearest village," he said. "It's a long distance, and, in the meanwhile, the men may escape. But I can't do anything else. I dare not tackle them alone, and there is no telling when the charcoal-burner may come back. I've got to make speed, that's all."
Out on the main road the lad sent his machine ahead at a fast pace. He was fairly humming along when, suddenly, from around a curve in the highway he heard the "honk-honk" of an automobile horn. For an instant his heart failed him.
"I wonder if those are the thieves? Maybe they have left the house, and are in their auto!" he whispered as he slowed down his machine.
The automobile appeared to have halted. As Tom came nearer the turn he heard voices. At the sound of one he started. The voice exclaimed:
"Bless my spectacles! What's wrong now? I thought that when I got this automobile I would enjoy life, but it's as bad as my motor-cycle was for going wrong! Bless my very existence, but has anything happened?"
"Mr. Damon!" exclaimed Tom, for he recognized the eccentric individual of whom he had obtained the motor-cycle.
The next moment Tom was in sight of a big touring car, containing, not only Mr. Damon, whom Tom recognized at once, but three other gentlemen.
"Oh, Mr. Damon," cried Tom, "will you help me capture a gang of thieves? They are in a deserted mansion in the woods, and they have one of my father's patent models! Will you help me, Mr. Damon?"
"Why, bless my top-knot!" exclaimed the odd gentleman. "If it isn't Tom Swift, the young inventor! Bless my very happiness! There's my motor-cycle, too! Help you? Why, of course we will. Bless my shoe-leather! Of course we'll help you!"