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Title: The Boy Inventors and the Vanishing Gun
Author: Bonner, Richard
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Boy Inventors and the Vanishing Gun" ***

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VANISHING GUN***


Transcriber’s note:

      In this book, words and phrases originally in italics are
      enclosed in underscores _like this_.



[Illustration: AS HE MOVED ALONG AND NEARED ITS CENTER, THE BOARD
CRACKED AND BENT OMINOUSLY.]


THE BOY INVENTORS AND THE VANISHING GUN

by

RICHARD BONNER

Author of “The Boy Inventors’ Wireless Triumph,”
“The Boy Inventors’ Diving Torpedo Boat,” etc., etc.

With Illustrations by Charles L. Wrenn



New York
Hurst & Company
Publishers

Copyright, 1912
By Hurst & Company

Printed in U. S. A.



                                CONTENTS

                        I. An Eccentric Inventor
                       II. The Vanishing Gun
                      III. A Flying Machine in Trouble
                       IV. Zack Gets Mad
                        V. The Yellow Auto
                       VI. Getting the Doctor
                      VII. A Rescue in Mid-Air
                     VIII. Mr. Peregrine Explains
                       IX. A Mysterious Man
                        X. An Unwelcome Encounter
                       XI. The Wrong Road
                      XII. The Red-Bearded Man
                     XIII. Jake Rook & Co.
                      XIV. The Driverless Car
                       XV. Tom Makes a Discovery
                      XVI. Jack in Dire Peril
                     XVII. “Drive Where We Tell You”
                    XVIII. In the Old Mansion
                      XIX. Mr. Stephen Melville
                       XX. Found and Lost
                      XXI. “Things Are Coming Our Way”
                     XXII. “There’s Many a Slip”
                    XXIII. The Start of a Long Chase
                     XXIV. Jack’s Triumph



                THE BOY INVENTORS AND THE VANISHING GUN



                    CHAPTER I—AN ECCENTRIC INVENTOR


Jack Chadwick stepped from the door of the shed where he and Tom Jesson,
his cousin—and, like Jack, about seventeen years old—had been busy all
the morning getting the Flying Road Racer back into shape, after that
wonderful craft’s adventurous cruise along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

“Almost eleven o’clock,” said Jack, and, thrusting his hand into the
breast pocket of his khaki working shirt, he drew out a rather crumpled
bit of yellow paper.

“What time did Mr. Pythias Peregrine say he’d be here?” inquired Tom,
who, like Jack, was attired in a business-like costume of khaki, topped
off with an automobile cap.

Jack, who had been busy perusing the telegraphic message inscribed on
the bit of yellow paper, read it aloud.

    “‘Jack Chadwick, High Towers, Nestorville, Mass.:

    “‘Can I see you about noon on Thursday next? Wish to talk
    over a new invention with you and your father. Wire if you
    can see me at that time and I will call on you.

                                            “‘Pythias Peregrine.
                                            “‘Pokeville, Mass.’”

“Wonder what he can want?” mused Professor Chadwick’s son, in a
speculative tone. “Pythias Peregrine is one of the best-known inventors
in the country. I guess we all ought to feel honored by his wanting to
consult with us, Tom.”

“You bet we ought. Wonder what sort of a man he is. I suppose he’ll be
inclined to look down upon us as a couple of kids when he does see us.
But—hello, Jack!” he broke off suddenly—“what’s that off there in the
sky—over there to the northwest?”

“That speck yonder? It looks like—yes, by ginger, it is—it’s an
aëroplane of some sort!”

“That’s what.”

A sudden idea struck Tom.

“Say, Jack, don’t you recall reading about Mr. Peregrine and his
aëroplane Red Hawk?”

“Yes, I do, very well indeed. He captured the Jordan Meritt speed and
long-distance cup with it.”

“That’s right, and I’m willing to bet the hole out of a doughnut that
that is the Red Hawk approaching right now. Pokeville is sixty miles off
in that direction, and what more natural than that Mr. Peregrine should
take an up-to-date way of paying his call?”

“I do believe you’re right, Tom,” said Jack. “Let’s go in and spruce up
a bit, and then we’ll come out and meet him.”

In the rear of the work shed, which housed the Flying Road Racer, was a
washroom, and to this the boys hastened to remove some of the grime of
their morning’s work. While they are thus engaged, and the aëroplane is
winging its way rapidly toward High Towers, it is a good time to tell
something about the two lads and their adventures.

As readers of the first volume of this series—“The Boy Inventors’
Wireless Triumph”—are aware, Jack Chadwick was the wide-awake,
good-looking son of a man well known for his achievements in science.
The name of Chester Chadwick was one of the best known in the world
along the lines of his chosen field of endeavor. Tom Jesson, almost as
bright a lad as his chum and cousin, was, like Jack, motherless. His
father, Jasper Jesson—Mr. Chadwick’s brother-in-law—lived at High
Towers, the remainder of which establishment was composed of Mrs.
Jarley, a motherly old housekeeper, two under servants, and Jupe, a
colored man-of-all-work about the place.

High Towers, Professor Chadwick’s estate, was, as we already know from
the address on Mr. Peregrine’s telegram, located near the village of
Nestorville, not far from Boston. It was a fine old place, and consisted
of a big, rambling house set in the midst of oaks and elms with broad
lawns and fields stretching on every side. But the most interesting
features of the place were a big lake and a group of sheds, workshops
and laboratories in which Professor Chadwick and his son and nephew
worked over their inventions.

For Jack and Tom were more like chums to Professor Chadwick than son and
nephew. Together the three had devised the Flying Road Racer, the
Chadwick gas gun, and many other remarkable devices. From his patents
Professor Chadwick had amassed a considerable fortune, thus disproving
the popular idea that inventors are, of necessity, shiftless or needy.

The present story opens on a day not long after the three, together with
Mr. Jesson, had returned from an adventurous trip in the neighborhood of
the semi-savage country of Yucatan. As readers of “The Boy Inventors’
Wireless Triumph” know, Jack and Tom, accompanied by Jupe, had been
despatched mysteriously to Lone Island, a desolate spot of land off the
mouth of the Rio Grande. Here they had awaited a wireless message from
Professor Chadwick, who was cruising on a chartered steam yacht, the Sea
King. At last the eagerly expected message came, and the boys set out on
a gasolene motor boat to find the Sea King, which, the message had
informed them, was disabled.

They found her, and also discovered that she was in peculiar trouble.
The rascally governor of the province of Yucatan, off which she lay,
had, so they learned, imprisoned Professor Chadwick, Mr. Jesson and some
sailors. The boys found that the Sea King carried on board the Flying
Road Racer—of which more anon—and they determined to utilize this craft
of the land and air in the work of rescue.

How Tom was re-united to his father, the explorer who had been given up
as lost in the wilderness of Yucatan for many years, cannot be told in
detail here; nor can we go into the surprising incident of the three
colored gems contained in a silver casket which caused a lot of trouble
for the boys and the others. But all came out well, and wireless played
a considerable part in getting the party out of many dilemmas.

It will also be recalled by readers of the volume whose contents we have
lightly sketched, that the Flying Road Racer—the aerial auto—had been
badly damaged, so far as her raising apparatus was concerned, when she
was blown to sea in a hurricane, during which those on board narrowly
escaped with their lives. Since their return to High Towers, the boys
had been engaged in refitting the craft on new principles, and Professor
Chadwick had been busy in Washington in connection with some patents.
Mr. Jesson had interested himself in scientific farming, and, at the
very moment that the boys had hastened into the shed to make swift
preparations to receive what they believed to be Mr. Peregrine’s Red
Hawk, he was busy in a corn patch with Jupe, the colored man.

Jack had just given a hasty dab with the brush and comb to his hair, and
Tom’s face was still buried in a towel when from the rear of the shed
where the corn patch was came the sound of angry and alarmed voices.

“Hyar, you, wha’ fo’ yo’ don’ look out? Wha’ fo’ yo’ mean come floppin’
lak an ole buzzard inter dis yar cohn patch—huh?”

Then, in milder tones:

“My dear sir, I beg of you, be careful. This corn is a particular kind.
If you alight here you’ll ruin several hills of it.”

“That’s Jupe and Uncle Jasper,” exclaimed Jack, throwing down the brush
and comb and rushing out; “wonder what’s up?”

Tom hastily followed his cousin.

“Sounds as if somebody’s trying to spoil dad’s corn patch,” he murmured,
as he ran.

As they rounded the corner of the Flying Road Racer’s shed, the boys
came on an astonishing sight—if anything can be called astonishing in
this century of marvels.

Above Mr. Jesson’s corn, of which he was justly proud, hovered a
beautifully finished monoplane with bright red planes. Its propeller was
buzzing like an angry bee—or rather like a dragon-fly, which it
resembled with its long tail and bright gossamer wings.

In the air ship was seated a small, rather stout figure, whose
countenance was almost hidden by goggles and a black leather skull cap
pierced with holes. As this brilliant apparition of the skies swooped
over the corn, so low that it almost mowed the feathery heads of the
topmost stalks, Jupe made angry passes at it with his hoe.

Mr. Jesson, less strenuous but equally alarmed for his corn, had his
arms raised imploringly.

“Yo’ jes git out of hyar, or I gib yo’ one wid dis yar hoe!” Jupe was
exclaiming angrily, as the boys came on the scene.

“Why, I—bless my soul—I won’t hurt you,” came reassuringly in sharp,
nervous tones from the occupant of the red aëroplane, which, the boys
had already guessed, was the Red Hawk, and their visitor, Mr. Peregrine.
“I merely dropped to inquire if this is High Towers?”

“Ya’as, dis am High Towers, an’ we got ’nough sky schooners ’roun’ hyar
now widout you drappin’ in on our cohn patch,” angrily cried Jupe.

“Jupe! Jupe!” shouted Jack, “be more respectful. That’s Mr. Peregrine!”

“Don’t cahr ef he is Jerry Green,” grunted Jupe, “he don’ wan’ ter
fustigate dis yar cohn patch wid dat red bug oh hisn.”

“Don’t be alarmed—won’t hurt it—very sorry—watch!”

With these jerky sentences, the occupant of the monoplane pulled a lever
and turned a wheel on the side of the body of his machine. Instantly it
rose, as gracefully as a butterfly, skimmed above the corn patch,
circled around the boys’ astonished heads, and then dropped lightly in
front of the shed which housed its ponderous rival of the skies.

As it came to a standstill the boys ran up to greet its operator, who,
although he appeared rather fat and podgy, had already leaped nimbly to
the ground.

“This is Mr. Pythias Peregrine?” inquired Jack politely.

“My name—glad to see you—dropped in, as it were—how do you do?—quite
well?—glad to hear it.”

“Mah goodness,” exploded Jupe, leaning on his hoe and scratching his
woolly head, “dat dar Jerry Green talks lak he had a package of
firecrackers in him tummy.”



                      CHAPTER II—THE VANISHING GUN


Mr. Peregrine, having alighted from his Red Hawk, removed his helmet and
goggles and mopped his forehead vigorously—for the day was warm, it
being about the middle of August. The removal of his headpiece revealed
him as a round-faced, good-natured looking man, with a rosy complexion
and deep-set, twinkling blue eyes. Having taken off his goggles, he
replaced them by a pair of big horn-rimmed spectacles, which, somehow,
gave him an odd resemblance to an amiable bull-frog. Indeed, his
explosive way of talking was very much at variance with his rotund
figure and appearance of “easy-goingness.”

“Naturally want to know what I came to see you about? Of course. Father
at home?—No. Recollect you said in your telegram he was in Washington.
Very warm, isn’t it?—It is.”

“I got on the long-distance telephone as soon as I received your
message,” rejoined Jack, finding it rather hard to keep a straight face
as Mr. Peregrine rapidly “popped” out the above sentences. “He said he
recalled you very well as an old scientific friend, and that anything
that we could do to aid you we were to do. Both my Cousin Tom and myself
will be very glad to help in any way you may require. By the way,” as
Mr. Jesson came up, “this is my uncle, and Tom’s father, Mr. Jasper
Jesson.”

“Jasper Jesson, eh? Noted explorer?—Yes. Lost in Yucatan?—You were. Did
I read about it in the papers?—I did. Columns of it. Was it
interesting?—Very. Glad to meet you, sir. Glad to meet you.”

He and Mr. Jesson shook hands cordially. Mr. Jesson expressed his
surprise at the manner in which Mr. Peregrine had been able to handle
his Red Hawk when the corn patch was threatened.

The inventor from Pokeville waved his hand airily.

“Was there ever any need for you to be alarmed?—None at all, my dear
sir, none at all. Very simple—Red Hawk, fine little air craft.—
Fast?—Very.—Your corn in danger?—Never for a moment.—Sorry I alarmed
you, though.”

The somewhat eccentric man went on to tell how he had set out from
Pokeville an hour before, and had winged his way to High Towers in fast
time. He had used the lake, which lay at the foot of the hill on which
they stood talking, as his guide. From above it was visible at a
distance of several miles.

“You spoke in your telegram of wishing to see us in regard ito some
invention?” hinted Jack, at this juncture.

“Did I?—Of course I did,” sputtered out Mr. Peregrine, using his
customary way of expressing himself. “A most interesting thing, too.
Well, the fact is, that I’m at a standstill.—Invention won’t work—heard
a lot of you boys—thought I’d get you to help me out.—Pay well—very
grateful.”

“So far as the last feature is concerned, don’t mention it,” said Jack,
“if we can help you out at all, Mr. Peregrine, it will give us great
pleasure. But what is this invention of yours?”

Mr. Peregrine cocked his head on one side and paused a short time before
answering. At length he spoke.

“It’s a vanishing gun,” he said, forgetting for once to add another
explosive sentence.

“A vanishing gun!” gasped the boys, while Mr. Jesson looked astonished
and Jupe muttered: “Wha’ de matter wid dis yar Jerry Green and his
perishing gun?”

“Yes, a vanishing motor gun,” repeated the inventor—“working on it for
the government. Big thing—designed for defense against aëroplanes—having
lot of trouble, though—need help—will you come?”

“Why—why,” said Jack, in some perplexity, “I think we might; but, Mr.
Peregrine, can’t you explain a little more in detail?”

“Impossible now—hard to tell about gun intelligently till you can see
and examine it. Why not come over to-morrow?—Not long trip—soon show you
gun—like to have your opinion on it, anyway.—Lot depends on
it—government offers big prize for successful one.”

“I think you can quite well go. Jack,” said Mr. Jesson, “Jupe, here, and
I can look after the place till you get back. I know your father would
like you to help Mr. Peregrine.”

“Then it’s settled,” declared Jack, who was equally anxious to see Mr.
Peregrine’s invention, “we’ll be over as early as possible.”

“Many thanks,” said the inventor warmly, looking really relieved, “with
you to help, I’m sure we can get it to work all right. One thing
more—your Flying Road Racer—may I look at it?”

“Surely,” rejoined Jack, “it’s in this shed. Come in, Mr. Peregrine.
Mind that step. There, that’s the Flying Road Racer!”

Jack’s face flushed proudly as he indicated what looked like an ordinary
automobile, with a silvery aluminum body shaped like a cigar and a
propeller at one end. A framework rose above the body, which was fitted
with comfortably padded seats. On this framework was a neatly folded
mass of material of a lightish yellow shade.

“But how can it fly?—Don’t see any wings—planes—anything,” asked Mr.
Peregrine, much puzzled. He had expected to see, from the newspaper
accounts he had read of the wonderful craft, a sort of monstrous flying
machine. Instead, he beheld only an odd-shaped automobile of great size,
with some fabric folded on the top of the framework like a giant bolt of
cloth.

“You see that folded mass on the top,” explained Jack, smiling at the
inventor’s perplexity; “well, that’s the gas envelope by which we fly.
When we wish to make an ascent we put water in the gas tank and the
moisture causes the radolite crystals to expand into vapor. When this is
done we turn the gas into the bag by twisting this valve.”

He indicated a brass tap on the dashboard, which bore, also, a number of
instruments and lubricating devices, besides this and other valves.

“Well, the bag is so folded that it expands without trouble as the gas
rushes in. When ready to fly, we connect the engines with that propeller
instead of with the ordinary auto transmission. And then we——”

“But—but—but——” exclaimed the inventor eagerly, “how do you keep your
machine on the ground while the bag is filling?”

“Easily,” smiled Jack. “I invented a form of anchor like a mushroom
type. One of these is cast out on each side. The harder the Flying Road
Racer tugs the deeper the edge of these anchors is embedded in the
earth. When we wish to rise we pull ‘trip-lines’ attached to each anchor
and—up we go!”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Mr. Peregrine. “Wouldn’t I like a ride in your
machine some day?—I would.”

“You shall certainly have one,” rejoined Jack, “both on the road and in
the air.”

Mr. Peregrine was pressed to remain to the noon-day meal, but he
refused, saying that he must return to his home in time to put the
vanishing gun in shape for the boys’ visit the next day.

“Can I promise you a surprise?” were his last words, as he started the
Red Hawk skyward, “I think I can.—Good-bye.”

Whirr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! The Red Hawk leaped skyward, bearing its lone
navigator swiftly aloft. In ten minutes it was a dot, and finally was
obliterated altogether.

“Well, what do you think of him?” asked Tom, as they turned away and
began to walk toward the house.

“That he is an eccentric man, but very clever,” rejoined Jack. “I’m
quite anxious to see this wonderful gun of his.”

“So am I,” said Tom, with equal eagerness, “if he has invented one that
will shoot straight upward on an absolutely vertical line, he has a
marvelous invention. Several inventors have been at work on the problem
of getting out a gun that will really be effective against aëroplanes,
but none has yet been found.”

“Well, I hope we can give Mr. Peregrine some good suggestions,” said
Jack, as they reached the house and Mrs. Jarley announced that lunch was
ready.



                CHAPTER III—A FLYING MACHINE IN TROUBLE


On returning to the Flying Road Racer’s shed that afternoon, the lads’
ears were saluted by a buzzing, roaring sound that they instantly
recognized.

“Somebody’s started up the motor!” exclaimed Jack, in a voice in which
anger mingled with astonishment.

“That’s right,” echoed Tom indignantly, “wonder who on earth it can be?”

“Come on, let’s hurry up and find out,” and Jack started on a run for
the shed.

As he reached the door, clouds of blue smoke met him. The vapor almost
choked him. Whoever was tampering with the motor had neglected to pay
much attention to the lubricating devices, with the result that the
fumes of burning oil filled the air.

“Oh, hello, Jack Chadwick. I—you see—I thought you wouldn’t mind me
looking at your machine,” exclaimed a lad of about Jack’s own age, as
the indignant young inventor burst into the shed with Tom close on his
heels.

The lad who spoke was a rather thick-set youth, with a pronounced squint
in his eyes which did not improve his mean and crafty face. Beside him
was another boy, a little younger, dressed in a loud gray suit with a
bright colored necktie. He was smoking a cigarette.

“Say, you Sam Taylor, put that thing out,” cried Jack, as he entered the
shed and took in the scene before him.

“Oh, I suppose you are one of those sissies who get sick when they
smoke,” sneered Sam Taylor, in an aggravating tone.

“I’ve never tried it, so I don’t know,” snapped Jack, “but if you want
to ruin your health you’d better do it elsewhere than in this shed. And
you, Zack Baker,” he went on, turning to the other lad, “what are you
doing in here? You might have waited till you were invited.”

In the meantime Tom had stopped the motor and was draining the flooded
engine.

“No need to get so mad,” retorted Zack, “as I told you, we thought we’d
just drop in and see how the thing worked.”

“Yes, and you might have ruined it,” snapped out Tom indignantly. “I
like your nerve in marching in here without speaking to us.”

“Oh, well, don’t get so cross about it. No harm done,” struck in Sam
Taylor, who had prudently thrown away his cigarette; “what’s the use of
getting all worked up over it?”

“I’m not worked up,” replied Jack, with a flushed and angry face, “but I
don’t want you fellows prying about here.”

“Don’t be alarmed. We won’t steal your precious invention,” said Sam, in
his sneering tones. “Come on, Zack, we’ve seen all we wanted to see,
anyhow.”

“Yes, come on,” said Zack, with a rather uncomfortable look on his face,
“we know better than to stay where we are not wanted. Anyhow, I’ve got
something that will surprise you fellows. I’ll bet it’ll beat you at
flying, even if you do get Mr. Peregrine to help you out.”

With this remark, which he considered quite crushing, Zack swung out of
the shed, followed by his pasty-faced companion. Once outside they made
their way to the front gate of High Towers and mounted their bicycles,
on which they had ridden out from the village for the purpose, as we
have seen, of examining the invention of Jack Chadwick and his cousin.

“Wonder how they knew anything about Mr. Peregrine?” said Jack, when he
had thoroughly examined the Flying Road Racer and found that it was
undamaged.

“Oh, Zack’s folks used to live near Pokeville,” rejoined Tom, “and as
for their knowing that he had called on us, I reckon he and Sam saw the
Red Hawk flying over and guessed at its destination.”

“That must be it,” said Jack, picking up a wrench and tightening a bolt
on the Flying Road Racer’s frame, “but they’re the very last chaps I
want snooping round here trying to find out how the Flying Road Racer
works.”

“Which reminds me,” said Tom, “that Zack spoke of some invention of his
that would surprise us. Wonder what it can be?”

“I’ve no idea,” began Jack, and then broke off suddenly, “yes, by
ginger, I have, though; I do recall hearing, last time I was in
Nestorville, that he and Sam were working on some sort of mechanical
flyer.”

“Gee whiz! I’d like to see it,” laughed Tom. “I’ll bet it can’t fly any
more than an old bullfrog.”

“I’m not bothering about it one way or the other,” rejoined Jack, “and
now, as the machine is all fixed up, what do you say if we try it out on
a trial spin?”

“The very thing,” said Tom, “it’ll feel good to be riding in it again.
Wait till I run up to the house and get the dust coats, and I’ll be with
you.”

While Tom was gone Jack started up the engine and ran the odd-looking
air-and-land machine out of the shed. With its heavy uprights and the
big folds of the empty gas bag on top, the Flying Road Racer looked even
odder when outside than it had within its shelter. But that, despite its
cumbersome appearance, it was capable of good speed, was soon shown when
the boys had swung down the driveway and out upon the smooth road
leading to Nestorville.

“Going into the village?” asked Tom, noting the direction in which his
cousin was driving.

“Yes. I want to get some copper wire and some bolts. After that we can
take a spin out into the country.”

As he spoke Jack pressed the accelerator, and the rather ponderous car
leaped forward like a scared wild thing. The dust rose about it in
clouds, for the weather had been hot and dry for some time. But the road
was straight and Jack did not decrease the speed. Instead, it rather
increased as they flew along.

They had crossed a bridge on the outskirts of Nestorville and were still
proceeding at a good pace, when something came into sight which caused
Jack to slow down. It was a cloud of dust, but so thick that it
effectually concealed whatever was causing it.

“Another auto coming, I guess,” conjectured Tom.

Jack shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” he said, “it’s coming too slowly for that. Maybe a
flock of sheep or—Jiminy crickets!”

Out of the dust cloud, which a vagrant puff of wind swept aside, had
suddenly emerged a most curious looking object. It resembled nothing so
much as a large bee or horse-fly. But it was of metal, and of quite a
size. In a series of extraordinary leaps and bounds, zigzagging from one
side of the road to the other, it advanced toward the astonished boys.

“What on earth is it?” gasped Tom, as Jack slowed down the auto to a
crawl.

“It’s Zack’s flying machine. That’s what it is,” exclaimed Jack, “ho!
ho! ho! If that isn’t a crazy-looking machine!”

Indeed, the object now coming toward them with wobbly leaps and hops,
was a most curious-looking affair. Its metal wings flopped up and down
with great speed, and underneath it could be seen a sort of legs, with
wheels on them in place of toes or feet. In between the wings sat Zack,
with an alarmed look on his face. In the road behind him was a small
runabout auto in which sat Sam Taylor, encouraging him. But Zack paid no
attention. In fact, it was taking all his energies to manage his odd
machine.

“Well, whatever else it will do, it won’t fly,” declared Tom, “and you’d
better look out for it, Jack. I don’t believe he has it under control.”
Indeed it didn’t appear so. Zack could now be seen striving with levers
and wheels, and the motor of the odd machine gave out a continuous
volley of sharp reports.

“Stick to it, Zack!” called out Sam encouragingly from his auto, in
which he slowly followed the wild evolutions of Zack’s mechanical bug—
for so it could, with propriety, be called. But Zack paid no attention
to him. Instead, he began shouting to Jack:

“Pull out of the road! Pull out of the road! I can’t control it.”

Jack maneuvered the Flying Road Racer till its outside wheels overhung a
ditch at the side of the road. He had just completed this move when
Zack’s machine, its wings beating faster than ever, actually left the
ground and soared into the air.

“Hooray! That’s it, Zack! You’re flying!” shouted Sam enthusiastically,
although it is doubtful if he would have cared to change places with his
crony.

But although Zack had begun to soar, his flight soon ended. At a height
of about four feet from the ground the machine wobbled and then crashed
to earth. Zack strove in vain to stop it as it drove, snorting and
popping, full at the Flying Road Racer, which Jack could not steer
further off the road.

“Look out!” cried Jack, “you’ll be into us. You’ll——”

The sentence was never completed. As Jack uttered it, Zack gave a wild
yell and tried to jump out of his uncontrollable invention. The next
instant the machine, its wings flapping and its motor buzzing furiously,
struck the front of the Flying Road Racer a glancing blow and then
turned completely over, burying its luckless inventor in a ruin of
twisted rods and bent wings.



                        CHAPTER IV—ZACK GETS MAD


“Good gracious! He’s killed!” cried Jack, in horrified tones.

“If he is it will be your fault,” shouted Sam, shaking his fist at the
two Boy Inventors; “you did it on purpose.”

“Did what on purpose?” demanded Jack rather angrily, climbing out of the
car to the ground.

“Why, got in my way and made me lose control of my flying machine,”
struck in a new voice.

It was that of Zack, who, at the same moment, crawled out from under the
ruins of his queer invention.

He was scratched and shaken, but not injured, as could be readily seen
when he stood up.

“I hope you are not badly hurt, Zack,” said Jack, in a mild tone.

Zack’s face was crimson with anger and mortification.

“It’s all your fault!” he roared. “I’ll get even on you. You just see if
I don’t.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” said Tom quietly, “it had nothing to do with us.
I guess your machine was no good. That’s what the trouble was.”

“Oh, it was, was it?” sputtered Zack furiously, regarding the remnants
of his craft, “well, you just mind your own business. If it hadn’t been
for you coming along and spying on me—”

“Spying on you! Well, I like that!” cried Tom, unable to suppress his
indignation. “Who was in our shed this morning looking around to see
what you could see?”

“Pshaw! A whole lot you could show me,” sneered Zack.

“Or me, either,” struck in Sam, who had descended from his runabout and
stood beside Zack. “I tell you what,” he went on, doubling up his fists,
“I’ve a good mind to—to—”

“Well, to what?” said Jack, waxing indignant in his turn.

“To sue you for damages or something. Zack and I were partners in that
machine, and now it’s all smashed.”

“That was because you expected too much of it,” said Jack quietly. “It
was impossible for it to fly, anyway. You have been working on the wrong
principle.”

“You mind your own business, Mister Know-it-all,” yelled Zack furiously.
“I guess you aren’t the only fellows around here who can invent
anything. By rights, I ought to make you pay for the damage you’ve
done.”

“Well, just hark at that,” cried Tom, “as if we had anything to do with
your old tin hornet collapsing. You were foolish ever to get into it.”
Zack could control his fury no longer. He gave a sudden step forward and
aimed a vicious blow at Tom. The latter had no wish to get into a fight
with Zack, so contented himself with stepping aside. Not landing his
blow as he had expected, had the effect of almost throwing Zack from his
feet. He saved himself from a tumble only by an effort.

“Look out!” laughed Jack, “you’ll have another tumble if you aren’t
careful, Zack.”

“Oh, you make me tired,” grunted the infuriated lad. But he turned away
and tried no further hostilities.

“If you want us to, we’ll tow your machine back to town,” volunteered
Jack, who felt that there was, perhaps, some excuse for Zack’s anger;
“we’re going that way.”

“Then go on, and be quick about it,” shouted Sam furiously. “I guess I
can tow the machine in just as well as you fellows.”

“Oh, all right. If that’s the way you feel about it, we’ll be getting
on,” said Jack. As he spoke he climbed back into the Flying Road Racer,
followed by Tom. He backed the machine away from the wreck and noted, at
the same time, that the engine hood had been slightly dented by the
impact. But the motor itself was not affected and buzzed away in a
lively fashion.

As soon as he had the Flying Road Racer clear of the wreckage, Jack set
his lever ahead and the big machine moved off, no further words being
exchanged between the cousins and the two boys, who now, clearly enough,
chose to regard Jack and Tom as their enemies. As the Flying Racer
glided away, Sam, yielding to a sudden impulse of fury, stooped down. He
picked up a stone and hurled it with all his might at the two occupants
of the land-and-air machine.

Had it struck the mark for which it was intended, the consequences might
have been serious. But it whizzed harmlessly by Jack’s ear, avoiding him
by a fraction of an inch.

“The coward,” cried Tom wrathfully; “shall we go back and give them a
good pummeling?”

Jack shook his head.

“No, leave them alone,” he said. “After all, I’m afraid we didn’t appear
to be very sorry over the wreck of that contrivance of Zack’s. He had a
right to feel mad, I guess.”

“He was a chump for ever thinking that that thing could fly,” was Tom’s
angry contribution to the conversation. He looked back and saw Sam
standing in the middle of the road shaking a fist at the retreating Road
Racer. Zack was bending over the wreckage examining it with care. The
next instant a turn in the winding turnpike shut out the scene from
view. But that encounter might have had serious results for our two
young heroes in the immediate future, although, at the time, they
troubled their minds little over it.

Left alone, Zack and Sam managed to attach the wreck of the “flying”
machine to Sam’s auto. Then they set out to tow it back to town on its
landing wheels. But they took a roundabout way. Neither of them wanted
to display their failure to the prying eyes of the villagers.
Fortunately for their plans, Zack’s home was on the outskirts of
Nestorville, in which settlement his father had a large store. Sam lived
in the town itself, and was the only son of indulgent parents—too
indulgent, people said, for old Lem Taylor, who was a banker, grudged
his son nothing. The runabout car had been a birthday gift to him a few
weeks before, and Zack and he, who were inseparables, had done a lot of
riding in it since.

As for Zack, he was more or less the tool of Sam, who had a good deal
more evil in his nature than had his crony. The rivalry between Zack and
Jack Chadwick and Tom Jesson dated back to the days before the two
latter went to Yucatan. At school Zack had tried out several inventions
which had been failures. Like many other boys—and men—the success of
Jack and Tom had embittered him against them to a degree. Then, too,
since their return from their wonderful experiences in the tropics, they
had become prominent figures in the village, quite eclipsing himself and
Sam.

Zack had hoped that his flying machine would aid in restoring him to his
former importance; but now that it was wrecked, this hope was gone. In
fact, he dreaded coming in for a lot of joking on that score, for he had
been free in his boasts about its marvelous qualities. Altogether, then,
neither he nor Sam felt in a very pleasant frame of mind as they towed
the debris of the “Flying Hornet”—as Zack had thought of christening his
machine—back to his home.

“I’ll bet those kids will tell everybody in town about the smash-up, and
we’ll get well laughed at,” grumbled Sam, as he cautiously drove along.

“Bother it all, I guess that’s right,” rejoined Zack. “Just like our
luck that they came along when they did. However, I got some ideas from
our inspection of their Flying Racer when I looked her over, and we’ll
rebuild the Hornet as soon as possible.”

“That’s the way to talk,” said Sam approvingly; “by the way, I wonder
what Mr. Peregrine was doing at their home this morning?”

“Looks to me as if some new invention was under way,” hazarded Zack;
“wonder what it can be now?”

“I’d like to find out. If only we could, maybe we could get even on them
some way for ordering us out of their shed. If we don’t look out those
kids will be running this town.”

“That’s what. Tell you what we’ll do—we’ll take a run over to Pokeville
in your machine to-morrow, Sam. I know where Mr. Peregrine’s house is.
We’ll look around some and see what we can find out. I’m not going to
let those kids get ahead of me again if I can help it.”

“Nor I, either,” agreed Sam; “conceited young ninnies! If we can only
find out what they are up to with Mr. Peregrine, maybe we’ll find a
way.”

It may be as well to say here, as these boys leave our story for the
present, that like most bullies, they were cowards, too, and when they
heard nothing in town to indicate that Jack and Tom had told of their
mishap, they decided to allow all their threats to stand as “bluff,” and
to let well enough alone for the immediate future, at least so far as
the Boy Inventors were concerned.



                       CHAPTER V—THE YELLOW AUTO


Jack and Tom sped along on their way to Nestorville pleasantly enough,
but just as they were entering the little town there came a sudden
ominous cracking sound from the rear of the machine.

“Something’s smashed!” exclaimed Tom, as Jack quickly brought the car to
a standstill.

“That’s right,” agreed Jack; “just get out and see what it is, will you,
Tom?”

But Tom was already out of the machine. Down on his knees in the dust he
got, and soon found out what had happened.

“A stay rod has parted,” he announced; “it’s that one we welded. I guess
we didn’t use heat enough.”

“Glad it’s nothing worse,” rejoined Jack; “we’ll make a stop at the
blacksmith’s and get it rewelded; he has a machine for that purpose.”

“Wonder how long that will take?” questioned Tom, who had given a glance
up at the sky.

“Oh, hardly any time at all. Why?”

“See those black clouds in the north. Looks as if we were in for a
storm. The air feels heavy, too.”

“Well, a heavy rainstorm will do a lot of good and won’t hurt us. The
whole country’s as dry as an old bone.”

“That’s what. But I was thinking of that stretch of clay road on our way
back. If much rain falls that will be as sticky as a tub full of glue.”

“Oh, we’ll be back long before the storm breaks,” said Jack confidently.

But the welding job took a little longer than they thought it would, and
as they set out on their return journey the sky was as black as a slate,
and little sharp puffs of wind were driving the dust in whirling
“devils” through the streets. As they rolled away from the blacksmith’s
shop, one or two large drops pattered down on the folded gas envelope
above their heads.

The boys didn’t bother about this, however, and sped along while the
rain fell faster and faster. At last they reached the stretch of clay
road, which was about two miles from their home.

“Have to put on full power,” decided Jack, turning on more of the
radolite gas. The motor puffed and snorted as the Flying Road Racer
labored through the heavy blue clay, but it didn’t stall and,
considering the nature of the going, good speed was made.

But if they succeeded in avoiding being stalled, others were not so
fortunate; As they came puffing around a bend in the heavy, sticky road,
they saw, through the rain, that a big yellow touring car was stuck in
the middle of the highway, and all the efforts of the two men operating
were unavailing to force it through the mire.

As the Flying Road Racer came chugging through the mud, one of the men
looked around and hailed the boys. His was a somewhat heavy-set figure,
muffled in a red rubber rain coat. From under his goggles there streamed
an immense red beard. His companion, so far as the boys could see, was
slighter of figure and dark, with a small moustache almost hiding a
thin-lipped mouth.

“Hey, you kids,” hailed the red-bearded one, in a deep, rather rough
voice, “get us out of this, will you?”

“What’s the trouble?” asked Jack, slowing up. Although he was not best
pleased at the other’s sharp mode of address, he felt that it was his
duty to do what he could to aid two fellow motorists in distress.

“You can see what the trouble is, can’t you?” exclaimed the
black-moustached man; “we’re stalled, stuck, in this infernal clay.”

“Got a rope?” asked Jack; “we’ll try and give you a tow out of it. We’re
likely to get stuck ourselves, though.”

“Not much danger of that, with such a car as yours,” responded the
red-bearded man, fumbling in the tool box of his car in search of a
rope, such as most autos carry nowadays for just such emergencies. He
finally found it, and came toward the boys’ car, which Jack had stopped.
But the engine was still turning over rather rapidly.

“That’s a powerful motor you have there,” said the stranger, placing one
foot on the running board and speaking in a rather patronizing tone,
which didn’t much appeal to either of the boys; “what make of car is
that?”

“It’s our own invention,” responded Tom quickly, rather too quickly, in
fact, for the red-bearded man responded instantly, and with a curious
inflection in his tones:

“Oh, is that so? I shouldn’t wonder, now, if you two are the Boy
Inventors the papers have printed so much about. And this is the Flying
Road Racer, eh? Umph! How does it work?”

“That’s rather a secret for the present,” said Jack, who resented the
man’s dictatorial tone and inquisitive manner; “anyhow, if we are going
to haul you out of this, we’d better start now before the road gets
soaked any more.”

“Oh, all right. No offence meant,” answered the red-bearded man, and
immediately busied himself attaching one end of the rope to the rear
axle of the boys’ car. Then Jack moved ahead, and the other end of the
tow line was made fast to the stalled auto.

This done the men got into their car, the red-bearded man taking the
wheel.

“Now, then!” he shouted, as he turned on his power.

Jack did the same, and after a minute of indecision the Flying Road
Racer began to move ahead, dragging the yellow car after it. In a few
minutes both autos were safely through the heavy, sticky clay, and on
the hard road beyond.

“Thanks,” said the red-bearded autoist, as the yellow car gained solid
ground, “and now you can do us another favor if you don’t mind. Are we
on the right road to Pokeville?”

Jack nodded.

“Straight ahead till you come to a place called Smith’s Corners,” he
said; “you cross a bridge beyond that and then turn to the right.”

“Know anybody in Pokeville?” asked the black-moustached man; “ever hear
of a Mr. Pythias Peregrine?”

“The inventor?” inquired Jack:

“That’s our man—I mean I’ve often heard of him,” said the red-bearded
one; “I reckon now he’s got quite a place there. Lots of servants and
all that?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” rejoined Jack, wondering what interest the two
men could have in the eccentric inventor.

“Well, don’t you know anything about his habits? Does he live near his
workshops?”

“As I said before, I don’t really know much about Mr. Peregrine,”
replied Jack, wondering more and more what could be the object of all
these questions.

“Then you haven’t heard anything about a new invention of his? Something
he is designing for the government?”

It was on the tip of Jack’s tongue to say that they were going over to
Pokeville the very next day in connection with this identical thing; but
some instinct checked him. He could not have told why for the life of
him, but somehow he mistrusted these two men in the yellow auto. So in
reply he merely shook his head.

“Well, we’ve got to be getting on,” said the red-bearded one, as the
rain came down harder than ever; “many thanks for your help, and
good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” responded both boys, and the yellow auto chugged off down
the road through the rain.

A minute later Jack started his machine, and whizzed along after them.
But badly as the yellow auto had behaved in the mud, it proved a flyer
on the road. It maintained its lead, its occupants from time to time
turning their heads and looking back at the two lads in the Flying Road
Racer. As the boys turned into the gate of High Towers the yellow car
was still speeding through the downpour, as if it were on very urgent
business indeed.

“What do you think of those chaps?” asked Tom, as they sped up the
driveway.

“I hardly know what to say,” said Jack; “they may be just two tourists
going through the country, as they implied, or they may be—something
quite different. I don’t know why, but I didn’t half like that
red-whiskered chap.”

“Nor did I,” was the prompt rejoinder.

“Why?”

“Oh, just like you, I don’t know why. But there was something about both
of them that gave me the idea that they are not all that they seemed to
be.”

“Same here. They must have had some object, too, in making all those
inquiries about Mr. Peregrine. I wonder what it could be?”

“Hasn’t it occurred to you that a man like him, the possessor of a
valuable invention, might have some rivals who would like to find out
just along what lines he has been working?”

“It certainly has,” rejoined Jack, as he ran the Flying Road Racer into
its shed. “I won’t forget to tell Mr. Peregrine about our encounter when
we see him to-morrow.”

“That’s a good idea,” assented Tom.



                     CHAPTER VI—GETTING THE DOCTOR


It rained in torrents all that night; but by dawn the sky had cleared,
and a bright sun shone warmly. But everywhere about High Towers were
plentiful evidences of the abundance of the downpour. The brook that fed
the lake was swollen to a torrent, the lake itself had risen some feet,
and its waters, usually clear, were muddy and discolored.

The boys were astir early, making ready for their trip to Pokeville.
Jupe was set to work with the hose cleaning the body of the Flying Road
Racer, while the boys made some adjustments to the machinery. So fast
did they work that by the time breakfast was announced they were ready
to start.

“I think I will come with you,” announced Mr. Jesson at the last moment.
“I’d like to see Mr. Peregrine’s workshops and laboratories, and
although he appears to be a trifle eccentric he is a very likable man.”

“I wonder what you’d have said if he’d lighted in your corn patch,” said
Tom, with a grin.

This reminded Mr. Jesson that he ought to see how his corn had withstood
the rainstorm, and he hastened off to do this, while the boys got the
car out of its shed. Among other adjustments the boys had made that
morning, was one involving a change of the gas envelope for a new type
which they had invented. Mr. Jesson, on his return from his corn, which
he announced was unharmed, noticed the change, the former gas bag having
been of a yellow hue. The one the boys had folded on top of the
framework that morning was quite black in color.

“Another invention?” inquired Tom’s father, indicating the bag.

“Well, not exactly an invention,” replied Jack, “more of an adaptation.
You know that the difficulty in making sustained flights in a dirigible
has always been evaporation or the condensation of the gas. This bag is
made of a rubber cloth which is interwoven with steel wires and coated
with a peculiar air-tight varnish. It makes a very strong fabric, and
almost does away with the danger of the bag bursting under the expansion
of radolite gas at high altitudes.

“Another feature of it is a small ‘subdivision’ as it were, of its
interior. In other words, there is a small balloon or envelope inside
the main one. This smaller bag is filled with ordinary air. Now then,
when we reach a great height and want to keep on going higher, we pump
this ordinary air out of the smaller ‘balloonet’ and the machine rises.
At least that’s what we expect it to do. You can see; that by
alternately pumping it full or emptying it, we will have—or hope to
have—a craft that will always maintain an even keel without danger.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” said Mr. Jesson, “but you haven’t
tested it out yet?”

“No, but we hope to have an opportunity to do so before long,” said
Jack; “and now, uncle, if you are ready we’ll start. The roads are
heavy, and I guess we won’t be able to make very good time.”

“Well, why not fly over?”

“We may have to,” was the rejoinder, “but I don’t want to use the
gas-making tank or generator again till it has had a thorough cleaning.”

Jupe, to his unspeakable disgust, was left behind, and stood waving a
good-bye to the party as they skimmed off. The road to Pokeville was a
fairly good one, and they were able to make about thirty miles an hour
over it.

At this rate of going it was not long before they rolled through the
little cross-roads settlement of Smith’s Corners, beyond which was the
bridge, of which they had informed the two automobilists the previous
evening. Jack was sending the auto ahead at a good rate down the hill
that led to the bridge, when all at once he noticed a sign nailed to a
tree at one side of the road:

                       “DANGER, BRIDGE IS DOWN!”

Jack jammed on the brakes, bringing the heavy car to a stop.

“What are you going to do now?” asked Mr. Jesson, who, as well as Tom,
had noticed the sign.

“Why, it strikes me that this is a mighty good time to test out that new
gas bag,” announced Jack, with a quizzical look on his face.

“By ginger! You’re right,” agreed Tom; “let’s get busy at once.”

“I hope it works as well as the old one did down in Yucatan,” said Mr.
Jesson.

“I hope so,” rejoined Jack.

He bent over the valve which admitted gas to the folded envelope, and
Tom, at the same time, adjusted the generator so that the radolite
crystals would begin to make the volatile vapor on which they depended
to rise from the earth. A hissing sound presently ensued, and the
indicator on the gauge showed that all was ready to fill the gas bag.

As the gas rushed into its container, the folds started to round out,
and in fifteen minutes the bag began to assume its cylindrical shape.
Before the machine became too buoyant, however, Jack and Tom secured it
to the ground by the anchors, the “trip-lines” of which were led on
board. Then the work of filling went on, and soon the Flying Road
Racer—a “Road Racer” no longer—was tugging at her bonds.

“All right,” announced Jack, after a while, and they prepared to “cast
off.”

But just as they were about to pull on the triplines and release the
anchors, there was a sudden commotion on the road behind them. They
looked around and saw a farmer approaching in a small wagon drawn by a
dilapidated-looking mule. The mule was careering about, and evidently
objected to coming closer to the weird-looking structure—half auto, half
flying machine—that was drawn up in the road in front of it.

“Whoa, thar, you obstreperous critter!” shouted the farmer, getting out
and hitching his refractory animal.

This done, he came rapidly toward the boys and their—to
him—extraordinary machine.

“Waal, what under ther sun be this yar contraption?” he demanded, gazing
curiously at the big balloon bag which was swaying and tugging at its
bonds.

“It’s a sort of flying machine,” rejoined Jack, repressing an
inclination to laugh; “didn’t you ever see one before?”

“Ya’as, I seen one at ther country fair, but it warn’t nuthin’ like this
yar.”

“If you’ll wait a minute you’ll see us fly,” said Jack; but the former
didn’t seem to hear him.

The countryman’s eyes were riveted on the notice concerning the bridge.

“Gosh all hemlock!” he exclaimed, in a vexed tone, “if that ain’t jes’
ther peskiest kind er luck. I suppose ther crick has swolled frum ther
rain an’ ther old bridge has busted at last. Consarn it all!”

“Isn’t there any other bridge?” asked Mr. Jesson.

“Ya’as, but it’s ’bout a mile further daown, and a roundabout way ter
git thar, and I’m in a hurry. Yer see Betsy Jane is mighty sick, and I’m
goin’ arter ther doctor.”

“Where does he live?” asked Jack, imagining that Betsy Jane must be the
farmer’s wife.

“’Cross ther crick a piece. Consarn it, what am I goin’ ter do?”

“Tell you what,” said Tom, “we’ll take you over in our machine, and
bring you and the doctor back. You can leave the mule tied here.”

“What, me ride in thet contraption? Not but what it’s mighty good of ye
ter offer it—but——”

“If it’s safe for us, it ought to be safe enough for you,” remarked Mr.
Jesson.

“By heck! Thet’s so. Waal, since you’re so kind, I dunno if I care ef I
do. By gum! won’t ther folks stare when I tell ’em I’ve rid in er
airyoplane?”

“But this isn’t an aëroplane,” objected Tom, who was a stickler for
facts, “it’s a dirigible.”

“Don’t keer ef it’s digestible er not, so long as yer daon’t spill me
aout,” was the rejoinder.

“Oh, you’ll find it digestible all right,” chuckled Jack, “come on.
Climb in, Mister——”

“Hank Appleyard is my name, mister.”

“Very well, then, Mr. Appleyard. Put your foot on that step. That’s it.
Now then. Are you all right?”

“By bean poles! This is as comfortable as my parlor cheer ter hum,”
remarked Mr. Appleyard, with a tug at his gray goatee, as he sank into
the softly cushioned tonneau.

He lay back luxuriantly, and drew out a small and very dirty corncob
pipe. Before the boys could observe what he was doing he struck a match.
At the sound of the lucifer Jack, who was preparing to “up anchor,”
turned like a flash. In a jiffy he had grasped the astonished farmer’s
wrist and sent both pipe and match flying into the road.

“Dum gast it all! What did yer do thet fer?” expostulated the indignant
agriculturist.

“Because that bag above us holds fifty thousand cubic feet of
inflammable gas, and we don’t want to go up before we get ready,”
snapped out Jack.

The farmer turned pale.

“By gum, an’ I wuz goin’ ter take a smoke! Say, young fellers, I guess
I’ll—”

He was preparing to clamber out, but Jack shoved him back in his seat.

“Sit where you are and hold tight,” he exclaimed. “All right, Tom! Heave
away! Ah! Up they come! We’re off!”

“Hey, let me out! Let me out! By gosh, this is too dem rich fer my
blood! I——”

[Illustration: “HEY, LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! BY GOSH, THIS IS TOO DERN
RICH FER MY BLOOD.”]

Farmer Appleyard, pale and trembling, peered over the side of the
tonneau and then sank back with a gasp. The earth lay several score of
feet beneath him, and the distance was rapidly increasing. The buoyant
gas which filled the container, as if it had been an immense black rugby
football, had raised the Flying Road Racer so swiftly that it had seemed
literally to “flash” upward.

Below was spread the panorama of the countryside, patches of woods,
fields, fenced pastures, and farmhouses. From that height they could see
quite plainly the ruined bridge and the angry, turbulent waters of the
swollen current that had washed it away. All at once the boys’
passengers had a fresh shock. Jack connected the engine with the
propeller, and the Flying Road Racer began to forge ahead. Tom,
simultaneously, released the clutch that held the rudder rigid while the
Flying Road Racer was merely a land vehicle.

Soon they were flying above the swollen stream, and looking back they
could see the road by which they had come, and the farmer’s mule kicking
and plunging furiously at its halter rope.

“Poor Balaam! I misdoubt he’ll ever git over, this,” breathed Farmer
Appleyard.

“Where is the doctor’s house? Can you see it?” demanded Jack presently.

“Yes. It’s that thar white place with the two big spruces in front. My,
won’t he be astonished when he sees me comin’ ter summon him by ther sky
route!”

“Is your wife very ill?” asked Tom, as Jack headed the Flying Road Racer
for the house indicated by the farmer.

“Eh, young feller? My wife! Waal, she’s as well as I be, I guess.”

“But—but you said she was sick,” exclaimed Tom, wondering if the novel
air ride had turned their passenger’s brain.

“What, I said my wife was sick?” demanded the farmer incredulously.

“Why, of course you did, and that you were going for the doctor.”

“Waal, so I am. Fer Dr. Bates, the best horse doctor round here.”

“A horse doctor!” gasped Tom, “but what about Betsy Jane, your——”

“Old gray mare. Ther pesky critter had ther colic, and——”

But a roar of laughter from Jack and Mr. Jesson, who had listened to the
conversation, interrupted him. They were still laughing over their
comical mistake when Jack brought the Flying Road Racer to the ground in
a pasture at the back of Dr. Bates’ house. Sure enough, a sign on the
front porch, which they had glimpsed as they descended, said:

                    “Dr. James Bates, Veterinarian.”

And pretty soon out came Dr. Bates himself, his round red face a comical
mixture of alarm and amazement at this unexpected apparition of the
skies. Explanations were soon made, and the “vet” prevailed upon to
return in the air ship to the spot where Farmer Appleyard had left his
mule, the farmer promising to drive the horse doctor back by the lower
bridge.

“Well,” laughed Jack, as, after bidding farewell to the grateful farmer
and the wondering horse doctor, they took the air once more, “I’ll bet
that’s the first time an air ship has been used to convey a horse
doctor.”

Tom made a queer noise in response.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jack.

“I’m giving a ‘horse laugh’ over Betsy Jane,” rejoined Tom, in high good
humor over their adventure.



                    CHAPTER VII—A RESCUE IN MID-AIR


It was decided after a brief consultation not to deflate the gas bag and
drop to earth, but to fly straight on to Pokeville. Jack knew the
direction in a general way, and kept the Flying Road Racer headed for a
white steeple which appeared on the distant horizon. He believed that
this marked the site of the village they were in quest of.

The trip with the farmer had delayed them somewhat, and it was almost
eleven o’clock as they drew near the little town for which Jack was
aiming. As they got close to it a cluster of white tents with a crowd of
people about them could be seen on the outskirts of the place. Gay flags
hung above the canvas structures, and even at the height that the air
travelers were—about five hundred feet—they could hear the sounds of
music.

“It’s a circus!” cried Tom.

“So it is,” said Mr. Jesson, “and look—what is that?—surely a balloon
they are sending up!”

Sure enough, as he spoke the boys became aware of a huge, dirty-looking
sphere with black smoke rolling from its narrow mouth. It was still tied
to the ground apparently, but even as they watched there came the sharp
report of a saluting cannon. Instantly the balloon was released from the
earth, and shot rapidly skyward, reeling and careening. The manner of
its inflation was plainly, judging by the smoke from its mouth, by hot
air. The balloon, in fact, formed a part of the free show given by the
circus to draw the crowds, and was a common enough feature of small
traveling shows.

“Look, there’s somebody swinging below it!” shouted Jack suddenly.

The figure he indicated was a small one, and as they drew closer they
could see that it wore red tights gaily spangled. It was suspended from
the hot-air balloon by a trapeze, and held on by gripping the ropes on
either side of its insecure seat. Under the trapeze hung an object not
unlike an immense umbrella closed up. This, the boys knew, was a
parachute, and that as soon as the balloon had risen to a sufficient
height, the aëronaut would cut the parachute loose and fall by it to the
ground.

“Phew!” exclaimed Tom, “I’d hate to do a parachute jump like that.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Jesson, “I was reading only the other day of a parachute
jumper whose parachute failed to open. He fell more than a thousand feet
to the earth and was dashed to bits.”

“Let’s go closer to the hot-air balloon and watch him when he cuts
loose,” suggested Jack.

The others agreed, and the Flying Road Racer was headed for the hot-air
balloon, which was rising rapidly. But the Boy Inventors’ dirigible
craft had no difficulty in keeping up with it. Soon they were quite
close to it, and sweeping around the great pear-shaped bag in big
circles. And now they observed something that they had not seen before.

The aëronaut was a boy of not more than twelve years old. His face was
white and pinched, and he looked terrified. As the balloon swung higher,
there was borne upward from below repeated pistol shots.

“That’s the signal for him to cut loose,” exclaimed Tom. “I know. I’ve
seen lots of ascents like this one.”

“Well, why doesn’t he?” demanded Jack.

“For a very good reason,” said Mr. Jesson, who had been observing the
young aëronaut closely; “he’s scared to death.”

The boys, observing the spangled air traveler more carefully, now
perceived that Mr. Jesson was correct. The little fellow turned a
pitiable face toward them. What made his situation worse was that the
hot air in the balloon was evaporating, and if he did not jump quickly
it would be too late. Jack shouted words to that effect to the lad. But
the panic-stricken boy only clung tighter to the ropes of his trapeze,
and shook his head pitifully. It seemed as if he dared not look downward
at the empty void between himself and the earth.

“Drop on the parachute!” shouted Tom; “if you don’t, the balloon will
fall with you!”

As his cousin spoke, Jack maneuvered the Flying Road Racer yet closer to
the hot-air balloon. Big wrinkles now appeared in the bag of the circus
balloon, and it began to sag downward more rapidly.

“Great ginger! That kid is paralyzed by fright!” exclaimed Tom, his own
face pale; “what are we going to do?”

“Save him if we can,” breathed Jack, “but how?”

“Can’t you get alongside that balloon and take him off?” interrogated
Mr. Jesson.

“It will be fearfully risky.”

“True; but we can’t let him be dashed to earth without attempting to
save him.”

“I have it,” exclaimed Tom; “I’ll get out the light grappling iron. I’ll
throw it and try to entangle it in the parachute. Then we can pull the
balloon alongside and get that boy off.”

“A capital idea,” said Mr. Jesson; “how close can you get, Jack?”

“I’ll come as close as I dare,” was the reply. Below—far, far below—the
crowd, with upturned faces, watched the maneuvering of the great air
craft. This was indeed a spectacle they hadn’t bargained for. The
tension was too great for speech. A death-like silence hung over the
throng.

Behind one of the white tents two men stood, also gazing upward. But
there was no pity nor suspense on their faces. Instead, they cast
furious glances at the drama of the skies being unfolded before them.

“I told you that kid would lose his nerve!” snarled out one of them, a
heavy-set man in a loud checked suit, in whose bright red necktie an
imitation diamond, as big as a walnut, glistened.

His companion slashed at his high boots with a whip he held in his hand.

“I’ll fix him for this,” he growled, “and I’d like to fix those pesky
butters-in on board that dirigible, too.”

In the meantime, the dirigible, under Jack’s skillful handling, had been
maneuvered quite close to the hot-air balloon. Tom, with the light
grapple in one hand, and its attached rope in the other, stood ready to
make a cast.

“Now!” shouted Jack suddenly, as the gas envelope of the Flying Road
Racer almost bumped against the flabby bag of the hot-air balloon. The
grapple whizzed through the air, and so skillfully had it been thrown,
that its flukes caught and became entangled in the pendent parachute
under the trapeze, to which clung the terrified boy.

“Haul in!” shouted Jack, and Tom and Mr. Jesson belayed heartily on the
rope. As the trapeze swung alongside the body of the dirigible, Tom
reached out and seized the lad. The little fellow had partially
recovered his nerve and was able to help himself, and in a moment more
he was safe on board the Flying Road Racer.

What a cheer came up from below! The crowd had seen a unique rescue in
mid-air—a triumph of the wonderful resource and achievement of the
twentieth century—and it went wild. Hats were thrown up and women sobbed
and laughed in the same breath.

As for the young air navigators, they were the coolest people in that
neighborhood. Tom cut the balloon loose, and it went sagging and
wallowing off, dropping in a field a short time later. In the meantime,
Jack began to send the Flying Road Racer earthward, using the depression
planes in doing so.

The boy they had rescued speedily found his tongue, and when he did he
told them a story that made them flush with indignation. He had been
hired out to the circus, he said, by his father some years before. From
that time on his life had been one of misery. Urged on by the
ringmaster’s whip, he had learned to ride bareback and do some other
tricks, but this had been his first trip aloft. The way in which he
shuddered as he spoke of it, showed that only the utmost cruelty could
have prevailed on him to make an ascent on the hot-air balloon.

The regular parachute jumper had been injured—disabled for life—by a
fall at the last “stand” the circus had played. As the boy, who said his
name was Ralph Ingersoll, was light and active, he had been ordered to
take the parachute performer’s place, by the brutal men to whose care he
had been consigned. Terrified by threats of a terrific beating, the boy
had consented, with what results we know.

“Oh! If it hadn’t been for you, I would have been killed,” he exclaimed,
clasping his hands and gazing gratefully at his rescuers.

“Never mind, Ralph,” said Mr. Jesson, whose indignation had been aroused
by the lad’s recital, “we’ll see what we can do to stop any further ill
treatment of you.”

“Oh, then you are going to take me back to the circus!” cried the boy, a
look of real terror coming over his thin, pale face.

“Well, for the present, yes,” said Mr. Jesson, “but we will have your
case investigated, and the law——”

“No law will save me if you take me back,” cried the boy, crouching in a
spasm of fear, “they’ll kill me—beat me to death, or do away with me in
some way before you can save me.” As he spoke, the Flying Road Racer
reached the ground, and the crowd came rushing and surging about it.
Through the press, the two men who had so angrily watched the Boy
Inventors’ plucky rescue came shoving their way. A look of black rage
was on both their faces.

“Now, then,” shouted the man with the whip, as he pushed his way to the
side of the Flying Road Racer, “what’s all this mean? What right had you
to interfere with this lad?”

“The right that everyone has to save a human life,” rejoined Mr. Jesson
firmly, standing between the angry man and the boy, who crouched behind
his protector in an agony of fear.

“Oh, that’s all very fine; but you spoiled our show. Come on now, Ralph,
you young sneak. I’m going to fix you for getting cold feet.”

“Hold on a minute,” said Mr. Jesson calmly. “It’s evident to me from
this boy’s story that you have treated him brutally. You could be
proceeded against for the way you have abused him.”

“None of your business, is it, Mister Smart Alec?” demanded the man with
the red necktie and the diamond. “I’m Josh Sawdon, the boss of this
show, and I demand that boy. He was given us by his father to train.”

“That’s right,” declared his companion, with a vicious crack of his
whip, “and we are going to do it, too. Come on, mister, give us that
boy.”

“Have you got any papers to prove your right to him?” asked Mr. Jesson
calmly.

“No, we ain’t,” sneered Sawdon, “at least, we ain’t got none to show
_you_. Come on, now—give us that boy, or——”

“Well, or what?”

Mr. Jesson stared calmly at the man, who had stepped threateningly
toward him. Sawdon stopped short. Something in the direct look of the
bronzed explorer checked him.

“I am satisfied that you have no right to this lad,” said Mr. Jesson, in
calm, even tones. “I am even better satisfied that you have used him
shamefully. Therefore, we will take him under our protection till the
matter can come up in the courts.”

“Hooray!” yelled the crowd, whose sympathies were plainly with the
aerial party.

Sawdon sprang forward furiously. Behind him came the man with the whip.
He “clubbed” his weapon and aimed a vicious blow at Mr. Jesson’s head.
But Tom caught the descending wrist in a steel grip. He gave it a quick
wrench, and with an “ouch!” of pain the fellow dropped the whip.

In the meantime Sawdon set up a shout for his assistants. In a moment a
score of canvasmen and performers came running from every side, armed
with tent pegs. The crowd scattered right and left before the attackers.

“We’ll have to get out of this quick,” exclaimed Mr. Jesson, in a low
voice to Jack.

The boy nodded. At the same instant he started the propeller. Up shot
the Flying Road Racer like a stone out of a sling. Sawdon, who had just
sprung at its side, was flung over in a heap, with his companion of the
whip on top of him. As the big machine rose a roar of rage went up from
the circus hands. But they could do nothing but shake their fists.

Suddenly Tom bethought himself of something which they had forgotten in
the excitement. Putting his head over the edge of the car he shouted
downward to the crowd:

“Is this Pokeville?”

“Naw, this is Westerlo!” was yelled back from below; “Pokeville’s six
miles to the west.”

Jack changed his course, and before long they came in sight of a small
town, which really proved to be Pokeville. They descended in the
village, much to the alarm of some of the inhabitants, and inquired the
way to Mr. Peregrine’s home.

A handsome structure with a pillared portico, standing on a hill about a
mile off, was pointed out to them as the home of the inventor.

“No use flying there,” decided Jack; “we’ll take to automobiling again.”

Accordingly, the Flying Road Racer’s gas envelope was deflated, and once
more “an auto,” she sped off toward Mr. Peregrine’s house. As they left
the village, a car coming in the opposite direction almost crashed into
them as it rounded a corner. It was going fast, but not too fast for
Jack and Tom to see that it was a yellow vehicle, and that one of its
passengers had a big red beard. It was the same car that they had pulled
out of the mud the previous evening, whose occupants had been so curious
about Mr. Peregrine and his habits.

Jack was conscious of a vague sense of uneasiness at the presence of
these mysterious men in Pokeville.



                  CHAPTER VIII—MR. PEREGRINE EXPLAINS


During the trip from Westerlo to Pokeville the case of Ralph Ingersoll
had been discussed in all its bearings, and it had been decided that,
for the present at any rate, he was to make his home with the boys.
Ralph appeared a bright little fellow, and his evident fear of being
sent to some institution decided Mr. Jesson not to carry out his first
intention.

Besides, Jack and Tom had argued that the lad would be useful to them
around their inventions, and they needed an assistant, anyway. So, to
Ralph’s great joy, matters were arranged as described above. But Mr.
Jesson warned Ralph that, in the event of the circus people proving a
legal right to him, he might have to be returned to them. This idea;
however, proved so disquieting to the lad that the kind-hearted explorer
forebore to press it.

Ralph declared that he had no knowledge of his parents, but that he had
been placed with the circus men at an early age. Thus all that he could
recall of his past was misery and privation.

As they turned into Mr. Peregrine’s grounds, the inventor himself came
toward them. Even at a distance they could see that he was perturbed and
excited. His face was flushed, and as soon as he got within speaking
distance he began to talk, almost more explosively than usual.

“My stars! I’m glad you’ve come!” he exclaimed. “Queer doings—strange
men—frightened them off—but afraid they’ve seen more than I want ’em
to.”

“Jump in and tell us about it as we drive to the house,” said Mr.
Jesson; “we, too, have had some odd adventures on our way here.”

Just then Mr. Peregrine caught sight of Ralph Ingersoll, who still wore
his gaudy tights.

“Bless my soul—what’s this?—circus—bing-bang—through a hoop—whoop-la!”
he exclaimed.

“Not exactly,” said Mr. Jesson, with a smile at the inventor’s
rapid-fire speech; “but I’ll explain later on. First tell us about the
strange men. Possibly we can throw some light on the matter. The boys
told me about encountering two men on the road last night, who asked
about you, and whom we saw again just now.”

“One of them with a red beard—long one—other chap had black
moustache—eh?”

“Yes, that describes the fellows as accurately as we could size them up
for their goggles,” struck in Jack, who meanwhile had started the
machine again. He drove it up to the front door of Mr. Peregrine’s home,
and when they had all alighted a man was detailed to take it to the
barn. Within they found a good lunch awaiting them, and Mrs. Peregrine
came to meet them with a smile of ready welcome.

As all the passengers were rather grimy, they first had a good wash, and
Ralph was provided with a suit which had belonged to Mr. Peregrine’s
son, now a lad of nineteen and away at college. During the meal Mr.
Peregrine described how, on visiting the shed which housed his invention
that morning, he had surprised a strange man with a red beard peeping
through a window at it.

“I must tell you,” he continued, “that a powerful syndicate has tried to
purchase my invention; but I have refused to sell. Since that time I
have been harassed in many ways, and I am afraid that this is their
latest move against me.”

When Mr. Peregrine was very much in earnest he dropped his odd way of
talking, and there was no doubt but that he was very serious now. His
wife, too, looked troubled. Clearly his enemies were powerful, and
determined enough to cause the inventor considerable alarm.

“But surely your invention is patented, and you have nothing to fear on
the score of their stealing your ideas?” asked Mr. Jesson.

“That’s just it,” said the inventor, with a troubled look; “I have taken
no steps in the matter of a patent yet, as I feared a leak somewhere.
These people who are after my vanishing gun are aware of this, too, as
they have spies in Washington.”

“Well, that does make the matter serious,” agreed Mr. Jesson, and then,
as Mrs. Peregrine looked rather alarmed, the subject was changed.

After lunch Mr. Peregrine asked if they would care to see his invention
and try to ascertain what the trouble was with it.

“We can’t look it over too soon for me,” exclaimed Jack.

“I do hope you’ll be able to suggest something that will get me over the
sticking point,” responded Mr. Peregrine, as the party donned their hats
and, following him, made their way to the shed where stood the gun of
which so much was expected.

The boys could hardly restrain their curiosity while Mr. Peregrine
unlocked the door of the shed, which was furnished with quite an
elaborate system of protection. Besides the heavy locks of a novel
variety, it was fitted with a burglar alarm connecting with the house.

The door being opened, the boys saw a strange-looking piece of
apparatus. Imagine a dull gray-colored submarine boat on wheels of solid
steel with wide tires, and you have something of an idea of what they
gazed upon. The cigar-shaped body of this odd vehicle was apparently of
steel with riveted plates, and about twelve or thirteen feet in length.
“Amidships,” so to speak, was a low sort of hood, pierced with slits.
From the top of this projected a slender rod of steel tubing with a
small, square, boxlike terminal on its top.

“But where does the gun part of it come in?” asked Jack, much mystified.

Mr. Peregrine smiled, and then, motioning to them to come closer, he
indicated, what they had not before noticed, a break in the continuity
of the “shell” of his invention. This was in the form of a band,
completely encircling the diameter of the fore part of the machine. In
two places in this band, at opposite points, appeared round openings.

“There,” said the inventor, pointing to this band and the two holes, “is
the vital part of my invention. You see those holes?—yes—well, they are
the muzzles of my vanishing guns.”

The group about the inventor nodded; but as yet they had only a very
vague idea of the details of this strange invention.

“That slender shaft of tubing rising from the conning tower,” said Mr.
Peregrine, who in his enthusiasm had lost his jerky manner of talking,
“is nothing more nor less than a periscope; you know what that is, I
presume.”

“A device which will show whatever is occurring outside, while the
operator of the machine to which it is attached remains hidden,” said
Jack.

“Correct. But this is an improved periscope. It gives the operator of
the ‘gun carriage’ a wide view of the sky in every direction. But to
explain my invention more fully I must invite you inside.”

So saying, the inventor opened a door in the side of the steel
structure, which they had not previously noticed. Taking Jack by the
arm, he gave him a half shove into the interior of the steel cigar.

As the space within was small, Mr. Peregrine explained that he would
have to show the points of his invention to one of them at a time. When
Jack was inside the inventor closed the door and, turning a switch,
caused a flood of light to illuminate the interior of the wheeled
cylinder. Jack found that they were standing within the conning tower.
Through the slits he could see out into the shed, but his attention was
speedily distracted by Mr. Peregrine.

The inventor indicated a seat, and invited Jack to occupy it. The boy
was informed that he was seated in the operator’s position. In front of
him was a sort of desk with a white top. This was divided into squares.
The inventor explained that the white surface represented the expanse of
sky commanded by the periscope.

“The instant an aëroplane is seen to enter one of those squares, each of
which, as you see, is numbered,” he explained, “I press one of these
buttons which are correspondingly marked.”

He reached up to a sort of switchboard above the periscope desk, and
pressed one of the numbered buttons on it. A whirring sound followed.

“What’s that?” demanded Jack.

“That noise is caused by the cylindrical band which you observed on the
fore part of the machine,” said Mr. Peregrine; “two guns, controlled by
electricity, are set in that band. By pressing this button one of them
is automatically aimed at the square of sky which the periscope shows is
occupied by a supposedly hostile aëroplane.”

Jack nodded. It was plain to him that the band which they had noticed
revolved on an axis, and that the muzzles of the ‘vanishing gun’
revolved with it.

“The guns fire explosive shells,” went on the inventor, “and when they
burst in mid-air they do damage extending over a wide area. This is an
essential feature of the machine, for of course it would be impossible,
actually, to hit an aëroplane fair and square except by chance.”

After showing Jack several more unique features of his strange
invention, Mr. Peregrine took the boy “forward” into the gun chamber.
Jack then saw just how each gun’s magazine of six shells was worked, and
how the steel cases on the walls were especially designed for reserve
ammunition. The boy could not help feeling the warmest admiration for
the inventive genius that the eccentric designer of this queer, modern
implement of warfare had displayed.

“But it seems to me that you have solved every problem in connection
with this invention, Mr. Peregrine,” said Jack, after he had inspected
the storage batteries and engine, designed to supply motive power to the
vehicle which housed the vanishing guns.

“Yes,” rejoined the inventor, with a return to his odd, jerky manner,
“everything solved—all complete—guns work—everything all right—but
won’t go.”

“Won’t go?” questioned Jack wonderingly, “how do you mean?”

“What I say—can’t get it to move—wheels won’t go round.”

The inventor went on to explain that, although he had solved almost all
the problems in connection with his wonderful device, one of the most
important was still unmastered—namely, the means of locomotion for his
invention. To be of any use at all in the field, it must be able to
move, and move fast.

Now, although the inventor had provided a gasolene engine of
considerable power, still he had not, up to date, been able to make the
wheels revolve. Till he could do this, therefore, his invention must be
considered a failure.

“It’s this that I wanted you to help me out on, Jack Chadwick,” he said,
after he had jerkily explained his trouble; “can you do it?”

Jack looked rather dubious.

“Your machine is so enormously heavy,” he said, “that I’m afraid it is
going to be a difficult matter.”

“Not so heavy as it looks,” responded the inventor, tapping the plates;
“these are not steel, as you may think, but a mixture of vanadium and
aluminum. The machine is practically bomb-proof. Any explosive dropped
from an aëroplane would have to be more deadly than any at present known
to do it much harm.”

Jack inspected the driving motor, a six-cylinder affair located behind a
bulkhead, which cut it off from the conning tower, although the motor
controls and the steering apparatus led into that compartment. The young
inventor made a thorough and careful examination of the motor, and of
the means by which it was geared to the driving shaft.

Then he started it up. Sure enough, as Mr. Peregrine had said, it
refused to move the driving wheels. Jack stopped it and made a further
examination. Following this, he made some more tests and a series of
calculations. Mr. Peregrine watched him with some anxiety. A good deal
depended on the lad’s opinion. At length Jack spoke.

“I think we can overcome your difficulty,” he said.

Mr. Peregrine looked as if he would have liked to embrace him.

“You can?—Good!—Fine!—But how?”

“Well, for one thing, your gearing is wrong. We’ll have to change that.
Then we shall have to put a carburetor on each cylinder instead of on
one only, as at present. That alone will give you more power. Such a
change, combined with the improved gearing I spoke of, should solve the
trouble.”

“You think so—you really do?—Then my troubles are over!”

“Not just yet,” smiled Jack; “there is quite a lot of work ahead of us,
but I think I can promise you that I can make it move at a fair speed.”
After making a further examination, and noting down the changes he
wished to make. Jack and Mr. Peregrine emerged from the queer machine.
The others then took turns in examining it, although it is doubtful if
Mr. Jesson or young Ralph understood its principles very clearly.

“Do you think you can make it go?” Tom asked of Jack, in a low voice,
after the former had been through it, and Mr. Peregrine had explained
his stumbling-block.

“I think so,” said Jack, “but I don’t want to brag. You and I will have
to make a trip to Boston as soon as possible, to get several supplies
and fittings. As soon as we have those we can go right ahead.”

“That’s the idea,” agreed Tom enthusiastically, but the next moment he
broke off abruptly, and pointed to a small window at the back of the
shed.

“There was a man with a red beard peeping in at us through that window
an instant ago,” he exclaimed.

“It must have been one of the spies that Mr. Peregrine fears; one of the
men we met on the road,” exclaimed Jack, and without a thought of the
consequences he dashed out of the shed, followed closely by Tom.



                      CHAPTER IX—A MYSTERIOUS MAN


As the two boys got outside, they saw a man with his head bent low,
darting across the greensward surrounding the construction shed.

“Hi! Hold on! Stop!” shouted Jack.

But the fellow kept on without turning his head. He was evidently making
for a lane which ran at the rear of Mr. Peregrine’s grounds. But a high
fence separated him from it, a fence which surrounded the estate on all
four sides, for Mr. Peregrine had no liking for uninvited visitors.

“He’ll have to stop when he gets to the fence,” panted Tom; “my, but he
can run!”

“Yes, and maybe he can show fight, too,” rejoined Jack; “but I guess we
can master him.”

“Unless he is armed.”

“He wouldn’t dare to try anything like that here,” was Jack’s reply.

They now perceived suddenly that the man whom they were pursuing had no
intention of scaling the fence without assistance. He was making for a
spot where a number of empty packing cases that had contained apparatus
were piled.

“Pshaw! He’ll escape us after all,” exclaimed Jack angrily, as he saw
this.

Even as he spoke the man reached the boxes and scrambled up on them. In
the twinkling of an eye he was over the fence, waving an ironic farewell
to the boys as he dropped from view on the other side. When Jack and Tom
gained the boxes and, in their turn, clambered up on them, there was no
trace of the man. But a vanishing cloud of dust far down the lane showed
that, in all likelihood, the yellow auto had been waiting for him at the
same spot by which he must have entered the Peregrine estate.

The inventor, with Mr. Jesson and young Ralph, had been inside the “war
auto” when the pursuit started, so that they were not aware of what had
taken place. But on emerging from the metallic wheeled cylinder, they
missed the two lads, and came out of the shed to see what had become of
them. Their astonishment on learning of the fruitless pursuit may be
imagined.

“I wish you could have caught the man,” said Mr. Peregrine; “this plot
is deeper than I thought—it’s desperate—and well planned.—Do you think
they saw much?”

“Why, from that window he must have seen everything,” said Jack; “and I
notice now that one of the panes of glass is broken. He must have been
able to overhear considerable of our conversation, too.”

Mr. Peregrine fairly groaned.

“In that case my rivals know of my troubles,” he said, and then,
overmastering his depression, he resumed, in a more cheerful tone, “but
Pythias Peregrine will fight—yes, sir—to the last ditch—they shan’t
steal my invention if I can help it.—They are rich and powerful, yes—but
I’ll give them a battle.”

“That’s the way to talk, sir,” said Jack, “and if we can help you win
out, we’ll do it. As soon as your machine can move you can take out a
patent on it, and then you can laugh at that rascally gang.”

The inventor’s face glowed. He clasped the hands of Jack and Tom
impulsively.

“Don’t know what I’d have done if it hadn’t been for you,” he exclaimed;
“if only you can make my machine go I will be under obligations to you
that I can never repay.”

“Never mind about thanking us till we have accomplished what we hope to
do,” laughed Jack, in reply; “and now I think that we had better make
arrangements to run over to Boston to-morrow. I’ll spend this afternoon
making out a list of the parts I shall need. I’m afraid that they will
be quite expensive.”

“I don’t mind a bit about the expense,” declared the inventor eagerly,
“if only you can make my machine work.”

                   *       *       *       *       *

The remainder of that afternoon was spent by the two lads looking over
Mr. Peregrine’s machine and making careful calculations. No more was
seen of the inventor’s enemies, and the night passed without incident,
although one of Mr. Peregrine’s employees was posted as a night
watchman, and the burglar alarm connecting with the shed that housed the
invention was reenforced by additional wiring.

Bright and early the next morning they set about making ready for their
trip to Boston. It was a run of seventy-five miles and the roads were
not over good, so that they were anxious to get as early a start as
possible.

While they were going over the Flying Road Racer, “grooming” the
machine, as Jack called it, Mr. Peregrine came up to them.

“I have another mission which I wish you would perform for me while you
are in the city,” he said.

The boys looked up from their work.

“What sort of a mission?” asked Jack.

“Well, you see, I’ve been thinking over matters carefully. I have come
to a conclusion.—My lawyer, Mr. Bowler, is in Boston—I’ll give you the
address later.—I want you to take to him the model of my machine, the
blue prints, and a note asking him to take immediate steps to patent my
invention.”

“But I thought that you were not ready to patent the machine yet. That
you were afraid that by doing so your plans would be forestalled,”
objected Jack.

“That’s just the point on which I have changed my mind. I’m certain now
that you can make my machine go, and there is no object in holding back
the patent any longer. I dare not send the model by express for fear
that the plotters may steal it in some way.”

“I think you are right,” said Jack, after a moment’s reflection.

“Very well, then, while you are finishing up your work I’ll wrap the
model up. It will have to be packed carefully as it is quite fragile.”

So saying, the inventor walked off to his study to get the model, by
which he set so much store, ready for shipment. This did not take long,
as the box which was to contain it was already constructed. Very soon he
rejoined the boys, with the package in his hands. Mr. Jesson, who was to
remain at Pokeville that day to visit some experimental gardens in the
vicinity, accompanied him. He added his cautions to the inventor’s
injunctions to be very careful of the fragile model.

“You can rest assured that we’ll take good care of it,” was Jack’s
reply, “and it will be safe in Boston by noon.”

Had the lad only guessed the dangers ahead of him and the risks he was
to run, he would not have spoken so confidently.

At last all was ready, and the model carefully deposited in the back of
the machine. Jack took his seat at the steering wheel and started the
engine. With a whirr and a bang it was going, and the next instant, with
a wave of their hands, the two boys were off on what was to prove an
eventful journey. Little Ralph accompanied them. The lad had begged so
hard to go that they had not the heart to refuse him, and, after all, as
Tom put it, he was so small that he hardly made any difference, anyway.



                    CHAPTER X—AN UNWELCOME ENCOUNTER


Although there was no necessity for great speed, the boys were anxious
to get their errand accomplished and deposit the model safely in Boston.
Then, too, Jack was looking forward, on his return, to making Mr.
Peregrine’s invention practicable.

The day was pleasant. The sun shone down hotly, but the two lads in the
auto did not notice the heat as they rushed along smoothly in the big
machine. They passed through Pokeville at a good rate of speed. So fast,
in fact, that they did not notice a man with a red beard who was
lounging in front of the hotel. But if they did not see him, he took due
note of them.

“There go those two kids,” he muttered; “wonder where they are off to
now. It might be a good thing to follow them. I’ve got a scheme. I’ll
call up Peregrine’s house and find out where they are going. It may turn
out to be worth while taking after them.”

In accordance with this resolve the red-bearded man entered the hotel
and closeted himself in a telephone booth. Adopting a feigned voice he
represented himself as a friend of Jack’s, and asked where the boy had
gone. Mr. Peregrine who, like most inventors, was rather unworldly,
immediately replied that the boys had gone on a trip to Boston on
important business.

“To Boston,” exclaimed the man to himself, as he hung up the receiver;
“if that’s the case, I’ll wager it’s got something to do with the
vanishing gun. Hold on a minute! By Jove, I recollect now that
Peregrine’s patent lawyer has offices in that city. It’s ten to one that
those boys are going there on some business connected with him.”

He lost no time in finding his companion, who was puffing at a black
cigar and reading the morning paper. He hastily told him what he had
seen, and suggested that they take after the boys at once in the yellow
auto.

This plan was soon put into execution, and although they had not much
hope of overtaking the lads, the two men reasoned that possibly some
accident might favor them. At any rate, they knew that the rich men who
employed them to keep track of Mr. Peregrine’s affairs would want to
know of the object of this Boston trip, which was clearly an important
one.

The bridge which had halted the boys the day before was repaired by this
time, and the Flying Road Racer crossed the rather flimsy temporary
affair without difficulty. About half a mile beyond the road turned
sharply. As the boys swung around this turn they almost ran into the
midst of quite an assemblage of men and horses and gaily painted wagons.
In a flash Jack realized that they were probably in for some trouble,
for he had no difficulty in recognizing this outfit as being the
traveling circus from which they had rescued Ralph.

The road was too narrow to turn around in. There was nothing to do but
to keep on. Jack hastily told Ralph to conceal himself under a pile of
wraps in the tonneau, and with a beating heart he sounded the electric
horn, hoping that the circus wagons would turn out and he could get
through without difficulty.

But, as ill luck would have it, the rear wagon was driven by the very
man with whom they had had the trouble, and beside him sat the fellow
who had wielded the whip. They looked around at the sound of the horn
and recognized the two lads in a flash. Their next move was to turn
their wagon deliberately across the road, effectually blocking the
thoroughfare. Then the be-diamonded man shouted to those ahead:

“Say, boys! Here’s the two kids that stole Ralph. Don’t let ’em get away
till we’ve evened things up.”

Jack had, of necessity, stopped the Flying Road Racer when the wagon was
pulled across the road. He was conscious of a sharp feeling of alarm as
the two men clambered down from the wagon and were joined by half a
dozen others, all hard-featured, bad-looking men.

“Now we’ve got you where we want you,” growled the big man, shaking his
fist vindictively at Jack; “get down out of that benzine buggy and give
up your watches and money. Then I’m going to give you the worst hiding
you ever had in your lives.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” rejoined Jack, with a calmness he was, in
reality, far from feeling; “let us get past, please.”

“Ho! ho! ho! so you think you’re going to get off scot free, do you?
Well, you’re mistaken, you young jackanapes. Come on now, get out of
that rig.”

As he spoke the man came close to the side of the Flying Road Racer and
began tugging at Jack’s arm. But he had hardly laid hands on him before
an astonishing thing occurred—astonishing to the ruffian, that is.

Jack’s fist shot out swiftly, and with considerable force. The next
instant the fellow, who had been hit fairly between the eyes, staggered
back and, tripping on a rock, fell over.

But his companion of the day before, who still wielded a whip, sprang
forward from the other side of the machine and aimed a blow at Jack from
behind. Tom caught the fellow’s wrist as it descended, and twisted it
till he yelled with pain. An angry murmur ran through the crowd of
circus men. Several of them detached themselves from the main body, and
made an onslaught on the Flying Road Racer.

The boys defended themselves valorously; but there is little doubt that
the battle would have ended in their defeat, if it had not been for a
sudden happening that diverted the attention of the showmen.

This was nothing more nor less than a shout from some of the men who
were lingering about the more distant wagons.

“Old Wallace has escaped!” they cried at the top of their lungs.

At the same instant the boys saw the huge, tawny form of a big lion
launch itself from one of the forward wagons. Men scattered and ran
right and left, the two fellows who had attacked the boys being among
the first to make off.

The lion, having gained the ground, stood stock still for an instant,
lashing his tail angrily. The creature seemed undetermined what to do.
In the meantime the entire assemblage of showmen had vanished. Not one
remained on the scene. The horses attached to the wagons began to rear
and plunge in terror.

As for the boys, they were fairly paralyzed for a moment; but not for
long. The escape of the lion had caused the horses attached to the wagon
which had been drawn across the road to swing inward in alarm. This left
a clear passage ahead for the Flying Road Racer.

Jack’s mind was made up in a flash. Putting on full power he drove the
big car ahead. The lion saw it coming and gave an angry roar, and was
about to spring at the boys when the front of the speeding machine
struck the great brute. With a howl of pain and fright the creature
rolled over helplessly, pawing the air with its claws, but with all the
fight taken out of it.

Ralph, who had crawled out of his place of concealment as the car moved
forward, fairly gasped when he saw what had happened.

“That’s old Wallace, the man-eating lion,” he exclaimed; “they got him
cheap because of his bad disposition.”

“Well, I guess his disposition is considerably quieted down by this
time,” laughed Jack, as the chastened king of the jungle went limping
off down the road.

“The same thing applies to that bunch of circus men, I guess,” chimed in
Tom.

All three of the lads had to laugh as they saw the lately belligerent
show folks decamping down the road at a lively rate. They did not return
till Wallace had wandered off across some meadows. The lads learned
later that the lion was killed by a farmer the next day as it was
attacking some cows, and that the circus men had to pay heavy damages.
However, at the time, they did not linger in the vicinity, but resumed
their journey as speedily as possible.

Ralph was pale and trembling from his narrow escape, and he had good
reason to be, for it is easy to guess what his fate would have been if
he had come once more into possession of the rascally circus crew.

Before long they came to a point where the road forked. A signboard
standing there directed travelers to Compton, five miles, and Wynburg,
three miles.

“I guess we’ll go through Compton,” decided Jack, taking the road that
turned to the right, “it’s a little longer way round, but it’s a better
road.”

Their way now lay under a high arch of interlacing tree boughs that met
above the track. It was cool and pleasant, and when they reached a
little brook the three lads decided to get out and eat some of the
sandwiches and pie they had brought with them. They made a merry meal of
it there under the trees, washing down their lunch with water from a
small spring which supplied the brook.

They had just finished and were thinking of resuming their journey, when
a sudden sound broke into the stillness of the woodland road—a series of
sharp puffs.

“It’s an auto,” exclaimed Jack, who readily recognized the sounds.

“And it’s coming this way, too,” decided Tom.



                       CHAPTER XI—THE WRONG ROAD


Less than five minutes later the approaching automobile swept into view.
The boys felt rather uneasy when they saw it, for they knew it instantly
to be the identical yellow machine used by Mr. Peregrine’s enemies. Nor
was their alarm at all allayed by the fact that the front seat was
occupied by two men whom they well knew had no good intentions toward
the inventor.

Worse still, the model and the accompanying papers of explanation were
exposed to full view in the tonneau in case the men should stop and make
an investigation. Tom made a move to cover the box containing the
precious bit of apparatus, but Jack checked him. He knew that their only
chance of escaping interference from the men now approaching them was to
act as if they were merely out on a pleasure jaunt.

He counseled both Tom and Ralph to appear composed.

“There’s a chance that they won’t bother us at all,” he said, “although
it does look as if they must have followed us from Pokeville.”

“How could they know which road we took,” asked Tom, “if that was the
case?”

“Easy enough to trail our peculiar-looking tires,” was Jack’s reply.

He spoke in a low voice, though, for at that moment the yellow auto
rolled up alongside and, as Jack had feared, the red-bearded man, who
was driving, brought his machine to a standstill beside the boys’ Flying
Road Racer.

“Well, once more we meet,” said he, as he shut off the gas and the
spark; “out on a trip?”

The man did not have his goggles on this time, and now that his face was
exposed Jack saw that it was a mean and crafty one. Two small eyes, set
close together and gleaming brightly, seemed to search the lad’s heart
as they were fixed on him.

Jack thought it best, however, not to let his suspicions appear on the
surface. So he answered calmly enough:

“Yes, we are out for a short run through the country. We are thinking of
turning back now, though.”

“Is that so?” was the rejoinder. “Well, we are going on. Got a bit of
wire you can let us have? The insulation on one of ours is worn
through.”

“I think we can spare you a piece,” said Jack, thinking that this would
be a good way to get rid of the men. He rummaged in the tool box and
soon produced what was wanted. The red-bearded man thanked him and,
having adjusted his engine, he and his companion drove off.

“Well, what do you make of that?” exclaimed Jack, in some wonderment;
“the fellow was just as cool as if we hadn’t chased him across Mr.
Peregrine’s estate yesterday.”

“I’m glad you didn’t refer to that,” said Tom; “it might have made
trouble; and our first duty now is to get the model safely to Boston. We
can settle up accounts with those chaps later. By the way, I guess it
was a mere accident—their meeting us here.”

Jack looked rather perplexed.

“I don’t know exactly,” he said, with a dubious shake of the head, “and
yet they didn’t seem to have any idea that we were on an important
mission.”

“Unless they were foxy enough to cover up anything they knew about our
having the model right here with us,” said Tom.

“At any rate, it will be best to wait here a while and let them get on
ahead a good ways,” decided Jack; “the further off from those chaps we
are the better content I am.”

“That’s so,” agreed Tom; “after all, if we get into Boston before dark
it will be plenty of time. I do wish we hadn’t run across those fellows,
though—or rather, that they hadn’t run across us. It’s made me feel
rather uncomfortable.”

In accordance with Jack’s plan the three boys lingered on the woodland
road for an hour or more, by which time they judged that the men would
have got a good distance ahead. Then they resumed their journey. A short
time later they passed through Compton and learned there that the yellow
auto had passed through about an hour before.

“Looks as if they were going to Boston, too,” said Jack; “well, there’s
one good thing, we know that they are ahead of us and not sneaking about
trying to put up any tricks.”

As he had no wish to overtake the yellow car. Jack drove pretty slowly
after they passed through Compton, which was set in the midst of quite a
wild section of country, thickly wooded and hilly. The roads were fairly
good, however, and the journey was without incident till suddenly, at a
spot where a rough-looking track branched off from the main road, they
were confronted by a sign:

                   “DANGER! ROAD CLOSED FOR REPAIRS.”

Underneath, in smaller letters, were the words, “Take This Road,” with a
rudely painted hand pointing toward the wood road.

“That’s odd,” commented Jack, as he stopped the machine; “they didn’t
say anything to us in Compton about the main road being closed.”

“It is queer, certainly,” mused Tom, who had got out of the car and was
examining the sign; “and, see here, Jack, the paint on this is quite
wet.”

“I wonder if this can be some trick,” pondered Jack seriously; “and yet
if it isn’t, we might get into serious difficulties by sticking to the
main road.”

He got out of the car and joined Tom on the roadside. An examination of
the wood road followed. It was even rougher at a closer view than it had
appeared to be at first. It was grass-grown, too, and evidently but
little used. But Jack’s quick eyes soon noted something.

An automobile had been along it. The fresh tracks were plainly
discernible.

“The yellow auto took the wood road,” he decided; “maybe we are wrong in
suspecting a trick, after all. Tell you what we’ll do, Tom, we’ll
explore the main road a bit, and if we find it torn up further along
we’ll take the wood road.”

“That’s a good idea,” agreed Tom, “but we don’t want to leave the Flying
Road Racer unguarded.”

“No, that’s right,” said Jack; “Ralph could remain on guard while we
went ahead on foot a ways. If you hear or see anything suspicious just
shout to us, Ralph,” he enjoined, as he and Tom struck off down the main
road to investigate. Just beyond where the sign that had stopped them
was nailed up the road took a sharp turn, and bushes grew right down to
the sides of the track.

Thus, a few steps took them out of sight of the Flying Road Racer and
Ralph, who was quite proud of the trust reposed in him. They trudged on
for a few hundred yards, but there was no sign that anything was the
matter with the road.

“It’s just as I thought,” said Jack, “it’s a trick. We ought never to
have left the machine back there. We——”

“Help!”

A shrill boyish cry of fear and alarm was borne to their ears from
behind.

“It’s Ralph! Come on, Tom! Run as you never ran before!” shouted Jack,
dashing off in the direction of the cries.

The boys ran fast; but when they arrived panting at the side of the
Flying Road Racer there was no one there. Ralph had vanished as utterly
as if the earth had swallowed him up, and the boys quickly realized
another disastrous fact.

One look into the tonneau showed them that the model had been taken. The
lads, although they knew it was useless, searched the adjoining bushes
and woods for a trace of Ralph, and wakened the echoes with their
shouts. But no trace of the boy or the model could be found. Indeed,
they had not really expected success.

It was a bitter moment when, standing by the sign that had worked all
this havoc, the two lads looked in each other’s faces and admitted that
they had been tricked. Worse still, although they were certain that the
men in the yellow auto had done this thing, they had not the slightest
clue as to where they had vanished with Ralph and the model.

Jack felt his heart sink. Tom’s face bore a look of utter dejection.
What would Mr. Peregrine say? It did not make the burden any the lighter
to realize that in a measure the fact that they had left the Flying Road
Racer practically alone was responsible for their disaster.



                    CHAPTER XII—THE RED-BEARDED MAN


For a short space of time the lads were too thunderstruck to speak. Jack
was the first to find his voice.

“What on earth are we going to do? How can we ever explain?” he
quavered.

“If we hadn’t left the machine alone with Ralph we might have managed to
fight the rascals off,” lamented Tom.

“Well, there’s no use crying over spilled milk, as dad says. The thing
to do now is to decide on our next move.”

“Shall we go back and tell Mr. Peregrine what has happened?”

“No. There’s a bare chance that we may be able to recover the model and
the papers and rescue Ralph.”

“You have a plan, then?”

Jack nodded.

“Not much of a one, though,” he hastened to say, “but it’s the best I
can think of right now. Those fellows must have gone a short way up this
wood road after putting up that sign to fool us. Maybe they watched us
from the bushes. At any rate, we know that, wherever they have gone,
they must have taken the wood road.”

“You mean to follow them up along the same road, then?”

“No, we’d stand no chance of overtaking them. My plan is to stick to the
main road. I’ve an idea the wood road joins it again further on. At any
rate, the main road will bring us to the vicinity of a telephone and we
can notify the authorities to be on the lookout for that yellow auto.”

“I guess that’s about all we can do,” agreed Tom ruefully.

The Flying Road Racer was started again, and after about half an hour’s
run the boys found themselves in a small town called Old Bridge. There
they learned that the yellow auto which they were pursuing had passed
through about half an hour ahead of them. The men in it had inquired the
road to Boston. The storekeeper, who gave the boys this information,
declared that he had seen no boy in the machine with the two men. “They
were going like blazes,” he volunteered. “That’s a clue, at any rate,”
declared Jack, as they set off for the police station to which the
storekeeper had directed them; “we know that the men are bound for
Boston.”

“A whole lot of good that does us,” grumbled Tom; “we might as well
expect to find a needle in a haystack as find two men, who wish to
remain concealed, in a large city.”

The Old Bridge police force—which consisted of three men and a captain,
was notified of the happening on the road, and the chief promised to
have a thorough search of the woods in the vicinity made, and notify the
boys in Boston if he came across any clues. For Jack had made up his
mind to keep on to the city and lay the whole case before Mr. Bowler,
the lawyer.

“He will know better what to do than we do,” he said, “and may be able
to suggest some plan for recovering the model and poor Ralph.”

It was with heavy hearts and doleful countenances that the young
inventors soon afterward drove into the city and, having put the Flying
Racer up at a garage, set out on foot for Mr. Bowler’s offices.

They found him to be a large, rather stern man, who plainly was
exceedingly put out by their news. However, he communicated at once with
the police, and was assured that a sharp lookout would be kept for the
yellow auto.

“What do you think of notifying Mr. Peregrine?” inquired Jack.

“I don’t think the time is yet ripe for that,” was the reply, which
rather relieved the boys’ minds; “Mr. Peregrine, as you have doubtless
observed, is a very nervous man, and I don’t wish to cause him a shock
until we are sure we have done all we can to recover his property. Allow
me to say,” he added, “that you did a very unwise thing in leaving that
machine unguarded. However, I suppose you are not so much to blame as
might appear on the face of it.”

“Just as if we didn’t feel badly enough already,” said Jack, as they
left the office. Mr. Bowler had promised to notify Mr. Peregrine in a
non-committal way of their arrival, but to withhold the news of their
misfortune for the present. It was also arranged that the boys should
stop in Boston for a day or so, in order to try and identify the men, or
pick up some clue of value. Mr. Bowler promised to explain the cause of
their continued absence to Mr. Peregrine over the long-distance
telephone.

Under ordinary circumstances the lads would have devoted at least a part
of their time in Boston to sight-seeing. But they were in no mood for
this, and, having registered at a quiet hotel, they went at once to
their room to talk matters over. But, as might have been expected, their
deliberations did not lead them to anything definite. In fact, the more
they discussed the case, the more hopeless did it appear to become.

They ate a melancholy enough supper in the hotel and, after disposing of
the meal, sallied forth; more because there didn’t seem anything else to
do than in the hope of picking up any information concerning the missing
model. They walked through gaily lighted streets, and after a while
reached a part of the city that was not so well illuminated, and where
evidences of squalor and poverty began to abound. The thoroughfares were
narrow and dark, and the houses more like rookeries than decent
dwelling-places.

In and out of dark doorways, sordid, ragged men and women slipped in a
furtive sort of fashion.

“My, we are in the slums with a vengeance!” exclaimed Jack.

“Yes, let’s go back. I don’t much fancy this part of the city, and some
of those men look desperate enough for anything.”

In fact, several of the bloated, red-faced beings they had encountered
had stared speculatively at the two well-dressed, clean-cut lads, as if
wondering what they could be doing in such a part of the city. Moreover,
Jack and Tom each had quite a sum of money in his pockets, and it was
really tempting fate to walk about in such a section with well-lined
pocketbooks.

So they turned to retrace their steps. But in the narrow, badly lighted
streets, they inadvertently took a wrong direction, and before long they
found themselves in a still more ill-favored section.

“I wish we could see a policeman,” remarked Jack, looking about; “I
hardly like to ask the way of any of those ruffianly looking men we’ve
passed.”

“Nor I,” was Tom’s rejoinder. “Well, let’s keep right on our way, and
hurry up, and we are bound to get out of this neighborhood before long.”

Accordingly they quickened their pace. They were passing a dark doorway
leading into a particularly rickety-looking rookery, when a man, who was
coming out of it hastily, almost collided with them. He wore ragged
clothes, but something about him seemed strangely familiar to Jack. The
next instant he knew what it was.

The man, who had a flaming red beard, was the same fellow who had driven
the yellow auto.

Jack made an impulsive leap for him.

“I want to speak to you,” he began; “you——”

But the man, after casting a hurried, half-alarmed look at the two lads,
dodged back into the doorway like a rabbit into its burrow. Without
considering the risk he was running, Jack dashed after him into the
dark, ill-smelling hallway of the tumble-down building.

“Stop!” he shouted at the top of his voice, but the sound of rapidly
retreating footsteps was the only sound that came back to him from the
thick velvety darkness of the hallway.



                     CHAPTER XIII—JAKE ROOK AND CO.


“Tom, run out and get a policeman, and come back as quick as you can!”

Jack flung the words back as he leaped forward and stumbled against the
bottom step of a flight of stairs. Higher up he could hear his quarry
scuttling off in the darkness like a rat.

“You’re going after him?”

“Yes. I must. We’ve got a chance to get on the trail of these rascals
right now, and I don’t intend to miss it.”

There was a snap in Jack’s tones as he spoke that convinced Tom it would
be useless to argue. He hurried out to get an officer of the law while
Jack plunged blindly up the staircase, stumbling at every other step.
Ahead of him he could still hear the retreating footsteps.

In his anger at the behavior of the rascals who had stolen the model and
kidnapped young Ingersoll, Jack gave little thought to the grave danger
he was running. Guided by the sound of the unseen man’s flight he
bounded up the stairs at top speed, barking his shins and bruising
himself as he stumbled and slipped in the darkness.

One—two—three landings he passed, and then he came to what appeared to
be the top story of the old house. At any rate, above his head was a
square of star-spangled sky, framed apparently by a skylight. Jack
reached out a hand and encountered the rungs of a ladder. Clearly it led
to the roof, and the man he was pursuing had used it to reach the top of
the rickety old edifice.

“Well, here goes!” exclaimed Jack; “it’s taking a big chance, but if I
lose him now I might as well bid good-bye to the chance of ever getting
on his tracks again.”

While this thought flashed through his mind he was rapidly scaling the
ladder. In a jiffy he was on the roof of the tenement. But not a trace
of the man he was following could he see. All at once, however, he spied
a sort of raised doorway on what appeared to be the roof of an adjoining
house.

A space of some three feet separated the two houses, but Jack jumped
across it without hesitation. From the fact that the man was not in
sight, and there was no other place down which he could have vanished.
Jack argued that he must have descended by this scuttle.

A ladder, similar to the one he had just ascended, led down from the
scuttle to the interior of the house into which he believed the
red-bearded man had vanished. Jack descended this, and found himself on
a landing illumined by a smoky lamp. Opposite to where he stood was a
door.

While he stood there, still hesitating, he heard from within the room a
cry that thrilled his blood.

“Don’t! Oh, don’t! I’ve told you all I know! I have, really I have!”

“Heavens! That’s Ralph’s voice!” gasped Jack; “those rascals have got
him prisoner in there and are trying to find out something more about
Mr. Peregrine from him. Oh, if Tom will only hurry with that policeman!
I guess I’ll go back and meet him and——”

Crash! Jack felt a sudden stinging blow on the back of the head. A
hundred brilliant lights danced in front of his eyes, and then came what
seemed to be the bursting of a bomb within his head. At the same instant
everything went black.

“Humph! That’s the time I fooled you nicely,” muttered a voice, as a
figure stooped over the unconscious boy and raised him from the floor.

It was the red-bearded man, by name Jake Rook, who, instead of
descending the scuttle as Jack had imagined, had been hiding behind a
stack of chimneys. He had seen Jack vanish into the scuttle, and had
crept softly after him without the boy having any notion that danger was
behind him.

“Get the police after me, eh?” he growled, still holding Jack’s limp
figure in his arms; “not yet, young man, nor soon, either, if Jake Rook
knows his business.”

So saying, he half-lifted, half-dragged Jack toward the door and rapped
on it three times in a peculiar manner. It was instantly opened, and the
rat-like face of the black-moustached man appeared. The instant his eyes
lit on Jack’s pallid countenance, as he lay supported in the other’s
arms in the doorway, he gave an exclamation.

“By hooky, Jake! One of those kids! How on earth?”

“Never mind questions now. I’ll explain it later. Help me get him
inside. Hurry now. The other kid’s gone alter the police.”

“Jove! How did they locate us?”

“Don’t know. Accident, I guess. I ran right into ’em as I was coming out
of the doorway next door.”

While they were speaking the two men dragged Jack into the room and
flung him on a rough bed in one corner of the place. Already huddled
miserably on the wretched pallet was the figure of Ralph Ingersoll. His
face was pale and scared, and he had a bruise on his forehead, received
the day before when he had gallantly attempted to fight off the two
rascals in the yellow auto.

“It’s Jack Chadwick!” he exclaimed, as the men flung their unconscious
burden down; “how did he come here? What dreadful thing have you done?”

“You shut up,” warned Jake Rook savagely; “listen, now, Rad.”

So saying he launched into an account of just how he had encountered the
two boys and how he had tricked Jack into walking into a trap. While he
was doing this Ralph, despite the risk he ran of being brutally treated
by the men, got some water from a tin jug in one corner of the room and
bathed Jack’s forehead. But the boy’s eyes remained closed, and his
heavy breathing showed that he was far from recovering consciousness.

“The question now is, what’s the next best move?” queried Radcliff, as
Jake Rook concluded his recital.

“Well, we’d best lie quietly here for a while. You see the police will
be in the next house in a few minutes. They’ll search it and maybe this
one, too.”

“In that case we’d better get out of here.”

“No, I’ve got a better plan.”

“What’s that?”

For reply Jake Rook gave his beard a tug and off it came, revealing him
as a clean-shaven fellow with a heavy bulldog jaw. Next he removed a
wig, and no one would have recognized him, even had they had a far
longer acquaintanceship with him than had Jack or Tom.

“You’re a wonder, Jake,” exclaimed his companion admiringly; “well, what
now?”

For answer Jake Rook stepped to the wall. He fumbled for a minute and
then pulled back a section of the wainscotting, disclosing a sort of
dark closet within.

“You get in there with the two kids, and if they try to make a holler
you know how to keep them quiet. Hark!”

“Someone’s on the roof!”

“That’s right. In with you. Quick, now, they’ll be here in a minute.”

The two men picked up Jack and carried him to the opening, thrust him
in. Ralph was bidden to follow, and he was far too terrified to make any
objections.

“If he makes a sound you know what to do, Rad?” said Jake Rook, with a
sinister look at the trembling boy.

“I know, all right,” muttered the other, producing a revolver from his
hip pocket and tapping it suggestively.

Jake Rook’s disguise was thrown into the hole in the wall also, and then
the panel was slid into place again. This done, it would have defied the
keenest eyes to tell that there had ever been an opening there. As the
panel was slid shut the vastly altered Jake Rook tiptoed softly across
the room to the door and listened intently. He was just in time to hear
somebody descending the ladder.

Instantly he slid across the room and threw himself on the couch,
drawing the dirty blankets up to his chin. He had just done so when a
sharp rap sounded on the door. Jake instantly began to cough in a
painful manner.

“Ugh-ugh-ugh! Who’s there?”

“Open this door at once!”

“Ugh-ugh, I’m sick in bed. Open it yourself. What is it?
Ugh-ugh-ugh—what do you want?” As he spoke the door was flung open and
two policemen, with Tom just behind them, stepped into the room.

“Who are you?” demanded one of them of the figure on the ragged bed.

“Ugh-ugh—oh, my cough!—My name’s Tattered Terry. I was selling papers up
to a week ago, when I took sick. Ugh-ugh, how my cough hurts!”

“Guess we’re on the wrong scent,” said one of the policemen.

Then he turned to the huddled figure of the man on the couch.

“Did you hear any disturbance here to-night? We’re looking for a boy who
entered the place next door and has vanished.”

“Ugh-ugh-ugh,” and Jake Rook was shaken by what seemed to be a paroxysm
of coughing, “if he’s in the next house, why don’t you look there?”

“We have, but there’s no trace of him,” burst out Tom; “are you quite
sure you’ve heard nothing unusual?”

“Ugh-ugh. Oh, my poor lungs! Not a thing, my boy, not a thing.
Ugh-ugh—is that all you want to know?”

“I guess that’s all,” said one of the policemen. Turning to Tom, he
continued: “Are you quite sure he went in next door?”

“Yes, oh, yes, I’m certain of it. I’d know the house by those peculiarly
shaped lower windows. Oh, what can have become of him?”

“Well, he’s not here, that’s certain,” said one of the policemen and,
with Tom in despair at the disappearance of Jack, they bade the seeming
sick man a gruff good-night and left the room. But Jake Rook did not
arise immediately. Instead, he lay very still till he was sure that the
police had visited the other dwellers in the rookery. Then he sprang
from the bed and hastened to the panel. In a second he flung it open and
released Radcliff.

“Phew!” panted that worthy, as he stepped out into the room, followed by
Ralph, who looked more woebegone than ever, “it’s like a furnace in
there. I don’t think we could have stood it much longer.”

Ralph, who felt sick and dizzy from his confinement in the stuffy hole,
reeled over to the cot and sank down on it wearily, while the two men
once more lifted Jack across the room. His body was limp, and his face
still white and deathlike. Jake Rook gave a startled look at him.

“He’s taking a long time to come to,” he growled; “I hope I didn’t hit
him too hard.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Radcliff, a rather scared look coming over
his countenance.

“Why, that—that——Hark! What’s that?”

Somewhere below in the house somebody was shouting something at the top
of his lungs. What was it, that alarmed cry, coming in that high-pitched
voice?

Radcliff stepped to the door and opened it. The cry was plain enough
then. It was being caught up and echoed by a score of frightened voices
throughout the tumble-down tenement.

“Fire! fire! fire!”

On the bottom floor of the rickety old tenement a lamp had exploded.
Already the flames were spreading to the stairways.

“We’ll have to get out by the roof!” exclaimed Radcliff, in a nervous
tone; “this place will burn like a haystack once that fire gets a good
start.”

“That’s right! Come on, we’ve no time to lose. Here, you,” and Jake Rook
seized Ralph roughly by the wrist and began dragging him out of the
room.

In the meantime Radcliff dived under the cot and secured the model of
the vanishing gun machine and the papers which had been hidden there.
Having done this, he started after Jake Rook. Already the street below
was full of shouts, and the acrid reek of smoke was filling the hallway.

“Come on! We’ve no time to lose,” admonished Rook, rushing through the
doorway, still holding Ralph in an iron grip.

But the boy hung back, pleading piteously. His eyes were on Jack’s
unconscious form, which lay just as it had been flung across the cot.

“But, Jack—you’ve left Jack!” he cried. “Surely you don’t mean to leave
him behind!”

“You shut up and come on, or I’ll take steps to make you,” was the gruff
reply, and the next moment Radcliff closed the door of the room, and
dragging Ralph after them the two ruffians effected their escape from
the burning house.



                     CHAPTER XIV—THE DRIVERLESS CAR


“And you could find no trace of him?”

It was the next morning in Mr. Bowler’s office, and that man of the law
was seated at his desk with Tom Jesson beside him. Tom had just finished
telling of the events of the preceding night. The lad was pale and his
eyes were red from lack of sleep, but there was a ring of determination
in his voice as he replied to Mr. Bowler’s query.

“I’ve told you all there is to tell, sir; but if Jack Chadwick’s on top
of the earth I’m not going to give up the search till he is found.”

“That’s the right spirit, my lad,” commented Mr. Bowler, “but at the
same time we appear to be up against a stone wall. The last you saw of
him was when he vanished into that house. There is no question in my
mind but that the men who have harassed you seized him to save
themselves from the police. But the question is, what have they done
with him?”

“That’s just it,” said Tom despairingly, “there isn’t a single clue to
go upon. As you say, we’ve run into a stone wall. But knowing Jack as I
do, I’m sure that we’ll get track of him again somehow.”

But the lawyer did not appear so hopeful.

“This gang, or rather the agents of the rich men who are trying to
secure this invention, appear to have a far better organized and
desperate plan of campaign than we imagined,” he said; “however, I will
engage detectives and, in the meantime, we must notify Mr. Peregrine.
The news can be kept from him no longer.”

Tom agreed to this, although he knew that the inventor would be driven
almost frantic by the news that his vanishing gun model was in the hands
of his enemies.

“Now, while I get Mr. Peregrine on the long-distance ’phone,” said the
lawyer, “suppose you go over to the garage where you left your machine
and bring it around here. We have a lot of ground to cover if we are to
get on the track of those rascals, and that will be the quickest way to
get about.”

And so it was arranged. While the lawyer got into communication with the
inventor Tom fetched the Flying Road Racer around from the garage where
they had left it. He found Mr. Bowler waiting for him with the
information that Mr. Peregrine had taken the news of his loss more
calmly than he had expected.

“By the way,” he went on, “Mr. Peregrine informed me also of something
that you should know. It appears that your young friend, Ralph
Ingersoll, is being eagerly sought for by the circus men from whom you
took him. They seem to have some strong reason for wishing to get him
back, and even went to the length of offering a large sum for his
recovery, which Mr. Jesson of course refused. He told them, so he
informs me, that if they had a legal right to the boy they could obtain
his custody through the proper channels.”

“I doubt if they could find him through any channels now,” said Tom,
with a grim smile that ended in a sigh as he thought how Jack, too, was
now mysteriously missing.

Mr. Bowler, who knew quite a good deal about autos, tried to divert
Tom’s mind from his troubles during the ride to police headquarters by
discussing the points of the Flying Road Racer with the young inventor.
But Tom only replied listlessly. His thoughts were centered on his
missing chum and cousin.

There was no news of the yellow auto or of its two operators at police
headquarters. This hardly surprised Tom, who had concluded that such
clever rascals as Rook and Radcliff had shown themselves to be, would
surely have had sense enough to cover up their tracks.

As they were leaving the building one of the two policemen who had
helped Tom in his search the night before was coming in. He stopped Tom
and spoke to him.

“Here’s a funny thing,” he said; “you know that house next door to the
one where your friend vanished? Well, it burned down last night. The
flames swept right through it from cellar to garret. Left nothing but
the brick shell.”

This news did not particularly interest Tom. He had no idea that Jack
had been left behind in the burning building by his captors and,
therefore, had no reason to be concerned in the matter.

“It is an odd coincidence,” he said, in reply, as he passed on; “I’m
glad we made sure that my cousin wasn’t in the place or I’d be worried.”

“Well, I hope you find him soon,” rejoined the other; “you can depend on
it, that if he’s in Boston we’ll get a line on him somehow.”

Although Tom was by no means so sure of this, he thanked the bluecoat,
and presently was seated in the Flying Road Racer once more with Mr.
Bowler beside him.

“Too bad,” said the lawyer, “although I really hadn’t much expectation
that we’d learn anything new. These men we are pitted against are much
slicker and smarter than we thought.”

“Do you think that the red-bearded man and his companion are the
principals in this thing?” asked Tom, as the machine moved off.

“No; they are simply the tools of a powerful syndicate in New York,
composed of wealthy but unscrupulous men, who are far too cunning to
undertake the actual rascality. The thing that is bothering me is—are
they still in Boston or have they left with the stolen model?”

“And what bothers me,” said Tom, rather sharply, “is what has become of
my chum?”

The lawyer looked at the boy beside him. When first he had met Jack and
Tom, under circumstances of which we know, he had felt rather inclined
to despise them for the way in which they had let the precious box slip
out of their custody. He had undergone a change of feeling, though,
since he had seen that both boys were as keen-witted and resourceful as
their foes were unscrupulous and rascally.

“There, there, Tom,” he said kindly, “don’t mind me, and don’t feel
annoyed because I seemed for a minute to think more of that box than of
your cousin. I tell you what we’ll do,” he went on; “there’s nothing
like a good spin along a country road to clear one’s head and enable one
to do some stiff thinking. Suppose we take a little run out of town?”

“I think that’s a good idea, sir,” agreed Tom, and soon the Flying Road
Racer was spinning through the suburbs, and then out upon a country road
which ran through a charming landscape, dotted here and there by
farmhouses surrounded by woods and fields. The lawyer appeared to be
thinking deeply, and Tom did not interrupt him. Instead, he attended
strictly to his driving, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. They took a
spin of twenty-five miles or so, and then on Mr. Bowler’s suggestion
they turned back.

They ran back toward the city at a fair speed; but they had not gone
more than a few miles before Tom, his eyes fixed on the road, became
aware of an astonishing thing. The thoroughfare was straight and level,
and out of a cloud of dust ahead there suddenly emerged an automobile.
It was coming toward them at a slow gait.

There was nothing very astonishing in this, of course, and in itself it
formed no reason for Tom’s startled exclamation. The surprising thing
about the approaching car, that Tom first noticed, was that nobody was
driving, or occupied its seats, and the next amazing feature of the
oncoming car was its color. It was a bright yellow—and we know that Tom
had a peculiar interest in yellow touring cars just then.

“Look, sir! Look,” he cried to Mr. Bowler, “if that isn’t the same car
those fellows used it’s the twin of it, and more astonishing still, it
has no driver.”

“Bless my soul, nor has it! There’s some mystery here.”

Tom slowed down the Flying Road Racer and began to climb out on the
running board. At length he brought his machine to a standstill,
operating the controls with one hand. He had caused the machine to halt
so that it was at one side of the road, offering no obstacle to the
driverless car which was slowly approaching them.

“What are you going to do?” demanded the lawyer, as Tom, holding on with
one hand, leaned far out from the running board of the Flying Road
Racer.

“Find out what this all means, sir,” was Tom’s rejoinder.

Hardly were the words out of his mouth when the driverless car passed
them. As it did so Tom made a flying leap for its running board. He
landed safely, clinging on to the side of the machine. Then, while the
lawyer watched with astonished eyes, the boy clambered into the vacant
driver’s seat and, shutting off the power, applied the footbrake,
bringing the car to an abrupt stop.

“Well, of all astounding things,” exclaimed Tom as, having brought the
car to a stop, he examined it carefully. It was undoubtedly the same car
which had been used by the men who had caused all their troubles. But
what had become of them? How did the car come to be running itself? How
had it kept on a straight course?

The last of these questions was answered when Tom discovered that,
attached to the steering knuckles, was a device which, by an irony of
fate, he and Jack Chadwick had invented and marketed. This device was in
pretty general use and was known as the Automatic Steersman. It
consisted of stout springs attached to each steering knuckle, and
connected with the “helm” of the auto in such a manner that, provided
the wheel was not turned, the car would automatically be kept on a
straight course. The device had been thought out by the boys as an aid
to beginners in auto driving; but it had been found so useful that many
skilled drivers had adopted it. This, then, explained how the car had
kept to the road with no one at the wheel.

But the deeper mystery of how it came to be where it was, and minus its
occupants, was far from a solution.

“There’s something mighty out of the ordinary in all this,” decided Tom
Jesson, in a puzzled tone, as he stood beside the machine on the dusty
road.



                    CHAPTER XV—TOM MAKES A DISCOVERY


“This is the most puzzling thing yet.”

Tom uttered the words as Mr. Bowler, who had alighted from the Flying
Road Racer, joined him at the side of the yellow car.

“It certainly is,” he rejoined; “it’s piling mystery on mystery. Where
can the car have come from?”

“Not very far, that is, by itself,” rejoined Tom instantly; “you see
this automatic steerer would only keep it on the road on a straight
course. It couldn’t help it to negotiate any turns.”

“That’s so. When did you first sight it?”

“As it came over the top of that hill yonder. I propose that we drive
along the road and see if we can’t pick up some clue to the mystery.”

“An excellent idea. If, as you say, the car can’t have come far, we
ought soon to encounter something that will put us in possession of some
knowledge of what has happened. Suppose you drive your Flying Road
Racer, as you call it. I’ll follow in this yellow machine.”

“Very well,” agreed Tom, who knew that the lawyer could drive and had a
car of his own, for Mr. Bowler, in chatting with Tom, had informed the
boy of this fact.

Tom walked back to the Flying Road Racer, while the lawyer got into the
yellow car and turned it around with a dexterity that showed he was no
greenhorn at driving an auto. Tom in the lead drove slowly, keeping his
eyes wide open.

“You watch the right-hand side of the road. I’ll watch the left,” he
shouted back to Mr. Bowler.

“Very well,” was the lawyer’s reply, and in this way the two autos
rolled slowly along the road and over the brow of the hill, over which
the yellow car of mystery had appeared. Beyond the rise the road took a
dip, but was quite straight.

At the bottom of the dip was a bridge spanning a small creek. The road
at each side of the bridge was sandy and soft, and the autos puffed
rather heavily through it. All at once Tom checked the Flying Road
Racer; he then raised his hand above his head to signal Mr. Bowler to
stop the yellow car also.

“Have you found something?” asked the lawyer eagerly, as he applied the
brakes and cut off power.

“Yes. Look here in the sand at the side of the road. There are footmarks
and—yes, by ginger!—there’s been a struggle of some kind here, Mr.
Bowler.”

“Let us get out and examine the footprints more carefully,” suggested
the lawyer.

Accordingly both the man of law and the boy got out of their machines
and the next minute were bending intently above the maze of footmarks
that Tom had noticed. It seemed plain enough that, as the boy had
surmised, there had been a struggle there. No other explanation would
fit the case. The grass was trampled down and twigs broken from the
bushes in the vicinity of the tangle of footmarks.

“Well, I guess you are in the right about there having been a struggle
here,” said the lawyer, “but we are not any nearer to knowing who
engaged in it, what it was about, or anything else that might do us some
good. I’m inclined to think——Bless my soul, boy, what’s the matter?”

Tom had flung himself forward with a joyous shout. His leap landed him
on the edge of the thicket right alongside some object he had descried.
He stooped swiftly and lifted it with a cry of triumph.

It was a square wooden box that the boy held up, and the keen-witted
lawyer instantly guessed what it was.

“The model box!” he exclaimed.

“Yes! Hooray! We must be close on their tracks now.”

But oddly enough, as Tom with a flushed face set down the box and
prepared to open it, the lawyer by no means seemed to share his
satisfaction. It was incomprehensible to him that the men who had stolen
the model would have thrown it away like that.

He was not surprised, therefore, when Tom, having opened the lid and
peeped into the box, gave vent to a cry of chagrin.

It was perfectly empty.

“Just as I thought,” said the lawyer, rather grimly; “however, the
finding of that box establishes one thing clearly enough.”

“And that is?”

“That those two rascals have been here. May be close to us now.”

Tom glanced about somewhat apprehensively. He recollected that, not so
very long before—when they had left the machine on the wood road—the two
rascals had been closer to them than they thought for. This might be the
case now.

“I wish we had some sort of a posse at hand to make a thorough search of
the woods,” he said.

“So do I,” was the rejoinder, “but you can depend upon it that those
fellows are not lingering here since we arrived on the scene.”

It was at this moment that Tom made another discovery—a cap that lay in
some bushes almost at his feet! He picked it up with a cry, having
recognized it as the one that Mr. Peregrine had given to poor Ralph.

“They—they’ve had Ralph here with them, Mr. Bowler,” he exclaimed
excitedly; “just look here. This is his cap—or rather one that was given
him till he could get an outfit to replace his circus clothes. I wonder
if it is possible that he——

“Hello! What’s that?”

“Sounds like a groan,” decided the lawyer, as, from the bushes that
clustered against the bridge supports, the moaning sound came once more.

“That’s somebody in pain,” exclaimed Tom, shoving his way through the
undergrowth that clothed the steep bank thickly.

“Be careful, my boy. You don’t know that this isn’t a trap,” cautioned
the lawyer; “those men may be——”

He didn’t finish the sentence. A joyous cry from Tom cut it short. The
boy had reached the edge of the creek, and in a clump of alders there he
found something that made him utter a shrill cry of delight.

“What is it? What have you found?” demanded the lawyer, peering down.

“Why, I’ve found Ralph, Mr. Bowler. Poor lad, I’m afraid he’s hurt,
though. Can you help me to get him up the bank?”

“Can I? Of course I can,” and the dignified lawyer plunged down to where
Tom was standing. He found the boy stationed above the recumbent form of
a small, frail boy, who was bleeding from a cut on the head. The lawyer
made a swift examination of the wound and then told Tom to dip his
handkerchief in the water of the creek, and when this had been done he
bathed the wound carefully.

As the cold water touched him, Ralph, who had been moaning feebly,
opened his eyes and seemed to be trying to speak.

“Not now, my lad,” ordered the lawyer, and then to Tom: “He is not badly
hurt. I have examined him and no bones are broken.”

“But the cut on his head?”

“Nothing very serious. Now give me a hand and we’ll get him up the bank
and into one of the machines. Then we’ll make as fast a run as possible
for a doctor.”

Tom lost no time in carrying out the lawyer’s instructions, and by dint
of scrambling and clambering, the two managed to get the wounded lad up
the bank. This done, he was placed in the tonneau of the Flying Road
Racer, and the two machines sped on once more.

Not more than half a mile further on they reached a village called
Boonton. On inquiring, they were soon directed to a doctor’s house, and
Ralph, who, after a brief period of consciousness, had again lapsed into
insensibility, was placed in the physician’s hands for treatment. Tom
was almost dying with anxiety to ask the lad some questions which might
put him on the track of Jack, but the physician forbade his patient
being bothered for the present.

“But I will allow you to talk to him this evening,” he said, and with
this Tom and Mr. Bowler had to be satisfied. The physician, whose name
was Tallman, had a sort of small private hospital in one wing of his
house, and in a room in this Ralph was put to bed and made as
comfortable as possible.

“The boy appears to have been half starved,” said the doctor, “and that
has weakened his system so much that he cannot resist pain like a
healthy person.”

Whereupon Tom related all he knew of Ralph’s story, not omitting to tell
of the rough hands into which the boy had fallen the day before.

“What is his name?” asked the doctor.

“Ralph,” rejoined Tom, and was not slow to notice an odd look pass over
the physician’s face. It seemed almost as if the name called up a
familiar recollection to him.

“Do you know any one of that name?” asked Mr. Bowler, who, like Tom, had
seen the interested expression of the medical man.

“I did once, many years ago,” was the reply, “but I have no idea that
this lad can be any relative of his. After all, Ralph’s a common enough
name.”



                     CHAPTER XVI—JACK IN DIRE PERIL


Jack Chadwick opened his eyes and looked languidly about him. His ears
sang with the noise of a hundred waterfalls, his brain throbbed cruelly.

“Where on earth am I? What has happened?” he thought dully, as his eyes
took in the unfamiliar and squalid surroundings.

“Oh, how my head hurts!” was his next thought. “What can be the matter?
I must have——”

Just then recollection rushed back with the force of the incoming tide.
The boy recalled how he had followed Jake Rook up the stairs of the
tenement house, how he had crossed the roof, and finally, how he had
heard Ralph’s cry for help. At that point recollection stopped.

He sat up, feeling sick and giddy. An almost overwhelming nausea was
upon him, too. But he overmastered the feeling and rose unsteadily to
his feet.

“What a filthy room!” he mused, looking about him by the light of the
smoky lamp. “I’d give a good deal to know how I got in here. By the
feeling of my head I must have fallen, or been dealt a blow or
something. And where’s Tom? He went for the police and—hullo! what’s
that? Smells like something burning.”

The acrid smell of the flaming lower floors of the tenement had, in
fact, penetrated Jack’s nostrils, although, of course, he didn’t dream
for an instant that he was in a fire trap of the worst kind. But
suddenly, as he sat there trying to collect his wits, he became aware of
shouts and cries and the clanging of bells and shrieking of whistles.

“There must be a fire somewhere,” he thought, recognizing the clangor of
the bells and the screaming sirens of the fire engines; “maybe that’s
what delayed Tom. If there’s a fire close by there must be a lot of
police there. Anyhow, I’ve got to get out of this.”

He arose dizzily and crossed to the door. As he flung it open a great
cloud of suffocating smoke struck him full in the face, almost depriving
him of breath.

Jack reeled back, slamming the door. A thrill of horror was in his
veins. His heart beat thickly, but his blood was icy cold.

“The fire’s here! In this house!” he gasped, “and if I don’t get out
pretty quick I’ll be roasted alive!”

He hastily surveyed the room. On one side was a window. It suggested a
means of escape other than the door, which was impassable on account of
the smoke outside. Jack’s awakening had come several minutes after the
departure of Jake Rook and his companion with young Ralph. The flames
had now eaten their way up two flights, and the noises he had heard from
the street were the shouts of the firemen fighting the blaze and the
rattle of the apparatus as it clattered up.

Hastily opening the window, Jack looked out into what, at first, seemed
to be a black void. The feeble stream of lamplight from the room,
however, presently revealed a wall opposite to him, pierced with
windows. One of these was immediately across from the casement out of
which he was gazing. The distance across the shaft did not appear to be
more than a few feet—possibly three or four. If he only could find some
way of spanning the shaft he might yet save himself!

He cast a rapid glance about the room. Its furniture was scanty enough
not to require a very long investigation to itemize it. There was a
rickety table, on which stood the smoky lamp, two decrepit chairs and
the frowsy cot. But none of these seemed to Jack to be what he wanted.

While he still hesitated he felt a crash beneath him. The house shook
and Jack knew that this betokened the fall of one of the lower floors.
At almost the same instant the panels of the door began to blister, and
smoke rolled into the room through a crack under the portal. The boy
could now hear distinctly also the roar and crackle of the flames, and
it was suffocatingly hot.

“I must do something and do it quick, too,” he exclaimed.

But what? He thrust his head out of the window and shouted at the top of
his voice. But above the roar and confusion in the street his feeble
cries did not travel far.

He looked about him despairingly. Was there nothing he could do? Nothing
to save himself from a fiery tomb?

All at once he gave a glad cry. He had seen something that gave him a
gleam of hope. From under the fusty blankets on the bed he had just
glimpsed the protruding end of a plank. It gave him an inspiration.

Throwing back the greasy coverings of the cot he found that it was
formed by placing planks across trestles, and one of these boards was
just about the right length for the purpose to which he designed to put
it.

His weakness forgotten in his excitement, the boy lugged the board
across the room and thrust it out of the window. It just reached the
opposite casement, resting its outer end on the sill beyond by a
perilously narrow margin. But it was his only means of escape, and Jack
didn’t hesitate an instant to clamber up on the board and begin the
passage across the shaft.

Before he set out to crawl across his frail bridge he cast a backward
glance into the room he was leaving. As he did so the flames burst
through the panels of the door, and he was conscious of a puff of heat
like that from the open door of an oven.

As he moved along and neared its center, the board cracked and bent
ominously. It was not particularly thick, and Jack was no lightweight.
The cold perspiration stood out on his face as he thought of what would
happen if his slender support was to snap under him.

He did not know how great a fall he would have, but was well convinced
that a tumble from the plank would mean death, swift and terrible. In
this frame of mind he crept on. It seemed an eternity before he grasped
the other window sill.

The boy had just gripped the projecting ledge of stone with his hands
when he felt his support drop from under him. The swaying motion
imparted to it as he crept across had caused the end that rested on the
opposite window sill to jounce off. The next instant Jack was hanging by
his finger tips, with space under his boot soles.

He tried to draw himself up, but, weakened as he was by ill treatment,
he was unable to do so, and, worse still, he felt his strength fast
leaving him. A cold sweat of horror broke out on him. Was he doomed to a
terrible death, after all?

All at once his foot encountered something. It was a water pipe running
up the side of the house and passing close by the window, to the sill of
which he was clinging with such desperation. If he could only reach that
pipe he might be able to save himself yet. The thought put new strength
into his rapidly weakening grip, and he began to creep along the sill
toward the pipe by moving his hands alternately. It was a fearful
strain, and anyone in less perfect physical condition than the young
inventor could never have done it. But do it somehow Jack did, and at
last, by reaching out with one hand, he was able to grip the pipe.

Then came the most perilous part of his whole enterprise. He must hold
on to the pipe with one hand while he let go of the sill with the other.
And then, too, there was a chance that the pipe might not be securely
fastened and might give way under his weight.

But it was no time to hesitate. In fact, every second his strength was
oozing from him. With a prayer on his lips Jack clutched the pipe and
made the swing. To this day he cannot tell how it happened, but he
succeeded somehow in landing on the pipe, gripping it firmly with both
hands. It was then a comparatively easy matter for the boy to draw
himself up to the window sill and scramble over it.

He found himself in a cool, pitch-dark place, only faintly illumined by
the flames from the house across the shaft. Jack felt in his pocket and
was delighted to find that he had some matches there, although his money
had vanished—the prudent Radcliff having picked his pockets while the
lad lay unconscious in the secret recess.

He struck one of these matches, and as it flared up it showed him that
he was in a large bare room with a pile of sacks in one corner and some
barrels. The place was evidently a storehouse of some kind, but the boy
did not stop to investigate much. Instead, he crossed to a door and gave
the handle a tug. It refused to yield.

“It’s locked,” groaned Jack, tears almost rising to his eyes in his
disappointment.

He beat on the portal and shouted with all his might, but no answer
came. In fact, had he known it, he was in a warehouse in which nobody
lived. At last, tired out by all he had gone through, the boy desisted
from his efforts to attract attention. Thoroughly exhausted, he lit
another of his precious matches and made his way to the pile of sacks.
He sank down on them, noticing that they exhaled a pleasant aroma. He
wondered what it was. Presently he realized,—coffee.

The half-starved, wholly worn out lad did not hesitate to help himself
from one of the sacks that was open. But coffee beans are not very
satisfactory fare, even to a half-famished boy.

Besides, Jack was thirsty. His mouth and tongue felt dry as lime kilns.

Small wonder that, in his extremity, the boy thought he should go mad.
Luckily, however, exhausted nature asserted herself, and the deep sleep
of total fatigue prevented his dwelling on his misfortunes.



                CHAPTER XVII—“DRIVE WHERE WE TELL YOU!”


It is now time to return to the bedside of Ralph Ingersoll, in the home
of Dr. Tallman. It was evening and Tom, as he had promised, had returned
to hear Ralph’s story and see what light he could throw on the fate of
Jack and the stolen model.

Tom returned alone, Mr. Bowler having received an urgent telephone
message on returning home, which commanded his presence at his office
that evening. So Tom had driven out alone in the Flying Road Racer to
have a chat with Ralph.

He found the lad sitting up in bed, much better, thanks to the doctor’s
ministrations, and eager to see his friend. After first greetings had
been exchanged, Ralph lost no time in plunging into his story. As our
readers know, the lad had been surprised and carried off by the same two
rascals who had stolen the model while he was left on guard at the wood
road. Apparently, they kidnapped him on account of his desperate
resistance. At any rate, he was bundled into the yellow auto, and
hurried off down the wood road which, as Jack had surmised, joined the
main thoroughfare further on.

Terrified half to death by the men’s dire threats to kill him if he made
any outcry, the poor lad told how they had taken him to the room in the
old rookery, which, it appeared, was used as a rendezvous for hard
characters of all descriptions—which explained the secret hiding-place
in the wall.

Tom, who had been warned by the doctor not to excite his patient,
thought it best to let the lad tell his story in his own way, and
therefore did not put any questions regarding Jack. It can be imagined,
then, with what a cruel shock he heard of the lad’s being abandoned to
his fate in the burning building, after the flight of Rook and Radcliff
with the model and Ralph.

He sank his head in his hands, quite unable to speak for some moments.
As he knew, from what the policeman had told him that morning, that the
building had been gutted by the fire, he found it impossible to cherish
a hope that somehow Jack might have been saved. When he grew calmer
Ralph went on with his narrative.

It appeared that after the men had fled from the blazing building they
made their way directly to a garage where the yellow car had been put
up. This place was not, properly speaking, a garage at all, but a stable
in the low part of town, kept by friends of the rascally pair. Here they
spent the rest of the night, sleeping in a hayloft.

During their passage through the streets Ralph was given no opportunity
to appeal to passers-by. Jake Rook’s threats of what would happen to him
if he did alarmed him far too effectually for him to disobey the
ruffian’s orders to keep silent.

That morning had been spent by Jake Rook in active work of some sort. At
any rate, Ralph said he had gone out early, after writing several
letters in a sort of office attached to the stable. As he left the place
to post them he had dropped one unnoticed, and, as Radcliff’s attention
happened also to be distracted at that moment, Ralph had picked it up.

All that morning and the early part of the afternoon were spent in the
stable and then, after Jake Rook’s return, the auto was run out and
Ralph ordered to get into it with his two guardians. He dared not offer
any opposition and soon the trio, skirting the city by back streets,
were driving along a country road.

“We came to a place where there was a bridge,” said Ralph, “and the men
stopped the car there. I heard them say they were going to some place up
the creek that the bridge crossed.

“They both got out of the car and one of them took the model out of the
box and looked at it to see if it had been damaged, for we had come over
some pretty rough roads.

“The engine of the car had been left running, though the clutch was out,
and I thought that maybe it was my chance to escape. I knew a little
about autos, for that circus gang had one once. So I put my foot on what
I thought was the clutch pedal, and the machine began to move off. But
it wasn’t going very fast and Jake Rook jumped on the running board and
pulled me clear out of the car.

“He fell over as he did so, and we both rolled into the road. Before he
could get up again the car was out of sight. Rook was so mad that he
picked me up round the waist and ran to the rail of the bridge with me
and—and that’s all I remember,” said Ralph, bringing his narration to a
close.

It cleared up many points which had been enigmas, and Tom told Ralph how
they had found him.

“And just to think,” he exclaimed bitterly, “that it wasn’t so very long
before that that those ruffians made off up the creek. Oh! If only we
could have caught them!”

“Why don’t you look at that letter I picked up?” suggested Ralph
presently.

This was a surprise to Tom. In his grief over Jack’s fate he had
forgotten all about the letter which Ralph had mentioned.

“That’s right, I’d forgotten you had it,” he said. “It may give us a
clew. Where is it?”

“In the pocket of my coat. It’s hanging up over there on that hook.”

Tom lost no time in getting the missive from the garment Ralph
indicated. It was addressed, in what was clearly meant to be a disguised
hand, to Stephen Melville, No. 289 Wall Street, New York.

Tom tore the envelope open eagerly. Inside was a single sheet of paper,
covered with the same half printed writing that was on the envelope. The
note was brief and very much to the point:

    “Have got moddle and will take it to old Haskins place, as
    arranged. Will wate for you thar. Have also got boy who may
    be the Ingersoll kid you ware anxious about. Join us at
    Haskins place as soon as posibul.

                                                         “J. R.”

“Phew! I should say that this does give us a clew!” gasped Tom, having
read the note, “but it doesn’t give us any line on poor old Jack, and
I’d rather have that than fifty models. Hold on, though! If we can find
those men and get them arrested that may help us to trace Jack. I’ll get
right back to the city now and notify the police at once. The old
Haskins place!” mused Tom. “That must mean some old house or mansion in
the vicinity of that creek. I wish——”

But just then the recollection of Jack’s probable fate swept over the
lad again and poor Tom fairly broke down. In the midst of his collapse
Dr. Tallman came into the room. His face was radiant and he seemed
excited.

“Someone wants to talk to you on the ’phone, Tom,” he said kindly.

“To me?” exclaimed Tom, looking amazed.

“Yes, somebody in Boston. The call is from Mr. Bowler’s office.”

Greatly wondering who could be calling him, except the lawyer, Tom
hastened to the ’phone, which was in the hall outside the room where
Ralph lay.

“Hullo!” exclaimed Tom picking up the receiver, “hullo! Who is
it—What—Oh, glory!—It’s Jack!”

And Jack, indeed, it was. The sound of his voice brought into Tom’s
heart the most joyous feeling he had ever known. He fairly skipped about
with excitement as Jack hastily told him of his escape from the burning
building, and how, the next day, he had been discovered more dead than
alive by workmen in the warehouse. The men found him in a swoon, but
rushed him off at once to the Emergency Hospital, where nourishment and
stimulants were administered.

The hospital people communicated with Mr. Bowler as soon as they found
out who Jack was; but, through the error of a clerk in his office, the
message had not been transmitted properly to his house. When he reached
his office that evening, in response to the summons already recorded,
his amazement may be imagined when, instead of the client he had
expected, the missing Jack Chadwick greeted him.

The joyous news was soon communicated to Ralph, whose peaked face
lighted up wonderfully at the glorious intelligence. In spite of Dr.
Tallman’s urgent request to him to stay and have some refreshment, Tom
insisted that he must get back to Boston without delay. He was crazy
with impatience to get the letter Ralph had so cleverly picked up into
the hands of the police, and to clasp Jack’s hand again.

Ten minutes later Tom was off on one of the most pleasurable trips of
his life; shortly before he had hardly dared to hope that Jack had
escaped from the flames alive. He promised to return in the morning. As
Dr. Tallman said good-by he added:

“By the way, I think I shall have something remarkable to tell you ere
long about this young Ingersoll. He is not by any means just what you
think he is.”

With which puzzling words Tom had to be content, for the good doctor
refused to say more.

“What a wonderful day this has been,” mused Tom, as he spun along the
road, his searchlight brightly illumining the road ahead of him. So
intent was he on his pleasant thoughts that he was quite startled when
suddenly, into the circle of light ahead, there stepped a human figure.
Tom turned out quickly to avoid running over him. But as he did so he
heard himself hailed in a sharp voice.

“Hey, mister!”

“Well, what is it?” demanded Tom.

“Give me and my pard a ride inter Boston?” Now, at any other time Tom
would have refused such a request, for just at that date holdups of
automobilists were frequent. But at the moment, he felt so joyous and at
peace with all the world, that he stopped the car and told the men to
get in.

As the car came to a standstill two dark figures stepped into it out of
the black night.

“Get back in the tonneau,” ordered Tom, “and hold on tight, we’re going
to make a fast run.”

“But not the kind of run you expect, Tom Jesson,” came in startling
contrast to the whining, tramp-like tones in which he had been hailed
from the roadside. “Turn this car around and drive where we tell you.”

The command was enforced by the pressure of something cold to the back
of Tom’s neck. With a sharp thrill of fear, the boy realized that it was
the muzzle of a pistol that pressed against him, and that the man who
had uttered the command to turn about was Jake Rook.



                    CHAPTER XVIII—IN THE OLD MANSION


Tom did more rapid-fire thinking right then that he had ever done in his
life before. Bitterly he blamed himself, too, for halting the car at
Jake Rook’s request. If only he hadn’t done that, how different things
might have been!

But Tom wasn’t the sort of lad to waste time in vain regrets. He
realized plainly enough that he was in the power of the rascally pair
who had made them so much trouble, and that in the event of his offering
any resistance things might go hard with him.

He therefore decided to bide his time, and await the coming of some more
favorable turn in his fortunes.

“Come on! Turn around and look slippy now!” growled Rook, emphasizing
his order by an unpleasant “click” of the trigger of his weapon.

“Where do you want to go?” demanded Tom in as steady a voice as he could
command. He was determined not to let the rascals see that he was afraid
of them.

“None of your business. Your job is to do what you’re told—see?”

As there was nothing else to do, and resistance would have been
infinitely worse than foolish, Tom obeyed. Inwardly he hoped that they
would meet another car somewhere along the way that they were going, and
in such a case he determined to appeal for aid, cost what it might. He
knew that the road was a fairly well traveled one, and decided that, if
only he had a decent proportion of luck, they might meet some other
machine.

“Now drive ahead! Fast, too!” came the next order, as Tom completed his
turn.

Tom started up at as fast a pace as he thought was prudent. He had no
intention of wrecking the Flying Road Racer to please his captors. All
this time Jake. Rook kept the muzzle of the pistol pressed to the lad’s
neck. Tom could feel the disc of steel burning into his flesh, and no
one can blame him for shuddering a bit as he realized the sort of man
who was at the other end of the weapon.

They drove straight on for a mile or so without encountering a single
other vehicle. At last they reached a point where a road branched off
from the main thoroughfare.

“Turn off here,” ordered Rook gruffly.

Tom, perforce, changed the course of the Flying Road Racer, and they
began to bump along over what seemed to be a very rough and little used
road. The white rays of the searchlight showed dark trees on each side
of the track, meeting in an arch overhead.

It was like driving through a leafy tunnel. But Tom wasn’t paying much
attention to scenery right then. All he realized was that, in the very
moment when a way out of all their difficulties seemed to have been
found, things had lapsed back into as bad a state as ever. He wondered
how Rook and his companion had happened to be on the road, and how they
knew he would be coming along it.

As a matter of fact, neither of them had any idea that the autoist they
had hailed was Tom till they heard his voice. Then Rook’s plans were
made in a flash. The two men had been on their way toward Boonton to get
a train into Boston when Tom came along. His advent had made a change in
their plans.

The trees along the roadside began gradually to close in. The trunks
were closer together. At last they reached a spot where it was
impossible to proceed any further in the car. Tom brought it to a stop.

“All right,” said Rook, “that’s as far as the car can come. We’ll have
to hoof it the rest of the way. Put out that searchlight and come on.”
Tom extinguished the light, and Rook’s companion produced an electric
torch. Guided by this, the party set out once more, Tom in advance, with
Rook close behind and Radcliff hanging on to one of his wrists. As they
proceeded it suddenly flashed across Tom that the men were taking him to
one of their hiding-places—quite likely to the very “old Haskins place”
referred to in the letter.

“Well, at any rate I may find a chance to get on the track of the model
once more,” he thought, as they still pushed forward.

All at once through the trees the white outlines of a huge house loomed
up in ghostly fashion. Tom guessed that it must be the Haskins place
referred to in the letter he still had in his pocket. He wished now that
he hadn’t it on his person. If the men should search him and should find
it, they might have a clew to the whereabouts of young Ralph.

The house, as well as Tom could see in the starlight, was one of the old
colonial type, with four great, gaunt pillars supporting the upper
story. However, he had not much time to pay attention to details before
the men hustled him around to a small side door, which one of them
shoved open. It led into a small entrance hall, and through what had
evidently been the kitchen. Dust and cobwebs were thick everywhere, and
Tom saw that it must have been years since the place had any legitimate
occupants. It seemed an ideal place for the outlaws who now, it
appeared, haunted it.

They passed through the lower regions and up a flight of stairs into a
huge and gloomy main entrance hall with doorways leading from it and a
grand staircase at one end. The rays of the electric torch shone on
gilding and white painted woodwork. But the woodwork was gray with dust
and dirt, and the gilding was tarnished and neglected in appearance. It
was a melancholy place, rendered doubly so by the conditions under which
Tom viewed it.

Turning to the right, Rook, who had now assumed the lead, entered one of
the rooms which opened upon the great hall. A huge glass chandelier hung
from the ceiling and other evidences of past glories remained. But the
wallpaper was peeling off in great blistery, bloated patches, and the
rats scampered squeaking in every direction as they entered. Such a
noise did the vermin make that Radcliff started and almost dropped his
light.

“What’s the matter with you?” growled Rook in no amiable tones.

“Why, those confounded things gave me a start. I thought they were
ghosts at first.”

“The only spirits round here come out of a bottle,” retorted Rook in a
reckless tone.

“But they do say the old place is haunted,” said his companion with a
slight shudder. “In Revolutionary time the redcoats killed a whole
family on that staircase, and—hark! what was that?”

He stared nervously about him and something in a distant part of the
house creaked and rattled.

“Nothing but a loose shutter, or some of those confounded rats,” was the
growling reply of Rook. “Come on, now. Bring the boy into the hack room,
where we can be more comfortable.” Radcliff, still showing signs of
nervousness, advanced with Tom, and they passed out of what liad been
the big drawing-room of the old mansion into a smaller chamber. In this
were a table and two chairs, a rough cot and the remains of a meal on
the table. A lantern also stood on that piece of furniture, and Rook
lighted it.

“Now then, youngster,” he demanded, flinging himself into a chair,
“where’s that young Mel—Ingersoll, I mean?”

This was the question which Tom had been dreading. But he assumed a bold
front.

“I don’t know,” he said, “and if I did I wouldn’t tell you.”

A black look passed over Rook’s face. His lips, clean shaven now that
the red beard had gone, compressed in a thin line. Tom knew from young
Ralph’s story that the ruffian had discarded his disguise, and he
thought that, villainous as Rook had looked before, he looked ten times
worse now.

“Oh, you won’t tell, eh? Well, maybe we can find a way to make you.”

“What do you want to know for?” demanded Tom with a boldness he was very
far from feeling.

“Because he’s in a certain party’s way, and we are going to get some
money for putting him back where he belongs—with that circus.”

“That would settle the matter,” declared Tom, with seeming irrelevance.
“If my life depended on putting him back with those ruffians, I don’t
think I’d say. But I don’t know.”

Inwardly Tom was wondering over the mystery that seemed to have injected
itself into the case of young Ralph. First the doctor had hinted at some
secret, then there was the letter with its vague allusion, and now the
rascally Rook seemed to have some knowledge of the lad.

Rook thought a moment, drumming the table with his fingers as if
meditating.

“Do you mean to say that you and some other meddling jackanapes didn’t
pick the kid out of the creek where we’d left him?” he asked presently.

Tom, who was a shrewd lad, saw by the man’s manner that he was—to use a
slang term—fishing. He therefore shook his head.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said, “but I can tell you
this—the police of Boston are on your track for abducting my cousin
Jack.”

A swift look of alarm sped across Rook’s face. Radcliff’s hand, which he
had raised to light a pipe, shook violently. Tom saw that he had scared
them, and determined to follow up his advantage. But Rook interrupted
him.

“Why, what do you know——” he began, when there came a startling
interruption.

Somewhere upstairs a door slammed, and then there was the sound of a
stealthy footstep creeping, apparently, toward the stairway. Radcliff
started up in wild-eyed terror.

“What is it?” he gasped. “Oh! What is it?” Tom himself was considerably
startled, and Rook turned pale.

“I—I don’t know,” he stammered. “Hark!” They listened, hardly daring to
breathe. The time, the place, and the ghostly stories that clustered
about the old mansion, all combined to make the interruption an alarming
one.

“It’s—it’s a ger-ger-ghost!” stammered Radcliff, his teeth chattering.

“Don’t be a fool!” hissed Rook. “There ain’t no such things. It’s a rat
or a——”

A fearful yell suddenly broke the breathless silence. It rang through
the deserted house in a way to make the blood run cold.

Radcliff could stand no more. With one bound he cleared the table,
knocking over the lamp as he did so. Instantly the light was
extinguished, plunging the place into total darkness.

The scream was repeated, followed this time by a ghastly sort of chuckle
coming out of the darkness. Even Rook’s iron nerve gave way. With what
seemed an echo of the spectral yell, he plunged forward, collided with a
long, old-fashioned window that opened into the room, and plunged clean
through the frame, with a crash of glass and splintering of wood.

Tom felt his scalp tighten with terror. His tongue seemed to cleave to
the roof of his mouth. He could not stir from the spot as he heard those
fearful steps drawing closer and closer.

All at once, as he stood stock still, his heart pounding till it shook
his frame, something happened that changed him from inaction into wild
panic.

From the direction in which he judged that the door leading from the
large room into the small one must lie there suddenly appeared a
spectral figure of seemingly unusual height. It was gleaming white and
had an arm outstretched.

With a cry of fear Tom dashed off into the darkness. In his panic he did
not know where he ran. As he sped along he could hear the swift
pitter-patter of pursuing footsteps.

All at once, as Tom ran, the ground seemed to subside from under his
feet, and he felt himself falling—falling forward into space!



                    CHAPTER XIX—MR. STEPHEN MELVILLE


In an office on lower Wall Street, New York, overlooking the East River
with its bustle of water traffic, sat Stephen Melville, the man to whom
Rook’s message had been addressed—a message that, as we know, he had not
received. Melville was a man of about forty-five, heavy-jawed,
coarse-lipped and bulky-necked, with a big, heavy body. But about the
man there was, withal, a suggestion of brutal strength.

On the door of Melville’s office was painted the word “Private.” Without
this screened-off sanctum was a busy room full of clerks and
stenographers. On the door of this outer office appeared the words:
“General Offices of the Artillery Devices, L’t’d.—Stephen Melville,
President.”

At the precise moment that we are looking in on the offices of the
Artillery Devices, L’t’d, a man whom we have seen before—to wit, Joshua
Sawdon, owner of Sawdon’s Circus—shoved his way, and essayed to continue
to shove his way, past an office boy, who, however, held up the showman
at the rail behind which were the desks of the stenographers and clerks
aforesaid.

Mr. Sawdon appeared to be out of temper. Seeing that it was in vain for
him to try to get past the boy without sending in his name, he hastily
wrote on a bit of paper:

“Young Ingersoll has gotten away. Must see you at once.—Sawdon.”

He folded this and handed it to the boy, telling him to take it in to
Mr. Melville and “look slippy.” Then Mr. Sawdon adjusted his diamond, at
which the clerks had been gazing in awe, and awaited the great man’s
summons. It came quickly.

“De boss ses youse is ter come right in,” said the office boy on his
return, with considerably more respect in his tones than he had used
before.

Sawdon lost no time in obeying this injunction. As soon as he was inside
the private office, Melville motioned him to a chair.

“What the dickens is the meaning of this?” he demanded with a lowering
brow, indicating the circus man’s scrawl.

“It’s plain enough, aint it?” rejoined Sawdon. “The kid’s vamoosed,
gone, skipped.”

“And I paid you to see that he was kept with the show and in ignorance
of everything but the fact that he was a circus slave,” thundered
Melville. “How did this thing happen?”

“Well, what are you to do when a bunch of ginks come along in a flying
automobile and steal him right out of the air before your eyes?”
protested Sawdon, mopping his brow.

“Stop raving and tell me what happened,” demanded Melville angrily.

“Just this,” rejoined Sawdon, “he was kidnapped in the air”; and he went
on to explain to Melville how the boys had aided Ralph to escape from
the balloon.

“And,” he concluded, “we didn’t get a chance to get a hold of the kid
again. First they took him to the home of a guy named Parisgreen, or
something like that, an’ then——”

“Hold on,” demanded Melville angrily, but with a note of eagerness in
his voice, “this man Parisgreen, as you call him—he lives near to
Pokeville?”

“That’s the gook.”

“His name’s not Parisgreen at all then. It’s Peregrine; an inventor,
isn’t he?”

“Well, he and those kids invented a way of getting that kid away from
us, all right, all right.”

“Where is the boy now?”

“In Boston, I guess. I learned later that that’s where those kids were
headed for when we passed ’em on the road. But they had Ralph hidden,
else I’d have got him back all right.”

“A nice mess you’ve made of it,” growled Melville angrily. “Well?” he
demanded, looking up as the office boy tapped timidly and then opened
the door.

“Here’s Mr. Sykes to see you, sir,” he announced.

“Good!” exclaimed Melville. “Show him in. Sawdon, you’ll have to step
outside for a while.” The showman obeyed. He evidently stood in
considerable awe of Melville, and showed no hesitation in carrying out
the curt order. As he stepped out a man of a very different cut stepped
in. The newcomer was Jerome Sykes, the silent partner of the Artillery
Devices Company. He was a gray-haired man, tall, slender, with the face
of a fox, a sharp, inquisitive manner and general air of furtiveness.

As the door closed he gave Melville a crisp nod, and then asked sharply:

“Any news from Boston?”

“None from Rook or Radcliff. I don’t know whether they succeeded in
getting a line on Peregrine’s vanishing gun or not; but I’ve just heard
some bad news from that fellow you passed.”

“Who is he?”

“His name’s Sawdon. He’s the circus man who was given charge of Ralph
Ingersoll. He’s just come in to tell me that the boy has gone, and,
curiously enough, the people who have taken him are in some way
connected with Peregrine, whose invention we are after.”

“Phew! That’s odd, indeed. But Ralph Ingersoll is your personal affair.
What I came to see you about is this; we’ve got to have that device of
Peregrine’s or we’re in a hole we won’t get out of.”

“I know that,” said Melville gloomily. “From what I’ve heard it’s the
kind of thing the government has been looking for. We know it’s not been
patented yet, and if only Rook and Radcliff succeed——”

“You haven’t heard from them?”

“Not a word. But they are reliable men and if it is possible to get hold
of Peregrine’s models or papers they will accomplish it.”

“Look here, Melville,” struck in the fox-faced Mr. Sykes, “do you know
where to find your men in Boston?”

“Yes. I can lay my finger on them at any time.”

“All right then; you go to Boston yourself at once. If the Artillery
Devices Company is going to keep its head above water, we’ve got to have
that vanishing gun invention of Peregrine’s. He won’t sell, so it’s fair
to take it from him by trickery if we can. Are you able to start for
Boston at once?”

“Yes. Right away, practically. I agree with you that something must be
done and done quick, too.”

And so it came about that an hour later Melville and Sawdon were sitting
in a New York, New Haven and Hartford coach bound for Boston. As the
train flew along Melville idly asked Sawdon how his circus was getting
along.

“It ain’t getting along at all,” was the gruff rejoinder. “I’ve quit it
cold. It seems we had no luck after the boy got away from us. It had
been bad enough before that. Then we lost that lion, Wallace. He was a
big drawing card.”

“And so you quit?”

“Yes; just ducked right out. I guess my performers were a sore bunch
when they found that I’d left ’em in the lurch, but it couldn’t be
helped. But what about this kid Ingersoll, as he’s called? Of course, I
know in a general way that he’s entitled to something you’ve got, and
that you don’t want him to get.”

“Entitled to something I’ve got?” said Melville, with a sneering laugh.
“He’s entitled to all I’ve got—only he isn’t going to get it.”



                       CHAPTER XX—FOUND AND LOST


Tom’s fall was not a long one. But he was bruised and shaken by it. Had
it not been for the fact that he had tumbled into what had been an old
mushroom cellar that was floored with soft mold, he might have been
injured seriously. As it was, however, his tumble through the open
trapdoor, which he had not noticed in his haste to escape from the
phantom that he thought was pursuing him, resulted in no injury to the
lad.

Suddenly he heard himself hailed from above.

“Say, you, what’s the trouble?”

“I’ve fallen into a hole of some kind,” rejoined the boy, much
astonished at hearing the voice, which was not an unfriendly one.

“Yes, and I came mighty near following you. Wait till I get a light and
I’ll see what I can do to get you out of your trouble.”

“Now I wonder who on earth that can be?” thought Tom, as he heard the
one who had addressed him retreating down the hallway. “Could it have
been he who screeched like that and scared me so?”

Before long the man was back with the overturned lantern, which he had
picked up and lighted. As he held it over the edge of the trapdoor
through which Tom had tumbled the boy gave a start. The man’s face was
painted white, and he had on a suit of loose white material with funny
looking black mules stenciled all over it. The man peering over the edge
of the hole saw the look of astonishment on Tom’s face, and broke into a
laugh.

“Guess you’re wondering what under the sun sort of a chap I am,” he
said. “Well, I’m a clown. I was with that show of Sawdon’s, but the
rascal quit us cold down yonder, and dug out with everything. He even
took our clothes and I had to make shift in this rig. It’s all I had.”

“Oh,” said Tom greatly relieved, “then it was you that ran after me?”

“Sure. But, look, there’s a sort of ladder over there. Climb out, and
I’ll tell you how I came to be here, and you can tell me something about
yourself.”

Tom lost no time in clambering up the rough contrivance for getting in
and out of the mushroom cellar. Then he followed his newly found friend
to the small room in which the men who had captured him had first
questioned him.

“Reckon I got you out of quite a scrape, didn’t I?” asked the clown,
regarding Tom with a quizzical sort of look.

“I should say so,” rejoined the boy gratefully. “If it hadn’t been for
you I don’t know what would have happened to me. But you almost scared
the life out of me, too,” he added truthfully. “What gave you the idea?”

“Well, you see, it was this way. After Sawdon ducked out I had no place
to go to, so I was wandering along the road, thinking that maybe I could
give a show some place and pass the hat to get some other clothes, when
I saw this old house. It was getting late, so, thinks I, there’s my
Walled-off-Castoria. I walked in and went into one of the upper rooms,
where I lay down for a snooze. I must have slept a long time, I reckon,
for when I woke up I heard voices below.

“I listened with my ears wide open, and what I heard showed me mighty
quick that two fellers were carrying out some bit of rascality. So all
at once I hit on the idea of being a ghost. I reckon what one of them
fellers said about the place being haunted gave me the idea—and so I
gave those yells that you heard, and it certainly worked.”

“It certainly did; and I thank you for it,” laughed Tom, “but it scared
me as badly as it did the bad men, almost.”

“Well, it’s hard to please everybody, as the feller said when they
kicked at his carrying Limburger cheese on the street car. But now tell
us what you are doing here, sonny.”

Tom told him as much of his adventures as he thought advisable. When he
had finished the clown exclaimed:

“So you’re one of the kids that rescued that boy from the balloon?”

“Ralph Ingersoll, you mean?” inquired Tom.

“Ralph Ingersoll nothing! His name is Melville, and if he had his rights
he’d be riding in a benzine buggy, and wearing diamonds and—and eating
turkey every day of his life.”

“What do you mean?” asked Tom, with a curious sense that the name of
Melville was familiar to him, somehow.

“Just this, and now that Sawdon’s gone back on me I don’t mind telling
about it, that Ralph Melville, for that’s his right name, was put in
Sawdon’s charge by his uncle, Stephen Melville, a rich manufacturer of
guns and artillery and such like things in New York.”

“Why, he’s the man who’s trying to steal Mr. Peregrine’s invention!”
exclaimed Tom.

“I don’t know about any very green invention,” said the clown, “but this
I do know, that I’m going to tell what I can about that poor kid. He’s
been cheated out of his rights—that’s what he has—and I don’t care who
knows it.”

“How did you find all this out?” asked Tom eagerly.

“Why, I was in the dressing tent on the night that the Melville kid was
brought to Sawdon, who was an old friend of this Stephen Melville.
Melville gave Sawdon a big sum of money every month to keep the kid
where no one would know where he was. It seems that when Ralph was a
little baby his father was killed in a railroad accident, and the news
of his death proved the death of his mother, too. There was a will
leaving all the wealth of John Melville (that was Ralph’s father) to his
boy. But his uncle was to be his gardeen till he come of age. Well, what
does his uncle do but get a fake will made up and spirit the boy away.”

“But hadn’t the boy any friends?” asked Tom. “Well, I heard them talking
about a Doctor Longman, or some such name——”

“Wasn’t the name Tallman?” asked Tom, recollecting the mysterious hint
about Ralph which the doctor had thrown out.

“Yes, that was the name, sure enough. It seems that this Dr. Tallman had
another will or something, but Melville said that he had satisfied him
that the boy was dead.”

Tom wondered greatly how it was that Dr. Tallman could have had the
suspicion—which he evidently had—that the boy he knew only as Ralph
Ingersoll was, in reality, the long missing Ralph Melville. But he was
not to find this out till later. After some more discussion of Ralph’s
strange history, Tom suggested that they should go out and try to find
the Flying Road Racer and drive at once to Dr. Tallman’s residence. But
his new-found friend, whose name was Dick Dangler, pointed out that in
the dark they would have a hard job to find the machine, and might get
lost into the bargain.

“My idea would be to wait till daylight, as the fellow said when they
wanted to hang him at sunset,” he said in his odd manner. “In the
meantime, I’ll skirmish around and try to find something to eat, for by
the looks of that table those fellows have food stored away some place.
Then we can take a nap till it gets light.”

Tom agreed to this and went to a cupboard in the corner of the room,
which they thought might have served the men as a larder. Sure enough,
they found some canned chicken, some tinned beef and a box of crackers
in the place. But Tom lost all interest in these as his eye caught
something which was tucked away in the extreme corner of the cupboard.

As he saw what it was he gave a cry of joy. The next instant he was down
on his hands and knees, eagerly investigating his discovery.

It was the long missing model. As Tom clasped it and then fell to
gathering up the plans, which had also been placed in the cupboard, he
was fairly burning with joy.

“Hurray! I’ve got Mr. Peregrine’s model back,” he kept gleefully
repeating. “Now he can go ahead and finish up his vanishing guns!”

Dick Dangler seemed almost as joyous as the boy over the discovery.

“That ghost trick of mine certainly brought good luck all around,” he
said.

As he spoke a noise behind them made them look around. Tom almost
uttered a cry as he found himself looking straight into the muzzle of a
revolver held by Jake Rook. Radcliff had Dick Dangler similarly covered.

“You began crowing too soon, my young rooster,” sneered Rook, with a
contemptuous smile. “Now just hand over that model, and hurry up about
it, too.”

What was poor Tom to do? It was a bitter thing to have to acknowledge,
but once more the rascals had triumphed. Silently, and with brimming
eyes, Tom did as he was ordered. Then, still aiming their revolvers at
Tom and his friend, the two men backed slowly out of the broken window,
through which they had entered, and vanished in the darkness.

It would have been quite useless to pursue them, for even had Tom found
them, he would still have been at their mercy. No, he had to admit that
he was beaten, badly beaten, too. The fact that it was no fault of his
own did not make the disappointment any easier to bear.



                CHAPTER XXI—“THINGS ARE COMING OUR WAY.”


Dr. Tallman was standing on his porch the next morning. By his side was
Ralph, pale and a bit shaky, but with a glad look on his face. The news
of Jack’s safety had heartened him up immensely.

All at once, far down the road a cloud of dust showed that a vehicle of
some sort was approaching. It drew rapidly closer, and the two figures
on the porch saw that it was a fast red runabout, and carried two
persons.

The machine was the lawyer’s own, the yellow car having been taken by
the police. The next instant they were recognized as Mr. Bowler, the
lawyer, and Jack.

“I wonder where Tom is?” questioned Ralph.

The next minute, after greetings had been exchanged, Mr. Bowler and Jack
were asking the same question. Dr. Tallman looked amazed.

“Why, he left here last night for your house!” exclaimed the doctor.
“Didn’t he arrive?”

“No; we haven’t seen a sign of him. What can have happened?” exclaimed
the lawyer anxiously.

“I’ll bet those rascals are mixed up in it in some way,” cried Jack.
“Oh, what can we do to find him?”

“Wait a moment, things may not be as bad as you imagine,” said the
doctor.

The words had hardly left his lips before down the road from the
opposite direction to that from which the lawyer and Jack had arrived,
there came another automobile.

Jack recognized its familiar outlines in a flash.

“The Flying Road Racer!” he exclaimed, and then the next instant, “Tom
is in it. Hooray! Where can he have been?”

“And who is that with him?” wondered Mr. Bowler.

“Why—why—it’s a clown!” gasped Ralph, bursting into a laugh. “Why—why,”
he exclaimed a moment later, “it’s old Dick Dangler, from Sawdon’s
circus, the only man who was kind to me in that whole company; What can
he be doing with Tom?”

The Flying Road Racer swept up to the porch, and before its wheels had
stopped revolving almost, Tom and Jack were clasping each other’s hands.
Ralph, too, was dancing for joy, while, in the background, Mr. Bowler
and Dr. Tallman looked on.

Tom’s story was soon told.

“We found the auto as soon as it was daylight,” he said, “but the men
who took the model had damaged the engine so that it took me some little
time to fix it up. And that’s all, except that here we are, and the
model has slipped out of our hands for a second time.”

“Never mind,” said Dr. Tallman consolingly, “maybe you’ll find it
again.”

But Tom shook his head disconsolately.

“I guess not, it’s gone for good, I’m afraid, this time. But Dick
Dangler here has something he wants to tell you, Dr. Tallman.”

“To tell me?” said the doctor in wondering tones, looking at the
eccentric figure of the clown, who was talking apart with Ralph.

“Yes. It concerns Ralph’s identity. If I’m not mistaken, you already
suspect him to be more than a friendless orphan lad.”

“Frankly I do,” was the rejoinder. “He has a peculiar mark on his arm in
the shape of a wineglass. I never recall having seen such a peculiarity
except on one child, an infant named Ralph Melville.”

“Hurray! Glory be!” exclaimed Tom, much to the surprise of the doctor
and the lawyer, the latter of whom had started at the name of Melville.
“Ralph, you’re rich, or are going to be. It’s all the same! Hurray!”

Of course, until Dick Dangler’s story had been told the rest of the
party couldn’t make out Tom’s delight. But it appeared, according to Mr.
Bowler, that it would be a difficult matter to prove Ralph’s rights to
the Melville fortune and name, and in the meantime much had to be done.
The fact that it was Melville who was also concerned in trying to
swindle Mr. Peregrine out of his invention was another complication.

A conference was held, at which it was decided that Ralph for the
present would remain with Dr. Tallman, his father’s old friend. In the
meantime the others would go to Boston and try to get on the track of
the patent thieves. Before they departed, however, Dick Dangler was
fitted out with an old suit of the doctor’s, and proved to be quite a
respectable, kindly appearing man, with a very grave and serious
countenance. A clown would have been the last thing you’d have taken him
for.

From Boston Mr. Peregrine was fully apprised of the recent exciting
happenings, and begged the boys not to run into any unnecessary danger.
Mr. Chadwick had returned from Washington, he said, and had expressed
his desire that, as the boys had lost Mr. Peregrine’s model, they should
do all they could to find it. As for Mr. Jesson, the news from him was
that he was perfectly happy, having found a new variety of potato in the
Pokeville district.

As Mr. Bowler had a good deal of legal work to attend to, which had been
neglected during the last few days, he left the boys to their own
devices. Dick Dangler rode with them to the garage where they put tip
the Flying Road Racer, and then left them, promising to call at their
hotel later in the day.

Having seen the car put up, the two lads started out for Police
Headquarters. There they were informed that not a trace had been found
of the men who had stolen the model. Tom then related what had occurred
in the old mansion.

“So that’s where they have been hanging out!” exclaimed the official to
whom he communicated this information. “Well, I’ll send a couple of men
out there this very afternoon to search the place thoroughly. We may
light on a clew.” He went on to inform them that every station in Boston
would be guarded, and that no chance to capture the men, supposing them
to be in that city, would be neglected.

“Well, I suppose we will have to be content with that,” said Tom, as
they left. “It’s tough to think that those men may be right in the city
now and yet we can do nothing.”

“I should think it more likely that they would be in New York,” said
Jack. “After what they did in the old mansion it would be my idea that
they would try to get as far away from this vicinity as possible,
knowing that we are on their trail.”

The boys walked on through the streets, looking into shop windows, and
especially into those in which mechanical apparatus was displayed. But
this began to pall after a while, and Jack suggested that they take a
walk along the wharves. Tom readily agreed, and, arm in arm, they set
out to visit one of the most interesting quarters of the Hub.

The “T” wharf, where the fishing vessels lie, particularly attracted
their attention, and they were gazing with interest at a smart schooner
unloading her finny freight when a familiar voice struck on their ears.

“Why, hullo, boys, what are you doing here?”

They turned and found themselves gazing into the frank, bronzed face of
Captain Andrews, skipper of the yacht Sea King, who had shared their
adventures in Yucatan.

The captain was unaffectedly glad to see his young shipmates again, and
asked them many questions about themselves. He said that he had
prospered exceedingly, and now owned two fishing schooners besides a
fast, smart motor craft, all engaged in the fishing industry. He was so
eager to unfold the story of his progress that he did not at first
notice that neither of the boys looked particularly cheerful.

“What’s in the wind, shipmates?” he demanded. “You look as
down-in-the-mouth as a hooked codfish.”

“As bad as all that?” laughed Jack. “Well, Captain, there’s a reason, as
the advertisements say.”

“What’s up? Heave ahead and spin your yarn. If it’s anything I can help
you out of, trust me to do all I can.”

His manner invited confidence, and, seating themselves beside the sea
veteran on an upturned box, Jack poured out the story of their troubles.

“Well, if that don’t beat a novel!” exclaimed the captain when he had
finished. “And those two rascals are in Boston, do you think?”

“We don’t know,” rejoined Jack. “We’ve really no way of finding out, and
the police are as helpless as we are.”

“Oh, the police are always no more use than a lot of babies,” declared
Captain Andrews, who clearly had a contempt for that much-maligned body
of men. “I’d back you boys against any detective I ever saw.”

“That’s very good of you,” laughed Tom, “but I’m afraid we’ve proved the
kind of detectives that don’t detect.”

“Don’t be downcast, lads,” counselled the captain heartily. “When things
seem at the worst, it is generally the time that they begin to mend.
I’ll spin you a yarn about that, if you like.”

“I wish you would,” said Jack. “It will pass the time away pleasantly.”

“Back fifteen years ago I was mate of the brig Nancy Lee,” began the
captain. “We sailed out of ’Frisco on the Fourth of July, bound for the
islands on a trading cruise. Two days out we ran into as nasty a sample
of weather as ever I saw. We lost our mainmast, and two of the men were
killed in its fall.

“Then, when the storm had blown itself out, the captain took sick, and,
worse than that, our provisions began to get low. Things went from bad
to worse. We did not sight a sail of any kind; the men grew ugly and
mutinous. Then one night the ship took fire and——

“Dash my lee scuppers, what’s up now?” exclaimed the amazed captain, as
Jack and Tom suddenly leaped to their feet and dashed off, leaving him
in the most exciting part of his story.

“It’s those men, there they go—look!” shouted Jack, flinging back the
words as he ran.

It was indeed Jake Rook and Radcliff. They turned as they heard the boys
shout, and then, recognizing them, took to their heels. The boys ran in
and out amid the maze of traffic, and for a time kept the two rascals in
sight. But finally in the crush and crowd they lost them, and had to
admit that there was but little likelihood of their ever finding them
again.

Regretfully they retraced their steps, but on their return they found
that Captain Andrews had been called away on business, leaving word with
the men on board the schooner that he would visit them at their hotel
later in the day.

“We do seem to have the very worst sort of luck,” declared Tom, as the
two lads trudged back to their hotel in very low spirits. “If only we
could have caught up to those rascals!”

“We made a big mistake when we shouted out as we did,” said Jack. “If we
had followed them in silence we might have managed to track them to
wherever they have their hang-out.”

Tom reluctantly agreed that this was so. “But, just the same,” he added,
“we do have hard luck, and more than our fair share of it.” After lunch
they set out for Mr. Bowler’s office, having already telephoned to the
police that the men were actually in Boston. Just as they were leaving
the hotel, however, they met with an unexpected interruption to their
plans. Dick Dangler hurried up to them, his ordinarily grave face
flushed and excited.

“I’ve news!” he exclaimed. “Great news!”

“You’ve found those men?” asked Jack and Tom in the same breath.

“No; but I’ve done almost as well. Who do you suppose I’ve seen?”

“Haven’t an idea,” said Jack. “Maybe——”

“Nobody less than Sawdon, and with him was Stephen Melville himself.”

“Stephen Melville here in Boston?” gasped Jack. “He must be going to
meet Jake Rook and Radcliff.”

“I don’t know, but I did better than just seeing them. I followed them.
Traced them to an old tumble-down livery barn on Emmons Street. They are
there now, I guess. Phew! I ran all the way here to tell you, and I’m
’most out of breath.”

“Good work!” exclaimed Jack. “It looks as if the net was closing in
about those rascals. Come on, Tom, we’ll hurry to headquarters, get some
officers and go down there. We’ll bag the whole gang in a bunch.”

“That’s the idea,” cried Tom, “but, hurry up, we’ve no time to lose.
Glory be! I feel better than I have for many a day. Things are coming
our way at last.”



                  CHAPTER XXII—“THERE’S MANY A SLIP.”


In the livery stable on Emmons Street, the same one in which Ralph had
been confined, sat four men. They were grouped about a table in a small
room in the rear of the place, for the stable was what is sometimes
known as “a blind,” and the place was the resort of all sorts of
unprincipled characters who had reason to fear the forces of law and
order.

On the table was a litter of papers, typewritten specifications and blue
prints, but the most conspicuous object was a beautiful model of Mr.
Peregrine’s vanishing motor gun. One of the men was Stephen Melville,
and the identity of the others may be easily guessed. They were Sawdon,
Jake Rook and Radcliff.

“Well, boss, have we earned our pay?” asked Jake Rook, as Melville
paused in his interested scrutiny of the model and the plans.

“You bet you have,” he exclaimed enthusiastically, “and as soon as we
have a contract with the government I’ll give you a bonus as well. Why,
with these plans and this model it will be easy to manufacture a machine
unlike the Peregrine one in appearance but exactly like it in principle.
What a fool he was not to sell when he had the chance! Now we have all
the benefits of his work for nothing.”

“But say, boss,” interrupted Jake Rook, “how are you going to get the
stuff to New York? There’s a hunt on for us in the city, and I guess
that by this time you are being looked for, too.” For Jake had
discovered that his letter had not been delivered, and readily guessed
that it might have fallen into Ralph’s hands, and from him passed to the
possession of the two lads they had tried so hard to injure.

“I’ve arranged for all that,” said Melville; “the police may guard all
the railway stations; but we won’t go by train. I know a man here who
has a fast motor boat and isn’t too particular, where there is money
concerned. He’ll take us down the coast a way, and then put us ashore.
We’ll separate and reach New York by different routes.”

“That’s a rattling good plan,” said Sawdon approvingly; “I guess that
this time we’ve got those kids buffaloed for fair. Does this fellow with
the boat know that you are going to hire it?”

“Yes, I thought it best to be prepared for emergencies, and so I have
arranged for the boat to meet us at the Buttermilk wharf. That’s some
distance from the regular shipping piers, and we won’t attract
attention.”

“And Dan Darby has the disguises,” added Jake Rook. “Oh, Dan!” he cried,
raising his voice. In response a bottle-nosed, red-faced man of the low,
rough type shuffled in.

“Well, what is it?” he demanded.

“Have you got those disguises?”

“Sure, they’re upstairs in the loft. Want to put ’em on now?”

“We do,” said Melville; “there’s no knowing how soon some of that outfit
may cross our trail, and we don’t want to be caught napping.”

“All right, go right ahead up. Jake knows the way,” said Dan, who,
although he posed as a livery-stable keeper, was a notorious rascal of
Boston’s underworld.

Half an hour after the four worthies had taken their way upstairs, they
reappeared again. But how altered! Jake Rook, who was an adept at this
sort of thing, had excelled himself at his work.

Melville’s moustache had been shaven off, and he was rigged out like a
bloated, broken-down old cab-driver; Sawdon had the semblance of a
hanger-on about a livery stable; Jake Rook appeared to be a peddler; and
Radcliff was apparently a seedy, down-at-heels foreigner of the emigrant
type, with an untidy black beard.

“Great!” exclaimed Dan, as he viewed them; “your own mothers wouldn’t
know you, and that’s the truth.”

At this moment there came a loud knocking at the door of the stable,
which was closed and locked. Dan darted to a peephole in the front of
the place, constructed for the purposes of spying.

“Great Scott, boys!” he exclaimed the next minute, in a low, tense
whisper, “it’s them kids you were talking about, with half a dozen
policemen. They’re in plain clothes, but I’d know a bull anywhere.”

Instant consternation prevailed among the conspirators. But Jake Rook,
who alone remained cool, spoke up quickly.

“Is the old getaway still working, Dan?” he asked quickly.

“Yes. You know where it is. It leads out on Murphy’s Alley.”

“Good! Follow me, and we’ll fool that bunch yet,” exclaimed Jake,
darting to the rear of the stable, while Dan called out in a surprised
voice: “Who’s there?”

“It’s the police. Open this door instantly, do you hear?” came a sharp
voice on the outside.

“All right! all right!” and Dan shuffled toward the door; “What’s up?
What do you want?” he demanded, as he opened it slowly.

“To search this stable of yours. Some suspected criminals have been
traced here,” spoke up the leader of the police, a heavy-set man with a
crisp moustache.

“Here?” exclaimed Dan, in well-simulated amazement; “criminals in my
stable? You must be mistaken.”

“Oh no, we’re not, and this place is too well known for us to be fooled
by you. Stand aside.” The man gave Dan a rough shove that sent him
spinning to one side and entered the place, followed by the boys and his
comrades of the force. But, as we know, the birds had flown. Not a trace
of them could be found. The “getaway,” as Jake Rook called it, a secret
door in the back of the place leading out on an alley, was too cunningly
constructed even to catch their attention.

“There, what did I tell you?” grinned old Dan, when they had finished
and found that they had “drawn a blank,” as huntsmen say. “It’s too bad
to do anything like this. Why, if it got out, it would give me a bad
reputation.”

“You precious old rascal,” exclaimed the detective, “as if you weren’t
one of the worst characters in Boston, but too foxy to get into the
toils of the law!”

“Oh, my! Oh, my! How you talk!” exclaimed old Dan, looking as if he was
really grievously insulted by the imputation that he was not an honest
and upright citizen.

“Well, there’s no doubt in my mind that the men were here,” said the
officer, turning to the boys; “but they’ve gone, and covered up their
tracks mighty well, too.”

“More bad luck,” growled out Tom, gritting his teeth; “and just when we
thought we had them, too. I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again
now.”

“It’s not likely,” admitted the policeman; “from what you have said they
must be a band of slick fellows, all right.”

“But suppose this man Melville starts to manufacture that vanishing gun
thing, can’t he be prosecuted?” asked Dick Dangler.

“Mr. Bowler says that such a slick man as he is would make just enough
alterations in the model so that it wouldn’t be possible to prove that
it was not his own idea. Such cases are very hard to prove, he says, and
cost thousands of dollars. No; if the model is in Melville’s hands,
there’s an end of it.”

This speech was the contribution of Jack, who had talked with the lawyer
on this very subject. There being nothing more to be done at the stable,
they came away, followed by a sarcastic grin from old Dan.

“You won’t never catch an old bird like me by putting salt on his tail,”
he chuckled. “I wonder if them fellows took that model they set so much
store by? Looked like so much junk to me, but I guess it must be
valuable to them all right.” He peeped into the room where the
consultation had been held and found that the model and papers had been
taken. Jake Rook, in fact, in his dash for the alley had taken the model
and stowed it under his coat, while Melville had grabbed up the papers.

The boys were sitting in the hotel that afternoon pondering fresh plans,
when there came a sudden summons to the telephone.

“This is Captain Andrews,” came a voice at the other end when Jack
answered it. “By the great horn spoon, but I’ve a valuable bit of
information for you lads. It concerns those lubbers who stole the
patent.”

“Gracious!” cried Jack, “is that so? Where can we see you?”

“You wait there and I’ll be up,” was the reply; “if my information is
right those rascals are about to slip through your fingers again.”

“By ginger! not this time, if it’s humanly possible to catch them,”
declared Jack earnestly, as he hung up the receiver. “We’ll follow them
no matter where the chase may take us.”

And where it was to take them neither of the boys dreamed at that
moment, but they were on the eve of one of the most adventurous
incidents of their lives.



                CHAPTER XXIII—THE START OF A LONG CHASE


Captain Andrews burst into the hotel a short time later like a
bombshell, scattering bell-boys and guests in his mad rush to reach Jack
and Tom, who were awaiting him in a corner of the lobby.

“If you want to catch those fellows you must come with me right away,”
he exclaimed pantingly; “they’ve gone to sea in Cap. Flinders’ motor
boat. They started half an hour ago; but if we hurry I’ll go after them
in mine, and there’s a chance we can overhaul them, or at least keep
track of them.”

Of course the reference to Captain Flinders’ motor boat was so much
Greek to Jack, but the captain would not explain any more just then.

“Don’t waste time talking,” he exclaimed; “I’ll tell you about it as we
go along. Shiver my topsails, but they’ll get away yet if we don’t
hurry.”

It was evident enough, from all this, that there was not a minute to be
lost, and Jack and Tom, who had their hats on, followed the energetic
seaman out of the hotel without an instant’s hesitation. Outside was a
row of taxicabs. Jack engaged one of these, and they started off for the
“T” wharf at a rattling speed.

As they spun along the captain explained how he had got upon the track
of the gang of rascals.

“This Captain Flinders is a regular shark,” he declared; “he’ll do
anything for money, and has a mighty bad reputation along the water
front. Well, as I was standing on the end of the Buttermilk Wharf where
he keeps his boat—the _Tarpon_, and a clipper she is, too—I saw him meet
four precious seedy-looking chaps. One looked like an old cab-driver and
the rest were as bad.

“‘What’s in the wind now?’ I thought, and as they came toward me I
slipped in behind a pile of bales, for I didn’t want Flinders to see me,
and was curious to know what he was doing with that outfit of
ragamuffins. Well, as luck would have it, they stopped just the other
side of the pile of bales, and I could hear some of what they said. I
heard enough to convince me that they were the chaps you were after, in
disguise, and then I jumped for a telephone.”

The boys fairly gasped in their eagerness to hear more.

“Were they all there?” demanded Jack.

“Well, there were four of ’em. And they’ve got the model, too. I heard
one of ’em, a chap the others called Melville, laughing about the way
they’d tricked you by sneaking out of a stable by a secret back door.”

“So the rascals were there, after all,” exclaimed Jack; “well, if that
doesn’t beat all!”

“Well, when I came back from ’phoning to you, what should I see but the
_Tarpon_ putting out into the stream. Right then and there I started for
the hotel and there’s a chance—just a chance—that we may catch ’em yet.
You see, from what I heard, they were figuring on not sailing till
to-night, but I guess they changed their minds.”

“Jumping Jupiter!” exclaimed Tom, “this is warm work with a vengeance.
You didn’t overhear them say where they were bound for, captain, did
you?”

“Yes, East Hampton, they said. But here’s the wharf. Come on, pile out.
Jack, you pay the cabman while I get the old _Sea Gull_ ready.” When the
boys joined the captain once more they found him busied over the engine
of a good-looking cabin motor boat about thirty feet in length.

“Will you be ready right away?” inquired Tom, “because if not, I guess
we ought to ’phone to Mr. Bowler. He’ll be anxious if we are missing
without any explanation.”

“All right, boys. You’ll have time for that, but hurry.”

In five minutes the boys were back, and Captain Andrews announced that
all was ready. No time was lost in casting off, and in five minutes more
the _Sea Gull’s_ bow was headed downstream. A long chase had begun, and
one that was to prove remarkable in more ways than one.

“Seems queer, doesn’t it,” remarked Jack, “to think that only a short
time ago we were sitting in the hotel, thinking we’d lost the trail for
good and all, and here we are, hot on it again, only by sea instead of
land.”

“It does,” agreed Tom, who was looking after the engine, while Captain
Andrews steered. The motor of the _Sea Gull_ was a powerful,
four-cylindered, four-cycle one, developing twenty horsepower. This made
the _Sea Gull_ unusually fast for a craft of her class, but the boys
recalled that Captain Andrews had told them that the _Tarpon_ was a
swift craft, also.

Twilight found the _Sea Gull_ well off shore, and riding a swelling sea.
Jack, who was on the lookout, was the first to sight, some five miles
ahead of them, another motor craft.

“Can that be the _Tarpon_?” he exclaimed, pointing.

“Here, take the wheel a minute while I overhaul her,” said Captain
Andrews eagerly.

He dived into the cabin and reappeared with a pair of strong binoculars.
He focused these on the distant craft, and after a brief scrutiny
announced that it was beyond doubt the _Tarpon_ that they had sighted.

“She must have had some sort of engine trouble,” he declared, “or she
would have made better time than this.”

“Can we overhaul her, do you think?” questioned Jack anxiously.

Captain Andrews shook his head doubtfully.

“Even if she had to slow down for a time she is creeping ahead now; but
maybe, if all goes well, we can keep on her track through the night. For
one thing, we know that she is bound for East Hampton, and I could find
my way there blindfolded.”

“Perhaps I could fix your engine so that it will give us a little more
speed,” volunteered Jack.

“I wish you could, lad,” responded the seaman, taking the wheel from the
boy once more.

“I’ll do what I can,” promised Jack.

He fell to work on the motor, and found that by readjusting the
carburetor he could coax more speed out of it. By this time it was dark,
and, having finished his work on the motor, Jack went forward with the
running lights. Soon they were shining out like twin jewels—red to port
and green to starboard. Then he set the stern light, and coming back
eagerly looked into the night ahead of them.

All at once through the darkness a white light flashed up and instantly
vanished, only to reappear again as the _Tarpon_ rose on a wave crest.

“So long as we keep that light in sight we are all right,” declared
Captain Andrews, and resigning the wheel to Jack, he went below to
prepare supper, which meal they ate in “relays.” Coming on deck after
his meal, Jack saw, to his astonishment, that the dancing white light
ahead of them was much closer than it had been before he went below.
This meant that they were overhauling the _Tarpon_.

“We’re creeping right up on her,” declared Captain Andrews, when Jack
mentioned this fact to him; “we ought to be alongside in half an hour if
we keep on at this gait.”

The words sent a thrill through Jack.

“That means a fight,” he said calmly, although his heart beat fast.

“That’s what it does, lad,” returned the doughty captain, “but there are
three revolvers below, and we’ve got the law on our side—don’t forget
that.”

“No, and I don’t forget that they are five to our three,” added the boy,
with a grim smile.

As they crept closer, Tom was apprised of the turn events were taking.
He was provided with a revolver, and Captain Andrews armed Jack and
himself likewise.

“I don’t approve of firearms; fists is my way of fighting,” he said.
“But we are going up against a gang of sea sharks that are desperate,
and we may have to fall back on the guns.” Silence fell on the party as
they slowly but surely crept up on the bobbing, dancing light ahead. As
they came within hailing distance Captain Andrews boomed out a hail:

“_Tarpon_, ahoy!”

But no answer was vouchsafed.

“Looks as if they are going to cut up rough,” opined the captain; “well,
there’s nothing for us to do but heave alongside and board them. You’re
not scared, Jack?”

“Not a bit. I’m too hot to get at the rascals who have caused us so much
trouble to feel scared of them.”

Captain Andrews spun his wheel over and prepared to bear down on the
light, but as he drew up close to it a bewildered look passed over his
face. At the same instant Jack spoke:

“Isn’t there something rather odd about that light, captain?”

“Just what I was thinking, lad. It’s low down in the water and—by the
great horn spoon! They’ve fooled us. That light’s nothing more than a
lantern set adrift in a bait tub!”

And so it was. The wily party on board the _Tarpon_ had certainly played
a successful trick on their pursuers. Extinguishing their own stern
light, they had set the lantern on a bait tub, dropped it overboard and
cast it loose to drift at its own sweet will.

“So, for the last three hours, we’ve been following a will o’ the wisp!”
groaned Jack dismally.

“Looks that way,” agreed the captain. “Consarn it all, we might have
known that they’d be up to some such trick as that—such a shipload of
pirates.”

He shoved back his cap and scratched his head.

“It’s a game of blind-man’s buff from now on, lads,” he said; “do you
want to take a chance?”

“While there’s one left we’ll take it,” declared Jack stoutly.

“I wonder how far astray that old tub led us,” mused Tom a few minutes
later, when they were once more on their course.

“Impossible to say,” said the captain, “but a light tub like that would
drift fast, and their trick will have given those lubbers a big lead on
us.”

“Not much doubt of that, I’m afraid,” agreed Jack; “but we may as well
keep right on now. Possibly we’ll get track of them at East Hampton.”

With only this hope to buoy them through the long night hours, the trio
clung to the marine trail. All of them were too excited to sleep and so
they took turn and turn about at steering, attending to the engine and
keeping a lookout.

As the first gray warning of dawn came on the eastern horizon, Captain
Andrews consulted his log, compass and charts. He declared that they
were not far from East Hampton, and that unless something had happened
to the _Tarpon_ during the night, she must have landed her passengers
there. This was a bitter pill to swallow, but the boys kept hoping
against hope while the light grew stronger.

But as the surrounding sea became visible in the summer’s dawn, a cry of
delight broke from three throats simultaneously.

Bobbing up and down on the swells not half a mile off lay the _Tarpon_.
She was motionless, except for the action imparted by the waves, and it
was evident that something was the matter with her engines.

“Guess they tried to run so fast during the night that they overheated
them,” declared Captain Andrews, as he gazed at the other craft.

He turned his wheel, and the _Sea Gull_ began to head toward the
_Tarpon_. At first it appeared that they were not observed, but the next
instant they found out differently. Something sang through the air above
Captain Andrews’ head.

Jack saw a flash and a puff of smoke from one of the portholes of the
_Tarpon_’s raised deck cabin, and a few seconds later came the report of
a rifle. Then, borne clearly across the water, came a megaphoned threat:

“Keep off, or it will be the worse for you.”

Captain Andrews snatched up the _Sea Gull’s_ megaphone. His bronzed face
was flushed with rage, and his voice shook with suppressed fury as he
bellowed back:

“You infernal scoundrels, what do you mean by firing at us? Are you
going to let us board you and give up that model, or do we have to make
you?”

“Oh, run along and play,” came back from the _Tarpon_, in a voice which
the boys recognized as Jake Rook’s.

“You keep away from us if you know what’s good for you,” came back in
another voice.

“By Neptune, boys,” growled Captain Andrews, “it kind of looks as if
they had the upper hand of us after all. I don’t see how we can board
them as things are now. It’s no use sticking our heads in a hornet’s
nest, and that’s what we’d be doing if——Hello! They are moving again;
guess they’ve got their engine fixed. Well, we can stick to their heels,
and if they run into a town we can arrive close enough to them to have
them arrested.”

“But will they make for a town now that we are so close on their
tracks?” wondered Jack.

“Isn’t it more likely they’d land along the coast some place, where
there was no risk of encountering the authorities?”

“Jove, lad, I don’t know but what you’re right. Well, all we can do is
to tag along and watch our chance.”

“Look, one of them is coming out of the cabin with a megaphone,” cried
Tom suddenly.

They watched a figure clamber up on the stern of the boat ahead and
raise the speaking trumpet.

“_Sea Gull_, ahoy!” came the hail.

“Aye! aye! what do you want with us?” bellowed back Captain Andrews, in
no amiable tone.

“It’s no use your following us. If it’s the model you are after, we
landed it last night while you were chasing that bait tub!”

If a bombshell had exploded in their midst the party on the _Sea Gull_
could not have felt a deeper sense of consternation. The long chase had
been for nothing then, and, as Jack had put it, they had indeed been
pursuing a “will o’ the wisp.”



                      CHAPTER XXIV—JACK’S TRIUMPH


Jack was the first to recover from the shock.

“I don’t believe it,” he declared stoutly.

“It would have been like their knavery to pull off just such a trick,
though,” struck in Tom; “what do you think, captain?”

“Just this, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” declared
the stout old seaman. “Maybe they did land the model in the night; but
in that case what are they doing away down the coast? And again, even if
they did land it, I propose to keep on their heels till we bring them to
justice.”

The seaman’s words put new heart into the boys, and instead of
slackening in their pursuit, they kept up the _Sea Gull’s_ speed which,
do what they could, was slightly slower than the speedy _Tarpon_’s.
About an hour after the hail from the _Tarpon_’s after-deck had come,
the craft ahead suddenly changed her course.

“They’re heading in toward land,” cried Jack excitedly.

“Yes; I guess they realize that they can’t shake us and are going to
land and make a run for it,” decided Captain Andrews. “Great sea
serpents, but they are putting on speed!”

The _Tarpon_ certainly was flying. Great jets of spray shot up on each
side of her bow, and the roar of her motor could be heard like the
incessant discharge of a whole battery of gatling guns.

Jack sprang down to Tom’s side at the _Sea Gull’s_ engine. He tinkered
with the carburetor and speeded up both spark and gasolene supply. Like
an arrow from a bow the _Sea Gull_ sprang forward gallantly. Every
timber in her shook under the vibration. But like a greyhound after a
rabbit, she hung tenaciously in the wake of the _Tarpon_.

It was a marine race, filled with the keenest excitement. Jack’s heart
pounded. The blood rushed hotly through his veins. With burning eyes he
straightened up from the engine and gazed ahead. The distance between
the two crafts was still the same, the _Tarpon_ maintaining her lead.

“Can’t you get any more speed out of her?” almost groaned Captain
Andrews. “If once they reach that coast and land, we’ll have a tough job
getting them again.”

“I’m afraid that I can’t do any more with the motor,” responded Jack;
“it’s heating up now, and if I force it any more it may stick
altogether.”

The coast toward which both boats were heading at racing speed was a
wild and desolate-looking stretch of beach, with cliffs towering up to
some height from a rocky base, and pine woods and hills on top.

“Like as not old Flinders knows just where he is heading for,” said
Captain Andrews, with some uneasiness; “but I don’t like the look of
this at all. See those rocks and that shoal water all about us. We may
run aground any minute, and at this speed that would mean ‘good-bye,
_Sea Gull_.’”

Jack nodded. He fully saw the dangers of navigation so close to that
rocky coast. But Captain Flinders seemed to have no fears. He kept right
on without reducing speed, dodging in and out of shoals incessantly.
Captain Andrews, with his heart fairly in his mouth for the safety of
his craft, followed his every move. He knew that the _Tarpon_ drew more
water than his craft, and that where Captain Flinders could go with
safety he could follow.

The chase through the watery maze kept up for an hour or more, and then,
so far as the _Sea Gull_ was concerned, it came to a disastrous
conclusion. Without the slightest warning Captain Andrews’ craft rammed
her nose at full speed into a sand bank, and at the same moment the boys
and the captain were thrown flat on their backs. Tom was up in a jiffy
and shut off the engine. The others were as quick in recovering
themselves. But alas for the _Sea Gull_! Her nose was jammed hard into
the sand, and although the engine was reversed and run at full power, it
could not move her.

“Well, if the bad luck isn’t holding out to the end!” exclaimed Tom
despairingly; “what on earth can we do now?”

“What, indeed?” echoed Jack. “I guess that they win this time.”

“What, giving up already?” exclaimed Captain Andrews. “Why, boys,
there’s lots of luck left. I see that the tide is rising. That’s lucky,
for it means that at high water we can get the _Sea Gull_ off. In the
meantime I’ve got a plan.”

Both boys hung eagerly on his next words. “We’ll take the dinghy and row
ashore. It can’t be so very far to some village or town where we can
summon the authorities. That will give us a chance to land those
miscreants yet.”

“It seems about all there is left to do,” said Tom, who didn’t seem to
be very much impressed with the plan.

“Hello, the _Tarpon_’s dropped her anchor,” exclaimed Jack, pointing to
the other craft, which had come to a standstill about five hundred yards
off.

“Then there’s no time to lose in getting ashore,” declared Captain
Andrews; “we’ve got to beat them to it. Come on, lads, help me get the
dinghy over.”

The dinghy referred to was a small, light flat-bottomed boat, carried
athwart the stern of the _Sea Gull_. It took but a short time to get her
overboard. In the meantime Jack had dived into the cabin, leaving the
task of lowering the small boat to his two companions.

“Come in here,” he shouted, as soon as the boat was over and floating
astern. Tom and Captain Andrews obeyed.

To their astonishment they found Jack in his underclothes busily engaged
in stuffing his discarded suit with old bits of canvas and anything he
could find to give the clothes the semblance of being on a living frame.

“What on earth have you got in mind now?” demanded Tom wonderingly.

Jack explained.

“I was just thinking,” he said, “that there was no use in our all going
ashore. Somebody must be aboard to guard the _Sea Gull_ from attack. But
at the same time it’s important that those fellows on the _Tarpon_
should think that there is no one here. My plan is that you, Captain
Andrews, and you, Tom, row ashore with this dummy of myself sitting in
the stern of the dinghy. You can easily dispose of it in some bushes
when you get there. Then you make off at top speed for some telegraph
office or telephone and summon help, and I’ll stay here on guard.”

“But they may attack you,” objected Tom. “That’s not likely. In the
first place, there are three revolvers that I have at hand, and I guess
that I could stand off quite a bunch of them if they should venture on
an assault. But I guess they won’t.”

At first Captain Andrews would not listen to Jack’s plan; but when the
lad represented to him that it might be necessary to have some one on
board in case the _Sea Gull_ floated on a rising tide, he changed his
mind. The dinghy was brought around to the side of the launch away from
the view of the _Tarpon_ crowd, and Jack’s dummy carefully lowered into
it.

Then, with Captain Andrews at the oars and Tom supporting the
counterfeit Jack, the row to shore was begun. Jack, in the meantime, had
found an old suit of clothes which he had put on in place of the
garments he had sacrificed.

[Illustration: THEN, WITH CAPTAIN ANDREWS AT THE OARS AND TOM SUPPORTING
THE COUNTERFEIT JACK, THE ROW TO THE SHORE WAS BEGUN.]

He did not, of course, show himself outside, but from the porthole he
watched the dinghy’s progress. He could hardly keep from laughing as he
looked at “himself” propped up in the stern.

“That’s a good dummy, if I do say it myself,” he chuckled; “maybe it has
more brains than I have, at that,” he added, with a grim smile.

But his attention was speedily distracted from watching the _Sea Gull’s_
dinghy by the fact that from the _Tarpon_’s side another small boat now
shot out. In it were five men—the total ship’s company of the _Tarpon_.

“Well, that disposes of the theory that the model was landed in the
night,” mused Jack, as he watched them row off; “unless a sixth
confederate ashore took charge of it.”

His expression suddenly changed to one of anxiety as he saw that the
_Tarpon_’s dinghy was clearly in pursuit of the _Sea Gull’s_ small boat.

“If they catch up there’ll be a fight more than likely,” he exclaimed,
“and five to two, and with the two unarmed, is terrific odds. Hello,
Tom’s seen them. Captain Andrews is pulling faster now! So are the
_Tarpon_’s, though! It’s a race for the shore!”

Jack fairly glued his face to the porthole as he watched the two boats.
A few moments later he gave a sigh of relief as the _Sea Gull’s_ dinghy
grazed the beach, and Captain Andrews and Tom sprang out. Jack noted,
with a sort of grim amusement, that Tom supported the dummy up the
beach, and managed it so skillfully that from a distance it really
looked as if it were Jack walking beside him.

A moment later the two figures of Jack’s friends vanished in the brush
which grew down to the foot of the cliffs, and the _Tarpon_’s boat
touched the shore. Jack heard her occupants give a yell as they leaped
out and ran up the beach, almost in the footsteps of Tom and Captain
Andrews. The next instant the brush swallowed them likewise, and Jack
was left to conjecture what was taking place behind that leafy curtain.
That it was a drama of a pretty strenuous sort he was certain.

The cabin was insufferably hot, and Jack was too restless to remain
still. As he knew that no one was left on board the _Tarpon_, he saw no
objection to his emerging on deck for a breath of fresh air. He sat in
the cockpit, looking dreamily at the _Tarpon_ swinging at anchor, and
wondering how things were faring with Captain Andrews and Tom.

Suddenly his reverie was broken off. The boy sprang to his feet and
slapped his hand down on his knee. A sudden idea had come to him—an idea
that was an inspiration.

“It’s worth trying,” said the boy to himself; “it’s worth trying. I may
find out nothing, and then again—well, it may mean a whole lot.”

Jack secured the door of the cabin, and then divested himself of his
clothes. This done he let himself over the side of the _Sea Gull_ and
struck out with a long, steady stroke for the _Tarpon_. It was quite a
swim, and the tide ran swiftly. The Maine water is cold, too, but Jack
was strong and vigorous and did not mind this in the least. In fact,
after his long spell in the stuffy cabin the water felt delightfully
refreshing.

It was not long before he reached the side of the _Tarpon_, and swimming
around her finally found a dangling rope by which he hauled himself on
board. Once in her cockpit, he started for the cabin door. As he had
expected, it was locked. But a big wrench lay by the engine box, and
Jack, without hesitating an instant, picked it up and with one blow
smashed the lock in.

Then he opened the cabin door and found himself in a compartment bigger
than the _Sea Gull’s_, but in a wild state of untidiness.

“Phew! what a stuffy hole,” thought the lad; “I guess those fellows
don’t clean it out once a year. I wonder——”

Jack almost did a back somersault as he broke off his soliloquy. From
out of a corner of the cabin something had sprung at him with a fierce
growl and a savage display of teeth. It was a bulldog and a powerful
brute, which appeared quite determined to drive Jack off the boat.

“Gracious,” exclaimed the boy, as the dog stood snarling at him, its
ugly teeth exposed and its hair bristling angrily, “this is a fix. I
never dreamed they’d have left a guardian here.”

“Gr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!” came from the dog, as its nose crinkled up into a
fierce snarl.

Suddenly the growl stopped, and the animal gave a spring at Jack’s
throat. But, luckily, the boy had picked up the wrench with which he had
broken in the door, and was prepared for the attack. As the dog was in
mid-spring he raised it and brought the weapon down with crushing force
on the animal’s head. The dog seemed to crumple up, and fell in a limp
heap at the boy’s feet.

“He’s not dead,” said Jack, after an examination, “but I guess when he
comes to he’ll feel pretty sick. I’m glad I didn’t kill him, although it
might have been my life or his.”

He stepped over the dog’s body and entered the cabin. Then, without
wasting time, he began a search. From the eager light in his eyes it was
evident that Jack had an object in view, and was bent on accomplishing
it as speedily as possible.

In the meantime Captain Andrews and Tom had been plunging through the
brush on the steep cliffside, trying to work their way to the top. This
appeared to be a task difficult of accomplishment. For one thing, the
ground was loose and scaly, and for another, the brush grew very
densely.

They were forced to be cautious in their ascent, too, as any undue noise
was likely to bring the rascals who were trailing them about their ears
in a hurry. At length they struck a sort of path, and before long gained
the summit; But at about the same time that they found the trail their
enemies struck it, too, and were close on their heels. Just at the top
of the cliff a big rock lay poised beside the path.

Captain Andrews saw that this gave them an opportunity to hold their
foes at bay, and he was quick to take advantage of it.

“Tom,” he whispered, “make off at top speed and get help as soon as
possible. Jump now!”

“But what are you going to do?” Tom wanted to know.

“I’m going to keep those fellows from getting up, by this path at any
rate,” was the response.

Tom knew that it was no time for argument, and although he did not much
like leaving Captain Andrews alorie, he made off in all haste across the
country. Before long he struck a road, and soon after got a lift in a
passing wagon to a near-by village.

In the meantime an exciting scene had been enacted at the cliff top. Tom
had not left Captain Andrews five minutes before Jake Rook, in advance
of the others, straggled up the trail. As he reached the top he was
amazed to hear a voice proceeding apparently from behind a big boulder,
which was poised on the summit.

“You’ll have to go around the other way, gentlemen,” said Captain
Andrews suavely; “if you advance any further I’m mightily afraid that
this rock may roll down on you.”

“See here, Andrews,” came back the voice of Captain Flinders, “you’ve
been imposed upon by those boys.”

“I know all about that, Flinders,” came back the reply, “but just you
tell your friends there not to come any further this way, or they’ll
land in trouble. I guess this rock would make quite a dent in the
anatomy of anybody it happened to fall on.”

He shoved the rock suggestively, and it gave an ominous quiver. A hasty
consultation followed among the men. It was impossible to dislodge the
doughty captain by shooting at him, for he was shielded behind the rock.
On the other hand, if they did not reach the cliff summit by that way
the gang of rascals would have to make a long detour, and that, for
reasons of their own, they were not anxious to do.

But it was the course they had finally to adopt, and Captain Andrews,
with a grim smile, heard their retreating footsteps. It was not till
they had gone that he realized that, in all probability, the model and
the papers had gone with them. He was pondering this aspect of the case
when Tom returned. He brought with him the village constable of Rumson,
the town he had reached, and half a dozen deputies.

“Whar be them roustabouts?” demanded the constable, as he came up.

“I guess they’ve headed to the south,” said Captain Andrews; “I drove
’em off this trail by threatening to get careless with this rock.”

“Good for you! If they’ve gone south they’ll be bound to come up that
path by Rumson Point,” declared the constable; “come on, boys, thar’s a
re-ward for ketching them fellers.”

Thus stimulated, the posse set off at top speed for the Point, while
Captain Andrews and Tom decided to return to the _Sea Gull_ and find out
how Jack was faring. They arranged to meet the constable and his men
later on in the village, and learn how they had succeeded.

They found the dinghy as they had left it, and rowed off to the _Sea
Gull_ without loss of time. As they neared the grounded boat Jack’s head
appeared out of the cockpit, and he waved his hand excitedly.

“He’s got some sort of news,” declared Tom; “wonder what it can be?”

They were soon to find out. As they boarded the _Sea Gull_, Jack, with
dancing eyes, produced the long-missing model. Then, as if to cap the
climax, he held up a sheaf of papers.

“Hurray, lad! You’ve done the trick!” shouted Captain Andrews.

“But how—what—where”—stammered Tom. “How?—by taking a swim over to the
_Tarpon_. Where?—in a secret locker under the cabin floor,” laughed
Jack. “You see,” he went on, “I had a hunch that it might pay to
investigate the _Tarpon_, for I concluded that it was likely that
Melville’s outfit would leave the model there till they found a safe
place to take it ashore, and so—I got ’em.”

“And I guess that posse is getting our friends,” cried Captain Andrews.
“Hark!”

From the direction of the Point came the sound of several shots and then
silence.

“I have an idea that that is the finish of Mr. Melville and his outfit,”
said Jack. But Tom interrupted him.

“The _Sea Gull_ is afloat,” he cried.

Sure enough, the tide had been rising during the last hour, and now they
could feel a quiver of life in the _Sea Gull_. The engine was started,
and after a short time the craft was backed off into deep water and
anchored. Not long after the three friends rowed ashore and made their
way into Rumson. They found that village in a state of turmoil. The five
marauders had all been captured after a bloodless battle, in which,
however, a few shots had been fired by Rook and Melville.

But Rumson was not to have the honor of their presence long. After a
brief examination before a local magistrate, they were consigned to the
Boston authorities. They were tried for their crimes in that city, and
received various jail sentences. Captain Flinders alone escaped on the
plea that he did not know what kind of men he had taken as passengers.
This was palpably false, but as he aided the State’s case by his
testimony, he was released with a stern warning.

After the hearing at Rumson the boys telegraphed the glad news of the
recovery of the model and papers to Mr. Peregrine, and notified their
parents of the termination of their adventurous quest. The next day they
started back for Boston on the _Sea Gull_, towing the _Tarpon_ behind.
Captain Flinders had asked Captain Andrews to look after the latter
craft while his case was pending, and the boys’ good-hearted friend
could not refuse. The bulldog, now completely subdued, went as a
passenger on the _Sea Gull_, and Jack ultimately bought the animal from
Flinders.

At Boston, the inventor, both the boys’ fathers, and Ralph and Jupe in a
state of wild excitement, all met the boys, and many and hearty were the
greetings and congratulations. After a few days in the city Jack found
all the appliances he needed, and in a very short time afterward the
Peregrine Vanishing Motor Gun was accepted by the government as a weapon
for use against aëroplanes.

But Mr. Peregrine always says that, had it not been for the Boy
Inventors, his machine would have remained and rusted in its shed. So
with his authority we have linked their names with his invention.

One other thing of interest must be told. The Vanishing Motor Guns are
being manufactured by the United States Artillery Devices Company, whose
nominal head is now young Ralph Melville. The business was found to be
in a bad way, but the contract for building the guns, which came to it
after all, assisted in putting it on its feet again. Dr. Tallman, as
Ralph’s guardian, had charge of the work of reconstruction. Prosperity
has not changed Ralph, and he is as warm a friend of the boys as ever,
and never has forgotten his rescue in mid-air. Dick Dangler has a post
in the Melville works, and fills it right well.

And so the time has come when, for the present, we must bid good-bye to
the Boy Inventors. But we shall meet them again ere long, and learn
something more about their mechanical skill and clever daring. The next
volume of their adventures will deal with a particularly enthralling
subject—that of submarine work. Of the dangers and difficulties our
young heroes faced under the water you may read in The Boy Inventors’
Diving Torpedo Boat.





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