Although it was now nearing ten o'clock on this eventful evening, Tom knew that he would find Ned Newton at home. When Mr. Damon's car stopped before the house there was a light in Ned's room and the front door opened almost as soon as Tom rang. Mr. Damon left the car and entered with the young inventor at his invitation.
"What's up?" was Ned's greeting, looking at the two curiously as he ushered them in. "I see this isn't entirely a social call," and he laughed as he shook the older man's hand.
"Bless my particular star!" exclaimed the latter excitedly. "Of all the thrilling adventures that anybody ever got into, it is this Tom Swift who cooks them up! Why, Newton! do you know that we have been held up by a highwayman within two blocks of this very house?"
"And that of course was Tom's fault?" suggested Ned, still smiling.
"It wouldn't have happened if he had not been with me," said Mr. Damon.
"I am curious," said Ned, as they seated themselves. "Who was the footpad? What drew his attention to you two? Tell me about it."
"Bless my suspender buckles!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "You tell him, Tom. I don't understand it myself, yet."
"I think I can explain. But whatever I tell you both, you must hold in secret. Father and I have been entrusted with some private information tonight and I am going to take you, Ned, and Mr. Damon, into the business in a confidential way."
"Let's have it," begged Newton. "Anything to do with the works?"
"It is," answered Tom gravely. "We are going to take up a proposition that promises big things for the Swift Construction Company."
"A big thing financially?"
"I'll say so. And it looks as though we were mixing into a conspiracy that may breed trouble in more ways than one."
Tom went on to sketch briefly the situation of the Hendrickton & Pas Alos Railroad as brought to the attention of the Swifts by the railroad's president. First of all his two listeners were deeply interested in the proposition Mr. Richard Bartholomew had made the inventors. Ned Newton jotted down briefly the agreement to be incorporated in the contract to be drawn and signed, by the Swift Construction Company and the president of the H. & P. A. road.
"This looks like a big thing for the company, Tom," the young manager said with enthusiasm, while Mr. Damon listened to it all with mouth and eyes open.
"Bless my watch-charm!" murmured the latter. "An electric locomotive that can travel two miles a minute? Whew!"
"Sounds like a big order, Tom," added Ned, seriously.
"It is a big order. I am not at all sure it can be done," agreed Tom, thoughtfully. "But under the terms Mr. Bartholomew offers it is worth trying, don't you think?"
"That twenty-five thousand dollars is as good as yours anyway," declared his chum with finality. "I'll see there is no loophole in the contract and the money must be placed in escrow so that there can be no possibility of our losing that. The promise of a hundred thousand dollars must he made binding as well."
"I know you will look out for those details, Ned," Tom said with a wave of his hand.
"That is what I am here for," agreed the financial manager. "Now, what else? I fancy the building of such a locomotive looks feasible to you and your father or you would not go into it."
"But two miles a minute!" murmured Mr. Damon again. "Bless my prize pumpkins!"
"The idea of speed enters into it, yes," said Tom thoughtfully. "In fact electric motor power has always been based on speed, and on cheapness of moving all kinds of traffic.
"Look here!" he exclaimed earnestly, "what do you suppose the first people to dabble in electrically driven vehicles were aiming at? The motor-car? The motor boat? Trolley cars? All those single motor sort of things? Not much they weren't!"
"Bless my glove buttons!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, dragging off his gauntlets as he spoke. "I don't get you at all, Tom! What do you mean?"
"I mean to say that the first experiments in the use of electricity as a motive power were along the electrification of the steam locomotive. Everybody realized that if a motor could be built powerful enough and speedy enough to drag a heavy freight or passenger train over the ordinary railroad right of way, the cost of railroad operation would be enormously decreased.
"Coal costs money - heaps of money now. Oil costs even more. But even with a third-rail patent, a locomotive successfully built to do the work of the great Moguls and mountain climbers of the last two decades, and electrically driven, will make a great difference on the credit side of any rails road's books."
"Right-o!" exclaimed Ned. "I can see that."
"That was the object of the first experiments in electric motive power," repeated Tom. "And it continues to be the big problem in electricity. The Jandel locomotive is undoubtedly the last word so far as the construction of an electric locomotive is concerned. But it falls down in speed and power. I thought so myself when I saw that locomotive and looked over the results of its work. And this Mr. Bartholomew has assured father and me this evening that it is a fact.
"It has a record of a mile a minute on a level or easy grade; but it can't show goods when climbing a real hill. It slows up both freight and passenger traffic on the Hendrickton & Pas Alos road. That range of hills is too much for it.
"So the Swift Construction Company is going to step in," concluded the young inventor eagerly. "I believe we can do it. I've the nucleus of an idea in my head. I never had a problem put up to me, Ned and Mr. Damon, that interested me more. So why shouldn't I go at it? Besides, I have dad to advise me."
"That's right," agreed Ned. "Why shouldn't you? And with such a contract as you have been offered - "
"Bless my bootsoles!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, getting up and tramping about the room in his excitement. "I thought the trolley cars that run between Shopton and Waterfield were about the fastest things on rails."
"Not much. The trolley car is a narrow and prescribed manner of using electricity for motive power. The motor runs but one car - or one and a trailer, at most," said Tom. "As I have pointed out, the problem is to build a machine that will transmit power enough to draw the enormous weight of a loaded freight train, and that over steep grades.
"A motor for each car is a costly matter. That is why trolley car companies, no matter how many passengers their cars carry, are so often on the verge of financial disaster. The margin of profit is too narrow.
"But if you can get a locomotive built that will drag a hundred cars! Ah! how does that sound?" demanded Tom. "See the difference?"
"Bless my volts and amperes!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I should say I do! Why, Tom, you make the problem as plain as plain can be."
"In theory," supplemented Ned Newton, although he meant to suggest no doubt of his chum's ability to solve almost any problem.
"You've hit it," said Tom promptly. "I only have a theory so far regarding such a locomotive. But to the inventor the theory always must come first. You understand that, Ned?"
"I not only appreciate that fact," said his chum warmly; "but I believe that you are the fellow to show something definite along the line of an improved electric locomotive. But, whether you can reach the high mark set by the president of that railroad - "
"Two miles a minute!" breathed Mr. Damon in agreement. "Bless my wind-gauge! It doesn't seem possible!"
Tom Swift shrugged his shoulders. "It is the impossible that inventors have to overcome. If we experimenters believed in the impossible little would be done in this world, to advance mechanical science at least. Every invention was impossible until the chap who put it through built his first working model."
"That's understood, old boy," said Ned, already busily scratching off the form of the contract he proposed to show the company's legal advisers early in the morning.
When he had read over the notes he had made Tom O.K.'d them. "That is about as I had the items set down myself on the sheet that fellow stole from me."
"Wait!" exclaimed Ned, as Tom arose from his chair. "Do you know what strikes me after your telling me about your second hold-up?"
"What's that?" asked his chum.
"Are you sure that was the same fellow who stole your wallet?"
"Then his second attack on you proves that he got wise to the fact that your notes were in shorthand. He had a chance to study them while you visited with Mary Nestor."
"I wonder if it doesn't prove that the fellow has somebody in cahoots with him right here in Shopton?" ruminated Ned.
"Bless my spare tire!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, who had already started for the door but now turned back.
"That's an idea, Ned," agreed Tom Swift. "It would seem that he had consulted with some superior," said the young manager of the Swift Construction Company. "This hold-up man may be from the West; but perhaps he did not follow Bartholomew alone."
"I'd like to know who the other fellow is," said Tom thoughtfully. "I would know the man who attacked me, both by his bulk and his voice.
"Me, too," put in Mr. Damon. "Bless my indicator! I'd know the scoundrel if I met him again."
"The thing to do," said Ned Newton confidently, "is to identify the man who robbed you tonight as soon as possible and then, if he hangs around Shopton, to mark well anybody he associates with."
"Perhaps they will not bother me any more," said Tom, rather carelessly.
"And perhaps they will," grumbled Mr. Damon. "Bless my self- starter! they may try something mean again this very night. Come on, Tom. I want to run you home. And on the way, I tell you, I've got something to put up to you myself. It may not promise a small fortune like this electric locomotive business; but bless my barbed wire fence! my trouble has more than a little to do with footpads, too."
He led the way out of the house and to the motor car again. In a minute he had started his engine, and Tom, jumping in beside him, was borne away toward his own home.