The consultation in the private office of the Swift Construction Company after the departure of Mr. Richard Bartholomew between the two Swifts and Ned Newton had more to do with a vision of the future than with mere present finances.
"I expect you know just about how you are going to work on this new invention, Tom?" suggested the financial manager, and Tom's chum.
"Haven't the first idea," rejoined the young inventor, promptly.
"What do you mean?" ejaculated Ned. "You talked just now as though you knew all about electric locomotives."
"I know a good deal about those that have been built, both under the Jandel patent and those built for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul in the great Philadelphia shops.
"But when you ask me if I know how I am going to improve on those patents so as to make my locomotive twice as speedy and quite as powerful as those other locomotives - well, I've got to tell you flat that I have not as yet got the first idea."
"Humph!" grumbled Ned. "You say it coolly enough."
"No use getting all heated up about it," returned his friend. "I have got to consider the situation first. I must look over the field of electrical invention as applied to motive power. I must study things out."
"I don't just see myself," Ned Newton remarked thoughtfully, "why there should be such a great need for the electrification of locomotives, anyway. Those great mountain-hogs that draw most of the mountain railroad trains are very powerful, aren't they? And they are speedy."
"Locomotives that use coal or oil have been developed about as far as they can be," said Mr. Swift, quietly. "A successful electric locomotive has many advantages over the old-time engine."
"What are those advantages?" asked the business manager, quickly. "I confess, I do not understand the matter, Mr. Swift."
"For instance," proceeded the old gentleman, "there is the coal question alone. Coal is rising in price. It is bulky. Using electricity as motive power for railroads will do away with fuel trains, tenders, coal handling, water, and all that. Of course, Mr. Bartholomew will generate his electricity from water power - the cheapest power on earth."
"Humph! I've got my answer right now," said Ned Newton. "If there is no other good reason, this is sufficient."
"There are plenty of others," drawled Tom, smiling. "Good ones. For instance, heat or cold has nothing to do with the even running of an electric locomotive. It can bore right through a snowbank - a thing a steam engine can't do. It runs at an even speed. Really, grade should have nothing to do with its speed. There is a fault somewhere in the construction of the Jandel machine or the H. & P. A. would have little trouble with those locomotives on its grades.
"Then, all you have to do to start an electrified locomotive is to turn a handswitch. No stoking or water-boiling. Does away with the fireboy. One man runs it!"
"Why!" cried Ned, "I never stopped to think of all these things."
"No ashes to dump," went on Tom. "No flues to clean, no boilers to inspect, and none to wear out. And they say that on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, at least, their freight locomotives handle twice the load of a steam locomotive at a greatly reduced cost."
"Sounds fine. Don't wonder Mr. Bartholomew is eager to electrify his entire tine."
"On the side of passenger traffic," continued Tom Swift, "the electric locomotive is smokeless, noiseless, dirtless, and doesn't jerk the coaches in either stopping or starting. And in addition, the electric locomotive is much easier on track and roadbed than the old 'iron horse' driven by steam generated either from coal or oil."
"It is a great field for your talents, Tom!" cried Ned, warmly.
"It is a big job," admitted Tom, and he said this with modesty. "I don't know what I may be able to do - if anything. I would not feel right in taking Mr. Bartholomew's twenty-five thousand dollars for nothing."
"Quite right, my boy," said Mr. Swift, approvingly.
"Never mind that," said the financial manager, rather grimly. "It was his own offer and his risk. That twenty-five thousand comes to our account."
Tom laughed. "All business, Ned, aren't you? But there is more than business for the Swift Construction Company in this. Our reputation for fair dealing as well as for inventive powers is linked up with this contract.
"I want to show the Jandel people - to say nothing of the bigger firms - that the Swifts are to be reckoned with when it comes to electric invention. Other roads will be electrifying their lines as fast as it is proved that the electric-driven locomotive has the bulge on the steam-driven.
"In the case of the Hendrickton & Pas Alos there are very steep grades to overcome. Supposedly an electric motor-drive should achieve the same speed on a hill as on the level. But there is the weight of the train to be counted on.
"The H. & P. A. has a two per cent. grade in more than one place. Mr. Bartholomew confessed as much to me last night. The electric-driven locomotive of the powerful freight type, which the Jandel people built for Mr. Bartholomew, can make about sixteen miles an hour on those grades, although they can hit it up to thirty miles an hour on level track.
"His passenger locomotives turn off a mile a minute and more, on the level road; but they can not climb those steep grades at a much livelier pace than the freight engines. That is why he is talking about two-mile-a-minute locomotives. He must get a mighty speedy locomotive, for both freight and passenger service, to keep ahead of Montagne Lewis's rival road, the Hendrickton & Western."
"You don't suppose it can be done, do you?" demanded Ned. "The two-mile-a-minute locomotive, I mean, Tom."
"That is the target I am to aim for," returned his friend, soberly. "At any rate, I hope to improve on the type of locomotive Mr. Bartholomew is now using, so that the hundred thousand dollars bonus will come our way as well as this first twenty-five thousand."
"That wouldn't pay for one engine, would it?" cried Ned.
"Nor is it expected to. The bonus has nothing to do with payment for any model, or patent, or anything of the kind. To tell you the truth, Ned, I understand those big locomotives used by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul cost them about one hundred and twelve thousand dollars each."
"Whew! Some price, I'll tell the world!" murmured the youthful financial manager of the Swift Construction Company.
When the conference was over, and Tom had been through the workshop to overlook several little jobs that were in process of completion by his trusted mechanics, it was lunch time. He left word that he would not be back that day, for this new task he was to attack was not to be approached with any haphazard thought.
Tom knew quite as well as his father knew that the idea of improving the Jandel patent on electric locomotives was no small thing. The Jandel people had claimed that their patent was the very last word in electric motor-power. And Tom was quite willing to acknowledge that in some ways this claim was true.
But in invention, especially in the field of electric invention, what is the last word today may be ancient history tomorrow.
It was because this field is so broad and the possibility of improvement in every branch of electrical science so exciting, that Tom had accepted Mr. Bartholomew's challenge with such eagerness.
Tom went back to the house for lunch, and as he joined his father in the dining room he remarked to Eradicate:
"I want the electric runabout brought around after lunch. I am going to Waterfield. Tell Koku, will you, Rad?"
"Tell that crazy fellow?" demanded the old colored man heatedly. "Why should I tell him, Massa Tom? Ain't I able to bring dat runabout out o' de garbarge? Shore I is!"
"You can't do everything, Rad," said Tom, soberly. "That is humanly impossible."
"But dat Koku can't do nothin' right. Dat's inhumanly possible, Massa Tom."
"Give him a chance, Rad. I have to take Koku with me this afternoon. You must give your attention to the house and to father."
"Huh! Umm!" grunted Eradicate.
Rad was jealous of anybody who waited on Tom besides himself. Yet he was proud of responsibility, too. He teetered between the pride of being in charge at home and accompanying his young master, and finally replied:
"Well, in course, you ain't going to be gone long, Massa Tom. And yo' father does like to get his nap undisturbed. And he'll want his pot o' tea afterwards. So I'll let dat irresponsible Koku go wid yo'. But yo' got to watch him, Massa Tom. Dat giant don't know what he's about half de time."
As Koku was not within hearing to challenge that statement, things went all right. When Tom came out of the house after eating, he found his very fast car waiting for him, with the giant standing beside it at the curb.
"Get in at the back, Koku," said Tom. "I am going to take you with me."
"Master is much wise," said Koku. "That man with big feet will not hurt Master while Koku is with him."
To tell the truth Tom had quite forgotten the supposed spy that had attacked him the night before. He needed Koku for a purpose other than that of bodyguard. But he made no comment upon the giant's remark.
They stopped at one of the gates of the works, and Tom instructed Koku to bring out and put into the car certain boxes and tools that he wished to take with him. Then he drove on, taking the road to Waterfield.
This way led through farmlands and patches of woods, a rough country in part. A mile out of the limits of Shopton the road edged a deep valley, the sidehill sparsely wooded.
Almost at once, and where there was not a dwelling in sight, they saw a figure tramping in the road ahead, a big man, roughly dressed, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Somehow, his appearance made Tom reduce speed and he hesitated to pass the pedestrian.
The man did not hear the runabout at first; or, at least, he did not look over his shoulder. He strode on heavily, but rapidly. Suddenly the young inventor heard the giant behind him emit a hissing breath.
"Master!" whispered the giant.
"What's up now?" demanded Tom, but without glancing around.
"The big feet!" exclaimed Koku.
The giant's own feet were shod with difficulty in civilized footgear, but compared with his other physical dimensions his feet did not seem large. The man ahead wore coarse boots which actually looked too big for him! Koku started up in the back of the car as the latter drew nearer to the stranger.
The man looked back at last and Tom gained a clear view of his features - roughly carved, dark as an Indian's, and holding a grim expression in repose that of itself was far from breeding confidence. In a moment, too, the expression changed into one of active emotion. The man glared at the young inventor with unmistakable malevolence.
"Master!" hissed Koku again. "The big feet!" The fellow must have seen Koku's face and understood the giant's expression. In a flash he turned and leaped out of the roadway. The sidehill was steep and broken here, but he went down the slope in great strides and with every appearance of wishing to evade the two in the motor-car.
The giant's savage war cry followed the fugitive. Koku leaped from the moving car. Tom yelled:
"Stop it, Koku! You don't know that that is the man."
"The big feet!" repeated the giant. "Master see the red mud dried on Big Feet's boots? That mud from Master's garden."
Again Koku uttered his savage cry, and in strides twice the length of those of the running man, started on the latter's trail.