"What town is that?"
"Looks like a splotch of paint on a board fence, we went by so quick."
"I've lost count, Bartholomew. Where are we?"
Ned Newton listened to these comments from the visiting railroad men with delight. In reply to a question of his neighbor, the grinning financial manager of the Swift Construction Company paid:
"No, sir. That isn't a picket fence. It's the telegraph poles you see, and they are no nearer together than on another railroad. But we're going some."
"Bless my railroad stock!" shouted Mr. Damon, "I should say we were."
The electric, locomotive and the private car were hurled toward the Pas Alos Range at a speed that almost frightened some of the guests.
"Three-quarters of an hour!" gasped one man as they began to see the outskirts of Hammon. "And ninety-six miles? Great Scott, Bartholomew! that's over two miles a minute!"
"That is the speed we set out to get," Mr. Richard Bartholomew said, with quite as much pride as though he had done it all himself.
But it had been his suggestion and his money that had accomplished this wonder. Tom Swift was willing to give the railroad president his share of the fame.
The train scarcely slackened speed at Hammon, for Tom got the signal announcing a clear track ahead, and he bucked the grade with all the power he could get from the feed wires. This hill, so well known to him now, was surmounted at a slightly decreased speed; but it was a wonderful display of power after all.
They went down the other side to Panboro and there linked up with an eastbound freight that the Hercules 0001 snatched over the mountain to Hammon at a pace slightly exceeding forty-five miles an hour - at least twice the speed that any two oil-burning locomotives could attain. As for the Jandels, they were not in the same class at all with Tom Swift's locomotive!
"Bless my speedometer!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, when the train pulled down and stopped again at the Hendrickton terminal. "This is the greatest test of speed and power I ever heard of. Why, a coal burner or an oil burner isn't in it with this Hercules locomotive! What do you say, Mr. Bartholomew?"
"I'll say I am satisfied - completely and thoroughly satisfied, Mr. Damon," said the president of the Hendrickton & Pas Alos Railroad frankly. "Mr. Swift has fulfilled his contract in every particular."
An hour later the young inventor and his two friends were in conference with Mr. Bartholomew over a new contract. The bonus of a hundred thousand dollars would be paid at once to the Swift Construction Company. But as the elder Swift's name would be needed on the new contract for the building of other Hercules locomotives, Tom had an idea.
"We won't send the papers East for father to sign," he said. "I want him to see the locomotive in real action. And I know where he can borrow a private car and come out here in comfort. Rad can come with him."
"Bless my valentines!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, "I bet somebody else will come too."
Mr. Damon must have been a prophet, for a fortnight later, when the borrowed car got in to the Hendrickton terminal at the tail of the transcontinental flyer, Tom Swift saw first of all Mary Nestor's rosy face on the platform of the car.
"Tom! are you all right?" she cried, beaming down upon the young inventor.
"No. Half of me is left," he said, grinning up at her. "You look great, Mary!"
"Do you think so?" she cried, dimpling. "Well, if anybody should ask you, Mr. Tom Swift, you look very good to me."
"Don't make me swell all up, Mary," he laughed. "How's father?"
"Splendid! And Rad - "
"Eradicate Sampson is sho' 'nough puffectly all right," broke in the voice of the old colored man, eager to make himself heard and seen. "Here I is, Massa Tom. What dat lizard doin' here? Ain't he a sight?"
The old man had caught sight of Koku in the wonderful new suit Mr. Bartholomew had ordered made for the giant. A Navajo blanket had nothing on that suit for a mixture of colors, and Koku strutted like a turkey-gobbler.
"My lawsy!" gasped Rad again, "he's as purty as a sunset. Is dat de way de tailors out here build a man up? Sure's yo live, Massa Tom, I needs a new suit of clo'es myself."
And before he got away from Hendrickton, Rad Sampson sported a suit off the same piece of goods as that of Koku's. Otherwise there might have been a lasting feud between the giant and the Swift's ancient serving man.
Mr. Barton Swift had stood the easy journey in the private car very well. Before he would sign the contract that Mr. Bartholomew offered, he wished to see for himself just how good his son's invention was.
They made another test from Hendrickton to Panboro, over the "official route," as Ned called it. The time made by Hercules 0001 was even a little better than before.
That the invention was well nigh perfect, and that it could do even more than Mr. Bartholomew had hoped or Tom had claimed, was Mr. Swift's conviction.
"Tom," he said to his son, "you have done a wonderful thing. Not only have you completed a marvelous invention and gained thereby a lot of money, and more in prospect, but you have aided in the world's progress to no small degree.
"Speed in transportation is the big problem before the world of commerce today. To move goods from point to point safely and cheaply, as well as rapidly, is the great task of this age. We are entering the Age of Speed. The railroads must solve the problem to compete with motor-truck traffic and fast boats on the lakes and rivers of our land.
"You have, by your invention, shoved the clock of progress forward. I am proud of you, my boy. I know now that, no matter what may happen to me, you will make an enviable mark in the world of invention.
"You have done much before for the Government in time of stress. But war engines of any kind are not worthy examples of inventive genius beside such a thing as this.
"It is the inventions of peace, rather than those of war, that stand for human progress."
Coming back over the mountain, Mary Nestor rode in the cab with Tom. She sat on the swivel stool, in fact, and handled the controls for part of the way. But she gave up the driver's place to Tom before they reached the timber siding east of Cliff City.
"I cannot go by that place without a shudder," Mary said to the inventor. "Ned and Mr. Damon told me all about that accident. Suppose you had been killed, Tom!"
"I see I'll have to build an invention that will make that impossible," chuckled the young fellow. "Make what impossible?"
"Some invention that will make it positively certain that no matter what I do or where I go, nothing can harm me. Nothing else will suit you, Mary, I plainly see."
"Well," returned the girl, smiling fondly at him. "I admit that would satisfy me completely!"