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Tom Swift And His War Tank by Victor Appleton

Part 3 out of 4

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might mean strayed cows, or the letting of cattle into a
field of grain or corn, to the damage of both cattle and

"There's a barbed-wire fence," observed Ned,
as he pointed to one off some distance across the
field. "Why don't you try demolishing that?"

"Oh, it would be too easy! Besides, I don't want the
bother of putting it up again. When I make the barbed-wire
test I want some set up on heavy posts, and with many
strands, as it is in Flanders. Even that won't stop the
tank, but I'm anxious to see how she breaks up the wire and
supports--just what sort of a breach she makes. But I have a
different plan in mind now.

"I'm going to try to find a wooden building we can charge
as we did the masonry factory. I want to smash up a barn,
and I'll have to pick out an old one for choice, for in
these war days we must conserve all we can, even old barns."

"What's the idea of using a barn, Tom?"

"Well, I want to test the tank under all sorts of
conditions--the same conditions she'll meet with on the
Western front. We've proved that a brick and stone factory
is no obstacle."

"Then how could a flimsy wooden barn be?"

"Well, that's just it. I don't think that it will, but it
may be that a barn when smashed will get tangled up in the
endless steel belts, and clog them so they'll jam. That's
the reason I want to try a wooden structure next."

"Do you know where to find one?"

"Yes; about a mile from here is one I've had my eyes on
ever since I began constructing the tank. I don't know who
owns it, but it's such a ramshackle affair that he can't
object to having it knocked into kindling wood for him. If
he does holler, I can pay him for the damage done. So now
for a barn, Ned, unless you're getting tired and want to go

"I should say not! Speaking of barns, I'm with you till
the cows come home! Want any more machine gun work?"

"No, I guess not. This barn isn't particularly isolated,
and the shooting might scare horses and cattle. We can smash
things up without the guns."

The tank was going on smoothly when suddenly there was a
lurch to one side, and the great machine quickly swung about
in a circle.

"Hello!" cried Ned. "What's up now? Some new stunt?"

"Must be something wrong," answered the young inventor.
"One of the belts has stopped working. That's why we're
going in a circle."

He shut off the power and hastened down to the motor room.
There he found his men gathered about one of the machines.

"What's wrong?" asked Tom quickly.

"Just a little accident," replied the head machinist. "One
of the boys dropped his monkey wrench and it smashed some
spark plugs. That caused a short circuit and the left hand
motor went out of business. We'll have her fixed in a

Tom looked relieved, and the machinist was as good as his
word. In a few minutes the tank was moving forward again. It
crossed out to the road, to the great astonishment of some
farmers, and the fright of their horses, and then Tom once
more swung her into the fields.

"There's the old barn I spoke of," he remarked to Ned.
"It's almost as bad a ruin as the factory was. But we'll
have a go at it."

"Going to smash it?" asked Ned.

"I'm going right through it!" Tom cried

Chapter XVII

Veiled Threats

Like some prehistoric monster about to charge down upon
another of its kind, Tank A, under the guidance of Tom
Swift, reeled and bumped her way over the uneven fields
toward the old barn. Within the monster of steel and iron
were raucous noises: the clang and clatter of the powerful
gasolene motors; the rattle of the wheels and gears; all
making so much noise that, in the engine room proper, not a
word could be heard. Every order had to be given by signs,
and Tom sent his electric signals from the conning tower in
the same way. When running at full speed, it was almost
impossible, even in the tower, which was some distance
removed from the engine room, to hear voices unless the
words were shouted.

"Why don't you go at it?" cried Ned to his "friend, who
was peering through the observation slot in the tower."

"I'm getting in good position," Tom answered. "Or rather,
the worst position I can find. I want to give the tank a
good try-out, and I'm going at the barn on the assumption
that this is in enemy country and that I can't pick and
choose my advance.

"So I want to come up through that gully, and go at the
barn from the long way. That will be the worst possible way
I could do it, and if old Tank A stands the gaff I'll know
she's a little bit nearer all right."

"I think she's all right as she is!" asserted Ned in a
yell, for just then Tom signaled for more speed, and the
consequent increase in the rattling and banging noises made
it correspondingly difficult for talk to be heard.

The big machine now tipped into the little gully spoken of
by Tom. This meant a dip downward, and then a climb out
again and an attack on the barn going uphill and at an
angle. But, as the young inventor had said, it would make a
severe test and that was what he wanted to give his
ponderous machine.

Ned grasped one of the safety rings, as, with a reel to
one side, almost as if it were going to capsize, the tank
rumbled on. Tom cast a half-amused smile at his chum, and
then threw over the guiding lever.

The tank rolled down into the gully. It was rough and
filled with stones and boulders, some of considerable size.
But Tank A made less than nothing even of the largest rocks.
Some she crushed beneath her steel belts. Others she simply
"walked" over, smashing them down into the soil.

Now the big machine reached the bottom of the gulch and
started up the sides, which, though not as steep as the
trench in which she had capsized, still were not easy going.

"Now for it!" cried Tom, as he signaled for full speed.

Up climbed the tank. Now she was half-way. A moment later,
and she was at the top, and then a forward careening motion
told that she had passed over the summit and was ready for
the attack proper.

Ned gave a quick glance through the slot nearest him. He
had a glimpse of the barn, and then he saw something else.
This was the sight of a man running away from the
dilapidated structure--a man who glanced toward the tank
with a face that showed great fright.

"Stop! Stop!" yelled Ned. "There may be folks in there,
Tom! I just saw a man run out!"

"All right!" Tom cried, though Ned could hardly hear him.
"Tell me when we get on the other side! We're going through

"But," shouted Ned, "don't you understand? I saw a man
come out of there! Maybe there's more inside! Wait, Tom,

But it was too late. The next instant there was a
smashing, grinding, splintering crash, a noise as of a
thunder-clap, and Tank A fairly ate her way through the old
barn as a rat might eat his way into a soft cheese, only
infinitely more quickly.

On and on and through and through went the tank, knocking
beams, boards, rafters and timbers hither and thither.
Minding not at all the weight of great beams on her back,
caring nothing for those that got in the way of her steel
belts, heeding not the wall of wood that reared itself
before her in a barrier of splinters and slivers, Tank A
went on and on until finally, with another grinding crash,
as she smashed her way through the farthermost wall, the
great engine of war emerged on the other side and came
panting into the field, dragging with her a part of the
structure clinging to her steel sides.

"Well," cried Tom, with a laugh, as he signaled for the
power to be shut off, thereby making it possible for
ordinary conversation to be heard, "I guess we didn't do a
thing to that barn!"

"Not much left of it, for a fact, Tom," agreed Ned, as he
looked through the after observation slots at the ruin in
the rear. "But didn't you hear what I was saying?"

"I heard you yelling something to me, but I was too
anxious to go at it as fast as I could. I didn't want to
stop then. What was the trouble?"

"That's what I'm afraid of, Tom--there may be trouble.
Just before you tackled the barn for a knockdown, instead of
a touchdown, as we might say, I saw a man running out of it.
I thought if there was one there, perhaps there might be
more. That's why I yelled to you."

"A man running from the old barn!" cried Tom. "Whew!" he
whistled. "I wish I had seen him. But, Ned, if one ran out
of harm's way, any others who might possibly be in there
would do the same thing, wouldn't they?"

"I hope so," returned Ned doubtfully.

"Great Scott!" cried Tom, as the possibility was borne
home to him. "If anything has happened--"

He sprang for the door of the tower and threw over the
catch, springing out, followed by Ned. From the engine room
of the armored tank the men came, smiles of gratification on
their faces.

"We certainly busted her wide open, Mr. Swift!" called the
chief mechanician.

"Yes," assented the young inventor; but there was not as
much gratification in his voice as there should have been.
"There isn't much of a barn left, but Ned thinks he saw some
one run out, and if there was one man there may have been
more. We'd better have a look around, I guess."

The engineering force exchanged glances. Then Hank
Baldwin, who was in charge of the motors, said:

"Well, if there was anybody in that barn when we chewed
her up I wouldn't give much for his hide, German or not."

"Let us hope no one was in there," murmured Tom.

They turned to go back to the demolished structure, fear
and worry in their hearts. No more complete ruin could be
imagined. If a cyclone had swept over the barn it could not
have more certainly leveled it. And, not only was it
leveled, crushed down in the center by the great weight of
the tank, but the boards and beams were broken into small
pieces. Parts of them clung in long, grotesque splinters to
the endless steel belts.

"I don't see how we're going to find anybody if he's in
there," remarked Hank.

"We'll have to," insisted Tom. "We can look about and
call. If any one is there he may have been off to one side
or to one end, and be protected under the debris. I wish I
had heard you call, Ned."

"I wish you had, Tom. I yelled for all I was worth."

"I know you did. I was too eager to go on, and, at the
same time, I really couldn't stop well on that hill. I had
to keep on going. Well, now to learn the worst!"

They walked back toward the demolished barn. But they had
not reached it when from around the corner swung a big
automobile. In it were several men, but chief, in vision at
least, among them, was a burly farmer who had a long, old-
fashioned gun in his hands. On his bearded face was a grim
look as he leaped out before the machine had fairly stopped,
and called:

"Hold on, there! I guess you've done damage enough! Now
you can pay for it or take the consequences!" And he
motioned to Tom, Ned, and the others to halt.

Chapter XVIII

Ready for France

Such was the reaction following the crashing through of
the barn, coupled with the sudden appearance of the men in
the automobile and the threat of the farmer, that, for the
moment, Tom, Ned, or their companions from the tank could
say nothing. They just stood staring at the farmer with the
gun, while he grimly regarded them. It was Tom who spoke

"What's the idea?" asked the young inventor. "Why don't
you want us to look through the ruins?"

"You'll learn soon enough!" was the grim answer.

But Tom was not to be put off with undecided talk.

"If there's been an accident," he said, "we're sorry for
it. But delay may be dangerous. If some one is hurt--"

"You'll be hurt, if I have my way about it!" snapped the
farmer, "and hurt in a place where it always tells. I mean
your pocketbook! That's the kind of a man I am--practical."

"He means if we've killed or injured any one we'll have to
pay damages," whispered Ned to Tom. "But don't agree to
anything until you see your lawyer. That's a hot one,
though, trying to claim damages before he knows who's hurt!"

"I've got to find out more about this," Tom answered. He
started to walk on.

"No you don't!" cried the farmer, with a snarl. "As I
said, you folks has done damage enough with your threshing
machine, or whatever you call it. Now you've got to pay!"

"We are willing to," said Tom, as courteously as he could.
"But first we want to know who has been hurt, or possibly
killed. Don't you think it best to get them to a doctor. and
then talk about money damages later?"

"Doctor? Hurt?" cried the farmer, the other men in the
auto saying nothing. "Who said anything about that?"

"I thought," began Tom, "that you--"

"I'm talkin' about damages to my barn!" cried the farmer.
"You had no right to go smashing it up this way, and you've
got to pay for it, or my name ain't Amos Kanker!"

"Oh!" and there was great relief in Tom's voice. "Then we
haven't killed any one?"

"I don't know what you've done," answered the farmer, and
his voice was not a pleasant one. "I'm sure I can't keep
track of all your ructions. All I know is that you've ruined
my barn, and you've got to pay for it, and pay good, too!"

"For that old ramshackle?" cried Ned.

"Hush!" begged Tom, in a low voice. "I'm willing to pay,
Ned, for the sake of having proved what my tank could do.
I'm only too glad to learn no one was hurt. Was there?" he
asked, turning to the farmer.

"Was there what?"

"Was there anybody in your barn?"

"Not as I knows on," was the grouchy answer. "A man who
saw your machine coming thought she was headed for my
building, and he run and told me. Then some friends of mine
brought me here in their machine. I tell you I've got all
the evidence I need ag'in you, an' I'm going to have
damages! That barn was worth three thousand dollars if it
was worth a cent, and--"

"This matter can easily be settled," said Tom, trying to
keep his temper. "My name is Swift, and--"

"Don't get swift with me, that's all I ask!" and the
farmer laughed grimly at his clumsy joke.

"I'll do whatever is right," Tom said, with dignity. "I
live over near Shopton, and if you want to send your lawyer
to see mine, why--"

"I don't believe in lawyers!" broke in the farmer. "All
they think of is to get what they can for theirselves. And I
can do that myself. I'll get it out of you before you leave,
or, anyhow, before you take your contraption away," and he
glanced at the tank.

The same suspicion came at once to Tom and Ned, and the
latter gave voice to it when he murmured in a low voice to
his chum:

"This is a frame-up--a scheme, Tom. He doesn't care a rap
for the barn. It's some of that Blakeson's doing, to make
trouble for you."

"I believe you!" agreed Tom. "Now I know what to do."

He looked toward the collapsed barn, as if making a mental
computation of its value, and then turned toward the farmer.

"I'm very sorry," said Tom, "if I have caused any trouble.
I wanted to test my machine out on a wooden structure, and I
picked your barn. I suppose I should have come to you first,
but I did not want to waste time. I saw the barn was of
practically no value

"No value!" broke in the farmer. "Well, I'll show you,
young man, that you can't play fast and loose with other
people's property and not settle!"

"I'm perfectly willing to, Mr. Kanker. I could see that
the barn was almost ready to fall, and I had already
determined, before sending my tank through it, to pay the
owner any reasonable sum. I am willing to do that now."

"Well, of course if you're so ready to do that," replied
the farmer, and Ned thought he caught a glance pass between
him and one of the men in the auto, "if you're ready to do
that, just hand over three thousand dollars, and we'll call
it a day's work. It's really worth more, but I'll say three
thousand for a quick settlement."

"Why, this barn," cried Ned, "isn't worth half that! I
know something about real estate values, for our bank makes
loans on farms around here--"

"Your bank ain't made me no loans, young man!" snapped Mr.
Kanker. "I don't need none. My place is free and clear! And
three thousand dollars is the price of my barn you've
knocked to smithereens. If you don't want to pay, I'll find
a way to make you. And I'll hold you, or your tank, as you
call it, security for my damages! You can take your choice
about that."

"You can't hold us!" cried Tom. "Such things aren't done

"Well, then, I'll hold your tank!" cried the farmer. "I
guess it'll sell for pretty nigh onto what you owe me,
though what it's good for I can't see. So you pay me three
thousand dollars or leave your machine here as security."

"That's the game!" whispered Ned. "There's some plot here.
They want to get possession of your tank, Tom, and they've
seized on this chance to do it."

"I believe you," agreed the young inventor. "Well, they'll
find that two can play at that game. Mr. Kanker," he went
on, "it is out of the question to claim your barn is worth
three thousand dollars."

"Oh, is it?" sneered the farmer. "Well, I didn't ask you
to come here and make kindling wood of it! That was your
doings, and you've had your fun out of it. Now you can pay
the piper, and I'm here to make you pay!" And he brought the
gun around in a menacing manner.

"He's right, in a way," said Ned to his chum. "We should
have secured his permission first. He's got us in a corner,
and almost any jury of farmers around here, after they heard
the story of the smashed barn, would give him heavy damages.
It isn't so much that the barn is worth that as it is his
property rights that we've violated. A farmer's barn is his
castle, so to speak."

"I guess you're right," agreed Tom, with a rather rueful
face. "But I'm not going to hand him over three thousand
dollars. In fact, I haven't that much with me."

"Oh, well, I don't suppose he'd want it all in cash."

But, it appeared, that was just what the farmer wanted. He
went over all his arguments again, and it could not be
denied that he had the law on his side. As he rightly said,
Tom could not expect to go about the country, "smashing up
barns and such like," without being willing to pay.

"Well, what you going to do?" asked the farmer at last. "I
can't stay here all day. I've got work to do. I can't go
around smashing barns. I want three thousand dollars, or
I'll hold your contraption for security."

This last he announced with more conviction after he had
had a talk with one of the men in the automobile. And it was
this consultation that confirmed Tom and Ned in their belief
that the whole thing was a plot, growing out of Tom's rather
reckless destruction of the barn; a plot on the part of
Blakeson and his gang. That they had so speedily taken
advantage of this situation carelessly given them was only
another evidence of how closely they were on Tom's trail.

"That man who ran out of the barn must have been the same
one who was in the factory," whispered Ned to his chum. "He
probably saw us coming this way and ran on ahead to have the
farmer all primed in readiness. Maybe he knew you had
planned to ram the barn."

"Maybe he did. I've had it in mind for some time, and
spoken to some of my men about it."

"More traitors in camp, then, I'm afraid, Tom. We'll have
to do some more detective work. But let's get this thing
settled. He only wants to hold your tank, and that will give
the man, into whose hands he's playing, a chance to inspect

"I believe you. But if I have to leave her here I'll leave
some men on guard inside. It won't be any worse than being
stalled in No Man's Land. In fact, it won't be so bad. But
I'll do that rather than be gouged."

"No, Tom, you won't. If you did leave some one on guard,
there'd be too much chance of their getting the best of him.
You must take your tank away with you."

"But how can I? I can't put up three thousand dollars in
cash, and he says he won't take a check for fear I'll stop
payment. I see his game, but I don't see how to block it."

"But I do!" cried Ned.

"What!" exclaimed Tom. "You don't mean to say, even if you
do work in a bank, that you've got three thousand in cash
concealed about your person, do you?"

"Pretty nearly, Tom, or what is just as good. I have that
amount in Liberty Bonds. I was going to deliver them to a
customer who has ordered them but not paid for them. They
are charged up against me at the bank, but I'm good for
that, I guess. Now I'll loan you these bonds, and you can
give them to this cranky old farmer as security for damages.
Mind, don't make them as a payment. They're simply security-
-the same as when an autoist leaves his car as bail. Only we
don't want to leave our car, we'd rather have it with us,"
and he looked over at the tank, bristling with splinters
from the demolished barn.

"Well, I guess that's the only way out," said Tom. "Lucky
you had those bonds with you. I'll take them, and give you a
receipt for them. In fact, I'll buy them from you and let
the farmer hold them as security."

And this, eventually, was done. After much hemming and
hawing and consultation with the men in the automobile, Mr.
Kanker said he would accept the bonds. It was made clear
that they were not in payment of any damages, though Tom
admitted he was liable for some, but that Uncle Sam's war
securities were only a sort of bail, given to indicate that,
some time later. when a jury had passed on the matter, the
young inventor would pay Mr. Kanker whatever sum was agreed
upon as just.

"And now," said Tom, as politely as he could under the
circumstances, "I suppose we will be allowed to depart."

"Yes, take your old shebang offen my property!" ordered
Mr. Kanker, with no very good grace. "And if you go knocking
down any more barns, I'll double the price on you!"

"I guess he's a bit roiled because he couldn't hold the
tank," observed Ned to Tom, as they walked together to the
big machine. "His friends --our enemies--evidently hoped
that was what could be done. They want to get at some of the

"I suppose so," conceded Tom. "Well, we're out of that,
and I've proved all I want to."

"But I haven't--quite," said Ned.

"What's missing?" asked his chum, as they got back in the

"Well, I'd like to make sure that the fellow who ran from
the factory was the same one I saw sneaking out of the barn.
I believe he was, and I believe that Simpson's crowd
engineered this whole thing."

"I believe so, too," Tom agreed. "The next thing is to
prove it. But that will keep until later. The main thing is
we've got our tank, and now I'm going to get her ready for

"Will she be in shape to ship soon?" asked Ned.

"Yes, if nothing more happens. I've got a few little
changes and adjustments to make, and then she'll be ready
for the last test--one of long distance endurance mainly.
After that, apart she comes to go to the front, and we'll
begin making 'em in quantities here and on the other side."

"Good!" cried Ned. "Down with the Huns!"

Without further incident of moment they went back to the
headquarters of the tank, and soon the great machine was
safe in the shop where she had been made.

The next two weeks were busy ones for Tom, and in them he
put the finishing touches on his machine, gave it a long
test over fields and through woods, until finally he

"She's as complete as I can make her! She's ready for

Chapter XIX

Tom is Missing

With Tom Swift's announcement, that his tank was at last
ready for real action, came the end of the long nights and
days given over on the part of his father, himself, and his
men to the development and refinement of the machine, to
getting plans and specifications ready so that the tanks
could be made quickly and in large numbers in this country
and abroad and to the actual building of Tank A. Now all
this was done at last, and the first completed tank was
ready to be shipped.

Meanwhile the matter of the demolished barn had been left
for legal action. Tom and Ned, it developed, had done the
proper thing under the circumstances, and they were sure
they had foiled at least one plan of the plotters.

"But they won't stop there," declared Ned, who had
constituted himself a sort of detective. "They're lying back
and waiting for another chance, Tom."

"Well, they won't get it at my tank!" declared the young
inventor, with a smile. "I've finished testing her on the
road. All I need do now is to run her around this place if I
have to; and there won't be much need of that before she's
taken apart for shipment. Did you get any trace of Simpson
or the men who are with him--Blakeson and the others?"

"No," Ned answered. "I've been nosing around about that
farmer, Kanker, but I can't get anything out of him. For all
that, I'm sure he was egged on to his hold-up game by some
of your enemies. Everything points that way."

"I think you're right," agreed Tom. "Well, we won't bother
any more about him. When the trial comes on, I'll pay what
the jury says is right. It'll be worth it, for I proved that
Tank A can eat up brick, stone or wooden buildings and not
get indigestion. That's what I set out to do. So don't worry
any more about it, Ned."

"I'm not worrying, but I'd like to get the best of those
fellows. The idea of asking three thousand dollars for a
shell of a barn!"

"Never mind," replied Tom. "We'll come out all right."

Now that the Liberty Loan drive had somewhat slackened,
Ned had more leisure time, and he spent parts of his days
and not a few of his evenings at Tom Swift's. Mr. Damon was
also a frequent visitor, and he never tired of viewing the
tank. Every chance he got, when they tested the big machine
in the large field, so well fenced in, the eccentric man was
on hand, with his. "bless my--!" whatever happened to come
most readily to his mind.

Tom, now that his invention was well-nigh perfected, was
not so worried about not having the tank seen, even at close
range, and the enclosure was not so strictly guarded.

This in a measure was disappointing to Eradicate, who
liked the importance of strutting about with a nickel shield
pinned to his coat, to show that he was a member of the
Swift & Company plant. As for the giant Koku, he really
cared little what he did, so long as he pleased Tom, for
whom be had an affection that never changed. Koku would as
soon sit under a shady tree doing nothing as watch for spies
or traitors, of whose identity he was never sure.

So it came that there was not so strict a guard about the
place, and Tom and Ned had more time to themselves. Not that
the young inventor was not busy, for the details of shipping
Tank A to France came to him, as did also the arrangements
for making others in this country and planning for the
manufacture abroad.

It was one evening, after a particularly hard day's work,
when Tom had been making a test in turning the tank in a
small space in the enclosed yard, that the two young men
were sitting in the machine shop, discussing various

The telephone bell rang, and Ned, being nearest, answered.

"It's for you, Tom," he said, and there was a smile on the
face of the young bank clerk.

"Um!" murmured Tom, and he smiled also.

Ned could not repress more smiles as Tom took up the
conversation over the wire, and it did not take long for the
chum of the youthful inventor to verify his guess that Mary
Nestor was at the other end of the instrument.

"Yes, yes," Tom was heard to say. "Why, of course, I'll be
glad to come over. Yes, he's here. What? Bring him along? I
will if he'll come. Oh, tell him Helen is there! 'Nough
said! He'll come, all right!"

And Tom, without troubling to consult his friend, hung up
the receiver.

"What's that you're committing me to?" asked Ned.

"Oh, Mary wants us to come over and spend the evening.
Helen Sever is there, and they say we can take them downtown
if we like."

"I guess we like," laughed Ned. "Come along! We've had
enough of musty old problems," for he had been helping Tom
in some calculations regarding strength of materials and the
weight-bearing power of triangularly constructed girders as
compared to the arched variety.

"Yes, I guess it will do us good to get out," and the two
friends were soon on their way.

"What's this?" asked Mary, with a laugh, as Tom held out a
package tied with pink string. "More dynamite?" she added,
referring to an incident which had once greatly perturbed
the excitable Mr. Nestor.

"If she doesn't want it, perhaps Helen will take it,"
suggested Ned, with a twinkle in his eyes. "Halloran said
they were just in fresh--"

"Oh, you delightful boy!" cried Helen. "I'm just dying for
some chocolates! Let me open them, Mary, if you're afraid of

"The only powder in them," said Tom, "is the powdered
sugar. That can't blow you up."

And then the young people made merry, Tom, for the time
being, forgetting all about his tank.

It was rather late when the two young men strolled back
toward the Swift home, Ned walking that way with his chum.
Tom started out in the direction of the building where the
tank was housed,

"Going to have a good-night look at her?" asked Ned.

"Well, I want to make sure the watchman is on guard. We'll
begin taking her apart in a few days, and I don't want
anything to happen between now and then."

They walked on toward the big structure, and, as they
approached from the side, they were both startled to see a
dark shadow--at least so it seemed to the youths--dart away
from one of the windows.

"Look!" gasped Ned.

"Hello, there!" cried Tom sharply. "Who's that? Who are

There was no answer, and then the fleeing shadow was
merged in the other blackness of the night.

"Maybe it was the watchman making his rounds," suggested

"No," answered Tom, as he broke into a run. "If it was,
he'd have answered. There's something wrong here!"

But he could find nothing when he reached the window from
which he and Ned had seen the shadow dart. An examination by
means of a pocket electric light betrayed nothing wrong with
the sash, and if there were footprints beneath the casement
they indicated nothing, for that side of the factory was one
frequently used by the workmen.

Tom went into the building, and, for a time, could not
find the watchman. When he did come upon the man, he found
him rubbing his eyes sleepily, and acting as though he had
just awakened from a nap.

"This isn't any way to be on duty!" said Tom sharply.
"You're not paid for sleeping!"

"I know it, Mr. Swift," was the apologetic answer. "I
don't know what's come over me tonight. I never felt so
sleepy in all my life. I had my usual sleep this afternoon,
too, and I've drunk strong coffee to keep awake."

"Are you sure you didn't drink anything else?"

"You know I'm a strict temperance man."

"I know you are," said Tom; "but I thought maybe you might
have a cold, or something like that."

"No, I haven't taken a thing. I did have a drink of soda
water before I came on duty, but that's all."

"Where'd you get it?" asked Tom.

"Well, a man treated me."


"I don't know his name. He met me on the street and asked
me how to get to Plowden's hardware store. I showed him--
walked part of the way, in fact--and when I left he said he
was going to have some soda, and asked me to have some. I
did, and it tasted good."

"Well, don't go to sleep again," suggested Tom good-
naturedly. "Did you hear anything at the side window a while

"Not a thing, Mr. Swift. I'll be all right now. I'll take
a turn outside in the air."

"All right," assented the young inventor.

Then, as he turned to go into the house and was bidding
Ned good-night, Tom said:

"I don't like this."

"What?" asked his chum.

"My sleepy watchman and the figure at the window. I more
than half suspect that one of Blakeson's tools followed Kent
for the purpose of buying him soda, only I think they might
have put a drop or two of chloral in it before he got it.
That would make him sleep."

"What are you going to do, Tom?"

"Put another man on guard. If they think they can get into
the factory at night, and steal my plans, or get ideas from
my tank, I'll fool 'em. I'll have another man on guard."

This Tom did, also telling Koku to sleep in the place, to
be ready if called. But there was no disturbance that night,
and the next day the work of completing the tank went on
with a rush,

It was a day or so after this, and Tom had fixed on it as
the time for taking the big machine apart for shipment, that
Ned received a telephone message at the bank from Mr. Damon.

"Is Tom Swift over with you?" inquired the eccentric man.

"No. Why?" Ned answered.

"Well, I'm at his shop, and he isn't here. His father says
he received a message from you a little while ago, saying to
come over in a hurry, and he went. Says you told him to meet
you out at that farmer Kanker's place. I thought maybe--"

"At Kanker's place!" cried Ned. "Say, something's wrong,
Mr. Damon! Isn't Tom there?"

"No; I'm at his home, and he's been gone for some time.
His father supposed he was with you. I thought I would
telephone to make sure."

"Whew!" whistled Ned. "There's something doing here, all
right, and something wrong! I'll be right over!" he added,
as he hung up the receiver.

Chapter XX

The Search

"Haven't you seen anything of him?" asked Mr. Damon, as
Ned jumped out of his small runabout at the Swift home as
soon as possible after receiving the telephone message that
seemed to presage something wrong.

"Seen him? No, certainly not!" answered the young bank
clerk. "I'm as much surprised as you are over it. What
happened, anyhow?"

"Bless my memorandum pad, but I hardly know!" answered the
eccentric man. "I arrived here a little while ago, stopping
in merely to pay Tom a visit, as I often do, and he wasn't
here. His father was anxiously waiting for him, too, wishing
to consult him about some shop matters. Mr. Swift said Tom
had gone out with you, or over to your house--I wasn't quite
sure which at first--and was expected back any minute.

"Then I called you up," went on Mr. Damon, "and I was
surprised to learn you hadn't seen Tom. There must be
something wrong, I think."

"I'm sure of it!" exclaimed Ned. "Let's find Mr. Swift.
And what's this about his going to meet me over at the place
of that farmer, Mr. Kanker, where we had the trouble about
the barn Tom demolished?"

"I hardly know, myself. Perhaps Mr. Swift can tell us."

But Mr. Swift was able to throw but little light on Tom's
disappearance--whether a natural or forced disappearance
remained to be seen.

"No matter where he is, we'll get him," declared Ned. "He
hasn't been away a great while, and it may turn out that his
absence is perfectly natural."

"And if it's due to the plots of any of his rivals," said
Mr. Damon, "I'll denounce them all as traitors, bless my
insurance policy, if I don't! And that's what they are!
They're playing into the hands of the enemy!"

"All right," said Ned. "But the thing to do now is to get
Tom. Perhaps Mrs. Baggert can help us."

It developed that the housekeeper was of more assistance
in giving information than was Mr. Swift.

"It was several hours ago," she said, "that the telephone
rang and some one asked for Tom. The operator shifted the
call to the phone out in the tank shop where he was, and Tom
began to talk. The operator, as Tom had instructed her,
listened in, as Tom wants always a witness to most matters
that go on over his wires of late."

"What did she hear?" asked Ned eagerly.

"She heard what she thought was your voice, I believe,"
the housekeeper said.

"Me!" cried the young bank clerk. "I haven't talked to Tom
to-day, over the phone or any other way. But what next?"

"Well, the operator didn't listen much after that, knowing
that any talk between Tom and you was of a nature not to
need a witness. Tom hung up and then he came in here, quite
excited, and began to get ready to go out."

"What was he excited about?" asked Mr. Damon. "Bless my
unlucky stars, but a person ought to keep calm under such
circumstances! That's the only way to do! Keep calm! Great
Scott! But if I had my way, all those German spies would be
-- Oh, pshaw! Nothing is too bad for them! It makes my blood
boil when I think of what they've done! Tom should have kept

"Go on. What was Tom excited about?" Ned turned to the

"Well, he said you had called him to tell him to meet you
over at that farmer's place," went on Mrs. Baggert. "He said
you had some news for him about the men who had tried to get
hold of some of his tank secrets, and he was quite worked up
over the chance of catching the rascals."

"Whew!" whistled Ned. "This is getting more complicated
every minute. There's something deep here, Mr. Damon."

"I agree with you, Ned. And the sooner we find Tom Swift
the better. What next, Mrs. Baggert?"

"Well, Tom got ready and went away in his small
automobile. He said he'd be back as soon as he could after
meeting you."

"And I never said a word to him!" cried Ned. "It's all a
plot--a scheme of that Blakeson gang to get him into their
power. Oh, how could Tom be so fooled? He knows my voice,
over the phone as well as otherwise. I don't see how he
could be taken in."

"Let's ask the telephone operator," suggested Mr. Damon.
"She knows your voice, too. Perhaps she can give us a clew."

A talk with the young woman at the telephone switchboard
in the Swift plant brought out a new point. This was that
the speaker, in response to whose information Tom Swift had
left home, had not said he was Ned Newton.

"He said," reported Miss Blair, "that he was speaking for
you, Mr. Newton, as you were busy in the bank. Whoever it
was, said you wanted Tom to meet you at the Kanker farm. I
heard that much over the wire, and naturally supposed the
message came from you."

"Well, that puts a little different face on it," said Mr.
Damon. "Tom wasn't deceived by the voice, then, for he must
have thought it was some one speaking for you, Ned."

"But the situation is serious, just the same," declared
Ned. "Tom has gone to keep an appointment I never made, and
the question is with whom will he keep it?"

"That's it!" cried the eccentric man. "Probably some of
those scoundrels were waiting at the farm for him, and
they've got him no one knows where by this time!"

"Oh, hardly as bad as that," suggested Ned. "Tom is able
to look out for himself. He'd put up a big fight before he'd
permit himself to be carried off."

"Well, what do you think did happen?" asked Mr. Damon.

"I think they wanted to get him out to the farm to see if
they couldn't squeeze some more money out of him," was the
answer. "Tom was pretty easy in that barn business, and I
guess Kanker was sore because he haven't asked a larger sum.
They knew Tom wouldn't come out on their own invitation, so
they forged my name, so to speak."

"Can you get Tom back?" asked Mrs. Baggert anxiously.

"Of course!" declared Ned, though it must be admitted he
spoke with more confidence than he really felt. "We'll begin
the search right away."

"And if I can get my hands on any of those villains--"
spluttered Mr. Damon, dancing around, as Mrs. Baggert said,
"like a hen on a hot griddle," which seemed to describe him
very well, "if I can get hold of any of those scoundrels,
I'll--I'll-- Bless my collar button, I don't know what I
will do! Come on, Ned!"

"Yes, I guess we'd better get busy," agreed the young bank
clerk. "Tom has gone somewhere, that's certain, and under a
misapprehension. It may be that we are needlessly alarmed,
or they may mean bad business. At any rate, it's up to us to
find Tom."

In Ned's runabout, which was a speedier car than that of
the eccentric man, the two set off for Kanker's farm. On the
way they stopped at various places in town, where Tom was in
the habit of doing business, to inquire if he had been seen.

But there was no trace of him. The next thing to do was to
learn if he had really started for the Kanker farm.

"For if he didn't go there," suggested Ned, "it will look
funny for us to go out there making inquiries about him. And
it may be that after he got that message Tom decided not to

Accordingly they made enough inquiries to establish the
fact that Tom had started for the farm of the rascally
Kanker, who had been so insistent in the matter of his
almost worthless barn.

A number of people who knew Tom well had seen him pass in
the direction of Kanker's place, and some had spoken to him,
for the young inventor was well known in the vicinity of
Shopton and the neighboring towns.

"Well, out to Kanker's we'll go!" decided Ned. "And if
anything has happened to Tom there--well, we'll make whoever
is responsible wish it hadn't!"

"Bless my fountain pen, but that's what we will!" chimed
in Mr. Damon.

And so the two began the search for the missing youth.

Chapter XXI

A Prisoner

Amos Kanker came to the door of his farmhouse as Ned and
Mr. Damon drove up in the runabout. There was an unpleasant
grin on the not very prepossessing face of the farmer, and
what Ned thought was a cunning look, as he slouched out and

"Well, what do you want? Come to smash up any more of my
barns at three thousand dollars a smash?"

"Hardly," answered Ned shortly. "Your prices are too high
for such ramshackle barns as you have. Where's Tom Swift?"
he asked sharply.

"Huh! Do you mean that young whipper-snapper with his big
traction engine?" demanded Mr. Kanker.

"Look here!" blustered Mr. Damon, "Tom Swift is neither a
whippersnapper nor is his machine a traction engine. It's a
war tank."

"That doesn't matter much to me," said the farmer, with a
grating laugh. "It looks like a traction engine, though it
smashes things up more'n any one I ever saw."

"That isn't the point," broke in Ned. "Where is my friend,
Tom Swift? That's what we want to know."

"Huh! What makes you think I can tell you?" demanded

"Didn't he come out here?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Not as I knows of," was the surly answer.

"Look here!" exclaimed Ned, and his tones were firm, with
no bluster nor bluff in them, "we came out here to find Tom
Swift, and were going to find him! We have reason to believe
he's here--at least, he started for here," he substituted,
as he wished to make no statement he could not prove. "Now
we don't claim we have any right to be on your property, and
we don't intend to stay here any longer than we can help.
But we do claim the right, in common decency, to ask if you
have seen anything of Tom. There may have been an accident;
there may have been foul play; and there may be
international complications in this business. If there are,
those involved won't get off as easily as they think. I'd
advise you to keep a civil tongue in your head and answer
our questions. If we have to get the police and detectives
out here, as well as the governmental department of justice,
you may have to answer their questions, and they won't be as
decent to you as we are!"

"Hurray!" whispered Mr Damon to Ned. "That's the way to

And indeed the forceful remarks of the young bank clerk
did appear to have a salutary effect on the surly farmer.
His manner changed at once and his grin faded.

"I don't know nothing about Tom Swift or any of your
friends," he said. "I've got my farm work to do, and I do
it. It's hard enough to earn a living these war times
without taking part in plots. I haven't seen Tom Swift since
the trouble he made about my barn."

"Then he hasn't been here to-day?" asked Ned.

"No; and not for a good many days."

Ned looked at Mr. Damon, and the two exchanged uneasy
glances. Tom had certainly started for the Kanker farm, and
indeed had come to within a few miles of it. That much was
certain, as testified to by a number of residents along the
route from Shopton, who had seen the young inventor passing
in his car.

Now it appeared he had not arrived. The changed air of the
farmer seemed to indicate that he was speaking the truth.
Mr. Damon and Ned were inclined to believe him. If they had
any last, lingering doubts in the matter, they were
dispelled when Mr. Kanker said:

"You can search the place if you like. I haven't any
reason to feel friendly toward you, but I certainly don't
want to get into trouble with the Government. Look around
all you like."

"No, we'll take your word for it," said Ned, quickly
concluding that now they had got the farmer where they
wanted him, they could gain more by an appearance of
friendliness than by threats or harsh words. "Then you
haven't seen him, either?"

"Not a sign of him."

"One thing more," went on Tom's chum, "and then we'll look
farther. Weren't you induced by a man named Simpson, or one
named Blakeson, to make the demand of three thousand
dollars' damage for your barn?"

"No, it wasn't anybody of either of those names," admitted
Mr. Kanker, evidently a bit put out by the question.

"It was some one, though, wasn't it?" insisted Ned.

"Waal, a man did come to me the day the barn was smashed,
and just afore it happened, and said an all-fired big
traction engine was headed this way, and that a young feller
who was half crazy was running it. This man--I don't know
who he was, being a stranger to me--said if the engine ran
into any of my property and did damages I should collect for
it on the spot, or hold the machine.

"Sure enough, that's what happened, and I did it. That
man had an auto, and he brought me and some of my men out to
the smashed barn. That's all I know about it."

"I thought some one put you up to it," commented Ned.
"This was some of the gang's work," he went on to Mr. Damon.
"They hoped to get possession of Tom's tank long enough to
find out some of the secrets. By having the Liberty Bonds, I
fooled 'em."

"That's what you did!" said Mr. Damon. "But what can we do

"I don't know," Ned was forced to admit. "But I should
think we'd better go back to the last place where he was
seen to pass in his auto, and try to get on his trail."

Mr. Damon agreed that this was a wise plan, and, after a
casual look around the farmhouse and other buildings on
Kanker's place and finding nothing to arouse their
suspicions, the two left in Ned's speedy little machine.

"It is mighty queer!" remarked the young bank clerk, as
they shot along the country road. "It isn't like Tom to get
caught this way."

"Maybe he isn't caught," suggested the other. "Tom has
been in many a tight place and gotten out, as you and I well
know. Maybe it will be the same now, though it does look
suspicious, that fake message coming from you."

"Not coming from me, you mean," corrected Ned. "Well,
we'll do the best we can."

They proceeded back to where they had last had a trace of
Tom in his machine, and there could only confirm what they
had learned at first, namely, that the young inventor had
departed in the direction of the Kanker farm, after having
filled his radiator with water, and chatting with a farmer
he knew.

"Then this is where the trail divides," said Ned, as they
went back over the road, coming to a point where the highway
branched off. "If he went this way, he went to Kanker's
place, or he would be in the way of going. He isn't there,
it seems, and didn't go there."

"If he took the other road, where would he go?" asked Mr.

"Any one of a dozen places. I guess we'll have to follow
the trail and make all the inquiries we can."

But from the point where the two roads branched, all trace
of Tom Swift was lost. No one had seen him in his machine,
though he was known to more than one resident along the high

"Well, what are we going to do?" asked Mr. Damon, after
they had traveled some distance and had obtained no dews.

"Suppose we call up his home," suggested Ned, as they came
to a country store where there was a telephone. "It may be
he has returned. In that case, all our worry has gone for

"I don't believe it has," said Mr. Damon. "But if we call
up and ask if Tom is back it will show we haven't found him,
and his father will be more worried than ever."

"We can ask the telephone girl, and tell her to keep quiet
about it," decided Ned; and this they did.

But the answer that came back over the wire was
discouraging. For Tom had not returned, and there was no
word from him. There was an urgent message for him, too,
from government officials regarding the tank, the girl

"Well, we've just got to find him--that's all!" declared
Ned. "I guess we'll have to make a regular search of it. I
did hope we'd find him out at the Kanker farm. But since he
isn't there, nor anywhere about, as far as we can tell,
we've got to try some other plan."

"You mean notify the authorities?" -- asked Mr. Damon.

"Hardly that--yet. But I'll get some of Tom's friends who
have machines, and we'll start them out on the trail. In
that way we can cover a lot of ground."

Late that afternoon, and far into the night, a number of
the friends of Tom and Ned went about the country in
automobiles, seeking news of the young inventor. Mr. Swift
became very anxious over the non-return of his son, and felt
the authorities should be notified; but as all agreed that
the local police could not handle the matter and that it
would have to be put into the hands of the United States
Secret Service, he consented to wait for a while before
doing this.

All the next day the search was kept up, and Ned and Mr.
Damon were getting discouraged, not to say alarmed, when,
most unexpectedly, they received a clew.

They had been traveling around the country on little-
frequented roads in the hope that perhaps Tom might have
taken one and disabled his machine so that he was unable to

"Though in that case he could, and would, have sent word,"
said Ned.

"Unless he's hurt," suggested Mr. Damon.

"Well, maybe that is what's happened," Ned was saying,
when they noticed coming toward them a very much dilapidated
automobile, driven by a farmer, and on the seat beside him
was a small, barefoot boy.

"Which is the nearest road to Shopton?" asked the man,
bringing his wheezing machine to a stop.

"Who are you looking for in Shopton?" asked Ned, while a
strange feeling came over him that, somehow or other, Tom
was concerned in the question.

"I'm looking for friends of a Tom Swift," was the answer.

"Tom Swift? Where is he? What's happened to him?" cried

"Bless my dyspepsia tablets!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Do you
know where he is?"

"Not exactly," answered the farmer; "but here's a note
from some one that signs himself 'Tom Swift,' and it says
he's a prisoner!"

Chapter XXII


For a moment Ned and Mr. Damon gazed at the farmer in his
rattletrap of an auto, and then they looked at the
fluttering piece of paper in his hand. Thence their gaze
traveled to the ragged and barefoot lad sitting beside the

"I found it!" announced the boy.

"Found what?" asked Ned.

"That there note!"

Without asking any more questions, reserving them until
they knew more about the matter, Mr. Damon and Ned each
reached out a hand for the paper the farmer held. The latter
handed it to Ned, being nearest him, and at a sight of the
handwriting the young bank clerk exclaimed:

"It's from Tom, all right!"

"What happened to him?" cried Mr. Damon. "Where is he? Is
he a prisoner?"

"So it seems," answered Ned. "Wait, I'll read It to you,"
and he read:

"'Whoever picks this up please send word at once to Mr.
Swift or to Ned Newton in Shopton, or to Mr. Damon of
Waterfield. I am a prisoner, locked in the old factory. Tom

"Bless my quinine pills!" cried Mr Damon. "What in the
world does it mean? What factory?"

"That's just what we've got to find out," decided Ned.
"Where did you get this?" he asked the farmer's boy.

"Way off over there," and he pointed across miles of
fields. "I was lookin' for a lost cow, and I went past an
old factory. There wasn't nobody in the place, as far as I
knowed, but all at once I heard some one yell, and then I
seen something white, like a bird, sail out of a high
window. I was scared for a minute, thinkin' it might be
tramps after me."

"And what did you do, Sonny?" asked Mr. Damon, as the boy

"Well, after a while I went to where the white thing lay,
and I picked it up. I seen it was a piece of paper, with
writin' on it, and it was wrapped around part of a brick."

"And did you go near the factory to find out who called or
who threw the paper out?" Ned queried.

"I didn't," the boy answered. "I was scared. I went home,
and didn't even start to find the lost cow.

"No more he did," chimed in the farmer. "He come runnin'
in like a whitehead, and as soon as I saw the paper and
heard what Bub had to say, I thought maybe I'd better do

"Did you go to the factory?" asked Ned eagerly.

"No. I thought the best thing to do would be to find this
Mr. Swift, or the other folks mentioned in this letter. I
knowed, in a general way, where Shopton was, but I'd never
been there, doing my tradin' in the other direction, and so
I had to stop and ask the road. If you can tell me--"

"We're two of the persons spoken of in that note," said
Mr. Damon, as he mentioned his name and introduced Ned. "We
have been looking for our friend Tom Swift for two days now.
We must find him at once, as there is no telling what he may
be suffering."

"Where is this old factory you speak of," continued Mr.
Damon, "and how can we get there? It's too bad one of you
didn't go back, after finding the note, to tell Tom he was
soon to be rescued."

"Waal, maybe it is," said the farmer, a bit put out by the
criticism. "But I figgered it would be better to look up this
young man's friends and let them do the rescuin', and not
lose no time, 'specially as it's about as far from my place
to the factory as it is to Shopton."

"Well, I suppose that's so," agreed Ned. "But what is this

"It's an old one where they started to make beet sugar,
but it didn't pan out," the farmer said. "The place is in
ruins, and I did hear, not long ago, that somebody run a
threshin' machine through it, an' busted it up worse than

"Great horned toads!" cried Ned. "That must be the very
factory Tom ran his tank through. And to think he should be
a prisoner there!"

"Held by whom, do you suppose?" asked Mr. Damon.

"By that Blakeson gang, I imagine," Ned answered. "There's
no time to lose. We must go to his rescue!"

"Of course!" agreed Mr. Damon. "We're much obliged to you
for bringing this note," he went on to the farmer. "And here
is something to repay you for your trouble," and he took out
his wallet

"Shucks! I didn't do this for pay!" objected the farmer.
"It's a pity I wouldn't help anybody what's in trouble! If
I'd a-knowed what it meant, me and Bub here would have gone
to the factory ourselves, maybe, and done the work quicker.
But I didn't know--what with war times and such-like--but
that it would be better to deliver the note."

"It turns out as well, perhaps," agreed Ned. "We'll look
after Tom now."

"And I'll come along and help," said the farmer. "If
there's a gang of tramps in that factory, you may need some
reinforcements. I've got a couple of new axe handles in my
machine, and they'll come in mighty handy as clubs."

"That's so," said Mr. Damon. "But I fancy Tom is simply
locked in the deserted factory office, with no one on guard.
We can get him out once we get there, and we'll be glad to
have you come with us. So if you won't take any reward,
maybe your boy will, as he found the note," and Mr. Damon
pressed some bills into the hands of the boy, who, it is
needless to say, was glad to get them.

It was a run of several miles hack to the deserted
factory, and though they passed houses on the way, it was
decided that no addition to their force was necessary,
though they did stop at a blacksmith shop, where they
borrowed a heavy sledge to batter down a door if such action
should be needed.

The farmer's rattletrap of a car, in spite of its
appearance, was not far behind Ned's runabout, and in a
comparatively short time all were within sight of the ruined
place--a ruin made more complete by the passage through it
of Tom Swift's war tank.

"And to think of his being there all this while!"
exclaimed Mr. Damon, as he and Ned leaped from their

"If he only is there!" murmured the young bank clerk.

"What do you mean? Didn't the note he threw out say he was

"Yes, but something may have happened in the meanwhile.
Those plotters, if they'd do a thing like this, are capable
of anything. They may have kidnapped Tom again."

"Anyway, we'll soon find out," murmured Ned, as they
advanced toward the ruin, Mr. Damon and the farmer each
armed with an axe helve, while Ned carried the blacksmith's

They went into the end of the factory that was less ruined
than the central part, where the tank had crashed through,
and made their way into what had been the office--the place
where they had found the burned scraps of paper.

"Hark!" exclaimed Ned, as they climbed up
the broken steps. "I heard a noise."

"It's him yellin'--like he did afore he threw out the
note," said the boy. Then, as they listened, they heard a
distant voice calling:

"Hello! Hello, there! If that is any friend of mine, let
me out, or send word to Mr. Damon or Ned Newton! Hello!"

"Hello yourself, Tom Swift!" yelled Ned, too delighted to
wait for any other confirmation that it was his friend who
was shouting. "We've come to rescue you, Tom!"

There was a moment of silence, and then a voice asked:

"Who is there?"

"Ned Newton, Mr. Damon, and some other friends of yours!"
answered the young bank clerk, for surely the farmer and his
son could be called Tom's friends.

An indistinguishable answer came back, and then Ned cried:

"Where are you, Tom? Tell us, so we can get you out!"

They all listened, and faintly heard:

"I'm in some sort of an old vault, partly underground.
It's below what used to be the office. There's a flight of
steps, but be careful, as they're rotten."

Eagerly they looked around Mr. Damon saw a door in one
corner of the office, and tried to open it. It was locked,
but a few blows from the sledge smashed it, and then some
steps were revealed.

Down these, using due caution, went Ned and the others,
and at the bottom they came upon another door. This was of
sheet iron and was fastened on the outside by a big padlock.

"Stand back!" cried Ned, as he swung the sledge, and with
a few blows broke the lock to pieces.

Then they pulled open the door, and into the light
staggered Tom Swift, a most woe-begone figure, and showing
the effects of his imprisonment. But he was safe and
unharmed, though much disheveled from his attempts to

"Thank Heaven, you've come!" he murmured, as he clasped
Ned's hand. "Is the tank all right?"

"All right!" cried Ned. "And now tell us about yourself.
How in the world did you get here?"

"It's quite a yarn," answered Tom. "I've got to pull
myself together before I answer," and he sank wearily down
on a step, looking very haggard and worn.

Chapter XXIII


"Here, eat some of this," and Ned held something out to
his chum. "It'll bring you up quicker than anything else,
except a cup of hot tea, and we'll get that as soon as you
can get away from here," went on the young bank clerk.

"What is it?" Tom asked, and his voice was very weary.

"It's a mixture of chocolate and nuts," replied Ned. "It's
a new form of emergency ration issued to soldiers before
they go over the top. Our Y.M.C.A. is sending a lot to the
boys from around here who are in France. I was helping pack
the boxes ready for shipment, and I kept out some to show
you. Lucky I had it with me. Eat it, and you'll feel a lot
better in a few minutes. You haven't had much to eat, have

"Very little," answered Tom, as he nibbled half-heartedly
at the confection Ned gave him. while Mr. Damon went out to
the automobile and came back with a thermos bottle filled
with cool water. He always provided himself with this on
taking an automobile trip.

Tom managed to eat some of the chocolate, and then took a
drink of the cool water. In a little while he declared that
he felt better.

"Then come out of here!" exclaimed Ned. "You can tell tis
how it all happened and what they did to you. But I can see
that last--they treated you like a dog, didn't they?"

"Pretty nearly," answered Tom; "but they didn't have
things all their own way. I think I made one or two of them
remember me," and he glanced at his swollen and bruised
hands. Indeed, he bore the marks of having been in a fierce

"Are you sure the tank's all right?" he asked Ned again.
"That has been worrying me more than my own condition. I
could think of only one reason why they got me here and held
me prisoner, and that was to get me out of the way while
they captured my tank. Then they haven't got her?" he asked

"Not a look at her," Ned answered. "She was safe in the
shop when we set out this morning."

"And now it's late afternoon," murmured Tom. "Well, I hope
nothing has happened since," and there was vague alarm in
his voice, an alarm at which Ned and Mr. Damon wondered.

"Couldn't you stop at some farmhouse and get fixed up a
little?" asked Mr. Kimball, the farmer who had brought the
note to Ned and Mr. Damon.

"I need to get fixed up somewhere," replied Tom, with a
rueful look at himself--his hands, his torn clothes, and his
general dilapidated appearance. "But I don't want to lose
any time. I'm afraid something has happened at home, Ned."

"Nonsense! How could there, with Koka on guard, to say
nothing of Eradicate!"

"Well, maybe you're right," agreed Tom; "but I'll feel
better when I see my tank in her shed. Let's have some more
of that concentrated porterhouse steak of yours, Ned. It is
good, and it fills out my stomach, which was getting more
intimate with my backbone than I liked to feel."

More of the really good confection and another drink of
refreshing water made Tom feel better, and he was soon able
to walk along without staggering from weakness.

"And now let's get out of here," advised Ned, "unless
you've left something back in that vault you want, Tom," and
he motioned to his chum's late prison.

"Nothing there but bad memories," was the reply, with a
rueful smile. "I'm as ready to go as you are, Ned. It was
good of you and Mr. Damon to come for me, and you" -- and he
looked questioningly at Mr. Kimball.

"If it hadn't been for Mr. Kimball and his boy, we
wouldn't have found you--at least so soon," said Ned, and he
told of the finding of the note and what had followed.

"That's the only way I could think of for getting help,"
said Tom. "They took every scrap of paper from me, but I
found some in the lining of my hat--some I'd stuffed in
after I had a hair cut and my hat was too large. For a
pencil I used burnt matches. Oh, but I'm glad to be out!"
and he breathed deep of the fresh air.

"How did you get in there?" asked Ned wonderingly.

"Those fellows--of course. The German plotters, I'm going
to call them, for I believe that Blakeson and his gang--
though I didn't see him--are really working in the interests
of Germany to get the secret of my tank."

"Well, they haven't got her yet," said Ned. "and they're
not likely to now. Go on, Tom, if you feel able tell us in a
few words what happened. We've been trying to think, but

"Well, it all happened because I didn't think enough,"
said Tom, who was rapidly recovering his strength and nerve.
"When I got that message that seemed to come from you, Ned,
I should have known better than to take a chance. But it
seemed genuine, and as I had no reason to suspect a trap, I
started off at once. I thought maybe Kanker had repented and
was going to make amends for all the trouble he caused.

"Anyhow, I started off in my machine, and I hadn't got
more than to the crossroads when I saw a fellow out
tinkering with his auto. Of course I stopped to ask if I
could help, for I can't bear to see any machinery out of
order, and as I was stooping over the engine to see what was
wrong I was pounced on from behind, bound and tied, and
before I could do a thing I was bundled into the car--a big
limousine, and taken away.

"The crossroads was as far as we could trace you,"
remarked Ned.

"Well, it wasn't as far as they took me, by any means,"
Tom said. "They brought me here, took me out of the machine-
-and I noticed that they'd brought mine along--and then they
carted me into the vault.

"But they didn't have it all their own way," said Tom
grimly. "I managed to get the ropes loose, and I had a
regular knock down and drag out with them for a while. But
they were too many for me, and locked me up in that place
after taking away everything I had in my pockets."

"Were they highwaymen?" asked Mr. Kimtall.

"No, for they tossed back my money, watch and some trifles
like that," Tom answered. "I didn't recognize any of the
men, though one of them must have known me, for when they
had me tied I heard one of them ask if I was the right
party, and another said I was. I know they must belong to
the same gang that Simpson, Blakeson, and Schwen are members
of--the German spies."

"But what was their object?" asked Ned. "Did they try to
force you to tell them the secrets of the tank?"

"No; and that's the funny part which makes me so
suspicious," Tom answered. "If they'd tried to force
something out of me, I would understand it better. But they
just kept me a prisoner after taking away what papers I

"Were they of any value?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Not as regards the tank. That is, there was nothing of my
plans of construction, control or anything like that, though
there was some foreign correspondence that I am sorry fell
into their hands. However, that can't he helped."

"And did they just keep you locked up?" asked Ned.

"That's about all they did. After the fight--and it was
some fight!" declared Tom, as he recalled it with a shake of
his head--"they left me here with the door shut. There must
have been some one on guard, for I could faintly hear
somebody moving about.

"I tried to get out, of course, but I couldn't. That vault
must have been made to hold something very valuable, for it
was almost as strong and solid as one in your bank, Ned.
The only window was placed so high that I couldn't reach
it, and it was barred at that.

"They opened the door a little, several times, to toss in
once some old bags that I made into a bed, and next they
gave me a little water and some sandwiches--German bologna
sausage sandwiches, Ned! What do you think of that--adding
insult to injury?"

"That was tough!" Ned admitted.

"Well, I had to put up with it, for I was half starved,
and as sore as a boil from the fight. I didn't know what to
do. I knew that you'd miss me sooner or later, and set out
to find me, but I hardly thought you'd think of this place.
They couldn't have picked out a much better prison to hold
me, for, naturally, you wouldn't suppose enough of it was
left standing, after my tank had walked through it, to make
a hiding place.

"However, there was, and here I've been kept. At last I
thought of the plan of sending out a message on the scrap of
paper I could tear out of my hat. So I wrote it, and after
several trials I managed to toss it out of the window. Then
I just had to wait, and that was the hardest of all. The
last twelve hours I've been without food, and I haven't
heard any one around, so I guess they've skipped out and
don't intend to come back."

"We didn't see any one," Ned reported. "Maybe they became
frightened, Tom."

"I wish I could think that," was the answer. "What is more
likely to be the case is that they're up to some new tricks.
I must get back home quickly."

And after a stop had been made at a farmhouse belonging to
a business acquaintance of Ned's, where Tom was able to wash
and get a cup of hot tea, which added to his recuperative
powers, the young inventor, with Ned and Mr. Damon, set out
for Shopton.

Before Mr. Kimball started for his home, renewed thanks
had been made to the farmer and his son for the part they
had played in the rescue, and the young inventor, learning
that the boy had a liking for things mechanical, promised to
aid him in his intention to become a machinist

"But first get a good education," Tom advised. "Keep on
with your school work, and when the time comes I'll take you
into my shop."

"And maybe he'll make a tank that will rival yours, Tom,"
said Ned.

"Maybe he will! I hope he does. If he comes along fast
enough, he can help with something else I'm going to start

"Whats that?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Oh, it's something on the same order, designed to help
batter down the German lines," Tom answered. "I haven't
quite made up my mind what to call it yet. But let's get
home. I want to see that my tank Is safe. The absence of the
plotters from the factory makes me suspicious."

On the way back Tom told more of the details of the

"But we'll forget about it all, now you're out," remarked

"And the sooner we get home, the better,"
added Tom. "Can't you get a little more speed out of this
machine?" he asked.

"Well, it isn't the Hawk," replied Ned, "but we'll see
what we can do," and he made the runabout fairly fly.

Mrs. Baggert was the first to greet Tom as they arrived at
his home. She did not seem as surprised as either Tom, Ned
or Mr. Damon expected her to be.

"Well, I'm glad you're all right," she said. "And it's a
good thing you sent that note, for your father was so
excited and worried I was getting apprehensive about him."

"What note?" asked Tom, while a queer look came into his

"Why, the one you sent saying you were detained on
business and would probably not be home for a week, and to
have Koku and the men bring the tank to you."

"Bring the tank! A note from me!" exclaimed Tom. "The
plotters again! And they've got the tank!"

He ran to the big shop followed by the others. Throwing
open the doors, they went inside. A glance sufficed to
disclose the worst.

The place where the great tank had stood was empty.

"Gone!" gasped Tom.

Chapter XXIV


Two utterances Tom Swift made when the fact of the
disappearance of the tank became known to him were
characteristic of the young inventor. The first was:

"How did they get it away?"

And the second was:

"Come on, let's get after 'em!"

Then, for a few moments, no one said anything. Tom, Ned,
and Mr. Damon, with Mrs. Baggert in the background, stood
looking at the great empty machine shop.

"Well, they got her," went on Tom, with a sigh. "I was
afraid of this as soon as they left me alone at the

"Is anything wrong?" faltered the housekeeper. "Didn't you
send for the tank, Tom?"

"No, Mrs. Baggert, I didn't," Tom answered.

"But I don't understand," the housekeeper said. "A man
came with a note from you, Tom, and in it you said to have
him take the tank, with Koku and the men who know how to run
it. We were so glad to hear from you, and know that you were
all right, that we didn't think of anything else, your
father and I. So he went out and saw that the tank got off
all right. Koku was glad, for it's the first chance he'd had
to ride in it."

"Who was the man who brought the note?" asked Tom, and he
was striving to be calm. "To think of poor old dad playing
right into the hands of the plotters!" he added, in an aside
to Ned.

"Well, I don't know who the man was," said Mrs. Baggert.
"He seemed all right, and of course having a note from you--"

"Who has that note now?" asked Tom quickly.

"Your father."

"Come on," and Tom led the way back to the house. "I'll
have a look at that document, which of course I never wrote,
and then we'll get after the plotters and the tank."

"She ought to be easy to trace," observed Mr. Damon.
"Bless my fountain pen, but she ought to be easy to trace!
She will leave a track like a giant boa constrictor crawling

"Yes, I guess we can trace her, all right," assented Tom
Swift; "but the point is, will there be anything left of
her? What's what I'm afraid of now."

Mr. Swift was still excited, but his worry had subsided as
soon as he knew Tom was safe.

"The whole thing is a forgery, but fairly well done," Tom
said, as he looked at the paper his father gave him--a brief
note stating that Tom was well, but detained on business,
and that the tank was to be brought to him, just where the
bearer of the note would indicate. Koku, the giant, and
several of the machinists, who knew how to operate the big
machine, were to go with it, the note said.

"That made me sure everything was all right," said Mr.
Swift. "I knew, of course, Tom, that plotters might try to
get hold of your war secret, but I didn't see how they could
if Koku and some of your own men were in possession."

"They couldn't--as long as they remained in possession,"
Tom said. "But that's the trouble. I'm afraid they haven't.
What has probably happened is that under the direction of
this man, who brought the forged note from me, Koku and the
others took the tank where he directed them, thinking to
meet me. Then, reaching the place where the rest of the
plotters were concealed, they overpowered Koku and the
others and took possession of the machine."

"They'd have trouble with Koku," suggested Ned.

"Yes, but even a giant can't fight too big a crowd,
especially if he is taken by surprise, and that's probably
what happened," remarked Tom. "Now the question is where is
the tank, and how can we get her back? Every minute counts.
If those German spies and their helpers remain in possession
long, they'll find out enough of my secrets to enable them
to duplicate the machine, and especially some of the most
exclusive features. We've got to get after 'em!"

"They imitated your writing pretty well, Tom," Observed
Ned, as he looked at the forged note.

"Yes; that's why they took all my papers away from me--to
get specimens of my handwriting. I half suspected that, but
I didn't quite figure out what their game was. Well, we know
the worst now, and that's better than working in the dark.
Now I'm going to have a bath and get into some decent
clothes, and we'll see what we can do."

"Count on me, Tom!" exclaimed Ned. "I'll go the limit with

"I knew you would, old man!"

"And me, too!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my open fireplace,
but I'll send word to my wife that I'm not coming home to-
night, and we can start the first thing in the morning,

"Yes; there isn't much use in going now, as it will soon
be dark."

"How are you going to trace the tank, Tom?" asked Ned,
when his chum had bathed and gotten into fresh clothes.

"I'm going to tour the country around here in an auto. The
tank can make ten miles an hour, but that's nothing to what
an auto can do. And we oughtn't to have much trouble in
tracing her. No one whose house she passed would forget her
in a hurry."

"That's so," agreed Ned. "But if they took her across

"A different story," agreed Tom. "Come to think of it,
maybe we'd better start to-night, Ned. We can make inquiries
after dark as well as by daylight and get ready for an early
morning hunt"

"Let's do it, then!" suggested his chum. "I'm ready. I'll
send word that I'll not be home to-night."

"Good!" cried the young inventor. "We'll have an old-
fashioned hunt after our enemies, Ned!"

"And don't leave me out!" begged Mr. Damon. Hurried
preparations were made for the night trip. Tom ordered out
one of his speediest, though not largest, automobiles, and
told his helper to get the Hawk ready, to have her so she
could start at a moment's notice if needed.

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