Part 4 out of 4
"You're not going in her, are you, Tom?" asked Ned.
"I may need her to-morrow for daylight hunting. If the
tank's hidden somewhere, I can spot her from above more
easily than from the ground. So if we get any trace of my
machine, I can phone in and have the aeroplane brought to
"That's a good idea!"
Inquiry at the shop where the tank had been built and kept
disclosed the fact that, in addition to Koku, three of Tom's
men had gone in her to help manage the machine under the
direction of the man who bore the forged note. That he was
one of the plotters not hitherto observed by either Ned or
Tom seemed certain.
"And they took Koku and some of the men merely to make it
look natural and as if it were all right," Tom said.
"Naturally that deceived my father, who thought, of course,
that I was waiting for the machine. Well, it was a slick
trick, Ned, but we may fool them yet."
"I hope so, Tom."
Night had fully fallen when Tom, Ned, and Mr. Damon
started away in the touring car.
Out onto the road rolled the automobile. During the little
daylight that had remained after his arrival at home and
following the discovery of the loss of the tank Tom and Ned
had traced it, by the marks of the big steel caterpillar
belts, to the main road. It had gone along that some
distance, just how far could not be said.
"But by using the searchlight of the auto we can trace her
as long as they keep her on the road," said Tom. "After that
we'll have to trust to luck, and to what inquiries we can
The touring car carried a powerful lamp, and by its gleams
it was easy to trace for a time the progress of the
ponderous tank. There was no need to make inquiries of
persons living along the way, though once or twice Tom did
get out to ask, confirming the fact that the big machine had
rumbled past in a direction away from the Swift home.
"I had an idea they might have doubled on their tracks for
a time, and backed her up just to fool us," Tom said. "They
might do that, keeping her in the same tracks."
But this, evidently, had not been done, and the tank was
making good speed away from the Swift Louse. They kept up
the search until about midnight, and then a heavy rain began
just before they reached a point where several roads
"Luck's with them!" exclaimed Tom. "This will wash away
the marks, and we'll have to go it blind. Might as well put
up here for the night," he added, as they came to a village
It was evident that little more could be done in the rain
and darkness, and there was danger of over-running the trail
of the tank if they kept on. So they turned in at the hotel
and got what little rest they could in their anxious state
Tom tried to be cheerful and to look for the best, but it
was hard work. The tank was his pet invention, and,
moreover, that her secrets should fall into the hands of the
enemy and be used for Germany and against the United States
eventually, made the young inventor feel that everything
was going wrong.
The rain kept up all night, and this would make it
correspondingly hard for them to pick up the trail in the
"The only thing we can do is to make inquiries," decided
Tom. "Fortunately, the tank can't easily be hidden."
They started off after an early breakfast. The roads were
so muddy and wet that traveling was difficult and dangerous
for the automobile, and they were disappointed in finding no
one who had seen or heard the tank pass up to a point not
far from the hotel where they had stayed overnight. From
then on the big machine seemed to have disappeared.
"I know what they've done," Tom said, when noon came and
they had found no trace of the ponderous war machine.
"They've left the road and taken her cross country, and we
can't find the spot where they did this because the rain has
washed out the marks. Well, there's only one thing left to
"What's that?" asked Ned.
"Get the Hawk! In that we can look down and over a big
extent of country. That's what I'll do--I'll phone for the
airship. The rain is stopping, I think."
The rain did cease by the time one of Tom's men brought
the speedy aircraft to the place named by the young inventor
in his telephone message. There were still several hours of
daylight left, and Tom counted on them to allow him to rise
in the air and look down on the tanks possible hiding place.
"One thing's sure," he told Ned: "I know the limit of her
speed, and she can't be farther off than at some place
within a circle of about one hundred and twenty-five miles
from my house. And it's in the direction we're in. So if I
circle around up above, I may spot her."
"I hope so," murmured Ned.
It was arranged that Mr. Damon should take the automobile
back, with Tom's mechanician in it, and Tom and Ned would
scout around in the aircraft, which carried only two.
"You ought to have a machine gun with you, Tom, if you
plan to attack those fellows to get back the tank," Ned
"Oh, I don't imagine I'll need it," he said. "Anyhow, a
machine gun wouldn't be of much effect against the tank. And
they can't fire on us, for there wasn't any ammunition for
the guns in Tank A, unless they got some of their own, and I
hardly believe they'd do that. I'll take a chance, anyhow."
And so the search from the air began. It was disappointing
at first. Around and around circled Tom and Ned, their eyes
peering eagerly down from the heights for a sight of the
tank, possibly hidden in some little-known ravine or gully.
Back and forth, like a speck in the sky, Tom guided the
Hawk, while Ned took observation after observation with the
At last, when the low-sinking sun gave warning that night
would soon be upon them, Ned's glasses picked up something
on the ground far below that made him sit suddenly
straighter in his seat.
"What is it?" asked Tom through the speaking apparatus,
feeling the movement on the part of his chum.
"I see something down there, Tom," was the answer. "It
doesn't look like the tank, and yet it doesn't look as a
clump of trees and bushes ought to look. Have a peep
yourself. It's just beyond that river, against the side of
the hill--a lonesome place, too."
Tom took the glasses while Ned assumed control of the
Hawk, there being a dual system for operating and steering
No sooner had the young inventor got the focus on what Ned
had indicated than he gave a cry.
"What is it?" asked the young bank clerk.
"Camouflaged!" cried Tom, and without stopping to explain
what he meant, he handed the binoculars back to Ned and
began to guide the Hawk down toward the earth at high speed.
"Is it really Tank A, Tom?" cried Ned, through the tube,
as soon as he became aware of his companion's intention.
"Are you sure?"
"That's the girl, and just where you spotted her with the
glasses--in that clump of bushes. But they've daubed her
with green and brown paint--camouflaged her, so to speak--
until she looks like part of the landscape. What made you
suspicious of that particular place?"
"The green was such a bright one in contrast to the rest
of the foliage around it.',
"That's what struck me," Tom answered, as he continued to
drive the Hawk earthward. "They thought they were doing a
smart trick--imitating the tactics of the Allies with their
tanks--but they must be color blind."
Ned took another observation through the glasses. He could
see the tank more easily now. There she was, fairly well
hidden in a clump of bushes and small trees on the banks of
a river, about a hundred miles away from Shopton. It was in
a wild and desolate country, and only with the airship could
the trail have thus been followed.
Ned saw that the tank had been daubed with green, yellow,
and brown paint, in fantastic blotches, to make the big
machine blend with the foliage; and, to a certain extent,
this had been accomplished.
But, as Ned had remarked, the green used was of too vivid
a hue. No natural tree put forth leaves like that, and the
glass had further revealed the error.
"Look, Tom!" suddenly cried Ned. "She's moving!"
"You're right!" answered the young inventor. "They've seen
us and are trying to get away."
"But they can't beat your airship, Tom."
"I know that. But their game--Oh, Ned, they're going to
wreck her!" cried Tom, and there was anguish in his voice.
As the two looked down from their seats In the Hawk they
saw the tank, in its fantastic dress of splotchy paint,
leave her lair amid the bushes and trees, and head toward
the river. Like some ponderous prehistoric monster about to
take a drink, she careened her way toward the stream, which,
at this point, ran between high banks.
"What's the game?" cried Ned.
"They're going to send her to smash!" cried Tom. "She's
pretty tough, Tom, but she'll never stand a tumble down into
the river without breaking a lot of machinery inside her."
"But if they demolish the tank they'll kill themselves,
won't they? And Koku and your men, too, who must be
prisoners in her!"
"They won't risk their own worthless hides, you may be
sure of that!" exclaimed Tom.
"There they go, but they must have left Koku and the
others to their fate!"
"Oh, if they could only get loose and take control now,
Tom, they'd save your tank for you!" shouted Ned.
"Yes; but they can't, I'm afraid. They may be killed, or
so securely bound that they can't get loose!"
"Can't you get the Hawk there in time to stop her?"
"I'm afraid not. By that time she'll have attained top
speed and it would be taking our lives in our bands to try
to make a flying jump, get inside, and shut off the motors."
"Then the tank's got to smash!" said Ned gloomily.
Tom did not answer for a moment. He and his chum watched
the fleeing figures running away from the war engine. What
the plotters had done, as soon as they saw the aircraft and
realized that Tom had discovered them, was to start the
motors and leap from the tank, closing the doors after them.
Whether or not they had left Koku and the others prisoners
inside remained to be seen.
But the tank was plunging her way toward the steep bank of
the river, doomed, it seemed, to great damage, if not to
"Oh, if we could only halt her!" murmured Ned.
Tom Swift was busy with some apparatus on
the Hawk. Ned heard the hum of an electric
motor which was connected with the engine, and
there soon sounded the crackle of the wireless.
"What are you doing? Signaling for help from those inside
the tank?" asked Ned, for the big machine was fitted to
receive and send messages of this sort
"I'm trying something more desperate than that," Tom
Again the wireless crackled, Tom working it with one hand
while, with the other, he guided the aircraft. Ned looked
downward with wondering eyes.
The tank was still plunging her way toward the steep bank
of the river. If she tumbled down this, there would be
little left of the expensive and complicated machinery
"The rascals did their work well," mused Ned. "They've
probably gotten all the secrets they want and now they're
going to spoil all Tom's hard work. It's a shame! If only--"
Ned ceased his musing. Something was taking place down
below that he could not explain. The tank seemed to be
slackening her progress. More and more slowly she approached
the edge of the cliff.
"Tom! Tom!" yelled Ned. "You must have waked some of them
up inside and they've thrown the motors out of gear! Hurrah!
"I believe she is!" yelled Tom. "Oh, if it only works!"
The tank was still moving, though more slowly. Still the
crackle of the wireless was heard.
And then, just as Tom shut off his own motor and let the
Hawk glide on her downward way in a volplane to earth, the
great, ponderous tank came to a stop, on the very edge of
the precipice at the foot of which rolled the river.
"Whew!" whistled Ned, as the aircraft rolled along the
ground near the war machine. "That was touch and go, Tom!
They stopped her just in time."
"You mean the wireless stopped her," said Tom quietly.
"I'm very much afraid that if Koku and the others are alive
they're still prisoners in the craft."
"The wireless!" gasped Ned, as he and his chum got out of
the Hawk. "Do you mean that you stopped her by wireless,
"That's what I did. It was a desperate chance, but I took
it. I had just installed in the tank a system of wireless
control, so she could be guided as some torpedos and
submarines are, by wireless impulses from the shore.
"Only I'd never given the tank system a tryout. It was all
installed, and had worked perfectly on the small model I
constructed. And when I saw her running away, out of control
as she was, I realized the wireless was the only thing that
would stop her, if that would. It might operate just
opposite to what I wanted, though, and increase her speed."
"But I took the chance. I set the airship wireless current
to working, and tuned it in to coincide with the control of
the tank. Then, by means of the wireless impulse I shut off
the motors, which can he stopped or started by hand or by
electricity. I shut 'em off."
"And only just in time!" cried Ned. "Whew, Tom Swift, but
that was a close call!"
"I realize that myself!" said the young inventor. "This is
a new idea and has to be worked out further for our newer
"Gee!" ejaculated Ned. "Out of date before got into use!
Now let's see about our friends!"
It was the work of but a moment to enter the tank, and,
after making sure that the machinery was all right, Tom and
Ned made their way to the interior. In one of the smallest
rooms they found Koku and the others bound with ropes, and
in a bad way. Koku was so tied with cords and hemp as to
resemble a bale of Manilla cable.
"Cut 'em loose, Ned!" cried Tom, and the bonds were soon
severed. Then came explanations.
As has been told, one of the plotters, whose identity was
not learned until later, came with the forged note. The
giant and Tom's men set out in the tank, and the machine was
stopped at a certain place where the plotter, who gave the
name of Crossleigh, told them Tom was to meet his men.
Out of ambush leaped Simpson and others, who overpowered
the mechanics, even subduing Koku after a fierce fight, and
then they took possession of the tank, making the others
What happened after that could only be conjectured by
Tom's men, for they were shut up in an inner room. It
seemed certain, though, that the tank was taken to some
secret place and there painted to resemble the verdure. Then
she went on again, coming to rest where Tom and Ned saw hen
Meanwhile the plotters were gradually getting at the
secrets of construction, and they were in the midst of this
work when one of them saw the aeroplane. Rightly guessing
what it portended, they left hurriedly, still leaving the
hapless men bound, and started the tank on what they thought
would be her last trip.
"But you saved her, Tom!" cried Ned. "You saved her with
And word was sent back to Shopton by the same means to
tell Mr. Swift, Mr. Damon, and the others that Tom and his
tank were safe. And then, a little later, when the bound men
had recovered the use of their cramped limbs, the tank was
backed away from the ledge and started on her homeward way,
Tom and Ned preceding her in the Hawk.
Without further incident, save a slight break which was
soon repaired, Tank A soon reached her harbor again, and a
double guard was posted about the shop.
"And they won't get much more chance to steal her
secrets," said Tom that night, when the stories had been
"Why?" asked Ned.
"We start to dismantle her at once," Tom answered, "and
she goes to England to be reproduced for France."
"If only those plotters haven't stolen the secrets," mused
But if they had they got little good of them. For shortly
afterward government secret service agents rounded up the
chief members of the gang, including Simpson and Blakeson.
They, with Schwen, were sent to an internment camp for the
period of the war, and enough information was obtained from
them to disclose all the workings of the plot.
"It was just like lots of other stunts the German spies
tried to put over on the good old U.S.A.," said Tom to Ned,
the day after the dismantled tank was shipped to Great
Britain. "In some way the spies found out what I was making,
and then they got hold of Blakeson and Grinder. Those
fellows, who so nearly queered me in the big tunnel game
promised to make a tank that would beat those the British at
first put out, and they took some German money in advance
for doing it.
"When they found they couldn't make good, the German spies
agreed to help them get possession of my secrets. They
worked hard enough at it, too, but, thanks to you, Ned, and
to Eradicate, who gave us the tip on Schwen, we beat 'em
"And so it's all over, Tom?"
"Yes, practically all over. I've given all my interests in
the tank to Uncle Sam. It was the only way I could do my
bit, at this time. But I've something else up my sleeve."
And those of you who care to learn what the young inventor
next did may do so by reading the next volume of this
It was about a week after Tank A, as she was still
officially called, had been shipped in sections that Ned
Newton called at Tom's home. He found his chum, with a
flower in his buttonhole, about to leave in his small
"Oh, excuse me!" exclaimed Ned. "This is Wednesday night.
I might have known. Give Mary my regards."
"I will," promised Tom, with a smile.