Tom Swift and His Great Searchlight
On the Border for Uncle Sam
by Victor Appleton
AUTHOR OF "TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS SUBMARINE BOAT," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE," "TOM SWIFT IN CAPTIVITY," ETC.
I A SCRAP OF PAPER II A SPY IN TOWN III QUEER REPAIRS IV SEARCHING FOR SMUGGLERS V THE RAID VI THE APPEAL TO TOM VII A SEARCHLIGHT IS NEEDED VIII TOM'S NEWEST INVENTION IX "BEWARE OF THE COMET!" X OFF FOR THE BORDER XI ANDY'S NEW AIRSHIP XII WARNED AWAY XIII KOKU SAVES THE LIGHT XIV A FALSE CLEW XV THE RESCUE ON THE LAKE XVI KOKU'S PRISONER XVII WHAT THE INDIAN SAW XVIII THE PURSUIT XIX IN DIRE PERIL XX SUSPICIOUS ACTIONS XXI MR. PERIOD ARRIVES XXII HOVERING O'ER THE BORDER XXIII NED IS MISSING XXIV THE NIGHT RACE XXV THE CAPTURE—CONCLUSION
TOM SWIFT AND HIS GREAT SEARCHLIGHT
A SCRAP OF PAPER
"Tom, did you know Andy Foger was back in town?"
"Great Scott, no, I didn't Ned! Not to stay, I hope."
"I guess not. The old Foger homestead is closed up, though I did see a man working around it to-day as I came past. But he was a carpenter, making some repairs I think. No, I don't believe Andy is here to stay."
"But if some one is fixing up the house, it looks as if the family would come back," remarked Tom, as he thought of the lad who had so long been his enemy, and who had done him many mean turns before leaving Shopton, where our hero lived.
"I don't think so," was the opinion of Ned Newton, who was Tom Swift's particular chum. "You know when Mr. Foger lost all his money, the house was supposed to be sold. But I heard later that there was some flaw in the title, and the sale fell through. It is because he couldn't sell the place that Mr. Foger couldn't get money to pay some of his debts. He has some claim on the house, I believe, but I don't believe he'd come back to live in it."
"Because it's too expensive a place for a poor man to keep up, and Mr. Foger is now poor."
"Yes, he didn't get any of the gold, as we did when we went to the underground city," remarked Tom. "Well, I don't wish anybody bad luck but I certainly hope the Fogers keep poor enough to stay away from Shopton. They bothered me enough. But where did you see Andy?"
"Oh, he was with his crony, Sam Snedecker. You know Sam said, some time ago, that Andy was to pay him a visit, but Andy didn't come then, for some reason or other. I suppose this call makes up for it. I met them down near Parker's drug store."
"You didn't hear Andy say anything about coming back here?" and the young inventor's voice was a trifle anxious.
"No," replied Ned. "What makes you so nervous about it?"
"Well, Ned, you know what Andy is—always trying to make trouble for me, even sneaking in my shop sometimes, trying to get the secret of some of my airships and machinery. And I admit I think it looks suspicious when they have a carpenter working on the old homestead. Andy may come back, and—"
"Nonsence, Tom! If he does you and I can handle him. But I think perhaps the house may be rented, and they may be fixing it up for a tenant. It's been vacant a long time you know, and I heard the other day that it was haunted."
"Haunted, Ned! Get out! Say, you don't believe in that sort of bosh, do you?"
"Of course not. It was Eradicate who told me, and he said when he came past the place quite late the other night he heard groans, and the clanking of chains coming from it, and he saw flashing lights."
"Oh, wow! Eradicate is getting batty in his old age, poor fellow! He and his mule Boomerang are growing old together, and I guess my colored helper is 'seeing things,' as well as hearing them. But, as you say, it may be that the house is going to be rented. It's too valuable a property to let stand idle. Did you hear how long Andy was going to stay?"
"A week, I believe."
"A week! Say, one day would be enough I should think."
"You must have some special reason for being afraid Andy will do you some harm," exclaimed Ned. "Out with it, Tom."
"Well, I'll tell you what it is, Ned," and Tom led his chum inside the shop, in front of which the two lads had been talking. It was a shop where the young inventor constructed many of his marvelous machines, aircraft, and instruments of various sorts.
"Do you think some one may hear you?" asked Ned.
"They might. I'm not taking any chances. But the reason I want to be especially careful that Andy Foger doesn't spy on any of my inventions is that at last I have perfected my noiseless airship motor!"
"You have!" cried Ned, for he knew that his chum had been working for a long time on this motor, that would give out no sound, no matter at how high a speed it was run. "That's great, Tom! I congratulate you. I don't wonder you don't want Andy to get even a peep at it."
"Especially as I haven't it fully patented," went on the young inventor. He had met with many failures in his efforts to perfect this motor, which he intended to install on one of his airships. "If any one saw the finished parts now it wouldn't take them long to find out the secret of doing away with the noise."
"How do you do it?" asked Ned, for he realized that his chum had no secrets from him.
"Well, it's too complicated to describe," said Tom, "but the secret lies in a new way of feeding gasolene into the motor, a new sparking device, and an improved muffler. I think I could start my new airship in front of the most skittish horse, and he wouldn't stir, for the racket wouldn't wake a baby. It's going to be great."
"What are you going to do with it, when you get it all completed?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet. It's going to be some time before I get it all put together, and installed, and in that time something may turn up. Well, let's talk about something more pleasant than Andy Foger. I guess I won't worry about him."
"No, I wouldn't. I'd like to see the motor run."
"You can, in a day or so, but just now I need a certain part to attach to the sparker, and I had to send to town for it. Koku has gone after it."
"What, that big giant servant? He might break it on the way back, he's so strong. He doesn't realize how much muscle he has."
"No, that's so. Well, while we're waiting for him, come on in the house, and I'll show you some new books I got."
The two lads were soon in the Swift homestead, a pleasant and large old-fashioned residence, in the suburbs of Shopton. Tom brought out the books, and he and his chum poured over them.
"Mr. Damon gave me that one on electricity," explained the young inventor, handing Ned a bulky volume.
"'Bless my bookmark!' as Mr. Damon himself would say if he were here," exclaimed Ned with a laugh. "That's a dandy. But Mr. Damon didn't give you THIS one," and Ned picked up a dainty volume of verse. "'To Tom Swift, with the best wishes of Mary—'" but that was as far as he read, for Tom grabbed the book away, and closed the cover over the flyleaf, which bore some writing in a girl's hand. I think my old readers can guess whose hand it was.
"Wow! Tom Swift reading poetry!" laughed Ned.
"Oh, cut it out," begged his chum. "I didn't know that was among the books. I got it last Christmas. Now here's a dandy one on lion hunting, Ned," and to cover his confusion Tom shoved over a book containing many pictures of wild animals.
"Lion hunting; eh," remarked Ned. "Well, I guess you could give them some points on snapping lions with your moving picture camera, Tom."
"Yes, I got some good views," admitted the young inventor modestly. "I may take the camera along on some trips in my noiseless airship. Hello! here comes Koku back. I hope he got what I wanted."
A man, immense in size, a veritable giant, one of two whom Tom Swift had brought away from captivity with him, was entering the front gate. He stopped to speak to Mr. Swift, Tom's father, who was setting out some plants in a flower bed, taking them from a large wheel barrow filled with the blooms.
Mr. Swift, who was an inventor of note, had failed in his health of late, and the doctor had recommended him to be out of doors as much as possible. He delighted in gardening, and was at it all day.
"Look!" suddenly cried Ned, pointing to the giant. Then Tom and his chum saw a strange sight.
With a booming laugh, Koku picked up Mr. Swift gently and set him on a board that extended across the front part of the wheel barrow. Then, as easily as if it was a pound weight, the big man lifted Mr. Swift, barrow, plants and all, in his two hands, and carried them across the garden to another flower bed, that was ready to be filled.
"No use to walk when I can carry you, Mr. Swift," exclaimed Koku with a laugh. "I overtook you quite nice; so?"
"Yes, you took me over in great shape, Koku!" replied the aged inventor with a smile at Koku's English, for the giant frequently got his words backwards. "That barrow is quite heavy for me to wheel."
"You after this call me," suggested Koku.
"Say, but he's strong all right," exclaimed Ned, "and that was an awkward thing to carry."
"It sure was," agreed Tom. "I haven't yet seen any one strong enough to match Koku. And he's gentle about it, too. He's very fond of dad."
"And you too, I guess," added Ned.
"Well, Koku, did you get that attachment?" asked Tom, as his giant servant entered the room.
"Yes, Mr. Tom. I have it here," and from his pocket Koku drew a heavy piece of steel that would have taxed the strength of either of the boys to lift with one hand. But Koku's pockets were very large and made specially strong of leather, for he was continually putting odd things in them.
Koku handed over the attachment, for which his master had sent him. He held it out on a couple of fingers, as one might a penknife, but Tom took both hands to set it on the ground.
"I the female get, also," went on Koku, as he began taking some letters and papers from his pocket. "I stop in the office post, and the female get."
"Mail, Koku, not female," corrected Tom with a laugh. "A female is a lady you know."
"For sure I know, and the lady in the post office gave me the female. That is I said what, did I not?"
"Well, I guess you meant it all right," remarked Ned. "But letter mail and a male man and a female woman are all different."
"Oh such a language!" gasped the giant. "I shall never learn it. Well, then, Mr. Tom, here is your mail, that the female lady gave to me for you, and you are a male. It is very strange."
Koku pulled out a bundle of letters, which Tom took, and then the giant continued to delve for more. One of the papers, rolled in a wrapper, stuck on the edge of the pocket.
"You must outcome!" exclaimed Koku, giving it a sudden yank, and it "outcame" with such suddenness that the paper was torn in half, tightly wrapped as it was, and it was considerable of a bundle.
"Koku, you're getting too strong!" exclaimed Tom, as scraps of paper were scattered about the room. "I think I'll give you less to eat."
"I am your forgiveness," said Koku humbly, as he stooped over to pick up the fragments. "I did not mean."
"It's all right," said Tom kindly. "That's only a big bundle of Sunday papers I guess."
"I'll give him a hand," volunteered Ned, stooping over to help Koku clear the rug of the litter. As he did so Tom's chum gave a gasp of surprise.
"Hello, Tom!" Ned cried. "Here's something new, and I guess it will interest you."
"What is it?"
"It's part of an account of some daring smugglers who are working goods across the Canadian border into the northern part of this state. The piece is torn, but there's something here which says the government agents suspect the men of using airships to transport the stuff."
"Airships! Smugglers using airships!" cried Tom. "It doesn't seem possible!"
"That's what it says here, Tom. It says the custom house authorities have tried every way to catch them, and when they couldn't land 'em, the only theory they could account for the way the smuggling was going on was by airships, flying at night."
"That's odd. I wonder how it would seem to chase a smuggler in an airship at night? Some excitement about that; eh, Ned? Let's see that scrap of paper."
Ned passed it over, and Tom scanned it closely. Then in his turn, he uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"What is it?" inquired his chum.
"Great Scott, Ned, listen to this! 'It is suspected that some of the smugglers have'—then there's a place where the paper is torn-'in Shopton, N.Y.'" finished Tom. "Think of that, Ned. Our town here, is in some way connected with the airship smugglers! We must find the rest of this scrap of paper, and paste it together. This may be a big thing! Find that other scrap! Koku, you go easy on papers next time," cautioned Tom, good naturedly, as he and his chum began sorting over the torn parts of the paper.
A SPY IN TOWN
Tom Swift, Ned Newton and Koku, the giant, are busy trying to piece together the torn parts of the paper, containing an account of the airship smugglers. I will take the opportunity of telling you something about the young inventor and his work, for, though many of my readers have made Tom's acquaintances in previous books of this series, there may be some who pick up this one as their first volume.
Tom lived with his father, also an inventor of note, in the town of Shopton, New York state. His mother was dead, and a Mrs. Baggert kept house. Eradicate was an eccentric, colored helper, but of late had become too old to do much. Mr. Swift was also quite aged, and had been obliged to give up most of his inventive work.
Ned Newton was Tom Swift's particular chum, and our hero had another friend, a Mr. Wakefield Damon, of the neighboring town of Waterford. Mr. Damon had the odd habit of blessing everything he saw or could think of. Another of Tom's friends was Miss Mary Nestor, whom I have mentioned, while my old readers will readily recognize in Andy Foger a mean bully, who made much trouble for Tom.
The first book of the series was called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle," and on that machine Tom had many advances on the road, and not a little fun. After that Tom secured a motor boat, and had a race with Andy Foger. In his airship our hero made a stirring cruise, while in his submarine boat he and his father recovered a sunken treasure.
When Tom Swift invented a new electric run-about he did not realize that it was to be the speediest car on the road, but so it proved, and he was able to save the bank with it. In the book called "Tom Swift and His Wireless Message," I told you how he saved the castaways of Earthquake Island, among whom were Mr. and Mrs. Nestor, the parents of Mary.
Tom Swift had not been long on the trail of the diamond makers before he discovered the secret of Phantom Mountain, and after that adventure he went to the caves of ice, where his big airship was wrecked. But he got home, and soon made another, which he called a sky racer, and in that he made the quickest flight on record.
With his electric rifle Tom went to elephant land, where he succeeded in rescuing two missionaries from the red pygmies. A little later he set out for the city of gold, and had marvelous adventures underground.
Hearing of a deposit of valuable platinum in Siberia, Tom started for that lonely place, and, to reach a certain part of if, he had to invent a new machine, called an air glider. It was an aeroplane without means of propulsion save the wind.
In the book, "Tom Swift in Captivity," I related the particulars of how he brought away two immense men from giant land. One, Koku, he kept for himself, while the other made a good living by being exhibited in a circus.
When the present story opens Tom had not long been home after a series of strange adventures. A moving picture concern, with which Mr. Nestor was associated, wanted some views of remarkable scenes, such as fights among wild beasts, the capture of herds of elephants, earthquakes, and volcanos in action, and great avalanches in the Alps. Tom invented a wizard camera, and got many good views, though at times he was in great danger, even in his airship. Especially was this so at the erupting volcano.
But our hero came swiftly hack to Shopton, and there, all Winter and Spring, he busied himself perfecting a new motor for an airship—a motor that would make no noise. He perfected it early that Summer, and now was about to try it, when the incident of the torn newspaper happened.
"Have you got all the pieces, Tom?" asked Ned, as he passed his chum several scraps, which were gathered up from the floor.
"I think so. Now we'll paste them together, and see what it says. We may be on the trail of a big mystery, Ned."
"Maybe. Go ahead and see what you can make of it."
Tom fitted together, as best he could, the ragged pieces, and then pasted them on a blank sheet of paper.
"I guess I've got it all here now," he said finally. "I'll skip the first part. You read me most of that, Ned. Just as you told me, it relates how the government agents, having tried in vain to get a clew to the smugglers, came to the conclusion that they must be using airships to slip contraband goods over the border at night."
"Now where's that mention of Shopton? Oh, here it is," and he read:
"'It is suspected that some of the smugglers have been communicating with confederates in Shopton, New York. This came to the notice of the authorities to-day, when one of the government agents located some of the smuggled goods in a small town in New York on the St. Lawrence. The name of this town is being kept secret for the present."
"'It was learned that the goods were found in a small, deserted house, and that among them were letters from someone in Shopton, relating to the disposal of the articles. They refuse to say who the letters were from, but it is believed that some of Uncle Sam's men may shortly make their appearance in the peaceful burg of Shopton, there to follow up the clew. Many thousands of dollars worth of goods have been smuggled, and the United States, as well as the Dominion of Canada custom authorities, say they are determined to put a stop to the daring efforts of the smugglers. The airship theory is the latest put forth.'"
"Well, say, that's the limit!" cried Ned, as Tom finished reading. "What do you know about that?"
"It brings it right home to us," agreed the young inventor. "But who is there in Shopton who would be in league with the smugglers?"
"That's hard to say."
"Of course we don't know everyone in town," went on Tom, "but I'm pretty well acquainted here, and I don't know of a person who would dare engage in such work."
"Maybe it's a stranger who came here, and picked out this place because it was so quiet," suggested Ned.
"That's possible. But where would he operate from?" asked Tom. "There are few in Shopton who would want to buy smuggled goods."
"They may only ship them here, and fix them so they can't be recognized by the custom authorities, and then send them away again," went on Ned. "This may be a sort of clearing-house for the smugglers."
"That's so. Well, I don't know as we have anything to do with it. Only if those fellows are using an airship I'd like to know what kind it is. Well, come on out to the shop now, and we'll see how the silent motor works."
On the way Tom passed his father, and, telling him not to work too hard in the sun, gave his parent the piece of paper to read, telling about the smugglers.
"Using airships! eh?" exclaimed Mr. Swift. "And they think there's a clew here in Shopton? Well, we'll get celebrated if we keep on, Tom," he added with a smile.
Tom and Ned spent the rest of the day working over the motor, which was set going, and bore out all Tom claimed for it. It was as silent as a watch.
"Next I want to get it in the airship, and give it a good test," Tom remarked, speeding it up, as it was connected on a heavy base in the shop.
"I'll help you," promised Ned, and for the next few days the chums were kept busy fitting the silent motor into one of Tom's several airships.
"Well, I think we can make a flight to-morrow," said the young inventor, about a week later. "I need some new bolts though, Ned. Let's take a walk into town and get them. Oh, by the way, have you seen anything more of Andy Foger?"
"No, and I don't want to. I suppose he's gone back home after his visit to Sam. Let's go down the street, where the Foger house is, and see if there's anything going on."
As the two lads passed the mansion, they saw a man, in the kind of suit usually worn by a carpenter, come out of the back door and stand looking across the garden. In his hand he held a saw.
"Still at the repairs, I guess," remarked Ned. "I wonder what—"
"Look there! Look! Quick!" suddenly interrupted Tom, and Ned, looking, saw someone standing behind the carpenter in the door. "If that isn't Andy Foger, I'll eat my hat!" cried Tom.
"It sure is," agreed Ned. "What in the world is he doing there?"
But his question was not answered, for, a moment later, Andy turned, and went inside, and the carpenter followed, closing the door behind them.
"That's queer," spoke Tom.
"Very," agreed Ned. "He didn't go back after all. I'd like to know what's going on in there."
"And there's someone else who would like to know, also, I think," said Tom in a low voice.
"Who?" asked Ned.
"That man hiding behind the big tree across the street. I'm sure he's watching the Foger house, and when Andy came to the door that time, I happened to look around and saw that man focus a pair of opera glasses on him and the carpenter."
"You don't mean it, Tom!" exclaimed Ned.
"I sure do. I believe that man is some sort of a spy or a detective."
"Do you think he's after Andy?"
"I don't know. Let's not get mixed up in the affair, anyhow. I don't want to be called in as a witness. I haven't the time to spare."
As if the man behind the tree was aware that he had attracted the attention of our friends, he quickly turned and walked away. Tom and Ned glanced up at the Foger house, but saw nothing, and proceeded on to the store.
"I'll wager anything that Andy has been getting in some sort of trouble in the town he moved to from here," went on Tom, "and he daren't go back. So he came here, and he's hiding in his father's old house. He could manage to live there for a while, with the carpenter bringing him in food. Say, did you notice who that man was, with the saw?"
"Yes, he's James Dillon, a carpenter who lives down on our street," replied Ned. "A nice man, too. The next time I see him, I'm going to ask him what Andy is doing in town, and what the repairs are that he's making on the house."
"Well, of course if Andy has been doing anything wrong, he wouldn't admit it," said Tom. "Though Mr. Dillon may tell you about the carpenter work. But I'm sure that man was a detective from the town where Andy moved to. You'll see."
"I don't think so," was Ned's opinion. "If Andy was hiding he wouldn't show himself as plainly as he did."
The two chums argued on this question, but could come to no decision. Then, having reached Tom's home with the bolts, they went hard at work on the airship.
"Well, now to see what happens!" exclaimed Tom the next day, when everything was ready for a trial flight. "I wish Mr. Damon was here. I sent him word, but I didn't hear from him."
"Oh, he may show up any minute," replied Ned, as he helped Tom and Koku wheel the newly-equipped airship out of the shed. "The first thing you'll hear will be him blessing something. Is this far enough out, Tom?"
"No, a little more, and then head her up into the wind. I say, Ned, if this is a success, and—"
Tom stopped suddenly and looked out into the road. Then, in a low voice, he said, to Ned:
"Don't move suddenly, or he'll suspect that we're onto his game, but turn around slowly, and look behind that big sycamore tree in front of our house Ned. Tell me what you see."
"There's a man hiding there, Tom," reported his chum, a little later, after a cautious observation.
"I thought so. What's he doing?"
"Why he—by Jove! Tom, he's looking at us through opera glasses, like that other—"
"It isn't ANOTHER, it's the same fellow!" whispered Tom. "It's the spy who was watching Andy! I'm going to see what's up," and he strode rapidly toward the street, at the curb of which was the tree that partly screened the man behind it.
Quickly Tom Swift crossed the space between the airship, that was ready for a flight, and the tree. The man behind it had apparently not seen Tom coming, being so interested in looking at the airship, which was a wonderful craft. He was taken completely by surprise as Tom, stepping up to him, asked sharply:
"Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The man started so that he nearly dropped the opera glasses, which he had held focused on the aeroplane. Then he stepped back, and eyed Tom sharply.
"What do you want?" repeated our hero. "What right have you to be spying on that airship—on these premises?" The man hesitated a moment, and then coolly returned the glasses to his pocket. He did not seem at all put out, after his first start of surprise.
"What are you doing?" Tom again asked. He looked around to see where Koku, the giant, was, and beheld the big man walking slowly toward him, for Ned had mentioned what had taken place.
"What right have you to question my actions?" asked the man, and there was in his tones a certain authority that made Tom wonder.
"Every right," retorted our hero. "That is my airship, at which you have been spying, and this is where I live."
"Oh, it is; eh?" asked the man calmly. "And that's your airship, too?"
"I invented it, and built the most of it myself. If you are interested in such things, and can assure me that you have no spying methods in view, I can show you—"
"Have you other airships?" interrupted the man quickly.
"Yes, several," answered Tom. "But I can't understand why you should be spying on me. If you don't care to accept my offer, like a gentleman, tell me who you are, and what your object is, I will have my assistant remove you. You are on private property, as this street is not a public one, being cut through by my father. I'll have Koku remove you by force, if you won't go peaceably, and I think you'll agree with me that Koku can do it. Here Koku," he called sharply, and the big man advanced quickly.
"I wouldn't do anything rash, if I were you," said the man quietly. "As for this being private property, that doesn't concern me. You're Tom Swift, aren't you; and you have several airships?"
"Yes, but what right have you to—"
"Every right!" interrupted the man, throwing back the lapel of his coat, and showing a badge. "I'm Special Agent William Whitford, of the United States Customs force, and I'd like to ask you a few questions, Tom Swift." He looked our hero full in the face.
"Customs department!" gasped Tom. "You want to ask me some questions?"
"That's it," went on the man, in a business-like voice.
"Smuggling by airship from Canada!"
"What!" cried Tom. "Do you mean to say you suspect me of being implicated in—"
"Now go easy," advised the man calmly. "I didn't say anything, except that I wanted to QUESTION you. If you'd like me to do it out here, why I can. But as someone might hear us—"
"Come inside," said Tom quietly, though his heart was beating in a tumult. "You may go, Koku, but stay within call," he added significantly. "Come on, Ned," and he motioned to his chum who was approaching. "This man is a custom officer and not a spy or a detective, as we thought."
"Oh, yes, I am a SORT of a detective," corrected Mr. Whitford. "And I'm a spy, too, in a way, for I've been spying on you, and some other parties in town. But you may be able to explain everything," he added, as he took a seat in the library between Ned and Tom. "I only know I was sent here to do certain work, and I'm going to do it. I wanted to make some observations before you saw me, but I wasn't quite quick enough."
"Would you mind telling me what you want to know?" asked Tom, a bit impatiently. "You mentioned smuggling, and—"
"Smuggling!" interrupted Ned.
"Yes, over from Canada. Maybe you have seen something in the papers about our department thinking airships were used at night to slip the goods over the border."
"We saw it!" cried Tom eagerly. "But how does that concern me?"
"I'll come to that, presently," replied Mr. Whitford. "In the first place, we have been roundly laughed at in some papers for proposing such a theory. And yet it isn't so wild as it sounds. In fact, after seeing your airship, Tom Swift, I'm convinced—"
"That I've been smuggling?" asked Tom with a laugh.
"Not at all. As you have read, we confiscated some smuggled goods the other day, and among them was a scrap of paper with the words Shopton, New York, on it."
"Was it a letter from someone here, or to someone here?" asked Ned. "The papers intimated so."
"No. they only guessed at that part of it. It was just a scrap of paper, evidently torn from a letter, and it only had those three words on it. Naturally we agents thought we could get a clew here. We imagined, or at least I did, for I was sent to work up this end, that perhaps the airships for the smugglers were made here. I made inquiries, and found that you, Tom Swift, and one other, Andy Foger, had made, or owned, airships in Shopton."
"I came here, but I soon exhausted the possibility of Andy Foger making practical airships. Besides he isn't at home here any more, and he has no facilities for constructing the craft as you have. So I came to look at your place, and I must say that it looks a bit suspicious, Mr. Swift. Though, of course, as I said," he added with a smile, "you may be able to explain everything."
"I think I can convince you that I had no part in the smuggling," spoke Tom, laughing. "I never sell my airships. If you like you may talk with my father, the housekeeper, and others who can testify that since my return from taking moving pictures, I have not been out of town, and the smuggling has been going on only a little while."
"That is true," assented the custom officer. "I shall be glad to listen to any evidence you may offer. This is a very baffling case. The government is losing thousands of dollars every month, and we can't seem to stop the smugglers, or get much of a clew to them. This one is the best we have had so far."
It did not take Tom many hours to prove to the satisfaction of Mr. Whitford that none of our hero's airships had taken any part in cheating Uncle Sam out of custom duties.
"Well, I don't know what to make of it," said the government agent, with a disappointed air, as he left the office of the Shopton chief of police, who, with others, at Tom's request, had testified in his favor. "This looked like a good clew, and now it's knocked into a cocked hat. There's no use bothering that Foger fellow," he went on, "for he has but one airship, I understand."
"And that's not much good." put in Ned. "I guess it's partly wrecked, and Andy has kept it out in the barn since he moved away."
"Well, I guess I'll be leaving town then," went on the agent. "I can't get any more clews here, and there may be some new ones found on the Canadian border where my colleagues are trying to catch the rascals. I'm sorry I bothered you, Tom Swift. You certainly have a fine lot of airships," he added, for he had been taken through the shop, and shown the latest, noiseless model. "A fine lot. I don't believe the smugglers, if they use them, have any better."
"Nor as good!" exclaimed Ned. "Tom's can't be beat."
"It's too late for our noiseless trial now," remarked Tom, after the agent had gone. "Let's put her back in the shed, and then I'll take you down street, and treat you to some ice cream, Ned. It's getting quite summery now."
As the boys were coming out of the drug store, where they had eaten their ice cream in the form of sundaes, Ned uttered a cry of surprise at the sight of a man approaching them.
"It's Mr. Dillon, the carpenter whom we saw in the Foger house, Tom!" exclaimed his chum. "This is the first chance I've had to talk to him. I'm going to ask him what sort of repairs he's making inside the old mansion." Ned was soon in conversation with him.
"Yes, I'm working at the Foger house," admitted the carpenter, who had done some work for Ned's father. "Mighty queer repairs, too. Something I never did before. If Andy wasn't there to tell me what he wanted done I wouldn't know what to do."
"Is Andy there yet?" asked Tom quickly.
"Yes, he's staying in the old house. All alone too, except now and then, he has a chum stay there nights with him. They get their own meals. I bring the stuff in, as Andy says he's getting up a surprise and doesn't want any of the boys to see him, or ask questions. But they are sure queer repairs I'm doing," and the carpenter scratched his head reflectively.
"What are you doing?" asked Ned boldly.
"Fixing up Andy's old airship that was once busted," was the unexpected answer, "and after I get that done, if I ever do, he wants me to make a platform for it on the roof of the house, where he can start it swooping through the air. Mighty queer repairs, I call 'em. Well, good evening, boys," and the carpenter passed on.
SEARCHING FOR SMUGGLERS.
"Well, of all things!"
"Who in the world would think such a thing?"
"Andy going to start out with his airship again!"
"And going to sail it off the roof of his house!"
These were the alternate expressions that came from Tom and Ned, as they stood gazing at each other after the startling information given them by Mr. Dillon, the carpenter.
"Do you really think he means it?" asked Tom, after a pause, during which they watched the retreating figure of the carpenter. "Maybe he was fooling us."
"No, Mr. Dillon seldom jokes," replied Ned, "and when he does, you can always tell. He goes to our church, and I know he wouldn't deliberately tell an untruth. Oh. Andy's up to some game all right."
"I thought he must be hanging around here the way he has been, instead of being home. But I admit I may have been wrong about the police being after him. If he'd done something wrong, he would hardly hire a man to work on the house while he was hiding in it. I guess he just wants to keep out of the way of everybody but his own particular cronies. But I wonder what he is up to, anyhow; getting his airship in shape again?"
"Give it up, unless there's an aero meet on somewhere soon," replied Ned. "Maybe he's going to try a race again."
Tom shook his head.
"I'd have heard about any aviation meets, if there were any scheduled," he replied. "I belong to the national association, and they send out circulars whenever there are to be races. None are on for this season. No, Andy has some other game."
"Well, I don't know that it concerns us," spoke Ned.
"Not as long as he doesn't bother me," answered the young inventor. "Well, Ned, I suppose you'll be over in the morning and help me try out the noiseless airship?"
"Sure thing. Say, it was queer, about that government agent, wasn't it? suspecting you of supplying airships to the smugglers?"
"Rather odd," agreed Tom. "He might much better suspect Andy Foger."
"That's so, and now that we know Andy is rebuilding his old airship, maybe we'd better tell him."
"That government agent. Tell him he's wrong in thinking that Andy is out of the game. We might send him word that we just learned that Andy is getting active again. He has as much right to suspect and question him, as he had you."
"Oh, I don't know," began Tom slowly. He was not a vindicative youth, nor, for that matter, was Ned. And Tom would not go out of his way to give information about an enemy, when it was not certain that the said enemy meant anything wrong. "I don't believe there's anything in it," finished our hero. "Andy may have a lot of time on his hands, and, for want of something better to do, he's fixing up his aeroplane."
"Look!" suddenly exclaimed Ned. "There's that agent now! He's going to the depot to get a train, I guess," and he pointed to the government man, who had so lately interviewed Tom. "I'm going to speak to him!" impulsively declared Ned.
"I wouldn't," objected Tom, but his chum had already hastened on ahead, and soon was seen talking excitedly to Mr. Whitford. Tom sauntered up in time to hear the close of the conversation.
"I'm much obliged to you for your information," said the custom officer, "but I'm afraid, just as you say your chum felt about it, that there's nothing in it. This Foger chap may have been bad in the past, but I hardly think he's in with the smugglers. What I'm looking for is not a lad who has one airship, but someone who is making a lot of them, and supplying the men who are running goods over the border. That's the sort of game I'm after, and if this Andy Foger only has one aeroplane I hardly think he can be very dangerous."
"Well, perhaps not," admitted Ned. "But I thought I'd tell you."
"And I'm glad you did. If you hear anything more. I'll be glad to have you let me know. Here's my card," and thanking the boys for their interest Mr. Whitford passed on.
Tom and Ned gave the noiseless airship a test the next day. The craft, which was the stanch Falcon, remodeled, was run out of the shed, Koku the giant helping, while Mr. Swift stood looking on, an interested spectator of what his son was about to do. Eradicate, the old colored man, who was driving his mule Boomerang, hitched to a wagon in which he was carting away some refuse that had been raked up in the garden, halted his outfit nearby.
"I say, Massa Tom!" he called, as the young inventor passed near him, in making a tour of the ship.
"Well, Rad, what is it?"
"Doan't yo'-all want fo' ma an' Boomerang t' gib yo'-all a tow? Mebby dat new-fangled contraption yo'-all has done put on yo' ship won't wuk, an' mebby I'd better stick around t' pull yo'-all home."
"No, Rad, I guess it will work all right. If it doesn't, and we get stuck out a mile or two, I'll send you a wireless message."
"Doan't do dat!" begged the colored man. "I neber could read dem wireless letters anyhow. Jest gib a shout, an' me an' Boomerang will come a-runnin'."
"All right, Rad, I will. Now, Ned, is everything in shape?"
"I think so, Tom."
"Koku, just put a little more wind in those tires. But don't pump as hard as you did the other day," Tom cautioned.
"What happened then?" asked Ned.
"Oh, Koku forgot that he had so much muscle, and he kept on pumping air into the bicycle wheel tires until he burst one. Go easy this time, Koku."
"I will, Mr. Tom," and the giant took the air pump.
"Is he going along?" asked Ned, as he looked to see that all the guy wires and stays were tight.
"I guess so," replied Tom. "He makes good ballast. I wish Mr. Damon was here. If everything goes right we may take a run over, and surprise him."
In a little while the noiseless airship was ready for the start. Tom, Ned and Koku climbed in, and took their positions.
"Good luck!" Mr. Swift called after them. Tom waved his hand to his father, and the next moment his craft shot into the air. Up and up it went, the great propeller blades beating the air, but, save for a soft whirr, such as would be made by the wings of a bird, there was absolutely no sound.
"Hurrah!" cried Tom. "She works! I've got a noiseless airship at last!"
"Say, don't yell at a fellow so," begged Ned, for Tom had been close to his chum when he made his exulting remark.
"Yell! I wasn't yelling," replied Tom. "Oh, I see what happened. I'm so used to speaking loud on the other airships, that make such a racket, that I didn't realize how quiet it was aboard the new Falcon. No wonder I nearly made you deaf, Ned. I'll be careful after this," and Tom lowered his voice to ordinary tones. In fact it was as quiet aboard his new craft, as if he and Ned had been walking in some grass-grown country lane.
"She certainly is a success," agreed Ned. "You could creep up on some other airship now, and those aboard would never know you were coming."
"I've been planning this for a long time," went on our hero, as he shifted the steering gear, and sent the craft around in a long, sweeping curve. "Now for Waterford and Mr. Damon."
They were soon above the town where the odd man lived, and Tom, picking out Mr. Damon's house, situated as it was in the midst of extensive grounds, headed for it.
"There he is, walking through the garden," exclaimed Ned, pointing to their friend down below. "He hasn't heard us, as he would have done if we had come in any other machine."
"That's so!" exclaimed Tom. "I'm going to give him a sensation. I'll fly right over his head, and he won't know it until he sees us. I'll come up from behind."
A moment later he put this little trick into execution. Along swept the airship, until, with a rush, it passed right over Mr. Damon's head. He never heard it, and was not aware of what was happening until he saw the shadow it cast. Then, jumping aside, as if he thought something was about to fall on him, he cried:
"Bless my mosquito netting! What in the world—"
Then he saw Tom and Ned in the airship, which came gently to earth a few yards further on.
"Well of all things!" cried Mr. Damon. "What are you up to now, Tom Swift?"
"It's my noiseless airship," explained our hero. "She doesn't make a sound. Get aboard, and have a ride."
Mr. Damon looked toward the house.
"I guess my wife won't see me," he said with a chuckle. "She's more than ever opposed to airships, Tom, since we went on that trip taking moving pictures. But I'll take a chance." And in he sprang, when the two lads started up again. They made quite a flight, and Tom found that his new motor exceeded his expectations. True, it needed some adjustments, but these could easily be made.
"Well, what are you going to do with it, now that you have it?" asked Mr. Damon, as Tom once more brought the machine around to the odd man's house, and stopped it. "What's it for?"
"Oh, I think I'll find a use for it," replied the young inventor. "Will you come back to Shopton with us?"
"No, I must stay here. I have some letters to write. But I'll run over in a few days, and see you. Then I'll go on another trip, if you've got one planned."
"I may have," answered Tom with a laugh. "Good-bye."
He and Ned made a quick flight home, and Tom at once started on making some changes in the motor. He was engaged at this work the next day, when he noticed a shadow pass across an open window. He looked up to see Ned.
"Hello, Tom!" cried his chum. "Have you heard the news?"
"No, what news? Has Andy Foger fallen out of his airship?"
"No, but there are a whole lot of Custom House detectives in town, looking for clews to the smugglers."
"Still at it, eh? Shopton can't seem to keep out of the limelight. Has anything new turned up?"
"Yes. I just met Mr. Whitford. He's back on the case and he has several men with him. They received word that some smuggled goods came to Shopton, and were shipped out of here again."
"How, by airship?"
"No, by horse and wagon. A lot of cases of valuable silks imported from England to Canada, where the duty is light, were slipped over the border somehow, in airships, it is thought. Then they came here by freight, labeled as calico, and when they reached this town they were taken away in a wagon."
"But how did they get here?"
"On the railroad, of course, but the freight people had no reason to suspect them."
"And where were they taken from the freight station?"
"That's what the customs authorities want to find out. They think there's some secret place here, where the goods are stored and reshipped. That's why so many detectives are here. They are after the smugglers hot-footed."
Tom Swift dropped the tool he was using, and came over to where Ned stood, his chum having vaulted in through the open window.
"Ned," said the young inventor, "there's something queer about this business."
"I'm beginning to think so myself, Tom. But just what do you mean?"
"I mean it's queer that the smugglers should pick out a place like Shopton—a small town—for their operations, or part of them, when there are so many better places. We're quite a distance from the Canadian border. Say, Ned, where was it that Mr. Foger moved to? Hogan's alley, or some such name as that; wasn't it?"
"Logansville, this state, was the place. I once saw Tom Snedecker mail Andy a letter addressed to there. But what has that to do with it?"
Tom's answer was to turn to a large map on the wall of his shop. With a long stick he pointed out the city of Logansville.
"That isn't very far from the Canadian border; is it, Ned?" he asked.
"Say, what are you driving at, Tom? It's right on the border between New York and Canada, according to that map."
"Well, that's a good map, and you can be sure it is nearly right. And, look here. There's the town of Montford, in Canada, almost opposite Logansville."
"Oh, nothing, only I'm going to see Mr. Whitford."
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"I mean that the something queer part about this business may be explained. They have traces of the smugglers sending their goods to Shopton to be re-shipped here, to avoid suspicion, probably. They have a suspicion that airships are used to get the goods over the Canadian border at night."
"But," broke in Ned, "the government agent said that it was across the St. Lawrence River they brought them. Montford is quite a distance from the river. I suppose the smugglers take the goods from the river steamers, land them, pack them in airships, and fly across with them. But if you're trying to connect the Fogers, and Logansville, and Montford with the smugglers, I don't see where it comes in with the St. Lawrence, and the airships, Tom."
"Forget that part of it for a while, Ned. Maybe they are all off on airships, anyhow. I don't take much stock in that theory, though it may be true."
"Just think of the Fogers," went on Tom. "Mr. Foger has lost all his money, he lives in a town near the Canadian border, it is almost certain that smuggled goods have been shipped here. Mr. Foger has a deserted house here, and—see the connection?"
"By Jove, Tom, I believe you're right!" cried his chum. "Maybe the airships aren't in it after all, and Andy is only making a bluff at having his repaired, to cover up some other operations in the house."
"I believe so."
"But that would mean that Mr. Dillon, the carpenter is not telling the truth, and I can't believe that of him."
"Oh, I believe he's honest, but I think Andy is fooling him. Mr. Dillon doesn't know much about airships, and Andy may have had him doing something in the house, telling him it was repair work on an airship, when, as a matter of fact, the carpenter might be making boxes to ship the goods in, or constructing secret places in which to hide them."
"I don't believe it, Tom. But I agree with you that there is something queer going on in Shopton. The Fogers may, or may not, be connected with it. What are you going to do?"
"I'm first going to have a talk with Mr. Whitford. Then I'm going to see if I can't prove, or disprove, that the Fogers are concerned in the matter. If they're not, then some one else in Shopton must be guilty. But I'm interested, because I have been brought into this thing in a way, and I want it sifted to the bottom."
"Then you're going to see Mr. Whitford?"
"I am, and I'm going to tell him what I think. Come on, we'll look him up now."
"But your noiseless airship?"
"Oh, that's all right. It's nearly finished anyhow, I've just got a little more work on the carburetor. That will keep. Come on, we'll find the government agent."
But Mr. Whitford was not at the hotel where he and the other custom inspectors had put up. They made no secret of their presence in Shopton, and all sorts of rumors were flying about regarding them. Mr. Whitford, the hotel clerk said, had gone out of town for the day, and, as Ned and Tom did not feel like telling their suspicions to any of the other agents, they started back home.
"I understand they're going to search every house in Shopton, before they go away," said the clerk to the boys. "They are going to look for smuggled goods."
"They are; eh?" exclaimed Colonel Henry Denterby, who had fought in the Civil War. "Search my house; eh? Well I guess not! A man's house is his castle, sir! That's what it is. No one shall enter mine, no matter if he is a government official, unless I give him permission, sir! And I won't do that, sir! I'll be revolutionized if I do! No, sir!"
"Why, you haven't any smuggled goods concealed, have you, Colonel?" slyly asked a hotel lounger.
"Smuggled goods? What do you mean, sir?" cried the veteran, who was something of a fire-eater. "No, sir! Of course not, sir! I pay my taxes, sir; and all my debts. But no government spy is going to come into my house, and upset everything, sir, looking for smuggled goods, sir. No, sir!"
Some were of one opinion, and some another, and there was quite a discussion underway concerning the rights of the custom officers, as the boys came out of the hotel.
Likewise there was talk about who might be the guilty ones, but no names were mentioned, at least openly.
"Let's go past the Foger house on our way back," proposed Ned, and as he and Tom came in front of it, they heard a pounding going on within, but saw no signs of Andy or the carpenter.
"They're keeping mighty close," commented Tom.
The two boys worked that afternoon on the new airship, and in the evening, when Ned came over, Tom proposed that they make another attempt to see Mr. Whitford.
"I want to get this thing off my mind," spoke the young inventor, and he and his chum started for the hotel. Once more they passed the Foger house. It was in darkness, but, as the two lads stood watching, they saw a flash of a light, as if it came through a crack in a shutter or a shade.
"Some one is in there," declared Tom.
"Yes, probably Andy is getting his own supper. It's queer he wants to lead that sort of a life. Well, everyone to their notion, as the old lady said when she kissed the cow."
They stood for a few minutes watching the old mansion, and then went on. As they passed down a lane, to take a short cut, they approached a small house, that, in times past, had been occupied by the gardener of the Foger estate. Now, that too, was closed. But, in front of it stood a wagon with a big canvass cover over it, and, as the lads came nearer, the wagon drove off quickly, and in silence. At the same time a door in the gardener's house was heard to shut softly.
"Did you see that?" cried Ned.
"Yes, and did you hear that?" asked Tom.
"They're carting stuff away from the old gardener's house," went on Ned. "Maybe it's there that the smugglers are working from! Let's hurry to see Mr. Whitford."
"Hold on!" exclaimed Tom in a whisper. "I've got one suggestion. Ned. Let's tell all we know, and what we think may be the case, but don't make any rash statements. We might be held responsible. Tell what we have seen, and let the government men do the rest."
"All right. I'm willing."
They watched the wagon as it passed on out of sight in the darkness, and then hurried on to see Mr. Whitford. To say that the custom officer was astonished at what the boys related to him, is putting it mildly. He was much excited.
"I think we're on the right trail!" he exclaimed. "You may have done a big service for Uncle Sam. Come on!"
"Where?" the boys asked him.
"We'll make a raid on the old Foger home, and on the gardener's house at once. We may catch the rascals red-handed. You can have the honor of representing Uncle Sam. I'll make you assistant deputies for the night. Here are some extra badges I always carry," and he pinned one each on the two young men.
Mr. Whitford quietly summoned several of his men to his hotel room, and imparted to them what he had learned. They were eager for the raid, and it was decided to go to the Foger home, and the other house at once, first seeking to gain an entrance to the mansion.
Accompanied by Tom and Ned, Mr. Whitford left the hotel. There were few persons about, and no attention was attracted. The other agents left the hotel one by one, and in the darkness gathered about the seemingly deserted mansion.
"Stand ready now, men," whispered Mr. Whitford. "Tom, Ned and I will go up the steps first, and knock. If they don't let us in I'm going to smash the door. Then you follow."
Rather excited by what was about to take place, the two chums accompanied the chief custom agent. He rapped loudly on the door of the house, where only darkness showed.
There was a moment of silence, and then a voice which Tom and Ned recognized as that of Andy Foger, asked:
"What do you want?"
"We want to come in," replied Mr. Whitford.
"But who are you?"
"Uncle Sam's officers, from the custom house."
Tom distinctly heard a gasp of surprise on the other side of the portal, and then a bolt was drawn. The door was thrown back, and there, confronting the two lads and Mr. Whitford, were Andy Foger and his father.
THE APPEAL TO TOM
"Well, what does this mean?" asked Mr. Foger in indignant tones, as he faced the custom officer and Tom and Ned. "What do you mean by coming to my house at this hour, and disturbing me? I demand an answer!"
"And you shall have it," replied Mr. Whitford calmly. He was used to dealing with "indignant" persons, who got very much on their dignity when accused of smuggling. "We are here, Mr. Foger, because of certain information we have received, and we must ask you to submit to some questions, and allow your house to be searched."
"What! You question me? Search this house? That is an indignity to which I will not submit!"
"You will have to, Mr. Foger. I have ample authority for what I am doing, and I am backed by the most powerful government in the world. I also have plenty of help with me."
Mr. Whitford blew his whistle, and at once his several deputies came running up.
"You see I am well prepared to meet force with force, Mr. Foger," said the chief agent, calmly.
"Force! What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean that I have certain information against you. There has been smuggling going on from Canada into the United States."
"Canada? What have I to do with Canada?"
"You don't live far from there," said Mr. Whitford significantly. "Airships have been used. Your son has one, but I don't believe that figured in the game. But two friends of mine saw something to-night that made me decide on this raid. Tom and Ned, tell Mr. Foger what you saw."
The agent stepped back, so that the two lads could be seen. There was another gasp of surprise, this time from Andy Foger, who had remained in the background.
"Tom Swift!" gasped the bully.
"Tell them what you saw. Tom," went on the agent, and Tom and Ned by turns, relayed the incident of the wagon load of goods driving away from the gardener's house.
"This, with what has gone before, made us suspicious," said Mr. Whitford. "So we decided on a raid. If you are not willing to let us in peaceably, we will come by force."
"By all means come in!" was the unexpected reply of Mr. Foger, as he stepped back, and opened wider the door. "Andy, these are some friends of yours, are they not?"
"Friends? I guess not!" exclaimed Andy with a sneer. "I won't even speak to them."
"Not much lost," commented Tom with a laugh.
"Search the house!" ordered Mr. Whitford sharply.
"I'll show you around," offered Mr. Foger.
"We can find our way," was the curt rejoinder of the chief agent.
"The place is deserted," went on Mr. Foger. "My son and I are just living here until certain repairs are made, when I am going to make another effort to sell it."
"Yes, we knew it was being repaired, and that your son was staying here," said Mr. Whitford, "But we did not expect to see you."
"I—er—that is—I came on unexpectedly," said Mr. Foger. "You may look about all you wish. You will find nothing wrong here."
And they did not, strange to say. There was considerable litter in many of the rooms, and in one was Andy's airship in parts. Clearly work was being done on that, and Mr. Dillon's story was confirmed, for tools, with his initials burned in the handles, were lying about.
The custom men, with Tom and Ned, went all over the house. Andy scowled blackly at our hero, but said nothing. Mr. Foger seemed anxious to show everything, and let the men go where they would. Finally a tour of the house had been completed, and nothing of a suspicious nature was found.
"I guess we'll just take a look at the roof, and see that airship platform your son is going to use," said Mr. Whitford, in rather disappointed tones, when he had found nothing.
"It isn't started yet," said Andy.
But they all went up through a scuttle, nevertheless, and saw where some posts had been made fast to the roof, to provide a platform foundation.
"I'll beat you all to pieces when I get flying," said the bully to Tom, as they went down the scuttle again.
"I'm not in the racing game any more," replied Tom coldly. "Besides I only race with my FRIENDS."
"Huh! Afraid of getting beat!" sneered Andy.
"Well. I guess there's nothing here," said Mr. Whitford to Mr. Foger, as they stood together in the front room.
"No, I knew you'd find nothing, and you have had your trouble for your pains."
"Oh, Uncle Sam doesn't mind trouble."
"And you have caused me much annoyance!" said Mr. Foger sharply.
"I'm afraid we'll have to cause you more," was the agent's comment. "I want to have a look in the gardener's house, from where Tom Swift saw the load going away."
"There is nothing there!" declared Mr. Foger quickly. "That is, nothing but some old furniture. I sold a lot of it, and I suppose the man who bought it came for it to-night."
"We'll take a look," repeated the agent, "I am very fond of old furniture."
"Very well," responded the bully's father, as he eyed Tom and Ned blackly.
He led the way out of the house, and soon they stood before the small cottage. It was dark, and when Mr. Foger unlocked the door he turned on the gas, and lighted it.
"I left the gas on until all the furniture should be taken out," he explained. "But you will find nothing here."
It needed but a glance about the place to show that only some odds and ends of furniture was all that it contained.
"Where does this door lead to," asked Mr. Whitford, when he had made a tour of the place.
"Nowhere. Oh, that is only down into the cellar." was the reply. "There is nothing there."
"We can't take anything for granted," went on the agent with a smile. "I'll take a look down there."
He descended with some of his men. Tom and Ned remained in the kitchen of the cottage, while Andy and his father conversed in low tones, occasionally casting glances at our heroes. Once Tom thought Mr. Foger looked apprehensively toward the door, through which the custom men had descended. He also appeared to be anxiously listening.
But when Mr. Whitford came back, with a disappointed look on his face, and said there was nothing to be found, Mr. Foger smiled:
"What did I tell you?" he asked triumphantly.
"Never mind," was the retort of Uncle Sam's man. "We are not through with Shopton yet."
"I'm sorry we gave you so much trouble on a false clew," said Tom, as he and Ned left the Foger premises with Mr. Whitford, the other deputies following.
"That's all right, Tom. We have to follow many false clews. I'm much obliged to you. Either we were on the wrong track, or the Fogers are more clever than I gave them credit for. But I am not done yet. I have something to propose to you. It has come to me in the last few minutes. I saw you in your airship once, and I know you know how to manage such craft. Now there is no question in my mind but what the smugglers are using airships. Tom, will you undertake a mission for Uncle Sam?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean will you go to the border, in your airship, and try to catch the smugglers? I can promise you a big reward, and much fame if we catch them. An airship is just what is needed. You are the one to do it. Will you?"
A SEARCHLIGHT IS NEEDED
For a few moments after the custom officer had made his appeal, Tom Swift did not reply. His thoughts were busy with many things. Somehow, it seemed of late, there had been many demands on him, demands that had been hard and trying.
In the past he had not hesitated, but in those cases friendship, as well as a desire for adventures, had urged him. Now he thought he had had his fill of adventures.
"Well?" asked Mr. Whitford, gently. "What's your answer, Tom? Don't you think this is a sort of duty-call to you?"
"A duty-call?" repeated the young inventor.
"Yes. Of course I realize that it isn't like a soldier's call to battle, but Uncle Sam needs you just the same. When there is a war the soldiers are called on to repel an enemy. Now the smugglers are just as much an enemy of the United States, in a certain way, as an armed invader would be."
"One strikes at the life and liberty of the people, while the smugglers try to cheat Uncle Sam out of money that is due him. I'm not going to enter into a discussion as to the right of the government to impose duties. People have their own opinion as to that. But, as long as the law says certain duties are to be collected, it is the duty of every citizen, not only to pay those dues, but to help collect them. That's what I'm asking you to do, Tom."
"I don't want to get prosy, or deliver a lecture on the work of the custom house, Tom, but, honestly, I think it is a duty you owe to your country to help catch these smugglers. I admit I'm at the end of my rope. This last clew has failed. The Fogers seem to be innocent of wrong doing. We need your help, Tom."
"But I don't see how I can help you."
"Of course you can! You're an expert with airships. The smugglers are using airships, of that I'm sure. You tell me you have just perfected a noiseless aircraft. That will be just the thing. You can hover on the border, near the line dividing New York State from Canada, or near the St. Lawrence, which is the natural division for a certain distance, and when you see an airship coming along you can slip up in your noiseless one, overhaul it, and make them submit to a search."
"But I won't have any authority to do that," objected Tom, who really did not care for the commission.
"Oh, I'll see that you get the proper authority all right," said Mr. Whitford significantly. "I made you a temporary deputy to-night, but if you'll undertake this work, to catch the smugglers in their airships, you will be made a regular custom official."
"Yes, but supposing I can't catch them?" interposed our hero. "They may have very fast airships, and—"
"I guess you'll catch 'em all right!" put in Ned, who was at his chum's side as they walked along a quiet Shopton street in the darkness. "There's not an aeroplane going that can beat yours, Tom."
"Well, perhaps I COULD get them," admitted the young inventor. "But—"
"Then you'll undertake this work for Uncle Sam?" interrupted Mr. Whitford eagerly. "Come, Tom, I know you will."
"I'm not so sure of that," spoke Tom. "It isn't going to be as easy as you think. There are many difficulties in the way. In the first place the smuggling may be done over such a wide area that it would need a whole fleet of airships to capture even one of the others, for they might choose a most unfrequented place to cross the border."
"Oh, we would be in communication with you," said the agent. "We can come pretty near telling where the contrabrand goods will be shipped from, but the trouble is, after we get our tips, we can't get to the place before they have flown away. But with your airship, you could catch them, after we sent you, say a wireless message, about where to look for them. So that's no objection. You have a wireless outfit on your airships, haven't you, Tom?"
"Yes, that part is all right."
"Then you can't have any more objections, Tom."
"Well, there are some. For instance you say most of this smuggling is done at night."
"Practically all of it, yes."
"Well, it isn't going to be easy to pick out a contraband airship in the dark, and chase it. But I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr. Whitford, I feel as if I had sort of 'fallen down' on this clew business, as the newspaper men say, and I owe it to you to make good in some way."
"That's what I want—not that I think you haven't done all you could," interposed the agent.
"Well, if I can figure out some way, by which I think I can come anywhere near catching these smugglers, I'll undertake the work!" exclaimed Tom. "I'll do it as a duty to Uncle Sam, and I don't want any reward except my expenses. It's going to cost considerable, but—"
"Don't mind the expense!" interrupted Mr. Whitford. "Uncle Sam will stand that. Why, the government is losing thousands of dollars every week. It's a big leak, and must be stopped, and you're the one to stop it, Tom."
"Well, I'll try. I'll see you in a couple of days, and let you know if I have formed any plan. Now come on, Ned. I'm tired and want to get to bed."
"So do I," added the agent. "I'll call on you day after to-morrow, Tom, and I expect you to get right on the job," he added with a laugh.
"Have you any idea what you are going to do, Tom?" asked his chum, as they turned toward their houses.
"Not exactly. If I go I'll use my noiseless airship. That will come in handy. But this night business rather stumps me. I don't quite see my way to get around that. Of course I could use an ordinary searchlight, but that doesn't give a bright enough beam, or carry far enough. It's going to be quite a problem and I've got to think it over."
"Queer about the Fogers; wasn't it, Tom?"
"Yes, I didn't think they were going to let us in."
"There's something going on there, in spite of the fact that they were willing for an inspection to be made," went on Ned.
"I agree with you. I thought it was funny the way Mr. Foger acted about not wanting the men to go down in the cellar."
"So did I, and yet when they got down there they didn't find anything."
"That's so. Well, maybe we're on the wrong track, after all. But I'm going to keep my eyes open. I don't see what Andy wants with an airship platform on the roof of his house. The ground is good enough to start from and land on."
"I should think so, too. But then Andy always did like to show off, and do things different from anybody else. Maybe it's that way now."
"Perhaps," agreed Tom. "Well, here's your house, Ned. Come over in the morning," and, with a good-night, our hero left his chum, proceeding on toward his own home.
"Why, Koku, haven't you gone to bed yet?" asked the young inventor, as, mounting the side steps, he saw his giant servant sitting there on a bench he had made especially for his own use, as ordinary chairs were not substantial enough. "What is the matter?"
"Nothing happen YET," spoke Koku significantly, "but maybe he come pretty soon, and then I get him."
"Get who, Koku?" asked Tom, with quick suspicion.
"I do not know, but Eradicate say he hear someone sneaking around his chicken coop, and I think maybe it be same man who was here once before."
"Oh, you mean the rivals, who were trying to get my moving picture camera?"
"That's what!" exclaimed Koku.
"Hum!" mused Tom. "I must be on the look-out. I'll tell you what I'll do, Koku. I'll set my automatic camera to take the moving pictures of any one who tries to get in my shop, or in the chicken coop. I'll also set the burglar alarm. But you may also stay on the watch, and if anything happens—"
"If anything happens, I will un-happen him!" exclaimed the giant, brandishing a big club he had beside him.
"All right," laughed Tom. "I'm sleepy, and I'm going to bed, but I'll set the automatic camera, and fix it with fuse flashlights, so they will go off if the locks are even touched."
This Tom did, fixing up the wizard camera, which I have told you about in the book bearing that title. It would take moving pictures automatically, once Tom had set the mechanism to unreel the films back of the shutter and lens. The lights would instantly flash, when the electrical connections on the door locks were tampered with, and the pictures would be taken.
Then Tom set the burglar alarm, and, before going to bed he focused a searchlight, from one of his airships, on the shed and chicken coop, fastening it outside his room window.
"There!" he exclaimed, as he got ready to turn in, not having awakened the rest of the household, "when the burglar alarm goes off, if it does, it will also start the searchlight, and I'll get a view of who the chicken thief is. I'll also get some pictures."
Then, thinking over the events of the evening, and wondering if he would succeed in his fight with the smugglers, providing he undertook it, Tom fell asleep.
It must have been some time after midnight that he was awakened by the violent ringing of a bell at his ear. At first he thought it was the call to breakfast, and he leaped from bed crying out:
"Yes, Mrs. Baggert, I'm coming!"
A moment later he realized what it was.
"The burglar alarm!" he cried. "Koku, are you there? Someone is trying to get into the chicken coop!" for a glance at the automatic indicator, in connection with the alarm, had shown Tom that the henhouse, and not his shop, had been the object of attack.
"I here!" cried Koku, "I got him!"
A series of startled cries bore eloquent testimony to this.
"I'm coming!" cried Tom. And then he saw a wonderful sight. The whole garden, his shop, the henhouse and all the surrounding territory was lighted up with a radiance almost like daylight. The beams of illumination came from the searchlight Tom had fixed outside his window, but never before had the lantern given such a glow.
"That's wonderful!" cried Tom, as he ran to examine it. "What has happened? I never had such a powerful beam before. There must be something that I have stumbled on by accident. Say, that is a light all right! Why it goes for miles and miles, and I never projected a beam as far as this before."
As Tom looked into a circle of violet-colored glass set in the side cf the small searchlight, to see what had caused the extraordinary glow, he could observe nothing out of the ordinary. The violet glass was to protect the eyes from the glare.
"It must be that, by accident, I made some new connection at the dynamo," murmured Tom.
"Hi! Lemme go! Lemme go, Massa giant! I ain't done nuffin'!" yelled a voice.
"I got you!" cried Koku.
"It's an ordinary chicken thief this time I guess," said Tom. "But this light—this great searchlight—"
Then a sudden thought came to him.
"By Jove!" he cried. "If I can find out the secret of how I happened to project such a beam, it will be the very thing to focus on the smugglers from my noiseless airship! That's what I need—a searchlight such as never before has been made—a terrifically powerful one. And I've got it, if I can only find out just how it happened. I've got to look before the current dies out."
Leaving the brilliant beams on in full blast, Tom ran down the stairs to get to his shop, from which the electrical power came.
TOM'S NEWEST INVENTION
"I got him, Mr. Tom!"
"Oh, please, good Massa Swift! Make him leggo me! He suah am squeezin' de liber outer me!"
"Shall I conflict the club upon him, Mr. Tom?"
It was Koku who asked this last question, as Tom came running toward the giant. In the strange glare from the searchlight, the young inventor saw his big servant holding tightly to a rather small, colored man, while the camera, which was focused full on them, was clicking away at a great rate, taking picture after picture on the roll of films.
"No, don't INFLICT nor CONFLICT the club on him, Koku," advised Tom. "Who is he?"
"I don't know, Mr. Tom. I was in hiding, in the darkness, waiting for him to come back. He had been here once before in the evening, Eradicate says. Well, he came while I was waiting and I detained him. Then the lights went up. They are very bright lights, Mr. Tom."
"Yes, brighter than I expected they would be. I must look and see what causes it. So you detained him, did you, Koku?"
"Yes, and what exposition shall I make of him?"
"What DISPOSITION?" corrected Tom, with a laugh. "Well, did he get any chickens, Koku?"
"Oh, no, I was too tight for him."
"Oh, you mean too fast, or quick. Well, if he didn't get any, I guess you might let him go. I have too much to attend to, to bother with him."
"Oh, bress yo' for dat, Massa Tom!" cried the negro, whom Tom recognized as a worthless character about the town. "I didn't go fo' to do nuffin', Massa Tom. I were jest goin' t' look in de coop, t' count an' see how many fowls mah friend Eradicate had, an' den—"
"Yes, and then I tie you!" broke in Koku.
"You collared him, I guess you mean to say," spoke Tom with a laugh. "Well, I guess, Sam," speaking to the negro, "if YOU had counted Rad's chickens HE couldn't have counted as many in the morning. But be off, and don't come around again, or you might have to count the bars in a jail cell for a change."
"Bress yo' honey. I won't neber come back."
"Shall release him?" asked Koku doubtfully.
"Yes," said Tom.
"And not reflict the club on him?"
The giant raised his club longingly.
"Oh, Massa Tom, protect me!" cried Sam.
"No, don't even REFLECT the club on him," advised the young inventor with a laugh. "He hasn't done any harm, and he may have been the means of a great discovery. Remember Sam," Tom went on sternly, "I have your picture, as you were trying to break into the coop, and if you come around again, I'll use it as evidence against you."
"Oh, I won't come. Not as long as dat giant am heah, anyhow," said the negro earnestly. "Besides, I were only goin' t' count Eradicate's chickens, t' see ef he had as many as I got."
"All right," responded Tom. "Now, Koku, you may escort him off the premises, and be on the lookout the rest of the night, off and on. Where's Rad?"
"He has what he says is 'de misery' in his back so that he had to go to bed," explained the giant, to account for the faithful colored man not having responded to the alarm.
"All right, get rid of Sam, and then come back."
As Tom turned to go in his shop he saw his aged father coming slowly toward him. Mr. Swift had hastily dressed.
"What is the matter, Tom?" he asked. "Has anything happened? I heard your alarm go off, and I came as quickly as I could."
"Nothing much has happened, father, excepting a chicken thief. But something great may come of it. Do you notice that searchlight, and how powerful it is?"
"I do, Tom. I never knew you had one as big as that."
"Neither did I, and I haven't, really. That's one of my smallest ones, but something seems to have happened to it to make it throw out a beam like that. I'm just going to look. Come on in the shop."
The two inventors, young and old, entered, and Tom quickly crossed to where the wires from the automatic dynamo, extended to the searchlight outside the window of his room. He made a quick inspection.
"Look, father!" he cried. "The alternating current from the automatic dynamo has become crossed with direct current from the big storage battery in a funny way. It must have been by accident, for never in the world would I think of connecting up in that fashion. I would have said it would have made a short circuit at once."
"But it hasn't. On the contrary, it has given a current of peculiar strength and intensity—a current that would seem to be made especially for searchlights. Dad, I'm on the edge of a big discovery."
"I believe you, Tom," said his father. "That certainly is a queer way for wires to be connected. How do you account for it?"
"I can't. That is unless some one meddled with the connections after I made them. That must be it. I'll ask Rad and Koku." Just then the giant came in. "Koku, did you touch the wires?" asked Tom.
"Well, Mr. Tom, I didn't mean to. I accidentally pulled one out a while ago, when I was waiting for the thief to come, but I put it right back again. I hope I did no damage."
"No, on the contrary, you did a fine thing, Koku. I never would have dared make such connections myself, but you, not knowing any better, did just the right thing to make an almost perfect searchlight current. It is wonderful! Probably for any other purpose such a current would be useless, but it is just the thing for a great light."
"And why do you need such a powerful light, Tom?" asked Mr. Swift. "Why, it is of extraordinary brilliancy, and it goes for several miles. Look how plainly you can pick out the trees on Nob's Hill," and he pointed to an elevation some distance away from the Swift homestead, across the woods and meadows.
"I believe I could see a bird perched there, if there was one!" exclaimed Tom enthusiastically. "That certainly is a wonderful light. With larger carbons, better parobolic mirrors, a different resistance box, better connections, and a more powerful primary current there is no reason why I could not get a light that would make objects more plainly visible than in the daytime, even in the darkest night, and at a great distance."
"But what would be the object of such a light, Tom?"
"To play upon the smugglers, dad, and catch them as they come over the border in the airship."
"Smugglers, Tom! You don't mean to tell me you are going away again, and after smugglers?"
"Well, dad, I've had an offer, and I think I'll take it. There's no money in it, but I think it is my duty to do my best for Uncle Sam. The one thing that bothered me was how to get a view of the airship at night. This searchlight has solved the problem—that is if I can make a permanent invention of this accident, and I think I can."
"Oh, Tom, I hate to think of you going away from home again," said his father a bit sadly.
"Don't worry, father. I'm not going far this time. Only to the Canadian border, and that's only a few hundred miles. But I want to see if I can cut the current off, and turn it on again. When a thing happens by accident you never know whether you can get just exactly the same conditions again."
Tom shut off the current from the dynamo, and the powerful beam of light died out. Then he turned it on once more, and it glowed as brightly as before. He did this several times, and each time it was a success.
"Hurrah!" cried Tom. "To-morrow I'll start on my latest invention, a great searchlight!"
"BEWARE OF THE COMET!"
"Well, Tom, what are you up to now?"
Ned Newton peered in the window of the shop at his chum, who was busy over a bench.
"This is my latest invention, Ned. Come on in."
"Looks as though you were going to give a magic lantern show. Or is it for some new kinds of moving pictures? Say, do you remember the time we gave a show in the barn, and charged a nickel to come in? You were the clown, and—"
"I was not! You were the clown. I was part of the elephant. The front end, I think."
"Oh. so you were. I'm thinking of another one. But what are you up to now? Is it a big magic lantern?"
Ned came over toward the bench, in front of which Tom stood, fitting together sheets of heavy brass in the form of a big square box. In one side there was a circular opening, and there were various wheels and levers on the different sides and on top. The interior contained parobolic curved mirrors.
"It's a SORT of a lantern, and I hope it's going to do some MAGIC work," explained Tom with a smile. "But it isn't the kind of magic lantern you mean. It won't throw pictures on a screen, but it may show some surprising pictures to us—that is if you come along, and I think you will."
"Talking riddles; eh?" laughed Ned. "What's the answer?"
"I thought you were talking about a lantern."
"So I am, and it's the lantern that's going to show up the smugglers, so you can call it a smuggler's magic lantern if you like."
"Then you're going after them?"
This conversation took place several days after the raid on the Foger house, and after Tom's accidental discovery of how to make a new kind of searchlight. In the meantime he had not seen Ned, who had been away on a visit.
"Yes, I've made up my mind to help Uncle Sam," spoke Tom, "and this is one of the things I'll need in my work. It's going to be the most powerful searchlight ever made—that is, I never heard of any portable electric lights that will beat it."
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"I mean that I'm inventing a new kind of searchlight, Ned. One that I can carry with me on my new noiseless airship, and one that will give a beam of light that will be visible for several miles, and which will make objects in its focus as plain as if viewed by daylight."
"And it's to show up the smugglers?"
"That's what. That is it will if we can get on the track of them."
"But what did you mean when you said it would be the most powerful portable light ever made."
"Just what I said. I've got to carry this searchlight on an airship with me, and, in consequence, it can't be very heavy. Of course there are stationary searchlights, such lights as are in lighthouses, that could beat mine all to pieces for candle power, and for long distance visibility. But they are the only ones."
"That's the way to do things, Tom! Say, I'm going with you all right after those smugglers. But where are some of those powerful stationary searchlights you speak of?"
"Oh, there are lots of them. One was in the Eiffel Tower, during the Paris Exposition. I didn't see that, but I have read about it. Another is in one of the twin lighthouses at the High-lands, on the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, just above Asbury Park. That light is of ninety-five million candle power, and the lighthouse keeper there told me it was visible, on a clear night, as far as the New Haven, Connecticut, lighthouse, a distance of fifty miles."
"Fifty miles! That's some light!" gasped Ned.
"Well, you must remember that the Highlands light is up on a very high hill, and the tower is also high, so there is quite an elevation, and then think of ninety-five million candle power—think of it!"
"I can't!" cried Ned. "It gives me a head-ache."
"Well, of course I'm not going to try to beat that," went on Tom with a laugh, "but I am going to have a very powerful light." And he then related how he had accidently discovered a new way to connect the wires, so as to get, from a dynamo and a storage battery a much stronger, and different, current than usual.
"I'm making the searchlight now," Tom continued, "and soon I'll be ready to put in the lens, and the carbons."
"And then what?"
"Then I'm going to attach it to my noiseless airship, and we'll have a night flight. It may work, and it may not. If it does, I think we'll have some astonishing results."
"I think we will, Tom. Can I do anything to help you?"
"Yes, file some of the rough edges off these sheets of brass, if you will. There's an old pair of gloves to put on to protect your hands, otherwise you'll be almost sure to cut 'em, when the file slips. That brass is extra hard."
The two boys were soon working away, and were busy over the big lantern when Mr. Whitford came along. Koku was, as usual, on guard at the outer door of the shop, but he knew the custom officer, and at once admitted him.
"Well, Tom, how you coming on?" he asked.
"Pretty good. I think I've got just what I want. A powerful light for night work."
"That's good. You'll need it. They've got so they only smuggle the goods over in the night now. How soon do you think you'll be able to get on the border for Uncle Sam?"
"Why, is there any great rush?" asked Tom, as he noticed a look of annoyance pass over the agent's face.
"Yes, the smugglers have been hitting us pretty hard lately. My superiors are after me to do something, but I can't seem to do it. My men are working hard, but we can't catch the rascals."
"You see, Tom, they've stopped, temporarily, bringing goods over the St. Lawrence. They're working now in the neighborhood of Huntington, Canada, and the dividing line between the British possessions and New York State, runs along solid ground there. It's a wild and desolate part of country, too, and I haven't many men up there."
"Don't the Canadian custom officers help?" asked Ned.
"Well, they haven't been of any aid to us so far," was the answer. "No doubt they are trying, but it's hard to get an airship at night when you're on the ground, and can't even see it."
"How did they come to use airships?" asked Tom.
"Well, it was because we were too sharp after them when they tried to run things across the line afoot, or by wagons," replied the agent. "You must know that in every principal city, at or near the border line, there is a custom house. Goods brought from Canada to the United States must pass through there and pay a duty."
"Of course if lawless people try to evade the duty they don't go near the custom house. But there are inspectors stationed at the principal roads leading from the Dominion into Uncle Sam's territory, and they are always on the lookout. They patrol the line, sometimes through a dense wilderness, and again over a desolate plain, always on the watch. If they see persons crossing the line they stop them and examine what they have. If there is nothing dutiable they are allowed to pass. If they have goods on which there is a tax, they either have to pay or surrender the goods."
"But don't the smugglers slip over in spite of all the precautions?" asked Ned. "Say at some lonely ravine, or stretch of woods?"
"I suppose they do, occasionally," replied Mr. Whitford. "Yet the fact that they never can tell when one of the inspectors or deputies is coming along, acts as a stop. Yon see the border line is divided up into stretches of different lengths. A certain man, or men, are held responsible for each division. They must see that no smugglers pass. That makes them on the alert."
"Why, take it out west, I have a friend who told me that he often travels hundreds of miles on horseback, with pack ponies carrying his camping outfit, patroling the border on the lookout for smugglers."
"In fact Uncle Sam has made it so hard for the ordinary smuggler to do business on foot or by wagon, that these fellows have taken to airships. And it is practically impossible for an inspector patroling the border to be on the lookout for the craft of the air. Even if they saw them, what could they do? It would be out of the question to stop them. That's why we need some one with a proper machine who can chase after them, who can sail through the air, and give them a fight in the clouds if they have to."
"Our custom houses on the ground, and our inspectors on horse back, traveling along the border, can't meet the issue. We're depending on you, Tom Swift, and I hope you don't disappoint us."
"Well," spoke Tom, when Mr. Whitford had finished. "I'll do my best for you. It won't take very long to complete my searchlight, and then I'll give it a trial. My airship is ready for service, and once I find we're all right I'll start for the border."
"Good! And I hope you'll catch the rascals!" fervently exclaimed the custom official. "Well, Tom, I'm leaving it all to you. Here are some reports from my deputies. I'll leave them with you, and you can look them over, and map out a campaign. When you are ready to start I'll see you again, and give you any last news I have. I'll also arrange so that you can communicate with me, or some of my men."