Chapter X. Off for the Border
 

"There he goes, Tom!"

"Yes, I see him!"

"Look at him run!"

"No wonder. Consider his long legs, Ned. Put on a little more speed, and keep a little lower down. It's clear of trees right here."

"There he goes into that clump of bushes."

"I see him. He'll soon come out," and Tom flashed the big light on the fleeing giant to whom fear seemed to lend more than wings.

But even a giant, long legged though he be, and powerful, cannot compete with a modern airship--certainly not such a one as Tom Swift had.

"We're almost up to him, Tom!" cried Ned a little later.

"Yes! I'm keeping track of him. Oh, why doesn't he know enough to stop? Koku! Koku!" called Tom. "It's all right! I'm in the airship! This is a searchlight, not a comet. Wait for us!"

They could see the giant glance back over his shoulder at them, and, when he saw how close the gleaming light was he made a desperate spurt. But it was about his last, for he was a heavy man, and did not have any too good wind.

"We'll have him in another minute," predicted Tom. "Give me a bit more speed, Ned."

The lad who was managing the Falcon swung the accelerating lever over another notch, and the craft surged ahead. Then Ned executed a neat trick. Swinging the craft around in a half circle, he suddenly opened the power full, and so got ahead of Koku. The next minute, sliding down to earth, Tom and Ned came to a halt, awaiting the oncoming of Koku, who, finding the glaring light full in his face, came to a halt.

"Why, Koku, what's the matter?" asked Tom kindly, as he turned off the powerful beams, and switched on some ordinary incandescents, that were on the outside of the craft. They made an illumination by which the giant could make out his master and the latter's chum. "Why did you run, Koku?" asked Tom.

"Eradicate say to," was the simple answer. "He say comet come to eat up earth. Koku no want to be eaten."

"Eradicate is a big baby!" exclaimed Tom. "See, there is no danger. It is only my new searchlight," and once more the young inventor switched it on. Koku jumped back, but when he saw that nothing happened he did not run.

"It's harmless," said Tom, and briefly he explained how the big lantern worked.

Koku was reassured now, and consented to enter the airship. He was rather tired from his run, and was glad to sit down.

"Where to now; back home?" asked Ned, as they made ready to start.

"No, I was thinking of going over to Mr. Damon's house. I'd like him to see my searchlight. And I want to find out if he's going with us on the trip to the border."

"Of course he will!" predicted Ned. "He hasn't missed a trip with you in a long while. He'll go if his wife will let him," and both boys laughed, for Mr. Damon's wife was nearly always willing to let him do as he liked, though the odd man had an idea that she was violently opposed to his trips.

Once more the Falcon went aloft, and again the searchlight played about. It brought out with startling distinctness the details of the towns and villages over which they passed, and distant landmarks were also made plainly visible.

"We'll be there in a few minutes now," said Tom, as he flashed the light on a long slant toward the town of Waterford, where Mr. Damon lived.

"I can see his house," spoke Ned a moment later. He changed the course of the craft, to bring it to a stop in the yard of the eccentric man, and, shortly afterward, they landed. Tom who had shut off the searchlight for a minute, turned it on again, and the house and grounds of Mr. Damon were enveloped in a wonderful glow.

"That will bring him out," predicted Tom.

A moment later they heard his voice.

"Bless my astronomy!" cried Mr. Damon. "There's a meteor fallen in our yard. Come out, wife--everybody--call the servants. It's a chance of a lifetime to see one, and they're valuable, too! Bless my star dust! I must tell Tom Swift of this!"

Out into the glare of the great searchlight ran Mr. Damon, followed by his wife and several of the servants.

"There it is!" cried the odd man. "There's the meteor!"

"First we're a comet and then we're a meteor," said Ned with a laugh.

"Oh. I hope it doesn't bury itself in the earth before I can get Tom Swift here!" went on Mr. Damon, capering about. "Bless my telephone book. I must call him up right away!"

"I'm here now, Mr. Damon!" shouted Tom, as he alighted from the airship. "That's my new searchlight you're looking at."

"Bless my--" began Mr. Damon, but he couldn't think of nothing strong enough for a moment, until he blurted out "dynamite cartridge! Bless my dynamite cartridge! Tom Swift! His searchlight! Bless my nitro-glycerine!"

Then Tom shut off the glare, and, as Mr. Damon and his wife came aboard he showed them how the light worked. He only used a part of the current, as he knew if he put on the full glare toward Mr. Damon's house, neighbors might think it was on fire.

"Well, that's certainly wonderful," said Mrs. Damon. "In fact this is a wonderful ship."

"Can't you take Mrs. Damon about, and show her how it works," said Mr. Damon suddenly. "Show her the ship."

"I will," volunteered Tom.

"No, let Ned," said the eccentric man. "I--er--I want to speak to you, Tom."

Mrs. Damon, with a queer glance at her husband, accompanied Ned to the motor room. As soon as she was out of hearing the odd gentleman came over and whispered to the young inventor.

"I say, Tom, what's up?"

"Smugglers. You know. I told you about 'em. I'm going after 'em with my big searchlight."

"Bless my card case! So you did. But, I say, Tom, I--I want to go!"

"I supposed you would. Well, you're welcome, of course. We leave in a few days. It isn't a very long trip this time, but there may be plenty of excitement. Then I'll book you for a passage, and--"

"Hush! Not another word! Here she comes, Tom. My wife! Don't breathe a syllable of it to her. She'll never let me go." Then, for the benefit of Mrs. Damon, who came back into the main cabin with Ned at that moment, her husband added in loud tones:

"Yes, Tom it certainly is a wonderful invention. I congratulate you," and, at the same time he winked rapidly at our hero. Tom winked in return.

"Well, I guess we'll start back," remarked Tom, after a bit. "I'll see you again, I suppose, Mr. Damon?"

"Oh yes, of course. I'll be over--soon," and once more he winked as he whispered in Tom's ear: "Don't leave me behind, my boy."

"I won't," whispered the young inventor in answer.

Mrs. Damon smiled, and Tom wondered if she had discovered her husband's innocent secret.

Tom and Ned, with Koku, made a quick trip back to Shopton, using the great searchlight part of the way. The next day they began preparations for the journey to the border.

It did not take long to get ready. No great amount of stores or supplies need be taken along, as they would not be far from home, not more than a two days' journey at any time. And they would be near large cities, where food and gasolene could easily be obtained.

About a week later, therefore, Mr. Whitford the government agent, having been communicated with in the meanwhile, Tom and Ned, with Koku and Mr. Damon were ready to start.

"I wonder if Mr. Whitford is coming to see us off?" mused Tom, as he looked to see if everything was aboard, and made sure that the searchlight was well protected by its waterproof cover.

"He said he'd be here," spoke Ned.

"Well, it's past time now. I don't know whether to start, or to wait."

"Wait a few minutes more," advised Ned. "His train may be a few minutes behind time."

They waited half an hour, and Tom was on the point of starting when a messenger boy came hurrying into the yard where the great airship rested on its bicycle wheels.

"A telegram for you, Tom," called the lad, who was well acquainted with our hero.

Hastily the young inventor tore open the envelope.

"Here's news!" he exclaimed,

"What is it?" asked Ned.

"It's from Mr. Whitford," answered his chum. "He says: 'Can't be with you at start. Will meet you in Logansville. Have new clew to the Fogers!'"

"Great Scott!" cried Ned, staring at his chum.