Chapter XXIII. Ned is Missing
 

There was a period of silence, following Tom's startling announcement. There were several plate glass windows in the floor of the airship, and through these they all gazed at the youth on the motor-cycle. Only Tom, however, by the aid of the glasses, was able to make out his features.

"Bless my spark plug! Andy Foger!" cried Mr. Damon. "Are you going to try to catch him?"

"Get him and break chug-chug machine!" suggested Koku.

"What do you suppose he's up to, Tom?" asked Ned.

"Andy Foger speeding along at this hour of the morning," remarked Mr. Whitford. "There must be something in the wind."

"Get a moving picture of him," urged Mr. Period. "I might be able to use that."

"I hardly think it would be worth while," decided Tom. "You see Andy hasn't done anything criminal, as far as we know. Of course I think he is capable of it, but that's a different thing. He may be out only on a pleasure jaunt, and he could stop us from showing the pictures, if we took them."

"That's so," agreed Mr. Period. "Don't run any risks of a lawsuit. It takes up too much of my time. Never mind the pictures."

"Just capture him, Tom, and see what he is doing," suggested Mr. Damon. "Bless my chewing gum! But he must be up to something."

"Well, he's aware of the fact that we're watching him, at all events!" exclaimed Mr. Whitford, for, at that moment, Andy, having seen the glare of the light, glanced up. They could see him looking at him, and, a second later, the Shopton bully steered his machine down a side road where the overhanging trees were so thick that he could not be made out, even by the powerful gleams of the great searchlight.

"He's gone!" gasped Ned.

"Afraid I guess," added Mr. Damon. "That shows he was up to something wrong. Well, what are we going to do?"

"Nothing, that I can see," spoke Mr. Whitford. "We can only go back to our camping place, and make another try. This Andy Foger may, or may not, be in with the smugglers. That's something we have yet to prove. However, we can't do anything now."

In vain did Ned try to get the bully within range of the light. They could hear the sounds of the motor cycle growing more and more faint, and then, as it was rapidly getting light, and as they did not want to be seen dropping into their camping place, they made all haste toward it, before dawn should break.

"Well, I can't spend any more time here," declared Mr. Period, when a hasty breakfast had been served.

"Will you ride back with me?" asked Mr. Whitford of the moving picture man.

"Will I? Well, I guess I will! You can't lose me! I'm not going to be captured by those smugglers. I'd be a valuable man for them to have as a hostage. They'd probably ask a million dollars ransom for me," and Mr. Period carefully straightened his brilliant red necktie.

Soon he and Mr. Whitford were riding back to town, taking a roundabout way, as the agent always did, to throw any possible spies off the track.

Everyone, even including the giant Koku was tired enough to take a sleep after dinner. It was about three o'clock when Ned awoke, and he found Tom already up, and at the wireless instrument, which was clicking and buzzing.

"Message coming?" asked the young bank clerk.

Tom nodded, and clasped the receiver over his ear. A moment later he began jotting down a message.

"Mr. Whitford says he has a tip that something is going to take place to-night," read the young inventor a few minutes later. "The smugglers have accumulated a big store of goods, and they are anxious to get them over the border. There are silks, laces, diamonds, and other things on which there is a high duty, or tax for bringing into the United States. He will be here early, and we must be ready for a start at once."

"All right. I guess we are ready now. Say, I'm going over to that little brook, and see if I can catch a few trout for supper."

"All right. Good idea. Don't be gone too long."

"I won't. Say, where is my coat, anyhow? I never can seem to keep track of that, or my cap either."

"Never mind. Wear mine, and you won't be delayed looking for them," so Ned donned Tom's garment and headpiece, and set out.

Three hours passed, and Mr. Damon prepared to get supper.

"I wonder why Ned doesn't come back with the fish?" he said. "It's time, if we're going to cook them to-night."

"That's right, he ought to be here," agreed Tom. "Koku take a walk over to the trout brook, and tell Mr. Ned to come here, whether he has any fish or not."

"Sure, me go, Mr. Tom!"

Koku was gone perhaps five minutes, and when he came back he was much excited.

"Mr. Ned he no there!" the giant cried. "But fish pole all broken, and ground all full of holes. Look like fight."

Tom started for the place where he knew Ned usually went to fish. Koku and Mr. Damon followed. On reaching it our hero saw indeed that the ground was "full of holes," as the giant described the indentations made by the heels of boots and shoes.

"There's been a fight here!" cried Tom.

"Yes, and Ned is missing," added Mr. Damon.