Chapter XXV. The Capture--Conclusion

"Do you think they know we are here, Tom?" asked Mr. Whitford, as he stood at the side of the young inventor in the motor room.

"I don't believe so, as yet. They can't hear us, and, unless they have pretty powerful glasses, they can't pick us up. We can soon tell however, if they are aware that we are following them."

"Have you made any plan about capturing them?"

"No, I'm going to wait and see what turns up. I can't certainly chase two of them, if they separate, and that's why I'm going to cripple one if I have to."

"But won't that be dangerous? I don't want to see any of them killed, or even hurt, though they are smugglers."

"And I don't want to hurt them, either. If worst comes to worst I'm going to put a few holes in the wing planes of the smaller craft. That will cause her to lose headway, and she can't keep up. They'll have to volplane to earth, but, if they know anything at all about airships, they can do that easily, and not get a bit hurt. That will put them out of the race, and I can keep on after the big ship. I fancy that carries the more valuable cargo."

"I presume so. Well, don't bring the one to earth until you get over Uncle Sam's territory, and then maybe there will be a chance to capture them, and the goods too."

"I will," promised Tom. They were still over Canadian territory, but were rapidly approaching the border.

"I think I will send a wireless to my men in Logansville, to start out and try to pick up the crippled airship after you disable her," decided Mr. Whitford, and as Tom agreed that this was a good plan, the wireless was soon cracking away, the government agent being an adept in its use.

"I've told them we'd give another signal to tell them, as nearly as possible where we made them take to earth," he said to Tom, and the young inventor nodded in agreement.

"Ned in them ship?" asked Koku, as he came back from the pilot house to report that Mr. Damon was all right, and needed no help.

"Yes, I think Ned is in one of them," said Tom. "The big one most likely. Poor Ned a prisoner! Well, I'll soon have him away from them--if nothing happens," and Tom looked about the motor room, to make sure that every piece of apparatus was working perfectly.

The two airships of the smugglers were hanging close together, and it was evident that the larger one had to make her pace slow, so as not to get ahead of the small craft. Tom followed on relentlessly, not using half his speed, but creeping on silently in the darkness.

"We're over the United States now," said Mr. Whitford, after a glance earthward through the binoculars. "Let 'em get a little farther over the line before you pop 'em with your electric rifle, Tom."

Our hero nodded, and looked out of a side window to note the progress of the smugglers. For several miles the chase was thus kept up, and then, suddenly the smaller craft was seen to swerve to one side.

"They are separating!" cried Mr. Whitford, at the same time Mr. Damon called through the tube from the pilot house:

"Which one shall I follow, Tom?"

"The big one," the youth answered. "I'll take care of the other!" With a quick motion he flashed the current into the great searchlight, and, calling to Mr. Whitford to hold it so that the beams played on the small aeroplane, Tom leveled his wonderful electric rifle at the big stretch of canvas. He pressed the lever, a streak of blue flame shot out through an opened port, and, an instant later, the small craft of the smugglers was seen to stagger about, dipping to one side.

"There they come!" cried Mr. Whitford. "They're done for!"

"One shot more," said Tom grimly. "It won't hurt 'em!"

Again the deadly electric rifle sent out its wireless charge, and the airship slowly fluttered toward the earth.

"They're volplaning down!" cried Tom. "That's the end of them. Now to catch the other!"

"Take the lantern!" cried Mr. Whitford. "I'm going to send a wireless to my men to get after this disabled craft."

Tom swung the beam of the searchlight forward and a moment later had picked up the big aeroplane. It was some distance in advance, and going like the wind. He heard the automatic camera clicking away.

"They speeded her up as soon as they saw what was on!" cried Tom. "But we haven't begun to go yet!"

He signalled to Mr. Damon, who pulled over the accelerating lever and instantly the Falcon responded. Now indeed the race was on in earnest. The smugglers must have understood this, for they tried all their tactics to throw the pursuing airship off the track. They dodged and twisted, now going up, and now going down, and even trying to turn back, but Tom headed them off. Ever the great beam of light shone relentlessly on them, like some avenging eye. They could not escape.

"Are we gaining?" cried Mr. Whitford.

"A little, and slowly," answered Tom. "They have a bigger load on than when we chased them before, but still they have a speed almost equal to ours. They must have a magnificent motor."

Faster and faster sped on the Falcon. The other craft kept ahead of her, however, though Tom could see that, inch by inch, he was overhauling her.

"Where do they seem to be heading for?" asked the government agent.

"Shopton, as near as I can make out," replied the youth. "They probably want to get there ahead of us, and hide the goods. I must prevent that. Mr. Damon is steering better than he ever did before."

Tom shifted the light to keep track of the smugglers, who had dipped downward on a steep slant. Then they shot upward, but the Falcon was after them.

The hours of the night passed. The chase was kept up. Try as the smugglers did, they could not shake Tom off. Nearer and nearer he crept. There was the gray dawn of morning in the sky, and Tom knew, from the great speed they had traveled that they must be near Shopton.

"They're slowing up. Tom!" suddenly cried Mr. Whitford who was watching them through an open port.

"Yes, I guess they must have heated some of their bearings. Well, here's where I capture them, if it's ever to be. Koku, let down the grappling anchor."

"Are you really going to capture them, Tom?" asked the custom officer.

"I'm going to try," was the answer, as Koku came back to say that the anchor was dragging over the stern by a long rope.

"You work the light, Mr. Whitford," cried Tom. "I'm going to relieve Mr. Damon in the pilot house. He can help you here. It will be all over in another minute."

In the pilot house Tom grasped the steering levers. Then in a final burst of speed he sent his craft above, and past that of the smugglers.

Suddenly he felt a shock. It was the grappling anchor catching in the rail of the other air craft. A shout of dismay arose from the smugglers.

"You've got 'em! You've got 'em, Tom!" yelled Mr. Whitford.

"Bless my hasty pudding! So he has!" gasped Mr. Damon.

Changing the course of his craft Tom sent the Falcon toward the earth, pulling the other aeroplane with him. Down and down he went, and the frantic efforts of the smugglers to release themselves were useless. They were pulled along by the powerful airship of our hero.

A few minutes later Tom picked out a good landing place in the dim light of the breaking dawn, and went to earth. Jamming on the brakes he leaped from the pilot house to the stern of his own craft, catching up his electric rifle. The other airship, caught by the grappling anchor at the end of a long rope, was just settling down, those in her having the good sense to shut off their power, and volplane when they found that they could not escape.

As the smugglers' craft touched the earth, several figures leaped from her, and started to run away.

"Hold on!" cried Tom. "I've got you all covered with the electric rifle! Don't move! Koku, you, and Mr. Whitford and Mr. Damon take care of them. Tie 'em up."

"Bless my hat band!" cried the eccentric man. "What a great capture! Where are we?"

"Not far from Shopton," answered Tom. "But look after the prisoners."

There was a cry of astonishment from Mr. Whitford as he reached the sullen occupants of the smugglers' craft.

"Here are the Fogers--father and son!" the agent called to Tom. "They were in it after all. Great Scott! What a surprise. And here are a lot of men whom I've been after for some time! Oh, Tom Swift, this is a capture."

"What right have you to use these high-handed methods on us?" demanded Mr. Foger pompously.

"Yes, dad make 'em let us go; we haven't done anything!" snarled Andy.

"I guess you won't go yet a while," said the agent. "I'll have a look inside this craft. Keep 'em covered, Tom."

"I will. I guess Andy knows what this rifle can do. See if Ned is a prisoner."

There was a few moments of waiting during which Koku and Mr. Damon securely bound the prisoners. Then Mr. Whitford reappeared. He was accompanied by some one.

"Hello, Tom!" called the latter. "I'm all right. Much obliged for the rescue."

"Are you all right, Ned?" asked Tom, of his chum.

"Yes, except that they kept me gagged. The men who captured me took me for you, and, after the Fogers found out the mistake, they decided to keep me anyhow. Say, you've made a great haul."

And so it proved, for in the airship was a quantity of valuable silks and laces, while on the persons of the smugglers, including Mr. Foger, were several packets of diamonds. These were taken possession of by Mr. Whitford, who also confiscated the bales and packages.

Ned was soon aboard the Falcon, while the prisoners, securely tied were laid in the cabin of their own craft with Koku to stand guard over them. Mr. Damon went to Shopton, which was the nearest town, for police aid, and soon the smugglers were safe in jail, though Mr. Foger protested vigorously against going.

Ned explained how he had been pounced upon by two men when he was fishing, and told how without a chance to warn his friends, he had been gagged and bound and taken to the headquarters of the smugglers in Canada, just over the border. They went by carriages. Then the Fogers, who, it seemed, were hand in glove with the law violators, saw him, and identified him. The smugglers had thought they were capturing Tom.

"It was your coat and hat that did it, Tom," explained Ned. "I fought against being taken away, but when I happened to think if they took me for you it might be a trick against them. And it was. The Fogers didn't discover the mistake until just before we started."

"They planned for a big shipment of goods last night and used two airships. I don't know what became of the other."

"We've got her, and the men, too," interposed Mr. Whitford, as this conversation was taking place several hours later in the Swift home. "I just had a wire from my deputy. They got right after the damaged airship, and reached her just as the men were hiding the goods, and preparing to dismantle the craft. We have them all, thanks to you, Tom!"

"And to think that the Fogers were in it all the while!" remarked Tom. "They certainly fooled us."

"I'm not done with them yet," said Mr. Whitford. "I'm going to have another look at their house, and the gardener's home."

"The Fogers were in dire straits, that's why they went in with the smugglers," explained Ned. "Though they gagged me, they didn't stop up my ears, and when they hid me in a little room on the airship, I could hear them talking together. It seems that the smugglers put up the money to buy the airships, and just happened to stumble on Andy to run the machinery for them. His father helped, too. They shared in the proceeds, and they must have made considerable, for the smuggling has been going on for some time."

"Well, they'll lose all they made," declared the agent. Later he, Tom and Ned made another inspection of the Foger premises. Down in the cellar of the gardener's house they found, behind a cunningly concealed door, a tunnel leading into the old mansion. Later it was learned that the smugglers had been in the habit of bringing goods across the border in airships, landing them in a lonely stretch of woods outside of Shopton, and later bringing them by wagon to the mansion.

Inside there, in some secret rooms that had been constructed off of the main apartments, the goods would be unpacked, put in different boxes, carried through the tunnel to the gardener's house, and thence shipped as "old furniture" to various unscrupulous agents who disposed of them.

The hiring of Mr. Dillon had been only a blind. Later the smugglers, in the guise of carpenters, made the desired changes. So cunningly had the opening of the tunnel in the cellar of the gardener's house been concealed, that it was only discovered after a most careful search.

There is little more to tell. With the capture of the two airships, an end was put to the smuggling operations, especially since nearly all the gang was captured. A few, those who brought the goods up the St. Lawrence, from the ocean steamers, managed to escape, but they had to go into hiding.

The goods captured proved very valuable, and partly made up to Uncle Sam's treasury the losses sustained. Tom was offered a big reward, but would not take it, accepting only money for his expenses, and requesting that the reward be divided among the agents of Mr. Whitford's staff, who needed it more than Tom did.

There was no difficulty about convicting the prisoners, including the Fogers, for Tom's wizard camera had taken pictures of the chase and capture, and the men were easily identified. Mr. Period was quite delighted with the roll of films that Tom gave him. Some of the smugglers were sent to prison for long terms, and others, including Andy and his father, had to pay heavy fines.

"Well, Tom Swift, I can't thank you enough," said Mr. Whitford, one day as he called to pay the young inventor a visit. "I'm ordered to the Pacific coast and I may have to send for you with your airship, and great searchlight."

"I don't believe I'll come," laughed the lad. "I'm going to take a long rest and settle down."

"He's going to get married!" exclaimed Ned, taking care to get behind a chair.

"If Mr. Tom marry, he keep Koku for servant?" asked the giant anxiously.

"Oh, I'm not going to get married, just yet, Koku!" exclaimed Tom, who was blushing furiously. "I'm going to invent something new."

"Bless my fountain pen!" cried Mr. Damon.

"Oh, Tom, it seems good to have you home again," said aged Mr. Swift softly.

"Dat's what it do!" added Eradicate. "Boomerang hab been monstrous lonely sence yo'-all been gone, Massa Tom."

"Well, I'm going to stay home--for a while," said Tom. And thus, surrounded as he is by his friends and relatives, we will take leave of Tom Swift.