Chapter XII. A Strange Disappearance
 

Disappointed and puzzled, Tom and Ned went to where Koku was standing in rather a dazed attitude. The giant, like all large bodies, moved slowly, not only bodily but mentally. He could understand exactly what had happened, except that he had not prevailed over the "pygmies" who had attacked him. They had been too many for him.

"Let's take a look inside," suggested Tom, when, by another glance upward, he had made sure that all trace of his big airship was gone. "Maybe we can get a clue. Then, Koku, you tell us what happened."

"It all happened to me," said the giant, simply. "Me no make anything happen to them."

"That's about right," laughed Tom, ruefully. "It all happened to us."

The lights in the hangar were switched on, but a careful search revealed little. The men, half a dozen or more, had come evidently well prepared for the taking away of Tom Swift's airship, and they had done so.

Entrance had been effected by forcing a small side door. True, the burglar alarm had given notice of the presence of the men, but Tom and Ned had not acted quite quickly enough. Koku had been at the hangar almost as soon as the men themselves, but he had watched and waited for orders, instead of going in at once, and this had given the intruders time to wheel out the craft and start the motor.

"Why didn't you jump right in on them when you saw what they were up to, Koku?" asked Tom.

"Me wait for master. Me think master want to see who men were. Me go in--they run."

"Well, of course that's so, in a way," admitted Tom. "They probably would have run, but they'd have run without my airship instead of with it, if they hadn't had time to get it outside the hangar. However, there's no use in crying over lost biplanes. The next thing is how to get her back. Did you know any of the men, Koku?"

"No, master."

"Then we haven't any clue that way. They laid their plans well. They just let you tangle yourself up with them, Koku, while the head ones got the motor going; an easy matter, since it was all ready to start. Then they tripped you, Koku, and as many of them as could, made a jump for the machine. Then they were off."

"Well, what's the next thing to do?" asked Ned, when another look about the shed had shown that not the slightest clue was available.

"I'm going to do some telephoning," Tom stated. "A big airship like mine can't go scooting around the country without being noticed. And those fellows can't go on forever. They've got to have gasoline and oil, and to get them they'll have to come down. I'll get it back, sooner or later; but the question is: Why did they take her?"

"To sell," suggested Ned.

"I think not," Tom said. "A big airship like mine isn't easy to sell. People who would buy it would ask questions that might not easily be answered. I'm inclined to think that some other reason made them take her, and it's up to us to find out what it was. Let's go into the house."

"Hark!" suddenly exclaimed Ned, holding up his hand for silence. They all heard footsteps outside the hangar.

Tom sprang to the door, flashing his electric light, and a voice exclaimed:

"Golly! Chicken thieves!"

"Oh, is it you, Eradicate?" asked the young inventor, with a laugh. "No, it isn't chicken thieves--they were after bigger game this time."

"Suffin happen?" asked the colored man. "Massa Swift he heah a noise, an' see a light, an' he sent me out yeah t' see what all am gwine on."

"Yes, something happened," admitted Tom. "They got the Eagle, Rad."

"What! Yo' big airship?"

"Yes."

"Huh! Dat's too bad, Massa Tom. I suah am sorry t' heah dat. Who done it?"

"We don't know, Rad."

"Maybe it was dat low-down cousin ob mine what tried t' git mah chickens, onct!"

"No, Rad, it wasn't your cousin. But I'll telephone the alarm to the police. They may be able to help me get the Eagle back."

Within the next hour several messages were sent to the authorities of nearby towns, asking them to be on the watch for the stolen airship. This was about all that could be done, and after Mr. Swift had been told the story of the night's happenings, everyone went back to bed again.

Further search the next morning brought forth no clues, though Tom, Ned and the others beat about in the bushes where the men had disappeared.

One or two reports were heard from surrounding towns, to the effect that several persons had heard a strange throbbing sound in the night, that, possibly, was caused by the passage of the airship overhead. One such report came from Waterford, the home town of Mr. Damon.

"Let's go over there," suggested Ned, to his chum. "I'd like to see our friend, and maybe we can get some other clues by circulating around there."

"Oh, I don't know," spoke Tom, rather listlessly.

"Why not?" Ned wanted to know.

"Well, I ought to be working on my photo telephone," was the answer. "I've got a new idea now. I'm going to try a different kind of current, and use a more sensitive plate. And I'll use a tungsten filament lamp in the sending booth."

"Oh, let your experiments go for a little while, Tom," suggested Ned. "Come on over to Mr. Damon's. The trouble with you is that you keep too long at a thing, once you start."

"That's the only way to succeed," remarked Tom. "Really, Ned, while I feel sorry about the airship, of course, I ought to be working on my telephone. I'll get the Eagle back sooner or later."

"That's not the way to talk, Tom. Let's follow up this clue."

"Well, if you insist on it I suppose I may as well go. We'll take the little monoplane. I've fixed her up to carry double. I guess-- "

Tom Swift broke off suddenly, as the telephone at his elbow rang.

"Hello," he said, taking off the receiver. "Yes, this is Tom Swift. Oh, good morning, Mrs. Damon! Eh! What's that? Mr. Damon has disappeared? You don't tell me! Disappeared! Yes, yes, I can come right over. Be there in a few minutes. Eh? You don't know what to make of it? Oh, well, maybe it can easily be explained. Yes, Ned Newton and I will be right over. Don't worry."

Tom hung up the receiver and turned to his chum.

"What do you think of that?" he asked.

"What is it?"

"Why, Mr. Damon mysteriously vanished last night, and this morning word came from his bankers that every cent of his fortune had disappeared! He's lost everything!"

"Maybe--maybe--" hesitated Ned.

"No, Mr. Damon isn't that kind of a man," said Tom, stoutly. "He hasn't made away with himself."

"But something is wrong!"

"Evidently, and it's up to us to find out what it is. I shouldn't be surprised but that he knew of this coming trouble and started out to prevent it if he could."

"But he wouldn't disappear and make his wife worry."

"No, that's so. Well, we'll have to go over there and find out all about it."

"Say, Tom!" exclaimed Ned, as they were getting the small, but swift monoplane ready for the flight, "could there be any connection with the disappearance of Mr. Damon and the taking of the Eagle?"

Tom started in surprise.

"How could there be?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Ned. "It was only an idea."

"Well, we'll see what Mrs. Damon has to say," spoke the young inventor, as he took his seat beside Ned, and motioned to Koku to twirl the propeller.