Chapter X. Mysterious Passengers
 

Ned and Tom did not escape the usual commotion that always attends the sailing of a large steamer. The people on the dock were waving farewells to those on the boat, and those on the deck of the Maderia shook their handkerchiefs, their steamer rugs, their hands, umbrellas--in short anything to indicate their feelings. It was getting dark, but big electric lights made the dock and the steamer's deck brilliantly aglow.

The big whistle was blowing at intervals to warn other craft that the steamer was coming out of her slip. Fussy little tugs were pushing their blunt noses against the sides of the Maderia to help her and, in brief, there was not a little excitement.

"Bless my steamer chair!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "We're really off at last! And now for the land of--"

"Hush!" exclaimed Tom, who stood near the odd gentleman. "You're forgetting. Some one might hear you."

"That's so, Tom. Bless my soul! I'll keep quiet after this."

"Mah golly!" gasped Eradicate as he saw the open water between the ship and the deck, "I can't git back now if I wanter--but I doan't wanter. I hope yo' father takes good care ob Boomerang, Massa Tom."

"Oh, I guess he will. But come on, Ned, we'll go to the purser's office now."

"What for? Is something wrong?" asked Mr. Damon.

"No, we just want to see if--er--if some friends of ours are on board," replied the young inventor, with a quick glance at his chum.

"Very well," assented Mr. Damon. "I'll wait for you on deck here. It's quite interesting to watch the sights of the harbor."

As for these same sights they possessed no attractions for the two lads at present. They were too intent on learning whether or not their suspicions regarding the Fogers were correct.

"Now if they are on board," said Tom, as they made their way to the purser's office, "it only means one thing--that they're following us to get at the secret of the city of gold," and Tom whispered this last, even though there seemed to be no one within hearing, for nearly all the passengers were up on deck.

"That's right," agreed Ned. "Of course there's a bare chance, if those two were the Fogers, that Mr. Foger is going off to try and make another fortune. But more than likely they're on our trail, Tom."

"If it's them--yes."

"Hum, Foger--no, I don't think I havs any passengers of that name," said the purser slowly, when Tom had put the question. "Let's see, Farday, Fenton, Figaro, Flannigan, Ford, Foraham, Fredericks--those are all the names in the 'Fs'. No Fogers among them. Why, are you looking for some friends of yours, boys?"

"Not exactly friends," replied Tom slowly, "but we know them, and we thought we saw them come aboard, so we wanted to make sure."

"They might be under some other name," suggested Ned.

"Yes, that is sometimes done," admitted the purser with a quick glance at the two lads, "It's done when a criminal wants to throw the police off his track, or, occasionally, when a celebrated person wants to avoid the newspaper reporters. But I hardly think that--"

"Oh, I don't believe they'd do it," said Tom quickly. He saw at once that the suspicions of the purser had been aroused, and the official might set on foot inquiries that would be distasteful to the two lads and Mr. Damon. Then, too, if the Fogers were on board under some other name, they would hear of the questions that had been put regarding them, and if they were on a legitimate errand they could make it unpleasant for Tom.

"I don't believe they'd do anything like that," the young inventor repeated.

"Well, you can look over the passenger list soon," said the purser. "I'm going to post it in the main saloon. But perhaps if you described the persons you are looking for I could help you out. I have met nearly all the passengers already."

"Mr. Foger is a big man, with a florid complexion and he has a heavy brown moustache," said Ned.

"And Andy has red hair, and he squints," added Tom.

"No such persons on board," declared the official positively. "It's true we have several persons who squint, but no one with red hair-- I'm sure of it."

"Then they're not here," declared Ned. "No, we must have been mistaken," agreed Tom, and there was relief in his tone. It was bad enough to have to search for a hidden city of gold, and perhaps have to deal with the head-hunters, without having to fight off another enemy from their trail.

"Much obliged," said the young inventor to the purser, and then the two lads went back on deck.

A little later supper was served in the big dining saloon, and the boys and Mr. Damon were glad of it, for they were hungry. Eradicate ate with a party of colored persons whose acquaintance he had quickly made. It was a gay gathering in which Tom and Ned found themselves, for though they had traveled much, generally it had been in one of Tom's airships, or big autos, and this dining on a big ship was rather a novelty to them.

The food was good, the service prompt, and Tom found himself possessed of a very good appetite. He glanced across the table and noted that opposite him and Ned, and a little way down the board, were two vacant chairs.

"Can't be that anyone is seasick already." he remarked to his chum.

"I shouldn't think so, for we haven't any more motion than a ferryboat. But some persons are very soon made ill on the water."

"If they're beginning thus early, what will happen when we get out where it's real rough?" Tom wanted to know.

"They'll sure be in for it," agreed Ned, and a glance around the dining saloon showed that those two vacant chairs were the only ones.

Somehow Tom felt a vague sense of uneasiness--as if something was about to happen. In a way he connected it with the suspicion that the Fogers were aboard, and with his subsequent discovery that their names were not on the passenger list. Then, with another thought in mind, he looked about to see if be could pick out the man and youth who, on coming up the gang plank, had been taken by both Tom and Ned to be their enemies. No one looking like either was to be seen, and Tom's mind at once went back to the vacant seats at the table.

"By Jove, Ned!" he exclaimed. "I believe I have it!"

"Have what--a fit of seasickness?"

"No, but these empty seats--the persons we saw you know--they belong there and they're afraid to come out and be seen."

"Why should they be--if they're not the Fogers. I guess you've got another think coming."

"Well, I'm sure there's something mysterious about those two--the way they hid their faces as they came on board--not appearing at supper--I'm going to keep my eyes open."

"All right, go as far as you like and I'm with you. Just now you may pass me the powdered sugar. I want some on this pie."

Tom laughed at Ned's matter-of-fact indifference, but when the young inventor turned in to his berth that night he could not stop thinking of the empty seats--the two mysterious passengers--and the two Fogers. They got all jumbled in his head and made his sleep restless.

Morning saw the Maderia well out to sea, and, as there was quite a swell on, the vessel rolled and pitched to an uncomfortable degree. This did not bother Tom and Ned, who were used to sudden changes of equilibrium from their voyages in the air. Nor did Mr. Damon suffer. In fact he was feeling fine and went about on deck like an old salt, blessing so many new things that he had many of the passengers amused.

Poor Eradicate did suffer though. He was very seasick, and kept to his berth most of the time, while some of his new friends did what they could for him.

Tom had in mind a plan whereby he might solve the identity of the mysterious passengers. He was going to do it by a process of elimination--that is he would carefully note all on board until he had fixed on the two who had aroused his suspicions. And he had to do this because so many of the passengers looked very different, now that they had on their ship "togs," than when first coming on board.

But the rough weather of the first day prevented the lad from carrying out his plan, as many of the travelers kept to their staterooms, and there were a score of vacant places at the tables.

The next day, however, was fine, and with the sea like the proverbial mill pond, it seemed that everyone was out on deck. Yet when meal time came there were these same two vacant seats.

"What do you think of it, Ned?" asked Tom, with a puzzled air.

"I don't know what to think, Tom. It sure is queer that these two-- whoever they are--don't ever come to meals. They can't be seasick on a day like this, and they certainly weren't the first night."

"That's right. I'm going to ask one of the stewards where their stateroom is, and why they don't come out."

"You may get into trouble."

"Oh, I guess not. If I do I can stand it. I want to solve this mystery." Tom did put his question to one of the dining saloon stewards and it created no suspicions.

"Ah, yes, I guess you must mean Mr. Wilson and his son." spoke the steward when he had referred to a list that corresponded with the numbers of the vacant places at the table. "They have their meals served in their stateroom."

"Why?" asked Tom, "are they ill?"

"I really couldn't say, sir. They prefer it that way, and the captain consented to it from the first."

"But I should think they'd want to get out for a breath of air," put in Ned. "I can't stay below decks very long."

"They may come out at night," suggested the steward. "Some of our travelers think they are less likely to be seasick if they come out at night. They don't see the motion of the waves then."

"Guess that's it," agreed Tom with a wink at Ned. "Much obliged. Glad we're not seasick," and he linked his arm in that of his chum's and marched him off.

"Why the wink?" asked Ned, when they were out of earshot of the steward.

"That was to tip you off to say nothing more. I've got a plan I'm going to work."

"What is it?"

"Well, we know who the mysterious ones are. anyhow--at least we know their names--Wilson."

"It may not be the right one."

"That doesn't make any difference. I can find out their stateroom by looking at the passenger list."

"What good will that do."

"Lots. I'm going to keep a watch on that stateroom until I get a good look at the people in it. And if they only come out at night, which it begins to look like, I'm going to do some night watching. This thing has got to be settled, Ned. Our trip to the city of gold is too important to risk having a mysterious couple on our trail-- when that same couple may be the Fogers. I'm going to do some detective work, Ned!"