Chapter IX. "That Looked Like Andy!"
 

What seemed at first as if it was going to be a tedious time of waiting, proved to be a delightful experience, for our friends found much to occupy their attention in New York.

Tom and Ned went to several theatrical performances, and wanted Mr. Damon to go with them, but the odd man said he wanted to visit several museums and other places of historical interest, so, while he was browsing around that way, the boys went to Bronx Park, and to Central Park, to look at the animals, and otherwise enjoy themselves.

Eradicate put in his time in his own way. Much of it was spent in restaurants where chicken and pork chops figured largely on the bills of fare, for Tom had plentifully supplied the colored man with money, and did not ask an accounting.

"What else do you do besides eat, Rad?" asked Ned with a laugh, the second day of their stay in New York.

"I jest natchally looks in de jewelery store windows," replied Eradicate with a grin on his honest black face. "I looks at all de gold ornaments, an' I tries t' figger out how much better mah golden images am gwine t' be."

"But don't you go in, and ask what a gold image the size of a man would be worth!" cautioned Tom. "The jeweler might think you were crazy, and he might suspect something."

"No, Massa Tom, I won't do nuffin laik dat," promised Eradicate. "But, Massa Tom, how much does yo' 'spect a image laik dat would be worth?"

"Haven't the least idea, Rad. Enough, though, to make you rich for the rest of your life."

"Good land a' massy!" gasped Eradicate, and he spent several hours trying to do sums in arithmetic on scraps of paper.

"Hurrah!" cried Tom, when, on the morning of the third day of their enforced stay in New York, a letter was sent up to his room by the hotel clerk.

"What's up?" asked Ned. "I didn't know that you sent Mary word that you were here."

"I didn't, you old scout!" cried Tom. "This is from the steamship company, saying that the steamer Maderia, on which we have taken passage for Mexico, will sail to-night at high tide. That's the stuff! At last we'll really get on our way."

"Bless my notebook!" cried Mr. Damon. "I hoped we'd stay at least another day here. I haven't seen half enough in the museums."

"You'll see stranger things than in any museum when we get to the underground city," predicted Tom. "Come on, Ned, we'll take in a moving picture show, have our last lunch in the big city, and then go aboard."

So impatient were the travelers to go on board the steamer that they arrived several hours before the time set for sailing. Many others did the same thing, however, as supper was to be served on the Maderia.

Though it was within a few hours of leaving time there seemed so much to be done, such a lot of cargo to stow away, and so much coal to put into the bunkers, that Tom and the others might well be excused for worrying about whether or not they really would sail.

Big trucks drawn by powerful horses thundered down the long dock. Immense automobiles laden with boxes, barrels and bales puffed to the loading gangways. There was the puffing and whistling of the donkey engines as they hoisted into the big holds the goods intended for export.

At the side of the steamer were grimy coal barges, into which was dipped an endless chain of buckets carrying the coal to the bunkers. Stevadores were running here and there, orders and counter-orders were being given, and the confusion must have been maddening to any one not accustomed to it.

"Bless my walking stick!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "We'll never get off to-night, I'm positive."

"Dat's right," agreed Eradicate. "Look at all dat coal dey's got to load in."

"Oh. they knew how to hustle at the last minute," said Tom, and so it proved. Gradually the loading was finished. The coal barges were emptied and towed away. Truck after truck departed from the dock empty, having left its load in the interior of the steamer. One donkey engine after another ceased to puff, and the littered decks were cleared.

"Let's watch the late-comers get aboard," suggested Ned to Tom, when they had arranged things in their stateroom. The two boys and Mr. Damon had a large one to themselves and Eradicate had been assigned a small one not far from them.

"That'll make the time pass until supper is ready," agreed the young inventor, so they took their station near the main gangway and watched the passengers hurrying up. There were many going to make the trip to Mexico it seemed, and later the boys learned that a tourist agency had engaged passage for a number of its patrons.

"That fat man will never get up the slope unless some one pushes him," remarked Ned, pointing to a very fleshy individual who was struggling up the steep gangplank, carrying a heavy valise. For the tide was almost at flood and the deck of the steamer was much elevated. Indeed it seemed at one moment as if the heavy-weight passenger would slide backward instead of getting aboard.

"Go give him a hand, Rad," suggested Tom, and the colored man obligingly relieved the fat man of his grip, thereby enabling him to give all his attention to getting up the plank.

And it was this simple act on the part of Rad that was the cause of an uneasy suspicion coming to Tom and Ned. For, as Eradicate hastened to help the stout passenger, two others behind him. a man and a boy, started preciptably at the sight of the colored helper. So confused were they that it was noticed by Ned and his chum.

"Look at that!" said Ned in a low voice, their attention drawn from the fat man to the man and youth immediately behind him. "You'd think they were afraid of meeting Rad."

"That's right," agreed Tom, for the man and youth had halted, and seemed about to turn back, Then the man, with a quick gesture, tossed a steamer rug he was carrying over his shoulder up so that it hid his face. At the same time the lad with him, evidently in obedience to some command, pulled his cap well down over his face and turned up the collar of a light overcoat he was wearing. He also seemed to shrink down, almost as if he were deformed.

"Say!" began Ned in wondering tones, "Tom, doesn't that look like--"

"Andy Foger and his father!" burst out the young inventor in a horse whisper. "Ned, do you think it's possible?"

"Hardly, and yet--"

Ned paused in his answer to look more closely at the two who had aroused the suspicions of himself and Tom. But they had now crowded so close up behind the fat man whom Eradicate was assisting up the plank, that he partly hid them from sight, and the action of the two in covering their faces further aided them in disguising themselves, if such was their intention.

"Oh, it can't be!" declared Tom. "If they were going to follow us they wouldn't dare go on the same steamer. It must be some one else. But it sure did look like Andy at first."

"That's what I say," came from Ned. "But we can easily find out."

"How?"

"Ask the purser to show us the passenger list. Even if they are down under some other names he'd know the Fogers if we described them to him."

"That's right, we'll do it."

By this time the fat man, who was being assisted by Eradicate had reached the top of the gang plank. He must have been expected, for several friends rushed to greet him, and for a moment there was a confusing little throng at the place where the passengers came abroad. Tom and Ned hurried up, intent on getting a closer view of the man and youth who seemed so anxious to escape observation.

But several persons got in their way. and the two mysterious ones taking advantage of the confusion, slipped down a companionway to their stateroom, so that when our two lads managed to extricate themselves from the throng around the fat man, who insisted on thanking them for allowing Eradicate to help him, it was too late to effect any identification, at least for the time being.

"But we'll go to the purser," said Tom. "If Andy and his father are on this steamer we want to know it."

"That's right," agreed Ned.

Just then there was the usual cry:

"All ashore that's going ashore! Last warning!"

A bell rang, there was a hoarse whistle, the rattle of the gangplank being drawn in, a quiver through the whole length of the ship, and Tom cried:

"We're off!"

"Yes," added Ned, "if Andy and his father are here it's too late to leave them behind now!"