Chapter XV. A Vain Search
 

Several hours later Tom had a curious dream. He imagined he was wandering about in the polar regions, and that it was very cold. He was trying to reason with himself that he could not possibly be on an expedition searching for the North Pole, still he felt such a keen wind blowing over his scantily-covered body that he shivered. He shivered so hard, in fact, that he shivered himself awake, and when he tried to pierce the darkness that enveloped him he was startled, for a moment, with the idea that perhaps, after all, he had wandered off to some unknown country.

For it was quite dark and cold. He was in a daze, and there was a curious smell about him--an odor that he tried to recall. Then, all at once, it came to him what it was--chloroform. Once his father had undergone an operation, and to deaden his pain chloroform had been used.

"I've been chloroformed!" exclaimed the young inventor, and his words sounded strange in his ears. "That's it. I've met with an accident riding my motor-cycle. I must have hit my head, for it hurts fearful. They picked me up, carried me to a hospital and have operated on me. I wonder if they took off an arm or leg? I wonder what hospital I'm in? Why is it so dark and cold?"

As he asked himself these questions his brain gradually cleared from the haze caused by the cowardly blow, and from the chloroform that had been administered by Featherton.

Tom's first act was to feel first of one arm, then the other. Having satisfied himself that neither of these members were mutilated he reached down to his legs.

"Why, they're all right, too," he murmured. "I wonder what they did to me? That's certainly, chloroform I smell, and my head feels as if some one had sat on it. I wonder--"

Quickly he put up his hands to his head. There appeared to be nothing the matter with it, save that there was quite a lump on the back, where the club had struck.

"I seem to be all here," went on Tom, much mystified. "But where am I? That's the question. It's a funny hospital, so cold and dark--"

Just then his hands came in contact with the cold ground on which he was lying.

"Why, I'm outdoors!" he exclaimed. Then in a flash it all came back to him--how he had gone to wait under the church shed until the rain was over.

"I fell asleep, and now it's night," the youth went on. "No wonder I am sore and stiff. And that chloroform--" He could not account for that, and he paused, puzzled once more. Then he struggled to a sitting position. His head was strangely dizzy, but he persisted, and got to his feet. He could see nothing, and groped around In the dark, until he thought to strike a match. Fortunately he had a number in his pocket. As the little flame flared up Tom started in surprise.

"This isn't the church shed!" he exclaimed. "It's much smaller! I'm in a different place! Great Scott! but what has happened to me?"

The match burned Tom's fingers and he dropped it. The darkness closed in once more, but Tom was used to it by this time, and looking ahead of him he could make out that the shed was an open one, similar to the one where he had taken shelter. He could see the sky studded with stars, and could feel the cold night wind blowing in.

"My motor-cycle!" he exclaimed in alarm. "The model of dad's invention--the papers!"

Our hero thrust his hand into his pocket. The papers were gone! Hurriedly he lighted another match. It took but an instant to glance rapidly about the small shed. His machine was not in sight!

Tom felt his heart sink. After all his precautions he had been robbed. The precious model was gone, and it had been his proposition to take it to Albany in this manner. What would his father say?

The lad lighted match after match, and made a rapid tour of the shed. The motor-cycle was not to be seen. But what puzzled Tom more than anything else was how he had been brought from the church shed to the one where he had awakened from his stupor.

"Let me try to think," said the boy, speaking aloud, for it seemed to help him. "The last I remember is seeing that automobile, with those mysterious men in, approaching. Then it disappeared in the rain. I thought I heard it again, but I couldn't see it. I was sitting on the log, and--and--well, that's all I can remember. I wonder if those men--"

The young inventor paused. Like a flash it came to him that the men were responsible for his predicament. They had somehow made him insensible, stolen his motor-cycle, the papers and the model, and then brought him to this place, wherever it was. Tom was a shrewd reasoner, and he soon evolved a theory which he afterward learned was the correct one. He reasoned out almost every step in the crime of which he was the victim, and at last came to the conclusion that the men had stolen up behind the shed and attacked him.

"Now, the next question to settle," spoke Tom, "is to learn where I am. How far did those scoundrels carry me, and what has become of my motor-cycle?"

He walked toward the point of the shed where he could observe the stars gleaming, and there he lighted some more matches, hoping he might see his machine. By the gleam of the little flame he noted that he was in a farmyard, and he was just puzzling his brain over the question as to what city or town he might be near when he heard a voice shouting:

"Here, what you lightin' them matches for? You want to set the place afire? Who be you, anyhow--a tramp?"

It was unmistakably the voice of a farmer, and Tom could hear footsteps approaching on the run.

"Who be you, anyhow?" the voice repeated. "I'll have the constable after you in a jiffy if you're a tramp."

"I'm not a tramp," called Tom promptly. "I've met with an accident. Where am I?"

"Humph! Mighty funny if you don't know where you are," commented the farmer. "Jed, bring a lantern until I take a look at who this is."

"All right, pop," answered another voice, and a moment later Tom saw a tall man standing in front of him.

"I'll give you a look at me without waiting for the lantern," said Tom quickly, and he struck a match, holding it so that the gleam fell upon his face.

"Salt mackerel! It's a young feller!" exclaimed the farmer. "Who be you, anyhow, and what you doin' here?"

"That's just what I would like to know," said Tom, passing his hand over his head, which was still paining him. "Am I near Albany? That's where I started for this morning."

"Albany? You're a good way from Albany," replied the farmer. "You're in the village of Dunkirk."

"How far is that from Centreford?"

"About seventy miles."

"As far as that?" cried Tom. "They must have carried me a good way in their automobile."

"Was you in that automobile?" demanded the farmer.

"Which one?" asked Tom quickly.

"The one that stopped down the road just before supper. I see it, but I didn't pay no attention to it. If I'd 'a' knowed you fell out, though, I'd 'a' come to help you."

"I didn't fall out, Mr.--er--" Tom paused.

"Blackford is my name; Amos Blackford."

"Well, Mr. Blackford, I didn't fall out. I was drugged and brought here."

"Drugged! Salt mackerel! But there's been a crime committed, then. Jed, hurry up with that lantern an' git your deputy sheriff's badge on. There's been druggin' an' all sorts of crimes committed. I've caught one of the victims. Hurry up! My son's a deputy sheriff," he added, by way of an explanation.

"Then I hope he can help me catch the scoundrels who robbed me," said Tom.

"Robbed you, did they? Hurry up, Jed. There's been a robbery! We'll rouse the neighborhood an' search for the villains. Hurry up, Jed!"

"I'd rather find my motor-cycle, and a valuable model which was on it, than locate those men," went on Tom. "They also took some papers from me."

Then he told how he had started for Albany, adding his theory of how he had been attacked and carried away in the auto. The latter part of it was borne out by the testimony of Mr. Blackford.

"What I know about it," said the farmer, when his son Jed had arrived on the scene with a lantern and his badge, "is that jest about supper time I saw an automobile stop down the road a bit, It was gittin' dusk, an' I saw some men git out. I didn't pay no attention to them, 'cause I was busy about the milkin'. The next I knowed I seen some one strikin' matches in my wagon shed, an' I come out to see what it was."

"The men must have brought me all the way from the church shed near Centreford to here," declared Tom. "Then they lifted me out and put me in your shed. Maybe they left my motor-cycle also."

"I didn't see nothin' like that," said the farmer. "Is that what you call one of them two-wheeled lickity-split things that a man sits on the middle of an' goes like chain-lightning?"

"It is," said Tom. "I wish you'd help me look for it."

The farmer and his son agreed, and other lanterns having been secured, a search was made. After about half an hour the motor-cycle was discovered in some bushes at the side of the road, near where the automobile had stopped. But the model was missing from it, and a careful search near where the machine had been hidden did not reveal it. Nor did as careful a hunt as they could make in the darkness disclose any dues to the scoundrels who had drugged and robbed Tom.