Chapter 14. Andy Gives The Clue
 

When Mr. Swift followed the chief of police and the constable to the town hall his mind was filled with many thoughts. All his plans for revolutionizing submarine travel, were, of course, forgotten, and he was only concerned with the charge that had been made against his son. It seemed incredible, yet the officers were not ones to perpetrate a joke. The chief and constable had driven from town in a carriage, and they now invited the inventor to ride back with them.

"Do you mean to tell me a warrant has actually been sworn out against my son, Chief?" asked the father, when they were near the town hall.

"That's just what I mean to say, Mr. Swift, and, I'm sorry, on your account, that I have to serve it."

"Hub! Don't look like you was goin' to serve it," remarked the constable. "He's skipped out."

"That's all right, Higby," went on the chief. "I'll catch em both. Even if they have escaped in an airship with their booty, I'll nab 'em. I'll have a general alarm out all over the country in less than an hour. They can't stay up in the air forever."

"A warrant for Tom-my son," murmured Mr. Swift, as if he could not believe it

"Yes, and for that Damon man, too," added the chief. "I want him as well as Tom, and I'll get 'em."

"Would you mind letting me see the warrants?" asked the inventor, and the official passed them over. The documents were made out in regular form, and the complaints had been sworn to by Isaac Pendergast, the bank president.

"I can't understand it," went on Tom's father. "Seventy-five thousand dollars. It's incredible! Why!" he suddenly exclaimed, "it can't be true. Just before he left, Mr. Damon-"

"Yes, what did he do?" asked the chief eagerly, thinking he might secure some valuable evidence.

"I guess I'll say nothing until I have seen the bank president," replied Mr. Swift, and the official was obviously disappointed.

The inventor found Mr. Pendergast, and some other bank officials in the town hall. The financiers were rather angry when they learned that the accused persons had not been caught, but the chief said he would soon have them in custody.

"In the meanwhile will you kindly explain, what this means?" asked Mr. Swift of the president.

"You may come and look at the looted vault, if you like, Mr. Swift," replied Mr. Pendergast. "It was a very thorough job, and will seriously cripple the bank."

There was no doubt that the vault had been forced open, for the locks and bars were bent and twisted as if by heavy tools. Mr. Swift made a careful examination, and was shown the money drawers that had been smashed.

"This was the work of experts," he declared.

"Exactly what we think," said the president. "Of course we don't believe your son was a professional bank robber, Mr. Swift. We have a theory that Mr. Damon did the real work, but that Tom helped him with the tools he had. There is no doubt about it."

"What right have you to accuse my son?" burst out the aged inventor. "Why have you any more cause to suspect him than any other lad in town? Why do you fix on him, and Mr. Damon? I demand to know."

"Mr. Damon's eccentric actions for a few days past, and his well-known oddity of character make him an object of suspicion," declared the president in judicial tones. "As for Tom, we have, I regret to say, even better evidence against him."

"But what is it? What? Who gave you any clues to point to my son?"

"Do you really wish to know?"

"I certainly do," was the sharp reply. Mr. Swift, the police and several bank officials were now in the president's office. The latter pressed an electric bell, and, when a messenger answered, he said

"Send young Foger here."

At the mention of this name, Mr. Swift started. He well knew the red- haired bully was an enemy of his son. Andy entered, walking rather proudly at the attention he attracted.

"This is Mr. Swift," said the president.

"Aw, I know him," blurted out Andy.

"You will please tell him what you told us," went on Mr. Pendergast.

"Well, I seen Tom Swift hanging around this bank with burglar tools in his possession last night, just before it was robbed," exclaimed the squint-eyed lad triumphantly.

"Hanging around the bank last night with burglar tools?" repeated Mr. Swift, in dazed tones.

"That's right," from Andy.

"How do you know they were burglar tools?"

"Because I saw 'em!" cried Andy. "He had 'em in a valise on his motor- cycle. He was standing at the corner, waiting for a chance to break into the bank, and when me and Sam Snedecker saw him, he pretended to be fixin' his machine. Then the bag of burglar tools fell off, the satchel came open, and I seen 'em! That's how I know."

"And you're sure they were burglar tools?" asked the chief, for he depended on Andy to be his most important witness.

"Sure I am. I seen a picture of burglar tools once, and the ones Tom had was just like 'em. Long-handled wrenches, brace an' bits, an' all. He tried to hide 'em, but me an' Sam was too quick for him. He wanted to lick me, too."

"No doubt you deserved it," murmured Mr. Swift. "But how do you know my son was waiting for a chance to break into the bank?"

"'Cause, wasn't it robbed right after he was hangin' around here with the burglar tools?" inquired Andy, as if that was unanswerable.

"What were you hanging around here for?" Mr. Swift demanded quickly.

"Me? Oh, well, me an' Sam Snedecker was out takin' a walk. That's all."

"You didn't want to rob the bank, did you?" went on the inventor, keenly.

"Of course not," roared the bully, indignantly. "I ain't got no burglar tools."

Andy told more along the same line, but his testimony of having seen Tom near the bank, with a bag of odd tools could not be shaken. In fact it was true, as far as it went, but, of course, the tools were only those for the airship; the same ones Mr. Sharp had sent the lad after. Sam Snedecker was called in after Andy, and told substantially the same story.

Mr. Swift could not understand it, for he knew nothing of Tom being sent for the tools, and had not heard any talk at home of the bag of implements ordered by the balloonist. Still, of course, he knew Tom had nothing to do with the robbery, and he knew his son had been at home all the night previous. Still this was rather negative evidence. But the inventor had one question yet to ask.

"You say you also suspect Mr. Damon of complicity in this affair?" he went on, to the chief of police.

"We sure do," replied Mr. Simonson.

"Then can you explain?" proceeded the inventor, "how it is that Mr. Damn has on deposit in this bank a large sum. Would he rob the bank where his own funds were?"

"We are prepared for that," declared the president. "It is true that Mr. Damon has about ten thousand dollars in our bank, but we believe he deposited it only as a blind, so as to cover up his tracks. It is a deep-laid scheme, and escaping in the airship is part of it. I am sorry, Mr. Swift, that I have to believe your son and his accomplice guilty, but I am obliged to. Chief, you had better send out a general alarm. The airship ought to be easy to trace."

"I'll telegraph at once," said the official.

"And you believe my son guilty, solely on the testimony of these two boys, who, as is well known, are his enemies?" asked Mr. Swift.

"The clue they gave us is certainly most important," said the president. "Andy came to us and told what he had seen, as soon as it became known that the bank had been robbed."

"And I'm going to get the reward for giving information of the robbers, too!" cried the bully.

"I'm going to have my share!" insisted Sam.

"Ah, then there is a reward offered?" inquired Mr. Swift.

"Five thousand dollars," answered Mr. Pendergast. "The directors, all of whom are present save Mr. Foger, Andy's father, met early this morning, and decided to offer that sum."

"And I'm going to get it," announced the redhaired lad again.

Mr. Swift was much downcast. There seemed to be nothing more to say, and, being a man unversed in the ways of the world, he did not know what to do. He returned hone. When Mrs. Baggert was made acquainted with the news, she waxed indignant.

"Our Tom a thief!" she cried. "Why don't they accuse me and Mr. Jackson and you? The idea! You ought to hire a lawyer, Mr. Swift, and prosecute those men for slander."

"Do you think it would be a good plan?"

"I certainly do. Why they have no evidence at all! What does that mean, sneaking Andy Foger amount to? Get a lawyer, and have Tom's interests looked after."

Mr. Swift, glad to have sane one share the responsibility with, felt somewhat better when a well-known Shopton attorney assurred him that the evidence against Tom was of such a flimsy character that it would scarcely hold in a court of justice.

"But they have warrants for him and Mr. Damon," declared the inventor.

"Very true, but it is easy to swear out a warrant against any one. It's a different matter to prove a person guilty."

"But they can arrest my son."

"Yes--if they catch him. However, we can soon have him released on bail."

"It's disgraceful," said Mrs. Baggert.

"Not at all, my dear madam, not at all. Good and innocent persons have been arrested."

"They are going to send out a general alarm for my son," bewailed Mr. Swift.

"Yes, but I fancy it will be some time before they catch him and Mr. Damon, if the airship holds together. I can't think of a better way to keep out of the clutches of the police, and their silly charge," chuckled the lawyer. "Now don't worry, Mr. Swift. It will all come out right.

The inventor tried to believe so, but, though he knew his son was innocent, it was rather hard to see, within the next few days, big posters on all the vacant walls and fences, offering a reward of five thousand dollars for the arrest of Tom Swift and Wakefield Damon, who were charged with having flown away in an airship with seventyfive thousand dollars of the bank's money.

"I guess Tom Swift will wish he'd been more decent to me when I collect that money for his arrest," said Andy to his crony, Sam, the day the bills were posted.

"Yes, but I get my share, don't I?" asked Sam.

"Sure," answered the bully. "I wish they'd hurry up and arrest him."

Within the next few days the country was covered with posters telling of the robbery and the reward, and police officials in cities large and small, and in towns and villages, were notified by telegraph to arrest and capture, at any cost the occupants of a certain large, red airship.

Mr. Swift, on the advice of his lawyer, sent several telegrams to Tom, apprising him of what had happened. The telegraph company was asked to rush the telegrams to the first city when word came in that the Red Cloud had landed.