Chapter 22. The Sheriff On Board
 

The announcement of Mr. Damon came as a great surprise to Tom and Mr. Sharp. They had supposed that the reference to Shagmon was to a person, and never dreamed that it was to a locality. But Mr. Damon's knowledge of geography stood them in good stead.

"Well, what's the first thing to do?" asked Tom, after a pause.

"The first thing would be to go to Shagmon, or close to it, I should say," remarked Mr. Sharp. "In what direction is it, Mr. Damon?"

"Northwest from where we were. It's a county seat, and that will suit our plans admirably, for we can call on the sheriff for help."

"That is if we locate the gang," put in Tom. "I fancy it will be no easy job, though. How are we going about it?"

"Let's first get to Shagmon," suggested the balloonist. "We'll select some quiet spot for a landing, and then talk matters over. We may stumble on the gang, just as you did, Tom, on the men in the office."

"No such good luck, I'm afraid."

"Well, I think we'll all be better for a little sleep," declared the eccentric man. "Bless my eyelids but I'm tired out."

As there was no necessity for standing watch, when the airship was so high up as to be almost invisible, they all turned in, and were soon sleeping soundly, though Tom had hard work at first to compose himself, for he was excited at the prospect of capturing the scoundrels, recovering the money for the bank, and clearing his good name, as well as those of his friends.

In the morning careful calculations were made to enable the travelers to tell when they had reached a point directly over the small city of Shagmon, and, with the skill of the veteran balloonist to aid them, this was accomplished. The airship was headed in the proper direction, and, about ten o'clock, having made out by using telescopes, that there was plenty of uninhabited land about the city, the craft was sent aloft again, out of a large crowd that had caught sight of it. For it was the intention of the travelers not to land until after dark, as they wanted to keep their arrival quiet. There were two reasons for this. One was that the whole country was eager to arrest them, to claim the reward offered by the bank, and they did not want this to happen. The other reason was that they wanted to go quietly into town, tell the sheriff their story, and enlist his aid.

All that day the Red Cloud consorted with the masses of fleecy vapor, several miles above the earth, a position being maintained, as nearly as could be judged by instruments, over a patch of woodland where Mr. Sharp had decided to land, as there were several large clearings in it. Back and forth above the clouds, out of sight, the airship drifted lazily to and fro; sometimes, when she got too far off her course, being brought back to the right spot by means of the propellers.

It was tedious waiting, but they felt it was the only thing to do. Mr. Sharp and Tom busied themselves making adjustments to several parts of apparatus that needed it. Nothing could be done toward repairing the hole in the aluminum container until a shop or shed was reached, but the ship really did not need these repairs to enable it to be used. Mr. Damon was fretful, and "blessed" so many things during the course of the day that there seemed to be nothing left. Dinner and supper took up some time, really good meals being served by Tom, who was temporarily acting as cook. Then they anxiously waited for darkness, when they could descend.

"I hope the moon isn't too bright," remarked Mr. Sharp, as he went carefully over the motor once more, for he did not want it to balk again. "If it shines too much it will discover us."

"But a little light would be a fine thing, and show us a good place to land," argued Tom.

Fortune seemed to favor the adventurers. There was a hazy light from the moon, which was covered by swiftly moving dark clouds, now and then, a most effective screen for the airship, as its great, moving shape, viewed from the earth, resembled nothing so much as one of the clouds.

They made a good landing in a little forest glade, the craft, under the skillful guidance of Mr. Sharp and Tom, coming down nicely.

"Now for a trip to town to notify the sheriff," said Mr. Sharp. "Tom, I think you had better go alone. You can explain matters, and Mr. Damon and I will remain here until you come back. I should say what you had best do, would be to get the sheriff to help you locate the gang of bank robbers. They're in this vicinity and he ought to be able, with his deputies, to find them."

"I'll ask him," replied Tom, as he set off.

It was rather a lonely walk into the city, from the woods where the airship had landed, but Tom did not mind it, and, reaching Shagmon, he inquired his way to the home of the sheriff, for it was long after office hours. He heard, as he walked along the streets, many persons discussing the appearance of the airship that morning, and he was glad they had planned to land after dark, for more than one citizen was regretting that he had not had a chance to get the five thousand dollars reward offered for the arrest of the passengers in the Red Cloud.

Tom found the sheriff, Mr. Durkin by name, a genial personage. At the mention of the airship the official grew somewhat excited.

"Are you one of the fellows that looted the bank?" he inquired, when Tom told him how he and his friends had arrived at Shagmon.

The young inventor denied the impeachment, and told his story. He ended up with a request for the sheriff's aid, at the same time asking if the officer knew where such a gang as the Happy Harry one might be in hiding.

"You've come just at the right time, young man," was the answer of Sheriff Durkin, when he was assured of the honesty of Tom's statements. "I've been on the point, for the last week, of raiding a camp of men, who have settled at a disused summer resort about ten miles from here. I think they're running a gambling game. But I haven't been able to get any evidence, and every time I sent out a posse some one warns the men, and we can find nothing wrong. I believe these men are the very ones you want. If we could only get to them without their suspecting it, I think I'd have them right."

"We can do that, Sheriff."

"How?"

"Go in our airship! You come with us, and we'll put you right over their camp, where you can drop down on their heads."

"Good land, I never rode in an automobile even, let alone an airship!" went on the officer. "I'd be scared out of my wits, and so would my deputies."

"Send the deputies on ahead," suggested Tom.

The sheriff hesitated. Then he slapped his thigh with his big hand.

"By golly! I'll go you!" he declared. "I'll try capturing criminals in an airship for the first, time in my life! Lead the way, young man!"

An hour later Sheriff Durkin was aboard the Red Cloud, and plans were being talked of for the capture of the bank robbers, or at least for raiding the camp where the men were supposed to be.