Chapter 23. On To The Camp
 

"Well, you sure have got a fine craft here," remarked Sheriff Durkin, as he looked over the airship after Tom and his friends had told of their voyage. "It will be quite up-to-date to raid a gang of bank robbers in a flying machine, but I guess it will be the only way we can catch those fellows. Now I'll go back to town, and the first thing in the morning I'll round-up my posse and start it off. The men can surround the camp, and lay quiet until we arrive in this ship. Then, when we descend on the heads of the scoundrels, right out of the sky, so to speak, my men can close in, and bag them all."

"That's a good plan," commented Mr. Sharp, "but are you sure these are the men we want? It's pretty vague, I think, but of course the clue Tom got is pretty slim; merely the name Shagmon."

"Well, this is Shagmon," went on the sheriff, "and, as I told your young friend, I've been trying for some time to bag the men at the summer camp. They number quite a few, and if they don't do anything worse, they run a gambling game there. I'm pretty sure, if the bank robbers are in this vicinity, they're in that camp. Of course all the men there may not have been engaged in looting the vault, and they may not all know of it, but it won't do any harm to round-up the whole bunch."

After a tour of the craft, and waiting to take a little refreshment with his new friends, the sheriff left, promising to come as early on the morrow as possible.

"Let's go to bed," suggested Mr. Sharp, after a bit. "We've got hard work ahead of us tomorrow."

They were up early, and, in the seclusion of the little glade in the woods, Tom and Mr. Sharp went over every part of the airship.

The sheriff arrived about nine o'clock, and announced that he had started off through the woods, to surround the camp, twenty-five men.

"They'll be there at noon," Mr. Durkin said, "and will close in when I give the signal, which will be two shots fired. I heard just before I came here that there are some new arrivals at the camp."

"Maybe those are the men I overheard talking in the office building," suggested Tom. "They probably came to get their share. Well, we must swoop down on them before they have time to distribute the money."

"That's what!" agreed the county official. Mr. Durkin was even more impressed by the airship in the daytime than he had been at night. He examined every part, and when the time came to start, he was almost as unconcerned as any of the three travelers who had covered many hundreds of miles in the air.

"This is certainly great!" cried the sheriff, as the airship rose swiftly under the influence of the powerful gas.

As the craft went higher and higher his enthusiasm grew. He was not the least afraid, but then Sheriff Durkin was accounted a nervy individual under all circumstances.

"Lay her a little off to the left," the officer advised Tom who was at the steering wheel. "The main camp is right over there. How long before we will reach it?"

"We can get there in about fifteen minutes, if we run at top speed," answered the lad, his hand on the switch that controlled the motor. "Shall we?"

"No use burning up the air. Besides, my men have hardly had time to surround the camp. It's in deep woods. If I were you I'd get right over it, and then rise up out of sight so they can't see you. Then, when it's noon you can go down, I'll fire the signal and the fun will commence-that is, fun for us, but not so much for those chaps, I fancy," and the sheriff smiled grimly.

The sheriff's plan was voted a good one, and, accordingly, the ship, after nearing a spot about over the camp, was sent a mile or two into the air, hovering as nearly as possible over one spot.

Shortly before twelve, the sheriff having seen to the weapons he brought with him, gave the signal to descend. Down shot the Red Cloud dropping swiftly when the gas was allowed to escape from the red container, and also urged toward the earth by the deflected rudder.

"Are you all ready?" cried the sheriff, looking at his watch.

"All ready," replied Mr. Sharp.

"Then here goes," went on the officer, drawing his revolver, and firing two shots in quick succession.

Two shots from the woods below answered him. Faster dropped the Red Cloud toward the camp of the criminals.