Chapter IV. The Search
 

For a moment Ned could scarcely understand what Tom meant. It scarcely seemed possible that such a thing could happen. That some one in far-off Russia--be it the Czar or one of the secret police--could operate from such a distance, seeking out a man in an obscure house in a little American village, and snatching him away.

"It isn't possible!" declared Ned breathlessly.

"What difference does that make?" asked Tom. "The thing has happened, and you can't get out of it. Look at all the evidence--there's been a fight, that's sure, and Mr. Petrofsky is gone."

"But maybe he went away of his own accord," insisted Ned, who was sometimes hard to convince.

"Nonsense! If a man went away of his own accord would he smash up his furniture, leave his papers scattered all about and go off leaving the doors and windows open for any one to walk in? I guess not."

"Well, maybe you're right. But think of it! This isn't Russia!"

"No, but he's a Russian subject, and, by his own confession an escaped exile. If he was arrested in the usual way he could be taken back, and our government couldn't interfere. He's been taken back all right. Poor man! Think of being doomed to those sulphur mines again, and as he escaped they'll probably make it all the harder for him!"

"But I thought our government wouldn't help other nations to get back prisoners convicted of political crimes, suggested Ned. "That's all Mr. Petrofsky was guilty of-- politics, trying to help the poor in his own country. It's a shame if our government stands for anything like that!"

"That's just the point!" exclaimed Tom. Probably the spies, secret police, or whoever the Russian agents were, didn't ask any help from our government. If they did there might be a chance for him. But likely they worked in secret. They came here, sneaked in on him, and took him away before he could get help. Jove! If he could only have gotten word to me I'd have come in the airship, and then there'd be a different ending to this."

"I guess you're right, Tom. Well, that ends it I suppose."

"Ends what?"

"Our trip to the platinum mine."

"Not a bit of it. I'm going to have a hunt for it."

"But how can you when Mr. Petrofsky can't go along to show us the way? Besides, we wanted to help rescue his brother, and now we can't."

"Well, I'm going to make a big try," declared the young inventor firmly. "And the first thing I'm going to do is to get our friend out of the clutches of the Russian police."

"You are? How?"

"I'm going to make a search for him. Look here, Ned, he must have been taken away some time to-day--perhaps only a few hours ago--and they can't have gone far with him."

"How do you make that out?" Ned wanted to know.

"Well, I guess I'm detective enough for that," and Tom smiled. "Look here, the doors and windows are open. Now it rained last night, and there was quite a wind. If the windows had been open in the storm there'd be some traces of moisture in the rooms. But there isn't a drop. Consequently the windows have been opened since last night."

"Say, that's so!" cried Ned admiringly.

"But that's not all," went on Tom. "Here's a bottle of milk on the table, and it's fresh," which he proved by tasting it. "Now that was left by the milkman either late last night or early this morning. I don't believe it's over twelve hours old."

"Well, what does this mean?" asked Ned, who couldn't quite follow Tom's line of reasoning.

"To my mind it means that the spies were here no later than this morning. Look at the table upset, the dishes on the floor. Here's one with oatmeal in it, and you know how hard and firm cooked oatmeal gets after it stands a bit. This is quite fresh, and soft, and--"

"And that means--" interrupted Ned, who was in turn interrupted by Tom, who exclaimed:

"It means that Mr. Petrofsky was at breakfast when they burst in on him, and took him away. They had hard work overpowering him, I'll wager, for he could put up a pretty good fight. And the broken furniture is evidence of that. Then the spies, after tying him up, or putting him in a carriage, searched the house for incriminating papers. That's as plain as the nose on your face. Then the police agents, or whoever they were, skipped out in a hurry, not taking the trouble to close the windows and doors."

"I believe it did happen that way," agreed Ned, who clearly saw what Tom meant. "But what can we do? How can we find him?"

"By getting on the trail," answered his chum quickly. "There may be more clews in the house, and I'm sure there'll be some out of doors, for they must have left footprints or the marks of carriage wheels. We'll take a look, and then we'll get right on the search. I'm not going to let them take Mr. Petrofsky to Russia if I can help it. I want to get after that platinum, and he's the only one who can pilot us anywhere near the place; and besides, there's his brother we've got to rescue. We'll make a search for the exile."

"I'm with you!" cried Ned. "Jove! Wouldn't it be great if we could rescue him? They can't have gotten very far with him."

"I'm afraid they have quite a start on us admitted Tom with a dubious shake of his head, "but as long as they're in the United States we have a chance. If ever they get him on Russian soil it's all up with him."

"Come on then!" cried Ned. "Let's get busy. What's the first thing to do?"

"Look for clews," replied Tom. "We'll begin at the top of the house and work down. It's lucky we came when we did, for every minute counts."

Then the two plucky lads began their search for the kidnapped Russian exile. Had those who took him away seen the mere youths who thus devoted themselves to the task, they might have laughed in contempt, but those who know Tom Swift and his sturdy chum, know that two more resourceful and brave lads would be hard to find.