Wakefield Damon glanced at Mr. Swift. The inventor was oblivious to his surroundings, and was busy figuring away on some paper. He seemed even to have forgotten the presence of the eccentric autoist.
"I don't want father to hear about the men," went on Tom, in a low tone. "If he hears that Happy Harry and his confederates are in this vicinity, he'll worry, and that doesn't agree with him. But are you sure the men you saw are the same ones who stole the turbine model?"
"Very certain," replied Mr. Damon. "I had a good view of them as I came from the bank, and I was surprised to see them, until I remembered that they were out of jail."
"But why do you think they pursued you?"
"Bless my eyes! I can't say. Perhaps they weren't after me at all. I may have imagined it, but they certainly hurried off in their auto as soon as I left the bank, after leaving my money there. I'm glad I deposited it before I saw them. I was so nervous, as it was, that I couldn't steer straight. It's too bad, the way I've damaged your house."
"That doesn't matter. But how about the trip in the airship? I hope you meant it when you said you would go."
"Of course I did. I've never traveled in the air, but it can't be much worse than my experience with my motor-cycle and the auto. At least I can't run up any stoop, can I?" and Mr. Damon looked at Mr. Sharp.
"No," replied the aeronaut, as he scratched his head, "I guess you'll be safe on that score. But I hope you won't get nervous when we reach a great height."
"Oh, no. I'll just calm myself with the reflection that I can't die but once," and with this philosophical reflection Mr. Damon went back to look at the auto, which certainly looked odd, stuck up on the veranda.
"Well, you'd better make arrangements to go with us then," went on Tom. "Meanwhile I'll see to getting your car down. You'll want to send it home, I suppose?"
"No, not if you'll keep it for me. The fact is that all my folks are away, and will be for some time. I don't have to go home to notify them, and it's a good thing, as my wife is very nervous, and might object, if she heard about the airship. I'll just stay here, if you've no objection, until the Red Cloud sails, if sails is the proper term."
"'Sails' will do very well," answered Mr. Sharp. "But, Tom, let's see if you and I can't get that car down. Perhaps Mr. Damon would like to go in the house and talk to your father," for Mr. Swift had left the piazza.
The eccentric individual was glad enough not to be on hand when his car was eased down from the veranda and disappeared into the house. Tom and Mr. Sharp, with the aid of Garret Jackson, then released the auto from its position. They had to take down the rest of the broken railing, and their task was easy enough. The machine was stored in a disused shed, and Mr. Damon had no further concern until it was time to undertake the trip through the air.
"It will fool those men if I mysteriously disappear," he said, with a smile. "Bless my hat band, but they'll wonder what became of me. We'll just slip off in the Red Cloud, and they'll never be the wiser."
"I don't know about that," commented Tom. "I fancy they are keeping pretty close watch in this vicinity, and I don't like it. I'm afraid they are up to some mischief. I should think the bank authorities would have them locked upon suspicion. I think I'll telephone Ned about it."
He did so, and his chum, in turn, notified the bank watchman. But the next day it was reported that no sign of the men had been seen, and, later it was learned that an auto, answering the description of the one they were in, had been seen going south, many miles from Shopton.
The work of preparing the Red Cloud for the long trip was all but completed. It had been placed back in the shed while a few more adjustments were made to the machinery.
"Bless my eyelashes!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, a few days before the one set for the start, "but I haven't asked where we are bound for. Where are we going, anyhow, Mr. Sharp?"
"We're going to try and reach Atlanta, Georgia," replied the balloonist. "That will make a fairly long trip, and the winds at this season are favorable in that direction."
"That suits me all right," declared Mr. Damon. "I'm all ready and anxious to start."
It was decided to give the airship a few more trials around Shopton before setting out, to see how it behaved with the car heavier loaded than usual. With this in view a trip was made to Rocksmond, with Mr. Swift, Mr. Damon and Ned, in addition to Mr. Sharp and Tom, on board. Then, at Tom's somewhat blushing request, a stop was made near the Seminary, and, when the pupils came trooping out, the young inventor asked Miss Nestor if she didn't want to take a little flight. She consented, and with two pretty companions climbed rather hesitatingly into the car. No great height was attained, but the girls were fully satisfied and, after their first alarm really enjoyed the spin in the air, with Tom proudly presiding at the steering wheel, which Mr. Sharp relinquished to the lad, for he understood Tom's feelings.
Three days later all was in readiness for the trip to Atlanta. Mr. Swift was earnestly invited to undertake it, both Tom and Mr. Sharp urging him, but the veteran inventor said he must stay at home, and work on his submarine plans.
The evening before the start, when the aeronaut and Tom were giving a final inspection to the craft in the big shed, Mr. Sharp exclaimed "I declare Tom, I believe you'll have to take a run into town."
"Why to get that kit of special tools I ordered, which we might need to make repairs. There are some long-handled wrenches, some spare levers, and a couple of braces and bits. Harrison, the hardware dealer, ordered them for me from New York, and they were to be ready this afternoon, but I forgot them. Take an empty valise with you, and you can carry them on your motorcycle. I'm sorry to have forgotten it, but—"
"That's all right, Mr. Sharp, I'd just as soon go as not. It will make the time pass more quickly. I'll start right off."
An hour later, having received the tools, which made quite a bundle, the lad put them in the valise, and started back toward home. As he swung around the corner on which the bank was located—the same bank in which Ned Newton worked—one of the valves on the motor-cycle began to leak. Tom dismounted to adjust it, and had completed the work, being about to ride on, when down the street came Andy Foger and Sam Snedecker. They started at the sight of our hero.
"There he is now!" exclaimed Sam, as if he and the red-haired bully had been speaking of the young inventor.
"Let's lick him!" proposed Andy. "Now's our chance to get even for throwing that paint and soot on us."
Tom heard their words. He was not afraid of both the lads, for, though each one matched him in size and strength, Tom knew they were cowards.
"If you're looking for anything I guess I can accommodate you," he said, coolly.
"Come on, Andy," urged Sam. But, somehow Andy hung back. Perhaps he didn't like the way Tom squared off. The young inventor had let down the rear brace of his motor-cycle, and was not obliged to hold it, so he had both hands free.
"We ought to lick him good and proper," growled the squint-eyed lad.
"Well, why don't you?" invited Tom.
He moved to one side, so as not to be hampered by his wheel. As he did so he knocked from the handle bars the valise of tools. They fell with a clatter and a thud to the pavement, and the satchel came open. It was under a gas lamp, and the glitter of the long-handled wrenches and other implements caught the eyes of Andy and his crony.
"Huh! If we fought you, maybe you'd use some of them on us," sneered Andy, glad of an excuse not to fight.
Tom quickly picked up his valise, shutting it, but he was aware of the close scrutiny of the two vindictive lads.
"I don't fight with such things," he said, somewhat annoyed, and he hung the tools back on the handle bars.
"What you doing around the bank at this hour?" asked Sam, as if to change the subject. "First thing you know the watchman will order you to move on. He might think you were a suspicious character."
"The same to you," retorted Tom, "but I'm going to ride on now, unless you want to have a further argument with me."
"You'd better be careful how you hang around a bank," added Andy. "The police are on the lookout here. There's been some mysterious men seen about."
Tom did not care to go into that, and, seeing that the two bullies had lost all desire to attack him, he put up the brace and mounted his wheel.
"Good-by," he called to Andy and Sam, as he rode off, the tools rattling and jingling in the valise, but it was a sarcastic farewell, and the two cronies did not reply.
"I hope I didn't damage any of the tools when I let them fall that time," mused the young inventor. "My, the way Sam and Andy stared at them it would make it seem as if I had a lot of weapons in the bag! They certainly took good note of them."
The time was to come, and very shortly, when Andy's and Sam's observation of the tools was to prove disastrous for our hero. As Tom turned the corner he looked back, and saw, still standing in front of the bank, the two cronies.