Tom glanced around the restaurant. There were few persons in it save himself and Mr. Damon. The pretty waitress was still regarding the two curiously.
"We ought to take that paper along with us, to show to Mr. Sharp," said Tom, in a low voice to his friend. "I haven't had time to take it all in myself, yet. Let's go. I've had enough to eat, haven't you?"
"Yes. My appetite is gone now."
As they arose, to pay their checks the girl advanced.
"Can you tell me where I can get a copy of this paper?" asked Tom, as he laid down a generous tip on the table, for the girl. Her eyes opened rather wide.
"Yo' all are fo'gettin' some of yo' money," she said, in her broad, southern tones. Tom thought her the prettiest girl he ever seen, excepting Mary Nestor.
"Oh, that's for you," replied the young inventor. "It's a tip. Aren't you in the habit of getting them down here?"
"Not very often. Thank yo' all. But what did yo' all ask about that paper?"
"I asked where I could get a copy of it. There is something in it that interests me."
"Yes, an' Ah reckon Ah knows what it is," exclaimed the girl. "It's about that airship with th' robbers in it!"
"How do you know?" inquired Tom quickly, and he tried to seem cool, though he felt the hot blood mounting to his cheeks.
"Oh, Ah saw yo' all readin' it. Everybody down heah is crazy about it. We all think th' ship is comin' down this way, 'cause it says th' robbers was intendin' to start south befo' they robbed th' bank. Ah wish Ah could collect thet five thousand dollars. If Ah could see that airship, I wouldn't work no mo' in this eatin' place. What do yo' all reckon thet airship looks like?" and the girl gazed intently at Tom and Mr. Damon.
"Why, bless my—" began the eccentric man, but Tom broke in hurriedly:
"Oh, I guess it looks like most any other airship," for he feared that if his companion used any of his odd expressions he might be recognized, since our hero had not had time to read the article in the paper through, and was not sure whether or not a description of himself, Mr. Damon and Mr. Sharp was given.
"Well, Ah suah wish I could collect thet reward," went on the girl. "Everybody is on th' lookout. Yo' all ain't see th' airship; have yo' all?"
"Where can we get a paper like this?" asked Tom, again, not wanting to answer such a leading question.
"Why, yo' all is suah welcome to that one," was the reply. "Ah guess Ah can affo'd to give it to yo' all, after th' generous way yo' all behaved to me. Take it, an' welcome. But are yo' all suah yo' are done eatin'? Yo' all left lots."
"Oh, we had enough," replied Tom hurriedly. His sole aim now was to get away—to consult with Mr. Sharp, and he needed the paper to learn further details of the astonishing news. He and his friends accused of looting the bank, and taking away seventy-five thousand dollars in the airship! It was incredible! A reward of five thousand dollars offered for their capture! They might be arrested any minute, yet they could not go on without buying some provisions. What were they to do?
Once outside the restaurant, Mr. Damon and Tom walked swiftly on. They came to a corner where there was a street lamp, and there the young inventor paused to scan the paper again. It was the copy of a journal published in the nearby county seat, and contained quite a full account of the affair.
The story was told of how the bank had been broken into, the vault rifled and the money taken. The first clue, it said, was given by a youth named Andy Foger, who had seen a former acquaintance hanging around the bank with burglar tools. Tom recognized the description of himself as the "former acquaintance," but he could not understand the rest.
"Burglar tools? I wonder how Andy could say that?" he asked Mr. Damon.
"Wait until we get back, and we'll ask John Sharp," suggested his companion. "This is very strange. I am going to sue some one for spreading false reports about me! Bless my ledgers, why I have money on deposit in that bank! To think that I would rob it!"
"Poor dad!" murmured Tom. "This must be hard for him. But what about ordering food? Maybe if we buy any they will trail us, find the airship and capture it. I don't want to be arrested, even if I am innocent, and I certainly don't want the airship to fall into the hands of the police. They might damage it."
"We must go see Mr. Sharp," declared Mr. Damon, and back to where the Red Cloud was concealed they went.
To say that the balloonist was astonished is putting it mildly. He was even more excited than was Mr. Damon.
"Wait until I get hold of that Andy Foger!" he cried. "I'll make him sweat for this! I see he's already laid claim to the reward," he added, reading further along in the article. "He thinks he has put the police on our trail."
"So he seems to have done," added Tom. "The whole country has been notified to look out for us," the paper says. "We're likely to be fired upon whenever we pass over a city or a town."
"Then we'll have to avoid them," declared the balloonist.
"But we must go back," declared Tom.
"Of course. Back to be vindicated. We'll have to give up our trip. My, my! But this is a surprise!"
"I don't see what makes Andy say he saw me with burglar tools," commented Tom, with a puzzled air.
Mr. Sharp thought for a moment. Then he exclaimed "It was that bag of tools I sent you after—the long wrenches, the pliers, and the brace and bits. You—"
"Of course!" cried Tom. "I remember now. The bag dropped and opened, and Andy and Sam saw the tools. But the idea of taking them for burglar tools!"
"Well, I suppose the burglars, whoever they were, did use tools similar to those to break open the vault," put in Mr. Damon. "Andy probably thought he was a smart lad to put the police on our track."
"I'll put him on the track, when I return," declared Mr. Sharp. "Well, now, what's to be done?"
"We've got to have food," suggested Tom.
"Yes, but I think we can manage that. I've been looking over the ship, as best I could in the dark. It seems to be all right. We can start early in the morning without anyone around here knowing we paid their town a visit. You and Mr. Damon go back to town, Tom, and order some stuff. Have the man leave it by the roadside early to-morrow morning. Tell him it's for some travelers, who will stop and pick it up. Pay him well, and tell him to keep quiet, as it's for a racing party. That's true enough. We're going to race home to vindicate our reputations. I think that will be all right."
"The man may get suspicious," said Mr. Damon.
"I hope not," answered the balloonist. "We've got to take a chance, anyhow."
The plan worked well, however, the store keeper promising to have the supplies on hand at the time and place mentioned. He winked as Tom asked him to keep quiet about it.
"Oh, I know yo' automobile fellers," he said with a laugh. "You want to get some grub on the fly, so you won't have to stop, an' can beat th' other fellow. I know you, fer I see them automobile goggles stickin' out of your pocket."
Tom and Mr. Damon each had a pair, to use when the wind was strong, but the young inventor had forgotten about his. They now served him a good turn, for they turned the thoughts of the storekeeper into a new channel. The lad let it go at that, and, paying for such things as he and Mr. Damon could not carry, left the store.
The aeronauts passed an uneasy night. They raised their ship high in the air, anchoring it by a rope fast to a big tree, and they turned on no lights, for they did not want to betray their position. They descended before it was yet daylight, and a little later hurried to the place where the provisions were left. They found their supplies safely on hand, and, carrying them into the airship, prepared to turn back to Shopton.
As the ship rose high in the air a crowd of negro laborers passing through a distant field, saw it. At once they raised a commotion, shouting and pointing to the wonderful sight.
"We're discovered!" cried Tom.
"No matter," answered Mr. Sharp. "We'll soon be out of sight, and we'll fly high the rest of this trip."
Tom looked down on the fast disappearing little hamlet, and he thought of the pretty girl in the restaurant.