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Tom Swift stirred uneasily in his heavy sleep. He dreamed that he was again in his berth in the railroad car, and that the thief was feeling under his pillow for the map. Only, this time, there seemed to be hands feeling about his clothing, trying to locate his inner pockets.
The lad murmured something unintelligible, but he did not awaken. The fumes prevented that. However, his movements showed that the effect of the drug was wearing off. It was intended only for temporary use, and it lasted less time than it would otherwise have done in a warmer, moister climate, for the cold, crisp air that penetrated the shed from outside dispelled the fumes.
"Guess I'd better not chance it," murmured the intruder. "He may not have it on him. and if I go through all his pockets I'll wake him up. Anyhow, I've done what they paid me for. I don't believe they'll sail in this airship."
The vandal gave one glance at the sleeping lads, and stole from the cabin of the craft. He looked at his work of ruin, and then tiptoed past the slumbering watchman. A moment later and he was outside the shed, hurrying away through the night.
Several hours after this Mr. Damon and the old miner were pounding on the door of the shed. Mr. Parker, the scientist, had remained at the hotel, for he said he wanted to work out a few calculations regarding some of his theories.
"I thought we'd find them up by this time," spoke the eccentric man, as he again knocked on the door. "Tom said he had lots to do to- day."
"Maybe they are working inside, and can't hear our knocks," suggested Abe. "Try th' door."
"Bless my heart! I never thought of that," exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I believe I will."
The door swung open as he pushed it, for it had not been locked when the intruder left. The first thing Mr. Damon saw was the watchman, still asleep in his chair.
"Bless my soul!" the old man shouted. "Look at this, Abe!"
"Something's wrong!" cried the miner, sniffing the air. "There's been crooked work here! Where are the boys?"
Mr. Damon was close to the airship. He looked in the cabin window.
"Here they are, and they're both asleep, too!" he called. "And-- bless my eyeglasses! Look at the airship! The planes and wings are all cut and slashed! Something has happened! The Red Cloud is all but ruined!"
Abe hastened to his side. He looked at the damage done, and a fierce look came over his face.
"The Fogers again!" he murmured. "We'll pay 'em back for this! But first we must see to the boys!"
They needed small attention, however. The opening of the big door had let in a flood of fresh air, and this dispelled the last of the fumes. The watchman was the first to revive. The sleep caused by the chemical, sprayed from the air-pump by the vandal, had been succeeded by a natural slumber, and this was the case with Ned and Tom. They were soon aroused, and looked with wonder, not unmixed with rage, at the work done in the night.
Every one of the principal planes of the airship, each of the rudders, and some of the auxiliary wings had been cut by a sharp knife--some in several places. The canvas hung in shreds and patches, and the trim Red Cloud looked like some old tramp airship now. Tom could scarcely repress a groan.
"Who did it?" he gasped.
"And with us here on guard!" added Ned.
"I--I must have fallen asleep," admitted the watchman in confusion.
"You were all asleep," said Mr. Damon. "I couldn't rouse you!"
"And there was th' smell of chloroform, or something like it in th' shed," added the miner.
"But look at the airship!" groaned Tom.
"Is it ruined--can't we go to the valley of gold?" asked Ned.
Tom did not answer for a few minutes. He was walking around looking at his damaged craft. The sleepy feeling was rapidly leaving him, as well as Ned and the watchman.
"Bless my watch chain!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "What an ugly, mean piece of work. Can you repair it, Tom?"
"I think so," was the hesitating answer. "It is not as bad as I feared at first. Luckily the gas-bag has not been touched, for, if it had, we could hardly have repaired it. I can fix the wings and the rudders. The propellers have not been damaged, nor has the motor been touched. I think they must have made another attempt to take the map off me," he went on, as he looked at several pockets that had been turned inside out.
An examination of the door showed how the lock had been forced, and the adventurers could easily guess the rest. But who the midnight vandal was they could not tell, though Tom and the others were sure it was some one hired by the Fogers.
"They wanted to delay us," said Tom. "They thought this would hold us back, but it won't--for long. We'll get right to work, and make new planes and rudders. Fortunately the framework isn't hurt any."
Once Tom got into action nothing held him back. He hardly wanted to stop for meals. New canvas was ordered, and that very afternoon some of the damaged wings had been repaired. In the meanwhile the stores and provisions that had been ordered were arriving, and, under the direction of the miner and Mr. Damon were put in the Red Cloud. Tom and Ned, with the help of a man they hired, worked diligently to replace the damaged planes and rudders. Mr. Parker came out to the airship shed, but he was of little use as a helper, for he was continually stopping to jot down some memoranda about an observation he thought of, or else he would lay aside his tools to go outside, look at the weather, and make predictions.
But Tom and the others labored to such good advantage that in three days they had repaired most of the damage done. Luckily the vandal had cut and slashed in a hurry, and his malicious work was only half accomplished. There was no clue to his identity.
No trace was seen of the Fogers, and Tom hardly expected it, for he thought they were in Sitka by this time. Nor were any suspicious persons seen hanging around the shed. The adventurers left their rooms at the hotel, and took up their quarters in the airship that would soon be their home for many days. They wanted to be where they could watch the craft, and two guards were engaged.
"We'll start to-morrow," Tom announced gaily one evening when, after a hard day's work the last of the damaged planes had been repaired.
"Start fer th' valley of gold?" asked the miner.
"Yes. Everything is in good shape now. I want to go into town, to send some messages home, telling dad we'll soon be on our way, and I also want to get a few things."
"Shall I come?" asked Ned.
"No, I'd rather you'd stay here," spoke Tom, in a low voice. "We can't take any more chances of being delayed, and, as it's pretty well known that we'll sail to-morrow, the Foger crowd may try some more of their tricks. No, I'll go to town alone, Ned. I'll soon be back, however. You stay here."
Both Tom came nearly never coming back. As he was returning from sending the messages, and purchasing a few things he needed for the trip, he passed through a dark street. He was walking along, thinking of what the future might hold for him and his companions, after they reached the caves of ice, when, just as he got to a high board fence, surrounding some vacant lots, he heard some one whisper hoarsely:
"Here he comes!"
The young inventor was on his guard instantly. He jumped back to avoid a moving shadow, but was too late. Something struck him on the back of his head, and he felt his senses leaving him. He struggled against the feeling, and he realized, even in that exciting moment, that the thick collar of his heavy overcoat, which he had turned up because of a cold wind, had, perhaps, saved him from a broken skull.
"Hold him!" commanded another voice. "I'll go through him!"
The packages dropped from Tom's nerveless fingers. He felt himself sinking down, in spite of his fierce determination not to succumb. He felt several hands moving rapidly about his body, and then he struck blindly out at the footpads.
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