TOM SWIFT IN CAPTIVITY
A Daring Escape by Airship
BY VICTOR APPLETON
AUTHOR OF "TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE," "TOM SWIFT IN THE CITY OF GOLD," ETC.
I A STRANGE REQUEST II THE CIRCUS MAN III TOM WILL GO IV "LOOK OUT FOR MY RIVAL!" V ANDY FOGER LEARNS SOMETHING VI ALARMING NEWS VII FIRE ON BOARD VIII A NARROW ESCAPE IX "FORWARD MARCH!" X A WILD HORSE STAMPEDE XI CAUGHT IN A LIVING ROPE XII A NATIVE BATTLE XIII THE DESERTION XIV IN GIANT LAND XV IN THE "PALACE" OF THE KING XVI THE RIVAL CIRCUS MAN XVII HELD CAPTIVES XVIII TOM'S MYSTERIOUS BOX XIX WEAK GIANTS XX THE LONE CAPTIVE XXI A ROYAL CONSPIRACY XXII THE TWIN GIANTS XXIII A SURPRISE IN THE NIGHT XXIV THE AIRSHIP FLIGHT XXV TOM'S GIANT—CONCLUSION
A STRANGE REQUEST
Tom Swift closed the book of adventures he had been reading, tossed it on the table, and got up. Then he yawned.
"What's the matter?" asked his chum, Ned Newton, who was deep in another volume.
"Oh, I thought this was going to be something exciting," replied Tom, motioning toward the book he had discarded. "But say! the make-believe adventures that fellow had, weren't anything compared to those we went through in the city of gold, or while rescuing the exiles of Siberia."
"Well," remarked Ned, "they would have to be pretty classy adventures to lay over those you and I have had lately. But where are you going?" he continued, for Tom had taken his cap and started for the door.
"I thought I'd go out and take a little run in the aeroplane. Want to come along? It's more fun than sitting in the house reading about exciting things that never have happened. Come on out and—"
"Yes, and have a tumble from the aeroplane, I suppose you were going to say," interrupted Ned with a laugh. "Not much! I'm going to stay here and finish this book."
"Say," demanded Tom indignantly. "Did you ever know me to have a tumble since I knew how to run an airship?"
"No, I can't say that I did. I was only joking."
"Then you carried the joke too far, as the policeman said to the man he found lugging off money from the bank. And to make up for it you've got to come along with me."
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, anywhere. Just to take a little run in the upper regions, and clear some of the cobwebs out of my head. I declare, I guess I've got the spring fever. I haven't done anything since we got back from Russia last fall, and I'm getting rusty."
"You haven't done ANYTHING!" exclaimed Ned, following his chum's example by tossing aside the book. "Do you call working on your new invention of a noiseless airship nothing?"
"Well, I haven't finished that yet. I'm tired of inventing things. I just want to go off, and have some good fun, like getting shipwrecked on a desert island, or being lost in the mountains, or something like that. I want action. I want to get off in the jungle, and fight wild beasts, and escape from the savages!"
"Say! you don't want much," commented Ned. "But I feel the same way, Tom."
"Then come on out and take a run, and maybe we'll get on the track of an adventure," urged the young inventor. "We won't go far, just twenty or thirty miles or so."
The two youths emerged from the house and started across the big lawn toward the aeroplane sheds, for Tom Swift owned several speedy aircrafts, from a big combined aeroplane and dirigible balloon, to a little monoplane not much larger than a big bird, but which was the most rapid flier that ever breathed the fumes of gasolene.
"Which one you going to take, Tom?" asked Ned, as his chum paused in front of the row of hangars.
"Oh, the little double-seated monoplane, I guess that's in good shape, and it's easy to manage. When I'm out for fun I hate to be tinkering with levers and warping wing tips all the while. The Lark practically flies herself, and we can sit back and take it easy. I'll have Eradicate fill up the gasolene tank, while I look at the magneto. It needs a little adjusting, though it works nearly to perfection since I put in some of that new platinum we got from the lost mine in Siberia."
"Yes, that was a trip that amounted to something. I wouldn't mind going on another like that, though we ran lots of risks."
"We sure did," agreed Tom, and then, raising his voice he called out: "Rad, I say Rad! Where are you? I want you!"
"Comin', massa Tom, comin'," answered an aged colored man, as he shuffled around the corner of the shed. "What do yo'-all want ob me?"
"Put some gasolene in the Lark, Rad. Ned and I are going to take a little flight. What were you doing?"
"Jest groomin' mah mule Boomerang, Massa Tom, dat's all. Po' Boomerang he's gittin' old jest same laik I be. He's gittin' old, an' he needs lots ob 'tention. He has t' hab mo' oats dan usual, Massa Tom, an' he doan't feel 'em laik he uster, dat's a fac', Massa Tom."
"Well, Rad, give him all he wants. Boomerang was a good mule in his day."
"An' he's good yet, Massa Tom, he's good yet!" said Eradicate Sampson eagerly. "Doan't yo' all forgit dat, Massa Tom." And the colored man proceeded to fill the gasolene tank, while Tom adjusted the electrical mechanism of his aeroplane, Ned assisting by handing him the tools needed. Eradicate, who said he was named that because he "eradicated" dirt, was a colored man of all work, who had been in the service of the Swift household for several years. He and his mule Boomerang were fixtures.
"There, I guess that will do," remarked Tom, after testing the magneto, and finding that it gave a fat, hot spark. "That ought to send us along in good shape. Got all the gas in, Rad?"
"Every drop, Massa Tom."
"Then catch hold and help wheel the Lark out. Ned, you steady her on that side. How are the tires? Do they need pumping up?"
"Hard as rocks," answered Tom's chum, as he tapped his toe against the rubber circlets of the small bicycle wheels on which the aeroplane rested.
"Then they'll do, I guess. Come on now, and we'll give her a test before we start off. I ought to get a few hundred more revolutions per minute out of the motor with the way I've adjusted the magneto. Rad, you and Ned hold back, while I turn the engine over."
The youth and the colored man grasped the rear supports of the long, tail-like part of the monoplane while Tom stepped to the front to twist the propeller blades. The first two times there was no explosion as he swung the delicate wooden blades about, but the third time the engine started off with a roar, and a succession of explosions that were deafening, until Tom switched in the muffler, thereby cutting down the noise. Faster and faster the propeller whirled about as the motor warmed up, until the young inventor exclaimed:
"That's the stuff! She's better than ever! Climb up Ned, and we'll start off. You can turn her over, Rad; can't you?"
"Suah, Massa Tom," was the reply, for Eradicate had been on so many trips with Tom, and had had so much to do with airships, that to merely start one was child's play for him.
The two youths had scarcely taken their seats, and the colored man was about to twist around the fan-like blades of the big propeller in front, when from behind there came a hail.
"Hold on there! Wait a minute, Tom Swift! Bless my admission ticket, don't go! I've got something important to tell you! Hold on!"
"Humph! I know who that is!" cried Tom, motioning to Eradicate to cease trying to start the motor.
"Mr. Damon, of course," agreed Ned. "I wonder what he wants?"
"A ride, maybe," went on Tom. "If he does we've got to take the Scooter instead of this one. That holds four. Well, we may as well see what he wants."
He jumped lightly from his seat in the monoplane and was followed by Ned. They saw coming toward them, from the direction of the house, a stout man, who seemed very much excited. He was walking so fast that he fairly waddled, and he was smiling at the lads, for he was one of their best friends.
"Glad I caught you, Tom." he panted, for his haste had almost deprived him of breath. "I've got something important to tell you. I hurried over as soon as I heard about it."
"Well, you're just in time," commented Ned with a laugh. "In another minute we'd have been up in the clouds."
"What is it, Mr. Damon?" asked Tom. "Have you got wind of a city of diamonds, or has some one sent you a map telling where we can go to pick up ten thousand dollar bills by the basket?"
"Neither one; Tom, neither one. It's something better than either of those, and if you don't jump at the chance I'm mistaken in you, that's all I've got to say. Come over here."
He turned a quick glance over his shoulder as he spoke and advanced toward the two lads on tiptoe as though he feared some one would see or hear him. Yet it was broad daylight, the place was the starting ground for Tom's aeroplanes and save Eradicate there was no one present except Mr. Damon, Ned and the young inventor himself.
"What's up?" asked Tom in wonderment.
"Hush!" cautioned the odd gentleman. "Bless my walking stick, Tom! but this is going to be a great chance for you—for us,—for I'm going along."
"Going where, Mr. Damon?"
"I'll tell you in a minute. Is there any one here?"
"No one but us?"
"You are sure that Andy Foger isn't around."
"Sure. He's out of town, you know."
"Yes, but you never can tell when he's going to appear on the scene. Come over here," and taking hold of the coat of each of the youths, Mr. Damon led them behind the big swinging door of the aeroplane shed.
"You haven't anything on hand; have you, Tom?" asked the odd gentleman, after peering through the crack to make sure they were unobserved.
"Nothing at all, if you mean in the line of going off on an adventure trip."
"That's what I mean. Bless my earlaps! but I'm glad of that. I've got just the thing for you. Tom, I want you to go to a strange land, and bring back one of the biggest men there—a giant! Tom Swift, you and I and Ned—if he wants to go—are going after a giant!"
Mr. Damon gleefully clapped Tom on the back, with such vigor that our hero coughed, and then the odd gentleman stepped back and gazed at the two lads, a look of triumph shining in his eyes.
For a moment there was a silence. Tom looked at Ned, and Ned gave his chum a quick glance. Then they both looked sharply at Mr. Damon.
"A—a giant," murmured Tom faintly.
"That's what I said," replied Mr. Damon. "I want you to help me capture a giant, Tom."
Once more the two youths exchanged significant glances, and then Tom, in a low and gentle voice said:
"Yes, Mr. Damon, that's all right. We'll get you a giant right away. Won't we, Ned? Now you'd better come in the house and lie down, I'll have Mrs. Baggert make you a cup of tea, and after you have had a sleep you'll feel better. Come on," and the young inventor gently tried to lead his friend out from behind the shed door.
"Look here, Tom Swift!" exclaimed the odd gentleman indignantly. "Do you think I'm crazy? Lie down? Rest myself? Go to sleep? Say, I'm not crazy! I'm not tired! I'm not sleepy! This is the greatest chance you ever had, and if we get one of those giants—"
"Yes, yes, we'll get one," put in Ned soothingly.
"Of course," added Tom. "Come on, now, Mr. Damon. You'll feel better after you've had a rest. Dr. Perkinby is coming over to see father and I'll have him—"
Mr. Damon gave one startled glance at the young inventor and his chum, and then burst into a peal of hearty laughter.
"Oh, my!" he exclaimed at intervals in his paroxysms. "Oh, dear! He thinks I'm out of my head! He can't stand that talk about giants! Oh dear! Tom Swift, this is the greatest chance you ever had! Come on in the house and I'll tell you all I know about giant land, and then if you want to think I'm crazy you can, that's all I've got to say!"
THE CIRCUS MAN
Without a word Tom and Ned followed Mr. Damon toward the Swift house. Truth to tell the youths did not know what to say, or they would have been bubbling over with questions. But the talk of the odd man, and his strange request to Tom to go off and capture a giant had so startled the young inventor and his chum that they did not know whether to think that Mr. Damon was joking, or whether he had suddenly taken leave of his senses.
And while I have a few minutes that are occupied in the journey to the house I will introduce my new readers more formally to Tom Swift and his friends.
Tom though only a young man, was an inventor of note, as his father was before him. Father and son lived in a fine house in the town of Shopton, in New York state, and Mrs. Swift being dead, the two were well looked after by Mrs. Baggert their housekeeper. Eradicate Sampson, as I have said, was the man of all work about the place. Ned Newton who had a position in a Shopton bank, was Tom's particular chum, and Mr. Wakefeld Damon, of the neighboring town of Waterfield, was a friend to all who knew him. He had the odd habit of blessing anything and everything he could think of, interspersing it in his talk.
In the first volume of this series, called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle," I related how Tom made the acquaintance of Mr. Damon, afterward purchasing a damaged motor-cycle from the odd gentleman. On this machine Tom had many adventures, incidentally saving some of his father's valuable patents from a gang of conspirators. Later Tom got a motor boat, and had many races with his rivals on Lake Carlopa, beating Andy Foger, the red-haired bully of the town, in signal fashion. After his adventures on the water Tom sighed for some in the air, and he had them in his airship the Red Cloud.
"Tom Swift and His Submarine Boat." is a story of a search after sunken treasure, and, returning from that quest Tom built an electric runabout, the speediest car on the road. By means of a wireless message, later, Tom was able to save himself and the castaways of Earthquake Island, and, as a direct outcome of that experience, he was able to go in search of the diamond makers, and solve the secret of Phantom Mountain, as told in the book dealing with that subject.
When he went to the caves of ice Tom had bad luck, for his airship was wrecked, and he endured many hardships in getting home with his companions, particularly as Andy Foger sought revenge on him.
But Tom pluckily overcame all obstacles and, later, he built a sky racer, in which he made the quickest trip on record. After that, with his electric rifle, he went after elephants in the interior of Africa and was successful in rescuing some missionaries from the terrible red pygmies.
One of the mission workers, later, sent Tom details about a buried city of gold in Mexico, and Tom and his chum together with Mr. Damon located this mysterious place after much trouble, as told in the book entitled, "Tom Swift in the City of Gold." The gold did not prove as valuable as they expected, as it was of low grade, but they got considerable money for it, and were then ready for more adventures.
The adventures soon came, as those of you who have read the book called, "Tom Swift and His Air Glider," can testify. In that I told how Tom went to Siberia, and after rescuing some Russian political exiles, found a valuable deposit of platinum, which to-day is a more valuable metal than gold. Tom needed some platinum for his electrical machines, and it proved very useful.
He had been back from Russia all winter and, now that Spring had come again, our hero sighed for more activity, and fresh adventures. And with the advent of Mr. Damon, and his mysterious talk about giants, Tom seemed likely to be gratified.
The two chums and the odd gentleman continued on to the house, no one speaking, until finally, when they were seated in the library, Mr. Damon said:
"Well, Tom, are you ready to listen to me now, and have me explain what I meant when I asked you to get a giant?"
"I—I suppose so," hesitated the young inventor. "But hadn't I better call dad? And are you sure you don't want to lie down and collect your thoughts? A nice hot cup of tea—"
"There, there, Tom Swift; If you tell me to lie down again, or propose any more tea I'll use you as a punching bag, bless my boxing gloves if I don't!" cried Mr. Damon and he laughed heartily. "I know what you think, Tom, and you, too, Ned," he went on, still chuckling. "You think I don't know what I'm saying, but I'll soon prove that I do. I'm fully in my senses, I'm not crazy, I'm not talking in my sleep, and I'm very much in earnest. Tom, this is the chance of your life to get a giant, and pay a visit to giant land. Will you take it?"
"Mr. Damon, I—er—that is I—"
Tom stammered and looked at Ned.
"Now look here, Tom Swift!" exclaimed the odd man. "When you got word about the buried city of gold in Mexico you didn't hesitate a minute about making up your mind to go there; did you?"
"No, I didn't."
"Well, that wasn't any more of a strain on your imagination than this giant business; was it?"
"Well, I don't know, as—"
"Bless my spectacles! Of course it wasn't! Now, look here. Tom, you just make up your mind that I know what I'm talking about, and we'll get along better. I don't blame you for being a bit puzzled at first, but just you listen. You believe there are such things as giants; don't you?"
"I saw a man in the circus once, seven feet high. They called him a giant," spoke Ned.
"A giant! He was a baby compared to the kind of giants I mean," said Mr. Damon quickly. "Tom, we are going after a race of giants, the smallest one of which is probably eight feet high, and from that they go on up to nearly ten feet, and they're not slim fellows either, but big in proportion. Now in giant land—"
"Here's Mrs. Baggert with a quieting cup of tea," interrupted Tom. "I spoke to her as we came in, and asked her to have some ready. If you'll drink this, Mr. Damon, I'm sure—"
"Bless my sugar bowl, Tom! You make a man nervous, with your cups of tea. I'm more quiet than you, but I'll drink it to please you. Now listen to me."
"All right, go ahead."
"A friend of mine has asked me if I knew any one who could undertake to go to giant land, and get him one or two specimens of the big men there. I at once thought of you, and I said I believed you would go. And I'll go with you, Tom! Think of that! I've got faith enough in the proposition to go myself!"
There was no mistaking Mr. Damon's manner. He was very much in earnest, and Tom and Ned looked at each other with a different light in their eyes.
"Who is your friend, and where in the world is giant land?" asked Tom. "I haven't heard of such a place since I read the accounts of the early travelers, before this continent was discovered. Who is your friend that wants a giant?"
"If you'll let me, I'll have him here in a minute, Tom."
"Of course I will. But good land! Have you got him concealed up your sleeve, or under some of the chairs? Is he a dwarf?" and Tom looked about the room as if he expected to see some one in hiding.
"I left him outside in the garden, Tom," replied the odd man. "I told him I'd come on ahead, and see how you took the proposition. Don't tell him you thought me insane at first. I'll have him here in a jiffy. I'll signal to him."
Not waiting for a word from either of the boys, Mr. Damon went to one of the low library windows, opened it, gave a shrill whistle and waved his handkerchief vigorously. In a moment there came an answering whistle.
"He's coming," announced the odd gentleman.
"But who is he?" insisted Tom. "Is he some professor who wants a giant to examine, or is he a millionaire who wants one for a body guard?"
"Neither one, Tom. He's the proprietor of a number of circuses, and a string of museums, and he wants a giant, or even two of them, for exhibition purposes. There's lots of money in giants. He's had some seven, and even eight feet tall, but he has lately heard of a land where the tallest man is nearly ten feet high, and very big, and he'll pay ten thousand dollars for a giant alive and in good condition, as the animal men say. I believe we can get one for him, and—Ah, here he is now," and Mr. Damon interrupted himself as a small, dark-complexioned man, with a very black mustache, black eyes, a watch chain as big around as his thumb, a red vest, a large white hat, and a suit of large-sized checked clothes appeared at the open library window.
"Is it all right?" this strange-appearing man asked of Mr. Damon.
"I believe so," replied the odd gentleman. "Come in, Sam."
With one bound, though the window was some distance from the ground, the little man leaped into the library. He landed lightly on his feet, quickly turned two hand springs in rapid succession, and then, without breathing in the least rapidly, as most men would have done after that exertion, he made a low bow to Tom and Ned.
"Boys, let me introduce you to my friend, Sam Preston, an old acrobat and now a circus proprietor," said Mr. Damon. "Mr. Preston, this is Tom Swift, of whom I told you, and his chum, Ned Newton."
"And will they get the giant for me?" asked the circus man quickly.
"I think they will," replied Mr. Damon. "I had a little difficulty in making the matter clear to them, and that's why I sent for you. You can explain everything."
"Have a chair," invited Tom politely. "This is a new one on me—going after giants. I've done almost everything else, though."
"So Mr. Damon said," spoke Mr. Preston gravely. He was much more sedate and composed than one would have supposed after his sensational entrance into the room. "I am very glad to meet you, Tom Swift, and I hope we can do business together. Now, if you have a few minutes to spare, I'll tell you all I know about giant land."
TOM WILL GO
"Jove! That sounds interesting!" exclaimed Ned, as he settled himself comfortably in his chair.
"It is interesting," replied the circus man. "At least I found it so when I first listened to one of my men tell it. But whether it is possible to get to giant land, and, what is more bring away some of the big men, is something I leave to you, Tom Swift. After you have heard my story, if you decide to go, I'll stand all the expenses of fitting out an expedition, and if you fail I won't have a word to say. If, on the other hand, you bring me back a giant or two, I'll pay you ten thousand dollars and all expenses. Is it a bargain?"
"Let me hear the story first," suggested our hero, who was a cautious lad when there was need for it. Yet he liked Mr. Preston, even at first sight, in spite of his "loud" attire, and the rather "circusy" manner in which he had entered the room. Then too, if he was a friend of Mr. Damon, that was a great deal in his favor.
"I am, as you know, in the circus business," began Mr. Preston. "I have a number of traveling shows, and several large museums in the big cities. I am always on the lookout for new attractions, for the public demands them. Once get in the rut of having nothing new, and your business will fall off. I know, for I've been in the business, man and boy, for nearly forty years. I began as a performer, and I can still do a double somersault over fifteen elephants in a row. I always keep in practice for there's nothing like showing a performer how to do a thing yourself."
"But about the giants, which is what I'm interested in most now. Of course I've had giants in my circuses and museums, from the beginning. The public wanted 'em and we had to have 'em. Some of 'em were fakes—men on stilts with long pants to cover up their legs, and others were the real, genuine, all-wool-and-a-yard-wide article. But none of them were very big. A shade under eight feet was the limit with me."
"I also have lots of wild animals, and it was when some of my men were out after some tapirs, jaguars and leopards that I got on the track of the giants. It was about a year ago, but up to this time I haven't seen my way clear to send after the big men. It was this way:"
Mr. Preston assumed a more comfortable position in his chair, nodded at Mr. Damon, who was listening attentively to all that was said, and resumed.
"As I said I had sent Jake Poddington, one of my best men, after tapirs and some other South American animals. He didn't have very good luck hunting along the Amazon. In the first place that region has been pretty well cleaned out of circus animals, and another thing it's getting too well populated. Another thing is that you can't get the native hunters and beaters to work for you as they did years ago."
"So Poddington wrote to me that he was going to take his assistants, make a big jump, and hike it for the Argentine Republic. He had a tip that along the Salado river there might be something doing, and I told him to go ahead."
"He shipped me what few animals he had, and lit out for a three thousand mile journey. I didn't hear from him for some time, and, when I did, I got the finest collection of animals I had ever laid eyes on. I got them about the same time I did a letter from Jake, for the mail service ain't what you could call rushing in that part of South America."
"But what about the giants?" interrupted Mr. Damon.
"I'm coming to them," replied the circus man calmly. "It was this way: At the tail of his letter which he sent with the shipment of animals Jake said this, and I remember it almost word for word:"
"'If all goes well,' he wrote, 'I'll have a big surprise for you soon. I've heard a story about a race of big natives that have their stamping ground in this section, and I'm going to try for a few specimens. I know how much you want a giant.'"
"Well?" asked Tom, after a pause, for the circus man had ceased talking and was staring out of the opened library window into the garden that was just becoming green.
"That was all I ever heard from poor Jake," said Mr. Preston softly.
"Bless my insurance policy!" gasped Mr. Damon. "You didn't tell me that! What happened to him."
"I never could find out," resumed Mr. Preston. "I never heard another word from him, and I've never seen him from the time I parted with him to go after the animals. The letter saying he was going after the giants was the last line of his I've seen."
"But didn't you try to locate him?" asked Tom. "Didn't he have some companions—some one who could tell what became of him?"
"Of course I tried!" exclaimed Mr. Preston. "Do you think I'd let a man like Jake disappear without making some effort to find him? But he was the only white man in his party, the rest were natives. That was Jake's way. Well, when some time past and I didn't hear from him, I got busy. I wrote to our consuls and even some South American merchants with whom I had done business. But it didn't amount to anything."
"Couldn't you get any news?" asked Ned softly.
"Oh, yes, some, but it didn't amount to much. After a long time, and no end of trouble, I had a man locate a native named Zacatas, who was the head beater of the black men under Jake."
"Zacatas said that he and Jake and the others got safely to the Salado river section, but I knew that before, for that was where the fine shipment of animals came from. Then Jake got that tip about the giants, and set off alone into the interior to locate them, for all the natives were afraid to go. That was the last seen of poor Jake."
"Bless my fire shovel!" cried Mr. Damon. "What did Zacatas say became of the poor fellow?"
"No one knew. Whether he reached giant land and was killed there, or whether he was struck down by some wild beast in the jungle, I never could find out. The natives under Zacatas waited in camp for him for some time, and then went back to the Amazon region where they belonged. That's all the news I could get."
"But I'm sure there are giants in the interior of South America, for Jake always knew what he was talking about. Now I want to do two things. I want to get on the trail of poor Jake Poddington if I can, and I want a giant—two or three of them if it can be managed."
"Ever since Jake disappeared I've been trying to arrange things to make a search for him, and for the giants, but up to now something has been in the way. I happened to mention the matter to my friend, Mr. Damon, and he at once spoke of you, Tom Swift."
"Now, what I want to know is this: Will you undertake to get a giant for me, rescue Jake Poddington if he is alive in the interior of South America, or, if he is dead, find out how it happened and give him decent burial? Will you do this, Tom Swift?"
There was a silence in the room following the dramatic and simple recital of the circus man. Tom was strangely moved, as was his chum Ned As for Mr. Damon, he was softly blessing every thing he could think of.
Tom looked out of the long, opened windows of the library. In fancy he could see the forest and jungles of South America. He saw a sluggish river flowing along between rank green banks, while, from the overhanging trees, long festoons of moss hung down, writhing now and then as the big water anacondas or boa constrictors looped their sinuous folds over the low limbs.
In fancy he saw dark-skinned natives slinking along with their deadly blow guns, and poisoned arrows. He thought he could hear the low growls and whines of the treacherous jaguars and see their lithe bodies slinking along. He saw the brilliant-hued flowers, saw the birds of gorgeous plumage, and listened in fancy to their discordant cries.
Then, too, he saw a lonely white man in a miserable native hut thousands of miles from civilization, waiting, waiting, waiting for he knew not what fate. Again he saw monstrous men stalking along—men who towered ten feet or more, and who were big and brawny. All this passed through the mind of Tom in an instant.
"Well?" asked Mr. Preston softly.
"I'll go!" suddenly cried the young inventor. "I don't know whether I can get you a giant or not, Mr. Preston, but if it's possible I'll get poor Jake Poddington, dead or alive!"
"Good!" cried the circus man, jumping up and clasping Tom's hand. "I thought you were that kind of a lad, after I heard Mr. Damon describe you. You've taken a big load off my heart, Tom Swift. Now to talk of ways and means! I'll have a giant yet, and maybe I'll get back the best man who ever shipped a consignment of wild animals, good Jake Poddington! Now to business!"
"LOOK OUT FOR MY RIVAL!"
"You'll go in an airship of course; won't you, Tom?" asked Mr. Damon, when they had pulled their chairs up around a library table, and Mr. Preston had taken some papers from his pocket.
"An airship? No, I don't believe I shall," replied the young inventor. "In the first place, I'm a bit tired of scooting through the air so much, though it isn't to be denied that it's the quickest way of going. But in South America there are so many jungles that it will be hard to find a level starting ground for a take-off, after we land. Of course we could go up as a balloon, but this expedition is going to be different from any we were ever on before."
"How so?" asked Ned.
"Well, in the first place we've got to start at one end of a trail, and make careful inquiries all along the way. It isn't like when we went for the city of gold. There we had to look for a certain ruined temple, which was the landmark. When we went after the platinum in Siberia we had to look for the place of the high winds, so I could use my air glider. But now we're trying to locate a man who traveled on foot through the jungles, and if we went in an airship we might just miss the connecting link."
"So, I think the best way will be to do just as Mr. Poddington did—travel on foot or by horses and mules, and go slowly, making inquiries from time to time. Then we MAY get to giant land, we MAY find him."
"I don't hope for all that," said the circus man, "but if you can only get some news of him it will be a relief. If he died peaceably it would be better than to be a captive among some of those savage tribes. It's been a year now since I heard the last of him. But I agree with Tom that an airship won't be much good in the jungle. You might take along a small one, if you could pack it, to scare the natives with. In fact it might be a good thing to show to the giants, if you find them."
"That is my idea," declared Tom. "I'll take the Lark with me. That's a mighty powerful machine for its size, and it can be taken apart in sections. It will carry three on a pinch, and I have had five in her with two auxiliary seats. I'll take the Lark, and she may come in handy."
"When can you start?" asked Mr. Preston.
"As soon as we can fit out an expedition," answered Tom. "It oughtn't to take long. I don't have to build an air glider this time. It won't take long to take the Lark apart. I haven't finished work on my noiseless airship yet, but that can wait. Yes, we'll be ready as soon as you want us to start, Mr. Preston."
"It can't be too soon for me. I'll deposit a certain sum in the bank to your credit, Tom, and you can draw on it for expenses. I'll pay any amount to get word of poor Jake, to say nothing of having a giant for my circus. Now as to ways of getting there. Have you a large map of South America?"
Tom had one, and he and the others were pouring over it when Tom's father came into the room.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed. "What's this? What are you up to now, Tom, my boy? Mrs. Baggert said you took down the South American map. What's up?"
"Lots, dad? I'm going after giants this time!"
"Giants, Tom? Are you joking?"
"Not a bit of it, Mr. Swift," answered Mr. Damon. "Bless my check book! I believe if some one wanted the moon Tom Swift would try to get it for them."
Then Mr. Swift noticed the stranger present, and was introduced to the circus man.
"Is it really true, Tom," asked the aged inventor, when the story had been related, "are you going to have a try for giant land?"
"That's what I am, dad, and I wish you were going along."
"No, Tom, I'm getting too old for that. But I did hope you'd stay home for a while, and help me work on my gyroscope invention. It is almost completed."
"I will help you, dad, as soon as I get back with a giant or two. Who knows? maybe I'll get one myself."
"What would you do with one?" asked Ned with a laugh.
"Have him help Eradicate," answered the young inventor. "Rad is getting pretty old, and he needs an assistant."
"But are these giants black?" asked Mr. Swift.
"That's a point I don't know," answered the circus man frankly. "Jake didn't say in his letter. They may be black, white or midway between. That's what Tom has got to find out for us."
"And I'll do it!" exclaimed our hero. "Now let's see. I suppose the best plan would be to take a ship right to the Rio de la Plata, landing say at Buenos Ayres or Montevideo, and then organize an expedition to strike into the interior."
"Why don't you do just as Mr. Poddington did?" asked Ned, "start from the Amazon and work south?"
"It would take too long," declared Tom. "We know that the giants are somewhere in the northern part of Argentina, or in Paraguay or Uruguay. Or they may be on the other side of the Uruguay river in Brazil. It's quite a stretch of territory, and we've got to take our time exploring it. That's why I don't want to waste time working down from the Amazon. We'll go right to Buenos Ayres, I think."
"That's what I'd do," advised the old circus man. "Now I can give you some points on what to take, and how to act when you get there. The South Americans are a queer people—very nice when treated right, but very bad if not," and then he told some of his experiences as a circus man in South America, for he had traveled there.
"I'd go again, if my business didn't keep me here," he concluded, "for I'd ask nothing better than to hunt for giant land, or try to rescue poor Jake. But I can't. I'm depending on you, Tom Swift."
"What's that? Giant land?" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert, the motherly housekeeper, as she came in to announce that dinner was ready. "You don't mean to tell me, Tom, that you're going off again?"
"That's what I am, Mrs. Baggert. You'd better put me up a few sandwiches, for I don't know when I'll be back," and Tom winked at his chum.
"Oh, of all things I ever heard in all my born days!" cried the housekeeper, throwing up her hands. "Will you ever settle down, Tom Swift?"
"Maybe he will when Miss Mary Nestor is ready to settle down too," said Ned mischievously, referring to a girl of whom Tom was very fond.
"Say, I'll fix you for that!" cried our hero, as he made an unsuccessful grab for Ned. "But, Mrs. Baggert, can you put on a couple of extra plates? Mr. Damon and Mr. Preston will stay to lunch."
"Not if it's going to put you out, Tom," objected the circus man. "I can go to the hotel, and—"
"No, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert graciously, for she prided herself on her housekeeping arrangements, and she used to say that unexpected company never "flustrated" her. Soon the little party was seated around the table, where the talk went from grave to gay, the subject of the giants being uppermost.
Mr. Preston told many funny stories of his circus days, and some of them had the spice of danger in them, for he had been all over the world, either as a performer or as the owner of amusement enterprises.
"Now, the next question to be settled," said the old circus man, when they were once more gathered in the library, "is how many are going?"
"I am, for one!" exclaimed Ned quickly. "I'm sure my folks will let me. Especially as we aren't going to use an airship, but will travel just as ordinary folks do."
"Except in case of emergency," explained Tom. "We'll have the Lark to use if we need her."
"Oh, of course," agreed Ned. "How about you, Mr. Damon? Will you go?"
The odd man looked around the room before replying, as though he feared someone might be listening on the sly.
"Go on, Andy Foger isn't here," invited Tom with a laugh.
"I'll go—if I can pursuade my wife to let me," said the odd man in a whisper, as if, even then, the good lady might overhear him. "I'm not going to say anything about giants. I'll tell her we are going to rescue a poor fellow from—er—well from the natives of South America, and I'm sure she'll consent. Of course I'll go."
"That's three," remarked Tom. "I think I can get Eradicate to go. He doesn't like airships, and when he knows we're not going in one it will please him. Then he likes it hot, and I guess South America is about as warm as they come. I am almost sure we can count on Rad."
"That will make a nice party," commented the circus man. "Now I'll make out a list of the supplies you'd better take, and tell you what to do about getting native helpers, and so on," and with that he plunged into the midst of details that took up most of the remainder of the day.
"Well, then I guess that settles most everything," remarked Tom, several hours later. "I'll begin at once to take the Lark apart for shipment, and begin ordering the things we need."
"Oh, there's one thing I almost forgot about," said Mr. Preston suddenly. "Queer, how I should overlook that, too. I don't suppose you mind a fight or two; do you?" he asked, looking sharply at Tom.
"Well, it all depends. We've had several fights on other expeditions, though I can't say that I like 'em," replied the young inventor. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you may have one—or several," was the answer of the circus man. "You'll have to beware of my rival."
"Yes, the bitterest foe I have is a rival circus man named Wayland Waydell. He, or some of his men, are always camping on my trail when I send out after a new consignment of wild animals, and I shouldn't be a bit surprised but what he'd try to get ahead of me on the giant game."
"But how does he know you want giants?" asked Tom.
"Because news of circus expeditions always leaks out somehow or other. I'm sure Waydell will learn that you are acting for me, and so I warn you in time. In fact, he tried to get ahead of me when I sent Jake Poddington out over a year ago, and I always had my suspicions that he had a hand in Jake's disappearance, but maybe I'm wrong. So that's what I mean when I say beware of Wayland Waydell, Tom."
"I will!" exclaimed Tom. "He'll have to get up early to get ahead of us." But Tom little knew the man against whom he was to pit himself in the search for giants.
ANDY FOGER LEARNS SOMETHING
Once Tom Swift made up his mind to do a thing, he did not waste time in setting about it. He had decided to go to giant land, and that was all there was to it. His father talked with him about the matter, pointed out the dangers, and suggested that, as the young inventor had had many adventures in the last few years, and had made considerable money from the discovery of the city of gold, and the platinum mines, the prize offered for a giant was not much of an inducement.
"But it isn't that so much, dad," explained Tom. "There's that poor circus man, maybe suffering in the centre of South America. I want to find him, if I can, or get some news that he died a natural death, and is decently buried."
"You never can do it, Tom."
"Well dad, I'm going to make a big try!" he returned; and that settled it as far as Tom was concerned.
For several days after the visit of Mr. Preston Tom was busy making plans for his trip to South America. He wanted to lay out a regular schedule before proceeding. Ned Newton had had hard work to persuade his folks to let him go, but they finally consented, and as for Mr. Damon, his plan was simple.
Without mentioning giants at all, he took Mr. Preston home with him, and the circus man's tale of his assistant lost in the wilds of South America was too much for Mrs. Damon.
"Go? Of course you'll go!" she said to her husband. "I demand that you go, and I want you to find that poor man and rescue him. If you could rescue the exiles from uncivilized Siberia I'm sure you can get a man out of a civilized country."
Mr. Damon did not stop to point out that South America was far less civilized, in some ways, than was Russia. He just kept still, and made his preparations to go. Mr. Preston was a distant relative of the odd man, and that was how he had happened to meet him and hear the story which was destined to play such an important part in the life of Tom Swift.
"Do you think we'll have much trouble after we get to South America, and strike into the interior?" asked Mr. Damon one afternoon, when he and Mr. Preston were helping Tom in the delicate work of packing the wing planes of the Lark.
"No, South America isn't a bad country to travel in," replied the circus man. "The natives are fairly friendly, and with a well-organized party, and plenty of money, which I shall see that you have, you ought to get along swimmingly. Only one thing bothers me."
"What's that?" asked Tom quickly.
"That's my rival, Waydell. He's sure to make trouble if he gets on your trail."
"Have you heard from him?"
"No, and that's what makes me all the more suspicious. If he'd come out and fight me in the open it wouldn't be so bad. But this underhand business gets on my nerves. I don't know what he's up to."
"Maybe he isn't up to anything," suggested Ned. "He may not even know you are going to make another try for the giants."
"Oh, yes, he does," replied the circus man. "He didn't succeed in beating me when poor Jake was after them, for the simple reason that it was a snap case, and even I didn't know that Poddington was trying for the giants until he had started. But Waydell was soon after him, and he knows that when I once set out for a freak or a certain kind of animal I keep on until I get it. So he has probably already figured out that I'm making new plans to get a giant."
"But how will he know that I am going?" inquired Tom.
"I don't know how he will know, but he will. We circus men have queer ways of finding out things. I shouldn't be a bit surprised but what he was already plotting and scheming to send an expedition on my trail, to take advantage of anything you may learn."
"Well, we'll try and fool him, the same as we did the Mexicans when we hunted for the city of gold," spoke Tom; and then putting aside that worry, he and the others labored hard to get matters in shape for a departure to South America.
"I suppose Eradicate is going," remarked Ned, in the intervals of packing the aeroplane.
"Well, I've hinted it to him," replied Tom, "but I haven't asked him outright. He said he wouldn't mind going to a hot country though. Here he comes now. Guess I'll see how he takes it."
The colored man shuffled up with a hammer and nails, for he had been putting covers on packing boxes.
"Then you are coming with us to South America; aren't you, Rad?" asked Tom, winking at Ned.
"Souf America? Am dat de hot country yo'-all was referencin' to?" asked Eradicate.
"That's it, Rad. It's nice and warm there. All you have to do is to lie under a tree and cocoanuts will drop off into your mouth."
"Cocoanuts in mah mouf, Massa Tom! 'Scuse me! I doan't want t' go to no sich country as dat. Cocoanuts in mah mouf! Why I ain't got but a few teef left, an' a cocoanut droppin' offen a tree would shorely knock dem teef out, shorely!"
"Oh, Rad, I didn't mean cocoanuts! I meant oranges and bananas— they're soft," and Tom glanced quickly at Ned, for he saw that he had made a mistake.
"Oh, well, den dat's diffunt, Massa Tom. I jes lubs oranges an' bananas, an' ef yo'-all is shore dat I'll find some, why, I'll come along."
"Find 'em? Of course you will!" cried Ned.
"And cocoanuts, too," added Tom. "Only, Rad, I meant to say that the monkeys would throw the cocoanuts down to you from the trees. That breaks the hard shells you see, and all you have to do is to take out the meat, and drink the milk. Then the monkeys throw you down a palm leaf fan to cool yourself off, while you're eating it. Oh, I tell you, Rad, South America is the place to go to have a good time."
"I believe you, Massa Tom. When do we-all start?"
"Pretty soon now."
"An' what all am yo' gwine arter, Massa Tom?"
The young inventor thought a moment. In times past he had not hesitated to confide in his colored helper, but of late years Eradicate had become somewhat childish, and he talked more than was necessary. Tom wondered whether it would be safe to trust the giant secret to him. After a moment's thought he realized that it would not be. But, at the same time, he knew that if he did not give some kind of an answer Eradicate would become suspicious, and that would be worse. The colored helper had been with Tom on too many trips not to know that his master never went without some object.
"Well, Rad, we're after big game this time," Tom said. "I don't know what it will be that we'll get, whether animals or plants, and—"
"Oh, I knows, Massa Tom. Yo'-all means dem orchard plants that lib on air—dem big orchard plants." Eradicate meant orchids, of which many rare and beautiful kinds are found in South America.
"Yes, Rad, I guess we will get some big orchids," agreed Tom.
"An' I shorely will help climb de trees arter 'em. Or maybe we kin git de monkeys to frow em down, same as dey will de cocoanuts."
"Maybe, Rad. Well, now go ahead and nail up the rest of these boxes. We want to get started as soon as we can," and the colored man got busy, murmuring from time to time something about oranges and bananas and cocoanuts.
Everyone was occupied in getting matters in shape for the trip to South America, even Mr. Swift laying aside his work on his pet invention—a gyroscope—while he helped his son. And had Tom not been quite so engrossed with his preparations he might have gone about town more, in which case he would have learned something that might have saved him and the others considerable trouble and no little danger. And this fact was that Andy Foger had been in Shopton several times lately.
After the trouble which the red-haired bully and his father caused Tom and his friends on their trip to the city of gold, Mr. Foger moved away from Shopton. He had lost his fortune and had to begin all over again. The Foger homestead was closed up, and Andy ceased to be a fixture of the town, for which Tom and Ned were very glad.
But of late Andy had been seen in Shopton several times, and it was noticed that, on one or two occasions, he had a man with him—a man who seemed to have plenty of money—a man with an air about him not unlike that of Mr. Preston. A man with what newspaper men would have called a circus or theatrical "air."
This man had visited Shopton soon after Mr. Preston made the giant proposition to Tom, and before meeting Andy Foger had made special inquiries about Tom Swift.
"Who are the people who have a hard feeling against this young inventor in town?" the man had asked of several persons.
"Tom Swift has more friends than enemies," was the general reply.
"Oh, surely he must have some enemies," the man insisted. "He's been running his aeroplanes and autos around town a long time, and surely there must be some one who has a grudge against him. I suppose he has lots of friends, but who are his enemies?"
Then he learned about Andy Foger, and, hearing that Andy now lived in a nearby town, the man had at once gone there. It was not long before he reappeared—and the red-haired bully was with him.
"And you haven't learned anything yet, Andy?" asked this mysterious man one afternoon, when he met his tool in a quiet resort in Shopton.
"Nothing yet, Mr. Waydell. But give me a little more time."
"Time! You've had more time now than you need. When I agreed to pay you for finding out what part of South America Tom Swift would head for to get some sort of a freak or animal for Preston's circus I thought you'd make good quicker than this."
"So did I. But you see Tom is suspicious of me, and so is his chum, Ned Newton. I can't go to them, and if I'm seen sneaking around the house or shop, after what happened last, I'll be driven off."
"Well, it's up to you. I paid you to get the information and I expect you to do it. Why don't you tackle that old colored man whom, I understand, works for him? He ought to be simple enough to give the game away."
"Eradicate? I will! I never thought of that I'll get that information for you, Mr. Waydell, in a few days."
"You'd better, if you want to keep that money."
The two plotters parted, and that very afternoon gave Andy the chance he wanted. He met Eradicate on his way to the village where he was going after something Tom needed.
"Hello, Rad!" called Andy with a show of good feeling. "I haven't seen you in some time. I suppose you're getting too old to travel around with Tom any more?"
"Gittin' too old!" exclaimed the colored man indignantly, for that was his sore point. "What yo'-all mean, Andy Foger? I ain't gittin' old, an' neider am Boomerang."
"Oh, I thought you were, as you haven't been on any trips lately."
"I ain't, hey? Well I's gwine on one right soon, let me tell you dat, Andy Foger!"
"No! Is that so? Glad to hear it. Up to the North Pole I suppose?"
"No, sah; not much! No cold country for this coon! I's gwine where it's nice an 'warm, an' where de cocoanuts fall in yo' mouf—I mean where de bananas an' oranges fall in you mouf, an' de monkeys frow down cocoanuts an' palm leaf fans to yo'!"
"Where's that, Rad?" asked Andy, and he tried to make his voice sound indifferent, as though the matter did not interest him.
"South America, dat's where it am, an' I's gwine wif Massa Tom. We's gwine t' git a monstrous big orchard plant."
"Oh, yes; I've heard about them. Well, I hope you get all the oranges and bananas you want. South America, eh? I suppose along the Amazon river, where they have crocodiles forty feet long, that are always hungry."
"No, sah! No crockermiles fo' me! We ain't goin' neah de Amerzon riber at all. We's gwine away down in de middle part of South America. It's a place suffin laik Gomeonaway—or Goonaway, or suffin' laik dat."
"Oh, yes; I know where you mean!" and Andy could hardly conceal the note of triumph in his voice. He had the very information he wanted from the simple colored man. "Yes, I guess there are no crocodiles there, and plenty of monkeys and cocoanuts. Well, I hope you have a good time," and Andy hurried away to seek out the rival circus man.
"Hand me that hammer, Ned."
"There it is, right behind you, on the bench."
"Oh, so it is. Here are those nails you were asking for."
"Good. Now we'll make things hum," and Ned Newton's voice was drowned in the rapid driving of nails into boards.
"Bless my screw driver!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon, who was sawing planks to make covers for boxes.
"What's the matter?" asked Tom, looking up from a bundle he was tying up. It contained the magneto of his aeroplane and he was putting waterproof paper about it. "Did you cut your finger?"
"No, but I just happened to think that I nailed my watch up in that last box."
"Nailed up your watch!" cried Mr. Preston, who, after a trip to New York to make arrangements for passages on a steamer, had come back to help Tom pack up.
"Yes, I took it out to see how long it took me to make a box cover, and then Tom asked me to nail up that box containing the motor parts, and I laid my watch right down on top, and put the boards over it."
"Well, the only thing to do is to take off the cover," remarked Tom grimly.
"Bless my chronometer! That will delay things," said the odd man with a sigh. "But I suppose there is no hope for it," and he proceeded to open the box, while Tom, Ned, the circus man and Eradicate busied themselves over the hundred and one things to be done before they would be ready for the trip to the interior of South America.
"Look out, Ned!" called Tom. "You're making those top boards too long. They'll stick out over the edge, and be ripped off if the box catches on anything."
"Yes, you can't be too careful," cautioned Mr. Preston. "Each box or package must be the right weight, or the porters and mule drivers won't carry them into the interior. You may have to cross rough trails, and even ford rivers. And as for bridges! well, the less said about them the better. You aren't going to have any picnic, and if you want to back out, Tom Swift, now is the time to say so."
"What! Back out?" cried our hero. "Never! I said I'd go and I'm going. Ned, pass that brace and bit over, will you. I've got to bore a hole for these screws."
And so the work went on in the big aeroplane shed, which they had made their packing headquarters.
The Lark, that small, but strong and speedy aeroplane, had been safely packed, and most of it had been sent on ahead to New York, where the travellers were to take the steamer. There remained to be transported their clothing, weapons and ammunition, and several bundles and cases of trinkets which would be of more value in bartering with the natives than money. Tom and Mr. Preston had selected the things with great care, and at the last moment the young inventor had packed a box of his own, and said nothing about it. Included in it were some of his own and his father's inventions, and had one been given a glance into that same box he would have wondered at the queer things.
"What in the world are you taking with you, anyhow?" asked Ned, of his chum, noticing the mysterious box.
"'You'll see, if we ever get to giant land," replied Tom with a smile.
"How long before we can start?" asked Mr. Damon, late that day, when most of the hard work had been finished. He was as anxious and as eager as either of the youths to make a start.
"We ought to be ready at least a week from to-day," replied Tom, "and perhaps sooner."
"Sooner, if you can make it," suggested Mr. Preston. "The steamer sails a week from to-day, and if you miss that one you'll have to wait two weeks more."
"Then a week from to-day we'll sail," decided Tom, with emphasis. "We'll work nights getting things in shape."
Really, though, not much more remained to be done, and the next day Mr. Preston again went to New York, accompanying a shipment of boxes and cases that Tom sent on ahead.
The two chums were busy in the aeroplane hangar a few days after this, nailing up the last of some light cases containing medicines, personal effects and comforts that would accompany them on their trip.
"Well, I'm glad of one thing," remarked Tom thoughtfully, as he drove home the last nail in a box, "and that is that we won't be bothered with that Andy Foger on this trip. I haven't seen hide nor hair of him in some time. I guess he and his father are down and out."
"I guess so. I haven't seen him either."
"Massa Andy were in town a few days ago," ventured Eradicate.
"He was?" cried Tom. "Did you see him? What was he doing, Rad?"
"Nuffin, same as usual. He done say I were too old to go on any more hexpiditions wif yo' an' I proved dat I wasn't."
"Proved that you weren't, Rad? How?" And Tom looked anxiously at his colored helper.
"Why, I done say t' him dat I was gwine wif yo'-all dis time, t' dat Comeaway country after a big orchard plant. Dat's how I done prove it to dat Andy Foger."
"Rad, you didn't tell him we were going to South America?" asked Tom reproachfully.
"Suah I done so, Massa Tom. Dat were de only way t' prove t' him dat I wa'an't gittin' too old."
"Oh, Rad! I'm afraid—" and Tom hesitated.
"Oh, I don't believe it amounted to anything," interposed Ned. "Andy didn't have any one with him, did he, Rad?"
"No, Massa Ned. He were all alone by hisse'f."
"Then I guess it's all right, Tom. Andy was only rigging Eradicate, and he didn't pay any attention to what he said."
"Well, I hope so," and the young inventor wore a thoughtful air as he resumed the finish of the packing.
The colored man, blissfully unconscious that he had been the innocent cause of a grave danger that overhung Tom and his friends, whistled gaily as he gathered the boxes, bales and packages into a pile, ready for the expressman, who was to call in the morning.
Tom, together with Ned, Mr. Damon and Eradicate, were to leave the following afternoon, and stay in New York until the sailing of the steamer. They preferred to be a day or so ahead of time than half an hour late, and were taking no chances.
"Bless my timetable!" exclaimed Mr. Damon that night, as they sat in the library of the Swift home, checking over the lists to make sure that nothing had been forgotten, "bless my timetable, but it doesn't seem possible that we are going to start at last."
"Yes, we'll soon be on the way to giant land," spoke Tom in a low voice. Somehow the young inventor did not seem to be in his usually bright spirits.
"You don't seem very enthusiastic," remarked Ned. "What's the matter, Tom?"
"Oh, nothing much. Though I would feel better if I knew that Andy Foger didn't have any inkling of what our plans were," he added, for Eradicate was not present.
"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed his chum. "Mr. Preston will be here in the morning, and he'll know whether his rival has any idea of camping on our trail. Cheer up!"
"Yes, I suppose I am foolish to worry," admitted Tom, "but, somehow I can't help it. I wish Mr. Preston was here now to tell us that Wayland Waydell had gone off to the centre of Africa for a dwarf. Then I'd know we had nothing to fear. But I guess—"
Tom did not finish his sentence for, at that moment, there came a peal at the door bell. Instinctively every one started, and Mr. Damon exclaimed:
"Bless my burglar alarm! What's that?"
"Someone at the door, Tom," replied Mr. Swift calmly. "That's nothing unusual. It's early yet."
But, in spite of his reassuring words, there was a feeling of vague alarm.
"I'll see who it is," volunteered Ned. "If it's Andy Foger—"
Mrs. Baggert entered the room at that moment. She had hurried to the door, and, as she entered she announced:
"Yes, it is I!" added the circus man following her quickly into the room. "I came on to-night instead of waiting for the morning, Tom. I have bad news for you!"
"Bad news!" gasped the young inventor. "Has Waydell got hold of your plans."
"I'll wager it has something to do with Andy Foger!" exclaimed Ned.
"Neither one," spoke the circus man. "But I have just had a cable dispatch from one of my animal agents in Brazil, saying that war has broken out among the tribes in the central part of South America. A big native war is being waged all around giant land, as near as we can figure it out."
"War among the native tribes!" exclaimed Mr. Swift.
"Yes, and one of the worst in years. Of course, Tom, after such alarming news as this I won't hold you to your promise to go. It's all off. I'm sorry, but you'd better wait. It won't be safe to go there now. Better unpack, Tom."
For a moment there was a silence in the room. Then the young inventor leaped to his feet and faced the circus man.
"Unpack?" cried Tom in ringing tones. "Never! I'm going to giant land, fight or no fight! Ned, come with me and we'll put in some of my electric rifles. I wasn't going to take them along, but I will now. Unpack? I guess not! I'm going to get a giant for you, Mr. Preston, and save Jake Poddington if he's alive. Come on, Ned."
FIRE ON BOARD
"Your electric rifles!" exclaimed Ned Newton, as he followed his chum to the storeroom, where Tom kept a number of spare guns. "It's a good thing you thought of them, Tom."
"Yes, I didn't think we'd need them, for I believe peaceable means are the best to use on natives. But if there's a war, and we have to defend ourselves against the tribes, we'll take along something that will do more damage than an ordinary rifle, and yet I can regulate it so that it will only stun, and not kill."
"That's the stuff, Tom. No use in being needlessly cruel. How many will you take?"
"Two or three. We may need 'em all."
A little later the two lads returned to the library where Mr. Damon, Mr. Swift and the circus man were anxiously awaiting them. Mr. Preston looked curiously at several objects which Tom and Ned carried. The objects looked like guns but were different from any the giant-seeker had seen.
"What are they?" he asked Tom.
"Electric rifles. One of my inventions," and Tom showed how the weapon worked. Those of you who have read the volume entitled, "Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle" will remember this curious weapon. It was worked by a stored charge of magnetism of the wireless kind. By this a concentrated globule of electricity was projected from the muzzle, and it could be made strong or weak at the will of the marksman. It could be made so powerful that it would totally annihilate a whale, as Tom had once proved, or it could be made so mild that it would put an enemy, or several of them, to sleep almost as gently as some narcotic, and they would awaken after several hours, little the worse for their experience.
A charge of electricity as powerful as five thousand volts could be concentrated into a small wireless globule the size of a bullet, and this would fly through space, or even through solid objects until, reaching the limit of the range set, would strike the object aimed at. With his wonderful electric rifle Tom had not only killed elephants, and other big game, but fought off the red pygmies of Africa.
"And we may have a use for it in South America," he added as he explained the workings to Mr. Preston.
"Well, I'm glad you didn't back out," commented the circus man, "and this may come in mighty handy. I'll feel easier about you now, Tom, when I know you have some electric rifles with you."
The circus man was told of what Eradicate had said to Andy, but he was of the opinion that no harm would result from it.
"As far as I can learn," went on Mr. Preston, "my old rival Waydell has given up the giant idea. He is looking for a two-headed crocodile, said to be somewhere along the Nile river, and he's fitting out an expedition there I understand. I guess we won't be bothered with him. But the giant for mine! If I get that sort of an attraction his two-headed crocodile won't be in it. I hope you have luck, Tom Swift."
The last details of the expedition were considered. Nothing seemed to have been left undone, and though carrying the electric rifles would make a little more baggage, no one minded that.
"I kin carry dem," said Eradicate. "I ain't got much baggage of mah own."
So it was arranged, and early the next morning the little band of intrepid travelers, who were going in search of giant land, started for New York. They little knew what was ahead of them, nor what dire perils they were to pass through.
Of course Tom had said good-bye to Mary Nestor and half-jokingly, he had promised to bring back a giant of his own, that she might see one outside of a circus.
"But, Tom," Mary exclaimed with a laugh, "what will you do with one of the big creatures if you get one?"
"Have him help me on my newest invention—the noiseless airship," answered the young inventor. "I need some one to lift heavy weights. It will save putting up a derrick. Yes, I think I'll get a giant of my own."
The last good-byes were said, and the parting between Tom and his father was affecting.
"I'll soon be back, dad," he said in as cheerful a tone as he could assume, "and I'll help you finish your gyroscope."
"I hope you will, Tom," and then, with a pressure of his son's hand, Mr. Swift turned away and went into the house, closing the door after him.
The first part of the trip to New York was rather a silent one, no one caring to talk much. Eradicate was the only cheerful member of the party, which included the circus man, who was going as far as the steamer with Tom and his friends.
"Say," Ned exclaimed finally, "any one would think we were going to a funeral!"
"That's right," agreed Tom. "I guess something is on all our nerves. Let's do something to take it off. Here comes a boy with some funny papers. We'll buy some and read all the jokes."
This proved a diversion, and before the train had gone many miles more the giant-hunters were talking and laughing as though they were merely starting on a short pleasure trip, instead of an expedition to the dangerous jungles of South America.
They put up at a good hotel in New York, and as soon as they were established Tom and Mr. Preston went to the steamer Calaban which was to land them at Buenos Ayres. They found that there was some confusion about their luggage and boxes, and it took them the better part of a day to get the tangle straightened out, and their stuff stored together in one hold.
"It will be easier to get it out if it's all together," said Tom, at the conclusion of their labors, and then he and the circus man returned to the hotel. The ship was to sail two days later, and, several hours before the time set for the departure, Tom and his friends were on board.
"You don't see anything of your rival circus friend, do you?" asked Tom, of the man who wanted a giant.
"Not a sign," was the answer, as Mr. Preston glanced over the throng of on-coming passengers. "I guess we've either given him the slip, or he's given up the game. You won't have to worry about him. Just take it easy until you start for the interior, and from then on you'll have hard work enough."
The last of the cargo was being taken aboard, the late passengers had arrived and were anxiously watching to see that their baggage was not lost. As Mr. Preston stood talking with Tom near the gangplank, a clerical looking gentleman approached the circus man.
"I beg your pardon," he began in mild accents, "but could you tell me where my stateroom is?" and he showed his ticket. "I'm not used to traveling," he needlessly added for that fact was very evident. Mr. Preston informed him how to get to his berth, and the gentleman went on: "Are you going all the way to Buenos Ayres?"
"No, but my friend is," and the circus man nodded at Tom.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" the stranger exclaimed. "Then I shall have someone of whom I can ask questions. I am quite lost when I travel."
"I'll help you all I can," volunteered Tom, "and I'll show you to your stateroom now."
"Ah, thank you. Your name is—"
"Tom Swift," supplied the young inventor.
"Ah, yes, I believe I have read about your airships. I am the Reverend Josiah Blinderpool. I am taking a little vacation. I trust we shall become good friends."
"Humph, he's a regular infant, to be away from civilization," mused Tom, when he had showed the clergyman to the proper stateroom. "He'll get into trouble, he's so innocent." If he could have seen that same "clergyman" double up with mirth when he had closed his stateroom door after him, Tom would not have felt so sure about that same "innocence."
"To think that I was talking face to face with Sam Preston and he never tumbled to who I was!" exclaimed the newcomer softly. "That's rich! Now if I play my cards right I shouldn't be surprised but what they'd invite me to come along with them. That would just suit me. I wouldn't have any trouble then, getting on the track of those giants. The information Waydell got from that red-haired Foger chap wasn't any too definite," and once more the man wearing the garb of a minister chuckled.
"Well, I'll say good-bye," remarked Mr. Preston, a little later, when the warning bell had rung. "I guess you'll get along all right. I haven't seen a sign of Waydell, or any of his slick agents. You'll have no trouble I guess."
But if the circus man could have seen the "clergyman" at that same time looking over letters addressed to "Hank Delby," and signed "Wayland Waydell" he would not have been so confident.
Mr. Preston bade good-bye to his friends, the gangplank was hauled up, and a hoarse blast came from the whistle of the Calaban.
"Bless my pocketbook!" cried Mr. Damon. "We're off!"
"Yep, off t' git dat big, giant orchard plant," chimed in Eradicate.
"Hush!" exclaimed Tom, who did not like the use of the word "giant" even in that connection. "Don't tell everyone our business, Rad."
"Dat's right, Massa Tom. I clean done forgot dat it's a sort of secret. I'll keep mighty still 'bout it."
The Calaban swung out into the river and began steaming down the bay.
The first week of the voyage was uneventful. The weather was exceptionally fine, and hardly any one was seasick. The Reverend Mr. Blinderpool was often on deck, and he made it a point to cultivate the acquaintance of Tom and his friends. In spite of the fact that he said he had traveled very little, he seemed to know much about hidden corners of the world, but always, as on an occasion when he had accidentally let slip some remark that showed he had been in far-off China or Asia, he would suddenly change the conversation when it verged to travel.
"There's something queer about that minister," said Ned after one of these occasions, "but I can't decide what it is."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Tom, who rather liked the man.
"No nonsense about it. Why should a minister take a trip like this when he isn't sick, and when he isn't going to establish a mission in South America? There's something queer about it, for, by his own words he just took this voyage as a whim."
"Oh, you're too fussy," declared Tom; and for the time the subject was dropped.
They ran into a storm when about ten days out, and for a while they had a rough time of it, and then the weather cleared again.
It was one evening, after the formal dinner, when Tom and Ned were strolling about on deck, before turning in, that, the quiet of the ship was broken by what is always an alarming cry at sea.
"Fire! Fire!" shouted a man, pointing to a thin wisp of smoke curling up from the deck amidships.
"Keep quiet!" yelled one of the stewards. "It is nothing!"
"It's a fire, I tell you!" insisted the man, and several others took up the cry.
A panic was imminent, and the captain came running from his quarters.
"What is it?" he asked.
An officer hurried to his side, and said something but in such a low voice that Tom, who was standing close beside the two, scarcely heard it. But he did hear this:
"There's a fire, sir, in hold number seventeen. We have turned the hose in there, and the pumps are working."
"Very good, Mr. Meld. Now try and quiet the passengers. Tell them it doesn't amount to much, and if it does we can flood that compartment."
Tom started at that.
"Come on, Ned!" he cried, grabbing his chum by the arm.
"Why, what's up? What's the matter?"
"Matter? Matter enough! The fire is in the hold where all our stuff is stored, and if the flames reach that box I packed last—well, I wouldn't give much for the ship!" and fairly dragging his chum along, Tom raced for the place where the smoke was now coming up in thicker clouds.
A NARROW ESCAPE
"Here, come back! You can't go past here!"
"But I've got to go! I tell you I must go! It's important!"
The first speaker was one of the ship's officers, and the other was Tom Swift, who, accompanied by his chum, was trying to get past a rope that had been hastily stretched in front of the hold where the smoke was rolling up in ever-thickening clouds.
"It's important that you stay where you are," insisted the officer. "Look here young man, do you want to start a panic? You know what that is on board ship. Keep cool, we'll get the fire out all right."
"I am cool," responded Tom, and, though he did look a bit excited, he was calm enough to know what he was doing.
"Then keep back!" insisted the officer.
A crowd was gathering and there were ominous whispers sent back and forth. Some hysterical women were beginning to scream, and there were anxious looks on all faces.
"I tell you it's important that I go down there," insisted Tom. "I want to get a box—"
"We'll look after the baggage of the passengers," declared the officer. "You don't need to worry, young man."
"But I tell you I do!" and Tom's voice was loud now. "It isn't so much on my account, as—" and then, stepping quickly to the side of the officer he whispered something.
"What!" cried the officer. "You don't tell me? That was a risk! I guess I'll have to help you get it out. Here, Mr. Simm," he called to one of the mates, "stand guard here. I'm going down into the hold with this young man."
"Shall I come?" cried Ned.
"No, you go stay with Mr. Damon and Eradicate," answered Tom. "Tell them everything is all right. And for cats' sake keep Rad cool. Don't let him get excited and start a panic. I'll be back in a minute."
With that Tom and the officer disappeared from view, and Ned, after wondering what it was all about, hastened to reassure Mr. Damon and the colored man that there was no danger, though from the manner in which Tom had acted his chum was convinced that something was wrong.
Meanwhile our hero, accompanied by the officer, was groping his way through the thick smoke in the compartment. The officer had switched on the electric lights, and they shone with a yellow haze through the clouds of choking vapor.
"Can you see it?" asked the officer anxiously.
"I had it put where I could easily get at it," answered Tom with a cough, for some of the smoke had got down his throat. "I had an idea I might need it in a hurry. Here it is!" and he pointed to a large box, marked with his initials in red paint. "Give me a hand and we'll get it out."
"Yes, and send it on deck. See, there's the fire!" and the officer pointed to where a glow could be seen amid some bales of cotton. "It will be slow burning, that's one good thing, and by turning steam into this compartment we can soon put it out."
"It's pretty close to my box," commented Tom, "but there isn't as much danger as I thought."
It did not take him and the officer long to move the box away from its proximity to the fire, for the case was not heavy, though it was of good size, and then the officer having called up an order to some of his fellow seamen on deck, a rope was let down, and the box hoisted up.
"Whew! That was a narrow escape!" exclaimed Tom as he saw his case go up on deck. "I suppose I shouldn't have had that stored here. But there were so many things to think of that I forgot."
"Yes, it was a risk," commented the officer. "But what are you going to do with that sort of stuff, anyhow?"
"I may need it when we get among the wild tribes of South American Indians," answered Tom non-commitally. "I'm much obliged for your help."
"Oh, that's nothing. Anything to save the ship."
At that moment there were confused cries, and a series of shouts and commands up on deck.
"We'd better hurry out of here," said the officer.
"The captain has just ordered steam turned in here. I hope there isn't anything of yours that will be damaged by it."
"No, everything else is in waterproof coverings. Come on, we'll climb out."
They hurried from the compartment and, a little later clouds of quenching steam were poured in from a hose run from the boiler room. The hatch was battened down, and then the smoke ceased to come up.
"The danger is practically over," the captain assured the frightened passengers. "The fire will be all out by morning. You may go to your staterooms in perfect safety."
Some did, and others, disbelieving, hung around the hatch-cover, sniffing and peering to discover traces of smoke. But the sailors had done their work well, and a stranger would not have known that a fire was in the hold.
The captain had spoken truly, and in the morning the fire was completely out, a few charred bales of cotton being the only things damaged. They were hauled up and dumped into the sea, while Tom, making a hasty inspection of his other goods placed in that compartment saw, to his relief, that beyond one case of trinkets, designed for barter with the natives, nothing had been damaged, and even the trinkets could be used on a pinch.
"But what was in that box?" asked Ned, that night as they got ready to retire, the excitement having calmed down.
"Hush! Not so loud," cautioned Tom, for Mr. Damon was in the next stateroom, while Eradicate had one across the corridor. "I'll tell you, Ned, but don't breathe a word of it to Rad or Mr. Damon. They might not intend to give it away, but I'm afraid they would, if they knew, and I depend on the things in that box to give the native giants the surprise of their lives in case we—well, in case we come to close quarters."
"Yes, have a fight, you know, or in case they get so fond of us that they won't hear of letting us go—in other words if they make us captives."
"Great Scott, Tom! You don't think they'll do that, do you?"
"No telling, but if they do, Ned, I've got some things in that box that will make them wish they hadn't. It's got—" and Tom leaned forward and whispered, as though he feared even the walls would hear.
"Good!" cried his chum! "That's the stuff! No wonder you thought the ship might be damaged if the fire got to that!"
It seemed that the slight fire was about all the excitement destined to take place aboard the Calaban, for, after the blaze was so effectually quenched, the ship slipped along through the calm seas, and it was actually an effort to kill time on the part of the passengers. As they progressed further south the weather became more and more warm, until, as they approached the equator, every one put on the lightest garments obtainable.
"Crossing the line," was the signal for the usual "stunts" among the sailors. "Neptune" came aboard, with his usual sea-green whiskers made from long rope ends, and with his trident much in evidence; and there was plenty of horseplay which the passengers very much enjoyed.
Then, as the tropical region was left behind, the weather became more bearable. There were one or two storms, but they were of no consequence and the steamer weathered them easily.
Torn and his friends had several talks with the "Reverend Josiah Blinderpool," as the pretended clergyman still called himself. But he did not obtrude his company on them, and though he asked many questions as to where Tom and his party were going, the young inventor, with his usual caution in talking to strangers, rather evaded them.
"Hang it all! He's as close-mouthed as a clam," complained "Mr. Blinderpool" to himself one day, after an attempt to worm something from Tom, "I'll just have to stick close to him and his chum to get a line on where they're heading for. And I must find out, or Waydell will think I'm throwing the game."
As for Tom and the others, they gave the seeming clergyman little thought—that is until one day when something happened. Ned had been down in the engine room, having had permission to inspect the wonderful machinery, and, on his way back he passed the smoking cabin. He was rather surprised to see Mr. Blinderpool in there, puffing on a big black cigar, and with him were some men whom Ned recognized as personages who had vainly endeavored to get a number of passengers into a card game with them. And, unless Ned's eyes deceived him, the seeming clergyman was about to indulge in a game himself.
"That's mighty queer," mused Ned. "Guess I'll tell Tom about this. I never saw a minister play cards in public before, and this Mr. Blinderpool has been trying to get thick with Tom, of late. Maybe he's a gambler in disguise."
Filled with this thought Ned hastened off to warn his chum.
"You don't say so!" exclaimed the young inventor, when Ned had told him the queer news. "Well, do you know I've been suspicious of that fellow ever since he tried to make friends with us."
"Suspicious? How so? You don't think—"
"Oh, I mean I think he's some kind of a confidence man who has adopted the respectable clothes of a minister to fool people. He may be a card sharper himself. Well, we won't have anything more to do with him. It won't be long before we arrive at Buenos Ayres, and then we won't be bothered with card sharpers or anybody else but—"
"Giants and fighting natives," finished Ned, with a laugh. "You forget, Tom, that there's a war going on near the very place we're headed for."
"That's so, Ned. But with what we have with us I guess we can make out all right. I'm going to have the electric rifles handy the minute we start for the interior."
The voyage continued, and was fast drawing to a close. "Mr. Blinderpool" made several more attempts to strike up a friendship with Tom, or his chum, but they were on their guard now, and, failing to get into much of a conversation with the two young men, the pretended clergyman turned his attentions to Mr. Damon.
That eccentric gentleman welcomed him at first, until a quiet hint from Tom brought that to an end.
"Bless my fire shovel!" cried Mr. Damon. "You don't say so! Not a clergyman at all? Dear me!"
And then, getting desperate, and needing very much to learn how long a journey his rivals were to undertake, so that he, too, might prepare for it, Mr. Hank Delby, alias Blinderpool, began to "pump" Eradicate.
But the latter was too sharp for him. Well knowing that a white man would not get suddenly friendly with one of the black race unless for some selfish object, Eradicate fairly snubbed the seeming minister, until that worthy had to go off by himself, saying bitter things and casting black looks at our friends.
"But I'll get ahead of them yet!" he muttered, "and I'll get their giants away from them, if they capture any."
The box on which Tom set such an importance, and which had so nearly been the cause of a disaster, had been stored in one of the fire-proof compartments of the ship, and now, as a few days more would see the vessel entering the harbor of the Rio de la Plata, thence to steam up to the ancient city of Buenos Ayres, Tom and the others began to think of what lay before them.
"How do you propose to head into the interior?" asked Mr. Damon one afternoon, when the captain announced that the following morning would see them nearly opposite Montevideo.
"I'm going to hire a lot of burrows, donkeys or whatever they have down here that answers the purpose," replied Tom. "We have a lot of things to transport, and I guess pack mules would be the best, if we can get them. Then I've got to hire some drivers and some porters, camp-makers and the like. In fact we'll have quite a party. I guess I'll need ten natives, and a head man and with ourselves we'll be fifteen. So we'll need plenty of food. But then we can get that as we go along, except when we get away into the interior, and then we'll have to hunt it ourselves."
"That's the stuff!" cried Ned. "We haven't had a good hunting expedition since we went to elephant land, Tom. The electric rifles will come in handy here."
"Yes, I expect they will. Now come on, Ned, and help me get a list ready of the things we've got to take with us, and how they can best be divided up."
Thick weather delayed the ship somewhat, so it was not until evening of the next day that they made Montevideo, where part of the cargo was to be discharged. As they would lay over there a day, the boys decided to go ashore, which they did, wondering at the strange sights in the old city.
Tom watched to see if the pretended minister would land, and endeavor to force his acquaintance, but Mr. Hank Delby, to give him his right name, was not in evidence. In fact he was turning over scheme after scheme in his mind in order to hit on one that would enable him to take advantage of the preparations which had been made by his rival in the circus business.
"I've just got to get a line on where those giants are to be found," mused Mr. Delby, in the seclusion of his stateroom, "even if I have to take some other disguise and follow that Swift crowd. That's what I'll do. I'll put on some other disguise! I wonder what it had better be?"
Tom and Ned, to say nothing of Mr. Damon and Eradicate, found much to interest them in the capital of Uruguay, and they were rather sorry, in a way, when it was time for them to leave.
"But we'll see plenty more strange sights," remarked Tom, as the steamer started off for Buenos Ayres. "In fact our trip hasn't really begun yet."
In due time they dropped anchor at the ancient city, and then began a series of confused and busy times. In fact there was so much to do, seeing to the unloading of their stuff, arranging for hotel accommodations, seeing to hiring natives for the expedition into the interior, and other details, that Tom and his friends had no time to think anything about the pretended clergyman who had caused them a little worry.
Eventually their belongings were stored in a safe place, and our friends sat down to a good dinner in a hotel that, while it was in far-off South America, yet was as good as many in New York, and, in some respects the boys, and Mr. Damon, liked it better.
They found that the Spanish and Portuguese languages were the principal ones spoken, together with a mixture of the native tongues, and as both Ned and Tom, as well as Mr. Damon, had a working knowledge of Spanish they got along fairly well. Some of the hotel people could speak English.
Tom made inquiries and found that the best plan would be to transport all his stuff by the regular route to Rosario, on the Parana river in Argentina, and there he could make up his pack train, hire native carriers, and start for the interior.
"Then we'll do that," he decided, "and take it easy until we get to Rosario."
It took them the better part of a week to do this, but at last they were on the ground, and felt for the first time that they were really going into a wild and little explored country.
"Are you going to stick to the Parana river?" asked Ned.
"No," replied Tom, in the seclusion of their room, "if there are any giants they will be found in some undiscovered, or at least little traveled, part of the country. I don't believe they are in the vicinity of the big rivers, or other travelers would have heard about them, and, as far as we know, Mr. Preston's animal agent is the only one who ever got a trace of them. We'll have to go into the jungle on either side of the river."
"Bless my walking stick!" cried Mr. Damon. "Have we really to go into the jungle, Tom?"
"I'm afraid we have, if we want to get any giants, and get a trace of Mr. Poddington."
"All right, I'm game, but I do hope we won't run into a band of fighting natives."
In Rosario it was learned that while the "war" was not regarded seriously from the fact that the fighting tribes were far inland, still it was going on with vigor, and large bands of natives were roaming about, stealing each others' cattle and horses, burning villages, and taking captives.
"I guess we're in for it," remarked Tom grimly. "But I'm not going to back out now."
Unexpected complications, difficulties in the way of getting the right kind of help, and a competent man to take charge of the native drivers, so delayed our friends that it was nearly two weeks after their arrival in Rosario before they could start for the interior.
Of course the object of the expedition was kept a secret, and Tom let it be known that he and his friends were merely exploring, and wanted rare plants, orchids, or anything in that line. The natives were not very curious.
At last the day for the start came. The mules, which had been hired as beasts of burdens, were loaded with boxes or bales on either side, the natives were marshalled into line. Tom, Ned, and Mr. Damon, each equipped with a rifle had a saddle animal to ride, and Eradicate was similarly equipped, though for a weapon he depended on a shotgun, which he said he understood better than the electric rifles.
The aeroplane, divided into many small packages, the goods for barter, their supplies, stores, ammunition, and the box of which Tom took such care—all these were on the backs of the beasts of burden. Some food was taken along, but for a time, at least, they could depend on scattered towns or villages, or the forest game, for their eating.
"Are we all ready?" called Tom, looking at the rather imposing cavalcade of which he was the head.
"I guess so," replied Ned. "Let her go!"
"Bless my liver pad!" gasped Mr. Damon. "If we've got to start do it, and let's get it over with Tom."
"All ready, Rad?" asked the colored man's young master.
"All ready, Massa Tom. But I mus' say dat I'd radder hab Boomerang dan dish yeah animal what I'm ridin'."
"Oh, you'll do all right, Rad. Then, if we're all ready, forward march!" cried Tom, and with calls to their animals, the drivers started them off.
Hardly had they begun the advance than Ned, who had been narrowly watching one of the natives, hurried up to Tom, and rapidly whispered something to his chum.
"What?" cried Tom. "Armed with a six-shooter, is he? Well, we'll see about that! Halt!" he cried in Spanish, and then he called San Pedro the head mule driver, to him.
A WILD HORSE STAMPEDE
"Who is that man?" demanded Tom pointing to the one Ned had indicated. Tom's chum had had a glimpse of a shining revolver in the hip pocket of one of the mule drivers, and knowing that the simple natives were not in the habit of carrying such weapons, the lad had communicated his suspicions to Tom.
"What man, senor?" asked the head mule driver.
"That one!" and the young inventor again pointed toward him. And, now that Tom looked a second time he saw that the man was not as black as the other drivers—not an honest, dark-skinned black but more of a sickly yellow, like a treacherous half-breed. "Who is he?" asked Tom, for the man in question was just then tightening a girth and could not hear him.