Tom Swift In The City Of Gold
Marvelous Adventures Underground
by Victor Appleton
AUTHOR OF "TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR-CYCLE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIRSHIP," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RIFLE," ETC.
I WONDERFUL NEWS II AN UNSUSPECTED LISTENER III ANDY IS WHITEWASHED IV A PERILOUS FLIGHT V NEWS FROM AFRICA VI "BEWARE THE HEAD-HUNTERS!" VII TOM MAKES A PROMISE VIII ERADICATE WILL GO IX "THAT LOOKED LIKE ANDY!" X MYSTERIOUS PASSENGERS XI THE MIDNIGHT ALARM XII INTO THE UNKNOWN XIII FOLLOWED XIV A WEARY SEARCH XV THE GOLDEN IMAGE XVI THE MAP ON THE GOLD XVII THE RUINED TEMPLE XVIII FINDING THE TUNNEL XIX THE UNDERGROUND RIVER XX THE CITY OF GOLD XXI THE BIG IMAGE XXII TRAPPED XXIII "IS IT A RESCUE?" XXIV THE FIGHT XXV THE ESCAPE—CONCLUSION
TOM SWIFT IN THE CITY OF GOLD
"Letter for you, Tom Swift."
"Ah, thanks, Mr. Wilson. This is the first mail I've had this week. You've been neglecting me," and the young inventor took the missive which the Shopton postman handed to him over the gate, against which Tom was leaning one fine, warm Spring day.
"Well, I get around as often as I can, Tom. You're not home a great deal, you know. When you're not off in your sky racer seeing how much you can beat the birds, you're either hunting elephants in Africa, or diving down under the ocean, or out in a diamond mine, or some such out-of-the-way place as that. No wonder you don't get many letters. But that one looks as if it had come quite a distance."
"So it does," agreed Tom, looking closely at the stamp and postmark. "What do you make out of it, Mr. Wilson?" and then, just as many other persons do when getting a strange letter, instead of opening it to see from whom it has come, Tom tried to guess by looking at the handwriting, and trying to decipher the faint postmark. "What does that say?" and the young inventor pointed to the black stamp.
"Hum, looks like Jube—no, that first letter's a 'K' I guess," and Mr. Wilson turned it upside down, thinking that would help.
"I made it out a 'G'," said Tom.
"So it is. A 'G'—you're right. Gumbo—Twamba—that's what it is—Gumba Twamba. I can make it out now all right."
"Well, where, for the love of my old geography, is Gumba Twamba?" asked the lad with a laugh.
"You've got me, Tom. Must be in Sweden, or Holland, or some of those foreign countries. I don't often handle letters from there, so I can't say. Why don't you open your letter and find out who its from?"
"That's what I ought to have done at first." Quickly Tom ripped open the much worn and frayed envelope, through the cracks of which some parts of the letter already could be seen, showing that it had traveled many thousand miles before it got to the village of Shopton, in New York State.
"Well, I've got to be traveling on," remarked the postman, as Tom started to read the mysterious letter. "I'm late as it is. You can tell me the news when I pass again, Tom."
But the young inventor did not reply. He was too much engaged in reading the missive, for, no sooner had he perused the first few lines than his eyes began to open wide in wonder, and his manner plainly indicated his surprise. He read the letter once, and then over again, and when he had finished it a second time, he made a dash for the house.
"I say dad!" cried Tom. "This is great! Great news here! Where are you, dad? Say, Mrs. Baggert," he called as he saw the motherly housekeeper, "where's father? I've got great news for him? Where is he?"
"Out in the shop, I think. I believe Mr. Damon is with him."
"And blessing everything as usual, from his hat to his shoe laces, I'll wager," murmured Tom as he made his war to the shop where his father, also an inventor like himself, spent much of his time. "Well, well, I'm glad Mr. Damon is here, for he'll be interested in this."
Tom fairly rushed into the building, much of the space of which, was taken up by machinery, queer tools and odd devices, many of them having to do with the manufacture of aeroplanes, for Tom had as many of them as some people have of automobiles.
"I say, dad!" cried Tom, waving the letter above his head, "what do you think of this? Listen to—"
"Easy there now, Tom! Easy, my boy, or you'll oblige me to do all my work over again," and an aged man, beside whom a younger one was standing, held up a hand of caution, while with the other hand he was adjusting some delicate piece of machinery.
"What are you doing?" demanded the son.
"Bless my scarf pin!" exclaimed the other man—Mr. Wakefield Damon—"Bless my rubbers, Tom Swift! What SHOULD your father be doing but inventing something new, as he always is. I guess he's working on his new gyroscope, though it is only a guess, for he hasn't said ten words to me since I came out to talk to him. But that's like all inventors, they—"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Damon," spoke Mr. Swift with a smile, "I'm sure—"
"Say, can't you listen to me for five minutes?" pleaded Tom. "I've got some great news—simply great, and your gyroscope can wait, dad. Listen to this letter," and he prepared to read it.
"Who's it from?" asked Mr. Damon.
"Mr. Jacob Illingway, the African missionary whom you and I rescued, together with his wife, from the red pigmies!" cried Tom. "Think of that! Of all persons to get a letter from, and SUCH a letter! SUCH news in it. Why, it's simply great! You remember Mr. and Mrs. Illingway; don't you Mr. Damon? How we went to Africa after elephant's tusks, with Mr. Durban the hunter, and how we got the missionaries away from those little savages in my airship—don't you remember?"
"I should say I did!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Bless my watch chain—but they were regular imps—the red Pygmies I mean, not the missionaries. But what is Mr. Illingway writing to you about now, Tom? I know he sent you several letters since we came back from Africa. What's the latest news?"
"I'll tell you," replied the young inventor, sitting down on a packing box. "It would take too long to read the letter so I'll sum it up, and you can go over it later."
"To be brief, Mr. Illingway tells of a wonderful golden image that is worshiped by a tribe of Africans in a settlement not far from Gumba Twamba, where he is stationed. It's an image of solid gold—"
"Solid gold!" interrupted Mr. Swift.
"Yes, dad, and about three feet high," went on Tom, referring to the letter to make sure. "It's heavy, too, no hollows in it, and these Africans regard it as a god. But that's not the strangest part of it. Mr. Illingway goes on to say that there is no gold in that part of Africa, and for a time he was at a loss how to account for the golden image. He made some inquiries and learned that it was once the property of a white traveler who made his home with the tribe that now worships the image of gold. This traveler, whose name Mr. Illingway could not find out, was much liked by the Africans. He taught them many things, doctored them when they were sick, and they finally adopted him into the tribe."
"It seems that he tried to make them better, and wanted them to become Christians, but they clung to their own beliefs until he died. Then, probably thinking to do his memory honor, they took the golden image, which was among his possessions, and set it up as a god."
"Bless my hymn book!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "What did they do that for?"
"This white man thought a great deal of the image," said Tom, again referring to the letter, "and the Africans very likely imagined that, as he was so good to them, some of his virtues had passed into the gold. Then, too, they may have thought it was part of his religion, and as he had so often wanted them to adopt his beliefs, they reasoned out that they could now do so, by worshiping the golden god."
"Anyhow, that's what they did, and the image is there to-day, in that far-off African village. But I haven't got to the real news yet. The image of solid gold is only a part of it."
"Before this traveler died he told some of the more intelligent natives that the image had come from a far-off underground city—a regular city of gold—nearly everything in it that was capable of being made of metal, being constructed of the precious yellow gold. The golden image was only one of a lot more like it, some smaller and some larger—"
"Not larger, Tom, not larger, surely!" interrupted Mr. Swift. "Why, my boy, think of it! An image of solid gold, bigger even than this one Mr. Illingway writes of, which he says is three feet high. Why, if there are any larger they must be nearly life size, and think of a solid gold statue as large as a man—it would weigh—well, I'm afraid, to say how much, and be worth—why, Tom, it's impossible. It would be worth millions—all the wealth of a world must be in the underground city. It's impossible Tom, my boy!"
"Well, that may be," agreed Tom. "I'm not saying it's true. Mr. Illingway is telling only what he heard."
"Go on! Tell some more," begged Mr. Damon. "Bless my shirt studs, this is getting exciting!"
"He says that the traveler told of this underground city of gold," went on Tom, "though he had never been there himself. He had met a native who had located it, and who had brought out some of the gold, including several of the images, and one he gave to the white man in return for some favor. The white man took it to Africa with him."
"But where is this underground city, Tom?" asked Mr. Swift. "Doesn't Mr. Illingway give you any idea of its location."
"He says it is somewhere in Mexico," explained the lad. "The Africans haven't a very good idea of geography, but some of the tribesmen whom the white traveler taught, could draw rude maps, and Mr. Illingway had a native sketch one for him, showing as nearly as possible where the city of gold is located."
"Tom Swift, have you got that map?" suddenly cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my pocketbook, but—"
"I have it!" said Tom quietly, taking from the envelope a piece of paper covered with rough marks. "It isn't very good, but—"
"Bless my very existence!" cried the excitable man. "But you're not going to let such a chance as this slip past; are you Tom? Are you going to hunt for that buried city of gold?"
"I certainly am," answered the young inventor quietly.
"Tom! You're not going off on another wild expedition?" asked Mr. Swift anxiously.
"I'm afraid I'll have to," answered his son with a smile.
"Go? Of course he'll go!" burst out Mr. Damon. "And I'm going with him; can't I, Tom?"
"Surely. The reason Mr. Illingway sent me the letter was to tell me about the city of gold. He thought, after my travels in Africa, that to find a buried city in Mexico would be no trouble at all, I suppose. Anyhow he suggests that I make the attempt, and—"
"Oh, but, Tom, just when I am perfecting my gyroscope!" exclaimed Mr. Swift. "I need your help."
"I'll help you when I come back, dad. I want to get some of this gold."
"But we are rich enough, Tom."
"It isn't so much the money, dad. Listen. There is another part to the letter. Mr. Illingway says that in that underground city, according to the rumor among the African natives, there is not only gold in plenty, and a number of small gold statues, but one immense big one—of solid gold, as large as three men, and there is some queer mystery about it, so that white traveler said. A mystery he wanted to solve but could not."
"So, dad, I'm going to search for that underground city, not only for the mere gold, but to see if I can solve the mystery of the big gold statue. And if I could bring it away," cried Tom in great excitement as he waved the missionary's letter above his head, "it would be one of the wonders of the world—dad, for, not only is it very valuable, but it is most beautifully carved."
"Well, I might as well give up my gyroscope work until you come back from the city of gold, Tom, I can see that," said Mr. Swift, with a faint smile. "And if you go, I hope you come back. I don't want that mysterious image to be the undoing of you."
"Oh, I'll come back all right!" cried Tom confidently. "Ho! for the city of gold and the images thereof! I'm going to get ready to start!"
"And so am I!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my shoe strings, Tom, but I'm with you! I certainly am!" and the little man excitedly shook hands with Tom Swift, while the aged inventor looked on and nodded his head doubtfully. But Tom was full of hope.
AN UNSUSPECTED LISTENER
For a few moments after Tom Swift had announced his decision to start for the city of gold, and Mr. Damon had said he would accompany the young inventor, there was a silence in the workshop. Then Mr. Swift laid aside the delicate mechanism of the new model gyroscope on which he had been working, came over to his son, and said:
"Well, Tom, if you're going, that means you're going—I know enough to predict that. I rather wish you weren't, for I'm afraid no good will come of this."
"Now, dad, don't be talking that way!" cried Tom gaily. "Pack up and come along with us." Lovingly he placed his arm around the bent shoulders of his father.
"No, Tom, I'm too old. Home is the place for me."
"Bless my arithmetic tables!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "you're not so much older than I am, and I'm going with Tom. Come on, Mr. Swift."
"No, I can't put up with dangers, hardship and excitement as I used to. I'd better stay home. Besides, I want to perfect my new gyroscope. I'll work on that while you and Tom are searching for the city of gold. But, Tom, if you're going you'd better have something more definite to look for than an unknown city, located on a map drawn by some African bushman."
"I intend to, dad. I guess when Mr. Illingway wrote his letter he didn't really think I'd take him up, and make the search. I'm going to write and ask him if he can't get me a better map, and also learn more about the location of the city. Mexico isn't such a very large place, but it would be if you had to hunt all over it for a buried city, and this map isn't a lot of help," and Tom who had shown it to his father and Mr. Damon looked at it closely.
"If we're going, we want all the information we can get," declared the odd man. "Bless my gizzard, Tom, but this may mean a lot to us!"
"I think it will," agreed the young inventor. "I'm going to write to Mr. Illingway at once, and ask for all the information he can get."
"And I'll help you with suggestions," spoke Mr. Damon. "Come on in the house, Tom. Bless my ink bottle, but we're going to have some adventures again!"
"It seems to me that is about all Tom does—have adventures—that and invent flying machines," said Mr. Swift with a smile, as his son and their visitor left the shop. Then he once more bent over his gyroscope model, while Tom and Mr. Damon hurried in to write the letter to the African missionary.
And while this is being done I am going to ask your patience for a little while—my old readers, I mean—while I tell my new friends, who have never yet met Tom Swift, something about him.
Mr. Swift spoke truly when he said his son seemed to do nothing but seek adventures and invent flying machines. Of the latter the lad had a goodly number, some of which involved new and startling ideas. For Tom was a lad who "did things."
In the first volume of this series, entitled "Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle," I told you how he became acquainted with Mr. Damon. That eccentric individual was riding a motor cycle, when it started to climb a tree. Mr. Damon was thrown off in front of Tom's house, somewhat hurt, and the young inventor took him in. Tom and his father lived in the village of Shopton, New York, and Mr. Swift was an inventor of note. His son followed in his footsteps. Mrs. Swift had been dead some years, and they had a good housekeeper, Mrs. Baggert.
Another "member" of the family was Eradicate Sampson, a colored man of all work, who said he was named "Eradicate" because he "eradicated" the dirt. He used to do odd jobs of whitewashing before he was regularly employed by Mr. Swift as a sort of gardener and watchman.
In the first book I told how Tom bought the motor cycle from Mr. Damon, fixed it up, and had many adventures on it, not the least of which was saving some valuable patent models of his father's which some thieves had taken.
Then Tom Swift got a motor boat, as related in the second volume of the series, and he had many exciting trips in that craft. Following that he made his first airship with the help of a veteran balloonist and then, not satisfied with adventures in the air, he and his father perfected a wonderful submarine boat in which they went under the ocean for sunken treasure.
The automobile industry was fast forging to the front when Tom came back from his trip under water, and naturally he turned his attention to that. But he made an electric car instead of one that was operated by gasolene, and it proved to be the speediest car on the road.
The details of Tom Swift and his wireless message will be found in the book of that title. It tells how he saved the castaways of Earthquake Island, and among them was Mr. Nestor, the father of Mary, a girl whom Tom thought—but there, I'm not going to be mean, and tell on a good fellow. You can guess what I'm hinting at, I think.
It was when Tom went to get Mary Nestor a diamond ring that he fell in with Mr. Barcoe Jenks, who eventually took Tom off on a search for the diamond makers, and he and Tom, with some friends, discovered the secret of Phantom Mountain.
One would have thought that these adventures would have been enough for Tom Swift, but, like Alexander, he sighed for new worlds to conquer. How he went to the caves of ice in search of treasure, and how his airship was wrecked is told in the eighth volume of the series, and in the next is related the details of his swift sky-racer, in which he and Mr. Damon made a wonderfully fast trip, and brought a doctor to Mr. Swift in time to save the life of the aged inventor.
It was when Tom invented a wonderful electric rifle, and went to Africa with a Mr. Durban, a great hunter, to get elephants' tusks, that he rescued Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, the missionaries, who were held captive by red pygmies.
That was a startling trip, and full of surprises. Tom took with him to the dark continent a new airship, the Black Hawk, and but for this he and his friends never would have escaped from the savages and the wild beasts.
As it was, they had a hazardous time getting the missionary and his wife away from the jungle. It was this same missionary who, as told in the first chapter of this book, sent Tom the letter about the city of gold. Mr. Illingway and his wife wanted to stay in Africa in an endeavor to christianize the natives, even after their terrible experience. So Tom landed them at a white settlement. It was from there that the letter came.
But the missionaries were not the only ones whom Tom saved from the red pygmies. Andy Foger, a Shopton youth, was Tom's enemy, and he had interfered with our hero's plans in his trips. He even had an airship made, and followed Tom to Africa. There Andy Foger and his companion, a German were captured by the savages. But though Tom saved his life, Andy did not seem to give over annoying the young inventor. Andy was born mean, and, as Eradicate Sampson used to say, "dat meanness neber will done git whitewashed outer him—dat's a fack!"
But if Andy Foger was mean to Tom, there was another Shopton lad who was just the reverse. This was Ned Newton, who was Tom's particular chum, Ned had gone with our hero on many trips, including the one to Africa after elephants. Mr. Damon also accompanied Tom many times, and occasionally Eradicate went along on the shorter voyages. But Eradicate was getting old, like Mr. Swift, who, of late years, had not traveled much with his son.
When I add that Tom still continued to invent things, that he was always looking for new adventures, that he still cared very much for Mary Nestor, and thought his father the best in the world, and liked Mr. Damon and Ned Newton above all his other acquaintances, except perhaps Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, I think perhaps I have said enough about him; and now I will get back to the story.
I might add, however, that Andy Foger, who had been away from Shopton for some time, had now returned to the village, and had lately been seen by Tom, riding around in a powerful auto. The sight of Andy did not make the young inventor feel any happier.
"Well, Tom, I think that will do," remarked Mr. Damon when, after about an hour's work, they had jointly written a letter to the African missionary.
"We've asked him enough questions, anyhow," agreed the lad. "If he answers all of them we'll know more about the city of gold, and where it is, than we do now."
"Exactly," spoke the odd man. "Now to mail the letter, and wait for an answer. It will take several weeks, for they don't have good mail service to that part of Africa. I hope Mr. Illingway sends us a better map."
"So do I," assented Tom. "But even with the one we have I'd take a chance and look for the underground city."
"I'll mail the letter," went on Mr. Damon, who was as eager over the prospective adventure as was Tom. "I'm going back home to Waterfield I think. My wife says I stay here too much."
"Don't be in a hurry," urged Tom. "Can't you stay to supper? I'll take you home to-night in the sky racer. I want to talk more about the city of gold, and plan what we ought to take with us to Mexico."
"All right," agreed Mr. Damon. "I'll stay, but I suppose I shouldn't. But let's mail the letter."
It was after supper, when, the letter having been posted, that Tom, his father and Mr. Damon were discussing the city of gold.
"Will you go, even if Mr. Illingway can't send a better map?" asked Mr. Damon.
"Sure" exclaimed Tom. "I want to get one of the golden images if I have to hunt all over the Aztec country for it."
"Who's talking of golden images?" demanded a new voice, and Tom looked up quickly, to see Ned Newton, his chum, entering the room. Ned had come in unannounced, as he frequently did.
"Hello, old stock!" cried Tom affectionately. "Sir, there's great news. It's you and me for the city of gold now!"
"Get out! What are you talking about?"
Then Tom had to go into details, and explain to Ned all about the great quantity of gold that might be found in the underground city.
"You'll come along, won't you, Ned?" finished the young inventor. "We can't get along without you. Mr. Damon is going, and Eradicate too, I guess. We'll have a great time."
"Well, maybe I can fix it so I can go," agreed Ned, slowly, "I'd like it, above all things. Where did you say that golden city was?"
"Somewhere about the central part of Mexico, near the city of—"
"Hark!" suddenly exclaimed Ned, holding up a hand to caution Tom to silence.
"What is it?" asked the young inventor in a whisper.
"Some one is coming along the hall," replied Ned in a low voice.
They all listened intently. There was no doubt but that some one was approaching along the corridor leading to the library where the conference was being held.
"Oh, it's only Mrs. Baggert," remarked Tom a moment later, relief showing in his voice. "I know her step."
There was a tap on the door, and the housekeeper pushed it open, for it had been left ajar. She thrust her head in and remarked:
"I guess you've forgotten, Mr. Swift, that Andy Foger is waiting for you in the next room. He has a letter for you."
"Andy Foger!" gasped Tom. "Here."
"That's so, I forgot all about him!" exclaimed Mr. Swift jumping up. "It slipped my mind. I let him in a while ago, before we came in the library, and he's probably been sitting in the parlor ever since. I thought he wanted to see you, Tom, so I told him to wait. And I forgot all about him. You'd better see what he wants."
"Andy Foger there—in the next room," murmured Tom. "He's been there some time. I wonder how much he heard about the city of gold?"
ANDY IS WHITEWASHED
The parlor where Mr. Swift had asked Andy to wait, adjoined the library, and there was a connecting door, over which heavy curtains were draped. Tom quickly pulled them aside and stepped into the parlor. The connecting door had been open slightly, and in a flash the young inventor realized that it was perfectly possible for any one in the next room to have heard most of the talk about the city of gold.
A glance across the room showed Andy seated on the far side, apparently engaged in reading a book.
"Did you want to see me?" asked Tom sharply. His father and the others in the library listened intently. Tom wondered what in the world Andy could want of him, since the two were never in good tame, and Andy cherished a resentment even since our hero had rescued him from the African jungle.
"No, I didn't come to see you," answered Andy quickly, laying aside the book and rising to face Tom.
"I came to see your father," interrupted the red-haired bully. "I have a letter for him from my father; but I guess Mr. Swift misunderstood me when he let me in."
"Did you tell him you wanted to see me?" asked Tom suspiciously, thinking Andy had made a mistatement in order to have a longer time to wait.
"No, I didn't, but I guess your father must have been thinking about something else, for he told me to come in here and sit down. I've been waiting ever since, and just now Mrs. Baggert passed and saw me. She—"
"Yes, she said you were here," spoke Tom significantly. "Well, then it's my father you want to see. I'll tell him."
Tom hurried back to the library.
"Dad," he said, "it's you that Andy wants to see. He has a letter from Mr. Foger for you."
"For me? What in the world can it be about? He never wrote to me before. I must have misunderstood Andy. But then it's no wonder for my head is so full of my new gyroscope plans. There is a certain spring I can't seem to get right—"
"Perhaps you'd better see what Andy wants," suggested Mr. Damon gently. He looked at Tom. They were both thinking of the same thing.
"I will," replied Mr. Swift quickly, and he passed into the library.
"I wonder how much Andy heard?" asked Ned, in a low voice.
"Oh, I don't believe it could have been very much," answered Tom.
"No, I stopped you just in time," rejoined his chum, "or you might have blurted out the name of the city near where the buried gold is."
"Yes, we must guard our secret well, Tom," put in Mr. Damon.
"Well, Andy couldn't have known anything about the letter I got," declared Tom, "and if he only heard snatched of our talk it won't do him much good."
"The only trouble is he's been there long enough to have heard most of it." suggested Ned. They could talk freely now, for in going into the parlor Mr. Swift had tightly closed the door after him. They could just hear the murmur of his voice speaking to Andy.
"Well, even if he does guess about the city of gold, and its location, I don't believe he'll try to go there," remarked Tom, after a pause.
A moment later they heard Mr. Swift letting Andy out of the front door, and then the inventor rejoined his son and the others. He held an open letter in his hand.
"This is strange—very strange," he murmured.
"What is it?" asked Tom quickly.
"Why. Mr. Foger has written to me asking to be allowed to sell some of our patents and machines on commission."
"Sell them on commission!" exclaimed his son. "Why does a millionaire like Mr. Foger want to be selling goods on commission? It's only a trick!"
"No, it's not a trick," said Mr. Swift slowly. "He is in earnest. Tom, Mr. Foger has lost his millions. His fortune has been swept away by unfortunate investments, he tells me, and he would be glad of any work I could give him. That's why Andy brought the letter to-night. I just sent him back with an answer."
"What did you say, dad?"
"I said I'd think it over."
"Mr. Foger's millions gone," mused Tom.
"And Andy in there listening to what we said about the city of gold," added Ned. "No wonder he was glad the door was open. He'd be there in a minute, Tom, if he could, and so would Mr. Foger, if he thought he could get rich. He wouldn't have to sell goods on commission if he could pick up a few of the golden images."
"That's right," agreed Tom, with an uneasy air. "I wish I knew just how much Andy had heard. But perhaps it wasn't much."
The time was to come, however, when Tom was to learn to his sorrow that Andy Foger had overheard a great deal.
"Bless my bankbook!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I never dreamed of such a thing! Andy had every reason in the world for not wanting us to know he was in there! No wonder he kept quiet. I'll wager all the while he was as close to the open door as he could get, hoping to overhear about the location of the place, so he could help his father get back his lost fortune. Bless my hatband! It's a good thing Mrs. Baggert told us he was there."
They all agreed with this, and then, as there was no further danger of being overheard, they resumed their talk about the city of gold. It was decided that they would have to wait the arrival of another letter from Mr. Illingway before starting for Mexico.
"Well, as long as that much is settled, I think I'd better be going home," suggested Mr. Damon. "I know my wife will be anxious about me."
"I'll get out the sky racer and you'll be in Waterford in a jiffy," said Tom, and he kept his word, for the speedy aeroplane carried him and his guest rapidly through the night, bringing Tom safely back home.
It was several days after this, during which time Tom and Ned had had many talks about the proposed trip. They had figured on what sort of a craft to use in the journey. Tom had about decided on a small, but very powerful, dirigible balloon, that could be packed in a small compass and taken along.
"This city may be in some mountain valley, and a balloon will be the only way we can get to it," he told Ned.
"That's right," agreed his chum. "By the way, you haven't heard any more about Andy; have you?"
"Not a thing. Haven't even seen him. None of us have."
"There goes Rad, I wonder if he's seen him."
"No, or he'd have mentioned it to me. Hey, Rad," Tom called to the colored man, "what are you going to do?"
"Whitewash de back fence, Massa Tom. It's in a mos' disrupted state ob disgrace. I'se jest natchally got t' whitewash it."
"All right, Rad, and when you get through come back here. I've got another job for you."
"A'right, Massa Tom, I shorely will," and Rad limped off with his pail of whitewash, and the long-handled brush.
It may have been fate that sent Andy Foger along the rear road a little later, and past the place where Eradicate was making the fence less "disrupted." It may have been fate or Andy may have just been sneaking along to see if he could overhear anything of Tom's plans—a trick of which he was frequently guilty. At any rate, Andy walked, past where Eradicate was whitewashing. The colored man saw the red-haired lad coming and murmured:
"Dere's dat no 'count white trash! I jest wish Massa Tom was hear now. He'd jest natchally wallop Andy," and Eradicate moved his longhandled brush up and down, as though he were coating the Foger lad with the white stuff.
As it happened, Eradicate was putting some of the liquid on a particularly rough spot in the fence, a spot low down, and this naturally made the handle of his brush stick out over the sidewalk, and at this moment Andy Foger got there.
"Here, you black rascal!" the lad angrily exclaimed. "What do you mean by blocking the sidewalk that way? It's against the law, and I could have you arrested for that."
"No, could yo' really now?" asked Eradicate drawlingly for he was not afraid of Andy.
"Yes, I could, and don't you give me any of your back-talk! Get that brush out of the way!" and Andy kicked the long handle.
The natural result followed. The other end of the brush, wet with whitewash, described a curve through the air, coming toward the mean bully. And as the blow of Andy's foot jarred the brush loose, the next moment it fell right on Andy's head, the white liquid trickling down on his clothes, for Eradicate was not a miser when it came to putting on whitewash.
For a moment Andy could not speak. Then he burst out with:
"Hi! You did that on purpose! I'll have you in jail for that! Look at my hat, it's ruined! Look at my clothes! They're ruined! Oh, I'll make you pay for this!"
"Deed, it shore was a accident," said Eradicate, trying not to laugh. "You done did it yo'se'f!"
"I did not! You did it on purpose; Tom Swift put you in on this! I'll—I'll—"
But Andy had to stop and splutter for some of the lime ran down off his hat into his mouth, and he yelled:
"I'll—I'll—Ouch! Phew! Woof! Oof! Oh!"
Then, in his rage, he made a blind rush for Eradicate. Now the colored man had no fear of Andy, but he did not want the pail of whitewash to upset, and the said pail was right in the path of the advancing youth.
"Look out!" cried Eradicate.
"I'll make you look out!" spluttered Andy. "I'll thrash you for this!"
Eradicate caught up his pail. He did not want to have the trouble of mixing more of the liquid. Just as he lifted it Andy aimed a kick for him. But he mis-calculated, and his foot struck the bottom of the pail and sent it flying from the hands of the colored man. Sent it flying right toward Andy himself, for Eradicate jumped back out of the way.
And the next moment a veritable deluge of whitewash was sprayed and splashed and splattered over Andy, covering him with the snowy liquid from head to foot!
A PERILOUS FLIGHT
There was silence for a moment—there had to be—for Eradicate was doubled over with mirth and could not even laugh aloud, and as for Andy the whitewash running down his face and over his mouth effectually prevented speech. But the silence did not last long.
Just as Eradicate caught his breath, and let out a hearty laugh, Andy succeeded in wiping some of the liquid from his face so that it was safe to open his mouth. Then he fairly let out a roar of rage.
"I'll have you put in jail far that, Eradicate Sampson!" he cried. "You've nearly killed me: You'll suffer for this! My father will sue you for damages, too! Look at me! Look at me!"
"Dat's jest what I'se doin', honey! Jest what I'se doin'!" gasped Eradicate, hardly able to speak from laughter. "Yo' suah am a most contrary lookin' specimen! Yo' suah is! Ha! Ha!"
"Stop it!" commanded Andy. "Don't you dare laugh at me, after throwing whitewash on me."
"I didn't throw no whitewash on you!" protested the colored man. "Yo' done poured it over yo'se'f, dat's what yo' done did. An' I jest cain't help laughin', honey. I jest natchally cain't! Yo' look so mortally distressed, dat's what yo' does!"
Andy's rage might have been dangerous, but the very excess of it rendered him incapable of doing anything. He was wild at Eradicate and would willingly have attacked him, but the whitewash was beginning to soak through his clothes, and he was so wet and miserable that soon all the fight oozed out of him.
Then, too, though Eradicate was old, he was strong and he still held the long handle of the whitewash brush, no unformidable weapon. So Andy contented himself with verbal abuse. He called Eradicate all the mean names he could think of, ending up with:
"You won't hear the last of this for a long time, either. I'll have you, and your old rack of bones, your mule Boomerang, run out of town, that's what I will."
"What's dat? Yo' all gwine t'hab Boomerang run out ob town?" demanded Eradicate, a sudden change coming over him. His mule was his most beloved possession. "Lemme tell yo' one thing, Massa Andy. I'se an old colored man, an' I ain't much 'count mebby. But ef yo' dare lay one finger on mah mule Boomerang, only jest one finger, mind you', why I'll—I'll jest natchally drown yo'—all in whitewash, dat's what I'll do!"
Eradicate drew himself up proudly, and boldly faced Andy. The bully shrank back. He knew better than to arouse the colored man further.
"You'll suffer for this," predicted the bully. "For not going to forget it. Tom Swift put you up to this, and I'll take it out of him the next time I see him. He's to blame."
"Now looky heah, honey!" said Eradicate quick. "Doan't yo' all git no sich notion laik dat in yo' head. Massa Tom didn't tell me to do noth'in an I ain't. He ain't eben 'round yeh. An' annudder thing. Yo'se t' blame to' this yo' own se'f. Ef yo' hadn't gone fo' is kick de bucket it nebber would 'a happened. It's yo' own fault, honey, an' doan't yo' forgit dat! No, yo' better go home an' git some dry clothes on."
It was good advice, for Andy was soaking wet. He glared angrily at Eradicate, and then swung off down the road, the whitewash dripping from has garments at every step.
"Land a massy! But he suah did use up all mah lime." complained Eradicate, as he picked up the overturned pail. "I's got t' make mo'. But I doan't mind," he added cheerfully, and then, as he saw the woe-begone figure of Andy shuffling along, he laughed heartily, fitted the brush on the handle and went to tell Tom and Ned what had happened, and make more whitewash.
"Hum! Served him right," commented the young inventor.
"I suppose he'll try to play some mean trick on you now," commented Ned. "He'll think you had some hand in what Rad did."
"Let him," answered Tom. "If he tries any of his games I'll be ready for him."
"Maybe we'll soon be able to start for the city of gold," suggested Ned.
"I'm afraid not in some time," was his chum's reply. "It's going to take quite a while to get ready, and then we've got to wait to hear from Mr. Illingway. I wonder if it's true that Mr. Foger has lost his fortune; or was that only a trick?"
"Oh, it's true enough," answered Ned. "I heard some of the bank officials talking about it the other day." Ned was employed in one of the Shopton banks, an institution in which Tom and his father owned considerable stock. "He hasn't hardly any money left, and he may leave town and go out west, I heard."
"He can't go any too soon to suit me," spoke Tom, "and I hope he takes Andy with him."
"Your father isn't going to have any business dealings with Mr. Foger then?"
"I guess not. Dad doesn't trust him. But say, Ned, what do you say to a little trip in my sky racer? I want to go over to Waterford and see Mr. Damon. We can talk about our trip, and he was going to get some big maps of Central Mexico to study. Will you come?"
"I will this afternoon. I've got to go to the bank now."
"All right, I'll wait for you. In the meanwhile I'll be tuning up the motor. It didn't run just right the other night."
The two chums separated, Ned to go downtown to the bank, while Tom hastened to the shed where he kept his speedy little air craft. Meanwhile Eradicate went on whitewashing the fence, pausing every now and then to chuckle at the memory of Andy Foger.
Tom found that some minor adjustments had to be made to the motor, and they took him a couple of hours to complete. It was nearly noon when he finished, and leaving the sky racer in the open space in front of the shed, he went in the house to wash up, for his face and hands were begrimed with dirt and oil.
"But the machine's in good shape," he said to the housekeeper when she objected to his appearance, "and Ned and I will have a speedy spin this afternoon."
"Oh, you reckless boys! Risking your lives in those aeroplanes!" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert.
"Why, they're safer than street cars!" declared Tom with a laugh. "Just think how often street cars collide, and you never heard of an aeroplane doing that."
"No, but think what happens when they fall."
"That's it!" cried Tom gaily, "when they fall you don't have time to think. But is dinner ready? I'm hungry."
"Never saw you when you weren't." commented the housekeeper laughing. "Yes, you can sit right down. We won't wait for your father. He said he'd be late as he wants to find something about his gyroscope. I never did any such people as inventors for spoiling their meals," she added as the put dinner on the tab's.
Mr. Swift came in before his son had finished.
"Was Andy Foger here to see me again?" he asked.
"No, why do you ask?" inquired Tom quickly.
"I just saw him out by the aeroplane shed, and—"
Tom jumped up without another word, and hurried to where his sky racer rested on its bicycle wheels.
He breathed more easily when he saw that Andy was not in sight, and a hurried inspection of the aeroplane did not disclose that it had been tampered with.
"Anything the matter?" asked Mr. Swift, as he followed his son.
"No, but when you mentioned that Andy was out here I thought he might have been up to some of his tricks. He had a little trouble with Eradicate this morning, and he threatened to get even with me for it." And Tom told of the whitewashing incident.
"I just happened to see him as I was coming to dinner," went on the aged inventor. "He hurried off—when he noticed me, but I thought he might have been here to leave another letter."
"No," said Tom. "I must tell Eradicate to keep his weather eye open for him, though. No telling what Andy'll do. Well, I must finish eating, or Ned will be here before I'm through."
After dinner, Ned arrived, and helped Tom start the motor. With a roar and a bang the swift little machine rapidly got up speed, the propellers whizing so fast that they looked like blurs of light. The sky racer was held back by a rope, as Tom wanted to note the "pull" of the propellers, the force they exerted against the air being registered on a spring balance.
"What does it say, Ned?" cried the young inventor as he adjusted the carburettor.
"A shade over nine hundred pounds."
"Guess that'll do. Hop in, and I'll cast off from the seat."
This Tom frequently did when there was no one available to hold the aeroplane for him while he mounted. He could pull a cord, loosen the retaining rope, and away the craft would go.
The two chums were soon seated side by side and then Tom, grasping the steering wheel, turned on full power and jerked the releasing rope.
Over the ground shot the sky racer, quickly attaining speed until, with a deft motion, the young inventor tilted the deflecting rudder and up into the air they shot.
"Oh, this is glorious!" cried Ned, for, though he had often taken trips with Tom, every time he went up he seemed to enjoy it more.
Higher and higher they rose, rose and then with the sharp nose of the craft turned in the proper direction they sailed off well above the trees and houses toward Waterford.
"Guess I'll go up a bit higher," Tom yelled into his chums ear when they were near their destination. "Then I can make a spiral glide to earth. I haven't practiced that lately."
Up and up went the sky racer, until it was well over the town of Waterford, where Mr. Damon lived.
"There's his place!" yelled Ned, pointing downward. He had to yell to be heard above the noise of the motor. Tom nodded in reply. He, too, had picked out Mr. Damon's large estate. There were many good landing places on it, one near the house for which Tom headed.
The aeroplane shot downward, like a bird darting from the sky. Tom grasped the rudder lever more firmly. He looked below him, and then, suddenly he uttered a cry of terror.
"What is it?" yelled Ned.
"The rudder! The deflecting rudder! It's jammed, and I can't throw her head up! We're going to smash into the ground, Ned! I can't control her! Something has gone wrong!"
NEWS FROM AFRICA
Blankly, and with fear in his eyes, Ned gazed at Tom. The young inventor was frantically working at the levers, trying to loosen the jammed rudder—the rudder that enabled the sky racer to be tilted upward.
"Can't you do it?" cried Ned.
Tom shook his head helplessly, but he did not give up. Madly he worked on, and there was need of haste, for every moment the aeroplane was shooting nearer and nearer to the earth.
Ned glanced down. They were headed for the centre of a large grass plot and the bank employee found himself grimly thinking that at least the turf would be softer to fall on than bare ground.
"I—I can't imagine what's happened!" cried Tom.
He was still yanking on the lever, but it would not move, and unless the head of the aeroplane was thrown up quickly, to catch the air, and check its downward right, they would both be killed.
"Shut off the engine and vol-plane!" cried Ned.
"No use," answered Tom. "I can't vol-plane when I can't throw her head up to check her."
But he did shut off the banging, throbbing motor, and then in silence they continued to fall. Ned had half a notion to jump, but he knew that would mean instant death, and there was just a bare chance that if he stayed in the machine it would take off some of the shock.
They could see Mr. Damon now. The old man had run out of his house at the sight of the approaching aeroplane. He knew it well, for he had ridden with Tom many times. He looked up and waved his hand to the boys, but he had no idea of their danger, and he could not have helped them had he been aware of it.
He must have soon guessed that something was wrong though, for a moment later, the lads could hear him shout in terror, and could see him motion to them. Later he said he saw that Tom was coming down at too great an inclination, and he feared that the machine could not be thrown up into the wind quickly enough!
"Here goes something—the lever or the rudder!" cried Tom in desperation, as he gave it a mighty yank. Up to now he had not pulled with all his strength as he feared to break some connecting-rod, wire or lever. But now he must take every chance. "If I can get that rudder up even a little we're safe!" he went on.
Once more he gave a terrific pull on the handle. There was a snapping sound and Tom gave a yell of delight.
"That's the stuff!" he cried. "She's moving! We're all right now!"
And the rudder had moved only just in time, for when the aeroplane was within a hundred feet of the earth the head was suddenly elevated and she glided along on a level "keel."
"Look out!" yelled Ned, for new a new danger presented. They were so near the earth that Tom had over-run his original stepping place, and now the sky racer was headed directly for Mr. Damon's house, and might crash into it.
"All right! I've get her in hand!" said the young inventor reassuringly.
Tom tilted the rudder at a sharp angle to have the air pressure act as a brake. At the same time he swerved the craft to one side so that there was no longer any danger of crashing into the house.
"Bless my—" began Mr. Damon, but in the excitement he really didn't know what to bless, so he stopped short.
A moment later, feeling that the momentum had been checked enough to make it safe to land, Tom directed the craft downward again and came gracefully to earth, a short distance away from his eccentric friend.
"Whew!" gasped the young inventor, as he leaped from his seat. "That was a scary time while it lasted."
"I should say so!" agreed Ned.
"Bless my straw hat!" cried Mr. Damon. "What happened? Did you lose control of her, Tom?"
"No, the deflecting rudder got jammed, and I couldn't move it. I must look and see what's the matter."
"I thought it was all up with you," commented Mr. Damon, as he followed Tom and Ned to the front end of the craft, where the deflecting mechanism was located.
Tom glanced quickly over it. His quick eye caught something, and he uttered an exclamation.
"Look!" the young inventor cried. "No wonder it jammed!" and from a copper sleeve, through which ran the wire that worked the rudder, he pulled a small iron bolt. "That got between the sleeve and the wire, and I couldn't move it," he explained. "But when I pulled hard I loosened it."
"How did it fall in there?" asked Ned.
"It didn't FALL there." spoke Tom quietly. "It was PUT there."
"Put there! Bless my insurance policy! Who did such a dastardly trick?" cried Mr. Damon.
"I don't know," answered Tom still quietly, "but I suspect it was Andy Foger, and he was never any nearer to putting us out of business than a little while ago, Ned."
"Do you mean to say that he deliberately tried to injure you?" asked Mr. Damon.
"Well, he may not have intended to hurt us, but that's what would have happened if I hadn't been able to throw her up into the wind when I did," replied Tom. Then he told of Mr. Swift having seen the red-haired bully near the aeroplane. "Andy may have only intended to put my machine out of working order," went on the young inventor, "but it might have been worse than that," and he could not repress a shudder.
"Are you going to say anything to him?" asked Ned.
"I certainly am!" replied Torn quickly. "He doesn't realize that he might have crippled us both for life. I sure am going to say something to him when I get back."
But Tom did not get the chance, for when he and Ned returned to Shopton,—the sky racer behaving beautifully on the homeward trip,—it was learned that Mr. Foger had suddenly left town, taking Andy with him.
"Maybe he knew I'd be after him," said Tom grimly, and so that incident was closed for the time being, but it was a long time before Tom and Ned got over their fright.
They had a nice visit with Mr. Damon, and talked of the city of gold to their heart's content, looking at several large maps of Mexico that the eccentric man had procured, and locating, as well as they could from the meager map and description they had, where the underground treasures might be.
"I suppose you are getting ready to go, Mr. Damon?" remarked Ned.
"Hush!" cautioned the odd man, looking quickly around the room. "I haven't said anything to my wife about it yet. You know she doesn't like me to go off on these 'wild goose chases' as she calls them, with you, Tom Swift. But bless my railroad ticket! It's half the fun of my life."
"Then don't you think you can go?" asked the young inventor eagerly, for he had formed a strong like for Mr. Damon, and would very much reprait to go without him.
"Oh, bless my necktie! I think I'll be able to manage it," was the answer. "I'm not going to tell her anything about it until the last minute, and then I'll promise to bring her back one of the golden images. She won't object then."
"Good!" exclaimed Tom. "I hope we can all bring back some of the images."
"Yes, I know who you'll bring one for," said Ned with a laugh, and he took care to get beyond the reach of Tom's fist. "Her first name is Mary," he added.
"You get out!" laughed Tom, blushing at the same time.
"Ah! What a thing it is to be young!" exclaimed Mr. Damon with a mock sigh. The boys laughed, for the old man, though well along in years, was a boy at heart.
They talked at some length, speculating when they might hear from Mr. Illingway, and discussing the sort of an outfit that would be best to take with them.
Then, as the afternoon was drawing to a close, Tom and Ned went back in the aeroplane, hearing the news about the Fogers as I have previously mentioned.
"Well, I'll have to wait until I do see Andy to take it out of his hide," remarked Tom grimly. "I'm glad he's out of the way, though. There won't be any more danger of his overhearing our plans, and I can work in peace on the dirigible balloon."
Though Tom had many air crafts, the one he thought best suited to take with them on their search for the city of gold would have to be constructed from parts of several machines, and it would take some time.
Tom began work on it the next day, his father helping him, as did Mr. Damon and Ned occasionally. Several weeks were spent in this way, meanwhile the mails being anxiously watched for news from Africa.
"Here you are, Tom!" called the postman one morning, as he walked out to the shop where the young inventor was busy over the balloon. "Here's another letter from that Buggy-wuggy place."
"Oh, you mean Gumba Twamba, in Africa!" laughed the lad. "Good! That's what I've been waiting for. Now to see what the missionary says."
"I hope you're not going to go as a missionary to Africa, Tom," said the postman.
"No danger. This is just a letter from a friend there. He sent me some facts so I can go off on another expedition."
"Oh, you're always going off on wild adventures," commented Uncle Sam's messenger with a shake of his head as he hurried away, while Tom tore open the letter from Africa and eagerly read it.
"BEWARE THE HEAD-HUNTERS!"
"That's what I want!" exclaimed the young inventor, as he finished the perusal of the missionary's missive.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Swift, entering the shop at that moment.
"News from Africa, dad. Mr. Illingway went to a lot of trouble to get more information for us about the city of gold, and he sends a better map. It seems there was one among the effects of the white man who died near where Mr. Illingway has his mission. With this map, and what additional information I have, we ought to locate the underground city. Look, dad," and the lad showed the map.
"Humph!" exclaimed Mr. Swift with a smile. "I don't call that a very clear map. It shows a part of Central Mexico, that's true, but it's on such a small scale I don't see how you're going to tell anything by it."
"But I have a description," explained Tom. "It seems according to Mr. Illingway's letter, that you have to go to the coast and strike into the interior until you are near the old city of Poltec. That used to be it's name, but Mr. Illingway says it may be abandoned now, or the name changed. But I guess we can find it."
"Then, according to what he could learn from the African natives, who talked with the white man, the best way is to hire ox carts and strike into the jungle. That's the only way to carry our baggage, and the dirigible balloon which I'm going to take along."
"Pretty uncertain way to look for a buried city of gold," commented Mr. Swift. "But I suppose even if you don't find it you'll have the fun of searching for it, Tom."
"But we ARE going to find it!" the lad declared. "We'll get there, you'll see!"
"But how are you going to know it when you see it?" asked his father. "If it's underground even a balloon won't help you much."
"It's true it is underground," agreed Tom, "but there must be an entrance to it somewhere, and I'm going to hunt for that entrance. Mr. Illingway writes that the city is a very old one, and was built underground by the priests of some people allied to the Aztecs. They wanted a refuge in times of war and they also hid their valuables there. They must have been rich to have so much gold, or else they didn't value it as we do."
"That might be so," assented Mr. Swift. "But I still maintain, Tom, that it's like looking for a needle in a haystack."
"Still, I'm going to have a try for it," asserted the lad. "If I can once locate the plain of the big temple I'll be near the entrance to the underground city."
"What is the 'plain of the big temple,' Tom?"
"Mr. Illingway writes," said the lad, again referring to the letter, "that somewhere near the beginning of the tunnel that leads into the city of gold, there is an immense flat plain, on which the ancient Aztecs once built a great temple. Maybe they worshiped the golden images there. Anyhow the temple is in ruins now, near an overgrown jungle, according to the stories the white man used to tell. He once got as near the city of gold as the big temple, but hostile natives drove him and his party back. Then he went to Africa after getting an image from someone, and died there. So no one since has ever found the city of gold."
"Well, I hope you do, Tom, but I doubt it. However, I suppose you will hurry your preparations for going away, now that you have all the information you can get."
"Right, dad. I must send word to Mr. Damon and Ned at once. A few more days' work, and my balloon will be in shape for a trial flight, and then I can take it apart, pack it up, and ship it. Then ho! for the city of gold!"
Mr. Swift smiled at his son's enthusiasm, but he did not check it. He knew Tom too well for that.
Naturally Mr. Damon and Ned were delighted with the additional information the missionary had sent, and Ned agreed with Tom that it was a mere matter of diligent search to find the underground city.
"Bless my collar button!" cried Mr. Damon. "It may not be as easy as all that, but Tom Swift isn't the kind that gives up! We'll get there!"
Meanwhile Tom worked diligently on his balloon. He sent a letter of thanks to Mr. Illingway, at the same time requesting that if any more information was obtained within the next three weeks to cable it, as there would not be time for a letter to reach Shopton ere Tom planned to leave for Mexico.
The following days were busy ones for all. There was much to be done, and Tom worked night and day. They had to get rifles ready, for they might meet hostile natives. Then, too, they had to arrange for the proper clothing, and other supplies.
To take apart and ship the balloon was no small task, and then there were the passages to engage on a steamer that would land them at the nearest point to strike into the interior, the question of transportation after reaching Mexico, and many other matters to consider.
But gradually things began to shape themselves and it looked as though the expedition could start for the city of gold in about two weeks after the receipt of the second letter from the missionary.
"I think I'll give the balloon a trial to-morrow," said Tom one night, after a hard day's work, "It's all ready, and it ought to work pretty good. It will be just what we need to sail over some dense jungle and land down on the plain by the great temple."
"Bless my slippers!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I must think up some way of telling my wife that I'm going."
"Haven't you told her yet?" asked Ned.
The eccentric man shook his head.
"I haven't had a good chance," he said, "but I think I'll tell her to-morrow, and promise her one of the gold images. Then she won't mind."
Tom was just a little bit nervous when he got ready for a trial flight in the new dirigible balloon. To tell the truth he much preferred aeroplanes to balloons, but he realized that in a country where the jungle growth prevailed, and where there might be no level places to get a "take off," or a starting place for an aeroplane, the balloon was more feasible.
But he need have had no fears, for the balloon worked perfectly. In the bag Tom used a new gas, much more powerful even than hydrogen, and which he could make from chemicals that could easily be carried on their trip.
The air craft was small but powerful, and could easily carry Tom, Ned and Mr. Damon, together with a quantity of food and other supplies. They intended to use it by starting from the place where they would leave the most of their baggage, after getting as near to the city of gold as they could by foot trails. Tom hoped to establish a camp in the interior of Mexico, and make trips off in different directions to search for the ruined temple. If unsuccessful they could sail back each night, and if he should discover the entrance to the buried city there was food enough in the car of the balloon to enable them to stay away from camp for a week or more.
In order to give the balloon a good test, Tom took up with him not only Ned and Mr. Damon, but Eradicate and Mr. Swift to equalize the weight of food and supplies that later would be carried. The test showed that the craft more than came up to expectations, though the trial trip was a little marred by the nervousness of the colored man.
"I doan't jest laik dis yeah kind of travelin'," said Eradicate. "I'd radder be on de ground."
Most of the remaining two weeks were spent in packing the balloon for shipment, and then the travelers got their own personal equipment ready. They put up some condensed food, but they depended on getting the major portion in Mexico.
It was two days before they were to start. Their passage had been engaged on a steamer, and the balloon and most of their effects had been shipped. Mr. Damon had broken the news to his wife, and she had consented to allow him to go, though she said it would be for the last time.
"But if I bring her back a nice, big, gold image I know she'll let me go on other trips with you, Tom." said the eccentric man. "Bless my yard stick, if I couldn't go off on an adventure now and then I don't know what I'd do."
They were in the library of the Swift home that evening. Tom, Ned, Mr. Damon and the aged inventor, and of course the only thing talked of was the prospective trip to the city of gold.
"What I can't understand," Mr. Swift was saying, "is why the natives made so many of the same images of gold, and why there is that large one in the underground place. What did they want of it?"
"That's part of the mystery we hope to solve," said Tom. "I'm going to bring that big image home with me if I can. I guess—"
He was interrupted by a ring at the front door.
"I hope that isn't Andy Foger," remarked Ned.
"No danger," replied Tom. "He'll keep away from here after what he did to my aeroplane."
Mrs. Baggert went to the door.
"A message for you, Tom," she announced a little later, handing in an envelope.
"Hello, a cablegram!" exclaimed the young inventor. "It must be from Mr. Illingway, in Africa. It is," he added a moment later as he glanced at the signature.
"What does he say?" asked Mr. Swift.
"Can he give us any more definite information about the city of gold?" inquired Ned.
"I'll read it," said Tom, and there was a curious, strained note in his voice. "This is what it says:"
"'No more information obtainable. But if you go to the city of gold beware of the head-hunters!'"
"Head-hunters!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Bless my top-knot, what are they?"
"I don't know," answered Tom simply, "but whatever they are we've got to be on the lookout for them when we get to the gold city, and that's where I'm going, head-hunters or no head-hunters!"
TOM MAKES A PROMISE
It may well be imagined that the cable warning sent by Mr. Illingway caused our friends considerable anxiety. Coming as it did, almost at the last minute, so brief—giving no particulars—it was very ominous. Yet Tom was not afraid, nor did any of the others show signs of fear.
"Bless my shotgun!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as he looked at the few words on the paper which Tom passed around. "I wish Mr. Illingway had said more about the head-hunters—or less."
"What do you mean?" asked Ned.
"Well, I wish he'd given us more particulars, told us where we might be on the lookout for the head-hunters, what sort of chaps they were, and what they do to a fellow when they catch him."
"Their name seems plainly to indicate what they do," spoke Mr. Swift grimly. "They cut off the head of their enemies, like that interesting Filipino tribe. But perhaps they may not get after you. If they do—"
"If they do," interrupted Tom with a laugh, "we'll hop in our dirigible balloon, and get above THEIR heads, and then I guess we can give a good account of ourselves. But would you rather Mr. Illingway had said less about them, Mr. Damon?"
"Yes, I wish, as long as he couldn't tell us more, that he'd kept quiet about them altogether. It's no fun to be always on the lookout for danger. I'm afraid it will get on my nerves, to be continually looking behind a rock, or a tree, for a head-hunter. Bless my comb and brush!"
"Well, 'forewarned is forearmed,'" quoted Ned. "We won't think anything more about them. It was kind of Mr. Illingway to warn us, and perhaps the head-hunters have all disappeared since that white traveler was after the city of gold. Some story which he told his friends, the natives in Africa, is probably responsible for the missionary's warning. Let's check over our lists of supplies, Tom, and see if we have everything down!"
"Can't you do that alone, Ned?"
"Why?" and Ned glanced quickly at his chum. Mr. Damon and Mr. Swift had left the room.
"Well, I've get an engagement—a call to make, and—"
"Enough said, old man. Go ahead. I know what it is to be in love. I'll check the lists. Go see—"
"Now don't get fresh!" advised Tom with a laugh, as he went to his room to get ready to pay a little visit.
"I say, Tom," called Ned after him. "What about Eradicate? Are you going to take him along? He'd be a big help."
"I know he would, but he doesn't want to go. He balked worse than his mule Boomerang when I spoke about an underground city. He said he didn't want to be buried before his time. I didn't tell him we were going after gold, for sometimes Rad talks a bit too much, and I don't want our plans known."
"But I did tell him that Mexico was a great place for chickens, and that he might see a bull fight."
"Did he rise to that bait?"
"Not a bit of it. He said he had enough chickens of his own, and he never did like bulls anyhow. So I guess we'll have to get along without Rad."
"It looks like it. Well, go and enjoy yourself. I'll wait here until you come back, though I know you'll be pretty late, but I want to make sure of our lists."
"All right, Ned," and Tom busied himself with his personal appearance, for he was very particular when going to call on young ladies.
A little later he was admitted to her house by Miss Mary Nestor, and the two began an animated conversation, for this was in the nature of a farewell call by Tom.
"And you are really about to start off on your wild search?" asked the girl. "My! It seems just like something out of a book!"
"Doesn't it?" agreed Tom. "However, I hope there's more truth in it than there is in some books. I should hate to be disappointed, after all our preparation, and not find the buried city after all."
"Do you really think there is so much gold there?"
"Of course there's a good deal of guesswork about it," admitted the young inventor, "and it may be exaggerated, for such things usually are when a traveler has to depend on the accounts of natives."
"But it is certain that there is a big golden image in the interior of Africa, and that it came from Mexico. Mr. Illingway isn't a person who could easily be deceived. Then, too, the old Aztecs and their allies were wonderful workers in gold and silver, for look at what Cortez and his soldiers took from them."
"My! This is quite like a lecture in history!" exclaimed Mary with a laugh. "But it's interesting. I wonder if there are any SMALL, golden images there, as you say there are so many in the underground city."
"Lots of them!" exclaimed Tom, as confidently as though he had seen them. "I'll tell you what I'll do, Mary. I'll bring you back one of these golden images for an ornament. It would look nice on that shelf I think," and Tom pointed to a vacant space on the mantle. "I'll bring you a large one or a small one, or both, Mary."
"Oh, you reckless boy! Well, I suppose it WOULD be nice to have two, for they must be very valuable. But I'm not going to tax you too much. If you bring me back two SMALL ones, I'll put one down here and the other—"
She paused and blushed slightly.
"Yes, and the other," suggested Tom.
"I'll put the other up in my room to remember you by," she finished with a laugh, "so pick out one that is nicely carved. Some of those foreign ones, such as the Chinese have, are hideous."
"That's right," agreed Tom, "and I'll see that you get a nice one. Those Aztecs used to do some wonderful work in gold and silver carving. I've seen specimens in the museum."
Then the two young people fell to talking of the wonderful trip that lay before Tom, and Mary, several times, urged him to be careful of the dangers he would be likely to encounter.
Tom said nothing to her of the head-hunters. He did not want to alarm Miss Nestor, and then, too, he thought the less he allowed his mind to dwell on that unpleasant feature of the journey, the less likely it would be to get on the nerves of all of them.
Ned was right when he predicted that Tom would make quite a lengthy visit. There was much to talk about and he did not expect to see Mary again for some time. But finally he realized that he must leave, and with a renewed promise to bring back with him the two small gold images, and after saying good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Nestor, Tom took his leave.
"If you get marooned in the underground city, Tom," said Mr. Nestor, "I hope you can rig up a wireless outfit, and get help, as you did for us on Earthquake Island."
"I hope so," answered our hero with a laugh, and then, a little saddened by his farewell, and pondering rather solemnly on what lay before him—the dangers of travel as well as those of the head-hunters—Tom hastened back to his own home.
The young inventor found Ned busy over the list of supplies, diligently checking it and comparing it with the one originally made out, to see that nothing had been omitted. Mr. Damon had gone to his room, for he was to remain at the Swift house until he left with the gold-hunting expedition.
"Oh, you've got back, have you?" asked Tom's chum, with a teasing air. "I thought you'd given up the trip to the city of gold."
"Oh, cheese it!" invited Tom. "Come on, now I'll help you. Where's Eradicate? I want him to go out and see that the shop is locked up."
"He was in here a while ago and he said he was going to look after things outside. He told me quite a piece of news."
"What was it?"
"It seems that the Foger house has been sold, the furniture was all moved out to-day, and the family has left, bag and baggage. I asked Rad if he had heard where to, and he said someone down in the village was saying that Andy and his father have engaged passage on some ship that sails day after to-morrow."
"Day after to-morrow!" cried Tom. "Why, that's when ours sails! I hope Andy didn't hear enough of our plans that night to try to follow us."
"It would be just like him," returned Ned, "but I don't think they'll do it. They haven't enough information to go on. More likely Mr. Foger is going to try some new ventures to get back his lost fortune."
"Well, I hope he and Andy keep away from us. They make trouble everywhere they go. Now come on, get busy."
And, though Tom tried to drive from his mind the thoughts of the Fogers, yet it was with an uneasy sense of some portending disaster that he went on with the work of preparing for the trip into the unknown. He said nothing to Ned about it, but perhaps his chum guessed.
"That'll do," said Tom after an hour's labor. "We'll call it a night's work and quit. Can't you stay here—we've got several spare beds."
"No, I'm expected home."
"I'll walk a ways with you," said Tom, and when he had left his chum at his house our hero returned by a street that would take him past the Foger residence. It was shrouded in darkness.
"Everybody's cleared out," said Tom in a low voice as he glance at the gloomy house. "Well, all I hope is that they don't camp on our trail."
ERADICATE WILL GO
"I guess everything is all ready," remarked Tom.
"I can't think of anything more to do," said Ned.
"Bless my grip-sack!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "if there IS, someone else has got to do it. I'm tired to death! I never thought getting ready to go off on a simple little trip was so much work. We ought to have made the whole journey from start to finish in an airship, Tom, as we've done before."
"It was hardly practical," answered the young inventor. "I'm afraid we'll be searching for this underground city for some time, and we'll only need an airship or a dirigible balloon for short trips here and there. We've got to go a good deal by information the natives can furnish us, and we can't get at them very well when sailing in the air."
"That's right," agreed the eccentric man. "Well, I'm glad we're ready to start."
It was the evening of the day before they were to leave for New York, there to take steamer to a small port on the Mexican coast, and every one was busy putting the finishing details to the packing of his personal baggage.
The balloon, taken apart for easy transportation, had been sent on ahead, as had most of their supplies, weapons and other needed articles. All they would carry with them were handbags, containing some clothing.
"Then you've fully made up your mind not to go; eh Rad?" asked Tom of the colored man, who was busy helping them pack. "You won't take a chance in the underground city?"
"No, Massa Tom, I's gwine t' stay home an' look after yo' daddy. 'Sides, Boomerang is gettin' old, an' when a mule gits along in yeahs him temper ain't none ob de best."
"Boomerang's temper never was very good, anyhow," said Tom. "Many's the time he's balked on you, Rad."
"I know it, Massa Tom, but dat jest shows what strong character he done hab. Nobody kin manage dat air mule but me, an' if I were to leave him, dere suah would be trouble. No, I cain't go to no underground city, nohow."
"But if you found some of the golden images you could buy another mule—two of 'em if you wanted that many," said Ned, and a moment later he remembered that Tom did not want the colored man to know anything about the trip after gold. He had been led to believe that it was merely a trip to locate an ancient city.
"Did yo' done say GOLDEN images?" asked Eradicate, his eyes big with wonder.
Ned glanced apologetically at Tom, and said, with a shrug of his shoulders:
"Oh, we might as well tell him," interrupted the young inventor. "Yes, Rad, we expect to bring back some images of solid gold from the underground city. If you go along you might get some for your self. Of course there's nothing certain about it, but—"
"How—how big am dem gold images, Massa Tom?" asked Eradicate eagerly.
"You've got him going now, Tom," whispered Ned.
"How big?" repeated Tom musingly. "Hum, well, there's one that is said to be bigger than three men, and there must be any number of smaller ones—say boy's size, and from that on down to the real little ones, according to Mr. Illingway."
"Real gold—yellow, gold images as big as a man," said Eradicate in a dreamy voice. "An'—an' some big as boys. By golly, Massa Tom, am yo' suah ob dat?"
"Pretty sure. Why, Rad?"
"Cause I's gwine wid yo', dat's why! I didn't know yo' all was goin' after gold. My golly I's gwine along! Look out ob mah way, ef yo' please,—Mr. Damon. I'se gwine t' pack up an' go. Am it too late to git me a ticket, Massa Tom?"
"No, I guess there's room on the ship. But say, Rad, I don't want you to talk about this gold image part of it. You can say we're going to look for an underground city, but no more, mind you!"
"Trust me, Massa Tom; trust me. I—I'll jest say BRASS images, dat's what I'll say—BRASS! We's gwine after brass, an' not GOLD. By golly, I'll fool 'em!"
"No, don't say anything about the images—brass or gold," cautioned Tom. "But, Rad, there's another thing. We may run across the head-hunters down there in Mexico."
"Head-hunters? What's dem?"
"They crush you, and chop off your head for an ornament."
"Ha! Ha! Den I ain't in no danger, Massa Tom. Nobody would want de head ob an old colored man fo' an ornament. By golly! I's safe from dem head-hunters! Yo' can't scare me dat way. I's gwine after some of dem gold images, I is, an' ef I gits some I'll build de finest stable Boomerang ever saw, an' he kin hab oats fo' times a day. Dat's what I's gwine t' do. Now look out ob mah way, Mr. Damon, ef yo' pleases. I's gwine t' pack up," and Eradicate shuffled off, chuckling to himself and muttering over and over again: "Gold images! Gold images! Images ob solid gold! Think ob dat! By golly!"
"Think he'll give the secret away, Tom?" asked Ned.
"No. And I'm glad he's going. Four makes a nice party, and Rad will make himself useful around camp. I've been sorry ever since he said he wouldn't go, on account of the good cooking I'd miss, for Rad is sure a fine cook."
"Bless my knife and fork, that's so!" agreed Mr. Damon.
So complete were the preparations of our friends that nothing remained to do the next morning. Eradicate had his things all in readiness, and when good-byes had been said to Mr. Swift, and Mrs. Baggert, Tom, Ned and Mr. Damon, followed by the faithful colored man, set off for the depot to take the train for New York. There they were to take a coast steamer for Tampico, Mexico, and once there they could arrange for transportation into the interior.
The journey to New York was uneventful, but on arrival there they met with their first disappointment. The steamer on which they were to take passage had been delayed by a storm, and had only just arrived at her dock.
"It will take three days to get her cargo out, clean the boilers, load another cargo in her and get ready to sail," the agent informed them.
"Then what are we to do?" asked Ned.
"Guess we'll have to wait; that's all," answered Tom. "It doesn't much matter. We're in no great rush, and it will give us three days around New York. We'll see the sights."
"Bless my spectacles! Its an ill wind that blows nobody good," remarked Mr. Damon, "I've been wanting to visit New York for some time, and here's my chance."
"We'll go to a good hotel," said Tom, "and enjoy ourselves as long as we have to wait for the steamer."
"THAT LOOKED LIKE ANDY!"
What seemed at first as if it was going to be a tedious time of waiting, proved to be a delightful experience, for our friends found much to occupy their attention in New York.
Tom and Ned went to several theatrical performances, and wanted Mr. Damon to go with them, but the odd man said he wanted to visit several museums and other places of historical interest, so, while he was browsing around that way, the boys went to Bronx Park, and to Central Park, to look at the animals, and otherwise enjoy themselves.
Eradicate put in his time in his own way. Much of it was spent in restaurants where chicken and pork chops figured largely on the bills of fare, for Tom had plentifully supplied the colored man with money, and did not ask an accounting.
"What else do you do besides eat, Rad?" asked Ned with a laugh, the second day of their stay in New York.
"I jest natchally looks in de jewelery store windows," replied Eradicate with a grin on his honest black face. "I looks at all de gold ornaments, an' I tries t' figger out how much better mah golden images am gwine t' be."
"But don't you go in, and ask what a gold image the size of a man would be worth!" cautioned Tom. "The jeweler might think you were crazy, and he might suspect something."
"No, Massa Tom, I won't do nuffin laik dat," promised Eradicate. "But, Massa Tom, how much DOES yo' 'spect a image laik dat WOULD be worth?"
"Haven't the least idea, Rad. Enough, though, to make you rich for the rest of your life."
"Good land a' massy!" gasped Eradicate, and he spent several hours trying to do sums in arithmetic on scraps of paper.
"Hurrah!" cried Tom, when, on the morning of the third day of their enforced stay in New York, a letter was sent up to his room by the hotel clerk.
"What's up?" asked Ned. "I didn't know that you sent Mary word that you were here."
"I didn't, you old scout!" cried Tom. "This is from the steamship company, saying that the steamer Maderia, on which we have taken passage for Mexico, will sail to-night at high tide. That's the stuff! At last we'll really get on our way."
"Bless my notebook!" cried Mr. Damon. "I hoped we'd stay at least another day here. I haven't seen half enough in the museums."
"You'll see stranger things than in any museum when we get to the underground city," predicted Tom. "Come on, Ned, we'll take in a moving picture show, have our last lunch in the big city, and then go aboard."
So impatient were the travelers to go on board the steamer that they arrived several hours before the time set for sailing. Many others did the same thing, however, as supper was to be served on the Maderia.
Though it was within a few hours of leaving time there seemed so much to be done, such a lot of cargo to stow away, and so much coal to put into the bunkers, that Tom and the others might well be excused for worrying about whether or not they really would sail.
Big trucks drawn by powerful horses thundered down the long dock. Immense automobiles laden with boxes, barrels and bales puffed to the loading gangways. There was the puffing and whistling of the donkey engines as they hoisted into the big holds the goods intended for export.
At the side of the steamer were grimy coal barges, into which was dipped an endless chain of buckets carrying the coal to the bunkers. Stevadores were running here and there, orders and counter-orders were being given, and the confusion must have been maddening to any one not accustomed to it.
"Bless my walking stick!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "We'll never get off to-night, I'm positive."
"Dat's right," agreed Eradicate. "Look at all dat coal dey's got to load in."
"Oh. they knew how to hustle at the last minute," said Tom, and so it proved. Gradually the loading was finished. The coal barges were emptied and towed away. Truck after truck departed from the dock empty, having left its load in the interior of the steamer. One donkey engine after another ceased to puff, and the littered decks were cleared.
"Let's watch the late-comers get aboard," suggested Ned to Tom, when they had arranged things in their stateroom. The two boys and Mr. Damon had a large one to themselves and Eradicate had been assigned a small one not far from them.
"That'll make the time pass until supper is ready," agreed the young inventor, so they took their station near the main gangway and watched the passengers hurrying up. There were many going to make the trip to Mexico it seemed, and later the boys learned that a tourist agency had engaged passage for a number of its patrons.
"That fat man will never get up the slope unless some one pushes him," remarked Ned, pointing to a very fleshy individual who was struggling up the steep gangplank, carrying a heavy valise. For the tide was almost at flood and the deck of the steamer was much elevated. Indeed it seemed at one moment as if the heavy-weight passenger would slide backward instead of getting aboard.
"Go give him a hand, Rad," suggested Tom, and the colored man obligingly relieved the fat man of his grip, thereby enabling him to give all his attention to getting up the plank.
And it was this simple act on the part of Rad that was the cause of an uneasy suspicion coming to Tom and Ned. For, as Eradicate hastened to help the stout passenger, two others behind him, a man and a boy, started preciptably at the sight of the colored helper. So confused were they that it was noticed by Ned and his chum.
"Look at that!" said Ned in a low voice, their attention drawn from the fat man to the man and youth immediately behind him. "You'd think they were afraid of meeting Rad."
"That's right," agreed Tom, for the man and youth had halted, and seemed about to turn back, Then the man, with a quick gesture, tossed a steamer rug he was carrying over his shoulder up so that it hid his face. At the same time the lad with him, evidently in obedience to some command, pulled his cap well down over his face and turned up the collar of a light overcoat he was wearing. He also seemed to shrink down, almost as if he were deformed.
"Say!" began Ned in wondering tones, "Tom, doesn't that look like—"
"Andy Foger and his father!" burst out the young inventor in a horse whisper. "Ned, do you think it's possible?"
"Hardly, and yet—"
Ned paused in his answer to look more closely at the two who had aroused the suspicions of himself and Tom. But they had now crowded so close up behind the fat man whom Eradicate was assisting up the plank, that he partly hid them from sight, and the action of the two in covering their faces further aided them in disguising themselves, if such was their intention.
"Oh, it can't be!" declared Tom. "If they were going to follow us they wouldn't dare go on the same steamer. It must be some one else. But it sure did look like Andy at first."
"That's what I say," came from Ned. "But we can easily find out."
"Ask the purser to show us the passenger list. Even if they are down under some other names he'd know the Fogers if we described them to him."
"That's right, we'll do it."
By this time the fat man, who was being assisted by Eradicate had reached the top of the gang plank. He must have been expected, for several friends rushed to greet him, and for a moment there was a confusing little throng at the place where the passengers came abroad. Tom and Ned hurried up, intent on getting a closer view of the man and youth who seemed so anxious to escape observation.
But several persons got in their way, and the two mysterious ones taking advantage of the confusion, slipped down a companionway to their stateroom, so that when our two lads managed to extricate themselves from the throng around the fat man, who insisted on thanking them for allowing Eradicate to help him, it was too late to effect any identification, at least for the time being.
"But we'll go to the purser," said Tom. "If Andy and his father are on this steamer we want to know it."
"That's right," agreed Ned.
Just then there was the usual cry:
"All ashore that's going ashore! Last warning!"
A bell rang, there was a hoarse whistle, the rattle of the gangplank being drawn in, a quiver through the whole length of the ship, and Tom cried:
"Yes," added Ned, "if Andy and his father are here it's too late to leave them behind now!"
Ned and Tom did not escape the usual commotion that always attends the sailing of a large steamer. The people on the dock were waving farewells to those on the boat, and those on the deck of the Maderia shook their handkerchiefs, their steamer rugs, their hands, umbrellas—in short anything to indicate their feelings. It was getting dark, but big electric lights made the dock and the steamer's deck brilliantly aglow.
The big whistle was blowing at intervals to warn other craft that the steamer was coming out of her slip. Fussy little tugs were pushing their blunt noses against the sides of the Maderia to help her and, in brief, there was not a little excitement.
"Bless my steamer chair!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "We're really off at last! And now for the land of—"
"Hush!" exclaimed Tom, who stood near the odd gentleman. "You're forgetting. Some one might hear you."
"That's so, Tom. Bless my soul! I'll keep quiet after this."
"Mah golly!" gasped Eradicate as he saw the open water between the ship and the deck, "I can't git back now if I wanter—but I doan't wanter. I hope yo' father takes good care ob Boomerang, Massa Tom."
"Oh, I guess he will. But come on, Ned, we'll go to the purser's office now."
"What for? Is something wrong?" asked Mr. Damon.
"No, we just want to see if—er—if some friends of ours are on board," replied the young inventor, with a quick glance at his chum.
"Very well," assented Mr. Damon. "I'll wait for you on deck here. It's quite interesting to watch the sights of the harbor."
As for these same sights they possessed no attractions for the two lads at present. They were too intent on learning whether or not their suspicions regarding the Fogers were correct.
"Now if they are on board," said Tom, as they made their way to the purser's office, "it only means one thing—that they're following us to get at the secret of the city of gold," and Tom whispered this last, even though there seemed to be no one within hearing, for nearly all the passengers were up on deck.
"That's right," agreed Ned. "Of course there's a bare chance, if those two were the Fogers, that Mr. Foger is going off to try and make another fortune. But more than likely they're on our trail, Tom."
"If it's them—yes."
"Hum, Foger—no, I don't think I havs any passengers of that name," said the purser slowly, when Tom had put the question. "Let's see, Farday, Fenton, Figaro, Flannigan, Ford, Foraham, Fredericks—those are all the names in the 'Fs'. No Fogers among them. Why, are you looking for some friends of yours, boys?"
"Not exactly friends," replied Tom slowly, "but we know them, and we thought we saw them come aboard, so we wanted to make sure."
"They might be under some other name," suggested Ned.
"Yes, that is sometimes done," admitted the purser with a quick glance at the two lads, "It's done when a criminal wants to throw the police off his track, or, occasionally, when a celebrated person wants to avoid the newspaper reporters. But I hardly think that—"
"Oh, I don't believe they'd do it," said Tom quickly. He saw at once that the suspicions of the purser had been aroused, and the official might set on foot inquiries that would be distasteful to the two lads and Mr. Damon. Then, too, if the Fogers were on board under some other name, they would hear of the questions that had been put regarding them, and if they were on a legitimate errand they could make it unpleasant for Tom.
"I don't believe they'd do anything like that," the young inventor repeated.
"Well, you can look over the passenger list soon," said the purser. "I'm going to post it in the main saloon. But perhaps if you described the persons you are looking for I could help you out. I have met nearly all the passengers already."
"Mr. Foger is a big man, with a florid complexion and he has a heavy brown moustache," said Ned.
"And Andy has red hair, and he squints," added Tom.
"No such persons on board," declared the official positively. "It's true we have several persons who squint, but no one with red hair—I'm sure of it."
"Then they're not here," declared Ned. "No, we must have been mistaken," agreed Tom, and there was relief in his tone. It was bad enough to have to search for a hidden city of gold, and perhaps have to deal with the head-hunters, without having to fight off another enemy from their trail.
"Much obliged," said the young inventor to the purser, and then the two lads went back on deck.
A little later supper was served in the big dining saloon, and the boys and Mr. Damon were glad of it, for they were hungry. Eradicate ate with a party of colored persons whose acquaintance he had quickly made. It was a gay gathering in which Tom and Ned found themselves, for though they had traveled much, generally it had been in one of Tom's airships, or big autos, and this dining on a big ship was rather a novelty to them.
The food was good, the service prompt, and Tom found himself possessed of a very good appetite. He glanced across the table and noted that opposite him and Ned, and a little way down the board, were two vacant chairs.
"Can't be that anyone is seasick already." he remarked to his chum.
"I shouldn't think so, for we haven't any more motion than a ferryboat. But some persons are very soon made ill on the water."
"If they're beginning thus early, what will happen when we get out where it's real rough?" Tom wanted to know.
"They'll sure be in for it," agreed Ned, and a glance around the dining saloon showed that those two vacant chairs were the only ones.
Somehow Tom felt a vague sense of uneasiness—as if something was about to happen. In a way he connected it with the suspicion that the Fogers were aboard, and with his subsequent discovery that their names were not on the passenger list. Then, with another thought in mind, he looked about to see if he could pick out the man and youth who, on coming up the gang plank, had been taken by both Tom and Ned to be their enemies. No one looking like either was to be seen, and Tom's mind at once went back to the vacant seats at the table.
"By Jove, Ned!" he exclaimed. "I believe I have it!"
"Have what—a fit of seasickness?"
"No, but these empty seats—the persons we saw you know—they belong there and they're afraid to come out and be seen."
"Why should they be—if they're not the Fogers. I guess you've got another think coming."
"Well, I'm sure there's something mysterious about those two—the way they hid their faces as they came on board—not appearing at supper—I'm going to keep my eyes open."
"All right, go as far as you like and I'm with you. Just now you may pass me the powdered sugar. I want some on this pie."
Tom laughed at Ned's matter-of-fact indifference, but when the young inventor turned in to his berth that night he could not stop thinking of the empty seats—the two mysterious passengers—and the two Fogers. They got all jumbled in his head and made his sleep restless.
Morning saw the Maderia well out to sea, and, as there was quite a swell on, the vessel rolled and pitched to an uncomfortable degree. This did not bother Tom and Ned, who were used to sudden changes of equilibrium from their voyages in the air. Nor did Mr. Damon suffer. In fact he was feeling fine and went about on deck like an old salt, blessing so many new things that he had many of the passengers amused.