TOM SWIFT IN THE LAND OF WONDERS
The Underground Search for the Idol of Gold
AUTHOR OF "TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTORCYCLE," "TOM SWIFT AND HIS BIG TUNNEL," "THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS SERIES," "THE MOTION PICTURE CHUMS SERIES," ETC.
THE TOM SWIFT SERIES
1 TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR CYCLE 2 TOM SWIFT AND HIS MOTOR BOAT 3 TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIRSHIP 4 TOM SWIFT AND HIS SUBMARINE BOAT 5 TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RUNABOUT 6 TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE 7 TOM SWIFT AMONG THE DIAMOND MAKERS 8 TOM SWIFT IN THE CAVES OF ICE 9 TOM SWIFT AND HIS SKY RACER 10 TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC RIFLE 11 TOM SWIFT IN THE CITY OF GOLD 12 TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIR GLIDER 13 TOM SWIFT IN CAPTIVITY 14 TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIZARD CAMERA 15 TOM SWIFT AND HIS GREAT SEARCHLIGHT 16 TOM SWIFT AND HIS GIANT CANNON 17 TOM SWIFT AND HIS PHOTO TELEPHONE 18 TOM SWIFT AND HIS AERIAL WARSHIP 19 TOM SWIFT AND HIS BIG TUNNEL 20 TOM SWIFT IN THE LAND OF WONDERS 21 TOM SWIFT AND HIS WAR TANK 22 TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIR SCOUT 23 TOM SWIFT AND HIS UNDERSEA SEARCH 24 TOM SWIFT AMONG THE FIRE FIGHTERS 25 TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE 26 TOM SWIFT AND HIS FLYING BOAT 27 TOM SWIFT AND HIS GREAT OIL GUSHER 28 TOM SWIFT AND HIS CHEST OF SECRETS 29 TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIRLINE EXPRESS
Tom Swift in the Land of Wonders
I A WONDERFUL STORY II PROFESSOR BUMPER ARRIVES III BLESSINGS AND ENTHUSIASM IV FENIMORE BEECHER V THE LITTLE GREEN GOD VI UNPLEASANT NEWS VII TOM HEARS SOMETHING VIII OFF FOR HONDURAS IX VAL JACINTO X IN THE WILDS XI THE VAMPIRES XII A FALSE FRIEND XIII FORWARD AGAIN XIV A NEW GUIDE XV IN THE COILS XVI A MEETING IN THE JUNGLE XVII THE LOST MAP XVIII "EL TIGRE!" XIX POISONED ARROWS XX AN OLD LEGEND XXI THE CAVERN XXII THE STORM XXIII ENTOMBED ALIVE XXIV THE REVOLVING STONE XXV THE IDOL OF GOLD
TOM SWIFT IN THE LAND OF WONDERS
A WONDERFUL STORY
Tom Swift, who had been slowly looking through the pages of a magazine, in the contents of which he seemed to be deeply interested, turned the final folio, ruffled the sheets back again to look at a certain map and drawing, and then, slapping the book down on a table before him, with a noise not unlike that of a shot, exclaimed:
"Well, that is certainly one wonderful story!"
"What's it about, Tom?" asked his chum, Ned Newton. "Something about inside baseball, or a new submarine that can be converted into an airship on short notice?"
"Neither one, you—you unscientific heathen," answered Tom, with a laugh at Ned. "Though that isn't saying such a machine couldn't be invented."
"I believe you—that is if you got on its trail," returned Ned, and there was warm admiration in his voice.
"As for inside baseball, or outside, for that matter, I hardly believe I'd be able to tell third base from the second base, it's so long since I went to a game," proceeded Tom. "I've been too busy on that new airship stabilizer dad gave me an idea for. I've been working too hard, that's a fact. I need a vacation, and maybe a good baseball game——"
He stopped and looked at the magazine he had so hastily slapped down. Something he had read in it seemed to fascinate him.
"I wonder if it can possibly be true," he went on. "It sounds like the wildest dream of a professional sleep-walker; and yet, when I stop to think, it isn't much worse than some of the things we've gone through with, Ned."
"Say, for the love of rice-pudding! will you get down to brass tacks and strike a trial balance? What are you talking of, anyhow? Is it a joke?"
"Yes. What you just read in that magazine which seems to cause you so much excitement."
"Well, it may be a joke; and yet the professor seems very much in earnest about it," replied Tom. "It certainly is one wonderful story!"
"So you said before. Come on—the 'fillium' is busted. Splice it, or else put in a new reel and on with the show. I'd like to know what's doing. What professor are you talking of?"
"Professor Swyington Bumper."
"Swyington Bumper?" and Ned's voice showed that his memory was a bit hazy.
"Yes. You ought to remember him. He was on the steamer when I went down to Peru to help the Titus Brothers dig the big tunnel. That plotter Waddington, or some of his tools, dropped a bomb where it might have done us some injury, but Professor Bumper, who was a fellow passenger, on his way to South America to look for the lost city of Pelone, calmly picked up the bomb, plucked out the fuse, and saved us from bad injuries, if not death. And he was as cool about it as an ice-cream cone. Surely you remember!"
"Swyington Bumper! Oh, yes, now I remember him," said Ned Newton. "But what has he got to do with a wonderful story? Has he written more about the lost city of Pelone? If he has I don't see anything so very wonderful in that."
"There isn't," agreed Tom. "But this isn't that," and Tom picked up the magazine and leafed it to find the article he had been reading.
"Let's have a look at it," suggested Ned. "You act as though you might be vitally interested in it. Maybe you're thinking of joining forces with the professor again, as you did when you dug the big tunnel."
"Oh, no. I haven't any such idea," Tom said. "I've got enough work laid out now to keep me in Shopton for the next year. I have no notion of going anywhere with Professor Bumper. Yet I can't help being impressed by this," and, having found the article in the magazine to which he referred, he handed it to his chum.
"Why, it's by Bumper himself!" exclaimed Ned.
"Yes. Though there's nothing remarkable in that, seeing that he is constantly contributing articles to various publications or writing books. It's the story itself that's so wonderful. To save you the trouble of wading through a lot of scientific detail, which I know you don't care about, I'll tell you that the story is about a queer idol of solid gold, weighing many pounds, and, in consequence, of great value."
"Of solid gold you say?" asked Ned eagerly.
"That's it. Got on your banking air already," Tom laughed. "To sum it up for you—notice I use the word 'sum,' which is very appropriate for a bank—the professor has got on the track of another lost or hidden city. This one, the name of which doesn't appear, is in the Copan valley of Honduras, and——"
"Copan," interrupted Ned. "It sounds like the name of some new floor varnish."
"Well, it isn't, though it might be," laughed Tom. "Copan is a city, in the Department of Copan, near the boundary between Honduras and Guatemala. A fact I learned from the article and not because I remembered my geography."
"I was going to say," remarked Ned with a smile, "that you were coming it rather strong on the school-book stuff."
"Oh, it's all plainly written down there," and Tom waved toward the magazine at which Ned was looking. "As you'll see, if you take the trouble to go through it, as I did, Copan is, or maybe was, for all I know, one of the most important centers of the Mayan civilization."
"What's Mayan?" asked Ned. "You see I'm going to imbibe my information by the deductive rather than the excavative process," he added with a laugh.
"I see," laughed Tom. "Well, Mayan refers to the Mayas, an aboriginal people of Yucatan. The Mayas had a peculiar civilization of their own, thousands of years ago, and their calendar system was so involved——"
"Never mind about dates," again interrupted Ned. "Get down to brass tacks. I'm willing to take your word for it that there's a Copan valley in Honduras. But what has your friend Professor Bumper to do with it?"
"This. He has come across some old manuscripts, or ancient document records, referring to this valley, and they state, according to this article he has written for the magazine, that somewhere in the valley is a wonderful city, traces of which have been found twenty to forty feet below the surface, on which great trees are growing, showing that the city was covered hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago."
"But where does the idol of gold come in?"
"I'm coming to that," said Tom. "Though, if Professor Bumper has his way, the idol will be coming out instead of coming in."
"You mean he wants to get it and take it away from the Copan valley, Tom?"
"That's it, Ned. It has great value not only from the amount of pure gold that is in it, but as an antique. I fancy the professor is more interested in that aspect of it. But he's written a wonderful story, telling how he happened to come across the ancient manuscripts in the tomb of some old Indian whose mummy he unearthed on a trip to Central America.
"Then he tells of the trouble he had in discovering how to solve the key to the translation code; but when he did, he found a great story unfolded to him.
"This story has to do with the hidden city, and tells of the ancient civilization of those who lived in the Copan valley thousands of years ago. The people held this idol of gold to be their greatest treasure, and they put to death many of other tribes who sought to steal it."
"Whew!" whistled Ned. "That IS some yarn. But what is Professor Bumper going to do about it?"
"I don't know. The article seems to be written with an idea of interesting scientists and research societies, so that they will raise money to conduct a searching expedition.
"Perhaps by this time the party may be organized—this magazine is several months old. I have been so busy on my stabilizer patent that I haven't kept up with current literature. Take it home and read it! Ned. That is if you're through telling me about my affairs," for Ned, who had formerly worked in the Shopton bank, had recently been made general financial manager of the interests of Tom and his father. The two were inventors and proverbially poor business men, though they had amassed a fortune.
"Your financial affairs are all right, Tom," said Ned. "I have just been going over the books, and I'll submit a detailed report later."
The telephone bell rang and Tom picked up the instrument from the desk. As he answered in the usual way and then listened a moment, a strange look came over his face.
"Well, this certainly is wonderful!" he exclaimed, in much the same manner as when he had finished reading the article about the idol. "It certainly is a strange coincidence," he added, speaking in an aside to Ned while he himself still listened to what was being told to him over the telephone wire.
PROFESSOR BUMPER ARRIVES
"What's the matter, Tom? What is it?" asked Ned Newton, attracted by the strange manner of his chum at the telephone. "Has anything happened?"
But the young inventor was too busy listening to the unseen speaker to answer his chum, even if he heard what Ned remarked, which is doubtful.
"Well, I might as well wait until he is through," mused Ned, as he started to leave the room. Then as Tom motioned to him to remain, he murmured: "He may have something to say to me later. But I wonder who is talking to him."
There was no way of finding out, however, until Tom had a chance to talk to Ned, and at present the young scientist was eagerly listening to what came over the wire. Occasionally Ned could hear him say:
"You don't tell me! That is surprising! Yes—yes! Of course if it's true it means a big thing, I can understand that. What's that? No, I couldn't make a promise like that. I'm sorry, but——"
Then the person at the other end of the wire must have plunged into something very interesting and absorbing, for Tom did not again interrupt by interjected remarks.
Tom. Swift, as has been said, was an inventor, as was his father. Mr. Swift was now rather old and feeble, taking only a nominal part in the activities of the firm made up of himself and his son. But his inventions were still used, many of them being vital to the business and trade of this country.
Tom and his father lived in the village of Shopton, New York, and their factories covered many acres of ground. Those who wish to read of the earliest activities of Tom in the inventive line are referred to the initial volume, "Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle." From then on he and his father had many and exciting adventures. In a motor boat, an airship, and a submarine respectively the young inventor had gone through many perils. On some of the trips his chum, Ned Newton, accompanied him, and very often in the party was a Mr. Wakefield Damon, who had a curious habit of "blessing" everything that happened to strike his fancy.
Besides Tom and his father, the Swift household was made up of Eradicate Sampson, a colored man-of-all-work, who, with his mule Boomerang, did what he could to keep the grounds around the house in order. There was also Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, Tom's mother being dead. Mr. Damon, living in a neighboring town, was a frequent visitor in the Swift home.
Mary Nestor, a girl of Shopton, might also be mentioned. She and Tom were more than just good friends. Tom had an idea that some day——. But there, I promised not to tell that part, at least until the young people themselves were ready to have a certain fact announced.
From one activity to another had Tom Swift gone, now constructing some important invention for himself, as among others, when he made the photo-telephone, or developed a great searchlight which he presented to the Government for use in detecting smugglers on the border.
The book immediately preceding this is called "Tom Swift and His Bit, Tunnel," and deals with the efforts of the young inventor to help a firm of contractors penetrate a mountain in Peru. How this was done and how, incidentally, the lost city of Pelone was discovered, bringing joy to the heart of Professor Swyington Bumper, will be found fully set forth in the book.
Tom had been back from the Peru trip for some months, when we again find him interested in some of the work of Professor Bumper, as set forth in the magazine mentioned.
"Well, he certainly is having some conversation," reflected Ned, as, after more than five minutes, Tom's ear was still at the receiver of the instrument, into the transmitter of which he had said only a few words.
"All right," Tom finally answered, as he hung the receiver up, "I'll be here," and then he turned to Ned, whose curiosity had been growing with the telephone talk, and remarked:
"That certainly was wonderful!"
"What was?" asked Ned. "Do you think I'm a mind reader to be able to guess?"
"No, indeed! I beg your pardon. I'll tell you at once. But I couldn't break away. It was too important. To whom do you think I was talking just then?"
"I can imagine almost any one, seeing I know something of what you have done. It might be almost anybody from some person you met up in the caves of ice to a red pygmy from the wilds of Africa."
"I'm afraid neither of them would be quite up to telephone talk yet," laughed Tom. "No, this was the gentleman who wrote that interesting article about the idol of gold," and he motioned to the magazine Ned held in his hand.
"You don't mean Professor Bumper!"
"That's just whom I do mean."
"What did he want? Where did he call from?"
"He wants me to help organize an expedition to go to Central America—to the Copan valley, to be exact—to look for this somewhat mythical idol of gold. Incidentally the professor will gather in any other antiques of more or less value, if he can find any, and he hopes, even if he doesn't find the idol, to get enough historical material for half a dozen books, to say nothing of magazine articles."
"Where did he call from; did you say?"
"I didn't say. But it was a long-distance call from New York. The Professor stopped off there on his way from Boston, where he has been lecturing before some society. And now he's coming here to see me," finished Tom.
"What! Is he going to lecture here?" cried Ned. "If he is, and spouts a whole lot of that bone-dry stuff about the ancient Mayan civilization and their antiquities, with side lights on how the old-time Indians used to scalp their enemies, I'm going to the moving pictures! I'm willing to be your financial manager, Tom Swift, but please don't ask me to be a high-brow. I wasn't built for that."
"Nor I, Ned. The professor isn't going to lecture. He's only going to talk, he says."
"He's going to try to induce me to join his expedition to the Copan valley."
"Do you feel inclined to go?"
"No, Ned, I do not. I've got too many other irons in the fire. I shall have to give the professor a polite but firm refusal."
"Well, maybe you're right, Tom; and yet that idol of gold—GOLD—weighing how many pounds did you say?"
"Oh, you're thinking of its money value, Ned, old man!"
"Yes, I'd like to see what a big chunk of gold like that would bring. It must be quite a nugget. But I'm not likely to get a glimpse of it if you don't go with the professor."
"I don't see how I can go, Ned. But come over and meet the delightful gentleman when he arrives. I expect him day after to-morrow."
"I'll be here," promised Ned; and then he went downtown to attend to some matters connected with his new duties, which were much less irksome than those he had had when he had been in the bank.
"Well, Tom, have you heard any more about your friend?" asked Ned, two days later, as he came to the Swift home with some papers needing the signature of the young inventor and his father.
"No, I haven't heard from him since he telephoned. But I guess he'll be here all right. He's very punctual. Did you see anything of my giant Koku as you came in?"
"Yes, he and Eradicate were having an argument about who should move a heavy casting from one of the shops. Rad wanted to do it all alone, but Koku said he was like a baby now."
"Poor Rad is getting old," said Tom with a sigh. "But he has been very faithful. He and Koku never seem to get along well together."
Koku was an immense man, a veritable giant, one of two whom Tom had brought back with him after an exciting trip to a strange land. The giant's strength was very useful to the young inventor.
"Now Tom, about this business of leasing to the English Government the right to manufacture that new explosive of yours," began Ned, plunging into the business at hand. "I think if you stick out a little you can get a better royalty price."
"But I don't want to gouge 'em, Ned. I'm satisfied with a fair profit. The trouble with you is you think too much of money. Now——"
At that moment a voice was heard in the hall of the house saying:
"Now, my dear lady, don't trouble yourself. I can find my way in to Tom Swift perfectly well by myself, and while I appreciate your courtesy I do not want to trouble you."
"No, don't come, Mrs. Baggert," added another voice. "Bless my hat band, I think I know my way about the house by this time!"
"Mr. Damon!" ejaculated Ned.
"And Professor Bumper is with him," added Tom. "Come in!" he cried, opening the hall door, to confront a bald-headed man who stood peering at our hero with bright snapping eyes, like those of some big bird spying out the land from afar. "Come in, Professor Bumper; and you too, Mr. Damon!"
BLESSINGS AND ENTHUSIASM
Greetings and inquiries as to health having been passed, not without numerous blessings on the part of Mr. Damon, the little party gathered in the library of the home of Tom Swift sat down and looked at one another.
On Professor Bumper's face there was, plainly to be seen, a look of expectation, and it seemed to be shared by Mr. Damon, who seemed eager to burst into enthusiastic talk. On the other hand Tom Swift appeared a bit indifferent.
Ned himself admitted that he was frankly curious. The story of the big idol of gold had occupied his thoughts for many hours.
"Well, I'm glad to see you both," said Tom again. "You got here all right, I see, Professor Bumper. But I didn't expect you to meet and bring Mr. Damon with you."
"I met him on the train," explained the author of the book on the lost city of Pelone, as well as books on other antiquities. "I had no expectation of seeing him, and we were both surprised when we met on the express."
"It stopped at Waterfield, Tom," explained Mr. Damon, "which it doesn't usually do, being an aristocratic sort of train, not given even to hesitating at our humble little town. There were some passengers to get off, which caused the flier to stop, I suppose. And, as I wanted to come over to see you, I got aboard."
"Glad you did," voiced Tom.
"Then I happened to see Professor Bumper a few seats ahead of me," went on Mr. Damon, "and, bless my scarfpin! he was coming to see you also."
"Well, I'm doubly glad," answered Tom.
"So here we are," went on Mr. Damon, "and you've simply got to come, Tom Swift. You must go with us!" and Mr. Damon, in his enthusiasm, banged his fist down on the table with such force that he knocked some books to the floor.
Koku, the giant, who was in the hall, opened the door and in his imperfect English asked:
"Master Tom knock for him bigs man?"
"No," answered Tom with a smile, "I didn't knock or call you, Koku. Some books fell, that is all."
"Massa Tom done called fo' me, dat's what he done!" broke in the petulant voice of Eradicate.
"No, Rad, I don't need anything," Tom said. "Though you might make a pitcher of lemonade. It's rather warm."
"Right away, Massa Tom! Right away!" cried the old colored man, eager to be of service.
"Me help, too!" rumbled Koku, in his deep voice. "Me punch de lemons!" and away he hurried after Eradicate, fearful lest the old servant do all the honors.
"Same old Rad and Koku," observed Mr. Damon with a smile. "But now, Tom, while they're making the lemonade, let's get down to business. You're going with us, of course!"
"Where?" asked Tom, more from habit than because he did not know.
"Where? Why to Honduras, of course! After the idol of gold! Why, bless my fountain pen, it's the most wonderful story I ever heard of! You've read Professor Bumper's article, of course. He told me you had. I read it on the train coming over. He also told me about it, and—— Well, I'm going with him, Tom Swift.
"And think of all the adventures that may befall us! We'll get lost in buried cities, ride down raging torrents on a raft, fall over a cliff maybe and be rescued. Why, it makes me feel quite young again!" and Mr. Damon arose, to pace excitedly up and down the room.
Up to this time Professor Bumper had said very little. He had sat still in his chair listening to Mr. Damon. But now that the latter had ceased, at least for a time, Tom and Ned looked toward the scientist.
"I understand, Tom," he said, "that you read my article in the magazine, about the possibility of locating some of the lost and buried cities of Honduras?"
"Yes, Ned and I each read it. It was quite wonderful."
"And yet there are more wonders to tell," went on the professor. "I did not give all the details in that article. I will tell you some of them. I have brought copies of the documents with me," and he opened a small valise and took out several bundles tied with pink tape.
"As Mr. Damon said," he went on while arranging his papers, "he met me on the train, and he was so taken by the story of the idol of gold that he agreed to accompany me to Central America."
"On one condition!" put in the eccentric man.
"What's that? You didn't make any conditions while we were talking," said the scientist.
"Yes, I said I'd go if Tom Swift did."
"Oh, yes. You did say that. But I don't call that a condition, for of course Tom Swift will go. Now let me tell you something more than I could impart over the telephone.
"Soon after I called you up, Tom—and it was quite a coincidence that it should have been at a time when you had just finished my magazine article. Soon after that, as I was saying, I arranged to come on to Shopton. And now I'm glad we're all here together.
"But how comes it, Ned Newton, that you are not in the bank?"
"I've left there," explained Ned.
"He's now general financial man for the Swift Company," Tom explained. "My father and I found that we could not look after the inventing and experimental end, and money matters, too, and as Ned had had considerable experience this way we made him take over those worries," and Tom laughed genially.
"No worries at all, as far as the Swift Company is concerned," returned Ned.
"Well, I guess you earn your salary," laughed Tom. "But now, Professor Bumper, let's hear from you. Is there anything more about this idol of gold that you can tell us?"
"Plenty, Tom, plenty. I could talk all day, and not get to the end of the story. But a lot of it would be scientific detail that might be too dry for you in spite of this excellent lemonade."
Between them Koku and Eradicate had managed to make a pitcher of the beverage, though Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, told Tom afterward that the two had a quarrel in the kitchen as to who should squeeze the lemons, the giant insisting that he had the better right to "punch" them.
"So, not to go into too many details," went on the professor, "I'll just give you a brief outline of this story of the idol of gold.
"Honduras, as you of course know, is a republic of Central America, and it gets its name from something that happened on the fourth voyage of Columbus. He and his men had had days of weary sailing and had sought in vain for shallow water in which they might come to an anchorage. Finally they reached the point now known as Cape Gracias-a-Dios, and when they let the anchor go, and found that in a short time it came to rest on the floor of the ocean, some one of the sailors—perhaps Columbus himself—is said to have remarked:
"'Thank the Lord, we have left the deep waters (honduras)' that being the Spanish word for unfathomable depths. So Honduras it was called, and has been to this day.
"It is a queer land with many traces of an ancient civilization, a civilization which I believe dates back farther than some in the far East. On the sculptured stones in the Copan valley there are characters which seem to resemble very ancient writing, but this pictographic writing is largely untranslatable.
"Honduras, I might add, is about the size of our state of Ohio. It is rather an elevated tableland, though there are stretches of tropical forest, but it is not so tropical a country as many suppose it to be. There is much gold scattered throughout Honduras, though of late it has not been found in large quantities.
"In the old days, however, before the Spaniards came, it was plentiful, so much, so that the natives made idols of it. And it is one of the largest of these idols—by name Quitzel—that I am going to seek."
"Do you know where it is?" asked Ned.
"Well, it isn't locked up in a safe deposit box, of that I'm sure," laughed the professor. "No, I don't know exactly where it is, except that it is somewhere in an ancient and buried city known as Kurzon. If I knew exactly where it was there wouldn't be much fun in going after it. And if it was known to others it would have been taken away long ago.
"No, we've got to hunt for the idol of gold in this land of wonders where I hope soon to be. Later on I'll show you the documents that put me on the track of this idol. Enough now to show you an old map I found, or, rather, a copy of it, and some of the papers that tell of the idol," and he spread out his packet of papers on the table in front of him, his eyes shining with excitement and pleasure. Mr. Damon, too, leaned eagerly forward.
"So, Tom Swift," went on the professor, "I come to you for help in this matter. I want you to aid me in organizing an expedition to go to Honduras after the idol of gold. Will you?"
"I'll help you, of course," said Tom. "You may use any of my inventions you choose—my airships, my motor boats and submarines, even my giant cannon if you think you can take it with you. And as for the money part, Ned will arrange that for you. But as for going with you myself, it is out of the question. I can't. No Honduras for me!"
Had Tom Swift's giant cannon been discharged somewhere in the vicinity of his home it could have caused but little more astonishment to Mr. Damon and Professor Bumper than did the simple announcement of the young inventor. The professor seemed to shrink back in his chair, collapsing like an automobile tire when the air is let out. As for Mr. Damon he jumped up and cried:
But that is as far as he got—at least just then. He did not seem to know what to bless, but he looked as though he would have liked to include most of the universe.
"Surely you don't mean it, Tom Swift," gasped Professor Bumper at length. "Won't you come with us?"
"No," said Tom, slowly. "Really I can't go. I'm working on an invention of a new aeroplane stabilizer, and if I go now it will be just at a time when I am within striking distance of success. And the stabilizer is very much needed."
"If it's a question of making a profit on it, Tom," began Mr. Damon, "I can let you have some money until——"
"Oh, no! It isn't the money!" cried Tom. "Don't think that for a moment. You see the European war has called for the use of a large number of aeroplanes, and as the pilots of them frequently have to fight, and so can not give their whole attention to the machines, some form of automatic stabilizer is needed to prevent them turning turtle, or going off at a wrong tangent.
"So I have been working out a sort of modified gyroscope, and it seems to answer the purpose. I have already received advance orders for a number of my devices from abroad, and as they are destined to save lives I feel that I ought to keep on with my work.
"I'd like to go, don't misunderstand me, but I can't go at this time. It is out of the question. If you wait a year, or maybe six months——"
"No, it is impossible to wait, Tom," declared Professor Bumper.
"Is it so important then to hurry?" asked Mr. Damon. "You did not mention that to me, Professor Bumper."
"No, I did not have time. There are so many ends to my concerns. But, Tom Swift, you simply must go!"
"I can't, my dear professor, much as I should like to."
"But, Tom, think of it!" cried Mr. Damon, who was as much excited as was the little bald-headed scientist. "You never saw such an idol of gold as this. What's its name?" and he looked questioningly at the professor.
"Quitzel the idol is called," supplied Professor Bumper. "And it is supposed to be in a buried city named Kurzon, somewhere in the Sierra de Merendon range of mountains, in the vicinity of the Copan valley. Copan is a city, or maybe we'll find it only a town when we get there, and it is not far from the borders of Guatemala.
"Tom, if I could show you the translations I have made of the ancient documents, referring to this idol and the wonderful city over which it kept guard, I'm sure you'd come with us."
"Please don't tempt me," Tom said with a laugh. "I'm only too anxious to go, and if it wasn't for the stabilizer I'd be with you in a minute. But—— Well, you'll have to get along without me. Maybe I can join you later."
"What's this about the idol keeping guard over the ancient city?" asked Ned, for he was interested in strange stories.
"It seems," explained the professor, "that in the early days there was a strange race of people, inhabiting Central America, with a somewhat high civilization, only traces of which remained when the Spaniards came.
"But these traces, and such hieroglyphics, or, to be more exact pictographs, as I have been able to decipher from the old documents, tell of one country, or perhaps it was only a city, over which this great golden idol of Quitzel presided.
"There is in some of these papers a description of the idol, which is not exactly a beauty, judged from modern standards. But the main fact is that it is made of solid gold, and may weigh anywhere from one to two tons."
"Two tons of gold!" cried New Newton. "Why, if that's the case it would be worth——" and he fell to doing a sum in mental arithmetic.
"I am not so concerned about the monetary value of the statue as I am about its antiquity," went on Professor Bumper. "There are other statues in this buried city of Kurzon, and though they may not be so valuable they will give me a wealth of material for my research work."
"How do you know there are other statues?" asked Mr. Damon.
"Because my documents tell me so. It was because the people made other idols, in opposition, as it were, to Quitzel, that their city or country was destroyed. At least that is the legend. Quitzel, so the story goes, wanted to be the chief god, and when the image of a rival was set up in the temple near him, he toppled over in anger, and part of the temple went with him, the whole place being buried in ruins. All the inhabitants were killed, and trace of the ancient city was lost forever. No, I hope not forever, for I expect to find it."
"If all the people were killed, and the city buried, how did the story of Quitzel become known?" asked Mr. Damon.
"One only of the priests in the temple of Quitzel escaped and set down part of the tale," said the professor. "It is his narrative, or one based on it, that I have given you."
"And now, what I want to do, is to go and make a search for this buried city. I have fairly good directions as to how it may be reached. We will have little difficulty in getting to Honduras, as there are fruit steamers frequently sailing. Of course going into the interior—to the Copan valley—is going to be harder. But an expedition from a large college was recently there and succeeded, after much labor, in excavating part of a buried city. Whether or not it was Kurzon I am unable to say.
"But if there was one ancient city there must be more. So I want to make an attempt. And I counted on you, Tom. You have had considerable experience in strange quarters of the earth, and you're just the one to help me. I don't need money, for I have interested a certain millionaire, and my own college will put up part of the funds."
"Oh, it isn't a question of money," said Tom. "It's time."
"That's just what it is with me!" exclaimed Professor Bumper. "I haven't any time to lose. My rivals may, even now, be on their way to Honduras!"
"Your rivals!" cried Tom. "You didn't say anything about them!"
"No, I believe I didn't There were so many other things to talk about. But there is a rival archaeologist who would ask nothing better than to get ahead of me in this matter. He is younger than I am, and youth is a big asset nowadays."
"Pooh! You're not old!" cried Mr. Damon. "You're no older than I am, and I'm still young. I'm a lot younger than some of these boys who are afraid to tackle a trip through a tropical wilderness," and he playfully nudged Tom in the ribs.
"I'm not a bit afraid!" retorted the young inventor.
"No, I know you're not," laughed Mr. Damon. "But I've got to say something, Tom, to stir you up. Ned, how about you? Would you go?"
"I can't, unless Tom does. You see I'm his financial man now."
"There you are, Tom Swift!" cried Mr. Damon. "You see you are holding back a number of persons just because you don't want to go."
"I certainly wouldn't like to go without Tom," said the professor slowly. "I really need his help. You know, Tom, we would never have found the city of Pelone if it had not been for you and your marvelous powder. The conditions in the Copan valley are likely to be still more difficult to overcome, and I feel that I risk failure without your young energy and your inventive mind to aid in the work and to suggest possible means of attaining our object. Come, Tom, reconsider, and decide to make the trip."
"And my promise to go was dependent on Tom's agreement to accompany us," said Mr. Damon.
"Come on!" urged the professor, much as one boy might urge another to take part in a ball game. "Don't let my rival get ahead of me."
"I wouldn't like to see that," Tom said slowly. "Who is he—any one I know?"
"I don't believe so, Tom. He's connected with a large, new college that has plenty of money to spend on explorations and research work. Beecher is his name—Fenimore Beecher."
"Beecher!" exclaimed Tom, and there was such a change in his manner that his friends could not help noticing it. He jumped to his feet, his eyes snapping, and he looked eagerly and anxiously at Professor Bumper.
"Did you say his name was Fenimore Beecher?" Tom asked in a tense voice.
"That's what it is—Professor Fenimore Beecher. He is really a learned young man, and thoroughly in earnest, though I do not like his manner. But he is trying to get ahead of me, which may account for my feeling."
Tom Swift did not answer. Instead he hurried from the room with a murmured apology.
"I'll be back in about five minutes," he said, as he went out.
"Well, what's up now?" asked Mr. Damon of Ned, as the young inventor departed. "What set him off that way?"
"The mention of Beecher's name, evidently. Though I never heard him mention such a person before."
"Nor did I ever hear Professor Beecher speak of Tom," said the bald-headed scientist. "Well, we'll just have to wait until——"
At that moment Tom came back into the room.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I have reconsidered my refusal to go to the Copan valley after the idol of gold. I'm going with you!"
"Good!" cried Professor Bumper.
"Fine!" ejaculated Mr. Damon. "Bless my time-table! I thought you'd come around, Tom Swift."
"But what about your stabilizer?" asked Ned.
"I was just talking to my father about it," the young inventor replied. "He will be able to put the finishing touches on it. So I'll leave it with him. As soon as I can get ready I'll go, since you say haste is necessary, Professor Bumper."
"It is, if we are to get ahead of Beecher."
"Then we'll get ahead of him!" cried Tom. "I'm with you now from the start to the finish. I'll show him what I can do!" he added, while Ned and the others wondered at the sudden change in their friend's manner.
THE LITTLE GREEN GOD
"Tom how soon can we go?" asked Professor Bumper, as he began arranging his papers, maps and documents ready to place them back in the valise.
"Within a week, if you want to start that soon."
"The sooner the better. A week will suit me. I don't know just what Beecher's plans are, but, he may try to get on the ground first. Though, without boasting, I may say that he has not had as much experience as I have had, thanks to you, Tom, when you helped me find the lost city of Pelone."
"Well, I hope we'll be as successful this time," murmured Tom. "I don't want to see Beecher beat you."
"I didn't know you knew him, Tom," said the professor.
"Oh, yes, I have met him, once," and there was something in Tom's manner, though he tried to speak indifferently, that made Ned believe there was more behind his chum's sudden change of determination than had yet appeared.
"He never mentioned you," went on Professor Bumper; "yet the last time I saw him I said I was coming to see you, though I did not tell him why."
"No, he wouldn't be likely to speak of me," said Tom significantly.
"Well, if that's all settled, I guess I'll go back home and pack up," said Mr. Damon, making a move to depart.
"There's no special rush," Tom said. "We won't leave for a week. I can't get ready in much less time than that."
"Bless my socks! I know that," ejaculated Mr. Damon. "But if I get my things packed I can go to a hotel to stay while my wife is away. She might take a notion to come home unexpectedly, and, though she is a dear, good soul, she doesn't altogether approve of my going off on these wild trips with you, Tom Swift. But if I get all packed, and clear out, she can't find me and she can't hold me back. She is visiting her mother now. I can send her a wire from Kurzon after I get there."
"I don't believe the telegraph there is working," laughed Professor Bumper. "But suit yourself. I must go back to New York to arrange for the goods we'll have to take with us. In a week, Tom, we'll start."
"You must stay to dinner," Tom said. "You can't get a train now anyhow, and father wants to meet you again. He's pretty well, considering his age. And he's much better I verily believe since I said I'd turn over to him the task of finishing the stabilizer. He likes to work."
"We'll stay and take the night train back," agreed Mr. Damon. "It will be like old times, Tom," he went on, "traveling off together into the wilds. Central America is pretty wild, isn't it?" he asked, as if in fear of being disappointed! on that score.
"Oh, it's wild enough to suit any one," answered Professor Bumper.
"Well, now to settle a few details," observed Tom. "Ned, what is the situation as regards the financial affairs of my father and myself? Nothing will come to grief if we go away, will there?"
"I guess not, Tom. But are you going to take your father with you?"
"No, of course not."
"But you spoke of 'we.'"
"I meant you and I are going."
"Sure, you! I wouldn't think of leaving you behind. You want Ned along, don't you, Professor?"
"Of course. It will be an ideal party—we four. We'll have to take natives when we get to Honduras, and make up a mule pack-train for the interior. I had some thoughts of asking you to take an airship along, but it might frighten the Indians, and I shall have to depend on them for guides, as well as for porters. So it will be an old-fashioned expedition, in a way."
Mr. Swift came in at this point to meet his old friends.
"The boy needs a little excitement," he said. "He's been puttering over that stabilizer invention too long. I can finish the model for him in a very short time."
Professor Bumper told Mr. Swift something about the proposed trip, while Mr. Damon went out with Tom and Ned to one of the shops to look at a new model aeroplane the young inventor had designed.
There was a merry party around the table at dinner, though now and then Ned noticed that Tom had an abstracted and preoccupied air.
"Thinking about the idol of gold?" asked Ned in a whisper to his chum, when they were about to leave the table.
"The idol of gold? Oh, yes! Of course! It will be great if we can bring that back with us." But the manner in which he said this made Ned feel sure that Tom had had other thoughts, and that he had used a little subterfuge in his answer.
Ned was right, as he proved for himself a little later, when, Mr. Damon and the professor having gone home, the young financial secretary took his friend to a quiet corner and asked:
"What's the matter, Tom?"
"Matter? What do you mean?"
"I mean what made you make up your mind so quickly to go on this expedition when you heard Beecher was going?"
"Oh—er—well, you wouldn't want to see our old friend Professor Bumper left, would you, after he had worked out the secret of the idol of gold? You wouldn't want some young whipper-snapper to beat him in the race, would you, Ned?"
"No, of course not."
"Neither would I. That's why I changed my mind. This Beecher isn't going to get that idol if I can stop him!"
"You seem rather bitter against him."
"Bitter? Oh, not at all. I simply don't want to see my friends disappointed."
"Then Beecher isn't a friend of yours?"
"Oh, I've met him, that is all," and Tom tried to speak indifferently.
"Humph!" mused Ned, "there's more here than I dreamed of. I'm going to get at the bottom of it."
But though Ned tried to pump Tom, he was not successful. The young inventor admitted knowing the youthful scientist, but that was all, Tom reiterating his determination not to let Professor Bumper be beaten in the race for the idol of gold.
"Let me see," mused Ned, as he went home that evening. "Tom did not change his mind until he heard Beecher's name mentioned. Now this shows that Beecher had something to do with it. The only reason Tom doesn't want Beecher to get this idol or find the buried city is because Professor Bumper is after it. And yet the professor is not an old or close friend of Tom's. They met only when Tom went to dig his big tunnel. There must be some other reason."
Ned did some more thinking. Then he clapped his hands together, and a smile spread over his face.
"I believe I have it!" he cried. "The little green god as compared to the idol of gold! That's it. I'm going to make a call on my way home."
This he did, stopping at the home of Mary Nestor, a pretty girl, who, rumor had it, was tacitly engaged to Tom. Mary was not at home, but Mr. Nestor was, and for Ned's purpose this answered.
"Well, well, glad to see you!" exclaimed Mary's father. "Isn't Tom with you?" he asked a moment later, seeing that Ned was alone.
"No, Tom isn't with me this evening," Ned answered. "The fact is, he's getting ready to go off on another expedition, and I'm going with him."
"You young men are always going somewhere," remarked Mrs. Nestor. "Where is it to this time?"
"Some place in Central America," Ned answered, not wishing to be too particular. He was wondering how he could find out what he wanted to know, when Mary's mother unexpectedly gave him just the information he was after.
"Central America!" she exclaimed. "Why, Father," and she looked at her husband, "that's where Professor Beecher is going, isn't it?"
"Yes, I believe he did mention something about that."
"Professor Beecher, the man who is an authority on Aztec ruins?" asked Ned, taking a shot in the dark.
"Yes," said Mr. Nestor. "And a mighty fine young man he is, too. I knew his father well. He was here on a visit not long ago, young Beecher was, and he talked most entertainingly about his discoveries. You remember how interested Mary was, Mother?"
"Yes, she seemed to be," said Mrs. Nestor. "Tom Swift dropped in during the course of the evening," she added to Ned, "and Mary introduced him to Professor Beecher. But I can't say that Tom was much interested in the professor's talk."
"No?" questioned Ned.
"No, not at all. But Tom did not stay long. He left just as Mary and the professor were drawing a map so the professor could indicate where he had once made a big discovery."
"I see," murmured Ned. "Well, I suppose Tom must have been thinking of something else at the time."
"Very likely," agreed Mr. Nestor. "But Tom missed a very profitable talk. I was very much interested myself in what the professor told us, and so was Mary. She invited Mr. Beecher to come again. He takes after his father in being very thorough in what he does.
"Sometimes I think," went on Mr. Nestor, "that Tom isn't quite steady enough. He's thinking of so many things, perhaps, that he can't get his mind down to the commonplace. I remember he once sent something here in a box labeled 'dynamite.' Though there was no explosive in it, it gave us a great fright. But Tom is a boy, in spite of his years. Professor Beecher seems much older. We all like him very much."
"That's nice," said Ned, as he took his departure. He had found out what he had come to learn.
"I knew it!" Ned exclaimed as he walked home. "I knew something was in the wind. The little green god of jealousy has Tom in his clutches. That's why my inventive friend was so anxious to go on this expedition when he learned Beecher was to go. He wants to beat him. I guess the professor has plainly shown that he wouldn't like anything better than to cut Tom out with Mary. Whew! that's something to think about!"
Ned Newton decided to keep to himself what he had heard at the Nestor home. Not for the world would he let Tom Swift know of the situation.
"That is, I won't let him know that I know," said Ned to himself, "though he is probably as well aware of the situation as I am. But it sure is queer that this Professor Beecher should have taken such a fancy to Mary, and that her father should regard him so well. That is natural, I suppose. But I wonder how Mary herself feels about it. That is the part Tom would be most interested in.
"No wonder Tom wants to get ahead of this young college chap, who probably thinks he's the whole show. If he can find the buried city, and get the idol of gold, it would be a big feather in his cap.
"He'd have no end of honors heaped on him, and I suppose his hat wouldn't come within three sizes of fitting him. Then he'd stand in better than ever with Mr. Nestor. And, maybe, with Mary, too, though I think she is loyal to Tom. But one never can tell.
"However, I'm glad I know about it. I'll do all I can to help Tom, without letting him know that I know. And if I can do anything to help in finding that idol of gold for Professor Bumper, and, incidentally, Tom, I'll do it," and he spoke aloud in his enthusiasm.
Ned, who was walking along in the darkness, clapped his open hand down on Tom's magazine he was carrying home to read again, and the resultant noise was a sharp crack. As it sounded a figure jumped from behind a tree and called tensely:
"Hold on there!"
Ned stopped short, thinking he was to be the victim of a holdup, but his fears were allayed when he beheld one of the police force of Shopton confronting him.
"I heard what you said about gettin' the gold," went on the officer. "I was walkin' along and I heard you talkin'. Where's your pal?"
"I haven't any, Mr. Newbold," answered Ned with a laugh, as he recognized the man.
"Oh, pshaw! It's Ned Newton!" exclaimed the disappointed officer. "I thought you was talkin' to a confederate about gold, and figured maybe you was goin' to rob the bank."
"No, nothing like that," answered Ned, still much amused. "I was talking to myself about a trip Tom Swift and I are going to take and——"
"Oh, that's all right," responded the policeman. "I can understand it, if it had anything to do with Tom. He's a great boy."
"Indeed he is," agreed Ned, making a mental resolve not to be so public with his thoughts in the future. He chatted for a moment with the officer, and then, bidding him good-night, walked on to his home, his mind in a whirl with conglomerate visions of buried cities, great grinning idols of gold, and rival professors seeking to be first at the goal.
The next few days were busy ones for Tom, Ned and, in fact, the whole Swift household. Tom and his father had several consultations and conducted several experiments in regard to the new stabilizer, the completion of which was so earnestly desired. Mr. Swift was sure he could carry the invention to a successful conclusion.
Ned was engaged in putting the financial affairs of the Swift Company in shape, so they would practically run themselves during his absence. Then, too, there was the packing of their baggage which must be seen to.
Of course, the main details of the trip were left to Professor Bumper, who knew just what to do. He had told Tom and Ned that all they and Mr. Damon would have to do would be to meet him at the pier in New York, where they would find all arrangements made.
One day, near the end of the week (the beginning of the next being set for the start) Eradicate came shuffling into the room where Tom was sorting out the possessions he desired to take with him, Ned assisting him in the task.
"Well, Rad, what is it?" asked Tom, with businesslike energy.
"I done heah, Massa Tom, dat yo' all's gwine off on a long trip once mo'. Am dat so?"
"Yes, that's so, Rad."
"Well, den, I'se come to ast yo' whut I'd bettah take wif me. Shall I took warm clothes or cool clothes?"
"Well, if you were going, Rad," answered Tom with a smile, "you'd need cool clothes, for we're going to a sort of jungle-land. But I'm sorry to say you're not going this trip."
"I—— I ain't gwine? Does yo' mean dat yo' all ain't gwine to take me, Massa Tom?"
"That's it, Rad. It isn't any trip for you."
"In certain not!" broke in the voice of Koku, the giant, who entered with a big trunk Tom had sent him for. "Master want strong man like a bull. He take Koku!"
"Look heah!" spluttered Eradicate, and his eyes flashed. "Yo'—yo' giant yo'—yo' may be strong laik a bull, but ya' ain't got as much sense as mah mule, Boomerang! Massa Tom don't want no sich pusson wif him. He's gwine to take me."
"He take me!" cried Koku, and his voice was a roar while he beat on his mighty chest with his huge fists.
Tom, seeing that the dispute was likely to be bothersome, winked at Ned and began to speak.
"I don't believe you'd like it there, Rad—not where we're going. It's a bad country. Why the mosquitoes there bite holes in you—raise bumps on you as big as eggs."
"Oh, good land!" ejaculated the old colored man. "Am dat so Massa Tom?"
"It sure is. Then there's another kind of bug that burrows under your fingernails, and if you don't get 'em out, your fingers drop off."
"Oh, good land, Massa Tom! Am dat a fact?"
"It sure is. I don't want to see those things happen to you, Rad."
Slowly the old colored man shook his head.
"I don't mahse'f," he said. "I—— I guess I won't go."
Eradicate did not stop to ask how Tom and Ned proposed to combat these two species of insects.
But there remained Koku to dispose of, and he stood smiling broadly as Eradicate shuffled of.
"Me no 'fraid bugs," said the giant.
"No," said Tom, with a look at Ned, for he did not want to take the big man on the trip for various reasons. "No, maybe not, Koku. Your skin is pretty tough. But I understand there are deep pools of water in the land where we are going, and in them lives a fish that has a hide like an alligator and a jaw like a shark. If you fall in it's all up with you."
"Dat true, Master Tom?" and Koku's voice trembled.
"Well, I've never seen such a fish, I'm sure, but the natives tell about it."
Koku seemed to be considering the matter. Strange as it may seem, the giant, though afraid of nothing human and brave when it came to a hand-to-claw argument with a wild animal, had a very great fear of the water and the unseen life within it. Even a little fresh-water crab in a brook was enough to send him shrieking to shore. So when Tom told of this curious fish, which many natives of Central America firmly believe in, the giant took thought with himself. Finally, he gave a sigh and said:
"Me stay home and keep bad mans out of master's shop."
"Yes, I guess that's the best thing for you," assented Tom with an air of relief. He and Ned had talked the matter over, and they had agreed that the presence of such a big man as Koku, in an expedition going on a more or less secret mission, would attract too much attention.
"Well, I guess that clears matters up," said Tom, as he looked over a collection of rifles and small arms, to decide which to take. "We won't have them to worry about."
"No, only Professor Beecher," remarked Ned, with a sharp look at his chum.
"Oh, we'll dispose of him all right!" asserted Tom boldly. "He hasn't had any experience in business of this sort, and with that you and Professor Bumper and Mr. Damon know we ought to have little trouble in getting ahead of the young man."
"Not to speak of your own aid," added Ned.
"Oh, I'll do what I can, of course," said Tom, with an air of indifference. But Ned knew his chum would work ceaselessly to help get the idol of gold.
Tom gave no sign that there was any complication in his affair with Mary Nestor, and of course Ned did not tell anything of what he knew about it.
That night saw the preparations of Ned and Tom about completed. There were one or two matters yet to finish on Tom's part in relation to his business, but these offered no difficulties.
The two chums were in the Swift home, talking over the prospective trip, when Mrs. Baggert, answering a ring at the front door, announced that Mr. Damon was outside.
"Tell him to come in," ordered Tom.
"Bless my baggage check!" exclaimed the excitable man, as he shook hands with Tom and Ned and noted the packing evidences all about. "You're ready to go to the land of wonders."
"The land of wonders?" repeated Ned.
"Yes, that's what Professor Bumper calls the part of Honduras we're going to. And it must be wonderful, Tom. Think of whole cities, some of them containing idols and temples of gold, buried thirty and forty feet under the surface! Wonderful is hardly the name for it!"
"It'll be great!" cried Ned. "I suppose you're ready, Mr. Damon—you and the professor?"
"Yes. But, Tom, I have a bit of unpleasant news for you."
"Yes. You know Professor Bumper spoke of a rival—a man named Beecher who is a member of the faculty of a new and wealthy college."
"I heard him speak of him—yes," and the way Tom said it no one would have suspected that he had any personal interest in the matter.
"He isn't going to give his secret away," thought Ned.
"Well, this Professor Beecher, you know," went on Mr. Damon, "also knows about the idol of gold, and is trying to get ahead of Professor Bumper in the search."
"He did say something of it, but nothing was certain," remarked Tom.
"But it is certain!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Bless my toothpick, it's altogether too certain!"
"How is that?" asked Tom. "Is Beecher certainly going to Honduras?"
"Yes, of course. But what is worse, he and his party will leave New York on the same steamer with us!"
TOM HEARS SOMETHING
On hearing Mr. Damon's rather startling announcement, Tom and Ned looked at one another. There seemed to be something back of the simple statement—an ominous and portending "something."
"On the same steamer with us, is he?" mused Tom.
"How did you learn this?" asked Ned.
"Just got a wire from Professor Bumper telling me. He asked me to telephone to you about it, as he was too busy to call up on the long distance from New York. But instead of 'phoning I decided to come over myself."
"Glad you did," said Tom, heartily. "Did Professor Bumper want us to do anything special, now that it is certain his rival will be so close on his trail?"
"Yes, he asked me to warn you to be careful what you did and said in reference to the expedition."
"Then does he fear something?" asked Ned.
"Yes, in a way. I think he is very much afraid this young Beecher will not only be first on the site of the underground city, but that he may be the first to discover the idol of gold. It would be a great thing for a young archaeologist like Beecher to accomplish a mission of this sort, and beat Professor Bumper in the race."
"Do you think that's why Beecher decided to go on the same steamer we are to take?" asked Ned.
"Yes, I do," said Mr. Damon. "Though from what Professor Bumper said I know he regards Professor Beecher as a perfectly honorable man, as well as a brilliant student. I do not believe Beecher or his party would stoop to anything dishonorable or underhand, though they would not hesitate, nor would we, to take advantage of every fair chance to win in the race."
"No, I suppose that's right," observed Tom; but there was a queer gleam in his eye, and his chum wondered if Tom did not have in mind the prospective race between himself and Fenimore Beecher for the regard of Mary Nestor. "We'll do our best to win, and any one is at liberty to travel on the same steamer we are to take," added the young inventor, and his tone became more incisive.
"It will be all the livelier with two expeditions after the same golden idol," remarked Ned.
"Yes, I think we're in for some excitement," observed Tom grimly. But even he did not realize all that lay before them ere they would reach Kurzon.
Mr. Damon, having delivered his message, and remarking that his preparations for leaving were nearly completed, went back to Waterfield, from there to proceed to New York in a few days with Tom and Ned, to meet Professor Bumper.
"Well, I guess we have everything in pretty good shape," remarked Tom to his chum a day or so after the visit of Mr. Damon. "Everything is packed, and as I have a few personal matters to attend to I think I'll take the afternoon off."
"Go to it!" laughed Ned, guessing a thing of two. "I've got a raft of stuff myself to look after, but don't let that keep you."
"If there is anything I can do," began Tom, "don't hesitate to——"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Ned. "I can do it all alone. It's some of the company's business, anyhow, and I'm paid for looking after that."
"All right, then I'll cut along," Tom said, and he wore a relieved air.
"He's going to see Mary," observed Ned with a grin, as he observed Tom hop into his trim little roadster, which under his orders, Koku had polished and cleaned until it looked as though it had just come from the factory.
A little later the trim and speedy car drew up in front of the Nestor home, and Tom bounded up on the front porch, his heart not altogether as light as his feet.
"No, I'm sorry, but Mary isn't in," said Mrs. Nestor, answering his inquiry after greeting him.
"Not at home?"
"No, she went on a little visit to her cousin's at Fayetteville. She said something about letting you know she was going."
"She did drop me a card," answered Tom, and, somehow he did not feel at all cheerful. "But I thought it wasn't until next week she was going."
"That was her plan, Tom. But she changed it. Her cousin wired, asking her to advance the date, and this Mary did. There was something about a former school chum who was also to be at Myra's house—Myra is Mary's cousin you know."
"Yes, I know," assented the young inventor. "And so Mary is gone. How long is she going to stay?"
"Oh, about two weeks. She wasn't quite certain. It depends on the kind of a time she has, I suppose."
"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Tom. "Well, if you write before I do you might say I called, Mrs. Nestor."
"I will, Tom. And I know Mary will be sorry she wasn't here to take a ride with you; it's such a nice day," and the lady smiled as she looked at the speedy roadster.
"Maybe—maybe you'd like to come for a spin?" asked Tom, half desperately.
"No, thank you. I'm too old to be jounced around in one of those small cars."
"Nonsense! She rides as easily as a Pullman sleeper."
"Well, I have to go to a Red Cross meeting, anyhow, so I can't come, Tom. Thank you, just the same."
Tom did not drive back immediately to his home. He wanted to do a bit of thinking, and he believed he could do it best by himself. So it was late afternoon when he again greeted Ned, who, meanwhile, had been kept very busy.
"Well?" called Tom's chum.
"Um!" was the only answer, and Tom called Koku to put the car away in the garage.
"Something wrong," mused Ned.
The next three days were crowded with events and with work. Mr. Damon came over frequently to consult with Tom and Ned, and finally the last of their baggage had been packed, certain of Tom's inventions and implements sent on by express to New York to be taken to Honduras, and then our friends themselves followed to the metropolis.
"Good-bye, Tom," said his father. "Good-bye, and good luck! If you don't get the idol of gold I'm sure you'll have experiences that will be valuable to you."
"We're going to get the idol of gold!" said Tom determinedly.
"Look out for the bad bugs," suggested Eradicate.
"We will," promised Ned.
Tom's last act was to send a message to Mary Nestor, and then he, with Ned and Mr. Damon, who blessed everything in sight from the gasoline in the automobile to the blue sky overhead, started for the station.
New York was reached without incident. The trio put up at the hotel where Professor Bumper was to meet them.
"He hasn't arrived yet," said Tom, after glancing over the names on the hotel register and not seeing Professor Bumper's among them.
"Oh, he'll be here all right," asserted Mr. Damon. "Bless my galvanic battery! he sent me a telegram at one o'clock this morning saying he'd be sure to meet us in New York. No fear of him not starting for the land of wonders."
"There are some other professors registered, though," observed Ned, as he glanced at the book, noting the names of several scientists of whom he and Tom had read.
"Yes. I wonder what they're doing in New York," replied Tom. "They are from New England. Maybe there's a convention going on. Well, we'll have to wait, that's all, until Professor Bumper comes."
And during that wait Tom heard something that surprised him and caused him no little worry. It was when Ned came back to his room, which adjoined Tom's, that the young treasurer gave his chum the news.
"I say, Tom!" Ned exclaimed. "Who do you think those professors are, whose names we saw on the register?"
"I haven't the least idea."
"Why, they're of Beecher's party!"
"You don't mean it!"
"I surely do."
"How do you know?"
"I happened to overhear two of them talking down in the lobby a while ago. They didn't make any secret of it. They spoke freely of going with Beecher to some ancient city in Honduras, to look for an idol of gold."
"They did? But where is Beecher?"
"He hasn't joined them yet. Their plans have been changed. Instead of leaving on the same steamer we are to take in the morning they are to come on a later one. The professors here are waiting for Beecher to come."
"Why isn't he here now?"
"Well, I heard one of the other scientists say that he had gone to a place called Fayetteville, and will come on from there."
"Fayetteville!" ejaculated Tom. "Yes. That isn't far from Shopton."
"I know," assented Tom. "I wonder—I wonder why he is going there?"
"I can tell you that, too."
"You can? You're a regular detective."
"No, I just happened to overhear it. Beecher is going to call on Mary Nestor in Fayetteville, so his friends here said he told them, and his call has to do with an important matter—to him!" and Ned gazed curiously at his chum.
OFF FOR HONDURAS
Just what Tom's thoughts were, Ned, of course, could not guess. But by the flush that showed under the tan of his chum's cheeks the young financial secretary felt pretty certain that Tom was a bit apprehensive of the outcome of Professor Beecher's call on Mary Nestor.
"So he is going to see her about 'something important,' Ned?"
"That's what some members of his party called it."
"And they're waiting here for him to join them?"
"Yes. And it means waiting a week for another steamer. It must be something pretty important, don't you think, to cause Beecher to risk that delay in starting after the idol of gold?"
"Important? Yes, I suppose so," assented Tom. "And yet even if he waits for the next steamer he will get to Honduras nearly as soon as we do."
"How is that?"
"The next boat is a faster one."
"Then why don't we take that? I hate dawdling along on a slow freighter."
"Well, for one thing it would hardly do to change now, when all our goods are on board. And besides, the captain of the Relstab, on which we are going to sail, is a friend of Professor Bumper's."
"Well, I'm just as glad Beecher and his party aren't going with us," resumed Ned, after a pause. "It might make trouble."
"Oh, I'm ready for any trouble HE might make!" quickly exclaimed Tom.
He meant trouble that might be developed in going to Honduras, and starting the search for the lost city and the idol of gold. This kind of trouble Tom and his friends had experienced before, on other trips where rivals had sought to frustrate their ends.
But, in his heart, though he said nothing to Ned about it, Tom was worried. Much as he disliked to admit it to himself, he feared the visit of Professor Beecher to Mary Nestor in Fayetteville had but one meaning.
"I wonder if he's going to propose to her," thought Tom. "He has the field all to himself now, and her father likes him. That's in his favor. I guess Mr. Nestor has never quite forgiven me for that mistake about the dynamite box, and that wasn't my fault. Then, too, the Beecher and Nestor families have been friends for years. Yes, he surely has the inside edge on me, and if he gets her to throw me over—— Well, I won't give up without a fight!" and Tom mentally girded himself for a battle of wits.
"He's relying on the prestige he'll get out of this idol of gold if his party finds it," thought on the young inventor. "But I'll help find it first. I'm glad to have a little start of him, anyhow, even if it isn't more than two days. Though if our vessel is held back much by storms he may get on the ground first. However, that can't be helped. I'll do the best I can."
These thoughts shot through Tom's mind even as Ned was asking his questions and making comments. Then the young inventor, shaking his shoulders as though to rid them of some weight, remarked:
"Well, come on out and see the sights. It will be long before we look on Broadway again."
When the chums returned from their sightseeing excursion, they found that Professor Bumper had arrived.
"Where's Professor Bumper?" asked Ned, the next day.
"In his room, going over books, papers and maps to make sure he has everything."
"And Mr. Damon?"
Tom did not have to answer that last question. Into the apartment came bursting the excited individual himself.
"Bless my overshoes!" he cried, "I've been looking everywhere for you! Come on, there's no time to lose!"
"What's the matter now?" asked Ned. "Is the hotel on fire?"
"Has anything happened to Professor Bumper?" Tom demanded, a wild idea forming in his head that perhaps some one of the Beecher party had tried to kidnap the discoverer of the lost city of Pelone.
"Oh, everything is all right," answered Mr. Damon. "But it's nearly time for the show to start, and we don't want to be late. I have tickets."
"For what?" asked Tom and Ned together.
"The movies," was the laughing reply. "Bless my loose ribs! but I wouldn't miss him for anything. He's in a new play called 'Up in a Balloon Boys.' It's great!" and Mr. Damon named a certain comic moving picture star in whose horse-play Mr. Damon took a curious interest. Tom and Ned were glad enough to go, Tom that he might have a chance to do a certain amount of thinking, and Ned because he was still boy enough to like moving pictures.
"I wonder, Tom," said Mr. Damon, as they came out of the theater two hours later, all three chuckling at the remembrance of what they had seen, "I wonder you never turned your inventive mind to the movies."
"Maybe I will, some day," said Tom.
He spoke rather uncertainly. The truth of the matter was that he was still thinking deeply of the visit of Professor Beecher to Mary Nestor, and wondering what it portended.
But if Tom's sleep was troubled that night he said nothing of it to his friends. He was up early the next morning, for they were to leave that day, and there was still considerable to be done in seeing that their baggage and supplies were safely loaded, and in attending to the last details of some business matters.
While at the hotel they had several glimpses of the members of the Beecher party who were awaiting the arrival of the young professor who was to lead them into the wilds of Honduras. But our friends did not seek the acquaintance of their rivals. The latter, likewise, remained by themselves, though they knew doubtless that there was likely to be a strenuous race for the possession of the idol of gold, then, it was presumed, buried deep in some forest-covered city.
Professor Bumper had made his arrangements carefully. As he explained to his friends, they would take the steamer from New York to Puerto Cortes, one of the principal seaports of Honduras. This is a town of about three thousand inhabitants, with an excellent harbor and a big pier along which vessels can tie up and discharge their cargoes directly into waiting cars.
The preparations were finally completed. The party went aboard the steamer, which was a large freight vessel, carrying a limited number of passengers, and late one afternoon swung down New York Bay.
"Off for Honduras!" cried Ned gaily, as they passed the Statue of Liberty. "I wonder what will happen before we see that little lady again."
"Who knows?" asked Tom, shrugging his shoulders, Spanish fashion. And there came before him the vision of a certain "little lady," about whom he had been thinking deeply of late.
"Rather tame, isn't it, Tom?"
"Well, Ned, it isn't exactly like going up in an airship," and Tom Swift who was gazing over the rail down into the deep blue water of the Caribbean Sea, over which their vessel was then steaming, looked at his chum beside him.
"No, and your submarine voyage had it all over this one for excitement," went on Ned. "When I think of that——"
"Bless my sea legs!" interrupted Mr. Damon, overhearing the conversation. "Don't speak of THAT trip. My wife never forgave me for going on it. But I had a fine time," he added with a twinkle of his eyes.
"Yes, that was quite a trip," observed Tom, as his mind went back to it. "But this one isn't over yet remember. And I shouldn't be surprised if we had a little excitement very soon."
"What do you mean?" asked Ned.
Up to this time the voyage from New York down into the tropical seas had been anything but exciting. There were not many passengers besides themselves, and the weather had been fine.
At first, used as they were to the actions of unscrupulous rivals in trying to thwart their efforts, Tom and Ned had been on the alert for any signs of hidden enemies on board the steamer. But aside from a little curiosity when it became known that they were going to explore little-known portions of Honduras, the other passengers took hardly any interest in our travelers.
It was thought best to keep secret the fact that they were going to search for a wonderful idol of gold. Not even the mule and ox-cart drivers, whom they would hire to take them into the wilds of the interior would be told of the real object of the search. It would be given out that they were looking for interesting ruins of ancient cities, with a view to getting such antiquities as might be there.
"What do you mean?" asked Ned again, when Tom did not answer him immediately. "What's the excitement?"
"I think we're in for a storm," was the reply. "The barometer is falling and I see the crew going about making everything snug. So we may have a little trouble toward this end of our trip."
"Let it come!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "We're not afraid of trouble, Tom. Swift, are we?"
"No, to be sure we're not. And yet it looks as though the storm would be a bad one."
"Then I am going to see if my books and papers are ready, so I can get them together in a hurry in case we have to take to the life-boats," said Professor Bumper, coming on deck at that moment. "It won't do to lose them. If we didn't have the map we might not be able to find——"
"Ahem!" exclaimed Tom, with unnecessary emphasis it seemed. "I'll help you go over your papers, Professor," he added, and with a wink and a motion of his hand, he enjoined silence on his friend. Ned looked around for a reason for this, and observed a man, evidently of Spanish extraction, passing them as he paced up and down the deck.
"What's the matter?" asked the scientist in a whisper, as the man went on. "Do you know him? Is he a——?"
"I don't know anything about him," said Tom; "but it is best not to speak of our trip before strangers."
"You are right, Tom," said Professor Bumper. "I'll be more careful."
A storm was brewing, that was certain. A dull, sickly yellow began to obscure the sky, and the water, from a beautiful blue, turned a slate color and ran along the sides of the vessel with a hissing sound as though the sullen waves would ask nothing better than to suck the craft down into their depths. The wind, which had been freshening, now sang in louder tones as it hummed through the rigging and the funnel stays and bowled over the receiving conductors of the wireless.
Sharp commands from the ship's officers hastened the work of the crew in making things snug, and life lines were strung along deck for the safety of such of the passengers as might venture up when the blow began.
The storm was not long in coming. The howling of the wind grew louder, flecks of foam began to separate themselves from the crests of the waves, and the vessel pitched, rolled and tossed more violently. At first Tom and his friends thought they were in for no more than an ordinary blow, but as the storm progressed, and the passengers became aware of the anxiety on the part of the officers and crew, the alarm spread among them.
It really was a violent storm, approaching a hurricane in force, and at one time it seemed as though the craft, having been heeled far over under a staggering wave that swept her decks, would not come back to an even keel.
There was a panic among some of the passengers, and a few excited men behaved in a way that caused prompt action on the part of the first officer, who drove them back to the main cabin under threat of a revolver. For the men were determined to get to the lifeboats, and a small craft would not have had a minute to live in such seas as were running.
But the vessel proved herself sturdier than the timid ones had dared to hope, and she was soon running before the blast, going out of her course, it is true, but avoiding the danger among the many cays, or small islands, that dot the Caribbean Sea.
There was nothing to do but to let the storm blow itself out, which it did in two days. Then came a period of delightful weather. The cargo had shifted somewhat, which gave the steamer a rather undignified list.
This, as well as the loss of a deckhand overboard, was the effect of the hurricane, and though the end of the trip came amid sunshine and sweet-scented tropical breezes, many could not forget the dangers through which they had passed.
In due time Tom and his party found themselves safely housed in the small hotel at Puerto Cortes, their belongings stored in a convenient warehouse and themselves, rather weary by reason of the stress of weather, ready for the start into the interior wilds of Honduras.
"How are we going to make the trip?" asked Ned, as they sat at supper, the first night after their arrival, eating of several dishes, the red-pepper condiments of which caused frequent trips to the water pitcher.
"We can go in two ways, and perhaps we shall find it to our advantage to use both means," said Professor Bumper. "To get to this city of Kurzon," he proceeded in a low voice, so that none of the others in the dining-room would hear them, "we will have to go either by mule back or boat to a point near Copan. As near as I can tell by the ancient maps, Kurzon is in the Copan valley.
"Now the Chamelecon river seems to run to within a short distance of there, but there is no telling how far up it may be navigable. If we can go by boat it will be much more comfortable. Travel by mules and ox-carts is slow and sure, but the roads are very bad, as I have heard from friends who have made explorations in Honduras.
"And, as I said, we may have to use both land and water travel to get us where we want to go. We can proceed as far as possible up the river, and then take to the mules."
"What about arranging for boats and animals?" asked Tom. "I should think——"
He suddenly ceased talking and reached for the water, taking several large swallows.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, when he could catch his breath. "That was a hot one."
"What did you do?" asked Ned.
"Bit into a nest of red pepper. Guess I'll have to tell that cook to scatter his hits. He's bunching 'em too much in my direction," and Tom wiped the tears from his eyes.
"To answer your question," said Professor Bumper, "I will say that I have made partial arrangements for men and animals, and boats if it is found feasible to use them. I've been in correspondence with one of the merchants here, and he promised to make arrangements for us."
"When do we leave?" asked Mr. Damon.
"As soon as possible. I am not going to risk anything by delay," and it was evident the professor referred to his young rival whose arrival might be expected almost any time.
As the party was about to leave the table, they were approached by a tall, dignified Spaniard who bowed low, rather exaggeratedly low, Ned thought, and addressed them in fairly good English.
"Your pardons, Senors," he began, "but if it will please you to avail yourself of the humble services of myself, I shall have great pleasure in guiding you into the interior. I have at my command both mules and boats."
"How do you know we are going into the interior?" asked Tom, a bit sharply, for he did not like the assurance of the man.
"Pardon, Senor. I saw that you are from the States. And those from the States do not come to Honduras except for two reasons. To travel and make explorations or to start trade, and professors do not usually engage in trade," and he bowed to Professor Bumper.
"I saw your name on the register," he proceeded, "and it was not difficult to guess your mission," and he flashed a smile on the party, his white teeth showing brilliantly beneath his small, black moustache.
"I make it my business to outfit traveling parties, either for business, pleasure or scientific matters. I am, at your service, Val Jacinto," and he introduced himself with another low bow.
For a moment Tom and his friends hardly knew how to accept this offer. It might be, as the man had said, that he was a professional tour conductor, like those who have charge of Egyptian donkey-boys and guides. Or might he not be a spy?
This occurred to Tom no less than to Professor Bumper. They looked at one another while Val Jacinto bowed again and murmured:
"At your service!"
"Can you provide means for taking us to the Copan valley?" asked the professor. "You are right in one respect. I am a scientist and I purpose doing some exploring near Copan. Can you get us there?"
"Most expensively—I mean, most expeditionlessly," said Val Jacinto eagerly. "Pardon my unhappy English. I forget at times. The charges will be most moderate. I can send you by boat as far as the river travel is good, and then have mules and ox-carts in waiting."
"How far is it?" asked Tom.
"A hundred miles as the vulture flies, Senor, but much farther by river and road. We shall be a week going."
"A hundred miles in a week!" groaned Ned. "Say, Tom, if you had your aeroplane we'd be there in an hour."
"Yes, but we haven't it. However, we're in no great rush."
"But we must not lose time," said Professor Bumper. "I shall consider your offer," he added to Val Jacinto.
"Very good, Senor. I am sure you will be pleased with the humble service I may offer you, and my charges will be small. Adios," and he bowed himself away.
"What do you think of him?" asked Ned, as they went up to their rooms in the hotel, or rather one large room, containing several beds.
"He's a pretty slick article," said Mr. Damon. "Bless my check-book! but he spotted us at once, in spite of our secrecy."
"I guess these guide purveyors are trained for that sort of thing," observed the scientist. "I know my friends have often spoken of having had the same experience. However, I shall ask my friend, who is in business here, about this Val Jacinto, and if I find him all right we may engage him."
Inquiries next morning brought the information, from the head of a rubber exporting firm with whom the professor was acquainted, that the Spaniard was regularly engaged in transporting parties into the interior, and was considered efficient, careful and as honest as possible, considering the men he engaged as workers.
"So we have decided to engage you," Professor Bumper informed Val Jacinto the afternoon following the meeting.
"I am more than pleased, Senor. I shall take you into the wilds of Honduras. At your service!" and he bowed low.
"Humph! I don't just like the way our friend Val says that," observed Tom to Ned a little later. "I'd have been better pleased if he had said he'd guide us into the wilds and out again."
If Tom could have seen the crafty smile on the face of the Spaniard as the man left the hotel, the young inventor might have felt even less confidence in the guide.
IN THE WILDS
"All aboard! Step lively now! This boat makes no stops this side of Boston!" cried Ned Newton gaily, as he got into one of the several tree canoes provided for the transportation of the party up the Chamelecon river, for the first stage of their journey into the wilds of Honduras. "All aboard! This reminds me of my old camping days, Tom."
It brought those days back, in a measure, to Tom also. For there were a number of canoes filled with the goods of the party, while the members themselves occupied a larger one with their personal baggage. Strong, half-naked Indian paddlers were in charge of the canoes which were of sturdy construction and light draft, since the river, like most tropical streams, was of uncertain depths, choked here and there with sand bars or tropical growths.
Finding that Val Jacinto was regularly engaged in the business of taking explorers and mine prospectors into the interior, Professor Bumper had engaged the man. He seemed to be efficient. At the promised time he had the canoes and paddlers on hand and the goods safely stowed away while one big craft was fitted up as comfortably as possible for the men of the party.
As Ned remarked, it did look like a camping party, for in the canoes were tents, cooking utensils and, most important, mosquito canopies of heavy netting.
The insect pests of Honduras, as in all tropical countries, are annoying and dangerous. Therefore it was imperative to sleep under mosquito netting.
On the advice of Val Jacinto, who was to accompany them, the travelers were to go up the river about fifty miles. This was as far as it would be convenient to use the canoes, the guide told Tom and his friends, and from there on the trip to the Copan valley would be made on the backs of mules, which would carry most of the baggage and equipment. The heavier portions would be transported in ox-carts.
As Professor Bumper expected to do considerable excavating in order to locate the buried city, or cities, as the case might be, he had to contract for a number of Indian diggers and laborers. These could be hired in Copan, it was said.
The plan, therefore, was to travel by canoes during the less heated parts of the day, and tie up at night, making camp on shore in the net-protected tents. As for the Indians, they did not seem to mind the bites of the insects. They sometimes made a smudge fire, Val Jacinto had said, but that was all.
"Well, we haven't seen anything of Beecher and his friends," remarked the young inventor as they were about to start.
"No, he doesn't seem to have arrived," agreed Professor Bumper. "We'll get ahead of him, and so much the better.
"Well, are we all ready to start?" he continued, as he looked over the little flotilla which carried his party and his goods.
"The sooner the better!" cried Tom, and Ned fancied his chum was unusually eager.
"I guess he wants to make good before Beecher gets the chance to show Mary Nestor what he can do," thought Ned. "Tom sure is after that idol of gold."
"You may start, Senor Jacinto," said the professor, and the guide called something in Indian dialect to the rowers. Lines were cast off and the boats moved out into the stream under the influence of the sturdy paddlers.
"Well, this isn't so bad," observed Ned, as he made himself comfortable in his canoe. "How about it, Tom?"
"Oh, no. But this is only the beginning."
A canopy had been arranged over their boat to keep off the scorching rays of the sun. The boat containing the exploring party and Val Jacinto took the lead, the baggage craft following. At the place where it flowed into the bay on which Puerto Cortes was built, the stream was wide and deep.
The guide called something to the Indians, who increased their stroke.
"I tell them to pull hard and that at the end of the day's journey they will have much rest and refreshment," he translated to Professor Bumper and the others.
"Bless my ham sandwich, but they'll need plenty of some sort of refreshment," said Mr. Damon, with a sigh. "I never knew it to be so hot."
"Don't complain yet," advised Tom, with a laugh. "The worst is yet to come."
It really was not unpleasant traveling, aside from the heat. And they had expected that, coming as they had to a tropical land. But, as Tom said, what lay before them might be worse.
In a little while they had left behind them all signs of civilization. The river narrowed and flowed sluggishly between the banks which were luxuriant with tropical growth. Now and then some lonely Indian hut could be seen, and occasionally a craft propelled by a man who was trying to gain a meager living from the rubber forest which hemmed in the stream on either side.
As the canoe containing the men was paddled along, there floated down beside it what seemed to be a big, rough log.
"I wonder if that is mahogany," remarked Mr. Damon, reaching over to touch it. "Mahogany is one of the most valuable woods of Honduras, and if this is a log of that nature——
"Bless my watch chain!" he suddenly cried. "It's alive!"
And the "log" was indeed so, for there was a sudden flash of white teeth, a long red opening showed, and then came a click as an immense alligator, having opened and closed his mouth, sank out of sight in a swirl of water.
Mr. Damon drew back so suddenly that he tilted the canoe, and the black paddlers looked around wonderingly.
"Alligator," explained Jacinto succinctly, in their tongue.
"Ugh!" they grunted.
"Bless my—bless my——" hesitated Mr. Damon, and for one of the very few times in his life his language failed him.
"Are there many of them hereabouts?" asked Ned, looking back at the swirl left by the saurian.
"Plenty," said the guide, with a shrug of his shoulders. He seemed to do as much talking that way, and with his hands, as he did in speech. "The river is full of them."
"Dangerous?" queried Tom.
"Don't go in swimming," was the significant advice. "Wait, I'll show you," and he called up the canoe just behind.
In this canoe was a quantity of provisions. There was a chunk of meat among other things, a gristly piece, seeing which Mr. Damon had objected to its being brought along, but the guide had said it would do for fish bait. With a quick motion of his hand, as he sat in the awning-covered stern with Tom, Ned and the others, Jacinto sent the chunk of meat out into the muddy stream.
Hardly a second later there was a rushing in the water as though a submarine were about to come up. An ugly snout was raised, two rows of keen teeth snapped shut as a scissors-like jaw opened, and the meat was gone.
"See!" was the guide's remark, and something like a cold shiver of fear passed over the white members of the party. "This water is not made in which to swim. Be careful!"
"We certainly shall," agreed Tom. "They're fierce."
"And always hungry," observed Jacinto grimly.
"And to think that I—that I nearly had my hand on it," murmured Mr. Damon. "Ugh! Bless my eyeglasses!"
"The alligator nearly had your hand," said the guide. "They can turn in the water like a flash, wherefore it is not wise to pat one on the tail lest it present its mouth instead."
They paddled on up the river, the dusky Indians now and then breaking out into a chant that seemed to give their muscles new energy. The song, if song it was, passed from one boat to the other, and as the chant boomed forth the craft shot ahead more swiftly.