Chapter XXII. Trapped
 

"Well, that sure is a big statue!" exclaimed Ned as he walked around it.

"An' to t'ink dat it's solid gold!" cried Eradicate his eyes big with wonder. "I suah wish I had dat all fo' mahse'f!"

"We never could carry that in the balloon," spoke Tom with a shake of his head. "I guess we'll have to leave it here. But I would like to take say the head. It would be worth a lot as a relic to some museum--worth more than the value of the gold itself. I've a notion to do it."

"How could you get the head off?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Oh, pull the statue down or overturn it, as the American patriots did to the Bowling Green, New York, lead statue of King George III during the Revolutionary days," answered Tom. "I think that's what I'll do."

"I say, look here!" called Ned, who had made a circuit of the statue. "There's some sort of an inscription here. See if you can read it, Tom."

They went around to the front of the big, golden image where Ned stood. On a sort of a plate, with raised letters, was an inscription in a strange language. Part of it seemed to be the name of the person or god whom the statue represented, and what followed none could make out.

"It's something like the ancient Greek or Persian language," declared Mr. Damon, who was quite a scholar. "I can make out a word here and there, and it seems to be a warning against disturbing the statue, or damaging it. Probably it was put there to warn small boys thousands of years ago, if they ever allowed small boys in this place."

"Does it say what will be done to whoever harms the statue?" asked Tom with a laugh.

"Probably it does, but I can't make out what it is," answered Mr. Damon.

"Then here goes to see if we can't overturn it and hack off the head," went on Tom. "I've got a sharp little hatchet, and gold is very soft to cut. Over she goes."

"You never can upset that statue," declared Ned.

"Yes, I can," cried the young inventor. "I brought a long, thin, but very strong rope with me, and I think if we all pull together we can do it."

Tom made a noose and skillfully threw it over the head of the statue. It settled about the neck, and then, all taking hold, and walking away a short distance, they gave a "long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether."

At first the statue would not move, but when they strained on the rope, the image suddenly tilted, and, a moment later it tumbled to the stone pavement. But the fall was not as heavy as should have resulted from a statue of solid metal. There was a tinkling sound.

"That's queer!" cried Tom. "It didn't make half the fuss I expected," and he hurried up to look at the fallen statue. "Why!" he cried in astonishment, "it's hollow--the big golden statue is hollow--it's a fake!"

And so it was. The big image was only a shell of gold.

"Not so valuable as it looked," commented Ned. "We could take that with us in the balloon, if it wasn't so big."

"Well, here goes for the head, anyhow!" exclaimed Tom, and with a few blows of his keen little axe he severed the neck. As he held it up for all to see--rather a grewsome sight it was, too, in the flickering light of the gas torches--there sounded throughout the underground city, a dull, booming noise, like distant thunder.

"What's that?" cried Ned.

"Bless my bath sponge!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "I hope the water isn't rising in the river."

"Oh land a massy!" gasped Eradicate.

Without a word Tom dropped the golden head and made for the street that led to the tunnel. The others followed, and soon caught up to the young inventor. On and on they ran, with only the light of their electric flash torches to guide them. Suddenly Tom stopped.

"Go on!" cried Ned. "See what's happened! Go on!"

"I can't," answered Tom, and they all wondered at his voice. "There's a big block of stone across the tunnel, and I can't go another step. The stone gate has fallen. We're trapped here in the underground city of gold!"

"Bless my soul! The tunnel closed?" cried Mr. Damon.

"Look," said Tom simply and in hopeless tones, as he flashed his light. And there, completely filling the tunnel, was a great block of stone, fitting from ceiling to floor and from side wall to side wall, completely cutting off all escape.

"Trapped!" gasped Ned. "The Mexicans or Andy Foger did this."

"No, I don't think so," spoke Tom solemnly. "I think the pulling down of the statue released this stone gate. We trapped ourselves. Oh, why didn't I leave the statue alone!"

"That can't have done it!" declared Ned.

"We can soon tell," spoke Mr. Damon. "Let's go back and look. Later maybe we can raise the block," and they returned to the fallen gold statue. Tom casting back a hopeless look at the barrier that had buried them alive in the city of gold.