Chapter XXIV. The Fight
 

The talk sounded more plainly now--a confused murmur of voices--many of them--the sound coming under the slowly raising stone doorway.

"Who can it be--there's a lot of them," murmured Ned.

Tom did not answer. Instead he silently sped back to where they had slept and got his automatic revolver.

"Better get yours," he said to his companions. "It may be a rescue party, though I don't see how any one could know we were in here, or it may be--"

He did not finish. They all knew what he meant, and a moment later four strained and anxious figures stood on the inner side of the stone door, revolvers in hand, awaiting what might be revealed to them. Would it be friend or foe?

At Tom's feet lay the golden head--the hollow head of the statue. The scene was illumined by a flickering gas torch--the last one, as the others had burned out.

Slowly the stone went up, very slowly, for it was exceedingly heavy and the mechanism that worked it was primitive. Up and up it went until now a man could have crawled under. Ned made a motion as if he was going to do so, but Tom held him back.

Slowly and slowly it went up. On the other side was a very babble of voices now--voices speaking a strange tongue. Tom and his companions were silent.

Then, above the other voices, there sounded the tones of some one speaking English. Hearing it Tom started, and still more as he noted the tones, for he heard this said:

"We'll be inside in a minute, dad, and I guess we'll show Tom Swift that he and his crowd can't fool us. We've got to the city of gold first!"

"Andy Foger!" hoarsely whispered Tom to Ned.

The next moment the stone gate went up with a rush, and there, in the light of the gas torch, and in the glare of many burning ones of wood, held by a throng of people on the other side, stood Andy Foger, his father, Delazes, and a horde of men who looked as wild as savages.

For a moment both parties stood staring at one another, too startled to utter a sound. Then as Tom noticed that some of the natives, who somewhat resembled the ancient Aztecs, had imitation human heads stuck on the ends of poles or spears, he uttered two words;

"Head-hunters!"

Like a flash there came to him the warning of the African missionary: "Beware of the head-hunters!" Now they were here--being led on by the Mexican and the Fogers--the enemies of our friends.

For another moment there was a silence, and then Andy Foger cried out:

"They're here! Tom Swift and his party! They got here first and they may have all the gold!"

"If they have they will share it with us!" cried Delazes fiercely.

"Quick!" Tom called hoarsely to Ned, Mr. Damon and Eradicate. "We've got to fight. It's the only way to save our lives. We must fight, and when we can, escape, get to the airship and sail away. It's a fight to the finish now."

He raised his automatic revolver, and, as he did so one of the savages saw the golden head of the statue lying at Tom's feet. The man uttered a wild cry and called out something in his unknown tongue. Then he raised his spear and hurled it straight at our hero.

Had not Mr. Damon pulled Tom to one side, there might have been a different ending to this story. As it was the weapon hissed through the air over the head of the young inventor. The next minute his revolver spat lead and fire, but whether he hit any one or not he could not see, as the place was so filled with smoke, from the powder and from the torches. But some one yelled in pain.

"Crouch down and fire!" ordered Tom. "Low down and they'll throw over our heads." It was done on the instant, and the four revolvers rang out together.

There were howls of pain and terror and above them could be heard the gutteral tones of Delazes, while Andy Foger yelled:

"Look out dad! Here, help me to get behind something or I may be hit. Mr. Delazes, can't you tell those savages to throw spears at Tom Swift and his gang?"

"They are doing it, Senor Foger," replied the Mexican. "Oh, why did I not think to bring my gun! We haven't one among us." Then he called some command to the head-hunters who had apparently been enlisted on the side of himself and the two Fogers.

The automatic revolvers were soon emptied, and the place was now so full of smoke that neither party could see the other. The torches burned with a red glare.

"Reload!" ordered Tom, "and we'll make a rush for it! We can't keep this up long!"

It took but an instant to slip in another lot of cartridges and then, on Tom's advice, they slipped the catches to make the automatic weapons simple ones, to be fired at will.

They sent several more shots through the door-way but no cries of pain followed, and it was evident that their enemies had stepped back out of the line of fire.

"Now's our chance!" cried Tom. "The way is clear. Come on!"

He and the others dashed forward, Tom carrying the golden head, though it was hard work. It was not very heavy but it was awkward.

As they rushed through the now open gateway they crouched low to avoid the spears, but, as it was one grazed Tom's shoulder, and Eradicate was pierced in the fleshy part of his arm.

"Forward! Forward!" cried Tom. "Come on!"

And on they went, through the smoke and darkness, Ned flashing his electric torch which gave only a feeble glow as the battery was almost exhausted. On and on! Now they were through the stone gateway, now out in the long tunnel.

Behind them they could hear feet running, and several spears clattered to the stone floor. Lights flickered behind them.

"If only the river bed is dry!" gasped Tom. "We may yet escape. But if they've filled the channel--"

He did not dare think of what that would mean as he ran on, turning occasionally to fire, for he and the others had again reloaded their revolvers.