Chapter XXV. The Escape--Conclusion
 

The noise behind our friends increased. There were shouts of rage, yells of anger at the escape of the prey. High above the other voices were the shrill war-cries of the head-hunters--the savages with their grewsome desires.

"Can--can we make it, Tom?" panted Ned.

They were almost at the river channel now, and in another instant they had reached it.

By the feeble rays of Ned's electric torch they saw with relief that it was empty, though they would have given much to see just a trickle of water in it, for they were almost dead from thirst.

Together they climbed up the other side, and as yet their pursuers had not reached the brink. For one moment Tom had a thought of working the black knob, and flooding the channel, but he could not doom even the head-hunters, much less the Fogers and Delazes, to such a death as that would mean.

On ran Tom and his companions, but now they could glance back and see the foremost of the other crowd dipping down into the dry channel.

"The steps! The steps!" suddenly cried Ned, when they had run a long distance, as a faint gleam of daylight beyond shewed the opening beneath the stone altar. "We're safe now."

"Hardly, but a few minutes will tell," said Tom. "The balloon is in shape for a quick rise, and then we'll leave this horrible place behind."

"And all the gold, too," murmured Ned regretfully. "We've got some," said Mr. Damon, "and I wouldn't take a chance with those head- hunters for all the gold in the underground city."

"Same here!" panted Tom. Then they were at the steps and ran up them.

Out into the big auditorium they emerged, weak and faint, and toward the hidden dirigible balloon they rushed.

"Quick!" cried Tom, as he climbed into the car, followed by Mr. Damon and Eradicate. "Shove it right under the broken dome, Ned, and I'll turn on the gas machine. It's partly inflated."

A moment later the balloon was right below the big opening. The blue sky showed through it--a welcome sight to our friends. The hiss of the gas was heard, and the bag distended still more.

"Hop in!" cried Tom. "She'll go up I guess."

"There they come!" shouted Ned, as he spoke the foremost of the head-hunters emerged from the hole beneath the stone altar. He was followed by Delazes.

"Stop them! Get them! Spear them!" cried the contractor. They evidently thought our friends had all the gold from the underground city.

Fortunately the temple was so large that the balloon was a good distance from the hole leading to the tunnel, and before the foremost of the head-hunters could reach it the dirigible began to rise.

"If they throw their spears, and puncture the bag in many places we're done for," murmured Tom. But evidently the savages did not think of this, though Delazes screamed it at them.

Up went the balloon, and not a moment too soon, for one of the head- hunters actually grabbed the edge of the car, and only let go when he found himself being lifted off the temple floor.

Up and up it went and, as it was about to emerge from the broken dome, Tom looked down and saw a curious sight.

Mr. Foger and Andy, who brought up in the rear of the pursuing and attacking party, had just emerged from the hole by the great stone altar when there suddenly spouted from the same opening a solid column of water. A cry of wonder came from all as they saw the strange sight. A veritable geyser was now spurting in the very middle of the temple floor, and the head-hunters, the Mexicans and the Fogers ran screaming to get out of the way.

"Look!" cried Ned. "What happened?"

"The underground river must be running the wrong way!" answered Tom, as he prepared to set in motion the motor. "Either they accidentally turned some hidden lever, or when they raised the stone door they did it. The tunnel is flooded and--"

"Bless my match box! So is the underground city!" cried Mr. Damon. "I guess we've seen the last of it and its gold. We were lucky to escape with our lives, and these fellows might have been drowned like rats in a trap, if they hadn't followed us. The underground city will never be discovered again."

"And now for home!" cried Tom, when they had eaten and drunk sparingly until they should get back their strength, and had seen to their slight wounds.

"And our trip wasn't altogether a failure," said Mr. Damon. "We'd have had more gold if the stone door hadn't trapped us. But I guess we have enough as it is. I wonder how the Fogers ever found us?"

"They must have followed our trail, though how we'll never know and they came up to where Delazes and his men were, joined forces with them, and hunted about until they found the temple," remarked Tom. "Then they saw the opening, went down, and found the stone door."

"But how did they get it open? and what were they doing with the head-hunters, and why didn't the head-hunters attack them?" Ned wanted to know.

"Well, I guess perhaps Delazes knew how to handle those head- hunters," replied Tom. "They may be a sort of lost tribe of Mexicans, and perhaps their ancestors centuries ago owned the city of gold. At any rate I think some of them knew the secret of raising the door." And later Tom learned in a roundabout way from the Fogers that this was so. The father and son had after much hardship joined forces with Delazes and he, by a promise of the heads of the party of our friends, and much tobacco, had gained the head-hunters as allies.

On and on sailed the balloon and our friends regained their strength after partaking of the nourishing food. They looked at their store of gold and found it larger than they had thought. Soon they left far behind them the great plain of the ruined temple, which, had they but known it was a lake now, for the underground river, perhaps by some break in the underground mechanism that controlled it, or a break in the channel, overflowed and covered temple, plain and underground city with water many fathoms deep.

"Are we going all the way home in the balloon?" asked Ned on the second day of their voyage in the air, when they had stopped to make slight repairs.

"No, indeed," replied Tom. "As soon as we get to some city where we can pack it up, and ship our gold without fear of being robbed, I'm coming to earth, and go home in a steamer."

This plan was carried out; and a week later, with the gold safely insured by an express company, and the balloon packed for transportation, our friends went to a railroad station, and took a train for Tampico, there to get a steamer for New York.

"Bless my top knot!" exclaimed Mr. Damon a few days after this, as they were on the vessel. "I think for queer adventures this one of ours in the city of gold, Tom, puts it all over the others we had."

"Oh, I don't know," answered the young inventor, "we certainly had some strenuous times in the past, and I hope we'll have some more in the future."

"The same here," agreed Ned.

And whether they did or not I will leave my readers to judge if they peruse the next book in this series, which will be called, "Tom Swift and His Air Glider; Or, Seeking the Platinum Treasure."

They arrived safely in Shopton in due course of time, and found Mr. Swift well. They did not become millionaires, for they found, to their regret that their gold was rather freely alloyed with baser metals, so they did not have more than half the amount in pure solid gold. But there was a small fortune in it for all of them.

In recognition of Mr. Illingway, the African missionary having put Tom on the track of the gold, a large sum was sent to him, to help him carry on his work of humanity.

Tom had many offers for the big golden head, but he would not sell it, though he loaned it to a New York museum, where it attracted much attention. There were many articles written about the underground city of gold from the facts the young inventor furnished.

Eventually the Fogers got home, but they did not say much about their experiences, and Tom and his friends did not think it worth while to prosecute them for the attack. As for Delazes, Tom never saw nor heard from him again, not in all his reading could he find any account of the head-hunters, who must have been a small, little known tribe.

"And you really kept your promise, and brought me a golden image?" asked Mary Nestor of Tom, when he called on her soon after reaching home.

"Indeed I did, the two that I promised and a particularly fine one that I picked up almost at the last minute," and Tom gave her the valuable relics.

"And now tell me about it," she begged, when she had admired them, and then sat down beside Tom: and there we will leave our hero for the present, as he is in very good company, and I know he wouldn't like to be disturbed.

THE END