Chapter VII. Tom Makes a Promise
 

It may well be imagined that the cable warning sent by Mr. Illingway caused our friends considerable anxiety. Coming as it did, almost at the last minute, so brief--giving no particulars--it was very ominous. Yet Tom was not afraid, nor did any of the others show signs of fear.

"Bless my shotgun!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as he looked at the few words on the paper which Tom passed around. "I wish Mr. Illingway had said more about the head-hunters--or less."

"What do you mean?" asked Ned.

"Well, I wish he'd given us more particulars, told us where we might be on the lookout for the head-hunters, what sort of chaps they were, and what they do to a fellow when they catch him."

"Their name seems plainly to indicate what they do," spoke Mr. Swift grimly. "They cut off the head of their enemies, like that interesting Filipino tribe. But perhaps they may not get after you. If they do--"

"If they do," interrupted Tom with a laugh, "we'll hop in our dirigible balloon, and get above their heads, and then I guess we can give a good account of ourselves. But would you rather Mr. Illingway had said less about them, Mr. Damon?"

"Yes, I wish, as long as he couldn't tell us more, that he'd kept quiet about them altogether. It's no fun to be always on the lookout for danger. I'm afraid it will get on my nerves, to be continually looking behind a rock, or a tree, for a head-hunter. Bless my comb and brush!"

"Well, 'forewarned is forearmed,'" quoted Ned. "We won't think anything more about them. It was kind of Mr. Illingway to warn us, and perhaps the head-hunters have all disappeared since that white traveler was after the city of gold. Some story which he told his friends, the natives in Africa, is probably responsible for the missionary's warning. Let's check over our lists of supplies, Tom, and see if we have everything down!"

"Can't you do that alone, Ned?"

"Why?" and Ned glanced quickly at his chum. Mr. Damon and Mr. Swift had left the room.

"Well, I've get an engagement--a call to make, and--"

"Enough said, old man. Go ahead. I know what it is to be in love. I'll check the lists. Go see--"

"Now don't get fresh!" advised Tom with a laugh, as he went to his room to get ready to pay a little visit.

"I say, Tom," called Ned after him. "What about Eradicate? Are you going to take him along? He'd be a big help."

"I know he would, but he doesn't want to go. He balked worse than his mule Boomerang when I spoke about an underground city. He said he didn't want to be buried before his time. I didn't tell him we were going after gold, for sometimes Rad talks a bit too much, and I don't want our plans known."

"But I did tell him that Mexico was a great place for chickens, and that he might see a bull fight."

"Did he rise to that bait?"

"Not a bit of it. He said he had enough chickens of his own, and he never did like bulls anyhow. So I guess we'll have to get along without Rad."

"It looks like it. Well, go and enjoy yourself. I'll wait here until you come back, though I know you'll be pretty late, but I want to make sure of our lists."

"All right, Ned," and Tom busied himself with his personal appearance, for he was very particular when going to call on young ladies.

A little later he was admitted to her house by Miss Mary Nestor, and the two began an animated conversation, for this was in the nature of a farewell call by Tom.

"And you are really about to start off on your wild search?" asked the girl. "My! It seems just like something out of a book!"

"Doesn't it?" agreed Tom. "However, I hope there's more truth in it than there is in some books. I should hate to be disappointed, after all our preparation, and not find the buried city after all."

"Do you really think there is so much gold there?"

"Of course there's a good deal of guesswork about it," admitted the young inventor, "and it may be exaggerated, for such things usually are when a traveler has to depend on the accounts of natives."

"But it is certain that there is a big golden image in the interior of Africa, and that it came from Mexico. Mr. Illingway isn't a person who could easily be deceived. Then, too, the old Aztecs and their allies were wonderful workers in gold and silver, for look at what Cortez and his soldiers took from them."

"My! This is quite like a lecture in history!" exclaimed Mary with a laugh. "But it's interesting. I wonder if there are any small, golden images there, as you say there are so many in the underground city."

"Lots of them!" exclaimed Tom, as confidently as though he had seen them. "I'll tell you what I'll do, Mary. I'll bring you back one of these golden images for an ornament. It would look nice on that shelf I think," and Tom pointed to a vacant space on the mantle. "I'll bring you a large one or a small one, or both, Mary."

"Oh, you reckless boy! Well, I suppose it would be nice to have two, for they must be very valuable. But I'm not going to tax you too much. If you bring me back two small ones, I'll put one down here and the other--"

She paused and blushed slightly.

"Yes, and the other," suggested Tom.

"I'll put the other up in my room to remember you by," she finished with a laugh, "so pick out one that is nicely carved. Some of those foreign ones, such as the Chinese have, are hideous."

"That's right," agreed Tom, "and I'll see that you get a nice one. Those Aztecs used to do some wonderful work in gold and silver carving. I've seen specimens in the museum."

Then the two young people fell to talking of the wonderful trip that lay before Tom, and Mary, several times, urged him to be careful of the dangers he would be likely to encounter.

Tom said nothing to her of the head-hunters. He did not want to alarm Miss Nestor, and then, too, he thought the less he allowed his mind to dwell on that unpleasant feature of the journey, the less likely it would be to get on the nerves of all of them.

Ned was right when he predicted that Tom would make quite a lengthy visit. There was much to talk about and he did not expect to see Mary again for some time. But finally he realized that he must leave, and with a renewed promise to bring back with him the two small gold images, and after saying good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Nestor, Tom took his leave.

"If you get marooned in the underground city, Tom," said Mr. Nestor, "I hope you can rig up a wireless outfit, and get help, as you did for us on Earthquake Island."

"I hope so," answered our hero with a laugh, and then, a little saddened by his farewell, and pondering rather solemnly on what lay before him--the dangers of travel as well as those of the head- hunters--Tom hastened back to his own home.

The young inventor found Ned busy over the list of supplies, diligently checking it and comparing it with the one originally made out, to see that nothing had been omitted. Mr. Damon had gone to his room, for he was to remain at the Swift house until he left with the gold-hunting expedition.

"Oh, you've got back, have you?" asked Tom's chum, with a teasing air. "I thought you'd given up the trip to the city of gold."

"Oh, cheese it!" invited Tom. "Come on, now I'll help you. Where's Eradicate? I want him to go out and see that the shop is locked up."

"He was in here a while ago and he said he was going to look after things outside. He told me quite a piece of news."

"What was it?"

"It seems that the Foger house has been sold, the furniture was all moved out to-day, and the family has left, bag and baggage. I asked Rad if he had heard where to, and he said someone down in the village was saying that Andy and his father have engaged passage on some ship that sails day after to-morrow."

"Day after to-morrow!" cried Tom. "Why, that's when ours sails! I hope Andy didn't hear enough of our plans that night to try to follow us."

"It would be just like him," returned Ned, "but I don't think they'll do it. They haven't enough information to go on. More likely Mr. Foger is going to try some new ventures to get back his lost fortune."

"Well, I hope he and Andy keep away from us. They make trouble everywhere they go. Now come on, get busy."

And, though Tom tried to drive from his mind the thoughts of the Fogers, yet it was with an uneasy sense of some portending disaster that he went on with the work of preparing for the trip into the unknown. He said nothing to Ned about it, but perhaps his chum guessed.

"That'll do," said Tom after an hour's labor. "We'll call it a night's work and quit. Can't you stay here--we've got several spare beds."

"No, I'm expected home."

"I'll walk a ways with you," said Tom, and when he had left his chum at his house our hero returned by a street that would take him past the Foger residence. It was shrouded in darkness.

"Everybody's cleared out," said Tom in a low voice as he glance at the gloomy house. "Well, all I hope is that they don't camp on our trail."