Chapter XIV. In Giant Land
 

When it first became sure that San Pedro and the other natives had deserted--fled in the night, for fear of the giants--there was a reactionary feeling of despondency and gloom among Tom and his three friends. But the boldness and energy of the young inventor, his vigorous words, his determination to proceed at any cost to the unknown land that lay before them--these served as a tonic, and after a few moments, Ned, Mr. Damon, and even Eradicate looked at things with brighter spirits.

"Do you really mean it, Tom?" asked Ned. "Will you go on to giant land?"

"I surely will, if we can find it. Why, we found the city of gold all alone, you and Mr. Damon and I, and I don't see why we can't find this land, especially when all we have to do is to march forward."

"But look at the lot of stuff we have to carry!" went on Ned, waving his hand toward the heap of packs that the mule drivers had left behind.

"Bless my baggage check, yes!" added Mr. Damon. "We can never do it. Tom. We had better leave it here, and try to get back to civilization."

"Never!" cried Tom. "I started off after a giant, and I'm going to get one, if I can induce one of the big men to come back with me. I'm not going to give up when we're so close. We can get more pack animals, I'm sure. I'm going to have a try for it. If I can't speak the language of these natives I can make signs. Come on, Ned, we'll pay a morning visit to the chief."

"I'll come along," added Mr. Damon.

"That's right," replied the young inventor. "Rad, you go stand guard over our stuff. Some of the natives might not be able to withstand temptation. Don't let them touch anything."

"Dat's what I won't, Massa Tom. Good land a massy! ef I sees any ob 'em lay a finger on a pack I'll shoot off my shotgun close to der ears, so I will. Oh, ef I only had Boomerang here, he could carry mos' all ob dis stuff his own se'f."

"You've got a great idea of Boomerang's strength," remarked Tom with a laugh, as he and Ned and Mr. Damon started for the big hut where the chief lived.

"Do you really think San Pedro and the others left because they were afraid of the giants we might meet?" asked Ned.

"I think so," answered his chum.

"Bless my toothpick!" gasped Mr. Damon. "In that case maybe we'd better be on the lookout ourselves."

"Time enough to worry when we get there," answered the young inventor. "From what the circus man said the giants are not particularly cruel. Of course Mr. Preston didn't have much information to go on, but--well, we'll have to wait--that's all. But I'm sure San Pedro and the others were in a blue funk and vamoosed on that account."

"Hey, Massa Tom!" suddenly called Eradicate. "Heah am a letter I found on de baggage," and he ran forward with a missive, rudely scrawled on a scrap of paper.

"It's from San Pedro," remarked Tom after a glance at it, "and it bears out what I said. He writes that he and his men never suspected that we were going after the giants, or they would never have come with us. He says they are very sorry to leave us, as we treated them well, but are afraid to go on. He adds that they have taken enough of our bartering goods to make up their wages, and enough food to carry them to the next village."

"Well," finished Tom. as he folded the paper, "I suppose we can't kick, and, maybe after all, it will be for the best. Now to see if the chief can let us have some mules."

It took some time, by means of signs, to make the chief understand what had happened, but, when Tom had presented him with a little toy that ran by a spring, and opened up a pack of trading goods, which he indicated would be exchanged for mules, or other beasts of burden, the chief grinned in a friendly fashion, and issued certain orders.

Several of his men hurried from the big hut, and a little later, when Tom was showing the chief how to run the toy, there was a sound of confusion outside.

"Bless my battle axe!" cried Mr. Damon. "I hope that's not another war going on."

"It's our new mules!" cried Ned, taking a look. "And some cows and a bony horse or two, Tom. We've drawn a rich lot of pack animals!"

Indeed there was a nondescript collection of beasts of burden. There were one or two good mules, several sorry looking horses, and a number of sleepy-eyed steers. But there were enough of them to carry all the boxes and bales that contained the outfit of our friends.

"It might be worse," commented Tom. "Now if they'll help us pack up we'll travel on."

More sign language was resorted to, and the chief, after another present had been made to him, sent some of his men to help put the packs on the animals. The steers, which Tom did not regard with much favor, proved to be better than the mules, and by noon our friends were all packed up again, and ready to take the trail. The chief gave them a good dinner,--as native dinners go,--and then, after telling them that, though he had never seen the giants it had long been known that they inhabitated the country to the north, he waved a friendly good-bye.

"Well, we'll see what luck we'll have by ourselves," remarked Tom, as he mounted a bony mule, an example followed by Ned, Mr. Damon and Eradicate, They had left behind some of their goods, and so did not have so much to carry. Food they had in condensed form and they were getting into the more tropical part of the country where game abounded.

It was not as easy as they had imagined it would be for, with only four to drive so many animals, several of the beasts were continually straying from the trail, and once a big steer, with part of the aeroplane on its back, wandered into a morass and they had to labor hard to get the animal out.

"Well, this is fierce!" exclaimed Tom, at the end of the first day when, tired and weary, bitten by insects, and torn by jungle briars, they made camp that night.

"Going to give up?" asked Ned.

"Not much!"

They felt better after supper, and, tethering the animals securely, they stretched out in their tents, with mosquito canopies over them to keep away the pestering insects.

"I've got a new scheme," announced Tom next morning at breakfast.

"What is it? Going on the rest of the way in the aeroplane?" asked Ned hopefully.

"No, though I believe if I had brought the big airship along I could have used it. But I mean about driving the animals. I'm going to make a long line of them, tying one to the other like the elephants in the circus when they march around, holding each other's tails. Then one of us will ride in front, another in the rear, and one on each side. In that way we'll keep them going and they won't stray off."

"Bless my button hook!" cried Mr. Damon. "That's a good idea, Tom!" It was carried out with much success, and thereafter they traveled better.

But even at the best it was not easy work, and more than once Tom's friends urged him to turn back. But he would not, ever pressing on, with the strange land for his goal. They had long since passed the last of the native villages, and they had to depend on their own efforts for food. Fortunately they did not have any lack of game, and they fared well with what they had with them in the packs.

Occasionally they met little bands of native hunters, and, though usually these men fled at the sight of our friends, yet once they managed to make signs to one, who, informed them as best he could, that giant land was still far ahead of them.

Twice they heard distant sounds of native battles and the weird noise of the wooden drums and the tom-toms. Once, as they climbed up a big hill, they looked down into a valley and saw a great conflict in which there must have been several thousand natives on either side. It was a fierce battle, seen even from afar, and Tom and the others shuddered as they slipped down over the other side of the rise, and out of sight.

"We'd better steer clear of them," was Tom's opinion; and the others agreed with him.

For another week they kept on, the way becoming more and more difficult, and the country more and more wild. They had fairly to cut their way through the jungle at times, and the only paths were animal trails, but they were better than nothing. For the last five days they had not seen a human being, and the loneliness was telling on them.

"I'd be glad to see even a two-headed giant," remarked Tom whimsically one night as they made their camp.

"Yes, and I'd be glad to hear someone talk, even in the sign language," added Ned, with a grin.

They slept well, for they were very tired, and Tom, who shared his tent with Ned, was awakened rather early the next morning by hearing someone moving outside the canvas shelter.

"Is that you, Mr. Damon?" he asked, the odd gentleman having a tent adjoining that of the boys.

There was no answer.

"Rad, are you getting breakfast?" asked the young inventor. "What time is it?"

Still no answer.

"What's the matter?" asked Ned, who had been awakened by Tom's inquiries.

Before our hero had a chance to reply the flap of his tent was pulled back, and a head was thrust in. But such a head! It was enormous! A head covered with a thick growth of tawny hair, and a face almost hidden in a big tawny, bushy beard. Then an arm was thrust in--an arm that terminated in a brawny fist that clasped a great club. There was no mistaking the, object that gazed in on the two youths. It was a gigantic man--a man almost twice the size of any Tom had ever seen. And then our hero knew that he had reached the end of his quest.

"A giant!" gasped Tom. "Ned! Ned, we're in the big men's country, and we didn't know it!"

"I--I guess you're right, Tom!"

The giant started at the sounds of their voices, and then his face breaking into a broad grin, that showed a great mouth filled with white teeth, he called to them in an unknown tongue and in a voice that seemed to fairly shake the frail tent.