Chapter XV. In the "Palace" of the King
 

For a few moments after their first ejaculations neither Tom nor Ned knew what to do. The giant continued to gaze at them, with the same good-natured grin on his face. Possibly he was amused at the small size of the persons in the tent. Then Tom spoke.

"He doesn't look as if he would bite, Ned."

"No, he seems harmless enough. Let's get up, and see what happens. I wonder if there are any more of them? They must have come out on an early hunt, and stumbled upon our camp."

At this moment there arose a cry from Mr. Damon's tent.

"Bless my burglar alarm!" shouted the odd gentleman. "Tom--Ned--am I dreaming? There's a man here as big as a mountain. Tom! Ned!"

"It's all right, Mr. Damon!" called Tom. "We're among the giants all right. They won't hurt you."

"Fo' de good land ob massy!" screamed Eradicate, a second later, and then they knew that he, too, had seen one of the big men. "Fo' de lub ob pork chops! Am dis de Angel Gabriel? Listen to de blowin' ob de trump! Oh, please good Massa Angel Gabriel, I ain't nebber done nuffin! I's jest po' ol' Eradicate Sampson, an' I got a mule Boomerang, and' dat's all I got. Please good Mr. Angel--"

"Dry up, Rad!" yelled Tom. "It's only one of the giants. Come on out of your tent and get breakfast. We're on the borders of giant land, evidently, and they seem as harmless as ordinary men. Get up, everybody."

As Tom spoke he rose from the rubber blanket on which he slept. Ned did the same, and the giant slowly pulled his head out from the tent. Then the two youths went outside. A strange sight met their gaze.

There were about ten natives standing in the camp--veritable giants, big men in every way. The young inventor had once seen a giant in a circus, and, allowing for shoes with very thick soles which the big man wore, his height was a little over seven feet. But these South American giants seemed more than a foot higher than that, none of those who had stumbled upon the camp being less than eight feet.

"And I believe there must be bigger ones in their land, wherever that is," said Tom. Nor were these giants tall and thin, as was the one Tom had seen, but stout, and well proportioned. They were savages, that was evident, but the curious part of it was that they were almost white, and looked much like the pictures of the old Norsemen.

But, best of all, they seemed good-natured, for they were continually laughing or smiling, and though they looked with wonder on the pile of boxes and bales, and on the four travelers, they seemed more bewildered and amused, than vindictive that their country should have been invaded. Evidently the fears of the natives who had told Tom about the giants had been unfounded.

By this time Mr. Damon and Eradicate had come from their tents, and were gazing with startled eyes at the giants who surrounded them.

"Bless my walking stick!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Is it possible?"

"Yes, we've arrived!" cried Tom. "Now to see what happens. I wonder if they'll take us to their village, and I wonder if I can get one of these giants for Mr. Preston's circus?"

"You certainly can't unless he wants to come," declared Ned. "You'd have a hard tussle trying to carry one of these fellows away against his will, Tom."

"I sure would. I'll have to make inducements. Well, I wonder what is best to do?"

The giant who had looked in the tent of Ned and Tom, and who appeared to be the leader of the party, now spoke in his big, booming voice. He seemed to be asking Tom a question, but the young inventor could not understand the language. Tom replied in Spanish, giving a short account of why he and his companions had come to the country, but the giant shook his head. Then Mr. Damon, who knew several languages, tried all of them--but it was of no use.

"We've got to go back to signs," declared Tom, and then, as best he could, he indicated that he and the others had come from afar to seek the giants. He doubted whether he was understood, and he decided to wait until later to try and make them acquainted with the fact that he wanted one of them to come back with him.

The head giant nodded, showing that at least he understood something, and then spoke to his companions. They conversed in their loud voices for some time, and then motioned to the pack animals.

"I guess they want us to come along," said Torn, "but let's have breakfast first. Rad, get things going. Maybe the giants will have some coffee and condensed milk, though they'll have to take about ten cupsful to make them think they've had anything. Make a lot of coffee, Rad."

"But good land a massy, dey'll eat up eberyt'ing we got, Massa Tom," objected the colored man.

"Can't help it, Rad. They're our guests and we've got to be polite," replied the youth. "It isn't every day that we have giants to breakfast."

The big men watched curiously while Rad built a fire, and when the colored man was trying to break a tough stick of wood with the axe, one of the giants picked up the fagot and snapped it in his fingers as easily as though it were a twig, though the stick was as thick as Tom's arm.

"Some strength there," murmured Ned to his chum admiringly.

"Yes, if they took a notion to go on a rampage we'd have trouble. But they seem kind and gentle."

Indeed the giants did, and they liked the coffee which they tasted rather gingerly at first. After their first sip they wanted more, made as sweet as possible, and they laughed and talked among themselves while Eradicate boiled pot after pot.

"Dey suah will eat us out of house an' home, Massa Tom," he wailed.

"Never mind, Rad. They will feed us well when we get to their town."

Then the pack animals were laden with their burdens. This was always a task, but for the giants it was child's play. With one hand they would lift a box or bale that used to tax the combined strength of the four travelers, and soon the steers, horses and mules were ready to proceed. The giants went on ahead, to show the way, the first one, who seemed to be called "Oom," for that was the way his companions addressed him, walked beside Tom, who rode on a mule. In fact the giant had to walk slowly, so as not to get ahead of the animal. Oom tried to talk to Tom, but it was hard work to pick out the signs that meant something, and so neither gained much information.

Tom did gather, however, that the giants were out on an early hunt when they had discovered our friends, and their chief town lay about half a day's journey off in the jungle. The path along which they proceeded, was better than the forest trails, and showed signs of being frequently used.

"It doesn't seem possible that we are really among giants, Tom," spoke Ned, as they rode along. "I hardly believed there were giants."

"There always have been giants," declared the young inventor. "I read about them in an encyclopedia before I started on this trip. Of course there's lots of wild stories about giants, but there have really been some very big men. Take the skeleton in the museum of Trinity College, Dublin. It is eight feet and a half in height, and the living man must have even taller. There was a giant named O'Brien, and his skeleton is in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of England--that one is eight feet two inches high, while there are reliable records to show that, when living, O'Brien was two inches taller than that. In fact, according to the books, there have been a number of giants nine feet high."

"Then these chaps aren't so wonderful," replied Ned.

"Oh, we haven't seen them all yet. We may find some bigger than these fellows, though any one of these would be a prize for a museum. Not a one is less than eight feet, and if we could get one say ten feet--that would be a find."

"Rather an awkward one," commented Ned.

It did not seem possible that they were really in giant land, yet such was the fact. Of course the country itself was no different from any other part of the jungle, for merely because big men lived in it did not make the trees or plants any larger.

"I tell you how I account for it," said Tom, as they traveled on. "These men originally belonged to a race of people noted for their great size. Then they must have lived under favorable conditions, had plenty of flesh and bone-forming food, and after several generations they gradually grew larger. You know that by feeding the right kind of food to animals you can make them bigger, while if they get the wrong kind they are runts, or dwarfs."

"Oh, yes; that's a well-known fact," chimed in Mr. Damon.

"Then why not with human beings?" went on Tom. "There's nothing wonderful in this."

"No, but it will be wonderful if we get away with one of these giants," spoke Ned grimly.

Further talk was interrupted by a sudden shouting on the part of the big men. Oom made some rapid motions to Tom, and a little later they emerged from the woods upon a large, grassy plain, on the other side of which could be seen a cluster of big grass and mud huts.

"There is the city of the giants!" cried Tom, and so it proved, a little later, when they got to it.

Now there was nothing remarkable about this city or native town. It was just like any other in the wilder parts of South America or Africa. There was a central place, where, doubtless, the natives gathered on market days, and from this the huts of the inhabitants stretched out in irregular lines, like streets. Off to one side of the "market square," as Tom called it, was a large hut, surrounded by several smaller ones, and from the manner in which it was laid out, and decorated, it was evident that this was the "palace" of the king, or chief ruler.

"Say, look at that fellow!" cried Ned, pointing to a giant who was just entering the "palace" as Tom dubbed the big hut. "He looks eleven feet if he's an inch."

"I believe you!" cried Tom. "Say, I wonder how big the king is?"

"I don't know, but he must be a top-notcher. I wonder what will happen to us?"

Oom, who had Tom and his party in charge, led them to the "palace" and it was evident that they were going to be presented to the chief or native king. Back of our friends stretched out their pack train, the beasts carrying the boxes and bales. Surrounding them were nearly all the inhabitants of the giants' town, and when the cavalcade had come to a halt in front of the "palace," Oom raised his voice in a mighty shout. It was taken up by the populace, and then every one of them knelt down.

"I guess His Royal Highness is about to appear," said Tom grimly.

"Yes, maybe we'd better kneel, too," spoke Ned.

"Not much! We're citizens of the United States, and we don't kneel to anybody. I'm going to stand up."

"So am I!" said Mr. Damon.

An instant later the grass mat that formed the front door of the "palace" was drawn aside, and there stood confronting our hero and his friends, the King of Giant Land. And a mighty king was he in size, for he must have been a shade over ten feet tall, while on either side of him was a man nearly as big as himself.

Once more Oom boomed out a mighty shout and, kneeling as the giants were, they took it up, repeating it three times. The king raised his hand as though in blessing upon his people, and then, eyeing Tom and his three friends he beckoned them to approach.

"He wants to see us at close range," whispered the young inventor. "Come on, Ned and Mr. Damon. Trail along, Eradicate."

"Good--good land ob massy!" stammered the colored man. And then the little party advanced into the "palace" of the giant king.