Chapter XVI. The Rival Circus Man
 

Tom Swift gazed fearlessly into the face of the giant ruler who confronted him. The young inventor said later that he had made up his mind that to show no fear was the only way of impressing the big king, for surely no show of strength could have done it. With one hand the giant could have crushed the life from our hero. But evidently he had no such intentions, for after gazing curiously at the four travelers who stood before him, and looking for some time at the honest, black face of Eradicate, the king made a motion for them to sit down. They did, upon grass mats in the big hut that formed the palace of the ruler.

It was not a very elaborate place, but then the king's wants were few and easily satisfied. The place was clean, Tom was glad to note.

The king, who was addressed by his subjects as Kosk, as nearly as Tom could get it, asked some questions of Oom, who seemed to be the chief of the hunters. Thereupon the man who had looked into Tom's and Ned's tent that morning, and who had followed them into the palace, began a recital of how he had found the little travelers. Though Tom and his friends could not understand a word of the language, it was comparatively easy to follow the narrative by the gestures used.

Then the king asked several questions, others of the hunting party were sent for and quizzed, and finally the ruler seemed satisfied, for he rattled off a string of talk in his deep, booming voice.

Truly he was a magnificent specimen of manhood, being as I have said, about ten feet tall, and built in proportion. On either side of him, upon rude benches covered with soft jaguar skins, sat two men, evidently his brothers, for they looked much like the king. One was called Tola and the other Koku, for the ruler addressed them from time to time, and seemed to be asking their advice.

"They're making up their minds what to do with us," murmured Tom. "I only hope they let us stay long enough to learn the language, and then I can make an offer to take one back to the United States with me."

"Jove! Wouldn't it be great if you could get the king!" exclaimed Ned.

"Oh, that's too much, but I'd like one of his brothers. They're each a good nine feet tall, and they must be as strong as horses."

In contrast to some giants of history, whose only claim to notoriety lay in their height, these giants were very powerful. Many giants have flabby muscles, but these of South America were like athletes. Tom realized this when there suddenly entered the audience chamber a youth of about our hero's age, but fully seven feet tall, and very big. He was evidently the king's son, for he wore a jaguar skin, which seemed to be a badge of royalty. He had seemingly entered without permission, to see the curious strangers, for the king spoke quickly to him, and then to Tola, who with a friendly grin on his big face lifted the lad with one hand and deposited him in a room that opened out of the big chamber.

"Did you see that!" cried Ned. "He lifted him as easily as you or I would a cat, and I'll bet that fellow weighed close to four hundred pounds, Tom."

"I should say so! It's great!"

The audience was now at an end, and Tom thought it was about time to make some sort of a present to the king to get on good terms with him. He looked out of the palace hut and saw that their pack animals were close at hand. Nearby was one that had on its back a box containing a phonograph and some records.

Making signs that he wanted to bring in some of his baggage, Tom stepped out of the hut, telling his friends to wait for him. The king and the other giants watched the lad curiously, but did not endeavor to stop him.

"I'm going to give him a little music," went on the young inventor as he adjusted the phonograph, and slipped in a record of a lively dance air. His motions were curiously watched, and when the phonograph started and there was a whirr of the mechanism, some of the giants who had crowded into the king's audience chamber, showed a disposition to run. But a word of command from their ruler stopped them.

Suddenly the music started and, coming forth as it did from the phonograph horn, in the midst of that hut, in which stood the silence-awed giants, it was like a bolt of lightning from the clear sky.

At first the king and all the others seemed struck dumb, and then there arose a mighty shout, and one word was repeated over and over again. It sounded like "Chackalok! Chackalok!" and later Tom learned that it meant wizard, magician or something like that.

Shout after shout rent the air, and was taken up by those outside, for through the open door the strains of music floated. The giants seemed immensely pleased, after their first fright, and suddenly the king, coming down from his throne, stood with his big ear as nearly inside the horn as he could get it.

A great grin spread over his face and then, approaching Tom, he leaned over, touched him once on the forehead, and uttered a word. At this sign of royal favor the other giants at once bowed to Tom.

"Say," cried Ned, "you've got his number all right! You're one of the royal family now, Tom."

"It looks like it. Well, I'm glad of it, for I want to be on friendly terms with His Royal Highness."

Once more the king addressed Tom, and the head hunter, motioning to Tom and his friends, led them out of the palace, and to a large hut not far off. This, he made himself understood by signs, was to be their resting place, and truly it was not a bad home, for it was well made. It had simple furniture in it, low couches covered with skins, stools, and there were several rooms to it.

Calling in authorative tones to his fellow hunters, Tom had them take the packs off the beasts of burdens and soon the boxes, bales and packages were carried into the big hut, which was destined to be the abiding place of our friends for some time. The animals were then led away.

"Well, here we are, safe and sound, with all our possessions about us," commented Tom, when all but Oom had withdrawn. "I guess we'll make out all right in giant land. I wonder what they have to eat? Or perhaps we'd better tackle some of our own grub."

He looked at Oom, who laughed gleefully. Then Tom rubbed his stomach, opened his mouth and pointed to it and said: "We'd like to eat--we're hungry!"

Oom boomed out something in his bass voice, grinned cheerfully, and hurried out. A little later he came back, and following him, a number of giant women. Each one bore a wooden platter or slab of bark which answered for a plate. The plates were covered with broad palm leaves, and when they had been set down on low benches, and the coverings removed, our friends saw they had food in abundance.

There was some boiled lamb, some roasted fowls, some cereal that looked like boiled rice, some sweet potatoes, a number of other things which could only be guessed at, and a big gourd filled with something that smelled like sweet cider.

"Say, this is a feast all right, after what we've been living on!" cried Tom.

Once more Oom laughed joyfully, pointing to the food and to our friends in turn.

"Oh, we'll eat all right!" exclaimed Tom. "Don't worry about that!"

The good-natured giant showed them where they could find rude wooden dishes and table implements, and then he left them alone. It was rather awkward at first, for though the bench or table looked low in comparison to the size of the room, yet it was very high, to allow for the long legs of the giants getting under it.

"If we stay here long enough we can saw off the table legs," said the young inventor. "Now for our first meal in giant land."

They were just helping themselves when there arose a great shouting outside.

"I wonder what's up now?" asked Tom, pausing with upraised fork.

"Maybe the king is coming to see us," suggested Ned.

"I'll look," volunteered Mr. Damon, as he went to the door. Then he called quickly:

"Tom! Ned! Look! It's that minister we met on the ship--Reverend Josiah Blinderpool! How in the world did he ever get here? And how strangely he's dressed!"

Well might Mr. Damon say this, for the supposed clergyman was attired in a big checked suit, a red vest, a tall hat and white canvas shoes. In fact he was almost like some theatrical performer.

The gaudily-dressed man was accompanied by two natives, and all rode mules, and there were three other animals, laden with packs on either side.

"What's his game?" mused Ned.

The answer came quickly and from the man himself. Riding forward toward the king's hut or palace, while the populace of wondering giants followed behind, the man raised his voice in a triumphant announcement.

"Here at last!" he cried. "In giant land! And I'm ahead of Tom Swift for all his tricks. I've got Tom Swift beat a mile."

"Oh, you have!" shouted our hero with a sudden resolve, as he stepped into view. "Well, you've got another guess coming. I'm here ahead of you, and there's standing room only."

"Tom Swift!" gasped the rival circus man. "Tom Swift here in ahead of me!"