Chapter XVII. Held Captives
 

There was a great commotion among the giants. Men, women and children ran to and fro, and a number of the largest of the big men could be seen hurrying into the palace hut of King Kosk. If the arrival of Tom and his friends had created a surprise it was more than doubled when the circus man, and his small caravan, advanced into the giants' city. His approach had been unheralded because the giants were so taken up with Tom and his party that no one thought to guard the paths leading into the village. And, as a matter of fact, the giants were so isolated, they were so certain of their own strength, and they had been unmolested so many years, that they did not dream of danger.

As for our hero, he stood in the hut gazing at his rival, while Hank Delby, in turn, stared at the young inventor. Then Hank dismounted from his mule and approached Tom's hut.

"Bless my railroad ticket!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "This is a curious state of affairs! What in the world are we to do, Tom?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. We'll have to wait until we see what he does. He's been following us all along. He was that fake minister on the boat. It's a wonder we didn't get on to him. I believe he's been trying to learn our secret ever since Mr. Preston warned us about him. Now he's here and he'll probably try to spoil our chances for getting a giant so that he may get one for himself. Perhaps Andy Foger gave him a tip about our plans."

"But can't we stop him?" asked Ned.

"I'm going to try!" exclaimed Tom grimly.

"Here he comes," spoke Mr. Damon quickly. "I wonder what he wants?"

Hank Delby had started toward the big hut that sheltered our friends, while the gathered crowd of curious giants looked on and wondered what the arrival of two white parties so close together could mean.

"Well, what do you want?" asked Tom, when, his rival had come within speaking distance.

"There's no use beating about the bush with you, Tom Swift," was the frank answer. "I may as well out with it. I came after a giant, and I'm going to get one for Mr. Waydell."

"Then you took advantage of our trail, and followed us?" asked the young inventor.

"Oh, you can put it that way if you like," replied Delby calmly. "I have followed you, and a hard time I've had of it. I tried to do it quietly, but you got on to my tricks. However it doesn't matter. I'm here now, and I'm going to beat you out if I can."

"I remember now!" exclaimed Ned whispering in Tom's ear, "he was disguised as one of the mule drivers and you fired him because he had a revolver. Don't you remember, Tom?"

"That's right!" exclaimed the young inventor as he noted the face and form of Delby more closely. Then our hero added: "You played a low-down trick, Mr. Delby, and it won't do you any good. I caught you trying to sneak along in my company and I'll catch you again. I'm here first, and I've got the best right to try and get a giant for Mr. Preston, and if you had any idea of fair play--"

"All's fair in this business, Tom Swift," was the quick answer. "I'm going to do my best to beat you, and I expect you to do your best to beat me. I can't speak any fairer than that. It's war between us, from now on, and you might as well know it. One thing I will promise you, though, if there's any danger of you or your party getting hurt by these big men I'll fight on your side. But I guess they are too gentle to fight."

"We can look after ourselves," declared Tom. "And since it's to be war between us look out for yourself."

"Don't worry!" exclaimed Tom's rival with a laugh. "I've gone through a lot to get here, and I'm not going to give up without a struggle. I guess--"

But he did not finish his sentence for at that moment Oom, the big hunting giant, came up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and pointed to the king's hut, motioning to indicate that Mr. Delby was wanted there.

"Very good," said the circus agent in what he tried to make sound like a jolly voice, "I'm to call on his majesty; am I? Here's where I beat you to it, Tom Swift."

Tom did not answer, but there was a worried look on his face, as he turned to join his friends in the big hut. And, as he looked from a window, and saw Delby being led into the presence of Kosk, Tom could hear the strains of the big phonograph he had presented to the king.

"I guess his royal highness will remain friends with us," said Ned with a smile, as he heard the music. "He can see what a lot of presents and other things we have, and as for that Delby, he doesn't seem to have much of anything."

"Oh, I haven't shown half the things I have as yet," spoke Tom. "But I don't like this, just the same. Those giants may turn from us, and favor him on the slightest pretence. I guess we've got our work cut out for us."

"Then let's plan some way to beat him," suggested Mr. Damon. "Look over your goods, Tom, and make the king a present that will bind his friendship to us."

"I believe I will," decided the young inventor and then he and Ned began overhauling the boxes and bales, while a crowd of curious giants stood without their hut, and another throng surrounded the palace of the giant king.

"There goes Delby out to get something from his baggage," announced Ned, looking from the window. Tom saw his rival taking something from one of the packs slung across the back of a mule. Soon the circus agent hurried back into the king's hut, and a moment later there was heard the strains of a banjo being picked by an unpracticed hand. It was succeeded by a rattling tune played in good style.

"Bless my fiddlestick!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "Does your phonograph have a banjo record, Tom?"

"No." was the somewhat hesitating answer of the young inventor. "Delby who can play a banjo himself must have given Kosk one for a present, and, like a child, the king is amused by the latest novelty. So far he has scored one on us," he added, as once more they heard the unmelodious strains of the banjo slowly picked. "The king is evidently learning to play the instrument, and he'd rather have that than a phonograph, which only winds up."

"But haven't you some other things you can give the king to off-set the banjo?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Plenty of them," replied Tom. "But if I give him--say a toy steam engine, for I have one among our things--what is to prevent Delby giving him some other novelty that will take his attention? In that way we'll sea-saw back and forth, and I guess Delby has had more experience in this business than I have. It's going to be a question which of us gets a giant."

"Bless my reserved seat ticket!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I never heard of such a thing! But, Tom, I'm sure we'll win out."

"Get something startling to give the king," advised Ned, and Tom began opening one of the boxes that had been transported with such labor from the coast.

"Delby had much better luck with his mule drivers than we did Tom," remarked Ned as he saw the two natives standing by the pack animals of the rival circus man. "They evidently didn't get scared off by the giants."

"No, but probably he didn't tell them where they were headed for. Though, as a matter of fact, I don't believe any one has anything to fear from these big men. All they ask is to be let alone. They're not at all warlike, and I don't believe they'd attack the other natives. But probably their size makes them feared, and when our drivers heard the word 'giant' they simply wilted."

"Guess you're right. But come on, Tom. If we're going to make the king a present that will open his eyes, and get him on our side instead of Delby's, we'd better be getting at it."

"I will. This is what I'm going to give him," and Tom brought out from a box a small toy circus, with many performing animals and acrobats, the whole being worked by a small steam engine that burned alcohol for fuel. A little water put in the boiler of the toy engine, a lighting of the alcohol wick and there would be a toy that even a youngster of the United States might be proud to own.

"Mah land a massy!" exclaimed Eradicate as Tom got the apparatus ready to work. "Dat shore will please him!"

"It ought to," replied the young inventor. "Come on, now I'm ready."

Delby had not yet come from the king's hut, and as Tom and his friends, bearing the new toy, were about to leave the structure that had been set aside for their use, they saw a crowd of the giant men approaching. Each of the big men carried a club and a spear.

"Bless my eye glasses!" gasped Mr. Damon. "Something is wrong. What can it be?"

He had his answer a moment later. With a firm but gentle motion the chief giant shoved our four friends back into the hut, and then pulled the grass mat over the opening. Then, as Tom and the others could see by looking from a crack, he and several others took their position in front, while other giants went to the various windows, stationing themselves outside like sentries around a guard house.

"Bless my--" began Mr. Damon, but words failed him.

"We're prisoners!" gasped Ned.

"It looks like it," admitted Tom grimly. "Evidently Delby has carried out his threat and set the king against us. We are to be held captives here, and he can do as he pleases. Oh, why didn't I think sooner."