Chapter XIX. Weak Giants
 

A great silence followed the setting off of the fireworks--silence and darkness--and even the circus man ceased to shout. He wanted to see what the effect would be. So did Tom and the others. When their eyes had become used to the gloom again, after the glare of the rockets and bombs, the young inventor said:

"Look out of the windows, Ned, and see if our guards have run away."

Ned did as requested, but for a few seconds he could make out nothing. Then he cried out:

"They've gone, but they're coming back again, and there are twice as many. I guess they don't want us to escape, Tom, for fear we may do a lot of damage."

"Bless my hitching post!" cried Mr. Damon. "The guards doubled? We are in a predicament, Tom."

"Yes, I'm afraid so. The fireworks didn't just have the effect I expected. I thought they'd be glad to let us go, fearing that we could work magic, and might turn it on them. Most of the natives are deadly afraid of magic, the evil eye, witch doctors, and stuff like that. But evidently we've impressed the giants in the wrong way. If we could only speak their language now, we could explain that unless they let us go we might destroy their village, though of course we wouldn't do anything of the kind. If we could only speak their language but we can't."

"Do you suppose they understood what Delby said?" asked Ned.

"Not a bit of it! He was just desperate when he yelled out that way. He saw that we had an advantage on him--or at least I thought we did, but I guess we didn't," and Tom gazed out of the windows in front of each of which stood two of the largest giants. By means of the torches it could be seen that the circus man was being taken to another hut, some distance away from the royal one. Then, after an awed silence, there broke out a confused talking and shouting among the giant population, that was drawn up in a circle a respectful distance from the hut where the captives were confined. Doubtless they were discussing what had taken place, hoping and yet fearing, that there might be more fireworks.

"Well, we might as well go to bed," declared Tom at length. "We can't do any more to-night, and I'm dead tired. In the morning we can talk over new plans. My box of tricks isn't exhausted yet."

In spite of their strange captivity our friends slept well, and they did not awaken once during the night, for they had worked hard that day, and were almost exhausted. In the morning they looked out and saw guards still about the hut.

"Now for a good breakfast, and another try!" exclaimed Tom, as he washed in a big earthen jar of water that had been provided. Freshened by the cool liquid, they were made hungry for the meal which was brought to them a little later. They noticed that the women cooks looked at them with fear in their eyes, and did not linger as they had done before. Instead they set down the trays of food and hurried away.

"They're getting to be afraid of us," declared Tom. "If we could only talk their language--"

"By Jove!" suddenly interrupted Ned. "I've just thought of something. Jake Poddington you know--the agent for Mr. Preston who so mysteriously disappeared."

"Well, what about him?" asked Tom. "Did you see him?"

"No, but he may be here--a captive like ourselves. If he is he's been here long enough to have learned the language of the giants, and if he could translate for us, we wouldn't have any trouble. Why didn't we think of it before? If we could only find Mr. Poddington!"

"Yes, if we only could," put in Tom. "But it's a slim chance. I declare I've forgotten about him in the last few days, so many things have happened. But what makes you think he is here, Ned?"

"Why he started for giant land, you'll remember, and he may have reached here. Oh, if we could only find him, and save him and save ourselves!"

"It would be great!" admitted Tom. "But I'm afraid we can't do it. There's a chance, though, that Mr. Poddington may be here, or may have been here. If we could only get out and make some explorations or some inquiries. It's tough to be cooped up here like chickens."

Tom looked from the window, vainly hoping that the guards might have been withdrawn. The giants were still before the windows and doors.

For a week this captivity was kept up, and in that time Tom and his friends had occasional glimpses of Hank Delby going to and from the king's hut. His majesty himself was not seen, but there appeared to be considerable activity in the giant village.

From their prison-hut the captives could see the native market held in the big open space, and giants from surrounding towns and the open country came in to trade. There were also curious about the white captives, and there was a constant throng around the big hut, peering in. So also there was about the hut where the circus man had his headquarters. Delby seemed to be free to come and go as he choose.

"I guess he's laying his plans to take a giant or two away with him," remarked Tom one day. "I wonder what will become of us, when he does go?"

It was a momentous question, and no one could answer it. Tom was doing some hard thinking those days. Two weeks passed and there was no change. Our friends were still captives in giant land. They had tried, by signs, to induce their guards to take some message to the king, but the giants refused with shakes of their big heads.

Yet the adventurers could not complain of bad treatment. They were well fed, and the guards seemed good natured, laughing among themselves, and smiling whenever they saw any of the captives. But let Tom or some of the others, step across the threshold of the door, and they were kindly, but firmly, shoved back.

"It's of no use!" exclaimed Tom in despair one day, after a bold attempt to walk out. "We've got to do something. If we can't get word to the king we've got to plan some way to gain the friendship, or work on the fear of the guards. We have about the same crowd every time. If we can scare them they may keep far enough off so we can have a chance to escape."

"Escape! That's the thing!" cried Mr. Damon. "Why can't we put the airship together in this hut, Tom, and fly away in it?"

"We can, when the right time comes--if it ever does--but first we've got to work on the guards. Let me see what I can do? Ha! I have it. Ned, come here, I want your help. I'm going to show these giants that, with all their strength, I can make each of them as weak as a baby, and, at the same time prove that they can't lift even a light weight."

"How you going to do it?" asked Mr. Damon.

"I'll soon show you. Come on, Ned."

Tom and his chum were busy for several days among the various boxes and bales that formed the baggage. They rigged up two pieces of apparatus which I will describe in due time. They also opened several boxes of trinkets and trading goods, which had been brought along for barter. These they distributed among the guards, and, though the giants were immensely pleased, they did not get friendly enough to walk off and leave our friends free to do as they pleased.

"Well, I guess we're ready for the lesson now," remarked Tom one afternoon, when they had been held captives for about three weeks. "If they won't respond to gentle treatment we'll try some other kind of persuasion."

The guards had become so friendly of late that some of them often spent part of the day inside the hut, looking at the curious things Tom and his party had brought with them. This was just what the young inventor wanted, as he was now ready to give them a second lesson in white man's magic.

Tom and Ned had learned a few words of the giant's language, which was quite simple, though it sounded hard, and one day, after he had shown them simple toys, the young inventor brought forth a simple- looking box, with two shining handles.

"Here is a little thing," explained Tom, partly by words, and partly by using signs, "a simple little thing which, if one of you will but take hold of, you cannot let go of again until I move my finger. Do you believe that a small white man like myself can make this little thing stronger than a giant?" he asked.

One of the biggest of the guards shook his head.

"Try," invited Tom. "Take hold of the handles. At first you will be able to let go easily. But, when I shall move my finger though but a little, you will be held fast. Then, another movement, and you will be loose again. Can I do it?"

Once more the giant shook his head.

"Try," urged Tom, and he put the two shining handles into the big palms of the giant. The native grinned and some of his companions laughed. Then to show how easy it was he let go. He took hold again.

"Now!" cried Tom, and he moved his finger.

Instantly the giant leaped up into the air. He uttered a howl that seemed to shake the very roof of the hut, and his arms were as rigid as poles. They were drawn up in knots, and though he tried with all his great might, he could not loose his fingers from the shiny handles. He howled in terror, and his companions murmured in amazement.

"It is as I told you!" exclaimed Tom. "Is it enough?"

"Loose me! Loose me! Loose me from the terrible magic!" cried the giant, and, with a movement of his finger, Tom switched off the current from the electric battery. Instantly the giant's arms dropped to his side, his hands relaxed and the handles dropped clattering to the floor.

With a look of fear, and a howl of anguish, the big guard fled, but to the surprise and gratification of Tom and his friends the others seemed only amused, and they nodded in a friendly fashion to the captives. They all pressed forward to try the battery.

One and all endeavored to loose their hands after Tom, by a movement of his forefinger, had turned the switch of the battery, and one and all of the giant guards were unable to stir, as the electricity gripped their muscles. They were evidently awed.

"This is working better than the fireworks did," murmured Tom. "Now if I can only keep up the good work, and get ahead of Delby I'll be all right. Now for the other test, Ned."

Ned brought from a box what looked to be a small iron bar, with a large handle on the top. The bottom was ground very smooth.

"This is very small and light," explained Tom, partly by signs, and partly by words. "I can easily lift it by one finger, and to a giant it is but a feather's weight."

He let the giants handle it, and of course they could feel scarcely any weight at all, for it tipped the scales at only a pound. But it was shortly to be much heavier.

"See," went on the young inventor. "I place the weight on the floor, and lift it easily. Can you do it?"

The giants laughed at such a simple trick. Tom set the iron bar down and raised it several times. So did several of the giants.

"Now for the test!" cried Tom with a dramatic gesture. "I shall put my magic upon you, and you shall all become as weak as babies. You cannot lift the bar of iron!"

As he spoke he made a signal to Ned, who stood in a distant corner of the room. Then Tom carefully placed the weight on a sheet of white paper on a certain spot on the floor of the hut and motioned to the largest giant to pick up the iron bar.

With a laugh of contempt and confidence, the big man stooped over and grasped the handle. But he did not arise. Instead, the muscles of his naked arm swelled out in great bunches.

"See, you are as a little babe!" taunted Tom. "Another may try!"

Another did, and another and another, until it came the turn of the mightiest giant of all the guard that day. With a sudden wrench he sought to lift the bar. He tugged and strained. He bent his back and his legs; his shoulders heaved with the terrific effort he made--but the bar still held to the floor of the hut as though a part of the big beams themselves.

"Now!" cried Tom. "I shall show you how a white man's magic makes him stronger than the biggest giant."

Once more he made a hidden sign to Ned, and then, stooping over, Tom crooked his little finger in the handle of the iron bar and lifted it as easily as if it was a feather.