Chapter XXI. A Royal Conspiracy
 

Howls of terror, cries of anger, and a rushing to and fro on the part of the giants, followed the latest trick of Tom Swift to impress them with his power. But to all this the young inventor and his friends paid no attention. Their eyes were fixed on the ragged figure of the white man who was rushing toward their hut as fast as his legs, manacled as they were, would let him.

"Come on! Come on!" cried Tom.

"Look out!" yelled Ned. "Some of the giants are after him, Tom!"

Several of the big men, after their first fright, had recovered sufficiently to pursue the captive so strangely released by the explosion.

"Hand me an electric rifle, Ned!" cried Tom,

"Bless my shoe laces!" cried Mr. Damon. "You're not going to kill any of the giants; are you, Tom?"

"Well, I'm not going to let them capture Jake Poddington again," was the quick answer, "but I guess if I stun a few of them with the electric bullets that will answer."

Poddington (for later the white captive did prove to be the missing circus man) ran on, and close behind him came two of the giants, taking long strides. Tom aimed his electric rifle at the foremost and pulled the trigger. There was no sound, but the big man crumpled up and fell, rolling over and over. With a yell of rage his companion pressed on, but a moment later, he, too, went down, and then the others, who had started in pursuit of their recent captive, turned back.

"I thought that would fix 'em," murmured Tom gleefully.

In another five seconds Poddington was inside the hut, gasping from his run. He was very thin and pale, and the sudden exertion had been too much for him.

"Water--water!" he gasped, and Mr. Damon gave him some. He sank on one of the skin-covered benches, and his half-exhausted breath slowly came back to him.

"Boys," he gasped. "I don't know who you are, but thank heaven you came just in time. I couldn't have stood it much longer. I heard you yell something about Preston. Is it possible he sent you to find me?"

"Partly that and partly to get a giant," explained Tom. "We didn't know you were in that hut, or we'd never have blown up the one next to it, though we suspected you might be held captive somewhere around here, from the queer way the giants acted when we asked about you."

"And so you blew up that hut?" remarked the circus agent. "I thought it was struck by lightning. But it did me a good turn. I was chained to the wall of the hut next door, and your explosion split the beam to which my chains were fastened. I didn't lose any time running out, I can tell you. Oh, but it's good to be free once more and to see someone my own size!"

"How did you get here, and why did they keep you a prisoner?" asked Tom. Then Poddington told his story, while Ned and Mr. Damon aided Tom in filing off the rude iron shackles from his wrists and ankles.

As Mr. Preston had heard, Jake Poddington had started for giant land. But he lost his way, his escort of natives deserted him, just as Tom's did, and he wandered on in the jungle, nearly dying. Then, merely by accident, he came upon giant land, but he had the misfortune to incur the anger of the big men who took him for an enemy. They at once made him a prisoner, and had kept him so ever since, though they did not harm him otherwise, and gave him good food.

"I think they were a bit afraid of me in spite of my small size," explained the circus man. "I never thought to be rescued, for, though I figured that Mr. Preston might hear of my plight, he could never find this place. How did you get here?"

Then Tom told his story, and of how they themselves were held captives because of the treachery of Hank Delby.

"That's just like him!" cried Poddington. "He was always mean, and always trying to get the advantage of his rivals. But I'm glad I'm with you. With what stuff you have here it oughtn't to be difficult to get away from giant land."

"But I want a giant," insisted Tom. "I told Mr. Preston I'd bring him back one, and I'm going to do it."

"You can't!" cried the circus man. "They won't come with you, and it's almost impossible to make a prisoner of one. You'd better escape. I want to get away from giant land. I've had enough."

"We'll get away," said Tom confidently, "and we'll have a giant or two when we go."

"You'll have some before you go I guess!" suddenly interrupted Ned. "There's a whole crowd of 'em headed this way, and they've got clubs, bows and arrows and those blow guns! I guess they're going to besiege us."

"All right!" cried Tom. "If they want to fight we can give 'em as good as they send. Ned, you and Mr. Damon and I will handle the electric rifles. Eradicate, use your shotgun, and fire high. We don't want to hurt any of the big men. We'll merely stun them with the electric bullets, but the noise of Rad's gun will help some."

"What can I do?" asked Mr. Poddington.

"You're too weak to do much," replied Tom. "You just keep on the lookout, and tell us if they try any surprises. I guess we can handle 'em all right."

With shouts and yells the big men came on. Evidently their indifference toward their captives had turned to anger because of the freeing of Poddington, and now they were determined to use harsh measures. They advanced with wild yells, brandishing their clubs and other weapons, while the weird sound of the tom-toms and natives drums added to the din.

When a short distance from the hut the giants stopped, and began firing arrows and darts from the blow guns.

"Look out for those!" warned Tom. "They probably are poisoned, and a scratch may mean death. Give 'em a few shots now, Ned and Mr. Damon! Rad, give 'em a salute, but fire high!"

"Dat's what I will, Massa Tom!"

The gun of the colored man barked out a noisy welcome, and, at the same time three giants fell, stunned by the electric bullets, for the rifles were adjusted to send out only mild charges.

Thrice they charged, and each time they were driven back, and then, finding that the captives were ever ready for them, they gave up the attempt to overwhelm them, and hurried away, many going into the king's hut. His royal majesty did not show himself during the fight.

"Well, I guess they won't try that right away again," remarked Tom, as he saw the stunned giants slowly arouse themselves and crawl away. "We've taught them a lesson."

They felt better after that, and then, when they had eaten and drank, they began to consider ways and means of escape. But Tom would not hear of going until he could get at least one giant for the circus.

"But you can't!" insisted Mr. Poddington.

"Well, it's too soon to give up yet," declared Tom. "I'd like to take the king's two brothers with me."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr. Poddington, "I never thought of that. There is just a bare chance. Did you know that the two brothers, who are twins, dislike the king, for he is younger than they, and he practically took the throne away from them. They should rule jointly by rights. If we could enlist Tola and Koku on our side we might win out yet."

"Then we'll try!" exclaimed Tom.

Jake Poddington, who had been a captive in the giant city long enough to know something of its history, and had learned to talk the language, explained how Kosk had ursurped the throne. His brothers were subject to him, he said, but several times they had tried in vain to start a revolution. To punish them for their rebellious efforts the king made them his personal servants, and this explained why he sent them to see the tricks Tom performed.

"If we could only get into communication with the big twins," went on the circus man, "we could offer to take them with us to a country where they would be bigger kings than their brother is here. It's a royal conspiracy worth trying."

"Then we'll try it!" cried Tom enthusiastically.