Chapter XXIII. A Surprise in the Night
 

Tom and his friends could scarcely believe their good fortune. It seemed incredible that they should have induced two of the biggest giants to accompany them back, and, not only that, but that they had the promise of the strong men to aid them.

"Now we must get busy," declared Tom, when their visitors had gone. "We've got lots of work to do on the aeroplane, and we must try out the engine. Then we've got to fix the side of the hut so it will fall out when we're ready for it. And we've got to plan how to meet the giants later in the forest."

"Yes," agreed the circus man, "and we must take care that Hank Delby doesn't spoil our plans."

Then ensued busy days. In the seclusion of their hut the prisoners could work undisturbed at the aeroplane, which had been almost assembled.

The engine was installed and tried, and, when the motor began its thundering explosions, there was consternation among the giants, who had again surrounded the hut to see that the prisoners did not escape.

Meanwhile Delby seemed to be unusually active. He could be observed going in and out from his hut to that of the king, and he often carried large bundles.

"He's making himself solid with his royal highness," declared Tom. "Well, if all goes right, we won't have to worry much longer about what he does."

"If only those twin giants don't fail us," put in Ned.

"Oh, you can depend on them," said Mr. Poddington. "These giants are curious creatures, but once they give their word they stick to it."

He told much about the strange big men, confirming Tom's theory that favorable natural conditions, for a number of generations, had caused ordinary South American natives to develope into such large specimens.

Our friends were under quite a nervous tension, for they could not be sure of what would happen from day to day. They continued to work on the aeroplane, and then, finding that it would work in the seclusion of the hut, they were anxious for the time to come when they could try it in the open.

"Do you think it will carry the five of us with safety?" asked the circus man, as he gazed rather dubiously at the somewhat frail- appearing affair.

"Sure!" exclaimed Tom. "We'll get away all right if I can get enough of a start. Now we must see to opening the side of the hut."

This work had to be done cautiously, yet the prisoners had a certain freedom, for the guards were afraid to approach too closely.

The supporting and cross beams were sawed through, for Tom had brought a number of carpenter tools along with him. Then, in the silence of the night, the two royal brothers brought other beams that could be put in place temporarily to hold up the roof when the others were pulled out to allow the aeroplane to rush forth.

In due time all was in readiness for the attempt to escape. The royal twins had agreed to slip off at a certain signal, and await Tom and his party in the forest at the foot of a very large hill, that was a landmark for miles around. The giants could travel fast, but not as fast as the aeroplane, so it was planned that they were to have a day and night's start. They would take along food, and would arrange to have a number of Tom's mules hidden in the woods, so that our hero and his friends would have means of transportation back to the coast, after they had ended their flight in the airship.

"I wish we had brought along the larger one, so we could take the giants with us," said Tom, "but I guess they're strong enough to walk to the coast. We'll take what provisions we can carry, our electric rifles, and the rest of the things we'll leave here for the king, though he doesn't deserve them."

"What do you think Delby will do?" asked Ned.

"Give it up. He's got some plan though. I only hope he doesn't get a giant. Then ours will be a greater attraction."

Several days passed, and the last of the preparations had been made.

"The giant twins will pretend to go off on a hunting trip to-morrow morning," said the circus man one night, "but they won't come back. They'll wait for us at the big hill."

"Then we must escape the following morning," decided Tom. "Well, I'm ready for it."

From their hut, surrounded as it was still by the giant guards, our friends watched the royal brothers start off, seemingly on a hunting expedition.

The day passed slowly. Tom went carefully over the aeroplane, to see that it was in shape for a quick flight, and he looked to the wall of the hut--the wall that was to be pulled from place to afford egress for the air craft.

They went to bed early that night--the night they hoped would be their last in giant land. It must have been about midnight when Tom suddenly awoke. He thought he heard a noise outside the hut and in a moment he had jumped up.

"Repel boarders!" cried Tom.