Chapter VI. Alarming News
 

"Hand me that hammer, Ned."

"There it is, right behind you, on the bench."

"Oh, so it is. Here are those nails you were asking for."

"Good. Now we'll make things hum," and Ned Newton's voice was drowned in the rapid driving of nails into boards.

"Bless my screw driver!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon, who was sawing planks to make covers for boxes.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom, looking up from a bundle he was tying up. It contained the magneto of his aeroplane and he was putting waterproof paper about it. "Did you cut your finger?"

"No, but I just happened to think that I nailed my watch up in that last box."

"Nailed up your watch!" cried Mr. Preston, who, after a trip to New York to make arrangements for passages on a steamer, had come back to help Tom pack up.

"Yes, I took it out to see how long it took me to make a box cover, and then Tom asked me to nail up that box containing the motor parts, and I laid my watch right down on top, and put the boards over it."

"Well, the only thing to do is to take off the cover," remarked Tom grimly.

"Bless my chronometer! That will delay things," said the odd man with a sigh. "But I suppose there is no hope for it," and he proceeded to open the box, while Tom, Ned, the circus man and Eradicate busied themselves over the hundred and one things to be done before they would be ready for the trip to the interior of South America.

"Look out, Ned!" called Tom. "You're making those top boards too long. They'll stick out over the edge, and be ripped off if the box catches on anything."

"Yes, you can't be too careful," cautioned Mr. Preston. "Each box or package must be the right weight, or the porters and mule drivers won't carry them into the interior. You may have to cross rough trails, and even ford rivers. And as for bridges! well, the less said about them the better. You aren't going to have any picnic, and if you want to back out, Tom Swift, now is the time to say so."

"What! Back out?" cried our hero. "Never! I said I'd go and I'm going. Ned, pass that brace and bit over, will you. I've got to bore a hole for these screws."

And so the work went on in the big aeroplane shed, which they had made their packing headquarters.

The Lark, that small, but strong and speedy aeroplane, had been safely packed, and most of it had been sent on ahead to New York, where the travellers were to take the steamer. There remained to be transported their clothing, weapons and ammunition, and several bundles and cases of trinkets which would be of more value in bartering with the natives than money. Tom and Mr. Preston had selected the things with great care, and at the last moment the young inventor had packed a box of his own, and said nothing about it. Included in it were some of his own and his father's inventions, and had one been given a glance into that same box he would have wondered at the queer things.

"What in the world are you taking with you, anyhow?" asked Ned, of his chum, noticing the mysterious box.

"'You'll see, if we ever get to giant land," replied Tom with a smile.

"How long before we can start?" asked Mr. Damon, late that day, when most of the hard work had been finished. He was as anxious and as eager as either of the youths to make a start.

"We ought to be ready at least a week from to-day," replied Tom, "and perhaps sooner."

"Sooner, if you can make it," suggested Mr. Preston. "The steamer sails a week from to-day, and if you miss that one you'll have to wait two weeks more."

"Then a week from to-day we'll sail," decided Tom, with emphasis. "We'll work nights getting things in shape."

Really, though, not much more remained to be done, and the next day Mr. Preston again went to New York, accompanying a shipment of boxes and cases that Tom sent on ahead.

The two chums were busy in the aeroplane hangar a few days after this, nailing up the last of some light cases containing medicines, personal effects and comforts that would accompany them on their trip.

"Well, I'm glad of one thing," remarked Tom thoughtfully, as he drove home the last nail in a box, "and that is that we won't be bothered with that Andy Foger on this trip. I haven't seen hide nor hair of him in some time. I guess he and his father are down and out."

"I guess so. I haven't seen him either."

"Massa Andy were in town a few days ago," ventured Eradicate.

"He was?" cried Tom. "Did you see him? What was he doing, Rad?"

"Nuffin, same as usual. He done say I were too old to go on any more hexpiditions wif yo' an' I proved dat I wasn't."

"Proved that you weren't, Rad? How?" And Tom looked anxiously at his colored helper.

"Why, I done say t' him dat I was gwine wif yo'-all dis time, t' dat Comeaway country after a big orchard plant. Dat's how I done prove it to dat Andy Foger."

"Rad, you didn't tell him we were going to South America?" asked Tom reproachfully.

"Suah I done so, Massa Tom. Dat were de only way t' prove t' him dat I wa'an't gittin' too old."

"Oh, Rad! I'm afraid--" and Tom hesitated.

"Oh, I don't believe it amounted to anything," interposed Ned. "Andy didn't have any one with him, did he, Rad?"

"No, Massa Ned. He were all alone by hisse'f."

"Then I guess it's all right, Tom. Andy was only rigging Eradicate, and he didn't pay any attention to what he said."

"Well, I hope so," and the young inventor wore a thoughtful air as he resumed the finish of the packing.

The colored man, blissfully unconscious that he had been the innocent cause of a grave danger that overhung Tom and his friends, whistled gaily as he gathered the boxes, bales and packages into a pile, ready for the expressman, who was to call in the morning.

Tom, together with Ned, Mr. Damon and Eradicate, were to leave the following afternoon, and stay in New York until the sailing of the steamer. They preferred to be a day or so ahead of time than half an hour late, and were taking no chances.

"Bless my timetable!" exclaimed Mr. Damon that night, as they sat in the library of the Swift home, checking over the lists to make sure that nothing had been forgotten, "bless my timetable, but it doesn't seem possible that we are going to start at last."

"Yes, we'll soon be on the way to giant land," spoke Tom in a low voice. Somehow the young inventor did not seem to be in his usually bright spirits.

"You don't seem very enthusiastic," remarked Ned. "What's the matter, Tom?"

"Oh, nothing much. Though I would feel better if I knew that Andy Foger didn't have any inkling of what our plans were," he added, for Eradicate was not present.

"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed his chum. "Mr. Preston will be here in the morning, and he'll know whether his rival has any idea of camping on our trail. Cheer up!"

"Yes, I suppose I am foolish to worry," admitted Tom. "but, somehow I can't help it. I wish Mr. Preston was here now to tell us that Wayland Waydell had gone off to the centre of Africa for a dwarf. Then I'd know we had nothing to fear. But I guess--"

Tom did not finish his sentence for, at that moment, there came a peal at the door bell. Instinctively every one started, and Mr. Damon exclaimed:

"Bless my burglar alarm! What's that?"

"Someone at the door, Tom," replied Mr. Swift calmly. "That's nothing unusual. It's early yet."

But, in spite of his reassuring words, there was a feeling of vague alarm.

"I'll see who it is," volunteered Ned. "If it's Andy Foger--"

Mrs. Baggert entered the room at that moment. She had hurried to the door, and, as she entered she announced:

"Mr. Preston!"

"Yes, it is I!" added the circus man following her quickly into the room. "I came on to-night instead of waiting for the morning, Tom. I have bad news for you!"

"Bad news!" gasped the young inventor. "Has Waydell got hold of your plans."

"I'll wager it has something to do with Andy Foger!" exclaimed Ned.

"Neither one," spoke the circus man. "But I have just had a cable dispatch from one of my animal agents in Brazil, saying that war has broken out among the tribes in the central part of South America. A big native war is being waged all around giant land, as near as we can figure it out."

"War among the native tribes!" exclaimed Mr. Swift.

"Yes, and one of the worst in years. Of course, Tom, after such alarming news as this I won't hold you to your promise to go. It's all off. I'm sorry, but you'd better wait. It won't be safe to go there now. Better unpack, Tom."

For a moment there was a silence in the room. Then the young inventor leaped to his feet and faced the circus man.

"Unpack?" cried Tom in ringing tones. "Never! I'm going to giant land, fight or no fight! Ned, come with me and we'll put in some of my electric rifles. I wasn't going to take them along, but I will now. Unpack? I guess not! I'm going to get a giant for you, Mr. Preston, and save Jake Poddington if he's alive. Come on, Ned."