Chapter XIX. What Happened to Tom and Sam
 

Let us return to Tom and Sam, at the time they were left alone at Binoto's hostelry.

"I wish we had gone with Dick and Uncle Randolph," said Tom, as he slipped into his coat and shoes. "I don't like this thing at all."

"Oh, don't get scared before you are hurt, Tom!" laughed his younger brother. "These people out here may be peculiar, but --"

Sam did not finish. A loud call from the woods had reached his ears, and in alarm he too began to dress, at the same time reaching for his pistol and the money belt which Randolph Rover had left behind.

"I -- I guess something is wrong," he went on, after a pause. "If we -"

"Tom! Sam! look out fo' yourselves!" came from Aleck, and in a second more the negro, burst on their view. "Come, if yo' is dressed!" he added.

"Where to?" asked Tom hurriedly.

"Anywhar, Massah Tom. De others is took prisoners! Come!" And Aleck almost dragged the boy along.

The Rover boys could readily surmise that Aleck would not act in this highly excited manner unless there was good cause for it. Consequently, as Sam said afterward, "They didn't stand on the order of their going, but just flew." Pell-mell out of the hostelry they tumbled, and ran up the highway as rapidly as their nimble limbs would permit.

They heard several men coming after them, and heard the command "Halt!" yelled after them in both French and bad English. But they did not halt until a sudden tumble on Tom's part made the others pause in dismay.

"Oh, great Caesar!" groaned the fun-loving Rover, and tried to stand up. "I guess I've twisted my ankle."

"Can't you even walk?" asked Sam.

"We ain't got no time ter lose!" panted Aleck, who was almost winded. "If we stay here we'll be gobbled up -- in no time, dat's shuah!"

"Let us try to carry Tom," said Sam, and attempted to lift his brother up. But the load made him stagger.

"De trees -- let us dun hide in, de trees!" went on the negro, struck by a certain idea. "Come on, quick!"

"Yes - yes -- anything!" groaned Tom, and then shut his teeth hard to keep himself from screaming with pain.

Together they carried the suffering youth away from the highway to where there was a thick jungle of trees and tropical vines. The vines, made convenient ladders by which to get up into the trees, and soon Sam and Aleck were up and pulling poor Tom after them.

"Now we must be still," said Aleck, when they were safe for the time being. "Hear dem a-conun' dis way."

The three listened and soon made out the footsteps of the approaching party. They soon passed on up the road.

"We've fooled them," whispered Sam.

"But, oh, Aleck, what does it all mean?"

"It means dat yo' uncle an' Dick am prisoners -- took by a lot of rascals under a tall, Frenchman."

"Yes, but I don't understand --"

"No more do I, Massah Sam, but it war best to git out, dat's as shuah as yo' is born," added the colored man solemnly.

Poor Torn was having a wretched time of it with his ankle, which hurt as badly as ever and had begun to swell. As he steadied himself on one of the limbs of the tree Sam removed his shoe, which gave him a little relief.

From a distance came a shouting, and they made out through the trees the gleam of a torch. But soon the sounds died out and the light disappeared.

What should they do next? This was a question impossible to answer.

"One thing is certain, I can't walk just yet," said Tom. "When I put my foot down it's like a thousand needles darting through my leg."

"Let us go below and hunt up some water," said Sam; and after waiting a while longer they descended into the small brush. Aleck soon found a pool not far distant, and to this they carried Tom, and after all had had a drink, the swollen ankle was bathed, much to the sufferer's relief.

Slowly the time dragged by until morning. As soon as the sun was up Aleck announced that he was going back to the hostelry to see how the land lay.

"But don't expose yourself," said Tom. "I am certain now that is a regular robbers' resort, or worse."

Aleck was gone the best part of three hours. When he returned he was accompanied by Cujo. The latter announced that all of the other natives had fled for parts unknown.

"The inn is deserted," announced Aleck. Even that colored wife of the proprietor is gone.

"And did you find any trace of Dick and my uncle?" asked Sam.

"We found out where dat struggle took place," answered, Aleck. "And Cujo reckons as how he can follow de trail if we don't wait too long to do it."

"Must go soon," put in Cujo for himself.

"Maybe tomorrow come big storm -- den track all washed away."

Tom sighed and shook his head. "You can go on, but you'll have to leave me behind. I couldn't walk a hundred yards for a barrel of gold."

"Oh, we can't think of leaving you behind!" cried Sam.

"I'll tell you wot -- Ise dun carry him, at least fe a spell," said Aleck, and so it was arranged.

Under the new order of things Cujo insisted on making a scouting tour first, that he might strike the trail before carrying them off on a circuitous route, thus tiring Aleck out before the real tracking began.

The African departed, to be gone the best Part of an hour. When he came back there was a broad grin of satisfaction on his homely features.

"Cujo got a chicken," he announced, producing the fowl. "And here am some werry good roots, too. Now va dinner befo' we start out."

"Right yo' am, Cujo!" cried Pop, and began to start up a fire without delay, while Cujo cleaned the fowl and mashed up the roots, which, when baked on a hot stone, tasted very much like sweet potatoes. The meal was enjoyed by all, even Tom eating his full share in spite of his swollen ankle, which was now gradually resuming its normal condition.

Cujo had found the trail at a distance of an eighth of a mile above the wayside hostelry. "Him don't lead to de ribber dare," he said. "But I dun think somet'ing of him."

"And what do you think?" asked Tom, from his seat on Aleck's back.

"I t'ink he go to de kolobo."

"And what is the kolobo?" asked Sam with interest.

"De kolobo old place on ribber-place where de white soldiers shoot from big fort-house."

"A fort!" cried Tom. "But would the authorities allow, them to go there?"

"No soldiers dare now -- leave kolobo years ago. Place most tumble down now. But good place fo' robbers."

"I see. Well, follow the trail as best you can -- and we'll see what we will see."

"And let us get along just as fast as we can," added Sam.

On they went through a forest that in spots was so thick they could scarcely pass. The jungle contained every kind of tropical growth, including ferns, which were beautiful beyond description, and tiny vines so wiry that they cut like a knife.

"This is tough," remarked Sam. "But I suppose it doesn't hold a candle to what is beyond."

"Werry bad further on," answered Cujo. "See, here am de trail," and he pointed it out.

Several miles were covered, when they came to a halt in order to rest and to give Aleck a let up in carrying Tom. The youth now declared his foot felt much better and hobbled along for some distance by leaning on Sam's shoulder.

Presently they were startled by hearing a cry from a distance. They listened intently, then Cujo held up his hand.

"Me go an' see about dat," he said. "Keep out ob sight, all ob you!" And he glided into the bushes with the skill and silence of a snake.

Another wait ensued, and Tom improved the time by again bathing his foot in a pool which was discovered not far from where Cujo had left them. The water seemed to do much good, and the youth declared that by the morrow he reckoned he would be able to do a fair amount of walking if they did not progress too rapidly.

"But what a country this is!" he murmured.

I declare they could burn wood night and day for a century and never miss a stick."

"I thought I heard some monkeys chattering a while ago," answered Sam. "I suppose the interior is alive with them."

"I dun see a monkey lookin' at us now, from dat tree," observed Aleck. "See dem shinin' eyes back ob de leaves?" He pointed with his long forefinger, and both, boys gazed in the direction. Then Tom gave a yell.

"A monkey? That's a snake! Look out for yourselves!"

He started back and the others did the same. And they were none too soon, for an instant later the leaves were thrust apart and a serpent's form appeared, swaying slowly to and fro, as if contemplating a drop upon their very heads!