Chapter VII. Off for Peru
 

"Well, Tom Swift, you're on time I see," was Mr. Job Titus' greeting, when our hero, and Koku, the giant, alighted from a taxicab in New York, in front of the hotel the contractor had appointed as a meeting place.

"Yes, I'm here."

"Did you have a good trip?"

"Oh, all right, yes. Nothing happened to speak of, though we were delayed by a freight wreck. Has Mr. Damon got here yet?"

"Not yet, Tom. But I had a message saying he was on his way. "Come on up to the rooms I have engaged. Hello, what's all the crowd here for?" asked the contractor in some surprise, for a throng had gathered at the hotel entrance.

"I expect it's Koku they're staring at," announced Tom, and the giant it was who had attracted the attention. He was carrying his own big valise, and a small steamer trunk belonging to Tom, as easily as though they weighed nothing, the trunk being under one arm.

"I guess they don't see men of his size outside of circuses," commented the contractor. "We can pretty nearly, though not quite match him, down in Peru though, Tom. Some of the Indians are big fellows."

"We'll get up a wrestling match between one of them and Koku," suggested Tom. "Come on!" he called to the giant, who was surrounded by a crowd.

Koku pushed his way through as easily as a bull might make his way through a throng of puppies about his heels, and as Tom, Mr. Titus and the giant were entering the hotel corridor, the chauffeur of the taxicab called out with a laugh:

"I say, boss, don't you think you ought to pay double rates on that chap," and he nodded in the direction of the giant.

"That's right!" added some one in the crowd with a laugh. "He might have broken the springs."

"All right," assented Tom, good-naturedly, tossing the chauffeur a coin. "Here you are, have a cigar on the giant."

There was more laughter, and even Koku grinned, though it is doubtful if he knew what about, for he could not understand much unless Tom spoke to him in a sort of code they had arranged between them.

"Sorry to have hastened your departure," began Mr. Titus when he and Tom sat in the comfortable hotel rooms, while Koku stood at a window, looking out at what to him were the marvelous wonders of the New York streets.

"It didn't make any difference," replied the young inventor. "I was about ready to come anyhow. I just had to hustle a little," and he thought of how he had had to send Mary's present to her instead of taking it himself. As yet he was all unaware of the commotion it had caused.

"Did you get the powder shipment off all right?"

"Yes, and it will be there almost as soon as we. Other shipments will follow as we need them. My father will see to that."

"I'm glad you hit on the right kind of powder," went on the contractor. "I guess I didn't make any mistake in coming to you, Tom."

"Well, I hope not. Of course the explosive worked all right in experimental charges with samples of the tunnel rock. It remains to be seen what it will do under actual conditions, and in big service charges."

"Oh, I've no doubt it will work all right."

"What time do we leave here?" Tom asked.

"At two-thirty this afternoon. We have just time to get a good dinner and have our baggage transferred to the Chicago limited. In less than a week we ought to be in San Francisco and aboard the steamer. I hope Mr. Damon arrives on time."

"Oh, you can generally depend on him," said Tom. "I telephoned him, just before I started from Shopton, and he said--"

"Bless my carpet slippers!" cried a voice outside the hotel apartment. "But I can find my way all right. I know the number of the room. No! you needn't take my bag. I can carry it my self!"

"There he is!" laughed Tom, opening the door to disclose the eccentric gentleman himself, struggling to keep possession of his valise against the importunities of a bellboy.

"Ah, Tom--Mr. Titus! Glad to see you!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I--I am a little late, I fear--had an accident--wait until I get my breath," and he sank, panting, into a chair.

"Accident?" cried Tom. "Are you--?"

"Yes--my taxicab ran into another. Nobody hurt though."

"But you're all out of breath," said Mr. Titus. "Did you run?"

"No, but I walked upstairs."

"What! Seven flights?" exclaimed Tom. "Weren't the hotel elevators running?"

Yes, but I don't like them. I'd rather walk. And I did-- carried my valise--bellboy tried to take it away from me every step--here you are, son--it wasn't the tip I was trying to get out of," and he tossed the waiting and grinning lad a quarter.

"There, I'm better now," went on Mr. Damon, when Tom had given him a glass of water. "Bless my paper weight! The drug concern will have to vote me an extra dividend for what I've gone through. "Well, I'm here, anyhow. How is everything?"

"Fine!" cried Tom. "We'll soon be off for Peru!"

They talked over plans and made sure nothing had been forgotten. Their railroad tickets had been secured by Mr. Titus so there was nothing more to do save wait for train- time.

"I've never been to Peru," Tom remarked shortly before lunch. "What sort of country is it?"

"Quite a wonderful country," Mr. Titus answered. "I have been very much interested in it since my brother and I accepted this tunnel contract. Peru seems to have taken its name from Peru, a small river on the west coast of Colombia, where Pizarro landed. The country, geographically, may be divided into three sections longitudinally. The coast region is a sandy desert, with here and there rivers flowing through fertile valleys. The sierra region is the Andes division, about two hundred and fifty miles in width."

"Is that where we're going?" asked Tom.

"Yes. And beyond the Andes (which in Peru consist of great chains of mountains, some very high, interspersed with table lands, rich plains and valleys) there is the montana region of tropical forests, running down to the valley of the Amazon.

"That sounds interesting," commented Mr. Damon.

"It is interesting," declared Mr. Titus. "For it is from this tropical region that your quinine comes, Mr. Damon, though you may not have to go there to straighten out your affairs. I think you can do better bargaining with the officials in Lima, or near there."

"Are there any wild animals in Peru?" Tom inquired.

"Well, not many. Of course there are the llamas and alpacas, which are the beasts of burden--almost like little camels you might say, though much more gentle. Then there is the wild vicuna, the fleece of which is made into a sort of wool, after which a certain kind of cloth is named.

"Then there is the taruco, a kind of deer, the viscacha, which is a big rat, the otoc, a sort of wild dog, or fox, and the ucumari, a black bear with a white nose. This bear is often found on lofty mountain tops, but only when driven there in search of food.

"The condors, of course, are big birds of prey in the Andes. You must have read about them; how they seem to lie in the upper regions of the air, motionless, until suddenly they catch sight of some dead animal far down below when they sweep toward it with the swiftness of the wink. There is another bird of the vulture variety, with wings of black and white feathers. The ancient Incas used to decorate their head dresses with these wing feathers."

"Well, I'm glad I'm going to Peru," said Tom. "I never knew it was such an interesting country. But I don't suppose we'll have time to see much of it."

"Oh, I think you will," commented Mr. Titus. "We don't always have to work on the tunnel. There are numerous holidays, or holy-days, which our Indian workers take off, and we can do nothing without them. I'll see that you have a chance to do some exploring if you wish."

"Good!" exclaimed Tom. "I brought my electric rifle with me, and I may get a chance to pop over one of those bears with a white nose. Are they good to eat?"

"The Indians eat them, I believe, when they can get them, but I wouldn't fancy the meat," said the contractor.

Luncheon over, the three travelers departed with their baggage for the Chicago Limited, which left from the Pennsylvania Station at Twenty-third Street. As usual, Koku attracted much attention because of his size.

The trip to San Francisco was without incident worth narrating and in due time our friends reached the Golden Gate where they were to go aboard their steamer. They had to wait a day, during which time Tom and Mr. Titus made inquiries regarding the first powder shipment. They had had unexpected good luck, for the explosive, having been sent on ahead by fast freight, was awaiting them.

"So we can take it with us on the Bellaconda," said, Tom, naming the vessel on which they were to sail.

The powder was safely stowed away, and our friends having brought their baggage aboard, putting what was wanted on the voyage in their staterooms, went out on deck to watch the lines being cast off.

A bell clanged and an officer cried:

"All ashore that's going ashore!"

There were hasty good-byes, a scramble on the part of those who had come to bid friends farewell, and preparations were made to haul in the gangplank.

Just as the tugs were slowly pushing against the Bellaconda to get her in motion to move her away from the wharf, there was a shout down the pier and a taxicab, driven at reckless speed, dashed up.

"Wait a minute! Hold that gangway. I have a passenger for you!" cried the chauffeur.

He pulled up with a screeching of brakes, and a man with a heavy black beard fairly leaped from the vehicle, running toward the plank which was all but cast off.

"My fare! My fare!" yelled the tax~cab driver.

"Take it out of that! Keep the change!" cried the bearded man over his shoulder, tossing a crumpled bill to the chauffeur. And then, clutching his valise in a firm hand, the belated passenger rushed up the gangplank just in time to board the steamer which was moving away from the dock.

"Close shave--that," observed Tom.

"That's right," assented Mr. Titus.

"Well, we're off for Peru!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, as the vessel moved down the bay.