Tom Swift in the Land of Wonders by Victor Appleton
Chapter XII. A False Friend
"What is it? What's the matter?" cried Tom springing from his cot and hastening to the side of his chum in the tent. "What has happened, Ned?"
"I don't know, but Jacinto is yelling something about vampires!"
"Yes. Big bats. And he's warning us to be careful. I stuck my head out just now and I felt that same sort of shadow I felt this evening when we were down near the river."
"I tell you I did!"
At that instant Tom flashed a pocket electric lamp he had taken from beneath his pillow and in the gleam of it he and Ned saw fluttering about the tent some dark, shadow-like form, at the sight of which Tom's chum cried:
"There it is! That's the shadow! Look out!" and he held up his hands instinctively to shield his face.
"Shadow!" yelled Tom, unconsciously adding to the din that seemed to pervade every part of the camp. "That isn't a shadow. It's substance. It's a monster bat, and here goes for a strike at it!"
He caught up his camera tripod which was near his cot, and made a swing with it at the creature that had flown into the tent through an opening it had made for itself.
"Look out!" yelled Ned. "If it's a vampire it'll----"
"It won't do anything to me!" shouted Tom, as he struck the creature, knocking it into the corner of the tent with a thud that told it must be completely stunned, if not killed. "But what's it all about, anyhow?" Tom asked. "What's the row?"
From without the tent came the Indian cries of:
Mingled with them were calls of Jacinto, partly in Spanish, partly in the Indian tongue and partly in English.
"It is a raid by vampire bats!" was all Tom and Ned could distinguish. "We shall have to light fires to keep them away, if we can suc- ceed. Every one grab up a club and strike hard!"
"Come on!" cried Tom, getting on some clothes by the light of his gleaming electric light which he had set on his cot.
"You're not going out there, are you?" asked Ned.
"I certainly am! If there's a fight I want to be in it, bats or anything else. Here, you have a light like mine. Flash it on, and hang it somewhere on yourself. Then get a club and come on. The lights will blind the bats, and we can see to hit 'em!"
Tom's plan seemed to be a good one. His lamp and Ned's had small hooks on them, so they could be carried in the upper coat pocket, showing a gleam of light and leaving the hands free for use.
Out of the tents rushed the young men to find Professor Bumper and Mr. Damon before them. The two men had clubs and were striking about in the half darkness, for now the Indians had set several fires aglow. And in the gleams, constantly growing brighter as more fuel was piled on, the young inventor and his chum saw a weird sight.
Circling and wheeling about in the camp clearing were many of the black shadowy forms that had caused Ned such alarm. Great bats they were, and a dangerous species, if Jacinto was to be believed.
The uncanny creatures flew in and out among the trees and tents, now swooping low near the Indians or the travelers. At such times clubs would be used, often with the effect of killing or stunning the flying pests. For a time it seemed as if the bats would fairly overwhelm the camp, so many of them were there. But the increasing lights, and the attacks made by the Indians and the white travelers turned the tide of battle, and, with silent flappings of their soft, velvety wings, the bats flew back to the jungle whence they had emerged.
"We are safe--for the present!" exclaimed Jacinto with a sigh of relief.
"Do you think they will come back?" asked Tom.
"They may--there is no telling."
"Bless my speedometer!" cried Mr. Damon, "If those beasts or birds--whatever they are-- come back I'll go and hide in the river and take my chances with the alligators!"
"The alligators aren't much worse," asserted Jacinto with a visible shiver. "These vampire bats sometimes depopulate a whole village."
"Bless my shoe laces!" cried Mr. Damon. "You don't mean to say that the creatures can eat up a whole village?"
"Not quite. Though they might if they got the chance," was the answer of the Spanish guide. "These vampire bats fly from place to place in great swarms, and they are so large and blood-thirsty that a few of them can kill a horse or an ox in a short time by sucking its blood. So when the villagers find they are visited by a colony of these vampires they get out, taking their live stock with them, and stay in caves or in densely wooded places until the bats fly on. Then the villagers come back.
"It was only a small colony that visited us to- night or we would have had more trouble. I do not think this lot will come back. We have killed too many of them," and he looked about on the ground where many of the uncanny creatures were still twitching in the death struggle.
"Come back again!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my skin! I hope not! I've had enough of bats-- and mosquitoes," he added, as he slapped at his face and neck.
Indeed the party of whites were set upon by the night insects to such an extent that it was necessary to hurry back to the protection of the nets.
Tom and Ned kicked outside the bat the former had killed in their tent, and then both went back to their cots. But it was some little time before they fell asleep. And they did not have much time to rest, for an early start must be made to avoid the terrible heat of the middle of the day.
"Whew!" whistled Ned, as he and Tom arose in the gray dawn of the morning when Jacinto announced the breakfast which the Indian cook had prepared. "That was some night! If this is a sample of the wilds of Honduras, give me the tameness of Shopton."
"Oh, we've gone through with worse than this," laughed Tom. "It's all in the day's work. We've only got started. I guess we're a bit soft, Ned, though we had hard enough work in that tunnel-digging."
After breakfast, while the Indians were making ready the canoes, Professor Bumper, who, in a previous visit to Central America, had become interested in the subject, made a brief examination of some of the dead bats. They were exceptionally large, some almost as big as hawks. and were of the sub-family _Desmodidae_, the scientist said.
"This is a true blood-sucking bat," went on the professor. "This," and he pointed to the nose-leaves, "is the sucking apparatus. The bat makes an opening in the skin with its sharp teeth and proceeds to extract the blood. I can well believe two or three of them, attacking a steer or mule at once, could soon weaken it so the animal would die."
"And a man, too?" asked Ned.
"Well a man has hands with which to use weapons, but a helpless quadruped has not. Though if a sufficient number of these bats attacked a man at the same time, he would have small chance to escape alive. Their bites, too, may be poisonous for all I know."
The Indians seemed glad to leave the "place of the bats," as they called the camp site. Jacinto explained that the Indians believed a vampire could kill them while they slept, and they were very much afraid of the blood-sucking bats. There were many other species in the tropics, Professor Bumper explained, most of which lived on fruit or on insects they caught. The blood-sucking bats were comparatively few, and the migratory sort fewer still.
"Well, we're on our way once more," remarked Tom as again they were in the canoes being paddled up the river. "How much longer does your water trip take, Professor?"
"I hardly know," and Professor Bumper looked to Jacinto to answer.
"We go two more days in the canoes," the guide answered, "and then we shall find the mules waiting for us at a place called Hidjio. From then on we travel by land until--well until you get to the place where you are going.
"I suppose you know where it is?" he added, nodding toward the professor. "I am leaving that part to you."
"Oh, I have a map, showing where I want to begin some excavations," was the answer. "We must first go to Copan and see what arrangements we can make for laborers. After that--well, we shall trust to luck for what we shall find."
"There are said to be many curious things," went on Jacinto, speaking as though he had no interest. "You have mentioned buried cities. Have you thought what may be in them--great heathen temples, idols, perhaps?"
For a moment none of the professor's companions spoke. It was as though Jacinto had tried to get some information. Finally the scientist said:
"Oh, yes, we may find an idol. I understand the ancient people, who were here long before the Spaniards came, worshiped idols. But we shall take whatever antiquities we find."
"Huh!" grunted Jacinto, and then he called to the paddlers to increase their strokes.
The journey up the river was not very eventful. Many alligators were seen, and Tom and Ned shot several with the electric rifle. Toward the close of the third day's travel there was a cry from one of the rear boats, and an alarm of a man having fallen overboard was given.
Tom turned in time to see the poor fellow's struggles, and at the same time there was a swirl in the water and a black object shot forward.
"An alligator is after him!" yelled Ned.
"I see," observed Tom calmly. "Hand me the rifle, Ned."
Tom took quick aim and pulled the trigger. The explosive electric bullet went true to its mark, and the great animal turned over in a death struggle. But the river was filled with them, and no sooner had the one nearest the unfortunate Indian been disposed of than another made a dash for the man.
There was a wild scream of agony and then a dark arm shot up above the red foam. The waters seethed and bubbled as the alligators fought under it for possession of the paddler. Tom fired bullet after bullet from his wonderful rifle into the spot, but though he killed some of the alligators this did not save the man's life. His body was not seen again, though search was made for it.
The accident cast a little damper over the party, and there was a feeling of gloom among the Indians. Professor Bumper announced that he would see to it that the man's family did not want, and this seemed to give general satisfaction, especially to a brother who was with the party.
Aside from being caught in a drenching storm and one or two minor accidents, nothing else of moment marked the remainder of the river journey, and at the end of the third day the canoes pulled to shore and a night camp was made.
"But where are the mules we are to use in traveling to-morrow?" asked the professor of Jacinto.
"In the next village. We shall march there in the morning. No use to go there at night when all is dark."
"I suppose that is so."
The Indians made camp as usual, the goods being brought from the canoes and piled up near the tents. Then night settled down.
"Hello!" cried Tom, awakening the next morning to find the sun streaming into his tent. "We must have overslept, Ned. We were to start before old Sol got in his heavy work, but we haven't had breakfast yet."
"I didn't hear any one call us," remarked Ned.
"Nor I. Wonder if we're the only lazy birds." He looked from the tent in time to see Mr. Damon and the professor emerging. Then Tom noticed something queer. The canoes were not on the river bank. There was not an Indian in sight, and no evidence of Jacinto.
"What's the matter?" asked the young inventor. "Have the others gone on ahead?"
"I rather think they've gone back," was the professor's dry comment.
"Yes. The Indians seem to have deserted us at the ending of this stage of our journey."
"Bless my time-table!" cried Mr. Damon. "You don't say so! What does it mean? What has becomes of our friend Jacinto?"
"I'm afraid he was rather a false friend," was the professor's answer. "This is the note he left. He has gone and taken the canoes and all the Indians with him," and he held out a paper on which was some scribbled writing.