Chapter XIV. A New Guide
 

In spite of Ned Newton's cry, Tom's finger pressed the switch-trigger of the electric rifle, for previous experience had taught him that it was sometimes the best thing to awe the natives in out-of-the-way corners of the earth. But the young inventor quickly elevated the muzzle, and the deadly missile went hissing through the air over the head of a native Indian who, at that moment, stepped from the bush.

The man, startled and alarmed, shrank back and was about to run into the jungle whence he had emerged. Small wonder if he had, considering the reception he so unwittingly met with. But Tom. aware of the necessity for making inquiries of one who knew that part of the jungle, quickly called to him.

"Hold on!" he shouted. "Wait a minute. I didn't mean that. I thought at first you were a tapir or a tiger. No harm intended. I say, Professor," Tom called back to the savant, "you'd better speak to him in his lingo, I can't manage it. He may be useful in guiding us to that Indian village Jacinto told us of."

This Professor Bumper did, being able to make himself understood in the queer part-Spanish dialect used by the native Hondurians, though he could not, of course, speak it as fluently as had Jacinto.

Professor Bumper had made only a few remarks to the man who had so unexpectedly appeared out of the jungle when the scientist gave an exclamation of surprise at some of the answers made.

"Bless my moving picture!" cried Mr. Damon.

"What's the matter now? Is anything wrong? Does he refuse to help us?"

"No, it isn't that," was the answer. "In fact he came here to help us. Tom, this is the brother of the Indian who fell overboard and who was eaten by the alligators. He says you were very kind to try to save his brother with your rifle, and for that reason he has come back to help us."

"Come back?" queried Tom.

"Yes, he went off with the rest of the Indians when Jacinto deserted us, but he could not stand being a traitor, after you had tried to save his brother's life. These Indians are queer people.

They don't show much emotion, but they have deep feelings. This one says he will devote himself to your service from now on. I believe we can count on him. He is deeply grateful to you, Tom."

"I'm glad of that for all our sakes. But what does he say about Jacinto?"

The professor asked some more questions, receiving answers, and then translated them.

"This Indian, whose name is Tolpec, says Jacinto is a fraud," exclaimed Professor Bumper. "He made all the Indians leave us in the night, though many of them were willing to stay and fill the contract they had made. But Jacinto would not let them, making them desert. Tolpec went away with the others, but because of what Tom had done he planned to come back at the first chance and be our guide. Accordingly he jumped ashore from one of the canoes, and made his way to our camp. He got there, found it deserted and followed us, coming up just now."

"Well I'm glad I didn't frighten him off with my gun," remarked Tom grimly. "So he agrees with us that Jacinto is a scoundrel, does he? I guess he might as well classify Professor Beecher in the same way."

"I am not quite so sure of that," said Professor Bumper slowly. "I can not believe Beecher would play such a trick as this, though some over-zealous friend of his might."

"Oh, of course Beecher did it!" cried Tom. "He heard we were coming here, figured out that we'd start ahead of him, and he wanted to side- track us. Well, he did it all right," and Tom's voice was bitter.

"He has only side-tracked us for a while," announced Professor Bumper in cheerful tones.

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Damon.

"I mean that this Indian comes just in the nick of time. He is well acquainted with this part of the jungle, having lived here all his life, and he offers to guide us to a place where we can get mules to transport ourselves and our baggage to Copan."

"Fine!" cried Ned. "When can we start?"

Once more the professor and the native conversed in the strange tongue, and then Professor Bumper announced:

"He says it will be better for us to go back where we left our things and camp there. He will stay with us to-night and in the morning go on to the nearest Indian town and come back with porters and helpers."

"I think that is good advice to follow," put in Tom, "for we do need our goods; and if we reached the settlement ourselves, we would have to send back for our things, with the uncertainty of getting them all."

So it was agreed that they would make a forced march back through the jungle to where they had been deserted by Jacinto. There they would make camp for the night, and until such time as Tolpec could return with a force of porters.

It was not easy, that backward tramp through the jungle, especially as night had fallen. But the new Indian guide could see like a cat, and led the party along paths they never could have found by themselves. The use of their pocket electric lights was a great help, and possibly served to ward off the attacks of jungle beasts, for as they tramped along they could hear stealthy sounds in the underbush on either side of the path, as though tigers were stalking them. For there was in the woods an animal of the leopard family, called tiger or "tigre" by the natives, that was exceedingly fierce and dangerous. But watchfulness prevented any accident, and eventually the party reached the place where they had left their goods. Nothing had been disturbed, and finally a fire was made, the tents set up and a light meal, with hot tea served.

"We'll get ahead of Beecher yet," said Tom.

"You seem as anxious as Professor Bumper," observed Mr. Damon,

"I guess I am," admitted Tom. "I want to see that idol of gold in the possession of our party."

The night passed without incident, and then, telling his new friends that he would return as soon as possible with help, Tolpec, taking a small supply of food with him, set out through the jungle again.

As the green vines and creepers closed after him, and the explorers were left alone with their possessions piled around them, Ned remarked:

"After all, I wonder if it was wise to let him go?"

"Why not?" asked Tom.

"Well, maybe he only wanted to get us back here, and then he'll desert, too. Maybe that's what he's done now, making us lose two or three days by inducing us to return, waiting for what will never happen--his return with other natives."

A silence followed Ned's intimation.