Chapter XV. In the Coils
 

"Ned, do you really think Tolpec is going to desert us?" asked Tom.

"Well, I don't know," was the slowly given reply. "It's a possibility, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," broke in Professor Bumper. "But what if it is? We might as well trust him, and if he proves true, as I believe he will, we'll be so much better off. If he proves a traitor we'll only have lost a few days, for if he doesn't come back we can go on again in the way we started."

"But that's just it!" complained Tom. "We don't want to lose any time with that Beecher chap on our trail."

"I am not so very much concerned about him," remarked Professor Bumper, dryly.

"Why not?" snapped out Mr. Damon.

"Well, because I think he'll have just about as hard work locating the hidden city, and finding the idol of gold, as we'll have. In other words it will be an even thing, unless he gets too far ahead of us, or keeps us back, and I don't believe he can do that now.

"So I thought it best to take a chance with this Indian. He would hardly have taken the trouble to come all the way back, and run the risks he did, just to delay us a few days. However, we'll soon know. Meanwhile, we'll take it easy and wait for the return of Tolpec and his friends."

Though none of them liked to admit it, Ned's words had caused his three friends some anxiety, and though they busied themselves about the camp there was an air of waiting impatiently for something to occur. And waiting is about the hardest work there is.

But there was nothing for it but to wait, and it might be at least a week, Professor Bumper said, before the Indian could return with a party of porters and mules to move their baggage.

"Yes, Tolpec has not only to locate the settlement," Tom admitted, "but he must persuade the natives to come back with him. He may have trouble in that, especially if it is known that he has left Jacinto, who, I imagine, is a power among the tribes here."

But there were only two things left to do--wait and hope. The travelers did both. Four days passed and there was no sign of Tolpec. Eager- ly, and not a little anxiously, they watched the jungle path along which he had disappeared.

"Oh, come on!" exclaimed Tom one morning, when the day seemed a bit cooler than its predecessor. "Let's go for a hunt, or something! I'm tired of sitting around camp."

"Bless my watch hands! So am I!" cried Mr. Damon. "Let's all go for a trip. It will do us good."

"And perhaps I can get some specimens of interest," added Professor Bumper, who, in addition to being an archaeologist, was something of a naturalist.

Accordingly, having made everything snug in camp, the party, Tom and Ned equipped with electric rifles, and the professor with a butterfly net and specimen boxes, set forth. Mr. Damon said he would carry a stout club as his weapon.

The jungle, as usual, was teeming with life, but as Ned and Tom did not wish to kill wantonly they refrained from shooting until later in the day. For once it was dead, game did not keep well in that hot climate, and needed to be cooked almost immediately.

"We'll try some shots on our back trip," said the young inventor.

Professor Bumper found plenty of his own particular kind of "game" which he caught in the net, transferring the specimens to the boxes he carried. There were beautiful butterflies, moths and strange bugs in the securing of which the scientist evinced great delight, though when one beetle nipped him firmly and painfully on his thumb his involuntary cry of pain was as real as that of any other person.

"But I didn't let him get away," he said in triumph when he had dropped the clawing insect into the cyanide bottle where death came painlessly. "It is well worth a sore thumb."

They wandered on through the jungle, taking care not to get too far from their camp, for they did not want to lose their way, nor did they want to be absent too long in case Tolpec and his native friends should return.

"Well, it's about time we shot something, I think," remarked Ned, when they had been out about two hours. "Let's try for some of these wild turkeys. They ought to go well roasted even if it isn't Thanksgiving."

"I'm with you," agreed Tom. "Let's see who has the best luck. But tone down the charge in your rifle and use a smaller projectile, or you'll have nothing but a bunch of feathers to show for your shot. The guns are loaded for deer."

The change was made, and once more the two young men started off, a little ahead of Professor Bumper and Mr. Damon. Tom and Ned had not gone far, however, before they heard a strange cry from Mr. Damon.

"Tom! Ned!" shouted the eccentric man, "Here's a monster after me! Come quick!"

"A tiger!" ejaculated Tom, as he began once more to change the charge in his rifle to a larger one, running back, meanwhile, in the direction of the sound of the voice.

There were really no tigers in Honduras, the jaguar being called a tiger by the natives, while the cougar is called a lion. The presence of these animals, often dangerous to man, had been indicated around camp, and it was possible that one had been bold enough to attack Mr. Damon, not through hunger, but because of being cornered.

"Come on, Ned!" cried Tom. "He's in some sort of trouble!"

But when, a moment later, the young inventor burst through a fringe of bushes and saw Mr. Damon standing in a little clearing, with upraised club, Tom could not repress a laugh.

"Kill it, Tom! Kill it!" begged the eccentric man. "Bless my insurance policy, but it's a terrible beast!"

And so it was, at first glance. For it was a giant iguana, one of the most repulsive-looking of the lizards. Not unlike an alligator in shape, with spikes on its head and tail, with a warty, squatty ridge-encrusted body, a big pouch beneath its chin, and long-toed claws, it was enough to strike terror into the heart of almost any one. Even the smaller ones look dangerous, and this one, which was about five feet long, looked capable of attacking a man and injuring him. As a matter of fact the iguanas are harmless, their shape and coloring being designed to protect them.

"Don't be afraid, Mr. Damon," called Tom, still laughing. "It won't hurt you!"

"I'm not so positive of that. It won't let me pass."

"Just take your club and poke it out of the way," the young inventor advised. "It's only waiting to be shoved."

"Then you do it, Tom. Bless my looking glass, but I don't want to go near it! If my wife could see me now she'd say it served me just right."

Mr. Damon was not a coward, but the giant iguana was not pleasant to look at. Tom, with the butt of his rifle, gave it a gentle shove, whereupon the creature scurried off through the brush as though glad to make its escape unscathed.

"I thought it was a new kind of alligator," said Mr. Damon with a sigh of relief.

"Where is it?" asked Professor Bumper, coming up at this juncture. "A new species of alligator? Let me see it!"

"It's too horrible," said Mr. Damon. "I never want to see one again. It was worse than a vampire bat!"

Notwithstanding this, when he heard that it was one of the largest sized iguanas ever seen, the professor started through the jungle after it.

"We can't take it with us if we get it," Tom called after his friend.

"We might take the skin," answered the professor. "I have a standing order for such things from one of the museums I represent. I'd like to get it. Then they are often eaten. We can have a change of diet. you see."

"We'd better follow him," said Tom to Ned. "We'll have to let the turkeys go for a while. He may get into trouble. Come on."

Off they started through the jungle, trailing after the impetuous professor who was intent on capturing the iguana. The giant lizard's progress could be traced by the disturbance of the leaves and underbrush, and the professor was following as closely as possible.

So fast did he go that Ned, Tom and Mr. Damon, following, lost sight of him several times, and Tom finally called:

"Wait a minute. We'll all be lost if you keep this up."

"I'll have him in another minute," answered the professor. "I can almost reach him now. Then---- Oh!"

His voice ended in a scream that seemed to be one of terror. So sudden was the change that Tom and Ned, who were together, ahead of Mr. Damon, looked at one another in fear.

"What has happened?" whispered Ned, pausing.

"Don't stop to ask--come on!" shouted Tom.

At that instant again came the voice of the savant.

"Tom! Ned!" he gasped, rather than cried.

"I'm caught in the coils! Quick--quick if you would save me!"

"In the coils!" repeated Ned. "What does he mean? Can the giant iguana----"

Tom Swift did not stop to answer. With his electric rifle in readiness, he leaped forward through the jungle.