Chapter XVII. The Lost Map
 

The on-marching company of white men, with their Indian attendants, came to a halt on the edge of the clearing as they caught sight of the tents already set up there. The barbaric chant of the native bearers ceased abruptly, and there was a look of surprise shown on the face of Professor Fenimore Beecher. For Professor Beecher it was, in the lead of the rival expedition.

"Bless my shoe laces!" exclaimed Mr. Damon.

"Is it really Beecher?" asked Ned, though he knew as well as Tom that it was the young archaeologist.

"It certainly is!" declared Tom. "And he has nerve to follow us so closely!"

"Maybe he thinks we have nerve to get here ahead of him," suggested Ned, smiling grimly.

"Probably," agreed Tom, with a short laugh. "Well, it evidently surprises him to find us here at all, after the mean trick he played on us to get Jacinto to lead us into the jungle and desert us."

"That's right," assented Ned. "Well, what's the next move?"

There seemed to be some doubt about this on the part of both expeditions. At the sight of Professor Beecher, Professor Bumper, who had come out of his tent, hurriedly turned to Tom and asked him what he thought it best to do.

"Do!" exclaimed the eccentric Mr. Damon, not giving Tom time to reply. "Why, stand your ground, of course! Bless my house and lot! but we're here first! For the matter of that, I suppose the jungle is free and we can no more object to his coming: here than he can to our coming. First come, first served, I suppose is the law of the forest."

Meanwhile the surprise occasioned by the unexpected meeting of their rivals seemed to have spread something like consternation among the white members of the Beecher party. As for the natives they evidently did not care one way or the other.

There was a hasty consultation among the professors accompanying Mr. Beecher, and then the latter himself advanced toward the tents of Tom and his friends and asked:

"How long have you been here?"

"I don't see that we are called upon to answer that question," replied Professor Bumper stiffly.

"Perhaps not, and yet----"

"There is no perhaps about it!" said Professor Bumper quickly. "I know what your object is, as I presume you do mine. And, after what I may term your disgraceful and unsportsmanlike conduct toward me and my friends, I prefer not to have anything further to do with you. We must meet as strangers hereafter."

"Very well," and Professor Beecher's voice was as cold and uncompromising as was his rival's. "Let it be as your wish. But I must say I don't know what you mean by unsportsmanlike conduct."

"An explanation would be wasted on you," said Professor Bumper stiffly. "But in order that you may know I fully understand what you did I will say that your efforts to thwart us through your tool Jacinto came to nothing. We are here ahead of you."

"Jacinto!" cried Professor Beecher in real or simulated surprise. "Why, he was not my `tool,' as you term it."

"Your denial is useless in the light of his confession," asserted Professor Bumper.

"Confession?"

"Now look here!" exclaimed the older professor, "I do not propose to lower myself by quarreling with you. I know certainly what you and your party tried to do to prevent us from getting here. But we got out of the trap you set for us, and we are on the ground first. I recognize your right to make explorations as well as ourselves, and I presume you have not fallen so low that you will not recognize the unwritten law in a case of this kind--the law which says the right of discovery belongs to the one who first makes it."

"I shall certainly abide by such conduct as is usual under the circumstances," said Professor Beecher more stiffly than before. "At the same time I must deny having set a trap. And as for Jacinto----"

"It will be useless to discuss it further!" broke in Professor Bumper.

"Then no more need be said," retorted the younger man. "I shall give orders to my friends, as well as to the natives, to keep away from your camp, and I shall expect you to do the same regarding mine."

"I should have suggested the same thing myself," came from Tom's friend, and the two rival scientists fairly glared at one another, the others of both parties looking on with interest.

Professor Bumper turned and walked defiantly back to his tent. Professor Beecher did the same thing. Then, after a short consultation among the white members of the latter's organization, their tents were set up in another clearing, removed and separated by a screen of trees and bushes from those of Tom Swift's friends. The natives of the Beecher party also withdrew a little way from those of Professor Bumper's organization, and then preparations for spending the night in the jungle went on in the rival headquarters.

"Well, he certainly had nerve, to deny, practically, that he had set Jacinto up to do what he did," commented Tom.

"I should say so!" agreed Ned.

"How do you imagine he got here nearly as soon as we did, when he did not start until later?" asked Mr. Damon.

"He did not have the unfortunate experience of being deserted in the jungle," replied Tom. "He probably had Jacinto, or some of that unprincipled scoundrel's friends, show him a short route to Copan and he came on from there."

"Well, I did hope we might have the ground to ourselves, at least for the preliminary explorations and excavations. But it is not to be. My rival is here," sighed Professor Bumper.

"Don't let that discourage you!" exclaimed Tom. "We can fight all the better now the foe is in the open, and we know where he is."

"Yes, Tom Swift, that is true," agreed the scientist. "I am not going to give up, but I shall have to change my plans a little. Perhaps you will come into the tent with me," and he nodded to Tom and Ned. "I want to talk over certain matters with you and Mr. Damon."

"Pleased to," assented the young inventor, and his financial secretary nodded.

A little later, supper having been eaten, the camp made shipshape and the natives settled down, Tom, Ned, Mr. Damon and Professor Bumper assembled in the tent of the scientist, where a dry battery lamp gave sufficient illumination to show a number of maps and papers scattered over an improvised table.

"Now, gentlemen," said the professor, "I have called you here to go over my plans more in detail than I have hitherto done, now we are on the ground. You know in a general way what I hope to accomplish, but the time has come when I must be specific.

"Aside from being on the spot, below which, or below the vicinity where, I believe, lies the lost city of Kurzon and, I hope, the idol of gold, a situation has arisen--an unexpected situation, I may say--which calls for different action from that I had counted on.

"I refer to the presence of my rival, Professor Beecher. I will not dwell now on what he has done. It is better to consider what he may do."

"That's right," agreed Ned. "He may get up in the night, dig up this city and skip with that golden image before we know it."

"Hardly," grinned Tom.

"No," said Professor Bumper. "Excavating buried cities in the jungle of Honduras is not as simple as that. There is much work to be done. But accidents may happen, and in case one should occur to me, and I be unable to prosecute the search, I want one of you to do it. For that reason I am going to show you the maps and ancient documents and point out to you where I believe the lost city lies. Now, if you will give me your attention, I'll proceed."

The professor went over in detail the story of how he had found the old documents relating to the lost city of Kurzon, and of how, after much labor and research, he had located the city in the Copan valley. The great idol of gold was one of the chief possessions of Kurzon, and it was often referred to in the old papers; copies and translations of which the professor had with him.

"But this is the most valuable of all," he said, as he opened an oiled-silk packet. "And before I show it to you, suppose you two young men take a look outside the tent."

"What for?" asked Mr. Damon.

"To make sure that no emissaries from the Beecher crowd are sneaking around to overhear what we say," was the somewhat bitter answer of the scientist. "I do not trust him, in spite of his attempted denial."

Tom and Ned took a quick but thorough observation outside the tent. The blackness of the jungle night was in strange contrast to the light they had just left.

"Doesn't seem to be any one around here," remarked Ned, after waiting a minute or two.

"No. All's quiet along the Potomac. Those Beecher natives are having some sort of a song- fest, though."

In the distance, and from the direction of their rivals' camp, came the weird chant.

"Well, as long as they stay there we'll be all right," said Tom. "Come on in. I'm anxious to hear what the professor has to say."

"Everything's quiet," reported Ned.

"Then give me your attention," begged the scientist.

Carefully, as though about to exhibit some, precious jewel, he loosened the oiled-silk wrappings and showed a large map, on thin but tough paper.

"This is drawn from the old charts," the professor explained. "I worked on it many months, and it is the only copy in the world. If it were to be destroyed I should have to go all the way back to New York to make another copy. I have the original there in a safe deposit vault."

"Wouldn't it have been wise to make two copies?" asked Tom.

"It would have only increased the risk. With one copy, and that constantly in my possession, I can be sure of my ground. Otherwise not. That is why I am so careful of this. Now I will show you why I believe we are about over the ancient city of Kurzon."

"Over it!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my gunpowder! What do you mean?" and he looked down at the earthen floor of the tent as though expecting it to open and swallow him.

"I mean that the city, like many others of Central and South America, is buried below the refuse of centuries," went on the professor. "Very soon, if we are fortunate, we shall be looking on the civilization of hundreds of years ago--how long no one knows.

"Considerable excavation has been done in Central America," went on Professor Bumper, "and certain ruins have been brought to light. Near us are those of Copan, while toward the frontier are those of Quirigua, which are even better preserved than the former. We may visit them if we have time. But I have reason to believe that in this section of Copan is a large city, the existence of which has not been made certain of by any one save myself--and, perhaps, Professor Beecher.

"Certainly no part of it has seen the light of day for many centuries. It shall be our pleasure to uncover it, if possible, and secure the idol of gold."

"How long ago do you think the city was buried?" asked Tom.

"It would be hard to say. From the carvings and hieroglyphics I have studied it would seem that the Mayan civilization lasted about five hundred years, and that it began perhaps in the year A. D. five hundred."

"That would mean," said Mr. Damon, "that the ancient cities were in ruins, buried, perhaps, long before Columbus discovered the new world."

"Yes," assented the professor. "Probably Kurzon, which we now seek, was buried deep for nearly five hundred years before Columbus landed at San Salvadore. The specimens of writing and architecture heretofore disclosed indicate that. But, as a matter of fact, it is very hard to decipher the Mayan pictographs. So far, little but the ability to read their calendars and numerical system is possessed by us, though we are gradually making headway.

"Now this is the map of the district, and by the markings you can see where I hope to find what I seek. We shall begin digging here," and he made a small mark with a pencil on the map.

"Of course," the professor explained, "I may be wrong, and it will take some time to discover the error if we make one. When a city is buried thirty or forty feet deep beneath earth and great trees have grown over it, it is not easy to dig down to it."

"How do you ever expect to find it?" asked Ned.

"Well, we will sink shafts here and there. If we find carved stones, the remains of ancient pottery and weapons, parts of buildings or building stones, we shall know we are on the right track," was the answer. "And now that I have shown you the map, and explained how valuable it is, I will put it away again. We shall begin our excavations in the morning."

"At what point?" asked Tom.

"At a point I shall indicate after a further consultation of the map. I must see the configuration of the country by daylight to decide. And now let's get some rest. We have had a hard day."

The two tents housing the four white members of the Bumper party were close together, and it was decided that the night would be divided into four watches, to guard against possible treachery on the part of the Beecher crowd.

"It seems an unkind precaution to take against a fellow scientist," said Professor Bumper, "but I can not afford to take chances after what has occurred."

The others agreed with him, and though standing guard was not pleasant it was done. However the night passed without incident, and then came morning and the excitement of getting breakfast, over which the Indians made merry. They did not like the cold and darkness, and always welcomed the sun, no matter how hot.

"And now," cried Tom, when the meal was over, "let us begin the work that has brought us here."

"Yes," agreed Professor Bumper, "I will consult the map, and start the diggers where I think the city lies, far below the surface. Now, gentlemen, if you will give me your attention----"

He was seeking through his outer coat pockets, after an ineffectual search in the inner one. A strange look came over his face.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom.

"The map--the map!" gasped the professor. "The map I was showing you last night! The map that tells where we are to dig for the idol of gold! It's gone!"

"The map gone?" gasped Mr. Damon.

"I--I'm afraid so," faltered the professor. "I put it away carefully, but now----"

He ceased speaking to make a further search in all his pockets.

"Maybe you left it in another coat," suggested Ned.

"Or maybe some of the Beecher crowd took it!" snapped Tom.