Chapter IV. Fenimore Beecher
 

Had Tom Swift's giant cannon been discharged somewhere in the vicinity of his home it could have caused but little more astonishment to Mr. Damon and Professor Bumper than did the simple announcement of the young inventor. The professor seemed to shrink back in his chair, collapsing like an automobile tire when the air is let out. As for Mr. Damon he jumped up and cried:

"Bless my----!"

But that is as far as he got--at least just then. He did not seem to know what to bless, but he looked as though he would have liked to include most of the universe.

"Surely you don't mean it, Tom Swift," gasped Professor Bumper at length. "Won't you come with us?"

"No," said Tom, slowly. "Really I can't go. I'm working on an invention of a new aeroplane stabilizer, and if I go now it will be just at a time when I am within striking distance of success. And the stabilizer is very much needed."

"If it's a question of making a profit on it, Tom," began Mr. Damon, "I can let you have some money until----"

"Oh, no! It isn't the money!" cried Tom. "Don't think that for a moment. You see the European war has called for the use of a large number of aeroplanes, and as the pilots of them frequently have to fight, and so can not give their whole attention to the machines, some form of automatic stabilizer is needed to prevent them turning turtle, or going off at a wrong tangent.

"So I have been working out a sort of modified gyroscope, and it seems to answer the purpose. I have already received advance orders for a number of my devices from abroad, and as they are destined to save lives I feel that I ought to keep on with my work.

"I'd like to go, don't misunderstand me, but I can't go at this time. It is out of the question. If you wait a year, or maybe six months----"

"No, it is impossible to wait, Tom," declared Professor Bumper.

"Is it so important then to hurry?" asked Mr. Damon. "You did not mention that to me, Professor Bumper."

"No, I did not have time. There are so many ends to my concerns. But, Tom Swift, you simply must go!"

"I can't, my dear professor, much as I should like to."

"But, Tom, think of it!" cried Mr. Damon, who was as much excited as was the little bald- headed scientist. "You never saw such an idol of gold as this. What's its name?" and he looked questioningly at the professor.

"Quitzel the idol is called," supplied Professor Bumper. "And it is supposed to be in a buried city named Kurzon, somewhere in the Sierra de Merendon range of mountains, in the vicinity of the Copan valley. Copan is a city, or maybe we'll find it only a town when we get there, and it is not far from the borders of Guatemala.

"Tom, if I could show you the translations I have made of the ancient documents, referring to this idol and the wonderful city over which it kept guard, I'm sure you'd come with us."

"Please don't tempt me," Tom said with a laugh. "I'm only too anxious to go, and if it wasn't for the stabilizer I'd be with you in a minute. But---- Well, you'll have to get along without me. Maybe I can join you later."

"What's this about the idol keeping guard over the ancient city?" asked Ned, for he was interested in strange stories.

"It seems," explained the professor, "that in the early days there was a strange race of people, inhabiting Central America, with a somewhat high civilization, only traces of which remained when the Spaniards came.

"But these traces, and such hieroglyphics, or, to be more exact pictographs, as I have been able to decipher from the old documents, tell of one country, or perhaps it was only a city, over which this great golden idol of Quitzel presided.

"There is in some of these papers a description of the idol, which is not exactly a beauty, judged from modern standards. But the main fact is that it is made of solid gold, and may weigh anywhere from one to two tons."

"Two tons of gold!" cried New Newton. "Why, if that's the case it would be worth----" and he fell to doing a sum in mental arithmetic.

"I am not so concerned about the monetary value of the statue as I am about its antiquity," went on Professor Bumper. "There are other statues in this buried city of Kurzon, and though they may not be so valuable they will give me a wealth of material for my research work."

"How do you know there are other statues?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Because my documents tell me so. It was because the people made other idols, in opposition, as it were, to Quitzel, that their city or country was destroyed. At least that is the legend. Quitzel, so the story goes, wanted to be the chief god, and when the image of a rival was set up in the temple near him, he toppled over in anger, and part of the temple went with him, the whole place being buried in ruins. All the inhabitants were killed, and trace of the ancient city was lost forever. No, I hope not forever, for I expect to find it."

"If all the people were killed, and the city buried, how did the story of Quitzel become known?" asked Mr. Damon.

"One only of the priests in the temple of Quitzel escaped and set down part of the tale," said the professor. "It is his narrative, or one based on it, that I have given you."

"And now, what I want to do, is to go and make a search for this buried city. I have fairly good directions as to how it may be reached. We will have little difficulty in getting to Honduras, as there are fruit steamers frequently sailing. Of course going into the interior--to the Copan valley--is going to be harder. But an expedition from a large college was recently there and succeeded, after much labor, in ex- cavating part of a buried city. Whether or not it was Kurzon I am unable to say.

"But if there was one ancient city there must be more. So I want to make an attempt. And I counted on you, Tom. You have had considerable experience in strange quarters of the earth, and you're just the one to help me. I don't need money, for I have interested a certain millionaire, and my own college will put up part of the funds."

"Oh, it isn't a question of money," said Tom. "It's time."

"That's just what it is with me!" exclaimed Professor Bumper. "I haven't any time to lose. My rivals may, even now, be on their way to Honduras!"

"Your rivals!" cried Tom. "You didn't say anything about them!"

"No, I believe I didn't There were so many other things to talk about. But there is a rival archaeologist who would ask nothing better than to get ahead of me in this matter. He is younger than I am, and youth is a big asset nowadays."

"Pooh! You're not old!" cried Mr. Damon. "You're no older than I am, and I'm still young. I'm a lot younger than some of these boys who are afraid to tackle a trip through a tropical wilderness," and he playfully nudged Tom in the ribs.

"I'm not a bit afraid!" retorted the young inventor.

"No, I know you're not," laughed Mr. Damon. "But I've got to say something, Tom, to stir you up. Ned, how about you? Would you go?"

"I can't, unless Tom does. You see I'm his financial man now."

"There you are, Tom Swift!" cried Mr. Damon. "You see you are holding back a number of persons just because you don't want to go."

"I certainly wouldn't like to go without Tom," said the professor slowly. "I really need his help. You know, Tom, we would never have found the city of Pelone if it had not been for you and your marvelous powder. The conditions in the Copan valley are likely to be still more difficult to overcome, and I feel that I risk failure without your young energy and your inventive mind to aid in the work and to suggest possible means of attaining our object. Come, Tom, reconsider, and decide to make the trip."

"And my promise to go was dependent on Tom's agreement to accompany us," said Mr. Damon

"Come on!" urged the professor, much as one boy might urge another to take part in a ball game. "Don't let my rival get ahead of me."

"I wouldn't like to see that," Tom said slowly. "Who is he--any one I know?"

"I don't believe so, Tom. He's connected with a large, new college that has plenty of money to spend on explorations and research work. Beecher is his name--Fenimore Beecher."

"Beecher!" exclaimed Tom, and there was such a change in his manner that his friends could not help noticing it. He jumped to his feet, his eyes snapping, and he looked eagerly and anxiously at Professor Bumper.

"Did you say his name was Fenimore Beecher?" Tom asked in a tense voice.

"That's what it is--Professor Fenimore Beecher. He is really a learned young man, and thoroughly in earnest, though I do not like his manner. But he is trying to get ahead of me, which may account for my feeling."

Tom Swift did not answer. Instead he hurried from the room with a murmured apology.

"I'll be back in about five minutes," he said, as he went out.

"Well, what's up now?" asked Mr. Damon of Ned, as the young inventor departed. "What set him off that way?"

"The mention of Beecher's name, evidently. Though I never heard him mention such a person before."

"Nor did I ever hear Professor Beecher speak of Tom," said the bald-headed scientist. "Well, we'll just have to wait until----"

At that moment Tom came back into the room.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have reconsidered my refusal to go to the Copan valley after the idol of gold. I'm going with you!"

"Good!" cried Professor Bumper.

"Fine!" ejaculated Mr. Damon. "Bless my time-table! I thought you'd come around, Tom Swift."

"But what about your stabilizer?" asked Ned.

"I was just talking to my father about it,' the young inventor replied. "He will be able to put the finishing touches on it. So I'll leave it with him. As soon as I can get ready I'll go, since you say haste is necessary, Professor Bumper."

"It is, if we are to get ahead of Beecher."

"Then we'll get ahead of him!" cried Tom. "I'm with you now from the start to the finish. I'll show him what I can do!" he added, while Ned and the others wondered at the sudden change in their friend's manner.