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CHAPTER XIII.-FORWARD AGAIN 


"What does it all mean?" asked Tom, seeing that the note was written in Spanish, a tongue which he could speak slightly but read indifferently.

"This is some of Beecher's work," was Professor Bumper's grim comment. "It seems that Jacinto was in his pay."

"In his pay!" cried Mr. Damon. "Do you mean that Beecher deliberately hired Jacinto to betray us?"

"Well, no. Not that exactly. Here, I'll translate this note for you," and the professor proceeded to read:

"Senors: I greatly regret the step I have to take, but I am a gentleman, and, having given my word, I must keep it. No harm shall come to you, I swear it on my honor!"

"Queer idea of honor he has!" commented Tom, grimly.

Professor Bumper read on:

"Know then, that before I engaged myself to you I had been engaged by Professor Beecher through a friend to guide him into the Copan valley, where he wants to make some explorations, for what I know not, save maybe that it is for gold. I agreed, in case any rival expeditions came to lead them astray if I could.

"So, knowing from what you said that you were going to this place, I engaged myself to you, planning to do what I have done. I greatly regret it, as I have come to like you, but I had given my promise to Professor Beecher's friend, that I would first lead him to the Copan valley, and would keep others away until he had had a chance to do his exploration.

"So I have led you to this wilderness. It is far from the Copan, but you are near an Indian village, and you will be able to get help in a week or so. In the meanwhile you will not starve, as you have plenty of supplies. If you will travel northeast you will come again to Puerto Cortes in due season. As for the money I had from you, I deposit it to your credit, Professor Beecher having made me an allowance for steering rival parties on the wrong trail. So I lose nothing, and I save my honor.

"I write this note as I am leaving in the night with the Indians. I put some harmless sedative in your tea that you might sleep soundly, and not awaken until we were well on our way. Do not try to follow us, as the river will carry us swiftly away. And, let me add, there is no personal animosity on the part of Professor Beecher against you. I should have done to any rival expedition the same as I have done with you.

JACINTO."

For a moment there was silence, and then Tom Swift burst out with:

"Well, of all the mean, contemptible tricks of a human skunk this is the limit!"

"Bless my hairbrush, but he is a scoundrel!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, with great warmth.

"I'd like to start after him the biggest alligator in the river," was Ned's comment.

Professor Bumper said nothing for several seconds. There was a strange look on his face, and then he laughed shortly, as though the humor of the situation appealed to him.

"Professor Beecher has more gumption than I gave him credit for," he said. "It was a clever trick!"

"Trick!" cried Tom.

"Yes. I can't exactly agree that it was the right thing to do, but he, or some friend acting for him, seems to have taken precautions that we are not to suffer or lose money. Beecher goes on the theory that all is fair in love and war, I suppose, and he may call this a sort of scientific war."

Ned wondered, as he looked at his chum, how much love there was in it. Clearly Beecher was determined to get that idol of gold.

"Well, it can't be helped, and we must make the best of it," said Tom, after a pause.

"True. But now, boys, let's have breakfast, and then we'll make what goods we can't take with us as snug as possible, until we can send the mule drivers after them," went on Professor Bumper.

"Send the mule drivers after them?" questioned Ned. "What do you mean to do?"

"Do? Why keep on, of course. You don't suppose I'm going to let a little thing like this stand between me and the discovery of Kurzon and the idol of gold, do you?"

"But," began Mr. Damon, "I don't see how--"

"Oh, we'll find a way," interrupted Tom. "It isn't the first time I've been pretty well stranded on an expedition of this kind, and sometimes from the same cause--the actions of a rival. Now we'll turn the tables on the other fellows and see how they like it. The professor's right --let's have breakfast. Jacinto seems to have told the truth. Nothing of ours is missing."

Tom and Ned got the meal, and then a consultation was held as to what was best to be done.

"We can't go on any further by water, that's sure," said Tom. "In the first place the river is too shallow, and secondly we have no canoes. So the only thing is to go on foot through the jungle."

"But how can we, and carry all this stuff?" asked Ned.

"We needn't carry it!" cried Professor Bumper. "We'll leave it here, where it will be safe enough, and tramp on to the nearest Indian village. There we'll hire bearers to take our stuff on until we can get mules. I'm not going to turn back!"

"Good!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my rubber boots! but that's what I say--keep on!"

"Oh, no! we'll never turn back," agreed Tom.

"But how can we manage it?" asked Ned.

"We've just got to! And when you have to do a thing, it's a whole lot easier to do than if you just feel as though you ought to. So, lively is the word!" cried Tom, in answer.

"We'll pack up what we can carry and leave the rest," added the scientist.

Being an experienced traveler Professor Bumper had arranged his baggage so that it could be carried by porters if necessary. Everything could be put into small packages, including the tents and food supply.

"There are four of us," remarked Tom, "and if we can not pack enough along with us to enable us to get to the nearest village, we had better go back to civilization. I'm not afraid to try."

"Nor I!" cried Mr. Damon.

The baggage, stores and supplies that were to be left behind were made as snug as possible, and so piled up that wild beasts could do the least harm. Then a pack was made up for each one to carry.

They would take weapons, of course, Tom Swift's electric rifle being the one he choose for himself. They expected to be able to shoot game on their way, and this would provide them food in addition to the concentrated supply they carried. Small tents, in sections, were carried, there being two, one for Tom and Ned and one for Mr. Damon and the professor.

As far as could be learned from a casual inspection, Jacinto and his deserting Indians had taken back with them only a small quantity of food. They were traveling light and down stream, and could reach the town much more quickly than they had come away from it.

"That Beecher certainly was slick," commented Professor Bumper when they were ready to start. "He must have known about what time I would arrive, and he had Jacinto waiting for us. I thought it was too good to be true, to get an experienced guide like him so easily. But it was all planned, and I was so engrossed in thinking of the ancient treasures I hope to find that I never thought of a possible trick. Well, let's start!" and he led the way into the jungle, carrying his heavy pack as lightly as did Tom.

Professor Bumper had a general idea in which direction lay a number of native villages, and it was determined to head for them, blazing a path through the wilderness, so that the Indians could follow it back to the goods left behind.

It was with rather heavy hearts that the party set off, but Tom's spirits could not long stay clouded, and the scientist was so good-natured about the affair and seemed so eager to do the utmost to render Beecher's trick void, that the others fell into a lighter mood, and went on more cheerfully, though the way was rough and the packs heavy.

They stopped at noon under a bower they made of palms, and, spreading the nets over them, got a little rest after a lunch. Then, when the sun was less hot, they started off again.

"Forward is the word!" cried Ned cheerfully. "Forward!"'

They had not gone more than an hour on the second stage of their tramp when Tom, who was in the lead, following the direction laid out by the compass, suddenly stopped, and reached around for his electric rifle, which he was carrying at his back.

"What is it?" asked Ned in a whisper.

"I don't know, but it's some big animal there in the bushes," was Tom's low-voiced answer. "I'm ready for it."

The rustling increased, and a form could be seen indistinctly. Tom aimed the deadly gun and stood ready to pull the trigger.

Ned, tho had a side view into the underbrush, gave a sudden cry.

"Don't shoot, Tom!" he yelled. "It's a man!"

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