CHAPTER VIII.-OFF FOR HONDURAS
Just what Tom's thoughts were, Ned, of course, could not guess. But by the flush that showed under the tan of his chum's cheeks the young financial secretary felt pretty certain that Tom was a bit apprehensive of the outcome of Professor Beecher's call on Mary Nestor.
"So he is going to see her about `something important,' Ned?"
"That's what some members of his party called it."
"And they're waiting here for him to join them?"
"Yes. And it means waiting a week for another steamer. It must be something pretty important, don't you think, to cause Beecher to risk that delay in starting after the idol of gold?"
"Important? Yes, I suppose so," assented Tom. "And yet even if he waits for the next steamer he will get to Honduras nearly as soon as we do."
"How is that?"
"The next boat is a faster one."
"Then why don't we take that? I hate dawdling along on a slow freighter."
"Well, for one thing it would hardly do to change now, when all our goods are on board. And besides, the captain of the Relstab, on which we are going to sail, is a friend of Professor Bumper's."
"Well, I'm just as glad Beecher and his party aren't going with us," resumed Ned, after a pause. "It might make trouble."
"Oh, I'm ready for any trouble HE might make!" quickly exclaimed Tom.
He meant trouble that might be developed in going to Honduras, and starting the search for the lost city and the idol of gold. This kind of trouble Tom and his friends had experienced before, on other trips where rivals had sought to frustrate their ends.
But, in his heart, though he said nothing to Ned about it, Tom was worried. Much as he disliked to admit it to himself, he feared the visit of Professor Beecher to Mary Nestor in Fayetteville had but one meaning.
"I wonder if he's going to propose to her," thought Tom. "He has the field all to himself now, and her father likes him. That's in his favor. I guess Mr. Nestor has never quite forgiven me for that mistake about the dynamite box, and that wasn't my fault. Then, too, the Beecher and Nestor families have been friends for years. Yes, he surely has the inside edge on me, and if he gets her to throw me over---- Well, I won't give up without a fight!" and Tom mentally girded himself for a battle of wits.
"He's relying on the prestige he'll get out of this idol of gold if his party finds it," thought on the young inventor. "But I'll help find it first. I'm glad to have a little start of him, anyhow, even if it isn't more than two days. Though if our vessel is held back much by storms he may get on the ground first. However, that can't be helped. I'll do the best I can."
These thoughts shot through Tom's mind even as Ned was asking his questions and making comments. Then the young inventor, shaking his shoulders as though to rid them of some weight, remarked:
"Well, come on out and see the sights. It will be long before we look on Broadway again."
When the chums returned from their sightseeing excursion, they found that Professor Bumper had arrived.
"Where's Professor Bumper?" asked Ned, the next day.
"In his room, going over books, papers and maps to make sure he has everything."
"And Mr. Damon?"
Tom did not have to answer that last question. Into the apartment came bursting the excited individual himself.
"Bless my overshoes!" he cried, "I've been looking everywhere for you! Come on, there's no time to lose!"
"What's the matter now?" asked Ned. "Is the hotel on fire?"
"Has anything happened to Professor Bumper?" Tom demanded, a wild idea forming in his head that perhaps some one of the Beecher party had tried to kidnap the discoverer of the lost city of Pelone.
"Oh, everything is all right," answered Mr. Damon. "But it's nearly time for the show to start, and we don't want to be late. I have tickets."
"For what?" asked Tom and Ned together.
"The movies," was the laughing reply. "Bless my loose ribs! but I wouldn't miss him for anything. He's in a new play called `Up in a Balloon Boys.' It's great!" and Mr. Damon named a certain comic moving picture star in whose horse-play Mr. Damon took a curious interest. Tom and Ned were glad enough to go, Tom that he might have a chance to do a certain amount of thinking, and Ned because he was still boy enough to like moving pictures.
"I wonder, Tom," said Mr. Damon, as they came out of the theater two hours later, all three chuckling at the remembrance of what they had seen, "I wonder you never turned your inventive mind to the movies."
"Maybe I will, some day," said Tom.
He spoke rather uncertainly. The truth of the matter was that he was still thinking deeply of the visit of Professor Beecher to Mary Nestor, and wondering what it portended.
But if Tom's sleep was troubled that night he said nothing of it to his friends. He was up early the next morning, for they were to leave that day, and there was still considerable to be done in seeing that their baggage and supplies were safely loaded, and in attending to the last details of some business matters.
While at the hotel they had several glimpses of the members of the Beecher party who were awaiting the arrival of the young professor who was to lead them into the wilds of Honduras. But our friends did not seek the acquaintance of their rivals. The latter, likewise, remained by themselves, though they knew doubtless that there was likely to be a strenuous race for the possession of the idol of gold, then, it was presumed, buried deep in some forest-covered city.
Professor Bumper had made his arrangements carefully. As he explained to his friends, they would take the steamer from New York to Puerto Cortes, one of the principal seaports of Honduras. This is a town of about three thousand inhabitants, with an excellent harbor and a big pier along which vessels can tie up and discharge their cargoes directly into waiting cars.
The preparations were finally completed. The party went aboard the steamer, which was a large freight vessel, carrying a limited number of passengers, and late one afternoon swung down New York Bay.
"Off for Honduras!" cried Ned gaily, as they passed the Statue of Liberty. "I wonder what will happen before we see that little lady again."
"Who knows?" asked Tom, shrugging his shoulders, Spanish fashion. And there came before him the vision of a certain "little lady," about whom he had been thinking deeply of late.Next