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Tom Swift in the Land of Wonders, a novel by Victor Appleton

Chapter 18. "El Tigre!"

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The four men gazed at one another. Consternation showed on the face of Professor Bumper, and was reflected, more or less, on the countenances of his companions.

"Are you sure the map is gone?" asked Tom. "I know how easy it is to mislay anything in a camp of this sort. I couldn't at first find my safety razor this morning, and when I did locate it the hoe was in one of my shoes. I'm sure a rat or some jungle animal must have dragged it there. Now maybe they took your map, Professor. That oiled silk in which it was wrapped might have appealed to the taste of a rat or a snake."

"It is no joking matter," said Professor Bumper. "But I know you appreciate the seriousness of it as much as I do, Tom. But I had the map in the pocket of this coat, and now it is gone!"

"When did you put it there?" asked Ned.

"This morning, just before I came to breakfast."

"Oh, then you have had it since last night!" Tom ejaculated.

"Yes, I slept with it under my clothes that I rolled up for a pillow, and when it was my turn to stand guard I took it with me. Then I put it back again and went to sleep. When I awoke and dressed I put the packet in my pocket and ate breakfast. Now when I look for it--why, it's gone!"

"The map or the oiled-silk package?" asked Mr. Damon, who, once having been a businessman, was sometimes a stickler for small points.

"Both," answered the professor. "I opened the silk to tie it more smoothly, so it would not be such a lump in my pocket, and I made sure the map was inside."

"Then the whole thing has been taken--or you have lost it," suggested Ned.

"I am not in the habit of losing valuable maps," retorted the scientist. "And the pocket of my coat I had made deep, for the purpose of carrying the long map. It could not drop out."

"Well, we mustn't overlook any possible chances," suggested Tom. "Come on now, we'll search every inch of the ground over which you traveled this morning, Professor."

"It MUST be found," murmured the scientist. "Without it all our work will go for naught."

They all went into the tent where the professor and Mr. Damon had slept when they were not on guard. The camp was a busy place, with the Indians finishing their morning meal, and getting ready for the work of the day. For word had been given out that there would be no more long periods of travel.

In consequence, efforts were being directed by the head men of the bearers to making a more permanent camp in the wilderness. Shelters of palm-thatched huts were being built, a site for cooking fires made, and, at the direction of Mr. Damon, to whom this part was entrusted, some sanitary regulations were insisted on.

Leaving this busy scene, the four, with solemn faces, proceeded to the tent where it was hoped the map would be found. But though they went through everything, and traced and retraced every place the professor could remember having traversed about the canvas shelter, no signs of the important document could be found.

"I don't believe I dropped it out of my pocket," said the scientist, for perhaps the twentieth time.

"Then it was taken," declared Tom.

"That's what I say!" chimed in Ned. "And by some of Beecher's party!"

"Easy, my boy," cautioned Mr. Damon. "We don't want to make accusations we can't prove."

"That is true," agreed Professor Bumper. "But, though I am sorry to say it of a fellow archaelogist, I can not help thinking Beecher had something to do with the taking of my map."

"But how could any of them get it?" asked Mr. Damon. "You say you had the map this morning, and certainly none of them has been in our camp since dawn, though of course it is possible that some of them sneaked in during the night."

"It does seem a mystery how it could have been taken in open daylight, while we were about camp together," said Tom. "But is the loss such a grave one, Professor Bumper?"

"Very grave. In fact I may say it is impossible to proceed with the excavating without the map."

"Then what are we to do?" asked Ned.

"We must get it back!" declared Tom.

"Yes," agreed the scientist, "we can not work without it. As soon as I make a little further search, to make sure it could not have dropped in some out-of-the-way place, I shall go over to Professor Beecher's camp and demand that he give me back my property."

"Suppose he says he hasn't taken it?" asked Tom.

"Well, I'm sure he either took it personally, or one of his party did. And yet I can't understand how they could have come here without our seeing them," and the professor shook his head in puzzled despair.

A more detailed search did not reveal the missing map, and Mr. Damon and his friend the scientist were on the point of departing for the camp of their rivals, less than a mile away, when Tom had what really amounted to an inspiration.

"Look here, Professor!" he cried. "Can you remember any of the details of your map--say, for instance, where we ought to begin excavating to get at the wonders of the underground city?"

"Well, Tom, I did intend to compare my map with the configuration of the country about here. There is a certain mountain which serves as a landmark and a guide for a starting point. I think that is it over there," and the scientist pointed to a distant snow-capped peak.

The party had left the low and marshy land of the true jungle, and were among the foothills, though all about them was dense forest and underbush, which, in reality, was as much a jungle as the lower plains, but was less wet.

"The point where I believe we should start to dig," said the professor, "is near the spot where the top of the mountain casts a shadow when the sun is one hour high. At least that is the direction given in the old manuscripts. So, though we can do little without the map, we might make a start by digging there."

"No, not there!" exclaimed Tom.

"Why not?"

"Because we don't want to let Beecher's crowd know that we are on the track of the idol of gold."

"But they know anyhow, for they have the map," commented Ned, puzzled by his chum's words.

"Maybe not," said Tom slowly. "I think this is a time for a big bluff. It may work and it may not. Beecher's crowd either has the map or they have not. If they have it they will lose no time in trying to find the right place to start digging and then they'll begin excavating.

"Very good! If they do that we have a right to dig near the same place. But if they have not the map, which is possible, and if we start to dig where the professor's memory tells him is the right spot, we'll only give them the tip, and they'll dig there also."

"I'm sure they have the map," the professor said. "But I believe your plan is a good one, Tom."

"Just what do you propose doing?" asked Ned.

"Fooling 'em!" exclaimed Tom quickly. "We'll dig in some place remote from the spot where the mountain casts its shadow. They will think, if they haven't the map, that we are proceeding by it, and they'll dig, too. When they find nothing, as will also happen to us, they may go away.

"If, on the other hand, they have the map, and see us digging at a spot not indicated on it, they will be puzzled, knowing we must have some idea of where the buried city lies. They will think the map is at fault, perhaps, and not make use of it. Then we can get it back."

"Bless my hatband!" cried Mr. Damon. "I believe you're right, Tom. We'll dig in the wrong place to fool 'em."

And this was done. Search for the precious map was given up for the time being, and the professor and his friends set the natives to work digging shafts in the ground, as though sinking them down to the level of the buried city.

But though this false work was prosecuted with vigor for several days, there was a feeling of despair among the Bumper party over the loss of the map.

"If we could only get it back!" exclaimed the professor, again and again.

Meanwhile the Beecher party seemed inactive. True, some members of it did come over to look on from a respectful distance at what the diggers were doing. Some of the rival helpers, under the direction of the head of the expedition, also began sinking shafts. But they were not in the locality remembered by Professor Bumper as being correct.

"I can't imagine what they're up to," he said. "If they have my map they would act differently, I should think."

"Whatever they're up to," answered Tom, "the time has come when we can dig at the place where we can hope for results." And the following day shafts were started in the shadow of the mountain.

Until some evidence should have been obtained by digging, as to the location beneath the surface of a buried city, there was nothing for the travelers to do but wait. Turns were taken in directing the efforts of the diggers, and an occasional inspection was made of the shafts.

"What do you expect to find first?" asked Tom of Professor Bumper one day, when the latter was at the top of a shaft waiting for a bucket load of dirt to be hoisted up.

"Potsherds and artifacts," was the answer.

"What sort of bugs are they?" asked Ned with a laugh. He and Tom were about to go hunting with their electric rifles.

"Artifacts are things made by the Indians--or whatever members of the race who built the ancient cities were called--such as household articles, vases, ornaments, tools and so on. Anything made by artificial means is called an artifact."

"And potsherds are things with those Chinese laundry ticket scratches on them," added Tom.

"Exactly," said the professor, laughing. "Though some of the strange-appearing inscriptions give much valuable information. As soon as we find some of them--say a broken bit of pottery with hieroglyphics on--I will know I am on the right track."

And while the scientist and Mr. Damon kept watch at the top of the shaft, Tom and Ned went out into the jungle to hunt. They had killed some game, and were stalking a fine big deer, which would provide a feast for the natives, when suddenly the silence of the lonely forest was broken by a piercing scream, followed by an agonized cry of "El tigre! El tigre!" _

Read next: Chapter 19. Poisoned Arrows

Read previous: Chapter 17. The Lost Map

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