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

Chapter 20. An Old Legend

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Fascinated, Tom and Ned gazed at the package the Indian woman held out to them. Undoubtedly it was oiled silk on the outside, and through the almost transparent covering could be seen the small arrows, or darts, used in the blow gun.

"Where did you get that?" asked Tom, pointing to the bundle and gazing sternly at Tal.

"What is the matter, Senor?" asked the Indian in turn. "Is it that you are afraid of the poisoned arrows? Be assured they will not harm you unless you are scratched by them."

Tom and Ned found it difficult to comprehend all the rapid Spanish spoken by their host, but they managed to understand some, and his eloquent gestures made up the rest.

"We're not afraid," Tom said, noting that the oiled skin well covered the dangerous darts. "But where did you get that?"

"I picked it up, after another Indian had thrown it away. He got it in your camp, Senor. I will not lie to you. I did not steal. Valdez went to your camp to steal--he is a bad Indian--and he brought back this wrapping. It contained something he thought was gold, but it was not, so he----"

"Quick! Yes! Tell us!" demanded Tom eagerly. "What did he do with the professor's map that was in the oiled silk? Where is it?"

"Oh, Senors!" exclaimed the Indian woman, thinking perhaps her husband was about to be dealt harshly with when she heard Tom's excited voice. "Tal do no harm!"

"No, he did no harm," went on Tom, in a reassuring tone. "But he can do a whole lot of good if he tells us what became of the map that was in this oiled silk. Where is it?" he asked again.

"Valdez burn it up," answered Tal.

"What, burned the professor's map?" cried Ned.

"If that was in this yellow cloth--yes," answered the injured man. "Valdez he is bad. He say to me he is going to your camp to see what he can take. How he got this I know not, but he come back one morning with the yellow package. I see him, but he make me promise not to tell. But you save my life I tell you everything.

"Valdez open the package; but it is not gold, though he think so because it is yellow, and the man with no hair on his head keep it in his pocket close, so close," and Tal hugged himself to indicate what he meant.

"That's Professor Bumper," explained Ned.

"How did Valdez get the map out of the professor's coat?" asked Tom.

"Valdez he very much smart. When man with no hair on his head take coat off for a minute to eat breakfast Valdez take yellow thing out of pocket."

"The Indian must have sneaked into camp when we were eating," said Tom. "Those from Beecher's party and our workers look all alike to us. We wouldn't know one from the other, and one of our rival's might slip in."

"One evidently did, if this is really the piece of oiled silk that was around the professor's map," said Ned.

"It certainly is the same," declared the young inventor. "See, there is his name," and he stretched out his hand to point.

"Don't touch!" cried Tal. "Poisoned arrows snake poison--very dead-like and quick."

"Don't worry, I won't touch," said Tom grimly. "But go on. You say Valdez sneaked into our camp, took the oiled-silk package from the coat pocket of Professor Bumper and went back to his own camp with it, thinking it was gold."

"Yes," answered Tal, though it is doubtful if he understood all that Tom said, as it was half Spanish and half English. But the Indian knew a little English, too. "Valdez, when he find no gold is very mad. Only papers in the yellow silk-papers with queer marks on. Valdez think it maybe a charm to work evil, so he burn them up--all up!"

"Burned that rare map!" gasped Tom.

"All in fire," went on Tal, indicating by his hands the play of flames. "Valdez throw away yellow silk, and I take for my arrows so rain not wash off poison. I give to you, if you like, with blow gun."

"No, thank you," answered Tom, in disappointed tones. "The oiled silk is of no use without the map, and that's gone. Whew! but this is tough!" he said to his chum. "As long as it was only stolen there was a chance to get it back, but if it's burned, the jig is up."

"It looks so," agreed Ned. "We'd better get back and tell the professor. It he can't get along without the map it's time he started a movement toward getting another. So it wasn't Beecher, after all, who got it."

"Evidently not," assented Tom. "But I believe him capable of it."

"You haven't much use for him," remarked Ned.

"Huh!" was all the answer given by his chum.

"I am sorry, Senors," went on Tal, "but I could not stop Valdez, and the burning of the papers----"

"No, you could not help it," interrupted the young inventor. "But it just happens that it brings bad luck to us. You see, Tal, the papers in this yellow covering, told of an old buried city that the bald-headed professor--the-man-with-no-hair-on-his-head--is very anxious to discover. It is somewhere under the ground," and he waved to the jungle all about them, pointing earthwards.

"Paper Valdez burn tell of lost city?" asked Tal, his face lighting up.

"Yes. But now, of course, we can't tell where to dig for it."

The Indian turned to his wife and talked rapidly with her in their own dialect. She, too, seemed greatly excited, making quick gestures. Finally she ran out of the hut.

"Where is she going?" asked Tom suspiciously.

"To get her grandfather. He very old Indian. He know story of buried cities under trees. Very old story--what you call legend, maybe. But Goosal know. He tell same as his grandfather told him. You wait. Goosal come, and you listen."

"Good, Ned!" suddenly cried Tom. "Maybe, we'll get on the track of lost Kurzon after all, through some ancient Indian legend. Maybe we won't need the map!"

"It hardly seems possible," said Ned slowly. "What can these Indians know of buried cities that were out of existence before Columbus came here? Why, they haven't any written history."

"No, and that may be just the reason they are more likely to be right," returned Tom. "Legends handed down from one grandfather to another go back a good many hundred years. If they were written they might be destroyed as the professor's map was. Somehow or other, though I can't tell why, I begin to see daylight ahead of us."

"I wish I did," remarked Ned.

"Here comes Goosal I think," murmured Tom, and he pointed to an Indian, bent with the weight of years, who, led by Tal's wife, was slowly approaching the hut. _

Read next: Chapter 21. The Cavern

Read previous: Chapter 19. Poisoned Arrows

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