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"You'll go in an airship of course; won't you, Tom?" asked Mr. Damon, when they had pulled their chairs up around a library table, and Mr. Preston had taken some papers from his pocket.
"An airship? No, I don't believe I shall," replied the young inventor. "In the first place, I'm a bit tired of scooting through the air so much, though it isn't to be denied that it's the quickest way of going. But in South America there are so many jungles that it will be hard to find a level starting ground for a take-off, after we land. Of course we could go up as a balloon, but this expedition is going to be different from any we were ever on before."
"How so?" asked Ned.
"Well, in the first place we've got to start at one end of a trail, and make careful inquiries all along the way. It isn't like when we went for the city of gold. There we had to look for a certain ruined temple, which was the landmark. When we went after the platinum in Siberia we had to look for the place of the high winds, so I could use my air glider. But now we're trying to locate a man who traveled on foot through the jungles, and if we went in an airship we might just miss the connecting link."
"So, I think the best way will be to do just as Mr. Poddington did-- travel on foot or by horses and mules, and go slowly, making inquiries from time to time. Then we may get to giant land, we may find him."
"I don't hope for all that," said the circus man, "but if you can only get some news of him it will be a relief. If he died peaceably it would be better than to be a captive among some of those savage tribes. It's been a year now since I heard the last of him. But I agree with Tom that an airship won't be much good in the jungle. You might take along a small one, if you could pack it, to scare the natives with. In fact it might be a good thing to show to the giants, if you find them."
"That is my idea," declared Tom. "I'll take the Lark with me. That's a mighty powerful machine for its size, and it can be taken apart in sections. It will carry three on a pinch, and I have had five in her with two auxiliary seats. I'll take the Lark, and she may come in handy."
"When can you start?" asked Mr. Preston.
"As soon as we can fit out an expedition," answered Tom. "It oughtn't to take long. I don't have to build an air glider this time. It won't take long to take the Lark apart. I haven't finished work on my noiseless airship yet, but that can wait. Yes, we'll be ready as soon as you want us to start, Mr. Preston."
"It can't be too soon for me. I'll deposit a certain sum in the bank to your credit, Tom, and you can draw on it for expenses. I'll pay any amount to get word of poor Jake, to say nothing of having a giant for my circus. Now as to ways of getting there. Have you a large map of South America?"
Tom had one, and he and the others were pouring over it when Tom's father came into the room.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed. "What's this? What are you up to now, Tom, my boy? Mrs. Baggert said you took down the South American map. What's up?"
"Lots, dad? I'm going after giants this time!"
"Giants, Tom? Are you joking?"
"Not a bit of it, Mr. Swift," answered Mr. Damon. "Bless my check book! I believe if some one wanted the moon Tom Swift would try to get it for them."
Then Mr. Swift noticed the stranger present, and was introduced to the circus man.
"Is it really true, Tom," asked the aged inventor, when the story had been related, "are you going to have a try for giant land?"
"That's what I am, dad, and I wish you were going along."
"No, Tom, I'm getting too old for that. But I did hope you'd stay home for a while, and help me work on my gyroscope invention. It is almost completed."
"I will help you, dad, as soon as I get back with a giant or two. Who knows? maybe I'll get one myself."
"What would you do with one?" asked Ned with a laugh.
"Have him help Eradicate," answered the young inventor. "Rad is getting pretty old, and he needs an assistant."
"But are these giants black?" asked Mr. Swift.
"That's a point I don't know," answered the circus man frankly. "Jake didn't say in his letter. They may be black, white or midway between. That's what Tom has got to find out for us."
"And I'll do it!" exclaimed our hero. "Now let's see. I suppose the best plan would be to take a ship right to the Rio de la Plata, landing say at Buenos Ayres or Montevideo, and then organize an expedition to strike into the interior."
"Why don't you do just as Mr. Poddington did?" asked Ned, "start from the Amazon and work south?"
"It would take too long," declared Tom. "We know that the giants are somewhere in the northern part of Argentina, or in Paraguay or Uruguay. Or they may be on the other side of the Uruguay river in Brazil. It's quite a stretch of territory, and we've got to take our time exploring it. That's why I don't want to waste time working down from the Amazon. We'll go right to Buenos Ayres, I think."
"That's what I'd do," advised the old circus man. "Now I can give you some points on what to take, and how to act when you get there. The South Americans are a queer people--very nice when treated right, but very bad if not," and then he told some of his experiences as a circus man in South America, for he had traveled there.
"I'd go again, if my business didn't keep me here," he concluded, "for I'd ask nothing better than to hunt for giant land, or try to rescue poor Jake. But I can't. I'm depending on you, Tom Swift."
"What's that? Giant land?" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert, the motherly housekeeper, as she came in to announce that dinner was ready. "You don't mean to tell me, Tom, that you're going off again?"
"That's what I am, Mrs. Baggert. You'd better put me up a few sandwiches, for I don't know when I'll be back," and Tom winked at his chum.
"Oh, of all things I ever heard in all my born days!" cried the housekeeper, throwing up her hands. "Will you ever settle down, Tom Swift?"
"Maybe he will when Miss Mary Nestor is ready to settle down too," said Ned mischievously, referring to a girl of whom Tom was very fond.
"Say, I'll fix you for that!" cried our hero, as he made an unsuccessful grab for Ned. "But, Mrs. Baggert, can you put on a couple of extra plates? Mr. Damon and Mr. Preston will stay to lunch."
"Not if it's going to put you out, Tom," objected the circus man. "I can go to the hotel, and--"
"No, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Baggert graciously, for she prided herself on her housekeeping arrangements, and she used to say that unexpected company never "flustrated" her. Soon the little party was seated around the table, where the talk went from grave to gay, the subject of the giants being uppermost.
Mr. Preston told many funny stories of his circus days, and some of them had the spice of danger in them, for he had been all over the world, either as a performer or as the owner of amusement enterprises.
"Now, the next question to be settled," said the old circus man, when they were once more gathered in the library, "is how many are going?"
"I am, for one!" exclaimed Ned quickly. "I'm sure my folks will let me. Especially as we aren't going to use an airship, but will travel just as ordinary folks do."
"Except in case of emergency," explained Tom. "We'll have the Lark to use if we need her."
"Oh, of course," agreed Ned. "How about you, Mr. Damon? Will you go?"
The odd man looked around the room before replying, as though he feared someone might be listening on the sly.
"Go on, Andy Foger isn't here," invited Tom with a laugh.
"I'll go--if I can pursuade my wife to let me," said the odd man in a whisper, as if, even then, the good lady might overhear him. "I'm not going to say anything about giants. I'll tell her we are going to rescue a poor fellow from--er--well from the natives of South America, and I'm sure she'll consent. Of course I'll go."
"That's three," remarked Tom. "I think I can get Eradicate to go. He doesn't like airships, and when he knows we're not going in one it will please him. Then he likes it hot, and I guess South America is about as warm as they come. I am almost sure we can count on Rad."
"That will make a nice party," commented the circus man. "Now I'll make out a list of the supplies you'd better take, and tell you what to do about getting native helpers, and so on," and with that he plunged into the midst of details that took up most of the remainder of the day.
"Well, then I guess that settles most everything," remarked Tom, several hours later. "I'll begin at once to take the Lark apart for shipment, and begin ordering the things we need."
"Oh, there's one thing I almost forgot about," said Mr. Preston suddenly. "Queer, how I should overlook that, too. I don't suppose you mind a fight or two; do you?" he asked, looking sharply at Tom.
"Well, it all depends. We've had several fights on other expeditions, though I can't say that I like 'em," replied the young inventor. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you may have one--or several," was the answer of the circus man. "You'll have to beware of my rival."
"Yes, the bitterest foe I have is a rival circus man named Wayland Waydell. He, or some of his men, are always camping on my trail when I send out after a new consignment of wild animals, and I shouldn't be a bit surprised but what he'd try to get ahead of me on the giant game."
"But how does he know you want giants?" asked Tom.
"Because news of circus expeditions always leaks out somehow or other. I'm sure Waydell will learn that you are acting for me, and so I warn you in time. In fact, he tried to get ahead of me when I sent Jake Poddington out over a year ago, and I always had my suspicions that he had a hand in Jake's disappearance, but maybe I'm wrong. So that's what I mean when I say beware of Wayland Waydell, Tom."
"I will!" exclaimed Tom. "He'll have to get up early to get ahead of us." But Tom little knew the man against whom he was to pit himself in the search for giants.
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