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"I guess everything is all ready," remarked Tom.
"I can't think of anything more to do," said Ned.
"Bless my grip-sack!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "if there is, someone else has got to do it. I'm tired to death! I never thought getting ready to go off on a simple little trip was so much work. We ought to have made the whole journey from start to finish in an airship, Tom, as we've done before."
"It was hardly practical," answered the young inventor. "I'm afraid we'll be searching for this underground city for some time, and we'll only need an airship or a dirigible balloon for short trips here and there. We've got to go a good deal by information the natives can furnish us, and we can't get at them very well when sailing in the air."
"That's right," agreed the eccentric man. "Well, I'm glad we're ready to start,"
It was the evening of the day before they were to leave for New York, there to take steamer to a small port on the Mexican coast, and every one was busy putting the finishing details to the packing of his personal baggage.
The balloon, taken apart for easy transportation, had been sent on ahead, as had most of their supplies, weapons and other needed articles. All they would carry with them were handbags, containing some clothing.
"Then you've fully made up your mind not to go; eh Rad?" asked Tom of the colored man, who was busy helping them pack. "You won't take a chance in the underground city?"
"No, Massa Tom, I's gwine t' stay home an' look after yo' daddy. 'Sides, Boomerang is gettin' old, an' when a mule gits along in yeahs him temper ain't none ob de best."
"Boomerang's temper never was very good, anyhow," said Tom. "Many's the time he's balked on you, Rad."
"I know it, Massa Tom, but dat jest shows what strong character he done hab. Nobody kin manage dat air mule but me, an' if I were to leave him, dere suah would be trouble. No, I cain't go to no underground city, nohow."
"But if you found some of the golden images you could buy another mule--two of 'em if you wanted that many," said Ned, and a moment later he remembered that Tom did not want the colored man to know anything about the trip after gold. He had been led to believe that it was merely a trip to locate an ancient city.
"Did yo' done say golden images?" asked Eradicate, his eyes big with wonder.
Ned glanced apologetically at Tom, and said, with a shrug of his shoulders:
"Oh, we might as well tell him," interrupted the young inventor. "Yes, Rad, we expect to bring back some images of solid gold from the underground city. If you go along you might get some for your self. Of course there's nothing certain about it, but--"
"How--how big am dem gold images, Massa Tom?" asked Eradicate eagerly.
"You've got him going now, Tom," whispered Ned.
"How big?" repeated Tom musingly. "Hum, well, there's one that is said to be bigger than three men, and there must be any number of smaller ones--say boy's size, and from that on down to the real little ones, according to Mr. Illingway."
"Real gold--yellow, gold images as big as a man," said Eradicate in a dreamy voice. "An'--an' some big as boys. By golly, Massa Tom, am yo' suah ob dat?"
"Pretty sure. Why, Rad?"
"Cause I's gwine wid yo', dat's why! I didn't know yo' all was goin' after gold. My golly I's gwine along! Look out ob mah way, ef yo' please,--Mr, Damon. I'se gwine t' pack up an' go. Am it too late to git me a ticket, Massa Tom?"
"No, I guess there's room on the ship. But say, Rad, I don't want you to talk about this gold image part of it. You can say we're going to look for an underground city, but no more, mind you!"
"Trust me, Massa Tom; trust me. I--I'll jest say brass images, dat's what I'll say--brass! We's gwine after brass, an' not gold. By golly, I'll fool 'em!"
"No, don't say anything about the images--brass or gold," cautioned Tom. "But, Rad, there's another thing. We may run across the head- hunters down thre in Mexico."
"Head-hunters? What's dem?"
"They crush you, and chop off your head for an ornament."
"Ha! Ha! Den I ain't in no danger, Massa Tom. Nobody would want de head ob an old colored man fo' an ornament. By golly! I's safe from dem head-hunters! Yo' can't scare me dat way. I's gwine after some of dem gold images, I is, an' ef I gits some I'll build de finest stable Boomerang ever saw, an' he kin hab oats fo' times a day. Dat's what I's gwine t' do. Now look out ob mah way, Mr. Damon, ef yo' pleases. I's gwine t' pack up," and Eradicate shuffled off, chuckling to himself and muttering over and over again: "Gold images! Gold images! Images ob solid gold! Think ob dat! By golly!"
"Think he'll give the secret away, Tom?" asked Ned.
"No. And I'm glad he's going. Four makes a nice party, and Rad will make himself useful around camp. I've been sorry ever since he said he wouldn't go, on account of the good cooking I'd miss, for Rad is sure a fine cook."
"Bless my knife and fork, that's so!" agreed Mr. Damon.
So complete were the preparations of our friends that nothing remained to do the next morning. Eradicate had his things all in readiness, and when good-byes had been said to Mr. Swift, and Mrs. Baggert, Tom, Ned and Mr. Damon, followed by the faithful colored man, set off for the depot to take the train for New York. There they were to take a coast steamer for Tampico, Mexico, and once there they could arrange for transportation into the interior.
The journey to New York was uneventful, but on arrival there they met with their first disappointment. The steamer on which they were to take passage had been delayed by a storm, and had only just arrived at her dock.
"It will take three days to get her cargo out, clean the boilers, load another cargo in her and get ready to sail," the agent informed them.
"Then what are we to do?" asked Ned.
"Guess we'll have to wait; that's all," answered Tom. "It doesn't much matter. We're in no great rush, and it will give us three days around New York. We'll see the sights."
"Bless my spectacles! Its an ill wind that blows nobody good," remarked Mr. Damon, "I've been wanting to visit New York for some time, and here's my chance."
"We'll go to a good hotel," said Tom. "and enjoy ourselves as long as we have to wait for the steamer."
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