Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter xiv. the big surprise
Chapter XIV. THE BIG SURPRISE
DAWN had not yet arrived when Renny and Monk were hauled into the presence of Long Tom, Ham, and Johnny, who lay bound hand and foot in the shack in the depths of the great swamp.
Long Tom moaned aloud. "Good night! And you fellows were our last hope!"
Monk caught sight of Ham. The faintest of amused gleams came into Monk's little eyes. If it had not been for his grief over learning of Doc Savage's demise, Monk would have burst into roars of laughter.
Any sort of misfortune Ham met with tickled Monk—although the next instant Monk might risk his very life to rescue Ham. These two had been good-natured enemies since the War.
It was Monk who had framed the ham-stealing charge which had been the cause of Ham getting his nickname. Ham had never been able to prove it, a point that still rankled his lawyer soul.
Too, Monk was one man who could hold his own against Ham's sharp tongue. He had an infallible system of getting Ham's goat. He would merely make some reference to Ham's stealing anything connected with a porker, from pig's knuckles to the pig's way of squealing. This burned Ham up.
There was no laughter or razzing now, though.
It was not their own danger that stilled their tongues. It was the overpowering grief brought by the knowledge that they had lost their friend and benefactor—Doc Savage.
The sinister throbbing of the tom-toms still flung its disquieting influence over the huge morass. The cadence was faster. It tore at their nerves. It seemed to destroy the very regularity of their heartbeats. It beat like invisible waves against their brains.
"That infernal racket is driving us nuts!" Johnny muttered.
"And a big alligator keeps crawling up in front of the door," Long Tom groaned. "The guards chased it away a time or two. But lately, they've been letting it hang around, just because it makes us sweat. Seeing the infernal thing reminds us of— of—"
The electrical wizard shuddered violently, and could not finish. Thought of Doc's fate choked him.
Once more, they sat and listened to the thump din of the voodoo ceremony in the hollow at the top of the hill. The caterwauling yells still came. If anything, they were louder, even more fanatic.
"They're working up to the point where the human sacrifice will be offered!" Johnny said in a thick voice. "I studied their infernal rites enough to be able to tell."
"Use your brain on somethin' useful!" Monk groaned. "Gettin' us out of here, for instance!"
Long Tom suddenly gave voice to a horror-stricken gasp. He shut his eyes tightly. The others looked to see what had affected him.
The giant alligator had returned. It crawled slowly through the steaming moonlight for the door. It was like some hideous thing from Hades.
CHUCKLING loudly, the guards looked inside. The horror the presence of the reptile inflicted upon the prisoners seemed to give them great glee. They clucked at the 'gator, calling "Sic 'em!" and other pleasantries.
One guard departed. A chicken's frightened squawl arose. The man came back with the fowl. Using the live bait, he proceeded to decoy the giant alligator through the door.
The reptile entered like a pet dog.
Playfully, the guard tried to persuade it to take a bite out of Monk's leg. He had no success. Disgusted, he kicked the 'gator in the side.
The big saurian now became quite motionless. It might have been hearing something.
Sure enough—a sound came!
It was by far the most welcome note that ever impinged upon the ears of the five men lying bound and sentenced to death upon the filthy floor.
The sound that meant Doc!
More than ever was the ventriloquist quality evident in the wondrous note. Mellow, trilling, soft, it seemed to waft forth from every part of the ramshackle building. It filtered through the awful throb of the tom-toms; and, tiny, small thing though it was, it reduced the savage rhythm to something unimportant, no longer dangerous.
Courage flowed into the five men. Utter joy washed their bodies like some hot, exquisite bath. Doc was alive!
They didn't know how it could be. But Doc was here somewhere. Furtively, they tried to locate him. It was fruitless. His trilling sound seemed to emanate from the molecules of the air itself.
The guards were puzzled and not a little awed.
Vat ees dat noise?"
The swamp man who had kicked the 'gator stepped back. The next instant the reptile gave an expert flounce. The guard sprawled flat on his back. He lost his machine gun from his hands.
The alligator now did what no commonplace saurian ever did. It got up on its rear legs. The repulsive stomach of the thing was closed with, of all things—
A zipper fastener!
With a s-s-wick! of a noise, the zipper came open.
The mighty bronze form of Doc Savage flashed forth.
FOR a moment, the superstitious guards must have thought the big reptile had actually turned into the bronze giant they believed one of its kind had devoured. Astonishment held them paralyzed.
Doc hurled his 'gator masquerade at them. It was but the hide of one of the reptiles, cleverly mounted. It was heavy, though. It flew true. One guard went over backward.
Another guard emitted a howl of alarm. His aircraft-type machine gun cut loose. The recoil of the powerful weapon shook the strange harness about his middle, threatening to tear him to pieces. Empty cartridges chased each other over the floor like brassy mice.
In his haste, the man forgot to exert the proper science in holding his weapon down. It got away from him. The stream of slugs cut through the plank walls like a slasher saw.
The fellow saw the bronze giant whip toward him. He sought to retreat. A terrific blow felled him.
A knife glinted in the pale light over the roped forms of the five prisoners. It slashed with the nice precision of a machine. Ropes fell away.
"Yeo-o-ow!" bellowed Monk. He reared to his feet, roaring, snorting.
Outside the shack, a swamp man was creeping along the wall. His wizened figure could be seen through the inch-wide cracks between the up-and-down wall planks.
Monk took two quick steps. His two hundred and sixty pounds of gristle, bone, and stiff red hair sailed upward. Feet first, Monk hit the wall. Planks split, crashed, caved. He went through the wall like a ball from a muzzle-loading cannon.
The swamp man met destruction in the wreckage.
The swamp men possessed an animal-like bravery. Where-as beings with more brains would have fled, they stood and fought—and quickly found their Waterloo.
Renny's big fist took one amidship. All the starch left the fellow. He draped loose as a dirty shirt over the gallon of knuckles which had hit him.
The bronze flash that was Doc Savage in action accounted for the others.
Ham found his sword cane. One of the unlucky guards had been carrying it. Ham unsheathed the razor-sharp, flexible blade. It sang like a big tuning fork in his hand.
"Yeo-o-ow!" bawled Monk. "I ain't even warmed up!"
"You will be!" clipped Ham. "You'll probably be on fire, before this is over! There's only a few hundred of the voodoo devils left!"
BEDLAM had broken out on the hill above the settlement. The greenish snake of fire burning within the hollow cast a lurid glow on the jungle immediately adjacent. The hilltop might have been the gullet of some bloated dragon.
Against the emerald luminance, ugly figures were silhouetted. Barbaric, savage forms, these were—except for the fearsome killing machines many wore harnessed to their bodies.
They had heard the prisoners escaping. They poured down the hill.
"Come!" Doc's single word was low, calm. But it had the effect of an explosive.
He glided away into the night.
His five men followed. They knew Doc had some plan. They couldn't imagine what it was. They were hopelessly outnumbered. Should they take to the swamp, Doc alone stood a chance of escaping. The swamp men, knowing the intricacies of the vast and entangled morass, would overhaul any one of lesser physical ability. Doc would never desert his men. Hence they knew he must have some other scheme for coping with their immediate peril.
Machine guns searched the festering growth with whistling, popping streams of lead. The slugs sickled off branches and leaves. Violent rolls of rapid echoes gamboled over the low hill.
Amid all that discord, Doc and his men could talk without attracting attention.
"How did you do it, Doc?" Ham questioned. "I mean—when the car went into the bayou? I'd have sworn we saw a 'gator making a meal out of you."
"What you saw was merely a trick to make the swamp men think I was done for," Doc replied. "I thrust an arm into the jaws of that stuffed alligator, then pushed the head out of the water and shook it. Naturally, it looked as if one of the huge reptiles had me."
"What I want to know is, where the stuffed 'gator came from?" Long Tom put in.
"What is the best masquerade a man could don to move about in this swamp?" Doc countered.
"That's easy!" Long Tom chuckled. "Pass himself off as an alligator!"
"Exactly," said Doc. "That stuffed 'gator was in the rumble seat of the roadster. It was one of the things I brought along into the swamp, on the chance we might need it. I simply dived and got it, after the car went into the water. The thing could be folded up in a fairly small space, for all its large size. And it looked natural enough to fool the swamp men, especially when seen only by moonlight. In the daytime, they might not have been deceived so easily."
"Maybe," replied Long Tom. "But the way it was, it sure ran a whizzer on everybody concerned."
A note of regret now came into Doc's powerful, expressive voice.
"I am sorry I had to deceive you along with the swamp men," he said, "but it could not be helped. And there was also nothing else to do but let you fall into the hands of the Gray Spider's men. To have attempted to spirit you away under water would only have meant you would be drowned."
Doc and his five men were working around the hill as they conversed.
"Where we goin'?" Monk inquired.
"Wet your finger and hold it up," Doc suggested.
Monk complied. "Huh—you mean that now we're gettin' the wind at our backs?"
"That's the idea. As you may have noticed, I did some scouting around in the course of the night. In fact, I'll venture to assure you, brothers, that there is scarcely a square yard of this hill over which Doc 'Alligator' Savage did not crawl. Among other things, I made a find which, unless I'm far mistaken, will be our salvation."