But big bronze Doc moved so quickly that he seemed to vanish completely, to reappear several feet to one side.
The blowgun dart missed by a yard. It plinked into the wall and stuck by its needlelike point.
Before the four monkey men could realize what had happened, there towered among them a Nemesis which might have been made out of metal.
The four clutched their sharp knives. They were at least not cravens. They would fight to the death!
TO the death it was! And it came more swiftly than they had dreamed possible.
One monkey man launched a stab he felt certain would end the fray. It was aimed directly for the bronze giant's heart. But the monkey man felt a terrible paralysis seize his wrist and arm. He did not have time to realize a steel-thewed hand had grasped his darting knife fist and turned it toward his own vitals—the blade was in his heart before he could realize that fact.
The wounded pilot of the plane put forth a terrific effort and hauled himself across the room. He took refuge in a closet, laboriously pulling the door shut after him.
Another monkey man struck at Doc with a razor-sharp stiletto. He, too, believed his stroke would go home. But by some miracle the bronze man moved a trifle. The blade only sheared open his coat and shirt.
The beginning of the oath was the fellow's last word. He tried to strike again. There was a hollow snap. He collapsed. Great hands had broken his neck.
Lefty and Bugs, outside the window, leaped out, fearful of throwing themselves into the fray. They hoped the swamp men would soon overpower Doc.
Suddenly the bronze man strode across the floor. He held the surviving two monkey men, one in each hand. The swamp rats squirmed. They tried feebly to knife the giant. But such was the agony of the hold upon them that they could not.
A pair of mighty arms propelled them for the window. They flew through the air. Their spinning bodies wiped the glass out of the window.
Both fell at the feet of Lefty and Bugs. This fact led the two crooked lumber detectives to think they had been discovered.
They were cowards. Terror seized them. Although they could have shot at the bronze man, they spun and fled instead. The threshing of the two dazed monkey men who had been hurled through the window covered the sound of their flight.
Doc Savage lunged to the side of the dying pilot. It was important that he get an answer to his question—where had the men of the Cult of the Moccasin taken Big Eric, Edna, and Ham?
But the man was dead!
From his stiffening lips would never come word of where Big Eric, Edna, and Ham had been taken!
Chapter V. THE BRONZE RESCUER
THE giant bronze form of Doc Savage moved to the window. He did not see Lefty and Bugs, because they were already out of sight.
Dropping lightly through the window, Doc searched the two dazed monkey men. He threw their weapons away. They seemed to grow light in his powerful grasp, and sailed through the window into the house. They tumbled end over end across the floor, such was the momentum with which they had been tossed.
Doc did not bother to tie them. When one tried to flee, he was knocked flat on his back before he had taken a single step. They had no more chance of escaping Doc than a captured mouse has of evading the cat that caught it.
"Where are the people who were taken away?" Doc's compelling voice filled all the room.
"No savvy what yo' talk about!" muttered one of the vile swamp denizens.
"Have you any idea what will happen to you if you don't talk?"
The pair were scared. But it was not a drooling, cowardly fear. They were determined not to talk.
"Yo' nevair geet one single word from us!"
Doc was convinced they were right. He knew men. He felt these half-savage swampers could be tortured to death without a word escaping their lips.
Standing erect, Doc strode over to the lifeless body of the pilot. Then his gaze went to a cheap ring on a finger of the dead man.
The pilot had used the upraised setting of his ring to scratch three letters and a number in the wall plaster:
Doc Savage's eyes ranged over the sprawling inscription. He examined the pilot's ring and made sure traces of plaster still clung in the setting. The pilot had undoubtedly scrawled the cipher.
Perhaps a minute, Doc remained motionless. Then he nodded slightly, as if to himself. He had solved the puzzle of those letters. There was a telephone in the adjacent room.
The two evil little swampmen found themselves batted head over heels into the next room. They wound up in a corner, dazed, aching. It was not pleasant treatment they were receiving.
Standing with one golden eye on the unsavory pair, Doc picked up the phone. He was connected with the leading morning newspaper in New Orleans.
"I would like to get the location of Worldwide Sawmills No. 3 plant," he requested.
This, Doc had decided, was the meaning of the "W. W. S. 3" scratched in the closet plaster.
In a moment, the information came rattling over the phone wire.
"Thank you." Doc hung up.
The two swamp rats squirmed uneasily, expecting the worst. Their captor seemed to have no more regard for their kind than a lion has for a jackal. And he handled them in about the same fashion.
"Come on, come on!" Doc told them. "We're leaving here!"
Half an hour later, the two swampmen were sleeping in a hotel room. Their sleep was caused by a drug, the effects of which would not wear off for weeks. The two would not be disturbed by the hotel attendants.
In a day or so, a mysterious stranger would arrive. He would take the two men to an amazing institution in the northern part of New York State. This place was run by one of the greatest experts on psychology and criminal minds alive. This wizard made a business of curing men of their criminal tendencies, whether they wanted to be cured or not. No one released from his institution as cured had ever been known to go back to his former life of crime!
This remarkable place was supported by Doc Savage's fabulous wealth. Doc Savage never sent a villain who opposed him to a prison. The police never got them. Instead, they went to this weird establishment to be renovated into decent citizens.
Doc telegraphed the man at the institution to send for the two swamp natives. Then he selected a small garage that seemed to need business and bought a good used roadster for cash.
The car carried him rapidly out of New Orleans. He was headed for the No. 3 plant of Worldwide Sawmills concern.
Night wind whipped his bronze face and deeper bronze hair, but with no more effect than had he been a man of metal. Tires whined on the concrete. The speedometer flirted with seventy.
DAWN was not far off when the charging roadster neared the vicinity of Worldwide Sawmills Plant No. 3. It was in a cypress logging district. Off to the right the surface of a bayou shimmered in the bright moonlight. An occasional late-feeding fish leaped, casting ring after ring of ripples.
A floating sawmill was on the bayou. It consisted of a head saw, edger, trimmer, and cut-off saws mounted on a big scow. It was shut down for the night, but a tendril of smoke strung from the boiler stack. A fireman was puttering about, preparing to get up steam for the new day's work.
Doc turned off the roadster headlights. The windshield had become splattered with night moths, and he had turned it down. His eyes roved alertly. It was only a few miles more.
Great branches overhung the road. Tendrils of moss draped low enough to whip his face occasionally. It was a somber, macabre region.