Ham and Long Tom sat tight and held their hat to keep them from being blown off by the terrific rush of air. Doc wore no hat. No goggles protected his golden eyes. The windshield was down. Yet the roaring wind seemed to have absolutely no effect on his bronze immaculateness.
"Hadn't we better pick up a boat somewhere?" Ham inquired.
"We’ve got it," Doc replied.
"In the rumble seat—a collapsible silk boat you can almost put in your coat pocket. Also, there's an outboard motor that hardly weighs more than a portable typewriter. Other things, too!"
Ham pinched his eyes shut against the slapping, tearing wind. The uncanny way his big bronze leader had of preparing for every emergency was a continuous source of wonder to Ham. He, carrying in his head the keenest thinking machine of the adventurous group, excepting only Doc, could pick out many possible emergencies that could arise. But mighty Doc Savage saw ahead to dangers of which Ham did not dream, and seemed always to have a defense against them.
The miles streaked under the panting roadster. Darkness had fallen. The moon was out, brilliant.
Into the swamps dived the road. Great cypress towered like clouds of green over the thoroughfare. On higher ground, yellow pines stood slender and tall like arrayed sentinels.
"Great lumber country," Ham offered, to break the silence.
"Second only to the State of Washington in the value of lumber produced," Doc replied.
Long Tom chuckled. "And I sort of had the idea sugar cane and cotton was all they grew down here!"
The smokestack of a sawmill spouted sparks on their left. Steam labored. A head saw bit into a log with a sound like silk cloth being torn. The mill was ablaze with lights. More electric bulbs hung out on a cableway system used to lift logs out of the storage yard and drop them on the log dogs in the bull chain that fed the sawing carriages.
Doc's roadster whipped on and the night-working sawmill was left behind. The road seemed to sink. It became a tortuous groove in a spongy mat of steaming, ominous swamp. The moonlight did not reach it often.
The headlights danced like fat white chalk sticks juggled on the snout of the roadster.
"Is this the only road into Buck Boontown's part of the Morass?" Ham asked.
"It is," Doc assured him.
THE monotony of their swamp trip was soon shattered. The road lifted suddenly. It narrowed until there was room for only one car. The road was crossing a deep bayou on a high levee.
To either side, moonbeams shimmered up from the listless surface of the bayou. Higher and higher, the car swept. It was half across the grade.
At this point, Doc's uncanny keenness of eye was demonstrated. The others saw nothing portentous of danger. No obstruction barred the way.
But Doc's golden eyes noted a disquieting object. A small stick, smaller even than a lead pencil, projected upward from the road middle. It had been set there recently. The disturbed condition of the road showed that.
Doc trod the brake. The suspicious stick was only a few yards away. The roadster was doing sixty. It skewered. It careened from side to side, skidding. All four tires, frozen immobile by the brakes, squealed like hungry pigs.
The stick came nearer. Doc saw the roadster wasn't going to stop in time. The road was too narrow to steer to either side.
Suddenly several men ran into view at the end of the levee. They were wizened. They looked like big, hairless, bob-tailed monkeys.
Harnessed to his middle, every man had an aircraft-type machine gun.
Doc's bronze head flashed around. Behind them, more of the swamp men had appeared.
"A trap!" Ham rapped.
The exclamation was hardly off Ham's lips when a powerful bronze arm grasped him and flung him bodily out of the roadster. Ham's form cleared the levee! He sailed for the water.
Despite the suddenness of what had occurred, Ham still retained a clutch on his sword cane.
Even as he saw Ham clear the levee, Long Tom found he was also spinning through space. Turning over in the air, he got a glimpse of Doc Savage's powerful frame cleaving down after him.
Both Ham and Long Tom felt as though they had been half jerked apart by the titanic sinews of the bronze giant. They were as dazed as though a stunning electric current had unexpectedly caroused through their bodies.
There had been no time for Doc to be gentle. He had hurled both his men clear of the levee and followed himself—all in an instant so fractional only a finely calibrated stopwatch could have caught it.
The roadster had not yet hit the upraised stick.
But now the car skewered into it. There was a terrific roar. A hideous tongue of flame leaped magically into being and tore the levee apart. The burst mangled the entire front off the roadster. It spouted smoke, sparks, dirt and rent fragments of the car.
Had the roadster been moving a little faster, it would have been completely annihilated. As it was, only the fore part met destruction.
Chapter XII. HUMAN SACRIFICE
HAM and Long Tom plunked into the water in one-two succession. They collided as they kicked in the depths. Together, they stroked to the top.
Doc's bronze head was not in evidence.
Dйbris from the dynamited levee still rained. The stuff ranged from steel splinters to clods as large as pork barrels. The rear half of the roadster dived beneath the surface with a loud gurgling.
Ham and Long Tom sank hastily to keep from being brained by dropping wreckage. They realized now that the roadster, in hitting the raised stick had closed an electrical contact which released the blast.
Swimming under water, Ham and Long Tom reached the concealment of canes which grew along the levee edge.
"Where's Doc?" Ham groaned. "He should have come to the top before now!"
"Maybe—" Long Tom shivered and didn't finish. Maybe a flying missile, driven by the explosive, had pierced Doc's giant bronze form! It was possible!
Racing feet spatted the levee. Hoarse commands were gobbled in the jargon the swamp men spoke. A machine gun vomited a string of concussions.
Long Tom and Ham sank wildly as copronickel bullets scored the water about their heads. They arose deeper in the gloom beneath the canes.
Over where the blast had occurred, great bubbles were arising. They made gruesome glub-glubsounds. Air escaping from the submerged roadster caused them. One arose now that seemed large as a tub.
"Ugh!" shuddered Ham. "Why don't Doc come up?"
Long Tom gave a hoarse gasp. "Look! As if the devils above us weren't enough!"
Perhaps three score feet distant, two knots had projected from the bayou surface. They resembled a pair of black fists held close together.
"'Gator!" Ham muttered. "The infernal things feed at night, too!"
The eyes of the alligator sank.
"Yo' come on out!" rasped one of the swamp men from the levee.
Ham and Long Tom made no answer. They fingered their compact little machine guns.
Suddenly a storm of slugs from the aircraft type weapons above them poured downward. The rank canes were chewed and split as by the fangs of an invisible, wood-devouring monster.
Ham and Long Tom saw they were at a hopeless disadvantage. They held their fire, not wishing to start a fight to the finish.
"Yo' no be keeled if yo' come out!" called the swamp man. "Gray Spider ees want to talk to yo'!"
The speaker swore at the machine gunners, silencing them. Then he waited to see what Ham and Long Tom would do.