Buck Boontown could only mumble his gratitude.
The Gray Spider held up the hand on which the hideous tarantula constantly crawled.
In answer to the signal, two swamp men now carried in a box the size of a small trunk.
"Do you know what these are?" asked the Gray Spider.
Buck Boontown stared at the box contents. He seemed puzzled and disappointed.
"Flies!" he muttered. "Dey ees plain beeg o' flies!"
THE swamp man's disappointment gave the Gray Spider great delight. An explosive chuckle fluttered the silk folds of his mask.
"They look perfectly harmless, eh?"
Dey like a bite a man. But dey no do heem any harm."
A fresh guest of hideous mirth emanated from the Gray Spider.
"There's where you're wrong, swamp boy!" he declared. "These are very special flies. If one of them should bite you, it'd kill you instantly."
Buck Boontown looked as if he found this hard to believe.
"These look like ordinary swamp flies because they were just that—before I got hold of them," the Gray Spider explained. "I have sprayed a very powerful poison upon them. The bodies of the flies have absorbed this poison, which has no effect on them. But their bites are now highly venomous. They will bring instant death to a man."
Sacrй!"Buck Boontown gulped.
The Gray Spider leered. "Making these flies poisonous is a very special secret of mine. It took me a long time to figure out a way of doing it. But I'm telling you, it works!
"Furthermore, I have starved these flies until they're famished. They live by sucking blood. They'll go after any living thing that's handy when they're let out of that box. And whatever they bite will die!
"You are to release them near the bronze devil and his five men."
Buck Boontown wrinkled his forehead. "Oui! But won't de flies bite and keel me, too?"
"You'll set a clockwork so it'll open the lid," explained the master fiend. "You merely take the box near the bronze man's trenches and dugouts, and set the clockwork to open the box at dawn. Then you have all the swamp men clear of the vicinity. The poison flies will do the job for us. You savvy?"
Buck Boontown agreed.
He received detailed instructions on how to operate the clockwork. Then he departed from the Castle of the Moccasin, carrying the box of venomous flies on his back.
The journey back to where Doc Savage and his five men were beseiged was a tedious one. It took Buck Boontown until long past midnight.
He exchanged a word with his men, telling them to quit the vicinity.
"Yo' keed, Sill, ees come back," offered the one to whom he talked. "Hees wit' yo' wife."
Buck Boontown was overjoyed at this news.
He quickly placed the box of deadly flies. He set the clockwork. At the hour of dawn, the venomous insects would be freed.
Doc Savage and his men would not suspect the innocent swamp flies of being poisoned. They would be bitten by the famished horrors. And death would come!
Buck Boontown hurried away to meet his wife. He wanted to see his son, Sill, whom he loved deeply. Poor, unfortunate Sill! Perhaps, some day, when they went to the wondrous New Orleans to live, a great doctor could do something for Sill.
The swamp man did not know that he had just sentenced to death the man who had already, by his magical skill, made Sill a normal youth.
Chapter XVI. THE PAY-OFF
BUCK BOONTOWN paused several times to question such retreating swamp men as he encountered. He made sure all were getting away. None had been missed in spreading the word to quit the vicinity.
Doc Savage and his five men, Buck Boontown was assured, did not suspect a general exodus was under way.
"At dawn, dey weel die!" the swamp man leered.
He went on. The women and children of the voodoo clan had been moved to a spot a mile distant. He reached the place.
Every one was gone.
He spent twenty minutes learning the women and children had moved on a couple of miles. He tramped after them.
Somewhere in the distance, a rooster was crowing in a swamp henhouse. The hooting of owls had died. The eastern sky was showing ruddy color. Already, the higher clouds were being tinted like patches of gore by the first rays of the sun.
Dawn was not far off.
Buck Boontown joined his wife and son.
"How ees de keed?" he asked his wife.
"I'm all right, dad," said Sill Boontown.
Something in the lad's tone gave the swamp man an inkling of the truth. A great elation came into his wizened face. The shining happiness in his wife's features convinced him that what he had hoped for had come to pass.
The story quickly came out. Sill Boontown told of the operation which had worked such a miraculous cure.
Finishing, the youth produced several folded bank notes.
"De bronze man geeve me dese," he explained.
"Hees say fo' me to pay my way t'rough school een New Orleans with de money," replied the boy.
Buck Boontown looked at the denominations of the bills. He totaled their sum laboriously. The amount his son held exceeded by many times the pittance the Gray Spider had handed out for having murder done!
Remorse seized Buck Boontown.
This mighty bronze man who pursued the Gray Spider was not the devil he had been painted! He did not mean to slay all the worshippers of voodoo—for it was such a bloodcurdling lie that the Gray Spider had spread.
The bronze man had given Buck Boontown back his son—magically returned to normalcy.
Moreover, he had furnished the boy with money to educate himself, to visit the wondrous city of New Orleans. He had given a sum greater than Buck Boontown had ever expected to save!
These thoughts formed a dizzying maelstrom in the swamp man's head. And towering black and ghastly over it all was the knowledge that his hand was sending death to the giant bronze man.
Buck Boontown was not rotten at heart. His surroundings had made him ignorant and cruel. Raised in a civilized community, he would unquestionably have been respectable.
With a loud moan, Buck Boontown whirled and ran. He knew what he must do!
He made directly for the mound where Doc Savage and his five men were beseiged.
The swamp man hoped to get there in time to stop the escape of the flies, the bite of which would be fatal. His was indeed a race with death.
BUCK BOONTOWN threw away his machine gun. He also discarded a revolver. He was getting rid of all excess weight.
He sloughed through lakes of slime that he would ordinarily have gone around. Jabbing, scratching thorn thickets failed to turn him. He took perilous chances with a muddy bayou infested by 'gators.
The sun was nearly in view. Light of a beginning day seeped into the clammy, moist jungle.
It was almost the exact hour set for the opening of the box which held the poisonous insects.
Buck Boontown sought in vain to put on more speed. He rolled from side to side with exhaustion. Each tremendous, explosive breath blew a spray of crimson off his lips, for he had bitten through his tongue.
The mound where Doc and his five men were beseiged came into view.
Buck Boontown veered to the right. He saw the box which held the venomous flies. Horror gripped him anew.
He was too late!
The box lid was opening!
The swamp man did not slacken his headlong pace—he even managed to go a little faster. He pounced upon the box. A scant dozen of the poisoned flies had as yet escaped.