Buck Boontown knew the price he was going to pay for what he was doing. He did not hesitate. His was a man's code, for all the fact that he had fallen under the hideous spell of voodoo. Doc Savage had returned sanity to his son—therefore he would save the giant bronze man from this death trap.

One of the venomous flies bit him even as he closed the box lid. He hardly faltered. He secured the lid. Then he sat down on the box.

Deliberately, he let the famished, deadly flies settle upon him and begin drawing his blood.

Then he mashed them, one at a time!

After the destruction of the last devilish insect which had escaped, Buck Boontown got off the box.

Doc and his five men watched the swamp man's staggering approach.

"What ails the guy?" Monk muttered.

They soon learned the answer to that. Gasping, Buck Boontown explained. His words got weaker, incoherent. His face purpled. The deadly poison was working like cobra venom.

"Where is this Castle of the Moccasin?" Doc demanded.

Buck Boontown knew he was dying. Perhaps he saw the hideous falsity of the deities of voodoo. Perhaps he realized at last that the Gray Spider was a fiend lower than the water moccasins, the likeness of which he tattooed on the mouth roofs of his slaves. Whatever moved the swamp man, it was a force for the good of humanity.

In two strangled gasps, he told where the Castle of the Moccasin was.

Then he fell dead.

Buck Boontown had paid off.

A heavy silence held the little group of adventurers for a time. They couldn't think of anything to say.

Finally, Monk voiced a thought as good as any.

"That guy," said Monk, "was a hero!"

* * *

Chapter XVII. "THE GRAY SPIDER IS—"

SULTRY midday heat pressed upon the Castle of the Moccasin. Living steam poured up from the soggy jungle of the great morass. Even the mocking birds and the blackbird and the cardinals hung listlessly in the festering vegetation, emitting cries that were only croaks. The little lizards that usually darted up the palmettos so swiftly now set a pace that barely crawled, or hovered panting under a spiked frond.

It was as though the odious presence of the great, sinister, hidden castle of stone had contaminated and sickened the surrounding swamp.

But inside the Castle of the Moccasin there was an air of evil jubilation, awaiting good tidings.

The Gray Spider himself paced circles around his gilded throne in the room of crazy coloring. He tossed his lead-colored tarantula playfully in the air and caught the repulsive thing as it came down. He still wore his mask of silk and the snake-embroidered gown.

"What's keepin' them slowpoke swamp snipes!" he growled impatiently. "They should've had a messenger here before now, tellin' me the bronze devil and his five nosey pals have kicked the pail."

Up sailed the awful tarantula, its many legs kicking. The man in the robe and mask caught it with a flourish.

"Probably the swamp snipes were afraid to go near enough to see if they were dead," he decided. "I'll get the news before long."

He strode jauntily to the outer door.

"Go tell the guards to rush any messengers right inside," he ordered the watchman who stood at the portal.

"Oui!"

said the watchman.

The Gray Spider went back inside.

The watchman started off on his errand. He entered the tangled swamp growth.

Suddenly he stopped. Something had hit his chest. It made a dull, mushy sound. He looked down. He saw fragments of glass clinging to his shirt front. They looked like parts of a thin-walled glass ball. It had contained some kind of liquid. He smelled a faint, strange, rather pleasant odor.

Then he went to sleep.

"Them anaesthetic balls sure work like a charm!" chuckled Monk, stepping out of the near-by jungle. He disarmed the man.

"This seems to be the last of the guards," clipped Ham. He came into view, gave his sword cane a flourish, and added: "The other three were no more trouble than this one was. Aren't we going to get the satisfaction of a fight out of this?"

"What d'you know about fighting?" Monk leered pleasantly.

"Pipe down, you guys!" suggested Doc.

Renny, Johnny, and Long Tom stood behind Doc. They looked like a giant and two skinny dwarfs back of a big bronze statue. Not that Johnny and Long Tom were runts when compared to men of ordinary stature. They were simply in big company.

"Let us see what the future holds, brothers," Doc suggested mildly.

They came out of the jungle. Before them towered the Castle of the Moccasin.

"I wonder how you get in?" Ham puzzled.

"I'll get you in!" Monk said grimly.

He drew a hand grenade, plucked the pin and threw it. The metal egg sailed against the vine-clad walls of masonry.

It hatched a devilish red sheet of flame. Solid stone turned magically into dust, smoke and a shower of fragments. The roar of the exploding nitro bumped in deep salvos across the matted swamp.

A great hole gaped in the wall of the Castle of the Moccasin.

* * *

DOC and his men charged the breach. They vaulted tumbling blocks of rocks. They doubled low and bored through acrid smoke and blinding dust.

A vast room lay before them. The color scheme was repellant. It consisted of daubs and streaks and splotches of every imaginable hue. It was an ugly room, garish, cheap. Colored lights blinked like evil eyes.

A big and flashy throne occupied the middle of the floor.

Across the room, a man in a silken mask and a robe embroidered with snakes was just dodging through a door. The panel slammed. It locked.

"There he goes!" Renny bawled in a voice that was like thunder in a barrel.

Doc and his men pursued the Gray Spider.

Halfway across the room, Monk stopped to jump with both feet on the Gray Spider's repulsive, lead-colored tarantula. The thing had been dropped by the master fiend in flight, and was scuttling circles on the floor.

"I hope that's an omen!" Monk grinned as his big feet squashed the vile thing.

They hit the door. It was of wood. Renny's machine gun made a noise like a steam riveter gone wild.

Renny was a good machine gunner. He could not have cut the lock out of the door more neatly with a keyhole saw and an hour in which to work.

The door whipped open.

"This way!" breathed Doc. His sensitive ears had picked up the Gray Spider's shuffling feet.

They went down a corridor. Stairs sloped into the innards of the earth.

Doc took the stairs with incredible leaps that covered fifteen steps at a time. He placed his feet in the mathematical center of the treads upon which he landed, as though he had been stepping down one at a time.

Monk sought to imitate Doc's feat. He met disaster. Head over heels, he flopped down the stairs—only to gain his feet no more damaged than had he been a man of rubber.

"Graceful as usual!" sneered Ham.

"Yeah!"

The deafening cackle of a machine gun drowned Monk's comeback. Bullets chiseled rock chips off the corridor sides.

Renny's rapid-firer snapped spitefully—twice. The passage went silent, except for the bang of racing feet and the snorty breath gusts of men in action.

The Gray Spider was proving fleet, now that death was blowing frosty breath down his neck.

The stairs leveled out in another passage. This one had steel-grilled doors on either side. It resembled the corridor in a penitentiary cell house.

Faces were pressed to the bars!

Doc caught a glimpse of the attractive features of Edna Danielsen. A moment later, he saw Big Eric.

×