Chapter XXIII. The Rescue
 

"Can you make out the hut, Tom?" asked Ned, as he stood at his chum's side in the steering tower, and gazed downward on the silent village.

"Not very clearly. Suppose you take a look through the night- glasses. Maybe you'll have better luck."

Ned peered long and earnestly.

"No, I can't see a thing." he said. "It all looks to be a confused jumble of huts. I can't tell one from the other. We'll have to go lower."

"I don't want to do that," objected Tom. "If this attack succeeds at all, it will have to be sharp and quick. If we go down where they can spot us, and work our way up to the hut where the captives are, we'll run the chance of an attack that may put us out of business."

"Yes, we ought to get right over the hut, and then make a sudden swoop down," admitted Ned, "but if we can't see it--"

"I have it!" cried Tom suddenly. "Tomba! That African can see in the dark like a cat. Why, just before we started I dropped a wrench, and I didn't have any matches handy to look for it. I was groping around in the dark trying to get my hands on it, and you know it was pretty black in the jungle. Well, along come Tomba. and he spotted it at once and picked it up. We'll call him here and get him to point out the hut. He can tell me how to steer."

"Good!" cried Ned, and the black was soon standing in the pilot house. He comprehended what was wanted of him, and peered down, seeking to penetrate the darkness.

"Shall I go down a little lower?" asked Tom.

For a moment Tomba did not answer. Then be uttered an exclamation of pleasure.

"Me see hut!" he said, clutching Tom's arm. "Down dere!" He pointed, but neither Tom nor Ned could see it. However, as Tomba was now giving directions, telling Tom when to go to the left or the right, as the wind currents deflected they were certain of soon reaching the place where Mr. and Mrs. Illingway were concealed, if they were still alive.

The Black Hawk was moving slowly, and was not under as good control as if she had been making ninety miles an hour. As it was desired to proceed as quietly as possible, the craft was being used as a dirigible balloon, and the propellers were whirled around by means of a small motor, worked by a storage battery. While not much power was obtained this way, there was the advantage of silence, which was very necessary. Slowly the Black Hawk sailed on through the night. In silence the adventurers waited for the moment of action. They had their weapons in readiness. Mr. Durban was to work the electric rifle, as all Tom's attention would be needed at the machinery. As soon as the craft had made a landing he was to leap out, carrying a revolver in either hand, and, followed by Tomba, would endeavor to gain entrance to the hut, break through the flimsy grass-woven curtain over the doorway, and get Mr. and Mrs. Illingway out. Ned, Mr. Damon and the other two men would stand by to fire on the red pygmies as soon as they commenced the attack, which they would undoubtedly do as soon as the guards of the captives raised the alarm.

The airship was in darkness, for it would have been dangerous to show a light. Some wakeful dwarf might see the moving illumination in the sky, and raise a cry.

"Mos' dere," announced Tomba at length. And then, for the first time, Ned and Tom had a glimpse of the hut. It stood away from the others, and was easy to pick out in daylight, but even the darkness offered no handicap to Tomba. "Right over him now," he suddenly called, as he leaned out of the pilot house window, and looked down. "Right over place. Oh, Tomba glad when he see Missy an' Massy!"

"Yes, I hope you do see them," murmured Tom, as he pulled the lever which would pump the gas from the inflated bag, and compress it into tanks, until it was needed again to make the ship rise. Slowly the Black Hawk sank down.

"Get ready!" called Tom in a low voice.

It was a tense moment. Every one of the adventurers felt it, and all but Tom grasped their weapons with tighter grips. They were ready to spring out as soon as a landing was made. Tom managed the machinery in the dark, for he knew every wheel, gear and lever, and could have put his hand on any one with his eyes shut. The two loaded revolvers were on a shelf in front of him. The side door of the pilot house was ajar, to allow him quick egress.

Tomba, armed with a big club he had picked up in the jungle, was ready to follow. The black was eager for the fray to begin, though how he and the others would fare amid the savages was hard to say.

Still not a sound broke the quiet. It was very dark, for nearly all the camp fires, over which the nightly feast had been prepared, were out. The hut could be dimly made out, however.

Suddenly there was a slight tremor through the ship. She seemed to shiver, and bound upward a little.

"We've landed!" whispered Tom. "Now for it! Come on, Tomba!"

The big black glided after the lad like a shadow. With his two weapons held in readiness our hero went out on deck. The others, with cocked rifles, stood ready for the attack to open. It had been decided that as soon as the first alarm was given by the dwarfs, which would probably be when Tom broke into the hut, the firing would begin.

"Open!" called Tom to Tomba, and the big black dashed his club through the grass curtain over the doorway of the hut. He fairly leaped inside, with a cry of battle on his lips.

"Mr. Illingway! Mrs. Illingway!" called Tom, "We've come to save you. Hurry out. The airship is just outside!"

He fired one shot through the roof of the hut, so that the flash would reveal to him whether or not the two missionaries were in the place. He saw two forms rise up in front of him, and knew that they were the white captives he had observed daring the former attack.

"Oh, what is it?" he heard the woman ask.

"A rescue! Thank the dear Lord!" answered her husband fervently. "Oh, whoever you are, God bless you!"

"Come quickly!" cried Tom, "we haven't a moment to lose!"

He was speaking to absolute blackness now, for it was darker immediately following the revolver flash than before. But he felt a man's hand thrust about his arm, and he knew it was Mr. Illingway.

"Take your wife's hand, and follow me," ordered Tom. "Come, Tomba! Are there any of the red pygmies in here?"

He had not seen any at the weapon's flash, but his question was answered a moment later, for there arose from within and without the hut a chorus of wild yells. At the same time Tom felt small arms grasp him about the legs.

"Come on!" he yelled. "They're awake and after us!"

The din outside increased. Tom heard the rifles of his friends crack. He saw, through the torn door curtain, the flashes of fire. Then came a blue glare, and Tom knew that Mr. Durban was using the electric weapon.

By these intermittent gleams Tom managed to see sufficiently to thrust Mr. and Mrs. Illingway ahead of him. Tomba was at their side. The yells inside the hut were almost deafening. All the red dwarfs left to guard the captives had awakened, and they could see well enough to attack Tom. Fortunately they had no weapons, but they fairly threw themselves upon the sturdy lad, trying to pull him down.

"Go on! Go on!" he yelled to the captives, fairly pushing them along. Then, knowing they were out of the way, he turned and fired his two revolvers as fast as he could pull the triggers, into the very faces of the red imps who were seeking to drag him down. Again and again he fired, until he had emptied both cylinders of his weapons.

He felt the grasps of the fiendish little men relax one by one. Tom finally dragged himself loose, and staggered out of the hut. The captives and Tomba were right in front of him. At the airship, which loomed up in the flashes from the guns and electric rifle, Tom's friends were giving battle. About them swarmed the hordes of savages, with more of the imps pouring in every moment.

"Get aboard!" cried Tom to the missionaries. "Get on the airship, and we'll move out of this!"

He felt a stinging pain in his neck, where an arrow struck him. He tore the arrow out, and rushed forward. Fairly pushing Mr. and Mrs. Illingway up on deck before him, Tom followed. Tomba was capering about his master and mistress, and he swung his big club savagely. He had not been idle, and many a red imp had gone down under his blows.

"Rescued! Rescued!" murmured Mr. Illingway, as Tom hastened to the pilot house to start the motor.