Chapter XXIV. Two Other Captives
 

But the rescue was not yet accomplished. Those on the airship were still in danger, and grave peril, for all about them were the red savages, shouting, howling, yelling and capering about, as they were now thoroughly aroused, and realized that their captives had been taken away from them. They determined to get them back, and were rallying desperately to battle. Nearly all of them were armed by this time, and flight after flight of spears and arrows were thrown or shot toward the airship.

Fortunately it was too dark to enable the pygmies to take good aim. They were guided, to an extent, by the flashes of fire from the rifles, but these were only momentary. Still some of our friends received slight wounds, for they stood on the open deck of the craft.

"Bless my eye-glasses!" suddenly exclaimed Mr. Damon. "I'm stuck!"

"Don't mind that!" advised Ned. "Keep on pouring lead into them. We'll soon be away from here!"

"Don't fire any more!" called Mr. Durban. "The gun-flashes tell them where to shoot. I'll use the electric rifle. It's better."

They followed his advice, and put aside their weapons. By means of the electric flash, which he projected into the midst of the savages, without the glare coming on the airship, Mr. Durban was able to tell where to aim. Once he had a mass of red pygmies located, he could keep on shooting charge after charge into their midst.

"Use it full power!" called Tom, as he opened the gas machine to its widest capacity, so the bag would quickly fill, and the craft be sent forward, for it was so dark, and the ground near the huts so uneven, that the Black Hawk could not rise as an aeroplane.

The elephant hunter turned on full strength in the electric gun and the wireless bullets were sent into the midst of the attackers. The result was surprising. They were so closely packed together that when one was hit the electrical shock was sent through his nearly naked body into the naked bodies of his tribesmen who pressed on every side of him. In consequence whole rows of the savages went down at a time, disabled from fighting any more.

Meanwhile Tom was working frantically to hasten the rising of the airship. His neck pained him very much where the arrow had struck him, but he dared not stop now to dress the wound. He could feel the blood running down his side, but he shut his teeth grimly and said nothing.

The two missionaries, scarcely able to believe that they were to be saved, had been shown into an inner cabin by Tomba, who had become somewhat used to the airship by this time, and who could find his way about well in the dark, for no lights had yet been turned on.

Hundreds of pygmies had been disabled, yet still others came to take their places. The gas bag was again punctured in several places, but the rents were small, and Tom knew that he could make the gas faster than it could escape, unless the bag was ripped open.

"They're climbing up the sides!" suddenly called Ned Newton, for he saw several of the little men clambering up. "What shall we do?"

"Pound their fingers!" called Mr. Anderson. "Get clubs and whack them!" It was good advice. Ned remembered on one occasion when he and Tom were looking at Andy Foger's airship, how this method had been proposed when the bank clerk hung on the back fence. As he grabbed up a stick, and proceeded to pound the hands and bare arms of the savages who were clinging to the railing, Ned found himself wondering what had become of the bully. He was to see Andy sooner than he expected.

Suddenly in the midst of the fighting, which was now a hand-to-hand conflict, there was a tremor throughout the length of the airship.

"She's going up!" yelled Ned.

"Bless my check-book!" cried Mr. Damon, "if we don't look out some of these red imps will go up with us, too!"

As he spoke he whacked vigorously at the hands of several of the pygmies, who dropped off with howls of anguish.

The craft quickly shot upward. There were yells of terror from a few of the red savages who remained clinging to different parts of the Black Hawk and then, fearing they might be taken to the clouds, they, too, dropped off. The rescuers and rescued mounted higher and higher, and, when they were far enough up so that there was no danger from the spears or arrows, Tom switched on the lights, and turned the electric current into the search-lantern, the rays of which beamed down on the mass of yelling and baffled savages below.

"A few shots for them to remember us by!" cried Mr. Durban, as he sent more of the paralyzing electric currents into the red imps. Their yell of rage had now turned to shouts of terror, for the gleaming beam of light frightened them more than did the airship, or the bullets of the white men. The red pygmies fled to their huts.

"I guess we gave them a lesson," remarked Tom, as he started the propellers and sent the ship on through the night.

"Why, Tom! You're hurt!" cried Ned, who came into the pilot house at that moment, and saw blood on his chum.

"Only a scratch," the young inventor declared.

"It's more than that," said Mr. Durban who looked at it a little later. "It must be bound up, Tom."

And, while Ned steered the ship back to the jungle clearing whence they had come to make the night attack, Tom's wound was dressed.

Meanwhile the two missionaries had been well taken care of. They were given other garments, even some dresses being provided for Mrs. Illingway, for when the voyage was begun Tom had considered the possibility of having a woman on board, and had bought some ladies' garments. Then, having cast down to earth the ill-smelling skins which formed their clothes while captives, Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, decently dressed, thanked Tom and the others over and over again.

"We had almost given up hope," said the lady, "when we saw them drive you back after the first attack. Oh, it is wonderful to think how you saved us, and in an airship!" and she and her husband began their thanks over again.

A good meal was prepared by Mr. Damon, for the rescuers and rescued ones were hungry, and since they had been held prisoners the two missionaries had not been given very good food.

"Oh, it hardly seems possible that we are eating with white men again," said Mr. Illingway, as he took a second cup of coffee, "hardly possible!"

"And to see electric lights, instead of a camp-fire," added his wife. "What a wonderful airship you have, Tom Swift."

"Yes, it's pretty good," he admitted. "It came in useful to-night, all right."

They were now far enough from the savages, and the pygmies' fires, which had been set aglow anew when the attack began, could no longer be observed.

"We'll land at the place where we camped before," said Tom, who had again assumed charge of the ship, "and in the morning we'll start for civilization."

"No can get two other white men?" suddenly asked Tomba, who had been sitting, gazing at his recovered master and mistress. "Fly-ship go back, an' leave two white mans here?" the black asked.

"What in the world does he mean?" demanded Tom. "Of course we're not going to leave any of our party behind!"

"Let me question him," suggested Mr. Illingway, and he began to talk to the African in his own tongue. A rapid conversation followed, and a look of amazement spread over the faces of the two missionaries, as they listened.

"What is it?" asked Mr. Durban. "What does Tomba say?"

"Why the pygmies have two other white men in captivity," said Mr. Illingway. "They were brought in yesterday, after you were driven away. Two white men, or, rather a white man and a youth, according to Tomba. They are held in one of the huts near where we were, but tied so they couldn't escape in the confusion"

"How does Tomba know this?" asked Mr. Damon.

"He says," translated Mr. Illingway, after more questioning of the black, "that he heard the red pygmies boasting of it after we had escaped. Tomba says he heard them say that, though we were gone, and could not be killed, or sacrificed, the other two captives would meet that horrible fate."

"Two other white captives in the hands of the red imps!" murmured Tom. "We must rescue them!"

"You're not going to turn back now, are you?" asked Mr. Durban.

"No, but I will as soon as I look the ship over. We'll come back to- morrow. And we'll have to make a day attack or it will be too late to save them. Two other white captives! I wonder who they can be."

There was a big surprise in store for Tom Swift.