Chapter IX. Attacked by a Whale
 

Surprise at Mr. Anderson's announcement held Tom silent for a moment. That the gentleman whom he had been the means of rescuing, among others, from Earthquake Island, should be met with so unexpectedly, was quite a coincidence, but when it developed that he was bound to the same part of the African continent as were Tom and his friends, and when he said he hoped to rescue some missionaries from the very red pygmies so feared by the old elephant hunter--this was enough to startle any one.

"I see that my announcement has astonished you," said Mr. Anderson, as he noted the look of surprise on the face of the young inventor.

"It certainly has! Why, that's where we are bound for, in my new airship. Come down into our cabin, Mr. Anderson, and tell us all about it. Is your wife with you?"

"No, it is too dangerous a journey on which to take her. I have little hope of succeeding, for it is now some time since the unfortunate missionaries were captured, but I am going to do my best, and organize a relief expedition when I get to Africa."

Tom said nothing at that moment, but he made up his mind that if it was at all possible he would lend his aid, that of his airship, and also get his friends to assist Mr. Anderson. They went below to a special cabin that had been reserved for Tom's party, and there, as the ship slowly passed down New York Bay, Mr. Anderson told his story.

"I mentioned to you, when we were on Earthquake Island," he said to Tom, "that I had been in Africa, and had done some hunting. That is not my calling, as it is that of your friend, Mr. Durban, but I know the country pretty well. However, I have not been there in some time."

"My wife and I are connected with a church in New York that, several years ago, raised a fund and sent two missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Illingway, to the heart of Africa. They built up a little mission there, and for a time all went well, and they did good work among the natives."

"They are established in a tribe of friendly black men, of simple nature, and, while the natives did not become Christianized to any remarkable extent, yet they were kind to the missionaries. Mr. and Mrs. Illingway used frequently to write to members of our church, telling of their work. They also mentioned the fact that adjoining the country of the friendly blacks there was a tribe of fierce little red men,--red because of hair of that color all over their bodies."

"That's right," agreed Mr. Durban, shaking his head solemnly. "They're red imps, too!"

"Mr. Illingway often mentioned in his letters," went on Mr. Anderson, "that there were frequent fights between the pygmies and the race of blacks, but the latter had no great fear of their small enemies. However, it seems that they did not take proper precautions, for not long ago there was a great battle, the blacks were attacked by a large force of the red pygmies, who overwhelmed them by numbers, and finally routed them, taking possession of their country."

"What became of the missionaries?" asked Ned Newton.

"I'll tell you," said Mr. Anderson. "For a long time we heard nothing, beyond the mere news of the fight, which we read of in the papers. The church people were very anxious about the fate of Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, and were talking of sending a special messenger to inquire about them, when a cablegram came from the headquarters of the society in London."

"It seems that one of the black natives, named Tomba, who was a sort of house servant to Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, escaped the general massacre, in which all his friends were killed. He made his way through the jungle to a white settlement, and told his story, relating how the two missionaries had been carried away captive by the pygmies."

"A terrible fate," commented Mr. Durban.

"Yes, they might better be dead, from all the accounts we can hear," went on Mr. Anderson.

"Bless my Sunday hat! Don't say that!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Maybe we can save them, Mr. Anderson."

"That is what I am going to try to do, though it may be too late. As soon as definite news was received, our church held a meeting, raised a fund, and decided to send me off to find Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, if alive, or give them decent burial, if I could locate their bones. The reason they selected me was because I had been in Africa, and knew the country."

"I made hurried arrangements, packed up, said good-by to my wife, and here I am. But to think of meeting you, Tom Swift! And to hear that you are also going to Africa. I wish I could command an airship for the rescue. It might be more easily accomplished!"

"That's just what I was going to propose!" exclaimed Tom. "We are going to the land of the red pygmies, and while I have promised to help Mr. Durban in getting ivory, and while I want to try my electric rifle on big game, still we can do both, I think. You can depend on us, Mr. Anderson, and if the Black Hawk can be of any service to you in the rescue, count us in!"

"Gosh!" cried the former castaway of Earthquake Island. "This is the best piece of luck I could have! Now tell me all about your plans." which Tom and the others did, listening in turn, to further details about the missionaries.

Just how they would go to work to effect the rescue, or how they could locate the particular tribe of little red men who had Mr. and Mrs. Illingway, they did not know.

"We may be able to get hold of this Tomba," said Mr. Durban. "If not I guess between Mr. Anderson and myself we can get on the trail, somehow. I'm anxious to get to the coast, see the airship put together again, and start for the interior."

"So am I," declared Tom, as he got out his electric rifle, and began to put it together, for he wanted to show Mr. Anderson how it worked.

They had a pleasant and uneventful voyage for two weeks. The weather was good, and, to tell the truth, it was rather monotonous for Torn and the others, who were eager to get into activity again. Then came a storm, which, while it was not dangerous, yet gave them plenty to think and talk about for three days. Then came more calm weather, when the Soudalar plowed along over gently heaving billows.

They were about a week from their port of destination, which vas Majumba, on the African coast, when, one afternoon, as Tom and the others were in their cabin, they heard a series of shouts on deck, and the sound of many feet running to and fro.

"Something has happened!" exclaimed the young inventor.

Tom raced for the companionway, and was soon on deck, followed by Mr. Durban and the others. They saw a crowd of sailors and passengers leaning over the port rail.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom, of the second mate, who was just passing.

"Fight between a killer and a whale," was the reply. "The captain has ordered the ship to lay-to so it can be watched."

Tom made his way to the rail. About a quarter of a mile away there could be observed a great commotion in the ocean. Great bodies seemed to be threshing about, beating the water to foam, and, with the foam could be seen bright blood mingled. Occasionally two jets of water, as from some small fountain, would shoot upward.

"He's blowing hard!" exclaimed one of the sailors. "I guess he's about done for!"

"Which one?" asked Tom.

"The whale," was the reply. "The killer has the best of the big fellow," and the sailor quickly explained how the smaller killer fish, by the peculiarity of its attack, and its great ferocity, often bested its larger antagonist.

The battle was now at its height, and Tom and the others were interested spectators. At times neither of the big creatures could be seen, because of the smother of foam in which they rolled and threshed about. The whale endeavored to sound, or go to the bottom, but the killer stuck to him relentlessly.

Suddenly, however, as Tom looked, the whale, by a stroke of his broad tail, momentarily stunned his antagonist. Instantly realizing that he was free the great creature, which was about ninety feet long, darted away, swimming on the surface of the water, for he needed to get all the air possible.

Quickly acquiring momentum, the whale came on like a locomotive, spouting at intervals, the vapor from the blowholes looking not unlike steam from some submarine boat.

"He looks to be heading this way," remarked Mr. Durban to Tom.

"He is," agreed the young inventor, "but I guess he'll dive before he gets here. He only wants to get away from the killer. Look, the other one is swimming this way, too!"

"Bless my harpoon, but he sure is!" called Mr. Damon. "They'll renew the fight near here."

But he was mistaken, for the killer, after coming a little distance after the whale, suddenly turned, hesitated for a moment, and then disappeared in the depths of the ocean.

The whale, however, continued to come on, speeding through the water with powerful strokes. There was an uneasy movement among some of the passengers.

"Suppose he strikes the ship," suggested one woman.

"Nonsense! He couldn't," said her husband.

"The old man had better get under way, just the same," remarked a sailor near Tom, as he looked up at the bridge where the captain was standing.

The "old man," or commander, evidently thought the same thing, for, after a glance at the oncoming leviathan, which was still headed directly for the vessel, he shoved the lever of the telegraph signal over to "full speed ahead."

Hardly had he done so than the whale sank from sight.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" exclaimed the woman who had first spoken of the possibility of the whale hitting the ship, "I am afraid of those terrible creatures."

"They're as harmless as a cow, unless they get angry," said her husband.

Slowly the great ship began to move through the water. Tom and his friends were about to go back to their cabin, for they thought the excitement over, when, as the young inventor turned from the rail, he felt a vibration throughout the whole length of the steamer, as if it had hit on a sand-bar.

Instantly there was a jangling of bells in the engine room, and the Soudalar lost headway.

"What's the matter?" asked several persons.

They were answered a moment later, for the big whale, even though grievously wounded in his fight with the killer, had risen not a hundred feet away from the ship, and was coming toward it with the speed of an express train.

"Bless my blubber!" cried Mr. Damon. "We must have hit the whale, or it hit us under the water and now it's going to attack us!"

He had no more than gotten the words out of his mouth ere the great creature of the deep came on full tilt at the vessel, struck it a terrific blow which made it tremble from stem to stern, and careen violently.

There was a chorus of frightened cries, sailors rushed to and fro, the engine-room bells rang violently, and the captain and mates shouted hoarse orders.

"Here he comes again!" yelled Mr. Durban, as he hurried to the side of the ship. "The whale takes us for an enemy, I guess. and he's going to ram us again!"

"And if he does it many times, he'll start the plates and cause a leak that won't be stopped in a hurry!" cried a sailor as he rushed past Tom.

The young inventor looked at the oncoming monster for a moment, and then started on the run for his cabin.

"Here! Where are you going?" cried Mr. Damon, but Tom did not answer.