Chapter XIII. A Shot in Time
 

"Tom, did you ever see anything like it in your life?"

"I never did, Ned! It's wonderful! fearful! And to think that we are here watching it, and that thousands of people will see the same thing thrown on a screen. Oh, look at the big one. The small lion has him down!"

The two lads, much thrilled, crouched down behind a screen of bushes, watching the midnight fight between the lions. On the airship, not far distant, there was no little alarm, for those left behind heard the terrific roars, and feared Tom and Ned might be in some danger. But the lions were too much occupied with their battle, to pay any attention to anything else, and no other wild beasts were likely to come to the spring while the two "kings" were at each other.

It was a magnificent, but terrible battle. The big cats bit and tore at each other, using their terrific claws and their powerful paws, one stroke of which is said to be sufficient to break a bullock's back. Sometimes they would roll out of the focus of the camera, and, at such times, Tom wished he was at the machine to swing the lens around, but he knew it would be dangerous to move. Then the beasts would roll back into the rays of light again, and more pictures of them would be taken.

"I guess the small one is going to win!" said Tom, after the two lions had fought for ten minutes, and the bigger one had been down several times.

"He's younger," agreed Ned, "and I guess the other one has had his share of fights. Maybe this is a battle to see which one is to rule this part of the jungle."

"I guess so," spoke the young inventor, as he pressed the button to stop the camera, as the lions rolled out of focus. "Oh, look!" he cried a moment later, as the animals again rolled into view. Tom started the camera once more. "This is near the end," he said.

The small lion had, by a sudden spring, landed on the back of his rival. There was a terrific struggle, and the older beast went down, the younger one clawing him terribly. Then, so quickly did it happen that the boys could not take in all the details, the older lion rolled over and over, and rid himself of his antagonist. Quickly he got to his feet, while the smaller lion did the same. They stood for a moment eyeing each other, their tails twitching, the hair on their backs bristling, and all the while they uttered frightful, roars.

An instant later the larger beast sprang toward his rival. One terrible paw was upraised. The small lion tried to dodge, but was not quick enough. Down came the paw with terrific force, and the boys could hear the back bone snap. Then, clawing his antagonist terribly, as he lay disabled, the older lion, with a roar of triumph, lapped up water, and sprang off through the jungle, leaving his dying rival beside the spring.

"That's the end," cried Tom, as the small lion died, and the young inventor pressed the button stopping his camera. There was a rustle in the leaves back of Tom and Ned, and they sprang up in alarm, but they need not have feared, for it was only Koku, the giant, who, with a portable electrical torch, had come to see how they had fared.

"Mr. Tom all right?" asked the big man, anxiously.

"Yes, and I got some fine pictures. You can carry the camera back now, Koku. I think that roll of film is pretty well filled."

The three of them looked at the body of the dead lion, before they went back to the airship. I have called him "small," but, in reality, the ;beast was small only in comparison with his rival, who was a tremendous lion in size. I might add that of all the pictures Tom took, few were more highly prized than that reel of the lion fight.

"Bless my bear cage!" cried Mr. Damon, as Tom came back, "you certainly have nerve, my boy."

"You have to, in this business," agreed Tom with a laugh. "I never did this before, and I don't know that I would want it for a steady position, but it's exciting for a change."

They remained near the "lion spring" as they called it all night, and in the morning, after Koku had served a tasty breakfast, Tom headed the airship for a district where it was said there were many antelope, and buffaloes, also zebus.

"I don't want to get all exciting pictures," our hero said to Mr. Nestor. "I think that films showing wild animals at play, or quietly feeding, will be good."

"I'm sure they will," said Mary's father. "Get some peaceful scenes, by all means."

They sailed on for several days, taking a number of pictures from the airship, when they passed over a part of the country where the view was magnificent, and finally, stopping at a good sized village they learned that, about ten miles out, was a district where antelope abounded.

"We'll go there," decided Tom, "and I'll take the camera around with me on a sort of walking trip. In that way I'll get a variety of views, and I can make a good film."

This plan was followed out. The airship came to rest in a beautiful green valley, and Ned and Tom, with Mr. Damon, who begged to be taken along, started off.

"You can follow me in about half an hour, Koku," said Tom, "and carry the camera back. I guess you can easily pick up our trail."

"Oh, sure," replied the giant. Indeed, to one who had lived in the forest, as he had all his life, before Tom found him, it was no difficult matter to follow a trail, such as the three friends would leave.

Tom found signs that showed him where the antelopes were in the habit of passing, and, with Ned and Mr. Damon, stationed himself in a secluded spot.

He had not long to wait before a herd of deer came past. Tom took many pictures of the graceful creatures, for it was daylight now, and he needed no light. Consequently there was nothing to alarm the herd.

After having made several films of the antelope, Tom and his two companions went farther on. They were fortunate enough to find a place that seemed to be a regular playground of the deer. There was a large herd there, and, getting as near as he dared, Tom focused his camera, and began taking pictures.

"It's as good as a play," whispered Mr. Damon, as he and Ned watched the creatures, for they had to speak quietly. The camera made scarcely any noise. "I'm glad I came on this trip."

"So am I," said Ned. "Look, Tom, see the mother deer all together, and the fawns near them. It's just as if it was a kindergarten meeting."

"I see," whispered Tom. "I'm getting a picture of that."

For some little time longer Tom photographed the deer, and then, suddenly, the timid creatures all at once lifted up their heads, and darted off. Tom and Ned, wondering what had startled them, looked across the glade just in time to see a big tiger leap out of the tall grass. The striped animal had been stalking the antelope, but they had scented him just in time.

"Get him, Tom," urged Ned, and the young inventor did so, securing several fine views be. fore the tiger bounded into the grass again, and took after his prey.

"Bless my china teacup! What's that!" suddenly cried Mr. Damon. As he spoke there was a crashing in the bushes and, an instant later as two-horned rhinoceros sprang into view, charging straight for the group.

"Look out!" yelled Ned.

"Bless my--" began Mr. Damon, but he did not finish, for, in starting to run his foot caught in the grass, and he went down heavily.

Tom leaped to one side, holding his camera so as not to damage it. But he stumbled over Mr. Damon, and went down.

With a "wuff" of rage the clumsy beast, came on, moving more rapidly than Tom had any idea he was capable of. Hampered by his camera our hero could not arise. The rhinoceros was almost upon him, and Ned, catching up a club, was just going to make a rush to the rescue, when the brute seemed suddenly to crumple up. It fell down in a heap, not five feet from where Tom and Mr. Damon lay.

"Good!" cried Ned. "He's dead. Shot through the heart! Who did it?"

"I did," answered Koku quietly, stepping out of the bushes, with one of Tom's Swift's electric rifles in his hand.