Chapter XVIII. The Native Battle
 

"By Jove, Tom, here they come!"

"From over by that drinking pool?"

"Yes, just as the spies said they would. Wow, what a crowd of the black beggars there are! And some of 'em have regular guns, too. But most of 'em have clubs, bows and arrows, blow guns, or spears."

Tom and Ned were standing on the forward part of the airship, which was moving slowly along, over an open plateau, in the jungle where the native battle was about to take place. Our friends had left the town where the missionaries lived, and had hovered over the jungle, until they saw signs of the coming struggle. They had seen nothing of their English rivals since coming away, but had no doubt but that the Britishers were somewhere in the neighborhood.

The two forces of black men, who had gone to war over a dispute about some cattle, approached each other. There was the beating of tom-toms, and skin drums, and many weird shouts. From their vantage point in the air, Tom and his companions had an excellent view. The Wizard Camera was loaded with a long reel of film, and ready for action.

"Bless my handkerchief!" cried Mr. Damon, as he looked down on the forces that were about to clash. "I never saw anything like this before!"

"I either," admitted Tom. "But, if things go right, I'm going to get some dandy films!"

Nearer and nearer the rival forces advanced. At first they had stared, and shouted in wonder at the sight of the airship, hovering above them, but their anger soon drew their attention to the fighting at hand, and, after useless gestures toward the craft of the air, and after some of them had vainly fired their guns or arrows at it, they paid no more attention, but rushed on with their shouts and cries and amid the beating of their rude drums.

"I think I'll begin to take pictures now," said Tom, as Ned, in charge of the ship, sent it about in a circle, giving a general view of the rival forces. "I'll show a scene of the two crowds getting ready for business, and, later on, when they're actually giving each other cats and dogs, I'll get all the pictures possible."

The camera was started while, safe in the a those on the Flyer watched what went on below them.

Suddenly the forward squads of the two small armies of blacks met. With wild, weird yells they rushed at each other. The air was filled with flying arrows and spears. The sound of the old- fashioned muzzle-loading guns could he heard, and clouds of smoke arose. Tilting his camera, and arranging the newly attached reflecting mirrors so as to give the effect as if a spectator was looking at the battle from in front, instead of from above, Tom Swift took picture after picture.

The fight was now on. With yells of rage and defiance the Africans came together, giving blow for blow. It was a wild melee, and those on the airship looked on fascinated, though greatly wishing that such horrors could be stopped.

"How about it, Tom?" cried Ned.

"Everything going good! I don't like this business, but now I'm in it I'm going to stick. Put me down a little lower," answered the young inventor.

"All right. I say Tom, look over there."

"Where?"

"By that lightning-struck gum tree. See those two men, and some sort of a machine they've got stuck up on stilts? See it?"

"Sure. Those are the two Englishmen--my rivals! They're taking pictures, too!"

And then, with a crash and roar, with wild shouts and yells, with volley after volley of firearms, clouds of smoke and flights of arrows and spears, the native battle was in full swing, while the young inventor, sailing above it in his airship, reeled off view after view of the strange sight.