Chapter XIX. A Heavy Loss
 

"Bless my battle axe, but this is awful!" cried Mr. Damon.

"War is always a fearful thing," spoke Mr. Nestor. "But this is not as bad as if the natives fought with modern weapons. See! most of them are fighting with clubs, and their fists. They don't seem to hurt each other very much."

"That's so," agreed Mr. Damon. The two gentlemen were in the main cabin, looking down on the fight below them, while Tom, with Ned to help him change the reels of films, as they became filled with pictures, attended to the camera. Koku was steering the craft, as he had readily learned how to manage it.

"Are those Englishmen taking pictures yet?" asked Tom, too busy to turn his head, and look for himself.

"Yes, they're still at," replied Ned. "But they seem to be having trouble with their machine," he added as he saw one of the men leave the apparatus, and run hurriedly back to where they had made a temporary camp.

"I guess it's an old-fashioned kind," commented Tom. "Say, this is getting fierce!" he cried, as the natives got in closer contact with each other. It was now a hand-to-hand battle.

"I should say so!" yelled Ned. "It's a wonder those Englishmen aren't afraid to be down on the same level with the black fighters."

"Oh, a white person is considered almost sacred by the natives here, so the missionaries told me," said Tom. "A black man would never think of raising his hand to one, and the Englishmen probably know this. They're safe enough. In fact I'm thinking of soon going down myself, and getting some views from the ground."

"Bless my gizzard, Tom!" cried Mr. Damon. "Don't do it!"

"Yes, I think I will. Why, it's safe enough. Besides, if they attack us we have the electric rifles. Ned, you tell Koku to get the guns out, to have in readiness, and then you put the ship down. I'll take a chance."

"Jove! You've been doing nothing but take chances since we came on this trip!" exclaimed Ned, admiringly. "All right! Here we go," and he went to relieve Koku at the wheel, while the giant, grinning cheerfully at the prospect of taking part in the fight himself, got out the rifles, including his own.

Meanwhile the native battle went on fiercely. Many on both sides fell, and not a few ran away, when they got the chance, their companions yelling at them, evidently trying to shame them into coming back.

As the airship landed, Mr. Damon, Mr. Nestor, Ned and Koku stood ready with the deadly electric rifles, in case an attack should be made on them. But the fighting natives paid no more attention to our friends than they did to the two Englishmen. The latter moved their clumsy camera from place to place, in order to get various views of the fighting.

"This is the best yet!" cried Tom, as, after a lull in the fight, when the two opposing armies had drawn a little apart, they came together again more desperately than before. "I hope the pictures are being recorded all right. I have to go at this thing pretty much in the dark. Say, look at the beggars fight!" he finished.

But a battle, even between uncivilized blacks, cannot go on for very long at a time. Many had fallen, some being quite severely injured it seemed, being carried off by their friends. Then, with a sudden rush, the side which, as our friends learned later, had been robbed of their cattle, made a fierce attack, overwhelming their enemies, and compelling them to retreat. Across the open plain the vanquished army fled, with the others after them. Tom, meanwhile, taking pictures as fast as he could.

"This ends it!" he remarked to Ned, when the warriors were too far away to make any more good views. "Now we can take a rest."

"The Englishmen gave up some time ago," said his chum, motioning to the two men who were taking their machine off the tripod.

"Guess their films gave out," spoke Tom. "Well, you see it didn't do any harm to come down, and I got some better views here."

"Here they come back!" exclaimed Ned, as a horde of the black fellows emerged f row the jungle, and came on over the plain.

"Hear 'em sing!" commented Tom, as the sound of a rude chant came to their ears. "They must be the winners all right."

"I guess so," agreed Ned. "But what about staying here now? Maybe they won't be so friendly to us when they haven't any fighting to occupy their minds."

"Don't worry," advised Tom. "They won't bother us."

And the blacks did not. They were caring for their wounded, who had not already been taken from the field, and they paid no attention to our friends, save to look curiously at the airship.

"Bless my newspaper!" cried Mr. Damon, with an air of relief. "I'm glad that's over, and we didn't have to use the electric rifles, after all."

"Here come the Englishmen to pay us a visit," spoke Ned a little later, as they sat about the cabin of the Flyer. The two rival picture men soon climbed on deck.

"Beg pardon," said the taller of the two, addressing our hero, "but could you lend us a roll of film? Ours are all used up, and we want to get some more pictures before going back to our main camp."

"I'm sorry," replied Tom, "but I use a special size, and it fits no camera but my own."

"Ah! might we see your camera?" asked the other Englishman. "That is, see how it works?"

"I don't like to be disobliging," was Tom's answer, "but it is not yet patented and--well--" he hesitated.

"Oh, I see!" sneered the taller visitor. "You're afraid we might steal some of your ideas. Hum!" Come on Montgomery," and, swinging on his heels, with a military air, he hurried away, followed by his companion.

"They don't like that, but I can't help it," remarked Tom to his friends a little later. "I can't afford to take any chances."

"No, you did just right," said Mr. Nestor. "Those men may be all right, but from the fact that they are in the picture taking business I'd be suspicious of them."

"Well, what's next on the programme?" asked Ned as Tom put his camera away.

"Oh, I think we'll stay here over night," was our hero's reply. "It's a nice location, and the gas machine needs cleaning. We can do it here, and maybe I can get some more pictures."

They were busy the rest of the day on the gas generator, but the main body of natives did not come back, and the Englishmen seemed to have disappeared.

Everyone slept soundly that night. So soundly, in fact, that the sun was very high when Koku was the first to awaken, His head felt strangely dizzy, and he wondered at a queer smell in the room he had to himself.

"Nobody up yet," he exclaimed in surprise, as he staggered into the main cabin. There, too, was the strange, sweetish, sickly smell. "Mr. Tom, where you be? Time to get up!" the giant called to his master, as he went in, and gently shook the young inventor by the shoulder.

"Eh? What's that? What's the matter?" began Tom, and then he suddenly sat up. "Oh, my head!" he exclaimed, putting his hands to his aching temples.

"And that queer smell!" added Ned, who was also awake now.

"Bless my talcum powder!" cried Mr. Damon. "I have a splitting headache."

"Hum! Chloroform, if I'm any judge!" called Mr. Nestor from his berth.

"Chloroform!" cried Tom, staggering to his feet. "I wonder" He did not finish his sentence, but made his way to the room where his camera was kept. "It's gone!" he cried. "We have been chloroformed in the night, and some one has taken my Wizard Camera."