About the village fires the boys could see the natives eating and drinking, while Intamo, clothed in all the hideous and grotesque finery of his profession, danced weirdly in the firelight, sprinkling powder into the various cooking pots and making strange passes above them with a stick to which was fastened the brush from the tail of a buffalo. Ukundo told them that Intamo was making medicine to frighten the demons away from the pots in which Bulala would be cooked on the morrow and that the real festivities would not commence until the following night. There was little dancing in the village, that night, and after Intamo had completed his ceremony, the blacks commenced to retire to their huts and soon the village street was deserted. All the fires were banked with the exception of one. The village was quite dark.
The moment was approaching when the boys could make their long deferred attempt to escape. In low whispers they had been discussing their plans with Ukundo, all the evening. Now it was only a matter of waiting until they felt sure that the entire village was asleep.
They had distributed the weapons brought them by Paabu, and the feel of them in their hands seemed to impart a new courage and almost to insure the success of their venture.
“Golly!” said Dick, presently. “Don’t you suppose they’re asleep yet?”
“Better wait a little longer,” counselled Doc. “This is our only chance and we just can’t fail.”
At that moment they saw a figure emerge from one of the huts and come toward them.
“There!” said Doc. “What did I tell you?”
The figure approached at a brisk walk and the three hid their weapons as best they could, putting them on the ground and squatting in front of them, but keeping them within reach; for there was something sinister about this silent figure, advancing through the sleeping village. The sickly light of a single dying camp fire dimly outlined the approaching figure, which the waiting captives could see was that of a large warrior in whose right hand swung a short, heavy knobkerrie.
Who could it be? What was his mission in the dead of night?
He was almost upon them before he perceived them, huddled just outside the entrance of their hut; his surprise at seeing them there was evident, for he stopped suddenly with an angry grunt.
“Why are you not in your hut?” he demanded in a hoarse whisper.
“Which is the white boy witch-doctor? I would speak with him.”
It was Intamo. The three recognized him simultaneously and knew why he had come and why he carried the knobkerrie.
“I am he,” replied Doc. “What do you want of me?”
The only answer that Intamo made was to leap forward with raised bludgeon. With a cry of horror, Dick jumped to his feet and sprang between Intamo and his intended victim. With his short spear grasped in both hands and held horizontally before him and above his head he sought to break the force of Itamo’s wicked blow. The knobkerrie crashed upon the stout wood of the spear haft and glanced to one side. But Intamo with the sweep of a mighty arm brushed the lad aside and swung his club again.
It was at this instant that a small, pantherlike figure, springing with the agility and ferocity of one of the great jungle eats, launched itself full upon the breast of Intamo, hurling the witch-doctor to the ground. Twice a muscular arm rose and fell; twice a dull blade gleamed for an instant in the fitful firelight, then Ukundo arose from the prostrate form, but Intamo lay very still where he had fallen.
“Good old Ukundo!” whispered Dick in a broken voice that choked with a sob, for he knew that Doc had been very near to death.
“Each of you has saved my life,” said Doc, “and—O, gee!—I don’t know what to say!”
“Don’t say anything,” advised Dick. “Anyway, we aren’t out of this mess yet.”
“Now we better go,” said Ukundo. “Have you made strong medicine against the jungle demons?”
“Very strong,” replied Doc. “You have seen that my medicine is stronger than Intamo’s, for he came here to kill me and instead it was he who was killed.”
“Yes,” admitted Ukundo, “I saw!”
As they had previously planned, the three crept stealthily along the rear of the village huts, keeping dose to the palisade. Dick led, Ukundo followed, and then Doc. They had to move very silently lest they awaken some of the numerous village curs, whose yapping might easily arouse the entire village. And so they moved forward very slowly, often just a few yards at a time, when they would lie quietly for several minutes. It was slow, nerve-wracking work. The hut in which Bulala was confined seemed miles away, though in fact it was but a few hundred feet. At last, however, after what seemed an eternity, they reached it and while the boys waited behind the hut, Ukundo crept to the front and crawled inside.
Again there was a long, long wait. The interminable minutes dragged slowly by. Not a sound came to their ears from the interior of the hut for what seemed ages, and then, at last, they heard a faint rustling within. A few minutes later Ukundo and Bulala crept to their sides. Bulala was almost overcome by emotion, so certain had he been that nothing could save him from the horrible fate that awaited him on the morrow; but his words of gratitude were silenced and a moment later the four were creeping toward the village gates.
Here they met their serious obstacle. The gates were secured by chains through which was fastened an old time padlock, such as slavers once used to secure the chains to the necks of their poor victims. For a moment it seemed that they were doomed to failure at the very outset of their attempted break for liberty, but as the boys were examining the fastenings, Doc almost gave vent to a cry of relief; he had discovered that, with true native shiftlessness, the Bagalla had fastened the end of one of the stout chains to a post of the palisade with a bit of grass rope and as a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, this proved a very weak chain indeed. A single stroke of Doc’s knife severed the rope and the chain clattered to the ground—an occurrence that almost proved their undoing for the noise startled a nearby cur into a frenzy of barking that was quickly taken up by every other dog in the village until it seemed that a thousand dogs were yapping at the top of their lungs.
And then the gates stuck as the four put their combined weight against them in an effort to swing them open. Dick glanced over his shoulder and saw a warrior emerging from a hut. The fellow, voicing a loud cry of warning, came running toward them, and in an instant the village was swarming with fierce blacks, all running with brandished spears. In a frenzy of hopelessness the four prisoners hurled themselves upon the sagging barrier, and this time the gates gave way and the quartette plunged into the outer darkness.
To cover the distance across the clearing into the black shadows of the jungle required but a few seconds, for their feet were winged by terror of the hideous death clutching so close behind to drag them back into its awful embrace.
A few feet beyond the village gates the Bagalla halted; they had no medicine to safeguard them against the malign influences of the demons of the darkness and the jungle.
There they stood, shouting threats and insults at the four fugitives who stumbled along the crooked jungle trail. But words could neither harm them, nor bring them back, and presently Galla Galla led his people back into the village and closed the gates.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “when the light first comes faintly through the forest, we will go forth and bring them back, for they will not go far tonight where the lions hunt, and the panthers lie in wait above the trail.”