Read CHAPTER IX - THE BAD NEWS BREAKS of Tahara Among African Tribes, free online book, by Harold M. Sherman, on

“Let’s go!” said Dick.

“We’re on our way,” Dan replied with a smile on his round face. “Oh boy!” he added, “what a relief to have a good square meal under my belt again. Honest, Dick, that trek across the desert was terrible! When I tightened my belt, my stomach was so empty that I could feel my belt buckle digging into my backbone.”

Dick smiled. He knew that Dan was a good sport and chock full of courage in spite of his constant interest in food.

“I’d hate to go through a famine with you,” he said.

“You’ll never have a chance to,” chuckled Dan. “I can face a jungle full of black savages and never turn a hair, but don’t expect me to do any fighting on an empty stomach.”

“We will have plenty of fighting from here on, Buddy.”

Dick turned to Raal and called, “Are the men all set to go?”

“Yes Master. But Mutaba, our black guide, is putting up another plan.”

“What is it?”

“He can tell you. I can’t make out what it’s all about.”

“Mutaba, come here,” said Dick.

“Yes Bwana Dick.” And as the big black fellow began talking fast, rolling his eyes and shaking both fists excitedly in the air, Dick saw that he was trying hard to explain something important.

With the little that Dick had learned of native languages, he could tell that Mutaba was very much opposed to the expedition setting out through the forest, but that was all he understood.

“What else is there to do?” he asked Raal.

“Push on! That is my advice, O Master. Many dangers are ahead of us, that is clear, but if we push on bravely we will win through.”

Dan spoke up.

“Let’s get the Mahatma to translate. Maybe there is something to what the black boy is proposing.”

Dick led Mutaba to where the Hindu was preparing for the journey. The wise man had no idea of traveling on foot, like the negroes, or on horseback, like Dick’s warriors.

Instead he had ordered his devoted followers to construct an elaborate litter like a Pullman berth. It was covered with woven vines and leaves, to make a private compartment where he could lie back or sit cross-legged and meditate. The litter was hung on two long poles, extra stout to support his weight, and no less than eight bearers, all matched for size, carried it easily along the narrow trail.

The Mahatma poked his head out of the curtain of leaves, as Dick hailed him.

“Who comes to disturb my meditations?” he demanded. “Ah, Dick Sahib, it is you. Whereof would you ask advice of the Master?”

“It is about this guide,” Dick explained. “He has something on his mind.”

“Speak, son!” said the Mahatma inclining his head sideways.

Mutaba burst into a torrent of language, at the same time throwing himself on all fours in front of the holy man.

The Hindu listened to him earnestly, stroking his long grey beard and occasionally rolling up his eyes in surprise.

Once in a while he gave vent to a word or two of question, and at that Mutaba spoke louder and faster than ever.

“That boy would be grand to have in a calm at sea,” laughed Dan. “He is windy enough to keep the sails full.”

“Or to run a windmill,” Dick smiled. “But what’s on the fellow’s mind?”

“Looks as if we were going to stay here all day!”

Dan glanced at Raal, who was becoming more and more impatient at the long talk. Ever since the warrior had learned the whereabouts of the Princess Veena, he had been in a state of suppressed excitement. Now that they were so near to the camp where she was held captive, he could hardly restrain himself.

But the Mahatma showed not the slightest concern. In the life that he led, time meant nothing. The years could go by until they mounted up into centuries and it was all one to a man who believed as he did.

The Hindu’s carriers were more like other humans, however. They shifted uneasily under the burden and once in a while a bearer would reach out to slap a stinging fly that had lighted on his leg.

Dick and Dan looked on, mopping the perspiration from their foreheads and finally Dick ventured to interrupt.

“What is the word? Do we start?”

“We’re in a rush,” said Dan. “Particularly Raal, here, is minding it.”

“Patience, patience!” observed Sikandar, stroking his beard calmly. “In patience is wisdom and in wisdom we attain perfection.”

“We’re losing time,” said Dick impatiently.

“On the contrary, we are gaining time.”

“By standing here and talking?” Dan blurted out.

“Wise talk is better than rash deeds,” said the Mahatma. “Behold any fool is strong, but a wise man tells the fool how to use his strength.”

“Now what is all this getting at?” exclaimed Dan. “I bet that Old Whiskers has made a mistake and is trying to cover up.”

Sikandar’s dark eyes flashed in anger at this muttered remark, then he spoke in measured tones:

“My knowledge is vast, yet even a wise man may forget. This black guide reminds me that the trail to the land of the Iron-heads is through swamps. The land is treacherous. It hardly bears a man’s weight and the horses would sink in it and be lost.”

“Bad luck!” cried Dick.

“We have to walk it,” groaned Dan. “And carry our eats on our backs!”

Raal growled and touched his axe handle. “I am ready to go afoot, now!” he asserted.

The Mahatma put up one fat, soft hand.

“Nay, now! Listen to the words of wisdom. I, Mahatma Sikandar, am not the one to be discouraged by difficulties. I have a better plan.”

“Out with it, old-timer!” said Dan.

“Patience! Patience! We must all go back instead of forward.”

“Never!” interrupted Raal.

“And some miles back from here we are close to a river where my tribesmen have many canoes.”

“They will have to be big ones to carry our horses,” said Dan.

“The horses will be put in a corral by the river,” went on the Hindu. “My men will build a corral quickly. Meanwhile we can start out in comfort, paddling down the smooth river to a point within a mile of the enemy camp!”

“Now you’re talking,” said Dick.

He explained to Raal how that would save time; for a canoe could be paddled more than twice as fast as it would take to travel through a swamp.

Raal smiled joyfully at this news and muttered, “Good! Longbeard, good!”

“Hooray for Old Whiskers! He has thought up a good idea at last,” said Dan. “But say,” he whispered to Dick, “Sikandar didn’t think of that. It was the black guide. The wise old boy is just stealing the credit for it.”

Mahatma Sikandar scowled at Dan and said, “A fool and his folly cannot be parted! As I told you, we saved time by talking and taking counsel.”

“Okay, let’s go!” said Dick. “We travel by canoe to within a mile of the camp, you say? How is the trail from there?”

Sikandar asked the guide a question. The latter burst out in noisy explanation.

“Bad. Very bad!” said the Hindu.

“From the river, there is hardly any trail but just a dense growth of trees, vines and creepers. It is full of wild beasts and huge snakes. We must cut a path. But the distance is not great.”

“Let’s be on our way,” said Dick. “I can see that Raal is keen to start.”

“Patience, patience!” said the Mahatma, but already Dick had shouted an order, the horsemen mounted and Mutaba led the way to the river.

When the party reached the bank of the stream, a broad, sluggish river, almost entirely overhung with the great trees alive with parrots and chattering monkeys, they found that swift-footed natives had already reached it by taking short cuts. No time had been wasted. Vines, tough creepers and branches had been woven between growing trees to form a large enclosure where the horses could be held in safety.

A fleet of canoes was riding on the river and the Taharans and Gorols were now to learn the art of paddling a vessel down stream.

Mutaba went in the first canoe with Dick and Dan.

Raal followed in the second, while Kurt and Kurul commanded the third and fourth.

Following a command from the Mahatma, a number of men came forward. They were paddlers who were to accompany the expedition and instruct the desert dwellers how to handle the boats.

Soon the river was crowded with light craft, manned by warriors at the paddles.

“Where is the Wise Old Bird?” asked Dan.

“Hope he didn’t give us the slip,” said Dick. “We may need his help before the day is over.”

“The Master of Wisdom is in the biggest canoe,” said Mutaba, pointing out an exceptionally broad craft with a small cabin of boughs built at the widest part.

True to form, the Mahatma had insisted upon his privacy even in a canoe, and his followers had built a bower-like shelter of saplings, vines and flowering plants, in which the sage could sit cross-legged and meditate.

“That beats all!” Dan marvelled. “Old Brains can certainly make the strong-arm boys wait on him! When he says ‘jump,’ they all step lively.”

The Mahatma’s canoe was followed by a second, on which his litter was carried. Evidently the sage had no intention of doing any part of the journey afoot.

His vessel kept in the middle of the string of canoes that slid quietly down the stream, for he had figured out that the safest place was where he would be protected from attacks from either direction.

As the fleet moved under the strokes of strong-muscled paddlers, a low-pitched chant arose from the blacks. It floated over the water and the Taharans and the Gorols listened and soon joined in with the melody, though the words meant nothing to them.

But it was clearly a song of battle and raiding, for the eyes of the black men gleamed excitedly and the whites showed as they rolled them while they plied their paddles with energy. The boats sped faster and faster.

By that time the Taharans and the Gorols, unused to the ways of rivers, had learned the simple art of driving the canoes forward with strokes in time to the chant.

The blond warriors bent to it with zest, their great muscles swelling, while the lighter built Gorols tried to outstrip them in clever use of the paddle.

Soon it was developing into a race, and Raal, who was burning with impatience, felt satisfied at last. He could see progress being made. That very day he might be able to rescue Veena from the scoundrels who had captured her.

Then a voice came to the leaders across the water and sounded a warning: “Patience, patience, my people! Too much haste now, means delay in the end.”

“There goes Old Whiskers again,” exclaimed Dan. “Maybe we are disturbing his meditations by going fast.”

The Hindu’s voice sounded as distinctly in their ears as though he were alongside.

“Not so fast Dick Sahib. Let your men rest on their paddles. I have much to say to you.”

“Oh shucks!” Dan growled. “We were winning the race. Now the old gazabo wants us to fall to the rear.”

But Mutaba had heard his master’s command and the order was given. Soon the Hindu’s canoe was side by side with the one carrying Dan and Dick.

Mahatma Sikandar spoke through his screen of leaves.

“Bad news, Dick Sahib and for you, too, Dan Sahib, the crystal ball brings evil tidings.”

“What’s up now?” blurted Dan.

“Were you really crystal gazing in the canoe? And did you see something that concerns us?” demanded Dick.

“I saw clearly what I saw only dimly before,” answered the Hindu gravely. “The captives held in the same camp with Veena; one is a man, gray bearded and full of years. That is your father, Dick Sahib.”

“Dick’s father? Why how did Professor Oakwood get down here in the jungle?” Dan was incredulous.

“He was lured from the oasis by a trick. And he was not taken alone. A young girl is also kept for ransom.”

“A girl? Who can it be?” cried Dan as the truth began to dawn upon him.

“Already you guess who it is, Dan Sahib, and your suspicions are correct. The girl who is captured is young and beautiful with dark eyes and curly black hair. She is brave, although her case is desperate, and she calls upon you for help. She is your sister, Dan Sahib!”