Read CHAPTER XIII - JUNGLE DANCERS of Tahara Among African Tribes, free online book, by Harold M. Sherman, on

The victory was complete.

By the time Mahatma Sikandar came on the scene, borne upon his litter, the Muta-Kungas were in full flight, pursued by the Kungoras, Gorols and Taharans.

The Arabs, too, had vanished, but a few of their horses were loose, running about the village and the surrounding forest.

Dick spied his Taharan friends, Kurt and Kurul, returning from the pursuit of the enemies and cried:

“Round up the stray horses! Get all you can! We’ll start out to rescue Dad.”

“Yes, Master,” they replied obediently, and called upon their fellows to help in the capture of the terrified animals.

The Mahatma spoke to them in his placid voice:

“Patience, my children! I see that the battle has gone as I foretold. Through my power over beasts, I caused the elephants to stampede. Now be quiet, and watch. You will see me bring the horses to you.”

Fascinated, Dick and his followers watched the wise old Hindu raise both hands above his head with a convulsive gesture. His eyes closed. At the same time his lips moved as he appeared to be saying something under his breath. But no sound came to the ears of the men beside him. The message was not meant for them. It was directed at the runaway horses.

At a distance the beasts were racing madly, at first, then their pace slackened and a few of them began to graze quietly, while the others stared in the direction of the holy man.

Kurt and Kurul, ropes in hand, gave a grunt of admiration, “Mahatma Good!” and started to bring in the horses.

But Dick restrained them. “Leave it to the wise man,” he said. “He does not need help.”

Sure enough in a few minutes the horses began straying back to where the Mahatma was sitting, all their fear gone.

“Now you can capture them, Dick Sahib,” said Sikandar. “Go to them quietly and take them by their bridles.”

Dan cried enthusiastically, “You are certainly there with the goods, chief!” With one arm around his sister, he exclaimed, “There’s the man you want to thank, Ray! Without his help we might never have rescued you!”

“That’s right!” cried Dick. “You owe him everything!”

Ray bowed and expressed her thanks shyly. The strange old Hindu did not seem so wonderful to her, but if Dick and Dan said he was a miracle worker, there must be something to it.

And now Raal came forward, still holding Veena as though he could never let her go.

Prostrating himself before the Mahatma, Raal drew the girl down beside him and the pair addressed a chant of thanksgiving to him in their own language.

The old man beamed upon them and uttered a blessing, then turned to Dick.

“You are impatient, my son.”

“Yes, holy man. It is about my father. Can you help me save him?”

“I know. I know what has happened,” said the Hindu. “Today the spirits that control my crystal are active, and I have seen everything.”

“And will you bring Dad back safely?”

“Tomorrow you shall clasp his hand. Have no fear.”

But Dick was not so easily quieted.

“He is in the power of a murderous scoundrel, a man who tried to kill me.”

“Fear not, my son.”

“Let me take the horses and go out with a party tonight.”

“That would spoil everything! You would be lost in the forests. See, already the shadows are heavy in the jungle and before you could overtake him, it would be dark as the souls of evil men. Also the jungle is full of fierce beasts. The leopards, the lions and the crocodiles would destroy you.”

Reluctantly Dick decided to stay in the camp until daylight, and join in the feasting that celebrated the victory.

“It is well for you that I have taught the Kungoras to advance a little way in the path of good,” said the Mahatma, “otherwise you would have witnessed a cannibal feast this night.”

“Do you mean it?” cried Dan.

“I do mean it. When I came to the Kungoras, they were eaters of human flesh. They believed that eating the heart of an enemy gave them all his strength and courage.”

“And they slaughtered their prisoners?”

“And feasted on them!”

“That’s too many for me!” ejaculated Dan Carter. “I can’t deny that I’m fond of eats, but if it came to making a lunch off one of those Muta-Kungas, I’d rather go hungry.”

The smell of cooking floated over the camp, mingled with the smoke of wood fires. Plenty of food had been found in the mud huts thatched with straw, for the surprise attack had caused the natives to flee without taking anything.

The feast was served in the clearing before the ruins of Chief Mobogoma’s house. There a big fire was kept burning and by its light the warriors gorged themselves with roasted game, corn and other products of the garden patches and then finished off with quantities of bananas and other fruit.

Ray and Dick ate sparingly as was their habit, and the Mahatma contented himself with a little food and that of the plainest, but Dan Carter joined the warriors in disposing of huge quantities of roasted and broiled meat.

The savages showed their delight in his prowess.

“Dan good!” said Kural.

“Dan big chief!” replied Kurt, his mouth full, and reached into a stew pot with a forked stick.

As the boy smiled at them, waving a bone that he was gnawing, Dick sang out:

“Take care, Dan! I was tipped off that the Kungoras smuggled in part of a Muta-Kunga brave among the stew meat.”

Dan pulled back hastily and stared at the big pot in which vegetables and chunks of meat were mingled.

“You take?” asked Kurul.

“Stew good!” suggested Kurt with a broad smile.

“No thanks,” gasped Dan Carter, turning a little pale. “I don’t think I care for any more.”

He got up hastily and left the circle of heavy eaters.

“Lost your appetite?” laughed Dick.

“No, not exactly. I just think I’ve had enough! Guess I’ll take a little walk!” And Dan disappeared on the trot.

Ray gave Dick a reproachful look. “Is that nice?” she asked. But she was unable to keep back a smile.

“Dan Sahib is bound to the wheel of fleshly enjoyment,” remarked the Mahatma. “He must learn to restrain his appetites.”

“Especially his appetite for stew, when dining with jungle blacks!” laughed Dick.

The meal was prolonged far into the night and broken by exhibitions of tribal dances. First the Gorols pranced about the fire in single file. They bent low, shuffling along and uttering monkey-like cries, while to make the resemblance perfect they had tied long twigs to their belts, so that they waggled like tails during the dance.

With their dark skins, long thin arms and legs and primitive features, they looked more like ape-men than ever and Ray and Dick shouted with laughter.

Dan Carter returned to the circle, attracted by the noise.

“Get in line, Dan, you are all that’s needed to complete the picture,” his friend kidded him.

“I don’t think I feel like dancing,” replied Dan, still a little greenish about the gills. “I’m not feeling very well.”

“Have some more stew!”

Ray slapped Dick’s arm and cried, “Don’t tease the poor boy!”

“All right,” Dick extended his hand. “Come on, Dan! Shake on it! We’ll change the subject.”

The Taharans were the next to dance and with a great brandishing of flint knives and stone axes they went through an imaginary battle. Two warriors would break away from the line and face each other like duellists, while the rest danced about them, uttering war cries that made the forest ring.

“These mock battles look like the real thing!” said Dick. “Look at that! I thought sure that the tall fellow was going to split the other one with his axe.”

“I don’t like it,” said Ray. “What if he got excited and landed a blow?”

“Then there would be one Taharan the less. Watch out! Now the Kungoras are going to it!”

With a howl like jungle beasts, the black men were on their feet and rushing to the firelight with spears and painted shields waving above their heads.

At the same time the boom-boom-boom of the hollowed log resounded, the huge drum that the Muta-Kungas used for sending alarms through the forest.

“Now it’s getting good!” exclaimed Dan, forgetting his attack of indigestion. “I wondered whether the natives were going to forget the old tom-tom.”

“Boom-boom-boom,” went the big drum like a challenge, and at that the Kungora dancers lined up in two bands facing each other and howled defiance and threats back and forth.

“What’s going to happen?” whispered Ray clinging to Dick’s arm. “Are they really going to kill each other?”

“Can’t say. Ask the Mahatma. He knows this tribe.”

“If they do slay a few warriors, it will be an accident,” said Mahatma Sikandar. “This is a dance of battle and they sometimes forget it is not the real thing.”

“How terrible!” cried Ray.

“Can’t you make them be reasonable?” asked Dick as the Hindu watched the apparently enraged savages.

“Reasonable? What human being is ever reasonable?” asked the wise man. “Are your own people reasonable when they slaughter each other with guns and poison gas? No, the savages are on a low plane, but the civilized men are also far from the path of wisdom.”

“Go it, Mutaba!” shouted Dan, clapping his hands.

The guide and chief warrior of the Kungoras was dancing in front of his own band, shaking his spear in the face of the rival leader. The pair rushed together furiously, leaped back and returned to the attack, while their rolling eyes and thick snarling lips expressed murderous hatred.

Behind each leader swept the warrior ranks, brandishing their weapons, guarding with their shields and pretending to attack and retreat in wild convulsive rhythms.

Their bodies, dripping with sweat, gleamed in the firelight, the whites of their eyes flashed furiously and foam gathered in the corners of their mouths as they jerked and writhed in mimic warfare.

All the time the drum kept up its beating, ever faster and wilder, like the pulse of a fever patient. To this boom-boom-boom was added the yells and shrieks of the frenzied Kungoras, and above the din rose the excited chatter of monkeys in the tree tops and the shrill outcries of parrots and other birds. Even the beasts in the depths of the forest had caught the tense excitement from afar, and the black jungle echoed with the roar of lions and the trumpeting of elephants.

“What a night!” gasped Ray, tightening her grasp on Dick.

“It’s a grand show!” exclaimed Dan. “Wouldn’t miss it for a big league ball game!”

“Reminds me of the witch-hunt,” said Dick in a low voice. “Remember the night Cimbula was picking out victims for sacrifice?”

“Gee, I thought I was a goner when that black fellow grabbed me,” Dan ejaculated. “Say, let me tell you I have dreamed of that many a night and started up in a cold sweat.”

“That was horrible!” Ray answered. “Every second I expected that witch-doctor to pounce on me.”

“Well, Mahatma,” said Dan, “you did a good job to tame those wild Kungoras. How did you ever teach them to be good? How did you make them obey you?”

“By the power of the mind,” answered the Hindu. “The spirit of the wise is master of the wildest savage. Watch me, and you shall see.”

Fascinated, the two boys and Ray looked on, while the Mahatma leaned back, closed his eyes and seemed to put the force of his mind upon the frenzied dancers.

At first there was no response. The dance was more furious than ever. Then, one at a time, the warriors seemed to come to their senses. Man after man lowered his weapons, dropped quietly out of the ranks and returned to squat before the fire, all pausing to make a hasty prostration in front of the wise man before they sat down.

The Mahatma did not open his eyes until the notes of the big drum had faded out into silence. By that time all the blacks were seated and once more eating quietly.

“It’s a miracle,” said Dick.

“It sure is,” answered Dan. “Listen. Even the wild beasts in the jungle have quieted down.”

“There is more to this than I can understand,” whispered Ray.

“Those Hindus know plenty of things that are beyond me,” Dick answered.

“I thought it was all the bunk, at first,” said Dan, “but now I think the old man is the real article.”

“Wait until you go to India where the masters are,” Dick continued. “Then you will see miracles that even our Mahatma can’t understand.”

“I’d love to go,” said the girl. “Africa is thrilling enough, goodness knows, but India fascinates me.”

Before the feast broke up, Dan, Ray and Dick slipped away, too tired to hold their eyes open.