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- The Boy Aviators in Africa - 6/35 -
"It would seem not," replied the naturalist, "their wings only serve as gliders. Possibly once in the remote ages they could fly as well as great birds but with the course of the ages and disuse their wings have dwindled."
As may, be imagined the idea that within a short time they were to be in the country of the mysterious tribe caused a tremendous stir among the boys and when after breakfast their strange friend of the night before, Sikaso, appeared they at once overwhelmed him with questions. But strangely enough Sikaso made no reply to their eager queries.
He shook his great bead and seemed to be embarrassed, if not by fear at any rate by reticence.
"In Misoto Mountains many strange Ju-jus (fetishes)," he said in an awed tone, "Misoto Mountains no good for white boys--white boys stay away."
"Not much," chimed in Harry, "that's just where we are going."
"You go Misoto Mountain," said the giant black in an astonished tone.
"That's what we are," exclaimed Lathrop.
The black gazed at the ground and drew a small circle on the dust with his toe. In the center of it he made a cross.
"That my dukkeri (fate)," he said slowly, "you go, Sikaso he go too. I see it in the smoke."
"Saw it in the smoke?" repeated the amazed boys.
"In smoke of Ju-ju fire I see it written. I see five go, three come back, in smoke too. I have spoken."
He stalked off as I suddenly as he had the night before and left the boys to gaze in a bewildered way after his huge figure as it swung down the road.
"That fellow's the best disappearer I ever saw," said Billy Barnes at length.
"I wish he'd stop that stuff about 'five go three come back,"' said Lathrop, "it gets on your nerves."
"What could he have meant by seeing it in the smoke?" asked Harry bewilderedly.
"Just this," broke in a quiet voice behind them. It was Professor Wiseman, who had glided up to them as silently as a cat. "It is a common trick among the witch doctors--of whom our friend yonder seems to be one--to divine events by means of the smoke from a fire built to the accompaniment of special incantations."
"Well, that's cheerful," commented Billy, "but tell us, Professor, how often do they hit it right?"
"Nine times out of ten, young man," said Professor Wiseman impressively fixing Billy with his gaze just as he would have impaled a bug or grasshopper, "and the tenth time they come so near the truth as to be uncomfortable."
"I have heard of such things, but I always put them down as impossibilities," gasped Frank.
"Just travelers' tales," said Billy.
"There are many things for the young to learn in Africa," remarked Professor Wiseman coldly and gazing at Billy with squashing intentness; "the young do not believe many things merely because they are young--and foolish."
"Gee! that was a nailer for fair," said Billy afterward. "I felt as if the Doc was running a big blue pin through me and sticking me on a bit of cork,"
That morning, as the start for the interior was not to be made till the next day, M. Desplaines asked the boys if they would care to try a little fishing at the foot of the famous Jumbari Falls which lay on a branch of the Bari river a short distance from the town. Of course the boys assented eagerly, but as it was found that only Frank and Harry were expert canoeists, it was agreed that the others should fish from the bank while the two young leaders trolled their lines from a native built craft. This canoe was kept at the falls--to which they tramped the two miles overland by a narrow trail.
The falls were a magnificent sight. From a dark red rock, fully two hundred feet in height, a great volume of water poured its roaring current into a boiling pool below. The cliffs shot up sheer on all sides and were covered at the bottom with luxuriant green growth like seaweed, while higher up, ferns, as big as rose-bushes at home, and trees of a hundred varieties clung wherever they could find a root-hold. As the party arrived at the top of the ravine and gazed down, the uproar of the water was so terrific as to render any speech inaudible. M. Desplaines, who led the party, pointed to a hole in the rocks and a second later vanished into it.
At first, consternation seized on the boys who thought that an accident had happened, but seeing not hearing Professor Wiseman's reassuring laugh and noticing him plunge after M. Desplaines, the boys rightly concluded that the aperture was a subterranean entrance to the foot of the falls. And so it proved. A steep flight of steps was cut in a deep cleft of the cliff down to the water's edge. A few minutes after they had begun the descent, the little party stood on the brink of the whirling pool into which the mighty falls roared their thousands of tons of water. Following M. Desplaines, they advanced down the stream to a point where a bend shut off like a rock curtain the deafening uproar of the cascade. Here a canoe lay moored and Frank and Harry stepped into it and shoved off. Their lines and other equipment they had in their pockets.
As they shoved out M. Desplaines shouted something that they did not catch and pointed down the stream. How near the fact that they could not hear his words was to come to costing them their lives neither of the boys guessed.
THE POOL OF DEATH
"Say, Frank, have you noticed that we are going to have a hard paddle back against this current?"
The boys had been fishing about an hour when Harry spoke. So engrossed had they both been pulling in fish of a dozen strange varieties and brilliant hues that neither of the lads had noticed that the canoe had drifted down stream far from the starting point and that in fact when they looked up they were in an entirely strange part of the river.
"You are right, Harry," rejoined Frank, as he looked up at the steep banks on either side of them, "we have drifted a considerable distance. Come on, out with the paddles and we'll be getting back."
But it was one thing to talk of getting back and quite another thing to do it. The boys, after an hour of paddling, were dismayed to find that although their arms ached with the exertion and they were dripping with perspiration, they had made hardly any progress against the current.
"It's too much for us," gasped Frank.
"What on earth are we going to do?" asked Harry with blanched cheeks.
Frank glanced at the shore on either side. For a minute he had entertained a thought of landing and walking back along the beach. But there was no beach.
The river boiled along between narrow walls which shot sheer up from the water. There was not even a niche in their smooth surface to afford a foothold to a mountain goat. They were caught in a trap.
The only thing to do was to drift down the river and trust to luck to find a landing-place. In their extremity they shouted at the top of their voices to let their comrades know of their plight, but their cries were unanswered and they began to wish that they had saved their breath to use in the task of keeping the canoe steady in the current.
While they had been pondering their situation, moreover, they had been swept with almost incredible rapidity down the river. The walls here grew narrower and narrower and the water fairly boiled in its narrow confines. Its dark surface was flecked with white foam, and to make matters worse, as the walls closed in the light became fainter, till the boys were being carried downward through almost subterranean darkness.
In the intense gloom their white strained faces shone out like pallid beacon-lights.
"Hold her steady," said Frank in a tense voice as the canoe wobbled crazily in the swollen current.
"I'm doing the best I can," gasped out poor Harry desperately plying his paddle.
It the canoe was to get broadside onto the current, even for the fraction of a second, Frank well knew that nothing could save them. It was a terrible situation.
Helplessly they were being borne at dizzy speed to what seemed almost certain death--for certain it was that they could not hold out much longer. Already their overstrained muscles were only mechanically doing their duty, but before long Frank realized that even his-well-trained young body must collapse--and then, what?
Suddenly there was borne to their ears a sound that made both boys chill with terror.
It was a mighty roaring like the furious boiling of some giant kettle. A thousand shouting voices seemed blended into one to form the music, of this ominous orchestra. Louder the noise grew and louder, as the pass through which the river now tore like a runaway
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