Many other things they came to understand during the days of their captivity, not the least of which was a new conception of the Negro. To Doc, whose experience with colored people had been limited to a few worthless specimens of the Northern States, it came as a revelation. Even among the warriors of the cannibal Bagalla, he encountered individuals who possessed great natural dignity, poise and evident strength of character.
Bulala, a West Coast black, densely ignorant and superstitious, had, nevertheless, a heart of gold, that revealed itself in his loyalty and generosity; while little Ukundo, the pygmy, perhaps among the lowest in the social scale of all African peoples, proved a staunch friend and a good comrade. To his natural shrewdness was added an almost uncanny knowledge of the jungle and the jungle people, both beast and human; the tales he told the boys shortened many a weary hour.
After the first week of their captivity, the boys had managed to get a message to chief Galla Galla through Bulala and Zopinga, explaining to him that being unaccustomed to breathing the close air of a hut and living always without sunshine, they would surely die. They asked to be given more freedom and exercise, pointing out that there was little likelihood of their being able to escape, since they were unfamiliar with the jungle and would not know in what direction to go should they be able to leave the village. But upon one point they were very careful not to commit themselves—they did not promise not to try to escape.
And as a result of their plea, Galla Galla gave all the prisoners the freedom of the village during the day time, placing the guards at the village gates instead of at the doorway of the hut in which they had been confined. And at night there were no guards at all, since the village gates were then closed and locked and the dangers of the jungle were sufficient to keep any one from attempting to escape. The boys had really had little hope that their request would be granted, and there is little likelihood that it would have been, but for the shrewdness of Ukundo, who had accurately gauged the impression Doc’s wizardry had made upon Galla Galla, measuring it, doubtless, by the awe that it had created in his own superstitious mind. It was due to Ukundo, therefore, that Bulala did not transmit the message in the form of a request. Instead, Zopinga had carried a demand to his chief, backed by a threat that the white boy witch-doctor would loose some very much more terrible medicine upon him, if he refused to permit them the freedom of the village; and Ukundo had been careful to insure that the demand included both Bulala and himself.
Influenced by their fear of Doc’s magic, the villagers treated the boys with more respect than they would ordinarily have been accorded and there was one youth in particular who gave them a very wide berth, keeping as far from them as possible. This was Paabu, the youth within whose thick skull it was popularly believed reposed the big medicine of the white boy witch-doctor.
Since the moment that Doc had made the two knives disappear within Paabu’s left ear that unhappy individual had been the object of much suspicious observation upon the part of all the villagers. At first he had enjoyed this unusual celebrity and had strutted about with great pompousness, but when it had been whispered that Galla Galla was becoming consumed with curiosity to learn if the big medicine was indeed inside Paabu’s head, the youth had filled with a great terror that kept him almost continuously in the seclusion and dirt of his father’s hut; for he knew of but one way in which Galla Galla could definitely learn if the big medicine was actually within his skull, and Paabu knew Galla Galla well enough to know that, whenever the spirit chanced to move him, he would not hesitate to make a thorough investigation, no matter how painful, or how fatal to Paabu.
One day, as the boys were lying in the shade beside their hut, Galla Galla approached them. With him was an evil-faced individual whom the boys recognized as Intamo, the witch-doctor of the Bagalla, a Mugalla of great power whose influence over Galla Galla made him in many ways virtually chief of the Bagalla. His wrinkled face was seamed and lined by age and vicious thoughts, and clouded by a perpetual scowl—a fit setting for his blood-shot eyes and his sharp, filed, cannibal teeth. As the two approached the boys, Intamo excitedly urged something upon the chief, but he ceased speaking as they came within earshot of Dick and Doc, as though fearful that they might overhear and understand.
However, Galla Galla, stopping in front of his two young captives, let the cat out of the bag. “Intamo say your medicine no good,” he announced.
“Let him make better medicine,” retorted Doc in halting and faulty Bagalla.
“Intamo say your medicine not in Paabu’s head,” continued Galla Galla.
“I say it is. Didn’t you see me put it there?”
“We find out,” announced the chief. “How you find out?” demanded Dick, and then, as a sudden thought popped into his mind: “Golly! You don’t mean—”
“How you find out what’s in a nut?” retorted Galla Galla. “You crack it!”
“But you’d kill him,” cried Doc, horror stricken.
“And if we do not find the big medicine there, we kill you,” said Intamo, who would have liked nothing better than to get rid of the white boy whose big medicine had had a bad effect upon Intamo’s reputation as a witch-doctor, since he had been unable to duplicate Doc’s exhibition of wizardry.
“You come now,” he continued. “We find out!”
And accompanied by Galla Galla and the boys, Intamo led the way toward the center of the village where, in an open space before the chief’s hut, all the ceremonies of the tribe were conducted.
While Paabu was being searched out and dragged, resisting and screaming, to be sacrificed upon the altar of ignorance and superstition, word ran rapidly through the village that a bit of delicious entertainment was about to be staged, and there resulted a rush for grand stand seats. A ring of savage warriors kept a circular place cleared; in the center of this clearing stood Galla Galla and Intamo. To them Paabu was dragged.
Dick and Doc stood shoulder to shoulder in the front rank of spectators, their tanned faces blanched with horror. Two warriors held the half fainting Paabu while Intamo, armed with a knobkerrie, made mystical passes in the air and mumbled a weird incantation that was supposed to weaken the strength of the white boy’s big medicine, in the event that it should actually be found within the unfortunate Paabu’s head.
“Golly!” whispered Dick, “can’t we do something to stop them before Intamo breaks that boy’s head open with his club?”
“Makes me feel like a murderer,” groaned Doc.
“You will be a murderer—almost—if they go through with this thing,” said Dick. “But if you tell ’em the truth, they’ll kill us.”
“When they don’t find the knives inside his coco, they’ll kill us anyway,” replied Doc.
“Then you better tell ’em,” advised Dick. “There’s no use lettin’ ’em kill that poor kid.”
“I’ve got it!” cried Doc. “For the love of Mike! Quick! Slip me your knife! Don’t let anyone see it. Here! That’s it! Now watch my smoke?”
Slipping Dick’s knife inside his loin cloth beside his own, Doc stepped forward into the circle. “Wait!” he commanded, advancing toward Intamo, but addressing Galla Galla. “You need not kill Paabu. I can prove that the big medicine that belongs to my friend and the big medicine that belongs to me are both inside Paabu’s head. I am great witch-doctor and do not have to crack Paabu’s skull open to get the medicine out, the way Intamo does. See!”
And before Intamo could prevent, Doc stepped close to the unfortunate victim of Intamo’s jealousy and Galla Galla’s curiosity, and with two swift movements of his right hand appeared to withdraw the knives from Paabu’s ear. Turning, he exhibited them upon the palm of his open hand to Galla Galla and the assembled Bagalla.
Perhaps Doc’s Bagalla had been lame and halting, but there was no one there who did not perfectly understand the wondrous powers of his great magic, nor fail to see that his medicine was much stronger than that of Intamo, for it is very true that we are all convinced by what we think we see, quite as surely as by what we actually do see.
Galla Galla was nonplussed. Intamo was furious. Being an unscrupulous old fakir, himself, he was convinced that Doc had done no more than play a clever trick upon them all—a trick by which he, for one, did not intend to be fooled. But now he knew that Doc had beaten him at his own game and perhaps in the bottom of his ignorant, savage brain there was enough natural superstition to half convince him that perhaps, after all, here was a real, genuine witch-doctor who commanded demons and controlled their supernatural powers. His fear and hatred of Doc were increased a hundred fold by the happenings of the past few minutes and within his evil heart there crystalized the determination to rid himself as quickly as possible of this dangerous competitor.
Had he known what was coming, he would have used his knobkerrie to that end upon the instant, for Doc had been smitten by another of those brilliant ideas that had made him famous and feared at school as a practical joker—though it is only fair to record that his jokes had always been harmless and good-natured ones until he had met Intamo. He wheeled suddenly toward that portion of the ring where the greatest throng was gathering, and held the two knives out upon his open palm.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he cried. “We have here two ordinary pocket knives.” The fact that he spoke English and that none of his auditors understood him, but added to the impressiveness of his words, since all the tribe was quite convinced that he was about to make big medicine.
“Step right up and examine them! Feel them! Bite them!”
Some of his hearers began to show evidences of growing nervousness.
“You see that they are gen-u-ine. You will note that I have no accomplices. Now, ladies and gentlemen, watch me closely!”
As upon the other occasions, he placed his left palm over the knives, clasped his hands, blew upon them, raised them above his head.
“Abacadabra!” he screamed with such sudden shrillness that his audience fell back in terror. “Allo, presto, change cars and be gone!” He turned slowly about until he had located the exact position of Intamo and then before the unsuspecting witch-doctor could guess his purpose Doc sprang quickly to his side and placed both palms over the old villain’s ear. “Now you see ’em! Now you don’t!” he concluded, and turned with outspread, empty palms toward Galla Galla.
He stood thus in impressive silence for several seconds, while the true meaning of what he had done sank into the muddy brains of his audience.
Then he addressed Galla Galla.
“You saw me take the big medicine from the head of Paabu and place it on the head of Intamo,” he said in the language of the chief. “If you want to make sure that it is in Intamo’s head, it may be that he will loan you his war club.”