Suddenly something like a groan was heard from the body of contesting men. Almost at the same instant, a command was shouted from the further end of the square, where part of the spectators were gathered. The two lines fell apart, and ran silently and swiftly to opposite points a hundred feet distant, where they abruptly halted as if in obedience to some signal and faced each other.
This was stirring enough, but that which riveted the eyes of the white men was the sight of three figures lying prone on the ground, at the foot of the pole.
They were as motionless as so many stones. There could be no mistaking the significance of the sight: they were dead.
It may have been some species of sport in which the actors were engaged for the entertainment of the spectators, but, if so, there was an awful earnestness about it, for the stake for which they strove was human life.
The two lines faced each other but a moment, when another shout rang out, and they rushed together once more with the fury of two cyclones.
By this time, our friends had discovered that no member of the parties was furnished with any weapon other than those provided by nature.
Fearful then must have been the struggle, which had already terminated in the death of three of the contestants.
But they were at it again with the fierceness of so many cougars fighting in defence of their young.
The result was terrifying. The contest had lasted but a few minutes, and already a couple were on the earth, when one of the combatants, with a cry of pain dashed in almost a direct line toward the spot where our friends were hiding.
Had he not been overtaken and dragged back, he would have been upon them before they could get out of the way, and it is not difficult to conjecture what would have followed.
The miserable wretch, however, was seized on the very edge of the wood by four others and carried writhing and resisting back to the space. There he was flung down, and, being unable to rise, the others leaped upon him and in a few minutes all was over. He was added to the list that were already hors du combat.
Ashman and Johnston had received a shock which drove away all interest in the fearful spectacle. Their escape was exceedingly narrow and they could scarcely hope for such good fortune again.
Fred touched his friend and whispered to him. Immediately, they began stealing from the dangerous spot.
Along the forest path.
If any further proof were needed of the delicacy and danger of the situation of the white men, it came the next minute, when, as they were in the act of stepping back into the trail, the sailor caught the arm of his friend and checked him.
No need of speaking, for Ashman had detected the peril at the same instant.