Chapter 20 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Race for Life.

Leaving the body of the giraffe very reluctantly, (Groot Willem having a strong desire to take it along with him,) the hunters started off in search of the river. Much to their gratification, the Luize, or another stream equally as large, was seen not far from them, and they rode along its bank for the purpose of finding a place where they might water their horses, now thirsty after the long run they had made in chase of the giraffe.

For about half a mile they found the stream inaccessible, by reason of the steepness of its banks; but a small pool was discovered a short distance from the river, and by this they halted to give their weary horses a little rest. These also needed food; and it was the intention to give them an hour or two upon the grass that grew luxuriantly around the pool. The saddles were taken off, and the horses turned out to graze upon it.

“I suppose that Cong will have sense to pack up and follow us,” said Hendrik.

“Yes,” answered Groot Willem, “I think we may expect to see him here within two hours.”

“But are you sure that he can find us?”

“Certainly he can,” replied Willem. “He knows that we are bound down the river, and the stream will guide him. If not, he has Spoor’em along with him. We should probably meet him on his way if we were to go up the river.”

“But we don’t want to go up at present,” said Hendrik. “Our way is down.”

“Then we had better stay here till he comes.”

While they were thus talking, there was heard a dull, heavy sound, accompanied by a real or fancied vibration of the earth.

The trees in a neighbouring grove appeared to be shaking about,—some being upset as if a violent hurricane was sweeping down among them.

The horses took the alarm; threw up their heads, snorted, and galloped to and fro, as if uncertain which way to retreat.

Next moment, from among the moving trees, emerged a herd of elephants, each or most of them uttering trumpet-like cries as they entered upon the open plain.

The horses galloped off the ground; and the hunters, believing that their lives depended on recovering them, started in pursuit.

Almost on the instant, this purpose had to be relinquished. One of the elephants, in advance of its fellows, was charging upon them; and they would have enough to do to secure their own retreat. The others went after the horses, and all seemed to have gone mad with the exception of three or four that remained by the pool.

The situation of the hunters was now one of imminent danger. A well-directed volley might stop the charge of the elephant rushing towards them, and put the others to flight. This seemed to be the idea of all three; for each took aim at the same instant of time and fired in the same direction. The volley was delivered in vain. The elephant, with louder rear and longer strides, came thundering on, only infuriated by their attempt to check its course.

There was no time to reload; and all three retreated, with a terrible apprehension of being overtaken, and that one or two others of them should fall a victim to the gigantic pursuer. They ran towards the stream. To have gone in any other direction would have been to impale themselves upon the trunks of the other elephants, now also coming towards them, aroused to rage by the cry of their wounded companion.

They succeeded in reaching the bank, and thought of throwing themselves into the water; when a shout from Arend counselled them to a different course.

“Follow me,” cried he, and the next instant he was seen upon the trunk of a cotton-tree that had fallen across the stream.

So close was the enraged elephant by this time, that Groot Willem, who was hindmost, felt the tip of its trunk touching the calf of one of his legs, as he scrambled on to the tree.

The top of the tree was several feet lower than the bank of the river where its roots still adhered; and in descending the trunk, they had, as Hendrik said, to “climb downwards.”

The branches had lodged on some rocks in the middle of the stream, which had prevented the tree from being carried away by the current that ran rapidly past the spot.

For a while, they considered themselves safe; and, although their situation would have been far from agreeable under ordinary circumstances, they experienced the indescribable emotions of happiness that are felt after a narrow escape from some great peril.

The elephant was tearing at the upturned roots of the tree, and making other impotent attempts to get at them. They were besieged, but in no danger for the time of a closer acquaintance with the besieger.

On examining their place of refuge, they saw that the rock on which the tops of the tree rested, was not more than thirty feet in circumference at the water’s edge; and not half that at the top, which was about ten feet in diameter.

There was but little more than room for them to stand upon it; but, as the branches were large and long, they had plenty of room to move about, proceeding in much the same manner as monkeys would have done in a similar situation.

From the behaviour of the enemy, he seemed to have come to a perfect understanding of the position in which they were placed; and, for a minute or two, he appeared to be meditating whether he should abandon the siege, or continue it.

Meanwhile, the hunters, after resting for a few moments from their late severe exertion, commenced reloading their rifles and preparing for further hostilities.

As though aware of their intention, the elephant quietly walked away.

“He is off now,” said Groot Willem, “but we had better not be in any hurry to follow him. I can endure a little more rest.”

“I hope we shall not have to make a longer stay than will be agreeable,” remarked Hendrik. “But we must not leave here until the whole herd has taken its departure. Unlike any we have seen before, these elephants do not seem to be the least afraid of us.”

The position in which our hunters were placed was several feet below the level of the river’s bank, so that they were unable to see anything of the plain above.

Arend proposed returning up the trunk of the tree and giving the enemy a parting shot, should the animal be still within range.

To this, Groot Willem and Hendrik objected. They were willing the elephant should depart, if so inclined, without further molestation from them.

A few minutes passed and Arend again proposed going up to see if their enemy was near. This was also opposed by the others.

“No, not yet,” said Willem. “Let us not show ourselves on any account. He may be still watching for us, and, seeing you, may think we are impatient to get away. That would encourage him to remain. We must be as cautious as if we were dealing with a human enemy.”

Half an hour passed, and then Groot Willem ascended the tree, until his head was on a level with the bank. One glance was sufficient, and, with a grave countenance, he looked back to his companions.

“It is as I thought,” said he, “the brute is still there. He is watching for us. He wants revenge; and I believe that he’ll have it. We shall be hungry before we get away from here.”

“Where is he?” asked Hendrik.

“At the pool close by, giving himself a shower-bath; but I can see that he keeps constantly turning his eye in this direction.”

“Is he alone?” inquired Arend.

“Yes; the others appear to have gone off. There is only himself by the pool. We have wounded him; but, for all that, he is able to move rapidly about; and we shall have to kill him outright before we can pass him upon the plain.”

To this there was no answer, and, Groot Willem again returning to the rock, all three laid hold of their guns, and prepared to attack the enemy.