Chapter 21 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Creature hard to kill.

Groot Willem again ascended the tree, this time armed with his roer, and followed by his two companions. The elephant was still at the pool; and, to make him leave it and draw nearer, Willem showed himself on the bank. This plan did not succeed. The elephant saw him, but with reason or instinct that seemed almost human, it was evidently waiting until they should leave their retreat before again commencing hostilities.

“It’s of no use my firing from here,” said Willem, “I must endeavour to get nearer. Don’t be in my way, for in all probability, there may be another chase.”

The distance from the tree to the pool was close upon a hundred yards; and, after walking from the bank about one third of that distance, Willem came to a halt.

The elephant, coolly and philosophically, awaited his approach, apparently satisfied to let him come as near as he pleased.

The position in which the animal stood was unfavourable for Willem to make his favourite shot; but, as it would not move, he was obliged to fire at its head. The report of his gun was answered by a roar and an impetuous charge.

Willem instantly made for the tree, and secured his retreat, with the elephant but a few paces in his rear.

At the same time—and without evincing the slightest acknowledgment—the huge beast received two further shots from Hendrik and Arend.

While the guns were being reloaded, the monster again retired to the pool. There it was saluted by seven more balls without even once attempting to approach its tormentors in their place of retreat.

It now wanted but two hours to sunset, and dark heavy clouds were descried rolling up from the south-west. Thirteen shots had been expended on the elephant, and to all appearance it was still uninjured. There was a prospect of compulsory confinement before them. They might have to remain in their aqua-arboreal retirement the whole night under the pelting of a pitiless storm. Three more shots were fired, without any apparent result. The rain soon came down,—not in drops, but dishfuls.

Often as they had been exposed to heavy showers, none of them could remember witnessing anything like that. All their care was devoted to keeping the ammunition and the locks of their guns dry; and any attempts at breaking the blockade to which they were subjected, was, for a time, relinquished.

By the last light of day, Groot Willem made another reconnaissance and found the elephant still patiently waiting and watching.

A night so dark that they could not distinguish each other by sight now mantled the river, and the heavens above continued pouring forth their unabated wrath. They might now have stolen away unknown to the besieger; but they had no longer the desire to do so. Confident that the animal could not keep its feet till morning, after the rough handling it had received, they resolved upon staying till it fell, and securing its fine tusks.

Two or three hours passed, and still the rain kept falling, though not quite so heavily as at first.

“I don’t like this sort of thing,” said Hendrik. “Swart and Cong, in the pits, could not have been much unhappier than we are. I should like to know if the enemy is still on guard. What do you say to our going off?”

“We mustn’t think of it,” counselled Arend. “Even if the elephant be gone, we cannot find our horses in such a dark night. If it be still waiting for us, we could not see it five paces off, while it might see us. We had better stay when we are till morning.”

“Your advice is good, Arend,” said Willem. I don’t believe that we have a gun among us that could be discharged; if attacked, as we are now, we should be defenceless.

Arend’s suggestion was adopted, and they resolved to remain upon the rock till morning.

During the night, the rain continued to pour, half drowning them in their exposed situation. The hours passed slowly and wearily. They began to have serious doubts of ever seeing day again; but it came at length.

Just as the first faint gleams of the aurora appeared in the east, they were startled by a sudden crashing among the branches of the tree, and the next moment, they saw the bridge by which they had reached the rock, in the act of being carried away by the current!

“Look out!” shouted Arend; “the tree is off. Keep clear of the branches, or we shall be swept along with it.”

All rushed together to the summit of the rock, reaching it just in time to avoid the danger thus indicated; and, in another moment, their communication with the main land was entirely cut off.

The dawn of day found them on an islet of stone, of such limited extent that there was barely standing-room for the three. The river, swollen by the flood, lipped close up to their feet, and was threatening to rise still higher. There was the prospect—not a very pleasant one—that they themselves might be carried off after their treacherous bridge.

The elephant was no longer a cause of the slightest anxiety. The means by which they might have placed themselves within the reach of that danger had been removed; and, like Prometheus, they were bound to a rock.

The banks on both sides were too high for them to effect a landing, even should they be able to stem the rapid current. All three could swim, and it might be possible for them to reach the shore by swimming down stream to some place where the banks were on a level with the water.

But to this method of getting out of their difficulty, there were several objections. Their guns would have to be left behind, and could not be recovered. A distant view of them lying upon the rock might be all they would ever have. To abandon their arms was a thing not to be thought of. Their hunting would be over for that expedition.

Besides, they were in a part of the river where the current was swift, turbulent, and strong. It would carry them down with irresistible force. The rapids were full of rough jagged rocks, against which their bodies might be crushed or lacerated; and the chances were that some of them might never succeed in reaching the shore in safety.

“And there is another reason why I don’t like taking this water trip,” said Hendrik. “I noticed yesterday, just as we came forward here, a couple of enormous alligators. In all likelihood, there are scores of them.”

“Then I say, stop where we are for the present,” said Arend. “Alligators are always hungry, and I don’t relish to be eaten by them.”

“I am not yet so hungry as to leave my roer behind me; therefore, I second your proposal,” said Groot Willem.

It was carried nemini dissentiente. They did stay where they were, but not very patiently. The sun ascended high into the heavens. Its beams seemed to have their focus on the spot where they were standing. They never remembered having experienced a day so hot, or one on which all felt so hungry. Hendrik and Arend became nearly frantic with the heat and the hunger, though Groot Willem still preserved a remnant of calmness.

“I wonder if that elephant is watching for us yet?” said he. “If so, he is what Swartboy calls Congo,—an ’ole fool! I’m sorry we can’t oblige him by paying him a visit, and rewarding him for his prolonged vigil.”

Willem’s attempt at being witty was intended to cheer his disconsolate companions. But it was a sad failure. Neither could reply to it even by a smile.