Chapter 22 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Separation.

All day long did they stay on the islet of stone. They were no longer apprehensive of being swept away by the flood. They saw that it had reached its highest, but its subsidence had not yet commenced.

The sun was already in the zenith, hotter than ever, literally roasting them upon the rock. The situation was intolerable.

“Shall we have to stay here another night?” impatiently asked Hendrik.

“It looks deuced like it,” answered Willem.

“And to-morrow, what shall we do then?” inquired Arend. “There may be no better chance of getting off than there is now.”

“That is true,” said Willem. “We must think of some way of getting out of this disagreeable prison. Can any of you think of a plan?”

“I have a proposal to make,” said Hendrik. “Let one of us take to the water and look down stream for a landing-place. If he succeeds in reaching the bank in safety, he could come up again, and by swinging out one of those long climbing plants we see hanging to the trees, there would be some chance of the other two catching it. By that means we may get off.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” rejoined Arend; “but which of us is to run the risk of the swim. For my part, I’m quite willing to incur it.”

“There is certainly great danger,” said Hendrik; “but there is also danger of starvation if we stay here.”

“Quite true,” rejoined Arend. “But for my part, I would rather feed a crocodile than die of hunger myself. So I’m willing to risk the swim. If you don’t see me on the bank in three or four hours you may conclude that either the crocodiles have eaten me, or that I’ve been shattered among the rocks.”

The others would not listen to Arend’s self-sacrificing proposal; and for a time, it was debated among them, as to who should run the risk, each protesting what under other circumstances he would scarce have done,—that he was a better swimmer than either of the other two.

As each insisted on taking the peril upon himself,—and none of them would yield the point, a proposal was made to cast lots.

This was done; and Hendrik, the suggester of the plan, was the one chosen by fate to carry it into execution.

“I am glad of it,” said he, after the thing had been decided. “It is but just that I should be permitted to carry out my own proposal. So here goes!”

Hastily undressing himself, he shook hands with Arend and Willem, dropped into the flood, and was away with the rapidity of an arrow.

Anxiously the others gazed after him; but in less than three minutes, he was no longer under their eyes, the rough rapid current having carried him clean out of sight.

Two hours passed, which were spent by Arend and Groot Willem in, a state of anxious suspense. Two hours more and it became terrible.

“Night is fast approaching,” remarked Arend. “If Hendrik does not return before night, I shall swim after him.”

“Yes, we may as well, while we have the strength to do it,” answered Willem. “If you go, so will I. We shall start together. How long do you think we should wait?”

“Not much longer. Certainly within a mile, he ought to have found a place where he could land. That distance he must soon have made, at the rate he was travelling when he left us. He should return soon now, or never.”

Another hour passed and still no signs of Hendrik.

“Remain you, Willem,” proposed Arend, “and let me go alone.”

“No,” replied the great hunter; “we go together. I once thought that I should never abandon my gun as long as I lived; but it must be. We must not stay here any longer. I grow weaker every hour.”

The two were taking off their boots and preparing to enter the water, when their ears were saluted by the sound of a familiar voice.

Congo was seen upon horseback on the bank of the river, just opposite the rock.

“Nebber fear, baas Willem,” shouted he. “I come back by-’m-by.”

As he said this, he galloped away. The loud roar of an elephant proclaiming the cause of his sudden departure.

“O heavens!” exclaimed Arend. “How much longer must we stay here?”

“Until to-morrow, I expect,” answered Willem. “Congo cannot return to the camp and be back before to-morrow.”

“But do you think he will go off without trying to assist us?”

“Yes. What can he do alone? Nothing. He knows that, and has gone for help. Of himself, he could not kill the elephant; and even if it was not there, he could do nothing to get us off the rock.”

“The distance to the bank must be about twenty yards. Of course there is a way by which we may be got ashore; but it will require a rope. The climbing plants would do, but Congo has not noticed them. I believe that he understood at a glance the difficulties to be overcome, and has gone to the camp for assistance.”

“I hope so,” replied Arend, “and, if such be the case, we need not fear for ourselves. We have now only to endure the annoyance of waiting. My only anxiety is for Hendrik.”

Willem made no reply, but by his silence Arend could perceive that he had but little hope of ever seeing Hendrik gain.

Slowly the sun went down and the night once more descended over the rolling river. Their anxiety would not allow them to sleep, even had they not been hindered by hunger. Of water they had a plentiful supply,—too much of it,—although this was not obtained without some difficulty, as they had to dip it up in one of their powder-flasks, emptied for the purpose.

Another morning dawned, and the sun made his appearance,—again red and fiery,—his beams becoming fiercer as he ascended the cloudless sky.

They had but a few hours more to wait until they might expect the return of the Kaffir; but would he surely come? They knew that travelling in Africa was a very uncertain business. Their present position was proof that some accident might occur to hinder him from reaching the camp.

By this time they were almost certain that some serious misfortune, perhaps death itself, had befallen Hendrik.

As if to confirm them in this belief, just then three large crocodiles were seen swimming around the rock, lingering there, as though they expected ere long to get their sharp teeth into the flesh of those who stood upon it.

The great hunter became angered at the sight. It suggested the probable fate of their companion, as it might, in time, be their own. He seized hold of his roer, and, drawing the damp charge, freshly loaded the gun. Aiming at the eye of one of the hideous monsters, he pulled trigger.

The loud report was followed by a heavy plunging in the water, and the behaviour of the crocodile gave evidence of the correctness of the hunter’s aim.

After springing bodily above the surface, it fell back again, and commenced spinning around, with a velocity that threw showers of spray over those, who stood watching its death-struggles.

Its two companions retreated down the river, and, as the brothers saw them depart, the thoughts of both were dwelling upon the same subject.

Both were thinking of Hendrik! We also must go down stream, and see what has become of him.