Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle by Victor Appleton
Chapter XI. Anchored to Earth
With the voyage on the steamer, their arrival in Africa, the many strange sights of the city of Majumba, and the refitting of the airship, our friends had hardly had time to catch their breath since Tom Swift's determination to go elephant hunting. Now, as the Black Hawk was speeding into the interior, they felt, for the first time in many weeks, that they "could take it easy," as Ned Newton expressed it.
"Thank goodness," said the bank clerk, "I can sit down and look at something for a while," and he gazed out of the main cabin windows down at the wild country over which they were then flying.
For, so swiftly had the airship moved that it was hardly any time at all before it had left Majumba far behind, and was scudding over the wilderness.
"Bless my camera," exclaimed Mr. Damon, who had brought along one of the picture machines, "bless my camera! I don't call that much to look at," and he pointed to the almost impenetrable forest over which they then were.
"No, it isn't much of a view," said the old elephant hunter, "but wait. You'll soon see all you want to. Africa isn't all like this. There are many strange sights before us yet. But, Tom Swift, tell us how the airship is working in this climate. Do you find any difficulty managing it?"
"Not at all," answered Tom, who was in the cabin then, having set the automatic steering apparatus in the pilot house, and come back to join the others. "It works as well as it did in good old York State. Of course I can't tell what affect the continual hot and moist air will have on the gas bag, but I guess we'll make out all right."
"I certainly hope so," put in Mr. Anderson. "It would be too bad to be wrecked in the middle of Africa, with no way to get out."
"Oh, you needn't worry about that," said Ned with a laugh. "If the airship should smash, Tom would build another out of what was left, and we'd sail away as good as before."
"Hardly that," answered the young inventor.
"But we won't cross a bridge until we hear it coming, as Eradicate would say. Hello, that looks like some sort of native village."
He pointed ahead to a little clearing in the forest, where a number of mud and grass huts were scattered about. As they came nearer they could see the black savages, naked save for a loin cloth, running about in great excitement, and pointing upward.
"Yes, that's one of the numerous small native villages we'll see from now on," said Mr. Durban. "Many a night have I spent in those same grass huts after a day's hunting. Sometimes, I've been comfortable, and again not. I guess we've given those fellows a scare."
It did seem so, for by this time the whole population, including women and children, were running about like mad. Suddenly, from below there sounded a deep booming noise, which came plainly to the ears of the elephant hunters through the opened windows of the airship cabin.
"Hark! What's that?" cried Tom, raising his hand for silence.
"Bless my umbrella! it sounds like thunder," said Mr. Damon.
"No, it's one of their war drums," explained Mr. Durban. "The natives make large ones out of hollow trees, with animal skins stretched over the ends, and they beat them to sound a warning, or before going into battle. It makes a great noise."
"Do you think they want to fight us?" asked Ned, looking anxiously at Tom, and then toward where his rifle stood in a corner of the cabin.
"No, probably that drum was beaten by some of the native priests," explained the hunter. "The natives are very superstitious, and likely they took us for an evil spirit, and wanted to drive us away."
"Then we'll hustle along out of their sight," said Tom, as he went to the pilot house to increase the speed of the airship, for he had been letting it drift along slowly to enable the adventurers to view the country over which they were passing. A few minutes later, under the increased force of the machinery, the Black Hawk left the native village, and the crowd of frightened blacks, far behind.
The travelers passed over a succession of wild stretches of forest or jungle, high above big grassy plains, over low but rugged mountain ranges, and big rivers. Now and then they would cross some lake, on the calm surface of which could be made out natives, in big canoes, hollowed out from trees. In each case the blacks showed every appearance of fright at the sight of the airship throbbing along over their heads.
On passing over the lake, Ned Newton looked down and cried out excitedly:
"Look! Elephants! They're in swimming, and the natives are shooting them! Now's our chance, Tom!"
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Durban, after a quick glance, drew back laughing.
"Those are hippopotami!" exclaimed the old elephant man. "Good hunting, if you don't care what you shoot, but not much sport in it. It will be some time yet before we see any elephants, boys."
Ned was rather chagrined at his mistake, but the African travelers told him that any one, not familiar with the country, would have made it, especially in looking down from a great height.
They sailed along about half a mile above the earth, Tom gradually increasing the speed of the ship, as he found the machinery to be working well. Dinner was served as they were crossing a high grassy plateau, over which could be seen bounding a number of antelopes.
"Some of those would go good for a meal," said Mr. Durban, after a pause during which he watched the graceful creatures.
"Then we'll go down and get some for supper," decided Tom, for in that hot climate it was impossible to carry fresh meat on the airship.
Accordingly, the Black Hawk was sent down, and came to rest in a natural clearing on the edge of the jungle. After waiting until the fierce heat of noonday was over, the travelers got out their rifles and, under the leadership of Mr. Durban and Mr. Anderson, who was also an experienced hunter, they set off.
Game was plentiful, but as they could only eat a comparatively small quantity, and as it would not keep, they only shot what they needed. Tom had his electric rifle, but hesitated to use it, as Mr. Durban and Mr. Anderson had each already bowled over a fine buck.
However, a chance came most unexpectedly, for, as they were passing along the banks of a little stream, which was almost hidden from view by thick weeds and rank grass, there was a sudden commotion in the bushes, and a fierce wild buffalo sprang out at the party.
There are few animals in Africa more dreaded by hunters than the wild buffalo, for the beast, with its spreading sharp horns is a formidable foe, and will seldom give up the attack until utterly unable to move. They are fierce and relentless.
"Look out!" yelled Mr. Durban. "To cover, everybody! If that beast gets after you it's no fun! You and I will fire at him, Mr. Anderson!"
Mr. Durban raised his rifle, and pulled the trigger, but, for some reason, the weapon failed to go off. Mr. Anderson quickly raised his, but his foot slipped in a wet place and he fell. At that moment the buffalo, with a snort of rage, charged straight for the fallen man.
"Tom! your electric rifle!" yelled Ned Newton, but he need not have done so, for the young inventor was on the alert.
Taking instant aim, and adjusting his weapon for the heaviest charge, Tom fired at the advancing beast. The result was the same as in the case of the whale, the buffalo seemed to melt away. And it was stopped only just in time, too, for it was close to the prostrate Mr. Anderson, who had sprained his ankle slightly, and could not readily rise.
It was all over in a few seconds, but it was a tense time while it lasted.
"You saved my life again, Tom Swift," said Mr. Anderson, as he limped toward our hero. "Once on Earthquake Island, and again now. I shan't forget it," and he shook hands with the young inventor.
The others congratulated Tom on his quick shot, and Mr. Damon, as usual blessed everything in sight, and the electric rifle especially.
They went back to the airship, taking the fresh meat with them, but on account of the injury to Mr. Anderson's ankle could not make quick progress, so that it was almost dusk when they reached the craft.
"Well, we'll have supper, and then start off," proposed Tom, "I don't think it would be wise to remain on the ground so near the jungle."
"No' it's safer in the air," agreed Mr. Durban. The meal was much enjoyed, especially the fresh meat, and, after it was over, Tom took his place in the pilot house to start the machinery, and send the airship aloft.
The motor hummed and throbbed, and the gas hissed into the bag, for the ground was not level enough to permit of a running start by means of the planes. Lights gleamed from the Black Hawk and the big search-lantern in front cast a dazzling finger of light into the black forest.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" called Ned, who heard the machinery in motion, but who could not feel the craft rising. "Why don't you go up, Tom?"
"I'm trying to," answered the young inventor. "Something seems to be the matter." He pulled the speed lever over a few more notches, and increased the power of the gas machine. Still the Black Hawk did not rise.
"Bless my handkerchief box!" cried Mr. Damon, "what's the matter?"
"I don't know," answered Tom. "We seem to be held fast."
He further increased the speed of the propellers, and the gas machine was set to make vapor at its fullest capacity, and force it into the bag. Still the craft was held to the earth.
"Maybe the gas has no effect in this climate," called Ned.
"It can't be that," replied Tom. "The gas will operate anywhere. It worked all right today."
Suddenly she airship moved up a little way, and then seemed to be pulled down again, hitting the ground with a bump.
"Something is holding us!" cried Tom. "We're anchored to earth! I must see what it is!" and, catching up his electric rifle, he dashed out of the cabin.