Chapter XIV. A Stampede

"Look to your guns, everybody!" cautioned Mr. Durban. "It's no joke to be caught in an elephant herd with an unloaded rifle. Have you plenty of ammunition, Mr. Damon?"

"Ammunition? Bless my powder bag, I think I have enough for all the elephants I'll kill. If I get one of the big beasts I'll be satisfied. Bless my piano keys! I think I see them, Tom!"

He pointed off through the thick jungle. Surely something was moving there amid the trees; great slate-colored bodies, massive forms and waving trunks! The trumpeting increased, and the crashing of the underbrush sounded louder and nearer.

"There they are!" cried Tom Swift joyously.

"Now for my first big game!" yelled Ned Newton.

"Take it easy," advised Mr. Anderson. "Remember to aim for the spot I mentioned to you as being the best, just at the base of the skull. If you can't make a head shot, or through the eye, try for the heart. But with the big bullets we have, almost any kind of a shot, near a vital spot, will answer."

"And Tom can fire at their toes and put them out of business," declared Ned, who was eagerly advancing. "How about it, Tom?"

"Well, I guess the electric rifle will come up to expectations. Say, Mr. Durban, they seem to be heading this way!" excitedly cried Tom, as the herd of big beasts suddenly turned and changed their course.

"Yes, they are," admitted the old elephant hunter calmly. "But that won't matter. Take it easy. Kill all you can."

"But we don't want to put too many out of business," said Tom, who was not needlessly cruel, even in hunting.

"I know that," answered Mr. Durban. "But this is a case of necessity. I've got to get ivory, and we have to kill quite a few elephants to accomplish this. Besides the brutes will head for the village and the natives' grain fields, and trample them down, if they're not headed back. So all together now, we'll give them a volley. This is a good place! There they are. All line up now. Get ready!"

He halted, and the others followed his example. The natives had come to a stop some time before, and were huddled together in the jungle back of our friends, waiting to see the result of the white men's shots.

Tom, Ned, Mr. Damon, and the two older hunters were on an irregular line in the forest. Before them was the mass of elephants advancing slowly, and feeding on the tender leaves of trees as they came on. They would reach up with their long trunks, strip off the foliage, and stuff it into their mouths. Sometimes, they even pulled up small trees by the roots for the purpose of stripping them more easily.

"Jove! There are some big tuskers in that bunch!" cried Mr. Durban. "Aim for the bulls, every one, don't kill the mothers or little ones." Tom now saw that there were a number of baby Elephants in the herd, and he appreciated the hunter's desire to spare them and their mothers.

"Here we go!" exclaimed Mr. Durban, as he saw that Tom and the others were ready. "Aim! Fire!"

There were thundering reports that awoke the echoes of the jungle, and the sounds of the rifles were followed by shrill trumpets of rage. When the smoke blew away three elephants were seen prostrate, or, rather two, and part of another one. The last vas almost blown to pieces by Tom Swift's electric rifle; for the young inventor had used a little too heavy charge, and the big beast had been almost annihilated.

Mr. Durban had dropped his bull with a well-directed shot, and Mr. Anderson had a smaller one to his credit.

"I guess I missed mine," said Ned ruefully.

"Bless my dress-suit case!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "So did I!"

"One of you hit that fellow!" cried Mr. Durban. "He's wounded."

He pointed to a fair-sized bull who was running wildly about, uttering shrill cries of anger. The other beasts had gathered in a compact mass, with the larger bulls, or tuskers, on the outside, to protect the females and young.

"I'll try a shot at him," said Tom, and raising his electric, gun, he took quick aim. The elephant dropped in his tracks, for this time the young inventor had correctly adjusted the power of the wireless bullet.

"Good!" cried Mr. Durban. "Give them some more! This is some of the best ivory I've seen yet!"

As he spoke he fired, and bowled over another magnificent specimen. Ned Newton, determined to make a record of at least one, fired again, and to his delight, saw a big fellow drop.

"I got him!" he yelled.

Mr. Anderson also got another, and then Mr. Damon, blessing something which his friends could not make out, fired at one of the largest bulls in the herd.

"You only nipped him!" exclaimed Mr. Durban when the smoke had drifted away. "I guess I'll put him out of his misery!"

He raised his weapon and pulled the trigger but no report followed. He uttered an exclamation of dismay.

"The breech-action has jammed!" he exclaimed. "Drop him, Tom. He's scented us, and is headed this way. The whole herd will follow in a minute."

Already the big brute wounded by Mr. Damon had trumpeted out a cry of rage and defiance. It was echoed by his mates. Then, with upraised trunk, he darted forward, followed by a score of big tuskers.

But Tom had heard and understood. The leading beast had not taken three steps before he dropped under the deadly and certain fire of the young inventor.

"Bless my wishbone!" cried Mr. Damon when he saw how effective the electric weapon was.

There was a shout of joy from the natives in the rear. They saw the slain creatures and knew there would be much fresh meat and feasting for them for days to come.

Suddenly Mr. Durban cried out: "Fire again, Tom! Fire everybody! The whole herd is coming this way. If we don't stop them they'll overrun the fields and village, anti may smash the airship! Fire again!"

Almost as he spoke, the rush, which had been stopped momentarily, when Tom dropped the wounded elephant, began again. With shrill menacing cries the score of bulls in the lead came on, followed this time by the females and the young.

"It's a stampede!" yelled Mr. Anderson, firing into the midst of the herd. Mr. Durban was working frantically at his clogged rifle. Ned and Mr. Damon both fired, and Tom Swift, adjusting his weapon to give the heaviest charges, shot a fusillade of wireless bullets into the center of the advancing elephants, who were now wild with fear and anger.

"It's a stampede all right!" said Tom, when he saw that the big creatures were not going to stop, in spite of the deadly fire poured into them.