Chapter XVII. Shots from Above

"There they are!"

"My, what a lot of big ones!"

"Jove! Mr. Anderson, see those tusks!"

"Yes, you ought to get what you want this time, Mr. Durban."

"Bless my hatband! There must be two hundred of them!" exclaimed Mr. Damon.

"I'm glad I recharged my rifle last night!" exclaimed Tom Swift. "It's fully loaded now."

Then followed exulting cries and shouts of the natives, who were following our friends, the elephant hunters, who had given voice to the remarks we have just quoted.

It was early in the morning, and the hunt was about to start, for the news brought in by the runner the night before had been closely followed by the brutes themselves, and at dawn our friends were astir, for scouts brought in word that the elephants, including many big ones, were passing along only a few miles from the African village.

Cautiously approaching, with the wind blowing from the elephants to them, the white hunters made their way along. Mr. Durban was in the lead, and when he saw a favorable opportunity he motioned for the others to advance. Then, when he noticed the big bull sentinels of the herd look about as if to detect the presence of enemies, he gave another signal and the hunters sank out of sight in the tall grass.

As for the natives, they were like snakes, unseen but ever present, wriggling along on their hands and knees. They were awaiting the slaughter, when there would be fresh meat in abundance.

At length the old elephant hunter decided that they were near enough to chance some shots. As a matter of fact, Tom Swift, with his electric rifle, had been within range some time before, but as he did not want to spoil the sport for the others, by firing and killing, and so alarming the herd, he had held back. Now they could all shoot together.

"Let her go!" suddenly cried Mr. Durban, and they took aim.

There was a fusillade of reports and several of the big brutes toppled over.

"Bless my toothbrush!" cried Mr. Damon, "that's the time I got one!"

"Yes, and a fine specimen, too!" added Mr. Durban, who had only succeeded in downing a small bull, with an indifferent pair of tusks. "A fine speciment, Mr. Damon, I congratulate you!"

As for Tom Swift, he had killed two of the largest elephants in the herd.

But now the hunters had their work cut out for them, since the beasts had taken fright and were charging away at what seemed an awkward gait, but which, nevertheless, took them rapidly over the ground.

"Come on!" cried Mr. Durban. "We must get some more. Some of the finest tusks I have ever seen are running away from us!"

He began to race after the retreating herd, but it is doubtful if he would have caught up to them had not a band of natives, who had crept up and surrounded the beasts, turned them by shouts and the beating of tom-toms. Seeing an enemy in front of them, the elephants turned, and our friends were able to get in several more shots. Tom Swift picked out only those with immense tusks, and soon had several to his credit. Ned Newton also bagged some prizes.

But finally the elephants, driven to madness by the firing and the yells of the natives, broke through the line of black men, and charged off into the jungle, where it was not only useless but dangerous to follow them.

"Well, we have enough," said Mr. Durban, and when the tusks had been collected it was found that indeed a magnificent and valuable supply had been gathered.

"But I have yet to get my prize ones," said the old hunter with a sigh. "Maybe we'll find the elephant with them when we locate the red pygmies."

"If we do, we'll have our work cut out for us," declared Tom.

As on the other occasion after the hunt, there was a great feast for the natives, who invited tribes from miles around, and for two days, while the tusks were being cut out and cleaned, there were barbeques on every side.

It was one afternoon, when they were seated in the shade of the airship, cleaning their guns, and discussing the plans they had best follow next, that our travellers suddenly heard a great commotion amongst the Africans, who had for the past hour been very quiet, most of them sleeping after the feasts. They yelled and shouted, and began to beat their drums.

"Something is coming," said Ned.

"Perhaps there's going to be a fight," suggested Tom.

"Maybe it's the red pygmies," said Mr. Damon. "Bless my--"

But what he was going to bless he did not say, for at that instant it seemed as if every native in sight suddenly disappeared, almost like magic. They sank down into the grass, darted into their huts, or hid in the tall grass.

"What can it be?" cried Tom, as he looked to see that his rifle was in working order.

"Some enemy," declared Mr. Anderson.

"There they are!" cried Ned Newton, and as he spoke there burst into view, coming from the tall grass that covered the plain about the village, a herd of savage, wild buffaloes. On rushed the shaggy creatures, their long, sharp horns seeming like waving spears as they advanced.

"Here's more sport!" cried Tom.

"No! Not sport! Danger!" yelled Mr. Durban. "They're headed right for us!"

"Then we'll stop them," declared the young inventor, as he raised his gun.

"No! No!" begged the old hunter. "It's as much as our lives are worth to try to stop a rush of wild buffaloes. You couldn't do it with Gatling guns. We can kill a few, but the rest won't stop until they've finished us and the aeroplane too."

"Then what's to be done?" demanded Mr. Anderson.

"Get into the airship!" cried Mr. Durban. "Send her up. It's the only way to get out of their path. Then we can shoot them from above, and drive them away!"

Quickly the adventurers leaped into the craft. On thundered the buffaloes. Tom feared he could not get the motor started quickly enough. He did not dare risk rising by means of the aeroplane feature, but at once started the gas machine.

The big bag began to fill. Nearer came the wild creatures, thundering over the ground, snorting and bellowing with rage.

"Quick, Tom!" yelled Ned, and at that instant the Black Hawk shot upward, just as the foremost of the buffaloes passed underneath, vainly endeavoring to gore the craft with their sweeping horns. The air-travelers had risen just in time.

"Now it's our turn!" shouted Ned, as he began firing from above into the herd of infuriated animals below him. Tom, after seeing that the motor was working well, sent the airship circling about, while standing in the steering tower, he guided his craft here and there, meanwhile pouring a fusillade of his wireless bullets into the buffaloes. Many of them dropped in their tracks, but the big herd continued to rush here and there, crashing into the frail native huts, tearing them down, and, whenever a black man appeared, chasing after him infuriatedly.

"Keep at it!" cried Mr. Durban, as he poured more lead into the buffaloes. "If we don't kill enough of them, and drive the others away, there won't be anything left of this village."