CHAPTER VIII. The elephant trumpets - Fighting an elephant with swords - The forehead-shot - Elephants in a panic - A superb old Neptune - The harpoon reaches its aim - Death of the hippopotamus - Tramped by an elephant.
The aggageers started before daybreak in search of elephants. They soon returned, and reported the fresh tracks of a herd, and begged me to lose no time in accompanying them, as the elephants might retreat to a great distance. There was no need for this advice. In a few minutes my horse Tetel was saddled, and my six Tokrooris and Bacheet, with spare rifles, were in attendance. Bacheet, who had so ingloriously failed in his first essay at Wat el Negur, had been so laughed at by the girls of the village for his want of pluck that he had declared himself ready to face the devil rather than the ridicule of the fair sex; and, to do him justice, he subsequently became a first-rate lad in moments of danger.
The aggageers were quickly mounted. It was a sight most grateful to a sportsman to witness the start of these superb hunters, who with the sabres slung from the saddle-bow, as though upon an every-day occasion, now left the camp with these simple weapons, to meet the mightiest animal of creation in hand-to-hand conflict. The horses' hoofs clattered as we descended the shingly beach, and forded the river shoulder-deep, through the rapid current, while those on foot clung to the manes of the horses and to the stirrup-leathers to steady themselves over the loose stones beneath.
Tracking was very difficult. As there was a total absence of rain, it was next to impossible to distinguish the tracks of two days' date from those most recent upon the hard and parched soil. The only positive clew was the fresh dung of the elephants, and this being deposited at long intervals rendered the search extremely tedious. The greater part of the day passed in useless toil, and, after fording the river backward and forward several times, we at length arrived at a large area of sand in the bend of the stream, that was evidently overflowed when the river was full. This surface of many acres was backed by a forest of large trees. Upon arrival at this spot the aggageers, who appeared to know every inch of the country, declared that, unless the elephants had gone far away, they must be close at hand, within the forest. We were speculating upon the direction of the wind, when we were surprised by the sudden trumpeting of an elephant, that proceeded from the forest already declared to be the covert of the herd. In a few minutes later a fine bull elephant marched majestically from the jungle upon the large area of sand, and proudly stalked direct toward the river.
At that time we were stationed under cover of a high bank of sand that had been left by the retiring river in sweeping round an angle. We immediately dismounted, and remained well concealed. The question of attack was quickly settled. The elephant was quietly stalking toward the water, which was about three hundred paces distant from the jungle. This intervening space was heavy dry sand, that had been thrown up by the stream in the sudden bend of the river, which, turning from this point at a right angle, swept beneath a perpendicular cliff of conglomerate rock formed of rounded pebbles cemented together.
I proposed that we should endeavor to stalk the elephant, by creeping along the edge of the river, under cover of a sand-bank about three feet high, and that, should the rifles fail, the aggageers should come on at full gallop and cut off his retreat from the jungle; we should then have a chance for the swords.
Accordingly I led the way, followed by Hadji Ali, my head Tokroori, with a rifle, while I carried the "Baby." Florian accompanied us. Having the wind fair, we advanced quickly for about half the distance, at which time we were within a hundred and fifty yards of the elephant, who had just arrived at the water and had commenced drinking. We now crept cautiously toward him. The sand-bank had decreased to a height of about two feet, and afforded very little shelter. Not a tree or bush grew upon the surface of the barren sand, which was so deep that we sank nearly to the ankles at every footstep. Still we crept forward, as the elephant alternately drank and then spouted the water in a shower over his colossal form; but just as we arrived within about fifty yards he happened to turn his head in our direction, and immediately perceived us. He cocked his enormous ears, gave a short trumpeting, and for an instant wavered in his determination whether to attack or fly; but as I rushed toward him with a shout, he turned toward the jungle, and I immediately fired a steady shot at the shoulder with the "Baby." As usual, the fearful recoil of the rifle, with a half-pound shell and twelve drams of powder, nearly threw me backward; but I saw the mark upon the elephant's shoulder, in an excellent line, although rather high. The only effect of the shot was to send him off at great speed toward the jungle. At the same moment the three aggageers came galloping across the sand like greyhounds in a course, and, judiciously keeping parallel with the jungle, they cut off his retreat, and, turning toward the elephant, confronted him, sword in hand.
At once the furious beast charged straight at the enemy. But now came the very gallant but foolish part of the hunt. Instead of leading the elephant by the flight of one man and horse, according to their usual method, all the aggageers at the same moment sprang from their saddles, and upon foot in the heavy sand they attacked the elephant with their swords.