These immense creatures can go over a great deal of ground, and, from one day to another, are found at enormous distances from there they were last seen, like the whales, whose mass and speed they rival.
"In fact," said Joe, "it's a whale that we have harpooned; and we're only doing just what whalemen do when out fishing."
But a change in the nature of the ground compelled the doctor to vary his style of locomotion. A dense grove of calmadores was descried on the horizon, about three miles away, on the north of the prairie. So it became necessary to detach the balloon from its draught-animal at last.
Kennedy was intrusted with the job of bringing the elephant to a halt. He drew his rifle to his shoulder, but his position was not favorable to a successful shot; so that the first ball fired flattened itself on the animal's skull, as it would have done against an iron plate. The creature did not seem in the least troubled by it; but, at the sound of the discharge, he had increased his speed, and now was going as fast as a horse at full gallop.
"The deuce!" ejaculated Kennedy.
"What a solid head!" commented Joe.
"We'll try some conical balls behind the shoulder-joint," said Kennedy, reloading his rifle with care. In another moment he fired.
The animal gave a terrible cry, but went on faster than ever.
"Come!" said Joe, taking aim with another gun, "I must help you, or we'll never end it." And now two balls penetrated the creature's side.
The elephant halted, lifted his trunk, and resumed his run toward the wood with all his speed; he shook his huge head, and the blood began to gush from his wounds.
"Let us keep up our fire, Mr. Kennedy."
"And a continuous fire, too," urged the doctor, "for we are close on the woods."
Ten shots more were discharged. The elephant made a fearful bound; the car and balloon cracked as though every thing were going to pieces, and the shock made the doctor drop his hatchet on the ground.
The situation was thus rendered really very alarming; the anchor-rope, which had securely caught, could not be disengaged, nor could it yet be cut by the knives of our aeronauts, and the balloon was rushing headlong toward the wood, when the animal received a ball in the eye just as he lifted his head. On this he halted, faltered, his knees bent under him, and he uncovered his whole flank to the assaults of his enemies in the balloon.
"A bullet in his heart!" said Kennedy, discharging one last rifle-shot.
The elephant uttered a long bellow of terror and agony, then raised himself up for a moment, twirling his trunk in the air, and finally fell with all his weight upon one of his tusks, which he broke off short. He was dead.
"His tusk's broken!" exclaimed Kennedy--"ivory too that in England would bring thirty-five guineas per hundred pounds."
"As much as that?" said Joe, scrambling down to the ground by the anchor-rope.
"What's the use of sighing over it, Dick?" said the doctor. "Are we ivory merchants? Did we come hither to make money?"
Joe examined the anchor and found it solidly attached to the unbroken tusk. The doctor and Dick leaped out on the ground, while the balloon, now half emptied, hovered over the body of the huge animal.
"What a splendid beast!" said Kennedy, "what a mass of flesh! I never saw an elephant of that size in India!"
"There's nothing surprising about that, my dear Dick; the elephants of Central Africa are the finest in the world. The Andersons and the Cummings have hunted so incessantly in the neighborhood of the Cape, that these animals have migrated to the equator, where they are often met with in large herds."
"In the mean while, I hope," added Joe, "that we'll taste a morsel of this fellow. I'll undertake to get you a good dinner at his expense. Mr. Kennedy will go off and hunt for an hour or two; the doctor will make an inspection of the balloon, and, while they're busy in that way, I'll do the cooking."
"A good arrangement!" said the doctor; "so do as you like, Joe."
"As for me," said the hunter, "I shall avail myself of the two hours' recess that Joe has condescended to let me have."
"Go, my friend, but no imprudence! Don't wander too far away."
"Never fear, doctor!" and, so saying, Dick, shouldering his gun, plunged into the woods.