Seeing his agitated state I thought it wisest to follow him. What happened need not be set out in detail. It is sufficient to say that he found that hippopotamus and blazed both barrels at it in the bushes, hitting it, but not seriously. Out lumbered the creature with its mouth open, wishing to escape. Robertson turned to fly as he was in its path, but from one cause or another, tripped and fell down. Certainly he would have been crushed beneath its huge feet had I not stepped in front of him and sent two solid eight-bore bullets down that yawning throat, killing it dead within three feet of where Robertson was trying to rise, and I may add, of myself.
This narrow escape sobered him, and I am bound to say that his gratitude was profuse.
“You are a brave man,” he said, “and had it not been for you by now I should be wherever bad people go. I’ll not forget it, Mr. Quatermain, and if ever you want anything that John Robertson can give, why, it’s yours.”
“Very well,” I answered, being seized by an inspiration, “I do want something that you can give easily enough.”
“Give it a name and it’s yours, half my place, if you like.”
“I want,” I went on as I slipped new cartridges into the rifle, “I want you to promise to give up drink for your daughter’s sake. That’s what nearly did for you just now, you know.”
“Man, you ask a hard thing,” he said slowly. “But by God I’ll try for her sake and for yours too.”
Then I went to help to set the leg of the injured man, which was all the rest I got that morning.
We spent three more days at that place. First it was necessary to allow time to elapse before the gases which generated in their great bodies caused those of the sea-cows which had been killed in the water, to float. Then they must be skinned and their thick hides cut into strips and pieces to be traded for sjamboks or to make small native shields for which some of the East Coast tribes will pay heavily.
All this took a long while, during which I amused, or disgusted myself in watching those river natives devouring the flesh of the beasts. The lean, what there was of it, they dried and smoked into a kind of “biltong,” but a great deal of the fat they ate at once. I had the curiosity to weigh a lump which was given to one thin, hungry-looking fellow. It scaled quite twenty pounds. Within four hours he had eaten it to the last ounce and lay there, a distended and torpid log. What would not we white people give for such a digestion!