We continued on our way through the thick green jungle for another week. It was quite beautiful, with flowers blossoming on vines and bushes all over. I spotted many interesting animals too; animals that I had never heard of before. None of them inspired me to shoot them though. There were numerous monkeys, mostly small, though I did spy one variety in the very tops of the threes that were almost three feet tall. Tiny antelope, large rodents, and medium sized tapirs were also in evidence. What I didn’t enjoy was the variety and the density of the insect life. I was constantly brushing large creepy crawlies from my clothing, and the mosquitoes that buzzed in huge clouds near dawn and dusk bit me mercilessly.
Finally we came to the edge of a large river winding its way toward the north. The water was slow moving and appeared deep. The first things that I noticed were the crocodiles lying in the sun on the far bank. I had heard of the prehistoric crocodiles, whose gigantic skeletons had been found in recent years by fossil hunters. None of these creatures approached the dimensions of those, but they seemed plenty big to me, with several well over twenty feet in length. Then I saw that in addition to the crocs, the water was teeming with hippos. I had been to Africa and had seen similar congregations of hippos and crocodiles in rivers there. These hippos, while not smaller than those in Africa, seemed to be built on a lighter frame, with longer legs and slightly less bulbous heads.
“We will go this way,” said Saral, pointing to the north. “There are rapids several miles away that we may cross. There will be no creatures to fear there.”
“Alright,” I said. “Are there any people living around here?”
“No. My people, the Tokayana once lived in these forests but we have all moved to the coast to trade with the Englishmen. The Chikuyana live far to the north.”
“And how do your people and they get along?”
“A long time ago we were enemies. There hasn’t been any fighting for many years.”
The trek north along the river was relatively easy because of numerous game trails and hippo wallows that pushed back the jungle growth, and before long we were at a spot where the river widened to series of rapids flowing between several piles of massive boulders. Though in a few places the water looked both deep and swift, there seemed to be adequate footing to step from stone to stone and get across. The difficult part would be for the bearers, carrying the trunks, one at each corner. There were several places where two could not cross abreast. Fortunately the trunks were waterproof. I took out a coil of rope and cut lengths that could be fastened at each corner. The trunks could then be floated in the water next to the people crossing on the rocks, held under control by the four men.
We were in the middle of the one hundred yard crossing before there was any hint of trouble. Suddenly one of the bearers cried out in pain and I saw an arrow piercing his chest before he toppled into the churning rapids. Then the air was thick with stone-tipped missiles. Two more men fell into the water after being shot, and a couple dived in to escape that fate. By this time I could see that our attackers were firing from the far side of the river.
“Go back!” I shouted and the men were attempting to do so, but between the deadly arrows and the panic, most were falling rather than making a successful retreat. Saral was on a large flat rock just ahead of me, next to an upright boulder. He seemed to be frozen in his spot from fear or indecision, so I jumped forward and grabbed hold of him, turning so that between the boulder and my body, he was shielded from attack. Then I felt a horrible pain in my side and looked down to see a stone-tipped shaft protruding from my abdomen.
“Run!” I shouted at the boy, but he was still frozen.