This appeared strange, as they had certainly observed grass at that very spot the day before. Now there was none!
The horses put their noses to the ground, but raised them up again, snorting as they did so, and evidently disappointed. They were hungry enough to have eaten grass had there been any, for they eagerly snatched at the leaves of the bushes as they passed along!
Had the locusts been there also? No. The mimosa-bushes still retained their delicate foliage, which would not have been the case had the locusts visited the spot.
Our travellers were astonished that there was no grass. Surely there was some the day before? Had they got upon a new track?
The darkness prevented them from having a view of the ground; yet Von Bloom could not be mistaken about the route—having travelled it four times already. Though he could not see the surface, every now and again he caught a glimpse of some tree or bush, which he had marked in his former journeys, and these assured him they were still upon the right track.
Surprised at the absence of grass where they had so lately observed it, they would have examined the surface more carefully; but they were anxious to push on to the spring, and at length gave up the idea of halting. The water in their gourds had been used up long before this; and both they and their horses were once more suffering from thirst.
Besides, Von Bloom was not without some anxiety about the children at the wagon. He had been separated from them now a full day and a half, and many a change might take place—many a danger might arise in that time. In fact, he began to blame himself for having left them alone. It would have been better to have let his cattle perish. So thought he now. A presentiment that all was not right was gradually forming in his mind; and he grew more anxious to proceed as he reflected.
They rode on in silence. It was only on Hendrik expressing a doubt about the way, that the conversation recommenced. Swartboy also thought they were taking a wrong course.
At first Von Bloom assured them they were right; but after going a little farther, he admitted that he was in doubt; and then, after another half-mile's travelling, he declared that he had lost the track. He could no longer recognise any one of the marks or bearings he had taken.
The proper thing to be done under these circumstances was to leave the horses to themselves; and this all three well knew. But the animals were suffering the pangs of hunger, and when left to themselves, would not journey forward, but rushed up to the mimosa-bushes, and eagerly commenced devouring their leaves.
The consequence was, that their riders were obliged to keep them going with whip and spur; and in that way there was no certainty of the horses taking the right direction.
After several hours' advancing, all the while in a state of suspense, and as yet no appearance of either wagon or camp-fire, the travellers resolved upon coming to a halt. It was of no use going forward. They believed they could not be far from the camp; but they were now as likely to be riding from as towards it; and they concluded at length, that it would be wiser to remain where they were until the day broke.
They all dismounted therefore, and fastened their horses to the bushes—so that the animals could browse upon the leaves till morning—which could not now be very far off. They rolled themselves up in their karosses, and lay down upon the earth.
Hendrik and Swartboy were soon asleep. Von Bloom would have slept too, for he was tired enough; but the heart of the father was too full of anxiety to allow repose to his eyes, and he lay awake watching for the dawn.
It came at length, and at the first light his eyes swept the surface of the surrounding country. The party had by chance halted on an eminence that commanded a good view for miles on each side, but the field-cornet had not glanced half around the circle, when an object came before his eyes that brought gladness to his heart. It was the white tent of the wagon!
The joyful exclamation he uttered awoke the sleepers, who immediately sprang to their feet; and all three stood gazing at the welcome sight.
As they continued to gaze, their joy gradually gave place to feelings of surprise. Was it their wagon, after all?
It certainly looked like theirs; but it was a full half-mile off, and at such a distance one wagon would look just like another. But what led them to doubt its being theirs? It was the appearance of the place in which they saw it. Surely it was not the same place in which they had outspanned!
Theirs had been left in an oblong valley between two gentle ridges—in such a valley was this one standing. Near a pool formed by a spring—here, too, was the same, for they could perceive the water shining. But in all other respects the situation was different. The surface of the valley in which their wagon had been left was covered, both sides and bottom, with a verdant carpet of grass; whereas the one now before their eyes was brown and bare! Not a blade of grass was to be seen—the trees seeming to be the only things that had any verdure. Even the low bushes appeared to be destitute of leaves! The scene had no resemblance whatever to that where they had outspanned. It must be the camp of some other travellers, thought they.
They had fully arrived at this conclusion, when Swartboy, whose eyes had been rolling about everywhere, now rested upon the ground at his feet. After a moment's observation—which the increasing light now enabled him to make—he turned suddenly to the others, and directed their attention to the surface of the plain. This they saw was covered with tracks, as if a thousand hoofs had passed over it. In fact, it presented the appearance of a vast sheep-pen; so vast, that as far as their sight extended, they beheld the same tracked and trampled appearance!
What could this mean? Hendrik did not know. Von Bloom was in doubt. Swartboy could tell at the first glance. It was no new sight to him.
"All right, baas," he said, looking up in his master's face. "Da's da ole wagon!—da same spring an vley—da same place—dar hab been um trek-boken!"
"A trek-boken!" cried Von Bloom and Hendrik, in a breath.
"Ya, baas—a mighty big one too; das da spoor of dem antelope—See!"
Von Bloom now comprehended all. The bareness of the country, the absence of the leaves on the lower bushes, the millions of small hoof-tracks, all were now explained. A migration of the springbok antelope, a "trek-boken," had swept over the spot. That it was that had caused such a mighty change. The wagon they saw was theirs, after all.
They lost no time, but, catching their horses, bridled them, and rode rapidly down the hill.
Though somewhat relieved at seeing the wagon, Von Bloom was still apprehensive.
As they approached, they perceived the two horses standing beside it, and tied to the wheels, the cow also was there—but neither goats nor sheep were in the neighbourhood.
There was a fire burning in the rear of the hind-wheels, and a dark mass underneath the wagon, but no human form could be observed.
The hearts of the horsemen beat loudly as they advanced. Their eyes were bent earnestly upon the wagon. They felt keen anxiety.
They had got within three hundred yards, and still no one stirred—no human form made its appearance. Von Bloom and Hendrik now suffered intensely.
At this moment the two horses by the wagon neighed loudly; the dark mass under the wagon moved, rolled outward, rose up, and stood erect. Totty was recognised!
And now the "after-clap" of the wagon was hurriedly drawn aside, and three young faces were seen peeping forth.
A shout of joy burst from the horsemen, and the next moment little Jan and Trueey leaped out from the cap-tent into the arms of their father—while the mutual congratulations of Hans and Hendrik, Swartboy and Totty, produced for some moments a scene of joyful confusion quite indescribable.
Those who remained by the camp had had their adventures too; and their tale was by no means a merry one, for it disclosed the unpleasant fact, that the sheep and goats were all lost. The flock had been carried off, in a most singular manner; and there was but little hope of their ever being seen again.
Hans began his tale:—
"Nothing unusual occurred on the day you left us. I was busy all the afternoon in cutting 'wait-a-bit' thorns for a kraal. Totty helped me to drag them up, while Jan and Trueey looked after the flock. The animals did not stray out of the valley here, as the grass was good, and they had had enough of trotting lately.
"Well—Totty and I got the kraal, as you see, all ready. So, when night came, we drove the flock in; and, after milking the cow and getting our supper, we all went to bed. We were precious tired, and all of us slept soundly throughout the night without being disturbed. Both jackals and hyenas came around, but we knew they would not break into that kraal."
Hans pointed to the circular enclosure of thorn-bushes, that had been well constructed.
He then proceeded with his narration:—
"In the morning we found everything right. Totty again milked the cow; and we had breakfast. The flock was let out upon the grass, and so were the cow and the two horses.
"Just about mid-day I began to think what we were to have for dinner, for the breakfast had cleared up everything. I did not like to kill another sheep, if it could be helped. So bidding Jan and Trueey stay close by the wagon, and leaving Totty to look after the flock, I took my gun and started off in search of game. I took no horse, for I thought I saw springboks out on the plain; and I would stalk them better afoot.
"Sure enough, there were springboks. When I got out of the valley here, and had a better view, I saw what astonished me, I can assure you.
"I could scarce credit my eyes. The whole plain, towards the west, appeared to be one vast crowd of animals; and by their bright yellow sides, and the snow-white hair on their rumps, I knew they were springboks. They were all in motion, some browsing along, while hundreds of them were constantly bounding up into the air full ten feet high, and leaping on top of each other. I assure you all it was one of the strangest sights I ever beheld, and one of the pleasantest too; for I knew that the creatures that covered the plain, instead of being fierce wild beasts, were nothing but graceful and beautiful little gazelles.
"My first thought was to get near them, and have a shot; and I was about to start off over the plain, when I perceived that the antelopes were coming towards me. I saw that they were approaching with considerable rapidity; and if I only remained where I was, they would save me the trouble of stalking in upon them. I lay down behind a bush and waited.
"I had not very long to wait. In less than a quarter of an hour the foremost of the herd drew near, and in five minutes more a score of them were within shot.
"I did not fire for some time. I knew they would come still nearer; and I lay watching the motions of those pretty creatures. I took notice of their light handsome forms, their smooth slender limbs, their cinnamon-coloured backs, and white bellies, with the band of chestnut along each side. I looked at the lyre-shaped horns of the bucks, and above all, at the singular flaps on their croup, that unfolded each time that they leaped up, displaying a profusion of long silky hair, as white as snow itself.
"All these points I noticed, and at length, tired of admiring them, I singled out a fine-looking doe—for I was thinking of my dinner, and knew that doe-venison was the most palatable.
"After aiming carefully, I fired. The doe fell, but, to my astonishment, and others did not fly off. A few of the foremost only galloped back a bit, or bounded up into the air; but they again set to browsing quite unconcerned, and the main body advanced as before!
"I loaded as quickly as I could, and brought down another,—this time a buck—but as before without frightening the rest!
"I proceeded to load for the third time; but, before I had finished, the front ranks had passed on both sides of me, and I found myself in the midst of the herd!
"I saw no need for covering myself any longer behind the bush, but rose to my knees, and, firing at the nearest, brought it down also. Its comrades did not pause, but ran over its body in thousands!
"I loaded again, and stood right up on my feet.
"Now for the first time it occurred to me to reflect on the strange conduct of the springboks; for, instead of making off at my appearance, they only bounded a little to one side, and then kept on their course. They seemed possessed by some species of infatuation. I remembered hearing that such was their way when upon one of their migrations, or "trek-bokens." This, then, thought I, must be a "trek-boken."
"I was soon convinced of this, for the herd every moment grew thicker and thicker around me, until at length they became so crowded, that I began to feel very singularly situated. Not that I was afraid of the creatures, as they made no demonstration of using their horns upon me. On the contrary, they did all they could to get out of my way. But the nearest only were alarmed; and, as my presence in no way terrified those that were an hundred yards off, the latter made no attempt to give ground. Of course the nearest ones could only get a few paces from me, by pushing the others closer, or springing up over their backs—so that with the ones thus constantly bounding up into the air there was all the time a ring around me two deep!
"I cannot describe the strange feelings I had in this unusual situation, or how long I might have kept my place. Perhaps I might have loaded and fired away for some time, but just at the moment the sheep came into my mind.
"They'll be carried away, thought I. I had heard that such a thing was common enough.
"I saw that the antelopes were heading towards the valley—the foremost were already into it, and would soon be on the spot, where I had just seen our little flock feeding!
"In hopes of yet heading the springboks, and driving the sheep into the kraal, before the former crowded on them, I started towards the valley. But, to my chagrin, I could get no faster than the herd was going!
"As I approached the creatures, to make my way through their mass, they leaped about and sprang over one another, but could not for their lives open a way for me as fast as I wanted one. I was so near some of them that I could have knocked them down with my gun!
"I commenced hallooing, and, brandishing the gun about, I was making a lane more rapidly, when I perceived in front what appeared to be a large open space. I pushed forward for this, but the nearer I came to its border the more densely I found the creatures packed. I could only see that it was an open space by leaping up. I did not know what was causing it. I did not stay to reflect. I only wished to get forward as rapidly as possible, thinking about our flock.
"I continued to clear my way, and at length found myself in the position I had coveted; while the lane I had made, in getting there, closed instantaneously behind me. I was about to rush on and take advantage of the bit of clear ground, when, what should I see in the centre, and directly before me, but a great yellow lion!
"That accounted for the break in the herd. Had I known what had been causing it, I should have fought my way in any other direction but that; but there was I, out in the open ground, the lion not ten paces from me, and a fence of springboks two deep around both of us!
"I need not say I was frightened, and badly too. I did not for some moments know how to act. My gun was still loaded—for, after thinking of saving our little flock, I did not care to empty it at the antelopes. I could get one, thought I, at any time when I had secured the sheep in the kraal. The piece, therefore, was loaded and with bullets.
"Should I take aim at the lion, and fire? I asked myself this question, and was just on the point of deciding in the affirmative, when I reflected that it would be imprudent. I observed that the lion, whose back was turned to me, had either not seen, or as yet took no notice of me. Should I only wound him—and from the position he was in I was not likely to do more,—how then? I would most likely be torn to pieces.
"These were my reflections, all of which scarce occupied a second of time. I was about to "back out" or back in among the springboks, and make my way in some other direction, and had even got near the edge, when, in looking over my shoulder, I saw the lion suddenly halt and turn round. I halted too, knowing that to be the safest plan; and, as I did so, I glanced back at the lion's eyes.
"To my relief, I saw they were not upon me. He seemed to have taken some fancy in his head. His appetite, perhaps, had returned; for the next moment he ran a few yards, and then, rising with a terrific bound, launched himself far into the herd, and came down right upon the back of one of the antelopes! The others sprang right and left, and a new space was soon opened around him.
"He was now nearer than ever to where I stood, and I could see him distinctly crouched over his victim. His claws held its quivering body, and his long teeth grasped the poor creature by the neck. But, with the exception of his tail, he was making not the slightest motion, and that vibrated gently from side to side, just as a kitten that had caught a tiny mouse. I could see, too, that his eyes were close shut, as though he were asleep!
"Now I had heard that under such circumstances the lion may be approached without much danger. Not that I wished to go any nearer—for I was near enough for my gun—but it was this recollection, I believe, that put me in the notion of firing. At all events, something whispered me I would succeed, and I could not resist trying.
"The broad blind jaw of the brute was fair before me. I took aim, and pulled trigger; but, instead of waiting to see the effect of my shot, I ran right off in an opposite direction.
"I did not halt till I had put several acres of antelopes between myself and the place where I had last stood; and then I made the best of my way to the wagon.
"Long before I had reached it, I could see that Jan, and Trueey, and Totty, were safe under the tent. That gave me pleasure, but I also saw that the sheep and goats had got mixed up with the springboks, and were moving off with them as if they belonged to the same species! I fear they are all lost."
"And the lion?" inquired Hendrik.
"Yonder he lies!" answered Hans, modestly pointing to a yellow mass out upon the plain, over which the vultures were already beginning to hover. "Yonder he lies, you could hardly have done it better yourself, brother Hendrik."
As Hans said this, he smiled in such a manner as to show, that he had no idea of making a boast of his achievements.
Hendrik was loud in acknowledging that it was a most splendid feat, and also in regretting that he had not been on the ground to witness the wonderful migration of the springboks.
But there was no time for much idle talk. Von Bloom and his party were in a very unpleasant situation. His flocks were all gone. The cow and horses alone remained; and for these not a blade of grass had been left by the antelopes. Upon what were they to be fed?
To follow the spoor of the migratory springboks with the hope of recovering their flock would be quite useless. Swartboy assured them of this. The poor animals might be carried hundreds of miles before they could separate themselves from the great herd, or bring their involuntary journey to an end!
The horses could travel but little farther. There was nought to feed them on but the leaves of the mimosas, and this was but poor food for hungry horses. It would be fortunate if they could be kept alive until they should reach some pasture; and where now was pasture to be found? Locusts and antelopes between them seemed to have turned all Africa into a desert!
The field-cornet soon formed his resolution. He would remain there for the night, and early on the morrow set out in search of some other spring.
Fortunately Hans had not neglected to secure a brace of the springboks; and their fat venison now came into general use. A roast of that, and a drink of cool water from the spring, soon refreshed the three wearied travellers.
The horses were let loose among the mimosa-trees, and allowed to shift for themselves; and although under ordinary circumstances they would have "turned up their noses" at such food as mimosa-leaves, they now turned them up in a different sense, and cleared the thorny branches like so many giraffes.
Some naturalist as the "Buffon" school has stated that neither wolf, fox, hyena, nor jackal, will eat the carcass of a lion,—that their fear of the royal despot continues even after his death.
The field-cornet and his family had proof of the want of truth in this assertion. Before many hours both jackals and hyenas attacked the carcass of the king of beasts, and in a very short while there was not a morsel of him there but his bones. Even his tawny skin was swallowed by these ravenous creatures, and many of the bones broken by the strong jaws of the hyenas. The respect which these brutes entertain for the lion ends with his life. When dead, he is eaten by them with as much audacity as if he were the meanest of animals.
SPOORING FOR A SPRING.
Von Bloom was in the saddle at an early hour. Swartboy accompanied him, while all the others remained by the wagon to await his return. They took with them the two horses that had remained by the wagon, as these were fresher than the others.
They rode nearly due westward. They were induced to take this direction by observing that the springboks had come from the north. By heading westward they believed they would sooner get beyond the wasted territory.
To their great satisfaction an hour's travelling carried them clear of the track of the antelope migration! and although they found no water, there was excellent grass.
The field-cornet now sent Swartboy back for the other horses and the cow, pointing out a place where he should bring them to graze, while he himself continued on in search of water.
After travelling some miles farther, Von Bloom perceived to the north of him a long line of cliff rising directly up from the plain, and running westward as far as he could see. Thinking that water would be more likely to be found near these cliffs, he turned his horse's head towards them. As he approached nearer to their base, he was charmed with the beautiful scenery that began to open before his eyes. He passed through grassy plains of different sizes, separated from each other by copses of the delicate-leaved mimosa; some of these forming large thickets, while others consisted of only a few low bushes. Towering high over the mimosas, grew many trees of gigantic size, and of a species Von Bloom had never seen before. They stood thinly upon the ground; but each, with its vast leafy head, seemed a little forest of itself.
The whole country around had a soft park-like appearance, which contrasted well with the dark cliff that rose beyond—the latter stepping up from the plain by a precipice of several hundred feet in height, and seemingly as vertical as the walls of a house.
The fine landscape was gratifying to the eyes of the traveller—such a fine country in the midst of so much barrenness; for he knew that most of the surrounding region was little better than a wild karoo. The whole of it to the north for hundreds of miles was a famous desert—the desert of Kalihari—and these cliffs were a part of its southern border. The "vee-boer" would have been rejoiced at such a sight under other circumstances. But what to him now were all these fine pastures—now that he was no longer able to stock them?
Notwithstanding the beauty of the scene, his reflections were painful.
But he did not give way to despair. His present troubles were sufficiently grievous to prevent him from dwelling much on the future. His first care was to find a place where his horses might be recruited; for without them he could no longer move anywhere—without them he would be helpless indeed.
Water was the desired object. If water could not be found, all this beautiful park through which he was passing would be as valueless to him as the brown desert.
Surely so lovely a landscape could not exist without that most essential element!
So thought the field-cornet; and at the turning of every new grove his eyes wandered over the ground in search of it.
"Ho!" he joyfully exclaimed as a covey of large Namaqua partridges whirred up from his path. "A good sign that: they are seldom far from water."
Shortly after, he saw a flock of beautiful pintados, or guinea-hens, running into a copse. This was a still further proof that water was nigh. But surest of all, on the top of a tall cameel-doorn tree, he next observed the brilliant plumage of a parrot.
"Now," muttered he to himself, "I must be very near to some spring or pool."
He rode cheerfully forward: and after a little while arrived upon the crest of an elevated ridge. Here he halted to observe the flight of the birds.
Presently he noticed a covey of partridges flying in a westerly direction, and shortly after, another covey going the same way. Both appeared to alight near a gigantic tree that grew in the plain, about five hundred yards from the bottom of the cliffs. This tree stood apart from any of the others, and was by far the largest Von Bloom had yet seen.
As he remained gazing at its wonderful dimensions, he observed several pairs of parrots alighting upon it. These after chattering a while among its branches, flew down upon the plain not far from its base.
"Surely," thought Von Bloom, "there must be water there. I shall ride forward and see."
But his horse had scarcely waited for him to form this design. The animal had been already dragging upon the bridle; and as soon as his head was turned in the direction of the tree, he started forward with outstretched neck, snorting as he rushed along.
The rider, trusting to the instinct of his horse, surrendered up the bridle; and in less than five minutes both horse and rider were drinking from the sweet water of a crystal fountain that gushed out within a dozen yards of the tree.
The field-cornet would now have hastened back to the wagon: but he thought that by allowing his horse to browse an hour or so upon the grass, he would make the return-journey with more spirit, and in quite as good time. He, therefore, took off the bridle, gave the animal his liberty, while he stretched himself under the shade of the great tree.
As he lay, he could not help admiring the wonderful production of nature that towered majestically above him. It was one of the largest trees he had ever beheld. It was of the kind known as the "nwana" tree, a species of ficus, with large sycamore-shaped leaves that grew thickly over its magnificent head. Its trunk was full twenty feet in diameter, rising to more than that height without a branch, and then spreading off into numerous limbs that stretched far out in a horizontal direction. Through the thick foliage Von Bloom could perceive shining egg-shaped fruits as large as cocoa-nuts; and upon these the parrots and several other kinds of birds appeared to be feeding.
Other trees of the same species stood out upon the plain at long distances apart; and though they were all taller than the surrounding timber, none were so large or conspicuous as the one that grew by the spring.
The field-cornet, as he enjoyed the cool shade which its umbrageous frondage afforded, could not help thinking what an admirable spot it would be to build a kraal. The inmates of a dwelling placed beneath its friendly shelter, need never dread the fierce rays of the African sun; even the rain could scarce penetrate its leafy canopy. In fact, its dense foliage almost constituted a roof of itself.
Had his cattle still remained to him, no doubt the vee-boer would have resolved at once to make this spot his future home. But, tempting as it was, what now could he do in such a place? To him it would be only a wilderness. There was no species of industry he could follow in such a remote quarter. True, he might sustain himself and his family by hunting. He saw that game was plenteous all around. But that would be but a sorry existence, with no promise for the future. What would his children do hereafter? Were they to grow up with no other end than to become poor hunters—no better than the wild Bushmen? No! no! no! To make a home there would be out of the question. A few days to recruit his wearied horses, and then he would make a struggle and trek back to the settlements.
But what after he had got back? He knew not what then. His future was gloomy and uncertain.
After indulging in such reflections for an hour or more, he bethought him that it was time to return to the camp; and having caught and bridled his horse, he mounted and set forth.
The animal, refreshed by the sweet grass and cool water, carried him briskly along; and in less than two hours he came up with Swartboy and Hendrik where they were pasturing the horses.
These were taken back to the wagon and harnessed in; and then the great vehicle once more "treked" across the plains.
Before the sun had set, the long white cap-tent was gleaming under the leafy screen of the gigantic "nwana."
THE TERRIBLE TSETSE.
The verdant carpet that stretched away around them—the green leaves upon the trees—the flowers by the fountain—the crystal water in its bed—the black bold rocks towering up at a distance—all combined to make a lovely picture. The eyes of the wayfarers were glad as they beheld it; and while the wagon was outspanning, every one gave utterance to their delightful emotions.
The place seemed to please every one. Hans loved its quiet and sylvan beauty. It was just such a place as he would choose to ramble in, book in hand, and dream away many a pleasant hour. Hendrik liked it much, because he had already observed what he termed "extensive spoor" about the spot: in other words, he had noticed the tracks of many of Africa's largest wild animals.
Little Trueey was delighted to see so many beautiful flowers. There were bright scarlet geraniums, and starlike sweet-scented jessamines, and the gorgeous belladonna lily, with its large blossoms of rose-colour and white; and there were not only plants in flower, but bushes, and even trees, covered with gaudy and sweetly-perfumed blossoms. There was the "sugar-bush," the most beautiful of its family, with its large cup-shaped corollas of pink, white, and green; and there, too, was the "silver-tree" whose soft silvery leaves playing in the breeze, looked like a huge mass of silken flowers; and there were the mimosas covered with blossoms of golden yellow that filled the air with their strong and agreeable perfume.
Rare forms of vegetation were around or near at hand: the arborescent aloes, with their tall flower-spikes of coral red, and euphorbias of many shapes; and zamia, with its palm-like fronds; and the soft-leaved Strelitzia reginae. All these were observed in the neighbourhood of this new-discovered fountain.
But what received little Trueey's admiration more than any other was the beautiful blue water-lily, which is certainly one of the loveliest of Africa's flowers. Close by the spring, but a little farther in the direction of the plain, was a vley, or pool—in fact, it might have been termed a small lake—and upon the quiet bosom of its water the sky-blue corollas lay sleeping in all their gorgeous beauty.
Trueey, leading her little pet on a string, had gone down on the bank to look at them. She thought she could never cease gazing at such pretty things.
"I hope papa will stay here a long time," she said to her companion, little Jan.
"And I hope so too. Oh! Trueey, what a fine tree yon is! Look! nuts as big as my head, I declare. Bless me, sis! how are we to knock some of them down?"
And so the children conversed, both delighted with the new scenes around them.
Although all the young people were inclined to be happy, yet they were checked in their expression of it, by observing that there was a cloud on the brow of their father. He had seated himself under the great tree, but his eyes were upon the ground, as though he were busy with painful reflections. All of them noticed this.
His reflections were, indeed, painful—they could not well have been otherwise. There was but one course left for him—to return to the settlements, and begin life anew. But how to begin it? What could he do? His property all gone, he could only serve some of his richer neighbours; and for one accustomed all his life to independence, this would be hard indeed.
He looked towards his five horses, now eagerly cropping the luxuriant grass that grew under the shadow of the cliffs. When would they be ready to trek back again? In three or four days he might start. Fine animals, most of them were—they would carry the wagon lightly enough.
So ran the reflections of the field-cornet. He little thought at the moment that those horses would never draw wagon more, nor any other vehicle. He little thought that those five noble brutes were doomed!
Yet so it was. In less than a week from that time, the jackals and hyenas were quarrelling over their bones. Even at that very moment while he watched them browsing, the poison was entering their veins, and their death-wounds were being inflicted. Alas! alas! another blow awaited Von Bloom.
The field-cornet had noticed, now and again, that the horses seemed uneasy as they fed. At times they started suddenly, whisked their long tails, and rubbed their heads against the bushes.
"Some fly is troubling them," thought he, and had no more uneasiness about the matter.
It was just that—just a fly that was troubling them. Had Von Bloom known what that fly was, he would have felt a very different concern about his horses. Had he known the nature of that little fly, he would have rushed up with all his boys, caught the horses in the greatest hurry, and led them far away from those dark cliffs. But he knew not the "tsetse" fly.
It still wanted some minutes of sunset, and the horses were permitted to browse freely, but Von Bloom observed that they were every moment getting more excited—now striking their hoofs upon the turf,—now running a length or two—and at intervals snorting angrily. At the distance they were off—a quarter of a mile or so—Von Bloom could see nothing of what was disturbing them; but their odd behaviour at length induced him to walk up to where they were. Hans and Hendrik went along with him.
When they arrived near the spot, they were astonished at what they then beheld. Each horse seemed to be encompassed by a swarm of bees!
They saw, however, they were not bees, but insects somewhat smaller, of a brown colour, resembling gad-flies, and exceedingly active in their flight. Thousands of them hovered above each horse, and hundreds could be seen lighting upon the heads, necks, bodies, and legs of the animals,—in fact, all over them. They were evidently either biting or stinging them. No wonder the poor brutes were annoyed.
Von Bloom suggested that they should drive the horses farther out into the plain, where these flies did not seem to haunt. He was only concerned about the annoyance which the horses received from them. Hendrik also pitied their sufferings; but Hans, alone of all the three, guessed at the truth. He had read of a fatal insect that frequented some districts in the interior of South Africa, and the first sight of these flies aroused his suspicions that it might be they.
He communicated his thoughts to the others, who at once shared his alarm.
"Call Swartboy hither!" said Von Bloom.
The Bushman was called, and soon made his appearance, coming up from the spring. He had for the last hour been engaged in unpacking the wagon, and had taken no notice of the horses or the interest they were exciting.
As soon, however, as he got near, and saw the winged swarm whirring around the horses, his small eyes opened to their widest extent, his thick lips fell, and his whole face yielded itself to an expression of amazement and alarm.
"What is it, Swart?" inquired his master.
"Mein baas! mein baas! der duyvel um da—dar skellum is da 'tsetse!'"
"And what if it be the tsetse?"
"Mein Gott!—all dead—dead—ebery horse!"
Swartboy then proceeded to explain, with a loud and continuous "clicking," that the fly which they saw was fatal in its bite, that the horses would surely die—sooner or later, according to the number of stings they had already received; but, from the swarm of insects around them, the Bushman had no doubt they had been badly stung, and a single week would see all five of the horses dead.
"Wait, mein baas—morrow show."
And to-morrow did show; for before twelve o'clock on the next day, the horses were swollen all over their bodies and about their heads. Their eyes were quite closed up; they refused any longer to eat, but staggered blindly among the luxuriant grass, every now and then expressing the pain they felt by a low melancholy whimpering. It was plain to every one they were going to die.
Von Bloom tried bleeding, and various other remedies; but to no purpose. There is no cure for the bite of the tsetse fly!
THE LONG-HORNED RHINOCEROS.
Great, indeed, was now the affliction of the field-cornet. Fortune seemed to be adverse in everything. Step by step he had been sinking for years, every year becoming poorer in worldly wealth. He had now reached the lowest point—poverty itself. He owned nothing whatever. His horses might be regarded as dead. The cow had escaped from the tsetse by avoiding the cliffs, and keeping out upon the plain; and this animal now constituted his whole live stock,—his whole property! True, he still had his fine wagon; but of what use would that be without either oxen or horses? a wagon without a team! Better a team without a wagon.
What could he do? How was he to escape from the position he was placed in? To say the least, it was an awkward one—nearly two hundred miles from any civilised settlement, and no means of getting there,—no means except by walking; and how were his children to walk two hundred miles? Impossible!
Across desert tracts, exposed not only to terrible fatigue, but to hunger, thirst, and fierce carnivorous animals. It appeared impossible that they could accomplish such a task.
And what else was there to be done? asked the field-cornet of himself. Were they to remain there all their lives, subsisting precariously on game and roots? Were his children to become "Bush-boys,"—himself a Bushman?
With these reflections passing through his mind, no wonder that Von Bloom felt deeply afflicted.
"Merciful Heaven!" he exclaimed, as he sat with his head between his hands, "what will become of me and mine?"
Poor Von Bloom! he had reached the lowest point of his fortunes.
He had, in reality, reached the lowest point; for on that very day,—even within that very hour—an incident occurred, that not only gave relief to his afflicted spirit, but that promised to lay the foundation of future wealth and prosperity. In one hour from that time the prospects of the field-cornet had undergone a complete change,—in one hour from that time he was a happy man, and all around him were as happy as he!
You are impatient to hear how this change was effected? What little fairy had sprung out of the spring, or come down from the cliffs, to befriend the good field-cornet in his hour of misery? You are impatient to hear! Then you shall hear.
The sun was just going down. They were all seated under the great tree, and near a fire, upon which they had cooked their supper. There was no talking, no cheerful conversation,—for the children saw that their father was in trouble, and that kept them silent. Not a word passed between them, or only an occasional whisper.
It was at this moment that Von Bloom gave utterance to his sad thoughts in words as above.
As if seeking for an answer, his eyes were raised to heaven, and then wandered around the plain. All at once they became fixed upon a singular object, that appeared at some distance off, and was just emerging from the bushes.
It was an animal of some kind, and from its vast size Von Bloom and the others at first took it to be an elephant. None of them, except Swartboy, were accustomed to elephants in their wild state,—for, although these animals once inhabited the most southerly portion of Africa, they have long since deserted the settled districts, and are now only to be found far beyond the frontier of the colony. But they knew that there were elephants in these parts—as they had already observed their tracks—and all now supposed the huge creature that was approaching must be one.
Not all, Swartboy was an exception. As soon as his eyes fell upon the animal he cried out,—
"A rhinoster, is it?" said Von Bloom, knowing that "chuckuroo" was the native name for the rhinoceros, or "rhinoster," as he called it in Dutch.
"Ya, baas," replied Swartboy; "and one o' da big karles—da, 'kobaoba,' da long-horn white rhinoster."
What Swartboy meant by this was that the animal in question was a large species of rhinoceros, known among the natives as the "kobaoba."
Now I dare say, young reader, you have been all your life under the impression that there was but one species of rhinoceros in the world—that is the rhinoceros. Is it not so? Yes.
Well, permit me to inform you, that you have been under a wrong impression. There are quite a number of distinct species of this very singular animal. At least eight distinct kinds I know of; and I do not hesitate to say that when the central parts of Africa have been fully explored, as well as South Asia and the Asiatic islands, nearly half as many more will be found to exist.
In South Africa four distinct species are well known; one in North Africa differs from all these; while the large Indian rhinoceros bears but slight resemblance to any of them. A distinct species from any is the rhinoceros of Sumatra, an inhabitant of that island; and still another is the Java rhinoceros, found in the island of Java. Thus we have no less than eight kinds, all specifically differing from one another.
The natives of South Africa are acquainted with four distinct species of rhinoceros, to which they give distinct names; and it may be remarked that this observation of species by native hunters is far more to be depended upon than the speculations of mere closet-naturalists, who draw their deductions from a tubercle, or the tooth, or a stuffed skin. Gordon Cumming, for example, the most distinguished of all African hunters has done more to increase the knowledge of African zoology than a whole college full of "speculating" savans.
This same Gordon Cumming has written a most interesting account of his hunting experiences, tells you that there are four kinds of rhinoceros in Southern Africa; and no man is likely to know better than he.
These four kinds are known among the natives as the "borele," the "keitloa," the "muchocho," and "kobaoba." The two first are "black rhinoceroses,"—that is, the general colour of their skin is dark—while the "muchocho" and "kobaoba" are white varieties, having the skin of a dingy whitish hue. The black rhinoceroses are much smaller—scarce half the size of the others, and they differ from them in the length and set of their horns, as well as in other particulars.
In the form and length of their neck, the set of their ears, and other respects, the black rhinoceroses differ materially from the white ones. In fact, their habits are quite unlike. The former feed chiefly on the leaves and twigs of thorns, such as the Acacia horrida, or "wait-a-bits," while the latter live upon grass. The former are of fiercer disposition—will attack man or any other animal on sight; and even sometimes seem to grow angry with the bushes, charging upon them and breaking them to pieces!
The white rhinoceroses, although fierce enough when wounded or provoked, are usually of pacific disposition, and will permit the hunter to pass without molestation.
These become very fat, and make excellent eating. The flesh of no African animal is esteemed superior to the calf of the white rhinoceros, whereas the black varieties never grow fat, and their flesh is tough and unpalatable.
The hide is also used for different purposes, among others for making the whips known as "jamboks," though hippopotamus-hide is superior.
The skin of the African rhinoceros, as already stated, is without the plaits, folds, and scutellae, that characterise its Asiatic congener, yet it is far from being a soft one. It is so thick and difficult to pierce, that a bullet of ordinary lead will sometimes flatten upon it. To ensure its penetrating, the lead must be hardened with solder.
The rhinoceros, though not a water animal, like the hippopotamus, is nevertheless fond of that element, and is rarely found at a great distance from it. All four kinds love to lie and wallow in mud, just as hogs in a summer's day; and they are usually seen coated all over with this substance. During the day they may be observed lying down or standing under the shade of some thick mimosa-tree, either asleep or in a state of easy indolence; and it is during the night that they wander about in search of food and water.
If approached from the lee side they can easily be got at, as their small sparkling eyes do not serve them well. On the contrary, if the hunter go to windward, they will scent him at a great distance, as their sense of smell is most acute. If their eyes were only as keen as their nostrils, it would be a dangerous game to attack them, for they can run with sufficient rapidity to overtake a horse in the first charge.
In charging and running, the black variety far excels the white. They are easily avoided, however, by the hunter springing quickly to one side, and letting them rush blindly on.
The black rhinoceros is about six feet high at the shoulder, and full thirteen in length; while the white kinds are far larger. The white rhinoceros is full seven feet high, and fourteen in length!
No wonder that an animal of these extraordinary dimensions was at first sight taken for the elephant. In fact, the kobaoba rhinoceros is the quadruped next to the elephant in size; and with his great muzzle—full eighteen inches broad—his long clumsy head, his vast ponderous body, this animal impresses one with an idea of strength and massive grandeur as great, and some say greater than the elephant himself. He looks, indeed, like a caricature of the elephant. It was not such a bad mistake, then, when our people by the wagon took the "kobaoba" for the "mighty elephant."
Swartboy, however, set them all right by declaring that the animal they saw was the white rhinoceros.
A HEAVY COMBAT.
When they first saw the kobaoba, he was, as stated, just coming out of the thicket. Without halting, he headed in the direction of the vley already mentioned; and kept on towards it, his object evidently being to reach the water.
This little lake, of course, owed its existence to the spring—though it was full two hundred yards from the latter—and about the same from the great tree. It was nearly circular in shape, and about one hundred yards in diameter, so that its superficial area would thus be a little over two English acres. It merited, then, the name of "lake;" and by that name the young people already called it.
On its upper side—that in the direction of the spring—its shore was high, and in one or two places rocky, and these rocks ran back to the spring along the channel of a little rivulet. On the west or outer side of the lake the land lay lower, and the water at one or two points lipped up nearly to the level of the plain. For this reason it was, that upon that side, the bank was paddled all over with tracks of animals that had been to drink. Hendrik the hunter had observed among them the footprints of many kinds he knew nothing about.
It was for the lower end of the lake the kobaoba was making—no doubt with him an old and favourite drinking place.
There was a point where the water was easier of access than elsewhere—a little to one side of where the wash or waste-stream of the lake ran out. It was a sort of cove with bright sandy beach, and approachable from the plain by a miniature gorge, hollowed out, no doubt, by the long usage of those animals who came to drink at the vley. By entering this cove, the tallest animals might get deep water and good bottom, so that they could drink without much straining or stooping. The kobaoba came on in a direct line for the lake; and as he drew near, they could see him heading for the gorge that led into the little cove. It proved he had been there before.
Next moment he passed through the gap, and stood knee-deep in the water.
After swallowing several copious draughts—now sneezing, and then wheezing—he plunged his broad snout, horn and all, into the water, tossed it till it foamed, and then lying down in it, commenced wallowing like a hog.
The place was shallow, and most of his huge body was above the surface—though there was deep enough water in the lake to have given him a bath had he desired it.
The first thought of Von Bloom, as well as of Hendrik, was how to "circumvent" the rhinoceros, and of course destroy him. Not that they simply wished his destruction; but Swartboy had already represented what fine food the species was, and there was no stock of provision in camp. Hendrik had another object in wishing the death of the creature. He wanted a new loading-rod for his rifle; and he had gazed covetously at the kobaoba's long horn.
But it was easier to desire the death of the rhinoceros than to accomplish it. They had no horses—at least, none that could be mounted—and to attack the animal on foot, would be a game as dangerous as idle. He would be like enough to impale one of them on his great spike, or else trample them brutally under his huge feet. If he did not do one or the other, he would easily make his escape—as any kind of rhinoceros can outrun a man.
How were they to manage him then?
Perhaps they might get near—fire at him from an ambush, and with a lucky shot stretch him out. A single bullet sometimes kills the rhinoceros—but only when correctly placed, so as to penetrate the heart, or some other of the "vitals."
This was, probably, the best plan. They might easily get near enough. There was some bush cover close to the spot. It was probable the old kobaoba would not perceive them, if they approached from leeward, particularly as he seemed in the full tide of enjoyment at that moment.
They were about to attempt the approach, and had got to their feet for that purpose, when a sudden fit seemed to have attacked Swartboy. The latter commenced jumping over the ground, at the same time muttering in a low voice,—
"Da klow! da klow!"
A stranger would have fancied Swartboy in a fit, but Von Bloom knew that by "Da klow! da klow!" the Bushman meant "The elephant! the elephant!" and therefore looked in the direction in which Swartboy was pointing.
Sure enough, upon the western plain, looming up against the yellow sky, was a dark mass, that upon examination presented the outlines of an elephant. Its rounded back was easily distinguished over the low bushes; and its broad hanging ears were moving as it marched. All saw at a glance that it was coming towards the lake, and almost in the same track that the rhinoceros had taken.
Of course this new apparition quite disarranged the plans of the hunters. At sight of the mighty elephant, they scarce any longer gave a thought to the kobaoba. Not that they had formed any very great hopes of being able to kill the gigantic animal, yet some such thought was running through their minds. They had determined to try, at all events.
Before they could agree upon any plan, however, the elephant had got up to the edge of the lake. Though moving only at a slow walk, with his immense strides he soon measured off a large quantity of ground, and advanced much more rapidly than one would have supposed. The hunters had scarce time to exchange thoughts, before the huge creature was up within a few yards of the water.
Here he halted, pointed his proboscis in different directions, stood quite silent, and seemed to listen.
There was no noise to disturb him—even the kobaoba for the moment was quiet.
After standing a minute or so, the huge creature moved forward again, and entered the gorge already described.
They at the camp had now a full view of him, at less than three hundred yards distant. An immense mass he seemed. His body quite filled the gorge from side to side, and his long yellow tusks projecting more than two yards from his jaws, curved gracefully upward. He was an "old bull," as Swartboy whispered.
Up to this time the rhinoceros had not had the slightest intimation of the elephant's approach; for the tread of the latter—big beast as he is—is as silent as a cat's. It is true that a loud rumbling noise like distant thunder proceeded from his inside as he moved along; but the kobaoba was in too high a caper just then to have heard or noticed any sound that was not very near and distinct.
The huge body of the elephant coming suddenly into "his sunshine," and flinging its dark shadow over the vley, was distinct enough, and caused the kobaoba to get to his feet with an agility quite surprising for a creature of his build.
At the same time a noise, something between a grunt and a whistle escaped him, as the water was ejected from his nostrils.
The elephant also uttered his peculiar salute, in a trumpet note, that echoed from the cliffs; and halted in his tracks as soon as he saw the rhinoceros.
No doubt both were surprised at the rencontre; as both stood for some seconds eyeing each other with apparent astonishment.
This, however, soon gave place to a different feeling. Symptoms of anger began to show themselves. It was evident that bad blood was brewing between them.
There was, in fact, a little dilemma. The elephant could not get comfortably at the water unless the rhinoceros left the cove; and the rhinoceros could not well get out of the cove, so long as the elephant blocked up the gorge with his immense thick limbs.
It is true, the kobaoba might have sneaked through among the other's legs, or he might have swum off and landed at some other point, and in either way have left the coast clear.
But of all animals in the world a rhinoceros is, perhaps, the most unaccommodating. He is, also, one of the most fearless, dreading neither man nor beast—not even the boasted lion, whom he often chases like a cat. Hence the old kobaoba had no intention of yielding ground to the elephant; and from his attitude, it was plain that he neither intended to sneak off under the other's belly, nor swim a single stroke for him. No—not a stroke.
It remained to be seen how the point of honour was to be decided. The attitude of affairs had become so interesting, that every one by the camp was gazing with fixed eyes upon the two great bulls—for the rhinoceros was also a "bull" and of the largest size known of his kind.
For several minutes they stood eyeing each other. The elephant, although much the larger, knew his antagonist well. He had met his "sort" before, and knew better than to despise his powers. Perhaps, ere now, he had had a touch of that long spit-like excrescence that stood out from the kobaoba's snout.
At all events, he did not rush upon his adversary at once—as he would have done on some poor antelope that might have crossed him in the same way.
His patience, however, became exhausted. His ancient dignity was insulted—his rule disputed—he wished to have his bath and his drink—he could bear the insolence of the rhinoceros no longer.
With a bellow that made the rocks ring again, he charged forward; placed his tusks firmly under the shoulder of his adversary,—gave a mighty "lift," and turned the rhinoceros over in the water!
For a moment the latter plunged, and blowed, and snorted, his head half under water; but in a second's time he was on his feet again, and charging in turn. The spectators could see that he aimed right at the elephant's ribs with his horn, and that the latter did all he could to keep head towards him.
Again the elephant flung the kobaoba, and again the latter rose and charged madly upon his huge antagonist; and so both fought until the water around them was white with foam.
The contest was carried on in the water, until the elephant, seeming to think his adversary had an advantage there, backed himself into the gorge, and stood waiting with his head towards the lake. In this position the sides of the gorge did not protect him, as perhaps he fancied. They were too low, and his broad flanks rose far above them. They only kept him from turning round, and this interfered with the freedom of his movements.
It could scarce have been design in the rhinoceros to act as he now did, though it appeared so to those who were watching. As the elephant took up his position in the gorge, the kobaoba clambered out upon the bank; and then, wheeling suddenly, with head to the ground and long horn projected horizontally, the latter rushed upon his antagonist and struck him right among the ribs. The spectators saw that the horn penetrated, and the loud scream that came from the elephant, with the quick motions of his trunk and tail, told plainly that he had received a severe wound. Instead of standing any longer in the gorge he rushed forward, and did not stop until he was knee-deep in the lake. Drawing the water up into his trunk, he raised it on high, and pointing it backwards, he discharged large volumes over his body, and upon the spot where he had received the thrust of the kobaoba's horn.
He then ran out of the lake, and charged about in search of the rhinoceros; but long-horn was no longer to be found!
Having escaped from the cove without compromising his dignity, and perhaps believing that he had gained the victory, the rhinoceros, as soon as he delivered the thrust, had galloped off and disappeared among the bushes.
THE DEATH OF THE ELEPHANT.
The battle between these two large quadrupeds did not continue for more than ten minutes. During that time the hunters made no advance towards attacking either of them—so much absorbed were they in watching the novel contest. It was only after the rhinoceros had retreated, and the elephant returned to the water, that they once more began to deliberate on some plan of assaulting this mightiest of African animals. Hans now laid hold of his gun and joined them.
The elephant, after looking about for his enemy, had got back, and was standing knee-deep in the lake. He appeared restless and highly excited. His tail was continually in motion, and at intervals he uttered a piercing melancholy scream—far different to the usual trumpet-like bellow of his voice. He lifted his huge limbs, and then plunged them back again to the bottom, until the foam gathered upon the water with his continued churning.
But the oddest of his actions was the manner in which he employed his long tubular trunk. With this he sucked up vast volumes of water, and then pointing it backwards ejected the fluid over his back and shoulders, as if from an immense syringe. This shower-bath he kept repeating time after time, though it was evident he was not at his ease.
They all knew he was angry. Swartboy said it would be exceedingly dangerous to be seen by him at that moment, without having a horse to gallop out of his way. On this account every one of them had concealed themselves behind the trunk of the nwana-tree, Von Bloom peeping past one side, and Hendrik the other, in order to watch his movements.
Notwithstanding the danger, they at length resolved to attack him. They believed that if they did not do so soon, he would walk off, and leave them supperless—for they had hoped to sup upon a slice of his trunk. Time, therefore, had grown precious, and they resolved to attack him without further ado.
They intended to creep as near as was safe. All three would fire together, and then lie close in the bushes until they saw the effect of their shots.
Without farther parley, Von Bloom, Hans, and Hendrik, leaving the tree, crept through the bushes towards the western end of the lake. It was not a continuous thicket, but only an assemblage of copses and clumps, so that they required to steal very cautiously from one to the other. Von Bloom led the way, while the boys kept in his tracks, following him closely.
After some five minutes spent in this way, they got under cover of a little clump near the water's edge, and near enough to the gigantic game. Upon their hands and knees they now approached the verge of the underwood; and, having parted the leaves, looked through. The mighty quadruped was right under their eyes, within twenty yards of them!
He was still busy plunging about, and blowing volumes of water over his body. He gave no sign that he had any suspicion of their presence. They could take time, therefore, in choosing a part of his huge body at which to aim their pieces.
When first seen from their new position, he was standing stern towards them. Von Bloom did not think it a good time to fire, as they could not give him a deadly wound in that situation. They waited, therefore, until he might turn his side, before they should deliver their volley. They kept their eyes all the while steadily fixed on him.
He ceased at length to "churn" with his feet, and no longer raised water in his trunk; and now the hunters perceived that the lake was red for a space around him! It was his blood that had reddened it.
They no longer doubted that he had been wounded by the rhinoceros; but whether the wound was a bad one they could not tell. It was in his side, and as yet they could only see his broad stern from the position in which he still continued to stand. But they waited with confidence—as they knew that in turning to get out of the water, he would have to present his side towards them.
For several minutes he kept the same position; but they noticed that his tail no longer switched about, and that his attitude was loose and drooping. Now and then he turned his proboscis to the spot where he had received the thrust of the kobaoba's horn. It was evident that the wound was distressing him, and this became more apparent by the loud painful breathing the creature uttered through his trunk.
The three began to grow impatient. Hendrik asked leave to creep round to another point, and give him a shot that would turn him round.
Just at that moment the elephant made a motion, as though he was about to come out of the water.
He had got fairly round—his head and fore-part were over dry land—the three guns were pointed—the eyes of the three hunters were about to glance through the sights of their pieces, when all at once he was seen to rock and stagger,—and then roll over! With a loud plash, his vast body subsided into the water, sending great waves to every corner of the lake.
The hunters uncocked their guns, and, springing from their ambush, rushed forward to the bank. They saw at a glance that the elephant was dead. They saw the wound upon his side,—the hole made by the horn of the rhinoceros. It was not very large, but the terrible weapon had penetrated far into his body, into his very vitals. No wonder, then, at the result it had produced—the death of the mightiest of quadrupeds.
As soon as it became known that the elephant was dead, everybody was seen rushing forward to the spot. Little Trueey and Jan were called from their hiding-place—for they had both been hidden in the wagon—and Totty, too, went down with the rest. Swartboy was one of the first upon the spot, carrying an axe and a large knife—for Swartboy had designs upon the carcass—while Hans and Hendrik both threw off their jackets to assist in the butchering operations.
And what during this time was Von Bloom about? Ha! That is a more important question than you think for. That was an important hour—the hour of a great crisis in the life of the field-cornet.
He was standing with folded arms on the bank of the lake, directly over the spot where the elephant had fallen. He appeared to be wrapt in silent meditation, his eyes bent upon the huge carcass of the animal. No, not on the carcass. A close observer would have perceived that his eyes did not wander over that mountain of thick skin and flesh, but were resting upon a particular spot.
Was it the wound in the animal's side? And was Von Bloom meditating how the thrust had caused the death of such a huge creature?
Neither one nor the other. His thoughts were upon a very different theme from either.
The elephant had fallen so that his head was clear of the water, and rested upon a little bank of sand; along which, his soft and limber trunk lay extended to its full length. Curving like a pair of gigantic scimeters from its base, were the yellow enamelled tusks; those ivory arms that for years,—aye centuries, perhaps,—had served him to root up the trees of the forest, and rout his antagonists in many a dread encounter. Precious and beautiful trophies were they, but alas! their world-wide fame had cost no less than life to many thousands of his race.
Shining in all their magnificence lay these mated crescents, gently curved and softly rounded. It was upon these that the eyes of the field-cornet were bent!
Aye, and bent too with an eagerness unusual in his glance. His lips were compressed, his chest was visibly heaving. Oh! there was a world of thoughts passing through the mind of Von Bloom at that moment.
Were they painful thoughts? The expression of his face told the contrary. The cloud that all that day sat perched upon his brow had vanished. Not a trace of it remained, but in its place could be seen the lines of hope and joy, and these feelings at length found expression in words.
"It is the hand of Heaven!" he exclaimed aloud. "A fortune—a fortune!"
"What is it, papa?" inquired little Trueey, who was near him; "what were you speaking about, dear papa?"
And then all the others gathered around him, noticing his excited manner, and pleased at seeing him look so happy.
"What is it, papa?" asked all together, while Swartboy and Totty stood eager as the rest to hear the answer.
In the pleasant excitement of his thoughts, the fond father could no longer conceal from his children the secret of his new-born happiness. He would gratify them by disclosing it.
Pointing to the long crescents he said,—
"You see those beautiful tusks?"
Yes, of course, they all did.
"Well, do you know their value?"
No. They knew they were worth something. They knew that it was from elephants' tusks that ivory was obtained, or, more properly, that elephants' tusks were ivory itself; and that it was used in the manufacture of hundreds of articles. In fact, little Trueey had a beautiful fan made out of it, which had been her mother's; and Jan had a knife with an ivory handle. Ivory was a very beautiful material, and cost very dear, they knew. All this they knew, but the value of the two tusks they could not guess at. They said so.
"Well, my children," said Von Bloom, "as near as I can estimate them, they are worth twenty pounds each of English money."
"Oh! oh! Such a grand sum!" cried all in a breath.
"Yes," continued the field-cornet; "I should think each tusk is one hundred pounds in weight, and as ivory at present sells for four shillings and sixpence the pound weight, these two would yield between forty and fifty pounds of sterling money."
"Why, it would buy a full span of best oxen!" cried Hans.
"Four good horses!" said Hendrik.
"A whole flock of sheep!" added little Jan.
"But whom can we sell them to?" asked Hendrik, after a pause. "We are away from the settlements. Who is to give us either oxen, or horses, or sheep, for them? It would not be worth while to carry two tusks all the way——"
"Not two, Hendrik," said his father interrupting him; "but twenty it might,—aye, twice twenty, or three times that number. Now, do you understand what makes me so gay?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Hendrik, as well as the others, who now began to perceive what their father was so joyed about, "you think we can obtain more tusks in these parts?"
"Precisely so. I think there are many elephants here. I feel certain of it from the quantity of their spoor I have already noticed. We have our guns, and fortunately, plenty of ammunition. We are all pretty fair shots—why can we not obtain more of these valuable trophies?"
"But we shall," continued Von Bloom. "I know we shall, because I recognise the hand of God in sending us this wealth in the midst of our misery—after we had lost everything. More will come by the guiding of the same hand. So be of good cheer, my children! We shall not want—we shall yet have plenty—we may be rich!"
It was not that any of those young creatures cared much about being rich, but because they saw their father so happy, that they broke out into something more than a murmur of applause. It was, in fact, a cheer, in which both Totty and Swartboy joined. It rang over the little lake, and caused the birds about settling to roost to wonder what was going on. There was no happier group in all Africa than stood at that moment upon the shore of that lonely little vley.
The field-cornet, then, had resolved upon turning hunter by profession—a hunter of elephants; and it was a pleasant reflection to think, that this occupation promised, not only exciting sport, but great profit. He knew that it was not so easy a matter to succeed in killing such large and valuable game as elephants. He did not suppose that in a few weeks or months he would obtain any great quantities of their ivory spoils; but he had made up his mind to spend even years in the pursuit. For years he should lead the life of a Bushman—for years his sons would be "Bush-boys," and he hoped that in time his patience and toil would be amply rewarded.
That night around the camp-fire all were very happy and very merry. The elephant had been left where he lay, to be cut up on the morrow. Only his trunk had been taken off—part of which was cooked for supper.
Although all the flesh of the elephant is eatable, the trunk is esteemed one of the delicate bits. It tastes not unlike ox-tongue; and all of them liked it exceedingly. To Swartboy, who had made many a meal upon "de ole klow," it was a highly-relished feast.
They had plenty of fine milk, too. The cow, now upon the best of pasture, doubled her yield; and the quantity of this, the most delicious of all drinks, was sufficient to give every one a large allowance.
While enjoying their new-fashioned dish of roast elephant-trunk, the conversation naturally turned upon these animals.
Everybody knows the appearance of the elephant, therefore a description of him is quite superfluous. But everybody does not know that there are two distinct kinds of this gigantic quadruped—the African and Asiatic.
Until a late period they were thought to be of the same species. Now they are acknowledged to be, not only distinct, but very different in many respects. The Asiatic, or, as it is more frequently called, the "Indian" elephant is the larger of the two; but it is possible that domestication may have produced a larger kind, as is the rule with many animals. The African species exists only in a wild state; and it would appear that individuals of this kind have been measured having the dimensions of the largest of the wild Asiatic elephants.
The most remarkable points of difference between the two are found in the ears and tusks. The ears of the African elephant are of enormous proportions, meeting each other above the shoulders, and hanging down below the breast. Those of the Indian elephant are scarce one-third the size. In his grand tusks the former has far the advantage—these in some individuals weighing nearly two hundred pounds each—while the tusks of the latter rarely reach the weight of one hundred. To this, however, there are some exceptions. Of course a two hundred pound tusk is one of the very largest, and far above the average even of African elephants. In this species the females are also provided with tusks—though not of such size as in the males—whereas the female of the Indian elephant has either no tusks at all, or they are so small as to be scarcely perceptible outside the skin of the lips.
In Africa the elephant exists only in a state of nature. None of the nations upon this little-known continent tame or train him to any purpose. He is only prized among them for his precious teeth, and his flesh as well. Some have asserted that this species is more fierce than its Indian congener, and could not be domesticated. This is altogether a mistake. The reason why the African elephant is not trained, is simply that none of the modern nations of Africa have yet reached a high enough point of civilisation to avail themselves of the services of this valuable animal.
The African elephant may be domesticated and trained to the "howdah," or castle, as easily as his Indian cousin. The trial has been made; but that it can be done no better proof is required than that at one period it was done, and upon a large scale. The elephants of the Carthaginian army were of this species.
The African elephant at present inhabits the central and southern parts of Africa. Abyssinia on the east, and Senegal on the west, are his northern limits, and but a few years ago he roamed southward to the very Cape of Good Hope. The activity of the Dutch ivory-hunters, with their enormous long guns, has driven him from that quarter; and he is no longer to be found to the south of the Orange River.
Swartboy spoke of a variety well known among the Hottentot hunters as the "koes-cops." This kind, he said, differed from the ordinary ones by its altogether wanting the tusks, and being of a far more vicious disposition. Its encounter is more dreaded; but as it possesses no trophies to make it worth the trouble and danger of killing, the hunters usually give it a wide berth.
Such was the conversation that night around the camp-fire. Much of the information here given was furnished by Hans, who of course had gathered it from books; but the Bushman contributed his quota—perhaps of a far more reliable character.
All were destined ere long to make practical acquaintance with the haunts and habits of this huge quadruped, that to them had now become the most interesting of all the animal creation.
JERKING AN ELEPHANT.
Next day was one of severe, but joyful labour. It was spent in "curing" the elephant, not in a medical sense, but in the language of the provision-store.
Although not equal to either beef or mutton, or even pork, the flesh of the elephant is sufficiently palatable to be eaten. There is no reason why it should not be, for the animal is a clean feeder, and lives altogether on vegetable substances—the leaves and tender shoots of trees, with several species of bulbous roots, which he well knows how to extract from the ground with his tusks and trunk. It does not follow from this that his beef should be well tasted—since we see that the hog, one of the most unclean of feeders, yields most delicious "pork;" while another of the same family (pachydermata) that subsists only on sweet succulent roots, produces a flesh both insipid and bitter. I allude to the South American tapir. The quality of the food, therefore, is no criterion of the quality of the flesh.
It is true that the beef of the elephant was not what Von Bloom and most of his family would have chosen for their regular diet. Had they been sure of procuring a supply of antelope-venison, the great carcass might have gone, not to the "dogs," but to their kindred the hyenas. But they were not sure of getting even a single antelope, and therefore decided upon "curing" the elephant. It would be a safe stock to have on hand, and need not interfere with their eating venison, or any other dainty that might turn up.
The first thing done was to cut out the tusks. This proved a tough job, and occupied full two hours. Fortunately there was a good axe on hand. But for this and Swartboy's knowledge, double the time might have been wasted in the operation.
The ivory having been extracted and put away in a safe place, the "cutting up" then commenced in earnest. Von Bloom and Swartboy were the "baas-butchers," while Hans and Hendrik played the part of "swabs." As the carcass lay half under water, they would have had some difficulty in dealing with the under part. But this they did not design to touch. The upper half would be amply sufficient to provision them a long while; and so they set about removing the skin from that side that was uppermost.
The rough thick outer coat they removed in broad sheets cut into sections; and then they peeled off several coats of an under skin, of tough and pliant nature. Had they needed water-vessels, Swartboy would have saved this for making them—as it is used for such purposes by the Bushmen and other natives. But they had vessels enough in the wagon, and this skin was thrown away.
They had now reached the pure flesh, which they separated in large sheets from the ribs; and then the ribs were cut out, one by one, with the axe. This trouble they would not have taken—as they did not want the ribs—but they cut them away for another reason, namely, to enable them to get at the valuable fat, which lies in enormous quantities around the intestines. Of course for all cooking purposes, the fat would be to them invaluable, and indeed almost necessary to render the flesh itself eatable.
It is no easy matter to get at the fat in the inside of an elephant, as the whole of the intestines have first to be removed. But Swartboy was not to be deterred by a little trouble; so climbing into the interior of the huge carcass, he commenced cutting and delving, and every now and then passing a multitude of "inwards" out to the others, who carried them off out of the way.
After a long spell of this work, the fat was secured, and carefully packed in a piece of clean under-skin; and then the "butchering" was finished.
Of course the four feet, which along with the trunk are considered the "tit-bits," had already been separated at the fetlock joint; and stood out upon the bank, for the future consideration of Swartboy.
The next thing to be done was to "cure" the meat. They had a stock of salt—that precious, though, as lately discovered, not indispensable article. But the quantity—stowed away in a dry corner of the wagon—was small, and would have gone but a short way in curing an elephant.
They had no idea of using it for such a purpose. Flesh can be preserved without salt; and not only Swartboy, but Von Bloom himself, knew how to preserve it. In all countries where salt is scarce, the process of "jerking" meat is well understood, and consists simply in cutting it into thin strips and hanging it out in the sun. A few days of bright warm sunshine will "jerk" it sufficiently; and meat thus dried will keep good for months. A slow fire will answer the purpose nearly as well; and in the absence of sunshine, the fire is often resorted to.
Sun-dried meat in South Africa is called "biltongue." The Spaniards of Mexico name it "tasajo," while those of Peru style it "charqui." In English it is "jerked" meat.
Several hours were spent in cutting the elephant-beef into strips, and then a number of forked poles were set up, others were laid horizontally over the forks, and upon these the meat was suspended, and hung down in numberless festoons.
Before the sun went down, the neighbourhood of the camp presented a rare appearance. It looked somewhat like the enclosure of a yarn-bleacher, except that the hanging strips, instead of being white, were of a beautiful clear ruby colour.
But the work was not yet completed. The feet remained to be "preserved," and the mode of curing these was entirely different. That was a secret known only by Swartboy, and in the execution of it the Bushman played first fiddle, with the important air of a chef de cuisine.
He proceeded as follows:—
He first dug a hole in the ground, about two feet deep, and a little more in diameter—just large enough to admit one of the feet, which was nearly two feet diameter at the base. The earth which came out of this hole Swartboy placed in the form of a loose embankment around the edge.
By his direction the boys had already collected upon the spot a large quantity of dried branches and logs. These Swartboy now built over the hole, into a pyramid of ten feet high, and then set the pile on fire. He next proceeded to make three other pits precisely similar, and built over each a fire like the first, until four large fires were burning upon the ground.
The fires being now fairly under way, he could only wait until each had burned down. This would carry the process into the night, and so it turned out; but Swartboy had a foresight of this. He knew he would get through with the more important portion of his work before bedtime.
When the first fire had burned quite to red cinders, Swartboy's hardest turn of duty began. With a shovel he lifted the cinders out of the hole, until it was empty; but he was more than an hour in performing this apparently simple labour. The difficulty arose from the intense heat he had to encounter, which drove him back after every few moments' work; so that he was compelled to retreat at intervals in order to cool himself.
The "baas," as well as Hendrik and Hans, took turns with him, until all four were perspiring as if they had been shut up for half-an-hour in a baker's oven.
When the hole was thoroughly scooped clean of coals, Swartboy, assisted by Von Bloom, lifted one of the huge feet; and, carrying it as near as they dare go on account of the scorching heat, they heaved it in upon its base.
The sandy earth which had been originally removed, and which was now as hot as molten lead, was pushed over, and around the foot; and then the cinders were raked on top, and over that another huge fire was kindled.
The same process was gone through with the other three feet, and all four were to be left in the "oven" until the fires should be burned down, when they would be found sufficiently "baked."
Swartboy would then rake off the cinders, take out the feet with a sharp wooden spit, beat them well to get rid of the dust, scrape the sand clear, then pare off the outside skin, when they would be ready either to be eaten or would keep for a long time.
Swartboy would do all this as soon as the four huge bonfires should burn down.
But that would not be before the morning; so all of them, fatigued by the extraordinary exertions of the day, finished their suppers of broiled trunk, and went to rest under the protecting shadow of the nwana.
THE HIDEOUS HYENA.
Fatigued as they were, they would soon have fallen asleep. But they were not permitted to do so. As they lay with closed eyes in that half-dreamy state that precedes sleep, they were suddenly startled by strange voices near the camp.
These voices were uttered in peals of loud laughter; and no one, unacquainted with them, would have pronounced them to be anything else than the voices of human beings. They exactly resembled the strong treble produced by the laugh of a maniac negro. It seemed as if some Bedlam of negroes had been let loose, and were approaching the spot.
I say approaching, because each moment the sounds grew clearer and louder; and it was evident that whatever gave utterance to them was coming nearer to the camp.
That there was more than one creature was evident—aye, and it was equally evident that there was more than one kind of creature; for so varied were the voices, it would have puzzled a ventriloquist to have given imitations of them all. There was howling, and whining, and grunting, and growling, and low melancholy moaning as of some one in pain, and hissing, and chattering, and short, sharp intonations, as if it were the barking of dogs, and then a moment or two of deep silence, and again that chorus of human-like laughter, that in point of horror and hideous suggestions surpassed all the other sounds.