You will suppose that such a wild concert must have put the camp in a state of great alarm. Not a bit of it. Nobody was frightened in the least—not even innocent little Trueey, nor the diminutive Jan.
Had they been strangers to these sounds, no doubt they would have been more than frightened. They would have been terrified by them; for they were calculated to produce such an effect upon any one to whose ears they were new.
But Von Bloom and his family had lived too long upon the wild karoo to be ignorant of those voices. In the howling, and chattering, and yelping, they heard but the cries of the jackal; and they well knew the maniac laugh of the hideous hyena.
Instead of being alarmed, and springing from their beds, they lay still and listened—not dreading any attack from the noisy creatures.
Von Bloom and the children slept in the wagon; Swartboy and Totty upon the ground—but these lay close to the fires, and therefore did not fear wild beasts of any kind.
But the hyenas and jackals upon this occasion appeared to be both numerous and bold. In a few minutes after they were first heard, their cries rose around the camp on all sides, so near and so loud as to be positively disagreeable—even without considering the nature of the brutes that uttered them.
At last they came so close, that it was impossible to look in any direction without seeing a pair of green or red eyes gleaming under the light of the fires! White teeth, too, could be observed, as the hyenas opened their jaws, to give utterance to their harsh laughter.
With such a sight before their eyes, and such sounds ringing in their ears, neither Von Bloom nor any of his people—tired as they were—could go to sleep. Indeed, not only was sleep out of the question, but, worse than that, all—the field-cornet himself not excepted—began to experience some feelings of apprehension, if not actual alarm.
They had never beheld a troop of hyenas so numerous and fierce. There could not be less than two dozen of them around the camp, with twice that number of jackals.
Von Bloom knew that although, under ordinary circumstances, the hyena is not a dangerous animal, yet there are places and times when he will attack human beings. Swartboy knew this well, and Hans, too, from having read of it. No wonder, then, that some apprehension was felt by all of them.
The hyenas now behaved with such boldness, and appeared so ravenous, that sleep was out of the question. Some demonstration must be made to drive the brutes away from the camp.
Von Bloom, Hans, and Hendrik, laid hold of their guns, and got out of the wagon, while Swartboy armed himself with his bow and arrows. All four stood close by the trunk of the nwana, on the other side from that where the fires were. In this place they were in the shadow, where they could best observe anything that should come under the light of the fires without being themselves seen. Their position was well chosen.
They had scarcely fixed themselves in it, when they perceived a great piece of neglect they had been guilty of. Now, for the first time it occurred to them what had brought the hyenas around them in such numbers. Beyond a doubt it was the flesh of the elephant,—the biltongue.
That was what the beasts were after; and all now saw that a mistake had been committed in hanging the meat too low. The hyenas might easily get at it.
This was soon made manifest; for, even at the moment while they stood watching the red festoons, plainly visible under the light of Swartboy's fires, a shaggy spotted brute rushed forward, reared up on his hind-legs, seized one of the pieces, dragged it down from the pole, and then ran off with it into the darkness.
A rushing sound could be heard as the others joined him to get a share of his plunder; and, no doubt, in less than half a minute the morsel was consumed; for, at the end of that time, glancing eyes and gleaming teeth showed that the whole troop was back again and ready to make a fresh seizure.
None of the hunters had fired, as the nimbleness with which the brutes moved about rendered it difficult to take aim at any one of them; and all knew that powder and lead were too precious to be wasted on a "flying shot."
Emboldened by their success, the hyenas had now drawn nearer, and in a moment more would have made a general charge upon the scaffolds of flesh, and, no doubt, would have succeeded in carrying off a large quantity of it. But just then it occurred to Von Bloom that it would be best to lay aside their guns and remedy the mistake they had made, by putting the biltongue out of reach. If they did not do so, they would either have to remain awake all night and guard it, or else lose every string of it.
How was it to be put out of reach?
At first they thought of collecting it into a heap and stowing it away in the wagon. That would not only be an unpleasant job, but it would interfere with their sleeping quarters.
An alternative, however, presented itself. They saw that if the scaffolds were only high enough, the meat might be easily hung so as to be out of reach of the hyenas. The only question was, how to place the cross-poles a little higher. In the darkness they could not obtain a new set of uprights, and therein lay the difficulty. How were they to get over it?
Hans had the credit of suggesting a way; and that was to take out some of the uprights, splice them to the others, with the forked ends uppermost, and then rest the horizontal poles on the upper forks. That would give a scaffold tall enough to hang the meat beyond the reach of either jackals or hyenas.
Hans' suggestion was at once adopted. Half of the uprights were taken up and spliced against the others so as to raise their forks full twelve feet in the air; and then the cross-poles were rested over their tops. By standing upon one of the wagon-chests, Von Bloom was able to fling the strips of meat over the horizontal poles, and in such a manner that it hung only a few inches down, and was now quite beyond the reach of the ravenous brutes.
When the business was finished, the party resumed their station under the shadow of the tree, intending to watch for a while, and see how the wolfish intruders would act.
They had not long to watch. In less than five minutes the troop approached the biltongue, howling, and gibbering, as before; only this time uttering peculiar cries, as if to express disappointment. They saw at a glance that the tempting festoons were no longer within their reach.
They were not going to leave the ground, however, without assuring themselves of this fact; and several of the largest approached boldly under the scaffolds, and commenced leaping up to try the height.
After several attempts, springing each time as high as they were able, they appeared to grow discouraged; and no doubt would in time have imitated the fox with the grapes, and gone quietly away. But Von Bloom, indignant at being roused after such a fashion, from his pleasant rest, was determined to take some revenge upon his tormentors; so he whispered the word to the others, and a volley was delivered from behind the tree.
The unexpected discharge caused a quick scattering of both hyenas and jackals, and the pattering of their numerous feet could be heard as they ran off. When the ground under the scaffold was examined, two of the larger of these ravenous quadrupeds, and one of the smaller, were found to have bitten the dust.
Swartboy had discharged his arrow along with the guns, and it was he that had slain the jackal, for the poisoned shaft was seen sticking between the animal's ribs.
The guns were again loaded, the party took their stations as before; but, although they waited another half-hour, neither hyena nor jackal made their appearance.
They had not gone far away, however, as their wild music testified; but the reason they did not return was, that they had now discovered the half carcass of the elephant that lay in the lake, and upon that they were making their supper. Their plunging in the water could be distinctly heard from the camp, and during the whole night they quarrelled and growled, and laughed and yelled, as they gorged themselves on their ample prey.
Of course Von Bloom and his people did not sit up all night to listen to this medley of noises. As soon as they perceived that the brutes were not likely to come any more near the camp, they laid aside their weapons, returned to their respective sleeping-places, and were all soon buried in the sweet slumber that follows a day of healthy exercise.
STALKING THE OUREBI.
Next morning the hyenas and jackals had disappeared from the scene, and, to the surprise of all, not a particle of flesh was left upon the bones of the elephant. There lay the huge skeleton picked clean, the bones even polished white by the rough tongues of the hyenas. Nay, still stranger to relate, two of the horses—these poor brutes had been long since left to themselves,—had been pulled down during the night, and their skeletons lay at a short distance from the camp as cleanly picked as that of the elephant!
All this was evidence of the great number of ravenous creatures that must have their home in that quarter,—evidence, too, that game animals abounded, for where these are not numerous the beasts of prey cannot exist. Indeed, from the quantity of tracks that were seen upon the shores of the vley, it was evident that animals of various kinds had drunk there during the night. There was the round solid hoof of the quagga, and his near congener the dauw; and there was the neat hoofprint of the gemsbok, and the larger track of the eland; and among these Von Bloom did not fail to notice the spoor of the dreaded lion. Although they had not heard his roaring that night, they had no doubt that there were plenty of his kind in that part of the country. The presence of his favourite prey,—the quaggas, the gemsboks, and the elands,—were sure indications that the king of beasts was not far off.
Not much work was done that day. The heavy labour of curing the biltongue, that had occupied them the whole of the preceding day, and their disturbed rest, had rendered them all listless; and neither Von Bloom nor the others had any inclination for work. So they moved around the camp and did very little.
Swartboy took his elephant's feet from the oven, and cleaned them; and also let down the biltongue and arranged it so as to be better exposed to the sun. Von Bloom himself shot the three remaining horses, having driven them to a good distance from the camp. He did this to put an end to the suffering of the poor brutes,—for it was plain to every one that they could survive but a day or two longer; and to send a bullet through the heart of each was an act of mercy to them.
Out of all the live stock of the field-cornet, the cow alone remained, and she was now tended with the greatest care. Without the precious milk, which she yielded in such quantity, their diet would have been savage enough; and they fully appreciated the service she rendered them. Each day she was driven out to the best pasture, and at night shut up in a safe kraal of wait-a-bit thorns, that had been built for her at a little distance from the tree. These thorns had been placed in such a manner that their shanks all radiated inward, while the bushy tops were turned out, forming a chevaux-de-frise, that scarce any animal would have attempted to get through. Such a fence will turn even the lion, unless when he has been rendered fierce and reckless by provocation.
Of course a gap had been left for the cow to pass in and out, and this was closed by one immense bush, which served all the purpose of a gate. Such was the kraal of "old Graaf." Besides the cow, the only living thing that remained in camp was Trueey's little pet, the fawn of the gazelle.
But on that very day another pet was added, a dear little creature, not less beautiful than the springbok, and of still more diminutive proportions. That was the fawn of an "ourebi,"—one of the elegant little antelopes that are found in such variety over the plains and in the "bush" of Southern Africa.
It was to Hendrik they were indebted not only for this pet, but for a dinner of delicate venison, which they had that day eaten, and which all of them, except Swartboy, preferred to elephant beef. Hendrik had procured the venison by a shot from his rifle, and in the following manner.
About mid-day he went out—having fancied that upon a large grassy meadow near the camp he saw some animal. After walking about half-a-mile, and keeping among bushes, around the edge of the meadow, he got near enough to be sure that it was an animal he had observed,—for he now saw two in the place he had marked.
They were of a kind he had not met with before. They were very small creatures,—smaller even than springboks,—but, from their general form and appearance, Hendrik knew they were either antelopes or deer; and, as Hans had told him there were no deer in Southern Africa, he concluded they must be some species of antelope. They were a buck and doe,—this he knew because one of them only carried horns. The buck was under two feet in height, of slender make, and pale tawny colour. He was white-bellied, with white arches above the eyes, and some long white hair under the throat. Below his knees were yellowish tufts of long hair; and his horns—instead of being lyrate, like those of the springbok—rose nearly vertical to the height of four inches. They were black in colour, round-shaped, and slightly ringed. The doe was without horns, and was a much smaller animal than her mate.
From all these marks Hendrik thought the little antelopes were "ourebis;" and such they were.
He continued to stalk in upon them, until he was as close as he could get. But he was still more than two hundred yards from them, and of course far from being within shooting distance with his small rifle.
A thick jong dora bush concealed him, but he dared not go farther else the game would have taken the alarm. He could perceive that they were shy creatures.
Every now and again the buck would raise his graceful neck to its full stretch, utter a slight bleating call, and look suspiciously around him. From these symptoms Hendrik drew the inference that it was shy game, and would not be easily approached.
He lay for a moment, thinking what he should do. He was to leeward of the game, as he had purposely gone there; but after a while, to his chagrin, he saw that they were feeding up the wind, and of course widening the distance between them and himself.
It occurred to Hendrik that it might be their habit to browse up the wind, as springboks and some other species do. If so, he might as well give it up, or else make a long circuit and head them. To do this would be a work of labour and of time, and a very uncertain stalk it would be in the end. After all his long tramping, and creeping, and crouching, the game would be like enough to scent him before they came within shot—for it is for this very reason that their instinct teaches them to browse against, and not with the wind.
As the plain was large, and the cover very distant, Hendrik was discouraged and gave up the design he had half formed of trying to head them.
He was about to rise to his feet, and return home, when it occurred to him that perhaps he might find a decoy available. He knew there were several species of antelopes, with whom curiosity was stronger than fear. He had often lured the springbok within reach. Why would not these obey the same impulse?
He determined to make trial. At the worst he could only fail, and he had no chance of getting a shot otherwise.
Without losing a moment he thrust his hand into his pocket. He should have found there a large red handkerchief, which he had more than once used for a similar purpose. To his chagrin it was not there!
He dived into both pockets of his jacket, then into his wide trousers, then under the breast of his waistcoat. No. The handkerchief was not to be found. Alas! it had been left in the wagon! It was very annoying.
What else could he make use of? Take off his jacket and hold it up? It was not gay enough in colour. It would not do.
Should he raise his hat upon the end of his gun? That might be better, but still it would look too much like the human form, and Hendrik knew that all animals feared that.
A happy thought at length occurred to him. He had heard, that with the curious antelopes, strange forms or movements attract almost as much as glaring colours. He remembered a trick that was said to be practised with success by the hunters. It was easy enough, and consisted merely in the hunter standing upon his hands and head, and kicking his heels in the air!
Now Hendrik happened to be one of those very boys who had often practised this little bit of gymnastics for amusement and he could stand upon his head like an acrobat.
Without losing a moment he placed his rifle upon the ground, between his hands, and hoisting his feet into the air, commenced kicking them about, clinking them together, and crossing them in the most fantastic manner.
He had placed himself so that his face was turned towards the animals, while he stood upon his head. Of course he could not see them while in this position, as the grass was a foot high; but, at intervals, he permitted his feet to descend to the earth; and then, by looking between his legs, he could tell how the ruse was succeeding.
It did succeed. The buck, on first perceiving the strange object, uttered a sharp whistle, and darted off with the swiftness of a bird—for the "ourebi" is one of the swiftest of African antelopes. The doe followed, though not so fast, and soon fell into the rear.
The buck, perceiving this, suddenly halted—as if ashamed of his want of gallantry—wheeled round, and galloped back, until he was once more between the doe and the odd thing that had alarmed him.
What could this odd thing be? he now seemed to inquire of himself. It was not a lion, nor a leopard, nor a hyena, nor yet a jackal. It was neither fox, nor fennec, nor earth-wolf, nor wild hound, nor any of his well-known enemies. It was not a Bushman neither, for they are not double-headed as it appeared. What could it be? It had kept its place—it had not pursued him. Perhaps it was not at all dangerous. No doubt it was harmless enough.
So reasoned the ourebi. His curiosity overcame his fear. He would go a little nearer. He would have a better view of the thing before he took to flight. No matter what it was, it could do no hurt at that distance; and as to overtaking him, pah! there wasn't a creature, biped or quadruped in all Africa that he could not fling dust in the face of.
So he went a little nearer, and then a little nearer still, and continued to advance by successive runs, now this way and now that way, zigzagging over the plain, until he was within less than a hundred paces of the odd object that at first sight had so terrified him.
His companion, the doe, kept close after him; and seemed quite as curious as himself—her large shining eyes opened to their full extent, as she stopped to gaze at intervals.
Sometimes the two met each other in their course; and halted a moment, as though they held consultation in whispers; and asked each other if they had yet made out the character of the stranger.
It was evident, however, that neither had done so—as they still continued to approach it with looks and gestures of inquiry and wonder.
At length the odd object disappeared for a moment under the grass; and then reappeared—but this time in an altered form. Something about it glanced brightly under the sun, and this glancing quite fascinated the buck, so that he could not stir from the spot, but stood eyeing it steadily.
Fatal fascination! It was his last gaze. A bright flash shot up—something struck him through the heart, and he saw the shining object no more!
The doe bounded forward to where her mate had fallen, and stood bleating over him. She knew not the cause of his sudden death, but she saw that he was dead. The wound in his side—the stream of red blood—were under her eyes. She had never witnessed death in that form before, but she knew her lover was dead. His silence—his form stretched along the grass motionless and limber—his glassy eyes—all told her he had ceased to live.
She would have fled, but she could not leave him—she could not bear to part even from his lifeless form. She would remain a while, and mourn over him.
Her widowhood was a short one. Again flashed the priming,—again cracked the shining tube—and the sorrowing doe fell over upon the body of her mate.
The young hunter rose to his feet, and ran forward. He did not, according to usual custom, stop to load before approaching his quarry. The plain was perfectly level, and he saw no other animal upon it. What was his surprise on reaching the antelopes, to perceive that there was a third one of the party still alive!
Yes, a little fawn, not taller than a rabbit, was bounding about through the grass, running around the prostrate body of its mother, and uttering its tiny bleat.
Hendrik was surprised, because he had not observed this creature before; but, indeed, he had not seen much of the antelopes until the moment of taking aim, and the grass had concealed the tiny young one.
Hunter as Hendrik was, he could not help feeling strongly as he regarded the tableau before him. But he felt that he had not wantonly destroyed these creatures for mere amusement, and that satisfied his conscience.
The little fawn would make a famous pet for Jan, who had often wished for one, to be equal with his sister. It could be fed upon the cow's milk, and, though it had lost both father and mother, Hendrik resolved that it should be carefully brought up. He had no difficulty in capturing it, as it refused to leave the spot where its mother lay, and Hendrik soon held the gentle creature in his arms.
He then tied the buck and doe together; and, having fastened a strong cord round the horns of the latter, he set off dragging the two antelopes behind him.
As these lay upon the ground, heads foremost, they were drawn with the grain of the hair, which made it much easier; and as there was nothing but grass sward to be passed over, the young hunter succeeded in taking the whole of his game to camp without any great difficulty.
The joy of all was great, at seeing such a fine lot of venison, but Jan's rejoicing was greater than all; and he no longer envied Trueey the possession of her little gazelle.
LITTLE JAN'S ADVENTURE.
It would have been better that Jan had never seen the little "ourebi,"—better both for Jan and the antelope, for that night the innocent creature was the cause of a terrible panic in the camp.
They had all gone to sleep as on the previous night,—Von Bloom and the four children in the wagon, while the Bushman and Totty slept upon the grass. The latter lay under the wagon; but Swartboy had kindled a large fire a little distance from it, and beside this had stretched himself, rolled up in his sheep-skin kaross.
They had all gone to sleep without being disturbed by the hyenas. This was easily accounted for. The three horses that had been shot that day occupied the attention of these gentry, for their hideous voices could be heard off in the direction where the carcasses lay. Having enough to give them a supper, they found no occasion to risk themselves in the neighbourhood of the camp, where they had experienced such a hostile reception on the previous night. So reasoned Von Bloom, as he turned over and fell asleep.
He did not reason correctly, however. It was true that the hyenas were just then making a meal upon the horses; but it was a mistake to suppose that that would satisfy these ravenous brutes, who never seem to have enough. Long before morning, had Von Bloom been awake he would have heard the maniac laugh closer to the camp, and might have seen the green eyes of the hyena glancing under the expiring blaze of Swartboy's camp-fire.
Indeed, he had heard the beasts once that he awoke; but, knowing that the biltongue had been this night placed out of their reach, and thinking that there was nothing to which they could do any harm, he gave no heed to their noisy demonstrations, and went to sleep again.
He was awakened, however, by a shrill squeak, as of some animal in the agonies of death; and then there was a second squeak, that seemed to be suddenly interrupted by the stifling of the creature's utterance!
In these cries Von Bloom, as well as the others—who were now also awake—recognised the bleat of the ourebi, for they had heard it several times during the afternoon.
"The hyenas are killing it!" thought they. But they had not time to say so, before another and far different cry reached their ears, and caused them all to start as if a bomb-shell had burst under the wagon. That cry was the voice of Jan, and sounded in the same direction whence came the scream of the stifled antelope!
"O heaven! what could it mean?"
The child's voice first reached them in a sudden screech—then there was a confused noise resembling a scuffle—and Jan was again heard crying aloud for help, while at the same time his voice was interrupted, and each call appeared to come from a greater distance! Something or somebody was carrying him off!
This idea occurred to Von Bloom, Hans, and Hendrik, at the same instant. Of course it filled them with consternation; and, as they were scarce yet awake, they knew not what to do.
The cries of Jan, however, soon brought them to their senses; and to run towards the direction whence these came was the first thought of all.
To grope for their guns would waste time, and all three leaped out of the wagon without them.
Totty was upon her feet and jabbering, but she knew no more than they what had happened.
They did not stop long to question her. The voice of Swartboy, uttered in loud barks and clicks, summoned them elsewhere; and they now beheld a red flaming brand rushing through the darkness, which no doubt was carried in the hands of that worthy.
They started off in the direction of the blazing torch, and ran as fast as they could. They still heard the Bushman's voice, and to their dismay beyond it the screams of little Jan.
Of course they could not tell what was causing all this. They only pressed on with fearful apprehensions.
When they had got within some fifty paces of the torch, they perceived it suddenly descend, then raised again, and brought down, in a rapid and violent manner! They could hear the voice of the Bushman barking and clicking louder than ever, as though he was engaged in chastising some creature.
But Jan's voice they no longer heard—he was screaming no more—was he dead?
With terrible forebodings they rushed on.
When they arrived upon the spot, a singular picture presented itself to their eyes. Jan lay upon the ground, close in by the roots of some bushes which he was holding tightly in his grasp. From one of his wrists extended a stout thong, or rheim, which passed through among the bushes to the distance of several feet; and, fast to its other end, was the ourebi fawn, dead, and terribly mangled! Over the spot stood Swartboy with his burning tree, which blazed all the brighter that he had just been using it over the back of a ravenous hyena. The latter was not in sight. It had long since skulked off, but no one thought of pursuit, as all were too anxious about Jan.
No time was lost in lifting the child to his feet. The eyes of all ran eagerly over him to see where he was wounded; and an exclamation of joy soon broke forth when they saw that, except the scratches of the thorns, and the deep track of a cord upon his wrist, nothing in the shape of a wound could be discovered upon his diminutive body. He had now come to himself, and assured them all that he was not hurt a bit. Hurrah! Jan was safe!
It now fell to Jan's lot to explain all this mysterious business.
He had been lying in the wagon along with the rest, but not like them asleep. No. He could not sleep a wink for thinking on his new pet, which, for want of room in the wagon, had been left below tied to one of the wheels.
Jan had taken it into his head that he would like to have another look at the ourebi before going to sleep. So, without saying a word to any one, he crept out of the cap-tent, and descended to where the antelope was tied. He unloosed it gently, and then led it forward to the light of the fire, where he sat down to admire the creature.
After gazing upon it for some time with delight, he thought that Swartboy could not do otherwise than share his feelings; and without more ado, he shook the Bushman awake.
The latter had no great stomach for being roused out of sleep to look at an animal, hundreds of which he had eaten in his time. But Jan and Swartboy were sworn friends, and the Bushman was not angry. He, therefore, indulged his young master in the fancy he had taken; and the two sat for a while conversing about the pet.
At length Swartboy proposed sleep. Jan would agree to this only upon the terms that Swartboy would allow him to sleep alongside of him. He would bring his blanket from the wagon, and would not trouble Swartboy by requiring part of the latter's kaross.
Swartboy objected at first; but Jan urged that he had felt cold in the wagon, and that was partly why he had come down to the fire. All this was sheer cunning in the little imp. But Swartboy could not refuse him anything, and at length consented. He could see no harm in it, as there were no signs of rain.
Jan then returned to the wagon, climbed noiselessly up, drew out his own blankets, and brought them to the fire. He then wrapped himself up, and lay down alongside of Swartboy, with the ourebi standing near, and in such a situation that he could still have his eyes upon it, even when lying. To secure it from wandering, he had fastened a strong rheim around its neck, the other end of which he had looped tightly upon his own wrist.
He lay for some time contemplating his beautiful pet. But sleep at length overcame him, and the image of the ourebi melted before his eyes.
Beyond this Jan could tell little of what happened to him. He was awakened by a sudden jerking at his wrist, and hearing the antelope scream. But he had not quite opened his eyes, before he felt himself dragged violently over the ground.
He thought at first it was Swartboy playing some trick upon him; but as he passed the fire, he saw by its light that it was a huge black animal that had seized the ourebi, and was dragging both him and it along.
Of course he then began to scream for help, and caught at everything he could to keep himself from being carried away. But he could lay hold of nothing, until he found himself among thick bushes, and these he seized and held with all his might.
He could not have held out long against the strength of the hyena; but it was just at that moment that Swartboy came up with his fire-brand, and beat off the ravisher with a shower of blows.
When they got back to the light of the fire they found that Jan was all right. But the poor ourebi—it had been sadly mauled, and was now of no more value than a dead rat.
A HOUSE AMONG THE TREE-TOPS.
Von Bloom now reflected that the hyenas were likely to prove a great pest to him. No meat, nor anything, would be safe from them—even his very children would be in danger, if left alone in the camp; and no doubt he would often be compelled to leave them, as he would require the older ones upon his hunting excursions.
There were other animals to be dreaded still more than the hyenas. Even during that night they had heard the roaring of lions down by the vley; and when it was morning, the spoor showed that several of these animals had drunk at the water.
How could he leave little Trueey—his dear little Trueey—or Jan, who was not a bit bigger—how could he leave them in an open camp while such monsters were roving about? He could not think of doing so.
He reflected what course he should pursue. At first he thought of putting up a house. That would necessarily be a work of time. There was no good building material convenient. A stone house would cost a great deal of labour—as the stones would have to be carried nearly a mile, and in their hands too. That would never do, as Von Bloom might only remain a short while at that place. He might not find many elephants there, and of course would be under the necessity of going elsewhere.
Why not build a log-house? you will say. That would not be so much of a job, as part of the country was well wooded, and they had an axe.
True, part of the country was wooded, but in a particular manner. With the exception of the nwana-trees, that stood at long distances apart—and regularly, as if they had been planted—there was nothing that deserved the name of timber. All the rest was mere "bush,"—a thorny jungle of mimosas, euphorbias, arborescent aloes, strelitzias, and the horrid zamia plants, beautiful enough to the eye, but of no utility whatever in the building of a house. The nwanas, of course, were too large for house-logs. To have felled one of them would have been a task equal almost to the building of a house; and to have made planks of them would have required a steam saw-mill. A log-house was not to be thought of either.
Now a frail structure of poles and thatch would not have given sufficient security. An angry rhinoceros, or elephant, would level such a house to the ground in a few moments.
Suppose, too, that there were man-eaters in the neighbourhood. Swartboy believed that there were, and that that region was notorious for them. As it was not far from Swartboy's native country, Von Bloom, who had reason to believe what the Bushman told him, was inclined to credit this. What protection would a frail house afford against the man-eater? Not much, indeed.
Von Bloom was puzzled and perplexed. He could not commence his hunting excursions until this question was settled. Some place must be prepared, where the children would be safe during his absence.
While revolving the subject in his mind, he happened to cast his eyes upward among the branches of the nwana-tree. All at once his attention became fixed upon those huge limbs, for they had awakened within him a strange memory. He remembered having heard that, in some parts of the country, and perhaps not very far from where he then was, the natives live in trees. That sometimes a whole tribe, of fifty or more, make their home in a single tree; and do so to secure themselves against savage beasts, and sometimes equally savage men. That they build their houses upon platforms, which they erect upon the horizontal branches; and that they ascend by means of ladders, which are drawn up after them at night when they go to rest.
All this Von Bloom had heard, and all of it is positively true. Of course the reflection occurred to him, why could he not do the same? Why could he not build a house in the gigantic nwana? That would give him all the security he desired. There they could all sleep with perfect confidence of safety. There, on going out to hunt, he could leave the children, with the certainty of finding them on his return. An admirable idea!—how about its practicability?
He began to consider this. If he only had planks to make a staging or platform, the rest would be easy. Any slight roof would be sufficient up there. The leaves almost formed a roof. But the flooring—this was the difficulty. Where were planks to be got? Nowhere, in that neighbourhood.
His eye, at that moment, chanced to fall upon the wagon. Ha! there were planks there. But to break up his beautiful wagon? No—no—no! Such a thing was not to be thought of. But stay! there was no need to break it up—no need to knock out a single nail. It would serve every purpose without breaking a splinter off it. The fine vehicle was made to take to pieces, and put up again at will.
He could take it to pieces. The broad bottom alone should remain whole. That of itself would be the platform. Hurrah!
The field-cornet, excited with the development of this fine plan, now communicated it to the others. All agreed that it was just the thing; and as the day was before them, they made no more ado, but set about carrying out the design.
A ladder thirty feet long had first to be constructed. This occupied a good while; but at length a stout rough article was knocked up, which served the purpose admirably. It gave them access to the lowermost limb; and from this they could construct steps to all the others.
Von Bloom ascended, and after careful examination chose the site of the platform. This was to rest upon two strong horizontal limbs of equal height, and diverging very gradually from each other. The quantity of thick branches in the great tree afforded him a choice.
The wagon was now taken to pieces—a work of only a few minutes—and the first thing hauled up was the bottom. This was no slight performance, and required all the strength of the camp. Strong "rheims" were attached to one end, and these were passed over a limb of the tree, still higher up than those on which the staging was to rest. One stood above to guide the huge piece of plankwork, while all the rest exerted their strength upon the ropes below. Even little Jan pulled with all his might—though a single pound avoirdupois weight would have been about the measure of his strength.
The piece was hoisted up, until it rested beautifully upon the supporting limbs; and then a cheer rose from below, and was answered by Swartboy among the branches.
The heaviest part of the work was over. The boxing of the wagon was passed up, piece by piece, and set in its place just as before. Some branches were lopped off to make room for the cap-tent; and then it was also hauled up, and mounted.
By the time the sun set, everything was in its place; and the aerial house was ready for sleeping in. In fact, that very night they slept in it, or, as Hans jocularly termed it, they all went to "roost."
But they did not consider their new habitation quite complete as yet. Next day they continued to labour upon it. By means of long poles they extended their platform from the wagon quite up to the trunk of the tree, so as to give them a broad terrace to move about upon.
The poles were fast wattled together by rods of the beautiful weeping-willow (Salix Babylonica), which is a native of these parts, and several trees of which grew by the side of the vley. Upon the top of all, they laid a thick coating of clay, obtained from the edge of the lake; so that, if need be, they could actually kindle a fire, and cook their suppers in the tree.
To make a still finer flooring, they procured a quantity of the material of which the ant-hills are composed; which, being of a glutinous nature, makes a mortar almost as binding as Roman cement.
After the main building had been finished off, Swartboy erected a platform for himself, and one for Totty in another part of the ample nwana. Above each of these platforms he had constructed a roof or screen, to shelter their occupants from rain or dew.
There was something odd in the appearance of these two screens, each of which was about the size of an ordinary umbrella. Their oddity consisted in the fact that they were ears of the elephant!
THE BATTLE OF THE WILD PEACOCKS.
There was no longer anything to hinder the field-cornet from commencing the real business of his new life, viz., the hunting of the elephant. He resolved, therefore, to begin at once; for until he should succeed in "bagging" a few of these giant animals, he was not easy in his mind. He might not be able to kill a single one; and then what would become of all his grand hopes and calculations? They would end in disappointment, and he should find himself in as bad a condition as ever.
Indeed worse: for to fail in any undertaking is not only to lose time, but energy of mind. Success begets genius, courage, and self-reliance—all of which contribute to new successes; while failure intimidates and leads to despair. In a psychological point of view it is a dangerous thing to fail in any undertaking; and, therefore, before undertaking anything, one should be well assured of its being possible and practicable.
Now Von Bloom was not sure that the great design he had formed was practicable. But in this case, he had no choice. No other means of livelihood was open to him just then; and he had resolved to make trial of this. He had faith in his calculations, and he had also good reason to hope he would succeed; but the thing was yet untried. No wonder he was in haste to begin the business—in haste to know what were his chances of success.
By early day, therefore, he was up and out. Hendrik and Swartboy only accompanied him, for he could not yet bring himself to leave the children with no other protection than Totty—almost as much a child as themselves. Hans, therefore, remained by the camp.
At first the hunters followed the little rivulet that ran from the spring and vley. They did so, because in this direction there was more "bush;" and they knew that elephants would be more likely to be found in woods than in open places. Indeed, it was only near the banks of the stream that any great quantity of wood was to be seen. A broad belt of jungle extended upon each side of it. After that, there were straggling groves and clumps; and then came the open plains, almost treeless, though covered with a rich carpet of grass for some distance farther. To this succeeded the wild karoo, stretching eastward and westward beyond the reach of vision. Along the north, as already mentioned, trended the line of "bluffs"; and beyond these there was nothing but the parched and waterless desert. To the south there lay the only thing that could be called "woods;" and although such a low jungle could lay no claim to the title of "forest," it was, nevertheless, a likely enough haunt for elephants.
The trees consisted chiefly of mimosas—of several species, upon the leaves, roots, and tender shoots of which the great ruminant loves to browse. There were some "cameel-doorn" trees, with their shady umbrella-like tops. But above all rose the massive heads of the nwanas, giving a peculiar character to the landscape.
The hunters noticed, as they went on, that the channel of the rivulet became wider and larger, and that at times—no doubt after great rains—a large quantity of water must have run in its bed, forming a considerable river. But as the channel grew larger, the reverse was the case with the quantity of running water. The farther down they proceeded this became less and less; until, at the distance of a mile from camp, the current ceased altogether.
For half-a-mile farther on they found water in stagnant pools, but none running. The wide, dry channel, however, continued on as before; and the "bush" extended on both sides without interruption, so thick that they could only make way by keeping in the channel itself.
As they walked along, several kinds of small game were started. Hendrik would gladly have taken a shot at some of these, but his father would not permit him to fire just then. It might frighten away the great "game" they were in search of, and which they might fall in with at any moment. On their return Hendrik might do his best; and then the field-cornet intended to assist him in procuring an antelope, as there was no fresh venison in the camp. This, however, was a consideration of secondary importance, and the first thing to be done was to try and get a pair of tusks.
There was no objection to Swartboy using his bow, as that silent weapon would cause no alarm. Swartboy had been taken along to carry the axe and other implements as well as to assist in the hunt. Of course he had brought his bow and quiver with him; and he was constantly on the watch for something at which to let fly one of his little poisoned arrows.
He found a mark at length worthy of his attention. On crossing the plain to avoid a large bend in the channel, they came upon a glade or opening of considerable size, and in the middle of this glade a huge bird appeared standing erect.
"An ostrich!" exclaimed Hendrik.
"No," replied Swartboy; "um ar da pauw."
"Yes," said Von Bloom, confirming Swartboy's statement, "it is the pauw."
Now a "pauw" in the Dutch language is a "peacock." But there are no peacocks in Africa. The peacock in its wild state inhabits only Southern Asia and the islands of the Indian Archipelago. The bird they saw, then, could not be a peacock.
Neither was it one. And yet it bore some resemblance to a peacock, with its long heavy tail and wings speckled and ocellated in a very striking manner, and something like the "marbled" feathers that adorn the peacock's back. It had none of the brilliant colours, however, of that proudest of birds, though it was quite as stately, and much larger and taller. In fact, its great height and erect attitude was why Hendrik at first glance had taken it for an ostrich. It was neither peacock nor ostrich, but belonging to a different genus from either—to the genus Otis or bustard. It was the great bustard of South Africa—the Otis kori—called "pauw" by the Dutch colonists, on account of its ocellated plumage and other points of resemblance to the Indian peacock.
Now Swartboy, as well as Von Bloom, knew that the pauw was one of the most delicious of fowls for the table. But they knew at the same time that it was one of the shyest of birds,—so shy that it is very difficult to get even a long shot at one. How, then, was it to be approached within range of the Bushman's arrow? That was the point to be considered.
Where it stood, it was full two hundred yards from them; and had it perceived them, it would soon have widened that distance, by running off two hundred more. I say running off, for birds of the bustard family rarely take to wing, but use their long legs to escape from an enemy. On this account they are often hunted by dogs, and caught after a severe chase. Although but poor flyers, they are splendid runners,—swift almost as the ostrich itself.
The pauw, however, had not observed the hunters as yet. They had caught a glimpse of it, before appearing out of the bushes, and had halted as soon as they saw it.
How was Swartboy to approach it? It was two hundred yards from any cover, and the ground was as clean as a new-raked meadow. True, the plain was not a large one. Indeed, Swartboy was rather surprised to see a pauw upon so small a one, for these birds frequent only the wide open karoos, where they can sight their enemy at a great distance. The glade was not large, but, after watching the bustard for some minutes, the hunters saw that it was resolved to keep near the centre, and showed no disposition to feed in the direction of the thicket on either side.
Any one but a Bushman would have despaired of getting a shot at this kori; but Swartboy did not despair.
Begging the others to remain quiet, he crept forward to the edge of the jungle, and placed himself behind a thick leafy bush. He then commenced uttering a call, exactly similar to that made by the male of the kori when challenging an adversary to combat.
Like the grouse, the bustard is polygamous, and of course terribly jealous and pugnacious, at certain seasons of the year. Swartboy knew that it was just then the "fighting season" among the pauws, and hoped by imitating their challenge to draw the bird—a cock he saw it was—within reach of his arrow.
As soon as the kori heard the call, he raised himself to his full height, spread his immense tail, dropped his wings until the primary feathers trailed along the grass, and replied to the challenge.
But what now astonished Swartboy was, that instead of one answer to his call, he fancied he heard two, simultaneously uttered!
It proved to be no fancy, for before he could repeat the decoy the bird again gave out its note of defiance, and was answered by a similar call from another quarter!
Swartboy looked in the direction whence came the latter; and there sure enough, was a second kori, that seemed to have dropped from the region of the clouds, or, more likely, had run out from the shelter of the bushes. At all events, it was a good way towards the centre of the plain, before the hunter had observed it.
The two were now in full view of each other; and by their movements any one might see that a combat was certain to come off.
Sure of this, Swartboy did not call again; but remained silent behind his bush.
After a good while spent in strutting, and wheeling round and round, and putting themselves in the most threatening attitudes, and uttering the most insulting expressions, the two koris became sufficiently provoked to begin the battle. They "clinched" in gallant style, using all three weapons,—wings, beak, and feet. Now they struck each other with their wings, now pecked with their bills; and at intervals, when a good opportunity offered, gave each other a smart kick—which, with their long muscular legs, they were enabled to deliver with considerable force.
Swartboy knew that when they were well into the fight, he might stalk in upon them unobserved; so he waited patiently, till the proper moment should arrive.
In a few seconds it became evident, he would not have to move from his ambush; for the birds were fighting towards him. He adjusted his arrow to the string, and waited.
In five minutes the birds were fighting within thirty yards of the spot where the Bushman lay. The twang of a bowstring might have been heard by one of the koris, had he been listening. The other could not possibly have heard it; for before the sound could have reached him, a poisoned arrow was sticking through his ears. The barb had passed through, and the shaft remained in his head, piercing it crosswise!
Of course the bird dropped dead upon the grass, less astonished than his antagonist.
The latter at first imagined he had done it, and began to strut very triumphantly around his fallen foe.
But his eye now fell upon the arrow sticking through the head of the latter. He knew nothing about that. He had not done that! What the deuce——
Perhaps if he had been allowed another moment's reflection, he would have taken to his heels; but before he could make up his mind about the matter, there was another "twang" of the bowstring another arrow whistled through the air, and another kori lay stretched upon the grass!
Swartboy now rushed forward, and took possession of the game; which proved to be a pair of young cocks, in prime condition for roasting.
Having hung the birds over a high branch, so as to secure them from jackals and hyenas, the hunters continued on; and shortly after, having re-entered the channel of the stream, continued to follow it downward.
UPON THE SPOOR.
They had not gone above an hundred yards farther, when they came to one of the pools, already spoken of. It was a tolerably large one; and the mud around its edges bore the hoof-prints of numerous animals. This the hunters saw from a distance, but on reaching the spot, Swartboy, a little in the advance, turned suddenly round, and, with rolling orbs and quivering lips, clicked out the words,—
"Mein baas! mein baas! da klow! spoor ob da groot olifant!"
There was no danger of mistaking the spoor of the elephant for that of any other creature. There, sure enough, were the great round tracks—full twenty-four inches in length, and nearly as wide—deeply imprinted in the mud by the enormous weight of the animal's body. Each formed an immense hole, large enough to have set a gate-post in.
The hunters contemplated the spoor with emotions of pleasure—the more so that the tracks had been recently made. This was evident. The displaced mud had not yet crusted, but looked damp and fresh. It had been stirred within the hour.
Only one elephant had visited the pool that night. There were many old tracks, but only one fresh spoor,—and that of an old and very large bull.
Of course the tracks told this much. To make a spoor twenty-four inches long, requires the animal to be a very large one; and to be very large, he should be a bull, and an old one too.
Well, the older and larger the better, provided his tusks have not been broken by some accident. When that happens they are never recovered again. The elephant does cast his tusks, but only in the juvenile state, when they are not bigger than lobster's claws; and the pair that succeeds these is permanent, and has to last him for life—perhaps for centuries—for no one can tell how long the mighty elephant roams over this sublunary planet.
When the tusks get broken—a not uncommon thing—he must remain toothless or "tuskless" for the rest of his life. Although the elephant may consider the loss of his huge tusks a great calamity, were he only a little wiser, he would break them off against the first tree. It would, in all probability, be the means of prolonging his life; for the hunter would not then consider him worth the ammunition it usually takes to kill him.
After a short consultation among the hunters, Swartboy started off upon the spoor, followed by Von Bloom and Hendrik. It led straight out from the channel, and across the jungle.
Usually the bushes mark the course of an elephant, where these are of the sort he feeds upon. In this case he had not fed; but the Bushman, who could follow spoor with a hound, had no difficulty in keeping on the track, as fast as the three were able to travel.
They emerged into open glades; and, after passing through several of these, came upon a large ant-hill that stood in the middle of one of the openings. The elephant had passed close to the ant-hill—he had stopped there awhile—stay, he must have lain down.
Von Bloom did not know that elephants were in the habit of lying down. He had always heard it said that they slept standing. Swartboy knew better than that. He said that they sometimes slept standing, but oftener lay down, especially in districts where they were not much hunted. Swartboy considered it a good sign that this one had lain down. He reasoned from it that the elephants had not been disturbed in that neighbourhood, and would be the more easily approached and killed. They would be less likely to make off from that part of the country, until they—the hunters—had had a "good pull" out of them.
This last consideration was one of great importance. In a district where elephants have been much hunted, and have learnt what the crack of a gun signifies, a single day's chase will often set them travelling; and they will not bring up again, until they have gone far beyond the reach of the hunters. Not only the particular individuals that have been chased act in this way; but all the others,—as though warned by their companions,—until not an elephant remains in the district. This migratory habit is one of the chief difficulties which the elephant-hunter must needs encounter; and, when it occurs, he has no other resource but to change his "sphere of action."
On the other hand, where elephants have remained for a long time undisturbed, the report of a gun does not terrify them; and they will bear a good deal of hunting before "showing their heels" and leaving the place.
Swartboy, therefore, rejoiced on perceiving that the old bull had lain down. The Bushman drew a world of conclusions from that circumstance.
That the elephant had been lying was clear enough. The abrasion upon the stiff mud of the ant-heap showed where his back had rested,—the mark of his body was visible in the dust, and a groove-like furrow in the turf had been made by his huge tusk. A huge one it must have been, as the impression of it testified to the keen eyes of the Bushman.
Swartboy stated some curious facts about the great quadruped,—at least, what he alleged to be facts. They were,—that the elephant never attempts to lie down without having something to lean his shoulders against,—a rock, an ant-hill, or a tree; that he does this to prevent himself rolling over on his back,—that when he does by accident get into that position he has great difficulty in rising again, and is almost as helpless as a turtle; and, lastly, that he often sleeps standing beside a tree with the whole weight of his body leaning against the trunk!
Swartboy did not think that he leans against the trunk when first taking up his position; but that he seeks the tree for the shade it affords, and as sleep overcomes him he inclines towards it, finding that it steadies and rests him!
The Bushman stated, moreover, that some elephants have their favourite trees, to which they return again and again to take a nap during the hot mid-day hours,—for that is their time of repose. At night they do not sleep. On the contrary, the hours of night are spent in ranging about, on journeys to the distant watering-places, and in feeding; though in remote and quiet districts they also feed by day—so that it is probable that most of their nocturnal activity is the result of their dread of their watchful enemy, man.
Swartboy communicated these facts, as the hunters all together followed upon the spoor.
The traces of the elephant were now of a different character, from what they had been before arriving at the ant-hill. He had been browsing as he went. His nap had brought a return of appetite; and the wait-a-bit thorns showed the marks of his prehensile trunk. Here and there branches were broken off, stripped clean of their leaves, and the ligneous parts left upon the ground. In several places whole trees were torn up by their roots, and those, too, of considerable size. This the elephant sometimes does to get at their foliage, which upon such trees grows beyond the reach of his proboscis. By prostrating them of course he gets their whole frondage within easy distance of his elastic nose, and can strip it off at pleasure.
At times, however, he tears up a tree to make a meal of its roots—as there are several species with sweet juicy roots, of which the elephant is extremely fond. These he drags out of the ground with his trunk, having first loosened them with his tusks, used as crowbars. At times he fails to effect his purpose; and it is only when the ground is loose or wet, as after great rains, that he can uproot the larger kinds of mimosas. Sometimes he is capricious; and, after drawing a tree from the ground, he carries it many yards along with him, flings it to the ground, root upwards, and then leaves it, after taking a single mouthful. Destructive to the forest is the passage of a troop of elephants!
Small trees he can tear up with his trunk alone, but to the larger ones he applies the more powerful leverage of his tusks. These he inserts under the roots, imbedded as they usually are in loose sandy earth, and then, with a quick jerk, he tosses roots, trunk, and branches, high into the air,—a wonderful exhibition of gigantic power.
The hunters saw all these proofs of it, as they followed the spoor. The traces of the elephant's strength were visible all along the route.
It was enough to beget fear and awe, and none of them were free from such feelings. With so much disposition to commit havoc and ruin in his moments of quietude, what would such a creature be in the hour of excitement and anger? No wonder there was fear in the hearts of the hunters, unpractised as some of them were.
Still another consideration had its effect upon their minds, particularly on that of the Bushman. There was every reason to believe that the animal was a "rover,"—what among Indian hunters is termed a "rogue." Elephants of this kind are far more dangerous to approach than their fellows. In fact, under ordinary circumstances, there is no more danger in passing through a herd of elephants than there would be in going among a drove of tame oxen. It is only when the elephant has been attacked or wounded, that he becomes a dangerous enemy.
With regard to the "rover" or "rogue," the case is quite different. He is habitually vicious; and will assail either man or any other animal on sight, and without the slightest provocation. He seems to take a pleasure in destruction, and woe to the creature who crosses his path and is not of lighter heels than himself!
The rover leads a solitary life, rambling alone through the forest, and never associating with others of his kind. He appears to be a sort of outlaw from his tribe, banished for bad temper or some other fault, to become more fierce and wicked in his outlawry.
There were good reasons for fearing that the elephant they were spooring was a "rover." His being alone was of itself a suspicious circumstance, as elephants usually go, from two to twenty, or even fifty, in a herd. The traces of ruin he had left behind him, his immense spoor, all seemed to mark him out as one of these fierce creatures. That such existed in that district they already had evidence. Swartboy alleged that the one killed by the rhinoceros was of this class, else he would not have attacked the latter as he had done. There was a good deal of probability in this belief of the Bushman.
Under these impressions, then, it is less to be wondered, that our hunters felt some apprehensions of danger from the game they were pursuing.
The spoor grew fresher and fresher. The hunters saw trees turned bottom upward, the roots exhibiting the marks of the elephant's teeth, and still wet with the saliva from his vast mouth. They saw broken branches of the mimosa giving out their odour, that had not had time to waste itself. They concluded the game could not be distant.
They rounded a point of timber—the Bushman being a little in the advance.
Suddenly Swartboy stopped and fell back a pace. He turned his face upon his companions. His eyes rolled faster than ever; but, although his lips appeared to move, and his tongue to wag, he was too excited to give utterance to a word. A volley of clicks and hisses came forth, but nothing articulate.
The others, however, did not require any words to tell them what was meant. They knew that Swartboy intended to whisper that he had seen "da oliphant;" so both peeped silently around the bush, and with their own eyes looked upon the mighty quadruped.
A ROGUE ELEPHANT.
The elephant was standing in a grove of mokhala trees. These, unlike the humbler mimosas, have tall naked stems, with heads of thick foliage, in form resembling an umbrella or parasol. Their pinnate leaves of delicate green are the favourite food of the giraffe, hence their botanical appellation of Acacia giraffae; and hence also their common name among the Dutch hunters of "cameel-doorns" (camel-thorns).
The tall giraffe, with his prehensile lip, raised nearly twenty feet in the air, can browse upon these trees without difficulty. Not so the elephant, whose trunk cannot reach so high; and the latter would often have to imitate the fox in the fable, were he not possessed of a means whereby he can bring the tempting morsel within reach—that is, simply by breaking down the tree. This his vast strength enables him to do, unless when the trunk happens to be one of the largest of its kind.
When the eyes of our hunters first rested upon the elephant, he was standing by the head of a prostrate mokhala, which he had just broken off near the root. He was tearing away at the leaves, and filling his capacious stomach.
As soon as Swartboy recovered the control over his tongue, he ejaculated in a hurried whisper:—
"Pas op! (take care!) baas Bloom,—hab good care—don't go near um—he da skellum ole klow. My footy! he wicked!—I know de ole bull duyvel."
By this volley of queer phrases, Swartboy meant to caution his master against rashly approaching the elephant, as he knew him to be one of the wicked sort—in short, a "rogue."
How Swartboy knew this would appear a mystery, as there were no particular marks about the animal to distinguish him from others of his kind. But the Bushman, with his practised eye, saw something in the general physiognomy of the elephant—just as one may distinguish a fierce and dangerous bull from those of milder disposition, or a bad from a virtuous man, by some expression that one cannot define.
Von Bloom himself, and even Hendrik, saw that the elephant had a fierce and ruffian look.
They did not stand in need of Swartboy's advice to act with caution.
They remained for some minutes, gazing through the bushes at the huge quadruped. The more they gazed, the more they became resolved to make an attack upon him. The sight of his long tusks was too tempting to Von Bloom, to admit for a moment the thought of letting him escape without a fight. A couple of bullets he should have into him, at all events; and if opportunity offered, a good many more, should these not be sufficient. Von Bloom would not relinquish those fine tusks without a struggle.
He at once set about considering the safest mode of attack; but was not allowed time to mature any plan. The elephant appeared to be restless, and was evidently about to move forward. He might be off in a moment, and carry them after him for miles, or, perhaps, in the thick cover of wait-a-bits get lost to them altogether.
These conjectures caused Von Bloom to decide at once upon beginning the attack, and without any other plan than to stalk in as near as would be safe, and deliver his fire. He had heard that a single bullet in the forehead would kill any elephant; and if he could only get in such a position as to have a fair shot at the animal's front, he believed he was marksman enough to plant his bullet in the right place.
He was mistaken as to killing an elephant with a shot in the forehead. That is a notion of gentlemen who have hunted the elephant in their closets—though other closet gentlemen—the anatomists—to whom give all due credit—have shown the thing to be impossible, from the peculiar structure of the elephant's skull and the position of his brain.
Von Bloom at the time was under this wrong impression, and therefore committed a grand mistake. Instead of seeking a side shot, which he could have obtained with far less trouble—he decided on creeping round in front of the elephant, and firing right in the animal's face.
Leaving Hendrik and Swartboy to attack him from behind, he took a circuit under cover of the bushes; and at length arrived in the path the elephant was most likely to take.
He had scarcely gained his position, when he saw the huge animal coming towards him with silent and majestic tread; and although the elephant only walked, half-a-dozen of his gigantic strides brought him close up to the ambushed hunter. As yet the creature uttered no cry; but as he moved, Von Bloom could hear a rumbling gurgling sound, as of water dashing to and fro in his capacious stomach!
Von Bloom had taken up his position behind the trunk of a large tree. The elephant had not yet seen him, and, perhaps, would have passed on without knowing that he was there, had the hunter permitted him. The latter even thought of such a thing, for although a man of courage, the sight of the great forest giant caused him for a moment to quail.
But, again, the curving ivory gleamed in his eyes—again he remembered the object that had brought him into that situation; he thought of his fallen fortunes—of his resolve to retrieve them—of his children's welfare.
These thoughts resolved him. His long roer was laid over a knot in the trunk—its muzzle pointed at the forehead of the advancing elephant—his eye gleamed through the sights—the loud detonation followed—and a cloud of smoke for a moment hid everything from his view.
He could hear a hoarse, bellowing, trumpet-like sound—he could hear the crashing of branches and the gurgling of water; and, when, the smoke cleared away, to his chagrin he saw that the elephant was still upon his feet, and evidently not injured in the least!
The shot had struck the animal exactly where the hunter had aimed it; but, instead of inflicting a mortal wound, it had only excited the creature to extreme rage. He was now charging about striking the trees with his tusks, tearing branches off, and tossing them aloft with his trunk—though all the while evidently in ignorance of what had tickled him so impertinently upon the forehead!
Fortunately for Von Bloom, a good thick tree sheltered him from the view of the elephant. Had the enraged animal caught sight of him at that moment, it would have been all up with him; but the hunter knew this, and had the coolness to remain close and quiet.
Not so with Swartboy. When the elephant moved forward, he and Hendrik had crept after through the grove of mokhalas. They had even followed him across the open ground into the bush, where Von Bloom awaited him. On hearing the shot, and seeing that the elephant was still unhurt, Swartboy's courage gave way; and leaving Hendrik, he ran back towards the mokhala grove, shouting as he went.
His cries reached the ears of the elephant, that at once rushed off in the direction in which he heard them. In a moment he emerged from the bush, and, seeing Swartboy upon the open ground, charged furiously after the flying Bushman. Hendrik—who had stood his ground, and in the shelter of the bushes was not perceived—delivered his shot as the animal passed him. His ball told upon the shoulder, but it only served to increase the elephant's fury. Without stopping, he rushed on after Swartboy, believing, no doubt, that the poor Bushman was the cause of the hurts he was receiving, and the nature of which he but ill understood.
It was but a few moments, from the firing of the first shot, until things took this turn. Swartboy was hardly clear of the bushes before the elephant emerged also; and as the former struck out for the mokhala trees, he was scarce six steps ahead of his pursuer.
Swartboy's object was to get to the grove, in the midst of which were several trees of large size. One of these he proposed climbing—as that seemed his only chance for safety.
He had not got half over the open ground, when he perceived he would be too late. He heard the heavy rush of the huge monster behind him—he heard his loud and vengeful bellowing—he fancied he felt his hot breath. There was still a good distance to be run. The climbing of the tree, beyond the reach of the elephant's trunk, would occupy time. There was no hope of escaping to the tree.
These reflections occurred almost instantaneously. In ten seconds Swartboy arrived at the conclusion, that running to the tree would not save him; and all at once he stopped in his career, wheeled round, and faced the elephant!
Not that he had formed any plan of saving himself in that way. It was not bravery, but only despair, that caused him to turn upon his pursuer. He knew that, by running on, he would surely be overtaken. It could be no worse if he faced round; and, perhaps, he might avoid the fatal charge by some dexterous manoeuvre.
The Bushman was now right in the middle of the open ground; the elephant rushing straight towards him.
The former had no weapon to oppose to his gigantic pursuer. He had thrown away his bow—his axe too—to run the more nimbly. But neither would have been of any avail against such an antagonist. He carried nothing but his sheep-skin kaross. That had encumbered him in his flight; but he had held on to it for a purpose.
His purpose was soon displayed.
He stood until the extended trunk was within three feet of his face; and then, flinging his kaross so that it should fall over the long cylinder, he sprang nimbly to one side, and started to run back.
He would, no doubt, have succeeded in passing to the elephant's rear, and thus have escaped; but as the kaross fell upon the great trunk it was seized in the latter, and swept suddenly around. Unfortunately Swartboy's legs had not yet cleared the circle—the kaross lapped around them—and the Bushman was thrown sprawling upon the plain.
In a moment the active Swartboy recovered his feet, and was about to make off in a new direction. But the elephant, having discovered the deception of the kaross, had dropped it, and turned suddenly after him. Swartboy had hardly made three steps, when the long ivory curve was inserted between his legs from behind; and the next moment his body was pitched high into the air.
Von Bloom and Hendrik, who had just then reached the edge of the glade, saw him go up; but to their astonishment he did not come to the ground again! Had he fallen back upon the elephant's tusks? and was he held there by the trunk? No. They saw the animal's head. The Bushman was not there, nor upon his back, nor anywhere to be seen. In fact, the elephant seemed as much astonished as they at the sudden disappearance of his victim! The huge beast was turning his eyes in every direction, as if searching for the object of his fury!
Where could Swartboy have gone? Where? At this moment the elephant gave a loud roar, and was seen rushing to a tree, which he now caught in his trunk, and shook violently. Von Bloom and Hendrik looked up towards its top, expecting to see Swartboy there. Sure enough he was there, perched among the leaves and branches where he had been projected! Terror was depicted in his countenance, for he felt that he was not safe in his position. But he had scarce time to give utterance to his fears; for the next moment the tree gave way with a crash, and fell to the ground, bringing the Bushman down among its branches.
It happened that the tree, dragged down by the elephant's trunk, fell towards the animal. Swartboy even touched the elephant's body in his descent, and slipped down over his hind-quarters. The branches had broken the fall, and the Bushman was still unhurt, but he felt that he was now quite at the mercy of his antagonist. He saw no chance of escape by flight. He was lost!
Just at that moment an idea entered his mind—a sort of despairing instinct—and springing at one of the hind-legs of the quadruped, he slung his arms around it, and held fast! He at the same time planted his naked feet upon the sabots of those of the animal; so that, by means of this support, he was enabled to keep his hold, let the animal move as it would!
The huge mammoth, unable to shake him off, unable to get at him with his trunk—and, above all, surprised and terrified by this novel mode of attack—uttered a shrill scream, and with tail erect and trunk high in air, dashed off into the jungle!
Swartboy held on to the leg until fairly within the bushes; and then, watching his opportunity, he slipped gently off. As soon as he touched terra firma again, he rose to his feet, and ran with all his might in an opposite direction.
He need not have run a single step; for the elephant, as much frightened as he, kept on through the jungle, laying waste the trees and branches in his onward course. The huge quadruped did not stop, till he had put many miles between himself and the scene of his disagreeable adventure!
Von Bloom and Hendrik had by this time reloaded, and were advancing to Swartboy's rescue; but they were met right in the teeth by the swift-flying Bushman, as he returned from his miraculous escape.
The hunters, who were now warmed to their work, proposed to follow up the spoor; but Swartboy, who had enough of that "old rogue," declared that there would be not the slightest chance of again coming up with him without horses or dogs; and as they had neither, spooring him any farther would be quite useless.
Von Bloom saw that there was truth in the remark, and now more than ever did he regret the loss of his horses. The elephant, though easily overtaken on horseback, or with dogs to bring him to bay, can as easily escape from a hunter on foot; and once he has made up his mind to flight, it is quite a lost labour to follow him farther.
It was now too late in the day to seek for other elephants; and with a feeling of disappointment, the hunters gave up the chase, and turned their steps in the direction of the camp.
THE MISSING HUNTER, AND THE WILDEBEESTS.
A well-known proverb says that "misfortunes seldom come single."
On nearing the camp, the hunters could perceive that all was not right there. They saw Totty with Trueey and Jan standing by the head of the ladder; but there was something in their manner that told that all was not right. Where was Hans?
As soon as the hunters came in sight, Jan and Trueey ran down the rounds, and out to meet them. There was that in their glances that bespoke ill tidings, and their words soon confirmed this conjecture.
Hans was not there—he had gone away hours ago—they knew not where, they feared something had happened to him,—they feared he was lost!
"But what took him away from the camp?" asked Von Bloom, surprised and troubled at the news.
That, and only that could they answer. A number of odd-looking animals—very odd-looking, the children said,—had come to the vley to drink. Hans had taken his gun and followed them in a great hurry, telling Trueey and Jan to keep in the tree, and not come down until he returned. He would be gone only a very little while, and they needn't fear.
This was all they knew. They could not even tell what direction he had taken. He went by the lower end of the vley; but soon the bushes hid him from their view, and they saw no more of him.
"At what time was it?"
It was many hours ago,—in the morning in fact,—not long after the hunters themselves had started. When he did not return the children grew uneasy; but they thought he had fallen in with papa and Hendrik, and was helping them to hunt; and that was the reason why he stayed so long.
"Had they heard any report of a gun?"
No—they had listened for that, but heard none. The animals had gone away before Hans could get his gun ready; and they supposed he had to follow some distance, before he could overtake them—that might be the reason they had heard no shot.
"What sort of animals were they?"
They had all seen them plain enough, as they drank. They had never seen any of the kind before. They were large animals of a yellow-brown colour, with shaggy manes, and long tufts of hair growing out of their breasts, and hanging down between their fore-legs. They were as big as ponies, said Jan, and very like ponies. They curvetted and capered about just as ponies do sometimes. Trueey thought that they looked more like lions!
"Lions!" ejaculated her father and Hendrik, with an accent that betokened alarm.
Indeed, they reminded her of lions, Trueey again affirmed, and Totty said the same.
"How many were there of them?"
"Oh! a great drove, not less than fifty." They could not have counted them, as they were constantly in motion, galloping from place to place, and butting each other with their horns.
"Ha! they had horns then?" interrogated Von Bloom, relieved by this announcement.
Certainly they had horns, replied all three.
They had seen the horns, sharp-pointed ones, which first came down, and then turned upwards in front of the animals' faces. They had manes too, Jan affirmed; and thick necks that curved like that of a beautiful horse; and tufts of hair like brushes upon their noses; and nice round bodies like ponies, and long white tails that reached near the ground, just like the tails of ponies, and finely-shaped limbs as ponies have.
"I tell you," continued Jan, with emphasis, "if it hadn't been for their horns and the brushes of long hair upon their breasts and noses, I'd have taken them for ponies before anything. They galloped about just like ponies when playing, and ran with their heads down, curving their necks and tossing their manes,—aye, and snorting too, as I've heard ponies; but sometimes they bellowed more like bulls; and, I confess, they looked a good deal like bulls about the head; besides I noticed they had hoofs split like cattle. Oh! I had a good look at them while Hans was loading his gun. They stayed by the water till he was nearly ready; and when they galloped off, they went in a long string one behind the other with the largest one in front, and another large one in the rear."
"Wildebeests!" exclaimed Hendrik.
"Gnoos!" cried Swartboy.
"Yes, they must have been wildebeests," said Von Bloom; "Jan's description corresponds exactly to them."
This was quite true. Jan had correctly given many of the characteristic points of that, perhaps, the most singular of all ruminant animals, the wildebeest or gnoo (Catoblepas gnoo). The brush-like tuft over the muzzle, the long hair between the fore-legs, the horns curving down over the face, and then sweeping abruptly upward, the thick curving neck, the rounded, compact, horse-shaped body, the long whitish tail, and full flowing mane—all were descriptive of the gnoo.
Even Trueey had not made such an unpardonable mistake. The gnoos, and particularly the old bulls, bear a very striking resemblance to the lion, so much so that the sharpest hunters at a distance can scarce tell one from the other.
Jan, however, had observed them better than Trueey; and had they been nearer, he might have further noticed that the creatures had red fiery eyes and a fierce look; that their heads and horns were not unlike those of the African buffalo; that their limbs resembled those of the stag, while the rest corresponded well enough to his "pony." He might have observed, moreover, that the males were larger than the females, and of a deeper brown. Had there been any "calves" with the herd, he would have seen that these were still lighter-coloured—in fact, of a white or cream colour.
The gnoos that had been seen were the common kind called by the Dutch colonists "wildebeests" or wild-oxen, and by the Hottentots "gnoo" or "gnu," from a hollow moaning sound to which these creatures sometimes give utterance, and which is represented by the word "gnoo-o-oo."
They roam in vast flocks upon the wild karoos of South Africa: are inoffensive animals, except when wounded: and then the old bulls are exceedingly dangerous, and will attack the hunter both with horns and hoof. They can run with great swiftness, though they scarce ever go clear off, but, keeping at a wary distance, circle around the hunter, curvetting in all directions, menacing with their heads lowered to the ground, kicking up the dust with their heels, and bellowing like bulls, or indeed like lions—for their "rout" bears a resemblance to the lion's roar.
The old bulls stand sentry while the herd is feeding, and protect it both in front and rear. When running off they usually go in single file, as Jan had represented.
Old bulls hang between the rear of the herd and the hunter: and these caper back and forward, butting each other with their horns, and often fighting apparently in serious earnest! Before the hunter comes within range, however, they drop their conflict and gallop out of his way. Nothing can exceed the capricious antics which these animals indulge in, while trooping over the plain.
There is a second species of the same genus common in South Africa, and a third inhabits still farther to the north; but of the last very little is known. Both species are larger than the wildebeest, individuals of either being nearly five feet in height, while the common gnoo is scarce four.
The three kinds are quite distinct, and never herd together, though each of them is often found in company with other animals. All three are peculiar to the continent of Africa, and are not found elsewhere.
The "brindled gnoo" is the other species that inhabits the South of Africa. It is known among the hunters and colonists as "blauw wildebeest" (blue wild-ox). It is of a bluish colour—hence the name, and "brindled," or striped along the sides. Its habits are very similar to those of the common gnoo, but it is altogether a heavier and duller animal, and still more eccentric and ungainly in its form.
The third species is the "ko-koon" of the natives. It approaches nearer to the brindled gnoo in form and habits; but as it is not found except in the more central and less-travelled portions of Africa, less is known about it than either of the others. It is, however, of the same kind; and the three species, differing widely from any other animals known, are entitled to form a distinct and separate genus.
They have hitherto generally been classed with the antelopes, though for what reason it is hard to tell. They have far less affinity with the antelope than with the ox; and the everyday observations of the hunter and frontier boer have guided them to a similar conclusion—as their name for these animals (wild-oxen) would imply. Observation of this class is usually worth far more than the "speculations" of the closet-naturalist.
The gnoo has long been the favourite food of the frontier farmer and hunter. Its beef is well flavoured, and the veal of a gnoo-calf is quite a delicacy. The hide is manufactured into harness and straps of different sorts; and the long silky tail is an article of commerce. Around every frontier farm-house large piles of gnoo and springbok horns may be seen—the remains of animals that have been captured in the chase.
"Jaging de wildebeest" (hunting the gnoo) is a favourite pastime of the young boers. Large herds of these animals are sometimes driven into valleys, where they are hemmed in, and shot down at will. They can also be lured within range, by exhibiting a red handkerchief or any piece of red cloth—to which colour they have a strong aversion. They may be tamed and domesticated easily enough; but they are not favourite pets with the farmer, who dreads their communicating to his cattle a fatal skin-disease to which the gnoos are subject, and which carries off thousands of them every year.
Of course Von Bloom and his companions did not stay to talk over these points. They were too anxious about the fate of the missing Hans, to think of anything else.
They were about to start out in search of him, when just at that moment my gentleman was seen coming around the end of the lake, trudging very slowly along, under the weight of some large and heavy object, that he carried upon his shoulders.
A shout of joy was raised, and in a few moments Hans stood in their midst.
THE ANT-EATER OF AFRICA.
Hans was saluted by a volley of questions, "Where have you been? What detained you? What has happened to you? You're all safe and sound? Not hurt, I hope?" These and a few others were asked in a breath.
"I'm sound as a bell," said Hans; "and for the rest of your inquiries I'll answer them all as soon as Swartboy has skinned this 'aard-vark,' and Totty has cooked a piece of it for supper; but I'm too hungry to talk now, so pray excuse me."
As Hans gave this reply, he cast from his shoulders an animal nearly as big as a sheep, covered with long bristly hair of a reddish-grey colour, and having a huge tail, thick at the root, and tapering like a carrot; a snout nearly a foot long, but quite slender and naked; a very small mouth; erect pointed ears resembling a pair of horns; a low flattish body; short muscular legs; and claws of immense length, especially on the fore-feet, where, instead of spreading out, they were doubled back like shut fists, or the fore hands of a monkey. Altogether a very odd animal was that which Hans had styled an "aard-vark," and which he desired should be cooked for supper.
"Well, my boy," replied Von Bloom, "we'll excuse you, the more so that we are all of us about as hungry as yourself, I fancy. But I think we may as well leave the 'aard-vark' for to-morrow's dinner. We've a couple of peacocks here, and Totty will get one of them ready sooner than the aard-vark."
"As for that," rejoined Hans, "I don't care which. I'm just in the condition to eat anything—even a steak of tough old quagga, if I had it; but I think it would be no harm if Swartboy—that is, if you're not too tired, old Swart—would just peel the skin off this gentleman."
Hans pointed to the "aard-vark."
"And dress him so that he don't spoil," he continued; "for you know, Swartboy, that he's a tit-bit—a regular bonne bouche—and it would be a pity to let him go to waste in this hot weather. An aard-vark's not to be bagged every day."
"You spreichen true, Mynheer Hans,—Swartboy know all dat. Him skin and dress da goup."
And, so saying, Swartboy out knife, and set to work upon the carcass.
Now this singular-looking animal which Hans called an "aard-vark," and Swartboy a "goup," was neither more or less than the African ant-eater.
Although the colonists term it "aard-vark," which is the Dutch for "ground-hog," the animal has but little in common with the hog kind. It certainly bears some resemblance to a pig about the snout and cheeks; and that, with its bristly hair and burrowing habits, has no doubt given rise to the mistaken name. The "ground" part of the title is from the fact that it is a burrowing animal,—indeed, one of the best "terriers" in the world. It can make its way under ground, faster than the spade can follow it, and faster than any badger. In size, habits, and the form of many parts of its body, it bears a striking resemblance to its South American cousin the "tamanoir," which of late years has become so famous as almost to usurp the title of "ant-eater."
But the "aard-vark" is just as good an ant-eater as he,—can "crack" as thick-walled a house, can rake up and devour as many termites as any "ant-bear" in the length and breadth of the Amazon Valley. He has got, moreover, as "tall" a tail as the tamanoir, very nearly as long a snout, a mouth equally small, and a tongue as extensive and extensile. In claws he can compare with his American cousin any day, and can walk just as awkwardly upon the sides of his fore-paws with "toes turned in."
Why, then, may I ask, do we hear so much talk of the "tamanoir," while not a word is said of the "aard-vark?" Every museum and menagerie is bragging about having a specimen of the former, while not one cares to acknowledge their possession of the latter! Why this envious distinction? I say it's all Barnum. It's because the "aard-vark's" a Dutchman—a Cape boer—and the boers have been much bullied of late. That's the reason why zoologists and showmen have treated my thick-tailed boy so shabbily. But it shan't be so any longer; I stand up for the aard-vark; and, although the tamanoir has been specially called Myrmecophaga, or ant-eater, I say that the Orycteropus is as good an ant-eater as he.
He can break through ant-hills quite as big and bigger—some of them twenty feet high—he can project as long and as gluey a tongue—twenty inches long—he can play it as nimbly and "lick up" as many white ants, as any tamanoir. He can grow as fat too, and weigh as heavy, and, what is greatly to his credit, he can provide you with a most delicate roast when you choose to kill and eat him. It is true he tastes slightly of formid acid, but that is just the flavour that epicures admire. And when you come to speak of "hams,"—ah! try his! Cure them well and properly, and eat one, and you will never again talk of "Spanish" or "Westphalian."
Hans knew the taste of those hams—well he did, and so too Swartboy; and it was not against his inclination, but con amore, that the latter set about butchering the "goup."
Swartboy knew how precious a morsel he held between his fingers,—precious, not only on account of its intrinsic goodness, but from its rarity; for although the aard-vark is a common animal in South Africa, and in some districts even numerous, it is not every day the hunter can lay his hands upon one. On the contrary, the creature is most difficult to capture; though not to kill, for a blow on the snout will do that.
But just as he is easily killed when you catch him, in the same proportion is he hard to catch. He is shy and wary, scarce ever comes out of his burrow but at night; and even then skulks so silently along, and watches around him so sharply, that no enemy can approach without his knowing it. His eyes are very small, and, like most nocturnal animals, he sees but indifferently; but in the two senses of smell and hearing he is one of the sharpest. His long erect ears enable him to catch every sound that may be made in his neighbourhood, however slight.
The "aard-vark" is not the only ant-eating quadruped of South Africa. There is another four-footed creature as fond of white ants as he; but this is an animal of very different appearance. It is a creature without hair; but instead, its body is covered all over with a regular coat of scales, each as large as a half-crown piece. These scales slightly overlie each other, and can be raised on end at the will of the animal. In form it resembles a large lizard, or a small crocodile, more than an ordinary quadruped, but its habits are almost exactly like those of the aard-vark. It burrows, digs open the ant-hills by night, projects a long viscous tongue among the insects, and devours them with avidity.
When suddenly overtaken, and out of reach of its underground retreat, it "clews" up like the hedgehog, and some species of the South American armadillos—to which last animal it bears a considerable resemblance on account of its scaly coat of mail.
This ant-eater is known as the "pangolin," or "manis," but there are several species of "pangolin" not African. Some are met with in Southern Asia and the Indian islands. That which is found in South Africa is known among naturalists as the "long-tailed" or "Tem-minck" pangolin (Manis Temminckii).
Totty soon produced a roasted "peacock," or rather a hastily-broiled bustard. But, although, perhaps, not cooked "to a turn," it was sufficiently well done to satisfy the stomachs for which it was intended. They were all too hungry to be fastidious, and, without a word of criticism, they got through their dinner.
Hans then commenced relating the history of his day's adventure.
HANS CHASED BY THE WILDEBEEST.
"Well," began Hans, "you had not been gone more than an hour, when a herd of wildebeests was seen approaching the vley. They came on in single file; but they had broken rank, and were splashing about in the water, before I thought of molesting them in any way.
Of course I knew what they were, and that they were proper game; but I was so interested in watching their ludicrous gambols, that I did not think about my gun, until the whole herd had nearly finished drinking. Then I remembered that we were living on dry biltongue, and would be nothing the worse of a change. I noticed, moreover, that in the herd of gnoos there were some young ones—which I was able to tell from their being smaller than the rest, and also by their lighter colour. I knew that the flesh of these is most excellent eating, and therefore made up my mind we should all dine upon it.
I rushed up the ladder for my gun; and then discovered how imprudent I had been in not loading it at the time you all went away. I had not thought of any sudden emergency,—but that was very foolish, for how knew I what might happen in a single hour or minute even?
I loaded the piece in a grand hurry, for I saw the wildebeests leaving the water; and, as soon as the bullet was rammed home, I ran down the ladder. Before I had reached the bottom, I saw that I had forgotten to bring either powder-horn or pouch. I was in too hot a haste to go back for them, for I saw the last of the wildebeests moving off, and I fancied I might be too late. But I had no intention of going any great distance in pursuit. A single shot at them was all I wanted, and that in the gun would do.
I hastened after the game, keeping as well as I could under cover. I found, after a little time, that I need not have been so cautious. The wildebeests, instead of being shy—as I had seen them in our old neighbourhood—appeared to have very little fear of me. This was especially the case with the old bulls, who capered and careered about within an hundred yards' distance, and sometimes permitted me to approach even nearer. It was plain they had never been hunted.
Once or twice I was within range of a pair of old bulls, who seemed to act as a rearguard. But I did not want to shoot one of them. I knew their flesh would turn out tough. I wished to get something more tender. I wished to send a bullet into a heifer, or one of the young bulls whose horns had not yet begun to curve. Of these I saw several in the herd.
Tame as the animals were, I could not manage to get near enough to any of these. The old bulls at the head always led them beyond my range; and the two that brought up the rear, seemed to drive them forward as I advanced upon them.
Well, in this way they beguiled me along for more than a mile; and the excitement of the chase made me quite forget how wrong it was of me to go so far from the camp. But thinking about the meat, and still hopeful of getting a shot, I kept on.
At length the hunt led me into ground where there was no longer any bush; but there was good cover, notwithstanding, in the ant-hills, that, like great tents, stood at equal distances from each other scattered over the plain. These were very large—some of them more than twelve feet high—and differing from the dome-shaped kind so common everywhere. They were of the shape of large cones, or rounded pyramids, with a number of smaller cones rising around their bases, and clustering like turrets along their sides. I knew they were the hills of a species of white ant called by entomologists Termes bellicosus.