There were other hills, of cylinder shape and rounded tops, that stood only about a yard high; looking like rolls of unbleached linen set upright—each with an inverted basin upon its end. These were the homes of a very different species, the Termes mordax of the entomologists; though still another species of Termes build their nests in the same form.
I did not stop then to examine these curious structures. I only speak of them now, to give you an idea of the sort of place it was, so that you may understand what followed.
What with the cone-shaped hills and the cylinders, the plain was pretty well covered. One or the other was met with every two hundred yards; and I fancied with these for a shelter I should have but little difficulty in getting within shot of the gnoos.
I made a circuit to head them, and crept up behind a large cone-shaped hill, near which the thick of the drove was feeding. When I peeped through the turrets, to my chagrin, I saw that the cows and younger ones had been drawn off beyond reach, and the two old bulls were, as before, capering between me and the herd.
I repeated the manoeuvre, and stalked in behind another large cone, close to which the beasts were feeding. When I raised myself for a shot, I was again disappointed. The herd had moved off as before, and the brace of bulls still kept guard in the rear.
I began to feel provoked. The conduct of the bulls annoyed me exceedingly, and I really fancied that they knew it. Their manoeuvres were of the oddest kind, and some of them appeared to be made for the purpose of mocking me. At times they would charge up very close—their heads set in a menacing attitude; and I must confess that with their black shaggy fronts, their sharp horns, and glaring red eyes, they looked anything but pleasant neighbours.
I got so provoked with them at last, that I resolved they should bother me no longer. If they would not permit me to shoot one of the others, I was determined they themselves should not escape scot-free, but should pay dearly for their temerity and insolence. I resolved to put a bullet through one of them, at least.
Just as I was about raising my gun to fire, I perceived that they had placed themselves in attitude for a new fight. This they did by dropping on their knees, and sliding forward until their heads came in contact. They would then spring up, make a sudden bound forward, as if to get uppermost, and trample one another with their hoofs. Failing in this, both would rush past, until they were several yards apart; then wheel round, drop once more to their knees, and advance as before.
Hitherto I had looked upon these conflicts as merely playful; and so I fancy most of them were. But this time the bulls seemed to be in earnest. The loud cracking of their helmet-covered foreheads against each other, their fierce snorting and bellowing, and, above all, their angry manner, convinced me that they had really quarrelled, and were serious about it.
One of them, at length, seemed to be getting knocked over repeatedly. Every time he had partially risen to his feet, and before he could quite recover them, his antagonist rushed upon him, and butted him back upon his side.
Seeing them so earnestly engaged, I thought I might as well make a sure shot of it, by going a little nearer; so I stepped from behind the ant-hill, and walked towards the combatants. Neither took any notice of my approach—the one because he had enough to do to guard himself from the terrible blows, and the other because he was so occupied in delivering them.
When within twenty paces I levelled my gun. I chose the bull who appeared victor, partly as a punishment for his want of feeling in striking a fallen antagonist, but, perhaps, more because his broadside was towards me, and presented a fairer mark.
The smoke hid both for a moment. When it cleared off, I saw the bull that had been conquered still down in a kneeling attitude, but, to my great surprise, the one at which I had aimed was upon his feet, apparently as brisk and sound as ever! I knew I had hit him somewhere—as I heard the 'thud' of the bullet on his fat body—but it was plain I had not crippled him.
I was not allowed time for reflection as to where I had wounded him. Not an instant indeed, for the moment the smoke cleared away, instead of the bulls clearing off also, I saw the one I had shot at fling up his tail, lower his shaggy front, and charge right towards me!
His fierce eyes glanced with a revengeful look, and his roar was enough to have terrified one more courageous than I. I assure you I was less frightened the other day when I encountered the lion.
I did not know what to do for some moments. I thought of setting myself in an attitude of defence, and involuntarily had turned my gun which was now empty—intending to use it as a club. But I saw at once, that the slight blow I could deliver would not stop the onset of such a strong fierce animal, and that he would butt me over, and gore me, to a certainty.
I turned my eyes to see what hope there lay in flight. Fortunately they fell upon an ant-hill—the one I had just emerged from. I saw at a glance, that by climbing it I would be out of reach of the fierce wildebeest. Would I have time to get to it before he could overtake me?
I ran like a frightened fox. You, Hendrik, can beat me running upon ordinary occasions. I don't think you could have got quicker to that ant-hill than I did.
I was not a second too soon. As I clutched at the little turrets, and drew myself up, I could hear the rattle of the wildebeest's hoofs behind me, and I fancied I felt his hot breath upon my heels.
But I reached the top cone in safety; and then turned and looked down at my pursuer. I saw that he could not follow me any farther. Sharp as his horns were, I saw that I was safe out of their reach."
BESIEGED BY THE BULL.
"Well," continued Hans, after a pause, "I began to congratulate myself on my fortunate escape; for I was convinced that but for the ant-hill I would have been trampled and gored to death. The bull was one of the largest and fiercest of his kind, and a very old one too, as I could tell by the bases of his thick black horns nearly meeting over his forehead, as well as by his dark colour. I had plenty of time to note these things. I felt that I was now safe—that the wildebeest could not get near me; and I sat perched upon the top of the central cone, watching his movements with perfect coolness.
It is true he did everything to reach my position. A dozen times he charged up the hill, and more than once effected a lodgment among the tops of the lower turrets, but the main one was too steep for him. No wonder! It had tried my own powers to scale it.
At times he came so close to me in his desperate efforts, that I could have touched his horns with the muzzle of my gun; and I had prepared to give him a blow whenever I could get a good chance. I never saw a creature behave so fiercely. The fact was, that I had hit him with my bullet,—the wound was there along his jaw, and bleeding freely. The pain of it maddened him; but that was not the only cause of his fury, as I afterwards discovered.
Well. After several unsuccessful attempts to scale the cone, he varied his tactics, and commenced butting the ant-heap as though he would bring it down. He repeatedly backed, and then charged forward upon it with all his might; and, to say the truth, it looked for some time as though he would succeed.
Several of the lesser cones were knocked over by his powerful blows; and the hard tough clay yielded before his sharp horns, used by him as inverted pick-axes. In several places I could see that he had laid open the chambers of the insects, or rather the ways and galleries that are placed in the outer crust of the hill.
With all this I felt no fear. I was under the belief that he would soon exhaust his rage and go away; and then I could descend without danger. But after watching him a good long spell, I was not a little astonished to observe that, instead of cooling down, he seemed to grow more furious than ever. I had taken out my handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off my face. It was as hot as an oven where I sat. Not a breath of air was stirring, and the rays of the sun, glaring right down and then reflecting up again from the white clay, brought the perspiration out of me in streams. Every minute I was obliged to rub my eyes clear of it with the handkerchief.
Now, before passing the kerchief over my face, I always shook it open; and each time I did so, I noticed that the rage of the wildebeest seemed to be redoubled! In fact, at such times he would leave off goring the heap, and make a fresh attempt to rush up at me, roaring his loudest as he charged against the steep wall!
I was puzzled at this, as well as astonished. What could there be in my wiping my face to provoke the wildebeest anew? And yet such was clearly the case. Every time I did so, he appeared to swell with a fresh burst of passion!
The explanation came at length. I saw that it was not the wiping off the perspiration that provoked him. It was the shaking out of my handkerchief. This was, as you know, of a bright scarlet colour. I thought of this, and then, for the first time, remembered having heard that anything scarlet has a most powerful effect upon the wildebeest, and excites him to a rage resembling madness.
I did not wish to keep up his fury. I crumpled up the handkerchief and buried it in my pocket—preferring to endure the perspiration rather than remain there any longer. By hiding the scarlet, I conceived a hope he would the sooner cool down, and go away.
But I had raised a devil in him too fierce to be so easily laid. He showed no signs of cooling down. On the contrary, he continued to charge, butt, and bellow, as vengefully as ever—though the scarlet was no longer before his eyes.
I began to feel really annoyed. I had no idea the gnoo was so implacable in his rage. The bull evidently felt pain from his wound. I could perceive that he moaned it. He knew well enough it was I who had given him this pain.
He appeared determined not to let me escape retribution. He showed no signs of an intention to leave the place; but laboured away with hoof and horns, as if he would demolish the mound.
I was growing very tired of my situation. Though not afraid that the bull could reach me, I was troubled by the thought of being so long absent from our camp. I knew I should have been there. I thought of my little sister and brother. Some misfortune might befall them. I was very sad about that, though up to that time I had little or no fears for myself. I was still in hopes the wildebeest would tire out and leave me, and then I could soon run home.
I say, up to that time I had no very serious fears for myself—excepting the moment or two when the bull was chasing me to the hill; but that little fright was soon over.
But now appeared a new object of dread—another enemy, as terrible as the enraged bull—that almost caused me to spring down upon the horns of the latter in my first moments of alarm!
I have said that the wildebeest had broken down several of the lesser turrets—the outworks of the ant-hill—and had laid open the hollow spaces within. He had not penetrated to the main dome, but only the winding galleries and passages that perforate the outer walls.
I noticed, that, as soon as these were broken open, a number of ants had rushed out from each. Indeed, I had observed many of the creatures crawling outside the hill, when I first approached it, and had wondered at this—as I knew that they usually keep under ground when going and coming from their nests. I had observed all this, without taking note of it at the time—being too intent in my stalk to think of anything else. For the last half-hour I was too busy watching the manoeuvres of the wildebeest bull, to take my gaze off him for a moment.
Something in motion directly under me at length caught my eye, and I looked down to see what it was. The first glance caused me to jump to my feet; and, as I have already said, very nearly impelled me to leap down upon the horns of the bull!
Swarming all over the hill, already clustering upon my shoes, and crawling still higher, were the crowds of angry ants. Every hole that the bull had made was yielding out its throng of spiteful insects; and all appeared moving towards me!
Small as the creatures were, I fancied I saw design in their movements. They seemed all actuated with the same feeling—the same impulse—that of attacking me. I could not be mistaken in their intent. They moved all together, as if guided and led by intelligent beings; and they advanced towards the spot on which I stood.
I saw, too, that they were the soldiers. I knew these from the workers, by their larger heads and long horny mandibles. I knew they could bite fiercely and painfully.
The thought filled me with horror. I confess it, I never was so horrified before. My late encounter with the lion was nothing to compare with it.
My first impression was that I would be destroyed by the termites. I had heard of such things—I remembered that I had. It was that, no doubt, that frightened me so badly, I had heard of men in their sleep being attacked by the white ants, and bitten to death. Such memories came crowding upon me at the moment, until I felt certain, that if I did not soon escape from that spot, the ants would sting me to death and eat me up!"
A HELPLESS BEAST.
"What was to be done?" continued Hans. "How was I to avoid both enemies? If I leaped down, the wildebeest would kill me to a certainty. He was still there, with his fierce eye bent upon me continually. If I remained where I was, I would soon be covered with the swarming hideous insects, and eaten up like an old rag.
Already I felt their terrible teeth. Those that had first crawled to my feet I had endeavoured to brush off; but some had got upon my ankles, and were biting me through my thick woollen socks! My clothes would be no protection.
I had mounted to the highest part of the cone, and was standing upon its apex. It was so sharp I could scarcely balance myself, but the painful stings of the insects caused me to dance upon it like a mountebank.
But what signified those that had already stung my ankle, to the numbers that were likely soon to pierce me with their venomous darts? Already these were swarming up the last terrace. They would soon cover the apex of the cone upon which I was standing. They would crawl up my limbs in myriads—they would——
I could reflect no longer on what they would do. I preferred taking my chance with the wildebeest. I would leap down. Perhaps some lucky accident might aid me. I would battle with the gnoo, using my gun. Perhaps I might succeed in escaping to some other hill. Perhaps——
I was actually on the spring to leap down, when a new thought came into my mind; and I wondered I had been so silly as not to think of it before. What was to hinder me from keeping off the termites? They had no wings—the soldiers have none—nor the workers neither, for that matter. They could not fly upon me. They could only crawl up the cone. With my jacket I could brush them back. Certainly I could—why did I not think of it before?
I was not long in taking off my jacket. I laid aside my useless gun, dropping it upon one of the lower terraces. I caught the jacket by the collar; and, using it as a duster, I cleared the sides of the cone in a few moments, having sent thousands of the termites tumbling headlong below.
Pshaw! how simply the thing was done! why had I not done it before? It cost scarcely an effort to brush the myriads away, and a slight effort would keep them off as long as I pleased.
The only annoyance I felt now was from the few that had got under my trousers, and that still continued to bite me; but these I would get rid of in time.
Well—I remained on the apex, now bending down to beat back the soldiers that still swarmed upward, and then occupying myself in trying to get rid of the few that crawled upon me. I felt no longer any uneasiness on the score of the insects—though I was not a bit better off as regarded the bull, who still kept guard below. I fancied, however, that he now showed symptoms of weariness, and would soon raise the siege; and this prospect made me feel more cheerful.
A sudden change came over me. A new thrill of terror awaited me.
While jumping about upon the top of the cone, my footing suddenly gave way—the baked clay broke with a dead crash, and I sank through the roof. My feet shot down into the hollow dome—till I thought I must have crushed the great queen in her chamber—and I stood buried to the neck.
I was surprised, and a little terrified, not by the shock I had experienced in the sudden descent. That was natural enough, and a few moments would have restored my equanimity; but it was something else that frightened me. It was something that moved under my feet as they 'touched bottom,'—something that moved and heaved under them, and then passed quickly away, letting me still farther down!
What could it be? Was it the great swarm of living ants that I pressed upon? I did not think it was. It did not feel like them. It seemed to be something bulky and strong, for it held up my whole weight for a moment or two, before it slipped from under me.
Whatever it was, it frightened me very considerably; and I did not leave my feet in its company for five seconds time. No: the hottest furnace would scarce have scorched them during the time they remained inside the dark dome. In five seconds they were on the walls again—on the broken edges, where I had mounted up, and where I now stood quite speechless with surprise!
What next? I could keep the ants off no longer. I gazed down the dark cavity; they were swarming up that way in thick crowds. I could brush them down no more.
My eyes at this moment chanced to wander to the bull. He was standing at three or four paces distance from the base of the hill. He was standing sideways with his head turned to it, and regarding it with a wild look. His attitude was entirely changed, and so, I thought, was the expression of his eye. He looked as if he had just run off to his new position, and was ready to make a second start. He looked as if something had also terrified him!
Something evidently had; for, in another moment, he uttered a sharp rout, galloped several paces farther out, wheeled again, halted, and stood gazing as before!
What could it mean? Was it the breaking through of the roof and my sudden descent that had frightened him?
At first I thought so, but I observed that he did not look upward to the top. His gaze seemed bent on some object near the base of the hill—though from where I stood I could see nothing there to frighten him.
I had not time to reflect what it could be, before the bull uttered a fresh snort; and, raising its tail high into the air, struck off at full gallop over the plain!
Rejoiced at seeing this, I thought no more of what had relieved me of his company. It must have been my curious fall, I concluded; but no matter now that the brute was gone. So seizing hold of my gun, I prepared to descend from the elevated position of which I was thoroughly tired.
Just as I had got half down the side, I chanced to look below; and there was the object that terrified the old bull. No wonder. It might have terrified anything,—the odd-looking creature that it was. From out a hole in the clay wall protruded a long naked cylindrical snout, mounted by a pair of ears nearly as long as itself, that stood erect like the horns of a steinbuck, and gave to the animal that bore them a wild and vicious look. It would have badly frightened me, had I not known what it was; but I recognised it at once as one of the most inoffensive creatures in the world—the 'aard-vark.'
His appearance accounted for the retreat of the bull, and also explained why the ants had been crawling about on my first reaching their hill.
Without saying a word, or making the slightest noise, I clubbed my gun; and, bending downward, struck the protruded snout a blow with the butt. It was a most wicked blow; and, considering the service the creature had just done me in frightening off the wildebeest, a most ungrateful return. But I was not master of my feelings at the moment. I did not reflect—only that I liked aard-vark flesh—and the blow was given.
Poor fellow! It did the job for him. With scarce a kick he dropped dead in the opening he had scraped with his own claws.
Well—my day's adventures were not yet ended. They seemed as though they were never to end. I had got the aard-vark over my shoulders, and was about heading homeward, when, to my astonishment, I observed that the bull-gnoo—not the one that had besieged me, but his late antagonist—was still out upon the plain where I had last seen him! I observed, moreover, that he was still in a sort of half-lying, half-kneeling attitude, with his head close to the ground!
His odd movements seemed stranger than anything else. I fancied he had been badly hurt by the other, and was not able to get away.
At first I was cautious about going near him—remembering my late narrow escape—and I thought of giving him a wide berth, and leaving him alone. Even though wounded, he might be strong enough to charge upon me; and my empty gun, as I had already proved, would be but a poor weapon with which to defend myself.
I hesitated about going near him; but curiosity grew strong within me, as I watched his queer manoeuvres; until at length I walked up within a dozen yards of where he was kneeling.
Fancy my surprise on discovering the cause of his oblique movements. No hurt had he received of any kind—not even a scratch; but for all that, he was as completely crippled as if he had lost his best pair of legs.
In a very singular manner was he rendered thus helpless. In his struggle with the other bull, one of his fore-legs had, somehow or other, got passed over his horn; and there it stuck—not only depriving him of the use of the limb itself, but holding his head so close to the ground that he was quite unable to stir from the spot!
At first I designed helping him out of his difficulty, and letting him go. On second thoughts, I remembered the story of the husband-man and the frozen snake, which quite changed my intention.
I next thought of killing him for venison; but having no bullet, I did not like to beat him to death with my gun. Besides the aard-vark was my load to camp, and I knew that the jackals would eat the bull up before we could go back for him. I thought it probable he would be safer left as he was—as these ravenous brutes, seeing him alive, might not so readily approach him.
So I left him with his "head under his arm," in hopes that we may find him there to-morrow."
So ended Hans's narrative of his day's adventures.
THE ELEPHANT'S SLEEPING-ROOM.
The field-cornet was far from satisfied with his day's work. His first attempt at elephant-hunting had proved a failure. Might it not be always so?
Notwithstanding the interest with which he listened to Hans's narrative of the day's adventures, he felt uneasy in his mind when he reflected upon his own.
The elephant had escaped so easily. Their bullets seemed to have injured him not the least. They had only served to render him furious, and dangerous. Though both had hit him in places where their wounds should have been mortal, no such effect was produced. The elephant seemed to go off as unscathed, as if they had fired only boiled peas at him!
Would it be always so?
True, they had given him but two shots. Two, if well directed, may bring down a cow-elephant and sometimes a bull, but oftener it requires ten times two before a strong old bull can be made to "bite the dust."
But would any elephant wait until they could load and fire a sufficient number of shots?
That was an undecided point with our tyro elephant-hunters. If not, then they would be helpless indeed. It would be a tedious business spooring the game afoot, after it had once been fired upon. In such cases the elephant usually travels many miles before halting again; and only mounted men can with any facility overtake him.
How Von Bloom sighed when he thought of his poor horses! Now more than ever did he feel the want of them—now more than ever did he regret their loss.
But he had heard that the elephant does not always make off when attacked. The old bull had shown no intention of retreating, after receiving their shots. It was the odd conduct of Swartboy that had put him to flight. But for that, he would no doubt have kept the ground, until they had given him another volley, and perhaps his death-wound.
The field-cornet drew consolation from this last reflection. Perhaps their next encounter would have a different ending. Perhaps a pair of tusks would reward them.
The hope of such a result, as well as the anxiety about it, determined Von Bloom to lose no time in making a fresh trial. Next morning, therefore, before the sun was up, the hunters were once more upon the trail of their giant game.
One precaution they had taken, which they had not thought of before. All of them had heard that an ordinary leaden bullet will not penetrate the tough thick skin of the great "pachyderm." Perhaps this had been the cause of their failure on the preceding day. If so they had provided against the recurrence of failure from such a cause. They had moulded a new set of balls of harder material,—solder it should have been, but they had none. They chanced, however, to be in possession of what served the purpose equally well—the old "plate" that had often graced the field-cornet's table in his better byegone days of the Graaf Reinet. This consisted of candlesticks, and snuffer-trays, and dish-covers, and cruet-stands, and a variety of articles of the real "Dutch metal."
Some of these were condemned to the alembic of the melting-pan; and, mixed with the common lead, produced a set of balls hard enough for the hide of the rhinoceros itself—so that this day the hunters had no fears of failure upon the score of soft bullets.
They went in the same direction as upon the preceding day, towards the forest or "bush," as they termed it.
They had not proceeded a mile when they came upon the spoor of elephants nearly fresh. It passed through the very thickest of the thorny jungle—where no creature but an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a man with an axe, could have made way. A family must have passed, consisting of a male, a female or two, and several young ones of different ages. They had marched in single file, as elephants usually do; and had made a regular lane several feet wide, which was quite clear of bushes, and trampled by their immense footsteps. The old bull, Swartboy said, had gone in advance, and had cleared the way of all obstructions, by means of his trunk and tusks. This had evidently been the case, for the hunters observed huge branches broken off, or still hanging and turned to one side, out of the way—just as if the hand of man had done it.
Swartboy further affirmed, that such elephant-roads usually led to water; and by the very easiest and shortest routes—as if they had been planned and laid open by the skill of an engineer—showing the rare instinct or sagacity of these animals.
The hunters, therefore, expected soon to arrive at some watering-place; but it was equally probable the spoor might be leading them from the water.
They had not followed it more than a quarter of a mile, when they came upon another road of a similar kind, that crossed the one they were spooring upon. This had also been made by a number of elephants—a family most likely—and the tracks upon it were as recent as those they had been following.
They hesitated for a moment which to take; but at length concluded upon keeping straight on; and so they moved forward as before.
To their great disappointment the trail at last led out into more open ground, where the elephants had scattered about; and after following the tracks of one, and then another without success, they got bewildered, and lost the spoor altogether.
While casting about to find it in a place where the bush was thin and straggling, Swartboy suddenly ran off to one side, calling to the others to follow him. Von Bloom and Hendrik went after to see what the Bushman was about. They thought he had seen an elephant, and both, considerably excited, had already pulled the covers off their guns.
There was no elephant, however. When they came up with Swartboy, he was standing under a tree, and pointing to the ground at its bottom.
The hunters looked down. They saw that the ground upon one side of the tree was trampled, as though horses or some other animals had been tied there for a long time, and had worn off the turf, and worked it into dust with their hoofs. The bark of the tree—a full-topped shady acacia—for some distance up was worn smooth upon one side, just as though cattle had used it for a rubbing-post.
"What has done it?" asked the field-cornet and Hendrik in a breath.
"Da olifant's slapen-boom" (the elephant's sleeping-tree), replied Swartboy.
No further explanation was necessary. The hunters remembered what they had been told about a curious habit which the elephant has—of leaning against a tree while asleep. This, then, was one of the sleeping-trees of these animals.
But of what use to them, farther than to gratify a little curiosity? The elephant was not there.
"Da ole karl come again," said Swartboy.
"Ha! you think so, Swart?" inquired Von Bloom.
"Ya, baas, lookee da! spoor fresh—da groot olifant hab slap here yesterday."
"What then? you think we should lie in wait, and shoot him when he returns."
"No, baas, better dan shoot, we make him bed—den wait see um lie down."
Swartboy grinned a laugh as he gave this piece of advice.
"Make his bed! what do you mean?" inquired his master.
"I tell you, baas, we get da oliphant sure, if you leave da job to ole Swart. I gib you de plan for take him, no waste powder, no waste bullet."
The Bushman proceeded to communicate his plan, to which his master—remembering their failure of yesterday—readily gave his consent.
Fortunately they had all the implements that would be necessary for carrying it out,—a sharp axe, a strong rope or "rheim" of raw-hide, and their knives—and they set about the business without loss of time.
MAKING THE ELEPHANT'S BED.
To the hunters time was a consideration. If the elephant should return that day it would be just before the hottest hours of noon. They had, therefore, scarce an hour left to prepare for him—to "make his bed," as Swartboy had jocosely termed it. So they went to work with alacrity, the Bushman acting as director-general, while the other two received their orders from him with the utmost obedience.
The first work which Swartboy assigned to them was to cut and prepare three stakes of hard wood. They were to be each about three feet long, as thick as a man's arm, and pointed at one end.
These were soon procured. The iron-wood which grew in abundance in the neighbourhood, furnished the very material; and after three pieces of sufficient length had been cut down with the axe, they were reduced to the proper size, and pointed by the knives of the hunters.
Meanwhile Swartboy had not been idle. First, with his knife he had cut a large section of bark from the elephant's tree, upon the side against which the animal had been in the habit of leaning, and about three feet from the ground. Then with the axe he made a deep notch, where the bark had been removed—in fact, such a notch as would have caused the tree to fall had it been left to itself. But it was not, for before advancing so far in his work, Swartboy had taken measures to prevent that. He had stayed the tree by fastening the rheim to its upper branches on the opposite side, and then carrying the rope to the limbs of another tree that stood out in that direction.
Thus adjusted, the elephant's tree was only kept from falling by the rheim-stay; and a slight push, in the direction of the latter, would have thrown it over.
Swartboy now replaced the section of bark, which he had preserved; and after carefully collecting the chips, no one, without close examination, could have told that the tree had ever felt the edge of an axe.
Another operation yet remained to be performed—that was the planting of the stakes, already prepared by Von Bloom and Hendrik. To set these firmly, deep holes had to be made. But Swartboy was just the man to make a hole; and in less than ten minutes he had sunk three, each over a foot deep, and not a half-inch wider than the thickness of the stakes!
You may be curious to know how he accomplished this. You would have dug a hole with a spade, and necessarily as wide as the spade itself. But Swartboy had no spade, and would not have used it if there had been one—since it would have made the holes too large for his purpose.
Swartboy sunk his holes by "crowing"—which process he performed by means of a small pointed stick. With this he first loosened the earth in a circle of the proper size. He then took out the detached mould, flung it away, and used the point of the "crowing stick" as before. Another clearing out of mould, another application of the stick; and so on, till the narrow hole was deemed of sufficient depth. That was how Swartboy "crowed" the holes.
They were sunk in a kind of triangle near the bottom of the tree, but on the side opposite to that where the elephant would stand, should he occupy his old ground.
In each hole Swartboy now set a stake, thick end down and point upwards; some small pebbles, and a little mould worked in at the sides, wedged them as firmly as if they had grown there.
The stakes were now daubed over with soft earth, to conceal the white colour of the wood; the remaining chips were picked up, and all traces of the work completely obliterated. This done the hunters withdrew from the spot.
They did not go far; but choosing a large bushy tree to leeward, all three climbed up into it, and sat concealed among its branches.
The field-cornet held his long "roer" in readiness, and so did Hendrik his rifle. In case the ingenious trap of Swartboy should fail, they intended to use their guns, but not otherwise.
It was now quite noon, and the day had turned out one of the hottest. But for the shade afforded by the leaves, they would have felt it very distressing. Swartboy prognosticated favourably from this. The great heat would be more likely than anything else to send the elephant to his favourite sleeping-place under the cool shady cover of the cameel-doorn.
It was now quite noon. He could not be long in coming, thought they.
Sure enough he came, and soon, too.
They had not been twenty minutes on their perch, when they heard a strange, rumbling noise, which they knew proceeded from the stomach of an elephant. The next moment they saw one emerge from the jungle, and walk, with sweeping step, straight up to the tree. He seemed to have no suspicion of any danger; but placed himself at once alongside the trunk of the acacia—in the very position and on the side Swartboy had said he would take. From his spoor the Bushman knew he had been in the habit of so standing.
His head was turned from the hunters, but not so much as to prevent them from seeing a pair of splendid tusks,—six feet long at the least.
While gazing in admiration at these rich trophies, they saw the animal point his proboscis upward, and discharge a vast shower of water into the leaves, which afterwards fell dripping in bright globules over his body!
Swartboy said that he drew the water from his stomach. Although closet-naturalists deny this, it must have been so; for shortly after, he repeated the act again and again—the quantity of water at each discharge being as great as before. It was plain that his trunk, large as it was, could not have contained it all.
He seemed to enjoy this "shower-bath;" and the hunters did not wonder at it, for they themselves, suffering at the time from heat and thirst, would have relished something of a similar kind. As the crystal drops fell back from the acacia leaves, the huge animal was heard to utter a low grunt expressive of gratification. The hunters hoped that this was the prelude to his sleep, and watched him with intense earnestness.
It proved to be so.
As they sat gazing, they noticed that his head sunk a little, his ears ceased their flapping, his tail hung motionless, and his trunk, now twined around his tusks, remained at rest.
They gaze intently. Now they see his body droop a little to one side—now it touches the tree—there is heard a loud crack, followed by a confused crashing of branches—and the huge dark body of the elephant sinks upon its side.
At the same instant a terrible scream drowns all other sounds, causing the forest to echo, and the very leaves to quake. Then follows a confused roaring, mingled with the noise of cracking branches, and the struggles of the mighty brute where he lies kicking his giant limbs along the earth, in the agonies of death!
The hunters remain in the tree. They see that the elephant is down—that he is impaled. There will be no need for their puny weapons. Their game has already received the death-wound.
The struggle is of short duration. The painful breathing that precedes death is heard issuing from the long proboscis; and then follows a deep ominous silence.
The hunters leap down, and approach the prostrate body. They see that it still lies upon the terrible chevaux de frise, where it had fallen. The stakes have done their work most effectively. The elephant breathes no more. He is dead!
It was the work of an hour to cut out those splendid tusks. But our hunters thought nothing of that; and they were only the more pleased to find each of them a heavy load—as much as a man could carry!
Von Bloom shouldered one, Swartboy the other, while Hendrik loaded himself with the guns and implements; and all three, leaving the carcass of the dead elephant behind them, returned triumphantly to camp.
THE WILD ASSES OF AFRICA.
Notwithstanding the success of the day's hunt, the mind of Von Bloom was not at rest. They had "bagged" their game, it was true, but in what manner? Their success was a mere accident, and gave them no earnest of what might be expected in the future. They might go long before finding another "sleeping-tree" of the elephants, and repeating their easy capture.
Such were the not very pleasant reflections of the field-cornet, on the evening after returning from their successful hunt.
But still less pleasant were they, two weeks later, at the retrospect of many an unsuccessful chase from which they had returned—when, after twelve days spent in "jaging" the elephant, they had added only a single pair of tusks to the collection, and these the tusks of a cow elephant, scarce two feet in length, and of little value!
The reflection was not the less painful, that nearly every day they had fallen in with elephants, and had obtained a shot or two at these animals. That did not mend the matter a bit. On the contrary, it taught the hunter how easily they could run away from him, as they invariably did. It taught him how small his chances were of capturing such game, so long as he could only follow it afoot.
The hunter on foot stands but a poor chance with the elephant. Stalking in upon one is easy enough, and perhaps obtaining a single shot; but when the animal trots off through the thick jungle, it is tedious work following him. He may go miles before halting, and even if the hunter should overtake him, it may be only to deliver a second shot, and see the game once more disappear into the bushes—perhaps to be spoored no farther.
Now the mounted hunter has this advantage. His horse can overtake the elephant; and it is a peculiarity of this animal, that the moment he finds that his enemy, whatever it be, can do that thing, he disdains to run any farther, but at once stands to bay; and the hunter may then deliver as many shots as he pleases.
Herein lies the great advantage of the hunter on horseback. Another advantage is the security the horse affords, enabling his rider to avoid the charges of the angry elephant.
No wonder Von Bloom sighed for a horse. No wonder he felt grieved at the want of this noble companion, that would have aided him so much in the chase.
He grieved all the more, now that he had become acquainted with the district, and had found it so full of elephants. Troops of an hundred had been seen; and these far from being shy, or disposed to make off after a shot or two. Perhaps they had never heard the report of a gun before that of his own long roer pealed in their huge ears.
With a horse the field-cornet believed he could have killed many, and obtained much valuable ivory. Without one, his chances of carrying out his design were poor indeed. His hopes were likely to end in disappointment.
He felt this keenly. The bright prospects he had so ardently indulged in, became clouded over; and fears for the future once more harassed him. He would only waste his time in this wilderness. His children would live without books, without education, without society. Were he to be suddenly called away, what would become of them? His pretty Gertrude would be no better off than a little savage—his sons would become not in sport, as he was wont to call them, but in reality a trio of "Bush-boys."
Once more these thoughts filled the heart of the father with pain. Oh! what would he not have given at that moment for a pair of horses, of any sort whatever?
The field-cornet, while making these reflections, was seated in the great nwana-tree, upon the platform, that had been built on the side towards the lake, and from which a full view could be obtained of the water. From this point a fine view could also be obtained of the country which lay to the eastward of the lake. At some distance off it was wooded, but near the vley a grassy plain lay spread before the eye like a green meadow.
The eyes of the hunter were turned outward on this plain, and just then his glance fell upon a troop of animals crossing the open ground, and advancing towards the vley.
They were large animals—nearly of the shape and size of small horses—and travelling in single file; as they were, the troop at a distance presented something of the appearance of a "cafila," or caravan. There were in all about fifty individuals in the line; and they marched along with a steady sober pace, as if under the guidance and direction of some wise leader. How very different from the capricious and eccentric movements of the gnoos!
Individually they bore some resemblance to these last-named animals. In the shape of their bodies and tails, in their general ground colour, and in the "brindled" or tiger-like stripes that could be perceived upon their cheeks, neck, and shoulders. These stripes were exactly of the same form as those upon a zebra; but far less distinct, and not extending to the body or limbs, as is the case with the true zebra. In general colour, and in some other respects, the animals reminded one of the ass; but their heads, necks, and the upper part of their bodies, were of darker hue, slightly tinged with reddish brown. In fact, the new-comers had points of resemblance to all four—horse, ass, gnoo, and zebra—and yet they were distinct from any. To the zebra they bore the greatest resemblance—for they were in reality a species of zebra—they were quaggas.
Modern naturalists have divided the Equidae, or horse family, into two genera—the horse and the ass—the principal points of distinction being, that animals of the horse kind have long flowing manes, full tails, and warty callosities on both hind and fore limbs; while asses, on the contrary, have short, meagre, and upright manes, tails slender and furnished only with long hairs at the extremity, and their hind limbs wanting the callosities. These, however, are found on the fore-legs as upon horses.
Although there are many varieties of the horse genus—scores of them, widely differing from each other—they can all be easily recognised by these characteristic marks, from the "Suffolk Punch," the great London drayhorse, down to his diminutive little cousin the "Shetland Pony."
The varieties of the ass are nearly as numerous, though this fact is not generally known.
First, we have the common ass, the type of the genus; and of this there are many breeds in different countries, some nearly as elegant and as highly prized as horses. Next there is the "onagra," "koulan," or "wild ass," supposed to be the origin of the common kind. This is a native of Asia, though it is also found in the north-eastern parts of Africa. There is also the "dziggetai," or "great wild ass," of Central and Southern Asia, and another smaller species the "ghur" found in Persia. Again, there is the "kiang" met with in Ladakh, and the "yo-totze," an inhabitant of Chinese Tartary.
All these are Asiatic species, found in a wild state, and differing from one another in colour, size, form, and even in habits. Many of them are of elegant form, and swift as the swiftest horses.
In this little book we cannot afford room for a description of each, but must confine our remarks to what is more properly our subject—the wild asses of Africa. Of these there are six or seven kinds—perhaps more.
First, there is the "wild ass," which, as already stated, extends from Asia into the north-eastern parts of Africa, contiguous to the former continent.
Next there is the "koomrah," of which very little is known, except that it inhabits the forests of Northern Africa, and is solitary in its habits, unlike most of the other species. The koomrah has been described as a "wild horse," but, most probably, it belongs to the genus asinus.
Now there are four other species of "wild asses" in Africa—wild horses some call them—and a fifth reported by travellers, but as yet undetermined. These species bear such a resemblance to one another in their form, the peculiar markings of their bodies, size, and general habits, that they may be classed together under the title of the zebra family. First, there is the true zebra, perhaps the most beautiful of all quadrupeds, and of which no description need be given. Second, the "dauw," or "Burchell's zebra," as it is more frequently called. Third, the "congo dauw," closely resembling the dauw. Fourth, the "quagga"; and fifth, the undetermined species known as the "white zebra," so called from its pale yellow, or Isabella colour.
These five species evidently have a close affinity with each other—all of them being more or less marked with the peculiar transversal bands or "stripes," which are the well-known characteristics of the zebra. Even the quagga is so banded upon the head and upper parts of its body.
The zebra proper is "striped" from the tip of the nose to its very hoofs, and the bands are of a uniform black, while the ground colour is nearly white, or white tinged with a pale yellow. The "dauws," on the other hand, are not banded upon the legs; the rays are not so dark or well defined, and the ground colour is not so pure or clean-looking. For the rest, all these three species are much alike; and it is more than probable that either "Burchell's" or the "congo dauw" was the species to which the name of "zebra" was first applied; for that which is now called the "true zebra" inhabits those parts of Africa where it was less likely to have been the first observed of the genus. At all events, the "congo dauw" is the "hippotigris," or tiger-horse, of the Romans; and this we infer from its inhabiting a more northerly part of Africa than the others, all of which belong to the southern half of that continent. The habitat of the zebra is said to extend as far north as Abyssinia; but, perhaps, the "congo dauw," which certainly inhabits Abyssinia, has been mistaken for the true zebra.
Of the four species in South Africa, the zebra is a mountain animal, and dwells among the cliffs, while the dauw and quagga rove over the plains and wild karoo deserts. In similar situations to these has the "white zebra" been observed—though only by the traveller Le Vaillant—and hence the doubt about its existence as a distinct species.
None of the kinds associate together, though each herds with other animals! The quagga keeps company with the gnoo, the "dauw" with the "brindled gnoo," while the tall ostrich stalks in the midst of the herds of both!
There is much difference in the nature and disposition of the different species. The mountain zebra is very shy and wild; the dauw is almost untameable; while the quagga is of a timid docile nature, and may be trained to harness with as much facility as a horse.
The reason why this has not been done, is simply because the farmers of South Africa have horses in plenty, and do not stand in need of the quagga, either for saddle or harness.
But though Von Bloom the farmer had never thought of "breaking in" a quagga, Von Bloom the hunter now did.
PLANNING THE CAPTURE OF THE QUAGGAS.
Up to this time the field-cornet had scarce deigned to notice the quaggas. He knew what they were, and had often seen a drove of them—perhaps the same one—approach the vley and drink. Neither he nor any of his people had molested them, though they might have killed many. They knew that the yellow oily flesh of these animals was not fit for food, and is only eaten by the hungry natives—that their hides, although sometimes used for grain-sacks and other common purposes, are of very little value. For these reasons, they had suffered them to come and go quietly. They did not wish to waste powder and lead upon them; neither did they desire wantonly to destroy such harmless creatures.
Every evening, therefore, the quaggas had drunk at the vley and gone off again, without exciting the slightest interest.
Not so upon this occasion. A grand design now occupied the mind of Von Bloom. The troop of quaggas became suddenly invested with as much interest as if it had been a herd of elephants; and the field-cornet had started to his feet, and stood gazing upon them—his eyes sparkling with pleasure and admiration.
He admired their prettily-striped heads, their plump well-turned bodies, their light elegant limbs; in short, he admired everything about them, size, colour, and proportions. Never before had quaggas appeared so beautiful in the eyes of the vee-boer.
But why this new-born admiration for the despised quaggas?—for despised they are by the Cape farmer, who shoots them only to feed his Hottentot servants. Why had they so suddenly become such favourites with the field-cornet? That you will understand by knowing the reflections that were just then passing through his mind.
They were as follows:—
Might not a number of these animals be caught and broken in?—Why not? Might they not be trained to the saddle?—Why not? Might they not serve him for hunting the elephant just as well as horses?—Why not?
Von Bloom asked these three questions of himself. Half a minute served to answer them all in the affirmative. There was neither impossibility nor improbability in any of the three propositions. It was clear that the thing could be done, and without difficulty.
A new hope sprang up in the heart of the field-cornet. Once more his countenance became radiant with joy.
He communicated his thoughts both to the Bushman and "Bush-boys"—all of whom highly approved of the idea, and only wondered that none of them had thought of it before.
And now the question arose as to how the quaggas were to be captured. This was the first point to be settled; and the four—Von Bloom himself, Hans, Hendrik, and Swartboy,—sat deliberately down to concoct some plan of effecting this object.
Of course they could do nothing just then, and the drove that had come to drink was allowed to depart peacefully. The hunters knew they would return on the morrow about the same hour; and it was towards their return that the thoughts of all were bent.
Hendrik advised "creasing," which means sending a bullet through the upper part of the neck near the withers, and by this means a quagga can be knocked over and captured. The shot, if properly directed, does not kill the animal. It soon recovers, and may be easily "broken," though its spirit is generally broken at the same time. It is never "itself again." Hendrik understood the mode of "creasing." He had seen it practised by the boer-hunters. He knew the spot where the bullet should hit. He believed he could do it easily enough.
Hans considered the "creasing" too cruel a mode. They might kill many quaggas before obtaining one that was hit in the proper place. Besides there would be a waste of powder and bullets—a thing to be considered. Why could they not snare the animals? He had heard of nooses being set for animals as large as the quaggas, and of many being caught in that manner.
Hendrik did not think the idea of snaring a good one. They might get one in that way—the foremost of the drove; but all the others, seeing the leader caught, would gallop off and return no more to the vley; and where would they set their snare for a second? It might be a long time before they should find another watering-place of these animals; whereas they might stalk and crease them upon the plains at any time.
Swartboy now put in his plan. It was the pit-fall. That was the way by which Bushmen most generally caught large animals, and Swartboy perfectly understood how to construct a pit for quaggas.
Hendrik saw objections to this, very similar to those he had urged against the snare. The foremost of the quaggas might be caught, but the others would not be fools enough to walk into the pit—after their leader had fallen in and laid the trap open. They, of course, would gallop off, and never come back that way again.
If it could be done at night, Hendrik admitted, the thing might be different. In the darkness several might rush in before catching the alarm. But no—the quaggas had always come to drink in day-time—one only could be trapped, and then the others alarmed would keep away.
There would have been reason in what Hendrik said, but for a remarkable fact which the field-cornet himself had observed when the quaggas came to the lake to drink. It was that the animals had invariably entered the water at one point, and gone out at another. It was of course a mere accident that they did so, and owing to the nature of the ground; but such was the case, and Von Bloom had observed it on several occasions. They were accustomed to enter by the gorge, already described; and, after drinking, wade along the shallow edge for some yards, and then pass out by another break in the bank.
The knowledge of this fact was of the utmost importance, and all saw that at once. A pit-fall dug upon the path by which the animals entered the lake, would no doubt operate as Hendrik said—one might be caught, and all the rest frightened off. But a similar trap placed upon the trail that led outward, would bring about a very different result. Once the quaggas had finished drinking, and just at the moment they were heading out of the water, the hunters could show themselves upon the opposite side, set the troop in quick motion, and gallop them into the trap. By this means not only one, but a whole pit-full might be captured at once!
All this appeared so feasible that not another suggestion was offered—the plan of the pit-fall was at once, and unanimously adopted.
It remained only to dig the pit, cover it properly, and then wait the result.
During all the time their capture was being planned, the herd of quaggas had remained in sight, disporting themselves upon the open plain. It was a tantalizing sight to Hendrik, who would have liked much to have shown his marksman skill by "creasing" one. But the young hunter saw that it would be imprudent to fire at them there, as it would prevent them from returning to the vley; so he restrained himself, and along with the others remained watching the quaggas—all regarding them with a degree of interest which they had never before felt in looking at a drove of these animals.
The quaggas saw nothing of them, although quite near to the great nwana-tree. They—the hunters—were up among the branches, where the animals did not think of looking, and there was nothing around the bottom of the tree to cause them alarm. The wagon-wheels had long ago been disposed of in the bush, partly to shelter them from the sun, and partly because game animals frequently came within shot of the tree, and were thus obtained without any trouble. There were scarce any traces upon the ground that would have betrayed the existence of a "camp" in the tree; and a person might have passed very near without noticing the odd aerial dwelling of the hunter family.
All this was design upon the part of the field-cornet. As yet he knew little of the country around. He did not know but that it might contain worse enemies than either hyenas or lions.
While they sat watching the manoeuvres of the quaggas, a movement was made by one of these creatures more singular than any that had yet been witnessed.
The animal in question was browsing quietly along, and at length approached a small clump of bushes that stood out in the open ground. When close to the copse it was observed to make a sudden spring forward; and almost at the same instant, a shaggy creature leaped out of the bushes, and ran off. This last was no other than the ugly "striped" hyena. Instead of turning upon the quagga and showing fight, as one might have supposed so strong and fierce a brute would have done, the hyena uttered a howl of alarm, and ran off as fast as its legs would carry it.
They did not carry it far. It was evidently making for a larger tract of bush that grew near; but before it had got half-way across the open ground, the quagga came up behind, and uttering his shrill "couaag," reared forward, and dropped with his fore-hoofs upon the hyena's back. At the same instant the neck of the carnivorous animal was clutched by the teeth of the ruminant and held as fast, as if grasped by a vice.
All looked to see the hyena free itself and run off again. They looked in vain. It never ran another yard. It never came alive out of the clutch of those terrible teeth.
The quagga still held his struggling victim with firm hold—trampling it with his hoofs, and shaking it in his strong jaws, until in a few minutes the screams of the hyena ceased, and his mangled carcass lay motionless upon the plain!
One would think that this incident might have been enough to warn our hunters to be cautious in their dealings with the quagga. Such a sharp biter would be no pleasant horse to "bit and bridle."
But all knew the antipathy that exists between the wild horse and the hyena; and that the quagga, though roused to fury at the sight of one of these animals, is very different in its behaviour towards man. So strong, in fact, is this antipathy, and so complete is the mastery of the ruminant over the carnivorous animal, that the frontier farmers often take advantage of these peculiar facts, and keep the hyenas from their cattle by bringing up with the herd a number of quaggas, who act as its guards and protectors!
While they were watching the movements of the quaggas, Von Bloom rose suddenly to his feet. All turned their eyes upon him as he did so. They saw by his manner that he was about to propose something. What could it be?
The thought had just occurred to him that they should at once set about digging the pit.
It was near sunset—wanting only half-an-hour of it; and one would suppose he would have done better to leave the work till next morning. But no. There was a good reason why they should set about it at once; and that was, that they might not be able to complete it in time if they did not do part of it that night.
It would be no slight undertaking to dig a pit of proper size, for they would require one that would at least hold half-a-dozen quaggas at a time. Then there was the carrying away the earth that should come out of it, the cutting the poles and branches to cover it, and the placing of these in a proper manner.
To do all these things would take up a great deal of time; and they must be all done against the return of the quaggas, else the whole scheme would be a failure. Should the animals arrive upon the ground before the pit was covered in and all traces of the work removed, they would make off without entering the water, and perhaps never visit that vley again.
Such were the conjectures of the field-cornet. Hans, Hendrik, and Swartboy, acknowledged their justice. All saw the necessity of going to work at once, and to work they all went.
Fortunately among the "implements," were two good spades, a shovel, and a pick-axe, and all of them could be busy at the same time. There were baskets in which the dirt could be carried off, and thrown into the deep channel close by, where it would not be seen. This was also a fortunate circumstance; for to have carried the stuff any great distance, would have made the job still heavier, and more difficult to execute in proper time.
Having marked the outlines of the pit, they went to work with spade, shovel, and pick. The ground proved tolerably loose, and the pick was but little needed. The field-cornet himself handled one of the spades Hendrik the other, while Swartboy acted as shoveller, and filled the baskets as fast as Hans and Totty, assisted by Trueey and little Jan, could empty them. These last carried a small basket of their own, and contributed very materially to the progress of the work, by lightening the labours of Hans and Totty.
And so the work went merrily on until midnight, and even after that hour, under the light of a full moon; by which time the diggers were buried to their necks.
But they were now fatigued. They knew they could easily complete the pit next day; and so they laid down their implements, and after performing their ablutions in the crystal water of the stream, retired to their sleeping-quarters in the tree.
By early dawn they were at it again, busy as bees; and the pit progressed so rapidly that before they stopped to take breakfast, Von Bloom could scarce see out of it standing on his toes, and the crown of Swartboy's woolly head was nearly two feet below the surface. A little more digging would do.
After breakfast they went to work as briskly as ever; and laboured away until they considered that the hole was sunk to a sufficient depth. It would have taken a springbok to have leaped out of it; and no quagga could possibly have cleared itself from such a pit.
Poles and bushes were now cut; and the pit was neatly covered with these, and strewed over, as well as a large tract of the adjoining ground, with rushes and grass. The most sagacious animal would have been deceived by the appearance; even a fox could not have discovered the trap before tumbling into it.
They had completed the work before going to dinner,—which, consequently, fell late on that day—so nothing more remained to be done but to dine, and await the coming of the quaggas.
At dinner they were all very merry, notwithstanding the immense fatigue they had gone through. The prospect of capturing the quaggas was very exciting, and kept the party in high spirits.
Each offered a prognostication as to the result. Some said they would trap three quaggas at the least; while others were more sanguine, and believed they might take twice that number. Jan did not see why the pit should not be full; and Hendrik thought this probable enough—considering the way they intended to drive the quaggas into it.
It certainly seemed so. The pit had been made of sufficient width to preclude the possibility of the animals leaping over it, while it was dug lengthwise across the path, so that they could not miss it. The lay of the ground would guide them directly into it.
It is true that, were they to be left to themselves, and permitted to follow their usual method of marching—that is, in single file—only one, the leader, might be caught. The rest, seeing him fall in, would be sure to wheel round, and gallop off in a different direction.
But it was not the intention of the hunters to leave things thus. They had planned a way by which the quaggas, at a certain moment, would be thrown into a complete panic, and thus forced pell-mell upon the pit. In this lay their hopes of securing a large number of the animals.
Four was as many as were wanted. One for each of the hunters. Four would do; but of course it mattered not how many more got into the pit. The more the better, as a large number would give them the advantage of "pick and choose."
Dinner over, the hunters set about preparing for the reception of their expected visitors. As already stated, the dinner had been later than usual; and it was now near the hour when the quaggas might be looked for.
In order to be in time, each took his station. Hans, Hendrik, and Swartboy, placed themselves in ambush around the lake—at intervals from one another; but the lower end, where the animals usually approached and went out, was left quite open. Von Bloom remained on the platform in the tree, so as to mark the approach of the quaggas, and give warning by a signal to the other three. The positions taken by these were such, that they could guide the herd in the direction of the pit, by merely coming out of the bushes where they lay concealed. In order that they should show themselves simultaneously, and at the proper moment, they were to wait for a signal from the tree. This was to be the firing of the great "roer," loaded blank. Hans and Hendrik were also to fire blank shots on discovering themselves, and by this means the desired panic would be produced.
The whole scheme was well contrived, and succeeded admirably. The herd appeared filing over the plain, just as on the preceding days. Von Bloom announced their approach to the three in ambush, by repeating in a subdued tone the words,—
"Quaggas are coming!"
The unsuspecting animals filed through the gorge, scattered about in the water, drank their fill, and then commenced retiring by the path on which lay the trap.
The leader having climbed the bank, and seeing the fresh grass and rushes strewed upon the path, uttered a snorting bark, and seemed half inclined to wheel round. But just at that moment boomed the loud detonation of the roer; and, then, like lesser echoes, the reports of the smaller guns on the right and left, while Swartboy shouted at the top pitch of his voice, from another quarter.
A look back showed the quaggas that they were well-nigh surrounded by strange enemies. But one course appeared open to them—the way they were wont to go; and barking with affright, the whole drove dashed up the bank, and crowded on towards the pit.
Then was heard a confused noise—the cracking of the poles—the trampling of many hoofs—the dull sounds of heavy bodies falling together, and mingling in a continuous struggle—and the wild snorting, as the creatures hurried forward in affright. Some were seen springing high in the air, as if to overleap the pit. Others poised themselves on their hind hoofs, and wheeling round, ran back into the lake. Some dashed off through the bushes, and escaped in that way; but the great body of the drove came running back, and plunging through the water, made off by the gorge through which they had come. In a few minutes not one was in sight.
The boys thought they had all escaped; but Von Bloom, from his more elevated position in the tree, could perceive the snouts of several protruding above the edge of the pit.
On arriving at the spot, to their great satisfaction the hunters discovered no less than eight full-grown quaggas in the trap—just twice the number required to mount the party.
In less than two weeks from that time, four of the quaggas were broken to the saddle, and perfectly obedient to the bit. Of course there was a good deal of kicking, and plunging, and flinging, and many hard gallops, and some ugly falls, before it came to this; but both the Bushman Swartboy and the Bush-boy Hendrik were expert in the manege of horses, and soon tamed the quaggas to a proper degree of docility.
Upon the very first occasion when these animals were used in the hunt of the elephant, they rendered the very service expected of them. The elephant, as usual, bolted after receiving the first shot; but the hunters on "quagga-back" were enabled to keep him in sight, and follow rapidly upon his heels. As soon as the elephant discovered that, run as he would, his pursuers had the power of overtaking him, he disdained to fly farther, and stood to bay; thus giving them the opportunity of delivering shot after shot, until a mortal wound brought his huge body to the earth.
Von Bloom was delighted. His hopes were high, his benignant star was once more in the ascendant.
He would yet accomplish his design. He would yet be rich. A few years, would enable him to build up his fortune—to construct a pyramid of ivory!
DRIVING IN THE ELAND.
Of all the family Hendrik was the hunter par excellence. It was he who habitually stored the larder; and upon days when they were not engaged in the chase of the elephant, Hendrik would be abroad alone in pursuit of antelopes, and other creatures, that furnished their usual subsistence. Hendrik kept the table well supplied.
Antelopes are the principal game of South Africa—for Africa is the country of the antelope above all others. You may be surprised to hear that there are seventy different species of antelopes over all the earth—that more than fifty of these are African, and that thirty at least belong to South Africa—that is, the portion of the continent lying between the Cape of Good Hope and the Tropic of Capricorn.
It would require the space of a whole book, therefore, to give a fair account—a monograph—of the antelopes alone; and I cannot afford that space here. At present I can only say that Africa is the great antelope country, although many fine species exist also in Asia—that in America there is but one kind, the prong-horn, with which you are already well acquainted—and that in Europe there are two, though one of these, the well-known "chamois," is as much goat as antelope.
I shall farther remark, that the seventy species of animals, by naturalists classed as antelopes, differ widely from one another in form, size, colour, pelage, habits; in short, in so many respects, that their classification under the name of Antelope is very arbitrary indeed. Some approximate closely to the goat tribe; others are more like deer; some resemble oxen; others are closely allied to the buffalo; while a few species possess many of the characteristics of wild sheep!
As a general thing, however, they are more like to deer than any other animals; and many species of them are, in common parlance, called deer. Indeed, many antelopes are more like to certain species of deer than to others of their own kind. The chief distinction noted between them and the deer is, that the antelopes have horny horns, that are persistent or permanent, while those of the deer are osseous or bony, and are annually cast.
Like the deer the different species of antelopes possess very different habits. Some frequent the wide open plains; some the deep forest; some wander by the shady banks of streams; while others love to dwell upon the rocky steep, or the dry ravines of the mountains. Some browse upon the grass; while others, goat-like, prefer the leaves and tender twigs of trees. In fact, so different are these creatures in habits, that whatever be the natural character of a district of country, it will be found the favourite home of one or more species. Even the very desert has its antelopes, that prefer the parched and waterless plain to the most fertile and verdant valley.
Of all antelopes the "eland," or "caana" is the largest. It measures full seventeen hands at the shoulder—being thus equal in height to a very large horse. A large eland weighs one thousand pounds. It is a heavily formed animal, and an indifferent runner, as a mounted hunter can gallop up to one without effort. Its general proportions are not unlike those of a common ox, but its horns are straight and rise vertically from the crown, diverging only slightly from one another. These are two feet in length, and marked by a ridge that passes spirally around them nearly to the tips. The horns of the female are longer than those of the male.
The eyes of the eland, like those of most antelopes, are large, bright, and melting, without any expression of fierceness; and the animal, though so very large and strong, is of the most innocuous disposition—showing fight only when driven to desperation.
The general colour of this antelope is dun, with a rufous tinge. Sometimes ashy grey touched with ochre is the prevailing hue.
The eland is one of those antelopes that appear to be independent of water. It is met with upon the desert plains, far from either spring or stream; and it even seems to prefer such situations—perhaps from the greater security it finds there—though it is also a denizen of the fertile and wooded districts. It is gregarious, the sexes herding separately, and in groups of from ten to a hundred individuals.
The flesh of the eland is highly esteemed, and does not yield in delicacy to that of any of the antelope, deer, or bovine tribes. It has been compared to tender beef with a game flavour; and the muscles of the thighs when cured and dried produce a bonne bouche, known under the odd appellation of "thigh-tongues."
Of course the eland affording such excellent meat, and in so large a quantity, is zealously hunted for his spoils. Being only a poor runner and always very fat, the hunt is usually a short one; and ends in the eland being shot down, skinned, and cut up. There is no great excitement about this chase, except that it is not every day an eland can be started. The ease with which they can be captured, as well as the value of their venison, has led to the thinning off of these antelopes; and it is only in remote districts where a herd of them can be found.
Now since their arrival, no elands had been seen, though now and then their spoor was observed; and Hendrik, for several reasons, was very desirous of getting one. He had never shot an eland in his life—that was one reason—and another was, that he wished to procure a supply of the fine venison which lies in such quantities over the ribs of these animals.
It was, therefore, with great delight, that Hendrik one morning received the report that a herd of elands had been seen upon the upper plain, and not far off. Swartboy, who had been upon the cliffs, brought this report to camp.
Without losing any more time than sufficed to get the direction from Swartboy, Hendrik mounted his quagga, shouldered his rifle, and rode off in search of the herd.
Not far from the camp there was an easy pass, leading up the cliff to the plain above. It was a sort of gorge or ravine; and from the numerous tracks of animals in its bottom, it was evidently much used as a road from the upper plain to that in which were the spring and stream. Certain animals, such as the zebras and quaggas, and others that frequent the dry desert plains from preference, were in the habit of coming by this path when they required water.
Up the gorge rode Hendrik; and no sooner had he arrived at its top, than he discovered the herd of elands—seven old bulls—about a mile off upon the upper plain.
There was not cover enough to have sheltered a fox. The only growth near the spot where the elands were, consisted of straggling aloe plants, euphorbias, with some stunted bushes, and tufts of dry grass, characteristic of the desert. There was no clump large enough to have sheltered a hunter from the eye of his game; and Hendrik at once came to the conclusion, that the elands could not be "stalked" in the situation they then occupied.
Now, though Hendrik had never hunted this antelope, he was well acquainted with its habits, and knew how it ought to be chased. He knew that it was a bad runner; that any old horse could bring up with it; and that his quagga—the fastest of the four that had been tamed—could do the same.
It was only a question of "start," therefore. Could he get near enough the bulls to have a fair start, he would run one of them down to a certainty. The result might be different should the elands take the alarm at a long distance off, and scour away over the plain.
To get within fair starting distance, that was the point to be attempted.
But Hendrik was a wary hunter, and soon accomplished this. Instead of riding direct for the elands, he made a grand circuit—until he had got the herd between him and the cliff—and then, heading his quagga for them, he rode quietly forward.
He did not sit erect in the saddle, but held himself bent down, until his breast almost touched the withers of the quagga. This he did to deceive the elands, who would otherwise have recognised him as an enemy. In such a fashion they could not make out what kind of creature was coming towards them; but stood for a long while gazing at Hendrik and his quagga with feelings of curiosity, and of course some little alarm.
They, however, permitted the hunter to get within five hundred yards distance—near enough for him—before they broke off in their heavy lumbering gallop.
Hendrik now rose in his saddle, put spurs to his quagga, and followed the herd at full speed.
As he had designed, so it came to pass. The elands ran straight in the direction of the cliff—not where the pass was, but where there was none—and, on reaching the precipice, were of course forced to turn into a new direction, transverse to their former one. This gave Hendrik the advantage, who, heading his quagga diagonally, was soon upon the heels of the herd.
It was Hendrik's intention to single out one of the bulls, and run him down—leaving the others to gallop off wherever they wished.
His intention was carried out; for shortly after, the fattest of the bulls shot to one side, as if to escape in that way, while the rest ran on.
The bull was not so cunning as he thought himself. Hendrik's eye was upon him; and in a moment the quagga was turned upon his track.
Another burst carried both game and pursuer nearly a mile across the plain. The eland had turned from a rufous dun colour to that of a leaden blue; the saliva fell from his lips in long streamers, foam dappled his broad chest, the tears rolled out of his big eyes, and his gallop became changed to a weary trot. He was evidently "blown."
In a few minutes more the quagga was close upon his heels; and then the huge antelope, seeing that farther running could not serve him, halted in despair, and faced round towards his pursuer.
Now Hendrik had his loaded rifle in his hand, and you expect to hear that he instantly raised it to his shoulder, took aim, fired, and brought down the eland.
I must disappoint you, then, by telling you that he did no such thing.
Hendrik was a real hunter—neither rash nor wasteful of his resources. He knew a better plan than to kill the eland upon the spot. He knew that the animal was now quite in his power; and that he could drive him wherever he pleased, just like a tame ox. To have killed the creature on the spot would have been a waste of powder and shot. More than that, it would have rendered necessary all the trouble of transporting its flesh to camp—a double journey at least—and with the risk of the hyenas eating up most of it in his absence. Whereas he could save all this trouble by driving the eland to camp; and this was his design.
Without firing a shot, therefore, he galloped on past the blown bull, headed him, turned him round, and then drove him before him in the direction of the cliff.
The bull could make neither resistance nor opposition. Now and again he would turn and trot off in a contrary direction; but he was easily headed again, and at length forced forward to the top of the pass.
A WILD RIDE ON QUAGGA-BACK.
Hendrik was congratulating himself on his success. He anticipated some pleasure in the surprise he was about to create at camp, when he should march in with the eland—for he had no doubt that he would succeed in doing so.
Indeed, there appeared no reason to doubt it. The bull had already entered the gorge, and was moving down it, while Hendrik and his quagga were hurrying forward to follow.
The hunter had arrived within a few yards of the top, when a loud trampling noise sounded in his ears, as if a band of heavy-footed animals were coming up the gorge.
He spurred his quagga forward, in order to reach the edge, and get a view down the ravine. Before he was able to do so, he was surprised to see the eland gallop up again, and try to pass him upon the plain. It had evidently received fresh alarm, from something in the gorge; and preferred facing its old enemy to encountering the new.
Hendrik did not give his attention to the eland. He could ride it down at any time. He was more anxious first to know what had given it the start backward; so he continued to press forward to the head of the ravine.
He might have thought of lions, and acted with greater prudence; but the trampling of hoofs which still echoed up the pass told him that lions were not the cause of the eland's alarm.
He at length reached a point where he could see down the declivity. He had not far to look—for already the animals that were making the noise were close up to him; and he perceived they were nothing more than a troop of quaggas.
He was not over-pleased at this interruption to his drive; and the less did he like it, that the intruders were quaggas—ill-conditioned brutes that they were! Had they been game animals, he would have shot one; but the only motive that would have induced him to shoot one of the quaggas would have been a feeling of anger—for, at that moment, he was really angry at them.
Without knowing it, poor brutes! they had likely given him cause for a good deal of trouble: for it would cost him a good deal, before he could head the eland again, and get it back into the pass. No wonder, then, he was vexed a little.
But his vexation was not so grievous as to cause him to fire upon the approaching herd; and, turning aside, he rode after the eland.
He had hardly left the spot, when the quaggas came out of the pass, following each other to the number of forty or fifty. Each, as he saw the mounted hunter, started with affright, and bolted off, until the whole drove stretched out in a long line over the plain, snorting and uttering their loud "coua-a-g" as they ran.
Hendrik would hardly have regarded this movement under ordinary circumstances. He had often seen herds of quaggas, and was in no way curious about them. But his attention was drawn to this herd, from his noticing, as they passed him, that four of them had their tails docked short; and from this circumstance, he recognised them as the four that had been caught in the pit-trap and afterwards set free. Swartboy, for some purpose of his own, had cut off the hair before letting them go.