Ordering the others to remain where they were, Von Bloom advanced on horseback until within about fifty paces of where the lion lay. Here he drew up, coolly dismounted, passed the bridle over his arm, stuck his loading-rod into the ground, and knelt down behind it.
You will fancy he would have been safer to have kept his saddle, as the lion cannot overtake a horse. True; but the lion would have been safer too. It is no easy matter to fire correctly from any horse, but when the mark happens to be a grim lion, he is a well-trained steed that will stand sufficiently firm to admit of a true aim. A shot from the saddle under such circumstances is a mere chance shot; and the field-cornet was not in the mood to be satisfied with a chance shot. Laying his roer athwart the loading-rod, and holding the long barrel steady against it, he took deliberate aim through the ivory sights.
During all this time the lion had not stirred. The bush was between him and the hunter; but he could hardly have believed that it sufficed to conceal him. Far from it. His yellow flanks were distinctly visible through the thorny twigs, and his head could be seen with his muzzle and whiskers stained red with the blood of the oxen.
No—he did not believe himself hid. A slight growl, with one or two shakes of his tail, proved the contrary. He lay still however, as lions usually do, until more nearly approached. The hunter, as already stated, was full fifty yards from him.
Excepting the motion of his tail, he made no other till Von Bloom pulled trigger; and then with a scream he sprang several feet into the air. The hunter had been afraid of the twigs causing his bullet to glance off; but it was plain it had told truly, for he saw the fur fly from the side of that lion where it struck him.
It was but a wound; and not deadly, as soon appeared.
With long bounds the angry brute came on—lashing his tail, and showing his fearful teeth. His mane, now on end, seemed to have doubled his size. He looked as large as a bull!
In a few seconds time he had crossed the distance that separated him from the hunter, but the latter was gone far from that spot. The moment he had delivered his fire, he leaped upon his well-trained horse, and rode off towards the others.
All three were for a short while together—Hendrik holding his yager cocked and ready, while Swartboy grasped his bow and arrows. But the lion dashed forward before either could fire; and they were obliged to spur and gallop out of his way.
Swartboy had ridden to one side, while Von Bloom and Hendrik took the other; and the game was now between the two parties—both of which had pulled up at some distance off.
The lion, after the failure of his charge, halted, and looked first at one, then at the other—as if uncertain which to pursue.
His appearance at this moment was terrible beyond expression. His whole fierce nature was roused. His mane stood erect—his tail lasher his flanks—his mouth, widely open, showed the firm-set trenchant teeth— their white spikes contrasting with the red blood that clotted his cheeks and snout, while his angry roaring added horror to his appearance.
But none of the three were terrified out of their senses. Hendrik at this moment covered him with his rifle, took cool aim, and fired; while at the same instant Swartboy sent an arrow whistling through the air.
Both had aimed truly. Both bullet and arrow struck; and the shaft of the latter could be seen sticking in the lion's thigh.
The fierce brute that up to this time had exhibited the most determined courage, now seemed overcome with a sudden fear. Either the arrow or one of the bullets must have sickened him with the combat; for, dropping his mop-like tail to a level with the line of his back, he broke away; and, trotting sulkily forward, sprang in at the door of the kraal!
A LION IN THE TRAP.
There was something singular in the lion seeking shelter in so unusual a place; but it showed his sagacity. There was no other cover within convenient distance, and to have reached any bush that would have afforded him concealment, since the passage of the locusts, would have been difficult. The mounted hunters could easily have overtaken him, had he attempted to run off. He was aware that the house was uninhabited. He had been prowling around it all the night—perhaps within it—and therefore knew what sort of place it was.
The brute's instinct was correct. The walls of the house would protect him from the guns of his enemies at a distance; and for these to approach near would be his advantage and their danger.
An odd incident occurred as the lion entered the kraal. There was a large window in one end of the house. Of course it was not glazed—it never had been. A glass window is a rarity in these parts. A strong wooden shutter alone closed it. This was still hanging on its hinges, but in the hurried "flitting," the window had been left open. The door also had been standing ajar. As the lion sprang in at the latter, a string of small foxy wolf-like creatures came pouring out through the former, and ran with all their might across the plain. They were jackals!
As it afterwards appeared, one of the oxen had been chased into the house either by lions or hyenas, and killed there. His carcass had been overlooked by the larger carnivora, and the cunning jackals had been making a quiet breakfast upon it, when so unceremoniously disturbed.
The entrance of their terrible king in such angry mood, by the door, caused the fox-wolves to beat a quick retreat by the window; and the appearance of the horsemen without had still further frightened these cowardly brutes, so that they ran away from the kraal at top speed, and never halted until they were out of sight.
The three hunters could not restrain a laugh; but their tone was suddenly changed by another incident that happened almost at the same moment.
Von Bloom had brought with him his two fine dogs, to assist in driving back the cattle.
During the short halt the party had made by the spring, these had fastened upon a half-eaten carcass behind the walls; and, being extremely hungry, had stuck to it, even after the horsemen, had ridden off. Neither of the dogs had seen the lion, until the moment when the savage brute charged forward, and was making for the kraal. The shots, the growling of the lion, and the loud wings of the vultures as they flew off affrighted, told the dogs that something was going on in front, at which they ought to be present; and, forsaking their pleasant meal, both came bounding over the walls.
They reached the open space in front, just as the lion leaped into the door; and without hesitation the brave noble animals rushed on, and followed him inside the house.
For some moments there was heard a confused chorus of noises—the barking and worrying of the dogs, the growling and roaring of the lion. Then a dull sound followed as of some heavy object dashed against the wall. Then came a mournful howl—another, another—a noise like the cracking of bones—the "purr" of the great brute with its loud rough bass—and then a deep silence. The struggle was over. This was evident, as the dogs no longer gave tongue. Most likely they were killed.
The hunters remained watching the door with feelings of intense anxiety. The laugh had died upon their lips, as they listened to those hideous sounds, the signs of the fearful combat. They called their dogs by name. They hoped to see them issue forth, even if wounded. But no. The dogs came not forth—they never came forth—they were dead!
A long-continued silence followed the noise of the conflict. Von Bloom could no longer doubt that his favourite and only dogs had been killed.
Excited by this new misfortune he almost lost prudence. He was about to rush forward to the door, where he might deliver his fire close to the hated enemy, when a bright idea came into the brain of Swartboy; and the Bushman was heard calling out,—
"Baas! baas! we shut him up! we close da skellum up."
There was good sense in this suggestion—there was plausibility in it. Von Bloom saw this; and, desisting from his previous intention, he determined to adopt Swartboy's plan.
But how was it to be executed? The door still hung upon its hinges, as also the window-shutter. If they could only get hold of these, and shut them fast, they would have the lion secure, and might destroy him at their leisure.
But how to shut either door or window in safety? That was the difficulty that now presented itself.
Should they approach either, the lion would be certain to see them from within; and, enraged as he now was, would be sure to spring upon them. Even if they approached on horseback to effect their purpose, they would not be much safer. The horses would not stand quiet while they stretched out to lay hold of latch or handle. All three of the animals were already dancing with excitement. They knew the lion was inside, an occasional growl announced his presence there—they would not approach either door or window with sufficient coolness; and their stamping and snorting would have the effect of bringing the angry beast out upon them.
It was clear, then, that to shut either door or window would be an operation of great danger. So long as the horsemen were in open ground, and at some distance from the lion, they had no cause to fear; but should they approach near and get entangled among the walls, some one of them would be most likely to fall a victim to the ferocious brute.
Low as may be the standard of a Bushman's intellect, there is a species of it peculiar to him in which he appears to excel. In all matters of hunter-craft, his intelligence, or instinct you might almost call it, is quite a match for the more highly—developed mind of the Caucasian. This arises, no doubt, from the keen and frequent exercise of those particular faculties,—keen and frequent, because his very existence often depends on their successful employment.
Huge ill-shapen head as Swartboy carried on his shoulders, there was an ample stock of brains in it; and a life of keen endeavour to keep his stomach supplied had taught him their exercise. At that moment Swartboy's brains came to the relief of the party.
"Baas!" he said, endeavouring to restrain the impatience of his master, "vyacht um bige, mein baas! Leave it to da ole Bushy to close da door. He do it."
"How?" inquired Von Bloom.
"Vyacht um bige, mein baas! no long to wait,—you see."
All three had ridden up together within less than an hundred yards of the kraal. Von Bloom and Hendrik sat silent, and watched the proceedings of the Bushman.
The latter drew from his pocket a clew of small cord, and, having carefully uncoiled it, attached one end to an arrow. He then rode up to within thirty yards of the house, and dismounted—not directly opposite the entrance, but a little to the one side—so that the face of the wooden door, which was fortunately but three-quarters open, was thus fair before him. Keeping the bridle over his arm, he now bent his bow, and sent the arrow into the woodwork of the door. There it was, sticking near the edge, and just under the latch!
As soon as Swartboy delivered the shaft, he had leaped back into his saddle—to be ready for retreat in case the lion should spring out. He still, however, kept hold of the string, one end of which was attached to the arrow.
The "thud" of the arrow, as it struck the door, had drawn the attention of the lion. Of course, none of them saw him, but his angry growl told them that it was so. He did not show himself, however, and was again silent.
Swartboy now drew the string taut,—first felt it with a steady pull; and then, satisfied of its strength, gave it a stronger jerk, and brought the door to. The latch acted beautifully, and the door remained shut even after the strain was taken off the cord.
To have opened the door now the lion must have had the sagacity to lift the latch, or else must have broken through the thick, strong planks— neither of which was to be feared.
But the window still remained open, and through it the lion could easily leap out. Swartboy, of course, designed closing it in the same manner as he had done the door.
But now arose a particular danger. He had only one piece of cord. That was attached to the arrow that still stuck fast. How was he to detach and get possession of it?
There appeared to be no other way but by going up to the door and cutting it from the shaft. In this lay the danger; for, should the lion perceive him and rush out by the window, it would be all over with the Bushman.
Like most of his race, Swartboy was more cunning than brave—though he was far from being a coward. Still he was by no means inclined at that moment to go up to the door of the kraal.
The angry growls from within would have made a stouter heart than Swartboy's quail with fear.
In this dilemma Hendrik came to his relief. Hendrik had conceived a way of getting possession of the string, without going near the door!
Calling to Swartboy to be on his guard, he rode within thirty yards of the entrance—but on the other side from where Swartboy was—and there halted. At the place there stood a post with several forks upon it, that had been used as a bridle-post.
Hendrik dismounted, hooked his rein over one of these forks; rested his yager across another; and then, sighting the shaft of the arrow, pulled trigger. The rifle cracked, the broken stick was seen to fly out from the door, and the string was set free!
All were ready to gallop off; but the lion, although he growled fiercely on hearing the shot, still lay close.
Swartboy now drew in the string; and, having adjusted it to a fresh arrow, moved round so as to command a view of the window. In a few minutes the shaft had cut through the air and stuck deep into the yielding wood, and then the shutter swung round on its hinges and was drawn close.
All three now dismounted ran silently and rapidly up, and secured both door and shutter with strong reins of raw-hide.
Hurrah! the lion was caged!
THE DEATH OF THE LION.
Yes, the fierce brute was fairly in the trap. The three hunters breathed freely.
But how was the affair to end? Both door and window-shutter fitted strongly and closely; and, although it was possible to glance through the chinks, nothing could be seen inside—since, both being shut, it was quite dark within.
Even could the lion have been seen, there was no hole through which to thrust the muzzle of a gun and fire at him. He was just as safe as his captors; and, so long as the door remained closed, they could do him no more harm than he could them!
They might leave him shut up, and let him starve. He could live for a while upon what the jackals had left, with the carcasses of the two dogs, but that would not sustain him long, and in the end he would have to give up and miserably perish. After all, this did not seem so certain to Von Bloom and his companions. Finding that he was caged in earnest, the brute might attack the door, and with his sharp claws and teeth manage to cut his way through.
But the angry field-cornet had not the slightest intention of leaving the lion such a chance. He was determined to destroy the beast before leaving the ground; and he now set to thinking how this could be accomplished in the speediest and most effectual manner.
At first he thought of cutting a hole in the door with his knife, large enough to see through and admit the barrel of his roer. Should he not succeed in getting a view of the beast through that one, he would make another in the window-shutter. The two being on adjacent sides of the house, would give him the command of the whole interior—for the former dwelling of the field-cornet comprised only a single apartment. During his residence there, there had been two, thanks to a partition of zebra-skins; but these had been removed, and all was now in one room.
At first Von Bloom could think of no other plan to get at the enemy, and yet this one did not quite please him. It was safe enough, and, if carried out, could only end in the death of the lion.
A hole in both door and window-shutter would enable them to fire at the brute as many bullets as they pleased, while they would be quite secure from his attack. But the time that would be required to cut these holes—that was why the plan did not please the field-cornet. He and his party had no time to spare: their horses were weak with hunger, and a long journey lay before them ere a morsel could be obtained. No,—the time could not be spared for making a breach. Some more expeditious mode of attack must be devised.
"Father," said Hendrik, "suppose we set the house on fire?"
Good. The suggestion was a good one. Von Bloom cast his eyes up to the roof—a sloping structure with long eaves. It consisted of heavy beams of dry wood with rafters and laths, and all covered over with a thatch of rushes, a foot in thickness. It would make a tremendous blaze, and the smoke would be likely enough to suffocate the lion even before the blaze could get at him. The suggestion of Hendrik was adopted. They prepared to fire the house.
There was still a large quantity of rubbish,—the collected firewood which the locusts had not devoured. This would enable them to carry out their purpose; and all three immediately set about hauling it up, and piling it against the door.
One might almost have fancied that the lion had fathomed their design; for, although he had been for a long while quite silent, he now commenced a fresh spell of roaring. Perhaps the noise of the logs, striking against the door outside, had set him at it; and, finding himself thus shut up and baited, he had grown impatient. What he had sought as a shelter had been turned into a trap, and he was now anxious to get out of it. This was evident by the demonstrations he began to make. They could hear him rushing about—passing from door to window—striking both with his huge paws, and causing them to shake upon their hinges—all the while uttering the most fiendish roars.
Though not without some apprehensions, the three continued their work. They had their horses at hand, ready to be mounted in case the lion might make his way through the fire. In fact, they intended to take to their saddles—as soon as the fire should be fairly under way—and watch the conflagration from a safe distance.
They had dragged up all the bush and dry wood, and had piled them in front of the door. Swartboy had taken out his flint and steel, and was about to strike, when a loud scratching was heard from the inside, unlike anything that had yet reached their ears. It was the rattling of the lion's claws against the wall, but it had an odd sound as if the animal was struggling violently; at the same time his voice seemed hoarse and smothered, and appeared to come from a distance.
What was the brute doing?
They stood for a moment, looking anxiously in each other's faces. The scratching continued—the hoarse growling at intervals—but this ended at length; and then came a snort, followed by a roar so loud and clear, that all three started in airtight. They could not believe that trails were between them and their dangerous enemy!
Again echoed that horrid cry. Great Heaven! It proceeded no longer from the inside—it came from above them! Was the lion upon the roof? All three rushed backward a step or two, and looked up. A sight was before them that rendered them almost speechless with surprise and terror. Above the funnel of the chimney appeared the head of the lion; his glaring yellow eyes and white teeth showing more fearful from contrast with the black soot that begrimed him. He was dragging his body up. One foot was already above the capstone; and with this and his teeth he was widening the aperture around him.
It was a terrible sight to behold—at least to those below.
As already stated, they were alarmed; and would have taken to their horses, had they not perceived that the animal had stuck fast!
It was evident that this was the case, but it was equally evident that in a few moments he would succeed in clearing himself from the chimney. His teeth and claws were hard at work, and the stones and mortar were flying in all directions. The funnel would soon be down below his broad chest, and then—
Von Bloom did not stay to think what then. He and Hendrik, guns in hand, ran up near the bottom of the wall. The chimney was but a score of feet in height; the long roer was pointed upward, reaching nearly half that distance. The yager was also aimed. Both cracked together. The lion's eyes suddenly closed, his head shook convulsively, his paw dropped loose over the capstone, his jaws fell open, and blood trickled down his tongue. In a few moments he was dead!
This was apparent to every one. But Swartboy was not satisfied, until he had discharged about a score of his arrows at the head of the animal, causing it to assume the appearance of a porcupine.
So tightly had the huge beast wedged himself, that even after death he still remained in his singular situation.
Under other circumstances he would have been dragged down for the sake of his skin. But there was no time to spare for skinning him; and without further delay, Von Bloom and his companions mounted their horses and rode off.
A TALK ABOUT LIONS.
As they rode back they conversed about lions, to beguile the time. All of them knew something about these animals; but Swartboy, who had been born and brought up in the bush, in the very midst of their haunts as it were, of course was well acquainted with their habits—ay, far better than Monsieur Buffon himself.
To describe the personal appearance of a lion would be to waste words. Every one of my readers must know the lion by sight, either from having seen one in a zoological collection, or the stuffed skin of one in a museum. Every one knows the form of the animal, and his great shaggy mane. Every one knows, moreover, that the lioness is without this appendage, and in shape and size differs considerably from the male.
Though there are not two species of lions, there are what are termed varieties, but these differ very little from each other—far less than the varieties of most other animals.
There are seven acknowledged varieties. The Barbary lion, the lion of Senegal, the Indian lion, the Persian, the yellow Cape, the black Cape, and the maneless lion.
The difference among these animals is not so great, but that at a glance any one may tell they were all of one species and kind. The Persian variety is rather smaller than the others; the Barbary is of darker brown and heavily maned; the lion of Senegal is of light shining yellow colour, and thinly maned; while the maneless lion, as its name imports, is without this appendage. The existence of the last species is doubted by some naturalists. It is said to be found in Syria.
The two Cape lions differ principally in the colour of the mane. In the one it is black or dark brown—in the other of a tawny yellow, like the rest of the body.
Of all lions, those of South Africa are perhaps the largest, and the black variety the most fierce and dangerous.
Lions inhabit the whole continent of Africa, and the southern countries of Asia. They were once common in parts of Europe, where they exist no longer. There are no lions in America. The animal known in Spanish-American countries as the lion (leon) is the cougar or puma (Felis concolor), which is not one-third the lion's size, and resembles the king of beasts only in being of the same tawny colour. The puma is not unlike a lion's cub six months old.
Africa is peculiarly the country of the lion. He is found throughout the whole extent of that continent—excepting of course a few thickly inhabited spots, from which he has been expelled by man.
The lion has been called the "king of the forest." This appears to be a misnomer. He is not properly a forest animal. He cannot climb trees, and therefore in the forest would less easily procure his food than in the open plain. The panther, the leopard, and the jaguar, are all tree-climbers. They can follow the bird to its roost, and the monkey to its perch. The forest is their appropriate home. They are forest animals. Not so the lion. It is upon the open plains—where the great ruminants love to roam, and among the low bushy thickets that skirt them, that the lion affects to dwell.
He lives upon flesh,—the flesh of many kinds of animals, though he has his favourites, according to the country in which he is found. He kills these animals for himself. The story of the jackal being his "provider,"—killing them for him,—is not true. More frequently he himself provides the skulking jackals with a meal. Hence their being often seen in his company—which they keep, in order to pick up his "crumbs."
The lion "butchers" for himself, though he will not object to have it done for him; and will take away their game from wolf, jackal, or hyena—from the hunter if he can.
The lion is not a fast runner—none of the true felidae are. Nearly all the ruminant animals can outrun him. How, then, does he capture them?
By stratagem, by the suddenness of his attack, and by the length and velocity of his bound. He lies in wait, or steals upon them. He springs from his crouching place. His peculiar anatomical structure enables him to spring to an immense distance—in fact, to an almost incredible distance. Sixteen paces have been alleged by writers, who say they were eye-witnesses, and carefully measured the leap!
Should he fail to capture his prey at the first bound, the lion follows it no farther, but turns and trots away in an opposite direction.
Sometimes, however, the intended victim tempts him to a second spring, and even to a third; but failing then, he is sure to give up the pursuit.
The lion is not gregarious, although as many as ten or a dozen are often seen together. They hunt in company at times, and drive the game towards one another!
They attack and destroy all other species of animals that inhabit the country around them—even the strong heavy rhinoceros is not feared by them, though the latter frequently foils and conquers them. Young elephants sometimes become their prey. The fierce buffalo, the giraffe, the oryx, the huge eland, and the eccentric gnoo, all have to succumb to their superior strength and armature.
But they are not universally victorious over these animals. Sometimes they are vanquished by one or other of them, and in turn become victims. Sometimes both combatants leave their bodies upon the scene of the struggle.
The lion is not hunted as a profession. His spoils are worthless. His skin sells for but little, and he yields no other trophy of any value. As hunting him is attended with great danger, and the hunter, as already stated, may avoid him if he wishes, but few lions would be destroyed, were it not for a certain offensive habit to which they are addicted— that of robbing the vee-boor of his horses and his cattle. This brings a new passion into play,—the vengeance of the farmer; and with such a motive to urge on the hunt, the lion in some parts is chased with great zeal and assiduity.
But where there are no cattle-farms, no such motive exists; and there but little interest is felt in the chase of this animal. Nay, what is still stranger: the Bushmen and other poor wandering tribes do not kill the lion at all, or very seldom. They do not regard him with feelings of hostility. The lion acts towards them as a "provider!"
Hendrik, who had heard of this, asked Swartboy if it was true.
The Bushman answered at once in the affirmative.
His people, he said, were in the habit of watching the lion, or following his spoor, until they came upon either himself, or the quarry he had killed. Sometimes the vultures guided them to it. When the "tao" chanced to be on the spot, or had not yet finished his meal, his trackers would wait, until he had taken his departure, after which they would steal up and appropriate what remained of the spoil. Often this would be the half, or perhaps three parts of some large animal, which they might have found a difficulty in killing for themselves.
Knowing the lion will rarely attack them, the Bushmen are not much afraid of these animals. On the contrary, they rather rejoice at seeing them numerous in their district, as they are then provided with hunters able to furnish them with food!
THE TRAVELLERS BENIGHTED.
Our travellers would have talked much more about lions, but for the condition of their horses. This made them feel uneasy. With the exception of a few hours grazing, the poor brutes had been without food since the appearance of the locusts. Horses do not travel well upon soft grass, and of course they were now suffering severely.
It would be far in the night before the horsemen could reach the camp— although they were pushing on as fast as the horses could travel.
It was quite dark, when they arrived at the spot where they had halted the previous evening. In fact, it was very dark. Neither moon nor stars were to be seen in the sky; and thick black clouds covered the whole canopy of the heavens. It looked as though a rain-storm might be expected—still no rain had as yet fallen.
It was the intention of the travellers to halt at this place, and let their horses graze a while. With this view they all dismounted; but, after trying one or two places, they could find no grass!
This appeared strange, as they had certainly observed grass at that very spot the day before. Now there was none!
The horses put their noses to the ground, but raised them up again, snorting as they did so, and evidently disappointed. They were hungry enough to have eaten grass had there been any, for they eagerly snatched at the leaves of the bushes as they passed along!
Had the locusts been there also? No. The mimosa-bushes still retained their delicate foliage, which would not have been the case had the locusts visited the spot.
Our travellers were astonished that there was no grass. Surely there was some the day before? Had they got upon a new track?
The darkness prevented them from having a view of the ground; yet Von Bloom could not be mistaken about the route—having travelled it four times already. Though he could not see the surface, every now and again he caught a glimpse of some tree or bush, which he had marked in his former journeys, and these assured him they were still upon the right track.
Surprised at the absence of grass where they had so lately observed it, they would have examined the surface more carefully; but they were anxious to push on to the spring, and at length gave up the idea of halting. The water in their gourds had been used up long before this; and both they and their horses were once more suffering from thirst.
Besides, Von Bloom was not without some anxiety about the children at the wagon. He had been separated from them now a full day and a half, and many a change might take place—many a danger might arise in that time. In fact, he began to blame himself for having left them alone. It would have been better to have let his cattle perish. So thought he now. A presentiment that all was not right was gradually forming in his mind; and he grew more anxious to proceed as he reflected.
They rode on in silence. It was only on Hendrik expressing a doubt about the way, that the conversation recommenced. Swartboy also thought they were taking a wrong course.
At first Von Bloom assured them they were right: but after going a little farther, he admitted that he was in doubt; and then, after another half-mile's travelling, he declared that he had lost the track. He could no longer recognise any one of the marks or bearings he had taken.
The proper thing to be done under these circumstances was to leave the horses to themselves; and this all three well knew. But the animals were suffering the pangs of hunger, and when left to themselves, would not journey forward, but rushed up to the mimosa-bushes, and eagerly commenced devouring their leaves.
The consequence was, that their riders were obliged to keep them going with whip and spur; and in that way there was no certainty of the horses taking the right direction.
After several hours' advancing, all the while in a state of suspense, and as yet no appearance of either wagon or camp-fire, the travellers resolved upon coming to a halt. It was of no use going forward. They believed they could not be far from the camp; but they were now as likely to be riding from as towards it; and they concluded at length, that it would be wiser to remain where they were until the day broke.
They all dismounted therefore, and fastened their horses to the bushes— so that the animals could browse upon the leaves till morning—which could not now be very far off. They rolled themselves up in their karosses, and lay down upon the earth.
Hendrik and Swartboy were soon asleep. Von Bloom would have slept too, for he was tired enough; but the heart of the father was too full of anxiety to allow repose to his eyes, and he lay awake watching for the dawn.
It came at length, and at the first light his eyes swept the surface of the surrounding country. The party had by chance halted on an eminence that commanded a good view for miles on each side, but the field-cornet had not glanced half around the circle, when an object came before his eyes that brought gladness to his heart. It was the white tent of the wagon!
The joyful exclamation he uttered awoke the sleepers, who immediately sprang to their feet; and all three stood gazing at the welcome sight.
As they continued to gaze, their joy gradually gave place to feelings of surprise. Was it their wagon, after all?
It certainly looked like theirs; but it was a full half-mile off, and at such a distance one wagon would look just like another. But what led them to doubt its being theirs? It was the appearance of the place in which they saw it. Surely it was not the same place in which they had outspanned!
Theirs had been left in an oblong valley between two gentle ridges—in such a valley was this one standing. Near a small pool formed by a spring—here, too, was the same, for they could perceive the water shining. But in all other respects the situation was different. The surface of the valley in which their wagon had been left was covered, both sides and bottom, with a verdant carpet of grass; whereas the one now before their eyes was brown and bare! not a blade of grass was to be seen—the trees seeming to be the only things that had any verdure. Even the low bushes appeared to be destitute of leaves! The scene had no resemblance whatever to that where they had outspanned. It must be the camp of some other travellers, thought they.
They had fully arrived at this conclusion, when Swartboy, whose eyes had been rolling about everywhere, now rested upon the ground at his feet. After a moment's observation—which the increasing light now enabled him to make—he turned suddenly to the others, and directed their attention to the surface of the plain. This they saw was covered with tracks, as if a thousand hoofs had passed over it. In fact, it presented the appearance of a vast sheep-pen; so vast, that as far as their sight extended, they beheld the same tracked and trampled appearance!
What could this mean? Hendrik did not know. Von Bloom was in doubt. Swartboy could tell at the first glance. It was no new sight to him.
"All right, baas," he said, looking up in his master's face. "Da's da ole wagon!—da same spring an' vley—da same place—dar hab been um trek-boken!"
"A trek-boken!" cried Von Bloom and Hendrik, in a breath.
"Ya, baas—a mighty big one too; das de spoor of dem antelope—See!"
Von Bloom now comprehended all. The bareness of the country, the absence of the leaves on the lower bushes, the millions of small hoof-tracks, all were now explained. A migration of the springbok antelope, a "trek-boken," had swept over the spot. That it was that had caused such a mighty change. The wagon they saw was theirs, after all.
They lost no time, but, catching their horses, bridled them, and rode rapidly down the hill.
Though somewhat relieved at seeing the wagon, Von Bloom was still apprehensive.
As they approached, they perceived the two horses standing beside it, and tied to the wheels, the cow also was there—but neither goats nor sheep were in the neighbourhood.
There was a fire burning in the rear of the hind-wheels, and a dark mass underneath the wagon, but no human form could be observed.
The hearts of the horsemen beat loudly as they advanced. Their eyes were bent earnestly upon the wagon. They felt keen anxiety.
They had got within three hundred yards, and still no one stirred—no human form made its appearance. Von Bloom and Hendrik now suffered intensely.
At this moment the two horses by the wagon neighed loudly; the dark mass under the wagon moved, rolled outward, rose up, and stood erect. Totty was recognised!
And now the "after-clap" of the wagon was hurriedly drawn aside, and three young faces were seen peeping forth.
A shout of joy burst from the horsemen, and the next moment little Jan and Truey leaped out from the cap-tent into the arms of their father— while the mutual congratulations of Hans and Hendrik, Swartboy and Totty, produced for some moments a scene of joyful confusion quite indescribable.
Those who remained by the camp had had their adventures too; and their tale was by no means a merry one, for it disclosed the unpleasant fact, that the sheep and goats were all lost. The flock had been carried off, in a most singular manner; and there was but little hope of their ever being seen again.
Hans began his tale:—
"Nothing unusual occurred on the day you left us. I was busy all the afternoon in cutting 'wait-a-bit' thorns for a kraal. Totty helped me to drag them up, while Jan and Truey looked after the flock. The animals did not stray out of the valley here, as the grass was good, and they had had enough of trotting lately.
"Well—Totty and I got the kraal, as you see, all ready. So, when night came, we drove the flock in; and, after milking the cow and getting our supper, we all went to bed. We were precious tired, and all of us slept soundly throughout the night without being disturbed. Both jackals and hyenas came around, but we knew they would not break into that kraal."
Hans pointed to the circular enclosure of thorn-bushes, that had been well constructed.
He then proceeded with his narration:—
"In the morning we found everything right. Totty again milked the cow; and we had breakfast. The flock was let out upon the grass, and so were the cow and the two horses.
"Just about midday I began to think what we were to have for dinner, for the breakfast had cleared up everything. I did not like to kill another sheep, if it could be helped. So bidding Jan and Truey stay close by the wagon, and leaving Totty to look after the flock, I took my gun and started off in search of game. I took no horse, for I thought I saw springboks out on the plain; and I would stalk them better afoot.
"Sure enough, there were springboks. When I got out of the valley here, and had a better view, I saw what astonished me, I can assure you.
"I could scarce credit my eyes. The whole plain, towards the west, appeared to be one vast crowd of animals; and by their bright yellow sides, and the snow-white hair on their rumps, I knew they were springboks. They were all in motion, some browsing along, while hundreds of them were constantly bounding up into the air full ten feet high, and leaping a-top of each other. I assure you all it was tone of the strangest sights I ever beheld, and one of the pleasantest too; for I knew that the creatures that covered the plain, instead of being fierce wild beasts, were nothing but graceful and beautiful little gazelles.
"My first thought was to get near them, and have a shot; and I was about to start off over the plain, when I perceived that the antelopes were coming towards me. I saw that they were approaching with considerable rapidity; and if I only remained where I was, they would save me the trouble of stalking in upon them. I lay down behind a bush and waited.
"I had not very long to wait. In less than a quarter of an hour the foremost of the herd drew near, and in five minutes more a score of them were within shot.
"I did not fire for some time. I knew they would come still nearer; and I lay watching the motions of those pretty creatures. I took notice of their light handsome forms, their smooth slender limbs, their cinnamon-coloured backs, and white bellies, with the band of chestnut along each side. I looked at the lyre-shaped horns of the bucks, and above all, at the singular flaps on their croup, that unfolded each time that they leaped up, displaying a profusion of long silky hair, as white as snow itself.
"All these points I noticed, and at length, tired of admiring them, I singled out a fine-looking doe—for I was thinking of my dinner, and knew that doe-venison was the most palatable.
"After aiming carefully, I fired. The doe fell, but, to my astonishment, the others did not run off. A few of the foremost only galloped back a bit, or bounded up into the air; but they again set to browsing quite unconcerned, and the main body advanced as before!
"I loaded as quickly as I could, and brought down another,—this time a buck—but as before without frightening the rest!
"I proceeded to load for the third time; but before I had finished, the front ranks had passed on both sides of me, and I found myself in the midst of the herd!
"I saw no need for covering myself any longer behind the bush, but rose to my knees, and, firing at the nearest, brought it down also. Its comrades did not pause, but ran over its body in thousands!
"I loaded again, and stood right up on my feet.
"Now for the first time it occurred to me to reflect on the strange conduct of the springboks; for, instead of making off at my appearance, they only bounded a little to one side, and then kept on their course. They seemed possessed by a species of infatuation. I remembered hearing that such was their way when upon one of their migrations, or 'trek-bokens.' This, then, thought I, must be a 'trek-boken.'
"I was soon convinced of this, for the herd every moment grew thicker and thicker around me, until at length they became so crowded, that I began to feel very singularly situated. Not that I was afraid of the creatures, as they made no demonstration of using their horns upon me. On the contrary, they did all they could to get out of my way. But the nearest only were alarmed; and, as my presence in no way terrified those that were an hundred yards off, the latter made no attempt to give ground. Of course the nearest ones could only get a few paces from me, by pushing the others closer, or springing up over their backs—so that with the ones thus constantly bounding up into the air there was all the time a ring around me two deep!
"I cannot describe the strange feelings I had in this unusual situation, or how long I might have kept my place. Perhaps I might have loaded and fired away for some time, but just at the moment the sheep came into my mind.
"They'll be carried away, thought I. I had heard that such a thing was common enough.
"I saw that the antelopes were heading towards the valley—the foremost were already into it, and would soon be on the spot, where I had just seen our little flock feeding!
"In hopes of yet heading the springboks, and driving the sheep into the kraal, before the former crowded on them, I started towards the valley. But, to my chagrin, I could get no faster than the herd was going!
"As I approached the creatures, to make my way through their mass, they leaped about and sprang over one another, but could not for their lives open a way for me as fast as I wanted one. I was so near some of them that I could have knocked them down with my gun!
"I commenced hallooing, and, brandishing the gun about, I was making a lane more rapidly, when I perceived in front what appeared to be a large open space. I pushed forward for this, but the nearer I came to its border the more densely I found the creatures packed. I could only see that it was an open space by leaping up. I did not know what was causing it. I did not stay to reflect. I only wished to get forward as rapidly as possible, thinking about our flock.
"I continued to clear my way, and at length found myself in the position I had coveted; while the lane I had made, in getting there, closed instantaneously behind me. I was about to rush on, and take advantage of the bit of clear ground, when, what should I see in the centre, and directly before me, but a great yellow lion!
"That accounted for the break in the herd. Had I known what had been causing it, I should have fought my way in any other direction but that; but there was I, out in the open ground, the lion not ten paces from me, and a fence of springboks two deep around both of us!
"I need not say I was frightened, and badly too. I did not for some moments know how to act. My gun was still loaded—for, after thinking of saving our little flock, I did not care to empty it at the antelopes. I could get one, thought I, at any time when I had secured the sheep in the kraal. The piece, therefore, was loaded and with bullets.
"Should I take aim at the lion, and fire? I asked myself this question, and was just on the point of deciding in the affirmative, when I reflected that it would be imprudent. I observed that the lion, whose back was turned to me, had either not seen, or as yet took no notice of me. Should I only wound him—and from the position he was in I was not likely to do more,—how then? I would most likely be torn to pieces.
"These were my reflections, all of which scarce occupied a second of time. I was about to 'back out' or back in among the springboks, and make my way in some other direction, and had even got near the edge, when, in looking over my shoulder, I saw the lion suddenly halt and turn round. I halted too, knowing that to be the safest plan; and, as I did so, I glanced back at the lion's eyes.
"To my relief, I saw they were not upon me. He seemed to have taken some fancy in his head. His appetite, perhaps, had returned; for the next moment he ran a few yards, and then, rising with a terrific bound, launched himself far into the herd, and came down right upon the back of one of the antelopes! The others sprang right and left, and a new space was soon opened around him.
"He was now nearer than ever to where I stood, and I could see him distinctly crouched over his victim. His claws held its quivering body, and his long teeth grasped the poor creature by the neck. But, with the exception of his tail, he was making not the slightest motion, and that vibrated gently from side to side, just as a kitten that had caught a tiny mouse. I could see, too, that his eyes were close shut, as though he were asleep!
"Now I had heard that under such circumstances the lion may be approached without much danger. Not that I wished to go any nearer—for I was near enough for my gun—but it was this recollection, I believe, that put me in the notion of firing. At all events, something whispered me I would succeed, and I could not resist trying.
"The broad blind jaw of the brute was fair before me. I took aim, and pulled trigger; but, instead of waiting to see the effect of my shot, I ran right off in an opposite direction.
"I did not halt till I had put several acres of antelopes between myself and the place where I had last stood; and then I made the best of my way to the wagon.
"Long before I had reached it, I could see that Jan, and Truey, and Totty, were safe under the tent. That gave me pleasure, but I also saw that the sheep and goats had got mixed up with the springboks, and were moving off with them as if they belonged to the same species! I fear they are all lost."
"And the lion?" inquired Hendrik.
"Yonder he lies!" answered Hans, modestly pointing to a yellow mass out upon the plain, over which the vultures were already beginning to hover. "Yonder he lies, you could hardly have done it better yourself, brother Hendrik."
As Hans said this, he smiled in such a manner as to show, that he had no idea of making a boast of his achievements.
Hendrik was loud in acknowledging that it was a most splendid feat, and also in regretting that he had not been on the ground to witness the wonderful migration of the springboks.
But there was no time for much idle talk. Von Bloom and his party were in a very unpleasant situation. His flocks were all gone. The cow and horses alone remained; and for these not a blade of grass had been left by the antelopes. Upon what were they to be fed?
To follow the spoor of the migratory springboks with the hope of recovering their flock would be quite useless. Swartboy assured them of this. The poor animals might be carried hundreds of miles before they could separate themselves from the great herd, or bring their involuntary journey to an end!
The horses could travel but little farther. There was nought to feed them on but the leaves of the mimosas, and this was but poor food for hungry horses. It would be fortunate if they could be kept alive until they should reach some pasture; and where now was pasture to be found? Locusts and antelopes between them seemed to have turned all Africa into a desert!
The field-cornet soon formed his resolution. He would remain there for the night, and early on the morrow set out in search of some other spring.
Fortunately Hans had not neglected to secure a brace of the springboks; and their fat venison now came into general use. A roast of that, and a drink of cool water from the spring, soon refreshed the three wearied travellers.
The horses were let loose among the mimosa-trees, and allowed to shift for themselves; and although under ordinary circumstances they would have "turned up their noses" at such food as mimosa-leaves, they now turned them up in a different sense, and cleared the thorny branches like so many giraffes.
Some naturalist of the "Buffon" school has stated that neither wolf, fox, hyena, nor jackal, will eat the carcass of a lion,—that their fear of the royal despot continues even after his death.
The field-cornet and his family had proof of the want of truth in this assertion. Before many hours both jackals and hyenas attacked the carcass of the king of beasts, and in a very short while there was not a morsel of him there but his bones. Even his tawny skin was swallowed by these ravenous creatures, and many of the bones broken by the strong jaws of the hyenas. The respect which these brutes entertain for the lion ends with his life. When dead, he is eaten by them with as much audacity as if he were the meanest of animals.
SPOORING FOR A SPRING.
Von Bloom was in the saddle at an early hour. Swartboy accompanied him, while all the others remained by the wagon to await his return. They took with them the two horses that had remained by the wagon, as these were fresher than the others.
They rode nearly due westward. They were induced to take this direction by observing that the springboks had come from the north. By heading westward they believed they would sooner get beyond the wasted territory.
To their great satisfaction an hour's travelling carried them clear of the track of the antelope migration; and although they found no water, there was excellent grass.
The field-cornet now sent Swartboy back for the other horses and the cow, pointing out a place where he should bring them to graze, while he himself continued on in search of water.
After travelling some miles farther, Von Bloom perceived to the north of him a long line of cliff rising directly up from the plain, and running westward as far as he could see. Thinking that water would be more likely to be found near these cliffs, he turned his horse's head towards them. As he approached nearer to their base, he was charmed with the beautiful scenery that began to open before his eyes. He passed through grassy plains of different sizes, separated from each other by copses of the delicate-leaved mimosa; some of these forming large thickets, while others consisted of only a few low bushes. Towering high over the mimosas, grew many trees of gigantic size, and of a species Von Bloom had never seen before. They stood thinly upon the ground; but each, with its vast leafy head, seemed a little forest of itself.
The whole country around had a soft park-like appearance, which contrasted well with the dark cliff that rose beyond—the latter stepping up from the plain by a precipice of several hundred feet in height, and seemingly as vertical as the walls of a house.
The fine landscape was gratifying to the eyes of the traveller—such a fine country in the midst of so much barrenness; for he knew that most of the surrounding region was little better than a wild karoo. The whole of it to the north for hundreds of miles was a famous desert—the desert of Kalihari—and these cliffs were a part of its southern border. The "vee-boor" would have been rejoiced at such a sight under other circumstances. But what to him now were all these fine pastures—now that he was no longer able to stock them?
Notwithstanding the beauty of the scene, his reflections were painful.
But he did not give way to despair. His present troubles were sufficiently grievous to prevent him from dwelling much on the future. His first care was to find a place where his horses might be recruited; for without them he could no longer move anywhere—without them he would be helpless indeed.
Water was the desired object. If water could not be found, all this beautiful park through which he was passing would be as valueless to him as the brown desert.
Surely so lovely a landscape could not exist without that most essential element!
So thought the field-cornet; and at the turning of every new grove his eyes wandered over the ground in search of it.
"Ho!" he joyfully exclaimed as a covey of large Namaqua partridges whirred up from his path. "A good sign that: they are seldom far from water."
Shortly after, he saw a flock of beautiful pintados, or guinea-hens, running into a copse. This was a still further proof that water was nigh. But surest of all, on the top of a tall cameel-doorn tree, he next observed the brilliant plumage of a parrot.
"Now," muttered he to himself, "I must be very near to some spring or pool."
He rode cheerfully forward: and after a little while arrived upon the crest of an elevated ridge. Here he halted to observe the flight of the birds. Presently he noticed a covey of partridges flying in a westerly direction, and shortly after, another covey going the same way. Both appeared to alight near a gigantic tree that grew in the plain about five hundred yards from the bottom of the cliffs. This tree stood apart from any of the others, and was by far the largest Von Bloom had yet seen.
As he remained gazing at its wonderful dimensions, he observed several pairs of parrots alighting upon it. These, after chattering a while among its branches, flew down upon the plain not far from its base.
"Surely," thought Von Bloom, "there must be water there. I shall ride forward and see."
But his horse had scarcely waited for him to form this design. The animal had been already dragging upon the bridle; and as soon as his head was turned in the direction of the tree, he started forward with outstretched neck, snorting as he rushed along.
The rider, trusting to the instinct of his horse, surrendered up the bridle; and in less than five minutes both horse and rider were drinking from the sweet water of a crystal fountain that gushed out within a dozen yards of the tree.
The field-cornet would now have hastened back to the wagon: but he thought that by allowing his horse to browse an hour or so upon the grass, he would make the return-journey with more spirit, and in quite as good time. He, therefore, took off the bridle, gave the animal his liberty, while he stretched himself under the shade of the great tree.
As he lay, he could not help admiring the wonderful production of nature that towered majestically above him. It was one of the largest trees he had ever beheld. It was of the kind known as the "nwana" tree, a species of ficus, with large sycamore-shaped leaves that grew thickly over its magnificent head. Its trunk was full twenty-feet in diameter, rising to more than that height without a branch, and then spreading off into numerous limbs that stretched far out in a horizontal direction. Through the thick foliage Von Bloom could perceive shining egg-shaped fruits as large as cocoa-nuts; and upon these the parrots and several other kinds of birds appeared to be feeding.
Other trees of the same species stood out upon the plain at long distances apart; and though they were all taller than the surrounding timber, none were so large or conspicuous as the one that grew by the spring.
The field-cornet, as he enjoyed the cool shade which its umbrageous frondage afforded, could not help thinking what an admirable spot it would be to build a kraal. The inmates of a dwelling placed beneath its friendly shelter, need never dread the fierce rays of the African sun; even the rain could scarce penetrate its leafy canopy. In fact, its dense foliage almost constituted a roof of itself.
Had his cattle still remained to him, no doubt the vee-boor would have resolved at once to make this spot his future home. But, tempting as it was, what now could he do in such a place? To him it would be only a wilderness. There was no species of industry he could follow in such a remote quarter. True, he might sustain himself and his family by hunting. He saw that game was plenteous all around. But that would be but a sorry existence, with no promise for the future. What would his children do hereafter? Were they to grow up with no other end than to become poor hunters—no better than the wild Bushmen? No! no! no! To make a home there would be out of the question. A few days to recruit his wearied horses, and then he would make a struggle and trek back to the settlements.
But what after he had got back? He knew not what then. His future was gloomy and uncertain.
After indulging in such reflections for an hour or more, he bethought him that it was time to return to the camp; and having caught and bridled his horse, he mounted and set forth.
The animal, refreshed by the sweet grass and cool water, carried him briskly along; and in less than two hours he came up with Swartboy and Hendrik where they were pasturing the horses.
These were taken back to the wagon and harnessed in; and then the great vehicle once more "trekked" across the plains.
Before the sun had set, the long white cap-tent was gleaming under the leafy screen of the gigantic "nwana."
THE TERRIBLE "TSETSE."
The verdant carpet that stretched away around them—the green leaves upon the trees—the flowers by the fountain—the crystal water in its bed—the black bold rocks towering up at a distance—all combined to make a lovely picture. The eyes of the wayfarers were glad as they beheld it; and while the wagon was outspanning, every one gave utterance to their delightful emotions.
The place seemed to please every one. Hans loved its quiet and sylvan beauty. It was just such a place as he would choose to ramble in, book in hand, and dream away many a pleasant hour. Hendrik liked it much, because he had already observed what he termed "extensive spoor" about the spot: in other words, he had noticed the tracks of many of Africa's largest wild animals.
Little Truey was delighted to see so many beautiful flowers. There were bright scarlet geraniums, and starlike sweet-scented jessamines, and the gorgeous belladonna lily, with its large blossoms of rose-colour and white; and there were not only plants in flower, but bushes, and even trees, covered with gaudy and sweetly-perfumed blossoms. There was the "sugar-bush" (Protea mellifera), the most beautiful of its family, with its large cup-shaped corollas of pink, white, and green; and there, too, was the "silver-tree" (Leucodendron argenteum), whose soft silvery leaves playing in the breeze, looked like a huge mass of silken flowers; and there were the mimosas covered with blossoms of golden yellow that filled the air with their strong and agreeable perfume.
Rare forms of vegetation were around or near at hand: the arborescent aloes, with their tall flower-spikes of coral red, and euphorbias of many shapes; and zamia, with its palm-like fronds; and the soft-leaved Strelitzia reginae. All these were observed in the neighbourhood of this new-discovered fountain.
But what received little Truey's admiration more than any other was the beautiful blue waterlily (Nympha caerulea), which is certainly one of the loveliest of Africa's flowers. Close by the spring, but a little farther in the direction of the plain, was a vley, or pool—in fact, it might have been termed a small lake—and upon the quiet bosom of its water the sky-blue corollas lay sleeping in all their gorgeous beauty.
Truey, leading her little pet in a string, had gone down on the bank to look at them. She thought she could never cease gazing at such pretty things.
"I hope papa will stay here a long time," she said to her companion, little Jan.
"And I hope so too. Oh! Truey, what a fine tree yon is! Look! nuts as big as my head, I declare. Bless me, sis! how are we to knock some, of them down?"
And so the children conversed, both delighted with the new scenes around them.
Although all the young people were inclined to be happy, yet they were checked in their expression of it, by observing that there was a cloud on the brow of their father. He had seated himself under the great tree, but his eyes were upon the ground, as though he were busy with painful reflections. All of them noticed this.
His reflections were, indeed, painful—they could not well have been otherwise. There was but one course left for him—to return to the settlements, and begin life anew. But how to begin it? What could he do? His property all gone, he could only serve some of his richer neighbours; and for one accustomed all his life to independence, this would be hard indeed.
He looked towards his five horses, now eagerly cropping the luxuriant grass that grew under the shadow of the cliffs. When would they be ready to trek back again? In three or four days he might start. Fine animals, most of them were—they would carry the wagon lightly enough.
So ran the reflections of the field-cornet. He little thought at the moment that those horses would never draw wagon more, nor any other vehicle. He little thought that those five noble brutes were doomed!
Yet so it was. In less than a week from that time, the jackals and hyenas were quarrelling over their bones. Even at that very moment, whilst he watched them browsing, the poison was entering their veins, and their death-wounds were being inflicted. Alas! alas! another blow awaited Von Bloom.
The field-cornet had noticed, now and again, that the horses seemed uneasy as they fed. At times they started suddenly, whisked their long tails, and rubbed their heads against the bushes.
"Some fly is troubling them," thought he, and had no more uneasiness about the matter.
It was just that—just a fly that was troubling them. Had Von Bloom known what that fly was, he would have felt a very different concern about his horses. Had he known the nature of that little fly, he would have rushed up with all his boys, caught the horses in the greatest hurry, and led them far away from those dark cliffs. But he knew not the "tsetse" fly.
It still wanted some minutes of sunset, and the horses were permitted to browse freely, but Von Bloom observed that they were every moment getting more excited—now striking their hoofs upon the turf,—now running a length or two—and at intervals snorting angrily. At the distance they were off—a quarter of a mile or so—Von Bloom could see nothing of what was disturbing them; but their odd behaviour at length induced him to walk up to where they were. Hans and Hendrik went along with him. When they arrived near the spot, they were astonished at what they then beheld. Each horse seemed to be encompassed by a swarm of bees!
They saw, however, they were not bees, but insects somewhat smaller, of a brown colour, resembling gad-flies, and exceedingly active in their flight. Thousands of them hovered above each horse, and hundreds could be seen lighting upon the heads, necks, bodies, and legs of the animals,—in fact, all over them. They were evidently either biting or stinging them. No wonder the poor brutes were annoyed.
Von Bloom suggested that they should drive the horses farther out into the plain, where these flies did not seem to haunt. He was only concerned about the annoyance which the horses received from them. Hendrik also pitied their sufferings; but Hans, alone of all the three, guessed at the truth. He had read of a fatal insect that frequented some districts in the interior of South Africa, and the first sight of these flies aroused his suspicions that it might be they.
He communicated his thoughts to the others, who at once shared his alarm.
"Call Swartboy hither!" said Von Bloom.
The Bushman was called, and soon made his appearance, coming up from the spring. He had for the last hour been engaged in unpacking the wagon, and had taken no notice of the horses or the interest they were exciting.
As soon, however, as he got near, and saw the winged swarm whirring around the horses, his small eyes opened to their widest extent, his thick lips fell, and his whole face yielded itself to an expression of amazement and alarm.
"What is it, Swart?" inquired his master.
"Mein baas! mein baas! der duyvel um da—dar skellum is da 'tsetse!'"
"And what if it be the tsetse?"
"Mein baas!—all dead—dead—ebery horse!"
Swartboy then proceeded to explain, with a loud and continuous "clicking," that the fly which they saw was fatal in its bite, that the horses would surely die—sooner or later, according to the number of stings they had already received; but, from the swarm of insects around them, the Bushman had no doubt they had been badly stung and a single week would see all five of the horses dead.
"Wait, mein baas—morrow show." And to-morrow did show; for before twelve o'clock on the next day, the horses were swollen all over their bodies and about their heads. Their eyes were quite closed up; they refused any longer to eat, but staggered blindly among the luxuriant grass, every now and then expressing the pain they felt by a low melancholy whimpering. It was plain to every one they were going to die.
Von Bloom tried bleeding, and various other remedies; but to no purpose. There is no cure for the bite of the tsetse fly!
THE LONG-HORNED RHINOCEROS.
Great, indeed, was now the affliction of the field-cornet. Fortune seemed to be adverse in everything. Step by step he had been sinking for years, every year becoming poorer in worldly wealth. He had now reached the lowest point—poverty itself. He owned nothing whatever. His horses might be regarded as dead. The cow had escaped from the tsetse by avoiding the cliffs, and keeping out upon the plain; and this animal now constituted his whole live-stock,—his whole property! True, he still had his fine wagon; but of what use would that be without either oxen or horses? a wagon without a team! Better a team without a wagon.
What could he do? How was he to escape from the position he was placed in? To say the least, it was an awkward one—nearly two hundred miles from any civilised settlement, and no means of getting there,—no means except by walking; and how were his children to walk two hundred miles? Impossible!
Across desert tracts, exposed not only to terrible fatigue, but to hunger, thirst, and fierce carnivorous animals. It appeared impossible that they could accomplish such a task.
And what else was there to be done? asked the field-cornet of himself. Were they to remain there all their lives, subsisting precariously on game and roots? Were his children to become "Bush-boys,"—himself a Bushman?
With these reflections passing through his mind, no wonder that Von Bloom felt deeply afflicted.
"Merciful Heaven!" he exclaimed, as he sat with his head between his hands, "what will become of me and mine?"
Poor Von Bloom! he had reached the lowest point of his fortunes.
He had, in reality, reached the lowest point; for on that very day,— even within that very hour—an incident occurred, that not only gave relief to his afflicted spirit, but that promised to lay the foundation of future wealth and prosperity. In one hour from that time the prospects of the field-cornet had undergone a complete change,—in one hour from that time he was a happy man, and all around him were as happy as he!
You are impatient to hear how this change was effected? What little fairy had sprung out of the spring, or come down from the cliffs, to befriend the good field-cornet in his hour of misery? You are impatient to hear! Then you shall hear.
The sun was just going down. They were all seated under the great tree, and near a fire, upon which they had cooked their supper. There was no talking, no cheerful conversation,—for the children saw that their father was in trouble, and that kept them silent. Not a word passed between them, or only an occasional whisper.
It was at this moment that Von Bloom gave utterance to his sad thoughts in words as above.
As if seeking for an answer, his eyes were raised to heaven, and then wandered around the plain. All at once they became fixed upon a singular object, that appeared at some distance off, and was just emerging from the bushes.
It was an animal of some kind, and from its vast size Von Bloom and the others at first took it to be an elephant. None of them, except Swartboy, were accustomed to elephants in their wild state,—for, although these animals once inhabited the most southerly portion of Africa, they have long since deserted the settled districts, and are now only to be found far beyond the frontier of the colony. But they knew that there were elephants in these parts—as they had already observed their tracks—and all now supposed the huge creature that was approaching must be one.
Not all, Swartboy was an exception. As soon as his eyes fell upon the animal he cried out,—
"A rhinoster, is it?" said Von Bloom, knowing that "chukuroo" was the native name for the rhinoceros, or "rhinoster," as he called it in Dutch.
"Ya, baas," replied Swartboy; "and one o' da big karles—da 'kobaoba,' da long-horn white rhinoster."
What Swartboy meant by this was that the animal in question was a large species of rhinoceros, known among the natives as the "kobaoba."
Now I dare say, young reader, you have been all your life under the impression that there was but one species of rhinoceros in the world— that is the rhinoceros. Is it not so? Yes.
Well, permit me to inform you, that you have been under a wrong impression. There is quite a number of distinct species of this very singular animal. At least eight distinct kinds I know of; and I do not hesitate to say that when the central parts of Africa have been fully explored, as well as South Asia and the Asiatic islands, nearly half as many more will be found to exist.
In South Africa four distinct species are well-known; one in North Africa differs from all these; while the large Indian rhinoceros bears but slight resemblance to any of them. A distinct species from any is the rhinoceros of Sumatra, an inhabitant of that island; and still another is the Java rhinoceros, found in the island of Java. Thus we have no less than eight kinds, all specifically differing from one another.
The best known in museums, zoological collections, and pictures, is perhaps the Indian animal. It is the one marked by the singular foldings of its skin, thickly embellished with protuberances or knobs, that give it a shield-like appearance. This distinguishes it from the African species, all of which are without these knobs, though the hides of some are knotty or warty. The Abyssinian rhinoceros has also foldings of the skin, which approach it somewhat to the character of the Indian species. Both the Sumatra and Java kinds are small compared with their huge cousin, the Indian rhinoceros, which inhabits only continental India, Siam, and Cochin China.
The Javan species more resembles the Indian, in having scutellae over the skin and being one-horned. It is, however, without the singular folds which characterise the latter. That of Sumatra has neither folds nor scutellae. Its skin has a slight covering of hair, and a pair of horns gives it some resemblance to the two-horned species of Africa.
The natives of South Africa are acquainted with four distinct species of rhinoceros, to which they give distinct names; and it may be remarked that this observation of species by native hunters is far more to be depended upon than the speculations of mere closet-naturalists, who draw their deductions from a tubercle, or the tooth, or a stuffed skin. If there be any value in a knowledge of animated nature, it is not to these we are indebted for that knowledge, but far oftener to the "rude hunters," whom they affect to despise, and who, after all, have taught us pretty much all we know of the habits of animals. Such a "rude hunter" as Gordon Cumming, for example, has done more to increase the knowledge of African zoology than a whole college full of "speculating" savans.
This same Gordon Cumming, who has been accused of exaggeration (but in my opinion very wrongfully accused), has written a very modest and truthful book, which tells you that there are four kinds of rhinoceroses in Southern Africa; and no man is likely to know better than he.
These four kinds are known among the natives as the "borele," the "keitloa," the "muchocho," and "kobaoba." The two first are "black rhinoceroses,"—that is, the general colour of their skin is dark—while the "muchocho" and "kobaoba" are white varieties, having the skin of a dingy whitish hue. The black rhinoceroses are much smaller—scarce half the size of the others, and they differ from them in the length and set of their horns, as well as in other particulars.
The horns of the "borele" are placed—as in all rhinoceroses,—upon a bony mass over the nostrils,—hence the word "rhinoceros" (rhis, the nose, chiras, a horn.)
In the "borele" they stand erect, curving slightly backwards, and one behind the other. The anterior horn is the longer—rarely above eighteen inches in length—but it is often broken or rubbed shorter, and in no two individuals is there equality in this respect. The posterior horn in this species is only a sort of knob; whereas in the "keitloa," or two-horned black rhinoceros, both horns are developed to a nearly equal length.
In the "muchocho" and "kobaoba," the after horns can hardly be said to exist, but the anterior one in both species far exceeds in length those of the borele and keitloa. In the muchocho it is frequently three feet in length, while the kobaoba is often seen with a horn four feet long, jutting out from the end of its ugly snout—a fearful weapon!
The horns of the two last do not curve back, but point forward; and as both these carry their heads low down the long sharp spike is often borne horizontally. In the form and length of their neck, the set of their ears, and other respects, the black rhinoceroses differ materially from the white ones. In fact, their habits are quite unlike. The former feed chiefly on the leaves and twigs of thorns, such as the Acacia horrida, or "wait-a-bits," while the latter live upon grass. The former are of fiercer disposition—will attack man or any other animal on sight; and even sometimes seem to grow angry with the bushes, charging upon them and breaking them to pieces!
The white rhinoceroses, although fierce enough when wounded or provoked, are usually of pacific disposition, and will permit the hunter to pass without molestation.
These become very fat, and make excellent eating. The flesh of no African animal is esteemed superior to the calf of the white rhinoceros, whereas the black varieties never grow fat, and their flesh is tough and unpalatable.
The horns of all four are used by the natives for many purposes, being solid, of fine texture, and susceptible of a high polish. Out of the longer horns the natives manufacture "knobkerries" (clubs), and loading-rods for their guns. The shorter ones afford material for mallets, drinking-cups, handles for small tools, and the like. In Abyssinia, and other parts of Northern Africa, where swords are in use, sword-hilts are made from the horns of the rhinoceros.
The hide is also used for different purposes, among others for making the whips known as "jamboks," though hippopotamus-hide is superior.
The skin of the African rhinoceros, as already stated, is without the plaits, folds, and scutellae, that characterise its Asiatic congener, yet it is far from being a soft one. It is so thick and difficult to pierce, that a bullet of ordinary lead will sometimes flatten upon it. To ensure its penetrating, the lead must be hardened with solder.
The rhinoceros, though not a water animal, like the hippopotamus, is nevertheless fond of that element, and is rarely found at a great distance from it. All four kinds love to lie and wallow in mud, just as hogs in a summer's day; and they are usually seen coated all over with this substance. During the day they may be observed lying down or standing under the shade of some thick mimosa-tree, either asleep or in a state of easy indolence; and it is during the night that they wander about in search of food and water. If approached from the lee side they can easily be got at, as their small sparkling eyes do not serve them well. On the contrary, if the hunter go to windward, they will scent him at a great distance, as their sense of smell is most acute. If their eyes were only as keen as their nostrils, it would be a dangerous game to attack them, for they can run with sufficient rapidity to overtake a horse in the first charge.
In charging and running, the black variety far excels the white. They are easily avoided, however, by the hunter springing quickly to one side, and letting them rush blindly on.
The black rhinoceros is about six feet high at the shoulder, and full thirteen in length; while the white kinds are far larger. The "kobaoba" is full seven feet high, and fourteen in length!
No wonder that an animal of these extraordinary dimensions was at first sight taken for the elephant. In fact, the kobaoba rhinoceros is the quadruped next to the elephant in size; and with his great muzzle—full eighteen inches broad—his long clumsy head, his vast ponderous body, this animal impresses one with an idea of strength and massive grandeur as great, and some say greater than the elephant himself. He looks, indeed, like a caricature of the elephant. It was not such a bad mistake, then, when our people by the wagon took the "kobaoba" for the "mighty elephant."
Swartboy, however, set them all right by declaring that the animal they saw was the white rhinoceros.
A HEAVY COMBAT.
When they first saw the kobaoba, he was, as stated, just coming out of the thicket. Without halting, he headed in the direction of the vley already mentioned; and kept on towards it, his object evidently being to reach the water.
This little lake, of course, owed its existence to the spring—though it was full two hundred yards from the latter—and about the same from the great tree. It was nearly circular in shape, and about one hundred yards in diameter, so that its superficial area would thus be a little over two English acres. It merited, then, the name of "lake;" and by that name the young people already called it.
On its upper side—that in the direction of the spring—its shore was high, and in one or two places rocky, and these rocks ran back to the spring along the channel of a little rivulet. On the west or outer side of the lake the land lay lower, and the water at one or two points lipped up nearly to the level of the plain. For this reason it was, that upon that side, the bank was paddled all over with tracks of animals that had been to drink. Hendrik the hunter had observed among them the footprints of many kinds he knew nothing about.
It was for the lower end of the lake the kobaoba was making—no doubt with him an old and favourite drinking-place.
There was a point where the water was easier of access than elsewhere—a little to one side of where the wash or waste-stream of the lake ran out. It was a sort of cove with bright sandy beach, and approachable from the plain by a miniature gorge, hollowed out, no doubt, by the long usage of those animals who came to drink at the vley. By entering this cove, the tallest animals might get deep water and good bottom, so that they could drink without much straining or stooping. The kobaoba came on in a direct line for the lake; and as he drew near, they could see him heading for the gorge that led into the little cove. It proved he had been there before.
Next moment he passed through the gap, and stood knee-deep in the water.
After swallowing several copious draughts—now sneezing, and then wheezing—he plunged his broad snout, horn and all, into the water, tossed it till it foamed, and then lying down in it, commenced wallowing like a hog.
The place was shallow, and most of his huge body was above the surface— though there was deep enough water in the lake to have given him a bath had he desired it.
The first thought of Von Bloom, as well as of Hendrik, was how to "circumvent" the rhinoceros, and of course destroy him. Not that they simply wished his destruction; but Swartboy had already represented what fine food the species was, and there was no stock of provision in camp. Hendrik had another object in wishing the death of the creature. He wanted a new loading-rod for his rifle; and he had gazed covetously at the kobaoba's long horn.
But it was easier to desire the death of the rhinoceros than to accomplish it. They had no horses—at least none that could be mounted—and to attack the animal on foot would be a game as dangerous as idle. He would be like enough to impale one of them on his great spike, or else trample them brutally under his huge feet. If he did not do one or the other, he would easily make his escape—as any kind of rhinoceros can outrun a man.
How were they to manage him then?
Perhaps they might get near—fire at him from an ambush, and with a lucky shot stretch him out. A single bullet sometimes kills the rhinoceros—but only when correctly placed, so as to penetrate the heart, or some other of the "vitals."
This was, probably, the best plan. They might easily get near enough. There was some bush cover close to the spot. It was probable the old kobaoba would not perceive them, if they approached from leeward, particularly as he seemed in the full tide of enjoyment at that moment.
They were about to attempt the approach, and had got to their feet for that purpose, when a sudden fit seemed to have attacked Swartboy. The latter commenced jumping over the ground, at the same time muttering in a low voice,—
"Da klow! da klow!"
A stranger would have fancied Swartboy in a fit, but Von Bloom knew that by "Da klow! da klow!" the Bushman meant "The elephant! the elephant!" and therefore looked in the direction in which Swartboy was pointing.
Sure enough, upon the western plain, looming up against the yellow sky, was a dark mass, that upon examination presented the outlines of an elephant. Its rounded back was easily distinguished over the low bushes; and its broad hanging ears were moving as it marched. All saw at a glance that it was coming towards the lake, and almost in the same track that the rhinoceros had taken.
Of course this new apparition quite disarranged the plans of the hunters. At sight of the mighty elephant, they scarce any longer gave a thought to the kobaoba. Not that they had formed any very great hopes of being able to kill the gigantic animal, yet some such thought was running through their minds. They had determined to try, at all events.
Before they could agree upon any plan, however, the elephant had got up to the edge of the lake. Though moving only at a slow walk, with his immense strides he soon measured off a large quantity of ground, and advanced much more rapidly than one would have supposed. The hunters had scarce time to exchange thoughts, before the huge creature was up within a few yards of the water.
Here he halted, pointed his proboscis in different directions, stood quite silent, and seemed to listen.
There was no noise to disturb him—even the kobaoba for the moment was quiet.
After standing a minute or so, the huge creature moved forward again, and entered the gorge already described.
They at the camp had now a full view of him, at less than three hundred yards distance. An immense mass he seemed. His body quite filled the gorge from side to side, and his long yellow tusks projecting more than two yards from his jaws, curved gracefully upward. He was an "old bull," as Swartboy whispered.
Up to this time the rhinoceros had not had the slightest intimation of the elephant's approach; for the tread of the latter—big beast as he is—is as silent as a cat's. It is true that a loud rumbling noise like distant thunder proceeded from his inside as he moved along; but the kobaoba was in too high a caper just then to have heard or noticed any sound that was not very near and distinct.
The huge body of the elephant coming suddenly into "his sunshine," and flinging its dark shadow over the vley, was distinct enough, and caused the kobaoba to get to his feet with an agility quite surprising for a creature of his build.
At the same time a noise, something between a grunt and a whistle escaped him, as the water was ejected from his nostrils.
The elephant also uttered his peculiar salute in a trumpet note, that echoed from the cliffs and halted in his tracks as soon as he saw the rhinoceros.
No doubt both were surprised at the rencontre as both stood for some seconds eyeing each other with apparent astonishment.
This, however, soon gave place to a different feeling. Symptoms of anger began to show themselves. It was evident that bad blood was brewing between them.
There was, in fact, a little dilemma. The elephant could not get comfortably at the water unless the rhinoceros left the cove; and the rhinoceros could not well get out of the cove, so long as the elephant blocked up the gorge with his immense thick limbs.
It is true, the kobaoba might have sneaked through among the other's legs, or he might have swum off and landed at some other point, and in either way have left the coast clear.
But of all animals in the world a rhinoceros is, perhaps, the most unaccommodating. He is, also, one of the most fearless, dreading neither man nor beast—not even the boasted lion, whom he often chases like a cat. Hence the old kobaoba had no intention of yielding ground to the elephant; and from his attitude, it was plain that he neither intended to sneak off under the other's belly, nor swim a single stroke for him. No—not a stroke.
It remained to be seen how the point of honour was to be decided. The attitude of affairs had become so interesting, that every one by the camp was gazing with fixed eyes upon the two great bulls—for the rhinoceros was also a "bull" and of the largest size known of his kind.
For several minutes they stood eyeing each other. The elephant, although much the larger, knew his antagonist well. He had met his "sort" before, and knew better than to despise his powers. Perhaps, ere now, he had had a touch of that long spit-like excrescence that stood out from the kobaoba's snout.
At all events, he did not rush upon his adversary at once—as he would have done on some poor antelope that might have crossed him in the same way.
His patience, however, became exhausted. His ancient dignity was insulted—his rule disputed—he wished to have his bath and his drink— he could bear the insolence of the rhinoceros no longer.
With a bellow that made the rocks ring again, he charged forward; placed his tusks firmly under the shoulder of his adversary,—gave a mighty "lift," and turned the rhinoceros over in the water!
For a moment the latter plunged, and blowed, and snorted, his head half under water; but in a second's time he was on his feet again, and charging in turn. The spectators could see that he aimed right at the elephant's ribs with his horn, and that the latter did all he could to keep head towards him.
Again the elephant flung the kobaoba, and again the latter rose and charged madly upon his huge antagonist; and so both fought until the water around them was white with foam.
The contest was carried on in the water, until the elephant, seeming to think his adversary had an advantage there, backed himself into the gorge, and stood waiting with his head towards the lake. In this position the sides of the gorge did not protect him, as perhaps he fancied. They were too low, and his broad flanks rose far above them. They only kept him from turning round, and this interfered with the freedom of his movements.
It could scarce have been design in the rhinoceros to act as he now did, though it appeared so to those who were watching. As the elephant took up his position in the gorge, the kobaoba clambered out upon the bank; and then, wheeling suddenly, with head to the ground and long horn projected horizontally, the latter rushed upon his antagonist and struck him right among the ribs. The spectators saw that the horn penetrated, and the loud scream that came from the elephant, with the quick motions of his trunk and tail, told plainly that he had received a severe wound. Instead of standing any longer in the gorge he rushed forward, and did not stop until he was knee-deep in the lake. Drawing the water up into his trunk, he raised it on high, and pointing it backwards, he discharged large volumes over his body, and upon the spot where he had received the thrust of the kobaoba's horn.
He then ran out of the lake, and charged about in search of the rhinoceros; but long-horn was nowhere to be found!
Having escaped from the cove without compromising his dignity, and perhaps believing that he had gained the victory, the rhinoceros, as soon as he delivered the thrust, had galloped off and disappeared among the bushes.
THE DEATH OF THE ELEPHANT.
The battle between these two large quadrupeds did not continue for more than ten minutes. During that time the hunters made no advance towards attacking either of them—so much absorbed were they in watching the novel contest. It was only after the rhinoceros had retreated, and the elephant returned to the water, that they once more began to deliberate on some plan of assaulting this mightiest of African animals. Hans now laid hold of his gun and joined them.
The elephant, after looking about for his enemy had got back, and was standing knee-deep in the lake. He appeared restless and highly excited. His tail was continually in motion, and at intervals he uttered a piercing melancholy scream—far different to the usual trumpet-like bellow of his voice. He lifted his huge limbs, and then plunged them back again to the bottom, until the foam gathered upon the water with his continued churning.
But the oddest of his actions was the manner in which he employed his long tubular trunk. With this he sucked up vast volumes of water, and then pointing it backwards ejected the fluid over his back and shoulders, as if from an immense syringe. This shower-bath he kept repeating time after time, though it was evident he was not at his ease.
They all knew he was angry. Swartboy said it would be exceedingly dangerous to be seen by him at that moment, without having a horse to gallop out of his way. On this account every one of them had concealed themselves behind the trunk of the nwana-tree, Von Bloom peeping past one side, and Hendrik the other, in order to watch his movements.
Notwithstanding the danger, they at length resolved to attack him. They believed that if they did not do so soon, he would walk off, and leave them supperless—for they had hoped to sup upon a slice of his trunk. Time, therefore, had grown precious, and they resolved to attack him without further ado.
They intended to creep as near as was safe. All three would fire together, and then lie close in the bushes until they saw the effect of their shots.
Without further parley, Von Bloom, Hans, and Hendrik, leaving the tree, crept through the bushes towards the western end of the lake. It was not a continuous thicket, but only an assemblage of copses and clumps, so that they required to steal very cautiously from one to the other. Von Bloom led the way, while the boys kept in his tracks, following him closely.
After some five minutes spent in this way they got under cover of a little clump near the water's edge, and near enough to the gigantic game. Upon their hands and knees they now approached the verge of the underwood; and having parted the leaves, looked through. The mighty quadruped was right under their eyes, within twenty yards of them!
He was still busy plunging about, and blowing volumes of water over his body. He gave no sign that he had any suspicion of their presence. They could take time, therefore, in choosing a part of his huge body at which to aim their pieces.
When first seen from their new position, he was standing stern towards them. Von Bloom did not think it a good time to fire, as they could not give him a deadly wound in that situation. They waited, therefore, until he might turn his side, before they should deliver their volley. They kept their eyes all the while steadily fixed on him.
He ceased at length to "churn" with his feet, and no longer raised water in his trunk; and now the hunters perceived that the lake was red for a space around him! It was his blood that had reddened it.
They no longer doubted that he had been wounded by the rhinoceros; but whether the wound was a bad one they could not tell. It was in his side, and as yet they could only see his broad stern from the position in which he still continued to stand. But they waited with confidence— as they knew that in turning to get out of the water, he would have to present his side towards them.
For several minutes he kept the same position, but they noticed that his tail no longer switched about, and that his attitude was loose and drooping. Now and then he turned his proboscis to the spot where he had received the thrust of the kobaoba's horn. It was evident that the wound was distressing him, and this became more apparent by the loud painful breathing the creature uttered through his trunk.
The three began to grow impatient. Hendrik asked leave to creep round to another point, and give him a shot that would turn him round.
Just at that moment the elephant made a motion, as though he was about to come out of the water.
He had got fairly round—his head and forepart were over dry land—the three guns were pointed—the eyes of the three hunters were about to glance through the sights of their pieces, when all at once he was seen to rock and stagger,—and then roll over! With a loud plash, his vast body subsided into the water, sending great waves to every corner of the lake.
The hunters uncocked their guns, and, springing from their ambush, rushed forward to the bank. They saw at a glance that the elephant was dead. They saw the wound upon his side,—the hole made by the horn of the rhinoceros. It was not very large, but the terrible weapon had penetrated far into his body, into his very vitals. No wonder, then, at the result it had produced—the death of the mightiest of quadrupeds.
As soon as it became known that the elephant was dead, everybody was seen rushing forward to the spot. Little Truey and Jan were called from their hiding-place—for they had both been hidden in the wagon—and Totty, too, went down with the rest. Swartboy was one of the first upon the spot, carrying an axe and a large knife—for Swartboy had designs upon the carcass—while Hans and Hendrik both threw off their jackets to assist in the butchering operations.
And what during this time was Von Bloom about? Ha! That is a more important question than you think for. That was an important hour—the hour of a great crisis in the life of the field-cornet.
He was standing with folded arms on the bank of the lake, directly over the spot where the elephant had fallen. He appeared to be wrapt in silent meditation, his eyes bent upon the huge carcass of the animal. No, not on the carcass. A close observer would have perceived that his eyes did not wander over that mountain of thick skin and flesh, but were resting upon a particular spot.
Was it the wound in the animal's side? And was Von Bloom meditating how the thrust had caused the death of such a huge creature?