Neither one nor the other. His thoughts were upon a very different theme from either.
The elephant had fallen so that his head was clear of the water, and rested upon a little bank of sand; along which, his soft and limber trunk lay extended to its full length. Curving like a pair of gigantic scimitars from its base, were the yellow enamelled tusks; those ivory arms that for years,—ay centuries, perhaps,—had served him to root up the trees of the forest, and rout his antagonists in many a dread encounter. Precious and beautiful trophies were they, but alas! their world-wide fame had cost no less than life to many thousands of his race.
Shining in all their magnificence lay these mated crescents, gently curved and softly rounded. It was upon these that the eyes of the field-cornet were bent.
Ay, and bent too with an eagerness unusual in his glance. His lips were compressed, his chest was visibly heaving. Oh! there was a world of thoughts passing through the mind of Von Bloom at that moment.
Were they painful thoughts? The expression of his face told the contrary. The cloud that all that day sat perched upon his brow had vanished. Not a trace of it remained, but in its place could be seen the lines of hope and joy, and these feelings at length found expression in words.
"It is the hand of Heaven!" he exclaimed aloud. "A fortune—a fortune!"
"What is it, papa?" inquired little Truey, who was near him; "what were you speaking about, dear papa?"
And then all the others gathered around him, noticing his excited manner, and pleased at seeing him look so happy.
"What is it, papa?" asked all together, while Swartboy and Totty stood eager as the rest to hear the answer.
In the pleasant excitement of his thoughts, the fond father could no longer conceal from his children the secret of his new-born happiness. He would gratify them by disclosing it.
Pointing to the long crescents he said,—
"You see those beautiful tusks?"
Yes, of course, they all did.
"Well, do you know their value?"
No. They knew they were worth something. They knew that it was from elephants' tusks that ivory was obtained, or, more properly, that elephants' tusks were ivory itself; and that it was used in the manufacture of hundreds of articles. In fact, little Truey had a beautiful fan made out of it, which had been her mother's; and Jan had a knife with an ivory handle. Ivory was a very beautiful material and cost very dear, they knew. All this they knew, but the value of the two tusks they could not guess at. They said so.
"Well, my children," said Von Bloom, "as near as I can estimate them, they are worth twenty pounds each of English money."
"Oh! oh! Such a grand sum!" cried all in a breath.
"Yes," continued the field-cornet; "I should think each tusk is one hundred pounds in weight, and as ivory at present sells for four shillings and sixpence the pound weight, these two would yield between forty and fifty pounds of sterling money."
"Why, it would buy a full span of best oxen!" cried Hans.
"Four good horses!" said Hendrik.
"A whole flock of sheep!" added little Jan.
"But whom can we sell them to?" asked Hendrik, after a pause. "We are away from the settlements. Who is to give us either oxen, or horses, or sheep, for them? It would not be worth while to carry two tusks all the way—"
"Not two, Hendrik," said his father, interrupting him; "but twenty it might,—ay, twice twenty, or three times that number. Now, do you understand what makes me so gay?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Hendrik, as well as the others, who now began to perceive what their father was so joyed about, "you think we can obtain more tusks in these parts?"
"Precisely so. I think there are many elephants here. I feel certain of it from the quantity of their spoor I have already noticed. We have our guns, and fortunately, plenty of ammunition. We are all pretty fair shots—why can we not obtain more of these valuable trophies?
"But we shall," continued Von Bloom. "I know we shall, because I recognise the hand of God in sending us this wealth in the midst of our misery—after we had lost everything. More will come by the guiding of the same hand. So be of good cheer, my children! We shall not want—we shall yet have plenty—we may be rich!"
It was not that any of those young creatures cared much about being rich, but because they saw their father so happy, that they broke out into something more than a murmur of applause. It was, in fact, a cheer, in which both Totty and Swartboy joined. It rang over the little lake, and caused the birds about settling to roost to wonder what was going on. There was no happier group in all Africa than stood at that moment upon the shore of that lonely little vley.
The field-cornet, then, had resolved upon turning hunter by profession— a hunter of elephants; and it was a pleasant reflection to think, that this occupation promised, not only exciting sport, but great profit. He knew that it was not so easy a matter to succeed in killing such large and valuable game as elephants. He did not suppose that in a few weeks or months he would obtain any great quantities of their ivory spoils; but he had made up his mind to spend even years in the pursuit. For years he should lead the life of a Bushman—for years his sons would be "Bush-boys," and he hoped that in time his patience and toil would be amply rewarded.
That night around the camp-fire all were very happy and very merry. The elephant had been left where he lay, to be cut up on the morrow. Only his trunk had been taken off—part of which was cooked for supper.
Although all the flesh of the elephant is eatable, the trunk is esteemed one of the delicate bits. It tastes not unlike ox-tongue; and all of them liked it exceedingly. To Swartboy, who had made many a meal upon "de ole klow," it was a highly-relished feast.
They had plenty of fine milk, too. The cow, now upon the best of pasture, doubled her yield; and the quantity of this, the most delicious of all drinks, was sufficient to give every one a large allowance.
While enjoying their new-fashioned dish of roast elephant-trunk, the conversation naturally turned upon these animals.
Everybody knows the appearance of the elephant, therefore a description of him is quite superfluous. But everybody does not know that there are two distinct kinds of this gigantic quadruped—the African and Asiatic.
Until a late period they were thought to be of the same species. Now they are acknowledged to be, not only distinct, but very different in many respects. The Asiatic, or, as it is more frequently called, the "Indian" elephant is the larger of the two; but it is possible that domestication may have produced a larger kind, as is the rule with many animals. The African species exists only in a wild state; and it would appear that individuals of this kind have been measured having the dimensions of the largest of the wild Asiatic elephants.
The most remarkable points of difference between the two are found in the ears and tusks. The ears of the African elephant are of enormous proportions, meeting each other above the shoulders, and hanging down below the breast. Those of the Indian elephant are scarce one-third the size. In his grand tusks the former has far the advantage—these in some individuals weighing nearly two hundred pounds each—while the tusks of the latter rarely reach the weight of one hundred. To this, however, there are some exceptions. Of course a two hundred pound tusk is one of the very largest, and far above the average even of African elephants. In this species the females are also provided with tusks— though not of such size as in the males—whereas the female of the Indian elephant has either no tusks at all, or they are so small as to be scarcely perceptible outside the skin of the lips. The other chief points of difference between the two are that the front of the Asiatic elephant is concave, while that of the African is convex; and the former has four horny toes or sabots on the hind-foot, where only three appear upon that of the latter. The enamel of the teeth presents still another proof of these animals being different in species.
Nor are all Asiatic elephants alike. In this species there are varieties which present very distinct features; and, indeed, these "varieties," as they are called, appear to differ from each other, nearly as much as any one of them does from the African kind.
One variety known among Orientals by the name of "mooknah," has straight tusks that point downward, whereas the usual habit of these singular appendages is to curve upward.
Asiatics recognise two main castes, or perhaps species, among their elephants. One known as "coomareah," is a deep-bodied, compact, and strong animal, with large trunk and short legs. The other called "merghee," is a taller kind, but neither so compact nor strong as the coomareah, nor has he so large a trunk. His long legs enable him to travel faster than the coomareah; but the latter having a larger trunk (a point of beauty among elephant-owners) and being capable of enduring more fatigue, is the favourite, and fetches a larger price in the Oriental market.
Occasionally a white elephant is met with. This is simply an "albino," but such are greatly prized in many countries of Asia, and large sums are given for them. They are even held in superstitious veneration in some parts.
The Indian elephant at the present time inhabits most of the southern countries of Asia, including the large islands, Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, etcetera. Of course every one knows that in these countries the elephant has been trained long ago to the use of man, and is one of the "domestic animals." But he also exists in a wild state, both upon the continent of Asia and in its islands; and hunting the elephant is one of the grand sport of the East.
In Africa the elephant exists only in a state of nature. None of the nations upon this little-known continent tame or train him to any purpose. He is only prized among them for his precious tusks, and his flesh as well. Some have asserted that this species is more fierce than its Indian congener, and could not be domesticated. This is altogether a mistake. The reason why the African elephant is not trained, is simply that none of the modern nations of Africa have yet reached a high enough point of civilisation to avail themselves of the services of this valuable animal.
The African elephant may be domesticated and trained to the "howdah," or castle, as easily as his Indian cousin. The trial has been made; but that it can be done no better proof is required than that at one period it was done, and upon a large scale. The elephants of the Carthaginian army were of this species.
The African elephant at present inhabits the central and southern parts of Africa. Abyssinia on the east, and Senegal on the west, are his northern limits, and but a few years ago he roamed southward to the very Cape of Good Hope. The activity of the Dutch ivory-hunters, with their enormous long guns, has driven him from that quarter; and he is no longer to be found to the south of the Orange River.
Some naturalists (Cuvier among others) believed the Abyssinian elephant to be of the Indian species. That idea is now exploded, and there is no reason to think that the latter inhabits any part of Africa. It is very likely there are varieties of the African species in different parts of the continent. It is well-known that those of the tropical regions are larger than the others; and a reddish and very fierce kind is said to be met with in the mountains of Africa, upon the river Niger. It is probable, however, that these red elephants seen have been some whose bodies were coated with red dust, as it is a habit of elephants to powder themselves with dust on many occasions, using their trunks as "dredgers."
Swartboy spoke of a variety well-known among the Hottentot hunters as the "koes-cops." This kind, he said, differed from the ordinary ones by its altogether wanting the tusks, and being of a far more vicious disposition. Its encounter is more dreaded; but as it possesses no trophies to make it worth the trouble and danger of killing, the hunters usually give it a wide berth.
Such was the conversation that night around the camp-fire. Much of the information here given was furnished by Hans, who of course had gathered it from books; but the Bushman contributed his quota—perhaps of a far more reliable character. All were destined ere long to make practical acquaintance with the haunts and habits of this huge quadruped, that to them had now become the most interesting of all the animal creation.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
"JERKING" AN ELEPHANT.
Next day was one of severe, but joyful labour. It was spent in "curing" the elephant, not in a medical sense, but in the language of the provision-store.
Although not equal to either beef or mutton, or even pork, the flesh of the elephant is sufficiently palatable to be eaten. There is no reason why it should not be, for the animal is a clean feeder, and lives altogether on vegetable substances—the leaves and tender shoots of trees, with several species of bulbous roots, which he well knows how to extract from the ground with his tusks and trunk. It does not follow from this that his beef should be well tasted—since we see that the hog, one of the most unclean of feeders, yields most delicious "pork;" while another of the same family (pachydermatii) that subsists only on sweet succulent roots, produces a flesh both insipid and bitter. I allude to the South American tapir. The quality of the food, therefore, is no criterion of the quality of the flesh.
It is true that the beef of the elephant was not what Von Bloom and most of his family would have chosen for their regular diet. Had they been sure of procuring a supply of antelope venison, the great carcass might have gone, not to the "dogs," but to their kindred the hyenas. But they were not sure of getting even a single antelope, and therefore decided upon "curing" the elephant. It would be a safe stock to have on hand, and need not interfere with their eating venison, or any other dainty that might turn up.
The first thing done was to cut out the tusks. This proved a tough job, and occupied full two hours. Fortunately there was a good axe on hand. But for this and Swartboy's knowledge, double the time might have been wasted in the operation.
The ivory having been extracted and put away in a safe place, the "cutting up" then commenced in earnest. Von Bloom and Swartboy were the "baas-butchers," while Hans and Hendrik played the part of "swabs." As the carcass lay half under water, they would have had some difficulty in dealing with the under part. But this they did not design to touch. The upper half would be amply sufficient to provision them a long while; and so they set about removing the skin from that side that was uppermost.
The rough thick outer coat they removed in broad sheets cut into sections; and then they peeled off several coats of an under-skin, of tough and pliant nature. Had they needed water-vessels, Swartboy would have saved this for making them—as it is used for such purposes by the Bushmen and other natives. But they had vessels enough in the wagon, and this skin was thrown away.
They had now reached the pure flesh, which they separated in large sheets from the ribs; and then the ribs were cut out, one by one, with the axe. This trouble they would not have taken—as they did not want the ribs—but they cut them away for another reason, namely, to enable them to get at the valuable fat, which lies in enormous quantities around the intestines. Of course for all cooking purposes, the fat would be to them invaluable, and indeed almost necessary to render the flesh itself eatable.
It is no easy matter to get at the fat in the inside of an elephant, as the whole of the intestines have first to be removed. But Swartboy was not to be deterred by a little trouble; so climbing into the interior of the huge carcass, he commenced cutting and delving, and every now and then passing a multitude of "inwards" out to the others, who carried them off out of the way.
After a long spell of this work, the fat was secured, and carefully packed in a piece of clean under-skin; and then the "butchering" was finished.
Of course the four feet, which along with the trunk are considered the "tit-bits," had already been separated at the fetlock joint; and stood out upon the bank, for the future consideration of Swartboy.
The next thing to be done was to "cure" the meat. They had a stock of suit—that precious, though, as lately discovered, not indispensable article. But the quantity—stowed away in a dry corner of the wagon— was small, and would have gone but a short way in curing an elephant.
They had no idea of using it for such a purpose. Flesh can be preserved without salt; and not only Swartboy, but Von Bloom himself, knew how to preserve it. In all countries where salt is scarce, the process of "jerking" meat is well understood, and consists simply in cutting it into thin strips and hanging it out in the sun. A few days of bright warm sunshine will "jerk" it sufficiently; and meat thus dried will keep good for months. A slow fire will answer the purpose nearly as well; and in the absence of sunshine, the fire is often resorted to.
Sun-dried meat in South Africa is called "biltongue." The Spaniards of Mexico name it "tasajo," while those of Peru style it "charqui." In English it is "jerked" meat.
Several hours were spent in cutting the elephant-beef into strips, and then a number of forked poles were set up, others were laid horizontally over the forks, and upon these the meat was suspended, and hung down in numberless festoons.
Before the sun went down, the neighbourhood of the camp presented a rare appearance. It looked somewhat like the enclosure of a yarn-bleacher, except that the hanging strips, instead of being white, were of a beautiful clear ruby colour.
But the work was not yet completed. The feet remained to be "preserved," and the mode of curing these was entirely different. That was a secret known only to Swartboy, and in the execution of it the Bushman played first fiddle, with the important air of a chef de cuisine. He proceeded as follows:—
He first dug a hole in the ground, about two feet deep, and a little more in diameter—just large enough to admit one of the feet, which was nearly two feet diameter at the base. The earth which came out of this hole Swartboy placed in the form of a loose embankment around the edge.
By his direction the boys had already collected upon the spot a large quantity of dried branches and logs. These Swartboy now built over the hole, into a pyramid of ten feet high, and then set the pile on fire. He next proceeded to make three other pits precisely similar, and built over each a fire like the first, until four large fires were burning upon the ground.
The fires being now fairly under way, he could only wait until each had burned down. This would carry the process into the night, and so it turned out; but Swartboy had a foresight of this. He knew he would get through with the more important portion of his work before bedtime.
When the first fire had burned quite to red cinders, Swartboy's hardest turn of duty began. With a shovel he lifted the cinders out of the hole, until it was empty; but he was more than an hour in performing this apparently simple labour. The difficulty arose from the intense heat he had to encounter, which drove him back after every few moments' work; so that he was compelled to retreat at intervals in order to cool himself.
The "baas," as well as Hendrik and Hans, took turns with him, until all four were perspiring as if they had been shut up for half-an-hour in a baker's oven.
When the hole was thoroughly scooped clean of coals, Swartboy, assisted by Von Bloom, lifted one of the huge feet; and, carrying it as near as they dare go on account of the scorching heat, they dropped it in upon its base.
The sandy earth which had been originally removed, and which was now as hot as molten lead, was pushed over, and around the foot; and then the cinders were raked on top, and over that another huge fire was kindled.
The same process was gone through with the other three feet, and all four were to be left in the "oven" until the fires should be burned down, when they would be found sufficiently baked.
Swartboy would then rake off the cinders, take out the feet with a sharp wooden spit, beat them well to get rid of the dust, scrape the sand clear, then pare off the outside skin, when they would be ready either to be eaten or would keep for a long time.
Swartboy would do all this as soon as the four huge bonfires should burn down.
But that would not be before the morning; so all of them, fatigued by the extraordinary exertions of the day, finished their suppers of broiled trunk, and went to rest under the protecting shadow of the nwana.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
THE HIDEOUS HYENA.
Fatigued as they were, they would soon have fallen asleep. But they were not permitted to do so. As they lay with closed eyes in that half-dreamy state that precedes sleep, they were suddenly startled by strange voices near the camp.
These voices were uttered in peals of loud laughter; and no one, unacquainted with them, would have pronounced them to be anything else than the voices of human beings. They exactly resembled the strong treble produced by the laugh of a maniac negro. It seemed as if some Bedlam of negroes had been let loose, and were approaching the spot.
I say approaching, because each moment the sounds grew clearer and louder; and it was evident that whatever gave utterance to them was coming nearer to the camp.
That there was more than one creature was evident—ay, and it was equally evident that there was more than one kind of creature; for so varied were the voices, it would have puzzled a ventriloquist to have given imitations of them all. There was howling, and whining, and grunting, and growling, and low melancholy moaning as of some one in pain, and hissing, and chattering, and short sharp intonations, as if it were the barking of dogs, and then a moment or two of deep silence, and again that chorus of human-like laughter, that in point of horror and hideous suggestions surpassed all the other sounds.
You will suppose that such a wild concert must have put the camp in a state of great alarm. Not a bit of it. Nobody was frightened the least—not even innocent little Truey, nor the diminutive Jan.
Had they been strangers to these sounds, no doubt they would have been more than frightened. They would have been terrified by them; for they were calculated to produce such an effect upon any one to whose ears they were new.
But Von Bloom and his family had lived too long upon the wild karoo to be ignorant of those voices. In the howling, and chattering, and yelping, they heard but the cries of the jackal; and they well knew the maniac laugh of the hideous hyena.
Instead of being alarmed, and springing from their beds, they lay still and listened—not dreading any attack from the noisy creatures.
Von Bloom and the children slept in the wagon; Swartboy and Totty upon the ground—but these lay close to the fires, and therefore did not fear wild beasts of any kind.
But the hyenas and jackals upon this occasion appeared to be both numerous and bold. In a few minutes after they were first heard, their cries rose around the camp on all sides, so near and so loud as to be positively disagreeable—even without considering the nature of the brutes that uttered them.
At last they came so close, that it was impossible to look in any direction without seeing a pair of green or red eyes gleaming under the light of the fires! White teeth, too, could be observed, as the hyenas opened their jaws, to give utterance to their harsh laughter-like cries.
With such a sight before their eyes, and such sounds ringing in their ears, neither Von Bloom nor any of his people—tired as they were—could go to sleep. Indeed, not only was sleep out of the question, but, worse than that, all—the field-cornet himself not excepted—began to experience some feelings of apprehension, if not actual alarm.
They had never beheld a troop of hyenas so numerous and fierce. There could not be less than two dozen of them around the camp, with twice that number of jackals.
Von Bloom knew that although, under ordinary circumstances, the hyena is not a dangerous animal, yet there are places and times when he will attack human beings. Swartboy knew this well, and Hans, too, from having read of it. No wonder, then, that some apprehension was felt by all of them.
The hyenas now behaved with such boldness, and appeared so ravenous, that sleep was out of the question. Some demonstration must be made to drive the brutes away from the camp.
Von Bloom, Hans, and Hendrik, laid hold of their guns, and got out of the wagon, while Swartboy armed himself with his bow and arrows. All four stood close by the trunk of the nwana, on the other side from that where the fires were. In this place they were in the shadow, where they could best observe anything that should come under the light of the fires without being themselves seen. Their position was well chosen.
They had scarcely fixed themselves in it, when they perceived a great piece of neglect they had been guilty of. Now, for the first time it occurred to them what had brought the hyenas around them in such numbers. Beyond a doubt it was the flesh of the elephant,—the biltongue.
That was what the beasts were after; and all now saw that a mistake had been committed in hanging the meat too low. The hyenas might easily get at it.
This was soon made manifest; for, even at the moment while they stood watching the red festoons, plainly visible under the light of Swartboy's fires, a shaggy spotted brute rushed forward, reared up on his hind-legs, seized one of the pieces, dragged it down from the pole, and then ran off with it into the darkness.
A rushing sound could be heard as the others joined him to get share of his plunder; and, no doubt, in less than half a minute the morsel was consumed; for, at the end of that time, glancing eyes and gleaming teeth showed that the whole troop was back again and ready to make a fresh seizure.
None of the hunters had fired, as the nimbleness with which the brutes moved about rendered it difficult to take aim at any one of them; and all knew that powder and lead were too precious to be wasted on a "flying shot."
Emboldened by their success, the hyenas had now drawn nearer, and in a moment more would have made a general charge upon the scaffolds of flesh, and, no doubt, would have succeeded in carrying off a large quantity of it. But just then it occurred to Von Bloom that it would be best to lay aside their guns and remedy the mistake they had made, by putting the biltongue out of reach. If they did not do so, they would either have to remain awake all night and guard it, or else lose every string of it.
How was it to be put out of reach?
At first they thought of collecting it into a heap and stowing it away in the wagon. That would not only be an unpleasant job, but it would interfere with their sleeping-quarters.
An alternative, however, presented itself. They saw that if the scaffolds were only high enough, the meat might be easily hung so as to be out of reach of the hyenas. The only question was, how to place the cross-poles a little higher. In the darkness they could not obtain a new set of uprights, and therein lay the difficulty. How were they to get over it?
Hans had the credit of suggesting a way: and that was, to take out some of the uprights, splice them to the others, with the forked ends uppermost, and then rest the horizontal poles on the upper forks. That would give a scaffold tall enough to hang the meat beyond the reach of either jackals or hyenas.
Hans's suggestion was at once adopted. Half of the uprights were taken up and spliced against the others so as to raise their forks full twelve feet in the air; and then the cross-poles were rested over their tops. By standing upon one of the wagon-chests, Von Bloom was able to fling the strips of meat over the horizontal poles, and in such a manner that it hung only a few inches down, and was now quite beyond the reach of the ravenous brutes.
When the business was finished, the party resumed their station under the shadow of the tree, intending to watch for a while, and see how the wolfish intruders would act.
They had not long to watch. In less than five minutes the troop approached the biltongue, howling, and gibbering, and laughing, as before; only this time uttering peculiar cries, as if to express disappointment. They saw at a glance that the tempting festoons were no longer within their reach!
They were not going to leave the ground, however, without assuring themselves of this fact; and several of the largest approached boldly under the scaffolds, and commenced leaping up to try the height.
After several attempts, springing each time as high as they were able, they appeared to grow discouraged; and no doubt would in time have imitated the fox with the grapes, and gone quietly away. But Von Bloom, indignant at being roused after such a fashion, from his pleasant rest, was determined to take some revenge upon his tormenters; so he whispered the word to the others, and a volley was delivered from behind the tree.
The unexpected discharge caused a quick scattering of both hyenas and jackals, and the pattering of their numerous feet could be heard as they ran off. When the ground under the scaffold was examined, two of the larger of these ravenous quadrupeds, and one of the smaller, were found to have bitten the dust.
Swartboy had discharged his arrow along with the guns, and it was he that had slain the jackal, for the poisoned shaft was seen sticking between the animal's ribs.
The guns were again loaded, the party took their stations as before; but, although they waited another half-hour, neither hyena nor jackal made their appearance.
They had not gone far away, however, as their wild music testified; but the reason they did not return was, that they had now discovered the half carcass of the elephant that lay in the lake, and upon that they were making their supper. Their plunging in the water could be distinctly heard from the camp, and during the whole night they quarrelled and growled, and laughed and yelled, as they gorged themselves on their ample prey.
Of course Von Bloom and his people did not sit up all night to listen to this medley of noises. As soon as they perceived that the brutes were not likely to come any more near the camp, they laid aside their weapons, returned to their respective sleeping-places, and were all soon buried in the sweet slumber that follows a day of healthy exercise.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
STALKING THE OUREBI.
Next morning the hyenas and jackals had disappeared from the scene, and, to the surprise of all, not a particle of flesh was left upon the bones of the elephant. There lay the huge skeleton picked clean, the bones even polished white by the rough tongues of the hyenas. Nay, still stranger to relate, two of the horses—these poor brutes had been long since left to themselves,—had been pulled down during the night, and their skeletons lay at a short distance from the camp as cleanly picked as that of the elephant!
All this was evidence of the great number of ravenous creatures that must have their home in that quarter,—evidence, too, that game animals abounded, for where these are not numerous the beasts of prey cannot exist. Indeed, from the quantity of tracks that were seen upon the shores of the vley, it was evident that animals of various kinds had drunk there during the night. There was the round solid hoof of the quagga, and his near congener the dauw; and there was the neat hoof-print of the gemsbok, and the larger track of the eland; and among these Von Bloom did not fail to notice the spoor of the dreaded lion. Although they had not heard his roaring that night, they had no doubt but there were plenty of his kind in that part of the country. The presence of his favourite prey,—the quaggas, the gemsboks, and the elands,—were sure indications that the king of beasts was not far off.
Not much work was done that day. The heavy labour of curing the biltongue, that had occupied them the whole of the preceding day, and their disturbed rest, had rendered them all listless; and neither Von Bloom nor the others had any inclination for work. So they moved around the camp and did very little.
Swartboy took his elephant's feet from the oven, and cleaned them; and also let down the biltongue and arranged it so as to be better exposed to the sun. Von Bloom himself shot the three remaining horses, having driven them to a good distance from the camp. He did this to put an end to the suffering of the poor brutes,—for it was plain to every one that they could survive but a day or two longer; and to send a bullet through the heart of each was an act of mercy to them.
Out of all the live-stock of the field-cornet, the cow alone remained, and she was now tended with the greatest care. Without the precious milk, which she yielded in such quantity, their diet would have been savage enough; and they fully appreciated the service she rendered them. Each day she was driven out to the best pasture, and at night shut up in a safe kraal of wait-a-bit thorns, that had been built for her at a little distance from the tree. These thorns had been placed in such a manner that their shanks all radiated inward, while the bushy tops were turned out, forming a chevaux-de-frise, that scarce any animal would have attempted to get through. Such a fence will turn even the lion, unless when he has been rendered fierce and reckless by provocation.
Of course a gap had been left for the cow to pass in and out, and this was closed by one immense bush, which served all the purpose of a gate. Such was the kraal of "old Graaf." Besides the cow, the only living thing that remained in camp was Truey's little pet, the fawn of the gazelle.
But on that very day another pet was added, a dear little creature, not less beautiful than the springbok, and of still more diminutive proportions. That was the fawn of an "ourebi,"—one of the elegant little antelopes that are found in such variety over the plains and in the "bush" of Southern Africa.
It was to Hendrik they were indebted not only for this pet, but for a dinner of delicate venison, which they had that day eaten, and which all of them, except Swartboy, preferred to elephant-beef. Hendrik had procured the venison by a shot from his rifle, and in the following manner. About midday he went out—having fancied that upon a large grassy meadow near the camp he saw some animal. After walking about half a mile, and keeping among bushes, around the edge of the meadow, he got near enough to be sure that it was an animal he had observed, for he now saw two in the place he had marked.
They were of a kind he had not met with before. They were very small creatures,—smaller even than springboks,—but, from their general form and appearance, Hendrik knew they were either antelopes or deer; and, as Hans had told him there were no deer in Southern Africa, he concluded they must be some species of antelope. They were a buck and doe,—this he knew because one of them only carried horns. The buck was under two feet in height, of slender make, and pale tawny colour. He was white-bellied, with white arches above the eyes, and some long white hair under the throat. Below his knees were yellowish tufts of long hair, and his horns—instead of being lyrate, like those of the springbok—rose nearly vertical to the height of four inches. They were black in colour, round-shaped, and slightly ringed. The doe was without horns, and was a much smaller animal than her mate.
From all these marks Hendrik thought the little antelopes were "ourebis;" and such they were.
He continued to stalk in upon them, until he was as close as he could get. But he was still more than two hundred yards from them, and of course far from being within shooting distance with his small rifle.
A thick jong dora bush concealed him, but he dared not go farther else the game would have taken the alarm. He could perceive that they were shy creatures.
Every now and gain the buck would raise his graceful neck to its full stretch, utter a slight blearing call, and look suspiciously around him. From these symptoms Hendrik drew the inference that it was shy game, and would not be easily approached.
He lay for a moment, thinking what he should do. He was to leeward of the game, as he had purposely gone there; but after a while, to his chagrin, he saw that they were feeding up the wind, and of course widening the distance between them and himself.
It occurred to Hendrik that it might be their habit to browse up the wind, as springboks and some other species do. If so, he might as well give it up, or else make a long circuit and head them. To do this would be a work of labour and of time, and a very uncertain stalk it would be in the end. After all his long tramping, and creeping, and crouching, the game would be like enough to scent him before they came within shot—for it is for this very reason that their instinct teaches them to browse against, and not with the wind.
As the plain was large, and the cover very distant, Hendrik was discouraged and gave up the design he had half formed of trying to head them.
He was about to rise to his feet, and return home, when it occurred to him that perhaps he might find a decoy available. He knew there were several species of antelopes, with whom curiosity was stronger than fear. He had often lured the springbok within reach. Why would not these obey the same impulse?
He determined to make trial. At the worst he could only fail, and he had no chance of getting a shot otherwise.
Without losing a moment he thrust his hand into his pocket. He should have found there a large red handkerchief which he had more than once used for a similar purpose. To his chagrin it was not there!
He dived into both pockets of his jacket, then into his wide trousers, then under the breast of his waistcoat. No. The handkerchief was not to be found. Alas! it had been left in the wagon! It was very annoying.
What else could he make use of? Take off his jacket and hold it up? It was not gay enough in colour. It would not do.
Should he raise his hat upon the end of his gun? That might be better, but still it would look too much like the human form, and Hendrik knew that all animals feared that.
A happy thought at length occurred to him. He had heard, that with the curious antelopes, strange forms or movements attract almost as much as glaring colours. He remembered a trick that was said to be practised with success by the hunters. It was easy enough, and consisted merely in the hunter standing upon his hands and head, and kicking his heels in the air!
Now Hendrik happened to be one of those very boys who had often practised this little bit of gymnastics for amusement; and he could stand upon his head like an acrobat.
Without losing a moment he placed his rifle upon the ground, between his hands, and hoisting his feet into the air, commenced kicking them about, clinking them together, and crossing them in the most fantastic manner.
He had placed himself so that his face was turned towards the animals, while he stood upon his head. Of course he could not see them while in this position, as the grass was a foot high; but, at intervals, he permitted his feet to descend to the earth; and then, by looking between his legs, he could tell how the ruse was succeeding.
It did succeed. The buck, on first perceiving the strange object, uttered a sharp whistle, and darted off with the swiftness of a bird— for the "ourebi" is one of the swiftest of African antelopes. The doe followed, though not so fast, and soon fell into the rear.
The buck, perceiving this, suddenly halted—as if ashamed of his want of gallantry—wheeled round, and galloped back, until he was once more between the doe and the odd thing that had alarmed him.
What could this odd thing be? he now seemed to inquire of himself. It was not a lion, nor a leopard, nor a hyena, nor yet a jackal. It was neither fox, nor fennec, nor earth-wolf, nor wild hound, nor any of his well-known enemies. It was not a Bushman neither, for they are not double-headed as it appeared. What could it be? It had kept its place—it had not pursued him. Perhaps it was not at all dangerous. No doubt it was harmless enough.
So reasoned the ourebi. His curiosity overcame his fear. He would go a little nearer. He would have a better view of the thing before he took to flight. No matter what it was, it could do no hurt at that distance; and as to overtaking him, pah! there wasn't a creature, biped or quadruped, in all Africa that he could not fling dust in the face of.
So he went a little nearer, and then a little nearer still, and continued to advance by successive runs, now this way and now that way, zigzagging over the plain, until he was within less than a hundred paces of the odd object that at first light had so terrified him.
His companion, the doe, kept close after him; and seemed quite as curious as himself—her large shining eyes opened to their full extent, as she stopped to gaze at intervals.
Sometimes the two met each other in their course; and halted a moment, as though they held consultation in whispers; and asked each other if they had yet made out the character of the stranger.
It was evident, however, that neither had done so—as they still continued to approach it with looks and gestures of inquiry and wonder.
At length the odd object disappeared for a moment under the grass; and then reappeared,—but this time in an altered form. Something about it glanced brightly under the sun, and this glancing quite fascinated the buck, so that he could not stir from the spot, but stood eyeing it steadily.
Fatal fascination! It was his last gaze. A bright flash shot up— something struck him through the heart, and he saw the shining object no more!
The doe bounded forward to where her mate had fallen, and stood bleating over him. She knew not the cause of his sudden death, but she saw that he was dead. The wound in his side—the stream of red blood—were under her eyes. She had never witnessed death in that form before, but she knew her lover was dead. His silence—his form stretched along the grass motionless and limber—his glassy eyes—all told her he had ceased to live.
She would have fled, but she could not leave him—she could not bear to part even from his lifeless form. She would remain a while, and mourn over him.
Her widowhood was a short one. Again flashed the priming,—again cracked the shining tube—and the sorrowing doe fell over upon the body of her mate.
The young hunter rose to his feet, and ran forward. He did not, according to usual custom, stop to load before approaching his quarry. The plain was perfectly level, and he saw no other animal upon it. What was his surprise on reaching the antelopes, to perceive that there was a third one of the party still alive!
Yes, a little fawn, not taller than a rabbit, was bounding about through the grass, running around the prostrate body of its mother, and uttering its tiny bleat.
Hendrik was surprised, because he had not observed this creature before; but, indeed, he had not seen much of the antelopes until the moment of taking aim, and the grass had concealed the tiny young one.
Hunter as Hendrik was, he could not help feeling strongly as he regarded the tableau before him. But he felt that he had not wantonly destroyed these creatures for mere amusement, and that satisfied his conscience.
The little fawn would make a famous pet for Jan, who had often wished for one, to be equal with his sister. It could be fed upon the cow's milk, and, though it had lost both father and mother, Hendrik resolved that it should be carefully brought up. He had no difficulty in capturing it, as it refused to leave the spot where its mother lay, and Hendrik soon held the gentle creature in his arms.
He then tied the buck and doe together; and, having fastened a strong cord round the horns of the latter, he set off dragging the two antelopes behind him.
As these lay upon the ground, heads foremost, they were drawn with the grain of the hair, which made it much easier; and as there was nothing but grass sward to be passed over, the young hunter succeeded in taking the whole of his game to camp without any great difficulty.
The joy of all was great, at seeing such a fine lot of venison, but Jan's rejoicing was greater than all; and he no longer envied Truey the possession of her little gazelle.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
LITTLE JAN'S ADVENTURE.
It would have been better that Jan had never seen the little "ourebi,"— better both for Jan and the antelope, for that night the innocent creature was the cause of a terrible panic in the camp.
They had all gone to sleep as on the previous night,—Von Bloom and the four children in the wagon, while the Bushman and Totty slept upon the grass. The latter lay under the wagon; but Swartboy had kindled a large fire at a little distance from it, and beside this had stretched himself, rolled up in his sheep-skin kaross.
They had all gone to sleep without being disturbed by the hyenas. This was easily accounted for. The three horses that had been shot that day occupied the attention of these gentry, for their hideous voices could be heard off in the direction where the carcasses lay. Having enough to give them a supper, they found no occasion to risk themselves in the neighbourhood of the camp, where they had experienced such a hostile reception on the previous night. So reasoned Von Bloom, as he turned over and fell asleep.
He did not reason correctly, however. It was true that the hyenas were just then making a meal upon the horses; but it was a mistake to suppose that that would satisfy these ravenous brutes, who never seem to have enough. Long before morning, had Von Bloom been awake he would have heard the maniac laugh closer to the camp, and might have seen the green eyes of the hyena glancing under the expiring blaze of Swartboy's camp-fire.
Indeed, he had heard the beasts once that he awoke; but, knowing that the biltongue had been this night placed out of their reach, and thinking that there was nothing to which they could do any harm, he gave no heed to their noisy demonstrations, and went to sleep again.
He was awakened, however, by a shrill squeak, as of some animal in the agonies of death; and then there was a second squeak, that seemed to be suddenly interrupted by the stifling of the creature's utterance!
In these cries Von Bloom, as well as the others—who were now also awake—recognised the bleat of the ourebi, for they had heard it several times during the afternoon.
"The hyenas are killing it!" thought they. But they had not time to say so, before another and far different cry reached their ears, and caused them all to start as if a bomb-shell had burst under the wagon. That cry was the voice of Jan, and sounded in the same direction whence came the scream of the stifled antelope!
"O heaven! what could it mean?"
The child's voice first reached them in a sudden screech—then there was a confused noise resembling a scuffle—and Jan was again heard crying aloud for help, while at the same time his voice was interrupted, and each call appeared to come from a greater distance! Something or somebody was carrying him off!
This idea occurred to Von Bloom, Hans, and Hendrik, at the same instant. Of course it filled them with consternation; and, as they were scarce yet awake, they knew not what to do.
The cries of Jan, however, soon brought them to their senses; and to run towards the direction whence these came was the first thought of all.
To grope for their guns would waste time, and all three leaped out of the wagon without them.
Totty was upon her feet and jabbering, but she knew no more than they what had happened.
They did not stop long to question her. The voice of Swartboy, uttered in loud barks and clicks, summoned them elsewhere; and they now beheld a red flaming brand rushing through the darkness, which no doubt was carried in the hands of that worthy.
They started off in the direction of the blazing torch, and ran as fast as they could. They still heard the Bushman's voice, and to their dismay beyond it the screams of little Jan!
Of course they could not tell what was causing all this. They only pressed on with fearful apprehensions.
When they had got within some fifty paces of the torch, they perceived it suddenly descend, then raised again, and again brought down, in a rapid and violent manner! They could hear the voice of the Bushman barking and clicking louder than ever, as though he was engaged in chastising some creature.
But Jan's voice they no longer heard—he was screaming no more—was he dead?
With terrible forebodings they rushed on.
When they arrived upon the spot, a singular picture presented itself to their eyes. Jan lay upon the ground, close in by the roots of some bushes which he was holding tightly in his grasp. From one of his wrists extended a stout thong, or rheim, which passed through among the bushes to the distance of several feet; and, fast to its other end, was the ourebi fawn, dead, and terribly mangled! Over the spot stood Swartboy with his burning tree, which blazed all the brighter that he had just been using it over the back of a ravenous hyena. The latter was not in sight. It had long since skulked off, but no one thought of pursuit, as all were too anxious about Jan.
No time was lost in lifting the child to his feet. The eyes of all ran eagerly over him to see where he was wounded; and an exclamation of joy soon broke forth when they saw that, except the scratches of the thorns, and the deep track of a cord upon his wrist, nothing in the shape of a wound could be discovered upon his diminutive body. He had now come to himself, and assured them all that he was not hurt a bit. Hurrah! Jan was safe!
It now fell to Jan's lot to explain all this mysterious business.
He had been lying in the wagon along with the rest, but not like them asleep. No. He could not sleep a wink for thinking on his new pet, which, for want of room in the wagon, had been left below tied to one of the wheels.
Jan had taken it into his head that he would like to have another look at the ourebi before going to sleep. So, without saying a word to any one, he crept out of the cap-tent, and descended to where the antelope was tied. He unloosed it gently, and then led it forward to the light of the fire, where he sat down to admire the creature.
After gazing upon it for some time with delight, he thought that Swartboy could not do otherwise than share his feelings; and without more ado, he shook the Bushman awake.
The latter had no great stomach for being roused out of sleep to look at an animal, hundreds of which he had eaten in his time. But Jan and Swartboy were sworn friends, and the Bushman was not angry. He, therefore, indulged his young master in the fancy he had taken; and the two sat for a while conversing about the pet.
At length Swartboy proposed sleep. Jan would agree to this only upon the terms that Swartboy would allow him to sleep alongside of him. He would bring his blanket from the wagon, and would not trouble Swartboy by requiring part of the latter's kaross.
Swartboy objected at first; but Jan urged that he had felt cold in the wagon, and that was partly why he had come down to the fire. All this was sheer cunning in the little imp. But Swartboy could not refuse him anything, and at length consented. He could see no harm in it, as there were no signs of rain.
Jan then returned to the wagon, climbed noiselessly up, drew out his own blankets, and brought them to the fire. He then wrapped himself up, and lay down alongside of Swartboy, with the ourebi standing near, and in such a situation that he could still have his eyes upon it, even when lying. To secure it from wandering, he had fastened a strong rheim around its neck, the other end of which he had looped tightly upon his own wrist.
He lay for some time contemplating his beautiful pet. But sleep at length overcame him, and the image of the ourebi melted before his eyes.
Beyond this Jan could tell little of what happened to him. He was awakened by a sudden jerking at his wrist, and hearing the antelope scream. But he had not quite opened his eyes, before he felt himself dragged violently over the ground.
He thought at first it was Swartboy playing some trick upon him; but as he passed the fire, he saw by its light that it was a huge black animal that had seized the ourebi, and was dragging both him and it along.
Of course he then began to scream for help, and caught at everything he could to keep himself from being carried away. But he could lay hold of nothing, until he found himself among thick bushes, and these he seized and held with all his might.
He could not have held out long against the strength of the hyena; but it was just at that moment that Swartboy came up with his firebrand, and beat off the ravisher with a shower of blows.
When they got back to the light of the fire they found that Jan was all right. But the poor ourebi—it had been sadly mangled, and was now of no more value than a dead rat.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
A CHAPTER UPON HYENAS.
Hyenas are wolves—only wolves of a particular kind. They have the same general habits as wolves, and much of their look. They have heavier heads, broader thicker muzzles, shorter and stouter necks, and altogether a coarser and shaggier coat. One of the most characteristic marks of the hyena is the inequality in the development of its limbs. The hind-legs appear weaker and shorter than the fore ones, so that the rump is far lower than the shoulders; and the line of the back, instead of being horizontal, as in most animals, droops obliquely towards the tail.
The short thick neck and strong jaws are characteristics; the former so much so, that in the days of fabulous natural history the hyena was said to be without cervical vertebrae. Its thick neck and powerful jaw-bones have their uses. It is by virtue of these that the hyena can make a meal upon bones, which would be of no use whatever to the ordinary wolf or other beast of prey. It can break almost the largest and strongest joints, and not only extract their marrow, but crush the bones themselves, and swallow them as food. Here, again, we have proof of Nature's adaptation. It is just where these large bones are found in greatest plenty that we find the hyena. Nature suffers nothing to be wasted.
Hyenas are the wolves of Africa—that is, they are in Africa the representatives of the large wolf, which does not exist there. It is true the jackal is a wolf in every respect, but only a small one; and there is no true wolf in Africa of the large kind, such as the gaunt robber of the Pyrenees, or his twin brother of America. But the hyena is the wolf of Africa.
And of all wolves he is the ugliest and most brute-like. There is not a graceful or beautiful bit about him. In fact, I was about to pronounce him the ugliest animal in creation, when the baboons came into my mind. They of course exhibit the ne plus ultra of ugliness; and, indeed, the hyenas are not at all unlike them in general aspect, as well as in some of their habits. Some early writers even classed them together.
Now we have been speaking of the hyena, as if there was but one species. For a long time but one was known—the common or "striped hyena" (Hyena vulgaris), and it was about this one that so many false stories have been told. Perhaps no other animal has held so conspicuous a place in the world of mystery and horror. Neither vampire nor dragon have surpassed him. Our ancestors believed that he could fascinate any one with his glance, lure them after him, and then devour them—that he changed his sex every year—that he could transform himself into a comely youth, and thus beguile young maidens off into the woods to be eaten up—that he could imitate the human voice perfectly—that it was his custom to conceal himself near a house, listen until the name of one of the family should be mentioned, then call out as if for assistance, pronouncing the name he had heard, and imitating the cries of one in distress. This would bring out the person called, who of course on reaching the spot would find only a fierce hyena ready to devour him!
Strange as it may seem, all these absurd stories were once very generally believed, and, strange as it may seem in me to say, not one of them but has some foundation. Exaggerated as they are, they all owe their origin to natural facts. At present I shall refer to only two of these. There is a peculiarity about the glance of the hyena that has given birth to the notion of his possessing the power to "charm" or fascinate, although I never heard of his luring any one to destruction by it; there is a peculiarity about the animal's voice that might well gain him credit for imitating the human voice, for the simple reason that the former bears a very near resemblance to the latter. I do not say that the voice of the hyena is like the ordinary human voice, but there are some voices it does exactly resemble. I am acquainted with several people who have hyena voices. In fact, one of the closest imitations of a human laugh is that of the "spotted hyena." No one can hear it, hideous as it is, without being amused at its close approximation to the utterance of a human being. There is a dash of the maniac in its tones, and it reminds me of the sharp metallic ring which I have noticed in the voices of negroes. I have already compared it to what I should fancy would be the laugh of a maniac negro.
The striped hyena, although the best known, is in my opinion the least interesting of his kind. He is more widely distributed than any of his congeners. Found in most parts of Africa, he is also an Asiatic animal, is common enough throughout all the southern countries of Asia, and is even found as far north as the Caucasus and the Altai. He is the only species that exists in Asia. All the others are natives of Africa, which is the true home of the hyena.
Naturalists admit but three species of hyena. I have not the slightest doubt that there are twice that number as distinct from each other as these three are. Five, at least, I know, without reckoning as hyenas either the "wild hound" of the Cape, or the little burrowing hyena (Proteles)—both of which we shall no doubt meet with in the course of our hunting adventures.
First, then, we have the "striped" hyena already mentioned. He is usually of an ashy grey colour with a slight yellowish tinge, and a set of irregular striae, or stripes of black or dark brown. These are placed transversely to the length of his body, or rather obliquely, following nearly the direction of the ribs. They are not equally well defined or conspicuous in different individuals of the species. The hair—like that of all hyenas—is long, harsh, and shaggy, but longer over the neck, shoulders, and back, where it forms a mane. This becomes erect when the animal is excited. The same may be observed among dogs.
The common hyena is far from being either strong or brave, when compared with the others of his kind. He is, in fact, the weakest and least ferocious of the family. He is sufficiently voracious, but lives chiefly on carrion, and will not dare attack living creatures of half his own strength. He preys only on the smallest quadrupeds, and with all his voracity he is an arrant poltroon. A child of ten years will easily put him to flight.
A second species is the hyena which so much annoyed the celebrated Bruce while travelling in Abyssinia, and may be appropriately named "Bruce's hyena." This is also a striped hyena, and nearly all naturalists have set him down as of the same species with the Hyena vulgaris. Excepting the "stripes," there is no resemblance whatever between the two species; and even these are differently arranged, while the ground colour also differs.
Bruce's hyena is nearly twice the size of the common kind—with twice his strength, courage, and ferocity. The former will attack not only large quadrupeds, but man himself,—will enter houses by night, even villages, and carry off domestic animals and children.
Incredible as these statements may appear, about their truth there can be no doubt; such occurrences are by no means rare.
This hyena has the reputation of entering graveyards, and disinterring the dead bodies to feed upon them. Some naturalists have denied this. For what reason? It is well-known that in many parts of Africa, the dead are not interred, but thrown out on the plains. It is equally well-known that the hyenas devour the bodies so exposed. It is known, too, that the hyena is a "terrier"—a burrowing animal. What is there strange or improbable in supposing that it burrows to get at the bodies, its natural food? The wolf does so, the jackal, the coyote,—ay, even the dog! I have seen all of them at it on the battle-field. Why not the hyena?
A third species is very distinct from either of the two described—the "spotted hyena" (Hyena crocuta). This is also sometimes called the "laughing" hyena, from the peculiarity we have had occasion to speak of. This species, in general colour, is not unlike the common kind, except that, instead of stripes, his sides are covered with spots. He is larger than the Hyena vulgaris, and in character resembles Bruce's, or the Abyssinian hyena. He is a native of the southern half of Africa, where he is known among the Dutch colonists as the "tiger-wolf;" while the common hyena is by them simply called "wolf."
A fourth species is the "brown hyena" (Hyena villosa). The name "brown" hyena is not a good one, as brown colour is by no means a characteristic of this animal. Hyena villosa, or "hairy hyena," is better, as the long, straight hair falling down his sides gives him a peculiar aspect, and at once distinguishes him from any of the others. He is equally as large and fierce as any, being of the size of a Saint Bernard mastiff, but it is difficult to imagine how any one could mistake him for either a striped or spotted hyena. His colour is dark brown, or nearly black above, and dirty grey beneath. In fact, in general colour and the arrangement of his hair, he is not unlike a badger or wolverine.
And yet many naturalists describe this as being of the same species as the common hyena—the learned De Blainville among the rest. The most ignorant boor of South Africa—for he is a South African animal—knows better than this. Their very appellation of "straand-wolf" points out his different habits and haunts—for he is a seashore animal, and not even found in such places as are the favourite resorts of the common hyena.
There is still another "brown hyena," which differs altogether from this one, and is an inhabitant of the Great Desert. He is shorter-haired and of uniform brown colour, but like the rest in habits and general character. No doubt, when the central parts of Africa have been thoroughly explored, several species of hyena will be added to the list of those already known.
The habits of the hyenas are not unlike those of the larger wolves. They dwell in caves, of clefts of rocks. Some of them use the burrows of other animals for their lair, which they can enlarge for themselves— as they are provided with burrowing claws.
They are not tree-climbers, as their claws are not sufficiently retractile for that. It is in their teeth their main dependence lies, and in the great strength of their jaws.
Hyenas are solitary animals, though often troops of them are seen together, attracted by the common prey. A dozen or more will meet over a carcass, but each goes his own way on leaving it. They are extremely voracious; will eat up almost anything—even scraps of leather or old shoes! Bones they break and swallow as though these were pieces of tender flesh. They are bold, particularly with the poor natives, who do not hunt them with a view to extermination. They enter the miserable kraals of the natives, and often carry off their children. It is positively true that hundreds of children have been destroyed by hyenas in Southern Africa!
It is difficult for you to comprehend why this is permitted—why there is not a war of extermination carried on against the hyenas, until these brutes are driven out of the land. You cannot comprehend such a state of things, because you do not take into account the difference between savage and civilised existence. You will suppose that human life in Africa is held of far less value than it is in England; but if you thoroughly understood political science, you would discover that many a law of civilised life calls for its victims in far greater numbers than do the hyenas. The empty review, the idle court fete, the reception of an emperor, all require, as their natural sequence, the sacrifice of many lives!
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
A HOUSE AMONG THE TREE-TOPS.
Von Bloom now reflected that the hyenas were likely to prove a great pest to him. No meat, nor anything, would be safe from them—even his very children would be in danger, if left alone in the camp; and no doubt he would often be compelled to leave them, as he would require the older ones upon his hunting excursions.
There were other animals to be dreaded still more than the hyenas. Even during that night they had heard the roaring of lions down by the vley; and when it was morning, the spoor showed that several of these animals had drunk at the water.
How could he leave little Truey—his dear little Truey—or Jan, who was not a bit bigger—how could he leave them in an open camp while such monsters were roving about? He could not think of doing so.
He reflected what course he should pursue. At first he thought of putting up a house. That would necessarily be a work of time. There was no good building material convenient. A stone house would cost a great deal of labour—as the stones would have to be carried nearly a mile, and in their hands too. That would never do, as Von Bloom might only remain a short while at that place. He might not find many elephants there, and of course would be under the necessity of going elsewhere.
Why not build a log-house? you will say. That would not be so much of a job, as part of the country was well wooded, and they had an axe.
True, part of the country was wooded, but in a particular manner. With the exception of the nwana-trees, that stood at long distances apart— and regularly, as if they had been planted—there was nothing that deserved the name of timber. All the rest was mere "bush,"—a thorny jungle of mimosas, euphorbias, arborescent aloes, strelitzias, and the horrid zamia plants, beautiful enough to the eye, but of no utility whatever in the building of a house. The nwanas, of course, were too large for house-logs. To have felled one of them would have been a task equal almost to the building of a house; and to have made planks of them would have required a steam saw-mill. A log-house was not to be thought of either.
Now a frail structure of poles and thatch would not have given sufficient security. An angry rhinoceros, or elephant, would level such a house to the ground in a few moments.
Suppose, too, that there were man-eaters in the neighbourhood. Swartboy believed that there were, and that that region was notorious for them. As it was not far from Swartboy's native country, Von Bloom, who had reason to believe what the Bushman told him, was inclined to credit this. What protection would a frail house afford against the man-eater? Not much, indeed.
Von Bloom was puzzled and perplexed. He could not commence his hunting excursions until this question was settled. Some place must be prepared, where the children would be safe during his absence.
While revolving the subject in his mind, he happened to cast his eyes upward among the branches of the nwana-tree. All at once his attention became fixed upon those huge limbs, for they had awakened within him a strange memory. He remembered having heard that, in some parts of the country, and perhaps not very far from where he then was, the natives live in trees. That sometimes a whole tribe, of fifty or more, make their home in a single tree; and do so to secure themselves against savage beasts, and sometimes equally savage men. That they build their houses upon platforms, which they erect upon the horizontal branches; and that they ascend by means of ladders, which are drawn up after them at night when they go to rest.
All this Von Bloom had heard, and all of it is positively true. Of course the reflection occurred to him, why could he not do the same? Why could he not build a house in the gigantic nwana? That would give him all the security he desired. There they could all sleep with perfect confidence of safety. There, on going out to hunt, he could leave the children, with the certainty of finding them on his return. An admirable idea!—how about its practicability?
He began to consider this. If he only had planks to make a staging or platform, the rest would be easy. Any slight roof would be sufficient up there. The leaves almost formed a roof. But the flooring—this was the difficulty. Where were planks to be got? Nowhere, in that neighbourhood.
His eye, at that moment, chanced to fall upon the wagon. Ha! there were planks there. But to break up his beautiful wagon? No—no—no! Such a thing was not to be thought of.
But stay! there was no need to break it up—no need to knock out a single nail. It would serve every purpose without breaking a splinter off it. The fine vehicle was made to take to pieces, and put up again at will.
He could take it to pieces. The broad bottom alone should remain whole. That of itself would be the platform. Hurrah!
The field-cornet, excited with the development of this fine plan, now communicated it to the others. All agreed that it was just the thing; and as the day was before them, they made no more ado, but set about carrying out the design.
A ladder thirty feet long had first to be constructed. This occupied a good while; but at length a stout rough article was knocked up, which served the purpose admirably. It gave them access to the lowermost limb; and from this they could construct steps to all the others.
Von Bloom ascended, and after careful examination chose the site of the platform. This was to rest upon two strong horizontal limbs of equal height, and diverging very gradually from each other. The quantity of thick branches in the great tree afforded him a choice.
The wagon was now taken to pieces—a work of only a few minutes—and the first thing hauled up was the bottom. This was no slight performance, and required all the strength of the camp. Strong "rheims" were attached to one end, and these were passed over a limb of the tree, still higher up than those on which the staging was to rest. One stood above to guide the huge piece of plank-work, while all the rest exerted their strength upon the ropes below. Even little Jan pulled with all his might—though a single pound avoirdupois weight would have been about the measure of his strength.
The piece was hoisted up, until it rested beautifully upon the supporting limbs; and then a cheer rose from below, and was answered by Swartboy among the branches.
The heaviest part of the work was over. The boxing of the wagon was passed up, piece by piece, and set in its place just as before. Some branches were lopped off to make room for the cap-tent, and then it was also hauled up, and mounted.
By the time the sun set, everything was in its place; and the aerial house was ready for sleeping in. In fact, that very night they slept in it, or, as Hans jocularly termed it, they all went to "roost."
But they did not consider their new habitation quite complete as yet. Next day they continued to labour upon it. By means of long poles they extended their platform from the wagon quite up to the trunk of the tree, so as to give them a broad terrace to move about upon.
The poles were fast wattled together by rods of the beautiful weeping-willow (Salix Babylonica), which is a native of these parts, and several trees of which grew by the side of the vley. Upon the top of all, they laid a thick coating of clay, obtained from the edge of the lake; so that, if need be, they could actually kindle a fire, and took their suppers in the tree.
To make a still finer flooring, they procured a quantity of the material of which the ant-hills are composed; which, being of a glutinous nature, makes a mortar almost as binding as Roman cement.
After the main building had been finished off, Swartboy erected a platform for himself, and one for Totty in another part of the ample nwana. Above each of these platforms he had constructed a roof or screen, to shelter their occupants from rain or dew.
There was something odd in the appearance of these two screens, each of which was about the size of an ordinary umbrella. Their oddity consisted in the fact that they were ears of the elephant!
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
THE BATTLE OF THE WILD PEACOCKS.
There was no longer anything to hinder the field-cornet from commencing the real business of his new life, viz. the hunting of the elephant. He resolved, therefore, to begin at once; for until he should succeed in "bagging" a few of these giant animals, he was not easy in his mind. He might not be able to kill a single one; and then what would become of all his grand hopes and calculations? They would end in disappointment, and he should find himself in as bad a condition as ever. Indeed worse: for to fail in any undertaking is not only to lose time, but energy of mind. Success begets genius, courage, and self-reliance—all of which contribute to new successes; while failure intimidates and leads to despair. In a psychological point of view it is a dangerous thing to fail in any undertaking; and, therefore, before undertaking anything, one should be well assured of its being possible and practicable.
Now Von Bloom was not sure that the great design he had formed was practicable. But in this case, he had no choice. No other means of livelihood was open to him just then; and he had resolved to make trial of this. He had faith in his calculations, and he had also good reason to hope he would succeed; but the thing was yet untried. No wonder he was in haste to begin the business—in haste to know what were his chances of success.
By early day, therefore, he was up and out. Hendrik and Swartboy only accompanied him, for he could not yet bring himself to leave the children with no other protection than Totty—almost as much a child as themselves. Hans, therefore, remained by the camp.
At first the hunters followed the little rivulet that ran from the spring and vley. They did so, because in this direction there was more "bush;" and they knew that elephants would be more likely to be found in woods than in open places. Indeed, it was only near the banks of the stream that any great quantity of wood was to be seen. A broad belt of jungle extended upon each side of it. After that, there were straggling groves and clumps; and then came the open plains, almost treeless, though covered with a rich carpet of grass for some distance farther. To this succeeded the wild karoo, stretching eastward and westward beyond the reach of vision. Along the north, as already mentioned, trended the line of "bluffs;" and beyond these there was nothing but the parched and waterless desert. To the south there lay the only thing that could be called "woods;" and although such a low jungle could lay no claim to the title of "forest," it was, nevertheless, a likely enough haunt for elephants.
The trees consisted chiefly of mimosas—of several species; upon the leaves, roots, and tender shoots of which the great ruminant loves to browse. There were some "cameel-doorn" trees, with their shady umbrella-like tops. But above all rose the massive heads of the nwanas, giving a peculiar character to the landscape.
The hunters noticed, as they went on, that the channel of the rivulet became wider and larger and that at times—no doubt after great rains—a large quantity of water must have run in its bed, forming a considerable river. But as the channel grew larger, the reverse was the case with the quantity of running water. The farther down they proceeded this became less and less; until, at the distance of a mile from camp, the current ceased altogether.
For half-a-mile farther on they found water in stagnant pools, but none running. The wide, dry channel, however, continued on as before; and the "bush" extended on both sides without interruption, so thick that they could only make way by keeping in the channel itself.
As they walked along, several kinds of small game were started. Hendrik would gladly have taken a shot at some of these, but his father would not permit him to fire just then. It might frighten away the great "game" they were in search of, and which they might fall in with at any moment. On their return Hendrik might do his best; and then the field-cornet intended to assist him in procuring an antelope, as there was no fresh venison in the camp. This, however, was a consideration of secondary importance, and the first thing to be done was to try and get a pair of tusks.
There was no objection to Swartboy using his bow, as that silent weapon would cause no alarm. Swartboy had been taken along to carry the axe and other implements, as well as to assist in the hunt. Of course he had brought his bow and quiver with him; and he was constantly on the watch for something at which to let fly on of his little poisoned arrows.
He found a mark at length worthy of his attention. On crossing the plain to avoid a large bend in the channel, they came upon a glade or opening of considerable size, and in the middle of this glade a huge bird appeared standing erect. "An ostrich!" exclaimed Hendrik. "No," replied Swartboy; "um ar da pauw."
"Yes," said Von Bloom, confirming Swartboy's statement, "it is the pauw."
Now a "pauw" in the Dutch language is a "peacock." But there are no peacocks in Africa. The peacock in its wild state inhabits only Southern Asia and the islands of the Indian Archipelago. The bird they saw, then, could not be a peacock.
Neither was it one. And yet it bore some resemblance to a peacock, with its long heavy tail and wings speckled and ocellated in a very striking manner, and something like the "marbled" feathers that adorn the peacock's back. It had none of the brilliant colours, however, of that proudest of birds, though it was quite as stately, and much larger and taller. In fact, its great height and erect attitude was why Hendrik at first glance had taken it for an ostrich. It was neither peacock nor ostrich, but belonging to a different genus from either—to the genus Otis or bustard. It was the great bustard of South Africa—the Otis kori—called "pauw" by the Dutch colonists, on account of its ocellated plumage and other points of resemblance to the Indian peacock.
Now Swartboy, as well as Von Bloom, knew that the pauw was one of the most delicious of fowls for the table. But they knew at the same time that it was one of the shyest of birds,—so shy that it is very difficult to get even a long shot at one. How, then, was it to be approached within range of the Bushman's arrow? That was the point to be considered.
Where it stood, it was full two hundred yards from them; and had it perceived them, it would soon have widened that distance, by running off two hundred more. I say running off, for birds of the bustard family rarely take to wing, but use their long legs to escape from an enemy. On this account they are often hunted by dogs, and caught after a severe chase. Although but poor flyers, they are splendid runners,—swift almost as the ostrich itself.
The pauw, however, had not observed the hunters as yet. They had caught a glimpse of it, before appearing out of the bushes, and had halted as soon as they saw it.
How was Swartboy to approach it? It was two hundred yards from any cover, and the ground was as clean as a new-raked meadow. True, the plain was not a large one. Indeed, Swartboy was rather surprised to see a pauw upon so small a one, for these birds frequent only the wide open karoos, where they can sight their enemy at a great distance. The glade was not large, but, after watching the bustard for some minutes, the hunters saw that it was resolved to keep near the centre, and showed no disposition to feed in the direction of the thicket on either side.
Any one but a Bushman would have despaired of getting a shot at this kori; but Swartboy did not despair.
Begging the others to remain quiet, he crept forward to the edge of the jungle, and placed himself behind a thick leafy bush. He then commenced uttering a call, exactly similar to that made by the male of the kori when challenging an adversary to combat.
Like the grouse, the bustard is polygamous, and of course terribly jealous and pugnacious, at certain seasons of the year. Swartboy knew that it was just then the "fighting season" among the pauws, and hoped by imitating their challenge to draw the bird—a cock he saw it was— within reach of his arrow.
As soon as the kori heard the call, he raised himself to his full height, spread his immense tail, dropped his wings until the primary feathers trailed along the grass, and replied to the challenge.
But what now astonished Swartboy was, that instead of one answer to his call, he fancied he heard two, simultaneously uttered!
It proved to be no fancy, for before he could repeat the decoy the bird again gave out its note of defiance, and was answered by a similar call from another quarter.
Swartboy looked in the direction whence came the latter; and there, sure enough, was a second kori, that seemed to have dropped from the region of the clouds, or, more likely, had run out from the shelter of the bushes. At all events, it was a good way towards the centre of the plain, before the hunter had observed it.