The two were now in full view of each other; and by their movements any one might see that a combat was certain to come off.
Sure of this, Swartboy did not call again; but remained silent behind his bush.
After a good while spent in strutting, and wheeling round and round, and putting themselves in the most threatening attitudes, and uttering the most insulting expressions, the two koris became sufficiently provoked to begin the battle. They "clinched" in gallant style, using all three weapons,—wings, beak, and feet. Now they struck each other with their wings, now pecked with their bills; and at intervals, when a good opportunity offered, gave each other a smart kick—which, with their long muscular legs, they were enabled to deliver with considerable force.
Swartboy knew that when they were well into the fight, he might stalk in upon them unobserved; so he waited patiently, till the proper moment should arrive.
In a few seconds it became evident, he would not have to move from his ambush; for the birds were fighting towards him. He adjusted his arrow to the string, and waited.
In five minutes the birds were fighting within thirty yards of the spot where the Bushman lay. The twang of a bowstring might have been heard by one of the koris, had he been listening. The other could not possibly have heard it; for before the sound could have reached him, a poisoned arrow was sticking through his ears. The barb had passed through, and the shaft remained in his head, piercing it crosswise!
Of course the bird dropped dead upon the grass, less astonished than his antagonist.
The latter at first imagined he had done it, and began to strut very triumphantly around his fallen foe.
But his eye now fell upon the arrow sticking through the head of the latter. He knew nothing about that. He had not done that! What the deuce—
Perhaps if he had been allowed another moment's reflection, he would have taken to his heels; but before he could make up his mind about the matter, there was another "twang" of the bowstring, another arrow whistled through the air, and another kori lay stretched upon the grass.
Swartboy now rushed forward, and took possession of the game; which proved to be a pair of young cocks, in prime condition for roasting.
Having hung the birds over a high branch, so as to secure them from jackals and hyenas, the hunters continued on; and shortly after, having re-entered the channel of the stream, continued to follow it downward.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
UPON THE "SPOOR."
They had not gone above an hundred yards farther, when they came to one of the pools, already spoken of. It was a tolerably large one; and the mud around its edges bore the hoof-prints of numerous animals. This the hunters saw from a distance, but on reaching the spot, Swartboy a little in the advance, turned suddenly round, and, with rolling orbs and quivering lips, clicked out the words,—
"Mein baas! mein baas! da klow! spoor ob da groot olifant!"
There was no danger of mistaking the spoor of the elephant for that of any other creature. There, sure enough, were the great round tracks— full twenty-four inches in length, and nearly as wide—deeply imprinted in the mud by the enormous weight of the animal's body. Each formed an immense hole, large enough to have set a gatepost in.
The hunters contemplated the spoor with emotions of pleasure—the more so that the tracks had been recently made. This was evident. The displaced mud had not yet crusted, but looked damp and fresh. It had been stirred within the hour.
Only one elephant had visited the pool that night. There were many old tracks, but only one fresh spoor,—and that of an old and very large bull.
Of course the tracks told this much. To make a spoor twenty-four inches long, requires the animal to be a very large one; and to be very large, he should be a bull, and an old one too.
Well, the older and larger the better, provided his tusks have not been broken by some accident. When that happens they are never recovered again. The elephant does cast his tusks, but only in the juvenile state, when they are not bigger than lobster's claws; and the pair that succeeds these is permanent, and has to last him for life—perhaps for centuries—for no one can tell how long the mighty elephant roams over this sublunary planet. When the tusks get broken—a not uncommon thing—he must remain toothless or "tuskless" for the rest of his life. Although the elephant may consider the loss of his huge tusks a great calamity, were he only a little wiser, he would break them off against the first tree. It would, in all probability, be the means of prolonging his life; for the hunter would not then consider him worth the ammunition it usually takes to kill him.
After a short consultation among the hunters, Swartboy started off upon the spoor, followed by Von Bloom and Hendrik. It led straight out from the channel, and across the jungle.
Usually the bushes mark the course of an elephant, where these are of the sort he feeds upon. In this case he had not fed; but the Bushman, who could follow spoor with a hound, had no difficulty in keeping on the track, as fast as the three were able to travel.
They emerged into open glades; and, after passing through several of these, came upon a large ant-hill that stood in the middle of one of the openings. The elephant had passed close to the ant-hill—he had stopped there a while—stay, he must have lain down!
Von Bloom did not know that elephants were in the habit of lying down. He had always heard it said that they slept standing. Swartboy knew better than that. He said that they sometimes slept standing, but oftener lay down, especially in districts where they were not much hunted. Swartboy considered it a good sign that this one had lain down. He reasoned from it that the elephants had not been disturbed in that neighbourhood, and would be the more easily approached and killed. They would be less likely to make off from that part of the country, until they—the hunters—had had a "good pull" out of them.
This last consideration was one of great importance. In a district where elephants have been much hunted, and have learnt what the crack of a gun signifies, a single day's chase will often set them travelling; and they will not bring up again, until they have gone far beyond the reach of the hunters. Not only the particular individuals that have been chased act in this way; but all the others,—as though warned by their companions,—until not an elephant remains in the district. This migratory habit is one of the chief difficulties which the elephant-hunter must needs encounter; and, when it occurs, he has no other resource but to change his "sphere of action."
On the other hand, where elephants have remained for a long time undisturbed, the report of a gun does not terrify them; and they will bear a good deal of hunting before "showing their heels" and leaving the place.
Swartboy, therefore, rejoiced on perceiving that the old bull had lain down. The Bushman drew a world of conclusions from that circumstance.
That the elephant had been lying was clear enough. The abrasion upon the stiff mud of the ant-heap showed where his back had rested,—the mark of his body was visible in the dust, and a groove-like furrow in the turf had been made by his huge tusk. A huge one it must have been, as the impression of it testified to the keen eyes of the Bushman.
Swartboy stated some curious facts about the great quadruped,—at least, what he alleged to be facts. They were,—that the elephant never attempts to lie down without having something to lean his shoulders against,—a rock, an ant-hill, or a tree; that he does this to prevent himself from rolling over on his back,—that when he does by accident get into that position he has great difficulty in rising again, and is almost as helpless as a turtle; and, lastly, that he often sleeps standing beside a tree with the whole weight of his body leaning against the trunk!
Swartboy did not think that he leans against the trunk when first taking up his position; but that he seeks the tree for the shade it affords, and as sleep overcomes him he inclines towards it, finding that it steadies and rests him!
The Bushman stated, moreover, that some elephants have their favourite trees, to which they return again and again to take a nap during the hot midday hours,—for that is their time of repose. At night they do not sleep. On the contrary, the hours of night are spent in ranging about, on journeys to the distant watering-places, and in feeding; though in remote and quiet districts they also feed by day—so that it is probable that most of their nocturnal activity is the result of their dread of their watchful enemy, man.
Swartboy communicated these facts, as the hunters all together followed upon the spoor.
The traces of the elephant were now of a different character, from what they had been before arriving at the ant-hill. He had been browsing as he went. His nap had brought a return of appetite; and the wait-a-bit thorns showed the marks of his prehensile trunk. Here and there branches were broken off, stripped clean of their leaves, and the ligneous parts left upon the ground. In several places whole trees were torn up by their roots, and those, too, of considerable size. This the elephant sometimes does to get at their foliage, which upon such trees grows beyond the reach of his proboscis. By prostrating them of course he gets their whole frondage within easy distance of his elastic nose, and can strip it off at pleasure. At times, however, he tears up a tree to make a meal of its roots—as there are several species with sweet juicy roots, of which the elephant is extremely fond. These he drags out of the ground with his trunk, having first loosened them with his tusks, used as crowbars. At times he fails to effect his purpose; and it is only when the ground is loose or wet, as after great rains, that he can uproot the larger kinds of mimosas. Sometimes he is capricious; and, after drawing a tree from the ground, he carries it many yards along with him, flings it to the ground, root upwards, and then leaves it, after taking a single mouthful. Destructive to the forest is the passage of a troop of elephants!
Small trees he can tear up with his trunk alone, but to the larger ones he applies the more powerful leverage of his tusks. These he inserts under the roots, imbedded as they usually are in loose sandy earth, and then, with a quick jerk, he tosses roots, trunk, and branches, high into the air,—a wonderful exhibition of gigantic power.
The hunters saw all these proof's of it, as they followed the spoor. The traces of the elephant's strength were visible all along the route.
It was enough to beget fear and awe, and none of them were free from such feelings. With so much disposition to commit havoc and ruin in his moments of quietude, what would such a creature be in the hour of excitement and anger? No wonder there was fear in the hearts of the hunters, unpractised as some of them were.
Still another consideration had its effect upon their minds, particularly on that of the Bushman. There was every reason to believe that the animal was a "rover" (rodeur),—what among Indian hunters is termed a "rogue." Elephants of this kind are far more dangerous to approach than their fellows. In fact, under ordinary circumstances, there is no more danger in passing through a herd of elephants than there would be in going among a drove of tame oxen. It is only when the elephant has been attacked or wounded, that he becomes a dangerous enemy.
With regard to the "rover" or "rogue," the case is quite different. He is habitually vicious; and will assail either man or any other animal in sight, and without the slightest provocation. He seems to take a pleasure in destruction, and woe to the creature who crosses his path and is not of lighter heels than himself!
The rover leads a solitary life, rambling alone through, the forest, and never associating with others of his kind. He appears to be a sort of outlaw from his tribe, banished for bad temper or some other fault, to become more fierce and wicked in his outlawry.
There were good reasons for fearing that the elephant they were spooring was a "rover." His being alone was of itself a suspicious circumstance, as elephants usually go, from two to twenty, or even fifty, in a herd. The traces of ruin he had left behind him, his immense spoor, all seemed to mark him out as one of these fierce creatures. That such existed in that district they already had evidence. Swartboy alleged that the one killed by the rhinoceros was of this class, else he would not have attacked the latter as he had done. There was a good deal of probability in this belief of the Bushman.
Under these impressions, then, it is less to be wondered, that our hunters felt some apprehensions of danger from the game they were pursuing.
The spoor grew fresher and fresher. The hunters saw trees turned bottom upward, the roots exhibiting the marks of the elephant's teeth, and still wet with the saliva from his vast mouth. They saw broken branches of the mimosas giving out their odour, that had not had time to waste itself. They concluded the game could not be distant.
They rounded a point of timber—the Bushman being a little in the advance.
Suddenly Swartboy stopped and fell back a pace. He turned his face upon his companions. His eyes rolled faster than ever; but, although his lips appeared to move, and his tongue to wag, he was too excited to give utterance to a word. A volley of clicks and hisses came forth, but nothing articulate!
The others, however, did not require any words to tell them what was meant. They knew that Swartboy intended to whisper that he had seen "da oliphant;" so both peeped silently around the bush, and with their own eyes looked upon the mighty quadruped.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
A ROGUE ELEPHANT.
The elephant was standing in a grove of mokhala trees. These, unlike the humbler mimosas, have tall naked stems, with heads of thick foliage, in form resembling an umbrella or parasol. Their pinnate leaves of delicate green are the favourite food of the giraffe, hence their botanical appellation of Acacia giraffae; and hence also their common name among the Dutch hunters of "cameel-doorns" (camel-thorns).
The tall giraffe, with his prehensile lip, raised nearly twenty-feet in the air, can browse upon these trees without difficulty. Not so the elephant, whose trunk cannot reach so high; and the latter would often have to imitate the fox in the fable, were he not possessed of a means whereby he can bring the tempting morsel within reach—that is, simply by breaking down the tree. This his vast strength enables him to do, unless when the trunk happens to be one of the largest of its kind.
When the eyes of our hunters first rested upon the elephant, he was standing by the head of a prostrate mokhala, which he had just broken off near the root. He was tearing away at the leaves, and filling his capacious stomach.
As soon as Swartboy recovered the control over his tongue, he ejaculated in a hurried whisper:—
"Pas op! (take care!) baas Bloom,—hab good care—don't go near um—he da skellum ole klow. My footy! he wicked!—I know de ole bull duyvel."
By this volley of queer phrases, Swartboy meant to caution his master against rashly approaching the elephant, as he knew him to be one of the wicked sort—in short, a "rogue."
How Swartboy knew this would appear a mystery, as there were no particular marks about the animal to distinguish him from others of his kind. But the Bushman, with his practised eye, saw something in the general physiognomy of the elephant—just as one may distinguish a fierce and dangerous bull from those of milder disposition, or a bad from a virtuous man, by some expression that one cannot define.
Von Bloom himself, and even Hendrik, saw that the elephant had a fierce and ruffian look.
They did not stand in need of Swartboy's advice to act with caution.
They remained for some minutes, gazing through the bushes at the huge quadruped. The more they gazed, the more they became resolved to make an attack upon him. The sight of his long tusks was too tempting to Von Bloom, to admit for a moment the thought of letting him escape without a fight. A couple of bullets he should have into him, at all events; and if opportunity offered, a good many more, should these not be sufficient. Von Bloom would not relinquish those fine tusks without a struggle.
He at once set about considering the safest mode of attack; but was not allowed time to mature any plan. The elephant appeared to be restless, and was evidently about to move forward. He might be off in a moment, and carry them after him for miles, or, perhaps, in the thick cover of wait-a-bits get lost to them altogether.
These conjectures caused Von Bloom to decide at once upon beginning the attack, and without any other plan than to stalk in as near as would be safe, and deliver his fire. He had heard that a single bullet in the forehead would kill any elephant; and if he could only get in such a position as to have a fair shot at the animal's front, he believed he was marksman enough to plant his bullet in the right place.
He was mistaken as to killing an elephant with a shot in the forehead. That is a notion of gentlemen who have hunted the elephant in their closets, though other closet gentlemen the anatomists—to whom give all due credit—have shown the thing to be impossible, from the peculiar structure of the elephant's skull and the position of his brain.
Von Bloom at the time was under this wrong impression, and therefore committed a grand mistake. Instead of seeking a side shot, which he could have obtained with far less trouble—he decided on creeping round in front of the elephant, and firing right in the animal's face.
Leaving Hendrik and Swartboy to attack him from behind, he took a circuit under cover of the bushes; and at length arrived in the path the elephant was most likely to take.
He had scarcely gained his position, when he saw the huge animal coming towards him with silent and majestic tread; and although the elephant only walked, half-a-dozen of his gigantic strides brought him close up to the ambushed hunter. As yet the creature uttered no cry; but as he moved, Von Bloom could hear a rumbling gurgling sound, as of water dashing to and fro in his capacious stomach!
Von Bloom had taken up his position behind the trunk of a large tree. The elephant had not yet seen him, and, perhaps, would have passed on without knowing that he was there, had the hunter permitted him. The latter even thought of such a thing, for although a man of courage, the sight of the great forest giant caused him for a moment to quail.
But, again, the curving ivory gleamed in his eyes—again he remembered the object that had brought him into that situation; he thought of his fallen fortunes—of his resolve to retrieve them—of his children's welfare.
These thoughts resolved him. His long roer was laid over a knot in the trunk—its muzzle pointed at the forehead of the advancing elephant—his eye gleamed through the sights—the loud detonation followed—and a cloud of smoke for a moment hid everything from his view.
He could hear a hoarse bellowing trumpet-like sound—he could hear the crashing of branches and the gurgling of water; and, when the smoke cleared away, to his chagrin he saw that the elephant was still upon his feet, and evidently not injured in the least!
The shot had struck the animal exactly where the hunter had aimed it; but, instead of inflicting a mortal wound, it had only excited the creature to extreme rage. He was now charging about, striking the trees with his tusks, tearing branches off, and tossing them aloft with his trunk—though all the while evidently in ignorance of what had tickled him so impertinently upon the forehead!
Fortunately for Von Bloom, a good thick tree sheltered him from the view of the elephant. Had the enraged animal caught sight of him at that moment, it would have been all up with him; but the hunter knew this, and had the coolness to remain close and quiet.
Not so with Swartboy. When the elephant moved forward, he and Hendrik had crept after through the grove of mokhalas. They had even followed him across the open ground into the bush, where Von Bloom awaited him. On hearing the shot, and seeing that the elephant was still unhurt, Swartboy's courage gave way; and leaving Hendrik, he ran back towards the mokhala grove, shouting as he went.
His cries reached the ears of the elephant, that at once rushed off in the direction in which he heard them. In a moment he emerged from the bush, and, seeing Swartboy upon the open ground, charged furiously after the flying Bushman. Hendrik—who had stood his ground, and in the shelter of the bushes was not perceived—delivered his shot as the animal passed him. His ball told upon the shoulder, but it only served to increase the elephant's fury. Without stopping, he rushed on after Swartboy, believing, no doubt, that the poor Bushman was the cause of the hurts he was receiving, and the nature of which he but ill understood.
It was but a few moments, from the firing of the first shot, until things took this turn. Swart boy was hardly clear of the bushes before the elephant emerged also; and as the former struck out for the mokhala trees, he was scarce six steps ahead of his pursuer.
Swartboy's object was to get to the grove, in the midst of which were several trees of large size. One of these he proposed climbing—as that seemed his only chance for safety.
He had not got half over the open ground, when he perceived he would be too late. He heard the heavy rush of the huge monster behind him—he heard his loud and vengeful bellowing—he fancied he felt his hot breath. There was still a good distance to be run. The climbing of the tree, beyond the reach of the elephant's trunk, would occupy time. There was no hope of escaping to the tree.
These reflections occurred almost instantaneously. In ten seconds Swartboy arrived at the conclusion, that running to the tree would not save him; and all at once he stopped in his career, wheeled round, and faced the elephant!
Not that he had formed any plan of saving himself in that way. It was not bravery, but only despair, that caused him to turn upon his pursuer. He knew that, by running on, he would surely be overtaken. It could be no worse if he faced round; and, perhaps, he might avoid the fatal charge by some dexterous manoeuvre.
The Bushman was now right in the middle of the open ground; the elephant rushing straight towards him.
The former had no weapon to oppose to his gigantic pursuer. He had thrown away his bow—his axe too—to run the more nimbly. But neither would have been of any avail against such an antagonist. He carried nothing but his sheep-skin kaross. That had encumbered him in his flight; but he had held on to it for a purpose.
His purpose was soon displayed.
He stood until the extended trunk was within three feet of his face; and then, flinging his kaross so that it should fall over the long cylinder, he sprang nimbly to one side, and started to run back.
He would, no doubt, have succeeded in passing to the elephant's rear, and thus have escaped; but as the kaross fell upon the great trunk it was seized in the latter, and swept suddenly around. Unfortunately Swartboy's legs had not yet cleared the circle—the kaross lapped around them—and the Bushman was thrown sprawling upon the plain.
In a moment the active Swartboy recovered his feet, and was about to make off in a new direction. But the elephant, having discovered the deception of the kaross, had dropped it, and turned suddenly after him. Swartboy had hardly made three steps, when the long ivory curve was inserted between his legs from behind; and the next moment his body was pitched high into the air.
Von Bloom and Hendrik, who had just then reached the edge of the glade, saw him go up; but to their astonishment he did not come to the ground again! Had he fallen back upon the elephant's tusks? and was he held there by the trunk? No. They saw the animal's head. The Bushman was not there, nor upon his back, nor anywhere to be seen. In fact, the elephant seemed as much astonished as they at the sudden disappearance of his victim! The huge beast was turning his eyes in every direction, as if searching for the object of his fury!
Where could Swartboy have gone? Where? At this moment the elephant uttered a loud roar, and was seen rushing to a tree, which he now caught in his trunk, and shook violently. Von Bloom and Hendrik looked up towards its top, expecting to see Swartboy there.
Sure enough he was there, perched among the leaves and branches where he had been projected! Terror was depicted in his countenance, for he felt that he was not safe in his position. But he had scarce time to give utterance to his fears; for the next moment the tree gave way with a crash, and fell to the ground, bringing the Bushman down among its branches.
It happened that the tree, dragged down by the elephant's trunk, fell towards the animal. Swartboy even touched the elephant's body in his descent, and slipped down over his hind-quarters. The branches had broken the fall, and the Bushman was still unhurt, but he felt that he was now quite at the mercy of his antagonist. He saw no chance of escape by flight. He was lost!
Just at that moment an idea entered his mind—a sort of despairing instinct—and springing at one of the hind-legs of the quadruped, he slung his arms around it, and held fast! He at the same time planted his naked feet upon the sabots of those of the animal: so that, by means of this support, he was enabled to keep his hold, let the animal move as it would!
The huge mammoth, unable to shake him off, unable to get at him with his trunk—and, above all, surprised and terrified by this novel mode of attack—uttered a shrill scream, and with tail erect and trunk high in air, dashed off into the jungle!
Swartboy held on to the leg until fairly within the bushes; and then, watching his opportunity, he slipped gently off. As soon as he touched terra firma again, he rose to his feet, and ran with all his might in an opposite direction.
He need not have run a single step; for the elephant, as much frightened as he, kept on through the jungle, laying waste the trees and branches in his onward course. The huge quadruped did not stop, till he had put many miles between himself and the scene of his disagreeable adventure!
Von Bloom and Hendrik had by this time reloaded, and were advancing to Swartboy's rescue; but they were met right in the teeth by the swift-flying Bushman, as he returned from his miraculous escape.
The hunters, who were now warmed to their work, proposed to follow up the spoor; but Swartboy, who had had enough of that "old rogue," declared that there would be not the slightest chance of again coming up with him without horses or dogs; and as they had neither, spooring him any farther would be quite useless.
Von Bloom saw that there was truth in the remark, and now more than ever did he regret the loss of his horses. The elephant, though easily overtaken on horseback, or with dogs to bring him to bay, can as easily escape from a hunter on foot; and once he has made up his mind to flight, it is quite a lost labour to follow him farther.
It was now too late in the day to seek for other elephants; and with a feeling of disappointment, the hunters gave up the chase, and turned their steps in the direction of the camp.
THE MISSING HUNTER, AND THE WILDEBEESTS.
A well-known proverb says that "misfortunes seldom come single."
On nearing the camp, the hunters could perceive that all was not right there. They saw Totty with Truey and Jan standing by the head of the ladder; but there was something in their manner that told that all was not right. Where was Hans?
As soon as the hunters came in sight, Jan and Truey ran down the rounds, and out to meet them. There was that in their glances that bespoke ill tidings, and their words soon confirmed this conjecture.
Hans was not there—he had gone away hours ago—they knew not where, they feared something had happened to him,—they feared he was lost!
"But what took him away from the camp?" asked Von Bloom, surprised and troubled at the news.
That, and only that, could they answer. A number of odd-looking animals—very odd-looking, the children said,—had come to the vley to drink. Hans had taken his gun and followed them in a great hurry, telling Truey and Jan to keep in the tree, and not come down until he returned. He would be gone only a very little while, and they needn't fear.
This was all they knew. They could not even tell what direction he had taken. He went by the lower end of the vley; but soon the bushes hid him from their view, and they saw no more of him.
"At what time was it?"
It was many hours ago,—in the morning in fact,—not long after the hunters themselves had started. When he did not return the children grew uneasy; but they thought he had fallen in with papa and Hendrik, and was helping them to hunt; and that was the reason why he stayed so long.
"Had they heard any report of a gun?" No—they had listened for that, but heard none. The animals had gone away before Hans could get his gun ready; and they supposed he had to follow some distance before he could overtake them—that might be the reason they had heard no shot.
"What sort of animals were they?" They had all seen them plain enough, as they drank. They had never seen any of the kind before. They were large animals of a yellow brown colour, with shaggy manes, and long tufts of hair growing out of their breasts, and hanging down between their fore-legs. They were as big as ponies, said Jan, and very like ponies. They curvetted and capered about just as ponies do sometimes. Truey thought that they looked more like lions!
"Lions!" ejaculated her father and Hendrik, with an accent that betokened alarm.
Indeed, they reminded her of lions, Truey again affirmed, and Totty said the same. "How many were there of them?"
"Oh! a great drove, not less than fifty." They could not have counted them, as they were constantly in motion, galloping from place to place, and butting each other with their horns.
"Ha! they had horns then?" interrogated Von Bloom, relieved by this announcement.
Certainly they had horns, replied all three.
They had seen the horns, sharp-pointed ones, which first came down, and then turned upwards in front of the animals' faces. They had manes too, Jan affirmed; and thick necks that curved like that of a beautiful horse; and tufts of hair like brushes upon their noses; and nice round bodies like ponies, and long white tails that reached near the ground, just like the tails of ponies, and finely-shaped limbs as ponies have.
"I tell you," continued Jan, with emphasis, "if it hadn't been for their horns and the brushes of long hair upon their breasts and noses, I'd have taken them for ponies before anything. They galloped about just like ponies when playing, and ran with their heads down, curving their necks and tossing their manes,—ay, and snorting too, as I've heard ponies; but sometimes they bellowed more like bulls; and, I confess, they looked a good deal like bulls about the head; besides I noticed they had hoofs split like cattle. Oh! I had a good look at them while Hans was loading his gun. They stayed by the water till he was nearly ready; and when they galloped off, they went in a long string one behind the other with the largest one in front, and another large one in the rear."
"Wildebeests!" exclaimed Hendrik.
"Gnoos!" cried Swartboy.
"Yes, they must have been wildebeests," said Von Bloom; "Jan's description corresponds exactly to them."
This was quite true. Jan had correctly given many of the characteristic points of that, perhaps, the most singular of all ruminant animals, the wildebeest or gnoo (Catoblepas gnoo). The brushlike tuft over the muzzle, the long hair between the fore-legs, the horns curving down over the face, and then sweeping abruptly upward, the thick curving neck, the rounded, compact, horse-shaped body, the long whitish tail, and full flowing mane—all were descriptive of the gnoo.
Even Truey had not made such an unpardonable mistake. The gnoos, and particularly the old bulls, bear a very striking resemblance to the lion, so much so that the sharpest hunters at a distance can scarce tell one from the other.
Jan, however, had observed them better than Truey; and had they been nearer, he might have further noticed that the creatures had red fiery eyes and a fierce look; that their heads and horns were not unlike those of the African buffalo; that their limbs resembled those of the stag, while the rest corresponded well enough to his "pony." He might have observed, moreover, that the males were larger than the females, and of a deeper brown. Had there been any "calves" with the herd, he would have seen that these were still lighter-coloured—in fact, of a white or cream colour.
The gnoos that had been seen were the common kind called by the Dutch colonists "wildebeests" or wild-oxen, and by the Hottentots "gnoo" or "gnu," from a hollow moaning sound to which these creatures sometimes give utterance, and which is represented by the word "gnoo-o-oo."
They roam in vast flocks upon the wild karoos of South Africa; are inoffensive animals, except when wounded; and then the old bulls are exceedingly dangerous, and will attack the hunter both with horns and hoot. They can run with great swiftness, though they scarce ever go clear off, but, keeping at a wary distance, circle around the hunter, curvetting in all directions, menacing with their heads lowered to the ground, kicking up the dust with their heels, and bellowing like bulls, or indeed like lions—for their "rout" bears a resemblance to the lion's roar.
The old bulls stand sentry while the herd is feeding, and protect it both in front and rear. When running off they usually go in single file, as Jan had represented.
Old bulls hang between the rear of the herd and the hunter; and these caper back and forward, butting each other with their horns, and often fighting apparently in serious earnest! Before the hunter comes within range, however, they drop their conflict and gallop out of his way. Nothing can exceed the capricious antics which these animals indulge in, while trooping over the plain.
There is a second species of the same genus common in South Africa, and a third inhabits still farther to the north; but of the last very little is known. Both species are larger than the wildebeest, individuals of either being nearly five feet in height, while the common gnoo is scarce four.
The three kinds are quite distinct, and never herd together, though each of them is often found in company with other animals. All three are peculiar to the continent of Africa, and are not found elsewhere.
The "brindled gnoo" (Catoblepas gorgon) is the other species that inhabits the South of Africa. It is known among the hunters and colonists as "blauw wildebeest" (blue wild-ox). It is of a bluish colour—hence the name, and "brindled," or striped along the sides. Its habits are very similar to those of the common gnoo, but it is altogether a heavier and duller animal, and still more eccentric and ungainly in its form.
The third species (Catoblepas taurina) is the "ko-koon" of the natives. It approaches nearer to the brindled gnoo in form and habits; but as it is not found except in the more central and less-travelled portions of Africa, less is known about it than either of the others. It is, however, of the same kind; and the three species, differing widely from any other animals known, are entitled to form a distinct and separate genus.
They have hitherto generally been classed with the antelopes, though for what reason it is hard to tell. They have far less affinity with the antelope than with the ox; and the everyday observations of the hunter and frontier boor have guided them to a similar conclusion—as their name for these animals (wild-oxen) would imply. Observation of this class is usually worth far more than the "speculations" of the closet-naturalist.
The gnoo has long been the favourite food of the frontier farmer and hunter. Its beef is well flavoured, and the veal of a gnoo-calf is quite a delicacy. The hide is manufactured into harness and straps of different sorts; and the long silky tail is an article of commerce. Around every frontier farm-house large piles of gnoo and springbok horns may be seen—the remains of animals that have been captured in the chase.
"Jaging de wildebeest" (hunting the gnoo) is a favourite pastime of the young boors. Large herds of these animals are sometimes driven into valleys, where they are hemmed in, and shot down at will. They can also be lured within range, by exhibiting a red handkerchief or any piece of red cloth—to which colour they have a strong aversion. They may be tamed and domesticated easily enough; but they are not favourite pets with the farmer, who dreads their communicating to his cattle a fatal skin-disease to which the gnoos are subject, and which carries off thousands of them every year.
Of course Von Bloom and his companions did not stay to talk over these points. They were too anxious about the fate of the missing Hans, to think of anything else.
They were about to start out in search of him, when just at that moment my gentleman was seen coming around the end of the lake, trudging very slowly along, under the weight of some large and heavy object, that he carried upon his shoulders.
A shout of joy was raised, and in a few moments Hans stood in their midst.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
THE ANT-EATER OF AFRICA.
Hans was saluted by a volley of questions, "Where have you been? What detained you? What has happened to you? You're all safe and sound? Not hurt, I hope?" These and a few others were asked in a breath.
"I'm sound as a bell," said Hans; "and for the rest of your inquiries I'll answer them all as soon as Swartboy has skinned this 'aard-vark,' and Totty has cooked a piece of it for supper; but I'm too hungry to talk now, so pray excuse me."
As Hans gave this reply, he cast from his shoulders an animal nearly as big as a sheep, covered with long bristly hair of a reddish-grey colour, and having a huge tail, thick at the root, and tapering like a carrot; a snout nearly a foot long, but quite slender and naked; a very small mouth; erect pointed ears resembling a pair of horns; a low flattish body; short muscular legs; and claws of immense length, especially on the fore-feet, where, instead of spreading out, they were doubled back like shut fists, or the fore hands of a monkey. Altogether a very odd animal was that which Hans had styled an "aard-vark," and which he desired should be cooked for supper.
"Well, my boy," replied Von Bloom, "we'll excuse you, the more so that we are all of us about as hungry as yourself, I fancy. But I think we may as well leave the 'aard-vark' for to-morrow's dinner. We've a couple of peacocks here, and Totty will get one of them ready sooner than the aard-vark."
"As for that," rejoined Hans, "I don't care which. I'm just in the condition to eat anything—even a steak of tough old quagga, if I had it; but I think it would be no harm if Swartboy—that is, if you're not too tired, old Swart—would just peel the skin off this gentleman."
Hans pointed to the "aard-vark." "And dress him so that he don't spoil," he continued; "for you know, Swartboy, that he's a tit-bit—a regular bonne bouche—and it would be a pity to let him go to waste in this hot weather. An aard-vark's not to be bagged every day."
"You spreichen true, Mynheer Hans,—Swartboy know all dat. Him skin an' dress da goup."
And, so saying, Swartboy out knife, and set to work upon the carcass.
Now this singular-looking animal which Hans called an "aard-vark," and Swartboy a "goup," was neither more nor less than the African ant-eater (Orycteropus Capensis).
Although the colonists term it "aard-vark," which is the Dutch for "ground-hog," the animal has but little in common with the hog kind. It certainly bears some resemblance to a pig about the snout and cheeks; and that, with its bristly hair and burrowing habits, has no doubt given rise to the mistaken name. The "ground" part of the title is from the fact that it is a burrowing animal,—indeed, one of the best "terriers" in the world. It can make its way under ground faster than the spade can follow it, and faster than any badger. In size, habits, and the form of many parts of its body, it bears a striking resemblance to its South American cousin the "tamanoir" (Myrmecophaga jubata), which of late years has become so famous as almost to usurp the title of "ant-eater." But the "aard-vark" is just as good an ant-eater as he,— can "crack" as thick-walled a house, can rake up and devour as many termites as any "ant-bear" in the length and breadth of the Amazon Valley. He has got, moreover, as "tall" a tail as the tamanoir, very nearly as long a snout, a mouth equally small, and a tongue as extensive and extensile. In claws he can compare with his American cousin any day, and can walk just as awkwardly upon the sides of his fore-paws with "toes turned in." Why, then, may I ask, do we hear so much talk of the "tamanoir," while not a word is said of the "aard-vark?" Every museum and menagerie is bragging about having a specimen of the former, while not one cares to acknowledge their possession of the latter! Why this envious distinction? I say it's all Barnum. It's because the "aard-vark" is a Dutchman—a Cape boor—and the boors have been much bullied of late. That's the reason why zoologists and showmen have treated my thick-tailed boy so shabbily. But it shan't be so any longer; I stand up for the aard-vark; and, although the tamanoir has been specially called Myrmecophaga, or ant-eater, I say that the Orycteropus is as good an ant-eater as he. He can break through ant-hills quite as big and bigger—some of them twenty-feet high—he can project as long and as gluey a tongue—twenty inches long—he can play it as nimbly and "lick up" as many white ants, as any tamanoir. He can grow as fat too, and weigh as heavy, and, what is greatly to his credit, he can provide you with a most delicate roast when you choose to kill and eat him. It is true he tastes slightly of formic acid, but that is just the flavour that epicures admire. And when you come to speak of "hams,"—ah! try his! Cure them well and properly, and eat one, and you will never again talk of "Spanish" or "Westphalian."
Hans knew the taste of those hams—well he did, and so too Swartboy; and it was not against his inclination, but con amore, that the latter set about butchering the "goup." Swartboy knew how precious a morsel he held between his fingers,—precious, not only on account of its intrinsic goodness, but from its rarity; for although the aard-vark is a common animal in South Africa, and in some districts even numerous, it is not every day the hunter can lay his hands upon one. On the contrary, the creature is most difficult to capture; though not to kill, for a blow on the snout will do that.
But just as he is easily killed when you catch him, in the same proportion is he hard to catch. He is shy and wary, scarce ever comes out of his burrow but at night; and even then skulks so silently along, and watches around him so sharply, that no enemy can approach without his knowing it. His eyes are very small, and, like most nocturnal animals, he sees but indifferently; but in the two senses of smell and hearing he is one of the sharpest. His long erect ears enable him to catch every sound that may be made in his neighbourhood, however slight.
The "aard-vark" is not the only ant-eating quadruped of South Africa. There is another four-footed creature as fond of white ants as he; but this is an animal of very different appearance. It is a creature without hair; but, instead its body is covered all over with a regular coat of scales, each as large as a half-crown piece. These scales slightly overlie each other, and can be raised on end at the will of the animal. In form it resembles a large lizard, or a small crocodile, more than an ordinary quadruped, but its habits are almost exactly like those of the aard-vark. It burrows, digs open the ant-hills by night, projects a long viscous tongue among the insects, and devours them with avidity.
When suddenly overtaken, and out of reach of its underground retreat, it "clews" up like the hedgehog, and some species of the South American armadillos—to which last animal it bears a considerable resemblance on account of its scaly coat of mail.
This ant-eater is known as the "pangolin," or "manis," but there are several species of "pangolin" not African. Some are met with in Southern Asia and the Indian islands. That which is found in South Africa is known among naturalists as the "long-tailed" or "Temminck" pangolin (Manis Temminckii).
Totty soon produced a roasted "peacock," or rather a hastily-broiled bustard. But, although, perhaps, not cooked "to a turn," it was sufficiently well done to satisfy the stomachs for which it was intended. They were all too hungry to be fastidious, and, without a word of criticism, they got through their dinner.
Hans then commenced relating the history of his day's adventure.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
HANS CHASED BY THE WILDEBEEST.
"Well," began Hans, "you had not been gone more than an hour, when a herd of wildebeests was seen approaching the vley. They came on in single file; but they had broken rank, and were splashing about in the water, before I thought of molesting them in any way.
"Of course I knew what they were, and that they were proper game; but I was so interested in watching their ludicrous gambols, that I did not think about my gun, until the whole herd had nearly finished drinking. Then I remembered that we were living on dry biltongue, and would be nothing the worse of a change. I noticed, moreover, that in the herd of gnoos there were some young ones—which I was able to tell from their being smaller than the rest, and also by their lighter colour. I knew that the flesh of these is most excellent eating, and therefore made up my mind we should all dine upon it.
"I rushed up the ladder for my gun; and then discovered how imprudent I had been in not loading it at the time you all went away. I had not thought of any sudden emergency,—but that was very foolish, for how knew I what might happen in a single hour or minute even?
"I loaded the piece in a grand hurry, for I saw the wildebeests leaving the water; and, as soon as the bullet was rammed home, I ran down the ladder. Before I had reached the bottom, I saw that I had forgotten to bring either powder-horn or pouch. I was in too hot a haste to go back for them, for I saw the last of the wildebeests moving off, and I fancied I might be too late. But I had no intention of going any great distance in pursuit. A single shot at them was all I wanted, and that in the gun would do.
"I hastened after the game, keeping as well as I could under cover. I found, after a little time, that I need not have been so cautious. The wildebeests, instead of being shy—as I had seen them in our old neighbourhood—appeared to have very little fear of me. This was especially the case with the old bulls, who capered and careered about within an hundred yards' distance, and sometimes permitted me to approach even nearer. It was plain they had never been hunted.
"Once or twice I was within range of a pair of old bulls, who seemed to act as a rearguard. But I did not want to shoot one of them. I knew their flesh would turn out tough. I wished to get something more tender. I wished to send a bullet into a heifer, or one of the young bulls whose horns had not yet begun to curve. Of these I saw several in the herd.
"Tame as the animals were, I could not manage to get near enough to any of these. The old bulls at the head always led them beyond my range; and the two, that brought up the rear, seemed to drive them forward as I advanced upon them.
"Well, in this way they beguiled me along for more than a mile; and the excitement of the chase made me quite forget how wrong it was of me to go so far from the camp. But thinking about the meat, and still hopeful of getting a shot, I kept on.
"At length the hunt led me into ground where there was no longer any bush; but there was good cover, notwithstanding, in the ant-hills, that, like great tents, stood at equal distances from each other scattered over the plain. These were very large—some of them more than twelve feet high—and differing from the dome-shaped kind so common everywhere. They were of the shape of large cones, or rounded pyramids, with a number of smaller cones rising around their bases, and clustering like turrets along their sides. I knew they were the hills of a species of white ant called by entomologists Termes bellicosus.
"There were other hills, of cylinder shape and rounded tops, that stood only about a yard high; looking like rolls of unbleached linen set upright—each with an inverted basin upon its end. These were the homes of a very different species, the Termes mordax of the entomologists; though still another species of Termes (Termes atrox) build their nests in the same form.
"I did not stop then to examine these curious structures. I only speak of them now, to give you an idea of the sort of place it was, so that you may understand what followed.
"What with the cone-shaped hills and the cylinders, the plain was pretty well covered. One or the other was met with every two hundred yards; and I fancied with these for a shelter I should have but little difficulty in getting within shot of the gnoos.
"I made a circuit to head them, and crept up behind a large cone-shaped hill, near which the thick of the drove was feeding. When I peeped through the turrets, to my chagrin, I saw that the cows and younger ones had been drawn off beyond reach, and the two old bulls were, as before, capering between me and the herd.
"I repeated the manoeuvre, and stalked in behind another large cone, close to which the beasts were feeding. When I raised myself for a shot, I was again disappointed. The herd had moved off as before, and the brace of bulls still kept guard in the rear.
"I began to feel provoked. The conduct of the bulls annoyed me exceedingly, and I really fancied that they knew it. Their manoeuvres were of the oddest kind, and some of them appeared to be made for the purpose of mocking me. At times they would charge up very close—their heads set in a menacing attitude; and I must confess that with their black shaggy fronts, their sharp horns, and glaring red eyes, they looked anything but pleasant neighbours.
"I got so provoked with them at last, that I resolved they should bother me no longer. If they would not permit me to shoot one of the others, I was determined they themselves should not escape scot-free, but should pay dearly for their temerity and insolence. I resolved to put a bullet through one of them, at least.
"Just as I was about raising my gun to fire, I perceived that they had placed themselves in attitude for a new fight. This they did by dropping on their knees, and sliding forward until their heads came in contact. They would then spring up, make a sudden bound forward, as if to get uppermost, and trample one another with their hoofs. Failing in this, both would rush past, until they were several yards apart; then wheel round, drop once more to their knees; and advance as before.
"Hitherto I had looked upon these conflicts as merely playful; and so I fancy most of them were. But this time the bulls seemed to be in earnest. The loud cracking of their helmet-covered foreheads against each other, their fierce snorting and bellowing, and, above all, their angry manner, convinced me that they had really quarrelled, and were serious about it.
"One of them, at length, seemed to be getting knocked over repeatedly. Every time he had partially risen to his feet, and before he could quite recover them, his antagonist rushed upon him, and butted him back upon his side.
"Seeing them so earnestly engaged, I thought I might as well make a sure shot of it, by going a little nearer; so I stepped from behind the ant-hill, and walked towards the combatants. Neither took any notice of my approach—the one because he had enough to do to guard himself from the terrible blows, and the other because he was so occupied in delivering them.
"When within twenty paces I levelled my gun. I chose the bull who appeared victor, partly as a punishment for his want of feeling in striking a fallen antagonist, but, perhaps, more because his broadside was towards me, and presented a fairer mark.
"The smoke hid both for a moment. When it cleared off, I saw the bull that had been conquered still down in a kneeling attitude, but, to my great surprise, the one at which I had aimed was upon his feet, apparently as brisk and sound as ever! I knew I had hit him somewhere— as I heard the 'thud' of the bullet on his fat body—but it was plain I had not crippled him.
"I was not allowed time for reflection as to where I had wounded him. Not an instant indeed, for the moment the smoke cleared away, instead of the bulls clearing off also, I saw the one I had shot at fling up his tail, lower his shaggy front, and charge right towards me!
"His fierce eyes glanced with a revengeful look, and his roar was enough to have terrified one more courageous than I. I assure you I was less frightened the other day when I encountered the lion.
"I did not know what to do for some moments. I thought of setting myself in an attitude of defence, and involuntarily had turned my gun which was now empty—intending to use it as a club. But I saw at once, that the slight blow I could deliver would not stop the onset of such a strong fierce animal, and that he would butt me over, and gore me, to a certainty.
"I turned my eyes to see what hope there lay in flight. Fortunately they fell upon an ant-hill—the one I had just emerged from. I saw at a glance, that by climbing it I would be out of reach of the fierce wildebeest. Would I have time to get to it before he could overtake me?
"I ran like a frightened fox. You, Hendrik, can beat me running upon ordinary occasions. I don't think you could have got quicker to that ant-hill than I did.
"I was not a second too soon. As I clutched at the little turrets, and drew myself up, I could hear the rattle of the wildebeest's hoofs behind me, and I fancied I felt his hot breath upon my heels.
"But I reached the top cone in safety; and then turned and looked down at my pursuer. I saw that he could not follow me any farther. Sharp as his horns were, I saw that I was safe out of their reach."
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
BESIEGED BY THE BULL.
"Well," continued Hans, after a pause, "I began to congratulate myself on my fortunate escape; for I was convinced that but for the ant-hill I would have been trampled and gored to death. The bull was one of the largest and fiercest of his kind, and a very old one too, as I could tell by the bases of his thick black horns nearly meeting over his forehead, as well as by his dark colour. I had plenty of time to note these things. I felt that I was now safe—that the wildebeest could not get near me; and I sat perched upon the top of the central cone, watching his movements with perfect coolness.
"It is true he did everything to reach my position. A dozen times he charged up the hill, and more than once effected a lodgment among the tops of the lower turrets, but the main one was too steep for him. No wonder! It, had tried my own powers to scale it.
"At times he came so close to me in his desperate efforts, that I could have touched his horns with the muzzle of my gun; and I had prepared to give him a blow whenever I could get a good chance. I never saw a creature behave so fiercely. The fact was, that I had hit him with my bullet,—the wound was there along his jaw, and bleeding freely. The pain of it maddened him; but that was not the only cause of his fury, as I afterwards discovered.
"Well. After several unsuccessful attempts to scale the cone, he varied his tactics, and commenced butting the ant-heap as though he would bring it down. He repeatedly backed, and then charged forward upon it with all his might; and, to say the truth, it looked for some time as though he would succeed.
"Several of the lesser cones were knocked over by his powerful blows; and the hard tough clay yielded before his sharp horns, used by him as inverted pickaxes. In several places I could see that he had laid open the chambers of the insects, or rather the ways and galleries that are placed in the outer crust of the hill.
"With all this I felt no fear. I was under the belief that he would soon exhaust his rage and go away; and then I could descend without danger. But after watching him a good long spell, I was not a little astonished to observe that, instead of cooling down, he seemed to grow more furious than ever. I had taken out my handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off my face. It was as hot as an oven where I sat. Not a breath of air was stirring, and the rays of the sun, glaring right down and then reflecting up again from the white clay, brought the perspiration out of me in streams. Every minute I was obliged to rub my eyes clear of it with the handkerchief.
"Now, before passing the kerchief over my face, I always shook it open; and each time I did so, I noticed that the rage of the wildebeest seemed to be redoubled! In fact, at such times he would leave off goring the heap, and make a fresh attempt to rush up at me, roaring his loudest as he charged against the steep wall!
"I was puzzled at this, as well as astonished. What could there be in my wiping my face to provoke the wildebeest anew? And yet such was clearly the case. Every time I did so, he appeared to swell with a fresh burst of passion!
"The explanation came at length. I saw that it was not the wiping off the perspiration that provoked him. It was the shaking out of my handkerchief. This was, as you know, of a bright scarlet colour. I thought of this, and then, for the first time, remembered having heard that anything scarlet has a most powerful effect upon the wildebeest, and excites him to a rage resembling madness.
"I did not wish to keep up his fury. I crumpled up the handkerchief and buried it in my pocket—preferring to endure the perspiration rather than remain there any longer. By hiding the scarlet, I conceived a hope he would the sooner cool down, and go away.
"But I had raised a devil in him too fierce to be so easily laid. He showed no signs of cooling down. On the contrary, he continued to charge, butt, and bellow, as vengefully as ever—though the scarlet was no longer before his eyes.
"I began to feel really annoyed. I had no idea the gnoo was so implacable in his rage. The bull evidently felt pain from his wound. I could perceive that he moaned it. He knew well enough it was I who had given him this pain.
"He appeared determined not to let me escape retribution. He showed no signs of an intention to leave the place; but laboured away with hoof and horns, as if he would demolish the mound.
"I was growing very tired of my situation Though not afraid that the bull could reach me, I was troubled by the thought of being so long absent from our camp. I knew I should have been there. I thought of my little sister and brother. Some misfortune might befall them. I was very sad about that, though up to that time I had little or no fears for myself. I was still in hopes the wildebeest would tire out and leave me, and then I could soon run home.
"I say, up to that time I had no very serious fears for myself— excepting the moment or two when the bull was chasing me to the hill; but that little fright was soon over.
"But now appeared a new object of dread—another enemy, as terrible as the enraged bull—that almost caused me to sprint down upon the horns of the latter in my first moments of alarm!
"I have said that the wildebeest had broken down several of the lesser turrets—the outworks of the ant-hill—and had laid open the hollow spaces within. He had not penetrated to the main dome, but only the winding galleries and passages that perforate the outer walls.
"I noticed, that, as soon as these were broken open, a number of ants had rushed out from each. Indeed, I had observed many of the creatures crawling outside the hill, when I first approached it, and had wondered at this—as I knew that they usually keep under ground when going and coming from their nests. I had observed all this, without taking note of it at the time—being too intent in my stalk to think of anything else. For the last half-hour I was too busy watching the manoeuvres of the wildebeest bull, to take my gaze off him for a moment.
"Something in motion directly under me at length caught my eye, and I looked down to see what it was. The first glance caused me to jump to my feet; and, as I have already said, very nearly impelled me to leap down upon the horns of the bull!
"Swarming all over the hill, already clustering upon my shoes, and crawling still higher, were the crowds of angry ants. Every hole that the bull had made was yielding out its throng of spiteful insects; and all appeared moving towards me!
"Small as the creatures were, I fancied I saw design in their movements. They seemed all actuated with the same feeling—the same impulse—that of attacking me. I could not be mistaken in their intent. They moved all together, as if guided and led by intelligent beings; and they advanced towards the spot on which I stood.
"I saw, too, that they were the soldiers. I knew these from the workers, by their larger heads and long horny mandibles. I knew they could bite fiercely and painfully.
"The thought filled me with horror. I confess it, I never was so horrified before. My late encounter with the lion was nothing to compare with it.
"My first impression was that I would be destroyed by the termites. I had heard of such things—I remembered that I had. It was that, no doubt, that frightened me so badly. I had heard of men in their sleep being attacked by the white ants, and bitten to death. Such memories came crowding upon me at the moment, until I felt certain, that if I did not soon escape from that spot, the ants would sting me to death and eat me up!"
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
A HELPLESS BEAST.
"What was to be done? How was I to avoid both enemies? If I leaped down, the wildebeest would kill me to a certainty. He was still there, with his fierce eye bent upon me continually. If I remained where I was, I would soon be covered with the swarming hideous insects, and eaten up like an old rag.
"Already I felt their terrible teeth. Those that had first crawled to my feet I had endeavoured to brush off; but some had got upon my ankles, and were biting me through my thick woollen socks! My clothes would be no protection.
"I had mounted to the highest part of the cone, and was standing upon its apex. It was so sharp I could scarcely balance myself, but the painful stings of the insects caused me to dance upon it like a mountebank.
"But what signified those, that had already stung my ankles, to the numbers that were likely soon to pierce me with their venomous darts? Already these were swarming up the last terrace. They would soon cover the apex of the cone upon which I was standing. They would crawl up my limbs in myriads—they would—
"I could reflect no longer on what they would do. I preferred taking my chance with the wildebeest. I would leap down. Perhaps some lucky accident might aid me. I would battle with the gnoo, using my gun. Perhaps I might succeed in escaping to some other hill. Perhaps—
"I was actually on the spring to leap down, when a new thought came into my mind; and I wondered I had been so silly as not to think of it before. What was to hinder me from keeping off the termites? They had no wings—the soldiers have none—nor the workers neither, for that matter. They could not fly upon me. They could only crawl up the cone. With my jacket I could brush them back. Certainly I could—why did I not think of it before?
"I was not long in taking off my jacket. I laid aside my useless gun, dropping it upon one of the lower terraces. I caught the jacket by the collar; and, using it as a duster, I cleared the sides of the cone in a few moments, having sent thousands of the termites tumbling headlong below.
"Pshaw! how simply the thing was done! why had I not done it before? It cost scarcely an effort to brush the myriads away, and a slight effort would keep them off as long as I pleased.
"The only annoyance I felt now was from the few that had got under my trousers, and that still continued to bite me; but these I would get rid of in time.
"Well—I remained on the apex, now bending down to beat back the soldiers that still swarmed upward, and then occupying myself in trying to get rid of the few that crawled upon me. I felt no longer any uneasiness on the score of the insects—though I was not a bit better off as regarded the bull, who still kept guard below. I fancied, however, that he now showed symptoms of weariness, and would soon raise the siege; and this prospect made me feel more cheerful.
"A sudden change came over me. A new thrill of terror awaited me.
"While jumping about upon the top of the cone, my footing suddenly gave way—the baked clay broke with a dead crash, and I sank through the roof. My feet shot down into the hollow dome—till I thought I must have crushed the great queen in her chamber—and I stood buried to the neck.
"I was surprised, and a little terrified, not by the shock I had experienced in the sudden descent. That was natural enough, and a few moments would have restored my equanimity; but it was something else that frightened me. It was something that moved under my feet as they touched bottom,—something that moved and heaved under them, and then passed quickly away, letting me still farther down!
"What could it be? Was it the great swarm of living ants that I pressed upon: I did not think it was. It did not feel like them. It seemed to be something bulky and strong, for it held up my whole weight for a moment or two, before it slipped from under me.
"Whatever it was, it frightened me very considerably; and I did not leave my feet in its company for five seconds time. No: the hottest furnace would scarce have scorched them during the time they remained inside the dark dome. In five seconds they were on the walls again—on the broken edges, where I had mounted up, and where I now stood quite speechless with surprise!
"What next? I could keep the ants off no longer. I gazed down the dark cavity; they were swarming up that way in thick crowds. I could brush them down no more.
"My eyes at this moment chanced to wander to the bull. He was standing at three or four paces distance from the base of the hill. He was standing sideways with his head turned to it, and regarding it with a wild look. His attitude was entirely changed, and so, I thought, was the expression of his eye. He looked as if he had just run off to his new position, and was ready to make a second start. He looked as if something had also terrified him!
"Something evidently had; for, in another moment, he uttered a sharp rout, galloped several paces farther out, wheeled again, halted, and stood gazing as before!
"What could it mean? Was it the breaking through of the roof and my sudden descent that had frightened him?
"At first I thought so, but I observed that he did not look upward to the top. His gaze seemed bent on some object near the base of the hill—though from where I stood I could see nothing there to frighten him.
"I had not time to reflect what it could be, before the bull uttered a fresh snort; and, raising his tail high into the air, struck off at full gallop over the plain!
"Rejoiced at seeing this, I thought no more of what had relieved me of his company. It must have been my curious fall, I concluded; but no matter now that the brute was gone. So seizing hold of my gun, I prepared to descend from the elevated position, of which I was thoroughly tired.
"Just as I had got half down the side, I chanced to look below; and there was the object that terrified the old bull. No wonder. It might have terrified anything,—the odd-looking creature that it was. From out a hole in the clay wall protruded a long naked cylindrical snout, mounted by a pair of ears nearly as long as itself, that stood erect like the horns of a steinbuck, and gave to the animal that bore them a wild and vicious look. It would have badly frightened me, had I not known what it was; but I recognised it at once as one of the most inoffensive creatures in the world—the 'aard-vark.'
"His appearance accounted for the retreat of the bull, and also explained why the ants had been crawling about on my first reaching their hill.
"Without saying a word, or making the slightest noise, I clubbed my gun; and, bending downward, struck the protruded snout a blow with the butt. It was a most wicked blow; and, considering the service the creature had just done me in frightening off the wildebeest, a most ungrateful return. But I was not master of my feelings at the moment. I did not reflect—only that I liked aard-vark flesh—and the blow was given.
"Poor fellow! It did the job for him. With scarce a kick he dropped dead in the opening he had scraped with his own claws.
"Well—my day's adventures were not yet ended. They seemed as though they were never to end. I had got the aard-vark over my shoulders, and was about heading homeward, when, to my astonishment, I observed that the bull-gnoo—not the one that had besieged me, but his late antagonist—was still out upon the plain where I had last seen him! I observed, moreover, that he was still in a sort of half-lying half-kneeling attitude, with his head close to the ground!
"His odd movements seemed stranger than anything else. I fancied he had been badly hurt by the other, and was not able to get away.
"At first I was cautious about going near him—remembering my late narrow escape—and I thought of giving him a wide berth, and leaving him alone. Even though wounded, he might be strong enough to charge upon me; and my empty gun, as I had already proved, would be but a poor weapon with which to defend myself.
"I hesitated about going near him; but curiosity grew strong within me, as I watched his queer manoeuvres; until at length I walked up within a dozen yards of where he was kneeling.
"Fancy my surprise on discovering the cause of his oblique movements. No hurt had he received of any kind—not even a scratch; but for all that, he was as completely crippled as if he had lost his best pair of legs.
"In a very singular manner was he rendered thus helpless. In his struggle with the other bull, one of his fore-legs had, somehow or other, got passed over his horn; and there it stuck—not only depriving him of the use of the limb itself, but holding his head so close to the ground that he was quite unable to stir from the spot!
"At first I designed helping him out of his difficulty, and letting him go. On second thoughts, I remembered the story of the husbandman and the frozen snake, which quite changed my intention.
"I next thought of killing him for venison; but having no bullet, I did not like to beat him to death with my gun. Besides the aard-vark was my load to camp, and I knew that the jackals would eat the bull up before we could go back for him. I thought it probable he would be safer left as he was—as these ravenous brutes, seeing him alive, might not so readily approach him.
"So I left him with his 'head under his arm,' in hopes that we may find him there to-morrow."
So ended Hans's narrative of his day's adventures.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
THE ELEPHANT'S SLEEPING-ROOST.
The field-cornet was far from satisfied with his day's work. His first attempt at elephant-hunting had proved a failure. Might it not be always so?
Notwithstanding the interest with which he listened to Hans's narrative of the day's adventures, he felt uneasy in his mind when he reflected upon his own.
The elephant had escaped so easily. Their bullets seemed to have injured him not the least. They had only served to render him furious, and dangerous. Though both had hit him in places where their wounds should have been mortal, no such effect was produced. The elephant seemed to go off as unscathed, as if they had fired only boiled peas at him!
Would it be always so?
True, they had given him but two shots. Two, if well directed, may bring down a cow-elephant and sometimes a bull, but oftener it requires ten times two before a strong old bull can be made to "bite the dust."
But would any elephant wait until they could load and fire a sufficient number of shots?
That was an undecided point with our tyro elephant-hunters. If not, then they would be helpless indeed. It would be a tedious business spooring the game afoot, after it had once been fired upon. In such cases the elephant usually travels many miles before halting again; and only mounted men can with any facility overtake him.
How Von Bloom sighed when he thought of his poor horses! Now more than ever did he feel the want of them—now more than ever did he regret their loss.
But he had heard that the elephant does not always make off when attacked. The old bull had shown no intention of retreating, after receiving their shots. It was the odd conduct of Swartboy that had put him to flight. But for that, he would no doubt have kept the ground, until they had given him another volley, and perhaps his death-wound.
The field-cornet drew consolation from this last reflection. Perhaps their next encounter would have a different ending. Perhaps a pair of tusks would reward them.
The hope of such a result, as well as the anxiety about it, determined Von Bloom to lose no time in making a fresh trial. Next morning, therefore, before the sun was up, the hunters were once more upon the trail of their giant game.
One precaution they had taken, which they had not thought of before. All of them had heard that an ordinary leaden bullet will not penetrate the tough thick skin of the great "pachyderm." Perhaps this had been the cause of their failure on the preceding day. If so they had provided against the recurrence of failure from such a cause. They had moulded a new set of balls of harder material,—solder it should have been, but they had none. They chanced, however, to be in possession of what served the purpose equally well—the old "plate" that had often graced the field-cornet's table in his better byegone days of the Graaf Reinet. This consisted of candlesticks, and snuffer-trays, and dish-covers, and cruet-stands, and a variety of articles of the real "Dutch metal."
Some of these were condemned to the alembic of the melting-pan; and, mixed with the common lead, produced a set of balls hard enough for the hide of the rhinoceros itself—so that this day the hunters had no fears of failure upon the score of soft bullets.
They went in the same direction as upon the preceding day, towards the forest or "bush" (bosch), as they termed it.
They had not proceeded a mile when they came upon the spoor of elephants nearly fresh. It passed through the very thickest of the thorny jungle—where no creature but an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a man with an axe, could have made way. A family must have passed, consisting of a male, a female or two, and several young ones of different ages. They had marched in single file, as elephants usually do; and had made a regular lane several feet wide, which was quite clear of bushes, and trampled by their immense footsteps. The old bull, Swartboy said, had gone in advance, and had cleared the way of all obstructions, by means of his trunk and tusks. This had evidently been the case, for the hunters observed huge branches broken off, or still hanging and turned to one side, out of the way—just as if the hand of man had done it.
Swartboy further affirmed, that such elephant-roads usually led to water; and by the very easiest and shortest routes—as if they had been planned and laid open by the skill of an engineer—showing the rare instinct or sagacity of these animals.
The hunters, therefore, expected soon to arrive at some watering-place; but it was equally probable the spoor might be leading them from the water.
They had not followed it more than a quarter of a mile, when they came upon another road of a similar kind, that crossed the one they were spooring upon. This had also been made by a number of elephants—a family most likely—and the tracks upon it were as recent as those they had been following.
They hesitated for a moment which to take; but at length concluded upon keeping straight on; and so they moved forward as before.
To their great disappointment the trail at last led out into more open ground, where the elephants had scattered about; and after following the tracks of one, and then another without success, they got bewildered, and lost the spoor altogether.
While casting about to find it in a place where the bush was thin and straggling, Swartboy suddenly ran off to one side, calling to the others to follow him. Von Bloom and Hendrik went after to see what the Bushman was about. They thought he had seen an elephant, and both, considerably excited, had already pulled the covers off their guns.
There was no elephant, however. When they came up with Swartboy, he was standing under a tree, and pointing to the ground at its bottom.
The hunters looked down. They saw that the ground upon one side of the tree was trampled, as though horses or some other animals had been tied there for a long time, and had worn off the turf, and worked it into dust with their hoofs. The bark of the tree—a full-topped shady acacia—for some distance up was worn smooth upon one side, just as though cattle had used it for a rubbing-post.
"What has done it?" asked the field-cornet and Hendrik in a breath.
"Da olifant's slapen-boom," (the elephant's sleeping-tree), replied Swartboy.
No further explanation was necessary. The hunters remembered what they had been told about a curious habit which the elephant has—of leaning against a tree while asleep. This, then, was one of the sleeping-trees of these animals.
But of what use to them, farther than to gratify a little curiosity? The elephant was not there.
"Da ole karl come again," said Swartboy.
"Ha! you think so, Swart?" inquired Von Bloom.
"Ya, baas, lookee da! spoor fresh—da groot olifant hab slap here yesterday."
"What then? you think we should lie in wait, and shoot him when he returns."
"No, baas, better dan shoot, we make him bed—den wait see um lie down."
Swartboy grinned a laugh as he gave this piece of advice.
"Make his bed! what do you mean?" inquired his master.
"I tell you, baas, we get da olifant sure, if you leave da job to ole Swart. I gib you de plan for take him, no waste powder, no waste bullet."
The Bushman proceeded to communicate his plan, to which his master— remembering their failure of yesterday—readily gave his consent.
Fortunately they had all the implements that would be necessary for carrying it out,—a sharp axe, a strong rope or "rheim" of raw-hide, and their knives—and they set about the business without loss of time.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
MAKING THE ELEPHANT'S BED.
To the hunters time was a consideration. If the elephant should return that day, it would be just before the hottest hours of noon. They had, therefore, scarce an hour left to prepare for him—to "make his bed," as Swartboy had jocosely termed it. So they went to work with alacrity, the Bushman acting as director-general, while the other two received their orders from him with the utmost obedience.
The first work which Swartboy assigned to them was, to cut and prepare three stakes of hard wood. They were to be each about three feet long, as thick as a man's arm, and pointed at one end. These were soon procured. The iron-wood (Olca undulata) which grew in abundance in the neighbourhood, furnished the very material; and after three pieces of sufficient length had been cut down with the axe, they were reduced to the proper size, and pointed by the knives of the hunters.
Meanwhile Swartboy had not been idle. First with his knife he had cut a large section of bark from the elephant's tree, upon the side against which the animal had been in the habit of leaning, and about three feet from the ground. Then with the axe he made a deep notch, where the bark had been removed—in fact, such a notch as would have caused the tree to fall had it been left to itself. But it was not, for before advancing so far in his work, Swartboy had taken measures to prevent that. He had stayed the tree by fastening the rheim to its upper branches on the opposite side, and then carrying the rope to the limbs of another tree that stood out in that direction.
Thus adjusted, the elephant's tree was only kept from falling by the rheim-stay; and a slight push, in the direction of the latter, would have thrown over.
Swartboy now replaced the section of bark, which he had preserved; and after carefully collecting the chips, no one, without close examination, could have told that the tree had ever felt the edge of an axe.
Another operation yet remained to be performed—that was the planting of the stakes, already prepared by Von Bloom and Hendrik. To set these firmly deep holes had to be made. But Swartboy was just the man to make a hole; and in less than ten minutes he had sunk three, each over a foot deep, and not a half-inch wider than the thickness of the stakes!
You may be curious to know how he accomplished this. You would have dug a hole with a spade, and necessarily as wide as the spade itself. But Swartboy had no spade, and would not have used it if there had been one—since it would have made the holes too large for his purpose.
Swartboy sunk his holes by "crowing"—which process he performed by means of a small pointed stick. With this he first loosened the earth in a circle of the proper size. He then took out the detached mould, flung it away, and used the point of the "crowing stick" as before. Another clearing out of mould, another application of the stick; and so on, till the narrow hole was deemed of sufficient depth. That was how Swartboy "crowed" the holes.
They were sunk in a kind of triangle near the bottom of the tree, but on the side opposite to that where the elephant would stand, should he occupy his old ground.
In each hole Swartboy now set a stake, thick end down and point upwards; some small pebbles, and a little mould worked in at the sides, wedged them as firmly as if they had grown there.
The stakes were now daubed over with soft earth, to conceal the white colour of the wood; the remaining chips were picked up, and all traces of the work completely obliterated. This done, the hunters withdraw from the spot.
They did not go far; but choosing a large bushy tree to leeward, all three climbed up into it, and sat concealed among its branches.
The field-cornet held his long "roer" in readiness, and so did Hendrik his rifle. In case the ingenious trap of Swartboy should fail, they intended to use their guns, but not otherwise.
It was now quite noon, and the day had turned into one of the hottest. But for the shade afforded by the leaves, they would have felt it very distressing. Swartboy prognosticated favourably from this. The great heat would be more likely than anything else to send the elephant to his favourite sleeping-place under the cool shady cover of the cameel-doorn.
It was now quite noon. He could not be long in coming, thought they.
Sure enough he came, and soon, too.
They had not been twenty minutes on their perch, when they heard a strange, rumbling noise, which they knew proceeded from the stomach of an elephant. The next moment they saw one emerge from the jungle, and walk, with sweeping step, straight up to the tree. He seemed to have no suspicion of any danger; but placed himself at once alongside the trunk of the acacia—in the very position and on the side Swartboy had said he would take. From his spoor the Bushman knew he had been in the habit of so standing.
His head was turned from the hunters, but not so much as to prevent them from seeing a pair of splendid tusks,—six feet long at the least.
While gazing in admiration at these rich trophies, they saw the animal point his proboscis upward, and discharge a vast shower of water into the leaves, which afterwards fell dripping in bright globules over his body!
Swartboy said that he drew the water from his stomach. Although closet-naturalists deny this, it must have been so; for shortly after, he repeated the act again and again—the quantity of water at each discharge being as great as before. It was plain that his trunk, large as it was, could not have contained it all.
He seemed to enjoy this "shower-bath;" and the hunters did not wonder at it, for they themselves, suffering at the time from heat and thirst, would have relished something of a similar kind. As the crystal drops fell back from the acacia leaves, the huge animal was heard to utter a low grunt expressive of gratification. The hunters hoped that this was the prelude to his sleep, and watched him with intense earnestness.
It proved to be so.
As they sat gazing, they noticed that his head sunk a little, his ears ceased their flapping, his tail hung motionless, and his trunk, now twined around his tusks, remained at rest.
They gaze intently. Now they see his body droop a little to one side— now it touches the tree—there is heard a loud crack, followed by a confused crashing of branches—and the huge dark body of the elephant sinks upon its side.
At the same instant a terrible scream drowns all other sounds, causing the forest to echo, and the very leaves to quake. Then follows a confused roaring, mingled with the noise of cracking branches, and the struggles of the mighty brute where he lies kicking his giant limbs along the earth, in the agonies of death!
The hunters remain in the tree. They see that the elephant is down— that he is impaled. There will be no need for their puny weapons. Their game has already received the death-wound.
The struggle is of short duration. The painful breathing that precedes death is heard issuing from the long proboscis; and then follows a deep ominous silence.
The hunters leap down, and approach the prostrate body. They see that it still lies upon the terrible chevaux de frise, where it had fallen. The stakes have done their work most effectively. The elephant breathes no more. He is dead!
It was the work of an hour to cut out those splendid tusks. But our hunters thought nothing of that; and they were only the more pleased to find each of them a heavy load—as much as a man could carry!
Von Bloom shouldered one, Swartboy the other while Hendrik loaded himself with the guns and implements; and all three, leaving the carcass of the dead elephant behind them, returned triumphantly to camp.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.
THE WILD-ASSES OF AFRICA.
Notwithstanding the success of the day's hunt the mind of Von Bloom was not at rest. They had "bagged" their game, it was true, but in what manner? Their success was a mere accident, and gave them no earnest of what might be expected in the future. They might go long before finding another "sleeping-tree" of the elephants, and repeating their easy capture.
Such were the not very pleasant reflections of the field-cornet, on the evening after returning from their successful hunt.
But still less pleasant were they, two weeks later, at the retrospect of many an unsuccessful chase from which they had returned—when, after twelve days spent in "jaging" the elephant, they had added only a single pair of tusks to the collection, and these the tusks of a cow-elephant, scarce two feet in length, and of little value!
The reflection was not the less painful, that nearly every day they had fallen in with elephants, and had obtained a shot or two at these animals. That did not mend the matter a bit. On the contrary, it taught the hunter how easily they could run away from him, as they invariably did. It taught him how small his chances were of capturing such game, so long as he could only follow it afoot.
The hunter on foot stands but a poor chance with the elephant. Stalking in upon one is easy enough, and perhaps obtaining a single shot; but when the animal trots off through the thick jungle, it is tedious work following him. He may go miles before halting, and even if the hunter should overtake him, it may be only to deliver a second shot, and see the game once more disappear into the bushes—perhaps to be spoored no farther.
Now the mounted hunter has this advantage. His horse can overtake the elephant; and it is a peculiarity of this animal, that the moment he finds that his enemy, whatever it be, can do that thing, he disdains to run any farther, but at once stands to bay; and the hunter may then deliver as many shots as he pleases.
Herein lies the great advantage of the hunter on horseback. Another advantage is the security the horse affords, enabling his rider to avoid the charges of the angry elephant.
No wonder Von Bloom sighed for a horse. No wonder he felt grieved at the want of this noble companion, that would have aided him so much in the chase.
He grieved all the more, now that he had become acquainted with the district, and had found it so full of elephants. Troops of an hundred had been seen; and these far from being shy, or disposed to make off after a shot or two. Perhaps they had never heard the report of a gun before that of his own long roer pealed in their huge ears.
With a horse the field-cornet believed he could have killed many, and obtained much valuable ivory. Without one, his chances of carrying out his design were poor indeed. His hopes were likely to end in disappointment.
He felt this keenly. The bright prospects he had so ardently indulged in, became clouded over; and fears for the future once more harassed him. He would only waste his time in this wilderness. His children would live without books, without education, without society. Were he to be suddenly called away, what would become of them? His pretty Gertrude would be no better off than a little savage—his sons would become not in sport, as he was wont to call them, but in reality a trio of "Bush-boys."
Once more these thoughts filled the heart of the father with pain. Oh! what would he not have given at that moment for a pair of horses, of any sort whatever?
The field-cornet, while making these reflections, was seated in the great nwana-tree, upon the platform, that had been built on the side towards the lake, and from which a full view could be obtained of the water. From this point a fine view could also be obtained of the country which lay to the eastward of the lake. At some distance off it was wooded, but nearer the vley a grassy plain lay spread before the eye like a green meadow.
The eyes of the hunter were turned outward on this plain, and just then his glance tell upon a troop of animals crossing the open ground, and advancing towards the vley.
They were large animals—nearly of the shape and size of small horses— and travelling in single file; as they were, the troop at a distance presented something of the appearance of a "cafila," or caravan. There were in all about fifty individuals in the line; and they marched along with a steady sober pace, as if under the guidance and direction of some wise leader. How very different from the capricious and eccentric movements of the gnoos!
Individually they bore some resemblance to these last-named animals. In the shape of their bodies and tails, in their general ground colour, and in the "brindled" or tiger-like stripes that could be perceived upon their cheeks, neck, and shoulders. These stripes were exactly of the same form as those upon a zebra; but far less distinct, and not extending to the body or limbs, as is the case with the true zebra. In general colour, and in some other respects, the animals reminded one of the ass; but their heads, necks, and the upper part of their bodies, were of darker hue, slightly tinged with reddish-brown. In fact, the new-comers had points of resemblance to all four—horse, ass, gnoo, and zebra—and yet they were distinct from any. To the zebra they bore the greatest resemblance—for they were in reality a species of zebra—they were quaggas.
Modern naturalists have divided the Equidae, or horse family, into two genera—the horse (equus) and the ass (asinus)—the principal points of distinction being, that animals of the horse kind have long flowing manes, full tails, and warty callosities on both hind and fore limbs; while asses, on the contrary, have short, meagre, and upright manes, tails slender and furnished only with long hairs at the extremity, and their hind limbs wanting the callosities. These, however, are found on the fore-legs as upon horses.
Although there are many varieties of the horse genus—scores of them, widely differing from each other—they can all be easily recognised by these characteristic marks, from the "Suffolk Punch," the great London dray-horse, down to his diminutive little cousin the "Shetland Pony."
The varieties of the ass are nearly as numerous, though this fact is not generally known.
First, we have the common ass (Asinus vulgaris), the type of the genus; and of this there are many breeds in different countries, some nearly as elegant and as highly prized as horses. Next there is the "onagra," "koulan," or "wild-ass" (Asinus onager), supposed to be the origin of the common kind. This is a native of Asia, though it is also found in the north-eastern parts of Africa. There is also the "dziggetai," or "great wild-ass" (Asinus hemionus), of Central and Southern Asia, and another smaller species the "ghur" (Asinus Hamar) found in Persia. Again, there is the "kiang" (Asinus kiang) met with in Ladakh, and the "yo-totze" (Asinus equulus), an inhabitant of Chinese Tartary.
All these are Asiatic species, found in a wild state, and differing from one another in colour, size, form, and even in habits. Many of them are of elegant form, and swift as the swiftest horses.
In this little book we cannot afford room for a description of each, but must confine our remarks to what is more properly our subject—the wild-asses of Africa. Of these there are six or seven kinds—perhaps more.
First, there is the "wild-ass" (Asinus onager), which, as already stated, extends from Asia into the north-eastern parts of Africa, contiguous to the former continent.
Next there is the "koomrah," of which very little is known, except that it inhabits the forests of Northern Africa, and is solitary in its habits, unlike most of the other species. The koomrah has been described as a "wild horse," but, most probably, it belongs to the genus asinus.
Now there are four other species of "wild-asses" in Africa—wild horses some call them—and a fifth reported by travellers, but as yet undetermined. These species bear such a resemblance to one another in their form, the peculiar markings of their bodies, size, and general habits, that they may be classed together under the title of the zebra family. First, there is the true zebra (Equus zebra), perhaps the most beautiful of all quadrupeds, and of which no description need be given. Second, the "dauw," or "Burchell's zebra," as it is more frequently called (Equus Burchellii). Third, the "Congo dauw" (Equus hippotigris), closely resembling the dauw. Fourth, the "quagga" (Equus quagga); and fifth, the undetermined species known as the "white zebra" (Equus Isabellinus), so-called from its pale yellow, or Isabella colour.
These five species evidently have a close affinity with each other—all of them being more or less marked with the peculiar transversal bands or "stripes," which are the well-known characteristics of the zebra. Even the quagga is so banded upon the head and upper parts of its body.
The zebra proper is "striped" from the tip of the nose to its very hoofs, and the bands are of a uniform black, while the ground colour is nearly white, or white tinged with a pale yellow. The "dauws," on the other hand, are not banded upon the legs; the rays are not so dark or well defined, and the ground colour is not so pure or clean-looking. For the rest, all these three species are much alike; and it is more than probable that either "Burchell's" or the "congo dauw", was the species to which the name of "zebra" was first applied; for that which is now called the "true zebra" inhabits those parts of Africa where it was less likely to have been the first observed of that genus. At all events, the "congo dauw" is the "hippotigris," or tiger-horse, of the Romans; and this we infer from its inhabiting a more northerly part of Africa than the others, all of which belong to the southern half of that continent. The habitat of the zebra is said to extend as far north as Abyssinia; but, perhaps, the "congo dauw," which certainly inhabits Abyssinia, has been mistaken for the true zebra.
Of the four species in South Africa, the zebra is a mountain animal, and dwells among the cliffs, while the dauw and quagga rove over the plains and wild karoo deserts. In similar situations to these has the "white zebra" been observed—though only by the traveller Le Vaillant—and hence the doubt about its existence as a distinct species.
None of the kinds associate together, though each herds with other animals! The quagga keeps company with the gnoo, the "dauw" with the "brindled gnoo," while the tall ostrich stalks in the midst of the herds of both!