Totty was on the platform in the great nwana-tree, which commanded a view of the corn-patch, and also of the plain beyond, as far as the bottom of the cliffs. She was busied about "house" affairs, when her attention was called off, by some singular noises that came from that direction. She parted the branches and looked through. A singular scene was before her eyes—a spectacle of no common kind.
A body of odd-looking animals, to the number of two hundred or more, was coming from the direction of the cliffs. They were creatures of ungainly forms—in make and size not unlike large ill-shaped dogs—and of a greenish brown colour. Their faces and ears only were black, and these were naked, while their bodies were covered with harsh coarse hair. They had long tails, which some of them carried high in the air, and flourished about in a very eccentric manner.
Totty was by no means alarmed. She knew what sort of animals they were. She knew they were baboons. They were of the species known as the "pig-faced" baboon or "chacma" (Cynocephalus porcarius), which is found in nearly every part of South Africa where there are high cliffs with caves and crevices—the favourite dwelling-places of the baboon.
Of all the monkey tribe the baboons, or dog-headed monkeys (cynocephali), are the most disgusting in form and features. Who does not feel disgust when regarding the hideous mandrill—the drill—the hamadryas—or even the chacma? And all these are baboons.
The baboons are peculiar to Africa, and there are six well-known species of them:—the common baboon of North Africa, the "papion" of the south and western coast, the "hamadryas" or "tartarin" of Abyssinia, the "mandrill" and "drill" of Guinea, and the "chacma" of the Cape colony.
The habits of these animals are as disgusting as their appearance. They may be tamed, and made "pets" of; but dangerous pets they are, as they will, upon the slightest provocation, bite the hand that feeds them.
Their great strength of body and jaw, and their long canine teeth, give them a dangerous power which they often make use of. No dog is a match for one, and the hyena and leopard often come off second-best in an encounter with a baboon.
They are not carnivorous, however, and only tear their enemy to pieces without eating it. Their food consists of fruits and bulbous roots, which they well understand to dig out of the ground with the sharp nails of their hands.
Although they will not attack man if left alone, they become dangerous assailants when hunted and brought to bay.
Many odd stories are told of the chacma baboon among the settlers of Southern Africa, such as their robbing the traveller of his food, and then going off to some distance, and mocking him, while they devour it. The natives also say that they sometimes use a stick in walking, "crowing" for roots, and in self-defence. Also, when a young one has succeeded in finding a choice root, and is observed by an older and stronger one, that the latter takes it away: but, should the young one have already swallowed it, then the bully picks him up, turns him head downward, and shakes him until he is forced to "disgorge!" Many such tales are current in the country of the boors, and they are not all without foundation, for these animals most certainly possess the power of reflection in a high degree.
Totty from her perch saw enough to convince her of this, had she been herself inclined to philosophise. But she was not. She was only a little curious about the manoeuvres of the animals, and she called Truey and little Jan up into the tree, in order that they might share the spectacle with her. All the others were off hunting.
Jan was delighted, and ran up the ladder at once. So did Truey, and all three stood watching the odd movements of the four-handed creatures.
They perceived that the troop was actually marching in order; not in line, but with some understood arrangement. There were scouts upon the wings, and leaders in front. These were baboons of greater age and size than the others. There were calls and signals, and the change of accent and tone would have convinced any one that a regular conversation was going on. The females and younger ones marched in the middle for better security. The mothers carried their infants upon their backs, or over their shoulders. Now a mother would stop to suckle her little offspring—dressing its hair at the same time—and then gallop forward to make up for the loss. Now one would be seen beating her child, that had in some way given offence. Now two young females would quarrel, from jealousy or some other cause, and then a terrible chattering would ensue, to be silenced by the loud threatening bark of one of the chiefs!
Thus proceeded they across the plain, chattering, and screaming, and barking, as only monkeys can.
What were they after?
That question was answered very soon. Truey, and Jan, and Totty, saw, to their dismay, that the baboons were not out upon an idle errand. They were after the maize-plants!
In a few minutes most of the troop had entered the corn-field, and were hidden from view by the tall stems and broad leaves of the plants. A few only could be seen,—large old fellows, that stationed themselves outside as sentinels, and were keeping up a constant interchange of signals. The main body was already stripping the plants of their precious fruit.
But a singular appearance presented itself beyond the corn-field, where a line of baboons, stationed at equal distance from one another, extended away to the very bottom of the cliff. These had been left by a regular manoeuvre,—a deployment—as the troop traversed the plain in coming to the field. For what purpose?
That was soon apparent. In less than two minutes after the crowd disappeared under the shelter of the maize-plants, the long heads in their husks were seen showering out towards the line, as if flung by the hand of man! Those placed at the near end of the line immediately took them up, pitched them to the next, and these to the next, and so on, until, in a very short while from the time a head was plucked from the stalk, it was delivered to the storehouse of the baboons far off among the cliffs!
Had this work gone on much longer the field-cornet would have had but a poor gathering in harvest-time. The baboons thought the corn ripe enough, and would soon have made a crop of it, but at this moment their operations were interrupted.
Totty knew but little of the danger she underwent, when she ran forth with nothing but that long broom-handle to drive off a troop of chacmas. She only thought of the loss her kind master was sustaining; and down the ladder she hurried, and ran straight out to the corn-field.
Several sentinels met her by its edge, grinned, chattered, screamed, barked, and showed their long canine teeth; but they only received a blow over their ugly snouts from the broom-handle. Their cries summoned the others; and in a few moments the poor Hottentot was standing in the midst of an angry circle of chacmas, that were only prevented from springing in upon her by the expert manner in which she continued to ply the broomstick.
But this slight weapon would not have served much longer, and Totty's fate—that of being torn to pieces—would soon have been sealed, had not four horsemen, or rather "quagga-men," at that moment galloped up to her rescue.
These were the hunters returning from the chase; and a volley from their guns at once scattered the ugly chacmas, and sent them howling back to their caves.
After that the field-cornet looked well to his maize, until it was ready for gathering; when it was all brought home, and deposited in safety out of the reach of either birds, reptiles, quadrupeds or quadrumuna.
CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.
THE WILD HOUNDS AND THE HARTEBEEST.
Since the taming of the quaggas the hunting had been attended with tolerable success. Not a week passed without adding a pair of tusks— sometimes two or three pairs—to the collection, which now began to assume the form of a little pyramid of ivory standing near the bottom of the nwana.
Von Bloom, however, was not quite satisfied with his progress. He thought they might do far better if they only had a few dogs.
Though the quaggas were of great service to them, and with these they were often able to overtake the elephant, yet they as often lost their great game, and it is more easy to do so than most persons imagine.
But with dogs to join in the hunt, the result would be quite different. It is true these animals cannot pull down an elephant, nor do him the slightest injury; but they can follow him whithersoever he may go, and by their barking bring him to a stand.
Another valuable service which the dogs perform, is in drawing the attention of the elephant away from the hunters. The huge quadruped when enraged is, as we have already seen, exceedingly dangerous. On such occasions he will charge upon the noisy dogs, mistaking them for his real assailants. This, of course, gives the hunter a good opportunity of delivering his fire, and avoiding the deadly encounter of the elephant.
Now in several elephant-hunts which they had lately made, our hunters had run some very narrow risks. Their quaggas were neither so manageable nor so quick in their movements as horses would have been, and this rendered the hazard still greater. Some of them might one day fall a victim. So feared Von Bloom; and he would gladly have given for a number of dogs an elephant's tusk a-piece—even though they were the most worthless of curs. Indeed, their quality is but of slight importance. Any dogs that can trace the elephant and pester him with their barring would do.
Von Bloom even thought of taming some hyenas, and training them to the hunt. This idea was by no means quixotic. The hyena is often used for such a purpose, and performs even better than many kinds of dogs.
One day Von Bloom was pondering over this subject. He was seated on a little platform that had been constructed very high up—near the top of the nwana-tree—from which a view could be had of the whole country around. It was a favourite resort of the field-cornet—his smoking-room, in fact—where he went every evening to enjoy a quiet pull out of his great meerschaum. His face was turned upon the plain that stretched from the border of the bosch as far as the eye could reach.
While quietly puffing away, his attention was attracted by some animals standing at a distance off upon the plain. The brilliant colour of their bodies had caught his eye.
They were of a lively sienna colour over the back and sides, and white underneath, with a list of black upon the outside of the legs, and some black stripes upon the face, as regularly defined as if laid on by the brush of a painter. They had horns of very irregular shape, roughly knotted—each curved into something of the shape of a reaping-hook, and rising directly from the top of one of the straightest and longest heads ever carried by an animal. These animals were far from being gracefully formed. They had drooping hind-quarters like the giraffe, though in a much less degree, shoulders greatly elevated, and long narrow heads. For the rest their forms were bony and angular. Each stood five feet high, from the fore-hoof to the shoulder, and full nine feet in length.
They were antelopes of course—that species known among Cape colonists as the "hartebeest" (Acronotus caama). There were in all about fifty of them in the herd.
When first observed by Von Bloom, they were quietly browsing upon the plain. The next moment, however, they were seen to run to and fro, as if suddenly alarmed by the approach of an enemy.
And an enemy there certainly was; for in a moment more the herd had taken to flight; and Von Bloom now saw that they were followed by a pack of hounds! I say a "pack of hounds," for the creatures in the distance exactly resembled hounds more than anything in the world. Nay, more than resembled, for it actually was a pack of hounds—of wild hounds!
Of course Von Bloom knew what they were. He knew they were the "wilde-honden," very absurdly named by sapient naturalists "Hyena venatica," or "hunting hyena," and by others, with equal absurdity, the "hunting dog." I pronounce these names "absurd," first because the animal in question bears no more resemblance to a hyena than it does to a hedgehog; and, secondly, because "hunting dog" is a very ridiculous appellation, since any dog may merit a similar title.
Now I would ask, why could these naturalists not let the nomenclature of the boors alone? If a better name than "wilde-honden" (wild hounds) can be given to these animals, I should like to hear it. Why, it is the very perfection of a name, and exactly expresses the character of the animal to which they apply it—that character, which coming under their everyday observation, suggested the name.
It is quite a libel to call this beautiful creature a hyena. He has neither the ugly form, the harsh pelage, the dull colour, nor the filthy habits of one. Call him a "wolf," or "wild dog," if you please, but he is at the same time the handsomest wolf or wild dog in creation. But we shall name him, as the boors have done, a "wild hound." That is his true title, let naturalists class him as they may.
His size, shape, his smooth clean coat, as well as his colour, approximate him more to the hound than to any other animal. In the last—which is a ground of "tan" blotched and mottled with large spots of black and grey—he bears a striking resemblance to the common hound; and the superior size of his ears would seem to assimilate him still more to this animal. The ears however, as in all the wild species of Canis, are of course not hanging, but erect.
His habits, however, crown the resemblance. In his natural state the wild hound never prowls alone; but boldly runs down his game, following it in large organised packs, just as hounds do; and in his hunting he exhibits as much skill as if he had Tom Moody riding at his heels, to guide with whip and horn.
It was the field-cornet's good fortune to witness an exhibition of this skill.
The hounds had come unexpectedly upon the hartebeest herd; and almost at the first dash, one of the antelopes became separated from the rest, and ran in an opposite direction. This was just what the cunning dogs wanted; and the whole pack, instead of following the herd, turned after the single one, and ran "tail on end."
Now this hartebeest, although an ill-shaped antelope, is one of the very swiftest of the tribe; and the wild hound does not capture it without a severe chase. In fact, he could not capture it at all, if speed were the only point between the two animals. But it is not. The hartebeest has a weakness in its character, opposite to which the wild hound possesses a cunning.
The former when chased, although it runs in a straight line, does not keep long in a direct course. Now and then it diverges to one side or the other, led perhaps by the form of the ground, or some other circumstance. In this habit lies its weakness. The wild hound is well aware of it, and takes advantage of it by a manoeuvre, which certainly savours strongly of reflection on his part.
Our field-cornet had a proof of this as he watched the chase. His elevated position gave him a view of the whole ground, and he could note every movement both of pursuer and pursued.
On breaking off, the hartebeest ran in a right line, and the hounds followed straight after. They had not gone far, however, when Von Bloom perceived that one hound was forging ahead of the rest, and running much faster than any of them. He might have been a swifter dog than the others, but the hunter did not think it was that. He appeared rather to be running harder than they, as if sent forward to push the hartebeest, while the rest saved their wind.
This proved to be really the case; for the dog, by a desperate effort, having gained upon the antelope, caused the latter to turn slightly from its original course; and the pack, perceiving this, changed their direction at the same time, and held along a diagonal line, as if to head the game. By this means they avoided the detour which both the antelope and their companion had made.
The hartebeest was now running upon a new line; and as before, one of the hounds was soon seen to head the pack, and press forward at the top of his speed. The one that first led, as soon as the antelope turned from its original course, fell back, rejoined the pack, and was now lagging among the hindmost! His "turn" of duty was over.
Again the hartebeest verged from its course. Again the pack ran obliquely, and made a second "cut" upon him—again a fresh dog took the lead, and on swept the chase as before—the wild hounds uttering their yelping notes as they ran.
Several times was this manoeuvre executed by the cunning dogs—until the desired result was accomplished, and the antelope was completely "blown."
Then, as if they felt that it was in their power, and that further strategy was not needed, the whole pack rushed forward simultaneously, and closed rapidly upon the game.
The hartebeest made one last despairing effort to escape, but, finding that speed would no longer avail, the creature wheeled suddenly round, and placed itself in an attitude of defiance—the foam falling from its lips, while its red eyes sparkled like coals of fire.
In another moment the dogs were around it.
"What a splendid pack!" exclaimed Von Bloom. "Oh! that I had such an one!
"Ha!" he continued, as a new thought struck him, "and why not, just such an one?—why not?"
Now the train of reflections that passed through the mind of the field-cornet was as follows:—
That the wild hounds might be tamed, and trained to hunting,—easiest of all, to the chase of the elephant. He knew that this could be done, for boor-hunters had often done it. True, the dogs must be taken young, but where were young ones to be obtained? It is not so easy to capture the pups of the wild hound. Until they are able to run well, their mothers do not permit them to stray far from the caves in which they are littered; and these are usually crevices among rocks quite inaccessible to man. How could he obtain a set of them? He had already formed such an intention. Where could be their breeding-place?
His reflections were interrupted at this point, by very singular behaviour on the part of the wild hounds, and which gave him a new idea of their intelligence that quite electrified him.
When the hartebeest stood to bay, and the hounds came up, Von Bloom very naturally expected to see the latter run in upon their game, and at once pull it to the ground. This he knew was their usual habit. What was his astonishment at seeing the whole pack standing off to one side, as if they intended to leave the antelope alone! Some of them even lay down to rest themselves, while the others stood with open jaws and lolling tongues, but without showing any signs that they intended further to molest the panting quarry!
The field-cornet could observe the situation well, for the antelope was on his side—that is, towards the cliffs—while the dogs were farther out upon the plain. Another circumstance that astonished him was, that the dogs, after running up and around the hartebeest, had actually drawn off to their present position!
What could it mean? Were they afraid of its ugly horns? Were they resting themselves before they should make their bloody onslaught?
The hunter kept his gaze intently fixed upon the interesting group.
After a while the antelope, having recovered its wind a little, and seeing the pack so distant, made a fresh start.
This time it ran in a side direction, apparently with the intention of gaining a hill that lay in that way, and up the sides of which it no doubt calculated upon gaining some advantage. But the creature had hardly stretched itself, when the hounds struck out after it; and in five hundred yards running, once more brought it to a stand. Again the pack took station at a distance, and the hartebeest stood upon the plain alone!
Once more it essayed to escape, and started off with all the speed that was left in its legs—the hounds as before trooping after.
This time the antelope headed in a new direction, making for a point in the cliffs; and as the chase now passed very near to the nwana-tree, everybody had a fine view of it.
The hartebeest seemed to be going faster than ever, or, at all events, the dogs did not now appear to gain upon it; and the field-cornet, as well as all the young people, were in hopes the poor creature would escape from its tireless pursuers.
They watched the chase, until they could just see the bright body of the hartebeest afar off, appearing like a yellow spot upon the face of the rocks, but the dogs were no longer visible. Then the yellow spot suddenly disappeared like the going out of a candle, and they could see it no more.
No doubt the antelope was pulled down!
A strange suspicion entered the mind of Von Bloom, and, calling upon them to saddle the quaggas, he, with Hans and Hendrik, rode off towards the place where the hartebeest had been last seen.
They approached the ground with caution; and under the shelter of some bushes were enabled to get within two hundred yards of the spot without being observed. A singular spectacle rewarded their pains.
Within a dozen yards of the cliff lay the body of the hartebeest, where it had been "pulled down" by the dogs. It was already half-eaten, not by the hounds that had hunted it, but by their puppies of all ages, that to the number of more than threescore were now standing around the carcass, tugging away at its flesh and snarling at one another! Some of the grown dogs that had taken part in the chase could be seen lying upon the ground, still panting after their hard run; but most of them had disappeared, no doubt into the numerous small caves and crevices that opened along the bottom of the cliffs.
There was no room left to doubt the singular fact—that the wild hounds had regularly driven the hartebeest up to their breeding-place to feed their young, and that they had abstained from killing it out upon the plain to save themselves the labour of dragging it from a distance!
Indeed these animals—unlike the Felida—have not the power of transporting a large mass to any considerable distance; hence the wonderful instinct which led them to guide the antelope to the very spot where its flesh was wanted!
That they were in the constant practice of this singular habit was attested, by the numerous bones and horns of large antelopes of different kinds, that lay strewed around the place.
Von Bloom had his eye upon the young puppies, and all three made a rush towards them. But it was to no purpose. Cunning as their fathers and mothers, the little fellows forsook their meal at first sight of the intruders, and darted off into their caves!
But they were not cunning enough to escape the snares, which were laid for them every day for a week after; and, before the end of that time, more than a dozen of them were safely domiciled in a little kennel built especially for their use, under the shadow of the great nwana-tree.
In less than six months from that time, several of them were in the field, and trained to the chase of the elephant, which duty they performed with all the courage and skill that could have been shown by hounds of the purest breed!
CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.
For several years Von Bloom led the life of an elephant-hunter. For several years the great nwana-tree was his home, and his only companions his children and domestics. But, perhaps, these were not the least happy years of his existence, since, during all the time both he and his family had enjoyed the most estimable of earthly blessings,—health.
He had not allowed his children to grow up without instruction. He had not permitted them to lapse into the character of mere "Bush-boys." He had taught them many things from the book of nature,— many arts that can be acquired as well on the karoo as in the college. He had taught them to love God, and to love one another. He had planted in their minds the seeds of the virtuous principles,—honour and morality,—without which all education is worthless. He had imbued them with habits of industry and self-reliance, and had initiated them into many of the accomplishments of civilised life—so that upon their return to society they might be quite equal to its claims. Upon the whole, those years of the exile's life, spent in his wilderness home, formed no blank in his existence. He might look back upon them with feelings of satisfaction and pleasure.
Man, however, is formed for society. The human heart, properly organised, seeks communion with the human heart; and the mind, especially when refined and polished by education, loves the intercourse of social life, and, when deprived of it, will always yearn to obtain it.
So was it with the field-cornet. He desired to return once more within the pale of civilised society. He desired once more to revisit the scenes where he had so long dwelt in peaceful happiness; he desired once more to establish himself among his friends and acquaintances of former days, in the picturesque district of the Graaf Reinet. Indeed, to have remained any longer in his wilderness home could have served no purpose. It is true he had grown very much attached to his wild hunter-life, but it was no longer likely to be profitable. The elephants had completely forsaken the neighbourhood of the camp, and not one was to be found within twenty miles of the spot. They had become well acquainted with the report of the long roer, and knew the dangerous character of that weapon; they had learnt that of all their enemies man was the one to be especially dreaded and shunned; and they had grown so shy of his presence, that the hunters frequently passed whole weeks without setting their eyes upon a single elephant.
But this was no longer an object of solicitude with Von Bloom. Other considerations now occupied his mind, and he did not care much if he should never spoor another of these huge quadrupeds. To return to the Graaf Reinet, and settle there, was now the ultimatum of his wishes.
The time had at length arrived when he would be able to carry out that design; and nothing seemed any longer to stand in the way of its full and complete accomplishment.
The proscription against him had been long since taken off. A general amnesty had been passed by the government, and he had been pardoned among the rest.
It is true his property was not restored to him; but that mattered little now. He had created a new property, as was testified by the vast pyramid of ivory that stood under the shadow of the great nwana-tree!
Nothing remained but to transport this shining pile to a market, and a splendid fortune would be the result.
And Von Bloom's ingenuity found the means for bringing it to market.
About this time there was dug another huge pit-trap near the pass in the cliffs, in which many quaggas were trapped; and then there were stirring scenes, while these wild creatures were being broken to harness, and trained to "trek" in a wagon.
They were trained however, after a good deal of trouble—the old wheels, still in prime condition, serving as the "break;" and then the body of the wagon was let down from the tree, and once more renewed its acquaintance with its old companions the wheels; and the cap-tent spread its protecting shadow over all; and the white and yellow crescents were stowed; and the quaggas were "inspanned;" and Swartboy, mounting the "voor-kist," once more cracked his long bamboo whip; and the wheels, well oiled with elephants' grease, again whirled gaily along!
How surprised were the good people of Graaf Reinet, when, one morning, a cap-tent wagon, drawn by twelve quaggas, and followed by four riders mounted upon animals of the same kind, pulled up in the public square of their little town! How astonished they were on seeing that this wagon was "chuck" full of elephants' teeth, all except a little corner occupied by a beautiful girl with cherry cheeks and fair flaxen hair; and how joyed were they, in fine, on learning that the owner of both the ivory and the beautiful girl was no other than their old friend, and much-esteemed fellow-citizen, the field-cornet Von Bloom!
A warm welcome met the elephant-hunter in the square of Graaf Reinet, and, what was also of some importance, a ready market for his ivory.
It chanced just at that time that ivory was selling at a very high rate. Some article—I do not remember what—the principal part of which required to be constructed of pure ivory, had come into fashion and general use in European countries, and the consequence was an increased demand for this valuable commodity. It was a fortunate circumstance for the returned hunter, who was at once enabled to dispose of his stock, not only for ready money, but at such a fine price as to yield him nearly twice the amount he had calculated on receiving!
He had not brought it all with him, as there was more than would have loaded any one wagon. A second load had remained, hidden near the nwana-tree, and this required a journey to be made for it.
It was made in due time, and the remainder arrived safely at Graaf Reinet, and was there delivered to the ivory-dealers, who had already purchased it.
The result was a splendid fortune in ready money. The field-cornet was once more a rich man! For the present we can follow his history no farther than to say, that the proceeds of his great hunt enabled him to buy back his old estate, and to stock it in splendid style, with the best breeds of horses, horned cattle, and sheep; that he rose rapidly in wealth and worldly esteem; that the government gave him its confidence; and, having first restored him to his old office of field-cornet, soon afterwards promoted him to that of "landdrost," or chief magistrate of the district.
Hans returned to his college studies; while the dashing Hendrik was enabled to enter the profession for which he was most fit, and the very one that fitted him, by obtaining a cornetcy in the "Cape Mounted Rifles."
Little Jan was packed off to school to study grammar and geography; while the beautiful Truey remained at home to grace the mansion of her honoured father, and look after his household affairs.
Totty still ruled the kitchen; and, of course, Swartboy was the important man about the house, and for many a long year after cracked his great whip, and flourished his jambok among the long-horned oxen of the wealthy landdrost.
But enough for the present,—enough of adventure for one year. Let us hope, boy readers, that before you and I have circled once more around the sun, we shall make a fresh trip to the land of the boors, and again encounter the worthy Von Bloom, his Bushman, and—