Adventures in Africa, by W.H.G. Kingston.
In this book the hero, fresh from school, arrives from England, and joins his uncle, who is a trader with the people of central Africa, bringing the goods obtained down to the south. On this occasion they have been attacked soon after they set out by natives led by Boers. In order to complete their journey to central Africa they decide to return with the few animals left to them, horses and an ox, over the Kalahari Desert. Unfortunately they encamp one night in a place infested with the tsetse flies, which kills the horses. Shortage of water and attacks by various wild beasts such as elephants and a hippopotamus, are some of the adventures described.
Adventures they have in plenty, almost too many, for one of their number is killed. They also kill far too many animals, as was the custom in Victorian times.
It is a short book, that won't take long to listen to, or to read.
ADVENTURES IN AFRICA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
"How many more days, Jan, will it be before we get across this abominable desert?" I asked of our black guide, as we trudged along, he leading our sole remaining ox, while my uncle, Mr Roger Farley, and I led our two horses laden with the remnants of our property.
"May be ten days, may be two ten," answered Jan Jigger, whose knowledge of numerals was somewhat limited.
I gave a groan, for I was footsore and weary, and expected to have had a more satisfactory answer. We were making our way over a light-coloured soft sand, sprinkled in some places with tall grass, rising in tufts, with bare spots between them. In other parts were various creeping plants, and also—though I called the region a desert—there were extensive patches of bushes, above which here and there rose clumps of trees of considerable height. This large amount of vegetation, however, managed to exist without streams or pools, and for miles and miles together we had met with no water to quench our own thirst or that of our weary beasts. My uncle was engaged in the adventurous and not unprofitable occupation of trading with the natives in the interior of Africa. He had come down south some months before to dispose of the produce of his industry at Graham's Town, where I had joined him, having been sent for from England. After purchasing a fresh supply of goods, arms, powder, and shot, and giving a thorough repair to his waggons, he had again set off northward for the neighbourhood of lake Ngami, where he was to meet his partner, Mr Welbourn, who had with him his son Harry, with whom I had been at school, and who was about my own age. We had, beyond the borders of the colony, been attacked by a party of savages, instigated by the Boers, two or three of whom indeed led them. They had deprived us of our cattle and men, we having escaped with a small portion only of our goods, two of our horses, a single ox and our one faithful Bechuana. To get away from our enemies we had taken a route unusually followed across the Kalahari desert. We were aware of the dangers and difficulties to be encountered, but the road was much shorter than round either to the east or west; and though we knew that wild animals abounded, including elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, leopards, and hyaenas, yet we believed that we should be able to contend with them, and that we should not be impeded by human savages. Day after day we trudged forward. The only water we could obtain was by digging into certain depressions in the ground which our guide pointed out, when, having scraped out the sand with the single spade we possessed and our hands, we arrived at a hard stratum, beyond which he advised us not to go. In a short time the water began to flow in slowly, increasing by degrees until we had enough for ourselves and our cattle.
We had now, however, been travelling sixty miles or more, without finding one of these water-holes; and though we had still a small quantity of the precious liquid for ourselves, our poor horses and ox had begun to suffer greatly. Still Jan urged us to go forward.
"Water come soon, water come soon!" he continued saying, keeping his eye ranging about in every direction in search of the expected hole.
Trusting to Jan's assurances, thirst compelled us to consume the last drop of our water. Still, hour after hour went by, and we reached no place at which we could replenish it. Our sufferings became terrible. My throat felt as if seared by a hot iron. Often I had talked of being thirsty, but I had never before known what thirst really was. My uncle, I had no doubt, was suffering as much as I was, but his endurance was wonderful.
We had seen numbers of elands sporting round us in every direction, but as soon as we approached them, off they bounded.
"Surely those deer do not live without water; it cannot be far away," I observed.
"They are able to pass days and weeks without tasting any," said my uncle. "They can besides quickly cover thirty or forty miles of ground if they wish to reach it. We must try to shoot one of them for supper, which may give us both meat and drink. See, in the wood yonder we can leave our horses and the ox under Jan's care, and you and I will try to stalk one of the animals."
On reaching the wood, my uncle and I, with our guns in our hands, took a direction which would lead us to leeward of the herd, so that we might not be scented as we approached.
By creeping along under the shelter of some low bushes as we neared them, the elands did not see us. Hunger and thirst made us unusually cautious and anxious to kill one. My uncle told me to reserve my fire, in case he should fail to bring the eland down; but as he was a much better shot than I was, I feared that should he miss, I also should fail. Presently I saw him rise from among the grass. Lifting his rifle to his shoulder he fired; the eland gave a bound, but alighting on its feet was scampering off, when I eagerly raised my rifle and pulled the trigger. As the smoke cleared off, to my infinite delight I saw the eland struggling on the grass. We both rushed forward, and my uncle's knife quickly deprived it of life. It was a magnificent animal, as big as an ox, being the largest of the South African antelopes.
On opening its stomach we discovered water, which, on being allowed to cool, was sufficiently pure to quench our burning thirst. We secured a portion of it for Jan, and loading ourselves with as much meat as we could carry, we returned to where we had left him. A fire was soon lighted, and we lost no time in cooking a portion of the flesh. With our thirst partially relieved we were able to eat. We had made our fire at some distance from the shrubs for fear of igniting them, while we tethered our horses and ox among the longest grass we could find. In that dry region no shelter was required at night, so we lay down to sleep among our bales, with our saddles for pillows, and our rifles by our sides. I had been sleeping soundly, dreaming of purling streams and babbling fountains, when I awoke to find my throat as dry and parched as ever. Hoping to find a few drops of water in my bottle, I sat up to reach for it; when, as I looked across the fire, what was my dismay to see a large tiger-like animal stealthily approaching, and tiger I fully believed it to be. On it came, exhibiting a pair of round bright shining eyes. I expected every moment to see it spring upon us. I was afraid that by crying out I might only hasten its movements, so I felt for my rifle and, presenting at the creature's head shouted—
"A tiger, uncle; a tiger, Jan!"
"A tiger!" exclaimed my uncle, springing up in a moment. "That's not a tiger, it's a leopard, but if pressed by hunger may prove as ugly a customer. Don't fire until I tell you, for if wounded it will become dangerous."
All this time the leopard was crawling on, though it must have heard the sound of our voices; perhaps the glare of the fire in its eyes prevented it from seeing us, for it still cautiously approached. I saw my uncle lift his rifle; he fired, but though his bullet struck the creature, instead of falling as I expected, it gave a bound and the next instant would have been upon us. Now was my time. As it rose, I fired, and my bullet must have gone through its heart, for over it rolled without a struggle, perfectly dead.
"Bravo! Fred," exclaimed my uncle. "This is the second time within a few hours your rifle has done good service. You'll become a first-rate hunter if you go on as you've begun. How that leopard came here it's difficult to say, unless it was driven from the hills, and has been wandering over the desert in search of prey; those creatures generally inhabit a high woody country."
Jan exhibited great delight at our victory, and having made up the fire, we spent some time in skinning the beast. Its fur was of great beauty, and although it would add to the load of our ox, we agreed to carry it with us, as it would be a welcome present to any chief who might render us assistance.
Having flayed the animal and pegged down the skin, we returned to our beds, hoping to finish the night without interruption. As soon as there was light sufficient to enable us to see our way, we pushed forward, earnestly praying that before the sun was high in the heavens, we might fall in with water. Notwithstanding that Jan repeatedly exclaimed, "Find water soon! Find water soon!" not a sign of it could we see. A glare from a cloudy sky was shed over the whole scene; clumps of trees and bushes looking so exactly alike, that after travelling several miles, we might have fancied that we had made no progress. At length even the trees and bushes became scarcer, and what looked like a veritable desert appeared before us.
I had gone on a short distance ahead, when to my delight I saw in front a large lake, in the centre of which the waves were dancing and sparkling in the sunlight, the shadows of the trees being vividly reflected on the mirror-like surface near the shores, while beyond I saw what I took to be a herd of elephants flapping their ears and intertwining their trunks.
"Water, water!" I shouted; "we shall soon quench our thirst. We must take care to avoid those elephants, however," I added, pointing them out to my uncle. "It would be a fearful thing to be charged by them."
The horses and ox lifted up their heads and pressed forward. Jan to my surprise said nothing, though I knew he was suffering as well as my uncle and I were. I was rushing eagerly forward, when suddenly a haze which hung over the spot, broke and dispelled the illusion. A vast salt-pan lay before us. It was covered with an effervescence of lime, which had produced the deceptive appearance. Our spirits sank lower than ever. To avoid the salt-pan, we turned to the right, so as to skirt its eastern side. The seeming elephants proved to be zebras, which scampered off out of reach. We now began to fear that our horses would give in, and that we should have to push forward with our ox alone, abandoning everything it could not carry. Still my uncle cried "Forward!" Jan had evidently mistaken the road, and passed the spot where he had expected to find water. Still he observed that we need have no fear of pursuing our course. Evening was approaching and we must again camp: without water we could scarcely expect to get through the night.
Presently Jan looking out ahead, darted forward and stopped at where a small plant grew with linear leaves and a stalk not thicker than a crow's quill. Instantly taking a spade fastened to the back of the ox, he began eagerly digging away; and after he had got down to the depth of a foot, he displayed to us a tuber, the size of an enormous turnip. On removing the rind, he cut it open with his axe, and showed us a mass of cellular tissue filled up with a juicy substance which he handed to us, and applying a piece to his own mouth ate eagerly away at it. We imitated his example, and were almost immediately much refreshed. We found several other plants of the same sort, and digging up the roots gave them to the horses and ox, who crunched them up with infinite satisfaction.
Our thirst was relieved in a way I could scarcely have supposed possible. The animals too, trudged forward with far lighter steps than before. Relieved of our thirst and in the hopes of finding either water or more tubers next morning, we lay down thankful that we had escaped the fearful danger we had apprehended. As we advanced we looked out anxiously for the tuber-bearing plants, but not one could we see. I had gone on some little distance ahead, when I caught sight of a round object some way off, which, as the rays of sun fell on it, appeared of scarlet hue. I ran towards it, when I saw what looked like a small oblong red melon.
"Here's something worth having!" I exclaimed, cutting into it with my knife. When I applied it to my mouth, to my disappointment I found that, although juicy in the extreme, it was perfectly bitter. I threw it down in disgust. Jan soon afterwards, on coming near, said:
"Dis no good, but find oders presently!"
Hurrying along, he struck one after another, and quickly handed me one perfectly sweet; when he collected many more, with which we returned to where my uncle had halted with the animals.
The fruit was far more gratifying to the taste than the tubers. We allowed the animals to eat as many as they wished, and, loading them with a supply in case we should fail to find others further on, we continued our journey.
Those melons lasted us another whole day and a night, and afforded the only liquid which passed our mouths. As we were on foot our view over the level desert was limited.
I was walking alongside my uncle, discussing our future plans, having begun to hope that, in spite of the difficulties we had to contend against, we should get through, when I saw some objects moving rapidly in the distance. They were coming towards us.
"They are ostriches!" cried my uncle; "we must try and kill a few to obtain their plumes."
We halted, and remained perfectly still, hoping that the birds might approach us. Now they ran as fleet as a race-horse, now they stopped and went circling round. Two or three odd-looking birds, as they seemed, were moving at a much slower rate.
"Those Bosjeemen!" cried Jan.
We at length saw that the latter were human beings, their legs covered with white pigment and carrying the head and feathers of an ostrich on their backs, while each had in his hand a bow and a number of arrows. Presently they cautiously approached the ostriches to leeward, stopping every now and then and pretending to be feeding. The ostriches would look at the strange birds, but, not suspecting danger, allowed them to approach. One of the Bosjeemen then shot an arrow, when the wounded bird and his companions ran off; the former, however, quickly dropped, when the other birds stopped to see what was the matter, and thus allowed their enemy to draw near enough to shoot another arrow.
In this way three little yellow-skinned fellows each shot, in a short time, four magnificent ostriches. They had seen us in the distance, but instead of running away, as we feared they would do, one of them, guessing we were traders, came forward to bargain for the sale of the feathers, and Jan acting as interpreter, my uncle expressed a willingness to trade. The Bosjeemen then produced a number of reeds, scarcely the thickness of my little finger. Having plucked off the feathers, they pushed them into the reeds; and, thus preserved, the feathers were fit to travel any distance without being spoilt.
It was late by the time the whole operation was performed, and we had given the articles they had agreed to take in exchange. As the reeds weighed but little, the loads were considerably lightened.
Jan now explained to our new friends that they would be further rewarded if they would conduct us to water. They at once agreed to do so, and one of them, hurrying away to a spot at a distance where they had left their travelling equipage, returned with a dozen ostriches' eggs in a net at his back; he then made a sign to us to follow him, while his companions remained with the ostriches they had shot. Sooner than we expected he reached a hole, into which he rapidly dug with his hand; then, inserting a long reed, he began to suck away with might and main. In a short time the water flowed, and was led down by another reed into a hole at the end of an ostrich egg, which was soon filled with water. As we had a leathern bucket we were enabled to give our animals a drink, though we could not allow them as much as they would have liked.
The Bosjeeman then, refilling the egg-shells, returned with us to where we had left his companions. We found that they had built themselves a hut, if so it could be called, in a thick mimosa bush, by bending the boughs so as to form a roof, covered by reeds lightly fastened together. The inside was lined with dried leaves, grass, and the coarser feathers of the ostrich. When they saw that we were encamped, the three hunters lighted a fire and sat themselves down before it to enjoy a sumptuous repast of ostrich flesh. Though unattractive in appearance, they were honest little fellows, and we slept in perfect security, knowing that they would give us timely notice of the approach of an enemy.
Jan assured us that we might trust them, as it was a high mark of confidence on their part to show us where we could procure water, for they are always careful to hide such spots from those they think unfriendly.
They accompanied us the following day, and led us to a pool, the only one we had met with while crossing the desert. Probably in many seasons that also would have been empty. Here our animals got as much water as they could drink, and we filled our water-bottles. We then parted from our yellow friends, who said that, as they were ignorant of the country to the northward, they could not venture farther. Trusting to Jan's sagacity to find water, we proceeded in good spirits.
We had hoped to trade largely with the natives, but as we had lost the greater part of our goods, we should have to depend upon our own exertions to obtain the ivory and skins which would repay us for the difficulties and dangers of our journey. We had fortunately saved the greater part of our ammunition, which would enable us to hunt for some months to come.
Of course we knew Mr Welbourn would be much disappointed at seeing us arrive with so slender an equivalent for the skins and ivory my uncle had taken south, instead of the waggon full of goods which he had expected.
"He is a sensible, good-natured fellow, and will know that it was from no fault of ours we were plundered," observed my uncle. "We shall still do well, and shall probably encounter more adventures than we should have met with had we confined ourselves to simple trading with the natives. I should, however, have preferred that to undergoing the fatigues of hunting; besides which we might the sooner have returned with our cargo of ivory to the coast."
Several more days passed by during which we came to three spots where we were able to obtain a sufficient amount of water to satisfy ourselves and our thirsty animals. Sometimes for miles together not a drop could be procured, and had it not been for the tubers, and the little red melons I have described, the horses and our patient ox must have perished. At length the sheen of water in the bright sunlight was seen in the distance. This time we were convinced that it was not a mirage. We pushed forward, hoping that our sufferings from thirst were at an end. Trees of greater height than any we had yet met with since leaving the colony fringed the banks of a fine river. On examining the current we found that it was flowing to the north-east, and we therefore hoped that by following it up we should reach the lake for which we were bound. Our black guide, however, advised that we should cross the river, which was here fordable, and by steering north, considerably shorten the journey. On wading through the water we looked out sharply for crocodiles and hippopotami, lest one of those fresh-water monsters should venture to attack us; we got over, however, without accident. Having allowed our animals to drink their full of water, and replenished our bottles, we encamped for the night under a magnificent baobab tree with a trunk seventy feet in girth as high as we could reach, while our animals found an abundance of rich grass on which to satisfy their hunger.
What pigmies we felt as we stood beneath that giant tree. An army might have found shelter from the sun under its wide-spreading boughs. We thought the spot a perfect paradise after our long journey across the plain.
We had not long been seated round our camp-fire, when Jan made a dart at his foot and caught a fly which had settled on it; and, exhibiting it to my uncle, exclaimed—
"No good, no good!"
It was of a brownish colour with three yellow bars across the body, and scarcely larger than a common house-fly. We soon saw others buzzing about in considerable numbers.
I asked Jan what he meant.
"Das de tsetse: when bite horse or ox den dey die," he answered.
As, however, neither my uncle nor I felt any ill effects from the bites of the flies, we thought that Jan must be mistaken, and at all events it was now too late to shift our encampment. We therefore, having made up a blazing fire to scare off any wild beasts, lay down to sleep, without thinking more of the flies, which did not cause us any annoyance.
The next morning we saw some of the creatures on the legs of our horses and the ox; but we soon brushed them away, and, loading up, we continued our journey. They went on as usual. Jan, however, looked much disconcerted, and I saw him continually brushing off the flies.
"No good, no good!" he said, "hope soon get through, for de horses not go far."
I asked my uncle what Jan meant. He replied that he had often heard of the tsetse fly, but never having passed through a country infested by it, he was disinclined to believe the stories told of the deadly effects of its bite on cattle and horses.
We soon passed through the tsetse district, which was not more than a couple of miles wide, and, as our animals showed no appearance of suffering, we hoped that they had escaped injury.
We had determined to encamp early in the day near a pool fed by a rivulet which fell into the main stream, in order that we might shoot some game for our supper. Leaving Jan in charge of the camp, my uncle and I set off, believing that we could easily find our way back to the fire. We had gone some distance when we caught sight of a herd of antelopes. In order that we might have a better chance of killing one of them, my uncle told me to make a wide circuit, keeping to leeward of the deer towards a clump of trees, whence I might be able to get a favourable shot, while he lay down concealed by the brushwood near where we then were.
Taking advantage of all the bushes and trunks of trees on the way, I approached the antelopes without disturbing them. Looking out from the cover I had gained, I watched the beautiful creatures, hoping that one of them would come within range of my rifle. It was tantalising to see them feeding so quietly just out of my reach. Still, though I might not get a shot, I hoped that they might go off towards where my uncle was lying hid. Presently, however, they bounded towards me; and, thinking it possible that they might again turn, I fired at one of the leading animals, which, notwithstanding its wound, still went on, though at slackened speed. Instead of reloading, as I ought to have done, I dashed forward to secure it. Scarcely, however, had I left my cover than what was my surprise, and I must confess my dismay, to see a huge lion! Should I attempt to escape by flight, the savage brute would, I knew, follow me. I fixed my eyes as steadily as I could upon him, while I attempted to reload. At the same time I knew that, even should I fire, I might only wound him, when he would become more fierce. There were trees near, up which it was possible I might climb should he give me time, but it was not likely that he would do that. I wondered that he did not pursue the antelope; but probably he had lately had his dinner, or he certainly would have done so. I continued loading, he lashing his tail and roaring furiously. I expected every moment that he would spring upon me. To escape by any other way than by shooting him dead seemed impossible.
I finished loading, and brought my gun up ready to fire. Should I miss or only wound him, he would be upon me in a moment. I had hitherto remained quite silent, but it occurred to me that if I should shout loudly enough my uncle would hear my cry for help. I thought, too, that I might scare the lion. When once I had made up my mind to shout, I did so with might and main.
I was answered by a distant "hollo!" by which I knew that my uncle was still a long way off. He would, however, understand that I was in danger, and come to my assistance; or, if too late to help me, would provide for his own safety.
The lion seemed as undecided how to act as I was. As I shouted he roared, and again lashed his tail, but did not advance a step. This gave me courage; but, although the monarch of the forest did not appear in a combative mood, I felt very sure that, should I wound him, his rage would be excited. I dared not for a moment withdraw my eye from him, and thus we stood regarding each other. To me it seemed a prodigiously long time. At last he seemed to lose patience, for his roars became more frequent and louder and louder, and he lashed his tail more furiously. I raised my rifle to my shoulder. He came on at a cat-like pace, evidently ignorant of the power of the weapon I held in my hands. In another instant he would spring at me. I pulled the trigger. To my horror, the cap failed to ignite the powder. I saw the monstrous brute in the act of springing, but at the same moment I heard the crack of a rifle close to me; the next, a tremendous roar rent the air. I was felled to the earth, and felt myself weighed down by a vast body, unable to breathe or move. It was some time before I came to myself, when, looking up, I saw my uncle kneeling by my side.
"The lion very nearly did for you, Fred," he said; "but cheer up, lad. I don't think you're mortally hurt, though you've had a narrow squeak for it. Had your gun not missed fire, you might have shot the lion yourself. Here he lies, and there's the springbok."
While my uncle was talking, he was examining my hurts. The lion had given me a fearful blow with his paw, and had injured one of my shoulders. It was a wonder indeed that he did not kill me.
"We must get you to the camp somehow," said my uncle; "I cannot leave you here while I bring the ox, so the sooner we set off the better."
Taking me up in his arms, he began to stagger on with me; but, though he was a strong man, I was no slight weight, and he had great difficulty in getting along. I asked him to let me walk, as I thought that I could do so with his support. When I tried, however, I found that I could not move one foot before the other. As we got within hail of the camp he shouted to Jan to come and help him; and together they carried me along the remainder of the distance.
"Now that we have you safe here, though I am unwilling to leave you, I must go back and fetch the antelope, for we cannot do without food," he said.
Telling Jan to collect materials for building a hut, as it was evident that I should be unable to move for some time, and also charging him to keep an eye on me, he started off.
I felt a great deal of pain, but I retained my senses, and tried to divert my thoughts by watching Jan, who was busily employed in cutting long sticks and branches for the hut.
It seemed to me that my uncle had been gone for more than an hour, and I began to fear that some accident might have happened to him. Where there was one lion it was probable that there were others, and they might revenge themselves on the slayer of their relative.
Jan, however, kept working away as if satisfied that all was right, now and then taking a look at me, and throwing a few sticks on the fire to get it to burn brightly. He then began to prepare for roasting the expected venison by placing some uprights, with cross pieces to serve as spits, close to the fire.
"Hurrah! here am de Cap'n!" he at length shouted, such being the title he usually bestowed on my uncle. "He bring springbok, an' someting else too."
I felt greatly relieved when I saw my uncle throw down his heavy load, consisting not only of the antelope which I had shot, but of the lion's skin.
"I brought this," he said, "to make a bed for you. You want it, though it is not fit at present to serve the purpose."
I thanked him for his offer, but declared that I would rather just then be left where I was, as any movement pained me.
Jan lost no time in cutting off some pieces of venison, and placing them to roast. My uncle also put on a pot with a small portion to make some soup, which he said would suit me better than the roast. Hungry as I was, though I tried to eat some of the latter as soon as Jan declared it sufficiently done, I could not manage to get it down. My thirst became excessive, and it was fortunate that we were near water, or I believe I should otherwise have died.
The hut was soon finished, and some leaves and grass placed in it for me to lie upon. The soup did me some good, but I suffered so much pain that I could scarcely sleep all the night, and in the morning was in so fevered a condition, that I was utterly unfit to travel. I was very sorry to delay my uncle, but it could not be helped, and he bore the detention with his usual good temper. Nothing could exceed his kindness. He sat by my side for hours together; he dressed my wounds whenever he thought it necessary, and indeed tended me with the greatest care.
Day after day, however, went by, and I still remained in the same helpless state. He would not have left me for a moment, I believe, but it was necessary to go out and procure more game.
Jan had undertaken to scrape and prepare the lion's skin. He was thus employed near the stream at a little distance from the camp when I was startled by hearing a loud snort; and, looking up, what was my horror to see him rushing along, with a huge hippopotamus following him! In another minute I expected to see him seized by its formidable jaws and trampled to death, and then I thought that the savage brute would make at me. In vain I attempted to rise and get my gun, but my uncle, when he went out, had forgotten to place it near me. I tried to cry out and frighten the brute, but I could not raise my voice sufficiently high. Poor Jan shrieked loud enough, but his cries had no effect on the monster. He was making for a tree, up which he might possibly have climbed, when his feet slipped, and over he rolled on the ground. He was now perfectly helpless, and in a few minutes the hippopotamus would trample him to death. It seemed as if all hope was gone; but, at the very instant that I thought poor Jan's death was certain, my uncle suddenly appeared, when, aiming behind the ear of the hippopotamus, he fired, and the monster fell. Jan narrowly escaped being crushed, which he would have been had he not by a violent effort rolled out of the way.
Suffering as I was, I could scarcely help laughing at Jan's face, as, getting up on his knees, he looked with a broad grin at the hippopotamus, still uncertain whether it was dead or not. At length, convinced that his enemy could do him no further harm, he rose to his feet, exclaiming—
"Tankee, tankee, cap'n! If de gun not go off, Jan no speak 'gain."
Then, hurrying on, he examined the creature, to be certain that no life remained in it.
"What we do wid dis?" he asked, giving the huge body a kick with his foot.
"As it will shortly become an unpleasant neighbour, we must manage to drag him away from the camp," observed my uncle. "If the stream were deep enough, I would drag it in, and let it float down with the current; but, as it would very likely get stranded close to us, we must haul it away with the ox and the horses, though I doubt if the animals will like being thus employed."
I thought the plan a good one; and my uncle told Jan to catch the horses and ox, while he contrived some harness with the ropes and straps used for securing their cargoes. The ox showed perfect indifference to the dead hippopotamus, but the horses were very unwilling to be harnessed. They submitted, however, to act as leaders, while the ox had the creature's head, round which a rope was passed, close to its heels. Even then the animals found it no easy task to drag the huge body along over the rough ground.
"We shall not be long gone, Fred," said my uncle, placing a rifle and a brace of pistols close to me. "I hope that no other hippopotamus or lion or leopard will pay you a visit while we are away. If they do, you must use these, and I trust that you'll be able to drive off the creatures, whatever they may be."
I felt rather uncomfortable at being left alone in the camp, but it could not be helped; and I could only pray that another hippopotamus might not make its appearance. This one, in all probability, came up the stream far from its usual haunts.
I kept my rifle and pistols ready for instant use. The time seemed very long. As I listened to the noises in the forest, I fancied that I could hear the roaring and mutterings of lions, and the cries of hyaenas. Several times I took my rifle in my hand, expecting to see a lion stealing up to the camp. I caught sight in the distance of the tall necks of a troop of giraffes stalking across the country, followed soon afterwards by a herd of bounding blesboks, but no creatures came near me. At last my uncle and Jan returned with our four-footed attendants.
"We have carried the monster's carcase far enough off to prevent it from poisoning us by its horrible odour when it putrifies, which it will in a few hours," he observed. "But I am afraid that it will attract the hyaenas and jackals in no small numbers, so that we shall be annoyed by their howls and screechings. I am sorry to say also that the horses seem ill able to perform their work, and I greatly fear that they have been injured by the tsetse fly. If we lose them we shall have a difficulty in getting along. However, we won't despair until the evil day comes."
I should have said that my uncle, just before he rescued Jan from the hippopotamus, had shot another antelope, which he had brought to the camp, so that we were in no want of food.
Several days went by. Though I certainly was not worse, my recovery was very slow, and I was scarcely better able to travel than I was at first; though I told my uncle that I would try and ride if he wished to move on.
"I doubt if either of the horses can carry you," he answered. "Both are getting thin and weak, and have a running from their nostrils, which Jan says is the result of the tsetse poison. If you are better in a day or two we will try and advance to the next stream or water-hole; and perhaps we may fall in with natives, from whom we may purchase some oxen to replace our horses. It will be a great disappointment to lose the animals, for I had counted on them for hunting."
That night we were entertained by a concert of hideous howlings and cries, produced we had no doubt by the hyaenas and jackals; but by keeping up a good fire, and occasionally discharging our rifles, we prevented them from approaching the camp.
At the end of two days I fancied myself better. We accordingly determined the next morning to recommence our journey. At daybreak we breakfasted on the remains of the last deer shot, and my uncle having placed me on his horse, which was the stronger of the two, put part of its cargo on the other. Pushing on, we soon left behind the camp we had so long occupied.
On starting I bore the movement pretty well, and fancied that I should be able to perform the journey without difficulty. For the first two days, indeed, we got on better than I had expected, though I was thankful when the time for camping arrived. On the third morning I suffered much, but did not tell my uncle how ill I felt, hoping that I should recover during the journey. We had a wild barren tract to cross, almost as wild as the desert. The ox trudged on as patiently as ever, but the horses were very weak, and I had great difficulty in keeping mine on its legs. Several times it had stumbled, but I was fortunately not thrown off. Our pace, however, was necessarily very slow, and we could discover no signs of water, yet water we must reach before we could venture to camp.
Jan generally led the ox, while my uncle walked by my side, holding the rein of the other horse. Again and again my poor animal had stumbled; when, as my uncle was looking another way, down it came, and I was thrown with considerable violence to the ground.
My uncle, having lifted me up, I declared that I was not much hurt, and begged him to replace me on the horse. The poor animal was unable to rise. In vain Jan and he tried to get it on its legs. He and Jan took off the saddle and the remaining part of the load, but all was of no use. At last we came to the melancholy conclusion that its death was inevitable. Our fears were soon realised: after it had given a few struggles, its head sinking on the sand, it ceased to move. We had consequently to abandon some more of our heavier things, and having transferred the remaining cargo to the ox, my uncle put me on the back of the other horse. Scarcely, however, had we proceeded a mile than down it came, and I was again thrown to the ground, this time to be more hurt than at first.
I bore the suffering as well as I could, and made no complaint, while my uncle and Jan tried to get the horse up. It was soon apparent, however, that its travelling days were done, and that we had now the ox alone to depend upon.
"I wish that I could walk," I said, but when I made the attempt I could not proceed a dozen paces. Had not my uncle supported me I should have sunk to the ground. We could not stay where we were, for both we and our poor ox required water and food.
"We must abandon our goods," said my uncle; "better to lose them than our lives. We will, however, if we can find a spot near here, leave them en cache, as the Canadian hunters say; and if we soon fall in with any friendly natives, we can send and recover them."
He had just observed, he said, a small cave, and he thought that by piling up some stones in front of it the things would remain uninjured from the weather or wild beasts for a considerable time.
As it was only a short distance off, while Jan remained with me, he led the ox to the spot. The cave, fortunately, had no inhabitant; and, having placed the goods within, and piled some stones so as completely to block up the entrance, he returned, retaining only the powder and shot, the ostrich feathers, three or four skins, our cooking utensils, a few packages of tea, coffee, sugar, pepper, and similar articles weighing but little. Unfortunately, in building up the wall, one of the larger stones had dropped, and severely injured his foot. He found it so painful that he was unable to walk. He, therefore, mounting the ox, took me up before him. I, indeed, by this time could not even hold on to the saddle, so had not he carried me I should have been unable to travel. We now once more went on. It was already late in the day, and before long darkness overtook us; still we could not stop without water, which we hoped, however, to find before long. In a short time the moon rose and enabled us to see our way.
The prospect was dreary in the extreme. Here and there a few trees sprang out of the arid soil, while on every side were rocks with little or no vegetation round them. We looked out eagerly for water, but mile after mile was passed over and not a pool nor stream could we see. I suffered greatly from thirst, and sometimes thought that I should succumb. My uncle cheered me up, and Jan declared that we should soon reach water and be able to camp. Still on and on we went. At length Jan cried out—
"Dare water, dare water!"
I tried to lift up my head, but had not strength to move. I heard my uncle exclaim—
"Thank heaven! there's water, sure enough. I see the moonbeams playing on the surface of a pool."
I believe I fainted, for I remember no more until I found him splashing water over my face; and, opening my eyes. I saw him kneeling by my side. Jan was busily engaged in lighting a fire, while the ox was feeding not far off. A hut was then built for me, and as soon as I was placed in it I fell asleep. In the morning I awoke greatly revived. My uncle said he was determined to remain at the spot until I was sufficiently recovered to travel, and I promised to get well as soon as I could. When breakfast was over he started off with his gun to try and shoot a deer, for we had just exhausted the last remnant of venison we possessed.
As, sheltered from the rays of the sun, I lay in my hut, which was built on a slight elevation above the lakelet, I could enjoy a fine view of the country in front of me.
Jan, having just finished cleaning my gun, was engaged a little way below me in cutting up the wood for the fire, singing in a low voice one of his native songs.
Presently I caught sight of my uncle in the far distance advancing towards a rounded hillock which rose out of the plain below. Almost at the same moment, I saw still further off several animals which I at once knew to be deer coming on at a rapid rate towards our camp. They were taking a direction which would lead them close to where my uncle lay in ambush. They were followed by others in quick succession, until a vast herd came scampering and bounding across the plain like an army, two or three abreast, following each other. Twice I heard the report of my uncle's rifle. On each occasion a deer fell to the ground.
Jan cried out that they were blesboks, one of the finest deer in South Africa. They had long twisting horns, and were of a reddish colour, the legs being much darker, with a blaze of white on the face.
I never saw a more beautiful sight. Jan was all eagerness, and, taking my gun, he went in chase; but before he could get near enough to obtain a shot, the whole herd was scampering away across the plain, laughing at his puny efforts to overtake them.
In a short time my uncle appeared, carrying a portion of one of the animals on his back, and immediately sent off Jan with the ox to fetch in the remainder.
Here was wood and water, and game in abundance, so that we could not have chosen a better spot for remaining in until I was myself again. As we had plenty of meat he was able to concoct as much broth as I could consume. It contributed greatly to restore my strength; and, judging by the progress I was making, I hoped that we should be able shortly to resume our journey.
In a few days I was able to stroll a short distance from the camp, always taking my gun with me. Though I still walked with some difficulty, I every hour found my strength returning. Had we possessed a waggon we might have loaded it with skins, so abundant was the game; but, although we prepared a few of the most valuable, we could not venture to add much to the cargo of our poor ox. At last my uncle, seeing that I was strong enough to undertake the fatigue of the journey, announced his intention of setting off, and I determined that it should not be my fault if I broke down again.
In order to try my strength, I accompanied him on a short shooting excursion from the camp, where we left Jan to look after the ox and our goods. I found that I got along far better than I had expected; the satisfaction of once more finding myself able to move about greatly raising my spirits. We had gone but a short distance when looking over the bushes we saw some objects moving up and down which, as we crept nearer, turned out to be a pair of elephant's ears.
"We must have that fellow," said my uncle; "we can carry his tusks, and one of his feet will afford us a substantial meal." The elephant, we fancied, did not see us; and keeping ourselves concealed by the underwood, we cautiously advanced. Presently we found ourselves on the borders of an open glade, a few low bushes only intervening between ourselves and the elephant. He now saw us clearly enough, and not liking our appearance, I suppose, lifted up his trunk and began trumpeting loudly.
"If he comes on, don't attempt to run," whispered my uncle, "but face him for a moment, and fire at his shoulder; then leap on one side or behind a tree, or if you can do so, climb up it with your rifle. I will look out for myself." As he spoke the elephant began to advance towards us. I fired, as did my uncle, the moment afterwards; but, though we both hit him, the huge beast, after approaching a few paces nearer, instead of charging, turned away to the left, and went crashing through the wood.
We having reloaded were about to follow him, when the heads of nearly a dozen other elephants appeared from the direction where we had seen the first; and, advancing rapidly through the shrubs which they trampled under foot, with trunks and tail stuck out, and uttering loud trumpetings, they came rushing like a torrent down upon us.
"Come behind these bushes!" cried my uncle, "and don't move thence if you value your life."
I felt as if my life was of very little value just then, for I could not see how we were to escape being crushed by the huge monsters as they rushed over us. My uncle fortunately possessed all the coolness required by an elephant hunter.
"Fire at that fellow opposite," he cried. "I'll take the next, and they'll probably turn aside."
We almost at the same moment pulled our triggers. The elephant at which my uncle fired stopped short, then down it came with a crash on its knees; while the one I aimed at rushed by with its companions, very nearly giving me an ugly kick with its feet.
We had both dropped behind the bush the moment we had delivered our fire. On went the creatures trumpeting with rage, and disappointed at not finding us.
We were not free from danger, for it was possible that they might return. As soon, therefore, as their tails had disappeared among the brushwood, we reloaded and ran towards some trees, the trunks of which would afford us some protection. Here we waited a short time in sight of the elephant which lay dead on the ground. We could hear the trumpeting of the others grow less distinct as they made their way through the forest, either influenced by fear or excited by rage, fancying they were still following us up.
"They will not come back for the present," said my uncle at length as we issued out from among the trees, when he at once began to cut out the tusks from the dead elephant. These he calculated weighed together fully a hundred and ten pounds. This, however, was a greater weight than he could carry, and he would not allow me to attempt to help him.
"You shall convey one of the feet to the camp, and we will try our skill in cooking it," he said, dexterously cutting it off.
Taking a stick he ran it through the foot so that I could the more easily carry it. He then having shouldered one of the tusks, we set out for the camp, well satisfied with our day's sport.
As soon as we arrived we sent off Jan for the other tusk, as he could easily find the way by the track we had made; while my uncle dug a hole close to the fire, into which he raked a quantity of ashes, and then covered it up. After some time he again scraped out the ashes, and having wrapt the foot up in leaves, he put it into the hole, and covered it up with hot earth. On the top of all he once more lit a fire, and kept it blazing away for some time.
The fire had well-nigh burnt out when Jan returned with the other tusk. He told us that on his way back he had seen the spoors of the elephants, and that if we chose to follow them, he was sure that we should come up with them, and should most probably find those we had wounded.
We now uncovered our elephant's foot, which Jan pronounced to be as satisfactorily cooked as his own countrymen could have done it. The flesh was soft and gelatinous, greatly resembling calves-head, and was so tender that we could scoop it out with a spoon. I don't know that I ever enjoyed a meal more. Although we could not venture to load our ox with more than the two tusks we had already obtained, my uncle, hoping soon to fall in with Mr Welbourn, determined to try and obtain the tusks from the other two elephants we had wounded, and to leave them concealed, until we could send for them. There was the risk, of course, of their being discovered by the natives, as we were now approaching an inhabited part of the country. We had still a couple of hours of day-light, and as I did not feel myself fatigued with my previous exertions, my uncle agreed to allow me to accompany him, while Jan was left to clean the tusks and to prepare straps for carrying them on the back of the ox.
We soon discovered the elephants' spoor, and followed it for some distance, the splashes of blood we found here and there showing that the wounded animal had stopped to rest. It would be necessary, as we approached them, to be cautious, as they would be on the alert and ready to revenge themselves for the injury they had received.
We now every moment expected to come upon them. We stopped to listen; no sound could we hear to indicate that they were near us. We, therefore, went on until, reaching the top of a hillock, we caught sight of some water glittering among the trees. Advancing a little further a small lakelet opened out before us, in the shallow part of which, near the shore, stood an elephant, sucking up the water with his trunk and throwing it over his neck and shoulders.
My uncle remarked that he was sure it was the animal we had wounded, but that he was still too far off to give us a chance of killing him. We were making our way among the trees, hoping to got near without being perceived—though that was no easy matter as he kept his sharp eyes turning about in every direction—when, from behind the grove which had before concealed them, several more rushed out.
"They see us!" cried my uncle. "We must get up among the branches and shoot them as they pass, for they will not let us escape as easily as before."
Fortunately, near at hand was a tree, up which, without much difficulty, we could make our way. My uncle, going up first, helped me to follow him.
Scarcely had we secured ourselves when the elephants came up with their trunks sticking out and trumpeting as loudly as before. As they kept their eyes on the ground, they did not see us. We fired at them as they passed.
We remained for some time expecting the wounded elephant to follow its companions, but as it did not we began to hope that it had succumbed, and that we might find it dead in the neighbourhood. We were about to descend to look for it, when the heads of three giraffes, or camelopards, as they are sometimes called, appeared among the trees; the animals lifting up their tall necks to crop the leaves as they advanced. As they were coming in our direction we agreed to wait. By descending we might frighten them. In a short time one separated from the others, and got so close that my uncle could not resist the temptation of firing. As the shot entered its neck the graceful animal sank down to the ground, and lay perfectly dead. The other two trotted off to a short distance, alarmed by the report; but, seeing no human foe and not knowing what had happened to their companion, they stopped and continued browsing on the leaves as before.
"The chances are that they will soon come this way, and so we cannot do better than remain where we are," observed my uncle.
We sat some time watching the graceful creatures as they stretched up their long necks to a remarkable height, in search of the young shoots and leaves. Presently we saw one of them turn its head and look towards its dead companion. The next moment a lion burst out from among the bushes and sprang towards the giraffe on the ground. I had fancied that lions never condescended to feast on a dead animal; but probably there was still some little life in the giraffe, or, at all events, having only just been killed, the carcase could have had no savoury odour. Directly afterwards we heard a roar, and another lion sprang from the cover, the first replying with a roar which made the welkin ring. If we could not kill the lions, it was evident that we should soon have none of the meat to carry back with us. Instead, however, of beginning to tear the giraffe to pieces, the lions began walking round and round it and roaring lustily, possibly thinking that it was the bait to a trap, as they are taught by experience to be wary, many of their relatives having been caught in traps set by the natives. So occupied were the brutes with this matter that they did not discover us though we were at no great distance from them.
The two giraffes, on hearing the first lion roar, had trotted off, or they would probably have soon been attacked.
"Stay here, Fred!" whispered my uncle to me: "I will descend and get a shot at one of those fellows—don't be alarmed. If I kill him, the chances are the other runs off. At all events, I will retreat to the tree, and do you keep ready to fire, should he follow me, while I reload. In the meantime there is no real danger."
I felt somewhat nervous at hearing this, though my uncle knew so well what he was about that I need not have been alarmed for his safety. Before I could reply he had descended the tree. Holding his rifle ready, he advanced towards the lions, but even then, as he was to leeward they did not discover him.
He was within fifteen paces of them, when he stopped and levelled his rifle. Just then they both saw him, and looked up as if greatly astonished at his audacity. He fired, and the first lion, giving a spring in the air, fell over on the body of the giraffe.
The second stopped, hesitating whether to leap on his enemy or to take to flight. This gave my uncle time to reload when he slowly stepped back towards the tree, facing the lion, which advanced at the same pace.
"Now, Fred! let me see what you can do," he shouted out as he found that the brute had got within range of my rifle.
I obeyed him, earnestly trusting that my shot would take effect. I felt sure that I had hit the animal, though, when the smoke cleared off, to my dismay I saw it about to spring at my uncle. He stood as calm as if the creature had been a harmless sheep. Just as the lion rose from the ground, I heard the crack of his rifle, and it fell back, shot through the heart. I quickly scrambled down to the ground to survey the giraffe and the two lions. My uncle seemed in no way elated by his victory. "If we had had our waggon we might have secured the skins," he observed; "but as it is, we must content ourselves with some of the giraffe's flesh, which we shall find palatable enough for want of better."
Drawing his knife, he at once commenced operations on the giraffe. We soon, having secured as much of the meat as we could require, ran a couple of sticks through it and started off to return to the camp.
Darkness, however, came down upon us before we had gone far; still, we hoped to be able to find our way. Scarcely, however, had the sun set, when the mutterings and roars of lions saluted our ears; and of course we had the uncomfortable feeling that at any moment one of them might spring out on us. We cast many an anxious glance round, and kept our rifles in our hands ready for instant use, hoping that we should have time to see a lion before he was upon us. We had no fear at present of human foes, as the country through which we were travelling was uninhabited; though we might fall in with hunting parties, who were, however, likely to prove friendly. Besides lions, there was a possibility of our encountering hyaenas, leopards, and wolves, which, when hunting in packs, are as dangerous as in other parts of the world.
My uncle made me go ahead, while he kept five or six paces behind, so that, should a lion spring out at me, he might be ready to come to my assistance. We kept shouting too, to scare away any of the brutes we most dreaded; for, savage as is the lion, he is a cowardly animal except when pressed by hunger. Fortunately the sky was clear, and the stars shining out brightly enabled us to steer our course by them; but we went on and on, and I began to fear that we had already passed our camp. I expressed my apprehensions to my uncle.
"No!" he answered, "we are all right. We shall see the fire in a short time, unless Jan has let it out, which is not likely."
"But perhaps a lion may have carried him off, and killed our ox also, and we shall then be in a sad plight," I remarked.
"Nonsense, Fred!" he answered; "you are overtired with your long walk, and allow gloomy apprehensions to oppress you. I wish that I had not brought you so far."
After this I said no more, but exerted myself to the utmost; though I could scarcely drag one foot after the other, and had it become necessary to run for our lives, I do not think I could have moved. I looked about, now on one side now on the other, and fancied that I could see the vast heads and shaggy manes of huge lions watching us from among the trees. I did not fear their roars as long as they were at a distance. At length I heard what I took to be the mutterings of half-a-dozen, at least, close to us. I shouted louder than ever, to try and drive them off. As soon as I stopped shouting I listened for my uncle's voice, dreading lest one of the brutes should have seized him. I could not stop, to look round, and I was most thankful when I again heard him shout—
"Go on, Fred; go on, my boy. We shall see Jan's camp-fire before long. I don't believe there's a lion within half a mile of us. During the night we hear their voices a long distance off."
At length I saw, right ahead, a glare cast on the trunks and branches of the trees. It was I hoped produced by our camp-fire. Again, again, we shouted; should any lions be stalking us, they were very likely to follow our footsteps close up to our camp, and might pounce down upon us at the last moment, fearful of losing their prey. I felt greatly relieved on hearing Jan's shout in reply to ours; and pushing eagerly on, we saw him sitting close to a blazing fire which he had made up. He was delighted to see us, for he had become very anxious at our long absence; especially as a troop of elephants, he said, had passed close to the camp; and, as one of them was wounded, he knew that they had been met with by us, and he feared might possibly have trampled us to death. He had heard, too, the roar of lions near at hand. We found the giraffe's flesh more palatable than I had expected. As soon as we had eaten a hearty supper we lay down to rest, Jan promising to remain awake and keep up a blazing fire so as to scare away the lions.
Every now and then I awoke, and could hear the roarings and mutterings of the monarchs of the forest, which I heartily wished were sovereigns of some other part of the world.
Greatly to my disappointment, after the fatigue I had gone through I was unable to travel the next morning, and we had to put off our departure for another day.
My uncle went out for a short time, to shoot an antelope or any other species of deer he could come across for provisions, as what he killed for food one day was unfit for eating the next.
He had been absent for some time, and as I felt that a short walk would do me good, I took my gun, intending not to go far from the camp. I had some hopes that I might come across an antelope or deer during my short excursion. I of course took good care to keep a look-out on either side, lest I should be surprised by a lion or a leopard, the animals mostly to be feared in that region. It was not impossible that I might fall in with an elephant, but I had no intention of attacking one if I did, and should have ample notice of its approach, so that I might keep out of its way. I had gone about a quarter of a mile or so from the camp, and was thinking of turning back when I reached a tree which I found I could easily climb, as the remains of branches stuck out almost close to the ground. I got up for the sake of taking a survey of the country around, and especially over that part of it we had to travel the next morning. I found my lofty seat very pleasant, for I was well shaded by the thick foliage over head, while a light breeze played among the leaves, which was refreshing in the extreme. I had some difficulty in keeping awake, but I endeavoured to do so fearful of letting go my gun, or, perhaps, of falling to the ground myself. I did my best not to fall asleep, by singing and by occasionally getting up and looking around me.
The tree grew, I should have said, on the side of a bank, with a wide extent of level ground to the eastward, dotted over with thick clumps of trees, some large enough to be called woods; while nearer at hand, on either side of me, the vegetation was more scattered, here and there two or three trees only growing together. In some places single trees alone could be seen, rising in solitary grandeur from the soil. I had just got up when I caught sight of an elephant, which had come out from one of the clumps I have mentioned, where it had probably been spending the hot hours of the day, and advanced slowly towards me, now plucking a bunch of leaves with its trunk, now pulling up a shrub or plant. Presently I caught sight of a man with a gun in his hand coming out from the forest to the left and making his way towards where the elephant was feeding. He apparently did not see the animal, which was hidden from him by an intervening clump. When he got closer I recognised my uncle. Wishing to warn him of the neighbourhood of the elephant, I shouted as loudly as I could bawl; but, from the distance we were apart, he could not hear me. The elephant also took no notice of my voice, but went on feeding as before.
Presently my uncle came in sight of the monstrous beast, which must have seen him at the same time, for it ceased feeding and turned its head in the direction he was coming. Nothing daunted, my uncle continued to advance, keeping, however, more to the right, which would bring him towards the tree on which I was perched. The elephant began to move towards him. He quickened his pace—he was now in the open ground, over which he was making his way, exposed to great danger. He was aware of this and kept his gun ready to fire, though should he miss, he would be at the mercy of the brute. I considered how I could help him, but saw it would be madness to descend the tree to fire, and therefore remained where I was, praying that, should my uncle fire, his shot might be successful.
Presently, up went the elephant's trunk; and, trumpeting loudly, he went at a fast trot directly towards my uncle, who, stopping for a moment, levelled his rifle and fired; but, although the shot took effect, it did not stop the elephant's progress.
He had not a moment to reload—flight was his only resource. Happily not far off was a tree, but whether its branches grew low down enough to enable him to climb up it, I could not see, and I trembled for his safety. I shouted and shrieked, hoping to divert the attention of the elephant. It appeared to me that its trunk was not a dozen yards from my uncle. Should it once encircle him, his fate would be sealed. I never felt more anxious in my life. I might still stop its course I hoped, and, raising my rifle, I fired at its head, but my bullet seemed to make not the slightest impression. I shrieked with alarm. The next moment I saw my uncle seize the bough of a tree which had appeared to me above his head, when, exerting all his strength, he drew himself up. The elephant, elevating its trunk, actually touched his foot, but he drew it beyond its reach, and quickly clambered up into a place of safety. The elephant stood for a moment, its trunk raised as if expecting him to fall, and then made a furious dash at the tree in a vain endeavour to batter it down. The tree trembled from the shock but stood firm.
The elephant then, taking my uncle's cap which had fallen off, trampled it under foot, going round and round the tree and trumpeting loudly. It was evidently a rogue elephant, an ill-tempered brute who had been driven from the herd to spend a solitary existence. Such are always the most dangerous, as they appear to have a greater hatred of man and to be more cunning than the elephants found in herds. It seemed to have made up its mind to besiege us. Our position was unpleasant in the extreme, for while it remained we dared not descend, and for what we could tell, we might be kept up our respective trees all night, and perhaps the following day, or still longer.
My uncle and I felt far from happy up our trees. He had had nothing to eat since he left camp in the morning, and I too was getting very hungry. An hour or more went by, and yet the old "rogue" elephant showed no inclination to take its departure. Fortunately it had not discovered my uncle's rifle, which lay concealed in the grass close to the foot of the tree.
He now shouted to me to try to shoot the brute. This was no easy matter perched as I was high up; and as I was not likely to hit any vital part, I feared that any shot would only contribute to increase its rage without bringing it to the ground or driving it off. I had but five more bullets in my pouch, but I determined to do my best and not throw a shot away. I waited until the animal presented its side to me, when I fired, and the bullet struck it on the neck; but, though the blood flowed, it seemed to take no notice of the wound. The next I planted just below the shoulder. The elephant uttered several loud trumpetings and rushing again at the tree, seized the stem with its trunk, and endeavoured to pull it down. It shook violently, compelling my uncle to hold on with arms and legs.
I quickly reloaded and fired another shot directly behind the creature's ear. I saw the blood spouting forth and flowing down until it formed a pool dyeing the surrounding grass. Gradually the elephant's trunk unwound and hung down from its vast head.
"You've done for it," shouted my uncle; "send another shot into its neck and we shall be free."
I was reloading while he spoke, and before the elephant altered its favourable position I again fired.
Less than a minute elapsed, then down it sank on its knees. It made several efforts to rise but without success—its strength was fast failing. I had one more bullet remaining, but I wished to save it for any emergency which might occur. We had not long to wait before the elephant fell over on its side and lay an inanimate mass.
My uncle quickly descended the tree and I followed his example. His first act was to pick up and examine his gun. It having escaped injury he at once reloaded, and then, shaking hands, we surveyed our fallen foe.
"I wish that we could carry these magnificent tusks with us, but that is out of the question," observed my uncle. "We will, however, try to secure them. Help me to cut them out."
We set to work; and having fastened all the straps we could muster round one of them, he ascended the tree in which I had taken refuge, and I assisting him, we hauled up one of the tusks, and deposited it safely among the branches. The other was hauled up in the same fashion, and pretty hard work it was, as each tusk was considerably above half a hundredweight.
"I hope that we shall be able to send for these some day or other, and we are not likely to forget this spot in a hurry," remarked my uncle.
Having cut off one of the elephant's feet we ran a stick through it and started off for the camp. The day, however, was not to pass without another adventure. We had not gone half the distance when we saw, above the bushes, the head and neck of a giraffe. It did not appear to be alarmed; but influenced by curiosity, instead of cantering away, it drew nearer, coming round the end of the clump, evidently wondering what strange creatures we could be. So interested was it that it did not notice another and more formidable enemy which had been creeping up close behind. This was a lion, which, engaged in stalking its prey, did not discover us. We, therefore, could watch at a safe distance what was taking place. The lion kept creeping on, cautious as a cat, and with movements very similar, when, believing that it had got near enough for its purpose, with a rush and a tremendous bound, it leapt on the back of the giraffe before the latter could use its heels to drive off its foe. With fearful tenacity the savage creature hung on to the shoulders of the terrified giraffe, which bounded forward, and leapt and sprang from side to side in a vain endeavour to shake off its foe. Not a sound did it utter, but dashed on, with head erect; while the lion was tearing away with its teeth and claws at its shoulders and neck. There was no doubt from the first which of the two would gain the victory. Blood was streaming from the neck and flanks of the poor giraffe, which very quickly slackened its pace and then down it came, unable longer to endure the pain it was suffering. The lion at once began tearing away at the flesh. Still it kicked, and struggled, but its efforts were useless, and it very quickly ceased to move.
"We must have that lion," said my uncle.
Having examined our rifles we hurried towards the spot where the savage brute was enjoying its banquet, so busily employed that it did not see us. When at length it was aware of our approach it ceased feeding, and gazed at us with its fore paws on the body of its victim, presenting a truly magnificent spectacle.
We were near enough by this time to take a steady aim.
"Do you fire, Fred, and then reload as rapidly as you can, while I will wait until you are ready."
"But I have no second bullet," fortunately recollecting at the moment that I had expended all my bullets but one.
My uncle handed me a couple, and I obeyed his injunctions. My bullet passed through the lion's thick mane and crashed into its neck.
Uttering a tremendous roar as it felt the pain, it came towards us. Without a moment's loss of time I reloaded, fearing that, should my uncle's bullet fail to stop it, the brute would be upon us.
Notwithstanding the lion's near approach my uncle waited, and then fired, hitting it between the eyes. Still it advanced, but, blinded and almost stunned, though it made a desperate bound towards us, its aim was uncertain. My uncle sprang on one side and I on the other, when, before I had finished loading, over it fell, and lay dead between us.
"A pretty good afternoon's sport," observed my uncle. "We'll take the liberty of cutting a few steaks from the giraffe which this brute here has hunted for us, and the sooner we get back to camp the better."
The chief difficulty in obtaining the steaks was in cutting through the tough skin of the giraffe, which was almost as thick as that of a rhinoceros. By employing our axes we soon, however, accomplished our task, and in a few minutes reached the camp, where Jan, who had heard our shots, had made up a large fire in expectation of any game we should bring.
While the elephant foot was cooking we regaled ourselves on some fine slices of giraffe meat, which assisted to stop the cravings of hunger. All night long we were surrounded by the abominable cries of hyaenas and jackals which were collected round the carcases of the slain animals.
It is said that they dare not touch even a dead lion, but at all events when we went out to look the next morning the bones only of the two animals remained.
We now once more reloaded our ox and set out northward. We remarked that the poor creature, in spite of its long rest, looked thinner, and in worse condition than before.
"Him tsetse do it. You see, ox die!" exclaimed Jan.
Still the faithful brute stepped on with its heavy load, and we hoped that Jan was mistaken.
At length we came in sight of a broader river than we had crossed since we had left the desert.
We had no doubt that it would conduct us down to the lake, on the borders of which we hoped to find our friends encamped. How to cross it was the difficulty. I suggested that we should construct a raft, as the reeds which fringed the bank would supply us with abundance of material.
Not far off was a tree-covered island, the intervening space being filled with reeds. Leaving Jan and the ox on the shore, my uncle and I set off to reach the island, thinking that we could there more conveniently build our raft and launch it than from the main land.
Plunging in among the reeds we soon found ourselves almost overwhelmed: not a breath of air could reach us, and the heat was so stifling that we almost fainted. Still, having begun, we were unwilling to give up.
Frequently we could only get on by leaning against the mass of reeds, and bending them down until we could stand upon them. They were mixed with a serrated grass which cut our hands, while the whole was bound together by the climbing convolvulus, with stalks so strong that we could not break them.
Plying our axes, however, we managed to make our onward way until we gained the island, but here to our disappointment we found that we were thirty yards or more from the clear water, which was full of great masses of papyrus with stalks ten feet in height, and an inch and a half in diameter. These also were bound together by the convolvulus in a way which made them perfectly impenetrable. While we stood on the shore of the island the sound of human voices reached our ears, and we saw in the distance several canoes descending the stream. Each carried three men, two paddling and one standing up with a large harpoon attached to a rope in his hand. They were in pursuit of some large dark creatures whose heads, just rising above the water, looked like those of enormous cart-horses.
"They are hippopotami!" exclaimed my uncle, "and we shall see some sport presently."
Suddenly, down came the harpoon, and was fixed in the back of one of the monsters, which almost sprang out of the water as it felt the pain of the wound; then off it went, towing the canoe at a tremendous rate after it, the end of the rope being secured to the bows, while the barb to which the rope was attached being shaken out of its socket remained firmly fixed in the animal's body.
We ran along the island to watch the canoe as long as it remained in sight, but it was towed so rapidly that it soon disappeared. Presently, however, we saw another coming down the stream fast to a second hippopotamus, not only the head but a considerable portion of the body of which was floating above the water. The men in the canoe were hauling themselves up closer to their prey, preparatory to plunging their lances or harpoons into its body. I fancied that I could almost distinguish the savage glance of the brute's eyes. Suddenly it stopped; then, turning round, gave a rush at the canoe.
In vain the blacks slackened the rope, and seizing their paddles, endeavoured to escape from it. With open mouth the hippopotamus rushed on the boat, and, seizing it in its enormous jaws, crushed it up as if it had been made of paper.
One poor fellow was caught; a fearful shriek was heard; and, directly afterwards, we saw his body, cut in two, floating down the stream. The other two men had disappeared, and we fancied must also have been killed. Again and again the animal darted at the canoe, expending his rage upon it.
While he was thus employed the two men rose to the surface and instantly made for the shore, dragging the end of the rope by a path we had not before observed, between the reeds. With wonderful activity they made it fast to the trunk of a tree. Directly afterwards three other canoes arrived, and the men, armed with harpoons and heavy spears, jumping on shore, joined their companions in hauling in on the rope attached to the hippopotamus. In vain the monster struggled, endeavouring to tear itself away from the rope. The blacks with wonderful boldness rushed into the water, darting their spears at it. It had seized the shaft of the harpoon, which had broken in two, and was endeavouring to bite through the rope.
Two other canoes now came up and their crews attacked the hippopotamus in the rear. So engaged were the hunters that they did not observe us. As we watched their proceedings it appeared very probable that in spite of its wounds the hippopotamus would break away. Seeing this, my uncle unslung his rifle and advanced towards the monster, which had already severed several strands of the rope. As it opened its vast mouth, he fired down its throat, and it almost instantly, giving another convulsive struggle, rolled over.
His success was greeted with triumphant shouts by the hunters who had only just before discovered us. Having drawn the body of the hippopotamus up to the dry land, the blacks crowded round us, and by signs and exclamations expressed their admiration of the way in which my uncle had killed the creature.
We tried to explain that we were very happy to have been of service to them, and that we should feel obliged, if, in return, they would ferry us across the river, and guide us to the waggons of the white men who had encamped not far off.
Leaving the hunters to cut up the hippopotamus, and stow its flesh on board their canoes, we returned to where we had left Jan and the ox. As it was getting late, we agreed to remain where we were until the following day,—in the meantime to try to shoot an antelope or deer of some sort which would enable us to provide a feast for the natives by whom we might be visited.
I was fortunate enough, while lying down among some rocks near our camp, to kill a springbok, one of the most light and elegant of the gazelle tribe; but its companions, of which it had several, bounded off at so rapid a rate that I had no chance of killing another. I, therefore, lifting my prize on my shoulder, returned to camp, where my uncle soon after arrived, laden with the flesh of a quagga, which, although belonging to the family of asses, is good food.
Scarcely had we put on some meat to cook, when half a dozen of our acquaintances arrived. It was satisfactory to find that Jan understood their language. They appeared to be well-disposed towards us, and our friendship was cemented by the feast of quagga flesh which we got ready for them. We ourselves, however, preferred the more delicate meat of the springbok. We kept some of the meat for our next day's breakfast, and offered the remainder to our guests, which they quickly stowed away.
They undertook to convey us down the river the following morning in their canoes, or on a raft, observing that, if we went in the canoes, we must be separated, as each could carry only one of us. We, therefore, determined to trust to a raft, such as we ourselves had proposed building. Our guests retired for a short distance from us, and formed a camp by themselves for the night.
I awoke about two hours before dawn, when my attention was attracted to a peculiar noise which I might liken to a low grunting and the tread of numberless feet. As day broke, I saw the ground to the southward covered with a dense mass of deer moving slowly and steadily on towards an opening in a long range of hills to the east. They appeared to be in no hurry, but continued feeding as they went. I aroused my uncle, who pronounced them to be springboks, one of which I had shot on the previous evening migrating for the winter to the northward. They were beautiful animals, graceful in form, of a light cinnamon red on the back, fading into white on the under part of the body, a narrow band of reddish brown separating the two colours. As far as the eye could reach, the whole country seemed alive with them,—not only the plain but the hill-side, along which they bounded with graceful leaps.
Our guests on the previous evening had disappeared, but they quickly came back with a large party of their tribe, and gave us to understand that they could not escort us down to the river for the present, as they must set out to attack the springboks, and hoped that we would accompany them.
This my uncle and I at once agreed to do, and, supplying ourselves with a good stock of ammunition, we set off with the first party that started. Our friends led us at a rapid rate over the hills by a short cut, so that we might intercept the animals, as they passed through the mountains. Another party, we found, remained behind, to drive them through, or prevent them turning back when frightened by our presence. We were only just in time, for already the leaders of the herd had made their appearance. As we approached the mouth of the gorge, while some of the hunters rushed up the hills, and stationed themselves on either side, so as to dart their javelins at the passing deer, others took post at the mouth of the gorge, thus preventing the egress of the animals, without coming within range of their weapons.
Now a scene of slaughter commenced such as I have seldom witnessed. The leaders of the herd turned to retreat, but were met by the party who had remained on the other side shrieking and shouting, and knocking the handles of their spears against their shields. Some of the animals tried to escape up the mountains, others dashed forward to our very feet, and many fell down killed by terror itself. We shot a few, but the slaughter seemed so unnecessary that we refrained from again firing, and would gladly have asked the natives to desist; but while the animals were in their power, they would evidently have refused to do so.
Happily the affrighted deer found an opening, which, from the excessive steepness of the path, had been neglected. Through this a considerable number made their escape, and were soon beyond the reach of their merciless pursuers.
The natives now began to collect the animals they had slain, and each man returned in triumph with a springbok on his shoulders.
We, not to be outdone, each carried one of those we had shot, and a pretty heavy load it was. I was thankful when we got back to the camp, where we cooked a portion of the venison.
As we might have felt sure, the natives, having plenty of food, were not at all disposed to move from the spot, and, indeed, continued feasting the whole of the next day. On the following, they were so gorged that they were utterly unable to make any exertion. Had an enemy been near, and found them in this condition, the whole tribe might have been killed or carried off into captivity.
We in the meantime explored the banks of the river until we found a convenient spot for forming our raft. In most places the reeds extended so far from the shore that during the operation we should have had to stand up to our middles in water among them, with the risk of being picked up by a crocodile or hippopotamus, both of which delectable creatures were, in considerable numbers, frequenters of the stream.
As the blacks still showed no inclination to accompany us, Jan volunteered to return for the elephant's tusks and other articles we had left behind, if I would go with him.
To this my uncle somewhat demurred, but, at last, when I pressed the point, he consented to remain in charge of the goods we had brought while we set off on our expedition.
At daybreak Jan and I set off, he as usual leading the ox, while I walked ahead with my rifle, ready for a shot. Our baggage consisted of a couple of skins to sleep on, a stock of ammunition, a small portion of our remnant of flour, tea, sugar, and pepper. We had no fear of not finding food, as game of all sorts was abundant, provided I kept my health, and was able to shoot it.
I asked Jan what he thought of the ox which looked remarkably thin.
"No good!" he answered; "last till get back, but not more—den him die."
I trusted that the poor animal would hold out as long as he supposed.
We rested at noon under an enormous acacia, of the younger branches of which the elephants are apparently very fond. We saw that they were everywhere twisted off to the height of about twenty-five feet, which is as far as an elephant can reach.
Here and there, under the trees, were conical hills twenty feet high, built up for residences by the white ants. Frequently they were covered with creeping plants which met at the top, hanging back in an umbrella shape, completely shading them. I shot several doves and other birds to serve us for dinner, and while Jan was cooking them I went in search of fruit, and discovered an abundance of medlars very similar to those we have in England, as well as some small purple figs growing on bushes. The most curious fruit I met with was like a lime in appearance, with a thick rind, but inside was a large nut. I had to climb a tree to obtain them, for all those lower down had been carried off by elephants who were evidently very fond of the fruit.
As our object was to make as much haste as possible, I was resolved not to go out of the way to shoot any large game, though I kept my rifle loaded with ball as a defence against lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, or hyaenas.
The first day's journey we saw several in the distance, though none came near us. We formed our camp at the foot of a tree, with a large fire in front of us, and on either side of the trunk we erected a fence of stout stakes in a semi-circular form; so we hoped that we should be able to sleep without being molested by wild beasts. The ox remained outside, and we knew that he would run to the fire, should danger threaten him.
The usual cries proceeding from an African forest prevented us from sleeping over soundly, and I was awakened by the roar of a lion, which stood on a mound some little distance from our camp, afraid of approaching near our fire, and the palisade which he probably took for a trap.
We had exhausted our stock of wood during the night, and in the morning Jan went out to procure a fresh supply for cooking our breakfast. I was employed in plucking some birds which I had killed in the evening, when I heard my companion shouting lustily for help, and at the same time, a loud crashing of boughs reached my ears, while the ox came hurrying up to the camp in evident alarm.
Seizing my rifle, I sprang up, fearing that a lion had pounced down upon Jan, while picking up sticks, and I was fully prepared for an encounter with the savage brute. Instead of a lion, however, I saw an elephant, with trunk uplifted, rush out from among the brushwood. I sprang behind a tree, as the only place of safety, when what was my dismay, to see, as he passed, Jan clinging to his hind leg. How the black had got there was the puzzle, and how to rescue him from his awkward position was the next question to be solved. Should he let go, he might naturally expect to receive a kick from the elephant's hind foot which would effectually knock all the breath out of his body; and yet, should he not get free, he might be carried miles away and perish miserably. My only hope was at once to mortally wound the elephant. Not a moment was to be lost if I was to save poor Jan. Just then the elephant caught sight of the ox, and stopped as if considering if he should attack it. Whether he was aware that Jan was clinging to his leg or not, I could not tell, as the black's weight no more impeded him than a fly would a man when running.