FOREST AND FRONTIERS
OR, ADVENTURES AMONG THE INDIANS
By George A. Henty
Mr. Cumming's attack on four lions
The most daring and adventurous of all hunters is Mr. Roualeyn Gordon Cumming. Being an officer in the British service at the Cape of Good Hope, his love of hunting adventures led him to resign his commission in the army, and devote himself for five years to exploring the interior of Africa, and hunting wild beasts. We shall quote his own account of some of his adventures.
The first incident of his career, to which we invite the reader's attention, is one which he calls an attack on four patriarchal lions. It occurred in the interior of Africa, not far from the junction of the rivers Mariqua and Limpopo. He thus describes it.
A few days after this, just as Swint had milked the cows, and was driving them from the wooded peninsula in which we lay, athwart the open ground, to graze with my other cattle in the forest beyond, he beheld four majestic lions walking slowly across the valley, a few hundred yards below my camp, and disappear over the river's bank, at a favorite drinking place. These mighty monarchs of the waste had been holding a prolonged repast over the carcases of some zebras killed by Present, and had now come down the river to slake their thirst. This being reported, I instantly saddled two horses, and, directing my boys to lead after me as quickly as possible my small remaining pack of sore-footed dogs, I rode forth, accompanied by Carey carrying a spare gun, to give battle to the four grim lions. As I rode out of the peninsula, they showed themselves on the banks of the river, and, guessing that their first move would be a disgraceful retreat, I determined to ride so as to make them think that I had not observed them, until I should be able to cut off their retreat from the river, across the open vley, to the endless forest beyond. That point being gained, I knew that they, still doubtful of my having observed them, would hold their ground on the river's bank until my dogs came up, when I could more advantageously make the attack.
I cantered along, holding as if I meant to pass the lions at a distance of a quarter of a mile, until I was opposite to them, when I altered my course, and inclined a little nearer. The lions showed symptoms of uneasiness; they rose to their feet, and, overhauling us for half a minute, disappeared over the bank. They reappeared, however, directly, a little farther down; and finding that their present position was bare, they walked majestically along the top of the bank to a spot a few hundred yards lower, where the bank was well wooded. Here they seemed half inclined to await my attack; two stretched out their massive arms, and lay down in the grass, and the other two sat up like dogs upon their haunches. Deeming it probable that when my dogs came up and I approached they would still retreat and make a bolt across the vley, I directed Carey to canter forward and take up the ground in the centre of the vley about four hundred yards in advance; whereby the lions would be compelled either to give us battle or swim the river, which, although narrow, I knew they would be very reluctant to do.
I now sat in my saddle, anxiously waiting the arrival of my dogs; and whilst thus momentarily disengaged, I was much struck with the majestic and truly appalling appearance which these four noble lions exhibited. They were all full-grown immense males; and I felt, I must confess, a little nervous, and very uncertain as to what might be the issue of the attack. When the dogs came up I rode right in towards the lions. They sprang to their feet, and trotted slowly down along the bank of the river, once or twice halting and facing about for half a minute. Immediately below them their was a small determined bend in the stream, forming a sort of peninsula. Into this bend they disappeared, and next moment I was upon them with my dogs. They had taken shelter in a dense angle of the peninsula, well sheltered by high trees and reeds. Into this retreat the dogs at once boldly followed them, making a loud barking, which was instantly followed by the terrible voices of the lions, which turned about and charged to the edge of the cover. Next moment, however, I heard them plunge into the river, when I sprang from my horse, and, running to the top of the bank, I saw three of them ascending the opposite bank, the dogs following. One of them bounded away across the open plain at top speed, but the other two, finding themselves followed by the dogs, immediately turned to bay.
It was now my turn, so, taking them coolly right and left with my little rifle, I made the most glorious double shot that a sportsman's heart could desire, disabling them both in the shoulder before they were even aware of my position. Then snatching up my other gun from Carey, who that moment had ridden up to my assistance, I finished the first lion with a shot about the heart, and brought the second to a standstill by disabling him in his hind quarters. He quickly crept into a dense, wide, dark green bush, in which for a long time it was impossible to obtain a glimpse of him. At length, a clod of earth falling near his hiding-place, he made a move which disclosed to me his position, when I finished him with three more shots, all along the middle of his back. Carey swam across the river to flog off the dogs; and when these came through to me, I beat up the peninsula in quest of the fourth lion, which had, however, made off. We then crossed the river a little higher up, and proceeded to view the noble prizes I had won. Both lions were well up in their years; I kept the skin and skull of the finest specimen, and only the nails and tail of the other, one of whose canine teeth was worn down to the socket with the caries, which seemed to have affected his general condition.
Mr. Cumming Hunting Rhinoceroses.
Mr. Cumming thus describes his encounter with some rhinoceroses and an eland, in the country of the Bechuanas.
It was on the 4th of June, 1844, that I beheld for the first time the rhinoceros. Having taken some coffee, I rode out unattended, with my rifle, and before proceeding far I fell in with a huge white rhinoceros with a large calf, standing in a thorny grove. Getting my wind she set off at top speed through thick thorny bushes, the calf, as is invariably the case, taking the lead, the mother guiding its course by placing her horn, generally about three feet in length, against its ribs.
My horse shied very much at first, alarmed at the strange appearance of "Chukuroo," but by a sharp application of spur and jambok I prevailed upon him to follow, and presently, the ground improving, I got alongside, and, firing at the gallop, sent a bullet through her shoulder. She continued her pace with blood streaming from the wound, and very soon reached an impracticable thorny jungle, where I could not follow, and instantly lost her. In half an hour I fell in with the second rhinoceros, being an old bull of the white variety. Dismounting, I crept within twenty yards, and saluted him with both barrels in the shoulder, upon which he made off, uttering a loud blowing noise, and upsetting every thing that obstructed his progress.
Shortly after this I found myself on the banks of the stream, beside which my wagons were outspanned. Following along its margin, I presently beheld a bull of the borele, or black rhinoceros, standing within a hundred yards of me. Dismounting from my horse, I secured him to a tree, and then stalked within twenty yards of the huge beast under cover of a large strong bush. Borele, hearing me advance, came on to see what it was, and suddenly protruded his horny nose within a few yards of me. Knowing well that a front shot would not prove deadly, I sprang to my feet and ran behind the bush. Upon this the villain charged, blowing loudly, and chased me round the bush. Had his activity been equal to his ugliness, my wanderings would have terminated here, but by my superior agility I had the advantage in the turn.
After standing a short time eyeing me through the bush, he got a whiff of my wind, which at once alarmed him. Uttering a blowing noise, and erecting his insignificant yet saucy-looking tail, he wheeled about, leaving me master of the field, when I sent a bullet through his ribs to teach him manners. Of the rhinoceros there are four varieties in South Africa, distinguished by the Bechuanas by the names of the borele or black rhinoceros, the keitloa or two-horned rhinoceros, the muchocho or common white rhinoceros, and the kobaoba or long-horned white rhinoceros. Both varieties of the black rhinoceros are extremely fierce and dangerous, and rush headlong and unprovoked at any object which attracts their attention. They never attain much fat, and their flesh is tough, and not much esteemed by the Bechuanas. Their food consists almost entirely of the thorny branches of the wait-a-bit thorns.
Finding that rhinoceros were abundant in the vicinity, I resolved to halt a day for the purpose of hunting, and after an early breakfast, on the 6th, I rode south-east with the two Baquaines. They led me along the bases of the mountains, through woody dells and open glades, and we eventually reached a grand forest grey with age. Here we found abundance of spoor of a variety of game, and started several herds of the more common varieties. At length I observed an old bull eland standing under a tree. He was the first that I had seen, and was a noble specimen, standing about six feet high at the shoulder. Observing us, he made off at a gallop, springing over the trunks of decayed trees which lay across his path; but very soon he reduced his pace to a trot. Spurring my horse, another moment saw me riding hard behind him. Twice in the thickets I lost sight of him, and he very nearly escaped me; but at length, the ground improving, I came up with him, and rode within a few yards behind him. Long streaks of foam now streamed from his mouth, and a profuse perspiration had changed his sleek grey coat to an ashy blue. Tears trickled from his large dark eye, and it was plain that the eland's hours were numbered. Pitching my rifle to my shoulder, I let fly at the gallop, and mortally wounded him behind; then spurring my horse, I shot past him on his right side, and discharged my other barrel behind his shoulder, when the eland staggered for a moment and subsided in the dust. The two Baquaines soon made their appearance, and seemed delighted at my success. Having kindled a fire, they cut out steaks, which they roasted on the embers; I also cooked a steak for myself, spitting it upon a forked branch, the other end of which I sharpened with my knife and stuck into the ground.
The eland is a magnificent animal, by far the largest of all the antelope tribe, exceeding a large ox in size. It also attains an extraordinary condition, being often burdened with a very large amount of fat. Its flesh is most excellent, and is justly esteemed above all others. It has a peculiar sweetness, and is tender and fit for use the moment the animal is killed. Like the gemsbok, the eland is independent of water, and frequents the borders of the great Kalahari desert in herds varying from ten to a hundred. It is also generally diffused throughout all the wooded districts of the interior where I have hunted. Like other varieties of deer and and antelope, the old males may often be found consorting together apart from the females, and a troop of these, when in full condition, may be likened to a herd of stall-fed oxen.
The eland has less speed than any other variety of antelope; and, by judicious riding, they may be driven to camp from a great distance. In this manner I have often ridden the best bull out of the herd, and brought him within gunshot of my wagons, where I could more conveniently cut up and preserve the flesh, without the trouble of sending men and packoxen to fetch it. I have repeatedly seen an eland drop down dead at the end of a severe chase, owing to his plethoric habit. The skin of the eland I had just shot emitted, like most other antelopes, the most delicious perfume of trees and grass.
Having eaten my steak, I rode to my wagon, where I partook of coffee, and having mounted a fresh horse, I again set forth accompanied by Carollus leading a packhorse, to bring home the head of the eland and a supply of the flesh; I took all my dogs along with me to share in the banquet. We had not proceeded far when the dogs went ahead on some scent. Spurring my horse, I followed through some thorny bushes as best I might, and emerging on an open glade, I beheld two huge white rhinoceroses trotting along before me. The dogs attacked them with fury, and a scene of intense excitement ensued. The Old Gray, on observing them, pricked up his ears, and seemed only half inclined to follow, but a sharp application of the spur reminded him of his duty, and I was presently riding within ten yards of the stem of the largest, and sent a bullet through her back. The Old Grey shied considerably and became very unmanageable, and on one occasion, in consequence, the rhinoceros, finding herself hemmed in by a bend in a watercourse, turned round to charge, I had a very narrow escape.
Presently, galloping up on one side, I gave her a bad wound in the shoulder, soon after which she came to bay in the dry bed of a river. Dismounting from my horse, I commenced loading, but before this was accomplished she was off once more. I followed her, putting on my caps as I rode, and coming up alongside, I made a fine shot from the saddle, firing at the gallop. The ball entered somewhere near her heart. On receiving this shot she reeled about, while torrents of blood flowed from her mouth and wounds, and presently she rolled over and expired, uttering a shrill screaming sound as she died, which rhinoceroses invariably do while in the agonies of death.
The chase had led me close in along the northern base of a lofty detached mountain, the highest in all that country. The mountain is called, by the Bechuanas, the Mountain of the Eagles. The eland which I had shot in the morning lay somewhere to the southward of this mountain, but far in the level forest. Having rounded the mountain, I began to recognise the ground.
I had the satisfaction to behold a few vultures soaring over the forest in advance, and, on proceeding a short distance farther, large groups of these birds were seated on the grey and weather-beaten branches of the loftiest old trees of the forest. This was a certain sign that the eland was not far distant; and on raising my voice and loudly calling on the name of Carollus, I was instantly answered by that individual, who, heedless of his master's fate, was actively employed in cooking for himself a choice steak from the dainty rump of the eland. That night I slept beneath the blue and starry canopy of heaven. My sleep was light and sweet, and no rude dreams or hankering cares disturbed the equanimity of my repose.
One of Mr. Cumming's most perilous adventures was with a black Rhinoceros, which gave chase to him, and nearly run turn down. He thus describes this affair.
On the 22d, ordering my men to move on to the fountain of Bootlonamy, I rode forth with Ruyter, [Footnote: This is the name of a favorite servant of Mr. Cumming.] and held east through a grove of lofty and wide-spreading mimosas, most of which were more or less damaged by the gigantic strength of a troop of elephants, which had passed there about twelve months before.
Having proceeded about two miles with large herds of game on every side, I observed a crusty looking old bull borele, or black rhinoceros, cocking his ears one hundred yards in advance. He had not observed us; and soon after he walked slowly toward us, and stood broadside to, eating some wait-a-bit thorns within fifty yards of me. I fired from my saddle, and sent a bullet in behind his shoulder, upon which he rushed forward about one hundred yards in tremendous consternation, blowing like a grampus, and then stood looking about him. Presently he made off. I followed, but found it hard to come up with him. When I overtook him I found the blood running freely from his wound.
The chase led through a large herd of blue wildebeests, zebras, and springboks, which gazed at us in utter amazement. At length I fired my second barrel, but my horse was fidgety, and I missed. I continued riding alongside of him, expecting in my ignorance that at length he would come to bay, which rhinoceroses never do; when suddenly he fell flat on his broadside on the ground, but, recovering his feet, resumed his course as if nothing had happened. Becoming at last annoyed at the length of the chase, as I wished to keep my horses fresh for the elephants, and being indifferent whether I got the rhinoceros or not, as I observed that his horn was completely worn down by age, and the violence of his disposition, I determined to bring matters to a crisis; so, spurring my horse, I dashed ahead, and rode right in his path.
Upon this the hideous monster instantly charged me in the most resolute manner, blowing loudly through his nostrils; and although I quickly wheeled about to my left, he followed me at such a furious pace for several hundred yards, with his horrid horny snout within a few yards of my horse's tail, that my little Bushman, who was looking on in great alarm, thought his master's destruction inevitable. It was certainly a very near thing; my horse was extremely afraid, and exerted his utmost energies on the occasion. The rhinoceros, however, wheeled about and continued his former course; and I being perfectly satisfied with the interview which I had already enjoyed with him, had no desire to cultivate his acquaintance any further, and accordingly made for camp.
We left the fountain of Bootlonamy the same day, and marched about six miles through an old grey forest of mimosas, when we halted for the night. Large flocks of guinea-fowls roosted in the trees around our encampment, several of which I shot for my supper.
On the 23d we inspanned by moonlight, and continued our march through a thinly wooded level country. It was a lovely morning; the sun rose in great splendor, and the sky was beautifully overcast with clouds. Having proceeded about ten miles, the country became thickly covered with detached forest trees and groves of wait-a-bit thorns. The guides now informed us that the water, which is called by the Bechuanas, "Lepeby," was only a short distance in advance; upon which I saddled steeds, and rode ahead with the Bushman, intending to hunt for an hour before breakfast. Presently we reached an open glade in the forest, where I observed a herd of zebras in advance; and on my left stood a troop of springboks, with two leopards watching them from behind a bush. I rode on, and soon fell in with a troop of hartebeests, and, a little after, with a large herd of blue wildebeests and pallahs. I followed for aome distance, when they were reinforced by two other herds of pallahs and wildebeests. Three black rhinoceroses now trotted across my path.
Presently I sprang from my horse, and fired right and left at a princely bull blue wildebeest. He got both balls, but did not fall, and I immediately lost sight of him in the dense ranks of his shaggy companions. The game increased as we proceeded, until the whole forest seemed alive with a variety of beautifully colored animals. On this occasion I was very unfortunate; I might have killed any quantity of game if venison had been my object; but I was trying to get a few very superior heads of some of the master bucks of the pallahs. Of these I wounded four select old bucks, but in the dust and confusion caused by the innumerable quantity of the game I managed to lose them all.
Encounter with a Lioness.
When Mr. Cumming was in that part of the interior of South Africa inhabited by the tribe called the Griquas, he had a remarkable and fearful encounter with a lioness. He had been shooting some of the various kinds of antelopes which abound in that country, under various names, such as wildebeests, springboks, blesboks, and pallahs, when the adventure occurred, which he thus describes.
Suddenly I observed a number of vultures seated on the plain about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, and close beside them stood a huge lioness, consuming a blesbok which she had killed. She was assisted in her repast by about a dozen jackals, which were feasting along with her in the most friendly manner.
Directing my followers' attention to the spot, I remarked, "I see the lion;" to which they replied, "Whar? whar? Yah! Almagtig! dat is he;" and instantly reining in their steeds and wheeling about they pressed their heels to their horses' sides, and were preparing to betake themselves to flight. I asked them what they were going to do. To which they answered, "We have not yet placed caps on our rifles." This was true; but while this short conversation was passing, the lioness had observed us. Raising her full, round face, she overhauled us for a few seconds, and then set off at a smart canter toward a range of mountains some miles to the northward; the whole troop of jackals also started off in another direction; there was, therefore, no time to think of caps.
The first move was to bring her to bay, and not a second was to be lost. Spurring my good and lively steed, and shouting to my men to follow, I flew across the plain, and, being fortunately mounted on Colesberg, the flower of my stud, I gained upon her at every stride. This was to me a joyful moment, and I at once made up my mind that she or I must die.
The lioness having had a long start of me, we went over a considerable extent of ground before I came up with her. She was a large, full- grown beast, and the bare and level nature of the plain added to her imposing appearance. Finding that I gained upon her, she reduced her pace from a canter to a trot, carrying her tail stuck out behind her, and slewed a little to one side. I shouted loudly to her to halt, as I wished to speak with her, upon which she suddenly pulled up, and sat on her haunches like a dog, with her back toward me, not even deigning to look round. She then appeared to say to herself, "Does this fellow know who he is after?"
Having thus sat for half a minute, as if involved in thought, she sprang to her feet, and, facing about, stood looking at me for a few seconds, moving her tail slowly from side to side, showing her teeth, and growling fiercely. She next made a short run forward, making a loud, rumbling noise like thunder. This she did to intimidate me; but finding that I did not flinch an inch nor seem to heed her hostile demonstrations, she quietly stretched out her massive arms, and lay down on the grass. My Hottentots now coming up, we all three dismounted, and, drawing our rifles from their holsters, we looked to see if the powder was up in the nipples, and put on our caps, While this was doing the lioness sat up, and showed evident symptoms of uneasiness. She looked first at us, and then behind her, as if to see if the coast were clear; after wnich she made a short run toward us, uttering her deep-drawn, murderous growls.
Having secured the three horses to one another by their reins, we led them on as if we intended to pass her, in the hope of obtaining a broadside. But this she carefully avoided to expose, presenting only her full front. I had given Stofolus my rifle, with orders to shoot her if she should spring upon me, but on no account to fire before me. Kleinboy was to stand ready to hand me my Purdey rifle, in case the two-grooved Dixon should not prove sufficient. My men as yet had been steady, but they were in a precious stew, their faces having assumed a ghastly paleness, and I had a painful feeling that I could place no reliance on them.
Now then for it, neck or nothing! She is within sixty yards of us, and she keeps advancing. We turned the horses' tails to her. I knelt on one side, and, taking aim at her breast, let fly. The ball cracked loudly on her tawny hide, and crippled her in the shoulder, upon which she charged with an appalling roar, and in the twinkling of an eye she was in the midst of us, At this moment Stofolus's rifle exploded in his hand, and Kleinboy, whom I had ordered to stand ready by me, danced about like a duck in a gale of wind.
The lioness sprang upon Colesberg, and fearfully lacerated his ribs and haunches with her horrid teeth and claws; the worst wound was on his haunch, which exhibited a sickening, yawning gash, more than twelve inches long, almost laying bare the very bone. I was very cool and steady, and did not feel in the least degree nervous, having fortunately great confidence in my own shooting; but I must confess, when the whole affair was over, I felt that it was a very awful situation, and attended with extreme peril, as I had no friend with me on whom I could rely.
When the lioness sprang on Colesberg, I stood out from the horses, ready with my second barrel for the first chance she should give of a clear shot. This she quickly did; for, seemingly satisfied with the revenge She had now taken, she quitted Colesberg, and slewing her tail to one side, trotted sulkily past within a few paces of me, taking one step to the left. I pitched my rifle to my shoulder, and in another second the lioness was stretched on the plain a lifeless corpse.
In the struggles of death she half turned on her back, and stretched her neck and fore arms convulsively, when she fell back to her former position; her mighty arms hung powerless by her side, her lower jaw fell, blood streamed from her mouth, and she expired. At the moment I fired my second shot, Stofolus, who hardly knew whether he was alive or dead, allowed the three horses to escape. These galloped frantically across the plain, on which he and Kleinboy instantly started after them, leaving me standing alone, and unarmed, within a few feet of the lioness, which they from their anxiety to be out of the way, evidently considered quite capable of doing further mischief.
Hunting the Blauwbok and Buffalo.
Among the various kinds of antelopes which inhabit South Africa, the blauwbok, or blue buck, called by Mr. Cumming, the blue antelope, is one of the most remarkable. It is six feet in length, three feet and a half high to the back, and very compactly made. The horns are more than two feet in length, round, closely annulated to within six inches of the tips, bent back in a uniform but moderate curve, and very sharp at the points. The general color of the hair is gray, with the insides of the ears, a streak before each eye, the insides of the legs, and a few hairs along the ridge of the neck, white. The hair on the body divides on the line of the back, and is rather coarse and open.
The skin under it on the upper part of the living animal is a black, which shining through the grey, produces a sort of raven-blue tint. It is the epidermis only and not the mucous tissue which has this black color, otherwise the hair would have it; and it fades when the animal is dead, as is the case with a highly-colored epidermis in almost all animals.
This animal was frequently pursued and shot by Mr. Cumming, in his African hunts, and his flesh was found to be excellent.
The Cape buffalo, or African buffalo, was a more troublesome object of chase. This animal, has a most formidable front, and its general aspect is shaggy and formidable. The horns are the most compact, and in their substance the heaviest of all the ruminating animals, excepting only some of those of the antelopes. This animal is considerably lower than the Indian buffalo; but it is firmer, though shorter in the legs, rounder in the body; and the beard and short mane give it a rugged appearance. This is by far the most formidable animal of the genus. It has never been tamed, and the males are dangerous to come near.
Mr. Cumming thus describes one of his encounters with this animal, by himself and Ruyter, a Bushman, a favorite servant.
On the forenoon of the 26th, I rode to hunt, accompanied by Ruyter; we held west, skirting the wooded stony mountains. The natives had here many years before waged successful war with elephants, four of whose skulls I found. Presently I came across two sassaybies, one of which I knocked over; but while I was loading he regained his legs and made off. We crossed a level stretch of forest, holding a northerly course for an opposite range of green, well wooded hills and valleys. Here I came upon a troop of six fine old bull buffaloes, into which I stalked, and wounded one princely fellow behind the shoulder, bringing blood from nis mouth; he, however made off with his comrades, and the ground being very rough we failed to overtake him. They held for the Ngotwani. After following the spoor for a couple of miles, we dropped it, as it led right away from camp.
Returning from this chase, we had an adventure with another old bull buffalo, which shows the extreme danger of hunting buffaloes without dogs. We started him in a green hollow among the hills, and his course inclining for camp, I gave him chase. He crossed the level broad strath and made for the opposite densely wooded range of mountains. Along the base of these we followed him, sometimes in view, sometimes on the spoor, keeping the old fellow at a pace which made him pant. At length, finding himself much distressed, he had recourse to a singular stratagem. Doubling round some thick bushes which obscured him from our view, he found himself beside a small pool of rain water, just deep enough to cover his body; into this he walked, and facing about, lay gently down and awaited our on-coming, with nothing but his old grey face and massive horns above the water, and these concealed from our view by rank overhanging herbage.
Our attention was entirely engrossed with the spoor, and thus we rode boldly on until within a few feet of him, when springing to his feet, he made a desperate charge after Ruyter, uttering a low, stifling roar, peculiar to buffaloes, (somewhat similar to the growl of a lion) and hurled horse and rider to the ground with fearful violence. His horns laid the poor horse's haunches open to the bone, making the most fearful ragged wound.
In an instant Ruyter regained his feet and ran for his life, which the buffalo observing, gave chase, but most fortunately came down with a tremendous somersault in the mud, his feet slipping from under him; thus the Bushman escaped certain destruction. The buffalo rose much discomfited, and, the wounded horse first catching his eye, he went a second time at him, but he got out of the way. At this moment I managed to send one of my patent pacificating pills into his shoulder, when he instantly quitted the scene of action, and sought shelter in a dense cover on the mountain side, whither I deemed it imprudent to follow him.
Adventures with snakes.
The following stories of fascination by snakes, is copied from "Arthur's Home Gazette." It is no fiction; but is contributed by a gentleman of Tennessee, who is willing to vouch for the truth of what he relates.
It has been a thousand times affirmed, and as often denied, that certain serpents possess the power—independent of the touch—of paralyzing their proposed victims. And it seems to be generally admitted that this is done, if done at all, by the eye; for those theorists who ascribe it to poison inhaled through the nostrils of the charmed ones, offer us no example to confirm their theory, or to make it worthy of a second thought. In extended rambles, alone as well as with society, I have made the study of serpents a matter of amusement, and familiarized myself—at least I had done so ten years back—to handle them without any llesh-shrinking. As I got older, and my nerves become weakened by long exposure to the seasons and to midnight studies, more debilitating than Texas "northers," I must confess that I am more timid; but I can yet join a hunt, or project one in good "snake weather," with considerable gusto. I have never met with a snake that could charm me, look he never so keenly, although I have faced them till they got tired, uncoiled, and beat an inglorious retreat. And I am sure that I never smell anything about a snake, calculated to excite any other emotions or motions except holding the nose. And finally I never found a snake or snakelet that I would turn my heel upon to flee, and for the very good reason that the animal in question always runs first.
So, ye manufacturers of snake stories horrific, amusive, or instructive, put that against your tales of blacksnakes, copperheads, cotton-mouths, horn-tails, water-mocassins, and the whole tribe else.
But as to the fascination, what of that?
Why, although I have never been fascinated, or seen a person in that singular situation, yet I am a firm believer in the art, a believer against my wishes—because evidence indisputable has been furnished me, and in abundance. Now I leave out of the question, all the influences of fright, surprise, etc., also all the humbug stories of novel writers and romancers in private life, and yet there is a remainder that I cannot cast out. One or two anecdotes, and then I come to my principal proof.
A gentleman of my acquaintance, passing along a bridle path, observed a mouse running backwards and forwards, upon a fallen log, as if in great terror. Reining in this horse, he paused full ten minutes, and until the mouse disappeared on the farther side of the log. Drawing nearer, and peeping over, his suspicions of Lucifer's guile were verified—for mousey was within three inches of his open jaw, "irresistibly attracted," said the narrator, "although he was drawing back with all his might." The latter part of the tale is fishy—for the gentleman was twenty feet off, and could not nave seen that—but he saw the mouse finally disappear in that cavernous gullet; and when he killed the snake-a large black one—the mouse lay in its stomach, without a wound. How will that do?
Another, well authenticated. A young man, of some twenty years, passing along the road to school, on foot, was observed by some of his companions in the rear to pause suddenly and look down. His fellows intent on their conversation, were several minutes coming up; but when they did so they witnessed a veritable case of fascination—for the young man was looking intently into the eyes of a large rattlesnake, coiled at his feet; nor could the voices of all his friends arouse him. Being jerked back with some violence, he instantly recovered his senses, but seemed to be puzzled to recall the circumstances connected with his first view of the snake. After a mental effort he explained, while the cold sweat poured from his face, and his limbs were flaccid as an infant's, that the sound of a rattle had caused him to stop short—that a pleasant halo danced before his eyes, and sweet sounds met his ears—and that from that instant until the conclusion of the trance, "he was as happy as he ever expected to be!"
But now for the hardest knock of conviction. I will give it in the language of the original narrator—premising that opponents to the theory of serpent attraction auist knock under, or flatly contradict my tale. In the latter event, I shall be compelled to settle the question as Hodginson did his lawsuit, "by exhibiting the skin and parading the witnesses."
"In the month of April, a few years back," commences the witness, "I took my eldest chap, an eight year old boy, but stout and bold enough for a twelve year old—and sauntered down to Beech river, to spend the evening [Footnote: Evening, in this place, signifies from noon until dark; that's the Southern and Western notion always.] fishing. Finding a large beech, whose spreading roots formed a natural easy chair, with arms to it, I threw my line into the stream, and myself into the cavity, to take the thing deliberately as I generally do on such occasions. There had been a rise in Beech river sufficient to muddy the water, and I knew the only chance was for cat (bull-pouts the Yankees call them,) so I chose a big hook and baited with a chunk of bacon, big enough for an eight-pounder at least. That hook was a Limerick, for which I had sent all the way to Porter, of 'The Spirit' —that hook I was never more to behold.
"The boy chose for himself a steep place about ten yards below me, and after sticking his pole in the mud, like a lazy fellow, as he is, amused himself by counting the stamens in some sorrel-flowers that grew thick thereabouts. I listened to his chatter for a while as he vacillated in his numbers—eight—nine—ten—twelve—until my own thoughts took an interesting turn, and I heard to more of him for several minutes. Then the sound of his voice again struck one, but a little distance further down stream, as he tailed out—'Oh, Pa, look!'
"Being well accustomed to his 'mares' nests,' I did not turn until he had repeated several times the same words, and it was the singularity of his tones at last that caused me to do it. His voice was indescribably plaintive, clear, but low, and each vowel sound was drawn out at great length, thus—' Oh-h-h-h, Pa-a-a-a, loo-oo-oo-ook, —with the diminuendo, soft as the ring of a glass vessel, when struck. I have heard Kyle, the flutist, while executing some of his thrilling touches, strike his low notes very much like it. Slewing myself partly round in my seat, I observed the little fellow standing bent forward, his hands stretched out before him as if shielding his face from a bush, while his whole body worked to and fro like the subjects in certain mesmeric experiments that I nave observed when first they are brought under 'the influence' of the operator. His face was partly turned from me, but the cheek, which I saw was pale as death, and his cloth cap was trembling on the back part of his head, as if forced there by the workings of the scalp.
"This was as much as I had time to oberve in the first hasty glance. Astonished at his actions, though not at all alarmed—or the first thought that occurred to me as that he was trying to catch a young rabbit—I called out in a half-jocular tone, well, bubby boy, what is it?' He made no reply, but continued that strange murmur of '—Oh-h-h, Pa-a-a, loo-oo-ook,' and took a couple of paces forward, not as though he wished to advance, but more in the style of a person who has leaned too far forward and moves his feet to recover the perpendicular. I arose, rather slowly, for it was a mere prompting of curiosity, and walking towards him, called out in a tone of some authority, 'John, come here!' Now I can say, without boasting, that my domestic government is thorough, and my children will promptly obey my commands in every thing, from the taking of a dose of quinine to the springing out of bed at daylight of a frosty morning. My surprise, therefore, was great to observe that the lad only answered my order, twice repeated, by the same melancholy cry, and another stumble forward.
"I was now thoroughly aroused. I hastened my own steps, for a horror came over me as though I was in the presence of a demon. I advanced directly behind the child, and looking over him, observed a thick bush of the Early Honeysuckle, (Azalea nudiflora.) Into and through this I glanced, but I observed no object to excite my notice. I had got within a pace of him, and was in the act of putting my hand with some force upon his shoulder, when following more precisely the direction of his eyes, I looked at the foot of the bush, then about six feet from me, and how shall I describe the sequel!
"Like an electric shock, a sensation pervaded my whole frame, which, although I can never forget, I must most imperfectly describe. I was in a trance—the blood overcharged my brain—a murmuring sound, as of an Aeolian, filled my ears-drops, like rain, oozed from my face—my hat, first elevated to the very tips of the hairs, worked backwards and fell to the ground—in brief, I was regularly, and for the first and last time in my life, in a state of fascination.
"No sensation of languor troubled me, for although I felt no inclination to go forward, yet I seemed to myself perfectly able and willing to stay where I was, so long as the world lasted. I was perfectly happy in spite of my bodily excitement. A bright halo of changeable colors, for all the world like the changeable lights I have seen displayed in front of the American Museum, New York, filled all my vision, in the very focus of which gleamed two keen points, like sparks from the blacksmith's anvil, and they were so vivid that they seemed to pierce me through and through.
"How long this continued I cannot say, but I suppose only for a minute. So far as my own perception of time's flight is concerned, however, it might have been an age.
"I was awakened by the harsh crackling of some dry sticks upon which the boy had stepped as he continued to shuffle forward. The recovery was as sudden as the attack. In an instant I was disenchanted. The bush looked familiar, and I heard the fall of water in the stream, but a thought of imminent danger now possessed my mind; so shouting with a voice that made the woods ring, I seized the lad around the waist, and heavy as he was, ran with him quite a quarter of a mile without stopping. I confess it most frankly that I didn't stop until I fell exhausted in the public road. To tell the cowardly truth, I should have ran on until now if I had been able. So we fell down together and lay for a good while panting.
"Then I got up and propping myself against a poplar, took little John on my knee. His nervous system was unstrung. He was weeping bitterly, and sobbing as if his heart would break. His flesh was cold and clammy, his pulse was almost still, and he hadn't strength to raise his hands to his mouth.
"I had some root ginger in my pocket—I always carry a piece with me— which I chewed and made him swallow. This revived him. Then I rubbed him briskly, pinched his skin in divers tender spots, and by these means and cheerful conversation, got him so that he could stand alone and answer my questions. I never saw such a fool thing as he was! He was not at all alarmed, very willingly consented to return with me— for I'd die but what I'd see it but—thought there ought to be a perch on his hook by this time, thought it was Sunday, thought there was snow somewhere, 'twas so cold,—and all such notions as that.
"Every few minutes he would burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears, but he couldn't tell for what.
"You will want to know how I felt all this time. Well, when I got a minute's leisure from attending to him and could notice my own feelings, I found that I was snivelling too! that my pulse was small, my nose had been profusely bleeding, and the blood had drenched me to the very boot tops, and I felt altogether as exhausted as one does who has had a month's spell of the chills.
"We were a precious pair, daddy and son, as we sat under that poplar. I am sure I never felt so foolish in all my life. Well, back we started, for my spunk was up; and, beside that, I had left my hat, handkerchief, dinner, and memorandum book, and was bound to have them. I felt the most burning curiosity to understand the puzzle while my mental faculties were completely obfuscated by it.
"Neither of us said a word of the affair itself, for John didn't seem to know that he had been frightened, and I was afraid to alarm him by speaking of it. He asked no questions of any sort, although in general he is a miniature Paul Pry, expressed no surprise that I was bareheaded and bloody, or that we had come so far from the fishing place and left our tackle behind. His face expressed confusion, such as a child will exhibit when he is waked suddenly by falling out of bed, and commences grasping around the bedpost preparatory to getting in again. I knew that something frightful was there, and felt that we had escaped some great peril, but what the object or what the peril I had no idea whatever. I am sure, however, that the notion of a snake never entered my mind, but if any thing tangible, if was of a wild cat, for the recollection of Cooper's panther story in the Pioneers occurred to me, and I cut a stout hickory sapling to be prepared. We arrived with slow steps at the haunted spot, for both were exhausted, and I felt the value of prudence. There lay my basket by the beech root, more by token that the hogs had found it and were just devouring the last morsel of bread and meat so carefully deposited therein.
"There was my fishing line, but the eight-pounder had become weary and worn, and carried off my Limerick hook. There was my hat near the honeysuckle bush, but the phantom itself, with its diamond eyes and mystic powers, was gone. Frightened probably by the hogs, unromantic objects in every point of view, he had fled; but I found him within fifty yards in the form of a rattlesnake, full six feet from tip to tip, and glorying in fourteen full rattles.
"I had my revenge in every possible form. I looked at him for ten minutes at a time, but the power was gone, and I only saw two keen, devilish-looking eyes. Then I punched him till he spent all his venom on my stick. Then I made him drunk on tobacco juice, ingloriously and brutally drunk.
"Getting tired at last, I gave him the coup de grace, skinned him, and returned home. He hangs now in loops over my family bed. Those eyes that thrilled my heart so strangely are dim with dust. Those fangs, which in a few minutes more would probably have sent death to the heart's fountain of my boy, are now in Europe, a part of the collection admired by countless crowds at the British Museum. The subject is fast fading from my memory,'mid the cares of life, and had you not asked me to write it out for you, I should have thought of it but a little longer. Let it stand as another testimony, and a most unwilling one, too, of the fascinating powers of serpents on the human."
So far my correspondent tells his own tale in language sufficiently plain and explicit. If any figure him out as a man of feeble frame and low stature, let them change their fancy at once.
He is a strong, muscular man, an old bear hunter, one who has fought Indians in the Florida swamps; a person withal, of unquestionable veracity, and in all respects the last man to impose on others, or be imposed upon by anything, fish, flesh, or fowl.
Contests with Large Snakes
The family of snakes called Boidae, including the Boas and Pythons are huge snakes confined to the hotter regions of the globe, and formidable from their vast strength and mode of attack. They lurk in ambush and dart upon their victim, which in an instant is seized and enveloped in their folds, and crushed to death or strangled. For their predatory habits they are admirably adapted; their teeth are terrible, and produce a dreadful wound; the neck is slender, the body increasing gradually to about the middle in diameter, and then decreasing. The tail is a grasping instrument, strongly prehensile, and aided by two hooklike claws, sheathed with horn, externally visible on each side, beneath, just anterior to the base of the tail. Though externally nothing beyond these spurs appear, internally is found a series of bones, representing those of the hinder limbs, but of course imperfectly developed; yet they are acted upon by powerful muscles, and can be so used as to form a sort of antagonist to the tail while grasping any object; they thus become a fulcrum giving additional force to the grasp, which secured thereby to a fixed point, giving double power to the animal's energy.
The emperor boa, or boa constrictor as well as all the others to which the name boa applies are, according to Cuvier, natives of America. The engraving represents one of these terrible snakes in the act of strangling a deer.
The Aboma (Boa cenchrea) has scaly plates on the muzzle, and pits or dimples upon the plates of the jaws.
Endowed with powers which in a semicivilized state of society must operate powerfully on the mind; at ease and freedom alike on the land, in the water, or among the trees; at once wily, daring, and irresistible in their attack, graceful in their movements, and splendid in their coloring—that such creatures, to be both dreaded and admired, should become the subject of superstitious reverence, is scarcely to be wondered at. The ancient Mexicans regarded the boa as sacred; they viewed its actions with religious horror; they crouched beneath the fiery glances of its eyes; they trembled as they listened to its long-drawn hiss, and from various signs and movements predicted the fate of tribes or individuals, or drew conclusions of guilt or innocence. The supreme idol was represented encircled and guarded by sculptured serpents, before which were offered human sacrifices.
"On a blue throne, with four huge silver snakes, As if the keepers of the sanctuary, Circled, with stretching necks and fangs display'd, Mexitli sate: another graven snake Belted with scales of gold his monster bulk."
It is probably of the boa constrictor, the emperor, the devin, that Hernandez writes, under the name of Temacuilcahuilia, so called from its powers, the word meaning a fighter with five men. It attacks, he says, those it meets, and overpowers them with such force, that if it once coils itself around their necks it strangles and kills them, unless it bursts itself by the violence of its own efforts; and he states that the only way of avoiding the attack is for the man to manage in such a way as to oppose a tree to the animal's constriction, so that while the serpent supposes itself to be crushing the man, it may be torn asunder by its own act, and so die. We do not ask our readers for their implicit faith in this. He adds, that he has himself seen serpents as thick as a man's thigh, which had been taken young by the Indians and tamed; they were provided with a cask strewn with litter in the place of a cavern, where they lived, and were for the most part quiescent, except at meal-times, when they came forth, and amicably climbed about the couch or shoulders of their master, who placidly bore the serpent's embrace. They often coiled tip in folds, equalling a large sized cartwheel in size, and harmlessly received their food.
In most accounts current respecting the mode in which boas and pythons take their food, the snake, after crushing its prey, is described as licking the body with its tongue and lubricating it with its saliva, in order to facilitate the act of deglutition. It has been observed with justice that few worse instruments for such a purpose than the slender dark forked tongue of these snakes could have been contrived: and that, in fact, the saliva does not begin to be poured out abundantly till required to lubricate the jaws and throat of the animal straining to engulph the carcass. We have seen these snakes take their food, but they did not lubricate it, though the vibratory tongue often touched it; we must, therefore, withhold our credence from the common assertion.
The size attained by the boa is often very great, and larger individuals than any now seen occurred formerly, before their ancient haunts had been invaded by human colonization.
The Anaconda, (Boa Scytale), called by Linnaeus, Boa Murina, and by Prince Maximilian, Boa Aquatica, is of an enormous size, from twenty to thirty feet in length.
The boa cenchrea has scaly plates on the the muzzle; and dimples upon the plates at the sides of the jaws. His color is yellowish, with a row of large brown rings running the whole length of the back, and variable spots on the sides. These are generally dark, often containing a whitish semi-lunar mark. This species, according to Seba, who describes it as Mexican, is the Temacuilcahuilia (or Tamacuilla Huilia, as Seba writes the word) described by Hernandez. The species here described, according to Cuvier, grow nearly to the same size, and haunt the marshy parts of South America. There, adhering by the tail to some aquatic tree, they suffer the anterior part of the body to float upon the water, and patiently wait to seize upon the quadrupeds which come to drink.
Our engraving represents him in the attitude of watching for a deer which is seen, in the distance.
A specimen apparently of the boa scytale called in Venezuela "La Culebra de Agua," or water serpent, and also "El Traga Venado," or deer-swallower, which measures nineteen feet and a half in length, was presented by Sir Robert Ker Porter to the United Service Museum. He states that "The flesh of this serpent is white and abundant in fat. The people of the plains never eat it, but make use of the fat as a remedy for rheumatic pains, ruptures, strains, &c."
"This serpent," says Sir B. K. Porter, "is not venomous nor known to injure man (at least not in this part of the New World;) however, the natives stand in great fear of it, never bathing in waters where it is known to exist. Its common haunt, or rather domicile, is invariably near lakes, swamps, and rivers; likewise close wet ravines produced by inundations of the periodical rains: hence, from its aquatic habits, its first appellation. Fish and those animals which repair there to drink, are the objects of its prey. The creature lurks watchfully under cover of the water, and, whilst the unsuspecting animal is drinking, suddenly makes a dash at the nose, and with a grip of its back-raclining double range of teeth never fails to secure the terrified beast beyond the power of escape."
It would appear that boas are apt to be carried out to sea by sudden floods, and are sometimes drifted alive on distant coasts. The Rev. Lansdown Guilding, writing in the Island of St. Vincent, says, "A noble specimen of the boa constrictor was lately conveyed to us by the currents, twisted round the trunk of a large sound cedar tree, which had probably been washed out of the bank, by the floods of some great South American river, while its huge folds hang on the branches as it waited for its prey. The monster was fortunately destroyed after killing a few sheep, and his skeleton now hangs before me in my study, putting me in mind how much reason I might have had to fear in my future rambles through St. Vincent, had this formidable animal been a pregnant female and escaped to a safe retreat."
The pythons closely resemble the true boas, but have the subcaudal plates double; the muzzle is sheathed with plates, and those covering the mouth of the jaws have pits. These snakes, which equal or exceed the boas in magnitude, are natives of India, Africa, and Australia.
Pliny speaks of snakes in India of such a size as to be capable of swallowing stags and bulls; and Valerius Maximus, quoting a lost portion of Pliny's work, narrates the alarm into which the troops under Regulus were thrown by a serpent which had its lair on the banks of the river Bagradas, between Utica and Carthage, and which intercepted the passage to the river. It resisted ordinary weapons, and killed many of the men; till at last it was destroyed by heavy stones thrown from military engines used in battering walls; its length is stated as a hundred and twenty feet. Regulus carried its skin and jaws to Rome, and deposited them in one of the temples, where they remained till the time of the Numantine war.
Diodorus Siculus relates the account of the capture of a serpent, not without loss of life, in Egypt, which measured thirty cubits long; it was taken to Alexandria. Suetonius speaks of a serpent exhibited at Rome in front of the Comitium, fifty cubits in length.
Though we do not refuse credit to these narratives, it must be added that in modern days we have not seen serpents of such magnitude; yet they may exist. Bontius observes that some of the Indian pythons exceed thirty-six feet in length, and says that they swallow wild boars, adding, "there are those alive who partook with General Peter Both, of a recently swallowed hog cut out of the belly of a serpent of this kind."
These snakes, he observes, are not poisonous, but strangle a man or other animal by powerful compression. The Ular Sawa, or great Python of the Sunda Isles, is said to exceed when full-grown, thirty feet in length; and it is narrated that a "Malay prow being anchored for the night under the Island of Celebes, one of the crew went ashore, in search of betel nut, and, as was supposed, fell asleep on the beach, on his return. In the dead of night, his companions on board were aroused by dreadful screams; they immediately went ashore, but they came too late, the cries had ceased—the man had breathed his last in the folds of an enormous serpent, which they killed. They cut off the head of the snake and carried it, together with the lifeless body of their comrade, to the vessel; the right wrists of the corpse bore the marks of the serpent's teeth, and the disfigured body showed that the man had been crushed by the constriction of the reptile round the head, neck, breast, and thigh."
Mr. McLeod, in his voyage of H.M.S. Alceste, after describing the mode in which a python on board, sixteen feet in length, crushed and gorged a goat, the distressing cries of which on being introduced into the serpent's cage, could not but excite compassion, goes on to say that during a captivity of some months at Whidah, in the kingdom of Dahomey, on the coast of Africa, he had opportunities of observing pythons of more than double that size, and which were capable of swallowing animals much larger that goats or sheep. "Governor Abson," he adds, "who had for thirty-seven years resided at Fort William, one of the African Company's settlements there, describes some desperate struggles which he had seen, or which had come to his knowledge, between the snakes and wild beasts as well as the smaller cattle, in which the former were always victorious. A negro herdsman belonging to Mr. Abson, and who afterwards limped for many years about the fort, had been seized by one of these monsters by the thigh; but from his situation in a wood the serpent in attempting to throw himself around him got entangled in a tree; and the man being thus preserved from a state of compression, which would instantly have rendered him quite powerless, had presence of mind enough to cut with a large knife which he carried about with him, deep gashes in the neck and throat of his antagonist, thereby killing him, and disengaging himself from his frightful situation. He never afterwards, however, recovered the use of his limb, which had sustained considerable injury from the fangs and mere force of his jaws."
Ludolph states that enormous snakes exist in Ethiopia: and Bosman informs us that entire men have been found in the gullet of serpents on the Gold coast. In the "Oriental Annual" is the following narrative, explanatory of a well-known picture by W. Daniell: "A few years before our visit to Calcutta," says the writer, "the captain of a country ship while passing the Sunderbunds sent a boat into one of the creeks to obtain some fresh fruits, which are cultivated by the few miserable inhabitants of this inhospitable region. Having reached the shore the crew moored the boat under a bank, and left one of their party to take care of her."
During their absence, the lascar who remained in charge of the boat, overcome by heat, lay down under the seats and fell asleep. While he was in this happy state of unconsciousness an enormous boa, python, emerged from the jungle, reached the boat, had already coiled its huge body round the sleeper, and was in the very act of crushing him to death, when his companions fortunately returned at this auspicious moment, and attacking the monster, severed a portion of its tail, which so disabled it that it no longer retained the power of doing mischief. The snake was then easily despatched, and was found to measure, as stated, sixty-two feet and some inches in length. It is hardly probable that the snake had fairly entwined round the man, for the sudden compression of the chest, had the snake exerted its strength, would have been instantly fatal.
In March, 1841, a singular circumstance occurred at the gardens of the Zoological Society, which at the time caused no little surprise. A python, eleven or twelve feet long, and one about nine feet long, were kept together in a well-secured cage; both had been fed one evening, the larger one with three guinea pigs and a rabbit; but, as it would appear, his appetite was unsatiated. The next morning, when the keeper came to look into the cage, the smaller python was missing—its escape was impossible—and the question was what had become of it?
The truth was evident—its larger companion had swallowed it. There it lay torpid, and bloated to double its ordinary dimensions. How it accomplished the act is not known, but we mav imagine a fearful struggle to have taken place, as wreathing round each other they battled for the mastery; unless, indeed, the victim was itself torpid and incapable of resistance.
The Tiger Python, (Python, tigris), is a native of India and Java, and is often brought over to England for exhibition. It was, we believe, from one of these species that Mr. Cops, the keeper of the lion office was in imminent danger, as narrated by Mr. Broderip.
The animal was near shedding its skin, and consequently nearly blind, for the skin of the eye, which is shed with the rest of the slough, becomes then opaque, when Mr. Cops, wishing it to feed, held a fowl to its head. The snake darted at the bird, but missed it, seizing the keeper by the left thumb, and coiled round his arm and neck in a moment. Mr. Cops, who was alone, did not lose his presence of mind, and immediately attempted to relieve himself of the powerful constriction by getting at the snake's head. But the serpent had so knotted himself on his own head, that Mr. Cops could not reach it, and had thrown himself on the floor in order to grapple with a better chance of success, when two other keepers coming in broke the teeth of the serpent, and with some difficulty relieved Mr. Cops from his perilous situation. Two broken teeth were extracted from the thumb, which soon healed, and no material inconvenience was the result of this frightful adventure.
Mr. Cumming, to whose exploits we have so frequently referred, gives the following account of a day's adventures, one of which was an amusing affair with a large python.
On the 26th, I rose at earliest dawn to inspect the heads of the three old buffaloes, they were all enormous old bulls, and one of them carried a most splendid head. The lions had cleaned out all his entrails; their spoor [Footnote: Spoor, i.e., track] was immense. Having taken some buffalo breast and liver for breakfast, I despatched Ruyter to the wagons to call the natives to remove the carcasses, while I and Kleinboy held through the hills to see what game might be in the next glen which contained water. On my way thither, we started a fine old buck koodoo, which I shot, putting both barrels into him at one hundred yards. As I was examining the spoor of the game by the fountain, I suddenly detected an enormous old rock-snake stealing in beside a mass of rock beside me. He was truly an enormous snake, and, having never before dealt with this species of game, I did not exactly know how to set about capturing him. Being very anxious to preserve his skin entire, and not wishing to have recourse to my rifle, I cut a stout and tough stick about eight feet long, and having lightened myself of my shooting-belt, I commenced the attack. Seizing him by the tail, I tried to get him out of his place of refuge; but I hauled in vain; he only drew his large folds firmer together; I could not move him. At length I got a rheim round one of his folds about the middle of his body, and Kleinboy and I commenced hauling away in good earnest.
The snake, finding the ground too hot for him, relaxed his coils, and, suddenly bringing round his head to the front, he sprang out at us like an arrow, with his immense and hideous mouth opened to its largest dimensions, and before I could get out of the way he was clean out of his hole, and made a second spring, throwing himself forward about eight or ten feet, and snapping his horrid fangs within a foot of my legs. I sprang out of his way, and, getting hold of the green bough I had cut, returned to the charge. The snake was now gliding along at top speed: he knew the ground well, and was making for a mass of broken rocks, where he would have been beyond my reach, but before he could gain this place of refuge I caught him two or three tremendous whacks on the head. He, however, held on, and gained a pool of muddy water, which he was rapidly crossing, when I again belabored him, and at length reduced his pace to a stand. We then hanged him by the neck to a bough of a tree, and in about fifteen minutes he seemed dead, but he again became very troublesome during the operation of skinning, twisting his body in all manner of ways. This serpent measured fourteen feet.
Adventure with Buffalo and Elephant.
The Cape Buffalo we have already described, and we now refer to him again only for the purpose of quoting Mr. Cumming's account of a spirited fight with one. He thus relates the affair.
On the evening of the next day I had a glorious row with an old bull buffalo: he was the only large bull in a fine herd of cows. I found their spoor while walking ahead of the wagon, and following it up, I came upon a part of the herd feeding quietly in a dense part of the forest. I fired my first shot at a cow, which I wounded. The other half of the herd then came up right in my face, within six yards of me. They would have trampled on me if I had not sung out in their faces and turned them. I selected the old bull and sent a bullet into his shoulder. The herd then crashed along through the jungle to my right, but he at once broke away from them and took to my left. On examining his spoor, I found it bloody. I then went to meet my wagons, which I heard coming on, and, ordering the men to outspan, I took all my dogs to the spoor. They ran it up in fine style, and in a few minutes the silence of the forest was disturbed by a tremendous bay. On running towards the sound I met the old fellow coming on towards the wagons, with all my dogs after him. I saluted him with a second ball in the shoulder; he held on and took up a position in the thicket within forty yards of the wagons, where I finished him. He carried a most splendid head.
In another part of his narrative, Mr. Cumming thus describes a desperate battle with an elephant.
On the 27th I cast loose my horses at earliest dawn of day, and then I lay half asleep for two hours, when I arose to consume coffee and rhinoceros. Having breakfasted, I started with a party of natives to search for elephants in a southerly direction. We held along the gravelly bed of a periodical river, in which were abundance of holes excavated by the elephants in quest of water. Here the spoor of rhinoceros was extremely plentiful, and in every hole where they had drunk the print of the horn was visible. We soon found the spoor of an old bull elephant, which led us into a dense forest, where the ground was particularly unfavorable for spooring; we, however, threaded it out for a considerable distance, when it joined the spoor of other bulls.
The natives now requested me to halt, while the men went off in different directions to reconnoitre. In the mean time a tremendous conflagration was roaring and crackling close to windward of us. It was caused by the Bakalahari burning the old dry grass to enable the young to spring up with greater facility, whereby they retained the game in their dominions. The fire stretched away for many miles on either side of us, darkening the forest far to leeward with a dense and impenetrable canopy of smoke. Here we remained for about half an hour, when one of the men returned, reporting that he had discovered elephants. This I could scarcely credit, for I fancied that the extensive fire which raged so fearfully must have driven, not only elephants, but every living creature out of the district, The native, however, pointed to his eye, repeating the word "Klow," and signed to me to follow him.
My guide led me about a mile through dense forest, when we reached a little wellwood hill, to whose summit we ascended, whence a view might have been obtained of the surrounding country, had not volumes of smoke obscured the scenery far and wide, as though issuing from the funnels of a thousand steamboats. Here, to my astonishment, my guide halted, and pointed to the thicket close beneath me, when I instantly perceived the colossal backs of a herd of bull elephants. There they stood quietly browsing on the lee side of the hill, while the fire in its might was raging to windward within two hundred yards of them.
I directed Johannus to choose an elephant, and promised to reward him should he prove successful. Galloping furiously down the hill, I started the elephants with an unearthly yell, and instantly selected the finest in the herd. Placing myself alongside, I fired both barrels behind his shoulder, when he instantly turned upon me, and in his impetuous career charged head foremost against a large bushy tree which he sent flying before him high in the air with tremendous force, coming down at the same moment violently on his knees. He then met the raging fire, when, altering his course, he wheeled to the right-about As I galloped after him I perceived another noble elephant meeting us in an opposite direction, and presently the gallant Johannus hove in sight, following his quarry at a respectful distance. Both elephants held on together, so I shouted to Johannus, "I will give your elephant a shot in the shoulder and you must try to finish him." Spurring my horse, I rode close alongside, and gave the fresh elephant two balls immediately behind the shoulder, when he parted from mine, Johannus following; but before many minutes had elapsed that mighty Nimrod reappeared, having fired one shot and lost his prey.
In the mean time I was loading and firing as fast as could be, sometimes at the head, sometimes behind the shoulder, until my elephant's fore-quarters were a mass of gore, notwithstanding which he continued to hold stoutly on, leaving the grass and branches of the forest scarlet in his wake.
On one occasion he endeavored to escape by charging desperately amid the thickest of the flames; but this did not avail, and I was soon once more alongside. I blazed away at this elephant, until I began to think that he was proof against my weapons. Having fired thirty-five rounds with my two-grooved rifle, I opened fire upon him with the Dutch six-pounder; and when forty bullets had perforated his hide, he began for the first time to evince signs of a dilapidated constitution. He took up a position in a grove; and as the dogs kept barking round him, he backed stern foremost amongst the trees, which yielded before his gigantic strength. Poor old fellow! he had long braved my deadly shafts, but I plainly saw that it was all over with him; so I resolved to expend no further ammunition, but hold him in view until he died. Throughout the chase this elephant repeatedly cooled his person with large quantities of water, which he ejected from his trunk over his back and sides; and just as the pangs of death came over him, he stood trembling violently beside a thorny tree, and kept pouring water into his bloody mouth until he died, when he pitched heavily forward, with the whole weight of his fore-quarters resting on the points of his tusks.
A most singular occurrence now took place. He lay in this posture for several seconds, but the amazing pressure of the carcase was more than the head was able to support. He had fallen with his head so short under him that the tusks received little assistance from his legs. Something must give way. The strain on the mighty tusks was fair; they did not, therefore, yield; but the portion of his head in which his trunk was imbedded, extending a long way above the eye, yielded and burst with a muffled crash. The tusk was thus free, and turned right round in his head, so that a man could draw it out, and the carcase fell over and rested on its side. This was a very first-rate elephant, and the tusks he carried were long and perfect.
Hunting the Orix and the Lion.
Mr. Cumming was extremely desirous to fall in with an oryx, and carry off his fine head with its splendid long horns as a trophy. He thus describes a long but successful chase for one.
At at early hour on the morning of the 16th, Paterson and I took the field, accompanied by our three after-riders, and having ridden several miles in a northerly direction, we started an oryx, to which Paterson and his after-rider immediately gave chase. I then rode in an easterly direction, and shortly fell in with a fine old cow oryx, which we instantly charged. She stole away at a killing pace, her black tail streaming in the wind, and her long, sharp horns laid well back over her shoulders. Aware of her danger, and anxious to gain the desert, she put forth her utmost speed and strained across the bushy plain. She led us a tearing chase of upwards of five miles in a northerly course, Cobus sticking well into her, and I falling far behind. After a sharp burst of about three miles, Cobus and the grey disappeared over a ridge about half a mile ahead of me. I mounted a fresh horse, which had been led by Jacob, and followed. On gaming the ridge, I perceived the grey disappearing over another ridge, a fearfully long way ahead. When I reached this point I commanded an extremely extensive prospect, but no living object was visible on the desolate plain.
Whilst deliberating in which direction to ride, I suddenly heard a pistol-shot, some distance to my left, which I knew to be Cobus's signal that the oryx was at bay. Having ridden half a mile, I discovered Cobus dismounted in a hollow, and no oryx in view. He had succeeded in riding the quarry to a stand, and, I not immediately appearing, he very injudiciously had at once lost sight of the buck and left it.
Having upbraided Cobus in no measured terms for his stupidity, I sought to retrieve the fortunes of the day by riding in the direction in which he had left the oryx. The ground here was uneven and interspersed with low hillocks. We extended our front and rode on up wind, and, having crossed two or three ridges, I discovered a troop of bucks a long way ahead. Having made for these, they turned out to be hartebeests. At this moment I perceived three magnificent oryx a short distance to my left. On observing us, they cantered along the ridge towards a fourth oryx, which I at once perceived to be "embossed with foam and dark with soil," and knew to be the antelope sought for. Once more we charged her. Our horses had now considerably recovered their wind, but the poor oryx was much distressed; and after a chase of half a mile I jumped off my horse and sent a bullet through her ribs, which brought her to a stand, when I finished her with the other barrel. She proved a fine old cow with very handsome horns; the spot on which she fell being so sterile that we could not even obtain the smallest bushes with which to conceal her from the vultures, we covered her with my after-rider's saddle-cloth, which consisted of a large blanket. The head, on which I placed great value, we cut off and bore along with us.
On my way home I come across Pater-son's after-rider, "jaging" a troop of gemsboks, but fearfully to leeward, his illustrious master being nowhere in sight. An hour after I reached the camp Paterson came in, in a towering rage, having been unlucky in both his chases. I now despatched one of my wagons to bring home my oryx. It returned about twelve o'clock that night, carrying the skin of my gemsbok and also a magnificent old blue wildebeest (the brindled gnoo,) which the Hottentots had obtained in an extraordinary manner. He was found with one of his fore legs caught over his horn, so that he could not run, and they hamstrung him and cut his throat. He had probably managed to get himself into this awkward attitude while fighting with some of his fellows. The vultures had consumed all the flesh of the oryx, and likewise torn my blanket with which I had covered her.
Mr. Gumming thus describes an innumerable herd of blesboks which he encountered in the plains of Africa.
The game became plentiful in about ten days after we left Colesberg, but when we came to the Vet River I beheld with astonishment and delight decidedly one of the most wonderful displays which I had witnessed during my varied sporting career in Southern Africa. On my right and left the plain exhibited one purple mass of graceful blesboks, which extended without a break as far as my eyes could strain: the depth of their vast legions covered a breadth of about six hundred yards. On pressing upon them, they cantered along before me, not exhibiting much alarm, taking care, however, not to allow me to ride within six hundred yards of them. On, on I rode, intensely excited with the wondrous scene before me, and hoped at length to get to windward of at least some portion of the endless living mass which darkened the plain, but in vain. Like squadrons of dragoons, the entire breadth of this countless herd held on their forward course as if aware of my intention, and resolved not to allow one to weather them.
At length I determined to play upon their ranks, and, pressing my horse to his utmost speed, I dashed forward, and, suddenly halting, sprang from the saddle, and, giving my rifle at least two feet of elevation, red right and left into one of their darkest masses. A noble buck dropped to the right barrel, and the second shot told loudly; no buck however, fell, and, after lying for half a minute the prostrate blesbok rose, and was quickly lost sight of amongst the retreating herd.
In half a minute I was again loaded, and after galloping a few hundred yards let drive into them, but was still unsuccessful. Excited, and annoyed at my want of luck, I resolved to follow them up, and blaze away while a shot remained in the locker, which I did; until, after riding about eight or ten miles, I found my ammunition expended, and not a single blesbok bagged, although at least a dozen must have been wounded. It was now high time to retrace my steps and seek my wagons. I accordingly took a point, and rode across the trackless country in the direction for which they were steering.
I very soon once more fell in with fresh herds of thousands of blesboks. As it was late in the day, and I being on the right side for the wind, the blesboks were very tame, and allowed me to ride along within rifle-shot of them, and those which ran barged resolutely past me up the wind in long-continued streams. I took a lucky course for the wagons, and came right upon them, after they had outspanned on the bank of the Vet River. I could willingly have devoted a month to blesbok-shooting in this hunter's elysium.
The following is one of Mr. Cumming's most remarkable lion hunts.
We trecked up along the banks of the river for the Mariqua, and a little before sundown fell in with two enormous herds of buffaloes, one of which, consisting chiefly of bulls, stood under the shady trees on one side of the bank, whilst the other, composed chiefly of cows and calves, stood on the opposite side, a little higher up the river. In all there were at least three hundred. Thinking it probable that if I hunted them I might kill some old bull with a head perhaps worthy of my collection, I ordered my men to outspan, and, having saddled steeds, I gave chase to the herd of bulls, accompanied by Booi and my dogs. After a short burst they took through the river, whereby I lost sight of an old bull which carried the finest head in the herd. My dogs, however, brought a cow to bay as they crossed the river, which I shot standing in the water, but not before she had killed a particularly favorite bull-dog, named Pompey.
I then continued the chase, and again came up with the herd, which was now considerably scattered: and after a sharp chase, part of which was through a wait-a-bit thorn cover, I brought eight or nine fine bulls to bay in lofty reeds at the river's margin, exactly opposite to my camp; of these I singlep out the two best heads, one of which I shot with five balls, and wounded the other badly, but he made off while I was engaged with his comrade.
In the morning I instructed four of my people to cross the river, and bring over a supply of buffalo meat. These men were very reluctant to go, fearing a lion might have taken possession of the carcase. On proceeding to reconnoitre from our side, they beheld the majestic beast they dreaded walk slowly up the opposite bank from the dead buffalo, and take up a position on the top of the bank under some shady thorn-trees. I resolved to give him battle, and rode forth with my double-barrelled Westly Richards rifle, followed by men leading the dogs. Present, who was one of the party, carried his roer, no doubt to perform wonders. The wind blew up the river; I accordingly held up to seek a drift, and crossed a short distance above where the buffalo lay. As we drew near the spot, I observed the lion sitting on the top of the bank, exactly where he had been seen last by my people.
On my right and within two hundred yards of me, was a very extensive troop of pallahs, which antelope invariably manage to be in the way when it is not wanted. On this occasion, however, I succeeded in preventing my dogs from observing them. When the lion saw us coming, he overhauled us for a moment, and then slunk back for concealment; being well to leeward of him I ordered the dogs to be slipped, and galloped forward. On finding that he was attacked, the lion at first made a most determined bolt for it, followed by all the dogs at a racing pace; and when they came up with him he would not bay, but continued his course down the bank of the river, keeping close in beside the reeds, growling terribly at the dogs, which kept up an incessant angry barking.
The bank of the river was intersected by deep watercourses, and the ground being extremely slippery from the rain which had fallen during the night, I was unable to overtake him until he came to bay in a patch of lofty dense reeds which grew on the lower bank, immediately adjacent to the river's margin. I had brought out eleven of my dogs, and before I could come up three of them were killed. On reaching the spot I found it impossible to obtain the slightest glimpse of the lion, although the ground favored me, I having the upper bank to stand upon; so, dismounting from my horse, I tried to guess, from his horrid growling, his exact position, and fired several shots on chance, but none of these hit him. I then commenced pelting him with lumps of earth and sticks, there being no stones at hand. This had the effect of making him change his position, but he still kept in the densest part of the reeds, where I could do nothing with him.