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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdventures In Africa - Chapter 4
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Adventures In Africa - Chapter 4 Post by :bobzbazzar Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3003

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Adventures In Africa - Chapter 4

CHAPTER FOUR

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.

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