Chapter 10 - History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and his Family by Mayne Reid

A Lion in the Trap.

There was something singular in the lion seeking shelter in so unusual a place; but it showed his sagacity. There was no other cover within convenient distance, and to have reached any bush that would have afforded him concealment, since the passage of the locusts, would have been difficult. The mounted hunters could easily have overtaken him, had he attempted to run off. He was aware that the house was uninhabited. He had been prowling around it all the night—perhaps within it—and therefore knew what sort of place it was.

The brute’s instinct was correct. The walls of the house would protect him from the guns of his enemies at a distance; and for these to approach near would be his advantage and their danger.

An odd incident occurred as the lion entered the kraal. There was a large window in one end of the house. Of course it was not glazed—it never had been. A glass window is a rarity in these parts. A strong wooden shutter alone closed it. This was still hanging on its hinges, but in the hurried “flitting,” the window had been left open. The door also had been standing ajar. As the lion sprang in at the latter, a string of small foxy wolf-like creatures came pouring out through the former, and ran with all their might across the plain. They were jackals!

As it afterwards appeared, one of the oxen had been chased into the house either by lions or hyenas, and killed there. His carcass had been overlooked by the larger carnivora, and the cunning jackals had been making a quiet breakfast upon it, when so unceremoniously disturbed.

The entrance of their terrible king in such angry mood, by the door, caused the fox-wolves to beat a quick retreat by the window; and the appearance of the horsemen without had still further frightened these cowardly brutes, so that they ran away from the kraal at top speed, and never halted until they were out of sight.

The three hunters could not restrain a laugh; but their tone was suddenly changed by another incident that happened almost at the same moment.

Von Bloom had brought with him his two fine dogs, to assist in driving back the cattle.

During the short halt the party had made by the spring, these had fastened upon a half-eaten carcass behind the walls; and, being extremely hungry, had stuck to it, even after the horsemen, had ridden off. Neither of the dogs had seen the lion, until the moment when the savage brute charged forward, and was making for the kraal. The shots, the growling of the lion, and the loud wings of the vultures as they flew off affrighted, told the dogs that something was going on in front, at which they ought to be present; and, forsaking their pleasant meal, both came bounding over the walls.

They reached the open space in front, just as the lion leaped into the door; and without hesitation the brave noble animals rushed on, and followed him inside the house.

For some moments there was heard a confused chorus of noises—the barking and worrying of the dogs, the growling and roaring of the lion. Then a dull sound followed as of some heavy object dashed against the wall. Then came a mournful howl—another, another—a noise like the cracking of bones—the “purr” of the great brute with its loud rough bass—and then a deep silence. The struggle was over. This was evident, as the dogs no longer gave tongue. Most likely they were killed.

The hunters remained watching the door with feelings of intense anxiety. The laugh had died upon their lips, as they listened to those hideous sounds, the signs of the fearful combat. They called their dogs by name. They hoped to see them issue forth, even if wounded. But no. The dogs came not forth—they never came forth—they were dead!

A long-continued silence followed the noise of the conflict. Von Bloom could no longer doubt that his favourite and only dogs had been killed.

Excited by this new misfortune he almost lost prudence. He was about to rush forward to the door, where he might deliver his fire close to the hated enemy, when a bright idea came into the brain of Swartboy; and the Bushman was heard calling out,—

“Baas! baas! we shut him up! we close da skellum up.”

There was good sense in this suggestion—there was plausibility in it. Von Bloom saw this; and, desisting from his previous intention, he determined to adopt Swartboy’s plan.

But how was it to be executed? The door still hung upon its hinges, as also the window-shutter. If they could only get hold of these, and shut them fast, they would have the lion secure, and might destroy him at their leisure.

But how to shut either door or window in safety? That was the difficulty that now presented itself.

Should they approach either, the lion would be certain to see them from within; and, enraged as he now was, would be sure to spring upon them. Even if they approached on horseback to effect their purpose, they would not be much safer. The horses would not stand quiet while they stretched out to lay hold of latch or handle. All three of the animals were already dancing with excitement. They knew the lion was inside, an occasional growl announced his presence there—they would not approach either door or window with sufficient coolness; and their stamping and snorting would have the effect of bringing the angry beast out upon them.

It was clear, then, that to shut either door or window would be an operation of great danger. So long as the horsemen were in open ground, and at some distance from the lion, they had no cause to fear; but should they approach near and get entangled among the walls, some one of them would be most likely to fall a victim to the ferocious brute.

Low as may be the standard of a Bushman’s intellect, there is a species of it peculiar to him in which he appears to excel. In all matters of hunter-craft, his intelligence, or instinct you might almost call it, is quite a match for the more highly—developed mind of the Caucasian. This arises, no doubt, from the keen and frequent exercise of those particular faculties,—keen and frequent, because his very existence often depends on their successful employment.

Huge ill-shapen head as Swartboy carried on his shoulders, there was an ample stock of brains in it; and a life of keen endeavour to keep his stomach supplied had taught him their exercise. At that moment Swartboy’s brains came to the relief of the party.

“Baas!” he said, endeavouring to restrain the impatience of his master, “vyacht um bige, mein baas! Leave it to da ole Bushy to close da door. He do it.”

“How?” inquired Von Bloom.

“Vyacht um bige, mein baas! no long to wait,—you see.”

All three had ridden up together within less than an hundred yards of the kraal. Von Bloom and Hendrik sat silent, and watched the proceedings of the Bushman.

The latter drew from his pocket a clew of small cord, and, having carefully uncoiled it, attached one end to an arrow. He then rode up to within thirty yards of the house, and dismounted—not directly opposite the entrance, but a little to the one side—so that the face of the wooden door, which was fortunately but three-quarters open, was thus fair before him. Keeping the bridle over his arm, he now bent his bow, and sent the arrow into the woodwork of the door. There it was, sticking near the edge, and just under the latch!

As soon as Swartboy delivered the shaft, he had leaped back into his saddle—to be ready for retreat in case the lion should spring out. He still, however, kept hold of the string, one end of which was attached to the arrow.

The “thud” of the arrow, as it struck the door, had drawn the attention of the lion. Of course, none of them saw him, but his angry growl told them that it was so. He did not show himself, however, and was again silent.

Swartboy now drew the string taut,—first felt it with a steady pull; and then, satisfied of its strength, gave it a stronger jerk, and brought the door to. The latch acted beautifully, and the door remained shut even after the strain was taken off the cord.

To have opened the door now the lion must have had the sagacity to lift the latch, or else must have broken through the thick, strong planks—neither of which was to be feared.

But the window still remained open, and through it the lion could easily leap out. Swartboy, of course, designed closing it in the same manner as he had done the door.

But now arose a particular danger. He had only one piece of cord. That was attached to the arrow that still stuck fast. How was he to detach and get possession of it?

There appeared to be no other way but by going up to the door and cutting it from the shaft. In this lay the danger; for, should the lion perceive him and rush out by the window, it would be all over with the Bushman.

Like most of his race, Swartboy was more cunning than brave—though he was far from being a coward. Still he was by no means inclined at that moment to go up to the door of the kraal.

The angry growls from within would have made a stouter heart than Swartboy’s quail with fear.

In this dilemma Hendrik came to his relief. Hendrik had conceived a way of getting possession of the string, without going near the door!

Calling to Swartboy to be on his guard, he rode within thirty yards of the entrance—but on the other side from where Swartboy was—and there halted. At the place there stood a post with several forks upon it, that had been used as a bridle-post.

Hendrik dismounted, hooked his rein over one of these forks; rested his yäger across another; and then, sighting the shaft of the arrow, pulled trigger. The rifle cracked, the broken stick was seen to fly out from the door, and the string was set free!

All were ready to gallop off; but the lion, although he growled fiercely on hearing the shot, still lay close.

Swartboy now drew in the string; and, having adjusted it to a fresh arrow, moved round so as to command a view of the window. In a few minutes the shaft had cut through the air and stuck deep into the yielding wood, and then the shutter swung round on its hinges and was drawn close.

All three now dismounted ran silently and rapidly up, and secured both door and shutter with strong reins of raw-hide.

Hurrah! the lion was caged!