Chapter 18 - History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and his Family by Mayne Reid

A heavy combat.

When they first saw the kobaoba, he was, as stated, just coming out of the thicket. Without halting, he headed in the direction of the vley already mentioned; and kept on towards it, his object evidently being to reach the water.

This little lake, of course, owed its existence to the spring—though it was full two hundred yards from the latter—and about the same from the great tree. It was nearly circular in shape, and about one hundred yards in diameter, so that its superficial area would thus be a little over two English acres. It merited, then, the name of “lake;” and by that name the young people already called it.

On its upper side—that in the direction of the spring—its shore was high, and in one or two places rocky, and these rocks ran back to the spring along the channel of a little rivulet. On the west or outer side of the lake the land lay lower, and the water at one or two points lipped up nearly to the level of the plain. For this reason it was, that upon that side, the bank was paddled all over with tracks of animals that had been to drink. Hendrik the hunter had observed among them the footprints of many kinds he knew nothing about.

It was for the lower end of the lake the kobaoba was making—no doubt with him an old and favourite drinking-place.

There was a point where the water was easier of access than elsewhere—a little to one side of where the wash or waste-stream of the lake ran out. It was a sort of cove with bright sandy beach, and approachable from the plain by a miniature gorge, hollowed out, no doubt, by the long usage of those animals who came to drink at the vley. By entering this cove, the tallest animals might get deep water and good bottom, so that they could drink without much straining or stooping. The kobaoba came on in a direct line for the lake; and as he drew near, they could see him heading for the gorge that led into the little cove. It proved he had been there before.

Next moment he passed through the gap, and stood knee-deep in the water.

After swallowing several copious draughts—now sneezing, and then wheezing—he plunged his broad snout, horn and all, into the water, tossed it till it foamed, and then lying down in it, commenced wallowing like a hog.

The place was shallow, and most of his huge body was above the surface—though there was deep enough water in the lake to have given him a bath had he desired it.

The first thought of Von Bloom, as well as of Hendrik, was how to “circumvent” the rhinoceros, and of course destroy him. Not that they simply wished his destruction; but Swartboy had already represented what fine food the species was, and there was no stock of provision in camp. Hendrik had another object in wishing the death of the creature. He wanted a new loading-rod for his rifle; and he had gazed covetously at the kobaoba’s long horn.

But it was easier to desire the death of the rhinoceros than to accomplish it. They had no horses—at least none that could be mounted—and to attack the animal on foot would be a game as dangerous as idle. He would be like enough to impale one of them on his great spike, or else trample them brutally under his huge feet. If he did not do one or the other, he would easily make his escape—as any kind of rhinoceros can outrun a man.

How were they to manage him then?

Perhaps they might get near—fire at him from an ambush, and with a lucky shot stretch him out. A single bullet sometimes kills the rhinoceros—but only when correctly placed, so as to penetrate the heart, or some other of the “vitals.”

This was, probably, the best plan. They might easily get near enough. There was some bush cover close to the spot. It was probable the old kobaoba would not perceive them, if they approached from leeward, particularly as he seemed in the full tide of enjoyment at that moment.

They were about to attempt the approach, and had got to their feet for that purpose, when a sudden fit seemed to have attacked Swartboy. The latter commenced jumping over the ground, at the same time muttering in a low voice,—

“Da klow! da klow!”

A stranger would have fancied Swartboy in a fit, but Von Bloom knew that by “Da klow! da klow!” the Bushman meant “The elephant! the elephant!” and therefore looked in the direction in which Swartboy was pointing.

Sure enough, upon the western plain, looming up against the yellow sky, was a dark mass, that upon examination presented the outlines of an elephant. Its rounded back was easily distinguished over the low bushes; and its broad hanging ears were moving as it marched. All saw at a glance that it was coming towards the lake, and almost in the same track that the rhinoceros had taken.

Of course this new apparition quite disarranged the plans of the hunters. At sight of the mighty elephant, they scarce any longer gave a thought to the kobaoba. Not that they had formed any very great hopes of being able to kill the gigantic animal, yet some such thought was running through their minds. They had determined to try, at all events.

Before they could agree upon any plan, however, the elephant had got up to the edge of the lake. Though moving only at a slow walk, with his immense strides he soon measured off a large quantity of ground, and advanced much more rapidly than one would have supposed. The hunters had scarce time to exchange thoughts, before the huge creature was up within a few yards of the water.

Here he halted, pointed his proboscis in different directions, stood quite silent, and seemed to listen.

There was no noise to disturb him—even the kobaoba for the moment was quiet.

After standing a minute or so, the huge creature moved forward again, and entered the gorge already described.

They at the camp had now a full view of him, at less than three hundred yards distance. An immense mass he seemed. His body quite filled the gorge from side to side, and his long yellow tusks projecting more than two yards from his jaws, curved gracefully upward. He was an “old bull,” as Swartboy whispered.

Up to this time the rhinoceros had not had the slightest intimation of the elephant’s approach; for the tread of the latter—big beast as he is—is as silent as a cat’s. It is true that a loud rumbling noise like distant thunder proceeded from his inside as he moved along; but the kobaoba was in too high a caper just then to have heard or noticed any sound that was not very near and distinct.

The huge body of the elephant coming suddenly into “his sunshine,” and flinging its dark shadow over the vley, was distinct enough, and caused the kobaoba to get to his feet with an agility quite surprising for a creature of his build.

At the same time a noise, something between a grunt and a whistle escaped him, as the water was ejected from his nostrils.

The elephant also uttered his peculiar salute in a trumpet note, that echoed from the cliffs and halted in his tracks as soon as he saw the rhinoceros.

No doubt both were surprised at the rencontre as both stood for some seconds eyeing each other with apparent astonishment.

This, however, soon gave place to a different feeling. Symptoms of anger began to show themselves. It was evident that bad blood was brewing between them.

There was, in fact, a little dilemma. The elephant could not get comfortably at the water unless the rhinoceros left the cove; and the rhinoceros could not well get out of the cove, so long as the elephant blocked up the gorge with his immense thick limbs.

It is true, the kobaoba might have sneaked through among the other’s legs, or he might have swum off and landed at some other point, and in either way have left the coast clear.

But of all animals in the world a rhinoceros is, perhaps, the most unaccommodating. He is, also, one of the most fearless, dreading neither man nor beast—not even the boasted lion, whom he often chases like a cat. Hence the old kobaoba had no intention of yielding ground to the elephant; and from his attitude, it was plain that he neither intended to sneak off under the other’s belly, nor swim a single stroke for him. No—not a stroke.

It remained to be seen how the point of honour was to be decided. The attitude of affairs had become so interesting, that every one by the camp was gazing with fixed eyes upon the two great bulls—for the rhinoceros was also a “bull” and of the largest size known of his kind.

For several minutes they stood eyeing each other. The elephant, although much the larger, knew his antagonist well. He had met his “sort” before, and knew better than to despise his powers. Perhaps, ere now, he had had a touch of that long spit-like excrescence that stood out from the kobaoba’s snout.

At all events, he did not rush upon his adversary at once—as he would have done on some poor antelope that might have crossed him in the same way.

His patience, however, became exhausted. His ancient dignity was insulted—his rule disputed—he wished to have his bath and his drink— he could bear the insolence of the rhinoceros no longer.

With a bellow that made the rocks ring again, he charged forward; placed his tusks firmly under the shoulder of his adversary,—gave a mighty “lift,” and turned the rhinoceros over in the water!

For a moment the latter plunged, and blowed, and snorted, his head half under water; but in a second’s time he was on his feet again, and charging in turn. The spectators could see that he aimed right at the elephant’s ribs with his horn, and that the latter did all he could to keep head towards him.

Again the elephant flung the kobaoba, and again the latter rose and charged madly upon his huge antagonist; and so both fought until the water around them was white with foam.

The contest was carried on in the water, until the elephant, seeming to think his adversary had an advantage there, backed himself into the gorge, and stood waiting with his head towards the lake. In this position the sides of the gorge did not protect him, as perhaps he fancied. They were too low, and his broad flanks rose far above them. They only kept him from turning round, and this interfered with the freedom of his movements.

It could scarce have been design in the rhinoceros to act as he now did, though it appeared so to those who were watching. As the elephant took up his position in the gorge, the kobaoba clambered out upon the bank; and then, wheeling suddenly, with head to the ground and long horn A deadly encounter projected horizontally, the latter rushed upon his antagonist and struck him right among the ribs. The spectators saw that the horn penetrated, and the loud scream that came from the elephant, with the quick motions of his trunk and tail, told plainly that he had received a severe wound. Instead of standing any longer in the gorge he rushed forward, and did not stop until he was knee-deep in the lake. Drawing the water up into his trunk, he raised it on high, and pointing it backwards, he discharged large volumes over his body, and upon the spot where he had received the thrust of the kobaoba’s horn.

He then ran out of the lake, and charged about in search of the rhinoceros; but long-horn was nowhere to be found!

Having escaped from the cove without compromising his dignity, and perhaps believing that he had gained the victory, the rhinoceros, as soon as he delivered the thrust, had galloped off and disappeared among the bushes.