Chapter 35 - History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and his Family by Mayne Reid

The elephant’s sleeping-roost.

The field-cornet was far from satisfied with his day’s work. His first attempt at elephant-hunting had proved a failure. Might it not be always so?

Notwithstanding the interest with which he listened to Hans’s narrative of the day’s adventures, he felt uneasy in his mind when he reflected upon his own.

The elephant had escaped so easily. Their bullets seemed to have injured him not the least. They had only served to render him furious, and dangerous. Though both had hit him in places where their wounds should have been mortal, no such effect was produced. The elephant seemed to go off as unscathed, as if they had fired only boiled peas at him!

Would it be always so?

True, they had given him but two shots. Two, if well directed, may bring down a cow-elephant and sometimes a bull, but oftener it requires ten times two before a strong old bull can be made to “bite the dust.”

But would any elephant wait until they could load and fire a sufficient number of shots?

That was an undecided point with our tyro elephant-hunters. If not, then they would be helpless indeed. It would be a tedious business spooring the game afoot, after it had once been fired upon. In such cases the elephant usually travels many miles before halting again; and only mounted men can with any facility overtake him.

How Von Bloom sighed when he thought of his poor horses! Now more than ever did he feel the want of them—now more than ever did he regret their loss.

But he had heard that the elephant does not always make off when attacked. The old bull had shown no intention of retreating, after receiving their shots. It was the odd conduct of Swartboy that had put him to flight. But for that, he would no doubt have kept the ground, until they had given him another volley, and perhaps his death-wound.

The field-cornet drew consolation from this last reflection. Perhaps their next encounter would have a different ending. Perhaps a pair of tusks would reward them.

The hope of such a result, as well as the anxiety about it, determined Von Bloom to lose no time in making a fresh trial. Next morning, therefore, before the sun was up, the hunters were once more upon the trail of their giant game.

One precaution they had taken, which they had not thought of before. All of them had heard that an ordinary leaden bullet will not penetrate the tough thick skin of the great “pachyderm.” Perhaps this had been the cause of their failure on the preceding day. If so they had provided against the recurrence of failure from such a cause. They had moulded a new set of balls of harder material,—solder it should have been, but they had none. They chanced, however, to be in possession of what served the purpose equally well—the old “plate” that had often graced the field-cornet’s table in his better byegone days of the Graaf Reinet. This consisted of candlesticks, and snuffer-trays, and dish-covers, and cruet-stands, and a variety of articles of the real “Dutch metal.”

Some of these were condemned to the alembic of the melting-pan; and, mixed with the common lead, produced a set of balls hard enough for the hide of the rhinoceros itself—so that this day the hunters had no fears of failure upon the score of soft bullets.

They went in the same direction as upon the preceding day, towards the forest or “bush” (bosch), as they termed it.

They had not proceeded a mile when they came upon the spoor of elephants nearly fresh. It passed through the very thickest of the thorny jungle—where no creature but an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a man with an axe, could have made way. A family must have passed, consisting of a male, a female or two, and several young ones of different ages. They had marched in single file, as elephants usually do; and had made a regular lane several feet wide, which was quite clear of bushes, and trampled by their immense footsteps. The old bull, Swartboy said, had gone in advance, and had cleared the way of all obstructions, by means of his trunk and tusks. This had evidently been the case, for the hunters observed huge branches broken off, or still hanging and turned to one side, out of the way—just as if the hand of man had done it.

Swartboy further affirmed, that such elephant-roads usually led to water; and by the very easiest and shortest routes—as if they had been planned and laid open by the skill of an engineer—showing the rare instinct or sagacity of these animals.

The hunters, therefore, expected soon to arrive at some watering-place; but it was equally probable the spoor might be leading them from the water.

They had not followed it more than a quarter of a mile, when they came upon another road of a similar kind, that crossed the one they were spooring upon. This had also been made by a number of elephants—a family most likely—and the tracks upon it were as recent as those they had been following.

They hesitated for a moment which to take; but at length concluded upon keeping straight on; and so they moved forward as before.

To their great disappointment the trail at last led out into more open ground, where the elephants had scattered about; and after following the tracks of one, and then another without success, they got bewildered, and lost the spoor altogether.

While casting about to find it in a place where the bush was thin and straggling, Swartboy suddenly ran off to one side, calling to the others to follow him. Von Bloom and Hendrik went after to see what the Bushman was about. They thought he had seen an elephant, and both, considerably excited, had already pulled the covers off their guns.

There was no elephant, however. When they came up with Swartboy, he was standing under a tree, and pointing to the ground at its bottom.

The hunters looked down. They saw that the ground upon one side of the tree was trampled, as though horses or some other animals had been tied there for a long time, and had worn off the turf, and worked it into dust with their hoofs. The bark of the tree—a full-topped shady acacia—for some distance up was worn smooth upon one side, just as though cattle had used it for a rubbing-post.

“What has done it?” asked the field-cornet and Hendrik in a breath.

“Da olifant’s slapen-boom,” (the elephant’s sleeping-tree), replied Swartboy.

No further explanation was necessary. The hunters remembered what they had been told about a curious habit which the elephant has—of leaning against a tree while asleep. This, then, was one of the sleeping-trees of these animals.

But of what use to them, farther than to gratify a little curiosity? The elephant was not there.

“Da ole karl come again,” said Swartboy.

“Ha! you think so, Swart?” inquired Von Bloom.

“Ya, baas, lookee da! spoor fresh—da groot olifant hab slap here yesterday.”

“What then? you think we should lie in wait, and shoot him when he returns.”

“No, baas, better dan shoot, we make him bed—den wait see um lie down.”

Swartboy grinned a laugh as he gave this piece of advice.

“Make his bed! what do you mean?” inquired his master.

“I tell you, baas, we get da olifant sure, if you leave da job to ole Swart. I gib you de plan for take him, no waste powder, no waste bullet.”

The Bushman proceeded to communicate his plan, to which his master—remembering their failure of yesterday—readily gave his consent.

Fortunately they had all the implements that would be necessary for carrying it out,—a sharp axe, a strong rope or “rheim” of raw-hide, and their knives—and they set about the business without loss of time.