Chapter 3 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Twin Trap.

Not long after the departure of Groot Willem and his companions, Arend, looking towards a thicket about half a mile from the river, perceived a small herd of antelopes quietly browsing upon the plain. Mounting his horse, he rode off, with the intention of bagging one or more of them for the day’s dinner.

Having ridden to the leeward of the herd, and getting near them, he saw that they were of the species known as “Duyker,” or Divers (Antelope grimmia). Near them was a small “motte” of the Nerium oleander, a shrub about twelve feet high, loaded with beautiful blossoms. Under the cover of these bushes, he rode up close enough to the antelopes to insure a good shot, and, picking out one of the largest of the herd, he fired.

All the antelopes but one rushed to the edge of the thicket, made a grand leap, and dived out of sight over the tops of the bushes,—thus affording a beautiful illustration of that peculiarity to which they are indebted for their name of Divers. Riding up to the one that had remained behind, and which was that at which he had fired, the young hunter made sure that it was dead; he then trotted back to the camp, and despatched Congo and the Bushman to bring it in. They soon returned with the carcass, which they proceeded to skin and make ready for the spit.

While thus engaged, Swartboy appeared to notice some thing out upon the plain.

“Look yonner, Baas Arend,” said he.

“Well, what is it, Swart?”

“You see da pack-horse dare? He gone too much off from de camp.”

Arend turned and looked in the direction the Bushman was pointing. One of the horses, which had strayed from its companions, was now more than half a mile off, and was wandering onwards.

“All right, Swart. You go on with your cooking. I’ll ride after it myself, and drive it in.”

Arend, again mounting his horse, trotted off in the direction of the animal that had strayed.

For cooking the antelope, Congo and Swartboy saw the necessity of providing themselves with some water; and taking a vessel for that purpose, they set out for the drift,—that being the nearest place where they could obtain it.

They kept along the bank of the river, and just before reaching a place where they would descend to the water, Congo, who was in the advance, suddenly disappeared! He had walked on to a carefully concealed pit, dug for the purpose of catching hippopotami or elephants.

The hole was about nine feet deep; and after being astonished by dropping into it, the Kaffir was nearly blinded by the sand, dust, and other materials that had formed the covering of the pit.

Congo was too well acquainted with this South African device for killing large game to be anyways disconcerted by what had happened; and after becoming convinced that he was uninjured by the fall, he turned his glance upward, expecting assistance from his companion.

But Swartboy’s aid could not just then be given. The Bushman, amused by the ludicrous incident that had befallen his rival, was determined to enjoy the fun for a little longer. Uttering a wild shout of laughter that was a tolerable imitation of an enraged hyena, Swartboy seemed transported into a heaven of unadulterated joy. Earth appeared hardly able to hold him as he leaped and danced around the edge of the pit.

Never had his peculiar little mind been so intensely delighted; but the manifestations of that delight were more suddenly terminated than commenced; for in the midst of his eccentric capers he, too, suddenly disappeared into the earth as if swallowed up by an earthquake! His misfortune was similar to that which had befallen his companion. Two pitfalls had been constructed close together, and Swartboy now occupied the second.

It is a common practice among the natives of South Africa to trap the elephant in these twin pitfalls; as the animals, too hastily avoiding the one, run the risk of dropping into the other.

Swartboy and the Kaffir had unexpectedly found a place where this plan had been adopted; and, much to their discomfiture, without the success anticipated by those who had taken the trouble to contrive it.

The cavity into which Congo had fallen contained about two feet of mud on the bottom. The sides were perpendicular, and of a soapy sort of clay, so that his attempts at climbing out proved altogether unsuccessful, thus greatly increasing the chagrin of his unphilosophic mind. He had heard the Bushman’s screams of delight, and the sounds had contributed nothing to reconcile him to the mischance that had befallen him. Several minutes passed and he heard nothing of Swartboy.

He was not surprised at the Bushman’s having been amused as well as gratified by his misfortune. Still, he expected that in time he would lend assistance and pull him out of the pit. But as this assistance was not given, and as Swartboy, not satisfied with laughing at his misfortune appeared also to have gone off and left him to his fate, the Kaffir became frantic with rage.

Several more minutes passed, which to Congo seemed hours, and still nothing was seen or heard of his companion. Had Swartboy returned to the camp? If so, why had not Arend, on ascertaining what was wrong, hastened to the relief of his faithful servant? As some addition to the discomforts of the place, the pit contained many reptiles and insects that had in some manner obtained admittance, and, like himself, could not escape. There were toads, frogs, large ants called “soldiers,” and other creatures whose company he had no relish to keep.

In vain he called, “Swartboy!” and “Baas Arend!” No one came to his call. The strong, vindictive spirit of his race was soon roused to the pitch of fury, and liberty became only desired for one object. That was revenge,—revenge on the man who, instead of releasing him from his imprisonment, only exulted in its continuance.

The Bushman had not been injured in falling into the pit, as may be supposed. After fully comprehending the manner in which his amusement had been so suddenly brought to a termination, his first thought was to extricate himself, without asking assistance from the man who had furnished him with the fun. His pride would be greatly mortified should the Kaffir get out of his pit, and find him in the other. That would be a humiliating rencontre.

In silence, therefore, he listened to Congo’s cries for assistance, while at the same time doing all in his power to extricate himself. He tried to pull up a sharp-pointed stake that stood in the bottom of the pit. This piece of timber had been placed there for the purpose of impaling and killing the hippopotamus or elephant that should drop down upon it; and had the Bushman succeeded in taking it from the place where it had been planted, he might have used it in working his own way to the surface of the earth. This object, however, he was unable to accomplish, and his mind became diverted to another idea.

Swartboy had a system of logic, not wholly peculiar to himself, by which he was enabled to discover that there must be some first cause for his being in a place from which he could not escape. That cause was no other than Congo. Had the Kaffir not fallen into a pit, Swartboy was quite certain that he would have escaped the similar calamity.

He would have liberated Congo from his confinement, and perhaps sympathised with his misfortune, after the first ebullitions of his mirth had been exhausted; but now, on being entrapped himself, he was only conscious that some one was to blame for the disagreeable incident, and was unable to admit that this some one was himself. The mishap had befallen him in company with the Kaffir. It was that individual’s misfortune that had conducted to his own, and this was another reason why he now submitted to his captivity in profound silence.

Unlike Congo, he did not experience the soul-harrowing thought of being neglected, and could therefore endure his confinement with some degree of patience not possible to his companion. Moreover, he had the hope of speedy deliverance, which to Congo was denied.

He knew that Arend would soon return to the camp with the stray horse, and miss them. The water-vessel would also be missed, and a search would be made for it in the right direction. No doubt Arend, seeing that the bucket was taken away from the camp, and finding that they did not return, would come toward the drift,—the only place where water could be dipped up. In doing so he must pass within sight of the pits. With this calculation, therefore, Swartboy could reconcile himself to patience and silence, whereas the Kaffir had no such consolatory data to reflect upon.