Chapter 13 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

The Faithful “Smoke.”

As yet, the dogs did not seem aware that an enemy was after them. They had heard their master’s whistle, and having been released from the leash, were only intent in obeying the command.

On rousing the buffaloes from their repose, they probably thought that they had been called for the express purpose of pursuing and destroying them; and, heedless of all else, they followed upon the heels of the great quadrupeds, passing close to the hunter, who in vain endeavoured to call them off. He was soon otherwise occupied.

The creature in pursuit of the dogs, and which had caused the flight of Macora and his attendants, was a large leopard. It was a female, and rapidly there passed through the hunter’s mind a conjecture of the circumstances under which the animal was acting.

It had left its young in its forest lair, and had been on a visit to the river for water or food. It had not pursued Macora or his attendants, as its solicitude was for its young, and the dogs were now running in the direction where these were concealed.

At sight of Groot Willem, the leopard desisted from its pursuit of the dogs; and, crouching low upon the ground, crawled towards him,—not slowly, but with a speed only checked by instinctive caution. As it advanced, its whole body was covered by the head, its eyes being the highest part of it presented to the view of the hunter.

The felidea was now within ten yards of him and rapidly drawing nearer. Something must be done. The roer was raised to his shoulder, and with a steady hand and eye,—nerved by the perilous position he was in,—he drew a fine sight at the creature’s snout and fired.

The shot took effect, for the leopard rolled over, rose up, turned around two or three times, and for a while seemed to have lost all consciousness of what had transpired. Its young and its enemy were for a time apparently forgotten in the agony it was suffering from a broken jaw. This, however, was but for a few seconds, for the sight of the hunter soon after aroused it to a perfect realisation of all that had taken place.

Willem, after firing, had run off to about fifty paces, and then stopped to reload. While so engaged he kept his eye fixed upon the leopard. It was again coming towards him, no longer with the caution it had before exhibited, but in a manner that showed its whole animal nature was absorbed by the spirit of revenge.

By the time he had placed the bullet in the barrel of his gun and driven it home, the brute was close upon him. There was not time for him to withdraw the ramrod, much less to put on a cap. Grasping his roer by the barrel, he prepared to defend himself, intending to use the weapon as a club. The enraged creature was about to make a spring upon him, when assistance came from a quarter altogether unexpected.

One of the dogs—a large bull-dog called “Smoke”—had not followed the buffaloes to cover. It had obeyed its master’s command when called back from the chase. Just as the leopard was crouching upon the earth to gather force for the final spring, Smoke seized it by one of the hind legs. Not a second of time was lost by Willem. One more chance for life had been thus given him, and he hastened to avail himself of it.

The hammer of the lock was thrown back and a cap placed on the nipple in less time than nine out of ten well-drilled soldiers could have performed the same feat; but by the time it was done, and the gun brought to his shoulder, poor Smoke was lying in his death-struggle along the grass.

The felidea had turned to renew the attack on its human enemy. One second more, and its huge body would have been launched against him,—its sharp claws buried in his flesh.

He pulled trigger and sprang backwards. A cloud of smoke rolled before his eyes, and, as this cleared away, he saw the leopard laid out along the earth by the side of the wounded dog,—like the latter, kicking out its legs in the last throes of death.

On looking for his companions, Willem saw that Macora and his men, having stopped at a distance of about five hundred yards off, had witnessed his victory. The chief was now hastening towards him on foot, and was soon by his side, when, pointing to the ox about half a mile away, he tried to make Willem understand that that animal had carried him unwillingly away from his friend.

Perceiving all danger was over, the others came up; when, by signs, the big hunter gave them to understand that he wanted the hide taken off the leopard. The four attendants went to work with their short assagais, in a manner that told him he would not have long to wait for a beautiful leopard skin, as a trophy of his victory, as also a memento of the danger through which he had passed.

He himself turned his attention to the wounded dog, which was still moaning on the ground, and looking at him with an expression that seemed to say, “Why do you not first come and assist me.”

Poor Smoke had sacrificed his own life to save that of his master. The creature’s back was broken, and it was otherwise severely injured. It was evident that nothing could be done for it. The dog must die, and the great heart of Groot Willem was sorely afflicted.

Turning to Macora, he observed that the chief had reloaded his musket. Willem pointed to the dog’s head and then to the gun.

The chief took the hint and raised the weapon to his shoulder.

Groot Willem turned away with his eyes full of tears, and went off in pursuit of his horse.