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Chapter 16 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Hunting Hippopotami

The hippopotamus killed by Groot Willem and Hans was a fine specimen,—a bull full-grown and with teeth and tusks large and perfect.

Measuring it with the barrel of his roer, Willem pronounced it to be sixteen feet in length; and he estimated its circumference around the body at but one foot less.

Leaving it where it had fallen, they rode to another part of the lagoon. The fine hippopotami they had seen inspired them with a cheerful prospect for the future,—as far as hunting that species of game was concerned,—but a still brighter one was in store for them.

Not half a mile from where the first was killed, they reached a small pool about four feet in depth. Seven hippopotami were wallowing within it, and others were seen grazing the low swampy ground not far-away. They had been so little molested by man that they were not afraid of feeding by daylight. Those in the pool were wholly at the mercy of the hunters; for they had not the courage to leave it; and the water was not of sufficient depth either to conceal or protect them.

For nearly half an hour the four young hunters stood by the side of the pool, loading and firing whenever a favourable opportunity presented. The seven huge creatures were then left dead or dying, and the hunters returned to their kraal.

Macora was waiting for them, having come over for the purpose of making a “morning call.” As a present to the young hunters, he had brought them a milch cow, for which they were very thankful.

The cow was consigned to the keeping of Swartboy, who had strict injunctions to look well after it. “That cow is worth more to us than either of the horses,” remarked Hendrik to the Bushman, “and I would not trust it to the keeping of Congo; but I know it will be safe with you.”

Swartboy was delighted.

When Macora was told that they had that morning killed eight hippopotami, he became roused to a state of tremendous excitement. Two of his attendants were despatched immediately to his village, to convey the pleasing intelligence to his people, that an unlimited amount of their favourite food was waiting for them.

Having done enough for one day, the hunters reposed in the shade of their tent, until about two hours before sunset, when they were roused by the arrival of nearly three hundred people, men, women, and children, of Macora’s tribe,—all anxious to be led to the bodies of the hippopotami.

Groot Willem was afraid that the disturbance made by so many people would drive every sort of game from the neighbourhood, and that they would have to move their camp. But knowing this argument would not be strong enough to convince several hundred hungry people that so large a quantity of good food should be wasted, no objection was made to conducting them to the scene of the morning’s sport.

Groot Willem and Hendrik, attended by Congo, were soon in their saddles prepared for a night’s shooting at the lagoon. They started off, accompanied by Macora and all his following, leaving Hans and Arend to take care of the kraal.

On reaching the place where the first hippopotamus had been killed in the morning, a flock of vultures and a pack of jackals were driven from the carcass; and several of the natives stopped to prevent these carnivora devouring any more of the animal’s body, by appropriating it to themselves.

Obeying the instructions of their chief, Macora’s followers had brought with them long and strong rheims,—that is, cords made of rhinoceros hide,—and, on reaching the pool in which the seven dead hippopotami were lying, Macora gave orders for the carcasses to be hauled out.

This work, under ordinary circumstances, would have been next to impossible; but taking into consideration the flatness of the ground, and the united strength of some hundred and fifty men capable of handling a rope, the thing was soon accomplished.

The task of skinning and cutting up then commenced; while the women and children kindled fires and made other preparations for a grand banquet.

Until a late hour of the night, the natives remained at work. All the flesh not required for immediate use was separated into long slips, to be dried in the sun, and thus converted into biltongue, while the whole of the teeth were to remain the property of those who had killed the hippopotami.

The two hunters, Groot Willem and Hendrik, on that night had not far to travel in order to obtain a sufficiency of their favourite sport.

Attracted by the odour of the slain pachyderms, lions, hyenas, and jackals came prowling about the pool, loudly expressing their disapprobation of the fact that they themselves had not been invited to partake of the feast. Notwithstanding the large number of human beings collected upon the spot, the hyenas came close up, and, with deafening roars, threatened to make an attack.

The guns of Groot Willem and Hendrik were, for a time, kept constantly cracking, and the ugly brutes at length grew more wary, betaking themselves to a safer distance.

The hunters had no desire to lose time or ammunition, in mere wanton destruction of life. They only desired to kill such game as might contribute towards remunerating them for the long journey; and they soon ceased firing at hyenas and jackals. Leaving the pool, they walked along the shore of the lagoon, towards the ground where they had seen the hippopotami during the earlier hours of the day.

Night being the usual time for those animals to feed, the youths calculated upon making an addition to the list of their prizes,—nor were they disappointed.

Half a mile from the spot where Macora and his tribe had been left feasting, was an open plain, lit by the beams of a brilliant moon. Ten or fifteen dark objects were seen moving slowly over its surface; and leaning forward in their saddles, the hunters could see that they were hippopotami. They rode gently towards them.

The animals, entirely unacquainted with the dangerous character of those who were approaching, neither stirred from the spot nor took any notice of the horsemen, until the latter were within close range of them.

“That seems to be one of the biggest of them,” whispered Groot Willem, pointing to a large bull that was browsing at less than a hundred paces off. “I shall make sure of him. You, Hendrik, take another, and let us both fire together.”

Willem, as he spoke, raised the heavy death-dealing roer to his shoulder. Taking aim for the centre of the head, he fired. The next moment, the monster was seen staggering backwards, drawing its shattered head along the ground.

It was not thinking of a retreat to the water,—of retiring through fear of further danger, or of anything else. It was in the agonies of death!

This manner of action was not long sustained, for after trailing about ten yards from where it was struck, it fell heavily on the earth and turned over on one side, to move no more in life.

Hendrik had fired almost at the same instant of time; but for some seconds, the creature to which his attention had been directed, made no acknowledgment of the favour. It started off, and, along with the others, made straight towards the lagoon.

For a time, Hendrik was again chagrined to think that the rival hunter had been more successful than himself. His chagrin, however, was not destined to long continuance; for on their way to the water, one of the hippopotami was observed to tumble over in its tracks.

After loading their guns, the horsemen rode up to the prostrate animal and found it struggling to rise. The bullet from Hendrik’s rifle had entered its right shoulder; and another from the same gun now put a period to its struggles as well as existence.

The two hunters, not yet contented with their success, took cover under a cluster of trees; and, dismounting from their horses, lay in wait to see if the hippopotami would again oblige them by coming out upon the plain. Neither in this watch were they disappointed. Occasionally, they could hear the harsh bellowing of the animals as they came to the surface of the water, and before long, the bodies of three huge monsters were seen moving slowly towards them. Reserving fire until one came within a few yards of their position, both hunters discharged their pieces almost simultaneously.

With a cry that resembled the combined snorting of a hog and the neighing of a horse, the “zeekoe” faced back towards the lagoon; but, instead of moving off, it commenced turning slowly round and round, as a dog may be sometimes seen to do before laying himself down to repose. In a similar fashion did the hippopotamus lie down to rise no more.

Three others were shot on that same night, making fourteen hippopotami killed within twenty-four hours. This was a greater number, so Macora said, than had been killed by his own people within the two preceding years.

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