Chapter 41 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Herd of Buffaloes.

When on what might be termed the way back to Graaf Reinet, Hans, Hendrik, and Arend were on very good terms with themselves and everybody else. This was not the case with Groot Willem. He moved on along with the others because there was still a prospect of meeting with giraffes; but the fear of reaching the settlements without taking a pair of young ones back with him was a source of constant annoyance.

He was inclined to linger on the road, and never lost an opportunity of delaying the march in pursuit of different animals, either for amusement or for food.

On the third morning after parting with Macora a large herd of buffaloes was observed. They were pasturing around the base of a hill about half a mile from the line of route on which our travellers were proceeding. In an instant Groot Willem was in his saddle and riding towards them. The others seemed rather reluctant to accompany him.

“Here’s a delay of another day,” exclaimed Arend. “Willem will kill a buffalo, and insist on our staying to eat it.”

“Very likely,” said Hendrik; “but I don’t see why he should have all the sport to himself.”

Leaping into their saddles Hendrik and Arend rode after Willem, and were followed by two of the Makololo mounted on oxen. The patient and philosophical Hans remained behind, to await their return.

Following a course that would place him in advance of the herd, Willem, who did not wish to frighten the buffaloes by charging rapidly upon them, was soon overtaken by the others.

The buffaloes—more than two hundred in number—were all moving in one direction, but very slowly, as they were engaged in grazing.

When the hunters had got within about three hundred yards of them, they all raised their heads, and, after gazing for a moment at the strange creatures who had come to disturb their repast, again lowered them, and continued quietly pasturing.

The leader of the herd had not yet given the signal for flight.

“We must ride farther to the left and get round them,” suggested Willem. “Some of the old bulls may charge upon us, and, if so, we had better retreat up the hill.”

By the time the hunters had reached the sloping ground, and got within a hundred paces of the herd, several of the bulls had placed themselves in an attitude of defiance, and stood fronting the enemy, as if to cover the retreat of the cows and calves, for there were several of them in the drove.

A good shot is seldom made from the back of a horse. Knowing this, the hunters dismounted; and, taking steady aim, fired, each having selected a victim. The three shots were discharged within the same number of seconds; and, on firing, each of the hunters hastened to regain his saddle. On receiving the volley, several bulls broke from the line and charged furiously forward upon their assailants.

At sight of them, the horses, anxious to get out of the way, began to pitch and rear, so that it was difficult to mount them. Hendrik and Arend succeeded in regaining their saddles; but Willem failed.

The horse which had often carried him within a few yards of an enraged elephant, was new struck frantic with fear at the bellowing of the wounded bulls. As they made their impetuous charge, he endeavoured to get loose from his master. The more the hand of Willem strove to restrain him, the more anxious he seemed to be off; and notwithstanding the hunter’s great strength, he was dragged on the bridle until one of the reins broke; and the other was pulled through his grasp with a velocity that cut his fingers nearly to the bone. By this time one of the bulls was close up to him. Notwithstanding his great size, Groot Willem was neither unwieldy nor awkward in action. On the contrary, he was swift of foot; but, for all this, there was no hope of his being able to outrun an African buffalo.

So sudden had been the charge of the angry animals, that one of the oxen ridden by the Makololo, had not time to be got out of the way, and was abandoned by his owner. As good luck would have it for Willem, the unfortunate ox was the means of saving his life. Charging upon it, the buffalo thrust one of its long horns through the ribs of the ox, lifting the saddle clear from its back, and laying the animal itself along the earth, dead as if struck down by a pole-axe.

The buffalo was itself now attacked by three or four dogs, that served for some time to engage its attention.

For a good while its canine assailants continued to keep clear of both its hoofs and horns; till one of them, essaying to seize it by the snout, was struck down and trampled under foot. The vindictive nature of the African buffalo was now displayed before the eyes of the spectators. Not contented with having killed the dog, it knelt down upon the carcass, crushing it under its knees, as if determined to leave not a bone unbroken! The animal seemed angry with itself for its inability to mangle its victim with hoof and horns, at the same time.

While this scene was transpiring, Groot Willem was given time to reload his roer. A bullet through its body brought the buffalo again to its knees, from which it had just arisen to continue the pursuit. Bellowing in a manner that caused the air to vibrate for a mile around the spot, the creature once more rose to its feet, staggered a pace or two, and then sank back to the earth, to rise no more. It had been severely wounded by the first fire, and the grass for a large space round it was sprinkled with its blood.

Groot Willem was not the only one who had been charged upon. Arend and Hendrik were also obliged to retreat, each pursued by a brace of bulls. Fortunately the hill was close at hand, and against its sloping side they urged their horses both with whip and spur.

The immense weight of the buffalo bull hinders him from running rapidly up hill, although in the contrary direction he will often overtake a horse. As the animals in question soon perceived the hopelessness of the chase, they abandoned it; and trotting back to the drove, now going off over the plain below, they left the young hunters in quiet possession of the spoil they had obtained. This was what the hunters supposed they would do. They soon saw their mistake, as the four bulls, instead of continuing on after the retreating drove, turned suddenly to one side, and rushed towards a wounded bull that was lagging a long way in the rear. A spectacle was now witnessed which caused astonishment to those who saw it. Instead of trying to protect their injured companion, the four bulls set upon it, flinging it from its feet, and goring it with their horns. This cruel treatment was continued until the unfortunate animal lay still in death. They did not appear to be inspired by any feeling of rage, but only acting under some instinct not understood. There seemed something horrible in this attack upon their disabled companion. But alas! it was not so very unlike what, often occurs among men,—misfortune too frequently turning friends into enemies.

After settling with their wounded comrade, the four bulls continued their retreat, and soon overtook the herd they had tarried to protect.

The buffalo shot by Willem was the largest our hunters had yet killed; and curiosity led them to make a note of its dimensions. It was eight feet in length, and nearly six in height to the summit of the shoulders. The tips of its long horns were five feet three inches asunder. Across one shoulder, and a part of the neck, was a broad scar more than two feet in length. This scar was conspicuous at some distance, notwithstanding the animal’s hide was covered with a thick coat of dark brown hair, showing that it was not very far advanced in years. The wound leaving this mark had evidently been given by the claws of a lion. This they knew to be the case, from seeing three scratches parallel with each other, showing where the lion’s claws had been drawn transversely across the shoulder.

Some steak and other choice portions, being cut from the brace of bulls, were packed upon the saddle croup to be carried away; and after a short halt, and a feast upon fresh buffalo beef, our adventurers resumed their interrupted journey.