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Chapter 59 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Lion Hunt

Once more our adventurers turned their faces homeward.

Contrary to their expectations, the young camelopards caused them but little trouble. A single rheim attached to the neck of each was sufficient to lead them along.

The manner in which both had been captured, had taught them in their first lesson, that man’s will was superior to their own; and they were thenceforth either too cunning or too silly to resist it.

Before driving them far along the road, there would have been little danger of their straying, even if left free to do so. Like tame elephants, they knew neither their own strength nor swiftness, and soon became as easily managed as any of the horses or horned cattle.

For several days no incident worthy of notice occurred, nor did our adventurers much desire that any should. They had obtained all they required; and even Groot Willem, before so enthusiastically fond of hunting, would not have turned aside to kill the finest koodoo that ever trod the plains of Africa, unless its flesh had been absolutely wanted for food.

After a journey of two more weeks, Swartboy found himself in a land inhabited by many of his countrymen,—the Bushmen. It was a land he had long been looking forward to visit, and with pleasant anticipations,—not from any sunny memory of youthful joy, but merely from that prejudice in favour of native land, natural to all mankind. He had ever represented to his young masters that the Bushmen were a race of noble warriors and hunters,—that they were kind, hospitable, intelligent, and in every respect superior to the countrymen of his rival Congo.

They were now in a country inhabited by several wandering tribes of these people, and where opportunities might not be wanting to test the truth of Swartboy’s assertions.

One soon presented itself. Early one afternoon they arrived at a settlement of Bushmen,—a kraal of their kind, containing about fifty families. On learning that they would have a long distance to travel, before finding a place to encamp, our adventurers resolved to stay by the Bushmen’s village for the night.

The first exhibition given of the hospitality Swartboy had boasted of was by the whole tribe begging for tobacco, spirits, clothing, and everything else the travellers chanced to possess; while the only consideration they could give in return was the permission to draw water from a pool in the neighbourhood of their kraal.

During the night a young heifer, belonging to the headman of the village, was carried off by a lion; and in the morning two of the natives were ordered to follow the beast and destroy it. The hunters had often heard of the manner in which the Bushmen kill lions; and, anxious to see the feat performed, they obtained permission to accompany the two men on their expedition.

The only implements carried by the Bushmen for the destruction of the king of beasts were a buffalo robe, a small bow, and some poisoned arrows, with which each was provided.

The lion was traced to a grove of trees, about a mile and a half from the kraal. To this place our adventurers proceeded, curious to see a lion die under the effects of a wound given by a tiny arrow, as also to learn how the Bushmen would approach such a dangerous creature near enough to use such a weapon.

Gorged with its repast, there was no difficulty in getting near the lion. As the Bushmen anticipated, the fierce brute was enjoying a sound slumber.

Silently the two drew near—so near as almost to touch the sleeping monster.

The spectators, who had stopped at some distance off, dismounted from their horses, and, with rifles ready for instant use, at a few yards behind the Bushmen, followed the latter, whose courage they could not help admiring.

Only one of the Bushmen drew his bow. The other holding his buffalo robe spread out upon both hands, went nearer to the lion than the one who was to inflict the mortal wound.

There was a moment of intense interest. In one second the lion could have tossed the bodies of the two little men, crushed and mangled, to the earth.

In another moment the tiny arrow was seen sticking in the monster’s huge side between two of the ribs. Just as the fierce brute was springing to his feet with a loud growl,—just as he had caught a glimpse of the human face,—the buffalo skin was flung over its head.

He ran backwards, turned hastily around, and disengaged himself from the robe; and then, astonished at the incomprehensible encounter, fled without casting another glance behind!

So far as destroying him was concerned, the task of the Bushmen was accomplished. The poisoned arrow had entered the animal’s flesh, and they knew he was as sure to die as if a cannon-ball had carried off his head.

But the Bushmen had still something to do. They must carry back to their chief the paws of the lion, as proof that they had accomplished the errand on which they had been despatched. They must follow the lion until he fell; and, curious to witness the result, our adventurers followed them.

Slowly at first, and with an apparent show of unconcern, the lion had moved away, though gradually increasing his speed.

The arrow could not have done much more than penetrate his thick hide; and, fearing that he might not die, Willem expressed some regret that he had not given the brute a bullet from his roer.

“I am very glad you did not,” exclaimed Hans, on hearing Willem’s remark. “You would have spoilt all our interest in the pursuit. I want to see the effect of their poisoned arrow, and learn with my own eyes if a lion can be so easily killed.”

The wounded animal retreated for about a mile, then stopped and commenced roaring loudly. Something was evidently amiss with him, as he was seen turning as upon a pivot, and otherwise acting in a very eccentric manner.

The poison was beginning to do its work, and each moment the agony of the animal seemed to be on the increase. He laid himself down and rolled over and over; he then reared himself upon his hind legs, all the while roaring like mad. Once he appeared to stand upon his head. After a time he attacked a tree growing near, and, tearing the bark both with claws and teeth, left the branches stained with his blood. He seemed as if he wished to rend the whole world!

Never had our adventurers, in all their hunting experience, been witnesses to such terrific death-struggles.

The sufferings of the great beast were frightful to behold, and awakened within the spectators a feeling of pity. They would have released it from its misery by a shot, had they not been desirous to learn all they could of the effects of the poison.

From the time the lion ceased to retreat, till the moment when he ceased to live, about fifteen minutes elapsed. During that time the spectators saw a greater variety of acrobatic feats than they had ever witnessed in one scene before. As soon as the creature was declared dead, the Bushmen cut off its paws and carried them back to the kraal.

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