Page images

quick eye caught the twinkle of a fire. Stealthily he made his way to the edge of the bare ground near the baobab, took a good look at the little camp and then leisurely strolled off. "I will take them such a trek," thought he to himself, as he made his way down to the river and waded across to the other side. "First of all I will take them through this prickly spear-grass, then across the river again, down the other bank, and so across again."

Njati laid his tracks with consummate craft. At one place he went down the bank into the water, trampling the mud to make it look as if he had crossed, and then gently came back again on the same side in the dead reeds where his tracks would not show. Several times he followed his old spoor of a day or two back for some distance, doubling, twisting, and turning, till, after a final manoeuvre opposite the place where he had drunk early in the evening, he said to himself: "Now I think it would be better for my health if I trek off, and spend the next few weeks in the neighborhood of the big river down in the plains." So off he went and never stopped till he had covered a trifling matter of forty miles.

With the red glow of dawn the little camp was astir; and Mtali, who had gone off to get water, came rushing back, calling out, "Master, the big buffalo has been here during the night!" Off went the hunter without waiting for breakfast, taking Mtali and old Chindebyu with him. They crossed the river waist-deep, and assiduously followed the tracks for several hours. When they came on the old tracks they smiled, and thought, "He doesn't catch us like this;" where Njati, pretended to cross, had doubled back, the practised eye detected a spot of mud among the reeds. Then they followed the tracks down into the river, where Njati had entered opposite his drink

ing-place, and crossing over found fresh tracks going up the opposite bank, or, rather, what they took to be fresh tracks, for Njati, with master cunning, had purposely entered opposite where he had waded out after his evening drink, and had left the river again in a much less obvious place.

After they had followed these tracks a short way, something about them making the hunter suspicious, he stooped down and felt them with his hand. "The sun is hot now," said Mtali, but in a rather half-hearted voice.

From many long journeys together these three understood each other perfectly, although one was white and the other two were of widely differing tribes, and in matters of this sort seldom found it necessary to resort to articulate speech. It was odd, they thought, that the animal should be heading back to camp. As they continued, without uttering a word, each knew the doubt that was rising up in the minds of the others; and presently Chindebvu silently pointed to where the animal had been browsing. They each plucked a bit of the bitten grass, examined it closely, and then went on in silence, for the sap of the bruised grass was already dry. At last the hunter said: "We wil! eat food when we get to camp, and then go out again."

It was now about noon, and presently the baobab hove in sight, and as the hunter sat down to the food that the skillful Tayari seemed always to have ready for him at whatever time he returned, he thought: "I am glad to get breakfast, and I am glad that magnificent buffalo has got away, but I should like to have had a glimpse of him."

After his meal he said to the two trackers: "It must have been the last time we crossed the river." They grunted an affirmative in two different keys. "Shall we go straight back

there?" Again came the grunts of acquiescence.

Now, a buffalo, as a rule, does not cover much ground in a day, as he wanders about in a very leisurely way, frequently resting, and about ten o'clock he looks for thick cover to lie up in till the sun is well on the decline. The hunter therefore still hoped he might find him taking his siesta, or wallowing in a mud pool afterwards, and the little party returned as fast as they could to where they had last crossed the river.

Opposite where Njati had entered there was only one practicable landing-place, and the only tracks here were those they had followed before, and which they discovered, on inspecting the place more carefully, were of the same age as those where he had descended for his drink.

Where had he gone now? He had certainly entered the river opposite, but had not landed here; and all the rest of the banks, above and below, were too steep to ascend. Mtali took one side of the river, and Chindebvu and the hunter took the other, and so they slowly worked their way down stream; and after covering five or six hundred yards, they were about to turn round and try up stream, when they came on the spoor again. Old Njati had waded down this distance in the water, and then instead of choosing an easy sloping bank to climb out on, had clambered up a steep, hard bit.

After this, although the tracking was simple and straight-forward, they soon recognized the hopelessness of following, as they saw that old Njati was on trek, the spoor going ahead without waiting to feed by the way, and, worst sign of all, down wind, which meant that the old fellow expected danger from behind, and consequently there would be no possibility of getting near him. However, they pushed

on till dusk, and then reluctantly had to admit themselves beaten, and turn back. After making their way so far as they could in the dark, they found a sheltered spot, lit a fire, and sat down to wait for the moon to rise.


Now Njati went down to the big river, and having come there he traveled down the bank for three days and suffered much hunger by the way, for this was not the season for the grazing of the big river. The sun was hot and burnt his back, and there was no green grass; moreover all the bango reed was dead and burnt. After a while he came to a stream which met the big river, and following it up he found a swamp. Much of this had dried up, but there were still parts where the reeds were green, and also grass, but of an inferior quality. Here he maintained himself till the rains came and it was time to go into the hills.

With the first rains the green grass sprang up juicy and sweet, and be lingered at the foot of the hills till the heavy rains came and the grassy places were under water. Then he climbed up the steep sides, and came to the rolling valleys, up and down which he wandered for a while. Here, too, was a sheltered place under the side of a rock to lie in, and at other times the leeward of certain trees and the bamboo brake to protect him from the wind. Thus the rains passed, and he descended to the plains again, and the burning of the grass found him once more in his old haunt by the Mpuzi stream, where we first made his acquaintance.

The years went on, and Njati was growing infirm. His knees were weak, and he could not travel so far nor so fast; he lay down often, and so fed less, and could not wander in search

of the best grazing. His eyes were dim, his senses failing, and the food no longer tasted good to him; he no longer could climb the hills nor visit the swamps, and his change of grounds lay only between the Mpuzi and the big river.

It so happened that about this time the hunter came down from the north, where he had been hunting ivory, and arived at the waters of the great river. Here he camped, intending to cross the next day; but, going out in search of something for dinner, Mtali, who was with him, struck the spoor and signed to his master to come and see.

"What is it?" said the hunter. "It is he of the Mpuzi," answered the tracker.

[blocks in formation]

The eye of the native travelled up the spoor and caught the bowed head of a thistly plant, which had been trodden down by Njati in passing; and an examination of this showed that he must have passed a couple of days ago. They followed up the spoor for some distance, and by the manner of its going judged that he was changing grazing-grounds, and by the direction that he must be returning to the Mpuzi. Having come to this conclusion they returned to camp. Two days later they were again camped under the baobab tree, and the following day, at dawn, the party set off along the banks of the river, and after a long search they came on the spoor.

The sun had now passed the third time of prayer, and the chances were that they would not come up with him that day. However they forged ahead, and soon came to some grassy uplands, where old Njati had wandered during the day and rested often. Judging that he would lie up on the further side, instead of wasting time here, they crossed to the bush, and

making a cast they had the fortune to hit on his tracks.

"He now wants to lie down," said Chindebvu, noticing where the buffalo had stopped and tried a piece of ground by kneeling; but it evidently was not suitable, as he had got up again and gone on.

Presently the tracks, which had been going steadily up wind, turned at a slight angle. A buffalo, when he has selected a lying-up place, generally makes a detour to reach it, finally approaching it from the windward side, so that he may be able to wind anyone following on his tracks.

The party took the precaution to leave the spoor at this juncture, and after moving at right angles to it for a little way, opened out at a distance one from the other, and proceeded up wind through the possible lying-up place. Although they had taken this precaution, it seemed so certain that the buffalo must have moved on again after his midday halt, the afternoon being well advanced, that they pressed on hastily through the bush country without due caution, so anxious were they not to waste time. Njati must be now well on his way to his evening grazing-ground, they thought; but as in war SO in hunting, the unexpected always happens.


Old Chindebvu on the right of the line had just passed a thick clump of thorn, when there was a bellow and a beat of hoofs, and, forgetting his age, he clambered up a miniature thorntree with the agility of a baboon, and was perching on the topmost twigs, like some strange kind of bird, while Njati pounded underneath in a cloud of dust. The hunter caught a glimpse of the flying form and massive horns, and aiming well forward delivered a rapid shot. In another moment the bush had swallowed up the animal, and there was only the sound of his

galloping hoofs growing fainter in the distance.

Slowly and solemnly Chindebvu descended from his perch, ignoring the gibes of Mtali, and sitting upon the ground became engrossed in the study of chiropody. This operation finished, they got on the spoor again, and soon a drop of frothy blood showed them that the buffalo had been hit in the lungs, but, remembering the angle at which the shot had been fired, the hunter feared that only one lung had been penetrated, as proved to be the case, for an hour later the animal was still going strongly, though limping slightly on one leg; and as he was going down wind there was no hope of their coming up with him that night.

About an hour before sunset they arrived at a mud pool whither the buffalo had gone to wallow, drink, and plaster his wound; and, by the way the mud had settled, they judged he must have passed half an hour or more before them. As here at least was water, they resolved to pass the night at this place. The water-bottle had been untouched since leaving the river, but now that there was a chance of refilling it, it was called into use. The remainder of their luggage was the hunter's much battered canteen, a native axe, and a strip of biltong. This comprised all the necessary impedimenta for a luxurious bivouac.

The hunter wandered off with his gun, which Mtali had been carrying. The latter now picked a few reeds growing in the pool, and, choosing a good place, laid them carefully down, crossing and recrossing them at the bottom of the shallow pool to keep the mud down and to allow comparatively clean water to be taken off the top without stirring up the sediment. Meanwhile Chindebvu, taking the axe had cut down a few long and straight saplings, and choosing two suitable trees planted a couple in the ground be

tween them and lashed the remainder


While all this was in progress a couple of shots were heard, and presently the hunter returned with a brace of guinea-fowl. All hands then set themselves to bring in bundles of long grass, and, with strips of bark of the saplings, these were lashed into the framework, making a wall to protect them from the wind. Dead branches were collected, a few more saplings cut down for firewood, and a fire was soon made to leeward of the wall. The birds were cut open, cleaned, and cooked spatched-cock fashion in a cleft stick, the end of which was sharpened and stuck into the ground near the fire, and turned when necessary.

The canteen was now opened and revealed its contents; they belied its disreputable-looking exterior, for here, neatly packed away, were a small tin of cocoa sufficient to make one pint, a little bottle of saccharine, some salt and pepper, two biscuits, a little bottle of quinine, a spare box of matches, and something long, carefully wrapped up in silver paper. The birds and the cocoa were both excellent. Grass was thrown upon the fire to give a light, while they arranged little piles of wood with which to feed it during the night; these were placed within arm's reach, as it is tedious to get up to replenish the fire. Two thick poles had been cut down, and these were placed with their butts in the fire, so that as their ends were consumed they could be pushed farther in.

Everything having been made snug for the night, the hunter cleaned his rifle, reloaded it and laid it by his side, and then drew forth the silver packet, which being unwrapped disclosed a cigar of choice brand. In a hard life of camping and travelling, far from civilization, luxuries have to be reduced to a minimum in bulk and weight, and the hunter's selection of


the only luxury that he allowed himself was the result of careful deliberation; for a few boxes of cigars do not weigh much, and yet every single cigar enabled him to finish off a rough hunter's meal in exactly the same way as the most gorgeous of London's dinners would have terminated.

With the scent of good tobacco in the air, the hard ground and frugal fare seemed less real than the scenes of a different life which flitted before his imagination; and so, heaping up the fire, he lies back with his hand clutching the rifle at his side, and dreams of fair faces and gay cities intermingle with enormous tuskers waiting to be killed by a rifle which will never go off, till a cold chill creeps over him, and he awakes to pile up the fire and to sleep once more.


The false dawn saw the hunter sitting by the fire, and gathering the scattered embers wherewith to brew a cup of cocoa, while the natives toasted little pieces of biltong on sharpened sticks.

By the time the surrounding objects began to assume definite form the water-bottle had been refilled, and they started off again on the track of old Njati. The blood-spoor had now stopped, all but a tiny clot now and again on a twig or branch crossing the way. After going some way they came to a shallow nullah containing a dry watercourse bordered by a stiff cane-brake, a likely place for a buffalo to be lying up in. As it would have been unwise to follow the tracks in here down wind they made a long détour to approach the place quietly from the opposite side; and here they found out-going tracks which showed clearly that Njati had again moved on. There was fresh blood on the spoor, which was curious, as for the last hour there

had been no vestige of any. They had not gone far before the hunter stooped down and picked up a little wisp of clotted hair. He examined it critically, and then passed it on to his companions, who uttered exclamations of surprise, for it contained the black and white hairs from a lion's mane.

Retracing their steps to the canebrake, they entered and saw the whole story written upon the ground, for those to read who could. Here was the stealthy tread of the lion's pugs, short of stride, as he crept towards his prey, sometimes dragging his stomach along the ground, now the crouch ready to spring, with the impress of the animal's form on the ground, and the marks where the claws, shot out ready for the grip, had torn up the grass; and there, ten yards distant, was where the buffalo had been lying, and, getting the alarm just in time, had staggered to his feet, and the signs of the mighty conflict, his hoof-marks ploughing up the ground as with a mighty heave he had thrown his antagonist clear of him, to slink off with a wounded side, as the bleeding tracks of the lion showed. After the fight old Njati had moved on, growing weaker at every step, till, finding a patch of dead grass, he passed through, and lay down on the farther side so as to hear any one approaching through the grass.

As the sun mounted overhead he longed for water, and thought of the cool valleys of the hills, and then again of the swamps during the first rains. The heat-haze of the parched country burnt into his eyes, and he rested his head on the hot, bare soil, as it seemed to have grown too heavy to hold up. Suddenly, however, he heard a rustle of grass, and turning his head he saw his enemy standing near with the thunder-stick in his hand. tering to his feet he gave a fierce snort and tried to charge the intruder. The


« PreviousContinue »