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Bulon, the Buffalo by Ellen Velvin

In the thick mud of one of the marshy swamps of South Africa a herd of buffaloes, some sixteen in number, stood almost knee-deep. The thick fog which arose from the swamp hung round and about like a huge, vapory cloud, making the hot air moist and stifling.

But the buffaloes cared not; to them it was pleasant and enjoyable, and they, one and all, stood placidly chewing their cuds and gazing calmly at nothing in particular.

The leader of the herd, a sturdy, shaggy animal of exceptional size, stood a little apart from the others, on guard and on the lookout for danger. The birds of the herd fluttered and hopped around and appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.[Footnote: A herd of buffaloes is generally accompanied by one or more red-beaked rhinoceros birds. These birds feed on the ticks or insects which infest the animals' skin, and also give warning of danger.—Author.]

It was such fun to fly from one animal to another, perching lightly on the mass of woolly hair, and then to peep and hunt, first with one bright little eye and then with the other, until some unwary insect came in sight. These little insects—the ticks—were quick and moved with lightning-like rapidity, but they were not so quick as the birds, for, almost before they realized their danger, the sharp red beaks opened simultaneously with a quick dart forward of their heads, and the next instant the insects were out of sight.

Bulon, the leader of the herd, glanced from under his shaggy brows, first at the birds and then at the buffaloes; his wild fiery eyes were blood-red, and his shaggy mane and almost hairless shanks—for he was getting old—showed unmistakable signs of a recent fight.

And a terrible fight it had been, too, for one of the younger males had dared to show a little attention to one of Bulon's wives, and this in buffalo land is a great insult and not to be overlooked.

So Bulon had promptly challenged the offender; his rival had just as promptly responded to the challenge, and a great fight they had. In times gone by no one would have dared to interfere with Bulon, unless, perhaps, the leader of some other herd, for in those days his strength had been magnificent, and even lions and tigers quailed before him. But old age was creeping on, which the other buffaloes realized only too quickly. His massive shoulders and sturdy limbs were shrinking a little, while his tough, thick skin was now almost hairless, except for his mane and a thin fringe on his back and withers.

But, in spite of his age and diminished strength, Bulon had won the day. It had seemed doubtful at first, very doubtful, and some of the herd had looked on with interest, but with grave doubts as to the result.

A male buffalo is one of the most jealous things on the face of the earth, and his jealousy makes him quite mad for the time being. In a fight neither will give in until one kills the other, and so it was in Bulon's case. He was determined to get the best of it, for he knew that, should the other buffalo kill him, the herd would probably select the conqueror as its leader in his place.

But, after a great clashing of horns, stamping of hoofs, and sharp snorts and grunts, Bulon's opponent began to breathe heavily and show signs of distress, and when this took place the fight soon came to an end.

Bulon followed up his advantage with true buffalo skill, and in a very short time his enemy was in the dust and panting out his life. The fight once over, the herd moved on, leaving the dying buffalo by himself, for, in animal life, the old, sick or decrepit, are always treated with contempt.

Bulon led the way until they reached a nice, muddy swamp. The birds, however, having given warning of approaching danger, the males stationed themselves in an irregular circle in all the most dangerous positions—having first put the mothers and calves in the middle— while Bulon stood a little apart and kept his wicked little eyes first on the herd and then on the birds. He knew as well as the birds that an enemy was near, and but for this would have given the signal to feed. But the buffaloes were quite content; they were knee-deep in mud, surrounded by a thick, damp, hot mist, and as they were not particularly hungry, stood still and ruminated—that is to say, chewed their cuds and enjoyed themselves.

Having four stomachs, buffaloes' food has the same process to go through as the food of all ruminants; that is to say, when vegetable matter is first eaten, it passes into the first stomach, where it stays until it is ready for the next one. The second stomach is much smaller, and covered with a number of curious little cells. After it has been in the second stomach for some time, and whenever the buffalo feels ready for it, the food comes back into the mouth, and he then bites or masticates it just as long as he likes. This is "chewing the cud." When he has finished chewing the cud, the food goes into the third stomach, and after it has been there some time, it passes into the fourth one, where it is at last digested. So, although Bulon would not give the signal to feed, the buffaloes were quite happy, as they had plenty of food with which to chew the cud—an action which is invariably a sign of placid content among ruminants.

Bulon was the only one who was not ruminating. But then he was on the lookout for enemies, and, moreover, his temper was still exceedingly ruffled.

There were signs of a storm coming up; the air was quiet and still, and it was in this peculiar stillness that Bulon thought he heard an unusual sound in the bushes. He turned his huge head and sharp eyes in that direction, but in the next instant there was a short, sharp sound—a stinging, burning, pain in his shoulder and the old buffalo knew that he had been wounded.

Just as he realized this a small, upright form came forward from the left side and stood in front of him. Had the form, which was a man, only been in front at first, Bulon would have seen it; but he could not—like all buffaloes—see very well unless things were in a straight line before him.

The moment Bulon caught sight of his enemy he made a mad rush, and as he plunged violently he splashed and covered the traveler with thick mud, which nearly blinded him. Unfortunately, Bulon was in a soft spot, and the more he wallowed the deeper he sank in the mud. But he made one grand struggle, and, getting a slight grasp, he floundered up and made another wild dash at his enemy. It would, indeed, have gone hard with the enemy if just behind him there had not grown one of those peculiarly thick thorn bushes which grow so plentifully in South Africa—a bush which has long, thick thorns like big needles.

As Bulon plunged madly at his enemy, the man darted to one side, and Bulon crashed into the bush, running the cruel thorns into his nose and eyes, and tumbling head over heels with the impetus. He gathered himself up, nearly mad with pain—for the cruel thorns had completely blinded him—and in his agony tore round and round—forgetting his enemy—forgetting the soft, boggy spot—forgetting the herd— forgetting everything except the awful anguish and bewildering darkness.

It went hard with Bulon after this, for he was in a sad plight. He had spent the greater part of his strength in the fight; the wallowing in the soft mire had exhausted him; he had a burning, raging pain in his shoulder caused by the bullet fired by his human enemy, while the pain in his poor, blinded eyes and his sensitive nose took nearly all his remaining strength. He felt he could not keep up his wild career much longer, but he kept on for a time, only stopping occasionally to rub his poor nose and eyes in the soft, wet ground—an action which only added to his misery, for the harder he rubbed the deeper he drove in the thorns which pierced and lacerated him, poisoning his blood and sowing the seeds of death.

Meanwhile, the buffaloes at the sound of that peculiar "bang" stopped chewing their cuds instantly, and in one of their wild, excitable fits started off in a mad rush, males, mothers and calves all huddled together. In an almost incredible time the buffaloes were out of sight, except a few unfortunate mothers and little ones who, having once stumbled, lost their lives by being trampled to death by the others. This was the reason that Bulon, with all his bellowings of rage, pain and distress, received no answer to his cries, and could find no one of his fellow-creatures to give him comfort.

The hunter had such a narrow escape from the sudden onrush of the buffalo that he deemed it wise—not realizing that the animal had been blinded—to retreat. Had he only known the piteous plight in which poor Bulon was, it would have been an easy matter to have put another bullet into him, and so ended his life and sufferings.

As it was, Bulon wandered about for days in a pitiable plight. The wound in his shoulder, although it still contained the bullet, was not enough to kill him, and, although his blinded eyes and swollen nose caused him intense suffering, there was no likelihood of his dying for some days. So it was that he wandered on seeking food, and, when it was found, having the greatest difficulty in eating it, owing to his swollen nose and mouth. He did his best to follow the herd, but, as the days went on, he grew weaker and weaker. The thorns had caused inflammation now, and the only thing he could do was to sway his huge head from side to side, and totter with short, uneven steps over the heavy, marshy ground.

Then came a day when he struck another treacherous, soft spot, and this time he had neither strength nor will to save himself. He sank softly and slowly into the liquid mud, which covered him as with a mantle, and soothed him in spite of himself, for, in any case, it saved him from the sharp, stinging bites of the great gadflies, which are able to pierce even the thick skin of the buffalo.

By the time night swept over the land the only thing to be seen of Bulon was his grand, huge head and big horns standing out in a bold curve; his shaggy, woolly masses of hair, and his nose and mouth swollen now into an almost shapeless mass. As the night wore on, Bulon's sufferings increased, and his groans were unearthly sounds, echoing and re-echoing through the darkness.

But he grew quieter at last, and towards morning, just as the sun was tinting the sky with glorious colors, Bulon sank a little further into the soft mud he had always loved so well and died.

His own particular herd had forgotten all about him long before this, and had chosen a new leader—a young, strong, vigorous male, who was looked up to and respected far more than Bulon had been during the last few months of his life, for the buffaloes had already begun to realize that Bulon was getting old, and had been losing their respect for him accordingly.

His day had passed. He had guarded his herd carefully and well; led them to the best swamps and pastures, and on hot days picked out the softest and coolest mud for his wives to wallow in, while he had always left the youngest and freshest food for the calves.

So he had fulfilled his duties, and his many children grew up strong and healthy, became fathers and mothers themselves, and did very much the same sort of things that Bulon, the noted leader of buffaloes, had himself done.