Quatermain relates how the newly formed party journeys from Durban to Sitanda’s Kraal, a trek of over a thousand miles. The journey takes nearly four months, during which they encounter events common to such an expedition. By the time they reach Inyata, they are forced to leave their wagon since eight of the twenty oxen have perished or been lost. The wagon is left in the care of the two Zulu servants, Goza and Tom, who are instructed to seek out a Scottish missionary in the area to take care of the wagon. The hunting party of Quatermain, Sir Henry, Captain Good, Umbopa, Khiva and Ventvogel—along with several bearers carrying their belongings—continue their trip. Along the way, Umbopa further proves his value by chanting an upbeat Zulu song promising a good end to the journey.
About two weeks’ march from Inyata, the party enters a beautiful area full of wild giraffes. As the giraffes gallop away, Captain Good tries for a shot at them on a whim; to his surprise, he manages to hit a distant giraffe in the spine and kill it with his single shot. Although Quatermain declares the shot lucky and not characteristic of Good’s usual hunting prowess in his narrative, he nonetheless relates how this amazing shot gives Good a reputation for accuracy among the rest of the hunting party.
The men camp that night and, prior to sleep, hear the low growl of a lion nearby. They also hear an elephant; this leads Sir Henry to consider pausing in their quest for his lost brother long enough to hunt for a day or two. During the night they are awakened by a fearful noise and splashing from the nearby river—they discover it to be the lion and his would-be prey, an antelope, locked in the throes of their death-struggle. Both animals die, killed by the ferocity or fear of each other, and Quatermain’s party reaps the benefit of their animosity by skinning both animals and filleting the antelope for food.
The next day the party encounters a herd of elephants, which they fire upon. Sir Henry fells his elephant in one shot. Quatermain’s target runs away after being struck, forcing the hunter to pursue it to take it down. Captain Good hits the bull elephant, but instead of fleeing it turns on its attacker and charges Good. Once the bull has passed, the party chooses to follow the herd rather than the wounded (and increasingly dangerous) bull elephant. In all, Quatermain’s party collects eight elephants.
In the meantime, Captain Good has run afoul of the wounded bull elephant. Quatermain and his fellows hear the enraged elephant, then see it crashing through the greenery in hot pursuit of Captain Good and Khiva. Good falls—slipping on his over-“civilized” polished boots—and is nearly done for, but Khiva draws the bull’s attention by throwing his spear at it. The bull elephant turns its ire on Khiva, crushing him under one foot while pulling him in half with its trunk. Captain Good is moved to anguish by Khiva’s sacrifice, and Quatermain almost weeps, but the implacable Umbopa stares thoughtfully at Khiva’s remains and states “he is dead, but he died like a man.”
The mixed European attitude toward Africans is again expressed through Quatermain’s account, particularly touching on the actions of Umbopa. When Umpoba begins the chant which keeps the weary travelers’ moral high, Quatermain says of him, “He was a cheerful savage, was Umpoba, in a dignified sort of way, when he had not got one of his fits of brooding, and had wonderful knack of keeping one’s spirits up. We all got very fond of him” (Haggard 47). This combination of dignity, cheer, and brooding continues to mystify Quatermain (as it did many Englishmen of Haggard’s day) throughout the rest of the journey. By connecting the word “dignity” to Umbopa again (and not for the last time), Haggard sets the reader up for the future reveal of Umbopa’s true heritage.
The incident of the elephant hunt establishes the danger of Quatermain’s usual line of work, thus giving credence to his motivations for taking the money offered by Sir Henry to establish his son’s medical practice. Quatermain attempts to live his life knowing that he will one day die—but cannot prevent it—and so he lives it to its fullest, doing what he knows how to do well.
The problem of Colonialism may be symbolized in the seemingly random incident of the lion and the antelope. Quatermain and the others see:
On the grass there lay a sable antelope bull—the most beautiful of all the African antelopes—quite dead, and transfixed by its great curved horns was a magnificent black-maned lion, also dead. what had happened evidently was this. The sable antelope had come down to drink at the pool where the lion—no doubt the same we had heard—had been lying in wait. While the antelope was drinking the lion had sprung upon him, but was received upon the sharp curved horns and transfixed. I once saw the same thing happen before. The lion, unable to free himself, had torn and bitten at the back and neck of the bull, which, maddened with fear and pain, had rushed on till it dropped dead. (Haggard 51-52)
While easily counted as merely an interesting detail pulled from Haggard’s own life, it is telling that the lion is one of the symbols associated with England, while the antelope—a prominent species in Africa—is sable (black). The one has attacked the other to get what it wants from it, but in the process has let itself become entangled with the would-be prey and killed along with it. The similarities to George Orwell’s later work “Shooting an Elephant” are striking.
Quatermain’s seeming jealousy at Captain Good’s “lucky” shot further contrasts the two men: Quatermain is a rugged, world-worn hunter of many years’ hard experience, while Good is a fastidious Naval officer who has no business making expert shots in Quatermain’s demesne. Quatermain notes specifically how “Good fell a victim to his passion for civilized dress” (Haggard 55) when attempting to evade the charging bull elephant, pointing out how seriously out of his element the Captain truly is. However, Good’s medical skills are brought to the fore, giving the over-dignified Briton a more practical function on the journey, particularly in Quatermain’s eyes.