Chapter 6 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid


The last ray of daylight had fled from the valley of the Limpopo, when Willem and Hendrik, provided with a torch and accompanied by the Kaffir and the dog Spoor’em, again set forth to seek for their lost companion.

The animal answering to the name Spoor’em was a large Spanish bloodhound, now led forth to perform the first duty required of him in the expedition.

The dog, when quite young, had been brought from one of the Portuguese settlements at the north,—purchased by Groot Willem and christened Spoor’em by Congo.

In the long journey from Graaf Reinet, this brute had been the cause of more trouble than all the other dogs of the pack. It had shown a strong disinclination to endure hunger, thirst, or the fatigues of the journey; and had often exhibited a desire to leave its new masters.

Spoor’em was now led out, in hopes that he would do some service to compensate for the trouble he had caused.

Taking a course along the edge of the forest, that would bring them across the track made by Arend in reaching the place where the horse had strayed, the spoor of Arend’s horse as well as the other’s was discovered.

The tracks of both were followed into the forest, along well-beaten path, evidently made by buffaloes and other animals passing to and from the river. This path was hedged in by a thick thorny scrub, which being impenetrable rendered it unnecessary for some time to avail themselves of the instincts of the hound. Congo led the way.

“Are you sure that the two horses have passed along here?” asked Willem, addressing himself to the Kaffir.

“Yaas, Baas Willem,” answered Congo. “Sure dey both go here.”

Willem, turning to Hendrik, added, “I wish Arend had let the horse go to the deuce. It was not worth following into a place like this.”

After continuing through the thicket for nearly half a mile, they reached a stretch of open ground, where there was no longer a beaten trail, but tracks diverging in several directions. The hoof-marks of Arend’s horse were again found, and the bloodhound was unleashed and set upon them.

Unlike most hounds, Spoor’em did not dash onward, leaving his followers far behind. He appeared to think that it would be for the mutual advantage of himself and his masters that they should remain near each other. The latter, therefore, had no difficulty in keeping up with the dog.

Believing that they should soon learn something of the fate of their lost companion, they proceeded onward, with their voices encouraging the hound to greater speed.

The sounds of a contest carried on by some of the wild denizens of the neighbourhood were soon heard a few yards in advance of them. They were sounds that the hunters had often listened to before, and therefore could easily interpret. A lion and a pack of hyenas were quarrelling over the dead body of some large animal. They were not fighting; for of course the royal beast was in undisputed possession of the carcass, and the hyenas were simply complaining in their own peculiar tones. The angry roars of the lion, and the hideous laughter of the hyenas, proceeded from a spot only a few yards in advance, and in the direction Spoor’em was leading them.

The moon had risen, and by its light the searchers soon beheld the creatures that were causing the tumult. About a dozen hyenas were gibbering around a huge lion that lay crouched alongside a dark object on the ground, upon which he appeared to be feeding. As the hunters drew nearer, the hyenas retreated to some distance.

“It appears to be the carcass of a horse,” whispered Hendrik.

“Yes, I am sure of it,” answered Willem, “for I can see the saddle. My God! It is Arend’s horse! Where is he?”

Spoor’em had now advanced to within fifteen paces of where the lion lay, and commenced baying a menace; as if commanding the lion to forsake his unfinished repast. An angry growl was all the answer Spoor’em could obtain; and the lion lay still.

“We must either kill or drive him away,” said Willem. “Which shall we try?”

“Kill him,” answered Hendrik; “that will be our safest plan.”

Stealing out of their saddles, Willem and Hendrik gave their horses in charge to the Kaffir, and then proceeded to stalk. With their guns at full cock they advanced side by side, Spoor’em sneaking along at their heels.

They stole up within five paces of the lion, which still held its ground. The only respect it showed to their presence was to leave off feeding and crouch over the body of the horse, as though preparing to spring upon them.

“Now,” whispered Hendrik, “shall we fire?”

“Yes, yes!—now!”

Both pulled trigger at the same time, the two shots making but one report.

Instinctively each threw himself from the direct line of the creature’s deadly leap. This was done at the moment of firing; and the lion, uttering a terrific roar, launched itself towards them, and fell heavily between the two, having leaped a distance of full twenty feet. That effort was its last, for it was unable to rise again.

Without taking the trouble to ascertain whether the fierce brute had been killed outright, they turned their attention to the carcass.

The horse was Arend’s, but there was not the slightest trace of the rider. Whatever had been his fate, there was no sign of his having been killed along with his horse. There was still a hope that he had made his escape, though the finding of the horse only added to their apprehensions.

“Let us find out,” counselled Hendrik, “whether the horse was killed where it is now lying, or whether it has been dragged hither by the lion.”

After examining the ground, Congo declared that the horse had been killed upon the spot, and by the lion.

This was strange enough.

On a further examination of the sign, it was found that one of the horse’s legs was entangled in the rein of the bridle. This explained the circumstance to some extent, otherwise it would have been difficult to understand how so swift an animal as a horse should have allowed itself to be overtaken upon an open plain.

“So much the better,” said Groot Willem. “Arend never reached this place along with his horse.”

“That’s true,” answered Hendrik, “and our next move will be to find out where he parted from his saddle.”

“Let us go back,” said Willem, “and more carefully examine the tracks.”

During this conversation, the hunters had reloaded their rifles, and now remounted for the purpose of riding back.

“Baas Willem,” suggested Congo, “let Spoor’em try ’bout here little more.”

This suggestion was adopted, and Congo, setting on the hound, proceeded to describe a larger circle around the spot.

After reaching a part of the plain where they had not yet been, the Kaffir called out to them to come to him.

They rode up, and were again shown the spoor of Arend’s horse leading away from where its carcass was now lying, and in the opposite direction from the camp.

It was evident that the horse had been farther off than the spot where its remains now rested. It had probably lost its rider beyond, and was on its return to the camp when killed by the lion.

Once more Spoor’em started along the track, Congo keeping close to his tail, the two horsemen riding anxiously after.

But we must return to the camp, and follow the trail of the lost hunter by a means more sure than even the keen scent of Spoor’em.