Chapter 10 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid


In the manner of the African there was a certain hauteur which had not escaped the observation of his hearers.

This was explained on their learning who and what he was; for his story began by his giving a true and particular account of himself.

His name was Macora, and his rank that of a chief. His tribe belonged to the great nation of the Makololo, though living apart, in a “kraal” by themselves. The village, so-called, was at no great distance from the spot where the hunters were now encamped.

The day before, he had come up the river in a canoe, accompanied by three of his subjects. Their object was to procure a plant which grew in that place,—from which the poison for arrows and spears is obtained. In passing a shallow place in the river, they had attempted to kill a hippopotamus which they saw walking about on the bottom of the stream, like a buffalo browsing upon a plain. Rising suddenly to the surface, the monster had capsized the canoe, and Macora was compelled to swim ashore with the loss of a gun which once cost him eight elephant’s tusks.

He had seen nothing of his three companions, since parting with them in the water.

On reaching the shore, and a few yards from the bank, he encountered a herd of buffaloes, cows and young calves, on their way to the river. These turned suddenly to avoid him, when a calf was knocked down by one of the old ones, and so severely injured that it could not accompany the rest in their flight. The mother, seeing her offspring left behind, turned back and selected Macora as the object of her resentment. The chief retreated towards the nearest tree, hotly pursued by the animal eager to revenge the injury done to her young.

He was just in time to ascend among the branches as the cow came up. The calf, with much difficulty, succeeded in reaching the tree. Once there, it could not move away, and the mother would not leave it. This accounted for Macora’s having been found among the branches of the pandanus. He went on to say, that, during the time he had been detained in the tree, he had made several attempts to get down and steal off, but on each occasion had found the buffalo waiting to receive him upon her horns. He was suffering terribly with thirst when he heard the first shot fired by Groot Willem, and perceived that assistance was near.

The chief concluded his narrative by inviting the hunters to accompany him the next morning to his kraal; where he promised to show them such hospitality as was in his power. On learning that his home was down the river, and at no great distance from it, the invitation was at once accepted.

“One thing this man has told us,” remarked Willem, “which pleases me very much. We have learnt that there is or has been a hippopotamus near our camping-ground, and perhaps we shall not have far to travel before commencing our premeditated war against them.”

“Question him about sea-cows, Cong,” said Hendrik. “Ascertain if there are many of them about here.”

In answer to the Kaffir’s inquiries, the chief stated that hippopotami were not often seen in that part of the river; but that, a day’s journey farther down, there was a large lagoon, through which the stream ran; there, sea-cows were as plentiful as the stars in the sky.

“That is just the place we have been looking for,” said Willem; “and now, Congo, question him about camelopards.”

Macora could hold out but little hopes of their meeting giraffes anywhere on that part of the Limpopo. He had heard of one or two having been occasionally seen; but it was not a giraffe country, and they were stray animals.

“Ask him if he knows where there is such a country,” demanded Willem, who seemed more interested in learning something about giraffes than either of his companions.

Macora could not or would not answer this question without taking his own time and way of doing it. He stated that the native country of himself and his tribe was far to the north and west; that they had been driven from their home by the tyranny of the great Zooloo King, Moselekatse, who claimed the land and levied tribute upon all the petty chiefs around him.

Macora further stated that, having in some mysterious manner lost the good opinion of Sekeletu and other great chiefs of the Makololo,—his own people,—they would no longer protect him, and that he and his tribe were compelled to leave their homes, and migrate to the place where he was now about to conduct his new acquaintances.

“But that is not what I wish to know,” said Groot Willem, who never troubled himself with the political affairs of his own country, and therefore cared little about those of an African petty chief.

On being brought back to the question, Macora stated that he was only giving them positive proof of his familiarity with the camelopards, since nowhere were these more abundant than in the country from which he had been expatriated by the tyranny of the Zooloo chief. It was his native land, where he had hunted the giraffe from childhood.

Swartboy here interrupted the conversation by announcing that he had enough meat cooked for them to begin their meal with; and about ten pounds’ weight of buffalo veal cutlets were placed before the hunters and their guest.

Macora, who, to all appearance, had been waiting very patiently while the cutlets were being broiled, commenced the repast with some show of self-restraint. This, however, wholly forsook him before it was finished. He ate voraciously, consuming more than the four young hunters together. This, however, he did not do without making an apology for his apparent greed; stating that he had been nearly two days without having tasted food.

The supper having at length come to an end, all stretched themselves around the fire and went to sleep.

The night passed without their being disturbed; and soon after sunrise they arose,—not all at the same time,—for one of the party had risen and taken his departure an hour earlier than the rest. It was Macora, whom they had entertained the evening before.

“Here, you Swart and Cong!” exclaimed Arend, when he discovered that the chief was no longer in the camp, “see if any of the horses are missing. It is just possible we have been tricked by a false tale and robbed into the bargain.”

“By whom?” asked Groot Willem.

“By your friend, the chief. He has stolen himself away, if nothing else.”

“I’ll bet my life,” exclaimed Willem, in a more positive tone than the others had ever yet heard him use, “that that man is an honest fellow, and that all he has told us is true, though I can’t account for his absence. He is a chief, and has the air of one.”

“Yes, he is a chief, no doubt,” said Hendrik, sneeringly. “Every African in this part of the world is a chief, if he only has a family. Whether his story be true or not, it looks ugly, his leaving us in this clandestine manner.”

Hans, as usual, had nothing to say upon a subject of which he knew nothing; and Swartboy, after making sure that no horses, guns, or other property were missing, expressed the opinion that he was never so mystified in his life.

Nothing was gone from the camp; and yet he was quite certain that any one speaking a native African language understood by Congo, could not be capable of acting honestly if an opportunity was allowed him for the opposite.

Having allowed their horses an hour to graze, while they themselves breakfasted upon buffalo veal, our adventurers broke up their bivouac, and continued their march down the bank of the river.