Chapter 11 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Macora’s Kraal.

After journeying about three hours, the young hunters came to a place that gave unmistakable evidence of having been often visited by human beings.

Small palm-trees had been cut down, the trunks taken away, and the tops left on the ground. Elephants, giraffes, or other animals that feed on foliage would have taken the tops of the trees, and, moreover, would not have cut them down with hatchets, the marks of which were visible in the stumps left standing. Half a mile farther on, and fields could be seen in cultivation. They were evidently approaching a place inhabited by a people possessing some intelligence.

“See!” exclaimed Arend, as they rode on, “there’s a large body of men coming towards us.”

All turned to the direction in which Arend was gazing. They saw about fifty people coming along the crest of a ridge, that trended toward the north.

“Perhaps they mean mischief,” said Hans. “What shall we do?”

“Ride on and meet them,” exclaimed Hendrik. “If they are enemies it is not our fault. We have not molested them.”

As the strangers came near, the hunters recognised their late guest, who was now mounted on an ox and riding in advance of his party. His greeting, addressed to Groot Willem, was interpreted by Congo.

“I have invited you to come to my kraal,” said he, “and to bring your friends along with you. I left you early this morning, and have been to my home to see that preparations should be made worthy of those who have befriended Macora. Some of my people, the bravest and best amongst them, are here to bid you welcome.”

A procession was then formed, and all proceeded on to the African village, which was but a short distance from the spot. On entering it, a group of about a hundred and fifty women received them with a chant, expressed in low murmuring tones, not unlike the lullaby with which a mother sings her child to sleep.

The houses of the kraal were constructed stockade fashion, in rows of upright poles, interlaced with reeds or long grass, and then covered with a plaster of mud. Through these the hunters were conducted to a long shed in the centre of the village, where the saddles were taken from their horses, which were afterwards led off to the grazing ground.

Although Macora’s subjects had been allowed but three hours’ notice, they had prepared a splendid feast for his visitors.

The young hunters sat down to a dinner of roast antelope, biltongue, stews of hippopotamus and buffalo flesh, baked fish, ears of green maize roasted, with wild honey, stewed pumpkin, melons, and plenty of good milk.

The young hunters and all their following were waited on with the greatest courtesy. Even their dogs were feasted, while Swartboy and Congo had never in all their lives been treated with so much consideration.

In the afternoon, Macora informed his guests that he should give them an entertainment; and, in order that they should enjoy the spectacle intended for them, he informed them, by way of prologue, of the circumstances under which it was to be enacted.

His statement was to the effect that his companions in the canoe, at the time it was capsized by the hippopotamus, had reached home, bringing with them the story of their mishap; that the tribe had afterwards made a search for their chief, but not finding him, had come to the conclusion that he had been either drowned or killed by the sea-cow. They had given him up for lost; and another important member of the community, named Sindo, had proclaimed himself chief of the tribe.

When Macora reached home that morning, Sindo had not yet come forth from his house; and, before he was aware of the chief’s reappearance, the house had been surrounded and the usurper made prisoner. Sindo, fast bound and guarded, was now awaiting execution; and this was the spectacle which the hunters were to be treated to.

It was a scene that none of the young hunters had any desire to be present at; but, yielding to the importunities of their host, they accompanied him to the spot where the execution was to take place. This was in the suburbs of the village, where they found the prisoner fast tied to a tree. Nearly all the inhabitants of the community had assembled to see the usurper shot,—this being the manner of death that had been awarded to him.

The prisoner was rather a good-looking man, apparently about thirty-five years of age. No evil propensity was expressed in his features; and our heroes could not help thinking that he had been guilty of no greater crime than a too hasty ambition.

“Can we not save him from this cruel fate?” asked Hans, speaking to Groot Willem. “I think you have some influence with the chief.”

“There can be no harm in trying,” answered Willem. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Sindo was to be shot with his own musket. The executioner had been already appointed, and all other arrangements made for carrying out the decree, when Willem, advancing towards Macora, commenced interceding for his life.

His argument was, that the prisoner had not committed any great crime; that had he conspired against his chief for the purpose of placing himself in authority, it would have been a different affair. Then he would have deserved death.

Willem further urged, that had he, Macora, really been lost, some one of the tribe would have become chief, and that Sindo was not to blame for aspiring to resemble one who had ruled to the evident satisfaction of all.

Macora was then entreated to spare the prisoner’s life, and the entreaty was backed by the promise of a gun to replace the one lost in the river, on condition that Sindo should be allowed to live.

For a time Macora remained silent, but at length made reply, by saying that he should never feel safe if the usurper were allowed to remain in the community.

Groot Willem urged that he could be banished from the kraal, and forbidden to return to it on penalty of death.

Macora hesitated a little longer; but remembering that he had promised to grant any favour to the one who had released him from imprisonment in the tree, he yielded. Sindo’s life should be spared on condition of his expatriating himself at once and forever from the kraal of Macora.

On granting this pardon, the chief wished all distinctly to understand that it was done out of gratitude to his friend, the big white hunter. He did not wish it to be supposed that the prisoner’s life had been purchased with a gun.

All Macora’s subjects, including the condemned man himself, appeared greatly astonished at the decision, so contrary to all precedent among his fellow-countrymen.

The exhibition of mercy, along with the refusal of the bribe, proved to the young hunters, that Macora had within him the elements of a noble nature.

Sindo, accompanied by his family, immediately made departure from the place, going off to seek a home among kindred tribes, where his ambition would, no doubt, be exercised with greater caution.

During the evening, Macora provided a varied entertainment for his guests. It included a grand feast, with songs and dancing, the latter done to the sounds of the tom-tom drum, and one-stringed African fiddle.

All retired for the night with the understanding that the hunters should the next day be conducted to a place where hippopotami were plentiful.