Chapter 12 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Spying out the Land.

Early next morning, after the hunters had reciprocated Macora’s hospitality by giving him the best breakfast they were capable of cooking, they started off on their search for sea-cows. Macora, accompanied by four attendants, acted as guide, while fifty others were to follow, to assist in the chase. The pack-horses and all other property were taken along, as they did not intend to return to the kraal, although the chief earnestly requested them to remain and make his village their home so long as they remained in the neighbourhood.

For more than a mile their way led through small plantations of maize, owned by Macora’s subjects, and cultivated by the women and younger people of the tribe.

Our adventurers had seen many kraals of Bushmen, also of Bechuana and Kaffir tribes, and were surprised to observe such evidences of civilisation so far removed from the teachings and example of the Cape Colonists.

On their way down the river, buffaloes were observed in small droves, as also herds of koodoos and zebras. They had reached a land that gave good promise of the very adventures they were in search of.

About five miles from the village they came upon a small open space thickly covered with grass. Here Macora suggested that they should make their hunting camp, as the thick growth of timber seen farther down the river was the resort of every species of game to be found for many miles around.

Macora’s suggestion was adopted; and his followers soon constructed a stockade enclosure or kraal, to protect the camp. While this was being done the young hunters were not idle.

On the open plain beyond some antelopes were seen grazing, and Hendrik and Arend went after them for the purpose of providing Macora’s people with food.

Groot Willem, on the other hand, preferred going towards the timber, where he had been told there was larger game; and, accompanied by Macora and four attendants, he started off, leaving Hans with Swartboy and Congo to take care of the pack-horses and other impedimenta, as also to superintend the building of the kraal.

Not far from the river-bank, Macora, with Willem, entered a dense forest standing in a tract of low marshy ground. They had not gone far, before coming within sight of some reet boks (reed bucks, Antelope eleotragus, Schreber). These were not more than three hundred yards away; and, from the unconcerned manner in which they continued their occupation, Groot Willem saw that they had never been hunted by men carrying fire-arms, although so near to a village of the Makololo. The innocent creatures were unworthy of a shot from his roer, and he passed on without molesting them.

He was soon upon a path that showed signs of being nightly trodden by large animals, on their way to the water. Amongst other spoor, he was pleased to observe that of the hippopotamus. Several of these animals had evidently left the river only two or three hours before, and were then probably grazing in the neighbourhood. They had been so little disturbed by man, that, contrary to their usual custom, they came out upon the land to browse by day.

Willem was satisfied that they had reached a place where they would be content to stop for a while; and, without proceeding any farther, he resolved to commence business by bringing down one of two buffaloes he saw lying at some distance off, under the shade of a clump of trees.

Leaving Macora and his men in care of his horse and three dogs which he had brought with him, he passed to the leeward of the game, trying to get between the buffaloes and the forest, to head them off in case of their retreating to the cover.

Willem was too much of a sportsman to think of stalking upon the buffaloes, and shooting at them while asleep; and after gaining the desired station, he whistled for his dogs, for the purpose of giving the buffaloes a bit of a chase, and trying a shot at them while on the run. His signal was scarce given, when he heard loud yells from the natives and the report of Macora’s musket.

Something had gone wrong; for he saw that his own horse was loose and galloping over the plain, while the natives were scampering in different directions, evidently under the inspiration of fear.

The ox upon which Macora sat seemed trying its speed with his horse. The three dogs had answered his call and were coming towards him. They were pursued by something,—by a creature that passed over the ground in a succession of long low leaps, and yet so much time was lost in gathering strength for each spring, that it did not much lessen the distance between itself and the animals it was pursuing.

The buffaloes had started up and gone off at full canter towards the timber,—passing within less than fifty paces of the spot where Willem stood. He allowed them to escape unmolested. A creature more deserving of his attention was rapidly approaching from the other side.