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Chapter 14 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

The Lagoon

On returning to the camp, they found that Hendrik and Arend had been successful in their chase of the antelopes, and the greater part of two were cooking over a large fire.

A quantity of felled timber had been brought to the ground for construction of the kraal, and the work of building it had already commenced.

For the labour of his followers Macora would accept nothing but a small quantity of coffee, a bottle of Schiedam and some tobacco, and in the evening he took his departure, after seeing his friends safely established in their camp.

Three of his people were left with the hunters, with orders to make themselves useful in whatever way they could be employed. This addition to the company was, however, a source of great annoyance to the Bushman. Any communication made to them required the assistance of his rival, Congo.

Congo had others under him,—people to whom he gave instructions and commands. Swartboy had not, and was, therefore, very discontented with the arrangements.

“You and I must do something to-day,” said Arend to Hendrik, as they were eating their first breakfast at the new camping-place.

“Yes,” replied Hendrik, “Willem has one day the start of us in adventures, but I dare say fortune will favour us ere long.”

“She has favoured us all I think,” said Willem. “How could we have a better prospect of success? There is apparently an abundance of game; and we have found people willing to assist us in getting at it,—willing to perform most of the toil and leave us all of the sport.”

“You are quite right,” said Hendrik; “our brightest hopes could not have been crowned by a more favourable commencement, although two days ago we were repining. What do you say, Swartboy?” he added, turning to the Bushman; “are you content?”

“I berry much content, Baas Hendrik,” answered Swartboy, with an expression that did not confirm his words.

That day the young hunters, leaving Swartboy and the Kaffir in charge of the camp, made a visit to the lagoon, where they expected to find hippopotami.

They passed by the place where Groot Willem had killed the leopard, and observed that the bones of that animal, mingled with those of the faithful Smoke, were scattered over the ground, clean-picked of their flesh by the jackals and hyenas.

Half a mile farther on they reached the lagoon; and while riding along its shore, they all pulled up to listen to an unfamiliar and indescribable sound, that seemed to proceed from two dark objects just visible above the surface of the water. They were the heads of a brace of sea-cows. The animals were making towards them, uttering loud cries that could not be compared with anything the hunters had previously heard. Any attempt to kill them in the water would only have resulted in a waste of ammunition; for, with only the eyes and nose above the surface, there was no chance for a bullet to strike them with fatal effect.

The monsters showed some intention of coming out and making war; but, on getting nearer, they changed their design, and, turning about, floundered off out of reach.

Before proceeding many yards farther, they saw three other hippopotami, this time not in the water, but out upon the plain. They were browsing on the grass, unconscious that an enemy was near.

“Let us get between them and the water,” suggested Willem. “By that means we will make sure of them.”

Riding forward at a sharp pace, the hunters succeeded in this design; and, for a time, the retreat of the hippopotami appeared impossible.

Instinct does not lead these animals to flee from a foe. They only make for the water without regard to the position of the enemy.

On the first alarm, therefore, the three hippopotami started for the lagoon, going at a heavy rolling pace, and much faster than might have been supposed possible for creatures of such ungainly shape. As they ran in a direct line, the hunters were compelled to glide out of their way, or run the risk of being trodden under foot.

Hans and Groot Willem were together; and, as soon as the broad side of a hippopotamus came fairly before them, both fired at the same beast, taking aim behind the shoulder. Hendrik and Arend fired about at the same time at another.

Onward rolled the immense masses towards the river, but before reaching it the one to which Hans and Willem had devoted their attention was seen to go unsteadily and with less speed. Before arriving at the bank, it gave a heavy lurch, like a water-logged ship, and fell over upon its side. Two or three abortive efforts were made to recover its feet, but these soon subsided into a tremulous quivering of its huge frame, that ended in the stillness of death.

Its two companions plunged into the water, leaving Hendrik and Arend a little chagrined by the failure of their first attempt at killing a hippopotamus.

Hans and Groot Willem had no pretensions to military prowess, and the first was generally absorbed in some subject connected with his botanical researches. But he could claim his share in killing a hippopotamus under circumstances no more favourable than the two who had allowed their game to escape.

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