Chapter 17 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

To the Giraffe Country.

After passing some four or five weeks in hippopotamus hunting, Groot Willem became anxious to engage in the real business for which he had undertaken the hunting expedition.

They had collected more than seven hundred pounds’ weight of the finest ivory, but this success did not hinder them from becoming weary of a pursuit that was no longer amusement, but business.

From several conversations held with Macora about giraffes, they had learnt that the young of those animals could not be taken alive without the greatest ingenuity and trouble.

Where camelopards are discovered they can easily be run down and shot; but to secure the young unharmed, is a different affair, and an undertaking, which, from Macora’s account, promised to occupy all the time that the hunters wished to remain away from Graaf Reinet.

Groot Willem was anxious to secure the name, fame, and reward, now depending on the delivery of the two young giraffes to the Dutch Consul. Hendrik and Arend wished to return to their sweethearts; and Hans was longing to under take his intended voyage to Europe.

Under these circumstances, a proposal from Willem, that they should make a move, was well received by all.

When the intention and object of their leaving was made known to Macora, the chief seemed in much trouble.

“I cannot allow you to go alone,” said he; “there would be danger in your journey to my native land, perhaps death. Instead of capturing camelopards alive, you might leave your bones to bleach upon the plain. You must not go alone. Though we may not procure what you are in search of, I shall be your companion, and my best warriors shall attend you. The tyrant Moselekatse may destroy us all, but I will go. Macora will not allow his friends to encounter the peril without sharing it with them. To-morrow I shall be ready with all my men.”

Such was the substance of Macora’s speech, as interpreted by Congo; and the young hunters, much as they respected the chief for his many acts of kindness towards them, were gratified by this new proof of his friendship.

He proposed to forsake his home and undertake an expedition of nearly two hundred miles, in which he had nothing to gain and everything to lose. This he was willing to do, out of gratitude to one whom fate had brought to his assistance through the merest accident.

Macora’s offer was not rejected; and preparations for the journey were immediately commenced.

The ivory obtained from the hippopotami was stored away for safe keeping until their return.

This was about the only preparation for a departure our adventurers had to make; but such was not the case with Macora’s warriors. Poisoned arrows had to be prepared, bows and shields repaired, and assegais sharpened.

On the morning of the next day after Macora had determined on the journey, he led forth from his village fifty-three of his best men; and a start was made towards the North.

Several oxen were taken along, laden with dried hippopotamus flesh, crushed maize, and other articles of food to be used on the journey. Several cows were also driven along to yield a supply of milk.

One of the pack-horses belonging to our hunters had been placed at the disposal of the chief; and on this he rode, generally keeping close by the side of Groot Willem.

Owing to the nature of the country, and the inability of the oxen for fast travelling, their progress was but slow.

They found plenty of game along the route, but none of it was pursued for the sake of amusement. Only a sufficient quantity was killed to provide the camp with fresh meat, and no time was lost in procuring it, as antelopes were constantly coming within shot of the hunters, as they moved along the line of march.

Only one incident worthy of notice occurred during the journey, in their camp of the sixth night after starting. One of the Makololo had risen to put some fresh fagots on a fire burning near him. Placing his hand upon the ground for the purpose of picking up a piece of wood, he suddenly started back, at the same time uttering a cry of terror.

Several of his companions sprang to their feet; and, for a moment, a scene of confusion ensued that baffled every attempt on the part of the young hunters to obtain an explanation of it. At length, it transpired that a snake had caused the commotion. One of about eight feet in length was dragged up to the light of the fire and submitted to examination. It was writhing in the agonies of death. Its head had been crushed by a blow. Its colour, which was nearly black, left no doubt in the minds of the natives as to the nature of the reptile they had killed.

“Picakholu! picakholu!” exclaimed several at the same time, and their attention was immediately turned to the man who had first made its acquaintance.

He exhibited two deep scratches on the back of his right hand. On beholding them, his companions uttered a cry of commiseration, and stood gazing at the unfortunate man with an expression that seemed to say: “You must surely die.”

His colour soon changed to a deeper brown. Then his fingers and lips began to move spasmodically, and his eyes assumed a fixed and glassy expression.

In about ten minutes from the time he had been bitten, he seemed quite unconscious of anything but agony; and would have rolled into the fire, had he not been held back by those around him.

In less than half an hour, he was dead,—dead, while the body of the serpent with the mangled head was still writhing along the grass.

The Makololo was buried at sunrise, three hours after death; and so virulent is the poison of the picakholu that, ere the body was deposited in the grave, it was already in a state of decomposition!