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Chapter 18 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Giraffe Chase

In the evening of the twelfth day after leaving the Limpopo, they reached a small river, which Macora called the Luize. He informed the hunters, that one day’s journey down this stream would take him to the ruins of the village where he had been born and had lived until within the last two or three years, and his desire to see his native place was about to be gratified.

On one thing Macora could congratulate himself. The chief Moselekatse, by driving him from his country, had profited but little. All the Makololo cattle and other objects of plunder had been safely got away out of reach of the robber chief. None of Macora’s people had remained in the land, so that there was no one to pay tribute to the conqueror; and the country had been left to the undisturbed possession of the wild beasts.

Macora’s tribe were not now living in a conquered condition; nor were they now prevented from paying a visit to their former home.

The plan proposed by the Makololo chief for catching the young giraffes, was to build a hopo or trap, in some convenient place where a herd of giraffes might be driven into it,—the old ones killed and the young ones secured alive.

No better plan could be devised than this, and it was unanimously adopted.

A site for the hopo has to be chosen with some judgment, so that labour may be saved in its construction; and, satisfied that the chief would act for the best, the hunters determined on leaving to him all the arrangements regarding it.

A suitable place for the trap, Macora remembered having seen, a few miles down the river; and thither they repaired.

On the way, they passed the ruins of the deserted village, and many of the natives recognised amid the heaps of rubbish the places that had once been their homes.

Five miles farther down, they reached the place which was to be enclosed as a hopo. It was a narrow valley or pass, leading from a large forest to the river-bank,—and the variety and quantity of spoor over its surface, proved that most animals of the country daily passed through it.

The forest consisted chiefly of mimosa-trees, whose leaves are the favourite food of the giraffe. Plenty of other timber was growing near, such as would be needed in constructing the required inclosure.

Macora promised that his people should go to work on the following day; when pits should be dug and trees felled for the fence of the hopo.

Willem inquired if they had not better first make sure that giraffes were in the neighbourhood, before expending their labour in constructing the trap. This Macora declared was not necessary. He was quite certain that they would be found by the time the trap was ready for receiving them. He also advised the hunters to refrain from molesting any giraffes they might see before the inclosure should be completed, which, according to his calculation, would be in about two weeks.

The hunters now began to understand the difficulties of the task they had undertaken, and were thankful for the good fortune that had brought them the assistance of the Makololo chief. But for him and his people, it would have been idle for them to have attempted taking the giraffes alive.

Well mounted, they might ride them down and shoot as many as they pleased, but this would have been but poor sport; and even Groot Willem would, in due time, have got tired of it. It was not for this they had come so far.

Next morning, the work of making the hopo was commenced; and to inspire the young hunters with the hope that the labour would not be in vain, Macora showed them the spoor of a drove of giraffes that had visited the river during the night.

The chief would not allow his guests to take any part in the toil, and unwilling to be idle, Groot Willem, Hendrik, and Arend determined on making an excursion down the river.

Hans remained behind, content in the pursuit of his botanical studies, joined to the amusement of killing antelopes, and other game for the use of Macora’s workmen.

Swartboy remained with him.

Wishing to be as little encumbered as possible on an excursion, intended to last only for a couple of days, Willem and his companions took with them but one horse, besides those for the saddle. This was in the care of Congo, who, of course, followed his master, “Baas Willem.”

Nothing could be more beautiful than the scenes passed through on the first day of their hunt. Groves of palms, and other trees, standing over flower-clad plains on which gnoos, hartebeests, and other antelopes were browsing in peace. A flock of gayly-plumaged birds seemed at home in every tree; and everything presented to their view was such as fancy might paint for a hunter’s paradise. On that day, our adventurers had their first view of the lordly giraffe. Seven of those majestic creatures were seen coming from some hill that stretched across the plain.

“Don’t move,” exclaimed Hendrik, “and perhaps they will stray near enough for us to get a shot before we are discovered.”

On came the graceful animals across the sunlit plain, like living towers throwing long shadows before them. The trees in perspective seemed lower than their crested heads. When within about two hundred yards of the hunters, the latter were discovered by them. Turning suddenly in their tracks, the giraffes commenced a rapid retreat.

“Our horses are fresh. Let us run them down,” exclaimed Willem. “In spite of what Macora has said, I must kill a giraffe!”

The three leaped into the saddles, and started in pursuit of the flying drove, leaving Congo in charge of the pack-horse.

For some time, the horsemen could not perceive that they were gaining on the camelopards trotting before them in long shambling strides. They were not losing ground, however, and this inspired them to greater speed.

When the chase had been continued for about four miles, and the horses began to show signs of exhaustion, the pace of the giraffes was also observed to have become slower. They, also, were distressed by the rate at which they had been moving.

“One of them is mine,” shouted Willem, as he spurred forward in a final charge.

A huge stallion, exhibiting more signs of distress than the others, had fallen into the rear. The hunters soon came up with him; and, separating him from the herd, they fired a volley into his massive body. Their shots should have brought him down; but, instead of this, they seemed only to reinvigorate his wearied limbs, and he strode on faster than ever.

The hunters only paused long enough to reload, and then, resuming the chase, once more overtook the giraffe.

Another volley was fired, Groot Willem taking aim just behind the animal’s shoulder, the others firing skyward towards its head. The giraffe stopped suddenly in its tracks, and stood tottering like a forest-tree about to fall. Its head began waving wildly, first to the right and then to the left. A shuffle or two of its feet for a time, enabled it to maintain its equilibrium, and then it sank despairingly to the earth.

Proudly the hunters dismounted by the side of the now prostrate but once stately creature,—once a moving monument, erected in evidence of its Creator’s wisdom, but now with its form recumbent upon the carpet of the plain, its legs kicking wildly in the agonies of death.

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