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Chapter 24 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid


Time was passing. They upon the islet rock were getting very impatient for the return of Congo. They were certain that he would bring assistance with as little delay as possible, but most of his journey would have to be made in the night,—a dangerous time for travelling.

He had now been gone long enough to reach the camp and return. “Sister Ann” on the watch-tower of Bluebeard’s castle could not have gazed more earnestly than did they for his reappearance upon the bank above them. Their anxious vigil was at length rewarded. Near the hour of noon their ears were greeted by shouts, and shortly after they saw Hans, Congo, and Macora standing on the bank above them. The chief was accompanied by about a score of his followers, carrying long ropes by the direction of Congo.

“Where is Hendrik?” was the first question of Hans, asked in a trembling voice.

“We cannot tell,” was the reply. “He swam down the river in the hope of being able to make the bank below. We have great fear that some misfortune has befallen him.”

While the three yägers continued the solemn conversation, Macora took a number of his people a short distance up the river.

Near the bank was found the prostrate trunk of a tree about fifty feet in length. It had long been down; and was quite dead and dry. After making the lines fast to one end of it, it was pushed into the stream and directed in such a manner as to drift down to the rock on which the two youths were standing. The other end of the rope was firmly grasped by several of Macora’s men.

Swiftly the log, carried by the current, came in contact with the rock; when the men, keeping the rope on a taut stretch, prevented it from going farther.

With the nimbleness of a couple of cats, Willem and Arend sprang on to it, and, setting themselves astride, were hauled to the bank, where both were at length safely landed.

The first thing they saw, was the body of the elephant at which they had fired so many shots. The animal had at length succumbed, sinking into its eternal sleep in spite of its implacable anger.

As the hunters were no longer in any anxiety for themselves, their apprehensions became all the more keen for the fate of their missing friend. Although suffering greatly from fatigue as well as the want of food, Willem and Arend would not stay even to eat, till a search had been made for him.

There is no sentiment of the human mind, unless it is self esteem, that is capable of resting on so unstable a foundation as hope. Hendrik had now been absent more than twenty-four hours. The chances were a hundred to one against their ever seeing him again, either dead or alive; and yet they had hope.

Provided with food to eat along the way, they started down the river,—many of the Makololo very unwillingly. They had just performed a journey of near thirty miles in only a few hours’ time, and of course they were weary.

But this was not the only reason why their exertions were prolonged with some reluctance. They had been told of the manner in which Hendrik had left his companions; and, guided by reason,—instead of a strong feeling of friendship,—unlike Hans, Willem, and Arend, they had no hope of seeing him again. For, from their acquaintance with the country, they knew of the cataract; and were confident that he must have been carried over the falls; thence a shattered, inanimate mass rolling onward to ocean.

When little more than a mile down stream, Groot Willem discharged his gun. The report echoed in afar along the banks. Every one paused and stood listening to hear if there should be any response.

It came.

Faintly and from afar they could distinguish the sounds of a human voice. Uttering a shout of joy, the three hunters rushed forward, and soon after, when Hans shouted “Hendrik,” they heard from the river the words, “Here, this way.”

A minute more, and they were standing within a few feet of the object of their search, and had a full comprehension of what had hindered him from returning to the succour of his companions.

As the Makololo had come out well provided with comestibles, the hungry hunters were fed to their full satisfaction and then all went back to the place where the elephant had breathed its last. There forming their camp, they kindled fires, and made ready to pass the night,—the followers of Macora feasting upon one of their favourite dishes,—baked elephant’s foot.

Congo had still his tale to tell. When deserted by the others in their pursuit of the giraffes, he had waited two or three hours, expecting them to return. He then started off along their spoor, but being hampered by caring for the pack-horse, he progressed but slowly.

Night overtook him by the body of the dead giraffe. Unable through the darkness to follow the trail any farther, he remained by the carcass till morning.

By that time, the heavy rain had obliterated the spoor so completely that even Spoor’em, the hound, could only follow it with great difficulty. After a time, Congo saw that the horse-tracks separated, going in different directions. He followed one set of them for some time till the horse himself was found, but without saddle, bridle, or rider.

This was Willem’s horse, that had taken flight on the approach of the elephants.

Congo had gone the wrong way for finding his master, and he now returned upon the horse’s tracks. This, of course, brought him to the place where the elephant had first charged; and, on reaching the bank of the river and looking over, he saw the situation in which the hunters were placed. But the wounded elephant was there, and this, charging upon him, hindered him from continuing the observation. He had seen enough to knew that he must go to the camp for assistance, and this was just what he did.

They passed the night by the pool, pleasantly enough. The joy of once more being together would have deprived them of sleep, had it not been for their extreme weariness. But Hans and the chief, seeing the other three so exhausted, did not insist on hearing the details of the dangerous adventure; and at an early hour the camp was buried in the silence of slumber.

Two horses had been lost. This, under the circumstances, was a serious misfortune; but their own lives had been miraculously preserved; and none of them was now disposed to find fault with fortune for anything that had occurred.

Next morning, they started back to the place where the giraffe-trap was being constructed. On reaching it, they found Swartboy impatiently waiting for their return. His expressions of joy at seeing them once more safe and sound were accompanied with the declaration that they had been more fortunate than he had expected, considering that they had gone forth with only Congo for their guide.

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