Chapter 25 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Mistakes of a Night.

As nearly two weeks would be required for constructing the hopo, Groot Willem determined on making another hunting expedition. There was plenty of game in the immediate neighbourhood; but the chief strongly protested against the firing of guns, lest the sounds should betray their presence in the place.

Several giraffes had been seen in the mimosa groves, and the banks of the river were marked with their spoor.

Macora objected to their being alarmed, as it would drive them away before the pen could be got ready for them.

Groot Willem was a hunter, and out on a hunting expedition. This being the case, he could not remain for two weeks idle; and taking Hendrik and Congo along with him, he left the camp to visit a river, which, according to the chief’s account, lay about thirty miles to the north-west. They expected to reach it in one day, and could have done so, but for a large drove of elands, which was encountered upon the way, and the pursuit of which delayed them.

They encamped that night, as they supposed, about five miles from the river, and the next morning continued on, to reach it. A ride of between ten and fifteen miles was made, but no river was arrived at.

Early in the afternoon, they came upon a tiny rivulet running out of a pool, or vley. Supposing it to be a tributary of the river they were in search of, they concluded that by following it down, they should reach the main stream. This, however, they were in no haste to do, since the country around the pool appeared to be the best sort of hunting-ground. The fresh tracks of many varieties of animals could be seen in the mud; and Willem proposed that they should stay over night and lie in wait by the vley.

To this Hendrik agreed; and the horses were tethered out to graze.

A suitable place for a pit was chosen twenty paces from the pool, and, in less than an hour, two excavations were made, in which the hunters might conveniently conceal themselves.

Early in the evening, leaving Congo at some distance off, under the protection of a large fire, they repaired to the pits, and there commenced their silent vigil.

The first animals that made their appearance were antelopes of a small species; and, as the hunters were not in want of food, no attempt was made to hinder the little creatures from having their drink and retiring.

Suddenly there was a commotion in the herd, which ended in a rush from the pool. A leopard had pounced on one of them, and, as the others left the ground, the leopard was seen shouldering its victim with the intention to carry it off. As it turned side towards them, Willem fired, and the large heavy bullet from the roer went crashing through the creature’s ribs.

With a loud roar it sprang upwards; then, standing on its hind feet, it walked forward a few paces and fell. The shot had been discharged at random through the dim light, but a better could not have been made with the most deliberate aim, and in the light of day.

After this, the pool was visited by hyenas, jackals, and various other creatures not worth the powder that would be required in killing them.

Some time elapsed, during which the hunters had nothing else to interest them than listening to the snarls, laughter, and growling of the carrion-eaters assembled around the pool.

“I can’t say there’s much sport in this,” muttered Hendrik, discontentedly. “I’ve hard work in keeping awake.”

Another hour passed without their seeing any game worthy of their attention, when Willem, too, became weary of inaction.

They were thinking of vacating the pits and joining Congo by the camp-fire, when something heavier than hyenas was heard approaching the spot. With only their eyes above the surface of the ground, they gazed eagerly in the direction from which proceeded the sound. Two large animals appeared through the darkness, evidently approaching the vley.

“Quaggas!” whispered Willem, as he strained his eyes to assure himself of their species.

“Yes,” answered Hendrik. “Let us knock them over. They’re not much good, but it will serve to wake us up.”

Doubtful whether a shot at anything better might be had that night, Groot Willem was nothing loath, and was the first to fire. The animal at which he had aimed fell forward, and they heard a heavy plunging, as it rolled over into the pool.

Its companion was about turning to make off when Hendrik fired. There was no apparent interruption to its flight, and Hendrik was under the impression that his shot had missed. He was soon undeceived, however, by hearing the animal fall to the earth with a dull heavy sound, at the same time uttering a groan, which did not seem unfamiliar, and yet was not the cry of a quagga.

Without saying a word, both leaped out of the pits, and hastened towards the fallen animals, with a strong presentiment that there was something amiss.

The animal brought down by Hendrik was first reached.

It was not a quagga, but a horse!

“A horse!” exclaimed Willem as he stooped over the carcass to examine it. “It is not mine, thank God, nor yours neither.”

“That is rather a selfish remark of yours, Willem,” said Hendrik. “The horse belongs to some one. I can see a saddle-mark on its back.”

“May be,” muttered Willem, who thought nearly as much of his steed as his great roer. “For all that I’m glad it isn’t mine.”

They then proceeded to the vley, where the other horse was still struggling in the shallow water. As it was evidently unable to get to its feet, and wounded to the death, another shot was fired to release it from its misery.

Wondering to whom the two horses could belong, they returned to the camp-fire; both under the impression that they had destroyed enough of animal life for that night.

Early the next morning they left the pool, and, continuing down stream, within two hours reached the river they had been so long in search of. Here they determined to stop until the next day, and their horses were again tethered out; and, as they were somewhat wearied, they lay down to take repose under the shade of a mokhala tree. From this they were startled by the loud barking of Spoor’em and the calls of Congo.

Springing to their feet they found themselves surrounded by a party of about forty Africans, some armed with spears, while others carried bows and arrows.

From the hostile attitude of the new-comers the hunters saw that they meant mischief; and, seizing their guns, they determined to defend themselves to the last.