Chapter 26 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid


Pushing in front of Groot Willem, Congo entreated him not to make resistance; and so strong seemed his desire that they should surrender without making an effort to maintain their freedom, that he caught hold of the gun which Hendrik had already brought to his shoulder.

“Poison! arrows and spears all poison!” shouted the Kaffir, who appeared well-nigh scared out of his senses.

Both Willem and Hendrik had heard, seen, and read enough of the African tribes who use poisoned spears and darts, to feel something of Congo’s alarm.

They were not cowards, but they saw before them several men carrying weapons more deadly at short distance than their own fire-arms. Only one drop of blood had to be drawn by the point of one of their javelins, to cause certain death accompanied by horrible agonies!

They could not expect to conquer thirty or forty men, without receiving a scratch or two in the encounter; and knowing this, they took Congo’s advice and surrendered.

When the Kaffir saw that the capture of himself and his masters had been effected without a battle, he recovered his self-possession, and demanded of the natives the cause of their strange conduct.

An individual then stepped forward who appeared to have some influence over the others; and by his eloquence Congo became a little wiser, and a great deal more alarmed.

The African spoke in a language which only the Kaffir understood. He stated that he had lost two horses,—both of which had been killed at a vley where they had gone to drink. Although grieved at the loss of his horses, both which he had received as presents, he was quite happy in having discovered the party whom he believed to have wilfully destroyed his property.

The hunters directed Congo to inform him that the horse had been shot by mistake,—that they very much regretted the circumstance; and were quite ready and willing to make ample compensation for the damage he had sustained.

This the black chief declared was all he required, and the hunters were invited to accompany him to his village, where they could talk over the terms of compensation.

All started up the river, but the behaviour and methodical division of their escort convinced the hunters that they were considered as captives.

“This is very unfortunate,” said Hendrik. “We shall have to part with something we can ill spare. They will not be satisfied with trifles, and perhaps will want our horses in exchange for those killed.”

“They shall not have them then,” rejoined Willem, with an air of determination, forgetting at the moment that he was a prisoner, and the horses already in possession of their captors.

About a mile from the place where the Africans had come upon them, they reached a small collection of huts, from which issued a large number of women and children. It was evidently the kraal of their captors.

The leader of the party lost no time in proceeding to business. He was anxious to have his claim settled; so also were Groot Willem and Hendrik. Congo was again called to act as interpreter.

The black chief desired him to inform his masters, that the horses he had lost were of immense value. They had been given to him by an esteemed friend, a Portuguese slave-merchant; and he declared that, in his opinion, they were the best horses in the world. No others could replace them.

“Very well,” said Groot Willem, when this communication had been made; “ask him what he expects us to pay.”

“All this ceremony is not for nothing,” remarked Hendrik, while Congo was again talking to the chief. “We shall have some trouble in getting off from this fellow unless we surrender everything we’ve got.”

“He mustn’t be too greedy,” replied Willem, “or he will get nothing at all. We have performed a silly action, and expect to pay for it.”

“Those are brave words,” answered Hendrik, “but I don’t think we have power to act up to them. It will be they who will dictate terms; and what can we do?”

The chief, before making known his conditions, desired it to be understood that, a mistake having been committed, on that account he would not be hard upon them. He would not punish them for what they had done, more than to require compensation for his loss, which he at the same time gave them to understand was wholly irreparable.

From the appearance of the horses they had killed, the hunters believed that the animals had been left behind by some slave-trader, too merciful to take them any farther. They had evidently been used up by a long journey, and the chief had probably been thanked by their former owner for allowing them to die a natural death in his dominions.

The amount of damage was at length declared by the plaintiff, who was at the same time acting as judge.

“Tell them,” said he to the interpreter, “that all I require, by way of compensation, will be their own horses along with their guns and ammunition.”

“What!” exclaimed Groot Willem, jumping to his feet in rage, “Give them my horse and roer? No, not for all the horses in Africa.”

Hendrik was no less surprised and enraged at the attempt to extort from them; and, seeing the folly of continuing the parley any longer, the youths, without saying a word, walked off towards their horses, intending to mount and ride off.

This intention was opposed by the chief and others of the tribe, when an affray ensued, in which Groot Willem measured his strength against half a score of the natives. In their attempt to take his gun from him, several were hurled to the earth, and amongst them the chief himself. He did not desire to discharge the piece. A shot could only have killed one, while his enemies were legion.

Whether they would have conquered him without taking his life, or not, was doubtful, had not one of the Africans, more cunning than his fellows, adopted an ingenious expedient to terminate the struggle. Seizing a large cone-shaped basket, used for catching fish, he ran behind the young hunter and clapped it, extinguisher-like, over his head. The basket was immediately laid hold of by two or three others; by whom the giant was dragged to the earth and held there until they had bound him with thongs of zebra hide.

Before this feat had been accomplished Hendrik had received a blow from one of the natives that prevented him from making any resistance; and he too was trussed up for safe keeping.

Congo had not interfered in the outrage on his masters, but on the contrary he seemed rather pleased at the turn events had taken. This, however, did not prevent the Africans from tying him like the others.

The rage of Hendrik, on awaking from a brief period of stupor and finding himself fast bound, would be difficult to describe. There can be no greater agony to a brave and sensitive man than to find himself helpless for revenge after having undergone a deep humiliation.

Groot Willem, no less brave but of a different temperament, was more resigned to the indignity they were enduring. His anger had been aroused by the attempt to take from him a thing he greatly prized,—his gun. He had been defeated in trying to retain it; but now that it was gone, and along with it his liberty, he determined to exert some degree of philosophy and patiently wait for what should happen next.

Congo, who had appeared indifferent to seeing his masters bound,—in fact rather pleased at it,—now looked sad enough while submitting to similar treatment. His fellow-captives could have no sympathy, since his behaviour had not failed to beget suspicions of his ingratitude.