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Chapter 27 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

In Thongs

The prisoners were compelled to remain inactive spectators of a division of their property, most of which was appropriated by the chief himself, as a sort of compensation for the loss of his horses, and the damage his own person had sustained in the capturing of one of his prisoners. For, before securing Groot Willem, he had been sent to the earth under a blow from that sturdy hunter’s roer.

Beyond this present humiliation, the hunters had placed themselves under another and more serious obligation,—that of satisfying a desire for revenge.

“It is no use, baas Willem,” said the Kaffir, who had managed to get close beside his master. “We’ll be killed for showing fight.”

Congo next expressed his opinion that, had no resistance been offered to the chief, an opportunity might have been afforded them for returning to Macora. He was quite positive now that no chance for this would be allowed, not even to himself, who had only been pretending to be a traitor for the sake of gaining favour, and thus being enabled to assist them, his young masters.

“Do you think they really intend to kill us, Congo?” asked Willem.

“Yaas, baas. Sure they intend it,” answered the Kaffir. “They ’fraid now to let us go.”

“But, if they intend killing us, why do they not do so at once?” inquired Hendrik.

Congo explained, that their captors belonged to a wandering tribe of Zooloo Kaffirs, a warlike people, who had but little respect for white men. They were of a race that demanded tribute of the Portuguese at the north, and obtained it; and he was sure that they would never forgive the insult of their chief being knocked down in the presence of his subjects. That, alone, would lead to their being killed.

His explanation of the reason why they were not killed immediately showed him to be so well acquainted with the manners and customs of the people into whose hands they had fallen, that, after its relation, Willem and Hendrik could no longer doubt the truth of his assertions.

He said that white men were never put to death within sight of the kraal, lest the affair might be talked of by the women and children in the presence of other white men who might pass through the country. Although all might be well aware of their fate, but few would witness their execution. They would be led away some night, two or three miles from the village and then put to death. Their executioners would return to the kraal with the story that they had been sent back to their own country.

The chief, Congo believed, was not yet ready to witness their execution, being too well pleased with his late acquired property to think of any other business for the present.

Willem and Hendrik, after all that had been told them, were not prepared to give up every hope. Some chance to escape might offer, though it should be with bare life; for they could not expect to take with them their horses and guns.

As evening came on, the watch over the prisoners seemed less strictly kept than during the earlier hours of the day. But in vain they strove to rend the thongs that bound them, or slip from their embrace. They had been too securely tied, most likely by one whose experience, alas! had been but too well perfected in the enslavement of his own unhappy countrymen.

During the evening, an individual was observed approaching. Stepping up to where Groot Willem was bound, he commenced an earnest scrutiny of his features.

Willem fancied that the man had a familiar look, and, examining him attentively, he recognised no less a personage than the banished Sindo, the individual whom he had saved from the wrath of Macora. Here was a sudden transition from despair to hope. Surely the would-be chief could not be ungrateful! Perhaps he would intercede in their behalf! This was but his duty.

Willem strove to make him understand that he was recognised, hoping the knowledge of that would stimulate him to exert himself on their behalf. The attempt wholly failed. With a scornful expression upon his features, the man moved away.

“That’s Sindo,” muttered Willem to his fellow-prisoners. “He appears at home among them. Will he not assist us?”

“Yaas, that is Sindo,” said Congo, “but he no help you.”

“Why do you think so, Cong?”

“He no big enough fool do dat.”

This might be true. Sindo had once got into trouble through treason, and had narrowly escaped death. He would be a fool to incur such a danger again, in the new home he had found for himself.

This was the construction Groot Willem was inclined to put on the African’s conduct. Sindo was acting ungratefully. He had not shown the slightest sympathy for those who had befriended him in his hour of adversity. On the contrary, he had cut their acquaintance in the most unceremonious manner.

All night long they lay in their thongs. Morning came and still they were not set free.

“What does this treatment mean?” asked Hendrik. “What do they intend doing with us?”

“I am beginning to have fears that Congo is right,” answered Willem. “They do mean harm. They have robbed and kept us tied up all night. Those acts look suspicious.”

“But dare they deprive us of life?” asked the ex-cornet. “We are white men, and of a race who avenge each other’s wrongs. Will they not be afraid of the consequences of proceeding to extremities?”

“So I once would have thought,” replied Willem, “but from the way we are now treated, I believe they fear nothing.”

“I tell you, baas Willem,” joined in Congo, “the chief here got too much fear.”

“Indeed! He has a peculiar way of showing it.”

“I mean, he’s ’fraid to let us go. We’ll have to die, baas Willem.”

The Kaffir uttered these words with a resigned expression of countenance, that proclaimed him inspired by a firm conviction of their truth.

“Must this be, Hendrik?” said Willem, turning to his companion. “It hardly seems possible. Tell me, am I dreaming?”

“I can answer for myself,” replied Hendrik, “for I was never more awake. The rheims around my wrists are nearly cutting off my hands. I shall die if I have to remain tied up much longer. But dare these people put us to death?”

For a time, the captives remained silent. They were reflecting upon the many atrocities which they had heard to have been committed by Zooloo Kaffirs on the white settlers of the Cape country,—deeds of unprovoked violence performed much nearer the reach of retribution than these now were. The savages into whose hands they had fallen were protected by distance from any chance of being chastised from the south; and they had no respect for the cowardly Portuguese of the north.

This was not all. The hunters had first done them an injury, and then refused what had been demanded for compensation. In that resistance, a chief had been outraged by a blow. Moreover, there was property which the natives dearly prized; and the safest way to secure it would be to render their captives incapable of ever afterwards claiming it, or seeking redress for the spoliation.

The whole case wore a black look. Our adventurers began really to believe that Congo was telling the truth, when he said, they would have to die!

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