Chapter 29 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Just in Time.

It was soon known to the captives, what mode of death was to be adopted for them. The gestures of the chief made it manifest, that he was about to make trial of his new weapon,—Willem’s roer.

One reason why his prisoners had been spared so long may have been for the purpose of learning how to use the weapon with effect, on an occasion so important as the execution of two white men.

The rheims that bound Hendrik’s wrists had been tied much tighter than was necessary. The green hide had shrunk in the burning sun to which the prisoners had been exposed during the day. In consequence, his hands were lacerated and swollen, and he was suffering more torture than either of the others.

This was not all the agony he was enduring. The fate Congo at first only conjectured had now assumed a horrible certainty. Death seemed inevitable; and Hendrik’s active mind, susceptible of strong emotions, became painfully anxious at the approach of death. He feared it. Nor did that fear arise from an ignoble cause. It was simply the love of life, and the desire to cling to it.

He who loves not life is unworthy of its blessings; for those who hold them cheap, and would part with them willingly, have either not the sense to appreciate, or are so evil as only to know life’s bitterness.

Hendrik had a strong desire to live,—to enjoy future days;—and, as he looked upon the preparations being made to deprive him of it, he felt an unutterable anguish. Of all his regrets at parting with the world, there was one supreme,—one thought that was uppermost. That thought was given to Wilhelmina Van Wyk. He should never see her again! His love of her was stronger than his love of life.

“Willem,” he exclaimed, “must this be? Shall we die here? I will not,—I cannot!”

As he spoke, the whole strength of his soul and body was concentrated into one effort for regaining his liberty. He struggled to release his wrists from the rheims. The effort was not without a result. It sent the drops of blood dripping from the ends of his fingers.

Groot Willem was not unmoved in these dire moments. He too had his unwillingness to die,—his chapter of regrets. One, that he should never again see his relatives; another, that the object for which he had undertaken the expedition could never be accomplished.

The faithful Kaffir was not rendered insensible by knowing that death was awaiting him, and now near at hand.

“Baas Willem,” he said, looking pityingly upon his young master, “you be going to die. I bless that God your father and mother has told me about. I never more go back to Graaf Reinet, to see them cry for you.”

The arrangements for the execution were by this time completed; but the cruel chief was not allowed to try his skill in the manner he had designed.

Just as he was about to raise the roer to his shoulder and take aim at one of the condemned captives, a large party of dark-skinned men made their appearance upon the spot.

In the scene of confusion caused by their arrival, the would-be murderers knew not whether they were friends or foes, until they heard a war-cry that was strange to their ears, and saw themselves surrounded by a body of stalwart warriors armed with bows, spears, and guns,—at least two guns were seen, carried by two white men, whom the captives joyfully recognised. It was Hans and Arend. Their companions were Macora and his Makololo.

The reprieve was effected in an instant, and along with it the release of the prisoners.

There was no occasion for the shedding of blood, for there was no resistance made on the part of the intended executioners. Their captives were at once delivered up along with their guns, horses, and other property,—the principal part of which was restored before any explanation could be given.

And now again was Groot Willem called upon to obey the dictates of a humane heart, and intercede with Macora to obtain mercy for others. But for him, the Makololo chief would have put to death every Zooloo upon the ground, and then proceeded to their village to seek further retaliation.

They all united in restraining him from violence; and the baffled murderers were permitted to take their departure without the least outrage being inflicted upon them.

“Your arrival was very fortunate,” said Hendrik, addressing Hans and Arend. “Just in the nick of time; but to me it is very mysterious. How came you and your friends here to know of our dilemma?”

“There’s no great mystery about it,” answered Hans. “When we were told this morning that you were captured and in danger of being killed, of course we started immediately, and have been travelling all day in hot haste to your rescue.”

“But how was it possible for you to learn that we were in trouble?”

“From Sindo, the man Macora was going to kill for his ambition.”

Sindo, then, had not been ungrateful; he had walked, or rather run, all night, to give warning of the danger threatening those to whom he owed his life. Having no influence among their captors, he knew that the only plan for serving the captives was to give notice to those who had power to assist them. This act of gratitude he had successfully accomplished.

There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. The adage was in their case illustrated. But for the mention of Sindo’s name, as the captives were being conducted to the place of execution, awakening in the Zooloo’s mind a suspicion of treachery, the rescuers would have arrived too late. The delay caused by the inquiry after Sindo, at the village, was that which had caused the cup to slip.

The released captives now inquired for Sindo, wishing to embrace him.

He was not upon the ground. Completely exhausted with his long run, he had not been able to return with the deliverers, but had remained at the camp, where the hopo was being constructed.

No time was lost in staying by a spot fraught with so many unpleasant memories; and by the dawn of day our adventurers and their African friends were well on the way towards their encampment.

On reaching it they found Swartboy in a state of strange mental confusion, through joy at their return, and anger at Congo, for having allowed those under his care to get into such terrible trouble.

The service that Sindo had rendered his white friends fully re-established him in the favour of Macora, and he was invited to make his home again among his own people,—an invitation that was eagerly accepted.