Chapter 37 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Not quite too late.

The stipulated time passed, and nothing was seen of the Matabili; neither was anything known of the result of the mission of Sindo and his companions.

The young hunters were now quite certain that their enemies had relinquished the idea of conquering a band protected by the intellects and weapons of white men, and that they had returned home.

With this opinion, that of the chief did not quite coincide. Nevertheless, according to the agreement, he commenced making preparations for departure.

The cattle were driven out of the enclosure, and again started along the track, all acting as drovers, and urging the animals onward with as much energy as if they believed that the enemy was in close pursuit. To Groot Willem and his companions there was something very inconsistent in the conduct of the Makololo.

They fought like brave men when forced to face the foe but now that no enemy was near, they exhibited every sign of cowardice!

At Willem’s request, Congo asked the chief for an explanation of this unaccountable behaviour.

Macora admitted the truth of what was said, but added that his white friends would see nothing strange in it, if they were only better acquainted with the strategy of Moselekatse and his warriors.

The precaution of keeping scouts in the rear was not neglected; and, a few hours after the march had commenced, one of these brought the news that the Matabili were in pursuit.

As Macora had supposed, they had been waiting for him to forsake a position so favourable for defence.

As the white hunters had now experienced the advantage of receiving the pursuers in a fortified place, Hendrik and Arend, spurring their horses, rode some distance in advance of the herds, for the purpose of selecting a second battle-field.

In finding this, fortune refused to favour them for the second time. The country through which they were now passing was an open plain, presenting no natural advantages for anything but a “fair field and no favour.” This was not what they required.

“We have gone far enough,” said Hendrik, after galloping about a mile. “Our friends can hardly reach this place before being overtaken. We must turn back to them.”

“Of course we must,” mechanically replied Arend, who was earnestly gazing across the plain.

Hendrik turned his eyes in the same direction, and to his surprise saw from twenty to thirty men coming rapidly towards them.

“We are going to be surrounded!” said Arend, as he turned his horse to retreat.

Without further speech, the two galloped back to their companions.

“Macora was right,” said Hendrik, as he joined Groot Willem and Hans. “We should not have left the place where we were able to keep these Matabili at bay. We have made a mistake.”

While Macora was being informed that warriors had been seen ahead, several of the scouts driven in reported that a large body of the Matabili was rapidly approaching from the rear. For a moment Hans, Hendrik, and Arend were not quite certain that the white traders they had met the day before were much to blame for withdrawing from the scene of danger. To them life seemed of too much value to be relinquished without some powerful reason.

Hopes long and dearly cherished were now before the minds of our young adventurers. They could not avoid thinking of their own safety. But they had too much honour to think of deserting the brave Makololo, whom they themselves had been instrumental in bringing into trouble.

They all looked to Groot Willem, who would not abandon the brave chief, to whom they were so much indebted,—not even to save his own life. They faltered no longer. Macora’s fate should be theirs.

The chief was now urged to order a halt of his people; and, in compliance with the request, he gave a shout that might have been heard nearly a mile off.

It was answered by several of those in advance, who were driving the cattle; but amongst the many responsive voices was one that all recognised with a frenzied joy.

The sound of that particular voice was heard at a great distance, and only indistinctly, but on hearing it the Makololo commenced leaping about the ground like lunatics, several of them shouting, “Sindo! Sindo!”

All hastened forward as fast as their limbs could carry them, and in a few minutes after were met by a large party of Makololo warriors, who communicated the pleasing intelligence that more were coming up close behind.

Sindo and his companions had succeeded in the accomplishment of their mission.

Ma-Mochisane, just at that crisis, chanced to be on a visit to the southern part of her dominions, and to have with her many warriors of different tribes of her people.

Macora, a friend of her childhood, was remembered. The desire of aiding him was backed by the hereditary hatred for the Matabili, and not a moment was lost in despatching a party of chosen fighting men to his assistance.

They had arrived just in time. Two hours later, and those they had been sent to rescue would have been engaged with their enemies without the advantage of a position favourable for defence.

The result was that, instead of encountering a small band of outcast and wearied Makololo, Moselekatse’s men found themselves opposed by a large force of warriors fresh and vigorous for any fray,—men who had often been led to victory by the noble chief Sebituane.

Moselekatse’s soldiers saw that there was but one way of saving themselves from the disgrace that threatened them; that was by a sudden change in the tactics they had been hitherto pursuing. They resolved on an immediate onslaught.

They made it, only to be repulsed.

After a short conflict they were completely routed, and retreated in a manner that plainly expressed their intention to discontinue the campaign.

From that hour the young hunters never heard of them again.

Three days after the retreat of the Matabili our adventurers were introduced at the court of Ma-Mochisane by Macora, who made formal declaration of his fidelity to his new sovereign.

On the return of the chief from his long exile he was enthusiastically received by his countrymen,—the more as from his having incurred the resentment of the Matabili.