Chapter 38 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

A Talk about Home.

“I have a favour to ask of you, my friends,” said Hendrik, the day after they had been introduced at court. “I want a little information, if either of you can give it.”

“Very well,” said Willem; “I, for one, will do all in my power to instruct you. What do you wish to know?”

“If we are to stay in this part of the world any longer,” continued Hendrik, “I wish some one to give me a good reason for our doing so. I am ready to return home.”

“And so am I,” said Arend.

“And I also,” added Hans. “The last three or four weeks have given me quite enough of hunting giraffes, or anything else. We have been hunted too much ourselves.”

“I’m sorry to hear you talking in this way,” said Groot Willem, “for I am not ready to return yet. We have not accomplished the purpose for which we set forth.”

“True,” replied Hendrik, “and I believe we never shall.”

“Why do you think so?” asked Willem, with a look of surprise.

“Tell me why I should not think so,” answered Hendrik. “To begin with general principles, people are rarely successful in every undertaking in life. We have been fortunate on our two former expeditions, and we have no great cause to complain should we be disappointed in this one. We cannot always expect to win. Fortune is fickle; and my chief desire now is that we may reach home in safety.”

“I am not prepared to go home yet,” rejoined Willem, in a way that told his companions he was in earnest. “We have only been in the neighbourhood of the Limpopo for a few short weeks; and we have been successful in getting a good many hippopotamus teeth. We have made but one attempt to capture giraffes; and I have not come more than a thousand miles, to relinquish an undertaking because I have met with one failure. What are we here for? The journey from Graaf Reinet to this place should not be made for nothing. We must have something to show for the loss of our time, besides the loss of our horses; and when we have made four or five more unsuccessful attempts at procuring what we came for, then I’ll listen patiently to your talk about returning,—not before.”

Hendrik and Arend were thinking of the many narrow escapes from death they had met within the last few weeks, but perhaps more of their sweethearts. Hans could not withdraw his thoughts from the anticipated voyage to Europe but these motives for action would have been powerless as arguments with Groot Willem, even had they made use of them. He had come to the north for two young giraffes. Both time and money had been lost in the expedition, and his companions could give no substantial reason why they should not make some further attempt to accomplish the object for which it had been undertaken.

Willem was generally inclined to yield to the wishes of his companions. On trivial affairs, he never made them unhappy by any spirit of opposition, nor did he suffer himself to be made so. But they could not control him now. It was not in the nature of either Hans, Hendrik, or Arend to return home and leave him alone; and since he continued, as Hendrik said, “obstinate as a vlacke varke” they were reluctantly compelled to remain.

They were told that within one day’s journey to the west, there was a large forest of cameel-doorn, where giraffes were often seen, and they determined to pay this forest a visit.

Macora had become a great favourite at court; and, having the business on hand of establishing his tribe in a new home, he could not accompany them. He assured them, however that there was no fear of their not finding giraffes in the aforesaid forest, as well as a convenient place for constructing a trap to capture them. They would also have men to assist them.

In order not to put them to any trouble in communicating with him, he sent four of his best messengers along with them, two of whom were to be sent to him whenever the hunters had any important news to communicate.

With feelings of renewed pleasure, our young hunters once more set forth upon an expedition, which, instead of being a retreat from savage foes, was but the parting from friends,—that might be met again.

Hendrik and Arend had occasionally forgotten the allurements of home in the excitement of the chase; but when driven from one place to another, and often in danger of losing their lives, it is not to be wondered at that their thoughts should revert to the tranquil scenes of civilised life.

Swartboy was highly delighted at thought of parting with the Makololo. For several days past he had been sorrowing within himself at the misfortune of being found in bad company, or professing to sorrow for it. What the Bushman’s real opinions were, will ever be an unimportant mystery on earth; though he never lost an opportunity of endeavouring to prove that all the misfortunes occurring to his masters had been owing to the fact that they were guided by Congo,—that they had been in company with people who spoke a language the Kaffir could understand, and that he himself could not. This he seemed to think was sufficient reason for any trouble that might befall them. They had left the tribe now, and Swartboy had become one of ten, and not one among hundreds. He had certain duties to perform that gave him a status in the company. His complaints and suggestions were now listened to, and he began to give expression to the hope that he might yet succeed in bringing the expedition to a successful issue!

On the way to the mimosa forest nothing of any interest occurred, even to Hans, who, along the route, kept lingering behind his companions to examine the plants that were to be seen along the way. There was one little incident, however. Apparently a very interesting one to the dogs.

While passing an elevation that might almost have been called a mountain, a troop of chacmas, or dog-faced baboons was seen descending from the summit, probably in search of water. The hunters had often heard that dogs have a greater hatred for these animals than for any others; and they now had strong evidence of the truth of this statement. Only one dog of the whole pack had ever encountered chacmas before; yet, immediately on seeing them, all seemed aroused to the highest pitch of fury it was possible for canine nature to attain. Simultaneously they rushed towards the baboons, baying savagely as they ran.

Sheer instinct seemed to have stirred them to this animosity against animals whose aspect, in some respects, resembled their own.

“Ride forward,” shouted Willem, “or our dogs will be killed.”

Up to this time the baboons had shown no disposition to retreat. They appeared to think that the trouble of fighting dogs was not so great as that of returning up the mountain; but at the first report of Groot Willem’s roer, they scattered off after a fashion that left the dogs not the slightest chance of overtaking them.

Only one of them remained behind, and it was the animal that had received the shot. Being wounded, it was immediately attacked by the dogs, who could not be choked off till they had torn the ugly brute into shreds.