Chapter 40 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Another Disappointment.

Three days after the departure of the messengers, Macora’s promise of aid was again fulfilled by the arrival of thirty workmen. A site for the hopo was chosen about half a mile from the forest edge, and the construction of it was immediately commenced.

Anxious to learn the result of another attempt at capturing giraffes, the hunters toiled early and late. Two of them were constantly handling the axes, felling small trees, which the blacks transported to the place where they were to be used, while the other two superintended the setting of the sticks. The labour of constructing this trap was not so great as the other, for a more convenient site had been chosen. The two fences were to be placed a little beyond the sides of the mimosa grove, which was not more than half a mile wide; nor was the pit made so large as the first; and by toiling nearly all the time from sunrise to sunset, the contrivance was got ready for use in seven days.

While the work was progressing, several giraffes had been seen in the neighbourhood, and the hopes of the hunters were once more in the ascendant. All were in high spirits with the prospect that, within two or three days, they might be on their return to Graaf Reinet. To make more sure of success they paid a visit to the second mimosa grove, taking along with them a large party of the Makololo. Their object was to drive the giraffes out of that tract of timber into the one where the trap was being prepared for them. During their excursion no camelopards were seen in this second grove; but this, in the opinion of the hunters, was of little consequence. They would be discovered in the place where they were wanted; and in this hope they hastened back to the hopo.

The same means for driving the giraffes into the trap were again employed. A regular battue was established,—all hands taking share in it. The Makololo, accompanied by their dogs, and making as much noise as lay in their power, passed through the tract of timber, while Willem and Hendrik rode along one side, and Hans and Arend on the other.

As the beaters drew near the end where the trap was established, Willem began to have an apprehension that something was wrong. No herds of large game were seen escaping from the cover. No sounds of crashing sticks and breaking branches struck upon his ear. The forest seemed deserted by all but the noisy Makololo, who were working their way through its shady aisles. The termination of the battue was at length reached. Within the pen were seen enclosed a few small antelopes of common species, a pair of brindled gnus, and some wild hogs.

This was a bitter disappointment. The giraffes had got away, no one knew how or where. They might return again; but no one could be certain of this. Those amongst the Makololo who professed to be best acquainted with their habit, expressed the belief that they had migrated to same extensive forests far-away towards the south, and that no more camelopards might be found in that neighbourhood for the six months to follow. They (the Makololo) were anxious to return to their homes. Perhaps this may have guided them in their opinion. They had huts to build, and land to cultivate for their families, and had neglected these duties in obedience to the command of their chief. The hunters could not reasonably detain them longer, and, though with reluctance, permitted them to take their departure.

Three days were passed in riding about the neighbourhood, and exploring it within a circle of twenty miles. Several small groves of cameel-doorn were found, but no camelopards could be seen. They had evidently forsaken that district or country, and might not return for many weeks or months. The Makololo appeared to have spoken the truth.

“I don’t say that we have been acting like fools,” said Arend; “but I will say that we deserve to be called nothing else, if we squander any more time in search of what fate has decreed that we are not to obtain.”

“Go on, Arend!” exclaimed Hendrik. “I could not talk more sensibly myself.”

“I have nothing more to say at present,” said Arend, with a significant shake of the head, as much as to say that the subject was too plain to require discussion.

“What should we do, Hans?” asked Groot Willem.

“Start for home,” was the ready answer. “I am now of Hendrik’s opinion,” continued the botanist. “We should not expect to be successful in every undertaking, and we have for some time been engaged on one in which we seem destined to fail.”

“Very well,” said Groot Willem. “Let us first go back to the country of Macora. It will be so far on our way to Graaf Reinet.”

Seeing that Swartboy was anxious to give his opinion on this important subject, Hendrik was kind enough to give him a chance by asking for it. The Bushman possessed to an extraordinary degree the not unusual accomplishment of saying a very little in a great many words. Fortunately, for the gratification of his vanity, the hunters were at supper, and had time to listen to his circumlocution.

The failure of the expedition so far was, in Swartboy’s opinion, wholly owing to Congo. He had known from the first that no success could attend them while guided by a Kaffir, or any race of blacks whose language a Kaffir could understand.

Swartboy further informed them that in his childhood he had daily seen giraffes; and that if they were amongst his countrymen, the Bushmen, who, in his opinion, were honest and intelligent compared with other Africans, they would have no difficulty in procuring what they required. This communication, to those who knew that the Bushmen were, perhaps, the lowest specimens of humanity to be found in all Africa, only created a smile on the faces of his listeners; but with this proof of his eloquence Swartboy seemed quite satisfied.

On their arrival at Macora’s new settlement, the chief expressed much regret at the failure of their expedition, but could give Willem but little or no hope that there was other chance of success, at least for some time to come.

Camelopards, he said, often migrated from one district to another, travelling for several days at a time, and often going thirty or forty miles a day. A drove containing young ones, such as were required, might not be seen in the neighbourhood for several weeks. He still promised to render all the assistance himself and tribe were capable of affording.

Willem might have remained to try another trap, but the voice of his companions was in favour of at once setting out for Graaf Reinet. This soon became too emphatic for him to resist, and the great hunter had to yield. A sort of compromise was, however, agreed upon, which was that they should go home, not on a direct course for Graaf Reinet, but through the country of the Bechuanas,—crossing some districts inhabited by the Bushmen. Thence they could turn eastward and homeward.

In this journey Willem promised to cause them no unnecessary delay; and his companions agreed to do their best in aiding him to accomplish his cherished purpose.

In Macora’s tribe were four young men who had a strong desire to visit the white settlements, and learn something more of the customs of a civilised people than could be gathered from occasional hunters and traders. These young men were furnished by their friends with an outfit of oxen, and some merchandise in the shape of leopard skins, ostrich-feathers, and ivory. They were instructed by Macora to render all the assistance they could to his friend Willem and his young associates.

On leaving, the hunters were escorted by the chief and other leading men of the tribe for a distance of several miles. At parting with these, our adventurers had every reason to know that they were taking leave of true friends.

The chief and Sindo were nearly disconsolate at the separation, especially from Groot Willem, to whom both declared that they owed their lives. Each promised sometime to pay him a visit in his far-away home. The hunters started forth on their journey under the firm impression that amongst the Makololo were men possessing almost every noble attribute of human nature.