Chapter 54 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Chance better than Skill.

The camelopards followed by Hans, Hendrik, and Arend had continued up the bank of the stream; and, being the main body of the herd, were pursued without the hunters having noticed the defection of Willem.

With such noble game in view, and in hot pursuit of it, these three youths were as much excited as Groot Willem himself. Full of ardour they pressed on. Their horses were spurred to such a speed as soon brought them close upon the heels of the flying game.

It was only then that Willem was observed to have parted from them. He was seen half a mile off, and fast increasing the distance. He was heading northward.

This discovery scarce caused them a thought. Each was too much interested in his own chase to think of the others.

They soon closed in upon the giraffes, that had been driven into a sharp bend of the river.

The hunted animals, on perceiving the obstruction, turned back, but found their retreat cut off. The pursuers were coming on behind them.

Arend, who was to the right of the others, was just in time to prevent the giraffes from escaping with dry hoofs, by riding rapidly in advance of his companions.

The herd was again headed towards the river.

In forcing them round, Arend was placed within a few yards of the largest. The instinctive desire to bring down such a grand creature could not be resisted, and, without bringing his horse to a stand, he placed the barrel of his rifle on a line with the camelopard’s head and fired. Skill or chance favoured him, and the giraffe dropped to the shot.

Though a gigantic creature, standing sixteen feet in height the one small bullet, scarce bigger than a pea, was all that was necessary to bring its towering form to the earth. It had been hit on the side of the head, just behind the eye; and, as it received the shot, it raised its fore feet from the ground, spun around as on a pivot, and then fell heavily on its side. As though desirous of putting a period to its sufferings as soon as possible, as soon as it was down it commenced beating the ground violently with its shattered head.

The remaining giraffes were driven on toward the stream, where, seeing no other way of avoiding the enemy that pursued them, they plunged into the water.

The stream was neither broad nor deep, yet was it one that could not be conveniently crossed at that particular spot. The bank on both sides rose several feet above the water; and, from the way in which the animals were wading across, it was evident they were going upon a soft bottom. Not until several of them had reached the opposite shore and made an ineffectual attempt to get out of the channel, did our hunters have any hope of capturing one of the young giraffes. Hitherto they had not thought of being able to take them alive. They had entered upon the chase solely for its excitement, and for the destroying of animal life; but on seeing the camelopards struggling in the stream, they became animated with the same hope that was inspiring Groot Willem about the same time, but on a far distant part of the plain.

“They can’t get up the bank,” shouted Hendrik, “and there are two young ones among them. Let us try to get hold of them.”

To carry out Hendrik’s proposal, but little time was lost in arranging a plan. It was instantly decided that they should separate, and one try to reach the other side of the stream.

This task was assigned to Hendrik. Riding beyond the bend of the river, he reached a place where the bank was shelving and, dashing in, he soon gained the opposite shore.

A part of the equipment of each horse ridden by the hunters was a long rheim made of buffalo hide, and used for the purpose of tethering their animals when upon the grass. At one end of the rheim Hendrik had a loop, such as is used in the lazos of Spanish America. This was the means he intended to make use of for capturing the young giraffes.

On riding opposite to them he found them still in the water. Wearied by their late run, they were standing quietly, apparently too much exhausted to raise their feet out of the soft ooze in which they were sinking deeper and deeper. Two or three of the stronger ones alone continued their struggle to gain the shore, though not one of the drove seemed to think of making escape by moving up or down the stream. They were deterred from this by the presence of Hans and Arend, who had placed themselves on projecting points of the bank, above and below. The appearance of Hendrik directly in front of them caused a change in their attitude. Led by a large male, they commenced plunging about as if determined to make a break up stream. But Arend, who was in that quarter, had only a few paces to go before again appearing to be directly ahead of them, and this brought them a second time to a stand. After a short pause and a good deal of violent plunging, they now turned down stream, in hopes of escaping that way. So sharp was the bend of the river, that Hans, who guarded there, was able to show himself, as if right in front of them, and by loud shouts he once more brought them to bay. As a further encouragement to the hunters to continue the attempt at capturing the young giraffes, they noticed that these made but slight efforts to escape. The mud at the bottom was too tough for the strength of their slender limbs. In the narrow stream they were unable to get out of reach of the rheims, which all three of the hunters had now detached from their saddles, and were looking out for an opportunity to use.

In their efforts to avoid their enemies, the frightened camelopards now rushed to and fro, wearily dragging their feet from the mud, until they were hardly able to move. Hendrik, who was nearest, after two or three ineffectual trials, at length succeeded in throwing his snare over the head of one of the young ones. As soon as he had done so, he leaped out of his saddle, and made fast the other end of his rheim to a tree. There was no chance for the giraffe to break away after that. However strong it might be in the body, its long slender neck was too feeble to aid it in a violent effort; and it soon submitted to its confinement.

“Try and catch the other,” exclaimed Hendrik to his companions, pointing to the second of the young giraffes. “Make haste, and you will have it. See! it’s stuck in the mud. Quick with your rheim, Hans, quick!”

In a second or two, Hans, obeying the call, succeeded in throwing his snare, and the second of the young giraffes became a captive.

As this was all that was wanted, the rest of the herd received no further attention,—the hunters being wholly occupied with the two they had taken.

Left free, the crowd of camelopards once more made a break to get off down stream. In their struggles to escape, one of the young—that captured by Hendrik—was borne down and trampled under the water.

It was not carried off. The rope still retained it; but, although it remained in the hands of its captors, it was only in the shape of a carcass. It was partly drowned by its head being carried under water, and partly choked by the noose having tightened around its neck.

As soon as the herd had gone off, the three hunters turned their attention to the captive that was still alive. It was at first fairly secured, so as to prevent the noose from slipping, and then carefully led out of the stream.

For some time it struggled to get free, but, as if convinced that its efforts would be idle, it soon desisted.

Exhausted with the long race, as well as by its subsequent exertions in the water, it was the more easily subdued.

Our three hunters were in ecstasies. They had now obtained one young giraffe, and there was a possibility of their yet procuring another. The feat of capturing these creatures, that had baffled so many hunters, was proved not to be impossible. After all, Groot Willem had not been like a child crying for the moon. He had hoped for nothing more than might be accomplished. The welfare of their captive was now their greatest care; and, to give it an opportunity of recovering from its fright, as also to get it a little better acquainted with its new companions, they resolved to allow it an hour’s rest before returning to the camp.

The young giraffe was too much exhausted to make any further effort at freeing itself.

With the mild and gentle character of the camel, and nothing of the leopard in its nature, the giraffe soon becomes resigned to captivity.