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Chapter 57 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

An Encounter between old Acquaintances

When morning dawned, the first thought of the hunters was to contrive some plan for getting the young giraffe to the camp.

Willem expressed surprise at his companions having come out without their rheims. The reason given by Hendrik for their having done so was that they did not think they would require them; besides, they had left the camp in a hurry.

They did not anticipate much difficulty in taking back the giraffe. It appeared so weak and submissive that their only fear was of its not being able to make the journey.

For all that, without ropes or lines to lead it, there might be difficulty enough. It might take a notion to resist, or get clear out of their clutches.

“I must have a line of some kind,” said Willem, “even if I have to cut a thong from the hide of one of your horses. I have been standing, or rather sitting, sentry over this creature too long, and have travelled too far for the sake of finding it, to allow any chance of its escaping now. It is but half what we want; and if any of you had been worthy the name of hunter, you would have taken the other half.”

A few hundred yards from the spot grew a copse of young trees,—slender saplings they were, forming a miniature forest, such as one would like to see when in search of a fishing-rod.

Going to this grove, Willem selected out of it two long poles, each having a fork at the end.

One of these was placed on each side of the captive giraffe, in such a manner that the forked ends embraced its neck, and when so tied, by twisting the twigs together, formed a sort of neck halter.

By this means the creature could be led along, one going on each side of it.

Arend grasped the end of one of the poles and Hendrik the other.

So long had the young camelopard been kept in a prostrate position, that it was with some difficulty it managed to get to its feet; and, after doing so, its efforts to escape were feeble, and easily defeated.

At each attempt to turn to one side, its head was instantly hauled to the other, and it soon discovered that it was no less a captive on its feet than when fast confined in the recumbent attitude.

Finding its struggles ineffectual, it soon discontinued them, and resigned itself to the will of its captors.

Mounting their horses, Arend and Hendrik held the poles by which the giraffe was to be guided, while Willem and Congo walked on behind. In this manner the captive was conducted towards the camp.

More than once during their journey Willem reiterated the reproach already made to his companions. If they had only shown as much energy and determination as he had done, they might now have been ready to take the road for Graaf Reinet, with a triumphant prospect before them.

“I would have followed this giraffe,” said he, “until my horse dropped dead, and then I would have followed it on foot until it became mine. I had determined not to be defeated and survive the defeat. Ah! had any of you three shown a particle of the same resolution, we might have abandoned our cattle with pleasure, and started on a straight line for home by daybreak to-morrow morning.”

Arend and Hendrik allowed the elated hunter to continue his reproaches uninterrupted. They were quite satisfied with their own conduct; and each had the delicacy to refrain from telling Willem, that, without their assistance, his capture of the young giraffe would only have resulted in the misfortune of losing his horse, and suffering many other inconveniences.

They knew that Willem, when free from the intoxication caused by the partial fulfilment of a long-cherished design, would not claim any greater share in the credit of the expedition than he was really entitled to. Moreover, his joy at having captured the giraffe was somewhat damped by the fear that his horse had gone off for good.

He was confident that, should he again get possession of him, another giraffe could be taken. With the herd that had been hunted, he had seen two other young ones. They might be found a second time; but there would be a difficulty in running them down, unless he was once more on the back of his tried steed.

By noon the camp was reached, when about the first thing that came under the eyes of Groot Willem was a young giraffe standing tied to a tree! Beside it was his own horse!

The horse had been brought back by the Makololo, who found him straying over the plain as they were themselves returning to the camp. The presence both of the horse and the Makololo was at once explained. Their original intention to visit the country of the white men had been abandoned by them on account of the loss of their cattle. Without these, they had no means of making the long journey that still lay before them. There seemed nothing for them but to go back to their home to Macora. But they were unwilling to set off without taking leave of their late travelling-companions; and, as they were at the same time afraid of being blamed for the loss of the white hunters’ cattle, as well as their own, they passed the night in great distress, uncertain as to what they should do. Just as morning dawned, they descried Willem’s horse grazing close to the spot where they were encamped. They had last seen the great hunter on this horse’s back, going in pursuit of the giraffes; and they were anxious to learn why the animal was now separated from its rider. They knew that it was greatly prized by its owner, and they believed that, by taking it back to him, they would be forgiven for their neglect.

In this, they were not mistaken. About the other animal—the young giraffe that stood tied to a tree—Groot Willem neither asked nor received any explanation. He held his tongue about that. He had been over thirty hours without tasting food, and now without uttering another word, he set to work upon a dinner that Swartboy had cooked for him, and, after showing that his discomfiture had not robbed him of his appetite, he stretched himself along the grass and fell into a sound sleep.

The hunters had now but one more task to perform before taking the direct route towards Graaf Reinet. They must make an effort to recover the horses and cattle of which they had been despoiled. The sooner this work should be commenced, the better the prospect of success; but Groot Willem, on being awakened and consulted, declared that he would do nothing but sleep for the next twelve hours; and, saying this, he once more sank into a snoring slumber. As the others could take no important step without him, they were compelled to leave the matter over, till such time as the great hunter should awake, which was not before breakfast-time of the following day.

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