Chapter 61 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

The Lost Found.

The forest which Willem at first feared might be miles in extent, proved to be but a mere strip of timber, through which he soon passed, discovering an open plain on the other side. Nothing could be seen of the camelopard, though its tracks were found leading out upon the plain.

Willem’s wishes were very difficult to meet. At first he was afraid the giraffe would be lost in a dense forest, where he would be unable to gallop after it on horseback. Now, when contemplating the vast plain before him, he feared that the flight of the escaped captive might be continued for many miles, and he regretted that it had gone out of the timber.

The trees would have given it food and shelter, where it might have stayed until overtaken; but it was not likely to make halt on an open plain.

It must now be many miles off, since they could see nothing of it.

The tracks could be followed but very slowly,—not half so fast as the animal itself had made them, while going in search of the kindred from which it had been so rudely separated several days before. The longer they continued to take up the spoor, the farther they would be from the animal that had left it.

All this was fully understood by our adventurers.

“It’s no use going farther,” remarked Hendrik. “We have lost the creature beyond all hope of recovery. We may as well turn back to camp.”

“Not a bit of it,” answered Willem. “The giraffe is mine, and I sha’n’t part with it so cheaply. I’ll follow it as long as I have strength left me sufficient to sit upon my horse. It must stop sometime and somewhere; and, whenever that time comes, I shall be there not long after to have another look at it.”

Thinking that an hour or two more of what he considered a hopeless chase, would satisfy even Willem, Hendrik made no further objections, but continued on after Congo, who was leading along the spoor.

The sun had by this crossed the meridian, and commenced descending towards the western horizon.

They had started from camp without eating breakfast; and their sudden departure had prevented them from bringing any food along with them. Thirsty and feeble from the long fast, and the fatigue of tracking under a hot sun, they continued their course in anything but a lively fashion.

“Willem!” at length exclaimed Hendrik, suddenly pulling up his horse, “I am willing to do anything in reason, but I think we have already gone on this worse than wild-goose chase, a good many miles too far. We can scarce get back to the camp before nightfall, and I shall commence returning now.”

“All right,” answered Willem. “I can’t blame you. You are free to do as you please; but I shall go on. I need not expect others to act as foolishly as myself. This is my own affair, and you as well as Congo had better turn back. Leave me the dog, and I can track up the giraffe without you.”

“No! no!! baas Willem,” exclaimed the Kaffir. “I go with you and Spoor’em. We no leave you.”

Willem, Congo, and the dog moved on, leaving Hendrik gazing after them.

He remained on the spot where he had pulled up his horse. “Now this is interesting,” muttered the young cornet, as he saw them go off upon the spoor. “I have been acting without motives,—acting like a fool ever since we have been out on this expedition. Circumstances have driven me to it and will do so again. Yes. I must follow Willem. Why should I desert him when that poor Kaffir remains true? If his friendship worth more than mine?”

Spurring his horse into a gallop, Hendrik was soon once more by the side of his forsaken companion.

Willem had a strong suspicion that he was himself acting without reason, in seeking for an object he could hardly expect to find. This sage reflection did not prevent him from continuing the search. Half distracted by the loss of the camelopard, he was scarce capable of knowing whether he now acted sensibly, or like a fool!

To all appearance Hendrik had only followed him for the purpose of prevailing upon him to return.

Every argument that could be advanced against their proceeding farther was used by the young cornet,—all to no purpose. Willem was determined to proceed, and persisted in his determination.

Evening approached, and still was he unwilling to give up the search.

They could not return that night, for they were now nearly a day’s journey from the camp.

“Willem is mad,—hopelessly mad,” thought Hendrik, “and I must not leave him alone.”

They journey on together, and in silence, Hendrik fast approaching that state of mind in which he had just pronounced Willem to be.

But their journey was approaching its termination. It was nearer than either of them expected to a successful issue.

A clump of trees was seen rising up over the plain. They were willows, and indicated the proximity of water.

Towards these the tracks appeared to lead in a line almost direct. The giraffe, guided by its instinct, had scented water. The horses ridden by the trackers did the same, and hastened forward to the clump of trees.

There was a pool in the centre of the grove, and on its edge an animal, the sight of which drew an exclamation of joy from the lips of Groot Willem. It was the escaped camelopard. A second joyful shout was caused by their perceiving that it was again a captive.

The loose rheim, which it had carried away round its neck, had become entangled among the bushes, and it was now secured so that they had no difficulty in laying hold of it. Had they not come upon the spot, it would have perished either by the suicidal act of half-strangulation, from thirst, or by the teeth of some fierce predatory animal.

The rheim was now unwound from the saplings to which it had attached itself, and the giraffe released from its irksome attitude. No harm had yet befallen it.

“Now, Hendrik,” exclaimed Willem, as he gazed upon the captive with an expression of pride and pleasure, “is it not better that we have saved this poor creature than to have left it to die a horrible death?”

“Yes, certainly,” answered his companion. “Much good may sometimes result from what may appear a foolish course of conduct.”

Satisfied with the result of his perseverance, Willem was quite indifferent as to whether his conduct had been foolish or otherwise.

Congo did not seem the least surprised at the good fortune of his master; probably for the reason that he had the utmost confidence in his wisdom, and never for a moment had doubted that the giraffe would be discovered.

Willem never was without the means of lighting a fire,—he was too fond of a pipe for that,—and near a large blazing heap of wood they remained until the first appearance of day.

The journey back to the camp was a tedious one, but was made with much less heaviness of spirit than they had suffered when leaving it to go in search of the lost giraffe, which fortune had so favoured them in finding.