Chapter 66 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

News of the Lost.

The sky had been overclouded all day, and continued so as the sun went down. Over them descended a night as dark as Erebus.

Perceiving the impracticability of getting that night to the house of the boer,—a distance of ten or fifteen miles,—the disappointed trackers dismounted, and staked their horses upon the grass, determined to wait for the return of another day.

The night was passed in fitful slumbers around a camp-fire, where they were only visited by a flight of large moths, and some laughing hyenas, that by their harsh cachinations seemed to mock them in their misery.

They were in a district of country from which the most noble of its denizens seemed to have been driven, and the most despicable only remained. When morning dawned they again climbed into their saddles and continued on towards the kraal of the boer.

When, as they supposed, within about five miles of the house, they met two strange horsemen coming in the opposite direction.

“Goot morgen, shentlemens!” saluted one of the strangers as they drew near. “I’m glat to meet some ones coming your ways. Hash you seen anything of our horses?”

“Do you mean those you are now riding?” asked Hendrik.

“No, not these, but five other horses,—no, three horses and two mares,—all mitout either sattles or pridles; one red horse mit one eye and a white poot on the left behind leg, one mare mit a star on the front of his head, und—”

“No,” interrupted Hendrik, “we have been out since yesterday morning, but have seen no stray horses of any description; not a horse except those we are riding ourselves.”

“Then we need not look in the direction you have been,” said the other horseman, who spoke English with a proper accent. “Will you please tell us whence you have come?”

Hendrik gave them a brief history of their course during the last twenty-four hours; and, in doing so, mentioned the object of their expedition,—the search after the giraffes.

“If that’s what you’ve been after,” said the man who spoke proper English, “perhaps we can assist you a little. From what you tell me, I presume you must have been staying at the kraal of Mynheer Van Ormon. Yesterday morning we were looking for our horses about ten miles south of his place, when we saw two giraffes, the first I had ever seen in my life. We were badly mounted, and unprepared for hunting anything except our strayed horses, else we should have given chase.”

“Ten miles to the south of the kraal!” exclaimed Willem, “and we seeking for them twenty to the north. What fools we have been. What were the giraffes doing?” he asked earnestly, turning towards the man who had one more awakened within him the sweet sentiment of hope. “Were they grazing or going on?”

“They were travelling southward at a gentle trot, but increased their speed on seeing us. We were not within a quarter of a mile of them.”

Our adventurers were too impatient to stay longer on the spot; and, after getting a few further directions, they bade the strangers good day and hastened on towards the house.

On entering its enclosure the first person they encountered was the boer Mynheer Van Ormon.

“I see pat luck mit you, mine poys,” said the Dutchman, as they rode up to him. “I knowed it would pe so. The cameels have goed too far for you.”

“Yes, too far to the south,” answered Willem. “We have heard of them, and must be off immediately. Where are our companions?”

“They goed away yester morgen to live where the oxen get grass. They now waiting for you at the south.”

“That’s all right,” said Hendrik. “We must hasten to join them; but I think we’d be better of something to eat first. I’m starving. Mynheer Van Ormon, we must again trespass on your hospitality.”

“So you shall, mine poys, mit pleasure all around; put who told you I vas Mynheer Van Ormon?”

“The same two men who told us about the giraffes. They were looking for some stray horses.”

“Dat mush be mine neighbour Cloots, who live fifteen miles to the east of thish place. They say they see the cameels. Where an’ when they see ’em?”

“Yesterday morning, about ten miles south of this place, they said.”

“May be dey be gone to Graaf Reinet to say you are coming. Ha, he, hi! Dat ish ver’ goot.”

The boer then conducted his guests towards the dwelling. On passing a hut by the way, the hunters were surprised at seeing Congo suddenly disappear around a corner!

On the part of the Kaffir, the encounter appeared both unexpected and undesired, as he had started back apparently to avoid them.

This was a new mystery.

“Ho Congo! come back here,” shouted Willem. “Why are you here? Why are you not with the others?”

The Kaffir did not condescend to make answer, but skulked into the hut.

The boer now proceeded to explain that the Kaffir had expressed a wish to be employed at his place, and had declared that he would proceed no further with his former masters, who had cruelly ill-treated him for allowing the giraffes to escape. He denied having done anything to influence this strange decision.

“This cannot be,” said Willem. “There must be some mistake. He is not telling the truth if he says that we beat him. I may have spoken to him somewhat harshly; I admit having done so, but I did not know he was so sensitive. I’m sorry, if I have offended him, and am willing to apologise.”

Mynheer Van Ormon stepped up to the door of the hut and commanded the Kaffir to come forth.

When Congo showed himself at the entrance, Willem apologised to him for the harsh language he had used, and, in the same manner as one friend should speak to another, entreated him to forget and forgive, and return with them to Graaf Reinet.

During this colloquy the sharp eyes of the boer were glancing from master to servant, as though he knew what the result would be. They showed a gleam of satisfaction as the Kaffir declared that he preferred remaining with his new master; and the only favour he now asked of Willem was some compensation for his past services.

Had Congo been one of the brothers, Hans or Hendrik Von Bloom, Willem could not have done more towards effecting a reconciliation. At length, becoming indignant at the unaccountable conduct of his old servitor, he turned scornfully away, and, along with Hendrik and Arend, entered the house.

After seeing a joint of cold boiled beef, a loaf of brown bread, and a bottle of Cape wine placed before his guests, the boer went out again.

Hastily repairing to one of the sheds, he there found a Hottentot servant at hard work in saddling one of his horse.

“Piet,” said he, speaking in great haste, “quick, mine poy! chump into your saddle, and ride out to the north till you meet mine bruder and Shames. Tell them not to come more so near as half a mile to the house for one hour. Make haste an’ pe off!”

Two minutes more and the Hottentot was on the horse, galloping away in the direction given to him.

Having satisfied their hunger, thanked their host and his fat vrow for their hospitality, and bidden them farewell, our adventurers started off for the South, anxious to rejoin Hans, and continue the search after the giraffes.