Chapter 67 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Why Congo turned Traitor.

Unwilling to trespass any longer on the hospitality of Mynheer Van Ormon, Hans had left the house with the intention to encamp somewhere near it, and wait for the return of his companions.

To this the boer had made but little opposition, and his guest proceeded to prepare the Makololo for a removal. They were still suffering all the horrors of a recovery from their first spell of intoxication, and, on entering the hut where they had passed the night, Hans found them full of that species of repentance that leads to strong resolutions of future reformation.

On being informed of the loss of the giraffes, their remorse seemed as if it would tempt them to suicide, and one of them, while tearing his wool-covered head, kept repeating the word kombi, kombi!

Hans knew that this was the name of a virulent poison much in use amongst the Makololo.

The four unfortunate men were willing to take upon themselves the whole blame of allowing the giraffes to escape, and seemed grateful for the mercy of being allowed to live any longer!

After the cattle and horses had been loaded, and all got ready for a start, Congo expressed his determination to stay behind.

“What does this mean, Congo?” asked Hans. “Are you angry at what your master said to you? You must forget that. He meant no harm. What do you intend doing?”

“Don’t know, baas Hans,” gruffly answered Congo; “don’t know nuffin’.”

Believing that the Kaffir was only displeased with himself for his conduct on the night before, and that he would soon recover from his “miff,” Hans made no attempt to dissuade him. Accompanied by Swartboy and the Makololo he moved away, driving the cattle before them, and leaving Congo and his dog behind.

He went in a southerly course, as the grass looked more tempting in that direction. When about three miles from the house he came upon a grove of trees, through which ran a little rivulet. On its bank he determined to make camp, and await the return of his companion.

The manner in which he had left the boer had been rather sudden and unceremonious, and, if called upon to give an explanation of it, only some half-developed reasons would have presented themselves to his mind. Of these, however, there were several. One was the desire of removing the Makololo, now under his sole care, from the temptation of swallowing any more “Cape Smoke.”

This apprehension, however, was altogether groundless, and not even a relief from aching heads and self-condemnation could have induced the subjects of Macora to drink any more for the present.

Hans possessed a philosophic spirit, and, under most circumstances, could wait patiently. Swartboy and the Makololo were in want of rest, to enable them to recover from their last night’s debauch. The cattle and horses were in need of the grass that grew luxuriantly on the banks of the stream. All, therefore, could pass the day with but little inconvenience arising from the absence of the others.

As the night came on, the cattle were collected; and, availing themselves of the habits to which they had been long since trained, they lay down close to the large fire that had been kindled by the edge of the grove.

The night passed without any incidents to disturb them; but, just as day broke, they were awakened by the barking of a dog, and soon after greeted by a familiar voice.

It was that of Congo.

“I thought you would think better of us and return,” said Hans, pleased once more to see the face of the faithful Kaffir.

“Yaas, I come,” answered Congo, “but not to stay. I go back again.”

“Why! What’s brought you, then?”

“To see baas Willem; but he no here. Tell him when he come back to wait for Congo. Tell him wait two days, four days,—tell him always wait till Congo come.”

“But Willem will go to the house before he comes here, and you can see him yourself.”

“No; may be I off with the boer oxen. I work there now. Tell baas Willem to wait for Congo.”

“Certainly I shall do so,” answered Hans; “but you are keeping something hid from me. Why do you wish to see your master, if you are so offended as to have forsaken him. What is your reason for staying behind?”

“Don’t know,” vaguely responded the Kaffir. “Dis fool Congo don’t know nuffin’.”

“Der’s one thing I mus say for Congo,” said Swartboy, “he mos allers tell the troof. He jus done so now.”

The Kaffir smiled as though satisfied with Swartboy’s remark.

After again requesting that Willem should be told to wait his return, he hastened away, followed by the dog Spoor’em.

There was a mystery in the conduct of the man that Hans could not comprehend in any other way than by taking the explanation he had himself given. Congo seemed certainly either to be a fool or acting in a very foolish way.

As the morning advanced, Hans began to believe that the trackers had proved successful in their search. The spoor of the giraffes must have been found and followed, or they would have been back before then.

From his knowledge of Willem, Hans was certain that once on the spoor he would never leave it as long as he had strength to continue. The giraffes had become tame, and there was no reason why they should not be easily retaken. But just as the sun had mounted up to the meridian, this hope was dispelled by the appearance of Willem and his comrade coming back empty-handed.

“You have been unsuccessful,” said Hans, as they rode up. “Well, never mind; there is still a hope left us, and that is, to get safely home.”

“We have another hope besides that,” replied Willem. “We have heard of the giraffes. They were seen yesterday morning about seven miles to the southward of this spot. They are between us and our home, and we are not hunters if we don’t recover them yet. We must be off after them immediately.”

Swartboy and the Makololo were directed to drive in the cattle, and all commenced making preparations for a departure.

“We shall miss Congo and Spoor’em,” said Willem, while the cattle were being loaded. “We shall want them badly now.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Hans, “I had nearly forgotten to tell you that Congo was here this morning, and wished me to say you were to wait until he came to you. He was very anxious to see you, and said you were to wait for him four days, or longer, if he did not see you in that time.”

“Fortunately there will be no need for that delay,” rejoined Willem. “I have just seen the ungrateful rascal,—not half an hour ago.”

“Indeed. And what did he want?”

“Only to dun me for the wages due him for the last year of his services. I have never been more deceived about a man in my life. I could not have believed it possible that Congo would thus turn traitor and desert me.”

The conversation was discontinued, as all became busy in making ready for a start.