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Chapter 68 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Light out of Darkness

In half an hour afterwards the hunters had broken up their camp.

“I feel sorry about having to leave Congo behind,” said Willem, as the cattle were being driven across the stream. “Not that I care a straw for him, the ungrateful wretch, but that we may be unable to find the spoor of the giraffes, not having him with us. He and Spoor’em would be worth everything now.”

“I think,” rejoined his brother, “there’s not much chance of our recovering them. We are now in a settled country where they will find but little rest. They will either be driven out of it or killed by whoever comes across them.”

“I have thought of all that,” replied Willem; “still, I shall hope for a day or two longer. I can better survive the loss, if nobody else succeeds in obtaining the reward offered for them; but should that brother of whom the boer spoke, as being gone on a similar expedition to ours,—should he perform the feat we have failed to accomplish, then I shouldn’t care to live much longer.”

Before they had gone very far, all noticed that there was something wrong with Swartboy, who seemed also inclined to turn back, and was muttering some gibberish to himself, as was his habit when in any way perplexed or annoyed. The excitement in his mind at last became too strong to be restrained, and, drawing near Willem, he asked:—

“What was that, baas Willem, you said jus now ’bout the bruder of dat Dutchman?”

“I hardly remember, Swart,” answered Willem. “Some thing about his going after giraffes and getting the reward instead of ourselves. Why do you ask?”

“But did they gone nort same as we been a doin’?”

“Yes, so the boer told us.”

“How long was dat ago?”

“Seven months, I think he said.”

“Why for you no tell me afore?”

This question Willem did not think worth answering, and Swartboy for a few minutes was left to his thoughts.

Presently he recommenced the conversation. “Baas Willem,” said he. “I think we bess stop, and talk a bit. Congo no fool, but Swartboy. Swartboy a fool, and no mistake ’bout dat.”

“Well, what has that to do with our stopping for a talk?” asked Willem.

“The boer’s bruder, he come back from the nort without catch any giraffe,” replied the Bushman. “I tink he got some now.”

A light suddenly dawned on the mind of Hans, who stood listening to this dialect. The mysterious conduct of Congo appeared better than half explained.

A halt was immediately ordered, and all gathered around Swartboy.

Nearly twenty minutes was taken up in obtaining from the Bushman the information he had to give. From the answers made to about a hundred questions, the hunters learned that, in the hut where he, Congo, and the Makololo had been so freely entertained, they had seen a Hottentot who had lately returned from a journey to the north.

This Swartboy had understood from a few words the man had muttered while under the influence of the “smoke.”

During the evening, the Hottentot had been called away from the hut, and Swartboy had seen no more of him, nor thought anything of what he had said.

Now, however, on hearing that the boer had a brother who had gone northward on a giraffe hunt, Swartboy conceived the idea that the drunken Hottentot had not been there alone. In all likelihood he had accompanied the expedition. It had returned unsuccessful; and the boer’s brothers had stolen the two giraffes that were now missing.

The more this conjecture was discussed, the more probable it appeared.

No doubt Congo had some suspicion that there was something wrong, and he was keeping it to himself lest he might be mistaken.

Had he stayed behind in the hope of ascertaining the truth? His rude behaviour to his former master in the presence of the boer might have been only a ruse to mislead the latter, and give an opportunity for carrying out some detective contrivance. It was all in keeping with the Kaffir character, and Willem was but too delighted to think that such was the explanation.

“I thought at the time I last saw him,” said Willem, “that there was something in his behaviour unlike what would be shown by a traitor. It seemed to contradict his words. I believe that we have all been very stupid. I hope so. I shall go back and see Congo immediately. I shall demand an explanation. He will tell me all, if I can only get the boer out of the way.”

“I have another idea,” said Hendrik. “The two men we saw hunting for horses, and who told us they had seen our giraffes to the south, were a couple of liars. They did not speak like men telling the truth. I can see it now: we were simpletons to have been so easily deceived. They were the boer’s own brothers,—the very men who have robbed us!”

“Yes,” said Hans; “and they had the assistance of Mynheer Van Ormon in doing it. How easy it is to understand his profuse hospitality now. We have indeed been duped.”

The belief that the giraffes had been stolen was now universal, and our adventurers were only too glad to think so. They much preferred that this should be the case than to think the animals had strayed. There would be a far better chance of recovering them.

It is easy to believe what we most desire, and all agreed that the property had been surreptitiously taken from the shed.

Without saying another word, Groot Willem turned his horse upon his tracks, and rode back towards the kraal of Mynheer Van Ormon.

The boer met him outside the enclosures, apparently surprised to see him return. The moment Willem set eyes upon the man’s face, he saw that there was something amiss. He observed a strong expression of displeasure, accompanied with a glance of uneasiness.

“I have come back to have a chat with my old servant,” said Willem. “He has been with me for so many years that I don’t like to part with him on slight grounds.”

“Ver goot,” answered Van Ormon. “You can see him when he come home. He hash goed after the oxen. If you pleash, take him along mit you when you leave.”

As the sun was now about setting, Willem knew that the Kaffir must soon be coming in with the cattle, and he rode off from the house in the hope of meeting him. Soon a large herd was seen approaching from the plain, and, riding around it, Willem found Congo in company with two Hottentots.

While in the presence of his companions, the Kaffir would not speak to him, but was apparently devoting every thought to the task of directing the movements of the herd. His old master seemed unworthy of his notice.

“We have been all wrong in our conjectures,” thought Willem: “Congo has really deserted me. No man could keep up such an appearance as he is doing. I may go back again.”

He was about to turn away, when Congo, observing that both the Hottentots had gone a few yards ahead, and were busy talking to one another, muttered in a low tone: “Go back, baas Willem, and wait at you camp. I come dar to-morrow mornin’.”

Willem was not only satisfied, but overjoyed. Those words were enough to tell him that his Kaffir was still faithful,—that he was acting for the best, and that all would yet be well. He returned to his companions as cheerful and happy as he had been two nights before, while sitting by the Dutchman’s fireside and, under the exhilarating influence of the Schiedam.

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