Table of Content

Chapter 69 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

The Kaffir discovers too much

When Congo was made aware that the giraffes were missing, he believed himself more to blame than any one else. Conscience told him that he had neglected his duty. His regret for what had happened inspired him with a strong resolve to do all in his power towards recovering the lost animals. On examining the broken stockade through which they had escaped, he had doubts as to its being their work. In crushing out the posts with the weight of their bodies they must have made a noise that he should have heard; for the giraffes had been tied within ten yards of where he had passed the night. The posts to which they had been attached had not been dragged away, as would have been the case had the animals drawn them out with their rheim fastenings. He had a suspicion that they had been taken down by human hands; but, as the others did not appear to think so, he fancied there might be a possibility of his being wrong. He therefore kept his suspicions to himself. Had he said that the giraffes could not have knocked down the stockade without his hearing them, he would have been told that he was too drunk to hear anything, and his testimony discredited. He knew that he was not.

He had observed something else to confirm his suspicion. He remembered the Hottentot, who in his cups declared that he had lately been to the north, where he had seen giraffes hunted and killed. He had heard the Hottentot called out from among the company, and by a man who spoke “boerish English.” The voice was not that of the proprietor of the place, whom he had seen early in the evening; and yet he had observed no other white man about the establishment.

Moreover, some saddled horses he had seen in the stables the night before were also gone. It was these things that had determined him to stay at the house and watch. On pretence of hiring himself to the boer he was permitted to remain.

Every day something turned up to confirm his suspicions. He had seen the Hottentot sent off, while Willem, Arend, and Hendrik were eating their breakfast inside; and, soon after their departure, he had witnessed the arrival of two white men, who appeared to consider the place their home. Those men, he believed, had been there on the night when the giraffes were missed, and Congo suspected them to be the thieves. He saw them go off again in the direction they had come, equipped as for a hunting expedition, or for some distant journey. He would have followed them, but dared not, lest his doing so might be observed and excite the suspicion of the boer.

Believing that they would not go far that night, he made up his mind to track them on the following morning. Stealing away from the shed, where he slept, he took up their spoor as soon as the first light of day would allow of it, and, following this, he soon saw enough to assure him that his suspicions were correct.

A journey of ten miles brought him amongst some ranges of steep hills, separated from each other by deep, narrow gorges. On ascending to the top of one of these, he perceived a small column of smoke rising from a ravine below.

Throwing his hat upon the ground, and commanding the dog Spoor’em to keep a watch upon it, he stalked forward and soon obtained a view of what was causing the smoke. It was a fire kindled under the shadow of some cameel-doorn trees, as if for the bivouac of hunters.

Judging by two animals that stood tied to the trees, Congo knew that they who had kindled the fire were not hunters, but thieves. The animals in question were giraffes,—young ones,—the same that Congo had been driving before him for some hundreds of miles.

Contrary to his expectations, there appeared to be but one man in charge of them; and that, neither of the two he had seen the evening before at Van Ormon’s. The men he had been tracking must have visited the camp and gone off again. Their absence was but of little consequence. The giraffes were there, and that was all he wanted. He could now go back and guide the real owners to the spot, who would then be able to reclaim their property. Had the two men he had traced to the camp been seated by the fire, he would no doubt have succeeded in accomplishing his plans. But unfortunately they were not.

After noting the topography of the place, so that he might easily recognise it, he turned to depart.

Before proceeding twenty paces on his way, he was startled by the report of a gun. The sound was followed by a howl of pain, which he knew came from the hound Spoor’em. At the same instant, trotting out from some bushes on the brow of the hill, he saw two mounted men. One glance told him they were the men he had seen the evening before it the house of Van Ormon. They were those on whose track he had come. Crouching among the bushes, he endeavoured to avoid being seen; but in this he was unsuccessful.

A shout from one of the men told him that he was discovered, and soon after the hoof-strokes of the galloping horse told that they were rapidly approaching his hiding-place. Though swift of foot, there was no chance for him to escape; for all that, instinct led him to take to his heels. For some distance down hill, which was very steep, he was able to keep in advance of his mounted pursuers. But once on the level ground, the horsemen soon closed upon him, and the chase was brought to an abrupt termination by one of them striking him from behind with the butt of his gun, and rolling him flat upon his face.

 Table of Content