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Chapter 70 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Congo a Captive

The horsemen pulled up with a shout of exultation.

“What did you stop for?” asked the one who had struck the blow. “Why didn’t you keep on running?” he added with a fiendish laugh, as he leaned over the prostrate body of the Kaffir.

“Yaas, why don’t yer go on to tell where der two cameels be, to der fools whom found um?” asked the other. “Why don’t yer do datch?”

The two men who were addressing the half-unconscious Congo were the same two Willem, Arend, and Hendrik had met the day before,—the men who had directed them to search to the south. One was the brother of Mynheer Van Ormon, the other was his brother-in-law. They were men who had for many years been living on the borders of the colony,—part of their time engaged in fighting Kaffirs and Griquas, and robbing them of their cattle, the other part in trading with the natives for ostrich-feathers and ivory. They had lately returned from an unsuccessful expedition to the north, the object of which had been to procure two young giraffes, in order to obtain the reward or price offered for them by the consul of the Netherlands. On seeing within the kraal of their kinsman Mynheer Van Ormon, the very animals they had sacrificed so much time in vainly searching for, they could not resist the opportunity of appropriating them. Their idea was, to conceal the animals for a few weeks among the hills, until those to whom they properly belonged, giving them up as lost, should return to their homes. The giraffes might then be taken to Cape Town, and disposed of, without the original owners ever knowing anything of the trick that had been played upon them.

Unfortunately for Congo, they had that morning been in search of something for food, and had returned just in time to see him playing spy upon their camp.

“This is the villain who pretended to quarrel with his master and leave him,” said the man who had knocked the Kaffir down. “I told Van Ormon to send him off with the others, but he was sure the fellow did not wish to assist them, and could not if he would. By his folly our game has been nearly lost. We’ve just been in time; but what are we to do with the black brute, now that we’ve caught him?”

“Kill him!” replied the other, who was the brother of Van Ormon. “He mus never got to de white mens. Dey would come and rob us all.”

“Very likely. Some people are bad enough to do anything; but I have half killed this fellow already,—you may do your share, and finish him, if you like.”

“No Shames; as you pegins this little job, it is besh you finish it yourself.”

Bad as were the two ruffians into whose hands Congo had fallen, neither of them liked to give him the coup de grace, and, undecided what else to do with him, they tied his hands behind his back.

He was then assisted to his feet, and, reeling like a drunken man, was led towards their camp.

Congo soon began to recover from the effects of the blow, and became sensible of the danger he was in. By their talk, he could tell that they intended putting him out of the way. From their savage looks and gestures he could see there was but little hope of his life being spared. His captors would not dare to let him escape. He had learned too much to be allowed to live. No assistance could be expected from his master and companions. They were waiting for him far-away.

“Is this the game you have brought back?” exclaimed the man sitting over the camp-fire, as the others came up dragging their captive after them.

“Yes, and as you are the cook, you must dress it for our dinners,” replied he who answered to the name of “Shames.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me what this means?” interrogated the first.

“Only this: we have caught a spy. We have been tracked by him to this place. But there’s no great harm done yet. We’re in luck, and nothing can go wrong with us. Our catching this fellow is a proof of it.”

A long consultation was now carried on between the ruffians, in which they all agreed in the necessity of putting the prisoner to death.

It would never do to let him live. He would in the end bring them into trouble, even if kept a prisoner for years. His tongue must be silenced forever. There was but one way of silencing it. That was, never to allow him to leave the place alive.

There was a point upon which his captors were a little in doubt. Had the Kaffir undertaken the task of tracking them upon his own responsibility, or with the knowledge and at the instigation of his masters? In the former case only, would they be safe in destroying him. In the latter, the act might be attended with danger. To make sure of this, one of the three men—Van Ormon’s brother it was—proposed going back to the house, there, if possible, to ascertain how the case stood. To this the other two readily consented; and, mounting his horse, he rode off for the kraal of his kinsman.

As soon as he was gone, the others tied Congo to a tree, and then seating themselves under the shade of the cameel-doorn, they proceeded to amuse themselves with a game of cards.

Four hours passed,—hours that to the Kaffir seemed days. He was in a state of indescribable agony. The thongs of hide that bound his wrists to the branches were cutting into the flesh, and besides, there was before his mind the positive certainty that he had not much longer to live.

The fear of death, however, scarce gave him so much mental pain as his anxiety to know something of the fate of his companions, and his wish that Groot Willem should recover the giraffes. He now regretted that he had not revealed his suspicions at the last interview with his young master. This might have saved the hunters from their loss and himself from the fate that now threatened him. It was too late. He had acted for the best, but acted wrongly.

In the afternoon Van Ormon’s brother came riding back to the camp.

“Well! what news?” asked James, as he came within speaking distance.

“It ish all right. Dey don’t know nothing of what’s up. Mine bruder have constant watch over their camp. They be in von quandary, and will soon go home.”

“Is Van Ormon sure that they hadn’t any communication with this Kaffir?” asked James.

“Yesh! they had. One of them came to the house, and saw this fella yesterday. But for all that, blackee never said von leetle word to him. They were well watch while they wash togedder.”

“Then perhaps it is not all right, as you say. They may have the same suspicion that led him here. Why the deuce don’t they go off home? I don’t like their hanging about so long.”

“I tell you, Shames, it ish all right. We have only to get rid of the spy. He must never see the fools who own him, again. What ish we to do with him?”

“Send a bullet through his body,” said the man who had been left in charge of the giraffes.

“Yes; he must be killed in that way or some other, certainly,” said James; “but which of us is to do it? It’s a pity we did not shoot him down while he was running. Then was the time. I don’t like the thing, now that I’ve cooled down.”

Bad as the ruffians were, none of them liked to commit a murder in cold blood. They had determined that Congo must die, yet none of them wished to act as the executioner.

After a good deal of discussion and some wrangling, a bright idea flashed across the brain of Van Ormon’s brother. He proposed that their prisoner should be taken to a pool that was some distance down the gorge; that he be tied to a tree by the side of the pool, and left there for the night.

“I see de spoor of lion dare every mornin’,” said he, grinning horribly as he spoke. “I’ll bet mine life we find no more of dis black fella ash a few red spots.”

This plan was agreeable to all; and at sundown the Kaffir was released from his fastenings, conducted down the narrow valley, and firmly spliced to a sapling that stood close to the edge of the pool.

To provide against any chance of his being heard and released by a stray traveller, a stick was stuck crosswise in his mouth, the bight of a string made fast over each end of it, and then securely knotted at the back of his head.

After taking a survey of his fastenings, to see that there was no danger of their coming undone, his cruel captors made him a mocking salute; and, bidding him “good bye,” strode off towards their camp.

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