Chapter 72 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

All right once more.

On finding himself tied to a tree, gagged, and abandoned Congo could see but one chance of his being released from his confinement, and that was by some beast of prey.

He was quite sure that those who had left him there would never return to relieve him. His reflections were anything but pleasant. They bore some resemblance to those of a sick man, who has been assured by his physician that there is No chance for him to recover.

The Kaffir was not one to give way to a cowardly fear of death, but there was another thought in his mind almost as disagreeable, and that was the chagrin he felt of not being able to see his beloved master again, and make known his discovery of the giraffes.

He even thought, while waiting for his approaching fate, that, if by any means he could let Groot Willem know where his property was concealed, he could then die content.

An hour passed, and a heavy darkness gathered around him. It was the shades of night. A few small animals of the antelope kind came trotting up to the pool, and quenched their thirst.

They were followed by some jackals. Other visitors might soon be expected,—visitors that might not depart without rudely releasing him from his confinement.

Half an hour later, and his eyes, piercing through the gloom of the night, became fixed upon a quadruped, whose species he could not well make out. It appeared about the size of a leopard. It was crawling slowly and silently towards him.

It drew nearer; and just as he thought it was about to spring upon him, it uttered a low, moaning noise. Congo recognised the dog Spoor’em.

For a moment there was joy in the African’s soul. The faithful dog was still living, and had not forsaken him. If he was to die, it would be in company of the most affectionate friend a man can have among the brute creation. Groot Willem and the giraffes were for a while forgotten.

As the dog crawled close up to him, Congo saw that it carried one leg raised up from the ground, and that the hair from the shoulder downwards was clotted with blood.

Spoor’em appeared to forget the pain of his wound, in the joy of again meeting his master, and never had Congo felt so strongly the wish to be able to speak. Gagged as he was, he could not. Not one kind word of encouragement could he give to the creature that, despite its own sufferings, had not forsaken him. He knew that the dog was listening for the familiar tones of his voice, and looked reproachful that he was not allowed to hear them.

Congo did not wish even a brute to think him ungrateful, and yet there was no way by which he could let Spoor’em know that such was the case.

Not long after the arrival of the dog, Congo heard the report of a gun. To the sharp ears of the Kaffir it seemed to have a familiar sound. It was very loud, and like the report of a roer. It sounded like Groot Willem’s gun, but how could the hunter be there? Congo could not hope it was he. Some minutes of profound silence succeeded the shot, which was then followed by three others, and once more all was still. A quarter of an hour passed, and hoof-strokes were heard on the hill above; a party of horsemen were riding along the crest of the ridge. Congo could hear their voices, mingling with the heavy footfall of the horses.

They were about to pass by the spot. “The thieves,” thought Congo. “They are shifting their quarters.”

They were not more than a hundred yards from the tree where he was tied; and, as they came opposite, and just as he became satisfied that they were going on without chance of seeing him, he heard a sort of struggle, followed by the words: “Hold up a minute, Hendrik; my horse has got on one side of a tree, and Tootla the other.”

The voice was Willem’s, and “Tootla” was the name of one of the young giraffes!

Congo made a desperate effort to free his hands from their fastenings, as well as to remove the stick that was distending his jaws. The struggle was in vain.

There appeared no way by which he could sound an alarm and let his friends know that he was near. He could think of none.

They were leaving him. They would return to Graaf Reinet, and he should be left to die at the foot of the tree, or be torn from it by wild beasts. He was almost frantic with despair, when an idea suddenly occurred to him.

He could not speak himself, but why could not the dog do so for him.

His feet were still free, and, raising one of them, he gave Spoor’em a kick,—a cruel kick.

The poor animal crouched at his feet and uttered a low whine. It could not have been heard thirty paces away.

Again the foot was lifted, and dashed against the ribs of the unfortunate dog, that neither made an effort to avoid the blow nor any complaint at receiving it.

The only answer vouchsafed was but a low, querulous whine, that seemed to say, “Why is this, master? In what have I offended you?”

Just as the foot was lifted for the third time, the air reverberated to a long, loud roar. It was the voice of a hungry lion, that appeared to be only a few paces from the spot.

Spoor’em instantly sprang to his feet, and answered the King of beasts by a loud defiant bark.

The faithful animal that would not resist its master’s ill-treatment, was but too ready to defend that master from the attack of a third party.

In the bark of Spoor’em there was an idiosyncrasy. It was heard and instantly recognised.

The moment after Congo had the pleasure of hearing the tramp of horses, as they came trotting down the hill; and the voice of Willem calling out to him!

When released from the tree, and the gag taken from his mouth, the first words he uttered were those of apology to Spoor’em, for the kicks he had just administered!

From the demonstrations made by the dumb creature, there was every reason to believe that he accepted the apology in the spirit in which it was given!

Willem compelled Congo, who had now been thirty-six hours without food, to mount upon his own horse; but this the Kaffir would consent to do only on the condition that he would be allowed to take Spoor’em up along with him.

They at once started away from the spot, and by an early hour of the following morning reached the camp, where Hans, Arend, and the others had remained.

Swartboy, in the joy of seeing them again, increased by the sight of the giraffes, declared that he would never more call Congo a fool.

This promise he has never been known to break.

In the afternoon, the journey towards Graaf Reinet was resumed. Spoor’em being carried for two or three days on the back of one of the oxen, snugly ensconced in a large willow basket, woven by Congo for that express purpose.