Chapter 3

Later that same evening the entire family and Hibbet sat around the dinging table on the veranda, overlooking the beautiful Southern African landscape. It had taken Danny, Hibbet and a team of obliging locals half the day to gather all of their stock in safely, but Nomsa had been ready with iced tea, homemade lemonade and cake when they had finally all returned home shortlh after sunset. Both men had been hungry, exhausted and streaked with dirt and sweat. Now they were feasting on steak and potatoes with a mixed green salad - a meal fit to satisfy all of their raging appetites. Evan and Olivia had finally been retired to bed - much to the children's dismay - and the conversation had turned to the subject of Leopard's Den's inevitable plight with the poachers.

Danny sighed.

"There's going to be many more reports of poachers in the area as news gets around that we're short staffed here at the moment." He explained. "More people are going to start taking advantage!"

Du Plessie nodded in agreement as Hibbet glanced from one to the other. "Yeah, but what are we going to do about it?" The older man demanded. "What can we be expected to do? We haven't got the money to employ anymore staff!"

"Blood pressure!" Caroline warned him, and Du Plessie scowled.

Danny shook his head. "I don't know Dupe." He confessed. "You're still too ill to return to work... and… to be completely honest, I'm still not up to taking on the extra work either… I just don't know…"

"I can help!" Hibbet immediately offered, and to his great discomfort suddenly found all eyes were turned upon him.

"You Hibbet?" Danny asked quizzically. "How do you mean?"

"Spending the day with you today Danny has made me see just how much you lot could do with a helping hand around this place at the moment." He explained. "You do a fantastic job, but things aren't easy even at the best of times, and I know from experience just how trying and wearing that can be… the fact is that you can't continue on like this forever, and who knows when Du Plessie will be fit enough to resume his normal duties… you need help to run this place and keep it from going under." He concluded "And I'd hate to see a place as magnificent as this go under just because you're a little short staffed at the moment!"

"So how could you help us Hibbet?" Danny asked, intonation vaguely hopeful. He tried to disguise his tone, but found it impossible as his friend's words offered Leopard's Den renewed hope of some sort of salvation.

"I came here today because I'd heard what had happened, and to see if there was anything I could do…" Hibbet explained. "I can take some time off, help you run this place… just until Dupe is back on his feet again…"

Danny smiled. "This is very kind of you Hibbet… but you heard what Du Plessie said… we couldn't afford to pay you…" He explained.

"I'm not asking for money Danny!" Hibbet responded.

"Then why?" It was Du Plesie's turn to ask the questions.

"Because you're good people." Hibbet turned to the man he'd once hated, but now felt blessed to be able to call his friend. "You're good, decent people, doing a good job here, and although I didn't know it, you did me a great favour all those years ago… a favour which I'd like to at least go some way in trying repay… that is, if you'll have me?" He asked.

"Have you? Of course we'll have you!" Danny beamed, unable to contain his sheer relief and joy. "If you're sure…"

"Oh, I'm sure." Hibbet smiled.

Danny's smile widened into a grin and he turned to look at Du Plesie. "Dupe?" He asked.

"Well… I suppose we could do with the extra help." The older man admitted finally, somewhat less enthusiastic however. It wasn't that he was ungrateful to the man for his offer, nor that he was adverse to having an extra pair of hands on board for a few weeks. Danny was still recuperating himself, and would need all the help he could get if he was going to keep the busisness afloat and not compromise the animal's safety in his absense. But he was a proud man, and it pained him to have to admit to himself that old age was finally catching up with him, and his body wasn't what it had once been. "Not that I'm saying I'm past it… or anything of the sort!" He made sure to point out. "This is only tempory!"

"Perish the thought old man!" Danny laughed, and shook his head. He still couldn't believe that after everything they'd been through Du Plessie could be so hung up on the idea of people thinking he wasn't up to the job anymore. The day Du Plessie left Leopard's Den would be the day their world crumbled around them.

"Hey, less of the old!" Du Plessie protested, although there was a note of good humour in his voice, and all three men as well as Sarah, Caroline and Nomsa, couldn't help but smile.

"Then welcome to the team!" Danny turned to address Hibbet first, before acknowledging the whole group. "I think this calls for a toast!" He said.

"May I do the honours?" The newest member of the team asked as the five adults around the table raised their glasses, and Sarah passed Nomsa an empty one, topping it up carefully with the alcoholic liquid.

"Oh, be my guest." Danny invited.

"To Leopard's Den." Hibbet proposed, and he raised the crystal clear goblet in his hand.

"To Leopard's Den." They all chorused, and the chink of glasses was met with a chorus of laughter in their mutual relief that the immediate future of Leopard's Den looked a lot more certain, thanks to the kindness of an old friend.