At this sign that the night had begun, we turned in. A few hyenas moaned, a few jackals barked: otherwise the first part of the night was silent, for the hunters were at their silent business, and the hunted were "layin' low and sayin' nuffin'."
Day after day we rode out, exploring the country in different directions. The great uncertainty as to what of interest we would find filled the hours with charm. Sometimes we clambered about the cliffs of the buttes trying to find klipspringers; again we ran miles pursuing the gigantic eland. I in turn got my first rhinoceros, with no more danger than had attended the killing of B.'s. On this occasion, however, I had my first experience of the lightning skill of the first-class gunbearer. Having fired both barrels, and staggered the beast, I threw open the breech and withdrew the empty cartridges, intending, of course, as my next move to fish two more out of my belt. The empty shells were hardly away from the chambers, however, when a long brown arm shot over my right shoulder and popped two fresh cartridges in the breech. So astonished was I at this unexpected apparition, that for a second or so I actually forgot to close the gun.
VII. ON THE MARCH
After leaving the First Game Camp, we travelled many hours and miles over rolling hills piling ever higher and higher until they broke through a pass to illimitable plains. These plains were mantled with the dense scrub, looking from a distance and from above like the nap of soft green velvet. Here and there this scrub broke in round or oval patches of grass plain. Great mountain ranges peered over the edge of a horizon. Lesser mountain peaks of fantastic shapes-sheer Yosemite cliffs, single buttes, castles-had ventured singly from behind that same horizon barricade. The course of a river was marked by a meandering line of green jungle.
It took us two days to get to that river. Our intermediate camp was halfway down the pass. We ousted a hundred indignant straw-coloured monkeys and twice as many baboons from the tiny flat above the water hole. They bobbed away cursing over their shoulders at us. Next day we debouched on the plains. They were rolling, densely grown, covered with volcanic stones, swarming with game of various sorts. The men marched well. They were happy, for they had had a week of meat; and each carried a light lunch of sun-dried biltong or jerky. Some mistaken individuals had attempted to bring along some "fresh" meat. We found it advisable to pass to windward of these; but they themselves did not seem to mind.
It became very hot; for we were now descending to the lower elevations. The marching through long grass and over volcanic stones was not easy. Shortly we came out on stumbly hills, mostly rock, very dry, grown with cactus and discouraged desiccated thorn scrub. Here the sun reflected powerfully and the bearers began to flag.
Then suddenly, without warning, we pitched over a little rise to the river.
No more marvellous contrast could have been devised. From the blasted barren scrub country we plunged into the lush jungle. It was not a very wide jungle, but it was sufficient. The trees were large and variegated, reaching to a high and spacious upper story above the ground tangle. From the massive limbs hung vines, festooned and looped like great serpents. Through this upper corridor flitted birds of bright hue or striking variegation. We did not know many of them by name, nor did we desire to; but were content with the impression of vivid flashing movement and colour. Various monkeys swung, leaped and galloped slowly away before our advance; pausing to look back at us curiously, the ruffs of fur standing out all around their little black faces. The lower half of the forest jungle, however, had no spaciousness at all, but a certain breathless intimacy. Great leaved plants as tall as little trees, and trees as small as big plants, bound together by vines, made up the "deep impenetrable jungle" of our childhood imagining. Here were rustlings, sudden scurryings, half-caught glimpses, once or twice a crash as some greater animal made off. Here and there through the thicket wandered well beaten trails, wide, but low, so that to follow them one would have to bend double. These were the paths of rhinoceroses. The air smelt warm and moist and earthy, like the odour of a greenhouse.
We skirted this jungle until it gave way to let the plain down to the river. Then, in an open grove of acacias, and fairly on the river's bank, we pitched our tents.
These acacia trees were very noble big chaps, with many branches and a thick shade. In their season they are wonderfully blossomed with white, with yellow, sometimes even with vivid red flowers. Beneath them was only a small matter of ferns to clear away.
Before us the sodded bank rounded off ten feet the river itself. At this point far up in its youth it was a friendly river. Its noble width ran over shallows of yellow sand or of small pebbles. Save for unexpected deep holes one could wade across it anywhere. Yet it was very wide, with still reaches of water, with islands of gigantic papyrus, with sand bars dividing the current, and with always the vista for a greater or lesser distance down through the jungle along its banks. From our canvas chairs we could look through on one side to the arid country, and on the other to this tropical wonderland.
Yes, at this point in its youth it was indeed a friendly river in every sense of the word. There are three reasons, ordinarily, why one cannot bathe in the African rivers. In the first place, they are nearly all disagreeably muddy; in the second place, cold water in a tropical climate causes horrible congestions; in the third place they swarm with crocodiles and hippos. But this river was as yet unpolluted by the alluvial soil of the lower countries; the sun on its shallows had warmed its waters almost to blood heat; and the beasts found no congenial haunts in these clear shoals. Almost before our tents were up the men were splashing. And always my mental image of that river's beautiful expanse must include round black heads floating like gourds where the water ran smoothest.
Our tents stood all in a row facing the stream, the great trees at their backs. Down in the grove the men had pitched their little white shelters. Happily they settled down to ease. Settling down to ease, in the case of the African porter, consists in discarding as many clothes as possible. While on the march he wears everything he owns; whether from pride or a desire to simplify transportation I am unable to say. He is supplied by his employer with a blanket and jersey. As supplementals he can generally produce a half dozen white man's ill-assorted garments: an old shooting coat, a ragged pair of khaki breeches, a kitchen tablecloth for a skirt, or something of the sort. If he can raise an overcoat he is happy, especially if it happen to be a long, thick WINTER overcoat. The possessor of such a garment will wear it conscientiously throughout the longest journey and during the hottest noons. But when he relaxes in camp, he puts away all these prideful possessions and turns out in the savage simplicity of his red blanket. Draped negligently, sometimes very negligently, in what may be termed semi-toga fashion, he stalks about or squats before his little fire in all the glory of a regained savagery. The contrast of the red with his red bronze or black skin, the freedom and grace of his movements, the upright carriage of his fine figure, and the flickering savagery playing in his eyes are very effective.
Our men occupied their leisure variously and happily. A great deal of time they spent before their tiny fires roasting meat and talking. This talk was almost invariably of specific personal experiences. They bathed frequently and with pleasure. They slept. Between times they fashioned ingenious affairs of ornament or use: bows and arrows, throwing clubs, snuff-boxes of the tips of antelope horns, bound prettily with bright wire, wooden swords beautifully carved in exact imitation of the white man's service weapon, and a hundred other such affairs. At this particular time also they were much occupied in making sandals against the thorns. These were flat soles of rawhide, the edges pounded to make them curl up a trifle over the foot, fastened by thongs; very ingenious, and very useful. To their task they brought song. The labour of Africa is done to song; weird minor chanting starting high in the falsetto to trickle unevenly down to the lower registers, or where the matter is one of serious effort, an antiphony of solo and chorus. From all parts of the camp come these softly modulated chantings, low and sweet, occasionally breaking into full voice as the inner occasion swells, then almost immediately falling again to the murmuring undertone of more concentrated attention.
The red blanket was generally worn knotted from one shoulder or bound around the waist Malay fashion. When it turned into a cowl, with a miserable and humpbacked expression, it became the Official Badge of Illness. No matter what was the matter that was the proper thing to do-to throw the blanket over the head and to assume as miserable a demeanour as possible. A sore toe demanded just as much concentrated woe as a case of pneumonia. Sick call was cried after the day's work was finished. Then M'ganga or one of the askaris lifted up his voice.
"N'gonjwa! n'gonjwa!" he shouted; and at the shout the red cowls gathered in front of the tent. Three things were likely to be the matter: too much meat, fever, or pus infection from slight wounds. To these in the rainy season would be added the various sorts of colds. That meant either Epsom salts, quinine, or a little excursion with the lancet and permanganate. The African traveller gets to be heap big medicine man within these narrow limits.
All the red cowls squatted miserably, oh, very miserably, in a row. The headman stood over them rather fiercely. We surveyed the lot contemplatively, hoping to heaven that nothing complicated was going to turn up. One of the tent boys hovered in the background as dispensing chemist.
"Well," said F. at last, "what's the matter with you?"
The man indicated pointed to his head and the back of his neck and groaned. If he had a slight headache he groaned just as much as though his head were splitting. F. asked a few questions, and took his temperature. The clinical thermometer is in itself considered big medicine, and often does much good.
"Too much meat, my friend," remarked F. in English, and to his boy in Swahili, "bring the cup."
He put in this cup a triple dose of Epsom salts. The African requires three times a white man's dose. This, pathologically, was all that was required: but psychologically the job was just begun. Your African can do wonderful things with his imagination. If he thinks he is going to die, die he will, and very promptly, even though he is ailing of the most trivial complaint. If he thinks he is going to get well, he is very apt to do so in face of extraordinary odds. Therefore the white man desires not only to start his patient's internal economy with Epsom salts, but also to stir his faith. To this end F. added to that triple dose of medicine a spoonful of Chutney, one of Worcestershire sauce, a few grains of quinine, Sparklets water and a crystal or so of permanganate to turn the mixture a beautiful pink. This assortment the patient drank with gratitude-and the tears running down his cheeks.
"He will carry a load to-morrow," F. told the attentive M'ganga.
The next patient had fever. This one got twenty grains of quinine in water.
"This man carries no load to-morrow," was the direction, "but he must not drop behind."
Two or three surgical cases followed. Then a big Kavirondo rose to his feet.
"Nini?" demanded F.
"Homa-fever," whined the man.
F. clapped his hand on the back of the other's neck.
"I think," he remarked contemplatively in English, "that you're a liar, and want to get out of carrying your load."
The clinical thermometer showed no evidence of temperature.
"I'm pretty near sure you're a liar," observed F. in the pleasantest conversational tone and still in English, "but you may be merely a poor diagnostician. Perhaps your poor insides couldn't get away with that rotten meat I saw you lugging around. We'll see."
So he mixed a pint of medicine.
"There's Epsom salts for the real part of trouble," observed F., still talking to himself, "and here's a few things for the fake."
He then proceeded to concoct a mixture whose recoil was the exact measure of his imagination. The imagination was only limited by the necessity of keeping the mixture harmless. Every hot, biting, nauseous horror in camp went into that pint measure.
"There," concluded F., "if you drink that and come back again to-morrow for treatment, I'll believe you ARE sick."
Without undue pride I would like to record that I was the first to think of putting in a peculiarly nauseous gun oil, and thereby acquired a reputation of making tremendous medicine.
So implicit is this faith in white man's medicine that at one of the Government posts we were approached by one of the secondary chiefs of the district. He was a very nifty savage, dressed for calling, with his hair done in ropes like a French poodle's, his skin carefully oiled and reddened, his armlets and necklets polished, and with the ceremonial ball of black feathers on the end of his long spear. His gait was the peculiar mincing teeter of savage conventional society. According to custom, he approached unsmiling, spat carefully in his palm, and shook hands. Then he squatted and waited.
"What is it?" we asked after it became evident he really wanted something besides the pleasure of our company.
"N'dowa-medicine," said he.
"Why do you not go the Government dispensary?" we demanded.
"The doctor there is an Indian; I want REAL medicine, white man's medicine," he explained.
Immensely flattered, of course, we wanted further to know what ailed him.
"Nothing," said he blandly, "nothing at all; but it seemed an excellent chance to get good medicine."
After the clinic was all attended to, we retired to our tents and the screeching-hot bath so grateful in the tropics. When we emerged, in our mosquito boots and pajamas, the daylight was gone. Scores of little blazes licked and leaped in the velvet blackness round about, casting the undergrowth and the lower branches of the trees into flat planes like the cardboard of a stage setting. Cheerful, squatted figures sat in silhouette or in the relief of chance high light. Long switches of meat roasted before the fires. A hum of talk, bursts of laughter, the crooning of minor chants mingled with the crackling of thorns. Before our tents stood the table set for supper. Beyond it lay the pile of firewood, later to be burned on the altar of our safety against beasts. The moonlight was casting milky shadows over the river and under the trees opposite. In those shadows gleamed many fireflies. Overhead were millions of stars, and a little breeze that wandered through upper branches.
But in Equatorial Africa the simple bands of velvet black, against the spangled brightnesses that make up the visual night world, must give way in interest to the other world of sound. The air hums with an undertone of insects; the plain and hill and jungle are populous with voices furtive or bold. In daytime one sees animals enough, in all conscience, but only at night does he sense the almost oppressive feeling of the teeming life about him. The darkness is peopled. Zebra bark, bucks blow or snort or make the weird noises of their respective species; hyenas howl; out of an immense simian silence a group of monkeys suddenly break into chatterings; ostriches utter their deep hollow boom; small things scurry and squeak; a certain weird bird of the curlew or plover sort wails like a lonesome soul. Especially by the river, as here, are the boomings of the weirdest of weird bullfrogs, and the splashings and swishings of crocodile and hippopotamus. One is impressed with the busyness of the world surrounding him; every bird or beast, the hunter and the hunted, is the centre of many important affairs. The world swarms.
And then, some miles away a lion roars, the earth and air vibrating to the sheer power of the sound. The world falls to a blank dead silence. For a full minute every living creature of the jungle or of the veldt holds its breath. Their lord has spoken.
After dinner we sat in our canvas chairs, smoking. The guard fire in front of our tent had been lit. On the other side of it stood one of our askaris leaning on his musket. He and his three companions, turn about, keep the flames bright against the fiercer creatures.
After a time we grew sleepy. I called Saa-sita and entrusted to him my watch. On the crystal of this I had pasted a small piece of surgeon's plaster. When the hour hand reached the surgeon's plaster, he must wake us up. Saa-sita was a very conscientious and careful man. One day I took some time hitching my pedometer properly to his belt: I could not wear it effectively myself because I was on horseback. At the end of the ten-hour march it registered a mile and a fraction. Saa-sita explained that he wished to take especial care of it, so he had wrapped it in a cloth and carried it all day in his hand!
We turned in. As I reached over to extinguish the lantern I issued my last command for the day.
"Watcha kalele, Saa-sita," I told the askari; at once he lifted up his voice to repeat my words. "Watcha kalele!" Immediately from the Responsible all over camp the word came back-from gunbearers, from M'ganga, from tent boys-"kalele! kalele! kalele!"
Thus commanded, the boisterous fun, the croon of intimate talk, the gently rising and falling tide of melody fell to complete silence. Only remained the crackling of the fire and the innumerable voices of the tropical night.
VIII. THE RIVER JUNGLE
We camped along this river for several weeks, poking indefinitely and happily around the country in all directions to see what we could see. Generally we went together, for neither B. nor myself had been tried out as yet on dangerous game-those easy rhinos hardly counted-and I think we both preferred to feel that we had backing until we knew what our nerves were going to do with us. Nevertheless, occasionally, I would take Memba Sasa and go out for a little purposeless stroll a few miles up or down river. Sometimes we skirted the jungle, sometimes we held as near as possible to the river's bank, sometimes we cut loose and rambled through the dry, crackling scrub over the low volcanic hills of the arid country outside.
Nothing can equal the intense interest of the most ordinary walk in Africa. It is the only country I know of where a man is thoroughly and continuously alive. Often when riding horseback with the dogs in my California home I have watched them in envy of the keen, alert interest they took in every stone, stick, and bush, in every sight, sound, and smell. With equal frequency I have expressed that envy, but as something unattainable to a human being's more phlegmatic make-up. In Africa one actually rises to continuous alertness. There are dozy moments-except you curl up in a safe place for the PURPOSE of dozing; again just like the dog! Every bush, every hollow, every high tuft of grass, every deep shadow must be scrutinized for danger. It will not do to pass carelessly any possible lurking place. At the same time the sense of hearing must be on guard; so that no break of twig or crash of bough can go unremarked. Rhinoceroses conceal themselves most cannily, and have a deceitful habit of leaping from a nap into their swiftest stride. Cobras and puff adders are scarce, to be sure, but very deadly. Lions will generally give way, if not shot at or too closely pressed; nevertheless there is always the chance of cubs or too close a surprise. Buffalo lurk daytimes in the deep thickets, but occasionally a rogue bull lives where your trail will lead. These things do not happen often, but in the long run they surely do happen, and once is quite enough provided the beast gets in.
At first this continual alertness and tension is rather exhausting; but after a very short time it becomes second nature. A sudden rustle the other side a bush no longer brings you up all standing with your heart in your throat; but you are aware of it, and you are facing the possible danger almost before your slower brain has issued any orders to that effect.
In rereading the above, I am afraid that I am conveying the idea that one here walks under the shadow of continual uneasiness. This is not in the least so. One enjoys the sun, and the birds and the little things. He cultivates the great leisure of mind that shall fill the breadth of his outlook abroad over a newly wonderful world. But underneath it all is the alertness, the responsiveness to quick reflexes of judgment and action, the intimate correlations to immediate environment which must characterize the instincts of the higher animals. And it is good to live these things.
Along the edge of that river jungle were many strange and beautiful affairs. I could slip along among the high clumps of the thicker bushes in such a manner as to be continually coming around unexpected bends. Of such maneouvres are surprises made. The graceful red impalla were here very abundant. I would come on them, their heads up, their great ears flung forward, their noses twitching in inquiry of something they suspected but could not fully sense. When slightly alarmed or suspicious the does always stood compactly in a herd, while the bucks remained discreetly in the background, their beautiful, branching, widespread horns showing over the backs of their harems. The impalla is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and graceful of the African bucks, a perpetual delight to watch either standing or running. These beasts are extraordinarily agile, and have a habit of breaking their ordinary fast run by unexpectedly leaping high in the air. At a distance they give somewhat the effect of dolphins at sea, only their leaps are higher and more nearly perpendicular. Once or twice I have even seen one jump over the back of another. On another occasion we saw a herd of twenty-five or thirty cross a road of which, evidently, they were a little suspicious. We could not find a single hoof mark in the dust! Generally these beasts frequent thin brush country; but I have three or four times seen them quite out in the open flat plains, feeding with the hartebeeste and zebra. They are about the size of our ordinary deer, are delicately fashioned, and can utter the most incongruously grotesque of noises by way of calls or ordinary conversation.
The lack of curiosity, or the lack of gallantry, of the impalla bucks was, in my experience, quite characteristic. They were almost always the farthest in the background and the first away when danger threatened. The ladies could look out for themselves. They had no horns to save; and what do the fool women mean by showing so little sense, anyway! They deserve what they get! It used to amuse me a lot to observe the utter abandonment of all responsibility by these handsome gentlemen. When it came time to depart, they departed. Hang the girls! They trailed along after as fast as they could.
The waterbuck-a fine large beast about the size of our caribou, a well-conditioned buck resembling in form and attitude the finest of Landseer's stags-on the other hand, had a little more sense of responsibility, when he had anything to do with the sex at all. He was hardly what you might call a strictly domestic character. I have hunted through a country for several days at a time without seeing a single mature buck of this species, although there were plenty of does, in herds of ten to fifty, with a few infants among them just sprouting horns. Then finally, in some small grassy valley, I would come on the Men's Club. There they were, ten, twenty, three dozen of them, having the finest kind of an untramelled masculine time all by themselves. Generally, however, I will say for them, they took care of their own peoples. There would quite likely be one big old fellow, his harem of varying numbers, and the younger subordinate bucks all together in a happy family. When some one of the lot announced that something was about, and they had all lined up to stare in the suspected direction, the big buck was there in the foreground of inquiry. When finally they made me out, it was generally the big buck who gave the signal. He went first, to be sure, but his going first was evidently an act of leadership, and not merely a disgraceful desire to get away before the rest did.
But the waterbuck had to yield in turn to the plains gazelles; especially to the Thompson's gazelle, familiarly-and affectionately-known as the "Tommy." He is a quaint little chap, standing only a foot and a half tall at the shoulder, fawn colour on top, white beneath, with a black, horizontal stripe on his side, like a chipmunk, most lightly and gracefully built. When he was first made, somebody told him that unless he did something characteristic, like waggling his little tail, he was likely to be mistaken by the undiscriminating for his bigger cousin, the Grant's gazelle. He has waggled his tail ever since, and so is almost never mistaken for a Grant's gazelle, even by the undiscriminating. Evidently his religion is Mohammedan, for he always has a great many wives. He takes good care of them, however. When danger appears, even when danger threatens, he is the last to leave the field. Here and there he dashes frantically, seeing that the women and children get off. And when the herd tops the hill, Tommy's little horns bring up the rear of the procession. I like Tommy. He is a cheerful, gallant, quaint little person, with the air of being quite satisfied with his own solution of this complicated world.
Among the low brush at the edge of the river jungle dwelt also the dik-dik, the tiniest miniature of a deer you could possibly imagine. His legs are lead pencil size, he stands only about nine inches tall, he weighs from five to ten pounds; and yet he is a perfect little antelope, horns and all. I used to see him singly or in pairs standing quite motionless and all but invisible in the shade of bushes; or leaping suddenly to his feet and scurrying away like mad through the dry grass. His personal opinion of me was generally expressed in a loud clear whistle. But then nobody in this strange country talks the language you would naturally expect him to talk! Zebra bark, hyenas laugh, impallas grunt, ostriches boom like drums, leopards utter a plaintive sigh, hornbills cry like a stage child, bushbucks sound like a cross between a dog and a squawky toy-and so on. There is only one safe rule of the novice in Africa: NEVER BELIEVE A WORD THE JUNGLE AND VELDT PEOPLE TELL YOU.
These two-the impalla and the waterbuck-were the principal buck we would see close to the river. Occasionally, however, we came on a few oryx, down for a drink, beautiful big antelope, with white and black faces, roached manes, and straight, nearly parallel, rapier horns upward of three feet long. A herd of these creatures, the light gleaming on their weapons, held all at the same slant, was like a regiment of bayonets in the sun. And there were also the rhinoceroses to be carefully espied and avoided. They lay obliterated beneath the shade of bushes, and arose with a mighty blow-off of steam. Whereupon we withdrew silently, for we wanted to shoot no more rhinos, unless we had to.
Beneath all these obvious and startling things, a thousand other interesting matters were afoot. In the mass and texture of the jungle grew many strange trees and shrubs. One most scrubby, fat and leafless tree, looking as though it were just about to give up a discouraged existence, surprised us by putting forth, apparently directly from its bloated wood, the most wonderful red blossoms. Another otherwise self-respecting tree hung itself all over with plump bologna sausages about two feet long and five inches thick. A curious vine hung like a rope, with Turk's-head knots about a foot apart on its whole length, like the hand-over-hand ropes of gymnasiums. Other ropes were studded all over with thick blunt bosses, resembling much the outbreak on one sort of Arts-and-Crafts door: the sort intended to repel Mail-clad Hosts.
The monkeys undoubtedly used such obvious highways through the trees. These little people were very common. As we walked along, they withdrew before us. We could make out their figures galloping hastily across the open places, mounting bushes and stubs to take a satisfying backward look, clambering to treetops, and launching themselves across the abysses between limbs. If we went slowly, they retired in silence. If we hurried at all, they protested in direct ratio to the speed of our advance. And when later the whole safari, loads on heads, marched inconsiderately through their jungle! We happened to be hunting on a parallel course a half mile away, and we could trace accurately the progress of our men by the outraged shrieks, chatterings, appeals to high heaven for at least elemental justice to the monkey people.
Often, too, we would come on concourses of the big baboons. They certainly carried on weighty affairs of their own according to a fixed polity. I never got well enough acquainted with them to master the details of their government, but it was indubitably built on patriarchal lines. When we succeeded in approaching without being discovered, we would frequently find the old men baboons squatting on their heels in a perfect circle, evidently discussing matters of weight and portent. Seen from a distance, their group so much resembled the council circles of native warriors that sometimes, in a native country, we made that mistake. Outside this solemn council, the women, young men and children went about their daily business, whatever that was. Up convenient low trees or bushes roosted sentinels.
We never remained long undiscovered. One of the sentinels barked sharply. At once the whole lot loped away, speedily but with a curious effect of deliberation. The men folks held their tails in a proud high sideways arch; the curious youngsters clambered up bushes to take a hasty look; the babies clung desperately with all four feet to the thick fur on their mothers' backs; the mothers galloped along imperturbably unheeding of infantile troubles aloft. The side hill was bewildering with the big bobbing black forms.
In this lower country the weather was hot, and the sun very strong. The heated air was full of the sounds of insects; some of them comfortable, like the buzzing of bees, some of them strange and unusual to us. One cicada had a sustained note, in quality about like that of our own August-day's friend, but in quantity and duration as the roar of a train to the gentle hum of a good motor car. Like all cicada noises it did not usurp the sound world, but constituted itself an underlying basis, so to speak. And when it stopped the silence seemed to rush in as into a vacuum!
We had likewise the aeroplane beetle. He was so big that he would have made good wing-shooting. His manner of flight was the straight-ahead, heap-of-buzz, plenty-busy, don't-stop-a-minute-or-you'll-come-down method of the aeroplane; and he made the same sort of a hum. His first-cousin, mechanically, was what we called the wind-up-the-watch insect. This specimen possessed a watch-an old-fashioned Waterbury, evidently-that he was continually winding. It must have been hard work for the poor chap, for it sounded like a very big watch.
All these things were amusing. So were the birds. The African bird is quite inclined to be didactic. He believes you need advice, and he means to give it. To this end he repeats the same thing over and over until he thinks you surely cannot misunderstand. One chap especially whom we called the lawyer bird, and who lived in the treetops, had four phrases to impart. He said them very deliberately, with due pause between each; then he repeated them rapidly; finally he said them all over again with an exasperated bearing-down emphasis. The joke of it is I cannot now remember just how they went! Another feathered pedagogue was continually warning us to go slow; very good advice near an African jungle. "Poley-poley! Poley-poley!" he warned again and again; which is good Swahili for "slowly! slowly!" We always minded him. There were many others, equally impressed with their own wisdom, but the one I remember with most amusement was a dilatory person who apparently never got around to his job until near sunset. Evidently he had contracted to deliver just so many warnings per diem; and invariably he got so busy chasing insects, enjoying the sun, gossiping with a friend and generally footling about that the late afternoon caught him unawares with never a chirp accomplished. So he sat in a bush and said his say over and over just as fast as he could without pause for breath or recreation. It was really quite a feat. Just at dusk, after two hours of gabbling, he would reach the end of his contracted number. With final relieved chirp he ended.
It has been said that African birds are "songless." This is a careless statement that can easily be read to mean that African birds are silent. The writer evidently must have had in mind as a criterion some of our own or the English great feathered soloists. Certainly the African jungle seems to produce no individual performers as sustained as our own bob-o-link, our hermit thrush, or even our common robin. But the African birds are vocal enough, for all that. Some of them have a richness and depth of timbre perhaps unequalled elsewhere. Of such is the chime-bird with his deep double note; or the bell-bird tolling like a cathedral in the blackness of the forest; or the bottle bird that apparently pours gurgling liquid gold from a silver jug. As the jungle is exceedingly populous of these feathered specialists, it follows that the early morning chorus is wonderful. Africa may not possess the soloists, but its full orchestrial effects are superb.
Naturally under the equator one expects and demands the "gorgeous tropical plumage" of the books. He is not disappointed. The sun-birds of fifty odd species, the brilliant blue starlings, the various parrots, the variegated hornbills, the widower-birds, and dozens of others whose names would mean nothing flash here and there in the shadow and in the open. With them are hundreds of quiet little bodies just as interesting to one who likes birds. From the trees and bushes hang pear-shaped nests plaited beautifully of long grasses, hard and smooth as hand-made baskets, the work of the various sorts of weaver-birds. In the tops of the trees roosted tall marabout storks like dissipated, hairless old club-men in well-groomed, correct evening dress.
And around camp gathered the swift brown kites. They were robbers and villains, but we could not hate them. All day long they sailed back and forth spying sharply. When they thought they saw their chance, they stooped with incredible swiftness to seize a piece of meat. Sometimes they would snatch their prize almost from the hands of its rightful owner, and would swoop triumphantly upward again pursued by polyglot maledictions and a throwing stick. They were very skilful on their wings. I have many times seen them, while flying, tear up and devour large chunks of meat. It seems to my inexperience as an aviator rather a nice feat to keep your balance while tearing with your beak at meat held in your talons. Regardless of other landmarks, we always knew when we were nearing camp, after one of our strolls, by the gracefully wheeling figures of our kites.
IX. THE FIRST LION
One day we all set out to make our discoveries: F., B., and I with our gunbearers, Memba Sasa, Mavrouki, and Simba, and ten porters to bring in the trophies, which we wanted very much, and the meat, which the men wanted still more. We rode our horses, and the syces followed. This made quite a field force-nineteen men all told. Nineteen white men would be exceedingly unlikely to get within a liberal half mile of anything; but the native has sneaky ways.
At first we followed between the river and the low hills, but when the latter drew back to leave open a broad flat, we followed their line. At this point they rose to a clifflike headland a hundred and fifty feet high, flat on top. We decided to investigate that mesa, both for the possibilities of game, and for the chance of a view abroad.
The footing was exceedingly noisy and treacherous, for it was composed of flat, tinkling little stones. Dried-up, skimpy bushes just higher than our heads made a thin but regular cover. There seemed not to be a spear of anything edible, yet we caught the flash of red as a herd of impalla melted away at our rather noisy approach. Near the foot of the hill we dismounted, with orders to all the men but the gunbearers to sit down and make themselves comfortable. Should we need them we could easily either signal or send word. Then we set ourselves toilsomely to clamber up that volcanic hill.
It was not particularly easy going, especially as we were trying to walk quietly. You see, we were about to surmount a skyline. Surmounting a skyline is always most exciting anywhere, for what lies beyond is at once revealed as a whole and contains the very essence of the unknown; but most decidedly is this true in Africa. That mesa looked flat, and almost anything might be grazing or browsing there. So we proceeded gingerly, with due regard to the rolling of the loose rocks or the tinkling of the little pebbles.
But long before we had reached that alluring skyline we were halted by the gentle snapping of Mavrouki's fingers. That, strangely enough, is a sound to which wild animals seem to pay no attention, and is therefore most useful as a signal. We looked back. The three gunbearers were staring to the right of our course. About a hundred yards away, on the steep side hill, and partly concealed by the brush, stood two rhinoceroses.
They were side by side, apparently dozing. We squatted on our heels for a consultation.
The obvious thing, as the wind was from them, was to sneak quietly by, saying nuffin' to nobody. But although we wanted no more rhino, we very much wanted rhino pictures. A discussion developed no really good reason why we should not kodak these especial rhinos-except that there were two of them. So we began to worm our way quietly through the bushes in their direction.
F. and B. deployed on the flanks, their double-barrelled rifles ready for instant action. I occupied the middle with that dangerous weapon the 3A kodak. Memba Sasa followed at my elbow, holding my big gun.
Now the trouble with modern photography is that it is altogether too lavish in its depiction of distances. If you do not believe it, take a picture of a horse at as short a range as twenty-five yards. That equine will, in the development, have receded to a respectable middle distance. Therefore it had been agreed that the advance of the battle line was to cease only when those rhinoceroses loomed up reasonably large in the finder. I kept looking into the finder, you may be sure. Nearer and nearer we crept. The great beasts were evidently basking in the sun. Their little pig eyes alone gave any sign of life. Otherwise they exhibited the complete immobility of something done in granite. Probably no other beast impresses one with quite this quality. I suppose it is because even the little motions peculiar to other animals are with the rhinoceros entirely lacking. He is not in the least of a nervous disposition, so he does not stamp his feet nor change his position. It is useless for him to wag his tail; for, in the first place, the tail is absurdly inadequate; and, in the second place, flies are not among his troubles. Flies wouldn't bother you either, if you had a skin two inches thick. So there they stood, inert and solid as two huge brown rocks, save for the deep, wicked twinkle of their little eyes.
Yes, we were close enough to "see the whites of their eyes," if they had had any: and also to be within the range of their limited vision. Of course we were now stalking, and taking advantage of all the cover.
Those rhinoceroses looked to me like two Dreadnaughts. The African two-horned rhinoceros is a bigger animal anyway than our circus friend, who generally comes from India. One of these brutes I measured went five feet nine inches at the shoulder, and was thirteen feet six inches from bow to stern. Compare these dimensions with your own height and with the length of your motor car. It is one thing to take on such beasts in the hurry of surprise, the excitement of a charge, or to stalk up to within a respectable range of them with a gun at ready. But this deliberate sneaking up with the hope of being able to sneak away again was a little too slow and cold-blooded. It made me nervous. I liked it, but I knew at the time I was going to like it a whole lot better when it was triumphantly over.
We were now within twenty yards (they were standing starboard side on), and I prepared to get my picture. To do so I would either have to step quietly out into sight, trusting to the shadow and the slowness of my movements to escape observation, or hold the camera above the bush, directing it by guess work. It was a little difficult to decide. I knew what I OUGHT to do—
Without the slightest premonitory warning those two brutes snorted and whirled in their tracks to stand facing in our direction. After the dead stillness they made a tremendous row, what with the jerky suddenness of their movements, their loud snorts, and the avalanche of echoing stones and boulders they started down the hill.
This was the magnificent opportunity. At this point I should boldly have stepped out from behind my bush, levelled my trusty 3A, and coolly snapped the beasts, "charging at fifteen yards." Then, if B.'s and F.'s shots went absolutely true, or if the brutes didn't happen to smash the camera as well as me, I, or my executors as the case might be, would have had a fine picture.
But I didn't. I dropped that expensive 3A Special on some hard rocks, and grabbed my rifle from Memba Sasa. If you want really to know why, go confront your motor car at fifteen or twenty paces, multiply him by two, and endow him with an eagerly malicious disposition.
They advanced several yards, halted, faced us for perhaps five or six seconds, uttered snort, whirled with the agility of polo ponies, departed at a swinging trot and with surprising agility along the steep side hill.
I recovered the camera, undamaged, and we continued our climb.
The top of the mesa was disappointing as far as game was concerned. It was covered all over with red stones, round, and as large as a man's head. Thornbushes found some sort of sustenance in the interstices.
But we had gained to a magnificent view. Below us lay the narrow flat, then the winding jungle of our river, then long rolling desert country, gray with thorn scrub, sweeping upward to the base of castellated buttes and one tremendous riven cliff mountain, dropping over the horizon to a very distant blue range. Behind us eight or ten miles away was the low ridge through which our journey had come. The mesa on which we stood broke back at right angles to admit another stream flowing into our own. Beyond this stream were rolling hills, and scrub country, the hint of blue peaks and illimitable distances falling away to the unknown Tara Desert and the sea.
There seemed to be nothing much to be gained here, so we made up our minds to cut across the mesa, and from the other edge of it to overlook the valley of the tributary river. This we would descend until we came to our horses.
Accordingly we stumbled across a mile or so of those round and rolling stones. Then we found ourselves overlooking a wide flat or pocket where the stream valley widened. It extended even as far as the upward fling of the barrier ranges. Thick scrub covered it, but erratically, so that here and there were little openings or thin places. We sat down, manned our trusty prism glasses, and gave ourselves to the pleasing occupation of looking the country over inch by inch.
This is great fun. It is a game a good deal like puzzle pictures. Re-examination generally develops new and unexpected beasts. We repeated to each other aloud the results of our scrutiny, always without removing the glasses from our eyes.
"Oryx, one," said F.; "oryx, two."
"Giraffe," reported B., "and a herd of impalla."
I saw another giraffe, and another oryx, then two rhinoceroses.
The three bearers squatted on their heels behind us, their fierce eyes staring straight ahead, seeing with the naked eye what we were finding with six-power glasses.
We turned to descend the hill. In the very centre of the deep shade of a clump of trees, I saw the gleam of a waterbuck's horns. While I was telling of this, the beast stepped from his concealment, trotted a short distance upstream and turned to climb a little ridge parallel to that by which we were descending. About halfway up he stopped, staring in our direction, his head erect, the slight ruff under his neck standing forward. He was a good four hundred yards away. B., who wanted him, decided the shot too chancy. He and F. slipped backward until they had gained the cover of the little ridge, then hastened down the bed of the ravine. Their purpose was to follow the course already taken by the waterbuck until they should have sneaked within better range. In the meantime I and the gunbearers sat down in full view of the buck. This was to keep his attention distracted.
We sat there a long time. The buck never moved but continued to stare at what evidently puzzled him. Time passes very slowly in such circumstances, and it seemed incredible that the beast should continue much longer to hold his fixed attitude. Nevertheless B. and F. were working hard. We caught glimpses of them occasionally slipping from bush to bush. Finally B. knelt and levelled his rifle. At once I turned my glasses on the buck. Before the sound of the rifle had reached me, I saw him start convulsively, then make off at the tearing run that indicates a heart hit. A moment later the crack of the rifle and the dull plunk of the hitting bullet struck my ear.
We tracked him fifty yards to where he lay dead. He was a fine trophy, and we at once set the boys to preparing it and taking the meat. In the meantime we sauntered down to look at the stream. It was a small rapid affair, but in heavy papyrus, with sparse trees, and occasional thickets, and dry hard banks. The papyrus should make a good lurking place for almost anything; but the few points of access to the water failed to show many interesting tracks. Nevertheless we decided to explore a short distance.
For an hour we walked among high thornbushes, over baking hot earth. We saw two or three dik-dik and one of the giraffes. At that time it had become very hot, and the sun was bearing down on us as with the weight of a heavy hand. The air had the scorching, blasting quality of an opened furnace door. Our mouths were getting dry and sticky in that peculiar stage of thirst on which no luke-warm canteen water in necessarily limited quantity has any effect. So we turned back, picked up the men with the waterbuck, and plodded on down the little stream, or, rather, on the red-hot dry valley bottom outside the stream's course, to where the syces were waiting with our horses. We mounted with great thankfulness. It was now eleven o'clock, and we considered our day as finished.
The best way for a distance seemed to follow the course of the tributary stream to its point of junction with our river. We rode along, rather relaxed in the suffocating heat. F. was nearest the stream. At one point it freed itself of trees and brush and ran clear, save for low papyrus, ten feet down below a steep eroded bank. F. looked over and uttered a startled exclamation. I spurred my horse forward to see.
Below us, about fifteen yards away, was the carcass of a waterbuck half hidden in the foot-high grass. A lion and two lionesses stood upon it, staring up at us with great yellow eyes. That picture is a very vivid one in my memory, for those were the first wild lions I had ever seen. My most lively impression was of their unexpected size. They seemed to bulk fully a third larger than my expectation.
The magnificent beasts stood only long enough to see clearly what had disturbed them, then turned, and in two bounds had gained the shelter of the thicket.
Now the habit in Africa is to let your gunbearers carry all your guns. You yourself stride along hand free. It is an English idea, and is pretty generally adopted out there by every one, of whatever nationality. They will explain it to you by saying that in such a climate a man should do only necessary physical work, and that a good gunbearer will get a weapon into your hand so quickly and in so convenient a position that you will lose no time. I acknowledge the gunbearers are sometimes very skilful at this, but I do deny that there is no loss of time. The instant of distracted attention while receiving a weapon, the necessity of recollecting the nervous correlations after the transfer, very often mark just the difference between a sure instinctive snapshot and a lost opportunity. It reasons that the man with the rifle in his hand reacts instinctively, in one motion, to get his weapon into play. If the gunbearer has the gun, HE must first react to pass it up, the master must receive it properly, and THEN, and not until then, may go on from where the other man began. As for physical labour in the tropics: if a grown man cannot without discomfort or evil effects carry an eight-pound rifle, he is too feeble to go out at all. In a long Western experience I have learned never to be separated from my weapon; and I believe the continuance of this habit in Africa saved me a good number of chances.
At any rate, we all flung ourselves off our horses. I, having my rifle in my hand, managed to throw a shot after the biggest lion as he vanished. It was a snap at nothing, and missed. Then in an opening on the edge a hundred yards away appeared one of the lionesses. She was trotting slowly, and on her I had time to draw a hasty aim. At the shot she bounded high in the air, fell, rolled over, and was up and into the thicket before I had much more than time to pump up another shell from the magazine. Memba Sasa in his eagerness got in the way-the first and last time he ever made a mistake in the field.
By this time the others had got hold of their weapons. We fronted the blank face of the thicket.
The wounded animal would stand a little waiting. We made a wide circle to the other side of the stream. There we quickly picked up the trail of the two uninjured beasts. They had headed directly over the hill, where we speedily lost all trace of them on the flint-like surface of the ground. We saw a big pack of baboons in the only likely direction for a lion to go. Being thus thrown back on a choice of a hundred other unlikely directions, we gave up that slim chance and returned to the thicket.
This proved to be a very dense piece of cover. Above the height of the waist the interlocking branches would absolutely prevent any progress, but by stooping low we could see dimly among the simpler main stems to a distance of perhaps fifteen or twenty feet. This combination at once afforded the wounded lioness plenty of cover in which to hide, plenty of room in which to charge home, and placed us under the disadvantage of a crouched or crawling attitude with limited vision. We talked the matter over very thoroughly. There was only one way to get that lioness out; and that was to go after her. The job of going after her needed some planning. The lion is cunning and exceeding fierce. A flank attack, once we were in the thicket, was as much to be expected as a frontal charge.
We advanced to the thicket's edge with many precautions. To our relief we found she had left us a definite trail. B. and I kneeling took up positions on either side, our rifles ready. F. and Simba crawled by inches eight or ten feet inside the thicket. Then, having executed this manoeuvre safely, B. moved up to protect our rear while I, with Memba Sasa, slid down to join F.
From this point we moved forward alternately. I would crouch, all alert, my rifle ready, while F. slipped by me and a few feet ahead. Then he get organized for battle while I passed him. Memba Sasa and Simba, game as badgers, their fine eyes gleaming with excitement, their faces shining, crept along at the rear. B. knelt outside the thicket, straining his eyes for the slightest movement either side of the line of our advance. Often these wily animals will sneak back in a half circle to attack their pursuers from behind. Two or three of the bolder porters crouched alongside B., peering eagerly. The rest had quite properly retired to the safe distance where the horses stood.
We progressed very, very slowly. Every splash of light or mottled shadow, every clump of bush stems, every fallen log had to be examined, and then examined again. And how we did strain our eyes in a vain attempt to penetrate the half lights, the duskinesses of the closed-in thicket not over fifteen feet away! And then the movement forward of two feet would bring into our field of vision an entirely new set of tiny vistas and possible lurking places.
Speaking for myself, I was keyed up to a tremendous tension. I stared until my eyes ached; every muscle and nerve was taut. Everything depended on seeing the beast promptly, and firing quickly. With the manifest advantage of being able to see us, she would spring to battle fully prepared. A yellow flash and a quick shot seemed about to size up that situation. Every few moments, I remember, I surreptitiously held out my hand to see if the constantly growing excitement and the long-continued strain had affected its steadiness.
The combination of heat and nervous strain was very exhausting. The sweat poured from me; and as F. passed me I saw the great drops standing out on his face. My tongue got dry, my breath came laboriously. Finally I began to wonder whether physically I should be able to hold out. We had been crawling, it seemed, for hours. I dared not look back, but we must have come a good quarter mile. Finally F. stopped.
"I'm all in for water," he gasped in a whisper.
Somehow that confession made me feel a lot better. I had thought that I was the only one. Cautiously we settled back on our heels. Memba Sasa and Simba wiped the sweat from their faces. It seemed that they too had found the work severe. That cheered me up still more.
Simba grinned at us, and, worming his way backward with the sinuousity of a snake, he disappeared in the direction from which we had come. F. cursed after him in a whisper both for departing and for taking the risk. But in a moment he had returned carrying two canteens of blessed water. We took a drink most gratefully.
I glanced at my watch. It was just under two hours since I had fired my shot. I looked back. My supposed quarter mile had shrunk to not over fifty feet!
After resting a few moments longer, we again took up our systematic advance. We made perhaps another fifty feet. We were ascending a very gentle slope. F. was for the moment ahead. Right before us the lion growled; a deep rumbling like the end of a great thunder roll, fathoms and fathoms deep, with the inner subterranean vibrations of a heavy train of cars passing a man inside a sealed building. At the same moment over F.'s shoulder I saw a huge yellow head rise up, the round eyes flashing anger, the small black-tipped ears laid back, the great fangs snarling. The beast was not over twelve feet distant. F. immediately fired. His shot, hitting an intervening twig, went wild. With the utmost coolness he immediately pulled the other trigger of his double barrel. The cartridge snapped.
"If you will kindly stoop down-" said I, in what I now remember to be rather an exaggeratedly polite tone. As F.'s head disappeared, I placed the little gold bead of my 405 Winchester where I thought it would do the most good, and pulled trigger. She rolled over dead.
The whole affair had begun and finished with unbelievable swiftness. From the growl to the fatal shot I don't suppose four seconds elapsed, for our various actions had followed one another with the speed of the instinctive. The lioness had growled at our approach, had raised her head to charge, and had received her deathblow before she had released her muscles in the spring. There had been no time to get frightened.
We sat back for a second. A brown hand reached over my shoulder.
"Mizouri-mizouri sana!" cried Memba Sasa joyously. I shook the hand.
"Good business!" said F. "Congratulate you on your first lion."
We then remembered B., and shouted to him that all was over. He and the other men wriggled in to where we were lying. He made this distance in about fifteen seconds. It had taken us nearly an hour.
We had the lioness dragged out into the open. She was not an especially large beast, as compared to most of the others I killed later, but at that time she looked to me about as big as they made them. As a matter of fact she was quite big enough, for she stood three feet two inches at the shoulder-measure that against the wall-and was seven feet and six inches in length. My first bullet had hit her leg, and the last had reached her heart.
Every one shook me by the hand. The gunbearers squatted about the carcass, skilfully removing the skin to an undertone of curious crooning that every few moments broke out into one or two bars of a chant. As the body was uncovered, the men crouched about to cut off little pieces of fat. These they rubbed on their foreheads and over their chests, to make them brave, they said, and cunning, like the lion.
We remounted and took up our interrupted journey to camp. It was a little after two, and the heat was at its worst. We rode rather sleepily, for the reaction from the high tension of excitement had set in. Behind us marched the three gunbearers, all abreast, very military and proud. Then came the porters in single file, the one carrying the folded lion skin leading the way; those bearing the waterbuck trophy and meat bringing up the rear. They kept up an undertone of humming in a minor key; occasionally breaking into a short musical phrase in full voice.
We rode an hour. The camp looked very cool and inviting under its wide high trees, with the river slipping by around the islands of papyrus. A number of black heads bobbed about in the shallows. The small fires sent up little wisps of smoke. Around them our boys sprawled, playing simple games, mending, talking, roasting meat. Their tiny white tents gleamed pleasantly among the cool shadows.
I had thought of riding nonchalantly up to our own tents, of dismounting with a careless word of greeting—
"Oh, yes," I would say, "we did have a good enough day. Pretty hot. Roy got a fine waterbuck. Yes, I got a lion." (Tableau on part of Billy.)
But Memba Sasa used up all the nonchalance there was. As we entered camp he remarked casually to the nearest man.
"Bwana na piga simba-the master has killed a lion."
The man leaped to his feet.
"Simba! simba! simba!" he yelled. "Na piga simba!"
Every one in camp also leaped to his feet, taking up the cry. From the water it was echoed as the bathers scrambled ashore. The camp broke into pandemonium. We were surrounded by a dense struggling mass of men. They reached up scores of black hands to grasp my own; they seized from me everything portable and bore it in triumph before me-my water bottle, my rifle, my camera, my whip, my field glasses, even my hat, everything that was detachable. Those on the outside danced and lifted up their voices in song, improvised for the most part, and in honor of the day's work. In a vast swirling, laughing, shouting, triumphant mob we swept through the camp to where Billy-by now not very much surprised-was waiting to get the official news. By the measure of this extravagant joy could we gauge what the killing of a lion means to these people who have always lived under the dread of his rule.
A very large lion I killed stood three feet and nine inches at the withers, and of course carried his head higher than that. The top of the table at which I sit is only two feet three inches from the floor. Coming through the door at my back that lion's head would stand over a foot higher than halfway up. Look at your own writing desk; your own door. Furthermore, he was nine feet and eleven inches in a straight line from nose to end of tail, or over eleven feet along the contour of the back. If he were to rise on his hind feet to strike a man down, he would stand somewhere between seven and eight feet tall, depending on how nearly he straightened up. He weighed just under six hundred pounds, or as much as four well-grown specimens of our own "mountain lion." I tell you this that you may realize, as I did not, the size to which a wild lion grows. Either menagerie specimens are stunted in growth, or their position and surroundings tend to belittle them, for certainly until a man sees old Leo in the wilderness he has not understood what a fine old chap he is.
This tremendous weight is sheer strength. A lion's carcass when the skin is removed is a really beautiful sight. The great muscles lie in ropes and bands; the forearm thicker than a man's leg, the lithe barrel banded with brawn; the flanks overlaid by the long thick muscles. And this power is instinct with the nervous force of a highly organized being. The lion is quick and intelligent and purposeful; so that he brings to his intenser activities the concentration of vivid passion, whether of anger, of hunger or of desire.
So far the opinions of varied experience will jog along together. At this point they diverge.
Just as the lion is one of the most interesting and fascinating of beasts, so concerning him one may hear the most diverse opinions. This man will tell you that any lion is always dangerous. Another will hold the king of beasts in the most utter contempt as a coward and a skulker.
In the first place, generalization about any species of animal is an exceedingly dangerous thing. I believe that, in the case of the higher animals at least, the differences in individual temperament are quite likely to be more numerous than the specific likenesses. Just as individual men are bright or dull, nervous or phlegmatic, cowardly or brave, so individual animals vary in like respect. Our own hunters will recall from their personal experiences how the big bear may have sat down and bawled harmlessly for mercy, while the little unconsidered fellow did his best until finished off: how one buck dropped instantly to a wound that another would carry five miles: how of two equally matched warriors of the herd one will give way in the fight, while still uninjured, before his perhaps badly wounded antagonist. The casual observer might-and often does-say that all bears are cowardly, all bucks are easily killed, or the reverse, according as the god of chance has treated him to one spectacle or the other. As well try to generalize on the human race-as is a certain ecclesiastical habit-that all men are vile or noble, dishonest or upright, wise or foolish.
The higher we go in the scale the truer this individualism holds. We are forced to reason not from the bulk of observations, but from their averages. If we find ten bucks who will go a mile wounded to two who succumb in their tracks from similar hurts, we are justified in saying tentatively that the species is tenacious of life. But as experience broadens we may modify that statement; for strange indeed are runs of luck.
For this reason a good deal of the wise conclusion we read in sportsmen's narratives is worth very little. Few men have experience enough with lions to rise to averages through the possibilities of luck. ESPECIALLY is this true of lions. No beast that roams seems to go more by luck than felis leo. Good hunters may search for years without seeing hide nor hair of one of the beasts. Selous, one of the greatest, went to East Africa for the express purpose of getting some of the fine beasts there, hunted six weeks and saw none. Holmes of the Escarpment has lived in the country six years, has hunted a great deal and has yet to kill his first. One of the railroad officials has for years gone up and down the Uganda Railway on his handcar, his rifle ready in hopes of the lion that never appeared; though many are there seen by those with better fortune. Bronson hunted desperately for this great prize, but failed. Rainsford shot no lions his first trip, and ran into them only three years later. Read Abel Chapman's description of his continued bad luck at even seeing the beasts. MacMillan, after five years' unbroken good fortune, has in the last two years failed to kill a lion, although he has made many trips for the purpose. F. told me he followed every rumour of a lion for two years before he got one. Again, one may hear the most marvellous of yarns the other way about-of the German who shot one from the train on the way up from Mombasa; of the young English tenderfoot who, the first day out, came on three asleep, across a river, and potted the lot; and so on. The point is, that in the case of lions the element of sheer chance seems to begin earlier and last longer than is the case with any other beast. And, you must remember, experience must thrust through the luck element to the solid ground of averages before it can have much value in the way of generalization. Before he has reached that solid ground, a man's opinions depend entirely on what kind of lions he chances to meet, in what circumstances, and on how matters happen to shape in the crowded moments.
But though lack of sufficiently extended experience has much to do with these decided differences of opinion, I believe that misapprehension has also its part. The sportsman sees lions on the plains. Likewise the lions see him, and promptly depart to thick cover or rocky butte. He comes on them in the scrub; they bound hastily out of sight. He may even meet them face to face, but instead of attacking him, they turn to right and left and make off in the long grass. When he follows them, they sneak cunningly away. If, added to this, he has the good luck to kill one or two stone dead at a single shot each, he begins to think there is not much in lion shooting after all, and goes home proclaiming the king of beasts a skulking coward.
After all, on what grounds does he base this conclusion? In what way have circumstances been a test of courage at all? The lion did not stand and fight, to be sure; but why should he? What was there in it for lions? Behind any action must a motive exist. Where is the possible motive for any lion to attack on sight? He does not-except in unusual cases-eat men; nothing has occurred to make him angry. The obvious thing is to avoid trouble, unless there is a good reason to seek it. In that one evidences the lion's good sense, but not his lack of courage. That quality has not been called upon at all.
But if the sportsman had done one of two or three things, I am quite sure he would have had a taste of our friend's mettle. If he had shot at and even grazed the beast; if he had happened upon him where an exit was not obvious; or IF HE HAD EVEN FOLLOWED THE LION UNTIL THE LATTER HAD BECOME TIRED OF THE ANNOYANCE, he would very soon have discovered that Leo is not all good nature, and that once on his courage will take him in against any odds. Furthermore, he may be astonished and dismayed to discover that of a group of several lions, two or three besides the wounded animal are quite likely to take up the quarrel and charge too. In other words, in my opinion, the lion avoids trouble when he can, not from cowardice but from essential indolence or good nature; but does not need to be cornered* to fight to the death when in his mind his dignity is sufficiently assailed.
* This is an important distinction in estimating the inherent courage of man or beast. Even a mouse will fight when cornered.
For of all dangerous beasts the lion, when once aroused, will alone face odds to the end. The rhinoceros, the elephant, and even the buffalo can often be turned aside by a shot. A lion almost always charges home.* Slower and slower he comes, as the bullets strike; but he comes, until at last he may be just hitching himself along, his face to the enemy, his fierce spirit undaunted. When finally he rolls over, he bites the earth in great mouthfuls; and so passes fighting to the last. The death of a lion is a fine sight.
* I seem to be generalizing here, but all these conclusions must be understood to take into consideration the liability of individual variation.
No, I must confess, to me the lion is an object of great respect; and so, I gather, he is to all who have had really extensive experience. Those like Leslie Tarleton, Lord Delamere, W. N. MacMillan, Baron von Bronsart, the Hills, Sir Alfred Pease, who are great lion men, all concede to the lion a courage and tenacity unequalled by any other living beast. My own experience is of course nothing as compared to that of these men. Yet I saw in my nine months afield seventy-one lions. None of these offered to attack when unwounded or not annoyed. On the other hand, only one turned tail once the battle was on, and she proved to be a three quarters grown lioness, sick and out of condition.
It is of course indubitable that where lions have been much shot they become warier in the matter of keeping out of trouble. They retire to cover earlier in the morning, and they keep more than a perfunctory outlook for the casual human being. When hunters first began to go into the Sotik the lions there would stand imperturbable, staring at the intruder with curiosity or indifference. Now they have learned that such performances are not healthy-and they have probably satisfied their curiosity. But neither in the Sotik, nor even in the plains around Nairobi itself, does the lion refuse the challenge once it has been put up to him squarely. Nor does he need to be cornered. He charges in quite blithely from the open plain, once convinced that you are really an annoyance.
As to habits! The only sure thing about a lion is his originality. He has more exceptions to his rules than the German language. Men who have been mighty lion hunters for many years, and who have brought to their hunting close observation, can only tell you what a lion MAY do in certain circumstances. Following very broad principles, they may even predict what he is APT to do, but never what he certainly WILL do. That is one thing that makes lion hunting interesting.
In general, then, the lion frequents that part of the country where feed the great game herds. From them he takes his toll by night, retiring during the day into the shallow ravines, the brush patches, or the rocky little buttes. I have, however, seen lions miles from game, slumbering peacefully atop an ant hill. Indeed, occasionally, a pack of lions likes to live high in the tall-grass ridges where every hunt will mean for them a four- or five-mile jaunt out and back again. He needs water, after feeding, and so rarely gets farther than eight or ten miles from that necessity.
He hunts at night. This is as nearly invariable a rule as can be formulated in regard to lions. Yet once, and perhaps twice, I saw lionesses stalking through tall grass as early as three o'clock in the afternoon. This eagerness may, or may not, have had to do with the possession of hungry cubs. The lion's customary harmlessness in the daytime is best evidenced, however, by the comparative indifference of the game to his presence then. From a hill we watched three of these beasts wandering leisurely across the plains below. A herd of kongonis feeding directly in their path, merely moved aside right and left, quite deliberately, to leave a passage fifty yards or so wide, but otherwise paid not the slightest attention. I have several times seen this incident, or a modification of it. And yet, conversely, on a number of occasions we have received our first intimation of the presence of lions by the wild stampeding of the game away from a certain spot.
However, the most of his hunting is done by dark. Between the hours of sundown and nine o'clock he and his comrades may be heard uttering the deep coughing grunt typical of this time of night. These curious, short, far-sounding calls may be mere evidences of intention, or they may be a sort of signal by means of which the various hunters keep in touch. After a little they cease. Then one is quite likely to hear the petulant, alarmed barking of zebra, or to feel the vibrations of many hoofs. There is a sense of hurried, flurried uneasiness abroad on the veldt.
The lion generally springs on his prey from behind or a little off the quarter. By the impetus his own weight he hurls his victim forward, doubling its head under, and very neatly breaking its neck. I have never seen this done, but the process has been well observed and attested; and certainly, of the many hundreds of lion kills I have taken the pains to inspect, the majority had had their necks broken. Sometimes, but apparently more rarely, the lion kills its prey by a bite in the back of the neck. I have seen zebra killed in this fashion, but never any of the buck. It may be possible that the lack of horns makes it more difficult to break a zebra's neck because of the corresponding lack of leverage when its head hits the ground sidewise; the instances I have noted may have been those in which the lion's spring landed too far back to throw the victim properly; or perhaps they were merely examples of the great variability in the habits of felis leo.
Once the kill is made, the lion disembowels the beast very neatly indeed, and drags the entrails a few feet out of the way. He then eats what he wants, and, curiously enough, seems often to be very fond of the skin. In fact, lacking other evidence, it is occasionally possible to identify a kill as being that of a lion by noticing whether any considerable portion of the hide has been devoured. After eating he drinks. Then he is likely to do one of two things: either he returns to cover near the carcass and lies down, or he wanders slowly and with satisfaction toward his happy home. In the latter case the hyenas, jackals, and carrion birds seize their chance. The astute hunter can often diagnose the case by the general actions and demeanour of these camp followers. A half dozen sour and disgusted looking hyenas seated on their haunches at scattered intervals, and treefuls of mournfully humpbacked vultures sunk in sadness, indicate that the lion has decided to save the rest of his zebra until to-morrow and is not far away. On the other hand, a grand flapping, snarling Kilkenny-fair of an aggregation swirling about one spot in the grass means that the principal actor has gone home.
It is ordinarily useless to expect to see the lion actually on his prey. The feeding is done before dawn, after which the lion enjoys stretching out in the open until the sun is well up, and then retiring to the nearest available cover. Still, at the risk of seeming to be perpetually qualifying, I must instance finding three lions actually on the stale carcass of a waterbuck at eleven o'clock in the morning of a piping hot day! In an undisturbed country, or one not much hunted, the early morning hours up to say nine o'clock are quite likely to show you lions sauntering leisurely across the open plains toward their lairs. They go a little, stop a little, yawn, sit down a while, and gradually work their way home. At those times you come upon them unexpectedly face to face, or, seeing them from afar, ride them down in a glorious gallop. Where the country has been much hunted, however, the lion learns to abandon his kill and seek shelter before daylight, and is almost never seen abroad. Then one must depend on happening upon him in his cover.
In the actual hunting of his game the lion is apparently very clever. He understands the value of cooperation. Two or more will manoeuvre very skilfully to give a third the chance to make an effective spring; whereupon the three will share the kill. In a rough country, or one otherwise favourable to the method, a pack of lions will often deliberately drive game into narrow ravines or cul de sacs where the killers are waiting.
At such times the man favoured by the chance of an encampment within five miles or so can hear a lion's roar.
Otherwise I doubt if he is apt often to get the full-voiced, genuine article. The peculiar questioning cough of early evening is resonant and deep in vibration, but it is a call rather than a roar. No lion is fool enough to make a noise when he is stalking. Then afterward, when full fed, individuals may open up a few times, but only a few times, in sheer satisfaction, apparently, at being well fed. The menagerie row at feeding time, formidable as it sounds within the echoing walls, is only a mild and gentle hint. But when seven or eight lions roar merely to see how much noise they can make, as when driving game, or trying to stampede your oxen on a wagon trip, the effect is something tremendous. The very substance of the ground vibrates; the air shakes. I can only compare it to the effect of a very large deep organ in a very small church. There is something genuinely awe-inspiring about it; and when the repeated volleys rumble into silence, one can imagine the veldt crouched in a rigid terror that shall endure.
XI. LIONS AGAIN
As to the dangers of lion hunting it is also difficult to write. There is no question that a cool man, using good judgment as to just what he can or cannot do, should be able to cope with lion situations. The modern rifle is capable of stopping the beast, provided the bullet goes to the right spot. The right spot is large enough to be easy to hit, if the shooter keeps cool. Our definition of a cool man must comprise the elements of steady nerves under super-excitement, the ability to think quickly and clearly, and the mildly strategic quality of being able to make the best use of awkward circumstances. Such a man, barring sheer accidents, should be able to hunt lions with absolute certainty for just as long as he does not get careless, slipshod or over-confident. Accidents-real accidents, not merely unexpected happenings-are hardly to be counted. They can occur in your own house.
But to the man not temperamentally qualified, lion shooting is dangerous enough. The lion, when he takes the offensive, intends to get his antagonist. Having made up his mind to that, he charges home, generally at great speed. The realization that it is the man's life or the beast's is disconcerting. Also the charging lion is a spectacle much more awe-inspiring in reality than the most vivid imagination can predict. He looks very large, very determined, and has uttered certain rumbling, blood-curdling threats as to what he is going to do about it. It suddenly seems most undesirable to allow that lion to come any closer, not even an inch! A hasty, nervous shot misses—
An unwounded lion charging from a distance is said to start rather slowly, and to increase his pace only as he closes. Personally I have never been charged by an unwounded beast, but I can testify that the wounded animal comes very fast. Cuninghame puts the rate at about seven seconds to the hundred yards. Certainly I should say that a man charged from fifty yards or so would have little chance for a second shot, provided he missed the first. A hit seemed, in my experience, to the animal, by sheer force of impact, long enough to permit me to throw in another cartridge. A lioness thus took four frontal bullets starting at about sixty yards. An initial miss would probably have permitted her to close.
Here, as can be seen, is a great source of danger to a flurried or nervous beginner. He does not want that lion to get an inch nearer; he fires at too long a range, misses, and is killed or mauled before he can reload. This happened precisely so to two young friends of MacMillan. They were armed with double-rifles, let them off hastily as the beast started at them from two hundred yards, and never got another chance. If they had possessed the experience to have waited until the lion had come within fifty yards they would have had the almost certainty of four barrels at close range. Though I have seen a lion missed clean well inside those limits.
From such performances are so-called lion accidents built. During my stay in Africa I heard of six white men being killed by lions, and a number of others mauled. As far as possible I tried to determine the facts of each case. In every instance the trouble followed either foolishness or loss of nerve. I believe I should be quite safe in saying that from identically the same circumstances any of the good lion men-Tarleton, Lord Delamere, the Hills, and others-would have extricated themselves unharmed.
This does not mean that accidents may not happen. Rifles jam, but generally because of flurried manipulation! One may unexpectedly meet the lion at too close quarters; a foot may slip, or a cartridge prove defective. So may one fall downstairs or bump one's head in the dark. Sufficient forethought and alertness and readiness would go far in either case to prevent bad results.
The wounded beast, of course, offers the most interesting problem to the lion hunter. If it sees the hunter, it is likely to charge him at once. If hit while making off, however, it is more apt to take cover. Then one must summon all his good sense and nerve to get it out. No rules can be given for this; nor am I trying to write a text book for lion hunters. Any good lion hunter knows a lot more about it than I do. But always a man must keep in mind three things: that a lion can hide in cover so short that it seems to the novice as though a jack-rabbit would find scant concealment there; that he charges like lightning, and that he can spring about fifteen feet. This spring, coming unexpectedly from an unseen beast, is about impossible to avoid. Sheer luck may land a fatal shot; but even then the lion will probably do his damage before he dies. The rush from a short distance a good quick shot ought to be able to cope with.
Therefore the wise hunter assures himself of at least twenty feet-preferably more-of neutral zone all about him. No matter how long it takes, he determines absolutely that the lion is not within that distance. The rest is alertness and quickness.
As I have said, the amount of cover necessary to conceal a lion is astonishingly small. He can flatten himself out surprisingly; and his tawny colour blends so well with the brown grasses that he is practically invisible. A practised man does not, of course, look for lions at all. He is after unusual small patches, especially the black ear tips or the black of the mane. Once guessed at, it is interesting to see how quickly the hitherto unsuspected animal sketches itself out in the cover.
I should, before passing on to another aspect of the matter, mention the dangerous poisons carried by the lion's claws. Often men have died from the most trivial surface wounds. The grooves of the claws carry putrefying meat from the kills. Every sensible man in a lion country carries a small syringe, and either permanganate or carbolic. And those mild little remedies he uses full strength!
The great and overwhelming advantage is of course with the hunter. He possesses as deadly a weapon: and that weapon will kill at a distance. This is proper, I think. There are more lions than hunters; and, from our point of view, the man is more important than the beast. The game is not too hazardous. By that I mean that, barring sheer accident, a man is sure to come out all right provided he does accurately the right thing. In other words, it is a dangerous game of skill, but it does not possess the blind danger of a forest in a hurricane, say. Furthermore, it is a game that no man need play unless he wants to. In the lion country he may go about his business-daytime business-as though he were home at the farm.
Such being the case, may I be pardoned for intruding one of my own small ethical ideas at this point, with the full realization that it depends upon an entirely personal point of view. As far as my own case goes, I consider it poor sportsmanship ever to refuse a lion-chance merely because the advantages are not all in my favour. After all, lion hunting is on a different plane from ordinary shooting: it is a challenge to war, a deliberate seeking for mortal combat. Is it not just a little shameful to pot old felis leo at long range, in the open, near his kill, and wherever we have him at an advantage-nine times, and then to back out because that advantage is for once not so marked? I have so often heard the phrase, "I let him (or them) alone. It was not good enough," meaning that the game looked a little risky.
Do not misunderstand. I am not advising that you bull ahead into the long grass, or that alone you open fire on a half dozen lions in easy range. Kind providence endowed you with strategy, and certainly you should never go in where there is no show for you to use your weapon effectively. But occasionally the odds will be against you and you will be called upon to take more or less of a chance. I do not think it is quite square to quit playing merely because for once your opponent has been dealt the better cards. If here are too many of them see if you cannot manoeuvre them; if the grass is long, try every means in your power to get them out. Stay with them. If finally you fail, you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that circumstances alone have defeated you. If you do not like that sort of a game, stay out of it entirely.
XII. MORE LIONS
Nor do the last remarks of the preceding chapter mean that you shall not have your trophy in peace. Perhaps excitement and a slight doubt as to whether or not you are going to survive do not appeal to you; but nevertheless you would like a lion skin or so. By all means shoot one lion, or two, or three in the safest fashion you can. But after that you ought to play the game.
The surest way to get a lion is to kill a zebra, cut holes in him, fill the holes with strychnine, and come back next morning. This method is absolutely safe.
The next safest way is to follow the quarry with a pack of especially trained dogs. The lion is so busy and nervous over those dogs that you can walk up and shoot him in the ear. This method has the excitement of riding and following, the joy of a grand and noisy row, and the fun of seeing a good dog-fight. The same effect can be got chasing wart-hogs, hyenas, jackals-or jack-rabbits. The objection is that it wastes a noble beast in an inferior game. My personal opinion is that no man is justified in following with dogs any large animal that can be captured with reasonable certainty without them. The sport of coursing is another matter; but that is quite the same in essence whatever the size of the quarry. If you want to kill a lion or so quite safely, and at the same time enjoy a glorious and exciting gallop with lots of accompanying row, by all means follow the sport with hounds. But having killed one or two by that method, quit. Do not go on and clean up the country. You can do it. Poison and hounds are the SURE methods of finding any lion there may be about; and AFTER THE FIRST FEW, one is about as justifiable as the other. If you want the undoubtedly great joy of cross country pursuit, send your hounds in after less noble game.