THE DEATH OF THE FIRST MAN-EATER
A day or two after the departure of my allies, as I was leaving my boma soon after dawn on December 9, I saw a Swahili running excitedly towards me, shouting out "Simba! Simba!" ("Lion! Lion!"), and every now and again looking behind him as he ran. On questioning him I found that the lions had tried to snatch a man from the camp by the river, but being foiled in this had seized and killed one of the donkeys, and were at that moment busy devouring it not far off. Now was my chance.
I rushed for the heavy rifle which Farquhar had kindly left with me for use in case an opportunity such as this should arise, and, led by the Swahili, I started most carefully to stalk the lions, who, I devoutly hoped, were confining their attention strictly to their meal. I was getting on splendidly, and could just make out the outline of one of them through the dense bush, when unfortunately my guide snapped a rotten branch. The wily beast heard the noise, growled his defiance, and disappeared in a moment into a patch of even thicker jungle close by. In desperation at the thought of his escaping me once again, I crept hurriedly back to the camp, summoned the available workmen and told them to bring all the tom-toms, tin cans, and other noisy instruments of any kind that could be found. As quickly as possible I posted them in a half-circle round the thicket, and gave the head jemadar instructions to start a simultaneous beating of the tom-toms and cans as soon as he judged that I had had time to get round to the other side. I then crept round by myself and soon found a good position and one which the lion was most likely to retreat past, as it was in the middle of a broad animal path leading straight from the place where he was concealed. I lay down behind a small ant hill, and waited expectantly. Very soon I heard a tremendous din being raised by the advancing line of coolies, and almost immediately, to my intense joy, out into the open path stepped a huge maneless lion. It was the first occasion during all these trying months upon which I had had a fair chance at one of these brutes, and my satisfaction at the prospect of bagging him was unbounded.
Slowly he advanced along the path, stopping every few seconds to look round. I was only partially concealed from view, and if his attention had not been so fully occupied by the noise behind him, he must have observed me. As he was oblivious to my presence, however, I let him approach to within about fifteen yards of me, and then covered him with my rifle. The moment I moved to do this, he caught sight of me, and seemed much astonished at my sudden appearance, for he stuck his forefeet into the ground, threw himself back on his haunches and growled savagely. As I covered his brain with my rifle, I felt that at last I had him absolutely at my mercy, but .... never trust an untried weapon! I pulled the trigger, and to my horror heard the dull snap that tells of a misfire.
Worse was to follow. I was so taken aback and disconcerted by this untoward accident that I entirely forgot to fire the left barrel, and lowered the rifle from my shoulder with the intention of reloading—if I should be given time. Fortunately for me, the lion was so distracted by the terrific din and uproar of the coolies behind him that instead of springing on me, as might have been expected, he bounded aside into the jungle again. By this time I had collected my wits, and just as he jumped I let him have the left barrel. An answering angry growl told me that he had been hit; but nevertheless he succeeded once more in getting clear away, for although I tracked him for some little distance, I eventually lost his trail in a rocky patch of ground.
Bitterly did I anathematise the hour in which I had relied on a borrowed weapon, and in my disappointment and vexation I abused owner, maker, and rifle with fine impartiality. On extracting the unexploded cartridge, I found that the needle had not struck home, the cap being only slightly dented; so that the whole fault did indeed lie with the rifle, which I later returned to Farquhar with polite compliments. Seriously, however, my continued ill-luck was most exasperating; and the result was that the Indians were more than ever confirmed in their belief that the lions were really evil spirits, proof against mortal weapons. Certainly, they did seem to bear charmed lives.
After this dismal failure there was, of course, nothing to do but to return to camp. Before doing so, however, I proceeded to view the dead donkey, which I found to have been only slightly devoured it the quarters. It is a curious fact that lions always begin at the tail of their prey and eat upwards towards the head. As their meal had thus been interrupted evidently at the very beginning, I felt pretty sure that one or other of the brutes would return to the carcase at nightfall. Accordingly, as there was no tree of any kind close at hand, I had a staging erected some ten feet away from the body. This machan was about twelve feet high and was composed of four poles stuck into the ground and inclined towards each other at the top, where a plank was lashed to serve as a seat. Further, as the nights were still pitch dark, I had the donkey's carcase secured by strong wires to a neighbouring stump, so that the lions might not be able to drag it away before I could get a shot at them.
At sundown, therefore, I took up my position on my airy perch, and much to the disgust of my gun-bearer, Mahina, I decided to go alone. I would gladly have taken him with me, indeed, but he had a bad cough, and I was afraid lest he should make any involuntary noise or movement which might spoil all. Darkness fell almost immediately, and everything became extraordinarily still. The silence of an African jungle on a dark night needs to be experienced to be realised; it is most impressive, especially when one is absolutely alone and isolated from one's fellow creatures, as I was then. The solitude and stillness, and the purpose of my vigil, all had their effect on me, and from a condition of strained expectancy I gradually fell into a dreamy mood which harmonised well with my surroundings. Suddenly I was startled out of my reverie by the snapping of a twig: and, straining my ears for a further sound, I fancied I could hear the rustling of a large body forcing its way through the bush. "The man-eater," I thought to myself; "surely to-night my luck will change and I shall bag one of the brutes." Profound silence again succeeded; I sat on my eyrie like a statue, every nerve tense with excitement. Very soon, however, all doubt as to the presence of the lion was dispelled. A deep long-drawn sigh—sure sign of hunger—came up from the bushes, and the rustling commenced again as he cautiously advanced. In a moment or two a sudden stop, followed by an angry growl, told me that my presence had been noticed; and I began to fear that disappointment awaited me once more.
But no; matters quickly took an unexpected turn. The hunter became the hunted; and instead of either making off or coming for the bait prepared for him, the lion began stealthily to stalk me! For about two hours he horrified me by slowly creeping round and round my crazy structure, gradually edging his way nearer and nearer. Every moment I expected him to rush it; and the staging had not been constructed with an eye to such a possibility. If one of the rather flimsy poles should break, or if the lion could spring the twelve feet which separated me from the ground ... the thought was scarcely a pleasant one. I began to feel distinctly "creepy," and heartily repented my folly in having placed myself in such a dangerous position. I kept perfectly still, however, hardly daring even to blink my eyes: but the long-continued strain was telling on my nerves, and my feelings may be better imagined than described when about midnight suddenly something came flop and struck me on the back of the head. For a moment I was so terrified that I nearly fell off the plank, as I thought that the lion had sprung on me from behind. Regaining my senses in a second or two, I realised that I had been hit by nothing more formidable than an owl, which had doubtless mistaken me for the branch of a tree—not a very alarming thing to happen in ordinary circumstances, I admit, but coming at the time it did, it almost paralysed me. The involuntary start which I could not help giving was immediately answered by a sinister growl from below.
After this I again kept as still as I could, though absolutely trembling with excitement; and in a short while I heard the lion begin to creep stealthily towards me. I could barely make out his form as he crouched among the whitish undergrowth; but I saw enough for my purpose, and before he could come any nearer, I took careful aim and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot was at once followed by a most terrific roar, and then I could hear him leaping about in all directions. I was no longer able to see him, however, as his first bound had taken him into the thick bush; but to make assurance doubly sure, I kept blazing away in the direction in which I heard him plunging about. At length came a series of mighty groans, gradually subsiding into deep sighs, and finally ceasing altogether; and I felt convinced that one of the "devils" who had so long harried us would trouble us no more.
As soon as I ceased firing, a tumult of inquiring voices was borne across the dark jungle from the men in camp about a quarter of a mile away. I shouted back that I was safe and sound, and that one of the lions was dead: whereupon such a mighty cheer went up from all the camps as must have astonished the denizens of the jungle for miles around. Shortly I saw scores of lights twinkling through the bushes: every man in camp turned out, and with tom-toms beating and horns blowing came running to the scene. They surrounded my eyrie, and to my amazement prostrated themselves on the ground before me, saluting me with cries of "Mabarak! Mabarak!" which I believe means "blessed one" or "saviour." All the same, I refused to allow any search to be made that night for the body of the lion, in case his companion might be close by; besides, it was possible that he might be still alive, and capable of making a last spring. Accordingly we all returned in triumph to the camp, where great rejoicings were kept up for the remainder of the night, the Swahili and other African natives celebrating the occasion by an especially wild and savage dance.
For my part, I anxiously awaited the dawn; and even before it was thoroughly light I was on my way to the eventful spot, as I could not completely persuade myself that even yet the "devil" might not have eluded me in some uncanny and mysterious way. Happily my fears proved groundless, and I was relieved to find that my luck—after playing me so many exasperating tricks—had really turned at last. I had scarcely traced the blood for more than a few paces when, on rounding a bush, I was startled to see a huge lion right in front of me, seemingly alive and crouching for a spring. On looking closer, however, I satisfied myself that he was really and truly stone-dead, whereupon my followers crowded round, laughed and danced and shouted with joy like children, and bore me in triumph shoulder-high round the dead body. These thanksgiving ceremonies being over, I examined the body and found that two bullets had taken effect—one close behind the left shoulder, evidently penetrating the heart, and the other in the off hind leg. The prize was indeed one to be proud of; his length from tip of nose to tip of tail was nine feet eight inches, he stood three feet nine inches high, and it took eight men to carry him back to camp. The only blemish was that the skin was much scored by the boma thorns through which he had so often forced his way in carrying off his victims.
The news of the death of one of the notorious man-eaters soon spread far and wide over the country: telegrams of congratulation came pouring in, and scores of people flocked from up and down the railway to see the skin for themselves.
THE DEATH OF THE SECOND MAN-EATER
It must not be imagined that with the death of this lion our troubles at Tsavo were at an end; his companion was still at large, and very soon began to make us unpleasantly aware of the fact. Only a few nights elapsed before he made an attempt to get at the Permanent Way Inspector, climbing up the steps of his bungalow and prowling round the verandah. The Inspector, hearing the noise and thinking it was a drunken coolie, shouted angrily "Go away!" but, fortunately for him, did not attempt to come out or to open the door. Thus disappointed in his attempt to obtain a meal of human flesh, the lion seized a couple of the Inspector's goats and devoured them there and then.
On hearing of this occurrence, I determined to sit up the next night near the Inspector's bungalow. Fortunately there was a vacant iron shanty close at hand, with a convenient loophole in it for firing from; and outside this I placed three full-grown goats as bait, tying them to a half-length of rail, weighing about 250 lbs. The night passed uneventfully until just before daybreak, when at last the lion turned up, pounced on one of the goats and made off with it, at the same time dragging away the others, rail and all. I fired several shots in his direction, but it was pitch dark and quite impossible to see anything, so I only succeeded in hitting one of the goats. I often longed for a flash-light on such occasions.
Next morning I started off in pursuit and was joined by some others from the camp. I found that the trail of the goats and rail was easily followed, and we soon came up, about a quarter of a mile away, to where the lion was still busy at his meal. He was concealed in some thick bush and growled angrily on hearing our approach; finally, as we got closer, he suddenly made a charge, rushing through the bushes at a great pace. In an instant, every man of the party scrambled hastily up the nearest tree, with the exception of one of my assistants, Mr. Winkler, who stood steadily by me throughout. The brute, however, did not press his charge home: and on throwing stones into the bushes where we had last seen him, we guessed by the silence that he had slunk off. We therefore advanced cautiously, and on getting up to the place discovered that he had indeed escaped us, leaving two off the goats scarcely touched.
Thinking that in all probability the lion would return as usual to finish his meal, I had a very strong scaffolding put up a few feet away from the dead goats, and took up my position on it before dark. On this occasion I brought my gun-bearer, Mahina, to take a turn at watching, as I was by this time worn out for want of sleep, having spent so many nights on the look-out. I was just dozing off comfortably when suddenly I felt my arm seized, and on looking up saw Mahina pointing in the direction of the goats. "Sher!" ("Lion!") was all he whispered. I grasped my double smooth-bore, which, I had charged with slug, and waited patiently. In a few moments I was rewarded, for as I watched the spot where I expected the lion to appear, there was a rustling among the bushes and I saw him stealthily emerge into the open and pass almost directly beneath us. I fired both barrels practically together into his shoulder, and to my joy could see him go down under the force of the blow. Quickly I reached for the magazine rifle, but before I could use it, he was out of sight among the bushes, and I had to fire after him quite at random. Nevertheless I was confident of getting him in the morning, and accordingly set out as soon as it was light. For over a mile there was no difficulty in following the blood-trail, and as he had rested several times I felt sure that he had been badly wounded. In the end, however, my hunt proved fruitless, for after a time the traces of blood ceased and the surface of the ground became rocky, so that I was no longer able to follow the spoor.
About this time Sir Guilford Molesworth, K.C.I.E., late Consulting Engineer to the Government of India for State Railways, passed through Tsavo on a tour of inspection on behalf of the Foreign Office. After examining the bridge and other works and expressing his satisfaction, he took a number of photographs, one or two of which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce in this book. He thoroughly sympathised with us in all the trials we had endured from the man-eaters, and was delighted that one at least was dead. When he asked me if I expected to get the second lion soon, I well remember his half-doubting smile as I rather too confidently asserted that I hoped to bag him also in the course of a few days.
As it happened, there was no sign of our enemy for about ten days after this, and we began to hope that he had died of his wounds in the bush. All the same we still took every precaution at night, and it was fortunate that we did so, as otherwise at least one more victim would have been added to the list. For on the night of December 27, I was suddenly aroused by terrified shouts from my trolley men, who slept in a tree close outside my boma, to the effect that a lion was trying to get at them. It would have been madness to have gone out, as the moon was hidden by dense clouds and it was absolutely impossible to see anything more than a yard in front of one; so all I could do was to fire off a few rounds just to frighten the brute away. This apparently had the desired effect, for the men were not further molested that night; but the man-eater had evidently prowled about for some time, for we found in the morning that he had gone right into every one of their tents, and round the tree was a regular ring of his footmarks.
The following evening I took up my position in this same tree, in the hope that he would make another attempt. The night began badly, as, while climbing up to my perch I very nearly put my hand on a venomous snake which was lying coiled round one of the branches. As may be imagined, I came down again very quickly, but one of my men managed to despatch it with a long pole. Fortunately the night was clear and cloudless, and the moon made every thing almost as bright as day. I kept watch until about 2 a.m., when I roused Mahina to take his turn. For about an hour I slept peacefully with my back to the tree, and then woke suddenly with an uncanny feeling that something was wrong. Mahina, however, was on the alert, and had seen nothing; and although I looked carefully round us on all sides, I too could discover nothing unusual. Only half satisfied, I was about to lie back again, when I fancied I saw something move a little way off among the low bushes. On gazing intently at the spot for a few seconds, I found I was not mistaken. It was the man-eater, cautiously stalking us.
The ground was fairly open round our tree, with only a small bush every here and there; and from our position it was a most fascinating sight to watch this great brute stealing stealthily round us, taking advantage of every bit of cover as he came. His skill showed that he was an old hand at the terrible game of man-hunting: so I determined to run no undue risk of losing him this time. I accordingly waited until he got quite close—about twenty yards away—and then fired my .303 at his chest. I heard the bullet strike him, but unfortunately it had no knockdown effect, for with a fierce growl he turned and made off with great long bounds. Before he disappeared from sight, however, I managed to have three more shots at him from the magazine rifle, and another growl told me that the last of these had also taken effect.
We awaited daylight with impatience, and at the first glimmer of dawn we set out to hunt him down. I took a native tracker with me, so that I was free to keep a good look-out, while Mahina followed immediately behind with a Martini carbine. Splashes of blood being plentiful, we were able to get along quickly; and we had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile through the jungle when suddenly a fierce warning growl was heard right in front of us. Looking cautiously through the bushes, I could see the man-eater glaring out in our direction, and showing his tusks in an angry snarl. I at once took careful aim and fired. Instantly he sprang out and made a most determined charge down on us. I fired again and knocked him over; but in a second he was up once more and coming for me as fast as he could in his crippled condition. A third shot had no apparent effect, so I put out my hand for the Martini, hoping to stop him with it. To my dismay, however, it was not there. The terror of the sudden charge had proved too much for Mahina, and both he and the carbine were by this time well on their way up a tree. In the circumstances there was nothing to do but follow suit, which I did without loss of time: and but for the fact that one of my shots had broken a hind leg, the brute would most certainly have had me. Even as it was, I had barely time to swing myself up out of his reach before he arrived at the foot of the tree.
When the lion found he was too late, he started to limp back to the thicket; but by this time I had seized the carbine from Mahina, and the first shot I fired from it seemed to give him his quietus, for he fell over and lay motionless. Rather foolishly, I at once scrambled down from the tree and walked up towards him. To my surprise and no little alarm he jumped up and attempted another charge. This time, however, a Martini bullet in the chest and another in the head finished him for good and all; he dropped in his tracks not five yards away from me, and died gamely, biting savagely at a branch which had fallen to the ground.
By this time all the workmen in camp, attracted by the sound of the firing, had arrived on the scene, and so great was their resentment against the brute who had killed such numbers of their comrades that it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could restrain them from tearing the dead body to pieces. Eventually, amid the wild rejoicings of the natives and coolies, I had the lion carried to my boma, which was close at hand. On examination we found no less than six bullet holes in the body, and embedded only a little way in the flesh of the back was the slug which I had fired into him from the scaffolding about ten days previously. He measured nine feet six inches from tip of nose to tip of tail, and stood three feet eleven and a half inches high; but, as in the case of his companion, the skin was disfigured by being deeply scored all over by the boma thorns.
The news of the death of the second "devil" soon spread far and wide over the country, and natives actually travelled from up and down the line to have a look at my trophies and at the "devil-killer", as they called me. Best of all, the coolies who had absconded came flocking back to Tsavo, and much to my relief work was resumed and we were never again troubled by man-eaters. It was amusing, indeed, to notice the change which took place in the attitude of the workmen towards me after I had killed the two lions. Instead of wishing to murder me, as they once did, they could not now do enough for me, and as a token of their gratitude they presented me with a beautiful silver bowl, as well as with a long poem written in Hindustani describing all our trials and my ultimate victory. As the poem relates our troubles in somewhat quaint and biblical language, I have given a translation of it in the appendix. The bowl I shall always consider my most highly prized and hardest won trophy. The inscription on it reads as follows:—
SIR,—We, your Overseer, Timekeepers, Mistaris and Workmen, present you with this bowl as a token of our gratitude to you for your bravery in killing two man-eating lions at great risk to your own life, thereby saving us from the fate of being devoured by these terrible monsters who nightly broke into our tents and took our fellow-workers from our side. In presenting you with this bowl, we all add our prayers for your long life, happiness and prosperity. We shall ever remain, Sir, Your grateful servants,
Baboo PURSHOTAM HURJEE PURMAR, Overseer and Clerk of Works, on behalf of your Workmen. Dated at Tsavo, January 30, 1899.
Before I leave the subject of "the man-eaters of Tsavo," it may be of interest to mention that these two lions possess the distinction, probably unique among wild animals, of having been specifically referred to in the House of Lords by the Prime Minister of the day. Speaking of the difficulties which had been encountered in the construction of the Uganda Railway, the late Lord Salisbury said:—
"The whole of the works were put a stop to for three weeks because a party of man-eating lions appeared in the locality and conceived a most unfortunate taste for our porters. At last the labourers entirely declined to go on unless they were guarded by an iron entrenchment. Of course it is difficult to work a railway under these conditions, and until we found an enthusiastic sportsman to get rid of these lions, our enterprise was seriously hindered."
Also, The Spectator of March 3, 1900, had an article entitled "The Lions that Stopped the Railway," from which the following extracts are taken:—
"The parallel to the story of the lions which stopped the rebuilding of Samaria must occur to everyone, and if the Samaritans had quarter as good cause for their fears as had the railway coolies, their wish to propitiate the local deities is easily understood. If the whole body of lion anecdote, from the days of the Assyrian Kings till the last year of the nineteenth century, were collated and brought together, it would not equal in tragedy or atrocity, in savageness or in sheer insolent contempt for man, armed or unarmed, white or black, the story of these two beasts.
"To what a distance the whole story carries us back, and how impossible it becomes to account for the survival of primitive man against this kind of foe! For fire—which has hitherto been regarded as his main safeguard against the carnivora—these cared nothing. It is curious that the Tsavo lions were not killed by poison, for strychnine is easily used, and with effect. (I may mention that poison was tried, but without effect. The poisoned carcases of transport animals which had died from the bite of the tsetse fly were placed in likely spots, but the wily man-eaters would not touch them, and much preferred live men to dead donkeys.) Poison may have been used early in the history of man, for its powers are employed with strange skill by the men in the tropical forest, both in American and West Central Africa. But there is no evidence that the old inhabitants of Europe, or of Assyria or Asia Minor, ever killed lions or wolves by this means. They looked to the King or chief, or some champion, to kill these monsters for them. It was not the sport but the duty of. Kings, and was in itself a title to be a ruler of men. Theseus, who cleared the roads of beasts and robbers; Hercules, the lion killer; St. George, the dragon-slayer, and all the rest of their class owed to this their everlasting fame. From the story of the Tsavo River we can appreciate their services to man even at this distance of time. When the jungle twinkled with hundreds of lamps, as the shout went on from camp to camp that the first lion was dead, as the hurrying crowds fell prostrate in the midnight forest, laying their heads on his feet, and the Africans danced savage and ceremonial dances of thanksgiving, Mr. Patterson must have realised in no common way what it was to have been a hero and deliverer in the days when man was not yet undisputed lord of the creation, and might pass at any moment under the savage dominion of the beasts."
Well had the two man-eaters earned all this fame; they had devoured between them no less than twenty-eight Indian coolies, in addition to scores of unfortunate African natives of whom no official record was kept.
THE COMPLETION OF THE TSAVO BRIDGE
When all the excitement had died down and there was no longer any dread of the man-eaters, work went on briskly, and the bridge over the Tsavo rapidly neared completion. As the piers and abutments progressed in height, the question of how to lift the large stones into their positions had to be solved. We possessed no cranes for this purpose, so I set to work and improvised a shears made of a couple of thirty-foot rails. These were bolted together at the top, while the other ends were fixed at a distance of about ten feet apart in a large block of wood. This contrivance acted capitally, and by manipulation of ropes and pulleys the heavy stones were swung into position quickly and without difficulty, so that in a very short time the masonry of the bridge was completed.
The next business was to span the sixty-foot distance between the piers with iron girders. As I had neither winches nor sufficient blocks and tackle to haul these over into position, I was driven to erect temporary piers in the middle of each span, built up crib-shape of wooden sleepers. Great wooden beams were stretched across from the stone piers to these cribs, and laid with rails; and the girder was run over its exact place, while still on the trucks in which it had been brought up from the coast. It was next "jacked" up from the trucks, which were hauled away empty, the temporary bridge was dismantled, and the girder finally lowered gently into position. When the last girder was thus successfully placed, no time was lost in linking up the permanent way, and very soon I had the satisfaction of seeing the first train cross the finished work.
Curiously enough, only a day or so after the bridge had been completed and the intermediate cribs cleared away, a tremendous rain-storm broke over the country. The river started to rise rapidly, soon flooding its banks and becoming a raging murky torrent, tearing up trees by the roots and whirling them along like straws. Steadily higher and higher rose the flood, and standing on my bridge, I watched expectantly for the two temporary trolley bridges—which, it will be remembered, we had built across the stream in order to bring stone and sand to the main work—to give way before the ever-rising volume of water. Nor had I long to wait; for I soon caught sight of a solid mass of palm stems and railway sleepers sweeping with almost irresistible force round the bend of the river some little distance above the bridge. This I knew was the debris of the trolley crossing furthest up the river. On it came, and with it an additional bank of stormy-looking water. I held my breath for the space of a moment as it actually leaped at the second frail structure; there was a dull thud and a rending and riving of timbers, and then the flood rolled on towards me, leaving not a vestige of the two bridges behind it. The impact, indeed, was so great that the rails were twisted round the broken tree-trunks as if they had been so much ordinary wire. The double tier of wreckage now swept forward, and hurled itself with a sullen plunge against the cutwaters of my stone piers. The shock was great, but to my immense satisfaction the bridge took it without a tremor, and I saw the remnant of the temporary crossings swirl through the great spans and quickly disappear on its journey to the ocean. I confess that I witnessed the whole occurrence with a thrill of pride.
We were never long without excitement of some kind or another at Tsavo. When the camp was not being attacked by man-eating lions, it was visited by leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, wild cats, and other inhabitants of the jungle around us. These animals did a great deal of damage to the herds of sheep and goats which were kept to supply the commissariat, and there was always great rejoicing when a capture was made in one of the many traps that were laid for them.
Leopards especially are most destructive, often killing simply for pleasure and not for food: and I have always harboured animosity towards them since the night when one wantonly destroyed a whole herd of mine. I happened at the time to have a flock of about thirty sheep and goats which I kept for food and for milk, and which were secured at sundown in a grass hut at one corner of my boma. One particularly dark night we were startled by a tremendous commotion in this shed, but as this was before the man-eaters were killed, no one dared stir out to investigate the cause of the disturbance. I naturally thought that the intruder was one of the "demons," but all I could do was to fire several shots in the direction of the hut, hoping to frighten him away. In spite of these, however, it was some time before the noise died down and everything became still again. As soon as it was dawn I went to the shed to see what had happened, and there, to my intense anger, I found every one of my sheep and goats lying stretched dead, on the ground with its throat bitten through. A hole had been made through the frail wall of the shed, and I saw from this and from the tracks all round that the author of the wholesale slaughter had been a leopard. He had not eaten one of the flock, but had killed them all out of pure love of destruction.
I hoped that he would return the next night to make a meal; and should he do so, I determined to have my revenge. I accordingly left the carcases exactly as they lay, and having a very powerful steel trap—like an enormous rat-trap, and quite strong enough to hold a leopard if he should put his foot in it—I placed this in the opening into the shed and secured it by a stout chain to a long stake driven into the ground outside. Darkness found everyone in my boma on the alert and listening anxiously to hear the noise the leopard would make the moment he was caught in the trap. Nor were we disappointed, for about midnight we heard the click of the powerful spring, followed immediately by frantic roaring and plunging. I had been sitting all evening with my rifle by my side and a lantern lighted, so I immediately rushed out, followed by the chaukidar (watchman) carrying the lamp. As we approached the shed, the leopard made a frantic spring in our direction as far as the chain would allow him, and this so frightened the chaukidar that he fled in terror, leaving me in utter darkness. The night was as black as had been the previous one, and I could see absolutely nothing; but I knew the general direction in which to fire and accordingly emptied my magazine at the beast. As far as I could make out, he kept dodging in and out through the broken wall of the goat-house; but in a short time my shots evidently told, as his struggles ceased and all was still. I called out that he was dead, and at once everyone in the boma turned out, bringing all the lanterns in the place. With the others came my Indian overseer, who shouted that he too wanted revenge, as some of the goats had belonged to him. Whereupon he levelled his revolver at the dead leopard, and shutting his eyes tightly, fired four shots in rapid succession. Naturally not one of these touched the beast, but they caused considerable consternation amongst the onlookers, who scattered rapidly to right and left. Next morning a party of starving Wa Kamba happened to be passing just as I was about to skin the leopard, and asked by means of signs to be allowed to do the job for me and then to take the meat. I of course assented to this proposal, and in a very few minutes the skin had been neatly taken off, and the famishing natives began a ravenous meal on the raw flesh.
Wild dogs are also very destructive, and often caused great losses among our sheep and goats. Many a night have I listened to these animals hunting and harrying some poor creature of the wilds round my camp; they never relinquish a chase, and will attack anything, man or beast, when really driven by hunger. I was at Tsavo Station one day—unfortunately without my rifle—when one of these dogs came up and stood within about thirty yards of me. He was a fine-looking beast, bigger than a collie, with jet-black hair and a white-tipped bushy tail. I was very sorry that I had not brought my rifle, as I badly wanted a specimen and never had another chance of obtaining one.
THE SWAHILI AND OTHER NATIVE TRIBES
I have always been very keenly interested in the different native races of Africa, and consequently availed myself of every opportunity of studying their manners and customs. I had little scope for this at Tsavo, however, as the district around us was practically uninhabited. Still there was of course a good number of Swahili among my workmen, together with a few Wa Kamba, Wa N'yam Wezi, and others, so I soon became more or less acquainted with the habits of these tribes. The Swahili live principally along the coast of British East Africa and at Zanzibar. They are a mixed race, being the descendants of Arab fathers and negro mothers. Their name is derived from the Arabic word suahil, coast; but it has also been said, by some who have found them scarcely so guileless as might have been expected, to be really a corruption of the words sawa hili, that is, "those who cheat all alike." However that may be, the men are as a rule of splendid physique and well qualified for the calling that the majority of them follow, that of caravan porters. They are a careless, light-hearted, improvident people, and are very fond of all the good things of this world, enjoying them thoroughly whenever they get the chance. Their life is spent in journeying to and from the interior, carrying heavy loads of provisions and trade-goods on the one journey, and returning with similar loads of ivory or other products of the country. They are away for many months at a time on these expeditions, and consequently—as they cannot spend money on the march—they have a goodly number of rupees to draw on their return to Mombasa. These generally disappear with wonderful rapidity, and when no more fun can be bought, they join another caravan and begin a new safari to the Great Lakes, or even beyond. Many a time have I watched them trudging along the old caravan road which crossed the Tsavo at a ford about half a mile from the railway station: here a halt was always called, so that they might wash and bathe in the cool waters of the river.
Nothing ever seems to damp the spirits of the Swahili porter. Be his life ever so hard, his load ever so heavy, the moment it is off his back and he has disposed of his posho (food), he straightway forgets all his troubles, and begins to laugh and sing and joke with his fellows as if he were the happiest and luckiest mortal alive. Such was my cook, Mabruki, and his merry laugh was quite infectious. I remember that one day he was opening a tin of biscuits for me, and not being able to pull off the under-lid with his fingers, he seized the flap in his magnificent teeth and tugged at it. I shouted to him to stop, thinking that he might break a tooth; but he misunderstood my solicitude and gravely assured me that he would not spoil the tin!
The Swahili men wear a long white cotton garment, like a night-shirt, called a kanzu; the women—who are too liberally endowed to be entirely graceful—go about with bare arms and shoulders, and wear a long brightly-coloured cloth which they wind tightly round their bosoms and then allow to fall to the feet. All are followers of the Prophet, and their social customs are consequently much the same as those of any other Mohammedan race, though with a good admixture of savagedom. They have a happy knack of giving a nickname to every European with whom they have to do, such nickname generally making reference to something peculiar or striking in his habits, temper, or appearance. On the whole, they are a kindly, generous folk, whom one cannot help liking.
Of the many tribes which are to be seen about the railway on the way up from the coast, perhaps the most extraordinary-looking are the Wa Nyika, the people who inhabit the thorny nyika (wilderness) which borders on the Taru Desert. They are exceedingly ugly and of a low type. The men wear nothing in the way of dress but a scanty and very dirty cloth thrown over the shoulders, while the women attire themselves only in a short kilt which is tied round them very low at the waist. Both men and women adorn themselves with brass chains round the neck and coils of copper and iron wire round the arms.
The nearest native inhabitants to Tsavo are the Wa Taita, who dwell in the mountains near N'dii, some thirty miles away. My work often took me to this place, and on one of my visits, finding myself with some spare time on my hands, I set out to pay a long promised visit to the District Officer. A fairly good road ran from N'dii Station to his house at the foot of the mountains, about four miles away, and on my arrival I was not only most hospitably entertained but was also introduced to M'gogo, the Head Chief of the Wa Taita, who had just come in for a shauri (consultation) about some affair of State. The old fellow appeared delighted to meet me, and promptly invited me to his kraal, some way up the hills. I jumped at the prospect of seeing the Wa Taita at home, so presently off we started on our heavy climb, my Indian servant, Bhawal, coming with us. After a couple of hours' steady scramble up a steep and slippery goatpath, we arrived at M'gogo's capital, where I was at once introduced to his wives, who were busily engaged in making pombe (a native fermented drink) in the hollowed-out stump of a tree. I presented one of them with an orange for her child, but she did not understand what it was for on tasting it she made a wry face and would not eat it. Still she did not throw it away, but carefully put it into a bag with her other treasures—doubtless for future investigation. As soon as the women saw Bhawal, however, he became the centre of attraction, and I was eclipsed. He happened to have on a new puggaree, with lots of gold work on it, and this took their fancy immensely; they examined every line most carefully and went into ecstasies over it—just as their European sisters would have done over the latest Parisian creation.
We made a short halt for rest and refreshment, and then started again on our journey to the top of the hills. After a stiff climb for another two hours, part of it through a thick black forest, we emerged on the summit, where I found I was well rewarded for my trouble by the magnificent views we obtained on all sides. The great Kilima N'jaro stood out particularly well, and made a very effective background to the fine panorama. I was surprised to find a number of well-fed cattle on the mountain top, but I fancy M'gogo thought I was casting an evil spell over them when he saw me taking photographs of them as they grazed peacefully on the sweet grass which covered the plateau.
Like most other natives of Africa, the Wa Taita are exceedingly superstitious, and this failing is turned to good account by the all-powerful "witch-doctor" or "medicine-man." It is, for instance, an extraordinary sight to see the absolute faith with which a Ki Taita will blow the simba-dawa, or "lion medicine ", to the four points of the compass before lying down to sleep in the open. This dawa—which is, of course, obtainable only from the witch-doctor—consists simply of a little black powder, usually carried in a tiny horn stuck through a slit in the ear; but the Ki Taita firmly believes that a few grains of this dust blown round him from the palm of the hand is a complete safeguard against raging lions seeking whom they may devour; and after the blowing ceremony he will lie down to sleep in perfect confidence, even in the midst of a man-eater's district. In the nature of things, moreover, he never loses this touching faith in the efficacy of the witch-doctor's charm; for if he is attacked by a lion, the brute sees to it that he does not live to become an unbeliever, while if he is not attacked, it is of course quite clear that it is to the dawa that he owes his immunity.
For the rest, the Wa Taita are essentially a peace-loving and industrious people; and, indeed, before the arrival of the British in the country, they hardly ever ventured down from their mountain fastnesses, owing to their dread of the warlike Masai. Each man has as many wives as he can afford to pay for in sheep or cattle; he provides each spouse with a separate establishment, but the family huts are clustered together, and as a rule all live in perfect harmony. The most curious custom of the tribe is the filing of the front teeth into sharp points, which gives the whole face a most peculiar and rather diabolical expression. As usual, their ideas of costume are rather primitive; the men sometimes wear a scrap of cloth round the loins, while the women content themselves with the same or with a short kilt. Both sexes adorn themselves with a great quantity of copper or iron wire coiled round their arms and legs, and smear their bodies all over with grease, the men adding red clay to the mixture. Many of the women also wear dozens of rows of beads, while their ears are hung with pieces of chain and other fantastic ornaments. The men always carry bows and poisoned arrows, as well as a seemie (a short, roughly-fashioned sword) hung on a leathern thong round the waist. A three-legged stool is also an important part of their equipment, and is slung on the shoulder when on the march.
The next people met with on the road to the Great Lakes are the Wa Kamba, who inhabit the Ukambani province, and may be seen from M'toto Andei to the Athi River. They are a very large tribe, but have little cohesion, being split up, into many clans under chiefs who govern in a patriarchal kind of way. In appearance and dress—or the want of it—they are very like the Wa Taita, and they have the same custom of filing the front teeth. As a rule, too, they are a peace-loving people, though when driven to it by hunger they will commit very cruel and treacherous acts of wholesale murder. While the railway was being constructed, a severe famine occurred in their part of the country, when hundreds of them died of starvation. During this period they several times swooped down on isolated railway maintenance gangs and utterly annihilated them, in order to obtain possession of the food which they knew would be stored in the camps. These attacks were always made by night. Like most other native races in East Africa, their only arms are the bow and poisoned arrow, but in the use of these primitive weapons they are specially expert. The arrow-head remains in the flesh when the shaft is withdrawn, and if the poison is fresh, paralysis and death very quickly follow, the skin round the wound turning yellow and mortifying within an hour or two. This deadly poison is obtained, I believe, by boiling down a particular root, the arrow-heads being dipped in the black, pitchy-looking essence which remains. I am glad to say, however, that owing to the establishment of several Mission Stations amongst them, the Wa Kamba are quickly becoming the most civilised natives in the country; and the missionaries have adopted the sensible course of teaching the people husbandry and the practical arts and crafts of everyday life, in addition to caring for their spiritual needs.
A NIGHT AFTER HIPPO
During my stay at Tsavo I made many little excursions into the surrounding country, and used to go off on a short shooting and exploring expedition whenever I had the opportunity. I was especially anxious to bag a hippopotamus, so I made up my mind to try my luck on the banks of the Sabaki. Unfortunately, I possessed no heavy rifle, which is almost a necessity for hippo shooting, but it occurred to me to supply the deficiency by manufacturing a few cartridges for my smoothbore. In these I had double charges of powder and a hardened bullet made of lead mixed with about an eighth part of tin. I well remember the anxiety with which I fired the first round of my home-made ammunition. As I more than half expected that the barrel would burst, I lashed the gun in the fork of a tree, tied a piece of string a hundred feet long to the trigger, and then—taking shelter behind a friendly stump—pulled off. To my great satisfaction the barrel stood the test perfectly. More than that, on trying the penetrative effect of my bullets, I found that they would smash through a steel plate an eighth of an inch thick at thirty yards' range. This was quite good enough for my purpose, and gave me great confidence in the weapon. All the same, I had a very narrow escape one day while manufacturing some of this ammunition. My plan was to remove the shot from the cartridge, put in the additional powder, and ram this well in before replacing the wad and putting in the bullet. I had clamped my refilling machine to my rough-hewn table, and was stamping the double charge of powder well down into the cartridge, when suddenly, for some unknown reason, the whole charge exploded right into my face. Everything became pitch dark to me, and I groped my way about the little hut in agony of mind as well as of body, for I thought I had been blinded. I am thankful to say, however, that gleams of light soon began to return to my eyes, and in a few hours' time I was almost all right again and able to go on with my cartridge making.
All my preparations having been made, I set out for the Sabaki, taking with me my Indian gun-bearer Mahina, my cook Mabruki, a bhisti (water-carrier), and a couple of natives to carry our odds and ends. On these occasions I usually took no tent, but bivouacked in the open. We took some bread and a few tinned provisions with us, but I could always depend upon getting a paa, guinea-fowl, partridge or rock-rabbit for the larder on the march. These rock-rabbits are more like big rats than rabbits, and are found in great numbers among the rocks along the banks of the rivers. They are not at all bad eating, but the Swahili will not touch them. They call them tupu (shameless, naked things), owing to their lack of a tail, of which indeed they possess not even a vestige.
Our route lay by the always interesting Tsavo River. Along the banks everything within reach of its moisture is delightfully fresh and green. Palms and other trees, festooned with brilliant flowering creepers, flourish along its course; all kinds of monkeys chatter and jabber in the shade overhead as they swing themselves from branch to branch, while birds of the most gorgeous plumage flutter about, giving a very tropical aspect to the scene. On the other hand, if one is tempted to stray away from the river, be it only for a few yards, one comes immediately into the parched, thorny wilderness of stunted, leafless trees. Here the sun beats down pitilessly, and makes the nyika of the Tsavo valley almost intolerable. The river has its source at the foot of snow-crowned Kilima N'jaro, whence it flows for about eighty miles in a northerly direction until it joins the Athi River, about seven miles below Tsavo Station. From this point the united streams take the name of Sabaki and flow more or less eastwards until they reach the Indian Ocean at Malindi, some seventy miles north of Mombasa.
A narrow and tortuous Masai warpath winds along its whole length, but although we followed this trail our journey was nevertheless a very slow one, owing to the overhanging branches and creepers, from which we had constantly to be disengaged. The march was full of interest, however, for it was not long before we came upon fresh tracks both of hippo and rhino. Every now and again, also, we caught glimpses of startled bush-buck and water-buck, while occasionally the sound of a splash in the water told of a wary crocodile. We had gone about half the distance to the Sabaki when we came upon an unexpected obstacle in the shape of a great ridge of barren, rugged rock, about a hundred feet high, which extended for about a mile or so on both banks of the river. The sides of this gorge went sheer down into the water, and were quite impossible to scale. I therefore determined to make a detour round it, but Mahina was confident that he could walk along in the river itself. I hinted mildly at the possibility of there being crocodiles under the rocky ledges. Mahina declared, however, that there was no danger, and making a bundle of his lower garments, he tied it to his back and stepped into the water. For a few minutes all went well. Then, in an instant, he was lifted right off his feet by the rush of the water and whirled away. The river took a sharp bend in this gorge, and he was round it and out of our sight in no time, the last glimpse we caught of him showing him vainly trying to catch hold of an overhanging branch. Although we at once made all the haste we could to get round the ridge of rocks, it took us nearly half an hour to do it. I had almost given up hope of ever seeing Mahina again, and was much relieved, therefore, when we reached the river-side once more, to find him safe and sound, and little the worse for his adventure. Luckily he had been dashed up against a rushy bank, and had managed to scramble out with no more serious damage than a bruised shin.
Eventually we arrived at the junction of the rivers and proceeded some way down the Sabaki, beside which the Tsavo looks very insignificant. Several islands are dotted about in mid-stream and are overgrown with tall reeds and rushes, in which hippo find capital covert all the year round. As with the Tsavo, the banks of the Sabaki are lined with trees of various kinds, affording most welcome shade from the heat of the sun: and skirting the river is a caravan road from the interior—still used, I believe, for smuggling slaves and ivory to the coast, where dhows are in readiness to convey them to Persia or Arabia.
After an early dinner, which Mabruki soon got ready, I left my followers encamped in a safe boma a mile away from the river, and started out with Mahina to find a suitable tree, near a hippo "run", in which to spend the night. Having some difficulty in finding a likely spot, we crossed to the other side of the river—rather a risky thing to do on account of the number of crocodiles in it: we found a fairly shallow ford, however, and managed to get safely over. Here, on what was evidently an island during flood time, we found innumerable traces of both hippo and rhino—in fact the difficulty was to decide which track was the best and freshest. At length I picked out a tree close to the river and commanding a stretch of sand which was all flattened down and looked as if at least one hippo rolled there regularly every night.
As there was still about an hour before sundown, we did not take up our station at once, but proceeded along the bank to see if any other game was about. We had not gone very far when Mahina, who was a little way ahead, signalled to me, and on joining him I saw a splendid-looking water-buck standing in a shallow pool of the river. It was the first time I had seen one of these fine antelope, and I was delighted with the sight. I might have got twenty yards or so nearer, but I thought I had better not risk moving, so I aimed at the shoulder and fired. The buck gave one leap into the air, and then turned and galloped quickly behind an island which completely hid him from view. We waited for him to clear the rushes at the other end of this island, but as he did not appear I got impatient and plunged into the river, regardless of crocodiles or anything else. On rounding the island, however, he was nowhere to be seen, and had evidently turned off while in the shelter of the reeds and so gained the opposite bank. I was keenly disappointed at my failure, for it was impossible to follow him up: to do so we should have had to make a long detour to get across the river, and by that time darkness would have set in. This incident shows the great drawback to the .303—namely, that it has very little knock-down effect unless it strikes a vital part; and even then, in a bush country, an animal may manage to go far enough to be lost. On the other hand, an animal wounded with a hard bullet is likely to make a speedy recovery, which is a great blessing.
Mahina was even more upset at the escape of the buck than I was, and as we trudged back through the sand to our tree, he was full of gloomy forebodings of an unlucky night. By the light of a splendid full moon we settled ourselves on a great outspreading branch, and commenced our vigil. Soon the jungle around us began to be alive with its peculiar sounds—a night bird would call, a crocodile shut his jaws with a snap, or a rhino or hippo crash through the bushes on its way to the water: now and again we could even hear the distant roar of the lion. Still there was nothing to be seen.
After waiting for some considerable time, a great hippo at last made his appearance and came splashing along in our direction, but unfortunately took up his position behind a tree which, in the most tantalising way, completely hid him from view. Here he stood tooting and snorting and splashing about to his heart's content. For what seemed hours I watched for this ungainly creature to emerge from his covert, but as he seemed determined not to show himself I lost patience and made up my mind to go down after him. I therefore handed my rifle to Mahina to lower to me on reaching the ground, and began to descend carefully, holding on by the creepers which encircled the tree. To my intense vexation and disappointment, just as I was in this helpless condition, half-way to the ground, the great hippo suddenly came out from his shelter and calmly lumbered along right underneath me. I bitterly lamented my ill-luck and want of patience, for I could almost have touched his broad back as he passed. It was under these exasperating conditions that I saw a hippo for the first time, and without doubt he is the ugliest and most forbidding looking brute I have ever beheld.
The moment the great beast had passed our tree, he scented us, snorted loudly, and dived into the bushes close by, smashing through them like a traction engine. In screwing myself round to watch him go, I broke the creepers by which I was holding on and landed on my back in the sand at the foot of the tree—none the worse for my short drop, but considerably startled at the thought that the hippo might come back at any moment. I climbed up to my perch again without loss of time, but he was evidently as much frightened as I was, and returned no more. Shortly after this we saw two rhino come down to the river to drink; they were too far off for a shot, however, so I did not disturb them, and they gradually waddled up-stream out of sight. Then we heard the awe-inspiring roar of a hungry lion close by, and presently another hippo gave forth his tooting challenge a little way down the river. As there seemed no likelihood of getting a shot at him from our tree, I made up my mind to stalk him on foot, so we both descended from our perch and made our way slowly through the trees in the semi-darkness. There were numbers of animals about, and I am sure that neither of us felt very comfortable as we crept along in the direction of the splashing hippo; for my own part I fancied every moment that I saw in front of me the form of a rhino or a lion ready to charge down upon us out of the shadow of the bush.
In this manner, with nerves strung to the highest pitch, we reached the edge of the river in safety, only to find that we were again baulked by a small rush-covered island, on the other side of which our quarry could be heard. There was a good breeze blowing directly from him, however, so I thought the best thing to do was to attempt to get on to the island and to have a shot at him from there. Mahina, too, was eager for the fray, so we let ourselves quietly into the water, which here was quite shallow and reached only to our knees, and waded slowly across. On peering cautiously through the reeds at the corner of the island, I was surprised to find that I could see nothing of the hippo; but I soon realised that I was looking too far ahead, for on lowering my eyes there he was, not twenty-five yards away, lying down in the shallow water, only half covered and practically facing us. His closeness to us made me rather anxious for our safety, more especially as just then he rose to his feet and gave forth the peculiar challenge or call which we had already heard so often during the night. All the same, as he raised his head, I fired at it. He whirled round, made a plunge forward, staggered and fell, and then lay quite still. To make assurance doubly sure, I gave him a couple more bullets as he lay, but we found afterwards that they were not needed, as my first shot had been a very lucky one and had penetrated the brain. We left him where he fell and got back to our perch, glad and relieved to be in safety once more.
As soon as it was daylight we were joined by my own men and by several Wa Kamba, who had been hunting in the neighbourhood. The natives cut out the tusks of the hippo, which were rather good ones, and feasted ravenously on the flesh, while I turned my attention with gratitude to the hot coffee and cakes which Mabruki had meanwhile prepared.
A DAY ON THE N'DUNGU ESCARPMENT
Immediately after breakfast camp was struck, and accompanied by a few of the Wa Kamba, we started off for the N'dungu Escarpment—a frowning ridge which runs for a great distance parallel to the Sabaki, some three or four miles from its northern bank. We had not gone very far before I caught sight of a fine waterbuck and successfully bowled him over—a good omen for the day, which put us all in excellent spirits. Mabruki cut off several strips of the tough meat and impaled them on a sharp stick to dry in the sun as he went along. I warned him that he had better be careful that a lion did not scent the meat, as if it did it would be sure to follow up and kill him. Of course I did not mean this seriously; but Mabruki was a great glutton, and by no means courageous, so I wanted to frighten him.
As we trudged along towards the hill, I heard a peculiar noise behind a small rising on our right, and on looking over the crest, I was delighted to see two beautiful giraffe feeding peacefully a little distance away and straining their long necks to get at the tops of some mimosa-like trees, while a young one was lying down in the grass quite close to me. For some time I remained concealed, watching the full-grown pair with great interest: they had evidently just come up from the river, and were slowly making their way back to their home on the escarpment. They seemed on the most affectionate terms, occasionally entwining their great long necks and gently biting each other on the shoulders. Much as I should have liked to have added a giraffe to my collection of trophies, I left them undisturbed, as I think it a pity to shoot these rather rare and very harmless creatures, unless one is required for a special purpose.
We pushed on, accordingly, towards the escarpment, for I was very impatient to get to the top and explore a place where I felt convinced no other white man had ever set foot. From the river the ground rose gently upwards to the foot of the ridge, and was covered more or less densely with stunted trees and bushes, and of course the inevitable "wait-a-bit" thorns. I was fortunate enough, however, to find a rhino path which afforded a fairly comfortable and open road, on which we could walk upright the greater part of the way. The climb up the escarpment itself was a stiff one, and had to be negotiated principally on all-fours, but on the way up I discovered that there was an enormous cleft some miles to the right which would probably have afforded an easier ascent. I had not time to explore it on this particular day, but I made a mental note to do so on some future occasion.
After a two hours' journey from the river we sat panting on the summit after our scramble and surveyed the valley of the Tsavo, which lay spread out like a map about five hundred feet below us. Our home tents, the bridge, Tsavo Station and other buildings were plainly visible, and the railway itself, like a shining snake, could be seen for many miles winding its way through the parched wilderness. Having taken a few photographs of the scene, we turned and struck through the N'dungu Plateau. Here I found the same kind of nyika as that round Tsavo, the only difference being that there were more green trees about. The country, moreover, was somewhat more open, and was intersected by hundreds of broad and well-beaten animal paths, along which we could walk upright in comfort. I was leading the way, followed closely by Mahina and Mabruki, when suddenly we almost walked upon a lion which was lying down at the side of the path and which had probably been asleep. It gave a fierce growl and at once bounded off through the bush; but to Mabruki—who doubtless recalled then the warning I had given him in fun earlier in the day—the incident appeared so alarming that he flung down his stick-load of meat and fled for his life, much to the amusement of the others, even the usually silent Wa Kamba joining in the general laughter as they scrambled for the discarded meat. We saw nothing more of the lion, though a few steps further on brought us to the remains of a zebra which he had recently killed and feasted on; but after this Mabruki kept carefully in the rear. Curiously enough, only a short while later we had an exactly similar adventure with a rhino, as owing to the tortuous nature of the path, we walked right into it before we were aware. Like the lion, however, it was more frightened than we, and charged away from us through the jungle.
For about two hours we pursued our journey into the plateau, and saw and heard a wonderful variety of game, including giraffe, rhino, bush-buck, the lesser kudu, zebra, wart-hog, baboons and monkeys, and any number of paa, the last being of a redder colour than those of the Tsavo valley. Of natives or of human habitations, however, we saw no signs, and indeed the whole region was so dry and waterless as to be quite uninhabitable. The animals that require water have to make a nightly journey to and from the Sabaki, which accounts for the thousands of animal paths leading from the plateau to the river.
By this time we were all beginning to feel very tired, and the bhisti's stock of water was running low. I therefore climbed the highest tree I could find in order to have a good look round, but absolutely nothing could I see in any direction but the same flat thorny wilderness, interspersed here and there with a few green trees; not a landmark of any sort or kind as far as the eye could reach; a most hopeless, terrible place should one be lost in it, with certain death either by thirst or by savage beasts staring one in the face. Clearly, then, the only thing to do was to return to the river; and in order to accomplish this before dark it was necessary that no time should be lost. But we had been winding in and out so much through the animal paths that it was no easy matter to say in which direction the Sabaki lay. First I consulted my Wa Kamba followers as to the route back, they simply shook their heads. Then I asked Mahina, who pointed out a direction exactly opposite to that which I felt confident was the right one. Mabruki, of course, knew nothing, but volunteered the helpful and cheering information that we were lost and would all be killed by lions. In these circumstances, I confirmed my own idea as to our way by comparing my watch and the sun, and gave the order to start at once. For two solid hours, however, we trudged along in the fearful heat without striking a single familiar object or landmark. Mabruki murmured loudly; even Mahina expressed grave doubts as to whether the "Sahib" had taken the right direction; only the Wa Kamba stalked along in reassuring silence. For some time we had been following a broad white rhino path, and the great footmarks, of one of these beasts were fresh and plainly visible in the dust. He had been travelling in the opposite direction to us, and I felt sure that he must have been returning from drinking in the river. I accordingly insisted on our keeping to this path, and very soon, to my great relief, we found that we were at the edge of the escarpment, a couple of miles away from the place where we had made the ascent. Here a halt was called; a sheet was spread over some of the stunted trees, and under its shade we rested for half an hour, had some food, and drank the last of our water. After this we pushed on with renewed vigour, and arrived at the Sabaki in good time before sundown, having bagged a couple of guinea-fowl and a paa on the way to serve for dinner. After the long and fatiguing day my bathe in a clear shady pool was a real delight, but I might not have enjoyed it quite so much if I had known then of the terrible fate which awaited one of my followers in the same river the next day. By the time I got back to camp supper was ready and fully appreciated. The tireless Mahina had also collected some dry grass for my bed, and I turned in at once, with my rifle handy, and slept the sleep of the just, regardless of all the wild beasts in Africa.
At dawn Mabruki roused me with a cup of steaming hot coffee and some biscuits, and a start was at once made on our return journey to Tsavo. The place where we had struck the Sabaki the previous evening was some miles further down the stream than I had ever been before, so I decided to take advantage of the Masai trail along its bank until the Tsavo River was reached. I did not think we should meet with any further adventure on our way home, but in the wilds the unexpected is always happening. Shortly after we started one of the Wa Kamba went down to the river's edge to fill his calabash with water, when a crocodile suddenly rose up out of the stream, seized the poor fellow and in a moment had dragged him in. I was on ahead at the time and so did not witness the occurrence, but on hearing the cries of the others I ran back as quickly as possible—too late, however, to see any sign of either crocodile or native. Mahina philosophically remarked that after all it was only a washenzi (savage), whose loss did not much matter; and the other three Wa Kamba certainly did not appear to be affected by the incident, but calmly possessed themselves of their dead companion's bow and quiver of poisoned arrows, and of the stock of meat which he had left on the bank.
I have since learned that accidents of this kind are of fairly frequent occurrence along the banks of these rivers. On one occasion while I was in the country a British officer had a very lucky escape. He was filling his water bottle at the river, when one of these brutes caught him by the hand and attempted to draw him in. Fortunately one of his servants rushed to his assistance and managed to pull him out of the crocodile's clutches with the loss only of two of his fingers.
As we made our way up the Sabaki, we discovered a beautiful waterfall about a hundred and fifty feet high—not a sheer drop, but a series of cascades. At this time the river was in low water, and the falls consequently did not look their best; but in flood time they form a fine sight, and the thunder of the falling water can then be plainly heard at Tsavo, over seven miles away, when the wind is in the right direction. We crossed the river on the rocks at the head of these falls, and after some hours' hard marching reached camp without further incident.
THE FINDING OF THE MAN-EATERS' DEN
There were some rocky-looking hills lying to the south-west of Tsavo which I was particularly anxious to explore, so on one occasion when work had been stopped for the day owing to lack of material, I set off for them, accompanied by Mahina and a Punjaubi coolie, who was so stout that he went by the name of Moota (i.e. "Fattie"). In the course of my little excursions round Tsavo I gradually discovered that I was nearly always able to make my way to any required point of the compass by following certain well-defined animal paths, which I mapped out bit by bit during my explorations. On this occasion, for instance, as soon as we had crossed the river and had struck into the jungle, we were fortunate enough to find a rhino path leading in the right direction, which greatly facilitated our progress. As we were making our way along this path through the dry bed of a nullah, I happened to notice that the sandy bottom sparkled here and there where the sunbeams penetrated the dense foliage. This at once filled my head with thoughts of precious stones, and as the spot looked likely enough, I started to dig vigorously at the gravel with my hunting knife. After a few minutes of this work, I came across what I at first took to be a magnificent diamond sparkling in the damp sand: it was about half an inch long, and its facets looked as if they had been cut by an Amsterdam expert. I tested the stone on my watch glass and found that it cut my initials quite easily, and though I knew that quartz would do this as well, it did not seem to me to have either the general appearance or angles of any quartz I had ever seen. For a moment or two I was greatly delighted with my discovery, and began to have rosy dreams of a diamond mine; but I am sorry to say that on closer examination and testing I was forced to the conclusion that my find was not a diamond, though unlike any other mineral I had ever come across.
My hopes of rapidly becoming a millionaire having thus been dashed to the ground, we proceeded on our way, getting further and further into the depths of a gloomy forest. A little distance on, I noticed through a break in the trees a huge rhino standing in full view near the edge of a ravine. Unfortunately he caught sight of us as well, and before I could take aim, he snorted loudly and crashed off through the tangled undergrowth. As I followed up this ravine, walking stealthily along in the delightful shade of the overhanging palms, I observed on my left a little nullah which opened out of the main channel through a confused mass of jungle and creeper. Through this tangle there was a well-defined archway, doubtless made by the regular passage of rhino and hippo, so I decided to enter and explore what lay beyond. I had not gone very far when I came upon a big bay scooped out of the bank by the stream when in flood and carpeted with a deposit of fine, soft sand, in which were the indistinct tracks of numberless animals. In one corner of this bay, close under an overhanging tree, stood a little sandy hillock, and on looking over the top of this I saw on the other side a fearsome-looking cave which seemed to run back for a considerable distance under the rocky bank. Round the entrance and inside the cavern I was thunderstruck to find a number of human bones, with here and there a copper bangle such as the natives wear. Beyond all doubt, the man-eaters' den! In this manner, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon the lair of these once-dreaded "demons", which I had spent so many days searching for through the exasperating and interminable jungle during the time when they terrorised Tsavo. I had no inclination to explore the gloomy depths of the interior, but thinking that there might possibly still be a lioness or cub inside, I fired a shot or two into the cavern through a hole in the roof. Save for a swarm of bats, nothing came out; and after taking a photograph of the cave, I gladly left the horrible spot, thankful that the savage and insatiable brutes which once inhabited it were no longer at large.
Retracing my steps to the main ravine, I continued my journey along it. After a little while I fancied I saw a hippo among some tall rushes growing on the bank, and quickly signed to Mahina and Moota to stay perfectly still. I then made a careful stalk, only to discover, after all my trouble, that my eyes had deceived me and made me imagine a black bank and a few rushes to be a living animal. We now left the bed of the ravine, and advanced along the top. This turned out to be a good move, for soon we heard the galloping of a herd of some animal or other across our front. I rushed round a corner in the path a few yards ahead, and crouching under the bushes saw a line of startled zebras flying past. This was the first time I had seen these beautifully marked animals in their wild state, so I selected the largest and fired, and as I was quite close to them he dropped in his tracks stone-dead. When I stood over the handsome creature I was positively sorry for having killed him. Not so Moota, however, who rushed up in ecstasy, and before I could stop him had cut his throat. This was done, as he remarked, "to make the meat lawful," for Moota was a devout follower of the Prophet, and no true Mohammedan will eat the flesh of any animal unless the throat has been cut at the proper place and the blood allowed to flow. This custom has often caused me great annoyance, for Mohammedan followers rush in so quickly when an animal is shot and cut the head off so short that it is afterwards quite useless as a trophy.
By the time the zebra was skinned, darkness was fast approaching, so we selected a suitable tree in which to pass the night. Under it we built a goodly fire, made some tea, and roasted a couple of quails which I had shot early in the day and which proved simply delicious. We then betook ourselves to the branches—at least, Mahina and I did; Moota was afraid of nothing, and said he would sleep on the ground. He was not so full of courage later on, however, for about midnight a great rhino passed our way, winded us and snorted so loudly that Moota scrambled in abject terror up our tree. He was as nimble as a monkey for all his stoutness, and never ceased climbing until he was far above us. We both laughed heartily at his extraordinary haste to get out of danger, and Mahina chaffed him unmercifully.
The rest of the night passed without incident, and in the early morning, while the boys were preparing breakfast, I strolled off towards the rocky hills which I had seen from Tsavo, and which were now only about half a mile distant. I kept a sharp look-out for game, but came across nothing save here and there a paa and a few guinea-fowl, until, just as I was about half-way round the hill, I saw a fine leopard lying on a rocky ledge basking in the morning sun. But he was too quick for me, and made off before I could get a shot; I had not approached noiselessly enough, and a leopard is too wary a beast to be caught napping. Unfortunately I had no more time at my disposal in which to explore these hills, as I was anxious to resume work at Tsavo as soon as possible; so after breakfast we packed up the zebra skin and began to retrace our steps through the jungle. It was an intensely hot day, and we were all very glad when at length we reached the home camp.
Most of my little trips of this sort, however, were made in a northerly direction, towards the ever-interesting Athi or Sabaki rivers. After a long and tiring walk through the jungle what a pleasure it was to lie up in the friendly shelter of the rushes which line the banks, and watch the animals come down to drink, all unconscious of my presence. I took several photographs of scenes of this kind, but unfortunately many of the negatives were spoiled. Often, too, on a brilliant moonlight night have I sat on a rock out in the middle of the stream, near a favourite drinking place, waiting for a shot at whatever fortune might send my way. How exasperating it was, when the wind changed at the critical moment, and gave me away to the rhino or other animal I had sat there for hours patiently awaiting! Occasionally I would get heartily tired of my weary vigil and would wade ashore through the warm water, to make my bed in the soft sand regardless of the snap, snap of the crocodiles which could plainly be heard from the deeper pools up and down the river. At the time, being new to the country, I did not realise the risks I ran; but later on—after my poor Wa Kamba follower had been seized and dragged under, as I have already described—I learned to be much more cautious.
The shortest way of reaching the Athi river from Tsavo was to strike through the jungle in a north-westerly direction, and here there was luckily a particularly well-defined rhino path which I always made use of. I discovered it quite by accident on one occasion when I had asked some guests, who were staying with me at Tsavo, to spend a night on the banks of the river. As we were making our way slowly and painfully through the dense jungle, I came across this well-trodden path, which appeared to lead in the direction in which I wished to go, and as I felt convinced that at any rate it would bring us to the river somewhere, I followed it with confidence. Our progress was now easy, and the track led through fairly open glades where traces of bush-buck and water-buck were numerous; indeed once or twice we caught glimpses of these animals as they bounded away to the shelter of the thicket, warned by the sound of our approach. In the end, as I anticipated, the old rhino path proved a true guide, for it struck the Athi at an ideal spot for a camping ground, where some lofty trees close to the bank of the river gave a most grateful and refreshing shade. We had a delightful picnic, and my guests greatly enjoyed their night in the open, although one of them got rather a bad fright from a rhino which suddenly snorted close to our camp, evidently very annoyed at our intrusion on his domain.
In the morning they went off as soon as it was light to try their luck along the river, while I remained in camp to see to breakfast. After an hour or more, however, they all returned, empty-handed but very hungry; so when they had settled down to rest after a hearty meal, I thought I would sally forth and see if I could not meet with better success. I had gone only a short distance up the right bank of the river, when I thought I observed a movement among the bushes ahead of me. On the alert, I stopped instantly, and the next moment was rewarded by seeing a splendid bush-buck advance from the water in a most stately manner. I could only make out his head and neck above the undergrowth, but as he was only some fifty yards off, I raised my rifle to my shoulder to fire. This movement at once caught his eye, and for the fraction of a second he stopped to gaze at me, thus giving me time to aim at where I supposed his shoulder to be. When I fired, he disappeared so suddenly and so completely that I felt sure that I had missed him, and that he had made off through the bush. I therefore re-loaded, and advanced carefully with the intention of following up his trail; but to my unbounded delight I came upon the buck stretched out dead in his tracks, with my bullet through his heart. I lost no time in getting back to camp, the antelope swinging by his feet from a branch borne by two sturdy coolies: and my unlucky friends were very much astonished when they saw the fine bag I had secured in so short a time. The animal was soon skinned and furnished us with a delicious roast for lunch; and in the cool of the evening we made our way back to Tsavo without further adventure.
Some little time after this, while one of these same friends (Mr. C. Rawson) happened to be again at Tsavo, we were sitting after dark under the verandah of my hut. I wanted something from my tent, and sent Meeanh, my Indian chaukidar, to fetch it. He was going off in the dark to do so, when I called him back and told him to take a lantern for fear of snakes. This he did, and as soon as he got to the door of the tent, which was only a dozen yards off, he called out frantically, "Are, Sahib, burra sanp hai!" ("Oh, Master, there is a big snake here!)