"Where?" I shouted.
"Here by the bed," he cried, "Bring the gun, quickly."
I seized the shot-gun, which I always kept handy, and rushed to the tent, where, by the light of the lantern, I saw a great red snake, about seven feet long, gazing at me from the side of my camp-bed. I instantly fired at him, cutting him clean in half with the shot; the tail part remained where it was, but the head half quickly wriggled off and disappeared in the gloom of the tent. The trail of blood, however, enabled us to track it, and we eventually found the snake, still full of fight, under the edge of the ground-sheet. He made a last vicious dart at one of the men who had run up, but was quickly given the happy despatch by a blow on the head. Rawson now picked it up and brought it to the light. He then put his foot on the back of its head and with a stick forced open the jaws, when suddenly we saw two perfectly clear jets of poison spurt out from the fangs. An Indian baboo (clerk), who happened to be standing near, got the full benefit of this, and the poor man was so panic-stricken that in a second he had torn off every atom of his clothing. We were very much amused at this, as of course we knew that although the poison was exceedingly venomous, it could do no harm unless it penetrated a cut or open wound in the flesh. I never found out the name of this snake, which, as I have said, was of a dark brick-red colour all over; and I only saw one other of the same kind all the time I was in East Africa. I came upon it suddenly one day when out shooting. It was evidently much startled, and stood erect, hissing venomously; but I also was so much taken aback at its appearance that I did not think about shooting it until it had glided off and disappeared in the thick undergrowth.
UNSUCCESSFUL RHINO HUNTS
Although the jungle round Tsavo was a network of rhino paths I had never so far been successful in my efforts to obtain one of these animals, nor was my ambition yet to be realised. One day I was out exploring in the dense bush some six or seven miles away from camp, and found my progress more than usually slow, owing to the fact that I had to spend most of my time crawling on all-fours through the jungle. I was very pleased, therefore, to emerge suddenly on a broad and well-beaten track along which I could walk comfortably in an upright position. In this were some fresh rhino footprints which seemed barely an hour old, so I determined to follow them up. The roadway was beaten in places into a fine white dust by the passage of many heavy animals; and as I pushed cautiously forward I fully expected to come face to face with a rhino at every corner I turned. After having gone a little way I fancied that I really did see one lying at the foot of a tree some distance ahead of me, but on approaching cautiously found that it was nothing more than a great brown heap of loose earth which one of the huge beasts had raised by rolling about on the soft ground. This, however, was evidently a resting-place which was regularly used, so I made up my mind to spend a night in the overhanging branches of the tree.
The next afternoon, accordingly, Mahina and I made our way back to the place, and by dusk we were safely but uncomfortably perched among the branches directly over the path. We had scarcely been there an hour when to our delight we heard a great rhino plodding along the track in our direction. Unfortunately the moon had not yet risen, so I was unable to catch sight of the monster as he approached; I knew, however, that there was light enough for me to see him when he emerged from the bushes into the little clearing round the foot of our tree. Nearer and nearer we heard him coming steadily on, and I had my rifle ready, pointing it in the direction in which I expected his head to appear. But, alas, just at that moment the wind veered round and blew straight from us towards the rhino, who scented us immediately, gave a mighty snort and then dived madly away through the jungle. For some considerable time we could hear him crashing ponderously through everything that came in his way, and he must have gone a long distance before he recovered from his fright and slowed down to his usual pace. At any rate we neither heard nor saw anything more of him, and spent a wakeful and uncomfortable night for nothing.
My next attempt to bag a rhino took place some months later, on the banks of the Sabaki, and was scarcely more successful. I had come down from Tsavo in the afternoon, accompanied by Mahina, and finding a likely tree, within a few yards of the river and with fresh footprints under it, I at once decided to take up my position for the night in its branches. Mahina preferred to sit where he could take a comfortable nap, and wedged himself in a fork of the tree some little way below me, but still some eight or ten feet from the ground. It was a calm and perfect night, such as can be seen only in the tropics; everything looked mysteriously beautiful in the glorious moonlight, and stood out like a picture looked at through a stereoscope. From my perch among the branches I watched first a water-buck come to drink in the river; then a bush-buck; later, a tiny paa emerged from the bushes and paused at every step with one graceful forefoot poised in the air—thoroughly on the alert and looking round carefully and nervously for any trace of a possible enemy. At length it reached the brink of the river in safety, and stooped to drink. Just then I saw a jackal come up on its trail and begin carefully to stalk it, not even rustling a fallen leaf in its stealthy advance on the poor little antelope. All of a sudden, however, the jackal stopped dead for a second, and then made off out of sight as fast as ever he could go. I looked round to discover the cause of this hurried exit, and to my surprise saw a large and very beautiful leopard crouching down and moving noiselessly in the direction of our tree. At first I thought it must be stalking some animal on the ground below us, but I soon realised that it was Mahina that the brute was intent on. Whether, if left to himself, the leopard would actually have made a spring at my sleeping gun-bearer, I do not know; but I had no intention of letting him have a chance of even attempting this, so I cautiously raised my rifle and levelled it at him. Absolutely noiseless as I was in doing this, he noticed it—possibly a glint of moonlight on the barrel caught his eye—and immediately disappeared into the bush before I could get in a shot. I at once woke Mahina and made him come up to more secure quarters beside me.
For a long time after this nothing disturbed our peace, but at last the quarry I had hoped for made his appearance on the scene. Just below us there was an opening in the elephant grass which lined the river's edge, and through this the broad stream shone like silver in the moonlight. Without warning this gap was suddenly filled by a huge black mass—a rhino making his way, very leisurely, out of the shallow water. On he came with a slow, ponderous tread, combining a certain stateliness with his awkward strides. Almost directly beneath us he halted and stood for an instant clearly exposed to our view. This was my opportunity; I took careful aim at his shoulder and fired. Instantly, and with extraordinary rapidity, the huge beast whirled round like a peg-top, whereupon I fired again. This time I expected him to fall; but instead of that I had the mortification of seeing him rush off into the jungle and of hearing him crash through it like a great steam-roller for several minutes. I consoled myself by thinking that he could not go far, as he was hard hit, and that I should easily find him when daylight arrived. Mahina, who was in a wild state of excitement over the burra janwar (great animal), was also of this opinion, and as there was no longer any reason for silence, he chatted to me about many strange and curious things until the grey dawn appeared. When we got down from our perch, we found the track of the wounded rhino clearly marked by great splashes of blood, and for a couple of miles the spoor could thus be easily followed. At length, however, it got fainter and fainter, and finally ceased altogether, so that we had to abandon the search; the ground round about was rocky, and there was no possibility of telling which way our quarry had gone. I was exceedingly sorry for this, as I did not like to leave him wounded; but there was no help for it, so we struck out for home and arrived at Tsavo in the afternoon very tired, hungry and disappointed.
Rhinos are extraordinary animals, and not in any way to be depended upon. One day they will sheer off on meeting a human being and make no attempt to attack; the next day, for no apparent reason, they may execute a most determined charge. I was told for a fact by an official who had been long in the country that on one occasion while a gang of twenty-one slaves, chained neck to neck as was the custom, was being smuggled down to the coast and was proceeding in Indian file along a narrow path, a rhinoceros suddenly charged out at right angles to them, impaled the centre man on its horns and broke the necks of the remainder of the party by the suddenness of his rush. These huge beasts have a very keen sense of smell, but equally indifferent eyesight, and it is said that if a hunter will only stand perfectly still on meeting a rhino, it will pass him by without attempting to molest him. I feel bound to add, however, that I have so far failed to come across anybody who has actually tried the experiment. On the other hand, I have met one or two men who have been tossed on the horns of these animals, and they described it as a very painful proceeding. It generally means being a cripple for life, if one even succeeds in escaping death. Mr. B. Eastwood, the chief accountant of the Uganda Railway, once gave me a graphic description of his marvellous escape from an infuriated rhino. He was on leave at the time on a hunting expedition in the neighbourhood of Lake Baringo, about eighty miles north of the railway from Nakuru, and had shot and apparently killed a rhino. On walking up to it, however, the brute rose to its feet and literally fell on him, breaking four ribs and his right arm. Not content with this, it then stuck its horn through his thigh and tossed him over its back, repeating this operation once or twice. Finally, it lumbered off, leaving poor Eastwood helpless and fainting in the long grass where he had fallen. He was alone at the time, and it was not for some hours that he was found by his porters, who were only attracted to the spot by the numbers of vultures hovering about, waiting in their ghoulish manner for life to be extinct before beginning their meal. How he managed to live for the eight days after this which elapsed before a doctor could be got to him I cannot imagine; but in the end he fortunately made a good recovery, the only sign of his terrible experience being the absence of his right arm, which had to be amputated.
A WIDOW'S STORY
Very shortly before I left Tsavo I went (on March 11, 1899) on inspection duty to Voi, which, as I have already mentioned, is about thirty miles on the Mombasa side of Tsavo. At this time it was a miserable, swampy spot, where fever, guinea-worm, and all kinds of horrible diseases were rampant; but this state of affairs has now been completely altered by drainage and by clearing away the jungle. Dr. Rose was in medical charge of the place at the time of my visit, and as it was the good old custom to put up with any friend one came across towards nightfall, I made him my host when my day's work was over. We spent a very pleasant evening together, and naturally discussed all the local news. Amongst other things we chatted about the new road which was being constructed from Voi to a rather important missionary station called Taveta, near Mount Kilima N'jaro, and Dr. Rose mentioned that Mr. O'Hara (the engineer in charge of the road-making), with his wife and children, was encamped in the Wa Taita country, about twelve miles away from Voi.
Early next morning I went out for a stroll with my shot-gun, but had not gone far from the doctor's tent when I saw in the distance four Swahili carrying something which looked like a stretcher along the newly-made road. Fearing that some accident had happened, I went quickly to meet them and called out to ask what they were carrying. They shouted back "Bwana" ("The master"); and when I asked what bwana, they replied "Bwana O'Hara." On enquiring what exactly had happened, they told me that during the night their master had been killed by a lion, and that his wife and children were following behind, along the road. At this I directed the men to the hospital and told them where to find Dr. Rose, and without waiting to hear any further particulars hurried on as fast as possible to give what assistance I could to poor Mrs. O'Hara. Some considerable way back I met her toiling along with an infant in her arms, while a little child held on to her skirt, utterly tired out with the long walk. I helped her to finish the distance to the doctor's tent; she was so unstrung by her terrible night's experience and so exhausted by her trying march carrying the baby that she was scarcely able to speak. Dr. Rose at once did all he could both for her and for the children, the mother being given a sleeping draught and made comfortable in one of the tents. When she appeared again late in the afternoon she was much refreshed, and was able to tell us the following dreadful story, which I shall give as nearly as possible in her own words.
"We were all asleep in the tent, my husband and I in one bed and my two children in another. The baby was feverish and restless, so I got up to give her something to drink; and as I was doing so, I heard what I thought was a lion walking round the tent. I at once woke my husband and told him I felt sure there was a lion about. He jumped up and went out, taking his gun with him. He looked round the outside of the tent, and spoke to the Swahili askari who was on sentry by the camp fire a little distance off. The askari said he had seen nothing about except a donkey, so my husband came in again, telling me not to worry as it was only a donkey that I had heard.
"The night being very hot, my husband threw back the tent door and lay down again beside me. After a while I dozed off, but was suddenly roused by a feeling as if the pillow were being pulled away from under my head. On looking round I found that my husband was gone. I jumped up and called him loudly, but got no answer. Just then I heard a noise among the boxes outside the door, so I rushed out and saw my poor husband lying between the boxes. I ran up to him and tried to lift him, but found I could not do so. I then called to the askari to come and help me, but he refused, saying that there was a lion standing beside me. I looked up and saw the huge beast glowering at me, not more than two yards away. At this moment the askari fired his rifle, and this fortunately frightened the lion, for it at once jumped off into the bush.
"All four askaris then came forward and lifted my husband back on to the bed. He was quite dead. We had hardly got back into the tent before the lion returned and prowled about in front of the door, showing every intention of springing in to recover his prey. The askaris fired at him, but did no damage beyond frightening him away again for a moment or two. He soon came back and continued to walk round the tent until daylight, growling and purring, and it was only by firing through the tent every now and then that we kept him out. At daybreak he disappeared and I had my husband's body carried here, while I followed with the children until I met you."
Such was Mrs. O'Hara's pitiful story. The only comfort we could give her was to assure her that her husband had died instantly and without pain; for while she had been resting Dr. Rose had made a post-mortem examination of the body and had come to this conclusion. He found that O'Hara had evidently been lying on his back at the time, and that the lion, seizing his head in its mouth, had closed its long tusks through his temples until they met again in the brain. We buried him before nightfall in a peaceful spot close by, the doctor reading the funeral service, while I assisted in lowering the rude coffin into the grave. It was the saddest scene imaginable. The weeping widow, the wondering faces of the children, the gathering gloom of the closing evening, the dusky forms of a few natives who had gathered round—all combined to make a most striking and solemn ending to a very terrible tragedy of real life.
I am glad to say that within a few weeks' time the lion that was responsible for this tragedy was killed by a poisoned arrow, shot from a tree top by one of the Wa Taita.
AN INFURIATED RHINO
My work at Tsavo was finished in March, 1899, when I received instructions to proceed to railhead and take charge of a section of the work there. For many reasons I was sorry to say good-bye to Tsavo, where I had spent an eventful year; but all the same I was very glad to be given this new post, as I knew that there would be a great deal of interesting work to be done and a constant change of camp and scene, as the line progressed onward to the interior. In good spirits, therefore, I set out for my new headquarters on March 28. By this time railhead had reached a place called Machakos Road, some two hundred and seventy-six miles from Mombasa and within a few miles of the great Athi Plains, the latter being treeless and waterless expanses, bare of everything except grass, which the great herds of game keep closely cropped. After leaving Tsavo, the character of the country remains unaltered for some considerable distance, the line continuing to run through the thorny nyika, and it is not until Makindu is reached—about two hundred miles from the coast—that a change is apparent. From this place, however, the journey lies through a fairly open and interesting tract of country, where game of all kinds abounds and can be seen grazing peacefully within a few hundred yards of the railway. On the way I was lucky enough to get some fine views of Kilima N'jaro, the whole mountain from base to summit standing out clearly and grandly, with the lofty peak of Kibo topping the fleecy clouds with its snowy head.
At Machakos Road I found the country and the climate very different from that to which I had grown accustomed at Tsavo. Here I could see for miles across stretches of beautiful, open downs, timbered here and there like an English park; and it was a great relief to be able to overlook a wide tract of country and to feel that I was no longer hemmed in on all sides by the interminable and depressing thorny wilderness. As Machakos Road is some four thousand feet higher above the sea level than Tsavo, the difference in temperature was also very marked, and the air felt fresh and cool compared with that of the sun-baked valley in which I had spent the previous year.
My instructions were to hurry on the construction of the line as fast as possible to Nairobi, the proposed headquarters of the Railway Administration, which lay about fifty miles further on across the Athi Plains; and I soon began to find platelaying most interesting work. Everything has to move as if by clockwork. First the earth surface has to be prepared and rendered perfectly smooth and level; cuttings have to be made and hollows banked up; tunnels have to be bored through hills and bridges thrown across rivers. Then a line of coolies moves along, placing sleepers at regular intervals; another gang drops the rails in their places; yet another brings along the keys, fishplates, bolts and nuts while following these are the men who actually fix the rails on the sleepers and link up from one to another. Finally, the packing gang finishes the work by filling in earth and ballast under and around the steel sleepers to give them the necessary grip and rigidity. Some days we were able to lay only a few yards, while on other days we might do over a mile; all depended on the nature of the country we had to cover. On one occasion we succeeded in breaking the record for a day's platelaying, and were gratified at receiving a telegram of congratulation from the Railway Committee at the Foreign Office.
I made it my custom to take a walk each morning for some distance ahead of rails along the centre-line of the railway, in order to spy out the land and to form a rough estimate of the material that would be required in the way of sleepers, girders for temporary bridges, etc. It was necessary to do this in order to avoid undue delay taking place owing to shortage of material of any kind. About ten days after my arrival at Machakos Road I walked in this way for five or six miles ahead of the last-laid rail. It was rather unusual for me to go so far, and, as it happened, I was alone on this occasion, Mahina having been left behind in camp. About two miles away on my left, I noticed a dark-looking object and thinking it was an ostrich I started off towards it. Very soon, however, I found that it was bigger game than an ostrich, and on getting still nearer made out the form of a great rhinoceros lying down. I continued to advance very cautiously, wriggling through the short grass until at length I got within fifty yards of where the huge beast was resting. Here I lay and watched him; but after some little time he evidently suspected my presence, for rising to his feet, he looked straight in my direction and then proceeded to walk round me in a half-circle. The moment he got wind of me, he whipped round in his tracks like a cat and came for me in a bee-line. Hoping to turn him, I fired instantly; but unfortunately my soft-nosed bullets merely annoyed him further, and had not the slightest effect on his thick hide. On seeing this, I flung myself down quite flat on the grass and threw my helmet some ten feet away in the hope that he would perceive it and vent his rage on it instead of me. On he thundered, while I scarcely dared to breathe. I could hear him snorting and rooting up the grass quite close to me, but luckily for me he did not catch sight of me and charged by a few yards to my left.
As soon as he had passed me, my courage began to revive again, and I could not resist the temptation of sending a couple of bullets after him. These, however, simply cracked against his hide and splintered to pieces on it, sending the dry mud off in little clouds of dust. Their only real effect, indeed, was to make him still more angry. He stood stock-still for a moment, and then gored the ground most viciously and started off once more on the semi-circle round me. This proceeding terrified me more than ever, as I felt sure that he would come up-wind at me again, and I could scarcely hope to escape a second time. Unfortunately, my surmise proved correct, for directly he scented me, up went his nose in the air and down he charged like a battering-ram. I fairly pressed myself into the ground, as flat as ever I could, and luckily the grass was a few inches high. I felt the thud of his great feet pounding along, yet dared not move or look up lest he should see me. My heart was thumping like a steam hammer, and every moment I fully expected to find myself tossed into the air. Nearer and nearer came the heavy thudding and I had quite given myself up for lost, when from my lying position I caught sight, out of the corner of my eye, of the infuriated beast rushing by. He had missed me again! I never felt so relieved in my life, and assuredly did not attempt to annoy him further. He went off for good this time, and it was with great satisfaction that I watched him gradually disappear in the distance. I could not have believed it possible that these huge, ungainly-looking brutes could move so rapidly, and turn and twist in their tracks just like monkeys, had I not actually seen this one do so before my eyes. If he had found me he would certainly have pounded me to atoms, as he was an old bull and in a most furious and vicious mood.
One day when Dr. Brock and I were out shooting, shortly after this incident and not far from where it occurred, we caught sight of two rhinos in a hollow some little distance from us, and commenced to stalk them, taking advantage of every fold of the ground in doing so and keeping about fifty yards apart in case of a charge. In that event one or other of us would be able to get in a broadside shot, which would probably roll the beast over. Proceeding carefully in this manner, we managed to get within about sixty yards of them, and as it was my turn for a shot, I took aim at the larger of the two, just as it was moving its great head from one side to the other, wondering which of us it ought to attack. When at last it decided upon Brock, it gave me the chance I had been waiting for. I fired instantly at the hollow between neck and shoulder; the brute dropped at once, and save for one or two convulsive kicks of its stumpy legs as it lay half on its back, it never moved again. The second rhino proved to be a well-grown youngster which showed considerable fight as we attempted to approach its fallen comrade. We did not want to kill it, and accordingly spent about two hours in shouting and throwing stones at it before at last we succeeded in driving it away. We then proceeded to skin our prize; this, as may be imagined, proved rather a tough job, but we managed it in the end, and the trophy was well worth the pains I had taken to add it to my collection.
LIONS ON THE ATHI PLAINS
Shortly after I took charge at railhead we entered the Kapiti Plain, which gradually merges into the Athi Plain, and, indeed, is hardly to be distinguished from the latter in the appearance or general character of the country. Together they form a great tract of rolling downs covered with grass, and intersected here and there by dry ravines, along the baked banks of which a few stunted trees—the only ones to be seen—struggle to keep themselves alive. In all this expanse there is absolutely no water in the dry season, except in the Athi River (some forty miles away) and in a few water-holes known only to the wild animals. The great feature of the undulating plains, however, and the one which gives them a never-failing interest, is the great abundance of game of almost every conceivable kind. Here I myself have seen lion, rhinoceros, leopard, eland, giraffe, zebra, wildebeeste, hartebeeste, waterbuck, wart-hog, Granti, Thomsoni, impala, besides ostriches, greater and lesser bustard, marabout, and a host of other animals and birds too numerous to name; while along the Athi and close to its banks may be found large numbers of hippo and crocodiles. At the time I was there, these great plains also formed the principal grazing ground for the immense herds of cattle owned by the Masai. I am very glad to say that the whole of this country on the south side of the railway as far as the boundary of German East Africa, from the Tsavo River on the east to the Kedong Valley on the west, is now a strictly protected Game Reserve; and so long, as this huge expanse is thus maintained as a sanctuary, there can be no danger of any of these species becoming extinct.
While crossing this dry expanse, the greatest difficulty I had to contend with was the provision of sufficient water for the three thousand workmen employed about railhead, for not a drop could be obtained on the way, nor could we hope for any until we had got to the other side of the plain and had reached the Athi River, which could not be accomplished under a couple of months. As we progressed onwards into the waterless belt, this became a very serious matter indeed, as any breakdown in the supply would have had the most disastrous consequences among so large a body of men working all day under the blazing sun of a tropical climate. Every day two trainloads of water in great tanks were brought up from the last stream we had passed, which, of course, daily fell further to the rear. This was a source of considerable delay, for the line was blocked all the time the water was being pumped into the tanks, and consequently no material for construction could come through; and a good deal of time was also wasted, when the trains returned to railhead, in distributing the water to the workmen, who often quarrelled and fought in their eagerness to get at it. At first I had most of the tank-filling done by night, but on one occasion a lion came unpleasantly close to the men working the pump, and so night work had to be abandoned. The coolies themselves were so anxious, indeed, to get a plentiful supply of water, that once or twice some of the more daring spirits among them ventured to go out on to the plains in search of waterholes, which, by reason of the large herds of game, we knew must exist somewhere. The only result of these expeditions, however, was that three of these men never returned; what befell them is not known to this day.
When we had proceeded some distance across this dry land, and when I was experiencing to the full the disadvantage and delay caused by my tank trains, a native from some remote corner of the plains—with nothing by way of dress but a small piece of cowhide thrown over his left shoulder—came to my tent door one day and squatted down on his heels in the native fashion. On being asked his business, "I have heard," he replied, "that the Great Master wants water; I can show it to him." This was good news, if it could be relied upon; so I questioned him closely, and ascertained that some time previously—exactly how long ago I could not gather—he had been in the locality on a raiding expedition and had succeeded in finding water. I asked if the place was far away, and got the reply in Swahili "M'bali kidogo" ("A little distance"). Now, I had had experience of M'bali kidogo before; it is like the Irishman's "mile and a bit." So I decided to start very early next morning on a search for this pond—for such my informant described it to be. In the meantime the poor fellow, who appeared starving—there was a sore famine among the natives of the district at the time—was given food and drink, and made a ravenous meal. In the evening I had a long talk with him in broken Swahili round the camp fire, and obtained some insight into many of the strange and barbarous customs of the Masai, to which interesting tribe he belonged.
In the morning I started off betimes, taking my .303 rifle and being accompanied by Mahina with the 12-bore shot-gun, and by another Indian carrying the necessary food and water. Our Masai guide, whose name we found to be Lungow, seemed to be quite certain of his way, and led us across the rolling plains more or less in the direction in which the railway was to run, but some miles to the right of its centre-line. The march was full of interest, for on the way we passed within easy range of herds of wildebeeste, hartebeeste, gazelle, and zebra. I was out strictly on business, however, and did not attempt a shot, reserving that pleasure for the homeward trip. Late in the forenoon we arrived at Lungow's pond—a circular dip about eighty yards in diameter, which without doubt had contained water very recently, but which, as I expected to find, was now quite dry. A considerable number of bones lay scattered round it, whether of "kills" or of animals which had died of thirst I could not say. Our guide appeared very much upset when he found the pond empty, and gave vent to many exclamations in his peculiar language, in which the letter "r" rolled like a kettledrum.
Our search for water having thus proved a failure, I determined to try my luck with the game. The Masai and the Indian were sent back to camp, while Mahina and I made a big detour from the dried-up water-hole. Game abounded in all directions, but the animals were much more shy than they had been in the morning, and it was in vain that I stalked—if it can be called "stalking," when as a matter of fact one has to move in the open—splendid specimens of Thomson's and Grant's gazelle. I might have attempted a shot once or twice, but the probability was that owing to the long range it would have resulted only in a wound, and I think there is nothing so painful as to see an animal limping about in a crippled condition. In this fruitless manner we covered several miles, and I was beginning to think that we should have to return to camp without so much as firing a shot. Just then, however, I saw a herd of wildebeeste, and with much care managed to get within three hundred yards of them. I singled out the biggest head and waiting for a favourable moment, fired at him, dropping him at once. I ran up to the fallen beast, which appeared to be dying, and told Mahina to drive the hunting knife right through his heart so as to put him quickly out of all pain. As Mahina was not doing this as skilfully or as quickly as I thought it might be done, and seemed unable to pierce the tough hide, I handed him my rifle and took the knife in order to do it myself. Just as I raised the knife to strike, I was startled by the wildebeeste suddenly jumping to his feet. For a moment he stood looking at me in a dazed and tottery kind of way, and then to my amazement he turned and made off. At first he moved with such a shaky and uncertain gait that I felt confident that he could only go a few yards before dropping; so, as I did not wish to disturb the other game around us by firing a second shot, I thought it best just to wait. To my utter astonishment, however, after he had staggered for about sixty yards he seemed to revive suddenly, broke into his ordinary gallop and quickly rejoined the herd. From that time I lost all trace of him, though I followed up for four or five miles.
The wildebeeste, in fact, is like Kipling's Fuzzy-Wuzzy—"'e's generally shammin' when 'e's dead"; and my friend Rawson about this time had an experience very similar to mine, but attended with more serious results. He had knocked his wildebeeste over in much the same way, and thought it was dead; and as he was very keen on obtaining photographs of game, he took his stand-camera from the Indian who carried it and proceeded to focus it on the animal's head. When he was just about to take the picture, he was thunderstruck to see the wildebeeste jump up and come charging down upon him. He sprang quickly aside, and in an instant up went the camera into the air, followed the next moment by the unfortunate Indian, the wildebeeste having stuck its horn right through the man's thigh and tossed him over its back. Fortunately the brute fell dead after this final effort, leaving Rawson grateful for his escape.
After abandoning the chase of my wildebeeste, we had not gone far on our way towards the home camp when I thought I observed something of a reddish colour moving in a patch of long grass, a good distance to our left front. I asked Mahina if he could make out what it was, but he was unable to do so, and before I could get my field-glasses to bear, the animal, whatever it was, had disappeared into the grass. I kept my eye on the spot, however, and we gradually approached it. When we were about a hundred yards off, the reddish object again appeared; and I saw that it was nothing less than the shaggy head of a lion peeping over the long grass. This time Mahina also saw what it was, and called out, "Dekko, Sahib, sher!" ("Look, Master, a lion!"). I whispered to him to be quiet and to take no notice of him, while I tried my best to follow my own advice. So we kept on, edging up towards the beast, but apparently oblivious of his presence, as he lay there grimly watching us. As we drew nearer, I asked Mahina in a whisper if he felt equal to facing a charge from the sher if I should wound him. He answered simply that where I went, there would he go also; and right well he kept his word.
I watched the lion carefully out of the corner of my eye as we closed in. Every now and then he would disappear from view for a moment; and it was a fascinating sight to see how he slowly raised his massive head above the top of the grass again and gazed calmly and steadily at us as we neared him. Unfortunately I could not distinguish the outline of his body, hidden as it was in the grassy thicket. I therefore circled cautiously round in order to see if the cover was sufficiently thin at the back to make a shoulder shot possible; but as we moved, the lion also twisted round and so always kept his head full on us. When I had described a half-circle, I found that the grass was no thinner and that my chances of a shot had not improved. We were now within seventy yards of the lion, who appeared to take the greater interest in us the closer we approached. He had lost the sleepy look with which he had at first regarded us, and was now fully on the alert; but still he did not give me the impression that he meant to charge, and no doubt if we had not provoked him, he would have allowed us to depart in peace. I, however, was bent on war, in spite of the risk which one must always run by attacking a lion at such close quarters on an open plain as flat as the palm of the hand; so in a standing position I took careful aim at his head, and fired. The distance was, as I have said, a bare seventy yards; yet I must confess to a disgraceful miss. More astonishing still, the beast made not the slightest movement—did not even blink an eye, so far as I could see—but continued his steadfast, questioning gaze. Again I took aim, this time for a spot below the tip of his nose, and again I fired—with more success, the lion turning a complete somersault over his tail. I thought he was done for, but he instantly sprang to his feet again, and to my horror and astonishment was joined by a lioness whose presence we had never even thought of or suspected.
Worse was still to follow, for to our dismay both made a most determined charge on us, bounding along at a great pace and roaring angrily as they came. Poor Mahina cried out, "Sahib, do sher ata hai!" ("Master, two lions are coming!"), but I told him to stand stock-still and for his life not to make the slightest movement. In the twinkling of an eye the two beasts had covered about forty yards of the distance towards us. As they did not show the least sign of stopping, I thought we had given the experiment of remaining absolutely motionless a fair trial, and was just about to raise the rifle to my shoulder as a last resort, when suddenly the wounded lion stopped, staggered, and fell to the ground. The lioness took a couple of bounds nearer to us, and then to my unmeasured relief turned to look round for her mate, who had by this time managed to get to his feet again. There they both stood, growling viciously and lashing their tails, for what appeared to me to be a succession of ages. The lioness then made up her mind to go back to the lion, and they both stood broadside on, with their heads close together and turned towards us, snarling in a most aggressive manner. Had either of us moved hand or foot just then, it would, I am convinced, have at once brought on another and probably a fatal charge.
As the two great brutes stood in this position looking at us, I had, of course, a grand opportunity of dropping both, but I confess I did not feel equal to it at the moment. I could only devoutly hope that they would not renew their attack, and was only too thankful to let them depart in peace if they would, without any further hostility on my part. Just at this juncture the lion seemed to grow suddenly very weak. He staggered some ten yards back towards his lair, and then fell to the ground; the lioness followed, and lay down beside him—both still watching us, and growling savagely. After a few seconds the lion struggled to his feet again and retreated a little further, the lioness accompanying him until he fell once more. A third time the same thing took place, and at last I began to breathe more freely, as they had now reached the thicket from which they had originally emerged. Accordingly I took a shot at the lioness as she lay beside her mate, partly concealed in the long grass. I do not think I hit her, but anyhow she at once made off and bounded away at a great rate on emerging into the open.
I sent a few bullets after her to speed her on her way, and then cautiously approached the wounded lion. He was stretched out at full length on his side, with his back towards me, but I could see by the heaving of his flanks that he was not yet dead, so I put a bullet through his spine. He never moved after this; but for safety's sake, I made no attempt to go up to him for a few minutes, and then only after Mahina had planted a few stones on his body just to make sure that he was really dead.
We both felt very pleased with ourselves as we stood over him and looked at his fine head, great paws, and long, clean, sharp tusks. He was a young, but full-grown lion in fine condition, and measured nine feet eight and a half inches from tip of nose to tip of tail. My last shot had entered the spine close to the shoulder, and had lodged in the body; the first shot was a miss; as I have already said; but the second had caught him on the forehead, right between the eyes. The bullet, however, instead of traversing the brain, had been turned downwards by the frontal bone, through which it crashed, finally lodging in the root of the tongue, the lead showing on both sides. I cut out the tongue and hung it up to dry, intending to keep it as a trophy; but unfortunately a vulture swooped down when my back was turned, and carried it off.
From the time I knocked the lion over until he first staggered and fell not more than a minute could have elapsed—quite long enough, however, to have enabled him to cover the distance and to have seized one or other of us. Unquestionably we owed our lives to the fact that we both remained absolutely motionless; and I cannot speak too highly of Mahina for the splendid way in which he stood the charge. Had he acted as did another gun-boy I know of, the affair might not have had so happy an ending. This gun-boy went out with Captain G—— in this very neighbourhood, and not long after our adventure. G—— came across a lion just as we did, and wounded it. It charged down on them, but instead of remaining absolutely still, the terrified gun-boy fled, with the result that the lion came furiously on, and poor G—— met with a terrible death.
While Mahina was scouring the neighbourhood in search of some natives to carry the skin back to camp, I took a good look round the place and found the half-eaten body of a zebra, which I noticed had been killed out in the open and then dragged into the long grass. The tracks told me, also, that all the work had been done by the lion, and this set me thinking of the lioness. I accordingly swept the plain with my glasses in the direction in which she had bounded off, and after some searching I discovered her about a mile away, apparently lying down in the midst of a herd of hartebeeste, who grazed away without taking any notice of her. I felt much inclined to follow her up, but I was afraid that if I did so the vultures that were already hovering around would settle on my lion and spoil the skin, for the destruction of which these ravenous birds are capable, even in the space of only a few minutes, is almost beyond belief. I accordingly returned to the dead beast and sat down astride of him. I had read that a frontal shot at a lion was a very risky one, and on carefully examining the head it was easy to see the reason; for owing to the sharp backward slope of the forehead it is almost impossible for a bullet fired in this manner to reach the brain. As there were lots of lions about in this district and as I wanted to bag some more, I set myself to think out a plan whereby the risk of a frontal shot might be got rid of. About a fortnight afterwards I had an opportunity of putting my scheme into practice, happily with most excellent results; this, however, is another story, which will be told later on.
I next commenced to skin my trophy and found it a very tough job to perform by myself. He proved to be a very fat beast, so I knew that Mahina would make a few honest and well-earned rupees out of him, for Indians will give almost anything for lion fat, believing that it is an infallible cure for rheumatism and various other diseases. When at length the skinning process was completed, I waited impatiently for the return of Mahina, who had by this time been gone much longer than I expected. It is rather a nerve shattering thing—I am speaking for myself—to remain absolutely alone for hours on a vast open plain beside the carcase of a dead lion, with vultures incessantly wheeling about above one, and with nothing to be seen or heard for miles around except wild animals. It was a great relief, therefore, when after a long wait I saw Mahina approaching with half-a-dozen practically naked natives in his train. It turned out that he had lost his way back to me, so that it was lucky he found me at all. We lost no time in getting back to camp, arriving there just at sundown, when my first business was to rub wood ashes into the skin and then stretch it on a portable frame which I had made a few days previously. The camp fire was a big one that night, and the graphic and highly coloured description which Mahina gave to the eager circle of listeners of the way in which we slew the lion would have made even "Bahram, that great Hunter," anxious for his fame.
THE STRICKEN CARAVAN
Not long after this adventure the permanent way reached the boundary of the Kapiti Plains, where a station had to be built and where accordingly we took up our headquarters for a week or two. A few days after we had settled down in our new camp, a great caravan of some four thousand men arrived from the interior with luggage and loads of food for a Sikh regiment which was on its way down to the coast, after having been engaged in suppressing the mutiny of the Sudanese in Uganda. The majority of these porters were Basoga, but there were also fair numbers of Baganda (i.e. people of Uganda) and of the natives of Unyoro, and various other tribes. Of course none of these wild men of Central Africa had either seen or heard of a railway in all their lives, and they consequently displayed the liveliest curiosity in regard to it, crowding round one of the engines which happened to be standing at the station, and hazarding the wildest guesses as to its origin and use in a babel of curious native languages. I thought I would provide a little entertainment for them, so I stepped on to the footplate and blew off the steam, at the same time sounding the whistle. The effect was simply magical. The whole crowd first threw themselves flat on the ground howling with fear, and then—with heads well down and arms well spread out—they fled wildly in all directions; nor did the stampede cease until I shut off steam and stopped the whistle. Then, their curiosity gradually overpowering them, very cautiously they began to return, approaching the locomotive stealthily as though it were some living monster of the jungle. Eventually, two of their chiefs summoned up courage enough to climb on to the engine, and afterwards thoroughly enjoyed a short run which I had to make down the line in order to bring up some construction material.
Just after this caravan had moved on we were subjected to some torrential rain-storms, which transformed the whole plain into a quaking bog and stopped all railway work for the time being. Indeed, the effect of a heavy downpour of rain in this sun-baked district is extraordinary. The ground, which is of a black sub-soil, becomes a mass of thick mud in no time, and on attempting to do any walking one slides and slips about in the slush in a most uncomfortable manner. Innocent-looking dongas, where half an hour previously not one drop of water was to be seen, become roaring torrents from bank to bank in an incredibly short time; while for many hours or even a few days the rivers become absolutely impassable in this land of no bridges. On this account it is the custom of the wise traveller in these parts always to cross a river before camping, for otherwise a flood may come down and detain him and his caravan on the wrong side of the stream for perhaps a week. Of course when the rain ceases, the floods as quickly subside, the rivers and dongas dry up, and the country once more resumes its normal sun-cracked appearance.
On leaving my tent one morning when work was at a standstill owing to the rain, I noticed a great herd of zebra about a couple of miles away on the north side of the railway. Now, it had long been my ambition to capture one of these animals alive; so I said to myself, "Here is my chance!" The men could do nothing owing to the rain, and the ground was very boggy, so I thought that if we could surround the herd judiciously and chase the zebra up and down from point to point through the heavy ground, some of them would soon get exhausted and we should then be able to catch them. I selected for the hunt a dozen fleet-footed Indians who were employed on the earth works, and who at once entered with great zest into the spirit of the scheme. After having partially surrounded the herd, the half-circle of coolies began to advance with wild shouts, whereupon the zebras galloped madly about from side to side, and then did just what we wished them to do—made straight for an exceptionally boggy part of the ground, where they soon became more or less helpless. We singled out a few young ones and succeeded in running them to an absolute standstill, when we threw them down and sat on their heads until the other men came up with ropes. In this way we captured no less than six: they were very wild and fractious, giving us a great deal of trouble in getting them along, but eventually we managed to bring them in triumph to the camp, where they were firmly secured. The whole expedition lasted little more than a couple of hours.
Three of the captured zebras I kept for myself, while the other three were given to the Surfacing Engineer, whose men had assisted in the hunt. Two of my three unfortunately died very shortly after; but the third, a sturdy two-year-old, flourished splendidly. At first he was exceedingly vicious, biting and kicking everyone who approached him; indeed, he once planted both his hind feet on my chest, but did me no serious damage beyond throwing me heavily to the ground. In time, however, he became very tame and domesticated, allowing himself to be led about by a rope and head collar, and would drink from a bucket and eat from my hand. He used to be left to graze picketed by a long rope to a stake in the ground; but one afternoon on returning to camp I found, much to my annoyance, that he had disappeared. On making enquiry, I learned from my servants that a herd of wild zebra had galloped close by, and that this had so excited him that he managed to tear the picketing peg out of the ground and so rejoin his brethren in freedom.
Some few days after our successful sortie against the zebra, the great caravan of Basoga porters returned from the coast on their way back to their own country; but alas, with what a terrible difference in their appearance! All their gaiety and lightheartedness was gone, and the poor fellows were in a pitiable state. A frightful epidemic of dysentery had broken out amongst them, doubtless caused by their having eaten food to which they were entirely unaccustomed, their simple diet in their own homes consisting almost entirely of bananas, from which they also make a most refreshing and stimulating drink. The ranks of the caravan were terribly decimated, and dozens of men were left dead or dying along the roadside after each march. It was a case of the survival of the fittest, as of course it was quite impossible for the whole caravan to halt in the wilderness where neither food nor water was to be had. There was only one European with the party, and although he worked like a slave he could do very little among such a number, while the Basoga themselves seemed quite indifferent to the sufferings of their comrades. Thirteen poor wretches fell out to die close to my tent; they were in the most hopeless condition and far too weak to be able to do anything at all for themselves. As soon as I discovered them, I boiled a bucketful of water, added some tins of condensed milk and the greater part of a bottle of brandy to it, and fed them with the mixture. Their feeble cries for some of this nourishment were heartrending; some could only whisper, "Bwana, Bwana" ("Master, Master"), and then open their mouths. One or two of them, indeed, could hardly do even this, and were so weak as to be unable to swallow the spoonful of milk which I put between their lips. In the end six proved to be beyond all help, and died that night; but the remaining seven I managed to nurse into complete recovery in about a fortnight's time. As our camp was moved on, they were brought along from place to place on the top of trucks, until finally they were well enough to resume their journey to Usoga, very grateful indeed for the care which we had taken of them.
The day after I first found these stricken natives I had arranged to ride on my pony for some miles in advance of the railway, in order to make arrangements for the building of a temporary bridge over the Stony Athi River—a tributary of the Athi, and so-called on account of the enormous numbers of stones in its bed and along its banks. I ordered my tent to follow me later in the day, and left directions for the care of the sick Basoga, as I knew I should be away all night. My road lay along the route taken by the home-returning caravan, and every hundred yards or so I passed the swollen corpse of some unfortunate porter who had fallen out and died by the wayside. Before very long I came up with the rearguard of this straggling army, and here I was witness of as unfeeling an act of barbarism as can well be imagined. A poor wretch, utterly unable to go a step further, rolled himself up in his scarlet blanket and lay down by the roadside to die; whereupon one of his companions, coveting the highly-coloured and highly-prized article, turned back, seized one end of the blanket, and callously rolled the dying man out of it as one would unroll a bale of goods. This was too much for me, so I put spurs to my pony and galloped up to the scoundrel, making as if to thrash him with my kiboko, or whip made of rhinoceros hide. In a moment he put his hand on his knife and half drew it from its sheath, but on seeing me dismount and point my rifle at him, he desisted and tried to run away. I made it clear to him by signs, however, that I would fire if he did not at once go back and replace the blanket round his dying comrade. This he eventually did, though sullenly enough, and I then marched him in front of me to the main camp of the caravan, some little distance further on. Here I handed him over to the officer in charge, who, I am glad to say, had him soundly thrashed for his brutality and theft.
After performing this little act of retributive justice, I pushed on towards the Stony Athi. On the way—while still not far from the caravan camp—I spied a Grant's gazelle in the distance, and by the aid of my glasses discovered that it was a fine-looking buck with a capital pair of horns. A few Basoga from the caravan had followed me, doubtless in the hope of obtaining meat, of which they are inordinately fond; so, handing them my pony, I wriggled from tuft to tuft and crawled along in the folds of the ground until eventually I got near enough for a safe shot, which bowled the antelope over stone-dead. Scarcely had he dropped when the Basoga swooped down on him, ripped him open, and devoured huge chunks of the raw and still quivering flesh, lapping up the warm blood in the palms of their hands. In return for the meat which I gave them, two of them willingly agreed to go on with me and carry the head and haunch of the gazelle. When we had got very nearly to the place where I intended to camp for the night, a great wart-hog suddenly jumped up almost at my horse's feet, and as he had very fine and exceptionally long tusks, I dismounted at once and bagged him too. The Basoga were delighted at this, and promptly cut off the head; but my own people, who arrived with my tent just at this juncture, and who were all good Mohammedans, were thoroughly disgusted at the sight of this very hideous-looking pig.
I camped for the night on the banks of the Stony Athi, close to where the railway was to cross, and made my notes of what was necessary for the temporary bridge. At the time the river was absolutely dry, but I knew that it might at any moment become a roaring torrent if rain should set in; it would therefore be necessary to span it with a forty-foot girder in order to prevent constant "washouts" during the rainy season. The next morning I started early on my return to railhead. On my way I had to pass the camp which the Basoga caravan had just left, but the spectacle of about a dozen newly-made graves which the hyenas had already torn open caused me to put spurs to my horse and to gallop as fast as possible through the pestilential spot. When I had almost got back to railhead I happened to notice a huge serpent stretched out on the grass, warming himself, his skin of old gold and bright green sparkling brilliantly in the sunshine. He appeared to take little notice of me as I cautiously approached, and was probably drowsy and sated with a heavy meal. I shot him through the head as he lay, and the muscular contortions after death throughout his long body gave me a very vivid idea of the tremendous squeezing power possessed by these reptiles. Skinning him was an easy process, but unfortunately his beautiful colouring soon disappeared, the old gold turning to white and the bright green to lustreless black.
A DAY ON THE ATHI RIVER
In spite of all our difficulties, rapid progress continued to be made with the line. Each day railhead crept a mile or so further across the Plains, and on April 24 we reached the Stony Athi River, where our great camp was pitched for a few days while the temporary bridge was being thrown across the dry bed of the stream. Still another temporary bridge had to be arranged for the Athi itself, which was some eight miles further on, so I had to make one or two expeditions to this river in order to select a suitable place for the crossing and to make various other arrangements. On one of these occasions I was busy attending to the pitching of my tent after arriving at the Athi late in the evening, when on looking round I was very much surprised to see two European ladies sitting under the shade of some trees on the river bank. As I knew that this was anything but a safe place in which to rest, owing to the number of lions about, I went up to them to see if I could be of any assistance, and found that they were American missionaries journeying to their stations further inland. They were waiting for their camp equipment to arrive, but their porters had been considerably delayed by some very heavy rain, which of course made the roads bad and the tents about double their usual weight. The men of the party were expected every moment with the porters, but there was as yet no sign of the little caravan, and as a matter of fact it did not arrive until long after nightfall. In these circumstances it was perhaps a great blessing that I happened to be there; and as the ladies were both very tired and hungry, I was glad to be able to place my tent at their disposal and to offer them as good a dinner as it was possible to provide in the wilds. It is indeed wonderful what dangers and hardships these delicately nurtured ladies will face cheerfully in order to carry out their self-appointed mission.
When they had left next morning to resume their journey, I started out and made a search up and down the river for the proper position for my temporary bridge. After a thorough examination of all the possible situations, I chose the most suitable and pitched my tent close to it for a night or two while I made the necessary calculations for carrying out the work. The crossing on which I had decided had to be approached by a somewhat sharp curve in the line, and in laying this out with the theodolite I experienced considerable difficulty, as for some reason or other I could not make the last peg on the curve come anywhere near the tangent point where the curve should link up with the straight. I repeated the whole operation time after time, but always with the same result. Eventually I came to the conclusion that there must be some mistake in the table of angles from which I had been working, so I started to work them out for myself and soon discovered a serious misprint. This being rectified in my calculations, I proceeded to lay out the curve again, when at last everything came out accurately and to my satisfaction.
After I had pegged out this temporary diversion of the line, I thought I richly deserved a few hours' play, and accordingly determined to try my luck after lions up-stream towards the source of the Athi. The river—which runs almost due north here, before taking a turn eastward to the Indian Ocean—forms part of the western boundary of the Athi Plains, and is fringed all along its course by a belt of thorny hardwood trees. In some places this fringe is quite narrow, while in others it is about a quarter of a mile wide, with grassy glades here and there among the trees. Every now and again, too, the stream itself widens out into a broad stretch of water, nearly always covered over with tall reeds and elephant grass, while along the banks are frequent patches of stunted bushes, which struck me as very likely places for the king of beasts to sleep in after having drunk at the river. I had noticed that after having eaten and drunk well, a lion would throw himself down quite without caution in the first shady spot he came to; of course nothing except man ever disturbs him, and even of man the lions in this part of the country had as yet no fear, for they had rarely if ever been hunted previous to my time.
As I felt rather tired after my morning's work, I decided to use my pony on this expedition, although as a rule I went on foot. Mahina and half-a-dozen natives to beat the belt of trees were to accompany me, and after a hasty lunch off we started up the left bank of the river. I walked for some distance at first, partly because the ground was very stony and partly because I thought a lion might suddenly bound out of some likely patches in front of the beaters; but after having gone about six miles in this way without adventure of any kind, I decided to mount again. At this time the beaters were in line about a hundred yards behind me, shouting and halloing with all their might as they advanced through the scrub and undergrowth, while I rode well to the flank so as to be ready for any emergency. Just as the men got up to a rather thicker piece of jungle than usual, I fancied I saw a movement among the bushes and pulled up suddenly to watch the spot, but did not dismount. The next moment out bounded a lioness, who raced straight across the open strip into the next patch of jungle, quickly followed by another. Throwing myself off my pony, I seized my rifle to get a shot at the second lioness as she galloped past, and was just about to pull the trigger, when to my utter amazement out sprang a huge black-maned lion, making all haste after his mates. Before he could reach the further thicket, however, I fired, and had the satisfaction of hearing the deep growl that tells of a serious hit.
The beaters and I now advanced with great care, taking advantage of every bit of cover and keeping a sharp look-out for the wounded animal as we crept from tree to tree. Fully a quarter of an hour must have elapsed in this slow yet exciting search, before one of the men, some fifty or sixty yards to my left, and a little ahead of the line, called out that he could see the lion awaiting our approach, with his head just visible in a large bed of rushes only a short distance in front of where I then was. Almost at the same moment I found blood marks left by the wounded animal, leading apparently to a kind of gap in the bank of the river, which had evidently been worn down by a rhino going to and fro to drink. I accordingly made for this with the greatest caution, ordering all the men, except Mahina, to remain behind; and as noiselessly as possible I slipped from cover to cover in my endeavour to obtain a peep over the bank. I saw that it was no use to attempt to climb a tree, as the overspreading foliage would have prevented me from obtaining any view ahead; so I continued my slow advance with a fast-beating heart, not knowing where the huge brute was and expecting every moment that he would charge out at me over the bank from his reedy refuge. Emboldened to a certain extent, however, by the fact that up till then I had heard no movement on the part of my enemy, I crept steadily forward and at last, from the shelter of a friendly tree behind the bole of which I hid myself, I was able to look over the bank. And there, not twenty yards from me, crouched the lion—luckily watching, not me, but the native who had first seen him and who had directed me to where he was. I raised my rifle very cautiously, without making the slightest sound, and steadying the barrel against the trunk of the tree and standing on tip-toe in order to get a better view, I fired plump at the side of his head. It was as if he had suddenly been hit with a sledgehammer, for he fell over instantly and lay like a log.
On my calling out that the lion was done for, the beaters came running up shouting with joy; and although I warned them to be careful, as the two lionesses were probably still close at hand, they did not seem to care in the slightest and in a twinkling had the dead lion lifted from the reeds on to the dry bank. Before I allowed anything further to be done, however, I had the patch of rushes thoroughly beaten out: but as no traces of the lionesses could be found, we commenced to skin my fine trophy. When this was about half done, I decided to let Mahina finish the operation, while I went on ahead to try my luck either with more lions or with any other game that might come my way. I followed up the river almost to its source, but no more lions crossed my path. Once indeed I felt convinced that I saw one, and gave chase to it with all my might as it rushed through the long grass: but a nearer view showed me nothing more than a huge wart-hog. As I wanted the tusks, which I noticed were very fine ones, I fired but only badly hipped him: so I ran up as fast as I could and at ten yards fired again. This time I missed him entirely, and was puzzled to account for my failure until I looked at my back sight and found that by some accident it had got raised and that I had the 200-yards sight up. On rectifying this, another shot quickly put the wounded animal out of pain.
Still my day's sport was not yet over. While rambling back through the trees I caught sight of a graceful-looking antelope in the distance, and on cautiously approaching closer saw that it was an impala. My stalk was crowned with success, the beautiful animal being bagged without much trouble; and on reaching my prize I was delighted to find that its horns were much above the average. On another occasion I was fortunate enough to get a successful snapshot of an impala just after it had been shot by a friend, and the photograph gives a very good idea of what mine was like.
As it was now growing late, I made all haste back to where I had left Mahina skinning the lion, but to my astonishment he was nowhere to be seen. I fired several shots and shouted myself hoarse, all without response; and the only conclusion I could come to was that he had returned to the camp at the temporary bridge. I accordingly pushed on, reaching home long after dark; and there I found Mahina safe and sound, with the lion's skin already pegged out to dry, so that I could not find it in my heart to give him the severe scolding he deserved for having returned without me. Next morning I packed up my trophies and returned to my work at railhead. On my way back I happened to meet one of the other engineers, who called out, "Hallo! I hear you have got a fine line."
My thoughts being full of my adventures of the day before, I answered: "Yes, I did; but how on earth did you hear of it?"
"Oh!" he said, "Reynolds told me."
"Good heavens," I replied, "why, he left before I shot it."
"Shot?" he exclaimed, "whatever do you mean?"
"Didn't you say," I asked, "that you heard I had got a fine lion?"
"No, no," was his reply; "a fine line for the temporary bridge over the river."
We both laughed heartily at the misunderstanding, and when he saw my trophy, which was being carried by my man just behind me, he agreed that it was quite fine enough to monopolise my thoughts and prevent me from thinking of anything else.
THE MASAI AND OTHER TRIBES
A few Masai may still be seen on the Athi Plains, but as a rule they keep away from the railway, the majority of the tribe being now settled on the Laikipia Plateau. Formerly they were by far the most powerful native race in East Africa, and when on the war-path were the terror of the whole country from the furthest limits of Uganda to Mombasa itself. Their numbers have latterly become greatly reduced through famine and small-pox, but the remnant of the tribe, more especially the men, are still a fine, lithe, clean-limbed people. While I was stationed in the Plains I managed to have an interview with the chief, Lenana, at one of his "royal residences," a kraal near Nairobi. He was affability itself, presenting me with a spear and shield as a memento of the occasion; but he had the reputation of being a most wily old potentate, and I found this quite correct, as whenever he was asked an awkward question, he would nudge his Prime Minister and command him to answer for him. I managed to induce him and his wives and children to sit for their photograph, and they made a very fine group indeed; but unfortunately the negative turned out very badly. I also got Lenana's nephew and a warrior to engage in combat with the spear and shield, and both made fine play with their long keen blades, which more than once penetrated the opponent's shield.
The Masai have a wonderfully well-organised military system. The warriors (elmorani) of the tribe must attend strictly to their duties, and are not allowed to marry or to smoke or to drink until after their term of active service is completed. Besides the spear and shield they generally carry a sword or knobkerrie, suspended from a raw-hide waist-belt; and they certainly look very ferocious in their weird-looking headdress when on the warpath. Once or twice I met detachments out on these expeditions, but they were always quite friendly to me, even though I was practically alone. Before the advent of British rule, however, sudden raids were constantly being made by them on the weaker tribes in the country; and when a kraal was captured all the male defenders-were instantly killed with the spear, while the women were put to death during the night with clubs. The Masai, indeed, never made slaves or took prisoners, and it was their proud boast that where a party of elmorani had passed, nothing of any kind was left alive. The object of these raids was, of course, to capture live stock, for the Masai are not an agricultural people and their wealth consists entirely in their herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Curiously enough they do not hunt game, although the country abounds with it, but live principally on beef and milk; and it is also a common custom for them to drink daily a pint or so of blood taken from a live bullock. As they thus live entirely on cattle, and as cattle cannot thrive without good pasture, it is not unnatural to find that they have a great reverence for grass. They also worship a Supreme Being whom they call N'gai, but this term is also applied to anything which is beyond their understanding.
Perhaps the most curious of the customs of the Masai is the extraction of the two front teeth from the lower jaw. It is said that this habit originated at a time when lockjaw was very prevalent among the tribe, and it was found that if these teeth were pulled out food could still be taken. This explanation seems scarcely satisfactory or sufficient, and I give it only for what it is worth: but whatever the reason for the custom, the absence of these two teeth constitutes a most distinctive identifying mark. I remember once being out with a Masai one day when we came across the bleached skull of a long defunct member of his tribe, of course easily recognisable as such by the absence of the proper teeth. The Masai at once plucked a handful of grass, spat upon it, and then placed it very carefully within the skull; this was done, he said, to avert evil from himself. The same man asked me among many other questions if my country was nearer to God than his. I am afraid I was unable conscientiously to answer him in the affirmative. Formerly the Masai used to spit in the face as a mark of great friendship, but nowadays—like most other native races—they have adopted our English fashion of shaking hands.
Another very common custom amongst them is that of distorting the lobe of the ear by stretching it until it hangs down quite five or six inches. It is then pierced and decorated in various ways—by sticking through it a piece of wood two or three inches in diameter, or a little round tin canister, and by hanging to it pieces of chain, rings, beads, or bunches of brass-headed nails, according to fancy. Nearly all the men wear little bells on their ankles to give notice of their approach, while the women are very fond of covering themselves with large quantities of iron or copper wire. Their limbs, indeed, are often almost completely encased with these rings, which I should think must be very heavy and uncomfortable: but no Masai woman considers herself a lady of fashion without them, and the more she possesses the higher does she stand in the social scale.
As a rule, the Masai do not bury their dead, as they consider this custom to be prejudicial to the soil; the bodies are simply carried some little distance from the village and left to be devoured by birds and wild beasts. The honour of burial is reserved only for a great chief, over whose remains a large mound is also raised. I came across one of these mounds one day near Tsavo and opened it very carefully, but found nothing: possibly I did not pursue my search deep enough into the earth. In general, the Masai are an upright and honourable savage race, and it is a great pity that they are gradually dying out.
More or less serfs of the Masai are the Wa N'derobbo, who, unlike their over-lords, are a race of hunters. They are seldom to be met with, however, as they hide away in caves and thickets, and keep constantly moving from place to place following the game. Not long ago I saw a few of them in the neighbourhood of the Eldama Ravine: but these were more or less civilised, and the girls, who were quite graceful, had abandoned the native undress costume for flowing white robes.
In the district from Nairobi to the Kedong River, and in the Kenya Province, dwell the Wa Kikuyu, who are similar to the Masai in build, but not nearly so good-looking. Like the latter, they use the spear and shield, though of a different shape; their principal weapon, however, is the bow and poisoned arrow. They also frequently carry a rudely made two-edged short sword in a sheath, which is slung round the waist by a belt of raw hide. Their front teeth are filed to a sharp point in the same manner as those of nearly all the other native tribes of East Africa, with the exception of the Masai. They live in little villages composed of beehive huts and always situated in the very thickest patches of forest that they can find, and their cattle kraals are especially strongly built and carefully hidden. On one occasion I managed after a great deal of difficulty and crawling on all-fours to make my way into one of these kraals, and was much amazed to notice what labour and ingenuity had been expended on its construction. Unlike the Masai, the Wa Kikuyu have a fairly good idea of agriculture, and grow crops of m'tama (a kind of native grain from which flour is made), sugar-cane, sweet potatoes, and tobacco.
The Wa Kikuyu have the reputation of being a very cowardly and treacherous people, and they have undoubtedly committed some very cruel deeds. A friend of mine, Captain Haslem, with whom I lived for a few months at Tsavo, was barbarously murdered by some members of this tribe. He left me to go up to the Kikuyu country in charge of the transport, and as he was keenly interested in finding out all about the tropical diseases from which the animals suffered, he made it his custom to dissect the bodies of those that died. The superstitious Wa Kikuyu were fully convinced that by this he bewitched their cattle, which at the time were dying in scores from rinderpest. So—instigated no doubt by the all-powerful witch-doctor—they treacherously killed him. For my part, however, I found them not nearly so black as they had been painted to me. I had about four hundred of them working at one thing or another at Nairobi and never had any trouble with them. On the contrary I found them well-behaved and intelligent and most anxious to learn.
As is the case with all other African races, the women of the Wa Kikuyu do the manual labour of the village and carry the heavy loads for their lords and masters, the bundles being held in position on their back by a strap passing round the forehead.
Notwithstanding this some of them are quite pleasant looking, and once they have overcome their fear of the European, do not object to being photographed.
Of the other tribes to be met with in this part of the world, the Kavirondo are the most interesting. They are an industrious, simple people, devoted to agriculture and hospitable in the extreme—a little addicted to thieving, perhaps, but then that is scarcely considered a sin in the heart of Africa. They are clothed (to use Mark Twain's expression) in little but a smile, a bead or two here and there being considered ample raiment; nevertheless they are modest in their ways and are on the whole about the best of the East African tribes.
HOW ROSHAN KHAN SAVED MY LIFE
On May 12 railhead reached the Athi River, where, as there was a great deal of miscellaneous work to be done, our headquarters remained established for some little time. One day not long after we had settled down in our new camp, I was joined quite unexpectedly by my friend Dr. Brock, who had shared the exciting adventure with me at Tsavo the night we were attacked in the goods-wagon by one of the man-eaters. Now Brock had so far not been fortunate enough to bag a lion, and was consequently most anxious to do so. Shortly after his arrival, accordingly, he suggested that we should go for a shooting expedition on the morrow, and that I should trot out for his benefit one of the local lions. Of course I said I should be delighted—I was always ready for a hunt when it was possible for me to get away, and as just at the time we were "held up" by the Athi River, I could manage a day off quite easily. So we made the usual preparations for a day's absence from camp—filled our water-bottles with tea, put a loaf of bread and a tin of sardines in our haversacks, looked carefully to our rifles and ammunition; and warned the "boys" who were to accompany us as beaters to be ready before dawn. I decided to make a very early start, as I knew that the most likely place for lions lay some distance away, and I wanted to get there if possible by daybreak. We should thus have a better chance of catching one of the lords of the plain as he returned from his nightly depredations to the kindly shelter of the tall grass and rushes which fringed the banks of the river. We therefore retired to rest early, and just as I was dozing off to sleep, one of my Indian servants, Roshan Khan, put his head through the slit at my tent door and asked leave to accompany the "Sahibs" in the morning so that he might see what shikar (hunting) was like. This request I sleepily granted, thinking that it could make little difference whether he came with us or stayed behind in camp. As things turned out, however, it made all the difference in the world, for if he had not accompanied us, my shikar would in all probability have ended disastrously next day. He was a very dusky-coloured young Pathan about twenty years of age, lithe and active, and honest and pleasant-looking, as Pathans go. He had been my "boy" for some time and was much attached to me, besides having a touching faith in my prowess in shikar: probably, indeed, this was the reason why he stuck so close to me throughout the hunt.
We breakfasted by candle light and managed to get several miles on our way towards the source of the Athi before dawn. As soon as it was thoroughly daylight, we extended in line, Dr. Brock, as the guest, being placed in the most likely position for a shot, while Roshan Khan followed close behind me with the day's provisions. In this order we trudged steadily forward for a couple of miles without coming across anything, though we advanced through many patches of rushes and long grass likely to conceal our expected quarry. It was most interesting and exciting work all the same, as we never knew but that a lion might the next moment jump up at our very feet. We had just beaten through a most hopeful-looking covert without success and had come out on to a beautiful open grassy glade which stretched away for some distance ahead of us, when I noticed a big herd of wildebeeste browsing quietly some distance to our right. I knew that Brock also wanted a wildebeeste, so I whistled softly to him, and pointed out the weird-looking, bison-like antelopes. He came across at once and started off towards the herd, while I sat down to watch the proceedings. He made a beautiful stalk, which was rendered really very difficult by the open nature of the country, but still the wildebeeste quickly noticed his approach and kept steadily moving on, until at last they disappeared over one of the gentle rises which are such a feature of the Athi Plains.
I still sat and waited, expecting every moment to hear the sound of Brock's rifle. Some time elapsed without a shot, however, and I was just about to follow him up and find out how things were going, when Roshan Khan suddenly exclaimed excitedly:—"Dekko, Sahib, shenzi ata hain!" ("Look, Sahib, the savages are coming!"). I was not in the least alarmed at this somewhat startling announcement, as the Indians called all the natives of the interior of Africa shenzi, or savages; and on looking round I saw five tall, slim Masai approaching in Indian file, each carrying a six-foot spear in his right hand. On coming nearer, the leader of the party eagerly asked in Swahili, "What does the Bwana Makubwa ("Great Master") desire?"
"Simba" ("Lions"), said I.
"Come," he replied, "I will show you many."
This filled me with interest at once. "How far away are they?" I asked.
"M'bali kidogo" ("A little distance"), came the stereotyped reply.
I immediately had a good look round for Brock, but could see no sign of him, so, in case the "many" lions should get away in the meantime, I told the Masai to lead the way, and off we started.
As usual, the m'bali kidogo proved a good distance—over two miles in this case. Indeed, I began to get impatient at the long tramp, and called out to the Masai to know where his lions were; but he vouchsafed me no answer and continued to walk steadily on, casting keen glances ahead. After a little I again asked, "Where are the lions?" This time he extended his spear in a most dramatic manner, and pointing to a clump of trees just ahead, exclaimed: "Look, Master; there are the lions." I looked, and at once caught sight of a lioness trotting off behind the bushes. I also saw some suspicious-looking thing at the foot of one of the big trees, but came to the conclusion that it was only a growth of some kind projecting from the trunk. I was soon to be undeceived, however, for as I started to run towards the trees in order to cut off the fast disappearing lioness from a stretch of rushes for which she was making, a low and sinister growl made me look closer at the object which had first aroused my suspicions. To my surprise and delight I saw that it was the head of a huge black-maned lion peering out from behind the trunk of the tree, which completely hid his body. I pulled up short and stared at him. Although he was not seventy yards away from me, yet owing to the nature of the background it was very difficult to make him out, especially as he kept his head perfectly still, gazing steadily at me. It was only when the great mouth opened in an angry snarl that I could see plainly what he really was. For a few seconds we stood thus and looked at each other; then he growled again and made off after the lioness. As I could not get a fair shot at him from where I stood, I ran with all my might for a point of vantage from which I might have a better chance of bagging him as he passed.
Now by this time I had almost got beyond the surprise stage where lions were concerned; yet I must admit that I was thoroughly startled and brought to a full stop in the middle of my race by seeing no less than four more lionesses jump up from the covert which the lion had just left. In the twinkling of an eye three of them had disappeared after their lord in long, low bounds, but the fourth stood broadside on, looking, not at me, but at my followers, who by this time were grouped together and talking and gesticulating excitedly. This gave me a splendid chance for a shoulder shot at about fifty yards' distance, so I knelt down at once and fired after taking careful aim. The lioness disappeared from sight instantly, and on looking over the top of the grass I saw that my shot had told, as she was on her back, clawing the air and growling viciously. As she looked to me to be done for, I shouted to some of the men to remain behind and watch her, while I set off once more at a run to try to catch up the lion. I feared that the check with the lioness might have lost him to me altogether, but to my relief I soon caught sight of him again. He had not made off very quickly, and had probably stopped several times to see what I was up to; indeed the men, who could see him all the time, afterwards told me that when he heard the growl of rage from the lioness after she was shot, he made quite a long halt, apparently deliberating whether he should return to her rescue. Evidently, however, he had decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Fortunately he was travelling leisurely, and I was delighted to find that I was gaining on him fast; but I had still to run about two hundred yards at my best pace, which, at an altitude of more than 5,000 feet above sea-level, leaves one very breathless at the end of it.
When the lion perceived me running towards him, he took up his station under a tree, where he was half hidden by some low bushes, above which only his head showed. Here he stood, watching my every movement and giving vent to his anger at my presence in low, threatening growls. I did not at all like the look of him, and if there had been another tree close by, I should certainly have scrambled up it into safety before attempting to fire. As a matter of fact, however, there was no shelter of any kind at hand; so, as I meant to have a try for him at all costs, I sat down where I was, about sixty yards from him, and covered his great head with my rifle. I was so breathless after my run, and my arms were so shaky, that it was all I could do to keep the sight on the fierce-looking target and I thought to myself, as the rifle barrel wobbled about, "If I don't knock him over with the first shot, he will be out of these bushes and down on me like greased lightning—and then I know what to expect." It was a most exciting moment, but in spite of the risk I would not have missed it for the world; so, taking as steady an aim as was possible in the circumstances, I pulled the trigger. Instantly the shaggy head disappeared from view, and such a succession of angry roars and growls came up out of the bushes that I was fairly startled, and felt keenly anxious to finish him off before he could charge out and cover the short distance which separated us. I therefore fired half a dozen shots into the bushes at the spot where I imagined he lay, and soon the growling and commotion ceased, and all was still. I was confident the brute was dead, so I called up one of the men to stay and watch the place, while I again rushed off at full speed—jumping over such rocks and bushes as came in my way—to have a shot at a lioness that was still in sight.