Part 2 out of 6
and careful man. One day I took some time hitching my pedometer
properly to his belt: I could not wear it effectively myself
because I was on horseback. At the end of the ten-hour march it
registered a mile and a fraction. Saa-sita explained that he
wished to take especial care of it, so he had wrapped it in a
cloth and carried it all day in his hand!
We turned in. As I reached over to extinguish the lantern I
issued my last command for the day.
"Watcha kalele, Saa-sita," I told the askari; at once he lifted
up his voice to repeat my words. "Watcha kalele!" Immediately
from the Responsible all over camp the word came back-from
gunbearers, from M'ganga, from tent boys-"kalele! kalele!
Thus commanded, the boisterous fun, the croon of intimate talk,
the gently rising and falling tide of melody fell to complete
silence. Only remained the crackling of the fire and the
innumerable voices of the tropical night.
VIII. THE RIVER JUNGLE
We camped along this river for several weeks, poking indefinitely
and happily around the country in all directions to see what we
could see. Generally we went together, for neither B. nor myself
had been tried out as yet on dangerous game-those easy rhinos
hardly counted-and I think we both preferred to feel that we had
backing until we knew what our nerves were going to do with us.
Nevertheless, occasionally, I would take Memba Sasa and go out
for a little purposeless stroll a few miles up or down river.
Sometimes we skirted the jungle, sometimes we held as near as
possible to the river's bank, sometimes we cut loose and rambled
through the dry, crackling scrub over the low volcanic hills of
the arid country outside.
Nothing can equal the intense interest of the most ordinary walk
in Africa. It is the only country I know of where a man is
thoroughly and continuously alive. Often when riding horseback
with the dogs in my California home I have watched them in envy
of the keen, alert interest they took in every stone, stick, and
bush, in every sight, sound, and smell. With equal frequency I
have expressed that envy, but as something unattainable to a
human being's more phlegmatic make-up. In Africa one actually
rises to continuous alertness. There are dozy moments-except you
curl up in a safe place for the PURPOSE of dozing; again just
like the dog! Every bush, every hollow, every high tuft of grass,
every deep shadow must be scrutinized for danger. It will not do
to pass carelessly any possible lurking place. At the same time
the sense of hearing must be on guard; so that no break of twig
or crash of bough can go unremarked. Rhinoceroses conceal
themselves most cannily, and have a deceitful habit of leaping
from a nap into their swiftest stride. Cobras and puff adders are
scarce, to be sure, but very deadly. Lions will generally give
way, if not shot at or too closely pressed; nevertheless there is
always the chance of cubs or too close a surprise. Buffalo lurk
daytimes in the deep thickets, but occasionally a rogue bull
lives where your trail will lead. These things do not happen
often, but in the long run they surely do happen, and once is
quite enough provided the beast gets in.
At first this continual alertness and tension is rather
exhausting; but after a very short time it becomes second nature.
A sudden rustle the other side a bush no longer brings you up all
standing with your heart in your throat; but you are aware of it,
and you are facing the possible danger almost before your slower
brain has issued any orders to that effect.
In rereading the above, I am afraid that I am conveying the idea
that one here walks under the shadow of continual uneasiness.
This is not in the least so. One enjoys the sun, and the birds
and the little things. He cultivates the great leisure of mind
that shall fill the breadth of his outlook abroad over a newly
wonderful world. But underneath it all is the alertness, the
responsiveness to quick reflexes of judgment and action, the
intimate correlations to immediate environment which must
characterize the instincts of the higher animals. And it is good
to live these things.
Along the edge of that river jungle were many strange and
beautiful affairs. I could slip along among the high clumps of
the thicker bushes in such a manner as to be continually coming
around unexpected bends. Of such maneouvres are surprises made.
The graceful red impalla were here very abundant. I would come on
them, their heads up, their great ears flung forward, their noses
twitching in inquiry of something they suspected but could not
fully sense. When slightly alarmed or suspicious the does always
stood compactly in a herd, while the bucks remained discreetly in
the background, their beautiful, branching, widespread horns
showing over the backs of their harems. The impalla is, in my
opinion, one of the most beautiful and graceful of the African
bucks, a perpetual delight to watch either standing or running.
These beasts are extraordinarily agile, and have a habit of
breaking their ordinary fast run by unexpectedly leaping high in
the air. At a distance they give somewhat the effect of dolphins
at sea, only their leaps are higher and more nearly
perpendicular. Once or twice I have even seen one jump over the
back of another. On another occasion we saw a herd of twenty-five
or thirty cross a road of which, evidently, they were a little
suspicious. We could not find a single hoof mark in the dust!
Generally these beasts frequent thin brush country; but I have
three or four times seen them quite out in the open flat plains,
feeding with the hartebeeste and zebra. They are about the size
of our ordinary deer, are delicately fashioned, and can utter the
most incongruously grotesque of noises by way of calls or
The lack of curiosity, or the lack of gallantry, of the impalla
bucks was, in my experience, quite characteristic. They were
almost always the farthest in the background and the first away
when danger threatened. The ladies could look out for themselves.
They had no horns to save; and what do the fool women mean by
showing so little sense, anyway! They deserve what they get! It
used to amuse me a lot to observe the utter abandonment of all
responsibility by these handsome gentlemen. When it came time to
depart, they departed. Hang the girls! They trailed along after
as fast as they could.
The waterbuck-a fine large beast about the size of our caribou,
a well-conditioned buck resembling in form and attitude the
finest of Landseer's stags-on the other hand, had a little more
sense of responsibility, when he had anything to do with the sex
at all. He was hardly what you might call a strictly domestic
character. I have hunted through a country for several days at a
time without seeing a single mature buck of this species,
although there were plenty of does, in herds of ten to fifty,
with a few infants among them just sprouting horns. Then finally,
in some small grassy valley, I would come on the Men's Club.
There they were, ten, twenty, three dozen of them, having the
finest kind of an untramelled masculine time all by themselves.
Generally, however, I will say for them, they took care of their
own peoples. There would quite likely be one big old fellow, his
harem of varying numbers, and the younger subordinate bucks all
together in a happy family. When some one of the lot announced
that something was about, and they had all lined up to stare in
the suspected direction, the big buck was there in the foreground
of inquiry. When finally they made me out, it was generally the
big buck who gave the signal. He went first, to be sure, but his
going first was evidently an act of leadership, and not merely a
disgraceful desire to get away before the rest did.
But the waterbuck had to yield in turn to the plains gazelles;
especially to the Thompson's gazelle, familiarly-and
affectionately-known as the "Tommy." He is a quaint little chap,
standing only a foot and a half tall at the shoulder, fawn colour
on top, white beneath, with a black, horizontal stripe on his
side, like a chipmunk, most lightly and gracefully built. When he
was first made, somebody told him that unless he did something
characteristic, like waggling his little tail, he was likely to
be mistaken by the undiscriminating for his bigger cousin, the
Grant's gazelle. He has waggled his tail ever since, and so is
almost never mistaken for a Grant's gazelle, even by the
undiscriminating. Evidently his religion is Mohammedan, for he
always has a great many wives. He takes good care of them,
however. When danger appears, even when danger threatens, he is
the last to leave the field. Here and there he dashes
frantically, seeing that the women and children get off. And when
the herd tops the hill, Tommy's little horns bring up the rear of
the procession. I like Tommy. He is a cheerful, gallant, quaint
little person, with the air of being quite satisfied with his own
solution of this complicated world.
Among the low brush at the edge of the river jungle dwelt also
the dik-dik, the tiniest miniature of a deer you could possibly
imagine. His legs are lead pencil size, he stands only about nine
inches tall, he weighs from five to ten pounds; and yet he is a
perfect little antelope, horns and all. I used to see him singly
or in pairs standing quite motionless and all but invisible in
the shade of bushes; or leaping suddenly to his feet and
scurrying away like mad through the dry grass. His personal
opinion of me was generally expressed in a loud clear whistle.
But then nobody in this strange country talks the language you
would naturally expect him to talk! Zebra bark, hyenas laugh,
impallas grunt, ostriches boom like drums, leopards utter a
plaintive sigh, hornbills cry like a stage child, bushbucks sound
like a cross between a dog and a squawky toy-and so on. There is
only one safe rule of the novice in Africa: NEVER BELIEVE A WORD
THE JUNGLE AND VELDT PEOPLE TELL YOU.
These two-the impalla and the waterbuck-were the principal buck
we would see close to the river. Occasionally, however, we came
on a few oryx, down for a drink, beautiful big antelope, with
white and black faces, roached manes, and straight, nearly
parallel, rapier horns upward of three feet long. A herd of these
creatures, the light gleaming on their weapons, held all at the
same slant, was like a regiment of bayonets in the sun. And there
were also the rhinoceroses to be carefully espied and avoided.
They lay obliterated beneath the shade of bushes, and arose with
a mighty blow-off of steam. Whereupon we withdrew silently, for
we wanted to shoot no more rhinos, unless we had to.
Beneath all these obvious and startling things, a thousand other
interesting matters were afoot. In the mass and texture of the
jungle grew many strange trees and shrubs. One most scrubby, fat
and leafless tree, looking as though it were just about to give
up a discouraged existence, surprised us by putting forth,
apparently directly from its bloated wood, the most wonderful red
blossoms. Another otherwise self-respecting tree hung itself all
over with plump bologna sausages about two feet long and five
inches thick. A curious vine hung like a rope, with Turk's-head
knots about a foot apart on its whole length, like the
hand-over-hand ropes of gymnasiums. Other ropes were studded all
over with thick blunt bosses, resembling much the outbreak on one
sort of Arts-and-Crafts door: the sort intended to repel
The monkeys undoubtedly used such obvious highways through the
trees. These little people were very common. As we walked along,
they withdrew before us. We could make out their figures
galloping hastily across the open places, mounting bushes and
stubs to take a satisfying backward look, clambering to treetops,
and launching themselves across the abysses between limbs. If we
went slowly, they retired in silence. If we hurried at all, they
protested in direct ratio to the speed of our advance. And when
later the whole safari, loads on heads, marched inconsiderately
through their jungle! We happened to be hunting on a parallel
course a half mile away, and we could trace accurately the
progress of our men by the outraged shrieks, chatterings, appeals
to high heaven for at least elemental justice to the monkey
Often, too, we would come on concourses of the big baboons. They
certainly carried on weighty affairs of their own according to a
fixed polity. I never got well enough acquainted with them to
master the details of their government, but it was indubitably built
on patriarchal lines. When we succeeded in approaching without
being discovered, we would frequently find the old men baboons
squatting on their heels in a perfect circle, evidently
discussing matters of weight and portent. Seen from a distance,
their group so much resembled the council circles of native
warriors that sometimes, in a native country, we made that
mistake. Outside this solemn council, the women, young men and
children went about their daily business, whatever that was. Up
convenient low trees or bushes roosted sentinels.
We never remained long undiscovered. One of the sentinels barked
sharply. At once the whole lot loped away, speedily but with a
curious effect of deliberation. The men folks held their tails in
a proud high sideways arch; the curious youngsters clambered up
bushes to take a hasty look; the babies clung desperately with
all four feet to the thick fur on their mothers' backs; the
mothers galloped along imperturbably unheeding of infantile
troubles aloft. The side hill was bewildering with the big
bobbing black forms.
In this lower country the weather was hot, and the sun very
strong. The heated air was full of the sounds of insects; some of
them comfortable, like the buzzing of bees, some of them strange
and unusual to us. One cicada had a sustained note, in quality
about like that of our own August-day's friend, but in quantity
and duration as the roar of a train to the gentle hum of a good
motor car. Like all cicada noises it did not usurp the sound
world, but constituted itself an underlying basis, so to speak.
And when it stopped the silence seemed to rush in as into a
We had likewise the aeroplane beetle. He was so big that he would
have made good wing-shooting. His manner of flight was the
straight-ahead, heap-of-buzz, plenty-busy,
don't-stop-a-minute-or-you'll-come-down method of the aeroplane;
and he made the same sort of a hum. His first-cousin,
mechanically, was what we called the wind-up-the-watch insect.
This specimen possessed a watch-an old-fashioned Waterbury,
evidently-that he was continually winding. It must have been
hard work for the poor chap, for it sounded like a very big
All these things were amusing. So were the birds. The African
bird is quite inclined to be didactic. He believes you need
advice, and he means to give it. To this end he repeats the same
thing over and over until he thinks you surely cannot
misunderstand. One chap especially whom we called the lawyer
bird, and who lived in the treetops, had four phrases to impart.
He said them very deliberately, with due pause between each; then
he repeated them rapidly; finally he said them all over again
with an exasperated bearing-down emphasis. The joke of it is I
cannot now remember just how they went! Another feathered
pedagogue was continually warning us to go slow; very good advice
near an African jungle. "Poley-poley! Poley-poley!" he warned
again and again; which is good Swahili for "slowly! slowly!" We
always minded him. There were many others, equally impressed with
their own wisdom, but the one I remember with most amusement was
a dilatory person who apparently never got around to his job
until near sunset. Evidently he had contracted to deliver just so
many warnings per diem; and invariably he got so busy chasing
insects, enjoying the sun, gossiping with a friend and generally
footling about that the late afternoon caught him unawares with
never a chirp accomplished. So he sat in a bush and said his say
over and over just as fast as he could without pause for breath
or recreation. It was really quite a feat. Just at dusk, after
two hours of gabbling, he would reach the end of his contracted
number. With final relieved chirp he ended.
It has been said that African birds are "songless." This is a
careless statement that can easily be read to mean that African
birds are silent. The writer evidently must have had in mind as a
criterion some of our own or the English great feathered
soloists. Certainly the African jungle seems to produce no
individual performers as sustained as our own bob-o-link, our
hermit thrush, or even our common robin. But the African birds
are vocal enough, for all that. Some of them have a richness and
depth of timbre perhaps unequalled elsewhere. Of such is the
chime-bird with his deep double note; or the bell-bird tolling
like a cathedral in the blackness of the forest; or the bottle
bird that apparently pours gurgling liquid gold from a silver
jug. As the jungle is exceedingly populous of these feathered
specialists, it follows that the early morning chorus is
wonderful. Africa may not possess the soloists, but its full
orchestrial effects are superb.
Naturally under the equator one expects and demands the "gorgeous
tropical plumage" of the books. He is not disappointed. The
sun-birds of fifty odd species, the brilliant blue starlings, the
various parrots, the variegated hornbills, the widower-birds, and
dozens of others whose names would mean nothing flash here and
there in the shadow and in the open. With them are hundreds of
quiet little bodies just as interesting to one who likes birds.
>From the trees and bushes hang pear-shaped nests plaited
beautifully of long grasses, hard and smooth as hand-made
baskets, the work of the various sorts of weaver-birds. In the
tops of the trees roosted tall marabout storks like dissipated,
hairless old club-men in well-groomed, correct evening dress.
And around camp gathered the swift brown kites. They were robbers
and villains, but we could not hate them. All day long they
sailed back and forth spying sharply. When they thought they saw
their chance, they stooped with incredible swiftness to seize a
piece of meat. Sometimes they would snatch their prize almost
from the hands of its rightful owner, and would swoop
triumphantly upward again pursued by polyglot maledictions and a
throwing stick. They were very skilful on their wings. I have
many times seen them, while flying, tear up and devour large
chunks of meat. It seems to my inexperience as an aviator rather
a nice feat to keep your balance while tearing with your beak at
meat held in your talons. Regardless of other landmarks, we
always knew when we were nearing camp, after one of our strolls,
by the gracefully wheeling figures of our kites.
IX. THE FIRST LION
One day we all set out to make our discoveries: F., B., and I with
our gunbearers, Memba Sasa, Mavrouki, and Simba, and ten porters
to bring in the trophies, which we wanted very much, and the
meat, which the men wanted still more. We rode our horses, and
the syces followed. This made quite a field force-nineteen men
all told. Nineteen white men would be exceedingly unlikely to get
within a liberal half mile of anything; but the native has sneaky
At first we followed between the river and the low hills, but
when the latter drew back to leave open a broad flat, we followed
their line. At this point they rose to a clifflike headland a
hundred and fifty feet high, flat on top. We decided to
investigate that mesa, both for the possibilities of game, and
for the chance of a view abroad.
The footing was exceedingly noisy and treacherous, for it was
composed of flat, tinkling little stones. Dried-up, skimpy bushes
just higher than our heads made a thin but regular cover. There
seemed not to be a spear of anything edible, yet we caught the
flash of red as a herd of impalla melted away at our rather noisy
approach. Near the foot of the hill we dismounted, with orders to
all the men but the gunbearers to sit down and make themselves
comfortable. Should we need them we could easily either signal or
send word. Then we set ourselves toilsomely to clamber up that
It was not particularly easy going, especially as we were trying
to walk quietly. You see, we were about to surmount a skyline.
Surmounting a skyline is always most exciting anywhere, for what
lies beyond is at once revealed as a whole and contains the very
essence of the unknown; but most decidedly is this true in
Africa. That mesa looked flat, and almost anything might be
grazing or browsing there. So we proceeded gingerly, with due
regard to the rolling of the loose rocks or the tinkling of the
But long before we had reached that alluring skyline we were
halted by the gentle snapping of Mavrouki's fingers. That,
strangely enough, is a sound to which wild animals seem to pay no
attention, and is therefore most useful as a signal. We looked
back. The three gunbearers were staring to the right of our
course. About a hundred yards away, on the steep side hill, and
partly concealed by the brush, stood two rhinoceroses.
They were side by side, apparently dozing. We squatted on our
heels for a consultation.
The obvious thing, as the wind was from them, was to sneak
quietly by, saying nuffin' to nobody. But although we wanted no
more rhino, we very much wanted rhino pictures. A discussion
developed no really good reason why we should not kodak these
especial rhinos-except that there were two of them. So we began
to worm our way quietly through the bushes in their direction.
F. and B. deployed on the flanks, their double-barrelled rifles
ready for instant action. I occupied the middle with that
dangerous weapon the 3A kodak. Memba Sasa followed at my elbow,
holding my big gun.
Now the trouble with modern photography is that it is altogether
too lavish in its depiction of distances. If you do not believe
it, take a picture of a horse at as short a range as twenty-five
yards. That equine will, in the development, have receded to a
respectable middle distance. Therefore it had been agreed that
the advance of the battle line was to cease only when those
rhinoceroses loomed up reasonably large in the finder. I kept
looking into the finder, you may be sure. Nearer and nearer we
crept. The great beasts were evidently basking in the sun. Their
little pig eyes alone gave any sign of life. Otherwise they
exhibited the complete immobility of something done in granite.
Probably no other beast impresses one with quite this quality. I
suppose it is because even the little motions peculiar to other
animals are with the rhinoceros entirely lacking. He is not in
the least of a nervous disposition, so he does not stamp his feet
nor change his position. It is useless for him to wag his tail;
for, in the first place, the tail is absurdly inadequate; and, in
the second place, flies are not among his troubles. Flies
wouldn't bother you either, if you had a skin two inches thick.
So there they stood, inert and solid as two huge brown rocks,
save for the deep, wicked twinkle of their little eyes.
Yes, we were close enough to "see the whites of their eyes," if
they had had any: and also to be within the range of their
limited vision. Of course we were now stalking, and taking
advantage of all the cover.
Those rhinoceroses looked to me like two Dreadnaughts. The
African two-horned rhinoceros is a bigger animal anyway than our
circus friend, who generally comes from India. One of these
brutes I measured went five feet nine inches at the shoulder, and
was thirteen feet six inches from bow to stern. Compare these
dimensions with your own height and with the length of your motor
car. It is one thing to take on such beasts in the hurry of
surprise, the excitement of a charge, or to stalk up to within a
respectable range of them with a gun at ready. But this
deliberate sneaking up with the hope of being able to sneak away
again was a little too slow and cold-blooded. It made me nervous.
I liked it, but I knew at the time I was going to like it a whole
lot better when it was triumphantly over.
We were now within twenty yards (they were standing starboard
side on), and I prepared to get my picture. To do so I would
either have to step quietly out into sight, trusting to the
shadow and the slowness of my movements to escape observation, or
hold the camera above the bush, directing it by guess work. It
was a little difficult to decide. I knew what I OUGHT to do-
Without the slightest premonitory warning those two brutes
snorted and whirled in their tracks to stand facing in our
direction. After the dead stillness they made a tremendous row,
what with the jerky suddenness of their movements, their loud
snorts, and the avalanche of echoing stones and boulders they
started down the hill.
This was the magnificent opportunity. At this point I should
boldly have stepped out from behind my bush, levelled my trusty
3A, and coolly snapped the beasts, "charging at fifteen yards."
Then, if B.'s and F.'s shots went absolutely true, or if the
brutes didn't happen to smash the camera as well as me, I, or my
executors as the case might be, would have had a fine picture.
But I didn't. I dropped that expensive 3A Special on some hard
rocks, and grabbed my rifle from Memba Sasa. If you want really
to know why, go confront your motor car at fifteen or twenty
paces, multiply him by two, and endow him with an eagerly
They advanced several yards, halted, faced us for perhaps five or
six seconds, uttered snort, whirled with the agility of polo
ponies, departed at a swinging trot and with surprising agility
along the steep side hill.
I recovered the camera, undamaged, and we continued our climb.
The top of the mesa was disappointing as far as game was
concerned. It was covered all over with red stones, round, and as
large as a man's head. Thornbushes found some sort of sustenance
in the interstices.
But we had gained to a magnificent view. Below us lay the narrow
flat, then the winding jungle of our river, then long rolling
desert country, gray with thorn scrub, sweeping upward to the
base of castellated buttes and one tremendous riven cliff
mountain, dropping over the horizon to a very distant blue range.
Behind us eight or ten miles away was the low ridge through which
our journey had come. The mesa on which we stood broke back at
right angles to admit another stream flowing into our own. Beyond
this stream were rolling hills, and scrub country, the hint of
blue peaks and illimitable distances falling away to the unknown
Tara Desert and the sea.
There seemed to be nothing much to be gained here, so we made up
our minds to cut across the mesa, and from the other edge of it
to overlook the valley of the tributary river. This we would
descend until we came to our horses.
Accordingly we stumbled across a mile or so of those round and
rolling stones. Then we found ourselves overlooking a wide flat
or pocket where the stream valley widened. It extended even as
far as the upward fling of the barrier ranges. Thick scrub
covered it, but erratically, so that here and there were little
openings or thin places. We sat down, manned our trusty prism
glasses, and gave ourselves to the pleasing occupation of looking
the country over inch by inch.
This is great fun. It is a game a good deal like puzzle pictures.
Re-examination generally develops new and unexpected beasts. We
repeated to each other aloud the results of our scrutiny, always
without removing the glasses from our eyes.
"Oryx, one," said F.; "oryx, two."
"Giraffe," reported B., "and a herd of impalla."
I saw another giraffe, and another oryx, then two rhinoceroses.
The three bearers squatted on their heels behind us, their fierce
eyes staring straight ahead, seeing with the naked eye what we
were finding with six-power glasses.
We turned to descend the hill. In the very centre of the deep
shade of a clump of trees, I saw the gleam of a waterbuck's
horns. While I was telling of this, the beast stepped from his
concealment, trotted a short distance upstream and turned to
climb a little ridge parallel to that by which we were
descending. About halfway up he stopped, staring in our
direction, his head erect, the slight ruff under his neck
standing forward. He was a good four hundred yards away. B., who
wanted him, decided the shot too chancy. He and F. slipped
backward until they had gained the cover of the little ridge,
then hastened down the bed of the ravine. Their purpose was to
follow the course already taken by the waterbuck until they
should have sneaked within better range. In the meantime I and
the gunbearers sat down in full view of the buck. This was to
keep his attention distracted.
We sat there a long time. The buck never moved but continued to
stare at what evidently puzzled him. Time passes very slowly in
such circumstances, and it seemed incredible that the beast
should continue much longer to hold his fixed attitude.
Nevertheless B. and F. were working hard. We caught glimpses of
them occasionally slipping from bush to bush. Finally B. knelt
and levelled his rifle. At once I turned my glasses on the buck.
Before the sound of the rifle had reached me, I saw him start
convulsively, then make off at the tearing run that indicates a
heart hit. A moment later the crack of the rifle and the dull
plunk of the hitting bullet struck my ear.
We tracked him fifty yards to where he lay dead. He was a fine
trophy, and we at once set the boys to preparing it and taking
the meat. In the meantime we sauntered down to look at the
stream. It was a small rapid affair, but in heavy papyrus, with
sparse trees, and occasional thickets, and dry hard banks. The
papyrus should make a good lurking place for almost anything; but
the few points of access to the water failed to show many
interesting tracks. Nevertheless we decided to explore a short
For an hour we walked among high thornbushes, over baking hot
earth. We saw two or three dik-dik and one of the giraffes. At
that time it had become very hot, and the sun was bearing down on
us as with the weight of a heavy hand. The air had the scorching,
blasting quality of an opened furnace door. Our mouths were
getting dry and sticky in that peculiar stage of thirst on which
no luke-warm canteen water in necessarily limited quantity has
any effect. So we turned back, picked up the men with the
waterbuck, and plodded on down the little stream, or, rather, on
the red-hot dry valley bottom outside the stream's course, to
where the syces were waiting with our horses. We mounted with
great thankfulness. It was now eleven o'clock, and we considered
our day as finished.
The best way for a distance seemed to follow the course of the
tributary stream to its point of junction with our river. We rode
along, rather relaxed in the suffocating heat. F. was nearest the
stream. At one point it freed itself of trees and brush and ran
clear, save for low papyrus, ten feet down below a steep eroded
bank. F. looked over and uttered a startled exclamation. I
spurred my horse forward to see.
Below us, about fifteen yards away, was the carcass of a
waterbuck half hidden in the foot-high grass. A lion and two
lionesses stood upon it, staring up at us with great yellow eyes.
That picture is a very vivid one in my memory, for those were the
first wild lions I had ever seen. My most lively impression was
of their unexpected size. They seemed to bulk fully a third
larger than my expectation.
The magnificent beasts stood only long enough to see clearly what
had disturbed them, then turned, and in two bounds had gained the
shelter of the thicket.
Now the habit in Africa is to let your gunbearers carry all your
guns. You yourself stride along hand free. It is an English idea,
and is pretty generally adopted out there by every one, of
whatever nationality. They will explain it to you by saying that
in such a climate a man should do only necessary physical work,
and that a good gunbearer will get a weapon into your hand so
quickly and in so convenient a position that you will lose no
time. I acknowledge the gunbearers are sometimes very skilful at
this, but I do deny that there is no loss of time. The instant of
distracted attention while receiving a weapon, the necessity of
recollecting the nervous correlations after the transfer, very
often mark just the difference between a sure instinctive
snapshot and a lost opportunity. It reasons that the man with the
rifle in his hand reacts instinctively, in one motion, to get his
weapon into play. If the gunbearer has the gun, HE must first
react to pass it up, the master must receive it properly, and
THEN, and not until then, may go on from where the other man
began. As for physical labour in the tropics: if a grown man
cannot without discomfort or evil effects carry an eight-pound
rifle, he is too feeble to go out at all. In a long Western
experience I have learned never to be separated from my weapon;
and I believe the continuance of this habit in Africa saved me a
good number of chances.
At any rate, we all flung ourselves off our horses. I, having my
rifle in my hand, managed to throw a shot after the biggest lion
as he vanished. It was a snap at nothing, and missed. Then in an
opening on the edge a hundred yards away appeared one of the
lionesses. She was trotting slowly, and on her I had time to draw
a hasty aim. At the shot she bounded high in the air, fell,
rolled over, and was up and into the thicket before I had much
more than time to pump up another shell from the magazine. Memba
Sasa in his eagerness got in the way-the first and last time he
ever made a mistake in the field.
By this time the others had got hold of their weapons. We fronted
the blank face of the thicket.
The wounded animal would stand a little waiting. We made a wide
circle to the other side of the stream. There we quickly picked
up the trail of the two uninjured beasts. They had headed
directly over the hill, where we speedily lost all trace of them
on the flint-like surface of the ground. We saw a big pack of
baboons in the only likely direction for a lion to go. Being thus
thrown back on a choice of a hundred other unlikely directions,
we gave up that slim chance and returned to the thicket.
This proved to be a very dense piece of cover. Above the height
of the waist the interlocking branches would absolutely prevent
any progress, but by stooping low we could see dimly among the
simpler main stems to a distance of perhaps fifteen or twenty
feet. This combination at once afforded the wounded lioness
plenty of cover in which to hide, plenty of room in which to
charge home, and placed us under the disadvantage of a crouched
or crawling attitude with limited vision. We talked the matter
over very thoroughly. There was only one way to get that lioness
out; and that was to go after her. The job of going after her
needed some planning. The lion is cunning and exceeding fierce. A
flank attack, once we were in the thicket, was as much to be
expected as a frontal charge.
We advanced to the thicket's edge with many precautions. To our
relief we found she had left us a definite trail. B. and I
kneeling took up positions on either side, our rifles ready. F.
and Simba crawled by inches eight or ten feet inside the thicket.
Then, having executed this manoeuvre safely, B. moved up to
protect our rear while I, with Memba Sasa, slid down to join F.
>From this point we moved forward alternately. I would crouch, all
alert, my rifle ready, while F. slipped by me and a few feet
ahead. Then he get organized for battle while I passed him. Memba
Sasa and Simba, game as badgers, their fine eyes gleaming with
excitement, their faces shining, crept along at the rear. B. knelt
outside the thicket, straining his eyes for the slightest
movement either side of the line of our advance. Often these wily
animals will sneak back in a half circle to attack their pursuers
from behind. Two or three of the bolder porters crouched
alongside B., peering eagerly. The rest had quite properly
retired to the safe distance where the horses stood.
We progressed very, very slowly. Every splash of light or mottled
shadow, every clump of bush stems, every fallen log had to be
examined, and then examined again. And how we did strain our eyes
in a vain attempt to penetrate the half lights, the duskinesses
of the closed-in thicket not over fifteen feet away! And then the
movement forward of two feet would bring into our field of vision
an entirely new set of tiny vistas and possible lurking places.
Speaking for myself, I was keyed up to a tremendous tension. I
stared until my eyes ached; every muscle and nerve was taut.
Everything depended on seeing the beast promptly, and firing
quickly. With the manifest advantage of being able to see us, she
would spring to battle fully prepared. A yellow flash and a quick
shot seemed about to size up that situation. Every few moments, I
remember, I surreptitiously held out my hand to see if the
constantly growing excitement and the long-continued strain had
affected its steadiness.
The combination of heat and nervous strain was very exhausting.
The sweat poured from me; and as F. passed me I saw the great
drops standing out on his face. My tongue got dry, my breath came
laboriously. Finally I began to wonder whether physically I
should be able to hold out. We had been crawling, it seemed, for
hours. I dared not look back, but we must have come a good
quarter mile. Finally F. stopped.
"I'm all in for water," he gasped in a whisper.
Somehow that confession made me feel a lot better. I had thought
that I was the only one. Cautiously we settled back on our heels.
Memba Sasa and Simba wiped the sweat from their faces. It seemed
that they too had found the work severe. That cheered me up still
Simba grinned at us, and, worming his way backward with the
sinuousity of a snake, he disappeared in the direction from which
we had come. F. cursed after him in a whisper both for departing
and for taking the risk. But in a moment he had returned carrying
two canteens of blessed water. We took a drink most gratefully.
I glanced at my watch. It was just under two hours since I had
fired my shot. I looked back. My supposed quarter mile had shrunk
to not over fifty feet!
After resting a few moments longer, we again took up our
systematic advance. We made perhaps another fifty feet. We were
ascending a very gentle slope. F. was for the moment ahead. Right
before us the lion growled; a deep rumbling like the end of a
great thunder roll, fathoms and fathoms deep, with the inner
subterranean vibrations of a heavy train of cars passing a man
inside a sealed building. At the same moment over F.'s shoulder I
saw a huge yellow head rise up, the round eyes flashing anger,
the small black-tipped ears laid back, the great fangs snarling.
The beast was not over twelve feet distant. F. immediately fired.
His shot, hitting an intervening twig, went wild. With the utmost
coolness he immediately pulled the other trigger of his double
barrel. The cartridge snapped.
"If you will kindly stoop down-" said I, in what I now remember
to be rather an exaggeratedly polite tone. As F.'s head
disappeared, I placed the little gold bead of my 405 Winchester
where I thought it would do the most good, and pulled trigger.
She rolled over dead.
The whole affair had begun and finished with unbelievable
swiftness. From the growl to the fatal shot I don't suppose four
seconds elapsed, for our various actions had followed one another
with the speed of the instinctive. The lioness had growled at our
approach, had raised her head to charge, and had received her
deathblow before she had released her muscles in the spring.
There had been no time to get frightened.
We sat back for a second. A brown hand reached over my shoulder.
"Mizouri-mizouri sana!" cried Memba Sasa joyously. I shook the
"Good business!" said F. "Congratulate you on your first lion."
We then remembered B., and shouted to him that all was over. He
and the other men wriggled in to where we were lying. He made
this distance in about fifteen seconds. It had taken us nearly an
We had the lioness dragged out into the open. She was not an
especially large beast, as compared to most of the others I
killed later, but at that time she looked to me about as big as
they made them. As a matter of fact she was quite big enough, for
she stood three feet two inches at the shoulder-measure that
against the wall-and was seven feet and six inches in length. My
first bullet had hit her leg, and the last had reached her heart.
Every one shook me by the hand. The gunbearers squatted about
the carcass, skilfully removing the skin to an undertone of
curious crooning that every few moments broke out into one or two
bars of a chant. As the body was uncovered, the men crouched
about to cut off little pieces of fat. These they rubbed on their
foreheads and over their chests, to make them brave, they said,
and cunning, like the lion.
We remounted and took up our interrupted journey to camp. It was
a little after two, and the heat was at its worst. We rode rather
sleepily, for the reaction from the high tension of excitement
had set in. Behind us marched the three gunbearers, all abreast,
very military and proud. Then came the porters in single file,
the one carrying the folded lion skin leading the way; those
bearing the waterbuck trophy and meat bringing up the rear. They
kept up an undertone of humming in a minor key; occasionally
breaking into a short musical phrase in full voice.
We rode an hour. The camp looked very cool and inviting under its
wide high trees, with the river slipping by around the islands of
papyrus. A number of black heads bobbed about in the shallows.
The small fires sent up little wisps of smoke. Around them our
boys sprawled, playing simple games, mending, talking, roasting
meat. Their tiny white tents gleamed pleasantly among the cool
I had thought of riding nonchalantly up to our own tents, of
dismounting with a careless word of greeting-
"Oh, yes," I would say, "we did have a good enough day. Pretty
hot. Roy got a fine waterbuck. Yes, I got a lion." (Tableau on
part of Billy.)
But Memba Sasa used up all the nonchalance there was. As we
entered camp he remarked casually to the nearest man.
"Bwana na piga simba-the master has killed a lion."
The man leaped to his feet.
"Simba! simba! simba!" he yelled. "Na piga simba!"
Every one in camp also leaped to his feet, taking up the cry.
>From the water it was echoed as the bathers scrambled ashore. The
camp broke into pandemonium. We were surrounded by a dense
struggling mass of men. They reached up scores of black hands to
grasp my own; they seized from me everything portable and bore it
in triumph before me-my water bottle, my rifle, my camera, my
whip, my field glasses, even my hat, everything that was
detachable. Those on the outside danced and lifted up their
voices in song, improvised for the most part, and in honor of the
day's work. In a vast swirling, laughing, shouting, triumphant
mob we swept through the camp to where Billy-by now not very
much surprised-was waiting to get the official news. By the
measure of this extravagant joy could we gauge what the killing
of a lion means to these people who have always lived under the
dread of his rule.
A very large lion I killed stood three feet and nine inches at
the withers, and of course carried his head higher than that. The
top of the table at which I sit is only two feet three inches
from the floor. Coming through the door at my back that lion's
head would stand over a foot higher than halfway up. Look at your
own writing desk; your own door. Furthermore, he was nine feet
and eleven inches in a straight line from nose to end of tail, or
over eleven feet along the contour of the back. If he were to
rise on his hind feet to strike a man down, he would stand
somewhere between seven and eight feet tall, depending on how
nearly he straightened up. He weighed just under six hundred
pounds, or as much as four well-grown specimens of our own
"mountain lion." I tell you this that you may realize, as I did
not, the size to which a wild lion grows. Either menagerie
specimens are stunted in growth, or their position and
surroundings tend to belittle them, for certainly until a man
sees old Leo in the wilderness he has not understood what a fine
old chap he is.
This tremendous weight is sheer strength. A lion's carcass when
the skin is removed is a really beautiful sight. The great
muscles lie in ropes and bands; the forearm thicker than a man's
leg, the lithe barrel banded with brawn; the flanks overlaid by
the long thick muscles. And this power is instinct with the
nervous force of a highly organized being. The lion is quick and
intelligent and purposeful; so that he brings to his intenser
activities the concentration of vivid passion, whether of anger,
of hunger or of desire.
So far the opinions of varied experience will jog along together.
At this point they diverge.
Just as the lion is one of the most interesting and fascinating
of beasts, so concerning him one may hear the most diverse
opinions. This man will tell you that any lion is always
dangerous. Another will hold the king of beasts in the most utter
contempt as a coward and a skulker.
In the first place, generalization about any species of animal is
an exceedingly dangerous thing. I believe that, in the case of
the higher animals at least, the differences in individual
temperament are quite likely to be more numerous than the
specific likenesses. Just as individual men are bright or dull,
nervous or phlegmatic, cowardly or brave, so individual animals
vary in like respect. Our own hunters will recall from their
personal experiences how the big bear may have sat down and
bawled harmlessly for mercy, while the little unconsidered fellow
did his best until finished off: how one buck dropped instantly
to a wound that another would carry five miles: how of two
equally matched warriors of the herd one will give way in the
fight, while still uninjured, before his perhaps badly wounded
antagonist. The casual observer might-and often does-say that
all bears are cowardly, all bucks are easily killed, or the
reverse, according as the god of chance has treated him to one
spectacle or the other. As well try to generalize on the human
race-as is a certain ecclesiastical habit-that all men are vile
or noble, dishonest or upright, wise or foolish.
The higher we go in the scale the truer this individualism holds.
We are forced to reason not from the bulk of observations, but
from their averages. If we find ten bucks who will go a mile
wounded to two who succumb in their tracks from similar hurts, we
are justified in saying tentatively that the species is tenacious
of life. But as experience broadens we may modify that statement;
for strange indeed are runs of luck.
For this reason a good deal of the wise conclusion we read in
sportsmen's narratives is worth very little. Few men have
experience enough with lions to rise to averages through the
possibilities of luck. ESPECIALLY is this true of lions. No beast
that roams seems to go more by luck than felis leo. Good hunters
may search for years without seeing hide nor hair of one of the
beasts. Selous, one of the greatest, went to East Africa for the
express purpose of getting some of the fine beasts there, hunted
six weeks and saw none. Holmes of the Escarpment has lived in the
country six years, has hunted a great deal and has yet to kill
his first. One of the railroad officials has for years gone up
and down the Uganda Railway on his handcar, his rifle ready in
hopes of the lion that never appeared; though many are there seen
by those with better fortune. Bronson hunted desperately for this
great prize, but failed. Rainsford shot no lions his first trip,
and ran into them only three years later. Read Abel Chapman's
description of his continued bad luck at even seeing the beasts.
MacMillan, after five years' unbroken good fortune, has in the
last two years failed to kill a lion, although he has made many
trips for the purpose. F. told me he followed every rumour of a
lion for two years before he got one. Again, one may hear the
most marvellous of yarns the other way about-of the German who
shot one from the train on the way up from Mombasa; of the young
English tenderfoot who, the first day out, came on three asleep,
across a river, and potted the lot; and so on. The point is, that
in the case of lions the element of sheer chance seems to begin
earlier and last longer than is the case with any other beast.
And, you must remember, experience must thrust through the luck
element to the solid ground of averages before it can have much
value in the way of generalization. Before he has reached that
solid ground, a man's opinions depend entirely on what kind of
lions he chances to meet, in what circumstances, and on how
matters happen to shape in the crowded moments.
But though lack of sufficiently extended experience has much to
do with these decided differences of opinion, I believe that
misapprehension has also its part. The sportsman sees lions on
the plains. Likewise the lions see him, and promptly depart to
thick cover or rocky butte. He comes on them in the scrub; they
bound hastily out of sight. He may even meet them face to face,
but instead of attacking him, they turn to right and left and
make off in the long grass. When he follows them, they sneak
cunningly away. If, added to this, he has the good luck to kill
one or two stone dead at a single shot each, he begins to think
there is not much in lion shooting after all, and goes home
proclaiming the king of beasts a skulking coward.
After all, on what grounds does he base this conclusion? In what
way have circumstances been a test of courage at all? The lion
did not stand and fight, to be sure; but why should he? What was
there in it for lions? Behind any action must a motive exist.
Where is the possible motive for any lion to attack on sight? He
does not-except in unusual cases-eat men; nothing has occurred
to make him angry. The obvious thing is to avoid trouble, unless
there is a good reason to seek it. In that one evidences the
lion's good sense, but not his lack of courage. That quality has
not been called upon at all.
But if the sportsman had done one of two or three things, I am
quite sure he would have had a taste of our friend's mettle. If
he had shot at and even grazed the beast; if he had happened upon
him where an exit was not obvious; or IF HE HAD EVEN FOLLOWED THE
LION UNTIL THE LATTER HAD BECOME TIRED OF THE ANNOYANCE,
he would very soon have discovered that Leo is not all good nature,
and that once on his courage will take him in against any odds.
Furthermore, he may be astonished and dismayed to discover that
of a group of several lions, two or three besides the wounded
animal are quite likely to take up the quarrel and charge too. In
other words, in my opinion, the lion avoids trouble when he can,
not from cowardice but from essential indolence or good nature;
but does not need to be cornered* to fight to the death when in
his mind his dignity is sufficiently assailed.
*This is an important distinction in estimating the inherent
courage of man or beast. Even a mouse will fight when cornered.
For of all dangerous beasts the lion, when once aroused, will
alone face odds to the end. The rhinoceros, the elephant, and
even the buffalo can often be turned aside by a shot. A lion
almost always charges home.* Slower and slower he comes, as the
bullets strike; but he comes, until at last he may be just
hitching himself along, his face to the enemy, his fierce spirit
undaunted. When finally he rolls over, he bites the earth in
great mouthfuls; and so passes fighting to the last. The death of
a lion is a fine sight.
*I seem to be generalizing here, but all these conclusions must
be understood to take into consideration the liability of
No, I must confess, to me the lion is an object of great respect;
and so, I gather, he is to all who have had really extensive
experience. Those like Leslie Tarleton, Lord Delamere, W. N.
MacMillan, Baron von Bronsart, the Hills, Sir Alfred Pease, who
are great lion men, all concede to the lion a courage and
tenacity unequalled by any other living beast. My own experience
is of course nothing as compared to that of these men. Yet I saw
in my nine months afield seventy-one lions. None of these offered
to attack when unwounded or not annoyed. On the other hand, only
one turned tail once the battle was on, and she proved to be a
three quarters grown lioness, sick and out of condition.
It is of course indubitable that where lions have been much shot
they become warier in the matter of keeping out of trouble. They
retire to cover earlier in the morning, and they keep more than
a perfunctory outlook for the casual human being. When hunters
first began to go into the Sotik the lions there would stand
imperturbable, staring at the intruder with curiosity or
indifference. Now they have learned that such performances are
not healthy-and they have probably satisfied their curiosity.
But neither in the Sotik, nor even in the plains around Nairobi
itself, does the lion refuse the challenge once it has been put
up to him squarely. Nor does he need to be cornered. He charges
in quite blithely from the open plain, once convinced that you
are really an annoyance.
As to habits! The only sure thing about a lion is his
originality. He has more exceptions to his rules than the German
language. Men who have been mighty lion hunters for many years,
and who have brought to their hunting close observation, can only
tell you what a lion MAY do in certain circumstances. Following
very broad principles, they may even predict what he is APT to
do, but never what he certainly WILL do. That is one thing that
makes lion hunting interesting.
In general, then, the lion frequents that part of the country
where feed the great game herds. From them he takes his toll by
night, retiring during the day into the shallow ravines, the
brush patches, or the rocky little buttes. I have, however, seen
lions miles from game, slumbering peacefully atop an ant hill.
Indeed, occasionally, a pack of lions likes to live high in the
tall-grass ridges where every hunt will mean for them a four- or
five-mile jaunt out and back again. He needs water, after
feeding, and so rarely gets farther than eight or ten miles from
He hunts at night. This is as nearly invariable a rule as can be
formulated in regard to lions. Yet once, and perhaps twice, I saw
lionesses stalking through tall grass as early as three o'clock
in the afternoon. This eagerness may, or may not, have had to do
with the possession of hungry cubs. The lion's customary
harmlessness in the daytime is best evidenced, however, by the
comparative indifference of the game to his presence then. From a
hill we watched three of these beasts wandering leisurely across
the plains below. A herd of kongonis feeding directly in their
path, merely moved aside right and left, quite deliberately, to
leave a passage fifty yards or so wide, but otherwise paid not
the slightest attention. I have several times seen this
incident, or a modification of it. And yet, conversely, on a
number of occasions we have received our first intimation of the
presence of lions by the wild stampeding of the game away from a
However, the most of his hunting is done by dark. Between the
hours of sundown and nine o'clock he and his comrades may be
heard uttering the deep coughing grunt typical of this time of
night. These curious, short, far-sounding calls may be mere
evidences of intention, or they may be a sort of signal by means
of which the various hunters keep in touch. After a little they
cease. Then one is quite likely to hear the petulant, alarmed
barking of zebra, or to feel the vibrations of many hoofs. There
is a sense of hurried, flurried uneasiness abroad on the veldt.
The lion generally springs on his prey from behind or a little
off the quarter. By the impetus his own weight he hurls his
victim forward, doubling its head under, and very neatly breaking
its neck. I have never seen this done, but the process has been
well observed and attested; and certainly, of the many hundreds
of lion kills I have taken the pains to inspect, the majority had
had their necks broken. Sometimes, but apparently more rarely,
the lion kills its prey by a bite in the back of the neck. I have
seen zebra killed in this fashion, but never any of the buck. It
may be possible that the lack of horns makes it more difficult to
break a zebra's neck because of the corresponding lack of
leverage when its head hits the ground sidewise; the instances I
have noted may have been those in which the lion's spring landed
too far back to throw the victim properly; or perhaps they were
merely examples of the great variability in the habits of felis
Once the kill is made, the lion disembowels the beast very neatly
indeed, and drags the entrails a few feet out of the way. He then
eats what he wants, and, curiously enough, seems often to be very
fond of the skin. In fact, lacking other evidence, it is
occasionally possible to identify a kill as being that of a lion
by noticing whether any considerable portion of the hide has been
devoured. After eating he drinks. Then he is likely to do one of
two things: either he returns to cover near the carcass and lies
down, or he wanders slowly and with satisfaction toward his happy
home. In the latter case the hyenas, jackals, and carrion birds
seize their chance. The astute hunter can often diagnose the
case by the general actions and demeanour of these camp
followers. A half dozen sour and disgusted looking hyenas seated
on their haunches at scattered intervals, and treefuls of
mournfully humpbacked vultures sunk in sadness, indicate that the
lion has decided to save the rest of his zebra until to-morrow
and is not far away. On the other hand, a grand flapping,
snarling Kilkenny-fair of an aggregation swirling about one spot
in the grass means that the principal actor has gone home.
It is ordinarily useless to expect to see the lion actually on
his prey. The feeding is done before dawn, after which the lion
enjoys stretching out in the open until the sun is well up, and
then retiring to the nearest available cover. Still, at the risk
of seeming to be perpetually qualifying, I must instance finding
three lions actually on the stale carcass of a waterbuck at
eleven o'clock in the morning of a piping hot day! In an
undisturbed country, or one not much hunted, the early morning
hours up to say nine o'clock are quite likely to show you lions
sauntering leisurely across the open plains toward their lairs.
They go a little, stop a little, yawn, sit down a while, and
gradually work their way home. At those times you come upon them
unexpectedly face to face, or, seeing them from afar, ride them
down in a glorious gallop. Where the country has been much
hunted, however, the lion learns to abandon his kill and seek
shelter before daylight, and is almost never seen abroad. Then
one must depend on happening upon him in his cover.
In the actual hunting of his game the lion is apparently very
clever. He understands the value of cooperation. Two or more will
manoeuvre very skilfully to give a third the chance to make an
effective spring; whereupon the three will share the kill. In a
rough country, or one otherwise favourable to the method, a pack
of lions will often deliberately drive game into narrow ravines
or cul de sacs where the killers are waiting.
At such times the man favoured by the chance of an encampment
within five miles or so can hear a lion's roar.
Otherwise I doubt if he is apt often to get the full-voiced,
genuine article. The peculiar questioning cough of early evening
is resonant and deep in vibration, but it is a call rather than a
roar. No lion is fool enough to make a noise when he is stalking.
Then afterward, when full fed, individuals may open up a few
times, but only a few times, in sheer satisfaction, apparently,
at being well fed. The menagerie row at feeding time, formidable
as it sounds within the echoing walls, is only a mild and gentle
hint. But when seven or eight lions roar merely to see how much
noise they can make, as when driving game, or trying to stampede
your oxen on a wagon trip, the effect is something tremendous.
The very substance of the ground vibrates; the air shakes. I can
only compare it to the effect of a very large deep organ in a
very small church. There is something genuinely awe-inspiring
about it; and when the repeated volleys rumble into silence, one
can imagine the veldt crouched in a rigid terror that shall
XI. LIONS AGAIN
As to the dangers of lion hunting it is also difficult to write.
There is no question that a cool man, using good judgment as to
just what he can or cannot do, should be able to cope with lion
situations. The modern rifle is capable of stopping the beast,
provided the bullet goes to the right spot. The right spot is
large enough to be easy to hit, if the shooter keeps cool. Our
definition of a cool man must comprise the elements of steady
nerves under super-excitement, the ability to think quickly and
clearly, and the mildly strategic quality of being able to make
the best use of awkward circumstances. Such a man, barring sheer
accidents, should be able to hunt lions with absolute certainty
for just as long as he does not get careless, slipshod or
over-confident. Accidents-real accidents, not merely unexpected
happenings-are hardly to be counted. They can occur in your own
But to the man not temperamentally qualified, lion shooting is
dangerous enough. The lion, when he takes the offensive, intends
to get his antagonist. Having made up his mind to that, he
charges home, generally at great speed. The realization that it
is the man's life or the beast's is disconcerting. Also the
charging lion is a spectacle much more awe-inspiring in reality
than the most vivid imagination can predict. He looks very large,
very determined, and has uttered certain rumbling, blood-curdling
threats as to what he is going to do about it. It suddenly seems
most undesirable to allow that lion to come any closer, not even
an inch! A hasty, nervous shot misses-
An unwounded lion charging from a distance is said to start
rather slowly, and to increase his pace only as he closes.
Personally I have never been charged by an unwounded beast, but I
can testify that the wounded animal comes very fast. Cuninghame
puts the rate at about seven seconds to the hundred yards.
Certainly I should say that a man charged from fifty yards or so
would have little chance for a second shot, provided he missed
the first. A hit seemed, in my experience, to the animal, by
sheer force of impact, long enough to permit me to throw in
another cartridge. A lioness thus took four frontal bullets
starting at about sixty yards. An initial miss would probably
have permitted her to close.
Here, as can be seen, is a great source of danger to a flurried
or nervous beginner. He does not want that lion to get an inch
nearer; he fires at too long a range, misses, and is killed or
mauled before he can reload. This happened precisely so to two
young friends of MacMillan. They were armed with double-rifles,
let them off hastily as the beast started at them from two
hundred yards, and never got another chance. If they had
possessed the experience to have waited until the lion had come
within fifty yards they would have had the almost certainty of
four barrels at close range. Though I have seen a lion missed
clean well inside those limits.
>From such performances are so-called lion accidents built. During
my stay in Africa I heard of six white men being killed by lions,
and a number of others mauled. As far as possible I tried to
determine the facts of each case. In every instance the trouble
followed either foolishness or loss of nerve. I believe I should
be quite safe in saying that from identically the same
circumstances any of the good lion men-Tarleton, Lord Delamere,
the Hills, and others-would have extricated themselves unharmed.
This does not mean that accidents may not happen. Rifles jam, but
generally because of flurried manipulation! One may unexpectedly
meet the lion at too close quarters; a foot may slip, or a
cartridge prove defective. So may one fall downstairs or bump
one's head in the dark. Sufficient forethought and alertness and
readiness would go far in either case to prevent bad results.
The wounded beast, of course, offers the most interesting problem
to the lion hunter. If it sees the hunter, it is likely to charge
him at once. If hit while making off, however, it is more apt to
take cover. Then one must summon all his good sense and nerve to
get it out. No rules can be given for this; nor am I trying to
write a text book for lion hunters. Any good lion hunter knows a
lot more about it than I do. But always a man must keep in mind
three things: that a lion can hide in cover so short that it
seems to the novice as though a jack-rabbit would find scant
concealment there; that he charges like lightning, and that he
can spring about fifteen feet. This spring, coming unexpectedly
from an unseen beast, is about impossible to avoid. Sheer luck
may land a fatal shot; but even then the lion will probably do
his damage before he dies. The rush from a short distance a good
quick shot ought to be able to cope with.
Therefore the wise hunter assures himself of at least twenty
feet-preferably more-of neutral zone all about him. No matter
how long it takes, he determines absolutely that the lion is not
within that distance. The rest is alertness and quickness.
As I have said, the amount of cover necessary to conceal a lion
is astonishingly small. He can flatten himself out surprisingly;
and his tawny colour blends so well with the brown grasses that
he is practically invisible. A practised man does not, of course,
look for lions at all. He is after unusual small patches,
especially the black ear tips or the black of the mane. Once
guessed at, it is interesting to see how quickly the hitherto
unsuspected animal sketches itself out in the cover.
I should, before passing on to another aspect of the matter,
mention the dangerous poisons carried by the lion's claws. Often
men have died from the most trivial surface wounds. The grooves
of the claws carry putrefying meat from the kills. Every sensible
man in a lion country carries a small syringe, and either
permanganate or carbolic. And those mild little remedies he uses
The great and overwhelming advantage is of course with the
hunter. He possesses as deadly a weapon: and that weapon will
kill at a distance. This is proper, I think. There are more lions
than hunters; and, from our point of view, the man is more
important than the beast. The game is not too hazardous. By that
I mean that, barring sheer accident, a man is sure to come out
all right provided he does accurately the right thing. In other
words, it is a dangerous game of skill, but it does not possess
the blind danger of a forest in a hurricane, say. Furthermore, it
is a game that no man need play unless he wants to. In the lion
country he may go about his business-daytime business-as though
he were home at the farm.
Such being the case, may I be pardoned for intruding one of my
own small ethical ideas at this point, with the full realization
that it depends upon an entirely personal point of view. As far
as my own case goes, I consider it poor sportsmanship ever to
refuse a lion-chance merely because the advantages are not all in
my favour. After all, lion hunting is on a different plane from
ordinary shooting: it is a challenge to war, a deliberate seeking
for mortal combat. Is it not just a little shameful to pot old
felis leo at long range, in the open, near his kill, and wherever
we have him at an advantage-nine times, and then to back out
because that advantage is for once not so marked? I have so often
heard the phrase, "I let him (or them) alone. It was not good
enough," meaning that the game looked a little risky.
Do not misunderstand. I am not advising that you bull ahead into
the long grass, or that alone you open fire on a half dozen lions
in easy range. Kind providence endowed you with strategy, and
certainly you should never go in where there is no show for you
to use your weapon effectively. But occasionally the odds will be
against you and you will be called upon to take more or less of a
chance. I do not think it is quite square to quit playing merely
because for once your opponent has been dealt the better cards.
If here are too many of them see if you cannot manoeuvre them; if
the grass is long, try every means in your power to get them out.
Stay with them. If finally you fail, you will at least have the
satisfaction of knowing that circumstances alone have defeated
you. If you do not like that sort of a game, stay out of it
XII. MORE LIONS
Nor do the last remarks of the preceding chapter mean that you
shall not have your trophy in peace. Perhaps excitement and a
slight doubt as to whether or not you are going to survive do not
appeal to you; but nevertheless you would like a lion skin or so.
By all means shoot one lion, or two, or three in the safest
fashion you can. But after that you ought to play the game.
The surest way to get a lion is to kill a zebra, cut holes in
him, fill the holes with strychnine, and come back next morning.
This method is absolutely safe.
The next safest way is to follow the quarry with a pack of
especially trained dogs. The lion is so busy and nervous over
those dogs that you can walk up and shoot him in the ear. This
method has the excitement of riding and following, the joy of a
grand and noisy row, and the fun of seeing a good dog-fight. The
same effect can be got chasing wart-hogs, hyenas, jackals-or
jack-rabbits. The objection is that it wastes a noble beast in an
inferior game. My personal opinion is that no man is justified in
following with dogs any large animal that can be captured with
reasonable certainty without them. The sport of coursing is
another matter; but that is quite the same in essence whatever
the size of the quarry. If you want to kill a lion or so quite
safely, and at the same time enjoy a glorious and exciting gallop
with lots of accompanying row, by all means follow the sport with
hounds. But having killed one or two by that method, quit. Do not
go on and clean up the country. You can do it. Poison and hounds
are the SURE methods of finding any lion there may be about; and
AFTER THE FIRST FEW, one is about as justifiable as the other. If
you want the undoubtedly great joy of cross country pursuit, send
your hounds in after less noble game.
The third safe method of killing a lion is nocturnal. You lay out
a kill beneath a tree, and climb the tree. Or better, you hitch
out a pig or donkey as live bait. When the lion comes to this
free lunch, you try to see him; and, if you succeed in that, you
try to shoot him. It is not easy to shoot at night; nor is it
easy to see in the dark. Furthermore, lions only occasionally
bother to come to bait. You may roost up that tree many nights
before you get a chance. Once up, you have to stay up; for it is
most decidedly not safe to go home after dark. The tropical night
in the highlands is quite chilly. Branches seem to be quite as
cramping and abrasive under the equator as in the temperate
zones. Still, it is one method.
Another is to lay out a kill and visit it in the early morning.
There is more to this, for you are afoot, must generally search
out your beast in nearby cover, and can easily find any amount of
excitement in the process.
The fourth way is to ride the lion. The hunter sees his quarry
returning home across the plains, perhaps; or jumps it from some
small bushy ravine. At once he spurs his horse in pursuit. The
lion will run but a short distance before coming to a stop, for
he is not particularly long either of wind or of patience. From
this stand he almost invariably charges. The astute hunter, still
mounted, turns and flees. When the lion gets tired of chasing,
which he does in a very short time, the hunter faces about. At
last the lion sits down in the grass, waiting for the game to
develop. This is the time for the hunter to dismount and to take
his shot. Quite likely he must now stand a charge afoot, and drop
his beast before it gets to him.
This is real fun. It has many elements of safety, and many of
To begin with, the hunter at this game generally has companions
to back him: often he employs mounted Somalis to round the lion
up and get it to stand. The charging lion is quite apt to make
for the conspicuous mounted men-who can easily escape-ignoring
the hunter afoot. As the game is largely played in the open, the
movements of the beast are easily followed.
On the other hand, there is room for mistake. The hunter, for
example, should never follow directly in the rear of his lion,
but rather at a parallel course off the beast's flank. Then, if
the lion stops suddenly, the man does not overrun before he can
check his mount. He should never dismount nearer than a hundred
and fifty yards from the embayed animal; and should never try to
get off while the lion is moving in his direction. Then, too, a
hard gallop is not conducive to the best of shooting. It is
difficult to hold the front bead steady; and it is still more
difficult to remember to wait, once the lion charges, until he
has come near enough for a sure shot. A neglect in the inevitable
excitement of the moment to remember these and a dozen other
small matters may quite possibly cause trouble.
Two or three men together can make this one of the most exciting
mounted games on earth; with enough of the give and take of real
danger and battle to make it worth while. The hunter, however,
who employs a dozen Somalis to ride the beast to a standstill,
after which he goes to the front, has eliminated much of the
thrill. Nor need that man's stay-at-home family feel any
excessive uneasiness over Father Killing Lions in Africa.
The method that interested me more than any other is one
exceedingly difficult to follow except under favourable
circumstances. I refer to tracking them down afoot. This requires
that your gunbearer should be an expert trailer, for, outside
the fact that following a soft-padded animal over all sorts of
ground is a very difficult thing to do, the hunter should be free
to spy ahead. It is necessary also to possess much patience and
to endure under many disappointments. But on the other hand there
is in this sport a continuous keen thrill to be enjoyed in no
other; and he who single handed tracks down and kills his lion
thus, has well earned the title of shikari-the Hunter.
And the last method of all is to trust to the God of Chance. The
secret of success is to be always ready to take instant advantage
of what the moment offers.
An occasional hunting story is good in itself: and the following
will also serve to illustrate what I have just been saying.
We were after that prize, the greater kudu, and in his pursuit
had penetrated into some very rough country. Our hunting for the
time being was over broad bench, perhaps four or five miles wide,
below a range of mountains. The bench itself broke down in sheer
cliffs some fifteen hundred feet, but one did not appreciate that
fact unless he stood fairly on the edge of the precipice. To all
intents and purposes we were on a rolling grassy plain, with low
hills and cliffs, and a most beautiful little stream running down
it beneath fine trees.
Up to now our hunting had gained us little beside information:
that kudu had occasionally visited the region, that they had not
been there for a month, and that the direction of their departure
had been obscure. So we worked our way down the stream, trying
out the possibilities. Of other game there seemed to be a fair
supply: impalla, hartebeeste, zebra, eland, buffalo, wart-hog,
sing-sing, and giraffe we had seen. I had secured a wonderful
eland and a very fine impalla, and we had had a gorgeous
close-quarters fight with a cheetah.* Now C. had gone out, a
three weeks' journey, carrying to medical attendance a porter
injured in the cheetah fracas. Billy and I were continuing the
*This animal quite disproved the assertion that cheetahs never
assume the aggressive. He charged repeatedly.
We had marched two hours, and were pitching camp under a single
tree near the edge of the bench. After seeing everything well
under way, I took the Springfield and crossed the stream, which
here ran in a deep canyon. My object was to see if I could get a
sing-sing that had bounded away at our approach. I did not bother
to take a gunbearer, because I did not expect to be gone five
The canyon proved unexpectedly deep and rough, and the stream up
to my waist. When I had gained the top, I found grass growing
patchily from six inches to two feet high; and small, scrubby
trees from four to ten feet tall, spaced regularly, but very
scattered. These little trees hardly formed cover, but their
aggregation at sufficient distance limited the view.
The sing-sing had evidently found his way over the edge of the
bench. I turned to go back to camp. A duiker-a small grass
antelope-broke from a little patch of the taller grass, rushed,
head down headlong after their fashion, suddenly changed his
mind, and dashed back again. I stepped forward to see why he had
changed his mind-and ran into two lions!
They were about thirty yards away, and sat there on their
haunches, side by side, staring at me with expressionless yellow
eyes. I stared back. The Springfield is a good little gun, and
three times before I had been forced to shoot lions with it, but
my real "lion gun" with which I had done best work was the 405
Winchester. The Springfield is too light for such game. Also
there were two lions, very close. Also I was quite alone.
As the game stood, it hardly looked like my move; so I held still
and waited. Presently one yawned, they looked at each other,
turned quite leisurely, and began to move away at a walk.
This was a different matter. If I had fired while the two were
facing me, I should probably have had them both to deal with. But
now that their tails were turned toward me, I should very likely
have to do with only the one: at the crack of the rifle the other
would run the way he was headed. So I took a careful bead at the
lioness and let drive.
My aim was to cripple the pelvic bone, but, unfortunately, just
as I fired, the beast wriggled lithely sidewise to pass around a
tuft of grass, so that the bullet inflicted merely a slight flesh
wound on the rump. She whirled like a flash, and as she raised
her head high to locate me, I had time to wish that the
Springfield hit a trifle harder blow. Also I had time to throw
another cartridge in the barrel.
The moment she saw me she dropped her head and charged. She was
thoroughly angry and came very fast. I had just enough time to
steady the gold bead on her chest and to pull trigger.
At the shot, to my great relief, she turned bottom up, and I saw
her tail for an instant above the grass-an almost sure
indication of a bad hit. She thrashed around, and made a
tremendous hullabaloo of snarls and growls. I backed out slowly,
my rifle ready. It was no place for me, for the grass was over
Once at a safe distance I blazed a tree with my hunting knife and
departed for camp, well pleased to be out of it. At camp I ate
lunch and had a smoke; then with Memba Sasa and Mavrouki returned
to the scene of trouble. I had now the 405 Winchester, a light
and handy weapon delivering a tremendous blow.
We found the place readily enough. My lioness had recovered from
the first shock and had gone. I was very glad I had gone first.
The trail was not very plain, but it could be followed a foot or
so at a time, with many faults and casts back. I walked a yard to
one side while the men followed the spoor. Owing to the abundance
of cover it was very nervous work, for the beast might be almost
anywhere, and would certainly charge. We tried to keep a neutral
zone around ourselves by tossing stones ahead of and on both
sides of our line of advance. My own position was not bad, for I
had the rifle ready in my hand, but the men were in danger. Of
course I was protecting them as well as I could, but there was
always a chance that the lioness might spring on them in such a
manner that I would be unable to use my weapon. Once I suggested
that as the work was dangerous, they could quit if they wanted
"Hapana!" they both refused indignantly.
We had proceeded thus for half a mile when to our relief, right
ahead of us, sounded the commanding, rumbling half-roar,
half-growl of the lion at bay.
Instantly Memba Sasa and Mavrouki dropped back to me. We all
peered ahead. One of the boys made her out first, crouched under
a bush thirty-two yards away. Even as I raised the rifle she saw
us and charged. I caught her in the chest before she had come ten
feet. The heavy bullet stopped her dead. Then she recovered and
started forward slowly, very weak, but game to the last. Another
shot finished her.
The remarkable point of this incident was the action of the
little Springfield bullet. Evidently the very high velocity of
this bullet from its shock to the nervous system had delivered a
paralyzing blow sufficient to knock out the lioness for the time
being. Its damage to tissue, however, was slight. Inasmuch as the
initial shock did not cause immediate death, the lioness
recovered sufficiently to be able, two hours later, to take the
offensive. This point is of the greatest interest to the student
of ballistics; but it is curious to even the ordinary reader.
That is a very typical example of finding lions by sheer chance.
Generally a man is out looking for the smallest kind of game when
he runs up against them. Now happened to follow an equally
typical example of tracking.
The next day after the killing of the lioness Memba Sasa, Kongoni
and I dropped off the bench, and hunted greater kudu on a series
of terraces fifteen hundred feet below. All we found were two
rhino, some sing-sing, a heard of impalla, and a tremendous
thirst. In the meantime, Mavrouki had, under orders, scouted the
foothills of the mountain range at the back. He reported none but
old tracks of kudu, but said he had seen eight lions not far from
our encounter of the day before.
Therefore, as soon next morning as we could see plainly, we again
crossed the canyon and the waist-deep stream. I had with me all
three of the gun men, and in addition two of the most courageous
porters to help with the tracking and the looking.
About eight o'clock we found the first fresh pad mark plainly
outlined in an isolated piece of soft earth. Immediately we began
that most fascinating of games-trailing over difficult ground.
In this we could all take part, for the tracks were some hours
old, and the cover scanty. Very rarely could we make out more
than three successive marks. Then we had to spy carefully for the
slightest indication of direction. Kongoni in especial was
wonderful at this, and time and again picked up a broken grass
blade or the minutest inch-fraction of disturbed earth. We moved
slowly, in long hesitations and castings about, and in swift
little dashes forward of a few feet; and often we went astray on
false scents, only to return finally to the last certain spot. In
this manner we crossed the little plain with the scattered shrub
trees and arrived at the edge of the low bluff above the stream
This bottom was well wooded along the immediate bank of the
stream itself, fringed with low thick brush, and in the open
spaces grown to the edges with high, green, coarse grass.
As soon as we had managed to follow without fault to this grass,
our difficulties of trailing were at an end. The lions' heavy
bodies had made distinct paths through the tangle. These paths
went forward sinuously, sometimes separating one from the other,
sometimes intertwining, sometimes combining into one for a short
distance. We could not determine accurately the number of beasts
that had made them.
"They have gone to drink water," said Memba Sasa.
We slipped along the twisting paths, alert for indications; came
to the edge of the thicket, stooped through the fringe, and
descended to the stream under the tall trees. The soft earth at
the water's edge was covered with tracks, thickly overlaid one
over the other. The boys felt of the earth, examined, even
smelled, and came to the conclusion that the beasts must have
watered about five o'clock. If so, they might be ten miles away,
or as many rods.
We had difficulty in determining just where the party left this
place, until finally Kongoni caught sight of suspicious
indications over the way. The lions had crossed the stream. We
did likewise, followed the trail out of the thicket, into the
grass, below the little cliffs parallel to the stream, back into
the thicket, across the river once more, up the other side, in
the thicket for a quarter mile, then out into the grass on that
side, and so on. They were evidently wandering, rather idly, up
the general course of the stream. Certainly, unlike most cats,
they did not mind getting their feet wet, for they crossed the
stream four times.
At last the twining paths in the shoulder-high grass fanned out
separately. We counted.
"You were right, Mavrouki," said I, "there were eight."
At the end of each path was a beaten-down little space where
evidently the beasts had been lying down. With an exclamation the
three gunbearers darted forward to investigate. The lairs were
still warm! Their occupants had evidently made off only at our
Not five minutes later we were halted by a low warning growl
right ahead. We stopped. The boys squatted on their heels close
to me, and we consulted in whispers.
Of course it would be sheer madness to attack eight lions in
grass so high we could not see five feet in front of us. That
went without saying. On the other hand, Mavrouki swore that he
had yesterday seen no small cubs with the band, and our
examination of the tracks made in soft earth seemed to bear him
out. The chances were therefore that, unless themselves attacked
or too close pressed, the lions would not attack us. By keeping
just in their rear we might be able to urge them gently along
until they should enter more open cover. Then we could see.
Therefore we gave the owner of that growl about five minutes to
forget it, and then advanced very cautiously. We soon found where
the objector had halted, and plainly read by the indications
where he had stood for a moment or so, and then moved on. We
slipped along after.
For five hours we hung at the heels of that band of lions, moving
very slowly, perfectly willing to halt whenever they told us to,
and going forward again only when we became convinced that they
too had gone on. Except for the first half hour, we were never
more than twenty or thirty yards from the nearest lion, and often
much closer. Three or four times I saw slowly gliding yellow
bodies just ahead of me, but in the circumstances it would have
been sheer stark lunacy to have fired. Probably six or eight
times-I did not count-we were commanded to stop, and we did
It was very exciting work, but the men never faltered. Of course
I went first, in case one of the beasts had the toothache or
otherwise did not play up to our calculations on good nature. One
or the other of the gunbearers was always just behind me. Only
once was any comment made. Kongoni looked very closely into my
"There are very many lions," he remarked doubtfully.
"Very many lions," I agreed, as though assenting to a mere
statement of fact.
Although I am convinced there was no real danger, as long as we
stuck to our plan of campaign, nevertheless it was quite
interesting to be for so long a period so near these great
brutes. They led us for a mile or so along the course of the
stream, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. Several
times they emerged into better cover, and even into the open, but
always ducked back into the thick again before we ourselves had
followed their trail to the clear.
At noon we were halted by the usual growl just as we had reached
the edge of the river. So we sat down on the banks and had lunch.
Finally our chance came. The trail led us, for the dozenth time,
from the high grass into the thicket along the river. We ducked
our heads to enter. Memba Sasa, next my shoulder, snapped his
fingers violently. Following the direction of the brown arm that
shot over my shoulder, I strained my eyes into the dimness of the
thicket. At first I could see nothing at all, but at length a
slight motion drew my eye. Then I made out the silhouette of a
lion's head, facing us steadily. One of the rear guard had again
turned to halt us, but this time where he and his surroundings
could be seen.
Luckily I always use a Sheard gold bead sight, and even in the
dimness of the tree-shaded thicket it showed up well. The beast
was only forty yards away, so I fired at his head. He rolled over
without a sound.
We took the usual great precautions in determining the
genuineness of his demise, then carried him into the open.
Strangely enough the bullet had gone so cleanly into his left eye
that it had not even broken the edge of the eyelid; so that when
skinned he did not show a mark. He was a very decent maned lion,
three feet four inches at the shoulder, and nine feet long as he
lay. We found that he had indeed been the rear guard, and that
the rest, on the other side of the thicket, had made off at the
shot. So in spite of the APPARENT danger of the situation, our
calculations had worked out perfectly. Also we had enjoyed a half
day's sport of an intensity quite impossible to be extracted from
any other method of following the lion.
In trying to guess how any particular lions may act, however, you
will find yourself often at fault. The lion is a very intelligent
and crafty beast, and addicted to tricks. If you follow a lion to
a small hill, it is well to go around that hill on the side
opposite to that taken by your quarry. You are quite likely to
meet him for he is clever enough thus to try to get in your rear.
He will lie until you have actually passed him before breaking
off. He will circle ahead, then back to confuse his trail. And
when you catch sight of him in the distance, you would never
suspect that he knew of your presence at all. He saunters slowly,
apparently aimlessly, along pausing often, evidently too bored to
take any interest in life. You wait quite breathlessly for him to
pass behind cover. Then you are going to make a very rapid
advance, and catch his leisurely retreat. But the moment old Leo
does pass behind the cover, his appearance of idle stroller
vanishes. In a dozen bounds he is gone.
That is what makes lion hunting delightful. There are some
regions, very near settlements, where it is perhaps justifiable
to poison these beasts. If you are a true sportsman you will
confine your hound-hunting to those districts. Elsewhere, as far
as playing fair with a noble beast is concerned, you may as well
toss a coin to see which you shall take-your pack or a
XIII. ON THE MANAGING OF A SAFARI
We made our way slowly down the river. As the elevation dropped,
the temperature rose. It was very hot indeed during the day, and
in the evening the air was tepid and caressing, and musical with
the hum of insects. We sat about quite comfortably in our
pajamas, and took our fifteen grains of quinine per week against
The character of the jungle along the river changed
imperceptibly, the dhum palms crowding out the other trees;
until, at our last camp, were nothing but palms. The wind in them
sounded variously like the patter or the gathering onrush of
rain. On either side the country remained unchanged, however. The
volcanic hills rolled away to the distant ranges. Everywhere grew
sparsely the low thornbrush, opening sometimes into clear plains,
closing sometimes into dense thickets. One morning we awoke to
find that many supposedly sober-minded trees had burst into
blossom fairly over night. They were red, and yellow and white
that before were green, a truly gorgeous sight.
Then we turned sharp to the right and began to ascend a little
tributary brook coming down the wide flats from a cleft in the
hills. This was prettily named the Isiola, and, after the first
mile or so, was not big enough to afford the luxury of a jungle
of its own. Its banks were generally grassy and steep, its
thickets few, and its little trees isolated in parklike spaces.
To either side of it, and almost at its level, stretched plains,
but plains grown with scattered brush and shrubs so that at a
mile or two one's vista was closed. But for all its scant ten
feet of width the Isiola stood upon its dignity as a stream. We
discovered that when we tried to cross. The men floundered
waist-deep on uncertain bottom; the syces received much
unsympathetic comment for their handling of the animals, and we
had to get Billy over by a melodramatic "bridge of life" with B.,
F., myself, and Memba Sasa in the title roles.
Then we pitched camp in the open on the other side, sent the
horses back from the stream until after dark, in fear of the
deadly tsetse fly, and prepared to enjoy a good exploration of
the neighbourhood. Whereupon M'ganga rose up to his gaunt and
terrific height of authority, stretched forth his bony arm at
right angles, and uttered between eight and nine thousand
commands in a high dynamic monotone without a single pause for
breath. These, supplemented by about as many more, resulted in
(a) a bridge across the stream, and (b) a banda.
A banda is a delightful African institution. It springs from
nothing in about two hours, but it takes twenty boys with a
vitriolic M'ganga back of them to bring it about. Some of them
carry huge backloads of grass, or papyrus, or cat-tail rushes, as
the case may be; others lug in poles of various lengths from
where their comrades are cutting them by means of their panga. A
panga, parenthetically, is the safari man's substitute for axe,
shovel, pick, knife, sickle, lawn-mower, hammer, gatling gun,
world's library of classics, higher mathematics, grand opera, and
toothpicks. It looks rather like a machete with a very broad end
and a slight curved back. A good man can do extraordinary things
with it. Indeed, at this moment, two boys are with this
apparently clumsy implement delicately peeling some of the small
thorn trees, from the bared trunks of which they are stripping
long bands of tough inner bark.
With these three raw materials-poles, withes, and grass-M'ganga
and his men set to work. They planted their corner and end poles,
they laid their rafters, they completed their framework, binding
all with the tough withes; then deftly they thatched it with the
grass. Almost before we had settled our own affairs, M'ganga was
standing before us smiling. Gone now was his mien of high
indignation and swirling energy.
"Banda naquisha," he informed us.
And we moved in our table and our canvas chairs; hung up our
water bottles; Billy got out her fancy work. Nothing could be
pleasanter nor more appropriate to the climate than this wide low
arbour, open at either end to the breezes, thatched so thickly
that the fierce sun could nowhere strike through.
The men had now settled down to a knowledge of what we were like;
and things were going smoothly. At first the African porter will
try it on to see just how easy you are likely to prove. If he
makes up his mind that you really are easy, then you are in for
infinite petty annoyance, and possibly open mutiny. Therefore,
for a little while, it is necessary to be extremely vigilant, to
insist on minute performance in all circumstances where later you
might condone an omission. For the same reason punishment must be
more frequent and more severe at the outset. It is all a matter
of watching the temper of the men. If they are cheerful and
willing, you are not nearly as particular as you would be were
their spirit becoming sullen. Then the infraction is not so
important in itself as an excuse for the punishment. For when
your men get sulky, you watch vigilantly for the first and
faintest EXCUSE to inflict punishment.
This game always seemed to me very fascinating, when played
right. It is often played wrong. People do not look far enough.
Because they see that punishment has a most salutary effect on
morale, and is sometimes efficacious in getting things done that
otherwise would lag, they jump to the conclusion that the only
effective way to handle a safari is by penalties. By this I do
not at all mean that they act savagely, or punish to brutal
excess. Merely they hold rigidly to the letter of the work and
the day's discipline. Because it is sometimes necessary to punish
severely slight infractions when the men's tempers need
sweetening, they ALWAYS punish slight infractions severely.
And in ordinary circumstances this method undoubtedly results in
a very efficient safari. Things are done smartly, on time, with a
snap. The day's march begins without delay; there is a minimum of
straggling; on arrival the tents are immediately got up and the
wood and water fetched. But in a tight place, men so handled by
invariable rule are very apt to sit down apathetically, and put
the whole thing up to the white man. When it comes time to help
out they are not there. The contrast with a well-disposed safari
cannot be appreciated by one who has not seen both.
The safari-man loves a master. He does not for a moment
understand any well-meant but misplaced efforts on your part to
lighten his work below the requirements of custom. Always he will
beg you to ease up on him, to accord him favour; and always he
will despise you if you yield. The relations of man to man, of
man to work, are all long since established by immemorial
distauri-custom-and it is not for you or him to change them
lightly. If you know what he should or can do, and hold him
rigidly to it, he will respect and follow you.
But in order to keep him up to the mark, it is not always
advisable to light into him with a whip, necessary as the whip
often is. If he is sullen, or inclined to make mischief, then
that is the crying requirement. But if he is merely careless, or
a little slow, or tired, you can handle him in other ways.
Ridicule before his comrades is very effective: a sort of
good-natured guying, I mean. "Ah! very tired!" uttered in the
right tone of voice has brought many a loiterer to his feet as
effectively as the kick some men feel must always be bestowed,
and quite without anger, mind you! For days at a time we have
kept our men travelling at good speed by commenting, as though by
the way, after we had arrived in camp, on which tribe happened to
come in at the head.
"Ah! Kavirondos came in first to-night," we would remark. "Last
night the Monumwezis were ahead."
And once, actually, by this method we succeeded in working up
such a feeling of rivalry that the Kikuyus, the unambitious, weak
and despised Kikuyus, led the van!
But the first hint of insubordination, of intended insolence, of
willful shirking must be met by instant authority. Occasionally,
when the situation is of the quick and sharp variety, the white
man may have to mix in the row himself. He must never hesitate an
instant; for the only reason he alone can control so many is that
he has always controlled them. F. had a very effective blow, or
shove, which I found well worth adopting. It is delivered with
the heel of the palm to the man's chin, and is more of a lifting,
heaving shove than an actual blow. Its effect is immediately
upsetting. Impertinence is best dealt with in this manner on the
spot. Evidently intended slowness in coming when called is also
best treated by a flick of the whip-and forgetfulness. And so
with a half dozen others. But any more serious matter should be
decided from the throne of the canvas chair, witness should be
heard, judgment formally pronounced, and execution intrusted to
the askaris or gunbearers.
It is, as I have said, a most interesting game. It demands three
sorts of knowledge: first what a safari man is capable of doing;
second, what he customarily should or should not do; third, an
ability to read the actual intention or motive back of his
actions. When you are able to punish or hold your hand on these
principles, and not merely because things have or have not gone
smoothly or right, then you are a good safari manager. There are
mighty few of them.
As for punishment, that is quite simply the whip. The average
writer on the country speaks of this with hushed voice and
averted face as a necessity but as something to be deprecated and
passed over as quickly as possible. He does this because he
thinks he ought to. As a matter of fact, such an attitude is all
poppycock. In the flogging of a white man, or a black who suffers
from such a punishment in his soul as well as his body, this is
all very well. But the safari man expects it, it doesn't hurt his
feelings in the least, it is ancient custom. As well
sentimentalize over necessary schoolboy punishment, or over
father paddy-whacking little Willie when little Willie has been a
bad boy. The chances are your porter will leap to his feet, crack
his heels together and depart with a whoop of joy, grinning from
ear to ear. Or he may draw himself up and salute you, military
fashion, again with a grin. In any case his "soul" is not
"scared" a little bit, and there is no sense in yourself feeling
about it as though it were.
At another slant the justice you will dispense to your men
differs from our own. Again this is because of the teaching long
tradition has made part of their mental make-up. Our own belief
is that it is better to let two guilty men go than to punish one
innocent. With natives it is the other way about. If a crime is
committed the guilty MUST be punished. Preferably he alone is to
be dealt with; but in case it is impossible to identify him, then
all the members of the first inclusive unit must be brought to
account. This is the native way of doing things; is the only way
the native understands; and is the only way that in his mind true
justice is answered. Thus if a sheep is stolen, the thief must be
caught and punished. Suppose, however it is known to what family
the thief belongs, but the family refuses to disclose which of
its members committed the theft: then each member must be
punished for sheep stealing; or, if not the family, then the
tribe must make restitution. But punishment MUST be inflicted.
There is an essential justice to recommend this, outside the fact
that it has with the native all the solidity of accepted ethics,
and it certainly helps to run the real criminal to earth. The
innocent sometimes suffers innocently, but not very often; and
our own records show that in that respect with us it is the same.
This is not the place to argue the right or wrong of the matter
from our own standpoint but to recognize the fact that it is right
from theirs, and to act accordingly. Thus in cast of theft of
meat, or something that cannot be traced, it is well to call up
the witnesses, to prove the alibis, and then to place the issue
squarely up to those that remain. There may be but two, or there
may be a dozen.
"I know you did not all steal the meat," you must say, "but I know
that one of you did. Unless I know which one that is by to-morrow
morning, I will kiboko all of you. Bass!"
Perhaps occasionally you may have to kiboko the lot, in the full
knowledge that most are innocent. That seems hard; and your heart
will misgive you. Harden it. The "innocent" probably know
perfectly well who the guilty man is. And the incident builds for
I had intended nowhere to comment on the politics or policies of
the country. Nothing is more silly than the casual visitor's snap
judgments on how a country is run. Nevertheless, I may perhaps be
pardoned for suggesting that the Government would strengthen its
hand, and aid its few straggling settlers by adopting this native
view of retributions. For instance, at present it is absolutely
impossible to identify individual sheep and cattle stealers. They
operate stealthily and at night. If the Government cannot
identify the actual thief, it gives the matter up. As a
consequence a great hardship is inflicted on the settler and an
evil increases. If, however, the Government would hold the
village, the district, or the tribe responsible, and exact just
compensation from such units in every case, the evil would very
suddenly come to an end. And the native's respect for the white
man would climb in the scale.
Once the safari man gets confidence in his master, that
confidence is complete. The white man's duties are in his mind
clearly defined. His job is to see that the black man is fed, is
watered, is taken care of in every way. The ordinary porter
considers himself quite devoid of responsibility. He is also an
improvident creature, for he drinks all his water when he gets
thirsty, no matter how long and hot the journey before him; he
eats his rations all up when he happens to get hungry, two days
before next distribution time; he straggles outrageously at times