Part 6 (1/2)

The next morning I started to the mountains to explore the limit that I had proposed for my expedition on the Sett.i.te. The Arabs had informed me that a river of some importance descended from the mountains and joined the main stream about twelve miles from our camp. In about three hours and a half we arrived at Hor Mehetape, the stream that the Arabs had reported. Although a powerful torrent during the rains, it was insignificant as one of the tributaries to the Sett.i.te, as the breadth did not exceed twenty-five yards. At this season it was nearly dry, and at no time did it appear to exceed the depth of ten or twelve feet. It was merely a rapid mountain torrent. But we were now among the mountains whose drainage causes the sudden rise of the Atbara and the Nile.

Abou Do and Suleiman had lately given us some trouble, especially the former, whose covetous nature had induced him to take much more than his share of the hides of rhinoceros and other animals shot. The horses of the aggageers had, moreover, been lamed by reckless riding, and Abou Do coolly proposed that I should lend them horses. Having a long journey before me, I refused, and they became discontented. It was time to part, and I ordered him and his people to return to Geera. As Taher Sherrif's party had disagreed with Abou Do some time previously, and had left us, we were now left without aggageers.

On the following day I succeeded in killing a buffalo, which I ordered my men, after they had flayed it, to leave as a bait for lions.

That night we were serenaded by the roaring of these animals in all directions, one of them having visited our camp, around which we discovered his footprints on the following morning. I accordingly took Taher Noor, with Hadji Ali and Ha.s.san, two of my trusty Tokrooris, and went straight to the spot where I had left the carca.s.s of the buffalo.

As I had expected, nothing remained--not even a bone. The ground was much trampled, and tracks of lions were upon the sand; but the body of the buffalo had been dragged into the th.o.r.n.y jungle. I was determined, if possible, to get a shot; therefore I followed carefully the track left by the carca.s.s, which had formed a path in the withered gra.s.s.

Unfortunately the lions had dragged the buffalo down wind; therefore, after I had arrived within the thick nabbuk and high gra.s.s, I came to the conclusion that my only chance would be to make a long circuit, and to creep up wind through the thorns, until I should be advised by my nose of the position of the carca.s.s, as it would by this time be in a state of putrefaction, and the lions would most probably be with the body. Accordingly I struck off to my left, and continuing straight forward for some hundred yards, I again struck into the thick jungle and came round to the wind. Success depended on extreme caution; therefore I advised my three men to keep close behind me with the spare rifles, as I carried my single-barrelled Beattie. This rifle was extremely accurate, therefore I had chosen it for this close work, when I expected to get a shot at the eye or forehead of a lion crouching in the bush.

Softly and with difficulty I crept forward, followed closely by my men, through the high withered gra.s.s, beneath the dense green nabbuk bushes, peering through the thick covert, with the nerves braced up to full pitch, and the finger on the trigger ready for any emergency. We had thus advanced for about half an hour, during which I frequently applied my nose to within a foot of the ground to catch the scent, when a sudden puff of wind brought the unmistakable smell of decomposing flesh. For the moment I halted, and, looking round to my men, I made a sign that we were near to the carca.s.s, and that they were to be ready with the rifles. Again I crept gently forward, bending and sometimes crawling beneath the thorns to avoid the slightest noise. As I approached the scent became stronger, until I at length felt that I must be close to the cause.

This was highly exciting. Fully prepared for a quick shot, I stealthily crept on. A tremendous roar in the dense thorns within a few feet of me suddenly brought my rifle to the shoulder. Almost in the same instant I observed the three-quarter figure of either a lion or a lioness within three yards of me, on the other side of the bush under which I had been creeping. The foliage concealed the head, but I could almost have touched the shoulder with my rifle. Much depended upon the bullet, and I fired exactly through the shoulder. Another tremendous roar! and a crash in the bushes as the animal made a bound forward was succeeded immediately by a similar roar, as another lion took the exact position of the last, and stood wondering at the report of the rifle, and seeking for the cause of the intrusion. This was a grand lion with a s.h.a.ggy mane; but my rifle was unloaded, and, keeping my eyes fixed on the beast, I stretched my hand back for a spare rifle. The lion remained standing, but gazing up wind with his head raised, snuffing in the air for a scent of the enemy. No rifle was put in my hand. I looked back for an instant, and saw my Tokrooris faltering about five yards behind me. I looked daggers at them, gnas.h.i.+ng my teeth and shaking my fist. They saw the lion, and Taher Noor s.n.a.t.c.hing a rifle from Hadji Ali was just about to bring it; when Ha.s.san, ashamed, ran forward. The lion disappeared at the same moment. Never was such a fine chance lost through the indecision of the gun bearers! I made a vow never to carry a single-barrelled rifle again when hunting large game. If I had had my dear little Fletcher 24 1 should have nailed the lion to a certainty.

However, there was not much time for reflection. Where was the first lion? Some remains of the buffalo lay upon my right, and I expected to find the lion most probably crouching in the thorns somewhere near us.

Having reloaded, I took one of my Reilly No. 10 rifles and listened attentively for a sound. Presently I heard within a few yards a low growl. Taher Noor drew his sword and, with his s.h.i.+eld before him, he searched for the lion, while I crept forward toward the sound, which was again repeated. A low roar, accompanied by a rush in the jungle, showed us a glimpse of the lion as he bounded off within ten or twelve yards; but I had no chance to fire. Again the low growl was repeated, and upon quietly creeping toward the spot I saw a splendid animal crouched upon the ground amid the withered and broken gra.s.s. The lioness lay dying with the bullet wound in the shoulder. Occasionally in her rage she bit her own paw violently, and then struck and clawed the ground. A pool of blood lay by her side. She was about ten yards from us, and I instructed my men to throw a clod of earth at her (there were no stones), to prove whether she could rise, while I stood ready with the rifle. She merely replied with a dull roar, and I terminated her misery by a ball through the head. She was a beautiful animal. The patch of the bullet was sticking in the wound. She was shot through both shoulders, and as we were not far from the tent I determined to have her brought to camp upon a camel as an offering to my wife. Accordingly I left my Tokrooris, while I went with Taher Noor to fetch a camel.

On our road through the thick jungle I was startled by a rush close to me. For the moment I thought it was a lion, but almost at the same instant I saw a fine nellut das.h.i.+ng away before me, and I killed it immediately with a bullet through the back of the neck. This was great luck, and we now required two camels, as in two shots I had killed a lioness and a nellut (A. Strepsiceros).

We remained for some time at our delightful camp at Delladilla. Every day, from sunrise to sunset, I was either on foot or in the saddle, without rest, except upon Sundays. As our camp was full of meat, either dried or in the process of drying in festoons upon the trees, we had been a great attraction to the beasts of prey, which constantly prowled around our thorn fence during the night. One night in particular a lion attempted to enter, but had been repulsed by the Tokrooris, who pelted him with firebrands. My people woke me up and begged me to shoot him; but as it was perfectly impossible to fire correctly through the hedge of thorns, I refused to be disturbed, but promised to hunt for him on the following day. Throughout the entire night the lion prowled around the camp, growling and uttering his peculiar guttural sigh. Not one of my people slept, as they declared he would bound into the camp and take somebody unless they kept up the watch-fires and drove him away with brands. The next day before sunrise I called Ha.s.san and Hadji Ali, whom I lectured severely upon their cowardice on a former occasion, and received their promise to follow me to death. I intrusted them with my two Reillys No. 10, and with my little Fletcher in hand I determined to spend the whole day in searching every thicket of the forest for lions, as I felt convinced that the animal that had disturbed us during the night was concealed somewhere within the neighboring jungle.

The whole day pa.s.sed fruitlessly. I had crept through the thickest thorns in vain; having abundance of meat, I had refused the most tempting shots at buffaloes and large antelopes, as I had devoted myself exclusively to lions. I was much disappointed, as the evening had arrived without a shot having been fired, and as the sun had nearly set I wandered slowly toward home. Pa.s.sing through alternate open glades of a few yards' width, hemmed in on all sides by thick jungle, I was carelessly carrying my rifle upon my shoulder, as I pushed my way through the opposing thorns, when a sudden roar, just before me, at once brought the rifle upon full c.o.c.k, and I saw a magnificent lion standing in the middle of the glade, about ten yards from me. He had been lying on the ground, and had started to his feet upon hearing me approach through the jungle. For an instant he stood in an att.i.tude of attention, as we were hardly visible; but at the same moment I took a quick but sure shot with the little Fletcher. He gave a convulsive bound, but rolled over backward; before he could recover himself I fired the left-hand barrel.

It was a glorious sight. I had advanced a few steps into the glade, and Ha.s.san had quickly handed me a spare rifle, while Taher Noor stood by me sword in hand. The lion in the greatest fury, with his s.h.a.ggy mane bristling in the air, roared with death-like growls, as open-mouthed he endeavored to charge upon us; but he dragged his hind-quarters upon the ground, and I saw immediately that the little Fletcher had broken his spine. In his tremendous exertions to attack he rolled over and over, gnas.h.i.+ng his horrible jaws and tearing holes in the sandy ground at each blow of his tremendous paws that would have crushed a man's skull like an egg-sh.e.l.l. Seeing that he was hors de combat I took it coolly, as it was already dusk, and the lion having rolled into a dark and thick bush I thought it would be advisable to defer the final attack, as he would be dead before morning. We were not ten minutes' walk from the camp, at which we quickly arrived, and my men greatly rejoiced at the discomfiture of their enemy, as they were convinced that he was the same lion that had attempted to enter the zareeba.

On the following morning before sunrise I started with nearly all my people and a powerful camel, with the intention of bringing the lion home entire. I rode my horse Tetel, who had frequently shown great courage, and I wished to prove whether he would advance to the body of a lion.

Upon arrival near the spot which we supposed to have been the scene of the encounter, we were rather puzzled, as there was nothing to distinguish the locality; one place exactly resembled another, as the country was flat and sandy, interspersed with thick jungle of green nabbuk. We accordingly spread out to beat for the lion. Presently Hadji Ali cried out, ”There he lies, dead!” and I immediately rode to the spot together with the people. A tremendous roar greeted us as the lion started to his fore-feet, and with his beautiful mane erect and his great hazel eyes flas.h.i.+ng fire he gave a succession of deep short roars, and challenged us to fight. This was a grand picture. He looked like a true lord of the forest; but I pitied the poor brute, as he was helpless, and although his spirit was game to the last, his strength was paralyzed by a broken back.

It was a glorious opportunity for the horse. At the first unexpected roar the camel had bolted with its rider. The horse had for a moment started on one side, and the men had scattered; but in an instant I had reined Tetel up, and I now rode straight toward the lion, who courted the encounter about twenty paces distant. I halted exactly opposite the n.o.ble-looking beast, who, seeing me in advance of the party, increased his rage and growled deeply, fixing his glance upon the horse. I now patted Tetel on the neck and spoke to him coaxingly. He gazed intently at the lion, erected his mane, and snorted, but showed no signs of retreat. ”Bravo! old boy!” I said, and, encouraging him by caressing his neck with my hand, I touched his flank gently with my heel. I let him just feel my hand upon the rein, and with a ”Come along, old lad,” Tetel slowly but resolutely advanced step by step toward the infuriated lion, that greeted him with continued growls. The horse several times snorted loudly and stared fixedly at the terrible face before him; but as I constantly patted and coaxed him he did not refuse to advance. I checked him when within about six yards of the lion.

This would have made a magnificent picture, as the horse, with astounding courage, faced the lion at bay. Both animals kept their eyes fixed upon each other, the one beaming with rage, the other cool with determination. This was enough. I dropped the reins upon his neck; it was a signal that Tetel perfectly understood, and he stood firm as a rock, for he knew that I was about to fire. I took aim at the head of the glorious but distressed lion, and a bullet from the little Fletcher dropped him dead. Tetel never flinched at a shot. I now dismounted, and, having patted and coaxed the horse, I led him up to the body of the lion, which I also patted, and then gave my hand to the horse to smell.

He snorted once or twice, and as I released my hold of the reins and left him entirely free, he slowly lowered his head and sniffed the mane of the dead lion. He then turned a few paces upon one side and commenced eating the withered gra.s.s beneath the nabbuk bushes.

My Arabs were perfectly delighted with this extraordinary instance of courage exhibited by the horse. I had known that the beast was disabled, but Tetel had advanced boldly toward the angry jaws of a lion that appeared about to spring. The camel was now brought to the spot and blindfolded, while we endeavored to secure the lion upon its back.

As the camel knelt, it required the united exertions of eight men, including myself, to raise the ponderous animal and to secure it across the saddle.

Although so active and cat-like in its movements, a full-grown lion weighs about five hundred and fifty pounds. Having secured it we shortly arrived in camp. The COUP D'OEIL was beautiful, as the camel entered the enclosure with the s.h.a.ggy head and ma.s.sive paws of the dead lion hanging upon one flank, while the tail nearly descended to the ground upon the opposite side. It was laid at full length before my wife, to whom the claws were dedicated as a trophy to be worn around the neck as a talisman. Not only are the claws prized by the Arabs, but the mustache of the lion is carefully preserved and sewn in a leather envelope, to be worn as an amulet; such a charm is supposed to protect the wearer from the attacks of wild animals.

We were now destined to be deprived of two members of the party. Mahomet had become simply unbearable, and he was so impertinent that I was obliged to take a thin cane from one of the Arabs and administer a little physical advice. An evil spirit possessed the man, and he bolted off with some of the camel men who were returning to Geera with dried meat.

Our great loss was Barrake. She had persisted in eating the fruit of the hegleek, although she had suffered from dysentery upon several occasions. She was at length attacked with congestion of the liver. My wife took the greatest care of her, and for weeks she had given her the entire produce of the goats, hoping that milk would keep up her strength; but she died after great suffering, and we buried the poor creature, and moved our camp.

CHAPTER XI.

The bull-elephant--Daring Hamrans--The elephant helpless--Visited by a minstrel--A determined musician--The nest of the outlaws--The Atbara River

Having explored the Sett.i.te into the gorge of the mountain chain of Abyssinia, we turned due south from our camp at Deladilla, and at a distance of twelve miles reached the river Royan. Our course now was directed up this stream, and at the junction of the Hor Mai Gubba, or Habbuk River, some of my Arabs, observing fresh tracks of horses on the sand, went in search of the aggageers of Taher Sherrif's party, whom they had expected to meet at this point. Soon after, they returned with the aggageers, whose camp was but a quarter of a mile distant. I agreed to have a hunt for elephants the next day with Taher Sherrif, and before the following sunrise we had started up the course of the Royan for a favorite resort of elephants.

We had ridden about thirty miles, and were beginning to despair, when suddenly we turned a sharp angle in the watercourse, and Taher Sherrif, who was leading, immediately reined in his horse and backed him toward the party. I followed his example, and we were at once concealed by the sharp bend of the river. He now whispered that a bull-elephant was drinking from a hole it had scooped in the sand, not far around the corner. Without the slightest confusion the hunters at once fell quietly into their respective places, Taher Sherrif leading, while I followed closely in the line, with my Tokrooris bringing up the rear; we were a party of seven horses.