The Land of Footprints by Stewart Edward White
XX. Divers Adventures Along the Tana
Late one afternoon I shot a wart-hog in the tall grass. The beast was an unusually fine specimen, so I instructed Fundi and the porters to take the head, and myself started for camp with Memba Sasa. I had gone not over a hundred yards when I was recalled by wild and agonized appeals of "Bwana! bwana!" The long-legged Fundi was repeatedly leaping straight up in the air to an astonishing height above the long grass, curling his legs up under him at each jump, and yelling like a steam-engine. Returning promptly, I found that the wart-hog had come to life at the first prick of the knife. He was engaged in charging back and forth in an earnest effort to tusk Fundi, and the latter was jumping high in an equally earnest effort to keep out of the way. Fortunately he proved agile enough to do so until I planted another bullet in the aggressor.
These wart-hogs are most comical brutes from whatever angle one views them. They have a patriarchal, self-satisfied, suburban manner of complete importance. The old gentleman bosses his harem outrageously, and each and every member of the tribe walks about with short steps and a stuffy parvenu small-town self-sufficiency. One is quite certain that it is only by accident that they have long tusks and live in Africa, instead of rubber-plants and self-made business and a pug-dog within commuters' distance of New York. But at the slightest alarm this swollen and puffy importance breaks down completely. Away they scurry, their tails held stiffly and straightly perpendicular, their short legs scrabbling the small stones in a frantic effort to go faster than nature had intended them to go. Nor do they cease their flight at a reasonable distance, but keep on going over hill and dale, until they fairly vanish in the blue. I used to like starting them off this way, just for the sake of contrast, and also for the sake of the delicious but impossible vision of seeing their human prototypes do likewise.
When a wart-hog is at home, he lives down a hole. Of course it has to be a particularly large hole. He turns around and backs down it. No more peculiar sight can be imagined than the sardonically toothsome countenance of a wart-hog fading slowly in the dimness of a deep burrow, a good deal like Alice's Cheshire Cat. Firing a revolver, preferably with smoky black powder, just in front of the hole annoys the wart-hog exceedingly. Out he comes full tilt, bent on damaging some one, and it takes quick shooting to prevent his doing so.
Once, many hundreds of miles south of the Tana, and many months later, we were riding quite peaceably through the country, when we were startled by the sound of a deep and continuous roaring in a small brush patch to our left. We advanced cautiously to a prospective lion, only to discover that the roaring proceeded from the depths of a wart-hog burrow. The reverberation of our footsteps on the hollow ground had alarmed him. He was a very nervous wart-hog.
On another occasion, when returning to camp from a solitary walk, I saw two wart-hogs before they saw me. I made no attempt to conceal myself, but stood absolutely motionless. They fed slowly nearer and nearer until at last they were not over twenty yards away. When finally they made me out, their indignation and amazement and utter incredulity were very funny. In fact, they did not believe in me at all for some few snorty moments. Finally they departed, their absurd tails stiff upright.
One afternoon F. and I, hunting along one of the wide grass bottom lands, caught sight of a herd of an especially fine impalla. The animals were feeding about fifty yards the other side of a small solitary bush, and the bush grew on the sloping bank of the slight depression that represented the dry stream bottom. We could duck down into the depression, sneak along it, come up back of the little bush, and shoot from very close range. Leaving the gunbearers, we proceeded to do this.
So quietly did we move that when we rose up back of the little bush a lioness lying under it with her cub was as surprised as we were!
Indeed, I do not think she knew what we were, for instead of attacking, she leaped out the other side the bush, uttering a startled snarl. At once she whirled to come at us, but the brief respite had allowed us to recover our own scattered wits. As she turned I caught her broadside through the heart. Although this shot knocked her down, F. immediately followed it with another for safety's sake. We found that actually we had just missed stepping on her tail!
The cub we caught a glimpse of. He was about the size of a setter dog. We tried hard to find him, but failed. The lioness was an unusually large one, probably about as big as the female ever grows, measuring nine feet six inches in length, and three feet eight inches tail at the shoulder.
Billy had her funny times housekeeping. The kitchen department never quite ceased marvelling at her. Whenever she went to the cook-camp to deliver her orders she was surrounded by an attentive and respectful audience. One day, after holding forth for some time in Swahili, she found that she had been standing hobnailed on one of the boy's feet.
"Why, Mahomet!" she cried. "That must hurt you! Why didn't you tell me?"
"Memsahib," he smiled politely, "I think perhaps you move some time!"
On another occasion she was trying to tell the cook, through Mahomet as interpreter, that she wanted a tough old buffalo steak pounded, boarding-house style. This evidently puzzled all hands. They turned to in an earnest discussion of what it was all about, anyway. Billy understood Swahili well enough at that time to gather that they could not understand the Memsahib's wanting the meat "kibokoed"-flogged. Was it a religious rite, or a piece of revenge? They gave it up.
"All right," said Mahomet patiently at last. "He say he do it. Which one is it?"
Part of our supplies comprised tins of dehydrated fruit. One evening Billy decided to have a grand celebration, so she passed out a tin marked "rhubarb" and some cornstarch, together with suitable instructions for a fruit pudding. In a little while the cook returned.
"Nataka m'tund-I want fruit," said he.
Billy pointed out, severely, that he already had fruit. He went away shaking his head. Evening and the pudding came. It looked good, and we congratulated Billy on her culinary enterprise. Being hungry, we took big mouthfuls. There followed splutterings and investigations. The rhubarb can proved to be an old one containing heavy gun grease!
When finally we parted with our faithful cook we bought him a really wonderful many bladed knife as a present. On seeing it he slumped to the ground-six feet of lofty dignity-and began to weep violently, rocking back and forth in an excess of grief.
"Why, what is it?" we inquired, alarmed.
"Oh, Memsahib!" he wailed, the tears coursing down his cheeks, "I wanted a watch!"
One morning about nine o'clock we were riding along at the edge of a grass-grown savannah, with a low hill to our right and another about four hundred yards ahead. Suddenly two rhinoceroses came to their feet some fifty yards to our left out in the high grass, and stood looking uncertainly in our direction.
"Look out! Rhinos!" I warned instantly.
"Why-why!" gasped Billy in an astonished tone of voice, "they have manes!"
In some concern for her sanity I glanced in her direction. She was staring, not to her left, but straight ahead. I followed the direction of her gaze, to see three lions moving across the face of the hill.
Instantly we dropped off our horses. We wanted a shot at those lions very much indeed, but were hampered in our efforts by the two rhinoceroses, now stamping, snorting, and moving slowly in our direction. The language we muttered was racy, but we dropped to a kneeling position and opened fire on the disappearing lions. It was most distinctly a case of divided attention, one eye on those menacing rhinos, and one trying to attend to the always delicate operation of aligning sights and signalling from a rather distracted brain just when to pull the trigger. Our faithful gunbearers crouched by us, the heavy guns ready.
One rhino seemed either peaceable or stupid. He showed no inclination either to attack or to depart, but was willing to back whatever play his friend might decide on. The friend charged toward us until we began to think he meant battle, stopped, thought a moment, and then, followed by his companion, trotted slowly across our bows about eighty yards away, while we continued our long range practice at the lions over their backs.
In this we were not winning many cigars. F. had a 280-calibre rifle shooting the Ross cartridge through the much advertised grooveless oval bore. It was little accurate beyond a hundred yards. Memba Sasa had thrust the 405 into my hand, knowing it for the "lion gun," and kept just out of reach with the long-range Springfield. I had no time to argue the matter with him. The 405 has a trajectory like a rainbow at that distance, and I was guessing at it, and not making very good guesses either. B. had his Springfield and made closer practice, finally hitting a leg of one of the beasts. We saw him lift his paw and shake it, but he did not move lamely afterward, so the damage was probably confined to a simple scrape. It was a good shot anyway. Then they disappeared over the top of the hill.
We walked forward, regretting rhinos. Thirty yards ahead of me came a thunderous and roaring growl, and a magnificent old lion reared his head from a low bush. He evidently intended mischief, for I could see his tail switching. However, B. had killed only one lion and I wanted very much to give him the shot. Therefore, I held the front sight on the middle of his chest, and uttered a fervent wish to myself that B. would hurry up. In about ten seconds the muzzle of his rifle poked over my shoulder, so I resigned the job.
At B.'s shot the lion fell over, but was immediately up and trying to get at us. Then we saw that his hind quarters were paralyzed. He was a most magnificent sight as he reared his fine old head, roaring at us full mouthed so that the very air trembled. Billy had a good look at a lion in action. B. took up a commanding position on an ant hill to one side with his rifle levelled. F. and I advanced slowly side by side. At twelve feet from the wounded beast stopped, F. unlimbered the kodak, while I held the bead of the 405 between the lion's eyes, ready to press trigger at the first forward movement, however slight. Thus we took several exposures in the two cameras. Unfortunately one of the cameras fell in the river the next day. The other contained but one exposure. While not so spectacular as some of those spoiled, it shows very well the erect mane, he wicked narrowing of the eyes, the flattening of the ears of an angry lion. You must imagine, furthermore, the deep rumbling diapason of his growling.
We backed away, and B. put in the finishing shot. The first bullet, we then found, had penetrated the kidneys, thus inflicting a temporary paralysis.
When we came to skin him we found an old-fashioned lead bullet between the bones of his right forepaw. The entrance wound had so entirely healed over that hardly the trace of a scar remained. From what I know of the character of these beasts, I have no doubt that this ancient injury furnished the reason for his staying to attack us instead of departing with the other three lions over the hill.
Following the course of the river, we one afternoon came around a bend on a huge herd of mixed game that had been down to water. The river, a quite impassable barrier lay to our right, and an equally impassable precipitous ravine barred their flight ahead. They were forced to cross our front, quite close, within the hundred yards. We stopped to watch them go, a seemingly endless file of them, some very much frightened, bounding spasmodically as though stung; others more philosophical, loping easily and unconcernedly; still others to a few-even stopping for a moment to get a good view of us. The very young creatures, as always, bounced along absolutely stiff-legged, exactly like wooden animals suspended by an elastic, touching the ground and rebounding high, without a bend of the knee nor an apparent effort of the muscles. Young animals seem to have to learn how to bend their legs for the most efficient travel. The same is true of human babies as well. In this herd were, we estimated, some four or five hundred beasts.
While hunting near the foothills I came across the body of a large eagle suspended by one leg from the crotch of a limb. The bird's talon had missed its grip, probably on alighting, the tarsus had slipped through the crotch beyond the joint, the eagle had fallen forward, and had never been able to flop itself back to an upright position!