THE FIRST LIONESS.
At an early hour we loaded our bedding, food, tents, and camp outfit on a two-wheeled wagon drawn by four of the humpbacked native oxen, and sent it away across the plains, with instructions to make camp on a certain kopje. Clifford Hill and myself, accompanied by our gunbearers and syces, then rode leisurely down the length of a shallow brushy caņon for a mile or so. There we dismounted and sat down to await the arrival of the others. These--including Harold Hill, Captain D., five or six Wakamba spearmen, our own carriers, and the dogs--came along more slowly, beating the bottoms on the off chance of game.
The sun was just warming, and the bees and insects were filling the air with their sleepy droning sounds. The hillside opposite showed many little outcrops of rocks so like the hills of our own Western States that it was somewhat difficult to realize that we were in Africa. For some reason the delay was long. Then suddenly all four of us simultaneously saw the same thing. A quarter-mile away and on the hillside opposite a magnificent lioness came loping easily along through the grass. She looked very small at that distance, like a toy, and quite unhurried. Indeed, every few moments she paused to look back in an annoyed fashion over her shoulder in the direction of the row behind her.
There was nothing to do but sit tight and wait. The lioness was headed exactly to cross our front; nor, except at one point, was she at all likely to deviate. A shallow tributary ravine ran into our own about two hundred yards away. She might possibly sneak down the bed of this. It seemed unlikely. The going was bad, and in addition she had no idea as yet that she had been sighted. Indeed, the chances were that she would come to a definite stop before making the crossing, in which case we would get a shot.
"And if she does go down the donga," whispered Hill, "the dogs will locate her."
Sitting still while things approach is always exciting. This is true of ducks; but when you multiply ducks by lions it is still more true. We all crouched very low in the grass. She leapt without hesitation into the ravine--and did not emerge.
This was a disappointment. We concluded she must have entered the stream bottom, and were just about to move when Memba Sasa snapped his fingers. His sharp eyes had discovered her sneaking along, belly to the ground, like the cat she was. The explanation of this change in her gait was simple. Our companions had rounded the corner of the hill and were galloping in plain view a half-mile away. The lioness had caught sight of them.
She was gliding by, dimly visible, through thick brush seventy yards distant. Now I could make out a tawny patch that faded while I looked; now I could merely guess at a melting shadow.
"Stir her up," whispered Hill. "Never mind whether you hit. She'll sneak away."
At the shot she leaped fully out into the open with a snarl. Promptly I planted a Springfield bullet in her ribs. She answered slightly to the hit, but did not shift position. Her head up, her tail thrashing from side to side, her ears laid back, she stood there looking the landscape over carefully point by point. She was searching for us, but as yet could not locate us. It was really magnificent.
I attempted to throw in another cartridge, but because of my desire to work the bolt quietly, in order not to attract the lioness's attention, I did not pull it back far enough, and the cartridge jammed in the magazine. As evidence of Memba Sasa's coolness and efficiency, it is to be written that he became aware of this as soon as I did. He thrust the.405 across my right side, at the same time withdrawing the Springfield on the left. The motion was slight, but the lioness caught it. Immediately she dropped her head and charged.
For the next few moments, naturally, I was pretty intent on lions. Nevertheless a corner of my mind was aware of Memba Sasa methodically picking away at the jammed rifle, and paying no attention whatever to the beast. Also I heard Hill making picturesque remarks about his gunbearer, who had bolted with his second gun.
The lioness charged very fast, but very straight, about in the tearing, scrambling manner of a terrier after a thrown ball. I got in the first shot as she came, the bullet ranging back from the shoulder, and Hill followed it immediately with another from his.404 Jeffrey. She growled at the bullets, and checked very slightly as they hit, but gave no other sign. Then our second shots hit her both together. The mere shock stopped her short, but recovering instantly, she sprang forward again. Hill's third shot came next, and perceptibly slowed and staggered, but did not stop her. By this time she was quite close, and my own third shot reached her brain. She rolled over dead.
Decidedly she was a game beast, and stood more hammering than any other lion I killed or saw killed. Before the final shot in the brain she had taken one light bullet and five heavy ones with hardly a wince. Memba Sasa uttered a loud grunt of satisfaction when she went down for good. He had the Springfield reloaded and cocked, right at my elbow.
Hill's gunboy hovered uncertainly some distance in the rear. The sight of the charging lioness had been too much for him and he had bolted. He was not actually up a tree; but he stood very near one. He lost the gun and acquired a swift kick.
Our friends and the men now came up. The dogs made a great row over the dead lioness. She was measured and skinned to accompaniment of the usual low-hummed chantings. We had with us a small boy of ten or twelve years whose job it was to take care of the dogs and to remove ticks. In fact he was known as the Tick Toto. As this was his first expedition afield, his father took especial pains to smear him with fat from the lioness. This was to make him brave. I am bound to confess the effect was not immediate.
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