THE SECOND LIONESS.
Now our luck changed most abruptly. We had been riding since early morning over the wide plains. By and by we came to a wide, shallow, flood-water course carpeted with lava boulders and scant, scattered brush. Two of us took one side of it, and two the other. At this we were just within hailing distance. The boys wandered down the middle.
Game was here very abundant, and in this broken country proved quite approachable. I saw one Grant's gazelle head, in especial, that greatly tempted me; but we were hunting lions, and other shooting was out of place. Also the prospects for lions had brightened, for we were continually seeing hyenas in packs of from three to six. They lay among the stones, but galloped away at our approach. The game paid not the slightest attention to these huge, skulking brutes. One passed within twenty feet of a hartebeeste; the latter hardly glanced at him. As the hyena is lazy as well as cowardly, and almost never does his killing, we inferred a good meat supply to gather so many of them in one place. From a tributary ravine we flushed nineteen!
Harold Hill was riding with me on the right bank. His quick eye caught a glimpse of something beyond our companions on the left side. A glance through the glasses showed me that it was a lion, just disappearing over the hill. At once we turned our horses to cross. It was a heavy job. We were naturally in a tremendous hurry; and the footing among those boulders and rounded rocks was so vile that a very slow trot was the best we could accomplish. And that was only by standing in our stirrups, and holding up our horses' heads by main strength. We reached the sky-line in time to see a herd of game stampeding away from a depression a half-mile away. We fixed our eyes on that point, and a moment later saw the lion or lioness, as it turned out, leap a gully and come out the other side.
The footing down this slope, too, was appalling, consisting mainly of chunks of lava interspersed with smooth, rounded stones and sparse tufts of grass. In spite of the stones we managed a sort of stumbling gallop. Why we did not all go down in a heap I do not know. At any rate we had no chance to watch our quarry, for we were forced to keep our eyes strictly to our way. When finally we emerged from that tumble of rocks, she had disappeared.
Either she had galloped out over the plains, or she had doubled back to take cover in the ravine. In the latter case she would stand. Our first job, therefore, was to determine whether she had escaped over the open country. To this end we galloped our horses madly in four different directions, pushing them to the utmost, swooping here and there in wide circles. That was an exhilarating ten minutes until we had surmounted every billow of the plain, spied in all directions, and assured ourselves beyond doubt that she had not run off. The horses fairly flew, spurning the hard sod, leaping the rock dikes, skipping nimbly around the pig holes, turning like cow-ponies under pressure of knee and rein. Finally we drew up, converged, and together jogged our sweating horses back to the ravine. There we learned from the boys that nothing more had been seen of our quarry.
We dismounted, handed our mounts to their syces, and prepared to make afoot a clean sweep of the wide, shallow ravine. Here was where the dogs came in handy. We left a rearguard of two men, and slowly began our beat.
The ravine could hardly be called a ravine; rather a shallow depression with banks not over a foot high, and with a varying width of from two to two hundred feet. The grass grew very patchy, and not very high; in fact, it seemed hardly tall enough to conceal anything as large as a lioness. We men walked along the edge of this depression, while the dogs ranged back and forth in its bottom.
We had gone thus a quarter-mile when one of the rearguard came running up.
"Bwana," said he, "we have seen the lioness. She is lying in a patch of grass. After you had passed, we saw her raise her head."
It seemed impossible that she should have escaped both our eyes and the dogs' noses, but we returned. The man pointed out a thin growth of dried, yellow grass ten feet in diameter. Then it seemed even more incredible. Apparently we could look right through every foot of it. The man persisted, so we advanced in battle array. At thirty yards Captain D. saw the black tips of her ears. We all looked hard, and at last made her out, lying very flat, her head between her paws. Even then she was shadowy and unreal, and, as I have said, the cover did not look thick enough to conceal a good-sized dog.
As though she realized she had been sighted, she at this moment leapt to her feet. Instantly I put a.405 bullet into her shoulder. Any other lion I ever saw or heard of would in such circumstances and at such a distance immediately have charged home. She turned tail and ran away. I missed her as she ran, then knocked her down with a third shot. She got up again, but was immediately hit by Captain D.'s.350 Magnum and brought to a halt. The dogs, seeing her turn tail and hearing our shots, had scrambled madly after her. We dared not shoot again for fear of hitting one of them, so we dashed rapidly into the grass and out the other side. Before we could get to her, she had sent Ruby flying through the air, and had then fallen over dead. Ruby got off lucky with only a deep gash the length of her leg.
This was the only instance I experienced of a wounded lion showing the white feather. She was, however, only about three-quarters grown, and was suffering from diarrhoea.
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