THE FIFTEEN LIONS.
Two days before Captain D. and I were to return to Juja we approached, about eleven o'clock in the morning, a long, low, rugged range of hills called Lucania. They were not very high, but bold with cliffs, buttes, and broken rocky stretches. Here we were to make our final hunt.
We led our safari up to the level of a boulder flat between two deep caņons that ran down from the hills. Here should be water, so we gathered under a lone little tree, and set about directing the simple disposition of our camp. Herbert Spencer brought us a cold lunch, and we sat down to rest and refreshment before tackling the range.
Hardly had we taken the first mouthfuls, however, when Memba Sasa, gasping for breath, came tearing up the slope from the caņon where he had descended for a drink. "Lions!" he cried, guardedly. "I went to drink, and I saw four lions. Two were lying under the shade, but two others were playing like puppies, one on its back."
While he was speaking a lioness wandered out from the caņon and up the opposite slope. She was somewhere between six and nine hundred yards away, and looked very tiny; but the binoculars brought us up to her with a jump. Through them she proved to be a good one. She was not at all hurried, but paused from time to time to yawn and look about her. After a short interval, another, also a lioness, followed in her footsteps. She too had climbed clear when a third, probably a full-grown but still immature lion, came out, and after him the fourth.
"You were right," we told Memba Sasa, "there are your four."
But while we watched, a fifth, again at the spaced interval, this time a maned lion, clambered leisurely up in the wake of his family; and after him another, and another, and yet another! We gasped, and sat down, the better to steady our glasses with our knees. There seemed no end to lions. They came out of that apparently inexhaustible caņon bed one at a time and at the same regular intervals; perhaps twenty yards or so apart. It was almost as though they were being released singly. Finally we had fifteen in sight.
It was a most magnificent spectacle, and we could enjoy it unhurried by the feeling that we were losing opportunities. At that range it would be silly to open fire. If we had descended to the caņon in order to follow them out the other side, they would merely have trotted away. Our only chance was to wait until they had disappeared from sight, and then to attempt a wide circle in order to catch them from the flank. In the meantime we had merely to sit still.
Therefore we stared through our glasses, and enjoyed to the full this most unusual sight. There were four cubs about as big as setter dogs, four full-grown but immature youngsters, four lionesses, and three male lions. They kept their spaced, single file formation for two-thirds the ascent of the hill--probably the nature of the ground forced them to it--and then gradually drew together. Near the top, but still below the summit, they entered a jumble of boulders and stopped. We could make out several of them lying down. One fine old yellow fellow stretched himself comfortably atop a flat rock, in the position of a bronze lion on a pedestal. We waited twenty minutes to make sure they were not going to move. Then, leaving all our men except the gunbearers under the tree, we slipped back until out of sight, and began to execute our flank movement. The chances seemed good. The jumble of boulders was surrounded by open country, and it was improbable the lions could leave it without being seen. We had arranged with our men a system of signals.
For two hours we walked very hard in order to circle out of sight, down wind, and to gain the other side of the ridge back of the lions. We purposed slipping over the ridge and attacking from above. Even this was but a slight advantage. The job was a stiff one, for we might expect certainly the majority to charge.
Therefore, when we finally deployed in skirmish order and bore down on that patch of brush and boulders, we were braced for the shock of battle. We found nothing. Our men, however, signalled that the lions had not left cover. After a little search, however, we discovered a very shallow depression running slantwise up the hill and back of the cover. So slight it was that even the glasses had failed to show it from below. The lions had in all probability known about us from the start, and were all the time engaged in withdrawing after their leisurely fashion.
Of course we hunted for them; in fact, we spent two days at it; but we never found trace of them again. The country was too hard for tracking. They had left Lucania. Probably by the time we had completed our two hours of flanking movement they were five miles away. The presence of cubs would account for this. In ordinary circumstances we should have had a wonderful and exciting fight. But the sight of those fifteen great beasts was one I shall never forget.
After we had hunted Lucania thoroughly we parted company with the Hills, and returned to Juja Farm.
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