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A African Hunting Adventure - Harper's

 

I had been travelling in the interior of Africa, in company with a Portuguese ivory trader, for several weeks, greatly enjoying the wild and exciting life we were compelled to lead. The exercise had steadied and braced my nerves, which before setting out were in a shattered condition from the effects of a severe and long attack of fever. Constant practice had also made me an expert shot and a successful hunter. Indeed, if one only knew how to handle a gun, and went to work with proper precaution, the amazing abundance of animal life everywhere to be met with could not fail in making him more or less of a sportsman.

In hunting the large game, such as the lion, the elephant, and the rhinoceros, there was always a spice of danger, and I had in two or three several instances found myself in positions of extreme peril, from which nothing but presence of mind or good fortune brought me safely out. But the danger incurred only lent additional charms to the pursuit; while a proud feeling of exultation would steal over the heart when, thinking that an insignificant and feeble man should be more than a match for such huge creatures in spite of their gigantic strength.

One day, in our several canoes, we were paddling up a broad river; on either bank stretched an apparently impenetrable forest, many of the trees of which approached to the very water's edge, while the ends of creepers fell into, and huge plants actually raised their heads out of, the river itself. From the branches of the trees curious-looking monkeys gazed inquisitively at us, chattering to each other as if inquiring what business we had in invading their domains; numbers of brilliantly colored birds hovered on the wing, making the air resound with their varied and peculiar notes; the gentle gazelle would timidly approach to slake his thirst at the water; the noble lion would stalk out in all his majesty for the same purpose, while ever and anon, now close to the canoes, now yards away, a loud snort would startle us, and the huge ugly head of a hippopotamus would be thrust above the surface.

Journeying thus by water is a pleasant and restful change from the everlasting tramp, tramp, through the forest, which, although enjoyable, sometimes becomes a little wearisome. This particular day of which I speak made the third we had thus progressed without any startling adventure occurring to interrupt our voyage; it was not, however, to have so peaceful a close as the other two.

When within some few miles of the spot where we intended camping for the night, as our larder was low, I told the trader I would land and procure some fresh meat for supper, and that I would meet him before long at the trysting-place. My canoe was accordingly directed to the shore. Taking with me four of the natives, to carry my spare gun and what game I might shoot, I plunged into the forest.

I did not go very far from the banks of the river, for, as the day was drawing to a close, I was in hopes of meeting with plenty of game on their way to the water; so I followed the course of the stream toward our camping-place.

The sudden plunge from the dazzling brilliancy of the sun to the solemn gloom of the forest made it almost impossible to see anything clearly until my eyes got accustomed to the peculiar light; so I was perforce obliged for a short time to grope my way cautiously along.

My four attendants followed: one, a lad, bearing my spare gun; two armed with long lances; and the fourth—whom I always called Nacko, and who was one of the best native hunters I have ever known, active, brave, and cool in the presence of danger—carrying a gun of his own, which he could use with something like skill.

Nacko always kept close to my heels, for I think he looked upon himself as my shield and guardian, and thought his protection necessary to insure my safety; otherwise I should run into danger, and come to inevitable grief. His coolness and courage had on more than one critical occasion aided me very materially.

After a quarter of an hour's trampling through grass and bush and prickly thorn, a fine deer offered himself as a target to my rifle; he was on his way to the river, when, hearing our approach, he stopped to listen, and in so doing turned his shoulder toward me. Lifting my rifle, I took quick aim, and fired. The noble beast sprang into the air, and then, falling forward on his knees, gave a few convulsive struggles, and lay perfectly still.

Leaving two of the natives to convey the carcass to the boat, I pushed on with the others, hoping to get another shot. I had not proceeded far, when Nacko expressed his opinion that there were lions in the neighborhood.

"What leads you to think so, Nacko?" I inquired.

Before he could reply there was a rustling in the foliage, and a graceful gazelle bounded into view, evidently fleeing from some pursuer. Quick as thought my gun was at my shoulder, and in an instant he was rolling over.

Then, and only then, I became aware that his pursuer was close at hand, as the roar of a lion fell upon my ear. I began quickly to reload my rifle, but before I had rammed down the bullet a large lion sprang on the body, while a lioness with her half-grown cub followed at his heels.

With his two fore-paws placed on the body of the gazelle, the lion stood erect, and turned his face in our direction. No sooner did he see us than he gave utterance to a savage roar, but seemed uncertain what to do—whether to keep possession of the slaughtered prey or attack the new. Meanwhile the lioness crouched, growling, down by the side of the dead body, while the cub licked the blood trickling from the wound.

I never stirred, but kept my eyes fixed upon the lion, telling the lad with the spare gun to be ready to hand it to me when I should require it. Nacko stood prepared for what might follow.

For a minute we stood thus. I was unwilling to lose the gazelle, but hesitated to fire at the lion, for, even should I be fortunate enough to kill him, there would be the lioness to contend with. I determined to run the risk.

Taking a steady aim, I fired. The explosion was followed by a terrific roar. The bullet had not touched a vital part; I had only succeeded in dangerously wounding him. I had now an angry and formidable foe to encounter.

Throwing down my empty rifle, I put my hand behind me to receive the other from the boy. He was a few steps from me, and before he could place it within my reach, I saw the lion making ready for the fatal spring.

"Fire, Nacko," I cried, as the animal bounded into the air.

Swift as thought the flame leaped from his barrel. I heard the thud of the bullet on the body of the lion, but it could not check the impetus of his spring, and in another moment I was hurled violently to the ground, and for a moment lay stunned by the shock.

A dead heavy weight upon my body and legs soon brought me back to consciousness. Opening my eyes, I found my face within an inch or two of the lion's.

Nacko, seeing me knocked over, had thrown his own gun to the ground and picked up the spare one, and was now approaching to give the lion his coup de grâce. The animal watched the hunter's motions, but was unwilling, or too badly wounded, to leave me and attack him.

The bold black approached within six paces of the foe, and aiming behind his ear, fired. A shuddering quiver ran through the mighty frame; I felt a sudden relief from the oppressive weight which confined me to the ground as the lion rolled over, dead.

Nacko assisted me to my feet, running his hands over my body to ascertain if any bones were broken; but with the exception of several severe bruises, and a feeling of general soreness all over my body, I was unhurt. We looked round for the lioness and her cub; they were nowhere to be seen, and must have decamped during my encounter with the lion, for which I felt not a little thankful, as I had no wish for another such encounter.