I've had many a queer voyage in my time, said Captain M——, but the
queerest I ever had was one that I made (somewhat unexpectedly, as you
will see), upon the Great Fish River, in South Africa, on my way back
from a hunting excursion.
As I neared the bank I saw that the river was in full flood, more than
twice its usual breadth, and running like a mill-race. I knew at once
that I should have a very tough job to get across, for a flooded African
river is no joke, I can tell you. But I knew also that my wife would be
terribly anxious if I didn't come back on the day I had fixed—South
Africa being a place where a good many things may happen to a man—and
so I determined to chance it.
Just at the water's edge I found an old Bushman that I knew well, who
had a boat of his own; so I hailed him at once:
"Well, Kaloomi, what will you take to put me across the river?"
"No go fifty dollar this time, baas" (master), said the old fellow, in
his half-Dutch, half-English jargon. "Boat no get 'cross to-day; water
And never a bit could I persuade him, although I offered him money
enough to make any ordinary Bushman jump head-first down a precipice.
Money was good, he said, but it would be no use to him when he was
drowned; and in short he wouldn't budge.
"Well, if you won't put me across," said I at last, "lend me your boat,
and I'll just do the job for myself; I can't very well take my horse
with me, so I'll just leave him here in pledge that I'll pay for the
boat when I come back."
"Keep horse for you, master, quite willing; but s'pose you try cross
to-day, you never come back to ask for him."
He spoke so positively that, although I'm not easily frightened, I
certainly did feel rather uncomfortable. However, when you've got to do
a thing of that sort, the less you think of it the better, so I jumped
into the boat and shoved off.
I had barely got clear of the shore when I found that the old fellow was
right, for the boat shot down the stream like an arrow. I saw in a
moment that there was no hope of paddling her across, and that all I
could do was just to keep her head straight. But I hadn't the chance of
doing even that very long, for just then a big tree came driving along,
and hitting my boat full on the quarter, smashed her like an egg-shell.
I had just time to clutch the projecting roots, and whisk myself up on
to them, and then tree and I went away down stream together, at I don't
know how many miles an hour.
At first I was so rejoiced at escaping just when all seemed over with
me, that I didn't think much of what was to come next; but before long I
got something to think about with a vengeance. The tree, as I've said,
was a large one, and the branch end (the opposite one to where I sat)
was all one mass of green leaves. All at once, just as I was shifting
myself to a safer place among the roots, the leaves suddenly shook and
parted, and out popped the great yellow head and fierce eyes of an
I don't think I ever got such a fright in my life. My gun had gone to
the bottom along with the boat, and the only weapon I had left was a
short hunting knife, which against such a beast as that would be of no
more use than a bodkin. I fairly gave myself up for lost, making sure
that in another moment he'd spring forward and tear me to bits.
But whether it was that he had already gorged himself with prey, or
whether (as I suspect) he was really frightened at finding himself in
such a scrape, he showed no disposition to attack me, so long at least
as I remained still. The instant I made any movement, however, he would
begin roaring and lashing his tail, as if he were going to fall on me at
once. So, to avoid provoking him, I was forced to remain stock-still,
although sitting so long in one position cramped me dreadfully.
There we sat, Mr. Lion and I, staring at each other with all our
might—a very picturesque group, no doubt, if there had been anybody
there to see it. Down, down the stream we went, the banks seeming to
race past us as if we were going by train, while all around broken
timber, wagon wheels, trees, bushes, and the carcasses of drowned horses
and cattle, went whirling past us upon the thick brown water.
All at once I noticed that the lion seemed to be getting strangely
restless, turning his great head from side to side in a nervous kind of
way, as if he saw or heard something that he didn't like. At first I
couldn't imagine what on earth was the matter with him, but presently I
caught a sound which scared me much worse than it had done the lion. Far
in the distance I could hear a dull, booming roar, which I had heard too
often not to recognize at once: we were nearing a water-fall!
I had seen the Great Falls of the Fish River more than once, and the
bare thought of being carried over those tremendous precipices made my
very blood run cold. Yet being devoured by a lion would hardly be much
of an improvement; and as I hadn't the ghost of a chance of being able
to swim ashore, there really seemed to be no other alternative.
Faster and faster we went; louder and louder grew the roar of the
cataract. The lion seemed to have quite given himself up for lost, and
crouched down among the leaves, only uttering a low moaning whine every
now and then. I was fairly at my wits' end what to do, when all of a
sudden I caught sight of something that gave me a gleam of hope.
A little way ahead of us the river narrowed suddenly, and a rocky
headland thrust itself out a good way into the stream. On one of the
lowest points of it grew a thick clump of trees, whose boughs overhung
the water; and it struck me that if we only passed near enough, I might
manage to catch hold of one of the branches, and swing myself up on to
No sooner said than done. I started up, hardly caring whether the lion
attacked me or not, and planted myself firmly upon one of the biggest
roots, where I could take a good spring when the time came. I knew that
this would be my last chance, for by this time we were so near the
precipice that I could see quite plainly, a little way ahead, the great
cloud of spray and vapor that hovered over the great water-fall. Even at
the best it was a desperate venture, and I can tell you that I felt my
heart beginning to thump like a sledge-hammer as we came closer and
closer to the point, and I thought of what would happen if I missed my
Just as we neared it, it happened, by the special mercy of God, that our
tree struck against something, and turned fairly crosswise to the
current, the end with the lion on it swinging out into mid-stream, while
my end was driven close to the rock on which the clump of trees grew.
Now or never! I made one spring (I don't think I ever made such another
before or since), and just clutched the lowest bough; and as I dragged
myself on to it I heard the last roar of the doomed lion mingling with
the thunder of the water-fall, as he vanished into the cloud of mist
that overhung the precipice.
As for me, it was late enough that night before I got home, and I found
my poor wife in a fine fright about me; so I thought it just as well, on
the whole, to keep my adventure to myself, and it wasn't till nearly a
year later that she heard a word about my strange fellow-voyager.