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In Peril in Africa by Maurice Kerr

 

The attempt to open up new countries, the natives of which object to the process, naturally leads to adventures, often of a very dangerous kind. Nevertheless, explorers and traders take their lives in their hands, considering the possible results well worth the risk.

So does the missionary. In place of worldly fame and wealth, his efforts are likely to bring him suffering and death; but, while facing these, he may spread the faith which is dearer to him than life; he may bring the news of the love of God, with its uplifting power, to those who, sunk in ignorance and degradation, tremble before idols; and he, too, feels that personal dangers are not worth weighing in comparison with the glorious cause in which they are dared. As Bishop Hannington said just before going out as a missionary—

"If I lose my life in Africa, no one must think it has been wasted. The lives that have been already given for the cause are not lost. They are filling up the trench so that others may the more easily pass over to take the fort in the name of the Lord!"

That is the spirit in which he went out and in turn laid down his life—helping to fill the trench to such good purpose that his own son, in after years, baptised the son of his murderer! Hannington's life in Africa was a constant succession of dangers faced, difficulties overcome, and hardships endured, all of which his intense faith, and his gift of humour, enabled him to go through cheerfully.

He was a keen sportsman, ever eager to add to his collection of rare creatures, and his letters home give vivid account of some of his adventures. On one or two occasions he had narrow escapes from death—

"This part of the country abounds with game. On one occasion a herd of antelopes crossed the path as tamely as if they had been sheep, and tracks of giraffe and larger game were frequently seen. Guinea-fowl were so plentiful that one of the white men at Mpwapwa told us that he did not trouble to fire at them unless he could ensure killing two or three at a shot.

"I had two narrow escapes in one of my walks with a gun in search of game. I came to a belt of jungle so dense that the only way to get through it was to creep on all fours along the tracks made by hyenas and smaller game; and as I was crawling along I saw close in front of me a deadly puff-adder; in another second I should have been on it.

"The same day, on my return, I espied in one of these same tracks a peculiar arrangement of grass, which I at once recognised to be over a pitfall; but though I had seen it I had already gone too far, and fell with a tremendous crash, my double-barrel gun full-cocked in my hand. I had the presence of mind to let myself go and look out only for my gun, which fortunately did not explode. On arriving at the bottom I called out to my terrified boy, 'Mikuke Hapana,' 'There are no spears,' a most merciful providence; for they often stake these pitfalls in order to ensure the death of animals that fall into them. The pitfall could not have been less than ten feet deep, for when I proceeded to extricate myself I found that I could not reach the top with my uplifted hands.

"Undaunted by my adventures, and urged on by the monotony of nothing but tough goat on the sideboard, I started before the break of next morning in pursuit of game, and was soon to be seen crawling on hands and knees after antelope, I am afraid unmindful of puff-adders and pitfalls.

"By and by the path followed the bed of a narrow stream, which was completely ploughed with the tracks of buffalo and giraffe, as fresh as fresh could be. Our impression was, and probably it was right, that the former were lurking in the dense thicket close by. The breathless excitement that such a position keeps you in does much to help along the weary miles of the march, and to ward off attacks of fever. All experienced hands out here recommend that men should, while not losing sight of their one grand object, keep themselves amused.

"Your cousin Gordon and I, with our boys, had led the van all the morning. He, having lately had fever, complained of being tired, and begged me to continue in pursuit of game alone, merely taking my one faithful boy with me to carry my gun; but I refused to leave him, for never had I complained of an ache or pain but what he was at my side to help and comfort me. We sat down and rested, and the other brethren, with a party of a dozen or fourteen, marched on ahead. They had not gone many hundred yards before I heard the whiz of a bullet. 'They have found game,' said I. Bang went a second shot. 'It's a herd.' Then another. 'Yes, it must be a herd.' Then a fourth, and it dawned on me that they were attacked by robbers—the far-famed Ruga-Ruga.

"'Stay where' you are,' I cried, and dashed off, closely followed by my boys. The bangs had now reached seven, and we had not the slightest doubt it was an attack of robbers, and so it proved to be. My anxiety was relieved by seeing our men all intact, standing together at bay with a foe that was nowhere to be beheld. I soon learnt that as they were quietly proceeding a party of the savage Wahumba tribe had swooped down upon them; but seeing white men with rifles had fled with the utmost precipitation, without even discharging a poisoned arrow. To make their flight more rapid the white men had fired their rifles in the air; and one in grabbing his gun from his boy had managed to discharge it in such a manner as to blow off the sight of his neighbour's rifle. Finding that danger was at an end for the time being, I begged them to remain as they were, ready to receive an attack, while I returned with my boys to Gordon, and got the stragglers together, after which we all proceeded in a body. I have always thought that it was I who had the greatest escape of all; for had I gone on, as Gordon proposed, with only one, or at the outside two boys, I should most probably have been attacked."

A little later the Bishop had an even narrower escape from a justly-enraged lion and lioness—

"Presently, while hunting for insects in short mimosa tangle up to the knee, I disturbed a strange-looking animal, about the size of a sheep, brownish colour, long tail, short legs, feline in aspect and movement, but quite strange to me. I took my gun and shot it dead—yes, quite dead. Away tore my boy as fast as his legs would carry him, terrified beyond measure at what I had done! What, indeed? you may well ask. I had killed the cub of a lioness! Terror was written on every line and feature of the lad, and dank beads of perspiration stood on his face. I saw it as he passed me in his flight, and his fear for the moment communicated itself to me. I turned to flee, and had gone a few paces, when I heard a savage growl, and a tremendous lioness—I say advisedly a tremendous one—bounded straight at me.

"In spite of the loaded gun in my hand, it seemed to me that I was lost. The boy knew more about lions than I did, and his fear knew no bounds. I began to realise that I was in a dangerous situation, for a lioness robbed of her whelp is not the most gentle creature to deal with. I retreated hastily. No; I will out with it, children, in plain language—I ran five or six steps; every step she gained upon me, and the growls grew fiercer and louder. Do I say she gained?—they gained, for the lion was close behind her, and both were making straight for me. They will pause at the dead cub? No; they take no notice of it; they come at me. What is to be done?

"It now struck me that retreat was altogether wrong. Like a cat with a mouse, it induced them to follow. Escape in this manner was impossible. I halted, and just at that moment came a parting yell from my boy, 'Hakuna! Kimbia!'

"I thought he had seen and heard the lion and lioness, and that, speaking as he does bad Kiswahili, he had said, 'Kakuna Kimbia!' which might be roughly, though wrongly, translated, 'Don't run away!' instead of which he meant to say—in fact, did say—'No! Run away!'

"I have no hesitation in saying that a stop wrongly read but rightly made saved my life. I had in the second or two that had elapsed determined to face it out; and now, strengthened as I thought by his advice, I made a full stop and turned sharply on them. This new policy on my part caused them to check instantly. They now stood lashing their tails and growling, and displaying unfeigned wrath, but a few paces from me.

"I then had time to inspect them. They were a right royal pair of the pale sandy variety, a species which is noted for its fierceness, the knowledge of which by no means made my situation more pleasant. There we stood; both parties evidently feeling that there was no direct solution to the matter in hand. I cannot tell you exactly what passed through their minds, but they evidently thought that it was unsafe to advance upon this strange and new being, the like of which they had never seen before. I cannot tell you either how long a time we stood face to face. Minutes seemed hours, and perhaps the minutes were only seconds; but this I know, my boy was out of hearing when the drama was concluded.

"And this is how it ended: After an interval I decided not to fire at them, but to try instead what a little noise would do. So I suddenly threw up my arms in the air, and set up a yell, and danced and shouted like a madman. Do you know, the lions were so astonished to see your sober old uncle acting in such a strange way that they both bounded into the bushes as if they had been shot, and I saw them no more!

"As the coast was now clear I thought I might as well secure my prize, a real little beauty. So I seized it by its hind legs and dragged it as quickly as I could along the ground, the bushes quite keeping it out of sight. When I had gone what I had deemed a sufficient distance I took it up and swung it over my back, and beat a hasty retreat, keeping a sharp eye open in case the parents should lay claim to the body, for I should not have been dishonest enough not to let them have it had they really come to ask for it!

"I soon found the cub was heavier than I bargained for, being about the size of a South Down sheep, so I shouted for my boy. It was a long time, however, before I could make him hear. I began to be afraid I must abandon my spoil. At length I saw him in the far distance. Fortunately for me he did not know his way back to the camp, otherwise his intention was to return to the camp, and ask the men to come and look for my remains.

"The arrival of the cub caused a tremendous sensation among the natives; dozens of men came to see it, nor would they believe until they had seen the skin that I had dared to kill a 'child of the lioness,' it being more dangerous than killing a lion itself. I do not think that I was wise in shooting; but the fact was it was done, and I was in the scrape before I knew where I was, and having got into trouble, of course the question then was how best to get out of it."

"In some of the places I passed through they had never seen a white man before. They would gather round me in dozens, and gaze upon me in the utmost astonishment. One would suggest that I was not beautiful—in plainer language, that I was amazingly ugly. Fancy a set of hideous savages regarding a white man, regarding your uncle, as a strange outlandish creature frightful to behold. You little boys that run after a black man in the park and laugh at him, think what you may come to when you grow old! The tables may be turned on you if you take to travelling, just as they were with me.

"As with other travellers, my boots hardly ever failed to attract attention.

"'Are those your feet, white man?'

"'No, gentlemen, they are not. They are my sandals.'

"'But do they grow to your feet?'

"'No, gentlemen, they do not, I will show you.'

"So forthwith I would proceed to unlace a boot. A roar of astonishment followed when they beheld my blue sock, as they generally surmised that my feet were blue and toeless. Greater astonishment still followed the withdrawal of the sock, and the revelation of a white five-toed foot. I frequently found that they considered that only the visible parts of me were white, namely, my face and hands, and that the rest of me was as black as they were. An almost endless source of amusement was the immense amount of clothing, according to their calculation, that I possessed. That I should have waistcoat and shirt and jersey underneath a coat, seemed almost incredible, and the more so when I told them that it was chiefly on account of the sun I wore so much.

"My watch, too, was an unfailing attraction: 'There's a man in it,' 'It is Lubari; it is witch-craft,' they would cry.' He talks; he says, Teek, teek, teek,' My nose they would compare to a spear; it struck them as so sharp and thin compared to the African production, and ofttimes one bolder than the rest would give my hair and my beard a sharp pull, imagining them to be wigs worn for ornament. Many of them had a potent horror for this white ghost, and a snap of the fingers or a stamp of the foot was enough to send them flying helter-skelter from my tent, which they generally crowded round in ranks five deep. For once in a way this was amusing enough; but when it came to be repeated every day and all day, one had really a little too much of a good thing."

Of the discomforts of an African march the Bishop made light, his sense of humour often enabling him to enjoy a good laugh at occurrences which would have irritated some men almost beyond endurance. Of some of the hardships, however, his letters and diary give glimpses—

"Our first experience in this region was not a pleasant one. We had sent our men on before while we dallied with our friends at Mpwapwa. When we reached the summit of the pass we could see various villages with their fires in the plains below, but nowhere was the camp to be discerned. It was a weary time before we could alight on it, and when we did, what a scene presented itself to our gaze!

"The wind was so high that the camp fires were extinguished, and the men had betaken themselves to a deep trench cut through the sandy plain by a mountain torrent, but now perfectly dry; hence our difficulty in making out where the camp was. Two of the tents were in a prostrate condition, while the others were fast getting adrift. Volumes of dust were swamping beds, blankets, boxes, buckets, and in fact everything; and a more miserable scene could scarcely be beheld by a party of benighted pilgrims. It was no use staring at it. I seized a hammer and tent pegs, forgot I was tired, and before very long had things fairly to rights; but I slept that night in a dust-heap.

"Nor did the morning mend matters, and to encourage us the Mpwapwa brethren prophesied this state of things all through Ugogo. It is bad enough in a hot climate to have dust in your hair and down your neck, and filling your boxes; but when it comes to food, and every mouthful you take grates your teeth, I leave you to imagine the pleasure of tent-life in a sandy plain.

"A day or two after this we arrived at a camp where the water was excessively bad. We had to draw it for everybody from one deep hole, and probably rats, mice, lizards, and other small animals had fallen in and been drowned, and allowed to remain and putrefy. The water smelt most dreadfully, no filtering or boiling seemed to have any effect upon it, and soup, coffee, and all food were flavoured by it.

"That afternoon I went for a stroll with my boy and two guns to endeavour to supply the table with a little better meat than tough goat. I soon struck on the dry bed of a masika (wet season) torrent. Following this up a little way I saw a fine troop of monkeys, and wanting the skin of one of them for my collection I sent a bullet flying amongst them, without, however, producing any effect beyond a tremendous scamper. My boy then said to me, 'If you want to kill monkey, master, you should try buck-shot'; so returning him my rifle I took my fowling-piece.

"Perhaps it was fortunate I did so, for about a hundred yards farther on the river bed took a sharp turn, and coming round the corner I lighted on three fine tawny lions. They were quite close to me, and had I had my rifle my first impulse might have been too strong for me to resist speeding the parting guest with a bullet. As it was, I came to a sudden halt, and they ran away. In vain my boy begged me to retreat. I seized the rifle and ran after them as fast as my legs would carry me; but they were soon hid in the dense jungle that lines the river banks; and although I could hear one growling and breathing hard about ten yards from me, I could not get a shot."

Like Moses of old, Bishop Hannington did not enter the land he had come so far to reach. The people of Uganda were alarmed and angry at his approaching their country from the north-east, which they called the back door to their land. Worn out with fever he was seized, dragged backwards over stony ground, and kept a prisoner for some days. On October 29, 1885, he was conducted to an open space outside the village and placed among his followers, having been falsely told on the previous day that King Mwanga had sent word that the party was to be allowed to proceed.

But he was soon undeceived. With a wild shout the savage warriors fell upon the Bishop's enfeebled followers, and their flashing spears speedily covered the ground with dead and dying. As the natives told off to murder him closed round, Hannington drew himself up and bade them tell the king that he was about to die for the people of Uganda, and that he had purchased the road to their country with his life. Then as they still hesitated he pointed to his own gun, which one of them fired and Hannington fell dead.

His last words to his friends—scribbled by the light of some camp-fire—were—

"If this is the last chapter of my earthly history, then the next will be the first page of the heavenly—no blots and smudges, no incoherence, but sweet converse in the presence of the Lamb!"