“It would be ill to grudge a wild animal an occasional victory.”
Although no lions had been heard during the night, I took some boys with me to look around. Two miles from camp we hit some fresh spoor and eventually found where lions had killed a wildebeest. Hardly anything remained except the hide with the bony part of the legs and skull attached. We soon found that the lions had been camping close to their kill and started on the track again as hard as possible. The spoor led through light sand where tracking was good.
After a mile or so, we caught a glimpse of the lions and set off in hopes of catching up. We saw them from time to time, ahead between the broken bush, half walking, half jogging. They seemed anxious. They crossed a bit of open country ahead at about 400 yards and there was a big male with two lionesses. I took a shot, and knocked him to the ground whereupon he gave a violent display of bad temper. I thought, “I would not like to be too close to you,” but little imagined that the same rascal would soon be on top of me.
The lion’s performance carried him behind a tree, thus preventing another shot. Soon I got a quick second shot, which only passed under his belly. At this, all three ran off, the wounded lion moving as fast as the others. I had a really bad feeling and lack of enthusiasm but knew we had to follow. We came upon a blood pool where he laid down but then went on. It was dangerous work, the boys were frightened. The spoor took us into a nasty piece of thorn bush scrub. That is when I decided we would wait until the next morning, hopefully when we would find him dead.
The next morning we soon picked up the lion tracks but it was wretched country for pursuit. Twice we had false alarms because everyone was “jumpy.” All three lions were together heading nearly to the same spot where I had shot the day before. As we continued, the bush became thicker. It was close, and hot, work. Just as I thought about giving up we came to an open patch of deserted farmland and I decided to start a fire and hope the lions would run out. Alas, the lions left the area ahead of us, but only two of them. Just as I was about to suggest the boys missed the tracks of the wounded one, there came a noise like the squealing of a wounded cat, angry and in a bad mood. The boys rushed off and left me alone.
Thinking the wounded lion was following the lionesses, I headed to the right of the track and waited, expecting the lion to show up at any moment. Minutes passed. He did not come. My tension slackened and I looked for my boys. There they were, 12 of them, perched up in four trees like a flock of great blackbirds. The fire was still burning spasmodically. I was tired and wondered what should be my next move. I was also anxious, knowing there was a risk of a savage charge at any moment. I did not feel game but wanted to finish the hunt and not quit. Besides, the lion must have been hard hit because the lionesses had moved on. I did not want to shrink from my fate.
Hardly was my mind made up when I heard the lion again. Plainly he was lessening the distance between us and I imagined him breathing as though in distress. It was impossible to see him, but at any rate, I could now roughly locate the direction in which he was lying. Another longish wait followed and there was no more sound. Expecting any minute to catch a glimpse, I began very carefully and slowly moving to where I had heard him, stopping frequently to listen. I advanced at 10 to 12 yard intervals, expecting at any second to see the lion and feeling that if I could just get time to raise the rifle and cover him, it would settle the matter at once.
I had just worked up to a straggly thorn bush and was crouching behind it when I saw, in a flash, the lion. The lion was moving toward me. Poor planning. I had gotten myself into a bad place: I could make out the lion but the thorn bush was too high to see over, and no one would dare to shoot through it. I could neither run away nor remain where I was: I had to step clear of the bush toward the charging beast. He was then close – perhaps within 20 yards. There was no time to kneel and get a sight on the broad chest. I simply had to throw up the rifle and in shotgun like style and shoot straight into him.
Where I hit, or whether I missed (which was possible because I expect my rifle went off more from fright than anything else), I do not know. I realized only that I had fired, that he was still moving, and nearly upon me. The certainty that he had not been stopped brought a nasty tightening up sort of feeling, the most unpleasant part of this affair so far. I tore back the rifle bolt, threw out the empty shell and tried to jump back behind the bush out of the lion’s way. He had charged in absolute silence, coming very fast, not in great bounds but with a sort of run along the ground.
Then he came round the bush like a flash, knocking me down and throwing me several yards behind the bush. I do not understand how he knocked me over, for I was not clawed in any way. (I heard afterwards that I had broken one of his forelegs.) I only knew that when he reached me I was off balance. A man retreating can be knocked over with a light blow, but it is a different matter to receive a punch when advancing toward it.
After knocking me down, the lion rushed in on my right side, and instinctively I tried to ward him off by shoving my rifle, which I still had hold of, up against him. He bit savagely through this several times, even cracking the thin part of the stock. Then he seized me and bit through the wrist, breaking it and splintering some of the small bones. The bites hurt terribly, like a nail continually being drive through one’s hand. The lion bit quickly and with silent ferocity. Then came several small bites above the wrist and a big bite cracking the bone of the forearm below the elbow. He made his way through muscles and up to my shoulder.
As weakness made me lower my rifle, the lion bit me twice on the chest. The bites, though (I later learned) were not very bad, but they hurt badly and the sight of his big hairy head so near that we almost rubbed noses was unlovely and offensive. Suddenly, after biting me on the chest, he whipped round and cleared out of sight, back into the bushes. I should like to describe him as staggering off to die, but as a matter of truth, he made off fairly briskly. Why he left me in this abrupt and unexpected way, I do not know. And I had no grudge against this adversary. He reserved his strength for a final grim charge, and having overthrown his attacker, he retired still undefeated. My old helmet and four Mannlicher cartridges remained on the battlefield as tokens if his victory. Those who hunt dangerous game must be equal to either fortune.
I had read in one of the books by Selous that lion bites may not be felt at the time. I can only say my own experience was vastly different. My first impression when the lion left was that I was still alive and perhaps not so badly hurt. My next thought was for my rifle. The bolt being open when the lion seized me, the spare cartridges had sprung out of the magazine and there was blood and dust inside. Hurriedly, with my left hand, I picked a cartridge out of my top shirt pocket and shoved it in the rifle, only to find I was unable to drive the bolt home through the pain of my broken wrist and lack of strength. It then dawned on me that with a wounded angry lion still somewhere near, and an unloaded rifle, the sooner I got away the better. So, carrying my rifle in my left hand, I walked to the trees where the boys had been perched, but the birds had all flown. I could hear them in the distance. It was on seeing the lion catch me that they had got down and cleared out.
I must have been a bit rattled because instead of moving to join the boys, I stopped under a tree and tried again to get a cartridge into the rifle and rubbed my wrist against the rough bark of one of the trees in hopes of stopping the pain. Soon the boys returned trying to induce me to leave the area of danger. However, I pigheadedly insisted on reloading the rifle but they were nervous and fumbled. Finally, one boy managed to shove the bolt in. Then I felt cold and sick and could walk no more than a few hundred yards. The boys wanted to leave but there was no more walking for me so I told them to send some of the boys to get my riding mule.
No one wanted to go, and they spent much time arguing. Finally it was decided who would go, but I knew the ones who volunteered had no intention of going. All this jabber made me so mad that I got up, pulled myself together as best I could, and managed to make it back to camp. The boys were scared that if I died en route, they would be blamed for the white man’s death…not to mention the various superstitions for their own future. On the way back we passed a small “naharnie” fruit tree and the men, forgetting their temporary troubles, ran to gather handfuls of the fruit.
When we reached camp I washed the wounds with carbolic soap (to which I owe my freedom from blood poisoning) and bound up my hand and arm with calico. This was only our spike camp. It was a further four days to my main camp. So the boys carried me on a stretcher made of saplings and eventually I pulled through the worst part. We regularly washed the same bandages and cleaned the wounds. So, in spite of the lack of medicines and violation of laws of hygiene and routine of hospitals, the wounds healed. We could hear lions during the nights, but at this point, it was just as well that none of them paid a visit to my camp. Ironically, not long thereafter, another particularly bold lion made off with, first, some goats from my head man’s camp, and later with some of the camp boys. This particularly bold lion, however, was soon shot by a visiting Dutch hunter.–selected and edited by Ellen Enzler Herring of Trophy Room Books