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Authors: Willard Price

09 Lion Adventure

BOOK: 09 Lion Adventure
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Lion adventure

By Willard Price

 

Note

The characters in this story are fictional with the exception of Michael Grzimek, Dr Louis Leaky, and Joy Adamson. The descriptions of the habits of animals and customs of the people are factual. The Emperor Haile Selassie, mentioned on page 90, was deposed in 1974. He died in 1975.

Chapter 1
Man-eater wanted

It seemed a wild thing to do - lie out in lion country waiting to be attacked by a man-eater.

But Hal was not wild. He was a steady nineteen-year-old, six feet tall, with the strength and brains of a man. He had thought it over carefully. This had seemed the best way to go at it.

His brother, thirteen-year-old Roger, agreed - not because he was a heavy thinker - he wasn’t - but it sounded like an exciting adventure.

So now they lay on the ground within a circle of piled-up thorn bushes. In Africa they call it a boma. It is supposed to protect you against wild beasts. Roger didn’t feel very well protected.

‘It’s only five feet high,’ he whispered. 4A lion could easily jump over it.’

‘But he won’t,’ replied Hal. ‘Not unless he’s a real man-eater. Most lions leave you alone, provided you leave them alone.’

“Then why have a boma at all? Why not just sit out in the open?’

‘You’d be inviting trouble if you did that. Suppose a lion or leopard or rhino or elephant or most any animal stumbled on you in the dark. He’d be surprised. He’d probably take a swipe at you in self-defence. One swipe would be enough. But all animals hate thorns. If they touch this boma they’ll veer off. At least, I hope they will.’

‘Except a man-eater.’

‘Yes, except a man-eater. We’ve got the welcome mat out for him. If he gets our scent he’s pretty sure to pay us a visit.’

‘And you’d like that.’ Roger said with a sort of shiver in his voice.

‘Sure rd like that. That’s what we’re here for. What’s the matter, kid? Scared?’

‘Not on your Hie,’ protested Roger. ‘Just cold.’

Hal and Roger had come to Africa, not to kill animals but to take them alive. They had been trained by their father, John Hunt, famous animal collector, in the difficult art of capturing living animals and shipping them to zoos and circuses. But tonight their job was not to save animals but to get rid of them.

It had been a strange day. It began with five murders. Five men repairing tracks on the Nairobi-Mombasa railway near the village of Tsavo were killed and eaten by lions.

The lions of the Tsavo region had always had a bad reputation. Years ago when the railway was first being laid, newspapers the world over told the grim story of ‘the man-eaters of Tsavo’ who were killing and devouring railway workers by the score. Now these lions or their descendants were at it again.

The boys, already well known for their success in taking animals, were asked to help find the killers. This was no easy job. How were they to know which lions were man-eaters and which were innocent? The innocent must be saved, for they are one of the great sights of Africa. Visitors come from all over the world to see the African lions. Africa is their last home. Long ago there were lions in many lands - Europe, Arabia, Palestine, India … As men multiplied, lions were killed off, and now Africa is the last stand of the ‘King of Beasts’. It would be a pity to let this most majestic of animals become extinct.

But how save the good lions and yet get rid of the bad actors? You could not simply go out with a gun and kill all lions. You must have a way of discovering which were man-eaters and which were not.

Hal had found a way. He would offer the lions two kinds of bait: one was animal, the other human. The animal was a dead goat and it lay in the clearing ten yards in front of the boma. The human bait was the boys themselves.

An approaching lion could smell both the goat and the boys. If it preferred to eat the goat it was not a man-eater. But if it turned up its nose at the goat and attacked the boma it was a man-eater.

Roger didn’t like the idea of being set out as dinner for a lion.

‘Besides, it won’t work,’ he said. ‘Suppose the lion eats the goat. That doesn’t prove he isn’t a man-eater.’

‘Yes it does,’ insisted Hal. ‘A real man-eater won’t touch an animal so long as it has a chance to eat human flesh.’

‘Why? Are we so delicious?’

‘The lion thinks so. Once he has dined on a human he’s not satisfied with animal meat. Scientists say the reason is that human flesh is salty. And tender. A man’s muscles are soft compared with those of an antelope that has to keep jumping all day every day to make a living. And Man’s hide is not tough. And there is no fur or feathers or sharp quills to get stuck in His Majesty’s jaws. Anyhow, there’s no danger. We have our thirty safari men to protect us.’

It hadn’t quite worked out that way. When Tanga, the station master who had reported the death of five workers, took the boys to the Tsavo district officer, that black giant said sourly:

‘No. No thirty men. Just you two.’

‘But how can we do the job alone?’

That’s your problem. No men.’

‘Would you give us a reason?’

The officer glared. ‘Why should I give you a reason? I was a chief, and my father and grandfather were chiefs. My people called me King Ku. I am still King Ku. A king gives no reasons.’

‘You are not a king,’ Hal reminded him. ‘You are a district officer responsible to the people of Kenya.’

King Ku leaped to his feet. ‘Pig! I should have you flogged. You whites should remember that Kenya is a black man’s country now. We owe no reasons to whites.’ He waved his fly-whisk, symbol of a chief’s authority. ‘Ail right, X’U give you a reason. Your crew would kill many lions, bad ones and good ones. We can’t have that. So you must act alone.’

Hal said no more. Later he said to Roger, ‘I wonder what his real reason is. Why is he so down on whites? Almost seems as if he wants to get us killed.’

Chapter 2
The innocents

There was a scraping sound in the bushes.

‘Listen. Perhaps that’s His Nibs.’

Hal took up his Lee Enfield -303. It was a good gun for a lion hunt. It had a ten-cartridge magazine. And there was another cartridge in the chamber. Eleven shots. It just could take that many to kill a lion.

Hal had not allowed his brother to bring a gun. The kid might not know how to handle it. Besides, someone had to hold the electric torch and throw its spotlight on the lion. That was Roger’s job.

But Roger was not entirely unarmed. Beside him lay a ten-foot spear. One of his men had urged him to take it along. The man was a Masai, and the Masai are famous for their skill in killing a lion with nothing but a spear. Roger’s Masai friend had taught him how to use it.

Hal thought it was all nonsense. A Masai warrior might kill with a spear. But it was foolish for his kid brother to think he could do anything with it. Oh well, it would do no harm to let him bring it along.

Roger had also brought a thunderflash. It could be thrown at a beast and would explode in his face and was supposed to scare him out of his wits.

‘Light up,’ whispered Hal.

Roger turned on his torch. A dozen animals were tugging at the goat. What a disappointment - they were not lions but those homely humpbacks, the hyenas.

They paid no attention to the light but kept tugging at the carcass. They began to drag it off towards the bushes. If they got away with that, it would spoil the whole plan.

Take a crack at them,’ Roger urged. ‘Scare them away.’

‘And scare off the lions too? No - we’ve got to keep quiet.’

‘But we can’t let them spoil everything. How about stones?’

‘Okay, if we can find some.’ He explored the ground with his hand. ‘Here’s one.’

Hal stood up and hurled the stone. It smacked a hyena on the jowl and brought forth an unearthly scream.

But it did not scare off the hyenas. Instead, they raised their heads from their dinner and started sniffing about for their enemy. Then they came snarling and sneaking through the grass towards the boma.

The hyena is said to be a coward. Those who say it do not know the beast. True, a lone hyena will not attack a man unless the man is asleep. Then the beast will not hesitate to slip under the tent flaps and bite off a foot or : a face. Many a hunter has been disfigured for life by a single hyena. But a man awake and alert will not be touched, if the hyena is alone.

If the hyena is one of a pack it is quite a different matter. Knowing that his companions will help him, he becomes bold and savage. So now the boys were completely surrounded by big-jawed bone-crushers seeking a hole large enough to admit their slinking bodies.

Roger kept circling the light along the inside of the thorn wall, watching for the first nose to come through. When it did, Hal whacked it with the butt of his gun and the nose withdrew, leaving nothing but a hole and a howl.

But another nose pushed through, enlarging the hole. Another whack. A growl on the other side signalled the breaking through of another hole. Then another.

It was impossible to look in all directions at once and punish every impertinent nose. In a few minutes the pack would be inside the boma.

The boys were saved by the very sort of animal they had come to hunt. A deep roar made Roger turn his light outside the boma. There was a huge lion, who had heard the hyenas scream, and had come to investigate. The hyenas had a sudden change of mind. They left the boma and ran yelping into the underbrush.

The lion approached the boma. Hal levelled his gun. ‘Keep the light on him,’ he said. This was a poor bargain’ Hal thought. They had traded a pack of hyenas for something more dangerous.

The light danced on the lion’s face - Roger’s torch hand was wobbling.

‘Keep that thing steady,’ said Hal.

‘Pot him,’ Roger urged.

But Hal did not fire.

The lion stopped, staring into the light. It was not afraid, only fascinated. Lions are like humans - all different. Some fear light, some do not. Lions have been known not only to approach a campfire, but to lie down in the hot ashes to get warm.

The eyes of the beast, twice as large as man’s, shone like golden lanterns. It is the presence of a mirror in a cat’s eye that accounts for the glow whenever a strong light is played upon the eyes at night. Roger found something terrifying in those blazing eyes.

‘Shoot, you dope. What’s stopping you?’

Hal still waited, finger on trigger.

The big beast was sniffing. A breeze carried the boys’ scent straight up those wide nostrils. The lion stood still, within five feet, an absolutely perfect shot.

Hal was tempted to pull the trigger. This animal might or might not be a man-eater, but he was too close for comfort. Why take a chance? It was better to slaughter the wrong animal than to take the risk of being slaughtered.

But still he waited, and the light danced. The lion put up his head as if he smelled something that did not please him. He turned slowly and went back to the dead goat. He began to feed.

Hal put down his gun and relaxed. He felt as if he had been bound hand and foot and his blood had stopped circulating. He put his arm around his younger brother.

The boy was trembling, but refused to admit that he had been scared. “Sure is cold, isn’t it?’ said Roger. ‘Sure is.’

Anyhow it was true. The night air of mile-high East

Africa becomes surprisingly chilly no matter how hot the day.

The lion raised his great bushy head and looked off into the brush. Then he made a most peculiar sound. It was not a roar. It was a soft, penetrating um-um-um-um. ‘Calling his mate,’ Hal whispered. Hal knew lion talk pretty well. He was already a trained naturalist. He had dealt with animals all his nineteen years on his father’s animal farm and in the world. He knew that lions make a greater variety of sounds than almost any other animal, and every sound means something.

A deep muffled ugh-ugh-ugh means that the lion is looking for food. A charging lion is apt to give off a series of deep coughing grunts. A lion usually does not roar before he has eaten - that would scare away all the game. After his dinner he roars - and what a roar it is! It can be heard for many miles. It reaches much farther than even the scream of an elephant. It means something like, ‘I have come and killed and eaten - I am a great fellow.’

Two lions walking along together will indulge in almost constant conversation. It consists of sighs, low grunts, wheezing noises, snoring sounds, moans, deep rumblings like those that come from the low notes of an organ.

When a lioness is talking to her cubs she sounds very much tike a human mother, using soft, gentle, comforting baby talk. The cubs reply with plaintive little miaows that sound almost exactly like those of a house cat.

But this lion’s mate replied with none of these sounds. She answered him with a low whistle. It sounded quite like the note of a sleepy bird. Who would imagine that a lion could whistle? The sound could deceive a human and would not alarm game.

A big tawny lioness came padding out of the bushes in the light of Roger’s torch. The lion stepped aside to let her share his dinner. A lion is not like a hyena. The hyena never wants to share anything with anybody, even his wife. The lion is a family man. He eats first - but he doesn’t forget his mate and his cubs.

BOOK: 09 Lion Adventure
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