Andrew Lang.

The red book of animal stories online

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water-lilies, and had to be drawn in by their stems. One
of the sailors was reaching out as far as he could stretch
after a particularly fine young leaf, when a crocodile
darted out and seized him by the elbow. The pain was
frightful, and the man would at once have fallen help-
lessly into the river had not his comrades instantly flung
their arms round his waist and held him back. Then
began a fearful tug-of-war. Neither party would let go,
till at last the elbow jpint itself gave way. The crocodile
went off triumphantly with the hand and forearm, and the
sailor was carried off to be doctored in the camp.

This was bad enough, but sometimes worse happened.
It was no uncommon thing, if one person was out alone
on any errand that took him near the river, for nothing
more ever to be heard of him. If a woman was washing
at the bank in the shallow water, her legs might be seized,
and she would be dragged underneath before anyone in
the boat moored close by knew what had occurred. This
once actually happened to a negro girl ; and how she had
met her end was afterwards pi'oved in a ghastly manner.

Life was made such a terror by the constant and
often unseen presence of these crocodiles, that Baker lost
no opportunity of killing all he could with a small rifle,
called ' the Dutchman,' kept solely for this purpose. It
was so very accurate in its aim, that at a hundred
yards it was possible to hit a crocodile which was
lying on a sandbank in the two places where death was
immediate, behind the eye, or through the shoulder ; often
the creature never even stirred, but lay dead in its place.

Baker had one day been out on some business, and


was riding back to his own quarters further up the
river, when he saw a large crocodile lying out in the
stream, with its head above water. In order not to be
observed before he could get near enough to aim, Baker
dismounted, and crept softly away from the bank, which
he then struck a little lower down, where a clump of
rushes would conceal him from view. Almost crawling
along the ground, he reached the spot, about four feet
above the river, and took careful aim behind the croco-
dile's eye. The animal gave a start, and turned over on
its back, where it lay without moving, with its legs above
the water, which there was only two feet deep. Baker,
of course, thought it was dead, and taking the rope which
he always carried on his horse, told two of his men to go
into the water and tie it up securely. While this was
being done, a third man was sent off on horseback to the
camp to bring back help, for long experience had taught
them that, though a crocodile may really be shot through
the brain, the muscular movements, both of legs and tail,
will gradually cause it to slide from the bank back into
deep water.

The men did as they were bid without shrinking, for
they, too, had seen the fatal shot, when suddenly the
scaly tail began to move. Trembling with fear, they
cried out that the animal was still alive ; but Baker told
them it was all nonsense, and bade them be quick and
finish what they were at. The men being on the spot,
however, knew much better than their master on the
bank, and the crocodile's struggles soon got so strong
that they could hardly hold it. All at once it gave a great
yawn, and, had it not been for dread of punishment,
they would have dropped the rope in a fright and left
the animal to its fate. Another bullet in the shoulder
checked its struggles, and by this time the men gal-
loped back with more ropes. Even now its strength
was by no means exhausted, and it did not submit
easily to its fate ; but at last it was safely landed on



the bank, and a sharp blow with an axe divided its

When the crocodile was found to be dead without
a doubt, its stomach was opened. Among other things,
too horrid to mention, there were found, inside, two arm-
lets and a necklace that had probably belonged to the


negro girl who had disappeared so completely while
washing in the river.

Further south still, beyond the great lakes, is the
Eiver Zambesi, whose branches swarm with alligators,
a kind of crocodile, and quite as dangerous.

Fifty years ago, when Livingstone was travelling up
one of these rivers, the Leeambye, which falls into the


Zambesi, he came to a whole district where the children
were constantly being snapped up by these frightful
creatures, when they went to play on the edge of the
stream. A blow from the tail of an alligator would
knock down a child or a calf that had come to drink, and
then the great flat head would be thrust out of the water,
and the victim was pulled in without any chance of
escape. One day, a man in Livingstone's caravan was
swimming across one of these rivers, when an alligator
caught hold of his thigh, and dragged him below, but
not before he had managed to get out a knife he
carried with him ; and as he sank he stabbed the alli-
gator in the shoulder. Smarting with the pain, the alli-
gator loosened his hold, and the man came up to the
surface, not very much the worse, but with marks on
his thigh that he never got rid of. Luckily for him,
his tribe had no superstitions about bitten people ; but
in some of the other places visited by Livingstone,
any man who has received a bite from an alligator, or
has been splashed by his tail, is considered unclean,
and chased out from his fellows. They think that
merely to look at the wound would cause a disease of
the eyes. If the bite happens to be caused by a zebra, the
sufferer is not only obliged to fly himself, but to take his
wife and family into the desert. The Barotse tribe have
no objection to eating alligators, which most people
would find very ' strong ' meat ; and Livingstone tells
that one of them complained to him of an alligator
carrying below a wounded antelope which had taken
to the water. ' I called to it to let my meat alone,' said
Mashuana, ' but it would not listen.' So, in revenge,
Mashuana speared another alligator, and ate it himself.



IN the country of the Shoolis. which is one of the districts
drained by the rivers that flow into the Nile, hunting is
carried on under very strict rules. In most savage places
men go and kill what beasts they like when they are
hungry, but among the Shoolis this was not allowed, and
everything was arranged by a grand council of the
villagers, presided over by the chief.

Sometimes, when all was settled, the chief would give
a party before the hunt, and as many as a thousand
guests would arrive from the villages round, clad in their
smartest ostrich feathers and best leopard-skin cloaks.
Then they w r ould dine off freshly killed oxen, and after-
wards a sorcerer would work them spells, first to preserve
them from accidents, and then to bring them plenty of

So, when Baker's people began to want fresh meat, he
arranged with the chiefs of the tribe for a hunt, and this
was how they set about it.

On the day appointed some thousands of people men,
women, and even babies assembled at the place of meet-
ing, each man carrying a net twelve yards long and eleven
feet high, the boys bearing lances, suited to their sizes.

They marched several miles, and as they went along
other natives would silently join in, till the company
reached a wide treeless grass country, broken up by
many streams. Here the nets were set up in a line about


a mile and a half across, and every man went to his
station on each side of the net, hidden by the long grass,
tied together at the top. By the rules of the chase all
the beasts killed before each twelve yards of net belonged
to the owner of the netting, who had to pay the tribute of
a hind leg from every animal to the man on whose
ground the hunt happened to be.

When all was ready a whistle, taken up and repeated
for two miles down the line, gave the signal. The men
touched with their fire sticks the dry grass, and soon
little columns of smoke were seen rising into the air.
Not a native was in sight, and Baker, who was stand-
ing beside a tall ant-hill, concealed himself as well as he

A fresh breeze was blowing, and the fire spread
rapidly with a loud roar, and the Englishmen began to
look to their guns. A huge rhinoceros made its appearance
first, but turned off to the right, and no more was seen of
him. After that the rush became thick and fast : leopards,
antelopes, hartebeests, dashed wildly along, followed
closely by a lion and lioness, far too frightened them-
selves to think of attacking the antelopes, who, on their
part, gave no heed to them. Baker aimed at the head of
the lion, but before he could shoot a woolly black head
bobbed up between him and his prey. He had forgotten
the natives lying in the grass near the nets, and the lion
swept by and bounded over the stream, and no more was
heard of him !

Bad though the fire was for the animals, things were
not much better for the Englishmen, who were nearly
blinded by the smoke, and fired wildly in the hopes
of killing something. At length the flames reached the
shore and at once died down, and when the smoke had
a little blown away they all came out from their hiding
places to count the spoil. Antelopes had suffered the
most, and enough of them had been killed to supply
the people for many days. Buffaloes had been seen,


but they had headed in another direction and escaped ;
while, as for a rhinoceros, the net had yet to be made that
would stand up before his great carcass. Some days
later, when Baker's share of the hunt had all been eaten
by his men, he got leave to go with a few natives and
shoot what was necessary to supply his camp. But the
animals were still so wild after the fire that it was im-
possible to get near enough for a shot, and at last the
owners of the land proposed that they .should fire the
grass to windward, as before.

This time Baker took care to choose a position with
some swampy ground in front, so that when the fire
reached him it would be stopped, and he would no longer
have the smoke blown into his eyes.

Again, antelopes were more numerous than anything
else, but none of them came within reach of Baker's own
gun. After waiting a little, however, he saw a fine
specimen moving quietly towards him down a bank into
a dip, and made ready for a shot. The antelope was just
in the act of jumping down from the slope into the
hollow when he almost tumbled against a huge lion, which
had come up from the other side, and was flying before
the fire. Both lion and antelope were so much startled
by the shock that they bounded away in opposite direc-
tions, the lion taking a line through the tall grass, which
would bring him straight in front of Baker.

For a few minutes all was silent, Baker leaning
against the ant-hill, with one gun in readiness and another
by his side, and the two black boys crouching on the
ground at his feet.

Suddenly a rustling was heard in the grass, and all
three waited breathlessly till the head of a lioness
appeared, coming slowly but steadily towards the spot
where the two boys were sitting.

A ball in her chest stopped her proceedings for a
moment, and she rolled over three times, uttering terrific
roars all the while. Then she got up, apparently none


the worse, and, lashed to fury by a second shot, advanced
by high leaps towards the frightened boys.

On this, Baker, who had till now been hidden behind
the ant-hills, snatched up his spare gun and stood in front
of his cover. The lioness was startled by this movement,
and half turned, receiving as she did so a charge of shot
in her hind quarters. This decided her to retreat, and
the grass soon hid her from sight, though they still heard
her groaning.

Then some of the other men came up, and were
hastily placed in line to receive the lioness when she
should make her charge.

A shot soon brought her out, charging in those
tremendous leaps so frightening to see, and the spears
thrown by the natives missed her entirely. There was
nothing for it but flight, and in a moment the black men
were tearing for their lives in every direction. But a
shot from Baker's breech-loader right in the chest rolled
her over a second time, when she had almost reached
him, and a ball at the back of her neck, fired at twelve
yards distance, at last put an end to her struggles.

Inside her stomach was found a freshly eaten antelope,
which the black men, who were not particular, begged to
have for their dinner. After this it is not surprising to
hear that they were prepared to eat the lioness herself,
while the white men took the other antelope for their share.

Nearly sixty years have passed since Dr. Livingstone
sailed for Algoa Bay, whence he was to start for his
missionary travels into the centre of Africa. His journeys
were made either by ox-back, or on foot, and at first the
natives despised him for his size, which was much less
than theirs ; but it was not long before they learnt to take
a different view of the white man who had come among

In the middle of the Bechuana country, which is
bordered on the west by the great Kalahari desert, lies a


village called Mabotsa. When Livingstone first visited
Mabotsa, in the year 1843, he found aU the people living
in terror of the lions, which would not only invade the
cattle-pens by night but attack the herds by day. This
happens so seldom, unless the lions are very hungry, that
the villagers explained it to themselves as being the result
of a spell wrought by a neighbouring tribe, which had
given them into the power of the lions ; and as they stood
rather in dread of the fierce beasts, the lions had it all
their own way.

Livingstone, however, had other ideas about the
matter. He knew that if they could only manage to kill
one lion, the rest would go and look for their dinner else-
where. So, when the herds were again attacked in the
grazing ground in broad daylight, he persuaded a large
body of men to come out with him and punish the

It was not long before the lions were seen comfortably
seated on some rocks w T hich jutted out from the plain,
thickly covered with trees. Livingstone ordered his men
to surround the hill completely, at a distance, and then
gradually to approach nearer and nearer, so as to make a
close circle. A shot from the native schoolmaster hit
one of the animals lying on a spur of the rock, and very
much surprised him. He bit fiercely at the place, as if
he thought he had been stung by an insect, then got up,
and clearing the circle at a bound, vanished into the

Two other lions followed his example, and got off
without a scratch, for neither Livingstone nor the school-
master could fire from below, without risk to the men
above ; and the fear of magic seemed to have so paralysed
the natives that they never even thought of using their
spears, as was the custom of their nation. Seeing it was
hopeless to get the men to act, Livingstone called them
off, and gave the word to return to the village. On their
way past the foot of the hill they came suddenly upon


one of the animals sitting on a rock behind a small bush,
and this time Livingstone resolved to take the law into
his own hands, and not to trust to the Bechuanas.
When thirty yards distant, he fired both barrels at the
sitting lion, straight through the bush, and heard a cry
of triumph from the natives. The lion might be shot, but
he certainly was not dead, for his tail stood up in a
threatening way. Thinking that the men would run
forward before it was safe, and would attract the notice of
the wounded beast, Livingstone called out to them to
stop till he could reload his gun. He was just putting in
the charge, when a cry caused him to look round. The
lion was in the air, close to him. In sweeping by he
seized the missionary's shoulder between his teeth, and
brought him to the ground from the hummock on w T hich
he was standing, growling and shaking him all the while.
After the first moment, Livingstone felt nothing. He lay
still as if in a dream, not even frightened as to what was
coming next, and quite unconscious of any pain ; but
gazing at the lion who stood above him, keeping his
great paw on the head of his prey. From the position
of the lion's eyes, Livingstone at once guessed that he
was watching the schoolmaster Mebalwe, who, braver
than his fellows, was trying to shoot him with a clumsy
old gun, from a distance of fifteen yards. Both barrels
missed, and with a roar the lion let go Livingstone and
leapt upon Mebalwe, whom he caught by the thigh. On
this a man thrust a spear into the lion from behind, and
was instantly seized by the shoulder ; but the bullets
which were poured into the brute from other quarters
now took effect, and the great beast fell back stone dead.
In the excitement of the battle, which, after all, had
lasted only a few moments, the wounded men had hardly
been aware of pain ; but when they \vere all satisfied
that their enemy was really dead, they began to examine
their injuries. Livingstone had been partly saved by
his jacket, which had received most of the poison of the


lion's teeth, so that, although it was bad enough to have
the bones of his arm crushed into splinters, the eleven
flesh wounds on his shoulder, healed without leaving
any ill-effects. The other two men, on the contrary, who
had had nothing to protect them, suffered to the end of their
lives from strange pains in the wounded parts, which
were always particularly violent at the season of the year
in which the lion had bitten them.

The next morning a great bonfire was made in the
village, and the lion solemnly burnt ; and from that
moment the spell was pronounced broken and the lions
went away.

The idea that lions are the bravest of all animals
dates from the time when very little was really known
about them. Anyone who reads Mr. Livingstone's travels
in South Africa will find that he tells a widely different
tale. According to him, no single lion will ever attack
a man by daylight or even moonlight, unless he is first
attacked himself, or almost starving. Even on a dark,
rainy night, the dread of falling into a trap is enough to
keep him from assaulting any animal tied to a tree, and
therefore at his mercy. It is curious how fear of pitfalls
never leaves him ! One day, an Englishman's horse,
which had bolted and thrown its rider, was caught by its
bridle in the fork of a tree and held fast. For two days
search was made for it, but in vain. On the third they
came upon the missing creature by accident, quite safe
and sound, though all round it were the marks of lions'
paws ! Any animal tied up seems to act as a charm
against lions, by night as well as by day they will not
even attack a sheep, lest something unknown and terrible
should be the consequence.

As a rule, unless they have little ones, nobody need
be afraid of lions from sunrise to sunset ! Livingstone
and his family used often to meet them in their walks
outside the camp, and after staring with surprise for a few
seconds, the lion would turn slowly round and cautiously


move away, keeping his head turned over his shoulder.
When he had got to a little distance he would break into
a trot, and finally, when he thought no one saw him,
and he had no character to keep up, he bounded away
as fast as he could. Indeed, the missionary positively
declares that a man runs a much greater risk in crossing
a London street than he is ever likely to do from the
king of beasts unless, of course, he is being hunted.

Besides, no young lion will look at a man as long as
he can get any other food. It is only when he is old
and loses his teeth that he gives up hunting wild game,
and, driven by hunger, ventures down to the villages to
catch goats, mice, or any stray man that may happen to
be about. The village people know this 'so well, that
when goats are found missing from the herd they will
shake their heads, and say to each other, ' His teeth are
worn, he will soon' kill men,' and set about arranging a
hunt immediately.

Lions generally attack their prey by leaping on to its
flank from behind, though they will sometimes fly at the
throat. A friend of Livingstone's tells a story of a sight
he saw on the banks of Limpopo river, when on a hunting
expedition in the year 1846. He was riding along with
another man in search of game, when a fine water-buck
jumped up from the reeds in front. The Englishman
dismounted, in order to follow it, and by doing so dis-
turbed three large buffaloes, which stood and looked at
the strange white thing they had never seen before. A
ball in the shoulder of one awoke them from their stupor,
and they galloped away, closely pursued by the hunters.
Suddenly three huge lions sprang on the back of the
wounded buffalo and dragged him to the ground. The
two Englishmen crept softly up till they were within
thirty yards of the group, when they knelt down and
fired from their single-barrelled rifles. One lion turned,
seized a small bush between his teeth, and fell dead right
on top of the buffalo ; another bounded off as fast as he


could, and the third took no notice whatever. This gave
the men time to reload, and a ball passed straight through
his shoulder blade. Then he thought he had better retire ;
but he had not gone very far before a bullet in his heart
put an end to him.

Lions are fond of hunting in families, sometimes six
or eight at once, and in any country where game is
abundant lions may also be looked for. They will very
rarely molest a full-grown animal, if they can get hold of
a young one, and if a buffalo mother finds a lion trying
to carry off her calf a fearful fight takes place, in which,
if the lion is alone, he is pretty certain to get the worst
of it. ' One toss from a buffalo bull/ says Livingstone,
' would kill the strongest lion that ever breathed.' Even
a number of lions have been known to be kept at bay
by an equal number of buffaloes, who put the little ones
and mothers carefully in the rear, and stood with their
horns steadily turned to the enemy.

But, as old Topsel says, ' There is no creature that
loveth her young ones better than the lioness, for both
shepherds and hunters, frequenting the mountains, do
oftentimes see how irefully she fighteth in their defence,
receiving the wounds of many darts, and the strokes of
many stones, standing invincible, never yielding till death ;
yea, death itself were nothing to her, so that her young
ones might never be taken out of her den. It is also
reported, that the male will lead abroad the young ones,
but it is not likely that the lion, which refuseth to
accompany his female in hunting, will so much abase his
noble spirit as to undergo the lioness' duty in leading
abroad her young ones. In a mountain of Thracia,' he
goes on to relate, ' there was a lioness which had whelps
in her den, the which den was observed by a bear, the
which bear on a day finding the den unfortified both by
the absence of the lion and the lioness, entered into the
same and slew the lion's whelps, afterward went away,
and fearing a revenge, for her better security against the


lion's rage, climbed up into a tree, and there sat as in a
sure castle of defence. At length the lion and the lioness
returned both home, and finding their little ones dead in
their own blood, according to natural affection fell both
exceeding sorrowful, to see them so slaughtered whom
they both loved. But smelling out by the foot the
murderer, followed with rage up and down until they
came to the tree whereinto the bear was ascended, and
seeing her, looked both of them gastly upon her, often-
times assaying to get into the tree, but all in vain, for
nature which adorned them with singular strength and
nimbleness, yet had not endued them with power of
climbing, so that the tree hindered their revenge, gave
unto them further occasion of mourning, and unto the
bear to rejoice at his own cruelty, and deride their sorrow.
' Then,' continues Topsel, w 7 ho writes in very long
sentences, ' the male forsook the female, leaving her to
watch the tree, and he like a mournful father for the loss
of his children, wandered up and down the mountain,
making great moan and sorrow, till at the last he saw a
carpenter hewing wood, who, seeing the lion coming

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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 17 of 22)