THE LAND OF FOOTPRINTS
by Stewart Edward White
I. ON BOOKS OF ADVENTURE
Books of sporting, travel, and adventure in countries little known to the average reader naturally fall in two classes-neither, with a very few exceptions, of great value. One class is perhaps the logical result of the other.
Of the first type is the book that is written to make the most of far travels, to extract from adventure the last thrill, to impress the awestricken reader with a full sense of the danger and hardship the writer has undergone. Thus, if the latter takes out quite an ordinary routine permit to go into certain districts, he makes the most of travelling in "closed territory," implying that he has obtained an especial privilege, and has penetrated where few have gone before him. As a matter of fact, the permit is issued merely that the authorities may keep track of who is where. Anybody can get one. This class of writer tells of shooting beasts at customary ranges of four and five hundred yards. I remember one in especial who airily and as a matter of fact killed all his antelope at such ranges. Most men have shot occasional beasts at a quarter mile or so, but not airily nor as a matter of fact: rather with thanksgiving and a certain amount of surprise. The gentleman of whom I speak mentioned getting an eland at seven hundred and fifty yards. By chance I happened to mention this to a native Africander.
"Yes," said he, "I remember that; I was there."
This interested me-and I said so.
"He made a long shot," said I.
"A GOOD long shot," replied the Africander.
"Did you pace the distance?"
He laughed. "No," said he, "the old chap was immensely delighted. 'Eight hundred yards if it was an inch!' he cried."
"How far was it?"
"About three hundred and fifty. But it was a long shot, all right."
And it was! Three hundred and fifty yards is a very long shot. It is over four city blocks-New York size. But if you talk often enough and glibly enough of "four and five hundred yards," it does not sound like much, does it?
The same class of writer always gets all the thrills. He speaks of "blanched cheeks," of the "thrilling suspense," and so on down the gamut of the shilling shocker. His stuff makes good reading; there is no doubt of that. The spellbound public likes it, and to that extent it has fulfilled its mission. Also, the reader believes it to the letter-why should he not? Only there is this curious result: he carries away in his mind the impression of unreality, of a country impossible to be understood and gauged and savoured by the ordinary human mental equipment. It is interesting, just as are historical novels, or the copper-riveted heroes of modern fiction, but it has no real relation with human life. In the last analysis the inherent untruth of the thing forces itself on him. He believes, but he does not apprehend; he acknowledges the fact, but he cannot grasp its human quality. The affair is interesting, but it is more or less concocted of pasteboard for his amusement. Thus essential truth asserts its right.
All this, you must understand, is probably not a deliberate attempt to deceive. It is merely the recrudescence under the stimulus of a brand-new environment of the boyish desire to be a hero. When a man jumps back into the Pleistocene he digs up some of his ancestors' cave-qualities. Among these is the desire for personal adornment. His modern development of taste precludes skewers in the ears and polished wire around the neck; so he adorns himself in qualities instead. It is quite an engaging and diverting trait of character. The attitude of mind it both presupposes and helps to bring about is too complicated for my brief analysis. In itself it is no more blameworthy than the small boy's pretence at Indians in the back yard; and no more praiseworthy than infantile decoration with feathers.
In its results, however, we are more concerned. Probably each of us has his mental picture that passes as a symbol rather than an idea of the different continents. This is usually a single picture-a deep river, with forest, hanging snaky vines, anacondas and monkeys for the east coast of South America, for example. It is built up in youth by chance reading and chance pictures, and does as well as a pink place on the map to stand for a part of the world concerning which we know nothing at all. As time goes on we extend, expand, and modify this picture in the light of what knowledge we may acquire. So the reading of many books modifies and expands our first crude notions of Equatorial Africa. And the result is, if we read enough of the sort I describe above, we build the idea of an exciting, dangerous, extra-human continent, visited by half-real people of the texture of the historical-fiction hero, who have strange and interesting adventures which we could not possibly imagine happening to ourselves.
This type of book is directly responsible for the second sort. The author of this is deadly afraid of being thought to brag of his adventures. He feels constantly on him the amusedly critical eye of the old-timer. When he comes to describe the first time a rhino dashed in his direction, he remembers that old hunters, who have been so charged hundreds of times, may read the book. Suddenly, in that light, the adventure becomes pitifully unimportant. He sets down the fact that "we met a rhino that turned a bit nasty, but after a shot in the shoulder decided to leave us alone." Throughout he keeps before his mind's eye the imaginary audience of those who have done. He writes for them, to please them, to convince them that he is not "swelled head," nor "cocky," nor "fancies himself," nor thinks he has done, been, or seen anything wonderful. It is a good, healthy frame of mind to be in; but it, no more than the other type, can produce books that leave on the minds of the general public any impression of a country in relation to a real human being.
As a matter of fact, the same trouble is at the bottom of both failures. The adventure writer, half unconsciously perhaps, has been too much occupied play-acting himself into half-forgotten boyhood heroics. The more modest man, with even more self-consciousness, has been thinking of how he is going to appear in the eyes of the expert. Both have thought of themselves before their work. This aspect of the matter would probably vastly astonish the modest writer.
If, then, one is to formulate an ideal toward which to write, he might express it exactly in terms of man and environment. Those readers desiring sheer exploration can get it in any library: those in search of sheer romantic adventure can purchase plenty of it at any book-stall. But the majority want something different from either of these. They want, first of all, to know what the country is like-not in vague and grandiose "word paintings," nor in strange and foreign sounding words and phrases, but in comparison with something they know. What is it nearest like-Arizona? Surrey? Upper New York? Canada? Mexico? Or is it totally different from anything, as is the Grand Canyon? When you look out from your camp-any one camp-how far do you see, and what do you see?-mountains in the distance, or a screen of vines or bamboo near hand, or what? When you get up in the morning, what is the first thing to do? What does a rhino look like, where he lives, and what did you do the first time one came at you? I don't want you to tell me as though I were either an old hunter or an admiring audience, or as though you were afraid somebody might think you were making too much of the matter. I want to know how you REALLY felt. Were you scared or nervous? or did you become cool? Tell me frankly just how it was, so I can see the thing as happening to a common everyday human being. Then, even at second-hand and at ten thousand miles distance, I can enjoy it actually, humanly, even though vicariously, speculating a bit over my pipe as to how I would have liked it myself.
Obviously, to write such a book the author must at the same time sink his ego and exhibit frankly his personality. The paradox in this is only apparent. He must forget either to strut or to blush with diffidence. Neither audience should be forgotten, and neither should be exclusively addressed. Never should he lose sight of the wholesome fact that old hunters are to read and to weigh; never should he for a moment slip into the belief that he is justified in addressing the expert alone. His attitude should be that many men know more and have done more than he, but that for one reason or another these men are not ready to transmit their knowledge and experience.
To set down the formulation of an ideal is one thing: to fulfil it is another. In the following pages I cannot claim a fulfilment, but only an attempt. The foregoing dissertation must be considered not as a promise, but as an explanation. No one knows better than I how limited my African experience is, both in time and extent, bounded as it is by East Equatorial Africa and a year. Hundreds of men are better qualified than myself to write just this book; but unfortunately they will not do it.
In looking back on the multitudinous pictures that the word Africa bids rise in my memory, four stand out more distinctly than the others. Strangely enough, these are by no means all pictures of average country-the sort of thing one would describe as typical. Perhaps, in a way, they symbolize more the spirit of the country to me, for certainly they represent but a small minority of its infinitely varied aspects. But since we must make a start somewhere, and since for some reason these four crowd most insistently in the recollection it might be well to begin with them.
Our camp was pitched under a single large mimosa tree near the edge of a deep and narrow ravine down which a stream flowed. A semicircle of low mountains hemmed us in at the distance of several miles. The other side of the semicircle was occupied by the upthrow of a low rise blocking off an horizon at its nearest point but a few hundred yards away. Trees marked the course of the stream; low scattered bushes alternated with open plain. The grass grew high. We had to cut it out to make camp.
Nothing indicated that we were otherwise situated than in a very pleasant, rather wide grass valley in the embrace of the mountains. Only a walk of a few hundred yards atop the upthrow of the low rise revealed the fact that it was in reality the lip of a bench, and that beyond it the country fell away in sheer cliffs whose ultimate drop was some fifteen hundred feet. One could sit atop and dangle his feet over unguessed abysses.
For a week we had been hunting for greater kudu. Each day Memba Sasa and I went in one direction, while Mavrouki and Kongoni took another line. We looked carefully for signs, but found none fresher than the month before. Plenty of other game made the country interesting; but we were after a shy and valuable prize, so dared not shoot lesser things. At last, at the end of the week, Mavrouki came in with a tale of eight lions seen in the low scrub across the stream. The kudu business was about finished, as far as this place went, so we decided to take a look for the lions.
We ate by lantern and at the first light were ready to start. But at that moment, across the slope of the rim a few hundred yards away, appeared a small group of sing-sing. These are a beautiful big beast, with widespread horns, proud and wonderful, like Landseer's stags, and I wanted one of them very much. So I took the Springfield, and dropped behind the line of some bushes. The stalk was of the ordinary sort. One has to remain behind cover, to keep down wind, to make no quick movements. Sometimes this takes considerable manoeuvring; especially, as now, in the case of a small band fairly well scattered out for feeding. Often after one has succeeded in placing them all safely behind the scattered cover, a straggler will step out into view. Then the hunter must stop short, must slowly, oh very, very slowly, sink down out of sight; so slowly, in fact, that he must not seem to move, but rather to melt imperceptibly away. Then he must take up his progress at a lower plane of elevation. Perhaps he needs merely to stoop; or he may crawl on hands and knees; or he may lie flat and hitch himself forward by his toes, pushing his gun ahead. If one of the beasts suddenly looks very intently in his direction, he must freeze into no matter what uncomfortable position, and so remain an indefinite time. Even a hotel-bred child to whom you have rashly made advances stares no longer nor more intently than a buck that cannot make you out.
I had no great difficulty with this lot, but slipped up quite successfully to within one hundred and fifty yards. There I raised my head behind a little bush to look. Three does grazed nearest me, their coats rough against the chill of early morning. Up the slope were two more does and two funny, fuzzy babies. An immature buck occupied the extreme left with three young ladies. But the big buck, the leader, the boss of the lot, I could not see anywhere. Of course he must be about, and I craned my neck cautiously here and there trying to make him out.
Suddenly, with one accord, all turned and began to trot rapidly away to the right, their heads high. In the strange manner of animals, they had received telepathic alarm, and had instantly obeyed. Then beyond and far to the right I at last saw the beast I had been looking for. The old villain had been watching me all the time!
The little herd in single file made their way rapidly along the face of the rise. They were headed in the direction of the stream. Now, I happened to know that at this point the stream-canyon was bordered by sheer cliffs. Therefore, the sing-sing must round the hill, and not cross the stream. By running to the top of the hill I might catch a glimpse of them somewhere below. So I started on a jog trot, trying to hit the golden mean of speed that would still leave me breath to shoot. This was an affair of some nicety in the tall grass. Just before I reached the actual slope, however, I revised my schedule. The reason was supplied by a rhino that came grunting to his feet about seventy yards away. He had not seen me, and he had not smelled me, but the general disturbance of all these events had broken into his early morning nap. He looked to me like a person who is cross before breakfast, so I ducked low and ran around him. The last I saw of him he was still standing there, quite disgruntled, and evidently intending to write to the directors about it.
Arriving at the top, I looked eagerly down. The cliff fell away at an impossible angle, but sheer below ran out a narrow bench fifty yards wide. Around the point of the hill to my right-where the herd had gone-a game trail dropped steeply to this bench. I arrived just in time to see the sing-sing, still trotting, file across the bench and over its edge, on some other invisible game trail, to continue their descent of the cliff. The big buck brought up the rear. At the very edge he came to a halt, and looked back, throwing his head up and his nose out so that the heavy fur on his neck stood forward like a ruff. It was a last glimpse of him, so I held my little best, and pulled trigger.
This happened to be one of those shots I spoke of-which the perpetrator accepts with a thankful and humble spirit. The sing-sing leaped high in the air and plunged over the edge of the bench. I signalled the camp-in plain sight-to come and get the head and meat, and sat down to wait. And while waiting, I looked out on a scene that has since been to me one of my four symbolizations of Africa.
The morning was dull, with gray clouds through which at wide intervals streamed broad bands of misty light. Below me the cliff fell away clear to a gorge in the depths of which flowed a river. Then the land began to rise, broken, sharp, tumbled, terrible, tier after tier, gorge after gorge, one twisted range after the other, across a breathlessly immeasurable distance. The prospect was full of shadows thrown by the tumult of lava. In those shadows one imagined stranger abysses. Far down to the right a long narrow lake inaugurated a flatter, alkali-whitened country of low cliffs in long straight lines. Across the distances proper to a dozen horizons the tumbled chaos heaved and fell. The eye sought rest at the bounds usual to its accustomed world-and went on. There was no roundness to the earth, no grateful curve to drop this great fierce country beyond a healing horizon out of sight. The immensity of primal space was in it, and the simplicity of primal things-rough, unfinished, full of mystery. There was no colour. The scene was done in slate gray, darkening to the opaque where a tiny distant rain squall started; lightening in the nearer shadows to reveal half-guessed peaks; brightening unexpectedly into broad short bands of misty gray light slanting from the gray heavens above to the sombre tortured immensity beneath. It was such a thing as Gustave Dore might have imaged to serve as an abiding place for the fierce chaotic spirit of the African wilderness.
I sat there for some time hugging my knees, waiting for the men to come. The tremendous landscape seemed to have been willed to immobility. The rain squalls forty miles or more away did not appear to shift their shadows; the rare slanting bands of light from the clouds were as constant as though they were falling through cathedral windows. But nearer at hand other things were forward. The birds, thousands of them, were doing their best to cheer things up. The roucoulements of doves rose from the bushes down the face of the cliffs; the bell bird uttered his clear ringing note; the chime bird gave his celebrated imitation of a really gentlemanly sixty-horse power touring car hinting you out of the way with the mellowness of a chimed horn; the bottle bird poured gallons of guggling essence of happiness from his silver jug. From the direction of camp, evidently jumped by the boys, a steinbuck loped gracefully, pausing every few minutes to look back, his dainty legs tense, his sensitive ears pointed toward the direction of disturbance.
And now, along the face of the cliff, I make out the flashing of much movement, half glimpsed through the bushes. Soon a fine old-man baboon, his tail arched after the dandified fashion of the baboon aristocracy stepped out, looked around, and bounded forward. Other old men followed him, and then the young men, and a miscellaneous lot of half-grown youngsters. The ladies brought up the rear, with the babies. These rode their mothers' backs, clinging desperately while they leaped along, for all the world like the pathetic monkey "jockeys" one sees strapped to the backs of big dogs in circuses. When they had approached to within fifty yards, remarked "hullo!" to them. Instantly they all stopped. Those in front stood up on their hind legs; those behind clambered to points of vantage on rocks and the tops of small bushes: They all took a good long look at me. Then they told me what they thought about me personally, the fact of my being there, and the rude way I had startled them. Their remarks were neither complimentary nor refined. The old men, in especial, got quite profane, and screamed excited billingsgate. Finally they all stopped at once, dropped on all fours, and loped away, their ridiculous long tails curved in a half arc. Then for the first time I noticed that, under cover of the insults, the women and children had silently retired. Once more I was left to the familiar gentle bird calls, and the vast silence of the wilderness beyond.
The second picture, also, was a view from a height, but of a totally different character. It was also, perhaps, more typical of a greater part of East Equatorial Africa. Four of us were hunting lions with natives-both wild and tame-and a scratch pack of dogs. More of that later. We had rummaged around all the morning without any results; and now at noon had climbed to the top of a butte to eat lunch and look abroad.
Our butte ran up a gentle but accelerating slope to a peak of big rounded rocks and slabs sticking out boldly from the soil of the hill. We made ourselves comfortable each after his fashion. The gunbearers leaned against rocks and rolled cigarettes. The savages squatted on their heels, planting their spears ceremonially in front of them. One of my friends lay on his back, resting a huge telescope over his crossed feet. With this he purposed seeing any lion that moved within ten miles. None of the rest of us could ever make out anything through the fearsome weapon. Therefore, relieved from responsibility by the presence of this Dreadnaught of a 'scope, we loafed and looked about us. This is what we saw:
Mountains at our backs, of course-at some distance; then plains in long low swells like the easy rise and fall of a tropical sea, wave after wave, and over the edge of the world beyond a distant horizon. Here and there on this plain, single hills lay becalmed, like ships at sea; some peaked, some cliffed like buttes, some long and low like the hulls of battleships. The brown plain flowed up to wash their bases, liquid as the sea itself, its tides rising in the coves of the hills, and ebbing in the valleys between. Near at hand, in the middle distance, far away, these fleets of the plain sailed, until at last hull-down over the horizon their topmasts disappeared. Above them sailed too the phantom fleet of the clouds, shot with light, shining like silver, airy as racing yachts, yet casting here and there exaggerated shadows below.
The sky in Africa is always very wide, greater than any other skies. Between horizon and horizon is more space than any other world contains. It is as though the cup of heaven had been pressed a little flatter; so that while the boundaries have widened, the zenith, with its flaming sun, has come nearer. And yet that is not a constant quantity either. I have seen one edge of the sky raised straight up a few million miles, as though some one had stuck poles under its corners, so that the western heaven did not curve cup-wise over to the horizon at all as it did everywhere else, but rather formed the proscenium of a gigantic stage. On this stage they had piled great heaps of saffron yellow clouds, and struck shafts of yellow light, and filled the spaces with the lurid portent of a storm-while the twenty thousand foot mountains below, crouched whipped and insignificant to the earth.
We sat atop our butte for an hour while H. looked through his 'scope. After the soft silent immensity of the earth, running away to infinity, with its low waves, and its scattered fleet of hills, it was with difficulty that we brought our gaze back to details and to things near at hand. Directly below us we could make out many different-hued specks. Looking closely, we could see that those specks were game animals. They fed here and there in bands of from ten to two hundred, with valleys and hills between. Within the radius of the eye they moved, nowhere crowded in big herds, but everywhere present. A band of zebras grazed the side of one of the earth waves, a group of gazelles walked on the skyline, a herd of kongoni rested in the hollow between. On the next rise was a similar grouping; across the valley a new variation. As far as the eye could strain its powers it could make out more and ever more beasts. I took up my field glasses, and brought them all to within a sixth of the distance. After amusing myself for some time in watching them, I swept the glasses farther on. Still the same animals grazing on the hills and in the hollows. I continued to look, and to look again, until even the powerful prismatic glasses failed to show things big enough to distinguish. At the limit of extreme vision I could still make out game, and yet more game. And as I took my glasses from my eyes, and realized how small a portion of this great land-sea I had been able to examine; as I looked away to the ship-hills hull-down over the horizon, and realized that over all that extent fed the Game; the ever-new wonder of Africa for the hundredth time filled my mind-the teeming fecundity of her bosom.
"Look here," said H. without removing his eye from the 'scope, "just beyond the edge of that shadow to the left of the bushes in the donga-I've been watching them ten minutes, and I can't make 'em out yet. They're either hyenas acting mighty queer, or else two lionesses."
We snatched our glasses and concentrated on that important detail.
To catch the third experience you must have journeyed with us across the "Thirst," as the natives picturesquely name the waterless tract of two days and a half. Our very start had been delayed by a breakage of some Dutch-sounding essential to our ox wagon, caused by the confusion of a night attack by lions: almost every night we had lain awake as long as we could to enjoy the deep-breathed grumbling or the vibrating roars of these beasts. Now at last, having pushed through the dry country to the river in the great plain, we were able to take breath from our mad hurry, and to give our attention to affairs beyond the limits of mere expediency. One of these was getting Billy a shot at a lion.
Billy had never before wanted to shoot anything except a python. Why a python we could not quite fathom. Personally, I think she had some vague idea of getting even for that Garden of Eden affair. But lately, pythons proving scarcer than in that favoured locality, she had switched to a lion. She wanted, she said, to give the skin to her sister. In vain we pointed out that a zebra hide was very decorative, that lions go to absurd lengths in retaining possession of their own skins, and other equally convincing facts. It must be a lion or nothing; so naturally we had to make a try.
There are several ways of getting lions, only one of which is at all likely to afford a steady pot shot to a very small person trying to manipulate an over-size gun. That is to lay out a kill. The idea is to catch the lion at it in the early morning before he has departed for home. The best kill is a zebra: first, because lions like zebra; second, because zebra are fairly large; third, because zebra are very numerous.
Accordingly, after we had pitched camp just within a fringe of mimosa trees and of red-flowering aloes near the river; had eaten lunch, smoked a pipe and issued necessary orders to the men, C. and I set about the serious work of getting an appropriate bait in an appropriate place.
The plains stretched straight away from the river bank to some indefinite and unknown distance to the south. A low range of mountains lay blue to the left; and a mantle of scrub thornbush closed the view to the right. This did not imply that we could see far straight ahead, for the surface of the plain rose slowly to the top of a swell about two miles away. Beyond it reared a single butte peak at four or five times that distance.
We stepped from the fringe of red aloes and squinted through the dancing heat shimmer. Near the limit of vision showed a very faint glimmering whitish streak. A newcomer to Africa would not have looked at it twice: nevertheless, it could be nothing but zebra. These gaudily marked beasts take queer aspects even on an open plain. Most often they show pure white; sometimes a jet black; only when within a few hundred yards does one distinguish the stripes. Almost always they are very easily made out. Only when very distant and in heat shimmer, or in certain half lights of evening, does their so-called "protective colouration" seem to be in working order, and even then they are always quite visible to the least expert hunter's scrutiny.
It is not difficult to kill a zebra, though sometimes it has to be done at a fairly long range. If all you want is meat for the porters, the matter is simple enough. But when you require bait for a lion, that; is another affair entirely. In the first place, you must be able to stalk within a hundred yards of your kill without being seen; in the second place, you must provide two or three good lying-down places for your prospective trophy within fifteen yards of the carcass-and no more than two or three; in the third place, you must judge the direction of the probable morning wind, and must be able to approach from leeward. It is evidently pretty good luck to find an accommodating zebra in just such a spot. It is a matter of still greater nicety to drop him absolutely in his tracks. In a case of porters' meat it does not make any particular difference if he runs a hundred yards before he dies. With lion bait even fifty yards makes all the difference in the world.
C. and I talked it over and resolved to press Scallywattamus into service. Scallywattamus is a small white mule who is firmly convinced that each and every bush in Africa conceals a mule-eating rhinoceros, and who does not intend to be one of the number so eaten. But we had noticed that at times zebra would be so struck with the strange sight of Scallywattamus carrying a man, that they would let us get quite close. C. was to ride Scallywattamus while I trudged along under his lee ready to shoot.
We set out through the heat shimmer, gradually rising as the plain slanted. Imperceptibly the camp and the trees marking the river's course fell below us and into the heat haze. In the distance, close to the stream, we made out a blurred, brown-red solid mass which we knew for Masai cattle. Various little Thompson's gazelles skipped away to the left waggling their tails vigorously and continuously as Nature long since commanded "Tommies" to do. The heat haze steadied around the dim white line, so we could make out the individual animals. There were plenty of them, dozing in the sun. A single tiny treelet broke the plain just at the skyline of the rise. C. and I talked low-voiced as we went along. We agreed that the tree was an excellent landmark to come to, that the little rise afforded proper cover, and that in the morning the wind would in all likelihood blow toward the river. There were perhaps twenty zebra near enough to the chosen spot. Any of them would do.
But the zebra did not give a hoot for Scallywattamus. At five hundred yards three or four of them awoke with a start, stared at us a minute, and moved slowly away. They told all the zebra they happened upon that the three idiots approaching were at once uninteresting and dangerous. At four hundred and fifty yards a half dozen more made off at a trot. At three hundred and fifty yards the rest plunged away at a canter-all but one. He remained to stare, but his tail was up, and we knew he only stayed because he knew he could easily catch up in the next twenty seconds.
The chance was very slim of delivering a knockout at that distance, but we badly needed meat, anyway, after our march through the Thirst, so I tried him. We heard the well-known plunk of the bullet, but down went his head, up went his heels, and away went he. We watched him in vast disgust. He cavorted out into a bare open space without cover of any sort, and then flopped over. I thought I caught a fleeting grin of delight on Mavrouki's face; but he knew enough instantly to conceal his satisfaction over sure meat.
There were now no zebra anywhere near; but since nobody ever thinks of omitting any chances in Africa, I sneaked up to the tree and took a perfunctory look. There stood another, providentially absent-minded, zebra!
We got that one. Everybody was now happy. The boys raced over to the first kill, which soon took its dismembered way toward camp. C. and I carefully organized our plan of campaign. We fixed in our memories the exact location of each and every bush; we determined compass direction from camp, and any other bearings likely to prove useful in finding so small a spot in the dark. Then we left a boy to keep carrion birds off until sunset; and returned home.
We were out in the morning before even the first sign of dawn. Billy rode her little mule, C. and I went afoot, Memba Sasa accompanied us because he could see whole lions where even C.'s trained eye could not make out an ear, and the syce went along to take care of the mule. The heavens were ablaze with the thronging stars of the tropics, so we found we could make out the skyline of the distant butte over the rise of the plains. The earth itself was a pool of absolute blackness. We could not see where we were placing our feet, and we were continually bringing up suddenly to walk around an unexpected aloe or thornbush. The night was quite still, but every once in a while from the blackness came rustlings, scamperings, low calls, and once or twice the startled barking of zebra very near at hand. The latter sounded as ridiculous as ever. It is one of the many incongruities of African life that Nature should have given so large and so impressive a creature the petulant yapping of an exasperated Pomeranian lap dog. At the end of three quarters of an hour of more or less stumbling progress, we made out against the sky the twisted treelet that served as our landmark. Billy dismounted, turned the mule over to the syce, and we crept slowly forward until within a guessed two or three hundred yards of our kill.
Nothing remained now but to wait for the daylight. It had already begun to show. Over behind the distant mountains some one was kindling the fires, and the stars were flickering out. The splendid ferocity of the African sunrise was at hand. Long bands of slate dark clouds lay close along the horizon, and behind them glowed a heart of fire, as on a small scale the lamplight glows through a metal-worked shade. On either side the sky was pale green-blue, translucent and pure, deep as infinity itself. The earth was still black, and the top of the rise near at hand was clear edged. On that edge, and by a strange chance accurately in the centre of illumination, stood the uncouth massive form of a shaggy wildebeeste, his head raised, staring to the east. He did not move; nothing of that fire and black world moved; only instant by instant it changed, swelling in glory toward some climax until one expected at any moment a fanfare of trumpets, the burst of triumphant culmination.
Then very far down in the distance a lion roared. The wildebeeste, without moving, bellowed back an answer or a defiance. Down in the hollow an ostrich boomed. Zebra barked, and several birds chirped strongly. The tension was breaking not in the expected fanfare and burst of triumphal music, but in a manner instantly felt to be more fitting to what was indeed a wonder, but a daily wonder for all that. At one and the same instant the rim of the sun appeared and the wildebeeste, after the sudden habit of his kind, made up his mind to go. He dropped his head and came thundering down past us at full speed. Straight to the west he headed, and so disappeared. We could hear the beat of his hoofs dying into the distance. He had gone like a Warder of the Morning whose task was finished. On the knife-edged skyline appeared the silhouette of slim-legged little Tommies, flirting their rails, sniffing at the dewy grass, dainty, slender, confiding, the open-day antithesis of the tremendous and awesome lord of the darkness that had roared its way to its lair, and to the massive shaggy herald of morning that had thundered down to the west.
III. THE CENTRAL PLATEAU
Now is required a special quality of the imagination, not in myself, but in my readers, for it becomes necessary for them to grasp the logic of a whole country in one mental effort. The difficulties to me are very real. If I am to tell you it all in detail, your mind becomes confused to the point of mingling the ingredients of the description. The resultant mental picture is a composite; it mixes localities wide apart; it comes out, like the snake-creeper-swamp-forest thing of grammar-school South America, an unreal and deceitful impression. If, on the other hand, I try to give you a bird's-eye view-saying, here is plain, and there follows upland, and yonder succeed mountains and hills-you lose the sense of breadth and space and the toil of many days. The feeling of onward outward extending distance is gone; and that impression so indispensable to finite understanding-"here am I, and what is beyond is to be measured by the length of my legs and the toil of my days." You will not stop long enough on my plains to realize their physical extent nor their influence on the human soul. If I mention them in a sentence, you dismiss them in a thought. And that is something the plains themselves refuse to permit you to do. Yet sometimes one must become a guide-book, and bespeak his reader's imagination.
The country, then, wherein we travelled begins at the sea. Along the coast stretches a low rolling country of steaming tropics, grown with cocoanuts, bananas, mangoes, and populated by a happy, half-naked race of the Swahilis. Leaving the coast, the country rises through hills. These hills are at first fertile and green and wooded. Later they turn into an almost unbroken plateau of thorn scrub, cruel, monotonous, almost impenetrable. Fix thorn scrub in your mind, with rhino trails, and occasional openings for game, and a few rivers flowing through palms and narrow jungle strips; fix it in your mind until your mind is filled with it, until you are convinced that nothing else can exist in the world but more and more of the monotonous, terrible, dry, onstretching desert of thorn.
Then pass through this to the top of the hills inland, and journey over these hills to the highland plains.
Now sense and appreciate these wide seas of and the hills and ranges of mountains rising from them, and their infinite diversity of country-their rivers marked by ribbons of jungle, their scattered-bush and their thick-bush areas, their grass expanses, and their great distances extending far over exceedingly wide horizons. Realize how many weary hours you must travel to gain the nearest butte, what days of toil the view from its top will disclose. Savour the fact that you can spend months in its veriest corner without exhausting its possibilities. Then, and not until then, raise your eyes to the low rising transverse range that bands it to the west as the thorn desert bands it to the east.
And on these ranges are the forests, the great bewildering forests. In what looks like a grove lying athwart a little hill you can lose yourself for days. Here dwell millions of savages in an apparently untouched wilderness. Here rises a snow mountain on the equator. Here are tangles and labyrinths, great bamboo forests lost in folds of the mightiest hills. Here are the elephants. Here are the swinging vines, the jungle itself.
Yet finally it breaks. We come out on the edge of things and look down on a great gash in the earth. It is like a sunken kingdom in itself, miles wide, with its own mountain ranges, its own rivers, its own landscape features. Only on either side of it rise the escarpments which are the true level of the plateau. One can spend two months in this valley, too, and in the countries south to which it leads. And on its farther side are the high plateau plains again, or the forests, or the desert, or the great lakes that lie at the source of the Nile.
So now, perhaps, we are a little prepared to go ahead. The guide-book work is finished for good and all. There is the steaming hot low coast belt, and the hot dry thorn desert belt, and the varied immense plains, and the high mountain belt of the forests, and again the variegated wide country of the Rift Valley and the high plateau. To attempt to tell you seriatim and in detail just what they are like is the task of an encyclopaedist. Perhaps more indirectly you may be able to fill in the picture of the country, the people, and the beasts.
IV. THE FIRST CAMP
Our very first start into the new country was made when we piled out from the little train standing patiently awaiting the good pleasure of our descent. That feature strikes me with ever new wonder-the accommodating way trains of the Uganda Railway have of waiting for you. One day, at a little wayside station, C. and I were idly exchanging remarks with the only white man in sight, killing time until the engine should whistle to a resumption of the journey. The guard lingered about just out of earshot. At the end of five minutes C. happened to catch his eye, whereupon he ventured to approach.
"When you have finished your conversation," said he politely, "we are all ready to go on."
On the morning in question there were a lot of us to disembark-one hundred and twenty-two, to be exact-of which four were white. We were not yet acquainted with our men, nor yet with our stores, nor with the methods of our travel. The train went off and left us in the middle of a high plateau, with low ridges running across it, and mountains in the distance. Men were squabbling earnestly for the most convenient loads to carry, and as fast as they had gained undisputed possession, they marked the loads with some private sign of their own. M'ganga, the headman, tall, fierce, big-framed and bony, clad in fez, a long black overcoat, blue puttees and boots, stood stiff as a ramrod, extended a rigid right arm and rattled off orders in a high dynamic voice. In his left hand he clasped a bulgy umbrella, the badge of his dignity and the symbol of his authority. The four askaris, big men too, with masterful high-cheekboned countenances, rushed here and there seeing that the orders were carried out. Expostulations, laughter, the sound of quarrelling rose and fell. Never could the combined volume of it all override the firecracker stream of M'ganga's eloquence.
We had nothing to do with it all, but stood a little dazed, staring at the novel scene. Our men were of many tribes, each with its own cast of features, its own notions of what befitted man's performance of his duties here below. They stuck together each in its clan. A fine free individualism of personal adornment characterized them. Every man dressed for his own satisfaction solely. They hung all sorts of things in the distended lobes of their ears. One had succeeded in inserting a fine big glittering tobacco tin. Others had invented elaborate topiary designs in their hair, shaving their heads so as to leave strange tufts, patches, crescents on the most unexpected places. Of the intricacy of these designs they seemed absurdly proud. Various sorts of treasure trove hung from them-a bunch of keys to which there were no locks, discarded hunting knives, tips of antelope horns, discharged brass cartridges, a hundred and one valueless trifles plucked proudly from the rubbish heap. They were all clothed. We had supplied each with a red blanket, a blue jersey, and a water bottle. The blankets they were twisting most ingeniously into turbans. Beside these they sported a great variety of garments. Shooting coats that had seen better days, a dozen shabby overcoats-worn proudly through the hottest noons-raggety breeches and trousers made by some London tailor, queer baggy homemades of the same persuasion, or quite simply the square of cotton cloth arranged somewhat like a short tight skirt, or nothing at all as the man's taste ran. They were many of them amusing enough; but somehow they did not look entirely farcical and ridiculous, like our negroes putting on airs. All these things were worn with a simplicity of quiet confidence in their entire fitness. And beneath the red blanket turbans the half-wild savage faces peered out.
Now Mahomet approached. Mahomet was my personal boy. He was a Somali from the Northwest coast, dusky brown, with the regular clear-cut features of a Greek marble god. His dress was of neat khaki, and he looked down on savages; but, also, as with all the dark-skinned races, up to his white master. Mahomet was with me during all my African stay, and tested out nobly. As yet, of course, I did not know him.
"Chakula taiari," said he.
That is Swahili. It means literally "food is ready." After one has hunted in Africa for a few months, it means also "paradise is opened," "grief is at an end," "joy and thanksgiving are now in order," and similar affairs. Those two words are never forgotten, and the veriest beginner in Swahili can recognize them without the slightest effort.
We followed Mahomet. Somehow, without orders, in all this confusion, the personal staff had been quietly and efficiently busy. Drawn a little to one side stood a table with four chairs. The table was covered with a white cloth, and was set with a beautiful white enamel service. We took our places. Behind each chair straight as a ramrod stood a neat khaki-clad boy. They brought us food, and presented it properly on the left side, waiting like well-trained butlers. We might have been in a London restaurant. As three of us were Americans, we felt a trifle dazed. The porters, having finished the distribution of their loads, squatted on their heels and watched us respectfully.
And then, not two hundred yards away, four ostriches paced slowly across the track, paying not the slightest attention to us-our first real wild ostriches, scornful of oranges, careless of tourists, and rightful guardians of their own snowy plumes. The passage of these four solemn birds seemed somehow to lend this strange open-air meal an exotic flavour. We were indeed in Africa; and the ostriches helped us to realize it.
We finished breakfast and arose from our chairs. Instantly a half dozen men sprang forward. Before our amazed eyes the table service, the chairs and the table itself disappeared into neat packages. M'ganga arose to his feet.
"Bandika!" he cried.
The askaris rushed here and there actively.
"Bandika! bandika! bandika!" they cried repeatedly.
The men sprang into activity. A struggle heaved the varicoloured multitude-and, lo! each man stood upright, his load balanced on his head. At the same moment the syces led up our horses, mounted and headed across the little plain whence had come the four ostriches. Our African journey had definitely begun.
Behind us, all abreast marched the four gunbearers; then the four syces; then the safari single file, an askari at the head bearing proudly his ancient musket and our banner, other askaris flanking, M'ganga bringing up the rear with his mighty umbrella and an unsuspected rhinoceros-hide whip. The tent boys and the cook scattered along the flank anywhere, as befitted the free and independent who had nothing to do with the serious business of marching. A measured sound of drumming followed the beating of loads with a hundred sticks; a wild, weird chanting burst from the ranks and died down again as one or another individual or group felt moved to song. One lot had a formal chant and response. Their leader, in a high falsetto, said something like,
"Kuna koma kuno,"
and all his tribesmen would follow with a single word in a deep gruff tone,
All of which undoubtedly helped immensely.
The country was a bully country, but somehow it did not look like Africa. That is to say, it looked altogether too much like any amount of country at home. There was nothing strange and exotic about it. We crossed a little plain, and up over a small hill, down into a shallow canyon that seemed to be wooded with live oaks, across a grass valley or so, and around a grass hill. Then we went into camp at the edge of another grass valley, by a stream across which rose some ordinary low cliffs.
That is the disconcerting thing about a whole lot of this country-it is so much like home. Of course, there are many wide districts exotic enough in all conscience-the jungle beds of the rivers, the bamboo forests, the great tangled forests themselves, the banana groves down the aisles of which dance savages with shields-but so very much of it is familiar. One needs only church spires and a red-roofed village or so to imagine one's self in Surrey. There is any amount of country like Arizona, and more like the uplands of Wyoming, and a lot of it resembling the smaller landscapes of New England. The prospects of the whole world are there, so that somewhere every wanderer can find the countryside of his own home repeated. And, by the same token, that is exactly what makes a good deal of it so startling. When a man sees a file of spear-armed savages, or a pair of snorty old rhinos, step out into what has seemed practically his own back yard home, he is even more startled than if he had encountered them in quite strange surroundings.
We rode into the grass meadow and picked camp site. The men trailed in and dumped down their loads in a row.
At a signal they set to work. A dozen to each tent got them up in a jiffy. A long file brought firewood from the stream bed. Others carried water, stones for the cook, a dozen other matters. The tent boys rescued our boxes; they put together the cots and made the beds, even before the tents were raised from the ground. Within an incredibly short space of time the three green tents were up and arranged, each with its bed made, its mosquito bar hung, its personal box open, its folding washstand ready with towels and soap, the table and chairs unlimbered. At a discreet distance flickered the cook campfire, and at a still discreeter distance the little tents of the men gleamed pure white against the green of the high grass.
V. MEMBA SASA
I wish I could plunge you at once into the excitements of big game in Africa, but I cannot truthfully do so. To be sure, we went hunting that afternoon, up over the low cliffs, and we saw several of a very lively little animal known as the Chandler's reedbuck. This was not supposed to be a game country, and that was all we did see. At these we shot several times-disgracefully. In fact, for several days we could not shoot at all, at any range, nor at anything. It was very sad, and very aggravating. Afterward we found that this is an invariable experience to the newcomer. The light is new, the air is different, the sizes of the game are deceiving. Nobody can at first hit anything. At the end of five days we suddenly began to shoot our normal gait. Why, I do not know.
But in this afternoon tramp around the low cliffs after the elusive reedbuck, I for the first time became acquainted with a man who developed into a real friend.
His name is Memba Sasa. Memba Sasa are two Swahili words meaning "now a crocodile." Subsequently, after I had learned to talk Swahili, I tried to find out what he was formerly, before he was a crocodile, but did not succeed.
He was of the tribe of the Monumwezi, of medium height, compactly and sturdily built, carried himself very erect, and moved with a concentrated and vigorous purposefulness. His countenance might be described as pleasing but not handsome, of a dark chocolate brown, with the broad nose of the negro, but with a firm mouth, high cheekbones, and a frowning intentness of brow that was very fine. When you talked to him he looked you straight in the eye. His own eyes were shaded by long, soft, curling lashes behind which they looked steadily and gravely-sometimes fiercely-on the world. He rarely smiled-never merely in understanding or for politeness' sake-and never laughed unless there was something really amusing. Then he chuckled from deep in his chest, the most contagious laughter you can imagine. Often we, at the other end of the camp, have laughed in sympathy, just at the sound of that deep and hearty ho! ho! ho! of Memba Sasa. Even at something genuinely amusing he never laughed much, nor without a very definite restraint. In fact, about him was no slackness, no sprawling abandon of the native in relaxation; but always a taut efficiency and a never-failing self-respect.
Naturally, behind such a fixed moral fibre must always be some moral idea. When a man lives up to a real, not a pompous, dignity some ideal must inform it. Memba Sasa's ideal was that of the Hunter.
He was a gunbearer; and he considered that a good gunbearer stood quite a few notches above any other human being, save always the white man, of course. And even among the latter Memba Sasa made great differences. These differences he kept to himself, and treated all with equal respect. Nevertheless, they existed, and Memba Sasa very well knew that fact. In the white world were two classes of masters: those who hunted well, and those who were considered by them as their friends and equals. Why they should be so considered Memba Sasa did not know, but he trusted the Hunter's judgment. These were the bwanas, or masters. All the rest were merely mazungos, or, "white men." To their faces he called them bwana, but in his heart he considered them not.
Observe, I say those who hunted well. Memba Sasa, in his profession as gunbearer, had to accompany those who hunted badly. In them he took no pride; from them he held aloof in spirit; but for them he did his conscientious best, upheld by the dignity of his profession.
For to Mamba Sasa that profession was the proudest to which a black man could aspire. He prided himself on mastering its every detail, in accomplishing its every duty minutely and exactly. The major virtues of a gunbearer are not to be despised by anybody; for they comprise great physical courage, endurance, and loyalty: the accomplishments of a gunbearer are worthy of a man's best faculties, for they include the ability to see and track game, to take and prepare properly any sort of a trophy, field taxidermy, butchering game meat, wood and plainscraft, the knowledge of how properly to care for firearms in all sorts of circumstances, and a half hundred other like minutiae. Memba Sasa knew these things, and he performed them with the artist's love for details; and his keen eyes were always spying for new ways.
At a certain time I shot an egret, and prepared to take the skin. Memba Sasa asked if he might watch me do it. Two months later, having killed a really gaudy peacocklike member of the guinea fowl tribe, I handed it over to him with instructions to take off the breast feathers before giving it to the cook. In a half hour he brought me the complete skin, I examined it carefully, and found it to be well done in every respect. Now in skinning a bird there are a number of delicate and unusual operations, such as stripping the primary quills from the bone, cutting the ear cover, and the like. I had explained none of them; and yet Memba Sasa, unassisted, had grasped their method from a single demonstration and had remembered them all two months later! C. had a trick in making the second skin incision of a trophy head that had the effect of giving a better purchase to the knife. Its exact description would be out of place here, but it actually consisted merely in inserting the point of the knife two inches away from the place it is ordinarily inserted. One day we noticed that Memba Sasa was making his incisions in that manner. I went to Africa fully determined to care for my own rifle. The modern high-velocity gun needs rather especial treatment; mere wiping out will not do. I found that Memba Sasa already knew all about boiling water, and the necessity for having it really boiling, about subsequent metal sweating, and all the rest. After watching him at work I concluded, rightly, that he would do a lot better job than I.
To the new employer Memba Sasa maintained an attitude of strict professional loyalty. His personal respect was upheld by the necessity of every man to do his job in the world. Memba Sasa did his. He cleaned the rifles; he saw that everything was in order for the day's march; he was at my elbow all ways with more cartridges and the spare rifle; he trailed and looked conscientiously. In his attitude was the stolidity of the wooden Indian. No action of mine, no joke on the part of his companions, no circumstance in the varying fortunes of the field gained from him the faintest flicker of either approval, disapproval, or interest. When we returned to camp he deposited my water bottle and camera, seized the cleaning implements, and departed to his own campfire. In the field he pointed out game that I did not see, and waited imperturbably the result of my shot.
As I before stated, the result of that shot for the first five days was very apt to be nil. This, at the time, puzzled and grieved me a lot. Occasionally I looked at Memba Sasa to catch some sign of sympathy, disgust, contempt, or-rarely-triumph at a lucky shot. Nothing. He gently but firmly took away my rifle, reloaded it, and handed it back; then waited respectfully for my next move. He knew no English, and I no Swahili.
But as time went on this attitude changed. I was armed with the new Springfield rifle, a weapon with 2,700 feet velocity, and with a marvellously flat trajectory. This commanding advantage, combined with a very long familiarity with firearms, enabled me to do some fairish shooting, after the strangeness of these new conditions had been mastered. Memba Sasa began to take a dawning interest in me as a possible source of pride. We began to develop between us a means of communication. I set myself deliberately to learn his language, and after he had cautiously determined that I really meant it, he took the greatest pains-always gravely-to teach me. A more human feeling sprang up between us.
But we had still the final test to undergo-that of danger and the tight corner.
In close quarters the gunbearer has the hardest job in the world. I have the most profound respect for his absolute courage. Even to a man armed and privileged to shoot and defend himself, a charging lion is an awesome thing, requiring a certain amount of coolness and resolution to face effectively. Think of the gunbearer at his elbow, depending not on himself but on the courage and coolness of another. He cannot do one solitary thing to defend himself. To bolt for the safety of a tree is to beg the question completely, to brand himself as a shenzi forever; to fire a gun in any circumstances is to beg the question also, for the white man must be able to depend absolutely on his second gun in an emergency. Those things are outside consideration, even, of any respectable gunbearer. In addition, he must keep cool. He must see clearly in the thickest excitement; must be ready unobtrusively to pass up the second gun in the position most convenient for immediate use, to seize the other and to perform the finicky task of reloading correctly while some rampageous beast is raising particular thunder a few yards away. All this in absolute dependence on the ability of his bwana to deal with the situation. I can confess very truly that once or twice that little unobtrusive touch of Memba Sasa crouched close to my elbow steadied me with the thought of how little right I-with a rifle in my hand-had to be scared. And the best compliment I ever received I overheard by chance. I had wounded a lion when out by myself, and had returned to camp for a heavier rifle and for Memba Sasa to do the trailing. From my tent I overheard the following conversation between Memba Sasa and the cook:
"The grass is high," said the cook. "Are you not afraid to go after a wounded lion with only one white man?"
"My one white man is enough," replied Memba Sasa.
It is a quality of courage that I must confess would be quite beyond me-to depend entirely on the other fellow, and not at all on myself. This courage is always remarkable to me, even in the case of the gunbearer who knows all about the man whose heels he follows. But consider that of the gunbearer's first experience with a stranger. The former has no idea of how the white man will act; whether he will get nervous, get actually panicky, lose his shooting ability, and generally mess things up. Nevertheless, he follows his master in, and he stands by. If the hunter fails, the gunbearer will probably die. To me it is rather fine: for he does it, not from the personal affection and loyalty which will carry men far, but from a sheer sense of duty and pride of caste. The quiet pride of the really good men, like Memba Sasa, is easy to understand.
And the records are full of stories of the white man who has not made good: of the coward who bolts, leaving his black man to take the brunt of it, or who sticks but loses his head. Each new employer must be very closely and interestedly scrutinized. In the light of subsequent experience, I can no longer wonder at Memba Sasa's first detached and impersonal attitude.
As time went on, however, and we grew to know each other better, this attitude entirely changed. At first the change consisted merely in dropping the disinterested pose as respects game. For it was a pose. Memba Sasa was most keenly interested in game whenever it was an object of pursuit. It did not matter how common the particular species might be: if we wanted it, Memba Sasa would look upon it with eager ferocity; and if we did not want it, he paid no attention to it at all. When we started in the morning, or in the relaxation of our return at night, I would mention casually a few of the things that might prove acceptable.
"To-morrow we want kongoni for boys' meat, or zebra; and some meat for masters-Tommy, impala, oribi," and Memba Sasa knew as well as I did what we needed to fill out our trophy collection. When he caught sight of one of these animals his whole countenance changed. The lines of his face set, his lips drew back from his teeth, his eyes fairly darted fire in the fixity of their gaze. He was like a fine pointer dog on birds, or like the splendid savage he was at heart.
"M'palla!" he hissed; and then after a second, in a restrained fierce voice, "Na-ona? Do you see?"
If I did not see he pointed cautiously. His own eyes never left the beast. Rarely he stayed put while I made the stalk. More often he glided like a snake at my heels. If the bullet hit, Memba Sasa always exhaled a grunt of satisfaction-"hah!"-in which triumph and satisfaction mingled with a faint derision at the unfortunate beast. In case of a trophy he squatted anxiously at the animal's head while I took my measurements, assisting very intelligently with the tape line. When I had finished, he always looked up at me with wrinkled brow.
"Footie n'gapi?" he inquired. This means literally, "How many feet?", footie being his euphemistic invention of a word for the tape. I would tell him how many "footie" and how many "inchie" the measurement proved to be. From the depths of his wonderful memory he would dig up the measurements of another beast of the same sort I had killed months back, but which he had remembered accurately from a single hearing.
The shooting of a beast he always detailed to his few cronies in camp: the other gunbearers, and one or two from his own tribe. He always used the first person plural, "we" did so and so; and took an inordinate pride in making out his bwana as being an altogether superior person to any of the other gunbearer's bwanas. Over a miss he always looked sad; but with a dignified sadness as though we had met with undeserved misfortune sent by malignant gods. If there were any possible alleviating explanation, Memba Sasa made the most of it, provided our fiasco was witnessed. If we were alone in our disgrace, he buried the incident fathoms deep. He took an inordinate pride in our using the minimum number of cartridges, and would explain to me in a loud tone of voice that we had cartridges enough in the belt. When we had not cartridges enough, he would sneak around after dark to get some more. At times he would even surreptitiously "lift" a few from B.'s gunbearer!
When in camp, with his "cazi" finished, Memba Sasa did fancy work! The picture of this powerful half-savage, his fierce brows bent over a tiny piece of linen, his strong fingers fussing with little stitches, will always appeal to my sense of the incongruous. Through a piece of linen he punched holes with a porcupine quill. Then he "buttonhole" stitched the holes, and embroidered patterns between them with fine white thread. The result was an openwork pattern heavily encrusted with beautiful fine embroidery. It was most astounding stuff, such as you would expect from a French convent, perhaps, but never from an African savage. He did a circular piece and a long narrow piece. They took him three months to finish, and then he sewed them together to form a skull cap. Billy, entranced with the lacelike delicacy of the work, promptly captured it; whereupon Memba Sasa philosophically started another.
By this time he had identified himself with my fortunes. We had become a firm whose business it was to carry out the affairs of a single personality-me. Memba Sasa, among other things, undertook the dignity. When I walked through a crowd, Memba Sasa zealously kicked everybody out of my royal path. When I started to issue a command, Memba Sasa finished it and amplified it and put a snapper on it. When I came into camp, Memba Sasa saw to it personally that my tent went up promptly and properly, although that was really not part of his "cazi" at all. And when somewhere beyond my ken some miserable boy had committed a crime, I never remained long in ignorance of that fact.
Perhaps I happened to be sitting in my folding chair idly smoking a pipe and reading a book. Across the open places of the camp would stride Memba Sasa, very erect, very rigid, moving in short indignant jerks, his eye flashing fire. Behind him would sneak a very hang-dog boy. Memba Sasa marched straight up to me, faced right, and drew one side, his silence sparkling with honest indignation.
"Just look at THAT!" his attitude seemed to say, "Could you believe such human depravity possible? And against OUR authority?"
He always stood, quite rigid, waiting for me to speak.
"Well, Memba Sasa?" I would inquire, after I had enjoyed the show a little.
In a few restrained words he put the case before me, always briefly, always with a scornful dignity. This shenzi has done so-and-so.
We will suppose the case fairly serious. I listened to the man's story, if necessary called a few witnesses, delivered judgment. All the while Memba Sasa stood at rigid attention, fairly bristling virtue, like the good dog standing by at the punishment of the bad dogs. And in his attitude was a subtle triumph, as one would say: "You see! Fool with my bwana, will you! Just let anybody try to get funny with US!" Judgment pronounced-we have supposed the case serious, you remember-Memba Sasa himself applied the lash. I think he really enjoyed that; but it was a restrained joy. The whip descended deliberately, without excitement.
The man's devotion in unusual circumstances was beyond praise. Danger or excitement incite a sort of loyalty in any good man; but humdrum, disagreeable difficulty is a different matter.
One day we marched over a country of thorn-scrub desert. Since two days we had been cut loose from water, and had been depending on a small amount carried in zinc drums. Now our only reasons for faring were a conical hill, over the horizon, and the knowledge of a river somewhere beyond. How far beyond, or in what direction, we did not know. We had thirty men with us, a more or less ragtag lot, picked up anyhow in the bazaars. They were soft, ill-disciplined and uncertain. For five or six hours they marched well enough. Then the sun began to get very hot, and some of them began to straggle. They had, of course, no intention of deserting, for their only hope of surviving lay in staying with us; but their loads had become heavy, and they took too many rests. We put a good man behind, but without much avail. In open country a safari can be permitted to straggle over miles, for always it can keep in touch by sight; but in this thorn-scrub desert, that looks all alike, a man fifty yards out of sight is fifty yards lost. We would march fifteen or twenty minutes, then sit down to wait until the rearmost men had straggled in, perhaps a half hour later. And we did not dare move on until the tale of our thirty was complete. At this rate progress was very slow, and as the fierce equatorial sun increased in strength, became always slower still. The situation became alarming. We were quite out of water, and we had no idea where water was to be found. To complicate matters, the thornbrush thickened to a jungle.
My single companion and I consulted. It was agreed that I was to push on as rapidly as possible to locate the water, while he was to try to hold the caravan together. Accordingly, Memba Sasa and I marched ahead. We tried to leave a trail to follow; and we hoped fervently that our guess as to the stream's course would prove to be a good one. At the end of two hours and a half we found the water-a beautiful jungle-shaded stream-and filled ourselves up therewith. Our duty was accomplished, for we had left a trail to be followed. Nevertheless, I felt I should like to take back our full canteens to relieve the worst cases. Memba Sasa would not hear of it, and even while I was talking to him seized the canteens and disappeared.
At the end of two hours more camp was made, after a fashion; but still four men had failed to come in. We built a smudge in the hope of guiding them; and gave them up. If they had followed our trail, they should have been in long ago; if they had missed that trail, heaven knows where they were, or where we should go to find them. Dusk was falling, and, to tell the truth, we were both very much done up by a long day at 115 degrees in the shade under an equatorial sun. The missing men would climb trees away from the beasts, and we would organize a search next day. As we debated these things, to us came Memba Sasa.
"I want to take 'Winchi,'" said he. "Winchi" is his name for my Winchester 405.
"Why?" we asked.
"If I can take Winchi, I will find the men," said he.
This was entirely voluntary on his part. He, as well as we, had had a hard day, and he had made a double journey for part of it. We gave him Winchi and he departed. Sometime after midnight he returned with the missing men.
Perhaps a dozen times all told he volunteered for these special services; once in particular, after a fourteen-hour day, he set off at nine o'clock at night in a soaking rainstorm, wandered until two o'clock, and returned unsuccessful, to rouse me and report gravely that he could not find them. For these services he neither received nor expected special reward. And catch him doing anything outside his strict "cazi" except for US.
We were always very ceremonious and dignified in our relations on such occasions. Memba Sasa would suddenly appear, deposit the rifle in its place, and stand at attention.
"Well, Memba Sasa?" I would inquire.
"I have found the men; they are in camp."
Then I would give him his reward. It was either the word "assanti," or the two words "assanti sana," according to the difficulty and importance of the task accomplished. They mean simply "thank you" and "thank you very much."
Once or twice, after a particularly long and difficult month or so, when Memba Sasa has been almost literally my alter ego, I have called him up for special praise. "I am very pleased with you, Memba Sasa," said I. "You have done your cazi well. You are a good man."
He accepted this with dignity, without deprecation, and without the idiocy of spoken gratitude. He agreed perfectly with everything I said! "Yes" was his only comment. I liked it.
On our ultimate success in a difficult enterprise Memba Sasa set great store; and his delight in ultimate success was apparently quite apart from personal considerations. We had been hunting greater kudu for five weeks before we finally landed one. The greater kudu is, with the bongo, easily the prize beast in East Africa, and very few are shot. By a piece of bad luck, for him, I had sent Memba Sasa out in a different direction to look for signs the afternoon we finally got one. The kill was made just at dusk. C. and I, with Mavrouki, built a fire and stayed, while Kongoni went to camp after men. There he broke the news to Memba Sasa that the great prize had been captured, and he absent. Memba Sasa was hugely delighted, nor did he in any way show what must have been a great disappointment to him. After repeating the news triumphantly to every one in camp, he came out to where we were waiting, arrived quite out of breath, and grabbed me by the hand in heartiest congratulation.
Memba Sasa went in not at all for personal ornamentation, any more than he allowed his dignity to be broken by anything resembling emotionalism. No tattoo marks, no ear ornaments, no rings nor bracelets. He never even picked up an ostrich feather for his head. On the latter he sometimes wore an old felt hat; sometimes, more picturesquely, an orange-coloured fillet. Khaki shirt, khaki "shorts," blue puttees, besides his knife and my own accoutrements: that was all. In town he was all white clad, a long fine linen robe reaching to his feet; and one of the lacelike skull caps he was so very skilful at making.
That will do for a preliminary sketch. If you follow these pages, you will hear more of him; he is worth it.
VI. THE FIRST GAME CAMP
In the review of "first" impressions with which we are concerned, we must now skip a week or ten days to stop at what is known in our diaries as the First Ford of the Guaso Nyero River.
These ten days were not uneventful. We had crossed the wide and undulating plains, had paused at some tall beautiful falls plunging several hundred feet into the mysteriousness of a dense forest on which we looked down. There we had enjoyed some duck, goose and snipe shooting; had made the acquaintance of a few of the Masai, and had looked with awe on our first hippo tracks in the mud beside a tiny ditchlike stream. Here and there were small game herds. In the light of later experience we now realize that these were nothing at all; but at the time the sight of full-grown wild animals out in plain sight was quite wonderful. At the close of the day's march we always wandered out with our rifles to see what we could find. Everything was new to us, and we had our men to feed. Our shooting gradually improved until we had overcome the difficulties peculiar to this new country and were doing as well as we could do anywhere.
Now, at the end of a hard day through scrub, over rolling bold hills, and down a scrub brush slope, we had reached the banks of the Guaso Nyero.
At this point, above the junction of its principal tributary rivers, it was a stream about sixty or seventy feet wide, flowing swift between high banks. A few trees marked its course, but nothing like a jungle. The ford was in swift water just above a deep still pool suspected of crocodiles. We found the water about waist deep, stretched a rope across, and forcibly persuaded our eager boys that one at a time was about what the situation required. On the other side we made camp on an open flat. Having marched so far continuously, we resolved to settle down for a while. The men had been without sufficient meat; and we desired very much to look over the country closely, and to collect a few heads as trophies.
Perhaps a word might not come amiss as to the killing of game. The case is here quite different from the condition of affairs at home. Here animal life is most extraordinarily abundant; it furnishes the main food supply to the traveller; and at present is probably increasing slightly, certainly holding its own. Whatever toll the sportsman or traveller take is as nothing compared to what he might take if he were an unscrupulous game hog. If his cartridges and his shoulder held out, he could easily kill a hundred animals a day instead of the few he requires. In that sense, then, no man slaughters indiscriminately. During the course of a year he probably shoots from two hundred to two hundred and fifty beasts, provided he is travelling with an ordinary sized caravan. This, the experts say, is about the annual toll of one lion. If the traveller gets his lion, he plays even with the fauna of the country; if he gets two or more lions, he has something to his credit. This probably explains why the game is still so remarkably abundant near the road and on the very outskirts of the town.
We were now much in need of a fair quantity of meat, both for immediate consumption of our safari, and to make biltong or jerky. Later, in like circumstances, we should have sallied forth in a businesslike fashion, dropped the requisite number of zebra and hartebeeste as near camp as possible, and called it a job. Now, however, being new to the game, we much desired good trophies in variety. Therefore, we scoured the country far and wide for desirable heads; and the meat waited upon the acquisition of the trophy.
This, then, might be called our first Shooting Camp. Heretofore we had travelled every day. Now the boys settled down to what the native porter considers the height of bliss: a permanent camp with plenty to eat. Each morning we were off before daylight, riding our horses, and followed by the gunbearers, the syces, and fifteen or twenty porters. The country rose from the river in a long gentle slope grown with low brush and scattered candlestick euphorbias. This slope ended in a scattered range of low rocky buttes. Through any one of the various openings between them, we rode to find ourselves on the borders of an undulating grass country of low rounded hills with wide valleys winding between them. In these valleys and on these hills was the game.
Daylight of the day I would tell about found us just at the edge of the little buttes. Down one of the slopes the growing half light revealed two oryx feeding, magnificent big creatures, with straight rapier horns three feet in length. These were most exciting and desirable, so off my horse I got and began to sneak up on them through the low tufts of grass. They fed quite calmly. I congratulated myself, and slipped nearer. Without even looking in my direction, they trotted away. Somewhat chagrined, I returned to my companions, and we rode on.
Then across a mile-wide valley we saw two dark objects in the tall grass; and almost immediately identified these as rhinoceroses, the first we had seen. They stood there side by side, gazing off into space, doing nothing in a busy morning world. After staring at them through our glasses for some time, we organized a raid. At the bottom of the valley we left the horses and porters; lined up, each with his gunbearer at his elbow; and advanced on the enemy. B. was to have the shot According to all the books we should have been able, provided we were downwind and made no noise, to have approached within fifty or sixty yards undiscovered. However, at a little over a hundred yards they both turned tail and departed at a swift trot, their heads held well up and their tails sticking up straight and stiff in the most ridiculous fashion. No good shooting at them in such circumstances, so we watched them go, still keeping up their slashing trot, growing smaller and smaller in the distance until finally they disappeared over the top of a swell.
We set ourselves methodically to following them. It took us over an hour of steady plodding before we again came in sight of them. They were this time nearer the top of a hill, and we saw instantly that the curve of the slope was such that we could approach within fifty yards before coming in sight at all. Therefore, once more we dismounted, lined up in battle array, and advanced.
Sensations? Distinctly nervous, decidedly alert, and somewhat self-congratulatory that I was not more scared. No man can predicate how efficient he is going to be in the presence of really dangerous game. Only the actual trial will show. This is not a question of courage at all, but of purely involuntary reaction of the nerves. Very few men are physical cowards. They will and do face anything. But a great many men are rendered inefficient by the way their nervous systems act under stress. It is not a matter for control by will power in the slightest degree. So the big game hunter must determine by actual trial whether it so happens that the great excitement of danger renders his hand shaky or steady. The excitement in either case is the same. No man is ever "cool" in the sense that personal danger is of the same kind of indifference to him as clambering aboard a street car. He must always be lifted above himself, must enter an extra normal condition to meet extra normal circumstances. He can always control his conduct; but he can by no means always determine the way the inevitable excitement will affect his coordinations. And unfortunately, in the final result it does not matter how brave a man is, but how closely he can hold. If he finds that his nervous excitement renders him unsteady, he has no business ever to tackle dangerous game alone. If, on the other hand, he discovers that IDENTICALLY THE SAME nervous excitement happens to steady his front sight to rocklike rigidity-a rigidity he could not possibly attain in normal conditions-then he will probably keep out of trouble.
To amplify this further by a specific instance: I hunted for a short time in Africa with a man who was always eager for exciting encounters, whose pluck was admirable in every way, but whose nervous reaction so manifested itself that he was utterly unable to do even decent shooting at any range. Furthermore, his very judgment and power of observation were so obscured that he could not remember afterward with any accuracy what had happened-which way the beast was pointing, how many there were of them, in which direction they went, how many shots were fired, in short all the smaller details of the affair. He thought he remembered. After the show was over it was quite amusing to get his version of the incident. It was almost always so wide of the fact as to be little recognizable. And, mind you, he was perfectly sincere in his belief, and absolutely courageous. Only he was quite unfitted by physical make-up for a big game hunter; and I was relieved when, after a short time, his route and mine separated.
Well, we clambered up that slope with a fine compound of tension, expectation, and latent uneasiness as to just what was going to happen, anyway. Finally, we raised the backs of the beasts, stooped, sneaked a little nearer, and finally at a signal stood upright perhaps forty yards from the brutes.
For the first time I experienced a sensation I was destined many times to repeat-that of the sheer size of the animals. Menagerie rhinoceroses had been of the smaller Indian variety; and in any case most menagerie beasts are more or less stunted. These two, facing us, their little eyes blinking, looked like full-grown ironclads on dry land. The moment we stood erect B. fired at the larger of the two. Instantly they turned and were off at a tearing run. I opened fire, and B. let loose his second barrel. At about two hundred and fifty yards the big rhinoceros suddenly fell on his side, while the other continued his flight. It was all over-very exciting because we got excited, but not in the least dangerous.
The boys were delighted, for here was meat in plenty for everybody. We measured the beast, photographed him, marvelled at his immense size, and turned him over to the gunbearers for treatment. In half an hour or so a long string of porters headed across the hills in the direction of camp, many miles distant, each carrying his load either of meat, or the trophies. Rhinoceros hide, properly treated, becomes as transparent as amber, and so from it can be made many very beautiful souvenirs, such as bowls, trays, paper knives, table tops, whips, canes, and the like. And, of course, the feet of one's first rhino are always saved for cigar boxes or inkstands.
Already we had an admiring and impatient audience. From all directions came the carrion birds. They circled far up in the heavens; they shot downward like plummets from a great height with an inspiring roar of wings; they stood thick in a solemn circle all around the scene of the kill; they rose with a heavy flapping when we moved in their direction. Skulking forms flashed in the grass, and occasionally the pointed ears of a jackal would rise inquiringly.
It was by now nearly noon. The sun shone clear and hot; the heat shimmer rose in clouds from the brown surface of the hills. In all directions we could make out small gameherds resting motionless in the heat of the day, the mirage throwing them into fantastic shapes. While the final disposition was being made of the defunct rhinoceros I wandered over the edge of the hill to see what I could see, and fairly blundered on a herd of oryx at about a hundred and fifty yards range. They looked at me a startled instant, then leaped away to the left at a tremendous speed. By a lucky shot, I bowled one over. He was a beautiful beast, with his black and white face and his straight rapierlike horns nearly three feet long, and I was most pleased to get him. Memba Sasa came running at the sound of the shot. We set about preparing the head.
Then through a gap in the hills far to the left we saw a little black speck moving rapidly in our direction. At the end of a minute we could make it out as the second rhinoceros. He had run heaven knows how many miles away, and now he was returning; whether with some idea of rejoining his companion or from sheer chance, I do not know. At any rate, here he was, still ploughing along at his swinging trot. His course led him along a side hill about four hundred yards from where the oryx lay. When he was directly opposite I took the Springfield and fired, not at him, but at a spot five or six feet in front of his nose. The bullet threw up a column of dust. Rhino brought up short with astonishment, wheeled to the left, and made off at a gallop. I dropped another bullet in front of him. Again he stopped, changed direction, and made off. For the third time I hit the ground in front of him. Then he got angry, put his head down and charged the spot.
Five more shots I expended on the amusement of that rhinoceros; and at the last had run furiously charging back and forth in a twenty-yard space, very angry at the little puffing, screeching bullets, but quite unable to catch one. Then he made up his mind and departed the way he had come, finally disappearing as a little rapidly moving black speck through the gap in the hills where we had first caught sight of him.
We finished caring for the oryx, and returned to camp. To our surprise we found we were at least seven or eight miles out.
In this fashion days passed very quickly. The early dewy start in the cool of the morning, the gradual grateful warming up of sunrise, and immediately after, the rest during the midday heats under a shady tree, the long trek back to camp at sunset, the hot bath after the toilsome day-all these were very pleasant. Then the swift falling night, and the gleam of many tiny fires springing up out of the darkness; with each its sticks full of meat roasting, and its little circle of men, their skins gleaming in the light. As we sat smoking, we would become aware that M'ganga, the headman, was standing silent awaiting orders. Some one would happen to see the white of his eyes, or perhaps he might smile so that his teeth would become visible. Otherwise he might stand there an hour, and no one the wiser, for he was respectfully silent, and exactly the colour of the night.
We would indicate to him our plans for the morrow, and he would disappear. Then at a distance of twenty or thirty feet from the front of our tents a tiny tongue of flame would lick up. Dark figures could be seen manipulating wood. A blazing fire sprang up, against which we could see the motionless and picturesque figure of Saa-sita (Six o'Clock), the askari of the first night watch, leaning on his musket. He was a most picturesque figure, for his fancy ran to original headdresses, and at the moment he affected a wonderful upstanding structure made of marabout wings.