Read CHAPTER TWO - SPORT BEGINS IN EARNEST of Hunting the Lions , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

Time, which is ever on the wing, working mighty changes in the affairs of man, soon transported our hero from Mrs Pry’s dingy little back parlour in London to the luxuriant wilds of Africa.

There, on the evening of a splendid day, he sat down to rest under the grateful shade of an umbrageous tree, in company with Major Garret and Lieutenant Wilkins, both of whom had turned out to be men after Tom Brown’s own heart.  They were both bronzed strapping warriors, and had entered those regions not only with a view to hunting lions, but also for the purpose of making collections of the plants and insects of the country, the major being a persevering entomologist, while the lieutenant was enthusiastically botanical.  To the delight of these gentlemen they found that Tom, although not deeply learned on these subjects, was nevertheless extremely intelligent and appreciative.

The major was very tall, thin; strong, wiry, and black-bearded.  The lieutenant was very short, thickset, deep-chested, and powerful.  Tom himself was burly, ruddy, broad, and rather above middle size.

“Now this is what I call real felicity,” observed the major, pulling out a pipe which he proceeded to fill.  Tom Brown followed his example, and Bob Wilkins, who was not a smoker, and had a somewhat facetious disposition, amused himself by quizzing his comrades and carving a piece of wood with his penknife.

“Does the real felicity, major, result from the tobacco or the surrounding circumstances?” asked Wilkins.

“From both, Bob,” replied the other with a smile, “and you need not spoil my felicity by repeating your well-known set of phrases about the evils of smoking, for I know them all by heart, and I dare say so does Tom.”

“Impossible,” said Wilkins; “I have not yet been two weeks in his company; he cannot, therefore, have heard a tithe of the irresistible arguments which I bring to bear on that pernicious practice, and which I hope some day to throw into shape and give to the public in the form of a bulky volume.”

“Which will end in smoke,” interrupted the major.

“In a literal sense, too,” added Tom Brown, “for it will be sold as waste-paper and be made up into matches.”

“We shall see,” retorted Wilkins, cutting carefully round the right nostril of a baboon’s head which he had carved on the end of a walking-stick; “meanwhile, major, as you are better acquainted than we are with this outlandish country, and have taken on yourself the leadership of the party, will you condescend to give Tom Brown and me some idea of your intended movements ­that is, if smoke and felicity will permit you to do so?”

“With pleasure, my dear fellow,” said the major puffing vigorously for a few moments to get his pipe well alight.  “It was my intention to make for Big Buffalo’s Village, or kraal as they call it here, and, getting the assistance of some of his sable Majesty’s subjects, hunt the country in his neighbourhood, but I heard from Hicks this morning, before we left the camp, that a band of traders, at a kraal not far from us, are about to start for the Zulu country, and it struck me that we might as well join forces and advance together, for I prefer a large party to a small one ­there is generally more fun to be got out of it.”

“Would it be well to tie ourselves to any one?” asked Tom Brown.  “I have always found that a small party is more manageable than a large one however, I do but throw out the suggestion in all humility.”

“He shall not necessarily be tied to them,” replied the major, re-lighting his pipe, which had a bad habit of going out when he talked; “we may keep company as long as we find it agreeable to do so, and part when we please.  But what say you to the change of plan?  I think it will bring us into a better hunting country.”

“Whatever you think best, major, will please me,” said Tom, “for I’m ignorant of everything here and place myself entirely under your directions.”

“And I am agreeable,” added Bob Wilkins.

“You are neither agreeable nor grammatical,” said the major.

“Well, if you insist on it, I’m agreed.  But do put your pipe out, Tom, and let us resume our march, for we have a long way to go, and much work to do before reaching the camp to-night.”

Thus admonished, Tom Brown made an extinguisher of the end of his forefinger, put his short clay pipe in his waistcoat pocket, and, shouldering his rifle, followed his companions into the forest, on the edge of which they had been resting.

The country through which they passed was extremely beautiful, particularly in the eyes of our hero, for whom the magnificence of tropical vegetation never lost its charms.  The three sportsmen had that morning left their baggage, in a wagon drawn by oxen, in charge of Hicks the trader, who had agreed to allow them to accompany him on a trading expedition, and to serve them in the capacity of guide and general servant.  They had made a detour through the forest with a party of six natives, under the guidance of a Caffre servant named Mafuta, and were well repaid for the time thus spent, by the immense variety of insects and plants which the naturalists found everywhere.  But that which delighted them most was the animal life with which the whole region teemed.  They saw immense herds of wolves, deer of various kinds, hyenas, elands, buffalo, and many other wild beasts, besides innumerable flocks of water-fowl of all kinds.  But they passed these unmolested, having set their hearts that day on securing higher game.  As Wilkins said, “nothing short of a lion, an elephant, a rhinoceros, or hippopotamus” would satisfy them and that they had some chance of securing one or more of these formidable brutes was clear, because their voices had been several times heard, and their footprints had been seen everywhere.

About an hour after resuming their walk, the major went off in hot pursuit of an enormous bee, which he saw humming round a bush.  About the same time, Wilkins fell behind to examine one of the numerous plants that were constantly distracting his attention, so that our hero was left for a time to hunt alone with the natives.  He was walking a considerable distance in advance of them when he came to a dense thicket which was black as midnight, and so still that the falling of a leaf might have been heard.  Tom Brown surveyed the thicket quietly for a few seconds, and observing the marks of some large animal on the ground, he beckoned to the Caffre who carried his spare double-barrelled gun.  Up to this date our hero had not shot any of the large denizens of the African wilderness, and now that he was suddenly called upon to face what he believed to be one of them, he acquitted himself in a way that might have been expected of a member of the Brown family!  He put off his shoes, cocked his piece, and entered the thicket alone ­the natives declining to enter along with him.  Coolly and very quietly he advanced into the gloomy twilight of the thicket, and as he went he felt as though all the vivid dreams and fervid imaginings about lions that had ever passed through his mind from earliest infancy were rushing upon him in a concentrated essence!  Yet there was no outward indication of the burning thoughts within, save in the sparkle of his dark brown eye, and the flush of his brown cheek.  As he wore a brown shooting-coat, he may be said to have been at that time Brown all over!

He had proceeded about fifty yards or so when, just as he turned a winding in the path, he found himself face to face with an old buffalo-bull, fast asleep, and lying down not ten yards off.  To drop on one knee and level his piece was the work of an instant, but unfortunately he snapped a dry twig in doing so.  The eyes of the huge brute opened instantly, and he had half risen before the loud report of the gun rang through the thicket.  Leaping up, Tom Brown took advantage of the smoke to run back a few yards and spring behind a bush, where he waited to observe the result of his shot.  It was more tremendous then he had expected.  A crash on his right told him that another, and unsuspected, denizen of the thicket had been scared from his lair, while the one he had fired at was on his legs snuffing the air for his enemy.  Evidently the wind had been favourable, for immediately he made a dead-set and charged right through the bush behind which our hero was concealed.  Tom leaped on one side; the buffalo-bull turned short round and made another dash at him.  There was only the remnant of the shattered bush between the two; the buffalo stood for a few seconds eyeing him furiously, the blood streaming down its face from a bullet-hole between the two eyes, and its head garnished with a torn mass of the bush.  Again it charged, and again Tom, unable to get a favourable chance for his second barrel, leaped aside and evaded it with difficulty.  The bush was now trampled down, and scarcely formed a shadow of a screen between them; nevertheless Tom stood his ground, hoping to get a shot at the bull’s side, and never for a single instant taking his eye off him.  Once more he charged, and again our hero escaped.  He did not venture, however, to stand another, but turned and fled, closely followed by the infuriated animal.

A few yards in front the path turned at almost right angles.  Tom thought he felt the hot breath of his pursuer on his neck as he doubled actively round the corner.  His enemy could neither diverge from nor check his onward career; right through a fearfully tangled thicket he went, and broke into the open beyond, carrying an immense pile of rubbish on his horns.  Tom instantly threw himself on his back in the thicket to avoid being seen, and hoped that his native followers would now attract the bull’s attention, but not one of them made his appearance, so he started up, and just as the disappointed animal had broken away over the plain, going straight from him, he gave him the second barrel, and hit him high up on the last rib on the off side, in front of the hip.  He threw up his tail, made a tremendous bound in the air, dashed through bush-thorns so dense and close that it seemed perfectly marvellous how he managed it, and fell dead within two hundred yards.

Note.  If the reader should desire fuller accounts of such battles, we recommend to him African Hunting, a very interesting work, by W.C.  Baldwin, Esquire, to whom, with Dr Livingstone, Du Chaillu, and others, I am indebted for most of the information contained in this volume, ­ R.M.B.

The moment it fell the natives descended from the different trees in which they had taken refuge at the commencement of the fray, and were lavish in their compliments; but Tom, who felt that he had been deserted in the hour of need, did not receive these very graciously, and there is no saying how far he might have proceeded in rebuking his followers (for the Brown family is pugnacious under provocation) had not the major’s voice been heard in the distance, shouting, “Hallo! look out! a buffalo! where are you, Tom Brown, Wilkins?”

“Hallo!” he added, bursting suddenly into the open where they were standing, “what’s this ­a ­buffalo? dead!  Have ’ee killed him? why, I saw him alive not two minutes ­”

His speech was cut short by a loud roar, as the buffalo he had been in chase of, scared by the approach of Wilkins, burst through the underwood and charged down on the whole party.  They fled right and left, but as the brute passed, Wilkins, from the other side of the open, fired at it and put a ball in just behind the shoulder-blade.  It did not fall, however, and the three hunters ran after it at full speed, Wilkins leading, Tom Brown next, and the major last.  The natives kept well out of harm’s way on either side; not that they were unusually timid fellows, but they probably felt that where such able hands were at work it was unnecessary for them to interfere!

As the major went racing clumsily along ­for he was what may be called an ill-jointed man, nevertheless as bold as a lion and a capital shot ­ he heard a clatter of hoofs behind him, and, looking over his shoulder, observed another buffalo in full career behind.  He stopped instantly, took quick aim at the animal’s breast, and fired, but apparently without effect.  There chanced to be a forked tree close at hand, to which the major rushed and scrambled up with amazing rapidity.  He was knocked out of it again quite as quickly by the shock of the tremendous charge made by the buffalo, which almost split its skull, and rolled over dead at the tree-root, shot right through the heart.

Meanwhile Tom Brown and the lieutenant had overtaken and killed the other animal, so that they returned to camp well laden with the best part of the meat of three buffaloes.

Here, while resting after the toils of the day, beside the roaring camp-fires, and eating their well-earned supper, Hicks the trader told them that a native had brought news of a desperate attack by lions on a kraal not more than a day’s journey from where they lay.

“It’s not far out o’ the road,” said Hicks, who was a white man ­of what country no one knew ­with a skin so weather-beaten by constant exposure that it was more like leather than flesh; “if you want some sport in that way, I’d advise ’ee to go there to-morrow.”

“Want some sport in that way!” echoed Wilkins in an excited tone; “why, what do you suppose we came here for? Of course we’ll go there at once; that is, if my comrades have no objection.”

“With all my heart,” said the major with a smile as he carefully filled his beloved pipe.

Tom Brown said nothing; but he smoked his pipe quietly, and nodded his head gently, and felt a slight but decided swelling of the heart, as he murmured inwardly to himself, “Yes, I’ll have a slap at the lions to-morrow.”