Read CHAPTER FIVE - MORE ABOUT LIONS! of Hunting the Lions , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

As we have now introduced our readers to the lion, we think it but right to say something about his aspect and character, as given by some of our best authorities.

Dr Livingstone, that greatest of African travellers, seems to be of opinion that untravelled men are prone to overrate the lion, both as to his appearance and courage.  From him we learn that when a lion is met with in the day-time ­a circumstance by no means uncommon in Africa ­the traveller will be disappointed with the appearance of the animal which they had been accustomed to hear styled “noble” and “majestic”; that it is somewhat larger than the largest-sized dog, partakes very strongly of the canine features, and does not much resemble our usual drawings of lions, which he condemns as bearing too strong a resemblance to “old women’s faces in nightcaps.”  The Doctor also talks slightingly of its roar, and says that having made particular inquiry as to the opinions of European travellers who have heard the roar of the lion and that of the ostrich, he found they invariably admitted that they could not detect any difference between the two when the animals were at a distance.

Now, really, although we are bound to admit that the Doctor’s opinion is of great weight, we cannot, without a humble protest, allow ourselves to be thus ruthlessly stripped of all our romantic notions in regard to the “king of beasts”!  We suspect that the Doctor, disgusted with the “twaddle” that has undoubtedly been talked in all ages about the “magnanimity” of the “noble” lion and his “terrific aspect,” has been led unintentionally to underrate him.  In this land we have opportunities of seeing and hearing the lion in his captive state; and we think that most readers will sympathise with us when we say that even in a cage he has at least a very grand and noble aspect; and that, when about to be fed, his intermittent growls and small roars, so to speak, have something very awful and impressive, which nothing like the bellowing of a bull can at all equal.  To say that the roar of the ostrich is equal to that of the lion is no argument at all; it does not degrade the latter, it merely exalts the former.  And further, in regard to aspect, the illustrations in Dr Livingstone’s own most interesting work go far to prove that the lion is magnificent in appearance.

Thus much we dare venture to say, because on these points we, with all men, are in a position to form a judgment for ourselves.  We, however, readily believe the great traveller when he tells us that nothing he ever heard of the lion led him to ascribe to it a noble character, and that it possesses none of the nobility of the Newfoundland or St. Bernard Dogs.  The courage of the lion, although not greater than that of most large and powerful animals, is, without doubt, quite sufficient!  But he fortunately possesses a wholesome dread of man, else would he certainly long ere now have become king of Africa as well as of beasts.  When encountered in the day-time, he usually stands a second or two gazing, then turns slowly round and walks leisurely away for a dozen paces or so, looking over his shoulder as he goes.  Soon he begins to trot, and, when he thinks himself out of sight, bounds off like a greyhound.  As a rule, there is not the smallest danger of a lion attacking man by day, if he be not molested, except when he happens to have a wife and young family with him.  Then, indeed, his bravery will induce him to face almost any danger.  If a man happens to pass to windward of a lion and lioness with cubs, both parents will rush at him, but instances of this kind ere of rare occurrence.

It would seem that light of any kind has a tendency to scare away lions.  Bright moonlight is a safeguard against them, as well as daylight.  So well is this understood, that on moonlight nights it is not thought necessary to tie up the oxen, which are left loose by the wagons, while on dark rainy nights it is deemed absolutely necessary to tether them, because if a lion chanced to be in the vicinity, he would be almost sure to attack, and perhaps kill, an ox, notwithstanding the vigilance of guards and the light of the camp-fires.  He always approaches stealthily, like the cat, except when wounded; but anything having the appearance of a trap will induce him to refrain from making the last fatal spring.  This is a peculiarity of the whole feline species.  It has been found in India that when a hunter pickets a goat on a plain as a bait, a tiger has whipped it off so quickly by a stroke of his paw that it was impossible to take aim.  To obviate this difficulty a small pit is dug, in the bottom of which the goat is picketed, with a small stone tied in its ear to make it cry the whole night.  When the suspicious tiger sees the appearance of a trap he walks round and round the pit, thus giving the hunter in ambush a fair shot.

When a hungry lion is watching for prey, the sight of any animal will make him commence stalking it.  On one occasion a man was very busy stalking a rhinoceros, when, happening to glance behind him, he found to his consternation that a lion was stalking him! he escaped by springing up a tree.

The strength of the lion is tremendous, owing to the immense mass of muscle around its jaws, shoulders, and forearms.  What one hears, however, of his sometimes seizing an ox or a horse in his mouth and running away with it, as a cat does with a mouse, and even leaping hedges, etcetera, is nonsense.  Dr Livingstone says that most of the feats of strength he has seen performed by lions consisted, not in carrying, but dragging or trailing the carcass along the ground.

He usually seizes his prey by the flank near the hind leg, or by the throat below the jaw.  He has his particular likings and tit-bits, and is very expert in carving out the parts of an animal that please him best.  An eland may be sometimes disembowelled by a lion so completely that he scarcely seems cut up at all, and the bowels and fatty parts of the interior form a full meal for the lion, however large or hungry he may be.  His pert little follower the jackal usually goes after him, sniffing about and waiting for a share, and is sometimes punished for his impudent familiarity with a stroke of the lion’s paw, which of course kills him.

Lions are never seen in herds, but sometimes six or eight ­probably one family ­are seen hunting together.  Much has been said and written about the courage of the lion, and his ability to attack and kill any other animal.  His powers in this respect have been overrated.  It is questionable if a single lion ever attacks a full-grown buffalo.  When he assails a calf, the cow will rush upon him, and one toss from her horns is sufficient to kill him.  The amount of roaring usually heard at night, when a buffalo is killed, seems to indicate that more than one lion has been engaged in the fight.  They never attack any elephants, except the calves.  “Every living thing,” writes Livingstone, “retires before the lordly elephant, yet a full-grown one would be an easier prey to the lion than a rhinoceros.  The lion rushes off at the mere sight of this latter beast!”

When a lion grows too old to hunt game, he frequently retires to spend the decline of life in the suburbs of a native village, where he is well content to live by killing goats.  A woman or a child happening to go out at night sometimes falls a prey also.  Being unable, of course, to alter this style of life, when once he is reduced to it, he becomes habitually what is styled a “man-eater,” and from this circumstance has arisen the idea that when a lion has once tasted human flesh he prefers it to any other.  In reality a “man-eater” is an old fellow who cannot manage to get anything else to eat, and who might perhaps be more appropriately styled a woman and child eater!  When extreme old age comes upon him in the remote deserts, far from human habitations, he is constrained to appease the cravings of hunger with mice!  The African lion is of a tawny colour, like that of some mastiffs.  The mane in the male is large, and gives the idea of great power.  In some the ends of the hair are black, and these go by the name of black-maned lions, but, as a whole, all of them look of a tawny yellow colour.

Having said thus much about his general character and appearance, we shall resume the thread of our story, and show how the lions behaved to Tom Brown and his friends the very night after the event narrated in the last chapter.

The hunters had got back to the wagons, and were about to turn in for the night, in order to recruit for the work of the following day, when the sky became overcast, and gave every indication of a coming storm.  A buffalo bull had been shot by Pearson an hour before the arrival of our hero and his companions, and the Caffres were busily engaged on his carcass.  A fire had been lighted, the animal cut up, and part of him roasted, and the natives alternately ate a lump of roasted flesh and an equal quantity of the inside raw!  When the sky began to darken, however, they desisted for a time, and set about making preparations for the coming storm.

It burst upon them ere long with awful fury and grandeur, the elements warring with incredible vehemence.  Rain fell in such floods that it was scarcely possible to keep the fires burning, and the night was so pitchy dark that the hand could scarcely be seen when held close to the eyes.  To add to the horror of the scene, crashing peals of thunder appeared to rend the sky, and these were preceded by flashes of lightning so vivid that each left the travellers with the impression of being stone-blind.

After an hour or two the storm passed by, leaving them drenched to the skin.  However, the fires were stirred up, and things made as comfortable as circumstances would admit of.

Just a little before daybreak they were all wakened by the bellowing of the oxen and the barking of dogs.

“Something there,” muttered Hicks, leaping up and seizing his gun.

The major, Tom Brown, Wilkins, Pearson, and the others were immediately on their feet and wide awake.  There was just light enough to distinguish objects dimly when close at hand; but the surrounding woods resembled a wall of impenetrable darkness.  Close to the wagon in which our hero lay the natives had erected a temporary hut of grass, about six feet high.  On the top of this he saw a dark form, which, by the sound of his voice, he recognised to be that of a native named Jumbo, who was more noted for good nature and drollery than for courage.  He was shouting lustily for a percussion-cap.  Tom sprang on the top of the hut and supplied him with several caps, at the same time exclaiming: ­

“Hallo!  Jumbo, don’t make such a row.  You’ll scare everything away.”

“Ho!  Me wish um could,” said Jumbo, his teeth chattering in his head with fear as he listened to the dying groans of a poor ox, and heard the lions growling and roaring beside him.  They were not more than fourteen yards off, but so dark was the night that they could not be seen.  The ox, however, which was a black one, was faintly distinguishable; Tom Brown therefore aimed, as near as he could guess, about a foot above him and fired.  No result followed.  He had evidently missed.  While he was re-loading, the major and Wilkins rushed forward and leaped on the hut, exclaiming eagerly, “Where are they? have you hit?” Immediately afterwards, Pearson, Brand, Ogilvie, and Anson rushed up and attempted to clamber on the hut.

“No room here,” cried the major, resisting them, “quite full outside ­ inside not safe!”

“But there’s no room on the wagon,” pleaded Pearson; “the niggers are clustering on it like monkeys.”

“Can’t help it,” replied the major, “there’s not an inch of ­”

Here a tremendous roar interrupted him, and a loud report followed, as Jumbo and Wilkins, having caught sight of “something” near the carcass, fired simultaneously.  Pearson and his companions in trouble vanished like smoke, while the major, failing to see anything, fired in the direction of the lions on chance.  Tom also fired at what he felt convinced was the head of a lioness.  Still the animals appeared to be unhurt and indifferent!  The sportsmen were busy loading when Tom became aware, for one instant, that something was moving in the air.  Next moment he was knocked backwards off the hut, head over heels, several times, having been struck full in the chest by a lion’s head.  Half inclined to believe that he was killed he scrambled to his feet, still holding fast to his gun, however, like a true hunter, and rushed towards the wagon, where he found all the Caffres who could not get inside sticking on the outside, as Pearson had said, like monkeys.  There was literally no room for more, but Tom cared not for that.  He seized legs, arms, and hair indiscriminately, and in another moment was on the top of the living mass.  He had leaped very smartly to this point of vantage, nevertheless he found Jumbo there before him, chattering worse than ever!  The major and and Wilkins came up breathless next moment, clambered halfway up, slipped, and fell to the ground with a united roar; but making a second attempt, they succeeded in getting up.  Wilkins at once presented in the direction of the lions and again fired.  Whether any of them fell is a matter of dispute, but certain it is that Wilkins fell, for the recoil of the gun knocked him back, his footing being insecure, and he went down on the top of a tent which had been pitched on the other side of the wagon, and broke the pole of it.  After this several more shots were fired, apparently without success.  While they were reloading a lion leaped on a goat, which was tethered to the grass-hut, and carried it away before any one could fire.  Not daring to descend from their places of security, there the whole party sat in the cold during the remainder of that night, listening to the growling of the lions as they feasted on their prey.  It was not till grey dawn appeared that the enemy beat a retreat, and allowed the shivering travellers to get once more between the blankets.  They had not lain long, however, when a double shot aroused them all, and they rushed out to find that Mafuta had killed a lioness!  She was a splendid creature, and had succumbed to a bullet sent through her ribs.  It was found on examination that another ball had hit her just behind the head, and travelling along the spine, had stuck near the root of the tail.

“Me no hab fire at head,” said Mafuta, with a disappointed look.  “Me hit him in ribs wid wan bar’l, an’ miss him wid tother.”

“What is that you say?” cried Tom Brown examining the bullet-hole; “ha!  I claim that lioness, because I fired at her head last night, and there you have the bullet-hole.”

“Cut out the ball and see,” said Hicks, drawing his knife.

When the ball was extracted it was indeed found to have been fired from Tom’s gun, so, according to sporting law in that region, which ordains that he who first draws blood claims the game, the lioness was adjudged to belong to Tom.

Our hero returned to his blankets once more, congratulating himself not a little on his good fortune, when his attention was arrested by two shots in succession at no great distance.  Seizing his gun he ran to the place expecting to find that more game had been slain, but he only found Hardy standing over one of the oxen which was breathing its last.  The lions had driven it mad with terror during the night, and the trader had been obliged to shoot it.  This was a great misfortune, for it was about the best ox in the train.