Read CHAPTER SIX - GIVES A FEW HINTS TO WOULD-BE HUNTERS‚AND A FRIEND IN NEED IS INTRODUCED of Hunting the Lions , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

In describing the principal incidents of a long journey, it is impossible to avoid crowding them together, so as to give a somewhat false impression of the expedition as a whole.  The reader must not suppose that our hunters were perpetually engaged in fierce and deadly conflict with wild beasts and furious elements!  Although travelling in Africa involves a good deal more of this than is to be experienced in most other parts of the world, it is not without its periods of calm and repose.  Neither must it be imagined that the hunters ­whom hitherto we have unavoidably exhibited in the light of men incapable of being overcome either by fatigues or alarms ­were always in robust health, ready at any moment to leap into the grasp of a lion or the jaws of a crocodile.  Their life, on the whole, was checkered.  Sometimes health prevailed in the camp, and all went on well and heartily; so that they felt disposed to regard wagon-travelling ­in the words of a writer of great experience ­as a prolonged system of picnicking, excellent for the health, and agreeable to those who are not over-fastidious about trifles, and who delight in being in the open air.  At other times, especially when passing through unhealthy regions, some of their number were brought very low by severe illness, and others ­even the strongest ­suffered from the depressing influence of a deadly climate.  But they were all men of true pluck, who persevered through heat and cold, health and sickness, until, in two instances, death terminated their career.

It may not be out of place here to make a few remarks for the benefit of those ardent spirits who feel desperately heroic and emulative when reading at their own firesides, and who are tempted by descriptions of adventure to set their hearts on going forth to “do and dare,” as others have done and dared before them!  All men are not heroes, and in many countries men may become average hunters without being particularly heroic.  In Norway, for instance, and in North America, any man of ordinary courage may become a Nimrod; and even heroes will have opportunities afforded them of facing dangers of a sufficiently appalling nature, if they choose to throw themselves in their way; but in Africa a man must be really a hero if he would come off scatheless and with credit.  We have proved this to some extent already, and more proof is yet to come.  The dangers that one encounters in hunting there are not only very great and sufficiently numerous, but they are absolutely unavoidable.  The writer before quoted says on this point:  “A young sportsman, no matter how great among foxes, pheasants, and hounds, would do well to pause before resolving to brave fever for the excitement of risking the terrific charge of the elephant.  The step of that enormous brute when charging the hunter, though apparently not quick, is so long that the pace equals the speed of a good horse at a canter.  Its trumpeting or screaming when infuriated is more like what the shriek of a French steam-whistle would be to a man standing on the dangerous part of a railroad than any other earthly sound.  A horse unused to it will sometimes stand shivering instead of taking his rider out of danger.  It has happened often that the poor animal’s legs do their duty so badly that he falls and exposes his rider to be trodden into a mummy; or losing his presence of mind, the rider may allow the horse to dash under a tree, and crack his cranium against a branch.  As one charge of an elephant has often been enough to make embryo hunters bid a final adieu to the chase, incipient Nimrods would do well to try their nerves by standing on railways till the engines are within a few yards of them, before going to Africa!”

Begging pardon for this digression, we return to our tale.  While our sportsmen were advancing in company with the bullock-wagons one evening, at the close of a long and trying day, in which they had suffered a good deal from want of good water, they fell in with another party travelling in the opposite direction, and found that they belonged to the train of a missionary who had been on an expedition into the interior.

They gladly availed themselves of the opportunity thus afforded of encamping with a countryman, and called a halt for the night at a spot where a desert well existed.

As they sat round the fire that night, the missionary gave them some interesting and useful information about the country and the habits of the animals, as well as the condition of the natives.

“Those who inhabit this region,” said he, “have always been very friendly to us, and listen attentively to instruction conveyed to them in their own tongue.  It is, however, difficult to give an idea to an Englishman of the little effect produced by our teaching, because no one can realise the degradation to which their minds have sunk by centuries of barbarism and hard struggling for the necessaries of life.  Like most other savages, they listen with respect and attention to our talk; but when we kneel down and address an unseen Being, the position and the act often appear to them so ridiculous, that they cannot refrain from bursting into uncontrollable laughter.  After a short time, however, they get over this tendency.  I was once present when a brother missionary attempted to sing in the midst of a wild heathen tribe of natives who had no music in their composition, and the effect on the risible faculties of the audience was such that the tears actually ran down their cheeks.”

“Surely, if this be so,” said Tom Brown, “it is scarcely worth your while to incur so much labour, expense, and hardship for the sake of results so trifling.”

“I have not spoken of results, but of beginnings,” replied the missionary.  “Where our efforts have been long-continued we have, through God’s blessing, been successful, I sincerely believe, in bringing souls to the Saviour.  Of the effects of long-continued instruction there can be no reasonable doubt, and a mere nominal belief has never been considered by any body of missionaries as a sufficient proof of conversion.  True, our progress has been slow, and our difficulties have been great; but let me ask, my dear sir, has the slowness of your own journey to this point, and its great difficulty, damped your ardour or induced you to think it scarcely worth your while to go on?”

“Certainly not,” replied Tom; “I don’t mean to give in yet.  I confess that our `bag’ is not at present very large ­nothing compared to what some sportsmen have had; but then if we persevere for a few months we are almost certain to succeed, whereas in your case the labour of many years seems to have been very much in vain.”

“Not in vain,” answered the other, “our influence has been powerfully felt, although the results are not obviously clear to every one who casts a mere passing glance at us and our field of labour.  But you speak of persevering labour in hunting as being almost certain of success, whereas we missionaries are absolutely certain of it, because the Word, which cannot err, tells us that our labour is not in vain in the Lord, and, besides, even though we had no results at all to point to, we have the command, from which, even if we would, we cannot escape, `Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’”

“Well, sir,” said the major, with the air of a man who highly approves of the philanthropic efforts of all men, so long as they do not interfere with the even tenor of his own way, “I am sure that your disinterested labours merit the gratitude of all good men, and I heartily wish you success.  In the course of your remarks to-night you have happened to mention that peculiar bird the ostrich.  May I ask if you have seen many of late?”

The missionary smiled at this very obvious attempt to change the subject of conversation, but readily fell in with the major’s humour, and replied ­

“Oh yes, you will find plenty of them in the course of a few days, if you hold on the course you are going.”

“Is it true that he goes at the pace of a railway locomotive?” asked Wilkins.

“It is not possible,” replied the missionary, laughing, “to give a direct answer to that question, inasmuch as the speed of the locomotive varies.”

“Well, say thirty miles an hour,” said Wilkins.

“His pace is not far short of that,” answered the other.  “When walking, his step is about twenty-six inches long, but when terrified and forced to run, his stride is from twelve to fourteen feet in length.  Once I had a pretty fair opportunity of counting his rate of speed with a stop-watch, and found that there were about thirty steps in ten seconds; this, taking his average stride at twelve feet, gives a speed of twenty-six miles an hour.  Generally speaking, one’s eye can no more follow the legs than it can the spokes of a carriage wheel in rapid motion.”

“I do hope we may succeed in falling in with one,” observed the major.

“If you do there is not much chance of your shooting it,” said the missionary.

“Why not?”

“Because he is so difficult to approach.  Usually he feeds on some open spot where no one can approach him without being detected by his wary eye.  However, you have this in your favour, that his stupidity is superior to his extreme caution.  If a wagon should chance to move along far to windward of him, he evidently thinks it is trying to circumvent him, for instead of making off to leeward, as he might easily do, he rushes up to windward with the intention of passing ahead of the wagon, and sometimes passes so near the front oxen that one may get a shot at the silly thing.  I have seen this stupidity of his taken advantage of when he was feeding in a valley open at both ends.  A number of men would commence running as if to cut off his retreat from the end through which the wind came, and although he had the whole country hundreds of miles before him by going to the other end, he rushed madly on to get past the men, and so was speared, for it is one of his peculiarities that he never swerves from the course he has once adopted, but rushes wildly and blindly forward, anxious only to increase his speed.  Sometimes a horseman may succeed in killing him by cutting across his undeviating course.  It is interesting to notice a resemblance between this huge bird and our English wild duck or plover.  I have several times seen newly-hatched young in charge of a cock-ostrich who made a very good attempt at appearing lame in order to draw off the attention of pursuers.  The young squat down and remain immoveable, when too small to run far, but they attain a wonderful degree of speed when about the size of common fowls.  It requires the utmost address of the bushmen, creeping for miles on their stomach, to stalk them successfully; yet the quantity of feathers collected annually shows that the numbers slain must be considerable, as each bird has only a few feathers in the wings and tail.”

“Well,” observed the major, shaking the ashes out of his pipe, “your account of the bird makes me hope that we shall fall in with him before our expedition is over.”

“Do you mean to be out long?”

“As long as we can manage, which will be a considerable time,” answered the major, “because we are well supplied with everything, except, I regret to say, medicine.  The fact is that none of us thought much about that, for we have always been in such a robust state of health that we have scarce believed in the possibility of our being knocked down; but the first few weeks of our journey hither taught some of us a lesson when too late.”

“Ah, we are often taught lessons when too late,” said the missionary; “however, it is not too late on this occasion, for I am happy to say that I can supply you with all the physic you require.”

The major expressed much gratification on hearing this, and indeed he felt it, for the country into which they were about to penetrate was said to be rather unhealthy.

“You are very kind, sir,” he said; “my companions and I shall feel deeply indebted to you for this opportune assistance.”

“Are you quite sure,” asked the missionary pointedly, “that you are supplied with everything else that you require?”

“I think so,” replied the major.  “Let me see ­yes, I don’t know that we need anything more, now that you have so kindly offered to supply us with physic, which I had always held, up to the period of my residence in Africa, was fit only to be thrown to the dog.”

The missionary looked earnestly in the major’s face, and said ­

“Excuse me, sir, have you got a Bible?”

“Well ­a ­really, my dear sir,” he replied, somewhat confusedly, “I must confess that I have not.  The fact is, that it is somewhat inconvenient to carry books in such regions, and I did not think of bringing a Bible.  Perhaps some one of our party may have one, however.”

None of the party replied to the major’s look except Tom Brown, who quietly said ­

“There is one, I believe, in the bottom of my trunk; one of my sisters told me she put it there, but I cannot say positively that I have seen it.”

“Will you accept of one?” said the missionary, rising; “we start at an early hour in the morning, and before going I would like to remind you, gentlemen, that eternity is near ­nearer perchance than we suppose to some of us, and that medicine is required for the soul even more than for the body.  Jesus Christ, the great Physician, will teach you how to use it, if you will seek advice from himself.  I feel assured that you will not take this parting word ill.  Good night, gentlemen.  I will give the drugs to your guide before leaving, and pray that God may prosper you in your way and give you success.”

There was a long silence round the camp-fire after the missionary had left.  When night closed in, and the sportsmen had retired to rest, the minds of most of them dwelt somewhat seriously on the great truth which he had stated ­that medicine is needed not only for the body but the soul.