THE ISLAND OF MOMBASA, WITH THE JUNGLES OF EQUATORIAL AFRICA "ONLY A FEW BLOCKS AWAY." A STORY OF THE WORLD'S CHAMPION MAN-EATING LIONS
In this voyage of the Woermann there were about twenty Englishmen and thirty Germans in the first class, not including women, and children. There was practically no communication between the two nationalities, which seemed deeply significant in these days when there is so much talk of war between England and Germany. Each went his way without so much as a "good morning" or a guten abend. And it was not a case of unfamiliarity with the languages, either, that caused this mutual restraint, for most of the Germans speak English. It was simply an evidence that at the present time there is decidedly bad feeling between the two races, and if it is a correct barometer of conditions in Europe, there is certain to be war one of these days. On the Woermann, we only hoped that it would not break out while the weather was as hot as it was at that time.
The Germans are not addicted to deck sports while voyaging about, and it is quite unusual to find on German ships anything in the way of deck competition. The German, while resting, prefers to play cards, or sing, or sit in his long easy chair with the children playing about. The Englishman likes to compete in feats of strength and takes to deck sports as a duck takes to water. I don't know who started it, but some one organized deck sports on the Woermann, and after we left Aden the sound of battle raged without cessation. Some of the competitions were amusing. For instance, there was the cockfight. Two men, with hands and knees hobbled with a stick and stout rope, seat themselves inside a circle, and the game is for each one to try to put the other outside the circle. Neither can use his hands.
The Cock Fight
It is like wrestling in a sitting position with both hands tied, the mode of attack being to topple over one's opponent and then bunt him out of the circle. There is considerable skill in the game and a fearful lot of hard work. By the time the victor has won, the seat of the trousers of each of the two contending heroes has cleaned the deck until it shinesthe deck, not the trousers.
"Are You There?"
In a similar way the deck is benefited by the "are you there" game. Two men are blindfolded, armed with long paper clubs, and then lie at full length on the deck, with left hands clasped. One then says, "Are you there?" and when the other answers, "I am," he makes a wild swat at where he thinks the other's head to be. Of course, when the man says "I am," he immediately gets his head as far away from where it was when he spoke as is possible while clasping his opponent's hand. The "Are you there" man makes a wild swing and lands some place with a prodigious thump. He usually strikes the deck and seldom hits the head of the other man. If one of them hits the other's head three times he wins.In the meantime the deck has been thoroughly massaged by the two recumbent heroes as they have moved back and forth in their various offensive and defensive manuvers.
A Study in Mombasa Shadows
Mombasa Is a Pretty Place
Transportation in Mombasa
The Spar and Pillow Fight
The pillow fight on the spar is the most fun. Two gladiators armed with pillows sit astride a spar and try to knock each other off. It requires a good deal of knack to keep your balance while some one is pounding you with a large pillow. You are not allowed to touch the spar with your hands, hence the difficulty of holding a difficult position. When a man begins to waver the other redoubles his attack, and slowly at first, but surely, the defeated gladiator tumbles off the spar into a canvas stretched several feet below. It is lots of fun, especially for the spectator and the winner.
Then, of course, there were other feats of intellectual and physical prowess in the Woermann competition, such as threading the needle, where you run across the deck, thread a needle held by a woman, and then drag her back to the starting point. The woman usually, in the excitement of the last spirited rush, falls over and is bodily dragged several yards, squealing wildly and waving a couple of much agitated deck shoes, and so forth.
Similar to this contest is the one where the gentleman dashes across the deck with several other equally dashing gentlemen, kneels at the feet of a woman who ties his necktie and then lights his cigarette. The game is to see who can do this the quickest and get back to the starting place first. If you have ever tried to light a cigarette in a terrible hurry and on a windy deck, you will appreciate the elements of uncertainty in the game.
These deck sports served to amuse and divert during the six days on the Indian Ocean, and then the ship's chart said that we were almost at Mombasa. The theoretical stage of the lion hunt was nearly over and it was now a matter of only a few days until we should be up against the "real thing." I sometimes wondered how I should act with a hostile lion in front of mewhether I would become panic-stricken or whether my nerve would hold true. There is lots of food for reverie when one is going against big game for the first time.
Chalking the Pig's Eye
We landed at Mombasa September sixteenth, seventeen days out from Naples.
Mombasa is a little island about two by three miles in extent. It is riotous with brilliant vegetation, and, as seen after a long sea voyage through the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, it looks heavenly except for the heat. Hundreds of great baobab trees with huge, bottle-like trunks and hundreds of broad spreading mango trees give an effect of tropical luxuriance that is hardly to be excelled in beauty anywhere in the East. Large ships that stop at the island usually wind their course through a narrow channel and land their passengers and freight at the dock at Kilindini, a mile and a half from the old Portuguese town of Mombasa, where all the life of the island is centered. There are many relics of the old days around the town of Mombasa and the port of Kilindini, but since the British have been in possession a brisk air of progress and enterprise is evident everywhere. Young men and young women in tennis flannels, and other typical symptoms of British occupation are constantly seen, and one entirely forgets that one is several thousand miles from home and only a few blocks from the jungles of equatorial Africa. We dreaded Mombasa before we arrived, but were soon agreeably disappointed to find it not only beautiful and interesting, but also pleasantly cool and full of most hospitable social life.
When our ship anchored off Kilindini there was a great crowd assembled on the pier. There were many smart looking boats, manned with uniformed natives, that at once came out to the ship, and we knew that the town was en fête to welcome the newly appointed governor, Sir Percy Girouard.
He and his staff landed in full uniform. There were addresses of welcome at the pier, a great deal of cheering and considerable photographing. Then the rest of the passengers went ashore and spent several hours at the custom house. All personal luggage was passed through, and we embarked on a little train for Mombasa. The next day we registered our firearms and had Smith, Mackenzie and Company do the rest. This firm is ubiquitous in Mombasa and Zanzibar. They attend to everything for you, and relieve you from much worry, vexation and rupees. They pay your customs duties, get your mountains of stuff on the train for Nairobi, and all you have to do is to pay them a commission and look pleasant. The customs duty is ten per cent. on everything you have, and the commission is five per cent. But in a hot climate, where one is apt to feel lazy, the price is cheap.
Thanks to the governor, our party of four was invited to go to Nairobi on his special train. It left Mombasa on the morning of the nineteenth of September, and at once began to climb toward the plateau on which Nairobi is situated, three hundred and twenty-seven miles away. We had dreaded the railway ride through the lowlands along the coast, for that district has a bad reputation for fever and all such ills. But again we were pleasantly disappointed. The country was beautiful and interesting, and at four o'clock in the afternoon we arrived at Voi, a spot that is synonymous with human ailments. It is one of the famous ill health resorts of Africa, but on this occasion it was on its good behavior. We stopped four hours, inspected everything in sight, and at eight o'clock the special began to climb toward the plateau of East Africa. At nine o'clock we stopped at Tsavo, a place made famous by the two man-eating lions whose terrible depredations have been so vividly described by Colonel Patterson in his book, The Man Eaters of Tsavo. These two lions absolutely stopped all work on the railroad for a period of several weeks. They were daring beyond belief, and seemed to have no fear of human beings. For a time all efforts to kill them were in vain. Twenty-eight native workmen were eaten by them, and doubtless many more were unrecorded victims of their activity. The whole country was terrorized until finally, after many futile attempts, they were at last killed.
No book on Africa seems complete unless this incident is mentioned somewhere within its pages.
We looked out at Tsavo with devouring interest. All was still, with the dead silence of a tropical night. Then the train steamed on and we had several hours in a berth to think the matter over. In the early hours of morning, we stopped at Simba, the "Place of Lions," where the station-master has many lion scares even now. In the cold darkness of the night we bundled up in thick clothes and went forward to sit on the observation seat of the engine. Slowly the eastern skies became gray, then pink, and finally day broke through heavy masses of clouds. It was intensely cold. In the faint light we could see shadowy figures of animals creeping home after their night's hunting. A huge cheetah bounded along the track in front of us. A troop of giraffes slowly ambled away from the track. A gaunt hyena loped off into the scrub near the side of the railroad and then, as daylight became brighter, we found ourselves in the midst of thousands of wild animals. Zebras, hartebeests, Grant's gazelles, Thompson's gazelles, impalla, giraffes, wildebeests, and many other antelope species cantered off and stood to watch the train as it swept past them. It was a wonderful ride, perhaps the most novel railway ride to be found any place in the world. On each side of the Uganda Railroad there is a strip of land, narrow on the north and wide on the south, in which game is protected from the sportsman, and consequently the animals have learned to regard these strips as sanctuary. There were many tales of lions as we rode along, and the imagination pictured a slinking lion in every patch of reeds along the way. I heard one lion story that makes the man-eaters of Tsavo seem like vegetarians. It was told to me by a gentleman high in the government servicea man of unimpeachable veracity. He says the story is absolutely true, but refused to swear to it.
Once upon a time, so the story goes, there was a caravan of slaves moving through the jungles of Africa. The slave-drivers were cruel and they chained the poor savages together in bunches of ten. Each slave wore an iron ring around his neck and the chain passed through this ring and on to the rest of the ten. For days and weeks and months they marched along, their chains clanking and their shoulders bending beneath the heavy weight. From time to time the slave-drivers would jog them along with a few lashes from a four-cornered "hippo" hide kiboko, or whip. Quite naturally the life was far from pleasant to the chain-gang and they watched eagerly for a chance to escape. Finally one dark night, when the sentinels were asleep, a bunch of ten succeeded in creeping away into the darkness. They were unarmed and chained from neck to neck, one to another. For several days they made their way steadily toward the coast. All seemed well. They ate fruit and nuts and herbs and began to see visions of a pleasant arrival at the coast.
They Made Their Way Steadily Toward the Coast
But, alas! Their hopes were soon to be dispelled. One night a deep rumbling roar was heard in the jungle through which they were picking their unanimous way. A shudder ran through the slaves. "Simba," they whispered in terror. A little while later there was another rumble, this time much closer. They speedily became more frightened. Here they were, ten days' march from the coast, unarmed, and quite defenseless against a lion.
Presently the lion appeared, his cruel, hungry eyes gleaming through the night. They were frozen with horror, as slowly, slowly, slowly the great animal crept toward them with his tail sibilantly lashing above his back. They were now thoroughly alarmed and realized to the utmost that the lion's intentions were open to grave suspicion. Breathlessly they waited, or perhaps they tried to climb trees, but being chained together they could not climb more than one tree. And there was not a single tree big enough to hold more than nine of them. The record of the story is now obscure, but the horrid tale goes on to relate that the lion gave a frightful roar and leaped upon the tenth man, biting him to death in a single snap. The dilemma of the others is obvious. They knew better than to disturb a lion while it is eating. To do so would be to court sudden death. So they sat still and watched the beast slowly and greedily devour their comrade. Having finished his meal the great beast, surfeited with food, slowly moved off into the jungle.
The Lion's Intentions Were Open to Grave Suspicions
Immediately the nine remaining slaves took to their heels, dragging the empty ring and chain of the late number ten. All night long they ran until finally they became exhausted and fell asleep. In the afternoon they again resumed their march, hopeful once more. But alas! again.
Along about supper-time they heard the distant roar of a lion. Presently it sounded nearer and soon the gleaming eyes of the lion appeared once more among the jungle grass. Once again they were frozen with horror as the hungry beast devoured the last man in the rownumber nine. Again they sat helpless while the man-eater slowly finished his supper, and again they were overjoyed to see him depart from their midst. As soon as the last vestige of his tail had disappeared from view they scrambled up and hiked briskly toward the coast, nine days away.
While the Man-Eater Finished His Supper
They were now thoroughly alarmed, and almost dreaded the supper hour. The next night the lion caught up with them again and proceeded to devour number eight. He then peacefully ambled away, leaving another empty ring.
The next night there was a spirited contest to see which end of the chain should be last, but a vote was taken and it was decided six to one in favor of continuing in their original formation. The one who voted against was eaten that night and the remaining six, with the four empty rings clanking behind them, resumed their mournful march to the coast, six days away.
Two to One
For five nights after this, the lion caught up with them and diminished their number by five. Finally there was only one left and the coast was a full day's march away. Could he make it? It looked like a desperate chance, but he still had hopes. He noticed with pleasure that the lion was becoming fat and probably could not travel fast. But he also noticed with displeasure that he had forty feet of chain and nine heavy iron neck rings to lug along and that extra weight naturally greatly handicapped him. It was a thrilling racethe coast only one day away and life or death the prize! Who can imagine the feelings of the poor slave? But with a stout heart he struggled on through poisonous morasses, and pushed his way through snaky creepers. The afternoon sun slowly sank toward the western horizon and
The locomotive at this point of the story screeched loudly. The wheels grated on the track and my official friend leaped off the cow-catcher.
"Here!" I shouted, "what's the finish of that story?"
"I'll tell you the rest the next time I see you," he sang out, and so I don't know just how the story ended.
CHAPTER ONE | CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE | CHAPTER FOUR | CHAPTER FIVE | CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN | CHAPTER EIGHT | CHAPTER NINE| CHAPTER TEN | CHAPTER ELEVEN | CHAPTER TWELVE | CHAPTER THIRTEEN | CHAPTER FOURTEEN | CHAPTER FIFTEEN | CHAPTER SIXTEEN | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | CHAPTER NINETEEN | CHAPTER TWENTY | CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
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