In a very short time, however, the "boy" rushed back
trembling with terror, and informed me that there was no sign of the
train or of the railway staff, but that an enormous lion was
standing on the station platform. This extraordinary story I did not
believe in the least, as by this time the coolies -- never
remarkable for bravery -- were in such a state of fright that if
they caught sight of a hyena or a baboon, or even a dog, in the
bush, they were sure to imagine it was a lion; but I found out next
day that it was an actual fact, and that both stationmaster and
signalman had been obliged to take refuge from one of the man-eaters
by locking themselves in the station building.
I waited some little time for Mr. Whitehead, but
eventually, as he did not put in an appearance, I concluded that he
must have postponed his journey until the next day, and so had my
dinner in my customary solitary state. During the meal I heard a
couple of shots, but paid no attention to them, as rifles were
constantly being fired off in the neighbourhood of the camp. Later
in the evening, I went out as usual to watch for our elusive foes,
and took up my position in a crib made of sleepers which I had built
on a big girder close to a camp which I thought was likely to be
attacked. Soon after settling down at my post, I was surprised to
hear the man-eaters growling and purring and crunching up bones
about seventy yards from the crib. I could not understand what they
had found to eat, as I had heard no commotion in the camps, and I
knew by bitter experience that every meal the brutes obtained from
us was announced by shrieks and uproar. The only conclusion I could
come to was that they had pounced upon some poor unsuspecting native
traveller. After a time I was able to make out their eyes glowing in
the darkness, and I took as careful aim as was possible in the
circumstances and fired; but the only notice they paid to the shot
was to carry off whatever they were devouring and to retire quietly
over a slight rise, which prevented me from seeing them. There they
finished their meal at their ease.
As soon as it was daylight, I got out of my crib and
went towards the place where I had last heard them. On the way, whom
should I meet but my missing guest, Mr. Whitehead, looking very pale
and ill, and generally dishevelled.
"Where on earth have you come from?" I exclaimed.
"Why didn’t you turn up to dinner last night?"
"A nice reception you give a fellow when you invite
him to dinner," was his only reply. "Why, what’s up?" I asked.
"That infernal lion of yours nearly did for me last
night," said Whitehead. "Nonsense, you must have dreamed it!" I
cried in astonishment.
For answer he turned round and showed me his back.
"That’s not much of a dream, is it?" he asked.
His clothing was rent by one huge tear from the nape
of the neck downwards, and on the flesh there were four great claw
marks, showing red and angry through the torn cloth. Without further
parley, I hurried him off to
my tent, and bathed and dressed his wounds; and when
I had made him considerably more comfortable, I got from him the
whole story of the events of the night.
It appeared that his train was very late, so that it
was quite dark when he arrived at Tsavo Station, from which the
track to my camp lay through a small cutting. He was accompanied by
Abdullah, his sergeant of askaris, who walked close behind him
carrying a lighted lamp. All went well until they were about
half-way through the gloomy cutting, when one of the lions suddenly
jumped down upon them from the high bank, knocking Whitehead over
like a ninepin, and tearing his back in the manner I had seen.
Fortunately, however, he had his carbine with him, and instantly
fired. The flash and the loud report must have dazed the lion for a
second or two, enabling Whitehead to disengage himself; but the next
instant the brute pounced like lightning on the unfortunate
Abdullah, with whom he at once made off. All that the poor fellow
could say was: "Eh, Bwana, simba" (" Oh, Master, a lion "). As the
lion was dragging him over the bank, Whitehead fired again, but
without effect, and the brute quickly disappeared into the darkness
with his prey. It was of course, this unfortunate man whom I had
heard the lions devouring during the night. Whitehead himself had a
marvellous escape; his wounds were happily not very deep, and caused
him little or no inconvenience afterwards.
On the same day, December 3, the forces arrayed
against the lions were further strengthened. Mr. Farquhar, the
Superintendent of Police, arrived from the coast with a score of
sepoys to assist in hunting down the man-eaters, whose fame had by
this time spread far and wide, and the most elaborate precautions
were taken, his men being posted on the most convenient trees near
every camp. Several other officials had also come up on leave to
join in the chase, and each of these guarded a likely spot in the
same way, Mr. Whitehead sharing my post inside the crib on the
girder. Further, in spite of some chaff, my lion trap was put in
thorough working order, and two of the sepoys were installed as
Our preparations were quite complete by nightfall,
and we all took up our appointed positions. Nothing happened until
about nine o’clock, when to my great satisfaction the intense
stillness was suddenly broken by the noise of the door of the trap
clattering down. "At last," I thought, "one at least of the brutes
is done for." But the sequel was an ignominious one.
The bait-sepoys had a lamp burning inside their part
of the cage, and were each armed with a Martini rifle, with plenty
of ammunition. They had also been given strict orders to shoot at
once if a lion should enter the trap. Instead of doing so, however,
they were so terrified when he rushed in and began to lash himself
madly against the bars of the cage, that they completely lost their
heads and were actually too unnerved to fire. Not for some minutes
-- not, indeed, until Mr. Farquhar, whose post was close by, shouted
at them and cheered them on -- did they at all recover themselves.
Then when at last they did begin to fire, they fired with a
vengeance -- anywhere, anyhow. Whitehead and I were at right angles
to the direction in which they should have shot, and yet their
bullets came whizzing all round us. Altogether they fired over a
score of shots, and in the end succeeded only in blowing away one of
the bars of the door, thus allowing our prize to make good his
escape. How they failed to kill him several times over is, and
always will be, a complete mystery to me, as they could have put the
muzzles of their rifles absolutely touching his body. There was,
indeed, some blood scattered about the trap, but it was small
consolation to know that the brute, whose capture and death seemed
so certain, had only been slightly wounded.
Still we were not unduly dejected, and when morning came, a hunt
was at once arranged. Accordingly we spent the greater part of the
day on our hands and knees following the lions through the dense
thickets of thorny jungle, but though we heard their growls from
time to time, we never succeeded in actually coming up with them. Of
the whole party, only Farquhar managed to catch a momentary glimpse
of one as it bounded over a bush. Two days more were spent in the
same manner, and with equal unsuccess; and then Farquhar and his
sepoys were obliged to return to the coast. Mr. Whitehead also
departed for his district, and once again I was left alone with the