Mr. Churchill and the Rhinoceros at Simba. Frontispiece.
In so far as the collection of information is concerned, the advantages of travel may often be over-stated. So much has been written, so many facts are upon record about every country, even the most remote, that a judicious and persevering study of existing materials would no doubt enable a reader to fill himself with knowledge almost to repletion without leaving his chair. But for the formation of opinion, for the stirring and enlivenment of thought, and for the discernment of colour and proportion, the gifts of travel, especially of travel on foot, are priceless. It was with the design and in the hope of securing such prizes, that I undertook last year the pilgrimage of which these pages give account. I cannot tell whether I have succeeded in winning them; and still less whether, if won, they are transferable. I therefore view these letters with a modest eye. They were written mainly in long hot Uganda afternoons, after the day’s march was done. The larger portion has already appeared in the Strand Magazine, and what has been added was necessary to complete the story.
They present a continuous narrative of the lighter side of what was to me a very delightful and inspiring journey; and it is in the hope that they may vivify and fortify the interest of the British people in the wonderful estates they have recently acquired in the northeastern quarter of Africa, that I offer them in a connected form to the indulgence of the public.
Winston Spencer Churchill
The aspect of Mombasa as she rises from the sea and clothes herself with form and colour at the swift approach of the ship is alluring and even delicious. But to appreciate all these charms the traveller should come from the North. He should see the hot stones of Malta, baking and glistening on a steel-blue Mediterranean. He should visit the Island of Cyprus before the autumn rains have revived the soil, when the Messaoria Plain is one broad wilderness of dust, when every tree — be it only a thorn-bush — is an heirloom, and every drop of water is a jewel. He should walk for two hours at midday in the streets of Port Said. He should thread the long red furrow of the Suez Canal, and swelter through the trough of the Red Sea. He should pass a day among the cinders of Aden, and a week among the scorched rocks and stones of Northern Somaliland; and then, after five days of open sea, his eye and mind will be prepared to salute with feelings of grateful delight these shores of vivid and exuberant green. On every side is vegetation, moist, tumultuous, and varied. Great trees, clad in dense foliage, shrouded in creepers, springing from beds of verdure, thrust themselves through the undergrowth; palms laced together by flowering trailers; every kind of tropical plant that lives by rain and sunshine; high waving grass, brilliant patches of purple bougainvillea, and in the midst, dotted about, scarcely keeping their heads above the fertile flood of Nature, the red-roofed houses of the town and port of Mombasa.
SKETCH MAP OF “MY AFRICAN JOURNEY”
The vessel follows a channel twisting away between high bluffs, and finds a secure anchorage, land-locked, in forty feet of water at a stone’s throw from the shore. Here we are arrived at the gate of British East Africa; and more, at the outlet and debouchment of all the trade of all the countries that lap the Victoria and Albert Lakes and the head-waters of the Nile. Along the pier now being built at Kilindini, the harbour of Mombasa Island, must flow, at any rate for many years, the main stream of East and Central African commerce. Whatever may be the produce which civilized government and enterprise will draw from the enormous territories between Southern Abyssinia and Lake Tanganyika, between Lake Rudolf and Ruenzori, as far west as the head-streams of the Congo, as far north as the Lado enclave; whatever may be the needs and demands of the numerous populations comprised within those limits, it is along the unpretentious jetty of Kilindini that the whole traffic must pass.
For Kilindini (or Mombasa, as I may be permitted to call it) is the starting-point of one of the most romantic and most wonderful railways in the world. The two iron streaks of rail that wind away among the hills and foliage of Mombasa Island do not break their smooth monotony until, after piercing Equatorial forests, stretching across immense prairies, and climbing almost to the level of the European snow-line, they pause — and that only for a time — upon the edges of the Great Lake. And thus is made a sure, swift road along which the white man and all that he brings with him, for good or ill, may penetrate into the heart of Africa as easily and safely as he may travel from London to Vienna.
Short has been the life, many the vicissitudes, of the Uganda Railway. The adventurous enterprise of a Liberal Government, it was soon exposed, disowned, to the merciless criticism of its parents. Adopted as a cherished foundling by the Conservative party, it almost perished from mismanagement in their hands. Nearly ten thousand pounds a mile were expended upon its construction; and so eager were all parties to be done with it and its expense that, instead of pursuing its proper and natural route across the plateau to the deep waters of Port Victoria, it fell by the way into the shallow gulf of Kavirondo, lucky to get so far. It is easy to censure, it is impossible not to criticize, the administrative mistakes and miscalculations which tarnished and nearly marred a brilliant conception. But it is still more easy, as one traverses in forty-eight hours countries which ten years ago would have baffled the toilsome marches of many weeks, to underrate the difficulties in which unavoidable ignorance and astonishing conditions plunged the pioneers. The British art of “muddling through” is here seen in one of its finest expositions. Through everything — through the forests, through the ravines, through troops of marauding lions, through famine, through war, through five years of excoriating Parliamentary debate, muddled and marched the railway; and here at last, in some more or less effective fashion, is it arrived at its goal. Other nations project Central African railways as lightly and as easily as they lay down naval programmes; but here is a railway, like the British Fleet, “in being” — not a paper plan or an airy dream, but an iron fact grinding along through the jungle and the plain, waking with its whistles the silences of the Nyanza, and startling the tribes out of their primordial nakedness with “Americani” piece goods made in Lancashire.
Let us, then, without waiting in Mombasa longer than is necessary to wish it well and to admire the fertility and promise of the coastal region, ascend this railway from the sea to the lake. And first, what a road it is! Everything is in apple-pie order. The track is smoothed and weeded and ballasted as if it were the London and North-Western. Every telegraph-post has its number; every mile, every hundred yards, every change of gradient has its mark; not in soft wood, to feed the white ant, but in hard, well-painted iron. Constant labour has steadily improved the grades and curves of the permanent-way, and the train — one of those comfortable, practical Indian trains — rolls along as evenly as upon a European line.
Nor should it be supposed that this high standard of maintenance is not warranted by the present financial position of the line. The Uganda Railway is already doing what it was never expected within any reasonable period to do. It is paying its way. It is beginning to yield a profit — albeit a small profit — upon its capital charge. Projected solely as a political railway to reach Uganda, and to secure British predominance upon the Upper Nile, it has already achieved a commercial value. Instead of the annual deficits upon working expenses which were regularly anticipated by those most competent to judge, there is already a substantial profit of nearly eighty thousand pounds a year. And this is but the beginning, and an imperfect beginning; for at present the line is only a trunk, without its necessary limbs and feeders, without its deep-water head at Kilindini, without its full tale of steamers on the lake; above all, without its natural and necessary extension to the Albert Nyanza.
On the Cow-catcher. (Mr. Currie, Mr. Marsh, Col. Wilson, Sir J. Hayes-Sadler, Mr. Churchill.)
We may divide the journey into four main stages — the jungles, the plains, the mountains, and the lake, for the lake is an essential part of the railway, and a natural and inexpensive extension to its length. In the early morning, then, we start from Mombasa Station, taking our places upon an ordinary garden seat fastened on to the cow-catcher of the engine, from which position the whole country can be seen. For a quarter of an hour we are still upon Mombasa Island, and then the train, crossing the intervening channel by a long iron bridge, addresses itself in earnest to the continent of Africa. Into these vast regions the line winds perseveringly upon a stiff up-grade, and the land unfolds itself ridge after ridge and valley after valley, till soon, with one farewell glance at the sea and at the fighting-tops of His Majesty’s ship Venus rising queerly amid the palms, we are embraced and engulfed completely. All day long the train runs upward and westward, through broken and undulating ground clad and encumbered with super-abundant vegetation. Beautiful birds and butterflies fly from tree to tree and flower to flower. Deep, ragged gorges, filled by streams in flood, open out far below us through glades of palms and creeper-covered trees. Here and there, at intervals, which will become shorter every year, are plantations of rubber, fibre, and cotton, the beginnings of those inexhaustible supplies which will one day meet the yet unmeasured demand of Europe for those indispensable commodities. Every few miles are little trim stations, with their water-tanks, signals, ticket-offices, and flower-beds complete and all of a pattern, backed by impenetrable bush. In brief one slender thread of scientific civilization, of order, authority, and arrangement, drawn across the primeval chaos of the world.
In the evening a cooler, crisper air is blowing. The humid coast lands, with their glories and their fevers, have been left behind. At an altitude of four thousand feet we begin to laugh at the Equator. The jungle becomes forest, not less luxuriant, but distinctly different in character. The olive replaces the palm. The whole aspect of the land is more friendly, more familiar, and no less fertile. After Makindu Station the forest ceases. The traveller enters upon a region of grass. Immense fields of green pasture, withered and whitened at this season by waiting for the rains, intersected by streams and watercourses densely wooded with dark, fir-looking trees and gorse-looking scrub, and relieved by bold upstanding bluffs and ridges, comprise the new panorama. And here is presented the wonderful and unique spectacle which the Uganda Railway offers to the European. The plains are crowded with wild animals. From the windows of the carriage the whole zoological gardens can be seen disporting itself. Herds of antelope and gazelle, troops of zebras — sometimes four or five hundred together — watch the train pass with placid assurance, or scamper a hundred yards farther away, and turn again. Many are quite close to the line. With field-glasses one can see that it is the same everywhere, and can distinguish long files of black wildebeeste and herds of red kongoni — the hartebeeste of South Africa — and wild ostriches walking sedately in twos and threes, and every kind of small deer and gazelle. The zebras come close enough for their stripes to be admired with the naked eye.
We have arrived at Simba, “The Place of Lions,” and there is no reason why the passengers should not see one, or even half-a-dozen, stalking across the plain, respectfully observed by lesser beasts. Indeed, in the early days it was the custom to stop and sally out upon the royal vermin whenever met with, and many the lion that has been carried back to the tender in triumph before the guard, or driver, or any one else could think of timetables or the block system, or the other inconvenient restrictions of a regular service. Farther up the line, in the twilight of the evening, we saw, not a hundred yards away, a dozen giraffes lollopping off among scattered trees, and at Nakuru six yellow lions walked in leisurely mood across the rails in broad daylight. Only the rhinoceros is absent, or rarely seen, and after one of his species had measured his strength, unsuccessfully, against an engine, he has confined himself morosely to the river-beds and to the undisturbed solitudes which, at a distance of two or three miles, everywhere engulf the Uganda Railway.
Our carriage stopped upon a siding at Simba Station for three days, in order that we might more closely examine the local fauna. One of the best ways of shooting game in this part of the world, and certainly the easiest, is to get a trolly and run up and down the line. The animals are so used to the passage of trains and natives along the one great highway that they do not, as a rule, take much notice, unless the train or trolly stops, when their suspicions are at once aroused. The sportsmen should, therefore, slip off without allowing the vehicle or the rest of the party to stop, even for a moment; and in this way he will frequently find himself within two hundred and fifty or three hundred yards of his quarry, when the result will be governed solely by his skill, or want of skill, with the rifle.
There is another method, which we tried on the second day in the hopes of finding a waterbuck, and that is, to prowl about among the trees and undergrowth of the river-bed. In a few minutes one may bury oneself in the wildest and savagest kind of forest. The air becomes still and hot. The sun seems in an instant to assert his just prerogative. The heat glitters over the open spaces of dry sand and pools of water. High grass, huge boulders, tangled vegetation, multitudes of thorn-bushes, obstruct the march, and the ground itself is scarped and guttered by the rains into the strangest formations. Around you, breast-high, shoulder-high, overhead, rises the African jungle. There is a brooding silence, broken only by the cry of a bird, or the scolding bark of baboons, and the crunching of one’s own feet on the crumbling soil. We enter the haunt of the wild beasts; their tracks, their traces, the remnants of their repasts, are easily and frequently discovered. Here a lion has passed since the morning. There a rhinoceros has certainly been within the hour — perhaps within ten minutes. We creep and scramble through the game paths, anxiously, rifles at full cock, not knowing what each turn or step may reveal. The wind, when it blows at all, blows fitfully, now from this quarter, now from that; so that one can never be certain that it will not betray the intruder in these grim domains to the beast he seeks, or to some other, less welcome, before he sees him. At length, after two hours’ scramble and scrape, we emerge breathless, as from another world, half astonished to find ourselves within a quarter of a mile of the railway line, with its trolly, luncheon, soda-water, ice, etc.
The Rhinoceros at Simba.
But if one would seek the rhinoceros in his open pastures, it is necessary to go farther afield; and accordingly we started the next morning, while the stars were still shining, to tramp over the ridges and hills which shut in the railway, and overlook remoter plains and valleys beyond. The grass grows high from ground honeycombed with holes and heaped with lava boulders, and it was daylight before we had stumbled our way to a spur commanding a wide view. Here we halted to search the country with field-glasses, and to brush off the ticks — detestable insects which infest all the resorts of the game in innumerable swarms, ready to spread any poison among the farmers’ cattle. The glass disclosed nothing of consequence. Zebra, wildebeeste, and kongoni were to be seen in troops and herds, scattered near and far over the plains, but never a rhinoceros! So we trudged on, meaning to make a wide circle. For an hour we found nothing, and then, just as we were thinking of turning homewards before the sun should get his full power, three beautiful oryx, great, dark-coloured antelope with very long, corrugated horns, walked over the next brow on their way to water. Forthwith we set off in pursuit, crouching and creeping along the valley, and hoping to intercept them at the stream. Two passed safely over before we could reach our point. The third, seeing us, turned back and disappeared over the hill, where, a quarter of an hour later, he was stalked and wounded.
It is always the wounded beast that leads the hunter into adventures. Till the quarry is hit every one walks delicately, avoids going the windward side of unexplored coverts, skirts a reed-bed cautiously, notices a convenient tree, looks often this way and that. But once the prize is almost within reach, you scramble along after it as fast as your legs will carry you, and never trouble about remoter contingencies, be they what they may. Our oryx led us a mile or more over rocky slopes, always promising and never giving a good chance for a shot, until at last he drew us round the shoulder of a hill — and there, abruptly, was the rhinoceros. The impression was extraordinary. A wide plain of white, withered grass stretched away to low hills broken with rocks. The rhinoceros stood in the middle of this plain, about five hundred yards away, in jet-black silhouette; not a twentieth-century animal at all, but an odd, grim straggler from the Stone Age. He was grazing placidly, and above him the vast snow dome of Kilimanjaro towered up in the clear air of morning to complete a scene unaltered since the dawn of the world.
The manner of killing a rhinoceros in the open is crudely simple. It is thought well usually to select the neighbourhood of a good tree, where one can be found, as the centre of the encounter. If no tree is available, you walk up as near as possible to him from any side except the windward, and then shoot him in the head or the heart. If you hit a vital spot, as sometimes happens, he falls. If you hit him anywhere else, he charges blindly and furiously in your direction, and you shoot him again, or not, as the case may be.
Bearing all this carefully in mind, we started out to do battle with Behemoth. We had advanced perhaps two hundred yards towards him, when a cry from one of the natives arrested us. We looked sharply to the right. There, not a hundred and fifty paces distant, under the shade of a few small trees, stood two other monsters. In a few more steps we should have tainted their wind and brought them up with a rush; and suppose this had happened, when perhaps we were already compromised with our first friend, and had him wounded and furious on our hands! Luckily warned in time, to creep back to the shoulder of the hill, to skirt its crest, and to emerge a hundred and twenty yards from this new objective was the work of a few minutes. We hurriedly agree to kill one first before touching the other. At such a range it is easy to hit so great a target; but the bull’s-eye is small. I fired. The thud of a bullet which strikes with an impact of a ton and a quarter, tearing through hide and muscle and bone with the hideous energy of cordite, came back distinctly. The large rhinoceros started, stumbled, turned directly towards the sound and the blow, and then bore straight down upon us in a peculiar trot, nearly as fast as a horse’s gallop, with an activity surprising in so huge a beast, and instinct with unmistakable purpose.
BRITISH EAST AFRICA Stanford’s Geogr. Estabt. London.
Great is the moral effect of a foe who advances. Everybody fired. Still the ponderous brute came on, as if he were invulnerable; as if he were an engine, or some great steam barge impervious to bullets, insensible to pain or fear. Thirty seconds more, and he will close. An impalpable curtain seems to roll itself up in the mind, revealing a mental picture, strangely lighted, yet very still, where objects have new values, and where a patch of white grass in the foreground, four or five yards away, seems to possess astonishing significance. It is there that the last two shots that yet remain before the resources of civilization are exhausted must be fired. There is time to reflect with some detachment that, after all, we were the aggressors; we it is who have forced the conflict by an unprovoked assault with murderous intent upon a peaceful herbivore; that if there is such a thing as right and wrong between man and beast — and who shall say there is not? — right is plainly on his side; there is time for this before I perceive that, stunned and dazed by the frightful concussions of modern firearms, he has swerved sharp to the right, and is now moving across our front, broadside on, at the same swift trot. More firing, and as I reload some one says he is down, and I fire instead at his smaller companion, already some distance off upon the plain. But one rhinoceros hunt is like another, except in its details, and I will not occupy the reader with the account of this new pursuit and death. Suffice it to say that, in all the elements of neurotic experience, such an encounter seems to me fully equal to half an hour’s brisk skirmish at six or seven hundred yards — and with an important addition. In war there is a cause, there is duty, there is the hope of glory, for who can tell what may not be won before night? But here at the end is only a hide, a horn, and a carcase, over which the vultures have already begun to wheel.
The town of Nairobi, the capital of the East Africa Protectorate, stands on the base of wooded hills at the three hundred and twenty-seventh mile of the railroad. Originally chosen as a convenient place for assembling the extensive depots and shops necessary to the construction and maintenance of the railway, it enjoys no advantages as a residential site. The ground on which the town is built is low and swampy. The supply of water is indifferent, and the situation generally unhealthy. A mile farther on, however, upon the rising ground a finer position could have been found, and this quarter is already being occupied sparsely by Government buildings, hospitals, and barracks. It is now too late to change, and thus lack of foresight and of a comprehensive view leaves its permanent imprint upon the countenance of a new country.
Our train traverses the Athi plains, more crowded perhaps with game than any other part of the line, and approaches swiftly the long rows of one-storeyed tin houses which constitute the town. Nairobi is a typical South African township. It might be Pietermaritzburg or Ladysmith of twenty years ago, before blue gum-trees and stone buildings had waxed and multiplied. In its present stage perhaps it resembles Buluwayo most. The population is also South African in its character and proportions. There are five hundred and eighty whites, three thousand one hundred Indians, and ten thousand five hundred and fifty African natives. The shops and stores are, however, much more considerable than these figures would appear to warrant, and are fully capable of supplying the varied needs of settlers and planters over a wide area. Nairobi is also the headquarters of a brigade of the King’s African Rifles, the central office and depot of the Uganda Railway, and the seat of the Administration, with its numerous official personnel. The dinner of the Colonists’ Association, to which I was invited, afforded the familiar, yet in Central Africa not unimpressive, spectacle of long rows of gentlemen in evening dress; while the ball given by the Governor to celebrate the King’s birthday revealed a company gay with uniforms, and ladies in pretty dresses, assembled upon a spot where scarcely ten years before lions hunted undisturbed.
Guard of Honour, King’s African Rifles.
Every white man in Nairobi is a politician; and most of them are leaders of parties. One would scarcely believe it possible, that a centre so new should be able to develop so many divergent and conflicting interests, or that a community so small should be able to give to each such vigorous and even vehement expression. There are already in miniature all the elements of keen political and racial discord, all the materials for hot and acrimonious debate. The white man versus the black; the Indian versus both; the settler as against the planter; the town contrasted with the country; the official class against the unofficial; the coast and the highlands; the railway administration and the Protectorate generally; the King’s African Rifles and the East Africa Protectorate Police; all these different points of view, naturally arising, honestly adopted, tenaciously held, and not yet reconciled into any harmonious general conception, confront the visitor in perplexing disarray. Nor will he be wise to choose his part with any hurry. It is better to see something of the country, of its quality and extent, of its promises and forfeits, of its realities and illusions, before endeavouring to form even a provisional opinion.
The snow-clad peak of Mount Kenya, a hundred miles away, can on a clear morning be easily seen from the slopes above Nairobi — a sharp, serrated summit veined with gleaming white. A road — passable, albeit unmetalled, for wagons and even a motor-car — runs thitherward by Fort Hall and across the Tana River. On the way there is much to see. A wild, ragged-looking, but fertile region, swelling into successive undulations and intersected by numerous gorges whose streams are shaded by fine trees, unfolds itself to the eye. Scattered about upon spacious estates of many thousand acres are a score or two of colonists, each gradually making himself a home and a living in his own way. One raises stock; another plants coffee, which grows so exuberantly in this generous soil as to threaten the speedy exhaustion of the plant. Here are ostriches, sheep, and cattle standing placidly together in one drove under the guardianship of a native child of eleven. There is a complete dairy farm, admirably equipped. One of the streams has been dammed effectively, and turbines are already in position to light Nairobi with electricity. Upon the banks of another there is talk of building a hotel.
Breakdown on the way to Thika Camp.
At one place I found a family of good people from Hightown, Manchester, grappling courageously with an enormous tract of ten thousand acres. Hard by, an old Boer, who has trekked the length of Africa to avoid the British flag, sits smoking stolidly by his grass house, reconciled to British rule at last by a few months’ experience of paternal government in a neighbouring Protectorate. He has few cattle and less cash, but he holds decided views as to the whereabouts of lions; there, moreover, stands the heavy tilted wagon of the Great Trek — an ark of refuge when all else fails; and for the rest there is plenty of game, few people, and the family grows from year to year. In short, one sees a sparse, heterogeneous population engaged in varied labours; but everywhere hard work, straitened resources, hopes persisting through many disappointments, stout hospitable hearts, and the beginnings, at any rate, of progress.
A camp has been prepared for me in a very beautiful spot at the juncture of the Chania and Thika rivers. Tents are pitched and grass shelters are erected in a smooth meadow. Southwards, a hundred yards away, a fine waterfall plunges downwards over enormous boulders amid tall, interlacing trees. The muffled roar of another rises from a deep ravine an equal distance to the north; and the Philistine computes, with a frown, four thousand horse-power expending itself upon the picturesque.
Nothing causes the East African colonist more genuine concern than that his guest should not have been provided with a lion. The knowledge preys upon his mind until it becomes a veritable obsession. He feels some deep reproach is laid upon his own hospitality and the reputation of his adopted country. How to find, and, having found, to kill, a lion is the unvarying theme of conversation; and every place and every journey is judged by a simple standard — “lions or no lions.” At the Thika camp, then, several gentlemen, accomplished in this important sport, have come together with ponies, rifles, Somalis, and all the other accessories. Some zebras and kongoni have been killed and left lying in likely-looking places to attract the lions; and at 4 a.m., rain or shine, we are to go and look for them.
Shooting Party at Thika Camp. From left to right — Capt. Sadler, Major Riddell, Mr. Marsh, Marquis Gandolfi-Hornyold, Hon. K. Dundas, Mr. Percival, Mr. Churchill, Mr. D. J. Wilson.
The young Englishman, be he officer or settler in the East African Highlands, cuts a hardy figure. His clothes are few and far between: a sun hat, a brown flannel shirt with sleeves cut above the elbow and open to the chest, a pair of thin khaki knickerbockers cut short five inches — at least — above the knee, boots, and a pair of putties comprise the whole attire. Nothing else is worn. The skin, exposed to sun, thorns, and insects, becomes almost as dark as that of the natives, and so hardened that it is nothing to ride all day with bare knees on the saddle; a truly Spartan discipline from which at least the visitor may be excused.
This is the way in which they hunt lions. First find the lion, lured to a kill, driven from a reed-bed, or kicked up incontinently by the way. Once viewed he must never be lost sight of for a moment. Mounted on ponies of more or less approved fidelity, three or four daring Britons or Somalis gallop after him, as in India they ride the pig — that is to say, neck or nothing — across rocks, holes, tussocks, nullahs, through high grass, thorn scrub, undergrowth, turning him, shepherding him, heading him this way and that until he is brought to bay. For his part the lion is no seeker of quarrels; he is often described in accents of contempt. His object throughout is to save his skin. If, being unarmed, you meet six or seven lions unexpectedly, all you need do — according to my information — is to speak to them sternly and they will slink away, while you throw a few stones at them to hurry them up. All the highest authorities recommend this.
But when pursued from place to place, chased hither and thither by the wheeling horsemen, the naturally mild disposition of the lion becomes embittered. First he begins to growl and roar at his enemies, in order to terrify them, and make them leave him in peace. Then he darts little short charges at them. Finally, when every attempt at peaceful persuasion has failed, he pulls up abruptly and offers battle. Once he has done this, he will run no more. He means to fight, and to fight to the death. He means to charge home; and when a lion, maddened with the agony of a bullet-wound, distressed by long and hard pursuit, or, most of all, a lioness in defence of her cubs, is definitely committed to the charge, death is the only possible conclusion. Broken limbs, broken jaws, a body raked from end to end, lungs pierced through and through, entrails torn and protruding — none of these count. It must be death — instant and utter — for the lion, or down goes the man, mauled by septic claws and fetid teeth, crushed and crunched, and poisoned afterwards to make doubly sure. Such are the habits of this cowardly and wicked animal.
It is at the stage when the lion has been determinedly “bayed” that the sportsman from London is usually introduced upon the scene. He has, we may imagine, followed the riders as fast as the inequalities of the ground, his own want of training, and the burden of a heavy rifle will allow him. He arrives at the spot where the lion is cornered in much the same manner as the matador enters the arena, the others standing aside deferentially, ready to aid him or divert the lion. If his bullet kills, he is, no doubt, justly proud. If it only wounds, the lion charges the nearest horseman. For forty yards the charge of a lion is swifter than the gallop of a racehorse. The riders, therefore, usually avoid waiting within that distance. But sometimes they do not; or sometimes the lion sees the man who has shot him; or sometimes all sorts of things happen which make good stories — afterwards.
After this general description no particular example is required, and the reader need not be disappointed to learn that our lion escaped what, no doubt, would have been his certain destruction by the breaking of a single link in the regular chain of circumstances. He was not found upon the kill. His place was taken by a filthy hyena, and it was not until we had beaten thoroughly for two hours more than three miles of reed-bed that we saw him — a splendid great yellow cat, looking as big as a bullock — bounding away up the opposite hill. Off started our riders like falcons; but alas! — if “alas!” is the proper word — a deep and impassable nullah intervened, necessitating large circuits and long delays; so that the lion got clean away out of sight of all men, and we were reduced to the slow and tedious process of tracking him footprint by footprint through waving grass, breast-high, hour after hour, always expecting to tread on his tail, and always — disappointed!
The Banda at Thika Camp.
Colonel Wilson’s Lion.
In the afternoon I had to ride to Fort Hall, where there was to be a great gathering of Kikuyu chiefs and thousands of their warriors and women. The country is much the same as that traversed on the previous day, but greener, smoother, and more pleasant-looking. Fort Hall is not a fort in any military sense, but the Commissioner’s house with a ditch round it, a jail, a few houses, and an Indian bazaar. The station is hardly well selected, being perched up on a hill out of the reach of any railway — and unhealthy nevertheless. The whole place was crowded with natives in their most highly ornamented and elaborate nudity, waiting for the war-dance.
This ceremony was performed the next morning. Long before daylight the beating of drums, the blowing of horns, and the rhythm of loud, yet not altogether unmelodious chanting awakened the weariest sleeper; and when, at eight o’clock the indaba began, the whole space in front of the fort was densely packed with naked, painted, plumed, and gyrating humanity, which seethed continually to and fro, and divided from time to time as particular chiefs advanced with their followers, or as gifts of struggling sheep and bulls were brought forward. In his war dress the Kikuyu, and, still more, the Masai warrior, is a striking, if not impressive, figure. His hair and body are smeared with the red earth of his native land, compounded into a pigment by mixture with the slimy juice of the castor-oil plant, which abounds. Fantastic headdresses, some of ostrich feathers, others of metal or leather; armlets and leglets of twisted wire; stripes of white clay rubbed across the red pigment; here and there an old pot-hat or some European garment, incongruously contrasted with leopard-skins and bulls’ horns; broad, painted cow-hide shields, and spears with soft iron blades nearly four feet long, complete a grotesque and indecorous picture. Still, there is a sleek grace about these active forms — bronze statues but for their frippery — which defeats all their own efforts to make themselves hideous. The chiefs, however, succeed in reducing themselves to regular guys. Any old, cast-off khaki jacket or tattered pair of trousers; any fragment of weather-stained uniform, a battered sun-helmet with a feather stuck lamely into the top of it, a ragged umbrella, is sufficient to induce them to abandon the ostrich plume and the leopard-skin kaross. Among their warriors in ancient gear they look ridiculous and insignificant — more like the commonest kind of native sweeper than the hereditary rulers of some powerful and numerous tribe.
“Durbar” at Kiambu.
It is unquestionably an advantage that the East African negro should develop a taste for civilized attire. In no more useful and innocent direction could his wants be multiplied and his desires excited, and it is by this process of assimilation that his life will gradually be made more complicated, more varied, less crudely animal, and himself raised to a higher level of economic utility. But it would surely be worth while to organize and guide this new motive force within graceful and appropriate limits. A Government runs risks when it intrudes upon the domain of fashion; but when a veritable abyss of knowledge and science separates the rulers from the ruled, when authority is dealing with a native race still plunged in its primary squalour, without religion, without clothes, without morals, but willing to emerge and capable of emerging, such risks may fairly be accepted; and the Government might well prescribe or present suitable robes for ceremonial occasions to the chiefs, and gradually encourage, and more gradually still enforce, their adoption throughout the population.
After the dance it had been arranged that I should go as far as the bank of the Tana River to see the view of Mount Kenya, and then return to the Thika camp before night. But when the whole splendid panorama of the trans-Tana country opened upon us, I could not bring myself to stop short of the promised land; and, casting away material cares of luncheon and baggage, I decided to ride through to Embo, twenty-eight miles from Fort Hall, and our most advanced post in this direction. We crossed the Tana by a ferry which travels along a rope under the impulsion of the current. The ponies swam the deep, strong, sixty-yard stream of turbulent red water. On the farther bank the country is really magnificent in quality and aspect. The centre of the picture is always Mount Kenya; but there never was a mountain which made so little of its height. It rises by long gentle slopes, more like a swelling of ground than a peak, from an immense upland plain, and so gradual is the acclivity that, but for the sudden outcrop of snow-clad rock which crowns the summit, no one would believe it over eighteen thousand feet high. It is its gradual rise that imparts so great a value to this noble mountain; for about its enormous base and upon its slopes, traversed by hundreds of streams of clear perennial water, there grows, or may grow, in successive, concentric belts, every kind of crop and forest known in the world, from the Equator to the Arctic Circle. The landscape is superb. In beauty, in fertility, in verdure, in the coolness of the air, in the abundance of running water, in its rich red soil, in the variety of its vegetation, the scenery about Kenya far surpasses anything I have ever seen in India or South Africa, and challenges comparison with the fairest countries of Europe. Indeed, looking at it with an eye fresh from Italy, I was most powerfully reminded of the upper valleys of the Po.
We rode on all day through this delicious country, along a well-kept native road, smooth enough for a bicycle, except where it crossed stream after stream on primitive bridges. On every side the soil was cultivated and covered with the crops of a large and industrious population. It is only a year since regular control was established beyond the Tana, not without some bloodshed, by a small military expedition. Yet so peaceful are the tribes — now that their intertribal fighting has been stopped — that white officers ride freely about among their villages without even carrying a pistol. All the natives met with on the road were armed with sword and spear, and all offered us their customary salutations, while many came up smiling and holding out long, moist, delicate-looking hands for me to shake, till I had quite enough of it. Indeed, the only dangers of the road appear to be from the buffaloes which infest the country, and after nightfall place the traveller in real peril. We were very glad for this reason, and also because we had eaten nothing but a banana each since early morning, to see at last on the top of the next hill the buildings of Embo just as the sun sank beneath the horizon.
Embo is a model station, only five months old — one small, three-roomed house for the District Commissioner, one for the military officer, an office, and a tiny jail, all in good dressed stone; two Indian shops in corrugated iron; and seven or eight long rows of beehive grass huts for a hundred and fifty soldiers and police. Two young white officers — a civilian and a soldier — preside from this centre of authority, far from the telegraph, over the peace and order of an area as large as an English county, and regulate the conduct and fortunes of some seventy-five thousand natives, who have never previously known or acknowledged any law but violence or terror. They were uncommonly surprised to see four horsemen come riding up the zigzag path to their dwelling; but their astonishment was no bar to their hospitality, and we were soon rewarded for our journey and our fasting in most excellent fashion.
I had just time before the darkness flooded the land and blotted out the mighty mountain and its wreaths of fire-tipped cloud to walk round this station. The jail consisted of a single room, barred and bolted. Inside not a prisoner was to be seen. I inquired where they were, and was shown two little groups seated round fires in the open. They were chained together by a light running chain, and after a hard day’s miscellaneous work about the station they chatted peacefully as they cooked and ate their evening meal. The prison was only their shelter for the night — primitive arrangements, no doubt, but are they more barbarous than the hideous, long-drawn precision of an English convict establishment?
The African protectorates now administered by the Colonial Office afford rare scope for the abilities of earnest and intelligent youth. A man of twenty-five may easily find himself ruling a large tract of country and a numerous population. The Government is too newly established to have developed the highly centralized and closely knit — perhaps too closely knit — hierarchy and control of the Indian system. It is far too poor to afford a complete Administration. The District Commissioner must judge for himself, and be judged upon his actions. Very often — for tropical diseases make many gaps in the ranks, and men must often return to England to recruit their health — the officer is not a District Commissioner at all, but a junior acting in his stead or in some one’s stead, sometimes for a year or more. To him there come day by day the natives of the district with all their troubles, disputes, and intrigues. Their growing appreciation of the impartial justice of the tribunal leads them increasingly to carry all sorts of cases to the District Commissioner’s Court. When they are ill they come and ask for medicine. When they are wounded in their quarrels it is to the white man they go to have the injuries dressed. Disease and accident have to be combated without professional skill. Courts of justice and forms of legality must be maintained without lawyers. Taxes have to be collected by personal influence. Peace has to be kept with only a shadow of force.
All these great opportunities of high service, and many others, are often and daily placed within the reach of men in their twenties — on the whole with admirable results. It was most pleasant to hear with what comprehension and sympathy the officers of the East Africa Protectorate speak about their work; and how they regard themselves as the guardians of native interests and native rights against those who only care about exploiting the country and its people. No one can travel even for a little while among the Kikuyu tribes without acquiring a liking for these light-hearted, tractable, if brutish children, or without feeling that they are capable of being instructed and raised from their present degradation. There are more than four million aboriginals in East Africa alone. Their care imposes a grave, and I think an inalienable, responsibility upon the British Government. It will be an ill day for these native races when their fortunes are removed from the impartial and august administration of the Crown and abandoned to the fierce self-interest of a small white population. Such an event is no doubt very remote. Yet the speculator, the planter, and the settler are knocking at the door. There are many things which ought to be done — good, wise, scientific, and justly profitable. If the Government cannot find the money to develop the natural economic strength of the country, to make its communications, to start its industries, can it with any reason bar the field to private enterprise? Can it prevent the ingress of a white population? Ought it to do so, and for how long? What is to happen when there are thirty thousand white people in East Africa, instead of the three thousand or so who make so much stir at the present time? Perhaps the course of these chapters will lead us back again to these questions. I am very doubtful whether it will supply their answers.