Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat.
Continuing Livingstone’s African Discoveries,
with a selection from his logs by David Livingstone. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 2.5 easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Livingstone’s African Discoveries.
Place: Central Africa
We found the lions on a small hill about a quarter of a mile in length and covered with trees. A circle of men was formed round it, and they gradually closed up, ascending pretty near to each other. Being down below on the plain with a native schoolmaster, named Mebalwe, a most excellent man, I saw one of the lions sitting on a piece of rock within the now closed circle of men. Mebalwe fired at him before I could, and the ball struck the rock on which the animal was sitting. He bit at the spot struck, as a dog does at a stick or stone thrown at him; then leaping away, broke through the opening circle and escaped unhurt. The men were afraid to attack him, perhaps on account of their belief in witchcraft.
When the circle was re-formed we saw two other lions in it; but we were afraid to fire lest we should strike the men, and they allowed the beasts to burst through also. If the Bakatla had acted according to the custom of the country, they would have speared the lions in their attempt to get out. Seeing we could not get them to kill one of the lions, we bent our footsteps toward the village; in going round the end of the hill, however, I saw one of the beasts sitting on a piece of rock as before, but this time he had a little bush in front. Being about thirty yards off, I took a good aim at his body through the bush, and fired both barrels into it. The men then called out, “He is shot! He is shot!”
Others cried: “He has been shot by another man too; let us go to him!” I did not see anyone else shoot at him, but I saw the lion’s tail erected in anger behind the bush, and, turning to the people said, “Stop a little, till I load again.” When in the act of ramming down the bullets I heard a shout. Starting, and looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang, and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but feel not the knife.
This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death. Turning round to relieve myself of the weight, as he had one paw on the back of my head, I saw his eyes directed to Mabalwe, who was trying to shoot him at a distance of ten or fifteen yards. His gun, a flint one, missed fire in both barrels; the lion immediately left me, and, attacking Mebalwe, bit his thigh. Another man — whose life I had saved before, after he had been tossed by a buffalo — attempted to spear the lion while he was biting Mebalwe. He left Mebalwe and caught this man by the shoulder, but at that moment the bullets he had received took effect, and he fell down dead. The whole was the work of a few moments, and must have been his paroxysms of dying rage. In order to take out the charm from him, the Bakatla on the following day made a huge bonfire over the carcass, which was declared to be that of the largest lion they had ever seen. Besides crunching the bone into splinters, he left eleven teeth wounds on the upper part of my arm. It was a long time in healing.
The exact position of Lake Ngami had, for half a century at least, been correctly pointed out by the natives, who had visited it when rains were more copious in the desert than in more recent times, and many attempts had been made to reach it by passing through the desert in the direction indicated; but it was found impossible, even for Griquas, who, having some Bushman blood in them, may be supposed more capable of enduring thirst than Europeans. It was clear, then, that our only chance of success was by going round, instead of through, the desert.
On July 4, 1849, we went forward on horseback toward what we supposed to be the lake, and again and again did we seem to see it; but at last we came to the veritable water of the Zouga, and found it to be a river running to the northeast. A village of Bakurutse lay on the opposite bank; these live among Batletli, a tribe having a click in their language, and who were found by Sebituane to possess large herds of the great horned cattle. They seem allied to the Hottentot family. Mr. Oswell, in trying to cross the river, got his horse bogged in the swampy bank. Two Bakwains and I managed to get over by wading beside a fishing-weir. The people were friendly, and informed us that this water came out of the Ngami. This news gladdened all our hearts, for we now felt certain of reaching our goal. We might, they said, be a moon on the way; but we had the River Zouga at our feet, and by following it we should at last reach the broad water.
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