Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/105

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97
AUDACITY OF LIONS.

a hyaena or a jackal was about to pay me a visit, I sat up in my bed, and seizing my gun, which I invariably kept within reach, I prepared to give the intruder a warm reception. Imagine my surprise, however, when, instead of one or other of these skulking animals, a stately lion stood suddenly before me! In an instant my gun was pointed at his breast; but, hoping he would presently turn his broadside toward me, which would have given me a much better chance of destroying him, I refrained from firing. In this expectation, however, I was disappointed; for, on perceiving the wagons, he retreated a step or two, and uttering a low growl, vanished the next moment among the bushes.

There is something so grand and imposing in the appearance of the king of beasts in his native wilds, more especially when he assumes an attitude of surprise or defiance, that it is impossible not to feel more or less awed in his presence.

On mentioning to Mr. Rath, the following morning, my adventure of the preceding night, he expressed no kind of surprise, for the tamarisk grove in question was often known, he said, to harbor lions and other beasts of prey. He added, moreover, that lions not unfrequently penetrated thence into his garden, and even approached within a few paces of the dwelling-house itself.

Returning somewhat late one very dark night from Mr. Rath's house to our encampment, I was suddenly startled by sounds of the most painful description, not unlike the stifled groanings of a person who is on the point of drowning. It at once struck me that the lions had surprised some unfortunate native while lying in ambush near the water for wild animals that came there to drink. While listening in anxious suspense to the wailings in question—which gradually became more and more faint—there reached me from another quarter a confused sound of human voices and of hurried footsteps. This only tended to confirm my first impression; but, from the impenetrable darkness, I could not ascertain