The Man-Eaters of Tsavo/Chapter 26

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Chapter XXVI: Work at Nairobi[edit]

Although the lion which caused poor Bhoota's death was the last I managed to shoot in East Africa, I saw several others afterwards while travelling up and down the line at different times on construction work. In particular, I remember one very curious incident which happened early on the morning of June 2, when I was travelling towards Nairobi, accompanied by Dr. McCulloch. The Doctor was going home on leave in the course of a few days, and was bemoaning to me his bad luck in never having shot or even seen a lion all the time he had been in the country. We were standing on the engine at the time, facing each other, he with his back to the north.

"My dear Mac," I said, "it is because you don't look out for them."

"Rubbish," he retorted; "I do nothing else when I am out hunting."

"Well," I replied, "are you really very anxious to shoot one before you go home?"

"I would rather get a lion than anything else in the world," was the emphatic reply.

"Very good, then. Sultan," I called to the driver, "stop the engine."

"Now, Mac," I continued, as the train was quickly brought to a standstill, "here's a chance for you. Just jump off and bag those two over there."

He turned round in blank astonishment and could hardly believe his eyes when he saw two fine lions only about two hundred yards off, busily engaged in devouring a wildebeeste which they had evidently just killed. I had spotted them almost as soon as Mac had begun to talk of his bad luck, and had only waited to tell him until we got nearer, so as to give him a greater surprise. He was off the engine in a second and made directly for the two beasts. Just as he was about to fire one of them bolted, so I called out to him to shoot the other quickly before he too made good his escape. This one was looking at us over his shoulder with one paw on the dead wildebeeste, and while he stood in this attitude Mac dropped him with a bullet through the heart. Needless to say he was tremendously delighted with his success, and after the dead lion had been carried to the train and propped up against a carriage, I took a photograph of him standing beside his fine trophy.

Three days after this incident railhead reached Nairobi, and I was given charge of the new division of the line. Nairobi was to be the headquarters of the Railway Administration, so there was an immense amount of work to be done in converting an absolutely bare plain, three hundred and twenty-seven miles from the nearest place where even a nail could be purchased, into a busy railway centre. Roads and bridges had to be constructed, houses and work-shops built, turntables and station quarters erected, a water supply laid on, and a hundred and one other things done which go to the making of a railway township. Wonderfully soon, however, the nucleus of the present town began to take shape, and a thriving "bazaar" sprang into existence with a mushroom-like growth. In this, however, a case or two of plague broke out before very long, so I gave the natives and Indians who inhabited it an hour's notice to clear out, and on my own responsibility promptly burned the whole place to the ground. For this somewhat arbitrary proceeding I was mildly called over the coals, as I expected; but all the same it effectually stamped out the plague, which did not reappear during the time I was in the country.

With a little persuasion I managed to induce several hundred of the Wa Kikuyu, in whose country we now were, to come and work at Nairobi, and very useful and capable they proved themselves after a little training. They frequently brought me in word that the shambas (plantations, gardens) at the back of the hill on which my camp was pitched were being destroyed by elephants, but unfortunately I could never spare time to go out in quest of them. On one occasion, however, I passed the news on to my friend, Dr. Winston Waters, with the result that he had a most exciting adventure with a big bull elephant. He set out in quest of the depredator, and, guided by a few of the Wa Kikuyu, soon came upon him hidden among some shady trees. Waters was a great believer in a close shot, so he stalked up to within a few yards of the animal and then fired his .577, aiming for the heart. The elephant responded by a prompt and determined charge, and although Waters quickly let him have the left barrel as well, it proved of no effect; and on he came, screaming and trumpeting with rage. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to fly for dear life; so down a path raced Waters for all he was worth, the elephant giving vigorous chase and gaining rapidly. In a few seconds matters began to look very serious for the sportsman, for the huge monster was almost on him; but at the critical moment he stepped on to the false cover of a carefully-concealed game pit and disappeared from view as if by magic. This sudden descent of his enemy apparently into the bowels of the earth so startled the elephant that he stopped short in his career and made off into the jungle. As for Waters, he was luckily none the worse for his fall, as the pit was neither staked at the bottom nor very deep; he soon scrambled out, and, following up the wounded elephant, succeeded in finishing him off without further trouble.

Towards the end of 1899 I left for England. A few days before I started all my Wa Kikuyu "children", as they called themselves, came in a body and begged to be taken with me. I pictured to them the cold, wet climate of England and its great distance from their native land; but they assured me that these were nothing to them, as they only wished to continue my "children" and to go wherever I went. I could hardly imagine myself arriving in London with a body-guard of four hundred more or less naked savages, but it was only with difficulty that I persuaded them that they had better remain in their own country. The ever-faithful Mahina, my "boy" Roshan Khan, my honest chaukidar, Meeanh, and a few other coolies who had been a long time with me, accompanied me to the coast, where they bade me a sorrowful farewell and left for India the day before I sailed on my homeward journey.