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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Further Extract from the Journal of Col. Sterling Moustache (ret.)

(This being the second installment in an epic tale! The first part is published at: Safari part one )
Chapter Two - Dancing with Pygmies!

Now, the thing you have to remember about Chandi Patel’s Crocodile River Bath House is that at a shilling a time, and tuppence for clean towels    it wasn’t cheap.
So when Albert O’Balsam, the Hibernian Zulu himself, reserved one of Chandi’s galvanized tin baths for his own personal use… no-one was fooled for a minute.
Naturally, Chandi was curious about O’Balsam’s sudden penchant for cleanliness, and decided to investigate his carefully curtained cubicle.
Unfortunately  he did so by the light of a naked flame...
The resulting explosion broke every window in the Randini & District Masonic Lodge, and proved beyond any doubt that O’Balsam was the mastermind behind the flood of bootlegged yam gin which was blighting the region.
Of course, that left O’Balsam with a pressing need to leave town in a hurry, and he was to be found at every waterhole in Randini going from table to table offering cut-price safaris, distance no object, departure soonest.
Well, I’m not the sort to take advantage of a friend. But O’Balsam is more of an acquaintance, as it were, so of course I snapped his hand off.
A hurried departure and three days hike found us at the junction of the Crocodile River and the Western Um Bongo, and a less salubrious company ne’er trod Britannia’s fair dominions.  O’Balsam had taken on a well known local ‘character’ to assist him with the bearers… a venerable dockside idler known as ‘Daddy’ Maguire.
(Maguire was widely reputed to be the originator of the formula for yam gin… could that be why O’Balsam wanted him along?)
He was, indeed, a great help with the bearers. The jungle-drums had it that the wizened, nut-brown Maguire was part baboon, and the boys clustered round him protectively in the belief that if they left him unattended in the bush, some red-rumped mandrill would attempt to return him to his native kind.
As well as our bearers, O’Balsam had procured some stalwart askaris – including the peerless lion-slayer, Simbakuu, from that belligerent Boer, Toastie  Leerdammer.  However, you don’t last long in Leerdammer’s line of work by letting the likes of O’Balsam wander off with your best lads and the recipe for yam gin, so Toastie bluntly ‘invited’ himself along to captain the Askaris.
That left your faithful correspondent as the only ‘Gun’ in the expedition: my own private safari, as it were!
(I’m sure the best way to enjoy all Africa has to offer is to have an unlimited budget. But speaking for myself, I’ve always found having a coterie of disreputable acquaintances suffices admirably.)
But our first foray for game, however, had little to do with sport.  Dawn had brought the unwelcome revelation that there was not a morsel of food to be had among the entire safari.  Further investigation revealed that our troupe of heavily laden bearers were, in fact, carrying nothing more than O’Balsam’s  stockpile of yam gin.  The safari had proved an ideal opportunity for O’Balsam to spirit every trace of moonshining malfeasance out of the District Comissioner’s reach!
There we were… enough rotgut to float a dreadnought, but not a bite for breakfast!
So, taking our Bantu guide, and with Simbakuu serving as gun-bearer, I pushed ahead of the column along a narrow game-trail, looking for something for the pot.
Leerdammer marched his askaris along the treeline, leaving room for O’Balsam and Maguire to shepherd the bearers alongside them.


We hadn’t gone far into the bush when we surprised a plump  p. larvatus  busily rooting around.  



 
A humble porker, at close range? What could be easier?  I shouldered my nifty new Lee-Sporter and put a soft-nosed .303 round clean into his breast-bone.






Which simply annoyed him, to no small degree.  As fast as I could work the bolt, the furious hog launched himself at me. From potential bacon sandwich to spiky-tusked mauling machine, just like that!  


Fortunately, the wily Leerdammer had positioned himself perfectly to get a shot in if I missed, and dropped the ill-tempered brute before it perforated me.                      If you can’t imagine anyone could shoot a pig in a manner which conveys a degree of sarcasm… well, you’ve never met a Boer.
Just as I allowed myself to relax, however, the bush to my left erupted in a flurry of violent motion!
A hunting party of pygmies – actual pygmies, y’know, the little fellers, first I’d ever clapped eyes on – positively burst from the foliage with angry war cries and brandished weapons!  Without hesitation they let fly with a volley of arrows… one of which transfixed my new starched-canvas wideawake, while another perforated out Bantu guide!                                                     
Well, much as I dislike picking on anybody smaller than oneself, the options for negotiation seemed limited, so we gave them a broadside, flattening a couple.  As quickly as they had appeared, they withdrew into the bush, whisking their casualties away with them. Somebody – Leerdammer, I assumed – let rip with a celebratory yodel.
Leerdammer had the lads ‘stand-to’ for a while, but it became clear the pygmies had made their getaway. They had evidently been stalking the same hog we had, and considered themselves to have ‘dibs’.


Examination of our luckless Bantu showed that – although still breathing - he was a stiff as a board! The pygmies’ arrows were evidently poisoned. Leerdammer assured us the effect would wear off, so we set some of the bearers to making a litter while the others strung the pig on a pole. (O’Balsam suggested we do likewise with our guide!)
I could not resist informing O’Balsam that we had encountered a little-known variety of African leprechaun, and said that if he cared to follow them into the bush, he would doubtless be led to a pot of gold. He affected to find my wit demeaning and beneath him.
No sooner had the safari got underway again when a second bush-pig revealed itself, too intent on rooting up whatever-it-is bush-pigs eat to notice our approach.  Once again, I made a fair shot, which failed to put the animal down, forcing the rest of the party to pick up my slack.                          I began to wonder if the rapid action of my new Lee-Sporter  offered any advantage over the stopping power of my old Westley-Richards. Bad enough to have a wounded pig turn on you, but…  what if the situation arose with a more formidable prey, eh?

Again, we pressed ahead some way while the bearers busied themselves with the bush pig. We had now worked our way around a bend in the trail which revealed the riverbank ahead of us, and thick brush extending down the banks on our side of the muddy flow.

 





Over the river, the country looked to be more open country, perfect for Big Game.  But we had to negotiate the river first, and the crossing point was a jolly unhealthy sort of spot.
The bush pressed thick and close on both sides, funnelling one down to a narrow bottleneck which seemed purpose-built for delivering travellers to crocodiles! The presence of a mossy-backed ten-footer sunning himself in the mud showed that such suspicions were well-founded!








As we considered how best to cross the river, however, our cogitations were interrupted by a stealthy movement in the undergrowth!
Taking my bearings from the course of the river, I quickly surmised that we were looking at the reverse of the dense thicket into which the pygmies had withdrawn – that is to say, the side opposite that on which we had encountered them. I was half-convinced the rustling in the bushes was caused by the retreating pygmies.
Either way, I didn’t want any nasty surprises from behind as we crossed the river, so I instructed Leerdammer to get his askaris to beat the thicket.  Easier said than done, as it turned out. Toastie tried in vain to make himself understood, in a mixture of Afrikaaner, Swahili, and pidgin English, growing positively beetroot as he did so.  The askaris stood around, listening politely, and looking vaguely puzzled.  Now, bear in mind that several of these lads had been ‘out’ with Peachy and myself before, and certainly knew the drill. It was clear to me that they were just enjoying a spot of barrack-room impertinence at Leerdammer’s expense. I let them have their fun, then called off the idea of beating the thicket, and attention turned to the river crossing.
Experience had taught us to take every precaution before getting too close to the crocodile-haunted riverbanks (Requiescat in pace, Mustafa.)  The obvious warning sign was the basking ten-footer, who appeared not to give a fig for our proximity. We might, of course, have shooed him into the water, but then  he’d have been… well, in the water, d’ye see… into which we would have to wade. All things considered, a thorough shooting seemed by far the most reasonable solution.
I gave no thought to him as a trophy. Although his hide would have looked splendid, I had learned that big crocs take a lot of killing, and inevitably leapt for the water as soon as the shooting started. Having no expectation of getting his hide, I invited the help to join in, and we blazed away. True to form, the stricken beast  thrashed his way into the river and drifted off downstream, belly up.
After that, the crossing proved uneventful enough, though unpleasantly muddy. Eager to see what lay in the open country beyond, I pressed ahead with Simbakuu. 









 
We  headed for a small koppie which promised a good vantage point. Remembering the perils of being caught unaware, I took good care to scout around its base before we clambered to the top.










As I got to my feet, I was  amazed to see two fine gazelles burst from the bush at the base of the koppie… I must have passed within yards of them, and didn’t see hide nor hair!








I tried an instinctive snapshot at the closest animal, but my bullet kicked up dust well clear of him. I probably had time for a second shot, but as they bounded away, I simply didn’t feel it fair. They had ‘played the game’ better than I, and deserved their escape.







And so I turned my attention to the broad, open river valley ahead. The country was everything I’d hoped for, and game – as yet too distant to identify – dotted the veldt.
My immediate attention, however, was occupied by a determined-looking band of armed natives heading straight for the river crossing!  Their white feather plumes and short kikois  showed them to be Samburu… a bunch with whom I had a less than cordial history!  (There was an innocent misunderstanding involving some lions, and a rather thorough shooting – I shan’t burden you with the details.)



 












I looked over my shoulder at the river crossing… Leerdammer had his lads in a proper skirmish line, all Sir Garnet. Behind the line of askaris, O’Balsam had the bearers well in hand and was leading them to cover.
Naturally, as the only Englishman present, the others looked to me to determine our course of action. With memories of our earlier encounter fresh in my mind, I thought it would be only fair to try and avoid a bloodbath if at all possible.  With that in mind, I parted the headdress plumes of the leading marani  with a warning shot. To my relief, the group executed a smart right wheel and withdrew at the double.
Well, the lads were cheering, somebody (one assumes Leerdammer) was doing that irritating yodelling thing, and O’Balsam was plaintively calling: “D’yez want tae buy some gin…?” at the departing  Samburu.
Full of good cheer at a narrow escape, and pleased with the conduct of the safari, I ordered a tot of O’Balsam’s finest all round. Bracing stuff, indeed!  On the scale of “things I’ve drunk which were distilled from over-ripe fruit in a tin bath”, this was among the very best.

Getting the column back in order, O’Balsam  and Leerdammer ot the safri underway while Simbakuu and I ranged ahead, enjoying the wide open spaces after the cloying jungle of the river banks.









After scouting a couple of likely-looking stands of cover, without result, my attention was drawn to a sizeable disturbance in the long grass ahead.  Whatever was causing it was clearly sizeable, raising a cloud of dust, which is what had first caught my eye.







As we approached, I found myself at neighbourly range to a full-grown white rhinoceros, boasting a truly magnificent horn!
I had heard from Leerdammer how these magnificent animals were nowhere near as populous as they once were. This had touched my manly heart, and I was determined to preserve this wonderful creature for future generations to enjoy, by having it properly stuffed and mounted.
The rhino himself seemed nonplussed by our appearance, which gave me a moment to make my decision – to trust to the lighter Lee-Sporter, and have a chance at a second shot… or to take the Westley-Richards from Simbakuu’s ready hand, and place my faith in a single hefty round of .375 express?
I chose to stick with the .303. I drew a careful aim on the junction of the brute’s shoulder and neck, which seemed to offer the best chance of getting into the chest cavity. As I recall, I had once asked old Peachy where the best place to shoot a rhino was, and he had said: Africa.  I ask you. Fellow’s in the Diplomatic service, and all. No wonder there was a war. Anyway, there I was, staring down the barrel at this rhino, holding my breath and taking up the trigger-creep, when the earth positively shook, and a shadow fell over us. Keeping the rest of my body as still as a statue, I allowed my eyes to slide to the left.
They tell me a really big bull elephant can tip 24,000lbs, and reach 13 feet at the shoulder.  I just nod sagely and tell ‘em I’ve seen bigger. This fellow was a veritable behemoth, dwarfing his harem of females, who would ordinarily seem impressive themselves. And those tusks!  Each one worth a King’s ransom…
Time stood still, and the barrel of my (pitifully inadequate) .303 started to slide, almost of it’s own volition, to rest between the eyes of the giant tusker. All I could hear was the roaring of the blood in my ears and… that infernal yodelling! For pity’s sake! I mean, does Holland even have Alps? Isn’t it flat, or something?  Anyway, the deuced racket broke the spell, and suddenly it was back to business.
I brought the rifle back onto the rhino – horribly aware that if the elephants charged, we were dead men whether I was pointing a gun at them or not. I murmured to Simbakuu not to shoot unless I missed and he charged, and heard the Slayer of Lions give a curt “Ndyio” of assent.
I pulled the trigger, and at precisely the same moment, the rhino decided to charge. I put my round exactly where I meant to… with no noticeable effect whatsoever. I worked the bolt-action as he thundered towards me like a steam locomotive, and put my second round a hand’s breadth below my first. His front legs folded up under him, and he skidded to a halt, so close that his final breath ruffled my jodhpurs. Bayete, kifaru.



I swallowed hard and turned my attention to the elephants. The giant male was backing away, his ears flared in threat, trumpeting madly.
Motioning to Simbakuu to do likewise, I slowly backed away, glancing around to see the rest of the party frozen in place behind us.  As I drew level with Leerdammer, something occurred to me: “What the devil d’you think you’re doing with all this blessed yodelling?” I hissed.
“It’s not me” replied the Boer; “I think it’s him.” He jerked his chin in the direction of a dense thicket, where the most bizarre figure stood at the treeline – a white man, built like a prop-forward, wearing nothing but a chamois-leather wash-cloth round his privies. As we watched he motioned and ‘yodelled’, and it became apparent that the titanic elephant and his herd were responding to his commands!  The big male trumpeted one last time, then trotted away with his harem.

Well, it’s not everyday one meets Tarzan of the Apes, so I dusted off my sadly mistreated wideawake, straightened my collar and went to say how’d’ye do. Of course, this was 1912, and if there was one thing Kenya was awash with - it was yam gin. But if there was another thing Kenya was awash with, it would be rumours of the Great White Ape. Jungle telegraph had it that the Lord of the Jungle wasn’t on the best of terms with white hunters, but I recalled that most of the trouble between them was caused by chaps who wanted to catch him and put him in a cage.  Since I really couldn’t see the appeal in that – despite having gone to public school myself – I thought there was no reason we couldn’t have the chap over for roast pork and yam gin.
O’Balsam called ‘Funga Safari’ and the bearers began to make camp and dress the rhino, while Leerdammer set his askaris to gathering thorn branches for a boma.

Tarzan introduced himself as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, which brought about the most remarkable change of demeanour in O’Balsam. The same fellow who had made an artform of insubordination was practically tugging his forelock at the mention of a title! The evening passed very tolerably, and no-one was discourteous enough to make mention of our guest’s comedy French accent.  The only sticky moment came when I made an innocent enquiry as to the location of the Elephant’s Graveyard, which Tarzan immediately claimed was ‘just a myth’.  Very likely, thought I, and wondered if he could be captured and made to show us the way, perhaps in some sort of cage… Ah-hah, I thought, so that’s where the whole ‘let’s put Tarzan in a cage’ business comes from.
Anyway, the Great White Ape took his leave, with a parting warning that the giant bull elephant was not to be hunted – not too much of an imposition – I was just glad to have come away in one piece! And so to bed, with a straw-wrapped carboy of yam gin for my pillow.


Players:
Phil - The Great White Hunter!
Ian- O'Balsam
Me- Leerdammer

Lawrence ran the game and the indiginous life forms
 

2 comments:

  1. Simply splendid sir!
    I look forward to further extracts in the future.

    ReplyDelete