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Hunting the Lions

Hunting the Lions

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


e trust, good reader, that it will not cause you a feeling of disappointment to be told that the name of our hero is Brown--Tom Brown. It is important at the beginning of any matter that those concerned should clearly understand their position, therefore we have thought fit, even at the risk of throwi...
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  We trust, good reader, that it will not cause you a feeling ofdisappointment to be told that the name of our hero is Brown--Tom Brown.It is important at the beginning of any matter that those concernedshould clearly understand their position, therefore we have thought fit,even at the risk of throwing a wet blanket over you, to commence thistale on one of the most romantic of subjects by stating--and nowrepeating that our hero was a member of the large and

supposed to be

unromantic family of "the Browns."

  A word in passing about the romance of the family. Just because theBrown family is large, it has come to be deemed unromantic. Every oneknows that two of the six green-grocers in the next street are Browns.The fat sedate butcher round the corner is David Brown, and the milkmanis James Brown. The latter is a square-faced practical man, who islooked up to as a species of oracle by all his friends. Half a dozendrapers within a mile of you are named Brown, and all of them are shrewdmen of business, who have feathered their nests well, and stick tobusiness like burrs. You will certainly find that several of thehardest-working clergymen, and one or more of the city missionaries, arenamed Brown; and as to Doctor Browns, there is no end of them! But whygo further? The fact is patent to every unprejudiced person.

  Now, instead of admitting that the commonness of the name of Brownproves its owners to be unromantic, we hold that this is a distinctevidence of the deep-seated romance of the family. In the first place,it is probable that their multitudinosity is the result of romance,which, as every one knows, has a tendency to cause men and women to fallin love, and marry early in life. Brown is almost always a good husbandand a kind father. Indeed he is a good, steady-going man in all therelations of life, and his name, in our mind at least, is generallyassociated with troops of happy children who call him "daddy," andregard him in the light of an elephantine playmate. And they do so withgood reason, for Brown is manly and thorough-going in whatever heundertakes, whether it be the transaction of business or romping withhis children.

  But, besides this, the multitudinosity of the Browns cuts in twodirections. If there are so many of them green-grocers, butchers, andmilkmen--who without sufficient reason are thought to be unromantic--itwill be found that they are equally numerous in other walks of life; andwherever they walk they do so coolly, deliberately, good-humouredly, andvery practically. Look at the learned professions, for instance. Whata host of Browns are there. The engineers and contractors too, how theyswarm in their lists. If you want to erect a suspension bridge over theBritish Channel, the only man who is likely to undertake the job for youis Adam Brown, C.E., and Abel Brown will gladly provide the materials.As to the army, here their name is legion; they compose an army ofthemselves; and they are all enthusiasts--but quiet, steady-going, notnoisy or boastful enthusiasts. In fact, the romance of Brown consistsvery much in his willingness to fling himself, heart and soul, intowhatever his hand finds to do. The man who led the storming party, andachieved immortal glory by getting himself riddled to death withbullets, was Lieutenant Brown--better known as Ned Brown by his brotherofficers, who could not mention his name without choking for weeks afterhis sad but so-called "glorious" fall. The other man who accomplishedthe darling wish of his heart--to win the Victoria Cross--by attaching abag of gunpowder to the gate of the fortress and blowing it and himselfto atoms to small that no shred of him big enough to hang the VictoriaCross upon was ever found, was Corporal Brown, and there was scarcely adry eye in the regiment when he went down.

  Go abroad among the barbarians of the earth, to China, for instance, andask who is yonder thick-set, broad-chested man, with the heartyexpression of face, and the splendid eastern uniform, and you will betold that he is Too Foo, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial forcesin that department. If, still indulging curiosity, you go and introduceyourself to him, he will shake you heartily by the hand, and, in goodEnglish, tell you that his name is Walter Brown, and that he will becharmed to show you something of Oriental life if you will do him thefavour to take a slice of puppy dog in his pagoda after the review! Ifthere is a chief of a hill tribe in Hindustan in want of a primeminister who will be able to carry him through a serious crisis, thereis a Brown at hand, who speaks not only his own language, but all thedialects and languages of Hindustan, who is quite ready to assumeoffice. It is the same at the diggings, whether of Australia,California, or Oregon; and we are persuaded that the man whosehabitation is nearest to the pole at this moment, whether north orsouth, is a Brown, if he be not a Jones, Robinson, or Smith!

  Need more be said to prove that this great branch of the human family istruly associated with all that is wild, grand, and romantic? We thinknot; and we hope that the reader is now somewhat reconciled to thefact--which cannot be altered, and which we would not alter if wecould--that our hero's name is Tom Brown.

  Tom was the son of a settler at the Cape of Good Hope, who, afterleading the somewhat rough life of a trader into the interior of Africa,made a fortune, and retired to a suburban villa in Cape Town, there toenjoy the same with his wife and family. Having been born in Cape Town,our hero soon displayed a disposition to extend his researches into theunknown geography of his native land, and on several occasions losthimself in the bush. Thereafter he ran away from school twice, havingbeen seized with a romantic and irresistible desire to see and shoot alion! In order to cure his son of this propensity, Mr Brown sent himto England, where he was put to school, became a good scholar, and aproficient in all games and athletic exercises. After that he went tocollege, intending, thereafter, to return to the Cape, join his father,and go on a trading expedition into the interior, in order that he mightlearn the business, and carry it on for himself.

  Tom Brown's mother and sisters--there were six of the latter--werecharming ladies. Everybody said what pleasant people the Browns were--that there was no nonsense about them, and that they were so practical,yet so lively and full of spirit. Mrs Brown, moreover, actually heldthe belief that people had souls as well as bodies, which requiredfeeding in order to prevent starvation, and ensure healthy growth! Onthe strength of this belief she fed her children out of thatold-fashioned, yet ever new, volume, the Bible, and the consequence was,that the Miss Browns were among the most useful members of the church towhich they belonged, a great assistance to the clergymen andmissionaries who visited those regions, and a blessing to the poor of thecommunity. But we must dismiss the family without further remark, forour story has little or nothing to do with any member of it except Tomhimself.

  When he went to school in England, Tom carried his love for the lionalong with him. The mere word had a charm for him which he could notaccount for. In childhood he had dreamed of lion-hunting; in riperyears he played at games of his own invention which had for their chiefpoint the slaying or capturing of lions. Zoological gardens and "wildbeast shows" had for him attractions which were quite irresistible. Ashe advanced in years, Richard of the Lion-heart became his chiefhistorical hero; Androcles and the lion stirred up all the enthusiasm ofhis nature. Indeed it might have been said that the lion-rampant wasstamped indelibly on his heart, while the British lion became to him themost attractive myth on record.

  When he went to college and studied medicine, his imagination wassobered down a little; but when he had passed his examinations and wascapped, and was styled Dr Brown by his friends, and began to makepreparations for going back to the Cape, all his former enthusiasm aboutlions returned with tenfold violence.

  Tom's father intended that he should study medicine, not with a view topractising it professionally, but because he held it to be verydesirable that every one travelling in the unhealthy regions of SouthAfrica should possess as much knowledge of medicine as possible.

  One morning young Dr Brown received a letter from his father which ranas follows:--

  "MY DEAR TOM,--A capital opportunity of letting you see a little ofthe country in which I hope you will ultimately make your fortune hasturned up just now. Two officers of the Cape Rifles have made uptheir minds to go on a hunting excursion into the interior with atrader named Hicks, and want a third man to join them. I knew youwould like to go on such an expedition, remembering your leaning inthat direction in days of old, so I have pledged you to them. As theystart three months hence, the sooner you come out the better. Ienclose a letter of credit to enable you to fit out and start at once.Your mother and sisters are all well, and send love.--YOURAFFECTIONATE FATHER, J.B."

  Tom Brown uttered a wild cheer of delight on reading this brief andbusiness-like epistle, and his curious landlady immediately answered tothe shout by entering and wishing to know "if he had called and if hewanted hanythink?"

  "No, Mrs Pry, I did not call; but I ventured to express my feelings inregard to a piece of good news which I have just received."

  "La, sir!"

  "Yes, Mrs Pry, I'm going off immediately to South Africa to huntlions."

  "You _don't_ mean it, sir!"

  "Indeed I do, Mrs Pry; so pray let me have breakfast without delay, andmake up my bill to the end of the week; I shall leave you then. Sorryto part, Mrs Pry. I have been very comfortable with you."

  "I 'ope so, sir."

  "Yes, very comfortable; and you may be assured that I shall recommendyour lodgings highly wherever I go--not that there is much chance of myrecommendation doing you any good, for out in the African bush I sha'n'tsee many men who want furnished lodgings in London, and wild beasts arenot likely to make inquiries, being already well provided in that way athome. By the way, when you make up your bill, don't forget to charge mewith the tumbler I smashed yesterday in making chemical experiments, andthe tea-pot cracked in the same good cause. Accidents will happen, youknow, Mrs Pry, and bachelors are bound to pay for 'em."

  "Certainly, sir; and please, sir, what am I to do with the cupboard fullof skulls and 'uman bones downstairs?"

  "Anything you choose, Mrs Pry," said Tom, laughing; "I shall trouble myhead no more with such things, so you may sell them if you please, orsend them as a valuable gift to the British Museum, only don't bother meabout them; and do take yourself off like a good soul, for I must replyto my father's letter immediately."

  Mrs Pry retired, and Tom Brown sat down to write a letter to "J.B." inwhich he briefly thanked him for the letter of credit, and assured himthat one of the dearest wishes of his heart was about to be realised,for that still--not less but rather more than when he was a runawayboy--his soul was set upon hunting the lions.