English Literature

Hunting The Lions by R. M. Ballantyne

Hunting The Lions by R. M. Ballantyne.jpg

Chapter One.

Begins to Unfold the Tale of the Lions by Describing the Lion of the Tale.

We 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 throwing a wet blanket over you, to commence this tale on one of the most romantic of subjects by stating—and now repeating 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 the Brown family is large, it has some to be deemed unromantic. Every one knows 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 milkman is James Brown. The latter is a square-faced practical man, who is looked up to as a species of oracle by all his friends. Half a dozen drapers within a mile of you are named Brown, and all of them are shrewd men of business, who have feathered their nests well, and stick to business like burrs. You will certainly find that several of the hardest-working clergymen, and one or more of the city missionaries, are named Brown; and as to Doctor Browns, there is no end of them! But why go further? The fact is patent to every unprejudiced person.

Now, instead of admitting that the commonness of the name of Brown proves its owners to be unromantic, we hold that this is a distinct evidence 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 fall in love, and marry early in life. Brown is almost always a good husband and a kind father. Indeed he is a good, steady-going man in all the relations of life, and his name, in our mind at least, is generally associated with troops of happy children who call him “daddy,” and regard him in the light of an elephantine playmate. And they do so with good reason, for Brown is manly and thorough-going in whatever he undertakes, whether it be the transaction of business or romping with his children.

But, besides this, the multitudinosity of the Browns cuts in two directions. If there are so many of them green-grocers, butchers, and milkmen—who without sufficient reason are thought to be unromantic—it will be found that they are equally numerous in other walks of life; and wherever they walk they do so coolly, deliberately, good-humouredly, and very practically. Look at the learned professions, for instance. What a host of Browns are there. The engineers and contractors too, how they swarm in their lists. If you want to erect a suspension bridge over the British Channel, the only man who is likely to undertake the job for you is 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 of themselves; and they are all enthusiasts—but quiet, steady-going, not noisy or boastful enthusiasts. In fact, the romance of Brown consists very much in his willingness to fling himself, heart and soul, into whatever his hand finds to do. The man who led the storming party, and achieved immortal glory by getting himself riddled to death with bullets, was Lieutenant Brown—better known as Ned Brown by his brother officers, who could not mention his name without choking for weeks after his sad but so-called “glorious” fall. The other man who accomplished the darling wish of his heart—to win the Victoria Cross—by attaching a bag of gunpowder to the gate of the fortress and blowing it and himself to atoms to small that no shred of him big enough to hang the Victoria Cross upon was ever found, was Corporal Brown, and there was scarcely a dry eye in the regiment when he went down.

Go abroad among the barbarians of the earth, to China, for instance, and ask who is yonder thick-set, broad-chested man, with the hearty expression of face, and the splendid eastern uniform, and you will be told that he is Too Foo, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial forces in that department. If, still indulging curiosity, you go and introduce yourself to him, he will shake you heartily by the hand, and, in good English, tell you that his name is Walter Brown, and that he will be charmed to show you something of Oriental life if you will do him the favour to take a slice of puppy dog in his pagoda after the review! If there is a chief of a hill tribe in Hindustan in want of a prime minister who will be able to carry him through a serious crisis, there is a Brown at hand, who speaks not only his own language, but all the dialects and languages of Hindustan, who is quite ready to assume office. It is the same at the diggings, whether of Australia, California, or Oregon; and we are persuaded that the man whose habitation is nearest to the pole at this moment, whether north or south, 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 is truly associated with all that is wild, grand, and romantic? We think not; and we hope that the reader is now somewhat reconciled to the fact—which cannot be altered, and which we would not alter if we could—that our hero’s name is Tom Brown.

Tom was the son of a settler at the Cape of Good Hope, who, after leading 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 to enjoy the same with his wife and family. Having been born in Cape Town, our hero soon displayed a disposition to extend his researches into the unknown geography of his native land, and on several occasions lost himself in the bush. Thereafter he ran away from school twice, having been seized with a romantic and irresistible desire to see and shoot a lion! In order to cure his son of this propensity, Mr Brown sent him to England, where he was put to school, became a good scholar, and a proficient in all games and athletic exercises. After that he went to college, intending, thereafter, to return to the Cape, join his father, and go on a trading expedition into the interior, in order that he might learn the business, and carry it on for himself.

Tom Brown’s mother and sisters—there were six of the latter—were charming 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 held the belief that people had souls as well as bodies, which required feeding in order to prevent starvation, and ensure healthy growth! On the strength of this belief she fed her children out of that old-fashioned, yet ever new, volume, the Bible, and the consequence was, that the Miss Browns were among the most useful members of the church to which they belonged, a great assistance to the clergymen and missionaries who waited those regions, and a blessing to the poor of the community. But we must dismiss the family without further remark, for our story has little or nothing to do with any member of it except Tom himself.

When he went to school in England, Tom carried his love for the lion along with him. The mere word had a charm for him which he could not account for. In childhood he had dreamed of lion-hunting; in riper years he played at games of his own invention which had for their chief point the slaying or capturing of lions. Zoological gardens and “wild beast shows” had for him attractions which were quite irresistible. As he advanced in years, Richard of the Lion-heart became his chief historical hero; Androcles and the lion stirred up all the enthusiasm of his nature. Indeed it might have been said that the lion-rampant was stamped indelibly on his heart, while the British lion became to him the most attractive myth on record.

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

Tom’s father intended that he should study medicine, not with a view to practising it professionally, but because he held it to be very desirable that every one travelling in the unhealthy regions of South Africa should possess as much knowledge of medicine as possible.

One morning young Dr Brown received a letter from his father which ran as follows:—

My dear Tom,—A capital opportunity of letting you see a little of the country in which I hope you will ultimately make your fortune has turned up just now. Two officers of the Cape Rifles have made up their minds to go on a hunting excursion into the interior with a trader named Hicks, and want a third man to join them. I knew you would like to go on such an expedition, remembering your leaning in that direction in days of old, so I have pledged you to them. As they start three months hence, the sooner you come out the better. I enclose a letter of credit to enable you to fit out and start at once. Your mother and sisters are all well, and send love.—Your affectionate father, J.B.”

Tom Brown uttered a wild cheer of delight on reading this brief and business-like epistle, and his curious landlady immediately answered to the shout by entering and wishing to know “if he had called and if he wanted hanythink?”

“No, Mrs Pry, I did not call; but I ventured to express my feelings in regard 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 hunt lions.”

“You don’t mean it, sir!”

“Indeed I do, Mrs Pry; so pray let me have breakfast without delay, and make up my bill to the end of the week; I shall leave you then. Sorry to 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 recommend your lodgings highly wherever I go—not that there is much chance of my recommendation doing you any good, for out in the African bush I sha’n’t see many men who want furnished lodgings in London, and wild beasts are not likely to make inquiries, being already well provided in that way at home. By the way, when you make up your bill, don’t forget to charge me with the tumbler I smashed yesterday in making chemical experiments, and the tea-pot cracked in the same good cause. Accidents will happen, you know, Mrs Pry, and bachelors are bound to pay for ’em.”

“Certainly, sir; and please, sir, what am I to do with the cupboard full of skulls and ’uman bones downstairs?”

“Anything you choose, Mrs Pry,” said Tom, laughing; “I shall trouble my head no more with such things, so you may sell them if you please, or send them as a valuable gift to the British Museum, only don’t bother me about them; and do take yourself off like a good soul, for I must reply to my father’s letter immediately.”

Mrs Pry retired, and Tom Brown sat down to write a letter to “J.B.” in which he briefly thanked him for the letter of credit, and assured him that 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 runaway boy—his soul was set upon hunting the lions.

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Categories: English Literature

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