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Chapter 11 - History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and his Family by Mayne Reid

The Death of the Lion

Yes, the fierce brute was fairly in the trap. The three hunters breathed freely.

But how was the affair to end? Both door and window-shutter fitted strongly and closely; and, although it was possible to glance through the chinks, nothing could be seen inside—since, both being shut, it was quite dark within.

Even could the lion have been seen, there was no hole through which to thrust the muzzle of a gun and fire at him. He was just as safe as his captors; and, so long as the door remained closed, they could do him no more harm than he could them!

They might leave him shut up, and let him starve. He could live for a while upon what the jackals had left, with the carcasses of the two dogs, but that would not sustain him long, and in the end he would have to give up and miserably perish. After all, this did not seem so certain to Von Bloom and his companions. Finding that he was caged in earnest, the brute might attack the door, and with his sharp claws and teeth manage to cut his way through.

But the angry field-cornet had not the slightest intention of leaving the lion such a chance. He was determined to destroy the beast before leaving the ground; and he now set to thinking how this could be accomplished in the speediest and most effectual manner.

At first he thought of cutting a hole in the door with his knife, large enough to see through and admit the barrel of his roer. Should he not succeed in getting a view of the beast through that one, he would make another in the window-shutter. The two being on adjacent sides of the house, would give him the command of the whole interior—for the former dwelling of the field-cornet comprised only a single apartment. During his residence there, there had been two, thanks to a partition of zebra-skins; but these had been removed, and all was now in one room.

At first Von Bloom could think of no other plan to get at the enemy, and yet this one did not quite please him. It was safe enough, and, if carried out, could only end in the death of the lion.

A hole in both door and window-shutter would enable them to fire at the brute as many bullets as they pleased, while they would be quite secure from his attack. But the time that would be required to cut these holes—that was why the plan did not please the field-cornet. He and his party had no time to spare: their horses were weak with hunger, and a long journey lay before them ere a morsel could be obtained. No,—the time could not be spared for making a breach. Some more expeditious mode of attack must be devised.

“Father,” said Hendrik, “suppose we set the house on fire?”

Good. The suggestion was a good one. Von Bloom cast his eyes up to the roof—a sloping structure with long eaves. It consisted of heavy beams of dry wood with rafters and laths, and all covered over with a thatch of rushes, a foot in thickness. It would make a tremendous blaze, and the smoke would be likely enough to suffocate the lion even before the blaze could get at him. The suggestion of Hendrik was adopted. They prepared to fire the house.

There was still a large quantity of rubbish,—the collected firewood which the locusts had not devoured. This would enable them to carry out their purpose; and all three immediately set about hauling it up, and piling it against the door.

One might almost have fancied that the lion had fathomed their design; for, although he had been for a long while quite silent, he now commenced a fresh spell of roaring. Perhaps the noise of the logs, striking against the door outside, had set him at it; and, finding himself thus shut up and baited, he had grown impatient. What he had sought as a shelter had been turned into a trap, and he was now anxious to get out of it. This was evident by the demonstrations he began to make. They could hear him rushing about—passing from door to window—striking both with his huge paws, and causing them to shake upon their hinges—all the while uttering the most fiendish roars.

Though not without some apprehensions, the three continued their work. They had their horses at hand, ready to be mounted in case the lion might make his way through the fire. In fact, they intended to take to their saddles—as soon as the fire should be fairly under way—and watch the conflagration from a safe distance.

They had dragged up all the bush and dry wood, and had piled them in front of the door. Swartboy had taken out his flint and steel, and was about to strike, when a loud scratching was heard from the inside, unlike anything that had yet reached their ears. It was the rattling of the lion’s claws against the wall, but it had an odd sound as if the animal was struggling violently; at the same time his voice seemed hoarse and smothered, and appeared to come from a distance.

What was the brute doing?

They stood for a moment, looking anxiously in each other’s faces. The scratching continued—the hoarse growling at intervals—but this ended at length; and then came a snort, followed by a roar so loud and clear, that all three started in airtight. They could not believe that trails were between them and their dangerous enemy!

Again echoed that horrid cry. Great Heaven! It proceeded no longer from the inside—it came from above them! Was the lion upon the roof? All three rushed backward a step or two, and looked up. A sight was before them that rendered them almost speechless with surprise and terror. Above the funnel of the chimney appeared the head of the lion; his glaring yellow eyes and white teeth showing more fearful from contrast with the black soot that begrimed him. He was dragging his body up. One foot was already above the capstone; and with this and his teeth he was widening the aperture around him.

It was a terrible sight to behold—at least to those below.

As already stated, they were alarmed; and would have taken to their horses, had they not perceived that the animal had stuck fast!

It was evident that this was the case, but it was equally evident that in a few moments he would succeed in clearing himself from the chimney. His teeth and claws were hard at work, and the stones and mortar were flying in all directions. The funnel would soon be down below his broad chest, and then—

Von Bloom did not stay to think what then. He and Hendrik, guns in hand, ran up near the bottom of the wall. The chimney was but a score of feet in height; the long roer was pointed upward, reaching nearly half that distance. The yäger was also aimed. Both cracked together. The lion’s eyes suddenly closed, his head shook convulsively, his paw dropped loose over the capstone, his jaws fell open, and blood trickled down his tongue. In a few moments he was dead!

This was apparent to every one. But Swartboy was not satisfied, until he had discharged about a score of his arrows at the head of the animal, causing it to assume the appearance of a porcupine.

So tightly had the huge beast wedged himself, that even after death he still remained in his singular situation.

Under other circumstances he would have been dragged down for the sake of his skin. But there was no time to spare for skinning him; and without further delay, Von Bloom and his companions mounted their horses and rode off.

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