The Life and Adventure of Jules Gérard, the Lion-killer (Jules Gérard, 1836).
Mr. Drummond Hay's delightful little book on Western Barbary, we find a report of the following remarkable conversation:—“To my question, whether it was not very dangerous to hunt lions without the precaution of the pit and stakes, our guest replied, ‘Yes, Christian, it is; on carry your life in our open hand.’ ‘I remember,’ continued he, ‘a son of the Sheikh of our village trailing along the skin of a huge lion, which he laid at the feet of his father; and showing the hole where the ball had penetrated the skull, he told the Sheikh that he had, alone, met the animal face to face in the wood, and killed him.’ ‘My son,’ said the Sheikh, ‘with which finger did you pull the trigger?’ The young man held his forefinger up. ‘Seize and bind him,’ said the Sheikh; and drawing his knife be said—‘I cut off this finger, my beloved, that you may remember for the future never to attack a lion when you are alone; for I would not lose you, my son, for a thousand—no, nor for ten thousand lions‘ skins. If M. Gérard had a father equally fond, and equally inflexible, he would by this time have had no and destroyed, in single combat, no less than eleven different lions, whose various deaths are related in the volume before us. M. Gérard first entered Algeria, the scene of his labours, as a private soldier in a regiment of Spahis, in 1842. It so happened that, not, withstanding his extreme anxiety to distinguish himself, no opportunity of doing so occurred, and he was on the point of procuring an exchange into another regiment, when an incident which suggested to him a ‘vocation’ or ‘mission'—to use his own words-in which he has laboured ever since. Walking in the evening on the ramparts of Oran, he saw a group of Spahis, or Algerine Sepoys, sitting together in profound and mournful silence. Asking for an explanation of their low spirits, an officer answered—
‘Bend your ear in that direction towards the plain.” I then heard a distant noise, sometimes hollow and rumbling, sometimes sharp and shrill, but which appeared very formidable considering the immense distance from which it reached the ear. The officer said—“Do you know what that is?” “I do not," said I. “Well then,” he answered, “it is the lion—the lion of the Archious, who has swept away and torn to pieces the best part of our flocks and herds, and will devour all that remains of them.”It seemed to M. Gérard that he should have great difficulty in finding a worthier antagonist; and, notwithstanding the incredulity and ridicule of the natives, and the opposition of his officers, he at last obtained leave to encounter the lion, single-handed. He accordingly betook himself to one of the Arab villages or douars in the neighbourhood. These douars are enclosures in the centre of which the tents are placed, while the cattle feed around them, so as to be protected from the attacks of wild beasts. That in which M. Gérard fixed his head quarters was surrounded by an olive fence eight feet high, and three feet thick. For a considerable time he passed his nights in a watch-hole, but it failed to attract anything more important than vultures and jackals. One night, a whole troop of wild boars rushed out of 'a neighbouring thicket, panting and grunting with terror, and shortly afterwards M. Gérard had for the first time the satisfaction of hearing the lion roar in his own immediate neighbourhood. His description of the sound is very striking:
‘The roars began softly, as if the lion was talking to himself, then so tremendously that the walks and roof of my hovel actually shook. The roads began by a sort of hollow guttural sigh or groan, after which, in a few seconds, came a rumbling noise coming from the chest, and appearing to issue from the mouth by a distension of the cheeks and a contraction of the lips. This fearful sound rose by degrees to the highest pitch, then subsided, and finally concluded by a number of low hoarse screams and moans, which much resembled repeated efforts to disgorge something from the throat, the last being very much prolonged.’The night passed, however, without producing any result. Next morning, the huntsman issued from his retreat, and tracked the nocturnal wanderings of his quarry. In one place he found the head of a wild boar, armed with beautifully white sharp tasks. The tail, the feet, and the entrails lay near. The rest of the animal had been eaten. A little further on, he found the lion's lair, and, close by, the place where he had stopped to drink, and stones still wet with the water which had dropped from his jaws. Beyond such experience as he thus obtained, M. Gérard's first expedition was fruitless, but he soon obtained leave to undertake another. Fixing his head-quarters at the douar of one of his fellow-soldiers, one Bou-aziz, he determined to attack the lion face to face, without the aid of watch-holes. Hospitable as Bou-aziz was, he could not give his comrade very comfortable quarters. Till bed-time, the tents are usually occupied in that country, not only by all kinds of human beings, but by some ten or twelve dogs, who are so impartial in the distribution of their bites that guests and members of the family alike provide themselves with cudgels, as regularly as in England the would carry pocket handkerchiefs. When the family go to bed, the dogs get on the tops of the tents, and the whole pack of the douar breaks into full cry by way of keeping off the wild beasts. If they fail in the discharge of this duty, some Arab “sets to howling, with all his might, to rouse the attention of the dogs;" for it seems that “noise lulls the Arab to sleep, and silence wakes him up"—much, we suppose, in the same way as the passengers in a railway carriage rouse themselves at stations. In the midle of the night, the tumult redoubled. Men, women, and children rushed out, with M. Gerard in the midst of them, and discovered huge bonfires blazing, and men and women rushing to and fro, and hurling blazing faggots over the enclosure of the douar. In an instant, when the tumult was at its highest, everything was hushed. The men dropped their firebrands, the W0men stopped screaming, the dogs left off barking. And the whole assemblage-men, women, children, dogs, cattle, camels. donkeys, horses, and mules-rushed frantically into the tents, reminding the spectator of “Noah's ark at the moment of the deluge." "It is the lion," cried an old woman, tearing her hair. “You see how he uses us—that Jew, that pagan, that cousin of the devil!" In fact, the enemy had come upon them, driven the herds into the douar, and carried off a fine bull for his breakfast, which was found next morning, some hundred yards off, minus a leg and shoulder, weighing about 40lbs. “It is the tenth he has taken from me since the spring." said the owner. “I have still forty left; I will give you half of them, with all my heart, if you can only rid us of this savage. I only ask to be informed among the first, that I may have the satisfaction of tearing off his accursed beard."
For many nights did M. Gerard, unwillingly accompanied by his friend, Bou-aziz, track out the “cousin of the devil." For many nights his efforts were in vain. At last, he found himself in a wood, where he had every reason to hope his enemy was entrenched. We give the scene that followed in his own words:--
‘Soon after this I heard loud heavy steps on the leaves which covered the ground, and the rustling of a huge body through the trees bordering the glade. It was the lion himself leaving his lair, and descending towards us, without suspecting our presence. Bou-aziz and the Spahi were already shouldering their guns. . . . .The deaths of ten or eleven other lions are recorded, but none are so striking as this, though on one occasion a lion, after receiving two balls, charged his antagonist, threw him down, and was only repulsed by a desperate stab from his dagger, which broke in the wound. Another time, the huntsman was all but destroyed by a small fly, which settled on his barrel, just half-way between the sights as he was taking aim.
The lion was still ascending. I could now measure the distance which separated me from him, and could distinguish the regular, rumbling sound of his heavy breathing. I then advanced a few paces nearer to the edge of the glade where I expected him to appear, in order to have a chance of shooting him closer. I could already hear him advancing at thirty paces, then at twenty, then at fifteen; still I felt no fear. All thought was, suppose he were to turn back! Suppose he does not come out into the glade! And at each sound which showed him nearer to me, my heart beat louder, in a complete rapture of joy and hope. One anxious thought only crossed my mind. “What if my gun were to miss fire?" said I, glancing down upon it. But confidence again prevailed, and my only anxiety was for the long-wished-for appearance of my foe.
The lion, after a short pause, which seemed to me an age, began to come forward again: and presently I could see before me, by the starlight, at but a few paces off, the top of a small tree, which I could almost touch, actually shaken by the contact of the lion. This was his last pause. There was now between us two but the thickness of that single tree, covered with branches from the foot upwards.
I was standing with my face to the wood, and with my gun pointed, so as to be ready to fire the moment the animal should enter the glade; and having still an interval of about a second, I took advantage of it to make sure that could regulate properly the aim of my barrel. Thanks to a glimmer of light which came from the west, to the clearness of the sky filled with shining stars, and to the whiteness of the glade, which was conspicuous against the dark green of the forest, I could just see the end of my barrels; that was all, but it sufficed for so close an aim. It is scarcely necessary to say that I did not waste much time in this investigation. I was beginning to find that the animal was rather slow in his motions, and to fear that, instead of advancing unsuspiciously, he had become aware of my presence, and was about to spring the lentisc which separated us. As if to justify this fear, the lion gave two or three growls, and then began to roar furiously. . . . .
When I heard the lion make a last step, I moved a little aside; and no sooner did his enormous head rise out of the wood, at two or three yards' distance from me, and he stopped to stare at me with a look of wonder, than I aimed between the eye and ear, and slowly pressed the trigger. From the instant I touched this until I heard the report of the gun my heart ceased to best.
After the shot I could see nothing; but through the smoke which enveloped the lion I heard the most tremendous, agonizing, and fearfully-protractcd roar. My two men meantime had jumped up, at without making a step forward, and, unable to see anything, stood with their guns shoulder, read to fire. For myself, I waited, dagger in hand, and one knee on the ground, until the smoke should disperse, and I could see how matters stood. As soon as all was clear I beheld,—first one paw,—and, heavens, what a paw!—then one leg, then a shoulder, then the head,——and at last the whole body of my enemy. He lay on his side, and gave not the smallest sign of life! "Take care—do not approach him yet," cried Bou-aziz, throwing a large stone, which bounded from the lion's corpse. He was dead.’
M. Gérard’s book is as curious as his adventures. It does not contain a trace of bookmaking, and is written with a manly quiet simplicity which is very remarkable. Unlike most English sportsmen, M. Gérard undertakes his “campaigns,” as he calls them, far more in the spirit of a soldier than in that of a naturalist. He says that he considers it his “mission” to kill lions, and he does it accordingly as a matter of business, and tells the incidents of his profession just as any other professional man might, but in a tone not only of seriousness, but of piety, which is very striking. Without casting any reflection upon others—of whom, as in the case of Mr. Gordon Cumming, he speaks generously and warmly—M. Gérard does not risk his life for money. He kills the lions, but he takes no compensation from the Arabs, who offer him whole herds of cattle in return for his services; and he even declines, with perhaps rather superfluous delicacy, to sell the skins or the cubs of his victims.
His services have, however, been acknowledged by the cross of the Legion of Honor, and by some magnificent presents of fire-arms and huting-knives from the family of Louis-Philippe, and from various celebrated French sportsmen. The value of his services may be estimated by the fact that the province of Constantine alone loses nearly £10,000 a-year by the ravages of lions. They would seem to be more formidable beasts than those of Western Barbary, whose ravages according to Mr. Drummond Hay, are trifling; and, in fact, they are often defeated by the cattle, who form a ring and trample upon them on their approach, and sometimes even by wild boars in single combat. Neither would the South African or the Abyssinian lions sustain a comparison with then, to judge by the accounts of Mr. Gordon Cumming and Mansfield Parkyns. One of the animals killed by M. Gérard was so large that all the people who could lay hold of him failed to drag him from the place where he was killed; and he was, says his vanquisher, to those which are exhibited in France, “what a horse is to a donkey." The stories which M. Gérard gives of their ferocity are terrible. One of them (after having had his shoulder broken by a ball) sprang into the douar from which the shot had proceeded, and pursued a woman to the top of a tent in which were a great number of persons. The tent gave way, and fell on its inmates, and the lion scratched and tore with is claws and teeth till all of them were killed, except a few who were burnt by the canvas catching fire. This brute recovered from its wounds, and was known for years by the terrible name of the “Slayer of twenty men.” Another attacked a bridal party, and put to death all except the bride, who, however, died of terror next morning.
The defect of the book in the eyes of English readers will be its almost exclusively military character. Gérard has not, apparently, the constitution either of mind or body, which leads men like Ruxton, Gordon Cumming, Mansfield Parkyns, Mr. Burton, or Mr. Galton, to throw aside civilized life and its restraints, and to spend years amongst savage beasts and scarcely less savage men. His book, as its title-page says, is a history of “ten years’ campaigns.” He does not seem to possess that keen eye for nature, and that intense relish for the enjoyments that animals and men have in common, which constitutes our notion of a sportsman; but a braver soldier in a better cause we have never met with. M. Gerard is obviously one of those men who take a positive pleasure in the excitement of intense danger. We have somewhere read a story of ten prisoners who had to draw lots to decide which of them was to be hanged. One of them, having drawn a lot which freed him from danger, offered to draw again in the lace of one of the others for a couple of dollars. M. Gérard would, we should think, as a matter of taste, have rather liked to draw for the whole nine. His account of his business is, that it is as if a man cased in complete armour, with two small openings in the joints, had to fight a man dressed in his shirt, with equal weapons. To a certain extent the comparison seems fair enough; but it is to be observed that the man in the shirt generally has the first stab—which surely makes a good deal of difference. Something of the same kin is true of other sports of which we have heard. De la Guerronière’s encounters with sharphorned buffaloes, and Mr. Baker's conflicts with the elephants in Ceylon, are all on the same principle. If, under tremendous excitement, you can keep perfectly cool and aim perfectly straight, you are not in much danger—if not, you are a dead man.
We hope this charming little volume will meet with the popularity it deserves. We have seldom seen a manlier, a more simple-hearted, or a more amusing book.
Saturday Review, April 12, 1866.