Adventure, Romance, Coming of Age – ‘The Lion in the Morning’ is a Novel set in Kenya, 1930 (Book 1, The Savannalands Series). Aged 19 and 20 years old respectively, childhood friends Harry and Una are embarking on their adult lives. Their paths lead in very different directions. Brought up on farms not far from Nairobi, Harry remains tied to a hard,physical outdoor lifestyle - farming, hunting and sport. But Una is attracted to a city lifestyle of fashionable clothing and partying.....
African Adventure, Romance & Coming of Age
Hey! Welcome to irish_rover's Book Club. Today I bring you the next extract from 'The Lion In The Morning' (Book 1, The Savannlands Series). It is in fact the final chapter.I hope you enjoy reading this story of adventure and romance set in the African bush, the exotic city of Nairobi and 'frontier' attitude to life of many white European colonists who viewed Kenya as their own privileged playground to do as they wished.
To read the previous episode of 'The Lion in the Morning' (#20), please click on the appropriate link below.
To purchase a copy of the sequel, 'The Brewery Owner's Wife' (Book 2, The Savannalands Series) click on the appropriate link below.
'The Lion In The Morning' -Excerpt From Chapter 22
The high fever left Una at three o’clock in the afternoon, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. Daphne Doucet had changed the bedclothes and found a clean nightdress for her. Una lay on the bed feeling exhausted whilst Daphne encouraged her to drink plenty of water and to eat some fruit.
“I want you to drink as much as you can,” she urged. “So that you don’t develop blackwater.”
Una obediently forced another glass of water into her stomach. She had known someone who had died of blackwater fever. Once you had it, you were as good as dead. It resulted from blood cells bursting in the veins and arteries because of the malarial parasites, damaging the kidneys. One’s urine turned black from the blood passing into it. It was thought that drinking copious amounts of water would prevent the kidneys being damaged.
“Where is Rachel?” asked Una. “I want to see her.”
“She returned to Nairobi this morning,” replied Daphne. “Reggie’s car was going so she had to travel with it. She came to say goodbye but you were delirious at the time.”
Footsteps sounded on the path outside. Then Crofton’s voice called out “Hodi!”
Una gave a terrified groan and turned her head away. “Don’t let him in,” she whispered.
Daphne frowned. “He’s just checking to see how you are.” She hesitated. “What’s the matter?”
Una shook her head. She remained silent, curling herself into a tight ball.
Crofton entered the rondavel. “How’s the patient?” he asked in a loud, jovial voice.
“The fever has gone,” replied Daphne. “But she is tired and weak.”
“Good to see you are on the mend, Una. You’ll be up and about in no time now.” He smiled at Daphne. “I’ll keep an eye on her for a while. You go and take a rest. Then send one of the others along.” When Daphne hesitated, his face became cold and hard. “Go on, out you go.”
Oh, God! Please stay Daphne! Don’t leave him alone with me, thought Una. Her heart sank as she heard the door of the rondavel open and then close again. She felt the bed sag as Crofton sat down beside her. He put his hand on her shoulder, rubbing it gently.
“Well, how’s my darling girl?” He felt Una shrink from his touch. “Now, there’s no need to be afraid of me. I’m not going to do you any harm.” He began to stroke her hair. “You know, if I had a daughter I would want her to be like you - beautiful and brave. I admired the way you challenged me when I beat that careless houseboy at dinner yesterday. Your bravery was misguided, of course, but people seldom stand up to me. How was it that that thief Catchpole was able to sire such a brave beauty while I wasn’t? If you had been my daughter, I would have given you everything you wanted. But as you are Catchpole’s, I am afraid you have to be sacrificed. Such a shame.” He stood up. “I will leave you to have a rest and recover your strength. I look forward to visiting you again sometime tonight.”
I have to escape from here thought Una. Dear, darling Rachel, how I miss you! Why didn’t you stay to look after me? Then she thought: of course, Crofton would have made sure you went back to Nairobi. And you would have no idea of what he did to me. She climbed off the bed and walked two steps towards the door but felt too weak to go further. She went and lay back down.
A plan began to form in her head. But she needed to rest and build up her strength. She ate some bread and cheese and fruit that were beside her bed. I have to be strong for tonight, she said to herself. She poured herself another glass of water from the large, silver jug sitting on the bedside table.
After Crofton left the room, no one else came near Una, except a servant who brought her some dinner. They have forgotten about me, thought Una. They’ll be into their drinking and games. Good riddance, I don’t want to see any of them again. Although Daphne had been sweet and attentive, she admitted. She ate the food, hoping it would send the strength she needed to her muscles. She had a quick bath to wash away the sweat and grime from her body. Clearing the memory of Crofton’s rape of her would not be washed away so easily. Her body still hurt. She began to shake at the thought of it. She couldn’t believe what he had said about her father, stealing all the money from their joint business venture. But things were tough in those early days, even harder than they were now. It was, perhaps, a case of every man for himself.
She wondered if that was how her father had got the capital together to buy his farm. With a sigh, she readied herself for bed. She was unable to sleep, only fitfully dozing, waiting for the moment when Crofton would turn the door handle and enter. Meanwhile, she felt her body regaining some of its lost strength. Five o’clock in the morning came on her watch and she began to think that he wouldn’t come. But then she heard footsteps and lamplight appeared through cracks in the door. She sat up and swung her legs off the bed. Crofton turned the handle and came in. He saw Una sitting at the edge of her bed and he smiled at her.
“Come in, Reggie,” she said in a low voice. “I have been waiting for you. You have been a long time.”
“I’m sorry, my dear. I was having fun with someone else.” He put down the lantern and stood in the centre of the room with his hands on his hips, staring at Una in a way that made her stomach churn. “Stand up and take off your nightdress,” he ordered. “And do it slowly.”
Una shook her head. “No, not yet; not until you undress for me. Then I will remove it.” She forced herself to look into his eyes, to lock them on her own, willing him to obey her words.
Crofton shrugged. “It makes no difference to me.” Quickly he removed his dressing gown, leaving it in an untidy heap on the floor, next to the lamp. Then, naked, he walked slowly towards her across the rough cement floor of the rondavel. “It’s your turn now.”
The sight of his nakedness almost made Una vomit. It was only with difficulty that she maintained her composure as he advanced to within an arms-length of her. She could see his physical arousal reflected by the excitement shown in his eyes. She lowered her eyes and pointed to her toes, wriggling them slightly to attract his attention. “You must kiss these first.”
He smiled, surprised and unable to conceal his glee. “I like your attitude tonight. I can see we will have great fun together.”
“Yes, Reggie, we will. Kiss my toes now.”
Crofton knelt in front of Una. He bowed his head to the floor and kissed her red-nailed toes, taking them in his mouth and sucking them noisily. As he did so, Una grasped the silver jug on the bedside table in her right hand. Lifting it high, she smashed it down on his head with all her strength.
“I hope that kills you!” she screamed at him.
Crofton gave a loud cry and rolled over onto his back. He clutched at his head where blood was streaming from a large cut. He crawled to his knees, swearing at her.
“You damn bitch!” he shouted. “I’ll disembowel you for that.”
Una threw the jug at him, hitting him in the face. He fell back again and lay groaning on the floor. Then she ran across the floor, seized the door handle and was out before he could recover. She fled down a path and cut across the lawn to the driveway. She ran down this, between the two lines of jacaranda trees that towered darkly above her. The early morning highland air had a cold, crisp feeling, a feeling of freshness that served to invigorate her. There was a mist in the air and in front of her, the first pale light of dawn was beginning to creep over the hills. The birds began their chorus of song. Above this, she heard Crofton bellowing with rage, coming behind her. She had to reach Dickie Richardson’s house, near the sawmill, before Crofton caught her. Dickie would protect her: he had said he would. She was pinning all her hopes for salvation on him. She hitched her nightdress up to her waist and ran as fast as her weakened legs could carry her.
Up on his raised platform, Jasper lifted his large head and gazed with sharp eyes at the dim, white figure running across the lawn and down the driveway. Something stirred in him at the sight of this rapid movement. Some hunting instinct, that had been lying dormant within him, urged him to his feet. Then another figure went by. Adrenalin began to flow through the arteries of the lion and he jumped to the ground. He started trotting down the driveway. More adrenalin poured through his blood stream and the trotting turned into a swift run. He felt good. He felt he was doing something that a lion was supposed to do. He was hunting a fleeing prey.
Una glanced over her shoulder as she ran. With a feeling of rising panic, she realised that Crofton was gaining rapidly on her. She did not think that her legs would carry her much further. Dickie’s bungalow was tantalisingly close, yet not near enough for her to call for help and be heard. Nevertheless, she began to scream out.
“Dickie! Help me! Please help me!” Terror gave her voice strength but her cries seemed insignificant in the vastness of the landscape. As she looked back again down the avenue of trees, out of the gloom she saw something coming behind Crofton. It took a moment for her to realise that it was a lion. That it must be Jasper. He was almost upon Crofton and she did not know whether to stop and shout a warning or to keep running. Crofton seemed unaware of the fast approaching animal. His focus of attention was only on her. She kept running but knew she could not keep going much longer. But would it be long enough to reach the safety of the farm manager’s house?
Another minute or two and I’ll have her, Crofton thought. Then she’ll regret doing that to me. He wiped blood that was dripping down from a deep gash on his forehead away from his left eye. I’ll rip her body to bits. Not even her mother will recognise her. He began to breathe more deeply and lengthened his stride. She must be heading for Richardson’s place, he said to himself. That won’t save her, the bitch. Shout all you want – no one except me will hear you.
Then Crofton heard the sound of something coming behind him, a rasping breathing then a low growl. He turned his head and glanced behind. His field of vision was filled by the head and mane of a lion, mouth half open, the lips drawn back to expose the upper and lower rows of teeth that were dominated by the two- and-a-half inch-long canines. Lord Crofton had only half a second to be terrified. His mouth opened, his lips twisted, his hands went up in a futile attempt to ward off the attack.
Una heard a shocking scream, then silence. With dread, she glanced back again and saw Jasper standing on the spread-eagled body of Crofton, biting into the neck of his master. Then the lion looked up and saw the fleeing figure in front of him. With a deep growl, he let go of Crofton and leapt forward. Oh, God, thought Una, he’s after me now! With desperation, she tried to run faster but her legs would not, indeed could not, respond. She fell headlong on to the ground, hands stretched out in front of her, her face scraping along the dirt track. She scrambled to her knees and tried, hopelessly, to get to her feet. But she collapsed again.
She closed her eyes, sobbing despairingly. She lay on the driveway, feeling utterly broken, waiting for that instant when Jasper would be on her, biting into her, tearing her body apart.
At that same moment, two gun shots in quick succession rang out across the still, morning air. For an instant, the dawn chorus was silenced. Then coveys of birds took flight into the lightening sky from their perches among the trees, calling loudly in fright to each other. Una slowly began to open her eyes, feeling disoriented. Why wasn’t the lion mauling her? Where did those gun shots come from? As she opened her eyes further, she noticed two deep brown leather boots several yards in front of her. In each boot there was a trousered leg. As her eyes gradually travelled upwards, she saw a man with a rifle still held to his shoulder. As he slowly lowered the gun, Una could make out his face. In her traumatised state, she thought there was something familiar about it.
“You look like a man I know,” she whispered haltingly to him as she continued to lie on the ground, unable to move.
The man handed the rifle to someone and bent down towards her.
“You look like a friend of mine, Harry Hayden is his name,” she continued to whisper. “But you can’t be him because he lives so far away from here.”
The man reached under her body and lifted her up easily and confidently. She hung limp as wet washing in the cradle of his arms, her face pale and drawn. He was smiling at her.
“I am Harry!” he said quietly to her. Then he couldn’t help laughing at her confused expression. There was such joy in his heart that he had arrived in time to save her. “I am Harry Hayden!” he shouted. He swung her around to face his companion. “And here is Rachel. We have come to take you back to Nairobi.”
Rachel reached out her arms towards Una. Una began to sob hysterically. She folded her arms tightly round her friend’s neck, at last understanding how she had been rescued. “Oh, Rachel, Rachel!” she cried. Tears flowed down her cheeks, channelling across the dirt - encrusted skin.
“Darling Una, I’m so sorry for deserting you. But you are safe now. No one can harm you.” Rachel kissed and hugged her, her tears mingling with her friend’s.
“But where is the lion?” sobbed Una, twisting her head round anxiously as if expecting Jasper at any moment to appear and seize her. “And what about Crofton? Is he dead?”
“They are both dead,” replied Harry. Still carrying Una, he swung round again and walked a short distance back up the driveway. Lying no more than two yards from where Una had collapsed on the ground was the body of the lion. When the two bullets had struck him, he had somersaulted in the air. He now lay with his head resting on his outstretched paws as if he were only asleep. Twenty yards further back was the naked figure of Lord Crofton. In his haste to catch Una, he had not bothered to dress himself. There were superficial claw marks on his back but Jasper’s teeth had bitten through his neck, killing him instantly.
“Another second and the lion would have been on you,” said Harry. “Luckily you fell; it was only then that I could get a clear shot at the animal without the possibility of hitting you.”
“Poor Jasper!” wept Una. “I suppose this was the first time he had ever hunted anything. Why did he suddenly do it this morning?”
“It’s in the early morning that a lion is at his most dangerous,” said Harry. “He must have seen you and Crofton running. His hunting instincts clicked in and he followed them.”
“It’s ironic in the way that Reggie’s gladiatorial dream was fulfilled,” remarked Rachel, gazing down at his prone, lifeless body. “I don’t suppose it ever occurred to him that he himself might one day be the victim.”
Harry did not know to what she was referring, so said nothing. They walked back down the driveway towards Richardson’s bungalow. At the sound of the shooting, he had jumped out of his bed. He was standing outside his house now with a bewildered expression. He had a rifle in his hand and was looking across at the bodies of the lion and his employer lying in the driveway, their lifeless forms shining in the rays of the rising sun. Harry took Una to the Model T and laid her gently down on the back seat. She was shivering violently, from both the chill highland air and the shock of what had happened.
“Take care of her,” he said to Rachel. “There is a jacket in the back. Put that over her.”
“What about her clothes and her suitcase?” asked Rachel.
Harry shook his head. “We are not waiting to collect those. I want to get Una away from this place. I’ll get Richardson to deal with that in due course, along with all the other things he is now going to have to take care of.”
Rachel climbed in beside Una and put the coat over her shoulders. Una curled up and placed her head in Rachel’s lap. The feel of her friend’s hand stroking her hair, murmuring words of comfort, helped to assure Una that she was safe. In a few moments she was asleep, exhausted emotionally and physically. Harry walked over to Dickie Richardson and remained talking to him for fifteen minutes. Then he climbed into his car and began the long journey back through the Great Rift Valley to Nairobi.