The nights were cool enough for blankets, and stray hyenas came regularly to render a serenade or two. Occasionally buffalo or elephant splashed into a nearby pan and you could hear them bruiting about. On the third day we came across our first good herd of Cape buffalo and tracked them for three miles, hoping to get a shot. They were too skittish and the bush too dense, and we settled for the pleasure of seeing a couple of small elephants drinking and bathing at a pan. "Still a lot of water up here," said Harry. "Much better hunting when it's dry and they have to move down to the river."
The next morning he decided we would do some hard tracking for the buffalo, and we arrived at the pan early to pick up the tracks. Harry moved after them, and I tried to keep up with him, remembering that he had said to stay close ("I am very uneasy if my client wanders, especially with buffalo"). We had gone about two miles when we began to hear them moving ahead of us, grazing and favoring one another with resonant grunts. They seemed to be near, always over the next rise, but the bush was thick, and it was nearly another mile before we finally got a look at them. By that time my mouth was chalk, the sand was running out the tops of my shoes and I was silently cursing Harry for being able to avoid the camel thorns that were grabbing at my flesh. Suddenly he motioned me to him behind a tree. A couple of bulls at the rear of the herd had turned and were making tentative moves as if to charge. "If they stampede, stick behind the tree and they'll run right past us," he said. There was ho charge, however, and the bulls were not of a size Harry would like to shoot, but another 50 yards and there was a large bull with a nice horn presenting a fairly close shot.
The bull's shoulder was obscured by a thorn bush. "Plunk it," Harry said. I lowered the .375 until the post scope was on what figured to be the shoulder, and, almost on its own, the gun went off, and a little bit of hell broke loose. The herd crashed away as one, and our buffalo with it, running left to right. Harry fired, and I fired again. "We put two in him at least," he said. "Should be sufficient." "I think my first one was a little high," I said, dismayed. Carefully, very carefully, with Mrewa and Jacob, two of the trackers, joining in, Harry moved up ahead, looking for spoor on the ground and the branches, careful lest we have a wounded buffalo down our tonsils before we could see it. Three hundred yards more and it was there in the sand, lying in a great heap. "Quite dead," said Harry. He checked and found the first shot had hit just above the shoulder, his backup shot in the neck, my throwaway shot on the rump as the beast fled. "First shot killed it," he said. "Well done." My relief was immense.
It came to me then, as we headed back to the Land Rover, my horn aloft on the makeshift stretcher and dripping blood. It came to me what had been dawning from the beginning. With Harry it was simple. With Harry it was a walk in the park. With Harry I had experienced no fear, not even a conventional down-to-earth apprehension. It was no newly discovered bloom on my manhood; it was the competency of his. The novice client in the bush is like a novice in the chair of a deep-sea charterboat. Never mind those pictures of the 600-pound tuna that took two hours to land. Like the charterboat captain, the white hunter, if he is good, does all the work; he wrestles with that Land Rover for 10 or 12 hours a day, his eyes everywhere looking for signs. He tracks the game. He finds it. He leads you up to it. And you, the tagalong, squeeze the trigger. If there is danger, he is the catalyst that dispels it. Sometimes he dispels it with a bullet.
I recall what Selby said one evening by the fire. He said clients make safaris, make them memorable or miserable, and the secret of pleasing the clients is to make them do what you want without their realizing you're telling them to do it. "Many of these people are used to giving orders, not taking them," he went on. "Sometimes, very rarely, but occasionally, you get a fellow on his second or third safari who before very long is teaching you. You approach an animal on foot and fail. The chap says, 'Well, we should have used the Land Rover.' You know damn well if we'd failed in the Land Rover he'd say we should have gone on foot. Sometimes it's just a guy that rubs. You don't want to say 'no,' certainly not all the time. You say, 'Well, I think this is better,' but you can't keep saying that either. The best way to stop that nonsense is to get the fellow into a hell of a good fight, into a big herd of buffalo or elephant. Other times it might be 20 miles of tracking in one day. I had a chap here with a young son, a spoiled brat actually, and it had been this way. He shot a buffalo rather easily and his daddy said later, 'So-and-so doesn't think there's much to this. Thinks it's rather like shooting a cow,' and I said, 'Oh, does he?' The next day we chanced to get a herd in this short scrub after a long walk, and this time they didn't turn tail and run. A big old bull took a couple of steps toward him, and I thought the kid was going to shoot himself. His father said that night that So-and-so had changed his mind about buffalo.
"When I was in Alaska hunting that bear you saw on the veranda, I did exactly what I was told. What's the use of hiring a professional if you're not going to listen to him? As it happens, the worst thing that builds up is the tension. You're not getting shots. The client doesn't speak for a week. Then, suddenly, he kills a lion, and all at once he's slapping your back and telling you you're the best damn white hunter in Africa. I suppose that's why I like the Americans best. I can understand the Americans. They are colonials like we are. They're uncomplicated. They want to hunt, period. You know exactly where you stand, and you go ahead and do your best and they recognize it right away. I've had Continentals sulk for two days after missing a shot. Well, that's not going to help them make the next one.
"Of course, most people have the wrong idea about the white hunter," Harry was saying now as we headed back to camp with the buffalo horn. "They picture him as a great big bruiser with bullets in his belt and a leopard skin around his hat, swigging whiskey and making passes at women all day, which could not be further from the truth. You certainly couldn't keep a client long by engaging in that kind of foolishness. We get applicants writing to us all the time, from the States, from Europe, everywhere, young fellows supposing what a lot of glamour there is, when in actual fact it's just a hell of a lot of hard work—16, 18 hours a day. Just learning the game and the country takes eight or 10 years. So most of these chaps we don't bother to answer, but last year I had this boy from England who was desperately keen on getting on safari. I'll-work-for-nothing sort of thing. Against my better judgment, I took him on, and he turned out to be absolutely hopeless. His idea of a safari was to sit around behaving like a client, drinking beer and letting some other junior hunter repair the truck or cut the trail. Oh, father, will you have a look at that!"
He had stopped the Land Rover and was looking far off into the scrub. About a mile away was a small gray mountain, browsing peacefully. Harry called for his .416. and I had the .375. We went to have a closer look.
"See here? He's been eating here," Harry said, pointing to the bare tips of mopane scrub. We were close enough now. "Will you look at the size of that tusk? It must be 130 pounds." We had no intention of shooting the elephant, just looking. But as it turned to face the small interruption, the huge animal revealed a broken left tusk.
"Insurance policy," Harry said. "Good for you, old fellow. Nobody will shoot you now. You're safe to a ripe old age." Harry was plainly taken by the beast. "Look at that wily old rascal raise his trunk at us." Harry raised his head. "You wouldn't think a mossy chap like that could show such expression, but just look at him. Truly the king of beasts. Huge, afraid of nothing. Wanders around the countryside minding his own business, knowing every water hole for miles around. Gets fed up with an area, just picks up and goes a hundred miles and knows every inch of the way. You could see the way they'd go across the Northern Frontier of Kenya. You'd see tracks on the road a while, then they'd be gone, then back on again. What he'd done was cut the corner where the road bends. Never one foot farther than he needs to."