THE WAR OF THE LITTLE HAND
THE WAR OF THE LITTLE HAND
H. RIDER HAGGARD
It may be well to state that the incident of the "Thing that
bites" recorded in this tale is not an effort of the imagination.
On the contrary it is "plagiarized." Mandara a well-known chief
on the east coast of Africa has such an article /and uses it/.
In the same way the wicked conduct attributed to Wambe is not
without a precedent. T'Chaka the Zulu Napoleon never allowed a
child of his to live. Indeed he went further for on discovering
that his mother Unandi was bringing up one of his sons in
secret like Nero he killed her and with his own hand.
One day--it was about a week after Allan Quatermain told me his story
of the "Three Lions" and of the moving death of Jim-Jim--he and I
were walking home together on the termination of a day's shooting. He
owned about two thousand acres of shooting round the place he had
bought in Yorkshire over a hundred of which were wood. It was the
second year of his occupation of the estate and already he had reared
a very fair head of pheasants for he was an all-round sportsman and
as fond of shooting with a shot-gun as with an eight-bore rifle. We
were three guns that day Sir Henry Curtis Old Quatermain and
myself; but Sir Henry was obliged to leave in the middle of the
afternoon in order to meet his agent and inspect an outlying farm
where a new shed was wanted. However he was coming back to dinner
and going to bring Captain Good with him for Brayley Hall was not
more than two miles from the Grange.
We had met with very fair sport considering that we were only going
through outlying cover for cocks. I think that we had killed twenty-
seven a woodcock and a leash of partridges which we secured out of a
driven covey. On our way home there lay a long narrow spinney which
was a very favourite "lie" for woodcocks and generally held a
pheasant or two as well.
"Well what do you say?" said old Quatermain "shall we beat through
this for a finish?"
I assented and he called to the keeper who was following with a
little knot of beaters and told him to beat the spinney.
"Very well sir" answered the man "but it's getting wonderful dark
and the wind's rising a gale. It will take you all your time to hit a
woodcock if the spinney holds one."
"You show us the woodcocks Jeffries" answered Quatermain quickly
for he never liked being crossed in anything to do with sport "and we
will look after shooting them."
The man turned and went rather sulkily. I heard him say to the under-
keeper "He's pretty good the master is I'm not saying he isn't but
if he kills a woodcock in this light and wind I'm a Dutchman."
I think that Quatermain heard him too though he said nothing. The
wind was rising every minute and by the time the beat begun it blew
big guns. I stood at the right-hand corner of the spinney which
curved round somewhat and Quatermain stood at the left about forty
paces from me. Presently an old cock pheasant came rocketing over me
looking as though the feathers were being blown out of his tail. I
missed him clean with the first barrel and was never more pleased
with myself in my life than when I doubled him up with the second for
the shot was not an easy one. In the faint light I could see
Quatermain nodding his head in approval when through the groaning of
the trees I heard the shouts of the beaters "Cock forward cock to
the right." Then came a whole volley of shouts "Woodcock to the
right" "Cock to the left" "Cock over."
I looked up and presently caught sight of one of the woodcocks coming
down the wind upon me like a flash. In that dim light I could not
follow all his movements as he zigzagged through the naked tree-tops;
indeed I could see him when his wings flitted up. Now he was passing
me--/bang/ and a flick of the wing I had missed him; /bang/ again.
Surely he was down; no there he went to my left.
"Cock to you" I shouted stepping forward so as to get Quatermain
between me and the faint angry light of the dying day for I wanted to
see if he would "wipe my eye." I knew him to be a wonderful shot but
I thought that cock would puzzle him.
I saw him raise his gun ever so little and bend forward and at that
moment out flashed two woodcocks into the open the one I had missed
to his right and the other to his left.
At the same time a fresh shout arose of "Woodcock over" and looking
down the spinney I saw a third bird high up in the air being blown
along like a brown and whirling leaf straight over Quatermain's head.
And then followed the prettiest little bit of shooting that I ever
saw. The bird to the right was flying low not ten yards from the line
of a hedgerow and Quatermain took him first because he would become
invisible the soonest of any. Indeed nobody who had not his hawk's
eyes could have seen to shoot at all. But he saw the bird well enough
to kill it dead as a stone. Then turning sharply he pulled on the
second bird at about forty-five yards and over he went. By this time
the third woodcock was nearly over him and flying very high straight
down the wind a hundred feet up or more I should say. I saw him
glance at it as he opened his gun threw out the right cartridge and
slipped in another turning round as he did so. By this time the cock
was nearly fifty yards away from him and travelling like a flash.
Lifting his gun he fired after it and wonderful as the shot was
killed it dead. A tearing gust of wind caught the dead bird and blew
it away like a leaf torn from an oak so that it fell a hundred and
thirty yards off or more.
"I say Quatermain" I said to him when the beaters were up "do you
often do this sort of thing?"
"Well" he answered with a dry smile "the last time I had to load
three shots as quickly as that was at rather larger game. It was at
elephants. I killed them all three as dead as I killed those
woodcocks; but it very nearly went the other way I can tell you; I
mean that they very nearly killed me."
Just at that moment the keeper came up "Did you happen to get one of
them there cocks sir?" he said with the air of a man who did not in
the least expect an answer in the affirmative.
"Well yes Jeffries" answered Quatermain; "you will find one of them
by the hedge and another about fifty yards out by the plough there to
The keeper had turned to go looking a little astonished when
Quatermain called him back.
"Stop a bit Jeffries" he said. "You see that pollard about one
hundred and forty yards off? Well there should be another woodcock
down in a line with it about sixty paces out in the field."
"Well if that bean't the very smartest bit of shooting" murmured
Jeffries and departed.
After that we went home and in due course Sir Henry Curtis and
Captain Good arrived for dinner the latter arrayed in the tightest
and most ornamental dress-suit I ever saw. I remember that the
waistcoat was adorned with five pink coral buttons.
It was a very pleasant dinner. Old Quatermain was in an excellent
humour; induced I think by the recollection of his triumph over the
doubting Jeffries. Good too was full of anecdotes. He told us a most
miraculous story of how he once went shooting ibex in Kashmir. These
ibex according to Good he stalked early and late for four entire
days. At last on the morning of the fifth day he succeeded in getting
within range of the flock which consisted of a magnificent old ram
with horns so long that I am afraid to mention their measure and five
or six females. Good crawled upon his stomach painfully taking
shelter behind rocks till he was within two hundred yards; then he
drew a fine bead upon the old ram. At this moment however a
diversion occurred. Some wandering native of the hills appeared upon a
distant mountain top. The females turned and rushing over a rock
vanished from Good's ken. But the old ram took a bolder course. In
front of him stretched a mighty crevasse at least thirty feet in
width. He went at it with a bound. Whilst he was in mid-air Good
fired and killed him dead. The ram turned a complete somersault in
space and fell in such fashion that his horns hooked themselves upon
a big projection of the opposite cliffs. There he hung till Good
after a long and painful d?tour gracefully dropped a lasso over him
and fished him up.
This moving tale of wild adventure was received with undeserved
"Well" said Good "if you fellows won't believe my story when I tell
it--a perfectly true story mind--perhaps one of you will give us a
better; I'm not particular if it is true or not." And he lapsed into a
"Now Quatermain" I said "don't let Good beat you let us hear how
you killed those elephants you were talking about this evening just
after you shot the woodcocks."
"Well" said Quatermain dryly and with something like a twinkle in
his brown eyes "it is very hard fortune for a man to have to follow
on Good's "spoor." Indeed if it were not for that running giraffe
which as you will remember Curtis we saw Good bowl over with a
Martini rifle at three hundred yards I should almost have said that
this was an impossible tale."
Here Good looked up with an air of indignant innocence.