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She thrust her head into the open belly from which the entrails had been plucked, and she began to feed. The row of black nipples down her belly were sucked out prominently and the fur around them matted with the saliva of her offspring. She had not yet weaned them and the cubs took no notice of her feeding and went on with their play. Then a second lioness stepped into the clearing, followed by two half-grown cubs. This lioness was much darker in colour, almost blue along the spine and her pelt was criss-crossed with old healed scars, the legacy of a lifetime of hard hunting, the marks of hoof and horn and claw.
Half of one ear was torn off and her ribs showed through the scarred hide.
She was old. The two half-grown cubs that followed her into the clearing would probably be her last litter. Next year, when the cubs had deserted her and she was too weak to keep up with the pride, the hyena would take her, but now she was still living on her store of cunning and experience.
She had let the young lioness go in first to the bait, for she had seen two mates killed in just such a situation, beneath a succulent carcass dangling from a tree, and she mistrusted it. She did not begin to feed, but prowled restlessly around the clearing, her tail flicking with agitation and every so often she stopped and stared intently down the open lane to the grass wall of the hide at the far end.
Her two older cubs gazed up at the carcass, sitting on their haunches and growling with hunger and frustration for the meat was obviously beyond their reach. At last, the bolder of the two backed off then made a running leap at the bait. Hooking on with its front claws, its back legs swinging free, it tried to grab a hasty mouthful, but the young lioness turned on it viciously, snarling and cuffing it heavily until it fell on its back, scrambled to its feet and slunk away.
The older of the two lionesses made no effort to protect her cub. This was the pride law: The pride survived on their strength. Only after they had gorged could the young ones feed. In the lean times, when game was scarce or when open terrain made hunting difficult, the young might starve to death, and the adult females would not come into season again until game was once more plentiful.
In this way, the survival of the pride was ensured. The chastened cub crept back to join its sibling beneath the carcass and then to compete eagerly with it for the scraps that the lioness ripped out of the buffalo's belly cavity and unintentionally let fall. Once the young lioness dropped back on all fours in obvious discomfort, and Claudia was horrified to see that her whole head was swarming with white maggots that had crawled out of the meat as she fed.
The lioness shook her head, scattering maggots like rice grains. She pawed frantically at her own head to be rid of the fat worms that were trying to crawl into the furry openings of her ears. Then she extended her neck and sneezed violently, blowing live maggots out of her nostrils. Her young cubs took this as an invitation to play, or to feed. Two of them launched themselves at her head, trying to hang on to her ears, while the third rushed under her belly and attached himself to a nipple like a tubby brown leech.
The lioness ignored them and rose once more on her hind legs to continue eating. The cub at her nipple managed to hang on a few seconds longer and then fell under her back paws, and his dignity was trampled as she tugged and heaved at the bait.
He crawled out between her legs crestfallen, dusty and dishevelled. Claudia giggled, she could not help herself, she tried to muffle it with both hands.
Immediately Sean dug her hard in the short ribs. Only the old lioness reacted to her giggle. The rest of the pride were too preoccupied, but the lioness crouched and flattened her ears against her skull, staring fixedly down the opening at the hide.
With these eyes on her, Claudia lost any urge to giggle again and she held her breath.
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Then abruptly, the old lioness rose and slid away into the thick undergrowth beyond the bait tree. She moved like a serpent, a sinuous flowing and gliding of the brown body. Claudia let out her breath slowly, and gulped with relief. While the rest of the pride romped and tussled and fed beneath the bait tree, the sun slid below the tree-tops and the short African twilight was on them.
The night was the time of the cats, the darkness made them bold and fierce. The light was going even as they watched. Claudia heard something beyond the grass wall beside her, a furtive brush of some creature in long grass, but the bush was full of such small sounds and she did not even turn her head. Then she heard a distinct and unmistakable sound.
The footfall of some heavy creature, soft and stealthy, but very close, and she felt her skin crawl with the insects of fear and the prickle of it up the back of her neck. Quickly she turned her head. Her left shoulder was pressed up against the thatch wall of the hide, and there was a chink in the thatch an inch wide. Her eyes were at the same level as the hole, and through it, she saw movement.
For a moment, she did not recognize what she was seeing, and then she knew that it was a tiny expanse of smooth tawny hide, filling the chink, only inches on the far side.
As she stared in horror, the tawny pelt slid past her eyes, and now she heard something else, an animal breathing, snuffling at the far side of the thatch wall.
Instinctively, she reached behind her with her free hand, but never taking her eyes from the chink. Her hand was seized in a hard cool grip. The touch that had offended her only minutes before, now gave her more comfort than she had ever believed possible. She did not even marvel that she had reached for Sean's hand, rather than her own papa's.
She stared into the chink, and suddenly, there was another eye beyond, a huge round eye, glistening like yellow agate, a terrible inhuman eye, unblinking, burning into hers with a dead black pupil in its centre, a hand's span from her face. She wanted to scream, but her throat was closed. She wanted to leap to her feet, but her legs were dead. Her swollen bladder was like a stone in her lower belly, and before she could control it, she felt a few warm drops escape.
That checked her, the humiliation was greater than her terror and she tightened her thighs and buttocks and clung to Sean's hand, still staring into that terrible yellow eye.
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The lioness sniffed again loudly, and Claudia started silently but held on. Again the lioness snuffled beyond the grass wall, and her nostrils were filled with the man odour and she let out an explosive grunt that seemed to rock the flimsy grass walls. Claudia caught the scream in her throat before it could escape. Then the yellow eye was gone from the chink, and she heard the pad of great paws circling back round the hide. Claudia swivelled her head to follow the sound, and she looked straight into Sean's face.
He was smiling. That was what shocked her after what she had just lived through, there was that devil-may-care grin on his lips and mockery in those green eyes. He was laughing at her. Her terror subsided, and her anger flared.
She hated herself for it and she hated him for being witness to it. Copyright by Wilbur Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsover without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information contact Bonnier Zaffre.
Join the Adventure You'll be the first to receive: Your Email. Helena St. Thank you for subscribing. This taken together with the fact that I was a pretty child caught the attention of Mr Forbes. He made me his protege, and would discuss the books I had read that week with me. He made it seem that being a bookworm was praiseworthy, rather than something to be deeply ashamed of. He told me that my essays showed great promise, and we discussed how to achieve dramatic effects, to develop characters and to keep a story moving forward.
He pointed out authors who I would enjoy and books I should read. He even called me "Wilbur" rather than "Smith", as though I was actually a member of the human race. At the end of the year he nominated me for the form prize for best English Essay. This was my first literary accolade. The book I received was chosen by Mr Forbes in person. I have it still; W. This was the first time that it entered my head that one day I might join the pantheon of writers, and live on Olympus amongst them.
Then at the beginning of one new term I was distraught to learn that Mr Forbes had left the school staff, hurriedly and unexpectedly.
I never learned why, only now can I hazard a guess. This was a manifest misnomer as there was not a single gentleman amongst us. Here it was very much the same thing all over again, except much worse. The food was awful and the beatings heavier and more frequent.
There was the same obsession with team sports and science subjects. Situated on the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, the winters were arctic. My English master was also my science master, and his heart was totally given over to the latter role.
He did not have the wit to recognize literary genius when it was thrust under his nose. There were no more form prizes for me. My sole achievement of any note was to start a school newspaper for which I wrote the entire content, except for the sports pages.
My weekly satirical column became mildly famous, and was circulated as far as afield as Wykham Collegiate and St Annes, the two girls schools famous for having the prettiest girls for a hundred miles around. At the end of the year they awarded the prize for achievement to the kid that ran the Roneo machine to print the paper.
The headmaster called me in and explained that they had chosen him as a symbolic gesture on behalf of all the newspaper staff, by which he meant me, besides which the laureate was captain of the Second Eleven. Paradise opened before me, for here there were girls who did not wear gym slips and walk to church in crocodile formation.
Up until that moment I had never dreamt of how soft and warm these gorgeous creatures were, or how sweet they smelled. From then on I dreamed of very little else. Even books were forgotten in the feverish excitement of this new discovery. In the long varsity holidays I worked on the gold mines, trawler fleets and whalers. In this way I made enough money to download a Model T Ford and finance my amorous experimentations. Taking into account all this extra curricula activity, it still astounds me that I ever received a bachelor's degree 3 School days in South Africa Equipped thus I was turned out from my ivory tower into the real world, where I found that I could not sponge on my father indefinitely, and I was expected to find some form of employment.
I decided that it might be wise to do the only thing for which I had shown the least aptitude. So I went to my father and announced that I was going to become a journalist, or failing that a professional hunter. My father was utterly appalled, "Don't be a bloody fool," he told me.
Go and find yourself a real job. I was twenty-four years of age when this ill-conceived marriage crashed in flames. The alimony and child support payments left me penniless. My job in the tax department was soul destroying, and the evenings were long and lonely. I turned once again to my first love … fiction. But this time I determined to write it, rather than merely read it. To my astonishment I very soon found somebody who would pay hard cash for my creative efforts.
I sold my first story to 'Argosy' magazine for seventy pounds, which was twice my monthly salary. After a number of further acceptances, I was encouraged to take a dive off the high board. With a pin I selected a firm of literary agents from the 'Writer's Yearbook'. I sent my masterpiece to them, and in due course they collected on my behalf an impressive array of rejection letters from leading publishers around the world.
Like my marriage my career as a best-selling author crashed during take-off. I went back to sending out tax assessments. But soon the itch that can only be scratched with a pen attacked me again.
This good cheer did not come with my first novel. Good days I wrote a story about a young man, Sean Courtney by name, growing up on an African cattle ranch. I wrote about my own father and my darling mother. I wove into the story chunks of early African history. I wrote about black people and white. I wrote about hunting and gold mining and carousing and women. I wrote about love and loving and hating. In short I wrote about all the things I knew well and loved better. I left out all the immature philosophies and radical politics and rebellious posturing that had been the backbone of the first novel.
I even came up with a catching title, 'When the Lion Feeds'. I sent the book off to my agent in London, Ursula Winant. Afterwards I heard that she phoned the Managing Director of the eminent publishing house, William Heinemann.
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His name was Charles Pick. She told him: "Charles, I have a book which I will only let you read on three conditions. Firstly, you will give the writer an advance of a thousand pounds. He told her: 4 Success: signing a contract for 'When the Lion Feeds' "Ursula, I cannot agree to a single one of your three conditions. Firstly, I am going to make the advance two thousand rather than one. Secondly I am going to order a first printing of ten thousand copies.
I signed for the buff telegram form. I opened it, and my life changed forever. A week later the postman pedalled up the drive with another telegram. Readers' Digest had taken my novel as one of their Condensed Books. I tipped the postman a pound. In the following weeks the postman visited me regularly. He brought glad tidings of a sale of film rights in Hollywood, of a book society choice, of acceptance by Viking Press in New York for an eye-rolling sum of dollars, of new publishers in Germany and France, of a paperback sale to Pan Books in England.
The postman and I became fast friends.
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He would holloa outside my door, "Another one, Bwana! I had not taken leave from the Tax Department for three years. I had never been able to afford the luxury of a holiday. I cashed in all that leave, and I had enough to live on for the next five years.
I gave up the practice of accountancy for good and all time. I was so flush with cash and bonhomie that I made another effort at marriage, with the same result … a baby followed shortly after by divorce.
Charles invited me to spend the weekend at his home in Lindfield under the South Downs, near Brighton. We talked from breakfast to bedtime. He was the doyen of British publishers. Nobody living knew more about books and authors than he did. Unstintingly, he shared his knowledge and wisdom with me.
While we walked on the Downs he said, "You have written one book. A good first step on the ladder. He began acting in the s as a riding extra in Westerns and a stunt man at the urging of his friend, actor Robert Duvall.
Brimley and Lynne were married until her death in June His first credited feature film performance was in The China Syndrome as Ted Spindler, a friend and coworker of plant shift supervisor Jack Godell portrayed by Jack Lemmon. Later, Brimley made a brief, but pivotal, appearance in Absence of Malice as the curmudgeonly, outspoken Assistant U. Attorney James A. He expanded on this cantankerous persona as Pop Fisher, world-weary manager of a slumping baseball team, in The Natural The chastened cub crept back to join its sibling beneath the carcass and then to compete eagerly with it for the scraps that the lioness ripped out of the buffalo's belly cavity and unintentionally let fall.
For information contact Bonnier Zaffre. The lioness sniffed again loudly, and Claudia started silently but held on. That checked her, the humiliation was greater than her terror and she tightened her thighs and buttocks and clung to Sean's hand, still staring into that terrible yellow eye.
He had cautioned Claudia to use no perfume and one of the camp servants had laid out freshly washed and ironed khaki shirt and slacks on her cot in the tent when she returned from the shower. The postman and I became fast friends. Brimley and Lynne were married until her death in June I flew with her to the United States.
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