Slow pass'd the sultry days in Afric wilds,
Slow wan'd the moonlit nights, slow flash'd the dawns,
And still the lion came not with his heavy tread
And roar, to fright the desert space.
There was a hunter of Algerian fame,
Gerard, the lion-killer, stout of heart
And strong of limb, who, with his Arab guides,
Waited and watch'd upon a granite ledge
The lion's coming, wearily delay'd.
He hear's the roar increasing in its swell,
The trampling step that crushes leaves and twigs,
And crash of bending trees cast rude aside,
And knows his shaggy foe hath left his lair,
And comes with lashing tail and tossing mane,
To quell who dares to meet him face to face.
He hears his stride, his roar, his breathing hard
Now twenty paces distant, now fifteen,
And the stout hunter's quickly throbbing heart
With Hope's intoxication wild doth beat.
He hears the latest step, he sees a head
Enormous from the foliage dense emerge,
As forth with grace commanding steps the beast,
In open glade, half-seen and half conceal'd.
Seeing the hunter, his great flaming eyes
Dilated, gaze astonish'd on his foe,
While from his jaws immense he churns the foam.
The hunter for one instant holds his aim,
Then fires, and straightway peals a savage roar
Of agony, that stuns and frights the midnight wood!
He sees one paw, one mighty shoulder then,
Go down, and dark dishevell'd mane,
Then all the monstrous body sinks to earth,
A lifeless mass, outstretch'd and grim in death.
Soon the glad news thro' all the douars spread,
And signal-guns awaken'd all the plain.
And Arabs throng'd exultant o'er the hills.
The lion-king was borne in triumph down
By eager multitudes, while bonfires blaz'd
And guns were fir'd and warlike music made,
And women clapp'd their hands and war-songs sang,
While men in long procession march'd around;
And royal wake and revels high were held
For lion of the Archon laid in state!
With the next day-dawn he o'erlook'd the plain,
Outstretch'd for leagues far in the desert's heart.
All seam'd with rocky gulch and sandy shelves,
And sprinkled with thick clumps of olive groves,
And palms and stately cork trees, fair to see.
He gaz'd on villages and cattle farms,
Embower'd in woods, and saw from day to day
The herds pass forth in lengthen'd files to feed,
And, home returning, folded for the night;
But yet the lion came not. There would come
The wild hogs rooting in the forest glades,
The prowling jackals and the timid hare
That gambol'd safe in fastnesses of hills,
Stags with their kingly crowns and stately trend,
And beasts of prey, and tapirs with white tusks,
But o'er the ridg'd plateau no lion came.
The hunter found in many an open glade
The grassy couch the tawny beast had press'd,
And whence he stalk'd when evening shadows fell
To prowl for prey around the cattle pens.
There, all the roots and stones he had displac'd
To smooth his bed, and thick the ground was spread
With tree-bark scrap'd in play by sharpen'd claws.
At last the triumph! The soft twilight eve
Had faded, and night's dusky shadows crept
O'er glimmering plains and up the craggy cliffs,
Blackening the vistas of the cork-tree woods;
And silence reign'd supreme in all the camps.
The ambush'd hunter listening heard afar
A hollow murmur! Was it but the sound
Of gusty breezes sobbing thro' the leaves,
Or voice of brawling torrents down the rocks?
Was it the wolf's long howl, or wild bear's snarl?
No; 'twas the lion's muffled roar in dark ravine
That yawns below, heard fitfully as he comes;
And as he came, the Arab tribesman quail'd,
Azid and Ombar pale as sheeted ghosts;
Yet firm as rock the Gallic hero stands,
Grasping his rifle with courageous hands,
And quick the savage monster bites the dust.