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Authors: Isobel Chace

A Pride of Lions

BOOK: A Pride of Lions
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A PRIDE OF LIONS

by

ISOBEL CHACE

Everybody had warned Clare not to fall in love with Hugo Canning. Women meant nothing to him, they said, compared with his beloved lions.

But Clare found it was one thing to listen to advice -- another thing altogether to follow it!

A lion pride is a hunting unit, and this would seem to be its sole reason for existence. And it is the extraordinary dominance of the male lion, and little else, that welds the society together.

Robert Ardrey:
African Genesis
(by permission of Collins Publishers)

CHAPTER ONE

MRS. FREEMAN poured the tea with a languid hand. This was her third pregnancy and her husband, Luke, had sent her down to the coast for a while ‘to put some flesh on her bones’, as he put it. Kate, happily, one might even say complacently, married for ten years, glanced at my flushed face and smiled.

“Have you ever met Hugo Canning?” she asked.

“No,” I answered doubtfully. Having reached the age of twenty-five without having been tempted into marriage, I rather resented the matchmaking proclivities of even my dearest married friends.

“Ah!” said Kate.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I asked, slightly rattled.

“My dear Clare, what should it mean? I don’t think you’re going to like him much. I must say they make very nice sandwiches here,” she added greedily, helping herself to a couple and sitting back to enjoy them with an almost feline grace.

“Don’t they?” I agreed. I hesitated. “Tell me more about Mr. Canning!”

Kate looked amused. “What is there to tell? He’s a male of the species and—and a bit of a fanatic. Luke admires him.”

And if Luke admired him, she did too. Naturally.

“Well, I’m only going to work for him—”

“Oh, not for
him,
surely? I thought you would be working for this Dutch architect? You’d better tell me about the job all over again. I don’t seem to have got it at all straight!”

So I did. My name is Clare deJong. DeJong is an awkward name to have when one is English-speaking, but my father’s family were Boers from the south and came to Kenya in the last of the Great Treks northward. His side of the family have all the Afrikaner virtues. They are solid, hard-working and obstinate, with those flashes of brilliance that have given South Africa such a great heritage in art and letters. From him I have inherited a love of Africa and the ability to speak pure Dutch, as well as its awkward dialect of Afrikaanse.

My mother is different. She is the daughter of a missionary and spent most of her childhood in a state of semi-starvation because her family never had enough money to live on. The marks of that childhood still lurk in the corners of her face, a face so lovely that there is apt to be a sudden intake of breath when she walks into a room. My mother does not know that she is beautiful—she shares my grandmother’s conviction that it is wrong to stare at oneself in a glass—and so she has never been able to understand why my father picked her to be his wife, a fact for which she is still pathetically grateful. From her I have inherited my looks, a pale shadow of her own, but nevertheless well enough with a little careful make-up. I do
not
see anything sinful in either cosmetics or a looking-glass!

It was Mother who had insisted that I put my knowledge of languages to good use. In the Kenya of today where tourism is the second industry of the country, translators are badly needed, and I have a working knowledge of Swahili, the
lingua franca
of the whole area, as well as being able to speak Kikuyu and Masai, picked up in childhood from the workers on my father’s farm. Up to now I had scraped a living in an international firm centred in Nairobi, but then, two days before, this marvellous opportunity had come my way and I was still hugging myself with glee at my good fortune.

“They’re going to build another Safari Lodge in Tsavo National Park—”

“I know that much!” Kate interrupted me.

“The Ghui Safari Lodge,” I went on lovingly.
Chui
is the Swahili word for a leopard.

“Who
is going to build it?” asked Kate, getting straight to the heart of the matter.

“The Government, of course! But—and this is the glorious partl—they’re getting a
Dutch
architect to design the building!”

“Which is where you come in,” Kate said placidly.

I nodded enthusiastically. “He, the architect, doesn’t speak much English and he certainly doesn’t speak any Swahili. Isn’t it marvellous?”

Kate thought about it. “Yes, it is,” she agreed. “Where does Hugo Canning come in?”

“He doesn’t really,” I said vaguely.

Kate’s expression was one of complete disbelief. “Then what are you doing here?” she asked.

I hoped I didn’t look as uncomfortable as I felt. “Mr. Canning is on holiday here,” I explained uneasily. “I—I have to meet him before I start work.”

“Why?”

I frowned at my friend. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think we have to stay in a tented camp while the Lodge is being built. I expect it comes under his general jurisdiction. Wouldn’t you think?”

Kate shrugged. “I’ll ask Luke,” she said. “He’ll be telephoning tonight anyway. He’s thinking of going into politics.”

“Luke
is?” Somehow, since Independence, one thought more about white people leaving the political scene in Kenya rather than entering it.

“The Party approached him last week,” Kate said with a magnificent lack of interest. “You know how interested he is in these farming co-operatives.”

I hadn’t known, but then I am younger than Kate and her husband. I had only got to know them through Luke’s younger brother, Martin, and, although I liked them both very much and knew that they liked me, our paths only crossed occasionally. It had been marvellous, though, when I had come from the tiny airport to the hotel to find Kate already in residence and anxious to hear all my news.

Kate grinned at me. “And what happens if Hugo Canning doesn’t approve of you?” she asked slyly.

I felt a nervous flutter somewhere in my middle. “Why shouldn’t he?” I said reasonably.

“I told you! He’s a bit of a fanatic—”

“Well, he doesn’t have to see anything of me on the site!” I retorted.

“His fanaticism,” Kate said delicately, “lies in other directions. Nothing, but nothing, is allowed to interfere with his precious animals. I imagine that if anything goes wrong on the building site you’ll be in the thick of it?”

“But it won’t be my responsibility! All I have to do is to translate between one group and another—”

“Exactly!”
said Kate.

I winced, for if there is one thing I cannot bear it is heated altercations anywhere near me. “I don’t think it will be as bad as all that,” I said bravely.

“Probably not,” Kate agreed kindly. “But Hugo Canning is rather overpowering when he’s roused. I thought I’d just warn you.”

I made a face. “You mean his big guns will outclass anything I can produce,” I said wryly.

Kate nodded slowly. “Something like that,” she admitted. “But you can always take cover in your tent, if you see trouble coming.” She laughed suddenly. “Perhaps your Dutchman will protect you!”

But somehow that thought was of very little comfort to me. I had heard about Hugo Canning before from other people and I had a mental picture of him as an enormous savage, looking rather like John the Baptist, with wild eyes and a contempt for personal comfort. A man who preferred the friendship of the wild animals to that of his fellow men.

“Malindi seems such an odd place for a man like that to come on holiday,” I mused more to myself than Kate.

She moved restlessly in her chair, trying to ease her body. Luke was right, I thought, she was having trouble with this pregnancy, though it would be a hard matter to get her to admit it.

“He fits in rather well, as a matter of fact,” she said. “I saw him yesterday in a dinner jacket, looking as smart as paint, and with a rather handsome young thing on his arm. I couldn’t quite make up my mind who
she
is, but I imagine she is local, for she isn’t staying at the hotel.”

That explained it, I supposed. I lost interest in Hugo Canning for the moment, my attention caught by sounds of laughter coming from the swimming pool nearby. “I say, Kate, do let’s have a quick swim. Can you? I mean—”

“I can if I potter round the shallow end,” she responded casually. “As a matter of fact it helps sometimes.” A thought struck her. “Do you think it’s going to be a water baby?”

I grunted. “More likely a farmer like Luke,” I said.

She smiled, well pleased. “It couldn’t be anything better!” she declared.

Kate and I went in to dinner together. The dining room is large, the far wall consisting almost entirely of windows that look out across the Indian Ocean. The other walls are all painted white, without any decorations except the occasional copper plate and Arab carpet, and the whole effect is very fine and spacious. A smiling waiter showed us to a table and presented us each with a menu.

“He isn’t here yet,” Kate remarked, looking round the room, “so you can relax, Clare. A cat on hot bricks has nothing on you!”

“I wish I could get it over with,” I answered savagely. “I’m sure there’s nothing he can do! I mean, I’ve already been hired by the Government. But it worries me all the same.”

“He must have some say or you wouldn’t be here,” Kate put

in.

“That’s what worries me!” I admitted dryly. “I thought it was all arranged and then wham, there was this message for me to fly down immediately to Malindi to be interviewed by Mr. Canning.”

“From him?” Kate asked curiously.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. It came from someone in the Department for Wild Life and Tourism.”

“He has great influence there,” Kate warned me.

“I know,” I said flatly.

It was almost an anti-climax when Mr. Canning did finally walk into the dining room. Kate saw him immediately and froze. “He’s here,” she said out of the corner of her mouth, and I turned and saw him for the first time.

He was not very like John the Baptist after all. He was tall all right and he moved with the careful confidence of a man who walks miles every day. Really he looked very much like other men, smooth-shaven, with hair only just long enough to be fashionable, and a suntan that had to be seen to be believed!

He walked straight over to our table, smiling a greeting to Kate.

“May I join you?” he asked smoothly.

Kate looked pleased. “I didn’t like to interrupt you yesterday,” she teased him gently, “but I did so want to say a few words to you. Luke will be so pleased I’ve seen vou.”

He wasn’t in the least put out by Kate’s reference to his companion of the previous evening, I noticed. To tell the truth, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He had a kind of animal magnetism that I disliked by instinct. It was a pity, though, that my reaction was obvious to him. He was unkind enough to be amused and that, in turn, made me feel both young and gauche.

“You wanted to meet Clare deJong,” Kate’s cool voice broke the silence. “Clare,
this
is Hugo Canning!”

“Oh!” I said weakly.

I noted the quick frown that appeared between his eyes with dismay. With an effort I pulled myself together and forced a smile.

“May I sit down?” he asked Kate rather tetchily.

She inclined her head, throwing me a speaking look that another time might have sent me into helpless giggles. How right she had been! I did
not
like Mr. Hugo Canning!

“I suppose the Chui Safari Lodge is going to be in your area,” I said abruptly. “Is that why you wanted to see me?”

Hugo Canning gave me a long, distinct stare.
“Did
I ask to see you?” he said. “I thought it was the other way about.”

I turned red with rage. “But—” I began.

“Mr. Doffnang did say he wanted my personal assurance that you really do speak Dutch,” he went on, ignoring my interruption. Mr. Canning frowned. “His English is decidedly poor.”

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