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Isobel Chace - A Pride of Lions

Isobel Chace - A Pride of Lions

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Published by: sj0403 on Jan 14, 2013
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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)
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 fora 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 thematchmaking 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 addedgreedily, 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
surely? I thought you would be working for this Dutch architect? You’d better tell me about the job all over again. I don’tseem 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 fromthe 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 Ihave 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 familnever 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 asudden intake of breath when she walks into a room. My mother does not know that she is beautiful—she shares my grandmother’s convictionthat 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 littlecareful make-up. I do
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 beingable 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 aninternational 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.
is the Swahili word for a leopard.
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
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 comesunder 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.
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, whenI 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 imaginethat 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—”
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 laughedsuddenly. “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 mentalpicture of him as an enormous savage, looking rather like John the Baptist, with wild eyes and a contempt for personal comfort. A man whoreferred the friendshi of the wild animals to that of his fellow men.

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