Another Gap In Our Ranks – This is chapter fifteenth of the Book “Two Dianas in Somaliland: The Record of a Shooting Trip”, which is a narrative of a daring and victorious shooting expedition undertaken by two cousins, Agnes and Cecily, who carry the spirit of true sportswomen and the right attitude for this adventure.
A native Somali escort accompanies them during this expedition. British writer and big game hunter Agnes Herbert keep the reader hooked with her refreshing writing style throughout the novel. She wonderfully describes the beauty and austerity of the jungle and desert in the passages as the two ladies travel through the country.
The chapters of this book are started with one or more quotations from Shakespeare, thus revealing the author as a high-class Englishwoman of culture. The discussions in the book show that the author is highly skilled with guns.
This work beautifully and with great success presents a new perspective of a female British imperialist hunter bagging big game in the isolated jungle of Somaliland and Ethiopia, which is deserving of the reader’s interest and attention.
The Record of a Shooting Trip
By Agnes Herbert
With Twenty-Five Illustrations Reproduced from Photographs
London: John Lane
TWO DIANAS IN SOMALILAND
Another Gap In Our Ranks
Give thy thoughts no tongue
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where
Measure for Measure
The poor pony which the leopard had pounced upon was now in grievous plight, hardly able to drag itself along, and the condition of his wounds, though we had done all we could, can better be imagined than described. I judged it kindest to read the death warrant, and the unfortunate creature was led away from camp, going very painfully, to be shot. His knell rang out as we were dressing, and rather spoilt our breakfast. We had grown by this time to be quite fond of all the ponies; even “Sceptre” counted as a friend of standing.
Leaving Joh about 8.30, we passed the spot where the men had buried our steed, not deeply, I fear, and as the caravan came up a great horde of yellowish animals ceased their depredations and made off. Cecily, who was walking, dropped one, I am glad to say, and the others loped away at break-neck speed. It was a fine vicious-looking animal, the sort of creature you would not care to meet if it happened to be hungry, and we afterwards knew it to be a Cape hunting-dog.
There were dabs of black and white here and there on its thick khaki-colored coat, and the tail was immense and white-tipped. Each foot had but four toes, with much-worn claws. We delayed progress for a little while for the skin to be secured. Meanwhile, we rode off a short distance and sighted some gerenük, far out of range, and dik-dik in multitudes popped up.
We got into some thick thorn cover, too dense for the ponies’ comfort, after a short ten minutes, and turning, on another path, we startled some large animal which crashed off in front of us. We separated, dashing different ways, to try and cut whatever it was off, and saw a reddish antelope careering away across a small open expanse. It was a gerenük, hornless; a doe, of course—I say “of course,” because our luck, or rather the lack of it, in this part of the world, was most depressing. To have endured that Marehan Desert for such “sport” as this! We kicked ourselves, figuratively speaking, every day.
Our next halt at a place garnished with a name was El Dara. “El” in Somali parlance means “well,” so anything “El” signifies water ought to be in the vicinity. Very often it isn’t. But it ought to be—like a good many other things.
I don’t see how anyone could master the Somali language thoroughly—any foreigner, I mean. There are no books to be got about it, because the language has not as yet been reduced or elevated by pen and ink. Reading anything seems an intense puzzle to the native mind, and to be able to do it raises one miles in their estimation! Only the scholars can read the Koran in Arabic. It would not be to the advantage of the mullahs if anyone and everyone could accomplish this feat. Not one of our men could even write, much less read.
I had taken a couple of favorite books along with me, as every traveler must who will be away from libraries and would yet change literary diet. In my moments of leisure for reading I accompanied Elizabeth in Rugen, or wandered with her through that solitary summer. She was very good to me, but she bored Clarence almost to tears. I read him a little one afternoon in response to his demands to know what the book was all about, and after a short while, thinking he was very quiet, I looked up; the vandal slept!
After the great heat of the early hours of the afternoon we made another start, heading straight now for the return journey over the Marehan. Cecily bagged a couple of dik-dik out of a bunch of three. All those hereabouts did not find the two-is-company axiom worth considering and ran about everywhere in threes. We secured two guinea fowl, too, for future meals. They were decidedly gamey by night; the heat was so against keeping any sort of meat. I very often thought this unceasing pondering on what could be provided for the next feast made for dreadful greediness. When we pitched tents Clarence reported that one of the camel men very sick. “Him die all right.” I was not very much put about, because by this I had learned the Somali ways, and knew that every one of them considers himself at the portals of death’s door if he has merely a pain somewhere. They cannot be called cowards by any means, and will bear pain well enough when it comes, but in minor illnesses, they cave in sooner than any other nation I have come across, and get so terribly alarmed about themselves. Theirs is not the stoicism of the American Indian, in matters large and small, the delightful sangfroid of the Chinaman is absent, and the calm of the Englishman unknown. We had really, up to now, been singularly fortunate in the health of the caravan, and most of the minor ills from which the men had suffered could fairly have been ascribed to gorging. This gluttony over meat occasionally landed them into double-distilled bilious attacks.
I was in a frightful tantrum with someone—of course, nobody would own to being the delinquent—who had dropped, or somehow made away with, the very best oryx shield we had. Going over the trophies, which we knew individually, I missed the treasure. The immortal one counselled “Give thy thoughts no tongue.” But, after all, he was giving directions to a young man just about to go out into the world, and had not dreamed of the conditions that would govern the loss of an oryx shield most hardly come by. I gave all the thoughts I had by me vehement voice, and, more than that, I borrowed a few from Cecily.
We had camped where there had once been a lake as large as at Sinnadogho. It was now a mere hole, and all the one-time springs were dry. Some Midgan hunters here gave us news of having seen a lion an hour or so ago. No wonder they reported such a find.
Lions and all other game seemed about to follow the dodo in these parts. We were so thoroughly disgusted now that all our object was to push back to our old haunts in the Ogaden, and enjoy ourselves for the short time left to us in the country. I am not willfully rubbing it in this Marehan and Haweea locality, because I myself hate bewailing as much as anyone. But, to let you in on the ground floor, all this part of the expedition was hateful, and our one desire was to get it over. No wonder our shikari uncle, wise in his generation, had never passed the Bun Arnwein. We intended to lie low about our having done so also.
After our temper had dwindled a little; we went to see the sick man, armed with a few medicines, and our vexation merged into forgetfulness, and then to pity. The poor fellow lay on a camel mat, his dirty tobe tangled about him, in acute pain, and often in delirium. It could not be a touch of the sun very well, for Somalis and the sun are well acquainted. Cecily suggested that dirty water of a short time ago as the root of the evil, but here again, had we not seen the men drinking quite as filthy water, and thriving the better for it. We really were stuck to know what to do, and fled to our everlasting remedy, champagne. It was difficult to get any down, and the little we managed to dispose of made no earthly difference to the writhing man. Cecily tried catapultic questions in a Somali accent that came from her inner consciousness.
“Wurrer anoncsha” (head-ache)?
“Aloche anonesha” (stomach-ache)?
There was no reply, and Cecily had expended all the lingo she knew.
The man went on suffering all night, and we did all we could, putting mustard leaves on his side and keeping him warm, for the nights here were bitterly cold. Ever and again we tried to force champagne between his set teeth. Of no avail. He died about five o’clock in the morning. Clarence said it was Kismet, but I think, and always shall, it was a newt. Anyway, it was something swallowed in that filthy water, too much even for the inner mechanism of a Somali.
Cecily and I retired to get some sleep if possible, and the men buried their unfortunate comrade. We did not attend, as it is always so intensely piteous a ceremony—a burial without a coffin—at least to me it seems far worse than seeing a coffin put into the earth. I gave Clarence a blanket to wrap our followers in. He seemed amused, and certainly did not use it, for I saw him lapped in it a night or so later. I rebuked him, but he said it was a different blanket. All men are liars, and though an estimable servant, our head-man was no exception to the rule.
We investigated to see that the funeral had been conducted properly and ordered more stones and brushwood to be piled on top, such a rampart indeed that Clarence said we were giving our dead friend the grave of a chief. Then, in the late afternoon, we marched away, leaving the lonely stockade behind us. Every man of the caravan threw some grass upon the grave and, touching their ears, prayed to Allah.
Cecily and I could not help feeling very sorry, but in half an hour the men had all forgotten and marched chanting a droning song. The camels that had been the charge of the dead man now were controlled by a lively little fellow, and the whole incident seemed of no moment.
Any amount of wild geese abode here. It was rather like keeping a vast poultry farm. The birds were so ridiculously tame and easily caught. At our next trek we should have to consider the return journey across the Marehan as begun, and we should not be likely to make any water for five or six days. Everything was carefully filled up, and the march commenced at 3.30 a.m. The net result of this Marehan excursion was one leopard and one wild dog, which we would just as soon have been without as with. They may be hard to shoot, and come on—I have heard so—but take it how you like, with everything said that can be to belaud them into valuable treasures, dogs aren’t very grand trophies when all is done. Who values a coyote in Canada?
We passed thousands of grazing camels. The men in charge weren’t bothering about water at all, but drank milk only. I arranged with Clarence that our men were to go on to rations of dates, and do without rice for the trip over the waterless desert. Rice in such quantities sucks up such an amount of water, and it was safer to keep it for drinking purposes merely. The dates are very nutritious, and natives often live on nothing else for days.
We camped about eleven o’clock, when the sun grew too fierce to let us proceed. We did a few more miles in the evening. Every hour we were not on trek we spent in exhausted sleep. Even as we marched I was often in a condition of somnolence that prevented my guiding the pony in the least.
We passed a fine range of mountains, said to be alive with leopards. We saw the tracks of several, but time did not permit of a stalk. However, one came to stalk us, very thoughtfully and saved us a lot of trouble. We made the round of the camp that night very late before turning in to see that all was extra safe. The camels were lying in rows, some with heads outstretched flat, snake-like, on the sand, asleep, others chewing the cud, watching us lazily with keen bright eyes threading our way among the débris of the stores. Our candle lamps were hardly needed here, the bright fires lighted us to bed, and we had but just settled down when the most prodigious shouting and banging of tin pans together roused us up again. Then two shots reverberated on the night. By the time I was sufficiently clad to emerge with propriety the camp was more or less calm again, save for a few men jabbering in excited groups. The ponies stood in a bunch, and one or two of the camels had risen. A leopard had jumped the zareba, but was immediately turned by having a piece of lighted brushwood thrust in his face. One of the hunters had fired after the retreating animal and claimed to have hit it. As no man of the black persuasion cares to go outside a zareba at night, all investigations had to be put off until day-break, when, without waiting for breakfast, we hurried out to see what we should see.
The hunter was right. The blood trail was plain and held on at intervals for a mile or more when it led us to a flimsy bit of thorn growing in some rocky cover. Stones and shouts did not serve to eject our visitor of the night before, but we heard his singing snarls. Posting ourselves some hundred yards away, for a wounded leopard is not likely to prove an amiable customer, Clarence made some fire alongside us with another hunter by twirling the fire stick. And as soon as the flame burst from the timber he fostered it with a little durr grass, then using it to ignite a larger torch, ran towards the citadel and threw the blazing thing into the midst. Speedily the flames took hold, burning all before it.
The leopard stole out from the side of the underbrush, with low crouched shoulders, and made for the open. It limped badly, and lurched as it ran. I wanted to clear the hunters who were dancing about right in the very zone of fire—a lot of good shots are spoiled in this way—so dashed after our prey. Cecily ran round the back of the burning bush, and as she was nearer, the leopard hearing the quick padpad after him turned, as a cat does when cornered. With ears flattened against the head and a look of most vicious rage on the snarling face the leopard shot, all wounded as he was, straight at us like an arrow from a bow. He was a most courageous animal, but my cousin dropped him with a well-planted bullet, catching him in the chest. The creature doubled up like a caterpillar, undid itself, gave one or two twists, doubled up again, and finally dropped very near to us.
We were anxious to get the trophy back to camp for the better convenience of skinning it, as we were already late in starting the morning’s march, but our pony would have none of it, and at the suggestion of burdening his usually willing little back with the catlike carcase, gave us to understand that whatever else he might carry at any time it would never be leopard. We had to give up the attempt at last, and two hunters stayed behind to skin and decapitate the prize, coming in to camp about two hours after us. This particular leopard differed slightly from the one obtained in the Haweea, but, like all of the leopard tribe, it doubtless differed in skin and coloring by reason of the part of the world where it lived and had its being. The chin was almost white, and it was lighter in coloring all over. We neglected to measure it when pegged out for drying, but, dressed, it touched just six feet from tip to tail. The bullet of the night before had passed through the forearm, and I think it would have got over its effects in time nicely.
Nothing more of any moment occurred on the great hurried march. We walked and slept, and rode and ate, and ate, and rode, and slept, and walked. The history of those strenuous six days is summed up in these words. We managed very well this time about the water, though we ran things very fine at the last, landing at wells with but a quart in hand.
The last afternoon was rendered hideous by a plague of locusts, and their millions darkened all the sky, like the big black crow in Alice’s Adventures through the Looking-glass, taking an hour or more to pass. Some didn’t pass at all, but settled in countless thousands on an area of red sand, that they changed to rainbow colors. Closely looked at, they are the ordinary familiar locust of many countries, in shades of green, yellow, with red spots. Cecily, who would, I believe, curry anything, said they ought to taste like prawns. The insects quite forgot their plain duty—and didn’t. They tasted like—well, like themselves! The shell of the back was as hard as nails, and I’m sure they were meant to be anything but curried.
At last, towards 6.30, as the light was not so good, we found ourselves on a plain again covered with splendid trees, and we knew we had left the dreary waste of forsaken desert behind us. Turning joyfully in my saddle I waved my hand, crying Au revoir.
“It’s goodbye as far as I’m concerned,” said Cecily stolidly.
We came to a place of many deep wells, and the men went down forthwith and began watering the animals. A few busied themselves cutting the thorn for the zareba, whilst two more erected our tents. The camels commenced to graze as each one was satisfied by a drink.
We rested under a thorn tree until, in awful moment, we realized it was already in the possession of a most horrible-looking creature, a hateful monster who eyed us from his branch above us. We vacated our seats instanter, but returned carefully to investigate. ’Twas a hideous monstrosity indeed, alligator-like, with yellow claws. In length about a foot, with tail of twice as much, yellow-gray, with whitish markings, and appeared to have no interest in us or animosity towards us. We knew it was of the lizard fraternity, and afterwards natural history revealed it to us as a Monitor. He disturbed my slumbers all that night. I could not get the hideous thing out of my dreams, and my fancy peopled the tent with creatures of his kind, and every place on which I would set my foot was covered with monitors. Next morning our friend was still on his perch, and we saw a smaller brother on another tree. Common chameleons frequented this part also. They lay thickly on the branches of the guda trees, brown-green, and almost unnoticeable.
That evening, as the light was fading, I shot a marabou stork, not often to be met with in these parts. It was indeed a prize, and we spent hours of semidarkness, in a dim religious light, skinning our treasure. It sounds so easy—it seems nothing—but try your hand on a common or garden hen, and see if the business is as simple as you think? We poked and pushed, and, I’m afraid, tore a little, but in the end were successful, and stretched the result to dry. The splendid color of the pouch of this marabou, which was so much admired by us, faded after skinning, and was gone. The feathers, so reminiscent of civilization, and beloved of suburban fan proprietors, were very fine and fluffy. We measured the beak of our trophy, and it came out at a shade over eleven inches, and the extended wings topped eight and a half feet.
We were now on the march through a waterless tract again, but game was once more plentiful, and the men dined royally every day. We not so magnificently, as a whole boxful of our provisions had mysteriously disappeared; the camel man in charge said lost, but looted or sold really. I kicked up a frightful fuss, but of course that did not bring back the missing necessaries. The loss of the box meant much carefulness to us, as it would certainly be five weeks or more before we touched Berbera, a consummation not wished for at all, and even the idea was a vast regret to us. To think that in a short space of time, we should be in touch with the world again, that the wild would call, and we, all an ache of desperate longing, could not reply! There would be nothing to compensate us for the loss of the joys of the jungle, no music like unto the lion’s roar. We should listen in vain for the whining bark of the koodoo, and the weird calls of the wrangling hyænas prowling around our zareba o’ nights would echo only in memory. To us these things were the heart of happiness, and to dream of leaving them was pain.
Ah me! Well, “fill the cup.”
Cecily bagged an oryx near Well-Wall, a fine female, ever the best fitted out in the horn line among this species. It is strange this should be so, when the bulls are so pugnacious. The horns of this trophy were in perfect condition and measured thirty-two inches. The bird life around us charmed us exceedingly. I think our admiration for the small birds puzzled Clarence very much. He made nothing of them. All the hunters were singularly ignorant on the subject, and could tell us nothing, not even the names of quite well-known finches. All the exquisite little things were tame as tame could be, willingly picking up crumbs as we scattered them in the very tent. The most wondrously coated starlings wandered about in their inquisitive habit, and made many moments of amusement for us with their quarrels and peacocking ways.
At Well-Wall we got some water, and camped for the night. There were many stray nomadic Somalis, hunters mostly, at the water, some Midgans, almost in “the altogether.” They were a scraggy, miserable-looking lot, with whom our men got to loggerheads in “the wee sma’ hours,” and, quarreling most of the night, made the place hideous with their din, all carried on, as it was, on a top note. I went out once to try and silence them all, and Cecily had a go at it also, but nothing would stop the incessant jangle of their voices. We simply lay down, said things, and wished for day.
When the dawn broke in gray shadows we insisted on striking camp at once, breakfasting after a short trek. The outcaste Somalis followed us for a long way, begging for tobes. It seemed cruel to refuse them, but we hadn’t enough to go round even if we handed over our remaining stock, and really to give one tobe, or even two or three, to such a needy band would be about as much use as to present one brace of grouse to a hospital. At last, we outdistanced our following and were able to negotiate breakfast. How I loved the breakfasts “out there” in the open, a permanent, everlasting picnic. Many insects came to breakfast too, but then, what would you? Were they not all part and parcel of this world of happiness?
We went on, and everywhere was beautiful now in green splendor; the jungle had dressed itself anew in robes of emerald. How exquisite the colors, how drowsy all the air! Great golden cobwebs hung from thorn to thorn, the early sun scintillating on the myriad dewdrops clinging to the fragile web. Ants here lived in larger palaces than ever.
The only available track lay through jungle as dense as could be negotiated by any caravan. Progress was very slow, and sometimes very annoying. Camels refused to move through gaps, necessitating unloading and reloading, all the time bothered by the grabbing wait-a-bit thorn. My pony put his foot into a hole of sorts unexpectedly, and I came a terrific purler bang into a bunch of thorn. I daresay it was a blessing in disguise and saved me a bad shaking, but I was grievously pricked and scratched. Besides, it really is a very humiliating feeling to be retrieved from a thorn bush by a mere camel man. I felt disgraced forever as an equestrienne. It was a “come off” so disgracefully simple.
At intervals, when the bush lightened a little, we came on spoor of lion and rhino. The latter again whetted Cecily’s desire to come on another of these creatures and give battle. I agreed we would track the spoor if she really wished it, but after a hard five miles of really impossible going at right angles from our main camp, we quitted the chase for that day arranging to get up with the sun and make a real day of it after Rhino. I admit I did all I knew to stifle these sporting longings. It seemed cowardly of me to say “Go alone, if go you must.” But I longed to say it. I could never forget the apparition of that rhino going for the Baron, and—I’ll whisper it if you’ll come nearer—where a rhinoceros is concerned I am a contemptible coward.
Chapter XVI will follow
- The UNIQUE Case For The International Recognition Of Somaliland
- The World Can Learn From How Somaliland Overcame Militias
- Somaliland: The Little Country That Could By David Shinn
- Somaliland Is A Beacon Of Democracy In An Unstable Region
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- KOIGI: Acknowledge Somaliland To Cure Festering Wound On Africa