A Joust With A Bull Oryx: This is chapter 18 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 Somaliland 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
A Joust With A Bull Oryx
On a sudden one hath wounded me,
That’s by me wounded
Romeo and Juliet
Truly, pleasure will be paid, one time or another
The following day we made our way to some adjacent wells, and spent the whole of the hours in filling up everything we could lay hands on with water. All old bottles were utilized, and I arranged that the precious fluid should be allowanced, and any man found helping himself would find the promised bonus at the end of the trip a myth. The camels and ponies were watered, and we had baths! Then, in the dawn of a day of intense heat, with the early sun a-shimmer on all the glory of green that surrounded us again, the air yet heavy with dew, and drowsy with the hum of myriad insects, we marched, heading for the Haud. We might not again have any opportunity of securing any water before we negotiated the great tract, which we were to cross in a different part to our previous journey over.
The jungle was very dense, and the caravan simply crawled. I rode ahead, and about eight o’clock walked into, almost over, a lioness sound asleep with two cubs. She was off almost before I realized the marvel of the thing. Clarence dashed up, his quick eye had taken in the scene. He handed me my rifle. I frowned at him. Surely he had learned by this time that even a woman can be sporting. For it was not only discretion that made me play the better part, nor the thought of the panic a fracas with a lioness would cause in the caravan. I would have loved to take a cub home. But—there was a big but. Nobody short of a sportsman who “browns” a herd of buck indiscriminately—oh yes, there are such men here and there!—would destroy such a family. They departed in peace, and not in pieces. I spoored a little way, and in clear sandy ground came on the tiny pugs, now quiescent, now running and claw marks showing.
Next we came on rhino spoor, but in spite of what I had said Cecily halted the caravan, whilst she, in the very hottest part of the day, did a stalk. It all came to nothing, thanks be. I fell asleep on a herio, and awakened to find my tent over me. The men had erected it to screen me from the sun. They were servants in a thousand.
From this thick jungle we emerged onto a great open plain, or “bun,” and Clarence told me it was called the Dumberelli. He often told us the names of places we came to, and sometimes I wondered why they should be christened at all. The “bun” was a waving sea of bright green grass, and full of game. Aoul in regiments sought the new grass, an oryx or two, and “Sig” (Swayne’s gazelle), looking like well-kept sea-side donkeys, stood about in ones and twos. But always out of range. Time was of such value here we could not make a really big attempt to secure a specimen of picked hartebeest. But I managed after a wearying effort, in which I was frustrated time and time again by alert bands of aoul, who constantly gave the alarm, to bag a smallish sig, a female, and they carry much lighter heads than the male. I could not afford to pick and choose. It was my first hartebeest, and I feared the possibility of going home minus a specimen of the genus. However, Cecily, who did a rival shoot on her own, secured a male, whose horns topped seventeen inches, a great improvement on the beggarly twelve of my trophy. We took the tape measurement on the front curves.
The sunsets were superb and heralded the most intense cold. It became necessary to trek every hour we could, as everyone dreaded a water famine. We seemed in these days not to sleep at all, but march and march interminably.
One early morning we found the quaintest of lizards lying in the sun. It had an outspread tail that seemed to overbalance the horrid little thing. Clarence prodded it gently with a small stick, and it cried every time he did it, just like a baby. He told us it is called “asherbody,” which translated means baby, and I noticed, not for the first time, that the Somali mind has a nice sense in the christening of things.
We trekked right into a large Somali zareba, the largest camp we had yet seen, and after a visit from the head-man, were let in for a “tomasho,” or native dance, a different thing altogether to the dibaltig, and much more boring. We arrived at the karia at the time appointed, dressed in our best clothes, which did not say much, as the best was very bad. I would we had been fortified by the possession of spotless garments to steel ourselves against the inquisitive looks of the Somali ladies. It is so hard for a woman to appear at ease in rags. He was a philosopher indeed who said, somewhere or other, “It is our clothes-thatch that, reaching to our heart of hearts, tailorises and demoralizes us.”
We were received by the usual curious crowd, who fingered our coats and tried to look into our pockets. Clarence explained we were to sit on the herios prepared, and the show would begin. Men and women took part in the dance, advancing from either side and then retreating. I have attended many an Indian “potlatch” of extravagant description, but they were dignified in the extreme to the Somali equivalent. I won’t describe the dance in detail, because this is supposed to be a pleasant book; besides, Mr. Stead may read it. To put the case mildly, the affair was savage to a degree of ignorance I had not dreamed of in its unvarnished vulgarity.
It was the first indication we had that the Somalis are uncivilized savages. I tried to doze. And being very weary, slept. A violent push from Cecily aroused me to a sense of politeness again, and realizing that peace reigned around we stood up, and through Clarence, thanked the gratified “artistes,” and left them wrangling over the gifts which lay on the ground, looking as though they were trying to apologize for the fact that there were not enough of them to go round. We had to trench on the water supply a little after this entertainment, for a wash was an absolute necessity.
Next day a somewhat untoward incident occurred. Cecily and I had detached from a herd of three a fine bull oryx, who by reason of some infirmity was not so fleet as his fellows, and so made an easier quarry. Such a glorious chase he gave us, and more than once we almost took a toss as the ponies groped for a foothold in the maze of ant-bear holes.
At last, to cut what promised to be a never-ending chase, I flung myself off the pony at the nearest point I judged we should ever get to the coveted oryx this way, and taking no sort of a sight, I was so out of breath with the shaking of my steed, brought down the antelope in a crumpled heap at a distance of some two hundred and ten yards. This was not so bad, all things considered. We went up close to the fallen creature. I had my hand through the reins of my prodigiously blowing pony, and most injudiciously ranged alongside. Cecily was still mounted. The splendid bull rose from the dead, erect and firm, and I was given no sort of a chance to protect myself before he made for me with lowered horns. It all happened in the twinkling of an eye. I jumped as clear as I could, but the reins entangled me, and the vicious horns caught my left arm as my foe swept along. I was brought to my knees with the impact. As he pulled up in a great slide to turn for a return joust Cecily dropped him, at such close quarters though that the skin was much damaged. My arm was ripped up most ingeniously for quite three inches, Another rent in my poor coat to be mended! However, it might all have been much worse. It might have been my right arm. The wind was tempered to the shorn lamb.
I rode back to camp, with a handkerchief twisted tightly around the wound, and Cecily stayed to guard the oryx from vultures until I could send someone to take over, when she returned to me fired with medical ardor and primed with medical knowledge from our book. She pronounced the wound as of the variety to be stitched. Could I bear it being stitched? I said certainly if she could endure the horror of stitching it. So we prepared for action. I told my doctor I would not have the place washed because I was convinced that Somali water, even when filtered, was not calculated to cleanse, rather the reverse, and I did dread blood-poisoning. I sat outside the tent on a packing case, and Cecily put three most workmanlike stitches into my arm. She was a brick, never flinching until it was done when she let off bottled-up steam by crying about four tears, and I think four tears are allowable—I mean without showing any sort of cowardice or lack of courage—don’t you? Rome was not built in a day, and Cecily had never even been hospital-nursing; but then she is the most unfashionable person in the wide world.
I carried my arm in a sling as we marched the next day. Cecily was very anxious to halt the caravan on my account, but this I would not allow. The wells must be reached at the earliest possible moment. Clarence had reported that the supply was dangerously low. We traversed very ugly country, sand and sand, with a few low scrub bushes dotted about—a dispiriting vista enough. We shot a dik-dik for dinner, and so fared sumptuously. There is about as much meat on the body of this tiny buck as one gets on an English hare.
At last, we came to the wells. We found a number of Somalis making a spa out of the place, and selling the water, drop by drop. I don’t know if the wells were someone’s birthright, or if some speculative Somali jumped the claim, but a repellent old gentleman, who looked as though he had not tried the precious liquid on himself for some years, gave us to understand he owned the place. He asked such wealth for a mere dole of water we decided to camp and think it out. He knew the value of what he had to sell, the old sinner, for though we were but a few marches now from the end of the Haud our caravan was a good size, and its consumption necessarily great. We had the tents set up right there and prepared to improve the shining hour by seeking some sport on the Toyo Plain.
I discarded my sling altogether, and we started from camp early, reaching the great “bun” after a stiffish ride. We left the ponies in charge of the hunters some way from the fringe of grass and in a certain amount of cover. We stood for quite a long while watching the sea of waving green which was not yet tall enough to conceal the numerous bands of game that were out betimes to breakfast. A somnolent hartebeest stood up out of range behind a clump of active aoul. Then we worked our way very gently to a spot which gave us a clearer view. We lay down awhile, glad of the rest, and watched the little harems quarrel and make it up. Sometimes a buck of detective-like propensities would seem to say “I spy strangers,” and communicated his alarm to the entire herd. A perfect note of interrogation animated every one for a few moments, and all would gather together until a buck skipped towards us, and then in active graceful bounds dash back to bring a pal to help the investigation. Satisfied, they rejoined the admiring does again.
But that hartebeest! I longed to get near him, but it seemed a hopeless task. His sleepiness had passed, and now he was all ears and eyes. The sun lit up his glossy coat, and caught the odd twist of his horns until they gleamed again. We stalked in vain for an hour or more. My arm was a great drawback to me, but I would not allow it to hamper me, and played the Christian Science dodge on myself, saying, whenever a particularly acute shoot of agony stabbed me, “You only think you have pain.” At last, we hit on a device for ensnaring the active one. He was taking no chances, and that the best-laid plans gang aft agley we know. Still, my schemes and machinations were rather disorganized for the moment, because I suddenly realized I was sharing my small portion of the earth’s surface with a particularly nasty-looking snake! It was quite large enough to rout us both, and we should have fled, I know, had not the reptile manifested a dislike of its own to our presence, and made off into the long grass.
It took us a few minutes to recover from this shock and get back to our designs for ensnaring the hartebeest. The general idea was that Cecily was to work her way round opposite to me so that the sig lay between us. The coveted prize would then, at least we hoped so, break near to one of us. Of course it might just as easily dash off in quite another direction, altogether out of range. But it was the only thing we could think of to dislodge our quarry from the out-of-reach area in which it fed. I could not do any stalking myself that necessitated going on hands and knees, so Cecily set off, wriggling along like an eel. Though I soon lost sight of her, I could in a way judge of her whereabouts. Aoul started here and there as they winded her, moved away, and then contented themselves again. They are like sentinels, these creatures, and must play a most useful part in the drama of the jungle. Not knowing, though, the actual moment Cecily would start the hartebeest, I began to feel quite nervous for fear I missed an easy shot. The tension got quite irritating when up from the sea of grass rose Cecily, like an Aphrodite in khaki. Her loud shout startled the sig, who stood an instant in paralyzed affright, then, on the wings of the wind he sailed past me. I threw up my rifle, the pain in my supporting arm forgotten, and fired. The animal went on at a great pace. I do not think I got him anywhere, but Cecily, who ran through the grass to join me, says she heard even from where she was the “phut” of the bullet, and why didn’t I? This worried me a lot. I hate to think of half-shot creatures dragging on in agony. We found our ponies and galloped off in the line of country traversed by the vanished sig. We rode for a long way, searched thoroughly, but found nothing. We saw ostrich, but at long range, and we hadn’t the desire to try and bag one. After a lunch of cold oryx and bread of sorts (the oryx, by the way, who gave me reason to remember him), we decided to give up the chase, satisfied my bullet had not found a billet. The whole way home was blank. My shot had alarmed all the jungle folk, and they were now as shy as hawks.
Back in camp, the parleying with the stingy proprietor of the wells began. He would not reduce his charges, and we had to have water. I so hated to be done. After due deliberation, we served the old gentleman with an ultimatum to the effect that we offered him a fair price, and if he would not accept the amount, we should take the water by force if necessary. Clarence translated the message, and afterwards we saw the recipient talking to his friends, some fifteen Somalis, and gesticulating wildly. The time arrived when the kettle demanded filling ere tea was forthcoming, so with almost all our men carrying harns and barrels, we marched right up to the walls. The old man, backed up by his Somalis, came close to Cecily and myself and jabbered a great deal in furious tones. I expect the words were cuss words all right. They sounded like them. I signed to the men to set to work filling up. The enraged Somali struck at me with his spear. It would have fallen heavily upon me had not Clarence seen the danger and parried it on his rifle. This annoyed me frightfully. I tendered the amount we considered the water worth and tapped my rifle significantly. The Somalis fell back, and congregated at a little distance, one of their number presently advancing to ask for backsheesh. The battle was over.
That night my arm was in a parlous state, swollen and inflamed, and the pain well-nigh overwhelmed me. I was in a high fever, and to proceed with the journey was impossible. Cecily’s kindness during the awful days that followed was wonderful, and her patience inexhaustible. In truth, I cannot tell how much trouble I must have caused her, for things were not always clear to me, and time seemed nothing. One night I wakened from this world o’ dreams, and the tent flap being open I saw the scene around me like a clear-limned etching. A glorious moon lit up the camp. Cecily stood just outside, and by her side—who was it? I racked my muddled brains. Why, of course, the leader of the Opposition. I sank back again, convinced I was dreaming. By my side, on an upturned packing case, lay a bunch of flowers. In the dim light, they looked like English roses. They were dream flowers, I suspect, but they seemed to me most sweet. I pondered about them for an age. Was it the marvelous Marconi? Or did Mercury bring them? I cared not, so they came.
The next morning I wakened to sense again, and Cecily was beside me and told me—her dear eyes filled with tears—how nearly I had been lost to her, and how, at the very worst of things, all unexpectedly, the leader of the Opposition and Ralph had ridden into camp; that without their help and common sense she could never have pulled me through.
The wells were now practically in our possession, the old gentleman having waived his claims, but we were, of course, still out on the Haud. Camels had been sent off to Berbera to meet us a little farther on, to return with stores, mainly for the men. The Opposition had provided us with many necessaries, and I was so glad because I did not want to leave the wild any the sooner because of all this wasted time.
Next afternoon I held quite a Durbar. I sat outside the tent, and most of the men came to make their salaams. Clarence—the good fellow—even got so far as to say, shyly, “Me glad you olri.” They all seemed glad to have me all right, and it was nice of them.
The leader of the Opposition and Ralph came to tea, and we made very merry. The latter pretended to be not on speaking terms with Cecily, because at their last interview, she had called him “horrid pig,” but I explained that it must be a wild pig, and then it would be a compliment; he is so much nobler than a tame one, is fleet of foot, and courageous of heart, and sometimes resembles a lion. Where comes the sting of being called after such an animal? It was delightful to feel we had friends so near, at least just now, when self-reliance was at such a low ebb with me. Old William puts “Honor, love, obedience, troops of friends” as making up the joys of life. I did not want troops, but after the jungle world, two did make my joy just then. I have to say the jungle first, because it still stood first, and I longed to be out again, not in it, and yet not of it. “He who has heard the voice of Nature in her wildest places, who has felt the mystery of her loveliness, the glamour of her nameless airs and graces, is one who has eaten of the bread of Faëry, and drunken of the wine of dreams.”
And the next day they propounded a scheme to me—these three arch-plotters—we would all join forces, and wind up the shoots together. But I had so many objections, one being the remembrance of the remark at Aden about our wishing to cling on. The leader, with deep sophistry, said that was more than atoned for, and wiped out by the humiliating fact—to them—that our trip was much the most successful, not only in the actual results, but in the peace and quiet of the caravan. In theirs, chaos had reigned from the very outset. The head-man had levanted early on, taking with him the two best camels and no end of loot, far worse calamity than a butler! Not a thing had been done willingly, only under compulsion, and grumbling was the order of every day.
I wondered if the extra large sum of money promised to each man of our caravan at the end of the trip provided his conduct pleased us—quite my own idea—had kept things straight. Was it bribery and corruption? If so, in our case, at least, the end justified the means.
As for our trophies, we of the rival expedition had much the best of it. The Opposition had but one rhino, and altogether we had reason to feel quite conceited. I hope we didn’t. For if there is one thing I hate it is this same conceit. And sometimes I fear I have it slightly. For I judge by the fact that I am apt to feel contempt at times and lose sight of the motto “Make allowances.” Now, conceit and contempt are hand in glove, and if one has the one it entails having the other. But I hate contempt in others, and admire humility as much as any virtue, it is perhaps the rarest of them all. So I tried to be very humble, and thanked the warriors for their gracious words.
Another great reason against the amalgamation was the trouble that would arise with the men. With us Clarence was all-powerful. Perhaps the new arrivals would not pay allegiance to him, and so large a number together would surely fight. All things considered, we agreed not to join, but to meet at Berbera and go home together. We were bound there by way of the midst of the Golis, and the Opposition did not propose to take them so far up. They thought the game hardly worth the candle, in more senses than one. True, the reserved area spreads a long way, but we wanted to see the country anyhow.
In these days of convalescence, we learned we had such worth having friends. If Cecily regretted calling Ralph a “pig,” my conscience pricked me that I once scornfully caviled at the “leader’s” lack of inches. Not that he was by any means a midget. How foolish I was! Why, the greatest men have been little. Nelson and Napoleon, Lee and Frederick the Great, Gustavus Adolphus and Marlborough, too, were on the small side.
How very foolish I was!
Of a night Ralph would play his violin around the twinkling fires. It looked so unlikely an instrument in his hands, and yet he made it speak to us like a living thing. He was the finest amateur I ever heard. Even the Somalis loved to hear him play and sat in charmed groups listening intently. It shows they have receptive souls for beauty. I agree with an old friend of mine that the man who has no music in his soul is fit for “treasons, stratagems, and spoils.” If I haven’t mangled the Immortal One’s words.
Chapter XIX 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 Declaration On The Origin Of African Borders
- Masuuliyiinta Xidh-Xidhan Iyo Dareemada Dhagarta Xambaarsan Ee Laga Soo Werinayo Dhinaca Madaxtooyada
- Somaliland Is A Beacon Of Democracy In An Unstable Region