The Last Phase: This is chapter 20 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
The Last Phase
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch’d
With rainy marching in the painful field,
And time has worn us into slovenry,
But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim
King Henry V
At night came that weird lowing sound a leopard often makes when hunting. Our friend of the afternoon, of course. He wakened us up, and we turned out to see that the watch happened to be on the alert. It would be a parlous thing if we lost any of the precious trophies now when the expedition was almost over—not that taxidermine-covered skins and heads would be the sort of feast that would appeal to a saucy leopard. Then silence again.
The next day one of our hunters heard of a neighboring karia losing a sheep the previous night. It was struck down but not removed. I had heard of such a thing before, and believe it to be an undoubted fact that a leopard kills on occasion for mere lust.
Cecily and I went to the karia, which was perched on a plateau surrounded with slopes covered with aloes. Quite a natural fortress, and one that might be most easily guarded from the incursions of wild beasts. But the Somalis seem to me to introduce the kismet idea into every phase of their everyday life. Any easily avoided disaster is accepted in this fashion.
The head-man gave us all the particulars. A leopard had indeed entered the karia, killed a sheep, and then left the carcass. We begged for the remains, and for a consideration got them. Clarence bestowed them at the foot of the rise in open ground by a brake of aloes and thick cover. The men set about constructing a “machan” in the jungly place and kept guard till sunset when Cecily and I took the job on. We climbed into our refuge; it was intensely rickety and rocked every time we made the least movement. I was no more enamored of this sort of sport than before, and suppose we were doing it because we felt the trip being so nearly over it was foolish now to miss any chance whatever. For once in a way we were both rather uninterested, a fatal frame of mind in this sort of an affair. We were bitterly cold, and I could hardly hold my rifle at all. Hours seemed to drag along, minutes really. I had to strike a light, whatever the consequence, to ascertain the time. It was 12 a.m. Oh, for bed and this sort of sport at an end! Another weary silence. I slept, I believe, with one eye open. Then an ominous rustle, and a lightning whirr and rush, succeeded by a blank silence again. Whatever had happened now? We listened and gazed attentively, but no more sounds reached our straining ears. Over all the jungle brooded a stillness that could almost be felt. Then Cecily, whose sight is better than mine, said it was plain to be seen even in the blackness that surrounded us that the carcass of the sheep was no longer there. After that, what a weary night. We did not care to risk getting out, and there was no good to be done in staying in. The dawn broke at last, falsely at first, and dark gray shadows fell again to flee away before the all-conquering sun, who rose in splendor, gilding the lofty ranges with tips of gold and red.
We pushed our way out, not waiting for the men to come and let us free, and the whole show, unable to hold up any longer, fell over with us. It was very badly put together and would have been a pantomime protection in case of stress. We were disheveled looking before and worn out for want of sleep, but we were objects by the time we had fought our way from out the collapsed “machan.” We followed the pugs of the leopard till they disappeared in impenetrable bush. He had taken his victim to a safe stronghold. But we weren’t to be worsted so easily. When Clarence appeared we asked him the best plan for dislodging the cat, who must be gorged now, and a little overdone. Our shikari said he would order some of the men out and try to beat the place. I asked him to take the .35 Winchester himself and use it if he could. Then began a lively morning. The men beat the place with their spears in sort of flying rushes, dashing forward, then dashing back, and at last, as we really made the radius of the place smaller, we heard a continuous snarling, like that a domestic cat makes when it has a mouse in its paws, only this was much more vicious and sounding louder.
I stood close to the jungle, and Clarence begged me to stand a little farther off. This I did not care to do. The men were not armed, bar their spears, and it seemed unfair to expose them so without giving them the protection of one’s rifle. Cecily was doing the same thing on her side of the brake, where the men were spearing bravely and shouting lustily. We fired into the undergrowth, but it was of no avail; still the ominous snarling kept up, still, the animal would not break cover. I made up my mind I would try and see if I could not get a shot into him somehow, so I took on the silly job of crawling very slowly down the rough trail made through the dense bush by the dragging of the sheep. I came on its remains almost at once. The leopard, where was he? Then I saw it in one brief second. What a face of rage and fury! I dare not fire. I backed hurriedly, getting clear of the place, and then fired twice into the very place where I judged the leopard layup. A rush. Out he came, rather from the side, looking like a fiend let loose. I was glad we were not bang in his path. I could not get a shot in at all, for one of the hunters, in the warmth of his earnest efforts, put himself in my light. There was Cecily, she blazed away; there was Clarence, whose rifle spoke, but I heard his bullet strike a rock behind. The leopard, with lithe swinging bounds, was up the clefts of the ravine in a moment. I threw up my rifle and had a try for him. No result. He was lost to sight. Four of the men went to the top of the ravine and descended carefully, reporting the leopard to be in a sort of cave between two boulders. We must get there too, of course, which would be a prodigious bit of climbing. Cicely said she was confident her bullet told; I know mine didn’t. We reached the spot where the animal was ensconced, and there, sure enough, we could see, if we stooped, his crouched shoulders, head dropped on paws, eyes gleaming defiance. He was a foe to be afraid of, and I was afraid for consequences. The men were in such dangerous positions, and all of us had such insecure foothold. In case of a charge from the leopard, one or more would certainly go over the rocks to the bottom of the gorge, a very nasty fall indeed. I made up my mind I would finish it. I walked as carefully as I could towards my enemy, rifle ready, expecting the very worst every minute. I drew a bead on its head. Fired! A moment of such intense anxiety. No movement. We advanced cautiously. The great cat was dead. A passive ending indeed.
By all the laws of first blood he belonged to Cecily. She had got him very much indeed, in the base of the spine. He was done for when I shot him, and it is questionable if he had the power to move at all. Indeed, his ascent of the place, wounded where he was, seemed to us a wonderful feat. The men extricated the beautiful thing; he was somewhat aged, with old teeth, and skin much scarred and seamed with fighting. The head-man from the karia was very much delighted, for he insisted the leopard was one for whom they had long looked to make an end of. He had struck down a Somali, who was only saved by the spears of his friends. The yellow danger lurked in rocks, and would, from all accounts, probably have developed into a man-eater. We were glad to have finished his career.
All the flies in all the world seemed to join in at the skinning, and we went back to camp, breakfast, and a bath of sorts.
We rested that day, seeing to all the trophies, the new acquisition included, instructing the men where to rub the skins and where not. Taking them all around, every specimen was in good condition.
We progressed during the evening hours as long as the light held. The climbing was now quite a big thing, and for one step forward we seemed to go two back. A sounder of wart-hog crossed our front, and Cecily bagged a small sow, quite by mistake, but it was the animal’s own fault for growing tushes. This freak occurs often, and I don’t think one can be blamed if accidents happen through this mistaken habit. Accidents always do happen when femininity adopts the attributes which are the prerogative of the masculine gender. Anyway, the pig was a great luxury in the way of a change on the daily menu. Of course, we had to dress it ourselves—a bit of a setback. We fried some chops for supper that night, and smiled to ourselves as we thought we could almost rival Chicago for quick despatch.
The next big undertaking was the negotiating of the Upper Sheik, a big affair indeed, and we set off with not a few qualms as to our success. The foremost camel looked as though if he fell he must carry all the others with him in swift rush downwards. We took care to lead the van.
“The morning was one of God’s own, done by hand, just to show what He could do.” We climbed up and up, painstakingly and ploddingly, and presently saw the rugged way over which we had come far below us. We had then been marching close on two hours and must have done less than four miles. A little lonely karia was perched on a terraced outlook away to the west, its inhabitants strolling out lazily to watch our progress. Half a mile or so off was the Sheik Argudub’s tomb, a white dome-shaped structure, glinting in the sun, and looking for all the world like a replica of some massive wedding-cake. The whole scene was now grandly picturesque in the extreme, and gaining the top of the pass a wondrous panorama lay spread at our feet. Wealth of color sprang voluptuous around us: here a mass of green merging to purple, there pale tints of cream and brown, aesthetic and delicate. Everywhere great ravines yawned, black and mysterious. Farther off, the vast Marmitime Plain, and miles on miles away, thirty or more, a tiny dark blue riband, fringing the whole, told us that the sea was there. Valleys, ravines, mountains, rivers too, helped out the beauteous scene, and above all, rising superior, was Mount Wager, mightiest of all the Golis.
We camped in this delightful place, overlooking a vista I can never forget. Preying vultures kept watch over infinite space, in widening circles. A hot wind blew through the camp. Here at last, for the moment, we could see about us without that smoke-like dust to curtain all things. The light of the setting sun limned clear the mighty peaks and brooding night swept gently down the slopes and wrapped the world in sombre garb. The wild eerie grandeur of it impressed me greatly, and I simply could not leave our terraced plateau, but beneath the arch of the stars sat on and marveled. Then, as though by some special arrangement of Providence for our good entertainment, a mighty storm brewed itself sullenly away over the Marmitime, then crept insidiously to the Golis, and broke in majesty. The bombardment lasted for an hour or more, reverberating through every pass and every ravine; the heavens were alight with wondrous flashes that rent the air in forked spears, striking down to the depths of the darkest crevass.
We were as safe outside the tent as in, I think, but nowhere very safe, the lightning grew so close. Some of the men got under herios, some even under the standing camels, a nice Juggernaut to run the risk of bringing down on one’s devoted head. Then, gradually the wildness passed, and spent itself in deep-tongued mutterings and distant murmurs. Then came the rain, Somali rain, and we had to shelter. Cecily’s treasure had made us our inevitable nightcap—tea—before the streams of water drenched his fire. Thanks be!
I pictured in my mind the days when herds of elephants roamed the Golis valleys and the lion woke the still ravines with resonant sound. Alas! this place will know them no more.
The Sheik Pass is, of course, christened after the old gentleman who is buried in the wedding-cake arrangement, and not very far from our camp was an immense cemetery where many thousands of people are buried. Clarence took us also to the ruins of a one-time city, now covered with grass and aloe growth. How ancient the place is I cannot say with accuracy, but it looked very ancient indeed. Not far away at the Upper Sheik is a large Somali village, a Mullah settlement, and the Sheik there, a very enlightened person indeed, told us that the remains of the city are not really very antediluvian, and is the site of the homes of the early settlers from Yemen. As we neither of us knew anything about such influx we kept silent, to conceal our ignorance. Quite a lot of the tracery on the stones which satisfied un-archæological people like ourselves is nothing but decorative work carved by the shepherds trying to kill time!
Being comparatively near Berbera and “civilization,” the pass being a kind of high road to Brighton, this Mullah saw a good deal of Europeans and spoke a little English. We presented him with a Koran, a tusba, and a couple of tobes—the last of the Mohicans—and so our reception was exceedingly cordial. The Mullah was an elderly man, but it is exceedingly hard to guess ages “out there,” and his face was deeply lined, his eyes were very jaded. When the conversation, engineered by Clarence as usual, began to flag I cast about in my mind for a suitable remark, which I placed carefully. He would just wait for me to make another and seemed to have no inventive faculty of his own. At last, I said I hoped all his wives were well. The Mullah tersely said he had none and relapsed into silence again. This was a setback that took some getting over, but I gathered myself together sufficiently to say I trusted the forlorn condition of things was temporary only, and that when he had some wives they would keep well. Cecily pulled my sleeve and whispered I was getting on very badly. “You try then,” I said huffily.
She asked him how many cattle he owned. Oh, hundreds. Would we like some milk?
“I hope he didn’t think I was hinting!” murmured Cecily abashed. But we did look forward to a good drink of cow’s milk. When it came we could not manage it, for the milk tasted so horribly. I think the milking vessels must have been dirty.
In this settlement, they made large quantities of ghee for sending down to Berbera, and the whole atmosphere seemed more business-like and agricultural than most Somali karias. Quite a crop of jowâri cultivation brightened the plateau ground around, and farming seemed to be thoroughly understood. Many herds of sheep, watched over by women and children, whitened the hills. A goat of acumen and intelligence-led each band, and they were not driven from the rear, with the consequent going in the wrong direction every time that attends the moving of a flock of sheep with us. The shepherdess walked in front, the tame goat followed, and the sheep came wandering after. They were exceedingly fat sheep, and our men reveled in the grease that ensued after the cooking of two presented to us by our friend the Mullah.
The hot karif wind here blew hurricanes for a couple of days, and tents would not stand against it. We tried to keep them up, but the anxiety of the prospect of one’s house about one’s ears kept us awake, and the next night we had a sort of circle made of all our boxes and luggage generally and slept inside the ring with the gale blowing great guns over our heads. The karif is part of the Haga season, July and August, and we had met it, only less furiously inclined, on and off lately. It springs up at night, and you may go to bed with not a breath stirring to wake to feel the tents straining at its moorings. The sand blows before the wind in clouds, and the best way to combat it is to precipitate oneself face downwards until the swirl of grit has passed for the time. At the height of the Golis the karif is not usually prevalent, keeping its attentions for the plains. And we were delighted that each morning as the day advanced the wind of the night spent itself into a pleasant refreshing breeze.
Just where we pitched our camp was a reserved area for game, so we descended next morning, minus the hunters, to lower country, down the remains of elephant trails. They are not so amazing to me as the tracks of the bison—extinct, or practically extinct anyway—one comes on in some parts of Montana. I remember one in particular that I thought was the ancient bed of some great river, so wide and deep was it. And yet thousands of bison passing over it to drink daily at a lake in the vicinity had made the wondrous track. But I’m digressing, and that badly.
A couple of agile wild asses raced along a little pathway cleft in the side of the ravine above us, the dislodged stones raining about our ears. Graceful alert creatures, but of course barred to us, and not only by reason of the red tape that ties them up. I cannot think a wild ass is an allowable trophy. I should forever apologize if I had one. So—we saw them vanish in a cloud of dust. We saw a klipspringer as we turned a little curving piece of rock. I fired, and missed. Most unfortunately, as the shot was called through every ravine by every echo.
As we were silently standing gazing across a lovely valley a couple of wart-hog sows with immense families ran among the aloes. Cecily dashed after them, and into them, separating the little band. Laughing heartily, she pursued one agile mite, and almost cornered it. The sow turned viciously and charged head-down. I shouted to the venturesome Cecily, but she saw the danger as soon as I, and made for an aloe stronghold. The baby pig with little grunts and squeals ran to its mother, who gave up the idea of punishing us for our temerity in waylaying her, and trotted back to her litter, all scuttling away in the tangle of jungly places. We laughed at the comical sight they presented and then began to lunch off a bit of their relation.
The air made us drowsy, and I think we slept awhile. The bark of a koodoo wakened us, and we started up all alert. Two small does crossed the ravine lower down but were gone in the fraction of a second. It was a stiff climb back, and as I made a detour around a jutting peak of rock I caught a glimpse of a distant klipspringer. Down I went, and oh, how I prayed Cecily would keep quiet, and not set a dozen stones a-rolling, for she had not sighted the prize. I threw up my rifle and took careful aim. The Klipspringer was off. It perched again on a spiky summit. Bang! sounded to the astonishment of Cecily. The little buck took a header clean off its halting place, and turning somersaults fell a hundred feet or so. We slid and ran and fell after it. I made certain its horns would be broken and useless, but, thank goodness, we found them intact. I had hit the klipspringer fair and square in the heart, and its rough olive-colored coat was hardly marked. The little straight horns of this trophy measured three and three-quarter inches. The females are hornless.
Then came the difficulty of packing our prize back to camp—our camp in the skies. First, we sought a stout branch and then tied the hollow rounded hoofs of the little klipspringer to it. We always went about with our pockets stuffed with cord and useful things, the sort of things a woman in peace times would not find useful at all. Then we lifted together. What a mighty weight for so small a thing! The rests we had, the slips downhill, the tempers we got into, are they not all graphically described in my diaries of the day in the following terse but meaning words: “I shot a klipspringer at the bottom of a ravine. Cecily and I carried it back to our camp in the Upper Sheik ourselves.” Simple words, but fragrant with meaning.
Near camp the waiting Clarence met us, and we gladly turned over the klipspringer to him. It was indeed a charming trophy, and we were intensely happy at having procured one of this species. Our excursion had about put the finishing touch to our garments, which were already on their last legs. We were literally in rags and had come down to our last suit. Time had indeed made us slovenly.
If the ascent of the Upper Sheik had been a big matter, what shall we say about the descent? It was a very serious matter, but Cecily and I laughed and laughed, and hugely enjoyed ourselves. The proceedings of a barrow load of stones tipped over the edge would have been graceful to us. I tried the going down for a short way on my pony, but speedily resolved that if I must die I would at least do it with some degree of dignity, and not be hurled into space in company with a wretched, if well-meaning, Somali tat. The camels, one by one, went on before us; it would have been vastly unpleasant to go before. Westinghouse brakes are what they wanted, Somali camel men are what they got. Clinging on to the already overbalanced creatures, backing, pushing, shouting, rarely have I seen a more amusing sight. The ponies practically tobogganed down, and the accidents were many. One box full of provisions fell off a heaving camel, burst open, and all the provisions spread themselves as far and as widely as ever they possibly could. I scooped up all the coffee I could find, as it was the last we had. We drank it as “Turkish” afterwards, grits and all, and thus got it down with more liking.
At the bottom of the pass we called a halt for a much-needed rest, and looking back one wondered however we had made the journey down so successfully. The camels seemed none the worse, but one pony, my erstwhile steed “Sceptre,” had gone very lame. We were now in big timber country, and for the first time for an age saw water running, and not stagnant. We took off our boots and stockings, and went in at once, only sorry that propriety would not allow a total eclipse. We could not leave that blessed brook; I really cannot dignify it by the name of the river.
The camp was formed here, but a zareba was no longer a necessity. All that day we drowsed away the hours, wandering about among the trees and chasing butterflies. It was quite an idyllic day.
The next morning we left camp, thoroughly fresh and game for a big tramp. We took our way up a rocky gorge that led us towards the Maritime. The scenery everywhere was still of the most exquisite description, vastly different to the sun-dried plains we had traversed so short a time ago. Walking was not easy, and we made a great clatter of stones as we passed along. Our noise startled a small creature we had not noticed before, so much the color of the ground was he. He sprang from rock to rock with surprising agility and poised for a moment ere he took off again like some light-winged bird. We excitedly started in pursuit, and I was almost certain we should lose him. Cecily vowed she must risk it, and I did not think it mattered very much anyway. The gazelle seemed to me lost.
My cousin waited for the creature to rest a second, and then did what I consider the finest shot of the trip. She brought her quarry down from a great height, two hundred and ten yards at least, smack, to a little grassy knoll beneath, stone dead. I patted her on the back. It was a wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten achievement. We had no end of a difficulty to reach the place, and arrived, our joy knew no bounds. It might be said of our trip as of the life of King Charles, that nothing in all of it so much became it as the ending, for this, our last trophy of all, proved to be the somewhat rare Pelzeln’s Gazelle. It is not at all rare in the Maritime, I believe, but necessitating a special expedition there to bag one. The gazelle had quite good horns, topping eight inches. He was fawn in color, darker on the back, with a black tail. The females of this species carry horns also.
In camp now the greatest activity reigned, the men working so very willingly, taking no end of pains with the heads and skulls and skins. And the cook, Cecily’s cook, made us weird hashes and tea till we feared for our digestions.
Chapter XXI 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