Our Butler Levants – This is chapter Twelfth 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
Our Butler Levants
O, I am out of breath in this fond chase
Midsummer Night’s Dream
Good morrow to you both; what counterfeit did I give you?
The slip, sir, the slip
Romeo and Juliet
Whenever practicable, usually when we remained a day or two in the one place, I made the men build me a little hut of bushes, so that if there was any breeze it blew through the branches. At such times I made my canvas residence a cache-tent, and gladly took up my abode in my jerry-built shelter, esteeming myself lucky in having it. I should never have done for a Bedouin or Baluchi. I hate and detest tents, even the most sumptuous. They are the hottest and coldest residences I know. Give me four walls and a roof of any sort! Be they never so humble they are better than the best tent that ever was made. Really, if it hadn’t been for the flies that unceasingly did worry, my pied-a-terre was luxury, and I could sing with unmixed pleasure as I looked across at my, for the nonce, discarded tent, “I wouldn’t leave my little wooden hut for you.”
My furniture was of the “art” variety that you see so frequently advertised in that useful little journal indispensable to housewives, Home Snips. Two wooden boxes up-ended, with a box lid for top, formed the table. It was simple and effective, and only lacked the necessary Aspinall, hedge-sparrow blue for choice, to convert it into a joy forever. The remainder of “the suite” matched. A herio made me a carpet, a biscuit-box a foot-stool. Cecily went in for Spartan simplicity, and her tent was quite like you read of famous generals who wilfully make themselves unnecessarily uncomfortable.
Late one evening we had a fracas with the butler. That henchman entered the precincts of our tent where we were hungrily awaiting supper, and instead of depositing my cup of soup onto another “art” table presented me with it in the form of an avalanche down my back. The soup was not only hot, burning hot, but exceedingly messy, being of the variety known to our cook as “thick”—Anglice, not sieved—and with more bits in it than usual. Our appearance was not so enticing that it could bear being played any pranks with, or putting to any additional strain. Moreover, the cook had no more soup prepared. I had it all, he said. I had indeed!
I gave our butler a sound talking to for his carelessness in this matter and in others, and incidentally cast doubts on the savoir-faire of that English family who know what’s what. This was the last straw, and I was answered in a furious jabber of talk. I could not make head nor tail of it, or even get a word in edgeways. Clarence came to the rescue as usual. He translated, and tried to stem the torrent of language.
Finally, the whole thing resolved itself into this. Our butler refused to “buttle” anymore. He gave notice and desired to leave our service. When I understood, I could not help laughing. I said of course I accepted the notice, but how he proposed it to take effect was beyond my understanding, as we were miles from Berbera, at the very back of beyond, and there could be no means of leaving the caravan with any degree of safety or sense. If the butler remained, as remain he obviously must, I insisted on his buttling as usual, but better. He withdrew at last, angry looking and discontented, and we went to bed.
I remember what a lively night it was. A lion roared for two hours or more at intervals of ten minutes, very close to camp—such fine majestic, rolling roars, ending each time in three rumbling “grumphs.” I hoped the watch watched, and looking forward to meeting my serenader next day, I turned over and tried to sleep. What a glorious country to be in! I might anticipate presenting myself on the morrow to a king, and no mere ordinary mortal, without the “open sesame” of “let me introduce” being necessary. What a glorious country! Convention spelt with a little c, and originality—that most excellent of things—everywhere rife. No running of jungle affairs on the deadly tram-lines of tradition, and everything new looked on askance. Mrs. Grundy does not live in the wild; an’ she did conventionality would be taught to the jungle people, and she would rob them of all their naturalness. Doesn’t she regard originality very much in the light of a magazine of combustibles, and take care to lose all the matchboxes? But I—superior I—in Somaliland might strike, and strike, and strike.
Having once returned to Nature, one has eaten of the tree of life and knowledge, and can never again be content with what we call “civilization.” Fortunately, Nature can be discovered everywhere quite close at hand if we hunt very carefully, but unless God is very particularly kind with His storms and clouds, imagination has often to do so much. Then, as if to remind me of my own smallness and impotence and limitations, came that earthquake roar again.
In the morning breakfast was served by one of the hunters who told us that Clarence—good man—was out betimes spooring for the lion of the night, and we hurried our meal that we might not lose any time in getting started out ourselves. The butler did not appear, and I did not ask for him, because I judged he was trying to recover his lost temper and sense of dignity. Breakfast over, Clarence rode into camp, and we heard raised voices and much discussion. We went on cleaning rifles. Presently a very perturbed Clarence hurried to us, and told us that the butler had taken notice, yet without it had annexed one of our best camels, its driver, a supply of food, and levanted! Heaven only knows where! How did he propose to reach safety, all unarmed as he was too. But—was he unarmed? As the thought struck us both instantaneously, we rushed—Cecily and I—pell-mell to our armory, and delved into it. In an agony of fury we realized that our ci-devant butler had taken with him our ‘35 Winchester. I doubt if he ever fired a rifle in his life, but I swore he shouldn’t learn on ours. I would go after him, and catch up with him, if I had to pursue him all the way to Berbera itself. My chance of meeting that lion—which Clarence had practically located—were knocked out at 1000 to 1.
A few speedy directions and questions produced a couple of our best camels, lightly laden, and the knowledge that the fugitive had about an hour’s start of us, having indeed, waited to go until he saw Clarence clear of the camp. I reproached the caravan that they had not prevented the running away, but no sense could be driven into their stupid heads. Every man feigned complete ignorance. The stolid “me no savey” of the Chinaman is not a whit more obtuse or provoking than the Somali equivalent. They can be as beautifully dense as the most wilfully non-understanding Chinee. Hammers won’t drive a subject in if that subject is, in their opinion, better kept out. They are diplomatic but maddening.
Our two camels for the pursuit were loaded up with a small amount of food in case we were out all night, and taking my .500 Express as the best all-round rifle, I mounted, not without trepidation, an evil-looking beast, whose driver greeted me with a tolerant and broad smile. Clarence, as to the manner born, put himself on the other animal, and with a waved “Good-bye” to Cecily, who, lucky person, was going after King Leo, we set out. My irritation and annoyance at being so signally done kept me up for a short time, but it was not really long before the unaccustomed method of travel began to tell. I had never before been for a long excursion on board a ship of the desert, certainly, I had previously no idea of what it could do going “full steam ahead.” It is difficult to explain the matter delicately. To put it as nicely as possible, I suffered horribly from “mal-de-camel.”
We never stopped, we rushed on at top speed. The way the camel-men picked up the trail of the runaway was very clever, sorting it out from other trails, and must, I think, have been born of centuries of following. Sometimes the great splayed track lay ahead for all to see, but ofttimes it was lost—to me—in a maze of stones and scrub and thick country. We went on until, as far as I was concerned, the world was revolving around me, the sun a gimlet to bore my brain, the dust a dense curtain to my mind. I did not now look ahead. Vengeance and the desire for it had left me. Let the man go, and the rifle with him. Probably it would prove Nemesis enough without my taking on the function!
Suddenly Clarence shouted, and pointed enthusiastically to the horizon. Yes, there was a twirling column of dust. The fugitive of course. We had come up with him sooner than I thought. The driver urged along our camel until we fairly shot over the ground, and presently we could hear the pad, pad, pad of our stolen animal, and see plainly the recreant butler, apparently in two minds whether to alter his course or not. His party swerved suddenly, away to the left, towards a tangle of thorn country. This was absolute nonsense, and I was provoked into firing anyhow, very wide, I need hardly say how wide, as a sort of warning to pull up. The runaways slackened speed at once, and the chase ended like a pricked bubble. We ranged alongside, and without speaking, bar a few curt directions, turned campwards, and slowly—oh, how slowly—retraced our way. We did not make home until 5.30, and during the whole of the hours since morning we had been going solid, and of course had no opportunity to get a meal. I personally did not require one, but the men must have been hungry.
Terribly jolted and worn out I made for my little hut, and lay down for an hour or so. Cecily was still out, and I resolved to wait for her assistance to tell off our shameless henchman. She arrived at last from a fruitless expedition. She came on the kill and followed the lion up, saw him, then lost all trace of him in thick khansa cover. So we hoped for better luck next day.
Clarence conducted the crest-fallen butler to the presence, and we intimated to him that we were astonished, not to say disgusted; that the promised bonus at the end of the trip was now non-existent as far as he was concerned; and further, on returning to Berbera, he would be indicted for the attempted stealing of the rifle and camel. These words had a tremendous effect. He begged us to forgive him. With sophistry unequaled he explained that our ways were strange to him, that the Mem-sahib in whose household he was such an ornament was not like unto these Mem-sahibs.
She stayed at home, and we—“We scour the plain,” put in Cecily.
It was all very absurd, and as we were for the time being perfectly impotent, however much we might bluster, we provisionally pardoned him on condition that he returned to butler’s duty, and henceforth spelt it with a capital D.
“Oh, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!”
Our men reported that the lion—presumably the same lion—had returned to his kill, and was now lying up in the bushes watching the meat. Our tempers had recovered their balance, and we happily set out, Clarence promising that we should “paint um day red.” His vocabulary was varied enough to amuse us, and what little English he was absolute master of was interspersed with the quaintest idioms of Hindostanee and American, which he would bring out in whole representative sentences. His last big “shikar” was with an American magnate who wanted, said Clarence, to “shoot um libbah before um died.” Whether it was to be before the lion died or the sportsman seemed a bit involved, though as it was obvious that the sportsman could not very well go shooting after crossing the “Great Divide,” the demise of the lion must have been referred to. It certainly was more sporting to wish to shoot at the animal before it expired than after.
It was the oddest thing in the world to hear that Americanism of “Painting the town red” on the lips of the solemn Somali. Did he wonder at its origin as I did? I remember hearing it for the first time in a little Western mining camp, when its familiarity struck my ear. But it eluded me, until at last I placed it. You remember where Dante, guided by Virgil, comes on the suffering spirits of Paolo and Francesca:
“Noi che tingemmo il mondo di sanguino.”
There in a nutshell lies the origin of the “painting the town red” phrase. One cannot but admire the literary points of American slang, though we know there is so little originality in the mind of man, even of the American. There is no time to create. It is simpler to take the ready-made, so that all our speech and writing is unconsciously but a series of quotations from the great human poets, who expressed simple human thoughts in the most perfect and yet the simplest words. Every thought we have can be expressed in quotations from Horace, Dante, and Shakespeare.
The strength of our party on that memorable morning comprised six of us—Cecily, myself, Clarence and three hunters. The men led us first to the kill, from which two sleuth-like forms glided away—jackals, young ones, with youthful rough coats. Vultures poised motionless in the blue, or nearer flew sluggishly, with legs hanging loosely, screaming.
The dead aoul poisoned the air with odoriferous whiffs, and I found it difficult to believe that a lion had returned to a carcase in such an advanced stage of decomposition, but apparently it was so. Among the devious trails of hyæna and jackal were the indents of lion spoor. Massed often, and there in the sand was the plainly seen mark of the crouched beast as he gnawed his food. We found, too, at a short distance a piece of dropped flesh, and either side of it the pugs holding on and quiescent.
Our men, as a rule, wore tremendously heavy sandals, which turned up at the front like the prow of a ship, but when stalking the hunters discarded these and were barefooted. For stalking some game the lightest of foot wear is essential, and though, as a rule, I wore nothing but boots, I found a pair of moccasins very handy on occasions; they are too hot, though, for wear in such a country, and the knowing and learned shikari provides himself with cotton shoes. The thorns are too insistent to make any light footwear pleasurable to me, but I have gone the length of taking off my boots and running in stocking feet when a particularly alert koodoo needed an exceptionally careful stalk, but it was a painful business, even if necessary, and I don’t advocate it.
Two exquisite lesser koodoo does crossed our front going like the wind, and we heard a distant bark. Otherwise the jungle slept in the heat of the sun. Our ponies drooped their heads as the fierce rays smote them between the eyes. Waves of heat seemed to come rising and rising as the hoofs churned up the sand.
We dismounted presently, and two of the hunters bestrode the ponies and fell behind. Fresh lion spoor was now crossing the old trail, and we decided to follow it up. We came on some very dense mimosa and khansa, and in this zareba the pugs vanished. We encircled the whole place. There were no other prints. Our quarry was run to earth. Cecily fired into the mimosa once, twice, and instantly, like a toy, the machinery was set in motion, and great snarling growls breaking into stifled roars broke on the quiet air. This was a most business-like lion, and evidently was for putting up with none of our monkey tricks. The bushes parted, and quicker than I can set it down a lion charged out straight, like a whirlwind, past one of our men who stood next to me. The beast would have gone on had not the hunter made the greatest possible mistake. He bolted, thereby drawing attention to himself. The lion turned on the man, catching him, it seemed to me, by the leg, and they fell in an inextricable heap. We dared not fire because of the danger, but not a moment was lost.
All the four hunters rallied to the aid of their comrade. One threw a spear, which might have done some good had it been pitched accurately. It fell wide. One smart little fellow actually ran up and whacked the lion a resounding slap with a rifle—poor rifle! A most brave and familiar way of acting. It was effectual though. The lion turned from his purpose and made a bid for safety in the bushes again. I let fly my right barrel at him as he crashed in, but know I missed, for all I heard was metallic singing in my ears and no answering thud of a bullet striking flesh. I went towards the place where the cat vanished. The humane Cecily was attending to the injured man.
The lion betrayed his exact location by low growls, and I did all I knew to induce him to charge out again. I shouted the men shouted, we whistled, we fired. Then the enraged animal took to roaring, real resounding roars, in which his personal animus railed at us. I instructed the men to remain as they were, talking and endeavoring to weary the lion into breaking cover, whilst I did a stalk.
When investigated from the other side, the citadel chosen for the great stand was of less dense khansa, and the umbrella tops made great dark shelters for the tunnels between the stems. It was most exciting and dangerous, and I had so many things to plan and think out. I crawled in, and commenced to work my way towards the place occupied by my enemy, whose exact position could be located to a nicety by his growls and snarls, and the noise he kept up was of the greatest help to me. Even the lightest, deftest tracker could hardly go through bush like that in silence.
It was very dark at first in my covert, but at intervals it lightened up. I crawled for the best part of half an hour, and then, when my aching hands almost refused to drag me farther, I found myself in dense undergrowth, in the actual vicinity of the lion, who halfstanding, half-crouching, was facing, in sparser cover the direction of my hunters and the scene of the catastrophe. There was nothing to fire at but swishing tail. The grass and aloes hid any vital part, and I dared not miss, whatever came about. A heart shot, or a headshot it must be, or the sportswoman! Oh, where was she? The thought struck through my brain of the imminence of my danger should Clarence or one of the others take to some flank movement whereby the present position of things might be altered by a hair’s breadth. As it was, time was what I needed, and I should get that. It was foolish of me to doubt my shikari’s common sense. I had never known him fail, and he knew I was carefully stalking. I heard their voices at intervals in the distance, buzzing, and it all seemed some chimera of my brain. Myself in that hot jungle tangle, and but twenty yards away a lion of mettle and business-like habits! I was on my knees in half-raised position, and had he turned even in a half circle, he must, I verily believe, have seen me, and sorted me out as something untoward.
The air was stifling, and oh! how heavily I weighed on my knees! My fighting weight seemed enormous as I supported it. It was eight stone really and seemed like eighteen, but of course, it was because, in my excitement, Antæus-like, I pressed down heavily to something solid until I drew my strength from earth, and thus took heart of grace. I carefully got up my rifle. It seemed a long business. Did I really make no noise? Strange crackling rustlings sounded in my ears, as at each growl I seized the opportunity, and in the semi-obscurity of the reverberations placed myself better. The lion came more into focus. I saw his side where it sank in, then—farther. A heart-shaking second. My bullet was too low. The vast body lashed round and round. I seemed to see what my fate would be in another instant. My breath was coming in great sobs, and I wondered whether the lion was choking or I. All this was in the fraction of a moment. Then came my opportunity. His chest presented itself fair and square like a target. I pressed my second trigger, and then threw myself backwards and went anyhow as though the devil himself was after me; like a streak of greased lightning. “You kill um libbah?” asked Clarence, who remained pretty much as I had last seen him.
“I don’t know,” I gasped, stupidly enough.
And neither did I.
Loading up carefully again, I carefully retraced my steps, Clarence crawling after me. There was no sound. All was still as death. We crept on until we reached my coign of vantage, and there ahead, prone, motionless, lay a great yellow mass, some ten yards nearer than at my first shot. He was dead indeed, and a very fine specimen of his kind. Strangely enough, he had one eye missing, the hallmark of some early battle, and to this fact I possibly owed much of the credit I had been taking to myself for my stalk. Then began the usual modus operandi for the animal’s dismemberment, and I cleared out of the place to find that Cecily had taken the injured man back to camp, propping him up on her pony with the help of the second hunter. My pony was amusing itself at some distance, having dragged its moorings, and I caught him after a bit of a tussle.
The invalid was given my tent, which smelt like concentrated essence of High Churchism. Keating’s incense smoldered in one corner and burning carbolic powder fought it for the mastery. Puzzled mosquitoes buzzed in and out, but more out than in, thanks be. The man’s leg was torn in strips which hung in two or three-inch lengths, fleshy and horrible. We arranged the torn shreds back, like patching an ornament minus the seccotine. We covered the wounds with iodoform—very amateurishly of course—and then bandaged it. Altogether I think the invalid was rather pleased with himself, as he lay up in the cache-tent, feeling, doubtless, the importance of having been in the jaws of a lion and come out alive from such a gin.
As we could not move him for several days, we arranged to form quite a good zareba, strong and comfortable, round our follower, and make flying excursions of which it should be the base. The wounded hunter proved a very unwilling dawdler, being an active-souled creature, and did not take at all kindly to a life of enforced idleness. He acted like an irritated vegetable, and only slept and drowsed the hours away, and kept his leg up, because I solemnly told him he would die if he did not. I think the active spirits in nations not yet civilized are always the better. Laziness is demoralizing anywhere, and with it one soon harks back to the animal. Energetic souls are never idle from choice. The power to idle successfully and with comfort must be inborn. During his days of illness our charge grew really attached to us, and looked for our coming with an expansive smile of welcome. We kept the fever down with quinine, and before many weeks were over his scars were healed into cicatrices, which, of course, he could never lose. They would, however, be a glorious asset and advertisement, showing such undoubted zeal, and should commend the proprietor to anyone on the lookout for a truly sporting hunter.
While I was examining the skull and wet skin of the lion as Clarence pegged it out, our cook volunteered the information that the butler had gone again on a still better camel, with the same driver, but minus a rifle. I had thought he would settle down to a dreary acceptance of the position. It really was uncomfortable to harbor two such unwilling people in our otherwise contented caravan, so we decided they were better gone even at the cost of a camel, and this time we wasted no energy on trying to retrieve them. Whether they ever made safety again we never could find out. Their movements from that hour were wrapped in mystery, and the butler, the driver, and the camel disappeared forever from our ken. They must have wanted to go very badly. It was not complimentary, but we put as good a face on the crusher as we could.
Chapter XIII will follow
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- 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