This is the fourth chapter 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
We Meet King Leo
My hour is almost come
A lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing, for there is not
a more fearful wild fowl than your lion living
Midsummer Night’s Dream
Very shortly after this we came to a Somali karia, or encampment. Its inhabitants were a nomadic crowd, and very friendly, rather too much so, and I had to order Clarence to set a guard over all our things.
Their own tents were poor, made of camel mats that had seen better days. The Somali women were immensely taken with our fair hair, and still more with our hair-pins. Contrary to the accepted custom of lady travelers, we did not suffer the discomfort of wearing our hair in a plait down our backs. We “did” our hair—mysterious rite—as usual. By the time I had finished my call at the camp my golden hair was hanging down my back. I had given every single hair-pin to the Somali ladies, who received them with as much delight as we should a diamond tiara.
Married women in Somaliland wear their hair encased in a bag arrangement. Girls plait theirs. The little ones’ heads are shaven, and so, apparently, were the scalps of the very old men. Clarence’s hair was about two inches long when we started, and he had a way of cleaning it reminiscent of a bird taking a sand bath. He rubbed his head with wet ashes, which speedily dried in the sun, and allowed him to shake the dust out—a nettoyage à sec process, and very effective. As a rule he wore no head-covering in the hottest sun.
Even the heads of the Somali babies are exposed in all their baldness. I suppose God tempers the rays to the shorn lambs.
The huts are made of a frame of bent poles, over which camel mats and odds and ends in the way of blankets are thrown. The nomadic tribes in their treks follow the grass, and occupy the same zarebas year after year. These they make of thick thorn brushwood, immensely high, two circles, one inside the other. Between the two fences the cattle are penned sometimes, but at night the middle encampment receives most of them, and fires are lighted. All the work of erecting the huts and tending the animals is done by women, and very often the oldest women and the smallest of the children have this office thrust upon them.
You can imagine that a Somali baria is rather of the nature of Barnum’s, minus the auctioneering and the shouting and bustle—countless people, ground all ploughed with the sturm und drang of the restless feet, and smell—-!
It is a wonderful thing that human beings can thrive in the condition of dirt and squalor in which these wandering Somalis live. They do, and some of them are very fine-looking men indeed.
The majority of the tribes are nomadic. There are some settled, some traders pure and simple, and some outcaste people, of whom the Midgans seem the most romantic—probably because he still uses bow and arrow, lives a hand to mouth existence, calls no karia home, and makes his bed in the open.
Most Somalis wear the long tobe in various degrees of cleanliness. The real dandy affects a garment of dazzling whiteness. Less particular people carry on until the tobe is filthy. I imagine the cloth hails from Manchester. It is cotton sheeting, several feet in length, and put on according to the taste and fancy, artistic, original, or otherwise, of the wearer. It is a graceful costume, Cæsar-like and imposing. At night it is not removed and seen by the light of the fire each sleeping Somali looks like nothing so much as some great cocoon.
A praying carpet is considered an indispensable part of the Somali equipment. It isn’t really a carpet at all, being nothing in the wide world but a piece of tanned hide or skin. Some of our men spent a good deal of time on the mat, prostrating themselves at the most untoward moments. Others again did not seem to have got religion, and never called the thing into use at all. But to every one of them Allah was a something impossible to get along without entirely. If there had been no Allah or Kismet to put all the blame on to when everything went wrong, we should have been in an awkward place indeed.
It was at this encampment I purchased two more ponies, not beautiful to look at but beggars to go.
We tried them first, fearing to be done again, and they seemed willing little fellows, and full of life. Most of the tribes breed ponies on a small or large scale, and as they are never groomed or tidied up at all they cannot help a somewhat unkempt appearance. We bought a few sheep for food, and were presented with a dirty harn full of camels’ milk, horrid tasting stuff, which we handed over to the men, and so didn’t desert our “Nestlé” for it. Going among the squalid tents in the karia we found a woman in a sad state of collapse, although nobody seemed to mind it save ourselves. More of the Kismet business. She had a wee baby, a few hours old, lying on the herio beside her. The whole scene was primitive and pathetic to a degree. I am glad to say we improved matters considerably.
Although water was very scarce, we spared enough from our store to tub the quaint little baby, going first back to our tents to procure soap and a few other things. We dressed the mite in a white vest, in which it was completely lost, to the interest and astonishment of a jury of matrons who stood around us, ever and again feeling some part of our clothing, tying and untying our boot laces, and even going the length of putting inquisitive hands into our pockets. For the mother of His Majesty the Baby we opened our first bottle of emergency champagne. A right-thinking Somali is dead against strong drinks of any kind, spirits being entirely taboo, so we thought it safer and more diplomatic to refer to the champagne as medicine. The bang it opened with astonished the listless crowds, and the effect as the good wine did its work astonished them still more.
We presented the headman with a tobe, and then took ourselves back to camp, accompanied by a rabble of Somalis who infested our zareba until we struck tents that evening. I had as much of a bath as it was possible to get in a tea-cupful of water. But a visit to a Somali encampment makes you feel a trifle dirty.
Our water supply was on the verge of becoming a worry, so we had to make a detour towards a place where rain was reported to have fallen and the pools could be counted on. Clarence knew all this part of the country well, and was a most reliable guide as well as everything else. His duties were multitudinous, and it was marvelous how deftly he discharged them. He always saw to the lading and unloading, chose the spot for camp, placed the watch o’ nights, gave out the stores, and kept his temper through it all. He was a born leader of men, amiable, quick and never sulked; an admirable thing. Sulkiness is rather a big trait in the Somali character; it usually springs from wounded vanity.
At the water holes, we fell in with some more Somalis, who gave the Baron Munchausen news of lions in the vicinity. By the time our henchman had elaborated the story the lions were practically in our zareba, and we were much discouraged, feeling that, in all human probability, judging by previous results, we were as far off lions as ever.
That night, after a somewhat longer, more tiring trek than usual, for the first time in my life I heard a lion roar. I say for the first time because in my superiority I tell you that the grunting, short, peevish crying heard in the great cat house at the Zoo at feeding-time cannot be called roaring after one has heard the wonderful sound of His Majesty hunting. My heart seemed to stand still with awe as I listened to that never-to-be-forgotten sound. Terrific and majestic, it reverberated through the silence of the night, and seemed to repeat itself in echoes when all was really still.
The dawn is the time when lions roar most. They occasionally give tongue when actually hunting, often after feeding. The sound varies with the age and lung power of the animal, and has many gradations, sometimes sounding as though the pain of doing it at all hurt the throat, sometimes the sound comes in great abrupt coughs, and again one hears even triumphant roars.
We rose early. Indeed, I do not think we slept again after hearing the longed-for serenade, and arranging for all the hunters to accompany us, set off on our new steeds to spoor for lion. After about six miles of roughish going we struck the tracks. We examined them with the greatest interest, and Clarence demonstrated to us the evidence that the spoor was very new indeed, that the lions were two in number and going at a walking pace. I soon learnt when a lion was walking and when he commenced to run. The lion, being a cat, has retractile claws, and therefore when he walks the pugs are even and rounded. The instant he alters the pace and runs, the nail-marks are plain, and the sand is usually slightly furred up by the pad.
High above us, sailing round and round majestically, were many vultures. Sometimes one would swoop low, to rise again. It was plain from the screaming of the birds a kill was at hand. We pushed on, an indescribable excitement gripping me. I regarded every bush furtively. What secrets might it not hold? Abreast of it, passed it. Nothing!
I had a taut feeling of strained relief; I glanced at Cecily, but you could not guess her feeling from her face. I felt I should like to walk, to feel terra firma beneath my feet, and grasp my rifle instead of reins; but Clarence had said nothing, and plodded along by my side. He was walking, but four hunters were mounted.
In a slightly open space—the whole of the sandy waste was dotted here with bushes taller than a man—we came on what had once been a graceful aoul, mangled and torn. The lions had dined, and that heavily, only the shoulders of the gazelle being left. The sand was tossed up and ploughed into furrows in the death struggle, and from the scene of the last phase wound a lion track going towards a thick bunch of thorn. It seemed likely the lions were lying up in the immediate vicinity. The lion feeds in a very businesslike manner, and after a kill gorges himself to repletion, then, not to put too fine a point on it, goes a little way off, is violently and disgustingly sick, after which he returns and gorges some more. Then he sleeps, off and on, for perhaps three days, when he hunts again. When hunting, immense distances are covered, and though he hunts alone, his mate comes up with him eventually to share the spoil. They seem to have some way of communicating their whereabouts that is quite as effective as our telegraphic system.
I felt it was quite time to quit my saddle, and be clear of the pony, so dismounted and prepared for action, taking my rifle and looking to it. It was only just in time for my peace of mind. In one tense second, I realized I had seen two monstrous moving beasts, yellowish and majestic. They were very close and moved at a slow pace from the bush ahead into a patch of still thicker cover to the left. I remember that though the great moment for which we had planned and longed and striven was really at hand, all my excitement left me, and there was nothing but a cold tingling sensation running about my veins. Clarence in a moment showed the excellent stage-management for which he was famous, and I heard as in a dream the word of command that sent our hunters, the Baron included, dashing after our quarry shouting and yelling and waving spears. Again I caught a glimpse of the now hurrying beasts. How mighty they looked! In form as, unlike a prisoned lion as can well be imagined. They hardly seemed related to their cousins at the Zoo. The mane of the wild lion is very much shorter. No wild lion acquires that wealth of hair we admire so much. The strenuous life acts as hair-cutter. And yet the wild beast is much the most beautiful in his virile strength and suggestion of enormous power.
The lions being located, we crept on warily towards the bush, a citadel of khansa and mimosa scrub, a typical bit of jungle cover. The lions sought it so readily, as they had dined so heavily that they were feeling overdone. The men went around the lair and shouted and beat at the back. Whether the cats were driven forward or not with the din, or whether they had not penetrated far within the retreat at first, I cannot, of course, tell, but I saw from thirty-five yards off, as I stood with my finger on the trigger, ferocious gleaming eyes, and heard ugly short snarls, breaking into throaty suppressed roars every two or three seconds. The jungle cover parted, and with lithe stretched shoulders a lioness shook herself half free of the density, then crouched low again. Down, down, until only the flat of her skull showed, and her small twitching ears. In one more moment, she would be on us. I heard Cecily say something. I think it may have been “Fire!” Sighting for as low as I could see on that half arc of yellow I pulled the trigger, and Cecily’s rifle cracked simultaneously. The head of the lioness pressed lower, and nothing showed above the ridge of grass and thorn. The lioness must be dead. And yet, could one kill so great a foe so simply? We stood transfixed. The sun blared down, a butterfly flickered across the sand, a cricket chirruped in long-drawn, twisting notes. These trifles stamped themselves on my memory as belonging forever to the scene, and now I cannot see a butterfly or hear a cricket’s roundelay without going back to that day of days and wonder unsurpassed.
Then I did an inanely stupid thing. It was my first lion shoot, and my ignorance and enthusiasm carried me away. I ran forward to investigate, with my rifle at the trail. I don’t excuse such folly, and I got my deserts. Worse remains behind. It was my rule to reload the right barrel immediately after firing, and the left I called my emergency supply. My rule I say, and yet in this most important shoot of all it was so in theory only! I had forgotten everything but the dead lioness. I had forgotten the bush contained another enemy.
A snarling quick roar, and almost before I could do anything but bring up my rifle and fire without the sights, a lion broke from the side of the brake. I heard an exclamation behind me, and my cousin’s rifle spoke. The bullet grazed the lion’s shoulder only and lashed him to fury. All I can recollect is seeing the animal’s muscles contract as he gathered himself for a springing charge, and instinct told me the precise minute he would take off. My nerves seemed to relax, and I tried to hurl myself to one side. There was no power of hurling left in me, and I simply fell, not backwards nor forwards, but sideways, and that accident or piece of luck saved me. For the great cat had calculated his distance, and had to spring straight forward. He had not bargained for a victim slightly to the right or left. His weight fell on my legs merely, and his claws struck in. Before he had time to turn and rend me, almost instantaneously my cousin fired. I did not know until later that she did so from a distance of some six yards only, having run right up to the scene in her resolve to succor me. The top of the lion’s head was blown to smithereens, and the heavy body sank. I felt a greater weight; the blood poured from his mouth on to the sand, the jaws yet working convulsively. The whole world seemed to me to be bounded north, south, east, and west by Lion. The carcase rolled a little and then was still. Pinned by the massive haunches I lay in the sand.
Clarence, Cecily, and all the hunters stood around. I noticed how pale she was. Even the tan of her sunburnt face could not conceal the ravages of the last five minutes. The men pulled the heavy carcase away, taking him by the fore-paws, his tail trailing, and exquisite head all so hideously damaged. Only his skin would be available now, still——
I sat up in a minute, feeling indescribably shaky, and measured the lion with my eye. He could be gloriously mounted, and “He will just do for that space in the billiard room,” my voice tailed off. I don’t remember anything else until I found myself in my tent with my cousin rendering first aid, washing the wounds and dressing them with iodoform. Only one gash was of any moment. It was in the fleshy part of the thigh. We had not sufficient medical skill to play any pranks, so kept to such simple rules as extreme cleanliness, antiseptic treatment, and nourishing food. Indeed, our cook did well for me those days, and made me at intervals the most excellent mutton broth, which he insisted on bringing to me himself, in spite of the obvious annoyance of the butler, who had lived in the service of an English family and so knew what was what.
The days and nights were very long just then.
Clarence came to see me often. His occupation was gone. Cecily did not leave me at all at first. I believe our good fellow wondered if we should ever require him to hunt again. He did not know the proverb, “Once bitten, twice shy,” but you could see he felt it.
One evening, when I was convalescent, Clarence brought one of the men to us with inquiries as to the best way to cure him.
“What is the matter?” was naturally the first question, as we were not the human Homoceas our men seemed to take us for.
Our servant had been chewing—must have been—a piece of thorn, and a particularly spiky insidious bit had stuck itself well in the back of his throat, near the left tonsil. It would seem an easy enough thing to pull out, but it was the most difficult of operations. We could not make any very prolonged attempt at dislodgment because every time we tried to touch the bit of thorn the man either shut his mouth with a snap and bit us, or pretended he must be sick forthwith. It was very laughable, but a little worrying. We tried nippers, a vast pair that filled the mouth to overflowing and hid the offending thorn from sight, We tried blunt scissors, which Cecily said would not cut because they could not, and might be relied on to act the part of nippers. Of course they did cut, when they weren’t needed to, the roof of the patient’s mouth, and matters grew worse than ever. The light was wholly insufficient, and we could hardly see at all. The candle lamp never shone in the right direction, and we laughed so—the two Somalis were in such deadly earnest. I do not think any harm would have resulted if the thorn had been left where it stuck until the morning. But no! The men said if the thorn were left the throat would swell, and if the throat swelled the patient would choke, and if he choked he would be dead. The cook produced some of the doughy bread he was past-master in concocting, a sticky mass to act as panacea, and our thorn-stuck henchman swallowed a lot to the detriment of his digestion. No use. The thorn would not be levered out. Then—brilliant idea—try a hairpin! Comic papers have it that a woman can go through the world with a hairpin as a tool for everything, and come out victorious. I have never seen one put in the list of a hunter’s requirements—a great oversight. Take my word for it, a hair-pin does the work of ten ordinary implements. The rounded end of one hooked round the offending thorn ejected the cause of all the trouble, and peace reigned in the camp.
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