These are the Eighth, ninth, and tenth chapters 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
A Battle Royal
Take that to end thy agony
Our happiness is at the height
The Somalis, as I have explained before, are almost entirely a nation of nomads, and the only settled villages or townships are those run by Sheiks or Mullahs, or whatever name they elect to be known by. These men are Mahomedans with an eye to business, religious, influential, knowing the value of education, and are often quite learned. We marched into the vicinity of some hundreds of huts, and sent Clarence on ahead to present our compliments to the Mullah and express our desire to call on him. We also sent along a consignment of gifts likely to appeal to a learned man—a Koran, a tusba, and a couple of tobes, for even a Mullah has to have clothes, anyway, in Somaliland. I don’t know whether our sending presents first was correct, or whether we should have waited for the Mullah to weigh in. We debated the point, and decided anyone with an extra sensible mind would think a bird in the hand worth two in the bush any day of the week. This village, if our men’s talk was to be believed, was full of Mullahs, not one Mullah. We concluded that all the wise and religious-minded men must have banded together to live as monks do, save that celibacy was not the fashion.
The Mullah lost no time in sending us return offerings in the shape of three sheep, and harns and harns of milk. He also asked us to go and see him in his karta, as owing to some infirmity he could not wait on us. All this was very correct and nice. I should think this Mullah had been trained in the way he should go.
We put in an appearance that same afternoon, hardly able to push through the crowds that lined up in readiness for our advent. The Mullah received us at the door of his hut, a smiling, urbane personage. I saw no sign of infirmity, but of course, I couldn’t ask what it was. The Mullah would be about fifty years old, so far as I can judge, and he had the tiniest hands and feet. His face was full of intelligence, his eyes deep set and alert. In color he was of the Arab shade, and some Somalis are almost black. He was exceedingly gracious, and received our credentials, or passport so to speak, with serene smiles. He barely read them. I suppose he could. All the Mullahs can read Arabic.
Myriads of children—our hosts we concluded—sat and squatted and lay about the earth-floor, two circles of them. Cecily says they went three times round, but no, two large circles.
The Mullah asked a great many questions about England—who we were when we were at home? how it was two women could come so far to shoot lion, and why we wanted to?—to all of which we replied as clearly and comprehensively as we could through Clarence. Then more personal questions were asked. Were we married? “Say no, Clarence.”
“No,” said the stolid shikâri.
The Mullah reflected a little. Didn’t we think we ought to be? A dreadful flick on the raw this. If we married how many husbands are we allowed? I instructed Clarence to say that is not so much how many you are allowed as how many you can get. Cecily broke in and said that it was enough to puzzle any Mullah and that Clarence must explain that one husband at a time is what English women are permitted, but it is very difficult in the present overcrowded state of the marriage market to obtain even one’s rightful allowance, hence our lonely forlorn condition. The Mullah looked really sorry for us. He said he would like to give us another sheep, and that he did not think he would care to live in England, but he approved of the English he had seen. “Best people I see.” We thanked him, salaamed, and left. We were then followed by a pattering crowd who dodged in front of us, peering into our faces, and when we smiled, smiled back crying “Mot! Mot! io Mot!” over and over. It was quite a triumphal progress.
At our own camp we found the place invaded by every invalid of the Mullah settlement waiting in serried rows for us to cure them. Why every English person, or European rather, is supposed to possess this marvelous in-born skill in medicine I cannot tell. Some of the complaints presented I had never heard of, much less seen, and even our learned tome of a medical work failed to identify many. It was very pathetic, as we were so helpless. The poor things regarded the book as some savior come to succor them.
There was enough occupation before us to keep a doctor busy for weeks, that much we could see. We only dared venture on the simplest plain-sailing cases, and even if we had used up our entire stock of medicine and remedies required for our own use it would have been a drop in the ocean of trouble here. We gave presents as a consoler to the worst of the invalids, and then, lest they should all return again on the morrow, we folded our tents like the Arabs and silently stole away.
One of our own men required our attention after this. He showed all the symptoms of ptomaine poisoning, and ferreting into the matter I found that—well fed as he was—he had gone after the contents of a tin of beef I had my doubts of, and which I threw away over the zareba fence, and had consumed the stuff. I was exceedingly vexed, because I had told all the men standing about at the time that the tin was bad and would poison anyone. Is it not odd that people—especially men—always want and like that which is denied them? If we could only get at the truth of it, I expect we should find that in taking the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden Eve did it at the express wish of Adam who wanted it badly and had not the moral courage to take it for himself. By the way, it may not be generally known that quite a lot of learned people claim that Eden existed in Somaliland.
To return to the subject in hand again. Just imagine a well-looked-after camel-man deliberately going and making a meal of doubtful meat just because it was forbidden him. Ah, well! is it not said that “the dearest pleasure of the delicately nurtured is a furtive meal of tripe and onions”? Perhaps our followers took the beef as a surreptitious dish of that kind. The analogy may seem a little “out,” but it is there if you look for it.
One day, somewhere about this time, I was fortunate enough to witness a great and splendid sight, a battle to the death between two bull oryx. I had been lunching on sandwiches of their kind—alas! their poor brother!—and was resting awhile on the verge of a thick bit of country, a natural clearing with thick thorn cover around. I kept very silent—I was in fact very sleepy—when I heard the war challenge of some genus buck, imperious and ringing, and not far away. It was replied to instantly. Again it sounded louder and nearer. I raised myself and looked about. From out the dense brushwood, but a few hundred yards away, and from opposite sides, sprang a fine up-standing oryx. Crash! And the great bulls were at each other. Clawing with hoofs and teeth and rapier horns. Then backwards they would sidle, and each taking a flying start would come together with a sickening crash, and all the while each tried every possible tactic to drive the merciless horns home. I held my breath with excitement, as in theirs I was permitted to creep almost up to the panting, foam-flecked warriors. I could have shot both, but as I was strong so was I merciful. It was a great and glorious struggle, and the laurels should be to the victor. For quite a long time it was impossible to tell which was the stronger but at last the right-hand buck—for, oddly enough, though they circled round each other each always charged from the side from which he commenced to give battle—began to show signs of tremendous stress, and the telling blows of his opponent wore him down more and more. No longer was he able to parry the lunges of his infuriated foe, who, like lightning, took instant advantage of the on-coming weakness of the stricken buck, and rushing in on a flying charge like a whirlwind, inserted his rapier-like horns into his enemy’s side and gored him unmercifully.
This is where I came in. I would not shoot the victor, for he had won his battle in fair fight. It was the survival of the fittest. As he shook his dripping horns and looked at me with blood-shot eyes and frothing muzzle, I saw he was a youngster in the height of his prime, and that the stricken buck was old. The victor and I looked at one another, and I threw my rifle up. A charge from a maddened oryx would be no simple thing. But I did not want to take his life unless compelled. A soft, low whinnying noise in the bush: he was off, and I was forgotten. Cherchez la femme, even in oryx land! I walked up to the dying buck, and Clarence, who had seen the whole thing also, hurried up and asked me if he might “hallal” quickly and save the meat. A Somali could not be expected to appreciate sentimental reasons, so I did not urge mercy towards the utterly vanquished, mostly because the kindest course was to put the beast out of pain. His horns were the horns of a mighty fighter, and his shield bore the cuts and indents of many battles. But his day was over, and his harem passed to a new lord.
The ground was all ploughed up with the scuffle.
The head of the dead oryx was poor. It looked old, and was moreover the worse for strenuous living, being in parts hairless. As I now had better heads, I took his shield merely, as a souvenir of the great fight. It is now a little tea-tray from which I peacefully drink tea.
We struck camp the next day, and trekked along the borders of the Ogaden country. That night we had a camel looted. A camel seems a bit of an undertaking to run off with, as more often than not he won’t move when you want him to. I suspect there was some collusion on the part of the camel-man in charge, but I never could bring it home to one of them.
Our clothes were now in a shocking state of repair, or disrepair. What with wait-a-bit thorns, drenching rain, torrid sun, wriggling on the ground, kneeling and groveling about, we were the most awful scarecrows you ever saw. But we were intensely happy. That is the wonder of the wild. One forgets clothes—and that is much for a woman to say—newspapers and letters. What was going on in the world we knew not, nor did we care. I cannot conceive the heart of man desiring more than was ours just then. The glories of the jungle were all for us; every dawn brought something new, and everywhere we could trace the wonders of the world in which we lived: each morning come on romance in footprints, tragedy in massed spoor, “sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
It is not to be thought that all things went smoothly. In a big caravan of the kind such an idyllic condition of things would be well-nigh impossible. There were the most awkward disagreeablenesses and unpleasantnesses of all sorts to bother us. I hate sporting books full of grumbling and tales of discomforts. Nobody asked the sportsman to undertake the job, and nobody cares if he “chucks” it. Therefore why write reams about miseries when there are so many things to make up for them? No life is all couleur de rose; but we can make light of the darkness, “walk in its gardens, and forget the rain.”
Ostrich spoor was now all about, but they are the most difficult of all things to come on at close quarters. I stalked odd birds, birds in twos, birds in trios for hours, but never came within any sort of range.
All the natural history as told to me in childish days about the ostrich burying its head in the sand and imagining itself hidden I found very much of a nursery romance. The ostrich takes no chances, and, so far from burying its head, has to thank the length of its neck for much of its safety.
After days of wriggling about on the flanks of ostrich, in the front and in the rear, I confided my chagrin to Clarence. He said he had a Plan. I told him I was delighted to know that, and would he unfold it at once? It seems very ridiculous, but just because I could not bag an ostrich the bird seemed to me the be-all and end-all of the trip. I am a woman all over, it seems.
Well, Clarence’s idea was this: Ostrich never eat at night; therefore, if you persistently chase the same ostrich for two or three days consecutively it follows, of course, that the bird must give in sooner or later—sooner, Clarence hoped—from want of food and exhaustion. Or, if a hen ostrich could only be procured—just as though I was not prepared to welcome her—it would not be long before I should have a near view of a cock bird, who would come along with a view to a possible introduction to Miss Ostrich. She was to be tied to a thorn bush behind which I should be ensconced. It did not seem at all a sporting thing to do. Love’s young dream should not be made a potent factor in a deadly business of the kind. Love spells life, not death.
The other idea did not commend itself to me either with any gusto. I had no mind myself to go riding after ostrich as though it were a trophy beyond price. Neither did I want to detail any of the men for the job. It was just as well we did not trouble for—such are the chances of hunting, when the position of things may change from success to failure, from failure to success in the blinking of an eyelid—I suddenly came on two birds—two grey hens—one afternoon as I was returning from a fruitless expedition after a lion that must have left the neighborhood a week before. One hen was picking the new grass that was everywhere springing up, the other was playing sentry. And very well she did it too, marching up and down with head erect and alert eyes. They had not winded us. We were covered by fairly dense wait-a-bit. The birds, however, were entirely out of range. I was now on foot and flung myself down, as had Clarence. We then raised ourselves sufficiently to cut as silently as we could a bunch of the awful prickly grass, all mixed with thorn spikes, and though it scratched me like fun, and I heard my poor garments ripping away, I took the screen from Clarence and holding it well in front of me wriggled to the edge of the open country in front of me. I did feel absurd, and how was I to get within range of those knowing birds, all encumbered as I was too, with my weapon and my wait-a-bit? It was wait-a-bit! I took half an hour to crawl a few yards. But the birds still went on picking the grass in the peculiar way they have, taking turns at sentry-go. They had great doubts about this small tuft that had grown up in a day, mushroom-like, and it was only when sentry turned and paced the other way I could progress at all. The bird who was doing the eating did not trouble itself so much. At last, wonderful to relate, I really got within range, and then it was a toss up which bird to choose. I really considered it an embarras de richesse, and told myself that both belonged to me! Sentry presented the best mark, and as she turned and came towards me I drew a bead on her breast and fired. She fell—plop! But her companion simply took a sort of flying run, very quaint to watch, and vanished in the instant on the horizon. This is, I know, a prodigious fuss about shooting an ostrich; but I found them harder to come on and account for than the king of beasts himself. Some of my ostrich found its way to the stockpot, and a portion was roasted. We were quite unable to get our teeth through it. Cecily said I had undoubtedly shot the oldest inhabitant. The stewed ostrich, after being done to rags, was eatable, but no great treat.
The next day I was taking a breathing space in between moments of stalking an aoul with peculiarly turned horns, a regular freak amongst aoul, when I suddenly heard that weirdest of sounds, the hunting call of a hyæna when the sun is high. I got up and gazed about, and at some distance there flashed into my vision a disabled buck, I could not then tell of what variety, haltingly cantering and lurching along. The hyæna was on his track, running low, but covering the distance between them magically quickly. In shorter time than I can write it the hyæna sprang on to the haunches of the spent buck, and down, down it sank, with head thrown back, into a pitiful heap, the fierce wolf-like creature worrying it at once. I threw up my rifle, in the excitement I had been allowed to approach very near, and the hyæna paid toll. He was a mangy brute of the spotted variety, but the strength of his teeth was amazing. He hung on to a piece of the aoul long after death. I kept his head, but the skin was useless. The buck was an old aoul, evidently in shocking condition and run down generally. He was dead, or I would have put him out of his misery. I took the head for the sake of the horns. These measured on the curves seventeen and a half inches.
Just here Clarence when out spooring, came on an ostrich nest just about to hatch out, and nothing would do but we must go then and there to see it. We penetrated some wait-a-bit and then came on the nest with seven eggs therein. Next we hid ourselves, waited awhile, and had the pleasure of seeing the father ostrich return to the domicile. I don’t know where the mother could be. We never sighted her. Perhaps she was an ostrich suffragette and had to attend a meeting. We did not want to go too near the nest, or go too often, but we could not help being very much interested. Our consideration was quite unnecessary. The eggs hatched out, the broken eggs told the tale, but some prowling jackal or hungry hyæna had called when the parents were away and annexed the entire seven. Housekeeping in the jungle has its drawbacks. It must be really difficult to raise a family.
It was quite strange that Clarence, who was a born shikari, versed in the ways of the wild, and master of the jungle folk, was not at all what I call a safe shot. I never felt that I could depend on his rifle if we got into a tight hole. My uncle says times must have changed, for in their days together Clarence was very reliable with a rifle. But I don’t see why a man, so often out in the jungle, should go off as a shot—rather, one would think, would he improve, like grouse, with keeping.
We did a most amusing stalk one day here. On a Sunday—I know it was a Sunday, because ever since we lost the only almanac we had with us we notched a stick, Crusoe fashion—Cecily and I decided to part company and go our ways alone, and taking our ponies rode off in opposite directions. After some time I tethered my steed and left him for the syce to attend to, and then I mooned along slowly until I must have traversed a mile or so. I lay down awhile, and then a bunch of aoul crossed my front, a Speke’s Gazelle with them but not of them, for he held himself well aloof, and seemed by his very bearing to say he was only with them by accident. The aoul moved on, but the Speke began to feed, and I realised then he carried a head worth having, and I must take it an’ I could. I was out of range, and it meant a careful stalk. I hoped he would not notice me if I wriggled to the next clump of wait-a-bit, which showed the crassness of my ignorance! Of course, he knew something was afoot, and I had to lie still for ages ere I deceived him into passivity again. The ground was like a razor’s edge; small stones and sharp-edged flints cut into my poor knees, but I crept nearer by twenty paces. The sunlight danced again on his shining coat, and all his thoughts were hemmed in now by a little patch of green grass he had come on. He consumed this while I squirmed from point to point, and then with a whisk of his tail he was off again. A brisk run brought him in view once more, and all this time my presence had never really irked him. Aha! I pretty well had him. A few paces more when, wonder of wonders, he saw some danger signal in quite another quarter and dashed away, this time with no halting. He was gone for ever. I rose and stretched myself, when a distant bush of wait-a-bit yielded up another figure, doing the same thing. It was Cecily. And we had both been stalking the self-same buck for hours—spoiling the other’s chances every time. We laughed and laughed, for who could help it?
On our walk back to camp we found the vacated hole of a wart-hog. They dig these entrenchments for themselves, and back into them so that they face any danger that may come—a most wise and sound policy. The hole only just admits piggy; there is not one inch to spare. Living as they do on roots, it can well be understood that the flesh is really much more appetising than that of the home-grown porker. Their only drawback as a welcome addition to our larder was this refusal of the Somalis to have anything to do with pig. I am quite sure they ran this phase of Mahomedanism for all it was worth, thereby saving themselves labour, for I never could see any very strong leanings towards any other teachings of their religion.
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