Excerpt from Two Dianas in Somaliland: The Record of a Shooting Trip by Agnes Herbert

My cousin is a wonderful shot, and I am by no means a duffer with a rifle. As to our courage — well, we could only trust we had sufficient to carry us through. We felt we had, and with a woman intuition is everything. If she feels she is not going to fail, you may take it from me she won’t. Certainly, it is one thing to look a lion in the face from England to gazing at him in Somaliland. But we meant to meet him somehow.

Gradually and very carefully we amassed our stores and arranged for their meeting us in due course. We collected our kit, medicines, and a thousand and one needful things, and at last felt we had almost everything, and yet as little as possible. Even the little seemed’ too much as we reflected on the transport difficulty. We sorted our things most carefully — I longed for the floor-space of a cathedral to use as a spreading-out ground — and glued a list of the contents of each packing-case into each lid.



Two Dianas In Somaliland Record Of A Shooting Trip 2TWO DIANAS IN OMALILAND

By Agnes Herbert

The Record of a Shooting Trip

With Twenty-Five Illustrations Reproduced from Photographs

London: John Lane


Two Dianas In Somaliland Record Of A Shooting Trip 2TO






























This weaves itself perforce into my business

King Lear

It is not that I imagine the world is panting for another tale about a shoot. I am aware that of the making of sporting books there is no end. Simply—I want to write. And in this unassuming record of a big shoot, engineered and successfully carried through by two women, there may be something of interest; it is surely worth more than a slight endeavor to engage the even passing interest of one person of average intelligence in these days of universal boredom.

I don’t know whether the idea of our big shoot first emanated from my cousin or myself. I was not exactly a tenderfoot, neither was she. We had both been an expedition to the Rockies at a time when big game there was not so hard to find, but yet less easy to get at. We did not go to the Rockies with the idea of shooting, our sole raison d’être being to show the heathen Chinee how not to cook; but incidentally, the charm of the chase captured us, and we exchanged the gridiron for the gun. So at the end of March 190-we planned a sporting trip to Somaliland—very secretly and to ourselves, for women hate being laughed at quite as much as men do, and that is very much indeed.

My cousin is a wonderful shot, and I am by no means a duffer with a rifle. As to our courage—well, we could only trust we had sufficient to carry us through. We felt we had, and with a woman intuition is everything. If she feels she is not going to fail, you may take it from me she won’t. Certainly, it is one thing to look a lion in the face from England to gazing at him in Somaliland. But we meant to meet him somehow.

Gradually and very carefully we amassed our stores and arranged for their meeting us in due course. We collected our kit, medicines, and a thousand and one needful things, and at last felt we had almost everything, and yet as little as possible. Even the little seemed too much as we reflected on the transport difficulty. We sorted our things most carefully—I longed for the floor-space of a cathedral to use as a spreading-out ground—and glued a list of the contents of each packing-case into each lid.

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To real sportsmen, I shall seem to be leaving the most important point to the last—the rifles, guns, and ammunition. But, you see, I am only a sportswoman by chance, not a habit. I know it is the custom with your born sportsman to place his weapons first, minor details last. “Nice customs curtsey to great kings,” they say, and so it must be here. For King Circumstance has made us the possessors of such wondrous modern rifles, &c., as to leave us no reason to think of endeavoring to supply ourselves with better. We, fortunately, have an uncle who is one of the greatest shikaris of his day, and his day has only just passed, his sun but newly set. A terribly bad mauling from a lion set up troubles in his thigh, and blood poisoning finally ended his active career. He will never hunt again, but he placed at our disposal every beautiful and costly weapon he owned, together with his boundless knowledge. He insisted on our taking many things that would otherwise have been left behind, and his great trust in our powers inspired us with confidence. It is to his help we owe the entire success of our expedition.

It would be an impertinence for a tyro like myself to offer any remarks on the merits or demerits of any rifle. Not only do the fashions change almost as quickly as in millinery, not only do great shikaris advise, advertise, and adventure with any weapon that could possibly be of service to anyone, but my knowledge, even after the experience gained in our long shoot, is confined to the very few firearms we had with us. They might not have met with unqualified approval from all men; they certainly served us well. After all, that is the main point.

Our battery consisted of:

Three 12-bore rifles.

Two double-barrelled hammerless ejecting .500 Expresses.

One .35 Winchester.

Two small .22 Winchesters.

One single-barrel .350.

One 410 bore collector’s gun.

A regular olla podrida in rifles.

My uncle selected these from his armory as being the ones of all others he would feel safest in sending us out with. There may, in the opinion of many, be much more suitable ones for women to use, but, speaking as one who had the using of them, I must say I think the old shikari did the right thing, and if I went again the same rifles would accompany me.

My uncle is a small man, with a shortish arm, and therefore his reach about equaled ours, and his rifles might have been made for us.

We also towed about with us two immensely heavy shotguns. They were a great nuisance, merely adding to the baggage, and we never used them as far as I remember.

As we meant frequently to go about unescorted, a revolver or pistol seemed indispensable in the belt, and under any conditions, such a weapon would be handy and give one a sense of security. On the advice of another great sportsman, we equipped ourselves with a good shikar pistol apiece, 12-bore; and I used mine on one occasion very effectively at close quarters with an ard-wolf, so can speak to the usefulness and efficiency of the weapon.

It was the “cutting the ivy” season in Suburbia when we drove through it early one afternoon, and in front of every pill-box villa, the suburban husband stood on a swaying ladder as he snipped away, all ora ora unmindful of the rampant domesticity of the sparrows. The fourteenth of February had long passed, and the fourteenth is to the birds what Easter Monday is to the lower orders, a general day for getting married.

A few days in town amid the guilty splendor of one of the caravan-serais in Northumberland Avenue were mostly spent in imbibing knowledge. My uncle never wearied of his subject, and it was to our interest to listen carefully. Occasionally he would wax pessimist, and express his doubts of our ability to see the trip through, but he was kind enough to say he knows no safer shot than myself. “Praise from Cæsar.” Though I draw attention to it that shouldn’t! The fragility of my physique bothered him no end. I assured him over and over that my appearance is nothing to go by, and that I am, as a matter of fact, a most wiry person.

This shoot of ours was no hurried affair. We had been meditating it for months, and had, to some extent, arranged all the difficult parts a long time before we got to the actual purchases of stores, and simple things of the kind. We had to obtain special permits to penetrate the Ogaden country and beyond to the Marehan and the Haweea, if we desired to go so far. Since the Treaty with King Menelik in 1897, the Ogaden and onwards is out of the British sphere of influence.

How our permits were obtained I am not at liberty to say, but without them, we should have been forced to prance about on the outskirts of every part where the game is abundant. By the fairy aid of these open sesames we were enabled to traverse the country in almost any part, and would have been passed from Mullah to Sheik, from Sheik to Mullah, had we not taken excellent care to avoid, as far as we could, the settled districts where these gentry reside. At one time all the parts we shot over were free areas, and open to any sportsman who cared to take on the possible dangers of penetrating the far interior of Somaliland, but now the hunting is very limited and prescribed. We were singularly fortunate, and owe our surprising good luck to that much-maligned, useful, impossible to do without a passport to everything worth having known as “influence.”

The tents we meant to use on the shoot were made for us to a pattern supplied. They were fitted with poles of bamboo, of which we had one to spare in case of emergencies. The ropes, by particular request, were of cotton, in contradistinction to hemp, which stretches so abominably.

Two skinning knives were provided, and some little whet-stones, an axe, a bill-hook, two hammers, a screwdriver—my vade mecum—nails, and many other needful articles. We trusted to getting a good many things at Berbera but did not like to leave everything to the last. Our “canned goods” and all necessaries in the food line we got at the Army and Navy Stores. Field-glasses, compasses, and a good telescope our generous relative contributed.

They say that the best leather never leaves London, that there only can the best boots be had. This is as may be. Anyway, the shooting boots made for us did us well and withstood prodigious wear and tear.

The night before our departure we had a “Goodbye” dinner and, as a great treat, were taken to a music-hall. Of course, it was not my first visit, but really, if I have any say in the matter again, it will be the last. Some genius—a man, of course—says, somewhere or other, women have no sense of humor—I wonder if he ever saw a crowd of holiday-making trippers exchanging hats—and I am willing to concede he must be right. I watched that show unmoved while the vast audience rocked with laughter.

The pièce-de-résistance of the evening was provided by a “comic” singer, got up like a very-much-the-worse-for-wear curate, who sang to us about a girl with whom he had once been in love. Matters apparently went smoothly enough until one fateful day he discovered his inamorata’s nose was false, and, what seemed to trouble him more than all, was stuck on with cement. It came off at some awkward moment. This was meant to be funny. If such an uncommon thing happened that a woman had no nose, and more uncommon still, got so good an imitation as to deceive him as to its genuineness in the first place, it would not be affixed with cement. But allowing such improbabilities to pass in the sacred cause of providing amusement, surely the woman’s point of view would give us pause. It would be so awful for her in every way that it would quite swamp any discomfort the man would have to undergo. I felt far more inclined to cry than laugh, and the transcendent vulgarity of it all made one ashamed of being there.

The next item on the program was a Human Snake, who promised us faithfully that he would dislocate his neck. He marched on to a gaudy dais, and after tying himself in sundry knots and things, suddenly jerked, and his neck elongated, swinging loosely from his body. It was a very horrid sight. An attendant stepped forward and told us the Human Snake had kept his promise. The neck was dislocated. My only feeling in the matter was a regret he had not gone a step farther and broken it. All this was because I have no sense of humor. I don’t like music-hall entertainments. I would put up with being smoked into a kipper if the performance rewarded one at all. It is so automatic, so sad. There is no joy, or freshness, or life about it. ’Tis a squalid way of earning money.

At last, every arrangement was arranged, our clothes for the trip duly packed. Being women, we had naturally given much thought to this part of the affair. We said “Adieu” to our wondering and amazed relatives, who, with many injunctions to us to “write every day,” and requests that we should at all times abjure damp beds, saw us off en route for Berbera, via Aden, by a P. and O. liner.

I think steamer-traveling is most enjoyable—that is, unless one happens to be married, in which case there is no pleasure in it, or in much else for the matter of that. I have always noticed that the selfishness which dominates every man more or less, usually more, develops on board ship to an abnormal extent. They invariably contrive to get toothache or lumbago just as they cross the gangway to go aboard. This is all preliminary to securing the lower berth with some appearance of equity. What does it matter that the wife detests top berths, not to speak of the loss of dignity she must endure at the idea even of clambering up? Of course, the husband does not ask her to take the top berth. No husband can ask his wife to make herself genuinely uncomfortable to oblige him. He has to hint. He hints in all kinds of ways—throws things about the cabin, and ejaculates parenthetically, “How am I to climb up there with a tooth aching like mine?” or “I shall be lamed for life with my lumbago if I have to get up to that height.”

Having placed the wife in the position of being an unfeeling brute if she insists on taking the lower berth for herself, there is nothing for it but to go on as though the top berth were the be-all of the voyage and her existence.

“Let me have the top berth, Percy,” she pleads; “you know how I love mountaineering.”

“Oh, very well. You may have it. Don’t take it if you don’t want it, or if you’d rather not. I should hate to seem selfish.”

And so it goes on. Then in the morning, in spite of comic papers to the contrary, the husband has to have first go-in at the looking-glass and the washing apparatus, which makes the wife late for breakfast and everything is cold.

Two Dianas In Somaliland Record Of A Shooting Trip 2Cecily and I shared a most comfortable cabin amidships, together with a Christian Science lady who lay in her berth most days crooning hymns to herself in between violent paroxysms of mal-de-mer. I always understood that in Christian Science you do not have to be ill if you do not want to. This follower of the faith was very bad indeed and didn’t seem to like the condition of things much. We rather thought of questioning her on the apparent discrepancy but judged it wiser to leave the matter alone. It is as well to keep on good terms with one’s cabin mate.

Nothing really exciting occurred on the voyage, but one of the passengers provided a little amusement by her management, or rather mismanagement, of an awkward affair. Almost as soon as we started I noticed we had an unusually pretty stewardess, and that a warrior returning to India appeared to agree with me. He waylaid her at every opportunity, and I often came on them whispering in corners of passages o’ nights. Of course, it had nothing to do with me what the stewardess did, for I am thankful to say I did not require her tender ministrations on the voyage at all. Well, in the next cabin to ours was a silly little woman—I had known her for years—going out to join her husband, a colonel of Indian Lancers. She made the most never-ending fuss about the noise made by a small baby in the adjoining cabin.

One night, very late, Mrs. R. could not, or would not, endure the din any longer, so decided to oust the stewardess from her berth in the ladies’ cabin, the stewardess to come to the vacated one next to the wailing baby. All this was duly carried into effect, and the whole ship was in complete silence when the most awful shrieks rent the air. Most of the inhabitants of my corridor turned out, and all made their way to the ladies’ cabin, which seemed the center of the noise. There we found the ridiculous Mrs. R. alone and in hysterics. After a little, we could see for ourselves there was nothing much the matter. She gasped out that she had evicted the stewardess, and was just falling off to sleep when a tall figure appeared by the berth, clad in pale blue pyjamas—it seemed to vex her so that it was pale blue, and for the life of me I could not see why they were any worse than dark red—and calling her “Mabel, darling!” embraced her rapturously.

“And you know,” said Mrs. R. plaintively, “my name is not Mabel! It is Maud.”

In the uproar, the intruder had of course escaped, but Mrs. R. unhesitatingly proclaimed him to be Captain H., the officer whom I had noticed at first. We discovered the stewardess sleeping peacefully or making a very good imitation of it, and she was wakened up and again dislodged, whilst Mrs. R. prepared to put up with the wailing baby for the remains of the night.

Next morning the captain of the ship interviewed the warrior, who absolutely denied having been anywhere near the ladies’ cabin at the time mentioned, and aided by a youthful subaltern, who perjured himself like a man, proved a most convincing alibi. Matters went on until one day on deck Captain H. walked up to Mrs. R. and reproached her for saying he was the man who rudely disturbed her slumbers in the wee sma’ hours. She, like the inane creature she is, went straight to the skipper and reported that Captain H. was terrorizing her. I heard that evening, as a great secret, that the warrior had been requested to leave the ship at Aden. Where the secret came in I don’t quite know, for the whole lot of us knew of it soon after.

Secret de deux,

Secret des dieux;

Secret de trois,

Secret de tous.

Do you know that?

I was not surprised to hear Captain H. casually remark at breakfast next morning that he thought of stopping off at Aden, as he had never been ashore there, and had ideas of exploring the Hinterland some time, and besides it was really almost foolish to pass a place so often and yet know it not at all. I went to his rescue and said it was a most sound idea. I had always understood it was the proper thing to see Aden once and never again. He looked at me most gratefully and afterward showed us much kindness in many small ways.

Mrs. R. preened herself mightily on having unmasked a villain. She assured me the warrior’s reputation was damaged for all time. The silly little woman did not seem to grasp the fact that a man’s reputation is like a lobster’s claw: a new one can be grown every time the old one is smashed. In fact, we had a lobster at home in the aquarium, and it hadn’t even gone to the trouble of dropping one reputation—I mean claw—but had three at once!

It was one of the quaintest things imaginable to watch the attitude of the various passengers towards the cause of all the trouble. A community of people shut up together onboard ship become quite like a small town, of the variety where everyone knows everyone else, and their business. Previous to the semi-subdued scandal Captain H. had been in great request. He was a fine-looking man, and a long way more versatile than most. Now many of the people who had painstakingly scraped acquaintance with him felt it necessary to look the other way as he passed. Others again—women, of course—tried to secure an introduction from sheer inquisitiveness.

The sole arbiter of what is what, a multum in parvo of the correct thing to do, we discovered in a young bride, a perfect tome of learning. I think—I thought so before I met this walking ethic of propriety—there is no doubt Mrs. Grundy is not the old woman she is represented to be, with cap and spectacles, though for years we have pictured her thus. It is all erroneous. Mrs. Grundy is a newly married youthful British matron of the middle class. There is no greater stickler for the proprieties living. Having possessed herself of a certificate that certifies respectability, she likes to know everyone else is hall-marked and not pinchbeck. She proposed to bring the romance of the stewardess and the officer before the notice of the directors of the company and had every confidence in getting one or two people dismissed over it. All hail for the proprieties! This good lady markedly and ostentatiously cut the disgraced warrior, who was her vis-à-vis at table, and when I asked her why she considered a man guilty of anything until he had been proved beyond doubt to merit cutting, she looked at me with a supercilious eyebrow raised, and a world of pity for my ignorance in her tone as she answered firmly: “I must have the moral courage necessary to cut an acquaintance lacking principle.”

“Wouldn’t it be infinitely more courageous to stick to one?” I said and left her.

We had a very narrow little padre on board too, going out to take on some church billet Mussoorie way. He was bent on collecting, from all of us who were powerless to evade him, enough money to set up a screen of sorts in his new tabernacle. Although he did not approve of the sweepstakes on the day’s run, he sacrificed his feeling sufficiently to accept a free share and would ask us for subscriptions besides, as we lounged about the deck individually or in small groups, always opening the ball by asking our valueless opinions as to the most suitable subject—biblical, of course—for illustration. He came to me one day and asked me what I thought about the matter. Did I think Moses with his mother would make a good picture for a screen? I had no views at all, so had to speedily manufacture some. I gave it as my opinion that if a screen picture were a necessity Moses would certainly do as well as anybody else—in fact, better. For, after all, Moses was the greatest leader of men the world has ever known. He engineered an expedition to freedom, and no man can do more than that.

But I begged the padre to give Moses his rightful mother at last. For the mother of Moses was not she who took all the credit for it. The mother of Moses was undoubtedly the Princess, his father some handsome Israelite, and that is why Moses was forever in heart hankering after his own people, the Israelites. The Princess arranged the little drama of the bullrushes, most sweetly pathetic and tender of stories, arranged too that the baby should be found at the crucial moment, and then gave the little poem to the world to sing through the centuries.

I shocked the parson profoundly, and he never asked me to subscribe again. He was a narrow, bigoted little creature, and I should think has the church and the screen very much to himself by now. I went to hear him take service in the saloon on Sunday. He was quite the sort of padre that makes one feel farther off from heaven than when one was a boy.

I often wonder why so clever a man as Omar asked: “Why nods the drowsy worshipper outside?” He must have known the inevitable result had the drowsy worshipper gone in.

I fell asleep during the sermon, and only wakened up as it was about ending, just as the padre closed an impassioned harangue with “May we all have new hearts, may we all have pure hearts, may we all have good hearts, may we all have sweet hearts,” and the graceless Cecily says that my “Amen” shook the ship, which was, I need hardly tell you, “a most unmitigated misstatement.”

Aden was reached at last—“The coal hole of the East.” As a health resort, I cannot conscientiously recommend it. The heat was overwhelming, and the local Hotel Ritz sadly wanting in some things and overdone in others. We found it necessary to spend some days there and many sleepless nights, pursuing during the latter the big game in our bedrooms. “Keatings” was of no use. I believe the local insects were case-hardened veterans, and rather liked the powder than otherwise. What nights we had! But everyone was in like case, for from all over the house came the sound of slippers banging and much scuffling, and from the room opposite to mine language consigning all insects, the Aden variety in particular, to some even warmer place.

In some ways, the hotel was more than up to date. Nothing so ordinary as a mere common or garden bell in one’s room. Instead, a sort of dial, like the face of a clock, with every conceivable want written round it, from a great desire to meet the manager to a wish to call out the local Fire Brigade. You turned on a small steel finger to point at your particular requirement, rang a bell—et voilà! It seems mere carping to state that the matter ended with voilà. The dials were there, you might ring if you liked—what more do you want? Some day someone will answer. Meanwhile, one can always shout.

We met two other shooting parties at our auberge. The first comprised a man and his elderly wife who were not immediately starting, some of their kit having gone astray. He was a noted shot, and Madam had been some minor trip with him and meant to accompany another. She was an intensely cross-grained person, quite the last woman I should yearn to be cooped up in a tent with for long at a time. Cecily’s idea of it was that the shikari husband meant, sooner or later, to put into practice the words of that beautiful song, “Why don’t you take her out and lose her?” and stuck to it that we should one day come on head-lines in the Somaliland Daily Wail reading something like this:




The good lady regarded us with manifest disapproval. She considered us as two lunatics, bound to meet with disaster and misfortune. Being women alone, we were foredoomed to failure and the most awful things. Our caravan would murder or abandon us. That much was certain. But she would not care to say which. Anyway, we should not accomplish anything. She pointed out that a trip of the kind could not by any chance be maneuvered to a successful issue without the guidance of a husband. A husband is an absolute necessity.

I had to confess, shamefacedly enough, that we had not got a husband, not even one husband, to say nothing of one each, and husbands being so scarce these days, and so hard to come by, we should really have to try and manage without. Having by some means or other contrived to annex a husband for herself, she evinced a true British matron-like contempt for every other woman not so supremely fortunate.

She talked a great deal about “the haven of a good man’s love.” One might sail the seas a long time, I think before one made such a port. Meanwhile, the good lady’s own haven, the elderly shikari, was flirting with the big drum of the celebrated ladies’ orchestra at the Aden tea-house.

“All human beans,” for this is what our friend got the word to, as she was right in the forefront of the g-dropping craze, “should marry. It is too lonely to live by oneself.”

Until one has been married long enough to appreciate the delight and blessedness of solitude this may be true, but wise people don’t dogmatize on so big a subject. Even Socrates told us that whether a man marries or whether he doesn’t he regrets it. And so it would almost follow that if one never jumped the precipice matrimonial one would always have the lurking haunting fear of having been done out of something good. It may be as well, therefore, to take the header in quite youthful days and—get it over. But as the wise Cecily pertinently remarks, you must first catch your hare!

The other shooting party was that of two officers from India, one of them a distant cousin of mine, who was as much surprised to see me as I was to see him. They were setting off to Berbera as soon as humanly possible, like ourselves.

The younger man, my kinsman, took a great fancy to Cecily. At least I suppose he did, in spite of her assertions to the contrary, for he stuck to us like a burr. He was really by way of being a nuisance, as we had a great deal to do in the way of satisfying the excise people, procuring permits, and myriad other things.

One evening I heard the two warriors talking and the elder said, not dreaming that his voice would carry so clearly: “Look here, if you are not careful, we shall have those two girls trying to tack on to our show. And I won’t have it, for they’ll be duffers, of course.”

I laughed to myself, even though I was annoyed. Men are conceited ever, but this was too much! To imagine we had gone to all the initial expense and trouble only to join two sportsmen who, true to their masculine nature, would on all occasions take the best of everything and leave us to be contented with any small game we could find!

It is true that being called a girl softened my wrath somewhat. One can’t be called a girl at thirty without feeling a glow of pleasure. I am thirty. So is Cecily.

I expect you are smiling? I know a woman never passes thirty. It is her Rubicon, and she cannot cross it.

My uncle had written ahead for us to Berbera to engage, if possible, his old shikari and head-man, and in addition, had sent on copious instructions as to our needs generally. Our trip was supposed to be a secret in Aden, but we were inundated with applications from would-be servants of all kinds. I afterwards discovered that a Somali knows your business almost before you know it yourself, and in this second-sight-like faculty is only exceeded in cleverness by the inhabitants of a little island set in the Irish Sea and sacred to Hall Caine.


To be continued 

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