This is the third 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
The Starting Of The Great Trek
My necessaries are embarked
Occasion smiles upon a second leave
At three o’clock in the morning we joined our caravan, all in readiness, in the Square. It was still dark, but we could see the outline of the waiting camels loaded up like pantechnicon vans, and our ponies saddled in expectation of our coming. The Opposition, who had mapped out a different route, beginning by skirting the borders of the now barred reserve for game in the Hargeisa, got up to see us start and wish us “Good hunting.” What our men thought of us and the expedition generally I cannot conjecture. Outwardly at least they gave no sign of astonishment. Clarence gave the word to march, and we set out, leaving Berbera behind us, and very glad we were to see the suburbs a thing of the past. The flies and the sand storms there are most hard to bear, and a little longer sojourn would have seen both of us in bad tempers.
We made up our minds from the first to have tents pitched every night under any circumstances, and never do any of that sleeping on the ground business which seems to be an indispensable part of the fun of big game shooting. We also resolved to share a tent for safety’s sake, but after a little, when we had begun to understand there was nothing on earth to be afraid of, we “chucked” this uncomfortable plan and sported a tent apiece.
On clear nights I always left the flap of the tent open.
I loved to see the wonderful blue of the sky, so reminiscent of the chromo-lithograph pictures admired so greatly in childhood’s days. And I would try and count the myriad stars, and trace a path down the Milky Way. How glorious it was, that first waking in the early, early morning with dark shadows lurking around, the embers of the fires glowing dully, and—just here—a faint breeze blowing in with messages from the distant sea.
The long string of grunting camels ahead looked like some pantomime snake of colossal proportions as it wriggled its way through the low thorn bushes which, here and there, grew stunted and forlorn; camels move with such an undulating gait, and the loads I had trembled about seemed to be a mere bagatelle.
All too soon came the day, and, with the day, the sun in fiery splendor, which speedily reduced us both to the condition of Mr. Mantalini’s expressive description of “demn’d, damp, unpleasant bodies.” The glitter from the sand made us blink at first, but, like everything else, we got perfectly inured to it, and dark days or wet seemed the darker for its loss.
Jerk! And all the camels stopped and bumped into each other, like a train of loaded trucks after a push from an engine. The front camel decided he would rest and meditate awhile, so sat down. He had to be taught the error of such ways, and in a volley of furious undertones from his driver be persuaded to rise.
We passed numerous camels grazing or trying to, in charge of poor-looking, half-fed Somali youths. There is no grazing very near into Berbera, very little outside either unless the animals are taken far afield. Here they were simply spending their energy on trying to pick a bit from an attenuated burnt-up patch of grass that would have been starvation to the average rabbit.
The camel men in charge came over to exchange salaams with ours, and proffer camels’ milk, in the filthiest of harns, to the “sahibs.” We couldn’t help laughing. But for our hair we looked undersized sahibs all right, I suppose, but we couldn’t face the milk. It would have been almost as disagreeable as that bilge water tea.
We each rode one of our expensive steeds, and I had certainly never ridden worse. I called mine “Scepter,” and “Scepter” would not answer to the rein at all. I think his jaw was paralyzed. He would play follow the leader, so I rode behind Cecily.
The cook of cooks made us some tea, but I don’t think the kettle had boiled. Cecily said perhaps it wasn’t meant to in Somaliland. I asked her to see that we set the fashion.
We rested during the hottest hours, and then trekked again for a little in the evening. There was no need to form a thorn zareba the first night out, as we were practically still in Berbera—at least I felt so when I knew we had covered but some fifteen miles since dawn. Perhaps it will be as well here to describe our clothes for the trip. We wore useful khaki jackets, with many capacious pockets, knickerbockers, gaiters, and good shooting boots. At first we elected to don a silly little skirt that came to the knee, rather like the ones you see on bathing suits, but we soon left the things off, or rather they left us, torn to pieces by the thorns.
Mosquitoes do not like me at all in any country, but we had curtains of course, and they served, very badly, to keep out the insects that swarmed all over one.
Next day as we progressed, we saw numerous dik-dik, popping up as suddenly as the gophers do in Canada. They are the tiniest little things, weighing only about four pounds, and are the smallest variety of buck known. The back is much arched, grey-brown in color, with much rufous red on the side. The muzzle is singularly pointed. The little horns measure usually about two and a half inches, but the females are hornless.
The ground we went over was very barren and sandy, rather ugly than otherwise, and there was no cover of any kind. Any thought of stalking the small numbers of gazelle we saw was out of the question. Besides, our main object was to push on as fast as possible to the back of beyond.
In the evenings we always did a few miles and camped where any wells were to be found. The water was full of leeches, but we carefully boiled all the drinking water for our personal use. The Somalis seem to thrive on the filthiest liquid.
The cook got a leech of the most tenacious principles onto his wrist, and made the most consummate fuss. A bite from a venomous snake could hardly have occasioned more commotion. I can’t imagine what the condition of the man would have been had the leech stayed as long as it intended. I put a little salt on its tail, and settled the matter. By the end of the next short trek we reached the Golis Range, taking them at their narrowest part. The whole place had changed for the better. Clear pools of water glistened bright among a riot of aloes and thorns, and there was also a very feathery-looking plant, of which I do not know the name.
For the first time we said to each other, “Let us go out and kill something, or try to.” There was always the dread of returning to camp unblooded, so to speak, when Clarence might, or would, or should, or could regard us as two amiable lunatics not fit to be trusted with firearms. This is a woman all over. Try as she will she cannot rise superior to Public Opinion—even the opinion of a crowd of ignorant Somalis! After all, what is it? “The views of the incapable Many as opposed to the discerning Few.”
We agreed to separate, tossing up for the privilege of taking Clarence. To my infinite regret I drew him. As a rule when we tossed up we did it again and again until the one who had a preference got what she wanted. Women always toss up like that. Why bother to toss at all? Ah, now you’ve asked a poser.
But I couldn’t get Cecily to try our luck again. She said she was suited all right. The fact being that neither of us yearned to make a possible exhibition before our shikari. There was nothing for it. I took my .500 Express, and with Clarence behind me flung myself into the wilderness in as nonchalant a manner as I could assume. I was really very excited in a quiet sort of way, “for now sits Expectation in the air.” It got a trifle dashed after an hour of creeping about with no sort of reward save the frightened rush of the ubiquitous dik-dik.
“Mem-sahib! Mem-sahib!” from the shikari, in excited undertone.
He gripped my arm in silent indication.
“Mem-sahib!” in tones of anguished reproach. “Gerenük!”
We were always Mems to Clarence, who perhaps felt, like the lady at Aden, that if we weren’t we ought to be.
I looked straight ahead, and from my crouching position could make out nothing alive. I gazed intently again. And, yes, of course, all that I looked at was gerenük, two, three, four of them. In that moment of huge surprise, I couldn’t even count properly. The intervening bushes screened them more or less, but what a comical appearance they had! how quaintly set their heads! how long their necks! how like giraffes! They moved on, slowly tearing down the thorns as they fed. I commenced to stalk. There was a fine buck with a good head. It was not difficult to distinguish him, as his harem carried no horns.
For twenty minutes or more I crawled along, hoping on, hoping ever, that some chance bit of luck would bring me in fairly clear range, or that the antelope would pause again. Clearly, they had not winded me; clearly, I was not doing so very badly to be still in their vicinity at all. Now came a bare patch of the country to be got over, and I signed to Clarence to remain behind. I was flat on my face, wriggling along the sand. If the antelope were only in the open, and I in the spot where they were screened! The smallest movement now, and… I got to within 120 yards of them when something snapped. The herd gathered together and silently trotted off, making a way through the density with surprising ease considering its thick nature. I got up and ran some way to try and cut them off, dropping again instantly as I saw a gap ahead through which it seemed likely their rush would carry them. It was an uncertain and somewhat long shot, but the chances were I should never see the animals again if I did not take even the small opportunity that seemed about to present itself. I had long ago forgotten the very existence of my shikari. The world might have been empty save for myself and four gerenük. Nervousness had left me, doubts of all kinds; nothing remained to save the wonder and the interest and the scheming.
It really was more good luck than good management. I afterwards discovered that the gerenük, or Waller’s gazelle, is the most difficult antelope to shoot in all Somaliland, mostly from their habit of frequenting the thickest country.
This is where the ignoramus scores. It is well known that the tyro at first is often more successful in his stalks, and kills too, for the matter of that, than your experienced shikari with years of practice and a mine of knowledge to draw on. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread—and win too sometimes.
The herd passed the gap, and, as they did so, slowed up a bit to crush through. The buck presented more than a sporting shot, his lighter side showing up clear against his dark red back. I fired. I heard the “phut” of the bullet and knew I had not missed. I began to tremble with the after excitements and rated myself soundly for it. I dashed to the gap. The buck—oh, where was he? Gone on, following his companions, and all were out of sight. He was seriously wounded, there was no doubt, for the blood trail was plain to be seen. Clarence joined me, and off we went hot on the track. After a long chase we came on a thickish bunch of thorns, and my quarry, obviously hard hit, bounded out, and was off again like the wind before I had an opportunity to bring up my rifle. It was a long time before he gave me another, when, catching him in fairly open ground, I dropped him with a successful shot at some 140 yards, and the buck fell as my first prize of the trip.
Clarence’s pleasure in my success was really genuine, and I gave him directions to reserve the head and skin, royally presenting him with all the meat. I could not at first make out why he so vigorously refused it. I made up my mind he had some prejudice against this particular variety of antelope. I afterwards found that no Jew is more particular how his meat is killed than is the Somali. The system of “hallal” is very strictly respected, and it was only occasionally, when I meant the men to have meat, that I was able to stock their larder.
I tasted some of this gerenük, and cooked it myself, Our cook was, indeed, a failure. He was one of the talk-about-himself variety, and from constant assertions that he could cook anything passing well, had come to believe himself a culinary artist.
I roasted a part of the leg of my gerenük, and did it in a way we used to adopt in the wilds of Vancouver Island. A hole is made in the ground and filled with small timber and pieces of wood. This is fired, and then, when the embers are glowing, the meat being ready in a deep tin with a tight-fitting lid, you place it on the hot red ashes, and cover the whole with more burning faggots, which are piled on until the meat is considered to be ready. If the Somalis have a quantity of meat to cook, they make a large trench, fill it with firewood, and make a network of stout faggots, on which the meat is placed. It is a sort of grilling process, and very effective. If kept constantly turned, the result is usually quite appetising.
Cecily came into camp with a Speke buck. I examined it with the greatest interest. The coat feels very soft to the touch, and has almost the appearance of having been oiled. Speke’s Gazelle are very numerous in the Golis, and are dark in colour, with a tiny black tail. They have a very strange protuberance of skin on the nose, of which I have never discovered the use. Every extraordinary feature of wildlife seems to me to be there for some reason of protection, or escape, or well-being. Dear Nature arranges things so to balance accounts a little ’twixt all the jungle folk. In the Speke fraternity there is more equality of the sexes. The does as well as the bucks carry horns. At first I pretended to Cecily that my expedition had been an humiliating and embarrassing failure, that I had signally missed a shot at a gerenük that would have delighted the heart of a baby in arms. But she caught sight of my trophy impaled on a thorn bush, and dashed over to see it instanter.
About this time we were very much amused to discover we had among our shikaris a veritable Baron Munchausen. Of whatever he told us, the contrary was the fact. If he brought news of splendid “khubbah,” there was no game for miles. If we went spooring, he spoored to the extent of romancing about beasts that could not possibly frequent the region we were in at all. I do not mind a few fibs; in fact, I rather like them.
“A taste exact for faultless fact
Amounts to a disease,”
and argues such a hopeless want of imagination. But this man was too much altogether. Of course, he may have had a somewhat perverted sense of humor.
My uncle had warned me I should find all Somalis frightful liars, and to be prepared for it. Personally, I always like to assume that every man is a Washington until I have proved him to be an Ananias.
We saw—in the distance—numerous aoul, Soemmering’s Gazelle, and the exquisitely graceful koodoo, the most beautiful animal, to my thinking, that lives in Somaliland. The horns are magnificent, with the most artistic of curves. The females are hornless in this species also. When come upon suddenly, or when frightened, this animal “barks” exactly as our own red deer are wont to do. In color they are of a greyish hue, and their sides are striped in lines of white.
It was not our intention to stay and stalk the quantities of game about us. Our desire was all to push on to the kingdom of His Majesty King Leo. So for days we went on, halting o’ nights now in glorious scenery, and everywhere the game tracks were plentiful. The other side of the Golis we thought really lovely, the trees were so lofty and the jungle so thick. The atmosphere was much damper, and it was not long before we felt the difference in our tents. However, there was one consolation, water was plentiful, and we were so soon to leave that most necessary of all things.
The birds were beautiful and as tame as the sparrows in Kensington Gardens. One afternoon I walked into a small nullah, where, to my joy, I found some ferns, on which some of the most lovely weaver-finches had built their nests. The small birds are, to my mind, the sweetest in the world. Some were crimson, some were golden, and the metallic lustre of their plumage made them glitter in the sun. There was also a variety of the long-tailed whydah bird, some honey-suckers, and a number of exquisite purple martins. Two of the last flew just behind me, snapping up the insects I stirred up with my feet. I watched one with a fly in its beak, which it released again and again, always swooping after it and recapturing it, just like a cruel otter with its fish.
I tried to find some of the nests of the little sun-birds. I believe they dome them, but no one quite knows why. It was once thought that it was done to hide the brilliant colors of some feminines from birds of prey, but it is done by some plain ones as well. Some birds lock up their wives in the nests; they must be a frivolous species!
Many of the honey-suckers are quite gorgeous when looked at closely—especially the green malachite ones, which have a bright metallic appearance. I also watched some little russet finches performing those evolutions associated with the nesting season only. They rose clapping their wings together above them, producing a noise somewhat similar to our own hands being clapped, and when at the top of their ascent they uttered a single note and then shut up as if shot, descending rapidly until close to the ground, when they open their wings again and alight most gently. The single note is the love song, and the other extraordinary performance is the love dance. It must be attractive, as it is done by the male only, and only in the breeding season.
Farther on I got into a perfect little covey of sunbirds flying about and enjoying themselves. Every now and again one would settle on a flowering shrub with crimson blossoms, and dip its curved long beak into the cup and suck out the honey. The male of this species is ornamented with a long tail, the female being much plainer. In the brute creation it is always so; the male tries to captivate by ornaments and brilliant colors. We human beings have grown out of that and try other blandishments. But it is curious that the male has still to ask and the female to accept. We haven’t changed that. We fight just as bucks and tigers do, and the winner isn’t always chosen; there may be reasons against it. There is just that little uncertainty, that little hardness to please which gives such joy to the pursuit. Well, there are exceptions, for the ladies of the bustard persuasion fight for their lords.
On my way back to camp I saw a buck and Mrs. Buck of the Speke genus. The former stood broadside on, and almost stared me out of countenance at fifty paces. He evidently knew I was unarmed. Why do they always stand broadside on? I’ve never seen it explained. I suppose it is partly because he is in a better position for flight.
At this camp, we were caught in a continuous downpour which lasted twenty-four hours, intermixed with furious thunderstorms. Cecily’s tent (fortunately she was in mine at the time) was struck, producing some curious results. The lightning split the bamboo tent-pole into shreds and threw splinters about that, when collected, made quite a big bundle. The hats and clothes which were hanging on to the pole were found flung in all directions, but nothing was burnt. The lightning disappeared into the loose soil, without appreciably disturbing it.
Then we had a glorious day sandwiched in, but returned again to the winter of our discontent and Atlantic thunderstorms. It was rather unfortunate to emerge from one rain to enter another. We took the precaution this time to entrench ourselves so that the tents were not flooded, but the poor camels must have had a bad time.
The sun reappeared at last, after a long seclusion, and all our clothes, beds, and chattels had to be dried. Never has old Sol had a warmer welcome. All nature aired itself.
We moved on and now found it needful to form a zareba at night. Into this citadel of thorns and cut bushes, the camels were driven and our tents set up. At intervals of a few yards fires blazed, and a steady watch was kept.
We camped in one place for two days in order to fill up every water cask, and here Cecily and I, going out together one morning quite early, had the luck to come on a whole sounder of warthog. I shall never forget the weird and extraordinary spectacle they presented. A big boar, rather to the front, with gleaming tushes, stepping so proudly and ever and again shaking his weighty head. They all appeared to move with clockwork precision and to move slowly, whereas, as a matter of fact, they were going at a good pace. We dropped, and I took a shot at the coveted prize, and missed! The whole sounder fled in panic, with tails held erect, a very comical sight. We doubled after them through the bush, and bang! I had another try. They were gone, and the whole jungle astir.
I bagged a very fine Speke’s Gazelle here, but am ashamed to say it was a doe. It is very hard sometimes to differentiate between the sexes in this species.
I was very much looking forward to the opportunity of bagging an oryx, I admire the horns of this antelope so greatly, though I suppose they are not really to be compared in the same breath with those of the koodoo. The oryx is very powerfully made, about the size of a pony, and the horns are long and tapering. They remind me of a vast pair of screws, the “thread” starting from the base and winding round to a few inches off the top when the horn is plain. They are the greatest fighters of all the genus buck, and the bulls are provided by nature, who orders all things well, with almost impenetrable protective horn-proof shields of immensely thick skin which covers the withers. These are much valued by the Somalis for many purposes, notably for the shields carried by them when in full dress. Set up as trophies they take a high polish and come up like tortoise-shell. One or two of mine I had mounted as trays, with protective glass, others as tables. All were exceedingly effective.
By this time we had got to and set out upon, not without some qualms, the waterless Haud, starting for the first march at cock-crow. In some parts, it attains a width of over two hundred miles across. It all depends on where you strike it. We did the crossing in ten marches, taking five days over it. All that time we had to rely solely on the supply of water we carried with us, which was an anxious piece of work. I do not think we ever did so little washing in our lives before; water was too precious to juggle with then.
Haud is a Somali word signifying the kind of country so named and may mean jungly ground or prairie-like plains. We crossed a part which reminded us both of the Canadian prairies, dried-up grass as far as the eye could reach. The waterless tract most crossed by travelers and trading caravans is arid and barren, and the paths are not discernible owing to the springy nature of the ground. Parts of the Haud are quite luxuriant and provide grazing for countless thousands of camels, sheep, and goats. Our route lay over a flat, ugly, and uninteresting expanse. It was no use looking for signs of game. The new grass had not as yet appeared. Even the easily contented camels had to make believe a lot at mealtimes.
We were marvelously lucky in our getting over this daunting place. At no time were we overwhelmed with the heat. A quite refreshing breeze blew over us most days, and at night we found it too cold to be pleasant. I called it luck, but Clarence attributed it to the will of Allah.
I got a fine bustard for the pot. A beautiful bird with a dark brown crest, and a coat, like Joseph’s, of many colours. I saved some of the feathers, they were so iridescent and beautiful. The bustard tribe in Somaliland appears to be a large one. I noticed three or four distinctly different species, with dissimilar markings. The Ogaden bustard had the prize, I think, in glory of plumage. Even his beak was painted green, his legs yellow, and all else of him shone resplendent. The cook made a bustard stew, and very good it tasted. We did not need to feel selfish, feasting so royally, for birds are not looked on with any favor by Somalis, though they do not refuse to eat them. I think it is because no bird, even an ostrich, can grow big enough to make the meal seem really worthwhile to a people who, though willing enough to go on short commons if occasion forces enjoy nothing less than a leg of mutton per man.
Cecily, lucky person, shot a wart-hog, coming on him just as he was backing into the little pied-à-terre they make for themselves. She did deserve her luck, for as I was out, and not able to help her, she had to dissect her prize alone. Pig is unclean to the Somali. Even the cook, who claimed to be “all same English,” was not English enough for this. We kept the tushes, and ate the rest. The meat was the most palatable of any we had tasted so far.
I bagged a wandering aoul, not at all a sporting shot. I got the buck in the near fore, and but for its terrible lameness I should never have come up with it at all. His wound, like Mercutio’s, sufficed. One might as well try to win the Derby on a cab-horse as come up with even a wounded buck on any of the steeds we possessed. I ambled along, and so slowly that the buck was outstripping the pony. I slipped off then, and running speedily, came within excellent range and put the poor thing out of his pain. His head was the finest of his kind we obtained.
The horns differ considerably, and I have in my collection backward and outward turning ones. Aoul is a very common gazelle in all parts of open country, barring South-East Somaliland, and travels about in vast herds. Its extraordinary inquisitiveness makes it fall a very easy victim.
Clarence went out with us in turn. His alternative was a fine upstanding fellow, but after three or four expeditions with him as guide I deposed him from the position of second hunter. He was slow, and lost his presence of mind on the smallest provocation, both of them fatal defects in a big game hunter, where quickness of brain and readiness of resource is a sine qua non.
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