These are the fifth, sixth, and seventh 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
Much better than I was. I can stand and walk. I will
even pace slowly to my kinsman’s
A Winter’s Tale
My leg, with the extra big gash, was a frightful nuisance. It was not much, but was just enough to prevent my going out hunting for some time. I could not run at all; and if you would hunt buck or beast, you must run like Atalanta. From point to point you scamper on occasion, and it is all as glorious as it sounds.
During the period of my rest I prevailed on Cecily to go out as of old, and try her luck. I occupied myself in caring for the trophies we had by now acquired. All the skulls were carefully buried near the largest ant-hill in the vicinity, and were dug up every time we struck camp. The earlier trophies were by now picked almost clean. The masks and skins generally were rubbed with alum, taxidermine, and wood ashes. I was very careful to smooth out any creases and gave particular attention to the magnificent coat from mine enemy. Even with occasional drenchings, the trophies suffered no harm, and we generally in rainy times tried to spare them a covering of waterproof sheeting. In those days of idleness, the bored-looking camels had been two short expeditions for water supplies. Cecily did wonders, bagging a fine oryx after an exciting stalk, a lesser koodoo—a most beautiful creature—and a jackal. It was of the black-backed variety, with silver hairs and flaming yellow sides, and I admired him immensely. He was a monster too and measured four feet as he lay.
The men were reveling in any amount of meat of my cousin’s providing. I think we were more generous in this direction than are many hunters. The caravan is expected to rely on the usual ration of rice and dates—the latter a gummed-together mass of fruit, which is eaten by the Somalis in handfuls. They were quite good, for I tasted them frequently.
We bought sheep throughout the trip, either by exchange or for cash; and, as I say, there was a plentiful supply of venison.
As soon as I could ride we marched, and very glad we were to leave the place where circumstances had enforced so long a stay. The camp began to take on the slovenly, dirty ways of the average Somali karia. The spirit of idleness sits ill on these natives. They like doing nothing, but doing nothing does not like them, and very speedily they get slothful.
The procedure of our camping arrangements varied but little when things were normal and going smoothly. On selecting the right spot to halt, every man went to his own work, and our tents were up almost as soon as they were taken off the kneeling camels, who flopped down, joyfully obedient at the first sign of a rest, and, being relieved of the loads, were allowed to graze at once. Our butler put out everything we needed, set up the beds, placed our goods and chattels to hand, and prepared a bath each for us if we happened to be in a place where a bath was not too great a luxury, and a mere sponge if water was absent.
Meanwhile, the cook had a fire going, or theoretically, he had, though very often it was a long time before it got started. The camel men hacked down thorn bushes, using native axes, and hangols, or wooden crooks, for pulling the wood about with. The chant that accompanies all Somali occupations was loud and helpful. Sometimes we took a hand at this zareba building, using an English axe or a bill-hook, and the men would laugh in surprise, and hold the boughs in readiness for us to chop. They liked the English axes. “Best axe I see,” the camel-man in chief said. But we would not lend them permanently, because they would have been broken at once. Every mortal thing goes to pieces in the hands of these Somalis; most extraordinary. Only tough native implements could stand against such treatment. Buck were carried slung on Sniders, and bent the weapon into graceful curves. The sights and even the triggers were knocked off. The Somali boys broke all the handles off the pans, and seemed incapable of taking care of anything. Many of the native harns gave out at the different wells because of the smashing about they received and meant our buying more from passing tribes.
At night my shikar pistol, loaded, lay to my hand on a box at my bedside, for what I don’t quite know, as I should have disliked immensely to use it. But it seemed the correct thing; the butler expected it. He always asked me to give him the weapon from my belt about supper time, and I next saw it in readiness for midnight affrays. “Chota-hazari” was served us by the butler calling loudly outside our tents, or by delicately tapping two stones together as an intimation that a cup of tea stood on the ground at the entrance when it meant making a long arm to reach it. The teacups were not Dresden; they were of thick enamel—we only had one each and two over in case of accidents or visitors—and to appreciate them at their true value we would have needed the mouths of flukes.
Sometimes a case of necessaries required for breakfast would be in our tents doing duty as furniture, and then it was very funny indeed. The cook would come and chant outside that unless he could have the box Mem-sahib no breakfast would see, and if Mem-sahib no breakfast saw she would upbraid the chef because he had not got the box. All this would be woven into a little tune in a mixture of Somali, Hindostanee, and so-called English. Mem-sahib would chant back to the effect that the necessaries would appear all in good time. The cook would retire to stir up the fire and cuff his assistant, a tow-headed “youth,” whose raison d’etre appeared to be the cleaning, or making worse dirty, of the pans, and preparing things for the culinary artist. The tow-headed one was a mere dauber; at least our cook told us so in effect, with great disdain, when I suggested the assistant should be allowed to try his ’prentice hand. That was one day when I got worried about my digestion holding out against the insidious attacks made on it by the high-class cookery we were supposed to be having.
It was a long time before I got used to the hot nauseating smell of the camels. It was ever present in camp, and when the wind blew into one’s tent the indescribable aroma transcended all others. Barring the horrid odour, we had nothing else to complain of in our patient dumb servants. The camels were good-tempered beasts, taking them all round; very different to Indian camels, among whom it would have been impossible to wander so nonchalantly o’ nights. All our camels, save one, were of the white variety usually to be found in Berbera. The one exception was a trojan creature, dark and swarthy looking, who hailed from distant Zeila. He was a splendid worker, untiring and ungrumbling, never roaring at loading-up time. But the Gel Ad, or Berbera, camel is considered by experts to be the better animal. We preferred “Zeila” to any animal we had; we christened him after his home. It is very odd, and maybe will be found difficult to understand, as to explain, but in some of the camels’ faces we traced the most speaking likenesses to friends and relatives, either through expression, form, or fancy. Anyway, they were like many of our acquaintances; and so, to Cecily and myself, the different camels were thoroughly described and known as “Uncle Robert,” “Aunt Helena,” or “Mrs. Stacy,” and so on and so forth. One haughty white camel, with a lofty sneer of disdain and arrogance about it, was so very like a human beauty of our acquaintance that we smiled every time we looked at the animal. Our caravan on the march straggled like a flock of geese. Some two or three of the camel-men had to lead the van; the others lagged behind in a bunch. The hunters took it in turns to ride the spare ponies, and Cecily and I rode the steeds we had purchased at the first Somali karia we came upon.
I often wondered what our followers thought of two women being in the position to command attention, deference, and work—the Somali feminine is such a very crushed-down creature, and takes a back seat at all times. Even if a superabundance of meat is on hand she is not spared a tit-bit, but is presented with fearsome scraps and entrails, the while the masculine element gorges on the choicest morsels. This is rather different to our home system. I remember an Englishman of my acquaintance telling me once, with no acrimony of tone, nothing but calm acceptance of the inevitable, that he had never tasted the breast of chicken since his marriage five years before! What a glimpse into a household!
My first excursion was after that oryx I had so set my heart upon, and Clarence, to his joy, accompanied me.
“Much better than I was,” but still not quite fit even yet. I carefully stalked a small herd of oryx, four to be precise, crawling about on hands and knees for upwards of an hour, and when my chance came at last, and a bull (not anything very wonderful I am glad to remember) passed broadside on, well within range, I fired—and missed! At the very instant a violent stab agony in my damaged leg made me cringe involuntarily. The oryx was gone!
I sat down, and but for the presence of my shikari I am sure I should have cried.
Game was now most plentiful, gerenük, oryx, and aoul being more often in sight than not. Thunderstorms became more frequent, and rain more insistent. Since leaving the place where we sojourned so long we had not known one day in which rain did not fall sometime during the twenty-four hours. We had managed fairly well by going out “between whiles,” but now there weren’t any, and there came a time of no half-measures. Steady downpours bothered us no end. I am very used to water, because my habitat in England is in that delectable spot where of all other places nobody dreams of going out minus an umbrella. And I have seen rain in many corners of the world, but never rain like the Somali variety. It is for all the world like holding on to the string of a shower bath—it pours and pours. Of course whilst the rain is on there is no use in endeavoring to spoor, for all traces of game are simply wiped out by the floods of water as a sponge cleans a slate. We could do nothing save remain in our soaked tents and fume. Things were very bad and uncomfortable at this time. For a whole week we never knew what it was to be dry. Every mortal thing we had was drenched, and the poor tents were no more use than brown paper in face of the continued avalanches of water. We used to wring our blankets each night, and but for copious doses of quinine, I don’t know how I should have pulled through. Cecily pinned her faith on weak whisky-and-water, of which latter commodity there was now no scarcity, and both our schemes worked admirably, and bar a little rheumatism in my left shoulder I carried on all right. At last—“a fine day; let us go out and kill something” came and, the conditions being splendid for spooring, we went off bent on an execution—of anything.
Running in and out among some rocks were the quaintest little rabbits, without tails, Manx rabbits, odd stumpy greyish bodies, and an engaging air of indifference to passers-by.
A great yellow-beaked hornbill sat on a tree and made his own peculiar croaking noise. Most wise he looked as he put his grey head to one side and investigated us. Yet his looks bewrayed him; for when I threw some dates at him to see if he knew how to catch them in his beak, he let them pass him all unheeded. His cousin at the Zoo could teach many things.
After a long ride we left our ponies to be led along behind by a syce, and spoored on foot. Clarence and the two hunters were still riding. We nearly went off our heads with joy and excitement when we suddenly came on a neat little path made by lion. The print was perfect. The most perfect I have ever seen. The soft earth had taken the mold like dough. There were the fore indents, there the cushions of the pad. We knelt down in our eagerness to realize how really soaked everything was. The ground was sodden, and every step oozed water.
We ran on, Clarence and the hunters keeping pace easily with us. There were scrubby bushes all about, but the pugs threaded in and out, and held plainly on, until they ended in a vast pile of stones and brushwood. An ideal lair. Clearly, our quarry was run to earth. With a “whuff” two mighty animals leapt up, over the stones and away, just for all the world like a couple of agile common or garden cats. Cecily and I flew after them. I don’t think I ever ran so hard in my life before. I might have been the pursued rather than the pursuer. The ground opened up to great plateau country, and the lion and lioness were cantering close together, almost touching shoulders. Making a detour Clarence and the hunters rounded the great cats up. For a moment it almost seemed that they pulled up dead as the gallant little ponies dashed by them, but a man is fairly safe on a galloping pony. I laid this flattering well-known unction to my soul as I saw the lion go for “The Baron,” whilst the lioness simply broke away, and vanished in that marvelous manner of disappearing which lions know the secret of.
With quivering tail extended, and most horrible coughing snarls the lion seemed about to disprove the idea that he was no match for a mounted horseman. But away and away dashed the sporting little pony, and His Majesty turned his terrific attentions to us, and in a whirl of tossed-up mud came to within forty yards of the place where Cecily and I stood in the open, rigid and awaiting the onslaught. Then we let him have it. I saw his tremendous head over my sights as in short bounds he cleared the distance that separated us. I fired simultaneously with my cousin.
I was using the heavy 12-bore, but I kept my fingers on the rear trigger as we advanced cautiously to the dropped lion. He crumpled up like a toy with the mainspring broken, and sank as he finished his last spring with his massive head between his paws—a majestic and magnificent sight.
I measured him previous to the skinning operation and, stretched out, from his nose to the end of his tail he touched seven feet ten and a half inches. Of course, this was before rigor-mortis had set in, and he may have stretched a little. His mane was shorter than our other damaged lion trophy and entirely clear from the patches of mange we found on one or two other lions we bagged. But he was infested with ticks. I should think life must have been an irritating affair for him.
We were immensely set up, and only regretted that the lioness had made good her escape. One of the most extraordinary features about lions to me is the way so large an animal can obliterate itself; they simply blend into the landscape. Their brownish-yellow skins, so similar in color to the burnt grass, and their agile bodies, which can crouch and wriggle like any lizard, play parts in the scheme for invisibility. On one occasion Cecily and I surprised a lion in a small nullah. (We were a trifle astonished ourselves, too, but that is a detail.) We ran in pursuit, being out of range, and though we kept our eyes fixed on him, or thought we did, that lion seemed to disappear as suddenly as though the earth had swallowed him up. Then Clarence pointed out to us a patch of brown grass, taller than the rest—any amateur like myself would have sworn it was grass. “Libbah,” our man said impressively. And “libbah” it was. We approached and the “grass” with a bound was off! We bagged him in the end, and he was a very old creature indeed. Alone, and almost toothless, his day was almost spent, and he died more royally at our hands than ending as the ignominious prey of some hyæna. He put me in mind of a wonderful lion picture I saw once at the Academy, which portrayed an old, old lion, at twilight, in his own beloved haunts, weak and doddering, yet still a king—too strong even yet to be pulled down by the lurking forms, which with lurid eyes watched the dying lion from the dark thorn background. I think the picture was called “Old Age.”
The strange inborn dread all wild creatures have of man, unknown man, makes even the mightiest lion try for safety. There is, of course, no sort of cowardice in him. In open country, he knows the man has all the advantage, but even then he faces the music grandly when cornered. In cover, instinct tells him most of the game lies with himself. The Somalis have a way—I am afraid this is a bit of a chestnut—of riding down lion that is really a clever performance If some venturesome beast makes a habit of helping himself to a baby camel or two from the karia at night, he is a marked beast, and a small army of Somalis prepare to give battle. Riding their quick little tats, and all armed with spears, they drive the lion, with prodigious shouting and yelling, into the open. Here they close around him and harry him hither and thither, dazing the mazed creature with their cries and hurry. In the end the monarch always abdicates, and some Somali, quicker than his fellows, finishes the business with a drive of his spear. It is not unlike the principle of bullfighting, except that in the case of the Somalis self-preservation originates the necessity for the battle.
In the lion-world, I noticed that the rule of Place aux dames did not apply. The male invariably tried to take the shortest route to safety, and madam had to look after herself.
Buck of every variety forms the staple food of lions. I have heard that they have been known to kill wart-hog, but never myself came on any proof of this.
A large trading caravan passed us here en route to Berbera. They were taking a heterogeneous collection for sale at the coast town, ostrich feathers, ghee, gum-arabic, prayer-mats and skins of all varieties. They sold us some ghee, which we were glad to get, as our supply was running low. Their huts were standing when we came on the caravan, and on the march were carried on camels as our tents were. Like turtles, we carried our houses with us wherever we went. We wrote two or three letters, enclosing them in an outer envelope asking that they should be posted. Then we gave them to the head-man of the trading party with a request that he should hand them to the first sahib he saw in Berbera. The letters eventually turned up at their destinations, so some good Samaritan posted them.
That same evening, as Cecily was riding alongside me, a group of some twenty Somali horsemen rode up to us, and every one of them closed tight around us until all the ponies were wedged like sardines. The whole crowd wished to shake hands and welcome us. The Somali handshake is not a shake strictly speaking. It is a mere pressing of hands and is prefaced usually by the salutation “Aleikum salaam,” which you reply to by reversing the order of it, “Salaam aleikum.” Then generally the interview, if lagging a little, is materially assisted by “Mot! Mot! io Mot!” (Hail! Hail! Again Hail!) This is a great feature of the conversation, and, shouted as only a Somali can shout it, is a rousing welcome indeed.
These friends of ours were the outposts of a vast horde of Somalis, for at some wells we saw multitudes of camels standing in a sort of lake, quite a good-sized piece of water, in a grilling sun. The water was turgid and foul, or I should have schemed for a bath out of it. Everyone came to call, and to inquire what we were doing. They crowded round the trophies drying, putting their fingers on the skins and then tasting the fingers to see what the result was like. They were a great nuisance, and we had to trek on again to get away from their unwelcome attentions. One of our camels fought another as we loaded up. Never did I see such viciousness. The fur flew, and bites were many, and at last the victor drove the vanquished roaring before it. The camel-man who valeted the conquering hero seemed quite charmed, but as the beaten animal had some nasty bites in the neck, the performance did not seem to us so meritorious. In a day or two the bites had developed into really open wounds and the men treated them in cruel-to-be-kind fashion by applying red-hot stones, tying this drastic treatment firmly over the sore. Burning seemed to be an all-curing cure, and during most of the weeks a spear was heated with which to raise blisters on one camel or another.
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