Part 3 (1/2)

Our arrival was welcomed with enthusiasm. The Arabs here had extensive plantations of sesame, dhurra, and cotton, and the nights were spent in watching them, to scare away the elephants, which, with extreme cunning, invaded the fields of dhurra at different points every night, and retreated before morning to the thick, th.o.r.n.y jungles of the Sett.i.te.

The Arabs were without firearms, and the celebrated aggageers or sword-hunters were useless, as the elephants appeared only at night, and were far too cunning to give them a chance. I was importuned to drive away the elephants, and one evening, about nine o'clock, I arrived at the plantations with three men carrying spare guns. We had not been half an hour in the dhurra fields before we met a couple of Arab watchers, who informed us that a herd of elephants was already in the plantation; we accordingly followed our guides. In about a quarter of an hour we distinctly heard the cracking of the dhurra stems, as the elephants browsed and trampled them beneath their feet.

Taking the proper position of the wind, I led our party cautiously in the direction of the sound, and in about five minutes I came in view of the slate-colored and dusky forms of the herd. The moon was bright, and I counted nine elephants; they had trampled a s.p.a.ce of about fifty yards square into a barren level, and they were now slowly moving forward, feeding as they went. One elephant, unfortunately, was separated from the herd, and was about forty yards in the rear; this fellow I was afraid would render our approach difficult. Cautioning my men, especially Bacheet, to keep close to me with the spare rifles, I crept along the alleys formed by the tall rows of dhurra, and after carefully stalking against the wind, I felt sure that it would be necessary to kill the single elephant before I should be able to attack the herd.

Accordingly I crept nearer and nearer, well concealed in the favorable crop of high and sheltering stems, until I was within fifteen yards of the hindmost animal. As I had never shot one of the African species, I was determined to follow the Ceylon plan, and get as near as possible; therefore I continued to creep from row to row of dhurra, until I at length stood at the very tail of the elephant in the next row. I could easily have touched it with my rifle, but just at this moment it either obtained my wind or it heard the rustle of the men. It quickly turned its head half round toward me; in the same instant I took the temple-shot, and by the flash of the rifle I saw that it fell. Jumping forward past the huge body, I fired the left-hand barrel at an elephant that had advanced from the herd; it fell immediately! Now came the moment for a grand rush, as they stumbled in confusion over the last fallen elephant, and jammed together in a dense ma.s.s with their immense ears outspread, forming a picture of intense astonishment! Where were my spare guns? Here was an excellent opportunity to run in and floor them right and left!

Not a man was in sight! Everybody had bolted, and I stood in advance of the dead elephant calling for my guns in vain. At length one of my fellows came up, but it was too late. The fallen elephant in the herd had risen from the ground, and they had all hustled off at a great pace, and were gone. I had only bagged one elephant. Where was the valiant Bacheet--the would-be Nimrod, who for the last three months had been fretting in inactivity, and longing for the moment of action, when he had promised to be my trusty gun-bearer? He was the last man to appear, and he only ventured from his hiding-place in the high dhurra when a.s.sured of the elephants' retreat. I was obliged to admonish the whole party by a little physical treatment, and the gallant Bacheet returned with us to the village, crestfallen and completely subdued. On the following day not a vestige remained of the elephant, except the offal; the Arabs had not only cut off the flesh, but they had hacked the skull and the bones in pieces, and carried them off to boil down for soup.

CHAPTER VI.

Preparations for advance--Mek Nimmur makes a foray--The Hamran elephant-hunters--In the haunts of the elephant--A desperate charge.

The time was approaching when the gra.s.s throughout the country would be sufficiently dry to be fired. We accordingly prepared for our expedition; but it was first necessary for me to go to Katariff, sixty miles distant, to engage men, and to procure a slave in place of old Masara, whose owner would not trust her in the wild region we were about to visit.

I engaged six strong Tokrooris for five months, and purchased a slave woman for thirty-five dollars. The name of the woman was Barrake. She was about twenty-two years of age, brown in complexion, fat and strong, rather tall, and altogether she was a fine, powerful-looking woman, but decidedly not pretty. Her hair was elaborately dressed in hundreds of long narrow curls, so thickly smeared with castor oil that the grease had covered her naked shoulders. In addition to this, as she had been recently under the hands of the hairdresser, there was an amount of fat and other nastiness upon her head that gave her the appearance of being nearly gray.

Through the medium of Mahomet I explained to her that she was no longer a slave, as I had purchased her freedom; that she would not even be compelled to remain with us, but she could do as she thought proper; that both her mistress and I should be exceedingly kind to her, and we would subsequently find her a good situation in Cairo; in the mean time she would receive good clothes and wages. This, Mahomet, much against his will, was obliged to translate literally. The effect was magical; the woman, who had looked frightened and unhappy, suddenly beamed with smiles, and without any warning she ran toward me, and in an instant I found myself embraced in her loving arms. She pressed me to her bosom, and smothered me with castor-oily kisses, while her greasy ringlets hung upon my face and neck. How long this entertainment would have lasted I cannot tell, but I was obliged to cry ”Caffa! Caffa!” (enough! enough!) as it looked improper, and the perfumery was too rich. Fortunately my wife was present, but she did not appear to enjoy it more than I did. My snow-white blouse was soiled and greasy, and for the rest of the day I was a disagreeable compound of smells--castor oil, tallow, musk, sandal-wood, burnt sh.e.l.ls, and Barrake.

Mahomet and Barrake herself, I believe, were the only people who really enjoyed this little event. ”Ha!” Mahomet exclaimed, ”this is your own fault! You insisted upon speaking kindly, and telling her that she is not a slave; now she thinks that she is one of your WIVES!” This was the real fact; the unfortunate ** Barrake ** had deceived herself. Never having been free, she could not understand the use of freedom unless she was to be a wife. She had understood my little address as a proposal, and of course she was disappointed; but as an action for breach of promise cannot be pressed in the Soudan, poor Barrake, although free, had not the happy rights of a free-born Englishwoman, who can heal her broken heart with a pecuniary plaster, and console herself with damages for the loss of a lover.

We were ready to start, having our party of servants complete, six Tokrooris--Moosa, Abdoolahi, Abderachman, Ha.s.san, Adow, and Hadji Ali, with Mahomet, Wat Gamma, Bacheet, Mahomet secundus (a groom), and Barrake; total, eleven men and the cook.

When half way on our return from Katariff to Wat el Negur, we found the whole country in alarm, Mek Nimmur having suddenly made a foray. He had crossed the Atbara, plundered the district, and driven off large numbers of cattle and camels, after having killed a considerable number of people. No doubt the reports were somewhat exaggerated, but the inhabitants of the district were flying from their villages with their herds, and were flocking to Katariff. We arrived at Wat el Negur on the 3d of December, and we now felt the advantage of our friends.h.i.+p with the good Sheik Achmet, who, being a friend of Mek Nimmur, had saved our effects during our absence. These would otherwise have been plundered, as the robbers had paid him a visit. He had removed our tents and baggage to his own house for protection. Not only had he thus protected our effects, but he had taken the opportunity of delivering the polite message to Mek Nimmur that I had entrusted to his charge--expressing a wish to pay him a visit as a countryman and friend of Mr. Mansfield Parkyns, who had formerly been so well received by his father.

My intention was to examine thoroughly all the great rivers of Abyssinia that were tributaries to the Nile. These were the Sett.i.te, Royan, Angrab, Salaam, Rahad, Dinder, and the Blue Nile. If possible, I should traverse the Galla country, and crossing the Blue Nile, I should endeavor to reach the White Nile. But this latter idea I subsequently found impracticable, as it would have interfered with the proper season for my projected journey up the White Nile in search of the sources. The Hamran Arabs were at this time encamped about twenty-five miles from Wat el Negur. I sent a messenger, accompanied by Mahomet, to the sheik, with the firman of the Viceroy, requesting him to supply me with elephant hunters (aggageers).

During the absence of Mahomet I received a very polite message from Mek Nimmur, accompanied by a present of twenty pounds of coffee, with an invitation to pay him a visit. His country lay between the Sett.i.te River and the Bahr Salaam; thus without his invitation I might have found it difficult to traverse his territory. So far all went well. I returned my salaams, and sent word that we intended to hunt through the ** Base **

country, after which we should have the honor of pa.s.sing a few days with him on our road to the river Salaam, at which place we intended to hunt elephants and rhinoceroses.

Mahomet returned, accompanied by a large party of Hamran Arabs, including several hunters, one of whom was Sheik Abou Do Roussoul, the nephew of Sheik Owat. As his name in full was too long, he generally went by the abbreviation ”Abou Do.” He was a splendid fellow, a little above six feet one, with a light active figure, but exceedingly well-developed muscles. His face was strikingly handsome; his eyes were like those of a giraffe, but the sudden glance of an eagle lighted them up with a flash during the excitement of conversation, which showed little of the giraffe's gentle character. Abou Do was the only tall man of the party; the others were of middle height, with the exception of a little fellow named Jali, who was not above five feet four inches, but wonderfully muscular, and in expression a regular daredevil.

There were two parties of hunters among the Hamran Arabs, one under Abou Do, and the other consisting of four brothers Sherrif. The latter were the most celebrated aggageers among the renowned tribe of the Hamran. Their father and grandfather had been mighty Nimrods, and the broadswords wielded by their strong arms had descended to the men who now upheld the prestige of the ancient blades. The eldest was Taher Sherrif. His second brother, Roder Sherrif, was a very small, active-looking man, with a withered left arm. An elephant had at one time killed his horse, and on the same occasion had driven its sharp tusk through the arm of the rider, completely splitting the limb, and splintering the bone from the elbow-joint to the wrist to such an extent that by degrees the fragments had sloughed away, and the arm had become shrivelled and withered. It now resembled a ma.s.s of dried leather twisted into a deformity, without the slightest shape of an arm; this was about fourteen inches in length from the shoulder. The stiff and crippled hand, with contracted fingers, resembled the claw of a vulture.

In spite of his maimed condition, Roder Sherrif was the most celebrated leader in the elephant hunt. His was the dangerous post to ride close to the head of the infuriated animal and provoke the charge, and then to lead the elephant in pursuit, while the aggageers attacked it from behind. It was in the performance of this duty that he had met with the accident, as his horse had fallen over some hidden obstacle and was immediately caught. Being an exceedingly light weight he had continued to occupy this important position in the hunt, and the rigid fingers of the left hand served as a hook, upon which he could hang the reins.

My battery of rifles was now laid upon a mat for examination; they were in beautiful condition, and they excited the admiration of the entire party. The perfection of workmans.h.i.+p did not appear to interest them so much as the size of the bores. They thrust their fingers down each muzzle, until they at last came to the ”Baby,” when, finding that two fingers could be easily introduced, they at once fell in love with that rifle in particular.

On the 17th of August, accompanied by the German, Florian, we said good-by to our kind friend Sheik Achmet and left Wat el Negur. At Geera, early at daybreak, several Arabs arrived with a report that elephants had been drinking in the river within half an hour's march of our sleeping-place. I immediately started with my men, accompanied by Florian, and we shortly arrived upon the tracks of the herd. I had three Hamran Arabs as trackers, one of whom, Taher Noor, had engaged to accompany us throughout the expedition.

For about eight miles we followed the spoor through high dried gra.s.s and th.o.r.n.y bush, until we at length arrived at a dense jungle of kittar--the most formidable of the hooked thorn mimosas. Here the tracks appeared to wander, some elephants having travelled straight ahead, while others had strayed to the right and left. For about two hours we travelled upon the circuitous tracks of the elephants to no purpose, when we suddenly were startled by the shrill trumpeting of one of these animals in the thick thorns, a few hundred yards to our left. The ground was so intensely hard and dry that it was impossible to distinguish the new tracks from the old, which crossed and recrossed in all directions. I therefore decided to walk carefully along the outskirts of the jungle, trusting to find their place of entrance by the fresh broken boughs. In about an hour we had thus examined two or three miles, without discovering a clew to their recent path, when we turned round a clump of bushes, and suddenly came in view of two grand elephants, standing at the edge of the dense thorns. Having our wind, they vanished instantly into the thick jungle. We could not follow them, as their course was down wind; we therefore made a circuit to leeward for about a mile, and finding that the elephants had not crossed in that direction, we felt sure that we must come upon them with the wind in our favor should they still be within the th.o.r.n.y jungle. This was certain, as it was their favorite retreat.

With the greatest labor I led the way, creeping frequently upon my hands and knees to avoid the hooks of the kittar bush, and occasionally listening for a sound. At length, after upward of an hour pa.s.sed in this slow and fatiguing advance, I distinctly heard the flap of an elephant's ear, shortly followed by the deep guttural sigh of one of those animals, within a few paces; but so dense was the screen of jungle that I could see nothing. We waited for some minutes, but not the slightest sound could be heard; the elephants were aware of danger, and they were, like ourselves, listening attentively for the first intimation of an enemy.

This was a highly exciting moment. Should they charge, there would not be a possibility of escape, as the hooked thorns rendered any sudden movement almost impracticable. In another moment there was a tremendous crash; and with a sound like a whirlwind the herd dashed through the crackling jungle. I rushed forward, as I was uncertain whether they were in advance or retreat. Leaving a small sample of my nose upon a kittar thorn, and tearing my way, with naked arms, through what, in cold blood, would have appeared impa.s.sable, I caught sight of two elephants leading across my path, with the herd following in a dense ma.s.s behind them.

Firing a shot at the leading elephant, simply in the endeavor to check the herd, I repeated with the left-hand barrel at the head of his companion. This staggered him, and threw the main body into confusion.

They immediately closed up in a dense ma.s.s, and bore everything before them; but the herd exhibited merely an impenetrable array of hind quarters wedged together so firmly that it was impossible to obtain a head or shoulder shot.

I was within fifteen paces of them, and so compactly were they packed that with all their immense strength they could not at once force so extensive a front through the tough and powerful branches of the dense kittar. For about half a minute they were absolutely checked, and they bored forward with all their might in their determination to open a road through the matted thorns. The elastic boughs, bent from their position, sprang back with dangerous force, and would have fractured the skull of any one who came within their sweep. A very large elephant was on the left flank, and for an instant he turned obliquely to the left. I quickly seized the opportunity and fired the ”Baby,” with an explosive sh.e.l.l, aimed far back in the flank, trusting that it would penetrate beneath the opposite shoulder. The recoil of the ”Baby,” loaded with ten drams of the strongest powder and a half-pound sh.e.l.l, spun me round like a top. It was difficult to say which was staggered the more severely, the elephant or myself. However, we both recovered, and I seized one of my double rifles, a Reilly No. 10, that was quickly pushed into my hand by my Tokroori, Hadji Ali. This was done just in time, as an elephant from the battled herd turned sharp round, and, with its immense ears c.o.c.ked, charged down upon us with a scream of rage. ”One of us she must have if I miss!”