Part 5 (1/2)

In that country, where there was no drop of water upon the east bank of the Sett.i.te for a distance of sixty or seventy miles to the river Gash, an elephant, if wounded, was afraid to trust itself to the interior. One of our escaped elephants had therefore returned to the thick jungle, and was tracked by the aggageers to a position within two or three hundred yards of the dead elephants. As there were no guns, two of the aggageers, utterly reckless of consequences, resolved to ride through the narrow pa.s.sages formed by the large game, and to take their chance with the elephant, sword in hand. Jali, as usual, was the first to lead, and upon his little gray mare he advanced with the greatest difficulty through the entangled thorns, broken by the pa.s.sage of heavy game; to the right and left of the pa.s.sage it was impossible to move. Abou Do had wisely dismounted, but Suleiman followed Jali. Upon arriving within a few yards of the elephant, which was invisible in the thick thorns, Abou Do crept forward on foot, and discovered it standing with ears c.o.c.ked, evidently waiting for the attack. As Jali followed on his light gray mare, the elephant immediately perceived the white color and at once charged forward. Escape was next to impossible. Jali turned his snare sharply around, and she bounded off; but, caught in the thorns, the mare fell, throwing her rider in the path of the elephant that was within a few feet behind, in full chase. The mare recovered herself in an instant, and rushed away; the elephant, attracted by the white color of the animal, neglected the man, upon whom it trod in the pursuit, thus breaking his thigh. Abou Do, who had been between the elephant and Jali, had wisely jumped into the thick thorns, and, as the elephant pa.s.sed him, he again sprang out behind and followed with his drawn sword, but too late to save Jali, as it was the affair of an instant. Jumping over Jali's body, he was just in time to deliver a tremendous cut at the hind leg of the elephant, that must otherwise have killed both horses and probably Suleiman also, as the three were caught in a cul de sac, in a pa.s.sage that had no outlet, and were at the elephant's mercy.

Abou Do seldom failed. It was a difficult feat to strike correctly in the narrow jungle pa.s.sage with the elephant in full speed; but the blow was fairly given, and the back sinew was divided. Not content with the success of the cut, he immediately repeated the stroke upon the other leg, as he feared that the elephant, although disabled from rapid motion, might turn and trample Jali. The extraordinary dexterity and courage required to effect this can hardly be appreciated by those who have never hunted a wild elephant; but the extreme agility, pluck, and audacity of these Hamran sword-hunters surpa.s.s all feats that I have ever witnessed.

I set Jali's broken thigh and attended to him for four days. He was a very grateful but unruly patient, as he had never been accustomed to remain quiet. At the end of that time we arranged an angarep comfortably upon a camel, upon which he was transported to Geera, in company with a long string of camels, heavily laden with dried meat and squares of hide for s.h.i.+elds, with large bundles of hippopotamus skin for whip-making, together with the various spoils of the chase. Last but not least were numerous leathern pots of fat that had been boiled down from elephants and hippopotami.

The camels were to return as soon as possible with supplies of corn for our people and horses. Another elephant-hunter was to be sent to us in the place of Jali, but I felt that we had lost our best man.

CHAPTER IX.

Fright of the Tokrooris--Deserters who didn't desert--Arrival of the Sherrif brothers--Now for a tally-ho!--On the heels of the rhinoceroses--The Abyssinian rhinoceros--Every man for himself.

Although my people had been in the highest spirits up to this time, a gloom had been thrown over the party by two causes--Jali's accident and the fresh footmarks of the Bas-e that had been discovered upon the sand by the margin of the river. The aggageers feared nothing, and if the Bas-e had been legions of demons they would have faced them, sword in hand, with the greatest pleasure. But my Tokrooris, who were brave in some respects, had been so cowed by the horrible stories recounted of these common enemies at the nightly camp-fires by the Hamran Arabs, that they were seized with panic and resolved to desert en ma.s.se and return to Katariff, where I had originally engaged them, and at which place they had left their families.

In this instance the desertion of my Tokrooris would have been a great blow to my expedition, as it was necessary to have a division of parties. I had the Tokrooris, Jaleens, and Hamran Arabs. Thus they would never unite together, and I was certain to have some upon my side in a difficulty. Should I lose the Tokrooris, the Hamran Arabs would have the entire preponderance.

The whole of my Tokrooris formed in line before me and my wife, just as the camels were about to leave. Each man had his little bundle prepared for starting on a journey. Old Moosa was the spokesman. He said that they were all very sorry; that they regretted exceedingly the necessity of leaving us, but some of them were sick, and they would only be a burden to the expedition; that one of them was bound upon a pilgrimage to Mecca, and that G.o.d would punish him should he neglect this great duty; others had not left any money with their families in Katariff, that would starve in their absence. (I had given them an advance of wages, when they engaged at Katariff, to provide against this difficulty.) I replied: ”My good fellows, I am very sorry to hear all this, especially as it comes upon me so suddenly; those who are sick stand upon one side” (several invalids, who looked remarkably healthy, stepped to the left). ”Who wishes to go to Mecca?” Abderachman stepped forward (a huge specimen of a Tokroori, who went by the nickname of ”El Jamoos” or the buffalo). ”Who wishes to remit money to his family, as I will send it and deduct it from his wages?” No one came forward.

During the pause I called for pen and paper, which Mahomet brought. I immediately commenced writing, and placed the note within an envelope, which I addressed and gave to one of the camel-drivers. I then called for my medicine-chest, and having weighed several three-grain doses of tartar emetic, I called the invalids, and insisted upon their taking the medicine before they started, or they might become seriously ill upon the road, which for three days' march was uninhabited. Mixed with a little water the doses were swallowed, and I knew that the invalids were safe for that day, and that the others would not start without them.

I now again addressed my would-be deserters: ”Now, my good fellows, there shall be no misunderstanding between us, and I will explain to you how the case stands. You engaged yourselves to me for the whole journey, and you received an advance of wages to provide for your families during your absence. You have lately filled yourselves with meat, and you have become lazy; you have been frightened by the footprints of the Bas-e; thus you wish to leave the country. To save yourselves from imaginary danger, you would forsake my wife and myself, and leave us to a fate which you yourselves would avoid. This is your grat.i.tude for kindness; this is the return for my confidence, when without hesitation I advanced you money. Go! Return to Katariff to your families! I know that all the excuses you have made are false. Those who declare themselves to be sick, Inshallah (please G.o.d), shall be sick. You will all be welcomed upon your arrival at Katariff. In the letter I have written to the Governor, inclosing your names, I have requested him to give each man upon his appearance FIVE HUNDRED LASHES WITH THE COORBATCH, FOR DESERTION, and to imprison him until my return.”

Checkmate! My poor Tokrooris were in a corner, and in their great dilemma they could not answer a word. Taking advantage of this moment of confusion, I called forward ”the buffalo,” Abderachman, as I had heard that he really had contemplated a pilgrimage to Mecca. ”Abderachman,” I continued, ”you are the only man who has spoken the truth. Go to Mecca!

and may G.o.d protect you on the journey! I should not wish to prevent you from performing your duty as a Mahometan.”

Never were people more dumbfounded with surprise. They retreated, and formed a knot in consultation, and in about ten minutes they returned to me, old Moosa and Hadji Ali both leading the pilgrim Abderachman by the hands. They had given in; and Abderachman, the buffalo of the party, thanked me for my permission, and with tears in his eyes, as the camels were about to start, he at once said good-by. ”Embrace him!” cried old Moosa and Hadji Ali; and in an instant, as I had formerly succ.u.mbed to the maid Barrake, I was actually kissed by the thick lips of Abderachman the unwashed! Poor fellow! this was sincere grat.i.tude without the slightest humbug; therefore, although he was an odoriferous savage, I could not help shaking him by the hand and wis.h.i.+ng him a prosperous journey, a.s.suring him that I would watch over his comrades like a father, while in my service. In a few instants these curious people were led by a sudden and new impulse; my farewell had perfectly delighted old Moosa and Hadji Ali, whose hearts were won. ”Say good-by to the Sit!”

(the lady) they shouted to Abderachman; but I a.s.sured them that it was not necessary to go through the whole operation to which I had been subjected, and that she would be contented if he only kissed her hand.

This he did with the natural grace of a savage, and was led away crying by his companions, who embraced him with tears, and they parted with the affection of brothers.

Now, to hard-hearted and civilized people, who often school themselves to feel nothing, or as little as they can, for anybody, it may appear absurd to say that the scene was affecting, but somehow or other it was.

And in the course of half an hour, those who would have deserted had become stanch friends, and we were all, black and white, Mahometans and Christians, wis.h.i.+ng the pilgrim G.o.d-speed upon his perilous journey to Mecca.

The camels started, and, if the scene was affecting, the invalids began to be more affected by the tartar emetic. This was the third act of the comedy. The plot had been thoroughly ventilated; the last act exhibited the perfect fidelity of my Tokrooris, in whom I subsequently reposed much confidence.

In the afternoon of that day the brothers Sherrif arrived. These were the most renowned of all the sword-hunters of the Hamrans, of whom I have already spoken. They were well mounted, and, having met our caravan of camels on the route, heavily laden with dried flesh, and thus seen proofs of our success, they now offered to join our party. I am sorry to be obliged to confess that my ally, Abou Do, although a perfect Nimrod in sport, an Apollo in personal appearance, and a gentleman in manner, was a mean, covetous, and grasping fellow, and withal absurdly jealous.

Taher Sherrif was a more celebrated hunter, having had the experience of at least twenty years in excess of Abou Do; and although the latter was as brave and dexterous as Taher and his brothers, he wanted the cool judgment that is essential to a first-rate sportsman.

The following day was the new year, January 1st, 1862; and with the four brothers Sherrif and our party we formed a powerful body of hunters: six aggageers and myself all well mounted. With four gun-bearers and two camels, both of which carried water, we started in search of elephants.

Florian was unwell, and remained in camp.

The immediate neighborhood was a perfect exhibition of gun-arabic-bearing mimosas. At this season the gum was in perfection, and the finest quality was now before us in beautiful amber-colored ma.s.ses upon the stems and branches, varying from the size of a nutmeg to that of an orange. So great was the quant.i.ty, and so excellent were the specimens, that, leaving our horses tied to trees, both the Arabs and myself gathered a large collection. This gum, although as hard as ice on the exterior, was limpid in the centre, resembling melted amber, and as clear as though refined by some artificial process. The trees were perfectly denuded of leaves from the extreme drought, and the beautiful b.a.l.l.s of frosted yellow gum recalled the idea of the precious jewels upon the trees in the garden of the wonderful lamp of the ”Arabian Nights.” This gum was exceedingly sweet and pleasant to the taste; but, although of the most valuable quality, there was no hand to gather it in this forsaken although beautiful country; it either dissolved during the rainy season or was consumed by the baboons and antelopes. The aggageers took off from their saddles the skins of tanned antelope leather that formed the only covering to the wooden seats, and with these they made bundles of gum. When we remounted, every man was well laden.

We were thus leisurely returning home through alternate plains and low open forest of mimosa, when Taher Sherrif, who was leading the party, suddenly reined up his horse and pointed to a thick bush, beneath which was a large gray but shapeless ma.s.s. He whispered, as I drew near, ”Oom gurrin” (mother of the horn), their name for the rhinoceros.

I immediately dismounted, and with the short No. 10 Tatham rifle I advanced as near as I could, followed by Suleiman, as I had sent all my gum-bearers directly home by the river when we had commenced our circuit. As I drew near I discovered two rhinoceroses asleep beneath a thick ma.s.s of bushes. They were lying like pigs, close together, so that at a distance I had been unable to distinguish any exact form. It was an awkward place. If I were to take the wind fairly I should have to fire through the thick bush, which would be useless; therefore I was compelled to advance with the wind directly from me to them. The aggageers remained about a hundred yards distant, while I told Suleiman to return and hold my horse in readiness with his own. I then walked quietly to within about thirty yards of the rhinoceroses; but so curiously were they lying that it was useless to attempt a shot. In their happy dreams they must have been suddenly disturbed by the scent of an enemy, for, without the least warning, they suddenly sprang to their feet with astonis.h.i.+ng quickness, and with a loud and sharp whiff, whiff, whiff! one of them charged straight at me. I fired my right-hand barrel in his throat, as it was useless to aim at the head protected by two horns at the nose. This turned him, but had no other effect, and the two animals thundered off together at a tremendous pace.

Now for a ”tally-ho!” Our stock of gum was scattered on the ground, and away went the aggageers in full speed after the two rhinoceroses.

Without waiting to reload, I quickly remounted my horse Tetel, and with Suleiman in company I spurred hard to overtake the flying Arabs. Tetel was a good strong cob, but not very fast; however, I believe he never went so well as upon that day, for, although an Abyssinian Horse, I had a pair of English spurs, which worked like missionaries. The ground was awkward for riding at full speed, as it was an open forest of mimosas, which, although wide apart, were very difficult to avoid, owing to the low crowns of spreading branches, and these, being armed with fish-hook thorns, would have been serious in a collision. I kept the party in view until in about a mile we arrived upon open ground. Here I again applied the spurs, and by degrees I crept up, always gaining, until I at length joined the aggageers.

Here was a sight to drive a hunter wild! The two rhinoceroses were running neck and neck, like a pair of horses in harness, but bounding along at tremendous speed within ten yards of the leading Hamran. This was Taher Sherrif, who, with his sword drawn and his long hair flying wildly behind him, urged his horse forward in the race, amid a cloud of dust raised by the two huge but active beasts, that tried every sinew of the horses. Roder Sherrif, with the withered arm, was second; with the reins hung upon the hawk-like claw that was all that remained of a hand, but with his naked sword grasped in his right, he kept close to his brother, ready to second his blow. Abou Do was third, his hair flying in the wind, his heels das.h.i.+ng against the flanks of his horse, to which he shouted in his excitement to urge him to the front, while he leaned forward with his long sword, in the wild energy of the moment, as though hoping to reach the game against all possibility.