The skins most prized for shields are those of the giraffe and the rhinoceros; those of the buffalo and elephant are likewise in genera] use, but they are considered inferior to the former, while the hide of the hippopotamus is too thick and heavy.
The hide of the giraffe is wonderfully tough, and combines the great advantage of extreme lightness with strength. The Arabs never ornament their shields; they are made for rough and actual service, and the gashes upon many are proofs of the necessity of such a protection for the owner.
Although there are two patterns of shields among the Arabs, there is no difference in the form of their swords, which simply vary in size according to the strength of the wearer. The blade is long and straight, two-edged, with a simple cross handle, having no other guard for the hand than the plain bar, which at right angles with the hilt forms the cross. I believe this form was adopted after the Crusades, when the long, straight, cross-handled blades of the Christian knights left an impression behind them that established the fashion. All these blades are manufactured at Sollingen, and are exported to Egypt for the trade of the interior. Of course they differ in quality and price, but they are of excellent temper. The Arabs are extremely proud of a good sword, and a blade of great value is carefully handed down through many generations. The sheiks and principal people wear silver-hilted swords. The scabbards are usually formed of two thin strips of elastic but soft wood, covered with leather. No Arab would accept a metal scabbard, as it would destroy the keen edge of his weapon. The greatest care is taken in sharpening the swords. While on the march, the Arab carries his weapon slung on the pommel of his saddle, from which it passes beneath his thigh. There are two projecting pieces of leather, about twelve inches apart, upon the scabbard, between which the thigh of the horseman fits, and thus prevents the sword from slipping from its place. Carried in this position at full speed, there is an absence of that absurd dangling and jumping of the sword that is exhibited in our British cavalry, and the weapon seems to form a portion of the rider. The first action of an Arab when he dismounts at a halt upon the march, and sits beneath a tree, is to draw his sword; and after trying both edges with his thumb, he carefully strops the blade to and fro upon his shield until a satisfactory proof of the edge is made by shaving the hair off his arm, after which it is returned to the sheath. I have measured these swords; that of a fair average size is three feet in the length of blade, and one inch and seven-eighths in breadth; the hilt, from the top of the guard to the extremity, five and a half inches. Thus the sword complete would be about three feet five or six inches. Such a weapon possesses immense power, as the edge is nearly as sharp as a razor. But the Arabs have not the slightest knowledge of swordsmanship; they never parry with the blade, but trust entirely to the shield, and content themselves with slashing either at their adversary or at the animal that he rides; one good cut delivered by a powerful arm would sever a man at the waist like a carrot. The Arabs are not very powerful men; they are extremely light and active, and generally average about five feet eight inches in height. But their swords are far too heavy for their strength; and although they can deliver a severe cut, they cannot recover the sword sufficiently quick to parry, therefore they are contented with the shield as their only guard. If opposed to a good swordsman they would be perfectly at his mercy, as a feint at the head causes them to raise the shield; this prevents them from seeing the point, that would immediately pass through the body.
Notwithstanding their deficiency in the art of the sword, they are wonderful fellows to cut and slash; and when the sharp edge of the heavy weapon touches an enemy, the effect is terrible.
The elephant-hunters, or aggageers, exhibited their swords, which differed in no respect from those usually worn; but they were bound with cord very closely from the guard for about nine inches along the blade, to enable them to be grasped by the right hand, while the hilt was held by the left; the weapon was thus converted into a two-handed sword. The scabbards were strengthened by an extra covering, formed of the skin of the elephant's ear.
In a long conversation with these men, I found a corroboration of all that I had previously heard of their exploits, and they described the various methods of killing the elephant with the sword. Those hunters who could not afford to purchase horses hunted on foot, in parties not exceeding two persons. Their method was to follow the tracks of an elephant, so as to arrive at their game between the hours of 10 A.M. and noon, at which time the animal is either asleep, or extremely listless, and easy to approach. Should they discover the animal asleep, one of the hunters would creep stealthily towards the head, and with one blow sever the trunk while stretched upon the ground; in which case the elephant would start upon his feet, while the hunters escaped in the confusion of the moment. The trunk severed would cause an haemorrhage sufficient to insure the death of the elephant within about an hour. On time other hand, should the animal be awake upon their arrival, it would be impossible to approach the trunk; in such a case, they would creep up from behind, and give a tremendous cut at the back sinew of the hind leg, about a foot above the heel. Such a blow would disable the elephant at once, and would render comparatively easy a second cut to the remaining leg; the arteries being divided, the animal would quickly bleed to death. These were the methods adopted by poor hunters, until, by the sale of ivory, they could purchase horses for the higher branch of the art. Provided with horses, the party of hunters should not exceed four. They start before daybreak, and ride slowly throughout the country in search of elephants, generally keeping along the course of a river until they come upon the tracks where a herd or a single elephant may have drunk during the night. When once upon the tracks, they follow fast towards the retreating game. The elephants may be twenty miles distant; but it matters little to the aggageers. At length they discover them, and the hunt begins. The first step is to single out the bull with the largest tusks; this is the commencement of the fight. After a short hunt, the elephant turns upon his pursuers, who scatter and fly from his headlong charge until he gives up the pursuit; he at length turns to bay when again pressed by the hunters. It is the duty of one man in particular to ride up close to the head of the elephant, and thus to absorb its attention upon himself. This insures a desperate charge. The greatest coolness and dexterity are then required by the hunter, who now, the HUNTED, must so adapt the speed of his horse to the pace of the elephant, that the enraged beast gains in the race until it almost reaches the tail of the horse. In this manner the race continues. In the meantime, two hunters gallop up behind the elephant, unseen by the animal, whose attention is completely directed to the horse almost within his grasp. With extreme agility, when close to the heels of the elephant, one of the hunters, while at full speed, springs to the ground with his drawn sword, as his companion seizes the bridle, and with one dexterous two-handed blow he severs the back sinew. He immediately jumps out of the way and remounts his horse; but if the blow is successful, the elephant becomes disabled by the first pressure of its foot upon the ground; the enormous weight of the animal dislocates the joint, and it is rendered helpless. The hunter who has hitherto led the elephant immediately turns, and riding to within a few feet of the trunk, he induces the animal to attempt another charge. This, clumsily made, affords an easy opportunity for the aggageers behind to slash the sinew of the remaining leg, and the immense brute is reduced to a standstill; it dies of loss of blood in a short time, THUS POSITIVELY KILLED BY ONE MAN WITH TWO STROKES OF THE SWORD!
This extraordinary hunting is attended with superlative danger, and the hunters frequently fall victims to their intrepidity. I felt inclined to take off my cap and make a low bow to the gallant and swarthy fellows who sat before me, when I knew the toughness of their hearts and the activity of their limbs. One of them was disabled for life by a cut from his own sword, that had severed the knee-cap and bitten deep into the joint, leaving a scar that appeared as though the leg had been nearly off; he had missed his blow at the elephant, owing to the high and tough dried grass that had partially stopped the sword, and in springing upon one side, to avoid the animal that had turned upon him, he fell over his own sharp blade, which cut through the bone, and he lay helpless; he was saved by one of his comrades, who immediately rushed in from behind, and with a desperate cut severed the back sinew of the elephant. As I listened to these fine fellows, who in a modest and unassuming manner recounted their adventures as matters of course, I felt exceedingly small. My whole life had been passed in wild sports from early manhood, and I had imagined that I understood as much as most people of this subject; but here were men who, without the aid of the best rifles and deadly projectiles, went straight at their game, and faced the lion in his den with shield and sabre. There is a freemasonry among hunters, and my heart was drawn towards these aggageers. We fraternised upon the spot, and I looked forward with intense pleasure to the day when we might become allies in action.
I have been rewarded by this alliance in being now able to speak of the deeds of others that far excel my own, and of bearing testimony to the wonderful courage and dexterity of these Nimrods, instead of continually relating anecdotes of dangers in the first person, which cannot be more disagreeable to the reader than to the narrator.
Without inflicting a description of five months passed in Sofi, it will be necessary to make a few extracts from my journal, to convey an idea of the manner in which the time was occupied.
"August 7, 1861.—There is plenty of game on the other side of the river, but nothing upon this; there are no means of crossing, as the stream is exceedingly strong, and about two hundred yards in width. We felled a tree for a canoe, but there is nothing worthy of the name of timber, and the wood is extremely heavy.
"There are several varieties of wild spinach, and a plant that makes a good salad, known by the Arabs as 'Regly;' also wild onions as large as a man's fist, but uneatable.
"Angust 8.—I counted seventy-six giraffes on the opposite side of the river. This magnificent sight is most tantalizing. The sheik made his appearance to-day with a present of butter and honey, and some small money in exchange for dollars that I had given him. The Austrian dollar of Maria Theresa is the only large coin current in this country; the effigy of the empress, with a very low dress and a profusion of bust, is, I believe, the charm that suits the Arab taste. So particular are these people, that they reject the coin after careful examination, unless they can distinctly count seven dots that form the star upon the coronet. No clean money will pass current in this country; all coins must be dirty and gummy, otherwise they are rejected: this may be accounted for, as the Arabs have no method of detecting false money; thus they are afraid to accept any new coin.
"Auqust 16.—Great failure! We launched the canoe, but although it was carefully hollowed out, the wood was so heavy that it would only carry one person, and even then it threatened to become a bathing-machine; thus nine days' hard work are lost. Florian is in despair, but 'Nil desperandum!' I shall set to work instanter, and make a raft. Counted twenty-eight giraffes on the opposite side of the river.
"August 17.—I set to work at daybreak to make a raft of bamboo and inflated skins. There is a wood called ambatch (Anemone mirabilis) that is brought down by the river from the upper country; this is lighter than cork, and I have obtained four large pieces for my raft. Mahomet has been very saucy to-day; he has been offensively impertinent for a long time, so this morning I punched his head.
"August 18.—Launched the raft; it carries four persons safely; but the current is too strong, and it is therefore unmanageable. In the afternoon I shot a large crocodile on the other side of the river (about two hundred yards) with the little Fletcher rifle, and after struggling for some time upon the steep bank it rolled into the water.
"The large tamarind trees on the opposite bank are generally full of the dog-faced baboons (Cynocephalus) in the evening, at their drinking-hour. I watched a large crocodile creep slyly out of the water, and lie in waiting among the rocks at the usual drinking-place before they arrived, but the baboons were too wide awake to be taken in so easily. A young fellow was the first to discover the enemy; he had accompanied several wise and experienced old hands, to the extremity of the bough that at a considerable height overhung the river; from this post they had a bird's-eye view, and reconnoitred before one of the numerous party descended to drink. The sharp eyes of the young one at once detected the crocodile, who matched in colour so well with the rocks, that most probably a man would not have noticed it until too late. At once the young one commenced shaking the bough and screaming with all his might to attract the attention of the crocodile, and to induce it to move. In this he was immediately joined by the whole party, who yelled in chorus, while the large old males bellowed defiance, and descended to the lowest branches within eight or ten feet of the crocodile. It was of no use—the pretender never stirred, and I watched it until dark; it remained still inn the same place, waiting for some unfortunate baboon whose thirst might provoke his fate; but not one was sufficiently foolish, although the perpendicular banks prevented them from drinking except at that particular spot.
"The birds in this country moult twice during the year, and those of the most brilliant colours exchange their gaudy hues for a sober grey or brown. Several varieties sing beautifully; the swallow also sings, although in Europe I have never heard it attempt more than its well-known twitter.
"One of the mimosas yields an excellent fibre for rope-making, in which my people are busily engaged; the bark is as tough as leather, and forms an admirable material for the manufacture of sacks. This business is carried to a considerable extent by the Arabs, as there is a large demand for sacks of sufficient size to contain two hundred and fifty or three hundred pounds of gum arabic (half a camel load). Thus one sack slung upon each side can be packed easily to the animal.
"August 19.—A dead elephant floated down the river to-day: this is the second that has passed within the last few days; they have been most probably drowned in attempting to cross some powerful torrent tributary to the Atbara. As usual, upon the fact becoming known, the entire village rushed out, and, despite the crocodiles, a crowd of men plunged into the river about a quarter of a mile below Sofi, and swimming out they intercepted the swollen carcase, which was quickly covered with people; they were carried several miles down the river before they could tow the body to shore, by ropes fastened to the swimmers. Afterwards, there was a general quarrel over the division of the spoil: the skin, in sections, and the tusks, were brought home in triumph.
"The country being now bright green, the antelopes are distinctly visible on the opposite side. Three tetel (Antelopus Bubalis) graze regularly together in the same place daily. This antelope is a variety of the hartebeest of South Africa; it is a reddish-chestnut colour, and is about the size of an Alderney cow.
"One of the mimosas (Acacia Arabica) produces a fruit in appearance resembling a tamarind: this is a powerful astringent and a valuable medicine in cases of fever and diarrhoea; it is generally used by the Arabs for preparing hides; when dry and broken it is rich in a hard gum, which appears to be almost pure tannin.
"August 20.—Close, hot, and damp weather; violent rain about sixteen hours out of the twenty-four. When the hot season sets in, the country will almost boil. This morning I counted 154 giraffes in one herd on the other side of the river; there were many more, but they passed each other so rapidly that I could not reckon the entire troop.
"August 21.—I counted 103 giraffes. There is literally no game upon this side (west) of the Atbara, as the country for twelve hours' journey from Sofi is thronged with Arabs during the dry season.
"All my people are more or less ill; I am not very well myself; but I have staved off an attack of fever by preventive measures.
"August 25.—Such a magnificent sunset I have never seen! From all quarters were gathering storms of the blackest description, each cloud emitting lightning without intermission, and as the sun touched the horizon upon the only clear point, it illumined like a fire the pitch-black clouds, producing the most extraordinary effect of vivid colouring, combined with lightning, and a rainbow.
"Rain in torrents throughout the night. It is now impossible to walk on the flat table land, as the soil is so saturated that it clings to the feet like birdlime, in masses that will pull the shoes off unless they fit tight. All this immense tract of rich land would grow any amount of cotton, or wheat, as in this country the rain falls with great regularity—this might be sent to Berber by boats during the season of flood.
"August 27.—My antelope skins are just completed and are thoroughly tanned. Each skin required a double handful of the 'garra,' or fruit of the Acacia Arabica. The process is simple: the skin being thoroughly wetted, the garra is pounded into a paste; this is rubbed into the hide with a rough piece of sandstone, until it becomes perfectly clean, and free from impurities; it is then wrapped up with a quantity of the paste, and is deposited in a trough and kept in the shade for twenty-four hours. It should undergo a similar rubbing daily, and be kept in the trough to soak in the garra for four or five days. After this process it should be well rubbed with fat, if required to keep soft and pliable when wetted. If soaked in milk after tanning, the leather will become waterproof. The large tanned ox-hides used by the Arabs as coverlets are perfectly waterproof, and are simply prepared with milk. These are made in Abyssinia, and can be purchased at from ten piastres to a dollar each. The Arabs thoroughly appreciate the value of leather, as they are entirely dependent upon such material for coverlets, watersacks, travelling bags, &c. &c. The sac de voyage is a simple skin of either goat or sheep drawn off the animal as a stocking is drawn from the leg; this is very neatly ornamented, and arranged with loops which close the mouth, secured by a padlock. Very large sacks, capable of containing three hundred pounds of corn, are made in the same manner by drawing off entire the skins of the larger antelopes—that of the tetel is considered the most valuable for this purpose. The hide of the wild ass is the finest of all leather, and is so close in the grain that before tanning, when dry and hardened in the sun, it resembles horn in transparency. I have made excellent mocassins with this skin, which are admirable if kept wetted.
"August 28.—Sofi being upon the frontier, the laws are merely nominal; accordingly there is an interesting mixture in the society. Should any man commit a crime in Abyssinia, he takes refuge over the border; thus criminals of the blackest character are at large. One fellow who has paid us daily visits killed his brother with a knife a few months since. I have excluded this gentleman from the select circle of our acquaintance.
"The Arab women are very clever in basket-work and matting—they carry their milk in baskets that are so closely fitted as to be completely water-tight; these are made of the leaves of the dome palm, shred into fine strips. In addition to the coarse matting required for their tents, they manufacture very fine sleeping mats, curiously arranged in various coloured patterns; these are to cover the angareps, or native bedsteads, which are simple frameworks upon legs, covered with a network of raw hide worked in a soft state, after which it hardens to the tightness of a drum when thoroughly dry. No bed is more comfortable for a warm climate than a native angarep with a simple mat covering; it is beautifully elastic, and is always cool, as free ventilation is permitted from below. I have employed the Arab women to make me a hunting-cap of the basket-work of dome palm, to my old pattern.
"August 28.—I have been busily employed in putting new soles to my shoes, having cut up the leather cover of a gun-case for material. No person can walk barefooted in this country, as the grass is armed with thorns. A peculiar species, that resembles a vetch, bears a circular pod as large as a horse-bean; the exterior of the pod is armed with long and sharp spikes like the head of an ancient mace; these pods when ripe are exceedingly hard, and falling to the ground in great numbers, the spikes will pierce the sole of any shoe unless of a stout substance.
"August 29.—Florian is very ill with fever. The mosquitoes are so troublesome that the Arabs cannot sleep in their huts, but are forced to arrange platforms about six feet high, upon which the whole family rest until they are awakened by a sudden thunderstorm, and are compelled to rush into their huts;—this has been the case nightly for some time past.
"I find that the whole village has been trying on my new hunting-cap, that an Arab woman has just completed; this was brought to me to-day, thick with butter and dirt from their greasy pates. This is a trifle: yesterday Florian was ill and required some tea; his servant tried the degree of heat by plunging his dirty black finger to the bottom.
"Shortly after our wild Arab lad, Bacheet, was engaged, we drilled him as table servant. The flies were very troublesome, and continually committed suicide by drowning themselves in the tea. One morning during breakfast there were many cases of felo de se, or 'temporary insanity,' and my wife's tea-cup was full of victims; Bacheet, wishing to be attentive, picked out the bodies with his finger and thumb!—'Now, my good fellow, Bacheet,' I exclaimed, 'you really must not put your dirty fingers in the tea: you should take them out with the tea-spoon. Look here,' and I performed the operation, and safely landed several flies that were still kicking. 'But mind, Bacheet,' I continued, 'that you wipe the tea-spoon first, to be sure that it is clean!' On the following morning at breakfast we covered up the cups with saucers to prevent accidents; but to our astonishment Bacheet, who was in waiting, suddenly took a tea-spoon from the table, wiped it carefully with a corner of the table-cloth, and stooping down beneath the bed, most carefully saved from drowning, with the tea-spoon, several flies that were in the last extremity within a vessel by no means adapted for a spoon. Perfectly satisfied with the result, he carefully rewiped the tea-spoon upon the table-cloth, and replaced it in its proper position. 'Oh Bacheet! Bacheet! you ignoramus, you extraordinary and impossible animal!' However, there was no help for it—the boy thought he was doing the right thing exactly.
"September 1.—The animals are worried almost to death by the countless flies, especially by that species that drives the camels from the country. This peculiar fly is about the size of a wasp, with an orange-coloured body, with black and white rings; the proboscis is terrific; it is double, and appears to be disproportioned, being two-thirds the length of the entire insect. When this fly attacks an animal, or man, it pierces the skin instantaneously, like the prick of a red-hot needle driven deep into the flesh, at the same time the insect exerts every muscle of its body by buzzing with its wings as it buries the instrument to its greatest depth. The blood starts from the wound immediately, and continues to flow for a considerable time; this is an attraction to other flies in great numbers, many of which would lay their eggs upon the wound.
"I much prefer the intense heat of summer to the damp of the rainy season, which breeds all kinds of vermin. During the hot season the nights are cool and delightful, there is not one drop of dew, and we live entirely in the open air beneath the shade of a tree in the day, and under a roof of glittering stars at night. The guns never rust, although lying upon the ground, and we are as independent as the antelopes of the desert, any bush affording a home within its limit of shadow. During the rainy season hunting and travelling would be equally impossible; the rifles would constantly miss fire. The mud is in most places knee-deep, and a malignant fever would shortly settle the hunter. The rains cease early in September, after which we are to expect a complete vapour-bath until the end of October, by which time the fiery sun will have evaporated the moisture from the sodden earth; that interval will be the most unhealthy season.
"As this fertile country can depend upon three months' periodical rain, from the middle of June until September there is no reason for unproductiveness; it would produce a large revenue if in industrious hands.
"September 2.—For many days past we have seen large herds of giraffes and many antelopes on the opposite side of the river, about two miles distant, on the borders of the Atbara, into which valley the giraffes apparently dared not descend but remained on the table land, although the antelopes appearmed to prefer the harder soil of the valley slopes. This day a herd of twenty-eight giraffes tantalized me by descending a short distance below the level flats, and I was tempted at all hazards across the river. Accordingly preparations were immediately made for a start. The sheik of the village and several of the Arabs were hippopotami hunters by profession; these fellows could swim like otters, and, despite the crocodiles, they seemed as much at home in the water as on land. We prepared an impromptu raft. My angarep (bedstead) was quickly inverted; six water-skins were inflated, and lashed, three on either side. A shallow packing-case, lined with tin, containing my gun, was fastened in the centre of the angarep, and two tow-lines were attached to the front part of the raft, by which swimmers were to draw it across the river. Two men were to hang on behind, and, if possible, keep it straight in the rapid current.
"The Arabs were full of mettle, as their minds were fixed upon giraffe venison. A number of people, including my wife, climbed upon the mosquito platforms, to obtain a good view of the projected hunt, and we quickly carried our raft to the edge of the river. There was not much delay in the launch. I stepped carefully into my coffin-shaped case, and squatted down, with a rifle on either side, and my ammunition at the bottom of the tin-lined water-proof case; thus, in case of an upset, I was ready for a swim. Off we went! The current, running at nearly five miles an hour, carried us away at a great pace, and the whirlpools caused us much trouble, as we several times waltzed round when we should have preferred a straight course, but the towing swimmers being well mounted upon logs of light ambatch-wood, swam across in fine style, and after some difficulty we arrived at the opposite bank, and scrambled through thick bushes, upon our hands and knees, to the summit.
"For about two miles' breadth on this side of the river the valley is rough broken ground, full of gullies and ravines sixty or seventy feet deep, beds of torrents, bare sandstone rocks, bushy crags, fine grassy knolls, and long strips of mimosa covert, forming a most perfect locality for shooting.
"I had observed by the telescope that the giraffes were standing as usual upon an elevated position, from whence they could keep a good look-out. I knew it would be useless to ascend the slope direct, as their long necks give these animals an advantage similar to that of the man at the mast-head; therefore, although we had the wind in our favour, we should have been observed. I therefore determined to make a great circuit of about five miles, and thus to approach them from above, with the advantage of the broken ground for stalking. It was the perfection of uneven country: by clambering broken cliff, wading shoulder-deep through muddy gullies, sliding down the steep ravines, and winding through narrow bottoms of high grass and mimosas for about two hours, during which we disturbed many superb nellut (Ant. strepsiceros) and tetel (Ant. Bubalis), we at length arrived at the point of the high table land upon the verge of which I had first noticed the giraffes with the telescope. Almost immediately I distinguished the tall neck of one of these splendid animals about half a mile distant upon my left, a little below the table land; it was feeding on the bushes, and I quickly discovered several others near the leader of the herd. I was not far enough advanced in the circuit that I had intended to bring me exactly above them, therefore I turned sharp to my right, intending to make a short half circle, and to arrive on the leeward side of the herd, as I was now to windward: this I fortunately completed, but I had marked a thick bush as my point of cover, and upon arrival I found that the herd had fed down wind, and that I was within two hundred yards of the great bull sentinel that, having moved from his former position, was now standing directly before me. I lay down quietly behind the bush with my two followers, and anxiously watched the great leader, momentarily expecting that it would get my wind. It was shortly joined by two others, and I perceived the heads of several giraffes lower down the incline, that were now feeding on their way to the higher ground. The seroot fly was teasing them, and I remarked that several birds were fluttering about their heads, sometimes perching upon their noses and catching the fly that attacked their nostrils, while the giraffes appeared relieved by their attentions: these were a peculiar species of bird that attacks the domestic animals, and not only relieves them of vermin, but eats into the flesh, and establishes dangerous sores. A puff of wind now gently fanned the back of my neck; it was cool and delightful, but no sooner did I feel the refreshing breeze than I knew it would convey our scent direct to the giraffes. A few seconds afterwards, the three grand obelisks threw their heads still higher in the air, and fixing their great black eyes upon the spot from which the danger came, they remained as motionless as though carved from stone. From their great height they could see over the bush behind which we were lying at some paces distant, and although I do not think they could distinguish us to be men, they could see enough to convince them of hidden enemies.
"The attitude of fixed attention and surprise of the three giraffes was sufficient warning for the rest of the herd, who immediately filed up from the lower ground, and joined their comrades. All now halted, and gazed steadfastly in our direction, forming a superb tableau; their beautiful mottled skins glancing like the summer coat of a thoroughbred horse, the orange-coloured statues standing out in high relief from a background of dark-green mimosas.
"This beautiful picture soon changed; I knew that my chance of a close shot was hopeless, as they would presently make a rush, and be off; thus I determined to get the first start. I had previously studied the ground, and I concluded that they would push forward at right angles with my position, as they had thus ascended the hill, and that, on reaching the higher ground, they would turn to the right, in order to reach an immense tract of high grass, as level as a billiard-table, from which no danger could approach them unobserved.
"I accordingly with a gentle movement of my hand directed my people to follow me, and I made a sudden rush forward at full speed. Off went the herd; shambling along at a tremendous pace, whisking their long tails above their hind quarters, and taking exactly the direction I had anticipated, they offered me a shoulder shot at a little within two hundred yards' distance. Unfortunately, I fell into a deep hole concealed by the high grass, and by the time that I resumed the hunt they had increased their distance, but I observed the leader turned sharp to the right, through some low mimosa bush, to make direct for the open table land. I made a short cut oblquely at my best speed, and only halted when I saw that I should lose ground by altering my position. Stopping short, I was exactiy opposite the herd as they filed by me at right angles in full speed, within about a hundred and eighty yards. I had my old Ceylon No. 10 double rifle, and I took a steady shot at a large dark-coloured bull: the satisfactory sound of the ball upon his hide was followed almost immediately by his blundering forward for about twenty yards, and falling heavily in the low bush. I heard the crack of the ball of my left-hand barrel upon another fine beast, but no effects followed. Bacheet quickly gave me the single 2-ounce Manton rifle, and I singled out a fine dark-coloured bull, who fell on his knees to the shot, but recovering, hobbled off disabled, apart from the herd, with a foreleg broken just below the shoulder. Reloading immediately, I ran up to the spot, where I found my first giraffe lying dead, with the ball clean through both shoulders: the second was standing about one hundred paces distant; upon my approach he attempted to move, but immediately fell, and was despatched by my eager Arabs. I followed the herd for about a mile to no purpose, through deep clammy ground and high grass, and I returned to our game.
"These were my first giraffes, and I admired them as they lay before me with a hunter's pride and satisfaction, but mingled with a feeling of pity for such beautiful and utterly helpless creatures. The giraffe, although from sixteen to twenty feet in height, is perfectly defenceless, and can only trust to the swiftness of its pace, and the extraordinary power of vision, for its means of protection. The eye of this animal is the most beautiful exaggeration of that of the gazelle, while the colour of the reddish-orange hide, mottled with darker spots, changes the tints of the skin with the differing rays of light, according to the muscular movenment of the body. No one who has merely seen the giraffe in a cold climate can form the least idea of its beauty in its native land. By the time that we had skinned one of the aninmals, it was nearly six o'clock, and it was necessary to hurry forward to reach the river before night; we therefore arranged some thorny boughs over the bodies, to which we intended to return on the following morning.
"When about half-way to the river, as we were passing through grass about four feet high, three tetel bounded from a ravine, and, passing directly before us, gave me a splendid shot at about sixty yards. The Ceylon No. 10 struck the foremost through the shoulder, and it fell dead after running a few yards. This was also my first tetel (Antelopus Bubalis); it was in splendid condition, the red coat was like satin, and the animal would weigh about five hundred pounds live weight.
"I had made very successful shots, having bagged three out of four large game; this perfectly delighted the Arabs, and was very satisfactory to myself, as I was quite aware that my men would be only too willing to accompany me upon future excursions.
"It was quite dark before we reached the river; we had been much delayed by repeated falls into deep holes, and over hidden stones; thus I was well satisfied to find myself once more at home after having crossed the river, in pitchy darkness, in a similar manner as before. Every person in the village had had a good view of the stalk; therefore, as two giraffes had been seen to fall, the Arabs were waiting on the bank in expectation of meat.
"September 3.—This morning I crossed the river with about twenty men, some swimming with inflated skins, and others supported by logs of ambatch. A number of swimmers were holding on to a pole to which four inflated girbas were attached; this is an excellent plan for assisting soldiers to cross a river, as they can land together in parties, instead of singly, with their guns dry, should the opposite bank be occupied by an enemy. I sat in my gun-case, with the two rifles that I used yesterday, in addition to the little Fletcher; heaps of clothes and sandals belonging to the swimmers formed my cargo; while, in case of accident, I had taken off my belt and shoes, and tied my ammunition within an inflated skin. Neptune in his car drawn by dolphins was not more completely at home than I in my gun-case, towed by my fish-like hippopotami hunters. After pirouetting in several strong whirlpools, during which time a crowd of women on the Sofi side of the river were screaming to Allah and the Prophet to protect us from crocodiles, we at length arrived.
"We took a direct course towards the animals I had shot on the previous evening, meeting with no game except a large troop of dog-faced baboons (Cynocephali), until we reached the body of the tetel (Antelopus Bubalis), which lay undisturbed; leaving people to flay it carefully, so that the skin should serve as a water or corn sack, we continued our path towards the dead giraffes.
"I had not proceeded far, before I saw, at about a mile distant, a motionless figure, as though carved from red granite; this I felt sure was a giraffe acting as sentry for another party that was not yet in view; I therefore sent my men on towards the dead giraffes, while, accompanied by Florian's black servant Richarn,* who was a good sportsman, and a couple of additional men, I endeavoured to stalk the giraffe. It was impossible to obtain a favourable wind, without exposing ourselves upon flat ground, where we should have been immediately perceived; I therefore arranged that my men should make a long circuit and drive the giraffe, while I would endeavour to intercept it. This plan failed; but shortly after the attempt, I observed a herd of about a hundred of these splendid creatures, browsing on the mimosas about half a mile distant. For upwards of three hours I employed every artifice to obtain a shot, but to no purpose, as upon my approach to within a quarter of a mile, they invariably chose open ground, leaving a sentry posted behind the herd, while two or three kept a look-out well in advance. No animal is so difficult to approach as the giraffe; however, by great patience and caution, I succeeded in reaching a long and deep ravine, by which I hoped to arrive within a close shot, as many of the herd were standing upon the level table-ground, from which this natural trench suddenly descended. I believe I should have arrived within fifty yards of the herd by this admirable approach, had it not been for the unlucky chance that brought me vis-a-vis with two tetel, that by galloping off attracted the attention of the giraffes. To add to my misfortune, after a long and tedious crawl on hands and knees up the narrow amid steep extremity of the gully, just as I raised my head above the edge of the table land, expecting to see the giraffes within fifty paces, I found three gazelles feeding within ten yards of me, while three magnificent giraffes were standing about a hundred and fifty yards distant.
* This faithful black, a native of the White Nile regions, subsequently became my servant, and, for four years accompanied us honestly and courageously through all our difficulties to the Albert N'yanza.
"Off bounded the gazelles the instant that we were perceived; they of course gave the alarm immediately, and away went the giraffes; but I took a quick shot at the great leader as he turned to the right, and he staggered a few paces and fell headlong into the bush. Hurrah for the Ceylon No. 10!—however, neither the second barrel, nor a shot with the Manton 2-ounce, produced any effect. It was a glorious sight to see the herd of upwards of a hundred of these superb animals close up at the alarm of the shots, and pelt away in a dense body through the dark green mimosa bush that hardly reached to their shoulders; but pursuit was useless. My giraffe was not quite dead, and, the throat having been cut by the Arabs and Richarn, we attempted to flay our game; this was simply impossible. The seroot fly was in swarms about the carcase, thousands were buzzing about our ears and biting like bull-dogs: the blood was streaming from our necks, and, as I wore no sleeves, my naked arms suffered terribly. I never saw such an extraordinary sight; although we had killed our giraffe, we could not take possession; it was no wonder that camels and all domestic animals were killed by this horrible plague, the only wonder was the possibility of wild animals resisting the attack. The long tails of the giraffes are admirable fly-whippers, but they would be of little service against such a determined and blood-thirsty enemy as the seroot. They were now like a swarm of bees, and we immediately made war upon the scourge, by lighting several fires within a few feet to windward of the giraffe; when the sticks blazed briskly, we piled green grass upon the tops, and quickly produced a smoke that vanquished the enemy.
"It was now about 3 P.M. and intensely hot; I had been in constant exercise since 6 A.M., therefore I determined upon luncheon under the shade of a welcome mimosa upon which I had already hung my water-skin to cool. We cut sonne long thin strips of flesh from the giraffe, and lighted a fire of dry babanoose wood expressly for cooking. This species of wood is exceedingly inflammable, and burns like a torch; it is intensely hard, and in colour and grain it is similar to lignum vitae. The festoons of giraffe flesh were hung upon forked sticks, driven into the ground to leeward of the fire, while others were simply thrown upon the embers by my men, who, while the food was roasting, employed themselves in skinning the animal, and in eating the flesh raw. The meat was quickly roasted, and was the best I have ever tasted, fully corroborating the praises I had frequently heard of giraffe meat from the Arab hunters. It would be natural to suppose that the long legs of this animal would furnish the perfection of marrow bones, but these are a disappointment, as the bones of the giraffe are solid, like those of the elephant and hippopotamus; the long tendons of the legs are exceedingly prized by the Arabs in lieu of thread for sewing leather, also for guitar strings.
"After luncheon, I took my little Fletcher rifle, and strolled down to the spot from whence I had fired the shot, as I wished to measure the distance, but no sooner had I arrived at the place than I observed at about a quarter of a mile below me, in the valley, a fine tetel; it was standing on the summit of one of the numerous knolls, evidently driven fronm the high grass by the flies. I stalked it very carefully until I arrived within about a hundred yards, and just as I reached the stem of a tree that I had resolved upon as my covering-point, the tetel got my wind, and immediately bounded off, receiving the bullet in the right hip at the same moment. After a few bounds it fell, and I ran forward to secure it, but it suddenly sprang to its feet, and went off at a surprising rate upon three legs. I believed I missed it, as I fired a quick shot just as it disappeared in the thick bushes. Whistling for my people, I was now joined by Bacheet and Richarn, my other men remaining with the giraffe. For about four miles we followed on the track through the broken valley of the Atbara, during which we several times disturbed the tetel, but could not obtain a good shot, on account of the high grass and thick bushes. Several times I tried a snap shot, as for a moment I caught sight of its red hide galloping through the bush, but as it ran down wind I had no chance of getting close to my game. At length, after following rapidly down a grassy ravine, I presently heard it pelting through the bushes; the ravine made a bend to the right, therefore, by taking a short cut, I arrived just in time to catch sight of the tetel as it passed over an open space below me; this time the little Fletcher bagged him. On examination I found that I had struck it four times. I had fired five shots, but as three of those had been fired almost at random, when the animal was in full speed through the bushes, one had missed, and the others were badly placed.
"Fortunately this long hunt had been in the direction of Sofi, to which we were near; still more fortunately, after we had marked the spot, we shortly met my first party of Arabs returning towards the village, heavily laden with giraffe's flesh, and the hide of one that I had killed yesterday. It appeared that during the night, lions and hyaenas had completely devoured one of the giraffes, not even leaving a vestige of skin or bone, but the immediate neighbourhood of the spot where it lay had been trampled into mud by the savage crowd who had left their footprints as witnesses to the robbery; the hide and bones had evidently been dragged away piecemeal.
"On arrival at the river we were all busy in preparing for the passage with so large a quantity of meat. The water-skins for the raft were quickly inflated, and I learnt from the Arabs an excellent contrivance for carrying a quantity of flesh across a river, without its becoming sodden. The skin of the tetel was nearly as capacious as that of an Alderney cow; this had been drawn off in the usual manner, so as to form a sack. The Arabs immediately proceeded to tie up the neck like the mouth of a bag, and to secure the apertures at the knees in like manner; when this operation was concluded, the skin became an immense sack, the mouth being at the aperture left at the hind-quarters. The No. 10 bullet had gone completely through the shoulders of the tetel, thus the two holes in the hide required stopping; this was dexterously performed by inserting a stone into either hole, of a size so much larger than the aperture, that it was impossible to squeeze them through. These stones were inserted from the inside of the sack; they were then grasped by the hand from the outside, and pulled forward, while a tight ligature was made behind each stone, which effectually stopped the holes. The skin of the tetel was thus converted into a waterproof bag, into which was packed a quantity of flesh sufficient to fill two-thirds of its capacity; the edges of the mouth were then carefully drawn together, and secured by tying. Thus carefully packed, one of the foreleg ligatures was untied, and the whole skin was inflated by blowing through the tube formed by the skin of the limb; the inflation completed, this was suddenly twisted round and tied. The skin thus filled looked like an exaggerated water-skin; the power of flotation was so great, that about a dozen men hung on to the legs of the tetel, and to each other's shoulders, when we launched it in the river. This plan is well worthy of the attention of military men; troops, when on service, are seldom without bullocks; in the absence of boats or rafts, not only can the men be thus safely conveyed across the river, but the ammunition can be packed within the skins, wrapped up in straw, and will be kept perfectly dry.
"The Arabs were much afraid of crocodiles this night, as it was perfectly dark when we had completed our preparations, and they feared that the snmell of so large a quantity of raw flesh, more especially the hide of the giraffe, which must be towed, would attract these beasts to the party; accordingly I fired several shots to alarm them, and the men plunged into the river, amidst the usual yelling of the women on the opposite side. Fires had been lighted to direct us, and all passed safely across.
"The sport upon the Abyssinian side of the river had been most satisfactory, and I resolved upon the first opportunity to change my quarters, and to form an encampment upon that bank of the Atbara until the proper season should arrive for travelling. I had killed three giraffes and two tetel in only two excursions. Florian, who was ill, had not been able to accompany me; although he had been shooting in this neighbourhood for two years he had never killed a giraffe. This want of success was owing to the inferiority of his weapons, that were not adapted to correct shooting at a range exceeding a hundred yards.
"On the following morning about fifty Arabs crossed the river with the intention of bringing the flesh of the giraffe, but they returned crestfallen in the evening, as again the lions and hyaenas had been before them, and nothing was left. I therefore resolved not to shoot again until I should be settled in my new camp on the other side of the river, as it was a wasteful expenditure of these beautiful animals unless the flesh could be preserved.
"The rainy season was drawing to a close, and I longed to quit the dulness of Sofi.
"September 12.—The river has fallen nearly eighteen feet, as the amount of rain has much decreased during the last week. Immense crocodiles are now to be seen daily, basking upon the muddy banks. One monster in particular, who is well known to the Arabs as having devoured a woman a few months ago, invariably sleeps upon a small island up the river.
"This evening I counted seven elephants on the east side of the river on the table lands.
"To-day the Arabs kept one of their holy feasts; accordingly, a sheep was slaughtered as a sacrifice, with an accompaniment of music and singing, i.e. howling to several guitars.
"The Arab system of an offering is peculiar. Should a friend be dangerously ill, or rain be demanded, or should any calamity befall them, they slaughter an ox if they possess it, or a sheep or goat in the absence of a larger animal, but the owner of the beast SELLS the meat in small portions to the assembled party, and the whole affair of sacrifice resolves itself into a feast; thus having filled thenmselves with good meat, they feel satisfied that they have made a religious sacrifice, and they expect the beneficial results. The guitar music and singing that attend the occasion are simply abominable. Music, although beloved like dancing by both the savage and civilized, varies in character according to the civilization of the race; that which is agreeable to the uneducated ear is discord to the refined nerves of the educated. The uutuned ear of the savage can no more enjoy the tones of civilized music than his palate would relish the elaborate dishes of a French chef de cuisine. As the stomach of the Arab prefers the raw meat and reeking liver taken hot from the animal, so does his ear prefer his equally coarse and discordant music to all other. The guitar most common is made of either the shell of a large gourd, or that of a turtle; over this is stretched an untanned skin, that of a large fish being preferred; through this two sticks are fixed about two feet three inches in length; the ends of these are fastened to a cross piece upon which are secured the strings; these are stretched over a bridge similar to those of a violin, and are either tightened or relaxed by rings of waxed rag fastened upon the cross piece—these rings are turned by the hand, and retain their position in spite of the strain upon the strings. Nothing delights an Arab more than to sit idly in his hut and strum this wretched instrument from morning until night."
I was thoroughly tired of Sofi, and I determined to move my party across the river to camp on the uninhabited side; the rains had almost ceased, therefore we should be able to live in the tent at night, and to form a shady nook beneath some mimosas by day; accordingly we busily prepared for a move.
FORM A RAFT WITH THE SPONGING BATH.
ON the 15th September the entire male population of Sofi turned out to assist us in crossing the river, as I had promised them a certain sum should the move be effected without the loss or destruction of baggage. I had arranged a very superior raft to that I had formerly used, as I now had eight inflated skins attached to the bedstead, upon which I lashed our large circular sponging bath, which, being three feet eight inches in diameter, and of the best description, would be perfectly safe for my wife, and dry and commodious for the luggage. In a very short time the whole of our effects were carried to the water's edge, and the passage of the river commenced. The rifles were the first to cross with Bacheet, while the water-tight iron box that contained the gunpowder was towed like a pinnace behind the raft. Four hippopotami hunters were harnessed as tug steamers, while a change of swimmers waited to relieve them every alternate voyage. The raft answered admirably, and would easily support about three hundred pounds. The power of flotation of the sponging bath alone I had proved would support a hundred and ninety pounds, thus the only danger in crossing was the chance of a crocodile making a dash either at the inflated skins in mistake for the body of a man, or at the swimmers themselves. All the usual necessaries were safely transported, with the tents and personal baggage, before I crossed myself, with a number of Arabs. We quickly cleared the grass from the hard pebbly soil of a beautiful plateau on the summit of a craggy sandstone cliff, about eighty feet above the river; here we pitched the tents, close to some mimosas of dense foliage, and all being in order, I went down to the river to receive the next arrival. My wife now came across the ferry, and so perfectly had this means of transport succeeded, that by the evening, the whole of our stores and baggage had been delivered without the slightest damage, with the exception of a very heavy load of corn, that had caused the sponging bath to ship a sea during a strong squall of wind. The only person who had shown the least nervousness in trusting his precious body to my ferry-boat was Mahomet the dragoman, who, having been simply accustomed to the grand vessels of the Nile, was not prepared to risk himself in a voyage across the Atbara in a sponging bath. He put off the desperate attempt until the last moment, when every other person of my party had crossed; I believe he hoped that a wreck would take place before his turn should arrive, and thus spare him the painful necessity, but when at length the awful moment arrived, he was assisted carefully imito the bath by his servant Achmet and a number of Arabs, all of whom were delighted at his imbecility. Perched nervously in the centre of the bath, and holding on tight by either side, he was towed across with his travelling bag of clothes, while Achmet remained in charge of his best clothes and sundry other personal effects, that were to form the last cargo across the ferry. It appeared that Achmet, the dearly beloved and affectionate relative of Mahomet, who had engaged to serve him for simple love instead of money, was suddenly tempted by Satan, and seeing that Mahomet and the entire party were divided from him and the property in his charge, by a river two hundred yards wide, about forty feet deep, with a powerful current, he made up his mind to bolt with the valuables; therefore while Mahomet, in a nervous state in the ferry-bath, was being towed towards the east, Achmet turned in another direction and fled towards the west. Mahomet having been much frightened by the nautical effort he had been forced to make, was in an exceedingly bad temper upon the arrival on the opposite bank, and having at length succeeded in climbing up the steep ascent, in shoes that were about four sizes too large for him, he arrived on the lofty plateau of our camp, and doubtless would like ourselves have been charmed with the view of the noble river rushing between the cliffs of white sandstone, had he only seen Achmet his fond relative with his effects on the opposite bank. Mahomet strained his eyes, but the blank was no optical delusion; neither Achmet nor his effects were there. The Arabs, who hated the unfortunate Mahomet for his general overbearing conduct, now comforted him with the suggestion that Achmet had run away, and that his only chance was to re-cross the river and give chase. Mahomet would not have ventured upon another voyage to the other side and back again, for the world, and as to giving chase in boots (highlows) four sizes too big, and without strings, that would have been as absurd as to employ a donkey to catch a horse. Mahomet could do nothing but rush frantically to the very edge of the cliff, and scream and gesticulate to a crowd of Arab women who had passed the day beneath the shady trees by the Faky's grave, watching our passage of the Atbara. Beating his own head and tearing his hair were always the safety valves of Mahomet's rage, but as hair is not of that mushroom growth that reappears in a night, he had patches upon his cranium as bald as a pumpkin shell, from the constant plucking, attendant upon losses of temper; he now not only tore a few extra locks from his head, but he shouted out a tirade of abuse towards the far-distant Achmet, calling him a "son of a dog," cursing his father, and paying a few compliments to the memory of his mother, which if only half were founded upon fact were sad blots upon the morality of the family to which Mahomet himself belonged, through his close relationship to Achmet, whom he had declared to be his mother's brother's cousin's sister's mother's son.
A heavy shower of rain fell shortly after our camp was completed, when fortunately the baggage was under cover; this proved to be the last rain of the season, and from that moment the burning sun ruled the sodden country, and rapidly dried up not only the soil but all vegetation. The grass within a few days of the cessation of the rain assumed a tinge of yellow, and by the end of October there was not a green spot to relieve the eye from the golden blaze of the landscape, except the patches of grass and reeds that sprang from the mud banks of the retiring river. The climate was exceedingly unhealthy, but we were fortunately exceptions to the general rule, and although the inhabitants of Sofi were all sufferers, our camp had no invalids, with the exception of Mahomet, who had upon one occasion so gorged himself with half-putrid fish, that he nearly died in consequence. It would be impossible to commence our explorations in the Base until the grass should be sufficiently dry to burn; there were two varieties: that upon the slopes and hollows of the stony soil of the Atbara valley had been a pest ever since it had ripened; as the head formed three barbed darts, these detached themselves from the plant with such facility, that the slightest touch was sufficient to dislodge them; they immediately pierced the clothes, from which they could not be withdrawn, as the barbed heads broke off and remained. It was simply impossible to walk in this grass as it became ripe, without special protection; I accordingly tanned some gazelle skins, with which my wife constructed stocking gaiters, to be drawn over the foot and tied above and below the knee; thus fortified I could defy the grass, and indulge in shooting and exploring the neighbourhood until the season should arrive for firing the country. The high grass upon the table lands, although yellow, would not be sufficiently inflammable until the end of November.
The numerous watercourses that drained the table lands during the rainy season were now dry. No sooner had the grass turned yellow, than the pest of the country, the seroot fly, disappeared; thus the presence of this insect may be dated from about 10th July to 10th October. As the fly vanished, the giraffes also left the neighbourhood. By a few days' exploration, I found that the point of land from the junction of the Settite river with the Atbara, formed a narrow peninsula which was no wider than eight miles across from our encampment: thus the herds of game retreating from the south before the attacks of the seroot, found themselves driven into a cut-de-sac upon the strip of land between the broad and deep rivers the Settite and Atbara, which in the rainy season they dared not cross. All this country being uninhabited, there were several varieties of game at all seasons, but the three rainy months insure a good supply of elephants and giraffes; these retreat about thirty miles farther south, when permitted by the cessation of the flies to return to their favourite haunts.
My camp was in a very commanding position, as it was protected in front by the Atbara, and on the left by a perpendicular ravine about eighty feet deep, at the bottom of which flowed the rivulet called by the Arabs the "Till;" this joined the river immediately below our plateau. On our right was a steep and rugged incline covered with rocks of the whitest sandstone, through which ran veins of rich iron ore from four to five feet in width. I found a considerable quantity of fossil wood in the sandstone, and I had previously discovered on the Sofi side of the river, the fossil stem of a tree about twelve feet long; the grain appeared to be exceedingly close, but I could not determine the class to which the tree had belonged.
As the Atbara had fallen to the level of the small tributary, the Till, that stream was nearly exhausted, and the fish that inhabited its deep and shady waters during the rainy season were now fast retiring to the parent river. At the mouth of the stream were a number of rocks, that, as the water of the Atbara retreated, daily increased in size; these were evidently blocks that had been detached from the cliffs that walled in the Till. As we were now entirely dependent upon the rod and the rifle for the support of our party, I determined to try for a fish, as I felt quite certain that some big fellows in the main river would be waiting to receive the small fry that were hurrying away from the exhausted waters of the Till.
I had a good supply of tackle, and I chose a beautifully straight and tapering bamboo that had been brought down by the river floods. I cut off the large brass ring from a game-bag, which I lashed to the end of my rod; and having well secured my largest winch, that carried upwards of 200 yards of the strongest line, I arranged to fish with a live bait upon a set of treble hooks. In one of the rocks at the water's edge was a circular hole about three feet in diameter and five or six feet deep; this appeared like an artificial well, but it was simply the effect of natural boring by the joint exertions of the strong current conmbined with hard sand and gravel. This had perhaps years ago settled in some slight hollow in the rock, and had gradually worked out a deep well by perpetual revolutions. I emptied this natural bait box of its contents of sand and rounded pebbles, and having thoroughly cleaned and supplied it with fresh water, I caught a large number of excellent baits by emptying a hole in the Till; these I consigned to my aquarium. The baits were of various kinds: some were small "boulti" (a species of perch), but the greater number were young fish of the Silurus species; these were excellent, as they were exceedingly tough in the skin, and so hardy in constitution, that they rather enjoyed the fun of fishing. I chose a little fellow about four inches in length to begin with, and I delicately inserted the hook under the back fin. Gently dropping my alluring and lively little friend in a deep channel between the rocks and the mouth of the Till, I watched my large float with great interest, as, carried by the stream, it swept past the corner of a large rock into the open river; that corner was the very place where, if I had been a big fish, I should have concealed myself for a sudden rush upon an unwary youngster. The large green float sailed leisurely along, simply indicating, by its uneasy movement, that the bait was playing; and now it passed the point of the rock and hurried round the corner in the sharper current towards the open river. Off it went!—Down dipped the tip of the rod, with a rush so sudden that the line caught somewhere, I don't know where, and broke!
"Well, that was a monster!" I exclaimed, as I recovered my inglorious line; fortunately the float was not lost, as the hooks had been carried away at the fastening to the main line; a few yards of this I cut off, as it had partially lost its strength from frequent immersion.
I replaced the lost hooks by a still larger set, with the stoutest gimp and swivels, and once more I tried my fortune with a bait exactly resembling the first. In a short time I had a brisk run, and quickly landed a fish of about twelve pounds: this was a species known by the Arabs as the "bayard;" it has a blackish green back, the brightest silver sides and belly, with very peculiar back fins, that nearest to the tail being a simple piece of flesh free from rays. This fish has four long barbules in the upper jaw, and two in the lower: the air-bladder, when dried, forms a superior quality of isinglass, and the flesh of this fish is excellent. I have frequently seen the bayard sixty or seventy pounds' weight, therefore I was not proud of my catch, and I recommenced fishing. Nothing large could be tempted, and I only succeeded in landing two others of the same kind, one of about nine pounds, the smaller about six. I resolved upon my next trial to use a much larger bait, and I returned to camp with my fish for dinner.
The life at our new camp was charmingly independent; we were upon Abyssinian territory; but, as the country was uninhabited, we considered it as our own. I had previously arranged with the sheik of Sofi that, whenever the rifle should be successful and I could spare meat, I would hoist the English flag upon my flagstaff; thus I could at any time summon a crowd of hungry visitors, who were ever ready to swim the river and defy the crocodiles in the hope of obtaining flesh. We were exceedingly comfortable, having a large stock of supplies; in addition to our servants we had acquired a treasure in a nice old slave woman, whom we had hired from the sheik at a dollar per month to grind the corn. Masara (Sarah) was a dear old creature, the most willing and obliging specimen of a good slave; and she was one of those bright exceptions of the negro race that would have driven Exeter Hall frantic with enthusiasm. Poor old Masara! she had now fallen into the hands of a kind mistress, and as we were improving in Arabic, my wife used to converse with her upon the past and present; future had never been suggested to her simple mind. Masara had a weighty care; her daily bread was provided; money she had none, neither did she require it; husband she could not have had, as a slave has none, but is the common property of all who purchase her: but poor Masara had a daughter, a charming pretty girl of about seventeen, the offspring of one of the old woman's Arab masters. Sometimes this girl came to see her mother, and we arranged the bath on the inflated skins, and had her towed across for a few days. This was Masara's greatest happiness, but her constant apprehension; the nightmare of her life was the possibility that her daughter should be sold and parted from her. The girl was her only and all absorbing thought, the sole object of her affection: she was the moon in her mother's long night of slavery; without her, all was dark and hopeless. The hearts of slaves are crushed and hardened by the constant pressure of the yoke; nevertheless some have still those holy feelings of affection that nature has implanted in the human mind: it is the tearing asunder of those tender chains that renders slavery the horrible curse that it really is; human beings are reduced to the position of animals, without the blessings enjoyed by the brute creation—short memories and obtuse feelings.
Masara, Mahomet, Wat Gamma, and Bacheet, formed the establishment of Ehetilla, which was the Arab name of our locality. Bacheet was an inveterate sportsman and was my constant and sole attendant when shooting; his great desire was to accompany me in elephant-hunting, when he promised to carry one of my spare rifles as a trusty gun-bearer, and he vowed that no animal should ever frighten him.
A few extracts from my journal written at that time will convey a tolerable idea of the place and our employments.
"September 23.—Started for the Settite river. In about four hours' good marching N.N.E. through a country of grass and mimosa bush that forms the high land between that river and the Atbara, I reached the Settite about a mile from the junction. The river is about 250 yards wide, and flows through a broken valley of innumerable hillocks and deep ravines of about five miles in width, precisely similar in character to that of the Atbara; the soil having been denuded by the rains, and carried away by the floods of the river towards the Nile. The heat was intense; there was no air stirring; a cloudless sky and a sun like a burning-glass. We saw several nellut (Taurotragus strepsiceros), but these superb antelopes were too wild to allow a close approach. The evening drew near, and we had nothing to eat, when fortunately I espied a fine black-striped gazelle (Gazella Dorcas), and with the greatest caution I stalked it to within about a hundred paces, and made a successful shot with the Fletcher rifle, and secured our dinner. Thus provided, we selected a steep sugarloaf-shaped hill, upon the peak of which we intended to pass the night. We therefore cleared away the grass, spread boughs upon the ground, lighted fires, and prepared for a bivouac. Having a gridiron, and pepper and salt, I made a grand dinner of liver and kidneys, while my men ate a great portion of the gazelle raw, and cooked the remainder in their usual careless manner by simply laying it upon the fire for a few seconds until warmed half through. There is nothing like a good gridiron for rough cooking; a frying-pan is good if you have fat, but without it, the pan is utterly useless. With a gridiron and a couple of iron skewers a man is independent:—the liver cut in strips and grilled with pepper and salt is excellent, but kabobs are sublime, if simply arranged upon the skewer in alternate pieces of liver and kidney cut as small as walnuts, and rubbed with chopped garlic, onions, cayenne, black pepper, and salt. The skewers thus arranged should be laid either upon the glowing embers, or across the gridiron.
"Not a man closed his eyes that night—not that the dinner disagreed with them—but the mosquitoes! Lying on the ground, the smoke of the fires did not protect us; we were beneath it, as were the mosquitoes likewise; in fact the fires added to our misery, as they brought new plagues in thousands of flying bugs; with beetles of all sizes and kinds: these, becoming stupified in the smoke, tumbled clumsily upon me, entangling themselves in my long beard and whiskers, crawling over my body, down my neck, and up my sleeping-drawers, until I was swarming with them; the bugs upon being handled squashed like lumps of butter, and emitted a perfume that was unbearable. The night seemed endless; it was passed in alternately walking to and fro, flapping right and left with a towel, covering my head with a pillow-case, and gasping for air through the button-hole, in an atmosphere insufferably sultry.
"At length morning dawned, thank Heaven! I made a cup of strong coffee, ate a morsel of dhurra bread, and started along the high ground parallel with the course of the Settite river up stream.
"After walking for upwards of four hours over ground covered with tracks of giraffes, elephants, and antelopes about a fortnight old, I saw four tetel (Antelopus Bubalis), but I was unfortunate in my shot at a long range in high grass. We had been marching south-east, and as I intended to return to camp, we now turned sharp to the west. The country was beautiful, composed of alternate glades, copses, and low mimosa forest. At length I espied the towering head of a giraffe about half a mile distant; he was in the mimosa forest, and was already speculating upon our party, which he had quickly observed. Leaving my men in this spot to fix his attention, I succeeded in making a good stalk to within one hundred and twenty yards of him. He was exactly facing me, and I waited for him to turn and expose the flank, but he suddenly turned so quickly that I lost the opportunity, and he received the bullet in his back as he started at full speed; for the moment he reeled crippled among the mimosas, but, recovering, he made off. I could not fire the left-hand barrel on account of the numerous trees and bushes. I called my men, and followed for a few hundred yards upon his track, but as this was directly in an opposite direction to that of my camp I was forced to give up the hunt.*
* We found the remains of the Giraffe a few days later.
"About an hour later I hit a tetel with both barrels of the little Fletcher, at full gallop; but although we followed the blood-track for sonme distance, we did not recover it. At this season the grass is in most places from seven to ten feet high, and being trodden by numerous old tracks of animals, it is difficult to find a wounded beast without the assistance of a dog. The luck was against me to-day; I could only shoot well enough to hit everything, but to bag nothing, owing to a sleepless night. I killed a guinea-fowl to secure dinner upon my return, and we at length reached the welcome Atbara within two miles of my head-quarters. My men made a rush to the river, and threw themselves into the water, as all were more or less exhausted by the intense heat of the long day's work after a restless night. I took a good drink through my gazelle shank-bone, which I wear suspended from my neck for that purpose, and I went on alone, leaving my bathing party to refresh themselves. I reached the tent a little after 4 P.M. after more than ten hours' continual walking in the burning sun. I felt almost red hot, but my bath and clean linen being ready, thanks to the careful preparation of my wife, I was quickly refreshed, and sat down with a lion's appetite to good curry and rice, and a cup of black coffee.
"September 25.—Having nothing to eat, I took my fishing-rod and strolled down to the river, and chose from my aquarium a fish of about half a pound for a live bait; I dropped this in the river about twenty yards beyond the mouth of the Till, and allowed it to swim naturally down the stream so as to pass across the Till junction, and descend the deep channel between the rocks. For about ten minutes I had no run; I had twice tried the same water without success, nothing would admire my charming bait; when, just as it had reached the favourite turning-point at the extremity of a rock, away dashed the line, with the tremendous rush that follows the attack of a heavy fish. Trusting to the soundness of my tackle, I struck hard and fixed my new acquaintance thoroughly, but off he dashed down the stream for about fifty yards at one rush, making for a narrow channel between two rocks, through which the stream ran like a mill-race. Should he pass this channel, I knew he would cut the line across the rock; therefore, giving him the butt, I held him by main force, and by the great swirl in the water I saw that I was bringing him to the surface; but just as I expected to see him, my float having already appeared, away he darted in another direction, taking sixty or seventy yards of line without a check. I at once observed that he must pass a shallow sandbank favourable for landing a heavy fish; I therefore checked him as he reached this spot, and I followed him down the bank, reeling up line as I ran parallel with his course. Now came the tug of war! I knew my hooks were good and the line sound, therefore I was determined not to let him escape beyond the favourable ground; and I put a strain upon him, that after much struggling brought to the surface a great shovel-head, followed by a pair of broad silvery sides, as I led him gradualhy into shallow water. Bacheet now cleverly secured him by the gills, and dragged him in triumph to the shore. This was a splendid bayard, at least forty pounds' weight.
"I laid my prize upon some green reeds, and covered it carefully with the same cool material. I then replaced my bait by a lively fish, and once more tried the river. In a very short time I had another run, and landed a small fish of about nine pounds of the same species. Not wishing to catch fish of that size, I put on a large bait, and threw it about forty yards into the river, well up the stream, and allowed the float to sweep the water in a half circle, thus taking the chance of different distances from the shore. For about half an hour nothing moved; I was just preparing to alter my position, when out rushed my line, and striking hard, I believed I fixed the old gentleman himself, for I had no control over him whatever; holding him was out of the question; the line flew through my hands, cutting them till the blood flowed, and I was obliged to let the fish take his own way: this he did for about eighty yards, when he suddenly stopped. This unexpected halt was a great calamity, for the reel overran itself, having no check-wheel, and the slack bends of the line caught the handle just as he again rushed forward, and with a jerk that nearly pulled the rod from my hands he was gone! I found one of my large hooks broken short off; the confounded reel! The fish was a monster!
"After this bad luck I had no run until the evening, when putting on a large bait, and fishing at the tail of a rock between the stream and still water, I once more had a grand rush, and hooked a big one. There were no rocks down stream, all was fair play and clear water, and away he went at racing pace straight for the middle of the river. To check the pace, I grasped the line with the stuff of my loose trousers, and pressed it between my fingers so as to act as a break, and compel him to labour for every yard; but he pulled like a horse, and nearly cut through the thick cotton cloth, making straight running for at least a hundred yards without a halt. I now put so severe a strain upon him, that my strong bamboo bent nearly double, and the fish presently so far yielded to the pressure, that I could enforce his running in half circles instead of straight away. I kept gaining line, until I at length led him into a shallow bay, and after a great fight, Bacheet embraced him by falling upon him, and clutching the monster with hands and knees; he then tugged to the shore a magnificent fish of upwards of sixty pounds. For about twenty minutes he had fought against such a strain as I had never before used upon a fish, but I had now adopted hooks of such a large size and thickness that it was hardly possible for them to break, unless snapped by a crocodile. My reel was so loosened from the rod, that had the struggle lasted a few minutes longer I must have been vanquished. This fish measured three feet eight inches to the root of the tail, and two feet three inches in girth of shoulders; the head measured one foot ten inches in circumference—it was the same species as those I had already caught.
"This closed the sport for the day. We called all hands to carry the fish to camp, and hoisted the flag, which was quickly followed by the arrival of a number of men from Sofi, to receive all that we could spare. The largest fish we cut into thin strips,—these we salted and dried; the head made delicious soup, with a teaspoonful of curry-powder.
"September 26.—The weather is now intensely hot, and the short spear grass is drying so rapidly that in some stony places it can be fired. The birds appear to build their nests at various seasons. Many that built three months ago are again at work; among others is a species of black Mina, that takes entire possession of a tree, which it completely covers with nests coarsely constructed of sticks. A few days ago I found several trees converted into colonies of many hundred dwellings.
"I never allow either the monkeys or baboons to be disturbed: thus they have no fear of our party, but with perfect confidence they approach within thirty or forty yards of the tents, sitting upon the rocks and trees, and curiously watching all that takes place in the camp. I have only seen one species of monkey in this neighbourhood—a handsome dark grey animal with white whiskers. The baboons are also of one species, the great dog-faced ape (Cynocephalus); these grow to a very large size, and old Masara fully expects to be carried off and become the wife of an old baboon, if they are allowed to become so bold.
"This afternoon I took a stroll with the rifle, but saw nothing except a young crocodile about six feet long; this was on the dry summit of a hill, far from water. I shot it and took the skin. I can only conclude that the small stream in which he had wandered from the river-bed had become dry, and the creature had lost its way in searching for other water.
"September 27.—I started from the tent at 6 A.M. and made a circuit of about eighteen miles, seeing nothing but tetel and gazelles, but I had no luck. Hot and disgusted, I returned home, and took the rod, hoping for better luck in the river. I hooked, but lost, a small fish, and I began to think that the fates were against me by land and water, when I suddenly had a tremendous run, and about a hundred and fifty yards rushed off the reel without the possibility of stopping the fish. The river was very low; thus I followed along the bank, holding hard, and after about half an hour of difference of opinion, the fish began to show itself, and I coaxed it into the shallows; here it was cleverly managed by Bacheet, who lugged it out by the tail. It was an ugly monster, of about fifty pounds, a species of silurus, known by the Arabs as the 'coor;' it differed from the silurus of Europe by haviimg a dorsal fin, like a fringe, that extended along the back to the tail. This fish had lungs resembling delicate branches of red coral, and, if kept moist, it would exist upon the land for many hours like an eel. It smelt strongly of musk, but it was gladly accepted by the Sheik of Sofi, who immediately answered to the flag.