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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.

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 mass. 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 mass 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 astonishing 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 dashing 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.

Now for the spurs! and as these, vigorously applied, screwed an extra stride out of Tetel, I soon found myself in the ruck of men, horses, and drawn swords. There were seven of us, and passing Abou Do, whose face wore an expression of agony at finding that his horse was failing, I quickly obtained a place between the two brothers, Taher and Roder Sherrif. There had been a jealousy between the two parties of aggageers, and each was striving to outdo the other; thus Abou Do was driven almost to madness at the superiority of Taher's horse, while the latter, who was the renowned hunter of the tribe, was determined that his sword should be the first to taste blood. I tried to pass the rhinoceros on my left, so as to fire close into the shoulder my remaining barrel with my right hand, but it was impossible to overtake the animals, who bounded along with undiminished speed. With the greatest exertion of men and horses we could only retain our position within about three or four yards of their tails - just out of reach of the swords. The only chance in the race was to hold the pace until the rhinoceroses should begin. to flag. The horses were pressed to the utmost; but we had already run about two miles, and the game showed no signs of giving in. On they flew, sometimes over open ground, then through low bush, which tried the horses severely, then through strips of open forest, until at length the party began to tail off, and only a select few kept their places. We arrived at the summit of a ridge, from which the ground sloped in a gentle inclination for about a mile toward the river. At the foot of this incline was thick thorny nabbuk jungle, for which impenetrable covert the rhinoceroses pressed at their utmost speed.