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.
Never was there better ground for the finish of a race. The earth was sandy, but firm, and as we saw the winning-post in the jungle that must terminate the hunt, we redoubled our exertions to close with the unflagging game. Suleiman's horse gave in - we had been for about twenty minutes at a killing pace. Tetel, although not a fast horse, was good for a distance, and he now proved his power of endurance, as I was riding at least two stone heavier than any of the party. Only four of the seven remained; and we swept down the incline, Taher Sherif still leading, and Abou Do the last! His horse was done, but not the rider; for, springing to the ground while at full speed, sword in hand, he forsook his tired horse, and, preferring his own legs, he ran like an antelope, and, for the first hundred yards I thought lie would really pass us and win the honor of first blow. It was of no use, the pace was too severe, and, although running wonderfully, he was obliged to give way to the horses. Only three now followed the rhinoceroses - Taher Sherrif, his brother Roder, and myself. I had been obliged to give the second place to Roder, as he was a mere monkey in weight; but I was a close third.
The excitement was intense. We neared the jungle, and the rhinoceroses began to show signs of flagging, as the dust puffed up before their nostrils, and, with noses close to the ground, they snorted as they still galloped on. Oh for a fresh horse! "A horse ! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" We were within two hundred yards of the jungle; but the horses were all done. Tetel reeled as I urged him forward. Roder pushed ahead. We were close to the dense thorns, and the rhinoceroses broke into a trot; they were done! "Now, Taher, for-r-a-a-r-r-d! for-r-r-a-a-r-d, Taher!!"
Away he went. He was close to the very heels of the beasts, but his horse could do no more than his present pace; still he gained upon the nearest. He leaned forward with his sword raised for the blow. Another moment and the jungle would be reached! One effort more, and the sword flashed in the sunshine, as the rear-most rhinoceros disappeared in the thick screen of thorns, with a gash about a foot long upon his hind-quarters. Taher Sherrif shook his bloody sword in triumph above his head, but the rhinoceros was gone. We were fairly beaten, regularly outpaced; but I believe another two hundred yards would have given us the victory. "Bravo, Taher!" I shouted. He had ridden splendidly, and his blow had been marvellously delivered at an extremely long reach, as he was nearly out of his saddle when he sprang forward to enable the blade to obtain a cut at the last moment. He could not reach the hamstring, as his horse could not gain the proper position.
We all immediately dismounted. The horses were thoroughly done, and I at once loosened the girths and contemplated my steed Tetel, who, with head lowered and legs wide apart, was a tolerable example of the effects of pace. The other aggageers shortly arrived, and as the rival Abou Do joined us, Taher Sherrif quietly wiped the blood off his sword without making a remark. This was a bitter moment for the discomfited Abou Do.
There is only one species of rhinoceros in Abyssinia; this is the two-horned black rhinoceros, known in South Africa as the keitloa. This animal is generally five feet six inches to five feet eight inches high at the shoulder, and, although so bulky and heavily built, it is extremely active, as our long and fruitless hunt had shown us. The skin is about half the thickness of that of the hippopotamus, but of extreme toughness and closeness of texture. When dried and polished it resembles horn. Unlike the Indian species of rhinoceros, the black variety of Africa is free from folds, and the hide fits smoothly on the body like that of the buffalo. This two-horned black species is exceedingly vicious. It is one of the very few animals that will generally assume the offensive; it considers all creatures to be enemies, and, although it is not acute in either sight or hearing, it possesses so wonderful a power of scent that it will detect a stranger at a distance of five or six hundred yards should the wind be favorable.
Florian was now quite incapable of hunting, as he was in a weak state of health, and had for some months been suffering from chronic dysentery. I had several times cured him, but he had a weakness for the strongest black coffee, which, instead of drinking, like the natives, in minute cups, he swallowed wholesale in large basins several times a day; this was actual poison with his complaint, and he was completely ruined in health. At this time his old companion, Johann Schmidt, the carpenter, arrived, having undertaken a contract to provide for the Italian Zoological Gardens a number of animals. I therefore proposed that the two old friends should continue together, while I would hunt by myself, with the aggageers, toward the east and south. This arrangement was agreed to, and we parted.
Our camels returned from Geera with corn, accompanied by an Abyssinian hunter, who was declared by Abou Do to be a good man and dexterous with the sword. We accordingly moved our camp, said adieu to Florian and Johann, and penetrated still deeper into the country of the Bas-e.