CHAPTER VII. The start from Geera - Feats of horsemanship - A curious chase - Abou Do wins a race - Capturing a young buffalo - Our island camp - Tales of the Base.

We started from Geera on the 23d of December, with our party complete. The Hamran sword-hunters were Abou Do, Jali, and Suleiman. My chief tracker was Taher Noor, who, although a good hunter, was not a professional aggahr, and I was accompanied by the father of Abou Do, who was a renowned "howarti" or harpooner of hippopotami. This magnificent old man might have been Neptune himself. He stood about six feet two, and his grizzled locks hung upon his shoulders in thick, and massive curls, while his deep bronze features could not have been excelled in beauty of outline. A more classical figure I have never beheld than the old Abou Do with his harpoon as he first breasted the torrent, and then landed dripping from the waves to join our party from the Arab camp on the opposite side of the river. In addition to my Tokrooris, I had engaged nine camels, each with a separate driver, of the Hamrans, who were to accompany us throughout the expedition. These people were glad to engage themselves, with their camels included, at one and a half dollars per month, for man and beast as one. We had not sufficient baggage to load five camels, but four carried a large supply of corn for our horses and people.

Hardly were we mounted and fairly started than the monkey-like agility of our aggageers was displayed in a variety of antics, that were far more suited to performances in a circus than to a party of steady and experienced hunters, who wished to reserve the strength of their horses for a trying journey.

Abou Do was mounted on a beautiful Abyssinian horse, a gray; Suleiman rode a rough and inferior-looking beast; while little Jali, who was the pet of the party, rode a gray snare, not exceeding fourteen hands in height, which matched her rider exactly in fire, spirit, and speed. Never was there a more perfect picture of a wild Arab horseman than Jali on his mare. Hardly was he in the saddle than away flew the mare over the loose shingles that formed the dry bed of the river, scattering the rounded pebbles in the air from her flinty Hoofs, while her rider in the vigour of delight threw himself almost under her belly while at full speed, and picked up stones from the ground, which he flung, and again caught as they descended. Never were there more complete Centaurs than these Hamran Arabs ; the horse and man appeared to be one animal, and that of the most elastic nature, that could twist and turn with the suppleness of a snake. The fact of their being separate beings was well proved, however, by the rider's springing to the earth with his drawn sword while the horse was in full gallop over rough and difficult ground, and, clutching the mane, again vaulting into the saddle with the ability of a monkey, without once checking the speed. The fact of being on horseback had suddenly altered the character of these Arabs; from a sedate and proud bearing, they had become the wildest examples of the most savage disciples of Nimrod. Excited by enthusiasm, they shook their naked blades aloft till the steel trembled in their grasp, and away they dashed over rocks, through thorny bush, across ravines, up and down steep inclinations, engaging in a mimic hunt, and going through the various acts supposed to occur in the attack of a furious elephant. I must acknowledge that, in spite of my admiration for their wonderful dexterity, I began to doubt their prudence. I had three excellent horses for my wife and myself; the Hamran hunters had only one for each, and if the commencement were an example of their usual style of horsemanship, I felt sure that a dozen horses would not be sufficient for the work before us. However, it was not the moment to offer advice, as they were simply mad with excitement and delight.

The women raised their loud and shrill yell at parting, and our party of about twenty-five persons, with nine camels, six horses, and two donkeys, exclusive of the German, Florian, with his kicking giraffe-hunter, and attendants, ascended the broken slope that formed the broad valley of the Settite River.

There was very little game in the neighbourhood, as it was completely overrun by the Arabs and their flocks, and we were to march about fifty miles east-south- east before we should arrive in the happy hunting-grounds of the Base country, where we were led to expect great results.

In a day's march through a beautiful country, sometimes upon the high table-land to cut off a bend in the river, at other times upon the margin of the stream in the romantic valley, broken into countless hills and ravines covered with mimosas, we arrived at Ombrega (mother of the thorn), about twenty-four miles from Geera. We soon arranged a resting-place, and cleared away the grass that produced the thorn which had given rise to the name of Ombrega, and in a short time we were comfortably settled for the night. We were within fifty yards of the river, the horses were luxuriating in the green grass that grew upon its banks, and the camels were hobbled, to prevent them from wandering from the protection of the camp-fires, as we were now in the wilderness, where the Base by day and the lion and leopard by night were hostile to man and beast.

We were fast asleep a little after midnight, when we were awakened by the loud barking of the dogs, and by a confusion in the camp. Jumping up on the instant, I heard the dogs, far away in the dark jungles, barking in different directions. One of the goats was gone! A leopard had sprung into the camp, and had torn a goat from its fastening, although tied to a peg, between two men, close to a large fire. The dogs had given chase; but, as usual in such cases, they were so alarmed as to be almost useless. We quickly collected firebrands and searched the jungles, and shortly we arrived where a dog was barking violently. Near this spot we heard the moaning of some animal among the bushes, and upon a search with firebrands we discovered the goat, helpless upon the ground, with its throat lacerated by the leopard. A sudden cry from the dog at a few yards' distance, and the barking ceased.

The goat was carried to the camp where it shortly died. We succeeded in recalling two of the dogs, but the third, which was the best, was missing, having been struck by the leopard. We searched for the body in vain, and concluded that it had been carried off.

The country that we now traversed was so totally uninhabited that it was devoid of all footprints of human beings; even the sand by the river's side, that, like the snow, confessed every print, was free from all traces of man. The Bas-e were evidently absent from our neighbourhood.

We had several times disturbed antelopes during the early portion of the march, and we had just ascended from the rugged slopes of the valley, when we observed a troop of about 100 baboons, which were gathering gum-arabic from the mimosas; upon seeing us, they immediately waddled off. "Would the lady like to have a girrit (baboon)?" exclaimed the ever-excited Jali. Being answered in the affirmative, away dashed the three hunters in full gallop after the astonished apes, who, finding themselves pursued, went off at their best speed. The ground was rough, being full of broken hollows, covered scantily with mimosas, and the stupid baboons, instead of turning to the right into the rugged and steep valley of the Settite, where they would have been secure from the aggageers, kept a straight course before the horses. It was a curious hunt. Some of the very young baboons were riding on their mother's backs; these were now going at their best pace, holding onto their maternal steeds, and looking absurdly humans but in a few minutes, as we closely followed the Arabs, we were all in the midst of the herd, and with great dexterity two of the aggageers, while at full speed, stooped like falcons from their saddles, and seized each a half-grown ape by the back of the neck, and hoisted them upon the necks of the horses. Instead of biting, as I had expected, the astonished captives sat astride of the horses, and clung tenaciously with both arms to the necks of their steeds, screaming with fear.

The hunt was over, and we halted to secured the prisoners. Dismounting, to my surprise the Arabs immediately stripped from a mimosa several thongs of bark, and having tied the baboons by the neck, they gave them a merciless whipping with their powerful coorbatches of hippopotamus hide. It was in vain that I remonstrated against this harsh treatment; they persisted in the punishment. Otherwise they declared that the baboons would bite, but if well-whipped they would become "miskeen"(humble). At length by wife insisted upon mercy, and the unfortunate captives wore an expression of countenance like prisoners about to be led to execution, and they looked imploringly at our faces, in which they evidently discovered some sympathy with their fate. They were quickly placed on horseback before their captors, and once more we continued our journey, highly amused with the little entr' acte.

We had hardly ridden half a mile when I perceived a fine bull tetel standing near a bush a few hundred yards distant. Motioning to the party to halt, I dismounted, and with that the little Fletcher rifle I endeavored to obtain a shot. When within about a hundred and seventy yards, he observed our party, and I was obliged to take the shot, although I could have approached unseen to a closer distance, had his attention not been attracted by the noise of the horses. He threw his head up preparatory to starting off, and he was just upon the move as I touched the trigger. He fell like a stone to the shot, but almost immediately he regained his feet and bounded off, receiving a bullet from the second barrel without a flinch. In full speed he rushed away across the party of aggageers about three hundred yards distant.

Out dashed Abou Do from the ranks on his active gray horse, and away he flew after the wounded tetel, his long hair floating in the wind, his naked sword in hand, and his heels digging into the flanks of his horse, as though armed with spurs in the last finish of a race. It was a beautiful course. Abou Do hunted like a cunning greyhound; the tetel turned, and, taking advantage of the double, he cut off the angle; succeeding by the manoeuvre, he again followed at tremendous speed over the numerous inequalities of the ground, gaining in the race until he was within twenty yards of the tetel, when we lost sight of both game and hunter in the thick bushes. By this time I had regained my horse, that was brought to meet me, and I followed to the spot, toward which my wife and the aggageers, encumbered with the unwilling apes, were already hastening. Upon arrival I found, in high yellow grass beneath a large tree, the tetel dead, and Abou Do wiping his bloody sword, surrounded by the foremost of the party. He had hamstrung the animal so delicately that the keen edge of the blade was not injured against the bone. My two bullets had passed through the tetel. The first was too high, having entered above the shoulder - this had dropped the animal for a moment; the second was through the flank.

The Arabs now tied the baboons to trees, and employed themselves in carefully skinning the tetel so as to form a sack from the hide. They had about half finished the operation, when we were disturbed by a peculiar sound at a considerable distance in the jungle, which, being repeated, we knew to be the cry of buffaloes. In an instant the tetel was neglected, the aggageers mounted their horses, and leaving my wife with a few men to take charge of the game, accompanied by Florian we went in search of the buffaloes. This part of the country was covered with grass about nine feet high, that was reduced to such extreme dryness that the stems broke into several pieces like glass as we brushed through it. The jungle was open, composed of thorny mimosas at such wide intervals that a horse could be ridden at considerable speed if accustomed to the country. Altogether it was the perfection of ground for shooting, and the chances were in favour of the rifle.

We had proceeded carefully about half a mile when I heard a rustling in the grass, and I shortly perceived a bull buffalo standing alone beneath a tree, close to the sandy bed of a dried stream, which was about a hundred yards distant, between us and the animal. The grass had been entirely destroyed by the trampling of a large herd. I took aim at the shoulder with one of my No. 10 Reilly rifles, and the buffalo rushed forward at the shot, and fell about a hundred paces beyond in the bush. At the report of the shot, the herd, that we had not observed, which had been lying upon the sandy bed of the stream, rushed past us with a sound like thunder, in a cloud of dust raised by several hundreds of large animals in full gallop. I could hardly see them distinctly, and I waited for a good chance, when presently a mighty bull separated from the rest, and gave me a fair shoulder-shot. I fired a little too forward, and missed the shoulder; but I made a still better shot by mistake, as the Reilly bullet broke the spine through the neck, and dropped him dead. Florian, poor fellow, had not the necessary tools for the work, and one of his light guns produced no effect.

Now came the time for the aggageers. Away dashed Jali op his fiery mare, closely followed by Abou Do and Suleiman, who in a few instants were obscured in the cloud of dust raised by the retreating buffaloes. As soon as I could mount my horse that had been led behind me, I followed at full speed, and, spurring hard, I shortly came in sight of the three aggageers, not only in the dust, but actually among the rear buffaloes of the herd. Suddenly, Jali almost disappeared from the saddle as he leaned forward with a jerk and seized a fine young buffalo by the tail. In a moment Abou Do and Suleiman sprang from their horses, and I arrived just in time to assist them in securing a fine little bull about twelve hands high, whose horns were six or seven inches long. A pretty fight we had with the young Hercules. The Arabs stuck to him like bulldogs, in spite of his tremendous struggles, and Florian, with other men, shortly arriving, we secured him by lashing his legs together with our belts until impromptu ropes could be made with mimosa bark.

I now returned to the spot where we had left my wife and the tetel. I found her standing about fifty yards from the spot with a double rifle cocked, awaiting an expected charge from one of the buffaloes that, separated from the herd, had happened to rush in her direction.

Mahomet had been in an awful fright, and was now standing secure behind his mistress. I rode through the grass with the hope of getting a shot, but the animal had disappeared. We returned to the dead tetel and to our captive baboons; but times had changed since we had left them. One had taken advantage of our absence, and, having bitten through his tether, had escaped. The other had used force instead of cunning, and, in attempting to tear away from confinement, had strangled himself with the slip-knot of the rope.

We now pushed ahead, and at 5 P.M. we arrived at the spot on the margin of the Settite River at which we were to encamp for some time. For many miles on either side the river was fringed with dense groves of the green nabbuk, but upon the east bank an island had been formed of about three hundred acres. This was a perfect oasis of verdure, covered with large nabbuk trees, about thirty feet high, and forming a mixture of the densest coverts, with small open glades of rich but low herbage. To reach this island, upon which we were to encamp, it was necessary to cross the arm of the river, that was now dry, with the exception of deep pools, in one of which we perceived a large bull buffalo drinking, just as we descended the hill. As this would be close to the larder, I stalked to within ninety yards, and fired a Reilly No. 10 into his back, as his head inclined to the water. For the moment he fell upon his knees, but recovering immediately, he rushed up the steep bank of the island, receiving the ball from my left-hand barrel between his shoulders, and disappeared in the dense covert of green nabbuk on the margin. As we were to camp within a few yards of the spot, he was close to home; therefore, having crossed the river, we carefully followed the blood tracks through the jungle. But, after having pushed our way for about twenty paces through the dense covert, I came to the wise conclusion that it was not the place for following a wounded buffalo, and that we should find him dead on the next morning.

A few yards upon our right hand was a beautiful open glade, commanding a view of the river, and surrounded by the largest nabbuk trees, that afforded a delightful shade in the midst of the thick covert. This was a spot that in former years had been used by the aggageers as a camp, and we accordingly dismounted and turned the horses to graze upon the welcome grass. Each horse was secured to a peg by a long leathern thong, as the lions in this neighbourhood were extremely dangerous, having the advantage of thick and opaque jungle.

We employed ourselves until the camels should arrive in cutting thorn branches and constructing a zareeba or fenced camp, to protect our animals during the night from the attack of wild beasts. I also hollowed out a thick green bush to form an arbour, as a retreat during the heat of the day, and in a short space of time we were prepared for the reception of the camels and effects. The river had cast up immense stores of dry wood; this we had collected, and by the time the camels arrived with the remainder of our party after dark, huge fires were blazing high in air, the light of which had guided them direct to our camp. They were heavily laden with meat, which is the Arab's great source of happiness; therefore in a few minutes the whole party was busily employed in cutting the flesh into long thin strips to dry. These were hung in festoons over the surrounding trees, while the fires were heaped with tidbits of all descriptions. I had chosen a remarkably snug position for ourselves; the two angareps (stretchers) were neatly arranged in the middle of a small open space free from overhanging boughs; near these blazed a large fire, upon which were roasting a row of marrow-bones of buffalo and tetel, while the table was spread with a clean cloth and arranged for dinner.

The woman Barrak, who had discovered with regret that she was not a wife but a servant, had got over the disappointment, and was now making dhurra cakes upon the doka. This is a round earthenware tray about eighteen inches in diameter, which, supported upon three stones or lumps of earth, over a fire of glowing embers, forms a hearth. Slices of liver, well peppered with cayenne and salt, were grilling on the gridiron, and we were preparing to dine, when a terrific roar within a hundred and fifty yards informed us that a lion was also thinking of dinner. A confusion of tremendous roars proceeding from several lions followed the first round, and my aggageers quietly remarked, "There is no danger for the horses tonight; the lions have found your wounded buffalo!"

Such a magnificent chorus of bass voices I had never heard. The jungle cracked, as with repeated roars they dragged the carcass of the buffalo through the thorns to the spot where they intended to devour it. That which was music to our ears was discord to those of Mahomet, who with terror in his face came to us and exclaimed, "Master, what's that? What for master and the missus come to this bad country? That's one bad kind will eat the missus in the night! Perhaps he come and eat Mahomet!" This afterthought was too much for him, and Bacheet immediately comforted him by telling the most horrible tales of death and destruction that had been wrought by lions, until the nerves of Mahomet were completely unhinged.

This was a signal for story-telling, when suddenly the aggageers changed the conversation by a few tales of the Bas-e natives, which so thoroughly eclipsed the dangers of wild beasts that in a short time the entire party would almost have welcomed a lion, provided he would have agreed to protect them from the Bas-e. In this very spot where we were then camped, a party of Arab hunters had, two years previous, been surprised at night and killed by the Bas-e, who still boasted of the swords that they possessed as spoils from that occasion. The Bas-e knew this spot as the favorite resting-place of the Hamran hunting-parties, and they might be not far distant NOW, as we were in the heart of their country. This intelligence was a regular damper to the spirits of some of the party. Mahomet quietly retired and sat down by Barrak, the ex-slave woman, having expressed a resolution to keep awake every hour that he should be compelled to remain in that horrible country. The lions roared louder and louder, but no one appeared to notice such small thunder; all thoughts were fixed upon the Bas-e, so thoroughly had the aggageers succeeded in frightening not only Mahomet, but also our Tokrooris.