CHAPTER VIII. The elephant trumpets - Fighting an elephant with swords - The forehead-shot - Elephants in a panic - A superb old Neptune - The harpoon reaches its aim - Death of the hippopotamus - Tramped by an elephant.

The aggageers started before daybreak in search of elephants. They soon returned, and reported the fresh tracks of a herd, and begged me to lose no time in accompanying them, as the elephants might retreat to a great distance. There was no need for this advice. In a few minutes my horse Tetel was saddled, and my six Tokrooris and Bacheet, with spare rifles, were in attendance. Bacheet, who had so ingloriously failed in his first essay at Wat el Negur, had been so laughed at by the girls of the village for his want of pluck that he had declared himself ready to face the devil rather than the ridicule of the fair sex; and, to do him justice, he subsequently became a first-rate lad in moments of danger.

The aggageers were quickly mounted. It was a sight most grateful to a sportsman to witness the start of these superb hunters, who with the sabres slung from the saddle-bow, as though upon an every-day occasion, now left the camp with these simple weapons, to meet the mightiest animal of creation in hand-to-hand conflict. The horses' hoofs clattered as we descended the shingly beach, and forded the river shoulder-deep, through the rapid current, while those on foot clung to the manes of the horses and to the stirrup-leathers to steady themselves over the loose stones beneath.

Tracking was very difficult. As there was a total absence of rain, it was next to impossible to distinguish the tracks of two days' date from those most recent upon the hard and parched soil. The only positive clew was the fresh dung of the elephants, and this being deposited at long intervals rendered the search extremely tedious. The greater part of the day passed in useless toil, and, after fording the river backward and forward several times, we at length arrived at a large area of sand in the bend of the stream, that was evidently overflowed when the river was full. This surface of many acres was backed by a forest of large trees. Upon arrival at this spot the aggageers, who appeared to know every inch of the country, declared that, unless the elephants had gone far away, they must be close at hand, within the forest. We were speculating upon the direction of the wind, when we were surprised by the sudden trumpeting of an elephant, that proceeded from the forest already declared to be the covert of the herd. In a few minutes later a fine bull elephant marched majestically from the jungle upon the large area of sand, and proudly stalked direct toward the river.

At that time we were stationed under cover of a high bank of sand that had been left by the retiring river in sweeping round an angle. We immediately dismounted, and remained well concealed. The question of attack was quickly settled. The elephant was quietly stalking toward the water, which was about three hundred paces distant from the jungle. This intervening space was heavy dry sand, that had been thrown up by the stream in the sudden bend of the river, which, turning from this point at a right angle, swept beneath a perpendicular cliff of conglomerate rock formed of rounded pebbles cemented together.

I proposed that we should endeavor to stalk the elephant, by creeping along the edge of the river, under cover of a sand-bank about three feet high, and that, should the rifles fail, the aggageers should come on at full gallop and cut off his retreat from the jungle; we should then have a chance for the swords.

Accordingly I led the way, followed by Hadji Ali, my head Tokroori, with a rifle, while I carried the "Baby." Florian accompanied us. Having the wind fair, we advanced quickly for about half the distance, at which time we were within a hundred and fifty yards of the elephant, who had just arrived at the water and had commenced drinking. We now crept cautiously toward him. The sand-bank had decreased to a height of about two feet, and afforded very little shelter. Not a tree or bush grew upon the surface of the barren sand, which was so deep that we sank nearly to the ankles at every footstep. Still we crept forward, as the elephant alternately drank and then spouted the water in a shower over his colossal form; but just as we arrived within about fifty yards he happened to turn his head in our direction, and immediately perceived us. He cocked his enormous ears, gave a short trumpeting, and for an instant wavered in his determination whether to attack or fly; but as I rushed toward him with a shout, he turned toward the jungle, and I immediately fired a steady shot at the shoulder with the "Baby." As usual, the fearful recoil of the rifle, with a half-pound shell and twelve drams of powder, nearly threw me backward; but I saw the mark upon the elephant's shoulder, in an excellent line, although rather high. The only effect of the shot was to send him off at great speed toward the jungle. At the same moment the three aggageers came galloping across the sand like greyhounds in a course, and, judiciously keeping parallel with the jungle, they cut off his retreat, and, turning toward the elephant, confronted him, sword in hand.

At once the furious beast charged straight at the enemy. But now came the very gallant but foolish part of the hunt. Instead of leading the elephant by the flight of one man and horse, according to their usual method, all the aggageers at the same moment sprang from their saddles, and upon foot in the heavy sand they attacked the elephant with their swords.

In the way of sport I never saw anything so magnificent or so absurdly dangerous. No gladiatorial exhibition in the Roman arena could have surpassed this fight. The elephant was mad with rage, and nevertheless he seemed to know that the object of the hunters was to get behind him. This he avoided with great dexterity, turning as it were upon a pivot with extreme quickness, and charging headlong, first at one and then at another of his assailants, while he blew clouds of sand in the air with his trunk, and screamed with fury. Nimble as monkeys, nevertheless the aggageers could not get behind him. In the folly of excitement they had forsaken their horses, which had escaped from the spot. The depth of the loose sand was in favor of the elephant, and was so much against the men that they avoided his charges with extreme difficulty. It was only by the determined pluck of all three that they alternately saved each other, as two invariably dashed in at the flanks when the elephant charged the third, upon which the wary animal immediately relinquished the chase and turned round upon his pursuers. During this time I had been laboring through the heavy sand, and shortly after I arrived at the fight the elephant charged directly through the aggageers, receiving a shoulder-shot from one of my Reilly No. 10 rifles, and at the same time a slash from the sword of Abou Do, who with great dexterity and speed had closed in behind him, just in time to reach the leg. Unfortunately, he could not deliver the cut in the right place, as the elephant, with increased speed, completely distanced the aggageers, then charged across the deep sand and reached the jungle. We were shortly upon his tracks, and after running about a quarter of a mile he fell dead in a dry watercourse. His tusks were, like those of most Abyssinian elephants, exceedingly short, but of good thickness.

Some of our men, who had followed the runaway horses, shortly returned and reported that during our fight with the bull they had heard other elephants trumpeting in the dense nabbuk jungle near the river. We all dismounted, and sent the horses to a considerable distance, lest they should by some noise disturb the elephants. We shortly heard a crackling in the jungle on our right, and Jali assured us that, as he had expected, the elephants were slowly advancing along the jungle on the bank of the river, and would pass exactly before us. We waited patiently in the bed of the river, and the crackling in the jungle sounded closer as the herd evidently approached. The strip of thick thorny covert that fringed the margin was in no place wider than half a mile; beyond that the country was open and park-like, but at this season it was covered with parched grass from eight to ten feet high. The elephants would, therefore, most probably remain in the jungle until driven out.

In about a quarter of an hour we knew by the noise in the jungle, about a hundred yards from the river, that the elephants were directly opposite to us. I accordingly instructed Jali to creep quietly by himself into the bush and to bring me information of their position. To this he at once agreed.

In three or four minutes he returned. He declared it impossible to use the sword, as the jungle was so dense that it would check the blow; but that I could use the rifle, as the elephants were close to us - he had seen three standing together, between us and the main body of the herd. I told Jali to lead me directly to the spot, and, followed by Florian and the aggageers, with my gun-bearers, I kept within a foot of my dependable little guide, who crept gently into the jungle. This was exceedingly thick, and quite impenetrable, except in the places where elephants and other heavy animals had trodden numerous alleys. Along one of these narrow passages we stealthily advanced, until Jali stepped quietly on one side and pointed with his finger. I immediately observed two elephants looming through the thick bushes about eight paces from me. One offered a temple-shot, which I quickly took with a Reilly No. 10, and floored it on the spot. The smoke hung so thickly that I could not see distinctly enough to fire my second barrel before the remaining elephant had turned; but Florian, with a three-ounce steel-tipped bullet, by a curious shot at the hind-quarters, injured the hip joint to such an extent that we could more than equal the elephant in speed.

In a few moments we found ourselves in a small open glade in the middle of the jungle, close to the stern of the elephant we were following. I had taken a fresh rifle, with both barrels loaded, and hardly had I made the exchange when the elephant turned suddenly and charged. Determined to try fairly the forehead-shot, I kept my ground, and fired a Reilly No. 10, quicksilver and lead bullet, exactly in the centre, when certainly within four yards. The only effect was to make her stagger backward, when, in another moment, with her immense ears thrown forward, she again rushed on. This was touch-and-go; but I fired my remaining barrel a little lower than the first shot. Checked in her rush, she backed toward the dense jungle, throwing her trunk about and trumpeting with rage. Snatching the Ceylon No. 10 from one of my trusty Tokrooris (Hassan), I ran straight at her, took a most deliberate aim at the forehead, and once more fired. The only effect was a decisive charge; but before I fired my last barrel Jali rushed in, and, with one blow of his sharp sword, severed the back sinew. She was utterly helpless in the same instant. Bravo, Jali! I had fired three beautifully correct shots with No. 10 bullets and seven drams of powder in each charge. These were so nearly together that they occupied a space in her forehead of about three inches, and all had failed to kill! There could no longer be any doubt that the forehead-shot at an African elephant could not be relied upon, although so fatal to the Indian species. This increased the danger tenfold, as in Ceylon I had generally made certain of an elephant by steadily waiting until it was close upon me.

I now reloaded my rifles, and the aggageers quitted the jungle to remount their horses, as they expected the herd had broken cover on the other side of the jungle, in which case they intended to give chase, and, if possible, to turn them back into the covert and drive them toward the guns. We accordingly took our stand in the small open glade, and I lent Florian one of my double rifles, as he was only provided with one single-barrelled elephant gun. I did not wish to destroy the prestige of the rifles by hinting to the aggageers that it would be rather awkward for us to receive the charge of the infuriated herd, as the foreheads were invulnerable; but inwardly I rather hoped that they would not come so directly upon our position as the aggageers wished.

About a quarter of an hour passed in suspense, when we suddenly heard a chorus of wild cries of excitement on the other side of the jungle, raised by the aggageers, who had headed the herd and were driving them back toward us. In a few minutes a tremendous crashing in the jungle, accompanied by the occasional shrill scream of a savage elephant and the continued shouts of the mounted aggageers, assured us that they were bearing down exactly upon our direction. They were apparently followed even through the dense jungle by the wild and reckless Arabs. I called my men close together, told them to stand fast and hand me the guns quickly, and we eagerly awaited the onset that rushed toward us like a storm.

On they came, tearing everything before them. For a moment the jungle quivered and crashed; a second later, and, headed by an immense elephant, the herd thundered down upon us. The great leader came directly at me, and was received with right and left in the forehead from a Reilly No. 10 as fast as I could pull the triggers. The shock made it reel backward for an instant, and fortunately turned it and the herd likewise. My second rifle was beautifully handed, and I made a quick right and left at the temples of two fine elephants, dropping them both stone dead. At this moment the "Baby" was pushed into my hand by Hadji Ali just in time to take the shoulder of the last of the herd, who had already charged headlong after his comrades and was disappearing in the jungle. Bang! went the "Baby;" round I spun like a weathercock, with the blood pouring from my nose, as the recoil had driven the sharp top of the hammer deep into the bridge. My "Baby" not only screamed, but kicked viciously. However, I knew that the elephant must be bagged, as the half-pound shell had been aimed directly behind the shoulder.

In a few minutes the aggageers arrived. They were bleeding from countless scratches, as, although naked with the exception of short drawers, they had forced their way on horseback through the thorny path cleft by the herd in rushing through the jungle. Abou Do had blood upon his sword. They had found the elephants commencing a retreat to the interior of the country, and they had arrived just in time to turn them. Following them at full speed, Abou Do had succeeded in overtaking and slashing the sinew of an elephant just as it was entering the jungle. Thus the aggageers had secured one, in addition to Florian's elephant that had been slashed by Jali. We now hunted for the "Baby's" elephant, which was almost immediately discovered lying dead within a hundred and fifty yards of the place where it had received the shot. The shell had entered close to the shoulder, and it was extraordinary that an animal should have been able to travel so great a distance with a wound through the lungs by a shell that had exploded within the body.

We had done pretty well. I had been fortunate in bagging four from this herd, in addition to the single bull in the morning; total, five. Florian had killed one and the aggageers one; total, seven elephants. One had escaped that I had wounded in the shoulder, and two that had been wounded by Florian. The aggageers were delighted, and they determined to search for the wounded elephants on the following day, as the evening was advancing, and we were about five miles from camp.

At daybreak the next morning the aggageers in high glee mounted their horses, and with a long retinue of camels and men, provided with axes and knives, together with large gum sacks to contain the flesh, they quitted the camp to cut up the numerous elephants. As I had no taste for this disgusting work, I took two of my Tokrooris, Hadji Ali and Hassan, and, accompanied by old Abou Do, the father of the sheik, with his harpoon, we started along the margin of the river in quest of hippopotami.

The harpoon for hippopotamus and crocodile hunting is a piece of soft steel about eleven inches long, with a narrow blade or point of about three quarters of an inch in width and a single but powerful barb. To this short and apparently insignificant weapon a strong rope is secured, about twenty feet in length, at the extremity of which is a buoy or float, as large as a child's head, formed of an extremely light wood called ambatch (Aanemone mirabilis) that is of about half the specific gravity of cork. The extreme end of the short harpoon is fixed in the point of a bamboo about ten feet long, around which the rope is twisted, while the buoy end is carried in the left hand.

The old Abou Do, being resolved upon work, had divested himself of his tope or toga before starting, according to the general custom of the aggageers, who usually wear a simple piece of leather wound round the loins when hunting; but, I believe in respect for our party, they had provided themselves with a garment resembling bathing drawers, such as are worn in France, Germany, and other civilized countries. But the old Abou Do had resisted any such innovation, and he accordingly appeared with nothing on but his harpoon; and a more superb old Neptune I never beheld. He carried this weapon in his hand, as the trident with which the old sea-god ruled the monsters of the deep; and as the tall Arab patriarch of threescore years and ten, with his long gray locks flowing over his brawny shoulders, stepped as lightly as a goat from rock to rock along the rough margin of the river, I followed him in admiration.

After walking about two miles we noticed a herd of hippopotami in a pool below a rapid. This was surrounded by rocks, except upon one side, where the rush of water had thrown up a bank of pebbles and sand. Our old Neptune did not condescend to bestow the slightest attention when I pointed out these animals; they were too wide awake; but he immediately quitted the river's bed, and we followed him quietly behind the fringe of bushes upon the border, from which we carefully examined the water.

About half a mile below this spot, as we clambered over the intervening rocks through a gorge which formed a powerful rapid, I observed, in a small pool just below the rapid, the immense head of a hippopotamus close to a perpendicular rock that formed a wall to the river, about six feet above the surface. I pointed out the hippo to old Abou Do, who had not seen it. At once the gravity of the old Arab disappeared, and the energy of the hunter was exhibited as he motioned us to remain, while he ran nimbly behind the thick screen of bushes for about a hundred and fifty yards below the spot where the hippo was unconsciously basking, with his ugly head above the surface. Plunging into the rapid torrent, the veteran hunter was carried some distance down the stream; but, breasting the powerful current, he landed upon the rocks on the opposite side, and, retiring to some distance from the river, he quickly advanced toward the spot beneath which the hippopotamus was lying. I had a fine view of the scene, as I was lying concealed exactly opposite the hippo, who had disappeared beneath the water.

Abou Do now stealthily approached the ledge of rock beneath which he had expected to see the head of the animal. His long, sinewy arm was raised, with the harpoon ready to strike, as he carefully advanced. At length he reached the edge of the perpendicular rock. The hippo had vanished, but, far from exhibiting surprise, the old Arab remained standing on the sharp edge, unchanged in attitude. No figure of bronze could have been more rigid than that of the old river-king as he stood erect upon the rock with the left foot advanced and the harpoon poised in his ready right hand above his head, while in the left he held the loose coils of rope attached to the ambatch buoy. For about three minutes he stood like a statue, gazing intently into the clear and deep water beneath his feet. I watched eagerly for the reappearance of the hippo; the surface of the water was still barren, when suddenly the right arm of the statue descended like lightning, and the harpoon shot perpendicularly into the pool with the speed of an arrow. What river-fiend answered to the summons? In an instant an enormous pair of open jaws appeared, followed by the ungainly head and form of the furious hippopotamus, who, springing half out of the water, lashed the river into foam, and, disdaining the concealment of the deep pool, charged straight up the violent rapids. With extraordinary power he breasted the descending stream, gaining a footing in the rapids, about five feet deep. He ploughed his way against the broken waves, sending them in showers of spray upon all sides, and, upon gaining broader shallows, tore along through the water, with the buoyant float hopping behind him along the surface, until he landed from the river, started at full gallop along the dry shingly bed, and at length disappeared in the thorny nabbuk jungle.

I never could have imagined that so unwieldy an animal could have exhibited such speed; no man would have had a chance of escape, and it was fortunate for our old Neptune that he was secure upon the high ledge of rock; for if he had been in the path of the infuriated beast there would have been an end of Abou Do. The old man plunged into the deep pool just quitted by the hippo and landed upon our side, while in the enthusiasm of the moment I waved my cap above my head and gave him a British cheer as he reached the shore. His usually stern features relaxed into a grim smile of delight: this was one of those moments when the gratified pride of the hunter rewards him for any risks. I congratulated him upon his dexterity; but much remained to be done. I proposed to cross the river, and to follow upon the tracks of the hippopotamus, as I imagined that the buoy and rope would catch in the thick jungle, and that we should find him entangled in the bush; but the old hunter gently laid his hand upon my arm and pointed up the bed of the river, explaining that the hippo would certainly return to the water after a short interval.

In a few minutes later, at a distance of nearly half a mile, we observed the hippo emerge from the jungle and descend at full trot to the bed of the river, making direct for the first rocky pool in which we had noticed the herd of hippopotami. Accompanied by the old howarti (hippo hunter), we walked quickly toward the spot. He explained to me that I must shoot the harpooned hippo, as we should not be able to secure him in the usual method by ropes, as nearly all our men were absent from camp, disposing of the dead elephants.

Upon reaching the pool, which was about a hundred and thirty yards in diameter, we were immediately greeted by the hippo, who snorted and roared as we approached, but quickly dived, and the buoyant float ran along the surface, directing his course in the same manner as the cork of a trimmer marks that of a pike upon the hook. Several times he appeared, but as he invariably faced us I could not obtain a favorable shot; I therefore sent the old hunter round the pool, and he, swimming the river, advanced to the opposite side and attracted the attention of the hippo, who immediately turned toward him. This afforded me a good chance, and I fired a steady shot behind the ear, at about seventy yards, with a single-barrelled rifle. As usual with hippopotami, whether dead or alive, he disappeared beneath the water at the shot. The crack of the ball and the absence of any splash from the bullet told me that he was hit; the ambatch float remained perfectly stationary upon the surface. I watched it for some minutes - it never moved. Several heads of hippopotami appeared and vanished in different directions, but the float was still; it marked the spot where the grand old bull lay dead beneath.

I shot another hippo, that I thought must be likewise dead; and, taking the time by my watch, I retired to the shade of a tree with Hassan, while Hadji Ali and the old hunter returned to camp for assistance in men and knives, etc.

In a little more than an hour and a half, two objects like the backs of turtles appeared above the surface. These were the flanks of the two hippos. A short time afterward the men arrived, and, regardless of crocodiles, they swam toward the bodies. One was towed directly to the shore by the rope attached to the harpoon, the other was secured by a long line and dragged to the bank of clean pebbles. We had now a good supply of food, which delighted our people.

I returned to the camp, and several hours elapsed, but none of the aggageers returned, and neither had we received any tidings of our people and camels that had left us at daybreak to search for the dead elephants. Fearing that some mishap might have occurred in a collision with the Bas-e, I anxiously looked out for some sign of the party. At about 4 P.M. I observed far up the bed of the river several men, some mounted and others upon foot, while one led a camel with a curious-looking load. Upon a nearer approach I could distinguish upon the camel's back some large object that was steadied by two men, one of whom walked on either side. I had a foreboding that something was wrong, and in a few minutes I clearly perceived a man lying upon a make-shift litter, carried by the camel, while the Sheik Abou Do and Suleiman accompanied the party upon horseback; a third led Jali's little gray mare.

They soon arrived beneath the high bank of the river upon which I stood. Poor little Jali, my plucky and active ally, lay, as I thought, dead upon the litter. We laid him gently upon my angarep, which I had raised by four men, so that we could lower him gradually from the kneeling camel, and we carried him to the camp, about thirty yards distant. He was faint, and I poured some essence of peppermint (the only spirits I possessed) down his throat, which quickly revived him. His thigh was broken about eight inches above the knee, but fortunately it was a simple fracture.

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

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

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

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