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.

Although my people had been in the highest spirits up to this time, a gloom had been thrown over the party by two causes - Jali's accident and the fresh footmarks of the Bas-e that had been discovered upon the sand by the margin of the river. The aggageers feared nothing, and if the Bas-e had been legions of demons they would have faced them, sword in hand, with the greatest pleasure. But my Tokrooris, who were brave in some respects, had been so cowed by the horrible stories recounted of these common enemies at the nightly camp-fires by the Hamran Arabs, that they were seized with panic and resolved to desert en masse and return to Katariff, where I had originally engaged them, and at which place they had left their families.

In this instance the desertion of my Tokrooris would have been a great blow to my expedition, as it was necessary to have a division of parties. I had the Tokrooris, Jaleens, and Hamran Arabs. Thus they would never unite together, and I was certain to have some upon my side in a difficulty. Should I lose the Tokrooris, the Hamran Arabs would have the entire preponderance.

The whole of my Tokrooris formed in line before me and my wife, just as the camels were about to leave. Each man had his little bundle prepared for starting on a journey. Old Moosa was the spokesman. He said that they were all very sorry; that they regretted exceedingly the necessity of leaving us, but some of them were sick, and they would only be a burden to the expedition; that one of them was bound upon a pilgrimage to Mecca, and that God would punish him should he neglect this great duty; others had not left any money with their families in Katariff, that would starve in their absence. (I had given them an advance of wages, when they engaged at Katariff, to provide against this difficulty.) I replied: "My good fellows, I am very sorry to hear all this, especially as it comes upon me so suddenly; those who are sick stand upon one side" (several invalids, who looked remarkably healthy, stepped to the left). "Who wishes to go to Mecca?" Abderachman stepped forward (a huge specimen of a Tokroori, who went by the nickname of "El Jamoos" or the buffalo). "Who wishes to remit money to his family, as I will send it and deduct it from his wages?" No one came forward. During the pause I called for pen and paper, which Mahomet brought. I immediately commenced writing, and placed the note within an envelope, which I addressed and gave to one of the camel-drivers. I then called for my medicine-chest, and having weighed several three-grain doses of tartar emetic, I called the invalids, and insisted upon their taking the medicine before they started, or they might become seriously ill upon the road, which for three days' march was uninhabited. Mixed with a little water the doses were swallowed, and I knew that the invalids were safe for that day, and that the others would not start without them.

I now again addressed my would-be deserters: "Now, my good fellows, there shall be no misunderstanding between us, and I will explain to you how the case stands. You engaged yourselves to me for the whole journey, and you received an advance of wages to provide for your families during your absence. You have lately filled yourselves with meat, and you have become lazy; you have been frightened by the footprints of the Bas-e; thus you wish to leave the country. To save yourselves from imaginary danger, you would forsake my wife and myself, and leave us to a fate which you yourselves would avoid. This is your gratitude for kindness; this is the return for my confidence, when without hesitation I advanced you money. Go! Return to Katariff to your families! I know that all the excuses you have made are false. Those who declare themselves to be sick, Inshallah (please God), shall be sick. You will all be welcomed upon your arrival at Katariff. In the letter I have written to the Governor, inclosing your names, I have requested him to give each man upon his appearance FIVE HUNDRED LASHES WITH THE COORBATCH, FOR DESERTION, and to imprison him until my return."

Checkmate! My poor Tokrooris were in a corner, and in their great dilemma they could not answer a word. Taking advantage of this moment of confusion, I called forward "the buffalo," Abderachman, as I had heard that he really had contemplated a pilgrimage to Mecca. "Abderachman," I continued, "you are the only man who has spoken the truth. Go to Mecca! and may God protect yon on the journey! I should not wish to prevent you from performing your duty as a Mahometan."

Never were people more dumbfounded with surprise. They retreated, and formed a knot in consultation, and in about ten minutes they returned to me, old Moosa and Hadji Ali both leading the pilgrim Abderachman by the hands. They had given in; and Abderachman, the buffalo of the party, thanked me for my permission, and with tears in his eyes, as the camels were about to start, he at once said good-by. "Embrace him!" cried old Moosa and Hadji Ali; and in an instant, as I had formerly succumbed to the maid Barrake, I was actually kissed by the thick lips of Abderachman the unwashed! Poor fellow! this was sincere gratitude without the slightest humbug; therefore, although he was an odoriferous savage, I could not help shaking him by the hand and wishing him a prosperous journey, assuring him that I would watch over his comrades like a father, while in my service. In a few instants these curious people were led by a sudden and new impulse; my farewell had perfectly delighted old Moosa and Hadji Ali, whose hearts were won. "Say good-by to the Sit!" (the lady) they shouted to Abderachman; but I assured them that it was not necessary to go through the whole operation to which I had been subjected, and that she would be contented if he only kissed her hand. This he did with the natural grace of a savage, and was led away crying by his companions, who embraced him with tears, and they parted with the affection of brothers.

Now, to hard-hearted and civilized people, who often school themselves to feel nothing, or as little as they can, for anybody, it may appear absurd to say that the scene was affecting, but somehow or other it was. And in the course of half an hour, those who would have deserted had become stanch friends, and we were all, black and white, Mahometans and Christians, wishing the pilgrim God-speed upon his perilous journey to Mecca.

The camels started, and, if the scene was affecting, the invalids began to be more affected by the tartar emetic. This was the third act of the comedy. The plot had been thoroughly ventilated; the last act exhibited the perfect fidelity of my Tokrooris, in whom I subsequently reposed much confidence.

In the afternoon of that day the brothers Sherrif arrived. These were the most renowned of all the sword-hunters of the Hamrans, of whom I have already spoken. They were well mounted, and, having met our caravan of camels on the route, heavily laden with dried flesh, and thus seen proofs of our success, they now offered to join our party. I am sorry to be obliged to confess that my ally, Abou Do, although a perfect Nimrod in sport, an Apollo in personal appearance, and a gentleman in manner, was a mean, covetous, and grasping fellow, and withal absurdly jealous. Taher Sherrif was a more celebrated hunter, having had the experience of at least twenty years in excess of Abou Do; and although the latter was as brave and dexterous as Taher and his brothers, he wanted the cool judgment that is essential to a first-rate sportsman.

The following day was the new year, January 1st, 1862; and with the four brothers Sherrif and our party we formed a powerful body of hunters: six aggageers and myself all well mounted. With four gun-bearers and two camels, both of which carried water, we started in search of elephants. Florian was unwell, and remained in camp.

The immediate neighborhood was a perfect exhibition of gun-arabic-bearing mimosas. At this season the gum was in perfection, and the finest quality was now before us in beautiful amber-colored masses upon the stems and branches, varying from the size of a nutmeg to that of an orange. So great was the quantity, and so excellent were the specimens, that, leaving our horses tied to trees, both the Arabs and myself gathered a large collection. This gum, although as hard as ice on the exterior, was limpid in the centre, resembling melted amber, and as clear as though refined by some artificial process. The trees were perfectly denuded of leaves from the extreme drought, and the beautiful balls of frosted yellow gum recalled the idea of the precious jewels upon the trees in the garden of the wonderful lamp of the "Arabian Nights." This gum was exceedingly sweet and pleasant to the taste; but, although of the most valuable quality, there was no hand to gather it in this forsaken although beautiful country; it either dissolved during the rainy season or was consumed by the baboons and antelopes. The aggageers took off from their saddles the skins of tanned antelope leather that formed the only covering to the wooden seats, and with these they made bundles of gum. When we remounted, every man was well laden.

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.

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.

Our course lay, as usual, along the banks of the river. We decided to encamp at a spot known to the Arabs as Deladilla. This was the forest upon the margin of the river where I had first shot the bull elephant when the aggageers fought with him upon foot. I resolved to fire the entire country on the following day, and to push still farther up the course of the Settite to the foot of the mountains, and to return to this camp in about a fortnight, by which time the animals that had been scared away by the fire would have returned. Accordingly, on the following morning, accompanied by a few of the aggageers, I started upon the south bank of the river, and rode for some distance into the interior, to the ground that was entirely covered with high withered grass. We were passing through a mass of kittar and thorn-bush, almost hidden by the immensely high grass, when, as I was ahead of the party, I came suddenly upon the tracks of rhinoceroses. These were so unmistakably recent that I felt sure we were not far from the animals themselves. As I had wished to fire the grass, I was accompanied by my Tokrooris and my horse-keeper, Mahomet No. 2. It was difficult ground for the men, and still more unfavorable for the horses, as large disjointed masses of stone were concealed in the high grass.

We were just speculating as to the position of the rhinoceros, and thinking how uncommonly unpleasant it would be should he obtain our wind, when whiff! whiff! whiff! We heard the sharp whistling snort, with a tremendous rush through the high grass and thorns close to us, and at the same moment two of these determined brutes were upon us in full charge. I never saw such a scrimmage. SAUVE QUI PEUT! There was no time for more than one look behind. I dug the spurs into Aggahr's flanks, and clasping him round the neck I ducked my head down to his shoulder, well protected with my strong hunting-cap, and kept the spurs going as hard as I could ply them, blindly trusting to Providence and my good horse. Over big rocks, fallen trees, thick kittar thorns, and grass ten feet high, with the two infernal animals in full chase only a few feet behind me! I heard their abominable whiffing close to me, but so did my good horse, and the good old hunter flew over obstacles in a way I should have thought impossible, and he dashed straight under the hooked thorn-bushes and doubled like a hare. The aggageers were all scattered; Mahomet No. 2 was knocked over by a rhinoceros; all the men were sprawling upon the rocks with their guns, and the party was entirely discomfited.

Having passed the kittar thorn I turned, and, seeing that the beasts had gone straight on, I brought Aggahr's head round and tried to give chase; but it was perfectly impossible. It was only a wonder that the horse had escaped in ground so difficult for riding. Although my clothes were of the strongest and coarsest Arab cotton cloth, which seldom tore, but simply lost a thread when caught in a thorn, I was nearly naked. My blouse was reduced to shreds. As I wore sleeves only half way from the shoulder to the elbow, my naked arms were streaming with blood. Fortunately my hunting-cap was secured with a chin strap, and still more fortunately I had grasped the horse's neck; otherwise I must have been dragged out of the saddle by the hooked thorns. All the men were cut and bruised, some having fallen upon their heads among the rocks, and others had hurt their legs in falling in their endeavors to escape. Mahomet No. 2, the horse-keeper, was more frightened than hurt, as he had been knocked down by the shoulder and not by the horn of the rhinoceros, as the animal had not noticed him; its attention was absorbed by the horse.

I determined to set fire to the whole country immediately, and descending the hill toward the river to obtain a favorable wind, I put my men in a line, extending over about a mile along the river's bed, and they fired the grass in different places. With a loud roar the flame leaped high in air and rushed forward with astonishing velocity. The grass was as inflammable as tinder, and the strong north wind drove the long line of fire spreading in every direction through the country.