From Sea to Mountain-Top in Malaysia


WITH a frantic dab of my butterflynet I scooped up a big sea-snake banded with scarlet and blue, writhing and striving to stand on his flat tail and climb out. The Chinaboy who manœuvred the sampan against the tide screamed, ‘Uler laut! Uler bisa!' and even my Eurasian collector did not look happy at the approaching bagful of poisonous snake.

Like an extremely unsteady Colossus of Rhodes, I stood astride the bow, facing the racing tide, and now and then dipped up treasures which were borne toward me. This was an Alicein-Wonderland inversion of my imagined first day in the Malay Peninsula. I had pictured mountainous jungles with their buffalo-like sladangs, with tigers and peacocks, and with gayly garbed Malays in sarong and kris. Here I was, close to shore, but marooned by red tape for a day and a night. Even the quarantine officials could find no fault with my going zoölogizing off the steamer, and so, greatly to the edification of the passengers and crew, I spent hours in scooping weird things from the swift tide.

Aside from their scientific interest, our catches were marvels of beautiful color. There were jelly-fish of opalescent silver, scalloped with sepia, alive with medusa locks — a tangle of writhing, stinging strands. To a touch of the hand these were like burning nettles; the slightest contact with any worm or crab meant death; and yet, in our glass jars, swimming in and out of the terrible tresses, were little fish, some silvery pink, others glowing with a sheen of coppery gold. Immune from paralysis and death, these small, communal creatures not only were fearless of the tentacles, but subsisted on the prey of the jelly-fish, living their whole lives as parasitic guests, unbidden, yet protected and fed by their involuntary hosts. Iridescent, feathery-footed seaworms, pale green sea-snakes, blue translucent shrimps — all came to our net; and when the sun sank, I dabbled for phosphorescent creatures of strange forms and unknown names. With the water reflecting the tarnished silver of a lop-sided moon, I finally climbed on board, and the Chinaboy steward refused to make up my berth until the sea-snakes were safe in the alcohol tanks.

Before I turned in, I went to my favorite spot, the very point of the bow, and watched the brilliant phosphorescence. The anchor-chains of the steamer, and the stern, and even my face high above the water, were brightly lighted by the baleful, greenish wave which ever rolled outward, driven by the onrushing tide; and overhead the green glow of the great tail of Halley’s comet, sicklied by the moonlight, seemed also to partake of the phosphorescent illumination. Far up in the peak of the steamer’s bow, hidden in some rusty crevice, a cricket chirped strongly, continuously, and shrilly — a tiny passenger who had sung at intervals all the way from Calcutta. He had paid no fare, and to-night he might, if he chose, defy the quarantine which kept me so impatiently immured. He would spread his wings and fly ashore to this strange region so many hundreds of miles south of the low marshes of the Hoogly.

My second day in Malaysia was almost spoiled by an attempt to eat a durian. Eating a durian, or, as in my case, essaying to do so, is an experience not soon lost to memory. Its achievement must be productive of a noticeable growth of ego. I often think how I should enjoy being able casually to boast, ‘I have eaten durians in the East,’ or, ‘This tastes as good as a durian.’ The durian has a powerful personality. It is large and green, not unlike a breadfruit, and it is covered with unpleasant spikes. But these, I am told, are no deterrent to the man or beast who has once acquired the durian habit — who, by complete suppression or mortification of the organs of smell, has succeeded in swallowing even a section of the fruit. It gnaws on tall trees, and natives will sit for days waiting for a ripening durian to drop. White children, once immune, prefer it to all other fruit; tigers will approach close to Malay villages, risking their lives to vary their carnivorous diet with a mouthful of durian.

If simplicity in diction indicates strength, I will state tersely that the durian has an odor. In deference to passengers who are not durianivorous, Lascars are forbidden to bring the fruit on any tourist steamer. Yet if a stoker in the deepest coal-bunker has broken the rule and smuggled one on board, his brother on the lookout in the crow’s-nest will soon know and become envious. With rotten eggs as a basis, if one adds sour milk and lusty Limburger cheese ad lib., an extremely unpleasant mixture may be produced. It quite fails, however, as an adequate simile to durian. The odor and taste of durian are unique, unparalleled, and they did not pass from my mind during my second Malaysian day. I am at a loss to explain why durian is not the favorite food of vultures and the exclusive preoccupation in life of burying beetles.

As thoroughly as my first day in Malaysia had been circumscribed by quarantine and salt-water, so was my second hectored by kindness. Within tantalizing sight of distant jungles, conscious of the calls of strange birds and the scent of wild blossoms, I had perforce to make my manners to courteous officials who, with their wives, left nothing of entertainment undone. Over beautiful roads I was swiftly motored to a most interesting laboratory for the study of tropical disease. Here were yardfuls of most amusinglooking fowls, all apparently in the last stage of intoxication. They staggered about, stepping on their own toes, and looking as mortified as it is possible for hens to look. As a matter of fact, they were temporarily paralyzed by a diet of polished rice. A change to the unhusked rice, rich in phosphorus, would at once restore health. The condition corresponded in all particulars to beriberi, the disease so common among the rice-eating Malays.

From the laboratory I sped through the dust to a wonderful botanical garden, one which had been accorded heedful care for many years, with great trees and palms, luxuriant tropical shrubs, and giant Malayan orchids with flower-stalks seven feet in length. Here magpie robins and drongos, ground doves and bulbuls, nested or sang, and here all seemed peaceful. And yet the very sense of undisturbed rest, of balance and permanence, was fraught with a deep sense of unreality. Within a month this entire valley was to be dammed and filled to the brim with reservoir water, and all these lakes and drives, the arbors and elaborate flower-beds, the palms with their birds’ nests, and the myriads of other contented homes, would be buried many yards deep in cool, fresh water. The impending doom of all plants and all sedentary animal life was intensely oppressive. It was far more ominous than the presage of a disastrous storm, infinitely more portentous than the approach of a northern winter. To the imagination it was as appalling as the onrush of an overwhelming forest fire.

The only observation which remains in my memory was strange enough to be significant of the abnormal fate of these beautiful gardens. I saw a young duckling killed and partly pulled under, and when I looked carefully into the troubled waters I was astonished to see that the bird had been slain by an insect, one of those great waterbugs which in the States are commonly known as ‘electric-light’ or ‘kissing’ bugs. The powerful insect had submarined up and driven its beak deep into the breast of the duckling, which had died after a few futile struggles.

From this valley of the shadow I was hurried on to the usual country club and clock-golf and tea, and then the inevitable formal dinner. Not until the exhausting day was at last at an end did I realize the splendid spirit of hospitality which prompted it, and I knew that I should duplicate the experience whenever any of these raresouled English folk found their way to New York, around on the opposite side of the planet.

Late in the evening I walked through the native quarter of the town of Kwala Lumpur. Then for the first time I began to appreciate how completely the Chinese are elbowing the Malays to the wall. The latter are excellent syces and grooms, but in all other capacities one thinks only of Mongolians.

Even at this late hour one tiny photographer’s shop was open, with the proprietor, a short but clean-limbed young Chinaboy, squatted just within. His eyes were narrowest of slits, his pipe with its microscopic bowl was held lightly between his teeth. He might have been fast asleep. But at the first indication of my hesitancy, of my prospective interest, Chinaboy rose swiftly, his pipe vanished, and his eyes opened to ovals. Smilingly I was wished ‘Goodleevling.’


In days to come Chinaboy did work for me and did it well, and I was the richer for knowing him, for watching his quiet assurance, his unassuming dignity. But best of all was his story, which was narrated with insight and imagination by the wife of a government official. It is a tale which is duplicated daily, perhaps hourly, wherever Malay and Chinese come into contact — a tale of the quiet usurpation, by thrift and steadiness of purpose, of almost every field of endeavor by these patient Mongolians.

Not many months before, in this very street, Anggun Ana, photographer, kept a tiny shop — ugly, untidy, built of rough boards as are most Malay shops, and not particularly cleanly within. In every way it resembled its owner, except that Anggun Ana was not ugly. A lazy man is always goodnatured, and no good-natured person is really ugly.

On his counter lay an untouched order. It was a hard job of films of assorted sizes, and he did not like it. For two hours Anggun Ana sat in the doorway wondering whether to begin work on them the next morning or the morning after.

‘Am velly good Chinaboy,’ said a liquid voice in his ear, rousing him from a doze. ‘Can dust, sleep floors, eat velly little.’ Chinaboy, neatly clad in a faded smock and a braided queue, stood before Anggun Ana and made a low bow, which tickled the pride of the Malay. ‘Am velly good boy,’ insisted the small Mongolian, explaining that he would work for his rice and a place to sleep.

Anggun Ana considered the applicant with patronizing outward gravity and inward jubilation. After the prolonged haggling which the East demands before the consummation of the smallest bargain, he engaged him at his own terms, — one bowl of rice a day, — conveying the impression that he was thereby doing Chinaboy an immeasurable favor. The latter seemed to have no word with which to express his gratitude. Slowly and earnestly, three times, with many bows, he said, ‘Muchee ’blige!’

Chinaboy, apprentice, attended punctiliously to business for Anggun Ana, photographer. He swept, dusted, cooked, and studied the inner mysteries of photography, while his master dozed in the shade. At night he slept under the counter, with his ever more faded blue smock, which he had washed before nightfall, spread out on the line to dry. Chinaboy omitted no detail of duty, wasted no time in play, won the approval of his master, and held himself in constant readiness for the opportunity which an optimistic mind always knows is just ahead.

One day, six months later, an Englishman brought in some films — a large order which must be done at once. Anggun Ana had gone to the corner to buy some sweet cakes. The Englishman suggested that Chinaboy go search for his master immediately. But the latter shrugged his shoulders, gathered the films in his apron and said, ‘Can do,’ with such modesty and assurance that the Englishman agreed to the bargain.

The films and prints were delivered at the hotel two hours before the appointed time, with no mistakes and the work well done. A few more tourists dropped into Anggun Ana’s shop in the next two months. Each time the proprietor was out and Chinaboy did the work — and kept the money.

Then one night a new little bandbox of a shop budded off from the godown across the street. Chinaboy had graduated from his apprenticeship. He had moved up to the grade of proprietor, as his brightly painted and incorrectly spelled sign indicated. His shop was clean, always clean, and tidy, and orders were executed promptly even when Chinaboy had to work all night to finish them. Into a black lacquer box trickled a thin, yet surely swelling stream of money. On the day the box was filled, Chinaboy walked across the street and bought out Anggun Ana at his own price, just as months before he had bargained to work at his own price.

Anggun Ana is now attached to a planter’s ménage and sleeps near the horses. Chinaboy has moved down to the corner opposite the hotel and employs three assistants, none of them Malays.

Thus the steady, quiet, unyielding conquest of Malaysia is being carried forward by Chinaboys — first immigrants, later apprentices, and at last proprietors. They come from an overcrowded, impoverished land which only reluctantly yields its increase. They are trained to industry, tenacity, and thrift. Before their attack the goodnatured, slow-moving, indolent Malay goes down to quiet, certain defeat.

In my short evening’s walk I had abundant opportunity to observe the lesser, subtle workings which in due time will effect racial distribution in all the Far East. People were dominant in my mind; the jungle was for the morrow.

Three hours of intensive effort the next morning set various people and official departments in motion, perfecting arrangements for the trip into the interior. When I had given it sufficient impetus, I turned the matter over to competent hands, Aladdin’s and others, and made my way as speedily as I could to the nearest jungle. I could hope only for a short plunge to-day, and on the advice of a bronzed planter whose love of the wilderness shone in his eyes when I told of my coming trip, I motored out to a bukit, or mountain, in which were some interesting limestone caves.

My day with these caves was unforgettable. Gulliver and Alice and Seumas might have accompanied me and would not have been bored, so strange were the great caverns. Even the approach held something of mystery, for while they were etched into the base of a high precipitous mountain, this was invisible until one stood suddenly before it. After passing along roads beaded with thatched coolie huts and little Chinese shops, the purring motor turned into a lane-like path and I drove past all the rubber trees in the world — thousands and thousands of them. Like the rows of pulque plants on the Mexican uplands, the trunks of the rubber trees seemed to revolve as I passed, like the spokes of some gigantic horizontal wheel. Then we stopped suddenly, and looking up I saw a great cliff looming high overhead. It was clothed in green, except where it was out at elbow with patches of raw, white limestone. Before I left the car, a strong scent — unpleasant, exciting, and entirely strange —was wafted down on some current of air from the cave.

A stiff climb of a hundred yards brought me to the mouth of the dark cave — a great, gaping, black hole, the edges draped with graceful vines. I entered and, after going a hundred feet, looked back and saw an exquisite bit of the tropical landscape: palms, distant blue mountains, and white clouds framed in the jet-black jagged aperture.

The great height was overwhelming; the graceful, dome-like summit of the cavern stretched up and up into the very vitals of the mountain. Then I plunged into darkness and lighted my electric searchlight, which seemed at first the merest bit of light ray. On and on I went, and at last, far in the distance, perceived a faint glimmer from high overhead. A rustling sound at my feet drew my light downward, and there were untold thousands of great brown cockroaches, all striving to bury themselves out of sight in the soft, sawdust-like flooring, the century-old guano of the bats. I had to go with great care, for huge jagged rocks and deformed stalagmites obstructed the path in every direction.

I reached the rift in the lofty roof, and the glare blinded me for the moment, although it was tempered with a tracery veil of green. I bad already begun to adapt myself to the everlasting darkness. At my feet the light fell softened, diluted with a subterranean twilight. In the centre of this part of the cave, directly under the cleft in the roof, was a curious, gigantic stalagmite, still forming from the constant dripping, two hundred feet overhead — a stalagmite of great size and extreme irregularity. The first casual glance showed it vividly to the eye as two weird, unnamable beasts struggling with each other. No feature or limb was distinct, and yet the suggestiveness of the whole was irresistible. Virile with the strength of a Rodin, the lime-saturated water had splashed it into visibility, depositing the swell of muscles and the tracery of veins through all the passing years, to the musical tapping of the falling drops. And in all the great extent of the passage of the cavern, the statue had been brought into being in the only spot where it would be visible by the light of the outer world. My eyes ware probably the first to perceive and appreciate the remarkable resemblance to a work of art carefully planned and elaborately executed by the genius of man.

For a long time I sat here, finding the odor of the bats less pungent than elsewhere, and here I watched the ghostly creatures dash past. From the inky darkness of some hidden fissure they dropped almost to my face; then, with a whip of their leathery wings, they turned and vanished in the dark cavern ahead. The noise their wings made was incredibly loud; sometimes a purring, as fifty small ones whirred past together; then a sharp singing, and finally an astonishing whistling twang as a single giant bat twisted and flickered on his frightened way.

Another sound was the musical, hollow dripping of slowly falling drops on some thin resonant bit of stone, a metronome marking the passing of inky black hours and years and centuries; for in this cavern there are no days. Every noise I made, whether of voice or footfall, was taken up and magnified and passed upward from ledge to ledge, until it reached the roof and returned again to me. It was changed, however, — wholly altered; for it seemed that no sound of healthy creature could remain pure in this dim, durable darkness, the sepulchre of unburied bats, the underworld of hateful, bleached things, of sunless, hopeless blackness. The obscurity seemed, by reason of its uninterrupted ages of persistence, to have condensed, the ebony air to have liquefied. There was no twilight of imagination, inspired by knowledge of coming day. Only quiet, eternal night.

From the black gulf ahead came, now and then, low distant, mumblings, mingled with the shrill squeaks of the bats, and into this vocal void I now plunged, with the searchlight playing at my feet to avoid tripping and falling. I found that I had entered a veritable Dante’s Inferno, and pictured to myself some still more dreadful ‘round’ as presently to open out ahead. The sighing, gibbering, squeaking spirits or devils were there in multitudes, brushing my face or fighting among themselves as they clung to the slippery fissures high, high overhead. More than once my light led me down a small, blind side lane, into which I stumbled as far as possible. At the end of one such corridor was a roundish hole leading irregularly downward, far beyond the rays of my light. Another contracted very slowly, until the damp walls touched my head and sides and I drew nervously back, glad to escape from the sense of suffocation — as if the walls were actually closing about me, inevitably, irrevocably.

Every stone I overturned revealed numbers of tall, slender spirals — the homes of dark-loving snails; and ever the roaches in their myriads hurried away from my light. Then I came upon tragedy — fitly staged in this black hell. A commotion on the black mould directed me to where a poor bat had recently fallen, having by some accident broken its shoulder, and lay, like fallen Lucifer, gnashing its teeth and helplessly turning from side to side. More than this, two horrible gnomes fled at my approach — a long, sinuous serpent, white from its generations of life within the cave, and a huge centipede, pale, translucent green, sinister as death itself. I shuddered as I beheld this ghastly tableau, serpent and centipede both emblematic of poisonous death, preparing to feast upon a yet living bat, devil-winged and devil-faced.

The predatory ones escaped me, though I wanted the snake. I put the bat out of his misery, his evil squeaking rage at fate remaining undiminished to the very last breath. On his nose were the great leaves of skin which aided him in dodging the obstacles in his path of darkness — organs which must have failed him for a fatal moment.

Farther on I turned sharp corners and wound my path around strange angles, disturbing unending hosts of bats and finding many recently dead, together with unnumbered skeletons half buried in the guano. Now and then a centipede fled from my tiny pencil of light, and once I broke open a nest of stinging ants, blind but ferocious, which attacked me and made me flee for several yards headlong, heedless of bruising, jagged obstacles.

Then my feet sank suddenly in ooze and water, and, flashing the light ahead, I saw it reflected from the ripples of an underground river flowing with no more than a murmur out of one yawning hole into the opposite wall of the cavern, mysterious as the Styx. Beyond this I might not pass. The current was swift and it was far over my depth. I had no wish to be swept deep into the bowels of these mighty Malay mountains, although the Nibelungs might well have chosen such a place for their labors.


From Kwala Lumpur to Kwala Kubu is only a few miles by an energetic little railway, which lurches and pitches sideways, but in spite of this never ceases to advance. The time passed quickly as I chugged and jerked over the rails the next day, for I had two antithetical diversions. I could look out of the window and instantly yield to the hypnotic spell of the revolving wheel of the rubber trees, rendered more pastel and potent by the intervening mist of driving rain. Or, consulting my bethumbed handbook of Malay, I could mumble, ‘ Buleh kasi habis kasut itu?’ One sentence I omitted, making no effort to learn: ‘Pergi ka pasar beli buah durian satu biji,’ which, being translated, is, ‘Go to the market and buy me a durian!’

When I alighted at. the forlorn, drenched little station I called out to Aladdin, ’Panggil kuli tiga orang !

He smiled, and three coolies were summoned at once, and over me crept the glow which such pseudo-linguistic ability ever brings to one who is altogether without natural talent in this direction.

In the dâk-bungalow at Kwala Kubu, the Chinaboy chowkidar, queue in pocket, shod in shoes of silent felt, served my breakfast. I was at last on the threshold of a strange expedition in a land to which no letter ever came correctly addressed, so unknown was it to the outside world. At this moment the strangest thing in sight was my breakfast. It consisted chiefly of tins of tiny Mongolian finches, — hummingbirds in size, squabs in taste, — canned a dozen to a tin.

As I devoured the pitiful little birds, bones and all, I looked up at the great Malay mountain-range, the backbone of the finger peninsula which stretches southward from Siam to within sight of the bund of Singapore itself. Mountains, so the Malays say, are the wall of the world, shutting out great winds and beasts of prey. And they believe that a strange race — the Yajuj — are forever striving to bore through, and when they succeed, then will come the end of all things. The great limestone caves scattered throughout the mountains are places where the Yajuj have attempted and failed. There is nothing impossible or unbelievable in all this, when one comes to know Malay mountains in all their weirdness.

At this moment, across the high range, there wandered slowly through the jungle pheasants, giant occllated argus — pheasants never yet seen alive by a white man. I knew that somewhere in that great unexplored tumble of mountains they lived, and it was to find them and their kindred that I had come half round the world. But now I had no time to think of them or of possible means of discovering them, for Aladdin, super-servant, rushed up as fast as his newly donned Malay sarong skirt would permit, and breathlessly announced, ‘Sahib, lorry ready.’ So I had to don my pith topee and regretfully leave three squablets swimming in their butter sauce; for the motor-lorry was wheezing and spitting, and His Majesty’s mail waits for no one.

Thus I made my ascent to the summit of the great mountain range, amid a continuous whirl of choking dust which quite obliterated the scenery. I might have imagined myself caught up in a cloud, as worthy biblical characters were wont to be, only I am sure they were spared the odor of burning oil and rubber, and their ears were not assailed with a syncopated obstruction in the brake mechanism which, before the end of the trip, vied with the efforts and effect of any brain-fever bird.

When we emerged from our cloud and excavated our eyes we found a wonderland, a little rose-covered dâk cottage with an immaculately saronged Singhalese in attendance, and tiffin of curry and tea. This was Semangko Pass — the Darjeeling and the Simla of the Malay Peninsula.

Semangko Pass struck deep into memory as the most beautiful of the tropical mountains of the East where I strove to match my senses against those of the jungle pheasants. The dâk was perched on a little flat saddle at the very crest of the ridge, at less than three thousand feet above the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. On all sides the sharp-toothed mountains rose still higher, steep but jungle-clad, cutting the sky into all sorts of irregular bits of glory.

The days were wonderful, and the alternations of sun and wind were as exciting as the discovery of the strange Malayan beasts and birds. The sun rose softly — no breeze moved cloud or leaf, and even the light came at first moderately, indirectly, reflected from the higher peaks, or heliographed from the mirror of a half-hidden, distant waterfall. In early afternoon — one never knew just when — the faintest of breezes sifted down and blurred the lacery of tree-fern shadows. The wind was cool and soon strengthened, and by night the air was surging violently through the gap, siphoned from the cold summits down to the hot, humid valleys.

Day after day one reawakened to the sense of tropical surroundings from a conviction of a northern autumn, with the wind full of swirling leaves and the fronds soughing with the same sad cadence as the needles of scented pines of the northland.

The first night I listened to this strange sound of wind in the caves of the bungalow, and the moans of the engineer’s fever-stricken little baby, brought here for relief from the hot coast. And then I slept, and was awakened by the distant, faint chorus of wa-was, the long-handed gibbons, a sound as thrilling, as full of age-hidden memory meaning as the morning chant of the red howlers in the South American jungles.

The liana-draped trunks and the majestic jungle trees were the finest in all the East, second only to those of Amazonia, but the tree-ferns were beyond words — tall, graceful, with great unfolding fronds half-clenched, swathed in wool of richest foxy-red. Here, in this maze of mountain jungle, through its autumnal days and its wild, tropic nights, lived two splendid races of birds. One was the bronze-tailed peacock pheasant, the other the giant ocellated argus. Both were a challenge to my utmost effort. Neither had been seen by a white man; of neither had we any facts of home or courtship or food or foe.

So in khaki and moccasins, with gun and glasses and compass, I stepped into the filmy shadows of fern-fronds drooping high above my head, and essayed to awaken my senses from the dulling erosion with which hotels and formal dinners, railways and motors had overlaid them. Never have I encountered more worthy antagonists, and I was proud in the end to be able to record one victory and one drawn battle. I found the peacock pheasants. The ocellated argus I heard and trapped, but the sight of a living bird awaits a better woodsman than I.

The Selangor side of the pass seemed to be pheasantless, so I worked chiefly to the East, in Pahang itself. I climbed the steep, upsloping jungle to an elevation of nearly forty-five hundred feet, creeping laboriously through bamboo tangles or holding on to long liana guy-ropes, along precipitous, pathless banks. Sometimes the going was so heartbreakingly rough that I progressed only a mile in a half-day’s tramp.

It was on one of these trips that I scored victory and saw the first bronzetails. Late one afternoon I reached a steep land-slip which, a few months before, had carried away a wide swath of jungle, leaving the disintegrated rock exposed or decorated with the new-sprouted plumes of yellow green bamboo. I had had a long, tiresome tramp, and was two miles from camp, across a deep, dark valley. At the edge of an open glade, sheltered by dense bamboos and close to the crest of a sharp ridge, I waited for an hour or longer —a lucky hour as it proved. After removing the usual unpleasant collection of leeches, I sat quietly and watched the jungle life about me. A single tall tree leaned far out over the great earthen scar, its roots half exposed, soon to loosen and end its century of growth in an ignominious slide to the tangle far below.

From the topmost branches several bronzed drongos were fly catching and uttering their loud chattering song. A sudden whoof! whoof! of wings sounded close overhead and four heavy-pinioned horn bills alighted awkwardly, each striking its hollow anvil in turn, the air fairly ringing with the deep metallic sound. Then one of the birds discovered me, and the four swept off again with outstretched necks and a roar of wings.

Ten minutes later a tupaia, or treeshrew, ran out along a dead bamboo stem and began to pull off the sheaths, poking his sharp nose under them, presumably after insects. A second appeared and thereupon ensued a fight of the fiercest character. At first it was a pursuit, the two flying along bamboos, up tree-trunks, and even leaping three feet or more through the air. They closed at last on a branch and the fur flew from the mass of twisting limbs and bodies. Then over they went, separated in mid-air, and each stretched out his four legs to the fullest extent. Close to me they dropped, both landing on the great fronds of a tree-fern. They caught hold, rested panting a moment, and then vanished.

Hardly had they gone when a distant movement caught my eye and I looked intently along the ridge. There, in full view, were three bronze-tailed pheasants, apparently looking directly at me, although a screen of bamboo leaves intervened. I soon saw that the sudden fall of the tupaias was what had attracted their attention. As I watched, two others appeared. They remained in sight about four minutes. One of the old birds never stirred from the spot on which I first caught sight of him, — head raised, alertly turning now this way, now that. The others moved about, stepping daintily and high. Two scratched for a while in the rain-washed gravel, one of them soon turning its attention to a clump of yellow flowers, picking the blossoms and swallowing them eagerly.

One of the adult birds stepped into a spot of full sunlight, the last which penetrated the foliage from the setting sun, and for a moment fluffed out every feather. The wings were lowered, the tail spread, and thus for a full minute did the splendid bird do homage to the last rays of the sun. The gray head and breast were alive with the tiny white spots which showed as living sparks in the sunlight. Each feather of the rich rufous upper plumage seemed consciously aglow through its individual eye, as if it could see itself reflected in the gorgeous mirrors of the tail. These long tapering feathers were spread apart and their surfaces changed from green to violet, then to purple and back to emerald again as the angle shifted. I fairly held my breath for fear of putting an end to the rare display. At last the sun’s rays died away, and simultaneously the bird’s tail closed and hid the iridescent glory of the feathers. With low clucks the little covey walked slowly into a fern tangle. I hastened to the crest of the ridge, but neither saw nor heard anything more of the birds, though I could look far down into the damp, dark depths of the ravine, through a maze of bamboo columns and feathery fronds.

From a great distance came the base and treble of the wa-was, rising in wild, rollicking cadence. A fraying end of cloud-mist drifted past, warning me that a storm was brewing; and the shrill, metallic ring of the six-o’clock bees marked the swift approach of dusk. I knew that the wild creatures of the night were waking all about me, from the tiny civets which would soon start out in search of mice and insects, to the black leopard, whose roar I had heard the night before and whose fresh track I would pass on the way to camp. Once I was startled by a sudden rush and squeak, but it was only a spinyhaired rat fleeing from some unknown danger. The darkness settled down as I reached my hammock, emphasizing the many spicy jungle odors and ushering a wind which rattled the bamboos and shook every loosened leaf to the ground.


It is difficult to write of the great ocellated argus pheasant because of the indescribable marvel of itself and its life. Its myriad-eyed wing feathers, its complex courtship display, its secret dancing-ground in the heart of the jungle— all set it apart as a bird superlative and distinguished. In its great specialization of pattern and habit it has achieved a position perhaps furthest from its lizard-bird ancestry. Wary as it was, and much rarer than the giant gray argus, I made out to patch together a fairly satisfactory life-history from bits gleaned here and there — a deserted nest, a dancing-ground, a freshly trapped bird. Thrice my relations with it verged upon intimacy, when I just missed seeing it. And the very failure, the suspense never wholly to be lifted, impressed the details more vividly on my mind.

Once I watched — as always, alone — by a clearing which I supposed to belong to a gray argus; but after an hour, an ocellated argus pheasant approached, coming nearly within sight and then circling warily about. As I sat quietly amid the swaying stems of bamboos and the trembling fronds of tree-ferns, babblers in families, and small birds in loose flocks of several species occasionally passed, on their twittering, flycatching paths of life. It was late afternoon and the creatures of the jungle were making the most of the last hours of daylight. Gaudily colored squirrels leaped overhead, and now and then a tree-shrew pushed his sharp muzzle around a neighboring trunk and stared at me, but unaccountably did not give the alarm. Close to me a bee-eater — lilac-fronted, flame-breasted — swooped after the dancing gnats. Long-tailed drongos were courting a small, unornamented female — three of them swooping about her at one time. As they flew and dipped and volplaned, the two round feather-racket tail-tips swept after them, apparently wholly unconnected by any physical bond. Two cock broadbills fought continually, with constant enthusiam and equal discretion. In the rare intervals between their long-continued bouts both repaired to the upper air, high above the forest, for refreshment, and there soared about, for all the world like diminutive vultures, now and then dashing sideways after an insect. Small green parrakeets quartered the pheasant’s clearing again and again, and a pair of giant, sombre-hued woodpeckers, bigger than ivorybills, hammered vigorously, sending down chips upon the cleared arena.

All these voices and sounds seemed to show that there was no danger near; the usual life of the jungle was undisturbed; but the pheasant knew better. I had neglected some little precaution, and some stray strand of suspicious evidence had warned the bird that all was scarcely well. The woodpeckers might hammer and the drongos scream, but he was conscious of a something which drew a dead-line about his arena. He called, but half-heartedly, and after a reconnaissance he returned to some unknown covert. I could not let him know that I had no gun and that a half-hour’s watch of his unconscious jungle life was all for which I hoped.

Another time only a transient physical disability prevented me from seeing one of these birds. An ocellated pheasant had been calling at dusk, and on my way back to camp I turned aside and followed a narrow gametrail to a stream. A loud rustle made me crouch low, but the animal, whatever it was, made its way off. I waited for five minutes and then the call of the great bird rang out directly behind me. So loud was it, I thought at first it came from overhead. Then a second time, and my ears rightly oriented it as a few yards behind. The light was failing. In a few minutes it would be dark, and I could hear the bird moving. I was hidden by a barrier of scrub. I attempted to leap to my feet and turned as I rose; but instead I merely fell awkwardly backward. Both of my feet were paralyzed, asleep, and would not support me. A second effort succeeded and I saw the swaying stems close together behind the fleeing bird, but never a glimpse even of a tailfeather.

My third experience was the most thrilling of all. Along the central Malayan range of mountains, on the Pahang side, rise innumerable little streams, mere rills at first, which soon gain in volume, rill added to rill, until a good-sized brook bubbles over the rocks and slides smoothly over fallen bamboo stems. Wading and splashing along these stream-beds is by far the most convenient means of exploring this region. Often the sides of the ravines are so precipitous that it is impossible to pass across or along them.

For two nights I had slung my hammock from the giant grasses beside one of these tiny Pahang tributaries and had listened to a new sound. At frequent intervals, for a half-hour at a time, the loud call would ring out. It was almost the call of the great gray argus, but there was a strange intonation which attracted my attention at once. I realized at last that it was the evening call of the Malayan ocellated argus pheasant. While I never heard the calls of both species in the same evening, yet the difference was very marked. There was a muffled resonance about the cry of the ocellated bird which the cry of the other lacked; it sounded fully as loud, but was without that penetrating quality which carried the tones of the argus through fern and bamboo, over ravines and jungle slopes, to such great distances. It was more harmonious, less harsh.

Disregarding the rumors of tigers and black leopards, I crept through the jungle in the dead of night, the damp mist rising thickly from the reeking ground about me, and the white trunks of the jungle trees looming up like ghosts. I made my course by compass and broken lianas and laid it by the occasional wild scream of the bird. Finally I seemed to be approaching. Nearer and nearer sounded the call, appearing almost as if the bird were walking toward me. Then my electric search-light showed an impenetrable tangle of rotan and thorn-palms — a maze of myriad recurved hooks. Even in bright daylight one might not pass through this without laboriously cutting a trail, foot by foot.

So here I waited, crouched at the foot of a clump of lofty bamboos, my light shut off, and realizing as never before, the mystery of a tropical jungle at night. A quarter of a mile away, the magnificent bird was calling at intervals, from just some such place as I was in. When my eyes recovered from the glare of the light, I found that the jungle was far from dark. The night was moonless and not a glimmer of star came through the thick foliage overhead. But a thousand shapes of twig and leaf shone dimly with the steady dull blue-green phosphorus glow of foxfire.

Once a firefly passed through the bamboos — a mere shooting star amid all these terrestrial constellations. The mould beneath my feet might change to peat, or, in future ages, to coal, but even then the alchemy of fire would be needed to awaken the imprisoned light. Here, from plants still erect, which were blossoming but a short month ago, a thousand gleams shone forth, defying the blackness of night.

Some small animal passed to windward of me, sniffed, and fled at full speed. The wings of a bat or other flying creature whistled near, while ever the resonant call of the ocellatcd bird rang out, mocking my helplessness. The firefly could make its way through tangle and thorns to the very spot where the bird stood. The small fourfooted creature of the night could creep noiselessly over dried bamboo sheaths until his little eyes marked the swelling throat of the calling pheasant. But here was I, with a powerful electric light, with the most penetrating of night-glasses, with knowledge of savage woodlore, and with human reasoning power; and yet with feet shod with noise, with clothing to catch on every thorn — a hollow mockery of a ‘ lord of creation’!

Again the bird called, and I interpreted its message. The law of compensation! I was helpless to reach it, I was degenerate indeed in the activities of the primitive jungle-folk, but I thrilled at the mysteries of the nocturnal life. My pulse leaped at the wild call — not from a carnivore’s desire for food, or from the startled terror of the lesser wilderness people, but because of the human-born thirst for knowledge, from the delights of the imagination which are for man alone.