THE great salt desert of Central Persia is the stamping ground of the wild ass, a wise, long-eared dun, brother of the horse. I wanted a specimen of the Persian wild ass for the Field Museum, although the Museum has an excellent group of Somali asses that Carl Akeley shot and mounted some years ago. But the Persian ass, or onager, although an allied species, is different from the African, and also from the kiang, the wild ass of Central Asia.
The first thing to do was to gather all the wild-ass information I could in Teheran, the capital. And let me say right here that I’ve never known a place where reliable information is as hard to get as it is in Persia. Americans and English of the legations in out-ofthe-way places are usually the only persons you can rely on for information about game; most of them shoot, all are interested, and, thank God, they tell you the truth. Other Europeans as a rule do not shoot, and their ideas on game are sometimes quaint, to say the least. They mean well, but shooting is out of their line; they don’t know. Native information, of course, is notoriously unreliable. The best way to handle native information is first to deduct 50 per cent, then whittle down what’s left about one third, divide that by two or any other number you have handy, and work over the residue with a fine-toothed comb.
I went to the American and British Legations, but found to my surprise that no one there had shot wild ass. A Swiss doctor, Stump, was mentioned by two or three as a man who knew as much as anyone about game conditions. Stump has lived in Persia almost thirty years and has done a great deal of shooting on his own. The Legations steered me also to a Persian grandee, an old gaffer about seventy, one Mustophie, who they said was a noted hunter and poker player and a ‘ buddy’ of the Shah. (Mustophie was made Prime Minister three months ago.)
‘Mustophie’s two passions,’ one said, ‘are poker and shooting. He’s a good rifle shot and a sharpshooter when it comes to making two pair beat three of a kind.’ Someone in the American Diplomatic Service has evidently put the Persians through a course of sprouts in the amenities of Western civilization. A few grandees have become poker addicts, and old Mustophie and the Shah are well able to defend themselves at our national indoor sport.
With an American, Arthur Dubois, in Persia to build a railroad for the government, I went to see Mustophie. The old man owns many villages in the country and two or three mansions in Teheran; property in Persia has been in the hands of a few families for generations. We met Mustophie in a large, high-ceilinged room of his house, surrounded by ten or twelve so-called advisers, really hangers-on. The old fellow was dressed as a dirt farmer or homesteader would be in Nebraska or Colorado. His European clothing had seen better days and he could n’t be bothered with a collar. Flapping, heelless slippers took the place of shoes (the last thing a Persian gives up when he changes from the ancient to the modern costume is that inexcusable abortion, the bedroom slipper). Flippity-flop, here they come, flapping at every step. You can’t stride; you must shuffle to keep them on. I ’d sooner go barefoot.
Coming directly to the point, we ordered our interpreter to get Mustophie’s ideas on the best place to hunt wild ass at this season. We were in a hurry; Dubois had other things to do. But you can’t hurry a Persian. Did n’t Kipling say something to the effect that a forest of gravestones marked the resting places of Westerners who had tried to hurry the East? The interpreter was horrified at our abruptness. Tea was brought casually, cigarettes handed around languidly, and candy circulated with great, deliberation. We ate and drank and passed compliments back and forth for half an hour. Finally our prodded interpreter arrived in graceful oral curvets at the main business of the meeting.
‘The only way you can possibly shoot wild ass,’ answered Mustophie, ‘is to take an automobile and a good driver, go down into certain parts of the desert where sand and salt are not too deep, and run them by car. A horse cannot overtake a wild ass and carry a man’s weight; we Persians have tried it many times. Wild asses have remarkable eyesight. They see you two miles away on the flat desert and they’re off! You must use automobiles.’
‘How about laying for them at water holes?’
‘Can’t be done. They drink only at night and but once or twice a week, and they change watering places. Wild asses are crafty. If you lie in wait for them by a water hole, someone always makes a noise at the wrong time, the asses wind you, or something else happens. Even if you were lucky enough to get a shot, it would be dark; you could n’t see your sights and you probably would n’t hit anything. No, to shoot wild asses in Persia you must run them with automobiles.’
Not having sunk, as yet, to the level of the armchair sports who shoot from automobiles, we left old Mustophie to the ministrations of his numerous retinue and called on Dr. Stump. In Stump’s opinion we might possibly shoot wild asses from horseback provided we were unusually well mounted, were close enough at the start, and happened to find them on good ground.
‘But,’ he said, toying languidly with one of those gruesome instruments that doctors always have lying around, ‘wild asses are smart and wild, and they have remarkable eyesight — better eyesight than gazelles. It’s almost impossible in that level country to get within half a mile of them. And with a half-mile start no horse on earth can overtake them. They know their business, too. They’ll make straight for rocky, broken country where a horse carrying a man cannot compete with them in speed. However, it will be an interesting experiment and no end of sport. I’d like to go with you and I know a good place down in t he Kevír.’ We told the doctor to throw a saddle on his favorite pony and come along.
Dubois had two Arab horses bought from the tribes down around Bagdad, desert-raised, fast and tough. One of these he lent to me. The doctor had a Shirazi Arab. Shirazi horses carry their tails high, as do all Arabs, but slightly sideways — a curious habit.
We telephoned down to the mud village of Kishlok to a Persian friend of the doctor, one Mirzah Hossein Khan, and asked Mirzah to collect ten pack camels and have them waiting for us. The place we had in mind to hunt was the Dasht-i-Kevír, the great salt desert of Central Persia. Not a spear of grass grows there, and feed for the horses was carried by the camels. Camels thrive on a thorny greasewood bush; a camel’s idea of Heaven, as everybody knows, is a place of unlimited thorn bush and no water. Wild asses feed on the same bush. A horse will not touch it.
The great Kevír is a vast plain occupying much of the central part of the country, broken here and there by narrow irrigated strips and short ranges of barren limestone mountains, weathered and blackened by the intense sun. No grass and no trees grow either on the mountains or on the plain, with the exception of a few wild almond trees in the deeper and more inaccessible mountain canyons. Those barren, rocky black mountains have a look about them that calls to mind infernal regions and the hells of the various prophets.
The Kevír is encrusted with a layer of white salt that gleams in the sunlight like snow. If a horse or a man attempts to cross that salt — well, it’s just too bad, that’s all. A man sinks down a foot or two and a horse to his knees. Nothing lives in that salt area, not even birds. Wild asses range around its border, but have enough sense to stay out of it. Two cousins of a Persian clerk in the American Legation attempted to take a short cut across the Kevír two years ago. They were never heard of again. There is but one way to make the crossing — by a stone road built nearly four hundred years ago by old Shah Abbas. The road, raised slightly and paved with large round stones, is ten feet wide. It runs straight as a die across the glistening salt. To-day, after four hundred years, its condition is not so good; it is just passable for horses, provided always that camels go along to carry horse feed and water.
I was curious to know why old Shah Abbas went to all that labor and expense in such a barren waste. It seems that in his day savage Turkomans from the eastern border of the Caspian Sea had a weakness for raiding into Persia. They went as far south as Isfahan, ravaging and destroying, as boys will when out on that kind of ‘bender.’ This rough byplay got under the skin of Shah Abbas and kept him awake nights until he lit on the idea of a road to checkmate the hairy Turkoman. Horsemen could then cross the Kevír and reach the Turkoman border quickly, cutting off the freebooters. With such a threat behind them not even Turkomans dared to come far into Persia, and serious raids from that quarter were a thing of t he past.
We crossed the Kevír on this old road. Mirzah Hossein sent his brother, Abbas Khan, along with us. Abbas knew the water holes in the desert mountains and also considerable wildass lore. We marched at night across the Kevír to avoid the heat and the glare of the sun on the white salt. It was pitch-dark and there was no moon. You could n’t see your horse’s ears, and about the first thing my stallion did was to join battle with the doctor’s horse, also a stallion. I’m the last person in the world to mix up in anybody else’s quarrel, and if stallions must fight I want no part in it. ‘Let ’em have it out’ is my motto, provided they keep away from me. But when you’re riding one of the gladiators with a flat English saddle on a pitchblack night, it’s not so good! After the first squeal and rush I reined him in hard. But he was a studhorse of infinite resource; he reared up straight and went over backward — wham! — on the saddle. I quit him in mid-air and just in time. If I’d been where he thought I was when he landed — but let’s not go into that.
The next evening we reached the Siah Kouh, a range of desert mountains, and made camp near a stagnant spring. You’re not ‘choosy’ with your water in the desert. You take it where you find it. This was salty and hard to keep down at first, but in a few days we became used to it and gulped it like so much Pilsener; you get used to anything in time — even Pilsener.
We found from tracks when we reached the spring that a few wild asses had been watering there. So we decided to lie in wait that night. For if they should come in to water and smell our camels, — anything this side of Heaven could smell those camels, — we knew they’d pull up stakes and leave the country. We were all bonetired after that long trip over the Kevír, but we did n’t dare to take a chance on their coming in, sniffing the camels, and leaving once for all.
Mahmoud, the cook, shook up a hasty supper at his small fire behind a jutting cliff, where it could not be seen from the desert. We gulped down the hot food, took our guns and a blanket apiece, and walked half a mile to a narrow place between two steep hills, where tracks showed that the asses had passed on the way to the spring. There we arranged watches; one man was to stay awake for the first three hours, then call another, and so on until daylight.
It rained that night, I believe for the first time in three or four months. We stuck it out, cold, wet, shivering, and hungry along toward morning. My turn came about one o’clock. Low clouds hung close to the hilltops, a drizzle soaked into clothes and blanket. The wind blew in gusts, and every little while I imagined I heard the clatter of unshod hoofs along the rocky trail leading through the narrow canyon. I was continually straining ears and eyes through the pitch-black of the stormy night. Once I shook the doctor and woke him with a ‘Sh! I think they’re coming,’ only to find that it was nothing but the wind, strained nerves, and a vivid imagination. Not a single wild ass came in to drink that night.
We went back to camp at daylight, pulled Mahmoud from his warm felt, — Persians sleep wrapped in a piece of thick felt made somewhat on the order of a giant overcoat, — demanded breakfast, and got into warm dry clothes. We had expected to find plenty of ibex and mouflon on the higher peaks of the Siah Kouh. But a prolonged scout that day showed that practically all had left for parts unknown. Two years ago, according to the doctor and Abbas Khan, the Siah Kouh was alive with them, thousands of them. But we found no fresh tracks or sign. The game must have been gone from that range for six months. We talked it over and came to the conclusion that some Persian hunter had been there with the usual retinue of shikarchis, beaters, and satellites.
When a Persian grandee hunts, he sits down on a blanket behind a convenient rock and orders his beaters, sometimes a hundred men, to start the drive at the other end of the range and work toward him. An isolated range like the Siah Kouh is ideal for such work. Ibexes and mouflons come bounding along ahead of the drivers, and, as they pass, your sporting grandee cracks down on everything, regardless of age or sex. Those that get by keep on going until they find a new home on some other mountain range. It’s the quickest way I know to exterminate or drive away game from a locality. Such a business would account for the absence of game on the Siah Kouh.
With no ibex or mouflon on the range we had to concentrate on wild ass. And let me say that it took some concentrating, too. I’ve shot pronghorn antelope at home, zebra and hartebeest in Africa, and gazelle of various kinds in Abyssinia and the Sudan. All those plains animals are wary and, because of the open country they inhabit, are hard to get up to. But for downright wildness, scariness, or whatever you want to call it, the Persian wild ass bears off the palm. We saw two or three specimens in the next few days. But they were a mile away and they saw us as soon as or before we saw them. Immediately they remembered important engagements in foreign parts; away they went in clouds of dust and sand, and they did n’t stop until they were out of sight in the shimmering heat waves of the desert. Nothing like the coquettish gazelle, which runs a few hundred yards and turns to look back. They simply quit the locality for good and all. When I saw how much to heart they took our presence, and the serious, businesslike way in which they put country between themselves and us, I knew we were in for a real job of work to get one.
And now let me say something about the stamina of an Arab horse. As I mentioned before, I was riding one of the Arabs that belonged to Dubois, a desert-raised animal. He was n’t over fourteen and a half hands high, and to look at him you might say, ‘ Why, a big man can’t ride a cat! This horse is too small. He’ll never be able to go the route.’ And if you said that, you would make the greatest mistake of your life.
We left camp one morning, on horseback, to ride over the range by a trail that Abbas Khan knew, hoping to find a spring somewhere on the other slope. We thought there might be a few wild asses loitering around the water. We left camp at daylight, climbed the steep trail, got down the other side about one o’clock in the afternoon, looked all over the place for the spring, but could n’t find it. We had our canteens, of course, but the horses had no water. Finally we gave it up. By that time we were almost at the eastern end of the range, so we decided, rather than go back and climb that steep and rocky trail again, to keep on, round the end of the Siah Kouh, staying on the desert and so arriving at camp that way. The trail around the end of a mountain range is a deceptive thing. It looks to be a fairly short way, but when you go on a bit you find another spur and another row of hills beyond. When you cross these you find more, and the thing piles up on you until, by the time you get around, you’ve covered three times the distance you expected.
It became dark soon and there was only the ghost of a moon. Not to drag this story out too long, I’ll just say that we arrived in camp at three in the morning. Nineteen hours in the saddle. My Arab came in prancing and champing at the bit. He needed a firm hand on the rein at the finish, just as he had at the start. He had not walked one step, but pranced the entire way. Hard on me, I admit, but what an exhibition of stamina! And in the dark, on rocky, uneven ground, he had not once stumbled. I have no idea how much farther he could have gone without showing signs of fatigue. No water, and of course no food. Nineteen hours, head up, tail held high, pulling at the bit, prancing, eager to get out and run. That’s what I call a horse!
We hunted the country around the spring thoroughly in the next few days. But some charcoal burners with their camels had been camped there not long before, and the wild asses had left that locality. We moved camp to the eastward along the same range, one short day’s march for the pack camels, about twelve miles, and camped at another spring. Here were many more ass tracks, some made in the last night or two.
We were up and dressed two hours before daylight the next morning, had breakfast, saddled up, and set out an hour before dawn. We rode down into the desert and separated. I rode rapidly far to the eastward, and when the sun rose was lying on a sun-baked mud butte at the edge of a narrow strip of bad lands, looking over the country with the binoculars. Just as the sun poked his nose over the far horizon I saw a small herd of five wild asses moseying along slowly, headed out into the desert. They passed behind a mud hill about half a mile long, walking slowly, one behind the other and entirely unconscious of danger. I waited until the last was out of sight behind the hill, then mounted and rode at a good gallop to intercept them, keeping the hill between us. I beat them to the far end, but they were four hundred yards beyond on the level plain. It was too far to shoot with accuracy, so I headed straight for them with my horse on a dead run. They looked up and saw me instantly, and away they went at their best clip, into the rising sun.
The ground was hard and even, sunbaked, and there were few rocks. It was an ideal place to try the speed of that Arab horse. He was eager to go, as he always was, and I let. him have his head. How that little horse did enjoy it! His ears were cocked forward toward the dust cloud ahead, and he stretched out into a stride remarkably long for such a small animal. The wild asses were running low and doing their level best, but the Arab gradually drew up on them. They had a start of four hundred yards, but after a run of two miles and a half we were within seventy-five yards.
‘Now,’ I thought, as I yanked the Springfield from the scabbard, ‘if you pull up suddenly, swing off, turn your horse loose and start shooting, you should be able to kill two or three before they get out of range.’
But when I tried to pull up, the Arab simply would n’t hear of it! He shook his head, tried to get the bit in his teeth, and almost threw a cat fit. It took considerably more time to stop him than I had figured on. Meanwhile the asses were going at their best pace, and by the time I could pile off without danger of broken bones they were two hundred yards away. I turned the horse loose — you could walk up to him anywhere — and threw the gun to my shoulder. Then I had the surprise of my life. To save my soul I could n’t hold that rifle steady! I had forgotten to take into consideration the fact that a two-and-a-half-mile race leaves the rider just about as winded as the horse. There I stood, panting as though I had climbed a steep hill on the run. The gun wobbled all over the scenery. I could no more hold the sights on one of those running animals than I could fly. I shot several times, but never touched hide or hair; they got clean away. The noise of the shooting scared the little horse, and I had to walk back a quarter of a mile to catch him. By that time further pursuit was out of the question.
I should have kept on in that race and ridden into the middle of the herd and shot from the saddle at close quarters, the way buffalo hunters used to do on the Western plains. But the chance had been lost. I only hoped I’d get another like it. But so wise and wary were those animals that we had no more chances while hunting from that camp, although we covered immense tracts, riding out each morning before daylight. After that first day in our second camp every single wild ass pulled up stakes and left that section. It seemed to us that word must have been passed around among the scattered bands by some mysterious method of communication. Sounds a bit absurd, I know, but how else can it be explained? Upon our arrival the watering place had been all tracked up. Dubois ran another bunch beside the five I saw, and immediately every wild ass within a radius of twenty miles quit the country.
Three weeks of tireless effort passed and we had nothing to show for our work. The doctor and Dubois returned to Teheran; the doctor had his practice to look after and Dubois had business with the government and also an important polo match, the foreign colony against the Persians. Since he used his two Arab horses for polo, he had to take them with him. I made up my mind to remain in the desert alone until I killed a wild ass or the wild ass stamped o’er my head, and I asked Dubois and the doctor to send out a new supply of grub from the village of Kishlok as they passed through and also to send another horse, the best they could find. I kept the tent and one camel man to cook.
I spoke no Persian and of course the camel man could speak no English, so the doctor wrote a list of the more important Persian words on a sheet of paper, with the English words opposite. When I gave an order I pulled the sheet from my pocket, spread it on the sand, ran my eye down the list until I found the words needed. It worked well enough. Camel men are good lads in their way, but excessively dumb, and perfectly content to squat around the fire drinking endless cups of tea, which suited me down to the ground. I did n’t want them interfering and trying to help in the hunting.
The horse, borrowed from Mirzah Khan, and the commissary camels arrived in five days. The horse was the best in those parts and a good animal, but not an Arab. I moved camp, still to the eastward, about fifteen miles and on the same side of the range. This time we camped near an old ruin, a caravanserai built by Shah Abbas, the same who made the stone road across the Kevír. It was a square stone structure covering perhaps an acre of ground. Rounded turrets rose at the corners and slits of loopholes, narrow and businesslike, were cut at intervals in the walls. The roof had fallen in, but the walls stood solid. It was built, I suppose, as a fort or place of refuge for caravans in the old days when brigands were many and bold. The sight of the old pile standing in the bright desert sunlight, fallen into decay and with wild-ass tracks all around it, brought to mind the lines of Omar Khayyám: —
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunter — the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.
In the next few days I rode the country as thoroughly as a cow-puncher looking for strayed stock. With gun in scabbard, canteen, and a small bag of dried goat’s-milk curds on the saddle, I set out each morning. I took it slowly. It would n’t do to wear out my horse before I had a chance to make another run after wild ass, and the open country had to be hunted carefully. One morning I saw two asses a mile ahead browsing on the stunted thorn shrub that grows sparsely in the desert. They had not seen me and were directly west of my position. The sun was just coming up. At first I could not figure out a way, in that level country, to approach them near enough to give my horse a fair chance in a run. Then it occurred to me to ride straight toward them. The rising sun shining directly in their eyes when they looked my way might possibly keep them from seeing me until I should be close enough to chance a run. I rode forward very slowly, so slowly that my horse did not kick up the slightest dust to attract their attention. Each time one lifted his head I stopped dead still and waited until he again put down his head to feed.
The sun behind me must have been the greatest factor of concealment. Anyway, I got within three hundred and fifty yards before they saw me. Instantly they wheeled, facing in our direction. Heads were up. Every line of them became rigid. They made a beautiful picture there on the wide desert, the horizontal rays of the low sun gleaming upon their slick coats. Big ears were cocked forward and every line showed extreme alertness. I had taken down the end of the halter rope wound loosely around my horse’s neck and with this gave him a crack over the hind quarters. He leaped forward like a shot. The two asses spun around and dashed away. The race was on.
It was a great disappointment. Within half a mile I could see that my horse, although a good one, was no match in speed for those unencumbered animals. They drew gradually away. At the end of a mile they had gained two hundred yards and the horse was blowing like a porpoise. How I wished for that little Arab of Dubois’s! I would have given my whole outfit if that Arab instead of the native horse had been stretching out in his long stride between my knees. It was no use. I pulled up.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘perhaps these two are exceptionally fast. There must be a difference in speed among wild asses as there is among horses. These may be the speed kings of Persia — perhaps one is the Man o’ War and the other the Sir Barton of all asses. I ’ll not be satisfied that my horse can’t catch a wild ass until I give him another try.’
But again that curious thing happened. I mean, every ass in the neighborhood pulled out after that short run. Tracks at the spring a mile below the old caravanserai showed that several large herds had been in the habit of watering there. I rode the country for another week, reconnoitring the place, you might say, with a search warrant and a lantern, but not another wild ass did I see. After the first day the tracks in the dust at the spring proved that not a single animal had been in to water. Do they pass the word around? I admit it’s beyond me. I make no comments, simply give the information. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine.
Again we packed the camels and moved camp, this time around the range to the spring we had looked for that other day and had not found. One of the camel men found it this time without trouble, and we made camp. Early the next morning — and when I say early I mean somewhere between three and three-thirty — I jogged through the foothills and out into the desert. By sunup I was six or seven miles from the hills. This part of the Kevír was more rolling. Several low ranges of hills ran parallel to the Siah Kouh. I crept on my belly to the top of one of these, leaving the horse a short distance down the slope. Four hundred yards away two wild asses were feeding on the stunted bush! I crept back to the horse, tightened the cinch, tied canteen and bag of curds so they would n’t thrash around in a fast run, mounted, and dashed down the slope at a high-tailed run.
The asses saw me the instant I showed on the sky line. Up went their heads. One quick look and they were off in a cloud of dust and sand. My horse seemed to be running very well. He was larger than the Arab and apparently had a good stride, and he put his heart into it. But this show was an exact repetition of the last. The wild asses drew away. The native horse did n’t have the blood and the heart to catch a wild ass on his home grounds. I pulled up after a mile run and sat there with one leg across his withers, lit a cigarette, and watched the asses disappear in the purple distance, the dust cloud raised by their hoofs visible long after the animals themselves were too far away to be distinguished.
I rode to camp in a thoughtful mood. I had now been hunting wild ass almost six weeks. I had had one chance, solely by virtue of the speed and endurance of that Arab horse of Dubois’s. That chance I had botched by a deplorable piece of poor judgment. My present horse, clearly, had not the speed to give me another such chance. Most of the wild asses had withdrawn from the country, too wise to stay around where trouble was likely to pop up at any minute. What method should I use from now on? I did some heavy thinking on the way to camp and that night in the tent. It seemed to me that there was but one system left — to use the horse merely as a means of getting about the country and to stalk the animals afoot when seen. In that way it was barely possible that I could get near enough in that flat country for a long shot — a very long one. It was the one way left and I could only hope for the best.
Another week went by. I saw nothing but gebir, a species of small gazelle, almost an exact duplicate of the Sömmerring’s gazelle of Africa. I had been so fearful of scaring away any wild asses that might be in the neighborhood that I had refused to shoot a gebir for meat. We had been out of meat for a month and I was meat hungry. One morning three gazelles jumped up a short way ahead. Dainty, fat little things they were — a buck, a doe, and a fawn.
‘I’ll just take a chance on you,’I said aloud. You begin to talk to yourself after about a month alone in the desert. The buck turned a handspring at the second shot. He was going pretty fast and the bullet broke his neck and curled him up as dead as a wolf.
I stayed in camp the rest of that day and had one of the camel men cook cabobs, slices of meat with alternate layers of fat between, held over glowing coals on a ramrod. It’s a Persian specialty and a great dish. I’d be ashamed to guess how many pounds I put away that day. You have no idea how you crave good old rare and bloody meat after a month or two in the desert air.
But to get back to those asses. A few days later I was riding along at a walk. I had looked over the immediate country most carefully with the glass and had seen nothing. It appeared to be as level as a billiard table. I was sure there was nothing between me and the far horizon. No hollows or depressions where an animal could remain out of sight appeared anywhere. But those broad plains are deceptive. Hollows and swales occur here and there that are not perceivable at a distance. I found myself riding up a gentle slope. I thought nothing of it and was not especially watchful. But my luck was in. The big ears and forehead of a wild ass appeared as he raised his head just two hundred yards in front of my horse.
I jerked the horse back, slid off, pulled the gun from the scabbard, and crept forward on hands and knees. The wind was right and the wild ass had not seen us. Again he raised his head, and this time I could see not only his head but as far down as his breast. I knew he’d see me in another second. It was a hard shot, just grazing the top of the low swale, but I had to chance it. I shot — and missed. The ass jumped about five feet in the air, gave one look around — and I shot again. That bullet got him in the centre of the chest and he went down in a heap, stone dead. Throwing in another cartridge, I ran to the top of the low rise on the chance that more might be on the other side.
Three hundred yards away I saw in the shimmering heat waves what appeared to be another wild ass. He was standing perfectly still. That was strange. By all the rules of the game he should have been on a dead run, in a panic from the noise of the two shots. But the strangest thing was the fact that he stood with his tail toward me, ears forward, looking directly away from where the reports of the gun had come!
‘That can’t be a wild ass,’ I thought. ’If it were, he would certainly be on the run, or at least he would n’t be looking in the opposite direction. It’s a rock or a trick of the shimmering desert heat waves.’ I held the gun down and peered closely. Surely that was an ass! I whistled. Instantly he whirled. I shot — and the bullet kicked up dust at his feet. I had underestimated the distance. He came to life with a rush and dashed away, broadside. But the next shot caught him in the shoulder and down he went, finished.
I puzzled long before I could understand the strange actions of that animal. He was almost directly behind the first ass, and the first shot, passing over the head of the nearer, had kicked up a small cloud of dust and gravel a short distance beyond the far animal. The noise of the gun meant nothing to him because he had never before heard a gun fired; he must have taken it for a peculiar kind of modernistic thunder. But that unaccountable and mysterious shower of dirt and sand that flew up just beyond him was a weird and ghostly phenomenon. He had wheeled and was staring fixedly at the spot with tail toward me when I reached the top of the swale.