THE world of the great forests is a veritable paradise on earth for those who will take the trouble to read its mysteries. Enveloped by towering walls of greenery, like a microbe in a pile carpet, I found never-ending restfulness and comfort in this safe retreat from the glare of the outside world. Perhaps these unconventional reactions to an environment hated and feared by the majority who penetrate there were in some respects connected with my upbringing as a town dweller. Life in great cities is not unlike that in the primeval forests. One passes from one burrow to another along canyons that are only a little lighter, and breadth of vision is everywhere excluded by towering battlements palpitating with the lives hidden behind them. Always there is life around one, but it is hardly visible, so that the imagination must work overtime to formulate its progress, lest one pass forever through the dense crowds utterly alone.
When the sun shines upon the roof of the forest, vistas of indescribable beauty spring into existence below. Golden lights fall upon shady tunnels of riotous greenery. We used to sit by little crystalclear streams, where pools of sunlight fell upon the moss-covered rocks like spotlights on a stage, and bask in the silent stillness of the day. Here would rise a feathery palm, its roots in the dim recesses of the forest, its fronds extended motionless into the shimmering sunlight with countless slender fingers of delicate jade; there would pass a dancing sapphire insect, while beyond and below and above rose billowing waves of foliage, chartreuse-green and delicate, bottlegreen and shimmering or blending hither and thither in colors and textures indefinable.
To dwell amidst this endless foliage is akin to life amongst the gods of old. Past, present, and future have no meaning; the eternity of nature becomes something real. To sit alone in the midday silence of the jungle and try to visualize the machinations of civilized life is an impossibility. All the acts and histories of men become so futile and ephemeral before the grandiose stature of nature that it seems somehow unaccountable and altogether crazy to imagine little humans believing that their comic and futile efforts count for anything at all.
Gradually one learns the sociology of the forest; slowly, day by day, one becomes more attuned to the organization of the life around; piece by piece the camouflage beneath which everything is concealed is lifted. There is revealed a world of endless variety, of never-ending beauty and interest.
One of the first laws revealed to us was the unsuspected fact that the life of the jungle is like that of the ocean floor. This has never been observed or remarked upon before. Everything drifts slowly hither and thither as if wafted forward by currents and crosscurrents. To stand still is to arouse suspicion — just as a diver, who can actually handle fish and other sea creatures provided he drifts with them across the bed of the sea, becomes an object to be feared and shunned as soon as he remains immobile and anchored.
When hunting, my colleague George Russell and I adopted two entirely different methods. George concealed himself at some vantage point and waited for the waves of forest life to drift by him; I drifted and eddied with the animals themselves. Doing this, I learned many things, and so did he. The speed at which I drifted, I learned, must vary with the weather. Bright, fine days brought life almost to a standstill. In a hurricane I had to run to keep pace with things. Sometimes terrestrial animals would be drifting one way while all arboreal creatures above me would be passing in quite another direction.
Then we perceived that certain animals and types of animals followed quite definite roads through the trees and upon the ground, and, further, that they had times at which they passed to and fro as regularly as machines. Some animals betrayed the presence of others, certain fruits drove others away when they should have attracted them, and so on; the laws and rules were never-ending in their variety.
Drifting thus across the floor of the forest, I once approached a little dell into which flowed a small stream. The ground was boggy and covered with lush vegetation so that the waters spread far and wide, forming a small marsh. As I slid noiselessly along following the tracks of a small squirrel, a murmuring and rumbling came to my ears, dim and faint at first, a mere ghost of a sound. Gradually it gained in volume until it seemed to be all around me. I moved slowly forward, as I had learned I must do if I were to gain a glimpse of the animals that were causing all this ‘talk.’
Abruptly I came upon them, a veritable herd of the weirdest animals I have ever seen. Rich orange in color, with monstrous heads, they formed a vivid contrast to the sombre greens of the water weeds. It seemed, in fact, as if they were more than half head, since their short legs were sunk deep in the morass that they were busily creating in the soft earth. On their heads they bore tall crests of spotless white which passed backward into a long white mane falling this way or that over their shoulders. Their ears were long and pointed, terminated by a long white plume, which they constantly flicked and twitched as they ploughed up the ground in long, even furrows. All the while they grunted and grumbled contentedly.
A herd of river hogs (Potamochoerus porcus) is an unusual sight; they seem as contented and lazy as ordinary farmyard pigs, and yet their vivid coloration and their grotesque form make one pause and consider whether one’s sight is playing a trick. In the wilds they don’t look like pigs at all. They are, in fact, unlike any other animal, with their great heads, long, tapering, plumed ears, and tall, narrow bodies.
Having drifted right in among them and been scrutinized by a large, dangerous-looking hog and apparently found quite welcome, I allowed myself to move gently forward. I had read of people in East Africa approaching to within a few feet of perfectly wild lions at the midday siesta, — in fact, my own father was one of the first to show that this was possible provided one moved slowly enough, — but I never suspected that these tactics were applicable to such wily and arrogant animals as the red river hog of the forests. Nevertheless, I soon found myself right in the centre of the herd, noticed but unfeared by them. Perhaps the fact that I carried nothing smelling strange, like a gun or camera or other oily metal instrument, reassured them. Gently they moved around me, as we were all drifting in the same direction; sometimes four would be in view at once, sometimes all would vanish amid the foliage so that I knew of their presence only by their ceaseless, moaning grunts.
For ages, it seemed, this unique contact went on undisturbed, during which time I was favored with the priceless opportunity of watching these rare and obscure animals carrying on their everyday existence in perfect harmony with their surroundings. They are indeed peculiar hunters. I had always supposed them to be herbivorous, and yet I saw one large sow unearth a cluster of huge snails and set to work cracking the shells and munching up the juicy contents. In this she was assisted by three small hogs who tussled and bit each other in an effort to get at the morsels. The tactics consisted of flying tackles in which they threw their whole weight into their shoulders and banged their opponents, one of whom was sent sprawling into the muddy bog. The sight of a wild animal floundering on its back was really most remarkable and gave me the impression of watching a group of school children at play.
One old hog, who kept looking at me as if realizing that I might be potentially dangerous, made a most comical misjudgment. He was rooting along the edge of the marsh, stopping now and then with his long snout several inches in the mud to crunch up some hidden root, when he inadvertently pushed under a particularly tough root extending from a large tree on the solid ground near by. It appeared that he had small tushes (as I saw later), and these must have got locked under the root, for he suddenly set up the most terrific racket, dancing about with his back legs and giving little hops like a ballet dancer, heaving, pulling, and squealing as if caught by the nose. At first I thought he was fighting something on the ground, since his nose was out of view behind a small plant, and I stupidly moved to see what it was all about.
This worried the others, who began to move off hurriedly, but I got a good view of the hog as he writhed in fury, tugging at the root. Then my attention was drawn to one of the loveliest sights I have ever seen. As the herd moved past me with ever-increasing speed, out trotted some individuals I had not seen before. Among them was a positive swarm of tiny piglets, each immaculately striped with gold on its little, otherwise naked body. They trotted along in line, uttering high-pitched grunts and herded from behind by an agitated mother, who kept prodding their delicate little hind legs as if to say, ‘ Go on! Hurry up or the bogeyman will get you.’ The whole scene was so perfect that I stood spellbound at the sight of it.
Just then a young animal, whether male or female I know not, trotted by and I instantly determined to try to capture it. It came so close that I had a vision of this amazingly colorful creature in the zoo, the centre of surprised and wondering crowds of holiday makers, and I made a dive for it. Although I moved with lightning speed, and actually touched its hard, bristly haunches, it leaped aside and plunged off into the undergrowth, yelling like a human. The old hog must have made a super-porcine effort at that moment and got free, for I heard him crash off at high speed into the distance.
Dusk was falling as I waded back across the swamp, now churned up like a ploughed field by the sharp snouts of the hogs. The way in which they can overturn a plot of ground is really unbelievable.
Besides the squirrels that inhabit the trees of the forest, there are others that live exclusively on the ground. These are quite different in appearance, and, being more difficult to obtain, are of more importance for study. We managed to collect a few in traps set for rats, but when a live example was brought to the camp by a small African boy I felt that our chance had come. These animals (Funisciurus leucostygma) make a peculiar ticking-clocking sound as if the tongue were being flicked down between the lower teeth, and from this fact I inferred that they could call each other together to partake of the food they unearthed or for other reasons.
We therefore took this little squirrel and placed him in a cage that had previously been sterilized of all human smell by being buried in the leaf mould of the forest floor. This was transported to a remote part of the forest without being touched, and suspended on a crooked stick. We concealed ourselves near the decoy and awaited developments.
The sun was shining brightly when we ‘went to earth,’ but after half an hour or so, during which the little animal kept up an excited ‘clocking,’ it clouded over. A stiflingly hot wind like a blast from a furnace flue blew up, and the sky got darker and darker. The few tiny patches of sky that could be seen through the leafy roof turned to a foreboding purplish gray like the night sky above a great city, and the trees began to sigh and murmur. It got darker and darker every minute, and all the sounds of the jungle ceased except the plaintive call of the little squirrel.
All at once a noise like an express train started far away to the east. The effect was most peculiar and eerie, because down below in the gloom of the jungle only its echo could be heard, the main volume of the sound passing by overhead, above the foliage The trees began to sway with ever-increasing violence until even the giants were bending towards the east, a tearing, roaring hurricane scaring through their summits. We remained in a terrible, ominous calm, the daylight faded to a portentous pinkish half-light, while above us the whole world seemed filled with a host of screaming, demented devils, so that the jungle, usually so solid and stable, was bent at a frightening angle. The roaring came rushing onwards, mounting in volume every second until we had to shout with all our might to hear each other.
Then suddenly it came. The hot wind came to a halt, the trees quivered at the shock of it, and without warning the ■whole floor of the forest rose up with one accord and was blasted upwards into the upper branches of the trees. Leaves, branches, clods of mould, and even logs swirled past us, ripping away our camouflage and hurrying across the turbulent forest floor like live things, then suddenly and unaccountably leaving the solid earth and soaring into the air with everincreasing speed, only to be whisked out of sight above. Blinding flares of lightning shot and flickered through the crazy bedlam, and huge branches and a cascade of heavy things crashed all about us, only to be caught up in the general headlong flight as soon as they reached the ground and again be projected into the upper air.
Even buried as we were at the bottom of the dense jungle, we had to cling to roots and gasp for breath in the swirling tornado of dust and leaves. Choking and buffeted, we saw an awe-inspiring change. The flying rubbish of this primeval world suddenly paused, quivering in the electric air, and then, as if at a given word, reversed screaming in the direction from which it had so recently bolted. Things tore past us again, colliding with tree trunks and exploding with reports like pistol shots. A now wind, icy-cold and cruel, dived into the forest, the giant trees bowed groaningly away from the terror, and amid vivid electrical discharges solid water came spewing down to earth with the force of miniature bombs.
In two seconds we were drenched to the skin, and water poured off us as if we were in a shower bath. I struggled to my feet and staggered forward through the blinding cascade towards the cage that housed our precious squirrel. The water was falling so compactly that I could see very little, but I soon discovered that the cage had gone. We then began a search and eventually stumbled across the string that had held it. Ben and I advanced again towards an immense tree base formed of towering flanges.
As we entered one of the cubicles formed by these flanges, a curious sight met our eyes. Right in the angle at the junction of the flanges with the base of the tree and the ground, a silvery-white animal with a long bushy tail and tall slim black legs was worrying the cage containing a now terrified and screaming squirrel, just as a terrier would worry a rat. At our approach, this amazing animal jumped round, dropped the cage, and barked at us.
We took up our stand at the mouth of this natural pen and began a cautious advance. The animal growled menacingly, just like a dog, and then made a rush at Ben’s naked legs. Being thoroughly surprised, he countered the attack, but the agile animal leaped back again. We continued to advance upon our quarry, but instead of attempting flight, it crouched menacingly behind the cage and bared its fangs at us. I told Ben to take off his singlet and try to put this over its head so that he could effect a capture. I meanwhile stood back ready to dive at it should Ben miss.
This he did completely, because at that moment a large rotten log that must have been lodged up among the branches far above for many months was released by the tornado and crashed down between us. It landed with a sickening thud not two feet away from us and burst into a thousand small pieces. The nimble mongoose leapt aside, circumnavigated the startled Ben, and bounded past my equally unnerved self. I raised my gun to fire and a stream of water poured out of the barrels, but I let go both charges in quick succession at the fleeing animal. It fell dead after a few paces.
This was the first white mongoose (Galeriscus nigripes) we obtained, but later on we managed to film one of these obscure animals in the act of stalking its evening meal.
One evening we were busily occupied completing catalogues and other written work. The camp was very still and Ben and Bassi had long since departed into the blackness of the night with the shotguns and the torch.
A shot rang out some distance away and was followed almost immediately by a quick left and right. After a short pause there came further firing. Suddenly I developed a keen desire to see the spoils and decided to slip out of camp and join the hunt.
Taking the spare torch, I crept away unobserved and was soon weaving my way among the trees and creepers in the direction from which the occasional shots still rang out.
When I was some distance from the position of the last; shot fired, I entered an area where a considerable number of animals were noisily moving through the trees above me, apparently shifting from the centre of danger. I shone the beams of the torch upwards in the hope of catching a glimpse of them.
When I did so my whole inside gave a clutch with excitement and delight as I gazed upward, for suspended from a branch almost directly above me was an animal of the most curious though unaccountably lovable appearance. This statement may sound mad, but to those whose childhood was spent among Teddy bears it may perhaps be intelligible. It was upside down, with an eager little round face peering down over its back at me. So low down was it, indeed, that I could only watch fascinated while it licked its pink nose with a tiny pink tongue to match. The rest of the body was compact, brown and woolly. It blinked at me in the glaring light and then began laboriously clambering forward in the direction of the tree trunk, still suspended upside down like a sloth. A presumably natural urge prompted me to attempt a climb so that I could come to closer quarters with this adorable little toy of the forest and perhaps even capture it.
The climb was not an easy one, though it was a miracle that there were any branches at all to allow of an ascent. This was difficult, as I had to keep the torch beam on the animal all the time so that it would not disappear among the tangled foliage, and the w hole procedure evolved into a race between myself and the potto (for that was what it was) to reach the angle between the branch and the trunk. Most unfortunately I got there first.
As I arrived astride the branch the little animal realized the folly of its manœuvre and appeared on the upper side, where it stood on all fours just like any ordinary animal. Here it looked more awkward and not nearly so lovable. Its large feet and hands were turned outward like those of a very old, rheumatic human, and its head hung down in exactly the attitude adopted by a ferocious bear. Being only a few feet distant,
I could see plainly the parting in the hairs on its back and the row of spines projecting from its neck. These I knew to be the bony processes of its neck vertebrae, which protrude right through the flesh and appear as a row of naked bony spines. What I did not know, however, until that moment was that the animal could control the fur around them, opening or shutting it so that the spines could be revealed or hidden at will. Nor had I ever suspected the animal capable of what I subsequently witnessed.
The potto stood up on its hind legs with its forepaws clenched as if in prayer, and then all at once doubled up so that its head disappeared between its crouching hind legs. If an attacker had been advancing to seize its throat at that instant he would have been rent and pinned to the branch by the formidable row of spines.
After this remarkable performance had been repeated two or three times, during which I had been cautiously advancing, the wise little animal turned about, swung on to the underside of the branch, and retreated towards outer space with a rapidity of which I had not suspected him capable. Although only about the size of a small cat, he was able to cling to a branch thicker than a man’s torso from underneath and hasten along without any apparent difficulty.
Holding the torch in my mouth, I went after him.
Before I got near my goal, however, I found that I was suspended precariously among a number of branches that seemed by their feel to be far too slender. The time for succor seemed to be at hand, and I let out a piercing and as nearly falsetto yell as I could muster without projecting myself into the outer darkness.
In reply a prodigious cackling, chirruping, and crashing arose all about me. Hooking my arms over some branches, I fumbled for the torch and presently illuminated my surroundings. My predicament was worse than I had suspected, for I soon saw shapes moving around me and discovered that I was in the midst of a very sleepy troop of monkeys. Nearly every day we had seen these animals passing by like ghosts, scampering along their elevated roads, forever out of reach and completely immune from the attacks of all landlubbers. Yet here they were quite dumb and hopeless, blinking in the torchlight and apparently less susceptible to being awakened than a livery clubman.
These animals were quite helpless in the dark. They fell about, whimpered and whined; mothers clutched babies and the larger males crashed around as if they knew the troop should move but were completely devoid of any sense of direction. Many of them bounced about on the branches, suddenly lowering their heads to their forepaws, chattering at me and pulling their scalp and ears backward so that their whole face took on a most frightening though ridiculous countenance. They were putty-nosed guenons (Cercopithecus nictitans), and, although I was deeply interested in their habits, our association was not of long duration because things began to give way beneath me. I had to put the torch back into my mouth and look to myself.
One whole branch gave way with both my hands upon it, but by some freak I arrived upside down suspended by my legs with a strong creeper wrapped round my chest. This creeper was my salvation, because I was so long getting unraveled from it that my eyes became accustomed to the dim light (the torch had fallen to the ground) and I eventually swarmed along it until I reached other woody ropes that descended directly to the ground.
I arrived below covered with irritating scratches, with my clothes torn, and quite devoid of any sense of balance, so that I staggered about in the hope of finding the torch. By some miracle again, and with the help of matches, I did so and set out for the camp, which I completely missed. Eventually I struck the narrow forest path and followed it back to our front door.
A-go’i a-go‘i etinko Eanagbo
Agoi, agoi — MBU!’
The interior of the jungle echoed as if it were a cave and the trees carven in stone. Anongo’s yelling voice rang out far ahead, ‘A-go‘i’ again and again, and a long thin trail of falsetto and bass ‘Eanagbos’ answered from above our heads and below our feet. We all roared ‘Agoi, agoi MBU!’ together. Then the world became quiet for a few moments, and only the incessant drip of great blobs of water spattering on broad leaves and an occasional cough from a sweating carrier broke the deathly silence.
Slowly but surely all our possessions, the whole of our little cosmos, crept skyward as tiny insects must do when they fight their way up to the air and the light of day from the depths of the soil. The path was a giant’s stairway of huge boulders piled one upon another, mosscovered, cold and quiet in the perpetual gloom — the turbulent floor of an ageless, changeless canopy of steaming greenery. A few paces forward and a man’s naked heels appeared on a level with one’s eyes. Then came a long pause while some heavy load was hoisted over an obstacle farther up the line, and at last one moved forward again. Would the top never come, like the mountain to Mohammed? Should we, like the insects, never reach the summit and the fresh air?
Then all at once we came to it. The rocky stairway gave place to sticky red clay; the trees rolled back, festooned with waxy, crimson blooms, and we slid blinking out into the blazing sun.
There before us lay a tremendous valley stretching as far as the eye could see. To the right and left rose tier upon tier of softly moulded mountains basking placidly in the still, clear air, bathed in sunlight and clad in tall waving grass, with the wind eddying silently across their face in endless parallel billows. Far up near the powdered sky, little ravines upholstered in dark green forest clung to the face of the grassy mountains or filled in the interstices between the monstrous natural pyramids. The forest ended like a wall to left and right of us, and from our feet the ground dropped right away down to an immense amphitheatre. The air was crystal clear, and the tiniest sounds — a tinkling, belllike drum, the bark of a dog, the call of some strange bird — came clear and undiluted from the utmost limits of vision.
Stupefied by the startling beauty into which we had stepped, we began to descend towards the village of Tinta, which we saw lying far below us.
When we were still some distance from the cluster of circular houses, we met a deputation headed by Chief Ekumaw, surrounded by the other notables of this wonderful little tribe of unknown mountain people. With them we entered the compound which was to be our future home, and after a great deal of palaver, exchange of greetings, and our respective renderings of jazz music, they departed, leaving us to set up house.
When all was straight we sat down to a hard-earned dinner. Just as the ‘ palmoil chop’ was being reverently placed before us, we heard a loud report somewhere far up among the mountains in the direction from which we had come that afternoon from the world beyond. We remarked upon its loudness and its lonesomencss, but soon forgot all about it amid the fragrant aroma of well-peppered palm oil. We sat in silence until neither the food nor our tummies could hold out any longer, and then we fell to smoking in silence.
Then out of the night and the cries of animals came a burble that grew louder and louder. Through a hole in the mud wall of the house I could sec tiny lanterns approaching. The chimpanzees — Mary and ‘The Oaf’ — began whimpering and complaining from the darkness of their cage on the mud platform behind the house, and people stirred around the cook’s domains, but the burble passed by to the village below, where a still greater commotion began. Soon a small army was advancing towards the house from that direction.
I was surprised to see among them the princely Chief Ekumaw, surrounded by many tall wiry men clad only in leather loincloths and bearing immense long Dane guns. Ety’i, the preposterous official court messenger who had been kindly lent to us by the political officer as interpreter for this particular trip, was also with the company. There were others too, in strange masks.
‘Do they bring medicine?’ I asked — which means music, a dance, or magic, as all these three, together with medicine proper, are part of one and the same thing in the mind of the African.
‘No, masters,’ replied Ety’i with a positively pyrotechnic display of gestures. Then everybody began to talk at once, until we became equally excited.
‘Ben, what the devil is it all about?’
‘ ’Tick — ehn, I no savvy how they talk, master.’
‘Well, ask Ety’i, then.’
‘He say they bring story of a great beef.’
‘Well, which man fit tell story, make you find out one time.’
‘ Master, this old man he speak English better than Ety’i.’
‘Let this man talk, then,’ I commanded, and he talked thus.
‘This man,’ the old fellow began, pointing to a tall muscular African with a savage, insolent face, ‘do walkerwalker for bush high for up,’ pointing to the hills behind the house. ‘He hear much animal talk. He be great hunter for these parts [loud grunts of assent from all quarters], so he walker softlysoftly-softly for side of small banana farm and, whoughl — there for him very eye he see huge beef.’
At this juncture the old gentleman, whom we subsequently learned was a great-great-grandfather, became so enthusiastic that he leaped off the floor in an endeavor to reach the top of the animal’s stature in his mind’s eye. As he continued he leaped about, groaned, burbled, grimaced, and acted every detail and endless extemporizations on the whole story.
‘Which kind of beef this be?’ I asked by way of encouragement, but there was no need. After staring at me wildeyed for a second, the old chap was off again.
‘He no be beef, he be so-so man; but he no be man, he be big too much,’ and he flung out his arms. ‘He black all, he ’trong like plenty-plenty man.’ Then he fell to a literal demonstration of the appearance and behavior of this fantastic beast.
‘Yes, but what the hunter make?’ I urged.
‘Ah-haaaa!’ everybody agreed.
‘ Arrrr!’ shouted the centenarian, rushing to the far corner of the compound. ‘The beef he holler, he holler too much — bluooer-bluooer — he COME so!’ and he rushed bellowing towards us, sweeping everything within his reach into his arms. ‘The hunter he shoot, bang!— then he run, he run, he run come for tell chief!’ And our raconteur fell, exhausted.
We held a hurried conference. Could it be a gorilla? We looked at each other and then commenced questioning the local inhabitants. Yes, they knew the ‘man-beef’; there were many of them about. This animal was indeed one. I sent for a picture of a gorilla and showed it to the chief. The place was filled with ‘ah-hurrs’ of assent.
Was the beef dead, we inquired. The hunter did n’t know. Hehad not waited to find out! If it was not dead, would it still be there? Were there others ? Could we go and see? How far away did it happen? And a hundred other questions we asked. Eventually it was decided that it was probably wounded, and, as it was the father, the family would doubtless hang about; therefore it would be best to start before dawn in search of it. After some further talk they all want away.
By the time we had breakfasted and got out the guns, a little knot of hunters had collected outside the house. We were far up the side of the mountain before dawn began to light up the sky.
From then on the world began to take on a very grim appearance, at least to us. I had imagined that we were going up a mountain to look for a gorilla, but apparently the hunter who was leading us, and whose face I had always suspected, had other ideas. He seemed bent on showing us how many mountains there were in Assumho, and how straight and tall and fine they were. First we marched up the road by which WE had descended into this country, and when we got to the very summit, where the tall forest ended, he suddenly dived to the left among the dense undergrowth. We followed, only to be confronted by his heels. Then began a perpendicular ascent, which he and the other Assumbos tackled at a steady four miles an hour — in fact at the same speed that they would a stretch of perfectly level ground. We scrambled up behind them as best we could, clawing hold of anything we could lay our hands, our feet, or even our teeth and chins on to gain a hold.
Soon we were buried deep in a more or less solid mass of intimately woven and interwoven creepers covered with long moss and branches festooned with lichens like old men’s beards.
But we went on up forever into the cold mists at the same hectic rate. Perspiration burst out all over me, saturating my clothes from within as the dripping vegetation was doing from without. This was no ordinary sweat — it was icy cold.
Then matters got even worse. The plexus of wiry creepers descended in one great mass to the very ground and even the hunters were brought up sharp. We fell on our stomachs and began squirming forward. Progress was naturally rather slow because all these creepers in this part of the forest were armed with long thorns. At last the hunter in front of me beckoned and pointed out some small plants about six inches tall. These looked like tiny saplings having a woody stem and only about half a dozen large leaves. Some of these leaves he showed me had semicircular pieces bitten neatly out of them.
‘Gorilla!’ he said, pointing to his mouth and making his jaws work as if eating. Then we were all brought to a halt.
The ground fell away before us. We were at the top at last. The chief hunter informed us that it was at this spot that he first saw the gorilla. He pointed forward with his finger and we wriggled cautiously onward. Before us lay a solid wall of undergrowth into which we cautiously thrust our way.
Suddenly there was a crash almost at my elbow, the foliage parted, and a great expanse of silvery hair flashed by in the same direction that we were moving. All my nerves gave one great lurch and I fumbled hysterically for the camera. Then I glanced round, but Ben was well out of reach, firmly caught up in a mass of creepers with the gun so tied up that I could not possibly get hold of it for action. At that instant there was a shout from the hunter farther to the right, and, stepping forward, I fell headlong.
The ground dropped almost perpendicularly and so did I. Right before me I just caught a glimpse of a colossal black and white object, then it disappeared behind some leaves and emitted the most fearsome gurgling grunts. I sprawled amongst the undergrowth.
When I scrambled out I found myself on the edge of a small banana plantation choked with other low growth. Beside me stood all the hunters, and lying in their midst was an enormous swollen corpse. It was a huge male gorilla, dead as a doornail, and belching up the gases formed by the decomposition of the food in its dead belly.
Apparently the hunter’s chance shot of the night before had found its mark, and the animal had died where it stood feeding on the top of the bank. As we advanced, one of us must have released a creeper that held it up, and it had fallen down under its own weight, flattening the undergrowth and emitting those bloodthirsty gurgling sounds as it rolled over and over, the gases pouring out of its mouth.
Men left at once for the village and we settled ourselves down to await their return. During this time we had ample opportunity of examining our prize. A really large male gorilla in the flesh is a thing that very few have the good fortune to encounter, and still fewer the chance to handle in perfect comfort. Such sights come only once in a lifetime, a thing that we fully realized and appreciated as we stood there gazing at this sad old man of the mountains.
I shall never quite live down the emotions that this sight conjured up inside me. I had always been taught to think of the gorilla as the very essence of savagery and terror, and now there lay this hoary old vegetarian, his immense arms folded over his great potbelly, all the fire gone from his wrinkled black face, his soft brown eyes wide open beneath their long straight lashes and filled with an infinite sorrow. Into his whole demeanor I could not help reading the tragedy of his race, driven from the plains up into the mountains countless centuries ago by more active ape-like creatures — perhaps even our own forbears; chivied hither and thither by the ever-encroaching hordes of hairless, shouting little men, his young ones snatched by leopards, his feeding grounds restricted by farms and paths and native huntsmen. All around him was a changing world against which he bellowed his defiance to the end, rushing forward to meet the bits of lead and gravel blasted at him by his puny rival.
At last the Munchis came and the sad old man was lashed to two young trees and borne away by thirty staggering, chanting humans; away from the silence of the mists, away from his last tangled stronghold; and yet not quite the last of the giants and not quite unmourned.