Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu
GOING INTO THE INTERIOR.—SLEEPING WITH THE KING'S RATS.—THE CHIMPANZEE.—KILL A GAZELLE.—TOO COLD TO SLEEP.—THE GRAY PARTRIDGE.
After this I went again to visit King Banjo, and was announced to his majesty by his great mafonga. I had an important object in paying this visit. I wished to ask the king to permit me to go into the interior, and to spare me some people to show me the way.
Bango liked me, though I had declined to marry one of his beautiful daughters So he granted my request, and gave me twenty-five men, some of whom were reputed great hunters in that country. They had killed many elephants, and brought all the ivory to their king. They were the providers of the royal table, and passed their lives in the hunt and in the forest.
We made great preparations for the chase, for game was said to be plentiful. We were to encamp many days in the forest, and to have a jolly time, and a hard time too, for the hunter's life is not an easy one. I was invited by the king to sleep in his palace, so that the next day I might start early; so I was led to my bedroom by the great mafouga. It was so dirty and gloomy that I wished myself fast asleep under a tree in the forest. I looked around, thinking that perhaps the king wanted to get rid of me, and had invited me there to have me murdered; but, finding nothing suspicious, I concluded that old King Bango had never entertained such ideas, and I felt vexed at myself for having such thoughts on my mind. Then I extinguished the light, and lay down on the royal couch I had scarcely lain down when I began to hear a strange noise. At first I did not know what it meant. The noise in the room increased. What could it be? I tried to see through the darkness, but could distinguish nothing. Just then I felt something getting under my blanket. Confounded, I jumped up, not knowing what it might be. It was an enormous rat. As soon as I got up, I heard a perfect scrambling of rats going back where they came from, and then all became silent I lay down on the bed again, and tried to sleep, but in vain, on account of the assaults and gambols of the rats, of which there was a prodigious number. They seemed inclined to dispute possession of my room with me. They were continually on my bed and running over my face. I soon got quite enough of the royal palace. I wished I had never come into it. But it was an excellent place for getting up early. No sooner had the morning twilight made its appearance than I rose, and called my men together; and, though we could hardly see, we set out at once on the march.
I went in advance with Aboko, my head man, and Niamkala, the next best man, at my side. Both these men were great hunters, and had spent the principal part of their lives in the woods. They seemed really like men of the woods, so very wild were their looks. Aboko was a short, somewhat stout man; very black, and extremely muscular; very flat-nosed, and with big thick lips. His eyes were large and cunning, and seemed to wander about; his body bore marks of many scratches from thorny trees and briers; his legs displayed great strength. Niamkala, on the contrary, was tall and slender, not very dark; he had sharp, piercing eyes, and seemed to be continually looking after something. Both were first-rate elephant hunters.
Aboko, Niamkala, and I became great friends, for we were all three hunters, and loved the woods.
Our way led through some beautiful prairies, each surrounded by dark forests, and seeming like natural gardens planted in this great woody wilderness. The country was really lovely. The surface was mostly rolling prairie, with a light sandy soil. The highest hills often broke into abrupt precipices, on which we would come suddenly; and if any of us had tumbled down to the bottom, he would never have been heard of again. The woods are the safe retreat of the elephant. Great herds of buffaloes are found there; also antelopes, which go out into the great grass-fields by night to play and feed. Leopards are also abundant.
I was much pleased to be able to travel in an open space, and not always through the dark forest. The breeze fanned our faces as we went onward. Presently we saw the footprints of huge elephants and of wild buffaloes. Friend Aboko now warned us to look sharp, for we were sure to see game. Sure enough, he had hardly spoken when we saw a bull standing, deer-like, upon the edge of the wood, watching us, I suppose, and no doubt greatly puzzled to make out what kind of animals we were. He stood for some minutes, safe out of range, and then turned into the woods, evidently not liking our appearance. We ran around to intercept him; and I waited at one pass in the woods for Aboko to go clear around and drive the bull toward me.
I was waiting, when suddenly I saw something approaching me out of the deep gloom of the forest. I thought it was Aboko coming toward me, and I waited anxiously for news. I did not say a word for fear of frightening the game that might be near us. The object came nearer and nearer to me, till I thought I could recognize Aboko's dark face distinctly through the foliage. I stood with my gun resting on the ground, when suddenly I heard a shrill scream, and then what I thought to be Aboko turned and ran into the woods, showing a broad, big, hairy body. It was one of the wild men of the woods—the chimpanzee—and a big one it was, I assure you.
How glad I was to have seen this wild man of the woods. For a few minutes I felt so astonished that I did not move. His black face certainly did look very much like that of an African, so much so that, as I have already said, I took the chimpanzee to be Aboko.
By-and-by the real Aboko made his appearance. This time there was no illusion, and we had a good laugh over my mistake. I felt quite vexed that I had not shot the chimpanzee, I should have liked so much to look at the animal closely; but I felt it was almost like shooting a man.
We left the woods and started once more for the interior. We had not been long on our way when I spied a gazelle right in the middle of the prairie. How could one approach it without being seen? for the grass was short. We wanted very much to kill it, for we had not killed any thing yet; and what were we to have for our dinner and supper? No one likes to go without dinner, especially when working hard. Aboko, Niamkala, and I held a council. We lay down flat on the ground for fear of being seen, and finally it was agreed that I should go toward the gazelle with my long-range gun, and shoot it if I could. So I started. I almost crawled, now and then raising my head just to the level of the grass, to see if the animal was still there. When I thought I was near enough, I quietly lay down flat on the ground, and rested my gun on an ant-hill that looked like a mushroom. Taking careful aim at the unsuspicious animal, I fired, and down it tumbled, to my great delight. Aboko and Niamkala, who had been watching afar off, came rushing and shouting, their faces beaming with joy. The prospect of a good dinner cheered them up.
Others of the party soon joined us. The gazelle was cut up on the spot, and we continued our journey till we came to a beautiful little stream, which was too deep to be forded. A huge tree had been felled, and we crossed to the other side on it, though it was hard work. I assure you I thought once or twice I should have tumbled into the water.
At sunset we stopped, quite tired out. We made our camp in the midst of the prairie in order to have the nice grass to lie upon. It was the dry season, and we were not afraid of getting wet. The people went into the nearest forest and collected an immense quantity of firewood; not a difficult task, as so many dead limbs were lying on the ground.
We lighted a great many large fires, which blazed up fiercely, for the wind blew hard. The country around was illuminated, and the glare of our fires must have been seen a long way off. We took our dinner and supper at the same time. I roasted my own share of the gazelle myself; I put a piece of stick through the flesh, and laid the skewer across two forked sticks, which I fixed in the ground on each side of the fire. I longed for some lard to baste the roasting meat; but I was thankful for the good dinner I had, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I had a little bit of salt to eat with it, and also some nice Cayenne pepper.
My men also seemed to enjoy their meal very much, for they had meat to their heart's content; and these negroes are very gluttonous generally. It was laughable to see how lazily we lay around on the grass by our fires; some were smoking, others tried to sleep, while others told stories, but we all tried to warm ourselves, and kept continually adding fuel to the already bright fires.
The night was clear and almost frosty. The stars shone brilliantly above our heads, and it was bright moonlight. It became so windy and cold that we regretted we had not encamped by the forest, where we should have been sheltered from the wind. It was too cold to sleep; even with my blanket; and my poor men, who had no blankets, were shivering around the fires.
So at two o'clock in the morning I ordered the men to get up. A couple of hours' sharp walking brought us to a thick wood, and there we were sheltered. We quickly made up one very large fire, enough for all of us, and stretched ourselves pell-mell around it for a short nap. We were so tired that we soon fell asleep, not caring for leopards or any thing else. We were awakened by the cry of the gray partridge (Francolinus squamatus), called quani, by the natives.
I will now say a word about these partridges. Unlike our partridges, they perch on trees. When evening comes, the old cock perches himself first, and calls the flock together. They all settle near each other. In the morning, before daylight, they begin to cluck; and it was this noise that we heard. They do not sleep on the ground, like our partridges, because there are too many snakes crawling about, and too many carnivorous animals.