Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

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One fine day I remained in the camp, for I had been hunting so much that I wanted a day of rest. All the others had gone to hunt. I was left alone, and I enjoyed the solitude, every thing around me was so beautiful and quiet. Nature seemed to smile on all sides. I placed myself at the foot of a large tree, and wrote in my journals; and then I thought of the dear friends I had at home, and wondered if they sometimes thought of me. Then I called to mind all I had seen in the wonderful country which I had explored. I could hardly believe it myself; it seemed like a dream. What extraordinary people and what curious beasts had I not met! How many wonderful dangers I had escaped! How kind God had been in protecting me! How He had watched over the poor lonely traveler, and taken care of him during sickness! Thus my heart went up in gratitude, and I silently implored that the protection of God might still be granted me.

Toward sunset Aboko and Niamkala made their appearance, and brought a fine young boar with them. As usual, without saying a word, they came right to me, and put the dead animal at my feet Then, seating themselves and clapping their hands, Aboko began to tell me what had happened from the time they started in the morning until the time they returned. They forgot nothing, even mentioning the tracks of the animals they had seen. They reported they had found fresh elephant tracks, and thought the elephants had made their headquarters there for a few days. After hearing this, we immediately resolved that we would all turn out after elephants on the following day.

Accordingly, in the evening, we cleaned and prepared our guns, and every body went to sleep early.

The next morning we started about daybreak, each of us carrying some provisions. We were to fire no guns in the forest for fear of frightening the elephants, who are very shy in this region. We had taken pains to load our guns in the most careful manner.

We hunted all day, but in vain; no elephants were to be seen. We slept out in the woods, for we were too far from the camp to return. We felt so tired that we had only sufficient strength left to enable us to fetch fire-wood, and to cut a few branches of trees, and lie down upon them. I had lost or forgotten the matches, so I had to light the fire with a piece of steel and a gun-flint This took a little longer.

Very soundly we all slept, as you may easily suppose. When I awoke in the midst of the night our fires were almost out; at least they did not blaze up enough to frighten the wild beasts. Aboko, Niamkala, and Fasiko were snoring tremendously. One was lying flat on his back, the other had his legs up, while Fasiko had his arm extended at full length. By the side of each was his gun, which touched him in some way, so that it could not be taken without awaking him. I believe it was their snoring that had roused me. They were so tired, and seemed to sleep so soundly, that I did not want to wake them, so I went and added fuel to the fire, which soon began to blaze up again.

The next day found us again exploring the woods in every direction. Elephants certainly were not plentiful; besides, they traveled much in search of their favorite food—a kind of fern, which was not very abundant. Again I got very tired; but at last, in the afternoon, we came across our quarry.

Emerging from a thick part of the forest into a prairie which bordered it, we saw to our left, just upon the edge of the wood, a solitary bull elephant. There we stood still. I wonder what he was thinking about! I had seen the great beast in menageries, and also among the Fans, and I have described to you an elephant hunt in their country, but then there was great confusion.

Here the huge animal stood quietly by a tree, innocent of our presence; and now, for the first time in my life, I was struck with the vast size of this giant of the forests. Large trees seemed like small saplings when compared with the bulk of this immense beast which was standing placidly near them.

What were we to do but to kill him? Though I felt a sense of pity at trying to destroy so noble an animal, yet I was very anxious to get the first shot myself; for it was a "rogue elephant"—that is, an elephant unattached. It was an old one, as we could see by the great size of its tusks. I remembered that rogue elephants are said to be very ferocious. So much the better, I thought. I had killed a good deal of game, and I had ceased to be afraid of any of them, though I felt that hunting was no child's play.

You must not think that we were standing up all this time in sight of the elephant As soon as we had seen him, we lay down and hid ourselves in the forest in such a manner as not to lose sight of him. Then we held a grand council, and talked over what must be done to bag the beast.

The grass was burnt in every direction to the leeward of him, and we dared not risk approaching him from the windward for fear he should smell us. What was to be done? The eyes of my men were fixed upon me with a keenly inquisitive look. They expected me to tell them what I thought best to do about the matter.

I looked at the country, and saw that the grass was very short; and, after taking account of all the chances of approach, I was compelled to admit that I could not manage to get near the beast myself with any certainty. I could not crawl on the ground; my clothes were sure to be seen by the elephant; therefore, as a sensible hunter, I was reluctantly compelled to resign in favor of Aboko, who, I thought, was the best man for the difficult undertaking. His eyes glistened with pleasure as be thought that now he could show his skill. Besides, among hunters there is something pleasant and exciting in knowing that you are about to rush into danger.

After cocking his musket, Aboko dropped down in the short grass, and began to creep up to the elephant slowly on his belly. The rest of us remained where we had held our council, and watched Aboko as he glided through the grass for all the world like a huge boa constrictor; for, from the slight glimpses we caught, his back, as he moved farther and farther away from us, resembled nothing so much as the folds of a great serpent winding his way along. Finally we could no longer distinguish any motion. Then all was silence. I could hear the beating of my heart distinctly, I was so excited.

The elephant was standing still, when suddenly the sharp report of a gun rang through the woods and over the plain, and elicited screams of surprise from sundry scared monkeys who were on the branches of a tree close by us. I saw the huge beast helplessly tottering, till he finally threw up his trunk, and fell in a dead mass at the foot of a tree. Then the black body of Aboko rose: the snake-like creature had become a man again. A wild hurrah of joy escaped from us; I waved my old hat, and threw it into the air, and we all made a run for the elephant When we arrived, there stood Aboko by the side of the huge beast, calm as if nothing had happened, except that his body was shining with sweat. He did not say a word, but looked at me, and then at the beast, and then at me again, as if to say, "You see, Chaillu, you did right to send me. Have I not killed the elephant?"

The men began to shout with excitement at such a good shot. "Aboko is a man," said they, as we looked again at the beast, whose flesh was still quivering with the death-agony. Aboko's bullet had entered his head a little below the ear, and, striking the brain, was at once fatal.

Aboko began to make fetich marks on the ground around the body. After this was done, we took an axe, which Fasiko had carried with him, and broke the skull, in order to get out the two tusks, and very large tusks they were.

Of course we could not carry off the elephant, so Aboko and I slept that night near our prize on the grass and under the tree. Niamkala and Fasiko had started for the camp to tell the men the news, and the next morning all the men hurried out. While quietly resting under the shade of a tree close to the elephant, I spied them coming. As soon as they recognized us they shouted, and, when near enough, they made a spring at Aboko and then at the elephant. All the cutlasses, all the axes and knives that were in the camp, had been sharpened and brought out. Then the cutting up of the elephant took place. He was not very fat. What a huge beast he was! What a huge liver be had! What an enormous heart, too!

The trunk, being considered a choice morsel, was out into small pieces. The meat was to be smoked immediately, and then carried to Sangatanga, to be sold and given away. Great bargains were looming before the men's eyes; they were all to get rich by selling the elephant's meat.

I never saw men more happy than these poor fellows were. The negroes believe in eating. Mine ate nothing but meat, and they ate such quantities of it that several of them got sick, and I was obliged to give them laudanum in brandy to cure them. They almost finished my little stock of brandy.

The camp was full of meat, and as we had no salt, the odor that came from it was not particularly agreeable Indeed, I had to have a separate shanty built on one side, and to the windward of the camp. I could not stand the stench.

At night the negroes lay around the fires, the jolliest of mortals, drinking palm wine, which they made regularly from the neighboring palm-trees, and smoking tobacco when I was generous enough to give them some. In fact, they were as honest a set of negroes as I had met with any where—really good fellows.

As time passed on, you must not think that I did nothing but kill animals. I rambled through the forest, and studied every thing I saw. Sometimes, when too far sway from the camp, and after a day of hard hunting, I slept soundly under a tree by the side of a big fire, with my gun by my side. I thought I would go hunting one day for wild animals; on another, for birds; and, when too tired to travel, I would remain in the camp, sleeping sweetly on my primitive couch, which consisted of a couple of mats spread on the bare and soft earth, with a thick blanket for cover, the foliage of a tree, and the blue starlit sky being my canopy and roof. I had given up sleeping upon bare sticks, finding it too hard.

As fresh boar-tracks had been seen near the camp, I could not resist the temptation of having another hunt after that savage beast. However tired I might be, I could hardly keep still whenever news came that game was near us. I was always in the hope of finding some new animal, or something curious to stuff and bring home, to show what I had done.

We had not gone far when we heard, to the right of us, the grunting of some wild boars. As they are very wild, we jumped hastily behind a fallen tree to hide ourselves. In our haste to do this, I heedlessly stepped upon something in my path, and, looking down, found I was running upon an immense serpent—a huge python, which lay snugly coiled up beside the tree. Happily he was in a state of stupefaction, consequent, probably, on having eaten too heavy a dinner. He scarcely moved, and did not raise his head. I ran to Niamkala, and borrowed a kind of heavy cutlass which he carried with him, and with a blow of this I cut the python in two pieces, which instantly began to squirm about in a very snaky and horrible way. During his death-struggle the monster disgorged the body of a young gazelle, which was in a half-digested condition. This python was not quite twenty feet long—a pretty good-sized one, you may judge.

The noise we made in killing the snake of course frightened the wild pigs. We pursued them, and succeeded, by good management, and after a hard chase of an hour, in coming up with the herd. They were ten in number, and we managed to bag two. They were not very large. Besides these pigs, my hunters carried the two halves of the serpent to the camp We were received there with demonstrations of joy. They made a kind of soup with the boa, and seemed to relish it very much. I did not taste it, and can therefore say nothing against it.

I never saw a country like this for game. There was so much prairie land that it reminded me of Southern Africa. The contrast with the great forest, where I had traveled for days without seeing any thing, was very great.

For a few days I remained quiet in the camp. The men had in the mean time been hunting and exploring in various directions. As they reported that great herds of buffalo frequented every night a prairie situated about ten miles from our camp, I determined to have a hunt for them. I was very fond of buffaloes, at least of their meat.

We set out, and left our camp just before sunset. Our route was through the midst of prairie land, and by eight o'clock in the evening we reached the forest beyond. There we hoped to find our game, and, securing for ourselves safe hiding-places in the woods on the edge of the plain, we lay down and waited.

Now waiting is generally tedious, but waiting in a cold night, from eight to two o'clock, every moment expecting that which does not come, is apt to try one's patience severely. Mine was entirely gone, and I wished myself comfortably under my blanket in camp, when suddenly the buffaloes came. Aboko heard them coming, and presently a herd of about twenty-five animals emerged from the wood; and scattered quietly about the grassy plain.

The moon was going down, and we could see from our hiding-places the long shadows of the buffaloes silently gliding one way or another, but never near enough to us for a shot. Soon they felt quite at ease, and began feeding, ever and anon gamboling sportively with one another. Seeing them engaged, we crawled toward them slowly and with great care. We had almost got within safe range, when a sudden change of wind discovered us to them. They snuffed up the air suspiciously, and, instantly gathering together, they disappeared in the woods.

There was ill luck! My hunters cursed in Shekiani, and I grumbled in several languages. But there was still hope. Silently we crawled back to our lair, and waited patiently for two mortal hours; when at last two—a bull and a cow—stalked leisurely into the fields and began to crop the grass. It was now dark The moon had gone down, leaving us only the uncertain light of the stars. We watched the motion of the buffaloes until we thought we could venture, and then silently crawled toward them again. This time we got within range. I chose the bull for my shot, and Niamkala took the cow, while Aboko was ready to second me with his gun in case I should not kill my animal. We fired both at once, and by good luck, for the light was not enough to afford a chance for a fair shot; both the animals fell down dead.

Daylight soon appeared, and we resolved to return to the camp and send men to bring in the meat, thinking that no wild beasts would trouble our prizes at such unseasonable hours. Aboko and Niamkala first cut off the bushy tails of black glossy hair, and then we made for the camp, where they showed to our companions these trophies of our chase. The men made haste, and reached the place early, but not before the cow was half eaten by a hungry leopard. The poor leopard who ventured out so early in the morning must have been nearly famished. I did not grudge him his meal, though I should have liked to watch for him and shoot him, had I thought of his coming, for I had plenty of friends to whom I could have given his skin on my return.

A few days afterward we broke up our camp, and loaded ourselves with the birds and beasts I had killed and prepared, and also with the meat which my men had smoked; and all the time they were boasting of how much tobacco and other dainties they would get for this, They seemed very jolly, though groaning under their burdens; and I was pleased to see them so happy. The specimens of the Bos brachicheros  were an inconvenient load, and I was obliged to be very careful with them.

When I reached Sangatanga, I found that the king was in worse health than he was when I had left. He was alarmed, fearing he would die, He remarked that it was singular he had been taken worse immediately after my departure; and that, in fact, he grew sick on the very night when I slept in his house.