A Beautiful Antelope
We are in a canoe.—Outfit for hunting.—See a beautiful antelope.—Kill it.—It is a new species.—River and forest swallows.
We are now ascending the River Rembo Ovenga. We are in a little canoe, that can be easily hidden in the jungle, and as we ascend the river we meet strange sights, and I can assure you we enjoy our journey. It is true that it is hot, but we can not help it. In the bow of the canoe is a little stick, to which is attached a nice little flag showing the Stars and Stripes. Querlaouen is at the stern, and using his paddle as a rudder; Malaouen is at the head, where he keeps a sharp look-out for wild beasts. I need not say that his gun is close at hand.
Gambo and I have our paddles, and we dip them gently—so gently that, if you had been on the banks of the river at night, you could not have heard us. Near the prow is a smooth-bore gun, loaded with shot, in case we should see some big crane or wild ducks. By my side lies a double-barreled breech-loader, loaded with very large steel-pointed bullets, in case of need, for elephants, crocodiles, leopards, wild buffaloes, and gorillas; or, should we be attacked by the savages inhabiting the country, they were to be used against them. By the side of that gun was a heavy war-axe. Malaouen had his gun by him; Gambo likewise. Our formidable double-barreled breech-loader, with steel-pointed bullets, would smash, I was sure, an elephant's ribs, if the opportunity occurred. We had an extra gun, in case one should get out of order. We had also two cutlasses. We thought we would dispense with a cooking-pot, for all our food was to be roasted on charcoal—that is to say, if we were able to kill any game. In a little box made of tin I had matches, a few flints, and a fire-steel, which were to be used in case the matches should become worthless.
I had also a lancet, a little bottle of ammonia to be used in the event of either of us being bitten by a scorpion or some venomous serpent, some medicine, and a bottle of quinine.
For food we had a few plantains and dried cassada. Then we expected to find berries, nuts, and fruits, and wild honey. Of course our imagination ran wild. The idea of Gambo was that the forest would be full of wild game; antelopes were to be plentiful, and also wild boars.
Our outfit was of the light order. Gambo, Malaouen, and Querlaouen wore next to nothing, and they had no change of clothes but a wild-cat skin. They could take it easy in the matter of clothing—shirts, neckties, pantaloons, waistcoats, and coats were superfluities which they can dispense with.
My outfit was composed of the clothes I wore, and in my hunting-bag I had an extra pair of thick shoes, in case those I wore should give out, and a second pair of pantaloons.
Each of us had a flask full of powder, with a goodly number of bullets, and some small shot.
At last we came to the spot where we wanted to land, and then hauled our canoe into the jungle, hiding it where we thought no one could see it. Afterward we advanced a little into the forest, and then made our camp for the night. As usual, we made large, blazing fires, and, after they had been fairly started, we laid down on the green branches of the trees we had cut, and before I knew it my men were fast asleep. The deep snore of Gambo told me that he was unconscious of what was going on around; he was soon followed by Querlaouen and Malaouen, and they snorted a trio which would have well frightened any wild beast which might come lurking round us. Each of these men held their guns closely in their arms.
I rose and looked at these three brave and daring savages, who now slumbered perfectly unconscious and helpless. I looked at them with a feeling of love, and thought that soon, like themselves, I would fall asleep, and be as unconscious of all that was round me. I thought of the wild country I was in, of the wild beasts by which I was surrounded, and I began to feel so little and so weak, I seated myself and prayed to the great God, he who had created the white man, and the black man, and all species of men, and the wild beasts of the forest, to keep me as he had done before.
Continuing our wanderings in the forest, the next morning I came alone to a beautiful little stream, and just as I was in the act of stooping to drink some of its water, which was as clear as crystal, I suddenly heard a slight noise not far off, which I believed must be made by antelopes or gazelles. Looking carefully at my gun, I made for that part of the forest from whence came the sounds, trying to be as nimble and as noiseless as I could. I had not proceeded far when my eyes opened wide open, and I became terribly excited, for I saw an animal I had never seen before—an antelope. It was the most lovely and beautiful creature of the forest I had ever seen. I stopped. It seemed to me that I had not eyes big enough to admire it. Oh, I thought, it is too beautiful to be fired at and killed. How brilliant was his colors! The body was of a bright yellow, as bright as an orange; then from its back came fourteen beautiful stripes, as white as snow; a chestnut patch between the horns and the eyes, below which was a white crescent, having in the middle a dark brown stripe. That beautiful creature was quietly resting on the trunk of a dead tree, while beyond, among the trees, were several others which I could not see so well.
I was so excited I could not breathe, for of all the lovely beasts I had seen in the forest, this one was the most lovely; none could have compared with it in beauty. The skin of the leopard was nothing to it.
I raised my gun almost in sorrow, but I felt that I must kill the beast, in order to bring his skin home; for I knew it was an animal that had never been seen before.
Just as I raised my gun, the beautiful creature rose up from the tree on which it had slept, as if to show me its beautiful form, and how graceful were its motions, before the fatal shot should put an end to its life. I wish you could have seen this antelope when alive, surrounded by the green of the forest, which contrasted singularly with its bright color, and made the animal appear as if it had come from an enchanted land, where the sun had given to its hair and skin its own golden color, as it sometimes gives it to the clouds when it is on the point of disappear.
I put my finger on the trigger and fired; down came that beautiful creature from the tree, falling on its back, showing a stomach as white as milk. The others decamped without my being able to fire at them, on account of the fallen tree.
As I came near to look at my great prize, I felt that I would like to put my arm round the nice neck of the animal, whose short groans betokened it was in the agonies of death, for I felt so sorry, and I wished I could see it alive again. Then the blood poured from its mouth, and stained the ground on which it lay gasping for breath, which it could not get. After a few struggles all became silent; the poor antelope was dead, killed by the ruthless hand of man.
I looked at it and looked at it, for I could not tire looking at such a beautiful beast.
The men came, and we cut a heavy branch of a tree, to which we fastened it, and brought the poor dead antelope to the camp. When I brought the stuffed animal to a village, the people at once shouted with transports of the wildest astonishment, "Bongo! bongo!" for such was the native name given to this antelope.
I need not say how careful I was in preparing its skin, which to me was precious, and I brought the stuffed specimen back to New York in the year 1859, and in 1860 it could have been seen among the large collection I had brought here.
The collection has left the country.
Since the day I had killed the bongo we had built another camp near another beautiful stream—the forest was full of them—and not far from two or three abandoned plantations. Often I would go all alone and watch the birds. I loved especially to look at the swallows One which I discovered was a beautiful species. It is all black, but with a bluish tinge. When the weather was clear, and there was no prospect of an approaching storm, they flew high in the air; but if the weather was threatening, they would almost touch the bushes. When they fly high in the air, the insects on which they feed, I suppose, are there; but when a storm is coming the insects no doubt know it, and come down to seek refuge from the rain under the leaves or blades of grass. These are the reasons by which I account for the swallows flying high in fine weather, and low when a storm is coming.
How quickly these little black swallows did fly! None of them had ever seen our northern clime. They were birds of the equatorial regions of Africa. The woods are their home, and the open spots where plantations or villages are built, and where the rivers flow, are the places where they love to fly in search of their food.
There was another beautiful swallow, a river swallow, black in color, with a solitary white spot, which looked like silver, on its throat. What a beautiful little bird it is! Its days were spent flying over die river. It would take a flight, and then rest on the branches or stumps of some dead trees which were imbedded in the stream, but the branches of which were just above the water.
I could not help feeling sorry when killing these little birds, and, after I thought I had killed enough of them to enrich the museums, nothing would have tempted me to kill another.
This lovely and dear little swallow has never seen the countries where the polar star is visible; the silence of the forest is its delight, and its pleasure is to skim over the waters of rivers which come from unexplored and unpenetrated mountains, where the name of the white man has never been heard.
How I loved to look at these little birds, for I do love swallows!
Little wanderers they are. At home they are the heralds of spring. If they could speak, how many touching stories they would have to tell us of their wonderful escapes, and of their trials and dangers; what hardships they have to encounter when they migrate and travel over distant lands, when they cross over seas and over mountains; how many of them fall bravely before reaching the land they want to reach; what stormy and tempestuous weather they often meet in their journey, and how happy they must feel when they have come to the land of their migration.