We discover human footprints.—We spy out the enemy.—A female gorilla.—Maternal fondness.
One morning, just at daylight, Querlaouen and I, without saying a word to Gambo and Malaouen, scaled our palisade with the ladder and went to look after the traps we had made for the monkeys, in order to see if we had caught some more.
We were going silently into the forest, and as noiselessly as we could, in the hope of seeing an antelope or wild boar, or some other kind of wild animal on our way. At last we reached the banks of a little stream, situated, as I judged, about six or seven miles from our camp, when lo! Malaouen and I saw what threw us into a great state of excitement.
Yes, there was no mistake about it; there were eight foot-prints in the mud on the banks of the creek, and these were the marks of four men who had been there. They were fresh tracks.
Who were they?
Were they warlike Bakalais of the Ashankolo country? Were they enemies or friends?
Querlaouen and I looked in each other's face without saying a word, and by instinct both of us looked most carefully at our guns, and we began to mistrust every tree around us, for some one might be hiding behind them, and getting ready to send a bearded spear through us.
We discover foot-prints.
We did not like at all the idea of people being in our hunting-ground, but we liked still less the idea that these people might be our enemies.
My pair of revolvers were in good order, and I do not know why, but I always felt very strong and reckless when I had them with the belt holding them round my waist, and that very morning I felt confident and secure.
After consultation, we concluded that we would follow the foot-prints to the point they had come from, which we did, and at last reached a spot where we saw a small canoe tied to a tree. This canoe certainly did not belong to any people we knew, and consequently must come, from some far village situated on the very head-waters of the Ovenga River, and belonged no doubt to those savage and warlike Bakalai inhabiting that wild mountainous region.
Our great object was to prevent them from following our tracks, and thus finding our camp. What was to be done?
Our foot-prints were mixed with theirs, and my shoes had left unmistakable marks of their heels and soles, and I wondered what those fellows would think in seeing them. My only hope was that they would be seized with terror, and that in those marks they might see the tokens of a mighty spirit.
Close by, entering into that creek, there was a beautiful little rivulet of clear water, whose pebbly bed suggested to me that we had better follow its course, and then make a short cut and find our way the best we could.
Another idea occurred to me that Querlaouen and I had better ascend some tree not far off, and wait and see really who these men were.
So we ascended the pebbly stream, leaving no marks behind us, and then made for the forest again, and proceeded almost to the spot where the canoe was. Not far from there were two short trees, the thick foliage of which would shelter us from any ordinary gaze, and whose heavy limbs would afford us comfortable rest. These two trees were very close together. Querlaouen ascended one, and I ascended the other by the help of the lianas and creepers which hung from their branches to the ground. Our guns were slung on our backs. We never uttered a word, but fixed ourselves as comfortably as we could, and in such manner that we could fire at our enemies if attacked. Malaouen looked at his gun. I did the same, and then petted my two revolvers, as if to say, You, boys, are the good fellows for a true fight.
We were as silent as two statues, waiting patiently for something to turn up.
At last we thought we heard voices in the far distance, which we had at first taken for the chatter of monkeys. The noise came nearer and nearer, and we finally distinguished the sound of human voices.
I got so excited that I could hardly breathe, and every beat of my heart became very distinct.
At last we saw four stalwart fellows, tattooed all over, covered with hunting and war fetiches, armed to the teeth with spears, and two of them carried Ashinga nets, with which they had been hunting on a small scale, and had with them one gazelle (a ncheri).
Suddenly coming to their canoe, they saw Querlaouen's foot-prints, which threw them into a great state of excitement, when one of them pointed to the other, my foot-prints, saying, "What are those marks? They must be the marks of a spirit!" They looked at them, and suddenly an uncontrollable panic seized the four, and they rushed for their canoe, seized their paddles, and went down the stream with the utmost precipitation, as if fire and brimstone were after them.
In the wink of an eye they were out of sight, and Querlaouen and I came down from our trees. We had not been mistaken. The fellows were Bakalai of the Ashankola country.
It was late in the day, and there was no hope of our reaching our fortified camp before dark. We moved toward it, and at sundown we collected fire-wood, lighted three tremendous piles of it, and soon had splendid fires, cooked the three plantains each of us had for our dinner, and after our meal Querlaouen and I had a grand chat.
Querlaouen is a splendid fellow. I love him dearly, and we are sworn friends. I feel that if any one should try to injure or kill him I should fight to the death for him. He is so brave, he is so kind-hearted, such a noble specimen of a savage as we seldom see! I wish I could have only been able to root out of him his belief in witchcraft and fetiches.
Querlaouen then told me his history.
"Chaillee," said he, "my father belonged to a clan which lived in the Ashankolo Mountains, and in his younger days had crossed a large river, called the Ngouyai. He was the chief of a village, and a great warrior. In the country where we lived there was nothing but fighting and fighting; village was against village, and often brother against brother; not a day passed that some one was not killed. You know our mode of warfare; we kill any one, old man, woman, or babe—we have no mercy. One night my father's village was attacked. We fought and fought, and at last repulsed the enemy, who fled in dismay. My father was killed, two sisters of mine were killed, also several other people of the village. Then we moved toward the banks of the Ovenga; we soon came down the stream, and now I have grown a man, and live where my village is. I only wish you would live all the time among us. We should take such care of you."
After fixing our fires we went to sleep, and early the next morning we made for our camp. We had hardly gone two miles into the woods, when lot I heard a kind of chuckle which told me that a gorilla was not far off.
The sound came from a densely-wooded and dark ravine, and from the very bottom of it. When we reached the place we found it to be one of those ugly bogs where you go knee-deep into the mud, walking on the roots of trees, and sometimes get stuck fast in this position.
The gorilla was right in the midst of the bog; it was a female, and at every moment we expected to see a large male standing before us, roaring like a demon, and asking us what we came to do in this dark recess of the forest, where it had made its abode with his wife, and perhaps his baby gorilla.
How carefully we looked at our guns! How watchful our eyes were! We were not to be easily surprised. The bog was like one of the worst kind we have in America in the overflowed and woody land of the Western country; only here we have creepers, thorny bushes, and hanging lianas, and grass that cuts like a razor.
We entered the swamp, and went nearer and nearer the sound we had heard first, and came to a dry spot, when lo! we spied a female gorilla and her young baby. The baby was very small, a very dear little baby it was to its mother, for she appeared with her extremely black face, to look at it with great fondness. I was disarmed; I could not possibly fire. I seemed spell-bound, and could not raise my gun to fire. Yes, there was something too human in that female and her offspring; it hung by her breast, but, unlike our babies, who have to be entirely supported, its little hands clutched its mother's shoulders and helped it to support itself. The little fellow gave a shrill and plaintive cry, and crawled from its mother's arms to her breast to be fed, and the mother lowered her head and looked at her offspring, and with his little fingers he pressed and pressed her breast, so that the milk could come more freely.
On a sudden the mother gave a tremendous cry, and before I knew it she had disappeared through the forest.
I would not have missed this scene for a great deal, and I wish that you had all been with me to see it, for I know that perhaps such scenes may never be seen again by a civilized man; I knew that it had never been seen before. The gorilla will one day disappear. A day will come when he who writes these pages will have been long dead and forgotten, but perhaps the record of what he has seen may, like the record of Hanno, fall into the hands of some one, and it will be read like a strange tale.
I have brought away, altogether, thirty-one gorilla skins and skeletons; I have captured more than a dozen live gorillas, young ones, of course, and, altogether, I must have seen at different times during my twelve years' explorations more than three hundred of them.