A white gorilla.—Meeting two gorillas.—The female runs away.—The man gorilla shows fight.—He is killed.—His immense hands and feet.—Strange story of a leopard and a turtle.
Some time has elapsed since that strange night-scene I have described to you in the preceding chapter. We had gone, as you are aware, into the woods hunting for wild game. All I can say is, that I wish some of you had been with us. We had a glorious time! lots of fun, and cleared that part of the forest of the few wild beasts that were in it: one elephant, one gorilla, three antelopes, two wild boars were killed, besides smaller game, and some queer-looking birds. Once or twice we had pretty narrow escapes.
I wish you had been with us to enjoy the thunder and lightning. It would have given you an idea of the noise the thunder can make, and the brightness a flash of lightning can attain; how heavy the rain can fall; and a tornado would have shown you how strong the wind can blow. For the thunder we hear and the rains that fall at home can not give us any conception of what takes place in the mountainous and woody regions of Equatorial Africa. After all, there is some enjoyment in being "lost in the jungle" in the country in which I have taken you to travel with me.
Once more I am in sight of the Ovenga. For some time the people inhabiting the banks of that river had whispered among themselves that a white gorilla had been seen. At first the story of a white gorilla was believed in by only a few, but at last the white gorilla's appearance was the talk of every body. Gambo, Querlaouen, and Malaouen were firm believers in it.
Both men and women would come back to their villages and assure the people that they had had a glimpse of the creature. He looked so old he could hardly walk. His hair was perfectly white, and he was terribly wrinkled. He must have lived forever in the forest, and was, no doubt, the great-grandfather of hundreds of gorillas. His wife must have died long ago. He was a monster in size. Then old men said they remembered, when they were boys, that a man disappeared from the village; perhaps he had been caught by that very gorilla.
"How is it," said I to the people, "that I have never seen a white gorilla?" They would answer, "There are white-headed men, so there are white-haired gorillas. A white gorilla is not often to be seen, for when he becomes so old that he turns white, he lives quite alone, and in a part of the forest where people can not go, for the jungle is too thick there. He seems to be too knowing, and keeps out of the way of the hunting-path." "Of course," they would add, "its skin remains black."
Day after day we went through the forest to see if we could get a glimpse of the white gorilla. We had been a whole week in quest of the white gorilla, never camping twice in the same spot; often Malaouen and Querlaouen declared that they would go and hunt alone, while Gambo and I, with a boy we had with us, should choose our own course, always appointing a certain place near a hunting-path where we could all meet at sunset.
On the last day of the week, we had been on the hunt for several hours, when we came upon tolerably fresh tracks of a gorilla; judging by the immense footprints he had left on the ground, he must be a monster—a tremendous big fellow. Was he a white gorilla or not? These tracks we followed cautiously, and at last, in a densely-wooded and quite dark ravine, we came suddenly upon two gorillas, a male and a female. The old man gorilla was by the side of his wife, fondly regarding her. They had no baby. How dark and horrid their intensely black faces appeared! I watched them for a few minutes, for, thanks to the dense jungle in which we were concealed, I was not perceived at once. But, on a sudden, the female uttered a cry of alarm, and ran off before we could get a shot at her, being lost to sight in a moment. We were not in a hurry to fire at her. Of course the male must be killed first; it is ten times safer to get him out of the way.
The male had no idea of running off. As soon as the female disappeared, he gazed all round with his savage-looking eyes. He then rose slowly from his haunches, and at once faced us, uttering a roar of rage at our evidently untimely intrusion, coming as we had to disturb him and frighten his wife, when they were quietly seated side by side. Gambo and I were accompanied by the boy, who carried our provisions and an extra gun, a double-barrel smooth bore. The boy fell to the rear of us, and we stood side by side and awaited the advance of the hideous monster. In the dim half-light of the ravine, his features working with rage; his gloomy, treacherous, mischievous gray eyes; his rapidly-agitated and frightful, satyr-like face, had a horrid look, enough to make one fancy him really a spirit of the damned, a very devil. How his hair moved up and down on the top of his head.
He advanced upon us by starts, as it is their fashion—as I have told you in my other books—pausing to beat his fists upon his vast breast, which gave out a dull, hollow sound, like some great base-drum with a skin of ox-hide. Then, showing his enormous teeth at the same time, he made the forest ring with his short, tremendous, powerful bark, which he followed by a roar, the refrain of which is singularly like the loud muttering of thunder. The earth really shook under our feet—the noise was frightful. I have heard lions' roars, but certainly the lion's roar can not be compared with that of the gorilla.
We stood our ground for at least three long minutes—at least it seemed so to me—the guns in our hands, before the great beast was near enough for a safe shot. During this time I could not help thinking that I had heard that a man had been killed only a few days before; and, as I looked at the gorilla in front of me, I thought that if I missed the beast, I would be killed also. So I said to myself, "Be careful, friend Paul, for if you miss the fellow, he won't miss you." I realized the horror of a poor fellow when, with empty gun, he stands before his remorseless enemy, who, not with a sudden spring like the leopard, but with a slow, vindictive look, comes to put him to death.
At last he stood before us at a distance of six yards. Once more he paused, and Gambo and I raised our guns as he again began to roar and beat his chest, and just as he took another step forward, we fired, and down he tumbled, almost at our feet, upon his face—dead. But he was not the white gorilla.
How glad I was. I saw at once that we had killed the very animal I wanted. His height was five feet nine inches, measured to the tip of the toes. His arms spread nine feet. His chest had a circumference of sixty-two inches. His arms were of most prodigious muscular strength. His hands, those terrible, claw-like weapons, almost like a man's, having the same shaped nails, and with one blow of which he can tear out the bowels of a man and break his ribs or arms, were of immense size. I could understand how terrible a blow could be struck with such a hand, moved by such an arm, all swollen into great bunches of muscular fibres.
When I took hold of his hands, I shall not say in mine, for his were so large that my hands looked like those of a baby by the side of his. How cold his hands were, how callous, how thick and black the nails, as black as his face and skin. What a huge foot he possessed! Where is the giant that could show such prodigious feet?
We disemboweled the monster on the spot. Malaouen and Querlaouen, who had heard our guns, joined us, and we built a camp close by. My three fellows were very fond of gorilla's meat, and they had a great treat. The brain was carefully saved by them.
In the evening Gambo told us some stories, one of which, the last one, I will relate to you. It relates to the leopard, and goes to prove that this ferocious animal has no friend.
Coniambiť was a king, who made an orambo (a trap) in which a ncheri (gazelle) was caught. After it had been caught, it cried and called for its companion; then a ngivo (another gazelle) was caught. The ngivo cried, and a wild boar came and was caught; then an antelope came, and was caught; afterward a bongo and a buffalo came, and all were caught, and all of them died in the trap. At that time Coniambiť was in the mountains. A leopard was caught also, but did not die. Then came a turtle, who released the leopard from the trap. Then the leopard wanted to kill the turtle which had saved him. The leopard got hold of the turtle to kill it, but the turtle, seeing this, drew her head, legs, and tail inside her shell, but not before she had managed to get into the hollow of an old tree, with the leopard after her in the hollow, and he could not get away. The tree is called ogana, and bears a berry on which monkeys are fond of feeding. So there came to the tree at this time, for the purpose of feeding, a miengai, or white-mustached monkey; a ndova, the white-nosed monkey; a nkago, the red-headed monkey; an oganagana, a blackish monkey; a mondi, which has very long black hair; a nchegai and a pondi, who all came to eat the berries. When the leopard heard the noise of the monkeys, he shouted, "Monkeys, come and release me!" Then they came and helped the leopard out of the hole. But the leopard, instead of being grateful, fought with the monkeys, and ate the nkago and the ndova. Then the monkey called a mpondi said, "Mai! mai! That is so; that is so! You leopards are noted rogues. The leopard and the goat do not live together at the same place. We came to help you, and, as soon as you were helped, you began to kill us. Mai! Mai! you are a rogue."
The reason why the leopard wanders solitary and alone is on account of his roguery; he is not to be trusted There are men who can not be trusted any more that the leopard.
We shouted with one voice, "That is so; there are men who can not be any more trusted than the leopard, for they are so treacherous and deceitful."
Then we canvassed the bad qualities of the leopard, and concluded that he had not a single friend in the forest.
After this story was concluded we gave another look to our fires, and then went to sleep. This was the way, Young Folks, we spent many of our evenings when we were not too tired traveling in the great forest.