ADVENTURES BY THE WAY.
We journeyed slowly on down the stream. Interesting things happened to us. The impressions of that journey are of two sorts: the little isolated details and the general background of our day's routine, with the gray dawn, the great heats of the day, the blessed evening and its fireflies; the thundering of heaven's artillery, and the downpour of torrents; the hot, high, crackling thorn scrub into which we made excursions; the swift-flowing river with its palms and jungles; outleaning palms trailing their fronds just within the snatch of the flood waters; wide flats in the embrace of the river bends, or extending into the low hills, grown thick with lush green and threaded with rhinoceros paths; the huge sheer cliff mountains over the way; distant single hills far down. The mild discomfort of the start before daylight clearly revealed the thorns and stumbling blocks; the buoyant cheerfulness of the first part of the day, with the grouse rocketing straight up out of the elephant grass, the birds singing everywhere, and the beasts of the jungle still a-graze at the edges; the growing weight of the sun, as though a great pressing hand were laid upon the shoulders; the suffocating, gasping heat of afternoon, and the; gathering piling black and white clouds; the cool evening in pyjamas with the fireflies flickering; among the bushes, the river singing, and little; breezes wandering like pattering raindrops in the dry palm leaves--all these, by repetition of main elements, blend in my memory to form a single image. To be sure each day the rock pinnacles over the way changed slightly their compass bearings, and little variations of contour lent variety to the procession of days. But in essentials they were of one kin.
But here and there certain individual scenes and incidents stand out clearly and alone. Without reference to my notebook I could not tell you their chronological order, nor the days of their happening. They occurred, without correlation.
Thus one afternoon at the loafing hour, when F. was sound asleep under his mosquito bar, and I in my canvas chair was trying to catch the breeze from an approaching deluge, to me came a total stranger in a large turban. He was without arms or baggage of any sort, an alien in a strange and savage country.
"Jambo, bwana m'kubwa (greeting, great master)!" said he.
"Jambo," said I, as though his existence were not in the least surprising, and went on reading. This showed him that I was indeed a great master.
After a suitable interval I looked up.
"Wataka neenee (what do you want)?" I demanded.
"Nataka sema qua heri (I want to say good-bye)," said this astonishing individual.
I had, until that moment, been quite unaware of his existence. As he had therefore not yet said "How do you do," I failed to fathom his reasons for wanting to say "good-bye." However, far be it from me to deny any one innocent pleasure, so I gravely bade him good-bye, and he disappeared into the howling wilderness whence he had come.
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One afternoon we came upon two lemurs seated gravely side by side on a horizontal limb ten feet up a thorn tree. They contemplated us with the preternatural gravity of very young children, and without the slightest sign of fear. We coveted them as pets for Billy, but soon discovered that their apparent tameness was grounded on good, solid common sense. The thorns of that thorn tree! We left them sitting upright, side by side.
A little farther on, and up a dry earthy hillside, a medium-sized beast leapt from an eroded place fairly under my feet and made off with a singularly familiar kiyi. It was a strange-looking animal, apparently brick red in colour. When I had collected myself I saw it was a wild dog. It had been asleep in a warm hollow of red clay, and had not awakened until I was fairly upon it. We had heard these beasts nearly every night, but this was the first we had seen. Some days later we came upon the entire pack drinking at the river. They leapt suddenly across our front eighty yards away, their heads all turned towards us truculently, barking at us like so many watch dogs. They made off, but not as though particularly alarmed.
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One afternoon I had wounded a good wart-hog across the river, and had gone downstream to find a dry way over. F., more enthusiastic, had plunged in and promptly attacked the wart-hog. He was armed with the English service revolver shooting the.455 Ely cartridge. It is a very short, stubby bit of ammunition. I had often cast doubt on its driving power as compared to the.45 Colt, for example. F., as a loyal Englishman, had, of course, defended his army's weapon. When I reached the centre of disturbance I found that F. had emptied his revolver three times--eighteen shots--into the head and forequarters of that wart-hog without much effect. Incidentally the wart-hog had given him a good lively time, charging again and again. The weapon has not nearly the shock power of even our.38 service--a cartridge classified as too light for serious business.
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One afternoon I gave my shotgun to one of the porters to carry afield, remarking facetiously to all and sundry that he looked like a gunbearer. After twenty minutes we ran across a rhinoceros. I spent some time trying to manoeuvre into position for a photograph of the beast. However, the attempt failed. We managed to dodge his rush. Then, after the excitement had died, we discovered the porter and the shotgun up a tree. He descended rather shamefaced. Nobody said anything about it. A half-hour later we came upon another rhinoceros. The beast was visible at some distance, and downhill. Nevertheless the porter moved a little nearer a tree. This was too much for Memba Sasa. All the rest of the afternoon he "ragged" that porter in much the same terms we would have employed in the same circumstances.
"That place ahead," said he, "looks like a good place for rhinoceros. Perhaps you'd better climb a tree."
"There is a dikdik; a bush is big enough to climb for him."
"Are you afraid of jackals, too?"
* * * * * * *
The fireflies were our regular evening companions. We caught one or two of them for the pleasure of watching them alternately igniting and extinguishing their little lamps. Even when we put them in a bottle they still kept up their performance bravely.
But besides them we had an immense variety of evening visitors. Beetles of the most inconceivable shapes and colours, all sorts of moths, and numberless strange things--leaf insects, walking-stick insects (exactly like dry twigs), and the fierce, tall, praying mantis with their mock air of meekness and devotion. Let one of the other insects stray within reach and their piety was quickly enough abandoned! One beetle about three-eighths of an inch across was oblong in shape and of pure glittering gold. His wing covers, on the other hand, were round and transparent. The effect was of a jewel under a tiny glass case. Other beetles were of red dotted with black, or of black dotted with red; they sported stripes, or circles of plain colours; they wore long, slender antennae, or short knobby horns; they carried rapiers or pinchers, long legs or short. In fact they ran the gamut of grace and horror, so that an inebriate would find here a great rest for the imagination.
After we had gone to bed we noticed more pleasantly our cricket. He piped up, you may remember, the night of the first great storm. That evening he took up his abode in some fold or seam of our tent, and there stayed throughout all the rest of the journey. Every evening he tuned up cheerfully, and we dropped to sleep to the sound of his homelike piping. We grew very fond of him, as one does of everything in this wild and changing country that can represent a stable point of habitude.
Nor must I forget one evening when all of a sudden out of the darkness came a tremendous hollow booming, like the beating of war drums or the bellowing of some strange great beast. At length we identified the performer as an unfamiliar kind of frog!
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