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Chapter 37

THE SOUTHERN GUASO NYERO.

The Southern Guaso Nyero, unlike its northern namesake, is a sluggish, muddy stream, rather small, flowing between abrupt clay banks. Farther down it drops into great caņons and eroded abysses, and acquires a certain grandeur. But here, at the ford of Agate's Drift, it is decidedly unimpressive. Scant greenery ornaments its banks. In fact, at most places they run hard and baked to a sheer drop-off of ten or fifteen feet. Scattered mimosa trees and aloes mark its course. The earth for a mile or so is trampled by thousands of Masai cattle that at certain seasons pass through the funnel of this, the only ford for miles. Apparently insignificant, it is given to sudden, tremendous rises. These originate in the rainfalls of the upper Mau Escarpment, many miles away. It behooves the safari to cross promptly if it can, and to camp always on the farther bank.

This we did, pitching our tents in a little opening, between clumps of pretty flowering aloes and the mimosas. Here, as everywhere in this country, until we had passed the barrier of the Narossara mountains, the common horseflies were a plague. They follow the Masai cattle. I can give you no better idea of their numbers than to tell you two isolated facts: I killed twenty-one at one blow; and in the morning, before sunrise, the apex of our tent held a solid black mass of the creatures running the length of the ridge pole, and from half an inch to two inches deep! Every pack was black with them on the march, and the wagon carried its millions. When the shadow of a branch would cross that slowly lumbering vehicle, the swarm would rise and bumble around distractedly for a moment before settling down again. They fairly made a nimbus of darkness.

After we had made camp we saw a number of Masai warriors hovering about the opposite bank, but they did not venture across. Some of their women did, however, and came cheerily into camp. These most interesting people are worth more than a casual word, so I shall reserve my observations on them until a later chapter. One of our porters, a big Baganda named Sabakaki, was suffering severely from pains in the chest that subsequently developed into pleurisy. From the Masai women we tried to buy some of the milk they carried in gourds; at first they seemed not averse, but as soon as they realized the milk was not for our own consumption, they turned their backs on poor Sabakaki and refused to have anything more to do with us.

These Masai are very difficult to trade with. Their only willing barter is done in sheep. These they seem to consider legitimate objects of commerce. A short distance from our camp stood three whitewashed round houses with thatched, conical roofs, the property of a trader named Agate. He was away at the time of our visit.

After an early morning, but vain, attempt to get Billy a shot at a lion[22] we set out for our distant blue mountains. The day was a journey over plains of great variegation. At times they were covered with thin scrub; at others with small groves; or again, they were open and grassy. Always they undulated gently, so from their tops one never saw as far as he thought he was going to see. As landmark we steered by a good-sized butte named Donga Rasha.

Memba Sasa and I marched ahead on foot. In this thin scrub we got glimpses of many beasts. At one time we were within fifty yards of a band of magnificent eland. By fleeting glimpses we saw also many wildebeeste and zebra, with occasionally one of the smaller grass antelope. Finally, in an open glade we caught sight of something tawny showing in the middle of a bush. It was too high off the ground to be a buck. We sneaked nearer. At fifty yards we came to a halt, still puzzled. Judging by its height and colour, it should be a lion, but try as we would we could not make out what part of his anatomy was thus visible. At last I made up my mind to give him a shot from the Springfield, with the ·405 handy. At the shot the tawny patch heaved and lay still. We manoeuvred cautiously, and found we had killed stone dead not a lion, but a Bohur reed-buck lying atop an ant hill concealed in the middle of the bush. This accounted for its height above the ground. As it happened, I very much wanted one of these animals as a specimen, so everybody was satisfied.

Shortly after, attracted by a great concourse of carrion birds, both on trees and in the air, we penetrated a thicket to come upon a full-grown giraffe killed by lions. The claw marks and other indications were indubitable. The carcass had been partly eaten, but was rapidly vanishing under the attacks of the birds.

Just before noon we passed Donga Rasha and emerged on the open plains. Here I caught sight of some Roberts' gazelle, a new species to me, and started alone in pursuit. They, as usual, trotted over the nearest rise, so with due precautions I followed after. At the top of that rise I lay still in astonishment. Before me marched solemnly an unbroken single file of game, reaching literally to my limit of vision in both directions. They came over the land swell a mile to my left, and they were disappearing over another land swell a mile and a half to my right. It was rigidly single file, except for the young; the nose of one beast fairly touching the tail of the one ahead, and it plodded along at a businesslike walk. There were but three species represented--the gnu, the zebra, and the hartebeeste. I did not see the head of the procession, for it had gone from sight before I arrived; nor did I ever see the tail of it either, for the safari appearing inopportunely broke its continuance. But I saw two miles and a half, solid, of big game. It was a great and formal trek, probably to new pastures.

Then I turned my attention to the Roberts' gazelle, and my good luck downed a specimen at 273 yards. This, with the Bohur reed-buck, made the second new species for the day. Our luck was not yet over, however. We had proceeded but a few miles when Kongoni discovered a herd of topi. The safari immediately lay down, while I went ahead. There was little cover, and I had a very hard time to get within range, especially as a dozen zebras kept grazing across the line of my stalks. The topi themselves were very uneasy, crossing and recrossing and looking doubtfully in my direction. I had a number of chances at small bucks, but refused them in my desire to get a shot at the big leader of the herd. Finally he separated from the rest and faced in my direction at just 268 yards. At the shot he fell dead.

For the first time we had an opportunity to admire the wonderful pelt. It is beautiful in quality, plum colour, with iridescent lights and wavy "water marks" changing to pearl colour on the four quarters, with black legs. We were both struck with the gorgeousness of a topi motor-rug made of three skins, with these pearl spots as accents in the corners. To our ambitions and hopes we added more topi.

Our journey to the Narossara River lasted three days in all. We gained an outlying spur of the blue mountains, and skirted their base. The usual varied foothill country led us through defiles, over ridges, and by charming groves. We began to see Masai cattle in great herds. The gentle humpbacked beasts were held in close formation by herders afoot, tall, lithe young savages with spears. In the distance and through the heat haze the beasts shimmered strangely, their glossy reds and whites and blacks blending together. In this country of wide expanses and clear air we could thus often make out a very far-off herd simply as a speck of rich colour against the boundless rolling plains.

Here we saw a good variety of game. Zebras, of course, and hartebeeste; the Roberts' gazelle, a few topi, a good many of the gnu or wildebeeste discovered and named by Roosevelt; a few giraffes, klipspringer on the rocky buttes, cheetah, and the usual jackals, hyenas, etc. I killed one very old zebra. So ancient was he that his teeth had worn down to the level of the gums, which seemed fairly on the point of closing over. Nevertheless he was still fat and sleek. He could not much longer have continued to crop the grass. Such extreme age in wild animals is, in Africa at least, most remarkable, for generally they meet violent deaths while still in their prime.

About three o'clock of the third afternoon we came in sight of a long line of forest trees running down parallel with the nearest mountain ranges. These marked the course of the Narossara, and by four o'clock we were descending the last slope.

FOOTNOTES:

[22] See "The Land of Footprints."


Stewart Edward White

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