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Chapter 44

THE UNKNOWN LAND.

C. returned the next day from V.'s boma, bringing more potio and some trade goods. We sent a good present back to Naiokotuku, and prepared for an early start into the new country.

We marched out of the lower end of our elliptical valley towards the miniature landscape we had seen through the opening. But before we reached it we climbed sharp to the right around the end of the mountains, made our way through a low pass, and so found ourselves in a new country entirely. The smooth, undulating green-grass plains were now superseded by lava expanses grown with low bushes. It was almost exactly like the sage-brush deserts of Arizona and New Mexico--the same coarse sand and lava footing, the same deeply eroded barrancas, the same scattered round bushes dotted evenly over the scene. We saw here very little game. Across the way lay another range of low mountains clothed darkly with dull green, like the chaparral-covered coast ranges of California. In one place was a gunsight pass through which we could see other distant blue mountains. We crossed the arid plain and toiled up through the notch pass.

The latter made very difficult footing indeed, for the entire surface of the ground was covered with smooth, slippery boulders and rocks of iron and quartz. What had so smoothed them I do not know, for they seemed to be ill-placed for water erosion. The boys with their packs atop found this hard going, and we ourselves slipped and slid and bumped in spite of our caution.

Once through the pass we found ourselves overlooking a wide prospect of undulating thorn scrub from which rose occasional bushy hills, solitary buttes, and bold cliffs. It was a thick-looking country to make a way through.

Nevertheless somewhere here dwelt the Kudu, so in we plunged. The rest of the day--and of days to follow--we spent in picking a way through the thorn scrub and over loose rocks and shifting stones. A stream bed contained an occasional water hole. Tall aloes were ablaze with red flowers. The country looked arid, the air felt dry, the atmosphere was so clear that a day's journey seemed--usually--but the matter of a few hours. Only rarely did we enjoy a few moments of open travel. Most of the time the thorns caught at us. In the mountain passes were sometimes broad trails of game or of the Masai cattle. The country was harsh and dry and beautiful with the grays and dull greens of arid-land brush, or with the soft atmospheric tints of arid-land distances. Game was fairly common, but rather difficult to find. There were many buffalo, a very few zebra, leopards, hyenas, plenty of impalla, some sing-sing, a few eland, abundant wart-hog, Thompson's gazelle, and duiker. We never lacked for meat when we dared shoot it, but we were after nobler game. The sheep given us by Naiokotuku followed along under charge of the syces.

When we should run quite out of meat, we intended to eat them. We delayed too long, however. One evening the fool boy tied them to a thorn bush; one of them pulled back, the thorns bit, and both broke loose and departed into the darkness. Of course everybody pursued, but we could not recapture them. Ten minutes later the hyenas broke into the most unholy laughter. We could not blame them; the joke was certainly on us.

In passing, the cachinnations of the laughing hyena are rather a series of high-voiced self-conscious titters than laughter. They sound like the stage idea of a lot of silly and rather embarrassed old maids who have been accused by some rude man of "taking notice." This call is rarely used; indeed, I never heard it but the once. The usual note is a sort of moaning howl, impossible to describe, but easy to recognize.

Thus we penetrated gradually deeper and deeper into this wild country; through low mountains, over bush-clad plains, into thorn jungles, down wide valleys, over hill-divided plateaus. Late in the afternoon we would make camp. Sometimes we had good water; more often not. In the evening the throb of distant drums and snatches of intermittent wailing song rose and fell with the little night breezes.


Stewart Edward White

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