CHAPTER IV. A BAT CAVE IN THE BIG RAVINE

A few days after our arrival in Yen-ping we went with Mr. Caldwell and his son Oliver to a Taoist temple seven miles away in a lonely ravine known as Chi-yuen-kang. The walk to the temple in the early morning was delightful. The "bamboo chickens" and francolins were calling all about us and on the way we shot enough for our first day's dinner. Both these birds are abundant in Fukien Province but it is by no means easy to kill them for they live in such thick cover that they can only be flushed with difficulty.

Early in the morning we frequently heard the francolins crowing in the trees or on the top of a hill and when a cock had taken possession of such a spot the intrusion of another was almost sure to cause trouble which only ended when one of them had been driven off.

For two miles and a half the Big Ravine is a narrow cut between perpendicular rock walls thickly clothed to their very summits with bamboo and a tangle of thorny vines. In the bottom of the gorge a mountain torrent foams among huge bowlders but becomes a gentle, slow moving stream when it leaves the cool darkness of the canon to spread itself over the terraced rice fields.

About a mile from the entrance two old temples nestle into the hillside. One stands just over the water, but the other clings to the rock wall three hundred feet above the river, and it was there that we made our camp.

The old priest in charge did not appear especially delighted to see us until I slipped a Mexican dollar into his hand - then it was laughable to see his change of face. The far end of the balcony was given up to us while Mr. Caldwell and Oliver put up their beds at the feet of a grinning idol in the main temple.

We had come to Chi-yuen-kang to hunt serow (see Chapter XVII) and had brought with us only a few traps for small mammals. Harry had seen several serow exhibited for sale on market days in towns along the river, and all were reported to have been killed near this ravine. There was a village of considerable size at the upper end and here we collected a motley lot of beaters with half a dozen dogs to drive the top of a mountain which towered about two thousand five hundred feet above the river.

Never will we forget that climb! We tried to start at daylight but it was well toward six o'clock before we got our men together. A Chinaman would drive an impatient man to apoplexy and an early grave for it is well-nigh impossible to get him started within an hour of the appointed time, and with a half dozen the difficulty is multiplied as many times. Just when you think all is ready and that there can be no possible reason for delaying longer, the whole crowd will disappear suddenly and you discover that they have gone for "chow." Then you know that the end is really in sight, for chow usually is the last thing.

We waited nearly two hours on this particular morning before we started on the long climb to the top of the mountain. The sun was simply blazing, and in fifteen minutes we were soaked with perspiration. When we were half way up the dogs disappeared in a small ravine overgrown with bamboo and sword grass and suddenly broke into a chorus of yelps. They had found a fresh trail and were driving our way.

Harry ran to a narrow opening in the jungle, shouting to us to watch another higher up. We were hardly in position when his rifle banged, followed by such a bedlam of yells and barks that we thought he must have killed nothing less than one of the hunters. Before we reached them Harry appeared, smiling all over, and dragging a muntjac ( Muntiacus) by the fore legs. He had just made a beautiful shot, for the clearing he had been watching was not more than ten feet wide and the muntjac flashed across it at full speed. Caldwell fired while it was in mid-air and his bullet caught the animal at the base of the neck, rolling it over stone dead.

This beautiful little deer in Fukien is hardly larger than a fox. Its antlers are only two or three inches in length and rise from an elongated skin-covered pedicel instead of from the base of the skull as in all other members of the deer family. On each side of the upper jaw is a slender tusk, about two inches long, which projects well beyond the lips and makes a rather formidable weapon.

We hoped that this muntjac was going to prove a "good joss," but instead a disappointing day was in store for us. When we had worked our way to the very summit of the mountain under a merciless sun and over a trail which led through a smothering bamboo jungle, we saw dozens of fresh serow tracks. The animals were there without a doubt and we were on the qui vive with excitement.

We selected positions and the men made a long circuit to drive toward us as Caldwell had directed. After half an hour had passed we heard them yelling as they closed in, but what was our disgust to see them solemnly parading in single file up the bottom of the valley on an open trail and carefully avoiding all thickets where a serow could possibly be. As Harry expressed it, "all the animals had to do was to sit tight and watch the noble procession pass." The beaters very evidently knew nothing whatever about driving nor were we able to teach them, for they seriously objected to leaving the open trails and going into the bush.