CHAPTER XIII. CAMPING IN THE CLOUDS

We hired four Moso hunters in the Snow Mountain village. They were picturesque fellows, supposedly dressed in skins, but their garments were so ragged and patched that it was difficult to determine the original material of which they were made.

One of them was armed with a most extraordinary gun which, it was said, came from Tibet. Its barrel was more than six feet long, and the stock was curved like a golf stick. A powder fuse projected from a hole in the side of the barrel, and just behind it on the butt was fastened a forked spring. At his waist the man carried a long coil of rope, the slowly burning end of which was placed in the crotched spring. When about to shoot the native placed the butt of the weapon against his cheek, pressed the spring so that the burning rope's end touched the powder fuse, and off went the gun.

The three other hunters carried crossbows and poisoned arrows. They were remarkably good shots and at a distance of one hundred feet could place an arrow in a six-inch circle four times out of five. We found later that crossbows are in common use throughout the more remote parts of Yuen-nan and were only another evidence that we had suddenly dropped back into the Middle Ages and, with our high-power rifles and twentieth century equipment, were anachronisms.

The natives are able to obtain a good deal of game even with such primitive weapons for they depend largely upon dogs which bring gorals and serows to bay against a cliff and hold them until the men arrive. The dogs are a mongrel breed which appears to be largely hound, and some are really excellent hunters. White is the usual color but a few are mixed black and brown, or fox red. Hotenfa, one of our Mosos, owned a good pack and we all came to love its big red leader. This fine dog could be depended upon to dig out game if there was any in the mountains, but his life with us was short for he was killed by our first serow. Hotenfa was inconsolable and the tears he shed were in sincere sorrow for the loss of a faithful friend.

Almost every family owns a dog. Some of those we saw while passing through Chinese villages were nauseating in their unsightliness, for at least thirty per cent of them were more or less diseased. Barely able to walk, they would stagger across the street or lie in the gutter in indescribable filth. One longed to put them out of their misery with a bullet but, although they seemed to belong to nobody, if one was killed an owner appeared like magic to quarrel over the damages.

The dogs of the non-Chinese tribes were in fairly good condition and there seemed to be comparatively little disease among them. Our hunters treated their hounds kindly and fed them well, but the animals themselves, although loyal to their masters, manifested but little affection. In Korea dogs are eaten by the natives, but none of the tribes with which we came in contact in Yuen-nan used them for food.

On our first day in the temple Heller went up the Snow Mountain for a reconnoissance and the party secured a fine porcupine. It is quite a different animal from the American tree porcupines and represents a genus (Hystrix) which is found in Asia, Africa, and southern Europe. This species lives in burrows and, when hunting big game, we were often greatly annoyed to find that our dogs had followed the trail of one of these animals. We would arrive to see the hounds dancing about the burrow yelping excitedly instead of having a goral at bay as we had expected.

Some of the beautiful black and ivory white quills are more than twelve inches long and very sharp. A porcupine will keep an entire pack of dogs at bay and is almost sure to drive its murderous weapons into the bodies of some of them unless the hunters arrive in a short time. The Mosos eat the flesh which is white and fine.

Although we were only twelve miles from Li-chiang the traps yielded four shrews and one mouse which were new to our collection. The natives brought in three bats which we had not previously seen and began a thriving business in toads and frogs with now and then a snake.

The temple was an excellent place for small mammals but it was evident that we would have to move high up on the slopes of the mountain if gorals and other big game were to be obtained. Accordingly, while Heller prepared a number of bat skins we started out on horseback to hunt a camp site.

It was a glorious day with the sun shining brilliantly from a cloudless sky and just a touch of autumn snap in the air. We crossed the sloping rock-strewn plain to the base of the mountain, and discovered a trail which led up a forested shoulder to the right of the main peaks. An hour of steady climbing brought us to the summit of the ridge where we struck into the woods toward a snow-field on the opposite slope. The trail led us along the brink of a steep escarpment from which we could look over the valley and away into the blue distance toward Li-chiang. Three thousand feet below us the roof of our temple gleamed from among the sheltering pine trees, and the herds of sheep and cattle massed themselves into moving patches on the smooth brown plain.

We pushed our way through the spruce forest with the glistening snow bed as a beacon and suddenly emerged into a flat open meadow overshadowed by the ragged peaks. "What a perfectly wonderful place to camp," we both exclaimed. "If we can only find water, let's come tomorrow."

The hunters had assured us that there were no streams on this end of the mountain but we hoped to find a snow bank which would supply our camp for a few days at least. We rode slowly up the meadow reveling in the grandeur of the snow-crowned pinnacles and feeling very small and helpless amid surroundings where nature had so magnificently expressed herself.