CHAPTER XIV. THE FIRST GORAL
We were awakened before daylight by Wu's long drawn call to the hunters, "L-a-o-u H-o, L-a-o-u H-o, L-a-o-u H-o." The steady drum of rain on our tent shot a thrill of disappointment through me as I opened my eyes, but before we had crawled out of our sleeping-bags and dressed it lessened to a gentle patter and soon ceased altogether. It left a cold, gray morning with dense clouds weaving in and out among the peaks but, nevertheless, I decided to go out with the hunters to try for goral.
Two of the men took the dogs around the base of a high rock shoulder sparsely covered with scrub spruce while I went up the opposite slope accompanied by the other two. We had not been away from camp half an hour when the dogs began to yelp and almost immediately we heard them coming around the summit of the ridge in our direction. The hunters made frantic signs for me to hurry up the steep slope but in the thin air with my heart pounding like a trip hammer I could not go faster than a walk.
We climbed about three hundred yards when suddenly the dogs appeared on the side of the cliff near the summit. Just in front of them was a bounding gray form. The mist closed in and we lost both dogs and animals but ten minutes later a blessed gust of wind drifted the fog away and the goral was indistinctly visible with its back to a rock ledge facing the dogs. The big red leader of the pack now and then dashed in for a nip at the animal's throat but was kept at bay by its vicious lunges and sharp horns.
It was nearly three hundred yards away but the cloud was drifting in again and I dropped down for a shot. The hunters were running up the slope, frantically waving for me to come on, thinking it madness to shoot at that distance. I could just see the gray form through the sights and the first two shots spattered the loose rock about a foot low. For the third I got a dead rest over a stone and as the crash of the little Mannlicher echoed up the gorge, the goral threw itself into the air whirling over and over onto the rocks below.
The hunters, mad with excitement, dashed up the hill and down into the stream bed, and when I arrived the goral lay on a grassy ledge beside the water. The animal was stone dead, for my bullet had passed through its lungs, and, although the front teeth had been smashed on the rocks, its horns were uninjured and the beautiful gray coat was in perfect condition. It so happened that this ram was the largest which we killed on the entire trip.
When the hunters were carrying the goral to camp we met Yvette and Heller on their way to visit the traps just below snow line, and she returned with me to photograph the animal and to watch the ceremonies which I knew would be performed. One of the natives cut a leafy branch, placed the goral upon it and at the first cut chanted a prayer. Then laying several leaves one upon the other he sliced off the tip of the heart, wrapped it carefully in the leaves and placed it in a nearby tree as an offering to the God of the Hunt.
I have often seen the Chinese and Korean hunters perform similar ceremonies at the death of an animal, and the idea that it is necessary to propitiate the God of the Hunt is universal. When I was shooting in Korea in 1912, and also in other parts of China, if luck had been against us for a few days the hunters would invariably ask me to buy a chicken, or some animal to sacrifice for "good joss."
After each dog had had a taste of the goral's blood we again climbed the cliff at the end of the meadow. When we were nearly 2,000 feet above camp the clouds shut in and, as the impenetrable gray curtain wrapped itself about us, we could only sit quietly and wait for it to drift away.
After an hour the fog began to thin and the men sent the hounds toward a talus slope at the base of the highest peak. Almost immediately the big red dog picked up a trail and started across the loose rock with the pack yelping at his heels. We followed as rapidly as possible over such hard going but before we reached the other side the dogs had rounded a sharp pinnacle and disappeared far below us. Expecting that the goral would swing about the base of the peak the hunters sent me back across the talus to watch for a shot, but the animal ran down the valley and into a heavily wooded ravine where the dogs lost his trail only a short distance above camp.
I returned to find that Heller had secured a rich haul from the traps. As we supposed, the runways which Yvette and I had discovered above timber line were made by a meadow vole (Microtus) and in the forest almost every trap had caught a white-footed mouse ( Apodemus). He also had several new shrews and we caught eight different species of these important little animals at this one camp.
Wu, the interpreter, hearing us speak of shrews, came to me one day in great perplexity with his Anglo-Chinese dictionary. He had looked up the word "shrew" and found that it meant "a cantankerous woman!"
The following day Heller went out with the hunters and saw two gorals but did not get a shot. In the meantime Yvette and I ran the traps and prepared the small mammals. While we were far up on the mountain-side, Baron Haendel-Mazzetti appeared armed with ropes and an alpine snow ax. He was about to attempt to climb the highest peak which had never been ascended but the drifts turned him back several hundred feet from the summit. He dined at our camp and as all of us carefully refrained from "war talk" we spent a very pleasant evening. During his three years in Yuen-nan he had explored and mapped many sections of the province which had not been visited previously by foreigners and from him we obtained much valuable information.