CHAPTER XV. MORE GORALS
Both gorals were fine old rams with perfect horns. Their hair was thick and soft, pale olive-buff tipped with brownish, and the legs on the "cannon bones" were buff-yellow like the margins of the throat patches. Their color made them practically invisible against the rocks and when I killed the second goral my only distinct impression as he dashed down the face of the precipice, was of four yellowish legs entirely separated from a body which I could hardly see.
This invisibility, combined with the fact that the Snow Mountain gorals lived on almost inaccessible cliffs thickly covered with scrub spruce forest, made "still hunting" impossible. In fact, Baron Haendel-Mazzetti, who had explored this part of the Snow Mountains fairly thoroughly in his search for plants, had never seen a goral, and did not know that such an animal existed there.
Heller hunted for two days in succession and, although he saw several gorals, he was not successful in getting one until we had been in camp almost a week. His was a young male not more than a year old with horns about an inch long. It was a valuable addition to our collection for I was anxious to obtain specimens of various ages to be mounted as a "habitat group" in the Museum and we lacked only a female.
The preparation of the group required the greatest care and study. First, we selected a proper spot to reproduce in the Museum, and Yvette took a series of natural color photographs to guide the artist in painting the background. Next she made detail photographs of the surroundings. Then we collected portions of the rocks and typical bits of vegetation such as moss and leaves, to be either dried or preserved in formalin. In a large group, perhaps several thousand leaves will be required, but the field naturalist need select typical specimens of only five or six different sizes from each of which a plaster mold can be made at the Museum and the leaves reproduced in wax.
After two days of rain during which I had a hard and unsuccessful hunt for serows we decided to return to the temple at the foot of the mountain which was nearer to the forests inhabited by these animals. We had already been in our camp on the meadow for nine days and, besides the gorals, had gathered a large and valuable collection of small mammals. The shrews were especially varied in species and, besides a splendid series of meadow voles, Asiatic mice and rats, we obtained a new weasel and a single specimen of a tiny rock-cony or little chief hare, an Asiatic genus (Ochotona) which is also found in the western part of North America on the high slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Although we set dozens of traps among the rocks we did not get another on the entire expedition nor did we see indications of their presence in other localities.
The almost complete absence of carnivores at this camp was a great surprise. Except for weasels we saw no others and the hunters said that foxes or civets did not occur on this side of the mountain even though food was abundant.
On the day before we went to the temple I had a magnificent hunt. We left camp at daylight in a heavy fog and almost at once the dogs took up a serow trail. We heard them coming toward us as we stood at the upper edge of a little meadow and expected the animal to break cover any moment, but it turned down the mountain and the hounds lost the trail in the thick spruce woods.
We climbed slowly toward the cliffs until we were well above the clouds, which lay in a thick white blanket over the camp, and headed for the canon where I had shot my second goral. Hotenfa wished to go lower down into the forests but I prevailed upon him to stay along the open slopes and, while we were resting, the big red dog suddenly gave tongue on a ridge above and to the right of us. It was in the exact spot where my second goral had been started and we were on the qui vive when the rest of the pack dashed up the mountain-side to join their leader.
In a few moments they all gave tongue and we heard them swinging about in our direction. Just then the clouds, which had been lying in a solid bank below us, began to drift upward in a long, thin finger toward the canon. On and on it came, and closer sounded the yelps of the dogs. I was trembling with impatience and swearing softly as the gray vapor streamed into the gorge. The cloud thickened, sweeping rapidly up the ravine, until we were enveloped so completely that I could hardly see the length of my gun barrel. A moment later we heard the goral leaping down the cliff not a hundred yards away.
With the rifle useless in my hands I listened to each hoof beat and the stones which his flying feet sent rattling into the gorge. Then the dogs came past, and we heard them follow down the rocks, their yelps growing fainter and fainter in the valley far below. The goral was lost, and as though the Fates were laughing at us, ten minutes later a puff of wind sucked the cloud out of the canon as swiftly as it had come, and above us shone a sky as clear and blue as a tropic sea.
Hotenfa's disgust more than equaled my own for I had loaned him my three-barrel gun (12 gauge and .303 Savage) and he was as excited as a child with a new toy. He was a remarkably intelligent man and mastered the safety catches in a short time even though he had never before seen a breach-loading gun.
There was nothing to do but hurry down the mountain for the dogs might bring the goral to bay on one of the cliffs below us, and in twenty minutes we stood on a ridge which jutted out from the thick spruce forest. One of the hunters picked his way down the rock wall while Hotenfa and I circled the top of the spur.