CHAPTER XVI. THE SNOW MOUNTAIN TEMPLE
On October 22, we moved to the foot of the mountain and camped in the temple which we had formerly occupied. This was directly below the forests inhabited by serow, and we expected to devote our efforts exclusively toward obtaining a representative series of these animals.
Unfortunately I developed a severe infection in the palm of my right hand almost immediately, and had it not been for the devoted care of my wife I should not have left China alive. Through terrible nights of delirium when the poison was threatening to spread over my entire body, she nursed me with an utter disregard of her own health and slept only during a few restless hours of complete exhaustion. For three weeks I could do no work but at last was able to bend my "trigger finger" and resume hunting although I did not entirely recover the use of my hand for several months.
However, the work of the expedition by no means ceased because of my illness. Mr. Heller continued to collect small mammals with great energy and the day after we arrived at the temple we engaged eight new native hunters. These were Lolos, a wandering unit from the independent tribe of S'suchuan and they proved to be excellent men.
The first serow was killed by Hotenfa's party on our third day in the temple. Heller went out with the hunters but in a few hours returned alone. A short time after he had left the natives the dogs took up the trail of a huge serow and followed it for three miles through the spruce forest. They finally brought the animal to bay against a cliff and a furious fight ensued. One dog was ripped wide open, another received a horn-thrust in the side, and the big red leader was thrown over a cliff to the rocks below. More of the hounds undoubtedly would have been killed had not the hunters arrived and shot the animal.
The men brought the serow in late at night but our joy was considerably dampened by the loss of the red dog. Hotenfa carried him in his arms and laid him gently on a blanket in the temple but the splendid animal died during the night. His master cried like a child and I am sure that he felt more real sorrow than he would have shown at the loss of his wife; for wives are much easier to get in China than good hunting dogs.
The serow was an adult male, badly scarred from fighting, and had lost one horn by falling over a cliff when he was killed. He was brownish black, with rusty red lower legs and a whitish mane. His right horn was nine and three-quarters inches in length and five and three-quarters inches in circumference at the base and the effectiveness with which he had used his horns against the dogs demonstrated that they were by no means only for ornaments. In the next chapter the habits and relationships of the gorals and serows will be considered more fully.
On the morning following the capture of the first serow the last rain of the season began and continued for nine days almost without ceasing. The weather made hunting practically impossible for the fog hung so thickly over the woods that one could not see a hundred feet and Heller found that many of his small traps were sprung by the raindrops. The Lolos had disappeared, and we believed that they had returned to their village, but they had been hunting in spite of the weather and on the fifth day arrived with a fine male serow in perfect condition. It showed a most interesting color variation for, instead of red, the lower legs were buff with hardly a tinge of reddish.
November 2, the sun rose in an absolutely cloudless sky and during the remainder of the winter we had as perfect weather as one could wish. Yvette's constant nursing and efficient surgery combined with the devotion of our interpreter, Wu, had checked the spread of the poison in my hand and my nights were no longer haunted with the strange fancies of delirium, but I was as helpless as a babe. I could do nothing but sit with steaming cloths wrapped about my arm and rail at the fate which kept me useless in the temple.
The Lolos killed a third serow on the mountain just above our camp but the animal fell into a rock fissure more than a hundred feet deep and was recovered only after a day's hard work. The men wove a swinging ladder from tough vines, climbed down it, and drew the serow bodily up the cliff; as it weighed nearly three hundred pounds this was by no means an easy undertaking.
Our Lolo hunters were tall, handsome fellows led by a slender young chief with patrician features who ruled his village like an autocrat with absolute power of life and death. The Lolos are a strange people who at one time probably occupied much of the region south of the Yangtze River but were pushed south and west by the Chinese and, except in one instance, now exist only in scattered units in the provinces of Kwei-chau and Yuen-nan.
In S'suchuan the Lolos hold a vast territory which is absolutely closed to the Chinese on pain of death and over which they exercise no control. Several expeditions have been launched against the Lolos but all have ended in disaster.
Only a few weeks before we arrived in Yuen-nan a number of Chinese soldiers butchered nearly a hundred Lolos whom they had encountered outside the independent territory, and in reprisal the Lolos burned several villages almost under the walls of a fortified city in which were five hundred soldiers, massacred all the men and boys, and carried off the women as slaves.