CHAPTER XXXIV. THE GIBBONS OF HO-MU-SHU

It is a long hard climb out of the Salween valley. We left on March 24 and all day crawled up the steep sides on a trail which doubled back and forth upon itself like an endless letter S. From our camp at night the river was just visible as a thin green line several thousand feet below, and for the first time in days, we needed a charcoal fire in our tents.

We were en route to Lung-ling, a town of considerable size, where there was a possibility that mail might be awaiting us in care of the mandarin. Although ordinarily a three days' journey, it was more than four days before we arrived, because I had a sharp attack of malaria shortly after leaving the Salween River and we had to travel half stages.

When we were well out of the valley and at an altitude of 5,000 feet, we arrived at a Chinese town. Its dark evil-smelling houses, jammed together in a crowded mass, and the filthy streets swarming with ragged children and foot-bound women, were in unpleasant contrast to the charming little Shan villages which we had seen in the low country. The inhabitants themselves appeared to no better advantage when compared with their Shan neighbors, for their stares and insolent curiosity were almost unbearable.

The region between the Salween River at Changlung and Lung-ling is as uninteresting to the zooelogist as it could possibly be, for the hills are dry and bare and devoid of animal life. Lung-ling is a typical Chinese town except that the streets are wide and it is not as dirty as usual. The mandarin was a jolly rotund little fellow who simulated great sympathy when he informed me that he had received no mail for us. We had left directions to have a runner follow us from Yung-chang and in the event that he did not find our camp to proceed to Lung-ling with the mail. We learned some weeks later that the runner had been frightened by brigands and had turned back long before he reached Meng-ting.

We had heard from our mafus and other natives that black monkeys were to be found on a mountain pass not far from the village of Ho-mu-shu, on the main Yung-chang-Teng-yueh road and, as we were certain that they would prove to be gibbons, we decided to make that our next hunting camp. It was three stages from Lung-ling and, toward evening of the second day, we again descended to the Salween River.

The valley at this point is several miles wide and is so dry that the few shrubs and bushes seem to be parched and barely able to live. At the upper end a picturesque village is set among extensive rice fields. Although a few Chinese live there, its inhabitants are chiefly Shans who are in a transitory state and are gradually adopting Chinese customs. The houses are joined to each other in the Chinese way and are built of mud, thatched with straw. In shape as well as in composition they are quite unlike the dwellings of the southern Shans. The women wore cylindrical turbans, about eighteen inches high, which at a distance looked like silk hats, and the men were dressed in narrow trousers and jackets of Chinese blue. I believe that some of the Shan women also had bound feet but of this I cannot be certain.

We camped on a little knoll under an enormous tree at the far end of the village street, and a short time after the tents were up we had a visit from the Shan magistrate. He was a dapper energetic little fellow wearing foreign dress and quite au courant with foreign ways. He even owned a breech-loading shotgun, and, before we left, sent to ask for shells. He presented us with the usual chickens and I returned several tins of cigarettes. He appeared to be quite a sportsman and directed us to a place on the mountain above the village where he said monkeys were abundant.

We left early in the morning with a guide and, after a hard climb, arrived at a little village near the forest to which the magistrate had directed us. Not only did the natives assure us that they had never seen monkeys but we discovered for ourselves that the only water was more than a mile away, and that camping there was out of the question.

The next day, April 1, we went on to Ho-mu-shu. It is a tiny village built into the mountain-side with hardly fifty yards of level ground about it, but commanding a magnificent view over the Salween valley. Although we reached there at half past two in the afternoon the mafus insisted on camping because they swore that there was no water within fifty li up the mountain. Very unwillingly I consented to camp and the next morning found, as usual, that the mafus had lied for there was a splendid camping place with good water not two hours from Ho-mu-shu. It was useless to rage for the Chinese have no scruples about honesty in such small matters, and the head mafu blandly admitted that he knew there was a camping place farther on but that he was tired and wanted to stop early.

As we gained the summit of the ridge we were greeted with a ringing "hu-wa," "hu-wa," "hu-wa," from the forest five hundred feet below us; they were the calls of gibbons, without a doubt, but strikingly unlike those of the Nam-ting River. We decided to camp at once and, after considerable prospecting, chose a flat place beside the road. It was by no means ideal but had the advantage of giving us an opportunity to hunt from either side of the ridge which for its entire length was scarcely two hundred feet in width. The sides fell away for thousands of feet in steep forest-clad slopes and, as far as our eyes could reach, wave after wave of mountains rolled outward in a great sea of green.