Chapter V. To Sanga-Tanga and Back.
My objects in visiting Mbata, the reader will have understood, were to shoot a specimen or specimens of the gorilla, and, if possible, to buy or catch a youngster. Even before landing, the pilot had assured me that a "baby" was on sale at the Comptoir, but on inquiry it proved to have died. I was by no means sanguine of success - when the fight is against Time, the Old Man usually wins the day. The short limits of my trip would not allow me to wander beyond the coast and the nearer riverine regions, where frequent villages and the constant firing of muskets have taught all wild animals that flight is their only defence; thus, besides being rare, they must be shy and timid, wary and knowing, "like an old hedgehog hunted for his grease." The first glance at the bush suggested, "Surely it is impossible to find big game in such a land of farms and plantations."
Those who have shot under such circumstances will readily understand that everything depends upon "luck;" one man may beat the forest assiduously and vainly for five or six weeks; another will be successful on the first day. Thus whilst I, without any fault of my own, utterly failed in shooting a gorilla, although I saw him and heard him, and came upon his trail, and found his mortal spoils, another traveller had hardly landed in the Gaboon before he was so fortunate as to bring down a fine anthropoid.
However, as man cannot command success, I was obliged to content myself with doing all in my power to deserve it. I offered five dollars, equalling the same number of sovereigns in England, to every huntsman for every fair shot, and ten dollars for each live ape. I implicitly obeyed all words of command, and my factotum Selim Agha was indefatigable in his zeal. Indeed "luck" was dead against us during the whole of my stay in Gorilla-land. We ran a fair risk of drowning in the first day's voyage; on the next march we were knocked down by lightning, and on the last trip I had a narrow escape from the fall of a giant branch that grazed my hammock.
My first "bush" evening was spent in palm-wine, rum, and wassail; one must begin by humouring Africans, under pain of being considered a churl; but the inevitable result is, that next day they will by some pretext or other shirk work to enjoy the headache. That old villain, "Young Prince," becoming very fou, hospitably offered me his daughter-in-law Azizeh, Forteune's second wife; and he was vigorously supported by the Nimrod himself, who had drawn a horizontal line of white chalk above the eyebrows, a defence against the Ibambo, those bad ghosts that cause fevers and sickness. Forteune then hinted that perhaps I might prefer his daughter - "he be piccanniny; he be all same woman." Marchandise offerte a le pied coupe, both offers were declined with, Merci, non! Sporting parties are often made up by the Messieurs du Plateau, I had been told at the Comptoir; but such are the fascinations of les petites, that few ever progress beyond the first village. There was, consequently, wonder in the land as to what manner of utangani this one might be.
It is only fair to own that the ladies endured with great philosophy the spretae injuria formae, and made no difference in their behaviour on account of their charms being unappreciated. Azizeh was a stout and sturdy personage of twenty-five, with thick wrists and ankles, a very dark skin, and a face rendered pleasing by good humour. And Azizeh was childless, a sad reproach in these lands, where progeny forms a man's wealth and a woman's honour.
The next day was perforce a halt, as had been expected; moreover, rains and tornadoes were a reasonable pretext for nursing the headache. The 21st was also wet and stormy, so Nimrod hid himself and was not to be found. Then the balivernes began. One Asini, a Mpongwe from the Plateau, offered to show me a huge gorilla near his village; in the afternoon he was confronted with "Young Prince," and he would have blushed scarlet if he could. But he assured me plaintively that he must lie to live, and, after all, la prudence des souris n'est pas celle des chats. Before dark, Forteune appeared, and swore that he had spent the day in the forest, he had shot at a gorilla, but the gun missed fire - of course he had slept in a snug hut.
This last determined me to leave Mbata; the three Kru-men had returned; one of them was stationed in charge of the boat, and next morning we set out at 6 A.M. for Nche Mpolo, the headquarters of "Young Prince." The well-wooded land was devoid of fetor, even at that early hour; we passed Ndagola, a fresh clearing and newly built huts, and then we skirted a deep and forested depression, upon whose further side lay our bourne. It promised sand-flies, the prime pest of this region; a tall amphitheatre of trees on a dune to the west excluded the sea- breeze, and northwards a swampy hollow was a fine breeding place for M. Maringouin.
Nche Mpolo lies some three miles nearly due south of Mbata; the single street contains fourteen cottages and two palaver houses. We were received with distinction by "Young Prince's" daughter, a huge young woman, whose still huger mamma was from Cape Lopez. She placed mats upon the bamboo couch under the verandah, brought water to wash our feet, and put the kettle on that we might have tea. The sun was fiery and the day sultry; my companions complained of fatigue after a two hours' walk, and then busied themselves ostentatiously in cleaning their muskets, in collecting provisions, and in appointing certain bushmen to meet us on the morrow. Before dark Hotaloya returned to his village, declaring that he could find no bed at his papa's. Probably the uxorious youth had been ordered home by his pet wife, who had once lived with a European trader, who spoke a few words of English, and who cooked with peculiar skill, - the solid merits of a "superior person."