Neither of us will ever forget that shoot in the glorious afternoon sunlight. Cloud after cloud of ducks rose as we neared the pond and circled high above our heads, but now and then a straggling mallard or “pin tail” would swing across the sky within range; as my gun roared out the birds would whirl to the ground like feathered bombs or climb higher with frightened quacks if the shot went wild. An hour before dark the brahminy ducks began to come in. We could hear their melodious plaintive calls long before we could see the birds, and we flattened ourselves out in the grass and mud. Soon a thin, black line would streak the sky, and as they drew nearer, Yvette would draw such seductive notes from a tiny horn of wood and bone that the flock would swing and dive toward us in a rush of flashing wings. When we could see the brown bodies right above our heads I would sit up and bang away.
Now and then a big white goose would drop into the pond or an ibis flap lazily overhead, seeming to realize that it had nothing to fear from the prostrate bodies which spat fire at other birds. The stillness of the marsh was absolute save for the voices of the water fowl mingled in the wild, sweet clamor so dear to the heart of every sportsman. As the day began to die, hung about with ducks and geese, we walked slowly back across the rice fields, to the yellow fires before our tents. It was our last camp for the year and, as if to bid us farewell as we journeyed toward the tropics, the peaks of the great Snow Mountain far to the north, had draped themselves in a gorgeous silver mantle and glistened against a sky of lavender and gold like white cathedral spires.
On January 3, we camped early in the afternoon on a beautiful little plain beside a spring overhung with giant trees at the head of Erh Hai, or Ta-li Fu Lake, which is thirty miles long. The fields and marshes were alive with ducks, geese, cranes, and lapwings, and we had a glorious day of sport over decoys and on the water before we went on to Ta-li Fu.
Mr. Evans was about to leave for a long business trip to the south of the province and we took possession of a pretty temple just within the north gate of the city. Here we read a great accumulation of mail and learned that a thousand pounds of supplies which we had ordered from Hongkong had just arrived.
Through the good offices of Mr. Howard Page, manager of the Standard Oil Company of Yuen-nan Fu, their passage through Tonking had been facilitated, and he had dispatched the boxes by caravan to Ta-li Fu. Mr. Page rendered great assistance to the Expedition in numberless ways, and to him we owe our personal thanks as well as those of the American Museum of Natural History.
All the servants except our faithful Wu left at Ta-li Fu but, with the aid of Mr. Hanna, we obtained a much better personnel for the trip to the Burma frontier. The cook, who was one of Mr. Hanna’s converts, was an especially fine fellow and proved to be as energetic and competent as the other had been lazy and helpless.