SCOUTING IN THE ELEPHANT FOREST.
Here we were finally off at dawn. It was a very chilly, wet dawn, with the fog so thick that we could see not over ten feet ahead. We had four porters, carrying about twenty-five pounds apiece of the bare necessities, Kongoni, and Leyeye. The Masai struck confidently enough through the mist. We crossed neck-deep grass flats—where we were thoroughly soaked—climbed hills through a forest, skirted apparently for miles an immense reed swamp. As usual when travelling strange country in a fog, we experienced that queer feeling of remaining in the same spot while fragments of near-by things are slowly paraded by. When at length the sun’s power cleared the mists, we found ourselves in the middle of a forest country of high hills.
Into this forest we now plunged, threading our way here and there where the animal trails would take us, looking always for fresh elephant spoor. It would have been quite impossible to have moved about in any other fashion. The timber grew on hillsides, and was very lofty and impressive; and the tropical undergrowth grew tall, rank, and impenetrable. We could proceed only by means of the kind assistance of the elephant, the buffalo, and the rhinoceros.
Elephant spoor we found, but none made later than three weeks before. The trails were broad, solid paths through the forest, as ancient and beaten as though they had been in continuous use for years. Unlike the rhino and buffalo trails, they gave us head room and to spare. The great creatures had by sheer might cut their way through the dense, tough growth, leaving twisted, splintered, wrecked jungle behind them, but no impediment.
By means of these beautiful trails we went quietly, penetrating farther and farther into the jungle. Our little procession of ten made no noise. If we should strike fresh elephant tracks, thus would we hunt them, with all our worldly goods at our backs, so that at night we could camp right on the trail.
The day passed almost without incident.
Once a wild crash and a snort told of a rhinoceros, invisible, but very close. We huddled together, our rifles ready, uncertain whether or not the animal would burst from the leafy screen at our very faces. The Masai stood side by side, the long spear poised, the bow bent, fine, tense figures in bronze.
Near sundown we found ourselves by a swift little stream in the bottom of a deep ravine. Here we left the men to make camp, and ourselves climbed a big mountain on the other side. It gave us a look abroad over a wilderness of hills, forested heavily, and a glimpse of the landfall far away where no white man had ever been. This was as far south as we were destined to get, though at the time we did not know it. Our plan was to push on two days more. Near the top of the ridge we found the unmistakable tracks of the bongo. This is interesting to zoologists in that it extends the southward range of this rare and shy beast.