Authors: Willard Price
By Willard Price
Hal and Roger had grown up with animals. Their earliest memories were of wild beasts.
For all of Hal’s nineteen years and his brother’s fourteen, their daily companions had been kangaroos, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, leopards, and a hundred other creatures great and small that roamed the animal farm of their father, John Hunt, famous animal collector.
The farm was on Long Island, New York. There the animals were kept until they could be sold to zoos or circuses.
The boys had accompanied their father on several expeditions to such faraway places as the Amazon jungle, the South Seas, and the heart of Africa, They had learned the dangerous art of taking wild animals alive. Now John Hunt was getting a bit old for so rough a life, therefore the boys were going it alone.
They had just completed a job in the African lion country. A cable from their father gave them a new project.
RINGLING CIRCUS WANTS GIAN’I GORILLA, BIG CHIMPS, PYTHON, GABOON VIPER, SPITTING COBRA, AND OTHER TYPICAL WILDLIFE FOR JUNGLE EXHIBIT. WHA’I CAN YOU DO?
It was a thrilling and challenging assignment. Hal talked it over with Joro, chief of his thirty-man black crew. Joro shook his head.
‘Very difficult,’ he said. ‘Those are bad snakes. And there’s only one place to find that giant gorilla.’
‘Where is that?’
‘Congo jungle. Between Congo River and Virunga volcanoes. Wild country and wild people. Tribes fight, white men die. Perhaps you tell your father no.’
But the boys were not in the habit of saying no when their father asked diem to do a job, especially when it was one that offered excitement, adventure, and a chance to learn more about Africa and its wildlife.
So their reply was an enthusiastic yes.
Their enthusiasm simmered down a bit when they crossed from the lion country into the jungle home of the gorillas.
Joro had told the truth. The Congo was not at peace. The black government was friendly towards foreigners. But wild tribes in the back country were killing whites. And the gorillas had no use for any man, white or black.
The Hunts got their permit from the black commandant at Rumangabo.
‘The Virunga volcano territory is pretty wild,’ the commandant warned them. ‘You’ll need a guide.’
‘Can you recommend one?’
‘No, I can’t. We did have some good white hunters. But when the Congo boiled over, they went back to Belgium. One of them stayed - but I don’t recommend him.’
‘Why not?’ Hal asked. ‘If he had enough courage to stay, perhaps he’s just the man we need.’
The commandant smiled. ‘I’m afraid it wasn’t courage that kept him here. He just didn’t have the cash to go. He was broke - still is.’
‘Then perhaps he’d be willing to take on this job. Doesn’t he know the country?’
‘More or less.’
‘Then what’s the matter?’
The commandant pursed his lips. ‘I think I’ve said enough. Suppose I send a boy to fetch him. Then you can judge for yourself.’
A half hour later the big Belgian walked in. The commandant introduced him as Andre Tieg.
Tieg’s appearance was rather breathtaking. He stood well over six feet, had a massive chest and brawny arms. A great yellow moustache poured out on both sides of his red face and drooped at the ends, dragged down by its thickness and length. It was a moustache in a thousand. It alone should scare any gorilla out of its wits.
Tieg’s mouth-was thin-lipped as if it had been cut into his face with a knife. His eyebrows were big and bushy. His yellow hair stood up like the crest of an angry cockatoo.
But the most startling thing about him was the way his eyes behaved. Or, rather, the way his right eye behaved. The other stood stock-still. It was glass, electric blue, and its fixed stare was frightening.
A deep scar beneath it running all the way down to the corner of the mouth suggested that the eye and cheek had been gouged by the claw of a leopard. The scar warped the left side of the face into a perpetual sneer.
While one eye stood still, the other was as restless as a mouse on a hot stove. It darted this way and that, as if it had to make up for the stillness of its glass neighbour. It crawled over Hal and Roger from head to toe and seemed to disapprove of everything it saw.
Its colour was a washed-out blue that made it look as blank as the window of an empty house. Altogether the face had a curiously unreal appearance with its ghastly scar and ghostly eyes and slash of a mouth.
Hal put him down as a vain, hard, and perhaps cruel man, not quite the sort of fellow one would feel safe with in the woods.
‘Yes, yes,’ said Tieg. ‘I know the gorilla country. I’ll guide you. Of course I’m a very busy man, but I happen to be free at present. But you must understand, the Congo is in a very troubled state. You shouldn’t have come. Most Europeans are going home.’
‘But you haven’t gone,’ Hal said.
Tieg swelled visibly. His high brush of hair nearly touched the ceiling.
‘I’m hard to scare. I’m not afraid of the natives. And I’m not afraid of gorillas. But you must not expect too much. There aren’t many mountain gorillas left’
1 realize that,’ Hal said.
‘You see,’ said Tieg importantly with the sort of voice an encyclopaedia would have if it could speak, ‘there are two kinds of gorillas - the mountain gorilla and the lowland gorilla. The lowland gorilla lives in the hot, wet jungle along the West Coast It is short-haired and small-jawed. It’s about the same height and weight as the mountain gorilla - but doesn’t look it The mountain gorilla appears almost twice as large, because he’s covered with hair eight inches long. That’s nature’s way of protecting him against the cold. His home is about ten thousand feet up on the slopes of the volcanoes - and it gets really chilly up there, especially at night The lowland gorilla would die in that climate. Why don’t you go after the lowlanders? They’re easier to get.’
‘l know.’ Hal said.
Tieg’s glass eye stared coldly. ‘Then aren’t you pretty foolish to go after the ones that are harder to get?’
‘If s just because they’re hard to get that people want them,’ Hal explained. ‘There are two hundred and nineteen lowland gorillas in captivity the world over. But only thirteen mountain gorillas. A zoo or circus won’t pay more than five thousand dollars for a lowland gorilla. What they really want is the rare mountain variety and they’ll put up ten thousand dollars to get one.’
‘Indeed,’ Tieg said. His good eye dropped, but his artificial orb continued to stare. ‘Well, young man, it’s your funeral.’
The next evening they found themselves in a rough cabin ten thousand feet up the slope of Mount Mikeno. It had been a stiff climb - the fourteen Land-Rovers, Powerwagons, catching cars and jeeps belonging to the expedition had needed every ounce of power they could get out of their four-wheel drive.
Now the two boys and Tieg sat about a rough table, supped tea, and chewed on the dried meat called jerky.
The crew had made themselves a camp-fire outside near a sheet of water too large to be called a pool and too small to be called a lake. Night had come on and animals were creeping out of the forest to drink.
Roger peered through a small window. ‘I see bush pigs and wildebeest and waterbucks and there are two buffaloes. But no gorillas.’
‘Gorillas don’t drink often,’ Hal said. ‘Besides, they seldom come so near camp.’
Tieg cocked his moveable eye at the raftered roof. ‘You’ll see them soon enough. I hope you’re prepared for a shock. Beginners like you find them the most terrifying animals on earth.’
‘Why terrifying?’ Hal asked. ‘After all, they look pretty much like men.’
That’s just it.’ Tieg said. ‘They look so much like men that you expect them to act like men. But when one comes at you with a scream that can be heard ten miles away, with his huge hairy chest blown up like a balloon, his face twisted into a horrible glare, his jaws bigger than any man’s, open wide enough to take in your head, his six-or seven-foot body looking like ten feet, his five hundred pounds against your hundred and fifty, his enormous arms buried in hair eight inches long, hands as big as footballs slapping his stomach, pok-pok-pok, loud as an African drum, and you realize that here is a monster with the strength of ten men - well it’s such a surprise to see a creature that looks like a man behaving as no man could ever behave that the chills run up and down your spine and you are so scared you stand rooted to the spot, or you run like mad.’
‘I’d run,’ shivered Roger.
‘That would be the worst thing you could do. No, you have to stand your ground. He’s faster - if you run he’ll catch you, and once those arms go around you you’ll quit breathing. Your only chance is to stand and face him. Then he may - he just may - stop and think it over. And he may not. If his wives and children are behind him and he’s afraid you may hurt them, he’ll keep on coming. If you look harmless and carry no gun, he may throw up his arms as if saying ‘What’s the use?’ and go grumbling back to his family.’
Hal knitted his brows. ‘Did you say carry no gun? Suppose there’s real trouble?’
There’ll be more trouble if you carry a gun. If a gorilla comes for you the best thing you can do with a gun is to throw it into the bushes. Remember, you’re dealing with an intelligent creature. Gorilla, chimp, elephant, dolphin - the four most intelligent animals on earth. The gorilla knows a gun when he sees one.’
Then he must have been hunted.’
‘Yes - by some famous hunters - and they stayed right here in this cabin - Prince Wilhelm of Sweden, King Albert of Belgium, Theodore Roosevelt, Sir Julian Huxley, Carl Akeley.’ Tieg threw back bis head as if sniffing a bad smell. ‘I’m wasting my breath,’ he said. ‘These names wouldn’t mean a thing to kids your age.’
Hal smiled. He was surprised by this sudden burst of sarcasm. He didn’t bother to say that he had been brought up on tales of the great hunters and knew these names very well.
‘But I’ll tell you about Carl Akeley,’ went on Tieg. ‘He thought this spot one of the loveliest on earth. He wanted to be buried here, and he was. You’ll see his grave tomorrow morning. He collected animals of every sort in this forest and mounted them. If you ever go to the Natural History Museum in New York you’ll see them in the Akeley African Hall.’
Roger spoke up. They’re great. We’ve seen them dozens of times.’
Tieg looked at Roger so hard his glare seemed to pierce the boy’s hide. ‘So I suppose you know more about all this than I do. Perhaps you ought to be the guide and teach me.’
I could teach you better manners, Roger thought.
There’s another man more important in a way than all these,’ Tieg went on. ‘You wouldn’t know about him. He settled down here a few years ago and lived among the gorillas for more than a year. He made the first detailed study of the gorilla’s habits. His name was Schaller.’
‘I’ve read his books,’ Hal said. He opened his pack and drew out George Schaller’s The Year of the Gorilla. ‘It’s my gorilla bible.’
‘So that makes you an authority, I suppose,’ was Tieg’s caustic comment.
‘Nonsense,’ Hal said. ‘I know nothing about the mountain gorilla except what I’ve read. That’s one animal my father never had on the farm. Never could get one.’
‘And there’s no guarantee that you’ll be more successful,’ Tieg reminded him. ‘You could shoot one easily enough. But to take one alive - that’s really something.’
The boys were too excited to sleep soundly. They were out at dawn to look things over.
The evening before when they had arrived it had been too dark to see much. Now they agreed with Akeley - this was one of the loveliest places in the world.
The small meadow was filled with wild flowers. The lakelet was smooth as a mirror. It reflected the great trees that surrounded the clearing like guards protecting a treasure. It reflected also the rump of a rhino which had finished drinking and was wandering back into the forest with two white egrets riding on his back.
In one corner of the meadow was a flat gravestone bearing the words:
Through gaps in the trees could be seen the other Virunga mountains, every one of them a volcano. There were eight altogether, six of them sleeping under snow, two very much alive, spouting fire and red-hot lava.
The cabin had rough unpainted board walls and a tin roof. It consisted of three large rooms and two sheds - the crew slept in one room and the sheds, the boys shared a room, Andre Tieg had a room to himself.
Everyone was up now - except Tieg. He was having his beauty sleep. Hal talked with the cook. Then he rapped on Tieg’s door.
‘Breakfast’s ready,’ he called.
In due time Tieg came out, yawning.
‘What’s for breakfast?’ he inquired sleepily.
‘How would you like three per cent of an egg?’
Tieg glared. ‘Is that supposed to be funny?’
‘Yes,’ Hal said. ‘Funny and true. The cook tells me he’s scrambled an egg.’
‘An egg for each man, you mean. Learn to speak precisely, young fellow.’