6. Revision
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87 6.revision igel was determined to join me on the hunting expedition, so, early one morning a few days before Christmas, we assembled a large retinue of carriers and kit on the edge of the bush close to the District Officer’s house at Wum station and prepared to set off. Both of us had managed to clear three days in our schedules, which we blithely expected would give us plenty of time to bag the much-desired antelope. I always enjoyed going on trek, but this time, without the stress of having to make speeches and face tricky interrogations, I felt exceptionally relaxed and carefree. I remember waiting for the carriers to assemble. It was not yet light and the stars were still bright in the blue-black sky, but all over the town people had already lit the cooking fires for breakfast and the early morning air was full of the fragrant smell of wood smoke. It is a smell that, as long as I live, I will always associate with Africa. As soon as we were satisfied that all the carriers had their loads and that nothing was likely to be left behind, Nigel and I set off ahead of the main party, carrying only my rifle and shotgun and Frambo the monkey perched on Nigel’s shoulder. By this time the dry season was well advanced and it had hardly rained for a month. The emerald green of the grass had turned to yellow and the tall stems were withered and bent. Already, the Fulani herdsmen had started to burn great tracts of this desiccated grassland, so as to encourage new growth and provide fresh grazing for their cattle. Nigel and I scanned these areas carefully, hoping for any sign of wild game, but we were out of luck. No doubt the Fulani themselves had long since bagged anything worth having. Many of them had rifles or shotguns as well as bows and arrows that they used with great skill, but took care to conceal from prying eyes. For the first hour we walked in the cool of the morning, which was always delightful, but as the sun rose and the heat increased, so the flies came out to plague us. We passed a number of Fulani compounds, which were no longer washed clean by daily rains, and the trampled earth around their little circular huts stank of cow dung and rancid butter. Wherever the Fulani and their cattle went, so too did the flies. Unlike the Tikari they did not live in settled villages, so they always knew they would move on and leave their encampments behind them, soon to be reabsorbed into the bush. All the same, it still surprised me that such a graceful and good-looking people should be so unworried by their own squalor. I remember once seeing a beautiful Bororo girl unwind her headgear to reveal her long straight hair so full of lice that they twinkled in the sunshine all over her head, like tiny fairy lights. We reached the forest edge within a couple of hours and entered its green gloom with a sense of relief. Just as I had done before on the way to Itiaku, we walked along the bed of the stream, not worrying about the state of our shoes, N 88 and the coolness of the water was a delight after the hot dust of the savannah. As soon as we entered the forest, Frambo the monkey came to life, making noisy little excursions into the undergrowth in pursuit of butterflies or berries. Nigel and I scanned the ground on either side of the stream, looking for the spoor of forest antelope; we were excited to find a number of different tracks, but we did not have the skill to follow a trail through the forest. Then, quite suddenly, in a clearing by the stream we saw a tiny duiker, or dik-dik, as these little animals were known in the Cameroons. It had disappeared by the time I had unslung the rifle, but I was not really sorry. It was too small and too pretty for Christmas dinner. We found the path without too much difficulty and reached the first compound of Itiaku in a little more than four hours. This embarrassed me because I had boasted to Nigel about the secret remoteness of the place and I knew that he had travelled far greater distances than I. On the other hand...