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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XXII


We start for a tiger hunt on the Nepaul frontier—Indian scenery near the border—Lose our way—Cold night—The river by night—Our boat and boatman—Tigers calling on the bank—An anxious moment— lire at and wound the tigress—Reach Camp—The Nepaulee's adventure with a tiger—The old Major—His appearance and manners —The pompous Jemadar—Nepaulese proverb—Firing the jungle-Start a tiger and shoot him—Another in front—Appearance of the fires by night—The tiger escapes—Too dark to follow up—Coolie shot by mistake during a former hunt.

Early in 1875 a military friend of mine was engaged in inspecting the boundary pillars near my factory, between our territory and that of Nepaul. Some of the pillars had been cut away by the river, and the survey map required a little alteration in consequence. Our district magistrate was in attendance, and sent me an invitation to go up and spend a week with them in camp. I had no need to send on tents, as they had every requisite for comfort. I sent off my bed and bedding on Geerdharee Jha's old elephant, a timid, useless brute, lit neither for beating jungle nor for carrying a howdah. My horse I sent on to the ghat or crossing, some ten miles up the river, and after lunch I started. It was a fine cool afternoon, and it was not long ere I reached the neighbouring factory of Imamnugger. Here I had a little refreshment with Old Tom, and after exchanging greetings, I resumed my way, over a part of the country with which I was totally unacquainted.

I rode on, past villages nestling in the mango groves, past huge tanks, excavated by the busy labour of generations long since departed; past decaying temples overshadowed by mighty tamarind trees, with the pepvl and palur insinuating their twining roots amid the shattered and crumbling masonry. In one large village I passed through the bustling bazaar, where the din, and dust, and mingled odours were almost overpowering. The country was now assuming quite an undulating character. The banks of the creeks were steep and rugged, and in some places the water actually tumbled from rock to rock, with a purling pleasant ripple and plash, a welcome sound to a Scotch ear, and a pleasant surprise after the dull, dead, leaden, noiseless flow of the streams further down on the plains.

Far in front lay the gloomy belt of Terai, or border forest, here called the morung, where the British territories had their extreme limit in that direction. Behind this belt, tier on tier, rose the mighty ranges of the majestic Himalayas, towering up in solemn grandeur from the bushy masses of forest-clad hills till their snow-capped summits seemed to pierce the sky. The country was covered by green crops, with here and there patches of dingy rice-stubble, and an occasional stretch of dense grass jungle. Quail, partridge, and plover rose from the ground in coveys, as my horse cantered through; and an occasional peafowl or florican scudded across the track as I ambled onward. I asked at a wretched little accumulation of weavers' huts where the ghat was, and if my elephant had gone on. To both my queries I received satisfactory replies, and as the day was now drawing in. I pushed my nag into a sharp canter and hurried forward.

I soon perceived the bulky outline of my elephant ahead, and on coming up, found that my men had come too far up the river, had missed the ghat to which I had sent my spare horse, and were now making for another ferry still higher up. My horse was jaded, so I got on the elephant, and made one of the peons lead the horse behind. It was rapidly getting dark, and the mahout, or elephant driver, a miserable low caste stupid fellow, evidently knew nothing of the country, and was going at random. I halted at the ne.\t village, got hold of the chowkedar, and by a promise of backsheesh, prevailed on him to accompany us and show us the way. We turned off from the direct northerly direction in which we had been going, and made straight for the river, which we could see in the distance, looking chill and grey in the fast fading twilight. "\Vc now got on the sandbanks, and had to go cautiously for fear of quicksands. By the time we reached the ghat it was quite dark and growing very cold.

We were quite close to the hills, a heavy dew was falling, and I found that I should have to float down the river for a mile, and then pole up stream in another channel for two miles before I could reach camp.

I got my horse into the boat, ordering the elephant driver to travel all night if he could, as I should expect my things to be at camp early in the morning, and the boatmen pushed off the unwieldy ferry-boat, floating us quietly down the rapid "drumly" stream. All is solemnly still and silent on an Indian river at night. The stream is swift but noiseless. Vast plains and heaps of sand stretch for miles on either bank. There are no villages near the stream, Faintly, far away in the distance, you hear a few subdued sounds, the only evidences of human habitation. There is the tinkle of a cow-bell, the barking of a pariah clog, the monotonous dub-a-dub-dub of a timber-toned tom-tom, muffled and slightly mellowed by the distance. The faint far cries, and occasional halloos of the herd-boys calling to each other, gradually cease, but the monotonous dub-a-dub-dub continues till far into the night.

It was now very cold, and I was glad to borrow a blanket from my peon. At such a time the pipe is a great solace. It soothes the whole system, Ml plunges one into an agreeable dreamy speculative mood, through which all sorts of fantastic notions revolve. Fancies chase each other quickly, and old memories rise, bitter or sweet, but all tinged and tinted by the seductive influence of the magic weed. Hail, blessed pipe! the invigorator of the weary, the uncomplaining faithful friend, the consoler of sorrows, and the dispeller of care, the much-prized companion of the solitary wayfarer!

Now a jackal utters a low! on the bank, as our boat shoots past, and the diabolical noise is echoed from knoll to knoll, and from ridge to ridge, as these incarnate devils of the night join in and prolong the infernal chorus. An occasional splash, as a piece of the bank topples over Into the stream, rouses the cormorant and gull from their placid dozing on the sandbanks. They squeak and gurgle out an unintelligible protest, then cosily settle their heads again beneath the sheltering wing, and sleep the slumber of the dreamless. A sharp sudden plump, or a lazy surging sound, accompanied by a wheezy blowing sort of hiss, tells us that a scelun is disporting himself; or that a fat old "porpus" is bearing his clumsy bulk through the rushing current.

The bank now looms out dark and mysterious, and as we turn the point another long stretch of the river opens out, reflecting the merry twinkle of the myriad stars, that glitter sharp and clear millions of miles overhead. There is now a clattering of bamboo poles. With a grunt of disgust, and a quick catching of the breath, as the cold water rushes up against his thighs, one of the boatmen splashes overboard, and they commence slowly and wearily pushing the boat up stream. We touch the bank a dozen times. The current swoops down and turns us round and round. The men have to put their shoulders under the gunwale, and heave and strain with all their might. The long bamboo poles are plunged into the dark depths of the river, and the men puff, and grunt, and blow, as they bend almost to the bottom of the boat while they push. It is a weary progress. We are dripping wet with dew. Quite close on the bank we hear the hoarse wailing call of a tigress. The call of the tiger comes echoing down between the banks. The. men cease poling. I peer forward into the obscurity. My syce pats, and speaks soothingly to the trembling horse, while my peon with excited fingers fumbles at the straps of my gun-case. For a moment all is intensely still.

I whisper to the boatman to push out a little into the stream. Again the tigress calls, this time so close to us that we could almost fancy we could feel her breath. My gun is ready. The syce holds the horse firmly by the head, and as we leave the bank, we can distinctly see the outline of some large animal, standing out a dark bulky mass against the skyline. I take a steady aim and fire. A roar of astonishment, wrath and pain follows the report. The horse struggles and snorts, the boatman calls out "Oh, my father!" and ejaculates "hi-hi-hi!" in tones of piled-up anguish and apprehension, the peon cries exultantly "Wal wah ' khoda-wund, lug, gea," that bullet has told; oh your highness! and while the boat rocks violently to and fro, I abuse the boatmen, slang the syce, and rush to grasp a pole, while the peon seizes another; for we are drifting rapidly down stream, and may at any moment strike on a bank and topple over. We can hear by the growling and commotion on the bank, that my bullet has indeed told, and that something is hit. We soon get the frightened boatmen quieted down, and after another hour's weary work we spy the white outline of the tents above the bank. A lamp shines out a bright welcome; and although it is nearly twelve at night, the Captain and the magistrate are discussing hot toddy, and waiting my arrival. My spare horse had come on from the ghat, the syce had told them 1 was coming, and they had been indulging in all sorts of speculations over my non-arrival.

A good supper, and a reeking jorum, soon banished all recollections of my weary journey, and men were ordered to go out at first break of dawn, and see about the wounded tiger. In the morning I was gratified beyond expression to to find a fine tigress, measuring 8 feet 1 inches, had been brought in, tlie result of my lucky night- shot; the marks of a large tiger were found about the spot, and we determined to beat up for him, and if possible secure his skin, as we already had that of his consort.

Captain S. had some work to finish, and my elephant and bearer had not arrived, so our magistrate and myself walked down to the sandbanks, and amused ourselves for an hour shooting sandpipers and plover; we also shot a pair of mallard and a couple of teal, and then went back to the tents, and were soon busily discussing a hunter's breakfast. While at our meal, my elephant and things arrived, and just then also, the "Major Captan," or Nepaulese functionary, my old friend, came up with eight elephants, and we hurried out to greet the fat, merry-featured old man.

What a quaint, genial old customer he looked, as he bowed and salaamed to us from his elevated seat, his face beaming, and his little bead-like eyes twinkling with pleasure. lie was fall of an adventure he had as he came along. After crossing a brawling mountain-torrent, some miles from our camp, they entered some dense kair jungle. The kair is, I believe, a species of mimosa; it is a bard wood, growing in a thick scrubby form, with small pointed leaves, a yellowish sort of flower, and sharp thorns studding its branches; it is a favourite resort for pig, and although it is difficult to beat on account of the thorns, tigers are not unfrequently found among the gloomy recesses of a good kair scrub.

As they entered this jungle, some of the men were loitering behind. When the elephants had passed about half way through, the men came rushing up pell mell, with consternation on their faces, reporting that a huge tiger had sprung out on them, and carried off one of their number. The Major and the elephants hurried back, and met the man limping along, bleeding from several scratches, and with a nasty bite in his shoulder, but otherwise more frightened than hurt. The tiger had simply knocked him down, stood over him for a minute, seized him by tin- shoulder, and then dashed on through the scrub, leaving him behind half dead with pain and fear.

It was most amusing to hear the fat little Major relate the story. He went through all the by-play incident to the piece, and as he got excited, stood right up on his narrow pad. His gesticulations were most vehement, and as the elephant was rather unsteady, and his footing to say the least precarious, he seemed every moment as if he must topple over. The old warrior, however, was equal to the occasion; without for an instant abating the vigour of his narrative, he would clutch at the greasy, matted locks of his mahout, and steady himself, while he volubly described incident after incident. As he warmed with his subject, and tried to show us how the tiger must have pounced on the man, he would let go and use his hands in illustration ; the old elephant would give another heave, and the fat little man would make another frantic grab at the patient mahout's hair. The whole scene was most comical, and we were in convulsions of laughter.

The news, however, foreboded ample sport; we now had certain khubber of at least two tigers; we were soon under weigh; the wounded man had been scut back to the Major's headquarters on an elephant, and in time recovered completely from his mauling. As we jogged along, we had a most interesting talk with the Major Captiin. He was wonderfully well informed, considering he had never been out of Nepaul. He knew all about England, our army, our mode of government, our parliament, and our Queen; whenever he alluded to her Majesty be salaamed profoundly, whether as a tribute of respect to her, or in compliment to us as loyal subjects, we could not quite make out. He described to us the route home by the Suez Canal, and the fun of his talk was much heightened by his applying the native names to everything; London was Shuhur,. the word meaning "a city," and he told us it was built on the Thamass nuddee, by which he meant the Thames river.

Our magistrate had a Jemadar of Peons with him, a sort of head man among the servants. This man, abundantly bedecked with ear-rings, finger-rings, and other ornaments, was a useless, bullying sort of fellow; dressed to the full extent of Oriental foppishness, and because lie was the magistrate's servant, he thought himself entitled to order the other servants about in the most lordly way. He was now making himself peculiarly officious, shouting to the drivers to go here and there, to do this and do that, and indulging in copious torrents of abuse, without which it seems impossible for a native subordinate to give directions on any subject. "We were all rather amused, and could not help bursting into laughter, as, inflated with a sense of his own importance, he began abusing one of the native drivers of the Nepaulee chief; this man did not submit tamely to his insolence. To him the magistrate was nobody, and the pompous Jemadar a perfect nonentity. He accordingly turned round and poured forth a perfect flood of invective. Never was collapse more utter. The Jemadar took a back seat at once, and no more that day did we hear his melodious voice in tones of imperious command.

The old Major chuckled, and rubbed his fat little hands, and leaning over to me said, "at home a lion, but abroad a lamb," for, surrounded by his women at home, the man would twirl his moustaches, look tierce and fancy himself a. very tiger; but, no sooner did he go abroad, and mix with men as good, it not better than himself, than he was ready to eat any amount of humble pie.

We determined first of all to beat for the tiger whose tracks had been seen near where I had fired my lucky shot the preceding night. A strong west wind was blowing, and dense clouds of sand were being swept athwart our line, from the vast plains of fine white sand bordering the river for miles. As we went along we fired the jungle in our rear, and the strong wind carried the flames raging and rowing, through the dense jungle with amazing fury. One elephant got so frightened at the noise behind him, that he fairly bolted for the river, and could not be persuaded back into the line.

Disturbed by the fire, we saw numerous deer and pig, but being after liger we refrained from shooting at them. The Basmattea Tuppra, which was the scene of our present hunt, were famous jungles, and many a tiger had been shot there by the Purneah Club in bygone days. The annual ravages of the impetuous river had, however, much changed the face of the country; vast tracts of jungle had been obliterated by deposits of sand from its annual incursions. Great skeletons of trees stood everywhere, stretching out bare and unsightly branches, all bending to the south, showing the mighty power of the current, when it made its annual progress of devastation over the surrounding country. Now, however, it was like a thin streak of silver, flashing back the fierce rays of the meridian sun. Through the blinding clouds of fine white sand we could at times, during a temporary lull, see its ruffled surface. And we were glad when we came on the tracks of the tiger, which led straight from the stream, in the direction of some thick tree jungle at no great distance. We gladly turned our backs to the furious clouds of dust and gusts of scorching wind, and, led by a Nepaulese tracker, were soon crashing heavily through the jungle.

When hunting with elephants, the Nepaulese beat in a dense line, the heads of the elephants touching each other. In this manner we were now proceeding, when S. called out, "There goes the tiger."

We looked up, and saw a very large tiger making off for a deep watercourse, which ran through the jungle some 200 yards ahead of the line. We hurried up as fast as we could, putting out a fast elephant on either flank, to see that the cunning 1 mite Sid not sneak either up or down the nullah, under cover of the high banks. This, however, was not his object. We saw him descend into the nullah, and almost immediately top the further bank, and disappear into the jungle beyond.

Pressing on at a rapid jolting trot, we dashed after him in hot pursuit. The jungle seemed somewhat lighter on ahead. In the distance we could see some dangurs at work breaking up land, and to the right was a small collection of huts with a beautiful riband of green crops, a perfect oasis in the wilderness of sand and parched-up grass. Forming into line we pressed on. The tiger was evidently lying up, probably deterred from breaking across the open by the sight of the dangurs at work. My heart was bounding with excitement. We were all intensely-eager, and thought no more of the hot wind and blinding dust. .lust then Captain S. saw the brute sneaking along to the left of the line, trying to outflank us, and break back. He fired two shots rapidly with his Express, and the second one, taking effect in the neck of the tiger, bowled him over as he stood. He was a mangy-looking brute, badly marked, and measured eight feet eleven inches. He did not have a chance of charging, and probably had little heart for a. fight.

We soon had him padded, and then proceeded straight north, to the scene of the Major's encounter with the tiger in the morning. The jungle was well trampled down; there w ere numerous streams and pools of water, occasional clumps of bamboos, and abrupt ridgy undulations. It was the very jungle for tiger, and elated by our success in having bagged one already, we were all in high spirits. The line of fire we could see far in the distance, sweeping on like the march of fate, and we could have shot numerous deer, but reserved our fire for nobler game. It was getting well on in the afternoon when we came up to the kair jungle. We beat right up to where the man had been seized, and could see the marks of the struggle distinctly enough. We heat right through the jungle with no result, and as it was now getting rather late, the old Major signified his desire to hid us good evening. As this meant depriving us of eight elephants, we prevailed on him to try one spare straggling corner that we had not gone through. lie laughed the idea to scorn of getting a tiger there, saying there was no cover. One elephant, however, was sent while we were talking. Our elephants were all standing in a group, and the mahout on his solitary elephant was listlessly jogging on in a purposeless and desultory manner, when we suddenly heard the elephant pipe out a shrill note of alarm, and the mahout yelled "Bagh! Bagn! " tiger! tiger! The Captain was again the lucky man. The tiger, a much liner and stronger built animal than the one we had already killed, was standing not eighty paces off, showing his teeth, his bristles erect, and evidently in a bad temper. He had been crouching among some low bushes, and seeing the elephant bearing directly down on him, he no doubt imagined his retreat had been discovered. At all events there he was, and he presented a splendid aim. He was a noble-looking specimen as he stood there grim and defiant. Captain S. took aim, and lodged an Express bullet in his chest. It made a fearful wound, and the ferocious brute writhed and rolled about in agony. We quickly surrounded him, and a bullet behind the ear from my No. 16 put an end to his misery.

The old Major now bade us good evening, and after padding the second tiger, and much elated at our success, we began to beat homewards, shooting at everything that rose before us A couple of tremendous pig got up before me, and dashed through a clear stream that was purling peacefully in its pebbly bed. As the boar was rushing up the farther bank. I deposited a pellet in Ids hind quarters. He gave an angry grunt and tottered on, but presently pulled up, and seemed determined to have some revenge for his hurt. As my elephant came up the bank, the gallant hoar tried to charge, but, already wounded and weak from loss of blood, he tottered and staggered about. My elephant would not face him, so I gave him another shot behind the shoulder, and padded him for the moomhurs and sweepers in camp. Just then one of the policemen started a young hog-deer, and several of the men got down and tried to catch the little thing alive. They soon succeeded, and the cries of the poor little butcha, that is "young one," were most plaintive.

The wind had now subsided, there was a red angry glare, as the level rays of the setting sun shimmered through the dense clouds of dust that loaded the atmosphere. It was like the dull, red, coppery hue which presages a storm. The vast morung jungle lay behind us, and beyond that the swelling wooded lulls, beginning to show dark and indistinct against the gathering gloom. A long line of cattle were wending their way homeward to the batan, and the tinkle of the big copper bell fell pleasingly on our ears. In the distance, we could see the white canvas of the tents, gleaming in the rays of the setting sun. A vast circular line of smouldering fire, flickering and flaring fitfully, and surmounted by huge volumes of curling smoke, showed the remains of the fierce tornado of flame that had raged at noon, when we lit the jungle. The jungle was very light, and much trodden down, our three howdah elephants were not far apart, and we were chatting cheerfully together and discussing the incidents of the day. My bearer was sitting behind me in the back of the howdah, and I had taken out my ball cartridge from my No. 12 breechloader, and had replaced them with shot. Just then my mahout raised his hand, and in a hoarse excited whisper called out,

"Look, sahib, a large tiger!"

"Where" we all exclaimed, getting excited at once. He pointed in front to a large object, looking for all the world like a huge dun cow.

"Why, you fool, that is a bullock," I exclaimed.

My bearer, who had also been intently gazing, now said,

"No, sahib! that is a tiger, and a large one."

At that moment, it turned partly round, and I at once saw that the men were right, and that it was a veritable tiger, and seemingly a monster in size. I at once called to Captain S. and the magistrate, who had by this time fallen a little behind.

"Look out, you fellows! here's a tiger in front."

At first they thought I was joking, but a glance confirmed the truth of what I had said. When I first saw the brute, he was evidently sneaking after the cattle, and was about sixty paces from me. He was so intent on watching the herd, that he had not noticed our approach. He was now, however, evidently alarmed and making off. By the time I called out, he must have been over eighty yards away. I had my No. 12 in my hand, loaded with shot; it was no use; I put it down and took up my No. 16; this occupied a few seconds; I fired both barrels; the first bullet was in excellent line but rather short, the second went over the animal's back, and neither touched him. It made him, however, quicken his retreat, and when Captain S. fired, he must have been fully one hundred and fifty yards away; as it was now somewhat dusky, he also missed. He fired another long shot with his rifle, but missed again. Oh that unlucky change of cartridges in my No. 12! But for that—but there—we are always wise after the event. We never expected to see a tiger in such open country, especially as we had been over the same ground before, firing pretty often as we came along-

We followed up of course, but it was now fast getting dark, and though we beat about for some time, we could not get another glimpse of the tiger. He was seemingly a very large male, dark-coloured, and in splendid condition. We must have got him, had it been earlier, as ho could not have gone far forward, for the lines of fire were beyond him. and we had him between the fire and the elephants. We got home about 0.30, rather disappointed at missing such a glorious prize, so true is it that a sportsman's soul is never satisfied. But we had rare and most unlooked-for luck, and we felt considerably better after a good dinner, and indulged in hopes of getting the big fellow next morning.

In the same jungles, some years ago, a very sad accident occurred. A party were out tiger-shooting, and during one of the beats, a cowherd, hearing the noise of the advancing elephants, crouched behind a bush, and covered himself with his blanket. At a distance he looked exactly like a pig, and one of the shooters mistook him for one. He fired, and hit the poor herd in the hip. As soon as the mistake was perceived, everything was done for the poor fellow. His wound was dressed as well as they could do it, and he was sent off to the. doctor in a dhoolie, a sort of covered litter, slung on a pole and carried on men's shoulders. It was too late, the poor coolie died on the road, from shock and loss of blood. Such mistakes occur very seldom, and this was such a natural one, that no one could blame the unfortunate sportsman, and certainly no one felt keener regret than he did. The coolie's family was amply provided for, which was ell that, remained to be done.

This is the only instance I know, where fatal results have followed such an accident. I have known several cases of beaters peppered with shot, generally from their own carelessness, and disregard of orders, but a salve in the shape of a few rupees has generally proved the most effective ointment. I have known some rascals say, they were sorry they had not been lucky enough to be wounded, as they considered a punctured cuticle nothing to set against the magnificent douceur of four or fiv e rupees. One impetuous scamp, being told not to go in front of the line during a beat near Burgamma, replied to the warning caution of his jemadar,

"Oh, never mind, if I get shot I will get backsheesh."

Whether this was a compliment to the efficacy of our treatment (by the silver ointment), or to the inaccuracy and harmlessness of our shooting, I leave the reader to judge.

Our bag during this lucky day, including the tigress killed by my shot on the river bank, was as follows: three tigers, one boar, four deer, including the young one taken alive, eight sandpipers, nine plovers, two mallards, and two teal.


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