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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XXIII


We resume the beat—The hog-deer—Nepaulese villages—Village granaries —Tiger in front—A hit! a hit!—Following up the wounded tiger— Find him dead—Tiffin in the village—The Fatah jungle—Search for tiger—Gone away!—An elephant steeplechase in pursuit—Exciting chase—The Morung jungle—Magnificent scenery—Skinning the tiger —Incidents of tiger hunting.

Next morning, both the magistrate and myself felt very ill. headachy and sick, with violent vomiting and retching; Captain S. attributed it to the fierce hot wind and exposure of the preceding day, but we, the sufferers, blamed the dekehees or cooking pots. These dekehees are generally made of copper, coated or tinned over with white metal once a month or oftener; if the tinning is omitted, or the copper becomes exposed by accident or neglect, the food cooked in the pots sometimes gets tainted with copper, ami produces nausea and sickness in those who eat it. I have known, within my own experience, cases of copper poisoning that have terminated fatally. It is well always thoroughly to inspect the kitchen utensils, particularly when in camp; unless carefully watched and closely supervised, servants get very careless, and let food remain in these copper vessels. This is always dangerous, and should never be allowed.

In consequence, of our indisposition, we did not start till the forenoon was far advanced, and the hot west wind had again begun to sweep over the prairie-like stretches of sand and withered grass. We commenced beating up by the Batan or cattle stance, near which we had seen the big tiger, the preceding evening. S., however, became so sick and giddy, that he had to return to camp, and Captain S. and I continued the beat alone. Having gone over the same ground only yesterday, we did not expect a tiger so near to camp, more especially as the fire had made fearful havoc with the tall grass. Hog-deer were very numerous; they are not as a rule easily disturbed; they are of a reddish brown colour, not unlike that of the Scotch red deer, and rush through the jungle, when alarmed, with a succession of bounding leaps; they make very pretty shooting, and when young, afford tender and well-flavoured venison. One hint I may give. When you shoot a buck, see that he is at once denuded of certain appendages, else the flesh will get rank and disagreeable to eat. The bucks have pretty antlers, but are not very noble looking. The does are. somewhat lighter in colour, and do not seem to consort together in herds like antelopes; there are rarely more than five in a group, though I have certainly seen more on several occasions.

This morning we were unlucky with our deer. I shot three, and Captain S. shot at and wounded three, not one of which, however, did we bag. This part of the country is exclusively inhabited by Parbutteas, the native name for Nepaulese settled in British territory. Over the frontier line, the villagers are called Pahareeas, signifying mountaineers or hillmen, from Pahar, a mountain. We beat up to a Parbuttea village, with its conical-roofed huts; men and women were engaged in plaiting long coils of rice straw into cable-looking ropes. A few split bamboos are fastened into the ground, in a circle, and these ropes are then coiled round, in and out, between the stakes; this makes a huge circular vat-shaped repository, open at both ends; it is then lifted up and put on a platform coated with mud. and protected from rats and vermin by the pillars being placed on smooth, inverted earthen pots. The coils of straw are now plastered outside and in with a mixture of mud, chaff, and cow-dung, and allowed to dry; when dried the hut is filled with grain and securely roofed and thatched. This forms the invariable village granary, and looks at a distance not unlike a stack or rick of corn, round a farm at home. By the abundance of these granaries in a village, one can tell at a glance whether the season has been a good one, and whether the frugal inhabitants of the clustering little hamlet are in pretty comfortable circumstances. If they are under the sway of a grasping and unscrupulous landlord, they not unfrequently bury their grain in clay-lined chambers in the earth, and have always enough for current wants, stored up in the sun-baked clay repositories mentioned in a former chapter.

Beyond the "village we entered some thick Patair jungle. Its greenness was refreshing after the burnt-up and withered grass jungle. We were now in a hollow bordering the stream, and somewhat protected from the scorching wind, and the stinging clouds of line sand and red dust. The brook looked so cool and refreshing, and the water so clear and pellucid, that I was about to dismount to take a drink and lave my heated head and face, when a low whistle to iny right made me look in that direction, and I saw the Captain waving his hand excitedly, and pointing ahead. He was higher up the bank than I was, and in very dense Patair; a ridge ran between his front of the line and mine, so that I could only see bis howdah, and the bulk of the elephant's body was concealed from me by the grass on this ridge.

I closed up diagonally across the ridge; S. still waving to me to hurry up; as I topped it, I spied a large tiger slouching along in the hollow immediately below me. He saw me at the same instant, and bounded on in front of S. His Express was at his shoulder on the instant; he tired, and a tremendous spurt of blood showed 3 hit, a hit, a palpable hit. The tiger was nowhere visible, and not a cry or a motion could we hear or see, to give us any clue to the whereabouts of the wounded animal. We followed up however, quickly but cautiously, expecting every instant a furious charge.

We must have gone at least a hundred yards, when run in front of me I descried the tiger, crouching down, its head resting on its fore paws, and to all appearance settling for a spring. It was about twenty yards from me, and taking a rather hasty aim, I quickly fired both barrels straight at the head. I could only see the head and paws, but these I saw quite distinctly. My elephant was very unsteady, and both my bullets went within an inch of the tiger's head, but fortunately missed completely. I say fortunately, for finding the brute still remaining quite motionless, we cautiously approached, and found it was stone dead. The perfect naturalness of the position, however, might well have deceived a more experienced sportsman. The beast was lying crouched on all fours, as if in the very act of preparing to spring. The one bullet had killed it; the wound was in the lungs, and the internal bleeding had suffocated it, but here was a wonderful instance of the tiger's tenacity of life, even when sorely wounded, for it had travelled over a hundred and thirty yards after S had shot it.

It was lucky I missed, for my bullets would have spoiled the skull. She was a very handsome, finely marked tigress, a large specimen, for on applying the tape, we found she measured exactly nine feet. Before descending to measure her, we were joined by the old Major Captain whose elephants we had for some time descried in the distance. His congratulations were profuse, and no doubt sincere, and after padding the tigress, we hied to the welcome shelter of one of the village houses, where we discussed a hearty and substantial tiffin.

During tiffin, we were surrounded by a bevy of really fair and buxom lasses. They wore petticoats of striped blue cloth, and had their arms and shoulders bare, and their ears loaded with silver ornaments. They were merry, laughing, comely damsels, with none of the exaggerated shyness and affected prudery of the women of the plains. We were offered plantains, milk, and chuppaties, and an old patriarch came out leaning on his staff, to revile and abuse the tigress. From some of the young men we heard of a fresh kill to the north of the village, and after tiffin we proceeded in that direction, following up the course of the limpid stream, whose gurgling ripple sounded so pleasantly in our ears.

Far ahead to the right, and on the further hank of the stream, we could see dense curling volumes of smoke, and leaping pyramids of flame, where a jungle fire was raging in some thick acacia scrub. As we got nearer, the heat became excessive, and the flames, fanned into tremendous fury by the fierce west wind, tore through the dry thorny bushes. Our elephants were quite unsteady, and did not like facing the fire. We made a slight detour, and soon had the roaring wall of flame behind us. We were now entering on a moist, circular, basin-shaped hollow. Among the patair roots were the recent marks of great numbers of wild pigs, where they had been foraging among the stiff clay for these esculents. The patair is like a huge bulrush, and the elephants are very fond of its succulent, juicy, cool-looking leaves. Those in our line kept tearing up huge tufts of it, thrashing out the mud and dirt from the roots against their fore-legs, and with a grunt of satisfaction, making it slowly disappear in their cavernous mouths. There was considerable noise, and the jungle was nearly as high as the howdahs, presenting the appearance of an impenetrable screen of vivid green. We beat and reheat, across and across, but there was no sign of the tiger. The banks of the nullah were very steep, rotten looking, and dangerous. We had about eighteen elephants, namely, ten of our own, and eight belonging to the Nepaulese. We were beating very close, the, elephants' heads almost touching. This is the way they always beat in Nepaul. We thought we had left not a spot in the basin untouched, and Captain S. was quite satisfied that there could be no tiger there. It was a splendid jungle for cover, so thick, dense, and cool. I was beating along the edge of the creek, which ran deep and silent, between the gloomy sedge-covered banks. In a placid little pool I saw a couple of widgeon all unconscious of danger, their glossy plumage reflected in the clear water. I called to Captain S., "We are sold this time, Captain, there's no tiger here!"

"I'm afraid not," he answered.

"Shall I bag those two widgeon?" I asked.

"All right," was the response.

Putting in shot cartridge, I shot both the widgeon, but we were all astounded to see the tiger we had so carefully and perseveringly searched for, bound out of a crevice in the bank, almost right under my elephant. Off he went with a smothered roar, that set our elephants hurrying backwards and forwards. There was a commotion along the whole line. The jungle was too dense for us to see anything. It was one more proof how these hill tigers will lie close, even in the midst of a line.

S. called out to me to remain quiet, and see if we could trace the tiger's progress by any rustling in the cover. Looking down we saw the kill, close to the edge of the water. A fast elephant was sent on ahead, to try and ascertain whether the tiger was likely to break beyond the circle of the little basin-shaped valley. We gathered round the kill; it was quite fresh; a young buffalo. The Major told us that in his experience, a male tiger always begins on the neck first. A female always at the hind quarters. A few mouthfuls only had been eaten, and according to the Major, it must have been a tigress, as the part devoured was from the hind quarters.

While we were talking over these things, a frenzied shout from the driver of our naka elephant caused us to look in his direction. He was gesticulating wildly, and bawling at the top of his voice, "Come, come quickly, sahibs, the tiger is running away."

Now commenced such a mad and hurried scramble as I have never witnessed before or since, from the back of an elephant. As we tore through the tangled dense green patair, the broad leaves crackled like crashing branches, the huge elephants surged ahead like ships rocking in a gale of wind, and the mahouts and attendants on the pad elephants, shouted and urged on their shuffling animals, by excited cries and resounding whacks.

In the retinue of the Major, were several men with elephant spears or goads. These consist of a long, pliant, polished bamboo, with a sharp spike at the end, which they call a jhetha. These men now came hurrying round the ridge, among the opener grass, and as we emerged from the heavy cover, they began goading the elephants behind and urging them to their most furious pace. On ahead, nearly a quarter of a mile away, we could see a huge tiger making off for the distant morung at a rapid sling trot. His lithe body shone before us, and urged us to the most desperate efforts, it was almost a bare plateau. There was scarcely any cover, only here and there a few stunted acacia bushes. The dense forest was two or three miles ahead, but there were several nasty steep banks, and precipitous gullies with deep water rushing between. Attached to each Nepaulee pad, by a stout curiously plaited cord, ornamented with fancy knots and tassels of silk, was a pestle-shaped instrument, not unlike an auctioneer's hammer. It was quaintly carved, and studded with short, blunt, sinning, brass nails or spikes. I had noticed these hanging down from the pads, and had often wondered what they were for. I was now to see them used. While the mahouts in front rained a shower of blows on the elephant's head, and the spear-men pricked him up from behind with their jhethas, the occupant of the pad, turning round with his face to the tail, belaboured the poor hathee with the auctioneer's hammer. The blows rattled on the elephant's rump. The brutes trumpeted with pain, but they did put on the pace, and travelled as I never imagined an elephant could travel. Past bush and brake, down precipitous ravine, over the stones, through the thorny scrub, dashing down a steep bank here, plunging madly through a deep stream there, we shuffled along. We must have been young fully seven miles an hour. The pestle-shaped hammer is called a hathath, and most unmercifully were they wielded. We were jostled and jolted, till every bone ached again. Clouds of dust were driven before our reeling waving line. How the Nepaulese shouted and capered. We were all mad with excitement. I shouted with the rest. The fat little Major kicked his heels against the sides of his elephant, as if he were spurring a Derby winner to victory. Our usually sedate captain yelled—actually yelledI—in an agony of excitement, and tried to execute a war dance of his own on the floor of his howdah. Our guns rattled, the chains clanked and jangled, the howdahs rocked and pitched from side to side. We made a desperate effort. The poor elephants made a gallant race of it. The foot men perspired and swore, but it was not to be. Our striped friend had the best of the start, and we gained not an inch upon him. To our unspeakable mortification, he reached the dense covcron ahead, where we might as well have sought for a needle in a haystack. Never, however, shall I forget that mad headlong scramble. Fancy an elephant steeplechase, header, it was sublime; but we ached for it next day.

The old Major and his fleet racing elephants now left us, and our jaded beasts took us slowly back in the direction of our camp. It was a fine wild view on which we were now-gazing. Behind us the dark, gloomy, impenetrable morung, the home of ever-abiding fever and ague, behind that the countless multitude of hills, swelling here and receding there, a jumbled heap of mighty peaks and fretted pinnacles, with their glistening sides and dark shadowless ravines, their mighty scaurs, and their abrupt serrated edges showing out clearly and boldly defined against tlie evening sky. Far to the right, the shining river—a riband of burnished steel, for its waters were a deep steely blue—rolled its swift flood along amid shining sandbanks. In front, the vast undulating plain, with grove, and rill, and smoking hamlet, stretched at our feet in a lovely panorama of blended and harmonious colour. We were now high up above the plain, and the scene was one of the finest I have ever witnessed in India. The wind had gone down, and the oblique rays of the sun lit up the whole vast panorama with a lurid light, which was heightened in effect by the dust-laden atmosphere, and the volumes of smoke from the now distant fires, hedging in the far horizon with curtains of threatening grandeur and gloom. That far awayr canopy of dust and smoke formed a wonderful contrast to the shining snow-capped hills behind. Altogether it was a day to be remembered. I have seen no such strange and unearthly combination of shade and colour in any landscape before or since.

On the way home we bagged a florican and a very fine mallard, and reached the camp utterly fagged to find our worthy magistrate very much recovered, and glad to congratulate us on our having bagged the tigress. After a plunge in the river, and a rare camp dinner—such a meal as only an Indian sportsman can procure—we lay back in our cane chairs, and while the fragrant smoke from the mild Manilla curled lovingly about the roof of the tent, we discussed the day's proceedings, and fought our battles over again.

A rather animated discussion arose about the length of the tiger—as to its frame merely, and we wondered what difference the skin would make in the length of the animal. As it was a point we had never heard mooted before, we determined to see for ourselves. We accordingly went out into the beautiful moonlight, and superintended the skinning of the tigress. The skin was taken off most artistically.

We had carefully measured the animal before skinning. She was exactly nine feet long. We found the skin made a difference of only four inches, the bare carcase from tip of nose to extreme point of tail measuring eight feet eight inches.

As an instance of tigers taking to trees, our worthy magistrate related that in Rajmehal he and a friend had wounded a tiger, and subsequently lost him in the jungle. In vain they searched in every conceivable direction, but could find no trace of him. They were about giving up in despair, when S., raising his hat, happened to look up, and there, on a large bough directly overhead, he saw the wounded tiger lying extended at full length, some eighteen feet from the ground. They were not long 'n leaving the dangerous vicinity, and it was not long either ere a well-directed shot brought the tiger Sown from his elevated perch.

These after-dinner stories are not the least enjoyable part of a tiger-hunting party, hound the camp table in a snug, well-lighted tent, with all the "materials" handy, I have listened to many a tale of thrilling adventure. S. was full of reminiscences, and Inning seen a deal of tiger shooting in various parts of India, his recollections were much appreciated. To show that the principal danger in tiger shooting is not from the tiger himself, but from one's elephant becoming panic-stricken and bolting, he told how a Mr. Aubert, a Benares planter, lost his life. A tiger had been "spinsd" by a shot, and the line gathered round the prostrate monster to watch its death-struggle. The elephant on which the unfortunate planter sat got demoralised and attempted to bolt. The mahout endeavoured to check its rush, and in desperation the elephant charged straight down, close past the tiger, which lay writhing and roaring under a huge overhanging tree. The elephant was rushing directly under this tree, and a large branch would have swept howdah and everything it contained clean off tlie elephant's hack, as easily as one would brush off a fly. To save himself Aubert made a leap for the branch, the elephant forging madly ahead; and the howdah, being smashed like match-wood, fell on the tiger below, who was tearing and clawing at everything within his reach. Poor Aubert got hold of the branch with his hands, and clung with all the desperation of one fighting for his life. He was right above the wounded tiger, but his grasp on the tree was not a firm one. For a moment he hung suspended above the furious animal, which, mad with agony and fury, was a picture of demoniac rage. The poor fellow-could hold no longer, and fell right on the tiger. It was nearly at its last gasp, but it caught hold of Aubert by the foot, and in a final paroxysm of pain and rage clawed the foot clean off, and the poor fellow died next day from the shock and loss of blood. He was one of four brothers who all met untimely deaths from accidents. This one was killed by the tiger, another was thrown from a vehicle and killed on the spot, the third was drowned, and the fourth shot by accident.

Our bag to-day was one tiger, one florican, one mallard and two widgeon. On cutting the tiger open, we found that the bullet had entered on the left side, and, as we suspected, had entered the lungs. It had, however, made a terrible wound. We found that it had penetrated the heart and liver, gone, forward through the chest, and smashed the right shoulder. Notwithstanding this fearful wound, showing tbe tremendous effects of the Express bullet, the tiger had gone on for the distance I have mentioned, after which it must have fallen stone-dead. It was a marvellous instance of vitality, even after the heart, liver, and lungs had been pierced. The liver had six lobes, and it was then I beard for the first time, that with the natives this was an infallible sign of the age of a tiger. The old Major firmly believed it, and told us it was quite an accepted article of faith with all native sportsmen. Facts subsequently came under my own observation which seemed to give great probability to the theory, but it is one on which I would not like to give a decided opinion, till after hearing the experiences of other sportsmen.


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