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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
ChapterXXV


Exciting jungle scene—The camp—All quiet—Advent of the cowherds— A tiger close by—Proceed to the spot—Encounter between tigress and buffaloes—Strange behaviour of the elephant—Discovery and capture of four cubs—Joyful return to camp—Death of the tigress—Night encounter with a leopard—The haunts of the tiger and our shooting grounds.

SOME of the most exciting and deeply interesting scenes I ever witnessed in the jungles, was on the occasion I have referred to in a former chapter, when speaking of the number of young given by the tigress at a birth. It was in the month of March, at the village of Rvseree, in Bhaugulpore. I had been encamped in the midst of twenty-four beautiful tanks, the history and construction of which were lost in the mists of tradition. The villagers had a story that these tanks were the work of a mighty giant, Bheema, with whose aid and that of his brethren they had been excavated in a single night.

At all events, they were now covered with a wild tangle of water lilies and acquatic plants; well stocked with magnificent fish, and an occasional scaly monster of a saurian. They were the haunt of vast quantities of widgeon, teal, whistlers, mallard, ducks, snipe, curlew, blue fowl, and the usual varied habitues of an exceptionally good Indian lake. In the vicinity hares were numerous, and in the thick jungle bordering the tanks in places, and consisting mostly of nurkool and wild rose, hog-deer and wild pig were abundant. The dried-up bed of an old arm of the Koosee was quite close to my camp, and abounded in sandpiper, and golden, grey, goggle-eyed, and stilted plover, besides other game.

It was indeed a favourite camping spot, and till village was inhabited by a hardy, independent set of Gwallas, Koormees, and agriculturists, with whom I was a prime favourite.

I was sitting in my tent, going over some village accounts with the village putwarrie, and my gomasta. A posse of villagers were grouped under the grateful shade of a gnarled old mango tree, whose contorted limbs bore evidence to the violence of many a tuffan or tempest, which it had weathered. The usual confused clamour of tongues was rising from this group, and the subject of debate was the eternal "pice." Behind the bank, and in the rear of the tent, the cook ami his mate were disembowelling a hapless moorghee, a fowl whose decapitation had just been effected with a huge jagged old cavalry sword, of which my cook was not a little proud: and on the strength of which he adopted fierce military airs, and gave an extra turn to his well-oiled moustache when lie went abroad for a holiday.

Farther to the rear a line of horses were picketed, including iiiji man-eating demon the white Cabool stallion, my gentle country-bred mare Motee—the pearl—and my handsome little pony mare, formerly my hockey or polo steed, a present from a gallant sportsman and rare good fellow, as good a judge of a horse, or a criminal, as ever sat on a bench,.

Behind the horses each manacled by weighty chains, with his ponderous trunk and ragged-looking tail swaying to and fro with a never-ceasing motion, stood a line of ten elephants. Their huge leathery ears flapped lazily, and ever and anon one or other would seize a mighty branch, and belaboured corrugated sides to free himself of the detested and troublesome flies. The elephants were placidly munching their charra (bait, or food), and occasionally giving each other a dry bath in the shape of a shower of sand. There was a monotonous clank of chains, and an occasional doap abdominal rumble like distant thunder. All over the camp there was a confused subdued medley of sound. A hum from the argumentative villagers, a lazy flop in the tank as a ralio rose to the surface, an occasional outburst from the ducks, an angry clamour from the water-hens and blue-fowl. My dogs were lying round me blinking and winking, and making an occasional futile snap at an imaginary fly or flea. It was a drowsy and peaceful scene. I was nearly dropping off to sleep, from the heat and the monotonous drone of the putwarrie, who was intoning nasally some formidable document about fishery rights and privileges.

Suddenly there was a hush. Every sound seemed to stop simultaneously as if by pre-arranged concert. Then three men were seen rushing madly along the elevated ridge surrounding one of the tanks. I recognised one of my peons, and with him two cowherds. Their head-dresses were all disarranged, and their parted lips, heaving chests, and eyes blazing with excitement, showed that they were brimful of some unusual message.

Now arose such a bustle in the camp as no description could adequately portray. The elephants trumpeted and piped; the syces, or grooms, came rushing up with eager queries; the villagers bustled about like so many ants aroused by the approach of a hostile foe; my pack of terriers yelped out in chorus; the pony neighed; the Cabool stallion plunged about; my servants came rushing from the shelter of the tent verandah with disordered dress; the ducks rose in a quacking crowd, and circled round and round the tent; and the cry arose of "Bagli! Bagli! Khodawund! Arree Bap re Bap'. Earn Earn, Seeta Earn!"

Breathless with running, the men now tumbled up, hurriedly salaamed, and then each with gasps and choking stops, and pell-mell volubility, and amid a running fire of cries, queries, and interjections from the mob, began to unfold their tale. There was an infuriated tigress at the other side of the nullah, or dry watercourse, she had attacked a herd of buffaloes, and it was believed that she had cubs.

Already Debnarain Singh was getting his own pad elephant caparisoned, and my bearer was diving under my camp bed for my gun and cartridges. Knowing the little elephant to be a fast walker, and fairly staunch, I got on her back, and accompanied by the gomasta and mahout we set out, followed by the peon and herdsmen to show us the way.

I expected two friends, officers from Calcutta, that very day, and wished not to kill the tigers but to keep her for our combined shooting next day. We had not proceeded far when, on the other side of the nullah, we saw delist clouds of dust rising, and heard a confused, rushing, trampling sound, mingled with the clashing of horns, and the snorting of a herd of angry buffaloes.

It was the wildest sight I have ever seen in connection with animal life. The buffaloes were drawn together in the form of a crescent; their eyes glared fiercely, and as they advanced in a series of short runs, stamping with their hoofs, and angrily lashing their tails, their horns would come together with a clanging, clattering crash, and they would paw the sand, snort and toss their heads and behave in the most extraordinary manner.

The cause of all this commotion was not far to seek. Directly in front, retreating slowly with stealthy. growing, crawling steps, and an occasional short, quick leap or bound to one side or the other, was a magnificent tigress, looking the very personification of baffled fury. Ever and anon she crouched down to the earth, tore up the sand with her claws, lashed her tail from side to side, and with lips retracted, long moustaches quivering with wrath, and hateful eyes scintillating with rage and fury, she seemed to meditate an attack on the angry buffaloes. The serried array of clashing horns, and the ponderous bulk of the lieid, seemed however to daunt the snarling vixen ; at their next rush she would bound back a few paces, crouch down, growl, and be forced to move back again, by the abort, blundering rush of the crowd.

All the calves and old cows were in the rear of the herd, and it was not a little comical to witness their ungainly attitudes. They would stretch their clumsy necks, and shake their heads, as if they did not rightly understand what was going on. Finding that if they stopped too long to indulge in curiosity, there was a danger of their getting separated from the fighting members of the herd, they would make a stupid, headlong, lumbering lurch forward, and jostle each other in their blundering panic.

It was a grand sight. The tigress was the embodiment of lithe and savage beauty, but her features expressed the wildest baffled rage. I could have shot the striped vixen over and over again, but I wished to keep her for my friends and I was thrilled with the excitement of such a novel scene.

Suddenly our elephant trumpeted, and shied quickly to one side, from something lying on the ground. Curling up its trunk it began backing and piping at a prodigious rate.

"Hullo! what's the matter now?" said I to Debnarain.

"God only knows," said he.

"A young tiger!" "Bagh ka butcha!" screams our mahout, and regardless of the elephant or of our cries to stop, he scuttled down the pad rope like a monkey down a backstay, and clutching a young dead tiger cub, threw it up to Debnarain; it was about the size of a small poodle, and had evidently been trampled by the pursuing herd of buffaloes.

"There may be others," said the gomasta; and peering into every bush, we went slowly on.

The elephant now showed decided symptoms of dislike and a reluctance to approach a particular dense clump of grass.

A sounding whack on the head, however, made her quicken her steps, and thrusting the long stalks aside, she discovered for us three blinking little cubs, brothers of the defunct, and doubtless part of the same litter. Their eyes were scarcely open, and they lay huddled together like three enormous striped kittens, and spat at us and bristled their little moustaches much as an angry cat would do. All the four were males.

It was not long ere I had them carefully wrapped in the mahout's blanket. Overjoyed at our good fortune, we left the excited buffaloes still executing their singular war-dance, and the angry tigress, robbed of her whelps, consuming her soul in baffled fury.

We heard her roaring through the night, close to camp, and on my friends' arrival, we beat her up next morning, and she fell pierced by three bullets, after a fierce and determined charge. We came upon her across the nullah, and her mind was evidently made up to fight. Nearly all the villagers had turned out with the line of elephants. Before we had time to order them away, she came down upon the line, roaring furiously, and bounding over the long grass—a most magnificent sight.

My first bullet took her full in the chest, and before she could make good her charge, a ball each from Pat and Captain G. settled her career. She was beautifully striped, and rather large for a tigress, measuring nine feet three inches.

It was now a question with me, how to rear the three interesting orphans; we thought a slut from some of the villages would prove the best wet nurse, and tried accordingly to get one, but could not. In the meantime an unhappy goat was pounced on and the three young tigers took to her teats as if "to the manner born." The poor Nanny screamed tremendously at first sight of them, but she soon got accustomed to them, and when they grew a little bigger, she would often playfully butt at them with her horns.

The little brutes throve wonderfully, and soon developed such an appetite that I had to get no less than six goats to satisfy their constant thirst. I kept the cubs for over two months, and I shall not soon forget the excitement I caused, when my boat stopped at Sahibgunge, and my goats, tiger cubs, and attendants, formed a procession from the ghat or landing-place, to the railway station.

Soldiers, guards, engineers, travellers, and crowds of natives surrounded me, and at every station the guard's van, with my novel menagerie, was the. centre of attraction. I sold the cubs to Jamrach's agent in Calcutta for a very satisfactory price. Two of them were very powerful, finely marked, handsome animals; the third had always been sickly, had frequent convulsions, and died a few days after I sold it. I was afterwards told that the milk diet was a mistake, and that I should have fed them on raw meat. However, I was very well satisfied on the whole with the result of my adventure.

I had another in the same part of the country, which at the time was a pretty good test of the state of my nerves.

I was camped out at the village of Purindalia, on the edge of a gloomy sal forest, which was reported to contain numerous leopards. The villagers were a mixed lot of low-caste Hindoos, and Nepaulese settlers. They had been fighting with the factory, and would not pay up their rents, and I was trying, with every probability of success, to make an amicable arrangement with them. At all events, I had so far won them round, that they were willing to talk to me. They came to the tent and listened quietly, and except on the subject of rent, we got on in the most friendly manner.

It was the middle of April. The heat was intense. The whole atmosphere had that coppery look which denotes extreme heat, and the air was loaded with fine yellow dust, which the daily west wind bore on its fever-laden wings, to disturb the lungs and tempers of all good Christians. The kanats, or canvas walls of the tent, had all been taken down for coolness, and my camp bed lay in one corner, open all round to the outside air, but only sheltered from the dew. It had been a busy day. I had been going over accounts, and talking to the villagers till I was really hoarse. After a light dinner I lay down on my bed, but it was too close and hot to sleep. By-and-bye the various sounds died out. The tom-toming ceased in the village. My servants suspended their low muttered gossip round the cook's fire, wrapped themselves in their white cloths, and dropped into slumber. "Toby," "Nettle," "Whisky," "Fincher," and my other terriers, resembled so many curled-up hairy balls, and were in the land of dreams. Occasionally an owl would give a melancholy hoot from the forest, or a screech owl would raise a momentary and damnable din. At intervals, the tinkle of a cow-bell sounded faintly in the distance. I tossed restlessly, thinking of various things, till I must have dropped off into an uneasy fitful sleep. I know not how long I had been dozing, but of a sudden I felt myself wide awake, though with my eyes yet firmly closed.

I was conscious of some terrible unknown impending danger. I had experienced the same feeling before on waking from a nightmare, but I knew that the danger now was real. I felt a shrinking horror, a terrible and nameless fear, and for the life of me I could not move hand or foot, I was lying on my side, and could distinctly hear the thumping of my heart. A cold sweat broke out behind my ears and over my neck and chest. I could analyse my every feeling, and I knew there was some Presence in the tent, and that I was in instant and imminent peril Suddenly in the distance a i>ariah dog gave a prolonged melancholy howl. As if this had broken the spell which had hitherto bound me, I opened my eyes, and within ten inches of my face, there was a handsome leopardess gazing steadily at me. Our eyes met, and how-long we confronted each other I know not. It must have been some minutes. Her eyes contracted and expanded, the pupil elongated and then opened out into a round lustrous globe. I could see the lithe tail oscillating at its extreme tip, with a gentle waving motion, like that of a cat when hunting birds in the garden. I seemed to possess no will. I believe I was under a species of fascination, but we continued our steady stare at each other.

Just then, there was a movement by some of the horses. The leopard slowly turned her head, and I grasped the revolver which lay under my pillow. The beautiful spotted monster turned her head for an instant, and showed her teeth, and then with one bound went through the open side of the tent. I fired two shots, which were answered with a roar. The din that followed would have frightened the devil. It was a beautiful clear night, with a moon at the full, and everything showed as plainly as at noonday. The servants uttered exclamations of terror. The, terriers went into an agony of yelps and barks. The horses snorted, and tried to get loose, and my chowkeydar, who had been asleep on his watch, thinking a band of dacoits were on us, began laving round him with his staff, shouting, Chor, chorI lagqa, lagga, laggga! that is, "thief, thief! lay on, lay on, lay on!"

The leopard was hit, and evidently in a terrible temper. She halted not thirty paces from the tent, beside a jhamun tree, and seemed undecided whether to go on or return and wreak her vengeance on me. That moment decided her fate. I snatched down my Express rifle, which was hanging in two loops above my bed, and shot her right through the heart.

I never understood how she could have made her way-past dogs, servants, horses, and watchman, right into the tent, without raising some alarm. It must have been more from curiosity than any hostile design. I know that my nerves were very rudely shaken, but I became the hero of the Turindaha villagers. I believe that my night adventure with the leopardess did more to bring them round to a settlement than all my eloquence and figures.

The river Koosee, on the banks of which, and in the long grass plains adjacent, most of the incidents I have recorded took place, takes its rise at the base of Mount Everest, and, after draining nearly the whole of Eastern Nepaul, emerges by a deep gorge from the hills at the north-west corner of Hirneah. The stream runs with extreme velocity. It is known as a snow stream. The water is always cold, and generally of a milky colour, containing much fine white sand. Xo sooner does it leave its rocky bed than it tears through the flat country by numerous channels. It is subject to very sudden rises. A premonitory warning of these is generally given. The water becomes of a turbid, almost blood-like colour. Sometimes I have seen the river rise over thirty feet in twenty-four hours. The melting of the snow often makes a raging torrent, level from bank to bank, where only a few hours before a horse could have forded the stream without wetting the girths of the saddle.

In 1876 the largest channel was a swift broad stream called the Dhaus. The river is very capricious, seldom flowing for any length of time in one channel. This is owing in great measure to the amount of silt it carries with it from the hills, in its impetuous pi-ogress to the plains.

In these dry watercourses, among the sand ridges, beside the humid marshy hollows, and among the thick strips of grass jungle, tigers are always to be found. They are much less numerous now, however, than formerly. As a rule, there is shelter in these water-worn, flood-ravaged tracts and sultry jungles. Occasionally a few straggling plantain trees, a clump of sickly-looking bamboos, a cluster of tail shadowless palms, marks the site of a deserted village. All else is waving grass, withered and dry. The villages, inhabited mostly by a few cowherds, boatmen, and rice-farmers, are scattered at wide intervals. In the shooting season, and when the hot winds are blowing, the only shadow on the plain is that cast by the dense volumes of lurid smoke, rising in blinding clouds from the jungle fires.

According to the season, animal life fluctuates strangely. During the rains, when the river is in full flood, and much of the country submerged, most of the animals migrate to the North, buffaloes and w ild pig alone keeping possession of the higher ridges in the neighbourhood of their usual haunts.

The contrasts presented on these plains at different seasons of the year are most remarkable. In March and April they are parched up, brown, and dead; great black patches showing the track of a destroying fire, the fine brown ash from the burnt grass penetrating the eyes and nostrils, and sweeping along in eddying and blinding clouds. They then look the very picture of an untenable waste, a sea of desolation, whose limits blend in the extreme distance with the shimmering coppery horizon. In the rainy season these arid-looking wastes are covered with tall-plumed, reed-like, waxing grass, varying from two to ten feet in height, stretching in an unbroken sweep as far as the eye can reach, except where an abrupt line shows that the swift river has its treacherous course. After the rains, progress through the jungle is dangerous. Quicksands and beds of tenacious mud impede one at every step. The rich vegetation springs up green and vigorous, with a rapidity only to be seen in the Tropics. But what a glorious hunting ground! What a preserve for Nimrod! Deer forest, or heathered moor, can never compete with the old Koosee Dyarahs for abundance of game and thrilling excitement in sport. My genial, happy, loyal comrades too—while memory lasts the recollection of your joyous, frank, warmhearted comradeship shall never fade.


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