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Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter I - Too Close to the Pleasant


The Koosee Valley—Our Hunt Club—The members—Our camp— "Old Mac"—The must elephant—A sudden alarm—A mad charge—Wreck of the camp—"Old Mac" in deadly peril - The Rescue—Reaction.

This is how it was!

We had had a hard day of it in the jungles. It had been even hotter than usual for the time of the year, although it was March, when the hot winds sweep like a sirocco over the waving leagues of tall dry elephant grass and dreary expanses of arid burning sand, that compose the peerless hunting-grounds through which the Koosee rolls its flood.

The Koosee is one of the tributaries of the Gauges—the sacred "Gunga Mai" of the Hindoos; a stream with more weird, mysterious, fantastic associations connected with its swift, silent, turbid flow, and palm-fringed temple-crowned banks, than perhaps any other river ever mentioned in the history of man.

The Koosee comes directly down with a turbulent impetuous rush from the towering Himalayas, those eternal abodes of ice and snow, the majestic solitary throne of mighty "Indra"—"the ruler of the universe." The main stream runs with a swift milky flood, dividing the two great indigo and rice districts of Bhaugulpore and Purneah. "When swollen by the melting of the snows or by the annual rains, the river overflows its banks, and at such times presents the appearance of a broad swiftly-flowing sea, for its breadth from bank to bank is often ten, and in some places nearly twenty miles across. In the dry season, the waters—always of the same milky hue—are confined to innumerable channels; some so shallow that the stilted plover can wade across; and others running deep and strong, with a ceaseless gurgling swish that would sweep the stateliest elephant off its feet, and carry its ponderous bulk far down the stream. These streams seem to run at random over this deltaic plain. Diverging here, reuniting there; forming a wide bend in one place, and cutting direct through the sandy soil in another; the face of the country is split up into an infinitude of islands, and reticulated everywhere by a network of dry channels and shifting sandbanks; and over all, wherever there is an inch of soil, the stately elephant grass spreads its feathery mantle, and when the light, silvery, filmy reeds are in flower, the landscape seems like a vast silver swaying sea; with ever and anon a steely bluish vein casting back the burnished reflection of the burning sun, where the silent river pursues its impetuous course, to join the dark mysterious waters of the mighty Gunga.

Every year the river spreads here a layer of fertilising mud, and there a covering of destructive sand over the valley, or rather plain—for it seems as flat as a board. Countless herds of cattle come from the far-off highlands, and populous villages of Tirhoot, to graze on the succulent young shoots and undergrowth that quickly spring up. These herds are closely followed by the stealthy ferocious tiger; while the savage cunning rhinoceros, too, may be found at rare intervals. Of wild buffaloes, who love to haunt the frequent swamps and marshes—jackals, wolves, hyaenas, and other predatory brutes, there is no end— swamp-deer, hog-deer, sambhur, and other cervine species, herd together in the tall grateful cover of the friendly jungle grass—and wild pig, porcupine, wild fowl, game fowl, and other animals, dear to the sportsman, are to he met with in incredible numbers. The plains of the Koosee are indeed the sportsman's paradise. The great height of the jungle grass, however (it grows in huge tufts, like canes or reeds), makes it almost impossible to follow your game with any hope of success, unless you have elephants. The expanse of grass, too, is so vast—the creeks, the channels, and concealed watercourses—the runs or tracks made by the wild animals themselves, or by the tame herds—are so numerous and intricate, that unless one has a good "line" of elephants, he need not expect to make a great bag. Unless one were acquainted with every inch of the country, it would be as useless to look for a tiger, or rhinoceros, or even herd of wild buffaloes, with only one or two elephants, as it would be to look for the proverbial needle in a bottle of hay.

Every year, therefore, when the hot March winds began to blow, when the grass had become sapless and brittle, and rustled with harsh grating sound as the blast swept over it; when the cattle had trod down all the dried leaves and withered twigs, till all the country under foot was a vast magazine of light tindery material that the least spark would set into a blaze; when the indigo was all sown in the lowlands and uplands; when the village rents had been collected, and the gramies or thatching coolies had begun to make the annual repairs on the roof of the bungalow, enveloping the rooms in dust, and ejecting spiders, centipedes, scorpions, bats, rats, lizards, and snakes from their hidden haunts under the rafters and chitts;—then would we get the camping furniture from the godown, erect the tent in the compound, and thoroughly repair it, furbish up our battery of guns, cast bullets and fill cartridges; and then sending purwanas or chitthi• (orders or compliments), as the case might be, to every wealthy native round about the factory, who could borrow, beg, or steal an elephant, asking them to forward the mighty animals to our hunting camp ; we would prepare for a hurra shikar, that is, a month's tiger-shooting in the game-infested Dyarahs of the Koosee.

It would take me too long to describe our camp furniture or baggage. In the Koosee district, a few of us indigo managers, of like ages and kindred proclivities, used to club together. "We might, on occasion, have a friend or two from some of the military stations, or from Calcutta; be joined, perhaps, by a native magnate, whose soul longed for the worship of Saint Hubert; or be accompanied by some distinguished traveller or honoured guest, whose sporting instincts led him to the society of brethren in arms, for we were all keenly infected with the hunting ardour, and in the pursuit of our royal game cared very little what trouble we took, or what expense we incurred.

In this way our little club had one year entertained the gifted, courtly, lamented Viceroy—the gentle, genial, accomplished, but ill-fated Earl Mayo. On the occasion to which my present story refers (and if I pursue my introductory descriptions much further, I am afraid your patience will be exhausted ere I begin to narrate the thrilling adventures that as yet lie in the background), our party consisted of, first:—Joe, or "Captain Joe," as we called him, for he knew every inch of country for miles round. He knew the habits, the calls, the hiding places, the very "taint in the air" of every denizen of the jungle, better than the best shikarree that ever followed a track or hunted up a poonj (poonj is a footmark), and besides being a dead shot, a clever planter, and a favourite with the ladies, he was the coolest hand in a crisis and the best captain of a hunt it has ever been my good fortune to come across.

Second on the list was his brother George. A merry twinkling eye, peering out from swelling, unctuous undulations of flesh; a moist, merry, rather pendulous lip; a fair rotund corporation; well-shaped calves, hands, and feet; and a skin which allowed, beneath its woman-like whiteness, the veins meandering about like the ruddy streaks of a sun-kissed apple, might have conveyed an impression to the most careless and casual observer, that George was a man who loved good cheer. Never was an impression more in consonance with actual fact. George was the "Soyer" of our party. Even now my mouth waters at the recollection of the stews, ragouts, entremets, sauces, and wonderful combinations of delicious toothsomeness, that George's skill would evolve from his culinary consciousness. He was a born cook. But although fat, he was far from feeble. At putting the stone, throwing the hammer, smashing with his revolver a bottle bobbing on the current of a jungle creek near the tent, or any other athletic exercise requiring dexterity and skill, not one of us in the camp could equal or approach him. Of his adventures more anon.

Our third member was "Old Mac," a man of enormous strength and powerful frame, but whose grizzly locks and grey beard bore token of the severe training he had undergone when he had engaged to pull an oar against Oxford in the Cambridge winning eight of many years ago. Mac was a thorough good fellow. Clever, satirical, lazy till roused, eternally warming his ruby-tinted nose—a real Roman— with the jet black, greasy-looking bowl of a very small, much-mended little meerschaum pipe, he was yet passionately fond of shooting, and was the best snipe shot in camp. The little meerschaum was his "fetish." It was never out of his mouth, not even, I verily believe, when he slept, and, indeed, I have often seen him indulge in an abstracted whiff between the intervals of soup, fish, joint, game, cheese and fruit.
Old "Butty"' a six-footer (our district engineer), as well as part proprietor of a good factory; Pat Hudson—the blithest, brightest, merriest, wittiest, most loving-hearted, free-handed, reckless, careless, happy-go-lucky, blundering, thundering Irishman that ever followed hounds or won a steeplechase and there was no better rider then, perhaps, in all Hindostan), and myself, were the remaining members of our party.

We were a merry half dozen, and fairly typical of the good old school of Tirhoot planters; and, to begin my story once more— This is how it was:—

"We were camped on the bank of one of the swift-running milky streams I have referred to. There was a lovely moonlight, and a faint- breeze was just stirring the feathery tops of the. jungle grass and rifling the glassy surface of the stream. The lamps were lit in the dining tent. The white-robed servants were flitting to and fro. Pat Hudson, in the pauses of conversation, was striking chords (if one may be said to strike anything out of a wheezy German concertina), and "Old Mac" lay back luxuriously in his easy chair, blowing a cloud from his eternal "cutty."

Says Pat, "I thought the brute was as unsteady as blazes to-day."

"No wonder," said Joe. "He is as must as can be, and I wonder he has done no mischief before now."

"You'd better have him tied up to-morrow, Pat," said George, "and you can put your howdah on the little mukna."

The conversation, of which this was a part, bore reference to a magnificent elephant that had been lent by a neighbour-Rajah to Pat. The animal was the finest, stateliest, most noble-looking beast in the whole camp. "We had in all thirty-seven elephants, and they were picketed out, all round the camp, their huge bulk, swaying trunks and tails, and flapping ears, looking weird and uncanny in the pale clear flood of moonlight that suffused the scene.

It was indeed a strange sight, but to us a very commonplace one. All over the sandy circle (our camp was on a little clear mound, hemmed in on all sides by the tall jungle grass, save where the river ran deep and swift in front) twinkled numerous fires, where the syces (grooms), mahouts (elephant drivers), beaters, water-carriers, domestic servants, and other camp followers, each cooked his evening chattie of rice or broiled his slice of venison—part of the spoils of the day's shooting—over the glowing embers. A huge semul or cotton tree, with buttressed trunk and gnarled branches, and a clump of solitary palms, were the only trees that broke the monotonous surface of the grassy plain for miles around. At some distance from the camp Pat's elephant—the duntar (duntar is a tusker)—was chained up to a strong peg, driven deep into the ground. He was watched by a strong guard of drivers and other natives, armed with spears, and the brute was exercising his ingenuity, or giving vent to some inward fit of spleen, by blowing heaps of sand and dirt over his head and body. Occasionally he would uplift his mighty trunk and emit a shrill, trumpeting, crashing scream; then he would seize a massive limb of a tree that lay beside his heap of fodder and smash the earth all around him with it.

It was evident the brute was excited, and an uneasy feeling seemed to pervade all the elephants, and extended its unseen, indescribable influence to every living being in camp.

From evidences, which the keen eyes of Joe and George had detected all during the day's "beat," there could be little doubt that the ponderous brute was getting into that dangerous state of uncontrollable passion and fierce savagery, which is the characteristic of the male elephant in the amatory season. At such a time—when, if still unsubjugated by man, and its natural wildness not yet tamed down by discipline, its instincts would lead it to pair off with the favourite female of the herd—the tame tusker develops a fierce uncontrollable irritability. His savage nature comes to the surface. he becomes moody, sullen, and altogether untrustworthy—some, of course, more so than others—and this state of savage incertitude of temper the natives call musk. A musk elephant is always a dangerous brute, "When musk, they are generally secluded from all contact with other animals. Fastened in the peilIchanna, or elephant shed, by massive chains round the ankles, even the careless mahout then becomes wary as he approaches the brooding, savage brute to give him his daily food, and all men and animals about the village give the sullen tusker a wide berth.

When he is coming into this state, the surest indication perhaps is a stream of thick, yellowish, viscid-looking humour, which exudes from a small orifice under the eye, no bigger, apparently, than a pin's head. His irritation and unsteady temper also shows itself by quick turnings round, short spasmodic little charges, an inclination to toss dirt and clods about, frequent trumpetings, disinclination for food, and a blind wreaking of seemingly uncontrollable rage, at the slightest impulse, on any object, animate or inanimate, that may come in his way.

The day had been intensely hot. Our '"beat" had been over a big area of jungle. We had bagged two tigers, two buffaloes, and the usual number of pig, deer, Horican, and other small game for the servants and our own kitchen requirements; and all day Pat's objurgations had been incessant, as the huge tusker bad behaved in the strangest manner. Often rushing forward in front of the line; at times wheeling round and making a charge at the nearest elephant—keeping up all the while a rumbling sound like distant thunder; then trying to charge into a herd of tame cattle; and at times endeavouring to rid itself of the howdali by shaking itself like a huge water-dog after a bath. The mahout (driver) could scarcely keep the brute to his work, and it was evident that the duntar was becoming unsafe to ride.

When we got into camp, the mahouts had the greatest difficulty in unharnessing the howdah, and the savage beast had already hurt one incautious grass-cutter, who bad ventured too near, by a swinging blow with his powerful trunk, which had sent the unhappy guddha ka bwtcha (son of a donkey) living headlong into a heap of thatching grass.

When Juggroo, his own taahout, had managed to secure him to the strong stake before mentioned, the thick, clanking, hobbling chains were fastened on him, and after pouring several big earthenware pots of water over his head, old Shumsher (the "flaming sword")—for such was the elephant's name—seemed to have become a little quieter.

We were all seated under the shamiana, in front of the dining tent. A shamiana is a sort of fringed canopy under which in India the dwellers in tents sit in the cool of the evening to sip their sherry, smoke their manillas, and talk over the events of the day. Our hunting togs had been discarded. We had all indulged in a bracing delicious bath m the cool swift river, and now, dressed in pyjamas, loose hamans, slippers, and smoking-caps, we were waiting the announcement of dinner.

Pat had just evoked a more than ordinarily excruciating groan from the asthmatic concertina, when a sudden tumult arose around the outskirts of the tents. Shouts and cries broke upon the erstwhile subdued hum of the busy camp. Then arose a piercing scream, as of one in mortal terror and anguish, and from all parts of the camp arose the cry— "Bhago, bhago, Sahiban—Buntar must hogea — Buntar khoolagea hy."

"Bun, run, Sahibs—the Tusker has gone 'must' or mad. He has broken loose."

We all started to our feet. George had just gone down to the bank of the river to where the cooking was going on, which lay nearer the mad elephant's picket. By this time, the terror-stricken servants were flying in all directions. The huge brute, with infinite cunning, had all along been making mighty efforts to wrench up the stake to which he was hound. This at last he had succeeded in doing. With the first desperate bound, or lurch forward, the heavy ankle chains, frayed and worn in one link, had snapped asunder; and with the huge stake trailing behind him, he charged down on the camp with a shrill trumpeting scream of maddened excitement and savage fury. The men with the spears waited not for the onset. One poor fellow, bending over his pot of rice, trying to blow the smouldering embers of his fire into a flame, was seized by the long flexible trunk of the infuriated brute, and had but time to utter the terrible death scream which had startled us, ere his head was smashed like an egg-shell on the powerful knee of the maddened monster. He next made a rush at the horses that, excited and frightened by the clamour around them, were straining at their ropes, and buried his long blunt tusks in the quivering flanks of one poor Caboolee horse that had struggled in vain to get free.

The other elephants, hastily loosened by the mahouts, were rushing in wild afright into the jungle, their sagacity well informing them of the danger of encountering a must duntar in his wild unreasoning rush of frenzied fury.

All this was the work of a moment. Poor George, who was bending over some stewpan, wherein was simmering some delicacy of his own concoction, was not aware of the suddenly altered aspect of affairs, till the huge towering bulk of the elephant was almost over him. Another instant, and he would have shared the fate of the hapless mahout, had he not, with admirable presence of mind, delivered the hissing hot stew, with quick dexterity and precision, full in the gaping mouth of the furious brute. His next sensation, however, was that of flying through the air, as the brute, with one swing of its mighty trunk, propelled him on his aerial flight, and he fell souse in the middle of the stream, with the saucepan still tightly clutched in his hand.

Our first impulse had been to rush for our guns. Alas! there was not a weapon in camp in a serviceable state. Our "bearers" had taken them all to pieces to clean, and had dropped them in affright, on the first wild outcry. "Old Mac'" in his hurry to get out of the depths of his arm-chair, had tumbled it over and lay sprawling under it, and all had passed so rapidly, that before he could struggle to his feet the enormous brute was fairly on us. With a rush he made straight for the shamiana—the ropes snapped like burnt flax under his ponderous tread. The lacquered bamboo poles that supported the shamiana swayed and snapped like pipe stems, and with a swoop, like the wings of a monster swan, or rather like the collapsing bulk of a pricked balloon, the crimson-fringed canopy came crashing to the ground. We had all made our escape in separate directions. It was a regular stampede. Sauve qui pent was the order of the moment. We had no time to think of poor Mac's predicament. We stumbled over tent-ropes, dashed through the pendent "cheeks," or bamboo screens, not knowing but what, at any moment, the terrible trunk of the maddened giant might be curling round our waists.

One or two of us, myself among the number, plunged into the river and swam to a low brush-covered point, that jutted into the stream on the opposite bank, where George was already seated, rubbing his back with gruesome grimaces, and swearing in his most classic Hindostanee at all elephants in general, and must elephants in particular.

The emete had been so sudden, the onset of the tusker so rapid, that we had no time for thought, much less for action; and totally unarmed as we all were, what could we have done to stay the furious charge of a mail infuriated animal of such colossal size and strength as a must elephant?

From all sides of the camp, in the long jungle grass, we could hear the affrighted servants chattering in fearsome accents, and calling out: "Bap re bap! Arree Bap re bap! Sahib murgea tha—hai hai!" "Oh, father! oh, taj father! the Sahib is dead! alas! alas!"

And then we began to count our number, and think what had become of poor Mac. George, Joe, and myself were together. "Butty" and Hudson had fled like hares down the bank of the river, but where was Mac?

"Good Heavens! can he be over there?" said Joe.

Mindful of my early colonial experience, I coo'ee'd.

An answer came from Hudson down the river.

"Coo'ee," again, but no response from Mac.

"Mac, Mac, where are you?" we shouted.

No response; and a dull dead fear began to hug the hearts of us all. Over the river we could see the infernal brute, who had thus scattered us, in a perfect frenzy of rage; kneeling on the shapeless heap of cloth, furniture, poles, and ropes; and digging his tusks, with savage fury, into the hangings and canvas, in the very abandonment of mad uncontrollable rage. We had little doubt but that poor Mac lay crushed to death, smothered beneath the weight of the ponderous animal, or mangled out of all likeness to humanity by the terrible tusks that we could see flashing in the clear moonlight. It seemed an age, this agony of suspense. We held our breaths, and dared not look into each other's faces. Everything showed as clear as if it had been day. We saw the elephant tossing the strong canvas canopy about as a dog would worry a door-mat. Thrust after thrust was made by the tusks into the folds of cloth, raising his huge trunk, the brute would scream in the very frenzy of his wrath, and at last, after what seemed an age to us, but which In reality was but a few minutes, he staggered to his feet (for all this time he had been kneeling), shook his massive bulk, looked fiercely and defiantly around, made as if he would have inarched straight through the dining tent, where the snowy cloth glistened white under the tent-lamps, then, with a parting shrill trumpeting scream of concentrated wrath and malice, some fresh idea seemed to enter his demented brain, and he rushed into the jungle.

An awfull silence seemed to fall on the scene. No sound came from the deserted camp. The fires flickered fitfully, and their ruddy glow was reflected in the stream. Occasionally the plash of a falling bank, or the hissing-like soof of a porpoise surging slowly up stream, as he came to the surface to blow, broke the silence. All else was deathly still.

At length, with quite an audible sob, George uttered speech. "Poor old Mac!" was all he said, and our hearts felt like lead within us.

By this time, some of the servants were venturing forth into the open. The elephants had all disappeared in the hidden recesses of the jungle. Pat and "Butty" hailed us, and in silence we swam across. Here the evidences of the mad brute's frenzy were numerous. The strong folds of the shamiana were pierced in all directions. A shapeless mound of smashed furniture lay huddled in one corner, and calling the servants, we proceeded mournfully to unwind what we all felt sure was the shroud of our ill-fated comrade, "Poor old Mac!"

Just then a smothered groan struck like the peal of joy-bells on our anxious ears, and a muffled voice from beneath the folds of the shamiana in Mac's well-known tones growled out, "Look alive, you fellows, and get me out of this, or I'll be smothered!"

The rebound was too much for our overstrained feelings. George fairly blubbered out—

"O Mac, is that you?"

"Who the devil do you think it is?" came the response. We raised a cheer, set to work with a will, and soon extricated our composed friend from his unwelcome wrappings.

Then, indeed, could we see bow narrow had been his escape, how imminent his peril.

ln trying to get out of the way of the first rush of the elephant, his foot had caught in one of the tent ropes, and the whole falling canopy had then come bodily upon him, hurling the camp table and a few cane chairs over him. Under these he had lain, able to breathe, but not daring to stir, while the savage beast had behaved as has been described. His escape had been miraculous. The cloth had several times been pressed so close over his face as nearly to stifle him. The brute, in one of its ['savage, purposeless thrusts, had pierced the ground between his arm and his libs, pinning his Afghan clwja or dressing-gown deep into the earth; and he said he felt himself sinking into unconsciousness, what with tension of nerve and brain and semi-suffocation together, when the brute had happily got up and rushed off.

It was characteristic of Mac, that after he had swallowed a stiff brandy and soda, his first care was to search among the shattered debris of the wrecked shamiana for his beloved black pipe. Having, much, to his satisfaction, found this tried friend, he relit it, got into a spare chair, and was soon again blowing his cloud, as if nothing unusual had happened. In response to George's agitated utterance— "Thank God, Mao, old man, it's no worse; but it was a narrow shave." "Too close to be pleasant!" was all he said. We were not long in getting things rearranged. Our servants gradually made their appearance. Scouts were sent out after the elephants, and men posted all round the camp to report if the must duntar again put in an appearance. Dinner was served up, and soon we were all busy discussing the viands, and the narrow escape from a sudden and cruel death our trusty old comrade had just experienced.


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