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Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter V - Rough-Riding in India.


News of a "kill"—Elephants in line—The jungle at early dawn— Half through the Baree—A tiger charges—A bolting elephant —Smash goes the howdah—Escape of "Butty"—Wasps and elephants—"Dotterel" — A razor-backed elephant — "That demon of a dog"—Bolted—A shaker—How to tame a vicious tusker.

On the morning following the Monday, Joe awoke us all very early from a sound sleep, with the welcome news that the scouts reported a "kill" near a village to the south of the camp.

A cowherd had brought the news that a fine female buffalo and calf had been killed during the night, dragged out of the batan, or cattle camp, and, from various evidences, we concluded that it was no ordinary robber that had thus paid his attentions to the unlucky herd, but a ferocious, daring animal that might be expected to show sport. In the first place, the brute had boldly ventured into the very midst of the enclosed herd, and had singled out one of the finest and biggest of the buffaloes. It had seized the unfortunate animal by the neck, breaking the vertebra, and then dragged it clear of the batan, over a dry watercourse and into a clump of reeds, where it had partially devoured the carcase. The calf had been killed by a single blow of the brute's powerful paw, and, notwithstanding a wild stampede by the herd, and all the shouting of the bataneas, or herdsmen, the tiger had managed to stick to his prey and undauntedly carry it off.

All this was narrated with much volubility and breathless haste. The khubberia—i.e., news-bearer—was greatly excited; his action was dramatic enough to rouse our imaginations, and from his description we were led to believe that the tiger must be a "whopper." Already Joe had despatched "old Juggroo," his tracker, to the spot, and after a plunge bath in the clear tank, and a hasty chota haziree, or little breakfast, the elephants were marshalled in array, we climb into our howdahs, and off we set to beat up the baree in which it was said the gorged tiger had lain up.

It is a fine sight to see a line of elephants set out from camp at early morn, when the dew is yet glistening on the tall waving grass. The green broom-like jovah is beaded with pearly drops, which are shaken off in a glittering sparkling shower as the mighty beasts go crashing through. As the howdah brushes against some unusually tall clump of bushes, the dewy burden is showered over cartridges and guns, and you objurgate the mahout for his careless driving.

The heads of the riders on the smaller elephants, with their red and blue puggries, bob about among the tall jowah, like poppies in a field of "Brobdingnagian corn. The howdahs sway, like drunken ships at sea, above the leafy foliage, suggesting to the tyro the fear that the occupants are momentarily about to be pitched out. The bright morning sun shoots down his cheering beams, which are reflected back from the polished gun-barrels; the glittering kookries, or jungle knives, of the peons, who are perched like monkeys on the pad elephants, holding on to the ropes, and the gleaming silvery spear-heads of perhaps a score of stalwart beaters, glint fitfully at intervals through the openings in the tall jungle.

Ail is gaiety and animation. "We have certain khubbar, i.e., news of tiger. The grateful manilla scents the still air as the curling blue puffs mount slowly into the crisp fresh atmosphere. It is not yet too hot, and long dank quivering lines of mist lie in the hollows and by the water-courses.

Far above, near the horizon, a full grey bank of dun cloud looms, prophetic of a westerly, dust-laden, fiery-furnace blast about the middle of the forenoon; but for the present all is dewy, fresh, and delightful.

The old boar, with his "sounder," is trotting slowly down by the lily-covered lagoon. The hog deer is trampling down for his favourite hinds a snug retreat in the cool dark recesses of the impenetrable jungle by the old mound that marks the site of a ruined fortress, erstwhile manned by grim Mussulman warriors, in the days of Aurungzebe. The black partridge is crowing in the jowrah jungle; the peafowl are leisurely sauntering to the deeper shade of the remote forest, after a night of fearful dissipation in the grain fields; and the quail are calling in the corn lands, while flocks of grey and golden plover, circling flights of silvery teal and swooping pintails, or feathery clouds of tiny ortolan and mooneas, flash like meteoric rain in the blinding sunshine, over glassy pool and dew-bespangled mead. All over the vast plain there is a soft diffused radiance—a fresh brightness, an exuberance of life and colour—and the heart of the hunter is glad. We hum snatches of songs; we exchange, gay repartee and banter; the elephants tramp along briskly, here and there plucking down a succulent bunch of juicy reed tops, swishing it against their mighty sides, and then slowly crunching it up with evident satisfaction and gout. There is a flap, flap, flap of the mighty ears—a swish, swish, swish of the great ugly tufted tails—and the ponderous, flexible, marvellous trunks are. never for an instant still.

Then, as we near the locale of the "kill," pipes are laid aside, cartridges are sorted, and the locks click, as the guns are tried. We form a line; the word is given by the captain, and, slowly and majestically, the picturesque array of great ponderous animals surge ahead through the swaying, waving grass, and the tumultuous fierce excitement of a beat for tiger begins.

Our information led us to look for the tiger in a dense, matted, difficult piece of tree jungle. Cotton trees, fig trees, cork trees, Llianas, creepers, and prickly clinging tendrils, twisted and twined in all directions, and sprawling bainhoos, and the pendent rootlets of the Bhur trees formed a dense, almost impenetrable tangle, through which the elephants had laboriously to force a passage. Joe and myself were stationed on ahead, to secure a shot if possible at the retreating tiger, if he should show his stripes.

The crashing of mighty branches as the elephants tore them from the trees—the snapping of others like pistol shots, when the powerful brutes broke them across, as a faggot gatherer would snap a withered stick; and the swaying surging rush, as some tall leafy sapling, bent, reeled, and uprooted, fell with a dull crash into the thick jungle below, all told us that the line was advancing, and the elephants were being well handled.

The "Barce" as such a jungle is termed, resounded with the shouts, oaths, and cries of the excited beaters. The deafening clatter of several tom-toms, the occasional shrill trumpeting of an impatient hathee (elephant), as a tough prickly creeper would trail a scar across his trunk, and the indescribable mingled medley of crashing sound, which always accompanies a beat in the jungle by elephants, formed welcome music in our ears.

The line had got half through the "Baree," when, right in the centre of the beaters, close under Butty's elephant, there was a fierce roar, and an enormous tiger bounded out, flashed for a second his yellow stripes before the startled sportsman, and, with a rush, disappeared in the tangled undergrowth on ahead. Not two minutes later, Joe's trusty bone-smasher rung out a sharp quick challenge, answered with a succession of roars that showed the bullet had sped truly on its mission. The tiger, with over an ounce of lead in his flank, bolted back, and charged the first elephant he encountered. This was a half-broken, and not wholly staunch, animal, belonging to a wealthy "mahunt," near Emamnugger. It had never been charged before by a wounded tiger, and its courage was not equal to such an unexpected strain. Spite of the mahout's hammering and exertions, the poor brute turned tail and fled.

Now this is one of the most dangerous things that can happen in tiger-shooting. Everything may depend on the staunchness of your elephant. Rather than ride a coward shikaree hathee, or hunting elephant, you had better remain at In line. In its blind unreasoning dread of the roaring demon, that with eyes blazing wrath, bristles erect, lips retracted, and formidable fangs flashing, comes bounding down upon it at the charge, an untried elephant will not unnaturally turn tail and incontinently "skedaddle" as hard as it can lay legs to the ground; and let me tell you, en parenthese, that if fear does not absolutely lend wings to a bolting elephant, it can make him go at a pace that would astonish the inexperienced in such matters.

Away, then, went the Mahunt's Mukna (the native name for the short straight-tusked variety of elephant) and, roaring like a fiend, the wounded tiger gave chase.

His pursuit did not last long. Pat again got a lucky shot, which caught the monster in the fore shoulder, and crumpled him up like a rose leaf. It was a regular smasher. Another bullet through the heart quickly settled him.

Meantime the terror-stricken elephant crashed straight through the heavy tree jungle. His one object was to get away from the tiger. Butty's servant behind the Howdah wisely threw himself off, that is, he slid over the fairly frightened brute's rump, and rolled into a prickly bush, where he lay roaring to all the Hindoo gods and goddesses for Loliai—mercy end help. He fancied every minute he would make a mouthful for the tiger, and his sudden descent and hideous outcry hut added to the blind terror of the now fairly ungovernable "bolter."

The Mahout was powerless. He tried to turn the brute aside from a low overhanging branch—twisted, gnarled and moss-encrusted—that stretched like a giant arm across the way as if determined to bar further passage. There was just room for the elephant to pass beneath. It was a miracle Butty was not smashed to pieces on the spot. His quick eye and ready resource saved him. As it was, he clutched hold of an upper branch with all the energy of despair. By an agile spring and strong muscular effort, he swung himself clear, just as the Howdah was smashed into splinters and swept like touchwood from the back of the unwieldy runaway, as it rushed beneath the branch. Poor Butty's guns were sent flying in all directions, one of them exploding in the air, and sending a bullet whistling through the trees in very unwelcome proximity to George's ear. Soda-water bottles popped; cartridges, tumblers, a water-bottle, cigars, fragments of canework, and splinters of wood, were scattered all around, and with the wreckage of the unfortunate Huivdah banging against her ribs, the now ten times more maddened elephant tore through the jungle, fully persuaded that the devilish tiger was seated on her rump. She was only found again late at night, miles away from the jungle, shrunken, foundered, jaded, and still trembling in every limb.

The poor Mahout came worst speed in the melee. He got his thigh badly smashed, was knocked insensible, and had a narrow escape of his life.

"Butty" had a very "close shave" of it, and this incident affords a good illustration of the dangers of tiger-hunting. Of all the perils, that of a bolting elephant is the most to be dreaded.

On one occasion "Mac" had nearly lost his life in a much similar case, and out a short time before, poor young B., a genial gifted gallant young cavalry officer, had been dashed against a tree while trying to throw himself from a bolting elephant during a pig-sticking party, and had been killed on the spot.

I have known an elephant to bolt on more than one occasion, through the attacks of wasps or ground hornets. The Indian wasp is no whit less truculent a customer than his jimp-waisted yellow-ringed British cousin. In many of the forests, colonies of wasps fabricate great conical nests, of some papery material which are attached to the under side of the branch of some over-arching giant of the woods. As the ponderous elephants crash through the leafy jungle, tearing down creepers and clinging vines, these sweep off the citadel of the wasps, and down they come in a swarm on the unconscious cause of offence. The huge pachyderm that he is may be staunch enough to face the furious onslaught of a boar at bay, the savage onset of the bulky rhinoceros, or the fearsome charge of the Bengal tiger himself. His thick hide may be tough enough and proof against the sounding whacks of the gudjbaj or ihatha (elephant goad and spear), but the buzzing, piercing, pungent, pertinacious, vicious little devils, with their poisonous stings, are too much altogether for his equanimity, and ten to one, that highly-trained, courageous and sagacious as he is, he will rush trumpeting in frantic fear, and mad with pain and rage through the forest.

Well for the occupant of the Howdah, then, if he can guide the reckless rush of the poor maddened brute. Better for him if he can slide over the rump of his elephant, but in that case he had better take his blanket with him; or, in escaping the chance of having his brains dashed out against a tree, he may be but jumping from the frying-pan into the fire. The wasps will to a certainty transfer their attentions to him, and if he be not immediately covered from head to foot in his blanket, he stands a chance of being stung to death. I have known more than one case in which natives have thus fallen victims.

The ground hornets, Bhowras,are nearly if not quite as bad. They come buzzing out in an angry swarm from the round funnel-shaped entrance to their underground stronghold, if the unfortunate elephant have trod on their mossy mound, and then it is sauve qui pent. Clean heels must be shown, or woe betide you.

Not unfrequently too, in tree jungle, you may dislodge a colony of the fiery red forest ants which come showering down on your howdah, and make matters very lively for you while the engagement lasts. They tackle like bulldogs, and stick to you like a Bathurst burr to a sheep's fleece, and one always tries to give them a wide berth.

Once in particular I had the misfortune to experience an involuntary canter on a bolting elephant. Talk of "rough riding," of sitting a "buck jumper," of straddling a camel, or getting across a working bullock! Being on a rough shambling galloping elephant is a combination of the worst points of all these.

It was in this way.

H, my assistant, and myself, had gone over from Lutchmeepore to a factory some ten or twelve miles distant, to look up a neighbour who the natives had reported was down with fever.

We found "Dotterel" (of course I suppress real names) suffering from a long debauch. The poor fellow had been unfortunate, and had taken to a friend—the brandy bottle— to drown care, and quench regret, and his friend (?) had brought him to a pretty pass. I had met him years before, when his path in life promised well, and he was then a handsome, spirited, intelligent youngster, full of hope and bright self-reliance, and possessed of every one's good opinion and hearty good wishes.

Now we found a sad wreck. Poor Dotterel was sallow, emaciated, unshorn, blear-eyed, a shivering, sodden drunkard, trembling as with the palsy, and as utterly wretched-looking a mortal as I have ever come across. His house, an old unused factory bungalow, was squalid and unfurnished. The poor fellow was really ill, and I determined to take him back to my place, and try to infuse a little vigour into him, and give him a chance to recover his health and self-respect.

We had a cross, sullen, badly trained brute of a hatni with us (Hatni is a female elephant), which belonged to my factotum, Geerdharee Jha, a portly Brahmin, who filled the post of confidential adviser to me, in my Zendndaree diplomacy.

Geerdharee was what the Scotch would call a "geyan grippy sort o' body." He liked to keep an elephant—it added to his dignity—but he grudged the keep of a competent Mahout. So the poor brute was ill-fed, badly cared for, and some low-caste village "Jackaroo" was generally told off to cut fodder for the half-starved brute, and drive it on the rare, occasions when the loan of it was asked for by such an one as myself.

It was in the height of the rains, and the country was half submerged, or I would never have tried such a journey on such a sorry steed (if I can apply that title to a razor backed elephant).

The pad, too, was villainously dirty, badly stuffed, and ragged, and the ropes that bound it to the elephant were rotten and knotted in innumerable places.

We got Dotterel hoisted on to the pad. H. sat facing the tail. I bestrode the lumbering brute, behind the greasy malodorous Mahout, who straddled the neck of the hatni, and off we set.

Now all elephants are timorsome of any animal, noise, or thing that makes any demonstration at their rear. A well-trained hunting elephant would face the foul fiend himself, tail, hoofs, sulphur and all, if he confronted him face to face—but they do not like anything to approach too closely behind them.

We got on pretty well till we reached a village about a mile or so from the factory, when a yellow, mangy demon of a dog came bouncing forth from the mound of ashes whereon he lay licking his sores, and began barking and blustering close to the heels of our elephant; and his damnable din aroused all the curs of the village, who, rushing out, added to the demoniac chorus, and fairly frightened the senses out of our unmanageable moving framework of bones and hide.

The "I)haus" lay before us. A villainous marsh, full of rotten holes and treacherous quicksands—a slimy, quaking, abominable bog, tangled o'er with matted tenacious marsh weeds; and indeed a nasty dangerous place.

H. was an old hand, and realised our danger at once. He slid off with as much agility as he was capable of, and came bang upon mother earth, with all the force of Antaeus, but not with the like favourable result. He required a cushioned chair for a full fortnight afterwards.

Poor Dotterel was already shaken and exhausted with the long rough ride, and when the infernal "bolter" plunged into the water with a lurch, the shock threw my trembling unnerved guest headlong into the muddy ooze, and there he stuck, and might have been fairly smothered, had not some mullahs, or fishermen, close by come to his assistance, and extricated him half-choked and wholly demoralised, from his involuntary mud bath.

The miserable apology for a mahout was in a state of mortal funk. His teeth were chattering with fright, and he could only howl out, "Aree hap re bap!"—Dhodb jacga!" "We'll be drowned! We'll be drowned!! Well be drowned!!!

By this time the elephant had somewhat recovered from her funk, but plainly saw that she was mistress of the situation. She evidently held her mahout in utter contempt.

She had recourse to a common trick of badly bred, ill-tempered elephants. She commenced to rock violently to and fro, endeavouring to shake us off her back. The fine succulent stalks of the water-plants were forbidden forage to her. Elephants are passionately fond of some kinds of this food, but, if unaccustomed to it, it has a tendency to scour the animals. She was evidently determined to get quit of all incumbrances, and enjoy a surreptitious feast.

She reckoned without her host, however.

I felt that a very little more of this awful shaking would not only shake all the sense out of me, but would infallibly send the rotten ropes and rickety pad flying. I was holding on like grim death to the ropes with one hand, while the other clutched the mahout's snaky locks.

He still kept howling.

I slipped quickly behind him on to the neck of the elephant, snatched the gudjlbaj, or iron driving hook, from his hand, gave him a sounding whack on the side of the head, and saw him take a regular dive into the Dhaus.

I could scarcely help laughing—but my situation was critical. The mahout could wade and swim like a Paddy-bird, so there was no fear for him.

I was alone in the middle of a dangerous morass, with a cunning vicious elephant.

Her malicious little eyes twinkled. She tried her utmost to shake me off; she ducked her head, nearly straining my back in two with the jerks, but I was firmly seated behind her ears; and now I rained a shower of blows on her huge long head, that rattled again like an anvil under the lusty battery of the blacksmith.

The brute curled round her trunk several times, and tried to seize me, but I met the proboscis each time with a shower of blows, and then digging in the sharp point of the iron behind the root of the ear, I made the vicious brute scream again, and trumpet for mercy and forgiveness.

She was soon fairly cowed, for I showed her no leniency, and after infinite trouble I got safely across the dangerous ground.

Once or twice she tried to sidle off into deep water, where of course, if she had dived, I would have been at her mercy, but I managed to get to land all right.

H. and D. came over in a boat, and I never again asked Geerdharee for the loan of his abominable uncanny brute of an elephant.

Poor Butty's disaster, and the death of the tiger, put an end to that day's shooting, and we returned to camp after an al fresco lunch beneath a fine old Bhur tree in the Baree.

[A Mahout is the head of a religious order of Ascetics in India. Corresponds to the prior or chief abbot of a monastery in mediaeval Europe. Many of these orders presided over by the Mahout are wealthy, having lands and property attached to their monastery.]


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