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Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter X- An Exciting Night Watch


Belated at Fusseah—The old Chowfoydar—Searching for supper—The dilapidated bungalow—The Gomastah's news--Tigers close by— Proposal to sit up for a shot—Shooting from pits—Night scenes in the jungle—A silent watch—A misty figure through the gloom—A sudden roar—The challenge accepted—The plot thickens - The young tiger and the old boar—A death-struggle—Savage beasts in mortal conflict— Defiant to the last—Trophies of the night.

In my last chapter I incidentally mentioned that I had seen a fight between a boar and a tiger. Such stray encounters are far from uncommon, although rarely witnessed by any one in a position to note its incidents and thus be able to relate them afterwards. In the silent solitude of these remote wilds, where savage animals hold undisturbed sway, rare scenes of thrilling interest are constantly occurring. Tragedies are enacted that would startle even the most sluggish circulation into bounding excitement. The scenes in an Indian jungle, especially when the rapid twilight has given place to the dim, misty, mysterious night, are indeed indescribable.

Often in the morning one may come across the evidences of a death-struggle, a ghastly encounter, or a dear-bought victory, in the blood-stained and torn bushes and grass, the clawed and tossed up roots and earth, and often the crunched and shattered bones of some poor victim, that may have battled stoutly for his life against the midnight robber, or been struck down swiftly and surely beneath the mighty paw of the great striped King of the jungles.

Sometimes, however, the tiger does not have it all his own way; I was once witness to the truth of this fact.

It was a memorable scene. I can never forget it. The occasion was on this wise. I had been down at Fusseah during mahye, or manufacture, taking note of the different processes, and had been delayed longer than I intended by the bursting of a press in the press-house. This was to some extent a serious matter, for I only expected to have a few presses in all, as most of my crop had been swamped by Hoods and incessant rains; and we were only expecting to fill one or two vats more, before we would have to conclude the manufacture entirely for the season, with a very poor return for all our year's labour and outlay. The rivers were all in high flood. The road through the jungles was in parts wholly submerged. My elephant had not yet returned from a village, to which it had taken my Gomaifah, or headman, who had gone to report on the amount of plant there, still remaining to be cut. Altogether there seemed not the remotest prospect or possibility of my getting back to the head factory by daylight. There was no use grumbling. I resolved to make the best of a bad job, end remain at Fusseah for the night.

Unfortunately, in anticipation of the bad mahye, the whole of my Belatee stores—that is, tinned meats, tea, groceries, and such articles as are purchased in an English shop—had some time previously been sent to the head factory, and there was not an atom of provender of what are called "Europe or Belatee stores," about the place. The factory clwickeydar, old Jhanki Gope, that grizzled, wily old veteran, who had been suspected in bygone times of having taken part in many a midnight foray on the herds of neighbouring villages, and who even now, if report spoke true, was not averse to a little moss-trooping work if the chances of discovery were remote, came up to me with solicitude in his eye and extreme deference in his tone, to ask if my Highness would permit him to levy a contribution in kind from the batan, or cattle camp, close by.

Knowing from experience what a good purveyor Jhanki was, I signified my assent, and away went Jhanki with his blue puggree, jauntily set on the side of his head, his "lyart locks" aggressively sticking up in all directions through its tattered folds, and swinging his ponderous iron-bound lathee vigorously around his head in the exuberance of his delight, as he scented a good Burra Khanna for himself in the requisition he was about to make. How Jhanki managed to persuade the batanecahs I know not, but in a very short time after I had reclined my weary limbs on the rather dilapidated cane couch in the verandah, I was made aware of his presence by his tall figure looming through the gloom, as with beaming alacrity he informed me that he had procured provender for his gureeb puneur, or protector of the poor—meaning that I found that Jhanki had brought two of the herdsmen with him, lusty picturesque fellows both, bearing a goodly supply of sweet luscious curdled milk, crisp chupatees, or griddle cakes, and a small pot of clotted cream, while the bleating of an impounded kid, dragged captive at the heels of the stalwart Jhanki, gave promise of grilled chops if "my soul longed after the flesh pots."

To tell the truth, I was quite ready for a good supper. I had had a long day's hard work, with little food, and of course, having had no intention to be away from my comfortable bungalow for the night when I started in the morning, had made no provision suitable to the circumstances in which I now found myself.

The factory buildings at Fusseah were dilapidated in the extreme. The river had several times during the previous rains swept over the whole Kamat, or home cultivation, and had even submerged the vats and the building itself in parts. No assistant lived there, and the place was about the dreariest habitation for a white man that could be conceived. The thatch and tiles in places on the roof had fallen off, leaving the bamboo rafters exposed to rain and sun. and innumerable bats had effected a lodgment in the dark corners of the mildewed rooms, and were now darting backwards and forwards with their eerie, ghostly flight—in and out, in and out, with that weird, silent, zig-zag motion so suggestive of dilapidation, darkness, damp and melancholy.

I was glad therefore to have my rather gloomy thoughts interrupted by the advent of the three men, and bestowing a bucksheesh. gave the needful orders to have supper prepared by the Gomastah's servants. While the cooking operations were proceeding, I had time to chat with the herdsmen, who informed me that in some thick jangle between the factory and the ghat, they had reason to believe that two tigers had taken up their abode. Of course, with the usual Oriental hyperbole, they described the animals as being of gigantic dimensions, and of the most bloodthirsty dispositions. But having learned by bitter experience how much reliance was to be placed in such tales, I attached but little importance to their news. Presently, however, Debnarian Singh, the Gonmstah himself, on his elephant, came clanking up to the factory with his report. He was accompanied by several villagers, all chattering and talking loudly, and from their excited conversation it was evident some unusual event had occurred. The Gomastah having alighted and made his salaam, I was soon put in possession of the khubber, i.e. news.

There could be no doubt that "tiger" were in the neighbourhood, for on coming across a chuclach—that is, a large open piece of cultivation near the factory, bordered by a belt of tall-growing and rather dense grass jungle—the returning party had come across signs of a recent "kill."' In fact, the torn carcase of the cow was still bleeding and warm; and in the gathering gloom the keen-sighted villagers, who were all practical huntsmen, had been aide to see the poonj, i.e. tracks, of two tigers in the soft earth.

This was rather an uncommon circumstance, that two tigers should he present at a kill, but Debnarian Singh told me that there, could be no doubt that it was a tigress and half-grown cub, which he had already marked down, but which, as he had not seen them for some days, he fancied had left the vicinity owing to the low-lying lands having become submerged. The floods had prevented him getting in any elephants to hunt them up, and the matter had been almost forgotten.

My supper being now nearly ready, we deferred further talk until after that important meal had been discussed.

I don't think I ever enjoyed a meal less. The surroundings were comfortless and dreary. The wretched outturn of my crop and the misadventure of the day in the press-house, had not tended to raise my spirits. The damp, dirty floor, and the miserable charpoy, or native truckle-bed, made of knotted strings, and which was the only apparent available resting-place for the night, were very different from the cosy bedstead and comfortable matted room of my snug bungalow, so that I shuddered inwardly at the prospect of having to spend a night in such a lonely and forbidding spot.

One gets so accustomed to comfortable, not to say luxurious, surroundings in the East, and so habituated to the attendance of the silent obsequious servants, who anticipate your slightest wish, that the very absence of my bearer I felt was quite a personal misfortune. Even my pipe after supper did not seem to smoke as well as usual, and I was fast getting into a desperate fit of the blues when Jhanki again came to the rescue by suggesting that I might be able to get a shot at pig or hog deer, as they were very numerous quite close, to the factory, and in fact the Go'iaastak had two or three pits near by, dug for the purpose, in which he was accustomed to occasionally ensconce himself, and indulge in a luxury dear to a middle-aged and rather adipose Indian sportsman, that of lying in wait fur and killing his quarry at unawares, and which is known to the Anglo-Saxon as "pot-walloping." I never for a moment thought of sitting up for tiger, notwithstanding the reliable evidence of their presence I had just received. In the Koosee jungles, such foolhardiness is not common. In forest country, or even in rocky districts, it might not he so risky, but in these flat grassy plains the idea is seldom even entertained, Durneah is essentially the country of the lordly elephant and the big lattue.

Of course I had my gun with me, and my cartridge-belt was full, and Jhanki's astute mind had conceived the idea, that if I should be fortunate enough to shoot anything, he would doubtless come in for a big share of the meat, and I daresay visions of roast pork or venison already floated before his excited imagination. However, anything was better than the cold, creepy sensations which were stealing over me; and as the Gotuastah volunteered to go with me, I determined for the first time in my Indian career to try the novel experience of shooting from a deer-pit.

This mode of shooting is very commonly practised by the native shikarees in these jungles. Indeed, where pig and deer are so numerous, the destruction by rooting up and tramping down is quite as great as that done by the animals feeding on the crops, and consequently the village watchers seek to gratify their love of sport, as well as protect their crops and furnish their larders, by shooting as many of the midnight four-footed marauders as they possibly can.

They select a spot generally near the edge of the jungle, some little distance from the tracks of the pig or deer or such animals as frequent their fields, and here they form a shallow pit some two or three feet deep, the earth from which they dispose of in the shape of sloping breastwork all round. To guard against a possible surprise from the rear—for tigers of course are very numerous where other game is so plentiful—they commonly stick some strong prickly branches of acacia or Bher or other barbed jungle bushes on the side nearest the cover. If they are of a particularly luxurious disposition, they line the inside of the pit with warm, dry rice straw; and stout, elderly well-to-do pot-hunters even go the length of taking a small cane morah, or stool, to sit on, and thus avoid getting cramped during the long, weary wait which often ensues before they get a chance of "a pot shot." The sportsman's head being thus only some two feet or a foot and a half, or even less, above the level of the ground, and the space in front being clear and open, any animal, as big even as a jackal, coming between the level of his eye and the sky-line in front, affords an easy mark, while he himself remains perdv and partly protected.

If the wind be favourable, the chances of a shot are not at all bad, and sometimes the patient watcher is rewarded by bagging several of the jungly depredators who do so much damage to his crops.

To such a pit, then, I was conducted by my swarthy blue-puggaree'd guide. He had the forethought and consideration to take a morah with him, and finding there was room in the pit for the two of us, I made myself as comfortable as I could while Jlianki huddled himself up in very small space behind me.

The Gomastah, who was himself a keen sportsman, occupied a similar coign of vantage a little distance to the right.

It was now nearly ten o'clock. The watery crescent moon struggled with fitful, evanescent gleams amid the humid, tumbled waste of formless cloud. Here and there a sickly solitary star peeped timorously through a watery aperture in the sky, which again quickly closed as the clouds surged and floated slowly across the face of the heavens. Far away one could hear the ceaseless mysterious swish of the swift river rolling its turbid flood down to mingle with the mighty Ganges in the distant valley which is the teeming cradle of the Hindoo race.

A quivering, long-drawn, pulsating sigh seemed to be wafted at intervals across the dark, misty plain in front, as the cold night breeze swept through the feathery tops of the long jungle grass, and the bending stalks rustled and shivered and nodded their phimed heads together as if telling the secrets of Night's jealously guarded mystery to each other.

Ever and anon a Brahmany duck (chuckwa) calling to its mate, or the low, muffled tinkle of a cow-bell from some cattle camp in the jungle, would break the brooding silence. The sounds of distant tom-toms would beat in occasionally like a thudding pulse upon the still night air, and then all would die away again, and the deep silence brooded like a pall upon the whole scene. The atmosphere was heavy with the penetrating odour of the cattle-dung fires, burnt at every Batan all night, partly to scare off wild beasts, but quite as much to ward oif the attacks of the ubiquitous hordes of mosquitoes winch hover in clouds about the camps.

At such moments, one's whole past career passes swiftly in review before one's mental vision. I could not help feeling a sense of incongruity as I thought of my old college days, and what some of my old light-hearted comrades would say, could they see me half interred in a jungle pit in this faraway nook of India, with a semi-naked cowering old cattle lifter for my only companion.

Occasionally a soft, stealthy footfall would make itself barely perceptible to our strained sense of hearing, as an inquisitive jackal, or possibly a porcupine or mongoose, would creep near, trying to probe the secret of the gloom-enveloped shooting-pit. Once or twice a shadow had loomed above the skyline, and as often I had glanced along the barrel of my ready gun, but only to find that it was but a skulking jackal and not game worthy to be the recipient of my bullet.

The nights by the river in such a damp jungly district are always chilly, and the ground mists are very depressing, and although well wrapped up, my fingers were getting numb, and my senses dulled by the long stretch of watchful attention, when all of a sudden Jhanki gently touched my arm, and whispered in my ear, so low that I could scarcely catch his accents, "Dekko dine hath, Sahib " (Look to the right, sir). I quickly but noiselessly turned my head in the direction indicated, and felt a thrill as I saw what seemed, in the misty grey shadows of the night, looming big and indistinct against the dull skyline, to be a great bulky mass, which Jhanki assured me in the same low whisper was a burrci soor, or enormous boar.

The direction of the wind was such that he was all unaware of our presence. He was coming straight towards us, slouching along in a seemingly slovenly, unconcerned manner, stopping now and then to give a self-satisfied sort of grunt, and rooting with his great, strong, flexible snout at almost every step, whenever any juicy or succulent tit-bit seemed to invite his attention. He was apparently alone. Either his harem had satisfied their hunger and the ladies were reclining within the shelter of the tall grass, or he was possibly some sour Thersites, who scorned the solacements of matrimony, and preferred to take the field in solitary bachelorhood.

Just then a friendly puff seemed to clear a long slanting avenue in the leaden pall of cloud, and the maidan, or open ground in front, was lightened by a sickly, straggling gleam from the pale crescent moon, and objects became a little more distinct. I was just about taking a sight to cover the boar's brawny chest, when suddenly he struck an attitude, raised his head, and stood out clearer, sharper and well defined—a noble picture of unconscious grace. Ay! boar though he was, he was a noble-looking picture of massive strength.

For believe me, reader, a grand old fighting Bengal boar in his native jungle has a suggestiveness of power and strength about him which imparts to his mien a something which is not far short of downright dignity. Something had evidently disturbed him.

What was it?

We were not allowed to wonder long, for from the jungle came forth a sudden growling, prolonged roar, which told us that more royal prey was afoot. The situation was becoming interesting.

Jhanki's clutch upon my arm was becoming tighter. I could hear his quick, sharp breath as he hissed in my ear, "Barjh ten Kkoda wund! " (A tiger).

The tusker did not seem exceedingly alarmed. His attitude seemed to say, "I fear no foe. I am monarch of my own domain, and I care not for the growl even of a tiger."

Lowering his head with an angry toss, he gave a loud and savage grunt—a deep "hoo! hoo!" as if taking up the challenge and defying the tiger to do his worst.

Evidently the plot was thickening. And now I became witness of such a scene as is only possible to witness in these wild jungles, where savage brute life comes into conflict, kind with kind, and where the most thrilling tragedies are being continually rehearsed.

As if accepting the grunt of the boar as a direct gage of battle, a louder roar from the jungle was the. response, and forth into the arena, with a bound, came out a magnificently formed young male tiger, lashing his lean flanks with his angry tail, his moustachios bristling with rage, his lips retracted, showing his gleaming fangs, and the bushy hair round his throat and neck stiff like a great ruff round his fine fierce face, as he seemed determined to "force the fighting," and win the victory by a sudden roup.

Alas for the young tiger!

He was evidently unsophisticated, and not well versed in jungle attack. He had probably been accustomed to find such quarry as timorous deer or a poor stray heifer of the herd overcome with terror at the sound of his magnificent roar. He may have witnessed the more wary but invariably successful onslaught of his ravenous dam upon every kind of four-footed beast in his native hunting-grounds. He was "out for the night." He was itching to win his spurs. The promptings of independent action were strong within him. He longed to be out of leading-strings, and wanted to kill his own quarry. And so like a young brave out after his first scalp, he roared defiance to all and sundry. The old grey boar he had stumbled on now, however, was a champion of just such another kidney, much to the young tiger's evident astonishment. Like the typical Irishman, "he was spoilin' for a fight," and amid the intense excitement of the scene it was really whimsical to observe the young tiger's sudden attitude of bewilderment. The old boar did not seem to mind the roar so very much as might have been anticipated. He actually repeated his "hoo! hoo'" only in if possible, more aggressive, insulting and defiant manner. Nay more, such was his temerity that he actually advanced with a short, sharp rush in the direction of the striped intruder.

I am sure that if the tiger could have retreated then with any dignity, he. would have been content to have cried "off" there and then. He evidently found that he had "woke up the wrong passenger," and that possibly for his first fight he. had caught rather a "tartar"; and the boar seemed on his part to resent his intrusion as something which was not to be tolerated for an instant. This rash, presumptuous, intrusive bully, tiger or no tiger, must be taught to respect the rights of priority of possession.

Meantime Jhanki's eyes were almost starting out of his head with excitement, and I was so intent upon watching the curious scene now being rehearsed almost within reach, that for the moment I forgot all about my gun, and indeed luckily. For had we made a movement it is quite probable that the attention of either the tiger or the boar, or possibly

both, might have been drawn to the third party in this midnight scene, and it might have gone hard with either Jhanki or myself if they had chosen to attack us instead of each other.

However, the drama in real life being enacted so close before our eyes was too engrossing for us to think of the consequences.

Intently peering through the indistinct light, we eagerly watched the development of this strange rencontre.

The tiger was now crouching low, crawling stealthily round and round the boar, who changed front with every movement of his lithe and sinewy adversary, keeping his determined head and sharp, deadly tusks ever facing his stealthy and treacherous foe. The bristles of the boar's back were up at a right angle from the strong spine. The wedged-shaped head poised on the strong neck and thick rampart of muscular shoulder was bent low, and the whole attitude of the body betokened full alertness and angry resoluteness. In their circlings the two brutes were now nearer to each other and nearer to us, and thus we could mark every movement with greater precision. The tiger was now growling and showing his teeth; and all this, that takes such a time to tell, was but the work of a few short minutes. Crouching now still lower till he seemed almost flat on the ground, and gathering ins sinewy limbs beneath his lithe, lean body, he suddenly startled the stillness with a loud roar, and quick as lightning sprang upon the boar.

For a brief minute the struggle was thrilling in its intense excitement.

With one swift, dexterous sweep of the strong, ready paw, the tiger fetched the boar a teriffic slap right across the jaw, which made the strong beast reel; but with a hoarse grunt of resolute defiance, with two or three short, sharp digs of the strong head and neck, and swift cutting blows of the cruel, gashing tusks, he seemed to make a hole or two in the tiger's coat, marking it with more stripes than nature had ever painted there; and presently both combatants were streaming with gore.

This was round number one.

The tiger had evidently got more than he bargained for.

Betting at present very even.

The tremendous buffet of the sharp claws had torn flesh and skin away from off the boar's cheek and forehead, leaving a great ugly flap hanging over his face and half blinding him.

But Master Stripes had not come off scathless. There were two or three ugly rips in his chest and neck, from which copious streams were flowing; and there was a troubled indecision about the sweep of his long tail which betokened a mind ill at ease, and seemed to say, "I wish I were well out of this."

The pig was now on his mettle.

With another hoarse grunt, he made straight for the tiger, who very dexterously eluded the charge, and lithe and quick as a cat after a mouse, doubled almost on itself, and alighted clean on the boar's back, inserting his teeth above the shoulders, tearing with his claws and biting out great mouthfuls of flesh from the quivering carcase of his maddened antagonist.

He seemed now to be having all the best of it.

So much so that the boar discreetly stumbled and fell forward, whether by accident or design I know not, but the effect was to bring the tiger clean over his head, sprawling clumsily on the ground. I almost shouted, "Aha, now you have him!" for the tables were turned.

Round number two.

Getting his fore feet on the tiger's prostrate carcase, the boar now gave two or three short, ripping gashes with the strong, white tusks, almost disembowelling his foe, and then exhausted seemingly by the effort, apparently giddy and sick, he staggered aside and lay down panting and champing his tusks, but still defiant, with his head to the foe.

This was round number three.

But the tiger, too, was sick—yea, sick unto death. The blood-letting had been too much for him. And now thinking that it was time for the interference of a third party, I let the two mutually disabled combatants have the contents of both my barrels, and we had the satisfaction presently of seeing the struggling limbs grow still, and knew that both were ours.

Such is a plain, bald narrative of one of the most unique and thrilling experiences of all my sporting career in India. It rarely happens to the fortunate lot of any hunter to be witness of such a desperate struggle between the fierce and powerful tiger and the gamest and pluckiest beast of the Indian jungle—a good old fighting grey boar.


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