Tent Life in Tigerland Chapter XVI - A Jungle Tragedy
Varieties of winged game—News of a "big beat"—Get to camp—The
marshes country—"Hunter's pot" — Charge of a wounded bull buffalo—A terrible
impalement—On the track—Difficult country— Slow and dangerous
tracking—Indications of our quarry—An unsuccessful day—A bad night—News with
the dawn—Kesurue our quest—Horrible signs—Sickening gusts—A ghastly
sight—Close of the tragedy—The funeral pyre.
middle of December, 1874, I was down at Burgammah superintending the packing
of my indigo cakes, having already finished my own packing at the head
factory; and as, unfortunately, the season had not been a very profitable
one, and my assistant, Tom Hill, was on the spot, although suffering from
fever and ague, poor fellow, my work was certainly not very onerous. I had,
as may easily be imagined, plenty of spare time on my hands. There was
splendid shooting in the neighbourhood, and I was not slow to take advantage
of it. Some mornings I would go for a spin with my bobbery pack over the
hard turfy uplands to the south of the factory, and kill a jackal or two, or
possibly have a good course after a hare; and as mysyce,or
other attendants would generally be waiting at some predetermined spot with
my gun, I would there dismount and shoot back to Burgammah, calling at
lagoons, on my way; or beating up sundry patches of thatching grass
intervening; and could always be certain of making a heavy, though certainly
a motley, bag.
Hares were numerous, quail were abundant, wild duck, mallard,
widgeon, teal, red-heads, blue fowl, painted snipe, jack snipe, and ordinary
snipe, to say nothing of wading birds of various kinds, and other varieties
such as the golden plover, the tiny ortolan, ground pigeon—green pigeon
occasionally —and the beautiful florican, with its graceful plumes, might
any day be met with in a single beat.
And down by the river the varieties of small game were
equally abundant .
I especially remember one day, having made some good
shooting, coming into the factory with some half-dozen coolies laden with
game of all kinds.
It happened to be one of Hill's good days, and he had met me
in high spirits near the cake house, waving what seemed to be a letter
excitedly over his head.
I found it to be a summons from my friend Joe to come down at
once, as he was getting up a bighank—i.e.a
drive-after big game, and stating that tiger and buffalo were both
plentiful, and asking me to get as many elephants as I could, and to send
down one of my tents and some stores. As our packing was just finished, we
determined to enjoy a week's outing; and accordingly the next day, having in
the meantime made every arrangement to carry out Joe's wishes, we dropped
down the river in one of the factory boats, and arrived at night-fall in the
vicinity of the camp.
We slept on board that night, to give time for our elephants
and camp equipage to get down and to be in readiness, and next day rode for
some three or four miles to where Joe had pitched his camp, south of Dumdaha
village, and in the vicinity of a long chain of lagoons and marshes, which
had been in former years a famous hunting-ground, and had been notable as a
favourite haunt for the now very rare rhinoceros.
Between the marshes were high ridges of dense jungle grass
and matted bamboo thickets. Wild boar and hog-deer were very plentiful, and
it was always a certain haunt for tigers.
Down by the margin of the marshes, great herds of wild
buffalo might generally be found, feeding on the succulent herbage and
wallowing in the oozy slime round the edge of the lagoons. 'While on the
broad reaches of shallow water, countless flocks of aquatic birds found
favourite feeding quarters.
The great drawbacks were the still more teeming swarms of
mosquitos, which in the hot weather really held undisputed sway, and
absolutely forbade hunting of any kind in this otherwise favourite spot. But
when the cold weather came, these buzzing pests were not, of course, so
aggressive, and I had long looked forward to a hunt under Joe's captaincy in
this famous locality.
On our arrival we found some indication of what we might
expect in the way of sport, by seeing three fine tiger skins pegged out in
front of Joe's hut, and half-a-dozen magnificent heads of great swamp
buffaloes with splendid horns, the trophies of the preceding two or three
days' shooting. We were soon deeply absorbed in the study of the mysteries
of a "hunter's pot."
The hunter's pot was a thick lusciousolla
tongues and cuttings of various kinds of deer, the tit-bits from the breasts
of florican, wild duck, snipe, etc., plovers' eggs galore, and a rich jelly
cementing the mass, in which was embedded the contents of a couple of tins
of champignons and a like proportion of truffles, two or three olives and
some fine herbs; and a spoonful or two of this, eaten cold, with amayonnaisedressing,
for which I was renowned, and accompanied with crisp hot toast, generally
formed our hunting breakfast.
Indeed we did not turn up our noses at it both for the
mid-day and evening meal; and when washed down with copious draughts of
artificially cooled beer or champagne cup, we considered it quite good
enough for us poor hungry hunters in these far-off jungle solitudes.
"Yes! you had better believe it!!" They used to know how to
take care of the inner man in the Purneah jungles.
Now a dreadful thing had just happened. We were soon put in
possession of the particulars.
One of Joe's trusted beaters had met with an appalling death,
the record of which may sound like a romance, may even excite the derision
of the flippant sceptic, but which happened in all its tragic ghastliness
just as I shall describe it, if you permit me.
The facts were these.
Two days before, Joe had been "out with his party, and they
beat along the edge of one of these lagoons I have spoken of. They had put
up a large herd of buffaloes, amongst whom were two or three very fine
One fierce, solitary brute had charged down on the line, and
although Joe had undoubtedly wounded him, yet, not having his Express rifle,
he had not succeeded in indicting any serious wound, but had only infuriated
and maddened the already sufficiently fierce and ill-tempered brute. Tearing
through the thick jungle, up the side of one of the hog-back ridges, the
infuriated beast had charged right into a knot of coolies and beaters, who
had there retired to a little cleared space while the shooting had been
going on below. Making straight for these poor frightened fellows, with his
strong, cruel horns lowered to the charge, the buffalo impaled one of Joe's
men; and so determined was his charge and so terrible the force of his
thrust, that one of the sharp-pointed horns had crushed clear through the
coolie's body, right between the collar-bone and the shoulder-blade of the
unfortunate victim, while the other horn pierced sheer through the bones of
the pelvis, and pinned the hapless wretch to the earth.
So fierce was the thrust that the wounded brute was not able
to shake his ghastly burden off, and before the horror-stricken companions
of the poor man could do anything to help him, and long before the elephants
could come up, the buffalo had run into the fastnesses of the jungle beyond,
bearing the shrieking man impaled alive upon the cruel horns. The party
quickly formed into line and followed up as speedily as they could.
It was an awful fate, and each felt—European and native
alike—chilled with horror as they thought over the sickening details of the
ghastly tragedy. There was little doubt that the poor creature could not
long have survived the first agony of his terrible position.
Evidences were not wanting at almost every step, in the
blood-marked, trampled bushes and stained earth, that the maddened beast had
vainly striven to rid himself of the burden of poor bleeding, bruised
humanity that had thus found such an awful resting-place.
Time after time they came upon trampled grass and bushes
where the experienced eye of the trackers could see that the beast had
endeavoured to brush the dead body of the hapless hunter from off his horns.
But the first deadly thrust had been so terribly fierce, that it was evident
the bull could not so easily dispose of his novel burden.
They followed the trail all that day, and the next day also
they took it up. The tracks led them into most dangerous and little
Two or three elephants had become almost hopelessly bogged,
and on the morning of our arrival—the third day since the terrible
catastrophe—they had not succeeded in getting either the buffalo or the
mangled carcase of the poor fellow whose fate they were all eager to avenge.
Being put in possession of these facts, we determined to make one final
effort to track the buffalo, so striking camp, we sent the tents
forward some eight or ten miles, and then forming in line
with our thirteen elephants, the number we had been able to procure, we set
out on what was one of the most horrible quests in which I had ever been a
All that day we floundered through the most terrible
quagmires and frightful country.
We put up numberless herds of buffalo, but in none of them
could we see thatoneweighted
with his dread burden for which we were searching.
The sun vaulted high in the heavens, reached his zenith and
declined, until at length he sank, a great red fiery globe, beneath the
copper-coloured sky in the west. Every now and then during the day we had
been stimulated to an increased vigour in our search by frequent indications
of the nearness of the wounded buffalo.
But tracking in such dangerous country was very difficult
work for elephants. The great, tall water reeds grew in dense masses so
thick that even one's adjacent elephant in the line, although but a few
paces distant, was frequently quite undiscernible; and in amongst the great
peaty masses of gigantic tussocks, amid which the black oozy mud quivered
for yards all around at every step, and from whose slimy depths rose great
green bubbles of deadly gas, our progress was necessarily very slow. At
nightfall, therefore, we were perforce obliged to retire to the tents, and
seek the welcome refreshment of our camp dinner, and weary and agitated,
with the gloom of this fatal event depressing our spirits, we sought our
couches and were soon asleep.
The horrible details had taken such possession of my
imagination that my dreams were full of frightful suggestions, and I
re-enacted all the shocking tragedy over again in my sleep. I could not help
thinking too of the poor creature's humble home, so suddenly plunged into
mourning. Too commonly in India, where life is often held so cheap, where
there are such teeming multitudes of little-considered humble fellow-mortals
around us, whom we are accustomed to regard as just so many pawns in the
game of fortune we play, the keener susceptibilities get blunted, and we are
apt to forget that each dusky body envelops a soul, with emotions,
affections, aspirations, and relationships quite as keen and binding as our
own. We enter too little in our sympathies with the tender and touching
human ties which are as strong and passionate in the poor jungle beater as
perhaps they are with the lordly Sahib who orders him about with such regal
I spent a bad night. The thought of the poor fellow's
bereaved wife and helpless orphans would intrude itself on my imagination,
and I was glad when the grey chill streaks of dawn began to struggle with
the dank mists around the tents.
Early next morning we were roused to a fresh prosecution of
our search by news brought in by one of the trackers, that he had run the
buffalo to earth at last, or rather to water, for, as the sequel proved, the
distracted brute, still bearing its ghastly burden, had retreated to a dense
bamboo jungle in the midst of a wide stretch of shallow lagoon, much like
what we had searched the day previous, only more open, but with here and
there a ridge of bamboo crowned island, almost inaccessible to elephants,
and on that account very seldom disturbed.
After a hasty breakfast, away we led. Our guide led us by
devious, difficult paths through some most terrible country, till at length
he pointed out to us horrible evidences that we were on the right track, by
showing here and there portions of tattered rags stained with horrible human
juices, and with bits of putrid rotting human flesh still adhering in
fragments to them.
We had now to proceed warily. The footing was treacherous.
The broad shallows of the gleaming lagoon stretched before us. In the middle
rose the long hog-backed ridge of the bamboo thicket. In the centre of the
island we were told was a clear space, the site of a long dismantled shrine;
and here it was the buffalo had taken sanctuary. Slowly we splashed and
floundered through the slimy shallows. Again the black surging ooze emitted
its poisonous gases, and as we neared the island, the stench became almost
The wind was toward us, and sickening gusts came wafted to
us; and presently we could dimly discern through a slight break in the
boscage ahead an indistinct mass moving slowly to and fro in seemingly
ceaseless incertitude; and as we still pressed on, and the elephants now
cautiously bent aside the intervening stems, we saw a sight which for
downright ghastliness and sickening horror I never have seen equalled.
In the centre of the raised clearing, gaunt, grisly, and with
hollow hearing flanks, stood the buffalo, his tottering legs bending 'neath
the weight of his emaciated shrunken frame, his massive neck swaying feebly
from side to side beneath the weight of his great bony skull, and on the
wide impaling hornsthat
An awful burden that! A gruesome spectacle! The poorrottingcarcase
still fixed on the terrible horns. The festering juices from the decomposed
body had streamed down glistening and ghastly over the shaggy front and into
the eyes and nostrils of the wretched wild beast. A baleful, buzzing swarm
of flies and hornets circled round in a dark moving mass, settling thick as
blight on the sweltering remains of what the sun had scorched and blistered,
and the night mists had sodden, and the cruel bushes and thorns had
lacerated and torn, and which, in the mad, furious efforts to disengage
itself of his ghastly burden, the buffalo had dashed against every obstacle
in his path, till it was battered and beaten out of all semblance to
humanity, but which only four days agone had been a lusty, sinewy, agile
hunter, with bounding pulse and vigorous limbs. But now! Horrible!
The buffalo presented indeed a pitiful spectacle. For at
least two or three days it must have been nearly blind. It was now wholly
so. It could not have eaten for some days. Its great bones stared out from
the shrunken, wrinkled hide. The poor beater, even in death, had taken a
living and a terrible revenge.
The stench was so overpowering and the spectacle so
appalling, that, hardened as we were, and accustomed to weird sights in
these wild jungles, we did not care long to stay.
The blinded brute wearily lifted his burdened head, and
turned his trembling front towards us, as his deadened senses caught the
tokens of our approach.
Ah God! what a horrible sight was that! The maggots moving in
the festering mass of dropping flesh—the sightless pockets of the living
brute swarming with the hateful, odious crawling things, eating into the yet
living tissues, and mingling dead and living in one horrible medley of
seething corruption! The charnel smell—the sickening horror of the whole
scene was indescribable.
"Put the poor brute out of this awful misery," said I to Joe.
raised his rifle—glanced along the polished barrel.
A bang—a puff—a lumbering lurch—a staggering forward roll,
and all was over!
Angrily buzzed the swarm of carrion flies. A few faint specks
hovering far aloft in the pure empyrean betokened that the vultures were
gathering for the feast.
At least we could avert that one last crowning horror. We
could baulk the jackals, too, of their anticipated snarling orgie over the
remains of the hapless hunter, and save the poor frail tenement of clay that
one last crowning indignity. And so, though only a poor coolie, we
remembered that, after all, he had been a brother sportsman, and giving
hasty orders, we soon had a great pile of withered grass and bamboos heaped
high over both the wretched buffalo and his unhappy victim, and then the
pyre was lit. We watched while the fierce flames roared and raged over the
senseless remains, and licked the bones and greedily devoured the flesh, and
so, in a wild holocaust of furious fire, the hollow bamboo stems crackling
and exploding with a sound like guns, as if a funeral volley were being
fired over the hapless hunter's remains, we consumed all traces of this sad
and awful tragedy of the Koosee jungles.
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