Native and European ideas of sport
contrasted—Illustrations—Pitfalls— How formed—A morning tour of
inspection—Prepare for pea-fowl— Method of the sport—Start a herd of spotted
deer—Off for a stalk— Monday heat and stillness—An anxious wait—Death of the
stag— Wending homewards—A treacherous path—Hidden pitfalls—A sudden
shock--Miraculous escape—Happy issue—Visit the "old General" —His camp
levee—A yarn after tiffin—"The General" takes a trip north after tiger—A
rascally groom—Trapped in a pit of miry clay— Caged with a cobra—A terrible
fight for life—Reaction—Breaking of the monsoon—A new danger—Doomed to be
drowned like a rat in a hole—Rescue at the eleventh hour—A parting tribute
to the glad old days and the gallant and true old comrades—A few parting
a trite illustration of the workings of the Oriental mind, whenever it is
intended to show how different are their ideas from ours, to cite the old
story of the native magnate who, on seeing a hall-room for the first time,
expressed his astonishment that "the Sohib
the trouble to dance themselves, when they could so easily procure hirelings
to do the dancing for them. In the pursuit of field sports, the difference
is not less marked. For instance, at a "Tent club meet," if any European
were deliberately to spear a sow, the achievement, by his fellows, would
probably be judged with as much, if not more, severity than a grave
infraction of some well-known canon of the moral law. Not so with the
native, however. If a cultivator, he is content to have one more soor slain,
as that represents to him one enemy to his crops the less, and he cares not
whether it he a "tusker" or one of the weaker sex. If he is a low-caste
camp-follower, sow's flesh is even a more welcome comestible than boar's
flesh, and hiss
conscience has no qualms. So too we will say with quail-shooting or
duck-shooting. The European ideal of the sport is to give the bird something
like a fair chance. Only the tyro, or the sordid pot-hunter, would think of
such devices as are in the eyes of the native perfectly legitimate and even
praiseworthy. The European sportsman will even at times exercise
considerable ingenuity to "flush" his birds; to make them "rise," so that he
may "take them on the wing." The native shikaree,
on the contrary, will exhaust every conceivable cunning device to lull his
intended quarry into a false security, and then will deliberately "pot"
half-a-dozen as they sit, or even steal on them as they sleep, and
appropriate them as a "down South nigger" would rob a hen-roost.
In fact, the sporting ideas of the native approach somewhat
closely those characteristics that we are wont to associate with the methods
of the poacher in the old country. The Oriental scouts the idea of sport
altogether, as we hold it. His ideal is to gain his object with the least
amount of personal risk and the smallest expenditure of physical effort. So
it is that traps, lures, gins, pitfalls, and cunningly devised wiles and
snares are more in accord with his ideas of sport than our bolder and more
open methods. Thus for instance they v ill sometimes poison a tank or
stream, and for the sake of securing enough fish to serve for one feast,
they will destroy that particular- source of food supply for a whole village
for quite an indefinite period.
Doubtless one explanation is not far to seek, and difference
in idiosyncracy is not the only element in the contrast. Naturally, where
arms of precision are or were, until recently, unknown, and where wild
beasts are numerous and often aggressive, man will set his wits to .work to
overcome savage aggression and brute force "with the superior cunning which
is the heritage of reason. Among all savage tribes, therefore, we find the
most ingenious stratagems are resorted to and the most clever contrivances
brought into play to secure the spoils of the chase, judging, of course,
from the native standpoint.
In the Boddpore jungles, I met with numerous illustrations of
this. One of the most common and not the least dangerous of these was the
one I am about to describe.
To trap deer, wild hog, or even more dangerous game, the rude
forest dwellers adopted the following plan: —
They would usually select a forest path near the edge of the
jungle-—one of those leading to the cultivated lands in the vicinity, and
one most likely from evidences which they are keen to detect, to be most
frequented by the animals they wish to kill. In this path, then, they, with
much care and skilful contrivance, dig a deep, narrow, well-like pit. These
pits are commonly made rather broader at the bottom than at the top; and so
far as form is concerned, they present somewhat the appearance of a great
sunken lamp chimney. To make the trap more deadly, a single stake, or even a
couple of hardwood stakes, with the protruding points hardened by fire, are
planted upright in the bottom of the pit.
Over the opening, slight branches or twigs are then cunningly
woven, to give an admirable simulation of the natural appearance of an
ordinary jungle path; and the whole surrounding area is strewed with a loose
layer of leaves, withered grass, and other rubbish natural to the
If the pitfall is meant for tiger or leopard, a decoy goat or
calf may be tethered in the vicinity, in such a way as to tempt the unwary
depredator along the path and over the dangerous spot. In Assam and some
other districts, even elephants and rhinoceros are not unfrequently
entrapped and destroyed in such pits.
For the ordinary purpose of the villager, who wants not only
to protect his crop hut to replenish his larder with venison or wild pork,
those pitfalls were quite numerous in the sal jungles
When settlement increases, and herds of cattle begin to take
the place of deer and hogs, these pits become of course dangerous, and many
an unlucky cow or wandering plough bullock, and sometimes even the great
hunter, man himself, falls a victim to their cunningly concealed
My first introduction to one of these horrid holes was nearly
making an end of me altogether, and putting a complete finish to my hunting
I remember the circumstance well; and as it affords a good
illustration of the nature of the life we had to lead in these remote wilds,
I think the narration may prove interesting, and form a fitting finish to my
It was not long after I had taken over charge of the grants
from my predecessor, and when as yet I was not familiar with the jungles,
and rather sceptical as to their dangers.
One morning I went out, as I had repeatedly done, with my
pony and gun, and accompanied by my syce, to
have a survey of the work going on, and at the same time take a shot at
anything in the nature of game that might present itself. The belt of forest
was distant, as I have already said, about one mile from the bungalow. I had
gone over part of the cultivation, visited a number of workmen that were,
busy building a masonry well in the village, closely inspected the progress
being made by a party of brickmaking contractors who were engaged in the
preparation of a great brick-kiln; and at length, having got through most of
my work, I was free to indulge my sporting tastes, and very quickly had the
cartridges in the gun.
I halted the pony near the edge of the jungle, and having
seen several pea-fowl among the growing barley, I told the syce to
lead the pony along the skirt of the forest, when I entered the underwood
myself, knowing from observation and experience that the pea-fowl would make
for the forest as the syce disturbed
them, and that I might expect some good shooting.
This plan of action succeeded just as I had anticipated. The
great handsome birds, with their heavy crops, run like hares, and, when
gorged with food, it is no easy task to make them rise. With a small rifle
they afford pretty shooting as they run, and with swan shot, one can do
swift execution if you intercept their escape into the jungle, and see their
gorgeous extended plumage spread out before your observant gaze as they soar
Unless an eye-witness of their flight, no one would imagine
with v; hat graceful celerity these great heavy birds can cleave their way
through even close forest. It is not nearly such easy shooting as the tyro
might think, and a vigorous pea-fowl will take away a lot of lead sometimes,
and not after all fall a victim.
I had shot one running bird, and succeeded in bringing to
earth with a gladdening dull thud, and a crash as the bodies tore through
the bushes, two more very line-plumaged cocks, which were retrieved by the syce and
strapped on the pony, when not far ahead of me, to the right of a little
open glade, I spied the moving antlers and the sleek hide of a stately
spotted deer (Axis
more intently, I saw mining waiilv along with him some seven or eight dainty
hinds and fawns—a complete harem and family, in fact; and at once forgetful
of the pea-fowl, and intent on securing what seemed to be a good head of
horns, I struck off on the trail, the wind in my favour, and was soon out of
sight and hearing of my syce, and
deep in the gloom of the forest.
I made a pretty wide detour to
still further better my vantage ground, and stalked cautiously but quickly
on, occasionally hearing some slight indication ahead that convinced me I
was on the right track, hut that the deer were on the move, and evidently in
a suspicious mood.
The sun was now mounting high, and presently I came to an
oval open space—one of those frequently recurring grassy glades which are,
during the rainy season, full of water and become the haunt of aquatic
birds, but which was now quite dry, and rustling high with wavy grass. By
stooping down, I could just keep my body hidden among the clumps of elephant
grass and nurkul (the
succulent reeds that the elephants and buffaloes love).
Dodging rapidly and noiselessly in and out among the
apertures between these clumps, I gained the further side of the glade; and
creeping up the slight incline, I lay down behind a prostrate tree, and
waited patiently to see if there was any chance of the deer coming in my
direction. I had not long to wait—perhaps about twenty minutes. It was now
getting hotter and hotter, as the sun mounted higher above the tree tops.
The breathless, oppressive heat began to shimmer and palpitate over all the
forest. The cicadas' shrill chorus alone broke the brooding stillness. I
knew the deer, having been once disturbed, would seek the more secluded
depths of the forest that lay behind me,
Presently I hear a rustle. That nameless intuition which
every hunter knows, warned me that my game was afoot and near me. The
"shrilling" of the grasshoppers sometimes stops suddenly. There is a pause.
A silence that may almost be felt, and then some faint crackle or rustle
reaches the expectant ear, and you feel it is time to look along the barrels
and see that the trigger is ready.
Peering eagerly through my leafy screen, I now see a noble
old buck showing his antlered head from the opposite range of bushes. The
scrutiny was keen, searching, and prolonged, but it was evidently considered
satisfactory, for now his well-proportioned front and glossy spotted body
emerged boldly into the comparatively clear space. After him came trippingly
and daintily three graceful fawns and a couple of does. I thought there were
others moving in the bushes behind these; but the old buck was now well
within range of my No. 12, and pulling the trigger, I had the satisfaction
of putting a bullet right through his neck, and seeing him turn and topple
over. Hurrying forward, I was able to put another through his heart as he
struggled to his feet attempting to escape, and that settled him.
Phew! it was hot.
There was not a breath of air now stirring. One of these sudden lulls that
mark the approach of high meridian, had succeeded the faint, languorous
breeze of morn, and away out of the shade, the direct rays of the sun came
scorchingly down, and made their power very decidedly felt. The buck had a
line head, and I congratulated myself on my acquisition, and then thinking
that perhaps my syce might
possibly be within hail of a "coo-ee," I "coo-eed" loudly
and in most approved Australian fashion, sending the clear echoing cry
ringing down the vaulted arcades of the Indian forest. That's the proper way
to put it, isn't it?
I kept this up for some little time; but getting no response,
I came to the conclusion that I must, in the excitement of the stalk, have
miscalculated the distance I had come, and that I must have penetrated
farther into the forest than I had fancied. I had not. been long in charge
of these estates, and was not very well acquainted with the jungles, but I
knew the general direction I had come. Doing what was necessary, therefore,
with my hunting knife to prevent the venison from acquiring a rapid taint, I
dragged the carcase into the shade, cut down a sapling, and tying my
handkerchief to it, stuck it in the ground beside my quarry, and shouldering
my gun, off I set in quest of my lagging
knew I must keep the sun in my face, so off I ploughed through the
undergrowth, and after a little progress, I luckily, as I thought, struck a
pretty well-worn cattle track, as it scorned to me, and winch led in the
direction I wished to pursue. I mentally thanked my stars for their friendly
guidance, and onwards I strode with quickened step, feeling quite elated at
my good morning's sport, and picturing to myself the nice cool bath I would
have when I got back to the bungalow.
I knew I must now be nearing the confines of the forest, for
there was a lighter appearance on ahead; and, indeed, presently I could see
the heaped-up barricade of prickly bushes laid by the natives along the
border of their green fields, all along the edge of the jungle, as some
defence against the incursions of the deer and other animals. Just here I
diverged from the path along a narrow green alley which seemed to be a
feeder to the main path, and looked as if it led to a gap in the prickly
fence, so I quickened my pace and hastened along, rejoiced to think I was
about to quit the jungle.
All of a sudden, without a moment's warning, I felt as if the
ground had receded right away from under my feet. I had the sensation one
has when he fancies he has come to the bottom of a stair or ladder in the
dark, and instead of firm ground, he treads wildly out into space. My body
was violently thrown forward. My gun, which I was carrying in my right hand ;n
front of me, to break and clear the cobwebs from the bushes, was jerked out
of my grasp, and fell in front with an ominous smash, and exploded as it
fell. I had not an instant to steady myself, or to make any distinct
endeavour to save myself from falling. Yet, quick as thought, by a swift
instinct I grasped the situation, and intuitively knew I must have gone
through one of those concealed pitfalls I have spoken of.
In sudden emergencies the mind acts quickly. A jungle life
such as I have endeavoured to describe, amid constant adventures with wild
animals, and all the changing experiences of dealing with both wild beasts
and cunning men, develops a quick-wittedness and promptitude of action in
dangerous straits; and rapid as an electric shock, there darted through my
mind the fear that there might he a pointed stake in the pit, and that I
might he horribly impaled and possibly killed.
I drew my feet together. I set my teeth. A muttered prayer
flashed across my lips. There was a crackling of dry twigs, a cloud of dust,
withered leaves, and insects, a swift descent, and sudden darkness. As I
fell, my face struck on the jagged end of a branch, and ripped a portion of
the skin off my cheek. But beyond that and a few trifling abrasions on my
knees and elbows, I found, when I had a moment to realise my position, that
I hail escaped almost as by a miracle from a frightful and sudden death, or
at least from a horrible mutilation.
Of course you have guessed what it was. I found myself at the
bottom of one of these pitfalls I have described; and I shuddered as I
contemplated the awfully narrow escape I had so providentially experienced.
There were two stakes —hard, fire-burnt, pointed stakes—planted upright in
the pit, and by a merciful interposition, I had fallen or slid right between
the two. It was about as close a "shave" as could well be imagined, the lie
of the stakes had actually grazed my back and torn my shirt; while the other
in front was but a few inches from my chin. I felt a cold sweat come out all
over my body as I realised how narrow had been my escape from a cruel
mutilation or death.
The cold stage did not last long, however. It was
insufferably close and hot down in that noisome hole. I felt like a caged
rat.. I could scarce wriggle free of the stakes, and the inwards-inclining
wall of the odious trap in which 1 found myself, precluded all possible
chance of escape unaided. I daresay I could eventually, with some hard work
and difficulty, have got out, for I had my good hunting knife with me, and I
could have cut holes in the sides of the pit; but very luckily for me, as it
happened, my lazy wretch of asujec was
close by, taking it coolly under
the welcome shade of a peepul tree, and when my gun went off as I popped
into the hole, he was roused into curiosity to see what I had shot, and came
towards the spot. Of course he soon divined what had occurred, and
unbuckling the pony's reins and stirrup-leathers, he gave me very welcome
assistance in extricating myself from my unwelcome and involuntary quarters.
"When he saw the deadly peril I had so miraculously escaped,
his wonder was as great as mine, though his acknowledgments were
considerably more noisy. For days and weeks afterwards the syce could
speak of nothing else; and used to pile curse upon curse on the head or
heads of the unknown digger or diggers of that never-to-be-sufficiently
objurgated deer pit.
my own part, I was all right again in a few days; but I never came across
one of these dangerous holes in the vicinity of my villages without issuing
at once a peremptory order for the villagers to fill them up, and this was
In point of fact, very few animals are ever deceived by these
pitfalls, and as I have shown, and shall now still further show, they are a
very real source of danger to either men or cattle who may be unaware of
their locality, and arc unlucky enough to stumble across them as I did.
My nearest neighbour in the same jungly district, to whom I
have already referred as "the General," was the hero of the episode I am now
about to tell. "The General" had been all through the Mutiny, and was one of
the fortunate fugitives who escaped from the Sitapore district. He had many
a thrilling tale to tell of those dreadful days, and on more than one
occasion his escapes from death had been all but incredible, for many years
he had lived almost the life of a recluse on his "grants" near Doddpore, and
I can never forget the cordial welcome he gave me when I called on him after
I had taken charge of my new sphere of labour. I had heard strange stories
of his morose disposition, and was prepared to meet a sort of modern Tiniuii
of Athens; but you may judge of my surprise when, alter a few minutes'
conversation, I found he hailed from bonnie Forfarshire; and there and then
began a friendship which ripened into the most brotherly and entire
unanimity of feeling. He and I were the only two non-official Europeans in
the district. Our estates were contiguous for many miles, and as his
bungalow was only some five miles from my headquarters, we had many
opportunities of seeing each other.
He was a man of very powerful frame. He was a master of the
languages of India. There was not a turn or phase of native character and
thought with which he was not familiar and he was universally respected and
loved by his own wild forest people, among whom he had lived so long;
although many of the neighbouring land owners had frequently been worsted by
him in land disputes and territorial feuds.
Two or three days after my pitfall adventure, I rode over to
"Dun Budailee " one of his outlying villages, where he had pitched his tent
while superintending the harvesting of some of his crops in a clearing he
had made in that remote village.
I found "the General" in his pyjamas and banian, smoking
his hookah and surrounded by a motley group of villagers listening to the
wild and not unpleasing twanging of a
by a wandering bard and accompanied by the brattle and din of two or three
tom-toms, one of which was being vigorously thumbed and rattled by no less a
personage than "the General' himself. (He was quite an adept in the musical
art as practised by the natives, and there was scarcely a, native instrument
he had not mastered, while the native songs he could sing were simply
After tiffin, when the crowd had gone, we laid down in the
tent, and "the General," slowly puffing the smoke from his hookah, with a
far-off, dreamy look in his big brown eyes, asked me—
"Did you never hear of my narrow escape from death in one of
"No! you never told me anything about it. How was it?"
"Man! it's a queer story. Ugh! the very thought of it makes
I settled myself to listen, and "the General" proceeded.
"It's now, let me see, six years ago; and I had gone up near
to the banks of the Sardah to have a short spell, for I had been hard at
work clearing, and had just got over a long quarrel with one of my
proprietors), so as I heard there were "tiger" up on the other side of the
Sardah, I determined to take a run up, by way of change, before the rains
"What time of the year was it?" I asked.
"It was just before the breaking of the monsoons. They were
late that year, I remember, and it was awfully hot down here, and most of my
'fellows' were down with fever. It must have been about the first week in
June." (I can scarcely do justice to the vigour of the General's narration,
but will try as nearly as possible to reproduce his exact words.)
"Well, I arrived at my camp all right, turned in, and next
day started out on foot, as I had news of Sambur close by, and I wanted a
'skin.' 'Tiger' were reported on the other side of the river, but none had
been for a long time seen near Palimpore, the village where my tents were
"I took with me a blackguard of a syce that
I had recently got on trial from Sitapore, and I had that morning given him
a severe but well deserved thrashing, because I found he had been stealing
the old mare's grain and selling it. In fact, to tell you the truth, I was
afraid he would 'bolt' if I did not keep an eye on him, and so instead of
taking Baeka, my old peon, I left him in charge of the camp and took this syce with
"We wandered about through the jungle for some time, when at
length we came on signs of sarnbur. The jungle was very dense, and though
there had been months of almost constant drought, the ground here was quite
moist. I was hurrying along a slight track, w hen, bang all at once, down I
went into one of these concealed pits just much in the same manner as you
say you fell. The syce was
close behind me, and in falling I yelled out to him, 'Kubberdar!'
and probably saved him from the same fate that had overtaken myself. You
will see how the 'Salah'
requited my friendly warning.
"But now comes the curious part of the affair. I went plop!
straight down into a deep, dismal hole, and at the bottom landed right up to
my waist in a deposit of tenacious clayey mud. Regular 'panic' it
was. In fact, when I tried to struggle and free myself I found I was held as
firm as if I had been birdlined. I had been wearing riding boots rather
tight for me, and struggle as I might, I found I was 'properly planted,' and
utterly powerless to free myself Indeed, the more I struggled the firmer I
seemed to get stuck, so never doubting but that with the assistance of my syce, I
would get out all right, I called to him; and for the first time with a
feeling akin to dismay, I discovered that there was no response. The truth
was that the syce, after
seeing, as he thought, that I had dropped in for a permanent 'billet,' had
seized the opportunity and made straight back for the tent.
"I found out afterwards that he went back, and told Baeka and
my other servants that I had met another sahib, the
deputy collector, who was also out hunting, and that I had gone to his camp,
and was to spend the night there. He. also said I had ordered him to take
the mare across, and that Baeka was to give him 10 rupees to take to me. The
story was so probable, that my man believed him readily; and to get quit of
that character in my tale at once, I may say that he got clean off with the
10 rupees, and I never saw him again from that day to this. The mare, he
must have ridden to Mohumdee, for the Thannadar (i.e., police
inspector) there found her near the police station, and she was afterwards
returned to me at the 'grant.'
However, to return to my prison pit. Here I was, like a
second Joseph, buried up to my waist in a stiff, unyielding clay, left all
alone in the middle of a pathless jungle, and utterly unable to lift my legs
one inch out of the horrible miry trap into which I had fallen.
"When I had nearly bawled myself hoarse shouting for the sijec, the
conviction forced itself on my mind that he had really deserted me, and I
must confess I began to be seriously alarmed. An examination of the pit
showed me that it must have formerly been a 'kutcha well.' (A kutcha well,
I may note for the reader's edification, is one merely dug down for a
temporary supply of water, and as distinguished from a paxa or masonry
"Or possibly it may have been dug by 'Koomhars ' (the potter
caste) on account of the plastic brick clay of which the bottom and sides
were composed; but it had evidently been long disused, for great flakes had
fallen from the sides and there were cracks and rents and fissures all
around, owing to the subsidence of the lower strata, and these hail settled
into the tenacious quagmire at the bottom, in which I w as now as firmly
embedded as if I had grown there.
"I shuddered as I noted the dismal surroundings. There were
several great gaunt-looking, yellowish-green frogs, peering at me with
curious eyes; and then as I turned my head around a little, I made a
discovery that made my very heart cease beating for a minute, and sent every
drop of blood in my body bounding back in my veins. There, right on a level
with my face, its length half concealed in a crevice in the crumbling sides
of the pit, its hood half expanded, its forked tongue quivering as it jerked
it out and in, and its eyes glittering with a baleful glare, I saw a great
"By Jove!" I exclaimed, "that was no joke." "The General"
"It was evidently half afraid, half angry, and did not know
what to make of me. I could see it was a prisoner like myself, and it had
most probably been lured into the pit by hearing the croaking of the frogs,
and in endeavouring to reach them it must have fallen in."
"You must have been frightened, General?" I exclaimed.
"Frightened? I tell you, man, I felt my heart for the moment
cease beating. You know I am not a coward, but I was petrified almost with
the dread of my luckless position. I could not say but what the brute might
at any moment make a dart at me. I felt utterly helpless and despairing, and
for a moment my heart whispered to me that my end had come. Then came a sort
of nervous recklessness. I suppose it was 'the fury of despair' we read
about. I know I uttered a savage curse, and, snatching my hard helmet, I hit
the brute a smashing blow in the face, and then began a fight for life.
"It was a big powerful snake. The blow had only maddened it.
Its hood expanded, its hissing filled the pit, and swaying and rearing its
clammy length, it launched full at my face. My gun was lying choked up with
dirt and half buried in the 'punk,'
but I had my hunting-knife with me, and while I parried the fierce darts of
the infuriated brute with my helmet, I made quick stabs and slashes at it
whenever I could get a chance, and after a short, exciting struggle it
succumbed, and tried to withdraw behind the crevice, but with a slice of my
knife I nearly severed its head from its body. And then for awhile—you may
laugh at me or no, as you will—all was a blank. I must have fainted.
"When I came to myself, I felt still faint and weak, and a
feeling of utter prostration and despair crept over me. It must have been
some hours now since I had fallen into the hole. Still I hoped that perhaps
the syce had
gone for help, and I tried to buoy myself up with the idea that, even if he
had deserted me, Baeka would miss me after a time and come in search of me.
"The weary hours dragged along. It was intensely still and
sultry above, I conjectured, for even in the deep dank pit the air was
stifling and oppressive, and I could not detect a sound or rustle in the
vegetation that overhung the mouth of my living tomb.
"Oh, man," said the General, here becoming quite pathetic,
"it was an awful weary wait.
"Hour after hour passed on. Again and again I tried to drag
myself free, but I only exhausted myself in fruitless struggles."
(To those who know what Indian "pank" is, the General's
woeful plight will be easily understood. In Mofussil parlance to be "pank
bogged] in this tenacious clayey mud is one of the most justly dreaded
mishaps that can befall the traveller. Many a horse has been ruined in the
attempt to flounder out of a quagmire of this description. They strain their
sinews past remedy, and, indeed, in many instances I have known even cattle
and tame buffaloes unable to struggle out until help has arrived.)
My friend continued:
"I could now see that the day was waning. The heat had become
if possible still more sultry and intense, and once or twice I had fancied I
heard a low muttering rumbling sound as if of distant thunder. As the
daylight grew fainter and fainter the rumbling increased, and then short
sudden flashes began to play overhead, lasting only a second, and at length
it became totally dark, and then the flashes increased in brilliancy and
frequency, and soon the conviction forced itself on me that this was the
beginning of the rains. The monsoon was breaking. The drought was at an end.
The clouds were hurrying up in tremendous solid masses, and soon a big drop
or two of rain began to come hurtling through the overhanging grass, and
another dread began to take possession of my mind. I knew what was coming.
"Ere long the expected event happened. The roar and crashing
of the thunder increased in intensity. The lightning seemed to roll along
the heavens in continuous jets, and circles, and bands of fire. I could smell the
rain, and then the floodgates of heaven were opened, and down it came in one
continuous sheet of water, and the thirsty earth licked it up."
I could see the whole picture in my mind's eye, and did not
need the General's vivid narration to realise what had happened. It was this
The young cracks in the rice fields lap greedily of the
life-giving element. A diapason of sounds from myriads of yellow frogs fills
the air. The rain comes down in a blinding hurtling steady rush. Soon the
runlets and depressions in the ground fill with a turbid eddying stream, in
which leaves, drowned crickets and grasshoppers, knots of ants, reptiles,
and all the flotsam of the forest, whirl and rise and sink and eddy and
float along. "And now," pursued the General, resuming his narrative, "from a
hundred tiny crevices and gaps in the edge of my pit the troubled turbid
rain-water began to trickle down, crumbling the clay away, and I was soon
drenched to the skin, and felt with alarm the water beginning slowly but
surely to mount up the sides of the pit.
"I thought then it was all up with me. I can hardly describe
to you my thoughts. I know I thought of home. I reviewed my past life. I
made desperate struggles again and again to free myself. I shouted and
screamed for help. I believe I prayed and swore. In fact, for the time I
believe I must have gone demented, but I found myself utterly powerless. The
miry clay and treacherous pank held
me firm, and then again I must have relapsed into unconsciousness.
"When I came to myself it was barely light, it was still
raining heavily and stolidly, the big drops splashed down; I could see a
dull leaden sky above, and I knew the nullahs
and water courses would soon be full. The battle of the elements had ceased,
and but for the continuous crash of falling rain, all was still. The water
in the pit was nearly up to my shoulders. I felt I was doomed to die, and a
sort of sullen, despairing stupor took possession of me. I had now given up
all hope, when, hark! I thought I heard the sound of a human voice!
"With all the agony of despair I raised a cry for help. There
was an awful pause, and then I heard my faithful Baeka crying in response.
Again I cried out, and I soon saw his clear old wrinkled face peering down
at me from the edge of the pit.
"Man, Maori!!" said the poor General, "the revulsion of
feeling was nearly making me behosh again" (behosh,
breath or life).
"Well, I needn't pile on the agony. Baeka had passed a
miserable night. His misgivings were aroused when the storm broke. The head
man of the village had been into the camp, and told him there was no other sahib out
in the jungles for miles and miles around, nor had been for months; so,
before dawn, the faithful old fellow had roused the camp; he got the chowkeydars of
the nearest villages to turn out, with many of the guallahs or
cowherds, and through the rain, they set out in quest of me, and knowing the
general direction I had taken, they providentially arrived just in the nick
of time for my salvation."
"Well, how did they manage to get you out?" I asked.
"Oh, that was not so easy, but they managed it; some of them
cut down saplings and managed to make a sort of ladder, and Baeka came down
with a long lathee, and
loosened the panic round
my body sufficiently for me to do the rest myself. Then they tied their pwjgrees and kummerluwls together,
and I knotted these round my waist, and under my armpits, and with that
help, they tugging away at the free ends, I managed to clamber out. But, oh
man! I was awfully done! I could scarcely stand, and trembled like a baby;
in fact, they had to make a litter and carry me to the tent."
"Poor old General! It was indeed a providential deliverance.
And how did you get home?"
"Oh, I got the loan of an elephant from one of the
neighbouring mullahs and
got home right enough, but for weeks I was ill with rheumatic fever; and,
indeed, old man, I doubt if ever I will cease to feel the effects of that
twenty-four hours in a living grave. When I fell in, it must have been about
8 or 9 in the morning, and it was about that time next day when Baeka found
me, and I was at length extricated "
Such was the tale my old chum told me in the shadow of the
tent, while the hot breath of high noon brooded over the silent forest
without, and tire parched air quivered over the tree-tops.
And now, dear reader, I must for a time again—perchance for
ever—close my records and reminiscences of the dear old "Tent Life in
Ah! the glad days that will never come back! How many of the
faithful gallant spirits, that were so kindly and true, now rest quietly in
the far-off Eastern land. The ranks are thinning fast now; but still from
time to time I hear a pleasant note of the old seductive Eastern strain.
For instance, some years ago, dear "Old Mac" and "Jamie" came
down to see me in my Australian home; and we did have
such a jolly yet sad talk over old times and
"The General," like myself, fell a victim to the sapping,
insidious, fever-laden climate, but is now, at last accounts, a fairly
prosperous settler in Texas, and, mirabile
become a Benedict.
"Pat Hudson" and "Butty" still survive, and mellow with the
advancing years. Such natures, such examples are a perennial fount of all
good influences; and while old fogeys like myself look back on our
intercourse together with grateful loving recollection, the younger and more
ardent generation who now live "the Tent Life in the old Tigerland" look up
to them with affection and esteem, and learn many a lesson in the ethics of
true manly sport from these fine gallant fellows, with whom I spent so many
happy days in the "auld lang syne."
Yes, my task is done!
It has been a pleasant one to me, and I hope not altogether
an uninteresting one to you.
I have tried to show you one phase of the sturdy Anglo-Saxon
colonising life, as for twelve stirring years I lived it. Try to think,
lads, of your brother Britons in the sweltering plains, or the tiger-haunted
jungles of regal Hindostan, with a little more interest, a little more
liking, a little more federal regard, than you have hitherto done.
Try to realise that the same promptings, the same honourable
ambitions, the same chivalrous traditions of manly honest sport must actuate you,
if you are to be loved and honoured and esteemed by youR fellows;
and whether my words greet you on the Scottish or Irish moors, or in the
shires of merry England and ancient Wales; amid the snows and fir forests of
Canada, or over the thorny arid plains of Africa; on the bracken-covered
slopes of New Zealand, or through the trackless gum forests of Australia; or
over the dry plains of the vast interior of that sunny land of
promise—wherever, in short, throughout the realm of British Empire you
pursue your work, or engage in your sport, let the honourable instincts of
true English gentlemen actuate you; and let the grand old country ever have
reason to be proud of her scattered sons; as they hand down her illustrious
traditions untarnished by degeneracy; her ancient honour unsullied by a
sordid stain; and her peerless pre-eminence unweakened by dividing
jealousies or unworthy rivalries.