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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XII

The leopard—How to shoot him—Gallant encounter with a wounded one-—Encounter with a leopard in a dak bungalow—rat shoots two leopards—Effects of the Express bullet—The "Sirwah Purrub," or annual festival of huntsmen—The Hindoo ryot—Rice-planting and harvest—Poverty of the ryot—His apathy—Village fires—Want of sanitation.

Writing principally for friends at home, who are not familiar with Indian life, I must narrate facts that, although well known in Indian circles, are yet new to the general reader in England. My object is of course to represent the life we lead in the far East, and to give a series of pictures of what is going on there. If I occasionally touch on what may to Indian readers seem well-worn ground they will forgive me.

The leopard, then, as a rule keeps to the wooded parts of India. In the long grassy jungles bordering the Koosee he is not generally met with. He is essentially a predatory animal, always on the outlook for a meal; round the villages, nestling amid their sal forests, he is continually on the prowl, looking out for a goat, a calf, or unwary dog. His appearance- and habits are well known; he generally selects for his lair a retired spot surrounded by dense jungle. The one we were now after had his home in a matted jungle, growing out of a pool of water, which had collected in a long hollow, forming the receptacle of the surface drainage, from the adjacent slopes. This hollow stretched for miles towards the creek which we had been beating up; and the locality-having moisture and other concurring elements in its favour, the vegetation had attained a. luxuriance rarely seen in the dry uplands, where the west winds lick up the moisture, and the soil is arid and unpromising. The matted intertwining branches of the creepers had formed an almost impervious screen, and on the basis thus formed, amid the branches and creepers, the leopards had formed their lair. Beneath, was a still stagnant pool; above, was the leafy foliage. The tracks led down to a well-worn path.

Climbing like a cat, as the leopards can do, they found no difficulty in gaining a footing on the mass of vegetation. They generally select some retired spot like this, and are very seldom seen in the daytime. With the approach of night, however, they begin their wandering in quest of prey. In a beat such as we were having "all is fish that comes to the net," and leopards, if they are in the jungle, have to yield to the advance of the beaters, like the other denizens of the forest.

Experience tells you that the leopard is daring and ferocious. Old experienced hands warn you, that unless you can make sure of your shot, it is unwise to fire at a leopard approaching. It is better to wait till he has got past you or at all events is "broadside on." If you only wound him as he is approaching, he will almost to a certainty make straight at you, but if you shoot him as he is going past, he will, maddened by pain and anger, go straight forward, and you escape his charge. He is more courageous than a tiger, and a very dangerous customer at close quarters. Up in one of the forests in Oudh, a friend of mine was out one day after leopard, with a companion who belonged to the forest department. My friend's companion fired at a leopard as it was approaching him, and wounded it severely. Nothing daunted, and recognising whence its hurt had come, it charged directly down on the concealed sportsman, and before he could half realise the position, sprang on him, caught his left arm in its teeth, and began mauling bim with its claws. His presence of mind did not desert him; noticing close by, the stump of a sal tree, that had been eaten by white ants till the harder parts of the wood alone remained, standing up hard and sharp like so many spikes of steel; and knowing that the leopard was already badly wounded, and that he himself was in all probability struggling for his life, he managed to drag the animal up to the stump; jammed his left arm yet further info the open mouth of the wounded beast, and being a strong man, by pure physical force dashed the leopard's brains out on the jagged edges of the stump. It was a splendid instance of presence of mind. He was horribly mauled of course; in fact I believe he lost his arm, but he saved his life. It shows the danger of only wounding a leopard, especially if he is coming towards you; always wait till he is past your station if it is practicable. If you must shoot, take what care you can that the shot be a sure one.

In some of the hill stations, and indeed in the villages on the plains, it is very common for a leopard to make his appearance in the house or verandah of an evening.

One was shot in Bhaugulpore station by the genial and respected chaplain, on a Sunday morning two or three years ago. As we went along, H. told us a humorous story of an Assistant in the Public "Works Department, who got mauled by a leopard at Dengra Ghat, Dak Bungalow. It hail taken up its quarters in a disused room, and this young fellow, burning with ardour to distinguish himself, made straight for the room in which he was known to be. lie opened the door, followed by a motley crowd of retainers, discharged his gun, and the sequel proved that he was not a dead shot. He had only wounded the leopard. With a bound the savage brute was on him, but in the hurry and confusion he had changed front. The leopard had him by the back. You can imagine the scene! ne roared for help. The leopard was badly hit, and a plucky bearer came to his rescue with a stout stick. Between them they succeeded in killing the wounded animal, but not before it had left its marks on a very sensitive portion of his frame. The moral is, if yon go after leopard, be sure you kill him at once.

They seldom attack a strong, well-grown animal. Calves, however, goats, and dogs are frequently carried off by them. The young of deer and pig, too, fall victims, and when nothing else can be had, peafowl have been known to furnish them a meal. In my factory in Oudh I had a small, graceful, four-horned antelope. It was carried off by a leopard from the garden in broad daylight, and in face of a gang of coolies.

The most commonly practised mode of leopard shooting, is to tie a goat up to a tree. You have a mychan erected, that is, a platform elevated on trees above the ground. Here you take your seat. Attracted by the bleating of the goat, the prowling leopard approaches his intended victim. If you are on the watch, you can generally detect his approach. They steal on with extreme caution, being intensely vary and suspicious. At a village near where we now were, I had sat up for three nights for a leopard, but although I knew he was prowling in the vicinity, I had never got a look at him. "We believed this leopard to be the same brute.

I have already described our mode of beating. The jungle was close, and there was a great growth of young trees. I was again on the right, and near the edge of the forest. Beyond was a glade planted with rice. The incidents of the beat were much as you have just read. There was, however, unknown or at any rate unnoticed by us, more intense excitement. We knew that the leopard might at any moment pass before us. Pat was close to a mighty bhur tree, whose branches, sending down shoots from the parent stem, had planted round it a colony of vigorous supports. It was a magnificent tree with dense shade. All was solemn and still. Pat, with his keen eye, his pulse bounding, and every sense on the alert, was keeping a careful look-out from behind an immense projecting buttress of the tree. All was deadly quiet. H. and myself were occupied watching the gambols of some monkeys in our front. The beaters were yet far otf. Suddenly Pat heard a faint crackle on a dried leaf. He glanced in the direction of the sound, and his quick eye detected the glossy coats, the beautifully spotted hides of not one leopard, but two. In a moment the stillness was broken by the report of his rifle. Another report followed sharp and quick. We were on the alert, but to Pat the chief honour and glory belonged. He had shot one leopard dead through the heart. The female was badly hit and came bounding along in my direction. Of course we were now on the qui vive. Waiting for an instant, till I could get my aim clear of some intervening trees, I at length got a fair shot, and brought her down with a ball through the throat. H. and Pat came running up, and we congratulated ourselves on our success. Ev-and-by Mehrman Singh and the rest of the beaters came up, and the joy of the villagers was gratifying. These were doubtless the two leopards we had heard so much about, for which I had sat up and watched. It was amusing io see some villager -whose pet goat or valued calf had been carried off, now coming up, striking the dead body of the leopard, and abusing it in the most unmeasured terms. Such a crowding round as there was! such a noise, and such excitement!

While waiting for the horses to be brought, and while the excited mob of beaters and coolies carried olf the dead animals to the camp to be skinned, we amused ourselves by trying our rifles at a huge tree that grew on the further side of the rice swamp. We found the effects of the "Express" bullet to he tremendous. It splintered up and burst the bark and body of the tree into fragments. Its effects on an animal are even more wonderful. On looking afterwards at the leopard winch had been shot, we found that my bullet had touched the base of the shoulder, near the collar-bone. It had gone downwards through the neck, under the collarbone, and struck the shoulder. There it had splintered up and made a frightful wound, scattering its fragments all over the chest, and cutting and lacerating everything in its way.

For big game the "Express" is simply invaluable. Email-round shooting perhaps a No. 12 smooth-bore is the best. It should be snap action with rebounding locks. You should have facilities and instruments for loading cartridges. A good cartridge belt is a good thing for carrying them, but go where you will now, where there is game to be killed, a No. 12 B. L. will enable you to participate in whatever shooting is going. Such a one as I have described would satisfy all the wishes of any young man who perhaps can only afford one gun.

As we rode slowly along, we learned many curious facts of jungle and native life from the followers, and by noticing little incidents happening before, our eyes. Pat, who is so well versed in jungle life and its traditions, told us of a curious moveable feast, which the natives of these parts hold annually, generally in March or April, which is called the Sirwah Purnib.

It seems to be somewhat like the old carnivals of the middle ages. I have read that in Sardinia, and Italy, and Switzerland something similar takes place. The Simvah Purrub is a sort of festival held in honour of the native I liana—the chumpa buttee before referred to. On the appointed day all the males in the forest villages, without exception, go a-hunting. Old spears are furbished up; miraculous guns, 'of even yet more ancient lineage than Mehrman Singh's dangerous flintpiece, are brought out from dusty hiding-places. Battle-axes, bows and arrows, hatchets, clubs and weapons of ail sorts, are looked up, and the motley crowd hies to the forest, the one party beating up the game to the other.

Some go fishing, others try to secure a quail or partridge, but it is a point of honour that something must be slain. If game be not plentiful they will even go to another village and slay a goat, which, rather than return empty-handed, they will bear in triumph home. The women meet the returning hunters, and if there has been a fortunate beat, there is a great feast in the village during the evening and far on into the night. The nets are used, and in this way they generally have some game to divide in the village on their return from the hunt. Ordinarily they seethe the flesh, and pour the whole contents of the cooking-pot into a mess of boiled rice. With the addition of a little salt, this is to them very palatable fare, They are very good cooks, with very simple appliances: with a little mustard oil or clarified butter, a few vegetables or a cut-up flsli, they can be very successful. The food, however, is generally smoked from the cow-dung fire. If you are much out in these villages this smoke constantly hangs about, clinging to your clothes and flavouring your food, but the natives seem to like it amazingly.

In the cold mornings of December or January it hangs about like the peat smoke in a Highland village. Hound every house are great stacks and piles of cow-dung cakes. Before every house is a huge, pile of ashes, and the villagers cower round this as the evening falls, or before the sun has dissipated the mist of the mornings. During the day the village dogs burrow in the ashes. Hovering in a dense cloud about the roofs and eaves, and along the lower branches of the trees in filmy layers, the smoke almost chokes one to ride through it. I have seen a native sit till half-choked in a dense column of this smoke. He is too lazy to shift his position; the fumes of pungent smoke half smother him; tears run from his eyes; he splutters and coughs, and abuses the smoke, and its grandfather, and maternal uncle, and all its other known relatives; but he prefers semi-suffucation to the trouble of budging an inch.

Sometimes the energy of these people is surprising. To go to a fair or feast, or on a pilgrimage, they will walk miles upon miles, subsisting on parched peas or rice, and earning heavy burdens. In company they sing and carol blithely enough. "When alone they are very taciturn, man and woman walking together, the man first with his lathee or staff, the woman behind carrying child or bundle, and often looking fagged and tired enough.

Taking vegetables, or rice, or other commodities to the bazaar, the carrier often slings his burden to the two ends of a pole worn over the shoulder, much as Chinamen do. But they generally make their load into one bundle which they carry on the head, or which they sling, if not large and bulky, over their backs, rolled up in one of their cloths.

During the rice-planting season they toil in mud and water from earliest morn till late into twilight. Bending ami stooping all the day, their lower extremities up to the knee sometimes in water, and the scorching sun beating on their backs, they certainly show their patient plodding industry, for it is downright honest hard work.

The young rice is taken from the nursery patch, whore it has been sown thick some time previously. When the rice-field is ready—a sloppy, muddy, embanked little quagmire—the ryot gets his bundle of young rice-plants, and shoves in two or three at a time with his finger and thumb. These afterwards form the tufts of rice. Its growth is very rapid. Sometimes, in case of flood, the rice actually grows with the rise of the water, always keeping its tip above the stream. If wholly submerged for any length of time it dies. There are over a hundred varieties. Some are only suited for very deep marshy soils; others, such as the satee, or sixty-days rice, can be grown on comparatively high land, and ripen early. If rain be scanty, the sdtee and other rice crops have to be weeded. It is cut with a jagged-edged sort of reaping-hook called a liussooa. The cut bundles are carried from the fields by women, girls, and lads. They could not take carts in many instances into the swamps.

At such times you see every little dyke or embankment with a crowd of hustling villagers, each with a heavy bundle of grain on his head, hurrying to and fro like a stream of busy ants. The women, with clothes tucked up above the knee, plod and plash through the water. They go at a, half run, a kind of fast trot, and hardly a word is spoken—garnering the lice crops is too important an operation to dawdle and gossip over. Each hurries off with his burden to the little family-threshing-floor, dumps down his load, gives a weary grunt, straightens his back, gives a yawn, then off again to the field for another load. It is no use leaving a bundle on the field; where food is so eagerly looked for by such a dense population, where there are hungry mouths and empty stomachs in every village, a bundle of rice would be gone by the morning.

As in Greece, where every man has to watch his vineyard, so here, the kureehan or threshing-floor each has its watchman at night. For the protection of the growing crops, the villagers club together, and appoint a watchman or chowkedar, whom they pay by giving him a small percentage on the yield; or a small fractional proportion of the area he has to guard, with its standing crop, may be made over to him as a recompense.

They thresh out the rice, when it has matured a little, on the threshing-floor. Four to six bullocks are tied in a line to a post in the centre, and round this they slowly pace in a circle. They are not muzzled, and the poor brutes seem rather to enjoy the unwonted luxury of feeding while they work. When there is a good wind, the grain is winnowed; it is lifted either in bamboo scoops or in the two hands. The wind blows the chaff or bhoosa on to a heap, and the fine fresh rice remains behind. The grain merchants now do a good business. Eice must be sold to pay the rent, the money-lender, and other clamouring creditors. The bunniahs will take repayment in kind. They put on the interest, and cheat in the weighments and measurements. So much has to be given to the weighman as a perquisite. If seed bad been borrowed, it lias now to be returned at a ruinous rate of interest. Some seed must be saved for next year, and an average poor ryot, the cultivator of but a little bidding, very soon sees the result of his harvesting melt away, leaving little for wife and little ones to live on. lie never gets free of the money-lender. He will have to go out and work hard for others, as well as get up Ids own little lands. No chance of a new bullock this year, and the old ones are getting worn out and thin. The wife must dispense with her promised ornament or dress. For the poor ryot it is a miserable hand-to-mouth existence when crops are poor. As a rule he is never out of debt. He lives on the scantiest fare,; hunger often pinches him; he knows none of the luxuries of life. Notwithstanding, the majority are patient, frugal, industrious, and to the full extent of their scanty means even charitable and benevolent. "With the average ryot a little kindness goes a great way. There are some irreconcileable, discontented, worthless fellows in every village. All more or less count a lie as rather a good thing to be expert in; they lie naturally, simply, and instinctively; but with all his faults, and they are doubtless many, I confess to a great liking for the average Hindoo ryot.

At times, however, their apathy and laziness is amazing. They are very childish, pettish, and easily roused. In a quarrel, however, they generally confine themselves to vituperation and abuse, and seldom come to blows.

As an instance of their fatalism or apathetic indolence, I can remember a village on the estate I was managing taking fire. It was quite close to the factory. I had my pony saddled at once, and galloped off for the burning village. It was a long, straggling one, with a good masonry well in the centre, shadowed by a mighty peepith tree. The wind, was blowing the fire- right along, and if no obstruction was offered, would sweep off every lint in the place. The only soul who was trying to do a tiling was a young Brahmin watchman belonging to the factory. He had succeeded in removing some brass jars of his own, and was saving some grain. One woman was rocking to and fro, beating her breast and crying. There sat the rest of the apathetic villagers in groups, not lifting a finger, not stirring a step, but calmly looking on while the devouring element was licking up hut after hut, and destroying their little all. In a few minutes some of my servants, syces, and factory men had arrived. I tied up the pony, ordered my men to pull down a couple of huts in the centre, and tried to infuse some energy into the villagers. Not a bit of it r they would not stir. They would not even draw a bucket of water. However my men got earthen pots; I dug up fresh earth and threw it on the two dismantled huts, dragging away as much of the thatch and debris as we could.

The fire licked our faces, and actually got a footing on the first house beyond the frail opening we had tried to make, but we persevered, and ultimately stayed the fire, and saved about two-thirds of the village. I. never saw such an instance of complete apathy. Some of the inhabitants even had not untied the cattle in the sheds. They seemed quite prostrated. However as we worked on, and they began to see that all was not yet lost, they began to buckle to; yet even then their principal object was to save their brass pots and cooking utensils—things that could not possibly burn, and which they might have left alone with perfect safety.

A Hindoo village is as inflammable as touchwood. The houses are generally built of grass walls, connected with thin battens of bamboo. The roof is bamboo and thatch. Thatch fences surround all the little courtyards. Leaves, refuse, cow-dung fuel, and wood are piled up round every hut. At each door is an open-air fire, which smoulders all day. A stray puff of wind makes an inquisitive visit round the corner, anil before one can half realise the catastrophe, the village is on fire. Then each only thinks of his own goods; there is no combined effort to stay the flames. In the hot west winds of March, April, and May, these fires are of very frequent occurrence. In Bhaugulpore, I have seen from my verandah three villages on fire at one and the same time. In some parts of Oudh, among the sal forests, village after village is burnt down annually, and I have seen the same catastrophe visit the same village several times in the course of one year These fires arise from pure carelessness, sheer apathy, and laziness.'

Sanitary precautions too are very insufficient; practically there are none. Huge unsightly waterholes, filled during the rains with the drainage of all the dung-heaps and mounds of offal and filth that abound in the village, swelter under the hot summer sun. They get covered with a rank green scum, and if their inky depths be stirred, the foulest and most fearful odours issue forth. In these filthy pools the villagers often perform their ablutions; they do not scruple to drink the putrid water, which is 110 doubt a hotbed and regular nursery for fevers, and choleraic and other disorders.

Many home readers are but little acquainted with the Indian village system, and I shall devote a chapter to ^the description of a Hindoo village, with its functionaries, its institutions, its inhabitants, and the more marked of their customs and avocations.

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