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Tent Life in Tigerland

My residence in favoured districts for sport—Pumeah—Bhaugulpore— Kheri—How Indian descriptions strike the ordinary English reader— Jogees or Fakeers—Scenes and encounters in the jungle—The attitude of the sceptical inexperienced reader to records of Indian sport— Anecdote in illustration—An appeal to the reader.

For some years I enjoyed the privilege of residence in two of the very finest sporting districts of India.

Purneah and North Bhaugulpore, bordering on the Terai, is admittedly even for India a very sportsman's paradise, and is probably, or was then at all events, the best tiger-shooting ground in the world. Having practically supreme control over many miles of territory there, and feudal jurisdiction over scores of villages and leagues of jungle, it would be strange if, with my ardent love of field-sports, I did not have some noteworthy experiences.

In the district of Kheri, in the North-West Provinces, I had charge subsequently of very extensive grants of "waste," or unfilled jungle lands, and was actively engaged in reclaiming the virgin forest, and administering great estates in a wild and comparatively unsettled country. Here again the opportunities for sport—from rhino and tiger-shooting, down to ortolan and plover—are probably only second in all India to Turneah; and hero again I had manifest opportunities of filling my sporting journal with many items of more than ordinary interest.

I was brought, too, into constant contact with past masters in woodcraft and jungle lore. I was a good listener as well as an industrious scribe, and having some literary leanings, I took care to embellish my journals with the records of many a stirring adventure poured into my willing ear in the shadow of the tent, at the time when the camp fire casts its ruddy glow on the motley menage of a good old-fashioned mofussil shikar party.

Then again, I was rather a favourite with my native servants and companions, always trying to treat them kindly and to mix freely with them, and was not above listening to their stories; and I am indebted for many a curious bit of description to the unaffected narration of some one or other of my keenly-observant native foresters or huntsmen.

To the ordinary reader in an English or Australian town, or to any one indeed who has not lived in India, the bare recital of many of the most common incidents of a day's shooting in that land of glowing colour, teeming life, and romantic associations, seems exaggerated, strained and unnatural. To come suddenly, for instance, on a gaunt, haggard, dishevelled devotee, hollow-eyed and emaciated, his almost nude frame daubed over with barbaric pigments, brandishing curious-looking weapons, shouting uncouth discordant rhymes, or waking the forest echoes with cries like those of the wild beasts, among whose jungle solitudes he takes up his abode, would rather startle the nerves of the ordinary dweller in cities. And yet these wandering jogees or fakeers are to be met with in almost every jungle from Cape Comorin to the Spiti.

To meet face to face a surly boar, having tusks that would badly "rip" an elephant, and who resents your intrusive approach—to note the stealthy slouching gait of some lithe leopard, stalking the peaceful antelope or graceful spotted deer, yourself all unseen, is a sensation that lives in your memory—to gaze on the shock of combat between two antlered stags, or the snarling battle for the fragments of a carrion feed between hissing vultures, or howling wolves, is a revelation of savage animal life that one does not soon forget. To lie on the river-bank and watch the animation and picturesque grouping in the broad shallow of the troubled stream below, as the great elephants gambol in the cooling pool and splash their heated heaving sides with spurts and dashes of water from the river, is a sight that would gladden an artist's heart. To mark the rapid flight over the sequestered forest tank of myriads of bright-plumaged waterfowl, to see the long-legged waders running nimbly round the sedgy marge, or view the bending broad leaves of the water-lily, lapping pearly globules from the cool clear tank, as the blue fowl step daintily from one to the other, pressing them for a moment beneath the surface; and then as the lazy ralw pops his round nose above water to suck in a fly; to see the long ugly serrated back of the maaeating saurian surge slowly through the yielding element—that is a picture which one can never hope to see equalled, in varied interest, in any other land. And, most thrilling and memorable of all, to see the convulsive upward leap, and hear the throttled gasping roar of a wounded tiger, as the whiff of powder smoke from your trusty gun salutes your nostrils like grateful incense—that's one of the sensations that makes the dull pulses throb and quicken their beat; and all these, dear 1 leader, and hundreds more, are within the compass of one day's successful shooting in the dear old happy hunting-grounds of a good mofussil district in India.

To any one who truly loves nature, who has perhaps happily something of the artist and the poet, be it ever so faint, in liis soul, as well as the ardour and enthusiasm of the sportsman, to that one who has experienced even a little ot the charm of the Indian sporting life—all the sneers and stupid imbecilities of the untravelled and inexperienced sceptic, to whom the hunter's stories and reminiscences are so many "idle tales," are harmless, and do not even cause a momentary irritation; they excite his good-natured pity. Beyond no doubt the least experienced in jungle-craft are very often the most prone to exaggerate; but to any one who has gone through even one season's shooting in India, in a good district, the truth is very easily winnowed from the admixture of falsehood; and to such an one it is matter of constant acknowledgment that, so far as Indian sport is concerned, "Truth is often stranger than fiction."

This attitude of cynical unbelief, and partly good-humoured, partly contemptuous scepticism, in regard especially to Indian tiger stories, is very humorously illustrated by the following good anecdote, which I cut out of a Sydney newspaper some time ago—"A well-known Anglo-Indian raconteur, on his first reappearance m London, was one of a dozen or more guests at a dinner-party in Kensington, and among them he was delighted to see his old friend, Sir D. M., who had retired some years previously from the bench of a provincial High Court. He recollected a startling incident connected with a tiger in which he and Sir D. M. had both shared. At a fitting opportunity he introduced the story, and, feeling confidence in his old friend's memory and his readiness to vouch for the truth of every detail, gave it with all the facts, especially with one special fact that was rather hard to believe. "When telling it, therefore, he laid stress upon the presence at the scene of his former colleague in the service, and looked pointedly at him. The expected response did not come; but Sir D. M.'s face wore a look of perfect incredulity. 'My dear fellow,' he said at last, on direct appeal, ' I am very sorry, but I recollect nothing whatever about it.' The raconteur of course collapsed there and then. Boiling over with rage, he sought his friend as soon as he could get at him in private, and remonstrated witli him on his strange lapse of memory, and appealed to him whether, even if he did not fully recollect the occurrence, it might not have been possible to save Ins credit with the company by a less positive disclaimer. 'My dear J.,' replied the old Judge, 'I remembered perfectly well the incident you were telling; but I remarked that all the people at the table considered you were lying. If, then, I had corroborated you, the only result would have been that they would have set me down as a liar too, and my regard for our host made me wish to avoid a double catastrophe.'"

In the following pages, my second instalment of sporting recollections, and descriptions of all the varied and strange incidents of jungle life in our far-off Indian hunting-grounds, may perchance call up a feeling similar to that exhibited by the guests at the table in the foregoing anecdote; but I well know that there are many of my "dear old chums" whose kindly remembrance of the truth will be refreshed by the recital of old stories, half forgotten, it may be, till my narration quickens the sleeping memory; and there will be many too, I hope and trust, who will go hand in hand with me through the villages and jungles trusting to my guidance; and who, over the evening camp-fire, will listen with sympathy, interest and kindly appreciation, as I endeavour to portray to them a real presentment of the life of a pioneer in the Indian backwoods, and with a lenient regard to my shortcomings, may reward me by their attention, and inspire me afresh by their confidence and goodwill.

And now to our recollections of Tent Life in Tigerland.

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