by Samuel White Baker
The Pearl Fishery - Desolation of the Coast - Harbor of Trincomalee - Fatal Attack by a Shark - Ferocious Crocodiles - Salt Monopoly - Salt Lakes - Method of Collection - Neglect of Ceylon Hides - Fish and Fishing - Primitive Tackle - Oysters and Penknives - A Night Bivouac for a Novice - No Dinner, but a Good Fire - Wild Yams and Consequences -The Elephants' Duel - A Hunting Hermitage - Bluebeard's last Hunt - The Leopard - Bluebeard's Death - Leopard Shot.
While fresh from the subject of government mismanagement, let us turn our eyes in the direction of one of those natural resources of wealth for which Ceylon has ever been renowned - the "pearl fishery." This was the goose which laid the golden egg, and Sir W. Horton, when governor of Ceylon, was the man who killed the goose.
Here was another fatal instance of the effects of a five years' term of governorship.
It was the last year of his term, and he wished to prove to the Colonial Office that "his talent" had not been laid up in a napkin, but that he bad left the colony with an excess of income over expenditure. To obtain this income he fished up all the oysters, ruined the fishery in consequence; and from that day to the present time it has been unproductive.
This is a serious loss of income to the colony, and great doubts are entertained as to the probability, of the oyster-banks ever recovering their fertility.
Nothing can exceed the desolation of the coast in the neighborhood of the pearl-banks. For many miles the shore is a barren waste of low sandy ground, covered for the most part with scrubby, thorny jungle, diversified by glades of stunted herbage. Not a hill is to be seen as far as the eye can reach. The tracks of all kind of game abound on the sandy path, with occasionally those of a naked foot, but seldom does a shoe imprint its civilized mark upon these lonely shores.
The whole of this district is one of the best in Ceylon for deer-shooting, which is a proof of its want of inhabitants. This has always been the case, even in the prosperous days of the pearl fishery. So utterly worthless is the soil, that it remains in a state of nature, and its distance from Colombo (one hundred and fifty miles) keeps it in entire seclusion.
It is a difficult to conceive that any source of wealth should exist in such a locality. When standing on the parched sand, with the burning sun shining in pitiless might upon all around, the meagre grass burnt to a mere straw, the tangled bushes denuded of all verdure save a few shriveled leaves, the very insects seeking shelter from the rays, there is not a tree to throw a shadow, but a dancing haze of molten air hovers upon the ground, and the sea like a mirror reflects a glare, which makes the heat intolerable. And yet beneath the wave on this wild and desolate spot glitter those baubles that minister to man's vanity; and, as though in mockery of such pursuits, I have seen the bleached skulls of bygone pearl-seekers lying upon the sand, where they have rotted in view of the coveted treasures.
There is an appearance of ruin connected with everything in the neighborhood. Even in the good old times this coast was simply visited during the period for fishing. Temporary huts were erected for thousands of natives, who thronged to Ceylon from all parts of the East for the fascinating speculations of the pearl fishery. No sooner was the season over than every individual disappeared; the wind swept away the huts of sticks and leaves; and the only vestiges remaining of the recent population were the government stores and house at Arripo, like the bones of the carcase after the vultures had feasted and departed. All relapsed at once into its usual state of desolation.
The government house was at one time a building of some little pretension, and from its style it bore the name of the "Doric." It is now, like everything else, in a state of lamentable decay. The honeycombed eighteen pounder, which was the signal gun of former years, is choked with drifting sand, and the air of misery about the place is indescribable.
Now that the diving helmet has rendered subaqueous discoveries, so easy, I am surprised that a government survey has not been made of the whole north-west coast of Ceylon. It seems reasonable to suppose that the pearl oyster should inhabit depths which excluded the simple diver of former days, and that our modern improvements might discover treasures in the neighborhood of the old pearl-beds of which we are now in ignorance. The best divers, without doubt, could never much exceed a minute in submersion. I believe the accounts of their performances generally to have been much exaggerated. At all events, those of the present day do not profess to remain under water much more than a minute.
The accounts of Ceylon pearl fisheries are so common in every child's book that I do not attempt to describe the system in detail. Like all lotteries, there are few prizes to the proportion of blanks.
The whole of this coast is rich in the biche de mer more commonly called the sea-slug. This is a disgusting species of mollusca, which grows to a large size, being commonly about a foot in length and three or four inches in diameter. The capture and preparation of these creatures is confined exclusively to the Chinese, who dry them in the sun until they shrink to the size of a large sausage and harden to the consistency of horn; they are then exported to China for making soups. No doubt they are more strengthening than agreeable; but I imagine that our common garden slug would be an excellent substitute to any one desirous of an experiment, as it exactly resembles its nautical representative in color and appearance. Trincomalee is the great depot for this trade, which is carried on to a large extent, together with that of sharks' fins, the latter being used by the Chinese for the same purpose as the biche de mer. Trincomalee affords many facilities for this trade, as the slugs are found in large quantities on the spot, and the finest harbor of the East is alive with sharks. Few things surpass the tropical beauty of this harbor; lying completely land-locked, it seems like a glassy lake surrounded by hills covered with the waving foliage of groves of cocoa-nut trees and palms of great variety. The white bungalows with their red-tiled roofs, are dotted about along the shore, and two or three men-of-war are usually resting at their ease in this calm retreat. So deep is the water that the harbor forms a perfect dock, as the largest vessel can lie so close to the shore that her yards overhang it, which enables stores and cargo to be shipped with great facility.
The fort stands upon a projecting point of land, which rises to about seventy feet above the level of the galle face (the race-course) which faces it. Thus it commands the land approach across this flat plain on one side and the sea on the other. This same fort is one of the hottest corners of Ceylon, and forms a desirable residence for those who delight in a temperature of from 90 degrees to 140 degrees in the shade. Bathing is the great enjoyment, but the pleasure in such a country is destroyed by the knowledge that sharks are looking out for you in the sea, and crocodiles in the rivers and tanks; thus a man is nothing more than an exciting live-bait when he once quits terra firma. Accidents necessarily must happen, but they are not so frequent as persons would suppose from the great number of carnivorous monsters that exist. Still, I am convinced that a white man would run greater risk than a black; he is a more enticing bait, being bright and easily distinguished in the water. Thus in places where the natives are in the habit of bathing with impunity it would be most dangerous for a white man to enter.
There was a lamentable instance of this some few years ago at Trincomalee. In a sheltered nook among the rocks below the fort, where the natives were always in the habit of bathing, a party of soldiers of the regiment then in garrison went down one sultry afternoon for a swim. It was a lovely spot for bathing; the water was blue, clear and calm, as the reef that stretched far out to sea served as a breakwater to the heavy surf, and preserved the inner water as smooth as a lake. Here were a fine lot of English soldiers stripped to bathe; and although the ruddy hue of British health had long since departed in the languid climate of the East, nevertheless their spirits were as high as those of Englishmen usually are, no matter where or under what circumstances. However, one after the other took a run, and then a "header" off the rocks into the deep blue water beneath. In the long line of bathers was a fine lad of fifteen, the son of one of the sergeants of the regiment; and with the emulation of his age he ranked himself among the men, and on arriving at the edge he plunged head-foremost into the water and disappeared. A crowd of men were on the margin watching the bathing; the boy rose to the surface within a few feet of them, but as he shook the water from his hair, a cloudy shadow seemed to rise from the deep beneath him, and in another moment the distinct outline of a large shark was visible as his white belly flashed below. At the same instant there was a scream of despair; the water was crimsoned, and a bloody foam rose to the surface - the boy was gone! Before the first shock of horror was well felt by those around, a gallant fellow of the same regiment shot head first into the bloody spot, and presently reappeared from his devoted plunge, bearing in his arms one-half of the poor boy. The body was bitten off at the waist, and the lower portion was the prize of the ground shark.
For several days the soldiers were busily employed in fishing for this monster, while the distracted mother sat in the burning sun, watching in heart-broken eagerness, in the hope of recovering some trace of her lost son. This, however, was not to be; the shark was never seen again.
There is as much difference in the characters of sharks as among other animals or men. Some are timid and sluggish, moving as though too lazy to seek their food; and there is little doubt that such would never attack man. Others, on the contrary, dash through the water as a pike would seize its prey, and refuse or fear nothing. There is likewise a striking distinction in the habits of crocodiles; those that inhabit rivers being far more destructive and fearless than those that infest the tanks. The natives hold the former in great terror, while with the latter they run risks which are sometimes fatal. I recollect a large river in the southeast of Ceylon, which so abounds with ferocious crocodiles that the natives would not enter the water in depths above the knees, and even this they objected to, unless necessity compelled them to cross the river. I was encamped on the banks for some little time, and the natives took the trouble to warn me especially not to enter; and, as proof of the danger, they showed me a spot where three men had been devoured in the course of one year, all three of whom are supposed to have ministered to the appetite of the same crocodile.
Few reptiles are more disgusting in appearance than these brutes; but, nevertheless, their utility counterbalances their bad qualities, as they cleanse the water from all impurities. So numerous are they that their heads may be seen in fives and tens together, floating at the top of the water like rough corks; and at about five P.M. they bask on the shore close to the margin of the shore ready to scuttle in on the shortest notice. They are then particularly on the alert, and it is a most difficult thing to stalk them, so as to get near enouogh to make a certain shot. This is not bad amusement when no other sport can be had. Around the margin of a lake, in a large plain far in the distance, may be seen a distinct line upon the short grass like the fallen trunk of a tree. As there are no trees at hand, this must necessarily be a crocodile. Seldom can the best hand at stalking then get within eighty yards of him before he lifts his scaly head, and, listening for a second, plunges off the bank.
I have been contradicted in stating that a ball will penetrate their scales. It is absurd, however, to hold the opinion that the scales will turn a ball - that is to say, stop the ball (as we know that a common twig will of course turn it from its direction, if struck obliquely).
The scales of a crocodile are formed of bone exquisitely jointed together like the sections of a skull; these are covered externally with a horny skin, forming, no doubt, an excellent defensive armor, about an inch in thickness; but the idea of their being impenetrable to a ball, if struck fair, is a great fallacy. People may perhaps complain because a pea rifle with a mere pinch of powder may be inefficient, but a common No. 16 fowling-piece, with two drachms of powder, will penetrate any crocodile that was ever hatched.
Among the most harmless kinds are those which inhabit the salt lakes in the south of Ceylon. I have never beard of an accident in these places, although hundreds of persons are employed annually in collecting salt from the bottom.
These natural reservoirs are of great extent, some of them being many miles in circumference. Those most productive are about four miles round, and yield a supply in August, during the height of the dry season.
Salt in Ceylon is a government monopoly; and it has hitherto been the narrow policy of the government to keep up an immense price upon this necessary of life, when the resources of the country could produce any amount required for the island consumption.
These are now all but neglected, and the government simply gathers the salt as the wild pig feeds upon the fruit which falls from the tree in its season.
The government price of salt is now about three shillings per bushel. This is very impure, being mixed with much dirt and sand. The revenue obtained by the salt monopoly is about forty thousand pounds per annum, two-thirds of which is an unfair burden upon the population, as the price, according to the supply obtainable, should never exceed one shilling per bushel.
Let us consider the capabilities of the locality from which it is collected.
The lakes are some five or six in number, situated within half a mile of the sea, separated only by a high bank of drift sand, covered for the most part with the low jungle which clothes the surrounding country. Flat plains of a sandy nature form the margins of the lakes. The little town of Hambantotte, with a good harbor for small craft, is about twenty miles distant, to which there is a good cart road.
The water of these lakes is a perfect brine. In the dry season the evaporation, of course, increases the strength until the water can no longer retain the amount of salt in solution it therefore precipitates and crystalizes at the bottom in various degrees of thickness, according to the strength of the brine.
Thus, as the water recedes from the banks by evaporation and the lake decreases in size, it leaves a beach, not of shingles, but of pure salt in crystallized cubes, to the depth of several inches, and sometimes to half a foot or more. The bottom of the lake is equally coated with this thick deposit.
These lakes are protected by watchers, who live upon the margin throughout the year. Were it not for this precaution, immense quantities of salt would be stolen. In the month of August the weather is generally most favorable for the collection, at which time the assistant agent for the district usually gives a few days' superintendence.
The salt upon the shore being first collected, the natives wade into the lake and gather the deposit from the bottom, which they bring to the shore in baskets; it is then made up into vast piles, which are subsequently thatched over with cajans (the plaited leaf of the cocoanut). In this state it remains until an opportunity offers for carting it to the government salt stores.
This must strike the reader as being a rude method of collecting what Nature so liberally produces. The waste is necessarily enormous, as the natives cannot gather the salt at a greater depth than three feet; hence the greater proportion of the annual produce of the lake remains ungathered. The supply at present afforded might be trebled with very little trouble or expense.
If a stick is inserted in the mud, so that one end stands above water, the salt crystallizes upon it in a large lump of several pounds' weight. This is of a better quality than that which is gathered from the bottom, being free from sand or other impurities. Innumerable samples of this may be seen upon the stakes which the natives have stuck in the bottom to mark the line of their day's work. These, not being removed, amass a collection of salt as described.
Were the government anxious to increase the produce of these natural reservoirs, nothing could be more simple than to plant the whole lake with rows of stakes. The wood is on the spot, and the rate of labor sixpence a day per man; thus it might be accomplished for a comparatively small amount.
This would not only increase the produce to an immense degree, but it would also improve the purity of the collection, and would render facilities for gathering the crop by means of boats, and thus obviate the necessity of entering the water; at present the suffering caused by the latter process is a great drawback to the supply of labor. So powerful is the brine that the legs and feet become excoriated after two or three days' employment, and the natives have accordingly a great aversion to the occupation.
Nothing could be easier than gathering the crop by the method proposed. Boats would paddle along between the rows of stakes, while each stick would be pulled up and the salt disengaged by a single blow; the stick would then be replaced n its position until the following season.
Nevertheless, although so many specimens exist of this accumulation, the method which was adopted by the savage is still followed by the soi-disant civilized man.
In former days, when millions occupied Ceylon, the demand for salt must doubtless have been in proportion, and the lakes which are now so neglected must have been taxed to their utmost resources. There can be little doubt that the barbarians of those times had some more civilized method of increasing the production than the enlightened race of the present day.
The productive salt lakes are confined entirely to the south of Ceylon. Lakes and estuaries of sea-water abound all round the island, but these are only commonly salt, and do not yield. The north and the east coasts are therefore supplied by artificial salt-pans. These are simple enclosed levels on the beach, into which the sea-water is admitted, and then allowed to evaporate by the heat of the sun. The salt of course remains at the bottom. More water is then admitted, and again evaporated; and this process continues until the thickness of the salt at the bottom allows of its being collected.
This simple plan might be adopted with great success with the powerful brine of the salt lakes, which might be pumped from its present lower level into dry reservoirs for evaporation.
The policy of the government, however, does not tend to the increase of any production. It is preferred to keep up the high rate of salt by a limited supply, which meets with immediate demand, rather than to increase the supply for the public benefit at a reduced rate. This is a mistaken mode of reasoning. At the present high price the consumption of salt is extremely small, is its rise is restricted to absolute necessaries. On the other hand, were the supply increased at one half the present rate, the consumption would augment in a far greater proportion, as salt would then be used for a variety of purposes which at the present cost is impossible, viz. For the purpose of cattle-feeding, manures, etc., etc. In addition to this, it would vastly affect the price of salt fish (the staple article of native consumption), and by the reduction in cost of this commodity there would be a corresponding extension in the trade.
The hundreds of thousands of hides which are now thrown aside to rot uncared for would then be preserved and exported, which at the present rate of salt is impossible. The skins of buffaloes, oxen, deer, swine, all valuable in other parts of the world, in Ceylon are valueless. The wild buffalo is not even skinned when shot; he is simply opened for his marrow-bones, his tail is cut off for soup, his brains taken out for cotelettes, and his tongue salted. The beast himself, hide and all, is left as food for the jackal. The wandering native picks up his horns, which find their way to the English market; but the "hide," the only really valuable portion, is neglected.
Within a short distance of the salt lakes, buffaloes, boars, and in fact all kind of animals abound, and I have no doubt that if it were once proved to the natives that the hides could be made remunerative, they would soon learn the method of preparation.
Some persons have an idea that a native will not take the trouble to do anything that would turn a penny; in this I do not agree. Certainly a native has not sufficient courage for a speculation which involves the risk of loss; but provided he is safe in that respect, he will take unbounded trouble for his own benefit, not valuing his time or labor in pursuit of his object.
I have noticed a great change in the native habits along the southern coast which exemplifies this, since the steamers have touched regularly at Galle.
Some years ago, elephants, buffaloes, etc., when shot by sportsmen, remained untouched except by wild beast; but now within one hundred and fifty miles of Galle every buffalo horn is collected and even the elephant's grinders are extracted from the skulls, and brought into market.
An elephant's grinder averages seven pounds in weight, and is not worth more than from a penny to three half-pence a pound; nevertheless they are now brought to Galle in large quantities to be made into knife-handles and sundry ornaments, to tempt the passengers of the various steamers. If the native takes this trouble for so small a recompense, there is every reason to suppose that the hides now wasted would be brought into market and form a valuable export, were salt at such a rate as would admit of their preparation.
The whole of the southern coast, especially in the neighborhood of the salt lakes, abounds with fish. These are at present nearly undisturbed; but I have little doubt that a reduction in the price of salt would soon call forth the energies of the Moormen, who would establish fisheries in the immediate neighborhood. This would be of great importance to the interior of the country, as a road has been made within the last few years direct from this locality to Badulla, distant about eighty miles, and situated in the very heart of the most populous district of Ceylon. This road, which forms a direct line of communication from the port of Hambantotte to Newera Ellia, is now much used for the transport of coffee from the Badulla estates, to which a cheap supply of salt and fish would he a great desideratum.
The native is a clever fellow at fishing. Every little boy of ten years old along the coast is an adept in throwing the casting net; and I have often watched with amusement the scientific manner in which some of these little fellows handle a fine fish on a single line; Isaak Walton would have been proud of such pupils.
There is nothing like necessity for sharpening a man's intellect, and the natives of the coast being a class of ichthyophagi, it may be imagined that they excel in all the methods of capturing their favorite food.
The sea, the rivers, and in fact every pool, teem with fish of excellent quality, from the smallest to the largest kind, not forgetting the most delicious prawns and crabs. Turtle likewise abound, and are to be caught in great numbers in their season.
Notwithstanding the immense amount of fish in the various rivers, there is no idea of fishing as a sport among the European population of Ceylon. This I cannot account for, unless from the fear of fever, which might be caught with more certainty than fish by standing up to the knees in water under a burning sun. Nevertheless, I have indulged in this every now and then, when out on a jungle trip, although I have never started from home with such an intention. Seeing some fine big fellows swimming about in a deep hole is a great temptation, especially when you know they are grey mullet, and the chef de cuisine is short of the wherewithal for dinner.
This is not infrequently the case during a jungle trip; and the tent being pitched in the shade of a noble forest on the steep banks of a broad river, thoughts of fishing naturally intrude themselves.
The rivers in the dry season are so exhausted that a simple bed of broad dry sand remains, while a small stream winds along the bottom, merely a few inches deep, now no more than a few feet in width, now rippling over a few opposing rocks, while the natural bed extends its dry sand for many yards on either side. At every bend in the river there is of course a deep hole close to the bank; these holes remain full of water, as the little stream continues to flow through them; and the water, in its entrance and exit being too shallow for a large fish, all the finny monsters of the river are compelled to imprison themselves in the depths of these holes. Here the crocodiles have fine feeding, as they live in the same place.
With a good rod and tackle there would be capital sport in these places, as some of the fish run ten and twelve pounds weight; but I have never been well provided, and, while staring at the coveted fish from the bank, I have had no means of catching them, except by the most primitive methods.
Then I have cut a stick for a rod, and made a line with some hairs from my horse's tail, with a pin for a hook, baited with a shrimp, and the fishing has commenced.
Fish and fruit are the most enjoyable articles of food in a tropical country, and in the former Ceylon is rich. The seir fish is little inferior to salmon, and were the flesh a similar color, it might sometimes form a substitute. Soles and whiting remind us of Old England, but a host of bright red, blue, green, yellow, and extraordinary-looking creatures in the same net dispel all ideas of English fishing.
Oysters there are likewise in Ceylon; but here, alas I there is a sad falling off in the comparison with our well-remembered "native." Instead of the neat little shell of the English oyster, the Ceylon species is a shapeless, twisted, knotty, rocky-looking creature, such as a legitimate oyster would be in a fit of spasms or convulsions. In fact, there is no vestige of the true breed about it, and the want of flavor equals its miserable exterior.
There are few positions more tantalizing to a hungry man than that of being surrounded b oysters without a knife. It is an obstinate and perverse wretch that will not accommodate itself to man's appetite, and it requires a forcible attack to vanquish it; so that every oyster eaten is an individual murder, in which the cold steel has been plunged into its vitals, and the animal finds itself swallowed before it as quite made up its mind that it has been opened. But take away the knife, and see how vain is the attempt to force the stronghold. How utterly useless is the oyster! You may turn it over and over, and look for a weak place, but there is no admittance; you may knock it with a stone, but the knock will be unanswered. How would you open such a creature without a knife?
This was one of the many things that had never occurred to me until one day when I found myself with some three or four friends and a few boatmen on a little island, or rather a rock, about a mile from the shore. This rock was rich in the spasmodic kind of oyster, large detached masses of which lay just beneath the water in lumps of some hundredweight each, which had been formed by the oysters clustering and adhering together. It so happened that our party were unanimous in the love of these creatures, and we accordingly exerted ourselves to roll out of the water a large mass; which having accomplished, we discovered to our dismay that nothing but one penknife was possessed among us. This we knew was a useless weapon against such armor; however, in our endeavors to perform impossibilities, we tickled the oyster and broke the knife. After gazing for seine time in blank despair at our useless prize, a bright thought struck one of the party, and drawing his ramrod he began to screw it Into the weakest part of an oyster; this, however, was proof, and the ramrod broke.
Stupid enough it may appear, but it was full a quarter of an hour before any of us thought of a successful plan of attack. I noticed a lot of drift timber scattered upon the island, and then the right idea was hit. We gathered the wood, which was bleached and dry, an we piled it a few feet to windward of the mass of oysters. Striking a light with a cap and some powder, we lit the pile. It blazed and the wind blew the heat strong upon the oysters, which accordingly began to squeak and hiss, until one by one they gave up the ghost, and, opening their shells, exposed their delightfully roasted bodies, which were eaten forthwith.
How very absurd and uninteresting this is! but nevertheless it is one of those trifling incidents which sharpen the imagination when you depend upon your own resources.
It is astonishing how perfectly helpless some people are if taken from the artificial existence of every-day life and thrown entirely upon themselves. One man would be in superlative misery while another would enjoy the responsibility, and delight in the fertility of his own invention in accommodating himself to circumstances. A person can scarcely credit the unfortunate number of articles necessary for his daily and nightly comfort, until he is deprived of them. To realize this, lose yourself, good reader, wander off a great distance from everywhere, and be benighted in a wild country, with nothing but your rifle and hunting-knife. You will then find yourself dinnerless, supperless, houseless, comfortless, sleepless, cold and miserable, if you do not know how to manage for yourself. You will miss your dinner sadly if you are not accustomed to fast for twenty-four hours. You will also miss your bed decidedly, and your toothbrush in the morning; but if, on the other hand, you are of the right stamp, it is astonishing how lightly these little troubles will sit on you, and how comfortable you will make yourself under the circumstances.
The first thing you will consider is the house. The architectural style will of course depend upon the locality. If the ground is rocky and hilly, be sure to make a steep pitch in the bank or the side of a rock form a wall, to leeward of which you will lie when your mansion is completed by a few sticks simply inclined from the rock and covered with grass. If the country is flat, you must cut four forked sticks, and erect a villa after this fashion in skeleton-work, which you then cover with grass.
You will then strew the floor with grass or, small boughs, in lieu of a feather bed, and you will tie up a bundle of the same material into a sheaf, which will form a capital pillow. If grass and sticks are at hand, this will be completed thus far in an hour.
Then comes the operation of fire-making, which is by no means easy; and as warmth comes next to food, and a blaze both scares wild animals and looks cheerful, I advise some attention to be paid to the fire. There must be a good collection of old fallen logs, if possible, together with some green wood to prevent too rapid a consumption of fuel. But the fire is not yet made.
First tear off a bit of your shirt and rub it with moistened gunpowder. Wind this in a thick roll round your ramrod just below the point of the screw, with the rough torn edge uppermost. Into these numerous folds sprinkle a pinch of gunpowder; then put a cap on the point of the screw, and a slight tap with your hunting-knife explodes it and ignites the linen.
Now, fire in its birth requires nursing like a young baby, or it will leave you in the lurch. A single spark will perhaps burn your haystacks, but when you want a fire it seldom will burn, out of sheer obstinacy; therefore, take a wisp of dry grass, into which push the burning linen and give it a rapid, circular motion through the air, which will generally set it in a blaze.
Then pile gently upon it the smallest and driest sticks, increasing their size as the fire grows till it is all right; and you will sit down proudly before your own fire, thoroughly confident that you are the first person that ever made one properly.
There is some comfort in that; and having manufactured your own house and bed, you will lie down snugly and think of dinner till you fall asleep, and the crowing of the jungle-cocks will wake you in the morning.
The happiest hours of my life have been passed in this rural solitude. I have started from home with nothing but a couple of blankets and the hounds, and, with one blanket wrapped round me I have slept beneath a capital tent formed of the other with two forked sticks and a horizontal pole - the ends of the blanket being secured by heavy stones, thus-
This is a more comfortable berth than it may appear at first sight, especially if one end is stopped up with boughs. The ridge-pole being only two feet and a half high, renders it necessary to crawl in on all-fours; but this lowness of ceiling has its advantages in not catching the wind, and likewise in its warmth. A blanket roof, well secured and tightly strained, will keep off the heaviest rain for a much longer period than a common tent; but in thoroughly wet weather any woven roof is more or less uncomfortable.
I recollect a certain bivouac in the Angora patinas for a few days' hunting, when I was suddenly seized with a botanical fit in a culinary point of view, and I was determined to make the jungle subscribe something toward the dinner. To my delight, I discovered some plants which, from the appearance of their leaves, I knew were a species of wild yam; they grew in a ravine on the swampy soil of a sluggish spring, and the ground being loose, I soon grubbed them up and found a most satisfactory quantity of yams about the size of large potatoes - not bad things for dinner. Accordingly, they were soon transferred to the pot. Elk steaks and an Irish stew, the latter to be made of elk chops, onions and the prized yams; this was the bill of fare expected. But, misericordia! what a change cone over the yams when boiled! they turned a beautiful slate color, and looked like imitations of their former selves in lead.
Their appearance was uncommonly bad, certainly. There were three of us to feed upon them, viz., Palliser, my huntsman Benton and myself. No one wishing to be first, it was then, I confess, that the thought just crossed my mind that Benton should make the experiment, but, repenting at the same moment, I punished myself by eating a very little one on the spot. Benton, who was blessed with a huge appetite, picked out a big one. Greedy fellow, to choose the largest! but, n'importe, it brought its punishment.
Palliser and I having eaten carefully, were just beginning to feel uncomfortable, when up jumped Benton, holding his throat with both hands, crying, "My throat's full of pins. I'm choked." We are poisoned, no doubt of it," said Palliser, in his turn. "I am choking likewise." "So am I." There we were all three, with our throats in an extraordinary state of sudden contraction and inflammation, with a burning and pricking sensation, in addition to a feeling of swelling and stoppage of the windpipe. Having nothing but brandy at hand, we dosed largely instanter, and in the course of ten minutes we found relief; but Benton, having, eaten his large yam, was the last to recover.
There must have been highly poisonous qualities in this root, as the quantity eaten was nothing in proportion to the effects produced. It is well known that many roots are poisonous when raw (especially the manioc), which become harmless when cooked, as the noxious properties consist of a very volatile oil, which is thrown off during the process of boiling. These wild yams must necessarily be still worse in their raw state; and it struck me, after their effects became known, that I had never seen them grubbed up by the wild hogs; this neglect being a sure proof of their unfitness for food.
In these Augora patinas a curious duel was lately fought by a pair of wild bull elephants, both of whom were the raree aves of Ceylon, "tuskers." These two bulls had consorted with a herd, and had no doubt quarreled about the possession of the females. They accordingly fought it out to the death, as a large tusker was found recently killed, with his body bored in many directions by his adversary's tusks, the ground in the vicinity being trodden down with elephant tracks proving the obstinacy of the fight.
The last time that I was in this locality poor old Bluebeard was alive, and had been performing feats in elk-hunting which no dog could surpass. A few weeks later and he ran his last elk, and left a sad blank in the pack.
Good and bad luck generally come in turn; but when the latter does pay a visit, it falls rather. heavily, especially among the hounds. In one year I lost nearly the whole pack. Seven died in one week from an attack upon the brain, appearing in a form fortunately unknown in England. In the same year I lost no less than four of the best hounds by leopards, in addition to a fearful amount of casualties from other causes.
Shortly after the appearance of the epidemic alluded to, I took the hounds to the Totapella Plains for a fortnight, for chance of air, while their kennel was purified and re-whitewashed.
In these Totapella Plains I had a fixed encampment, which, being within nine miles of my house, I could visit at any time with the hounds, without the slightest preparation. There was an immense number of elk in this part of the country; in fact this was a great drawback to the hunting, as two or more were constantly on foot at the same time, which divided the hounds and scattered them in all directions. This made hard work of the sport, as this locality is nothing but a series of ups and downs. The plains, as they are termed, are composed of some hundred grassy hills, of about a hundred feet elevation above the river; these rise like half oranges in every direction, while a high chain of precipitous mountains walls in one side of the view. Forest-covered hills abound in the centre and around the skirts of the plains, while a deep river winds in a circuitous route between the grassy hills.
My encampment was well chosen in this romantic spot. It was a place where you might live all your life without seeing a soul except a wandering bee-hunter, or a native sportsman who had ventured up from the low country to shoot an elk.
Surrounded on all sides but one with steep hills, my hunting settlement lay snugly protected from the wind in a little valley. A small jungle about a hundred yards square grew at the base of one of these grassy hills, in which, having cleared the underwood for about forty yards, I left the rarer trees standing, and erected my huts under their shelter at the exact base of the knoll. This steep rise broke off into an abrupt cliff about sixty yards from my tent, against which the river had waged constant war, and, turning in an endless vortex, had worn a deep hole, before it shot off in a rapid torrent from the angle, dashing angrily over the rocky masses which had fallen from the overhanging cliff, and coming to a sudden rest in a broad deep pool within twenty yards of the tent door.
This was a delicious spot. Being snugly hidden in the jungle, there was no sign of my encampment from the plain, except the curling blue smoke which rose from the little hollow. A plot of grass of some two acres formed the bottom of the valley before my habitation, at the extremity of which the river flowed, backed on the opposite side by an abrupt hill covered with forest and jungle.
This being a chilly part of Ceylon, I had thatched the walls of my tent, and made a good gridiron bedstead, to keep me from the damp ground, by means of forked upright sticks, two horizontal bars and numerous cross-pieces. This was covered with six inches' thickness of grass, strapped down with the bark of a fibrous shrub. My table and bench were formed in the same manner, being of course fixtures, but most substantial. The kitchen, huts for attendants and kennel were close adjoining. I could have lived there all my life in fine weather. I wish I was there now with all my heart. However, I had sufficient bad luck on my last visit to have disgusted most people. Poor Matchless, who was as good as her name implied, died of inflammation of the lungs; and I started one morning in very low spirits at her loss, hoping to cheer myself up by a good hunt.
It was not long before old Bluebeard's opening note was heard high upon the hill-tops; but, at the same time, a portion of the pack had found another elk, which, taking an opposite direction, of course divided them. Being determined to stick to Bluebeard to the last, I made straight through the jungle toward the point at which I had heard a portion of the pack join him, intending to get upon their track and follow up. This I soon did; and after running for some time through the jungle, which, being young "nillho," was unmistakably crushed by the elk and hounds, I came to a capital though newly-made path, as a single elephant, having been disturbed by the cry of the hounds, had started off at full speed; and the elk and hounds, naturally choosing the easiest route through the jungle, had kept upon his track. This I was certain of, as the elk's print sunk deep in that of the elephant, whose dung, lying upon the spot, was perfectly hot.
I fully expected that the hounds would bring the elephant to bay, which is never pleasant when you are without a gun; however, they did not, but, sticking to their true game, they went straight away toward the chain of mountains at the end of the plain. The river, in making its exit, is checked by abrupt precipices, and accordingly makes an angle and then descends a ravine toward the low country.
I felt sure, from the nature of the ground and the direction of the run, that the elk would come to bay in this ravine; and, after half an hour's run, I was delighted, on arriving on the hill above, to hear the bay, of the bounds in the river far below.
The jungle was thick and tangled, but it did not take long, to force my way down the steep mountain side, and I neared the spot and heard the splashing in the river, as the elk, followed by the hounds, dashed across just before I came in view. He had broken his bay; and, presently, I again heard the chorus of voices as he once more came to a stand a few hundred paces down the river.
The bamboo was so thick that I could hardly break my way through it; and I was crashing along toward the spot, when suddenly the bay ceased, and shortly after some of the hounds came hurrying up to me regularly scared. Lena, who seldom showed a symptom of fear, dashed up to me in a state of great excitement, with the deep scores of a leopard's claws on her hindquarters. Only two couple of the hounds followed on the elk's track; the rest were nowhere.
The elk had doubled back, and I saw old Bluebeard leading upon the scent up the bank of the river, followed by three other bounds.
The surest, although the hardest work, was to get on the track and follow up through the jungle. This I accordingly did for about a mile, at which distance I arrived at a small swampy plain in the centre of the jungle. Here, to my surprise, I saw old Bluebeard sitting up and looking faint, covered with blood, with no other dog within view. The truth was soon known upon examination. No less than five holes were cut in his throat by a leopard's claws, and by the violent manner in which. the poor dog strained and choked, I felt sure that the windpipe was injured. There was no doubt that he had received the stroke at the same time that Lena was wounded beneath the rocky mountain when the elk was at bay; and nevertheless, the staunch old dog had persevered in the chase till the difficulty of breathing brought him to a standstill. I bathed the wounds, but I knew it was his last day, poor old fellow!
I sounded the bugle for a few minutes, and having collected some of the scattered pack I returned to the tent, leading the wounded dog, whose breathing rapidly became more difficult. I lost no time in fomenting and poulticing the part, but the swelling had commenced to such an extent that there was little hope of recovery.
This was a dark day for the pack. Benton returned in the afternoon from a search for the missing hounds, and, as he descended the deep hill-side on approaching the tent, I saw tent he and a native were carrying something slung upon a pole. At first I thought it was an elk's head, which the missing hounds might have run to bay, but on his arrival the worst was soon known.
It was poor Leopold, one of my best dogs. He was all but dead, with hopeless wounds in his throat and belly. He had been struck by a leopard within a few yards of Benton's side, and, with his usual pluck, the dog turned upon the leopard in spite of his wounds, when the cowardly brute, seeing the man, turned and fled.
That night Leopold died. The next morning Bluebeard was so bad that I returned home with him slung in a litter between two men. Poor fellow! he never lived to reach his comfortable kennel, but died in the litter within a mile of home. I had him buried by the side of old Smut, and there are no truer dogs on the earth than the two that there lie together.
A very few weeks after Bluebeard's death, however, I got a taste of revenge out of one of the race.
Palliser and I were out shooting, and we found a single bull elephant asleep in the dry bed of a stream; we were stealing quietly up to him, when his guardian spirit whispered something in his ear, and up he jumped. However, we polished him off, and having reloaded, we passed on.
The country consisted of low, thorny jungle and small sandy plains of short turf, and we were just entering one of these open spots within a quarter of a mile of the dead elephant, when we observed a splendid leopard crouching at the far end of the glade. He was about ninety paces from us, lying broadside on, with his head turned to the opposite direction, evidently looking out for game. His crest was bristled up with excitement, and he formed a perfect picture of beauty both in color and attitude.
Halting our gun-bearers, we stalked him within sixty yards; he looked quickly round, and his large hazel eyes shone full upon us, as the two rifles made one report, and his white belly lay stretched upon the ground.
They were both clean shots: Palliser had aimed at his head, and had cut off one ear and laid the skin open at the back of the neck. My ball had smashed both shoulders, but life was not fairly extinct. We therefore strangled him with my necktie, as I did not wish to spoil his hide by any further wound. This was a pleasing sacrifice to the "manes" of old Bluebeard.
E. Palliser had at one time the luck to have a fair turn up with a leopard with the dogs and hunting-knife. At that time he kept a pack at Dimboola, about nine miles from my house. Old Bluebeard belonged to him, and he had a fine dog named "Pirate," who was the heaviest and best of his seizers.
He was out hunting with two or three friends, when suddenly a leopard sprang from the jungle at one of the smaller hounds as they were passing quietly along a forest path. Halloaing the pack on upon the instant, every dog gave chase, and a short run brought him to bay in the usual place of refuge, the boughs of a tree.
However, it so happened that there was a good supply of large sharp stones upon the soil, and with these the whole party kept up a spirited bombardment, until at length one lucky shot hit him on the head, and at the same moment he fell or jumped into the middle of the pack. Here Pirate came to the front in grand style and collared him, while the whole pack backed him up without an exception.
There was a glorious struggle of course, which was terminated by the long arm of our friend Palliser, who slipped the hunting-knife into him and became a winner. This is the only instance that I know of a leopard being run into and killed with hounds and a knife.