by Samuel White Baker
Minneria Lake--Brush with a Bull--An Awkward Vis-a-vis--A Bright Thought--Bull Buffalo Receives his Small Change--What is Man?--Long Shot with the Four-ounce--Charged by a Herd of Buffaloes--the Four-ounce does Service--The 'Lola'--A Woman Killed by a Crocodile--Crocodile at Bolgodde Lake--A Monster Crocodile--Death of a Crocodile.
THE foregoing description may serve as an introduction to the hill sports of Ceylon. One animal, however, yet remains to be described, who surpasses all others in dogged ferocity when once aroused. This is the 'buffalo.'
The haunts of this animal are in the hottest parts of Ceylon. In the neighbourhood of lakes, swamps, and extensive plains, the buffalo exists in large herds; wallowing in the soft mire, and passing two-thirds of his time in the water itself, he may be almost termed amphibious.
He is about the size of a large ox, of immense bone and strength, very active, and his hide is almost free from hair, giving a disgusting appearance to his India-rubber-like skin. He carries his head in a peculiar manner, the horns thrown back, and his nose projecting on a level with his forehead, thus securing himself from a front shot in a fatal part. This renders him a dangerous enemy, as he will receive any number of balls from a small gun in the throat and chest without evincing the least symptom of distress. The shoulder is the acknowledged point to aim at, but from his disposition to face the guns this is a difficult shot to obtain. Should he succeed in catching his antagonist, his fury knows no bounds, and he gores his victim to death, trampling and kneeling upon him till he is satisfied that life is extinct.
This sport would not be very dangerous in the forests, where the buffalo could be easily stalked, and where escape would also be rendered less difficult in case of accident; but as he is generally met with upon the open plains, free from a single tree, he must be killed when once brought to bay, or he will soon exhibit his qualifications for mischief. There is a degree of uncertainty in their character which much increases the danger of the pursuit. A buffalo may retreat at first sight with every symptom of cowardice, and thus induce a too eager pursuit, when he will suddenly become the assailant. I cannot explain their character better than by describing the, first wild buffaloes that I ever saw.
I had not been long in Ceylon, but having arrived in the island for the sake of its wild sports, I had not been idle, and I had already made a considerable bag of large game. Like most novices, however, I was guilty of one great fault. I despised the game, and gave no heed to the many tales of danger and hair-breadth escapes which attended the pursuit of wild animals. This carelessness on my part arose from my first debut having been extremely lucky; most shots had told well, and the animal had been killed with such apparent ease that I had learnt to place an implicit reliance in the rifle. The real fact was that I was like many others; I had slaughtered a number of animals without understanding their habits, and I was perfectly ignorant of the sport. This is now many years ago, and it was then my first visit to the island. Some places that were good spots for shooting in those days have since that time been much disturbed, and are now no longer attractive to my eyes. One of these places is Minneria Lake.
I was on a shooting trip accompanied by my brother, whom I will designate as B. We had passed a toilsome day in pushing and dragging our ponies for twenty miles along a narrow path through thick jungle, which half-a-dozen natives in advance were opening before us with bill-hooks. This had at one time been a good path, but was then overgrown. It is now an acknowledged bridle road.
At 4 P.M., and eighty miles from Kandy, we emerged from the jungle, and the view of Minneria Lake burst upon us, fully repaying us for our day's march. It was a lovely afternoon. The waters of the lake; which is twenty miles in circumference, were burnished by the setting sun. The surrounding plains were as green as an English meadow, and beautiful forest trees bordered the extreme boundaries of the plains like giant warders of the adjoining jungle. Long promontories densely wooded stretched far into the waters of the lake, forming sheltered nooks and bays teeming with wild fowl. The deer browsed in herds on the wide extent of plain, or lay beneath the shade of the spreading branches. Every feature of lovely scenery was here presented. In some spots groves of trees grew to the very water's edge; in others the wide plains, free from a single stem or bush, stretched for miles along the edge of the lake; thickly wooded hills bordered the extreme end of its waters, and distant blue mountains mingled their dim summits with the clouds.
It was a lovely scene which we enjoyed in silence, while our ponies feasted upon the rich grass.
The village of Minneria was three miles farther on, and our coolies, servants, and baggage were all far behind us. We had, therefore, no rifles or guns at hand, except a couple of shot-guns, which were carried by our horsekeepers : for these we had a few balls.
For about half an hour we waited in the impatient expectation of the arrival of our servants with the rifles. The afternoon was wearing away, and they did not appear. We could wait no longer, but determined to take a stroll and examine the country. We therefore left our horses and proceeded.
The grass was most verdant, about the height of a field fit for the scythe in England, but not so thick. From this the snipe arose at every twenty or thirty paces, although, the ground was perfectly dry. Crossing a large meadow, and skirting the banks of the lake, from which the ducks and teal rose in large flocks, we entered a long neck of jungle which stretched far into the lake. This was not above two hundred paces in width, and we soon emerged upon an extensive plain bordered by fine forest, the waters of the lake stretching far away upon our left, like a sheet of gold. A few large rocks rose above the surface near the shore; these were covered with various kinds of wild fowl. The principal tenants of the plain were wild buffaloes.
A herd of about a hundred were lying in a swampy hollow about a quarter of a mile from us: Several single bulls were dotted about the green surface of the level plain, and on the opposite shores of the lake were many dark patches undistinguishable in the distance; these were in reality herds of buffaloes. There was not a sound in the wide expanse before us, except the harsh cry of the water-fowl that our presence had already disturbed--not a breath of air moved the leaves of the trees which shaded us--and the whole scene was that of undisturbed nature. The sun had now sunk low upon the horizon, and the air was comparatively cool. The multitude of buffaloes enchanted us, and with our two light double-barrels, we advanced to the attack of the herd before us.
We had not left the obscurity of the forest many seconds before we were observed. The herd started up from their muddy bed and gazed at us with astonishment. It was a fair open plain of some thousand acres, bounded by the forest which we had just quitted on the one side, and by the lake on the other; thus there was no cover for our advance, and all we could do was to push on.
As we approached the herd they ranged up in a compact body, presenting a very regular line in front. From this line seven large bulls stepped forth, and from their vicious appearance seemed disposed to show fight. In the meantime we were running up, and were soon within thirty paces of them. At this distance the main body of the herd suddenly wheeled round and thundered across the plain in full retreat. One of the bulls at the same moment charged straight at us, but when within twenty paces of the guns he turned to one side, and instantly received two balls in the shoulder, B. and I having fired at the same moment. As luck would have it, his blade-bone was thus broken, and he fell upon his knees, but recovering himself in an instant, he retreated on three legs to the water.
We now received assistance from an unexpected quarter. One of the large bulls, his companions, charged after him with great fury, and soon overtaking the wounded beast, he struck him full in the side, throwing him over with a great shock on the muddy border of the lake. Here the wounded animal lay unable to rise, and his conqueror commenced a slow retreat across the plain.
Leaving B. to extinguish the wounded buffalo, I gave chase to the retreating bull. At an easy canter he would gain a hundred paces and then, turning, he would face me; throwing his nose up, and turning his head to one side with a short grunt, he would advance quickly for a few paces, and then again retreat as I continued to approach.
In this manner he led me a chase of about a mile along the banks of the lake, but he appeared determined not to bring the fight to an issue at close quarters. Cursing his cowardice, I fired a long shot at him, and reloading my last spare ball I continued the chase, led on by ignorance and excitement.
The lake in one part stretched in a narrow creek into the plain, and the bull now directed his course into the angle formed by this turn. I thought that I lead him in a corner, and, redoubling my exertions, I gained upon him considerably. He retreated slowly to the very edge of the creek, and I had gained so fast upon him that I was not thirty paces distant, when he plunged into the water and commenced swimming across the creek. This was not more than sixty yards in breadth, and I knew that I could now bring him to action.
Running round the borders of the creek as fast as I could, I arrived at the opposite side on his intended landing-place just as his black form reared from the deep water and gained the shallows, into which I had waded knee-deep to meet him. I now experienced that pleasure as he stood sullenly eyeing me within fifteen paces. Poor stupid fellow! I would willingly, in my ignorance, have betted ten to one upon the shot, so certain was I of his death in another instant.
I took a quick but steady aim at his chest, at the point of connection with the throat. The smoke of the barrel passed to one side;--there he stood--he had not flinched; he literally had not moved a muscle. The only change that had taken place was in his eye; this, which had hitherto been merely sullen, was now beaming with fury; but his form was as motionless as a statue. A stream of blood poured from a wound within an inch of the spot at which I had aimed; had it not been for this fact, I should not have believed him struck.
Annoyed at the failure of the shot, I tried him with the left-hand barrel at the same hole. The report of the gun echoed over the lake, but there he stood as though he bore a charmed life;--an increased flow of blood from the wound and additional lustre in his eye were the only signs of his being struck.
I was unloaded, and had not a single ball remaining. It was now his turn. I dared not turn to retreat, as I knew he would immediately charge, and we stared each other out of countenance.
With a short grunt he suddenly sprang forward, but fortunately, as I did not move, he halted; he had, however, decreased his distance, and we now gazed at each other within ten paces. I began to think buffalo-shooting somewhat dangerous, and I would have given something to have been a mile away, but ten times as much to have had my four-ounce rifle in my hand. Oh, how I longed for that rifle in this moment of suspense! Unloaded, without the power of defence, with the absolute certainty of a charge from an overpowering brute, my hand instinctively found the handle of my hunting-knife, a useless weapon against such a foe.
Knowing that B. was not aware of my situation at the distance which separated us (about a mile), without taking my eyes from the figure before me, I raised my hand to my mouth and gave a long and loud whistle; this was a signal that I knew would be soon answered if heard.
With a stealthy step and another short grunt, the bull again advanced a couple of paces towards me. He seemed aware of my helplessness, and he was the picture of rage and fury, pawing the water and stamping violently with his forefeet.
This was very pleasant! I gave myself up for lost, but putting as fierce an expression into my features as I could possibly assume, I stared hopelessly at my maddened antagonist.
Suddenly a bright thought flashed through my mind. Without taking my eyes off the animal before me, I put a double charge of powder down the right-hand barrel, and tearing off a piece of my shirt, I took all the money from my pouch, three shillings in sixpenny pieces, and two anna pieces, which I luckily had with me in this small coin for paying coolies. Quickly making them into a rouleau with the piece of rag, I rammed them down the barrel, and they were hardly well home before the bull again sprang forward. So quick was it that I had no time to replace the ramrod, and I threw it in the water, bringing my gun on full cock in the same instant. However, he again halted, being now within about seven paces from me, and we again gazed fixedly at each other, but with altered feelings on my part. I had faced him hopelessly with an empty gun for more than a quarter of an hour, which seemed a century. I now had a charge in my gun, which I knew if reserved till he was within a foot of the muzzle would certainly floor him, and I awaited his onset with comparative carelessness, still keeping my eyes opposed to his gaze.
At this time I heard a splashing in the water behind me, accompanied by the hard breathing of something evidently distressed. The next moment I heard B.'s voice. He could hardly speak for want of breath, having run the whole way to my rescue, but I could understand that he had only one barrel loaded, and no bullets left. I dared not turn my face from the buffalo, but I cautioned B. to reserve his fire till the bull should be close into me, and then to aim at the head.
The words were hardly uttered, when, with the concentrated rage of the last twenty minutes, he rushed straight at me! It was the work of an instant. B. fired without effect. The horns were lowered, their points were on either side of me, and the muzzle of the gun barely touched his forehead when I pulled the trigger, and three shillings' worth of small change rattled into his hard head. Down he went, and rolled over with the suddenly checked momentum of his charge. Away went B. and I as fast as our heels would carry us, through the water and over the plain, knowing that he was not dead but only stunned. There was a large fallen tree about half a mile from us, whose whitened branches, rising high above the ground, offered a tempting asylum. To this we directed our flying steps, and, after a run of a hundred yards, we turned and looked behind us. He had regained his feet and was following us slowly. We now experienced the difference of feeling between hunting and being hunted, and fine sport we must have afforded him.
On he came, but fortunately so stunned by the collision with her Majesty's features upon the coin which he had dared to oppose that he could only reel forward at a slow canter. By degrees even this pace slackened, and he fell. We were only too glad to be able to reduce our speed likewise, but we had no sooner stopped to breathe, than he was again up and after us. At length, however, we gained the tree, and we beheld him with satisfaction stretched powerless upon the ground, but not dead, within two hundred yards of us.
We retreated under cover of the forest to the spot at which we had left the horses, fortunately meeting no opposition from wild animals, and we shortly arrived at the village at which we took up our quarters, vowing vengeance on the following morning for the defeat that we had sustained.
A man is a poor defenceless wretch if left to defend himself against wild animals with the simple natural weapons of arms, legs, and teeth. A tom-cat would almost be a match for him. He has legs which will neither serve him for pursuit or escape if he is forced to trust only in his speed. He has strength of limb which is useless without some artificial weapon. He is an animal who, without the power of reason, could not even exist in a wild state; his brain alone gives him the strength to support his title of lord of the creation.
Nevertheless, a lord of the creation does not appear in much majesty when running for his life from an infuriated buffalo;--the assumed title sits uneasily upon him when, with scarcely a breath left in his body, he struggles along till he is ready to drop with fatigue, expecting to be overtaken at every step. We must certainly have exhibited poor specimens of the boasted sway of man over the brute creation could a stranger have witnessed our flight on this occasion.
The next morning we were up at daybreak, and we returned to the battlefield of the previous evening in the full expectation of seeing our wounded antagonist lying dead where we had left him. In this we were disappointed--he was gone, and we never saw him again.
I now had my long two-ounce and my four-ounce rifles with me, and I was fully prepared for a deep revenge for the disgrace of yesterday.
The morning was clear but cloudy; a heavy thunderstorm during the night had cooled the air, and the whole plain was glistening with bright drops; the peacocks were shrieking from the tree-tops and spreading their gaudy plumage to the cool breeze; and the whole face of nature seemed refreshed. We felt the same invigorating spirit, and we took a long survey of the many herds of buffaloes upon the plain before we could determine which we should first attack.
A large single bull, who had been lying in a swampy hollow unobserved by us, suddenly sprang up at about three hundred yards' distance, and slowly cantered off. I tried the long two-ounce rifle at him, but, taking too great an elevation, I fired over him. The report, however, had the effect of turning him, and, instead of retreating, he wheeled round and attempted to pass between the guns and the banks of the lake. We were about three hundred yards from the water's edge, and he was soon passing us at full gallop at right angles, about midway or a hundred and fifty yards distant.
I had twelve drachms of powder in the four-ounce rifle, and I took a flying shot at his shoulder. No visible effect was produced, and the ball ricochetted completely across the broad surface of the lake (which was no more than a mile wide at this part) in continuous splashes. The gun-bearers said I had fired behind him, but I had distinctly heard the peculiar 'fut' which a ball makes upon striking an animal, and although the passage of the ball across the lake appeared remarkable, nevertheless I felt positive that it had first passed through some portion of the animal.
Away the bull sped over the plain at unabated speed for about two hundred paces, when he suddenly turned and charged toward the guns. On he came for about a hundred yards, but evidently slackening his speed at every stride. At length he stopped altogether. His mouth was wide open, and I could now distinguish a mass of bloody foam upon his lips and nostrils--the ball had in reality passed through his lungs, and, making its exit from the opposite shoulder, it had even then flown across the lake. This was the proof of the effect of the twelve drachms of powder.
Having reloaded, I now advanced towards him, and soon arrived within fifty paces. He was the facsimile of the bull that had chased us on the previous day--the same picture of fury and determination; and, crouching low, he advanced a few paces, keeping his eyes fixed upon us as though we were already his own.
A short cough, accompanied by a rush of blood from his mouth, seemed to cause him great uneasiness, and he halted.
Again we advanced till within twenty paces of him. I would not fire, as I saw that he already had enough, and I wished to see how long he could support a wound through the lungs, as my safety in buffalo-shooting might in future depend upon this knowledge.
The fury of his spirit seemed to war with death, and, although reeling with weakness and suffocation, he again attempted to come on. It was his last effort; his eyes rolled convulsively, he gave a short grunt of impotent rage, and the next moment he fell upon his back with his heels in the air; he was stone dead, and game to the last moment.
I had thus commenced a revenge for the insult of yesterday; I had proved the wonderful power of the four-ounce rifle--a weapon destined to make great havoc amongst the heavy game of Ceylon.
Upon turning from the carcass before us, we observed to our surprise that a large herd of buffaloes, that were at a great distance when we had commenced the attack upon the bull, had now approached to within a few hundred yards, and were standing in a dense mass, attentively watching us. Without any delay we advanced towards them, and, upon arriving within about a hundred paces, we observed that the herd was headed by two large bulls, one of which was the largest that I had ever seen. The whole herd was bellowing and pawing the ground. They had winded the blood of the dead bull and appeared perfectly maddened.
We continued to advance, and we were within about ninety paces of them when suddenly the whole herd of about two hundred buffaloes, headed by the two bulls before noticed, dashed straight towards us at full gallop. So simultaneous was the onset that it resembled a sudden charge of cavalry, and the ground vibrated beneath their heavy hoofs. Their tails were thrown high above their backs, and the mad and overpowering phalanx of heads and horns came rushing forward as though to sweep us at once from the face of the earth.
There was not an instant to be lost; already but a short space intervened between us and apparently certain destruction. Our gun-bearers were almost in the act of flight; but catching hold of the man who carried the long two-ounce rifle, and keeping him by my side, I awaited the irresistible onset with the four-ounce.
The largest of the bulls was some yards in advance, closely followed by his companion, and the herd in a compact mass came thundering down at their heels. Only fifty yards separated us; we literally felt among them, and already experienced a sense of being over-run. I did not look at the herd, but I kept my eye upon the big bull leader. On they flew, and were within thirty paces of us, when I took a steady shot with the four-ounce, and the leading bull plunged head-foremost in the turf, turning a complete summersault. Snatching the two-ounce from the petrified gun-bearer, I hadjust time for a shot as the second bull was within fifteen paces, and at the flash of the rifle his horns ploughed up the turf, and he lay almost at our feet. That lucky shot turned the whole herd. When certain destruction threatened us, they suddenly wheeled to their left when within twenty paces of the guns, and left us astonished victors of the field. We poured an ineffectual volley into the retreating herd from the light guns as they galloped off in full retreat, and reloaded as quickly as possible, as the two bulls, although floored, were still alive. They were, however, completely powerless, and a double-barrelled gun gave each the "coup-de-grace" by a ball in the forehead. Both rifle shots had struck at the point of junction of the throat and chest, and the four-ounce ball had passed out of the hind-quarter. Our friend of yesterday, although hit in precisely the same spot, had laughed at the light guns.
Although I have since killed about two hundred wild buffaloes I have never witnessed another charge by a herd. This was an extraordinary occurrence, and fortunately stands alone in buffalo-shooting. Were it not for the two heavy rifles our career might have terminated in an unpleasant manner. As I before mentioned, this part of the country was seldom or never disturbed at the time of which I write, and the buffaloes were immensely numerous and particularly savage, nearly always turning to bay and showing good sport when attacked.
Having cut out the tongues from the two bulls, we turned homeward to breakfast. Skirting along the edge of the lake, which abounded with small creeks, occasioning us many circuits, we came suddenly upon a single bull, who, springing from his lair of mud and high grass, plunged into a creek, and, swimming across, exposed himself to a dead shot as he landed on the opposite bank about a hundred paces from us. The four-ounce struck him in the hind-quarters and broke the hip joint, and, continuing its course along his body, it pierced his lungs and lodged in the skin of the throat. The bull immediately fell, but regaining his feet he took to the water, and swam to a small island of high grass about thirty yards from the shore. Upon gaining this he turned and faced us, but in a few seconds he fell unable to rise, and received a merciful shot in the head, which despatched him.
We were just leaving the border of the lake on our way to the village, when two cow buffaloes sprang up from one of the numerous inlets and retreated at full gallop towards the jungle, offering a splendid side shot at about a hundred paces. The leading cow plunged head-foremost into the grass as the four-ounce struck her through both shoulders. She was a fine young cow, and we cut some steaks from her in case we should find a scarcity of provisions at Minneria and, quitting the shores of the lake, we started for breakfast.
It was only 8 A.M. when we arrived. I had bagged five buffaloes, four of which were fine bulls. Our revenge was complete, and I had proved that the four-ounce was perfectly irresistible if held straight with the heavy charge of twelve drachms of powder. Since that time I have frequently used sixteen drachms (one ounce) of powder to the charge, but the recoil is then very severe, although the effect upon an animal with a four-ounce steel-tipped conical ball is tremendous.
On our return to the village of Minneria we found a famous breakfast, for which a bath in the neighbouring brook increased an appetite already sharpened by the morning exercise. The buffalo steaks were coarse and bad, as tough as leather, and certainly should never be eaten if better food can be obtained. The tongues are very rich, but require salting.
In those days Minneria was not spoiled by visitors, and supplies were accordingly at a cheap rate--large fowls at one penny each, milk at any price that you chose to give for it. This is now much changed, and the only thing that is still ridiculously cheap is fish.
Give a man sixpence to catch you as many as he can in the morning, and he forthwith starts on his piscatorial errand with a large basket, cone shaped, of two feet diameter at the bottom and about eight inches at the top. This basket is open at both ends, and is about two feet in length.
The fish that is most sought after is the 'lola.' He is a ravenous fellow, in appearance between a trout and a carp, having the habits of the former, but the clumsy shoulders of the latter. He averages about three pounds, although he is often caught of nine or ten pounds weight. Delighting in the shallows, he lies among the weeds at the bottom, to which he always retreats when disturbed. Aware of his habits, the fisherman walks knee-deep in the water, and at every step he plunges the broad end of the basket quickly to the bottom. He immediately feels the fish strike against the sides, and putting his hand down through the aperture in the top of the basket he captures him, and deposits him in a basket slung on his back.
These 'lola' are delicious eating, being very like an eel in flavour, and I have known one man catch forty in a morning with no other apparatus than this basket.
Minneria Lake, like all others in Ceylon, swarms with crocodiles of a very large size. Early in the morning and late in the evening they may be seen lying upon the banks like logs of trees. I have frequently remarked that a buffalo, shot within a few yards of the lake, has invariably disappeared during the night, leaving an undoubted track where he has been dragged to the water by the crocodiles. These brutes frequently attack the natives when fishing or bathing, but I have never heard of their pursuing any person upon dry land.
I remember an accident having occurred at Madampi, on the west coast of Ceylon, about seven years ago, the day before I passed through the village. A number of women were employed in cutting rushes for mat-making, and were about mid-deep in the water. The horny tail of a large crocodile was suddenly seen above the water among the group of women, and in another instant one of them was seized by the thigh and dragged towards the deeper part of the stream. In vain the terrified creature shrieked for assistance; the horror-stricken group had rushed to the shore, and a crowd of spectators on the bank offered no aid beyond their cries. It was some distance before the water deepened, and the unfortunate woman was dragged for many yards, sometimes beneath the water, sometimes above the surface, rending the air with her screams, until at length the deep water hid her from their view. She was never again seen.
Some of these reptiles grow to a very large size, attaining the length of twenty feet, and eight feet in girth, but the common size is fourteen feet. They move slowly upon land, but are wonderfully fast and active in the water. They usually lie in wait for their prey under some hollow bank in a deep pool, and when the unsuspecting deer or even buffalo stoops his head to drink, he is suddenly seized by the nose and dragged beneath the water. Here he is speedily drowned and consumed at leisure.
The two lower and front teeth of a crocodile project through the upper jaw, and their white points attract immediate notice as they protrude through the brown scales on the upper lip. When the mouth is closed, the jaws are thus absolutely locked together.
It is a common opinion that the scales on the back of a crocodile will turn a ball; this is a vulgar error. The scales are very tough and hard, but a ball from a common fowling-piece will pass right through the body. I have even seen a hunting-knife driven at one blow deep into the hardest part of the back; and this was a crocodile of a large size, about fourteen feet long, that I shot at a place called Bolgodde, twenty-two miles from Colombo.
A man had been setting nets for fish, and was in the act of swimming to the shore, when he was seized and drowned by a crocodile. The next morning two buffaloes were dragged into the water close to the spot, and it was supposed that these murders were committed by the same crocodile. I was at Colombo at the time, and, hearing of the accident, I rode off to Bolgodde to try my hand at catching him.
Bolgodde is a very large lake of many miles in circumference, abounding with crocodiles, widgeon, teal, and ducks.
On arrival that evening, the moodeliar (headman) pointed out the spot where the man had been destroyed, and where the buffaloes had been dragged in by the crocodile. One buffalo had been entirely devoured, but the other had merely lost his head, and his carcass was floating in a horrible state of decomposition near the bank. It was nearly dark, so I engaged a small canoe to be in readiness by break of day.
Just as the light streaked the horizon I stepped into the canoe. This required some caution, as it was the smallest thing that can be conceived to support two persons. It consisted of the hollow trunk of a tree, six feet in length and about one foot in diameter. A small outrigger prevented it from upsetting, but it was not an inch from the surface of the water when I took my narrow seat, and the native in the stern paddled carefully towards the carcass of the buffalo.
Upon approaching within a hundred yards of the floating carcass, I counted five forms within a few yards of the flesh. These objects were not above nine inches square, and appeared like detached pieces of rough bark. I knew them to be the foreheads of different crocodiles, and presently one moved towards the half-consumed buffalo. His long head and shoulders projected from the water as he attempted to fix his fore-claws into the putrid flesh; this, however, rolled over towards him, and prevented him from getting a hold; but the gaping jaws nevertheless made a wide breach in the buffalo's flank. I was now within thirty yards of them, and, being observed, they all dived immediately to the bottom.
The carcass was lying within a few yards of the bank, where the water was extremely deep and clear. Several large trees grew close to the edge and formed a good hiding-place; I therefore landed, and, sending the canoe to a distance, I watched the water.
I had not been five minutes in this position before I saw in the water at my feet, in a deep hole close to the bank, the immense form of a crocodile as he was slowly rising from his hiding-place to the surface. He appeared to be about eighteen feet long, and he projected his horny head from the surface, bubbled, and then floated with only his forehead and large eyes above the water. He was a horrible-looking monster, and from his size I hoped he was the villain that had committed the late depredations. He was within three yards of me; and, although I stood upon the bank, his great round eyes gazed at me without a symptom of fear. The next moment I put a two-ounce ball exactly between them, and killed him stone dead. He gave a convulsive slap with his tail, which made the water foam,, and, turning upon his back, he gradually sank, till at length I could only distinguish the long line of his white belly twenty feet below me.
Not having any apparatus for bringing him to the surface, I again took to the canoe, as a light breeze that had sprung up was gradually moving the carcass of the buffalo away. This I slowly followed, until it at length rested in a wide belt of rushes which grew upon the shallows near the shore. I pushed the canoe into the rushes within four yards of the carcass, keeping to windward to avoid the sickening smell.
I had not been long in this position before the body suddenly rolled over as though attacked by something underneath the water, and the next moment the tall reeds brushed against the sides of the canoe, being violently agitated in a long line, evidently by a crocodile at the bottom.
The native in the stern grew as pale as a black can turn with fright, and instantly began to paddle the canoe away. This, however, I soon replaced in its former position, and then took his paddle away to prevent further accidents. There sat the captain of the fragile vessel in the most abject state of terror. We were close to the shore, and the water was not more than three feet deep, and yet he dared not jump out of the canoe, as the rushes were again brushing against its sides, being moved by the hidden beast at the bottom. There was no help for him, so, after vainly imploring me to shove the canoe into deep water, he at length sat still.
In a few minutes the body of the buffalo again moved, and the head and shoulders of a crocodile appeared above water and took a bite of some pounds of flesh. I could not get a shot at the head from his peculiar position, but I put a ball through his shoulders, and immediately shoved the canoe astern. Had I not done this, we should most likely have been upset, as the wounded brute began to lash out with his tail in all directions, till he at length retired to the bottom among the rushes. Here I could easily track him, as he slowly moved along, by the movement of the reeds. Giving the native the paddle, I now by threats induced him to keep the canoe over the very spot where the rushes were moving, and we slowly followed on the track, while I kept watch in the bow of the canoe with a rifle.
Suddenly the movement in the rushes ceased, and the canoe stopped accordingly. I leaned slightly over the side to look into the water, when up came a large air-bubble, and directly afterwards an apparition in the shape of some fifteen pounds of putrid flesh. The stench was frightful, but I knew my friend must be very bad down below to disgorge so sweet a morsel. I therefore took the paddle and poked for him; the water being shallow, I felt him immediately. Again the rushes moved; I felt the paddle twist as his scaly back glided under it, and a pair of gaping jaws appeared above the water, wide open and within two feet of the canoe. The next moment his head appeared, and the two-ounce ball shattered his brain. He sank to the bottom, the rushes moved slightly and were then still.
I now put the canoe ashore, and cutting a strong stick, with a crook at one end, I again put out to the spot and dragged for him. He was quite dead; and catching him under the fore-leg, I soon brought him gently to the surface of the water. I now made fast a line to his fore-leg, and we towed him slowly to the village, the canoe being level with the water's edge.
His weight in the water was a mere trifle, but on arrival at the village on the banks of the lake, the villagers turned out with great glee, and fastened ropes to different parts of his body to drag him out. This operation employed about twenty men. The beast was about fourteen feet long; and he was no sooner on shore than the natives cut him to pieces with axes, and threw the sections into the lake to be devoured by his own species. This was a savage kind of revenge, which appeared to afford them great satisfaction.
Taking a large canoe, I paddled along the shores of the lake with a shot-gun, and made a good bag of ducks and teal, and returned to breakfast. The fatness and flavour of the wild ducks in Ceylon are quite equal to the best in England.