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The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon.

by Samuel White Baker


Equipment for a Hunting Trip--In Chase of a Herd of Buffaloes-- Hard Work--Close Quarters--Six Feet from the Muzzle--A Black with a Devil.

There is one thing necessary to the enjoyment of sport in Ceylon, and without which no amount of game can afford thorough pleasure; this is personal comfort. Unlike a temperate climate, where mere attendance becomes a luxury, the pursuit of game in a tropical country is attended with immense fatigue and exhaustion. The intense heat of the sun, the dense and suffocating exhalations from swampy districts, the constant and irritating attacks from insects, all form drawbacks to sport that can only be lessened by excellent servants and by the most perfect arrangements for shelter and supplies. I have tried all methods of travelling, and I generally manage to combine good sport with every comfort and convenience.

A good tent, perfectly waterproof, and of so light a construction as to travel with only two bearers, is absolutely indispensable. My tent is on the principle of an umbrella, fifteen feet in diameter, and will house three persons comfortably. A circular table fits in two halves round the tent-pole; three folding chairs have ample space; three beds can be arranged round the tent walls; the boxes of clothes, etc., stow under the beds; and a dressing-table and gun-rack complete the furniture.

Next in importance to the tent is a good canteen. Mine is made of japanned block tin, and contains in close-fitting compartments an entire dinner and breakfast service for three persons, including everything that can be required in an ordinary establishment. This is slung upon a bamboo, carried by two coolies.

Clothes must always be packed in tin boxes, or the whole case will most likely be devoured by white ants.

Cooking utensils must be carried in abundance, together with a lantern, axe, bill-hook, tinder-box, matches, candles, oil, tea, coffee, sugar, biscuits, wine, brandy, sauces, etc., a few hams, some tins of preserved meats and soups, and a few bottles of curacea, a glass of which, in the early dawn, after a cup of hot coffee and a biscuit, is a fine preparation for a day's work.

I once tried the rough system of travelling, and started off with nothing but my guns, clothes, a box of biscuits, and a few bottles of brandy--no bed, no pillow, no tent nor chairs or table, but, as my distressed servant said, 'no nothing.' This was many years ago, when the excitement of wild sports was sufficient to laugh at discomfort. I literally depended upon my gun for food, and my cooking utensils consisted of one saucepan and a gridiron, a 'stew' and a 'fry' being all that I looked forward to in the way of gourmandism. Sleeping on the bare ground in native huts, dining cross-legged upon mother earth, with a large leaf as a substitute for a plate, a cocoa-nut shell for a glass, my hunting-knife comprising all my cutlery, I thus passed through a large district of wild country, accompanied by B., and I never had more exciting sport.

It was on this occasion that I had a memorable hunt in the neighbourhood of Narlande, within thirty miles of Kandy. It was our first day's stage, and, upon our arrival, at about 2 P.M., we left our guns at the post-holder's hut, while we proceeded to the river to bathe.

We were hardly dressed before a native came running to tell us that several elephants were devouring his crop of korrakan--a grain something like clover-seed, upon which the people in this part almost entirely subsist.

Without a moment's delay we sent for the guns. The post-holder was a good tracker, and a few minutes of sharp walking through a path bordered on either side by dense thorny bush brought us to a chena jungle ground, or cultivated field. The different watch-houses erected in the large trees were full of people, who were shrieking and yelling at the top of their voices, having just succeeded in scaring the elephants into the jungle.

The whole of the country in this neighbourhood has, in successive ages, been cleared and cultivated: the forest has been felled. The poverty of the soil yields only one crop, and the lately cleared field is again restored to nature. Dense thorny jungle immediately springs up, which a man cannot penetrate without being torn to pieces by the briars. This is called chena jungle, and is always the favourite resort of elephants and all wild animals, the impervious character of the bush forming a secure retreat.

From these haunts the elephants commit nocturnal descents upon the crops of the natives. The korrakan is a sweet grass, growing about two feet high, and so partial are the elephants to this food that they will invade the isolated field even during the daytime. Driven out by shouts and by shots fired by the natives from their secure watch-houses, they will retreat to their cover, but in a few minutes they reappear from another part of the jungle and again commence their depredations.

The havoc committed by a large herd of elephants can well be imagined.

In this instance there were only three elephants--a large bull, with a mother and her young one, or what we call a 'poonchy.' On entering the korrakan field we distinctly heard them breaking the boughs at no great distance. We waited for some time to see if they would return to the field; but they apparently were aware of some impending danger, as they did not move from their strong position. This was a cunning family of elephants, as they had retreated 'down wind,' and the jungle being so thick that we could with difficulty follow even upon their track, made it very doubtful whether we should kill them.

We cautiously entered. It was one mass of thorns, and we were shortly compelled to crawl upon our hands and knees. This was arduous work, as we had great difficulty in carrying the guns so as to avoid the slightest noise. I was leading the way, and could distinctly hear the rustling of the leaves as the elephants moved their ears. We were now within a few feet of them, but not an inch of their bodies could be seen, so effectually were they hidden by the thick jungle. Suddenly we heard the prolonged wh-r-r, wh-r-r-r-r-r, as one of the elephants winded us: the shrill trumpet sounded in another direction, and the crash through the jungle took place which nothing but an elephant can produce. In such dense jungle, where the elephants are invisible, this crash is most exciting if close at hand, as in the present instance.

It is at the first burst impossible to tell whether the elephant is coming at you or rushing away. In either case it is extremely dangerous, as these chena jungles are almost devoid of trees; thus there is no cover of sufficient strength to protect a man should he attempt to jump on one side, and he may even be run over by accident.

A few moments assured us of their retreat, and we instantly followed upon their track, running at full speed along the lane which they had crushed in their headlong flight. This was no easy matter; the jungle itself was certainly broken down, but innumerable hooked thorns, hanging from rope-like creepers, which had been torn down by the rush of the elephants, caught us upon every side. In a few minutes our clothes were in rags, and we were bleeding from countless scratches, but we continued the chase as fast as we could run upon the track. The prickly cactus which abounds in these jungles, and grows to the height of twenty feet, in some places checked us for a few moments, being crushed into a heap by the horny-footed beasts before us. These obstacles overcome, we again pushed on at a rapid pace, occasionally listening for a sound of the retreating game.

We now observed that the herd had separated; the bull had gone off in one direction, and the female with her half-grown poonchy in another. Following the latter, we again pushed on at a quick run, as the elephants had evidently gone off at a great pace and were far in advance. For about half an hour we had continued the pursuit at the same speed, when we suddenly heard the warning wh-r-r-r-r as the elephants winded us at a distance of 200 yards, and the crash instantly following this sound told us too plainly that the game was fearfully on the alert, and gave us little hopes of overtaking them, as they were travelling directly down wind.

Speed was our only chance, and again we rushed forward in hot pursuit through the tangled briars, which yielded to our weight, although we were almost stripped of clothes. Another half hour passed, and we had heard no further signs of the game. We stopped to breathe, and we listened attentively for the slightest sound. A sudden crash in the jungle at a great distance assured us that we were once more discovered. The chase seemed hopeless; the heat was most oppressive; and we had been running for the last hour at a killing pace through a most distressing country. Once more, however, we started off, determined to keep up the pursuit as long as daylight would permit. It was now 5 P.M., and we had one hour left before darkness would set in. The wind had entirely ceased, leaving a perfect calm; the air was thick and heavy, and the heat was thus rendered doubly fatiguing. We noticed, however, that the track of the elephants had doubled back instead of continuing in the direct line that we had followed so long. This gave us hope, as the elephants no longer had the advantage of the wind, and we pushed on as fast as we could go.

It was about half an hour before dusk, and our patience and hopes were alike exhausted, when we suddenly once more heard the wh-r-r-r of the elephants winding us within a hundred yards. It was our last chance, and with redoubled speed we rushed after them.

Suddenly we broke from the high jungle in which we had been for the last two hours, and found ourselves in a chena jungle of two years' growth, about five feet high, but so thick and thorny that it resembled one vast blackthorn hedge, through which no man could move except in the track of the retreating elephants.

To my delight, on entering this low jungle, I saw the female at about forty yards' distance, making off at a great pace. I had a light double-barrelled gun in my hand, and, in the hopes of checking her pace, I fired a flying shot at her ear. She had been hunted so long that she was well inclined to fight, and she immediately slackened her speed so much that in a few instants I was at her tail, so close that I could have slapped her. Still she ploughed her way through the thick thorns, and not being able to pass her owing to the barrier of jungle, I could only follow close at her heels and take my chance of a shot. At length, losing all patience, I fired my remaining barrel under her tail, giving it an upward direction in the hope of disabling her spine.

A cloud of smoke hung over me for a second, and, throwing my empty gun on one side, I put my hand behind me for a spare rifle. I felt the welcome barrel pushed into my hand at the same moment that I saw the infuriated head of the elephant with ears cocked charging through the smoke! It was the work of an instant. I had just time to cock the two-ounce rifle and take a steady aim. The next moment we were in a cloud of smoke, but as I fired, I felt certain of her. The smoke cleared from the thick bushes, and she lay dead at SIX FEET from the spot where I stood. The ball was in the centre of her forehead, and B., who had fired over my shoulder so instantaneously with me that I was not aware of it, had placed his ball within three inches of mine. Had she been missed, I should have fired my last shot.

This had been a glorious hunt; many miles had been gone over, but by great luck, when the wind dropped and the elephant altered her course, she had been making a circuit for the very field of korrakan at which we had first found her. We were thus not more than three miles from our resting-place, and the trackers who know every inch of the country, soon brought us to the main road.

The poonchy and the bull elephant, having both separated from the female, escaped.

One great cause of danger in shooting in thick jungles is the obscurity occasioned by the smoke of the first barrel; this cannot escape from the surrounding bushes for some time, and effectually prevents a certain aim with the remaining barrel. In wet weather this is much increased.

For my own part I dislike shooting in thick jungles, and I very seldom do so. It is extremely dangerous, and is like shooting in the dark; you never see the game until you can almost touch it, and the labour and pain of following up elephants through thorny jungle is beyond description.

On our return to the post-holder's hut we dined and prepared for sleep. It was a calm night, and not a sound disturbed the stillness of the air. The tired coolies and servants were fast asleep, the lamp burnt dimly, being scantily fed with oil, and we were in the act of lying down to rest when a frightful scream made us spring to our feet. There was something so unearthly in the yell that we could hardly believe it human. The next moment a figure bounded into the little room that we occupied. It was a black, stark naked. His tongue, half bitten through, protruded from his mouth; his bloodshot eyes, with a ghastly stare, were straining from their sockets, and he stood gazing at us with his arms extended wide apart. Another horrible scream burst from him, and he fell flat upon his back.

The post-holder and a whole crowd of awakened coolies now assembled, and they all at once declared that the man had a devil. The fact is, he had a fit of epilepsy, and his convulsions were terrible. Without moving a limb he flapped here and there like a salmon when just landed. I had nothing with me that would relieve him, and I therefore left him to the hands of the post-holder, who prided himself upon his skill in exorcising devils. All his incantations produced no effect, and the unfortunate patient suddenly sprang to his feet and rushed madly into the thorny jungle. In this we heard him crashing through like a wild beast, and I do not know to this day whether he was ever heard of afterwards.

The Cingalese have a thorough belief in the presence of devils; one sect are actually `devil-WORSHIPPERS,' but the greater portion of the natives are Bhuddists. Among this nation the missionaries make very slow progress. There is no character to work upon in the Cingalese: they are faithless, cunning, treacherous, and abject cowards; superstitious in the extreme, and yet unbelieving in any one God. A converted Bhuddist will address his prayers to our God if he thinks he can obtain any temporal benefit by so doing, but, if not, he would be just as likely to pray to Bhudda or to the devil.

I once saw a sample of heathen conversion in Ceylon that was enough to dishearten a missionary.

A Roman Catholic chapel had been erected in a wild part of the country by some zealous missionary, who prided himself upon the number of his converts. He left his chapel during a few weeks' absence in some other district, during which time his converts paid their devotion to the Christian altar. They had made a few little additions to the ornaments of the altar, which must have astonished the priest on his return.

There was an image of our Saviour and the **Virgin:** that was all according to custom. But there were also 'three images of Bhudda,' a coloured plaster-of-Paris image of the Queen and Prince Albert upon the altar, and a very questionable penny print in vivid colours hanging over the altar, entitled the 'Stolen Kiss.' So much for the conversion of the heathen in Ceylon. The attempt should only be made in the schools, where the children may be brought up as Christians, but the idea of converting the grown-up heathen is a fallacy.

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The Project Gutenberg Etext prepared by Garry Gill (garrygill@hotmail.com)