by Samuel White Baker
The Four-ounce again--Tidings of a Rogue--Approaching a Tank Rogue --An Exciting Moment--Ruins of Pollanarua--Ancient Ruins--Rogues at Doolana--B. Charged by a Rogue--Planning an Attack--A Check--Narrow Escape--Rogue-stalking--A Bad Rogue--Dangers of Elephant-shooting--The Rhatamahatmeya's Tale.
A broken nipple in my long two-ounce rifle took me to Trincomalee, about seventy miles out of my proposed route. Here I had it punched out and replaced with a new one, which I fortunately had with me. No one who has not experienced the loss can imagine the disgust occasioned by an accident to a favourite rifle in a wild country. A spare nipple and mainspring for each barrel and lock should always be taken on a shooting trip.
In passing by Kandelly, on my return from Trincomalee, I paid a second visit to the lake. This is very similar to that of Minneria; but the shooting at that time was destroyed from the same cause which has since ruined Minneria--'too many guns.' The buffaloes were not worthy of the name; I could not make one show fight, nor could I even get within three hundred yards of them. I returned from the plain with disgust; but just as I was quitting the shores of the lake I noticed three buffaloes in the shallows about knee-deep in the water, nearly half a mile from me. They did not look bigger than dogs, the distance was so great.
There is nothing like a sheet of water for trying a rifle; the splash of the ball shows with such distinctness the accuracy or the defect in the shooting. It was necessary that I should fire my guns off in order to clean them that evening: I therefore tried their power at this immense distance.
The long two-ounce fell short, but in a good line. I took a rest upon a man's shoulder with the four-ounce rifle, and, putting up the last sight, I aimed at the leading buffalo, who was walking through the water parallel with us. I aimed at the outline of the throat, to allow for his pace at this great distance. The recoil of the rifle cut the man's ear open, as there were sixteen drachms of powder in this charge.
We watched the smooth surface of the water as the invisible messenger whistled over the lake. Certainly three seconds elapsed before we saw the slightest effect. At the expiration of that time the buffalo fell suddenly in a sitting position, and there he remained fixed, many seconds after, a dull sound returned to our ears; it was the 'fut' of the ball, which had positively struck him at this immense range. What the distance was I cannot say; it may have been 600 yards, or 800, or more. It was shallow water the whole way: we therefore mounted our horses and rode up to him. Upon reaching him, I gave him a settling ball in the head, and we examined him. The heavy ball had passed completely through his hips, crushing both joints, and, of course, rendering him powerless at once.
The shore appeared full half a mile from us on our return, and I could hardly credit my own eyes, the distance was so immense, and yet the ball had passed clean through the animal's body.
It was of course a chance shot, and, even with this acknowledgment, it must appear rather like the 'marvellous' to a stranger;--this is my misfortune, not my fault. I certainly never made such a shot before or since; it was a sheer lucky hit, say at 600 yards; and the wonderful power of the rifle was thus displayed in the ball perforating the large body of the buffalo at this range. This shot was made with a round ball, not a cone. The round belted ball for this heavy two-grooved rifle weighs three ounces. The conical ball weighs a little more than four ounces.
While describing the long shots performed by this particular rifle, I cannot help recounting a curious chance with a large rogue elephant in Topari tank. This tank or lake is, like most others in Ceylon, the result of vast labour in past ages. Valleys were closed in by immense dams of solid masonry, which, checking the course of the rivers, formed lakes of many miles in extent. These were used as reservoirs for the water required for the irrigation of rice lands. The population who effected these extensive works have long since passed away; their fate is involved in mystery. The records of their ancient cities still exist, but we have no account of their destruction. The ruins of one of these cities, Pollanarua, are within half a mile of the village of Topari, and the waters of the adjacent lake are still confined by a dam of two miles in length, composed of solid masonry. When the lake is full, it is about eight miles in circumference.
I had only just arrived at the village, and my horse-keeper had taken the horse to drink at the lake, when he suddenly came running back to say that a rogue elephant was bathing himself on the opposite shore, at about two miles' distance.
I immediately took my guns and went after him. My path lay along the top of the great dam, which formed a causeway covered with jungle. This causeway was about sixty feet in breadth and two miles in length; the lake washed its base about twenty feet below the summit. The opposite shore was a fine plain, bordered by open forest, and the lake spread into the grassy surface in wide and irregular bays.
I continued my course along the causeway at a fast walk, and on arriving at the extremity of the lake, I noticed that the ancient dam continued for a much greater distance. This, together with the great height of the masonry from the level of the water, proved that the dimensions of the tank had formerly been of much greater extent.
Descending by the rugged stones which formed the dam wall I reached the plain, and, keeping close to the water's edge, I rounded a large neck of land covered with trees, which projected for some distance into the lake. I knew, by the position of the elephant, when I first saw him, that he was not far beyond this promontory, and I carefully advanced through the open forest, hoping that I might meet him there on his exit from his bath. In this I was mistaken, for on passing through this little belt of trees I saw the elephant still in the lake, belly-deep, about 300 paces from me. He was full 120 yards from the shore, and I was puzzled how to act. He was an immense brute, being a fine specimen of a tank 'rogue.' This class are generally the worst description of rogue elephants, who seldom move far from the lakes, but infest the shores for many years. Being quite alone, with the exception of two worthless gun-bearers, the plan of attack required some consideration.
The belt of trees in which I stood was the nearest piece of cover to the elephant, the main jungle being about a quarter of a mile from the shore of the lake. In the event of a retreat being necessary, this cover would therefore be my point. There was a large tamarind-tree growing alone upon the plain about a hundred and fifty paces from the water's edge, exactly in a line with the position of the elephant. The mud plastered to a great height upon the stem showed this to be his favourite rubbing-post after bathing.
Having determined upon my plan of attack, I took the guns from the gun-bearers and sent the men up the tree, as I knew they would run away in the event of danger, and would most probably take the guns with them in their flight. Having thus secured the arms, I placed the long two-ounce against a large and conspicuous tree that grew upon the extreme edge of the forest, and I cautiously advanced over the open plain with my two remaining guns, one of which I deposited against the stem of the single tamarind-tree. I had thus two points for a defensive retreat, should it be necessary.
I had experienced considerable difficulty in attaining my position at the tamarind-tree without being observed by the elephant; fortunately, I had both the wind and the sun favourable, the latter shining from my back full into the lake.
The elephant was standing with his back to the shore exactly in a line with me, and he was swinging his great head from side to side, and flapping his ears in the enjoyment of his bath. I left the tree with my four-ounce rile, and, keeping in a direct line for his hind-quarters, I walked towards him. The grass was soft and short; I could therefore approach without the slightest noise: the only danger of being discovered was in the chance that I might be seen as he swung his head continually on either side. This I avoided by altering my course as I saw his head in the act of coming round, and I soon stood on the edge of the lake exactly behind him, at about 120 yards. He was a noble-looking fellow, every inch a rogue, his head almost white with numerous flesh-coloured spots. These give a savage and disgusting appearance to an elephant, and altogether he looked a formidable opponent. I had intended to shout on arriving at my present position, and then to wait for the front shot as he charged; but on looking back to the tamarind-tree and my proposed course for retreat, the distance appeared so great, rendered still more difficult by a gradual ascent, that I felt it would be impossible to escape if my chance lay in running. I hardly knew what to do; I had evidently caught a 'Tartar.'
His head was perpetually swinging to and fro, and I was of course accordingly altering my position to avoid his eye. At one of these half turns he flapped his right ear just as his head came round, and I observed a perfectly white mark, the size of a saucer, behind the ear, in the exact spot for a fatal shot. I at once determined to try it, even at this distance; at all events, if it failed, and he should charge, I had a fair start, and by getting the spare gun from the tamarind-tree I could make a defence at the cover.
His attention was completely absorbed in a luxurious repast upon a bed of the succulent lotus. He tore up bunches of the broad leaves and snaky stalks, and, washing them carefully with his trunk, he crushed the juicy stems, stuffing the tangled mass into his mouth as a savage would eat maccaroni. Round swung his head once more, the ear flapped, the mark was exposed, but the ear again concealed it just as I had raised the rifle. This happened several times, but I waited patiently for a good chance, being prepared for a run the moment after firing.
Once more his head swung towards me: the sun shone full upon him, and I raised the rifle to be ready for him if he gave me the chance. His ear flapped forward just as his head was at a proper angle for a shot. The mark shone brightly along the sights of the rifle as I took a steady aim; the answer to the report of the gun was--a dull splash!
He had sunk upon his knees stone dead. I could hardly believe my eyes. The sight of so large an animal being killed at such a distance by one shot had an extraordinary effect. I heard a heathenish scream of joy behind me, and upon turning round I perceived the now courageous gun-bearers running towards me at their best pace. They were two of the Topari villagers, and had been perfectly aghast at the idea of one person, with only a single-barrelled rifle, attacking a tank rogue in the open plain. The sequel had turned their fear into astonishment. They now had the laugh at me, however, as they swam fearlessly up to the dead elephant to cut off his tail, which I would not have done for any reward, for fear of crocodiles, which abound in the tank. The ball had struck the white mark exactly in the centre, which pleased these natives exceedingly, and they returned in safety with the tail.
I have frequently tried these long shots since, but I never succeeded again except once, and that was not satisfactory, as the elephant did not die upon the spot, but was found by the natives on the following day.
On my return to the village I took a shot-gun and strolled along the banks of the lake. The snipe were innumerable, and I killed them till my head ached with the constant recoil of the gun in addition to the heat. I also killed several couple of ducks and teal in addition to twenty-eight couple of snipe. This was the Paradise for sport at the time of which I write. It had never been disturbed: but it has since shared the fate of many other places.
The open forest in the vicinity of the lake abounded with deer. Grassy glades beneath the shady trees give a park-like appearance to the scene, and afford a delightful resort for the deer.
In strolling through these shady glades you suddenly arrive among the ruins of ancient Pollanarua. The palaces are crumbled into shapeless mounds of bricks. Massive pillars, formed of a single stone, twelve feet high, stand in upright rows throughout the jungle here and there over an extent of some miles. The buildings which they once supported have long since fallen, and the pillars now stand like tombstones over vanished magnificence. Some buildings are still standing; among these are two dagobas, huge monuments of bricks, formerly covered with white cement, and elaborately decorated with different devices. These are shaped like an egg that has been cut nearly in half, and then placed upon its base; but the cement has perished, and they are mounds of jungle and rank grass which has overgrown them, although the large dagoba is upwards of a hundred feet high.
A curious temple, formed on the imperishable principle of excavating in the solid rock, is in perfect preservation, and is still used by the natives as a place of worship: this is presided over by a priest. Three large images of Bhudda, carved out of solid rock, occupy the positions in which he is always represented; that in the recumbent posture is fifty-six feet long, cut from one stone.
I was strolling through these ruins when I suddenly saw a spotted doe feeding among the upright pillars before mentioned. I was within twenty yards of her before she was aware of my vicinity, and I bagged her by a shot with a double-barrelled gun. At the report of the gun a herd of about thirty deer, which were concealed amongst the ruins, rushed close by me, and I bagged another doe with the remaining barrel.
The whole of this country must at one time have been densely populated; perhaps this very density may have produced pestilence, which swept away the inhabitants. The city has been in ruins for about 600 years, and was founded about 300 years B.C. Some idea of the former extent of the Ceylon antiquities may be formed from the present size of the ruins. Those of Anarajapoora are sixteen miles square, comprising a surface of 256 square miles. Those of Pollanarua are much smaller, but they are nevertheless of great extent.
The inhabitants of the present village of Topari are a poor squalid race; and if they are descended in a direct line from the ancient occupants of the city, they are as much degenerated in character and habits as the city itself is ruined in architecture. Few countries can be more thinly populated than Ceylon, and yet we have these numerous proofs of a powerful nation having once existed. Wherever these lakes or tanks exist in the present day, a populous country once flourished. In all countries which are subject to months of drought, a supply of water is the first consideration, or cultivation must cease. This was the object in forming the tanks, which are especially numerous throughout the Tambancadua district. These tank countries afford a great diversity of sport, as they all abound with wild fowl, and snipe in their season (from November to May). During the time of drought they are always the resort of every kind of wild animal, which are forced to the neighbourhood for a supply of water.
The next tank to Topari is that of Doolana; this is eight miles from the former, and is about the same extent. In this district there are no less than eight of these large lakes. Their attractions to rogue elephants having been explained, it may be readily understood that these gentry abound throughout the district. I shall, therefore, select a few incidents that have happened to me in these localities, which will afford excellent illustrations of the habits of `rogues.'
Having arrived at Doolana, on the 5th April, 1847, with good Moormen trackers, who were elephant-catchers by profession, I started for a day's sport, in company with my brother B. This particular portion of the district is inhabited entirely by Moormen. They are a fine race of people, far superior to the Cingalese. They are supposed to be descended from Arabian origin, and they hold the Mohammedan religion. The Rhatamahatmeya, or head man of the district, resides at Doolana, and he had received us in a most hospitable manner. We therefore started direct from his house.
Passing through a belt of low thick jungle, exactly in front of the village, we entered upon the plain which formed the border of the tank. This lake is about three miles in length, but is not more than a mile in width in its widest part, and in some places is very much less. The opposite side of the tank is fine open forest, which grows to the water's edge, and is in some parts flooded during the wet season. At this time the soil was deep and muddy.
This was not a place visited by sportsmen at that period; and upon arriving at the margin of the lake, an exciting view presented itself. Scattered over the extent of the lake were `thirteen rogue elephants;' one was not a quarter of a mile from us; another was so far off he could hardly be distinguished; another was close to the opposite jungle; and they were, in fact, all single elephants. There was an exception to this, however, in one pair, who stood in the very centre of the tank, side by side; they were as black as ebony, and although in view with many brother rogues, they appeared giants even among giants. The Moormen immediately informed us that they were a notorious pair, who always associated together, and were the dread of the neighbourhood. There were many tales of their ferocity and daring, which at the time we gave little heed to.
Crossing the tank in a large canoe, we arrived in the open forest upon the opposite shore. It was a mass of elephant tracks; which sank deep in the soft earth. They were all so fresh and confused that tracking was very difficult. However, we at length fixed upon the tracks of a pair of elephants, and followed them up. This was a work of considerable time, but the distant cracking of a bough at length attracted us to their position, and we shortly came up with them, just as they had winded us and were moving off. I fired an ineffectual shot at the temple of one, which separated him from the other, after whom we started in chase at full speed. Full speed soon ended in a stand-still in such ground; it was deep, stiff clay, in which we sank over our ankles at every step, and varied our struggles by occasionally flying sprawling over the slippery roots of the trees.
The elephants ran clean away from us, and the elephant-catchers, who knew nothing of the rules for carrying spare guns, entering into the excitement of the chase, and free from the impediments of shoes, ran lightly along the muddy ground, and were soon out of sight as well as the elephants. Still we struggled on, when, presently we heard a shout and then a shot; then another shout; then the trumpet of an elephant. Shot after shot then followed with a chorus of shouts; they were actually firing all our spare guns!
In a few moments we were up with them. In a beautifully open piece of forest, upon good hard ground, these fellows were having a regular battle with the rogue. He was charging them with the greatest fury, but he no sooner selected one man for his object than these active fellows diverted his rage by firing into his hind-quarters and yelling at him. At this he would immediately turn and charge another man, when he would again be assailed as before. When we arrived he immediately selected B., and came straight at him, but offered a beautiful shot in doing so, and B. dropped him dead.
The firing had disturbed a herd of elephants from the forest, and they had swum the large river in the neighbourhood, which was at that time so swollen that we could not cross it. We, therefore, struck off to the edge of the forest, where the waters of the lake washed the roots of the trees, and from this point we had a fine view of the greater portion.
All the rogues that we had at first counted had retired to their several entrances in the forest, except the pair of desperadoes already mentioned--they knew no fear, and had not heeded the shots fired. They were tempting baits, and we determined to get them if possible. These two elephants were standing belly-deep in the water, about a quarter of a mile from the shore; and the question was, `How were we to get near them?' Having observed that the other rogues had retreated to the forest at the noise of the firing, it struck me that we might by some ruse induce these two champions to follow their example, and, by meeting them on their entrance, we might bring them to action.
Not far upon our left, a long shallow bank, covered with reeds, stretched into the tank. By wading knee-deep along this shoal, a man might approach to within 200 paces of the elephants and would be nearly abreast of them. I, therefore, gave a man a gun, and instructed him to advance to the extreme end of the shallows, taking care to conceal himself in the rushes, and when at the nearest point he was to fire at the elephants. This, I hoped, would drive them to the jungle, where we should endeavour to meet them.
The Moorman entrusted upon this mission was a plucky fellow, and he started off, taking a double gun and a few charges of powder and ball. The elephant-catchers were delighted with the idea, and we patiently awaited the result. About a quarter of an hour passed away, when we suddenly saw a puff of white smoke spring from the green rushes at the point of the sandbank. A few moments after, we heard the report of the gun, and we saw the ball splash in the water close to the elephants. They immediately cocked their ears, and, throwing their trunks high in the air, they endeavoured to wind the enemy; but they did not move, and they shortly again commenced feeding upon the water-lilies. Another shot from the same place once more disturbed them, and, while they winded the unseen enemy, two more shots in quick succession from the old quarter decided their opinion, and they stalked proudly through the water towards the shore.
Our satisfaction was great, but the delight of the elephant-catchers knew no bounds. Away they, started along the shores of the lake, hopping from root to root, skipping through the mud, which was more than a foot deep, their light forms hardly sinking in the tough surface. A nine-stone man certainly has an advantage over one of twelve in this ground; added to this, I was carrying the long two-ounce rifle of sixteen pounds, which, with ammunition, &c., made up about thirteen and a half stone, in deep stiff clay. I was literally half-way up the calf of my leg in mud at every step, while these light, naked fellows tripped like snipe over the sodden ground. Vainly I called upon them to go easily; their moment of excitement was at its full pitch, and they were soon out of sight among the trees and underwood, taking all the spare guns, except the four-ounce rifle, which, weighing twenty-one pounds, effectually prevented the bearer from leaving us behind,
What added materially to the annoyance of losing the spare guns was the thoughtless character of the advance. I felt sure that these fellows would outrun the position of the elephants, which, if they had continued in a direct route, should have entered the jungle within 300 yards of our first station.
We had slipped, and plunged, and struggled over this distance, when we suddenly were checked in our advance. We had entered a small plot of deep mud and rank grass, surrounded upon all sides by dense rattan jungle. This stuff is one woven mass of hooked thorns: long tendrils, armed in the same manner, although not thicker than a whip-cord, wind themselves round the parent canes and form a jungle which even elephants dislike to enter. To man, these jungles are perfectly impervious.
Half-way to our knees in mud, we stood in this small open space of about thirty feet by twenty. Around us was an opaque screen of impenetrable jungle; the lake lay about fifty yards upon our left, behind the thick rattan. The gun-bearers were gone ahead somewhere, and were far in advance. We were at a stand-still. Leaning upon my long rifle, I stood within four feet of the wall of jungle which divided us from the lake. I said to B., 'The trackers are all wrong, and have gone too far. I am convinced that the elephants must have entered somewhere near this place.'
Little did I think that at that very moment they were within a few feet of us. B. was standing behind me on the opposite side of the small open, or about seven yards from the jungle.
I suddenly heard a deep guttural sound in the thick rattan within four feet of me; in the same instant the whole tangled fabric bent forward, and bursting asunder, showed the furious head of an elephant with uplifted trunk in full charge upon me!
I had barely time to cock my rifle, and the barrel almost touched him as I fired. I knew it was in vain, as his trunk was raised. B. fired his right-hand barrel at the same moment without effect from the same cause. I jumped on one side and attempted to spring through the deep mud: it was of no use, the long grass entangled my feet, and in another instant I lay sprawling in the enraged elephant's path within a foot of him. In that moment of suspense I expected to hear the crack of my own bones as his massive foot would be upon me. It was an atom of time. I heard the crack of a gun; it was B.'s last barrel. I felt a spongy weight strike my heel, and, turning quickly heels over head, I rolled a few paces and regained my feet. That last shot had floored him just as he was upon me; the end of his trunk had fallen upon my heel. Still he was not dead, but he struck at me with his trunk as I passed round his head to give him a finisher with the four-ounce rifle, which I had snatched from our solitary gun-bearer.
My back was touching the jungle from which the rogue had just charged, and I was almost in the act of firing through the temple of the still struggling elephant, when I heard a tremendous crash in the jungle behind me similar to the first, and the savage scream of an elephant. I saw the ponderous foreleg cleave its way through the jungle directly upon me. I threw my whole weight back against the thick rattans to avoid him, and the next moment his foot was planted within an inch of mine. His lofty head was passing over me in full charge at B., who was unloaded, when, holding the four-ounce rifle perpendicularly, I fired exactly under his throat. I thought he would fall and crush me, but this shot was the only chance, as B. was perfectly helpless.
A dense cloud of smoke from the heavy charge of powder for the moment obscured everything. I had jumped out of the way the instant after firing. The elephant did not fall, but he had his death blow the ball had severed his jugular, and the blood poured from the wound. He stopped, but collecting his stunned energies he still blundered forward towards B. He, however, avoided him by running to one side, and the wounded brute staggered on through the jungle. We now loaded the guns; the first rogue was quite dead, and we followed in pursuit of rogue number two. We heard distant shots, and upon arriving at the spot we found the gun-bearers. They had heard the wounded elephant crushing through the jungle, and they had given him a volley just as he was crossing the river over which the herd had escaped in the morning. They described the elephant as perfectly helpless from his wound, and they imagined that he had fallen in the thick bushes on the opposite bank of the river. As I before mentioned, we could not cross the river on account of the torrent, but in a few days it subsided, and the elephant was found lying dead in the spot where they supposed he had fallen.
Thus happily ended the destruction of this notable pair; they had proved themselves all that we had heard of them, and by their cunning dodge of hiding in the thick jungle they had nearly made sure of us. We had killed three rogues that morning, and we returned to our quarters well satisfied.
Since that period I have somewhat thinned the number of rogues in this neighbourhood. I had a careful and almost certain plan of shooting them. Quite alone, with the exception of two faithful gun-bearers, I used to wait at the edge of the jungle at their feeding time, and watch their exit from the forest. The most cautious stalking then generally enabled me to get a fatal shot before my presence was discovered. This is the proper way to succeed with rogue elephants, although of course it is attended with considerable danger. I was once very nearly caught near this spot, where the elephants are always particularly savage. The lake was then much diminished in size by dry weather, and the water had retired for about a hundred yards from the edge of the forest, leaving a deep bed of mud covered with slime and decayed vegetable matter. This slime had hardened in the sun and formed a cake over the soft mud beneath. Upon this treacherous surface a man could walk with great care. Should the thin covering break through, he would be immediately waist-deep in the soft mud. To plod through this was the elephant's delight. Smearing a thick coat of the black mud over their whole bodies, they formed a defensive armour against the attacks of mosquitoes, which are the greatest torments that an elephant has to contend with.
I was watching the edge of the forest one afternoon at about four o'clock, when I noticed the massive form of one of these tank rogues stalk majestically from the jungle and proceed through the deep mud towards the lake. I had the wind, and I commenced stalking him.
Advancing with my two gun-bearers in single file, I crept carefully from tree to tree along the edge of the forest for about a quarter of a mile, until I arrived at the very spot at which he had made his exit from the jungle.
I was now within eighty yards of him as he stood with his head towards the lake and his hind-quarters exactly facing me. His deep tracks in the mud were about five feet apart, so great was his stride and length of limb, and, although the soft bog was at least three and a half feet deep, his belly was full two feet above the surface. He was a fine fellow, and, with intense caution, I advanced towards him over the trembling surface of baked slime. His tracks had nearly filled with water, and looked like little wells. The bog waved as I walked carefully over it, and I stopped once or twice, hesitating whether I should continue; I feared the crusty surface would not support me, as the nearer I approached the water's edge the weaker the coating of slime became, not having been exposed for so long a time to the sun as that at a greater distance.
He was making so much noise in splashing the mud over his body that I had a fine chance for getting up to him. I could not withstand the temptation, and I crept up as fast as I could.
I got within eight paces of him unperceived; the mud that he threw over his back spattered round me as it fell. I was carrying a light double-barrelled gun, but I now reached back my hand to exchange it for my four-ounce rifle. Little did I expect the sudden effect produced by the additional weight of the heavy weapon. The treacherous surface suddenly gave way, and in an instant I was waist deep in mud. The noise that I had made in falling had at once aroused the elephant, and, true to his character of a rogue, he immediately advanced with a shrill trumpet towards me. His ears were cocked, and his tail was well up; but instead of charging, as rogues generally do, with his head thrown rather back and held high, which renders a front shot very uncertain, he rather lowered his head, and splashed towards me through the mud, apparently despising my diminutive appearance.
I thought it was all up with me this time; I was immovable in my bed of mud, and, instead of the clean brown barrel that I could usually trust to in an extremity, I raised a mass of mud to my shoulder, which encased my rifle like a flannel bag. I fully expected it to miss fire; no sights were visible, and I had to guess the aim with the advancing elephant within five yards of me. Hopelessly I pulled the slippery trigger. The rifle did not even hang fire, and the rogue fell into the deep bed of mud stone dead. If the rifle had missed fire I must have been killed, as escape would have been impossible. It was with great difficulty that I was extricated from my muddy position by the joint exertions of myself and gun-bearers.
Elephants, buffaloes, and hogs are equally fond of wallowing in the mud. A buffalo will gallop through a swamp, hock deep, in which a horse would be utterly powerless, even without a rider. Elephants can also make wonderful progress through deep mud, the formation of the hind legs with knees instead of hocks giving them an increased facility for moving through heavy ground.
The great risk in attacking rogue elephants consists in the impracticability of quick movements upon such ground as they generally frequent. The speed and activity of a man, although considerable upon a smooth surface, is as nothing upon rough, stumpy grass wilds, where even walking is laborious. What is comparatively level to an elephant's foot is as a ploughed field to that of a man. This renders escape from pursuit next to impossible, unless some welcome tree should be near, round which the hunter could dodge, and even then he stands but a poor chance, unless assistance is at hand. I have never seen anyone who could run at full speed in rough ground without falling, if pursued. Large stones, tufts of rank grass, holes, fallen boughs, gullies, are all impediments to rapid locomotion when the pursued is forced to be constantly looking back to watch the progress of his foe, and to be the judge of his own race.
There is a great art in running away. It requires the perfection of coolness and presence of mind, without which a man is most likely to run into the very danger that he is trying to avoid. This was the cause of Major Haddock's death in Ceylon some years ago. He had attacked a 'rogue,' and, being immediately charged, he failed to stop him, although he gave him both barrels. Being forced to run, he went off at full speed, and turning quickly round a tree, he hoped the elephant would pass him. Unfortunately, he did not look behind him before he turned, and the elephant passed round the opposite side of the tree, and, of course, met him face to face. He was instantly trampled to death.
Mr. Wallet was also killed by a rogue elephant; this animal was shot a few days afterwards, in a spirited contest, by Captain Galway and Ensign Scroggs, both of whom were very nearly caught in the encounter. A gentleman of the name of Keane was added to the list of victims a few years ago. He had fired without effect, and was almost immediately over- taken by the elephant and crushed to death. The most extraordinary tale that I have ever heard of rogue elephants in Ceylon was told me by the Rhatamahatmeya of Doolana, who was present at the scene when a lad. I do not profess to credit it entirely; but I will give it in his own words, and, to avoid the onus of an improbable story, I will entitle it the 'Rhatamahatmeya's Tale.' In justice to him, I must acknowledge that his account was corroborated by all the old men of the village.
THE RHATAMAHATMEYA'S TALE.
'There was a notorious rogue elephant at Doolana about thirty years ago, whose ferocity was so extreme that he took complete possession of a certain part of the country adjoining the lake. He had killed eight or nine persons, and his whole object in existence appeared to be the waylaying and destruction of the natives. He was of enormous size, and was well known by a peculiar flesh-coloured forehead.
`In those days there were no fire-arms in this part of the country; therefore there was no protection for either life or property from this monster, who would invade the paddy-fields at night, and actually pull down the watch-houses, regardless of the blazing fires which are lighted on the hearth of sand on the summit; these he used to scatter about and extinguish. He had killed several natives in this manner, involving them in the common ruin with their watch-houses. The terror created by this elephant was so extreme that the natives deserted the neighbourhood that he infested.
`At length many months passed away without his being either seen or heard of; the people began to hope that he had died from the effect of poisoned arrows, which had frequently been shot at him from the watch-houses in high trees; and, by degrees, the terror of his name had lost its power, and he ceased to be thought of.
`It was in the cool of the evening, about an hour before sunset, that about twenty of the women from the village were upon the grassy borders of the lake, engaged in sorting and tying into bundles the rushes which they had been gathering during the day for making mats. They were on the point of starting homeward with their loads, when the sudden trumpet of an elephant was heard, and to their horror they saw the well-known rogue, with the unmistakable mark upon his forehead, coming down in full charge upon them. The ground was perfectly open; there were no trees for some hundred yards, except the jungle from which he was advancing at a frightful speed. An indiscriminate flight of course took place, and a race of terror commenced. In a few seconds the monster was among them, and, seizing a young girl in his trunk, he held her high in the air, and halted, as though uncertain how to dispose of his helpless victim. The girl, meanwhile, was vainly shrieking for assistance, and the petrified troop of women, having gained the shelter of some jungle, gazed panic-stricken upon the impending fate of their companion.
`To their horror the elephant slowly lowered her in his trunk till near the ground, when he gradually again raised her, and, bringing her head into his mouth, a report was heard like the crack of a whip--it was the sudden crushing of her skull. Tearing the head off by the neck, he devoured it; and, placing his forefoot upon the body, he tore the arms and legs from their sockets with his trunk, and devoured every portion of her.
`The women rushed to the village with the news of this unnatural carnage.
`Doolana and the neighbourhood has always been famous for its elephant-hunters, and the husband of this unfortunate girl was one of the most active in their pursuit. The animals are caught in this country and sold to the Arabs, for the use of the Indian Government.
`The news of this bloody deed flew from village to village; war to the knife was declared against the perpetrator, and preparations were accordingly made.
`Since the murder of this girl he had taken up his abode in a small isolated jungle adjoining, surrounded by a small open plain of fine soft grass, upon a level sandy soil.
`A few days after this act, a hundred men assembled at Doolana, determined upon his destruction. They were all picked elephant-hunters--Moormen; active and sinewy fellows, accustomed to danger from their childhood. Some were armed with axes, sharpened to the keenest edge, some with long spears, and others with regular elephant ropes, formed of the thongs of raw deer's hide, beautifully twisted. Each division of men had a separate duty allotted.
`They marched towards the small jungle in which the rogue was known to be; but he anticipated their wishes, and before they were within a hundred paces of his lair, he charged furiously out. The conflict began in good earnest. The spearmen were in advance, and the axemen were divided into two parties, one on either flank, with an equal number of ropemen. The instant that he charged the whole body of men ran forward at full speed to meet him; still he continued his furious onset, undismayed by the yells of a hundred men. The spearmen halted when within twenty yards, then turned and fled; this had been agreed upon beforehand. The elephant passed the two flanks of axemen in pursuit of the flying enemy; the axemen immediately closed in behind him, led by the husband of the murdered girl. By a well-directed blow upon the hind leg, full of revenge, this active fellow divided the sinew in the first joint above the foot.* (*Since this was written I have seen the African elephant disabled by one blow of a sharp sword as described in the "Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia.") That instant the elephant fell upon his knees, but recovered himself directly, and endeavoured to turn upon his pursuers; a dozen axes flashed in the sunbeams, as the strokes were aimed at the other hind leg. It was the work of an instant: the massive limb bent powerless under him, and he fell in a sitting posture, utterly helpless, but roaring with mad and impotent fury. The ropemen now threw nooses over his trunk and head; his struggles, although tremendous, were in vain; fifty men, hanging their weight upon several ropes attached to his trunk, rendered that dreaded weapon powerless. The sharp lances were repeatedly driven into his side, and several of the boldest hunters climbing up the steep ascent of his back, an axe was seen to fall swiftly and repeatedly upon his spine, on the nape of his tough neck. The giant form suddenly sank; the spine was divided, and the avenging blow was dealt by the husband of his late victim. The destroyer was no more. The victory was gained without the loss of a man.'
The natives said that this elephant was mad; if so it may account in some measure for the unheard-of occurrence of an elephant devouring flesh. Both elephants and buffaloes attack man from malice alone, without the slightest idea of making a meal of him. This portion of the headman's story I cannot possibly believe, although he swears to it. The elephant may, perhaps, have cracked her head and torn his victim to pieces in the manner described, but the actual 'eating' is incredible.