by Samuel White Baker
Character of the Veddahs--Description of the Veddahs--A Monampitya Rogue--Attacking the Rogue--Breathless Excitement--Death of a Large Rogue--Utility of the Four-ounce--A Curious Shot--Fury of a Bull Buffalo--Character of the Wild Buffalo--Buffalo-shooting at Minneria Lake--Charge in High Reeds--Close of a Good Day's Sport--Last Day at Minneria--A Large Snake--An Unpleasant Bedfellow.
Doolana is upon the very verge of the most northern point of the Veddah country, the whole of which wild district is the finest part of Ceylon for sport. Even to this day few Europeans have hunted these secluded wilds. The wandering Veddah, with his bow and arrows, is occasionally seen roaming through his wilderness in search of deer, but the report of a native's gun is never heard; the game is therefore comparatively undisturbed. I have visited every portion of this fine sporting country, and since I have acquired the thorough knowledge of its attractions, I have made up my mind never to shoot anywhere but there. The country is more open than in most parts of Ceylon, and the perfect wildness of the whole district is an additional charm.
The dimensions of the Veddah country are about eighty miles from north to south, by forty in width. A fine mountain, known as the 'Gunner's Coin,' is an unmistakable landmark upon the northern boundary. From this point a person may ride for forty miles without seeing a sign of a habitation; the whole country is perfectly uncivilised, and its scanty occupants, the 'Veddahs,' wander about like animals, without either home, laws, or religion.
I have frequently read absurd descriptions of their manners and customs, which must evidently have been gathered from hearsay, and not from a knowledge of the people. It is a commonly believed report that the Veddahs 'live in the trees,' and a stranger immediately confuses them with rooks and monkeys. Whoever first saw Veddah huts in the trees would have discovered, upon enquiry, that they were temporary watch-houses, from which they guard a little plot of korrakan from the attacks of elephants and other wild beasts. Far from LIVING in the trees, they live nowhere; they wander over the face of their beautiful country, and migrate to different parts at different seasons, with the game which they are always pursuing. The seasons in Ceylon vary in an extraordinary manner, considering the small size of the island. The wet season in one district is the dry season in another, and vice versa. Wherever the dry weather prevails, the pasturage is dried up; the brooks and pools are mere sandy gullies and pits. The Veddah watches at some solitary hole which still contains a little water, and to this the deer and every species of Ceylon game resort. Here his broad-headed arrow finds a supply. He dries the meat in long strips in the sun, and cleaning out some hollow tree, he packs away his savoury mass of sun-cooked flesh, and fills up the reservoir with wild honey; he then stops up the aperture with clay.
The last drop of water evaporates, the deer leave the country and migrate into other parts where mountains attract the rain and the pasturage is abundant. The Veddah burns the parched grass wherever he passes, and the country is soon a blackened surface--not a blade of pasture remains; but the act of burning ensures a sweet supply shortly after the rains commence, to which the game and the Veddahs will then return. In the meantime he follows the game to other districts, living in caves where they happen to abound, or making a temporary but with grass and sticks.
Every deer-path, every rock, every peculiar feature in the country, every pool of water, is known to these hunting Veddahs; they are consequently the best assistants in the world in elephant-hunting. They will run at top speed over hard ground upon an elephant's track which is barely discernible even to the practised eye of a white man. Fortunately, the number of these people is very trifling or the game would be scarce.
They hunt like the leopard; noiselessly stalking till within ten paces of their game, they let the broad arrow fly. At this distance who could miss? Should the game be simply wounded, it is quite enough; they never lose him, but hunt him up, like hounds upon a blood track.
Nevertheless, they are very bad shots with the bow and arrow, and they never can improve while they restrict their practice to such short ranges.
I have often tried them at a mark at sixty yards, and, although a very bad hand with a bow myself, I have invariably beaten them with their own weapons. These bows are six feet long, made of a light supple wood, and the strings are made of the fibrous bark of a tree greased and twisted. The arrows are three feet long, formed of the same wood as the bows. The blades are themselves seven inches of this length, and are flat, like the blade of a dinner-knife brought to a point. Three short feathers from the peacock's wing are roughly lashed to the other end of the arrow.
The Veddah in person is extremely ugly; short, but sinewy, his long uncombed locks fall to his waist, looking more like a horse's tail than human hair. He despises money, but is thankful for a knife, a hatchet, or a gaudy-coloured cloth, or brass pot for cooking.
The women are horribly ugly and are almost entirely naked. They have no matrimonial regulations, and the children are squalid and miserable. Still these people are perfectly happy, and would prefer their present wandering life to the most luxurious restraint. Speaking a language of their own, with habits akin to those of wild animals, they keep entirely apart from the Cingalese. They barter deer-horns and bees'-wax with the travelling Moormen pedlers in exchange for their trifling requirements. If they have food, they eat it; if they have none, they go without until by some chance they procure it. In the meantime they chew the bark of various trees, and search for berries, while they wend their way for many miles to some remembered store of deer's flesh and honey, laid by in a hollow tree.
The first time that I ever saw a Veddah was in the north of the country. A rogue elephant was bathing in a little pool of deep mud and water near the tank of Monampitya, about six miles from the 'Gunner's Coin.' This Veddah had killed a wild pig, and was smoking the flesh within a few yards of the spot, when he suddenly heard the elephant splashing in the water. My tent was pitched within a mile of the place, and he accordingly brought me the intelligence.
Upon arrival at the pool I found the elephant so deep in the mud that he could barely move. His hind-quarters were towards me; and the pool not being more than thirty yards in diameter, and surrounded by impenetrable rattan jungle on all sides but one small opening, in which I stood, I was obliged to clap my hands to attract his attention. This had the desired effect; he turned slowly round, and I shot him immediately. This was one of the Monampitya tank rogues, but in his muddy position he had no chance.
The largest elephant that I have ever seen was in this neighbourhood. I had arrived one afternoon at about five o'clock in a fine plain, about twelve miles from Monampitya, where the presence of a beautiful lake and high grass promised an abundance of game. It was a most secluded spot, and my tent and coolies being well up with my horse, I fixed upon a shady nook for the tent, and I strolled out to look for the tracks while it was being pitched.
A long promontory stretched some hundred yards into the lake, exactly opposite the spot I had fixed upon for the encampment, and, knowing that elephants when bathing generally land upon the nearest shore, I walked out towards the point of this projecting neck of land.
The weather was very dry, and the ground was a mass of little pitfalls, about two feet deep, which had been made by the feet of the elephants in the wet weather, when this spot was soft mud and evidently the favourite resort of the heavy game. The ground was now baked by the sun as hard as though it were frozen, and the numerous deep ruts made walking very difficult. Several large trees and a few bushes grew upon the surface, but for the most part it was covered by a short though luxuriant grass. One large tree grew within fifty yards of the extreme point of the promontory, and another of the same kind grew at an equal distance from it, but nearer to the main land. Upon both these trees was a coat of thick mud not many hours old. The bark was rubbed completely away, and this appeared to have been used for years as a favourite rubbing-post by some immense elephant. The mud reached full twelve feet up the trunk of the tree, and there were old marks far above this which had been scored by his tusks. There was no doubt that one of these tank rogues of extraordinary size had frequented this spot for years, and still continued to do so, the mud upon the tree being still soft, as though it had been left there that morning. I already coveted him, and having my telescope with me, I took a minute survey of the opposite shore, which was about half a mile distant and was lined with fine open forest to the water's edge. Nothing was visible. I examined the other side of the lake with the same want of success. Although it was such a quiet spot, with beautiful grass and water, there was not a single head of game to be seen. Again I scrutinised the opposite shore. The glass was no sooner raised to my eye than I started at the unexpected apparition. There was no mistaking him; he had appeared as
though by magic--an elephant of the most extraordinary size that I have ever seen. He was not still for an instant, but was stalking quickly up and down the edge of the lake as though in great agitation. This restlessness is one of the chief characteristics of a bad rogue. I watched him for a few minutes, until he at length took to the water, and after blowing several streams over his shoulders, he advanced to the middle of the tank, where he commenced feeding upon the lotus leaves and sedges.
It was a calm afternoon, and not a breath of air was stirring; and fearing lest the noise of the coolies, who were arranging the encampment, should disturb him, I hastened back. I soon restored quiet, and ordering the horses to be led into the jungle lest he should discover them, I made the people conceal themselves; and taking my two Moormen gun-bearers, who were trusty fellows that I had frequently shot with, I crept cautiously back to my former position, and took my station behind the large tree farthest from the point which commanded the favourite rubbing-post and within fifty yards of it. From this place I attentively watched his movements. He was wandering about in the water, alternately feeding and bathing, and there was a peculiar devilry in his movements that marked him as a rogue of the first class. He at length made up his mind to cross the tank, and he advanced at quick strides through the water straight for the point upon which I hoped to meet him.
This was an exciting moment. I had no companion, but depended upon my own gun, and the rutty nature of the ground precluded any quick movements. The watching of the game is the intense excitement of elephant-shooting--a feeling which only lasts until the animal is within shot, when it suddenly vanishes and gives place to perfect calmness. At this time I could distinctly hear the beating of my own heart, and my two gun-bearers, who did not know what fear was, were literally trembling with excitement.
He was certainly a king of beasts, and proudly he advanced towards the point. Suddenly he disappeared; nothing could be seen but his trunk above the water as he waded through the deep channel for a few yards, and then reared his majestic form dripping from the lake. He stood upon the `point.' I never saw so grand an animal; it seemed as though no single ball could kill him, and although his head and carcass were enormous, still his length of leg appeared disproportionately great. With quick, springy paces he advanced directly for his favourite tree and began his process of rubbing, perfectly unaware of the hidden foes so near him.
Having finished his rubbing, he tore up several bunches of grass, but without eating them he threw them pettishly over his back, and tossed some from side to side. I was in momentary dread lest a horse should neigh and disturb him, as they were within 200 paces of where he stood. Everything was, however, quiet in that direction, where the hiding coolies were watching the impending event with breathless interest.
Having amused himself for some moments by kicking up the turf and dirt and throwing the sand over his back, he took it into his head to visit the main shore, and for this purpose he strode quickly in the direction of the encampment. I moved round the tree to secrete myself as he advanced. He was soon exactly at right angles with me as he was passing the tree, when he suddenly stopped: his whole demeanour changed in an instant; his ears cocked, his eyes gleamed, his tail on end and his trunk raised high in the air, he turned the distended tip towards the tree from behind which I was watching him. He was perfectly motionless and silent in this attitude for some moments. He was thirty yards from me, as I supposed at the time, and I reserved my fire, having the four-ounce rifle ready. Suddenly, with his trunk still raised, his long legs swung forward towards me. There was no time to lose; I was discovered, and a front shot would be useless with his trunk in that position. Just as his head was in the act of turning towards me I took a steady shot at his temple. He sank gently upon his knees, and never afterwards moved a muscle! His eyes were open, and so bright that I pushed my finger in them to assure myself that life was perfectly extinct. He was exactly thirty-two paces from the rifle, and the ball had passed in at one temple and out at the other. His height may be imagined from this rough method of measuring. A gun-bearer climbed upon his back as the elephant lay upon all-fours, and holding a long stick across his spine at right angles, I could just touch it with the points of my fingers by reaching to my utmost height. Thus, as he lay, his back was seven feet two inches, perpendicular height, from the ground. This would make his height when erect about twelve feet on the spine-an enormous height for an elephant, as twelve feet on the top of the back is about equal to eleven feet six inches at the shoulder. If I had not fortunately killed this elephant at the first shot, I should have had enough to do to take care of myself, as he was one of the most vicious-looking brutes that I ever saw, and he was in the very act of charging when I shot him.
With these elephants the four-ounce rifle is an invaluable weapon; even if the animal is not struck in the mortal spot, the force of the blow upon the head is so great that it will generally bring him upon his knees, or at least stop him. It has failed once or twice in this, but not often; and upon those occasions I had loaded with the conical ball. This, although it will penetrate much farther through a thick substance than a round ball, is not so effective in elephant-shooting as the latter. The reason is plain enough. No shot in the head will kill an elephant dead unless it passes through the brain; an ounce ball will effect this as well as a six-pound shot; but there are many cases where the brain cannot be touched, by a peculiar method of carrying the head and trunk in charging, etc.; a power is then required that by the concussion will knock him down, or turn him; this power is greater in the round ball than in the conical, as a larger surface is suddenly struck. The effect is similar to a man being run through the arm with a rapier or thrust at with a poker--the rapier will pass through him almost without his knowledge, but the poker will knock him down. Thus the pointed conical ball will, perhaps, pass through an elephant's forehead and penetrate as far as his shoulders, but it will produce no immediate effect. For buffalo-shooting the conical ball is preferable, as with the heavy charge of powder that I use it will pass completely through him from end to end. A four-ounce ball, raking an animal from stem to stern, must settle him at once. This is a desirable thing to accomplish with wild buffaloes, as they may, frequently prove awkward customers, even after receiving several mortal wounds from light guns.
The four-ounce conical ball should be an excellent weapon for African shooting, where the usual shot at an elephant is at the shoulder. This shot would never answer in Ceylon; the country is not sufficiently open to watch the effects produced upon the animal, and although he may have a mortal wound, he carries it away with him and is not bagged. I have frequently tried this shot; and, although I have seen the elephants go away with ears and trunk drooping, still I have never bagged more than one by any but the head shot. This fellow was a small `tusker,' who formed one of a herd in thick thorny jungle. There were several rocks in this low jungle which overtopped the highest bushes; and having taken my station upon one of these, I got a downward shot between the shoulders at the tusker, and dropped him immediately as the herd passed beneath. The jungle was so thick that I could not see his head, or, of course, I should have chosen the usual shot. This shot was not a fair criterion for the shoulder, as I happened to be in a position that enabled me to fire down upon him, and the ball most likely passed completely through him.
I remember a curious and unexpected shot that I once made with the four-ounce rifle, which illustrates its immense power. I was shooting at Minneria, and was returning to the tent in the afternoon, having had a great day's sport with buffaloes, when I saw a large herd in the distance, ranged up together, and gazing intently at some object near them. Being on horseback I rode up to them, carrying my heavy rifle; and, upon a near approach I discovered two large bulls fighting furiously. This combat was exciting the attention of the herd, who retreated upon my approach. The two bulls were so engaged in their duel that they did not notice me until I was within fifty yards of them. First one, then the other, was borne to the ground, when presently their horns became locked together, as though arm in arm. The more they tugged to separate themselves, the tighter they held together, and at length they ranged side by side, Taking a shot at the shoulder of the nearest bull, they both fell suddenly to the ground. The fall unlocked their horns, and one bull recovering his legs, retreated at a slow pace and dead lame. The nearest bull was killed, and mounting my horse I galloped after the wounded buffalo. The chase did not last long. Upon arriving within fifty yards of his flank, I noticed the blood streaming from his mouth, and he presently rolled over and died. The ball, having passed through his antagonist, had entered his shoulder, and, smashing the shoulder-blade, had passed through the body, lodging in the tough hide upon his opposite side, from which I extracted it by simply cutting the skin which covered it.
I have frequently seen the bull buffaloes fight each other with great fury. Upon these occasions they are generally the most dangerous, all their natural ferocity being increased by the heat of the combat. I was once in pursuit of an elephant which led me across the plain at Minneria, when I suddenly observed a large bull buffalo making towards me, as though to cut me off in the very direction in which I was advancing. Upon his near approach I noticed numerous bloody cuts and scratches upon his neck and shoulders, which were evidently only just made by the horns of some bull with whom he had been fighting. Not wishing to fire, lest I should alarm the elephant, I endeavoured to avoid him, but this was no easy task. He advanced to within fifty paces of me, and, ploughing up the ground with his horns, and roaring, he seemed determined to make an attack. However, I managed to pass him at length, being determined to pay him off on my return, if he were still in the same spot.
On arriving near the position of the elephant, I saw at once that it was impossible to get him: he was standing in a deep morass of great extent, backed by thick jungles, and I could not approach nearer than 150 paces. After trying several ruses to induce him to quit his mud-bath and come on, I found it was of no use; he was not disposed to be a fighter, as he saw my strong position upon some open rising ground among some large trees. I therefore took a rest upon the branch of a tree, and gave him a shot from the four-ounce rifle through the shoulder. This sent him to the thick jungle with ears and trunk drooping, but produced no other effect. I therefore returned towards the tent, fully expecting to meet my old enemy, the bull, whom I had left master of the field. In this I was not disappointed; he was standing within a few yards of the same spot, and, upon seeing me, he immediately advanced, having a very poor opinion of an enemy who had retreated from him an hour previous.
Instead of charging at a rapid pace he trotted slowly up, and I gave him the four-ounce when within fifty yards. This knocked him over; but, to my astonishment, he recovered himself instantly and galloped towards me. Again he stopped within twenty yards of me, and it was fortunate for me that he did; for a servant who was carrying my long two-ounce rifle had, in his excitement, cocked it and actually set the hair-trigger. This he managed to touch as he handed it to me, and it exploded close to my head. I had only a light double-gun loaded, and the buffalo was evidently prepared to charge in a few seconds.
To my great satisfaction I saw the bloody foam gathering upon his lips, and I knew that he was struck through the lungs; but, nevertheless, the distance was so short between us that he could reach me in two or three bounds. Keeping my Moorman with the light gun close to me in readiness, I began to load my two big rifles. In the mean time the bull was advancing step by step with an expression of determined malice, and my Cingalese servant, in an abject state of fright, was imploring me to run--simply as an excuse for his own flight. `Buffalo's coming, sar! Master, run plenty, quick! Buffalo's coming, sar! Master, get big tree!' I could not turn to silence the fellow, but I caught him a fine backward kick upon the shins with my heel, which stopped him, and in a few seconds I was loaded and the four-ounce was in my hand. The bull, at this time, was not fifteen yards from me; but, just as I was going to fire, I saw him reel to one side; and in another moment he rolled upon his back, a dead buffalo, although I had not fired after my first shot. The ball, having entered his chest, was sticking in the skin of his haunch, having passed through his lungs. His wonderful pluck had kept him upon his legs until life was extinct.
I am almost tired of recounting so many instances of the courage of these beasts. When I look back to those scenes, so many ghosts of victims rise up before me that, were I to relate one-half their histories, it would fill a volume. The object in describing these encounters is to show the style of animal that the buffalo is in his natural state. I could relate a hundred instances where they have died like curs, and have afforded no more sport than tame cows; but I merely enumerate those scenes worth relating that I have witnessed. This will show that the character of a wild buffalo can never be depended upon; and if the pursuit is followed up as a sport by itself, the nature of the animal cannot be judged by the individual behaviour of any particular beast. Some will fight and some will fly, and no one can tell which will take place; it is at the option of the beast. Caution and good shooting, combined with heavy rifles, are necessary. Without heavy metal the sport would be superlatively dangerous if regularly followed up. Many persons kill a wild buffalo every now and then; but I have never met with a single sportsman in Ceylon who has devoted himself to the pursuit as a separate sport. Unless this is done the real character of buffaloes in general must remain unknown. It may, however, be considered as a rule with few exceptions that the buffaloes seldom commence the attack unless pursued. Their instinct at once tells them whether the man advancing towards them over the plain comes as an enemy. They may then attack; but if unmolested they will generally retreat, and, like all men of true courage, they will never seek a quarrel, and never give in when it is forced upon them. Many descriptions of my encounters with these animals may appear to militate against this theory, but they are the exceptions that I have met with; the fierce look of defiance and the quick tossing of the head may appear to portend a charge, but the animals are generally satisfied with this demonstration, and retreat.
Attack the single bulls and follow them up, and they will soon show their real character. Heavy rifles then make a good sport of what would otherwise be a chance of ten to one against the man. It must be remembered that the attack is generally upon an extensive plain, without a single sheltering tree; escape by speed is therefore impossible, and even a horse must be a good one or a buffalo will catch him.
Without wading through the many scenes of carnage that I have witnessed in this branch of sport, I will sum up the account of buffalo-shooting by a decription of one day's work at Minneria.
The tent was pitched in a secluded spot beneath some shady trees, through which no ray of sun could penetrate; the open forest surrounded it on all sides, but through the vistas of dark stems the beautiful green plain and glassy lake could be seen stretching into an undefined distance. The blue hills, apparently springing from the bosom of the lake, lined the horizon, and the shadowy forms of the Kandian mountains mingled indistinctly with the distant clouds. From this spot, with a good telescope, I could watch the greater part of the plain, which was at this time enlivened by the numerous herds of wild buffaloes scattered over the surface. A large bull was standing alone about half a mile from the tent, and I thought him a fine beast to begin with.
I started with two well-known and trusty gun-bearers. This bull apparently did not wish to fight, and when at nearly 400 yards' distance he turned and galloped off. I put up all the sights of the long two- ounce rifle, and for an instant he dropped to the shot at this distance, but recovering immediately he turned round, and, although upon only three legs, he charged towards me. At this distance I should have had ample time to reload before he could have come near me, so I took a quiet shot at him. with my four-ounce rifle. A second passed, and he pitched upon his head and lay upon the ground, struggling in vain to rise. This was an immensely long shot to produce so immediate an effect so reloading quickly I stepped the distance. I measured 352 paces, and I then stood within ten yards of him, as he still lay upon the ground, endeavouring vainly to rush at me. A ball in his head settled him. The first shot had broken his hind leg--and the shot with the big rifle had hit him on the nose, and, tearing away the upper jaw, it had passed along his neck and escaped from behind his shoulder. This was a great chance to hit him so exactly at such a range. His skull is now in England, exhibiting the terrific effect of the heavy ball.
I had made up my mind for a long day's work, and I therefore mounted my horse and rode over the plain. The buffaloes were very wild, as I had been shooting here for some days, and there were no less than forty-two carcasses scattered about the plain in different directions. I fired several ineffectual shots at immense ranges; at length I even fired at random into a large herd, which seemed determined to take to the jungle. After they had galloped for a quarter of a mile, a cow dropped to the rear and presently fell. Upon riding up to her I found her in the last gasp; the random shot had struck her behind the shoulder, and I finished her by a ball in the head. One of the bulls from this herd had separated from the troop, and had taken to the lake; he had waded out for about 400 yards, and was standing shoulder-deep. This was a fine target; a black spot upon the bright surface of the lake, although there was not more than eighteen inches of his body above the water. I rode to the very edge of the lake, and then dismounting I took a rest upon my saddle. My horse, being well accustomed to this work, stood like a statue, but the ball dapped in the water just beyond the mark. The buffalo did not move an inch until the third shot. This hit him, and he swam still farther off; but he soon got his footing, and again gave a fair mark as before. I missed him again, having fired a little over him. The fifth shot brought luck and sank him. I do not know where he was hit, as of course I could not get to him; but most likely it was in the spine, as so small a portion of his body was above water.
I passed nearly the whole day in practising at long ranges; but with no very satisfactory effect; several buffaloes badly wounded had reached the jungle, and my shoulder was so sore from the recoil of the heavy rifle during several days' shooting with the large charge of powder, that I was obliged to reduce the charge to six drachms and give up the long shots.
It was late in the afternoon, and the heat of the day had been intense. I was very hungry, not having breakfasted, and I made up my mind to return to the tent, which was now some eight miles distant. I was riding over the plain on my way home, when I saw a fine bull spring from a swampy hollow and gallop off. Putting spurs to my horse, I was soon after him, carrying the four-ounce rifle; and, upon seeing himself pursued, he took shelter in a low but dry hollow, which was a mass of lofty bulrush and coarse tangled grass, rising about ten feet high in an impervious mass. This had been a pool in the wet weather, but was now dried up, and was nothing but a bed of sedges and high rushes. I could see nothing of the bull, although I knew he was in it. The hollow was in the centre of a wide plain, so I knew that the buffalo could not have passed out without my seeing him, and my gun-bearers having come up, I made them pelt the rushes with dried clods of earth. It was of no use: he would not break cover; so I determined to ride in and hunt him up. The grass was so thick and entangled with the rushes that my horse could with difficulty force his way through it; and when within the dense mass of vegetation it towered high above my head, and was so thick that I could not see a yard to my right or left. I beat about to no purpose for about twenty minutes, and I was on the point of giving it up, when I suddenly saw the tall reeds bow down just before me. I heard the rush of an animal as he burst through, and I just saw the broad black nose, quickly followed by the head and horns, as the buffalo charged into me. The horse reared to his full height as the horns almost touched his chest, and I fired as well as I was able. In another instant I was rolling on the ground, with my horse upon me, in a cloud of smoke and confusion.
In a most unsportsmanlike manner (as persons may exclaim who were not there) I hid behind my horse, as he regained his legs. All was still--the snorting of the frightened horse was all that I could hear. I expected to have seen the infuriated buffalo among us. I peeped over the horse's back, and, to my delight and surprise, I saw the carcass of the bull lying within three feet of him. His head was pierced by the ball exactly between the horns, and death had been instantaneous. The horse, having reared to his full height, had entangled his hind legs in the grass, and he had fallen backwards without being touched by the buffalo, although the horns were close into him.
I was rather pleased at being so well out of this scrape, and I made up my mind never again to follow buffaloes into high grass. Turning towards the position of the tent, I rode homewards. The plain appeared deserted, and I rode for three or four miles along the shores of the lake without seeing a head of game. At length, when within about three miles of the encampment, I saw a small herd of five buffaloes and three half-grown calves standing upon a narrow point of muddy ground which projected for some distance into the lake.
I immediately rode towards them, and upon approaching to within sixty yards, I found they consisted of three cows, two bulls, and three calves. I had advanced towards them upon the neck of land upon which they stood; there was, therefore, no retreat for them unless they took to the water. They perceived this themselves, but they preferred the bolder plan of charging through all opposition and then reaching the main land. After a few preliminary grunts and tosses of the head, one of the bulls charged straight at me at full gallop; he was not followed by his companions, who were still irresolute; and, when within forty yards, he sprang high in the air, and pitching upon his horns, he floundered upon his back as the rifle-ball passed through his neck and broke his spine. I immediately commenced reloading, but the ball was only half-way down the barrel when the remaining bull, undismayed by the fate of his companion, rushed on at full speed. Snatching the long two-ounce rifle from a gun-bearer, I made a lucky shot. The ball must have passed through his heart, as he fell stone dead.
The three cows remained passive spectators of the death of their mates, although I was convinced by their expression that they would eventually show fight. I was soon reloaded, and not wishing to act simply on the defensive, and thus run the risk of a simultaneous onset, I fired at the throat of the most vicious of the party. The two-ounce ball produced no other effect than an immediate charge. She bounded towards me, and, although bleeding at the mouth, the distance was so short that she would have been into me had I not stopped her with the four-ounce rifle, which brought her to the ground when within fifteen paces; here she lay disabled, but not dead, and again I reloaded as fast as possible.
The two remaining cows appeared to have taken a lesson from the fate of their comrades; and showing no disposition to charge, I advanced towards them to within twenty yards. One of the cows now commended tearing the muddy ground with her horns, and thus offered a certain shot, which I accordingly took, and dropped her dead with a ball in the nape of the neck. This was too much for the remaining buffalo; she turned to plunge into the lake, but the four-ounce through her shoulder brought her down before she could reach the water, into which the three calves had sprung, and were swimming for the main shore. I hit the last calf in the head with a double-barrelled gun, and he immediately sank; and I missed another calf with the left-hand barrel; therefore two escaped. I sent a man into the water to find the dead calf, which he soon did, and hauled it to the shore; and having reloaded, I proceeded to examine the hits on the dead buffaloes. It was fortunate that I had reloaded; for I had no sooner approached to within three or four yards of the cow that I had left dying, when she suddenly sprang to her feet, and would have charged, had I not killed her by a ball in the head from a light double-barrel that I was then carrying. These animals had shown as good sport as I had ever witnessed in buffalo-shooting, but the two heavy rifles were fearful odds against them, and they were added to the list of the slain. It was now late in the evening, and I had had a long day's work in the broiling sun. I had bagged ten buffaloes, including the calf, and having cut a fillet from the latter, I took a gun, loaded with shot, from my horse-keeper, and gave up ball-shooting, having turned my attention to a large flock of teal, which I had disturbed in attacking the buffaloes. This flock I had marked down in a small stream which flowed into the lake. A cautious approach upon my hands and knees, through the grass, brought me undiscovered to the bank of the stream, where, in a small bay, it emptied itself into the lake, and a flock of about eighty teal were swimming among the water-lilies within twenty yards of me. I fired one barrel on the water, and the other in the air as they rose, killing five and wounding a sixth, which escaped by continual diving. On my way home I killed a few snipe, till at length the cessation of daylight put an end to all shooting.
The moon was full and shone over the lake with great brilliancy; the air was cool and refreshing after the great heat of the day; and the chirp of the snipe and whistling sound of the wild fowl on the lake were the only noises that disturbed the wild scene around. The tent fires were blazing brightly in the forest at about a mile distant; and giving my gun to the horse-keeper, I mounted and rode towards the spot.
I was within half a mile of the tent, and had just turned round an angle made by the forest, when I suddenly saw the grey forms of several elephants, who had just emerged from the forest, and were feeding in the high grass within a hundred yards of me. I counted seven, six of which were close to the edge of the jungle, but the seventh was a large bull elephant, who had advanced by himself about sixty yards into the plain. I thought I could cut this fellow off, and, taking my big rifle, I dismounted and crept cautiously towards him. He winded me before I had gone many paces, gave a shrill trumpet of alarm, and started off for the jungle; the rest of the herd vanished like magic, while I ran after the bull elephant at my best speed. He was too quick for me, and I could not gain upon him, so, halting suddenly, I took a steady shot at his ear with the four-ounce at about seventy yards. Down he went to the shot, but I heard him roar as he lay upon ,the ground, and I knew he would be up again in a moment. In the same instant, as I dropped my empty rifle, a double-barrelled gun was pushed into my hand, and I ran up to him, just in time to catch him as he was half risen. Feeling sure of him, I ran up within two yards of his head and fired into his forehead. To my amazement he jumped quickly up, and with a loud trumpet he rushed towards the jungle. I could just keep close alongside him, as the grass was short and the ground level, and being determined to get him, I ran close to his shoulder, and, taking a steady shot behind the ear, I fired my remaining barrel. Judge of my surprise!--it only increased his speed, and in another moment he reached the jungle: he was gone. He seemed to bear a charmed life. I had taken two shots within a few feet of him that I would have staked my life upon. I looked at my gun. Ye gods! I had been firing SNIPE SHOT at him. It was my rascally horse-keeper, who had actually handed me the shot-gun, which I had received as the double-barrelled ball-gun that I knew was carried by a gun-bearer. How I did thrash him! If the elephant had charged instead of making off I should have been caught to a certainty.
This day's shooting was the last day of good sport that I ever had at Minneria. It was in June, 1847. The next morning I moved my encampment and started homewards. To my surprise I saw a rogue elephant drinking in the lake, within a quarter of a mile of me; but the Fates were against his capture. I stalked him as well as I could, but he winded me, and came on in full charge with his trunk up. The heavy rifle fortunately turned but did not kill him, and he escaped in thorny jungle, through which I did not choose to follow.
On my way to the main road from Trincomalee to Kandy I walked on through the jungle path, about a mile ahead of my followers, to look out for game. Upon arriving at the open country in the neighbourhood of Cowdellai, I got a shot at a deer at a killing distance. She was not twenty yards off, and was looking at me as if spellbound. This provided me with venison for a couple of days. The rapid decomposition of all things in a tropical climate renders a continued supply of animal food very precarious, if the produce of the rifle is alone to be depended upon. Venison killed on one day would be uneatable on the day following, unless it were half-dressed shortly after it was killed; thus the size of the animal in no way contributes to the continuation of the supply of food, as the meat will not keep. Even snipe killed on one morning are putrid the next evening; the quantity of game required for the subsistence of one person is consequently very large.
After killing the deer I stalked a fine peacock, who gave me an hour's work before I could get near him. These birds are very wary and difficult to approach; but I at length got him into a large bush, surrounded by open ground. A stone thrown into this dislodged him, and he gave me a splendid flying shot at about thirty yards. I bagged him with the two-ounce rifle, but the large ball damaged him terribly. There are few better birds than a Ceylon peafowl, if kept for two days and then washed in vinegar: they combine the flavour of the turkey and the pheasant.
I was obliged to carry the bird myself, as my two gun-bearers were staggering under the weight of the deer, and the spare guns were carried by my tracker. We were proceeding slowly along, when the tracker, who was in advance, suddenly sprang back and pointed to some object in the path. It was certainly enough to startle any man. An enormous serpent lay coiled in the path. His head was about the size of a very small cocoa-nut, divided lengthways, and this was raised about eighteen inches above the coil. His eyes were fixed upon us, and his forked tongue played in and out of his mouth with a continued hiss. Aiming at his head, I fired at him with a double-barrelled gun, within four paces, and blew his head to pieces. He appeared stone dead; but upon pulling him by the tail, to stretch him out at full length, he wreathed himself in convulsive coils, and lashing himself out in full length, he mowed down the high grass in all directions. This obliged me to stand clear, as his blows were terrific, and the thickest part of his body was as large as a man's thigh. I at length thought of an expedient for securing him. Cutting some sharp-pointed stakes, I waited till he was again quiet, when I suddenly pinned his tail to the ground with my hunting-knife, and thrusting the pointed stake into the hole, I drove it deeply into the ground with the butt end of my rifle. The boa made some objection to this, and again he commenced his former muscular contortions. I waited till they were over, and having provided myself with some tough jungle rope (a species of creeper), I once more approached him, and pinning his throat to the ground with a stake, I tied the rope through the incision, and the united exertions of myself and three men hauled him out perfectly straight. I then drove a stake firmly through his throat and pinned him out. He was fifteen feet in length, and it required our united strength to tear off his skin, which shone with a variety of passing colours. On losing his hide he tore away from the stakes; and although his head was shivered to atoms, and he had lost three feet of his length of neck by the ball having cut through this part, which separated in tearing off the skin, still he lashed out and writhed in frightful convulsions, which continued until I left him, bearing as my trophy his scaly hide. These boas will kill deer, and by crushing them into a sort of sausage they are enabled by degrees to swallow them. There are many of these reptiles in Ceylon; but they are seldom seen, as they generally wander forth at night. There are marvellous stories of their size, and my men assured me that they had seen much larger than the snake now mentioned; to me he appeared a horrible monster.
I do not know anything so disgusting as a snake. There is an instinctive feeling that the arch enemy is personified when these wretches glide by you, and the blood chills with horror. I took the dried skin of this fellow to England; it measures twelve feet in its dry state, minus the piece that was broken from his neck, making him the length before mentioned of fifteen feet.
I have often been astonished that comparatively so few accidents happen in Ceylon from snake-bites; their immense number and the close nature of the country making it a dangerous risk to the naked feet of the natives. I was once lying upon a sofa in a rest-house at Kandellai, when I saw a snake about four feet long glide in at the open door, and, as though accustomed to a particular spot for his lodging, he at once climbed upon another sofa and coiled himself under the pillow. My brother had only just risen from this sofa, and was sitting at the table watching the movements of his uninvited bedfellow. I soon poked him out with a stick, and cut off his head with a hunting-knife. This snake was of a very poisonous description, and was evidently accustomed to lodge behind the pillow, upon which the unwary sleeper might have received a fatal bite. Upon taking possession of an unfrequented rest-house, the cushions of the sofas and bedsteads should always be examined, as they are great attractions to snakes, scorpions, centipedes, and all manner of reptiles.