by Samuel White Baker
Capabilities of Ceylon--Deer at Illepecadewe--Sagacity of a Pariah Dog--Two Deer at One Shot--Deer-stalking--Hambantotte Country--Kattregam Festival--Sitrawelle--Ruins of Ancient Mahagam-- Wiharewelle--A Night Attack upon Elephants--Shooting by Moonlight--Yalle River--Another Rogue--A Stroll before Breakfast-- A Curious Shot--A Good Day's Sport.
There are few countries which present a more lovely appearance than Ceylon. There is a diversity in the scenery which refreshes the eye; and although the evergreen appearance might appear monotonous to some persons, still, were they residents, they would observe that the colour of the foliage is undergoing a constant change by the varying tints of the leaves in the different stages of their growth. These tints are far more lovely than the autumnal shades of England, and their brilliancy is enhanced by the idea that it is the bursting of the young leaf into life, the freshness of youth instead of the sere leaf of a past summer, which, after gilding for a few days the beauty of the woods, drops from frozen branches and deserts them. Every shade of colour is seen in the Ceylon forests, as the young leaves are constantly replacing those which have fallen without being missed. The deepest crimson, the brightest yellow and green of every shade, combine to form a beautiful crest to the forest-covered surface of the island.
There is no doubt, however, that there is too much wood in Ceylon; it prevents the free circulation of air, and promotes dampness, malaria, and consequently fevers and dysentery, the latter disease being the scourge of the colony. The low country is accordingly decidedly unhealthy.
This vast amount of forest and jungle is a great impediment to the enjoyment of travelling. The heat in the narrow paths cut through dense jungles is extreme; and after a journey of seventy or eighty miles through this style of country the eye scans the wild plains and mountains with delight. Some districts, however, are perfectly devoid of trees, and form a succession of undulating downs of short grass. Other parts, again, although devoid of heavy timber, are covered with dense thorny jungles, especially the country adjoining the sea-coast, which is generally of a uniform character round the whole island, being interspersed with sand plains producing a short grass.
Much has been said by some authors of the "capabilities" of Ceylon; but however enticing the description of these capabilities may have been, the proof has been decidedly in opposition to the theory. Few countries exist with such an immense proportion of bad soil. There are no minerals except iron, no limestone except dolomite, no other rocks than quartz and gneiss. The natural pastures are poor; the timber of the forests is the only natural production of any value, with the exception of cinnamon. Sugar estates do not answer, and coffee requires an expensive system of cultivation by frequent manuring. In fact, the soil is wretched; so bad that the natives, by felling the forest and burning the timber upon the ground, can only produce one crop of some poor grain; the land is then exhausted, and upon its consequent desertion it gives birth to an impenetrable mass of low jungle, comprising every thorn that can be conceived. This deserted land, fallen again into the hand of Nature, forms the jungle of Ceylon; and as native cultivation has thus continued for some thousand years, the immense tract of country now in this impenetrable state is easily accounted for. The forests vary in appearance; some are perfectly free from underwood, being composed of enormous trees, whose branches effectually exclude the rays of the sun; but they generally consist of large trees, which tower above a thick, and for the most part thorny, underwood, difficult to penetrate.
The features of Ceylon scenery may, therefore, be divided as follows:-
Natural forest, extending over the greater portion. Thorny jungle, extending over a large portion.
Flat plains and thorny jungles, in the vicinity of the coast.
Open down country, extending over a small portion of the interior.
Open park country, extending over the greater portion of the Veddah district.
The mountains, forming the centre of the island.
The latter are mostly covered with forest, but they are beautifully varied by numberless open plains and hills of grass land at an altitude of from three to nearly nine thousand feet.
If Ceylon were an open country, there would be no large game, as there would be no shelter from the sun. In the beautiful open down country throughout the Ouva district there is no game larger than wild hogs, red-deer, mouse-deer, hares, and partridges. These animals shelter themselves in the low bushes, which generally consist of the wild guavas, and occupy the hollows between the undulations of the hills. The thorny jungles conceal a mass of game of all kinds, but in this retreat the animals are secure from attack. In the vicinity of the coast, among the `flat plains and thorny jungles,' there is always excellent shooting at particular seasons. The spotted deer abound throughout Ceylon, especially in these parts, where they are often seen in herds of a hundred together. In many places they are far too numerous, as, from the want of inhabitants in these parts, there are no consumers, and these beautiful beasts would be shot to waste.
In the neighbourhood of Paliar and Illepecadewe, on the north-west coast, I have shot them till I was satiated and it ceased to be sport. We had nine fine deer hanging up in one day, and they were putrefying faster than the few inhabitants could preserve them by smoking and drying them in steaks. I could have shot them in any number, had I chosen to kill simply for the sake of murder; but I cannot conceive any person finding an enjoyment in slaying these splendid deer to rot upon the ground.
I was once shooting at Illepecadewe, which is a lonely, miserable spot, when I met with a very sagacious and original sportsman in a most unexpected manner. I was shooting with a friend, and we had separated for a few hundred paces. I presently got a shot at a peafowl, and killed her with my rifle. The shot was no sooner fired than I heard another shot in the jungle, in the direction taken by my friend. My rifle was still unloaded when a spotted doe bounded out of the jungle, followed by a white pariah dog in full chase. Who would have dreamt of meeting with a dog at this distance from a village (about four miles)? I whistled to the dog, and to my surprise he came to me, the deer having left him out of sight in a few seconds. He was a knowing-looking brute, and was evidently out hunting on his own account. Just at this moment my friend called to me that he had wounded a buck, and that he had found the blood-track. I picked a blade of grass from the spot which was tinged with blood; and holding it to the dog's nose, he eagerly followed me to the track; upon which I dropped it. He went off in a moment; but, running mute, I was obliged to follow; and after a chase of a quarter of a mile I lost sight of him. In following up the foot-track of the wounded deer I heard the distant barking of the dog, by which I knew that he had brought the buck to bay, and I was soon at the spot. The buck had taken up a position in a small glade, and was charging the dog furiously; but the pariah was too knowing to court the danger, and kept well out of the way. I shot the buck, and, tying a piece of jungle-rope to the dog's neck, gave him to a gun-bearer to lead, as I hoped he might be again useful in hunting up a wounded deer.
I had not proceeded more than half a mile, when we arrived at the edge of a small sluggish stream, covered in most places with rushes and water-lilies. We forded this about hip-deep, but the gun-bearer who had the dog could not prevail upon our mute companion to follow; he pulled violently back and shrinked, and evinced every symptom of terror at the approach of water.
I was now at the opposite bank, and nothing would induce him to come near the river, so I told the gun-bearer to drag him across by force. This he accordingly did, and the dog swam with frantic exertions across the river, and managed to disengage his head from the rope. The moment that he arrived on terra firma he rushed up a steep bank and looked attentively down into the water beneath.
We now gave him credit for his sagacity in refusing to cross the dangerous passage. The reeds bowed down to the right and left as a huge crocodile of about eighteen feet in length moved slowly from his shallow bed into a deep hole. The dog turned to the right-about, and went off as fast as his legs would carry him. No calling or whistling would induce him to return, and I never saw him again. How he knew that a crocodile was in the stream I cannot imagine. He must have had a narrow escape at some former time, which was a lesson that he seemed determined to profit by.
Shortly after the disappearance of the dog, I separated from my companion and took a different line of country. Large plains, with thorny jungles and bushes of the long cockspur thorn interspersed, formed the character of the ground. This place literally swarmed with peafowl, partridges, and deer. I killed another peacock, and the shot disturbed a herd of about sixty deer, who bounded over the plain till out of sight. I tracked up this herd for nearly a mile, when I observed them behind a large bush; some were lying down and others were standing. A buck and doe presently quitted the herd, and advancing a few paces from the bush they halted, and evidently winded me. I was screening myself behind a small tree, and the open ground between me and the game precluded the possibility of a nearer approach. It was a random distance for a deer, but I took a rest against the stem of the tree and fired at the buck as he stood with his broadside exposed, being shoulder to shoulder with the doe. Away went the herd, flying over the plain; but, to my delight, there were two white bellies struggling upon the ground. I ran up to cut their throats; (*1 This is necessary to allow the blood to escape, otherwise they would be unfit for food) the two-ounce ball had passed through the shoulders of both; and I stepped the distance to the tree from which I had fired, 'two hundred and thirteen paces.'
Shortly after this 1 got another shot which, by a chance, killed two deer. I was strolling through a narrow glade with open jungles upon either side, when I suddenly heard a quick double shot, followed by the rush of a large herd of deer coming through the jungle. I immediately lay flat upon the ground, and presently an immense herd of full a hundred deer passed across the glade at full gallop, within seventy yards of me. Jumping up, I fired at a doe, and, to my surprise, two deer fell to the shot, one of which was a fawn; the ball had passed through the shoulder of the mother, and had broken the fawn's neck upon the opposite side. I am astonished that this chance of killing two at one shot does not more often happen when the dense body of a herd of deer is exposed to a rifle-ball.
Deer-stalking is one of the most exciting sports in the world. I have often crept upon hands and knees for upwards of a quarter of a mile through mud and grass to get a shot at a fine antlered buck. It frequently happens that after a long stalk in this manner, when some sheltering object is reached which you have determined upon for the shot, just as you raise your head above the grass in expectation of seeing the game, you find a blank. He has watched your progress by the nose, although the danger was hidden from his view, and your trouble is unrewarded.
In all wild shooting, in every country and climate, the `wind' is the first consideration. If you hunt down wind you will never get a deer. You will have occasional glimpses of your game, who will be gazing intently at you at great distances long before you can see them, but you will never get a decent shot. The great excitement and pleasure of all sport consists in a thorough knowledge of the pursuit. When the dew is heavy upon the ground at break of day, you are strolling noiselessly along with the rifle, scanning the wide plains and searching the banks of the pools and streams for foot-marks of the spotted deer. Upon discovering the tracks their date is immediately known, the vicinity of the game is surmised, the tracks are followed up, and the herd is at length discovered. The wind is observed; dry leaves crumbled into powder and let fall from the hand detect the direction if the slightest air is stirring, and the approach is made accordingly. Every stone, every bush or tree or tuft of grass, is noted as a cover for an advance, and the body being kept in a direct line with each of these objects, you approach upon hands and knees from each successive place of shelter till a proper distance is gained. The stalking is the most exciting sport in the world. I have frequently heard my own heart beat while creeping up to a deer. He is an animal of wonderful acuteness, and possessing the keenest scent; he is always on the alert, watching for danger from his stealthy foe the leopard, who is a perfect deer-stalker.
To kill spotted deer well, if they are tolerably wild, a person must be a really good rifle shot, otherwise wise he will wound many, but seldom bag one. They are wonderfully fast, and their bounding pace makes them extremely difficult to hit while running. Even when standing they must be struck either through the head, neck, or shoulder, or they will rarely be killed on the spot; in any other part, if wounded, they will escape as though untouched, and die a miserable death in solitude.
In narrating long shots that I have made, I recount them as bright moments in the hours of sport; they are the exceptions and not the rule. I consider a man a first-rate shot who can ALWAYS bag his deer standing at eighty yards, or running at fifty. HITTING and BAGGING are widely different. If a man can always bag at the distance that I have named he will constantly hit, and frequently bag, at extraordinary ranges, as there is no doubt of his shooting, and, when he misses, the ball has whizzed somewhere very close to the object; the chances are, therefore, in favour of the rifle.
The deer differ in character in various parts of Ceylon. In some places where they are rarely disturbed they can be approached to within thirty or forty paces, in which case a very moderate shot can easily kill them; but it is better sport when they are moderately wild. The greatest number of deer that I ever saw was in the south-eastern part of Ceylon, in the neighbourhood of Pontane and Yalle. The whole of this country is almost uninhabited, and accordingly undisturbed. Yalle is the nearest town of importance, from which a good road, lined on either side with cocoa-nut and bread-fruit trees, extends as far as Tangalle, fifty miles. A few miles beyond this village the wild country begins, and Hambantotte is the next station, nearly ninety miles from Yalle. The country around Hambantotte is absolutely frightful-wide extending plains of white sand and low scrubby bushes scattered here and there; salt lakes of great extent, and miserable plains of scanty herbage, surrounded by dense thorny jungles. Notwithstanding this, at some seasons the whole district is alive with game. January and February are the best months for elephants and buffaloes, and August and September are the best seasons for deer, at which time the whole country is burnt up with drought, and the game is forced to the vicinity of Yalle river and the neighbouring pools. In the wet season this district is nearly flooded, and forms a succession of deep marshes, the malaria from which is extremely unhealthy. At this time the grass is high, and the elephants are very numerous.
When I was in this part of the country the drought was excessive; the jungle was parched, and the leaves dropped from the bushes under the influence of a burning sun. Not a cloud ever appeared upon the sky, but a dazzling haze of intense heat spread over the scorched plains. The smaller streams were completely dried up, and the large rivers were reduced to rivulets in the midst of a bed of sand.
The whole of this country is a succession of flat sandy plains and low jungles contiguous to the sea-coast. The intense heat and the glare of the sun rendered the journey most fatiguing. I at length descried a long line of noble forest in the distance, and this I conjectured to be near the river, which turned out to be the case; we were soon relieved from the burning sun by the shade of as splendid a forest as I have ever seen. A few hundred yards from the spot at which we had entered, Yalle river rolled along in a clear stream. In the wet season this is a rapid torrent of about 150 yards in width, but at this time the bed of the river was dry, with the exception of a stream of about thirty paces broad, which ran directly beneath the bank we were descending.
An unexpected scene now presented itself. The wide bed of the river was shaded on either side by groves of immense trees, whose branches stretched far over the channel; and not only beneath their shade, but in every direction, tents formed of talipot leaves were pitched, and a thousand men, women, and children lay grouped together; some were bathing in the river, some were sitting round their fires cooking a scanty meal, others lay asleep upon the sand, but all appeared to be congregated together for one purpose; and so various were the castes and costumes that every nation of the East seemed to have sent a representative. This was the season for the annual offerings to the Kattregam god, to whose temple these pilgrims were flocking, and they had made the dry bed of Valle river their temporary halting-place. A few days after, no less than 18,000 pilgrims congregated at Kattregam.
I was at this time shooting with my friend, Mr. H. Walters, then of the 15th Regiment. We waded up the bed of the river for about a mile, and then pitched the tent under some fine trees in the open forest. Several wild buffaloes were drinking in the river within a short distance of us; but thinking this a likely spot for elephants, we determined not to disturb the neighbourhood by firing a shot until we had first explored the country. After a walk of a couple of hours through fine open forest and small bushy plains, we came to the conclusion that there were very few elephants in the country, and we devoted ourselves to other game.
After a day or two spent in killing deer, a few wild buffaloes, and only one elephant, I felt convinced that we should never find the latter, in the dry state of the country, unless by watching at some tank at night. We therefore moved our encampment inland about twenty-five miles from Yalle. Here there is a large tank, which I concluded would be the resort of elephants.
A long day's journey through a burning sun brought us to Sitrawelle. This is a small village, about six miles inward from the sea-coast village of Kesinde. Here the natives brought us plantains and buffalo milk, while we took shelter from the sun under a splendid tamarind tree. Opposite to this was a 'bo'-tree; *(very similar to the banian-tree) this grew to an extraordinary size; the wide spreading branches covered about half an acre of ground, and the trunk measured upwards of forty feet in circumference. The tamarind-tree was nearly the same size; and I never saw together two such magnificent specimens of vegetation. A few paces from this spot, a lake of about four miles' circuit lay in the centre of a plain; this was surrounded by open forests and jungles, all of which looked like good covers for game. Skirting the opposite banks of the lake, we pitched the tent under some shady trees upon a fine level sward. By this time it was nearly dusk, and I had barely time to stroll out and kill a peacock for dinner before night set in.
The next morning, having been joined by my friend, Mr. P. Braybrook, then government agent of this district, our party was increased to three, and seeing no traces of elephants in this neighbourhood, we determined to proceed to a place called Wihare-welle, about six miles farther inland.
Our route now lay along a broad causeway of solid masonry. On either side of this road, stone pillars of about twelve feet in height stood in broken, rows, and lay scattered in every direction through the jungle. Ruined dagobas and temples jutted their rugged summits above the tree-tops, and many lines of stone columns stood in parallel rows, the ancient supports of buildings of a similar character to those of Pollanarua and Anarajahpoora. We were among the ruins of ancient Mahagam. One of the ruined buildings had apparently rested upon seventy-two pillars. These were still erect, standing in six lines of twelve columns; every stone appeared to be about fourteen feet high by two feet square and twenty-five feet apart. This building must therefore have formed an oblong of 300 feet by 150. Many of the granite blocks were covered with rough carving; large flights of steps, now irregular from the inequality of the ground, were scattered here and there; and the general appearance of the ruins was similar to that of Pollanarua, but of smaller extent. The stone causeway which passed through the ruins was about two miles in length, being for the most part overgrown with low jungle and prickly cactus. I traversed the jungle for some distance until arrested by the impervious nature of the bushes; but wherever I went, the ground was stewed with squared stones and fallen brickwork overgrown with rank vegetation.
The records of Ceylon do not afford any satisfactory information concerning the original foundation of this city. The first time that we hear of it is in the year 286 B.C.; but we have no account of the era or cause of its desertion. Although Mahagam is the only vestige of an ancient city in this district, there are many ruined buildings and isolated dagobas of great antiquity scattered throughout the country. I observed on a peak of one of the Kattregam hills large masses of fallen brickwork, the ruins of some former buildings, probably coeval with Mahagam. The whole of this district, now so wild and desolate, must in those days have been thickly populated and highly cultivated, although, from the present appearance of the country, it does not seem possible that it has ever altered its aspect since the Creation.
Descending a steep bank shaded by large trees, we crossed the bed of the Manick Ganga (`Jewel River'). The sand was composed of a mixture of mica, quartz, sapphire, ruby, and jacinth, but the large proportion of ruby sand was so extraordinary that it seemed to rival Sindbad the Sailor's vale of gems. The whole of this was valueless, but the appearance of the sand was very inviting, as the shallow stream in rippling over it magnified the tiny gems into stones of some magnitude. I passed an hour in vainly searching for a ruby worth collecting, but the largest did not exceed the size of mustard seed.
The natives use this sand for cutting elephants' teeth, in the same manner that a stonemason uses sand to assist him in sawing through a stone. Elephants' teeth or grinders are so hard that they will produce sparks upon being struck with a hatchet.
About two miles from the opposite bank of the river, having journeyed through a narrow path bordered upon either side by thick jungle, we opened upon an extensive plain close to the village of Wihare-welle. This plain was covered with wild indigo, and abounded with peafowl. Passing through the small village at the extremity of the plain, we pitched the tent upon the borders of the lake, about a quarter of a mile beyond it. This tank was about three miles in circumference, and, like that of Sitrawelle, was one of the ancient works of the Mahagam princes.
The village was almost deserted; none but the old men and women and children remained, as the able-bodied men had gone to the Kattregam festival. We could, therefore, obtain no satisfactory information regarding elephants; but I was convinced, from the high grass around the lake, that if any elephants were in the district some would be here. It was late in the evening, the coolies were heaping up the night-fires, and as darkness closed upon us, the savoury steam of a peacock that was roasting on a stick betokened the welcome approach of dinner. We had already commenced, when the roaring of elephants within a short distance of the tent gave us hope of sport on the following day.
At daybreak the next morning I strolled round the lake to look for tracks. A herd of about seven had been feeding during the night within half a mile of the tent. During my walk I saw innumerable pea-fowl, jungle-fowl, hares and ducks, in addition to several herds of deer; but not wishing to disturb the country, I did not fire, but returned to the tent and sent out trackers.
In the afternoon the natives returned with intelligence of a small pool two miles from the opposite shore of the lake, situated in dense jungle; here they had seen fresh elephant tracks, and they proposed that we should watch the pool that evening at the usual drinking hour of the game. As this was the only pool of water for miles round with the exception of the lake, I thought the plan likely to succeed, and we therefore started without loss of time.
On arrival at the pool we took a short survey of our quarters. A small round sheet of water of perhaps eighty yards in diameter lay in the midst of a dense jungle. Several large trees were growing close to the edge, and around these lay numerous rocks of about four feet high, forming a capital place for concealment. Covering the tops of the rocks with boughs to conceal our heads, we lay quietly behind them in expectation of the approaching game.
The sun sank, and the moon rose in great beauty, throwing a silvery light upon the surface of the water chequered by the dark shadows of the surrounding trees. Suddenly the hoarse bark of an elk sounded within a short distance, and I could distinguish two or three dark forms on the opposite bank. The shrill and continual barking of spotted deer now approaching nearer and nearer, the rustling in the jungle, and the splashing in the water announced continual arrivals of game to the lonely drinking-place. Notwithstanding the immense quantity of animals that were congregated together, we could not distinguish them plainly on account of the dark background of jungle. Elk, deer, buffaloes, and hogs were all bathing and drinking in immense numbers, but there were no elephants.
For some hours we watched the accumulation of game; there was not a breath of air, although the scud was flying fast above us, occasionally throwing a veil over the moon and casting a sudden obscurity on the dim scene before us. Our gun-bearers were crouched around us; their dark skins matching with the ground on which they squatted, they looked like so many stumps of trees. It was nearly ten o'clock, and my eyes ached with watching; several times I found myself nodding as sleep took me by surprise; so, leaving a man to look out, we sat quietly down and discussed a cold fowl that we had brought with us.
We had just finished a pint bottle of cherry brandy when I felt a gentle touch upon my shoulder, and our look-out man whispered in my ear the magic word 'alia' (elephant), at the same time pointing in the direction of the tank. The guns were all wrapped up in a blanket to keep them from the dew, so telling W. to uncover them and to distribute them to the respective gun-bearers without noise, I crept out and stole unperceived along the margin of the tank to discover the number and position of the elephants. So deceitful was the moonlight, being interrupted by the dark shadows of the jungle, that I was within ten paces of the nearest elephant before I distinguished her. I counted three--one large and two others about six feet high. Being satisfied with my information, and having ascertained that no others were in the jungle, I returned to my companions; they were all ready, and we crept forward. We were within ten paces of the large elephant, when a branch of hooked thorn caught W. by the clothes; the noise that he made in extricating himself immediately attracted the attention of the elephant, and she turned quickly round, receiving at the same moment an ineffectual shot from W.; B. at the same time fired without effect at one of the small elephants. The mother, hearing a roar from the small elephant that B. had wounded, immediately rushed up to it, and they stood side by side in the water about fifteen yards from the bank. The large elephant now cocked her ears and turned her head from side to side with great quickness to discover an enemy. I ran close to the water's edge, and the mother perceiving me immediately came forward. I could hardly distinguish the sights of my rifle, and I was, therefore, obliged to wait till she was within four or five paces before I fired. She gave me a good shot, and dropped dead. The young one was rushing about and roaring in a tremendous manner, having again been fired at and wounded by B. and W. By this time I had got a spare gun, and, wading into the tank, I soon came to such close quarters that I could not miss, and one shot killed him. The other small elephant escaped unseen in the confusion caused by the firing.
The following evening we again watched the pool, and once more a mother and her young one came to drink. W. and B. extinguished the young one while I killed the mother.
This watching by moonlight is a kind of sport that I do not admire; it is a sort of midnight murder, and many a poor brute who comes to the silent pool to cool his parched tongue, finds only a cup of bitterness, and retires again to his jungle haunts to die a lingering death from some unskilful wound. The best shot must frequently miss by moonlight; there is a silvery glare which renders all objects indistinct, and the shot very doubtful; thus two animals out of three fired at will generally escape wounded.
I was tired of watching by night, and I again returned to the neighbourhood of Yalle. After a long ride through a burning sun, I went down to the river to bathe. The water was not more than three feet deep, and was so clear that every pebble was plainly distinguishable at the bottom.
I had waded hip-deep into the river when my servant, who was on the bank, suddenly cried out, 'Sar! sar! come back, sar! Mora! mora!' and he pointed to some object a little higher up the stream. It was now within ten or twelve yards of me, and I fancied that it was a piece of drift timber, but I lost no time in reaching the shore. Slowly the object sailed along with the stream, but as it neared me, to my astonishment, a large black fin protruded from the water, and the mystery was at once cleared up. It was a large SHARK about nine feet long.
In some places the water was so shallow that his tail and a portion of his back were now and then above the surface. He was in search of grey mullet, with which fish the river abounded; and at this season sharks were very numerous, as they followed the shoals for some distance up the river. My servant had been in a great state of alarm, as he thought his master would have been devoured in a few seconds; but the natives of the village quietly told me not to be afraid, but to bathe in peace, 'as sharks would not eat men at this season.' I was not disposed to put his epicurean scruples to the test; as some persons may kill a pheasant before the first of October, so he might have made a grab at me a little before the season, which would have been equally disagreeable to my feelings. The novelty of a white skin in that clear river might have proved too strong a temptation for a shark to withstand.
I never saw game in such masses as had now collected in this neighbourhood. The heat was intense, and the noble forest in the vicinity of Yalle river offered an asylum to all animals beneath its shade, where good water and fine grass upon the river's bank supplied their wants. In this forest there was little or no underwood; the trees grew to an immense size and stood far apart, so that a clear range might be obtained for a hundred yards. It was, therefore, a perfect spot for deer-stalking; the tops of trees formed an impervious screen to the sun's rays; and I passed several days in wandering with my rifle through these shady solitudes, killing an immense quantity of game. The deer were in such masses that I restricted myself to bucks, and I at length became completely satiated. There was too much game; during the whole day's walk I was certainly not FIVE MINUTES without seeing either deer, elk, buffaloes, or hogs. The noise of the rifle did not appear to scare them from the forest; they would simply retreat for a time to some other portion of it, and fresh herds were met with in following up one which had been disturbed. Still, there were no elephants. Although I had upwards of fifty coolies and servants, they could not dry the venison sufficiently fast to prevent the deer from stinking as they were killed, and I resolved to leave the country.
I gave orders for everything to be packed up in readiness for a start, after an early breakfast, on the following morning. The servants were engaged in arranging for the departure, when a native brought intelligence of a rogue elephant within four miles of the tent. It was late in the afternoon, but I had not seen an elephant for so long that I was determined to make his acquaintance. My friend B. accompanied me, and we immediately started on horseback.
Our route lay across very extensive plains, interspersed with low thorny bushes and wide salt lakes. Innumerable wild hogs invited us to a chase. There could not be a better spot for boar-spearing, as the ground is level and clear for riding. There were numerous herds of deer and buffaloes, but we did not fire a shot, as we had determined upon an interview with the rogue. We traversed about four miles of this style of country, and were crossing a small plain, when our guide suddenly stopped and pointed to the elephant, who was about a quarter of a mile distant. He was standing on a little glade of about fifty yards across; this was surrounded upon all sides but one with dense thorny jungle, and he therefore stood in a small bay of open ground. It was a difficult position for an attack. The wind blew directly from us to him, therefore an advance in that direction was out of the question; on the other hand, if we made a circuit so as to get the wind, we should have to penetrate through the thorny jungle to arrive at him, and we should then have the five o'clock sun directly in our eyes. However, there was no alternative, and, after a little consultation, the latter plan was resolved upon.
Dismounting, we ordered the horse-keepers to conceal the horses and themselves behind a thick bush, lest the elephant should observe them, and with this precaution we advanced, making a circuit of nearly a mile to obtain the wind. On arrival at the belt of thick jungle which divided us from the small glade upon which he stood, I perceived, as I had expected, that the sun was full in our eyes. This was a disadvantage which I felt convinced would lose us the elephant, unless some extraordinary chance intervened; however, we entered the thick jungle before us, and cautiously pushed our way through it. This belt was not more than fifty yards in width, and we soon broke upon the small glade.
The elephant was standing with his back towards us, at about forty paces distant, close to the thick jungle by his side; and, taking my four-ounce rifle, I walked quietly but quickly towards him. Without a moment's warning he flung his trunk straight up, and, turning sharp round, he at once charged into us. The sun shone full in my eyes, so that I could do nothing but fire somewhere at his head. He fell, but immediately recovered himself, and before the smoke had cleared away he was in full retreat through the thorny jungle, the heavy ball having taken all the pluck out of him. This was just as I had expected; pursuit in such a jungle was impossible, and I was perfectly contented with having turned him.
The next morning, having made all arrangements for starting homewards, after breakfast I took my rifle and one gun-bearer with a double-barrelled gun to enjoy one last stroll in the forest. It was just break of day. My first course was towards the river which flowed through it, as I expected to find the game near the water, an hour before sunrise being their time for drinking. I had not proceeded far before immense herds of deer offered tempting shots; but I was out simply in search of large antlers, and none appearing of sufficient size, I would not fire. Buffaloes continually presented themselves: I was tired of shooting these brutes, but I killed two who looked rather vicious; and I amused myself with remarking the immense quantity of game, and imagining the number of heads that I could bag had I chosen to indulge in indiscriminate slaughter. At length I noticed a splendid buck lying on the sandy bed of the river, beneath a large tree; his antlers were beautiful, and I stalked him to within sixty yards and shot him. I had not been reloaded ten minutes, and was walking quietly through the forest, when I saw a fine antlered buck standing within thirty yards of me in a small patch of underwood. His head was turned towards me, and his nostrils were distended in alarm as he prepared to bound off. I had just time to cock my rifle as he dashed off at full speed; but it was a murderous distance, and he fell dead. His antlers matched exactly with those I had last shot.
I turned towards the direction of the tent, and, descending to the bed of the river, I followed the course of the stream upon the margin of dry sand. I had proceeded about half a mile, when I noticed at about 150 paces some object moving about the trunk of a large fallen tree which lay across the bed of the river. This stem was about five feet in diameter, and I presently distinguished the antlers and then the head of a large buck, as they appeared above it; he had been drinking in the stream on the opposite side, and he now raised his head, sniffing the fresh breeze. It was a tempting shot, and taking a very steady aim I fired. For a moment he was down, but recovering himself he bounded up the bank, and was soon in full speed through the forest with only one antler upon his head. I picked up the fellow-antler, which the rifle-ball had cut off within an inch of his skull. This was a narrow escape.
I did not reload my rifle, as I was not far from the tent, and I was tired of shooting. Giving my rifle to the gun-bearer, I took the double-barrelled gun which he carried, and walked quickly towards breakfast. Suddenly I heard a crash in a small nook of thick bushes, like the rush of an elephant, and the next instant a buck came rushing by in full speed; his long antlers lay upon his back as he flew through the tangled saplings with a force that seemed to defy resistance. He was the largest spotted buck that I ever saw, and, being within thirty paces, I took a flying shot with the right-hand barrel. He faltered for a moment, and I immediately fired the remaining barrel. Still he continued his course, but at a reduced speed and dead lame. Loading the rifle, I soon got upon the blood-track, and I determined to hunt him down.
There were many saplings in this part of the forest, and I noticed that many of them in the deer's track were besmeared with blood about two feet and a half from the ground. The tracks in the sandy soil were uneven--one of the fore-feet showed a deep impression, while the other was very faint, showing that he was wounded in the leg, as his whole weight was thrown upon one foot. Slowly and cautiously I stalked along the track, occasionally lying down to look under the bushes. For about an hour I continued this slow and silent chase; the tracks became fainter, and the bleeding appeared to have almost ceased; so few and far between were the red drops upon the ground, that I was constantly obliged to leave the gun-bearer upon the last trace, while I made a cast to discover the next track. I was at length in despair of finding him, and I was attentively scrutinising the ground for a trace of blood, which would distinguish his track from those of other deer with which the ground was covered, when I suddenly heard a rush in the underwood, and away bounded the buck at about fifty yards' distance, apparently as fresh as ever. The next instant he was gasping on the ground, the rifle-ball having passed exactly through his heart. I never could have believed that a spotted buck would have attained so large a size; he was as large as a doe elk, and his antlers were the finest I have ever seen of that species. It required eight men with two cross poles to bring him home.
I reached the tent to breakfast at eight o'clock, having bagged three fine bucks and two buffaloes that morning; and being, for the time, satiated with sport, I quitted Ceylon.