"Is it worth while trying 1" asked Norman. "What do you say ?" .
"Beaters are expensive," was the cautious reply. " The sahib knows everything. If it be his pleasure to try, then, perhaps, as his nuseeb is great, pig will be found. Beaters are ready when ordered."
" The meaning of which is," said Norman, " that there is very little chance of finding anything, and that the responsibility must rest with us."
" I am the sahib's servant. What he orders I will do. But, perhaps, it will be a good plan to go to Dooree. The hills are too steep here for riding."
" Then so be it;" and on this conclusion being arrived at and approved by all, the party broke up into little detachments of twos or threes, and started in various directions to pick up such small game as they might meet with on their respective routes to Dooree. It was, however, strictly prohibited to beat, or even fire guns, in the neighbourhood of that village itself, or in the swamp or jungle on the Runn side of it; for though the former was probably full of snipe, it was also nearly certain to hold pig.
As Natta held out some faint hopes of finding traces of pig along the edge of the Runn on the way to Dooree, which, if followed, might produce a run, a party of three, including Mowbray, Hawkes, and Dan vers, determined to accompany him.
As they jogged quietly along, much interesting conversation took place. The levelling effects of a common interest in, and pursuit of, sport, brings classes in contact at points, where otherwise no approach would probably be made, and a freer communication is the result. It was, therefore, with a kindly consideration that the hunters entered on subjects of conversation with their attendants, which elsewhere would hardly be started.
One of the Shikarees was inquisitive on the subject of the manufacture of English articles. Accustomed only to see English officers, and regarding soldiers, well fed and waited on, as the type of the inferior classes, he could scarcely be made to understand that all work, whether of trade or otherwise, was performed by men with white faces. But what most astonished his jungle mind was that gunpowder should be made by any other than black men.
When told that camels were not in use in England as beasts of burden, and were only kept to be looked at, he deplored the absence of so useful an animal, and wondered that so powerful a country was not better supplied. Accustomed to see them do the principal carriage work on the sandy wastes and plains of his own wild province, to which they are so suited, he couldn't realise their absence in a richer one.
With agreeable discursiveness one next referred to the subject of the female population. English ladies he evidently considered and with considerable reason to be the most beautiful creatures in the world. Addressing Norman, he then made some inquiries regarding marriage ceremonies and expenses, the amount of the latter of which, in his own case, he greatly bewailed. He wondered why all sahibs did not marry, and the gentleman he addressed in particular. On being informed, however, that English wives were sometimes not unexacting, less amenable to discipline than their Indian sisters, and by their influence spoilt many a good fellow as a sportsman, he was sincere in his opinion that it were wise to postpone marriage till age had rendered him less capable of enjoying the sports of the field, and made it more desirable to have an attendant to minister to his comfort at home.
The simple remarks of the ignorant natives caused a good deal of amusement to the hunters, who encouraged them to speak freely. The discussion was yet in progress when old Natta, who seemed never to have his eye off the ground, suddenly checked himself, and leaning slightly forward, intently examined a mark on the ground there, hard and caked. A very brief investigation was sufficient, for he soon looked up, and pointing to the mark, announced that it was a pug of that morning, and led out into the Runn. Following it for a little way this appeared so decidedly the case, that he pulled up and held brief consultation.
" The pug seems to be of a fair size, and. there are one or two others, are there not, Natta ?" asked Mowbray, who possessed a smattering of that most useful accomplishment in woodcraft the art of pugging. " Will it be of any use following the trail ?"
Had no rupees been dependent on the matter, the sporting propensities of the old shikaree might have proved insufficient to induce him to undertake the task of pugging on that hard soil, and at that late hour. But the thought of possible Inam was a great spur to his activity. He looked to the sun, to the ground at his feet, and then out into the wilderness, as if demanding inspiration ere he made doubtful reply.
" The sun is high, sahib ; the ground is very dry and difficult for pugging, and the pug itself is of the early morning."
And then, as he considered the certainty of the kill, if the pig had really sought the Runn for their midday rest, he added more decisively, " But the chance is good, and the sahib's nuseeb is great. I will show them if they are there. Chulo (get along), brothers."
The last observation was addressed to the other puggees, and they all now carefully followed the trail.
There were in all, it appeared, only three pig, and the biggest of these Natta confidently expected to be a boar, though not a very large one. For some time the trackers carried on the pug slowly over the ground on the edge of the Runn, which, having but recently been covered with water, had dried into a hard caked soil. On this the foot-print lay so lightly as to leave but little impression, often none whatever, and rendered it extremely difficult to hit off the trail. But Natta, now thoroughly on the scent, stuck to it like a staunch hound.
It was occasionally lost, but a judicious cast ahead quickly recovered it; and when, after thus proceeding for some distance, the ground became softer and more sandy, the men were enabled to carry it breast high. Right out into the Runn it took the party, but the hitherto tolerably undeviating line was exchanged for one winding or tortuous, as if the animals were searching about, but still with an outward tendency.