The Venotree jungle—In position—Indecision of pig—A sounder creates much, anxiety—A boar breaks—A racing set-to across the flat—First spear—A collision—At bay among the nullahs —The last charge—Nearly down—An unsuccessful spurt— Slipping in for first spear—Lost.
Natta had preceded the hunters on the previous evening, to make arrangements for the beat of the great Venotree jungle. Assamhia, near one end of it, was the fixture ; and towards this village, early on the following morning, the sportsmen took their way.
The road led them past the village of Ruttria, and across the river bed in its neighbourhood. Long tracts of jow jungle and numerous nullahs there afforded good cover for pig ; and had there been time to spare, no doubt they would have tried the rough and varied country about. But the Venotree jungle was an almost certain find, though not so certain a kill ; and thither, accordingly, they proceeded, resisting the temptations of Ruttria.
The Venotree cover consisted of a long strip of jungle, situated on both sides and in the bed of a wide nullah of irregular breadth and depth. It extended for about a mile, with, perhaps, a maximum breadth of from two to three hundred yards.
On either side lay tolerably extensive plains, across which it was the object to induce the pig to break, though they could not always be prevailed on to leave the cover and face the open. During the monsoon, when the tangled undergrowth became so thick as in many parts to be quite impenetrable, they could rarely be persuaded to leave their attractive asylum. At that season, too, high grain fields and thick vegetation afforded so much protection elsewhere, that it was not so much resorted to as in the hot months. Pig would at the latter time collect from the country around, and sometimes be found in large numbers. In the winter fewer were to be looked for.
A few stony hills at one 'extremity overlooked the jungle and the nullah beyond. But otherwise the adjoining country, for a mile or more, was flat, relieved only by small knolls of sandy soil, which were, for the most, covered with patches of jungle. The nullah, near the stony hills referred to, was, at that end, rugged and much broken, and the neighbouring country intersected by its feeders. Indeed, the whole character of the ground there was rough; but there was no tempting asylum in the vicinity in that direction to which the pig might make, though a stray one or two did occasionally break there. It was usually the object of the pig, when driven out on the right bank, to reach an intricate labyrinth of nullahs situated about a mile away towards Ruttria. They sometimes broke on the other side, and, in that case, made for the cultivated fields in the neighbourhood of a large village, distant perhaps a coss ; but the cover being so far, the plain on that side was rarely attempted.
This fine and well-situated jungle was preserved, and, as -a general rule, wood and grass cutters were forbidden to ply their vocations there. Naturally, therefore, it was a favourite resort of pig, though, as I have said, they could not always be induced to leave such strong cover.
Coolen were seen in great numbers about the fields by the hunters as they rode quietly along in the early morning ; and any number could have been bagged by approaching them under the shelter of a cart. But their object now was to reach Assambia, have breakfast, and then sally forth to beat the Venotree jungle.
On their arrival, Natta reported that pig including one or two good dant-wallahs were at home, but not in very considerable numbers, and that he had made all arrangements for the beat.
The Thakoor of the village had given every assistance, and sent many polite messages. Such being the state of affairs, the sportsmen made no unnecessary delay; but when breakfast was finished, and a quiet weed smoked, intimated to old Natta their readiness at once to attend him.
The hum of many voices in the outskirts of the village had for some time past announced that a gathering of the beaters from that and neighbouring villages had already taken place. A large number was necessary to beat so extensive a cover; and Norman found that not far short of a couple of hundred tickets were required, when, according to custom, he distributed gun wads among them.
The hunters were divided into two parties, both of which took up positions on the same side of the jungle —that towards Euttria though widely apart. A boar might break anywhere and at any period of the beat; even rush back through the line of men, and after that try to escape across the open. It was necessary, therefore, to have the hunters so stationed as for one party or the other to be able to give chase at once. To Norman, Mowbray, and Vivian was allotted a situation behind a sandhill and some brushwood, a little distance in the open, about a quarter of a mile from the further extremity. The remaining four were placed in a similar position, about the same distance from the near extremity. There was, perhaps, a third of a mile between them ; and it was hoped no pig could break on that side undetected by one or other of the detachments.
When the hunters were seen to be established, old Natta gave the word, and the yelling from eight or ten score dusky throats, with the usual musical accompaniments, broke the silence of the woody glades, and startled the slumbering denizens of the cover's recesses.
For a while nothing was seen ; but ere long lengthened howls from different parts of the cover announced the presence of game. This was repeated at intervals, as a glimpse would be obtained of something moving in front by one or other of the parties of men who, owing to the thickness of the cover, were obliged to break up into detachments.
A herd of neilghye was the first to show on the jungle side in front of the first party of hunters ; but they quickly disappeared in the tangled labyrinth of thicket. Again they appeared, further on, among some bushes on the confines of the cover ; and this time, distrustful of the continued prevalence of uproar, moved into the open, and broke away along the jungle's outskirts. But this was only for a brief space. They apparently gained confidence from rapid movement, faced the plain, and dashed out into it with the high-shouldered, ungainly-looking action which distinguishes their gallop, but which covers the ground far more rapidly than its appearance would lead the observer to suppose.