Stable management in India—The Eunn of Cutch—Morning costume —Khubber—Hair of the clog—Arrangements for the beat— " Gone away"—A run on the flat—The first kill—The second find—Chances of the chase—A long run and speedy kill—Wild donkeys—Return to camp.
The day dawned cold and bracing, and several of the hunters were astir before the sun made its appearance over the hills towards Wagur, the eastern division of Cutch. Clad in garments such as I have described, but in many instances the under and lower clothing consisting only of a simple morning dishabille, one after one sallied from his tent, and almost invariably made his first object a visit to the horses.
Tea was called for; and the servants, h itherto employed with hands outspread, and cowering over the fire watching the boiling of the kettle, would suddenly become alert and bring the matutinal cups to their masters. The calls for tea were, however, in one or two cases, varied by demands for soda-water; and it was noticeable that the occupants of the tents whence these latter proceeded were the latest in making their appearance outside.
The syces were, for the most part, hard at work, heaving vigorously with hand and arm against the flanks and quarters of their charges. By this excellent hand-rubbing the coat was thoroughly cleansed, and all loose and superfluous hair removed. Curry-combs, as scrapers, were strictly forbidden by most of the hunters, and the sponge, brush, and hand-glove, of coarse coir or cocoa-nut fibre, completed the dressing.
Good hand-rabbins is one of the secrets of cleanli-ness and health in the Indian stable; and the undipped, satin-like coat of a high-caste Arab, even in the field, will well repay the labour lavished on it in this respect. It certainly will not shine with the trustless, superficial brilliance induced by the atmosphere of a hot, unventilated, English stable, such as some grooms love ; but cleanly at the roots, the hair will have a far more healthy appearance.
There was a good deal of raising of the hind quarters and kicking out going on under the influence of this operation; but a really good native groom does not much mind this, for the heel-ropes prevent the horse from kicking all round the compass, or shifting his position. Hobbles are, in some cases,^ necessary, but not often. Taking them altogether, the horses were a very mixed-looking lot. There were many downright screws among them, but not the least chance had these veterans of crediting a first-spear to their masters. Experience and a readiness promptly to avail oneself of every chance, so necessary in the rider, is not less so in the horse. Some knowing old hunters will follow a boar in its twistings and turnings like a dog, even without the aid of hand and spur ; and a few so accustomed do they become to meet the boar s charge at a reduced pace will of themselves slacken their speed as they are taken up to meet the onset, and are only with great difficulty afterwards kicked on out of harm's way.*
Mackenzie's great stud-bred mare, with several others, was more adapted for the level country of the " Runn," than one stonier or more hilly and broken; while some one or two, indeed, ranking little above tattoos appeared too small to race over the plain, and would probably have a better chance in an in-and-out broken country, where pace was less requisite.
The changes and chances of the chase are, however, proverbially uncertain, and any sudden turn or manoeuvre of a pig may give the advantage to those far in the rear.
Each horse was subjected to much criticism, as, in small parties, the sportsmen strolled down the pickets; and opinions were freely offered and canvassed as hands were passed down legs which looked doubtful, or, as in some cases, legs about which there could be no doubt whatever. Little neighs of welcome saluted some of the masters as they approached their own favourites with a carrot, or piece of sugar cane, or mouthful of lucerne grass, which were given in small quantities, like sugar-plums to children. This was not the time to distend unnecessarily the stomachs of those intended to be that day ridden; indeed, after the morning feed and water, all was cleared away in front, except the mouthful of hay deemed sufficient.
* See Appendix, Note H.
During the intervals of strolling about, saddles and bridles were examined, and a finishing touch given with the file to those spear-heads which required sharpening. These matters disposed of, a few wandered to a neighbouring eminence, and took a look over the country destined to be the scene of the day's sport.
The " Runn" was at the distance of about a mile and a half, and the edge of that sandy waste was as distinctly traceable as the sea-shore. A very little imagination, indeed, could picture it as such, with a succession of promontories and bays, capes and inlets. In the clear morning air all was distinct and defined for many miles. Both to the right and left, hills of considerable, but varying height, rose from the dead level of the desert plain, in some places abruptly, like cliffs, in others more gradually. Here they encroached on the Yv^aste itself, there fell back, and were based by the tract of jungle which intervened between them and the desert. Neither was this belt of jungle of regular form or density. Fields and open spaces could be discerned amidst it, breaking its monotony, and its outline was as defined as the hills, and resembled, like them, all the sinuosities of a coast; indeed, it might well have been taken for a low, jungly shore. A few trees studded it, but they were by no means plentiful. There was, however, in one place a tope, among which were some dates, which jutted out from the mainland, and had the appearance of an island. On the left front, at the distance of a few miles, the Eunn was partially covered with water, which, with its adjacent saline incrustations, glittered in the rising sun. Beyond this lay the Dooree jungle, which stretched out boldly into the waste; and groups of trees, more inland, rising above the ever-present line of low wood, indicated the position of Dooree itself, and neighbouring villages.