A minority decide on hunting—Among tlie castor-oil and cotton fields—Found, run, and killed in them—-Another find and kill—Eound the camp-fire-—The Mukundra Pass—An unexpected meeting with a tiger—A similar interview in Candeeish —A turn-up with a bear—Rising on the hind legs at close quarters—A rearing tiger—Curious double stalk of a cheetul —A charging gazelle—My last black buck.
Norman and Vivian having seen Mackenzie off on his way to Bhooj in the dooley, rejoined the party early on the following morning, but found that owing to one circumstance and another, several of the horses were temporarily hors-de-combat. Those two alone, therefore, proposed hunting on that day. Should khubber be brought in of any very large boar, one or two allowed that their determination was susceptible of re-consideration. But as the fixture for the following morning was the celebrated " Venotree" jungle, distant about ten miles, they preferred reserving their nags for that.
Natta put in an early appearance, reporting that he had not hit on the trail of any large solitary boar or big d ant-wallah, as he expressed it but that there were one or two sounders in the castor-oil fields containing some decent sized pig among them, and these he proposed beating for.
After a brief but animated debate regarding the desirability or otherwise of hunting on that day, it was decided by the majority that it would hardly be worth the candle to risk their used-up animals where no big-un was likely to be met with, and that they had better reserve their horses fresh for the morrow. Norman and Vivian, accordingly, were the only two who responded to the summons to the hunting field, leaving the others to go in search of coolen which abounded in immense flocks at no great distance— ducks, snipe, quail, and whatever in the shape of small game could be picked up.
Owing to the prompt and ready payment of the beaters on the preceding evening, no difficulty was now experienced in procuring as many as were required, ready and willing to serve for a certain day's pay.
As is usually the case, the blood of the slaughtered boar had driven away from its neighbourhood others of animals so susceptible of, and dependent on scent ; and it was, therefore, in a different direction that old Natta led the hunters for the day's sport.
A considerable tract was under cultivation ; most of the fields large in size being covered with a tolerably thick growth of mixed castor-oil and cotton. This, though affording good cover to wild pig, is seldom so thick as altogether to impede the pursuer, though he may frequently lose sight of the pursued; and a horse easily forces his way at full gallop through the readily parting bushes.
One particularly large field was believed to contain a nice young boar, whose pugs had been frequently met with, but which it was not deemed desirable to track to his very form.
A line was accordingly formed at one side of this field, and with one of the hunters near either extremity, advanced into it. When about half-way through, there was a tremendous shouting, and the dust and moving bushes about the centre of the line announced that something was there astir. At first it seemed to be making away ; but suddenly came back, charging through the line of beaters with a grunt which was as music in the ears of the hunters, but to the imminent risk of a couple of men who happened to be in the way. The line of flight was easily perceptible, and the horsemen soon got behind the boar, though as yet they had seen nothing of its actual body. They were not long, however, in catching fleeting glimpses of a dark mass cleaving its way through the cotton bushes, and in pursuit of it speedily pressed their horses.
The boar was evidently most averse to leave the field in which he had spent so many pleasant hours of uninterrupted rest; and, though closely followed by the hunters, seemed intent rather on trusting to the protecting screen of the cover, and with its aid throw them off. Instead of going straight away, therefore, and endeavouring; to make some other field of which there were many similar ones about he ran a ring, resorting to all the dodges of which he was master, to put his pursuers off the scent. He turned sharply to one flank; he stopped dead, and went away in the opposite direction as he heard the hunters gallop past; every ruse he tried, but tried in vain. He was frequently unsighted ; but the dust from the dry surface of the land rose above the cultivation, and too surely indicated his progress. With this to guide them, whenever the pig disappeared they had merely to glance round, and they were soon again in the track of the wily game. All his dodgings were of no avail, for Norman, not to be shaken off for any length of time, ran him till blown, and at last closed with, and speared him.
Vivian, who was indifferently mounted on an animal which could hardly be deemed to rank much above a tattoo, had, nevertheless, been well in during the shifty doubling of the pig, and soon came to his friend's assistance, and speared likewise. The various turns of the chase had brought them close to the spot from which the boar had originally started, and here he came to bay and soon after died, fighting pluckily to the last.
After a brief rest and the despatch of the boar to the tents, the line was re-formed and the beat continued.
It was a fortunate circumstance that the first pig had confined himself to one field, as thereby the others remained undisturbed. A very tantalising and confusing thing it is when the hunted pig arouses another party of slumbering neighbours ; thus causing the loss of an opportunity of obtaining separate runs. Moreover, a sounder of suddenly startled pig scattering themselves in all directions is exceedingly perplexing, and not infrequently all escape, by one or another diverting the attention from that first pursued.
The second field was beaten blank ; but from the third a small sounder was halloed away on Norman s right, and again he started as leader in the pursuit. He soon viewed them, and getting them across a more thinly-grown field, separated one which looked like a boar, owing to a fairly developed tusk. It proved a pig endowed with no despicable speed; and after a brief hustling in the fields fairly took to the more open country beyond, and led the pace a regular cracker over one or two small hedges and through some narrow strips of jungle. Vivian was quite outpaced, and dropped far to the rear. Indeed, it was some time before Norman could at all improve his own position, and when he did run up, the pig put on a spurt and again drew away from him. But this was not to last. After thus for some distance holding its. own, the pig seemed suddenly to become aware that its pertinacious pursuer might in the end have the best of it. Its course became more undecided. First it slightly diverged to the right, then it made a brief spurt to the left; and when Norman once more approached, it made a sharp half turn to the right, stopped almost dead, and then darting behind his horse made away at almost undiminished speed towards a shallow water-course pretty thickly grown with jungle and studded with baubel trees. A slightly circuitous route would from this take it back to the fields, and this was probably its object.