They passed between the two detachments of anxious, watchful hunters, to whom was thus presented a tempting opportunity of matching the speed of their horses with the flying cattle. Had it been late in the clay, they might possibly have clone so ; but nobler game nobler at least to the spearman was their object. The jungle was not yet half beaten, and an old tusker might be looked for at any moment.
One or two jackals next showed, and skulked away. A lynx, too, with its funny long ears, was seen to make its way across the plain, and speedily became lost to view. Many hares scuttled about, and received several brisk discharges of sticks whenever they appeared in open ground, with the result, in one instance, of a kill.
Peafowl and partridges were seen continually whirring down the jungle.
At last, pig themselves gratified the watchers by putting in an appearance. They were first seen scurrying across an opening in the jungle, and then again galloping along its edge, but soon after they re-entered the cover, and were lost to view. It was a small sounder, and, unaccompanied by any old fellow of sufficient weight and respectability to create much excitement. Had they broken, they would probably have been unpursued by the hunters, expecting, as the latter were, to get a chance at something more worthy of their spears.
The beaters had advanced to a level with the position occupied by the first detachment, and yet no pig had broken. But as any number might break through the line, and then make away, even long after the men had passed hoping thus to steal away undetected— the hunters remained where they were.
When about half the jungle had been traversed, the farther detachment became aware that pig were arriving opposite to them. Presently a good-sized pig trotted out into the open, followed by several others. The leader, after advancing a brief distance, several times sniffed at the ground, then stopped short, and, with snout in the air, endeavoured to ascertain by its senses of sound, smell, and sight, if all were safe in front. Its movements were immediately imitated by those following, who seemed to rely a good deal on the acuteness of the guiding member of their band. Again the wary animal cantered slowly on, and again paused, distrustful of the wide plain, and fearful of concealed danger.
The hearts of the three hunters throbbed with intense excitement and anxiety, and they cowered over their horses' necks, breathless with suspense, for there were pig worth a tussle in the sounder, though it contained no very heavy boar. Their line would have taken them within a hundred yards of the concealed sportsmen; but a change came o'er the spirit of their intentions.
Suddenly the leader of the sounder seemed to make up its mind that some concealed danger did or could exist in front, and that the plain was not so secure as it appeared. Perhaps some glance of a spear-head, or movement of a hat; or, possibly, some whiff carried down by the passing breeze, warned it that the task of facing the open was invested with peril. Whatever the cause, the leading pig, after one of its pauses, made a sudden turn to the left, and, cantering away in a far more decided manner, made backward tracks for the jungle, which it re-entered some distance further on, followed by the rest of its party.
The hunters were greatly disgusted. The very horses seemed to know that the period of suspense was over, though Norman's animal could have had no knowledge of the cause, for it was a fresh colt, as yet untried in the hunting-field. It had been lent to him for the day's hunting by his colonel for the purpose of being introduced to a pig under his auspices and light weight. Still it pawed at the ground under an evident impression that something exciting "was in prospect.
The beaters continued to advance, and a tremendous shouting, accompanied by men suddenly dashing out of the jungle, and pointing behind, announced that pig had broken back. When the little excitement attending this movement had subsided, the onward progress was resumed, and shortly another chorus of yells proclaimed a view, once more causing a tingling thrill to rush through the watchers' nerves. This was increased as a large black object was seen to rush through the jungle just opposite, and then, after a momentary disappearance, appear at the cover's edge. A brief recon-noitre, however, seemed to satisfy it, and it once more disappeared. For a while nothing more was seen, and the hunters began to fear that the boar must have broken back, when, from a part of the cover, not far from the extreme end, a large black animal was seen to dash boldly into the plain, and make play across it, as if its mind was fully made up.
" A welting boar, and no mistake !" ejaculated Norman. " I can see the curl of his tushes from this. Let him get well away, Vivian. For God's sake, don't ride yet, or he'll turn back ! "
This injunction was necessary, for young Vivian was just on the point of cramming away in instant pursuit. Recalled, however, to a sense of the mutual positions of hunter and hunted, he pulled up, and waited for the word to go.
" His head is set for the nullahs, is it not ? " asked Mowbray.
"Yes," was the reply. "And it will be just as much as we can manage to overhaul him at this distance. But we must give him law."
The boar continued along at a brisk gallop, and was about three hundred yards distant from the small party of anxious sportsmen as he passed the parallel of their position. Had he broken on a line nearer to them he would have been allowed to get further into the plain, but at that distance it was calculated he would be more than half way to the nullahs before he could be approached.
Norman took off his hat and waved it as a signal to the other party ; then shoving it down firmly on his head, and holding his spear aloft, but without any shouting, gave the word to ride.