Apart from pig-sticking and fox-hunting, you don’t do your hunting on horseback as a rule.
I once had a good hunt after a wolf with a number of other mounted men near Kandahar. As a rule a wolf can out-distance an ordinary horse but on this occasion he took the wrong direction and perhaps had recently had his luncheon. In any case after a fair gallop we ran him into the ditch of a fort, and there speared him.
I also had a ride after a hyena with a number of Arabs, one of the most alarming games I ever took part in, for the plan was to gallop him down and surround him and for every man then to loose off his rifle at him.
As we were in a circle we were thus firing inwards and towards each other, but fortunately, being mounted, the guns were pointed downwards and the many bullets which missed the hyena went into the sand.
Assisted by dogs I have also ridden down a water buck in South Africa and killed him with an assegai, and I once got a black buck in India with my pistol.
I was on the line of march with the Regiment to which I had just been appointed, when we saw a fine black buck with remarkably big horns, running about on the open plain in an excited state. I noticed a masonry pillar near which he finally stood, so moving out till this came between the buck and myself, I galloped across the plain till I reached the pillar unseen though heard by him.
I got a quick shot at him with my Mauser pistol just as he turned and galloped away. He leaped a mud wall a few yards distant and so disappeared from view.
I heard an "oh" of regret from the ranks of the Regiment as I galloped after him. Looking over the wall to the open plain beyond he was nowhere in sight, but here he was lying dead close under the wall. He had been shot through the heart and the jump over the wall was his last spasmodic effort.
In India one often meets with panthers when out after pig, and though I have never had the luck to do it myself many a sportsman has ridden down a panther and killed it with a spear. But it is a most dangerous game, as with his tough loose skin it is very difficult to give a mortal wound and he is very apt, when pursued, to crouch suddenly and let man and horse go by and then spring on to the horse’s quarters and maul the rider from behind.
The only two panthers I have bagged were one baby panther which I captured alive and kept as a pet; the other I shot in the forest at Knysna in South Africa.
We were, at this time, on leave on a hunting expedition in the forest, which was very beautiful with wild mountain scenery. Deep in the forest we made our camp and started to tramp after elephants.
To judge from the accounts of the inhabitants the danger lay in the elephants tramping after us!
An Italian wood-cutter, for instance, said the simplest way of getting near the beasts was to pretend to be a woodcutter and start chopping a tree. They would come running round in no time. He said that then was the time when he always ran "like blazery" and climbed the nearest tree.
An old Dutch farmer also told us the beasts were plentiful but added characteristically: "If the elephant don’t give no road then I go home."
However, we were not beset by the animals. We walked for miles and miles without seeing any. We were in a ghastly jungle of tree-ferns over one’s head, entangled, with a dense growth of creepers, creeping ferns and thorn bushes, forming a regular maze of narrow, well-worn elephant paths running in all directions.
Some time afterwards the great elephant hunter, Selous, visited the spot and when he saw the almost impassable jungle he made tracks out of it again as fast as he could, thankful to get away from such a hopelessly dangerous place before any elephants spotted him.
We being perfectly ignorant of elephants and their ways went boldly in where an angel would have feared to tread!
From a small open hill we at last saw a herd of elephant feeding in low bush on the opposite hillside, their great rounded backs and flapping ears gleaming in the sun.
We crept and struggled for an hour through thick fern jungle. At last we got near enough to hear them tearing down the branches and snorting and gurgling.
Gradually the cracking of sticks and the crashing down of saplings grew louder as the animals came nearer, till they sounded quite close and all around us; but owing to the dense bush we could see nothing of them.
Suddenly there was a movement in the bush high above the spot where I was looking for them. A branch was suddenly dragged down with a slatey coloured trunk coiled round it and then for a second there appeared two great white tusks and the huge head and ears of a wild elephant. In a moment it was hidden again by waving branches.
Two other elephants were close by me on either side but quite invisible except when they moved. Even then they were difficult to distinguish from the trees in dark shadow around them.
I could not see enough to shoot at, and even if I had I doubt whether I should have fired; this was not from any motive of caution but because I was so fascinated in watching them and, well, I have always felt that, if one may say so, an elephant is too big a thing and too sacred a thing for a puny man to slay.
On they went, crashing, munching, rumbling and squeaking. Then, suddenly, there was a complete and tense silence. Not a sound. I guessed that they had niffed us or heard us, and were standing alert.
But the silence was broken by my tracker who said: "They’ve gone." And so they had. They had slipped away without a rustle, without cracking a twig, on tip-toe as it were.
If wild elephants are interesting to watch, still more so are they interesting when tame.
At Moulmein, in Burma, one saw them doing their daily task of piling teak logs and working in the saw-mills, with an intelligence that was almost human.
Just as one instance, one saw an elephant carrying a great log in his trunk bring it into the saw-mill, where he had to thread his way down a narrow passage between two whirling, shrieking blades and buzzing engines.
But he had the sense to turn his head and steer his log in sideways and eventually to place it lengthways on the sawing platform and to adjust it, to the very inch, in its proper place with a final shove here and there with his nose till it was exactly aligned. Then coming out he picked up a whole bundle of slabs of waste wood to take to the rubbish heap. He passed three men hauling on a heavy log which had got stuck on some impediment. Noticing this out of the corner of his eye, and without being told, he gave this log a hearty push with his hind foot as he went by, which sent it over the obstacle—all out of a sheer spirit of helpfulness.
Then, as he passed a stand pipe, feeling that he wanted a drink, he turned on the tap with the tip of his trunk and drank his fill, and then went on, leaving the tap running. His owner said that it was his one bad habit. He always forgot to turn the tap off again!
I had had other experiences of the wonderful cleverness and docility of elephants when I had one assigned to me in the Terai for shooting purposes. Her Indian name sounded like Dandelion, so Dandelion we called her. She was comfortable to ride, which many elephants are not when they stump with their feet and shake every bone of your body at every step.
And going along through the grass jungle, standing as it did some six feet high, as she rolled her way with the loud swishing of the grass, one felt exactly as though one were in a boat on the sea.
Nor did the illusion cease when we came to a halt, for Dandelion could never stand quite still, but kept rolling gently from side to side, with an easy sleepifying motion. But she was quick as a pointer to scent game, and whether it was a partridge or a tiger she stood like a rock the moment game was afoot.
Time after time she gave me warning before I saw for myself anything to shoot at.
On one occasion we were clambering up out of a deep ravine in the forest; when she was doing all she knew to haul her bulk up the steep bank she suddenly "froze."
I looked round and for a moment or two could see nothing. Then, along the skyline close above us, I could see a few inches of the hairy back of a great black bear.
A quick snap-shot got him through the spine, and he came rolling head over heels close past Dandelion, but she never budged an inch and let him fall past her to the bottom of the ravine.
Of course, elephants are not always so well behaved.
A transport elephant, attached to my Regiment, was carrying a load of tents across a river, when it got its feet into a quicksand. It immediately seized with its trunk, one after another, three coolies who were walking alongside it, and pushed them down under its feet to gain a foothold.
This was intelligent of it but was a thing that wasn’t done in the best elephantine circles, and the poor thing was condemned in consequence to wear heavy chain bracelets round each foot for the rest of its life.
Once when we had twenty elephants in camp one of these had a grudge against its mahout and, seeing him asleep in the midday rest time, it put out its foot to stamp on him but made a bad shot and only crushed his thigh.
There was an immense hullabaloo and the offending elephant was taken by the other mahouts and tied to a tree. The remaining nineteen were then formed up and solemnly told of the offence committed by Number Twenty and were invited to give him a hiding. This they accordingly did. Each elephant, taking a length of chain in its trunk, marched past in single file behind the culprit, and each, as he went by, slung the chain round with tremendous force on to his hinder parts.
I don’t mind confessing that I have a weakness for hippos. If I kept a mascot I think that, though he doesn’t exactly lend himself to being a pet, I should certainly like to have a hippo as mine.
Of course, he isn’t quite what you would call beautiful—but there he is—he is not commonplace at any rate, he is quaint. Go and study him in the Zoo. I can watch him by the hour and . . . love him!
Talking of the Zoo a hippo there once got loose.
It was early in the morning before the visitors were about in the gardens. The keepers were in a great stew as to how to get him back into his paddock again. They tempted him with bundles of succulent hay, but he only ate the hay and wandered still further afield.
What was to be done? A brilliant idea occurred to Mr. Bartlett, the Manager. He remembered that "Obash"—that was the animal’s name—had a particular dislike for one of the keepers named Scott, and used to run at him whenever he saw him.
So Mr. Bartlett sent for Scott and put a banknote into his hand and said: "Now you go and show yourself to Obash and when he comes for you run like billy-o into his paddock and then nip out over the railings on the far side."
Scott, who was a good sporting fellow, did not hesitate. He went towards the hippo and yelled at him: "Oh, you Obash! You ugly brute, you."
Obash looked up from his meal with surprise and then, seeing who it was, dropped his mouthful of hay on which he was busy, swung round and came for Scott at a tremendous pace.
Scott wasted no time. There was no dilly-dallying about him, and he just legged it as hard as he could go into the paddock, with old Obash tearing along after him.
He managed to reach the far railings and scrambled up them just in time to escape the rush of the mighty beast, who was thus safely caged in his own paddock again.
Unable to gratify my lust for a hippo as a pet in an English home I have to content myself with the next best thing—the skull of one as a memento—and this is how I got the beggar.
A friend and I were camping near a lake in which there were lots of hippos and the natives thereabouts were in a state bordering on famine and wanted meat. But the hippos were very cunning. They would not show themselves above water while we were about, so it was difficult to get a shot at them.
One day we went out to a distant part of the shore to stalk them. Hippos can stay a long time under water, but they have to come up occasionally to breathe. When they do so they are careful only just to put their nostrils above the surface; they can blow off a little fountain of water and down they go again. So that all you see of them is six little black dots—their two nostrils, eyes, and ears— and these only appear for about three seconds.
But they always come up at the same spot, so the thing is to have your rifle ready aimed at the place, and the moment the eye appears to pull your trigger before the beast goes down again.
My friend and I had a match to see who could kill a big hippo who was behaving in this fashion opposite the place where we were lying. I lay on my back in order to get a steadier aim It was this lying on my back which inspired the natives with me to give me the nickname "M’hlalapanzi," which means "the man who lies down to shoot," and, in its second interpretation, "the man who lays his plans carefully before shooting them into practice."
And this nickname stuck to me ever afterwards among the natives and our hunters.
I drew my bead carefully on the old beggar’s eye when it appeared, and kept the rifle steadily aimed at that spot while he was down, and then when he came up again was ready for him and let fly.
The monster heaved himself half out of the water with a tremendous snort and then plunged in amidst a fountain of water and spray, and we saw him no more.
Another appeared not far off and my friend had a shot at him and made him hop too.
A hippo when killed usually sinks to the bottom, but four or five hours later, owing to gases forming inside him, he floats up to the surface.
Our natives were very much on the look-out, therefore, for the bodies of the two hippos, and in the evening a runner came excitedly into camp to tell us that one of them was floating there dead.
We hurried down to examine him, and there he lay, a great fat monster on his side, stranded among the rushes.
We could find no sign of a wound until we opened his eyelid and there we found the eye had been smashed; the bullet had gone straight to its mark and had entered his brain.
Of course, each of us claimed the animal as his.
I had been firing with a government rifle while my friend had used an "express." When we dug out the bullet it had the broad arrow on the base. It was a government bullet and so the hippo was mine.
You should have seen our natives and what they did with that hippo. As a first step they cut a square hole in his side, just big enough to admit a man, and one man accordingly went in with a knife and fetched out all sorts of tit-bits in the way of chunks of liver, heart, etc., which he handed to his friends.
Of all the horrible sights you could imagine that grinning native, literally covered with blood from head to foot, was a complete picture. We were in a fairly desert country at the time, where there seemed to be few if any inhabitants. But at nightfall there were nearly a hundred natives collected on the carcass and to these people a lump of raw meat gives as much joy as a whole plum pudding would to a boy at Christmas, especially as they were near starvation point.
That night our camp was the scene of tremendous feasting and festivity. Every man lit his own fire and, after skewering great slabs of meat on his assegais, he planted them round the fire. Then he sat down and solemnly set to work to eat the whole lot.
The meat had not got time to get cooked. He simply ate it raw or half-warmed.
All night long, whenever we woke, we could hear the men champing away at their meal.
It was about four in the morning. We were sleeping peacefully, the camp-fires were burning low, and even the most hungry of our "boys" were dozing; one of the dogs awakened me by continual growling and uneasiness; then the disturbance was added to by a neighbouring goat startling the night with a shrill bleat of alarm; in another moment there was a sudden rush as of the wind, a crash, and a confused trample of flying hoofs as our herd of four oxen burst from their corral and rushed into the surrounding bush.
In a second everybody was awake and moving. I rushed from my tent, hog-spear in hand, to find all the "boys" in an unwonted state of excitement, with but one word in their mouths: "N’gonyama" (lions).
It appeared that, attracted by the scent of the roasting hippo and of our cattle and ponies—and pony is to a lion as turtle soup to an alderman—a roving band of lions had made a rush through our camp, and the cattle had in consequence stampeded, followed by their aggressors.
While we were yet discussing the situation a shrill bellow of pain echoed through the bush at a short distance from the camp, and told us of the fate of one of our poor beeves.
As soon as day began to dawn we followed them up and presently came across them. There was the old lion having his breakfast off the dead bullock, while a party of four young lions was sitting round, waiting until the old lion had finished and they could have their turn to feed.
However, their little plans were upset by our appearance on the scene, and they all made off as fast as they could; and we followed up the big lion by his foot-tracks in the sand.
We trailed him for many hours trying to catch him up, but he always dodged us by getting scent of us before we got sight of him, till at last he had to cross an open glade in the forest where we saw him dive into a thick patch of thorn bushes wherein to hide.
We came up as quickly as possible and surrounded the clump, ready to shoot him whichever side he came out. But he didn’t come out. So a plan was then made, at the suggestion of our chief tracker, who was an old Zulu warrior, by which we could make sure of getting him.
This clump of bush was very like a big patch of furze bush which you may see on any common, very thick and prickly above but with several tunnels leading through it underneath.
The plan was that I should creep into a tunnel on all fours, with my rifle, and the Zulu would follow close behind me. So soon as I saw the lion I should shoot at it and then lie flat. The Zulu would put his big shield over both of us and as the lion charged us he would stick him in the tummy with his assegai.
I thought it a splendid scheme excepting the part where I came in! And I didn’t at all like the idea of that creeping game. My hair almost stood on end to think of it. But as a small boy I had been taught the Cub Law and that was that I must not give in to my own feelings or wishes, and I had always tried to carry it out.
At this moment I felt horribly inclined to break the law and to give in to myself. But I am glad to say that I stuck to it and I crept into the tunnel. As we got farther in my hair got more than ever inclined to stand on end until, on turning a corner in the tunnel, I saw before me . . . daylight at the other end! Then my pluck returned; the lion was not there, and I crawled into the open on the other side feeling a perfect hero.
The lion had sneaked away without our having seen it.
So you see a lion is not always as brave as he is painted. At the same time I have met with one who was quite nasty about it when he saw me, and—well, to make a long story short, I am still alive, and his head (stuffed) and skin adorn my room now.