The Life Story of a Buffalo
Sarath Kumar Ghosh in Royal Magazine
THE elephants had drunk at the midnight pool, disported themselves, and departed. But meanwhile there was a silent movement along the bank higher up the stream. A dull, black, massive form comes to the water’s edge, then another on its right, and another on its left. The three form the head of a phalanx of wild buffaloes ; the rest of the herd come up from behind and range themselves on either side of the leaders. Sniffing the air, they stand with levelled horns and in serried rank, all bulls. Behind them stand the cows and calves ; a line of bulls brings up the rear. While the first line drinks the others keep watch ; then the first line files past the side, comes to the rear, forms line again, face outwards —while the second advances to the water.
Under the lee of the buffaloes, and seeking their protection, a timid nilghai (blue deer) creeps to the bank. She glances with timorous eyes to the right and left. For she knows that afar off a pair of black panthers are waiting for her—aye, from the tall,, treacherous grass a pair of yellow, darning eyes are watching her with the lust of hunger, knowing that she is the daintiest morsel in the jungle. So she creeps with a panting heart to the side of the buffaloes, and drinks beneath the horn of the nearest one.
Suddenly there is a shrill cry, and with a single bound she has regained the high ground and vanished. The next instant, with fiery nostrils and levelled horns, the wild buffaloes have charged full pelt into the jungle. Upon the deserted bank a tiger and the pair of panthers recover from their foiled leap, eye one another askance, accuse
one another of spoiling the sport— and slink off sulkily to their lairs. .
That, Heaven-born, is a true scene by the midnight pool. I mention it because of the unwritten law of the jungle. The elephants, the lords among the denizens of the jungle, drink first, and then all other animals —but at a point above the elephants, not below ; otherwise the water would be muddy. Could the law of human society be more just? Verily among men the inferior must eat and drink both below and after the lords—and of their leavings. But all human civilization was anticipated in the jungle centuries before the advent of man on this planet. Behold the unionism of the buffaloes, and their co-operation" against the common foe. But of that more in due course.
In that herd, among the cows, there was a young calf—the subject of my present narrative. In after years he was named Buldeo; so we shall call him by that name from the beginning.
Buldeo was born in the summer, in the manner of most buffalo calves ; and also, as is usual, he had no brother or sister at birth ; for twins are somewhat rare. His home was on the lowland portion of the wide tract watered by the Godavery. The buffalo is one of those animals which are found only in localities fulfilling certain definite conditions.
Each animal has its own special requirements ; those of the buffalo seem to be an unlimited supply of water, combined with a plentiful pasturage ; and, as the latter is really dependent on the former, the essential feature of the buffalo’s haunts is water.
All animals need water, but the buffalo needs it most. If it could, it
would wade neck deep into a pool and
stay there all day. Hence its most usual haunts are the jungles intersected by the tributaries of such mighty rivers as the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Godavery. Lowlands it prefers to highlands ; for, though drinking water may be supplied by mountain streams, the luxury of a daily bath or wallow would be wanting.
Wild buffaloes are always found in herds. Buldeo's herd numbered about fifty; a dozen calves of all ages, the rest bulls and cows. At the time of his birth his mother separated from the herd for four days, when he was strong enough to move with the other buffaloes. Elis mother then rejoined the herd, which had meanwhile kept to the neighborhood. In that respect a buffalo herd behaves unlike an elephant herd ; for the latter stays by the mother throughout, till the young one is able to go with the rest.
A buffalo calf, in the first few months of its life, behaves exactly like the calf of the domestic cattle, so we can dimiss Buldeo’s early youth with a brief reference. Invariably in the morning and evening he would drink his mother’s milk, and once or twice in the day at odd intervals, if he felt hungry. Elis mother would be grazing quietly, when he would rush to her, have a mouthful of milk, start a frantic race of ten yards all by himself, stop dead, turn back, have a little more milk, then a mad gallop—and again some more milk. In fact, his early days were spent in doing two things—standing quite still for a few minutes, then suddenly galloping madlv for ten yards—through sheer joy of living.
No kitten or puppy dog has quite that same idea of enjoyment. The kitten or the puppy will be tumbling head over heels, or chasing its own tail, or in some sort of perpetual motion all day. But the buffalo calf thinks that there is no joy like sudden joy. One never can tell when it. will break out into a gallop and when stand still. The contrast between the immobility and the violent motion seems to be the essence of ils pleasure.
This constant exercise seems to
have been designed by Nature to enable the calf to move with the herd over a considerable distance if necessary. As a rule the herd tries to keep to the same locality, but as the combined appetite of fifty buffaloes will lay bare all the vegetation in a dozen square miles in a week, an occasional long march might be necessary. Besides, every kind of land would not suit, it must have a few swamps or marshes to complete their joy. In that respect the Indian buffalo differs totallv from its first cousin, the Indian bison—with which it is often confused. For the bison prefers forests of trees to jungles of thickets and bushes ; and comparatively dry tablelands to swampy lowlands.
The bison is brownish in color, the buffalo almost black. In size, the bison is bigger—in fact, the Indian bison is the largest animal of the bovine tribe—though the buffalo is big enough to command respect. Buldeo at full maturity had the following dimensions :
Height at the shoulder, 6V2 feet— considerably higher than a horse. Length over body 10V2 feet. Tail, 3 feet.
Horns, each 6 feet in length, slightly curved outwards at the point.
Eor the bison the length and height of body would be a few inches more, but the horns would be shorter.
Regarding comparative strength, the evidence points to an equality between the bison and the buffalo. ÉI any an elephant carrying a hunter has been upset by the sudden charge of a wounded bison or buffalo alike. Hence the interesting question arises: Which is the strongest animal in the world ? Probably the bull elephant. Next, the rhinoceros or bison or buffalo ; about equal. Next, the tiger; but for the bigger bulk of the others, the tiger would be easily first. The African lion? Simply not in the running. For the strength of the finest specimens of the African lion is found by actual and repeated experiments to be only about six-tenths that of the Bengal tiger.
Indian Rajahs have often had tigers participating in State processions. It
is done very simply. A captive tiger is drugged by means of opium mixed with its food. Then three steel collars or bands are fixed around it ; one at the neck, one at the waist, and the third about the middle—held in position by being attached to the other two with chains above and below. Now, two, three, or four iron rods, each seven or eight feet long and an inch thick, are fixed to each of the bands by rings. If the tiger is large, it needs at least ten strong men to hold the rods when the tiger awakes, and the men will have to be very much on the alert when dragging or thrusting it along in the procession.
Rods are used in preference to chains, as with the latter it is only possible to pull—whereas' witli rods to thrust as well ; hence the strength of all ten men is available simultaneously. But trying the experiment with even a powerful lion, it is found that six men can hold it in the above manner—which gives the numerical value of the tiger’s strength, not only in relation to the lion, but also approximately in regard to men.
This reference to the tiger's strength has an important bearing on the character of the buffalo. The tiger and the buffalo are intimately connected, not merely as the eater and the eaten, the hunter and the hunted, but also, by a sort of reciprocity of destiny, as the hunter-become-hunted and the hunted-turned-hunter. For the buffalo is the one quadruped which shares with man the privilege of regularly and systematically hunting the tiger. As that is the most interesting feature in the buffalo’s life, I shall reserve it to the last.
The one thing Buldeo had to learn was the principal law of the herd, namely, co-operation. Bees and ants have a complete system of government ; but they not only retain class distinctions, but also allot different species of work to different classes of members. In a buffalo herd, however, there is perfect equality—except for the mere fact of having a leader, who may possibly have the first choice of a wife, but has no other privilege whatever. He is not a king in a little
kingdom, nor a president in a republic, but merely the first worker or defender among others ; the first among equals. Herds of other wild animals feed and live together. A buffalo herd does more—it thinks together, acts together.
Why this absolute unity? Because of the common peril— the tiger. Somewhere along the banks of the Ganges or the Brahmaputra, perhaps cycles of centuries before the advent of man, the buffalo roamed in individual freedom —and was eaten by the tiger. Had the tiger dared to attack it in front, the buffalo would have soon gored it to death, or even have trampled the life out of it. But the buffalo had to feed long to satisfy its hunger, and with its head to the grass, so the tiger always took it from the rear. At last, decimated, exasperated, out of their sorrow was begotten wisdom.
The buffaloes realized that if they could always present a united front to the tiger they would be safe. That is, if they grazed together, moved togethed, drank together, horn to horn in a phalanx or circle or square. The Britishv square that spells victory in battle ? The wild buffaloes of India discovered the same principle a few thousand centuries earlier ; out of their bitterness, their sorrows, their losses. Thenceforth they lived in herds, and founded the laws of cooperation.
The wild buffaloes of Africa nr America might have adopted the principle of united action to the same extent had their peril been as great. But the lion or the jaguar was not powerful enough, for an African buffalo is more than a match for a pair of African lions. Wisdom is begotten of sorrow7 among men and women ; then why not among buffaloes ? The working men of Europe learnt the power of co-operation only after centuries of oppression from their taskmasters ; in like manner also the buffaloes of India.
Is the government among them quite perfect? No. What social system is perfect among men and women? There, I have said it! Men
and women . . . Yes, among
buffaloes also the females are at the bottom of all the trouble. The whole herd lives all the year round in peace and brotherhood, thinking of nothing but their food and drink—which they share in common. But in the autumn, when their thoughts turn to love, and a huge general nuptial is about to take place, the bulls fight like demons—or men—for the first pick of the females. In marriage alone there is no common property.
I have said that there was a leader in Buldeo’s herd—a fiery old bull, who had vanquished all his rivals at the annual pre-nuptial joust for the possession of the queen of beauty. For five years, since Buldeo’s birth, he held the leadership ; then, alas ! he met his inevitable doom. Three jealous young bulls were all in love with the most favored young cow in the herd. Individually, they realized, they had no chance against the old bull, who had already marked out the object of their united affection for his new wife for that year. So the three combined, held a council of war, went simultaneously for the old bull, and gave him a most fearful thrashing.
Now a defeated leader never stays with the herd. So he walked out into the jungle and became a lone wanderer. Later on he found a smaller herd, fought and vanquished its leader, and took his place—till again ousted by a younger bull. Then he took to solitude and developed a most savage temper.
He was shot by an English sportsman, for whom I acted as shikari. The bull received an inch thick solid ball on his flank at a hundred yards as he was grazing, turned swiftly, sniffed the air, pawed the ground, got another ball full on the chest, sighted us, charged in mad fury—we leapt nimbly aside, fired again at ten yards simultaneously, one on either shoulder—and the bull with bent head crashed into* a small tree, uprooted it, and died.
And the three young bulls, his conquerors? Alas, their history was almost human! They fell to fighting among themselves for the possession of the cow that had caused the trouble, and the strongest defeated his 100
rivals and reigned supreme for a year. For meanwhile Buldeo had grown up, and at the next pre-nuptial joust such a battle took place as has seldom been witnessed in the jungle before. For the best young cow of the year was a beauty—in buffalo estimation.
The combatants faced each other at about ten yards, looked at each other with narrowed eyelids, pawed the ground, bent their heads, and charged. They met with a shock that rang through the jungle like the snapping of a tall deodar. The skull of almost any other animal would have been fractured by such a shock; but a buffalo skull is very thick.
They recoiled from the shock, and charged again. Now they did not recoil, but laid head to head anu nutted, pushed, separated, closed. Tuen gradually, step by step, Buldeo forced back his opponent—suddenly paused, took a step back, and charged. The other staggered under the unexpected blow, fell on his haunches, reared himself up fiercely, paused a moment" to take breath.
Meanwhile, Buldeo fell back a few steps, and awaited the returning shock. As he saw it coming he turned suddenly a little to the left, and presented his right horn to his opponent’s shoulder, pierced it. then fell back quickly, lest the horn should be broken by the enormous pressure. The wounded buffalo bellowed with rage, and casting discretion to the winds, came on recklessly in mad fury.
Now they discarded the head attack, and leapt and circled round each other, each trying to gore his opponent on the flank. The rest of the herd looked on with blinking eyes, but never interfered. The grass was beaten down over a dozen yards at the middle of the arena, sprinkled with patches of blood at every step. For the fighters were now mad with fury, and gored each other to kill or be killed. But vaguely Buldeo seemed to realize that he must preserve his horns intact, if ever he were to reign over the herd. It was better to abstain from inflicting the deepest wound possible, if thereby a horn were to be broken. Being voungcr and more nimble, he
trusted rather to the number of wounds he could inflict than to the intensity of each. He was forced back by the reckless onslaught of his foe, or retired judiciously, then leapt round sideways and gored him on the flank.
At last the older bull began to tire visibly from the loss of blood. He made one last frantic charge. They met 'in the centre of the arena, obscured for the moment by the cloud of dust around them. They seemed locked together, horn to horn—a sound like the crack of timber, a wild bellow of rage and pain, a fierce scuffle, a frantic thrust—and the older bull went down on his knees. Buldeo took a step back, pawed the ground, snorted with fiery nostrils. But the enemy came no more to the attack, for he had realized that he had met his doom. He looked piteously at the broken horn lying at his feet, lurched up heavily, panted for breath, turned slowly towards the jungle.
He staggered onwards, onwards, onwards, never pausing to look back on the herd that had cast off his supremacy. Like a rudderless ship he rolled onwards, reeling, lurching, then laboring onwards. Through bushes and thickets, past streams and brooklets, over the fields, then on to the high road that led over an eminence to the asylum of a new jungle. Once over the hillock, in the middle of the lonely road, he paused for breath, silhouetted against the setting sun, his black flanks red with blood oozing from a dozen, wounds, his mouth and nostrils dripping with mingled foam and blood, his right horn broken off at the middle. He blinked at the sun, then staggered on and passed out of sight, perchance to seek the refuge and solace of a wallow in some deserted swamp. And all for the sake of one small cow !
His conqueror, panting for breath and covered with blood and sweat, yet defiant and conscious of his might, turned and faced the rest of the herd. He looked at the other bulls and waited for a challenge. But they saw the broken horn on the ground, and probably thought that one cow was as good
as another; so they lowered their mouths to the grass and commenced to feed. But to Buldeo it was his first love, and he wanted one particular being and no other. Thus he won her and' the leadership of the herd by tlie same battle.
He ruled wisely; or, to be more accurate, led wisely. Buffaloes act simultaneously from mere habit or instinct. Occasionally a short council of war is necessary, and then the leader moves, and forthwith all the others move with him. I shall give an example presently. Meanwhile, let us consider the three essential occupations of a herd ; feeding, drinking or wallowing, and sighting danger.
First, feeding. Wild buffaloes always feed at night. Their instinct or observation has informed them that the greatest peril from the tiger is at night; so they spend the night wideawake and in constant motion. They feed mainly on grass, anything from a few inches to a few feet high. As they nibble the grass they move onwards step by step. They start originally in a line or crescent, so that as they feed the whole line or crescent advances by about an equal amount.
It is a curious fact that if there be an intervening obstacle, such as a large tree or mound, the two parts of the line re-form instinctively on the other side, not by an apparently studied effort, but in the mere act of feeding. The more forward portion just lingers a little over each mouthful, to give the rear line time to come up, this again being merely due to their constant habit of acting in unison. The cows are not necessarily in the centre, as they, too, have powerful horns, and could join effectively with the bulls in repelling a frontal attack. But if there be very young calves, the mothers instinctively take the centre.
Failing a sufficiency of grass, vegetation of any kind will serve, such as the fresh leaves of small trees or shrubs. But the greatest delicacy is growing crops ; and if a buffalo herd ever passes within a few miles of a village, the people generally find next morning half their crops eaten up or trampled down. Buldeo raided sev-
eral such places with his comrades, which subsequently led to the after part of his history, as we shall see forthwith.
Buffaloes drink several times. At the midnight pool, if they can find one. Failing that, in the morning. Then, as the sun gets hot, they seek their daily bath or wallow. Here we have the true capacity of a leader. It is one of the conceits of man that he appropriates all power of reasoning to himself ; anything he does not understand in animals he attributes vaguely to “instinct.”
he struck a neighboring mire: for a 102
Instinct, forsooth ! A buffalo herd has usually to feed all night to satisfy its hunger, and then must finish up in the morning somewhere in the neighborhood of water. Supposing at the start in the evening Buldeo turned his head at each mouthful a little to the right instead of the left, or vice versa ; then the next buffalo would have to do likewise to get a mouthful at all, and so on all along the line. Result : by the morning Buldeo would have carried his herd a few miles away from the nearest pool.
Remember that food is not continuous in location, and that several barren patches may have to be traversed. And supposing he managed accurately at first, when grass was plentiful and any (direction correct, then how about a fortnight later when all the vegetation was eaten off the face of the earth for miles around, and the herd compelled to resort to a less favored pasture in the outlying regions? If that is mere instinct, then the finest strategists act by mere instinct. Which, after all, may be true!
Assuming, then, that the calculation was correct, Buldeo would lead his herd into the pool and drink and then bathe. He would walk right in, so that a hidden shikari on a tree would see only his eyes and nostrils out of the water. And the whole herd likewise. More; in that attitude they would remain for hours, protected by the water from the heat of the sun and from the plague of mosquitoes and flies.
But Buldeo was the happiest when
mire is the paradise of buffaloes. In it he would go, followed by the rest, neck deep if possible, and literally wallow in it, occasionally rolling on the sides to get the mud right over. And in it also he would remain for several hours; in fact, all day, if possible, to lie down and sleep. If not, he would emerge with the herd and seek the nearest patch of long grass. In it the herd would lie down to sleep, amply protected from the sun and the mosquitoes by the inch of mud on their backs.
Have they sentinels during the hours of sleep ? One would expect that. But, strange as it may seem, they have none ; probably because sentinels are unnecessary. The whole herd lies down fairly close together, so that an enemy could not reach the neck of any or inflict anything more than a scratch or two, without running the risk of being forthwith gored or trampled to death.
The real danger is during the hours of feeding, if the line gets unduly extended and a straggler not only lags behind but is also hidden from view for the moment by tall grass. Fo guard against that peril the buffalo is endowed with certain faculties. First, an acute power of smell. An approaching tiger would be smelt by the entire herd a couple of hundred yards from leeward, and half-a-mile from windward.
Sometimes a hidden shikari on a tree is informed of the approach of a tiger by the demeanor of a herd of buffaloes. One moment the whole herd will be browsing peacefully ; then one or two will look up, sniff the air, paw the ground, and utter a short, sharp snort. The next instant the whole herd will spontaneously form a circle, or phalanx, or square, according to the nature of the ground, and stand perfectly still, sniffing the air. Thus they will remain for any length of time; and when at last they lower their heads to resume feeding, the shikari knows that the danger is past.
Second, the power of inter-communication. A buffalo utters three distinct kinds of sound. A prolonged.
sonorous bellow, to call stragglers. A herd may have unconsciously broken up into two or three groups, each hidden from view by the night or otherwise; then this cry will restore communication even at a mile; nay, if the night be very still and clear, as it often is in India, and if some of the buffaloes are feeding low, with their heads close to the ground, they will hear the sound at three miles. Perhaps the Heaven-born knows that among shikaris the recognized standard of distance is called the “buffalo league,” which is approximately three miles. For the expert shikari, by putting his ear to the ground, can also hear the buffalo call at that distance ; hence his adoption of that standard.
The second class of cry I have already alluded to ; the sharp snort of rage or even a roar like that of a common bull, generally in a fight. The third sound is the most interesting. It is a kind of “moo” ; low in pitch, but intense and concentrated. It is a cry of apprehension, intended to warn the others of some imminent peril either to the utterer or to the hearers. I shall give an example.
After Buldeo had raided several cornfields near the village where my family dwelt, the villagers begged me to capture the herd—not only to stop their ravages, but also to use the captured herd afterwards for a very necessary purpose. But to take a whole herd alive, or even a part of it, is a serious undertaking. So I went with a comrade to reconnoitre. We came up with them about an hour before sunset, when the herd was just waking from sleep. The grass was quite four feet high, and we came to within a hundred yards, when suddenly we heard a “moo,” then another, and another. There was a commotion, as if the buffaloes were moving as rapidly as possible. We looked up and saw the cause ; the herd was forming a circle to repel an attack. They had mistaken us for tigers! And they actually remained in that attitude for an hour, till we had withdrawn to a distance.
That night we followed them, and completed our arrangements for their
capture. I shall not trouble the Heaven-born with details. There arc two methods—pits covered with twigs, and an arrangement of nets near some favorite wallow. In three attempts we took a dozen of them, including Buldeo, on whom indeed all our efforts were centred ; the rest escaped.
Now, the taming of wild buffaloes is extremely simple, if aided by domesticated ones — who themselves have been wild originally. After all, a buffalo, like any other animal, only wants its daily food ; then why should it grumble if it has the food without the trouble of seeking for it? So the captives were herded with the tame buffaloes in a large stockade in which there was a suitable pool and an adjoining mire; besides, a superabundance of cut grass was thrown in daily. What more could they want? In fact, in a few weeks they were as tame as the rest.
The most astonishing feature about the character of the buffalo is its strong affection for man. It is a remarkable fact that the deep attachment for man possessed by such intelligent animals as the elephant, the dog, the horse, is far surpassed by that poor, dull, stupid creature—the buffalo. But the man must be no stranger ; in fact, must be someone the buffalo sees daily, hears the voice of, feels the touch of—the herdsman.
Now, in a village there is always a sort of head herdsman ; but the actual work of taking out the buffaloes to graze, to wallow, and then fetching them back at night, is done by little boys—little boys, because they are useless for any other work, and can play about all day beside their charge. There is a close affinity between buffaloes and little boys—they both revel in mud.
Need I add then that the naked little boy who tumbles in the mud with the herd is loved by them with a passionate love ? But woe to the stranger that unexpectedly approaches the herd, or the man of unwonted appearance. So let the Heaven-born’s English friends beware of coming too near if they pass by a village and see a naked little toddler twisting a bull
buffalo’s tail. The buffalo loves that, but will hurl his body—ten feet long and six feet high—in sudden rage at the strangers at sight.
Thus let me introduce to the Heaven-born the joy and pride of my heart—my little son Gulab. He was six years old, knew no clothing, and revelled in mud. After the captives had become quite tame they were taken to the fields with the other buffaloes, and for the firs't two months Gulab went with the old herdsman. Then he took sole charge. It was a sight to witness when he clambered up Buldeo’s huge back by the tail. Sometimes Buldeo would lower his head to enable the boy to scramble up by the horns. Gulab would sit well forward on the neck, his legs wide apart, a foot on each horn. Thus he would take the herd to graze.
The whole object of the villagers in keeping a herd of buffaloes was to protect their other live stock, such as ploughing cattle, from the depredations of tigers. When the ploughing cattle go to graze, or are at work, the buffaloes are always kept on the far side.
If a tiger comes to attack the former he is soon sighted by the latter; then if the tiger be wise, he retires— quickly. For in broad daylight, seeing their foe before them, the hearts of the buffaloes are turned to rage. Perhaps it is the dim memory of the centuries of suffering from the tiger —before they united—and the old scores yet to be paid, the vengeance yet due. Be that as it may, the united herd with levelled horns will charge the tiger. Which the tiger knows— and clears out.
In a wild state the buffaloes act as the natural protectors of the feeble denizens of the jungle; we have seen the timid nilghai drinking at the midnight pool under the protection of their horns. But in the service of man the buffaloes have the opportunity of satisfying their hearts’ desire, and of liquidating the ancient debt and heritage of vengeance by systematically hunting the wounded tiger— the wounded tiger, not because it is the easiest kind of hunting, but the most
difficult and the most dangerous, and utterly beyond the power of man.
It is a marvellous ordination of Nature that to every animal in the jungle deadly to others there should be one special creature deadly, and sworn to eternal enmity with it. For the cobra there is the mongoose; so for the tiger the buffalo.
It happened that a party of six English sportsmen had bagged a few tigers in the jungles of the neighborhood. But the largest and the most ferocious tiger of the lot had escaped with a severe wound, and had taken refuge in a thicket, as traced by his blood. Now, to oust a wounded tiger from its lair is certain death to any man that attempts it, and if a number of men, to at least one of them.
Even if the tiger be shot simultaneously by a dozen explosive bullets, each in a vital part—nay, each through the heart, so that tire heart be smashed to a pulp—the tiger will still make its dying leap and kill its nearest killer. Elephants are useless, unless brought right up to the lair, when the tiger could leap up to the howdah ; besides, there are few elephants that could be induced to go so hear. A battery of field guns could be brought up, and the tiger shelled at long range. The only practical alternative is a herd of bull buffaloes.
So I advised the sahibs, for whom I was acting as shikari, to requisition the village herd. My little son wept in bitterness when I refused to take him, for the lair of a wounded tiger is no place for any but the most seasoned hunters. I placed the sahibs in a semi-circle on the far side of the lair, each on a tree—three at fifty yards, and three at a hundred. Then the old herdsman brought up the bull buffaloes on the near side. About a hundred yards in front of the thicket they formed in line. Alreadv they had sniffed the tiger, and with arched backs and leveiled horns were pawing the ground impatiently. I gave the word, and with a sharp snort of battle they thundered into the thicket, trampling it, cutting it into lanes.
A snarl, a roar—and the tiger leapt out on the far side, snarled again in
rage—then a sharp volley from the three hunters above ripped open its sides. In blind fury the tiger turned and leapt towards the trees with a terrific roar, went past them, gathered itself up for its dying leap—and again another volley rang out, this time from the last line of hunters, and the explosive bullets tore up the tiger's body at that close range even as it was in the act of leaping. And the dead tiger still leapt, turned a somersault in the air, came down with a thud, rolled over and over with its own impetus, then lay still.
The buffaloes had done their work in driving the wounded tiger out of its lair—the explosive bullets did the rest. But if the tiger had dared to stand its ground, the buffaloes would also have done the work of killing. The tiger knows that, and would face anything rather than them.
But it may happen that the tiger is an old brute, unable to catch the antelope, and maddened by hunger, sneaks round villages to cut off stray cattle as its sole chance of livelihood. One evening the village was startled by the ploughing cattle,' which had been grazing about a mile away, rushing in in a wild stampede. There was no time to count carefully, but someone cried out that his favorite cow was missing.
I thought only of my little son. With my heart in my mouth I rushed out with my gun, followed by a crowd of villagers. I counted the minutes; the fleeing cattle could not have come the mile in fewer than five minutes ; it would take us ten more to get there. What might not happen meanwhile ?
And already the whole drama had been enacted and ended ; for if the villain of the piece is a tiger, the scene can last ten seconds, not ten minutes. It was an old tiger maddened by hunger. Gulab had come out of the mud and was calling the ploughing cattle, when he heard a commotion and saw the cow struck down—the rest of the cattle fleeing in terror. The tiger, knowing that the buffaloes were nigh, tried to drag away its prey; then suddenly it saw the child. It seemed to
realize instinctively that to seize the; child and run away with him beyond pursuit would be far quicker than to drag the cow' away or even to make a hasty meal of it.
Gulab stood still fascinated. This was his first tiger, and the heart of many a grown man would have turned to water. The tiger stared at him across the body of the cow, not twenty yards away, then leapt over it, and with a slouching gait made for the child. Little Gulab never moved, but looked with round eyes at the crouching form. For the moment he might have lost all conception of his peril— his coming death, for he was but a child and knew not the meaning of death. He seemed to be in a dream.
Then vaguely he seemed to realize that something was happening. The' tiger suddenly stopped and snarled in rage. In his dream Gulab heard a strange sound behind, a snort, a bellow, another, and another. He turned as if in sleep, and saw Buldeo thirty yards behind, and six others with him. The rest of the herd, farther behind and somewhat to the outer side, were charging full pelt in a sweeping circle.
The tiger stood its ground—it had left the dead cow for an easier victim, and now even that was slipping out of its grasp. The average tiger would have tied, but this one was famished and desperate. It crouched for a last spring.
•The forward buffaloes parted, swept past the child on either side ; then the tiger sprang straight out at the gap, clearing the horns on either side. But at the sight of his friends Gulab had awakened from his dream. As Buldeo went past he grabbed at the tail—missed it, but ran with the buffaloes. Thus he escaped the tiger’s leap.
The discomfited beast turned—but too late. The second line of buffaloes was close upon it, and meanwhile the advanced line had stopped. Gulab clutched Buldeo’s tail and ran up his back like a squirrel.
“Charge, brothers, charge!" he veiled frantically.
And Buldeo turned and charged. The tiger, caught between two lines,
gave a despairing leap towards the side—but too late. The next instant it was a shapeless mass beneath Buldeo’s hoofs.
\nd the rest. Heaven-born, we Maw with our own eyes. All this had happened when we had scarcely started. Then from afar off we heard the thunder of hoofs and saw a cloud of dust. It came nearer and nearer. The whole herd was returning. I saw from afar my little Gulab seated astride upon Buldeo, waving his arms frantically. But why was Buldeo lagging a little behind? And why was his head persistently turned a little to the left?
A moment more and the whole herd thundered down upon us—and I realized. For a stout rope was tied to Buldeo’s left horn, near the root, and the rest of the rope was trailing behind, dragging the carcase of the tiger by the neck.
I lifted up my little boy and kissed him—then, to hide my tears, rebuked him.
“Are, my son, thou has spoilt the skm !”
“Are, my father, the skin is mangy.”
“Still, it would have fetched ten rupees.”
“Is my father so feeble that he cannot kill fifty good tigers worth fifty good rupees apiece?”
Then it was 1 that was rebuked. “My son is a man,” I said proudly, “and wiser than his father.”
For I realized that the dragging of the dead tiger would embolden the herd, and also put heart into the timid villagers. They came in numbers to gloat over the body of their dead foe, pulled it about, heaped upon it opprobrious names, cut it up in parts, and carried off the whiskers, the liver, and heart, to make charms and lovephiltres.
That night the villagers garlanded my son with flowers, and feasted him with many sweets—so that he was very sick and happy. And as for Buldeo, in reward for this act and many others before, they decreed to grant him a life pension in old age. That is, when many years after he must resign the leadership of the herd, he would be allowed to graze wherever he pleased around the village, and enjoy a wallow in anybody’s ditch, rut, or mire.
Misfortune sometimes brings the best out of a man. There is no set of circumstance out of which a strong man, relying upon his strength, may not disentangle himself.—G. H. Bainbridge.