The Invisible Warning

H. Mortimer Batten August 1 1911

The Invisible Warning

H. Mortimer Batten August 1 1911

The Invisible Warning

H. Mortimer Batten

TAKE a city-bred puppy out into the hills and let him sniff the trail of a grizzly. Instantly his coat will bristle, and the pale green fire of hatred come into his eyes. Show the same puppy the trail of a cottontail and heart and voice he will join in the mad clamor of the chase. That is instinct, but leave that puppy to face the perils of the bush and he will starve, or perhaps be killed by a rival hunter as he blunders noisily through the undergrowth. For he has never learned the lessons of the wild.

Fifty years ago there was no more popular word among naturalists than the word instinct. It was instinct, they said, that told br’er rabbit “to lie low and say nothing”; that taught the hunted deer to double back, and watch his own trail, and that whispered to the panther to mock the cry of a child to decoy the lost and fever-smitten woodsman. But the naturalist of the present day is beginning to hate the word. Instinct, he says, is inherited knowledge or inherited habit, as the case may be, and plays but a small part in the self-preservation of the wild folk.

But there is vet. another inherited faculty, which, for want of a better term, has been very inadequately named the “Sixth Sense.” It would be a difficult think of a name more misleading, but. at the same time it would be a great deal more difficult to find a suitable substitute for it. The power of preconception—the ability to “sense” a lurking presence or a coming event, is possessed not only by the wild folk, but by man himself, to whose doughy, helpless offspring inherited knowledge would be of little value, even if possessed.

Let us leave instinct out of the question, then, and turn to the misnamed “Sixth Sense.” The American Indian, like most savages, possesses this sense to a marked degree, and only a short time ago a wonderful illustration came before our notice. A Scotch prospector, who had been robbed and deserted by his two companions in the Tete Jaune district of British Columbia, ultimately reached the lodge of an old Indian brave named Emos. Here he remained for some days, accepting the Indian’s hospitality till he had regained strength, when he set out again towards civilization.

Two days later the prospector reached a deserted hut, where he made camp for the night, but next morning a fresh and grievous misfortune befel him. While dressing he happened to touch the window, whereupon the upper framework came down with the force of a guillotine, firmly trapping the man’s hands between the two frames.

In this unhappy plight the Scotchman remained, a helpless prisoner, for over twenty-four hours, at the end of which time, as may well be imagined, he was more dead than alive.

“The last thing I can remember,” writes the prospector, “was finding Emos, the Indian, stooping over me. He took me back to his lodge, where I remained for some weeks. Several times I asked him how he had come to find me in the old deserted shack, far away from any beaten trail. But he never would answer the question, and it seemed to displease him. Certainly it could not have been by mere chance that he journeyed across the hills for the hut was far beyond the limits ot his hunting ground. Therefore, he must have followed me, knowing, by some mysterious means, that I was in dire distress.”

Most of us, who have lived among the Indians at all, have come across instances of this sort. The “Sixth Sense,” as we call it—the preconception of a coming event, is possessed by the hunting tribes all the world over. It has long been a subject of special comment among sportsmen, and in a letter to this magazine on the subject, a well-known Canadian big game hunter, who prefers to have his name withheld, writes as follows: “We had crouched in the spruce thicket for over two hours, Finwell, the Indian guide, with moose call ready, and I with my rifle. Not a sound broke the stillness by the lake margin, save for the occasional weird cry of a nightbird.

Suddenly Finwell whispered : “Moose near!” “How do you know?” I queried, conscious that my sight and hearing were as good as those of the Indian.

“Don’t know,” he answered. “Just know.”

Now had Finwell been any but a touchy red man I should probably have told him what I thought to such an answer. But ten minutes later, sure enough, we caught a glimpse of the great head and spreading antlers of milord the moose peering at us from out the bush. •

Some people may consider this sort of thing to be guesswork, but that it is not guesswork has been conclusively proved scores of times. As a matter of fact, the real hunter would be but a poor creature at the best of times if he did not possess the “Sixth Sense” to some extent. To show how very necessary its possession is to the man of the woods, the following narrative, told to me a short time ago by a British Columbia woodsman, may suffice:

“I had been »over to Nelson to buy stores,” the woodsman explained, “and as the weather was unsettled, I was much later than usual in returning home. It must have been well after midnight when I turned the canoe keel upwards, and set out along the narrow bush cutting that led from the water’s edge.

“It was so dark in the shelter of the spruce trees that I was compelled to grope the way with my feet, which was not a very difficult matter, as the path was well

worn. I had not gone fifty yards, however, when a strange, uncontrollable fear suddenly laid hold of me. Before I had time to realize what I was doing, I had stepped aside into the bush, putting at least three yards between myself and the pathway.

“Somehow I was horribly afraid, though nothing had occurred to arouse my suspicions. So intense was the silence that it seemed a part of the blackness that hemmed me in on every side, and I could even hear the ticking of my watch inside its thick gutta-percha case.

“Scarcely had I been in hiding ten seconds, however, when I distinguished the spongy tread, tread, of a heavy animal approaching along the trail in the opposite direction. The sound drew nearer, till I could hear the animal’s breathing, and the brush of its body through the undergrowth.

“Of all the dangers to be met in the bush, that of meeting a wild animal is of least account, but though I have been in many tight corners, the sensations I now underwent were about the most unpleasant I have ever experienced. Somehow there was a foreboding of tragedy in the very atmosphere, and as the unseen beast drew abreast with me, the mental strain became almost unbearable.

“Just at the critical moment there was a vivid flash of summer lightning, and there, slouching rapidly down the runway, so near that I could almost have touched it, I beheld the largest grizzly it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. The whole scene was stamped on my mind like a photograph, and I remember it to this day—the dark background of overhanging spruce trees, the silver-grey buttes in the distance, and there at my feet the great shaggy monster, totally occupying the runway. I experienced an uncomfortable two minutes of it till the brute moved away, which he did, thank goodness, without argument.”

This woodsman, at any rate, can consider that he owes his present good health to his possession of the sixth sense. As there was no breeze at the time, and not even enough light to enable the grizzly to see the way, it is vastly probable that the two would have come to very close quarters, and each considered it his mortal duty to fight for supremacy.

To what extent wild animals'possess this sense is known only too well by the sportsman who has ever tried to pit his woodcraft against that of moose or caribou. How often, alas, after a long stalk with wind and everything in our favor, does that coveted head with the mighty antlers look suddenly in our direction, as though some guardian spirit of the wild things had whispered a warning! And every sportsman knows, too, those first signs of unrest and suspicion in his quarry that warn him that he is “scented” long before sight, or scent, or hearing, could have given the alarm.

The question that we naturally ask is: Ho we all possess this sense, or is it only acquirable by those who stand in constant need of it? There is reason enough to believe that we all possess it to a certain extent, but not to the same degree as do the Indians and other people of the wilderness, because in our modern environment, we have little need of it. Ninety years hence, very likely, when silent automobiles glide at unlimited speed through our thoroughfares, and aeroplanes innumerable tear the affrighted atmosphere overhead, we shall begin to re-develop the sense. Men will be seen to leap aside without apparent reason, just in time to evade the headlong descent of an aeronaut dropping from the blue ether above the housetops. It will be quite a common sight to behold the old lady—if there exists such a thing in those days—spring suddenly into cover, warned by her newly-developed faculties that death, silent and uncheckable, was approaching from the rear.

To prove that these strange powers are still possessed by the ordinary citizen of the present day, pampered though he may be in comparison with his Stone Age ancestors, I recall the following instance: An unfortunate gentleman, who was burned to death in a railway accident that occurred a short time ago in England, sent the following epistle to his fiancee the night before the tragic affair took place:

“H--, I am returning to Leeds to-

morrow by the mid-day express. You knowhow I hate traveling, but I have never dreaded a journey in my life so much as I dread this one. I have a haunting pre-

sentiment of something dreadful happening before I reach home, and were it not, etc., etc.”

The letter was published in many of the British dailies at the time, and no doubt some of the readers of this magazine will recall its appearance. Most of us, at any rate, can recall similar examples, without butting our heads against the never-ending questions of clairvoyance and witchcraft.

When in Africa a few years ago, I came across several gentlemen who professed to possess superhuman faculties. Some of them made a very good thing out of it. One old quack in particular, with a special taste for missionary and explorer, professed to be able to forecast the seasons by the look of a white man’s interior. Being the only white men in the district, we naturally gave this gentleman and his faithful friends as wide a berth as possible.

I remember a story that was told in a London clubroom by a famous big game hunter, who was recently killed in India by a scladang. Me were discussing the subject under review when the big game hunter intervened.

“Some of the Hindu shickarees,” he said, “possess this sense to an extent that would seem incredible to a man who has never mixed with them. When I was living in India, I employed one shickaree for some years. His name was Lutti. Between the shooting seasons he acted as my personal servant, and we traveled all over India together. Naturally we got to know each other very well.

“Once, when out on a hunting trip, I had sent Lutti up country to secure stores, and the very night following his departure I received news that a man-eating tiger I had been following for some weeks, had moved into the long valley across the river.

“How I longed for Lutti to return! Without him I could do nothing. I sat up half the night longing for him, and ultimately decided to tackle the task alone next day, though it was the most risky business imaginable.

“But when morning came there was no need to do this. There was Lutti, footsore and weary, preparing my breakfast. He had mu forty miles through the jungle during the night.

“ ‘Lutti/ I said. ‘Why are you here?’ ‘“You want me, sahib?’

“ T do. But how did you know?’ “Lutti smiled. ‘If my brother were in danger a thousand miles from here, and were to think of me, should I not know, sahib?’ he asked; but when I questioned him further he answered in the descriptive words of Finwell, the Canadian Indian: ‘Don’t know. Just know.’ ”

To return nearer to home truths—our domestic dog often furnishes us with wonderful instances of the sixth sense. A farmer in Nova Scotia possessed a dog that could never be induced to leave his side. One afternoon, however, the farmer set out to visit a friend who lived a mile or two away, and to the great perplexity of the household, it was seen that the dog seemed reluctant to follow him. The farmer was puzzled and hurt at the animal’s sudden loss of affection. He called it to him, but after a long and wistful gaze the dog slunk away. A short chase ensued, but the animal easily outdistanced its portly owner, who was left to go his way unaccompanied.

A few minutes later a very different scene took place about a mile distant from the house. Along the wide, dusty road walked two children on their way from school—the son and daughter of the outraged farmer.

Suddenly a huge black beast appeared through an open gate only a few yards from the helpless toddlers. The beast was a red-eyed, short-horned Durham bull—a veritable nightmare to its owner.

Now, the little girl was wearing a crimson cloak, and what happened can wTell be imagined. The bull charged—the children screamed and clung to each other. There was no one near enough to divert the tragedy—in a few seconds the helpless infants would be beaten hideously to the ground and trampled to death.

But the horrible thing never occurred. Between the children and the enraged beast suddenly appeared a guardian angel in the most effective disguise of a small mongrel dog. Twenty minutes later the children were safe at home, while the little y aller dog, anxious to carry out his duty to the last minute degree, still clung with avidity to the nose of the frantic Durham.