The next two days were spent in the same neighbourhood, and the plant-hunter was very successful. The seeds of many rare plants, some of them quite new to the botanical world, were here obtained, and like the skin of the tiger deposited in a safe place, so that the collectors might not be burdened with them on their journey to the mountains. It was in this way that Karl had resolved upon making his collections, leaving the seeds and nuts he should obtain at various places upon his route; and, when returning, he trusted to be able to employ some coolies to assist in getting them carried to Calcutta or some other sea-port.
On the fourth day the travellers again took the route, still facing due northward in the direction of the mountains. They needed no guide to point out their course, as the river which they had resolved upon following upwards was guide enough; usually they kept along its banks, but sometimes a thick marshy jungle forced them to abandon the water-edge and keep away for some distance into the back country, where the path was more safe and open.
About midday they arrived at the banks of a stream, that was a branch of the main river. This stream lay transversely to their route, and, of course, had to be crossed. There was neither bridge nor ford, nor crossing of any kind to be seen, and the current was both wide and deep. They followed it up for more than a mile; but it neither grew shallower nor yet more narrow. They walked up and down for a couple of hours, endeavouring to find a crossing, but to no purpose.
Both Caspar and Ossaroo were good swimmers, but Karl could not swim a stroke; and it was entirely on his account that they stayed to search for a ford. The other two would have dashed in at once, regardless of the swift current. What was to be done with Karl? In such a rapid running river it was as much as the best swimmer could do to carry himself across; therefore not one of the others could assist Karl. How then, were they to get over?
They had seated themselves under a tree to debate this question; and no doubt the habile Ossaroo would soon have offered a solution to it, and got the young Sahib across, but at that moment assistance arrived from a very unexpected quarter.
There was a belt of open ground—a sort of meadow upon the side opposite to where they were seated, which was backed by a jungly forest.
Out of this forest a man was seen to emerge, and take his way across the meadow in the direction of the river. His swarthy complexion, and bushy black hair hanging neglected over his shoulders—his dress consisting of a single blanket-like robe, held by a leathern belt around the waist— his bare legs and sandalled feet—all bore evidence that he was one of the half-savage natives of the Terai.
His appearance created a great sensation, and astonished all the party— Ossaroo, perhaps, excepted. It was not his wild look nor his odd costume that produced this astonishment, for men who have travelled in Hindostan are not likely to be surprised by wild looks and strange dresses. What astonished our travellers—and it would have had a like effect upon the most stoical people in the world—was that the individual who approached was carrying a buffalo upon his back! Not the quarter of a buffalo, nor the head of a buffalo, but a whole one, as big, and black, and hairy, as an English bull! The back of the animal lay against the back of the man, with the head and horns projecting over his shoulder, the legs sticking out behind, and the tail dragging about his heels!
How one man could bear up under such a load was more than our travellers could divine; but not only did this wild Mech bear up under it, but he appeared to carry it with ease, and stepped as lightly across the meadow as if it had been a bag of feathers he was carrying!
Both Karl and Caspar uttered exclamations of surprise, and rapid interrogatories were put to Ossaroo for an explanation. Ossaroo only smiled significantly in reply, evidently able to explain this mysterious phenomenon; but enjoying the surprise of his companions too much to offer a solution of it as long as he could decorously withhold it.
The surprise of the boys was not diminished, when another native stepped out of the timber, buffalo on back, like the first; and then another and another—until half-a-dozen men, with a like number of buffaloes on their shoulders, were seen crossing the meadows!
Meanwhile the foremost had reached the bank of the river; and now the astonishment of the botanists reached its climax, when they saw this man let down the huge animal from his shoulders, embrace it with his arms, place it before him in the water, and then mount astride upon its back! In a moment more he was out in the stream, and his buffalo swimming under him, or rather he seemed to be pushing it along, using his arms and legs as paddles to impel it forward!
The others, on reaching the water, acted in a precisely similar manner, and the whole party were soon launched, and crossing the stream together.
It was not until the foremost Mech had arrived at the bank close to where our travellers awaited them, lifted his buffalo out of the water, and reshouldered it, that the latter learnt to their surprise that what they had taken for buffaloes were nothing more than the inflated skins of these animals that were thus employed as rafts by the rude but ingenious natives of the district!
The same contrivance is used by the inhabitants of the Punjaub and other parts of India, where fords are few and bridges cannot be built. The buffaloes are skinned, with the legs, heads, and horns left on, to serve as handles and supports in managing them. They are then rendered airtight and inflated, heads, legs, and all; and in this way bear such a resemblance to the animals from which they have been taken, that even dogs are deceived, and often growl and bark at them. Of course the quantity of air is for more than sufficient to buoy up the weight of a man. Sometimes, when goods and other articles are to be carried across, several skins are attached together, and thus form an excellent raft.
This was done upon the spot, and at a moment's notice. The Mechs, although a half-savage people, are far from uncivil in their intercourse with strangers. A word from Ossaroo, accompanied by a few pipes of tobacco from the botanist, procured the desired raft of buffalo-skins; and our party, in less than half-an-hour, were safely deposited upon the opposite bank, and allowed to continue their journey without the slightest molestation.
THE TALLEST GRASS IN THE WORLD.
As our travellers proceeded up-stream, they were occasionally compelled to pass through tracts covered with a species of jungle-grass, called "Dab-grass," which not only reached above the heads of the tallest of the party, but would have done so had they been giants! Goliath or the Cyclops might have, either of them, stood on tiptoe in a field of this grass, without being able to look over its tops.
The botanist was curious enough to measure some stalks of this gigantic grass, and found them full fourteen feet in height, and as thick as a man's finger near the roots! Of course no animal, except a giraffe, could raise its head over the tops of such grass as this; but there are no giraffes in this part of the world—these long-necked creatures being confined to the Continent of Africa. Wild elephants, however, are found here; and the largest of them can hide himself in the midst of this tall sward, as easily as a mouse would in an English meadow.
But there are other animals that make their layer in the dab-grass. It is a favourite haunt both of the tiger and Indian lion; and it was not without feelings of fear that our botanical travellers threaded their way amidst its tall cane-like culms.
You will be ready to admit, that the dab-grass is a tall grass. But it is far from being the tallest in the world, or in the East Indies either. What think you of a grass nearly five times as tall? And yet in that same country such a grass exists. Yes—there is a species of "panic-grass," the Panicum arborescens, which actually grows to the height of fifty feet, with a culm not thicker than an ordinary goose-quill! This singular species is, however, a climbing plant, growing up amidst the trees of the forest, supported by their branches, and almost reaching to their tops.
This panic-grass you will, no doubt, fancy must be the tallest grass in the world. But no. Prepare yourself to hear that there is still another kind, not only taller than this, but one that grows to the prodigious height of a hundred feet!
You will guess what sort I am about to name. It could be no other than the giant bamboo. That is the tallest grass in the world.
You know the bamboo as a "cane;" but for all that it is a true grass, belonging to the natural order of gramineae, or grasses, the chief difference between it, and many others of the same order, being its more gigantic dimensions.
My young reader, I may safely assert, that in all the vegetable kingdom there is no species or form so valuable to the human race as the "grasses." Among all civilised nations bread is reckoned as the food of primary importance, so much so as to have obtained the sobriquet of "the staff of life;" and nearly every sort of bread is the production of a grass. Wheat, barley, oats, maize, and rice, are all grasses; and so, too, is the sugar-cane—so valuable for its luxurious product. It would take up many pages of our little volume to enumerate the various species of gramineae, that contribute to the necessities and luxuries of mankind; and other pages might be written about species equally available for the purposes of life, but which have not yet been brought into cultivation.
Of all kinds of grasses, however, none possesses greater interest than the bamboo. Although not the most useful as an article of food, this noble plant serves a greater number of purposes in the economy of human life, than perhaps any other vegetable in existence.
What the palm-tree of many species is to the natives of South America or tropical Africa, such is the bamboo to the inhabitants of Southern Asia and its islands. It is doubtful whether nature has conferred upon these people any greater boon than this noble plant, the light and graceful culms of which are applied by them to a multitude of useful purposes. Indeed so numerous are the uses made of the bamboo, that it would be an elaborate work even to make out a list of them. A few of the purposes to which it is applied will enable you to judge of the valuable nature of this princely grass.
The young shoots of some species are cut when tender, and eaten like asparagus. The full-grown stems, while green, form elegant cases, exhaling a perpetual moisture, and capable of transporting fresh flowers for hundreds of miles. When ripe and hard, they are converted into bows, arrows, and quivers, lance-shafts, the masts of vessels, walking-sticks, the poles of palanquins, the floors and supporters of bridges, and a variety of similar purposes. In a growing state the strong kinds are formed into stockades, which are impenetrable to any thing but regular infantry or artillery. By notching their sides the Malays make wonderfully light scaling ladders, which can be conveyed with facility, where heavier machines could not be transported. Bruised and crushed in water, the leaves and stems form Chinese paper, the finer qualities of which are only improved by a mixture of raw cotton and by more careful pounding. The leaves of a small species are the material used by the Chinese for the lining of their tea-chests. Cut into lengths, and the partitions knocked out, they form durable water-pipes, or by a little contrivance are made into cases for holding rolls of paper. Slit into strips, they afford a most durable material for weaving into mats, baskets, window-blinds, and even the sails of boats; and the larger and thicker truncheons are carved by the Chinese into beautiful ornaments. For building purposes the bamboo is still more important. In many parts of India the framework of the houses of the natives is chiefly composed of this material. In the flooring, whole stems, four or live inches in diameter, are laid close to each other, and across these, laths of split bamboo, about an inch wide, are fastened down by filaments of rattan cane. The sides of the houses are closed in by the bamboos opened and rendered flat by splitting or notching the circular joints on the outside, chipping away the corresponding divisions within, and laying it in the sun to dry, pressed down with weights. Whole bamboos often form the upright timbers, and the house is generally roofed in with a thatch of narrow split bamboos, six feet long, placed in regular layers, each reaching within two feet of the extremity of that beneath it, by which a treble covering is formed. Another and most ingenious roof is also formed by cutting large straight bamboos of sufficient length to reach from the ridge to the eaves, then splitting them exactly in two, knocking out the partitions, and arranging them in close order with the hollow or inner sides uppermost; after which a second layer, with the outer or concave sides up, is placed upon the other in such a manner that each of the convex pieces falls into the two contiguous concave pieces covering their edges, thus serving as gutters to carry off the rain that falls on the convex layer.
Such are a few of the uses of the bamboo, enumerated by an ingenious writer; and these are probably not more than one tenth of the purposes to which this valuable cane is applied by the natives of India.
The quickness with which the bamboo can be cut and fashioned to any purpose is not the least remarkable of its properties. One of the most distinguished of English botanists (Hooker) relates that a complete furnished house of bamboo, containing chairs and a table, was erected by his six attendants in the space of one hour!
Of the bamboos there are many species—perhaps fifty in all—some of them natives of Africa and South America, but the greater number belonging to southern Asia, which is the true home of these gigantic grasses. The species differ in many respects from each other—some of them being thick and strong, while others are light and slender, and elastic. In nothing do the different species vary more than in size. They are found growing of all sizes, from the dwarf bamboo, as slender as a wheat-stalk, and only two feet high, to the Bambusa maxima, as thick as a man's body, and towering to the height of a hundred feet!
Ossaroo had lived all his life in a bamboo country, and was well acquainted with all its uses. Hardly a vessel or implement that he could not manufacture of bamboo canes of some kind or another, and many a purpose besides he knew how to apply them to. Had he been obliged to cross a tract of country where there was no water, and required a large vessel, or "canteen," to carry a supply, he would have made it as follows. He would have taken two joints of bamboo, each a couple of feet long and six or seven inches in diameter. These he would have trimmed, so that one of the nodes between the hollow spaces would serve as a bottom for each. In the node, or partition, at the top, he would have pierced a small hole to admit the water, which hole could be closed by a stopper of the pith of a palm or some soft wood, easily procured in the tropical forests of India. In case he could not have found bamboos with joints sufficiently long for the purpose it would have mattered little. Two or more joints would have been taken for each jar, and the partitions between them broken through, so as to admit the water into the hollow spaces within. The pair of "jars" he would have then bound together at a very acute angle—something after the form of the letter V—and then to carry them with ease he would have strapped the bamboos to his back, the apex of the angle downwards, and one of the ends just peeping over each shoulder. In this way he would have provided himself with a water-vessel that for strength and lightness—the two great essentials—would have been superior to anything that either tinker or cooper could construct.
As it happened that they were travelling through a district where there was water at the distance of every mile or two, this bamboo canteen was not needed. A single joint holding a quart was enough to give any of the party a drink whenever they required it.
Now had the Mechs not arrived opportunely with their rafts of inflated buffalo-skins, there can be no doubt that Ossaroo would have found some mode of crossing the stream. A proof that he could have done so occurred but a few hours after, when our travellers found themselves in a similar dilemma. This time it was the main river, whose course they were following, that lay in the way. A large bend had to be got over, else, they would have been compelled to take a circuitous route of many miles, and by a path which the guide knew to be difficult on account of some marshes that intervened.
Ossaroo proposed fording the river, but how was that to be done? It would be a longer swim than the other, and there were no natives with their skin-rafts—at least none were in sight. But there grew close by a clump of noble bamboos, and the guide pointed to them.
"Oh! you intend to make a raft of the canes?" inquired the botanist.
"Yes, Sahib," replied the shikarree.
"It will take a long time, I fear?"
"No fearee, Sahib; half-hour do."
Ossaroo was as good as his promise. In half-an-hour not only one raft, but three—that is, a raft for each—was constructed and ready to be launched. The construction of these was as simple as it was ingenious. Each consisted of four pieces of bamboo, lashed together crossways with strips of rattan, so as to form a square in the centre just large enough to admit the body of a man. Of course, the bamboos, being hollow within, and closed at both ends, had sufficient buoyancy to sustain a man's weight above water, and nothing more was wanted.
Each of the party having adjusted his burden upon his back, stepped within the square space, lifted the framework in his hands, walked boldly into the river, and was soon floating out upon its current. Ossaroo had given them instructions how to balance themselves so as to keep upright, and also how to paddle with both hands and feet: so that, after a good deal of plashing and spluttering, and laughing and shouting, all three arrived safely on the opposite bank. Of course, Fritz swam over without a raft.
As the river had to be re-crossed on the other arm of the bend, each carried his raft across the neck or isthmus, where a similar fording was made, that brought them once more on the path they were following. Thus every day—almost every hour—our travellers were astonished by some new feat of their hunter-guide, and some new purpose to which the noble bamboo could be applied.
Still another astonishment awaited them. Ossaroo had yet a feat in store, in the performance of which the bamboo was to play a conspicuous part; and it chanced that upon the very next day, an opportunity occurred by which the hunter was enabled to perform this feat to the great gratification not only of his travelling companions, but to the delight of a whole village of natives, who derived no little benefit from the performance.
I have already said, that there are many parts of India where the people live in great fear of the tigers—as well as lions, wild elephants, panthers, and rhinoceroses. These people have no knowledge of proper fire-arms. Some, indeed, carry the clumsy matchlock, which, of course, is of little or no service in hunting; and their bows, even with poisoned arrows, are but poor weapons when used in an encounter with these strong savage beasts.
Often a whole village is kept in a state of terror for weeks or months by a single tiger who may have made his lair in the neighbourhood, and whose presence is known by his repeated forays upon the cows, buffaloes, or other domesticated animals of the villagers. It is only after this state of things has continued for a length of time, and much loss has been sustained, that these poor people, goaded to desperation, at length assemble together, and risk an encounter with the tawny tyrant. In such encounters human lives are frequently sacrificed, and generally some one of the party receives a blow or scratch from the tiger's paw, which maims or lames him for the rest of his days.
But there is still a worse case than even this. Not infrequently the tiger, instead of preying upon their cattle, carries off one of the natives themselves; and where this occurs, the savage monster, if not pursued and killed, is certain to repeat the offence. It is strange, and true as strange, that a tiger having once fed upon human flesh, appears ever after to be fonder of it than of any other food, and will make the most daring attempts to procure it. Such tigers are not uncommon in India, where they are known among the natives by the dreaded name of man-eaters!
It is not a little curious that the Caffres and other natives of South Africa, apply the same term to individuals of the lion species, known to be imbued with a similar appetite.
It is difficult to conceive a more horrible monster than a lion or tiger of such tastes; and in India, when the presence of such an one is discovered, the whole neighbourhood lives in dread. Often when a British post is near, the natives make application to the officers to assist them in destroying the terrible creature—well knowing that our countrymen, with their superior courage, with their elephants and fine rifles, are more than a match for the jungle tyrant. When no such help is at hand, the shikarrees, or native hunters, usually assemble, and either take the tiger by stratagem, or risk their lives in a bold encounter. In many a tiger-hunt had Ossaroo distinguished himself, both by stratagem and prowess, and there was no mode of trapping or killing a tiger that was not known to him.
He was now called upon to give an exhibition of his craft, which, in point of ingenuity, was almost equal to the stratagem of the limed fig-leaves.
THE DEATH OF THE MAN-EATER.
The path which our travellers were following led them into one of the native villages of the Terai, which lay in a sequestered part of the forest. The inhabitants of this village received them with acclamations of joy. Their approach had been reported before they reached the place, and a deputation of the villagers met them on the way, hailing them with joyful exclamations and gestures of welcome.
Karl and Caspar, ignorant of the native language, and, of course, not comprehending what was said, were for some time at a loss to understand the meaning of these demonstrations. Ossaroo was appealed to, to furnish an explanation.
"A man-eater," he said.
"Yes, Sahib; a man-eater in the jungle."
This was not sufficiently explicit. What did Ossaroo mean? A man-eater in the jungle? What sort of creature was that? Neither Karl nor Caspar had ever heard of such a thing before. They questioned Ossaroo.
The latter explained to them what was a man-eater. It was a tiger so called, as you already know, on account of its preying upon human beings. This one had already killed and carried off a man, a woman, and two children, beside large numbers of domestic animals. For more than three months it had infested the village, and kept the inhabitants in a state of constant alarm. Indeed, several families had deserted the place solely through fear of this terrible tiger; and those that remained were in the habit, as soon as night came on, of shutting themselves up within their houses, without daring to stir out again till morning. In the instance of one of the children, even this precaution had not served, for the fierce tiger had broken through the frail wall of bamboos, and carried the child off before the eyes of its afflicted parents!
Several times the timid but incensed villagers had assembled and endeavoured to destroy this terrible enemy. They had found him each time in his lair; but, on account of their poor weapons and slight skill as hunters, he had always been enabled to escape from them. Indeed on such occasions the tiger was sure to come off victorious, for it was in one of these hunts that the man had fallen a sacrifice. Others of the villagers had been wounded in the different conflicts with this pest of the jungle. With such a neighbour at their doors no wonder they had been living in a state of disquietude and terror.
But why their joy at the approach of our travellers?
This was proudly explained by Ossaroo, who of course had reason to be proud of the circumstance.
It appeared that the fame of the shikarree, as a great tiger-hunter, had preceded him, and his name was known even in the Terai. The villagers had heard that he was approaching, accompanied by two Feringhees, (so Europeans are called by the natives of India,) and they hoped, by the aid of the noted shikarree and the Feringhee Sahibs, to get rid of the dreaded marauder.
Ossaroo, thus appealed to, at once gave his promise to aid them. Of course the botanist made no objection, and Caspar was delighted with the idea. They were to remain all night at the village, since nothing could be done before night. They might have got up a grand battue to beat the jungle and attack the tiger in his lair, but what would have come of that? Perhaps the loss of more lives. None of the villagers cared to risk themselves in such a hunt, and that was not the way that Ossaroo killed his tigers.
Karl and Caspar expected to see their companion once more try his stratagem of the birdlime and the leaves; and such at first was his intention. Upon inquiry, however, he found that no birdlime was to be had. The villagers did not know how to prepare it, and there were no fig-trees about the neighbourhood, nor holly, nor trees of any other kind out of which it could properly be made.
What was Ossaroo to do under these circumstances? Must he abandon the idea of destroying the man-eater, and leave the helpless villagers to their fate? No. His hunter pride would not permit that. His name as a great shikarree was at stake. Besides, his humanity was touched—for, although but a poor Hindoo, he possessed the common feelings of our nature. Karl and Caspar, moreover, had taken an interest in the thing, and urged him to do his best, promising him all the assistance it was in their power to give.
It was resolved, therefore, that, cost what it might, the tiger should be destroyed.
Ossaroo had other resources besides the birdlime and the battue, and he at once set to work to prepare his plan. He had an ample stock of attendants, as the villagers worked eagerly and ran hither and thither obedient to his nod. In front of the village there was a piece of open ground. This was the scene of operations.
Ossaroo first commanded four large posts to be brought, and set in the ground in a quadrangle of about eight feet in length and width. These posts when sunk firmly in their place stood full eight feet in height, and each had a fork at the top. On these forks four strong beams were placed horizontally, and then firmly lashed with rawhide thongs. Deep trenches were next dug from post to post, and in these were planted rows of strong bamboos four inches apart from each other—the bamboos themselves being about four inches in thickness. The earth was then filled in, and trodden firmly, so as to render the uprights immovable. A tier of similar bamboos was next laid horizontally upon the top, the ends of which, interlocking with those that stood upright, held the latter in their places. Both were securely lashed to the frame timbers—that had been notched for the purpose—and to one another, and then the structure was complete. It resembled an immense cage with smooth yellow rods, each four inches in diameter. The door alone was wanting, but it was not desirable to have a door. Although it was intended for a "trap cage," the "bird" for which it had been constructed was not to be admitted to the inside.
Ossaroo now called upon the villagers to provide him with a goat that had lately had kids, and whose young were still living. This was easily procured. Still another article he required, but both it and the goat had been "bespoke" at an earlier hour of the day, and were waiting his orders. This last was the skin of a buffalo, such a one as we have already seen used by these people in crossing their rivers.
When all these things had been got ready it was near night, and no time was lost in waiting. With the help of the villagers Ossaroo was speedily arrayed in the skin of the buffalo, his arms and limbs taking the place of the animal's legs, with the head and horns drawn over him like a hood, so that his eyes were opposite the holes in the skin.
Thus metamorphosed, Ossaroo entered the bamboo cage, taking the goat along with him. The stake, that had been kept out for the purpose of admitting them within the enclosure, was now set into its place as firmly as the others; and this done, the villagers, with Karl and Caspar, retired to their houses, and left the shikarree and his goat to themselves.
A stranger passing the spot would have had no other thoughts than that the cage-like enclosure contained a buffalo and a goat. On closer examination it might have been perceived that this buffalo held, grasped firmly in its fore-hoofs, a strong bamboo spear; and that was all that appeared odd about it—for it was lying down like any other buffalo, with the goat standing beside it.
The sun had set, and night was now on. The villagers had put out their lights, and, shut up within their houses, were waiting in breathless expectation. Ossaroo, on his part, was equally anxious—not from the fear of any danger, for he had secured himself against that. He was only anxious for the approach of the man-eater, in order that he might have the opportunity to exhibit the triumph of his hunter-skill.
He was not likely to be disappointed. The villagers had assured him that the fierce brute was in the habit of paying them a nightly visit, and prowling around the place for hours together. It was only when he had succeeded in carrying off some of their cattle that he would be absent for days—no doubt his hunger being for the time satiated; but as he had not lately made a capture, they looked for a visit from him on that very night.
If the tiger should come near the village, Ossaroo had no fear that he could attract him to the spot. He had laid his decoy too well to fail in this. The goat, deprived of her young, kept up an incessant bleating, and the kids answered her from one of the houses of the village. As the hunter knew from experience that the tiger has a particular relish for goat-venison, he had no fear but that the voice of the animal would attract him to the spot, provided he came near enough to hear it. In this the villagers assured him he would not be disappointed.
He was not disappointed; neither was he kept long in suspense. He had not been more than half-an-hour in his buffalo disguise, before a loud growling on the edge of the forest announced the approach of the dreaded man-eater, and caused the goat to spring wildly about in the enclosure, uttering at intervals the most piercing cries.
This was just what Ossaroo wanted. The tiger, hearing the voice of the goat, needed no further invitation; but in a few moments was seen trotting boldly up to the spot. There was no crouching on the part of the terrible brute. He had been too long master there to fear anything he might encounter, and he stood in need of a supper. The goat that he had heard would be just the dish he should relish; and he had determined on laying his claws upon her without more ado. In another moment he stood within ten feet of the cage!
The odd-looking structure puzzled him, and he halted to survey it. Fortunately there was a moon, and the light not only enabled the tiger to see what the cage contained, but it also gave Ossaroo an opportunity of watching all his movements.
"Of course," thought the tiger, "it's an enclosure some of these simple villagers have put up to keep that goat and buffalo from straying off into the woods; likely enough, too, to keep me from getting at them. Well, they appear to have been very particular about the building of it. We shall see if they have made the walls strong enough."
With these reflections he drew near, and rearing upward caught one of the bamboos in his huge paw, and shook it with violence. The cane, strong as a bar of iron, refused to yield even to the strength of a tiger; and, on finding this, the fierce brute ran rapidly round the enclosure, trying it at various places, and searching for an entrance.
There was no entrance, however; and on perceiving that there was none, the tiger endeavoured to get at the goat by inserting his paws between the bamboos. The goat, however, ran frightened and screaming to the opposite side, and so kept out of the way. It would have served the tiger equally well to have laid his claws upon the buffalo, but this animal very prudently remained near the centre of the enclosure, and did not appear to be so badly scared withal. No doubt the coolness of the buffalo somewhat astonished the tiger, but in his endeavours to capture the goat, he did not stop to show his surprise, but ran round and round, now dashing forcibly against the bamboos, and now reaching his paws between them as far as his fore-legs would stretch.
All at once the buffalo was seen to rush towards him, and the tiger was in great hopes of being able to reach the latter with his claws, when, to his astonishment, he felt some hard instrument strike sharply against his snout, and rattle upon his teeth, while the fire flew from his eyes at the concussion. Of course it was the horn of the buffalo that had done this; and now, rendered furious by the pain, the tiger forgot all about the goat, and turned his attention towards revenging himself upon the animal who had wounded him. Several times he launched himself savagely against the bamboos, but the canes resisted all his strength. Just then it occurred to him that he might effect an entrance by the top, and with one bound he sprang upon the roof of the enclosure. This was just what, the buffalo wished, and the broad white belly of his assailant stretched along the open framework of bamboos, was now a fair mark for that terrible horn. Like a gleam of lightning it entered between his ribs; the red blood spouted forth, the huge man-eater screamed fiercely as he felt the deadly stab, and then, struggling for a few minutes, his enormous body lay stretched across the rack silent,— motionless,—dead!
A signal whistle from Ossaroo soon brought the villagers upon the spot. The shikarree and the goat were set free. The carcass of the man-eater was dragged into the middle of the village amidst shouts of triumph, and the rest of the night was devoted to feasting and rejoicing. The "freedom of the city" was offered to Ossaroo and his companions, and every hospitality lavished upon them that the grateful inhabitants knew how to bestow.
KARL'S ADVENTURE WITH THE LONG-LIPPED BEAR.
Next morning they were en route at an early hour; and having passed through some cultivated fields, they once more entered the wild primeval forest which covers most of the hills and valleys of the Terai.
Their road during the whole day was a series of ascents and descents, now running along the bed of a stream; now upon its high bank, anon over some projecting ridge, and at intervals crossing the stream, sometimes by fording, and once or twice by natural bridges formed by the long trailing roots of various species of fig-trees.
Although they were gradually ascending to a higher elevation, the vegetation was still of a tropical character. Pothos plants, and broad-leaved arums, bamboos, wild plantains, and palms, were seen all along the way, while lovely orchidaceous flowers,—epiphytes and trailing plants,—hung down from the trunks and branches of the great trees, forming festoons and natural trellis-work, that stretched across the path and almost closed it up.
That was a busy day for the botanical collector. Many rare species were found in seed, and he gathered a load for all three, to be carried on to their halting place, and stored until their return from the mountains. Those species that were yet only in flower he noted down in his memorandum-book. They would be ripe for him on his way back.
About noon they halted to refresh themselves. The spot they had chosen was in a grove of purple magnolias, whose splendid flowers were in full bloom, and scented the air around with their sweet perfume. A crystal stream,—a mere rivulet,—trickled in its deep bed through the midst of the grove, and the movement of its waters seemed to produce a refreshing coolness in the surrounding atmosphere.
They had just unbuckled their packs, intending to lunch, and remain an hour or so on the ground, when some animal was heard moving among the bushes on the other side of the rivulet.
Caspar and Ossaroo, ever ready for the chase, immediately seized their weapons; and, crossing the stream, went in search of the animal, which they supposed would turn out to be a deer. Karl, therefore, was left by himself.
Now Karl felt very much jaded. He had worked hard in gathering his seeds, and nuts, and drupes, and berries, and pericarps, and he felt quite done up, and had some thoughts of remaining upon that spot for the night. Before giving up, however, he determined to try a refreshing medicine, which he had brought with him, and in which he had been taught to have great faith. This medicine was nothing more than a bottle of hot peppers pickled in vinegar, which Karl had been told by a friend was one of the finest remedies for fatigue that could be found in the world,—in fact, the sovereign cure,—far excelling rum or brandy, or even the potent spirit of his native land, the kirschen-wasser. A drop or two of it mixed with a cup of water would impart instantaneous relief to the weary traveller, and enable him to continue his journey like a new man. So Karl's friend had told him, and he was now determined to give the pickled peppers a trial.
Taking the bottle in one hand, and his tin drinking-cup in the other, he descended to the bed of the rivulet to fill the cup with water.
The little stream ran in a deep cut or gully, and its bed was not more than a yard or two in width, but it was nearly empty—so that Karl as soon as he had clambered down the steep sloping bank, found dry footing among the pebbles.
He was just in the act of stooping to fill his cup, when he heard the voices of Caspar and Ossaroo farther up the stream, as if they were in pursuit of some animal. Presently a shot rang through the woods. Of course it was Caspar's gun, for Caspar was heard shouting in the direction whence the shot came.
Karl had raised himself erect, and was thinking, whether he could give any help to the hunters, by intercepting the animal if it came his way. He heard the voice of Caspar crying to him to "look out," and just at the moment he did "look out," and saw coming right down upon him a large animal covered with black shaggy hair, and a white patch upon its breast. At the first glance it had the look of a bear, but Karl noticed a hunch upon its back, which gave it a very peculiar appearance, and rendered him doubtful as to what sort of beast it was. He had no time to examine it very minutely—although it was close enough, for when he first set eyes upon it, it was within six paces of where he stood. It was altogether too close to him, Karl thought; and so far from endeavouring to intercept it, he tried with all his might to get out of its way.
His first impulse was to rush up the bank. He saw that the bear, or whatever it was, was resolved to keep right on; and the only way to avoid an encounter would be to leave the channel free. He therefore made a dash at the bank, and tried to clamber out. The clayey slope, however, chanced to be wet and slippery, and before Karl could reach the top his feet flew from under him, and he came back to the bottom faster than he had gone up.
He now found himself face to face with the bear—for it was a bear— and not six feet separated them from each other. Neither could pass the other in the narrow channel, and Karl knew that by turning down he would soon be overtaken, and perhaps hugged to death. He had no weapon— nothing in his hand but the bottle of red peppers—what could he do?
There was not a moment left for reflection. The bear reared upward with a savage growl, and rushed forward to the attack. He had almost got his claws upon the plant-hunter, when the latter mechanically struck forward with the battle, and, as good luck guided it, hit his assailant fair upon the snout. A loud smash, and the rattling of glass among the pebbles, announced the fate of the bottle, and the red peppers, vinegar, and all, went streaming about the head of the bear.
The brute uttered a scream of terror—such as bears will do when badly frightened—and, wheeling away from the conflict, headed up the sloping bank. He succeeded in his climbing better than Karl had done; for, in the twinkling of an eye, he had reached the top of the slope, and in the twinkling of another eye would have disappeared among the bushes, had not Caspar at this moment arrived upon the ground, and with his second barrel brought him rolling back into the channel.
The bear fell dead almost at Karl's feet, and the latter stepped forward to examine the carcass. What was his astonishment on perceiving that what he had taken for a hunch on the bear's back was a brace of young cubs, that had now rolled off, and were running round the body of their dam, whining, and snarling, and snapping like a pair of vixens! But Fritz at this moment rushed forward, and, after a short fierce struggle, put an end to their lively demonstrations.
Caspar now related that when he and Ossaroo first came in sight of the bear the cubs were upon the ground playing; but the moment he fired the first shot—which had not hit the old bear withal—she seized the cubs one after the other in her mouth, flung them upon her shoulders, and then made off!
The animal that had fallen before the bullet of Caspar's gun was the "long-lipped," or sloth-bear (Ursus labiatus). The first name has been given to this species on account of the capability it possesses of protruding the cartilage of its nose and its lips far in advance of its teeth, and by this means seizing its food. It is called "sloth" bear, because when first known it was supposed to belong to the sloths; and its long shaggy hair, its rounded back, and the apparently unwieldy and deformed contour of its whole body, gave some colour to the idea. These marks of ugliness, combined with its sagacity—which enables the Indian jugglers to train it to a variety of tricks—render this species of bear a favourite with them, and on this account it is also known by the name of the "Ours de jongleurs," or "Jugglers' bear."
The sloth-bear is long-haired and shaggy, of a deep black colour, except under the throat, where there is a white mark shaped like the letter Y. It is nearly as large as the black bear of America, and its habits in a state of nature are very similar to this species. It will not attack man unless closely pressed or wounded; and had Karl been able to get out of her way, the old she would not have followed him, savage as she was from being shot at by Caspar.
No doubt the "pickle" had helped him out of a worse pickle. The peppery vinegar getting into the eyes of the bear quite confounded her, and caused her to turn tail. But for that Karl might have undergone a hug and a sharp scratch or two, and he might well be thankful—as he was— that he had escaped with no more serious damage than the loss of his precious peppers.
OSSAROO IN TROUBLE.
Fritz had scarce finished his battle with the young bears, with Karl and Caspar standing over him, when a loud shouting drew the attention of all to another quarter. The shouting evidently proceeded from Ossaroo, as the boys could distinguish his voice. The shikarree was in trouble—as they could easily understand by his shrill continued screams—and the words "Help! Sahibs, help!" which he repeatedly uttered.
What could be the matter with Ossaroo? Had another bear attacked him? Maybe a panther, or a lion, or a tiger? No matter what it was, both Karl and Caspar felt it to be their duty to hasten to his assistance; and without more ado both of them started off in the direction whence came the shouts. Karl had got possession of his rifle, and Caspar hastily rammed a load into the right-hand barrel, so that both were in readiness to offer good help to the guide, if it should turn out to be a wild beast that was his assailant.
In a few moments, they came in sight of Ossaroo; and, to their great relief, saw that no animal was near him. Neither bear nor panther, nor lion nor tiger, appeared upon the spot Ossaroo, however still continued his noisy cries for help; and, to the astonishment of the boys, they saw him dancing about over the ground, now stooping his head downwards, now leaping up several feet, his arms all the while playing about, and striking out as if at some imaginary enemy!
What could it all mean? Had Ossaroo gone mad? Or had he become suddenly afflicted with the malady of Saint Vitus? His movements were altogether of a comical nature; no mountebank could have danced about with more agility; and, but for the earnestness of his cries, evidently forced from him by fear, both Karl and Caspar would have burst out into a fit of laughter. They saw, however, that the shikarree was in some danger—from what, they could not tell; but they very naturally suspected that he had been attacked by a venomous serpent, and, perhaps, already bitten by it. It might still be attacking him, perhaps under his clothes, and that was why they could not perceive it.
This idea restrained them from laughter, for, if their conjecture proved correct, it would be no laughing matter for poor Ossaroo; and, with fear in their hearts, both the boys rushed forward to the spot.
On getting nearer, however, the odd behaviour of the shikarree was explained, and the enemy with which he was contending, and which had hitherto remained invisible, came under their view. Around the head of Ossaroo there appeared a sort of misty halo, encircling him like a glory; which, on closer view, the boys perceived was neither more nor less than a swarm of bees!
The whole matter was cleared up. Ossaroo had been assailed by bees; and it was they that were making him dance and fling his arms about in so wild a manner!
Karl and Caspar had forborne to laugh, so long as they believed their guide to be in real danger; but now that they saw what it was, they could no more restrain their mirth, and both simultaneously broke out into a fit of cachinnation, that caused the woods to ring again.
On seeing how his young companions sympathised with his distress, Ossaroo was by no means pleased. The stings of the bees had nettled the Hindoo's temper, and the laughter of the boys exasperated him still more. He resolved, therefore, that they should both have a taste of the same trouble; and, without saying another word, he rushed between the two; of course, carrying the swarm of bees along with him.
This unexpected manoeuvre on the part of the guide, at once put, an end to the merriment of his companions; and the next moment, instead of enjoying a laugh at Ossaroo's expense, both of themselves exhibited a spectacle equally ludicrous. The bees, on perceiving these new enemies, at once separated into three distinct swarms, each swarm selecting its victim; so that not only Ossaroo, but Karl and Caspar as well, now danced over the ground like acrobats. Even Fritz was attacked by a few—enough to make him scamper around, and snap at his own legs as if he had suddenly gone mad!
Karl and Caspar soon learnt, that what had so lately amused them was by no means a thing to be amused at. They were stung about the face, and found the stings to be exceedingly virulent and painful. Besides, the number of their assailants rendered the affair one of considerable danger. They began to feel that there was peril as well as pain.
Where was it to end? All their demonstrations failed to drive off the bees. Run where they would, the enraged insects followed them, buzzing about their ears, and alighting whenever an opportunity offered. Where was it to end?
It was difficult to tell when and how the scene would have been brought to a termination, had it not been for Ossaroo himself. The cunning Hindoo had bethought him of a plan, and, calling to the others to follow him, was seen to run forward in a direct line through the woods.
Karl and Caspar started after, in hopes of finding relief from their tormentors.
In a few minutes, Ossaroo approached the bank of the stream, at a place where it was dammed up, and formed a reach of deep water—a pool. Without hesitating a moment, the Hindoo plunged into the water. The boys, flinging down their guns, imitated his example; and all three stood side by side, neck-deep in the pool. They now commenced ducking their heads under, and continued this, at intervals; until at length the bees, finding themselves in danger of being drowned, gave up the attack, and, one after another, winged their way back into the woods.
After remaining long enough in the pool, to make sure that their enemies had gone quite away, the three smarting hunters climbed out, and stood dripping upon the bank. They would have laughed at the whole adventure, but the pain of the stings put them out of all humour for enjoying a joke; and, out of sorts altogether, they quietly wended their way back to the place of their temporary encampment.
On their way, Ossaroo explained how he had chanced to provoke the attack of the bees. On hearing the report of Caspar's gun, and the noise of the conflict between Fritz and the bears, he had started in great haste to get up to the spot, and give assistance. In running forward, he scarce looked before him; and was dashing recklessly through among trees, when his head came in contact with a large bees' nest, which was suspended upon a vine that stretched across the path. The nest was constructed out of agglutinated mud, and attached only slightly to the vine; and Ossaroo, having become entangled in the latter, shook it so violently that the nest fell down, broke into pieces, and set the whole swarm of angry bees about his ears. It was just then that he had been heard crying out, and that Karl and Caspar had run to his rescue; which act both of them now said they very much regretted. They were hardly in earnest, however; and Ossaroo, having procured an herb from the woods, the sap of which soon alleviated the pain of the stings, in a short time the tempers of all three were restored to their usual equanimity.
THE AXIS AND PANTHER.
The maternal solicitude displayed by the bear in endeavouring to carry her young out of danger, had quite won the admiration of the plant-hunters; and now that the excitement of the conflict was over, they experienced some pangs of regret at having killed the creature. But the thing was done, and could not be helped. Besides, as Ossaroo informed them, these bears are esteemed a great nuisance in the country. Descending from their mountain retreats, or issuing out of the jungle during the season of the crops, they commit very destructive depredations upon the produce of the farmer, often entering his very garden without fear, and in a single night laying waste the contents of a whole enclosure. On hearing this, both Karl and Caspar were more contented with what they had done. Perhaps, reflected they, had these two cubs lived to grow up, they or their mother might have devastated the paddy-field of some poor jemindar, or farmer, and he and his family might have been put to great distress by it.
Whether or not their reasoning was correct, it satisfied the two boys, and quieted their consciences about the killing of the bears. But as they continued their journey, they still conversed of the curious circumstance of the old one carrying off her cubs in the manner she was doing. Karl had read of such a habit in animals—which is common to many other sorts along with the bears—such as the great ant-eater of South America, the opossum, and most kinds of monkeys. Both agreed that it was a pretty trait in the character of the lower animals, and proved even the most savage of them capable of tender affection.
It chanced that upon that same day they had another illustration of this very nature, and one that by good fortune did not have so tragical an ending.
They had finished their day's journey, and were reclining under a great talauma tree—a species of magnolia, with very large leaves—by the edge of a little glade. They had not yet made any preparations for their camp. The day's march had been a severe one, for they were now among the foot-hills of the great Himalaya chain; and though they appeared to travel as much down hill as up they were in reality ascending, and by evening they were really more than five thousand feet above the plains of India. They had arrived in a new zone of vegetation, among the great forests of magnolias which gird the middle parts of the mountains. It is in this part of the world that the remarkable genus of magnolia is found in its greatest vigour and variety; and many species of these trees, in forests of vast extent, cover and adorn the declivities of the lower Himalayas. There are the white-flowered magnolias, at an elevation of from four thousand to eight thousand feet, which are then replaced by the still more gorgeous purple magnolia (Magnolia Campbellia)—the latter being the most superb species known, its brilliant corollas often arraying the sloping sides of the hills as with a robe of purple. Here, too, our travellers observed chestnut-trees of rare species, and several kinds of oak— laurels also, not in the form of humble shrubs, but rising as tall trees, with straight smooth boles, to the height of the oaks themselves. Maples, too, were seen mingling in the forest, and the tree rhododendrons growing forty feet high!
What appeared singular to the eyes of the botanist, was the mingling of many European forms of plants among those of a strictly tropical character. For instance, there were birches, willows, alders, and walnut-trees, growing side by side with the wild plantain, the Wallich palm, and gigantic bamboos; while the great Cedrela Toona, figs of several species, melastomas, balsams, pothos plants, peppers, and gigantic climbing vines and orchids, were intermixed with speedwell, common bramble, forget-me-not, and stinging-nettles, just such as might have been met with in a European field! Tree ferns were seen rising up and towering high above the common brake-fern of the English moors; while the wild strawberry of Britain was seen covering the ground in patches of large extent. Its fruit, however, in the Himalayas is quite insipid, but a fine yellow raspberry—one of the most luscious fruits met with in these mountains—was found growing in the same districts, as if to compensate for the absence of flavour in the strawberry.
Under one of these magnificent magnolias, whose large wax-like corollas filled the air with their odorous perfume, our travellers had just stretched themselves—intending, after a few minutes of rest, to make the necessary arrangements for passing the night there.
Ossaroo was chewing his betel-nut, and Karl and Caspar, both very tired, were doing nothing and saying as little. Fritz, too, lay along the ground, with his tongue out, and panting after the hot day's rambling among the bushes.
Just at that moment, Caspar, whose sharp hunter eye was always on the alert, caught Karl by the sleeve, and in a hurried whisper, said—
"See, Karl! see!—Isn't it a beauty?"
As Caspar said this, he pointed to an animal that had just come out of the jungle, and stood within a few feet of its edge. The creature in question had the shape, size, and general appearance of a fallow-deer, and its slender limbs and well proportioned body bespoke it to be a near kin to that animal. In colour, however, it essentially differed from the fallow-deer. Its ground-colour was much the same, but it was spotted all over with snow-white spots that gave it a very beautiful appearance. It looked somewhat like the young of the fallow-deer, and might have been taken for an overgrown fawn. Karl, however, knew what it was.
"A spotted deer," he replied, also in a whisper. "It is the axis. Hold back Fritz, and let us watch it a moment."
Karl had guessed correctly what kind of animal it was. It was the axis, one of the best known of the Indian deer, and closely allied to the linsa group of Asia as well as to the fallow-deer of Europe. There are several species of the axis in eastern Asia, more or less marked with spots, and in no part are they more common than in the country through which the plant-hunters were passing—the country of the Ganges and the Burrampooter.
Caspar caught Fritz as desired, and held him fast; and the travellers, without making any noise, sat watching the movements of the axis.
To their surprise, another axis now showed itself upon the ground, but this one was of such small dimensions that they saw at once it was the young of the first. It was a tiny little fawn, but a few days old, and speckled all over with similar snow-white spots.
The deer, unconscious of the presence of the travellers, walked several paces out upon the meadow, and commenced browsing upon the grass. The little fawn knew not, as yet, how to eat grass; and occupied itself by skipping and playing about its mother, like a kid.
The hunters, all speaking in whispers, now counselled among themselves as to what they should do. Ossaroo would have liked a bit of venison for supper, and, certainly, the fawn was a tempting morceau. Caspar voted to kill; but Karl, of gentler nature, opposed this design.
"A pity!" he said. "Look, brother, how gentle they appear? Remember how we felt after killing the savage bear, and this would be far worse."
While engaged in this undertone discussion, a new party made his appearance upon the scene, which drove all thoughts of killing the deer out of the minds both of Caspar and Ossaroo.
This intruder was an animal quite as large as the axis, but of an entirely different form. Its ground-colour was not unlike that of the deer, with a deeper tinge of yellow, and it, too, was spotted all over the body. Herein, however, a striking contrast existed between the two. As already stated, the spots upon the axis were snow-white; while those upon the new comer were just the reverse—black as jet. Spots they could hardly be termed, though, at a distance, they presented that appearance. When closely viewed, however, it would have been seen that they were rather rosettes, or rings; the centre part being of the same yellowish ground-colour as the rest of the body.
The animal had a stout, low body; short, but strong limbs; a long, tapering tail, and a cat-like head. The last is not to be wondered at, since it was in reality a cat. It was the panther.
The attention of the hunters was at once taken away from the axis, and became fixed on the great spotted cat, which all three knew to be a panther; next to the lion and tiger, the most formidable of Asiatic felida.
All knew that the Indian panther often attacks man; and it was, therefore, with no very comfortable feelings that they hailed his appearance. The boys grasped their guns more firmly, and Ossaroo his bow, ready to give the panther the volley, should he approach within range.
The latter, however, had no design of molesting the travellers. He was unaware of their presence. His whole attention was occupied with the axis; upon whose ribs, or, perhaps, those of the fawn, he intended to make his supper.
With crouching gait and silent tread he approached his intended victims, stealing along the edge of the jungle. In a few seconds, he was near enough to spring, and, as yet, the poor doe browsed unconsciously. He was just setting his paws for the leap, and, in all probability, would have pounced next moment upon the back of the deer, but, just in the nick of time, Caspar chanced to sneeze. It was not done designedly, or with, any intention of warning the deer; for all three of the hunters were so absorbed in watching the manoeuvres of the panther, that they never thought of such a thing. Perhaps the powerful odour of the magnolia blossoms had been the cause; but, whether or no, Caspar sneezed.
That sneeze was a good thing. It saved the tender mother and her gentle fawn from the fangs of the ferocious panther. She heard it, and, raising her head on the instant, glanced round. The crouching cat came under her eyes; and, without losing a second of time, she sprang up to the fawn, seized the astonished little creature in her mouth, and, bounding like an arrow across the glade, was soon out of sight, having disappeared into the jungle on the opposite side!
The panther, who had either not heard or not regarded the sneeze, sprang out, as he had intended, but missed his aim. He ran a few stretches, rose into the air, and, a second time, came down without touching the deer; and then, seeing that the latter had sped beyond his reach, according to the usual habit of all the felidae, he desisted from farther pursuit. Trotting back whence he had come, he entered the jungle before the hunters could get within shooting distance of him, and was never more seen by any of the three.
As they returned to camp, Karl congratulated Caspar for having sneezed so opportunely; though Caspar acknowledged that it was quite accidental, and that, for his part, he would rather he had not sneezed at all, and that he had either got a shot at the panther, or had a bit of the fawn for his supper.
THE PESTS OF THE TROPICS.
Much has been said and written in praise of the bright sun and the blue skies of tropical countries; and travellers have dilated largely upon the magnificent fruits, flowers, and foliage of tropical forests. One who has never visited these southern climes is disposed to indulge in very fanciful dreams of enjoyment there. Life would seem to be luxurious; every scene appears to be couleur de rose.
But Nature has not designed that any portion of her territory should be favoured beyond the rest to such an extreme degree; and, perhaps, if a just comparison were instituted, it would be found that the Esquimaux, shivering in his hut of snow, enjoys as much personal happiness as the swarth southerner, who swings in his hammock under the shade of a banyan or a palm-tree.
The clime of the torrid zone, with its luxuriant vegetation, is also prolific of insect and reptile life; and, from this very circumstance, the denizen of a hot country is often subject to a greater amount of personal discomfort than the dweller in the Arctic zone. Even the scarcity of vegetable food, and the bitter, biting frost, are far easier to endure than the plague of tipulary insects and reptiles, which swarm between Cancer and Capricorn.
It is a well-known fact, that there are large districts in tropical America where human life is scarce endurable, on account of the mosquitos, gnats, ants, and other insects.
Thus writes the great Prussian geognosist:—
"Persons who have not navigated the rivers of equinoctial America can scarcely conceive how, at every instant, without intermission, you may be tormented by insects flying in the air, and how the multitudes of these little animals may render vast regions almost uninhabitable. Whatever fortitude be exercised to endure pain without complaint, whatever interest may be felt in the objects of scientific research, it is impossible not to be constantly disturbed by the mosquitos, zancudos, jejens, and tempraneros, that cover the face and hands, pierce the clothes with their long, needle-formed suckers; and, getting into the mouth and nostrils, occasion coughing and sneezing, whenever any attempt is made to speak in the open air.
"In the missions of the Orinoco, in the villages on the banks of the river, surrounded by immense forests, the plaga de las moscas, or plague of the mosquitos, affords an inexhaustible subject of conversation. When two persons meet in the morning, the first questions they address to each other are: 'How did you find the zancudos during the night?' 'How are we to-day for the mosquitos?'
"An atmosphere filled with venomous insects always appears to be more heated than it is in reality. We were horribly tormented in the day by mosquitos and the jejen (a small venomous fly), and at night by the zancudos, a large species of gnat, dreaded even by the natives.
"At different hours of the day you are stung by different species. Every time that the scene changes, and, to use the simple expression of the missionaries, other insects 'mount guard,' you have a few minutes— often a quarter of an hour, of repose. The insects that disappear have not their places instantly supplied by their successors. From half-past six in the morning till live in the afternoon the air is filled with mosquitos. An hour before sunset a species of small gnats—called tempraneros, because they appear also at sunrise—take the place of the mosquitos. Their presence scarcely lasts an hour and a half. They disappear between six and seven in the evening. After a few minutes' repose, you feel yourself stung by zancudos, another species of gnat, with very long legs. The zancudo, the proboscis of which contains a sharp-pointed sucker, causes the most acute pain, and a swelling that remains several weeks.
"The means that are employed to escape from these little plagues are very extraordinary. At Maypures the Indians quit the village at night to go and sleep on the little islets in the midst of the cataracts. There they enjoy some rest, the mosquitos appearing to shun air loaded with vapours.
"Between the little harbour of Higuerote and the mouth of the Rio Unare the wretched inhabitants are accustomed to stretch themselves on the ground, and pass the night buried in the sand three or four inches deep, leaving out the head only, which they cover with a handkerchief.
"At Mandanaca we found an old missionary, who told us with an air of sadness that he had had his 'twenty years of mosquitos' in America. He desired us to look at his legs, that we might be able to tell one day beyond sea 'what the poor monks suffer in the forests of Cassiquiare.' Every sting leaving a small darkish brown spot, his legs were so speckled that it was difficult to recognise the whiteness of his skin, through the spots of coagulated blood!"
Just such torments as the great Prussian traveller suffered from insects in the forests of South America, our plant-hunters had to endure while passing through the humid woods of the Lower Himalayas. By night and by day the air seemed filled with insects, in countless swarms,—large and small moths, cockchafers, glow-flies, cockroaches, winged ants, may-flies, flying earwigs, beetles, and "daddy longlegs." They experienced the bite of ants or the stings of mosquitoes every moment, or they were attacked by large ticks, a species of which infests the bamboo, and which is one of the most hateful of insects. These the traveller cannot avoid coming in contact with while brushing through the forest. They get inside his dress, often in great numbers, and insert their proboscis deeply, but without pain. Buried head and shoulders, and retained by its barbed lancet, this tick can only be extracted with great force, and the operation is exceedingly painful.
But of the tortures to which they were subjected by insects and reptiles, there was one more disagreeable and disgusting than all the rest, and on their first experience of it the three were quite horrified.
It happened to them on the very day after their adventure with the bear and the bees. They had walked several miles for their morning stage, and the sun having grown quite hot, they agreed to rest for some hours till afternoon. Having thrown off their packs and accoutrements, all three lay down upon the grass close by the edge of a little stream, and under the shadow of a spreading tree. The fatigue of the walk, combined with the heated atmosphere, had rendered them drowsy, and one and all of them fell fast asleep.
Caspar was the first to awake. He did not feel quite comfortable during his sleep. The mosquitos or some other kind of insects appeared to be biting him, and this had prevented him from sleeping soundly. He awoke at length and sat upright. The others were still asleep close by, and the eyes of Caspar by chance rested upon Ossaroo, whose body was more than half naked, the slight cotton tunic having fallen aside and exposed his breast to view; besides, his legs were bare, as the shikarree had rolled up his trousers on account of the damp grass they had been passing through. What was the astonishment of Caspar at perceiving the naked part of Ossaroo's body mottled with spots of dark and red—the latter being evidently blotches of blood! Caspar perceived that some of the dark spots were in motion, now lengthening out, and then closing up again into a smaller compass; and it was only after he had drawn closer, and examined these objects more minutely that he was able to determine what they were. They were leeches! Ossaroo was covered with leeches!
Caspar uttered a cry that awoke both of his companions on the instant.
Ossaroo was not a little disgusted with the fix he found himself in, but Karl and Caspar did not waste much time in condoling with him, for upon examination they found that they themselves had fared no better, both of them being literally covered with the same bloodthirsty reptiles.
A scene now ensued that would not be easy to describe. All three pulled off their garments, and went to work to extract the leeches with their fingers—for there was no other mode of getting rid of the troublesome intruders—and after a full half-hour spent in picking one another clean, they rapidly dressed again, and took the route, desirous of getting away from that spot as quickly as possible.
Of all the pests of warm Oriental climates, there are none so troublesome to the traveller, or so disgusting, as these land-leeches. They infest the humid woods on the slopes of the Himalaya Mountains from about two thousand to eleven thousand feet of elevation; but they are not confined to the Himalayas alone, as they are common in the mountain forests of Ceylon, Sumatra, and other parts of the Indies. There are many species of them—and even upon the Himalayas more than one kind— the small black species swarming above the elevation of three thousand feet, while a large yellow kind, more solitary, is found farther down. They are not only troublesome and annoying, but dangerous. They often crawl into the fauces, noses, and stomachs of human beings, where they produce dreadful sufferings and even death. Cattle are subject to their attacks; and hundreds perish in this way—the cause of their death not being always understood, and usually attributed to some species of vermin.
It is almost impossible to keep them off the person while travelling through a track of woods infested by them. If the traveller only sit down for a moment, they crawl upon him without being perceived. They are exceedingly active, and move with surprising rapidity. Indeed, some fancy they have the power to spring from the ground. Certain it is that they possess the powers of contraction and extension to a very great degree. When fully extended they appear as thin as a thread, and the next moment they can clue themselves up like a pea. This power enables them to pass rapidly from point to point, and also to penetrate into the smallest aperture. They are said to possess an acute sense of smell, and guided by this they approach the traveller the moment he sits down. They will crowd up from all quarters, until fifty or a hundred crawl upon one person in a few minutes' time, so that one is kept busy in removing them as fast as they appear.
They occur in greatest numbers in moist shady woods, and cover the leaves when heavy dew is on them. In rain they are more numerous than at other times, and then they infest the paths; whereas in dry weather they betake themselves into the streams, or the thickly-shaded interior of the jungle.
Those who know not their haunts, their love of blood, their keenness and immense numbers, cannot understand the disgust and annoyance experienced from them by travellers. They get into the hair, hang by the eyelids, crawl up the legs, or down the back, and fasten themselves under the instep of the foot; and if not removed, gorge themselves with blood till they roll off. Often the traveller finds his boots filled with these hideous creatures when arrived at the end of his day's journey. Their wound at the time produces no pain, but it causes a sore afterwards, which is frequently months in healing, and leaves a scar that remains for years!
Many antidotes are adopted, and tobacco-juice or snuff will keep them off when applied over the skin; but in passing through moist woods and the long wet jungle-grass, such applications require to be continually renewed, and it becomes so troublesome and vexatious to take these precautions, that most travellers prefer wearing long boots, tucking in their trousers, and then keeping a good lookout for these insidious crawlers.
A few days' more journeying up the mountains brought our travellers to the limits of the forest. They once more looked upon the snowy peaks of the great central chain towering up into the clouds. I say once more— for they had already seen these peaks from the plains of India while still more than a hundred miles distant from them; but, as they approached nearer, and while advancing through the foot-hills, the snow-covered mountains had no longer been in sight!
This may appear a puzzle, but it is very easily explained. When very near to a house you will be unable to see the steeple of a church that is behind it; whereas by going to a greater distance from the house, the higher steeple comes at once before your eyes.
So is it with mountains. From a great distance their highest peaks are those that may be seen, but as you draw nearer, their lower range, or foot-hills, subtend the angle of vision; and it is only after having passed through, or over these, that you again behold the more elevated summits.
Our travellers were now in sight of the snowy summits of the Himalayas, several of which rose to the stupendous height of five miles above the level of the sea—one or two even exceeding this elevation.
Of course it was not the design of the plant-hunters to attempt to climb to the tops of any of these gigantic mountains. That they well knew would not be possible, as it is almost certain that at such an elevation a human being could not live. Karl, however, was determined to proceed as far as vegetation extended; for he believed that many rare and choice plants might be found even as high as the snow-line; and indeed there are several species of beautiful rhododendrons, and junipers, and pines, which grow only in what may be termed the "Arctic zone" of the Himalayas.
With this idea, then, the travellers kept on—each day getting higher, and farther into the heart of the great chain.
For two or three days they had been climbing through wild desolate valleys, quite without inhabitants; yet they were able to find plenty of food, as in these valleys there were animals of various kinds, and with their guns they had no difficulty in procuring a supply of meat. They found the "talin," a species of wild goat, the male of which often attains to the weight of three hundred pounds, and a fine species of deer known in the Himalayas as the "serow." They also shot one or two wild sheep, known by the name of "burrell," and an antelope called "gooral," which is the "chamois" of the Indian Alps.
It may be as well here to remark, that in the vast extended chain of the Himalayas, as well as throughout the high mountain steppes of Asia, there exist wild sheep and wild goats, as well as deer and antelopes, of a great many species that have never been described by naturalists. Indeed, but little more is known of them than what has been obtained from the notes of a few enterprising English sportsmen. It would be safe to conjecture that there are in Asia a dozen species of wild sheep, and quite as many belonging to the goat-tribe; and when that continent shall be thoroughly explored by scientific travellers, a very large addition will be made to the catalogue of ruminant animals. Nearly every extensive valley or chain of the Asiatic mountains possesses some species of the sheep or goat-tribe peculiar to itself, and differing from all others of the same genus; and in ascending the stupendous heights of the Himalayas you find that every stage of elevation has its peculiar species. Some dwell in dense forests, others in those that are thin and open. Some prefer the grassy slopes, while others affect the barren ridges of rock. There are those that are found only upon the very limits of vegetation, spending most of their lives within the region of eternal snow. Among these are the famed ibex and the large wild sheep known as the Ovis ammon.
There was none of the Himalayan animals that interested our travellers more than the curious little creature known as the "musk-deer." This is the animal from which the famous scent is obtained; and which is consequently a much persecuted creature. It dwells in the Himalayan Mountains, ranging from an elevation of about eight thousand feet to the limits of perpetual snow, and is an object of the chase to the hunters of these regions, who make their living by collecting the musk and disposing of it to the merchants of the plains. The animal itself is a small creature, less in size than our fallow-deer, and of a speckled brownish grey colour, darker on the hind-quarters. Its head is small, its ears long and upright, and it is without horns.
A peculiarity exists in the males which renders them easy to be distinguished from other animals of the deer kind. They have a pair of tusks in the upper jaw projecting downwards, each full three inches in length, and about as thick as a goose's quill. These give to the animal altogether a peculiar appearance. The males only yield the musk, which is found in grains, or little pellets, inside a sac or pod in the skin, situated near the navel; but what produces this singular substance, or what purpose it serves in the economy of the animal, it is not easy to say. It has proved its worst foe. But for the musk this harmless little deer would be comparatively a worthless object of the chase; but as it is, the valuable commodity has created for it a host of enemies, who follow no other occupation but that of hunting it to the death.
The plant-hunters had several times seen musk-deer as they journeyed up the mountain; but as the animal is exceedingly shy, and one of the swiftest of the deer kind, they had not succeeded in getting a shot. They were all the more anxious to procure one, from the very difficulty which they had met with in doing so.
One day as they were proceeding up a very wild ravine, among some stunted juniper and rhododendron bushes, they started from his lair one of the largest musk-deer they had yet seen. As he kept directly on, and did not seem to run very fast, they determined to pursue him. Fritz, therefore, was put upon his trail, and the others followed as fast as they were able to get over the rough ground.
They had not gone far, when the baying of the dog told them that the chase had forsaken the ravine in which they had first started it, and had taken into a lateral valley.
On arriving at the mouth of this last, they perceived that it was filled by a glacier. This did not surprise them, as they had already seen several glaciers in the mountain valleys, and they were every hour getting farther within the region of these icy phenomena.
A sloping path enabled them to reach the top of the glacier, and they now perceived the tracks of the deer. Some snow had fallen and still lay unmelted upon the icy surface, and in this the foot-prints of the animal were quite distinct, Fritz had stopped at the end of the glacier, as if to await further instructions; but without hesitation the hunters climbed up on the ice, and followed the trail.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
For more than a mile they toiled up the sloping glacier which all the way lay between two vertical cliffs.
That the musk-deer was still in advance of them, they had evidence from the imprint of its tracks. Even without this evidence they could not doubt that the game was still before them. It would have been impossible for it to have scaled the cliffs on either side, so far as they had yet seen them; and as far before them as they could see, both sides appeared equally steep and impracticable.
As the hunters advanced, the cliffs gradually converged; and at the distance of a few hundred yards before them, appeared to close in—as if the ravine ended there, and there was no outlet in that direction. In fact they appeared to be approaching the apex of a very acute angle, the sides of which were formed by the black granite cliffs.
This singular formation was just what the hunters desired. If the valley ended in a cul-de-sac, then the game would be hemmed in by their approach, and they might have a chance of obtaining a shot.
In order the more surely to accomplish this, they separated, and deployed themselves into a line which extended completely across the valley. In this formation they continued to advance upward.
When they first adopted this plan, the ravine was about four hundred yards in width—so that less than one hundred lay between each two of them. These equal distances they preserved as well as they could, but now and then the cracks in the icy mass, and the immense boulders that lay over its surface, obliged one or other, of them to make considerable detours. As they advanced, however, the distance between each two grew less, in consequence of the narrowing of the valley, until at length a space of only fifty yards separated one from the other. The game could not now pass them without affording a fine opportunity for all to have a shot; and with the expectation of soon obtaining one, they kept on in high spirits.
All at once their hopes appeared to be frustrated. The whole line came to a halt, and the hunters stood regarding each other with blank looks. Directly in front of them yawned an immense crevasse in the ice, full five yards in width at the top, and stretching across the glacier from cliff to cliff.
A single glance into this great fissure convinced them that it was impassable. Their hunt was at an end. They could go no farther. Such was the conviction of all.
The glacier filled the whole ravine from cliff to cliff. There was no space or path between the ice and the rocky wall. The latter rose vertically upward for five hundred feet at least, and no doubt extended downward to as great a depth. Indeed, by looking into the fissure, they could trace the wall of rock to an immense distance downward, ending in the green cleft of the ice below. To look down into that terrible abyss made their heads reel with giddiness; and they could only do so with safety by crawling up to the edge of the lye, and peeping over.