No description of Polu would be complete which omitted to make mention of the hawks and the hawking, which appears to form the chief amusement of all classes. It is unusual to enter the courtyard of any but the poorest houses and not find one or more hawks fastened to a perch. Nowhere in the East have I seen such beautiful specimens nor birds of such a size.
From the little kestrel to eagles, which are so huge as to appear impossible for a man to carry, and which, if unhooded, one was afraid to approach, all sizes are represented. When it is added that the quarry hunted ranges from chickor to shapoo and bara-sing, some idea may be gained of the wide range of game pursued by these enthusiastic sportsmen.
Being unable to devote ourselves, much to our regret, to the study of buried cities, we decided instead to accept the offer made by the Beg to hawk and hunt boar with him on the following day. The name Niya covers the surrounding district as well as the village, and in the country adjacent to the river to the north the Beg has as fine a domain to pursue the sport he loves as any one could desire. On either side of the river the country is thick jungle, with open well -watered patches, which, besides affording excellent pasturage, are the haunt of hares, wild boar, and quantities of geese and duck. Beyond the strips of vegetation bordering the stream lie the sands of the desert, the change firom the one to the other being, as already re- marked, as abrupt as though a boundary fence was there. One advantage in this is that in beating for game it is only necessary to follow the river, for sooner or later the quarry will be unearthed. After the evening meal we discussed the question of the morrow’s hunt with the Beg, who, we soon dis- covered, was as fond of sport as ourselves.
His sentiments might have been summed up in the well-known lines attributed by Whyte-Melville to the owner of ” the good grey mare ” : —
” I have lived my life — I am nearly done, — I have played the game all round ; But I freely admit that the best of my fun I owe it to horse and hound.”
Could he but have enjoyed the privilege of reading his own thoughts so delightftdly put, he would have been the first to appreciate the truth expressed in these lines. Having listened for some time to the accounts the Beg gave of his hawks, we asked whether there was any other form of sport to be had. To our delight he replied that there were pig which we could shoot, but which he hunted with dogs and spears. We could hardly credit our hear- ing at the latter words, but a string of questions from both of us soon showed that we had made no mistake, and that there was every chanoe of our tasting once more the finest sport that the world holds. After another hour’s duKnission of details — of spears, dogs, beaters, ponies, &c., — all was satis- factorily arranged. The Beg possessed only two spears, but promised that another should be locally made and ready by the morning. The dogs he ordered there and then to be caught and shut up for the night ; and the necessary arrangements for beaters and ponies appeared to require no pre- liminary preparation. Bidding each other good- night the Beg departed, leaving us with the most pleasant anticipation for the morrow we had enjoyed since quitting India.
Waking at dawn, we found our host to be indeed a man of his word. In the half-light of morn- ing in the village street were collected the ponies, men, and dogs, and a more mixed or quainter group it is difficult to imagine. The animals which the Beg was kind enough to provide were useful beasts, though small. My own was a young four-year-old, 13.1 hands high, but good-looking, and as game as could be. The Beg and his men were also on useM animals, both tough and wiry, though good looks were not their strong point. Of the followers no description could hope to give a true idea. A local meet of the hounds in the west of Ireland would perhaps produce some few types representing what we found — that is, as nearly as anything European could. But that the Beg’s men knew their job and were eager to do it we very soon discovered. Of the hounds, too, it is useless to hope to give much idea. There were only four of them, but once seen they could never be forgotten. Had it been necessary to classify the whole pack in the quite impossible supposition that they were to figure at a local dog show, they could have found a comer upon only one set of benches, those usually devoted to the hetero- geneous mixture known as the Variety Clajss. No sooner did one discover some resemblance to a terrier’s head in one of them than it became equally evident that the rest of his body was that of a bob- tailed sheep-dog. Another old lady was a perfect Borzois, so far as her head and body could be named, but, unfortunately, Nature in a thoughtless moment had given her the legs of a spaniel. Of the other two no description need be attempted. Both were evidently reluctant to exchange the comforts of loafing in the village for the danger of routing out boar. And to reach the scene of our sport they had to be dragged out at the end of a long rope by one of the followers, who did his best to hang them whenever a stray bush happened to get between him and the dogs.
While I had been looking over the personnel^ my companion had busied himself in finding what were to us the most important things, the spears. Turn- ing to speak to him, I found him in doubtfiil admiration of the weightiest and largest specimen ‘we had ever seen. Some 2 inches in diameter, there was about 10 feet length of shaft. At the end, tacked on by two local – looking nails, was 18 inches of old iron shaped at the point. The shaft was both new and rough, — balance it had none; on a 13- hand pony it was no easy matter to keep any of it off the ground : but who could look a ^fb – horse in the mouth ? The Beg had promised to do his best, and had done it for our benefit ; so we gladly accepted the will for the deed, warning ourselves, however, to be careful when the time came to use the spear. ¶Quitting the village, an hour’s smart jog through the dusty outskirts, where one well-to-do farm after another was passed, brought our party into wilder country. We were now back on the banks of the river, which are here flat but covered with low scrub and jheels, — a paradise for the coimtless flocks of duck, geese, and teal which dwell there. As he took his favourite hawk from his own attendant, a hint from the Beg gave us to understand that business was about to commence. One of the curiosities of local sport is the manner in which these men appear able to keep their hawks on wrist while galloping over very rough ground. Spreading ourselves to look for the necessary duck, it was not long before we cameupon a flock in a low-lying bit of wet ground. The Beg at once cantered forward, and when still a few hundred yards distant from the now rising duck, threw his hawk, and away she sped. Going like the pro- verbial arrow, she made straight for the flock, but, wheeling abruptly just short of them, swung suddenly round to fly back and re-perch gracefully on the outstretched arm of the Beg. Here was a bad beginning, but the next effort was more successful. Crossing an open bit of ground, a few duck suddenly rose from a concealed pond some distance to our right. Without a moment’s hesi- tation the Beg again galloped forward, loosing his hawk with one throw, and on this occasion with great success. The duck were not three hundred yards distant, had hardly even risen, when like a flash the hawk was upon them. This time there was no hesitation, and, almost quicker than the eye could follow, she struck, and down went hawk and duck, locked together, into the scrub.
Cantering up, we offered our congratulations in dumb show to the now smiling Beg, and requested his permission to take a photograph. This he very readily accorded, and the result may be seen in the pictures on another page. For the next few hours we amused ourselves with various flights — both successful and unsuccessful. Some- times the hawks appeared unwilling to strike though able, and at other times, of course, luck was against them. Occasionally a hawk not only would not attempt to chase but declined to return. It then would perch on the nearest tree, and much blandishment was required on the part of its master to regain possession of the handsome creat- ure. By mid-day the duck were mostly gone, so it was decided to give up the hawking and try for a boar. To reach the best ground required a ride of another ten miles in the direction of the desert, but still through the scrub, which gradually thickened and grew higher as we drew near the favourite ground.
It was not long before the tracks of fresh pig were discovered, and though at first we attempted to initiate a methodical effort at beating, very soon each man was hunting on his own account. Through the scrub ran some clear brooks where the ground sometimes opened out, and alongside which the pig evidently wallowed* In vain we followed what appeared to be fresh tracks. These usually led either into impenetrable jungle or were lost among the other maxks which here ran in all directions. After an hour of this disappointing work we were all relieved to hear that a boar had been harboured by one of the native hunters in a large shallow jheel. The jheel was so thickly covered with tall reeds, fifteen to sixteen feet high, that only with the greatest difficulty could the trackers penetrate. Sitting on the edge of the scrub, we were watching their slow advance when suddenly a rustle, followed by a quick parting of the reeds just ahead of them, told us the boar was there. In another minute loud shouts and holloas — and the Turki can holloa — proclaimed that he had broke on the far side of the jheel. For the moment we were prepared to face the muddy water in the endeavour to follow in his track, but the Beg, with one yell, turned his pony, and digging both heels in, galloped wildly up the jheel-side. Breaking from the fairly open scrub into a narrow cattle-track, he quickened his pace, evidently riding to cut off the boar at the head of the jheel. Nothing loath, as soon as we understood the situation, we followed in his wake. The path was barely wide enough for a calf, and as fuU of holes and as poached as a jungle track usually is. On either side the scrub at times nearly met overhead, and the track occasionally wound almost at right angles to avoid some particularly dense piece of growth. Forgetful of such trifles, and only intent upon retaining pos- session of our unwieldy spears, we still followed our leader, whom we could see at intervals dis- appearing at full gallop round one comer after another- Ten minutes of this work brought us nearly to the top end of the jheel where the track forked. One branch ran on, the other turned short, crossing the shallow end through the now thinning reeds. Following the latter path, I succeeded in forcing a way through, just in time to see the Beg clear the scrub and swing away leffc-handed in the direction he evidently imagined the boar had taken. Hesitating for a moment, I was wondering whether the beast had yet emerged, when a crash on my right put all doubts at rest. ¶Not twenty yards away a great grey boar trotted slowly up the side of the sandy hillock, pursued by one dog, and at the same moment became aware of my presenca There was no time to think, not even to remember the caution we had vowed to observe when called upon to make use of the ill -balanced old spear. Down went mine, and shaking up my little pony I made for the boar. Whether the unusual sight of a white man or the shouts of the natives caused the brute to change his mind, I do not know; suffice it to say that he checked his charge in mid-career, and swung off up the sand-hill just as my pony jinked violently, ingloriously turning his tail upon the boar. “Well for him,” I can hear the experienced pig-sticker remark, ‘Hhat the boar had two minds/” and perhaps it was; but the sight of as fine a specimen of the old grey pig as the heart could desire had fairly set our blood boiling. Throwing caution to the winds, and forgetfiil alike of doubtfiil spears, infernal ground, even, I am sorry to say, of the old dog, whom we mercilessly over-rode, away went my companion and myself in full pursuit, followed at some little distance by the Beg, who had now come up, and two of the best mounted of his men^ For a quarter of an hour we enjoyed the feeling of bliss which only those can realise who have been hard at the heels of either boar or fox at their best pace for that time; but gradually we began to lose ground. The line our quarry took led us deeper and deeper into the jungle, and in spite of the efforts of our gallant little ponies, it was evident that utter grief must soon follow the attempt to continue. The scrub was up to the ponies’ necks, there was no possibility of seeing the boar, and we had long ago distanced the Beg and his men. Sadly we allowed our streaming animals to slow down, and though we pushed on into a thick patch where another of the dogs appeared to be busy, we had evidently lost our boar. Beturning somewhat discoDSolate at the disappointment, we made for a reed hut, or satma as they are called, to eat the sandwiches we had brought with us. Having soon disposed of these, the whole party moved off once more for a second draw. The jheel had provided such sport in the morning that the Beg suggested trying there again.
Stripping off their long boots, the men waded in, and in a short time another boar was reported roused. After beating the reeds, as &r as the men dared to wade in, with little result, the Beg ordered them to be fired. This was no easy matter, nor could the men get the fire to spread, although the reeds were set alight in three or four places. While this was going on we sat on the edge of the water thoroughly enjoying the picture before us.
The jheel was situated under rising sand-hills which ran along one side of it. Upon the hillocks the Beg had placed what might be called his ” whips,*’ in order to view the boar should he break that side. Not content with their elevated position, both these men were to be seen at intervals standing upright on their ponies’ backa A strange sight it was to see them balanced at fiiU height on their ungainly saddles. Each man held his bridle in one hand, while with the other each shaded his eyes as he peered on all sides over the surrounding country. In the immediate foreground heavy coils of grey smoke hung over the yellow reed-tops, while the roaring fire made blotches of flaming red against the muddy water below. In the immediate fore- ground, wading nearly up to their waists, wild figures pushed their way back and forwards among the reeds, directed by the Beg, who had now dis- mounted from his pony, and was shouting directions fix)m the bank.
The whole scene combined a wonderful mixture of life and colour to which no photograph could attempt to do justice. Nothing but the brush of an artist could have caught the spirit of such a picture, and unfortunately the occasions are rare when a combination of painter and such a scene are both ready to hand. In spite of all the efforts made to cause the boar to break, he declined to do so, unless, indeed, as we began to think, he had slipped away earlier in the afternoon, avoiding the keen eyes of both look-out men. As the day was drawing on, and we were some fifteen miles from home, a move was now made in the direction of Niya. Though we had all been in the saddle since dawn, our host seemed to consider there was yet time for more hawking, and on the way home he treated us to several flights. Whether it was that the hawks were weary or were disinclined to fly so late in the day, I cannot pretend to say, knowing little of the sport of hawking. What- ever the reason may have been, the only result of the Beg’s efforts was one failure aft;er another, until at last, angered at the apparent disinclina- tion of his favourite hawk, he began to throw it indiscriminately at crows, larks, or anything that flew by. After one final failure at some duck which had settled in an open pool on the river, the Beg desisted. The hawk had missed the duck and had settled on the far bank of the stream, from which it was with difficulty retrieved. We were then some five miles from Niya, and expected to be allowed to jog home in well -contented peace, but were soon undeceived.
Bejoining us where we had waited for him while he had made his last unsuccessfril flight, the Beg set his pony going towards home at a good pace, and we followed suit. Not content with this, he drove his animal ahead with one of his men, evi- dently wishing us to take part in an extempore race. Now the blood of few Englishmen can withstand such a challenge, even though they have been ten hours on the back of the same pony, and that a little beast such as those we roda Away flew the Beg and his man, and after him went we ventre d terre.
The track to Niya was a sandy strip of soft going, and down this, as we drew near the outskirts of the village, the weary natives were placidly making their way home; nor did they seem to consider there was anything unusual in the method we chose of returning. I was beginning to wonder how we could be expected to avoid upsetting half the respectable townsfolk in Niya, when our abrupt arrival at a bend of the river put a stop to our headlong course.
Slowly we forded the shallow stream, and as if touched by a spell the whole company became suddenly solemn Asiatics once more. We had left Niya, as has been said, at dawn; we returned at dusk. It was the last day of Bamazan, and not a morsel of food had the Beg or any of his followers touched for many hours. All honour to them that they could show themselves such whole-hearted children under such a strain.
eMindful of the feast, and anxious that our host should be able to reach his house as soon as possible, for the moon would shortly rise, we tried in vain to dissuade him from accompanying us home. True to the courteous instinct which seems to have its origin in the East, the Beg insisted upon seeing us to the gate of our serai. There, in receipt of our grateful thanks, he left us, but I can see his tall upright figure now. Built in a larger mould than is usual among his compatriots, he was a man of silent reserved character. Possessing in addition a tireless frame, a keen love of the open, and a very warm heart, our friend was as good a specimen of one of natiu*e’s gentlemen as could be found. p. 107-119