My heart beats in strange anapaests. This dream world of leaf and bird stirs the blood with a strange enchantment. The Spirit of Nature touches us with her caduceus:—
Fair are others,
none behold thee;
But thy voice sounds low and tender
Like the fairest, for it folds thee
From the sight, that liquid splendour;
And all feel, yet see thee never,
As I feel now ....
Our tents are played upon by the flickering shadows of the vast pipal-tree that rises in a laocooen tortuosity of roots out of an old well. The spot is cool and pleasant. Round us are picketed elephants, camels, bullocks, and horses, all enjoying the shade. Our servants are cooking their food on the precincts; each is busy in front of his own little mud fireplace. On a larger altar greater sacrifices are being offered up for our breakfast. A crowd of nearly naked Bheels watch the rites and snuff the fragrant incense of venison from a respectable distance. Their leader, a broken-looking old man, with hardly a rag on, stands apart exchanging deep confidences with my friend the Shikarry. This old Bheel is girt about the loins with knives, pouches, powder-horns, and ramrods; and he carries on his shoulder an aged flintlock. He looks old enough to be an English General Officer or a Cabinet Minister; and you might assume that he was in the last stage of physical and mental decay. But you would be quite wrong. This old Bheel will sit up all night on the branch of a tree among the horned owls; he will see the tiger kill the young buffalo tied up as a bait beneath; he will see it drink the life-blood and tear the haunch; he will watch it steal away and hide under the karaunda bush; he will sit there till day breaks, when he will creep under the thorn jungle, across the stream, up the scarp of the ravine, through the long grass to the sahib’s camp, and give the word that makes the hunter’s heart dance. From the camp he will stride from hamlet to hamlet till he has raised an army of beaters; and he will be back at the camp with his forces before the sahib has breakfasted. Through the long heats of the day he will be the life and soul of the hunt, urging on the beaters with voice and example, climbing trees, peeping under bushes, carrying orders, giving advice, changing the line, until that supreme moment when shots are fired, when the rasping growl tells that the shots have taken effect, and when at length the huge cat lies stretched out dead. And all this on a handful of parched grain!
Why then the world, and all that’s in’t, is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing, Ali Baba’s nothing.]
My friend the Shikarry delights to clothe himself in the coarse fabrics manufactured in gaol, which, when properly patched and decorated with pockets, have undoubtedly a certain wild-wood appearance.