CHAPTER VIII. THE PLAGUES OF EGYPT.
In a long conversation with these men, I found a corroboration of all that I had previously heard of their exploits, and they described the various methods of killing the elephant with the sword. Those hunters who could not afford to purchase horses hunted on foot, in parties not exceeding two persons. Their method was to follow the tracks of an elephant, so as to arrive at their game between the hours of 10 A.M. and noon, at which time the animal is either asleep, or extremely listless, and easy to approach. Should they discover the animal asleep, one of the hunters would creep stealthily towards the head, and with one blow sever the trunk while stretched upon the ground; in which case the elephant would start upon his feet, while the hunters escaped in the confusion of the moment. The trunk severed would cause an haemorrhage sufficient to insure the death of the elephant within about an hour. On time other hand, should the animal be awake upon their arrival, it would be impossible to approach the trunk; in such a case, they would creep up from behind, and give a tremendous cut at the back sinew of the hind leg, about a foot above the heel. Such a blow would disable the elephant at once, and would render comparatively easy a second cut to the remaining leg; the arteries being divided, the animal would quickly bleed to death. These were the methods adopted by poor hunters, until, by the sale of ivory, they could purchase horses for the higher branch of the art. Provided with horses, the party of hunters should not exceed four. They start before daybreak, and ride slowly throughout the country in search of elephants, generally keeping along the course of a river until they come upon the tracks where a herd or a single elephant may have drunk during the night. When once upon the tracks, they follow fast towards the retreating game. The elephants may be twenty miles distant; but it matters little to the aggageers. At length they discover them, and the hunt begins. The first step is to single out the bull with the largest tusks; this is the commencement of the fight. After a short hunt, the elephant turns upon his pursuers, who scatter and fly from his headlong charge until he gives up the pursuit; he at length turns to bay when again pressed by the hunters. It is the duty of one man in particular to ride up close to the head of the elephant, and thus to absorb its attention upon himself. This insures a desperate charge. The greatest coolness and dexterity are then required by the hunter, who now, the HUNTED, must so adapt the speed of his horse to the pace of the elephant, that the enraged beast gains in the race until it almost reaches the tail of the horse. In this manner the race continues. In the meantime, two hunters gallop up behind the elephant, unseen by the animal, whose attention is completely directed to the horse almost within his grasp. With extreme agility, when close to the heels of the elephant, one of the hunters, while at full speed, springs to the ground with his drawn sword, as his companion seizes the bridle, and with one dexterous two-handed blow he severs the back sinew. He immediately jumps out of the way and remounts his horse; but if the blow is successful, the elephant becomes disabled by the first pressure of its foot upon the ground; the enormous weight of the animal dislocates the joint, and it is rendered helpless. The hunter who has hitherto led the elephant immediately turns, and riding to within a few feet of the trunk, he induces the animal to attempt another charge. This, clumsily made, affords an easy opportunity for the aggageers behind to slash the sinew of the remaining leg, and the immense brute is reduced to a standstill; it dies of loss of blood in a short time, THUS POSITIVELY KILLED BY ONE MAN WITH TWO STROKES OF THE SWORD!
This extraordinary hunting is attended with superlative danger, and the hunters frequently fall victims to their intrepidity. I felt inclined to take off my cap and make a low bow to the gallant and swarthy fellows who sat before me, when I knew the toughness of their hearts and the activity of their limbs. One of them was disabled for life by a cut from his own sword, that had severed the knee-cap and bitten deep into the joint, leaving a scar that appeared as though the leg had been nearly off; he had missed his blow at the elephant, owing to the high and tough dried grass that had partially stopped the sword, and in springing upon one side, to avoid the animal that had turned upon him, he fell over his own sharp blade, which cut through the bone, and he lay helpless; he was saved by one of his comrades, who immediately rushed in from behind, and with a desperate cut severed the back sinew of the elephant. As I listened to these fine fellows, who in a modest and unassuming manner recounted their adventures as matters of course, I felt exceedingly small. My whole life had been passed in wild sports from early manhood, and I had imagined that I understood as much as most people of this subject; but here were men who, without the aid of the best rifles and deadly projectiles, went straight at their game, and faced the lion in his den with shield and sabre. There is a freemasonry among hunters, and my heart was drawn towards these aggageers. We fraternised upon the spot, and I looked forward with intense pleasure to the day when we might become allies in action.
I have been rewarded by this alliance in being now able to speak of the deeds of others that far excel my own, and of bearing testimony to the wonderful courage and dexterity of these Nimrods, instead of continually relating anecdotes of dangers in the first person, which cannot be more disagreeable to the reader than to the narrator.
Without inflicting a description of five months passed in Sofi, it will be necessary to make a few extracts from my journal, to convey an idea of the manner in which the time was occupied.