A Morning's Deer-coursing - Kondawataweny - Rogue at Kondawa taweny - A Close Shave - Preparations for Catching an Elephant - Catching an Elephant - Taming Him - Flying Shot at a Buck - Cave at Dimbooldene - Awkward Ground - A Charmed Life.
IT was in July, 1848, that I pitched my tent in the portion of Ceylon known as the 'Park,' for the purpose of deer-coursing. I had only three greyhounds, Killbuck, Bran and Lena, and these had been carried in a palanquin from Newera Ellia, a distance of one hundred miles. The grass had all been burnt about two months previously, and the whole country was perfectly fresh and green, the young shoots not being more than half a foot high. The deer were numerous but wild, which made the sport the more enjoyable. I cannot describe the country better than by comparing it to a rich English park, well watered by numerous streams and large rivers, but ornamented by many beautiful rocky mountains, which are seldom to be met with in England. If this part of the country had the advantage of the Newera Ellia climate, it would be a Paradise, but the intense heat destroys much of the pleasure in both shooting and coursing, especially in the latter sport, as the greyhounds must be home by 8 A. M., or they would soon die from the effects of the sun.
It was in the cool hour of sunrise, when the dew lay thickly upon the grass, and the foliage glistened with the first beams of morning, that we stalked over the extensive plains with Killbuck and Lena in the slips, in search of deer. Several herds winded us at a distance of half a mile, and immediately bounded away, rendering pursuit impossible; and we determined not to slip the dogs unless they had a fair start, as one run in this climate was quite work enough for a morning. After several disappointments in stalking, we at length discovered a noble buck standing alone by the edge of a narrow belt of jungle; the instant that he observed us, he stepped proudly into the cover. This being open forest, my brother took the greyhounds in at the spot where the deer had entered, while I ran round to the opposite side of the cover, and took my position upon an extensive lawn of fine grass about half a mile in width.
I had not remained a minute at my post before I heard a crash in the jungle, as though an elephant were charging through, and in another instant, a splendid buck burst upon the plain at full speed, and away he flew over the level lawn, with the brace of greyhounds laying out about fifty paces behind him. Here was a fair trial of speed over a perfect bowling-green, and away they flew, the buck exerting his utmost stride, and the greyhounds stretching out till their briskets nearly touched the ground; Killbuck leading with tremendous bounds, and Lena about a length behind him.
By degrees the beautiful spring of the greyhounds appeared to tell, and the distance between them and the buck gradually decreased, although both deer and dogs flew along with undiminished speed. The plain was nearly crossed, and the opposite jungle lay within 200 yards of them. To gain this, the buck redoubled his exertions; the greyhounds knew as well as he did, that it was his chance of escape, and with equal efforts they pressed upon him. Not fifty paces now separated the buck from the jungle, and with prodigious bounds he sped along; he neared it; he won it! the yielding branches crashed before him, but the dogs were at his haunches as the jungle closed over them and concealed the chase.
I was soon up; and upon entering the jungle, I could neither hear nor see anything of them, but, by following up the track, I found them about fifty yards from the entrance of the bush. The buck was standing on the sandy bed of a dry stream, endeavouring in vain to free himself, while the greyhounds pinned his nose to the ground, each hanging upon his ears. The knife finished him immediately. There never was a more exciting course; it had been nobly run by both the dogs, and well contested by the buck, who was a splendid fellow and in fine condition.
On my way to the tent I wounded a doe at full speed, which Lena followed singly and pulled down, thus securing our coolies a good supply of venison. The flesh of the spotted deer is more like mutton than English venison, and is excellent eating; it would be still better if the climate would allow of its being kept for a few days.
There is no sport in Ceylon, in my opinion, that is equal to deer-coursing, but the great difficulty attending it, is the lack of good greyhounds. The spotted buck (or axis) is an animal of immense power and courage; and although most greyhounds would course him, very few would have sufficient courage and strength to hold him, unless slipped two brace at a time, which would immediately spoil the sport. A brace of greyhounds to one buck is fair play, and a good strong horse will generally keep them in view. In two weeks' coursing in the Park, we killed seventeen deer with three greyhounds; at the expiration of which time, the dogs were so footsore and wounded by the hard burnt stubble of the old grass that they were obliged to be sent home.