In the good old days, when Placerville was in its glory, and when gold was obtained not in pennyweight dribblets, but by the pound-weight, few men in that mining camp were doing so well as Lanty Spelman and myself. Coming home to our tent early one Saturday afternoon for the purpose of cleaning our week's gold - we got three pounds' weight of it that week - we lit our pipes and lounged idly. This is the miner's usual preliminary to action, at once recuperative and cautious. "That," said I, after a pause, "that was a narrow escape you had this morning, when the bank caved in as you were getting into the drive."
"Pretty sharp, wasn't it?" smiled Lanty; "but I've been so used to narrow escapes in my time that I've come to look upon these matters as second nature. I never told you of a fight I had with a wild boar once, did I?"
"It was pretty rough, I tell you," said Lanty, shaking the ashes out of his pipe and plunging into his story:
The first time that I ever attached myself to a boar-hunting expedition, was in 18__, now thirty years ago, the hunting-ground being one of the Navigator's Islands. The Navigator's are nowadays pretty much resorted to by all sorts of holiday-makers, but at the time I speak of Captain Hill and myself were the only two White men living on these islands, having been cast ashore on one of them by the wreck of the Nantucket, from new Bedford, during a whaling-voyage in the Pacific. The natives were very friendly, and when we had been living for some weeks among them, would often take Hill out with them in their hunting excursions; while I, a lad of only eighteen, was not yet deemed sufficiently seasoned to endure the fatigues of a hunting campaign, and was always left behind - an arrangement, by the way, which I did not relish. At last I resolved, indeed, to be one of the very next hunting party, the grumbling and fears of the hunters to the contrary notwithstanding. I had not long to wait.
A party was made up for going to the mountains, many miles inland; for the valleys and undulating ground at the foot of the mountains were the favorite resort of wild hogs. Those were always occasions of considerable importance, for a hunting party was usually composed of forty or fifty men, young, strong, and active, who carried provisions for several days, lest the chase should prove unsuccessful. Days, therefore, were spent in preparation, when the women were constantly at work preparing the commissariat. Preliminaries over, at last, the expedition started out at dawn, accompanied by a multitude of dogs, all barking with such anticipating zeal as made the woods hoarse with the echoes.
It was a beautiful morning, and like all mornings in the tropics, the air was cool and refreshing; the birds chirped and fluttered about so happily, as to have filled one's heart with responsive pleasure. The very glistening of the silvery dew, as it bespangled the grass and flirted with the sunbeams, had something about it of indescribable felicity.
We mustered fifty young men, each armed with a sharp, iron-pointed spear; and after two days' marching arrived on the hunting-grounds. But the mountains, so called, were no mountains at all, being nothing more, indeed, than tableland of ordinary elevation, retaining the characteristics of the low country, in soil, grass, shrub, and tree. Properly speaking, there are no mountains in the island, but there were what pleased us better: namely, herds of swine, whose ancient progenitors had been debarked years ago by Captain Cook, with a view, no doubt, to colonization. The colony was, indeed, in quite a flourishing state, both in regards the numerical strength of the population, and the thriving condition of its individual members, and must have realized, in sooth, the most sanguine hopes of its beneficent founder.
Long before we came near to these interesting colonists they sniffed approaching danger, as we knew by their snorting and grunting; for, inured to savage warfare, their outposts had been on the alert, and conveyed intelligence of our approach, when a precipitate retreat, on their side, was the immediate and simultaneous result. On our side, small detachments, of six or seven men each, were called out, with instructions to skirmish, harass, and , if possible, surround the fugitives. At this juncture, Hill--who led a division, and to whose command I was assigned--recommended me to keep in the rear, observing that though hunting wild hogs was excellent sport, it was not any less dangerous to persons inexperienced in such adventures.
"Therefore," said he. "keep at a distance until you see a chance of using your spear with safety to yourself."
On we went for about a mile, each division followed by a full complement of dogs trained to the business on hand, when we reconnoitered a herd of about five hundred on the summit of a hill, apparently in profound consultation. This was the citadel, on which it would appear they meant to make a final stand, and this citadel our men proceeded to invest with all possibly caution, and with all our available force. Keeping our dogs in the rear, we reached the base of the hill, and began the ascent with a steady, stealthy pace. Notwithstanding the cunning and vigilance of the herd, we were within fifty paces of their sentinels before they perceived us. Fancy five hundred pigs, of all sizes and both genders, taken by surprise, and then you can imagine the tumultuous rush, the squealing, and the grunting that immediately followed! Now was the opportunity for the dogs. in they went, "earing" the juveniles, and holding them, while we dispatched them with our clubs and spears. In less than forty minutes, as many "young slips" (as an Irishman would say) lay dead on the sward. No one knew, indeed, where the work of destruction would end, had I not just then observed a bristly boar, of enormous size, sweeping down the slope at about twenty yards' distance.
"Hurrah, my lads," I shouted, "here's a magnificent boar; let's have a dash at him!" and away I ran at top speed.
"Come back! come back!" shouted Hill; "madman! where are you going?"
"Come on, come on!" I cried, "or else he'll be off," without slacking my speed. While Hill and a few of the natives followed me and the boar, some more of our men had hand-to-hand conflicts with other boars; for it is the nature of these creatures to turn and fight when one of their number is attacked or closely pursued, although, if only one or any number of the common herd is assailed, their sense of chivalry does not call upon them to make the least resistance. On went the bristly beast, which, from his enormous size and ferocious aspect, appeared to be the great-grandsire of the whole herd, closely pursued by me, while Hill and the natives kept clamoring and shouting for me to come back. Mistaking their noise and alarm for the excitement of the chase, I only ran the faster, and was every yard gaining on the boar. The animal, meanwhile, unconscious that he had been the object of particular pursuit, kept running straight ahead for a considerable distance, when at last, instinctively apprehending the state of affairs, he made a sudden stand. He was frothing with excitement and incipient rage; his long, course bristles stood erect all over his body, and his tusks, as large as a young elephant's, overshot his horrid jaws. I was now within ten yards of the terrible monster, and it was only now that I saw the supremely formidable character of the adversary I had the temerity to pursue, and the still greater difficulty now to avoid. His size, as I have said, was prodigious, and for the first time I had a clear look at his dreadful tusks. He was standing with his side toward me. and watching, with that peculiar cunning and ferocity characteristic of the species when enraged. I paused, but only for an instant, for, though struck with wonder and astonishment as mush at the enormous strength exhibited in the animal's structure as at his strangely savage appearance, it was no time for reflection, far less for indecision: I must prepare for attack or defense, perhaps both, for to retreat might tempt pursuit on the part of my adversary, and this would be unpleasant, perhaps dangerous, and certainly degrading to a sprig of chivalry like myself, impatient for some dashing adventure. Scarcely had these thoughts crossed my mind, when the boar, furious and impatient for attack, turned sharply round, and rushed at me open-mouthed. I retreated a little, for to attack him single-handed, with a Samoan spear, would be sheer madness. Hill and the natives, who were now close at hand, called out "to take to the nearest tree." This I immediately did, and, fortunately, it was a large one.
"Dodge him now," cried Hill, "and keep a sharp lookout, while we try and divert his attention."
I did so, and kept going cautiously around the tree, closely pursued by my enemy, who kept dashing his tusks against the tree in a perfect rage, shivering the hard bark in pieces.
In vain did they try to set on the dogs: the curs only yelped and barked, but did not dare to "go in." After much urging and a great deal of swearing, two of the better bred ventured forward, but only to be instantly mangled. One of them he struck on the ribs with his tusks, and tore his entrails; the other, he crushed to death under his feet.
From this incident, together with Hill's anxiety, and the absolute terror exhibited by the natives, I perceived the mortal peril in which my absurd love of adventure had placed me. Hill and the others threw their spears, in the hope of wounding him, or at any rate of diverting his attention, but the fragile weapons glanced off his bristly hide as though he were a rhinoceros. in fact, the furious monster did not notice them at all. I now saw plainly enough that my safety must entirely depend upon my own exertions, and that my rescue, if at all possible, must be achieved by myself alone. Therefore, reversing our positions, i became the pursuer, instead of the pursued, and this I accomplished by running rapidly round the tree, and coming within two feet of my enemy's rear. I struck him with my spear in the flank, and quickly recovered my position at the tree. The boar turned sharply and furiously round, but, expecting such a movement, I also took the opposite direction to that in which I had been pursuing him.
"Bravely and cleverly done!" shouted Hill, joyously. "Be cool, my dear fellow--be cool, and you'll yet kill him: a feat which no man on this island has ever done, single-handed. He bleeds profusely; be quick and cautious, but do not speak, for your voice will only madden him, by indicating your proximity. Give him time to bleed as much as possible before you make a second attempt."
This was cheering, and I felt doubly courageous, and much more confident. Before, it was the imperative necessity of making some attempt to save my life, which prompted the hazardous act of using my spear; now, I was stimulated by ambition and the hope of achieving a daring exploit. I waited several minutes before repeating my last attack, in the hope he would grow weak from loss of blood, and then slacken his pace; but though he bled freely, there was no diminution of strength. I resolved to try again, and, therefore approached him; but this time with more ardor and less prudence. I struck, but, instead of striking in the under part of the body, where the hide was penetrable, the point of my spear struck on the ribs and glanced off, without leaving a scratch. The boar made a rapid movement with his head to strike me with his tusks, which, though I fortunately escaped myself, struck the spear, and wrested it from my grasp.
I retreated, as before. The spectators were dumb with horror, and poor Hill paled with fear. Fortunately, the size and circumference of the tree admitted of some maneuvering. The boar, as if, in his turn, elated at his own dexterity, grew doubly furious, as he certainly became more rapid in his movements.
"Is there any danger." I asked, "of his turning and meeting me as I go round the tree?"
"Make yourself easy on that point," said Hill: "such a thing has never been known, except when he receives a fresh blow."
Satisfied with this assurance, I kept going around the tree at a running pace, as before, while my adversary, animated by the sound of my voice, was close at my heels.
"When you see a chance, throw me a spear," I said, hurriedly.
"I'll see to that," said Hill; "and, meanwhile, my dear boy keep up your heart."
Singular enough, the boar's attention, during the whole of this time, had not been in the least diverted by the others, who were not more than a few yards distant. But set, as it were, on his intended victim, he disregarded all objects besides.
The exertion, excitement, and heat of the sun caused the perspiration to run freely down my person, but I felt no symptom of exhaustion, nor even of fatigue; and the boar, though still bleeding, seemed to relax none of his speed, nor lose any of his strength.
Seeing an opportunity, Hill at last threw me his spear, which I failed to catch, and it fell within six inches of my adversary, when the infuriated monster seized it in his jaws and crushed it into fragments. This interesting piece of byplay detained him a little in his progress, when the opportunity was seized of throwing me another spear, which I was more fortunate in securing. After he had wreaked his vengeance in this manner on the Samoan javelin he resumed his pace, but somewhat slower than before, as if his brutish instinct had been a little appeased by the act of crunching my fragile weapon. Ere many minutes I repeated the attack, this time with caution and precision, and struck him once more in the flank, inflicting a deep wound. I immediately made a retrograde movement, my adversary did the same, and a shout of applause burst from the spectators.
"Bravely done, once more!" shouted Hill, frantic with joy; "you've given it him home this time! Be cool, my boy; for heaven's sake, be cool! The blood is coming in streams, and if he were the very devil he must soon feel the effects."
The blood did certainly flow in streams, and I soon began to experience the inconvenient effects, for the ground on which I was forced to run was so saturated and slippery that I was in imminent danger of falling, and of becoming an easy and unresisting victim. Still, I felt that to act again in the offensive by striking another blow, and so hasten the termination on the conflict, would at present be injudicious. Having allowed a certain time for this passive kind of warfare to have its due effect, I dealt him another as efficacious as the last. This was the only thrust by which he seemed to be sensibly affected, and he began to slacken his pace. Owing to the slippery nature of the ground, my position was now more precarious and insecure than ever, and I experienced a degree of heartsickness that was really alarming. What if he should turn round, or even resume his former rapid pace: I should be unable to avoid him. I was, even now, scarcely able to retain my footing; but if, maddened with pain and goaded to a last effort, he should concentrate his expiring strength in one desperate attack, I should be utterly lost. Hill saw my embarrassment, and implored me to keep up my spirits; adding, that, as I had hitherto acted so bravely, it would be unmanly now to despond, since the conflict was about to terminate in a glorious victory.
Animated by this reminder, I resolved to strike another blow. "One more blow," thought I; "and if i succeed in planting it effectively, I shall either disable him altogether, or, at any rate, sufficiently so to enable me to leave the tree." I dashed at him, and dealt a powerful one -- plunging my spear-head to the wood. It completely stunned him, and he stood bleeding as if a knife had been struck in his neck. I now felt I could leave the tree and rejoin my companions, which I instantly did, to my own great relief, and amid their sincere congratulations. Poor Hill embraced me, declaring that "he never hoped to see me escape." The natives were quite demonstrative in their congratulations, and lifted me on their shoulders, declaring I was a warrior equal to the best on the island. Thus, I was made a great man, not so much by bravery as by dodging. The boar, left standing, helplessly enough, at the foot of the tree, soon bled to death.
Meanwhile, fifty yards away, they were shouting, swearing, and laughing at a man up in a tree. Going around the tree was another wild boar, like the one i had just been killing and dodging, running and chipping the hard bark off with his huge tusks, foaming and frothing in a wild rage at some one he heard, but could not see; and at the distance of ten yards of so was a circle of young men, darting their spears at him, and recovering them again by means of a cord attached to the end of the hafts. Ah! these natives are wise fellows. Born to the business -- the "pomp and circumstance" of boar-hunting -- when one of them succeeds in drawing the boar's attention to himself, he takes to the nearest tree, just as I did; but, instead of running around the tree, as I did, he runs up it, with the agility of a monkey. Then he begins to shout, with might and main, to fix the attention of the boar, who immediately begins to run around the tree, in the hope of catching the owner of the voice. The man above keeps on roaring; the boar keeps on running around; and those standing away at a short distance keep darting their spears into his bristly hide, while the stupid pig, at every blow he receives, and every sound he hears from above, is getting more furious, and nearer, he imagines, to his assailant -- forgetting altogether that the man in the tree is only a decoy, and that those standing around are his real assailants. This is a sport -- the only one in danger of being hurt being the boar, who, after awhile, gets so exhausted as to be capable of no resistance, and is easily dispatched.
We returned, laden with the products of the expedition, and made a triumphal entry into the "Village of the Gods," amid the barking of dogs, the yelling of little boys, and the general rejoicing of the whole village. It was a glorious day, and to be duly celebrated by a great feast. The hunters who had so successfully provided for the gastronomic pleasures of our friends were the objects of general attention; and, as for myself -- I, who, single-handed, had killed or shall I say dodged, a boar to death -- why, I was the observed of all observers.
Preparations for the anticipated feast had already been in a forward state: pyramids of red-hot stones were in waiting, and, beside them, heaps of leaves, for covering over the intended edibles; to burn off the bristles, and eviscerate a couple of boars, and half a dozen pigs, was, therefore, all that remained to be done. As many hands make light work, this part of the festive preparation was soon accomplished, when the pyramids were razed, and the boars and pigs laid on the red-hot stones, and the carefully covered up with a great heap of leaves, to prevent the heat from escaping. In two hours, the animals entire were placed before the expectant guests, in excellent condition, and cooked "to a turn." The boar which I had slain, or rather dodged to death, was laid on a mat, before a circle of chiefs, who considered themselves honored with my company; and then began the carousing, after the most approved Samoan fashion. The oldest of the chiefs took up a piece of thin-edged bamboo, and with it artistically separated the head from the trunk, severing the vertebral column with anatomical dexterity and dispatch. The head, entire, was courteously placed before me as a trophy, and the carcass was dissected with equal skill and rapidity, and portions sent round to my less illustrious neighbors. I politely requested that the boar's head should be subjected to a similar disposition. This done, the feast proceeded with the utmost decorum and politeness, followed by copious libations of the national beverage, manufactured from a shrub, the root of which is chewed by women, then put into a wooden dish, called a tano, diluted with water, then strained, and next poured into goblets of cocoa-nut shell. The beverage, to the use of which the natives were much addicted, had the color and taste of soap-suds, and had a narcotic effect, which stupefied, but did not unseat reason, as do the beverages of civilized society.
Yet, as my friend concluded, he cast a glance, half wistful and half disdainful, at the bottle on the shelf -- a look which I correctly interpreted, and to which I duly attended, as he resumed his pipe with dignified composure.