In the Tiger Jungle: Does God Hear Prayer?
IT was in September, 1863. I was taking a long exploring, preaching, and Bible-distributing journey up through the native kingdom of Hyderabad and on into Central India, where no missionary had ever before worked. It was a journey of twelve hundred miles on horseback, of four to five months, and through a region little known and difficult to traverse, and by many regarded as exceedingly dangerous. Indeed, be- fore starting I had received messages and letters from numbers of missionaries and laymen, warning me of the danger, and begging me not to throw away my life and end disastrously a missionary career so near its beginning.
I had surveyed the danger, measured the obstacles, and counted the cost, and considering none of them sufficient to cancel the command, “Go ye into all the world,” I had covenanted for the journey with the “I will be with you always,” and started on my way. I was accompanied by four native assistants, picked men from the larger number who had volunteered to be my companions. We took with us two cart-loads of Scriptures Gospels, New Testaments, and Bibles and tracts, chiefly in the Telugu language, but with a smaller supply in each of the five languages we would meet, and which could be used by some of our party, for each one of us could preach in two or three.
We had already been out two and a half months. My sturdy Saugur pony had carried me seven hundred miles, and we had thus far distributed, chiefly by sales, seven thousand Scriptures and books.
Of the dangers promised us we had experienced some. In one city, indeed, we had seen the mob, angry because we preached another God than theirs, swing to the iron gates, shutting us within, and tear up the paving-stones to stone us with; but, by an artifice obtaining permission to tell them just one story before they should begin the stoning, I told the story of the cross in the graphic language that the Master Himself gave me that day, and the mob became an absorbed audience, down the cheeks of many a member of which I saw the tears trickle, as I pictured Christ upon the cross, in agony for us, that we all might be freed from sin. The stones were thrown into the gutter, and when I had done they bought and paid for many Gospels and tracts to tell them more of that wonderful God-man of whom they then first heard.
We had been washed away by a flood, my pony and I being whelmed under by a tropical torrent that rolled swiftly down a river ordinarily fordable as we were in the middle of it crossing; but we had all succeeded in swimming to the same bank.
We had been kept awake through the night more than once by the roaring of the man-eating tigers around our camp in the jungle, as we heaped wood and brush upon our campfires all night long, lest in the morning there should be no one left to tell the tale. We had passed through a jungle where three men had been carried off by tigers from the same cart-track in broad daylight just a few days before; but the “I will be with you always” had all the way protected us from harm.
We had now, however, come to the greatest strait in our journey. We had reached our farthest northern point, up among the mountain Gonds, or Khonds, who for centuries had offered human sacrifices; and after telling them of the one and all-sufficient sacrifice for sin by Jesus Christ, we had turned to the east and south on our return journey by another route. We were to find a government steamer when we struck the Pranhita River, an affluent of the great Godavery. The government was then endeavoring to open up those rivers to navigation, and had succeeded in placing one steamer on the river above the second cataract, to run up to the third. The government officers in charge of the works, having heard months before of my proposed journey, had offered to send that steamer up to the third cataract on any date I would name if I would but take the journey and transport myself and party rapidly through that stretch of fever jungle, which was deadly at this season of the year. I had named the date and received assurances that we could depend on the steamer being there. The heavy torrents of the monsoon had come on unexpectedly early and were unprecedentedly severe. The Godavery became three miles wide of tumultuous waters. Village after village on its shores was swept away. We watched on the banks for a week. A messenger then succeeded in getting through to tell us that the steamer, in attempting to stem that fierce current to come to us, had broken its machinery and could not get to us. We must then march through that seventy-five miles of doomed jungle to reach the next steamer, which was to meet us at the foot of the second cataract and take us down to the first, whence another would take us on.
The government commissioner of the central provinces at Sironcha (for the north bank of the Godavery is under British rule) kindly came to our relief, and, detaching thirty-six coolies from the government works, ordered them, with an armed guard to keep them from deserting, to convey our tents, baggage, medicine-chests, and remaining books down to the foot of the second cataract, and we started on.
I need not stop to recount the exciting episode of our desertion, on the north bank of the Godavery, with no human habitation anywhere near, by the whole party of coolies, armed guard and all, nor of our desperate efforts, finally successful, to cross the Godavery’s three miles’ flood in order that we might reach a large town of the Nizam’s dominions, the headquarters of a high native official, a sort of deputy governor, of whom I hoped to obtain help.
Forcing my wiry pony through the three miles of flooded marsh that lay between the river and the town, I appeared at the door of this magnate and politely presented my appeal to him for coolies to take my party down his side of the river to the second cataract. He as politely told me it was an utter impossibility; that at this season of the year, with the fever so deadly and the man-eating tigers so ravenous, now that the herdsmen had taken their flocks and herds away to the healthier highlands over the fever season, so that they had no flocks to prey upon, and the floods and backwaters from the river damming the way, no coolies could be induced to go through.
I told him that I must in some way get down to the second cataract, that the steamer that was to come for us had broken down, and that I must have the coolies. I took from my pocket and slowly unrolled a long parchment paper document, a hookam, or firman, from the Nizam, which the British minister at that court had kindly pressed upon me as I had tarried a few days at the capital of the kingdom in passing, saying that, though I had not asked for it, he would sleep better if he knew I had it in my possession, for I knew not what I would pass through, nor how much I might need it. I had not thus far opened it.
The need had now come. In it the Nizam, at the request of the British minister, had not only authorized my journey, but ordered any of his officials, of whatever rank, to render any assistance I should call for, either in the way of protection, transportation, or supplies, at the shortest notice and under the highest penalties for non-performance. The moment the deputy governor saw the great royal seal his whole appearance changed, and, shouting in imperious tones to his belted and armed attendants, he ordered them to run with all speed, each to one of the surrounding villages, and bring in, by force if necessary, the quota of bearers which each village was bound to furnish for a royal progress or for a journey thus authorized.
I had called for forty-four stalwart men, for I felt sure that more than my original thirty-six would be needed before we reached the next steamer. In an incredibly short time the forty-four bearers appeared; they went at once down to the river and brought up all our goods, and with them came the native preachers. They placed the goods in front of the magnate’s house.
I made a harangue to them as they stood in a row, each man by his burden, telling them I was sorry to be obliged to compel them to go through the jungle at such a time, or to go ourselves, but we must go; that, to show them that I meant to treat them well, I should now give each one in advance as much hire as he had ever received for going through to the cataract, and that on reaching there I should pay each one twice as much more, in view of the extra risk they ran.
Asking the magistrate what the highest pay was, I placed that sum, in the Nizam’s coinage, in the hands of each man, with the magistrate as witness; and when each of the forty-four had grasped it in his palm I told them that now they were sealed to accompany me through; that anyone who attempted to desert me would bring the consequences on his own head; that I had been trifled with the day before, and deserted by those north-shore coolies, who had had no “sealing money,” as they call an advance in pay; that I would not be trifled with again; and took out my long navy revolver from my belt and examined its loading, leaving them to draw their own inferences. The magistrate also harangued them, and told them that, traveling under such authorization as this gentleman had, they would be publicly whipped and put in prison if they appeared back at their homes without a line from me that they had taken me through.
To make still more sure, I had separated them into four squads of eleven men each, ordering each squad to march in a compact body, and placing one of the native preachers in charge of each party, to march with them and watch them and give me instant signal if any one put down his burden except at my command. The two royal guides of the region had been ordered to guide us through, and, promised a high reward, had sworn faithfulness.
We struck into the jungle. We had to go single file. Footpaths there had been, but now choked and grown over from the long rains. The second senior native preacher went with the first eleven, the senior preacher at the rear of the last party. The pouring rain would drench us for a half-hour, and then the sun, blazing forth between the sundered clouds, would broil us. The country was flooded and reeking; the bushes were loaded and dripping. Get through we must, or the steamer at the second cataract might not wait for us, and we would then have to march through another fever stretch.
In spite of all my precautions, I felt very suspicious that an effort would be made to desert us before we came to the worst point, and was on the constant watch. Cantering by the whole line where the width of the path allowed, I would stop at the front and watch, and count every man and bundle until all had passed, and then canter on ahead, scanning each man as I went, and halt again. So we went on hour by hour, halting only an hour for lunch at midday.
About 4 P.M. I fancied I saw an uneasiness among the coolies, and rode back and forth more constantly. Three bands had passed me, the fourth was filing by. There was a sharp bend in the path; the last two coolies had not appeared. Quick as thought, striking spur, I dashed across the hypotenuse of the triangle, and jumped my little pony over the bushes into the edge of the path again just as the two coolies had put down their burdens and were springing into the jungle. “What are you doing?” said I, with the muzzle of my pistol at one man’s ear. Trembling as though I had dropped from the clouds, they seized their burdens and ran on, overtaking the others. Following, and dashing up the cavalcade to see if all was right ahead, I stopped and dismounted, and appeared to be tightening my saddle-girths, purposely to allow those two men to report to the others what had taken place.
They did report, and word was passed along the line to look out how they attempted to desert, for that they two had tried it when the white foreigner, the dhora, was nowhere near, and as they sprang into the bushes the dhora dropped down from the clouds between them, horseback, with his six-eyed gun in his hand, cocked, and it was a wonder their brains were not scattered. And from the way they all looked at me as I rode by again, with my pistol in hand, I knew that superstition was now my ally. They did not know that I would not shoot a man, and my “six-eyed gun” and my mysterious appearance as reported had more terror for them just then than the as yet unseen tigers in the jungle. And on we marched.
But now a new and seemingly insurmountable difficulty confronted us. The dank jungle, the rain, the fever, the tigers, had been taken into account, but in spite of them we had determined to push through and reach the second cataract before the Sunday. But difficulties breed. We now met two fleet-footed, daring huntsmen, who had been down to a point two miles beyond to inspect their traps, and were on the full run back to shelter for the night. Swift and sure of foot, with no impediment, they could before dark make the last village we had passed as we entered the jungle in the morning.
We halted them to inquire about the region ahead. We knew that some two miles in front was an affluent of the Godavery, which ran down from the bluffs at our right, and which we had expected to ford and pitch our camp for the night on an open knoll a little distance beyond it, where, with bright camp-fires and watchfulness, we could pass the night in comparative safety. But from these hunters we learned that the backwater of the Godavery flood, which was thirty feet higher than usual, had made these affluents absolutely unfordable.
“Was there no boat?”
“No material for a raft?”
And on the hunters dashed for safety. The two royal guides and I had called them apart alone and questioned them. The guides knew the country well, but this unprecedentedly high backwater was entirely unexpected, and they seemed dazed by the news. The party kept plodding on. We were marching about a mile from the southern bank of the Godavery and parallel with it; two miles farther south were the high bluffs, but with dense, impenetrable, thorny rattan jungle between us and them. The country between river and bluff was flat and flooded.
We knew of only this knoll beyond this affluent where we could encamp. Ten miles beyond it again was another affluent, but that would be flooded as much as this. Still, could we not in some way get across this one and secure safety for one night?
“Guides, if we press on to this little river, can we not make a raft of some kind and get over before dark?”
“Alas! there are no dry trees,” they said; “and these green jungle trees will sink of themselves in the water, even if there were time to fell them.”
“Is there no knoll on this side that we can pitch on?”
“No; from river to bluff it is all like this.” We were standing in wet and mud as we talked.
“Keep marching on; I will consider what to do.”
I drew back and rode behind the marching column. The native preachers had partly over- heard the statement about the affluent being uncrossable. From my countenance as I fell back they gathered that we were in straits; they knew that in an hour it would be sunset; dense clouds even now made it seem growing dark. Already we could hear the occasional fierce, hungry roar of the tigers in the rattan jungle at our right. I said not a word to my assistants, but I spoke to God. As my horse tramped on in the marshy path my heart went up and claimed the promised presence.
“Master, was it not for Thy sake that we came here? Did we not covenant with Thee for the journey through? Have we not faithfully preached Thy name the whole long way? Have we shirked any danger, have we quailed before any foe? Didst Thou not promise, ‘I will be with thee’? Now we need Thee; we are in blackest danger for this night. Only Thou canst save us from this jungle, these tigers, this flood. O Master! Master! show me what to do!”
An answer came, not audible, but distinct as though spoken in my ear by human voice: “Turn to the left, to the Godavery, and you will find rescue.”
Riding rapidly forward, I overtook the guides. “How far is it; to the Godavery?”
“A good mile.”
“Is there no village on its banks?”
“No, none within many miles, and the banks are all overflowed.”
“Is there no mound, no rising ground on which we could camp, out of this water?”
“It is all low and flat like this.”
I drew apart and prayed again as we still plodded on. Again came the answer, “Turn to the left, to the Godavery, and you will find rescue.” Again I called to the guides and questioned them: “Are you sure there is no rising ground by the river where we can pitch, with the river on one side for protection and camp-fires around us on the other, through the night?”
“Think well; is there no dry timber of which we could make a raft?”
“If there were any it would all be washed away by these floods.”
“Is there no boat of any sort on the river? I have authority to seize anything I need.”
“None nearer than the cataract.”
“How long would it take us to reach the Godavery by the nearest path?”
“Half an hour; but it would be so much time lost, for we would have to come back here again, and cut our way through this jungle to the bluff, and climb that; there is no other way of getting around these two flooded streams that we must pass to reach the cataract.”
“How long would it take us to cut our way through to the bluff?”
“At least six hours; it will be dark in an hour.”
“What shall we do for tonight?”
“God knows.” And they looked the despair they felt.
I drew aside again and prayed as I rode on. “Turn to the left, to the Godavery, and you will find rescue,” came the response the third time. It was not audible; none of those near heard it. I cannot explain it, but to me it was as distinct as though spoken by a voice in my ear; it thrilled me. “God’s answer to my prayer,” said I, “I cannot doubt. I must act, and that instantly.”
Hastening forward to the guides at the head of the column, “Halt!” said I, in a voice to be heard by all. “Turn sharp to the left. Guides, show us the shortest way to the Godavery. Quick!”
They remonstrated stoutly that it was only labor lost, that we should be in a worse plight there than here, for the river might rise higher and wash us away in the darkness of the night.
“Obey!” said I. “March sharp, or night will come. I am master here and intend to be obeyed. Show the way to the river.”
They glanced at the fourteen-inch revolver that I held in my hand ready for any beast that should spring upon us. They suspected that it might be used on something besides a beast, and, one saying to the other, “Come on, we’ve got to go,” started on.
All the party had surrounded me. My native preachers looked up inquiringly at my awed face. “There is rescue at the river,” was all I said. How could I say more? Providentially we had just come to where an old path led at right angles to our former course and directly toward the river, and down that path we went. The step of all was quicker than before. “The dhora has heard of some help at the river,” I overheard the coolies say to one another. I had heard of help, but what it was I knew not. My anxiety seemed to have gone; there was an intense state of expectancy in its place. Half a mile from the river I spurred forward past the guides; I knew the coolies would not desert me now. There was no place of safety they could reach for the night; they would cling around me for protection.
I cantered out from among the bushes to the bank, keenly observant. There, right under my feet, was a large flatboat tied to a tree at the shore, with two men upon it trying to keep it afloat in the rising and falling current.
“How did this boat get here?” said I.
“Oh, sir, please don’t be angry with us,” said the boatmen, taking me to be an officer of the British India government, to whom the boat be- longed, and thinking I was taking them to task for not keeping the boat at its proper station. “We tried our best to keep the boat from coming here, but, sir, it seemed as though it was possessed. This morning we were on our station on the upper river, caring for the boat as usual, when a huge rolling wave came rushing down the river, and snapped the cables, and swept the boat into the current. We did our utmost to get it back to that bank of the river, but it would go farther and farther out into the current. The more we pulled for the British bank, the more it would work out toward the Nizam’s. We have fought all day to keep it from coming here, but it seemed as though a supernatural power was shoving the boat over, and an hour ago we gave up, and let it float in here, and tied it up for safety to this tree. Don’t be angry, sir; as soon as the river goes down or gets smooth we will get the boat back where it belongs. Don’t have us punished for letting it come here; we could not help it.”
“All right, my men,” said I. “I take command of this boat; I have authority to use any government property I require on this journey. I shall use the boat, and reward you well, and give you a letter to your superior that will clear you of all blame.”
The boat, a large flatboat with strong railings along both sides and square ends to run upon the shore, had been built by the British military authorities in the troublous times following the mutiny in those regions, and placed on an affluent of the Godavery, higher up on the north bank, to ferry artillery and elephants across in their punitive expeditions, and it was still kept there. These men were paid monthly wages to keep it always ready at its station, in case of sudden need.
Who had ordered that tidal wave in the morning of that day, that had torn the boat from its moorings and driven it so many miles down the river, that had thwarted every endeavor of the frightened boatmen to force it to the north shore, and had brought it to the little cove-like recess just where we would strike the river? Who but He on whose orders we had come; He who had said, “I will be with you;” He who knew before- hand the dire straits in which we would be in that very place, on that very day, that very hour; He who had told us so distinctly, “Turn to the left, to the Godavery, and you will find rescue”? I bowed my head, and in amazed reverence I thanked my God for this signal answer to our pleading prayer.
The guides now came in sight through the bushes, with all the party following, and looked dazed as they saw me quietly arranging to put our whole party on the boat for the night; and I heard some say to others,” How did the dhora know of this boat being here, and come right out on to it? None of us knew of it or could have found it.”
To my native preachers I simply said,” God heard our prayers, and this is the answer;” for I knew that they had been praying on foot while I was praying on horseback. “Yes,” said they, reverently; “He has heard our prayer and de-livered us. We will never doubt Him again.”
Taken From In the Tiger Jungle by Jacob Chamberlain
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