When the rains have all run off, and the snows of Central Asia have
not begun to melt, about the middle of the dry weather, the Irrawaddy,
our Burman Mississippi, runs its lowest; and in such places as Magwe,
a district on the road to Mandalay, the sandbanks are conspicuous. In
1894 there was, as there often is, a sandbank in Magwe district that,
starting from the eastern bank, like a dam, athwart the current, bent
down the stream, like a breakwater at sea, enclosing a natural harbour
between it and the bank. This little harbour was shoaled at its
southern or open end by the silting sands in the water eddying there;
but for most of its length it was deep enough to be as comfortable for
the cattle as if the whole enclosure had been made for their

It was all a big buffalo-wallow one afternoon that year (1894). One
after another, scores of long-horned buffaloes had subsided into it,
like submarines, leaving little but their nostrils on the surface. Men
and women stood about on the bank, and children were bathing at the
water’s edge. Suddenly a splashing drew all eyes. It takes much to
excite a buffalo. Even their manner of fighting is more than
elephantine. I stood and watched a duel among them lately (1908), but
never will again. It was perhaps the most leisurely battle that human
being could endure to watch. But there, in 1894, men stared in wonder
at a huge cow-buffalo splashing distractedly southwards from the
extreme upper end of the pool. They soon saw she was chasing a
crocodile that was carrying off her calf. Finding herself distanced in
the water, she took to the shore, and galloped like a cart-horse in a

“I don’t know,” said an onlooker, “whether we could have reached the
shoal in time to be of any use, but when we saw the old cow going like
that, we thought it best to stand aside.”

This was wise. The buffalo is enormous, and might easily kill a man by
inadvertence, and a big crocodile, such as they said this was, though
not so overwhelming, is otherwise dangerous. It does not seem to have
been ascertained how old a crocodile can be. It seems to live to a
great age, once it passes safely through the dangers of adolescence,
and to continue growing bigger the longer it lives, like a tree. In
Arakan I had seen some Indian coins that had ceased to be current for
about a century, and were then, in 1893, recovered from the stomach of
a patriarchal crocodile. The likeliest guess was that he had got this
trouble in his stomach–for such it probably was to him–by eating one
of the corpses that furnished such plenteous feeding to his tribe in
the wars in Arakan, more than a century before. There was nothing
certain, of course, except the age of the coins and the fact that they
were found in his stomach, and he might have eaten another beast that
had eaten the corpse, or he might have recently dined upon an
Arakanese archæologist, but it is at least as likely that he had been
suffering–if he suffered–a hundred years, for the headlong gluttony
of youth.

A Sanskrit proverb runs:

When lion and striped tiger fight a bout,
It’s best to leave these two to fight it out.

So the Burmans felt as they watched the march of events:

When buffalo and crocodile debate,
The thing for man to do is–stand and wait.

They had not to wait long.

“It was the nicest thing I ever saw in my life,” said a man to me, his
voice almost trembling with enthusiasm months afterwards. “I never
heard tell of a thing like it. She went along the bank like a dog, in
spite of her size. We ran to see better. Some say she made for the
water, when she came abreast of the crocodile, but seeing the
crocodile go by, drew back and galloped on again. I did not see that.
We all saw the finish. She took the water at the shoal and stood
waiting, like a cat. Of course the cattle knew the place, but fancy
the old cow reflecting that the crocodile would need to cross the
shoal to reach deep water.

“At first, while she stood waiting, we thought she was too late, as
the enemy had gone below the surface, but soon we saw the stiff-necked
crocodile, not looking round, slowly dragging the calf and itself over
the sand, in front of the old cow. Ha, ha! She waited for the right
moment, just like a cat; then charged, like a buffalo; and then we saw
the great crocodile wriggling high in the air, spitted and tossed as
easily as if it had been only a puppy. The horns both went clean
through the middle of its body, and came out again.”

I forget the fate of the calf, but they told me the taste of the
crocodile’s flesh. The nicest bits were near the tail. So I know that
the crocodile died.