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In Isaacs' tent I was pulling off my turban, all shapeless and crumpled by the long day, while Isaacs stood disconsolately looking at the clean guns and unbroken rows of cartridges which Narain deposited on the table. The sun was very low, and shone horizontally through the raised door of the tent on my friend's rather gloomy face. At that moment something intercepted the sunshine, and a dark shadow fell across the floor. I looked, and saw a native standing on the threshold, salaaming and waiting to be spoken to. He was not one of our men, but a common ryot, clad simply in a dhoti or waist-cloth, and a rather dirty turban.
"Kya chahte ho?"--"What do you want?" asked Isaacs impatiently. He was not in a good humour by any means. "Wilt thou deprive thy betters of the sunlight thou enjoyest thyself?"
"The sahib's face is like the sun and the moon," replied the man deprecatingly. "But if the great lord will listen I will tell him what shall rejoice his heart."
"Speak, unbeliever," said Isaacs.
"Protector of the poor! you are my father and my mother! but I know where there lieth a great tiger, an eater of men, hard-hearted, that delighteth in blood."
"Dog," answered Isaacs, calmly removing his coat, "the tiger you speak of was seen by you many moons since; what do you come to me with idle tales for?" Isaacs was familiar with the native trick of palming off old tigers on the unwary stranger, in the hope of a reward.
"Sahib, I am no liar. I saw the tiger, who is the king of the forest, this morning." Isaacs' manner relaxed a little, and he sat down and lighted the eternal cigarette. "Slave," he said meditatively, "if it is as you say, I will kill the tiger, but if it is not as you say, I will kill you, and cause your body to be buried with the carcass of an ox, and your soul shall not live." The man did not seem much moved by the threat. He moved nearer, and salaamed again.
"It is near to the dwelling of the sahib, who is my father," said the man, speaking low. "The day before yesterday he destroyed a man from the village. He has eaten five men in the last moon. I have seen him enter his lair, and he will surely return before the dawn; and the sahib shall strike him by his lightning; and the sahib will not refuse me the ears of the man-eater, that I may make a jädu, a charm against sudden death?"
"Hound! if thou speakest the truth, and I kill the tiger, the monarch of game, I will make thee a rich man; but thou shalt not have his ears. I desire the jädu for myself. I have spoken; wait thou here my pleasure." The ryot bent low to the earth, and then squatted by the tent-door to wait, in the patient way that a Hindoo can, for Isaacs to go and eat his dinner. As the latter came out ten minutes later, he paused and addressed the man once more. "Speak not to any man of thy tiger while I am gone, or I will cut off thine ears with a pork knife." And we passed on.
The sun was now set and hovering in the afterglow, the new moon was following lazily down. I stopped a moment to look at her, and was surprised by Miss Westonhaugh's voice close behind me.
"Are you wishing by the new moon, Mr. Griggs?" she asked.
"Yes," said I, "I was. And what were you wishing, Miss Westonhaugh, if I may ask?" Isaacs came up, and paused beside us. The beautiful girl stood quite still, looking to westward, a red glow on the white-gold masses of her hair.
"Did you say you were wishing for something, Miss Westonhaugh?" he asked. "Perhaps I can get it for you. More flowers, perhaps? They are very easily got."
"No--that is, not especially. I was wishing--well, that a tiger-hunt might last for ever; and I want a pair of tiger's ears. My old ayah says they keep off evil spirits and sickness; and all sorts of things."
"I know; it is a curious idea. I suppose both those beasts there have lost theirs already. These fellows cut them off in no time."
"Yes. I have looked. So I suppose I must wait till to-morrow. But promise me, Mr. Isaacs, if you shoot one to-morrow, let me have the ears!"
"I will promise that readily enough. I would promise anything you--" The last part of the sentence was lost to me, as I moved away and left them.
At dinner, of course, every one talked of the day's sport, and compliments of all kinds were showered on Lord Steepleton, who looked very much pleased, and drank a good deal of wine. Ghyrkins and the little magistrate expressed their opinion that he would make a famous tiger-killer one of these days, when he had learned to wait. Every one was hungry and rather tired, and after a somewhat silent cigar, we parted for the night, Miss Westonhaugh rising first. Isaacs went to his quarters, and I remained alone in a long chair, by the deserted dining-tent. Kiramat Ali brought me a fresh hookah, and I lay quietly smoking and thinking of all kinds of things--things of all kinds, tigers, golden hair, more tigers, Isaacs, Shere Ali, Baithop--, what was his name--Baithop--p--. I fell asleep.
Some one touched my hand, waking me suddenly. I sprang to my feet and seized the man by the throat, before I recognised in the starlight that it was Isaacs.
"You are not a nice person to rouse," remarked he in a low voice, as I relaxed my grasp. "You will have fever if you sleep out-of-doors at this time of year. Now look here; it is past midnight, and I am going out a little way." I noticed that he had a kookrie knife at his waist, and that his cartridge-belt was on his chest.
"I will go with you," said I, guessing his intention. "I will be ready in a moment," and I began to move towards the tent.
"No. I must go alone, and do this thing single-handed. I have a particular reason. I only wanted to warn you I was gone, in case you missed me. I shall take that ryot fellow with me to show me the way."
"Give him a gun," I suggested.
"He could not use one if I did. He has your kookrie in case of accidents."
"Oh, very well! do not let me interfere with any innocent and childlike pastime you may propose for your evening hours. I will attend to your funeral in the morning. Good-night."
"Good-night; I shall be back before you are up." And he walked quickly off to where the ryot was waiting and holding his guns. He had the sense to take two. I was angry at the perverse temerity of the man. Why could he not have an elephant out and go like a sensible thinking being, instead of sneaking out with one miserable peasant to lie all night among the reeds, in as great danger from cobras as from the beast he meant to kill? And all for a girl --an English girl--a creature all fair hair and eyes, with no more intelligence than a sheep! Was it not she who sent him out to his death in the jungle, that her miserable caprice for a pair of tiger's ears might be immediately satisfied? If a woman ever loved me, Paul Griggs,--thank heaven no woman ever did,--would I go out into bogs and desert places and risk my precious skin to find her a pair of cat's ears? Not I;--wait a moment, though. If I were in his place, if Miss Westonhaugh loved me--I laughed at the conceit. But supposing she did. Just for the sake of argument, I would allow it. I think that I would risk something after all. What a glorious thing it would be to be loved by a woman, once, wholly and for ever. To meet the creature I described to him the other night, waiting for me to come into her life, and to be to her all I could be to the woman I should love. But she has never come; never will, now; still, there is a sort of rest to me in thinking of rest. Hearth, home, wife, children; the worn old staff resting in the corner, never to wander again. What a strange thing it is that men should have all these, and more, and yet never see that they have the simple elements of earthly happiness, if they would but use them. And we, outcasts and wanderers, children of sin and darkness, in whose hands one commandment seems hardly less fragile than another, would give anything--had we anything to give--for the happiness of a home, to call our own. How strange it is that what I said to Isaacs should be true. "Do not marry unless you must depend on each other for daily bread, or unless you are rich enough to live apart." Yes, it is true, in ninetynine cases out of a hundred. But then, I should add a saving clause, "and unless you are quite sure that you love each other." Ay, there is the pons asinorum, the bridge whereon young asses and old fools come to such terrible grief. They are perfectly sure they love eternally; they will indignantly scorn the suggestions of prudence; love any other woman? never, while I live, answers the happy and unsophisticated youth. Be sorry I did it? Do you think I am a schoolboy in my first passion? demands the aged bridegroom. And so they marry, and in a year or two the enthusiastic young man runs away with some other enthusiastic man's wife, and the octogenarian spouse finds himself constituted into a pot of honey for his wife's swarming relations to settle on, like flies. But a man in strong middle prime of age, like me, knows his own mind; and--yes, on the whole I was unjust to Isaacs and to Miss Westonhaugh. If a woman loved me, she should have all the tiger's ears she wanted. "Still, I hope he will get back safely," I added, in afterthought to my reverie, as I turned into bed and ordered Kiramat Ali to wake me half an hour before dawn.
I was restless, sleeping a little and dreaming much. At last I struct a light and looked at my watch. Four o'clock. It would not be dawn for more than an hour; I knew Isaacs had made for the place where the tiger passed his days, certain that he would return near daybreak, according to all common probability. He need not have gone so early, I thought. However, it might be a long way off. I lay still for a while, but it seemed very hot and close under the canvas. I got up and threw a caftán round me, drew a chair into the connât and sat, or rather lay, down in the cool morning breeze. Then I dozed again until Kiramat Ali woke me by pulling at my foot. He said it would be dawn in half an hour. I had passed a bad night, and went out, as I was, to walk on the grass. There was Miss Westonhaugh's tent away off at the other end. She was sleeping calmly enough, never doubting that at that very moment the man who loved her was risking his life for her pleasure--her slightest whim. She would be wide awake if she knew it, staring out into the darkness and listening for the crack of his rifle. A faint light appeared behind the dining-tent, over the distant trees, like the light of London seen from twenty or thirty miles' distance in the country, a faint, suggestive, murky grayness in the sky, making the stars look dimmer.
The sound of a shot rang true and clear through the chill air; not far off I thought. I held my breath, listening for a second report, but none came. So it was over. Either he had killed the tiger with his first bullet, or the tiger had killed him before he could fire a second. I was intensely excited. If he were safe I wished him to have the glory of coming home quite alone. There was nothing for it but to wait, so I went into my tent and took a bath--a very simple operation where the bathing consists in pouring a huge jar of water over one's head. Tents in India have always a small side tent with a ditch dug to drain off the water from the copious ablutions of the inmate. I emerged into the room feeling better. It was now quite light, and I proceeded to dress leisurely to spin out the time. As I was drawing on my boots, Isaacs sauntered in quietly and laid his gun on the table. He was pale, and his Karkee clothes were covered with mud and leaves and bits of creeper, but his movements showed he was not hurt in any way; he hardly seemed tired.
"Well?" I said anxiously.
"Very well, thank you. Here they are," and he produced from the pocket of his coat the spolia opima in the shape of a pair of ears, that looked very large to me. There was a little blood on them and on his hands as he handed the precious trophies to me for inspection. We stood by the open door, and while I was turning over the ears curiously in my hands, he looked down at his clothes.
"I think I will take a bath," he said; "I must have been in a dirty place."
"My dear fellow," I said, taking his hand, "this is absurd. I mean all this affected calmness. I was angry at your going in that way, to risk your head in a tiger's mouth; but I am sincerely glad to see you back alive. I congratulate you most heartily."
"Thank you, old man," he said, his pale face brightening a little. "I am very glad myself. Do you know I have a superstition that I must fulfil every wish of--like that--even half expressed, to the very letter?"
"The 'superstition,' as you call it, is worthy of the bravest knight that ever laid lance in rest. Don't part with superstitions like that. They are noble and generous things."
"Perhaps," he answered, "but I really am very superstitious," he added, as he turned into the bathing connât. Soon I heard him splashing among the water jars.
"By-the-bye, Griggs," he called out through the canvas, "I forgot to tell you. They are bringing that beast home on an elephant. It was much nearer than we supposed. They will be here in twenty minutes." A tremendous splashing interrupted him. "You can go and attend to that funeral you were talking about last night," he added, and his voice was again drowned in the swish and souse of the water. "He was rather large--over ten feet--I should say. Measure him as soon as he--" another cascade completed the sentence. I went out, taking the measuring tape from the table.
In a few minutes the procession appeared. Two or three matutinal shikarries had gone out and come back, followed by the elephant, for which Isaacs had sent the ryot at full speed the moment he was sure the beast was dead. And so they came up the little hill behind the dining-tent. The great tusker moved evenly along, bearing on the pad an enormous yellow carcass, at which the little mahout glanced occasionally over his shoulder. Astride of the dead king sat the ryot, who had directed Isaacs, crooning a strange psalm of victory in his outlandish northern dialect, and occasionally clapping his hands over his head with an expression of the most intense satisfaction I have ever seen on a human face. The little band came to the middle of the camp where the other tigers, now cut up and skinned elsewhere, had been deposited the night before, and as the elephant knelt down, the shikarries pulled the whole load over, pad, tiger, ryot and all, the latter skipping nimbly aside. There he lay, the great beast that had taken so many lives. We stretched him out and measured him--eleven feet from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, all but an inch--as a little more straightening fills the measure, eleven feet exactly.
Meanwhile, the servant and shikarries collected, and the noise of the exploit went abroad. The sun was just rising when Mr. Ghyrkins put his head out of his tent and wanted to know "what the deuce all this tamäsha was about."
"Oh, nothing especial," I called out. "Isaacs has killed an eleven foot man-eater in the night. That is all."
"Well I'm damned," said Mr. Ghyrkins briefly, and to the point, as he stared from his tent at the great carcass, which lay stretched out for all to see, the elephant having departed.
"Clear off those fellows and let me have a look at him, can't you?" he called out, gathering the tent curtains round his neck; and there he stood, his jolly red face and dishevelled gray hair looking as if they had no body attached at all.
I went back to our quarters. Isaacs was putting the ears, which he had carefully cleansed from blood, into a silver box of beautiful workmanship, which Narain had extracted from his master's numerous traps.
"Take that box to Miss Westonhaugh's tent," he said, giving it to the servant, "with a greeting from me--with 'much peace.'" The man went out.
"She will send the box back," said I. "Such is the Englishwoman. She will take a pair of tiger's ears that nearly cost you your life, and she would rather die than accept the bit of silver in which you enclose them, without the 'permission of her uncle.'"
"I do not care," he said, "so long as she keeps the ears. But unless I am much mistaken, she will keep the box too. She is not like other Englishwomen in the least."
I was not sure of that. We had some tea in the door of our tent, and Isaacs seemed hungry and thirsty, as well he might be. Now that he was refreshed by bathing and the offices of the camp barber, he looked much as usual, save that the extreme paleness I had noticed when he came in had given place to a faint flush beneath the olive, probably due to his excitement, the danger being past. As we sat there, the rest of the party, who had slept rather later than usual after their fatigues of the previous day, came out one by one and stood around the dead tiger, wondering at the tale told by the delighted ryot, who squatted at the beast's head to relate the adventure to all comers. We could see the group from where we sat, in the shadow of the connât, and the different expressions of the men as they came out. The little collector of Pegnugger measured and measured again; Mr. Ghyrkins stood with his hands in his coat pockets and his legs apart, then going to the other side he took up the same position again. Lord Steepleton Kildare sauntered round and twirled his big moustache, saying nothing the while, but looking rather serious. John Westonhaugh, who seemed to be the artistic genius of the party, sent for a chair and made his servant hold an umbrella over him while he sketched the animal in his notebook, and presently his sister came out, a big bunch of roses in her belt, and a broad hat half hiding her face, and looked at the tiger and then round the party quickly, searching for Isaacs. In her hand she held a little package wrapped in white tissue paper. I strolled up to the group, leaving Isaacs in his tent. I thought I might as well play innocence.
"Of course," I remarked, "those fellows have bagged his ears as usual."
"They never omit that," said Ghyrkins.
"Oh no, uncle," broke in Miss Westonhaugh, "he gave them to me!"
"Who?" asked Ghyrkins, opening his little eyes wide.
"Mr. Isaacs. Did not he kill the tiger? He sent me the ears in a little silver box. Here it is--the box, I mean. I am going to give it back to him, of course."
"How did Mr. Isaacs know you wanted them?" asked her uncle, getting red in the face.
"Why, we were talking about them last night before dinner, and he promised that if he shot a tiger to-day he would give me the ears." Mr. Ghyrkins was redder and redder in the morning sun. There was a storm of some kind brewing. We were collected together on the other side of the dead tiger and exchanged all kinds of spontaneous civilities and remarks, not wishing to witness Mr. Ghyrkins' wrath, nor to go away too suddenly. I heard the conversation, however, for the old gentleman made no pretence of lowering his voice.
"And do you mean to say you let him go off like that? He must have been out all night. That beast of a nigger says so. On foot, too. I say on foot! Do you know what you are talking about? Eh? Shooting tigers on foot? What? Eh? Might have been killed as easily as not! And then what would you have said? Eh? What? Upon my soul! You girls from home have no more hearts than a parcel of old Juggernauts!" Ghyrkins was now furious. We edged away towards the dining-tent, making a great talk about the terrible heat of the sun in the morning. I caught the beginning of Miss Westonhaugh's answer. She had hardly appreciated the situation yet, and probably thought her uncle was joking, but she spoke very coldly, being properly annoyed at his talking in such a way.
"You cannot suppose for a moment that I meant him to go," I heard her say, and something else followed in a lower tone. We then went into the dining-tent.
"Now look here, Katharine," Mr. Ghyrkins' irate voice rang across the open space, "if any young woman asked me----" John Westonhaugh had risen from his chair and apparently interrupted his uncle. Miss Westonhaugh walked slowly to her tent, while her male relations remained talking. I thought Isaacs had shown some foresight in not taking part in the morning discussion. The two men went into their tents together and the dead tiger lay alone in the grass, the sun rising higher and higher, pouring down his burning rays on man and beast and green thing. And soon the shikarries came with a small elephant and dragged the carcass away to be skinned and cut up. Kildare and the collector said they would go and shoot some small game for dinner. Isaacs, I supposed, was sleeping, and I was alone in the dining-tent. I shouted for Kiramat Ali and sent for books, paper, and pens, and a hookah, resolved to have a quiet morning to myself, since it was clear we were not going out to-day. I saw Ghyrkins' servant enter his tent with bottles and ice, and I suspected the old fellow was going to cool his wrath with a "peg," and would be asleep most of the morning. John would take a peg too, but he would not sleep in consequence, being of Bombay, iron-headed and spirit-proof. So I read on and wrote, and was happy, for I like the heat of the noon-day and the buzzing of the flies, and the smell of the parched grass, being southern born.
About twelve o'clock, when I was beginning to think I had done enough work for one day, I saw Miss Westonhaugh's native maid come out of her mistress's tent and survey the landscape, shading her eyes with her hand. She was dressed, of course, in spotless white drapery, and there were heavy anklets on her feet and bangles of silver on her wrist. She seemed satisfied by her inspection and went in again, returning presently with Miss Westonhaugh and a large package of work and novels and letter-writing materials. They came straight to where I was sitting under the airy tent where we dined, and Miss Westonhaugh established herself at one side of the table at the end of which I was writing.
"It is so hot in my tent," she said almost apologetically, and began to unroll some worsted work.
"Yes, it is quite unbearable," I answered politely, though I had not thought much about the temperature. There was a long silence, and I collected my papers in a bundle and leaned back in my chair. I did not know what to say, nor was anything expected of me. I looked occasionally at the young girl, who had laid her hat on the table, allowing the rich coils of dazzling hair to assert their independence. Her dark eyes were bent over her work as her fingers deftly pushed the needle in and out of the brown linen she worked on.
"Mr. Griggs," she began at last without looking up, "did you know Mr. Isaacs was going out last night to kill that horrid thing?" I had expected the question for some time.
"Yes; he told me about midnight, when he started."
"Then why did you let him go?" she asked, looking suddenly at me, and knitting her dark eyebrows rather fiercely.
"I do not think I could have prevented him. I do not think anybody could prevent him from doing anything he had made up his mind to. I nearly quarrelled with him, as it was."
"I am sure I could have stopped him, if I had been you," she said innocently.
"I have not the least doubt that you could. Unfortunately, however, you were not available at the time, or I would have suggested it to you."
"I wish I had known," she went on, plunging deeper and deeper. "I would not have had him go for--for anything."
"Oh! Well, I suppose not. But, seriously, Miss Westonhaugh, are you not flattered that a man should be willing and ready to risk life and limb in satisfying your lightest fancy?"
"Flattered?" she looked at me with much astonishment and some anger. I was sure the look was genuine and not assumed.
"At all events the tiger's ears will always be a charming reminiscence, a token of esteem that any one might be proud of."
"I am not proud of them in the least, though I shall always keep them as a warning not to wish for such things. I hope that the next time Mr. Isaacs is going to do a foolish thing you will have the common sense to prevent him." She returned to her starting-point; but I saw no use in prolonging the skirmish, and turned the talk upon other things. And soon John Westonhaugh joined us, and found in me a sympathetic talker and listener, as we both cared a great deal more for books than for tigers, though not averse to a stray shot now and then.
In this kind of life the week passed, shooting to-day and staying in camp to-morrow. We shifted our ground several times, working along the borders of the forest and crashing through the jungle after tiger with varying success. In the evenings, when not tired with the day's work, we sat together, and Isaacs sang, and at last even prevailed upon Miss Westonhaugh to let him accompany her with his guitar, in which he proved very successful. They were constantly together, and Ghyrkins was heard to say that Isaacs was "a very fine fellow, and it was a pity he wasn't English," to which Kildare assented somewhat mournfully, allowing that it was quite true. His chance was gone, and he knew it, and bore it like a gentleman, though he still made use of every opportunity he had to make himself acceptable to Miss Westonhaugh. The girl liked his manly ways, and was always grateful for any little attention from him that attracted her notice, but it was evident that all her interest ceased there. She liked him in the same way she liked her brother, but rather less, if anything. She hardly knew, for she had seen so little of John since she was a small child. I suppose Isaacs must have talked to her about me, for she treated me with a certain consideration, and often referred questions to me, on which I thought she might as well have consulted some one else. For my part, I served the lovers in every way I could think of. I would have done anything for Isaacs then as now, and I liked her for the honest good feeling she had shown about him, especially in the matter of the tiger's ears, for which she could not forgive herself--though in truth she had been innocent enough. And they were really lovers, those two. Any one might have seen it, and but for the wondrous fascination Isaacs exercised over every one who came near him, and the circumstances of his spotless name and reputation for integrity in the large transactions in which he was frequently known to be engaged, it is certain that Mr. Ghyrkins would have looked askance at the whole affair, and very likely would have broken up the party.
In the course of time we became a little blasé about tigers, till on the eighth day from the beginning of the hunt, which was a Thursday, I remember, an incident occurred which left a lasting impression on the mind of every one who witnessed it. It was a very hot morning, the hottest day we had had, and we had just crossed a nullah in the forest, full from the recent rains, wherein the elephants lingered lovingly to splash the water over their heated sides, drowning the swarms of mosquitoes from which they suffer such torments, in spite of their thick skins. The collector called a halt on the opposite side; our line of march had become somewhat disordered by the passage, and numerous tracks in the pasty black mud showed that the nullah was a favourite resort of tigers--though at this time of day they might be a long distance off. I had come next to the collector after we emerged from the stream, the pad elephants having lingered longer in the water, and Mr. Ghyrkins with Miss Westonhaugh was three or four places beyond me. It was shady and cool under the thick trees, and the light was not good. The collector bent over his howdah, looking at some tracks.
"Those tracks look suspiciously fresh, Mr. Griggs," said the collector, scrutinising the holes, not yet filled by the oozing back water of the nullah. "Don't you think so?"
"Indeed, yes. I do not understand it at all," I replied. At the collector's call a couple of beaters came forward and stooped down to examine the trail. One of them, a good-looking young gowala, or cowherd, followed along the footprints, examining each to be sure he was not going on a false spoor; he moved slowly, scrutinising each hole, as the traces grew shallower on the rising ground, approaching a bit of small jungle. My sight followed the probable course of the track ahead of him and something caught my eyes, which are remarkably good, even at a great distance. The object was brown and hairy; a dark brown, not the kind of colour one expects to see in the jungle in September. I looked closely, and was satisfied that it must be part of an animal; still more clearly I saw it, and no doubt remained in my mind; it was the head of a bullock or a heifer. I shouted to the man to be careful, to stop and let the elephants plough through the undergrowth, as only elephants can. But he did not understand my Hindustani, which was of the civilised Urdu kind learnt in the North-West Provinces. The man went quickly along, and I tried to make the collector comprehend what I saw. But the pad elephants were coming out of the water and forcing themselves between our beasts, and he hardly caught what I said in the confusion. The track led away to my left, nearly opposite to the elephant bearing Mr. Ghyrkins and his niece. The little Pegnugger man was on my right. The native held on, moving more and more rapidly as he found himself following a single track. I shouted to him--to Ghyrkins--to everybody, but they could not make the doomed man understand what I saw--the freshly slain head of the tiger's last victim. There was little doubt that the king himself was near by--probably in that suspicious-looking bit of green jungle, slimy green too, as green is, that grows in sticky chocolate-coloured mud. The young fellow was courageous, and ignorant of the immediate danger, and, above all, he was on the look out for bucksheesh. He reached the reeds and unclean vegetables that grew thick and foul together in the little patch. He put one foot into the bush.
A great fiery yellow and black head rose cautiously above the level of the green and paused a moment, glaring. The wretched man, transfixed with terror, stood stock still, expecting death. Then he moved, as if to throw himself on one side, and at the same instant the tiger made a dash at his naked body, such a dash as a great relentless cat makes at a gold-fish trying to slide away from its grip. The tiger struck the man a heavy blow on the right shoulder, felling him like a log, and coming down to a standing position over his prey, with one paw on the native's right arm. Probably the parade of elephants and bright coloured howdahs, and the shouts of the beaters and shikarries, distracted his attention for a moment. He stood whirling his tail to right and left, with half dropped jaw and flaming eyes, half pressing, half grabbing the fleshy arm of the senseless man beneath him--impatient, alarmed, and horrible.
"Pack!!! Pi-i-i-i-ing ..." went the crack and the sing of the merry rifle, and the scene changed.
With a yell like a soul in everlasting torment the great beast whirled himself into the air ten feet at least, and fell dead beside his victim, shot through breast and breastbone and heart. A dead silence fell on the spectators. Then I looked, and saw Miss Westonhaugh holding out a second gun to Mr. Ghyrkins, while he, seeing that the first had done its work, leaned forward, his broad face pale with the extremity of his horror for the man's danger, and his hands gripping at the empty rifle.
"You've done it this time," cried the collector from the right. "Take six to four the man's dead!"
"Done," called Kildare from the other end. I was the nearest to the scene, after Ghyrkins. I dropped over the edge of the howdah and made for the spot, running. I think I reflected as I ran that it was rather low for men to bet on the poor fellow's life in that way. Tigers are often very deceptive and always die hard, and I am a cautious person, so when I was near I pulled out my long army six-shooter, and, going witihin arm's length, quietly put a bullet through the beast's eye as a matter of safety. When he was cut up, however, the ball from the rifle of Mr. Ghyrkins was found in his heart; the old fellow was a dead shot still. I went up and examined the prostrate man. He was lying on his face, and so I picked him up and propped his head against the dead tiger. He was still breathing, but a very little examination proved that his right collar-bone and the bone of his upper arm were broken. A little brandy revived him, and he immediately began to scream with pain. I was soon joined by the collector, who with characteristic promptitude had torn and hewed some broad slats of bamboo from his howdah, and with a little pulling and wrenching, and the help of my long, tough turban-cloth, a real native pugree, we set and bound the arm as best we could, giving the poor fellow brandy all the while. The collar-bone we left to its own devices; an injury there takes care of itself.
An elephant came up and received the dead tiger, and the man was carried off and placed in my howdah. The other animals with their riders had gathered near the scene, and every one had something to say to Ghyrkins, who by his brilliant shot and the life he had saved, had maintained his reputation, and come off the hero of the whole campaign. Miss Westonhaugh was speechless with horror at the whole thing, and seemed to cling to her uncle, as if fearing something of the same kind might happen to her at any moment. Isaacs, as usual the last on the line of beating, came up and called out his congratulations.
"After saving a life so well, Mr. Ghyrkins, you will not grudge me the poor honour of risking one, will you?"
"Not I, my boy!" answered the delighted old sportsman, "only if that mangy old man-eater had got you down the other day, I should not have been there to pot him!"
"Great shot, sir! I envy you," said Kildare.
"Splendid shot. A hundred yards at least," said John Westonhaugh meditatively, but in a loud voice.
So we swung away toward the camp, though it was early. Ghyrkins chuckled, and the man with the broken bones groaned. But between the different members of the party he would be a rich man before he was well. I amused myself with my favourite sport of potting peacocks with bullets; it is very good practice. Isaacs had told me that morning when we started that he would leave us the next day to meet Shere Ali near Keitung. We reached camp about three o'clock, in the heat of the afternoon. The injured beater was put in a servant's tent to be sent off to Pegnugger in a litter in the cool of the night. There was a doctor there who would take care of him under the collector's written orders.
The camp was in a shady place, quite unlike the spot where we had first pitched our tents. There was a little grove of mango-trees, rather stunted, as they are in the north, and away at one corner of the plantation was a well with a small temple where a Brahmin, related to all the best families in the neighbouring village, dwelt and collected the gifts bestowed on him and his simple shrine by the superstitious, devout, or worldly pilgrims who yearly and monthly visited him in search of counsel, spiritual or social. The men had mowed the grass smooth under the trees, and the shade was not so close as to make it damp. Some ryots had been called in to dig a ditch and raised a rough chapudra or terrace, some fifteen feet in diameter, opposite the dining-tent, on which elevation we could sit, even late at night, in reasonable security from cobras and other evil beasts. It was a pleasant place in the afternoon, and pleasanter still at night. As I turned into our tent after we got back, I thought I would go and sit there when I had bathed, and send for a hookah and a novel, and go to sleep.
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