Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Adventure with a tiger

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After some days’ good sport in the way of “pig-sticking,” i.e., wild-boar hunting, in which I am bound to say that my friend H—— and I maintained our characters as sportsmen of the first water, we moved our camp to a place called Belaspoor, where there was a bungalow built by a sporting Collector of the district, known by the soubriquet of “Tiger Tom,” not because his disposition at all resembled that crafty and ferocious animal, but from the number of them he had killed.

One month every year—generally in April—Tiger Tom used to make up a party, and come to this bungalow, that he might pursue his favourite sport without having far to go in search of it. These entertainments were much enjoyed by his friends, for Tiger Tom was a facetious fellow, told capital stories, and always had an unlimited supply of Bass or Allsopp.

For some time back the bungalow had been unoccupied and neglected, Tiger Tom having been carried off, not by one of his opponents, but by an equally dangerous foe—jungle fever. Now and then it was occupied for a few days by sportsmen from the neighbouring stations, but very rarely; and it certainly presented a very desolate appearance as we rode up to it.

Long-neglected houses suffer in any country; but in this climate, with its moist soil, hot sun, and heavy rainy seasons, vegetation spreads with inconceivable speed, and the jungle had grown up to the very walls on the east and south sides. The house seemed to be stuck on the edge of a very dense jungle which stretched in the quarters I have mentioned, as far as the eye could reach; and one could not look at it without thinking of tigers and serpents, and all manner of wild beasts.

A number of huts—or rather remains of them—that had been erected for the numerous retinue of the collector and his friends, added to the sombre aspect of the place, for they were roofless and doorless, the villagers in the neighbourhood (there were none, however, nearer than a koss, or two miles), having doubtless carried off all available parts of them. They did not dare, however, to touch the house itself, having probably, a wholesome dread of the Collector’s myrmidons, a police-station not being far off.

Riding to our tent, which was pitched under a tree at some distance from the bungalow, we bathed, dressed, and had our breakfast, and then strolled over to take a closer look at the place. To our surprise we found it occupied, for, on our approach, a mongrel cur, half-pariah and half-bulldog, set up a furious barking, and brought out a European sergeant, his half-caste wife, and a couple of children.

He told us in an unmistakeably Irish accent that his name was Murphy,—that he was in charge of a salt-station some dozen or so of miles away; that he had come there that very morning for a little shooting, and had brought his family for a change and “divarsion,” not knowing that the bungalow was so dangerously near the jungle.

We dismounted and examined the place, and then the following colloquy was held:

“But how did you travel, Sergeant Murphy; and where are your servants and traps?”

“Och! yer honors, the natives (bad luck to the dirty spalpeens!) who druve the cart and attinded my powney, were frightened for wild bastes, and wouldn’t stay at no price; so I sent them to a village two miles off, where they’re to wait till I sind for them. Only that chap,” pointing to a servant in the verandah, “agreed to stay till evening to cook for us.”

“Well, my good fellow,” I said, “it does look like a place for wild beasts, and I feel pretty sure your bullocks and pony, and perhaps the natives, would have been devoured by tigers if you had attempted to keep them here. I would recommend you leaving the place, too, without delay, as your wife and children are not safe even in the day-time,—there may be lots of snakes about these ruins.”

“Oh, we’ll take care of ourselves, yer honour; and I’ve a nate gun here, that’ll astonish the wake minds of the craturs if they come nigh us. I’ll sind yer honours a haunch of vinison that I’m expecting to git, if ye’ll condishind to accept it.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched, Murphy,” said H——, laughing, “deer are not so easily shot in this thick jungle; and I would advise you to take care, for you may come upon a tiger quite as readily.”

Sergeant Murphy declared he was not afraid, but we would not leave him without a promise—his wife joining her entreaties to ours—that he would keep very near the house and on the skirts of the jungle.

At dinner-time we sent over some things to help out the commissariat of the sergeant and his family, which we suspected would not be super-abundant.

On looking out just before going to bed, I saw a light glimmering in the bungalow, which was about a quarter of a mile distant, but there was no sound to disturb the still night.

After paying a visit to our horses, and warning the saises and grass-cutters to watch by turns, and keep up a good fire (the materials for which had been collected in the afternoon), in case of nocturnal visits, we turned in.

It must have been some two or three hours after that I was awoke by the call of “Sahib! Sahib!” just outside the canvas near which I lay, and on my rousing myself sufficiently to remember where I was, for I was far away in my dreams, I recognised the voice of Kurreem Bux, Selim’s sais, “There must be something wrong at the bungalow, sir, for I hear shouting as if for assistance.”

H—— was by this time sitting up in his bed, listening, and we simultaneously jumped up and hurriedly dressed, ordering the lantern to be got ready. Snatching up our double-barrelled guns, which were always kept ready loaded with ball, we hurried towards the bungalow, followed by some of our people, one of whom led the way with the lantern, for there was no moon, and the light of the stars rather confused than aided us.

We were at no loss for the direction to go in, for the shouting of our friend Murphy guided us, and we were soon near enough to hear him say in his broadest brogue, but with some agitation in his tongue:

“Halloa, gintlemen, will ye come and kill the teeger that’s got into the house; we’ll all be murthered and aten enthirely.”

Alarmed as we really were at this, we could scarcely refrain from laughing at the odd accents and speech of Murphy, but calling out that we were coming, we ran on, not without some dread, however, lest we should come suddenly upon the animal, which we supposed, of course, to be outside the house (and not in) as stated by the sergeant.

On the side that we approached there was no jungle, nor was there any verandah to the house. The light of the lantern enabled us to see that there was a venetian door closed, and on one side of it a small round hole such as is common in bath-rooms to admit air and light. It was from this aperture the voice of Murphy came, and we could just distinguish his hairy visage half through it.

On our inquiring where he had seen or heard the tiger, he said:

“Sure, and ain’t the big baste at this blessed minute in our bid-room a cracking and scrunching the bones of poor Kerry, and only a thin door betwane us, and the wife and the childer like to die from fright.”

“How did he get in?”

“Oh, I’ll till ye all about it in good time if ye’ll only shoot the baste; but if ye don’t make haste, he’ll be ating us, and thin I can’t till ye at all, at all.”

“But how are we to do that? Is there another door like this on the opposite side?”

“Yis; but it’s my belaif the big divil has shut-to the door with his tail, whilst whisking about after poor Kerry—pace be to his manes!—or else his manners, may be, will have taught him to close the door politely after him: anywise, it’s my imprission he can’t git out agin.”

Wondering at the Irish love of joking even in such extremity, H—— and I consulted what we should do. Listening at the closed door, we could distinctly hear a large animal moving about in the room, and as we could not see the faintest glimmer of light through the chinks of the not very sound jilmils (venetians), Murphy’s surmise, that the opposite door was closed, appeared quite correct. We knew it was worse than useless to fire into the room before we could see to take aim, as we not only might miss the brute altogether, but should infuriate him, so that in his boundings he might burst open the bathing-room door, when the consequences would be fearful. So the only plan, evidently, was to wait as patiently as we could for daylight, when, if the animal remained in the room, we could soon settle him.

We had to wait an hour before the faintest streak of grey appeared in the eastern sky. I have watched anxiously at a sick friend’s bedside—I have been myself sleepless, feverish, and tossing, longing for the morning light, with its hopeful, cheering influence—I have lain awake under the excitement of anticipated pleasure on the first hunting morning—but I never remember to have been so impatient as on this occasion.

In tropical countries the light comes and goes very rapidly, and there was soon enough for our operations after the dawn had once began. We opened one of the jilmils, and when our eyes were accustomed to the dim light discovered a huge tiger lying on the floor, very much in the attitude of an uneasy cat who has made her way into the dairy, and waits for the door to be opened to spring out. The noise we made, slight as it was, made the brute jump up and turn to glare fiercely at us: it was just the attitude we wanted. Hastily arranging which should aim at the head and which at the chest, we levelled and fired all four barrels. When the smoke had cleared away, we saw the grim monarch of the jungle stretched dead, and we shouted a triumphant pæan, which soon brought Murphy and his family out, though the children screamed at the sight of the dead animal.

Murphy opened the door through which we had fired, and we entered and soon discovered the mystery of the animal’s entrance and detention. The opposite door (which Murphy assured us he had fastened) had a bolt only at the bottom, the top one having fallen out, but there was no socket, or whatever it is called, to receive it. The bolt had thus dropped down unfastened, and Murphy thought it was all right, not perceiving the real state of the case. The dog—some small remnants of which were still unconsumed—must have gone out at hearing the noise made by the tiger in the verandah, and rushed back in alarm, followed by the hungry beast. The table which lay against the door, and kept it closed, must have been thrown down (shutting the door at the same time) either in the struggle between the tiger and its victim, or by the sergeant and his wife as they rushed, each with a child, into the bathing-room. Fortunately for the helpless creatures, the unwelcome visitor was too intent upon seizing the dog to notice them, so that they had time to escape into the only place of shelter at hand, Murphy in his haste and fright forgetting all about his gun, which rested against the wall in a corner of the room.

The sun was now up, and there was no fear of any more unpleasant occurrences for some hours at least; so, making our people drag the carcase out of the room, and obliterate the marks of the struggle as much as possible, we left the Murphys, promising to send for their servant and conveyances, so that they might leave the place at once, even Sergeant Murphy acknowledging that he had had enough of it.

“All the gould of Injia,” said he, “wouldn’t timpt me to keep the wife and childer in this drairy house another night: no, not if I’d be made guvernor of ould Ireland for it. And poor Kerry, if he could spake, which he can’t, being aten up enthirely—letting alone his being but a dumb baste—would say the same.”

G. P. S.