The ideal hunter, like the ideal soldier or mountaineer, seaman or
worker of any kind, “leaves nothing to chance”; yet in anticipating
events he realises the limits of human foresight and remains
continually wide-awake. Wellington has quoted Marshal Wrede’s report
of Napoleon’s way of doing–to do from day to day what the
circumstances require, but never have any general plan of campaign.
That was how to rule circumstances by obeying them, as a seaman
steering through the storm may be said to rule the waves. There are
some occupations that allow more room for somnolence than others. Like
the seaman afloat and the soldier in war, the man who is hunting big
cats can ill afford to be caught napping. The consequences are apt to
be sudden. It is a terrible thing to wake up from a nap with nothing
to do but die.

Whether you are hunting thieves or tigers, you proceed by good
guessing based on knowledge. There is no real difference between what
is pompously called scientific reasoning and plain common-sense, as
Huxley has elaborately shown. Thieves and tigers have their habits,
like all living things, and need to eat to live. One of the commonest
successful ways of coming to close quarters with “Mr Stripes” is to go
to where he has been killing lately, and lie in ambush. If you
persevere in doing that in the usual way, you are sure to meet the
tiger in the long run; and perhaps, as happened to this writer in
Burma, you may enjoy the pleasure of making his acquaintance with
startling suddenness the very first time you try. So it is well to be
ready for anything, lest you have a disagreeable experience, like
three men in the Assam forests, whose adventure is worth telling, as a
warning to beginners. The present writer heard it from Major Shaw
(6th Gurkhas), in whom he has complete confidence. Of course it was in
Assam that Major Shaw heard of it. For obvious reasons, no other names
than his are given; and no superfluous details.

There is a public rest-house in the Assam woods, which was visited by
a hungry tiger not many years ago. The caretaker (or “dirwan”) was
there at the time, but nobody else. The tiger took him away, and ate

Exactly how it was done remained unknown, as is usual in such cases.
The men who are eaten by beasts of prey are generally like the crews
of ships that never arrive, but remain for ever “missing.” Not once in
a thousand times can even the bones be found, and nothing was
discovered in this instance, but nobody doubted what had happened.
Nevertheless, a successor was soon installed in the dead man’s place.
The tiger called again; and once more the post became vacant, and a
public servant was mysteriously “missing.”

The caretaker of a rest-house, like the humble postman, is one of the
few officials who appear to the non-official world to justify their
existence. If it had been a forester or a policeman, a judge or a
soldier, people would have shrugged their shoulders and said, “So much
the worse for him.” In the glad excitement of filling the vacancy, his
colleagues would have forgotten him, and only his relatives, perhaps,
if they had cause, lamented. But the caretakers of rest-houses are not
luxuries but necessaries; and when either a second or a third man
(Major Shaw could not recollect whether three caretakers or only two)
had in this way disappeared into the hideous darkness that dimly
veiled a hungry tiger, and there was a likelihood that travellers
might be inconvenienced by the post remaining vacant, three men of
public spirit arose and took their rifles, and went together to spend
a night in the tiger-haunted bungalow, and give Mr Stripes a warm
reception when he next came to call.

The oddest detail in the account of their preparations is that they
fixed bayonets. The veranda was level with the floor of the building,
apparently, and not far above the ground. It was reached from outside
by a flight of steps, and ran along the front, with the doors of the
rooms opening upon it. That was where the three men placed themselves,
when they had finished dinner and arranged everything, fixed bayonets
and all. They closed the doors, and supposed they were invisible, for
the gleam of the lamplight was then restricted to the back and the
side-windows. In front was only darkness visible. As they lay in wait
there, the one in the middle would be where the caretaker was
accustomed to lie, opposite the top of the stairs.

It must be remembered that the men perhaps expected to have to sit up
several nights. They soon found what they had not expected, that it is
very hard to keep awake, especially in a horizontal position, at the
hour when you are usually asleep. Experienced hunters would have taken
turns to lie in the middle wide-awake, and let the other men, on right
and left, be at liberty to snooze. But these three men had been too
excited to apprehend in advance the possibility of closing their eyes
while waiting. They conversed in low whispers, and peered into the
dark. Instead of coffee to keep them awake, as the night wore on, they
drank whisky-and-soda.

The sound of a tropical forest is like London’s noise, which never
altogether stops, but what reached their ears was unexciting. The
quadrupeds a-hunting were unseen, and flitted about as noiselessly as
the clouds.

The three men slept. The man in the middle was suddenly jerked to his
feet by the tight clasp of the tiger’s jaws upon his forearm; and he
staggered as it led him away, as if he had been a child. He was out of
reach of his rifle before he was sufficiently awake to realise what
was happening. It was afterwards conjectured that the tiger had been
waiting below, and listening to their whispering, till the change of
noises indicated sleep.

While the tiger, taking its man by the arm, was stepping downstairs,
the man was thinking only, “I hope the bullet won’t hit me.” He never
doubted that one of his companions was preparing to fire. But the
other two men, awakened, and aware that the tiger had come, had taken
refuge in a room, and supposed that he had done the same.

There was nothing very remarkable in the tiger pulling away the man in
this way. That was probably how he had treated the caretakers. In
their many millenniums of battle with mankind, and civilised mankind,
not ill-armed negroes, such as make the lions bold, the tigers of the
old world seem to have learned that the arms are the dangerous members
of a man, like the poison fangs of a serpent, so that to seize them is
to master him. There are many cases of a man being saved alive from a
tiger by other men, when it was pulling him away by the arm; but I
have never heard of any man so situated being able to deliver himself.
In general, of course, it is easier to break a man’s neck at once; but
if you were a tiger, and your man were on a veranda, and had to be
brought downstairs to be eaten comfortably, could you think of a
better way than to pull him by the arm, and make him descend the
stairs on his own legs? The tiger is a specialist in killing, and
knows its business. It is not killing men that bothers the tiger, but
catching them unawares.

So the tiger and the man together reached the bottom of the stairs
without anything happening, and thence the tiger led towards the
adjoining forest; but on the way the victim turned his face to the
house as well as he could, and cried: “Are you fellows not going to
help me?”

This was the first intimation of his fate to the other two. One of
them came out and ran after the retreating figures of the tiger and
the man disappearing down the pathway, going towards the woods, and
overtook them in the nick of time. The shout had somehow affected the
tiger too. He opened his jaws, and the mangled arm fell free; but a
great paw was on the man’s shoulder; and on the other shoulder another
paw was now deliberately laid, and the tiger breathed in his face a
deep, long exhalation–warm breath of a peculiar odour, that seemed to
penetrate him.

Just then the pursuer arrived, and thrust his bayonet between the
tiger’s ribs, and pushed it in, and pulled the trigger. Then leaving
the rifle there, feeling instinctively what Dr Johnson noticed in
himself with surprise, when travelling in the Highlands, how
willingly, in the dark, a man becomes “content to leave behind him
everything but himself,” he shouted “Follow me!” and ran back into the
bungalow. The startled tiger had indeed let go its prey for the
moment, but, seeing him run after the other man, it followed both;
and, bounding up the stairs once more, it overtook at the top the man
with the mangled arm, but only in time to give him a “smack on the
back,” which sent him flying through the doorway into the room where
the others were. Then it died.

They washed the badly-bitten arm with whisky, having no medicaments of
any kind. It would have been strange if they had had any, for men are
so seldom hurt in tiger-shooting that nobody anticipates injury. They
had nothing but whisky. So they poured it on, and “it nipped,” at
any-rate, which was, somehow, a comfort.

When the wounded man beheld himself in the looking-glass in the
morning, he saw that his hair had suddenly grown grey in that one
night. The third man, it is said, was delirious, with shame and
remorse, because he had faltered. Meanwhile the tiger, growing stiff,
lay dead on the veranda, just outside the door of the room, with a
gaping wound in its side, like Thorwaldsen’s lion at Lucerne.

When Major Shaw saw the injured man he had quite recovered. There was
a scar on the arm, and a stiffness in two of the fingers, nothing
else; but “for the rest of my life I could smell a tiger at fifty
yards,” said he. “I’ll never forget the smell that went through me as
he breathed upon me–never, as long as I live.”