About 1891 a tiger began levying taxes on the little town of Shwegyin
(Shwayjeen), in Lower Burma, where the Shwegyin river joins the big
Sittang. The people were used to leopards, but tigers had ceased from
troubling them so long that, as one said, “you might as well try to
persuade us that the dead had arisen as that tigers had come back.” As
there had always been tigers in the adjoining mountains, and the
forest spread over the country, and touched the town on every side but
where the rivers ran, this prejudice would have been surprising, if it
had not been so very human. It is hard to persuade men of what they do
not like. The people of Shwegyin were not to be talked out of their
comfortable security. No words could persuade them to look out for
tiger, but the deeds of the beast itself gradually did.

Though tigers and leopards alike are earnest tariff reformers, their
schedules differ in details, and as week succeeded week, and the dogs,
so dear to leopards, were steadily neglected, and the invisible enemy,
hovering around the herds coming home carelessly, anyhow, in the
twilight, took calves and cows and bullocks, as they chanced to stray
and offer themselves, in a style no Burman leopard ever tries, its
capacity for great destruction was allowed to prove its greatness, and
the most prejudiced of the local elders was at last candid enough to
say, “I fear I may have to admit it to be a tiger when it is dead and
I see it.”

At a meeting of the Municipal Committee the president mentioned,
adding the losses reported, that the depredations in three months
amounted to more than half a year’s taxes on the town. Like other
oppressors, it destroyed a great deal more than it needed.

The members groaned in chorus, especially those who had cattle. But
one who had no such possessions remained cheerful and broke the
silence, saying, “It will die some day.”

A fellow-member who had had losses glared at the speaker, who was
remarkably obese, and said, “If the tiger only knew how much better
eating some fat men in our town would make, he might be persuaded to
change his diet. I wish he would.”

“I never go out at night,” said the obese one, hastily, growing grave,
whereat the others laughed, and, recovering his composure, he
continued: “Tigers come and tigers go, but the taxes go on for ever.
When one official goes, another comes.” Receiving the expected murmur
of applause, he added, “That’s what I was going to say.”

It should perhaps be remarked that officials in Burma are proverbially
classed with thieves and similar afflictions. We must remember that
the civilisation of Burma is older than that of England, and should
not be angry when the people there smile at those of us who are simple
enough to suppose ourselves anything better than an expensive

“Of two equal taxes,” a Socratic member asked, “which do you feel the
more–the first you pay, or the second?”

“The second.”

“And the second or the third?”

“The third.”

“And the third or a fourth?”

Then all became eloquent simultaneously, lest an addition to the taxes
might be in contemplation.

The conclusion was unanimous that the last tax was ever the worst, and
the tiger’s inflictions the hardest of all to bear. This emboldened a
sufferer to propose a levy, and municipal compensation to losers–a
proposal which his fellow-members declared to be impracticable. There
was no lack of sympathy when details were told. Even the obese member
remarked, with unaffected emphasis, “I was very sorry for Mother
Silver when she lost a cow.” And another fatality was told, and
another, and another. If they could have compassed the tiger’s death
by voting, it would have quickly died.

It did not die. A vote is seldom more than a good resolution. Deeds
always need a doer. The most a vote can do is to ensure the worker
elbow-room, and in this instance it was superfluous. Nobody wanted to
spare the tiger. How to catch it was the problem. Its ravages were
imputed to the English government, which had been confiscating arms.
So the Deputy Commissioner lent guns and gave out ammunition gratis.
But still the tiger flourished.

In vain did men spend nights in trees, “sitting up over a kill,” as
they expressed it. It never returned to cold meat. Why should it, with
plenty of fresh cattle available? In vain did they study the ways it
went, and sit in ambush. There was an infinite variety about it. It
never repeated a catch in the same place and way. To describe
completely all its doings, and the plans that _failed_ to catch it,
would fill a book.

At an early period of its history the people began to fetch the cattle
home by daylight; but that simple device did not defeat it long. True,
it loved the darkness better than the light, and the herds came home
undiminished. But the tiger was not to be driven back to a lighter
diet so easily. He followed his food. The cattle disappeared in the
dark from pens and sheds, and tell-tale marks proclaimed that the
thief was the enemy with four big legs and ugly claws.

At times there was an intermission of some weeks, long enough to let
everyone grow careless again. But it had only gone to the hills, most
probably as people go to Carlsbad, to rest its digestive organs. Then
it returned to business with appetite refreshed, a very hungry tiger.
People began to speak of it with bated breath and shows of humbleness,
as an Englishman talks of a lord or a German of an emperor. That
feeling grew to a superstitious dread. This was clearly more than an
ordinary tiger.

“Perhaps it is a tigress with a litter of hungry kittens,” was a
matter-of-fact suggestion, received with a shudder, as if it had been
disrespectful, a kind of lese-majesty. Besides, the suggestion was at
last seen to be wrong, for once at last, once only, and then only
after it had killed its scores, it was seen. A man was riding in the
moonlight along the lonely boundary road, and saw it stride across the
road, and sit down on the farther side, as if to wait to see him pass.
It did not crouch. It sat up squarely, like a cat at home. It raised
its head as high as possible, as if to enjoy the coolness of the
evening breeze, which was as welcome to the tiger as to any European.
On sight of it the rider’s Arab mare began to dance, and turned again
and again to bolt backwards. This saved Mr Stripes, for the rider,
though apparently unarmed, had a pistol in his pocket, and had taken
it out and was preparing to empty it as he galloped past. But the mare
would not go nearer than 30 yards. The tiger became tired of watching
her pirouetting, and stood up as if to depart. The rider fired, and at
the sound of the shot, which missed, the tiger slouched swiftly into
the woods unharmed, and gave no time for a second shot. When the man
arrived at his house, a mile away, he found five other men at his
gate, waiting for him, and saying, “Come with us. He” (there was no
need to be more explicit) “is slaughtering now on the inner side of
this road. We know where he’ll cross it, and are going to ambuscade

“No use!” was the reply. “I have just seen him pass.” They went to see
if they had guessed aright. But no! The spot they meant to ambuscade
was half a mile from the actual crossing-place.

Perhaps the only man in the town who had a gun and did not hunt that
tiger was the Sergeant-Instructor, a solitary representative of the
British army, stationed in Shwegyin to drill the volunteers. And the
reason why he did not go a-hunting, as everybody knew, was that
Mrs Sergeant-Instructor had announced that she would go with him.

She meant it too. “Another lady” in the station had sat up with her
husband. Why should she not do likewise? If a tiger fight had been the
kind of thing she supposed, such as might be shown in a circus or a
tournament, she would have made a magnificent second to her gallant
husband, and so he admitted. If only the tiger would come openly to
their door in daylight, “instead of skulking in the dark round about,
like a coward,” as I believe she said, Mrs Sergeant-Instructor would
have done her duty, and probably a good deal more. And she undoubtedly
was disgusted with “the man’s poor spirit.” But every man in the
station knew better. As an officer whispered to me: “What would be the
use of the man sitting up with Mrs Sergeant-Instructor? She could not
hold her tongue five minutes, not to speak of hours.”

Nevertheless, there was chaff enough at first, which it was hard for
him to bear until, in time, the continual failures of experienced
hunters, magistrates and foresters, policemen and soldiers and others,
became a consolation.

“Ah, the target is easier to see than a tiger,” he would murmur, when
scoring at the range.

The range was a clearing in the forest on low ground, upon the
municipal boundary, a clearing of about 100 yards wide and 600 long.

One morning the Sergeant-Instructor went to it alone, with a rifle in
his hand and two or three cartridges in his pocket. “As a kind of
object for the morning’s walk,” he explained, “I meant to fire a shot
at the range, to make sure I had got the rifle springs right. It was a
bit stiff last Sunday. I had been working at it, to diminish the

As you descend to the range from the main road, you first arrive at
the 600 yards’ station, the butts being at the farthest end; and this
morning, “seeing all clear,” said he, “I just lay down at 600 yards,
and decided to take the shot from there, without going any farther.

“So I shifted about as usual, till I was lying comfortably, and
adjusted my sights, and took aim; and then, just before pulling the
trigger, I cast my eyes to windward, to the left as it happened, to
see what the trees were like, and whether my allowance for the breeze
was right. As I was looking at the trees on my left, I saw the tiger
come out and walk across the range, to go between me and the target. I
was glad there was nobody there. There was no time to talk. It did not
hurry, so to speak, but went fast over the ground, fast and straight,
like a man going to catch a train, with no time to lose, but too big a
bug to run–you know the kind of thing.”

“Like a man going over a level-crossing?”

“You might say that, but he did not look up and down. He stared
straight in front of him, and I am sure he did not see me at all, or
look to see anything on either side.”

“Like the ideal Christian pilgrim, not looking right or left?”

The Sergeant seemed puzzled. He had not noticed anything pious about
it. So I tried again.

“Like a dog after game? Perhaps he was after something?”

“That’s it, that’s it. I’m sure he had sport in sight.”

“Preoccupied, so to speak?”

“Very much so. You know there are always cattle grazing on the far
side of the range. He was hard at them. I just had time to shoot and
no more. I noticed he would cross at 300 yards, and, doing everything
as fast as I could, I lowered my sights, and aimed, and fired. He
dropped, and never moved, and … here he is….”

It had been a fine tiger, in the prime of life; and, as doctors say
after a post-mortem, the corpse had all the appearance of having been
extremely well nourished. Death was the result of a sudden failure of
the heart’s action, due to violence.

The Sergeant-Instructor had scored a bull’s-eye.