The lions and tigers and leopards cannot bring libel suits or arrange
duels. So men can call them cowards with impunity, and often do; but
it is not fair, and surely all who have been long enough in the woods
to know better should do justice to the beasts that are dumb. Besides,
there is a real joy in telling the downright truth. It is apt to have
the merit of novelty, for one thing. That is why it seems right to
tell in 1909 an adventure that befell three gallant officers in Upper
Burma, a little more than a dozen years ago.

Three real ornaments of the British army, and one of them so highly
placed that in confidential moments after dinner he spoke to me not of
his debts, but of his savings and investments, were riding abreast
together through a forest. Three finer specimens of “Britishers
abroad” the army could not have furnished. They combined all its best
qualities–the wild daring of the Irish scallawag, the steadiness of
the Englishman, and the cunning of the Jew. If they had all been of
one kind, whether scallawags, Englishmen, or Jews, they might have
come out of this adventure less perfectly. Great is the advantage of a
judicious mixture!

What happened was that a leopard was looking for a meal as they came
along. He was not hunting men. He was crouching among the bushes
beside the road and watching, as a cat watches sparrows, a crowd of
monkeys gambolling among the trees, and unconsciously coming near him.
He is at home in the trees, and very fond of monkeys; but they are too
nimble for him, if they have a chance. So he was biding his time, till
one of them would be within reach of a sudden spring; and none of them
had noticed him, when the three officers came riding past.

Now, whatever the attraction was, probably curiosity, what is certain
is that the advent of our gallant three caused a sensation in the
little world aloft; and, as the miniature men and women of the woods
crowded to see the very latest samples of British officers, they saw
the leopard too! And with wild hullabaloo they hurried far away.

The leopard was angry. Had he not cause? Who were these men to come
and spoil his sport? They, on their noisy iron-shod horses, prancing
along, with their orderlies clattering behind them, coming as if the
world belonged to them? He felt like another Jonah, who could answer
the Lord inquiring, “Doest thou well to be angry?” with a heart-whole
emphasis, saying, “I do well!”

So he came boldly upon the road on which they were galloping and stood
upon it, facing them. He took no pains to hide himself. He was no
longer in the mood for crouching. He waited for them; but he did not
lie in wait. His lips were ajar, and every muscle tight–a pretty

“Good God! There’s a leopard!” cried the son of Jacob. See how deeply
rooted is piety in the Semitic soul! Men have known that man for
nearly twenty years, and never heard him mention God at any other

They all drew bridle and dismounted. Even the scallawag consented to
do that. The Englishman called for his gun. An orderly handed it to

“By all that’s holy, you’re not going to provoke him by peppering him
with snipe-shot?”

The Englishman agreed not to fire, as they had no ball-cartridges. But
the leopard was not aware of that. The road was along the side of a
slope. The ground went steeply up on one side of it; steeply down on
the other. So the leopard, “lightly and without apparent effort,” like
a cat leaping upon a chair, sprang upwards, and sat behind a bush, 15
or 20 feet above the level of the road.

“Slight as the cover for him was, it would have been ample, if we had
not seen him go behind it,” said one of the men to me afterwards. “We
remarked how well he knew to hide himself. Till he went behind that
bush we would not have believed it could have covered anything. Once
he was there, it was only because we had seen him go that we knew he
was there. But for that, we would have seen nothing. The ground being
above us was a help to us, and, knowing where to look, we could see
the outline of the leopard plainly through the leaves. He had not
allowed for that.”

No; he had not reckoned on the watchfulness of three men resolute that
the _élite_ of the British army should not be made into cat’s-meat.
They held each other back, so to speak, without any difficulty. They
could see that where the enemy sat was like a magnificent
spring-board. If he had selected the eldest of them, and leapt with
his usual accuracy, he and his chosen one would have been a hundred
yards down the glen together in a few seconds; and the excitement in
army circles would have been very great. Half a dozen men would have
“got steps.”

But these three were too wary. They–felt their value to the
Commonwealth. They _would_ not pass in front of him. Nothing would
induce them. It was, “You first, sir,” for a long time, till the
leopard was tired of it, and saw the game was up. He leapt down
lightly and crossed the road before their faces, with a deliberate
swinging stride, looking round at them as he passed.

“There really seemed to me to be something of a swagger in his walk,”
said one of the officers, naturally imputing to the leopard the
feelings of a man and an officer; but in truth the leopard had no
swagger in his mind. He looked at them in passing, as at creatures he
had to keep an eye upon; but, far from thinking of impressing them, he
was as indifferent to their feelings as the rocks. In Hamlet’s phrase,
they were less than Hecuba to him. They were merely passing animals,
that had disturbed his hunting, and he was now quitting them as he
would a herd of deer that had got wind of him and held aloof.

What seemed his swagger was the unconscious dignity of his gait. I
have seen it in a tiger, crossing a road in the moonlight, when he
thought he was unobserved. Many men have remarked it. It may be seen
in the common cat occasionally, and has been explained in various
ways. The swift movement by long strides and the silent footfalls are
easily noticed; but there is more than that. The dignity of cats is
one of Nature’s effects, which we can see and admire, but not
reproduce. How could we, standing up on our hind legs and to that
manner born, ever do more than mimic it? The most puissant of
potentates may call himself the son of the sun, the cousin of the
moon, and the father or grandfather of all the stars; he may be named
in sheepskins and figure in sheeps’ heads as the King of kings and
Lord of lords, the Emperor of emperors and Czar of czars; but he is
first cousin to the monkey all the time. His gold lace and purple
cloaks, his tinsel hats and thrones maybe as high as pyramids, cannot
make him cease to be funny when he swaggers; and, at the best, you
half expect a wink. Nothing can give us the born dignity of the feline
fellows. But we need not envy them. Soon, very soon, in a century or,
at the latest, a millennium or two, there will be none of them left,
except perhaps the household toms and tabbies. “So runs the world

Thus it was without any thought about the officers, who were standing
abashed, that the leopard moved down the steep slope into the depths
of the glen, abandoning all hope of well-fed British beef, and perhaps
deciding to try once more for the monkeys.

“Hope springs eternal in a hungry heart.”

It is only needful to add that this adventure was told me by one of
the three. I have not been able to get leave to give the names; but
that does not matter, for the leopard did not know the names himself.
It was enough for him, and must be enough for us, to know that they
were strong and healthy men, and their orderlies the same; and to the
leopard the iron-shod horses may have appeared to be equally
formidable. Yet, with just cause of offence and an empty stomach to
stimulate him, he faced them all, and departed only because he saw it
was useless to wait for them to pass. They _would_ not go in front of
him. Was ever leopard so honoured before? These men would not have
deferred so much to a British lord, much less to an Italian pope or
common emperor.

If leopards dealt in art, that would be a scene for a picture; and
fain would I have sent the men’s photos to an R.A. of my acquaintance;
but to ask them for that purpose would have been as hopeless as to ask
leave to give their names. So any inspired artist who pictures this
scene must paint the officers’ faces from his fancy. All that I am
permitted to certify is the truth of the adventure.

Bravo, Mr Spots!!!