H. MORTIMER BATTEN
There are moments when, sharing a brotherhood of misfortune, a leopard will lie down with weaker animals, deprived of its power or desire to kill.
TOM LEE distinctly heard the scuffle in the jungle behind him, but he took it that his dog had disturbed
game of some kind, and he rode on without heeding. It was after sundown, in a few minutes the darkness of the tropical night would be down upon the jungle. He was anxious to reach his bungalow and dinner.
A mile further on, however, he realized that his dog was not following, so he drew rein and whistled. The silence of the jungle seemed immense as the “clompclomp” of the pony's hoofs ceased to echo, and of the terrier there was not the slightest sound.
Lee knew instinctively, as one does at such times, that something had happened. So he wheeled the pony in her tracks and cantered back to the point at which he had last heard the dog. Again he whistled and called, again he listened, and this time he thought he heard a faint yapping and whining. It was muffled and strange, seeming to come from somewhere underground among the dense foliage away to his left.
Impulsively Lee slipped from the pony, and began to part the undergrowth in the direction from which the sounds came, but he had not made twelve feet when his better judgment warned him of the folly of it. Ahead it wasdark as pitch, and, fairly new from the Old Country, Lee knew that more likely than not he would lose his bearings within sixty feet, which might mean spending the night in that snake-infested blackness.
In view of this, Lee retraced his steps—fortunately, too—deciding to go home and return immediately with a gang of natives armed with lanterns.
There were occasional leopards in those forests, and if the dog -were left overnight to take its chances most certainly a leopard would find it.
Arriving at his bungalow, however, Lee remembered that all save his personal servant and the Chinese cook, left to attend his needs, were away at a local feast. There was not a man on the plantation save these two, nor would they be back till close upon daybreak, so there was nothing for it but to leave the terrier till the sun rose—-perhaps, after all, the wisest course.
THE facts of the case were these: Mac, the white
terrier, was ranging forty or fifty yards behind his master when he disturbed something he was not looking for. Rather, that something disturbed him, for it came down from the branches head foremost, and had not Mac seen it coming, it would have pinned him to the ground, and so saved all the trouble.
But Mac was quick, even for a terrier, and the big spotted cat fell six inches short. Mac would have yelled had he been less terribly up against it, but as it was he was too frightened to yell. He did not utter a sound, neither did the leopard.
The terrier’s one thought was to get back to his master, but the big cat had premeditated such a move, and as he made his dive she bounded lightly to intercept him. She did not appear to be in any hurry. She had him, and she knew it. All she was aiming at for the moment was to keep between him and the horseman on the roadway ahead.
Misfortunes seldom come singly, and as Mac swerved to make a detour the very earth opened up to swallow him—if
that, indeed, could be termed a misfortune. Under the circumstances it was perhaps the most appropriate thing that could have happened, but all the same it must have been a considerable shock.
That patch of forest was identical to the other patches
about it—strewn with dead leaves and branches, and deeply overshadowed, yet the apparently solid earth gave way under the terrier’s bound, and accompanied by an avalanche of dust and rubbish he fell a matter of twelve feet or more on to extremely solid ground. Moreover, the leopard fell with him, or rather a foot behind him, and they met at the bottom. At this Mac did indeed yell, because he thought the cat had got him, and she was an exceedingly heavy cat.
So the cat had got him, if she had wished to avail herself of the opportunity, but it would be hard to say which of the two of them was the more surprised. One thing is certain, that in that crowded moment the wild cat was the victim to a sensation which never occurred to Mac—the terror of the trap. It was because of that terror that she disengaged herself instantly, made a desperate leap for the small-jagged hole through which they had fallen, but falling short struck the wall of smooth earth and fell back into the pit.
The pit? Yes. It was a man-made pit, and cunningly made, too, for wild cats, striped and spotted, had been attracting undue attention of late. The pit was perhaps sixteen feet in length from end to end and eight feet wide at the bottom, but it was dug in the shape of a quarter moon, so that nothing could take a straight run across the floor to leap out at one end. Also it was
two feet wider at the bottom than at the top, this to render escape still more difficult, and had a human being, with all his reasoning powers, fallen into that pit, he would have been there till help came, but that the State made one simple provision for any such emergency. That provision consisted of the trunk of a small tree, its branches sawn off short, lying along the bottom of the pit and waiting to be erected as a ladder.
At all events, there they were, Mac and his intended murderer, imprisoned together. For a minute or so the leopard bounded up and down, leaping and clawing at the earth wall, and rolling the yapping, terrified terrier over and over in her blind efforts to escape. Soon she learned that that was impossible, at which she huddled in the furthermost corner, snarling at Mac as though she were terrified of him.
Now it was Mac’s turn to try to find a way out, and hearing his master’s whistles he made his puny leaps again and again, yapping the while in his eagerness. His fear of the leopard seemed to have vanished, and every time he went nearer to her she turned her face half to the wall, and her rasping snarls rose in volume. Clearly, amidst her new surroundings, she was terrified of him, and as silence fell and the night wore on, Mac, too, realized that escape was impossible, and his fear of the wild cat returned. He sank, shivering and exhausted, into the furthermost corner, and for hours they “eyed” each other in deadly silence across the darkness.
Shortly after daylight began to show through the jagged hole in the roof of the pit, Mac again heard his master. Again he leapt and leapt, forgetful of the leopard, till he sank sweating and exhausted. But the men did not hear him, for their hearing was infinitely duller than his, and after a while they went away—concluding that a leopard had got the dog. As a matter of fact Lee had lost count of the exact place at which he had last heard the dog, and they had searched for him at the wrong turning of the road. So Lee made up his mind
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that his dog was dead, and sadly dismissed the matter from his mind.
That day and the night following nothing of moment happened in the pit. Nothing much could happen in such confined and hopeless space, except that the leopard might choose to slay the dog, but apparently nothing was further from her mind. Sometimes she rose and paced and leapt while Mac watched her. Sometimes Mac rose and whined and leapt while she watched him. Each kept to its own respective half of the pit. Mac’s half was dotted all over with the imprints of his feet, the leopard’s half was trodden smooth by her cushioned, heavy tread, and there was a distinct line down the centre where neither trod.
AT THE breaking of the second -¿"Amorning something did happen. A troop of monkeys found them—or rather, found the leopard, and in some way divined that she was a fixture there. At this their excitement knew no bounds.. Other monkeys gathered, and becoming
bolder they clustered round the hole and jibbered mockery at the wild cat, glowering up at them from the gloom. But at length one of them leapt and alighted on a weak spot of the roof. It was supposed to be strong enough to carry ordinary jungle monkeys, but the large rift already existing had weakened it. So the monkey came through, bringing an enormous quantity of the remaining structure through with him, which had the desirable effect of letting in more light.
The monkey was surprised—so was his clan. All jibbering instantly ceased, and those above made for the trees. The one below lay spreadeagle just where he had fallen. He was half buried in refuse, and flattened thus he stared at the leopard, which was snarling horribly, all huddled up once more. Then he glanced at the dog, and seeming to make up his mind, he crawled slowly over to where Mac was, looking over his shoulder at the leopard as he went. At first Mac fumed his face away and growled, but
the monkey paid no heed, and two minutes later was crouching huddled against him, its head jammed into a corner under Mac’s ribs.
Evidently Mac had a bit of the bull terrier—or possibly the Scotch terrier— in his veins, for he had not yet ceased to leap up at the walls, though it was manifestly proven that the feat was beyond him. When next he got up the monkeys above had recovered from their shock to some extent. Scores of them could be seen in the branches, where the sunlight flashed, and their obvious concern had gathered flocks of harsh-voiced, brightly colored birds, all of whom hated the leopard and were telling her so.
The wild cat’s nerves had already gone to bits, and the hubbub above seemed to augment her hysteria. Mac and the monkey, on the other hand, had the moral support of the crowd in their favor, and Mac at any rate knew that the leopard would not attack. Encouraged now by his little fellow prisoner, he growled and snarled at the cat from the centre line, at which she hid her face and kept quite still, heaving up and down with her heavy breathing.
Mac was hungry, of course, but his thirst was awful. He had no voice left to make himself heard, and when he leapt he hardly left the ground. He might, of course, have slain the monkey, but luckily for him no such thought occurred to him. Had he begun the killing the leopard most certainly would have carried it on. It only needed a shindy of that kind to dispel her hysteria, and at all events, the smell of blood would have re-awakened her wild instincts. As it was she was content to lie huddled in her own corner, regarding the dog and the monkey as a part of the general fear which was upon her. That fear possessed every fibre of her body, the wild fear of the trap, and the wilder the beast the greater is the force with which those emotions grip them. Even a tiger would have acted as she acted, even a black panther, the fiercest of the cat tribe and the most untameable, would have crouched as she crouched, reduced to dust and ashes by the immensity of its own misfortune.
So the dreadful order of things lingered on—days and nights, so it seemed, for the darkness came and went, but still all day and every day the monkeys and the parrots chattered above. Hunger, cold, crushing hunger, began to assail the occupants of the pit—hunger which crushed all fear, and left each of them too feeble to strike, even had it so desired. Even the boundary line was now forgotten, for sometimes they walked up and down, up and down, passing and re-passing each other, brushing against each other as they walked. They no longer growled and snarled, because their tongues were swollen, and the power of utterance had left them. They did not seem even to see each other as they tottered drunkenly up and down, up and down, but the monkeys above had spread the news, and fresh troops came to hurl their mockery at their dying foe below.
SOMETIMES, when the leopard slept, curled up in a bony heap, the monkey would scramble over her to the highest point, looking up at the light, at which she would twitch her big ears as though a fly were troubling her, but otherwise make no movement. The sensations of cold came with their hunger, till the night brewed when the three of them huddled together—leopard, dog, and monkey, sharing the only thing which was left to them to share.
By then the end was very near, and when daylight came only the leopard rose. She walked to the centre of the pit, and stood there looking up, the sunlight reflected in her wonderful eyes. For ten minutes she did not stir, save that the tip of her tail twitched slowly and her knees shivered as though with coid, while anon the dog and the monkey watched her with eyes that showed that not even yet was hope dead within them.
At length the leopard turned, tottering and staggering drunkenly, and looking at her prison mates while she approached them, her head hung low, she uttered a scarcely audible sound, such as a cat utters when she goes to her kits.
Truly they had lived to see the truce of which another History speaks, to see the day when those whose lot it is to kill are deprived the power or the desire to
strike. Fear they had known, and the terrors of creeping thirst and hunger, but even that phase was past. There remained nothing now but the brotherhood of misfortune, the common lot, to wait for another hand to strike, and as the leopard lay down again she gathered the other two about her as she might have gathered her own precious cubs.
That morning two men drew rein on the jungle path nearby.
“Hear that row?” enquired the younger nodding towards the jungle on their left where a great screaming of birds and a chattering of monkeys was audible. “That’s going on every time I pass this place. I wonder what’s exciting them?” The other smiled, and seemed disposed to dismiss the matter as a triviality. “Drinking water, I suppose,” said he, but the next remark from his companion evidently opened up a new line of thought.
“It was about here that I lost my dogt” said Lee. “I just wondered if that might have anything to do with it.”
The elder man swung round in his saddle. “Of course it might!” he replied. “The dog may have fallen into a tiger pit or something. These blessed natives are always digging them, and never think of going round. We’d better investigate.”
SO THE two left their ponies, and guided chiefly by the birds, they found the pit. It was the work of a minute or two to poke in the remaining portion of the roof, then they peered down.
What a sight met their eyes—a picture as poignant as it was strange! Directly below the three animals sat, side by side, looking up at them—the leopard bigeyed and fearless, the monkey with both hands half extended, Mac dull-eyed and drooping, though he managed to sum up the energy to wag his tail. The trodden floor of the pit, the clawed and broken walls, told their own story of the tenacity of hope—of the long and bitter struggle which had taken place.
“What now?” enquired Lee, when at length they had found their tongues. His hand was upon his holster, and seeing this the elder man remarked: “I suppose that’s the obvious course. Shoot the leopard, then haul out the other two.”
Lee nodded. “Obvious, yes,” he said. “But if there’s going to be any shooting, old man, I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to do it. I might poleaxe a helpless ox, if we wanted him for grub, but I’m hanged if I can shoot a tottering, starving beast, looking up at me for help.”
He drew the automatic, and handed it to his chum, but the elder man clasped his hands behind him. “I feel the same as you.” he said. “It doesn’t look to me like a white man’s job. We’ll have to bring along the natives to do it. They won’t have any scruples about shooting a leopard.”
But each was clearly searching his mind for another way out, and at length the elder man spoke.
“They’ve been in there together for days,” he said, “but if we tried to haul out the dog or the monkey, I wouldn’t mind betting anything the leopard would go for it immediately she realized it W’as about to escape. The thing to do is to get the leopard out first.”
They were not long in finding a fallen tree, and having trimmed off its branches they lowered it into the pit. The wild cat watched suspiciously, then, seeing the way out, she set her paws to mount. Slowly she came, testing every foothold, till she gained the brink, where both men stood back w'atching, the automatic ready. She regarded them indifferently, then, as the monkey scrambled up behind her she snarled at him as he passed, and struck at him feebly with her forepaw as he dragged himself over the leaves. A minute later both were gone, then Lee lowered himself into the pit to save his dog.
Mac was all right in a few days, but there was this strange thing about it. Had he been a human being his hair might have turned white, but being white already he achieved the best alternative. He shed bis hair! Yes. every hair he had he shed, and a weeklater he was a hairless dog, which did not matter much because the weather was hot, though, of course, the flies troubled him. Yet a month later he was covered all over with soft, luxurious down, and bis new' coat, when it came, was vastly superior in quality to the old.