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Death and the Tigers., Southern Cross, Volume 14, Issue 52, 6 April 1907
Death and the Tigers.
In Paris', some days ago I met ■Sperver. His appearance astonished me. He looks like some notary clerk fallen out of employment ; a most mil'd and inoffensive clerk of fifty or so, adorned with steel-rimmed spectacles, wearing a frock coat with a velvet collar, and trousers of prunecoloured cloth, 'bagging at the knees. .It was hard to believe that this somewhat melancholy and snuffylooking person had killed more lions and tigers—to say nothing of elephants—than any other man in Europe, not excepting Mr Selous. He took a pipe from his pocket in •sections, and having fitted it tog-eth-er until it reached nearly to the floor, and filled it and lit it, pressing the tobacco down with a callous fin-ger-tip, he swung one leg over the arm of his arm-chair, and declared himself ,at home. 1 tried to draw him out on the subject of lions, but unfortunately he had caught sight of a book which someone had left on my table. It was a volume of Kant, and fixing it with his eye, he sank further back in his chair, swung his leg more vigorously, and plunged into trancondentalism.
Never before had I heard such a discourse, such tremendous sentences, like sausages filled with smoke and tied at each end with half a verb—he .was speaking in German —whilst all the time the long pipe snored and bubbled, and the room slowly raised with a smothering haze of Corporal.
When he had finished, coffee was brought in, and, fearing lest he might escape back into transcendent- >, alism, I tried again to lead him lionwards ; but an elephant if gilt bronze which stood on a table close by, and which, on being wound up, piayed a tune by Donizetti, waving his" trunk, and wagging its tail to the air, drew his attention. I wound it up to bis infinite delight. "Now, where,” ho cried, pointing to this noxious toy, which belonged to my landlady “where would one see a thing like that except in Paris ? I cannot bear shooting from the back of an eliphant,” he went on, meditatively, as he took the key from me', and wound up the elephant again. “I would sooner shoot rabbits ; besides I was nearly killed like that in a jungle in IndiaIt was a big shoot got up by an Englishman —bottled beer, and elephant's, and everything that money could buy. They purchased me in a howdah, and I felt as helpless as a baby in a balloon. “1 climbed down from the howdah to stretch my legs, and presently I found myself lost in a cane brake which, the beaters declared, held no game. “There were paths in this cane brake, and above was the sky like burning - brass, and it was hot and damp like a laundry, and of a sudden I found I did not know the north from the south, the east from the west. But I was not in the least alarmed, for only twenty yards or so away was the elephant 1 had left.
“I could not see him for the canes, but he was there, and my gun .was in his howdah. “I put my hand to my mouth, and was on the point of hallooing, when, whif ! I smelt a tiger ! ■“A breeze had just risen, and was stirring the cane tops ; it had removed the air between the canes and brought me the smell of the tiger, and I was without my gun. “Then I heard one of the black men yelling, and the crushing sound of an elephant moving against the canes, and then, quite, close a quick rush like the rush of a great rat behind a wainscotting. The canes flew out, and in the path before me, crouching on the green bed of crushed-out stalks 1 saw Kim, motionless, and burning in the sunshine.
“He was very beautiful to look at. I do not think I have seen, anything so gorgeous. It seemed to me that I •had never seen a tiger before. There is an inner meaning in a tiger which comes out only when you are standing before him defenceless with a barrier between you both of some twenty feet or so of clear air. As the tiger gazed upon me with eyes like discs of amber-coloured glass, I noticed his tail slip stealthily from flank to flank. Then his stern began to rise, and I felt the sweat drops running down my face like centipedes In a hurry.
“I would have sold my best friend, I would have immolated my mother, I would have destroyed my own soul if by doing so I might have purchased I’espite, even an hour’s respite, from, death in that cursed cane brake.
f "Terror ? I tell you it ■was the | most hideous terror, and all; because I had not my gun' “You see there is also an inner meaning in a gun, and you find it out when you stand before a charging elephant with a trusty rifle in your hands. You are dignified, you are cool, but your courage and dignity lie in the barrel of your gun"As for me, I was neither cool nor dignified before this terrible machine covered with fur, w 7 hich seemed winding itself up to spring upon, me, just as I wind up this elephant of yours to make him sing. I dared not run away or stand still. I cam© towards him, fixing my spectacles more firmly with one hand. I felt myself smiling, and all the while the brute was winding himself up—winding himself up. ‘■‘There is a fact you have noticed, perhaps, in the nervous mechanism of the cat tribe ; unless pushed to extremities they do not act with promptitude ; it seems necessary that they should store up the nervous energy for attack by gazing upon the objective. "You have noticed tw r o cats howling at one another for several minutes, with their noses touching, and then, bang ! they are head over heels in the gutter, tearing each other to pieces. ‘■‘Well, then, I was approaching this devil of a cat, trying to stare him down, when, all at once I found myself on my back, and a great fur bolster on top of me. I did not see him come ; it was just as if some jester had flung a feather bed on me from the sky. I felt ;quite comfortable, for the beast was resting on his forepawis as if to save me from his weight. I was not even scratched, for he had over-sprung, and brought me down with his chest ; my spectacles were pushed up on my forehead, as I sometimes' push them when in thought ; and as I did not move he disdained to notice me, and gave me a moment’s respite as he glanced from left to right and right to left before fixing his teeth in my skull. “Now, the strange thing was that my horrible terror of a moment ago had quite vanished ; the tiger was no' longer a tiger—he was Death. I am telling you just what I felt. We are so cursed with words in civilisation that we think in words ; at the moment of death we return to the primitive state, and think in thoughts. "Death has an inner meaning ; vacuity. I noticed this fact casually—or rather I did not notice it—as I lay gazing at the tiger’s whiskers, that seemed as thick as porcupine quills, and admiring the colossal proportions of his head,; for a tiger’s head seen from below by a man in my position is a sight more wonderful than the Jungfrau topped with a storm.
“Then something must have startled him, for he passed over me like a cloud, and was gone.” “And you felt ?” ‘‘Like a frightened fool. All my fears came back now that I had ceased to think in thoughts.” “I will tell you what death is : it is a bogey that is supposed to live in a hole. The hole is there, in the face of things ; but there is no bogey. I know, for I have looked in.” He rewound the elephant, and it wagged its trunk and winked its eyes, and reveated for the fourth time the tune by Donizetti, IT. de Vere Stacpoole, in The Outlook.
Death and the Tigers., Southern Cross, Volume 14, Issue 52, 6 April 1907
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