Saving The Powder For Us
(We Being More Dangerous
Than the Tigers)
Helena Petrovna BlavatskyTwo of Gulâb-Singh's servants, with traditional spears and shields of rhinoceros skin, who had been ordered to protect us from wild beasts until sunrise, sat on the steps of the verandah, at the edge of the precipice. Unable to fall asleep, I watched with increasing curiosity all that went on. The Thâkur was also sleepless. Every time I half-opened my eyelids, heavy with fatigue, there appeared before me the gigantic figure of our mysterious friend.
Having seated himself after the Eastern fashion, with his feet drawn up and his arms round his knees, he sat motionless on a bench cut in the rock at the very end of the verandah, gazing intently into the silvery distance. Our Râjput sat so close to the edge that the least incautious movement, it seemed, would have thrown him into the yawning abyss at his feet. But the granite goddess Bhâvanî herself, a few steps away from him, was hardly more immovable. The light of the moon, in which everything in front of him was bathed, was so strong that the black shadow under the rock sheltering him was quite impenetrable, shrouding his face in absolute darkness. From time to time, the flames of the sinking fires leaping up cast their warm reflection of his dark-bronze face, enabling one to distinguish its sphinx-like features and his shining eyes, glowing like bright embers, yet as motionless as the rest of him.
What am I to think? Does he sleep or is he entranced? Entranced as are the initiated râja-yogins about whom he was telling us this morning? Oh, if I could only go to sleep!...Suddenly a loud, prolonged hissing sound erupted close to my ear, as if from under the hay on which we were curled, and made me jump with vague reminiscences about a "cobra." Then it struck: one, two...It was our American travelling alarm clock, which somehow or other happened to get under the hay. I felt ashamed and amused at this involuntary fright.
Yet neither the hissing sound, nor the loud striking of the clock, nor my sudden movement --- which made Miss B. raise her sleepy head --- awakened Gulâjb-Singh, who was hovering, as before, above the precipice. Another half-hour went by. In spite of the distant hum of the festival, all was quiet and motionless; but sleep eluded me more and more. A fresh and rather strong wind rose just before dawn, at first rustling the leaves, then moving the tips of the trees that grew from the abyss before us.
My whole attention was now centered upon the three Râjputs before me --- the two shield-bearers and their master. I cannot tell why, but I was especially attracted at this moment by the sight of the long hair of the servants, which was waiving in the wind, though they sat on the more sheltered side of the verandah than their Sâjhib. As I turned by eyes toward the latter, I felt as though my blood had congealed in my veins. The muslin veil of someone's topi, which hung beside him, tied to a pillar, was whirling in the wind, while the hair of the Sâjhib himself lay as still as if it had been glued to his shoulders; not a single hair moved, not the slightest movement could be noticed in the light folds of his white muslin garment. No statue could have been more motionless.
What is this? A delirium, a hallucination, or an amazing and inexplicable reality? Shutting my eyes tightly, I decided not to look any longer. At that very moment something produced a crackling sound but a few feet from the steps, and the long, dark silhouette of some animal --- either a dog or a wild cat --- became clearly outlined against the brightening sky. The animal stood in profile on the edge of the precipice, its long tail lashing to and fro. Both Râjputs rose swiftly and noiselessly and turned their heads towards Gulâb-Singh, as if asking for orders.
But where was Gulâb-Singh? On the spot where he sat so motionless but a minute earlier, there was no one to be seen; only the topi lay there, torn down by the wind. Suddenly an awful roar, deafening and prolonged, made me jump; penetrating into the vihâra, it awakened the silent echoes and resounded along the edge of the precipice like the dull rumbling of thunder. Good heavens! A tiger! Before this thought had time to shape itself clearly in my mind, there came the sound of crashing branches, and of something heavy sliding down into the abyss. Everyone sprang up, and all the men seized their guns and revolvers. The alarm was general.
"What's the matter now?" said the calm voice of Gulâb-Singh, seated again on the bench as if nothing had happened. "What has caused you this fright?"
"A tiger! Was it not a tiger?" came in rapid questioning remarks from Europeans and Hindus alike. Miss B. trembled like one stricken with fever.
"Tiger or not matters very little to us now. Whatever it was, it is by now at the bottom of the abyss," answered the Râjput, yawning, "You seem to be especially disturbed," he added with a slight irony in his voice, addressing the English lady who was hysterically crying, undecided whether to swoon or not.
"Why doesn't our Government destroy all these terrible beasts?" sobbed our Miss B., who evidently believed firmly in the omnipresence of her government.
"Probably because our rulers save their powder for us, giving us the honor of being considered more dangerous than the tigers," said the courtly Gulâb-Singh.
There was a ring of something both threatening and derisive in the way our Râjput used that word "rulers."
"But how did you get rid of the 'striped one'?" insisted the Colonel. "Has anyone fired a shot?"
"It is but with Europeans that firearms are considered the only, or at least the very best way to overcome wild beasts. We savages have other means, even more dangerous," explained Bâbû Norendro-Das-Sen. "When you visit us in Bengal, you will have a splendid opportunity of becoming acquainted with tigers; they come to us uninvited both day and night, even in towns."
It was getting light, and Gulâb-Singh proposed that we descend and examine the rest of the caves and the ruins of the fortress before the seasonal heat; in a few moments everything was ready for breakfast, and at half past three we started by another and less steep road down into the valley, having no special adventures on our way. The Marâthâ, however, lagged behind and vanished, without saying a word to us.