MRS. PACKLETIDE'S TIGER
By Saki (H. H. Munro)
It was Mrs. Packletide's pleasure and intention that she should shoot a tiger. Not that the lust to kill suddenly descended on her, or that she felt that she would leave India safer and more wholesome than she had found it, with one wild beast less per million inhabitants. The compelling motive was the fact that Loona Bimberton had recently been carried eleven miles in an aeroplane by an aviator, and talked of nothing else; only a personally procured tiger-skin and a heavy harvest of press photographs could successfully counter that sort of thing. Mrs. Packletide had already arranged in her mind the lunch she would give at her house in Curzon street, ostensibly in Loona Bimberton's honour, with a tiger-skin rug occupying most of the foreground and all of the conversation. She had also already designed in her mind the tiger-claw brooch that she was going to give Loona Bimberton on her next birthday. Mrs. Packletide's movements and motives were largely governed by her dislike of Loona Bimberton.
Mrs. Packletide offered a thousand rupees for the opportunity of shooting a tiger without overmuch risk or exertion, and it so happened that a neighbouring village could boast of being the favoured rendezvous of an animal which had been driven by old age to abandon game-killing and confine its appetite to the smaller domestic animals. The prospect of earning the thousand rupees aroused the sporting and commercial instinct of the villagers; children were posted night and day on the outskirts of the local jungle to drive the tiger back if he attempted to leave the district, and the cheaper kinds of goats were left about with elaborate carelessness to keep him satisfied with his present hunting-ground. The one great anxiety was lest he should die of old age before the date appointed for the lady's shooting party. Mothers carrying their babies through the jungle after the day's work in the fields hushed their singing lest they might disturb the restful sleep of the aged herd-robber.
The great night duly arrived, moonlit and cloudless. A platform had been constructed in a comfortable and conveniently placed tree, and thereon crouched Mrs. Packletide and her paid companion, Miss Mebbin. A goat, gifted with a particularly persistent bleat such as even a partially deaf tiger might be reasonably expected to hear on a still night, was tied to a stake at the correct distance. With an
accurately sighted rifle and a thumb-nail pack of patience cards, the sportswomen awaited the appearance of the tiger.
"I suppose we are in some danger?" said Miss Mebbin.
She was not actually nervous about the wild beast, but she had a morbid dread of performing an atom more service than she had been paid for.
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Packletide; "it's a very old tiger. It couldn't spring up here even if it wanted to."
"If it's an old tiger I think you ought to get it cheaper. A thousand rupees is a lot of money. If I were you I would have asked ..."
She was, however, cut short by the appearance on the scene of the animal itself. As soon as it caught sight of the goat it lay flat on the earth, as if it wanted to snatch a short rest before commencing the grand attack.
"I believe it's ill," said Louisa Mebbin, loudly in Hindustani, for the benefit of the village head-man, who was in ambush in a neighbouring tree.
"Hush!" said Mrs. Packletide, and at that moment the tiger commenced ambling towards his victim.
"Now, now!" urged Miss Mebbin with some excitement; "if he doesn't touch the goat we needn't pay for it." (The bait was an extra.)
The rifle flashed out with a loud report, and the great tawny beast sprang to one side and then rolled over in the stillness of death. In a moment a crowd of excited natives came running to the scene, and their shouting speedily carried the glad news to the village, where a thumping of tom-toms took up the chorus of triumph. And their triumph and rejoicing found a ready echo in the heart of Mrs. Packletide; already that luncheon-party in Curzon street seemed immeasurably nearer.
It was Louisa Mebbin who drew attention to the fact that the goat seemed to have died of a mortal bullet-wound, while no trace of the rifle's deadly work could be found en the tiger. Evidently the wrong animal had been hit, and the tiger had died of heart failure, caused by the sudden report of the rifle.
Mrs. Packletide was pardonably annoyed at the discovery; but at any rate, she was the possessor of a dead tiger, and the villagers, anxious for their thousand rupees, gladly connived at the fiction that she had shot the beast. And Miss Mebbin was a paid companion. Therefore did Mrs. Packletide face the cameras with a light heart, and her pictured fame spread far and wide. As for Loona Bimberton, she refused to look at an illustrated paper for weeks, and her letter of thanks for the gift of a tiger claw brooch was a model of repressed emotions. The luncheon-party she declined; there are limits beyond which repressed emotions become dangerous.
From Curzon street the tiger-skin rug travelled down to the Manor House, and was duly inspected and admired by the county, and it seemed a fitting and appropriate thing when Mrs. Packletide went to the County Costume Ball in the character of Diana. She refused to fall in, however, with a tempting suggestion of a primeval dance
party, at which every one should wear the skins of beasts they had recently shot.
"How amused everyone would be if they knew what really happened," said Louisa Mebbin a few days after the ball.
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Packletide quickly.
"How you shot the goat and frightened the tiger to death," said Miss Mebbin, with her disagreeably pleasant laugh.
"No one would believe it," said Mrs. Packletide, the colour leaving her face.
"Loona Bimberton would," said Miss Mebbin.
"You surely wouldn't give me away?" she asked.
"I've seen a week-end cottage near Dorking that I should rather like to buy," said Miss Mebbin with seeming irrelevance. "Six hundred and eighty, freehold. Quite a bargain, only I don't happen to have the money."
Louisa Mebbin's pretty week-end cottage, gay in summer-time with its garden borders of tiger-lilies is the wonder and admiration of her friends. "It is a marvel how Louisa manages to do it," is the general opinion.
Mrs. Packletide has given up big-game shooting.
"The incidental expenses are so heavy," she confides to inquiring friends.