The circle was silent thereafter. They seemed to be waiting for Khusru, one of the head men of the village, to give his opinion. He knew more about the wild animals than any mature native in the assembly, and his comments on the hunting stories were usually worth hearing.
“We will not be in the honoured service of the Protector of the Poor at this time a year from now,” he said.
They all waited tensely. Shikara shivered. “Speak, Khusru,” they urged him.
“Warwick Sahib will go again to the jungles—and Nahara will be waiting. She owes two debts. One is the killing of her mate—and ye know that these two tigers have been long and faithful mates. Do ye think she will let that debt go unpaid? She will also avenge her own wound.”
“Perhaps she will die of bleeding,” one of the others suggested.
“Nay, or ye would have found her this afternoon. Ye know that it is the wounded tiger that is most to be feared. One day, and he will go forth in pursuit of her again; and then ye will not see him riding back so grandly on his elephant. Perhaps she will come here, to carry away our children.”
Again Shikara tingled—hoping that Nahara would at least come close enough to cause excitement. And that night, too happy to keep silent, he told his mother of Warwick Sahib’s smile. “And some time I—I, thine own son,” he said as sleepiness came upon him, “will be a killer of tigers, even as Warwick Sahib.”
“Little sparrow-hawk,” his mother laughed at him. “Little one of mighty words, only the great sahibs that come from afar, and Warwick Sahib himself, may hunt the tiger, so how canst thou, little worthless?”
“I will soon be grown,” he persisted, “and I—I, too—will some time return with such a tiger-skin as the great Heaven-born brought this afternoon.” Little Shikara was very sleepy, and he was telling his dreams much more frankly than was his wont. “And the village folk will come out to meet me with shoutings, and I will tell them of the shot—in the circle under the tree.”
“And where, little hawk, wilt thou procure thine elephants, and such rupees as are needed?”
“Warwick Sahib shoots from the ground—and so will I. And sometimes he goes forth with only one attendant—and I will not need even one. And who can say—perhaps he will find me even a bolder man than Gunga Singhai; and he will take me in his place on the hunts in the jungles.”
For Gunga Singhai was Warwick Sahib’s own personal attendant and gun-carrier—the native that the Protector of the Poor could trust in the tightest places. So it was only to be expected that Little Shikara’s mother should laugh at him. The idea of her son being an attendant of Warwick Sahib, not to mention a hunter of tigers, was only a tale to tell her husband when the boy’s bright eyes were closed in sleep.
“Nay, little man,” she told him. “Would I want thee torn to pieces in Nahara’s claws? Would I want thee smelling of the jungle again, as thou didst after chasing the water-buck through the bamboos? Nay—thou wilt be a herdsman, like thy father—and perhaps gather many rupees.”