They walked side by side, Warwick with his rifle held ready. He had no false ideas in regard to this tiger-hunt. He knew that his prey was desperate with hunger, that she had many old debts to pay, and that she would charge on sight.
The self-rage that is felt on missing some particularly fortunate chance is not confined to human beings alone. There is an old saying in the forest that a feline that has missed his stroke is like a jackal in dog-days—and that means that it is not safe to be anywhere in the region with him. He simply goes rabid and is quite likely to leap at the first living thing that stirs. Warwick knew that Nahara had just been cheated out of her kill and someone in the jungle would pay for it.
The gaudy birds that looked down from the tree-branches could scarcely recognize this prematurely gray man as a hunter. He walked rather quietly, yet with no conscious effort toward stealth. The rifle rested easily in his arms, his gray eyes were quiet and thoughtful as always. Singularly, his splendid features were quite in repose. The Burman, however, had more of the outer signs of alertness; and yet there was none of the blind terror upon him that marked the beaters.
“Where are the men?” Warwick asked quietly. “It is strange that we do not hear them shouting.”
“They are afraid, Sahib,” Singhai replied. “The forest pigs have left us to do our own hunting.”
Warwick corrected him with a smile. “Forest pigs are brave enough,” he answered. “They are sheep—just sheep—sheep of the plains.”
The broad trail divided, like a three-tined candlestick, into narrow trails. Warwick halted beside the centre of the three that led to the creek they were obliged to cross. Just for an instant he stood watching, gazing into the deep-blue dusk of the deeper jungle. Twilight was falling softly. The trails soon vanished into shadow—patches of deep gloom, relieved here and there by a bright leaf that reflected the last twilight rays. A living creature coughed and rustled away in the thickets beside him.
“There is little use of going on,” he said. “It is growing too dark. But there will be killings before the dawn if we don’t get her first.”
The servant stood still, waiting. It was not his place to advise his master.
“If we leave her, she’ll come again before the dawn. Many of the herders haven’t returned—she’ll get one of them sure. At least we may cross the creek and get a view of the great fields. She is certain to cross them if she has heard the beaters.”
In utter silence they went on. One hundred yards farther they came to the creek, and both strode in together to ford.
The water was only knee-deep, but Warwick’s boots sank three inches in the mud of the bottom. And at that instant the gods of the jungle, always waiting with drawn scimitar for the unsuspecting, turned against them.
Singhai suddenly splashed down into the water, on his hands and knees. He did not cry out. If he made any sound at all, it was just a shivering gasp that the splash of water wholly obscured. But the thing that brought home the truth to Warwick was the pain that flashed, vivid as lightning, across his dark face; and the horror of death that left its shadow. Something churned and writhed in the mud; and then Warwick fired.