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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE MAN-EATER OF JANPUR

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Briton Riviere (1840-1920)

A THRILLING ORDEAL IN THE JUNGLE


Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 11 August 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-08

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Illustration

Illustration

The tiger landed on the elephant's head—
neither of the boys could reach it with their rifles.


CHAPTER 1. — THE SECRET OF THE MOUNTAIN

"SAHIBS, it grows late, and a storm brews. It will be well to return at once."

Hassan, the tall Mohammedan, who gave this advice, glanced as he spoke at the dark banks of cloud gathering over the jagged summits above. His voice and manner were both uneasy.

"I quite agree with you, Hassan," replied Lauriston Crauford, the elder of the two young fellows who made up the party of three, "but as we have a good ten miles to go, and it will be pitch dark in another hour, my own notion is that we had better find shelter and wait till morning.

"What do you say, Hugh?" he ended, turning to the other boy.

Hugh Bonsor, the third of the party, nodded.

"I'm with you every time, Laurie. The mountain is chock-full of caves. Let's find one and camp for the night."

"It would be better to return home," pleaded Hassan anxiously.

"Can't see it, Hassan," said Crauford. "The jungle is no place for travelling on a dark night, let alone a wet one."

Hassan was clearly uneasy, but the boys would not listen to him. They began at once hunting for a cave. The Tahila Hills of Southern India are all limestone, and riddled with caves. It was not ten minutes before a shout from Hugh proclaimed that he had found one.

"A topping place!" he exclaimed as Laurie came up. "Nice and clean. No snakes, and a jolly little brook running out of it. What could anyone want more?"

Laurie agreed that the person who did want more would be highly unreasonable, and they settled in as quickly as possible. An hour later, as they ate broiled quail and listened to the roar of the storm on the wild mountain outside, they congratulated themselves on being so snug and comfortable. Only Hassan said nothing. For some reason he was not happy.

They turned in early, and lulled by the tinkling of the brook, which came from some unseen cavern beyond, were soon asleep. They were tired enough to have slept till daylight, so Laurie was both surprised and annoyed to be roused by Hassan shaking him vigorously by the shoulder.

"Sahib!" he whispered, "listen!"

Laurie sat up. It was still pitch dark. From somewhere or other came a deep, sonorous clashing and booming sound.

"Must be natives having a tamasha (entertainment)," he said drowsily.

"But, sahib, it comes from within the mountain," answered Hassan.

Hugh awoke.

"What's up? What's that row?"

"Sounds like gongs and cymbals," answered Laurie. "Hassan says it comes from inside the mountain, and, upon my Sam, I believe it does."

Hugh was afoot like a shot.

"Let's go and see," he said eagerly.

"No, sahib—no!" begged Hassan in great agitation.

But when questioned he would not explain.

"I'm going to have a squint, anyhow," declared Hugh, pulling on his boots. Laurie, too, agreed to go, and Hassan, though clearly in a great stew, would not be left behind.

They had to wade up the bed of the stream. It was icy cold, and in places the roof was so low that they had to bend double. But the sounds grew louder, and presently they entered a huge cavern and saw lights gleaming in the distance.

"Torches," whispered Hugh. "We've struck some secret rite. I believe."

"Yes. Queer things go on up in these hills," answered Laurie. "Were just on the edge of Janpur, you know. It's an independent State, and dad says they've got a religion of their own."

"Go quietly," breathed Hassan. "They are worshipping their God Mhasa. It is death for a stronger to see the rites."

By the distant glare of the torches Laurie could see a rugged ledge running up to the right. He suggested climbing this and so reaching a spot from which they could watch unseen.

They crept up quietly and soon gained a place from which the business was visible.

It was not a pretty sight. Some three score wild-looking priests were doing a kind of step-dance around a huge stone image which stood upon a rock platform in the centre of the cave. The priests carried torches, the flaring light of which fell upon their half-naked brown bodies and on the idol which they worshipped.

As for the idol itself, it was the most hideous thing that either of the boys had ever set eyes upon.

"Looks like a nightmare in stone," muttered Hugh, and he was not far from right. Its body was that of a great snake, probably a cobra, but it had a human head. A head with a snub nose and a huge ogre-like mouth, with tusks projecting from the upper jaw. It had four arms, and around each wrist was a bracelet of gleaming stones. Magnificent jewels glistened also around its ugly neck. They glittered in the red torchlight, and by contrast made the image itself the more repulsive.

The priest, as they circled the image, clanged their cymbals and chanted in deep hollow tones. They were led by one of the biggest men the boys had ever seen—a really splendid specimen, whose black beard was plaited like that of an ancient Assyrian.

"I shouldn't care to get into that fellow's clutches," whispered Hugh to Laurie. "He looks as strong as an elephant. And, I say, what jewels! Wouldn't I like a pocketful!"

As he spoke he leaned forward to get a better view, and in doing so dislodged a stone which was balanced on the very edge of the ledge. It toppled over with a crash and went bounding down to the floor forty or fifty feet below.

"Now you've done it!" said Laurie, and leaped to his feet. It was too late. The chanting ceased, and from the throat of the high priest came a yell of fury.

Hassan and the boys ran for their lives, but the ledge was rough and narrow. Before they could reach the stream bed the priests were there and they were cut off.

The two boys backed against the wall of the cavern, prepared, to sell their lives dearly. Hassan, however, though badly scared, kept his head. Stepping forward, he made a peculiar sign with his hands.

The black-bearded high priest stopped short, and spoke in the Ursu language. His voice was deep and angry. The boys waited tensely for what might come.

Hassan answered, then turned to the boys.

"Sahibs, I have told him that we are not spies, that it was chance which brought us here. He answers that our lives are forfeit, but that, if we yield, he will take us before the Rajah for judgment."

Laurie look at Hugh.

"The Rajah daren't murder us," he said quickly. "He knows he'd have all sorts of trouble if he did."

"Yield, I beg of you, sahibs," implored Hassan. "It is our only chance."

"I suppose we'd better," said Hugh reluctantly.

It was no pleasant experience being marched as prisoners through the vast echoing cave, surrounded on all sides by the fierce-faced priests. They were taken through the great cave to the far end, whence a broad tunnel cut right through the mountain. They came out at last into a wide, dark valley, and still in the same grim silence were led to a long, low building where they were thrust into a small cell with barred windows and earthen floor. The door was closed and locked, and the priests passed away into the darkness.

"What's going to happen now?" asked Laurie.

Hassan shook his head. "I know not, sahibs. My counsel is to sleep so as to be prepared for the morrow."

It seemed the best thing to do, and all three were still sound asleep when roused by a couple of guards, armed with modern rifles, who ordered them to follow.

It was just dawn, but the little town through which they were marched was already awake, and many brown-skinned folk watched them curiously. They were taken through a large compound shaded with trees, and so to the small but handsomely-built Rajah's palace.

The Rajah himself sat on a gilded chair on a raised platform. The High Priest, grimmer than ever, was beside him. The Rajah, a young and not ill-looking man, was at the moment listening to a native who, flat on the floor before him, was pouring out some petition.

The boys and Hassan were halted until the man had finished.

The Rajah spoke to him; he got up, salaamed humbly, and went away. Then the Rajah beckoned for the prisoners to approach.

The High Priest rose, and by his gestures and voice they could tell that he was denouncing them savagely. The Rajah waited till he had finished, then replied, and for a few moments there was evidently a sharp argument.

At last the Rajah turned to the boys and, to their surprise, addressed them in perfect English.

"Sahibs," he said sternly, "this trouble is of your own making, and by the use and custom of my State your lives are forfeit. Rukini the Priest claims you as sacrifice to the great god, Mhasa.

"But you are young, and your fault is not, in my eyes, deserving of such a doom. I have considered the matter, and have decided that you shall be permitted to redeem your lives.

"Chundoo, my servant whom you saw here at my feet, brings news that a man-eating tiger ravages the villages on the edge of the jungle of Neshwan. It is a great beast and a savage one, and must be destroyed lest worse befall. I, therefore, have decided that this shall be your task. You shall kill this monster, and by so doing shall redeem your lives. Do you consent?"

Laurie and Hugh exchanged glances. Then Laurie stepped forward.

"Certainly, your Highness. If our rifles may be fetched we will do our best to rid you of this tiger."


CHAPTER 2. — THE TERROR OF THE JUNGLE

"OUR Rajah friend does us well," said Laurie, as he lay back in the howdah of the splendid elephant with which they had been provided.

Hugh grinned.

"I believe that stern face was put on for the occasion. He was just humbugging old Rukini."

Hassan, seated in front of the howdah and acting as mahout, turned quickly.

"Be not deceived, sahibs," he said earnestly; "I have spoken to the man Chundoo, and this tiger we go to kill is a monster such as never before was seen. Also, it is cunning beyond other tigers, and utterly unafraid. I tell you that we go in peril of our lives, and I beg of you to watch carefully and be ready to shoot instantly."

"We're all right on top of this big beast," Hugh answered lightly. "Shove along into the grass, Hassan. It isn't a very big place, and we ought to be able to nail the brute between us."

Hassan shook his head. He was evidently uneasy. But he turned the elephant straight into the grass, which rose to the height of fully ten feet. The native beaters checked. They had marked the tiger down, but did not dare to venture into its lair.

The elephant strode cautiously through the grass, crushing it beneath its vast bulk. The boys, with their rifles ready, kept sharp watch on both sides.

Laurie suddenly heard Hugh draw his breath quickly.

"I saw him," he muttered. "There!"

Laurie caught a glimpse of black and yellow stripes gliding shadowlike through the grass, and apparently moving parallel with the elephant. The elephant must have winded the brute, for it flung up its trunk and checked.

Hugh raised his rifle quickly to his shoulder.

"Wait till you can be sure of him!" whispered Laurie sharply.

There was a small opening in the grass a few yards farther on. Next moment the tiger reached it, and Hugh, afraid of losing his chance, pulled trigger instantly.

A shattering roar followed instantly on the report, and out of the jungle shot not one tiger, but two!

Laurie, swinging round, took a rapid snapshot at the first. He hit it, for it faltered in mid-rush, but only for a second, then charged again.

The first, the one at which Hugh had fired came sailing through the air as if driven by a spring, For a horrid instant Laurie believed it would reach Hassan. But it felt short and landed on the elephant's head, just below the eyes, where it clung, driving its gigantic claws deep into the thick grey hide, and biting savagely with its terrible yellows fangs.

The elephant, trumpeting with agony, plunged furiously. From beneath its vast front feet came a hoarse roar as the second tiger was crushed beneath the creatures tremendous weight.

Plunge as it might, the elephant could not shake off the first tiger, which clung like a limpet. It was an enormous brute, nearly ten feet from nose to tail, and must have weighed over four hundred pounds.

The worst of it was that neither of the boys could reach it with their rifles. It was too low down, and was shielded from them not only by Hassan, but by the whole bulk of the elephant's head.

The elephant, mad with pain, and unable to use its trunk, stopped short, and suddenly dropped upon its knees. Its object was to force the tiger to the ground and pin it with its tusks.

"Hang on!" yelled Laurie. It was too late,

He, Hugh, and Hassan were all shot head foremost out of the howdah.

Laurie actually hit the tiger in his fall. He bounced off its back and landed in a tuft of thick grass. As he struggled to his feet he heard a fearful crashing, and scrambled to his feet just in time to see the elephant turn and bolt like a mad thing through the jungle.

The elephant had got rid of the tiger. That much he could see. But where was the tiger itself? The brute was nowhere to be seen. Hugh lay where he had fallen, flat on his face. He was hurt, or at any rate stunned. As for Hassan, he was just picking himself up.

"Where's the tiger, Hassan?" cried Laurie.

"In the grass, sahib. He watches us. We are all dead men."

"Not yet," replied Laurie. "See to the Sahib Hugh."

As he spoke he was quickly examining his rifle. To his great relief it had taken no harm in the fall. He stepped quickly in front of Hugh and waited.

The tiger, he knew, was wounded. A wounded tiger often charges as this one had, but if foiled, generally makes off. Hugh was divided between hopes that it had, and fears that, in that case, they would not be able to kill it. Hugh had laughed at the Rajah's warning, but Laurie himself had a shrewd idea that the High Priest would have something to say about it if they failed to bring back the man-eater's body.

For a few moments there was absolute silence. Strain his eyes as he might, he could see nothing of the tiger, yet, like Hassan, he had a horrid feeling that the brute was watching him.

"Behind! Look behind!" shrieked Hassan suddenly.

Laurie spun round just in time to see the grass part and the great striped beast flashing towards him with the speed of a thunderbolt. The tiger, with almost human cunning, had slipped round behind and charged from the rear.

There was no time to take aim. He fired, and at the same moment the monstrous beast was on top of him. He was knocked flat on the ground and crushed under the tiger's great weight.

Even so, he managed to hold on to his rifle, and as the slavering jaws opened wide to seize him, he managed to thrust the barrel crossways between them.

He heard the huge fangs crunch against the steel barrel, and for a moment actually succeeded in holding the monster at arm's length.

Then the tiger flung up its head, wrenching the rifle from his grip. As in a dream, he saw the flaming eyes close to his own. Then at the moment, when hope was gone, came the crash of a rifle, and the tiger, with half his head blown away, rolled over sideways, and lay kicking in the agonies of death.

"Well done, Hassan!" gasped Laurie, trying to struggle up. But his head spun and he dropped back.

The pleasant feel of cold water on his face was the next thing he knew. He opened his eyes.

"Praise Allah, the sahib lives!" he heard Hassan say. The good fellow was bending over him, and all around stood the beaters who, now that the tigers were dead, had gained courage to approach.

"I'm very much alive, thank you, Hassan," replied Laurie. "How is the Sahib Hugh?"

"Right as rain," came Hugh's cheerful voice. "It's all over, Laurie. Both the tigers are cold beef; they've caught our elephant, and nothing remains but the triumphal return to Janpur.

"Not much triumph about it, I fancy." replied Laurie dryly. "Not so long as friend Rukini is on deck."

"So think I, sahib," agreed Hassan earnestly. "It will be well to send the tigers on to the Rajah, and ourselves to wait a little outside the town."

Laurie shrugged his shoulders, "You were right last night, Hassan, so this time I think we will take your advice. Load up, then, and let's get along."

They were still more than a mile from Janpur when the Rajah himself came riding out to meet them. He stared a moment at the two tigers, then turned to the boys.

"I congratulate you," he said quietly. "You have done well."

He paused a moment.

"It will be wise," he continued significantly, "that you should return at once to your home. My men will guide you by a path across the hills. Farewell."

He spoke a few words to the head beaters, then, with a wave of his hand, turned and rode away.

"It is as I said," remarked Hassan, as the elephant was headed towards the hills. "He fears the priests."

Laurie looked thoughtful.

"Strikes me we're well out of an ugly mess, Hugh," he said. "What do you think?"

"I think it's the last time I visit Janpur," replied Hugh, and for once he spoke quite gravely. "I've seen enough of Rukini and his unpleasant idol to last me a lifetime."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.