Like long curved needles threading through embroidery, the two
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canoes that carried Flory and Elizabeth threaded their way up the
creek that led inland from the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy. It
was the day of the shooting trip--a short afternoon trip, for they
could not stay a night in the jungle together. They were to shoot
for a couple of hours in the comparative cool of the evening, and
be back at Kyauktada in time for dinner.
The canoes, each hollowed out of a single tree-trunk, glided
swiftly, hardly rippling the dark brown water. Water hyacinth with
profuse spongy foliage and blue flowers had choked the stream so
that the channel was only a winding ribbon four feet wide. The
light filtered, greenish, through interlacing boughs. Sometimes
one could hear parrots scream overhead, but no wild creatures
showed themselves, except once a snake that swam hurriedly away and
disappeared among the water hyacinth.
'How long before we get to the village?' Elizabeth called back to
Flory. He was in a larger canoe behind, together with Flo and Ko
S'la, paddled by a wrinkly old woman dressed in rags.
'How far, grandmama?' Flory asked the canoe-woman.
The old woman took her cigar out of her mouth and rested her paddle
on her knees to think. 'The distance a man can shout,' she said
'About half a mile,' Flory translated.
They had come two miles. Elizabeth's back was aching. The canoes
were liable to upset at a careless moment, and you had to sit bolt
upright on the narrow backless seat, keeping your feet as well as
possible out of the bilge, with dead prawns in it, that sagged to
and fro at the bottom. The Burman who paddled Elizabeth was sixty
years old, half naked, leaf-brown, with a body as perfect as that
of a young man. His face was battered, gentle and humorous. His
black cloud of hair, finer than that of most Burmans, was knotted
loosely over one ear, with a wisp or two tumbling across his cheek.
Elizabeth was nursing her uncle's gun across her knees. Flory had
offered to take it, but she had refused; in reality, the feel of it
delighted her so much that she could not bring herself to give it
up. She had never had a gun in her hand until today. She was
wearing a rough skirt with brogue shoes and a silk shirt like a
man's, and she knew that with her Terai hat they looked well on
her. She was very happy, in spite of her aching back and the hot
sweat that tickled her face, and the large, speckled mosquitoes
that hummed round her ankles.
The stream narrowed and the beds of water hyacinth gave place to
steep banks of glistening mud, like chocolate. Rickety thatched
huts leaned far out over the stream, their piles driven into its
bed. A naked boy was standing between two of the huts, flying a
green beetle on a piece of thread like a kite. He yelled at the
sight of the Europeans, whereat more children appeared from
nowhere. The old Burman guided the canoe to a jetty made of a
single palm-trunk laid in the mud--it was covered with barnacles
and so gave foothold--and sprang out and helped Elizabeth ashore.
The others followed with the bags and cartridges, and Flo, as she
always did on these occasions, fell into the mud and sank as deep
as the shoulder. A skinny old gentleman wearing a magenta paso,
with a mole on his cheek from which four yard-long grey hairs
sprouted, came forward shikoing and cuffing the heads of the
children who had gathered round the jetty.
'The village headman,' Flory said.
The old man led the way to his house, walking ahead with an
extraordinary crouching gait, like a letter L upside down--the
result of rheumatism combined with the constant shikoing needed in
a minor Government official. A mob of children marched rapidly
after the Europeans, and more and more dogs, all yapping and
causing Flo to shrink against Flory's heels. In the doorway of
every hut clusters of moonlike, rustic faces gaped at the
'Ingaleikma'. The village was darkish under the shade of broad
leaves. In the rains the creek would flood, turning the lower
parts of the village into a squalid wooden Venice where the
villagers stepped from their front doors into their canoes.
The headman's house was a little bigger than the others, and it had
a corrugated iron roof, which, in spite of the intolerable din it
made during the rains, was the pride of the headman's life. He had
foregone the building of a pagoda, and appreciably lessened his
chances of Nirvana, to pay for it. He hastened up the steps and
gently kicked in the ribs a youth who was lying asleep on the
veranda. Then he turned and shikoed again to the Europeans, asking
them to come inside.
'Shall we go in?' Flory said. 'I expect we shall have to wait half
'Couldn't you tell him to bring some chairs out on the veranda?'
Elizabeth said. After her experience in Li Yeik's house she had
privately decided that she would never go inside a native house
again, if she could help it.
There was a fuss inside the house, and the headman, the youth and
some women dragged forth two chairs decorated in an extraordinary
manner with red hibiscus flowers, and also some begonias growing in
kerosene tins. It was evident that a sort of double throne had
been prepared within for the Europeans. When Elizabeth had sat
down the headman reappeared with a teapot, a bunch of very long,
bright green bananas, and six coal-black cheroots. But when he had
poured her out a cup of tea Elizabeth shook her head, for the tea
looked, if possible, worse even than Li Yeik's.
The headman looked abashed and rubbed his nose. He turned to Flory
and asked him whether the young thakin-ma would like some milk in
her tea. He had heard that Europeans drank milk in their tea. The
villages should, if it were desired, catch a cow and milk it.
However, Elizabeth still refused the tea; but she was thirsty, and
she asked Flory to send for one of the bottles of soda-water that
Ko S'la had brought in his bag. Seeing this, the headman retired,
feeling guiltily that his preparations had been insufficient, and
left the veranda to the Europeans.
Elizabeth was still nursing her gun on her knees, while Flory
leaned against the veranda rail pretending to smoke one of the
headman's cheroots. Elizabeth was pining for the shooting to
begin. She plied Flory with innumerable questions.
'How soon can we start out? Do you think we've got enough
cartridges? How many beaters shall we take? Oh, I do so hope we
have some luck! You do think we'll get something, don't you?'
'Nothing wonderful, probably. We're bound to get a few pigeons,
and perhaps jungle fowl. They're out of season, but it doesn't
matter shooting the cocks. They say there's a leopard round here,
that killed a bullock almost in the village last week.'
'Oh, a leopard! How lovely if we could shoot it!'
'It's very unlikely, I'm afraid. The only rule with this shooting
in Burma is to hope for nothing. It's invariably disappointing.
The jungles teem with game, but as often as not you don't even get
a chance to fire your gun.'
'Why is that?'
'The jungle is so thick. An animal may be five yards away and
quite invisible, and half the time they manage to dodge back past
the beaters. Even when you see them it's only for a flash of a
second. And again, there's water everywhere, so that no animal is
tied down to one particular spot. A tiger, for instance, will roam
hundreds of miles if it suits him. And with all the game there is,
they need never come back to a kill if there's anything suspicious
about it. Night after night, when I was a boy, I've sat up over
horrible stinking dead cows, waiting for tigers that never came.'
Elizabeth wriggled her shoulder-blades against the chair. It was a
movement that she made sometimes when she was deeply pleased. She
loved Flory, really loved him, when he talked like this. The most
trivial scrap of information about shooting thrilled her. If only
he would always talk about shooting, instead of about books and Art
and that mucky poetry! In a sudden burst of admiration she decided
that Flory was really quite a handsome man, in his way. He looked
so splendidly manly, with his pagri-cloth shirt open at the throat,
and his shorts and puttees and shooting boots! And his face,
lined, sunburned, like a soldier's face. He was standing with his
birthmarked cheek away from her. She pressed him to go on talking.
'DO tell me some more about tiger-shooting. It's so awfully
He described the shooting, years ago, of a mangy old man-eater who
had killed one of his coolies. The wait in the mosquito-ridden
machan; the tiger's eyes approaching through the dark jungle, like
great green lanterns; the panting, slobbering noise as he devoured
the coolie's body, tied to a stake below. Flory told it all
perfunctorily enough--did not the proverbial Anglo Indian bore
always talk about tiger-shooting?--but Elizabeth wriggled her
shoulders delightedly once more. He did not realize how such talk
as this reassured her and made up for all the times when he had
bored her and disquieted her. Six shock-headed youths came down
the path, carrying dahs over their shoulders, and headed by a
stringy but active old man with grey hair. They halted in front of
the headman's house, and one of them uttered a hoarse whoop,
whereat the headman appeared and explained that these were the
beaters. They were ready to start now, if the young thakin-ma did
not find it too hot.
They set out. The side of the village away from the creek was
protected by a hedge of cactus six feet high and twelve thick.
One went up a narrow lane of cactus, then along a rutted, dusty
bullock-cart track, with bamboos as tall as flagstaffs growing
densely on either side. The beaters marched rapidly ahead in
single file, each with his broad dah laid along his forearm. The
old hunter was marching just in front of Elizabeth. His longyi was
hitched up like a loin-cloth, and his meagre thighs were tattooed
with dark blue patterns, so intricate that he might have been
wearing drawers of blue lace. A bamboo the thickness of a man's
wrist had fallen and hung across the path. The leading beater
severed it with an upward flick of his dah; the prisoned water
gushed out of it with a diamond-flash. After half a mile they
reached the open fields, and everyone was sweating, for they had
walked fast and the sun was savage.
'That's where we're going to shoot, over there,' Flory said.
He pointed across the stubble, a wide dust-coloured plain, cut up
into patches of an acre or two by mud boundaries. It was horribly
flat, and lifeless save for the snowy egrets. At the far edge a
jungle of great trees rose abruptly, like a dark green cliff. The
beaters had gone across to a small tree like a hawthorn twenty
yards away. One of them was on his knees, shikoing to the tree and
gabbling, while the old hunter poured a bottle of some cloudy
liquid on to the ground. The others stood looking on with serious,
bored faces, like men in church.
'What ARE those men doing?' Elizabeth said.
'Only sacrificing to the local gods. Nats, they call them--a kind
of dryad. They're praying to him to bring us good luck.'
The hunter came back and in a cracked voice explained that they
were to beat a small patch of scrub over to the right before
proceeding to the main jungle. Apparently the Nat had counselled
this. The hunter directed Flory and Elizabeth where to stand,
pointing with his dah. The six beaters, plunged into the scrub;
they would make a detour and beat back towards the paddy-fields.
There were some bushes of the wild rose thirty yards from the
jungle's edge, and Flory and Elizabeth took cover behind one of
these, while Ko S'la squatted down behind another bush a little
distance away, holding Flo's collar and stroking her to keep her
quiet. Flory always sent Ko S'la to a distance when he was
shooting, for he had an irritating trick of clicking his tongue if
a shot was missed. Presently there was a far-off echoing sound--a
sound of tapping and strange hollow cries; the beat had started.
Elizabeth at once began trembling so uncontrollably that she could
not keep her gun-barrel still. A wonderful bird, a little bigger
than a thrush, with grey wings and body of blazing scarlet, broke
from the trees and came towards them with a dipping flight. The
tapping and the cries came nearer. One of the bushes at the
jungle's edge waved violently--some large animal was emerging.
Elizabeth raised her gun and tried to steady it. But it was only a
naked yellow beater, dah in hand. He saw that he had emerged and
shouted to the others to join him.
Elizabeth lowered her gun. 'What's happened?'
'Nothing. The beat's over.'
'So there was nothing there!' she cried in bitter disappointment.
'Never mind, one never gets anything the first beat. We'll have
better luck next time.'
They crossed the lumpy stubble, climbing over the mud boundaries
that divided the fields, and took up their position opposite the
high green wall of the jungle. Elizabeth had already learned how
to load her gun. This time the beat had hardly started when Ko
S'la whistled sharply.
'Look out!' Flory cried. 'Quick, here they come!'
A flight of green pigeons were dashing towards them at incredible
speed, forty yards up. They were like a handful of catapulted
stones whirling through the sky. Elizabeth was helpless with
excitement. For a moment she could not move, then she flung her
barrel into the air, somewhere in the direction of the birds, and
tugged violently at the trigger. Nothing happened--she was pulling
at the trigger-guard. Just as the birds passed overhead she found
the triggers and pulled both of them simultaneously. There was a
deafening roar and she was thrown backwards a pace with her collar-
bone almost broken. She had fired thirty yards behind the birds.
At the same moment she saw Flory turn and level his gun. Two of
the pigeons, suddenly checked in their flight, swirled over and
dropped to the ground like arrows. Ko S'la yelled, and he and Flo
raced after them.
'Look out!' said Flory, 'here's an imperial pigeon. Let's have
A large heavy bird, with flight much slower than the others, was
flapping overhead. Elizabeth did not care to fire after her
previous failure. She watched Flory thrust a cartridge into the
breech and raise his gun, and the white plume of smoke leapt up
from the muzzle. The bird planed heavily down, his wing broken.
Flo and Ko S'la came running excitedly up, Flo with the big
imperial pigeon in her mouth, and Ko S'la grinning and producing
two green pigeons from his Kachin bag.
Flory took one of the little green corpses to show to Elizabeth.
'Look at it. Aren't they lovely things? The most beautiful bird
Elizabeth touched its smooth feathers with her finger-tip. It
filled her with bitter envy, because she had not shot it. And yet
it was curious, but she felt almost an adoration for Flory now that
she had seen how he could shoot.
'Just look at its breast-feathers; like a jewel. It's murder to
shoot them. The Burmese say that when you kill one of these birds
they vomit, meaning to say, "Look, here is all I possess, and I've
taken nothing of yours. Why do you kill me?" I've never seen one
do it, I must admit.'
'Are they good to eat?'
'Very. Even so, I always feel it's a shame to kill them.'
'I wish I could do it like you do!' she said enviously.
'It's only a knack, you'll soon pick it up. You know how to hold
your gun, and that's more than most people do when they start.'
However, at the next two beats, Elizabeth could hit nothing. She
had learned not to fire both barrels at once, but she was too
paralysed with excitement ever to take aim. Flory shot several
more pigeons, and a small bronze-wing dove with back as green as
verdigris. The jungle fowl were too cunning to show themselves,
though one could hear them cluck-clucking all round, and once or
twice the sharp trumpet-call of a cock. They were getting deeper
into the jungle now. The light was greyish, with dazzling patches
of sunlight. Whichever way one looked one's view was shut in by
the multitudinous ranks of trees, and the tangled bushes and
creepers that struggled round their bases like the sea round the
piles of a pier. It was so dense, like a bramble bush extending
mile after mile, that one's eyes were oppressed by it. Some of the
creepers were huge, like serpents. Flory and Elizabeth struggled
along narrow game-tracks, up slippery banks, thorns tearing at
their clothes. Both their shirts were drenched with sweat. It was
stifling hot, with a scent of crushed leaves. Sometimes for
minutes together invisible cidadas would keep up a shrill, metallic
pinging like the twanging of a steel guitar, and then, by stopping,
make a silence that startled one.
As they were walking to the fifth beat they came to a great peepul
tree in which, high up, one could hear imperial pigeons cooing. It
was a sound like the far-off lowing of cows. One bird fluttered
out and perched alone on the topmost bough, a small greyish shape.
'Try a sitting shot,' Flory said to Elizabeth. 'Get your sight on
him and pull off without waiting. Don't shut your left eye.'
Elizabeth raised her gun, which had begun trembling as usual. The
beaters halted in a group to watch, and some of them could not
refrain from clicking their tongues; they thought it queer and
rather shocking to see a woman handle a gun. With a violent effort
of will Elizabeth kept her gun still for a second, and pulled the
trigger. She did not hear the shot; one never does when it has
gone home. The bird seemed to jump upwards from the bough, then
down it came, tumbling over and over, and stuck in a fork ten yards
up. One of the beaters laid down his dah and glanced appraisingly
at the tree; then he walked to a great creeper, thick as a man's
thigh and twisted like a stick of barley sugar, that hung far out
from a bough. He ran up the creeper as easily as though it had
been a ladder, walked upright along the broad bough, and brought
the pigeon to the ground. He put it limp and warm into Elizabeth's
She could hardly give it up, the feel of it so ravished her. She
could have kissed it, hugged it to her breast. All the men, Flory
and Ko S'la and the beaters, smiled at one another to see her
fondling the dead bird. Reluctantly, she gave it to Ko S'la to put
in the bag. She was conscious of an extraordinary desire to fling
her arms round Flory's neck and kiss him; and in some way it was
the killing of the pigeon that made her feel this.
After the fifth beat the hunter explained to Flory that they must
cross a clearing that was used for growing pineapples, and would
beat another patch of jungle beyond. They came out into sunlight,
dazzling after the jungle gloom. The clearing was an oblong of an
acre or two hacked out of the jungle like a patch mown in long
grass, with the pineapples, prickly cactus-like plants, growing in
rows, almost smothered by weeds. A low hedge of thorns divided the
field in the middle. They had nearly crossed the field when there
was a sharp cock-a-doodle-doo from beyond the hedge.
'Oh, listen!' said Elizabeth, stopping. 'Was that a jungle cock?'
'Yes. They come out to feed about this time.'
'Couldn't we go and shoot him?'
'We'll have a try if you like. They're cunning beggars. Look,
we'll stalk up the hedge until we get opposite where he is. We'll
have to go without making a sound.'
He sent Ko S'la and the beaters on, and the two of them skirted the
field and crept along the hedge. They had to bend double to keep
themselves out of sight. Elizabeth was in front. The hot sweat
trickled down her face, tickling her upper lip, and her heart was
knocking violently. She felt Flory touch her heel from behind.
Both of them stood upright and looked over the hedge together.
Ten yards away a little cock the size of a bantam, was pecking
vigorously at the ground. He was beautiful, with his long silky
neck-feathers, bunched comb and arching, laurel-green tail. There
were six hens with him, smaller brown birds, with diamond-shaped
feathers like snake-scales on their backs. All this Elizabeth and
Flory saw in the space of a second, then with a squawk and a whirr
the birds were up and flying like bullets for the jungle. Instantly,
automatically as it seemed, Elizabeth raised her gun and fired. It
was one of those shots where there is no aiming, no consciousness of
the gun in one's hand, when one's mind seems to fly behind the
charge and drive it to the mark. She knew the bird was doomed even
before she pulled the trigger. He tumbled, showered feathers thirty
yards away. 'Good shot, good shot!' cried Flory. In their
excitement both of them dropped their guns, broke through the thorn
hedge and raced side by side to where the bird lay.
'Good shot!' Flory repeated, as excited as she. 'By Jove, I've
never seen anyone kill a flying bird their first day, never! You
got your gun off like lightning. It's marvellous!'
They were kneeling face to face with the dead bird between them.
With a shock they discovered that their hands, his right and her
left, were clasped tightly together. They had run to the place
hand-in-hand without noticing it.
A sudden stillness came on them both, a sense of something
momentous that must happen. Flory reached across and took her
other hand. It came yieldingly, willingly. For a moment they
knelt with their hands clasped together. The sun blazed upon them
and the warmth breathed out of their bodies; they seemed to be
floating upon clouds of heat and joy. He took her by the upper
arms to draw her towards him.
Then suddenly he turned his head away and stood up, pulling
Elizabeth to her feet. He let go of her arms. He had remembered
his birthmark. He dared not do it. Not here, not in daylight!
The snub it invited was too terrible. To cover the awkwardness of
the moment he bent down and picked up the jungle cock.
'It was splendid,' he said. 'You don't need any teaching. You can
shoot already. We'd better get on to the next beat.'
They had just crossed the hedge and picked up their guns when there
was a series of shouts from the edge of the jungle. Two of the
beaters were running towards them with enormous leaps, waving their
arms wildly in the air.
'What is it?' Elizabeth said.
'I don't know. They've seen some animal or other. Something good,
by the look of them.'
'Oh, hurrah! Come on!'
They broke into a run and hurried across the field, breaking
through the pineapples and the stiff prickly weeds. Ko S'la and
five of the beaters were standing in a knot all talking at once,
and the other two were beckoning excitedly to Flory and Elizabeth.
As they came up they saw in the middle of the group an old woman
who was holding up her ragged longyi with one hand and gesticulating
with a big cigar in the other. Elizabeth could hear some word
that sounded like 'Char' repeated over and over again.
'What is it they're saying?' she said.
The beaters came crowding round Flory, all talking eagerly and
pointing into the jungle. After a few questions he waved his hand
to silence them and turned to Elizabeth:
'I say, here's a bit of luck! This old girl was coming through the
jungle, and she says that at the sound of the shot you fired just
now, she saw a leopard run across the path. These fellows know
where he's likely to hide. If we're quick they may be able to
surround him before he sneaks away, and drive him out. Shall we
'Oh, do let's! Oh, what awful fun! How lovely, how lovely if we
could get that leopard!'
'You understand it's dangerous? We'll keep close together and
it'll probably be all right, but it's never absolutely safe on
foot. Are you ready for that?'
'Oh, of course, of course! I'm not frightened. Oh, do let's be
quick and start!'
'One of you come with us, and show us the way,' he said to the
beaters. 'Ko S'la, put Flo on the leash and go with the others.
She'll never keep quiet with us. We'll have to hurry,' he added to
Ko S'la and the beaters hurried off along the edge of the jungle.
They would strike in and begin beating farther up. The other
beater, the same youth who had climbed the tree after the pigeon,
dived into the jungle, Flory and Elizabeth following. With short
rapid steps, almost running, he led them through a labyrinth of
game-tracks. The bushes trailed so low that sometimes one had
almost to crawl, and creepers hung across the path like trip-wires.
The ground was dusty and silent underfoot. At some landmark in the
jungle the beater halted, pointed to the ground as a sign that this
spot would do, and put his finger on his lips to enjoin silence.
Flory took four SG cartridges from his pockets and took Elizabeth's
gun to load it silently.
There was a faint rustling behind them, and they all started. A
nearly naked youth with a pellet-bow, come goodness knows whence,
had parted the bushes. He looked at the beater, shook his head and
pointed up the path. There was a dialogue of signs between the two
youths, then the beater seemed to agree. Without speaking all four
stole forty yards along the path, round a bend, and halted again.
At the same moment a frightful pandemonium of yells, punctuated by
barks from Flo, broke out a few hundred yards away.
Elizabeth felt the beater's hand on her shoulder, pushing her
downwards. They all four squatted down under cover of a prickly
bush, the Europeans in front, the Burmans behind. In the distance
there was such a tumult of yells and the rattle of dahs against
tree-trunks that one could hardly believe six men could make so
much noise. The beaters were taking good care that the leopard
should not turn back upon them. Elizabeth watched some large, pale
yellow ants marching like soldiers over the thorns of the bush.
One fell on to her hand and crawled up her forearm. She dared not
move to brush it away. She was praying silently, 'Please God, let
the leopard come! Oh please, God, let the leopard come!'
There was a sudden loud pattering on the leaves. Elizabeth raised
her gun, but Flory shook his head sharply and pushed the barrel
down again. A jungle fowl scuttled across the path with long noisy
The yells of the beaters seemed hardly to come any closer, and
this end of the jungle the silence was like a pall. The ant on
Elizabeth's arm bit her painfully and dropped to the ground. A
dreadful despair had begun to form in her heart; the leopard was
not coming, he had slipped away somewhere, they had lost him. She
almost wished they had never heard of the leopard, the disappointment
was so agonizing. Then she felt the beater pinch her elbow. He was
craning his face forward, his smooth, dull yellow cheek only a few
inches from her own; she could smell the coco-nut oil in his hair.
His coarse lips were puckered as in a whistle; he had heard
something. Then Flory and Elizabeth heard it too, the faintest
whisper, as though some creature of air were gliding through the
jungle, just brushing the ground with its foot. At the same moment
the leopard's head and shoulders emerged from the undergrowth,
fifteen yards down the path.
He stopped with his forepaws on the path. They could see his low,
flat-eared head, his bare eye-tooth and his thick, terrible
forearm. In the shadow he did not look yellow but grey. He was
listening intently. Elizabeth saw Flory spring to his feet, raise
his gun and pull the trigger instantly. The shot roared, and
almost simultaneously there was a heavy crash as the brute dropped
flat in the weeds. 'Look out!' Flory cried, 'he's not done for!'
He fired again, and there was a fresh thump as the shot went home.
The leopard gasped. Flory threw open his gun and felt in his
pocket for a cartridge, then flung all his cartridges on to the
path and fell on his knees, searching rapidly among them.
'Damn and blast it!' he cried. 'There isn't a single SG among
them. Where in hell did I put them?'
The leopard had disappeared as he fell. He was thrashing about in
the undergrowth like a great, wounded snake, and crying out with a
snarling, sobbing noise, savage and pitiful. The noise seemed to
be coming nearer. Every cartridge Flory turned up had 6 or 8
marked on the end. The rest of the large-shot cartridges had, in
fact, been left with Ko S'la. The crashing and snarling were now
hardly five yards away, but they could see nothing, the jungle was
The two Burmans were crying out 'Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!' The sound
of 'Shoot! Shoot!' got farther away--they were skipping for the
nearest climbable trees. There was a crash in the undergrowth so
close that it shook the bush by which Elizabeth was standing.
'By God, he's almost on us!' Flory said. 'We must turn him
somehow. Let fly at the sound.'
Elizabeth raised her gun. Her knees were knocking like castanets,
but her hand was as steady as stone. She fired rapidly, once,
twice. The crashing noise receded. The leopard was crawling away,
crippled but swift, and still invisible.
'Well done! You've scared him,' Flory said.
'But he's getting away! He's getting away!' Elizabeth cried,
dancing about in agitation. She made to follow him. Flory jumped
to his feet and pulled her back.
'No fear! You stay here. Wait!'
He slipped two of the small-shot cartridges into his gun and ran
after the sound of the leopard. For a moment Elizabeth could not
see either beast or man, then they reappeared in a bare patch
thirty yards away. The leopard was writhing along on his belly,
sobbing as he went. Flory levelled his gun and fired at four
yards' distance. The leopard jumped like a cushion when one hits
it, then rolled over, curled up and lay still. Flory poked the
body with his gun-barrel. It did not stir.
'It's all right, he's done for,' he called. 'Come and have a look
The two Burmans jumped down from their tree, and they and Elizabeth
went across to where Flory was standing. The leopard--it was a
male--was lying curled up with his head between his forepaws. He
looked much smaller than he had looked alive; he looked rather
pathetic, like a dead kitten. Elizabeth's knees were still
quivering. She and Flory stood looking down at the leopard, close
together, but not clasping hands this time.
It was only a moment before Ko S'la and the others came up,
shouting with glee. Flo gave one sniff at the dead leopard, then
down went her tail and she bolted fifty yards, whimpering. She
could not be induced to come near him again. Everyone squatted
down round the leopard and gazed at him. They stroked his
beautiful white belly, soft as a hare's, and squeezed his broad
pugs to bring out the claws, and pulled back his black lips to
examine the fangs. Presently two of the beaters cut down a tall
bamboo and slung the leopard upon it by his paws, with his long
tail trailing down, and then they marched back to the village in
triumph. There was no talk of further shooting, though the light
still held. They were all, including the Europeans, too anxious to
get home and boast of what they had done.
Flory and Elizabeth walked side by side across the stubble field.
The others were thirty yards ahead with the guns and the leopard,
and Flo was slinking after them a long way in the rear. The sun
was going down beyond the Irrawaddy. The light shone level across
the field, gilding the stubble stalks, and striking into their
faces with a yellow, gentle beam. Elizabeth's shoulder was almost
touching Flory's as they walked. The sweat that had drenched their
shirts had dried again. They did not talk much. They were happy
with that inordinate happiness that comes of exhaustion and
achievement, and with which nothing else in life--no joy of either
the body or the mind--is even able to be compared.
'The leopard skin is yours,' Flory said as they approached the
'Oh, but you shot him!'
'Never mind, you stick to the skin. By Jove, I wonder how many of
the women in this country would have kept their heads like you did!
I can just see them screaming and fainting. I'll get the skin
cured for you in Kyauktada jail. There's a convict there who can
cure skins as soft as velvet. He's doing a seven-year sentence, so
he's had time to learn the job.'
'Oh well, thanks awfully.'
No more was said for the present. Later, when they had washed off
the sweat and dirt, and were fed and rested, they would meet again
at the Club. They made no rendezvous, but it was understood
between them that they would meet. Also, it was understood that
Flory would ask Elizabeth to marry him, though nothing was said
about this either.
At the village Flory paid the beaters eight annas each, superintended
the skinning of the leopard, and gave the headman a bottle of beer
and two of the imperial pigeons. The skin and skull were packed
into one of the canoes. All the whiskers had been stolen, in spite
of Ko S'la's efforts to guard them. Some young men of the village
carried off the carcass in order to eat the heart and various other
organs, the eating of which they believed would make them strong and
swift like the leopard.