Bengal Dacoits and Tigers/Tiger Stories/The Bearer's Fate
THE BEARER'S FATE
Mr. Gupta, a Bengali gentleman, was a skilled engineer. The Government thought highly of him and whenever any work of special difficulty had to be undertaken, always chose him.
At one time he was stationed at Hazaribagh. This district is even now infested with tigers, and in those far-off days these lords of the jungle roamed far and wide.
There was then no railway. Travelling was done by palki or by "push-push"—a box-like carriage on four wheels, in which the traveller was forced to recline, and which relays of coolies pushed before them. The roads were often mere tracks through dense forest.
It happened that Mr. Gupta was ordered to report on some important work a few miles away. His devoted wife carefully packed his luggage. They were a happy couple and each short parting was a pain in their lives. A trustworthy old servant always accompanied his master to camp. But to-day to his mistress' surprise he begged not to go.
When Gupta came in, his wife told him of the man's unwillingness to accompany him.
"Nonsense!" said Gupta, "he will have to go. What has happened to him?"
"I think he is ill" the wife excusingly replied, her tender heart full of the man's wistful face and strange manner. Still she agreed with her husband and told the bearer, he must go with his master.
"Forgive me, I have high fever, Ma-ji," he shivered, addressing her by the honoured name of mother, as is the custom of Indian servants in an Indian household.
She turned again to her husband who said: "I know what is in the poor old fellow's mind. He has an idea he will be killed by a tiger. However, tell him there is no danger. I am taking a large number of bearers and he can keep near the palki."
Mrs. Gupta tried to cheer the servant with this information but he wailed: "Ma-ji, I am afraid. Surely a tiger will kill me to-night."
"Do not fear," consoled the kind lady. "Your master will take good care of you. Go you must," she continued in a firm tone. "There is no one except you who knows his ways and can see to his comfort. Now get ready quickly."
"Oh, Ma-ji," he sobbed like a child, "I obey, but my heart is heavy."
Mr. Gupta had to travel through the night. After an early dinner he started, attended by many palki-bearers and the old servant. The moon rose bright and glorious and bathed the picturesque country in soft radiance. The silence of the forest was broken only by the rhythmic cries of the bearers and the pat-pat of their feet. The first stream was reached and the bearers asked for a halt. Consent granted, they went into the stream to drink of the deeper water. The old servant crouched by the palki.
"Thirstest not?" kindly asked his master.
"Babu-ji, I feel nervous. I will stay near you."
Gupta wondered what might have unstrung the man, and felt sorry for him. "Come and sit close to me," he said.
The night was cold and the old bearer, huddled in his blanket, sat on the edge of the palki door.
Suddenly the stillness of the night was broken by a rapid crash through the dry grass near the palki, and with a thrilling roar a tiger leapt at the man and dragged him away. The palki shook, and the bearer's piteous cry "Babu-ji, Babu-ji, I told you" filled the forest, and echoed and echoed again as the tiger bore him away. Then all became still.
Gupta realised what had happened. He lay back sick with horror, and felt as if he were the guilty one. For many a day the old man's dying wail rang in his ears.