Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
VI INHABITANTS OF THE JUNGLE
"I thought of this, O'Donnell--the beggar might not know the road so well as I. He had no wife, no child; he was a leper, only a leper--and my teeth chattered.
"Here the Colonel paused and wiped his forehead.
"I slackened my speed, the rustling by my side slowing down, and the tapping grew faster. I was close to the whitened road.
"'Sahib, the blessing of Allah be on you for stopping. Sahib, let me walk by your side.'
"(To the end of my days, O'Donnell, I shall never forgive myself, and yet I want you to understand it was for my wife--and child.) I slunk into the shade. Two steps more and the tapping would pass me. The stick struck the ground within one inch of my foot; my heart almost ceased to beat; I gazed in fascination at the spot in the jungle opposite. The heavy rustling had stopped; only the gentle sighing of the wind went on. The two steps were taken, the blind man paused on the cross-roads. He was ghastly in the moonlight. I shuddered. His eyes peered enquiringly round on all sides; he was looking for me; he had lost his way; he feared the tiger.
"Suddenly something huge shot like an arrow from the darkness opposite me. I bowed my head, O'Donnell, and muttered a prayer, for I thought my end had come.
"A terrible scream rang out in the clear night air. I was saved.
"'Allah curse you and yours, sahib.'
"I opened my eyes; an enormous tiger was bending over the leper, searching for the most convenient spot in his body to afford a tight grip.
"The man's sightless eyes were turned towards the moon, his teeth shone white and even; with the striped horror purring in his face, he thought of vengeance on me.
"I dared not move. I could not pass, O'Donnell. I had no gun. The big brute found a nice place to catch hold. It opened its mouth so that I could see its glistening teeth. It looked down at its paws, where the cruel claws glittered, and they seemed to afford it keen satisfaction--it was a tigress and vain--then it lowered its head, and the leper shrieked. I watched it pick him up as if he were one of its cubs; saw the blood trickle down its soft white throat into the dusty road, and then it trotted gracefully away, and was lost in the darkness of the jungle. There was a deathlike silence after this. I waited a few minutes, and then I got up.
"I had only a short distance to go, and I no longer feared the presence of man-eaters--there was not likely to be another. Hours afterwards, O'Donnell, when I lay in my hammock as safe as a fortress, I fancied I heard the dead man's cry, fancied I heard his curse. No one was more devoted to a wife than I was to mine. Ours had been purely a love match, and it was against my wish that she had accompanied me to such an out-of-the-way place as Seconee. I told her about my adventure, suppressing the leper's curse; and I was glad I did so, as she was greatly distressed.
"'Thank goodness you escaped, Charlie,' she said. 'I am so sorry for the poor leper. I suppose you couldn't have helped him.'
"'I might have fetched my rifle,' I replied, 'and tried to rescue him, of course. But I fear it wouldn't have been of much avail, as he would have been badly mauled by then.'
"My wife sighed. 'Ah, well,' she said, 'love is selfish! It makes one forget others. Still, I wouldn't have it otherwise.'
"'I wish this railway job here was over,' I murmured, sitting with my elbows on my knees and looking over the flat ground, sun-baked and barren, away towards the dark jungles and the still darker mountains towering above them; and as I gazed a shadow seemed to blur my vision and a voice to whisper in my ears, 'Beware of my curse.'
"I took Cushai, one of the native servants, into confidence.
"'Now, Cushai,' I said, 'you know all the superstitions of the country--the evil eye and the rest of them. Tell me, what can the dying curse of a leper do?'
"Cushai turned pale under his skin.
"'Not of Nahra!' he stuttered, swinging the knife with which he had been cutting maize in his hand, 'not of Nahra, the leper of Futtebah. Sahib, if you were cursed by him, beware. He was learned in the black arts; he could heal ulcers by repeating a prayer, he could bring on fever.'