Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
VI INHABITANTS OF THE JUNGLE
"At this, O'Donnell, I turned cold. I had lived long in India. I had seen their so-called juggling, had experienced also strange cases of telepathy, and knew quite sufficient of their intimacy with the supernatural elements to be afraid.
"'You must keep the young sahib safe,' Cushai said, 'and the white lady. I wish it hadn't been Nahra.'
"I took his advice. My boy, Eric, was more closely supervised than ever, and as to my wife, I begged and entreated her not to move from the house until the tiger was dead, and I searched for it everywhere.
"The dry season passed, the wet came, and my work still kept me in Seconee. At times there came to us rumours of the man-eater--of another victim--but it never visited our bungalow, where the bright rifle leaned against the wall waiting for it.
"I certainly did meet with slight misfortunes, which the more timid might have put down to the working of the curse.
"My little finger was squashed in the laying down of a rail, and Eric had several bouts of sickness.
"It was nearly a year after the leper's death that alarming rumours of a man-eater having been at work again were spread about us. Several niggers were carried off or badly bitten, and the wounded showed symptoms of the loathsome disease so well known and feared by us all--leprosy.
"I knew from that it must be the same tiger.
"'The tiger is near,' someone would cry out, and a stampede among the native workmen would ensue.
"'Why the white tiger?' I asked Cushai.
"'Because, sahib,' he replied, 'the leprosy has made it so! Tigers, like men, and all other animals, go white even to their hair. I have not told them the story, sahib; they only know it must have caught the leprosy. To them Nahra is still living.'
"Then, O'Donnell, when I thought of what was at stake, and of all the hideous possibilities the presence of this brute created, I took my rifle and went out to search for it. In the evenings, when the dark clouds from the mountains descended and the wind hissed through the jungle grass, I plodded along with no other companion than my Winchester repeater--searching, always searching for the damned tiger. I found it, O'Donnell, came upon it just as it was in the midst of a meal--dining off a native--and I shot it twice before it recovered from its astonishment at seeing me. The second shot took effect--I can swear to that, for I took particular note of the red splash of blood on its forehead where the bullet entered, and I went right up to it to make sure. As God is above us, no animal was more dead.
"'The curse won't come now, Cushai,' I said, laughing. 'I've killed the white tiger.'
"'Killed the white tiger, sahib! Allah bless you for that!' Cushai replied.
"'But don't laugh too soon. Nahra was a clever man, wonderfully clever; he did not speak empty words,' and as his eyes wandered to the dark hills again I fancied a shadow darted along the sky, and the curse came back to my ears.
"I was superintending the line one afternoon; the backs of the niggers were bending double under the burden of the great iron rods when I heard a terrible cry.
"'The white tiger! the white tiger!' Rods fell with a crash, spades followed suit, a chorus of shrieks filled the air, and legs scampered off in all directions. I was fifty yards from my rifle, and a huge creature was slowly approaching between it and me.
"I could hardly believe my eyes--the white tiger, the tiger I knew I had killed! Here it was! Here before me! The same in every detail, and yet in some strange, indefinable manner not the same. On it came, a huge patch of luminous white, noiselessly, stealthily--the mark of the bullet plainly visible on its big, flat forehead. Step by step it approached me, its paws no longer with the colouring of health, but dull and worn. And as it came, the cold shadow of desolation seemed to fall around it. Nothing stirred; there was no noise whatever, not even the sound of its feet crushing the loosened soil. On, on, on nearer, nearer and nearer.
"Shunned by all, avoided by its fellow-creatures of the jungle, a blight to all and everything, it drew in a line with me. Not once did its eyes meet mine, O'Donnell; not once did it glare at the natives who were hiding on the banks of the cutting; but it stole silently on its way with a something in its movements that left no doubt but that it was engaged in no casual venture. I remembered, O'Donnell, that my wife had promised to come with Eric to meet me along the cutting, as she was sure no tiger would be there. I ran as fast as I could, and yet somehow my feet seemed weighted down. I cursed my folly for not forbidding my wife to come.