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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

An Encounter with a Panther—The Problem of Natures Cruelty*

RAMBLING through the forest this afternoon, when only about
fifteen minutes distant on the homeward journey to my bungalow,
I am reminded of a thing one is often likely to forget amid the
resplendent beauties of this region—the fact that wild animals
abound in this isolated kingdom. My gaze wanders aimlessly
forwards towards my right hand when an unusual glint of colour
in the afternoon sunlight stops me. Half hidden in a leafy tree I
perceive a panther in an extraordinary situation. It lies along the
fork between two horizontal boughs at a distance of about a dozen
yards from the ground. The rounded head rests between the fore-
paws and the spotted furry coat is stretched out almost full length.

The beast is sound asleep.

The mid-day sun, pouring its vertical rays upon the earth,
has kindled a sultry heat which has caught the creature in a lethargic
mood and sent it off into somnolence. No other explanation can I
find for its exceptionally exposed position. Its presence up the
tree is also explicable without difficulty. The ravines close by have
plenty of panther lairs in their keeping. Generally the beasts come
out at night, their eyes having become supcraormally sharp through
constant activity in the dark. This particular animal has wandered
out at an unusual hour. Of all the forest animals, the panther is the
quietest; walking very slowly and stealthily, its soft paws make no
sound. Evidently to avoid disturbing a prey prematurely, it has
climbed this tree and perched itself among die branches, where it
may watch the surrounding area more intently and yet remain
hidden from an intended victim on which, at the psychological
moment, it will pounce.

My own position is unusual too. I am tired and want to get home
as quickly as possible. Yet, if I advance forward I must pass the
tree whereon the panther is sleeping and probably awaken it. I am in
no mind to turn backwards, much less to tarry where I am* My
armament for defence consists only of a short light bamboo cane
which I have picked up en route. It is about as useful in the circum-
stances as a matchstick.

There is nothing left to do but to advance, so I step gingerly
forward almost on tiptoe. My caution proves useless. In the alent
forest even the slightest noise is magnified. One is alert to the rustle

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