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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

A   HERMIT   IN   THE   HIMALAYAS

opens to my room. They bare their teeth in a snarl of defiant rage;
their cat-like ears are drawn back in fierce alertness; whilst their
scimitar-like ivory claws protrude as though ready for a fight.

But these splendidly-coloured creatures will spring upon no one,
so well have they been trained by the taxidermist's art to behave
themselves and keep quiet! For they arc now but mere fleshless
skins and nerveless heads, sprawling against a white wall in sheer
helplessness.

This black-striped family consists of a handsome father, spitfire
of a mother, two sons and one daughter. The male skin measures no
less than ten feet in length, its head alone being a foot and a quarter.
Alive and filled, it probably weighed over six hundred pounds; dead
and empty, it has been reduced to much less than a tenth of that
amount. Yet its beauty and majesty still remain. Nature has thought-
fully provided these mountain tigers with thicker fur coats than their
relatives of the low-lying plains, I observe. All the family were shot
upon the mountain slopes around Pratapnagar some years ago. But
now tigers have ceased to trouble the vicinity, whose chief forest
population are shaggy black and brown bears, leopards, and those
fierce creatures, black-spotted panthers. The prevalence of these
animals constitutes such a nuisance that I have been warned from
the first morning not to venture out after dark.

The caretaker tells me that a panther once leapt on this peaceful
green lawn which stretches around the house and, in broad daylight,
attacked three dogs which were dozing in the sunshine. It killed two
and dragged the third away into the adjoining forest before it could
be rescued*

Even bears came waddling out of their dens grunting and roam-
ing to the very doors after nightfall, searching the garden for tasty
roots, or attempting to climb the apple-trees. Every night, soon after
I have ensconced myself between the blankets, and sometimes much
later, I hear a couple of shots being fired by one of the soldiers who
guards the palace and its gardens. The sounds are signals of Brer
Bruin's prowling habits, which he cannot change even despite these
regular and unfailing deterrent warnings.

In a tiny hamlet a few miles from my former home I had been
told of a villager there who had been killed during the winter by a
bear. This was most unusual, because bears do not seek to kill but to
wound their victims. That unpleasant trait renders them the most
vicious of all forest animals. Other beasts attack and kill human
beings when driven by the natural hunger for food, but the bear
attacks men out of sheer spite and malice and then shambles off
again. It cannot bite them successfully because it lacks carnivores, so
it claws them instead.
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