We came at last to the place where the tiger was believed to be resting. It had eaten well and doubtless slept somewhere nearby. The shikaris had strung a long white sheet about four feet high around the entire area in which the tiger might be, forming a circle almost a mile across. A few elephants already stood just outside the circle. The elephants in our caravan joined them, fanning out so that they completely ringed the cloth circle. The tall grass at one end of the circle had been trampled down in patches. Outside it, three very large elephants stood together. Each had a high wicker howdah on its back.
"They are the shooting elephants," His Majesty said. "They are much taller than the others, to permit a better view into the high grass. They provide good shooting platforms, but they are not good to ride. They do not move quickly and smoothly like the smaller animals."
The King's transportation elephant stopped alongside the largest of the three shooting elephants. He deftly transferred from one to the other, swinging nimbly over the side of the much higher howdah. He moved with the graceful coordination of an athlete. His Majesty then turned and nodded at me. I looked at him blankly. "It is all right," General Molla said. "His Majesty wishes you to shoot with him. Just stand up on your saddle and step over."
His Majesty reached down and helped me into the forward part of the howdah. General Molla climbed into the back. It was a three-seater. The front was about rib height, dropping away at the sides and back to just below the waist. It was partitioned to form a small single bench in back and a wider, double bench in front. There was just enough room for two not very large people to stand or sit shoulder to shoulder. The interior was leather-padded and fitted with holders for shells, glasses, rifles and other hunting equipment. His Majesty's mahouts, both on this and on the smaller elephant, were the only ones who wore special turbans and sashes. The Queen and the three other women transferred to the second howdah. The two princes and the ambassador climbed into the third. We all faced the cleared end of the circle, about a dozen feet apart.
There were five medium size elephants inside the circle. They were the attack, or ring, elephants, the bravest bulls of the herd. Their job was to quarter the grass like a team of spaniels, flushing the tiger toward us. They began at the far side of the circle, working systematically forward, trunks swinging from side to side as they moved.
"Your rifle is loaded?" His Majesty asked.
"The magazine, not the chamber," I replied.
"The chamber is better," the King said. "The tiger will come very fast."
"Do they know there is a tiger in the circle?"
"They know it is very likely. The tiger does not usually travel far after a big meal. They could see the direction of its tracks, and they made the circle wide enough to include all the places where it might have stopped to sleep."