Colonel Rana switched on the light. There was, of course, nothing. Considering the open jeep, this was probably just as well. "That's that," the colonel said. It certainly was. He flashed the light down the trail. To my surprise, another light winked back. We had not been alone. Two trucks and a dozen soldiers had followed us.
It seemed hopeless, but I tried again to explain that the call would only work, if it worked at all, when there was no noise, no army and no disturbance in the area. Naturally there also had to be an animal within hearing distance. The colonel rather sadly agreed to give it another try the next night. He even arranged for a blind to be built early that morning. It was about 15 feet up in a tree, above a clearing surrounded on three sides by a stream and beyond that by thick jungle. The area was perfect. We reached the blind at dusk, then sent the elephants and the mahouts back to camp. I had invited the ambassador and his wife to join the colonel and me. There were just the four of us. I explained the rules again. We waited a full half hour for the area to settle down. Then I began the long call. High, rending screams filled the air, conjuring eerie images. The call ended with a piercing wail. Nobody moved.
Then, unmistakable in the jungle still, a tiger answered. Its roar rolled out of the night, frightening, formidable. I put the close call between my teeth and began the pitiful, mournful moans of a dying animal. The tiger roared again. The sound echoed through the darkness, closer now. The tiger was moving toward us. I continued to call. The tiger growled, I could not tell if in anger or interest. Still it came, moving faster. I raised my rifle and realized with surprise that my hands were shaking. I seemed to be trembling all over. My heart was pounding harder and harder. I thought it might explode. I could hardly continue to blow the call. The chattering of my teeth produced only weak, erratic whimpers. Still, the tiger came.
We heard the faint movement of bush—very close now—then a splash. The tiger was crossing the stream. I stood transfixed. The tiger climbed from the stream up onto the bank. In the moon-glow its great feline shape was clearly visible. It stopped in the clearing beneath us and stood looking up, not 25 feet away. It was the biggest tiger I had ever seen. The ambassador nudged me with his elbow. The colonel tapped my shoulder inquiringly, waiting for the signal to turn on the light. Mrs. L�er was apoplectic.
"There, there!" she whispered. "Can't you see the tiger! It is a tiger! The tiger is there!"
Seeing the tiger was not my problem. I was quivering from head to toe. If I had raised the rifle an inch farther I would have dropped it over the side. We stood, the tiger and I, facing each other as if hypnotized. Then, leisurely, gracefully, with what for it was doubtless a shrug of its great shoulders, it turned and padded softly into the night. Long after it was gone from sight, I could hear its puzzled, curious growl.
The clang of a bullock's bell broke the spell. I snapped back to reality. My companions were beside themselves. Why hadn't I fired? Why had I waited? What had happened?
It would be a long time before I could explain, even to myself, what had happened. For the first time in my life I had been utterly overwhelmed by the game. There was no question of fear or danger. This was a case of enthralling, overpowering excitement. I had been totally unprepared for the instant, awesome answer to my call. The speed and determination with which the tiger had come to it were beyond belief. The thrill of luring in such a spectacular wild creature had frozen me. I had suffered a classic case of buck fever. The talk that evening was of nothing else. Around Their Majesties' campfire the story was told and retold. My reputation as a hunter may have suffered somewhat, but my reputation as an animal caller was definitely made. His Majesty could not wait to hear the calls himself. Only one evening remained of the shikar. We would spend it calling tigers. "Do not forget to bring the calls tomorrow," His Majesty reminded me for the dozenth time as we said goodnight.
Of the various formalities of the royal shikar, goodnights were trickiest. A definite etiquette was involved. At the end of the evening's festivities, the King would rise. This was the signal for Ambassador and Mrs. L�er, and for me, to take leave of the royal party. The order of leave-taking was strictly defined. First we shook hands with the King, then with the Queen, then with the Crown Prince, then with Prince Himalaya, then with Princess Princep, then with the commander in chief of the army, and finally with the commander's wife, Rani. Protocol further dictated that our backs should not be turned at any time to the King, the Queen or the Crown Prince. This in itself would not have been a problem except for the fact that the men always stood on one side of the fire and the women on the other. I can only assume that I had not recovered from my encounter with the tiger, but that night the complexities of leave-taking got the better of me.
In backing from the King, my high heel sank into a hole in the soft earth. Off balance, I lurched against the Queen. Mumbling mortified apologies, I then backed squarely into a table. It tipped in a crash of coffee cups. Completely flustered now, I stammered through the final farewells and stumbled, blind with embarrassment, toward the exit to my tent. At first I did not even hear the startled gasps that followed. Then in horror I realized that I was heading not for my tent but for Their Majesties'. Above the laughter, the King reminded me again to bring the calls.