All the next morning, generals, colonels and ministers stopped by my tent to repeat the reminder. I did not let the calls out of my sight. After the previous night's performance, I had shattering visions of misplacing them or, worse still, being unable to blow them at all.
For the first time on shikar, the King seemed unusually preoccupied, as if he could not wait for the day to end. He checked his watch with the impatience of a schoolboy waiting for the bell to ring. Since the King went nowhere without at least two platoons of men, I had little faith in repeating my calling of the previous evening. I hoped the King did not expect me to produce a tiger on command. To my amazement, at the end of the day's regular shoot the King sent everyone but the Queen, the Crown Prince, General Molla and me back to camp. The five of us were alone. We had a single jeep.
The plan was to drive to a new blind that was to have been built earlier that day in an area about an hour away. We bounced along a rough forest trail in the gathering evening, exchanging hunting tales like old and comfortable friends. My hope of again calling a tiger grew brighter. Then, in the darkness ahead, we spotted the first hint of trouble. One by one lights came on everywhere. A sentry jumped into our path, poked his head into our jeep, saluted briskly and motioned us on. The sound of hammering floated above the voices of the men. Here and there I caught a glimpse of parked jeeps and trucks. This was no platoon. It was the entire army.
Soldiers escorted us from the jeep down a narrow trail to a clearing. In its center a bullock was tethered to a stake. There were men everywhere. Bright beacons probed the sky like the lights of a Hollywood premi�re.
The Queen began to giggle. We followed her glance to the top of a tall tree. A large, prefabricated metal blind projected from its trunk like an oversized fire escape. It was at least 100 feet above the ground. Workmen were hammering in place numerous sections of the longest ladder I had ever seen. Only a flying tiger could have survived the altitude. The outlook was hopeless. Their Majesties understood this. They were genuinely disappointed, but they wanted to hear the call anyway. The Queen led the way up the swaying ladder.
Eventually the troops left and the jungle grew quiet again. I realized how rarely royalty ever escapes its retinue, and how precious such freedom must be. I have seldom called with so quiet, so patient or so fascinated an audience as Their Majesties and the Crown Prince. Nor have I ever hoped so much for a miracle. It was not to be. We stayed in the blind for two hours, but nothing in the jungle stirred.
It was after 11 when we finally reached camp. A hot tea—which differed from cold tea in that the sandwiches, meats and p�t�s were all hot instead of cold—had been laid in my tent, apparently to hold me over while dressing for dinner. Because this was the last night of the shikar, all the minor and major dignitaries of the enormous camp and palace staff had been invited to the final banquet.
Native children in red and black and silver costumes were dancing at one end of the fire when I returned to Their Majesties' compound. Off to the side, a group of musicians filled the night with music. Stewards passed silver trays of sherry and Scotch and marvelous assortments of Nepalese appetizers. Her Majesty was the last to arrive. She looked fragile and beautiful in yards and yards of filmy blue chiffon. It seemed hard to believe that only hours before she had stood in boots and bush clothes, waiting intently in a jungle blind.
We sat together at the fire and drank sherry while the ministers recited poetry they had written for the occasion. Princess Princep joined us with two marvelous hors d'oeuvres she had made from her own recipes for barasingha and chital. We all laughed again over a less palatable hors d'oeuvre she and the Queen had created earlier in the shikar. As a joke, they had salted some small white pebbles and served them on a tray of nuts to the commander in chief.
The dinner itself was the most elaborate and elegant of the shikar. A block-long buffet table was set along one wall of the compound. Crested silver, china and crystal sparkled in the light from a dozen silver candelabra. The scent of flowers mingled with the aromas of Nepalese and Himalayan dishes. Fancy frosted replicas of helicopters, planes and jeeps sat among them, brightly decorated with candy flags and sugared streamers.