CHAPTER VI. HUNTING THE "GREAT INVISIBLE"
For many years before Mr. Caldwell went to Yen-ping he had been stationed at the city of Futsing, about thirty miles from Foochow. Much of his work consisted of itinerant trips during which he visited the various mission stations under his charge. He almost invariably went on foot from place to place and carried with him a butterfly net and a rifle, so that to so keen a naturalist each day's walk was full of interest.
The country was infested with man-eating tigers, and very often the villagers implored him to rid their neighborhood of some one of the yellow raiders which had been killing their children, pigs, or cattle. During ten years he had killed seven tigers in the Futsing region. He often said that his gun had been just as effective in carrying Christianity to the natives as had his evangelistic work. Although Mr. Caldwell has been especially fortunate and has killed his tigers without ever really hunting them, nevertheless it is a most uncertain sport as we were destined to learn. The tiger is the "Great Invisible" - he is everywhere and nowhere, here today and gone tomorrow. A sportsman in China may get his shot the first day out or he may hunt for weeks without ever seeing a tiger even though they are all about him; and it is this very uncertainty that makes the game all the more fascinating.
The part of Fukien Province about Futsing includes mountains of considerable height, many of which are planted with rice and support a surprising number of Chinese who are grouped in closely connected villages. While the cultivated valleys afford no cover for tiger and the mountain slopes themselves are usually more or less denuded of forest, yet the deep and narrow ravines, choked with sword grass and thorny bramble, offer an impenetrable retreat in which an animal can sleep during the day without fear of being disturbed. It is possible for a man to make his way through these lairs only by means of the paths and tunnels which have been opened by the tigers themselves.
Mr. Caldwell's usual method of hunting was to lead a goat with one or two kids to an open place where they could be fastened just outside the edge of the lair, and then to conceal himself a few feet away. The bleating of the goats would usually bring the tiger into the open where there would be an opportunity for a shot in the late afternoon.
Mr. Caldwell's first experience in hunting tigers was with a shotgun at the village of Lung-tao. His burden-bearers had not arrived with the basket containing his rifle, and as it was already late in the afternoon, he suggested to Da-Da, the Chinese boy who was his constant companion, that they make a preliminary inspection of the lair even though they carried only shotguns loaded with lead slugs about the size of buckshot.
They tethered a goat just outside the edge of the lair and the tiger responded to its bleating almost immediately. Caldwell did not see the animal until it came into the open about fifty yards away and remained in plain view for almost half an hour. The tiger seemed to suspect danger and crouched on the terrace, now and then putting his right foot forward a short distance and drawing it slowly back again. He had approached along a small trail, but before he could reach the goat it was necessary to cross an open space a few yards in width, and to do this the animal flattened himself like a huge striped serpent. His head was extended so that the throat and chin were touching the ground, and there was absolutely no motion of the body other than the hips and shoulders as the beast slid along at an amazingly rapid rate. But at the instant the cat gained the nearest cover it made three flying leaps and landed at the foot of the terrace upon which the goat was tied.
"Just then he saw me," said Mr. Caldwell, "and slowly pushed his great black-barred face over the edge of the grass not fifteen feet away.
"I fired point-blank at his head and neck. He leaped into the air with the blood spurting over the grass, and fell into a heap, but gathered himself and slid down over the terraces. As he went I fired a second load of slugs into his hip. He turned about, slowly climbed the hill parallel with us, and stood looking back at me, his face streaming with blood.
"I was fumbling in my coat trying to find other shells, but before I could reload the gun he walked unsteadily into the lair and lay down. It was already too dark to follow and the next morning a bloody trail showed where he had gone upward into the grass. Later, in the same afternoon, he was found dead by some Chinese more than three miles away."
During his many experiences with the Futsing tigers Mr. Caldwell has learned much about their habits and peculiarities, and some of his observations are given in the following pages.
"The tiger is by instinct a coward when confronted by his greatest enemy - man. Bold and daring as he may be when circumstances are in his favor, he will hurriedly abandon a fresh kill at the first cry of a shepherd boy attending a flock on the mountain-side and will always weigh conditions before making an attack. If things do not exactly suit him nothing will tempt him to charge into the open upon what may appear to be an isolated and defenseless goat.