CHAPTER VII. THE BLUE TIGER
After one has traveled in a Chinese sampan for several days the prospect of a river journey is not very alluring but we had a most agreeable surprise when we sailed out of Foochow in a chartered house boat to hunt the "blue tiger" at Futsing. In fact, we had all the luxury of a private yacht, for our boat contained a large central cabin with a table and chairs and two staterooms and was manned by a captain and crew of six men - all for $1.50 per day!
In the evening we talked of the blue tiger for a long time before we spread our beds on the roof of the boat and went to sleep under the stars. We left the boat shortly after daylight at Daing-nei for the six-mile walk to Lung-tao. To my great surprise the coolies were considerably distressed at the lightness of our loads. In this region they are paid by weight and some of the bearers carry almost incredible burdens. As an example, one of our men came into camp swinging a 125-pound trunk on each end of his pole, laughing and chatting as gayly as though he had not been carrying 250 pounds for six miles under a broiling sun.
Mr. Caldwell's Chinese hunter, Da-Da, lived at Lung-tao and we found his house to be one of several built on the outskirts of a beautiful grove of gum and banyan trees. Although it was exceptionally clean for a Chinese dwelling, we pitched our tents a short distance away. At first we were somewhat doubtful about sleeping outside, but after one night indoors we decided that any risk was preferable to spending another hour in the stifling heat of the house.
It was probable that a tiger would be so suspicious of the white tents that it would not attack us, but nevertheless during the first nights we were rather wakeful and more than once at some strange night sound seized our rifles and flashed the electric lamp into the darkness.
Tigers often come into this village. Only a few hundred yards from our camp site, in 1911, a tiger had rushed into the house of one of the peasants and attempted to steal a child that had fallen asleep at its play under the family table. All was quiet in the house when suddenly the animal dashed through the open door. The Chinese declare that the gods protected the infant, for the beast missed his prey and seizing the leg of the table against which the baby's head was resting, bolted through the door dragging the table into the courtyard.
This was the work of the famous "blue tiger" which we had come to hunt and which had on two occasions been seen by Mr. Caldwell. The first time he heard of this strange beast was in the spring of 1910. The animal was reported as having been seen at various places within an area of a few miles almost simultaneously and so mysterious were its movements that the Chinese declared it was a spirit of the devil. After several unsuccessful hunts Mr. Caldwell finally saw the tiger at close range but as he was armed with only a shotgun it would have been useless to shoot.
His second view of the beast was a few weeks later and in the same place. I will give the story in his own words:
"I selected a spot upon a hill-top and cleared away the grass and ferns with a jack-knife for a place to tie the goat. I concealed myself in the bushes ten feet away to await the attack, but the unexpected happened and the tiger approached from the rear.
"When I first saw the beast he was moving stealthily along a little trail just across a shallow ravine. I supposed, of course, that he was trying to locate the goat which was bleating loudly, but to my horror I saw that he was creeping upon two boys who had entered the ravine to cut grass. The huge brute moved along lizard-fashion for a few yards and then cautiously lifted his head above the grass. He was within easy springing distance when I raised my rifle, but instantly I realized that if I wounded the animal the boys would certainly meet a horrible death.
"Tigers are usually afraid of the human voice so instead of firing I stepped from the bushes, yelling and waving my arms. The huge cat, crouched for a spring, drew back, wavered uncertainly for a moment, and then slowly slipped away into the grass. The boys were saved but I had lost the opportunity I had sought for over a year.
"However, I had again seen the animal about which so many strange tales had been told. The markings of the beast are strikingly beautiful. The ground color is of a delicate shade of maltese, changing into light gray-blue on the underparts. The stripes are well defined and like those of the ordinary yellow tiger."
Before I left New York Mr. Caldwell had written me repeatedly urging me to stop at Futsing on the way to Yuen-nan to try with him for the blue tiger which was still in the neighborhood. I was decidedly skeptical as to its being a distinct species, but nevertheless it was a most interesting animal and would certainly be well worth getting.
I believed then, and my opinion has since been strengthened, that it is a partially melanistic phase of the ordinary yellow tiger. Black leopards are common in India and the Malay Peninsula and as only a single individual of the blue tiger has been reported the evidence hardly warrants the assumption that it represents a distinct species.
We hunted the animal for five weeks. The brute ranged in the vicinity of two or three villages about seven miles apart, but was seen most frequently near Lung-tao. He was as elusive as a will o' the wisp, killing a dog or goat in one village and by the time we had hurried across the mountains appearing in another spot a few miles away, leaving a trail of terrified natives who flocked to our camp to recount his depredations. He was in truth the "Great Invisible" and it seemed impossible that we should not get him sooner or later, but we never did.