Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arthur: The Birthday Present.

The following is a story told to me by my Grandfather Arthur Russell. He told it to me a number of times when I was young. I know he also told it to my father Rupert when he was a child. Arthur was a real story teller and had an amazing ability to bring his experiences to life as he recounted them. This story is told essentially as he told it with little embellishment. The story is about an event that happened in the dry season in 1925. The location was near his family’s hunting lodge which was situated close to a tributary of the Narmada River not far from Jabalpur in what was then Central Provinces and is now Madhya Pradesh.

My father gave me a brand new 20 gauge gun for my sixteenth birthday. As was normal for the time in British India we were a family of hunters. Our house in Jabalpur and our lodge were festooned with trophies. If you have been to my brother Bill’s house you will have seen many of the trophies from those times.
Naturally I was very excited and wanted to try my new gun out as soon as possible. But although I was home from boarding school on holiday I had work to do before my father would let me out.

It was close to noon by the time I was out. It was very hot, as is normal in the dry-season and in reality if I wanted to find something to shoot I would have been wiser to have waited until it cooled a little in the evening.
But I was young and keen, so I ignored what I knew and hurried out as soon as I was allowed.

I headed down to the river because it was the usual way we threaded our way into the thick jungle. Because it was the dry season the river had stopped flowing leaving large standing pools in its sandy bed. I weaved my way along the river bed, leaving a trail of footprints in the dry sand.
As I went, I looked for tracks in the river bed as my father had taught me. Half an hour went by, I had seen nothing and the jungle was quiet except for the throb of cicadas high in the trees. My pulse quickened with excitement as I saw the pug marks of a leopard, but then I realised they were days old. I walked on.

The scenery was beautiful, the thick jungle on either side, and lantana thickets shading the banks of the river. The sun threw dancing reflections off the pools of water.
It was terribly hot, even for a boy who had lived his whole life in India. My gun began to get heavy so I slung it by its leather sling over my shoulder.
But I was not going to give up, so I went on.

Eventually, hot and tired I came to a stop. I stood and thought about what to do. I really wanted to bag something with my new gun. But I finally had to admit I was not going to find anything along the river in the heat of the day. Perhaps, I thought, if I went into the jungle proper I might at least find a jungle fowl. Or if I was really lucky I might bag a peahen for dinner.

My decision made, I turned ninety degrees and made my way to what looked like a lower section of the bank under its canopy of lantana.
I ducked into a hollow under the overhanging fringe of lantana. In the shade I stood up.
Then I froze, I stood absolutely still…
Just a yard or so in front of me sprawled out in the cool shade lay a fully grown Bengal Tiger…
Image: Wikipedia, Wild tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh

11 comments:

The Words Crafter said...

Bengal tigers are so beautiful....

The Words Crafter said...

Sorry! I hit the wrong key.

I really like the story so far-it's getting really tense. When he stood up, I held my breath...no fair stopping just when he spotted the tiger :)

Old Kitty said...

Oh no!! Oh I am hoping for a hopeful and non-bloody ending for the beautiful tiger!!

:-)

Take care
x

Joanna St. James said...

I know! I bet grandpa was nicer and did not stop at the tiger bit when he told you the story.

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh, a cliffhanger! Now I won't know who to be worried about more, your grandfather or the tiger.

Misha said...

Oh my word! No fair!

:-(

Wendy R said...

I really like the way you are telling these stories in the first person, as though you were the man himself. You should think of that as a project - to write a whole memori in his voice...
Recommend Kathleen's review of Veiled in Shadows to everyone here.

wx

Al said...

Hi Words,
Bengal tigers are gorgeous.
It was very mean of me wasn’t it?

Hi Jennifer,
Oh the suspense :-)

Hi Joanna,
Are you kidding? I had the advantage of being a kid and being in the room, there was no way he could not continue!

Hi Anne,
Well, I won’t say what happened just yet but Granddad did survive to become a grandfather.

Hi Misha,
It was mean of me wasn’t it?

Hi Wendy,
I guess part of me is him (at least genetically) and my father is a writer, but his father was a story-teller, so I guess we are quite alike in other ways.
I have thought about it many times, and for my Granddad’s part of the story I have a number of anecdotes in his words to build on. And Granddad’s stories are only one of a number of generations.
Thank you for recommending Kathleen’s review!

Aubrie said...

Wow, this is a true story?

Al said...

Hi Aubrie,
Yes it is. It is as I say a story of my Granddad's. He told this and many others all his life. He had a fantastically interesting life through an amazing period

L'Aussie said...

Hey Al, how childhood has changed. No Biggles stories anymore. BTW there is an award waiting for you at my blog!