In a lonely village in the Hazaribagh district, the peaceful dwellers were one evening disturbed by shrill cries of distress. When they gathered round the house from whence the cries came, they discovered that a ghastly murder had been committed. The headman of the village immediately despatched two messengers for the police. These men started in the dawn and reached the Police outpost just before sunset.

The Inspector-in-charge was a Bengalee, named Bose, who was a very intelligent officer and keen on his work. As soon as he received information of the murder, he ordered one of his staff to arrange for a push-push (carriage which is partly drawn and partly pushed by men) and a set of bearers. He quickly put together a few requisites for the journey and was soon ready. The night was not far advanced when the orderly returned with a push-push and eight bearers, and Bose started off, attended by his cook and body servant.

The road lay through a forest. At times the path was so narrow and rocky that the men could make little progress, and at last, they declared that the road was impassable for a wheeled conveyance and that it was necessary for the Inspector to change into a palki. One of them said that about two miles off the road there was a village and that in the village there lived a rich Hindustani merchant who might lend a palki. Bose was pleased with the suggestion and told the push-push bearers to take him to the village. They needed no second bidding, and the Inspector was soon being trundled across the paddy fields that lay between the village and the road. Arrived there, he hastened to the merchant’s house and asked to see him

A handsome up-countryman came out and when, he saw that his visitor was a gentleman he courteously asked him to enter and be seated. The Inspector soon explained his necessity for a palki, and the rich man placed his at the disposal of the police officer. “But Jenab (Sir),” he said, “tigers are bad in this forest and you have to pass through a part known to be a favourite haunt of theirs. Have you any firearms?”

“Only my revolver,” said Bose “but I must push on and take my chance.” And as the palki now stood ready and the bearers declared themselves refreshed, he thanked his host for his ready assistance, bade him farewell and started once again.

The bearers were full of spirits after their rest at the merchant’s house and for a mile or two travelled at a rapid pace, but the narrow winding road impeded their progress, and as the night advanced the eerie sounds of the forest must have got on their nerves. At the commencement of the journey they had beguiled the march with stories of tigers and bears met in the forest, but after some hours of travel, they became silent; and beyond the usual directions of the forward men concerning the road and occasionally a shrill cry to scare away wild animals, they made no remarks to each other.

Within the palki, Bose lay fitfully dozing. The night was oppressive and his thoughts were on the murder and his chances of a successful capture of the wrong-doer. The road had become wider and level and the men were going along at a good pace when suddenly they dropped the palki to the ground and fled in all directions. Bose shouted: “What is up? Why have you run away?” No answer greeted his ears but a strange odour penetrated his nostrils and he knew there was a tiger in the jungle. He quickly pulled the doors of the palki jamming them as securely as he could with the ends of his razai (quilt). Then he tore the strong border off his dhoti (loin cloth) and commenced to bind the handles of the doors together. He had just finished firmly lashing together the handles on one side when he heard an ominous growling. With frantic haste he bound the handles of the opposite doors together, praying fervently that he might escape the jaws of the tiger.

The animal continued growling. Evidently, the dark bulk of the palki frightened him. Bose sat inside, huddled in a heap and breathless. The tiger, re-assured by the stillness of the object before him, ceased growling; and presently, the soft thud of his feet and his sniffing around the palki told the trembling man within that “Stripes” was making an investigation.

Now a mighty roar shook the jungles and Bose realised that the tiger had leapt upon the roof of the palki and was scratching furiously at it. Bose clutched the handles of the doors and held on to them with the grip of despair. The tiger scratched and growled and finally bounded off the top and began a vigorous assault upon the side. The palki toppled over onto its other side. Poor Bose congratulated himself that now one of the doors rested upon Mother Earth and he could give his whole energy to defending the other. He gripped the handles with renewed determination and waited.

The tiger had sustained a shock at seeing the unknown monster he was tackling roll over and for a time satisfied himself by growling savagely. But as the monster lay still “Stripes” tried the experiment of a sharp blow with his paw. The palki rested on uneven ground and the blow made it rock. The tiger waited awhile; and when the rocking had subsided administered another stroke. The palki rocked again. The situation now developed into a game between the huge cat and the palki. When he slapped the palki rocked; and when the palki ceased vibrating the tiger slapped again. Inside the palki, the Inspector held on to the handles of the door and prayed for deliverance.

At last the tiger, wearied of the game and purring loudly, walked away. Bose breathed more freely but knew not if the danger was past. There he lay gripping the handles of the door and wishing for daylight. At last, the dawn broke and with the first rays of light courage returned to the bearers and servants, who were hiding in the branches of the surrounding trees. They called to each other, expressing anxiety as to their master’s fate. Finally, as the daylight grew stronger they encouraged each other to descend and approach the palki.

As they examined it with wonder some very cutting remarks from within assured them of their master’s existence, and with many apologies for the abrupt way in which they had abandoned him they righted the palki and assisted him out.

The journey was soon resumed and Bose had the satisfaction of arresting the murderer in spite of his ill-timed adventure and forced delay.

Excerpted with permission from ‘The Palki and the Tiger’ by Maharani Sunity Devi in Tiger! Tiger!: Stories of the Big Cat, Talking Cub.