“Good God,” said Sergeant Major General, “and I am to be the bait? I’m game.”
“Good man,” said Kirk Bill. “Now, let’s get to work. Captain, we’ll need some rope, some sandbags and a tiger-sized cage.”
The Captain pursed his lips, around his cheroot, which looked a bit odd, it must be said. “The first two things, no problem. The third could prove difficult. Well, impossible, if I’m honest.”
Kirk Bill took this minor setback in his stride. “Alright, then, we’ll switch to Plan B. Some flaming torches, a sharp spear, and about a litre of aconite poison.”
“Again,” said the Captain, “the first two, we can probably cobble together. But alas we have no aconite on board. ”
“Hmm,” said Kirk Bill, thoughtfully. “What about a vat of boiling oil?”
“We have cabbage soup,” said the Captain. Sergeant Major General shuddered.
“Tiger-sized sticky traps?” “No.” “Vast quantities of quick-setting resin?” “No.” “A ready-made maze?” “Sadly, no.” “An elephant?” “No.” “Quicksand?” “Again, no.” “A swarm of bees?” “No.” “Surely you must have some strangling vines on board.” “Let me think…nnno.”
There was a pause as Kirk Bill searched his gigantic brain for another devious tiger-catching ploy.
“We have some guns,” the Captain said, in an off-hand fashion.
Kirk Bill brightened. “That could work,” he said.
Which is how, approximately twenty-four hours later, Sergeant Major General came to be lounging on deck, apparently alone, but secure in the knowledge that Kirk Bill, the Captain and several crew members were secreted behind convenient barrels and watching the deck from positions high on the ropes above, all armed to the teeth with pistols and blunderbusses and various sharp implements for stabbing and hacking purposes.
Some hours passed. The ship creaked and rolled on the dark seas. The chef picked his nose. The Captain studied his nails. Sergeant Major General fell asleep, snoring softly. But Kirk Bill remained poised, alert, ever-watchful, so that when that dark shadow came padding across the deck he would be ready.
No tiger came. Night after night, they laid their careful trap for the mysterious beast, but it was not seen again, which was really somewhat of an anticlimax.
“So much for that twenty-four hours nonsense!” said Sergeant Major General as they bade farewell to the Captain, when they finally reached the port of Mumbai.
“But the mark has not gone away,” said the Captain, fixing the two men with a serious gaze. This was true; Sergeant Major General had scrubbed and scrubbed but the mysterious mark had seemingly become one with his flesh. “You must be careful, my friends. You’re in India now, where strange things happen more readily than they do in England.”
“Pish and tush!” said Sergeant Major General heartily. “We’ll get to the bottom of this nonsense and bring back a nice tiger-skin rug to boot!”
“Thank you for your assistance, Captain,” said Kirk Bill, “we will call in on the pandit you recommended to us.” The Captain nodded his goodbyes and watched the two men – one tall, broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, the other barrel-chested and a lot hairier – as they made their way across the docks and into the city. Then he turned back to his ship, to oversee the unloading of various items of trade from the hold.
Unseen by any man, but visible nonetheless in the flickering lamplight of the port, a feline shadow moved between the boats and trunks, silently shadowing its prey. If any man had turned to look, all they would have seen were two gleaming, golden EYES disappearing into the darkness.
TO BE CONTINUED