The Guardian of the Temple (Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith

Panjore is a little native state in India, not big enough to be of any political consequence, but still large enough to have a walled capitol, two or three palaces, two-score square miles of barren desert and perhaps half as much cultivatable land, and a lot of jungle. There are no rivers large enough to float a row-boat, and the climate is notoriously hot. There are a few hills, most of which are near the capitol, and all the rest is made up of the aforesaid desert, and the cultivatable land. The population, (if you except the tigers, snakes, and wild boar) is sparse.

It was on a summer’s day in 1890, with the thermometer registering 95° in the shade that I drifted into the city of Panjore, via bullock-cart, and accompanied by two native bearers and my baggage. Said baggage was very light, consisting mostly of shikar-kit, a revolver, an eight bore, and .450 Winchester Express.

Presently we came in sight of Panjore, a town lying on a plain with hills rising at its back. On one of those hills, or rather I may say rocks, above the palace of the Rajah, a great mass of red sandstone, gleaming dully through the haze. At its foot stretched the city of Panjore, surrounded by four walls, and about a mile and a quarter in circuit. Outside these walls was the barren plain over which we were traveling, and the hills, some of which were capped with jungle.

Three inches of white dust lay upon the road, and our bullocks seemed fully-determined to raise every bit of it. I may say without exaggeration that they succeeded. I was covered with it from head to foot by the time we had reached our journey’s end.

There was a dark-bungalow just outside the city walls, for which I thanked Allah, and immediately appropriated. I was the only white man there the Khansamah told me, and also related that it was full three months since the last sahib had left.

"Too jolly damn hot," said the Khansamah, in his best English. "Panjore all dead and buried." Later I found that this last remark was the truest thing that a Khansamah had ever been heard to say.

After resting up for a day of two at the dak—being alone I set out to pay my respects to the Rajah in his great red palace on the rock. I ascended the almost red-hot steps leading up the face of the rock with a broiling sun beating down from above, and finally found myself in one of the outercourtyards. Here I discovered the Rajah, busily inspecting a consignment of European clothes, just received from Bombay.

He was a tall, rather well-built man, very quick and intelligent, and not at all of the usual type of extinct, burnt-out volcano Rajput to which I was accustomed. He was, I judged, about thirty four years of age, welleducated, and spoke excellent English.

I earnestly believe that the Rajah if left to himself and the British Resident, would have adopted some form of progress for his state. But he was under the thumb of a most conservative wife, and a prime minister of the old reform-hating type. Between these two Uluar Singh was kept down and his reform-tendencies restrained. Occasionally they showed themselves in a preferency for European clothes, Calcutta rifles, bicycles, and similar toys. These, however were regarded as harmless eccentricities, and so long as his Highness made no changes in the government, lowered no taxes, and made no reforms the Ranee and Prime Minister did not interfere. But the moment he proposed any reform the two were upon him with arguments, telling him the harm that would be done, the people who would be alienated from him, and even a possible rebellion. Such was the tale told wherever men spoke of Panjore and its Rajah.

Uluar Singh greeted me very effusively, asked me a hundred questions about myself; how many tigers I had shot, and how I liked his country.

"You have come here to hunt, have you not?" said the Rajah. "There is no better place for tigers than the jungles of Panjore. Near the village of Shaitangurh, ten miles to the east, there is said to be a magnificent maneater. Would you like to hunt him?" I signified my perfect willingness to do so. "This tiger has already slain seven people, two in broad daylight," went on his highness. "He is very bold, over bold, perhaps. I shall be very glad if the sahib kills him."

I had had some experience with man-eaters before, and assured the Rajah that if I got the chance at the iniquitous animal in question, I would do my best to rid the earth of his presence.

"May Indur grant you success," said Uluar Singh

"When do you want to start?"

"At any time," said I.

"In that case," continued his highness, "if you leave, say three hours from present time, you should be at Shaitangurh by night. The road," he swept his hand toward the east, "runs rather erratically amongst the hills, and although it is but ten miles, the distance traveling by bullock cart would be about twelve. I will send two of my best Shikari’s with you, who are acquainted with habits of the tiger, and sahib will find them of some assistance. Also, my elephants are at your service."

I thanked the Rajah for his kind offer, but said that I did not think that I would need the animals in question.

"I shall shoot from Machan," said I.

"Very well," replied his highness, "But you will find sahib that the tiger in question is most cunning animal. Three nights, sahib, I waited for him, but he did not come. On the fourth, when I was not there, a man was killed and part of his body found only yards from the Machan.

Twelve miles by bullock east along a winding road, now over hills and across ravines, now through dense jungle, and past patches of cultivated land, brought me to Shaitangurh, a small mud walled village of perhaps five hundred inhabitants.

For the period of my stay there, I and the Rajah’s shikaris were given lodging in the village temple, a large building of sandstone, containing a good sized image of Siva. Besides the aforesaid image and ourselves, the place was tenanted by several sacred cobras, who evinced too much familiarity to be pleasant. However, as they showed no hostility toward us, we left them alone.

Indra Singh and Dertab Ras, my two shikaris, immediately upon our arrival, went around paying visits in the village, and incidentally impressed the people of Shaitanguhr with my great importance, telling them that I was an intimate friend of the Rajah’s, and an all-round burra sahib. They also related that I had slain 79 tigers in my time and seven of them with no other weapon than a sword; this, of course, greatly increased the respect of the villagers for me, and incidentally, it may be said, elevated the two shikaris, as being my representatives, to a rather higher rank in popular estimation.

In the course of the evening the two men returned and related all that they had learned. On that day it seemed, his highness, the tiger, had slain two men, eating one, and leaving the other. They had last been seen near some old cave temples in a jungle-covered hillside about a mile to the northwest. In one of these temples, it was popularly thought, stripes had his den, but no men dared enter for besides the tiger, the cave was believed by the people to be inhabited by evil devils and all manner of bhuts ("spirits"). The Mohammedans, of whom there were many in the village, claimed these as being sons of Ublis, while the Hindoos set them down as shaitans and demons, spirits of departed priests.

"Stripes is a bold tiger," I laughed, "to make his abode in such a place. Do not devils ride him by moonlight?"

"There are many tales, sahib," said Indra, "but no man knows the truth. Men say that on moonlit nights the spirit of Vikram Singh, who was Rajah of Panjore five hundred years ago, rides forth on the tiger. And others say that the tiger himself is possessed of a devil. Who knows? There is truth and falsehood in all. But never yet, sahib, have I seen a tiger who did not die when a bullet entered his heart or brain. Though Bahadur Shah, as the people call him, be possessed of a thousand Shaitans, one bullet from the sahib’s gun will slay him."

After a while the shikari went on to tell me about the cave-temples. "Long ago, sahib, a famine came upon the land of Panjore, and endured for seven years—and during that time many men died of hunger, the rivers dried up, and the plague walked abroad through the land. At the end of the seventh year, when the rains were afar off, and all the land lay waste, the Rajah called before him all the priests of Panjore, and bade them find the offended god, for by no other means, said the people, could such a thing have come about. So all the priests of Panjore prayed and offered incense and sacrifice; all the time praying that the offended one would be revealed to them. And at the end of seven days, they announced Indra, the god of the heavens as the offended one. So, to appease him, the cave-temples of Vickram Singh were built, and dedicated to Indra. And when the work was completed, the rains came and all men knew that the anger of Indra was appeased."

On the following morning word of further depredations on the part of Stripes was brought in. Two natives with horror stricken faces told the tale. They, with another man, had been cutting wood in the jungle, when Bahadur Shah, the tiger, broke from the thicket and carried off this other man in his jaws. They described the animal as being five feet in height and three times that in length. This, however, was manifestly an exaggeration. Yet from his numerous depredations, and general bad reputation amongst the natives, it was quite apparent that his highness, Bahadur Shah, was no ordinary tiger.

An hour later, who should appear at the gates of the village, but Uluar Singh, with two choice elephants of considerable size, several shikaris, and a varied and wonderful assortment of rifles, ranging from 6mm Mannlicher to a double-barrelled elephant gun, carrying explosive bullets. Evidently his highness was bent on the destruction of the tiger, and with a view on this had provided himself with a sufficiency of weapons. Uluar Singh, it seemed, had feared that myself, and the two shikaris, with such assistance as we might procure in the neighborhood, would prove inadequate to the task of exterminating stripes. Therefore the elephants, the arsenal, and Uluar Singh and several shikaris, had come to our assistance. Upon hearing of Bahadur Shah’s latest indiscretion, Uluar Singh gave orders that we should at once proceed to the scene thereof. Thereupon we joined forces, myself, my two shikaris, the arsenal, and the Rajah occupy the howdah of one elephant, and Uluar Singh’s own shikaris, and one of the woodsmen, the other.

A mile from Shaitanguhr, we came to the place. Stains of blood were upon the grass, and a trail of the same ran into the thick jungle. All about us were trees, and high grass, and upon the trees were thick creepers. Some rain had fallen the previous night, and the grass and trees were not yet dry. Further on, as we followed the trail, there was the loud chattering of monkeys recently disturbed.

"He has been here lately," said Uluar Singh, and said no more. Following his eyes, I saw the unfortunate native, or what remained of him, lying in the grass some distance away. Part of the body remained, but the head was not there.

A moment afterwards, I caught the gleam of a striped body in the jungle. Thirty feet from where we sat on the elephant, there was a shower of rain-drops from the tall grass where the tiger had stirred. Following through the high grass, and amongst the tangled jungle we again saw him for one half moment in an open space. Then he was gone.

Gripping our rifles more tensely we followed. A hundred yards further, and the elephants came to a deep [gulley]. As they ascended the opposite bank, the one upon which I rode trumpeted loudly. Looking up I saw Bahadur Shah, the tiger, on a lift of rising ground. It was the first time that I beheld him distinctly—he was indeed of great size, and beautifully marked. He stood regarding us with a malevolent expression, and switched his tail lazily. Even as I raised my rifle, he turned, and disappeared.

Editor's Note:
document ends here. The ink and handwriting change dramatically at the paragraph beginning "On the following morning . . ."— this seems to indicate that a story begun some time, perhaps years, before was taken up again, perhaps in the hope of knocking something out quickly to make a few dollars. But the story became muddied and convoluted and I suspect Clark saw no easy way to reconcile inconsistencies that had been built in from the beginning and just gave it up.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/272
Printed on: November 23, 2017