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“Why, you owl, that it’s sometimes better to rely on your instincts than on the advice of kind busybodies. When I came through Calcutta, everybody advised me to wait till I got up country before engaging a man, told me the casuals of the Calcutta hotels were sharks ready to prey on any griffin, and so on. But I came across Hamid, liked the look of him—-”
“You’ve a rummy taste in looks,” interposed Jackson, with a laugh. “What with his crooked nose and his one eye, he can’t pass for a beauty.”
“And that’s a fact,” said Mackenzie, solemnly.
“Well, anyway, I took him on, and that’s three years ago, and I’ve had no reason to regret it.”
“He’s a champion cook, at any rate,” said Jackson.
“He is that,” added Mackenzie, with emphasis.
At this moment the man in question entered with the next course, and further discussion of his qualities was impossible.
The three young fellows were taking their evening meal in a tent pitched near the bank of a stream some twenty miles north of Dibrugarh on the Brahmaputra. They were almost the same age, Mackenzie, the eldest, having recently completed his twenty-first year. Three years before, they had met as strangers on the deck of the liner conveying them to Calcutta, and had struck up one of those shipboard friendships which seldom last. In their case it was otherwise. All three were learning tea-planting in Assam, and, as the “gardens” on which they were severally engaged were many miles apart, their opportunities of foregathering were not very frequent. But they met as often as they could for sport in the form of snipe-shooting, boar-hunting, and other avocations that diversify the monotony of a planter’s life, and they had become good comrades, knit one to another closely by the bonds of mutual trust and knowledge.
Three months’ leave was now due to each of them. Forrester intended to go home: the others had arranged to make an extended tour in Northern India, and see Delhi, Lahore, and other cities of old renown. But it happened that, a few days before they were to start, they heard that a tiger had been doing mischief in a village some thirty miles from their stations. Fired by the news, they got permission from their managers to make a dash for the scene. Elephants were out of the question. They made the journey on foot, with four coolies to carry the baggage, Forrester’s bearer, Hamid Gul–the man whom he had picked up in Calcutta, and who added to his many accomplishments a considerable skill in cooking–and a veteran shikari named Sher Jang, whose services they had often employed in their sporting expeditions. Sher Jang, with the aid of local talent, tracked the animal to its haunt in the jungle; after a few crowded moments it fell to the white men’s guns; and its skin, already stripped from the carcase by the deft shikari, now lay stretched on the sward near the tent.
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