Panther Shoots with Ranji

Charles Burgess Fry, author and big game hunter, described a hunting trip with his Indian friend and landowner Ranjitsinhji. His story was published in 1939 in London of which an excerpt is presented here.
In colonial language spotted as well as melanistic Leopards used to be called Panther.

There we sat for hour after hour until well past midnight. Not easy to keep awake, peering out of the narrow windows. But, of course, the goat, as soon as he found himself deserted, began to bleat; and he bleated on through the night hours with rhythmical monotony.

Suddenly Ranji touched me on the knee and whispered, 'He has come.' He pointed across to the bushes at the corner of the clearing and handed me his binoculars.

I could not see anything at first. Then suddenly a pair of phosphorescent lights switched on in the dark. The Panther's eyes.

There he sat for half an hour in the blackness of the bushes, himself as black. Then the eyes were switched off. Ranji made a pass with his hands to indicate that their owner was circling round in the bushes. The ground was covered with dry leaves and dry sticks; the bushes themselves might well have been designed to produce a stage crackling and rustling. But not the least sound.

Presently the brilliant green eyes appeared at another corner; then they disappeared again. Meanwhile the goat had stopped bleating and was standing up. It kept facing round with its nose like a compass-needle in the direction of its circling enemy. Very slowly, but not always correctly. Suddenly from the side of the clearing behind it a grey form, as of a giant tabby on very long legs, moved out into the open. Just before it stalked from the bushes the form looked dead black, but the moment it came into the artificial moonlight it was grey as the ground - so grey and similar as to be invisible when still. The goat jumped round to face it as it stood for some minutes as still as stone. Then the panther moved forward like a grey ghost and leaped with marvellous ease and grace on to the edge of the boulder. There it sat like a cat on a doorstep, with its forepaws between its hind legs, and contemplated the goat. The goat stamped its feet and blew a succession of snorts through its nostrils.

Ranji had an electric pencil with a light at the end, such as hospital nurses use. He wrote on a small block: 'It's a lady, but you can shoot her if you like.'

Whether from innate gallantry or from sympathy with the goat - probably the latter - I took the block and wrote: 'No. Let her go.' I lowered my rifle on the cushions provided for the very purpose, and Ranji knocked with his knuckles. There was a grey streak, and the lady was gone.

Ranji then wrote: 'She or the old man will be back in twenty minutes.' So I drank a bottle of soda-water and relaxed.

Sure enough, the lady came back, but only to sit half-way between the goat and the edge of the clearing. Again, after an interval, she did the same from the other side, but this time she went away for good, and Ranji whispered: 'The old man is watching in the bushes. I saw his eyes last time she came.'

But the old man did not show that night. Later the shikari reported that he had followed on the edge of the jungle fifty yards behind us to within a stone's throw of the house.