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A Strange Tiger, edited by Andrew Lang

Bingley’s Animal Biography.

In the year 1790, a baby tiger only six weeks old, whose skin was most beautifully marked in black and yellow, and whose figure was as perfectly modelled as the figure of any tiger could be, was put on board a large East India Company’s ship called the ‘Pitt,’ to be brought to London as a present to George III. Of course, in those days, no one ever thought of coming through the Red Sea, but all vessels sailed all the way round by the Atlantic, so the voyage naturally took many months, especially if the winds were unfavourable. Under these circumstances it was as well to choose your fellow-passengers carefully, as you had to live such a long time with them.

The tiger stretches out in his cage with his friend the dog

THE TIGER AND HIS FRIEND

Unlike most of its tribe, the little tiger soon made itself at home on board ship, and as it was too small to do much harm, it was allowed to run about loose and played with anybody who had time for a game. It generally liked to sleep with the sailors in their hammocks, and they would often pretend to use it for a pillow, as it lay at full length on the deck. Partly out of fun, and partly because it was its nature so to do, the tiger would every now and then steal a piece of meat, if it found one handy. One day it was caught red-handed by the carpenter, who took the beef right out of its mouth, and gave it a good beating, but instead of the man getting bitten for his pains, as he might have expected, the tiger  took his punishment quite meekly, and bore the carpenter no grudge after. One of its favourite tricks was to run out to the very end of the bowsprit, and stand there looking over the sea, and there was no place in the whole ship to which it would not climb when the fancy took it. But on the whole, the little tiger preferred to have company in its gambols, and was especially fond of dogs, of which there were several on board. They would chase each other and roll over together just like two puppies, and during the ten months or so that the voyage from China lasted, they had time enough to become fast friends. When the vessel reached London, the tiger was at once taken to the Tower, which was the Zoological Gardens of those days. The little fellow did not mind, for he was always ready to take what came and make the best of it, and all the keepers grew as fond of him as the sailors had been.

No more is known about him for eleven months, when he was quite grown up, and then one day, just after he had had his dinner, a black rough-haired terrier pup was put into his cage. Most tigers would have eaten it at once, but not this one, who still remembered his early friends on board ship. He used to watch for the pup every day, and lick it all over, taking care never to hurt it with his rough tongue. In general, the terrier had its food outside the cage, but sometimes it was forgotten, and then it would try to snatch a bit of the tiger’s meat; but this the tiger thought impertinent, and made the dog understand that it was the one thing he would not stand.

After several months of close companionship, the terrier was for some reason taken away, and one day, when the tiger awakened from his after-dinner nap, he found the terrier gone, and a tiny Dutch mastiff in its place. He was surprised, but as usual made no fuss, and proceeded to give it a good lick, much to the alarm of the little mastiff. However, its fright soon wore off, and in a day or two it might be seen barking round him and  even biting his feet, which the tiger never objected to, perhaps because he could hardly have felt it.

Two years after the tiger had been settled in the Tower, the very same carpenter who had beaten him for stealing the beef came back to England and at once paid a visit to his old friend. The tiger was enchanted to see him, and rushing to the grating, began rubbing himself against it with delight. The carpenter begged to be let into the cage, and though the keepers did not like it, he declared there was no danger, and at last they opened the door. In a moment the tiger was by his side, nearly knocking him down with joy and affection, licking his hands and rubbing his head on his shoulders, and when, after two or three hours, the carpenter got up to go, the tiger would hardly let him leave the den, for he wanted to keep him there for ever.

But all tigers cannot be judged by this tiger.