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Lal and I took up a position where I could fire at the leopard at an angle that would drive him out on the open deck (in the event he was in the mood for being driven). I raised my pistol and blazed away. The fierce spotted cat, in a series of breath-taking leaps--and even if he isn't leaping at you there is something terrifying about those tremendous and seemingly effortless jumps--made for the open deck. Round and round he went, Lal and I in pursuit. After circling the iron deck about half a dozen times I blazed away at the animal three or four times in a row when we were about ten yards from the steps leading to the promenade deck where the officers' mess-room was. Instead of scampering up the steps as I hoped he would the animal stopped in his tracks and whirled around. Teeth and claws bared he faced me, ready to spring. I let him quiet down. We stood facing each other this way for a full minute. I could not afford to back away, any more than I could afford to advance. The animal started to relax. His lips began to close over his teeth. His claws were receding. This was a good time to shoot. I let him have another blank, the fire bursting close enough to his eyes to frighten him. He turned and ran. I thought I had him cornered so that he couldn't help colliding with the steps but he swung wide as he ran, and passed my objective. Round he went for two more circuits, making such speed I thought he would lap me. He would have done so in a few more rounds, for by now he was desperate for a means of escape and he had dropped his halting manner of running. As he completed his second circuit he was not many yards behind me. Swinging round, I advanced and opened fire. The suddenness of my attack was too much for him. At a loss what to do, he swung around and started going in the other direction. As he went around the turn, I heard an agonized shriek. The leopard had almost collided with a Chinese boy carrying two buckets of water. What the boy was doing on deck I didn't know. I thought everyone had been warned to keep off.
The buckets went careening crazily down the deck, the water splashing in all directions. The boy scrambled to his feet, frightened out of his wits. Madly he tore for the bulkhead doorway from which he had recently emerged. The leopard, as scared as the boy, ran uncertainly for the same door, neither of them quite sure what it was all about. When the unexpected takes place in this fashion, the animal is as much at a loss as the human being involved. As he neared the doorway the boy saw a rope hanging from a boom above his head. He grabbed the rope and scrambled up it like a monkey.
I took advantage of the animal's confusion, coming up on him suddenly, as he stood still after a few hesitant movements beneath the boy swinging on the rope. The chambers of my gun re-filled with blanks, I blazed away again, and this time succeeded in maneuvering the leopard to a position in front of the steps that led to the deck above. Another series of shots sent him scampering up; and the first stage of my task was over.
In the meantime, the passengers (there were about eighty of them) had awakened, aided by the many shots I had fired. The news of the leopard chase had spread and the passengers rushed for the glass-enclosed upper deck above the mess room to take in the show, or as much as they could see.
The much harassed leopard made circuit after circuit of the promenade deck, Lal and I in pursuit. Every other lap or so, he would suddenly swing around and face us, teeth and claws bared as before, and ready for action. Again we would stand motionless and give him a chance to quiet down. Once after his teeth and claws relaxed to normal and we thought he was calming down, the cries of passengers startled him and he poised himself for a leap, his eyes distorted with rage and fear.
"The rifle, Lal!"
Lal was so anxious to place it in my hands he almost threw himself at me in handing it to me. He wanted that leopard killed; there was no doubt about that.
I got a bead on the animal about five or six yards away. My finger on the trigger, I was ready to bang away and catch the enemy in mid-air if he leaped.
I advanced a foot to see how anxious the leopard was for a scrap. He started backing away.
"Give him the pistol, Lal!" I had handed Lal the revolver when I took the rifle from him. Lal blazed away and again the animal turned and ran.
It was getting to be a tiresome business. I made up my mind to get that leopard, dead or alive, without wasting much more time and energy.
Fortunately my spotted fugitive was tiring too. Weary of the chase, he would hesitate before the open door of the mess room and scamper round the deck again, without much assurance, not quite certain whether he had anything to lose by going in. Finally seeing that there was no other place to go, he entered. I banged the door shut and the second stage of the job was finished.
Lal and I, after a few moments of well-earned rest, removed the bars from one end of the repaired and reinforced cage and shoved it smack against the door frame, first hastily opening the mess-room door. We took the precaution of blocking in the open space above the cage.
So far so good. This was progress.
With a group of husky sailors holding the cage firmly against the door I decided on the next move.
Going into a hallway from the other side of the deck opening into the mess-room, I lowered a dumb-waiter window (through which the mess-boy on duty passed food when a meal was being served) and, with a long bamboo pole, tried to prod the leopard into the box.
My spotted foe would snarl his opinion of these tactics, two or three times grabbing the end of the pole between his teeth and biting off a piece. He'd spit out the bamboo and look up at me in a rage, all the bitterness in his heart reflected in his cruel glare.
After fifteen or twenty minutes of this he decided to mock what he must have considered a feeble effort to get him into the cage. Another leopard, under the same circumstances, might have scampered in. This one expressed his contempt for my methods by stretching out on the floor and ignoring me after he was convinced there was nothing to fear from that pole which he had already chewed to pieces. Perhaps he was taking advantage of a lull in the battle to get a rest. At any rate, he made it clear that it would take more than a bamboo pole to get him inside that cage.
The stubborn beast was beginning to annoy me. It was time to show him who was boss. I sent Lal to my cabin for my lasso. Then I had one of the sailors bring me a long piece of ship's rope, which I securely tied to the end of the lasso. Next I filled my revolver with honest-to-goodness lead-nosed bullets. Then, gun in belt and lasso in hand, I started climbing through the dumb-waiter window.
I heard one of the petty officers yelling: "What's the matter, man? Are you crazy?"
I was too busy to answer. As a matter of fact, I was quite sane. I was doing the only thing that could be done with the facilities at hand to get that mulish leopard into his cage.
Before swinging over the window I threw the end of the rope through the bars of the cage to the sailors outside. "When I tell you fellows to pull," I instructed, "pull for all you're worth."
The mess-room was about seven feet wide and fifteen or sixteen feet long. A stationary dining table with clamped-down chairs practically filled the room leaving just enough space between the chairs and the wall for the officers to pass along to their places at the table. It was an easy step from the dumb waiter window onto the table. With the loop end of the lasso in my hand ready for action I advanced slowly toward the leopard, which was crouched down by the foot of the table at the other end of the small room.
As I made my cautious approach (advancing only a few feet), the animal let out a throaty snarl, one of those ugly low ones that give you the creeps till you get used to hearing them, and suddenly reared up with his forepaws on the other end of the table.
Again I resorted to the simple expedient that has saved me from being clawed any number of times. Standing motionless, I gave the animal a chance to calm down. This he did, slipping his paws off the table and edging back to where he was when I entered. The only sound that came from him was a faint growl, suggestive of muttering, making it seem as if the creature was talking to himself. Now that the animal was fairly quiet I started once more for his end of the room, working my way across the table toward him in tiny steps.
He lay there cringing, his teeth bared. His snarl this time was more of a wail and I felt sure that I had him on the run. It was ticklish business but I was making headway. Only a person who has had long experience in handling animals can get the feel of a weakening enemy in a situation of this kind. Reducing the thing to simple terms, I was making it clear to this beast who was running the show. It is purely a mental proposition, the same psychology that allows experienced trainers to tame the jungle's wildest beasts.
Nevertheless, I don't mind adding that I was comforted by my loaded revolver and the nearness of an open window.
I kept steadily working up to where the leopard was crouching, getting my rope ready as I advanced. With a quick movement as I neared the other end of the table I sent a loop around the animal's neck, taking up the noose's slack in a flash as I yelled, "Pull!" with every ounce of lung power I possessed.
The men responded beautifully, giving a yank that started the roped leopard sliding toward the door. As he was dragged along he let out a series of spine-chilling snarls, struggling to dig into the floor with his claws, and, when he saw this availed him nothing, striking out with his paws in a desperate effort to get a grip on a table leg or one of the stationary chairs he was being tugged past.
With a final yank, the men pulled the growling and struggling beast till they could drag him no further. In order to get the animal into the cage he would have to be pulled around a corner of the door-jamb, as he was at right angles to the cage opening toward which he was being dragged. A trial tug, to see if this miracle could be accomplished, availed nothing. What we really hoped for was that at this stage of the game the beast would see he was licked and scamper into the cage himself. But he had braced his back against the chair nearest the door and he couldn't be budged. All the men could do now was to keep him wedged in by holding the rope taut, which they did. It was impossible for the animal to move backward and it was equally impossible for the men at the rope to drag him forward another inch.
For several seconds we remained deadlocked, the animal making a perfect bedlam of the mess-room with his cries of rage. The rope around his neck was uncomfortably tight, much tighter than I wanted it to be, but there was no other way to hold him, and he gave voice to the murder in his heart in as terrible a solo as I've ever heard from a cornered animal.
Hastily I reviewed in my mind possible ways of getting that leopard the rest of the distance to the cage, his head now being only about a foot from the opening.
I shouted my simple plan to the men outside. "And when I swing him round," was my final command, "pull like hell."
Then I proceeded to put my scheme into effect, the only course that could possibly save the situation. It was a risky business, for an infuriated leopard is a menace, even when partly a prisoner.
Jumping off the table I quickly grabbed the animal by a kicking back leg and squared him around so that the men could pull him straight through the door. Considering that it was my first experience at swinging a leopard around a bend by a back leg, I did a good job. The men at the rope did an even better job. The second I surprised the animal with my attack from the rear that placed him directly in front of the open cage he had been so stubbornly resisting, they gave a tremendous yank that sent the spotted mule--only this cat was more obstinate than a mule--catapulting headlong through the opening as though he were on the wrong end of a tug-of-war, with an army of elephants working the other end of the rope.
All I heard from the leopard was a strangled gasp as he went whizzing through the opening into the cage. Lal, who was now on top of the box, did a speedy job of dropping the bars that made the animal a prisoner again. With two sailors to assist him in the operation, it was over in a jiffy.
As I mopped the perspiration off my forehead, thinking that my task was over, I was alarmed by the labored breathing that came from the cage. Running around and peering inside, I saw that the animal was choking. For some strange reason that I never could fathom, the slip-knot around his neck had not loosened when the sailors at my order slackened their hold on the rope.
Something had to be done immediately. I grabbed the end of the rope and sent the slack twirling through the bars, hoping this would result in slacking the noose. It didn't.
Here was an animal threatened by strangulation. To me, an animal dying is as painful a sight as human death and I meant to save that pesky leopard's life, even if I got clawed up in the process.
Again I rallied my sailors. I commanded them to grab the end of the rope and jerk the animal forward to the bars.
I got out a heavy pocket knife I always carry. The agonized breathing of the choking beast rattled me as much as anything ever had in all my experience, and I found myself fumbling with the knife in my feverish efforts to open up the longest blade, with a razor-sharp cutting edge of over four inches. I got the blade open as the men dragged the animal to the bars with a powerful pull. All I saw in front of me was a couple of hundred pounds of tortured leopard as I reached in and slipped the knife under the rope, quickly cutting it through.
Ironically enough, now that this animal was caged, I was in more danger in my dealings with him than at any time since I set out to capture him. I took my chances when I stuck my hand into the cage to slit that noose, but this was as nothing compared to the danger I was in during the fraction of a second that elapsed between the time I restored him to normal breathing with a slash of my knife, and the withdrawal of my hand. He seemed to come alive again instantaneously, making a terrible lunge for me, one paw just reaching my right shoulder and ripping my leather jacket wide open. Fortunately I ducked as I frantically backed away or that vicious paw would have dug down into my shoulder and held me fast while the other paw reaching out through the iron bars got in its deadly work at my throat.
Five weeks later the troublesome creature, considerably tamed though not exactly what you'd call docile, wound up at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.