Hide Articles List

15 articles on this Page






I A RACE FOR LIFE. Dinner is over, the ladies have withdrawn, and round the fragments of a costly dessert sit four gentlemen. Colonel Harvie and his guests, Captain Morton and William Staines, are sipping their wine and talking politics, while Master Tom Harvie (the colonel's young nephew, home from Eton for the Christmas holidays, and spending them for the first time with his uncle, who has lately returned from India) is busily engased on an enormous pear, and wondering if it would be possible, with a little ingenuity, to get possession of the claret bottle, which is at the other end of the table close to his uncle's elbow. Presently he rises, and s-trolls towards the coveted object, with a face of the most perfect indifference, and is just about to seize his prize, when— I should try an orange now, old boy, if you are thirsty," says his uncle. Unhappy Tcm knows what that means, and hastily retreats, baffled, but by no means beaten he discusses the orange, which is followed by a bunch of purple grapes, and then feeling at peace with himseL and the whole world, joins in the conversation. The colonel and his friends being staunch Tories, and with very similar opinions on most political Questions, and suggestion or theory advanced by one is carried unanimously by the other two and, therefore, their remarks being neither very interesting nor exciting, Mr Tom's chatter is listened to, much to that youth's sur- prise and pleasure. 0 uncle, he begins, what is that extraordi- nary arrangement you have in the hall, facing the front doôr 2" What, the bicycle?" Yes, I suppose it's a bicycle, but it's the nastiest old one I ever saw and why should it stand on that splendid tiger skin ? Ah, thereby hangs a tale," says Captain Mor- ton sententiously. "To the tiger skin or the bicycle?" laughed Tom. If you begin making bad jokes at your time of life, Master Tom, I don't know what will become of you. By the bye, Staines, have you heard of Harvie's Indian adventure?" Staines, who had only lately become acquainted with his host, says no. I've written it in the shape of a story since I saw you last, Morton," says the Colonel, "and if you like, we will read it over our cigars; you, being a literary man, Staines, must listen criti- eally." A story, hurrah shouts Tom. The manuscript is produced, and Colonel Harvie, settling himself comfortably, adjusts his double eye-glasses, clears his throat, and negins Has a bicycle ever saved a man's life? A j curious question, and one to which I imagine few persons could answer affirmatively. I am one of those few, however and as the life in question had a particular interest for me, being my own, all the details of the terrible event are firmly fi xcd in my memory. The case is entirely without parallel, and will,, I venture to think, interest general readers, though they may have no love for a rubbishly bicycular thing," f.s I once heard an old farmer call my beloved machine. I was always very fond of bicycling, and from the time when I was a Ila boy, and laboured for hours on a bone-shaker, to the days when I became the proud possessor of one of the first bicycles ever manufactured, I re- j veiled in the enchanting pastime, spending hours which should have been otherwise occupied,on the back of my iron horse, thuri putting my physical Cowers a long way ahead of my mental. In fact, I ated the sight of a book, and was never happy unless scouting the country on a bicycle. My father was a doctor in a little Kentish villag-, and, having a large family, he was thankful indeed when, at the age of nineteen, a commission was obtained for me by a wealthy friend in a regiment about to sail for India. (No p.wful examinations in those days!) And one fine morning I found myself with the King's -li at Plymouth, starting in H.M.S. Ganges for our mighty- Eatern Empire. I I will not attempt to describe my months of sea life, because every one has read of nautical adven- tures dozens of times before: suffice it to say, I was very sea-sick and miserable the first week on board, like everybody else, and caught myself wishing I was dead. I found afterwards that was rather a common wish with people in the first agonies of this malady. Then I recovered, and enjoyed myself like everybody else and saw a flying-fish, and was disappointed with it, like everybody else and fished tor hours, with about a quarter of a mile of lino over the stern, catching nothing, like everybody else; and when we sighted land I was thankful, like everybody else. A grand new bicycle was my father's parting present to me, and great was my delight at find- ing that another young "sub." in my regiment was also a bicyclist. In these days, when the "iron wheel" has so many votaries, this may seem nothing very strange; but, to realise my surprise and pleasure, you must remember that a bicycle was then a comparative curiosity, and a bicyclist a person to be stared at and admired, or otherwise. Enormous was the amount of money betted by us on races to come, and innumerable the beauties we discovered in our own machines. Once we attempted a race on board, down one side of the deck; but a nasty lurch nearly sent my com- panion overboard, and the captain soon put a stop to our proceedings. Well, we reached our destination at last, and steamed up the mighty Hooghly to Calcutta. Words fail me to describe the sensation which our bicycles caused. They were, I believe, the first ever seen in India and as we rode together into the town, some days after our arrival* one would have thought it was the triumphal entry of some Eastern potentate. Our first appearance was hailed with a cry of horror by a crowd of mendicants and children hovering round the outside of the market. Curiosity, however, soon got the better of their fear, and, by the time we had ridden a quarter of a mile, there was a regular mob at our heels, all following silently, with grave, earnest faces, and quiet tread-in fact, they might have been attend- ing some funeral. Soon every available stall and housetop was crammed with heads; the street in front of us seemed cleared as if by magic and on we rode as slowly as possible, trying to look like judges. The first horse we came to nearly went into a fit. Had a native been driving, the consequences would probably have been serious: but the white soldier in the vehicle pulled the unhappy beast up, and made it follow and examine our bicycles. These operations were watched by our body- guard with the deepest interest. We did not see many horses in town, fortunately, and the stalled oxen generally employed as bea.st of burden paid not the slighest attention to us. At length we arrived at a drinking-fountain, and alighted from our machines, causing another loud cry of aston- ishment, had a refreshing drink and remounted. As we reached the outskirts of the town we quickened our pace, and, finding a. grand level stretch of road in front of road in front of us, began to race, soon leaving every one far behind. I could fill a book with the curious incidents and accidents which befell us in going up country." Our regiment was always on the move, and panics of one kind or other were very frequent on our bicycling excurisions. On one occasion, when I was riding quietly, a half-demented native (one of the remaining fol- lowers of Juggernaut) ran into the road in front of me, and fell down almost under my bicycle. The unfortunate man wished to sacrifice himself, as he would have done, under the huge wheels which carry his god. It was with the greatest ,,I hill! ;,tyid lie r,,se witit tile air difficulty I aw,ided him; and he rOH> with the air of a person who had quite made up his mind to leave this world, but had suddenly come back to it by a short cut. It certainly never struck him that his religious arrangements would put me out ill the least. My friend, too, met with an unpleasant adven- ture. Peacocks are common birds in India, and in some parts are sacred, no one being allowed to kill or shoot them they swarm in the jungles, and are sometimes seen domesticated round the villages, strutting about like so many barndoor fowls in an English farm. My friend found out this to his cost, for one day, turning a corner at a good pace, he ran right ititr a flock of them, coming a nasty cropper him- self and killing one of the unfortunate birds. Endless complications followed. The owner vowed nothing we could give him would compen- sate for the loss of his sacred fowl, that ill-luck would fall on him and his house, and that the sahib would certainly die before the week was out. The sahib having given the man every farthing he had with him, and implored him to think no more about the matter, mounted his fallen steed and rode back to the camp, feeling somewhat crestfallen. The affair did not end here, however; the native authorities of the village came in a body to our commanding officer and it was with the greatest difficulty he managed to pacify them. This occurrence created a bad impression in the place, and we were very glad to leave it for another station higher up the country. We were now approaching the hills, and the long-talked-of bicycle race I was to ride against my friend Fred Bent had not yet come off. Soon our pet pas- time would have to be abandoned for an indefinite period so one evening after mess we drew up and signed articles in the regular professional style to ride a ten-mile race for a bet of five pounds a side, my opponent to receive three minutes's start (this little arrangement would have made us both forfeit our right to ever ride again as amateurs, but we did not know that then, and I dare say we should not have cared if we had). We were now stationed at the foot of the hills. The ground to our north became gradually broken, rising peak after peak, and stretching away to the region of eternal snow. There was a grand native road within a, short distance of our camp, running away for ten miles as flat as a drawing-board. It lay through the open plain, and then a deserted tract was reached, becoming wilder as the road proceeded, and finally swallowing it up in an impenetrable jungle. It was on this road I intended to train. Bent had found a circular path round some native huts a short way from the station, measuring about six laps to the mile, and here he prepared himself for the coming struggle. After a week of such training as would make a modern athlete's hair stand on end—meat almost raw, chopped up very finely little drinks of neat brandy, &c.-we considered ourselves fit for the contest; and the adventure I am now about to relate occurred the evening before the eventful day. I was just starting for a last ride over my favourite course, when an officer passing stopped me, and said- Have you heard of the tiger, Harvie ?" No," I answered. The natives have just brought word that a large tiger is marked down in the jungle about ten miles from here so don't go too far this evening." "All right," I laughed. I think a tiger woulc' find it a difficult matter to catch me—my training would tell on him." I li-al. not seen any large wild beasts as yet. and my notion or a tiger was a thin, sleepy-looking animal, as I had once seen in a travelling menagerie. Away I rode, my comrade's caption forgotten before 1 had -one a mile. I started at a good pace, but not racrng, as I intended to do all I know morning home. In about an hour I reached my usual halting-place, ten miles from the cami) but this being thu last night of my training I made up my mind to ride another couple of mile?, and then do the v/holo distance back at my best pace. I rode on, and :n a ".other ten minuter found myself in the jungle. Now for the race home. Dismounting, I oiled my machine, tightened up every screw, and then pat down on a boulder to rest and enjoy the pnvpect. A beaut'ful >5ceno it was too. Abt)v, me rose the grand mountains, their snowy topsblushingcrimson ;n the setting sun; 3 waterfall lik* a thread of gold and siiver, ftashin-r down the mountain side, and twining in a.nri OMT. the mas" of trees and rocks; there a jrlimp.se of fairyland virough a jungle vista. A post or "tank," a* are called, surround* by foli.ige, festooned by parasitical cumb r.r: pi "ait: glowing with flowers of every imaginab'). iiue humming-birds, iike fiery gems, flashec hither and thitlier, darting in and out amongst the trass. On the "tank"' floated water-fowi of every km'. and the minks were alive with gorgeous birds, their plumage rivalling the flowers in brilliancy nuQ variety of colour. But now the shadows were deepening, the crimson on the mountain-tops had disappeared, and the cold snow began to look" gray and ghostly. A flying fox went rustling past- me, and I hastily prepared to mount; for there is scarcely any twilight io India, and I knr-w it would soon be dark. As I rose my c-ys encountered something which made mo ?!'irf, and nearly drop off my bicycle. There, not forty yards off, was a tiger. I knew the animal well enough'; hnt how different ;ookerl from the lean, naif-starved little best i had seen at home He had just come into thf open space from dense jungle-break, and sat there, washing his face and purring in a contented sort of way, like a huge cat. Was I frightened ? Not an atom; I had my bicycle and a start of forty yards, so if I could not beat him it was a pity. He had not seen me yet, and I stood for another minute admiring the handsome creature, and then quietly mounted (the tiger was directly on my j right, while the road stretched straight away in front of me). The noise I made roused him; he looked up, and then, after deliberately stretching himseit, came leaping with long graceful bounds over the rank grass and rocks which separated over the rank grass and rocks which separated him from the road. He did not seem a bit angry, I but evidently wished to get a nearer view of such an extraordinary object. Forty yards, however, I thought was quite near- enough for safety. The tiger was in the road be- hind me now so I pulled myself together, and began to quicken pace. Would he stop, disgusted, after the first hun- dred yards, and give up the chase, or would he stick to it ? I quite hoped he would follow me and already pictured in my mind the graphic description I would write home of my race with a tiger. Little did I think what a terrible race it was going to be. I looked behind me. By Jove! he was "sticking to it." I could not judge the dis- tance but, at any rate, I was no further from him than when we started. Now for a spurt! I rode the next half-mile as hard as I could but, on again looking round, found I had not gained a yard. The tiger was on my track, moving with a long, swinging trot, and going quite as quickly as I was. For the first time I began to feel anxious, and thought uneasily of the ten long miles which separated me from safety. However, it was no good thinking now it was my muscle and iron steed against the brute. I could only do my best, and trust in Providence. Now there was no doubt about the tiger's inten- tion his blood was up, and on he came, ocep sionally giving vent to a roar which made the ground tremble. Another mile bad been tra- versed, and the tiger was slowly but surely closing up. I dashed my pouch to the ground, hoping it would stop him for a few seconds but he kept steadily on. and I felt it was then grim earnest. I calculated we must be about seven miles from camp now, and before I could ride another four my pursuer, I knew, must reach me. 0, the agony of those minutes, which seemed to me like long hours Another mile passed, then another. I could hear him behind me now—pad, pad, pad, quicker and quicker, louder and louder. I turned in mv saddle for a moment, and saw there were not twenty yards separating us How enormous the brute looked, and how terrible:! His huge tongue hung out, and the only sound he made was a con- tinual hoarse growl of rage, while his eyes seemed to literally flash fire. As I now sit quietly in my chair writing, I find it hard to analyse the crowd of memoriesbthat went rushing through my brain during that fear- ful ride. I saw long-forgotten events in which I had taken part rise up distinctly before me, and while every muscle was racked with my terrible exertion, my mind was clear, add life seemed to pass before me like one long panorama. On, on, on the slightest slip I knew would be fatal; a sudden jerk, a screw giving, and I should be hurled to instant death. Hnman strength would not stand much more the prolonged strain had told upon nie, and I felt it would soon be all over. My breath camo in thick sobs, a mist gathered before my eyes-I was stopping; my legs refused to move, and a thousand fiends seemed to be flitting about me, holding me back, back A weight like lead was on my chest; I was ohoking, I was dying. Then a few moments, which seemed like a life- time, and then—crash—with a roar: like thunder the tiger was on me, and I was crushed to the ground. Then I heard shots fired, a Babel of men's voices, and all was blank. After many days of unconsciousness aud raging fever, reason gradually returned, and I learnt the particulars of my deliverance. A party of officers had started with a shikaree (or native hunter) to a trap which had been pre- pared for the tiger. A goat was tethered on the outskirts of the jungle, and the sportsmen had started to take up positions in the trees near, to wait for their game, which the bleat of the goat, in the stillness of the night, would speedily liave attracted. They were talking of our coming bicycle race as they went along, and expecting every moment to meet me on my return journey. As they passed a clump of bushes I came in sight, about a quarter of a mile in front of them, whirling along in a cloud of dust, which hid my terrible pursuer. They soon, however, saw my awful danger. The huge brute, mad with rage, hurled itself upon me just as we reached them. My friends stood almost petrified with terror, and did not dare to fire; but the shikaree, a man of iron nerve, and accustomed to face sudden danger of all kinds in the hunting field, sprang quickly to within a yard of the tiger, and, put- ting his rifle almost to the animal's car, fired twice, and blew its brains out just in time to save my Jife. I was drawn from under the palpitating body of the dead enemy, every one present be- lieving that it was all up with me. Making a litter of boughs, they carried me into the camp, where I lay for many weeks lingering between life and death. At the conclusion of the colonel's story a general move was made, and the queer old bicycle, standing victorious upon the remains of his pur- suer, and surrounded by many Indian trophies, was examined with the deepest interest. Allow me, gentleman, to introduce you to my valued old friend," said Colonel Harvie, who took so prominent a part in my RACE FOR LIFE." London Society Christmas Number.