The Captain and the Tiger by Geoff Cronin
The big villa at the head of the lake had been vacant for some time and the news that it had been sold was greeted with great anticipation by the locals. The new owner was reported to be a British army captain retired from a regiment serving in India. This was confirmed by a local woman who had been engaged as cook cum housekeeper and who thereafter kept the whole village fully informed of activities at ‘The Villa’.
No, he was not married, yes he could ride a horse and would be joining the local hunt, yes he was a good shot and owned a matched pair of Purdey shotguns and two rifles and yes he was fond of a drop and told some great stories when he was ‘in his cups’.
Well, the captain got in a team of contractors and gardeners and handymen and after six months or so the villa was restored to something of its former glory. He would make an occasional visit to the local hostelry and it was said that if he had more than three large whiskeys he was quite likely to buy a round for ‘the house’ and when that happened he could tell stories about India ‘to beat the band’.
He would tell about pig sticking, polo matches, fakirs, snake charmers and God knows what else. It was generally agreed that some of the stories would be on the tall side but no comment would be made for you could not insult a man who bought a round ‘for the house’.
Within the ranks of the locals, however, there was one guy, Butler by name, who although he had no difficulty swallowing free drinks, he couldn’t swallow the captain’s tall stories – in fact they stuck crosswise in his gullet.
So it was on a night when the captain was well oiled he launched into his account of a tiger hunt as follows:-
“A tiger had been reported as having killed one of the natives and the villagers asked me to hunt him down. So I set out one morning with a gang of beaters who created a most unholy racket with drums and cymbals and after beating a section of the jungle the beast was sighted heading for a small clearing with a thicket at the far end. When I didn’t see him emerge from the thicket, I consulted my guide who said “He’s still in there captain, waiting to ambush you.”
So I cocked my rifle and began to advance slowly. Suddenly the tiger exploded out of his cover and sprang straight at me, his mouth wide open, fangs bared for the kill. Instantly I shouldered the rifle and fired straight into that gaping mouth. The tiger fell dead at my feet and when we measured him from nose to tail he was twenty three feet exactly.”
There was cheering and applause from the listeners as they turned to their drinks and as the noise died down, Butler’s hard voice was heard to say. “That’s some fairy tale lads, but let me tell ye a true story of the monster pike I killed above in the lake.”
A hush came over the crowded pub and Butler continued. “Ye all know that my house is on the hill over the lake and I can see the whole stretch from my kitchen window. Well I was havin’ my breakfast on the morning of Michaelmas Day, twelvemonths and I saw three swans on the lake sailin’ along nice and peaceful, when all of a sudden one of them disappeared and the other two flew off. Well, I watched and the swan never came up again and I said to myself ‘twas a pike that took the swan and he must have been a helluva big one.
I decided on the spot that I was going to try and catch that pike and the next day I went to town and bought a shark hook in the tackle shop and a coil of strong rope. To complete the job I dug out an empty petrol can, two big swivels and a length of fence wire. I put a swivel at each end of the wire with the big hook at one end and the other end fastened to the handle of the can. For bait I hung half a rabbit on the hook and went down to the edge of the lake and here I threw the hook in at the deep part near the wood. When the can was floating nicely I tied the rope to a strong sapling and went home for my tea.
Well the following morning, I went down to see if I had a bite and I saw the little tree bent down into the water and the rope as tight as a fiddle string and I knew I had him. So I went to a neighbour and borrowed a pony and two farm hands and we tackled the pony to my rope and truth to tell the pike near pulled the pony into the lake. Well after a helluva struggle, we beached the monster and when we had him killed we cut him open and not only did we find the swan but there was a small goat inside him too. Anyway we measured him and he was twenty five feet long.”
Thunderous applause erupted and Butler bought a round of drinks for the house to cement his upstaging of the captain. However, as drinks were being lowered, the captain was heard to say to a friend. “Butler’s story is a load of bullshit and I think he should be told that if he expects anyone to believe him he’d want to measure that pike again.”
This was duly related to Butler, who replied. “Tell the captain if he’ll cut ten feet of the tiger, I’ll see what can be done about the pike.”!
* * *
“That young man came back from Cyprus with a Chinese wife and he became the Human Cry of the neighbourhood, and the next thing we heard is that he had gone pure scruflous.”
About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017
There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.
Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.
Thank you for dropping in today and you can read The Colour of Life and the previous chapters of The Black Bitch in this directory:
I hope you have enjoyed the latest tall tale from Geoff and look forward to your comments.