"The Bronze Tiger" by James Francis Dwyer (from The American Magazine, June 1913; reprinted in Dwyer's collection "Breath of the Jungle," 1915)
James Francis Dwyer (1874-1952) was an Australian-born author who published over 1000 short stories in his lifetime. He was the first Australian-born person to make over $1 million from his writing, but the path was not an easy one for him.
As a young man in Austalia, married and with a young child, Dwyer found himself heavily in debt. In an effort to save his family, the young postal clerk concocted a scheme of forging postal orders. He was caught and sentenced to seven years in prison -- an unheard-of sentence for a first-time offender (at a time when persons convicted of manslaughter would usually get a sentence of 3 years -- but the presiding judge stated he wanted to make an example of Dwyer). Because his conviction called for more than three years, Dwyer was automatically catagorized as a "dangerous" person and spent the first nine months of his sentence in solitary confinement. Dwyer had developed an interest in writing, prisoners were not allowed paper or pencils, so Dwyer could only write on a slateboard. A fellow prisoner about to be released memorized one of the poems Dwyer wrote and, on his release, submitted it for publication. It was accepted and published. Dwyer made a friend with one of his guards, who was able to sneak paper and pen to the prisoner. The guard then smuggled a poem and several of Dwyer's stories out of prison and submitted them in his name. The poem was published. The publisher held off on printing the stories for fear that Dwyer would get in trouble with prison officials. After three years in prison, Dwyer was released on probation; the day of his release, two of his stories were published.
It was difficult for anyone on probation to find work in Australia, but Dwyer eventually found employment at several newspapers. When Dwyer's probation was up, he moved his family to England, hoping that opportunities for a writer would be better there. They weren't, and after a year, he moved to New York where he began to have success with his stories, first with The Black Cat Magazine, then with many of the popular magazines of the day -- Short Stories, The Blue Book Magazine, The Popular Magazine, Colliers, and The Argosy among them. For the most part his stories were in the mystery, adventure, thriller, and romance genres; some were fantasies, usually "lost race" tales. Dwyer eventually published at lest ten novels, but only one collection of short stories. In the 1920s Dwyer and his second wife moved to France, where he went on to publish several anti-German articles, which brought the ire of the Nazis; he was threatened and, just as France fell to Germany, Dwyer and his wife escaped to Spain, returning only after the war was over. A few years before his death, he published his autobiography. Previous to this he had kept his criminal past a secret, but Leg-Irons on Wings went into extensive detail about his crime and his imprisonment. Although Dwyer had enjoyed a solid reputation as an author in America and England, he was virtually unknown in his native Australia until his autobiography was published
"The Bronze Tiger," like all the stories in "The Breath of the Jungle", was a Far East adventure. The story takes place in Malay's Valley of Golan Ra: "There are thousands of places in the tropics that look unhealthy and feel unhealthy, but the Valley of Golan Ra was vicious...[the atmosphere] it's poisonous. The country has been left too much to itself and it doesn't want a white man near." (So, yes, there is some racism that was prevalent at the time in this tale. Deal with it.)
Our narrator was in need of a job and was hired on by Masterson as an assistant, collecting specimens for an American museum. Masterson was himself an American, but we are told that he had a grandmother who was "a Sahn-Talok woman from the head of the Meinam." The search for specimens took them to the forsaken area of Golan Ra, where they collected sankes, lizards, bugs and "other things." One day, after Masterton had collected a venomous krait, a Buddhist monk wandered in down from the hills. Naked except for a fithy loin cloth, the monk spoke English, telling them that he lived in a cave in the hills above. When asked why he lived in such a terrible place, the monk replied that this was a holy place because the Buddha had rested here on his way to the Temple of Paklan, and because here was the Man-Eater of Golan Ra.
With the mention of this "Maneater," Masterson's perked up. According to an old legend, as the Buddha was resting and contemplating what he would do when he got to Paklan, a hungry tiger was lurking in the bushes. The tiger was very hungry and the Buddha was very fat -- a perfect meal. The Buddha was unconcerned about the tiger and, as the tiger approached, the Buddha told him to go waay. The tiger didn't listen and made to spring, but was frozen in mid-air. The slowly the tiger turned to bronze.
The monk offered to show the bronze tiger to the Americans. It was the most life-like statue imaginable, far beyond the capabilties of any artist the Americans knew -- one could almost beieve it had been an actual tiger. The monk told them that the statue would call out at night and hundreds of tigers would come in from the hills to join it. Anyone caught there need only put his hands on the statue and pray to Buddha and the tigers would leave him alone. Indeed, there appeared to be a number of tiger tracks about the staue. The two Americans decided to see for themselves.
With the aid of the monk, they built a hasty observation platform between two stunted trees. That night they waited for hours on the platfom. Then, they hear a weird cry coming from where the statue was. It's the Man-Eater calling out for his fellow tigers, the monk told them. The cry continued, then, in the darkness, they could see the reflection of eyes approaching. Our narrator shoots at them with his rifle and a large tiger goes to attack them. The platfom is too high for the tiger, but the trees themselves are weak. They break at the base and all three are plunged downward into the darkness. Our narrator loses consciousness...
He wakes and it is morning. The tigers are gone. So are the monk and Masterson. Tied to the staue are the remains of a gibbon, evidently there as a sacrifice to the tigers. It was the cries of the gibbon that they had heard in the night. But where were the monk and Masterson? And why had the tigers not attacked our unconscious narrator?
Masteson has gone native. When our narrator finally locates the monks cave two weeks later, it is empty, but there is a note from Masterson telling our narrator to submit his resignation to the American museum. Later, he learns from a "leprous Negito" that Masterson and the monk had gone to Buddhist temple far up the hill. They were not seen again. Curtis, the American consul in the Malay, later tells our narator that he "had been out there long enough to know what effect the atmosphere of a place like Golan Ra would have on a man with a trace of color in his blood." Emphasis mine.
Racism aside, a very effective tale that leaves the reader with questions that have no logical answers.