Commentary by Karen Bernardo
In “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” Saki (H.H. Munro) tackles the Victorian-Edwardian fascination with wild-game hunting, as well as the timeless drive to keep up with the Joneses. In this case, the person with whom Mrs. Packletide must “keep up” is not named Jones, but Mrs. Bimberton. Mrs. Bimberton has recently traveled in one of those new-fangled contraptions, the airplane, piloted by an Algerian aviator. As a result, she has become the toast of British-occupied India.
Mrs. Packletide, her greatest rival, cannot stand this. What great feat could she accomplish that would render Mrs. Bimberton’s meager by comparison? She decides to shoot a tiger. Fortunately, she has enough money to accomplish almost anything she wishes, and she offers a reward of a thousand rupees to anyone, or any group, that can assist her in reaching her goal. A nearby native village takes up the challenge. As it happens, a very elderly tiger, who is no longer able to chase down antelopes for supper, has taken to preying on the village’s domesticated animals, and the villagers would like to get rid of him as much as Mrs. Packletide would like to bag him.
So the villagers construct a platform in a leafy tree for Mrs. Packletide, and strategically tether a goat “with a particularly persistent bleat” underneath it. Armed with a rifle, Mrs. Packletide, accompanied by her paid companion Louisa, waits through the night for the tiger to appear. At last the tiger is seen making his way into the clearing. Instead of attacking the terrified goat, however, the tiger lies down. “I believe it’s ill,” Louisa says, but the tiger rises again and heads for the goat. Mrs. Packletide fires, and the tiger falls.
When the smoke clears, however, it is apparent that it was the goat that Mrs. Packletide shot; the tiger has died of a heart attack. The villagers will not give away Mrs. Packletide’s secret, for they are a thousand rupees richer. Mrs. Packletide assumes she can trust Louisa for the same reason.
But Louisa, who seems to felt herself underpaid and underappreciated for some time, informs Mrs. Packletide that she’ll require a little extra funding to insure that the story doesn’t happen to leak out. Specifically, what Louisa needs is the money to buy a small cottage near Dorking. People are very surprised when Louisa, a humble paid companion, suddenly becomes a homeowner; but they are even more surprised when Mrs. Packletide gives up her newfound hobby, big-game hunting. “The initial expenses are so heavy,” she tells those who ask the reason.
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