Additional Biographic and Bibliographic Information
Courtesy E. Charles Ash
Rounsevelle Wildman, the son of Rev. Edwin Wildman and Helen P. Rounsevelle, was born on March 19, 1864, in Batavia, New York. After graduating from Syracuse University he travelled west and, from 1885-90, worked at the Idaho Statesman of Boise as reporter and editor. From 1889-90 he served as a member of the Idaho delegation to Congress; and it was largely owing to his efforts that Idaho was admitted as a state. On June 2, 1890, he was appointed United States Consul at Singapore. On January 23, 1893 he was appointed Consul at Barmen, Germany, and was en route to his post when President Cleveland took office and appointed another to the position. As a result, Wildman retired from the service in April of 1893 and returned to New York. Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor, a Malayan potentate that Wildman had befriended, asked him to go to Chicago and take charge of the Johor bungalow at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Upon the conclusion of the Exposition, Wildman travelled to San Francisco where, from 1894-97, he owned, edited and regularly contributed to the Overland Monthly. His work often appeared in the magazine in serial form and was later compiled into books for publication. Following the election of President McKinley he was, on July 3, 1897, appointed Consul at Hong Kong. On May 25, 1898, he was appointed to that post as Consul General.
In 1901 Wildman was travelling from Hong Kong to the United States with his wife and two children for a long-deferred leave. Their vessel, the steamer City of Rio de Janeiro, struck rocks in a dense fog and sank in San Francisco Bay on February 22, 1901. Accounts of the number of number of persons who died in the disaster vary due to the fact that the ship's manifest, along with the ship's purser, were both lost -- and the survivors were not systematically identified and enumerated. However, more than 120 of approximately 200 passengers and crew perished, including the four members of the Wildman family.
Rounsevelle Wildman was survived by his brother, Edwin Wildman (1867-1932), a journalist and author who also served in Hong Kong from 1898-99 as Vice Consul and as Deputy Consul General (under his brother). The similarities of their names and vocations has given rise to some confusion and misattributions.
For a long time before that hardly a day had passed but Aboo Din, who was our syce, or groom, and wore the American colors proudly on his right arm, came in from the servants' quarters with an anxious look on his kindly brown face and asked respectfully for the tuan (lord) or mem(lady).
"What is it, Aboo Din?" the mistress would inquire, as visions of Baboo drowned in the great Shanghai jar, or of Baboo lying crushed by a boa among the yellow bamboos beyond the hedge, passed swiftly through her mind.
"Mem see Baboo?" came the inevitable question.
It was unnecessary to say more. At once Ah Mingo, the "boy;" Zim, the cook; the kebuns (gardeners); the tukan-ayer (water-boy), and even the sleek Hindoo dirzee, who sat sewing, dozing and chewing betel-nut on the shady side of the veranda, turned out with one accord and commenced a systematic search for the missing Baboo.
Sometimes he was no farther off than the protecting screen of the "compound" hedge, or the cool, green shadows beneath the bungalow. But oftener the government Sikhs had to be appealed to, and Kampong Glam in Singapore searched from the great market to the courtyards of Sultan Ali. It was useless to whip him, for whippings seemed only to make Baboo grow. He would lisp serenely as Aboo Din took down the rattan withe from above the door, "Baboo baniak jahat!" (Baboo very bad!) and there was something so charmingly impersonal in all his mischief, that we came between his own brown body and the rod, time and again.
There was nothing distinctive in Baboo's features or form. To the casual observer he might have been any one of a half-dozen of his playmates. Like them, he went about perfectly naked, his soft, brown skin shining like polished rosewood in the fierce Malayan sun.
His hair was black, straight and short, and his eyes as black as coals. Like his companions, he stood as straight as an arrow, and could carry a pail of water on his head without spilling a drop.
He, too, ate rice three times a day. It puffed him up like a little old man, which added to his grotesqueness, and gave him a certain air of dignity that went well with his features when they were in repose. Around his waist he wore a silver chain with a silver heart suspended from it. Its purpose was to keep off the evil spirits.
There was always an atmosphere of sandalwood and Arab essence about Baboo that reminded me of the holds of the old sailing-ships that used to come into Boston harbor from the Indies. I think his mother must have nibbed the perfumes into his hair as the one way of declaring her affection for him to the world. She could not give him clothes or ornaments or toys: such was not the fashion of Baboo's race. Neither was he old enough to wear the silk sarong that his Aunt Fatima had woven for him on her loom.
Baboo had been well trained, and however lordly he might be in the quarters, he was marked in his respect to the mistress. He would touch his forehead to the red earth when I drove away of a morning to the office, and the next moment I might catch him in the act of blowing a tiny ball of clay from his sumpitan into the ear of his father, the syce, as he stood majestically on the step behind me.
Baboo went to school for two hours every day to a fat old Arab penager, or teacher, whose schoolroom was an open stall, and whose only furniture a bench, on which he sat cross-legged, and flourished a whip in one hand and a chapter of the Koran in the other.
There were a dozen little fellows in the school; all naked. They stood up in line, and in a soft, musical treble chanted in chorus the glorious promises of the Koran, even while their eyes wandered from the dusky corner, where a cheko lizard was struggling with an atlas moth, to the frantic gesticulations of a naked Hindu who was calling his meek-eyed bullocks hard names because they insisted on lying down in the middle of the road for their noonday siesta.
Baboo's father, Aboo Din, was a Hadji, for he had been to Mecca. When nothing else could make Baboo forget the effects of the green durian he had eaten, Aboo Din would take the child on his knees and sing to him of this trip to Mecca, in a quaint, monotonous voice full of sorrowful quavers. Baboo believed he himself could have left Singapore any day and found Mecca in the dark.
We had been living some weeks in a government bungalow, fourteen miles from Singapore, across the island that looks out on the Straits of Malacca. The fishing and hunting were excellent. I had shot wild pig, deer, tapirs, and for some days had been getting ready to track down a tiger that had been prowling in the jungle about the bungalow.
But of a morning, as we lay lazily chatting in our long chairs behind the bamboo chicks, the cries of "Hariman! Hariman!" and "Baboo!" came up to us from the servants' quarters.
Aboo Din sprang over the railing of the veranda, and without stopping even to touch the back of his hand to his forehead, cried:
"Tuan Consul, tiger have eat chow dog and got Baboo!"
Then he rushed into the dining-room, snatched up my Winchester and cartridge-belt, and handed them to me with a "lekas (quick)! come!"
He sprang back off the veranda and ran to his quarters, where the men were arming themselves with ugly krisses and heavy parangs.
I had not much hope of finding the tiger, much less of rescuing Baboo, dead or alive. The jungle loomed up like an impassable wall on all three sides of the compound, so dense, compact and interwoven that a bird could not fly through it. Still I knew that my men, if they had the courage, could follow where the tiger led, and could cut a path for me.
Aboo Din unloosed a half-dozen pariah dogs that we kept for wild pig, and led them to the spot where the tiger had last lain. In an instant the entire pack sent up a doleful howl, and slunk back to their kennels.
Aboo Din lashed them mercilessly and drove them into the jungle, he following on his hands and knees. I only waited to don my green kaki suit and canvas shooting-hat and despatch a man to the neighboring kampong, or village, to ask the pengulo (chief) to send me his shikaris, or hunters. Then I plunged into the jungle path that my kebuns had cut with their keen parangs, or jungle- knives. Ten feet within the confines of the forest the metallic glare of the sun and the pitiless reflections of the China Sea were lost in a dim, green twilight. Far ahead I could hear the half-hearted snarls of the cowardly, deserting curs, and Aboo Din's angry voice rapidly exhausting the curses of the Koran on their heads.
My men, who were naked save for a cotton sarong wound around their waists, slashed here a rubber-vine, there a thorny rattan, and again a mass of creepers that were as tenacious as iron ropes, all the time pressing forward at a rapid walk. Ofttimes the trail led from the solid ground through a swamp where grew great sago palms, and out of which a black, sluggish stream flowed toward the straits. Gray iguanas and pendants of dove orchids hung from the limbs above, and green and gold lizards scuttled up the trees at our approach.
At the first plot of wet ground Aboo Din sent up a shout, and awaited my coming. I found him on his hands and knees, gazing stupidly at the prints in the moist earth.
"Tuan," he shouted, "see Baboo's feet, one -- two -- three -- more! Praise be to Allah!"
I dropped down among the lily-pods and pitcher-plants beside him. There, sure enough, close by the catlike footmarks of the tiger, was the perfect impression of one of Baboo's bare feet. Farther on was the imprint of another, and then a third. Wonderful! The intervals between the several footmarks were far enough apart for the stride of a man!
"Apa?" (What does it mean?) I said.
Aboo Din tore his hair and called upon Allah and the assembled Malays to witness that he was the father of this Baboo, but that in the sight of Mohammed he was innocent of this witchcraft. He had striven from Hari Rahmadan to Hari Kahmadan to bring this four-year-old up in the light of the Koran, but here he was striding through the jungle, two feet and more at a step, holding on to a tiger's tail!
I shouted with laughter as the truth dawned upon me. It must be so -- Baboo was alive. His footprints were before me. He was being dragged through the jungle by a full-grown Malayan tiger! How else explain his impossible strides, overlapping the beast's marks!
Aboo Din turned his face toward Mecca, and his lips moved in prayer.
"May Allah be kind to this tiger!" he mumbled. "He is in the hands of a witch. We shall find him as harmless as an old cat. Baboo will break out his teeth with a club of fillion wood and bite off his claws with his own teeth. Allah is merciful!"
We pushed on for half an hour over a dry, foliage-cushioned strip of ground that left no trace of the pursued. At the second wet spot we dashed forward eagerly and scanned the trail for signs of Baboo, but only the pads of the tiger marred the surface of the slime.
Aboo Din squatted on the root of a huge mangrove and broke forth into loud lamentations, while the last remaining cur took advantage of his preoccupation to sneak back on the homeward trail.
"Aboo," I commanded, sarcastically, "pergle! (move on!) Baboo is a man and a witch. He is tired of walking, and is riding on the back of the tiger!"
Aboo gazed into my face incredulously for a moment; then, picking up his parang and tightening his sarong, strode on ahead without a word. At noon we came upon a sandy stretch of soil that contained a few diseased cocoanut palms, fringed by a sluggish lagoon, and a great banian-tree whose trunk was hardly more than a mass of interlaced roots. A troop of long-armed wah-wah monkeys were scolding and whistling within its dense foliage with surprising intensity. Occasionally one would drop from an outreaching limb to one of the pendulous roots, and then, with a shrill whistle of fright, spring back to the protection of his mates.
A Malay silenced them by throwing a half-ripe cocoanut into the midst of the tree, and we moved on to the shade of the sturdiest palm. There we sat down to rest and eat some biscuits softened in the milk of a cocoanut.
"There is a boa in the roots of the banian, Aboo," I said, looking longingly toward its deep shadow.
He nodded his head, and drew from the pouch in the knot in his sarong a few broken fragments of areca nut. These he wrapped in a lemon-leaf well smeared with lime, then tucked the entire mass into the corner of his mouth.
In a moment a brilliant red juice dyed his lips, and he closed his eyes in happy contentment, oblivious, for the time, of the sand and fallen trunks that seemed to dance in the parching rays of the sun -- oblivious, even, of the loss of his first-born.
I was revolving in my mind whether there was any use in continuing the chase, which I would have given up long before, had I not known that a tiger who has eaten to repletion is both timid and lazy. This one had certainly breakfasted on a dog or on some animal before encountering Baboo.
I had hoped that possibly the barking of the curs might have caused him to drop the child, and make off where pursuit would be impossible; but so far we had, after those footprints, found neither traces of Baboo alive, nor the blood which should have been seen had the tiger killed the child.
Suddenly a long, pear-shaped mangrove-pod struck me full in the breast. I sprang up in surprise, for I was under a cocoanut-tree, and there was no mangrove nearer than the lagoon.
A Malay looked up sleepily, and pointed toward the wide spreading banian.
My eyes followed the direction indicated, and could just distinguish a grinning face among the interlacing roots at the base of the tree. So I picked up the green, dart-like end of the pod, and took careful aim at the brown face and milk-white teeth.
Then it struck me as peculiar that a monkey, after all the evidence of fright we had so lately witnessed, should seek a hiding-place that must be within easy reach of its greatest enemy, the boa-constrictor.
Aboo Din had aroused himself, and was looking intently in the same direction. Before I could take a step toward the tree he had leaped to his feet, and was bounding across the little space, shouting, "Baboo! Baboo!"
The small brown face instantly disappeared, and we were left staring blankly at a dark opening into the heart of the woody maze. Then we heard the small, well-known voice of Baboo:
"Tabek, (greeting), tuan! Greeting, Aboo Din! Tuan consul no whip, Baboo come out."
Aboo Din ran his long, naked arm into the opening in pursuit of his first-born -- the audacious boy who would make terms with his white master!
"Is it not enough before Allah that this son should cause me, a Hadji, to curse daily, but now he must bewitch tigers and dictate terms to the tuan and to me, his father? He shall feel the strength of my wrist; I will -- O Allah!"
Aboo snatched forth his arm with a howl of pain. One of his fingers was bleeding profusely, and the marks of tiny teeth showed plainly where Baboo had closed them on the offending hand.
"By, Baboo, mari!" (Good, come forth!) I said.
First the round, soft face of the small miscreant appeared; then the head, and then the naked little body. Aboo Din grasped him in his arms, regardless of his former threats, or of the blood that was flowing from his wounds. Then, amid caresses and promises to Allah to kill fire-fighting cocks, the father hugged and kissed Baboo until he cried out with pain.
After each Malay had had the little fellow in his arms, I turned to him and said, while I tried to be severe:
"Baboo, where is tiger?"
"Sudah mati, (dead), tuan," he answered, with dignity. "Tiger over there, tuan. Sladang kill. I hid here and wait for Aboo Din!"
He touched his forehead with the back of his brown palm. There was nothing, either in the little fellow's bearing or words, that betrayed fear or bravado. It was only one mishap more or less to him.
We followed Baboo's lead to the edge of the jungle, and there, stretched out in the hot sand, lay the great, tawny beast, stamped and pawed until he was almost unrecognizable.
All about him were the hoof-marks of the great sladang, the fiercest and wildest animal of the peninsula -- the Malayan bull that will charge a tiger, a black lion, a boa, and even a crocodile on sight. Hunters will go miles to avoid one of them, and a herd of elephants will go trumpeting away in fear at their approach.
"Kuching besar (big cat) eat Baboo's chow dog, then sleep in lallang grass" -- this was the child's story. "Baboo find, and say, 'Bagus kuching, (Pretty kitty), see Baboo's doll?' Kuching no like Baboo's doll mem consul give. Kuching run away. Baboo catch tail, run too. Kuching go long ways. Baboo 'fraid Aboo Din whip and tell kuching must go back. Kuching pick Baboo up in mouth when Baboo let go.
"Kuching hurt Baboo. Baboo stick fingers in kuching's eye. Kuching no more hurt Baboo. Kuching stop under banian-tree and sleep. Big sladang come, fight kuching. Baboo sorry for good kuching. Baboo hid from sladang -- Aboo Din no whip Baboo?"
His voice dropped to a pathetic little quaver, and he put up his hands with an appealing gesture; but his brown legs were drawn back ready to flee should Aboo Din make one hostile move.
"Baboo," I said, "you are a hero!"
Baboo opened his little black eyes, but did not dispute me.
"You shall go to Mecca when you grow up, and become a Hadji, and when you come back the high kadi shall take you in the mosque and make a kaleeb of you," said I. "Now put your forehead on the ground and thank the good Allah that the kuching had eaten dog before he got you."
Baboo did as he was told, but I think that in his heart he was more grateful that for once he had evaded a whipping than for his remarkable escape.
A little later the pengulo came up with a half-dozen shikaris, or hunters, and a pack of hunting dogs. The men skinned the mutilated carcass of the only "good tiger" I met during my three years' hunting in the jungles of this strange old peninsula.
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