Roy Glashan's Library
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As published in The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, Queensland, 6 January 1914

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-08
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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IRENE MAXWELL passed through the crowd of circus hands until she reached the semi-circle of wagons at rear of Hipla's World Famed Hippodrome. She paused a moment to watch the grooms as they led half a score of ponies to the drinking trough adjoining the camel's hay. A big fly-tormented elephant rocked at its picket, its eyes staring inquiringly, from time to time, at the Mohomeddan driver squatting near the edge of the big sawdusted ring.

It was nearly seven o'clock. In another half hour the crowds would come surging past the pay-office, filling the long tiers of seats around the dusty ring. Irene Maxwell had no desire to be caught in the jostling mob of sight-seers that nightly filled the mammoth tent. A vague sense of terror held her as she stepped warily down the narrow lane of wagons. Half-seen animals slunk inquisitively from the barred cage fronts to the inner recesses.

Behind, in the growing dusk, a pair of flaming eye-balls followed her movements. Halting in the shadow of an awning she looked back as though a voice had called. A shudder passed over her. Ten yards away a big black-maned lion stood watching her movements from the front of the high-roofed ring cage.

Irene caught her breath sharply; the yellow eyes seemed to flare in the uncertain light. The huge head jerked up and down as with a slow leonine purr the lion strode away to the far end of the cage.

The grooms led the whinnying ponies from the water trough to the canvas stalls behind the pay-office. A clown, dressed in an old overcoat and bowler hat crossed the ring cracking a whip and calling loudly to a troop of performing dogs that ran yelping at his heels.

Irene watched, feeling a strange thrill at these unusual sights. And again her eyes went out to the big, black-maned head in the high-roofed ring cape. The lion standing erect was no longer conscious of her presence; its eyes were fixed on something in the dusky background.

A quick, familiar footstep caught her ear. Turning suddenly she found herself almost between laughter and tears, hurrying to meet the oncomer. A young man dressed in semi-military costume came into view. His face was particularly attractive and lacked that rigidity of expression common in men of his class. A certain boyish alertness invested his movements with a singular charm.

"You... have been looking at my lion, Irene!" he said gently. "I did not expect you here this evening."

She trembled slightly at the touch of his hand, while her startled glance went out again to the maned head watching them both from the barred cage.

"The nature of your work terrifies me at times, Lenny," she declared between breaths. "Sometimes I wake at night feeling that you are in the grip of that terrible creature over there. I wish—I really wish to-night was your last in this dreadful place!"

He laughed in his amused boyish way, holding her gloved hand us they walked slowly towards the circus entrance.

"The men who drives autos and flying-machines take bigger chances than we lion tamers," he assured her. "Sultan and I—" he indicated the distant cage good humouredly— "understand each other perfectly."

"You with a tiny whip, and he with those horrible claws!" she broke out, unable to control her rising fears. "I dreamt last night that a terrible accident happened during your 'turn,'" she almost sobbed. "I really wish, dear, you had chosen another profession!"

He soothed her with many assurances of his ability to look after himself while in the cage with the almost intractable Sultan.

TWO years before Irene had met the young lion tamer under fateful circumstances. At that time both were in the employ of a big theatrical syndicate, Leonard Vale appeared nightly with a troupe of lions while Irene came later in the evening to delight her overwhelming audience with representations of Shakespeare's heroines.

It was during one of these performances that a cry of fire flashed through the theatre. The young actress never quite forgot what followed. The safety curtain had failed to lower and the gallery and pit had become a living pandemonium wherein men and women were fighting for their lives.

Irene, dressed in some light gossamer stuff, found herself in a raging corridor of flame blocked at each end by blazing masses of scenery and stage property. Frantically she sought her dressing room only to find in its place a perfect inferno of smoke and blazing woodwork.

What followed was never afterward quite clear to her. Dragging herself back to the wings she became conscious of Leonard's arms about her; of him fighting through the stage traps and properties, his great coat drawn about her head and shoulders until they reached a side exit and safety.

Their various engagements had separated them at times. But when good fortune brought them to the same town it was to renew their pledge of love and affection. Leonard was merely awaiting the expiration of his contract with Hipla's management—a matter of one short week only—and then he and Irene were to be married quietly in a little village church some thirty miles from London.

Afterwards they were to travel together, under more lucrative terms with another big provincial theatrical syndicate. Irene was counting the days and hours now when Leonard would be free to take up his less risky 'turn', for Hipla's lion, Sultan, was regarded by public and press alike as the most dangerous animal in captivity. Her woman's instinct warned her that, sooner or later, the ill-tempered Sultan would turn upon him some night before a crowded audience. The thought was constantly with her. It had brought her into the hippodrome now to stare with hypnotised eyes at the big, black-maned head peering at them both through the iron bars.

Leonard's easy manner together with the nonchalant way he rapped the lion's paw as they passed the cage reassured her slightly. It was only after she had left him at the circus entrance that her fears returned.

A LITTLE horse-faced man slunk from the shadow of the big iron cage as Vale hopped nimbly to the ground, slamming the door in the face of the black-maned lion within.

A dozen gas flares illumined the dark spaces between the semi- circle of wagons where the outgoing audience pushed and jostled their way from the menagerie into the street. Vale's "turn" had been the last item on the programme. A biograph man had attended the performance to obtain films of the young tamer thrusting his head into Sultan's open jaws. Of course there were the usually critically disposed people who hinted of anaesthetics being secretly administered to the lion prior to the event. The biograph operator was satisfied, however, that the films would be a success and departed hurriedly with the crowd.

A little horse-faced man breathed warily as he followed Vale down the labyrinth of wagons until a canvas dressing room was reached at the rear of the pony-stalls. Vale's spangled coat scintillated under the flare lamp. Outside the dressing room, a drowsy-eyed eagle rattled its foot chain in the circus dust and fell again into its brooding lethargy.

Hanging his heavy thonged whip from a nail in the tent post the young tamer lit a cigarette and stretched himself, for a few moments on a hard couch in the far corner. In one of the adjacent cages a pair of Indian wolves padded up and down. Something in their uneasy movements caused Vale to look up suddenly. The horse-faced man was standing in the doorway.

In a flash the tamer was on his feet. "You have no right here!" he called out. "What business brings you to me at this hour?"

The figure in the doorway drew back half a pace, his left hand thrust deep in the pocket of his greasy coat. Physically he was no larger than a boy of fourteen, from his leering horsey manner one might have guessed him to be a jockey or circus groom. An odour of blackmail and the betting ring invested his movements, he regarded the young tamer with insolent good humour.

"A lady friend of yours asked me to pay you a visit, Professor. P'raps you remember Mademoiselle Lotti of the Variety Theatre?"

"Well?" The young tamer glanced hurriedly at his watch. "What does Mademoiselle Lotti want!"

The jockey-faced boy-man shrugged in a noncommittal way, then glanced back over his shoulder into the darkness where four slits of fire flashed to and fro from the corner of the wolf-house.

"I was sent here to-night, Professor, to give that lion Sultan a surprise tonic to make him feel skittish while you were putting 'im through his tricks."

The tamer eyed him with, sudden suspicion.

"Tell me your business, my friend. I am in a hurry."

He beckoned his strange visitor into the tent and placed a chair beside the hard couch.

"I think you have something to say. Mr. —"

"Odkins with the haitch blown off, Professor."

"Why did Mademoiselle send you to me. Mr. Odkins?" The tamer leaned back on the couch, hands clasped over his knee, his big white wrists showing a pair of newly healed scars where the lion's claw had rent deep into the bone and sinew. His visitor's toothless mouth and shifting eyes impressed him momentarily. Reaching a small bottle of wine from a cupboard at his elbow he filled a glass and held it forward politely.

Odkins drank in a little famished gulps until his mouth grew slack, his eyes less avid and cunning.

"My word, that's the pure stuff, Professor. Your people know—"

"Your business, my good fellow. I think I mentioned that I was in a hurry!"

Odkins merely beamed at the young tamer across the empty wine glass.

"I hate being hurried, Professor, especially since my nerves have been twisted. You see I ain't been quite myself since the stewards warned me off the turf a year ago. And to-night, that lion of yours looked at me with his green yes. Quite awful. Don't know 'ow you boost 'im through the hoops though. It's a fair nerve breaker!"

Vale appeared to control his impatience at the fellow's gratuitous criticisms. Filling the empty wine glass he pressed it into the jockey's unsteady hand.

"Mademoiselle Lotti sent you here to-night to interfere with me when I was in the cage with Sultan," he hazarded. "Is it not so?"

Odkins drained his glass slowly then returned it to the cupboard top with a steady hand. "I used to wire Mademoiselle tips from the stable when I was riding to win, Professor. Last night she sent one of the theatre hands to my place across the river askin' me to pay her a call." Odkins' eyes glowed strangely. "I found her in the dressin' room with a lot of pomades an' hair-brushes. 'Igh above her head, on the mantel- shelf, Professor, was your photograph; pair of lions at yer feet, an' yer chest blazin' with medals an' stars."

"Go on!" The young tamer eyed him sharply. Far down the line of wagons came the man-like cough of a leopard.

"Mademoiselle commissioned you to do something, eh? That is what you have come to tell?"

Odkins grinned as he continued.

"She began to tell me your history, Professor, how she hoped one day to be your wife until another lady of the Vaudeville Theatre had made a bid for your affections."

The young tamer flushed unexpectedly but remained silent. He had only met Mademoiselle twice. She had impressed him as a rather overbearing young lady whose attention he had striven to avoid.

Odkins lit a cigarette carefully. "Mademoiselle Lotti read the announcement of your comin' marriage with Miss Maxwell, Professor. Am I right in sayin' that it takes place next week? I've forgotten the name of the church," he added with a malicious glance in the young tamer's direction.

"It cannot concern you, my friend, nor Mademoiselle Lotti. If—"

"Easy, Professor, easy; there ain't no need to get red on a mention of dates. You're goin' to marry Miss Maxwell next week or you ain't. Well, I put the question pretty straight to Mademoiselle askin' her what she expected me to do on her behalf. I couldn't stop yer marryin' Miss Maxwell any more than I could win the Championship Stakes on a blamed army mule!"

"I—I think you are a trifle offensive, my friend!" The lion-tamer half rose from his couch, his lithe muscles leaping under his light fitting clothes.

The ex-jockey shrugged his narrow shoulders. "I'm askin' you not to lose your temper, Professor. Wallopin' lions an' things has made your hand 'eavy. So don't hit me till you hear what I've got to say."

"Go on then!"

"Well, Mademoiselle explained her business pretty sudden like. 'I want you, Odkins,' she says, 'to go round to the circus menageries to-night and get close to the cage where Professor Vale is performing with Sultan.'"

"'What for?' I say.

"'Because it's grand performance,' she raps out. 'The cinematograph operators are making special pictures of the Professor's turn. He will make the lion turn on its side and after it has lain quite still he will open his jaws and put his head inside.' Well, she says, smilin' at me through blessed tears, 'when the Professor's head is well inside Sultan's mouth, I want you, Odkins, to squirt a little of perfume into the cage.'

"'Squirt it on the lion, Mademoiselle?' I asks.

"'Yes,' she says, fanning herself gently, 'squirt it on the dear animal's eyelash if you can, Odkins.'"

The ex-jockey paused, breathing hard like one in doubt. Then, fumbling inside his pocket he drew out a case containing a large glass syringe and held it up for the tamer's inspection.

"See how it works, Professor!"

He pressed the syringe suddenly. A jet of coloured fluid spat across the tent towards a piece of paper lying on the sanded floor. In a fraction of time the paper smoked and grew black.

"Vitriol! By heaven!" The young tamer leaped back, a luminous terror in his eye.

The ex-jockey returned the syringe to its case chuckling derisively. "Burns your fingers an' makes 'em sore. And Mademoiselle offered me fifty bob to singe the lion's eyelash with it. The price, I might tell you, Professor, isn't big enough!"

Vale leaned against the tent pole and for an instant his teeth chattered. Odkins, his syringe tucked away in his greasy pocket, watched him apprehensively.

"I've done the straight thing in comin' here, Professor. Tonight. I stood by the cage when the cine-operators was crowdin' in close, an' I had me chance straight an' clear. I could have got clean away."

"You want—"

"Call it a fiver, Professor, and you'll never see me inside the show again. I've been warned off the turf and I'm dependin' on little jobs like this for a livin'. Make it a fiver and I'll quit!"

His manner was leisurely, condescending almost, as he put forward his terms like one bestowing a favour.

Without warning the young tamer's hand went up and the heavy brass mounted whip flew down from the nail.

"Out!" he thundered. "You hell-beast!"

Odkins sprang through the tent door, the whip cracking with the sound of pistol-shots about his legs and ankles. Past the wolf-house he tore until his tumbling feet tripped him almost at the door of the lion's cage.

The young tamer held his twisting body as though it were a child's then raised it deliberately to the pair of green eyeballs behind the bars. Inch by inch the tamer pressed the struggling Odkins until his death white face was pressed close to a snarling, breathing head inside.

"Come, here, Sultan!" the tamer's voice was scarcely a whisper. "Come and tell this little man what you think of him!"

A sobbing snarl seemed to run along the floor of the cage as the huge cat-like head brushed near. Softly, inquiringly it came until the proud stiff hairs and mane pricked and stabbed the ex- jockey's face.

"My God! You won't... not in there!" he choked. "Spare me, Professor... I won't come near you no more! I won't, I swear!"

The tamer lowered him suddenly and then still carrying him in his arms walked to the menagerie entrance and thrust him out into the night.

A FEW mornings later Mademoiselle Lotti, while scanning the paper for a hint of the ex-jockey's success with a vitriol- charged syringe, received a perfumed envelope bearing her name and address. It contained a printed notice of Leonard Vale's marriage with the beautiful Miss Irene Maxwell, late of the Vaudeville Theatre, London.

Despite her vexation and anger the Mademoiselle was irresistibly attracted towards a small pad of bristles lying at the bottom of the envelope. Never before had she seen such coarse bayonet-like hair. It pierced the fingers sharp as wire when touched.

Months later, when Vale had gone north with his bride a circus manager told her that the bristles were merely the clippings from a lion's eyelash.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.