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.


ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE RINGMASTER'S LITTLE AFFAIR

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover

ILLUSTRATED G. DENHOLM ARMOUR


Ex Libris

First published in The Pall Mall Magazine, April 1909

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-12-21
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



THE quadrille horses had been bedded for the night, and the last groom and clown had left the pony stalls. Yoshio Hannikin alone lingered near the brazier fire that stood in the hoof-torn earth under the lee of the big ring cages.

Yoshio's fingers were scarred and bent, as though the business of juggling with knives and military bayonets had not always been a success. Of late, more than usual, the edged tools of his trade had a trick of coming down point first on his naked hands and shoulders—a fact which proves that the nerves of the stoic Jap are assailable when domestic worries are rife in his household.

A great silence enveloped Ringdove's travelling circus and hippodrome, a silence broken occasionally by the asthmatic Coughing of a sick panther lying in an unsheltered cage. A solitary kerosene flare illumined the darkness where the circle of cages and waggons had been drawn around the sawdusted ring. From under the flapping roof of canvas came a blade-edge of wind that seemed to aggravate the whooping of the beast in the unsheltered cage.

In an adjoining recess sat "Draga," the black she-bear with the cub. An element of comic misery shrouded the untamable Draga. Acquired only a few months before from the Hamburg dealers, she refused to become sociable or even allow her keepers to apply the most endearing epithets. One of the attendants had been badly mauled in his attempts to court her favour at a moment when she had seemed docile and yearning for human society.

A small Japanese boy belonging to Yoshio's troupe of acrobats emerged from one of the circus caravans and joined the elder man crouching over the glowing brazier. His spangled tights were visible under his ill-fitting overcoat; his close-cropped head wagged near his master's as he broke into a volley of small complaints.

"This Maisola of thine is a trouble to me, Yoshio Hannikin. She is hard to watch among these horses and men who carry whips. Yesterday she beat my ears for following her a little way from the circus."

"Boxed them," corrected the acidulous Yoshio. "She has learned the trick from the English girls."

"Nothing can be done with her," predicted the boy, "unless she is well-thrashed. It is your place to do it, Yoshio. She forgets her duty to us and you."

"I will not beat Maisola," growled the sullen-browed juggler. "She is my seventh daughter: it is unlucky to beat your seventh. Yet something must be done, something that will prevent her marrying this ringmaster, Bernays. My hand shakes at my work when I think of the man. He must be stopped, Hayadi. Are you listening? "

"I am listening," nodded the boy, "and thinking of your six daughters at home, of how you beat them, and of the money it must have cost you in canes."

"It did, boy, it did. I used up the laths of a house once—canes were too expensive.... Yes," he broke out disjointedly, "I must stop this white man Bernays stealing my seventh. All my life I have worked to make her an artiste, so that she may support me in the coming years. It is only proper."

"Only proper," echoed the Japanese boy gravely. "But there will be no more rice and bread for Yoshio if this Englishman gets his daughter."

"None," almost wailed the old juggler. "I shall become a coolie, a minder of horses and carts, a rickshaw man. I think of these things when I am balancing and throwing up the knives, Hayadi. It is a miserable thought."

Of late the hand of Yoshio the juggler had lost something of its cunning. Also the proprietors of the hippodrome had thought fit to reduce his salary on account of certain infirmities which threatened to prevent him appearing in the ring. His services were retained out of consideration for his daughter Maisola, whose gymnastic feats and wire-walking exhibi tions were the talk of London.

Maisola's salary, requisitioned at the end of each month to supply his growing demand for opium, was barely sufficient to meet their household needs. He had looked forward to further increments as her popularity increased, had viewed with serenity the coming of old age, that brought hardships and penury to most men of his profession. But now, by a devilish twist of circumstances which threatened to interfere with his opium supply and shatter his future schemes, Maisola the obedient had conceived an attachment for young Bernays, the circus ringmaster.

It is only fair to state that Bernays had more than an ordinary lover's admiration for the brown-faced Japanese girl, who nightly went through a be wildering series of aerial flights, holding in a strange magnetic thrill the thousands who crowded to see her.

Maisola had been warned by her watchful parent to avoid the young ringmaster. He had also appealed to her vanity, pointing out that Bernays' income would not give her a change of shoe- buckles, much less a position in society, an attainment devoutly dreamed of by every daughter of the old samurai.

Maisola had listened silently, her childish face betraying nothing of the white woman's heart-conflicts or mind- perturbation. For in love affairs your true Japanese girl is as much an enigma to her parents as to the man whose affections she is eager to return.

Yoshio learned nothing from the quiet-browed child-woman; his ferocious threats fell dead before the limpid innocence of her eyes. Also she was his seventh daughter, and a superstitious fear held back the knotted whip in his hand.

This lithe-limbed daughter of Nippon had been brought into frequent contact with the young ringmaster. Indeed, the hippodrome resembled a big family party as it ambled from town to town, each member of the various companies being attracted inevitably to the others.

Such a life of constant travel under varying conditions was not without its little perils and difficulties, as the soft-eyed Maisola discovered. There were the hordes of stage-struck boy-men and bounders, who intercepted her each evening at the circus entrance. It was Bernays who dispersed and clouted them scientifically when their attentions bewildered and annoyed. It was Bernays who had brought her from the death-ring of burning camels' hay and stores the night when eight of their caravans had become enveloped in a sudden conflagration. She only remembered the howls of the frightened animals, the rush of stampeding horses, and for one indescribable moment the cries of a flame- maddened panther rending its bars....

All through her work, whether flying among the lower trapezes or dangling a hundred feet above the audience, the tall boyish figure below with the silver mounted whip filled her eye.

But the bleak spirit of fatalism inbred in women of her race often whispered that love would come to her with a death-mask on its face.

Yoshio had watched his daughter, and the problem that presented itself puzzled him greatly. He could not take Maisola from the circus; such an act would spell immediate disaster to the whole troupe; neither could he compel Bernays to throw up his situation....

Now a thought nimble as steel flashed across the dark gulfs of his Asiatic mind, a thought that took shape the moment he turned from the brazier and glanced at the big-ring cage in his rear.

Draga was looking at him as though fascinated by the red glow over which his hands were spread. She gave out from time to time a low sobbing grunt, accompanied by a furious wrenching at the gate bars.

"There is quality in you, Draga," he muttered—"sinews under those great muscles. Tashan! She would squeeze the soul out of a giant!"

The boy, Hayadi, had retired to his waggon, to roll himself in his horse blanket and dream of his far Nippon and his toothless mother living on scrap-ends and rice-droppings in the coolie quarters of Nagasaki. Yoshio rose from the brazier and glanced shrewdly at the whining she-bear glaring at him from the darkness of her cage.

"She will do; she will stop this ring master's courting. It will take the young fool a year to get over a good squeezing if I can send her into his room."

He turned again and warmed his hands, holding them close to the grille, so that the red glow revealed the old knife-wounds, the bluish scars that healed with so much difiiculty as his opium habit increased.

"This bear idea is good. It is the only way to get rid of these white whelps who come threatening my household. Maisola is getting uneasy at her work. This love business is not good for Japanese ladies who perform in the air. They make mistakes, and they have a long way to fall. No; the bear will quieten him for a while. He will go into hospital, and he will be no good to the circus when he comes out. These English have no use for a lame ringmaster, or a man with a spoilt face. And Maisola will never know."

All his life this hard-featured little juggler had sought to keep his family of daughters with him, teaching them every artifice and trick in connection with his business. And one by one they had been taken from him by white-faced English and American adventurers....

He never saw them again. He was determined now that Maisola should remain with him in his declining years. Without her there would be no opium, no money to stave off the creditors who assailed him in every town. His peculiar Asiatic mind grew fiercely introspective the more he brooded upon the state of affairs. The night wind chilled his bones as he crouched over the brazier. Poverty and cold were his old familiars, and his rice- fed body flinched at the thought of the privations awaiting him if Maisola's salary were suddenly annexed by Gifford Bernays. All white men battened on their wives' earnings, he argued, and Maisola would never be allowed to contribute a dollar towards her old father's support.

Drawing his thin overcoat about him, he slipped to the rear of Draga's cage and listened. The month-old cub lay inside the recess on its bed of straw; a slide-gate separated the she-bear's sleeping quarters from the big den. Jerking back a greasy bolt, he allowed the gate to fall gently to the floor of the caravan. The cub was now cut off from its fire-hypnotised parent. Raising the heavy latch, and thrusting down an inner bolt, he entered the recess and took the sleepy-eyed cub in his arms.

A terrific commotion followed his act, accompanied by a sobbing growl that seemed to come from the heart of the frantic mother-bear. The Jap listened for a moment before crossing the ring, and laughed grimly at Draga's attempts to follow him.


Illustration

The Jap listened for a moment before crossing the ring.


Keeping in the shadow of the waggons, he entered a tent-like apartment used as a sleeping-room by the ringmaster, and thrust the drowsy cub between the blankets of the folding bed. Bernays had left the circus immediately after the performance on a visit to a restaurant where many of the circus officials usually forgathered before a light supper.

Nearly all the members of Ringdove's Hippodrome found it necessary to sleep in caravans within the big canvas enclosure. Dread of fire among the horses made it imperative that grooms and tent hands should be under constant surveillance. And Bernays preferred his cosy apartment within the hippodrome rather than face the constant worry and change of city boarding-houses and hotels. He usually returned from supper about midnight.

Yoshio stayed a moment to listen, uncertain whether the cub would settle to sleep: after a few short wriggles under the blanket it grew quiet, while the little juggler smoothed the ruffled edges of the bed with the skill of a hospital nurse. There was no sound about the circus save the man-like coughing of the afflicted panther and the occasional sobbing undergrowl of the cubless she-bear.

The Jap glanced at her swiftly as he emerged from Bernays' apartment, grimaced as the big claws snatched at him the moment he passed the cage. Crouching under the wheels of a house waggon, near the circus entrance, he waited patiently for the young ringmaster to return.

From where he lay concealed he was able to command a view of the street outside and the few loiterers and dead-beats who still hung about the dark outer circle of the hippodrome. Draga's uneasiness alarmed him a little; the cage bars hummed from time to time under the fierce blows of her paws. Her uneasy movements had a disturbing effect on the pair of Indian wolves in the adjoining cage, and Yoshio feared that the sudden noise would bring one of the keepers upon the scene.

The removal of the bear-cub had been accomplished swiftly and without mishap. It was an undertaking capable of being carried out only by one intimate with the ways of menagerie keepers and wild beasts.

Yoshio knew every waggon and ring-cage belonging to the hippodrome. Yet, swift as his entry had been into the dark recess, his movements had not escaped the furtive glances of Mr. "Jimmy" Wilks, one of the leading clowns belonging to the circus. Like most humourists of the ring, Mr. Wilks was of nocturnal habits. He retired late and rose long after the elephant had breakfasted. Being an inveterate card-player, he usually sat with a party of fellow professionals in one of the house caravans until long past midnight. And at the moment when Yoshio's figure emerged from the recess, carrying the bear-cub, Mr. Wilks was about to descend from a caravan on the opposite side of the circus.

His curiosity led him on the heels of the unsuspecting juggler to the door of the ringmaster's apartment. Here his risible faculties received a sudden stimulus, on seeing a thirty-pound bear-cub thrust gently between the ringmaster's sleeping- blankets.

Mr. Wilks hesitated briefly in the shadows, to consider the joke fully and dispassionately. A bear in a man's bed appealed to him as a joke of the first magnitude. It remained to him, however, as a professional laughter-maker, to add a small anticlimax to a neat piece of midnight comedy.

Entering Bernays' apartment, he hauled the sleeping cub from under the blankets and hurried out. It took Mr. Wilks eight seconds to discover that Yoshio was waiting near the entrance for the ringmaster's return. Swift as light he passed into the Jap's house waggon and thrust the cub well under the woolly rug that served as a counterpane on the low truckle bed.

A strange chuckle escaped the old clown as he darted into the shadow of the waggons to his own quarters. From a professional point of view he was convinced that he had rounded off a very neat little bear joke. Moreover, he felt certain that the joke would bring down the house if it could be repeated before an audience.

Yoshio, from his place of observation near the circus entrance, heard familiar voices in the street outside. Bernays, accompanied by several members of the hippodrome, was visible for a moment as he crossed the ring in the direction of his sleeping- quarters. The Jap waited until he was well within the tent-like apartment before venturing from his hiding-place.

Creeping to the rear of the waggons, he halted at the back of the high-roofed cage where the black-faced Draga squatted, moaning tremulously in her spent fury and rage. Pressing back the bolt of the big iron door, Yoshio allowed it to swing open slightly; then, without a glance in his rear, fled to his caravan. Experience taught him that the distraught she-bear would ferret out the unlocked gate. It was merely a question of minutes, seconds, before she would be at large in the dark circus. Nimble-witted as a professional hunter of beasts, he was scarcely prepared for the incredibly swift way in which Draga followed his train of reasoning.

Gaining the steps of his caravan, he reached upward to extinguish the oil lamp that swung from the roof, and his hurried glance detected a curious hump in the middle of his bed. Drawing back the woolly covering, his fingers encountered the soft warm fur of the sleeping cub.

A cry of fear broke from him, fear that rooted him, turned his ice-cold limbs into a fever sweat. He stared, round eyed and incredulous, at the bear-cub. The thing appeared impossible, beyond human belief! In his palpitating surprise he almost screamed at what he had done. Like a trapped wolf he whipped forward at sound of the quick sobbing breath that rushed from the darkness. In a moment he beheld a great shaggy head and two balls of fire rise from the dark circus ring.

Before he could slam the door of the caravan the head was on the steps, the Gargantuan paws smashing the door back in his face. A fierce animal odour struck into his throat, a smell of the unutterable ages of wet forests and caves and the prehistoric dead....

Then a mountainous weight flung him to his knees, a snout bored into the flesh of his shoulder, lifting, shaking him as a dog shakes a hare. In his day the little Jap had come to grips with all kinds of professional thugs and wrestlers, but the black shape that closed with him inside the caravan smashed through his invincible jitsu defence in the first clinch. He strove with the strength of his heart and brain to garotte and force back the red snarling mouth that burrowed and ripped into the flesh of his shoulder But here was a force equipped against garotte-loops and strangle-holds—a force that reduced his sobbing strength to a pulp of inert muscle and sinew, squeezed his heart and brain into the last Gehenna of human endurance. Even in his fighting delirium the Jap felt that he had been fooled, felt that the gods of mischance had taken a hand in his affairs. The mountain of black shaggy hair grew hot as a volcano about him until his senses reeled, his grip slackened.

With a snarling whoof the outraged Draga flung him into a far corner of the caravan, and turned to the sleepy-eyed cub watching her from the truckle-bed. Shaking her great shoulders, she caught it up and returned to her quarters in the big cage.

Bernays, in his tent, was roused by the muffled growls, the shouts of pain coming from Yoshio's caravan. Crossing the ring, he sprang up the steps and found the little juggler gasping for life inside. Raising the bruised body, the young ring master placed it gently on the bed.

"I have been hurt," choked the ]ap. "That she-devil Draga came here. I am done for life. These seventh daughters are dangerous.... Listen, Bernays."

The young ringmaster soothed him to silence; then called for assistance and a doctor. Later be accompanied the father of Maisola to a private hospital, where the semi-conscious little man received skilful and immediate attention.

The following morning he was at the hospital door bearing with him the distracted Maisola. Together they stood beside the bed that held the mutilated figure of Yoshio Hannikin. For some minutes he stared dully at the young ringmaster, until his almost sightless eyes fell upon the cowering girl beside him.

"These seventh daughters," be half whispered. "Take care, Bernays.... Look at me.... I shall never get better, never!"

"But you'll get over this hugging, Yoshio," answered Bernays, gently. "Funny how that beast got out—eh?"

The little juggler blinked under his face-bandages, but made no reply. His recovery was painfully slow, and at the end of many weary months he emerged from the hospital a physical and mental wreck.

No one ever solved the mystery of Draga's midnight attack.

Mr. Wilks knew, but clowns in private life are usually such silent fellows. Neither did he attend Bernays' wedding, a year later, when the young ringmaster married Maisola amid the congratulations and good wishes of his brother professionals.

After apologising for his absence from the ceremony, "Jimmy " Wilks declared that there would have been no wedding if a certain bear joke of his had miscarried. And of course no one under stood.

Yoshio is still waiting, in fairly comfortable circumstances, for misfortune to overwhelm the man who annexed his seventh daughter.

So far he has waited in vain.


THE END


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.