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 TIGER'S BANK

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

As published in The World's News, Sydney, Australia, 30 May 1914

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-19
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



THE night wind bore a cloud of dust from the plains into the mammoth circus tent, dust that showered through the canvas slits upon the sleeping camels and giraffes. The quadrille horses had long finished their turn and had been led by the grooms to the stalls beyond the elephant's quarters. Near the deserted pay office two clowns were playing cards. Somewhere beyond the half-circle of wagons came the sound of a hose shooting water into the big stone drinking troughs. Later, a great stillness fell upon the circus, broken only by a savage- voiced clown whenever a well-played card threatened his last coin.

The German tiger tamer was searching the empty circus for his dog. He whistled pathetically under the forms and seats, then took a lantern and inspected the warm monkey-house, carefully pushing aside the crowd of huddled apes to see if they were covering the white body of his fox terrier.

"Sharlie, Sharlie, vere you get to?" He cracked his heavy whip over the elephant's hay, and the drowsy beast rocked and blinked at him in the half-light. "By crikey, Sharlie, I gif you someding if I catch you!"

A man dressed like a Broncho Bill peeped from a side waggon at the tamer, and waved his hand. "Hey, Dutchy, don't you know about that hyar dog? Ain't you heard the news?"

The tamer eyed the man in the waggon sullenly. "I cannot shleep ven my dog vas not in my tent, Ike. He haf been lost three days. I hope de leedle fool haf come to no harm!"

Ike made further signals from the waggon, then lowered his voice suddenly. "Come heah, Dutchy. I'll tell yer about the derned funeral. Sh!" He held up a finger warningly. "There's a bad bunch in this hyar circus, fellers from Coney Island and the East side. Sit on the steps, Dutchy, I liked that hyar dawg of yourn!"

"Nobody vud hurt him!" The tamer growled. "He vas such a goot leedle feller!"

Ike lit a cigarette carefully, and the match flame showed the deep lines about his scarred throat and face. "In the first place, Dutchy," he began in a whisper, "your dawg got the habit of barkin' outside Fatty Grice's tent at night. Fatty's got the dope habit, an' the yap hit him on his nerves. See!"

The tamer nodded thoughtfully. "I am sorry if Sharlie kept Grice awake," he said after awhile: "Dis vas the first time I hear about id."

Ike seated himself beside the tamer on the waggon steps, while the muffled sounds from the dark circus increased as the night wore on.

"This hyar dawg tragedy happened the night before last," he went on. "I was havin' my last smoke back of the tiger house, an' I must say, Dutchy, that that hyar beast of yours has got a double-barrelled gurgle in his roar. He's—"

"Tell me about my leedle dog, Ike. Der tiger vas alride."

Ike wriggled on the waggon step, and the sound of his shuffling feet set a bright-eyed lemur scurrying round its cage. "Well, this hyar Fatty came stridin' past the camels with a chaff bag in his hand. The bag wobbled an' shook as he walked in a most suspicious manner. 'There's a chicken in that hyar bag,' I says to myself, 'or a dawg.'"

"Patty hurried past the cages until he comes to the lion, that was standin' up a-stretchin' itself against the bars over yonder. The clown looked round pretty sharp to see if he was bein' follered, then slipped his hand into the bag an' hauls out your little dawg, Dutchy!"

"Gott im Himmel!"

"Just hauled him out, Dutchy, an' waved him like a derner saveloy at the lion. 'Here, you Sultan,' he says, 'here's a feed f'ye.' Now yew wouldn't think it, Dutchy," Ike went on placidly, "but that hyar lion turned away with a blamed sniff from your dawg and walked into the recess!" The tamer sighed deeply, his great hands outstretched over his knees, a listening blindness in his deep-set eyes. "Sultan vas friends mit my leedle dog." he said quietly. "Sharlie hunt der mice from his cage, and de old lion haf a goot memory. He would hot hurt my Sharlie!"

Ike nodded grimly, and suppressed a smile.

"The blamed clown put the dawg back into the bag," he continued blandly, "and took another look round the show. Your tiger's cage is almost next to Sultan's, so he goes quite close to the bars an' swings your little dawg right under the Bengal's nose. 'Here y'are. Stripes!' he calls out. 'Nice little pup just off his milk. You take him now, Stripes, he says, shakin' the dawg in front of the bars, 'before he gets any older!'

"The tiger jumped at Fatty, reaching for him with both paws. The clown side-stepped an' bolted as though Jack Johnson was out for his purse. He didn't stop runnin' until he fetched up with a bang against the dark hyena house. That derned hyena house has got an odor, Dutchy, that destroys all earthly joy. The spontaneous effluvia waved itself over Grice like a bad man's blessing."

The tamer threw away a half-smoked Havana and groaned aloud

"You know those two hyenas, Dutchy. They chawed their way into the monkey-house last year an' cleaned up quite a nice little family of monkeys that never hurt anyone. Wa'al, they both got up when they saw Grice coming with the dawg, an' they began to fawn an' kow-tow like a pair of boardin'-house touts.

"'Evenin', gentlemen!' says the clown, holdin' the dawg well up. 'I've brought you the makings of a nice little supper. The infant will roast, stoo, or bile. Now's your chance, gentlemen!'

"Those two hyenas cuddled together as if they were goin' to sing a nursery rhyme. The clown moved the slide bar an' then pushed little Charlie into the cage. The big hyena with the cast in his eye got a grip on the dawg's neck, while the other fellow did the killin'. Poor little Charlie!" Ike concluded dismally. "He'd have had a better chance with a pair of crocodiles!"

The tamer's eyes became suddenly luminous; his chest labored painfully. "Gott, dot vas a blackguard ting to do! Dot dog vas a leedle friend to me. Id nefer harmed no ones. Und it vas murder to trow a puppy to those hungry carrion!"

The tamer shook himself savagely as he crossed the dark circus ring. Turning slowly, he looked back at Ike as though about to speak, then, changing his mind, walked heavily in the direction of his own quarters.

The two clowns. Grice and Grimaldi junior, sat over a brazier fire in the centre of the ring. It was past midnight, and most of the circus hands had retired. Grimaldi sucked a corn-cob pipe pensively as one weary and sick of his nomadic life.

"Boss goes east next month, and the show will get a rest at Coney Island." There was a comic yap in his voice, attained through years of jesting with mules and frock-coated horse- trainers. "Dutchy and his tiger go with us, of course," he added with a side glance at his companion.

Grice nodded, his hands held over the brazier fire. "Guess I wouldn't have the tamer's job at a hundred a month," he volunteered hoarsely. "These tiger men all come to a bad end. I don't say Dutchy boozes, but the Bengal is making his hands shake."

Grimaldi hugged the fire cage because the frosty night air drove in gusts under the sagging tent. A speck of paint shone vermilion on his nose. "Have you noticed how sharp Dutchy gets, lately, when anyone goes near the tiger house?" he hazarded.

"Why?"

"Because he's got a plant inside near the top corner, right hand over the door!"

"Dollar bills?"

"His savings since last trip south. He draws a hundred and fifty a month, and puts away most of it. The money is in a little tin box between the door and the roof of the tiger house!"

"Ain't there no banks?" Grice demanded critically. "Even Dutchy knows what interest on money means!"

"I guess so, but he hasn't forgot how that twenty per cent. bucket shop in Oklahoma swallowed his pile last year. No more banks for Dutchy. He's satisfied to keep his money away from the spring-heeled bunks who keep the safe deposits. The tiger house is smelly, but it's a first-class repository for a man's savings, my son."

Grice looked up quickly. "Then why don't you go for it?" he questioned suspiciously.

Grimaldi's jaw assumed a hard square expression. "D'ye think I haven't lain awake at night, thinking of that infernal money, planted within arm's reach, without sizing up the chances of a hold-up. The Bengal lives in the house. There's no recess. And if you want to borrow Dutchy's savings the tiger's there to see you do it. And, between ourselves, Grice, the brute doesn't like you or me."

"Poison it!" Grice sat very still before the fire. The unwashed chalk on his face appeared to grow livid in the uncertain light. "A bit of arsenic would give him a pain where he most needs it," he added viciously.

"You'd have to give him a joint of meat with it," Grimaldi objected. "You'd have to pass it under the bars when Dutchy and the keepers were in bed. And seeing that the Bengal raises Cain every time he's fed, the boss and Dutchy would be round wondering what was up. We had a puma poisoned lately and they haven't forgotten it."

"There's no other way," Grice muttered under his breath.

"Of course there isn't unless you can find someone who'll oblige by taking the tiger for a walk, some night!"

Grimaldi yawned, shivered, and went to bed.

Grice stayed near the fire until the cold night air pinched his toes. He distinctly remembered having noticed a small tin box fastened to the wooden ceiling of the tiger house, and within arm's reach almost of the door. And he saw with a gambler's inspiration that it must be the place where the tamer hoarded his savings. Masses of figures coursed wildly through his brain. If Dutchy had been hiding his salary for six months there would be nearly a thousand dollars at least. Enough to allow a man a comfortable rest at a seaside boarding-house. His gambler's heart yearned for a lengthened stay in New York. Too much clowning had made him ill-tempered and sour. Often he was compelled to ride a fiendish mule round and round the circus while the spectators cheered and laughed whenever the animal threatened to break his neck or kick the life out of his ring-weary body.

He rose slowly from his seat near the fire, and listened to the wind noises among the flapping canvases and rope guys overhead. Somewhere down the dark avenue of wagons the sound of a wolf lapping from a drinking trough reached him. Grice followed the sound, and saw the fire-lit eyes and whimpering head as it padded up and down the long narrow house.

A dozen steps took him past the lion's quarters, past a drowsy, moulting eagle that clinked its foot chain and blinked as he passed.

"Three, four, five." He counted his steps and halted in the black square shadow of the tiger house and listened. His trained ear and eye told him that the big Bengal was lying full length across the floor of the cage, half on its side, its jaws resting in the curve of its large padded foot. Tigers, as Grice knew, are invariably heavy sleepers, and a long experience of travelling hippodromes had taught him that a soft-footed man may venture quite close to a certain species of sleeping carnivore.

For ten minutes the clown sat peering into the high-roofed cage, his courage stiffening at sound of the animal's guttural breathing. Then, with a heart that could not breathe, he permitted his hand to rest on the latch of the big iron gate. The gentlest of movements revealed to him the startling fact that the gate was unlocked!

It seemed incredible, unthinkable, that Dutchy should neglect so vital a precaution. Yet a moment's reflection told him that the thing had happened before and would continue so long as tamers regarded their beasts with impunity. Of course he had not expected to find the gate unlocked. He had been merely impelled by curiosity to gain a glimpse of the little tin box fastened somewhere overhead.

The situation was almost tantalising. He became wildly certain, as the minutes flew, that with both feet once inside the house, he could easily draw out the wad of bills from the tin box. He had been climbing and leaping all his life, and the task of stretching upwards a few inches was not a difficult one for him.

The gate moved back at the touch of his trembling fingers in a way that filled him with terror. It had been recently oiled until its hinges dripped. The clamorings of his heart were stilled by the knowledge that stiff hinges on a lion or tiger's house might mean serious delay in the tamer's exit. Dutchy was unduly careful in that respect, no doubt on account of his animal's uncertain temper.

With the gate opened the clown stood, stiff-limbed, inside the dark house, the surge of a hundred fears cannonading his heart.

A sickly warmth floated up from the sleeping tiger that turned sour on the nerves of his palate. A sudden hypnotic fascination to peep at the great striped head seized him. He stopped and drew back sharply.

"If he wakes now, if he wakes.... He'll have me sure!"

His momentary flash of courage threatened to desert him. A slight, almost imperceptible sound reached him from under the house. Turning nimbly to the half-open gate, he saw a naked hand stretch upward and close it softly. A key was thrust into the lock and swiftly withdrawn.

The clown stood rooted, his fingers clutching wildly at the gate lock. "Is it you, Grimaldi ?" His futile fingers tore at the cage bars. Someone was playing a joke, a horribly insane and wicked joke. He had been decoyed into the cage through a silly rumor of hidden money.

It seemed a piece of madness, now to stand upright inside the house. If the beast woke it would see him instantly. He lay on his chest six inches from the locked gate, and, in a whisper, again addressed the shadow lurking below.

"Grimaldi, I haven't a chance if this beast wakes. For heaven's sake don't be a fool."

There, was no response. The shadow seemed to recede under the wheels of the house. Grice lay perfectly still, and as he choked and stifled his inner cannonadings, he heard, in his fear, the beating of the tiger's heart.

Suddenly the cracking of a whip filled the circus with pistol- like echoes. "Hoop-la! hoop-la! hooya! hoop!" The tamer leaped to the cage front, his whip smiting through, the bars. "Hoop- la!"

The tiger lay forward, its ears flattened, watching with flaming eyes the rise and fall of the whip. A short horrible snarl escaped it. The curling thong seemed to draw its glance around the cage as the tamer darted to and fro.

"Hoop-la!" He smote again, and the clown, crouching far back, felt that the huge cat would leap on his shoulders.

"Hoop-la!" At the third stroke of the whip, it bounded across the greasy floor, hatred of the voice and throng in its burning eyes. Round and round it leaped, striking the clown with its flank and breast, mindful only of the punishing thong that licked cleverly and with force through the bars.

Grice squeezed back to avoid the tiger's buffeting shoulder and hips as the beast bounded from corner to corner. His soft body quailed under the sledge-hammer strokes of the flying paws. Up and down the huge Bengal pounded, its snarling head often brushing past his face. A blood-mist obscured his vision. Sick and faint, he rolled near the cage bars, gasping and clawing with his fingers.

"Hoop-la!" The tamer paused suddenly, waited an instant until the tiger halted in his flying turns, at the far end of the house, and then, opening the gate with a snatch, hauled out the half-conscious clown.

"Vat are you doin' in my beast's cage, Grice?" he demanded as the clown staggered blindly to his feet. "I thought one of dose young lions had broken in!"

Grice shook himself dully, rubbing his bruised arms and legs as he hobbled down the avenue of wagons. The tamer followed leisurely, a grin on his broad face.

"You did not see my leedle dog; Sharlie, anyveres, Grice, I suppose?" he inquired carelessly.

The clown had no voice to answer. He reeled blindly to his tent, like one who had drunk deep of a tiger's breath.


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.