Andrew Lang.

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to unpack them.

All creatures of the crocodile tribe are totally want-
ing in grace and charm, and cannot safely be recom-
mended as household pets. Unlike all other creatures,
they have the lower jaw immovable, while the upper one
closes on its prey with a spring, both jaws being furnished
with no less than 175 teeth. They are clothed in an
invulnerable coat of mail, and their tail is a powerful
weapon, that shatters, mangles, destroys, everything that
comes in contact with it. Added to all these other
attractions they are at no time of amiable disposition,
particularly after ill-treatment or in confinement, and if
they escape they become the most ferocious of creatures.
Now ours had just undergone long imprisonment on board
ship, and one of them escaped.

What a scrimmage then took place ! The men made
for the door, all the lights went out, Maria and I climbed
on a table, two of its legs gave way and we were hurled on
to the floor beneath, vainly groping along the walls for
the door, and pursued by terrible growlings and flappings

B M



162 RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER

of tails against the floor and furniture. At last I found
the door handle, and we were safe. But safety alone was
not enough. I had paid more than 150Z. for the brutes,
and I could not afford to let one escape, nor to let them
destroy each other. Taking a lighted torch in my hand
I returned to the fray, and presently succeeded in im-
prisoning under a seat the monster, who measured no less
than four yards long.

Shortly after this unpleasant incident we lost one of
these costly pets by death; injured at the time of its
capture, it suddenly fell ill and died at the end of twelve
hours. Not only was this a great loss to us for it
was one of our finest, and had cost, alone, 80Z. but we
were due next day at Seyne, near Toulon, with all our
beasts, and ho\v could we appear without the advertised
number ? A happy idea struck me : I went to a naturalist,
whom I knew in the town, and asked him to come to my
aid by stuffing the animal, and thus passing him off as a
sleeping crocodile. What a night we spent cutting him
up, cleaning him out, stuffing him, and putting him to-
gether again ; but before the morning dawned our task was
accomplished, and stretched on a little stage the creature
had all the appearance of a bona-fide sleeping crocodile.

Taking one of the liveliest of the small ones, I made
him furiously flap his tail and open wide his terrible jaws,
purposely exaggerating his ferocity, and at the same time
giving the usual explanations out of the natural history
books. When I saw that I had sufficiently excited my
audience I turned towards the stuffed crocodile, and said
with trembling voice :

' Oh, what you have just seen is nothing ! Now if this
sleeping crocodile would but awake, then you would see
something really terrifying. One blow of his tail, and this
shed would be shattered to atoms ; as to his jaws, he has
only to open them But you shall see for yourselves ;
you have only to say the word and I will awake him at
once.'



EECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER 163

' Oh, no ! ' exclaimed the audience with one voice, ' by
no means awake him ! ' and this was just as lucky for
me. By means of this same ruse I succeeded, day after day,
in drawing fresh spectators. At Marseilles alone, where
I made a stay of three weeks, after paying off all expenses
I had a clear gain of 1001. This sum I laid out in fresh
purchases a lioness named Saida, two hyenas and two




THE LION TAMER OFFERS TO WAKE THE (STUFFED) CROCODILE !

wolves, next a panther, and, later, a bison and a black
bear.

These last were the cause of a disagreeable scene that
took place one night at Avignon. After an unusually heavy
day, I was sleeping peacefully in my waggon, when I was
aroused by an appalling noise, bellowings of pain and
furious growlings, accompanied by terrible blows, which

M 2



164 RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER

made the walls and floors resound. Evidently a fierce
fight was going on somewhere. Hastily dressing, I
hurried to the scene, and discovered that the black bear
had contrived to overthrow the bars which separated his
cage from that of his neighbour, the bison, upon whom he
had fallen, and, hugging him bear fashion, was now y , with
his long sharp tusks, pitilessly devouring his hump, buffalo
hump being esteemed a delicacy. The danger was im-
minent, for if in their struggles the door should become
open there was no end to the consequences that might
ensue. Throwing myself between the combatants I held
one by the neck while I sent the other flying back to his
den. Thus the peril was averted, and next day it was
as if nothing had happened, except that the bison was
humpless.

The success of my menagerie had now become so
generally acknowledged that, after visiting all the principal
towns in the south of France, I crossed the frontier and
went south into Italy, where each stopping-place w r as the
scene of fresh triumphs. In Florence the king and all
his court were present at a performance, where I surpassed
myself in daring and audacity. The king applauded
louder than anyone, and afterwards desired that I should
be presented to him in order that he might congratulate
me himself. Encouraged by my successes, I determined
to push on to Rome. There a terrible catastrophe came
near taking place. I w T as seated, one afternoon, at the
desk taking the tickets, just as the performance was about
to begin, and the enclosure was already crammed with
people, when suddenly there were heard heart-rending
cries, succeeded by furious roarings, and frantic shrieks
of ' Help ! help ! ' In an instant I was in the enclosure,
where I found general panic, women fainting, men
yelling, and all eyes turned in the direction of the lions'
cage, where Venturelli, one of my men, hung suspended
in mid-air from the claws of four lions ; one was devouring
his arm, blood from which spurted in all directions.



To raise the bars and slip into the cage was the act
of a second. How I was not torn in pieces myself I know
not, for I was defenceless, with neither firearms, stick,
whip, nor weapon of any kind, but my two powerful fists ;
hitting out right and left with these I ordered the lions
to their dens. They obeyed me, and slunk away submis-
sively, letting fall their hapless victim, who was picked
up almost lifeless and conveyed to the hospital, where,
however, he recovered from his wounds. I asked him
afterwards how he came to let himself be caught.

' Ah, sir,' he answered, ' am I not your pupil ? As
I was passing near these gentlemen ' (for he always spoke
very respectfully of the lions) ' I thought I would like to
pat them ; three were sleeping, but the fourth awoke his
comrades, and if you had not been there, sir, I should
surely have been made mincemeat of.'

It was at Eochefort that I received my first wound :
a lion in a sulky fit defied me, growling and showing
his gleaming tusks. I lashed at him with my whip, and
he sprang upon me. I darted aside, but not in time to
avoid a blow from his heavy paw, the claws of which
tore open my thigh. I punished him ; but he was, perhaps,
to be excused, for the performance that evening took
place under peculiar circumstances ; there being no gas
we were obliged to light with candles, and no doubt this
unusual illumination irritated and annoyed him, for no
one can imagine how small a thing will put out a wild
beast.

Lyons was the scene of a terrible disaster. While there
I received from Africa a superb lion, recently captured
and still untamed, packed in a solid cage, and that
enclosed in a special van, on which was a label with a
full description of its formidable contents ; no risk need
have been run by anyone coming in contact with it. But,
unfortunately, while the train which bore the monster to
its destination was being shunted in a siding, a cattle
drover, named Picart, was foolhardy enough, in spite of



166 RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER

all warnings and precautions, to risk his life, first in
offering a piece of bread through the bars, and next, as
his sleeping majesty took no notice of this affront, in
attempting to pat the lion on the head. Then arose the
king of beasts in his wrath, and, quick as lightning, the
unhappy man's arm was seized upon, crunched and
snapped off, with no more ado than a dog would make over
a chicken bone. His piercing cries promptly brought
the railway officials to the rescue, armed with pitchforks
and iron bars ; but, alas ! it was already too late, the monster
was licking his lips over the sanguinary morsel, while the
unhappy victim of his own folly was writhing hi agonies,
which mercifully soon ended in death. I gave a per-
formance next evening for the benefit of the widow r and
children, during which I entered the den of the rebellious
lion and publicly chastised him.

After several weeks' successful performances at Lyons
I proposed to make a stay at Marseilles ; and, in order
to convey my living freight thither, chartered a train of
forty trucks. Decidedly Lyons station brought me bad
luck : it now witnessed a tussle with an elephant, who
positively declined to enter the car destined for him ; no
persuasions, no coaxings would induce him to budge
the more I pommelled him the more he resisted ; finally
we were obliged to resort to force. A strong rope w r as
passed around his legs, at the other end of which was a
gang of nearly a hundred men, who, dragging and tugging,
only succeeded in embarking the unwilling passenger
as the train gave the warning whistle for departure.

The white bear and the elephant were the cause of the
first really serious danger I ever ran. In the midst of
an exercise the white bear, irritated by some trifle,
suddenly threw itself on the elephant, who, surprised by
this unexpected and unmerited attack, set to work slowly
and methodically to repel his assailant. Feeling myself
the natural peacemaker, I threw myself between the
combatants, with the result that I became the assailed



RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER 167

party. Hugged in the close embrace of the common
enemy, I should soon have ceased to breathe : a few
minutes more and it would have been all over with me ;
but, summoning all my remaining strength, I hammered
with my two strong fists on the brute's nostrils till the
blood, flowing in torrents, blinded and bewildered him.
Profiting by this state of affairs, I slipped from his grasp,
and seizing a stout ash stick that stood handy, I be-
laboured him soundly, which speedily had the effect of
calming him, and soon he was ambling sanctimoniously
along as if nothing had happened.

All these accidents only increased my passionate
love for my career. In answer to all remonstrances I
maintained that having triumphed over so many perils
I was bound to continue triumphing. But I reckoned
without the little proverb of the pitcher that goes often
to the well. One ill-fated day the forebodings of my
friends (and also rivals) were fulfilled, and I made my
last appearance as a lion tamer.

One hot July afternoon, at Neuilly, I perceived, as
soon as I entered the menagerie, a certain excitability
among the animals, about which, however, I did not
excite or disturb myself, putting it down to some atmo-
spheric cause, and feeling confident that, should any
commotion take place, I should be able to quell it.
The afternoon performance passed without a hitch ;
when the evening one began, I entered the cages as
usual, and there passed tranquilly before me each in his
turn the first, second, third, and fourth lions, and next,
the two white bears. Finally, I was left alone with Sultan,
the same who, a short while before, had devoured the arm
of the unhappy cattle drover. He was a fine black
African lion, eighteen years of age the prime of life
among his tribe. He could at no time truthfully be
accused of good nature, and I perceived at once that
evening that he was in one of his worst humours.
When I ordered him to leap the bar, as usual, he



168 RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER

sulked in a corner and refused. When I cracked my
whip at him he growled, and the more I urged him the
louder he growled, showing his teeth and beating the air
with his heavy tail.

To withdraw from the cage and leave him master of the
field would have been to acknowledge myself beaten, and
that would not have been in keeping with my charac-
ter. I determined to conquer him, and, in this deter-
mination, I advanced a step forward. Now it happened
that I was then suffering from rheumatism, particularly
in my knee, and as I stepped a sudden shoot of pain
caused the knee to bend, and me to fall to the ground !

Instantly I knew that I was lost. In a moment
Sultan was upon me, one heavy paw resting on my
head, while with the other he tore, gashed, clawed my
quivering flesh.

On all sides resounded cries, shrieks from terrified
women, frantic calls for help from men. I, and I alone,
uttered no sound, I knew the necessity for calm and the
danger of the slightest false move. Seizing the raging
animal by the skin of the throat, I twisted it with all my
force, in hopes of strangling him. By degrees his frantic
movements began to cease, and his powerful muscles to
relax. Suddenly he turned his head ; something behind
was taking his attention off me. What was happening was
this : two of my men had succeeded in entering the cage,
and, with red-hot irons, were attacking his flanks. Pro-
fiting by the momentary respite, I managed to raise my-
self to a sitting posture, and I shortly found myself
upright again ; once on my feet I felt that I was safe, and
would resume my position as master. Summoning all
my resolution, I advanced on the rebel, and peremptorily
ordered him to his den. I compelled him, though
sullenly, to obey me, and would next have proceeded to
chastise him with an unsparing hand, but I yielded to the
clamour of the public and allowed my rescuers to lead
me from the cage. The only concession I obtained was



RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER 169

permission to make my bow before the audience, whose
sympathies I had thus involuntarily aroused. I ad-
mit that my clothes were hardly in a fit condition for a
public appearance I was covered from head to foot
with blood and sand ; one sleeve was in rags, the lappets
torn off my coat, and the collar altogether missing. Then
I had to submit to be taken home, put to bed, and let the
doctors examine my wounds. These numbered no less
than seventeen : my arms were lacerated, my shoulders
were beaten black and blue, while my throat and this
was the most painful of all was torn open. Three weeks
was I obliged to keep my bed, it was even reported that
I would never leave it. But, at length, I regained my
liberty, and the first use I made of it was to revisit the
menagerie. I had grown a thick beard, the collar of my
coat was turned up, and the brim of my hat slouched down
over my face, rendering me almost unrecognisable ; but
I had hardly set foot in the arena than Sultan scented me
and greeted me with an angry growl. Flattening himself
against the bars, he stood, his claws stretched out, ready
to spring upon me ; his eyes blazing with rage, and
every bristle on end, while the evil expression on his
horribly contorted face, plainly said : ' What ! not dead
yet ? Wait till the next time I get hold of you ! ' I could
with difficulty be prevented going into his cage and
paying off old scores at once ; but I was constrained to
content myself with visiting all my other friends, while
Sultan followed my every movement with an angry
eye.

I was impatient, as soon as my health should be com-
pletely re-established, to begin my performances. When
that happy evening at length arrived I entered the cages
as calmly as of old, and the exercises were gone through
without any impediment. When it came to Sultan's
turn, to my surprise he contented himself with growling,
and did not attempt to attack me. I kept none the less
on my guard, for I knew that he was revengeful, and



170 RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER

was only awaiting his opportunity, the result proving
that I was not mistaken.

This opportunity arrived one evening in October,
when, the directors of the Zoological Gardens in Paris
being present, I naturally was on my mettle, and wished
to let them see of what I was capable. Sultan
seemed to grasp the situation, and a repetition of the
former scene took place. This time, however, I was
prepared, and stood firm on my legs, not flinching under
his onslaught. It was a veritable combat, but I was the
stronger, and though armed with nothing but a whip, I
succeeded in forcing him, outwardly tamed, to obey me.

Needless to say that from that day our relations
continued somewhat strained, and at every performance
I foresaw a fresh explosion. It required all my strength,
all my determination, to cope with his animosity, which
each day seemed to augment, and every time that I left
him I was worn out in mind and body from the sustained
efforts.

At length my hour struck, though not in the way I
had anticipated. Suddenly I became aware that my
right cheek had lost all feeling, my upper lip was drawn
up. and my right eye glazed. The doctors were hastily
summoned, and pronounced me to be paralysed ! The
strain of my continued efforts had been too great, my
machinery was worn out, and I, so active, so greedy of
life and movement, was condemned to perpetual repose.
Farewell in future to all emotions and ovations ! farewell
to all the pleasure daily received from the applause of
the public !

No more should I appear among my animals, to lord
it over them, as of old ; in future I must be reduced to
the rank of simple spectator, condemned to watch others
perform feats taught them by me, and enact the role I had
created for myself, and had filled with such signal success
throughout so many years.



171



SHEEP FARMING ON THE BOEDER

THE sheep possesses all the virtues. Those whose lot is
cast in the hills of the Scottish Border (as is the case of
the writer) will know how to pity the poor sheep who
have to find their food on the hills from December to the
month of May hills which are sometimes deep in snow,
and which at best grow browner and deader day by day,
often till June is reached.

Yet the sheep work on, often doing with no other
food than they can pick for themselves, or, perhaps, a
little hay at the best. This is in what is considered a good
winter. But generally, in the course of these months the
monotony is broken by storms of snow or wind or both
united which produce terrible suffering to the poor
animals, and to their masters.

My great-grandfather, who lived on the same farm as
we do, kept minute diaries of these things, and from these,
as well as from the stories of the ' Ettrick Shepherd,' I
have got my information.

The first big storm recorded is that known as the
'Thirteen Drifty Days.' It was about 1672, and must
have occurred soon after sheep farms were set going on
the Border. Now, a steady fall of snow, unless it reaches
a great depth, is not a very great misfortune, as the sheep
scrape away on the steep hillsides with more or less
pluck (if you watch them you see a marvellous difference
in degree), and they manage to get enough to live on, as
the grass is always fresh beneath the snow.

But if a wind gets up and drift sets in, one sits by



172 SHEEP FARMING ON THE BOEDER

one's fire shuddering to think of the wreaths or drifts
piling up outside. Well, in this year of storm there had
been a long spell of snow and frost, and the surface of
the snow had hardened, and the sheep were weakened
by want of food. In the end of January a change seemed
coming, and the shepherds were rejoicing to think of
relief. Little they thought what the change would
be! The wind rose and drift set in, nor did it cease
nignt or day for thirteen days. The accounts doubtless
lose nothing in the telling ; still it seems certain that in
all those days the sheep never broke their fast ; nor was
the drift constant from one quarter, for the wind shifted
so continually that the shepherds knew not how to
dispose the poor animals for shelter. On the ninth and
tenth days the dead grew so numerous, from hunger and
the most intense cold, that the shepherds built up dykes
or walls of dead sheep in a half-circle to shelter the
living. It availed but little ; and on the fourteenth day,
when the storm at last abated, nought remained on any
farms but these walls of dead sheltering a small flock,
all likewise stiff and cold. One happier experience is
recorded in our long diaries.

A certain Eobbie Scott, of Priesthaugh, in Upper
Teviotdale, never left his sheep day nor night all through
the weary storm. He scraped away what snow he could
where the drift had left ground comparatively bare, and
he led the sheep to where the rough tops of heather
afforded them some little food. A fine fellow he must
have been, and of most wondrous endurance ; but, worn
out at length, on the thirteenth night, he went away
to get the sleep he could no longer do without. By
morning it was thawing, so his sufferings were not in
vain ; and later he was rewarded by his sheep bringing
eight score lambs, which was more than the whole district
altogether could show.

But the greatest storm on record is that of 1794,
known as the Gonyal storm no one knows why when



SHEEP FARMING ON THE BORDER 173

the thaw did almost as much damage as the actual storm
itself. The ground had been covered with hard frozen
snow for some time before it began, and the shepherds
were all keeping their weather eyes open in expectation
of a blast. The day before the storm was thick, dark,
and piercingly cold, but without a breath of wind, so
that no one had an idea from which direction the tempest
would come. One old man, out of his own experience,
said that wherever the first opening appeared through
the fog the storm would burst; whereat his fellow-
shepherds hooted, for just then a south wind sprang up,
and the opening appeared in the north ! Nevertheless
the old man was right, for, towards midnight, with a roar
like thunder, the hurricane broke with a blinding drift
from the north. This lasted for about a week ; but to
give you some idea of the strength of the blast, I must
tell you that two hours before daylight it was impossible
to get out of any door facing north, so deep were the
drifts outside. In a short time the whole aspect of the
country was changed ; dykes, of course, had vanished,
valleys were levelled, burns which, in the morning, had
been swollen to the size of rivers, had in many places
disappeared, and even trees were buried entirely out of
sight.

So you can, perhaps, understand a little the difficulty
younger shepherds, who were new to the district, had in
rescuing the sheep on this occasion ; for they recognised
their whereabouts only by landmarks, and were dismayed
to find that everything had completely gone. But all
the experienced hands had set out before daylight with
their hats tied firmly on their heads, their plaids sewn
round them, and a good flask of whisky in their breast
pockets in search of the sheep. They plodded thus,
three or four of them together, in single file, each man
leading in turn, for the fury of the blast was such that no
mortal could stand up against it for more than ten
minutes at a stretch. It seemed an almost hopeless



174 SHEEP FARMING ON THE BOEDER

errand ; on arriving at the place where the sheep should
have been there was no sign of any living creature !
The collies were then set to work, and it was extraordinary
to see how quickly they pounced upon the place where
a sheep lay buried ; and one old dog, Sparkie, is said to
have smelt out several at a depth of no less than fifty feet
below the snow ! The sheep were all living when found ;
but those that were very deeply buried felt the sudden
change into the bitter atmosphere above, for, after bound-
ing away in delight at their release, they were almost
instantly paralysed and fell helplessly upon the snow,
where they remained many hours before recovering the
use of their limbs.

When the thaw came the rivers rose so suddenly
that many of the poor weakened creatures could not get
out of the way in time, and there is a curious record of
the ' throw up ' in the Solway which I quote here : ' 1840
sheep, 9 black cattle, 3 horses, 2 men, 1 woman, 45 dogs,
and 180 hares, besides a number of meaner animals.'

In our own experience things are better : there are
more roads, and the railways are of much help in many
districts ; yet the elements remain as before, and we still


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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 10 of 22)