SIDE SHOW STUDIES
BY FRANCIS METCALFE
ILLUSTRATED WITH MANY AMUSING DRAWINGS BY OLIVER HERFORD
NEW YORK THE OUTING PUBLISHING COMPANY 1906
Copyright, 1905 and 1906, by THE OUTING PUBLISHING COMPANY
First impression, March, 1906
THE OUTING PRESS DEPOSIT, N. Y.
THE LIBERTY OF FRANZ AND THE REBELLION OF FUZZY WUZZY 1
THE BITE OF A RATTLER AND THE SAD FATE OF BIG PETE 23
THE AMOROUS BABOON 45
FEEDING THE SERPENTS AND A GRAND TRANSFORMATION 67
THE LIONESS SKIRT DANCE AND THE INCONSIDERATE PYTHON 89
THE ANIMAL BAROMETER AND THE ETERNAL FEMININE 113
MAKING A STAR LION AND AN INTERRUPTED TEMPERANCE MEETING 137
KALSOMINING AN ELEPHANT 163
THE HYPNOTIC BEAR AND THE SENTIMENTAL LECTURER 183
THE TRAGEDY OF THE TIGERS AND THE POWER OF HYPNOTISM 211
THE LIBERTY OF FRANZ AND THE REBELLION OF FUZZY WUZZY
THE LIBERTY OF FRANZ AND THE REBELLION OF FUZZY WUZZY
Madame Morelli, the pretty little Frenchwoman who makes a half-score of leopards, panthers and jaguars do things which nature never intended them to do, had finished her act and driven the snarling performers through the narrow runway to their separate cages, fastening each one, as she thought, securely. Two French clowns were filling in the time and making the audience of Coney Island pleasure seekers laugh by their antics with a performing dog, while the stage hands were bringing in the properties for the next trained animal act, when the Proprietor came from behind the scenes and strolled, apparently unconcerned, to the back of the Arena, where he could command a clear view of the performance, the audience and the cages. He said a few words to each of the trainers and keepers whom he passed, and the Stranger, who knew the clock-like regularity with which each one of them went through his allotted duties, noticed an unwonted haste and suppressed excitement among them.
As he joined the Proprietor the sound of hammering mingled with the noise of the blatant brass band and the cries of the ballyhoo spielers for the other Dreamland attractions, which came in through the open windows, and he saw that Stevenson, the mild eyed quiet man who is always on hand to rescue imperiled trainers and keepers when their own carelessness, or unexpected revolt on the part of the animals, leads to a fight, was rapidly nailing boards over the ventilating spaces above the cages. Madam Morelli, whip and training rod in hand, hurried from her dressing room to the runway, and every keeper and trainer seemed to be loitering in the space between the leopards' den and the audience.
He looked at the Proprietor inquiringly, but the little trickle of blood which ran down his cheek from under his cap answered the question he would have asked, an animal was loose and the Proprietor had encountered it in his rounds. A crash of weird music from the band drowned the sound of a cracking whip and sharp commands which came from the runway, and announced the appearance of Brandu, the snake charmer, in the exhibition cage, and the audience watched him play with a cobra, all unconscious that Franz, the jaguar, which a few minutes before had desisted from his attempt to tear the fair shoulders of Morelli only after a dozen blank cartridges had been fired in his face, was a gentleman-at-large in Dreamland. The Proprietor gave a sigh of relief as the jaguar backed into his cage from the runway, snarling and striking at the little woman who forced him backward with the whip until she was able to slam the door and make him once more a prisoner. When she passed them on her way back to the dressing-room, her dress was torn, and her eyes were flashing from the excitement of the encounter and anger at the carelessness of the carpenter who had left a board loose at the top of the den.
"Of course, that might have been a serious thing for the jaguar and for my pocket book," said the Proprietor as three deep scratches in his head were being plastered up. "I couldn't afford to take any chances of an accident, and he would have been shot if he had attempted to come through a ventilator into the Arena, but a trained animal like that is worth a goodish bit of money. He let me know he was loose by giving me his love pat when I was walking through the runway, and as Morelli is the only one who can do anything with him I sent for her. She can whip considerably more than her own weight in wild-cats, and there was not the slightest danger to the audience, but not many men would have relished her task of going into that passage with the beast loose on top of the cages." He negatived the Press Agent's suggestion to make a scare-head story of the escape for the papers, and suggested that they should go up and hear Madam Morelli's account of it. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, mending a rip which the jaguar's sharp claws had made in her gown, and she shrugged her shoulders when the Stranger inquired if she had been hurt.
"It was nothing," she said laughing. "He jumped at me from the top of a cage when I came in, but I beat him off and whipped him back into his cage. It was only the close quarters which made it bad, for I am used to fighting them." She was interrupted by a yapping and caterwauling in the doorway, and sprang on the bed, her face white with terror, as a small terrier and the menagerie cat rolled into the room in a clawing, biting mix-up. The terrier was raising a litter of puppies in the next room, and the cat had transformed the space back of Morelli's bed into a feline nursery, and a meeting of the two anxious mothers in the hall had led to trouble. Madam Morelli always goes through her performance in an evening dress, and she stood on the bed, her long train gathered closely about her, trembling like a leaf, when the Proprietor finally separated the combatants and restored peace.
"You wouldn't think that a woman who had just come from a fight with a two hundred pound jaguar, which could easily tear her to pieces, would be scared at a scrap between a toy terrier and a mongrel cat," said the Proprietor, laughing, as he led the way to the cafe table. "But she makes a specialty of the larger species."
"This matter of specialties seems to run through every branch of the show business," said the Press Agent as they took their seats at the table. "I ran a dime museum in St. Louis a few years ago—in those days there was lots of money in it—and the freaks would never stand for any change in their billing. We used to have a fresh lot sent on by our New York agent every two weeks, and one Monday morning when I went down to look over the new arrivals, I knew that he had been up against the demon Rum, when he engaged such a tough looking bunch. The alleged fat woman looked as if she was wasting away with consumption, and the bearded lady had a way of absentmindedly humming the popular airs in a bass voice which gave the whole snap away. There was one likely looking girl and when I asked her what she was she told me she was the web-footed lady and showed me her feet, which had little pieces of skin growing between the toes.
"I knew that wasn't good enough, so I told her she was mistaken; that she was a Circassian beauty, and I gave her a wig and the fixings and put her on the platform. But say, would you believe it? She was so mad and embarrassed by the change in her stunt that when the lecturer was calling attention to her blond beauty, she would blush until she looked like an Indian Princess, and every time he turned his back she would take off her shoes and wiggle her toes at the audience to show what she really was.
"It was up to us to get some real attraction to tide over the time until our agent should get sober and send us another bunch of freaks, so Merritt, who was my partner, and myself hunted up a big buck nigger and made a deal with him to go on as a 'Wild Man.' We ripped up a hair mattress and glued the contents onto him, and wired a couple of big tusks to his teeth, and with an iron collar around his neck and a log chain around his waist he was as good an imitation as was ever faked. We put him in a big cage which we had used the week before for a mangy old lion; one of the five hundred or so 'Wallace the Untamables' which were touring the country, and Merritt taught him to howl like a steam calliope.
"We called him 'Fuzzy Wuzzy, the Terrible Man-Eating Cannibal,' which was a waste of words, but Merritt had language to burn. He had got hold of a phony five hundred dollar bill, and when he was giving his spiel about how Fuzzy Wuzzy was captured upon a desert island, where he was found chewing a human leg, and how he couldn't eat anything but raw meat, and was always trying to get at his keeper for dessert, he would wave his phony five hundred spot over his head and give it to 'em good.
"'Five hundred dollars, ladies and gents, I will give to any man who will remain for the short space of two minutes in the cage with Fuzzy Wuzzy! Five hundred dollars to any man who is brave enough to run the risk of letting this terrible man-eating cannibal get his hinder limbs about him, for then all would be lost and Fuzzy Wuzzy would fasten his terrible fangs in his victim's throat and suck his ber-lud.'
"Well, it was a good spiel, all right, all right, and when Merritt struck that part one of the supers would prod up old Fuzzy, who would rattle his chains and howl for fair, and the audience would get cold chills down their backs. We were playing to the S. R. O., and giving so many shows a day that Merritt pretty nearly lost his voice, and Fuzzy had been prodded so much that he had to take his meals standing up. We ran 'em through pretty fast, and one afternoon Merritt was just going to give the 'All out' signal, which cleared the exhibition hall for the next performance, when up steps a big husky black roustabout from the levee and commences to strip off his coat.
"'Jes' a minit, boss,' says he. 'Ah reckon ah needs dat five hundred in mah bizness,' and Merritt looks at him in astonishment.
"'My deluded colored brother,' says he, 'Do you appreciate the fact that you are going to a certain and horrible death? If this terrible Fuzzy Wuzzy gets his hinder limbs about you he will suck your ber-lud.'
"'Ah doan reckon he'll git me, an' ah suttenly needs de money,' answers the coon, and continues to strip, and Merritt sizes him up and sees the finish of Fuzzy Wuzzy, who was shaking the bars and trying to get away from the super who was prodding him; but everybody thought he was trying to get at the coon to make a meal of him, and some of the women folks were getting hysterics. One of the boys had put me wise, and I broke through the crowd and called a halt in the proceedings.
"'Ladies and gentlemen,' says I, 'I didn't believe that a man existed who was foolhardy enough to be tempted to certain death by the lure of a paltry five hundred dollars. But although this man is so reckless of his own life, I must insist that he get a permit from the mayor, relieving us from all responsibility, before we allow him to be torn limb from limb. Return to-morrow at two o'clock, and if this man's courage still keeps up, you will see before your shuddering eyes an encounter which will make the historical gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome pale into insignificance.' I could sling a few language myself, those days, and the mayor was a friend of mine—or I thought he was—so I figured we could catch the suckers for an admission and then call it off, because he would refuse a permit.
"But he was onto the game and he was one of those blame fools who thought he had a sense of humor, so he gives him a document with a big red seal on it which looks like a doctor's diploma, which says that Thomas Jefferson is allowed to go in and win our five hundred, and the next day the coon shows up smiling and ready, and I knew we had to make good somehow. I passed the word to Merritt to delay the game and make a last grand effort to throw a scare into the coon, and he put up a spiel to beat the band.
"'This terrible Fuzzy Wuzzy has none of the attributes of a human being,' says he. 'He lives upon raw meat and would prefer human flesh if he could get it. Observe the expression of ghoulish glee in his eyes as he regards the foolhardy man who will soon furnish him such a meal as he formerly enjoyed in his native jungle. He sleeps at night suspended from the top bars of his cage by his claw-like hands and feet, which will soon be tearing the flesh of this man who stands before you now, a picture of perfect health and strength. He speaks no intelligible language, but he utters howls and yells, which will be more horrible than ever before when he is sucking the warm heart's be-lud of the figure which you see before you for the last time in human shape.' Just then the super gives Fuzzy a prod and he howls like Balaam's ass, but the coon stands there smiling and not feazed a bit.
"'It's a sad sight,' continues Merritt, 'to see a fine man in the prime of life, like our colored brother here, crushed into an unrecognizable mass by the terrible hinder limbs of this man-eating cannibal and then torn to shreds by his horrible fangs. The management of this highly moral and intellectual show will provide a funeral for the remains, if there are any, and now, ladies and gents, I call upon you to witness that we are not responsible for the terrible end which awaits this reckless man.'
"I had taken the precaution to button up the box office 'take' in my inside pocket, and while Merritt was making a bluff at looking for the key to the cage door I looked around to see that there was a free exit, for the coon was standing there swelling out his chest and grinning as if he had the five hundred already in his jeans, and I knew he couldn't be bluffed out. Just then a typical antebellum Missourian, one of the kind that has to be shown, steps up in front. He was tanked up until his safety valve would have blown off if it hadn't been wired down, but he was pretty steady on his pins when he held onto the railing in front of the cage.
"'Professah,' says he, 'did I undahstand yo' all correctly to say that this yeah object in the cage has none of the attributes of the human race?'
"'Correct!' says Merritt, glad of an excuse to delay things. 'He is lower than the beasts of the field.'
"'Well, he suttenly aint much to look at,' says the Southerner, looking him over carefully. 'He won't eat like folks—he can't talk—an' he sleeps like a bat. I dunno why such a pusillanimous critter should cumber the yearth,' and with that he puts his hand to his hip and pulls out a forty-five from under the tails of his coat. Fuzzy takes one look at it, and it didn't need any prodding to make him holler, and he tries to tear off the false tusks.
"'Foh Gawd's sake, mistah, doan shoot!' he yells. 'Dat white mahn's been tellin' a passel ob lies about me until ah's sartain suah somefing gwine fer to git me. Ah can eat an' talk like any one, an' mos' ebery one knows me about yeah wen ah ain't got dese yeah contraptions on.'
"'Shut up, you blame fool!' says Merritt. 'He won't shoot you.'
"'Mebbe he knows dat, mebbe you knows dat; but how does I know dat?' yells Fuzzy. 'Dat gun suttenly looks big to me.'
"About this time the other coon got wise and saw the five hundred vanishing, and the last I saw of Merritt he was trying to break a half-Nelson that the coon had got on him and dodge the rest of the crowd at the same time. I left St. Louis on a freight that night, wearing a few lumps where some stray brickbats landed, and the next time I saw Merritt was in Chicago, and he was on crutches and had his head covered with plaster."
No thunderbolt dropped from the blue dome over the Dreamland tower, and the Proprietor, with a childlike and bland smile on his face, motioned to the waiter to refill the glasses.
THE BITE OF A RATTLER AND THE SAD FATE OF BIG PETE
THE BITE OF A RATTLER AND THE SAD FATE OF BIG PETE
Like the pitcher which went to the well until it met the proverbial fate, the trainer entered the lion's den once too often, and what remained of him was placed in an ambulance and taken to the hospital. After the performance for the evening was over, Baltimore, the bad lion, who had suddenly developed a craving for human flesh, had been dealt with by the Proprietor of the menagerie in a manner which would spoil his appetite for many a day to come and make him remember that trainers cannot be mangled with impunity.
Most of the lights were extinguished at Dreamland, but two men sat at the table in front of the Arena with the Proprietor, discussing the accident and listening to stories of former encounters which he related. His own body bears the scars of many a battle with his savage charges, but he has discontinued giving personal exhibitions with them in the large cage, because his wife has developed a prejudice against having him brought to her in fragments, and he has found that the training of trainers is a far more difficult task than the education of wild animals.
"Yes, any man who follows this business carries his life in his hands," he said in answer to a question from the Stranger within the gates. "You helped to care for poor Bonavita to-night, after Baltimore finished with him, so you know what a lion's jaws can do. I've seen 'em chewed up as bad as that and get over it, but they never get quite the same again. Leave the business? No; it is like the sea: a man who takes to it keeps it up until the time comes when he doesn't recover, but after a bad accident he usually takes another breed of animals.
"The worst sight I ever saw was about five years ago, when one of our performing bears turned on its trainer and seized his arm. He worried it as a terrier would a bone for a good twenty minutes before we could drive him off, and the bear died from the punishment we gave him. The man's arm isn't much use to him now, but he is crazy for me to give him another group of animals to train, which I can't do because a man needs two good pairs of limbs when he gets into the exhibition cage." He told of many accidents which had happened to himself and his employees, most of them through their own carelessness, born of constant association with their charges who never miss the opportunity which the shortest instant of forgetfulness gives them.
"I said that bear attack was the worst sight I ever saw, and it was; but something happened here last year which impressed me more because it was so mysterious. A friend of mine in Florida shipped me a box of rattlers, which he wrote had been 'attended to,' and I supposed that their poison fangs had been extracted. They were delivered just before the performance started and I ripped a board off the box and stuck my hand in, grabbing them one by one and throwing them into the den as if they were garter snakes.
"The man who took care of the snakes was out on the ballyhoo, walking around with the gander following him to advertise the show; and when he came in he looked them over and found that each one had as pretty a pair of fangs as you would wish to see. He told me about it and I confess that it gave me a gone feeling in the pit of my stomach, for I remembered how I had felt around for them in the box with my bare hands.
"I am pretty busy while a performance is going on, so I told him to let them alone until I had a chance to examine them. Ninety per cent. of the accidents which occur in a menagerie comes from the disregard of ordinary precautions or the disobedience of orders, and I had a presentiment that something was going to happen and I was keeping an extra vigilant eye on the performers in the big exhibition cage. Well, it happened, all right; but not in the way that I expected.
"The snake man instead of getting back on the ballyhoo where he belonged, stood around the snake cage, watching the new rattlers, and along came a couple of gazabos who commenced talking about them. One of them was the wise guy, who always knows about how the animals are doped so they won't bite and all that other information which isn't so. He commenced explaining how the snakes were harmless, because their teeth had been pulled, and giving a lot of misinformation about them. The snake man listened until he couldn't stand it any longer and then he stuck his hand into the cage and grabbed one of the rattlers by the neck.
"'Fangs pulled, eh?' says he, and he made the rattler open his mouth and show a perfect pair of stingers. The wise guy took one look at them and fled, and the snake man would have carried it off all right, only he was so busy calling a few choice names after him that he placed the snake back in the cage instead of throwing it in, and the rattler struck him before he could draw his hand out. He had a clown make-up on, so I couldn't tell whether he was pale or not when he came to me a few minutes later and held out his hand, but there was a queer expression on his face and I knew that my apprehensions had not been groundless.
"There were just two little red dots, no bigger than pin heads, on the back of his hand.
"'You got it, didn't you?' says I.
"'Good and plenty,' says he. 'My arm hurts me already.'
"We got busy right away and took him up to the hospital where Bonavita is now. Say, he was a very thin man and you can see that I'm no lightweight; but by midnight the right side of his body and his right arm and leg were swollen to my size, and in the morning all of the swollen part was as black as a coal. He was suffering terribly, and I tried to get hold of the Arab snake doctor but couldn't locate him, so I wired to Rochester for Rattlesnake Pete. He came down and a mighty interesting man he is, but he couldn't do anything which 'Doc' up at the hospital hadn't done, and it was five days before my man was out of danger. He was not a drinking man—I finished having drunkards around my show a good many years ago—and the whiskey took right hold of him and pulled him through. 'Doc' kept squirting some red stuff into his arm, but it was the 'red-eye' which saved him—and that reminds me."
He beckoned to the waiter and each one ordered his favorite antidote for a possible snake bite.
"Did he return to the show?" asked the Stranger, after he had rendered himself immune.
"He sure did; you couldn't keep him away, but he has never been fond of snakes since. It is the same man whom you saw putting the group of elephants through their paces to-night."
It was growing late, and the Proprietor announced that he was going to show his wife a good husband and said good-night, but the Stranger waited for the story which he saw was trembling upon his companion's lips, and induced the sleepy waiter to bring a farewell dose of snake-bite antidote. The man was unknown to him by name, but his personality promised to be interesting, for his face spoke of good living, the red of his complexion was evidently not entirely due to exposure to the sun, and the little sacs under the eyes indicated that he was apt to be the last of a convivial party to suggest breaking up.
He had listened to the Proprietor's stories with the same bored expression which Noah might wear in hearing the experiences of a survivor of the Johnstown flood, and he looked regretfully at the vacant chair, now that his turn had come.
"Snakes!" he exclaimed with a contemptuous snort. "What does the boss know about 'em? I used to own the only snake that was worth having. Ever hear of 'Big Pete'?" The Stranger confessed his ignorance, and the other settled back in his chair and lighted a fresh cigar.
"I'll tell you about him, then. You know that a snake is a queer proposition in a menagerie. They get sore mouths—canker the fakirs call it—and won't eat, and then, if you've got any investment in 'em you want to get it out mighty quick, for they are no orchids. I was pretty well on my uppers, after a bad season on the road, when a guy named Merritt came to me and said he could get a fine snake cheap, and he thought we might make some money out of him by showing him to the Rubes at the county fairs.
"What I didn't know about snakes would have filled a book, but when I saw this one I knew it was a bargain. It was the blamedest biggest snake that ever gave a wriggle, and the only reason its owners had not made a fortune was because it was never properly advertised. I used to know just how much he weighed and how long he was, but my brain got so tired figuring up the money we made out of him that I've had no memory for figures since.
"Well, as I said, I was pretty hard up, but I had this sparkler left for 'fall money,' and when I saw that snake I pushed it over my uncle's counter." He pointed to a large yellow diamond in his scarf, and the Stranger tried to make a mental calculation of a pawnbroker's valuation of it.
"Merritt managed to dig up some mazuma, and we chipped in fifty apiece and became the proud possessors of Big Pete. If I had been wise to the business I would have known there was something wrong to make him sell so cheap, but we more than got our money back out of him the first week, so we had no kick coming. The newspaper boys were good to us and gave us a lot of space, and we were playing on velvet and had Pete besides. It was such a cinch that Merritt, who looked after the snake while I did the spieling and sold tickets on the front, commenced to get worried for fear we should lose him.
"'Jim,' says he to me one morning when business was a little dull, 'I believe there's something phony about the blame snake. He won't eat and I've tempted him with the best I could get. I guess I'll run down to the Bowery and get one of those snake sharps to come up and have a look at him; I believe his teeth need filling.'
"I knew he was stuck on a girl that was doing a turn in a music hall down that way, but business was dull, so I let him go without raising a holler. The next day he comes back with a jaw-carpenter who claimed he knew all about snakes and when he gets through looking at Pete's mouth we felt pretty blue.
"'Canker!' says he. 'Your little snakelet may live a month.'
"Well, that put it up to us to get busy, so I did the spieling on the outside until my voice gave out, and Merritt lied on the inside until he was black in the face, telling the Rubes about how many sheep old Pete swallowed every week. We had a lot of rabbits and doves with him in the cage, hopping and flying around behind the thick glass front, and they were real sociable with old Pete, who never batted an eye at 'em. At the end of the month he was looking pretty thin and we were afraid he would peg out any day. It was hard luck on us, for things were coming our way and our bank rolls were getting good and plenty thick and they were all 'yellow boys,' from the case card to the wrapper. Our wads grew fatter as Pete grew thinner, and we were looking for some easy mark to unload him onto, when one morning Merritt comes running out, just as I was staving off a farmer who had heard him lie and brought around a flock of scabby sheep to sell to us for snake food.
"'Jim,' he yells, grabbing me by the shoulders and waltzing around like a whirling dervish, 'we'll make Vanderbilt and Rockefeller look like thirty cents; old Pete has swallowed every blame pigeon and rabbit in the coop.'
"It seemed too good to be true, but when I went to have a look there was not a feather nor a piece of fur to be seen and old Pete was examining all the corners of the cage to see that he hadn't overlooked a bit. He looked a whole lot better already, and Merritt and I began to discuss what we should do with all our money.
"But say, there was one thing we forgot to reckon on—the appetite he had been saving for about a year, and although the money came in faster than ever, most of it went out to the rabbit men and pigeon fanciers.
"You know that when a snake swallows an animal you can see the bulge in him for a long time, but you couldn't see any in old Pete. He was just the same size all the way from his nose to the tip of his tail, for there was no space between the animals.
"Things began to look pretty serious for us, for we had used up all the available small live stock in the surrounding country, and the Rubes got onto the fact that we were up against their game and raised the ante on us for what was left. It's like taking candy from a child to sell a gold brick to a farmer, but he everlastingly gets back at you if you have to buy any of his produce. Hungry Joe and the man who invented the green-goods game would be skinned to death if they had to buy a dozen eggs from one of 'em.
"And all the time old Pete kept a constant procession of small animals moving down his throat, regardless of expense, and if the supply ran short he would look at Merritt so reproachfully that it made him feel so bad he couldn't deliver his lecture for sobs. He worked the pathetic on him, but if I came around there was no 'Only three grains of corn, mother,' expression on his face; he would just rear up on his tail and lambaste that glass trying to get at me. I had been living pretty well during our prosperity and I guess I looked good to him, so rather than have any hard feelings about it I stuck closer than ever to the front of the house.
"We had rented a frame building in a little town up on the Hudson and were showing him off in good form. Business was rushing and we had the S. R. O. sign out all the time, but snake food was getting scarcer than boiled lobsters during the cold snap last winter. The show had closed up for night and we were trying to make dents in the front of the tavern bar with our breast bones and laying in a stock of supplies, in case old Pete should bite us.
"While we were discussing the best way to stimulate the rabbit-breeding industry, 'biff—boom—bang,' went the town bell and the barkeep commenced to peel off his coat and get into a red flannel shirt and a fireman's helmet. It was one of those towns where they have a dude volunteer fire department, which the boys all join for the socials in the winter and to look pretty on the annual parade day. Merritt and I didn't hurry any; we knew that it would take some time for the chief, who kept the town drug store, to get into his red shirt and shiny boots and select the bouquet to carry in the big end of his speaking trumpet. Pretty soon, 'Always Ready, Ever Faithful, Hose Company Number One,' which comprised the department, came down the street, all of the company shouting orders through trumpets at the two coons who were pulling the cart.
"Of course, we went along to see the 'Fighting the Flames' show, but say: the joke was on us, for it was our theater which provided it. There wasn't anything left to burn and the hose company marched proudly back. Poor old Pete was nothing but a heap of ashes and Merritt looked sorrowful.
"'Jim,' says he, 'let's copper the rabbit market before they get wise.'"
"Did you have no insurance?" asked the Stranger sympathetically.
"Not a blame cent," replied his companion as he rose to go to bed. "But I am making good money out of old Pete yet. I had him stuffed and get a hundred a week from a dime museum for him—and they furnish the feed."
THE AMOROUS BABOON
THE AMOROUS BABOON
Thanks to the busy Press Agent, the fame of Jocko the Jealous, the amorous baboon, had preceded him to America, and when the animals from the Paris Hippodrome had been safely transferred to their dens in the Arena at Dreamland he was the center of attraction as he limbered up his muscles in the large monkey cage, after the cramped accommodations of the small traveling box. He had gained a reputation as a masher in Paris; but never had the menagerie attendants seen him so madly in love and so insanely jealous as upon his first introduction to American beauty, as exemplified by the fair woman who stood before his cage.
Jocko was not the first male being who had been fascinated by the charms of the Prima Donna during her career; for she had been through the marriage ceremony so often that she could say it backwards, never forgetting to cross her fingers before saying, "Until death do us part." The Proprietor drew the Stranger's attention to the group before the cage, a mischievous smile on his face as he looked over the half dozen of callow youths who are always in the train of the Prima Donna.
"Watch out for squalls over there," he said. "Jocko is affectionate now, but there will be something doing in a few minutes." The monkey was using all of the blandishments known to an amorous baboon and although the words of his soft chattering were unintelligible, their import could not be mistaken by a past mistress of the gentle art of love making; but the Prima Donna could not be beguiled into placing herself within reach of the hairy paws. Suddenly his mood changed, for one of her male companions placed his hand on her arm to attract her attention and Jocko, giving a howl of rage, danced madly up and down on all fours, showing a vicious set of fangs as his lips curled back in a hideous snarl. The bars of his cage were strong and so close together that he could not get out to attack his rival; but he gathered up a mass of litter from the floor and showered Prima Donna and callow youth alike. His screams echoed through the Arena and caused even the majestic lions and the haughty tigers to look in the direction of the cage of the despised "Bandar Log," and made the smaller animals uneasy. The woman who was described on the programme as "Miss ——, Famous Society Woman," had torn herself away from her arduous social duties with the Four Hundred to exhibit a troupe of leopards to a Coney Island audience, her identity concealed by a small black mask, and her performance in the big cage was interrupted by the noise; so the Proprietor thought it time to interfere.
The Prima Donna laughed good-naturedly as he helped to brush the sawdust and litter from her dress and tactfully drew her away, and Jocko quieted down and implored her to return; but she was accustomed to gentler wooing, and refused to put her dainty gown again in jeopardy.
"Jocko gave quite a performance to-night," said the Proprietor as he joined the Press Agent and the Stranger at the table, after the show. "That baboon is crazy about women; but he hasn't the discrimination of Consul, the most intelligent monkey that ever lived. You may remember that he was never quiet in his cage, but if a specially well-dressed woman stopped in front of it he played entirely to her and when she moved away his eyes followed her as long as she was in sight."
"There will never be another like Consul," said the Press Agent, shaking his head sadly. "He made my job a sinecure, for he was good for a column any day and a full page on Sundays."
"Never until the Missing Link is discovered," replied the Proprietor. "I don't believe a more human monkey will ever be found, and I attribute his wonderful intelligence to the fact that he associated entirely with human beings, almost from the day of his birth. I got him from the captain of a tramp steamer which traded to the West Coast, and I paid a goodish bit of money for him too. I have never dared to tell his early history as it was told to me, for fear I should be laughed at for a liar; but stranger things happen in the animal business than ever get into print, and if I dared risk my reputation by telling the things which actually occur in a menagerie, I should never need a Press Agent; but a plausible lie is accepted where a truth which sounds improbable is turned down."
The Press Agent looked at him reproachfully, but agreed with the proposition.
"Do you know, I have found that to be true when I have visited the newspaper offices," he said. "I have actually had to embroider some of the accounts of things which have happened here."
"I suspected it, for I didn't recognize some of the stories when I saw them in print," answered the Proprietor, smiling at him approvingly. He consented to tell the history of Consul, the famous chimpanzee, when the Stranger expressed his entire credulity and the Press Agent assumed an encouraging and sympathetic attitude.
"Of course, I have to take the ship captain's word for what happened before I bought him, but from the way the chimp developed and the intelligence he displayed after he came into my possession, I am prepared to believe it. He told me that he got him from the natives at the mouth of a small river on the West Coast, where he anchored his steamer to trade. They came off about the ship in their canoes, but he did not care for the rubber and ivory they had to offer and he was about to hoist anchor when one of them, who was in a small canoe with a woman, motioned to him to stop. The woman was crouched up in the stern, nursing what the captain thought was a baby, but when the man dragged it away from her, in spite of her voluble protest, he saw that it was a small chimpanzee. The man seemed desperately anxious to trade—and I imagine the captain's trade goods were not the sort to meet the entire approval of the missionaries—so that a bargain was concluded and the woman's grief allayed by a generous share of the purchase price. As nearly as he could make out, she had found the little thing in the jungle when it was only a few days old and had reared it in place of a baby which had just died. She was a low type of woman, even for an African savage, but the maternal instinct was strong enough to make her grieve for little Consul, as the captain christened him. The monkey grieved over the separation, too, but sailors make much of animals and he soon became reconciled to it.
"Thousands of people saw him after I purchased him, and you can judge of the reputation he attained when I tell you that I was getting fifteen hundred dollars a week for him in Berlin when he died, and he was booked for the entire season at that price. People had seen him eat with a knife and fork, smoke a cigar, use a typewriter and do all of the stunts which simply aped humanity, but you had to live with the little beast to appreciate how intensely human he was. Everybody connected with the show loved him, and when I wanted to find any one of the employees who was off duty, or not in his proper place, I always went first to Consul's cage and I was pretty sure to locate him. That monkey was never still, and the things he would do and the pranks he would play off his own bat were more amusing than any of the things he had been taught.
"When he was in company he was as well mannered as most men, but, of course, he had his prejudices and had to be watched. His special aversion was a negro, which is strange when you consider his early associations, and if one came around when he was loose he was apt to attack him. We had to consider that in traveling, for Consul always stopped at the hotels with his trainer and sat about the lobbies, smoking his cigar like any other guest, but if there were negro servants about, we had to be very careful not to let them come near him.
"He had the reasoning power of a child of ten years old; he was patient when anything was wrong and we had to do disagreeable things to him, appreciating that it was for his benefit. Only once did we have to use force, when it was necessary to pull a tooth, and I am glad it wasn't oftener, for it took seven men to control him and they thought they had done a day's work when we finished. The last time he went abroad he was the life of the ship, but he pretty nearly killed himself. The doctor prescribed a cough medicine for him and Consul liked it so well that he got up in the night, after his trainer had gone to sleep, opened the valise in which it was kept and emptied the bottle. I guess there must have been laudanum in it, for they had to work over him the rest of the night to save him.
"He would walk the deck with the lady passengers, who made a great deal of him, and when the customary concert was given, nothing would do but that he must perform and then pass the plate for the collection. He was in evening dress and behaved like a perfect gentleman, and the collection was a large one. It was heaped on the plate, and he was just about to present it to the captain when Booker Washington stepped forward to make a contribution. The money for the Seaman's Home went flying to the four corners of the salon and the trainer had a difficult time in persuading Consul to retire without tearing the clothes off of the man whose only offense was his color. This was Consul's last voyage, for he contracted pleurisy and died in Berlin, and I felt worse over his death than I did over the burning of my whole menagerie in Baltimore a few years ago."
"Have you found that early association with human beings makes the other animals easier to train?" asked the Stranger, and the Proprietor shook his head.
"No; I would rather train one taken in the jungle than an animal born in captivity. They do raise the pumas in South America and have them about the houses as we do cats; but I wouldn't trust one of 'em. And as for the bigger cats, the lions and tigers, there is no such thing as taming them. They may be trained to do certain things, but they are never trustworthy. We had a queer illustration of that when I was traveling with a caravan circus in France. One of the lionesses had a litter of three cubs, and in the excitement of the moving and strange surroundings, she killed two of them. We took the other one away and the woman who cooked for us volunteered to raise it. She became very much attached to it and developed the theory that she could overcome its savage instincts by diet, and for a time it looked as if she were right. The beast was with her for about two years and grew to a fine animal, but she never let him taste raw food. One day, when he was comfortably lying before the stove, she pushed him with her foot to get him out of the way and he resented it. Whether it was that alone, or whether the odor of meat which she was about to cook appealed to him, I don't know; but all of his savage instincts were aroused and when we secured him we found that he had taken most of her scalp off."
"It's funny how some people are always looking for a chance to get damages," said the Press Agent, settling himself comfortably in his chair. "We had a case of it when Merritt and I were running a dime museum out West. The freaks all lived together at a large boarding house and one morning, when they reported for duty, the 'Tattooed Lady' was missing. It was before the days when they were so common and we had spent a lot of money to have her decorated and made her our star attraction. Of course, none of the tattooing was visible when she was in street costume, but when she sat on the platform dressed in low neck and short skirts the lecturer had something to talk about, for the menagerie pictured on her was a thing of beauty, and the few choice texts like, 'Be good and you will be happy,' which were scattered in between the animals, were highly moral and elevating, and that was one of the strong points of our show. Merritt used to spread himself when he was telling how she was shipwrecked on a desert island and held captive by the cruel cannibals, whose high priests spared her from the menu to tattoo her with the symbols of their heathenish worship. It gave him a great chance to come in strong on the moral part, when he explained about the texts and told how they were added after the cannibals had been converted to red flannel shirts, silk hats and a vegetable diet, by the missionaries, and I have seen ancient maiden ladies moved to tears by his recital. So when he had to give his lecture without her, he got mixed up and called attention to the marvelous growth of hair on the face of the 'Circassian Beauty,' thinking she was the 'Bearded Lady,' and nearly pulled the ears off of the 'Dog Faced Boy,' trying to explain that he was 'The Man With The Rubber Skin.' Of course, that made trouble among the freaks, who are a mighty touchy lot anyway, and I have noticed that trouble always comes in bunches in the show business, so I wasn't surprised when a husky guy that looked like a farmer came in with blood in his eye and asked for the manager. I looked around for Merritt, but he had gone around the corner to get something to drown his sorrow, so I slipped a piece of lead pipe under my coat and acknowledged the soft impeachment.
"'Look'ee here, wot kinder a skin game be youse fellers runnin' here?' says the guy, and I took a good grip on the lead pipe and tried to turn away wrath by a soft answer, and quoting from our advertisement that it was a highly moral and intellectual entertainment.
"'Not by a dern sight, it ain't,' says he. 'It's a blasted man-trap to ketch the unwary, an' I'll have the law on ye an' make yer pay fer trifling with my young affections.' I have had some pretty tough things said to me in my day, but that was about the worst ever, and pretty nearly took my breath away, but he went right on.
"'I deliver milk to that boardin' house down the street an' I see a likely lookin' gal there lately an' I wanted some one to help milk an' look after the house, so I asks her to marry me. She says she will, so we hitched up an' I never knew she was one o' yer dern freaks until it was too late. She says she's a "Tattooed Lady," an' she's all covered with picters.'
"'Well, what's the matter with 'em?' says I. 'Aren't they good pictures?'
"'Good enough,' says he, 'for them as likes 'em; but I don't hanker after no decorations o' that kind an', b'gosh, I'll make yer pay fer palmin' off a damaged article on me. She's all over snakes an' other beasts an' it makes me sick ter my stummick every time I thinks of 'em.' I tried to convince him that we were not responsible and that it was his wife's duty to have informed him.
"'That's what I told her, dod gast her! But she says it's my own fault if I didn't know she was a "Tattooed Lady," because I never asked her, an' blamed if she isn't proud o' them picters, too.'"
"How did you settle it—did he get damages?" asked the Stranger.
"Damages!" exclaimed the Press Agent as he wiped the foam from his moustache. "Why, Merritt came in, and when he heard the guy's kick he lit right into him.
"'Blame your skin!' he yelled. 'I've a good mind to have you arrested for stealing the pictures from my art gallery. I have a claim on 'em, for I paid for the liquor to keep a sailor drunk for six weeks while he was doing that job.' The Rube got onto the fact that she was valuable, so they adjourned to a saloon to talk it over."
"With what result?" asked the Proprietor, as he rose from the table.
"Well, Merritt got her back on the platform, the Rube sold his farm, and within six weeks he was wearing more yellow diamonds and throwing a bigger chest than the husband of a grand opera prima donna."
FEEDING THE SERPENTS AND A GRAND TRANSFORMATION
FEEDING THE SERPENTS AND A GRAND TRANSFORMATION
The animals had received their evening meal when the Proprietor came from the Arena and joined the Stranger and the Press Agent at the table outside.
"I can never understand the interest people take in seeing the carnivorous animals fed; it is no more than giving a bone to a dog," he said, as he took his seat. "And yet it is one of the best drawing features of the show, and the same people remain night after night to see the meat poked into the cages. If it were not for the prohibition of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals I could give a feeding exhibition which would be novel and interesting, for comparatively few people have ever seen a snake eat.
"It is because a snake will not eat unless it kills its own food," he continued in answer to a question from the Stranger. "Snakes are more particular feeders than any other animals, and they will not touch anything which is not alive when it is brought to them. This is the night for feeding them, and if you care to remain until the crowd has gone you can see how it is done. Long as I have been in the business, I learn something new every day, and I never saw a cobra fed artificially until last week, when Brandu, my Hindoo snake charmer, received one direct from India. It seems that they are cannibal snakes and live upon their own kind in India, but that would be too expensive a diet here, and he forces feed down its throat."
The thousands of incandescent lights on the Dreamland tower went out—the signal that the barkers might cease from barking and the spielers spiel no more—until the morrow brought its fresh crowd of amusement seekers, and the Proprietor led the way into the Arena. Brandu and his two native assistants were carrying the boxes which contained the snakes into the big exhibition cage, and, when the three men joined them, the weirdness of the surroundings made a profound impression upon the Stranger. All of the lights in the Arena were extinguished, with the exception of the small cluster directly over their heads, and pairs of luminous spots from the great semicircle of cages at the outer edge of the building reminded him that the human beings in the cage were not the only interested spectators of the proceedings.
The assistants carefully removed the great boas and pythons from the boxes, laying them on the floor, where they crawled lazily about, their delicate forked tongues vibrating like streaks of red flame, while Brandu removed a slat from a crate of rabbits and put a half-dozen of them on the floor. The little animals had no instinctive fear of the serpents, for they hopped about among them and over their wriggling bodies unconcernedly, but the snakes were hungry after a fast of two weeks and they wasted no time in getting to the business before them. The proceeding was the same in each case. A serpent would crawl up to the rabbit and place its nose, at which the little furry beast would sniff curiously, close to that of its prospective supper. The red forked tongue would pass rapidly over its face and the rabbit made no attempt to move. Whether it was the effect of some anaesthetic quality in the breath of the snake or the traditional charm of the serpent, it was hard to say, but the rabbit made no move to escape. Slowly but surely it yielded to the fascination of the snake, the large transparent ears dropped to the side of the head and the body muscles relaxed until the tickling of the serpent's tongue caused no reflex movement of the paws.
The snake then carefully withdrew its head until the slim neck was in the form of a letter S, and when it again straightened out it was with the force of a released steel spring and the aim of the flat head was unerring. The stroke was so rapid that it was difficult for the eye to follow and the rabbit never knew what happened, for its body made a quick circle in the air and in less than a second all that was to be seen was one small paw protruding from the coiled body which had brought it a quick and merciful death. The jaws of the serpent have seized it by the snout and thrown it back into its coils and the first pressure kills it, although the ever tightening embrace continues until the bones are crushed within the unbroken skin, so that it can be easily swallowed.
It is not swallowing in the ordinary sense of the word, for the snakes pull themselves over the rabbits as a glove is pulled over the finger, and the progress to the stomach can be watched through the length of the snake's neck. The snakes which were too small to manage a rabbit were fed on white rats and mice, but the process was the same in each case, except that the Hindoos held the rodents by their tails until the snakes had hypnotized them.
"I suppose that this seems cruel to people because the rabbits are such harmless little beasts," said the Proprietor as the last bit of fur disappeared. "To my mind it is not half so cruel as hunting hares with guns and dogs, for death from the snake's blow is as quick and painless as that from a bullet, and there are no maimed and wounded animals to drag themselves away to lingering deaths in hiding. But now I will show you something which has never been known in this country."
One of the natives brought out a curiously woven circular basket which he handled with great care, and setting it in the middle of the cage retired to a respectful distance. Brandu crouched on the floor beside it, and, although the performance was not accompanied by the weird Oriental music which signaled the public appearances of the snake charmer, the tense expression of his face and the uncanniness of the surroundings made it sufficiently impressive, for he was about to handle the cobra de capello, the most venomous snake in all the great collection. He wasted no time in the pantomime and incantation of the ring performance, but quickly threw off the cover, and when the hooded head arose swaying above the edge of the basket, he started a low whistling and passed his slim brown hands with lightning rapidity above it. He was absolutely fearless, but the task before him demanded the concentration of all his thoughts and he seemed unconscious of the startling interruption of a fight between two of the lions, and the shouts and pistol-shots of the keepers who separated them.
He never removed his gaze from the head of the serpent and his hands moved so rapidly that they were almost invisible until, quicker than a snake could strike, one of them darted down and caught the slim neck behind the distended hood. He gave a sharp exclamation of triumph and sprang to his feet, the cobra coiling its body about his bare brown arm and giving every indication of rage.
"I am always glad when that part of the performance is over," said the Proprietor with a sigh of relief. "Of course, it is all in the day's work with Brandu and he has done it thousands of times, but some day he will be a fraction of a second too slow and then—well, I shall have to get another snake charmer. Watch him now and you will see something which only the men of his caste can do."
Brandu's white teeth glistened as he smiled at the Proprietor and pointed first to his own eyes and then to those of the serpent. He brought the head of the cobra close to his face, his expression became fixed and stern and the pupils of his widely opened eyes, which had been dilated until the iris was but a narrow rim, contracted to the size of pin heads. The cobra gazed at him fixedly and the tense body slowly uncoiled from his arm and hung limp and motionless, and Brandu laid it on the floor as lifeless and inert as a piece of rope. One of his assistants handed him a glass containing a couple of raw eggs and, handling it as carelessly as if it were a harmless garter snake, he picked up the cobra and forced a tube of polished bamboo between its jaws. When he had poured the eggs through the tube he withdrew it and carefully replaced the snake in the basket, still apparently lifeless; but bending over he blew sharply into its face and the cobra was instantly reanimated into five feet of viciousness. Its head reared up above the edge, the spectacled hood distended in anger, but Brandu quickly clapped on the cover and the snake feeding was finished for two weeks.
"That is a great performance of Brandu's," said the Press Agent, "but it profits us nothing because the best part of it cannot be shown to the public. I never see a snake fed without thinking of something which happened when I was running a side show with the Greatest Show on Earth.
"You know that the dime museum business was run to death while the craze lasted in this country, and freaks got so common that you couldn't throw a stone in the streets of any large city without hitting one of 'em. When the fickle public tired of giving up its dimes to see 'em, a guy named Merritt and myself had a choice collection on hand, and we went on the road with the big show for the summer, thinking perhaps our business would pick up in the fall. Our two great attractions were the biggest boa-constrictor in captivity, which we called 'Jointless Jake,' and the heaviest fat man in the world. That snake was about two hundred feet long, and while the fat man wasn't much on length, he held the record for belt measurement. Nine hundred and twenty-seven pounds he weighed, as we demonstrated on our own scales at every performance. Their feed bill was quite an item, as the snake took a half-dozen sheep every two weeks and the fat man, who was billed as 'Signor Adipose Avoirdupois'—Merritt invented that—needed about a side of beef every day.
"Freaks are a jealous lot and as hard to manage as rival prima donnas, and these two monstrosities came to hate each other like poison. They were in different lines, but you may have noticed that the side show 'professor' uses up most of the superlatives in the English language when he gives his lecture, and each of 'em seemed afraid that the other would get some of his share of the dictionary. Adipose used to look at Jake's coiled body as if he would like to sit on it and flatten it out, and the snake would return the glance with a naughty little twinkle in its eye, as if he was estimating how much it would have to stretch its skin to accommodate A. A. in its interior, until it made Merritt anxious about 'em.
"'That blame fat fool will waste away and spoil his shape, if he don't stop worrying,' he says, and he cuts a lot of his talk out of the description of the snake and uses the words on Adipose. Maybe you think snakes are stupid, but they aren't, and the boa got the hump and refused to uncoil himself to show his length unless he got his full share of the spiel. It cheered Avoirdupois up, though, and when we moved to the next town he stood around to gloat over Jake when he was being moved from the traveling box to the exhibition cage. The snake hadn't been fed for ten days and he was good and lively as well as being out of temper, so when he caught sight of the Signor he scattered the boys with one flip of his tail and went for him.
"I've heard of bear hugs, but I never saw such a squeezing as that boa gave poor Adipose. It was a long way around him, but the snake made about a dozen wraps and all we could see of the fat man was a pair of feet sticking out at one end of the coil and his face, which looked like a purple harvest moon, projecting from the other. Jake reaches out and gets hold of a tent peg with his tail, which gives him a purchase, and then he tightens up for fair and Adipose lets out a holler you could hear a mile.
"Of course, we got busy with crowbars and jackscrews and tried to pry Jake off, but there was nothing doing and the harder we pried the closer he cinched up on Adipose. Merritt usually had a suggestion to make, so I looked at him and he was lost in thought, but in a minute he brightens up and calls for a rope.
"'We can't pry the blame snake away from the man,' says he, as he tied the rope around the Signor's feet, 'so we'll try to pull the man away from the snake.' All hands fell to and pulled to beat four of a kind, but Jake just tightened up a bit and grinned and Adipose let out another holler.
"'You need a traction engine on that rope,' says I when they gave it up as a bad job, and Merritt, who was looking a little discouraged, gave a whoop.
"'Bring an elephant,' he yelled, and when one of the boys started off on a run for the menagerie, he called after him to 'make that order two elephants.' The Hathis came lumbering over, and Merritt tied the rope around the shoulders of one and put another rope around Jake's neck and the shoulders of the other elephant.
"'Now pull, blame you!' says he, heading 'em in different directions and giving one of 'em a kick, and they put their shoulders against the ropes. It was a mighty interesting performance to every one but Adipose, who didn't seem to enjoy it at all, judging from the yells he let out. Jake was having the time of his life, and the harder the elephants pulled the tighter he squeezed the Signor, and when he felt that they were getting the better of him he made a supreme effort which kinked up every muscle in his body. But there was no holding on against those brutes, and pretty soon the fat man commenced to slip out from the coils, feet first. It was a queer thing to watch and his legs stretched so that I thought his knees would never come into sight. His legs had been about the size of barrels when the snake grabbed him, but between the stretching and the squeezing they were now three times as long and about as large as broomsticks. He weighed as much as ever when the elephants finally got him out, but the flesh was distributed differently and instead of being six feet tall and twelve feet around, he was twelve feet long and built in proportion. The snake was up against it, too, for he had cramped himself so with that last squeeze that he couldn't straighten out the kinks, and he kept in the same shape as when he was wrapped around the Signor. We tried to straighten him out, but it was no use; he just stayed coiled up like a spring and the boys rolled him around as if he were a barrel.
"Merritt had kept cheerful as long as there was anything to be done, but tears came to his eyes when he looked at Adipose. The Signor was standing up, gazing at his feet, which he hadn't seen before in twenty years, and Merritt looked up at him and freed his mind.
"'You're a blame fine figure of a fat man, aren't you, now?' says he. 'Just on account of your confounded professional jealousy we lose our two star attractions, for that blamed snake is so kinked up that he isn't good for anything except to cut up into barrel hoops.'
"The Signor was ashamed of himself and hadn't a word to say, so he just kept quiet and tried to get used to his new shape and taking a bird's-eye view of things. Merritt and I were feeling pretty blue when along comes Tody Hamilton, the circus press agent, and as soon as he saw what had happened he made a run for a trolley car.
"'Don't let 'em get away!' he yelled back over his shoulder. 'This is the biggest scoop on record and I'm off for the printing-office.'
"'It'll make a good newspaper story, all right; but where do we come in on it?' says Merritt, looking mournfully at Adipose.
"Well, a couple of hours later I had to go into the city to order some new togs for the Signor, who looked as if he were dressed in a particularly baggy bathing suit since he had been stretched out, and the first thing I saw was a procession of sandwich men marching down the street. The ink wasn't dry on the posters, but Tody had been busy, and there in flaming red letters was the announcement—
JUST ARRIVED AT THE BIG SHOW!
DON'T MISS SEEING THEM!!!
LENGTHY LOUIS, THE TALLEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE!!!
CIRCULAR SAM, THE MOST GIGANTIC HOOP SNAKE EVER CAPTURED!!!
THE LIONESS SKIRT DANCE AND THE INCONSIDERATE PYTHON
THE LIONESS SKIRT DANCE AND THE INCONSIDERATE PYTHON
The conventional skirt dance has long ceased to be a novelty on the vaudeville stage, but as it is performed by "La Belle Selica" in the Arena at Dreamland it holds the interest of that most exacting audience—a crowd of Coney Island pleasure seekers. It is not because Selica is pre-eminent among dancers, but on account of the unusual and dangerous stage setting; for she performs in the large exhibition cage, surrounded by a half dozen lionesses, each animal seated on a separate pedestal. Any one of the huge beasts could crush the dancer with a single blow of a massive paw, and the great jaws which snap viciously at her tiny feet as she kicks them before their faces are sufficiently powerful to crush the shin-bone of an ox.
She is apparently without fear of them, for she dances gracefully from one to the other, flicking them across their faces with the light switch which she carries for her only protection, and kicking over their heads and into their very mouths, always missing the answering snap of the jaws by the fraction of an inch, and acknowledging it with a smile as she whirls away to repeat the performance before another pedestal. The lionesses see the performance many times in the course of a season, but they never lose interest in it and they do not remove their eyes from Selica from the time she enters the cage until she drives them out before her. So long as she is on her feet and agile enough to escape the swift stroke of a paw or the snapping jaws, she is safe; for a lioness would not jump at her from a pedestal; but there is always the chance of a slip or a false step and then——!!!
It happened once, and caused a suspension of Selica's performance for two months during the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, for Grace, the largest lioness, was on her before she could recover herself; and it required the efforts of Bostock and all of his trainers to beat back the beasts who were maddened by the sight and smell of blood and to rescue the unconscious woman from the cage. They have never forgotten that moment of rebellion which was so nearly successful, and they are ever watchful for another opportunity to avenge the many cuts of the training whip which they received in the course of their schooling. But Selica is also watchful, and although Grace had latterly done nothing particularly out of the way, the wonderful sixth sense which experienced trainers always acquire warned her that the animal should be regarded with suspicion. The beast had become nervous; a little more sullen than usual when ordered to leave her den for the exhibition cage, and a trifle slow and rebellious when told to jump up on her allotted pedestal.
Constant association with the wild animals begets carelessness but Selica, with the scars of Grace's sharp claws still visible on her back and shoulders, was quick to notice the change and especially careful, before opening the door from the den to the runway, to look through the observation hole and make sure that the lioness was not crouched for a spring. Grace had been particularly sullen in the afternoon and she was growling ominously when Selica went to get her for the evening performance, but when the woman saw the three little furry balls which were huddled in a corner of the den she understood and forgave all. The cubs were no larger than St. Bernard puppies, but Grace apparently considered them worth fighting for; and Selica's dance was given that night with only five lionesses in the cage, and the Proprietor told the Stranger the reason for the empty pedestal.
"Wait until after the performance and I will take them out of the cage and show them to you," he said; and the Stranger, remembering a tradition to the effect that robbing a lioness of her cubs is a dangerous feat, looked forward with a great deal of interest to the after-piece.
"We can't trust the rearing of the cubs to Grace," said the Proprietor, as he stood in front of her cage after the audience had been dismissed. "The close proximity of the other animals in the Arena and the curiosity of the thousands of people who come here every day would make her so crazy that she would destroy them, so I must get them a foster mother. I have sent to New York for a bitch with pups, and in a couple of days I will show you a happy family." The cubs were in the center of the cage and Grace stood over them, snarling and looking with blazing eyes at the group in front of it; but Selica's voice from the runway and a rattling of the door at the back distracted her attention, and as she sprang at the door the Proprietor darted a hand between the bars and seized one of the cubs, drawing it safely out a half second before the enraged mother landed against the bars with a force which made them rattle.
The poor beast was almost frantic, but the same maneuver was twice repeated, and in spite of her fierce attacks on doors and bars the Proprietor, who had acquired through his lifetime association with the great cats as much of their quickness of movement as it is given to mere man to learn, removed the three cubs without receiving a scratch.
Poor helpless little creatures they were, and it was difficult to realize that they would soon grow into beasts as powerful as the ferocious Baltimore, the terror of trainers, who was answering Grace's lamentations with roars which fairly shook the building, from his cage on the other side of the Arena.
"That animal was bred in captivity, born and raised in our menagerie in England," said the Proprietor after he had placed the cubs in charge of one of the keepers. "I suppose that's what makes him such a bad beggar to handle. Give me the jungle-bred lion to train, every time, for after the manhandling and discomfort of his capture and transportation to the coast by the natives, he appreciates the care and humanity of a civilized trainer. These cubs which are raised in captivity are always played with and teased by the employees and visitors, and their first knowledge of their strength comes to them accidentally when they hurt a man without meaning to do it; but they soon learn to connect cause and effect, and then it is time to watch out for 'em. A jungle-bred lion is pretty much cock o' the walk until he is snared or trapped, and in his first experience with men he is vanquished and realizes how useless is his great strength against the nets and ropes which entangle him. The cub born in captivity is familiar with men from the first, and plays with them like a kitten until one day he is out of sorts or is accidentally hurt in a frolic and the swift cut of his razor-like claws makes his playmate or tormentor drop him and leave him in peace. That makes it hard for the trainer when he takes him in hand, for although the cub may be subdued, he remembers that he was once victorious and watches his chance. Jack Bonavita, the greatest trainer who ever went into a lion's cage, would have two good arms to-day if Baltimore had been born in the Nubian desert instead of in Manchester."
They stood in front of Baltimore's cage for a moment, admiring the swelling muscles of the great beast as he sprang from side to side, shaking his shaggy mane and roaring defiance at the world, and then turned to go to the white-topped table in front of the Arena. In the doorway they met the Press Agent, looking anything but cheerful and muttering maledictions on the heads of all city editors. The Proprietor told him of the new arrivals in the Arena, and suggested sending the announcement of the birth to the papers.
"A fat chance I'd stand of having it printed," he grumbled. "Here I've worked half the season and never given 'em a story that wasn't pretty nearly true, and to-day when I take them that account of Morelli and the jaguar they turn me down and holler 'fake.' Let me take one of those cubs and stripe it over with a little black paint, and to-morrow morning every newspaper in New York will have a photographer down here to take pictures of 'the only hybrid lion-tiger cub ever born,' and all of the space jerkers will be buttonholing me for a three column, front page story."
The arrival of the waiter with soothing beverages soon brought back the customary smile to his genial face and the Proprietor's suggestion that perhaps he had embroidered some of the stories just a trifle, aroused only a good-natured protest.
"The worst thing about the press agent's profession is that he has to risk his eternal salvation by making up plausible lies to satisfy the newspapers when he could give 'em better stories which are actually true if they would take 'em on his say so," he said, as he wiped the froth from his mustache. "I remember once when a guy named Merritt and myself were running a snake show in New York that we couldn't pay the rent because the papers wouldn't give us any publicity, although we had the finest collection of wrigglers that was ever gotten together. We were running it on the dead level, nary a fake about it, and Merritt's lecture was highly instructive and interesting and more than half true; but we saw that we couldn't win out at the game unless we crooked it. We were running so far behind that the only thing which saved us from a dispossess was the fact that they couldn't get a constable who would carry the snakes out to the sidewalk; but Merritt was a resourceful cuss and I felt confident that he would figure out some scheme to win out.
"'Jim,' says he, 'it's necessary for us to give 'em a sensation. We've tried to run this game as a purely moral and instructive entertainment, but we need the money and I reckon we've got to spring a cold deck on 'em. I guess you've got to stand for being attacked by an untamable, man-eating python.'
"'You can count me out on that,' says I. 'Every paper in the city would write me up as a victim of the demon Rum.' Merritt looked discouraged for a minute, but his face suddenly lighted up and I knew he had found a way.
"'Jim,' says he, 'if we only take half of our usual allowance of fire-water to-night we will have enough cash to buy some paint. Now there's that big white python; the only specimen ever captured, the "pythonatus fluidum lactalis giganticus,"' says he. That was one trouble with Merritt; he'd get so stuck on the language which he manufactured that he couldn't leave it out, even in our business consultations, and it used up a lot of time. 'That python is the straight goods,' says he, 'but he doesn't catch their eyes, so I'll paint the blame snake red, white and blue and christen him the "anacondus flagelum americanibus e pluribus unum," and give the reporters something to work on,' says he. 'That'll work up the snakologists and set 'em writing in the papers to prove that there isn't any such thing; but we've got the answer to that, for we can show 'em one at twenty-five cents per.'
"I never could stand for flim-flamming the generous public, but my meal ticket was punched so full of holes that it looked like a porous plaster, and I consented. Merritt spent most of the night decorating that python, and in the morning it looked like the pennant of a man-o'-war. I had to sit up and watch him, for he had the artistic temperament, and he was so carried away by his enthusiasm that if I hadn't restrained him he would have put on the coat-of-arms of the United States, eagle, motto and all.
"'Now,' says he, when he had finished and stepped back to admire his work, 'if that blame snake's own mother would know him if she met him on the street, I'm a Dutchman. If this don't make 'em sit up and take notice, then I'll go to night school to learn the show business.'"
"How did the scheme work?" asked the Proprietor, as the Press Agent paused to make the grand hailing sign of distress to the waiter.
"Work!" he answered. "How does a fake always work in New York? Why, P. T. Barnum had the mold for his petrified man made from the legs of one man and the body of another, and he didn't even take the trouble to smooth off the ridges where the edges met when he cast it in Portland cement. But that didn't prevent all of the scientific sharps who inspected it from certifying to its genuineness. His mermaid was manufactured from a codfish skin and a stuffed monkey; but the public stood for that, too, and he made a fortune out of 'em. Maybe you can't fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool most of 'em most of the time; especially if they live in little old New York. Of course, we didn't pull off such a success as Barnum did; but we had no kick coming when we counted up the receipts for the next week. Merritt's lecture was a work of art and he manufactured language at a rate which would have given Noah Webster nervous prostration when he christened the python 'Old Glory,' and told about its combining the venomous qualities of the cobra and the strength of the boa-constrictor. The python was so stuck on its new colors that it nearly broke its neck turning around to admire itself and everything went lovely. Of course, there was the usual howl from the snakologists who knew it all, and 'Old Subscriber,' 'Citizen,' 'Pro Bono Publico' and the rest of the bunch wrote columns to the newspapers, denouncing us as frauds.
"You know how those things work; everybody puts up an argument and then it's up to the fellow who is making the bluff to back it up with an offer to donate a sum of money to some charitable institution if he can't deliver the goods. We were well ahead of the game as a result of the advertising and had about two thousand to the good and Merritt got awful chesty. He had lied about that snake so much that he believed in it himself and it made me a little nervous one night when he offered to donate two thousand dollars to the 'Home for Decrepit Side Show Fakirs' if any one could produce another specimen like this one, short of the head waters of the Amazon. I wasn't scared so much by that as by what I feared he might say, for I knew they couldn't get another if they raked the universe with a fine-tooth comb, and sure enough, he was carried away by his enthusiasm and offered to bet our entire bank roll that the snake was a genuine 'American flag', such as had never been exhibited in any country.
"It was just our luck that there was a half-loaded tin-horn gambler in the audience that night; one of the kind that wears a yellow diamond and a checked suit with a white stove-pipe hat; and the only part of the speech that he understood was that somebody wanted to make a bet. That raised his sporting blood, and he climbed up to the platform and pulled out a roll of yellow boys that would choke a dog and peeled off twenty centuries.
"'I don't know much about snakes which bromide won't make chase themselves back to the woods,' says he as he plunked 'em down on the table. 'I ain't got your gift of gab, but money talks and I've got this pile to say that you can't tell the truth to save your neck. Just stack up your pile alongside of that and then trot out your snakelet.' I was feeling pretty sore on Merritt for making such a bluff, but, of course, we had to make good and between us we covered the bet. We had glass cages full of snakes all around the platform, but 'Old Glory' was in a big chest covered with gilt figures and brass chains and fastened with a padlock. Merritt was mad clear through at having his veracity questioned, but he looked pretty confident as he stuck the key in the lock.
"'It's a shame to take the money,' says he, as he eyed the gambler, 'but there's an old saying about the mental capacity of a man that is speedily separated from his bank roll, and I reckon you were away from home the last time the fool killer called.' The gam just smiled and kept his eye on the stakes, and Merritt gives the chains a rattle to wake up 'Old Glory' and throws back the lid of the chest.
"'Now,' says he, turning to the audience, 'if you'll kindly give me your attention I'll show you one of the most marvelous mysteries of Nature. It was procured by one of our special agents at the head waters of the Amazon at tremendous expense. It is a unique representative of the reptilian family and the sight of it should arouse pride in the hearts of all patriotic Americans; for as he unwinds his sinuous coils you will observe that while his head and neck are blue, the body, down to the tip of the tail, is marked with thirteen alternate stripes of red and white, giving this marvelous creature the appearance of being wrapped in that glorious emblem of liberty which waves over the land of the brave and the home of the free.' Merritt stops then, throwing out his chest and sticking his hand into the bosom of his coat to wait for the customary applause from the gallery to subside; but instead of the usual glad hands he was greeted with a roar of laughter and cat-calls and when he turned to look at the snake box, there was 'Old Glory' crawling out, looking ashamed of himself, for he was as white as the day he was born."
"What happened?" asked the Proprietor as the Press Agent sighed.
"Well, Merritt always had presence of mind, and as the sport gathered up our hard earned shekels he grabbed me by the arm and hurried me from the building. He knew that a Bowery audience was apt to follow cat-calls with antique eggs and vegetables of last season's vintage, and five minutes later we were trying to drown our sorrow.
"'Jim,' says Merritt, 'I made a big mistake, for I should have tattooed him. His beauty was only skin deep and the blame snake shed his skin.'"
THE ANIMAL BAROMETER AND THE ETERNAL FEMININE
THE ANIMAL BAROMETER AND THE ETERNAL FEMININE
Uncle Sam spends a large amount of money to forecast the weather twenty-four hours in advance, and the farmers and seafaring folk watch the bulletins no more eagerly than do the owners of the many shows whose harvest time is the brief summer season at Coney Island. Bad weather, especially if it comes on the first or last day of the week or a legal holiday, means a loss of hundreds of dollars to them, for if the skies are threatening, the holiday makers seek their pleasures nearer home and there are fewer people to give up their dimes and quarters under the seductive wheedling of the "barkers." Most of the show people look anxiously at the sky before retiring for the night, but there is one of them who finds an absolutely reliable forecast within the walls of his own building. Perhaps the signs and portents could not be translated by the weather clerk, but the Proprietor of the trained animal exhibition at Dreamland has been all of his life the companion of his charges, and has learned to recognize the meaning of unusual behavior or the shade of change in their voices which indicates an approaching storm.
There was not a cloud to be seen, and every star in the heavens was trying to rival the brilliant electric lights on the great tower as he sat at the cafe table in front of the Arena with the Stranger and the Press Agent after the night's performance was over, but he gave an exclamation of disappointment as a half-smothered roar came from the throat of one of the lions in the building.
"Rain to-morrow!" he said as the grumbling roar spread from cage to cage about the great semicircle. His companions smiled incredulously as they looked at the cloudless sky, but he repeated his prediction when the Stranger read "Fair and warmer to-morrow" from one of the evening papers. "I know all about the 'high and low pressure areas,'" he said, as he glanced at the chart. "A man in the show business has to study everything which may influence the attendance, but the behavior of my animals is a better barometer for local conditions than any aneroid which the Weather Bureau owns. In spite of the clear sky and the official predictions, I would wager that we shall have a bad storm within the next twenty-four hours, for those lions have the inherited knowledge of hundreds of generations of jungle-bred ancestors whose food supply depended largely upon the weather conditions."