A JUNGLE MEAL TICKET
STANLEY R. HOFFLUND
IN THE animal tent old Zeke Fenner—advertised upon blazing circus posters as “Prof. Leonardo de Vachelli”—gazed with melancholy fondness upon “Leo, the Jungle King, the Largest Lion in Captivity.” The splash of rain outside and inside the tent would have depressed the most buoyant of natures. It was a miserable night, a rotten night! Especially inside such a poorly-repaired tent.
But the noise of the rain was as that of a murmuring brook compared with the raging-river splashing of Leo.
For the monarch of the jungle was devouring his customary evening meal of soup.
Zeke Fenner leaned dejectedly against the rather insecure bars of a cage even more ancient than the huge beast it confined. Gently the old man stroked the lion’s massive head, which attention, contrary to all reports regarding the disposition of lions at meal time, seemed to please Leo.
He actually purred between splashes of his greedy tongue in the soup basin. Zeke’s fingers had a soothing way of prying through the coarse, tawny mane and getting right down to the animal’s sensitive skull. ,
“Glad your hair aint follered your teeth, Gran’pa,” the old animal trainer sighed, addressing the Jungle King by his own pet name. “It’s bad enough having to make good in your act with only them two tusks left in your jaw, and them so loose I’m getting almost afraid to put bread in your soup. Lord help us if you ever lose your hair,
Gran’pa! You and me would sure be goners in the show business.”
From underneath a cage of monkeys on the opposite side of the tent, where a pile of
straw and a blanket-wrapped form could be dimly seen, a hollow, discouraged voice assailed the splash-laden gloofn. “Seems to me we’re all goners as it is, Zeke.”
Such unqualified pessimism on the part of a close friend and circus brother acted upon the loyal nature of the lion trainer as a call of distress. With a brave simulation of cheerfulness be rushed to the rescue.
“Not so bad as all that, Red,” he called to the shadowy form under the monkey cage. “The boss hasn’t tied a can to your act yet, nor mine neither. Friedman may be a man without a human heart, but he’s still paying the wages.” “Not mine, he aint,” the hollow, discouraged voice complained. “I’m so scared he’s going to drop me and the monks off the payroll that I aint dared face Mr. Friedman. I aint even collected my last week’s pay.”
RED’S tone quavered fearfully.
■ “Where will me and the monks go to get another job, tell me that! And what”—his voice hoarse with apprehension—“what will become of Dolly Ann? I’ve got to consider her, haven’t I?”
Slowly Zeke Fenner withdrew his fingers from Leo’s scalp, whereat the king of beasts, who had dozed off in an after-dinner nap, wakened to whine eomplainingly.
“Yes, you’re right, Red,” he admitted sadly.
“We’ve got to consider Dolly Ann.”
FVom a can which exuded an outrageous odor Zeke smeared his fingers liberally with patent mange preventive, then went gravely back to his task of head stroking. He worked gently because he loved Leo, but firmly because he valued Leo’s mane.
Red Swift, the monkey act man, rolled out of his blanket and off his bed of straw under the monkey cage. Only when times were hard and business prospects unpromising did Red deny himself the luxury of a hotel room. Recently his daughter, his beloved Dolly Ann. had been the sole member of Red’s family of two who slumbered between real sheets upon a regular mattress.
Red Swift’s was a pinched little face and a pinched little
body. Perhaps constant association with monkeys had had a pinching influence upon Red’s physique. With his knuckles he proceeded to make redder two
little eyes which had been blinking from the flare of the tent torch. Listlessly he advanced across the tent to the cage where Zeke was so industriously combining business with pleasure in his massage of the Jungle King’s scalp.
Slipping one arm between the bars of the cage Red proceeded to scratch the “largest lion in captivity” upon his monstrous nose.
Zeke Fenner eyed the monkey-act man pityingly.
“'Worried most to death about Dolly Ann, aint you?” he inquired sympathetically.
“Wouldn’t you be if you was her father and a big gorilla of a man like Solly Friedman wanted her?” Red’s face was haggard with worry.
A snort of resentment from Zeke came almost simultaneously with one of indignant surprise from the Jungle King. Zeke’s customarily gentle fingers could jab ferociously under sudden and adverse im-
“Aint I her gran’daddy?” he demanded with heat.
“Aint I as responsible for Dolly Ann’s safety as you? And aint I—tell me honest now—aint I got twice as much common-sense as her own parent?”
“But if I took your advice, Zeke,” Red protested wearily, “the chances are Dolly Ann would starve.”
“Better starve her than feed her to a gorilla.” Zeke growled. “Anyway she’d always have plenty to eat, with me an’ Gran’pa on the job.” The Jungle King, his ears alone alert, turned to eye his master sleepily. Either a fly
on the end of his nose, or assent to what Zeke had said, caused him to bob his massive head up and down twice, as though with ponderous acquiescence.
Red’s gesture was one of desperation; plainly he was outnumbered. He appealed to the lion as much as to Zel
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’"Taint your business to he payin’ our way, the monkey-act man retorted with a stiffness born of pride that would not be subdued.
“What’s that?” Zeke inade'a motion as though he would hurl his can of obnoxious mange preventive into Red’s startled face. But he changed his mind, smiled quietly, and placed the can upon the ground.
“Look a-here now, Red,” he said coaxingly; “there aint no use your denying that my responsibility over the girl is as great as yours. Aint I Dolly Ann's gran’pop? Didn’t Dolly Ann herself accept me for a gran’daddy when I personally adopted her for a gran’child? Answer me them questions, Red Swift, and then tell me I aint got no rights at all over Dolly Ann.”
Undoubtedly tears would have glistened in the blinking little eyes of the monkey-act man had he not been one of those game mortals who weep only for joy. Red Swift was seasoned to desperation, immune against emotional crises of grief; he had weathered gale after gale. But his tightly pressed lips quivered as he gazed back into the earnest, kindly old countenance confronting him.
“I can’t let you do it, Zeke,” he protested. “No”— when Zeke would have heatedly interrupted—“it aint because I’m jealous of the way Dolly Ann loves you. God knows, Zeke, I’m glad she does ! You’ve been mighty good to that girl of mine. Bein’ with you so many years, Zeke, she aint missed her mother so much Yes,”—with confessional solemnity--“Dolly Ann sure does think a hell of a lot of you.”
He stiffened ever so slightly, defensively.
“Next to me, Zeke, she loves you more’n any one in the
“Gosh! You’re lucky in being her father,” Zeke exclaimed feelingly.
Red touched the older man lightly upon his shoulder. No caress could have conveyed more of real affection.
"It’s because Dolly Ann and I think so much of you, Zeke,” he admitted almost shyly, “that we can’t allow you to spend on us the little nest egg you’ve saved up. Where would you and Leo go to get another job as good as this? Ycu aint cubs no more, neither of you.”
ZEKE FENNER turned his gaze upon his mammoth cat.
"No,” he confessed sadly, “me and Gran’pa aint exactly what you could call young no more.”
But the sudden smile which lighted his face was almost boyish.
“But we aint quite worn out yet, Red. We’ve still got enough red blood left in us to gamble on getting another meal ticket if we quit this cursed show of Solly Friedman’s.” The monkey-act man shuddered.
“Yes, Zeke, you and Leo are born gamblers. Not the slightest doubt in the world about that. But I can’t gamble on Dolly Ann’s meal ticket.”
“Gamble!" Zeke’s eyes blazed fiercely. “Fine parent you are, Red Swift! Talking about gambling to me when you are stakin’ the sweetest girl a father ever was blessed with against the honor of a man that you know aint got even a tiny streak of it. Gamble!”
Zeke Fenner stooped and poked a quivering finger deep into the can of mange preventive. Then he pointed the finger within an inch of Red’s nose, with accusation truly odious.
" ‘Got to consider Dolly Ann,’ sez you,” he quoted sarcastically. “Let me tell you right here and now, Red Swift, it’s me that’s considering the girl. Yes, me and Gran’pa. And us two have got too much sense to let her
go on playing her dangerous game with Solly Friedman to keep his mind off firing you and me. That girl is plucky as you and me and Gran’pa put together, or she would not let that fellow get near her.”
The strain of real concern, long-suffered worry, was in Zeke’s
“Friendman’s not the kind that will be safely handled long, not even by a girl of her brains. Some fine night she’ll go out with him in that big car of his, as she is tonight, and—”
A ringing laugh interrupted the old man’s earnest warning. Such a laugh as to almost dispel the gloom of even such a rotten, such a worrisome night.
She entered the tent at a run. But it seemed more of a dance.
FOR a moment the men with silent, brooding thoughtfulness watched this beautiful child of the circus as she played with the great beast whose gentle good-nature so belied the bloodthirsty reputation the circus posters gave him. Dolly Ann was so young for a woman and Leo so old for a lion.
A remarkably incongruous 'entrance it was. Her pretty face was topped by a little hat that once jnust have been chic. But now it was so rain-soaked and bedraggled that it resembled a barnyard fowl caught out in a shower. It seemed to ooze down over her wet, shiny, abundant hair. A sodden cloak sought with its soggy heaviness to trip up the little dancing feet.
“Hello, Dad! Hello, Gran’daddy! Hello, Gran’pa!” Dolly Ann kissed first her father, then Zeke, and then— right on his ferocious nose—the “largest lion in captivity.” The huge beast seemed to enjoy the girl’s caress and the way she pulled his mane with both her small hands.
Presently Red Swift touched her wet cloak.
“Thought you was out with the boss to-night,
Dolly Ann. Seems to me Mr. Friedman was mighty careless to let you get wet like this.”
Dolly Ann did not turn away from the lion until she was certain her smile was under Derfeet control.
“Oh, Mr. Friedman did his best to keep me dry, Daddy,” she said. “But I decided rather suddenly to leave him.
So I jumped from the car.”
“Dolly Ann!” Her father and his rival in safeguarding her welfare instantly grasped the girl’s situation. The monkey-act man seemed struck dumb.
“You don’t mean—”
Zeke, his face contorted with
Zeke, fury, choked before he could complete the question.
Still smiling, the girl kissed them both. Then she placed a hand affectionately upon her father’s shoulder and one upon Zeke’s, confronting them with a frankness as charmingly innocent as though her distress had been over a mere trivial annoyance instead of a brutally-inflicted outrage.
“No use to make much of nothing, boys,” she laughed with a motherliness far beyond her eighteen years. “Mr.
Friedman’s behavior was perfectly excusable, some men would say. He was drunk, that’s all. Only he was unusually drunk to-night. He offered
me everything money ..v
, , , ,, J Yes,
COUlCl buy. Why
with a sweeping, mocking gesture of proprietorship—“I could be half-owner of this circus right now if I had wanted to. Provided he kept his word. But of course”—with a laugh that contained more than a little unconquerable hysteria—“he couldn’t have really meant that he wanted to marry poor little me.”
The two men were staring at each other, Zeke’s face full of indignant accusation. The monkey-act man’s eyes fell.
“When I declined all his flattering offers,” Dolly Ann went on gamely, “he—he made it necessary for me to jump from his car into the rain. Lucky I’m trained to land on my feet on slippery floors.”
Her excitement had grown more and more difficult to control.
“Oh, he was in a fine temper; tried to follow me but slipped into a gutter. Then he took it out of the poor chauffeur. If he carries out the threats he shouted after me he’s still hunting for his darlin’—hie!—’dor’ble—damfool little devil.”
HER mimicry of an impotent drunkard was perfect.
The girl’s strained nerves gave way to a rush of anger; her eyes blazed. She stood before the two men with small fists upraised. Her pose was that of a furious, beautiful little goddess.
“He’s a beast!” she panted. “Vile! Oh, so vile! It’s unspeakable!”
She struggled to regain control of her shattered faculties; the pain stamped upon the two old faces before her urged her to forget herself. The smile she forced was a thing to inspire tears.
“But I fooled him,” she cried reassuringly.
Zeke Fenner put an arm around the waist of the girl he had personally adopted as a grand-daughter, drawing her away from her father. He glared upon Red sternly.
“Do we leave for Montreal to-night?”
The monkey-act man tremblingly assented.
With a happy chuckle Zeke seized him by both lean shoulders and shook him playfully.
“Buck up, Red,” he laughed with an optimism which had a miraculously reviving effect upon the jaded nerves of his friend. Then he became brisk and business-like.
“Don’t forget to pack up my tights, Dolly Ann,” he called to the girl, who had started off to change her wet garments. “They’re the only pair I’ve got left; I wouldn’t
lose them for anything. Not with all them darned places put on them by your own pretty hands.”
The overwrought girl’s answering smile was an unqualified recommendation for Zeke’s brand of nerve medicine, labeled Optimism.
Beside a few hundred dollars he had managed to save out of the returns of a poorly-paid circus act all Zeke Fenner owned in this world was his almost-worn-out lion and a suit of spangled tights in which he could display before a breathless public his supreme command over a Continued on page 51
Continued from vage 8
jungle beast which yawned for the head of Prof. Leonardo de Vachelli, about to be thrust within its huge jaws.
The public did not know that when the Jungle King yawned he—yawned. They did not know that the Largest Lion in Captivity had arrived at an age of soup dieting and mange preventives.
A tear that was not for her own recent distress glistened in each of Dolly Ann’s blue eyes as she tenderly packed those spangled tights in Zeke’s battered trunk. Once she came out of the dressing-room to protest.
“Are you sure you and Leo can get another job, Grand-daddy Zeke?” she asked earnestly.
The old lion trainer patted her head affectionately, then lifted her face between his hands so he could gaze into her teardimmed eyes.
“Don’t you go to worrying about me and Gran’pa, Dolly Ann,” he reassured. “As long as you’re safe Gran’pa’s a cub and I’m a kid.”
JLJE LAUGHED with boisetrous optim-
“When me and Gran’pa get to Montreal, Dolly Ann, the show managers will be bidding against each other to sign up our
And Dolly Ann, smiling again, wonderingly believed her adopted grand-parent’s forecast of a rosy future. She wondered more than she believed, though, when Leo, too sleepy to feel accommodating, had to be tugged violently by his mane to be led from his circus cage into the smaller one Zeke owned, the one in which he proposed to ship the Jungle King by truck to the express car he had ordered and billed to Montreal.
£ONG before the arrival of the Montreal freight, due at two o’clock in the morning, Dolly Ann, her father, Zeke, the Jungle King, and a cage of monkeys were aboard a waiting express car. Dolly Ann had been supplied by her two ever-thoughtful official guardians with a cot aboard the car. But she had not retired. With her father and her Grand-daddy Zeke she sat crosslegged on the floor beneath a lamp, absorbed in a game of poker in which the dealer could declare the round to be stud, draw, or jack-pot.
Behind the monkey-act man was the monkey-cage; behind Zeke Fenner the Jungle King, no superfluous cage confining him now, squatted upon his haunches. His huge, bristly jaw almost brushed the old man’s head as he towered above him. The old lion’s sleepy eyes opened from time to time when a new deal was in progress. With unmistakable interest fie would gaze into each new hand Zeke arranged.
“Gran’pa tipped you off on that last hand, Zeke,” Red accused good-naturedly. “I saw him tickle you with his whiskers after he took a good look at my two pair and saw your three deuces had me beat.” Zeke reached upwards and playfully tapped the Jungle King’s jaw.
“Useful old cuss, aint he,” he agreed. Dolly Ann won the next jackpot and the Jungle King nodded his head with ponderous satisfaction. The girl laughed delightedly, then yawned sleepily. Her strenuous experiences that night had taxed her strength. But she felt blissfully safe and happy now aboard the express car that would soon be hurrying them over the rails farther and farther from Solly Friedman. She glanced at her wrist watch.
“Fifteen minutes more and we’ll be on our way,” she breathed eagerly. As she shuffled the cards her brows drew together in a frown.
“Wonder if Mr. Friedman has gone out to the show grounds yet and found himself shy two acts,” she said. Then her frown
grew deeper. “To say nothing of being shy his ‘little—hie!—darlin’, ’dor’ble, damfool devil,’ ” she added without a smile.
Zeke Fenner’s chronically benign face did its best to produce a scowl.
“Let Solly Friedman do his worst,” he muttered savagely. “He may be a cave-man, but this aint the stone-age.”
He jabbed the Jungle King sharply in his ancient ribs.
“Me and Gran’pa are ready for him.”
As though bearing out Zeke the Jungle King gave vent to a low, rumbling growl.
TROLLY ANN’S frown instantly gave ■*-' way to an expression of satisfaction. But in her father’s face remained the look of intense worry which had grown to be almost a fixed expression. Red Swift would not relax his vigilance until long after the freight train, with its express car of fugitives, for such he felt them all to be, was well on its way to Montreal.
“This may not be the stone-age,” he argued fearfully; “but it’s just as bad. Worse, maybe. Solly Friedman has money and this is the gold-age. It’s a wicked weapon, a money club, in hands like his.”
“What harm can Solly do us now, money or not?” he demanded.
“Delay us,” Red replied, nervously scanning his watch, as he had done every minute since their arrival in the car. “He’ll delay us if he can, Zeke; be sure of that. He hires lawyers, shysters, who work for Solly Friedman, not for the law. And—and I know the beast.”
“Wish that freight train would toot along and couple on,” Dolly Ann sighed.
Her two sworn henchmen joined her heartily in the wish; but only one of them, not the optimist, showed his impatience.
“What’s the hurry?” the old animal trainer inquired genially. “Aint it snug enough in here? Aint the cards runnin’ your way, Red? Don’t it make you feel all the more contented to sit comfortable inside this palatial private car of ours and reflect upon Solly Friedman sloshin’ around in all that slush outside? Just listen to that rain!”
It was coming down in torrents now, noisily beating against the stout express car. The rottenness of the night had great ly increased.
_ A suddenly intensified commotion outside, as though the storm had turned into a veritable tornado, quickly resolved itself into the roaring throbs of a high-powered motor. Then tfie new roaring ceased, and penetrating the noise of beating rain and wind came the hoarse bellow of a human voice, a voice raised in a fury that outdid the storm.
Instantly the poker game was broken up. Dolly Ann rose nervously. She had recognised the voice; its effect upon her was at first pitiful. With wildly-staring eyes she gazed toward the big door in the side of the express car, as though dreading to see it shattered with a blow and to find herself the victim of the man whose ruthlessness she had been so recently and shockingly taught.
But Zeke Fenner’s comment changed her expression of dread into a plucky smile of determination:
“Seems like that rough-neck friend of yours aint even got sense enough to keep from botherin’ you in a cyclone,” he chuckled.
Then with a gesture he cautioned silence.
The monkey-act man, muttering, “I told you so,” stood crouched close to the door. If physical resistance were to be required Red Swift undoubtedly planned to put up a stiff fight. Gameness, tenacity, the courage of desperation, were written in every line of his strained face.
“You keep quiet, Red,” Zeke whispered, gently pushing the desperate father farthe-i
1 from the door. Then he went and stood beside the Jungle King.
“Me and Gran’pa will do the honors for this call of Solly Friedman’s,’’ he muttered with a confidence that bespoke proven efficiency.
YAUTSJDE in the storm the circus ^ ' magnate was apparently having an altercation with a freight-yard official, who stubbornly insisted that a certain express car under discussion was billed through to Montreal with the next train and paid for.
“That car, you sap-head, stays here tonight or your joh runs out at the end of the month,” Solly Friedman’s voice threatened domineeringly. Solly Friedman had never been anything but domineering since the circus business put many shekels in his ! possession.
“Jt goes to Montreal on the two o’clock I freight,” the obdurate official retorted.
Solly’s voice grew to a savage bellow.
; The rain had soaked him into a condition of semi-sobriety far worse for his naturally vile temper than complete intoxication j could have been.
“Hurry and get the sheriff,” he roared, apparently to his chauffeur. “Tell him I I said to come fast. If he isn’t here inside I of ten minutes I’ll—I’ll break him. He ! knows me; just mention my name.”
Noisily the automobile departed.
“I’ll show those two old fools in there whether they can jump their contract with my show or not,” Friedman went on belligerently
Inside the car Zeke Fenner smiled with unruffled optimism as he patted the clasped hands of Red Swift and a rather palefaced Dolly Ann. The girl returned his smile gamely.
“Don’t you be worrying, Dolly Ann,” Zeke whispered. “Me and Gran’pa are with you. Don’t you waste a mite o’ worry over a cheap cuss who will go making a fuss in front of a young lady’s door in order to pay a call on her, without having the decency to knock first and be civil. He’s shown his hand, Solly has. He knows he aint got a leg to stand on.”
“Contracts!” he sniffed contemptuously. “Hear the big bully rave about contracts when he never would sign any with your daddy or me. Kept us dragging along from week to week on starvation pay because he thought we couldn’t get another
“Can you, Grand-daddy Zeke?”
Dolly Ann, despite her own immediate danger at the hands of an ogre crazy-drunk from a mixed stimulant of alcohol and wealth, was all anxiety over her adopted grand-parent’s future.
^EKE FENNER grinned as though he hadn’t a care in the world.
“Can I? Say, when me and Gran’pa get to Montreal we’ll be welcomed by the show people as the biggest act north of the Andes. They’ll be bidding against each other for our services. Am I right, Red?” But the monkey-act man, his face so pinched now that under the rays of the car lamp it seemed fleshless skin and hone, was intently listening to low, mumbling sounds of conversation outside.
“Money,” Red muttered wearily. “Is there anything on earth a born crook can’t do with money? It sounds to me, Zeke, as though Solly has found the freight-yard man’s weak spot. He’s bribing him with a hundred dollars.”
Zeke Fenner stiffened momentarily then relaxed again into his attitude of’easy optimism. He reached forth his hand and shook the Jungle King by the ear until the ancient beast, who had serenely slept through all the additional outside turmoil opened one lazy eye.
“Let ’em come by twos or dozens,” Zeke smiled. Me and Gran’pa are waitmg for them.”
The shriek of a locomotive’s whistle announced to those within the car the arrival of the Montreal freight. It announced to Solly Friedman the time for action regardless of his legal status, if he would snatch • victory out of the storm which had witnessed his wet humiliation,discomfort and so far, defeat. For the freight-yard official, contrary to Red’s worst fears, had remained true to the orders of the superiors who paid his wages. He was now preparing to trot away with his lantern to greet the oncoming freight conductor “For their own good let me talk to them just once,” Solly wheedled. “Open that express car door and let me go in and show them what a crazy chance they are
taking in leaving my show in the lurch without two of its best acts. It’s for their own good, my man. If they leave with this train I’ll collect enough damages to ruin them.”
“Not without proper orders from the sheriff,” insisted the commendably-obstinate freight-yard official. “I tell you they have paid for that car, billed through to Montreal on this train. I aint got no more right monkeying with that car than you’d have horning into the queen’s private boudoir.”
It was the first open suggestion from outside of the presence in the car of a lady. Solly had been sober enough to conceal his real objective. As though to acknowledge the accuracy of the official’s well-chosen metaphor a gleeful peal of feminine laughter floated out into the storm from within the car. Zeke had made a remark to the Jungle King, a remark not at all flattering to the circus magnate. And it had touched Dolly Ann’s always receptive vein of humor.
“Solly seems about as welcome here as the dead-heads at his own circus,” was what Zeke had said.
That silvery laugh vibrated a chord within the dissipated Solly which exploded the thin last barrier of restraint he had kept upon his temper. He rushed to the express car door and hammered upon it with his fists.
“Inside there, you,” he blustered, “if you know what’s good for you you’ll unlock that door.”
IT WAS Zeke Fenner’s voice that responded, pitched to carry, but quiet in its assurance of perfect coolness and control.
“We don’t admit freight-yard drunks and car thieves here,” Zeke informed almost reprovingly.
“Keep still, Red,” he admonished the monkey-act man, who had assumed the ■belligerent attitude of one about to attempt a sortie. “If you love Dolly Ann half as much as I do, keep cool.”
He beamed upon Dolly Ann in a way that helped her wonderfully. Helpfully she drew her father to her cot and gently forced him to sit down.
“Leave it to Grand-daddy Zeke,” she urged soothingly. “He’ll find a way out for us, even if that beast breaks in.”
Zeke reached up and turned out the
“Me and Gran’pa have everything all arranged, including the meal ticket,” he said with a chuckle.
He chuckled again when the hammering on the express car door showed that Solly Friedman had lost all regard for bruised flesh in the extremity of his impotent rage. Now the insane circjis magnate called upon the girl who had left him, literally, in the gutter.
“Dolly Ann,” he shouted, his mouth close to the door. “Dolly Ann!”
The added intoxication of her name induced a maudlin condition.
“Aint you goin’ to open the door for Solly?” he wept. “Aint you goin’ to ’How your little Solly to—aint little ’dor-ble Dolly Ann goin’ op’n—aint you goin’ open Solly an’ let in the door?”
Blubbering foolishly he gave way to self-pity.
“I’m all wet an’ alone, li’l Dolly Ann. All soaked an’ the sheriff hasn’t come. Aint you goin’ to open—”
HE SHOOK and a jar came with the engine’s coupling, breaking off Solly’s maudlin utterance. He had been leaning against the door. With a slip and a splash he fell into the freight-yard muck from the long narrow platform which ran along the track, fortunately reeling across the platform and falling on the side away from the car’s wheels.
“Hell!” he roared, all sentimentality jolted out of his system. “Open the door, you little she-fool, or I’ll break it down and come in there and get you.”
But the train was now slowly moving out. Aided by the sobering realization that his battle in the mud was ending in a final, colossal defeat, Solly managed to find his feet. Crazily he again mounted the long platform and reached the express car door. Staggering along to keep up with its ever-increasing speed, dripping mud and railroad grease, the man who controlled a mammoth circus beat upon the inhospitable wood and steel while he bellowed threats which can never be published against his ‘dor’ble, darlin’ Dolly
Ann,’ whom he swore, between blasphemous menaces, he would go through hell to protect against the slightest harm.
So occupied were his thoughts that Solly did not realize he was not alone in that scene upon the freight platform. P'ollowing his every crazy step, ready to assist him if he should fall toward the dangerous opening between the platform’s edge and the car, came a young man of eager, keen, energetic cast. That his clothing was rainsoaked and clung to his lean frame as a wet sheet clings to a clothes-prop was no criterion that this young chap was a man of destiny.
For he was a newspaper reporter.
And where there is the excitement that is required to make a first-class news story, no matter how inclement the surroundings, a newspaper reporter can usually be counted upon to show up just in the nick of time. This one had been drawn out of the storm from—who can say where they come from? And behind him, drawn from the same undefinable place, came the crowd, the crowd that invariably collects upon the same sort of occasions as those which most magnetically attract newspaper reporters.
Freight-yard employees, box-car passengers, tramps, were there—just such a crowd as could be expected to gather when excitement stirred a storm-assaulted freight yard at two o’clock in the morning. Like boys eagerly following a circus parade they followed Solly Friedman down the wet platform, missing not a word of his furious maudlin, drunkenly-sentimental, brutallydomineering medley as he raced along upon his unsteady legs to deliver his crazy serenade to the lady in the express
IMAGINE the surprise of the crowd when suddenly the door Solly was besieging with fists and voice flew wide open, just before the end of the long platform was reached and when the train had attained such speed it seemed Solly must give up the chase.
A cheer, slightly tempered with regret that Solly had not run over the platform’s end and received another mud bath, burst from the crowd. It was inspired by a feat Solly accomplished with the last ounce of strength and wind left in his over-exerted system. He jumped wildly from the platform headlong, and executed a clumsy dive that landed him half inside the express car, where he sprawled upon his stomach with legs wildly struggling out in the storm, as though frantic to follow the rest of him into a haven of dryness.
But the feat of the newspaper reporter— true brother of a fraternity that never balks at taking chances—excelled that of Solly in the estimation of the delighted audience. With a spry leap the fearless young man, determined to let none of this rich material for copy get away from him, cleared Solly’s struggling legs. Then he too was swallowed into the dark interior of the express car, through the mouth-like door which had yawned.
Solly’s speed, considering his condition, had been remarkable. The newspaper reporter’s had been well-nigh incredible. But the speed with which things happened the moment the pair gathered themselves up from the express car floor was indescribable. No adjective is fast enough.
Zeke Fenner had extinguished the car’s lamp. But to Solly, badly shaken by his recent experiences, there seemed to be a light in the car. Two lights, in fact. They were situated close together, and were in a remarkably unlikely position for lights.
But the newspaper reporter, being entirely sober and very quick-witted to boot, instantly realized that what Solly thought were lights were actually nothing of the sort. His prompt recognition of what they were caused the hair of his head, wet though it was, to rise upon its roots as though forming for a hasty retreat.
Then Solly, staring with rigid fascination at the lights, got the same hunch the reporter had had from the first. And his hair stood up until the bald spot in his head resembled a clearing in a forest. His teeth began to chatter, and such an ague seized his knees that for a moment it was questionable whether he would stand or fall.
But the two lights, small for lights but large for eyes, if his fears were correct, remained stationary, fixed upon Solly. As his own horrified optics gazed back and grew more accustomed to the gloom of the car’s interior, Solly could make out a vague
huge shape behind the dreadfully luminous
Then the oar swung slightly over a curve in the freight yard, and the glare from an arc light illuminated the interior.
A SHRIEK that outdid the best efforts ' i of a switch engine in the yards escaped from the frozen lips of Solly Friedman.
A lion, a huge, terrible, uncaged lion stood confronting him in the express car be had so lawlessly invaded.
The newspaper reporter saw the Jungle King as clearly as Solly. But he also saw something Solly entirely missed. Back in a far corner of the car were three people— perfectly live, uninjured, human people. And all three were grinning. That is, two of them were. One of them smiled such a smile that the newspaper reporter felt himself wishing that common-sense did not demand any further attention to the lion. Nevertheless it comforted and reassured him tremendously to know that fellow human beings, apparently related in some way to this loose beast, were occupying the same car with such evident enjoy-
But Solly Friedman had no reviving assurance of safety. All he saw was a huge jungle beast, undoubtedly the one from his own show,the “largest in captivity.” He had scoffed at Leo, when arranging the matter of reimbursement for the act with Zeke because of his old age. But that was when Leo was the “Largest Lion in Captivity.” As the largest lion out of captivity he was the last companion in the world Solly had sought when he entered that express car.
The train had now worked up a goodly speed. But no speed would have kept Solly longer in that car. A mile a minute would not have detained him.
With another terrified shriek when the Jungle King started toward him with an inquisitive grunt, Solly turned about and repeated, in a reverse direction, the dive he had performed from the platform. Y es, without a thought for Dolly Ann, who must be either inside the ear or inside the lion, Solly dived for the salvation of his own mongrel hide. |J[
His landing upon his back in a young river of rain water between two tracks was a mere trivial incident to the main adventure. He came up like.a steeple-chaser out of the ditch, shaking off the slime and the speediest members of the crowd who still pursued the express car.
“There’s a 1-1-1-lion 1-1-loose in that c-c-c-car!” he gasped as he crawled under an empty flat car which stood in his way on the next track. Coming up on the other side of the car he sped off into the stormy darkness and was lost to the view of the astonished crowd. Just where he went to remove the mud and attend to his cuts
and bruises is of little importance. Solly Friedman’s big problem was where to go to remove the shame and humiliation and ruinous publicity which were his punishment for pampering a cave-man nature.
For that newspaper reporter remained aboard the express car all the way to Montreal, save once when he, accompanied by Dolly Ann, left the car when it stopped at a siding to wait for the passing of a passenger train. With Dolly Ann’s assistance—anything she suggested with that smile of hers would have found his instant approval—he wired ahead to his paper, in time for the early morning editions. And the story he telegraphed was such a corker it won for him instant forgiveness for arriving home late from his vacation. He had missed his train and had planned to steal a ride on the very freight upon which fortunate, though rather startling, circumstance had made him a welcome guest and passenger.
That story dealt with the unexcelled heroism of Prof. Leonardo de Vachelli in subduing unarmed a lion that had escaped from its cage while being transported in an express car. By sheer will-power the huge beast, “largest and most ferocious in captivity”—the reporter was fond of superlatives—was forced back into his cage. And the life of a beautiful young girl, the hero’s grand-daughter—Zeke insisted —was saved, to say nothing of the life of her father, whom Zeke generously insisted upon admitting into the story of the adventure, regardless of the reporter’s objection to complicating matters with characters that would uselessly divert attention from the lion.
Zeke Fenner was welcomed at Montreal by a host of circus managers, enterprising movie directors, and Canadian agents for New York theatrical moguls. So the Jungle King still yawns for the head of Prof. Leonardo de Vachelli in “all the cities of the earth, before crowned heads and curly ones.” The wide publicity their act obtained through the reporter’s generous efforts won them the fabulous meal ticket Zeke had prophesied during distressing moments, when his optimism triumphed over misfortune.
Dolly Ann and her father still travel with Zeke. So does a new press agent, who basks happily in the smile that first enraptured him aboard an express car, even though a loose lion was close by. He press-agents every member of the troupe save Dolly Ann.
Her future, he declares, is a domestic one, far removed from vulgar publicity. And Zeke and Red Swift agree with him, while Dolly Ann puts up no very enduring opposition.
Gran’pa’s soup is now concocted by chefs employed in the best hotels on the