My Fren’, The Tiger
JUAN was already old when the tiger first came to the circus. In all the years he had followed the show there had never been such a tiger. His name was Rajah, and an inscription over his cage proclaimed him Royal and Bengal. Juan, sad to relate, couldn't read; but when he came trundling his cart of meat for the animals he stopped by Rajah's cage to gaze with awe at the great beast. Here was majesty. Here was beauty. Here was the most magnificent tiger in captivity.
Then Juan noticed that the head animal trainer was also standing looking at the new arrival, who lay in his cage with his amazing length of sinewy body twitching, his huge flaws working nervously, and his tail lashing. Head animal trainers are very haughty jiersons, and quite naturally he took no notice of the old man. Juan stared for a moment longer, then lie deliberately selected the finest piece of meat his cart afforded and push«! it into the cage. It pleased him when the great beast growled deeply and turned his attention from his troubles to his dinner.
Juan presumed to address the trainer.
"Ees he going to lxin the new act thees beautiful tiger?” "Yeah," answered the trainer. "And I bet I have trouble w ith him."
Juan looked long at the tiger, who was tearing hungrily at his meat. Then he turned his gaze on the trainer. The trainer was squat and his face was pock marked. Juan sighed deeply and moved his cart in the direction of the other cages. Sometimes Juan thought about things and became all confused in his head. His head felt funny as he moved away. It seemed to him that there was something not quite right with the world when a creature so glorious as the new tiger could lx* humbled and bent to the will of the squat, bandy-legged trainer with the cruel little eyes and the pockmarked face.
The trainer's premonition regarding Rajah was soon realized. He pronounced him “a mean cat.” In fact, the meanest cat it had ever been his bad luck to handle.
But to Juan’s way of thinking, the tiger was brave, honest, but ever so foolish. Rajah couldn’t understand why he should sit on a silly little platform on the side of the barred arena between two tigers that he didn’t particularly like; nor could he be convinced that it was gcxxi sense to jump with alacrity through a burning hoop when the sight and smell of fire terrified him; and the idea of galloping around the ring clinging insecurely to the padded but trembling back of a horse, Rajah dismissed with a lunge in the direction of the trainer’s throat.
Rajah waged a valiant, furious but losing battle. There were too many whips, too many blank cartridges, too many two-legged enemies against him. When Juan brought his dinner he tried to reason with him, to explain the dire hopelessness of the situation. Rajah didn’t give up right away, but in time he went through the routine with a sort of contemptuous resignation. The trainer, however, carried for life two long scars.
"You shouldn't have dirtied your beautiful paws on him.” old Juan told the tiger, "but while you were at it you did a good job.”
"KTO ONE knewmuch about Juan except that he was the old man who fed the animals. He never gambled. He had no cronies. No one knew whether he had ever had a wife or what he did with his money. Sometimes he started
to tell about when he was a little boy in Mexico, but his mind usually wandered off even before his audience did.
Every day when feeding time came he would linger at the tiger’s cage.
"How are you, my fren’?” he would enquire politely and re-
spectfully. "All that loud applausing I hear from the beeg tent, was it not for you when you jump so graceful and beautiful through the hoop?”
And then, looking at the powerful legs and shoulders of the tiger, Juan would say:
“1 w'ish I could take you out for a leetle walk. It is not right that you should be shut up all night in that leetle cage. You should have space to run and jump and be happy.”
After a while, space where the tiger could run and jump and be happy became an obsession with the old man. A solemn promise he made the tiger, swearing by his favorite saint.
“Some day I take you where you will have plenty of room”
There were days when the meat for the menagerie was of obviously inferior quality. On those days Juan didn’t feed Rajah with the rest of the animals. He hurried through his duties and then made a trip to the butcher shop, where he carefully chose a joint better than the one the cook was preparing in the mess tent.
"You should not have to eat meat not fit even for that trainer,” he said to the tiger.
Of course, the aristocrats of the circus, the performers, took no notice of the little man who fed the animals; but among the more insignificant folk the affection of Juan for the tiger had become a standing joke. Not for a moment was Juan disconcerted, if he heard the gibes at all. Weeks passed, months passed—the circus never standing still for any great length of time—but the tiger had taken no notice of the eager and friendly old man except to growl at his meat. Straight ahead he stared, aloof and uninterested, while Juan murmured compliments and words of encouragement.
One night, when the circus was playing a Middle Western town, there w’as a terrific storm. Thunder, lightning, wind and rain. With every crash of thunder there were bloodcurdling shrieks from the menagerie tent. Juan rose and dressed. A roustabout in the next bunk said:
“For the love of Pete, he’s going out in all this to hold that tiger's paw. I tell you the old guy’s goofy.”
Rajah was twisting and turning in his cage. Now and then he opened his great red cavern of a mouth and roared. Juan observed fondly and proudly that when Rajah roared the cries of the other animals were drowned out. “Like
the bleating of lambs or the yapping of small dogs,” Juan observed.
When Juan approached the cage the tiger stood still.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said.
Rajah came close to the bars. So close that Juan might touch him. Never before had he dared. He stretched out his hand and timidly stroked the tiger’s svelte side. Not a blow or a gash would he have minded as much as a rebuff. But the tiger moved nearer. He put his massive head against the bars. Softly Juan touched his nose. He rubbed between his eyes, behind his ears and under his chin. 1 here was a sound like a log being sawed through, at w'hich Juan’s heart leaped. Rajah was purring; purring like a pussy cat with a stomach full of cream and a heart full of contentment, lying on his own cushion before his own log fire.
CO THROUGH the years the attachment between the dark little man and the beautiful tiger deepened until everyone connected with the circus was aware of it. Rajah, the largest tiger in captivity, the terror of his trainers, took on the beguiling manners of a playful kitten whenever a little old Mexican appeared. From coast to coast, from
Florida to Vancouver, the circus travelled many times. Snow-white tents grew discolored, patched and threadbare, and finally were replaced. Joy, sorrow, love, hate, disaster and death took their toll; but a tiger named Rajah always received the freshest, juiciest and largest serving when meal time came around from an old man named Juan, who always brought his cart full of meat to a halt with an elaborate flourish before the tiger’s cage and who never failed to enquire ever so politely, “And how are you this fine day, my fren?”
But change comes to all things, even circuses. It was in California that the electrifying news was heard —the circus was about to disband, the menagerie to be sold to one of the city parks.
Juan hurried to visit the tiger, to tell him about it.
“But I weel stay right here in Ix>s Angeles, and every day 1 weel come to see you.”
But someone else would be feeding Rajah; someone who wouldn’t know or care how much Rajah relished a prime joint of beef and good pasteurized milk in the flat pan that slipped under the bars of his cage.
“Maybe I can get a job weeth the park. . . . ”
But to Juan’s concerned eyes. Rajah weary and disappointed. He wasn’t a young tiger any more. No longer did his trainers regard him with a wary eye. He had given his best years to the circus years spent behind the bars of a cage that hadn’t been big enough for his magnificent body. Not as much as a glimpse had he had of the place to run and jump and be happy in that Juan was always talking about.
Straight to the circus manager went Juan.
“I weesh to buy my fren’, the tiger,” he announced. From under his wrinkled and soiled black shirt lie took out a little chamois bag.
“Now, what in heaven’s name do you want with that tiger?”
"I weel pay more than theo “That’s not the point. What are you going to do with him? Start a one-man show down on Main Street?”
“Maybe,” answered Juan. He was eager to clutch at any straw that would give him a legitimate excuse for owning the tiger.
The manager didn’t care much what happened to Rajah. He was anxious to complete his job, which was to dispose of the animals. So Juan became owner of the tiger for five dollars more than the ohad offered; and for an additional seven dollars he acquired a rickety wheeled cage with flimsy bars in which Rajah was installed. A friend of Juan’s from the Mexican quarter came with a small truck, to which they fastened Rajah’s cage like a trailer and shrouded it with burlap bags to protect his dignity from the stares of the curious.
That night Rajah slept in his cage between the chicken house and the goat pen in the backyard of the little house where Juan was staying with friends.
“Eet ees jus’ for tonight, my fren’,” he told the tiger as he bade him good night.
IN JUAN’S old head had been conceived a wonderful plan for the tiger. He remembered when he had first come to California. He had been little more than a boy and he had gone with a prospector into the mountains. But before they reached the mountains they had gone through great pathless tracts of desert. Juan had never forgotten the dazzling beauty of the vast emptiness. There one might
live for years without meeting a human soul. In such a place Rajah might pursue an ideal existence. For sport there were jack rabbits to hunt; and one so clever as Rajah would lose no time in locating a shady spot near a water hole where he might sleep away the shimmering days, saving the spicy, star-studded nights for high adventure, making up for all those wretched nights he had spent in his cage, his limbs cramped and aching for swift, spectacular movement. So, Juan planned, should Rajah end his days.
The next morning he outlined his plan to his friend who owned the truck.
“Drive me out on the desert and I will let the tiger go free.”
"You’re crazy,” his friend said. “There are lots of people on the desert now'. You would get locked up in jail if you let a tiger run loose. If he’s so tame, why don’t you start a show down on Main Street and charge people a quarter to have their pictures taken sitting on him or something. You could make a lot of money.”
With all the dignity at his command, Juan explained that under no circumstances w'ould he exploit his friend. And he refused to be convinced that on the desert there was no room for Rajah to mn and jump and be happy.
Times were hard and ten dollars was a lot of money, so the man agreed to drive Juan and the tiger to the desert.
There was a jxived highway leading straight into the Mojave, but on either side stretched the great empty spaces that Juan remembered. Over the highway cars were flying back and forth, and now and then they passed a house or a gas station—yet there was plenty of room for one tiger.
At last the man driving stopped where a tiny road led off to the desert.
“This six>t ought to be as gwxl as any,” he said, so he unfastened Rajah’s cage and Juan pulled it up the little, unused road that ran from the main higlnvay until he reached a point which he considered sufficiently secluded. The friend stayed in the car because he was mortally afraid of the tiger and wanted nothing so much as to be on his way, the mad errand completed.
Juan ojxmed the door of the cage, and after a moment Rajah slowly let himself out. The great moment had arrived. Juan had made good his word.
“Thees ees what I tell you about, my fren’ -the place for you to run and jump and be happy. It makes me sad to say good-by, my fren’ of so many years, but I leave you full of joy because I have kep’ my promise.”
RAJAH tense, his tail twitching. Juan scratched under his chin, behind his ears, and rubbed his nose, “(kxxl-by, my beautiful fren’,” he said.
He started back toward the road where the truck w-as waiting. Not once did he back. The ache in his throat was fix» sharp for that. But when he had almost reached it the truck started up and s|x-d down the highway in the direction of the city. Juan yelled, but the man driving the truck didn’t stop. Something touched his hand, and there was the tiger padding softly along beside him.
"Go back,” pleaded the old man. "People weel see you if you go near the road. Go back, Rajah, where you can be free.”
But the tiger refused to leave the old man. All afternoon he besought, commanded and reasoned with him. Whereever he went the tiger followed. Then a great awe came over Juan. His beautiful friend, who was Royal and Bengal, didn’t want to be free. Not if it meant being away from him. Very humble, he felt, and very proud. After all, there were few men who had for their friend a tiger.
“Very well, my fren’,” said Juan at last. “We shall be together always.”
The desert was faintly purple w hen he put the tiger back in the wheeled cage, the bars of which Rajah might have shattered with one lunge of his big Ixxly liad he been so minded. The burlap curtains were fastened about him, and Juan pulled the cage back to the highway. A truck driver coming in from the valley allowed him to sit on the back of his truck and hold fast to the strange looking trailer all the time innocent of the unusual passenger w ho rode w ithin.
It was hard to find a boarding place. No one wanted an old man who had for his friend a tiger. It could not be denied that Rajah by his flattering choice had made the old man proud and happy, but he had also created a serious problem. Still, one could not say to a friend, ’I love you dearly, but I don’t know what to do with you.”
Then Juan decided to satisfy a desire that had been haunting him for years. He longed to see once more the little village of his birth. Again Rajah’s cage was shrouded in burlap and they were off down the highway that led to the border. Again friendly truck drivers befriended the old man. and not until they had reached their destination did they learn what rode in state behind the rough curtains.
Juan felt most businesslike and sagacious as he visited the customs office; very proud when Rajah was pronounced in excellent physical condition by the veterinary who examined the animals crossing the border. The officials looked askance at the inadequate cage, but then Rajah had the manner of a tired old dog rather than that of a man eater, so they allowed the two to pass as they were. Continued on page 55
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10 —
The formalities on either side concluded. Juan did not linger long in the border town. Just long enough to procure a meagre store of food for himself and the tiger. Then they started down the dusty road that led somewhere into Mexico. Though he had only the vaguest notion of the direction, Juan was perfectly confident that he was on his way to the little village of his birth. His memory was growing foggy, but he remembered a square where soldiers from the garrison paraded, and that in the square was a fountain around which people sat at night and the band played. And he remembered a wall over which red vines hung.
When they had gone quite some distance Juan stopped and opened the door of the cage.
“No more do we need thees theeng,” he said. “Come, we weel walk as fren’s walk.” The cage was abandoned at the side of the road, and the man and the tiger walked on side by side.
MAGDALENA crouched in the comer of the front room of her house, weeping bitterly. At intervals she wiped her eyes with her skirt and tried to say stoutly, “This can’t have happened to me. I’m having a horrible dream. In a minute I’ll wake up. Or perhaps I’m mad.” But it was no use. This terrible thing had happened to Magdalena Ruiz, who only yesterday had considered herself the luckiest girl in all Mexico.
Yesterday she had been the fiancée of Carlitos Romero, who kept the store in the village—the big store. Carlitos was the handsomest young man in town, and day by day more people were depending on him to supply their every want. Meat one could buy at the store of Carlitos. the greenest chiles and the firmest, reddest tomatoes— and gay cottons, silk stockings and perfumes, as well as flour and beans and toothache drops and medicines that made one well.
But had Carlitos not been so beautiful or a budding merchant prince, it wouldn’t have mattered to Magdalena. She had been so happy and so much in love with Carlitos that there had been times when she had caught her breath and had been afraid that something would happen to spoil it all.
And now she was an outcast in her own village. People crossed themselves when they spoke her name and as they passed her doorway. Carlitos was held prisoner in the garrison, his store closed. Already the people were taking their money to the dirty shop of old Pancho Alvarez. On Carlitos she had brought disgrace and suspicion. She thought of ways to die—the next instant throwing herself on her knees to beg forgiveness for her sinful thoughts. She wished that Father Gomez were still at the church. But for almost a year there had been no priest in the village. He could have told her what to do. He would have reasoned with the people, laughed at their superstitions and dissipated the madness that had been aroused.
It had all started so simply. There was a girl in the village who had been terribly in love with Carlitos. Her name was Teofilia. She was very jealous of Magdalena and made ugly remarks about her, to which no one had listened. They knew how desperately she had wanted to marry Carlitos.
Magdalena had gone to the village to visit Carlitos in his store and to bring home some things for her dinner. She was on her way home when the fat little baby of one Mrs. Serres came toddling out of his yard to demand of her if she had any candy.
Now Mrs. Serres’ youngest son was a delectable little rascal with great brown eyes and a firm little stomach that protruded, inviting gentle, poking fingers. His rather sketchy costume revealed broad expanses of healthy anatomy, and Magdalena sank to her knees, exclaiming, “What a beautiful little boy you are! Some day I shall have just such a small son.”
Mrs. Serres, standing behind the curtains of her front window, felt a nice glow of satisfaction that a girl so lucky and so pretty as Magdalena Ruiz should wish for a baby like her Pedro.
Homage to his beauty and charm made small impression on young Señor Serres.
“Have you any candy?” he demanded a second time and not so graciously as before.
“Yes, I have candy,” announced Magdalena, “but first you must give me a great big kiss. Then we shall see about the candy.”
Hastily he bestowed a very damp salute on Magdalena’s smooth cheek, and she enveloped him in a smothering hug from ] which he extricated himself deftly but patiently and again referred to the candy. The candy was produced and Magdalena went her way, while the youngest Serres sat down on the ground to enjoy his hard-earned sweets.
Across the street from Mrs. Serres lived Teofilia. Teofilia was always peeking from behind her curtains when Magdalena Ruiz passed to and from the village. And so it was that afternoon that the Serres baby came down with a burning fever. His mother was greatly worried, for the child was very7 ill. His eyes were glazed and his fat little hands were hot and dry. When Teofilia heard about it she clucked knowingly.
“Why do you do that?” demanded Mrs. Serres.
Teofilia shook her head reluctantly.
“I do not like to say.”
Mrs. Serres’ curiosity was not difficult to arouse. She demanded of Teofilia what had inspired the meaningful clucks.
“I saw Magdalena Ruiz kiss little Pedro just this morning.”
“Well, what of it? Many times has Magdalena kissed Pedro. I heard her say that she wished that some day she would have just such a baby as my Pedro. And with Carlitos for a father, she should have beautiful children.”
"I would not let Magdalena kiss a child of mine,” Teofilia stated emphatically.
“And why?” pressed Mrs. Serres. “Anyhow, you have no children.”
Teofilia moved closer. Her voice sank to a dramatic whisper.
“I think Magdalena has the evil eye. I think she can make people ill so that they will go to Carlitos for medicine. She and Carlitos will lx* very rich some day.”
MRS. SERRES drew back in fascinated horror.
“Teofilia! Can such a thing be?”
Teofilia shrugged significantly. Then she and Mrs. Serres went over every case of sickness in the village for the past year. There had been much sickness when one stopped to consider. Every disability had meant money for Carlitos. What other young man in the village had progressed as had Carlitos? Already he had bags bulging with money!
El ojo malicioso! Swiftly the word Hew through the village. Magdalena Ruiz had the evil eye. She made people sick so that they would go to Carlitos for medicine. Even little babies were shown no mercy. On them she cast her wicked spell, and if the mothers did not hurry to Carlitos for medicine their babies died ! A bad girl—this soft-eyed, gentle-mannered Magdalena. A blight on their village. She should be driven out and her house burned. And Carlitos? Should Carlitos be driven out too? Teofilia offered a partial solution to the problem of Carlitos. Perhaps Carlitos had merely been another victim of Magdalena’s evil charm. It might be well to give Carlitos another chance. With Magdalena removed, he might be a good and normal young man.
The entire population rose to the occasion. Any excitement was rare and welcome in the sleepy little town. Almost in a body they went to the store of Carlitos. Antonio Serres, father of the latest victim, was elected spokesman.
"Carlitos,” he began, “we know everything.”
“How fortunate you are then, my friends,” said Carlitos amiably. He thought they were playing a joke.
“We have learned about you and this Ruiz girl, and we have come to put an end to this business.”
Carlitos laughed, hut when he saw the grim faces of his friends, he, too, became serious.
“What do you mean?”
“The Ruiz girl goes. To you we have decided to give another chance. Away from her, you may become the upright young man we always believed you.”
“Where Magdalena go? What has she done? Are you mad—the whole flock of you?”
“Do not pretend with us, Carlitos. We know all about it. Magdalena casts the evil eye on the people of her own village so that they become ill and go to you for medicine. Today she gave my little Pedro a burning fever. But to you for medicine we will not come—nor ever again until Magdalena has been driven from our village.”
“Idiots! Fools! Devils!” Carlitos raged. “Don’t you dare to speak Magdalena’s name again. You are not fit to breathe the same air she breathes!”
“She has bewitched you, Carlitos,” the leader said pityingly. “We are going to drive her from the village.”
“Over my dead body will you lay hands on her!”
But many hands were laid on Carlitos and they imprisoned him in the old deserted garrison. “When Magdalena is gone we will set you free, and to your store we will come again to trade.”
MAGDALENA was setting her table, gay with the new dishes and a bowl of yellow flowers in the centre. Carlitos was coming. She had prepared all his favorite dishes. She was listening for him, but instead she heard the approach of many footsteps.
Her friends and neighbors assembled in the street before her pretty little house with the garden so carefully tended and fresh flowers before the Virgin in her niche in the wall. At first she feared some accident had befallen Carlitos—the faces of her friends were so strained and unsmiling.
Again Antonio Serres spoke.
“Magdalena Ruiz, we give you until tomorrow morning to depart from our village. lí you offer no resistance we will allow you to leave unharmed. But never return, and as you go do not look back over your shoulder lest you cast your evil eye on the whole populace."
Magdalena was dumb with amazement.
Had the whole world gone mad? She loved these people. They had known her from childhood. They had known her father and mother, and their fathers and mothers. They had watched the romance between her and Carlitos bud and blossom with as much tender interest as if they had been the children of the whole village.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Today you cast the evil eye on my little Pedro. Near death with fever he is lying at this moment. So that Carlitos may sell his medicines and grow rich, you cause sickness in the village. But we do not blame Carlitos. On him, too, you have cast your spell. You are lucky we permit you to go; lucky that we do not stone you as you stand in your doorway.”
Magdalena covered her face with her hands.
“Where is Carlitos?” she moaned.
“Locked up in the garrison with a guard before the door. Do not try to see him. In the morning as the sun comes over the mountain we will come, and if we find you here we will burn you in your house.”
The crowd faded away. Sick and broken, Magdalena stumbled into her house. She had kissed a chubby, brown little baby and brought upon herself the wrath of her people. She would never be the wife of Carlitos. She would never have a baby.
She crouched on the floor in the comer of her best room. The fire died down and Garlitos’ favorite dishes grew cold. Darkness crept in and the air became chill.
“There is a curseonme,” wept Magdalena. “I want to die. Dear God, let me die!”
A knock came at her door. Magdalena didn’t move, and the knock was repeated. A very soft knock. Perhaps it was Carlitos, escaped from the garrison and come to help her.
She went to the door and opened it. Then she drew back with a little gasp of terror. On her doorstep stood an old man and at his side a tiger. Quickly she made the sign of the cross.
“Excuse me. señorita,” said the old man, “but my friend and I are tired and hungry. Maybe you can tell us where we can find food and shelter. People are afraid of my friend, but we will pay well.”
“There is food,” said Magdalena. “You are welcome to all of it. Come in.”
The old man entered and the tiger followed him.
“God heard my prayer,” said Magdalena to herself. “To save me from the sin of taking my own life He has sent this tiger who will surely kill me. God is good. He watches over His children.”
SHE SET the dishes, heaped high with food, on the flower-bedecked table. Never again would Carlitos sit across from her and praise her cooking. Never again would Carlitos tell her she had the biggest eyes in the world. She felt a moment’s sadness that she would make such an unlovely corpse when the tiger had done his work. On the floor before the tiger she set a dish of meat and a bowl of milk. Wonderingly she watched him as he ate his dinner.
The old man ate as if he were famished. Now and then he spoke to the tiger in a language she didn’t understand. Once he stroked his head and a deep rumbling came from the great beast’s throat.
Magdalena sat in the corner regarding her strange guests.
“Who are you?” she asked the old man. “My name is Juan, and my beautiful friend is called Rajah.” He looked fondly and proudly at the tiger. “Not many men have such a friend, have they, señorita?” Magdalena agreed. The tiger strolled about the room. “Now he is going to leap at me and tear me to pieces,” she thought. But the tiger sniffed at her like a huge dog, and went over and stretched himself out before the fireplace. Magdalena brought out wine. What use was there in saving anything? Tomorrow she would not be there.
“You are very kind, señorita,” said the old man. “We have come a long way, my friend and I. People have not all been kind. Would you believe it, a man tried to shoot my friend? But we were too clever. My friend is very smart.” The old man smiled, happy and drowsy over his cup of wine. It had been a long time since Juan had had any wine. It was going to his head.
“I am so ashamed, señorita,” he said, “but I am afraid I cannot stay awake any longer. Do you mind if I lie down by the side of my beautiful friend for a few minutes and close my eyes? Then we will be on our way.” “Stay as long as you like,” invited Magdalena.
The old man went over and stretched before the fire at the side of the tiger. Magdalena sat in her chair, watching and waiting. Some time during the night, while the old man slept, the tiger would complete his mission.
Magdalena sat up with a start. A soft light was coming in the windows. It was the new day. It didn’t seem possible that she had fallen asleep. Before the dead fire, the old man and the tiger still slumbered. The tiger hadn’t fulfilled his task and she hadn’t obeyed the ultimatum of her people. In a moment the sun would come over the mountain. Already rosy little clouds floating in the mauve sky heralded its advance.
Then all at once—the sun ! Magdalena’s heart sank. It was very nearly over. Already she fancied she could hear the advancing feet of her inquisitors. But it really didn't matter, for without Carlitos she wouldn’t be living anyhow. Carlitos was her life. It was better to die. The old man. however, and his peculiar friend must be awakened and sent on their way.
She touched the old man.
“Come! It is morning. It is not wise to linger here. The people might not be kind to you or your friend.”
The old man stumbled to his feet, and the tiger yawned widely and stretched himself like a house cat.
“Take all the food in the house, but be on your way.”
She tried to gather up what remained from the night before, but her hands were trembling and the old man was slow and only half awake. She heard voices and the sound of many feet. It was too late. The people were gathering before her house.
“Magdalena Ruiz,” she heard the voice of Antonio Serres addressing her, “if you are in that house come out and show yourself.”
TO RESIST was hopeless. Magdalena looked at the old man, shook her head wamingly so that he would remain inside. Then she opened her front door. An angry murmur arose, but an instant later the crowd, with a single startled movement,
swayed backward. Several women screamed shrilly and a score of men and women crossed themselves tremblingly. Beside Magdalena stood an old man—and between them, almost shoulder high, stood a great beast, a tiger!
What amazing things could this Magdalena do? From where had this strange old man and this great beast come? As the tiger made no untoward movement, the crowd moved timidly forward.
“Who are you?” demanded Antonio Serres, but his tone was not so arrogant as when' he spoke to Magdalena.
“My name is Juan,” said the old man, “and this is my friend.” With an affectionate pat he indicated the tiger.
“Where did you come from?”
Such questions fatigued Juan. He waved his arm as if to answer everywhere or nowhere in particular.
The people whispered among themselves. Never before had they heard of anything so odd as a man who had for his friend, a tiger. Except saints. There were saints who had as their friends, wild beasts. One, a lion; another, the foxes of the field; and another, a crocodile. Then there were the tales of the old gods who were there in the mountains before the Spaniards came. Of them and their deeds one only whispered. There was something strange, something awesome about this old man. Why had he come? And why to the house of Magdalena Ruiz on this particular day?
Suddenly a woman sank to her knees. Then two or three more women followed her example. Then a man. In a few moments most of the inhabitants of the little town were on their knees in the dusty street before the house of Magdalena Ruiz. Only Antonio Serres remained standing.
“Why did you come to the house of Magdalena Ruiz?” he demanded. “She is an evil woman.”
Juan shook his head and smiled gently. His gnarled fingers continued to caress the tiger’s head.
“No, my friends,” he said, “Magdalena is a good girl. She has a kind heart. To an old man she gave food and shelter. To my beautiful friend here she gave meat and milk. All that was in her house. We have travelled far to find one so good.”
Antonio Serres trembled. Had they been about to harm a girl so precious that a saint from heaven or a god from the distant mountains had come to defend her? Slowly Antonio sank to his knees. Perhaps the old man, saint or god, would punish them severely.
Then from the throng emerged Mrs. 4 Serres and in her arms she carried the flushed little Pedro.
“Touch him, old man,” she begged. “Make my baby well.”
The old man touched the little Pedro on his small, flat nose, then he chucked him under the chin and laughed as old men will when they behold something very young and male.
“A fine leetle fellow,” he said to the tiger in the language the people didn’t understand. Then he took the baby from the mother’s arms and held it down to the tiger. Like a big dog, Rajah nuzzled the child. A murmur went up from the people. Mrs. Serres felt the child’s forehead.
“The fever is going down,” she cried. “The old man cures! He is a holy man!”
COM EON E rushed to the garrison and ^ released Carlitos.
“A saint has come to protect Magdalena,” he was told.
He hurried to her home, and there were people struggling to touch the garments and kiss the hand of an old man who stood looking dazed but happy at the side of a great tiger.
“Magdalena, forgive us,” her friends and neighbors entreated, and even Teofilia crept near and grasped her hand. “It was all my fault,” she whispered. “I started the story, may God forgive me.”
Carlitos pushed his way through the crowd.
“My darling, my darling, what were they going to do to you? Are you all right? Today we will leave this village of madmen and murderers!”
Magdalena swayed limply in his arms, then she remembered Juan.
“The old man is tired,” she told Carlitos. “Tell the people to go away for a while.”
Carlitos told the people that they were tiring the old man, and unwillingly they returned to their homes. They considered it not quite fair that Carlitos and Magdalena should have him all to themselves. But Antonio Serres turned and addressed Carlitos.
“Go, open your store, Carlitos. We have done you and Magdalena a great wrong. We shall do our best to atone.”
The old man and the tiger rested in the cool of Magdalena’s garden, but all daylong the townspeople came by for a look at the holy man. They hung garlands on Magdalena’s wall and left gifts. Whole dressed goats they brought that the tiger might feast, and bottles of wine for Juan. Pride and wonder ran high in the village. A saint had come. What might happen next no one knew.
The old man didn’t talk very much except to the tiger, and what he said to him Magdalena and Carlitos couldn’t understand. He spent some time massaging the tiger’s paws.
“My friend,” he explained to Carlitos, “isn’t used to walking so far. His feet get very sore.”
Late that afternoon a delegation of villagers called on the old man. They invited him to remain in the village. There was a house for him, a fine house with a garden and a high wall. It would be a great honor to have such a man live among them.
Juan and the tiger accompanied the delegation to the house. It was, indeed, a fine house. There were red flowers against the garden wall and shady trees. Wine and food were already on the pantry shelves. Juan sank into one of the chairs. Such a comfortable chair ! One could be happy just sitting in such a chair. The tiger stretched at his feet.
“It is a beautiful house,” said Juan.
The delegation was elated.
“Then you will stay?”
Juan made an indefinite gesture which seemed to satisfy them, for they left him alone in the house. Never had Juan expected to have such a grand home for himself and his friend.
All that night there was a fiesta, and Carlitos and Magdalena were king and queen. The people were gay and excited. A saint had come to dwell among them! Now fortune would surely smile on their village !
Finally the guitars and fiddles were silent. The last of the merrymakers had gone to their homes. Juan sat in his garden. The tiger came and put his head on his knee. This was nice. Here was peace. He had a house. Plenty of food for himself and his friend. And the people loved Rajah and brought him gifts.
But it wasn’t the village of his childhood that he had started out to visit. There were red flowers over the wall, but they weren’t the same. He wanted to go on until he reached the village he had come so far to find. But he feared that these people would not let him go. They wanted him to stay for ever and put his hands on the heads of babies that had fevers, and rub the stiff backs of old women and touch throats that were sore and limbs that ached. In no time an old man would be all tired out.
“Let us go on, my fren’,” he said to the tiger. “Let us go before the dawn comes and these good people try to stop us.”
Softly they stole through the sleeping streets. They climbed the steep hill that the road followed. When they gained the top, the “saint” and the great beast turned and looked for the last time on the little town. Then a very old man and a very old tiger went down the other side of the hill.