62 GERARD, THE LION HUNTER
After warm greetings, and some talk about general subjects and various travels and mutual friends, Dumas sat down to his writing table, drew a sheet of paper towards him, and taking up a pen, he said : ' Now, my dear Gerard, a hunt, come; anyone at haphazard from amongst your twenty-five lions—but a really fine lion, you know, not one of those you went to see at the Gardens, and which Amida took for sham lions ; but a great, roaring, magnificent lion of the Atlas.'
Gerard smiled, and turning towards Amida said a few words to him in his own language, as though consulting him on the choice of the story. Amida bent his head in assent. Then Gerard turned to Dumas, and in his calm, gentle voice began his story :
I had killed the lioness on the 19th of July, and from the 19th to the 27th I had searched in vain for the lion. I was in my tent with eight or ten Arabs, some my own men, the rest inhabitants of the settlement where I was. We were talking-----
' Why of lions, of course. When you are on a lion hunt, you naturally talk of nothing but lions. An old Arab was telling me a curious legend, several hundred years old, and of which a young girl of his tribe was the heroine.'
' And a lion the hero ? '
' Yes ; a lion.'
' Oh, pray let us hear the legend too,' cried Dumas.
' Very well, then,' said Gerard. ' Here it is :'—
Many centuries ago, there lived a young girl who was very proud and haughty. Not that she was in any way greater or richer than others. Her father had nothing but his tent, his horse and his gun; but she was very, very beautiful, and it was her beauty that made her so disdainful.
One day, when she went to the neighbouring forest to cut sticks, she saw a lion coming through the trees.