158 RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER
And so we went on, slowly travelling towards the south—each day each performance exactly like the preceding ; till at last a red-letter day dawned in my career. It happened at Bayonne, in this way : The performance was just about to begin, one afternoon, the band was tuning up, and the spectators were already assembling in crowds at the foot of the wooden steps leading to the arena, when the cry arose : ' Ather has escaped ! '
Now, Ather was a young royal tiger, noted, perhaps with some slight exaggeration, for his ferocity; the only one, in fact, of all our animals not a sluggard. Everyone had seen him prowling to and fro in his cage, rubbing himself against the bars, at times lashing his tail in a fury, while his bloodshot eyes darted flame and fire. In the menagerie he was tractable enough, but at liberty, out of doors—his prey all ready to hand—who could answer for the consequences ?
In one instant the public fled helter-skelter into the houses, up on the roofs, some even climbing the nearest trees. As for me, feeling that my long looked for opportunity had now arrived, I straightway set off on his track, under the burning afternoon sun. I had been a considerable time in his pursuit, when a window was cautiously opened, and a voice said, almost in a whisper ; ' He is there ;' while a hand pointed to the half-open door of a locksmith's workshop, which, in contrast to the brilliant sunshine outside, seemed a cavern of darkness. In I plunged—at first I saw nothing ; but after a few seconds, becoming accustomed to the darkness, I perceived the fugitive, with flaming eye and slavering jaws, crouching in a corner all ready to spring. Another instant and he would leap on me, seize, and rend me. I forestalled him, however, and it was I who leapt upon him ! What a combat ensued ! what roaring, raging, foaming, scratching! Fortunately it was of short duration, or it would have been all over with me.
Seizing him with my large, strong hands by the scruff