RECOLLECTIONS OF A LION TAMER 167
party. Hugged in the close embrace of the common enemy, I should soon have ceased to breathe: a few minutes more and it would have been all over with me ; but, summoning all my remaining strength, I hammered with my two strong fists on the brute's nostrils till the blood, flowing in torrents, blinded and bewildered him. Profiting by this state of affairs, I slipped from his grasp, and seizing a stout ash stick that stood handy, I belaboured him soundly, which speedily had the effect of calming him, and soon he was ambling sanctimoniously along as if nothing had happened.
All these accidents only increased my passionate love for my career. In answer to all remonstrances I maintained that having triumphed over so many perils I was bound to continue triumphing. But I reckoned without the little proverb of the pitcher that goes often to the well. One ill-fated day the forebodings of my friends (and also rivals) were fulfilled, and I made my last appearance as a lion tamer.
One hot July afternoon, at Neuilly, I perceived, as soon as I entered the menagerie, a certain excitability among the animals, about which, however, I did not excite or disturb myself, putting it down to some atmospheric cause, and feeling confident that, should any commotion take place, I should be able to quell it. The afternoon performance passed without a hitch; when the evening one began, I entered the cages as usual, and there passed tranquilly before me—each in his turn—the first, second, third, and fourth lions, and next, the two white bears. Finally, I was left alone with Sultan, the same who, a short while before, had devoured the arm of the unhappy cattle drover. He was a fine black African lion, eighteen years of age—the prime of life among his tribe. He could at no time truthfully be accused of good nature, and I perceived at once that evening that he was in one of his worst humours. When I ordered him to leap the bar, as usual, he