Mrs. Noah's Ark
Mrs. Noah's Ark
MRS. NOAH FIGTRY stood upon the huge front gallery, between the Doric columns of the "big house," her hands clasped beneath her blue gingham apron, dispiritedly regarding the main road, a hundred yards away. Her pursed New England lips expressed disapproval. It was March, and March is disconsolate enough anywhere, but the cold gray day made the down-at-the-heels plantation seem more ruinous than ever. Mrs. Noah was alone in temporary possession of the house, having come from New England to take charge during her son-in-law's absence. The prospect of two weeks' loneliness in this dreary environment was, to a person of her lively temperament, depressing.
"If the Lord would only send something interesting, I wouldn't mind, if it was only a plaid pig," she mused.
As if in answer to this prayer, at that moment a little procession appeared coming round a turn of the road. It was led by a pleasant-looking man in blue overalls, who guided with his hands the shafts of a highly decorated circus cage on gilded wheels, which was pushed by a solemn, wrinkled, muddy elephant, bending his forehead to the rear of the car. The beast was directed in his labors by a barelegged Oriental-looking person with a turban and white blouse, who walked alongside. Behind this group stalked a giraffe, who bore, seated perilously astride, a buxom, smiling woman of some forty years.
"For the land sakes!" Mrs. Noah ejaculated, "if that don't beat the Book of Revelation! I wonder if I'm dreamin' 'em, or are they really alive? If that ain't the tag-end of a circus, I never see a wild-beast show in my life. I do believe they're turnin' in here, and me in my apron and curl-papers!"
Directly in front of the door the elephant, at a word from his driver, stopped, and the procession came to a standstill. The woman slid gracefully down from her perch, with a sigh of relief; the man in blue overalls dropped his shafts and came up to the front steps, taking off his hat.
"Good afternoon," he said, politely. "Pretty muddy roads you have along here."
"What in the world did you bring them critters in here for?" was Mrs. Noah's rejoinder. "If you expect to set up a show in my front yard, I may as well tell you that it ain't worth the trouble. They ain't nobody here but me and the malaria."
"Lady, I'd like to introduce the Princess Ziffio, the snake-charmer and contortionist, and Ramo Bung, the elephant-driver, late of Sorrowtop's Circus," the man explained. "My name is Steggins, and I'm a lion-tamer from the same show."
"I'm proud to know you. It ain't often I meet celebrities in these parts," was Mrs. Noah's welcome, as she placidly awaited further developments.
"You see, it's this way, lady," Mr. Steggins went on, affably: "The show's bust up on account of a small financial difficulty, bringing on a seizure by the sheriff. Now, as me and my partners ain't been paid our salaries for two months, we just laid our hands on what we could find last night and are holding them as security for the money that's due us. It ain't our fault that the manager was crooked, and we don't propose to pay his debts; so what we want you to do is to let us hide the animals in your place until we can find a scow to take 'em down the river and sell 'em."
"What in the world do you mean?" Mrs. Noah exclaimed. "I ain't got any tent, nor even a barn. I'm real sorry for you, but I don't see what I can do—There's the old mill down by the river."
"That won't do at all," said Steggins, uneasily; "the sheriff will look there first thing. It ain't so easy to hide an elephant and a giraffe. We got to put 'em in some place where people won't be likely to suspect. See here; if you'll let us hide our property in your house for a week, we'll agree to pay you two hundred and fifty dollars as soon as we've sold the beasts."
"Why, you can't ever get that critter through the front door, much less upstairs," said Mrs. Noah, pointing to the elephant.
Ramo Bung now broke in excitedly. "Oh yes, yes!" he exclaimed; "it is a just perfection of sizes. You regard with pleasure?" He snatched a hoe from the ground by the front steps and applied it to the elephant's side in measurement. The creature was not a large one, being only one and a half hoe-handles in height. Running up to the double front doors, the Hindu demonstrated the possibility of entrance. "You accept the certainty? Even he can with kneeling crawl, I guiding in wisdom!"
Mrs. Noah Figtry had already rapidly estimated what two hundred and fifty dollars could do to improve her son-in-law's place. In an instant her mind was made up, her cool practical head defeated by her childlike emotions and kind, indulgent heart.
"Well," she said, "when Ebeneezer left I didn't calculate to take in no boarders, but if you think you can get that elephant into the parlor, I don't know but what I'll let you try it, just to see how you come out. I can't think what you can do with a giraffe, unless you put his head up a chimney somewheres. But perhaps he can be made to go in the bath-room with a little squeezin'. What you got in that bag, anyway? Looks like it was boilin'. I won't tolerate no rabbits! Of all things, I do hate a rabbit."
The Princess Ziffio was already loosening the ropes which bound the sack, and at this moment the mass fell to the ground and began to squirm convulsively.
"Snakes, I do declare! I can't abide snakes. I couldn't sleep a wink at night! You just take that bag of varmints as far away from the house as you can get it."
"Oh, he won't hurt you," asserted the Princess; "he's only a boy-constrictor, and he's got thawed out in the sun, that's all. We'll just put him in a cool place, and he won't give you a bit of trouble."
"There ain't no cellar to this house, and the coolest place I know is the ice-chest. He might possibly scrouge in there, though I can't say as I'd be at all easy in my mind about it. They ain't any lock on the door." Mrs. Noah was still holding her skirts raised, and kept at a safe distance.
Hardly had she said this, when a terrific and prolonged roar of blood-curdling intensity shook the shutters of the cage. Mrs. Noah was inside the house in an instant, behind barred doors. She re-appeared later at the parlor window, which she gently raised a quarter of an inch. "You never said nothin' about lions," she cried, hysterically. "I consider I'm doin' considerable to welcome an elephant into my front parlor, and a giraffe in the bath-room, but roarin' lions is altogether too much. You go along and don't bother me any more."
Mr. Steggins reassured her with a laughing voice. "Why, lady," he said, "Joshua wouldn't hurt a fly. He was born in captivity, and he's forty years old, without a tooth in his head. He's tame as a puppy. I can have him right in my room. He wouldn't roar if he wa'n't so hungry, but he hasn't been fed for two days, and then only bones and sawdust."
Mrs. Noah timidly emerged again. "You ain't got any seven-horned beasts or nothin', have you? That roar did give me a start, but I don't know but I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb if I've got to keep house for a whole menagerie. It does seem a shame to leave a dumb animal outside without a roof to help himself to, don't it? I'll go up and sit on the ridge-pole while you get that critter into the house; and mind you lock the door after him when you get him upstairs. I ain't goin' to be devoured by a ragin', rampin' lion at my time of life." At that she scurried up-stairs, and, a little later, appeared on the flat roof, from which post of security she surveyed the installation over the eaves.
One shutter was removed from the side of the cage, and Joshua—a tawny, dignified Numidian lion—was discovered, his eyes blinking with the unaccustomed glare. Into his den Steggins entered nonchalantly by a door in the rear, and threw a noose round the beast's neck. The lion arose and shook himself like a dog, and then, urged by a slap on the rump, slowly descended from the cage and was dragged unresistingly into the house.
Mrs. Noah, who had been gazing in terror, now breathed freer. After the interval her caution demanded she descended from the roof, and hurrying breathlessly down-stairs, joined the perspiring group on the portico. Princess Ziffio informed her that the serpent had already been safely removed to its new abode.
All the lighter pieces of furniture having been moved into the back room, proceedings were now begun with the elephant, who was manoeuvred clumsily up the creaking front steps under the guidance of Ramo Bung, who emitted a stream of directions in Hindustani. A violent percussion against the doorjambs, the crash of a newel-post, and the overturning of a hat-rack marked his progress into the front parlor, where he rested quietly, exploring the precincts within range of his trunk.
Only the giraffe now remained, patiently grazing on the Virginia creeper that grew over the columns.
His entrance was effected with a grotesque awkwardness that made Mrs. Noah laugh, in spite of her fear for the transom. His neck was bent stiffly down like a pump-handle by the weight of Steggins, who was forced to climb a chair to reach the animal's horns. But once inside the hallway, he was propelled rapidly, though reluctantly, into the bath-room. The upper sash of the window was dropped, and the animal took advantage of the aperture to gaze at the levee on the bank of the Mississippi, about a mile distant.
The four conspirators entered the house at last, fairly safe against discovery. The lion-tamer and the Hindu left to complete their preparations for the animals' comfort, while Mrs. Noah and Princess Ziffio set about getting dinner in the kitchen.
"Well," said the hostess, when the quartet was assembled about the dining-room table, "I've often seen 'Entertainment for Man and Beast' on tavern signboards, but the last thing I ever thought I'd be doin' was that! What do you feed the critters, anyway?"
"Those sucking-pigs will do just right for the lion. One a day is enough," Mr. Steggins said. "Hay or corn-husks for the elephant and giraffe."
"Do tell! Why, I thought you fed elephants on peanuts!" was Mrs. Noah's comment. She turned to the Princess: "What do you want to give your snake in the ice-box? Eggs, I s'pose."
"Oh, he won't need anything at all. He was fed only last New-year's day."
"My land! He'd make a prime husband for a lazy woman, wouldn't he?" said Mrs. Noah. Then she looked curiously at the woman.
"Whatever are you Princess of, anyway?" she inquired, regarding the snake-charmer's good-natured, stupid face, her heavy coils of straight black hair and the elaborate curl swinging over her nose. "I'd never suspect your father was a king, though they do say emperors and sultans and such are as thick as flies in August out in them heathen lands of Asia."
"Oh, Mr. Gentry, our advertising man, made up that name for me. I'm really Mrs. Bung. Ramo here is my husband, though we was married only last month."
Ramo Bung showed a score of glittering white teeth as he clasped his wife's fat, pudgy hand ecstatically. "Yes, yes, we are allies quite undoubtedly!" he proclaimed. "Even the honeymoon is not yet out, and our hearts are packed to tightening with quite absolute blisses!"
"By the way, don't you think you could get your elephant's feet out the side window, one at a time, and wash them off with a pail of water?" Mrs. Noah asked the Hindu, anxiously. "I'm afraid he's goin' to make dreadful unsightly work of that body-Brussels carpet in spite of the straw, stompin' around."
Ramo Bung bowed with immense deference. "It shall doubtless be experimented at, Mrs. Lady. I will be endeavoring to Jumbo the Junior with the next morning. He is being at this time unremittingly fastened against the leg of piano. Only to-night with careless training he shall acquire the machination of the folding-bed for helpfulness of myself. It can be opened and shut easily, assisted by proboscis, doubtlessly."
Steggins, who felt an unfeigned fondness for his own charge, now spoke up:
"Mrs. Figtry, you really ought to know Joshua better. You'd learn to like him like I do when you see how affectionate he is. Why, if you rub his neck, he'll purr like a kitten, and I'd sleep with him if only he didn't snore so. I left him all curled up on that four-post bed of yours, and I'll be darned if he didn't wave his paw at me like a baby when I left."
"I suppose lions ain't really no more than great big cats, after all," said Mrs. Noah, "but I never looked at 'em in that light before. I expect he might like some milk to-night. I could spare you a washbowl full just as well as not, if you promise he wouldn't spill it. I would like to have him get after the rats in the woodshed. They do beat all Greely out there."
The Hindu interposed excitedly. "Have a fear, have a fear!" he cried; "Jumbo the Junior is distracted of mice from out his brains, yes! Even in the number of one small mouse his insides turn, and he trumpets of extremest caution. Two mouses will he break his constriction—very so, indeed! How say further what mices of three will obtain by him? It is of fury certainly. I must be vigilant with candles all inside the night-time."
Mrs. Noah gasped. "Dear me suz!" she exclaimed, "elephants are just as bad as womenfolks, ain't they? I do hope he won't jump on that parlor table if he's frightened. They ain't nothin' can happen to your snake, is they?" she inquired of the Princess. "I do believe I left a lot of broilers in the ice-chest. Well, never mind; I expect they are about half a mile down his throat by this time."
After dinner, their extraordinary live stock having been fed and watered and the dishes washed, Mrs. Noah was persuaded to visit her four-footed guests. She waited outside the upper bedroom door until Steggins had entered, lighted a lamp, and tied the lion to the bedpost. Then she went in on tiptoe, as if visiting a sick-room, speaking in a hushed whisper.
"Well, of all things! Ain't he too cute for anything?" she said. "I never thought a wild lion could feel so much to home in a back bedroom."Joshua was crouching in a
kittenish pose upon the braided rag rug, lazily licking his paws. He raised his heavy head to blink with yellow eyes at his landlady.
"Well, as I'm a sinner, he's getting bald!" she exclaimed. "I'll bet a hairpin I could cure him and keep his mane from falling out!" In her interest she approached the brute fearlessly and laid a hand upon his neck. Joshua purred with a basso-profundo church-organ vibration. "Dandruff! I thought so. Looks like a snow-storm. Here, Mr. Steggins, you just reach me that bottle of Paderewski Hirsutine in the medicine-closet over your head, and I'll have a good growth of new hair started in less than a week. Say, does lion's hair ever turn gray? I've got some Brunette Rejuvenator that 'll fix his color just as natural as life. Or I don't know but what you'd call him a blond, after all. Seems to me he's kind o' betwixt an' between. He's sandy-complected, I should say." She regarded him judicially. "I believe I'll look up a ball of yarn for him to play with," she said, as she left. "I had no idea lions behaved so clever. Why, they're as much like folks as second cousins."
Her next visit was to the front parlor, where Jumbo Junior stood rocking to and fro like a ship at anchor in a swell, his lithe trunk questing the air with sinuous curves. He held it out to her inquisitively. She attempted to shake hands with him, but he drew back. "You ought to teach that critter better manners," she remarked to the Hindu. "Though, to be sure, I never did quite know whether an elephant's trunk was most like a hand or a nose. Will you look at them toe-nails! I do hope there aren't any of them ingrowin'. What does he want, anyway?"
Jumbo Junior himself answered her question by deftly removing her stick-pin from the front of her dress and carefully inserting it in the ceiling. After this, he waved his trunk aloft, broke a piece of glass from the hanging-lamp shade, and threw it on the floor.
"My stars and garters, ain't he sassy! Now I've always heard that elephants had more intelligence than all the other animals put together. You'd think he'd know he'd got to walk round this room barefoot. How much do you suppose he could lift?"
"Entire immenseness, past eight horse," said the Hindu. "In Cawnpore, I did see a lonesome elephant push a house downside."
Mrs. Noah gazed musingly upon the elephant's bulk: "I've often wished that piano could be moved into the back room, but these niggers here ain't no more use than woodchucks. If you want to give him a stint, there's lots of chores round the house he'll be real handy at. . . . But I expect you hadn't ought to require a parlor-boarder to exert himself too much. If he's cold in the night, I've got a spare bedspread up in the garret. Now try to shake hands again, Jumbo. You must act genteel when you're in my parlor." And after shaking the elephant's trunk cordially, she left the room.
Then she visited the giraffe in the bath-room. Accompanied by the Princess, she opened the door, to find the animal still standing at the window, gazing pensively out into the night. As they entered, the giraffe's head turned in their direction, and a pair of melting brown eyes gazed down at them. Her mouth opened and emitted a noise that was something between a wheeze and a whinny.
"Now I was afraid that giraffe was going to catch his death of cold!" cried Mrs. Noah, her quick benevolence instantly aroused.
The Princess Ziffio laughed. "Oh, Milly, she's all right. I reckon she just smells the hay, that's all."
"Hay-fever! Just what I thought! I can't see a dumb beast suffer under my roof. I've got some of Dr. Surenuff's Celebrated Specific handy, and I'm goin' to rub it on his throat. It may take
seven or eight bottles, but it's fortunate I've got plenty of it in the house. Just move in that step-ladder you'll see in the hall closet, please, and I'll go and get the remedy."
In a few minutes more she had mounted a somewhat unsteady perch and began to administer the lotion. "Strange how much this creature's eyes favor Lucy's," she said to herself, massaging energetically. "I always did admire brown eyes. Ebeneezer always used to say you can get a black eye too easy for 'em to be pretty. Lucy admires to get herself up in low-cut gowns; I s'pose she would even if she had a neck like this. Say, Princess, hand me up a couple of them crash bath-towels, will you? I think Milly ought to have a regular bandage. I'll take my needle and thread and sew 'em on good. Don't you think I might tie the top onto his horns so it won't slip down? Hold your head still, won't you, please! My land! the airs this critter puts on! Bridles like a girl of sixteen. There! I guess that 'll keep her from gettin' any worse. She does look ridiculous, don't she? If I once stop to laugh, I'll fall off this step-ladder."
The Princess gazed stolidly at the result. "You got an awful good heart, Mrs. Figtry," she said, "but I don't reckon dumb animals suffer much like us folks."
"What! With all that throat to be sore?" cried Mrs. Noah, descending the steps. "Don't you believe it! Animals have got organs and innerds just like ours. If you'd cleaned and drawn as many chickens as I have, you'd known that. Now what that animal wants is a good hot bath and then be well wrapped up. But I don't suppose we could get her in the tub; that zinc's too slippery; and then the water 'd never reach up beyond her knees, anyway. But I tell you what I'm goin' to do I'm goin' to fill a hot-water bottle and fasten it on this giraffe's chest. That 'll do more good than anything else. But where in the world her neck leaves off and her chest begins I'm jiggered if I can tell! I hope your snake won't get sick, Princess, for I consider I'd have to draw the line at reptiles. They don't hardly seem to deserve even pity from a Christian, but I hope I won't be tempted to allow him to suffer."
Mrs. Noah's ministrations were at last finished by means of a complicated net of tapes, and the two women bade the men good night and prepared for bed. Their repose was somewhat broken, however, by the snoring of the trio of quadrupeds. Joshua's almost continuous performance reverberated through the night. Occasionally the plaintive wheezing of the giraffe in the bath-room awoke Mrs. Noah, and she made several trips of visitation in her nightgown to renew the temperature of the hot-water bottle by means of an alcohol-lamp and a teakettle. The Princess, however, slept on serenely. A heavy jar at midnight and a rattle of window-panes at four o'clock in the morning marked the limits of Jumbo Junior's deep sleep. From the ice-chest no sound was heard.
So a few days passed, during which time Mr. Steggins scoured the neighborhood to find some raft or barge upon which to make his voyage to Memphis. During his absence his hostess's acquaintance with the three animals and the married couple progressed toward friendship.
A feature of Mrs. Noah's methodical habits was her diary—a small octavo bound in faded morocco—the week-days laboriously altered from 1887, the year of its publication, to the current calendar. A few excerpts from this volume would indicate the progress of events in her household:
"Tuesday, March 27.—Last night I heard Jumbo Junior whining in his sleep. Thought he might have a tuskache. Went down-stairs with a bottle of oil of clove and a wash-rag. Stepped on something at foot of stairs. Felt just like a big sausage, only more energetic. Screamed. The Princess (found out she really comes from Hoboken) come down in her shawl. It was the big snake. Sat on banisters while she gave it two soup-ladles full of soothing-syrup. Ramo came out in Ebeneezer's smoking-jacket and helped lift the snake into the ice-chest. Elephant didn't have toothache, after all."Wednesday, March 28.—Cloudy, S. W. wind. Giraffe still enjoying poor health. Tried hot applications and tied two pairs of bed-socks on her feet. Wrapped Ebeneezer's flannelette bathrobe round her shoulders. Found later
she had succeeded in getting a packet of pennyroyal, four moth-balls, and a cigar out of the left-hand pocket and was chewing them. Her swallow is 'way up on top of her neck, not half-way down as I naturally expected. Have been trying to teach Jumbo Junior to shake hands. He can drink a tumbler of molasses very nicely. Joshua's hair seems to be improving. Tried a little Hirsutine on his tail, at the end. He got into my room and woke me up at 3 A.M. Must have left his door open. Only two pigs left."
So a week passed without Mrs. Noah's interesting family having been discovered by the sheriff, and each day she became more fond of her new friends. She watched, as with a doting mother's eye, the improvement which she believed was apparent in Joshua's coat and the gentle Milly's voice, while Jumbo Junior's adaptability to instruction pleased her beyond words. The silent, inscrutable Princess baffled her, but the Hindu's vocabulary and diction kept her in a continual glee.
"Oh, there is so muchness!" cried Ramo Bung, when he was shown the Mississippi. "Oh, be astonished beyond utterness!"
And so, when at last Steggins procured a raft and moored it to the pier by the molasses-sheds, the kind-hearted hostess wiped away the tears that came to her eyes. The boa-constrictor she was indeed glad to be rid of, for it was the one cloud on her week of happiness, but when Milly's plaintive eyes had looked their last at her, and Joshua had been dragged, whining, aboard, it was all she could do to speak. It only remained for Jumbo Junior, of his own accord, to offer her his trunk for her to break down with emotion.
"I don't know when I've had such a pleasant time," she said. "I do hope you'll get to Memphis all right; and be sure and send me word how you get along and how Joshua stood the trip. Now here's four bottles of Smiley's Embrocation for Milly's neck and feet. Be sure you rub it well in, night and morning. If I only had a bottle of aconite pills, I'd like her to have them."
Steggins took her hand with a fierce grip. "Good-by, Mis' Figtry," he said. "You treated us square, and we'll treat you square. Just as soon as I get to Memphis and sell the animals I'll send you the money. You've been a good friend to Joshua, and he'll never forget you, I know."
Ramo Bung prostrated himself before her in an elaborate salaam. "Good-by with condescension," he cried. "Bung family are in salutement to your home with excellence. There is a doubtless explosion of violent heart on my interior. Ever so much blessing come against you."
"Well," said Mrs. Noah, "now you've found the way I hope you'll come again sometime. The world ain't such a big place but that we may meet again."
Mrs. Noah sobbed as she watched the little expedition sweep away. Then, just as they were abreast of the house, a long, muffled roar came to her over the rushing waters, as Joshua lifted up his voice in mournful lament. In spite of herself she smiled through her tears.
Soon the barge was far away, rapidly diminishing in the distance. When at last it drifted out of her sight she turned to her cook-stove and brewed a pot of strong tea.
"Well," she said over the third cup, "what can't be cured must be endured. I must say this place looks like Sam Patch in a hail-storm—I guess it 'll do me good to go to spring cleanin'!"
The month of April, a year later, found Mrs. Noah Figtry home again in Duxbury, immersed in the quiet of New England life. From the quaint collection of friends that she had made in Tennessee no word had come, except a draft for two hundred and fifty dollars and a short misspelled letter from Mr. Steggins, announcing their safe arrival in Memphis and subsequent sale of the animals, and employment by Wilder's Triplex Conglomeration.
It was with a feeling of keen disappointment, then, that, returning late one Saturday night from a week's visit in Boston, she learned that Wilder's circus had been in town. It was breaking camp that very night, and would on Sunday proceed to Plymouth. Mrs. Noah, eagerly interrogating her neighbors, found scant satisfaction in their reports. The show, it was true, boasted a small menagerie, including a lion, a giraffe, and two elephants, but it was not easy to identify the animals from the meagre descriptions she received."I should know Joshua anywhere by a scar on his left cheek," Mrs. Noah declared, "but as for Jumbo Junior and Milly, I ain't so sure I'd recognize them, unless I met a wheezing giraffe and an elephant that volunteered to shake hands with me. But it seems strange that nobody saw that mealy-mouthed Hindu and the snake-princess. As for Mr. Steggins, he ain't the kind of man that's likely to keep any job long, and maybe he's in Terra del Fuego by this time. Howsomever, I'm determined to go over
to Plymouth on Monday to see the show. I'll spear around, and if I don't see any folks or critters I know, I'll inquire. They say these show-people all know each other."
On Sunday morning Mrs. Noah Figtry proceeded decorously to church. As she approached the meeting-house, she observed an unusual stir amongst the villagers on the street, and upon the steps of the edifice were groups of church members excitedly discussing some surprising piece of news. A band of small boys charged by her on the run, their faces lighted by adventurous anticipation. Deftly capturing one by the arm, Mrs. Noah demanded information. The answer was sufficiently alarming. Wilder's Triplex Conglomeration, en route for Plymouth, had discovered that the door of the lion's cage had been left open and its occupant was missing. Somewhere between Kingston and Duxbury a lion was at large, and a party of searchers from the circus was now on the animal's trail.
The second bell had already rung, but no one felt in a devotional mood, and the minister himself soon came out to learn the latest developments of the situation. A dozen plans for the capture of the beast were offered and debated. Mrs. Noah, an acknowledged authority on lions, was at her best, and became the centre of an admiring audience, to whom she described, as one with experience, the power of the human eye, the influence of kindness.
She was in the midst of her discourse, when of a sudden came a chorus of shrieks from down the road. A stampede of small boys swept back towards the growing concourse of people, and a prolonged roar in the distance proclaimed that the approach of the lion was imminent. In an instant the street was cleared. The crowd scuttled into the church, slammed the doors, and flew to the windows. On the steps only the bolder members of the congregation remained, anxiously peering down the road. Amongst these men and boys Mrs. Noah stood calm and dignified, the only woman who dared venture out.
Then around the curve by the post-office came a galloping tawny brute, scattering the dust in clouds as he ran. The watchers on the church steps, terrified by the sight, burst inside the church, leaving Mrs. Noah alone to confront the situation. She grasped the handle of her parasol tighter, and waited with supreme confidence till the last possible moment. The lion had now settled into a stealthy trot, and seemed about to pass the building without molesting its occupants, when Mrs. Noah, who had been gazing intently at him, took a step forward.
"It is Joshua, as I live!" she exclaimed; "there's that selfsame scar on his cheek, I declare!"
At the sound of her voice the lion stopped immediately and stood, lashing his tail. Then his heavy muzzle was raised, his fangless jaws opened, and he emitted a mournful roar. Mrs. Figtry stood her ground.
"Joshua, Joshua," she called to him, as one calls to a stray poodle; "don't you know me, Joshua?" and she started down the steps.
From the windows and through a hazardous slit of half-opened door the astonished members of the congregation stared upon a marvel. They saw her boldly approach the beast and lay her hand calmly upon his head. They saw his bloodthirsty rage wilt into docility as Joshua recognized his former benefactor. One by one the church-goers crept out upon the steps to witness this unwonted scene, the men first, the women following, timid but curious, ready at a moment's notice to bolt back into their refuge.
"You needn't be a bit scared," Mrs. Noah was saying. "I'll tend to this lion," grabbing him by the ear and swinging him round. "He's all heat up, anyhow. Deacon Skinner, can't you let me take your overcoat to wrap him up with? This southwest wind isn't like what he's used to in the tropics of Sahara, and I'm afraid he'll catch cold, perspiring so."
She took the overcoat that was hesitatingly offered her, spread it carefully on Joshua's back, pinning the sleeves around his neck. Then she sat herself upon his hind quarters as he lay in the middle of the road, and proceeded to give further orders.
"Now, Deacon Skinner, I want you should bring your buggy round here. I've got to take this lion home. It wouldn't do for him to stay here, and if he walks I'm afraid he'll be run into by some team. He ain't much used to travellin' afoot."
Deacon Skinner was meekly obedient, and going round to the sheds, untied his horse and led him back. But at the first sight of the lion the horse became paralyzed with terror. Nothing could induce him to move forward. The dilemma seemed unsolvable. Mrs. Figtry looked up and down the road in despair. Then the rhythmic thud of machinery was heard as an automobile touring-car came rapidly towards them.
Without a word, but with lips compressed, Mrs. Figtry stepped directly into its path. There, holding her parasol in front of her, she opened and shut it rapidly, making frantic signals to the chauffeur. He came to a stop a few feet away from her. There was no one else in the car.
"See here," she cried to him; "can't you take me and this lion back to the circus in your steam-engine? It's nothing more nor less than cruelty to animals to let him stay here, and horses are scared to death of him." She paused for his reply.
The chauffeur, with a grin, pulled off his mask of goggles. It was Steggins. "Why, how-de-do, Mis' Figtry?" he cried. "I'm proud to see you! Step right in. I never calculated to see you or Joshua again, least of all together. Come, Joshua," he commanded.
At the sound of his master's voice the old lion leaped into the automobile. Here he was pushed into a back seat. Mrs. Figtry, after seeing that the overcoat was well wrapped about the animal's shoulders, got in beside him. In another instant the car had bounded off down the road. The awestruck congregation watched its heroine well round the turn and then filed in to church.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1951, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
Public domainPublic domainfalse