Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Love Among the Lions - A Matrimonial Experience
Author: Anstey, F., 1856-1934
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Love Among the Lions - A Matrimonial Experience" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



    LOVE AMONG THE LIONS

    A MATRIMONIAL EXPERIENCE

    BY F. ANSTEY
    AUTHOR OF "VICE VERSA," ETC.


    LONDON
    J. M. DENT & CO.
    29 & 30 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.



    List of Illustrations


                                                         Page

    The exquisite face looking out over the wire blind      4

    Æneas Polkinghorne                                      5

    Still I persevered                                      9

    The Introduction of Mr Blenkinsop to Miss
        Lurana de Castro                                   12

    "And whom should I marry, Mr Blenkinsop?"              18

    "Let us be married in the Lion's Cage"                 26

    "Yes, papa, we are a little late"                      31

    "First-rate idea of yours, Blenkinsop"                 33

    "Well, if the lady's as game as she seems, and
        the gentleman likewise, I don't see any
        objection"                                         41

    We were still chatting when Laurana returned           43

    A Cleric of the broad-minded school                    51

    "If you go on like that I shall begin to think
        you want to frighten me"                           55

    Mademoiselle                                           63

    "A de Castro can never marry a Craven"                 73

    "If them two got together, there'd be the doose's
    delight"                                               79

    I was forlornly mopping when Niono returned            82

    My wedding toilette was complete                       87

    It's a swindle                                         91

    A kind of small procession entered the arena           95

    Then he addressed the audience                        101

    "If only you had been firmer, Theodore"               113



Love among the Lions



PART I


In the following pages will be found the only authentic account of an
affair which provided London, and indeed all England, with material
for speculation and excitement for a period of at least nine days.

So many inaccurate versions have been circulated, so many ill-natured
and unjust aspersions have been freely cast, that it seemed advisable
for the sake of those principally concerned to make a plain
unvarnished statement of the actual facts. And when I mention that I
who write this am the Theodore Blenkinsop whose name was, not long
since, as familiar in the public mouth as household words, I venture
to think that I shall at once recall the matter to the shortest
memory, and establish my right to speak with authority on the
subject.

At the time I refer to I was--and for the matter of that still
am--employed at a lucrative salary as taster to a well-known firm of
tea-merchants in the City. I occupied furnished apartments, a
sitting-room and bedroom, over a dairy establishment in Tadmor
Terrace, near Baalbec Road, in the pleasant and salubrious district of
Highbury.

Arrived at the age of twenty-eight, I was still a bachelor and had
felt no serious inclination to change my condition until the memorable
afternoon on which the universe became transformed for me in the
course of a quiet stroll round Canonbury Square.

For the information of those who may be unacquainted with it, I may
state that Canonbury Square is in Islington; the houses, though
undeniably dingy as to their exteriors, are highly respectable, and
mostly tenanted by members of the medical, musical, or scholastic
professions; some have balconies and verandahs which make it
difficult to believe that one has not met them, like their occupiers,
at some watering place in the summer.

The square is divided into two by a road on which frequent tramcars
run to the City, and the two central enclosures are neatly laid out
with gravelled paths and garden seats; in the one there is a dovecot,
in the other there are large terra-cotta oil-jars, bringing
recollections of the Arabian Nights and the devoted Morgiana.

All this, I know, is not strictly to the point, but I am anxious to
make it clear that the locality, though not perhaps a chosen haunt of
Rank and Fashion, possesses compensations of its own.

Strolling round Canonbury Square, then, I happened to glance at a
certain ground floor window in which an art-pot, in the form of a
chipped egg hanging in gilded chains and enamelled shrimp-pink, gave a
note of femininity that softened the dusty severity of a wire blind.

Under the chipped egg, and above the top of the blind, gazing out with
an air of listless disdain and utter weariness, was a lovely vivid
face, which, with its hint of pent-up passion and tropical languor, I
mentally likened to a pomegranate flower; not that I have ever seen a
pomegranate flower, though I am more familiar with the fruit--which,
to my palate, has too much the flavour of firewood to be wholly
agreeable--but somehow it seemed the only appropriate comparison.

[Illustration: The exquisite face looking out over the wire blind.]

After that, few days passed on which I did not saunter at least once
round the square, and several times I was rewarded by the sight of
that same exquisite face, looking out over the wire blind, always
with the same look of intense boredom and haughty resentment of her
surroundings--a kind of modern Mariana, with an area to represent the
moat.

[Illustration: Æneas Polkinghorne.]

I was hopelessly in love from the very first; I thought of nothing but
how to obtain admission to her presence; as time went on, I fancied
that when I passed there was a gleam of recognition, of half-awakened
interest in her long-lashed eyes, but it was difficult to be certain.
On the railing by the door was a large brass plate, on which was
engraved: "Æneas Polkinghorne, Professor of Elocution. Prospectus
within." So I knew the name of my divinity. I can give no greater
indication of the extent of my passion, even at this stage, than by
saying that I found this surname musical, and lingered over each
syllable with delight.

But that brought me no nearer to her, and at last a plan occurred to
me by which the abyss of the area that separated us might possibly be
bridged over. Nothing could be simpler than my device--and yet there
was an audacity about it that rather startled me at first. It was
this: the brass plate said "Prospectus within." Very well, all I had
to do was to knock boldly and ask for one, which, after some natural
hesitation, I did.

Any wild hope of obtaining an interview with Miss Polkinghorne was
doomed to instant disappointment. I was received by the Professor
himself, a tall, stout, flabby person, with sandy hair combed back
over his brow and worn long behind, who showed a most sympathetic
interest in me, inquiring whether I wished to be prepared for the
Church, the Stage, or the Bar, or whether I had any idea of entering
Parliament. I fear I allowed him to suppose the latter, although I am
about as likely to get into Parliament as into an imperial pint
measure; but I had to say something to account for my visit, and the
tea-trade does not call for much in the way of oratorical skill from
its votaries.

Our interview was brief, but I came away, not only with a prospectus,
but with tickets, for which I paid cash, entitling me to a course of
six lessons in elocution.

This was rather more than I had calculated upon--but, at least, it
gave me the _entrée_ to the house, and it might lead to something
more.

It did not seem as if it was going to lead to much; the Professor's
method of teaching was peculiar: he would post me in a study at the
back of the house, where I was instructed to declaim some celebrated
oration at the top of my voice while he retired upstairs to discover
how far my voice would carry.

After twenty minutes or so he would return with the information, which
I have no reason to disbelieve, that he had not heard a single word
above the first landing.

Still I persevered, sustained by the thought that, when I was
delivering the oration of Brutus over Cæsar, or the famous passage
about the Queen of France and the "ten thousand swords leaping from
their scabbards," my words might perchance reach Miss Polkinghorne's
ear and excite in her a passing emotion.

But I came to the end of my tickets and still I was as far as ever
from my goal, while the exertion of shouting had rendered me painfully
husky.

[Illustration: Still I persevered.]

Yet I would not give in; I set myself to gain the Professor's good
opinion; I took more tickets. It was not till after I had run through
these that I ascertained, by an apparently careless inquiry, that
there was no such person as Miss Polkinghorne--the Professor was a
widower and had never had a daughter!

The thought that I had wasted so much time and money for nothing was
bitter at first, and I very nearly decided to discontinue my studies
there and then. But I conquered my feelings. Though the Professor was
no relation to this young lady, he must know her name, he must be able
to give me some information about her; a little judicious pumping
might render him communicative.

"My dear Sir," he said, after I had been beating about the bush for
some time with cautious delicacy, "I think I understand. You are
anxious to make this young lady's acquaintance with a view to paying
your addresses to her? Is not that so?"

I confessed that he had managed to penetrate my motives, though I
could not imagine how.

"You will not be the first who has sought to win Lurana's
affections," he said; "more than one of my pupils--but the child is
ambitious, difficult to please. Unfortunately, this is your final
lesson--otherwise I might, after preparing the ground, so to say, have
presented you to her, and I daresay she would have been pleased to
give you a cup of tea occasionally after your labours. Indeed, as Miss
Lurana de Castro's stepfather, I can answer for that--however, since
our acquaintance unhappily ceases here----"

It did not cease there; I took another dozen tickets at once, and if
even Polkinghorne had sounded sweetly to my enamoured ear, you may
conceive what enchanting melody lay in a name so romantic and so
euphonious as Lurana de Castro.

The Professor was as good as his word; at the end of the very next
lesson I was invited to follow him to the drawing-room, where I found
the owner of the brilliant face that had so possessed me seated at her
tea-table.

She gave me a cup of tea, and I can pay her witchery no higher
compliment when I state that it seemed to me as nectar, even though
my trained palate detected in it an inartistic and incongruous blend
of broken teas, utterly without either style or quality. I am not sure
that I did not ask for another.

[Illustration: The Introduction of Mr Blenkinsop to Miss Lurana de
Castro.]

She was astonishingly lovely; her Spanish descent was apparent in her
magnificent black tresses, lustrous eyes, and oval face of olive
tinted with richest carmine. As I afterwards learnt, she was the
daughter of a Spanish Government official of an ancient Castilian
family, who had left his widow in such straitened circumstances that
she was compelled to support herself by exhibiting performing mice and
canaries at juvenile parties, until she met and married the Professor,
who at that time was delivering recitations illustrated by an
oxy-hydrogen lantern.

The second marriage had not been altogether a success, and, now that
the Professor was a widower, I fancy that his relations with his
imperious stepdaughter were not invariably of the most cordial nature,
and that he would have been grateful to any one who succeeded in
winning her hand and freeing him from her sway.

I did not know that then, however, though I was struck by the
deferential politeness of his manner towards her, and the alacrity
with which, after he had refreshed himself, he shuffled out of the
room, leaving Lurana to entertain me single-handed.

That first evening with her was not unmixed joy. I had the
consciousness of being on trial. I knew that many had been tried and
found wanting before me. Lurana's attitude was languid, indifferent,
almost disdainful, and when I went away I had a forlorn conviction
that I should never again be asked to tea with her, and that the last
series of tickets represented money absolutely thrown away!

And yet I _was_ asked again--not only once, but many times, which was
favourable as far as it went, for I felt tolerably certain that the
Professor would never have ventured to bring me a second time into his
daughter's presence, unless he had been distinctly given to understand
that my society was very far from distasteful to her.

As I grew to know her better, I learnt the secret of her listlessness
and discontent with life. She was tormented by the unbounded ambitions
and the distinct limitations which embitter existence for so many
young girls of our day.

The admiration which her beauty excited gave her little satisfaction;
such social success as Highbury or Canonbury could offer left her cold
and unmoved. She was pining for some distinction which should travel
beyond her own narrow little world, and there did not seem to be any
obvious way of attaining it. She would not have minded being a popular
author or artist--only she could find nothing worth writing about, and
she did not know how to draw; she would have loved to be a great
actress--but unfortunately she had never been able to commit the
shortest part to memory, and the pride of a de Castro forbade her to
accept anything but leading _rôles_.

No wonder that she was devoured by dulness, or that there were moments
when she beat her pinions like some captive wild bird against the cage
of her own incompetence. Even I, although fairly content with my lot,
would sometimes flap my own wings, so to speak, from sheer sympathy.

"It's maddening to be a nobody!" she would declare, as she threw
herself petulantly back in her chair, with her arms raised behind her
and her interlaced fingers forming a charming cradle for her head--a
favourite attitude of hers. "It does seem so stupid not to be
celebrated when almost everybody is! And to think that I have a friend
like Ruth Rakestraw, who knows ever so many editors and people, and
could make me famous with a few strokes of the pen--if only I did
something to give her the chance. But I never _do_!"

Miss Rakestraw, I should explain, was an enterprising young lady
journalist, who contributed society news and "on dits" to the leading
Islington and Holloway journals, and was understood to have had
"leaderettes" and "turnovers" accepted by periodicals of even greater
importance.

"If only," Lurana burst out on one of these occasions, "if only I
could do something once which would get my name into all the papers,
set everybody thinking of me, talking of me, staring after me wherever
I went, make editors write for my photograph, and interviewers beg for
my biography, I think I should be content."

I made the remark, which was true but not perhaps startling in its
originality, that fame of this kind was apt to be of brief duration.

"What should I care?" she cried; "I should have _had_ it. I could keep
the cuttings; they would always be there to remind me that once at
least--but what's the use of talking? I shall never see my name in all
the papers. I know I shan't!"

"There _is_ a way!" I ventured to observe; "you might have your name
in all the papers, if you married."

"As if I meant _that_!" she said, with a deliciously contemptuous
pout. "And whom should I marry, if you please, Mr Blenkinsop?"

"You might marry me!" I suggested humbly.

"You!" she retorted. "How would _that_ make me a celebrity. You are
not even one yourself."

[Illustration: "And whom should I marry, Mr Blenkinsop?"]

"I do not care to boast," I said, "but it is the simple fact that
nobody in the entire tea-trade has a palate approaching mine for
keenness and delicacy. Ask any one and they will tell you the same."

"You may be the best tea-taster in the world," she said, "but the
purity of your palate will never gain you a paragraph in a single
society paper. And even if it did, what should _I_ gain? At the best
a reflected glory. I want to be a somebody myself!"

"What's the use of trying to make ourselves what we are not?" I broke
out. "If Fate has made us wooden ninepins in the world's nursery, we
may batter our head against the walls as much as we like--but we can
never batter it into a profile!"

I thought this rather neatly put myself, but it did not appeal to Miss
de Castro, who retorted with some asperity that I was the best judge
of the material of my own head, but hers, at least, was not wooden,
while she had hitherto been under the impression that it already
possessed a profile--such as it was.

She could not be brought to understand that I was merely employing a
metaphor, and for the remainder of the evening her demeanour was so
crushingly chilling, that I left in the lowest spirits, persuaded that
my unlucky tongue had estranged me from Lurana for ever.

For some time I avoided Canonbury Square altogether, for I felt
unequal to facing an elocution lesson unrecompensed by tea with Miss
de Castro, and the halfhour or more of delightful solitude _à deux_
which followed the meal--for it had never occurred to the Professor to
provide his stepdaughter with a chaperon.

At last, when on the verge of despair, hope returned in the form of a
little note from Lurana, asking whether I was dead, and inviting me,
if still in existence, to join a small party to visit the World's Fair
at the Agricultural Hall the next evening, and return to supper
afterwards at Canonbury Square, an invitation which, need I say, I
joyfully accepted.

We were only four; Miss Rakestraw and her _fiancé_, a smart young
solicitor's clerk, of the name of Archibald Chuck, whose employer had
lately presented him with his articles; myself, and Lurana. The
Professor was unable to accompany us, having an engagement to read
"Hiawatha" to a Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society that evening.

Part of the hall was taken up by various side-shows,
shooting-galleries, and steam merry-go-rounds, which produced a
discordant and deafening din until a certain hour of the evening, when
the noises subsided, and Wooker and Sawkins' World-renowned Circus
gave a performance in the arena, which occupied the centre.

Miss Rakestraw's connection with the Press procured us free passes to
the reserved seats close to the ring; my chair was next to Lurana's,
and she was graciously pleased to ignore our recent difference. The
entertainment was of the usual variety, I suppose; but, to tell the
truth, I was so absorbed in the bliss of being once more by her side
and watching her face, which looked more dazzling than ever through
the delicate meshes of her veil, that I have the vaguest recollection
of the earlier items of the programme.

But towards the close there came a performance which I have good
reason to remember.

An enormous elephant entered the circle, drawing a trolley, upon which
was an iron cage containing forest-bred African lions. After the
electric globes had been lowered, so as to illuminate the interior,
"Niono, the Lion King," a dapper, wellmade man, of very much my own
height and figure, so far as I could judge, went into the cage and put
the animals through various exercises. Niono was succeeded by Mlle.
Léonie, the "Circe of the Carnivora," a pretty Frenchwoman, who, as it
seemed to me, surpassed him in coolness and daring. There was nothing
disagreeably sensational about the exhibition; all the animals were
evidently under perfect control; the huge, black-maned lions leaped
through paper hoops and blazing circles without the slightest loss of
either temper or dignity; the females followed obediently. Only one
lioness showed any disposition to be offensive, and _she_ did not
venture to go beyond yawning ostentatiously whenever Mlle. Léonie's
eye was upon her.

Altogether it was, as I remarked to Lurana at the time, a wonderful
instance of the natural dominion of man over the animal world. She
enthusiastically commended the symmetry of Mr Niono's figure, which
did not strike me as so very much above the average; and to pique her,
I expressed equal admiration for Mlle. Léonie, and was gratified to
observe unmistakable signs of jealousy on Lurana's part. But we were
both agreed that the profession of lion-taming looked more dangerous
than it actually was, and Archibald Chuck mentioned that some townsman
in the provinces had, for a very trifling wager, entered a den of
lions in a travelling menagerie with perfect impunity. Miss Rakestraw
capped this by a case from America, in which a young couple had
actually chosen a lion's cage to be married in, though she admitted
that the story was possibly a fabrication.

I walked back with Lurana alone, as we somehow lost sight of Mr Chuck
and his _fiancée_ in the crush going out, and on the way home I could
not refrain from pleading my cause once more. I told her how I had
loved her at first sight, and how many elocution lessons I had endured
for her sake; I pointed out that I was already receiving a salary
sufficient to maintain a wife in comfort, if not luxury; and that her
married life could hardly be more monotonous and uncongenial than her
present existence.

She listened attentively, as if moved. Presently she said, "Theodore,
I will be perfectly frank. I do like you; I believe I could even love
you. But I have Spanish blood in my veins. I could never be satisfied
with a humdrum conventional marriage."

I was inexpressibly shocked. I had no idea that her views were so
emancipated.

"Lurana," I said, "believe me, never mind what the lady novelists say
against marriage; it may have its disadvantages, but, after all, as
society is constituted----"

"You don't understand," she said. "I am not opposed to marriage--with
a man who is willing to make some concession, some slight sacrifice,
to gratify me. But are you that _kind_ of man, Theodore, I wonder?"

I saw that she was already beginning to yield. "I would do
anything--anything in the world you bid me," I cried, "if only you
will be my wife, Lurana."

"I should ask you to do nothing that I am not perfectly prepared to do
myself," she said. "A temporary inconvenience, a risk which is the
merest trifle. Still, you may think it too much, Theodore."

"Name it," I replied. "The opportunities which the tea trade affords
for the cultivation of heroism are rare; but there are few risks that
I would shrink from running with you."

"It is only this," she said. "I don't want a commonplace wedding. I
want one that will be talked about and make a sensation. Will you let
me be married in my own way?"

I was rather relieved by what seemed so moderate a demand. "Certainly,
darling," I said; "we will be married in Westminster Abbey, by the
Archbishop of Canterbury, if you wish it, and it can be arranged. What
matter where or how the ceremony take place, or what it costs,
provided it makes you mine for ever?"

[Illustration: "Let us be married in the Lion's Cage."]

"Then, Theodore," she said, pressing my arm impulsively with her slim
fingers, while the rays of a street lamp in the square fell on her
upturned face and shining eyes, "let us be married at the Agricultural
Hall--in the Lions' Cage!"

I confess to being considerably startled. I had expected something
rather out of the common, but nothing in the least like this.

"In the lions' cage!" I repeated, blankly. "Wouldn't that be rather
_smelly_, Lurana? And, besides, the menagerie people would never lend
it for such a purpose. Where would they put the lions, you know?"

"Why, the lions would be _there_, of course," she said, "or else
there'd be nothing in it."

"If I am to be married in a lion-cage," I said, with a very feeble
attempt at levity, "I should very much prefer that there _was_ nothing
in it."

"Ah, you may laugh, Theodore!" she said, "but, after all your
professions, surely you won't refuse the very first indulgence I ask!
You may think it a mere whim, a girlish caprice; but understand
this--I am thoroughly in earnest about it. If you are willing to marry
me as I wish, the wedding may be as soon as ever you please. But if
not, tell me so plainly, and let us part for ever. Either I will be
married in my own way, or not at all."

What could I do? It was simply impossible to give her up now, the very
moment after she was won. And to lose her for such a mere punctilio;
for, of course, this condition of hers was too fantastic to be
practicable; the Professor would certainly refuse his consent to so
eccentric a ceremony; Lurana herself would probably realise before
long the absurdity of the idea. In the meantime, as her acknowledged
_fiancé_, I should have the immense advantage of being on the spot
when she returned to a more reasonable frame of mind.

So I gave way, and assured her that I had no personal objection to
lions, and would as soon be married in their presence as elsewhere,
provided that we could obtain the necessary permission; and even if I
had thought this more probable than I did, I believe--so potent was
the witchery of Lurana's voice and eyes--I should have said precisely
the same.

"Dearest Theodore!" she murmured, "I never really doubted you. I felt
so sure that you would be nice and sympathetic about it. If we
couldn't agree about such a trifling thing as where we are to be
married, we _should_ be unsuited to one another, shouldn't we? Now we
will just walk round the square once more, and then go in and tell the
others what we have arranged."

They had sat down to supper when we entered, and the Professor cast a
glance of keen inquiry through his spectacles at us, over the cold
beef and pickles with which he was recruiting his energies after
"Hiawatha."

"Yes, papa," said Lurana, calmly, "we _are_ a little late; but
Theodore has been asking me to marry him, and I have said I would."

There was an outburst of congratulations from Miss Rakestraw and
Chuck. Old Polkinghorne thought fit to conceal his joy under a cloak
of stagey emotion. "Well, well," he said, "it is Nature's law; the
young birds spread their wings and quit the warm nest, and the old
ones are left to sit and brood over the past. I cannot blame you,
child. As for _you_, my boy," he added, extending a flabby hand to me,
"all I can say is, there is no one to whom I would so willingly
surrender her."

There was scarcely any one to whom, in my opinion, he would _not_
surrender her with the utmost alacrity, for, as I have already hinted,
Lurana, with all her irresistible fascination, had a temper of her
own, and was apt to make the parental nest a trifle _too_ warm for the
elder bird occasionally.

[Illustration: "Yes, papa, we are a little late."]

"And when am I to lose my sunbeam?" he asked. "Not _just_ yet?"

"Theodore wishes to have the marriage as soon as possible," said
Lurana, "by special licence."

"Have you settled where?" inquired Miss Rakestraw, with feminine
interest in such details.

"Well," said Lurana slowly, evidently enjoying the effect she was
producing, "Theodore and I have quite made up our minds to be married
at the Menagerie--in the den of lions."

"How splendid!" exclaimed the lady journalist. "It's never been done
over here. _What_ a sensation it will make! I'll do a full descriptive
report for all my papers!"

"That's what I call a real sporting way of getting spliced," said
Chuck. "Only wish I'd thought of it myself before I had our banns put
up, Ruth. First-rate idea of yours, Blenkinsop."

"Of course," I said, "if the Professor thinks it in the least
unsafe----"

[Illustration: "First-rate idea of yours, Blenkinsop."]

"Oh, it's safe enough," put in Chuck, who was a little too apt to
volunteer his opinion. "Why, we've seen the lions, Professor; they're
as quiet as lambs. And anyway, they'd have the lion-tamer in with
them, you know. _They'll_ be all right!"

"I think," said the Professor, "we may disregard the danger; but the
expense--have you thought what it will cost, Theodore?"

"I have not," I said, "not till you mentioned it. It will probably be
enormous, more than I could possibly afford--unless you are ready to
go halves?" I concluded, feeling perfectly certain that he was ready
to do nothing of the sort.

"But look here," said Chuck, "why should it cost you anything? If you
go the right way about it, you ought to get all your expenses paid by
the circus, and a share of the gate-money into the bargain."

"Oh, Mr Chuck!" cried Lurana, "_how_ clever of you to think of that!
_wasn't_ it, Theodore?"

I could have kicked Chuck, but I said it was a stroke of positive
genius.

"That's simple enough," he said. "The rock _I_ see ahead is getting
the special licence. You see, if you want to marry anywhere else than
in a certified place of worship or a registry office, you must first
satisfy the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Surrogate, or whoever the
old Josser is at Doctors' Commons who looks after these things, that
it's a 'convenient place' within the Marriage Act of 1836. Now, the
point is, _will_ a cage of lions strike them as coming under that
description?"

If it should, the ecclesiastical notions of convenience must be more
than peculiar. For the first time I realised what an able fellow Chuck
was.

"My dear Chuck!" I said, "what a marvellous knowledge you have of law!
You've hit the weak spot. It would be perfectly hopeless to make such
an application. It's a pity, but we must give it up, that's all--we
must give it up."

"Then," said Lurana, "we must give up any marriage at all, for I
certainly don't intend to marry anywhere else."

"After all," said the irrepressible Chuck, "all you need apply for is
a licence to marry in the Agricultural Hall; they won't want to know
the exact spot. I tell you what, you go and talk it over with the
circus people and fix the day, and I'll go up to Doctors' Commons and
get round 'em somehow. You leave it to me."

"Do you know," said the Professor, beaming, "I really begin to think
this idea of yours can be carried out quite comfortably after all,
Theodore. It certainly has the attraction of novelty, besides being
safe, and even, it may be, remunerative. To a true lover, a lions'
cage may be as fit a temple of Hymen as any other structure, and their
roars be gentle as the ring-dove's coo. Go and see these people the
first thing tomorrow, and no doubt you will be able to come to terms
with them."

This I agreed to do, and Lurana insisted on coming with me. Miss
Rakestraw was in ecstasies over our proposal, and undertook to what
she called "boom the wedding for all it was worth" in every paper with
which she had any connection, and with other more influential organs
to which the possession of such exclusive intelligence as hers would
procure her the _entrée_.

By the end of the evening she had completely turned Lurana's head, and
even I myself was not quite untouched by the general enthusiasm. It
seemed to me that being married in a den of lions might not be such
bad fun after all.

When I awoke next morning with the dawning recollection of what I was
in for, the glamour had in a great measure departed from the idea,
which seemed to me at best but a foolish piece of bravado. It had been
arranged that I should call for Lurana immediately after breakfast,
and interview the circus proprietors on my way to business, and I
rather expected to find that the night had borne counsel to her as
well as myself; but she was in exuberant spirits, and as keen about
the project as ever, so I thought it better not to betray that my own
ardour had abated.

But what, after all, were we going to request? That these people
should allow their lions to be inconvenienced, quite unnecessarily, by
a wedding in their cage between two perfect strangers who had all
London to choose from!

I believed that they would decline to entertain the suggestion for a
moment, and, if so, I could not blame them. I felt that they would
have both right and reason on their side.

On arriving at the Hall, we inquired for Mr Wooker or Mr Sawkins, and
were requested to wait, which we did in a draughty passage smelling
strongly of stables, while loud snorting and wheezing reached our ears
from the arena, where they seemed to be exercising the circus stud.

At last we were told that Mr Sawkins would see us (I don't know to
this day whether Mr Wooker had any real existence or not), and were
shown up to his office, which did not differ from any other office,
except that it had a gaudy circus poster and a bill announcing the
sale by auction of some rival menagerie pinned against the wall. As
for Mr Sawkins, he was a florid, jowly man, with the remnants of his
hair dyed and parted down the middle, a kind of amalgam of a country
job-master and the dignified person who bows customers into chairs in
a fashionable draper's establishment.

He heard Lurana, who acted as spokeswoman, with magisterial gravity,
and, to my surprise, without appearing to regard us as a pair of
morbid maniacs.

"There's no denying," he said, "that the thing would draw if properly
billed, always supposing, mind you, that it's capable of being done at
all. And the only person able to give an opinion about that is Mr
Onion, the gentleman," he explained, "who is our Lion King. He spells
his name 'Niono' professionally, which gives it more of an African
flavour, if you follow my meaning. I'll call down the tube for him."

I awaited Mr Onion's arrival with impatience. He presently made his
appearance in a short-braided tunic, with black lamb's wool round the
collar and cuffs. By daylight his countenance, though far from
ill-looking, was sallow and seamed; there was a glance of admiration
in his bold, dark eyes as they rested on Lurana's spirited face.

"Well," he decided, after the case had been explained to him, "if the
lady's as game as she seems, and the gentleman likewise, _I_ don't see
any objection. Along with _me_, there'll be no more danger than if it
was a cage of white mice--provided you've the nerve for it."

Lurana said proudly that her own mother had been an accomplished
animal trainer--she did not mention the kind of animals--and that she
herself was quite incapable of being afraid of a lion.

[Illustration: "Well, if the lady's as game as she seems, and the
gentleman likewise, I don't see any objection."]

"If you've _got_ nerve," said Mr Niono, "you're right enough, but you
can't _create_ it; it's a gift. Take _me_. I'm hardly ever away from
my animals. I get downright impatient for every performance. But if
ever I got the feeling that I was _afraid_ of them lions or they
weren't afraid o' me, do you think I'd trust myself inside that cage?
No fear! They've left their marks on me as it is--my 'trade marks,' as
I call 'em--see!" and here he bared his arm and exhibited some fearful
scars; "but that's affection, that is."

He then offered to introduce us to his pets, and I should have
accompanied Lurana to see the cage, only on the way we met Mlle.
Léonie, to whom Mr Sawkins presented me, and, naturally, I was
compelled to stop. She was a piquant-looking woman, not quite in her
first youth, perhaps, but still attractive, and with the
indescribable, airy grace of a Parisian, though I believe she came
from Belgium. Mademoiselle was charmed with our project, complimented
me upon my Britannic phlegm, and predicted that I should find the
little experience "all," as she put it, "that there was of the most
agreeable," which I devoutly hoped would be the case.

[Illustration: We were still chatting when Laurana returned.]

We were still chatting when Lurana returned, enraptured with the
lions, one of whom had actually allowed her to tickle him behind the
ear. Niono testified that _her_ nerve, at all events, was beyond
question. She was anxious that I should go and tickle the lion, too;
but this I declined, being occupied in talking to Mlle. Léonie at the
time.

"There's one thing," said Mr Sawkins later, as we were discussing the
arrangements, "we shouldn't object to paying for the special licence;
but where are you going to find a parson to marry you? You must have a
parson of _some_ sort, you know."

Again Fate seemed to have interposed an insurmountable barrier between
us and our desire. I had to admit that it would be difficult, if not
impossible, to find a clergyman courageous enough to enter the cage
with us.

"Well, there's no call for him to be _inside_ of it," said Mr Niono,
who was with us, heart and soul, by this time. "In fact, the lady and
yourself are about as many as I could undertake to be answerable for.
We could rig him up a perch outside to read the service from,
comfortable."

Even so, I said, I was afraid that it was hardly a service one could
ask any divine to perform.

"I know a party who'd jump at it," said Mr Niono, who was full of
resource. "The Reverend Skipworth. _You_ know who I mean, Sawkins.
Little chap in a check suit and goggles I introduced to you at the bar
the other evening--always dropping in, he is. He'd do it, just for the
lark of the thing. And he's a regular professional, you know," he
added for my benefit, "though he don't sport a white choker in his
off hours; likes to go about and see life for himself, and quite
right. You get the licence, sir, and I'll guarantee that the Reverend
Ninian Skipworth will do the job for you."

So we left the hall, delighted, especially Lurana, with the unexpected
ease with which our object had been attained. It had seemed at first
the wildest extravagance, and now there was apparently every prospect
that Lurana and I would really exchange our marriage vows in a den of
forest-bred lions, unless (which, of course, was a possibility that
had to be taken into account) the ecclesiastical authorities should
refuse to grant a special licence.

I was unable to apply in person at Doctors' Commons, for Lurana
insisted that I should leave the whole matter in Chuck's hands, but I
impressed upon him the necessity of absolute candour with the
officials.

Whether he told them all, whether they were remiss in making full
inquiry, or whether--as I would rather not think--he intentionally
deceived them, I cannot say, but at all events he came back
triumphantly with the special licence.

Wooker and Sawkins had fixed an early date, and wished the wedding to
take place at night, so as to figure in the evening programme, but the
Surrogate, or somebody at the office, had insisted that it must be in
the afternoon, which would, of course, oblige Mr Sawkins to introduce
it at a _matinée_ performance.

Miss Rakestraw proved herself a born journalist. She placed her news
at the disposal of an enterprising evening journal, whose bills that
very same evening came out with startling and alliterative headlines
such as:

                LOVE LAUGHS AT LIONS!

    _Canonbury Couple to Marry in Cageful of Carnivora._

and from that moment, as the reader will recollect, Lurana and I
became public characters.

There were portraits--quite unrecognisable--of us in several of the
illustrated weeklies, together with sketches of and interviews with us
both, contributed by Miss Ruth's facile stylograph, and an account of
the Professor, contributed by himself.

As for the daily papers there was scarcely one, from the _Times_
downwards, which did not contain a leader, a paragraph, or a letter on
the subject of our contemplated wedding. Some denounced me violently
for foolhardy rashness, others for the selfishness with which I was
encouraging an impressionable girl to risk her life to gratify my
masculine vanity. Several indignantly demanded whether it was true
that the Archbishop had sanctioned such a scandalous abuse of marriage
rites, and if so, what the Home Office were about?

There was a risk that all this publicity would end in the authorities
being compelled to interfere and countermand the ceremony, and yet I
cannot honestly say that I disliked the fuss that was made about it.
In the City, to be sure, I had to put up with a certain amount of
chaff; facetious inquiries as to whether I intended to present the
leonine bridesmaids with bones or pieces of raw meat, and the precise
locality in which my wife and I thought of spending our honeymoon. But
such _badinage_ covered a very genuine respect for my intrepidity, and
I was looked upon as a credit to the tea trade.

The appointed day was getting nearer and nearer, and still--so
wonderfully did Fortune befriend us--the authorities gave no sign of
any intention to interfere. Parliament had not yet reassembled, so no
one could rise and put a question in the House to the Home Secretary,
and if Government officials ever read the morning papers, it seemed
that they did not feel called upon to take cognisance of anything they
read there, unless compelled to do so by pressure from without.

Nor did the Archbishop take any steps. No doubt he may have been
unaware of the precise conditions under which the ceremony was to be
sanctioned, and the same remark applies to the Bishop of London. It is
true that their attention was drawn to the facts by more than one
postcard, as I have reason to know. But some people make a
practice--and it is not for me to condemn them--of taking no notice of
anonymous communications.

However, as the time drew on, I thought it would be only proper on my
part to go and call upon the Reverend Ninian Skipworth, the curate
with whom our energetic friend, Mr Niono, had now made all the
necessary arrangements, and find out, quietly, what his state of mind
was. He might be wavering, in which case I should have to strengthen
his resolution. Or he might not yet have realised all the possible
consequences of his good nature, and if so, I should not be acting
fairly towards him if I did not lay them before him, even though the
result should be that he withdrew from his engagement.

Niono had given me his address, and I looked in at the curate's
unpretentious lodgings one evening on my way home. I found him in, and
as soon as he learnt my name, he offered me whisky and soda and a
cigar with most unparsonical joviality.

[Illustration: A Cleric of the broad-minded school.]

The Reverend Ninian, I found, was a cleric of the broad-minded school
which scorns conventional restrictions; he held that if the Church
was to maintain its influence, it must follow the trend of modern
progress, and neglect no opportunity of winning the hearts of the
people. He was only sorry, he told me, that the prejudices of his
Bishop would prevent him from reading the service inside the cage.

I replied gratefully that I was sufficiently indebted to him as it
was, since if his connection with the affair reached the episcopal
ear, he would be in serious danger of being suspended, even if he did
not receive some still heavier punishment.

"Oh, don't you bother about that!" he said, cheerily; "it's awfully
good of you to trouble yourself on my account; but if the Bishop is
such an old stick-in-the-mud as to haul me up for a little thing like
this, I shall simply chuck up the Church altogether, that's all! In
fact, I've almost decided to do it in any case, for I believe I could
do more real good outside the Establishment than in. And I admire your
pluck, my dear fellow, and your manly straightforwardness in coming
here like this; and I'm hanged if I don't marry you and chance the
consequences, so don't say another word about it."

I didn't, though I need not say I was profoundly moved by the genuine
sympathy and assistance which our project seemed to inspire in the
most unexpected quarters.

My one anxiety now was about Lurana. Outwardly she appeared cheerful
and even gay, and thoroughly to enjoy her position as the heroine of
the hour; but how could I be sure that this was genuine and not a
highstrung hysterical self-repression which would be succeeded by a
violent reaction, it might be in the lions' cage itself?

From that at all hazards she must be saved. Earnestly, seriously, I
pointed out how much would depend on her maintaining perfect coolness
and composure during the ceremony, and implored her, if she felt the
slightest misgivings, the smallest tendency to shrink in secret from
the coming ordeal, not to allow any false pride to close her lips.
There was still time, I reminded her. If on second thoughts, she
preferred to be married in the old time-honoured way, instead of in a
Menagerie den, she had only to say so. Her happiness and comfort were
the chief things to consider.

"Withdraw now, Theodore?" she said, "after announcing it in all the
papers! Why, how _could_ we?"

"I would take all that upon myself," I told her; "I need only say that
you don't feel quite equal to facing lions."

"But I _do_, Theodore," she said, "the dear, ducky, pussy-faced old
things! Who could possibly be afraid of lions--especially with Mr
Niono to protect us?"

"If you knew more _about_ lions, Lurana," I said, "you would know how
liable they are to sudden rages, and how little even lion-tamers
themselves--"

"If you go on like that, Theodore," she said, "I shall begin to think
that you want to frighten me--and even that you are just a little
frightened yourself. But I'm not to be frightened. I should not be my
mother's daughter if I had any fear of animals. And once for all, you
will either marry me in the lions' cage or not at all!"

[Illustration: "If you go on like that I shall begin to think you want
to frighten me."]

I saw that I should only be exposing myself to further
misunderstanding if I pursued the subject. Lurana had that quality of
courage which springs from a total lack of imagination; she had never
seen a performing lion ramp and roar, and it was inconceivable to her
that one could ever indulge in such exercises. Still less did she
understand that there is another type of courage, which sees all the
difficulties and dangers beforehand, even exaggerated by distance, and
yet advances calmly and undauntedly to encounter them. My courage was
of that sort, and it is generally admitted that it belongs to a far
higher order than the other.

Now that the die was cast I found myself anticipating the eventful day
with philosophic equanimity. It was an uncomfortable method of
getting married, no doubt, but after all, what man ever _was_
comfortable at his own wedding?

And surely one crowded quarter-of-an-hour (for it would certainly be
crowded in that cage) of glorious life would be worth an age without
Lurana--who was not to be won by any other means.



PART II


It was now the eve of my wedding-day, and it was generally taken for
granted that Lurana and I would be allowed to enter the lion-cage
without opposition from any quarter.

Whether we should find it as easy to come out again was a point on
which opinions differed considerably, but the majority must have been
confident that the ceremony would pass off without any unpleasant
interruption--for the rush to obtain seats was tremendous.

I was just as tranquil and collected as ever; I could not detect that
my valour had "ullaged," as wine-merchants say, in the slightest
degree, though Lurana was perpetually questioning me as to whether I
was sure I would not rather withdraw.

Of course, I indignantly repudiated the very idea, but it is well
known that a perfectly sober person, if suddenly taxed with being
drunk, will seem and even feel so, and it is much the same with any
imputation of cowardice.

I began to think that constant tea tasting, even though the infusions
are not actually swallowed, probably has some subtle effect upon the
nervous system, and that it would brace me up and also show me how
little cause I had to be uneasy, if I dropped into the Agricultural
Hall once more and saw Niono put his lions through their performances.

So I left the City early that afternoon and paid for my admission to
the hall like an ordinary sightseer; I did not ask Lurana to accompany
me, because I knew she must have plenty to keep her at home just then.

I was just in time for the performing lions, and found a place in the
outer edge of the crowd; it was strange to stand there unrecognised
and hear myself being freely discussed by all around; strange and
decidedly exhilarating, too, to think that in another twenty-four
hours I should be, not a spectator of what was to take place in that
arena, but one of the principal performers, the centre of breathless
interest, the hero of the hour!

But with the appearance of the cage, this unnatural exhilaration
suddenly died down. It was not so much the lions, though they struck
me as larger and less easy-tempered than on the first occasion, while
the lioness was as nearly in open revolt as she dared. What troubled
me most was that the cage contained another inmate, one whom I did not
remember to have seen before--a magnificent specimen of the Bengal
tiger.

It seemed perfectly clear to me that the brute was only about
half-trained; he went through his tricks in a sullen perfunctory way,
with a savage, snurring snap every now and then, which, even at that
distance, made my flesh creep.

And, whenever he snapped, clouds of steam issued from his great jaws;
I could see, too, that the lioness was secretly egging him on to fresh
acts of defiance, and that he was only watching his opportunity to
crouch and spring as soon as Niono's back was turned.

I was perfectly determined that I would not have that tiger at _my_
wedding; he would never keep still for a moment; he would upset all
the other animals, and how could I be expected to remain cool with a
great, hot, steaming beast like that at my elbow? Why, he must raise
the temperature of that cage to the atmosphere of a Turkish bath! For
Lurana's sake as well as my own, I really must draw the line at
tigers--they were not in the bond.

Another thing that annoyed me was the senseless tomfoolery of the
clowns, who persisted in running after the cage at the conclusion of
the performance, and teasing the poor defenceless animals by making
grimaces and dashing their ridiculous conical hats against the bars.
It was painful to think that any one could be found to smile at such
cheap buffoonery--if I had been the ring-master, I would have given
those cowardly idiots a taste of the whip!

I decided to go round afterwards and see Onion about that tiger.

I did not see the lion-tamer, as he had just left the hall, and Mr
Sawkins, I was told, was engaged, but I saw Mlle. Léonie, who was most
friendly.

[Illustration: Mademoiselle.]

I remarked, carelessly, that I saw they had put a tiger into the cage.

Mademoiselle said he was a member of the _troupe_, but had been
indisposed and temporarily transferred to the hospital cage.

I hinted that a tiger, however convalescent, was hardly a desirable
addition to our wedding party. Mademoiselle was astounded; a so
gracious beast, a veritable treasure, with him present, the ceremony
would have a style, a _cachet_, an elegance. Without him--ah! bah! it
would be _triste_--banal, tame!

I admitted this, but urged that we were quiet people who wanted to be
married as quietly as possible, and that a tiger, for persons in our
condition of life, was a ridiculous piece of ostentation. It was
always better to begin as one meant to go on.

She differed from me totally. I was too modest, for, of course, it was
incredible that I, who was so full of _sangfroid_, could object to the
tiger for any other reason?

"Personally," I replied, "I had no prejudice against tigers
whatever--but Mademoiselle would understand that I was bound to
consider another person's convenience."

"Not possible!" exclaimed Mademoiselle, "a young lady with so much
_verve_ to be timid! Why, Mons. Onion raved of her fearlessness!"

I said it was not timidity in Lurana's case--she merely happened to
have an antipathy for tigers. Some people, as Mademoiselle was
doubtless aware, were unable to remain in the same room with a cat;
Miss de Castro could not stay in the same cage with a tiger--it was
temperament.

"Ah," said Mdlle. Hortense, "I understand that. A sensitive?"

"Yes," I said, "a sensitive."

"But Niono says she is one of us!" objected Mademoiselle, "that she
was brought up amongst animals--that her mamma was herself an
animal-tamer."

"Of white mice and canary birds," I said, "but that is not quite the
same thing as tigers, and I am perfectly certain that if that tiger is
retained, the wedding will not take place."

Her keen grey eyes flashed with comprehension. Ah, the poor little
one! in that case it was another thing. She would speak to the
"Patron" and to Mons. Onion; the tiger should not be permitted to
trouble the fête. I could rely absolutely upon her--he should be
accommodated elsewhere.

I went back to Lurana in a somewhat relieved frame of mind, and when
she asked me where I had been, I mentioned, perhaps unwisely, that I
had dropped in at the Circus and had a little chat with Mlle. Léonie.
I did not say anything about the tiger, because there seemed to be no
object in disturbing her, now that the matter was comfortably settled,
not to mention that if Lurana had known I had directed the removal of
the tiger without consulting her, she was quite self-willed enough to
insist on his immediate restoration to the lion-cage.

Most girls would have been impressed by my courage in going near the
Circus at all at such a time; not so Lurana, who pretended to believe
that Mlle. Léonie was the attraction.

"Oh, I noticed she was making eyes at you from the very beginning,"
she declared; "you had better marry her, and then Mr Niono could
marry me. I daresay he would have no objection."

"My darling," I said, gently, "do not let us quarrel the very last
evening we may spend together on earth."

"You might take a more cheerful view of it than that, Theodore!" she
exclaimed.

"I think you are a little inclined to treat it too lightly," I
replied. "I have been studying those lions, Lurana, and it is my
deliberate opinion that they are in a condition of suppressed
excitement which will break out on the slightest pretext. Unless you
can trust yourself to meet their gaze without faltering, without so
much as a flicker of the eyelid you will, unless I am greatly
mistaken, stand a considerable chance of being torn to pieces."

"Nonsense, Theodore!" she said, "they can't possibly tell whether I am
meeting their gaze or not, or even shutting my eyes--for, of course, I
shall be wearing a veil."

But _I_ should not--and it really did not seem fair. "I rather thought
of putting on a green shade myself," I said. It had only just occurred
to me.

"Don't be absurd, Theodore!" she replied. "What _can_ you want with a
green shade?"

"My eyes are not strong," I said, "and with those electric lights so
close to the cage, I _might_ blink or even close my eyes. A green
shade, like your bridal veil, would conceal the act!"

"As if anybody ever _heard_ of a bridegroom with a green shade over
his eyes! I certainly will not enter that cage if I am to be made
publicly ridiculous!"

"Do I understand," I said, very gravely, "that you _refuse_ to enter
the lion-cage?"

"With a man in a green shade? Most certainly I refuse. Not otherwise."

"Then you will sacrifice my life to mere appearances? Ah, Lurana, that
is only one more proof that vanity--not love--has led you to this
marriage!"

"Why don't you own at once that you'd give anything to get out of it,
Theodore?"

"It is you," I retorted, "_you_, Lurana, who are secretly dreading the
ordeal, and you are trying to throw the responsibility of giving up
the whole thing on me--it's not _fair_, you know!"

"_I_ want to give up the whole thing? Theodore, you _know_ that isn't
true!"

"Children, children!" said the Professor, who had been a silent and
unnoticed witness of our dispute till then, "What is this talk about
giving up the marriage? I implore you to consider the consequences, if
the wedding is broken off now by your default. You will be mobbed by a
justly indignant crowd, which will probably wreck the hall as a sign
of their displeasure. You are just now the two most prominent and
popular persons in the United Kingdom--you will become the objects of
universal derision. You will ruin that worthy and excellent man, Mr
Sawkins, offend Archibald Chuck, and do irretrievable damage to Miss
Rakestraw's prospects of success in journalism. Of myself I say
nothing, though I may mention that the persons who have paid me fancy
prices for the few seats which the management placed at my disposition
will infallibly demand restitution and damages. I might even be forced
to recover them from _you_, Theodore. On the other hand, by merely
facing a hardly appreciable danger for a very few minutes, you cover
yourselves with undying glory, you gain rich and handsome wedding
gifts, which I hear the proprietors intend to bestow upon you; you
receive an ovation such as is generally reserved for Royal nuptials;
and yet you, Theodore, would forfeit all this--for what? For a green
shade, which would probably only serve to infuriate the animals?"

This had not struck me before, and I could not help seeing that there
was something in it.

"I give up the shade," I said; "but I do think that Lurana is in such
a nervous and overstrung condition just now that it is not safe for
her to enter the cage without a medical certificate."

Lurana laughed. "What for, Theodore? To satisfy the lions? Don't
distress yourself on my account--I am perfectly well. At the appointed
time I shall present myself at the--the altar. If you are not there to
receive me, to stand by my side in the sight of all, you lose me for
ever. A de Castro can never marry a Craven."

She looked so splendid as she said this that I felt there was no peril
in the world that I would not face to gain her, that life without her
would be unendurable.

Since she was as resolved as ever on this project, I must see it out,
that was all, and trust to luck to pull me through. Onion would be
there--and he understood lions; and, besides, there was always the
bare chance of the ceremony being stopped at the eleventh hour.

I left early, knowing that I should require a good night's rest, and
Lurana and I parted, on the understanding that our next meeting would
be at the Agricultural Hall on the following afternoon.

Whether it was due to a cup of coffee I had taken at the Professor's,
or to some other cause, I do not know, but I had a wretched night,
sleeping very literally in fits and starts, and feeling almost
thankful when it was time to get up.

A cold bath freshened me up wonderfully, and, as they naturally did
not expect me in the City on my wedding-day, I had the whole morning
to myself, and decided to get through it by taking a brisk walk.
Before starting, I sent a bag containing my wedding garments to the
Agricultural Hall, where a dressing room had been reserved for me, and
then I started, viâ the Seven Sisters Road, for Finsbury Park.

As I passed an optician's shop, I happened to see, hanging in the
window, several pairs of coloured spectacles, one of which I went in
and bought, and walked on with a sense of reassurance. Through the
medium of such glasses a lion would lose much of his terrors, and
would, at the same time, be unable to detect any want of firmness in
my gaze; indeed, if a wild beast can actually be dominated by a human
eye, how much more should he be so when that eye is reinforced by a
pair of smoked spectacles!

[Illustration: "A de Castro can never marry a Craven."]

My recollection of the rest of that walk is indistinct. I felt no
distress, only a kind of stupor. I tried to fix my thoughts on Lurana,
on her strange beauty, and the wondrous fact that in a very few hours
the ceremony, which was to unite us, would be, at all events,
_commenced_. But at times I had a pathetic sense of the irony which
decreed that I, a man of simple tastes and unenterprising disposition,
should have fallen hopelessly in love with the only young woman in the
United Kingdom capable of insisting on being married in a wild-beast
cage.

It seemed hard, and I remember envying quite ordinary
persons--butchers, hawkers, errand-boys, crossing-sweepers, and the
like, for their good fortune in not being engaged to spend any part of
that afternoon in a den of forest-bred African lions.

However, though there was nothing about the intentions of the Home
Office in the early editions of the evening papers, the officials
_might_ be preparing a dramatic _coup_ for the last moment. I was
determined not to count upon it--but the thought of it kept me up
until the time when I had to think of returning, for the idea of
flight never for an instant presented itself to me. I was on _parôle_
as it were, and I preferred death by Lurana's side to dishonour and
security without her.

So anxious was I not to be late, and also to discover whether any
communication from the Home Secretary had reached the manager, that I
almost hurried back to Islington. I was admitted to the Hall by a
private entrance, and shown to the kind of unroofed cabin in which I
was to change, and which, being under the balcony and at some distance
from the gangway between the stables and the ring, was comparatively
private and secluded.

Here, after asking an assistant to let Mr Niono know I had arrived,
and would like to see him, I waited. The Circus had begun, as I knew
from the facts that the blare of the orchestrions was hushed, and that
a brass band overhead began and left off with the abruptness peculiar
to Circus music.

Screens of board and canvas hid the auditorium from view, but I was
conscious of a vast multitude on the other side, vociferous and in the
best of humours.

Between the strains of the orchestra and the rattling volleys of
applause, I heard the faint stamping and trampling from the stables,
and, a sound that struck a chill to my heart--the prolonged roar of
exasperation and _ennui_ which could only proceed from a bored lion.

Then there was a rap at the door, which made me start, and Niono burst
in.

"So you've found your way here," he said. "Feeling pretty fit? That's
the ticket! The bride ain't arrived yet, so you've lots of time."

"You've heard nothing from the Home Office yet, I suppose?" I asked.

"Not a word--and, between you and me, I made sure they meant to crab
the show. You've the devil's own luck!"

"I have, indeed," I said, with feeling. "Still, we mustn't be too
sure--they may stop us yet!"

"They may try it on--but our men have got their instructions. If they
_did_ come now, they wouldn't get near the ring till it was all over,
so don't you worry yourself about that."

I said everything seemed to have been admirably arranged. "By the
way," I added, "where have you put the tiger?"

"Do you mean old Rajah?" he said; and I replied that I _did_ mean old
Rajah.

"Why, _he's_ all right--in the cage along with the others--where did
you _suppose_ he'd be--loose?"

"I particularly requested," I explained, "that he might be put
somewhere else during the wedding. Mademoiselle promised that it
should be seen to."

"It's nothing to do with Ma'amsell," he said, huffily; "_she_ don't
give orders here, Ma'amsell don't."

"I mean, she promised to mention the matter to you," I said, more
diplomatically.

"She never said nothing about it to _me_," he replied; "I expect she
forgot."

"I can only say it was extremely careless of her," I said. "The fact
is, I have my doubts whether that tiger is to be trusted."

"Well, you never can trust a tiger same as you can a lion," he
replied, candidly, "so I won't deceive you. But old Rajah ain't so
particular nasty--as tigers go."

"He may not be," I said, "but, in Miss de Castro's interests, I must
beg you to shift him into some other cage till this affair is over. I
can't allow her to run any unnecessary risk."

"I don't say you're wrong," he answered, "I wish I'd known before, I'd
have asked the gov'nor."

[Illustration: "If them two got together, there'd be the doose's
delight."]

"Ask him now," I urged, "surely you can put the tiger back in the
hospital cage for an hour or two."

"The Jaguar's in there," he said; "he was a bit off colour, so we put
him there this morning. And if them two got together, there'd be the
doose's delight!"

"Couldn't you put him somewhere else, then?" I suggested.

"I _might_ ha' shunted him on to the Armadillo at a pinch," he said
thoughtfully, "_he_ wouldn't ha' taken any notice, but the gov'nor
would have to be consulted first,--and he's engaged in the ring.
Besides, it would take too much time to move old Rajah now--you must
put up with him, that's all. You'll be right enough if you keep your
head and stick close to me. I've taken care they've all had a good
dinner. I say," he broke off suddenly, "you're looking uncommon blue."

"I don't _feel_ nervous," I said, "at least, not more nervous than a
man _ought_ to feel who's just about to be married. If you mean to
suggest that I'm going to show the white feather----!"

"Not you," he said, "what would you _get_ by it, you know? After
billing this affair all over the town, we can't afford to disappoint
the public, and if I saw you hanging back--why I'm blest if I wouldn't
carry you into the cage myself."

I retorted angrily that I would not put him to that inconvenience,
that I was as cool as he was, and that I did not understand his remark
that I was looking blue.

"Lord, what a touchy chap you are!" he cried; "I meant looking blue
about the jaw, that's all. If I was you, I'd have a clean shave. It's
enough to put any lady off if she sees you with a chin like the barrel
of a musical-box."

Somehow I had omitted to shave myself as usual that morning, intending
to get shaved later, but had forgotten to look for a hairdresser's
shop during my walk.

"You'll find a razor in that drawer," he said, "if you don't mind
making shift with cold water, for there's no one about to fetch you
any hot. Now I must be off and get into my own togs. Make yourself at
home, you know. I'll give you another call later on."

[Illustration: I was forlornly mopping when Niono returned.]

Perhaps the razor was blunt, perhaps it was the cold water, anyhow I
inflicted a gash on the extreme point of my chin which bled profusely.
I dabbed and sluiced, but nothing I could do seemed to check the flow;
it went on, obstinate and irrepressible. I was still forlornly mopping
when Niono returned in his braided jacket, tights and Hessian boots,
whistling a tune.

"The bride's just driven up," he announced, "looking like a
picture--what pluck she's got! I wish I was in your shoes! Ma'amsell's
taken her to her room. My word, though, you've given yourself a nasty
cut; got any spider's web about you? Stops it in no time."

As I do not happen to go about festooned in cobwebs, his suggestion
was of little practical value, and so I intimated rather sharply.

"Well, don't get in a fluster," he said, "we're only a couple of turns
off the Cage Act as it is; you slip into them spicy lavender trousers
and that classy frock-coat of yours as quick as you can, and I'll try
if I can't borrow a bit of courtplaster off one of our ladies."

I had just put on a clean shirt when he was back again; "I could only
get goldbeater's skin," he remarked, "and precious little of that, so
be careful with it. And the parson's come, and would like to have a
look at the licence."

I handed him the document, and tried to apply the goldbeater's skin,
which curled and shrivelled, and would stick to nothing but my
fingers--and still the hæmorrhage continued.

"It's all over your shirt _now_!" said the lion-tamer, as if I was
doing it on purpose. "I wouldn't have had this happen for something.
Why, I've known 'em get excited with the _smell_ of blood, let alone
the sight of it."

"Do you mean the lions?" I inquired, with a faint sick sensation.

"Well, it was the _tiger_ my mind was running on more," was his gloomy
reply.

My own mind began to run on the tiger too, and a most unpleasant form
of mental exercise it was.

"After all," said Niono with an optimism that sounded a trifle forced,
"there's no saying. He _mayn't_ spot it. _None_ of 'em mayn't."

"But what do you think yourself?" I could not help asking.

"I couldn't give an opinion till we get inside," he answered, "but
we'll have the red hot irons handy in case he tries on any of his
games. And if you can't stop that chin of yours," he added, taking a
wrapper from his own neck and tossing it to me, "you'd better hide it
in this--they'll only think you've got a sore throat or something. But
do hurry up. I'm just going to see the old elephant put in the shafts,
and then I'll come back for you, so don't dawdle."

Once more I was alone; I felt so chilly that I put on my old coat and
waistcoat again, for I did not venture to touch my new suit until my
chin left off bleeding, and it seemed inexhaustible, though the
precious minutes were slipping by faster and faster.

The great building had grown suddenly silent; I could almost feel the
air vibrating with the suppressed excitement of the vast unseen crowd
which was waiting patiently for the lions, and Lurana--and me.

Soon I heard a voice--probably a menagerie assistant's--in the passage
outside, and presently a shuffling tread approaching, and then I
perceived towering above the wooden partition, a huge grey bulk,
ridged and fissured like a mountain side, and touched where the light
fell on it with a mouldy bloom--it was the elephant on his way to be
attached to the lion-cage!

I stared helplessly up at his uncouth profile, with the knobby
forehead worn to a shiny black, and the sardonic little eye that met
mine with a humorous intelligence, as though recommending me to haste
to the wedding.

He plodded past, and I realised that I had no time to change now; my
new wedding suit was a useless extravagance--I must go to the altar as
I was. Niono would be back to fetch me in a moment. Lurana would never
forgive me for keeping her waiting.

Hastily I wound the muffler round my neck till my chin was hidden in
its folds, and put on my hat. Could I have mislaid the spectacles? No,
thank heaven, they were in the pocket of my great coat. I put them on,
and my wedding toilet--such as it was--was complete.

Then I cast a hurried glance at myself in a tarnished mirror nailed
against the matchboarding, and staggered back in dismay. I was
not merely unrecognisable; I was--what is a thousand times
worse--_ridiculous_!

[Illustration: My wedding toilette was complete.]

Yes, no bridegroom in the world could hope to make a creditable
appearance with his nose only just showing above a worsted comforter
and his eyes hidden behind a pair of smoked spectacles. It was enough
to make any lion roar--the audience would receive me with howls!

I had been prepared--I was still prepared--for Lurana's dear sake, to
face the deadliest peril. But to do so with a total loss of dignity;
to be irresistibly comic in the supreme crisis, to wrestle with wild
beasts to the accompaniment of peals of Homeric laughter--would any
lover in the world be capable of heroism such as that?

True, I might remove the spectacles--but in that case I could not
trust my nerve; or I might take off the muffler but then I could not
trust the tiger. And in either case I should be courting not only my
own destruction, but that of one whose life was far dearer to me than
my own.

I asked myself solemnly whether I had the right to endanger her
safety, simply from a selfish unwillingness to appear grotesque in her
eyes and those of the audience. The answer was what every rightminded
reader will have foreseen.

And, seeing that the probability was that Lurana would absolutely
decline to go through the ceremony at all with the guy I now appeared
(for had she not objected even to my assuming a green shade, which
was, comparatively, becoming), it was obvious that only one
alternative remained, and that I took.

Cautiously opening the door of my cabin, I looked up and down the
passage. At one end I could just see the elephant surrounded by a
crowd of grooms and helpers, who were presumably harnessing him to the
cage and were too far away or too much engaged to notice me. At the
other were a few deserted stalls and rifle-galleries, whose
proprietors had all gone to swell the crowd of spectators who were
waiting to see as much as they could of my wedding, and it began to
seem likely that they would see very little indeed.

I was about to make for the nearest exit when I remembered that it
would probably be guarded, so, assuming as far as possible the air of
an ordinary visitor, I slipped quietly up a broad flight of stairs, on
each of which was a recommendation to try somebody's "Pink Pills for
Pale People," and gained the upper gallery without attracting
attention.

I felt instinctively that my best chance of escaping detection was to
mingle with the crowd, and besides, I was naturally curious to know
how the affair would end, so, seeing a door and pigeon-hole with the
placard "Balcony Seats, Sixpence," I went in, and was lucky enough to
secure the only cane bottom chair left in the back row.

After removing my spectacles, I had a fairly good view of the ring
below, with its brown tan enclosed by a white border cushioned along
the top in faded crimson. The reserved stalls were all full, and
beyond the barriers, the crowd swayed and surged in a dense black
mass. Nobody was inside the ring except a couple of nondescript grooms
in scarlet liveries, who hung about with an air of growing
embarrassment. The orchestra opposite was reiterating "The Maiden's
Prayer" with a perseverance that at length got upon the nerves of the
audience, which began to stamp suggestively.

"It's a swindle," said a husky man, who was obviously inclined to
scepticism, and also sherry, "a reg'lar take in! There won't be nobody
married in a lion's cage--I've said so all along."

"Oh, it's too soon to say that yet!" I replied soothingly, though I
had reasons for being of the same opinion, "they're a little behind
time, that's all."

[Illustration: It's a swindle.]

"I dunno _what_ it is they're behind," he said,--"but they don't mean
comin' out. There, what did I _tell_ you?"

One of the grooms, obeying instructions from without, had just gone to
the Indicator-post, removed the number corresponding with that of the
wedding programme, and substituted another, which was the signal for a
general uproar.

A carpet was spread for a performance by a "Bender," who made his
appearance in a tight suit of green spangles, as the "Marvellous Boy
Serpent," and endeavoured to wile away the popular discontent by
writhing in and out of the rungs of a chair, and making a glittering
pincushion of himself. In vain, for they would have none of him, and
the poor youth had to return at last amidst a storm of undeserved
hissing.

Another long wait followed, and the indignation grew louder. So
infectious is the temper of a mob that I actually caught myself
growing impatient, and banging loudly on the floor with my
umbrella--just as my neighbours were doing!

All at once, to my extreme bewilderment, the stamping and hooting
changed to tumultuous applause, the band began to bray out an air that
was apparently intended for "The Voice that Breathed," the barriers
were thrown open, and the great elephant lumbered into the arena
drawing the cage.

The brute had an enormous wedding favour attached to each side of his
tusks, and all the animals in the cage, down to the very tiger, were
wearing garlands of artificial orange-blossom, a touch of sentiment
which seemed to go straight to the hearts of the people.

But even while I looked down into the cage, with much the same
reflection as that of John Bradford of old, that there, but for
special grace, I might myself be figuring, I was astounded by the
audacity of the management.

Could they really imagine that an intelligent and enlightened audience
like this would be pacified by anything less than the spectacle they
had paid to witness--a marriage solemnised in a den of lions? And how
did they propose to perform a ceremony at which, as they must be fully
aware by this time, the bridegroom would be conspicuous by his
absence? No, it might be magnificent, but it was not business.

I was still speculating, when a kind of small procession entered the
arena. First came Mr Sawkins, with the Reverend Ninian, looking rather
like a cheap Cranmer; next was a smart-looking person in a well-cut
frock-coat and lavender trousers that I seemed to have seen before. It
was my wedding suit; the wearer had gummed on a moustache and short
side-whiskers which gave him a spurious resemblance to myself, but if
nobody else knew him, I did--it was Onion, the Lion King!

And the next moment, I received a still greater shock, as Professor
Polkinghorne followed with the lofty bearing of a Virginius, and on
his arm was a slender shrinking figure, which, in spite of the veil
she wore, I knew too well could be no other than Lurana.

"There's the bridegroom, d'ye see!" explained my hoarse neighbour;
"he's a deal better lookin' than the pictures they've drawed of him in
the papers. But he's as pale as plaster, he'll back out of it at the
last moment--you just see if he don't!"

But I knew Niono better. I remembered his open admiration of Lurana,
his envy at my good fortune, I felt convinced that his pallor was
merely due to the absence of rouge and the fear that he would not
succeed in his daring imposture. For I saw now that he had been
planning to supplant me from the first; hence his attempts to shake my
nerve, and, when they failed, hence his treacherous loan of a blunt
razor. He was staking everything on the chance that the bride's
natural agitation, and the thickness of her veil would prevent her
from suspecting that he was a fraudulent bridegroom until the ceremony
was over, while the audience, not expecting to see a Lion King in a
tall hat, would be equally deceived.

[Illustration: A kind of small procession entered the arena.]

"Pore young things!" said a stout female in front, with a nodding
feather in her bonnet; "it's to be 'oped there won't be any
unpleasantness, I'm sure. I'm 'alf sorry I came."

There was time even yet; I had but to rise, denounce the usurper, and
take my rightful place at Lurana's side. I felt strongly impelled to
do so; I actually stood up and tried to speak. But I realised that it
was hopeless to attempt to make my feeble voice heard above the
thunders of applause, even if excitement and emotion had not rendered
me speechless. Besides, what satisfactory explanation of my present
position could I offer? I sat down again with a sense of spellbound
helplessness.

I looked on as the great arc-lamps were lowered, hissing and buzzing,
to the level of the cage, and the Reverend Mr Skipworth prepared to
ascend the inverted white tub that was to serve him as a reading-desk,
and the unscrupulous Onion took the bride by the hand and conducted
her to the steps which led to the door of the lion-cage.

"They're never goin' in among all them lions without nobody with
them!" cried the stout lady. "It's downright temptin' of Providence,
that it is!"

"Don't you be afraid," said the cynical man. "_They_ ain't goin' in.
Just look at _that_ now!"

As he spoke two persons in plain clothes, who had apparently been
waiting for this moment, stepped over the barrier from the shilling
stalls into the ring, and, from their gestures, seemed to be insisting
that the wedding should not take place inside the cage at all events.

There was an animated dispute in the ring; Niono blustered, Lurana
pleaded, Sawkins expostulated, and the professor and Archibald Chuck
(who had contrived to push himself into the party) argued, while Miss
Rakestraw filled page after page of her reporter's note-book, and the
Rev. Ninian sat upon his tub with meekly folded hands, looking more
than ever like a martyr who knew himself to be incombustible.

The audience booed, and hissed, and yelled with natural rage and
disappointment; the lions remained unmoved, blinking behind their
bars, with crossed forepaws, and an air of serene indifference.

"I told yer there wasn't going to be no blooming wedding!" said my
husky friend. "It's a reg'lar put-up job, that's what it is!"

It was possible; but whether the interrupters of the proceedings were
hired supers or genuine officials, it was equally clear that there
would be no wedding inside the cage.

How bitterly I regretted that by yielding to an irresistible impulse I
had forfeited the right to stand by Lurana's side at this supreme
moment! I could have done so with absolute impunity; I should have won
a lifelong reputation for courage; Lurana herself would have owned
that I had done all that was possible to gratify her whim, and would
have consented to marry me in the orthodox fashion.

Whereas, here I was, separated from her by impassable barriers, in the
ignominious seclusion of a back seat! However, this official
prohibition had at least solved one of my difficulties; it had
rendered it unnecessary for me to interfere personally.

The storm of indignation rose to a hurricane when the entire wedding
party filed out of the arena with the officials, doubtless to discuss
the matter in greater privacy.

The stout lady with the feather was particularly annoyed. "Why
shouldn't the two young parties be allowed to please themselves?" she
wanted to know. "It was _their_ wedding, not the Government's. But it
was always the way whenever she came out for a little amusement.
Somethink was bound to go wrong."

Another long interval, during which the wildest disorder reigned
unchecked, the crowd, with the irrationality of an angry mob, actually
throwing pieces of orange-peel at the unoffending lions as the only
creatures within the range of their displeasure. The hubbub was at its
height when Sawkins reappeared and held up his hand for some time in
vain before he could obtain a hearing. Then he addressed the audience
as follows:

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, "certain individuals claiming to
represent the Home Office and the London County Council" (here there
were groans, and my neighbour remarked disgustedly, that "that was
what came of returning those Progressives") "have protested against a
wedding in the cage as involving danger to the principal parties
concerned." (Loud cries of "Shame!" and general uproar.) "I have the
honour and pleasure to announce that we have succeeded in convincing
these gentlemen that the proposed ceremony is no more open to
objection than the ordinary performance, and that they have no legal
power to prohibit it. Consequently the marriage will now be celebrated
in the cage of forest-bred African lions, as advertised."

[Illustration: Then he addressed the audience.]

The revulsion of feeling after this most unexpected announcement was
instant and tremendous; all hearts seemed touched with generous
compunction for their uncharitable suspicions, and the hall rang with
tumultuous cheers.

For myself, I could not share the general exhilaration. This
preposterous wedding was permitted after all, and, unless Lurana's
heart failed her at the critical instant, she would inevitably be lost
to me for ever! I might still interpose; indeed I should have done so
at all costs, but for a timely remembrance that no action I took now
would regain her.

She might have been in ignorance before--but in the course of this
delay she must have learnt that I had failed her, she must have
accepted the lion-tamer as a substitute, and, even if I were to
present myself, she would only inform me that my place was already
filled. I had too much spirit to risk a public snub of that kind, so I
stayed where I was. It cannot have fallen to many men's lot to look on
as passive spectators at their own wedding--but what choice had I?

There was a deathlike silence as Niono slipt the bolt and gallantly
handed the bride into the cage. She stepped in as collectedly as if it
had been an ordinary Registry Office, and the great tawny beasts
retreated sullenly to the other end, where they stood huddled in a
row, while the Rev. Ninian, mounting his tub, read an abbreviated form
of service in a voice which was quite inaudible in the balcony.

I tried to turn my eyes away from the scene that was taking place in
that grim cage, and the two figures that were so calmly confronting
those formidable brutes--but I felt compelled to look. And it was
mortifying to see how trifling after all was the danger they incurred.
I am afraid I almost wished that one of the animals would give some
trouble--I don't mean of course by any actual attack--but by just
enough display of ferocity to make Lurana understand what they _might_
do.

But they never even attempted to cross the pole which had been thrust
across the cage as a barrier. I was never told there _would_ be a
pole! They looked on, mystified--as well they might be--by proceedings
to which they were totally unaccustomed, but still impressed, and
sleepily solemn. Even the tiger behaved with irreproachable decorum.

I understood then what Onion had been careful not to mention; their
food had been doctored in some way. If I had only known! _Anybody_
could beard a hocussed lion!

And soon the words which made that couple man and wife were
pronounced, or rather mumbled--for the Rev. Ninian would have been
none the worse for a course of lessons from old Polkinghorne--and the
newly-wedded pair came out of the cage without so much as a scratch,
to the triumphant blare of the "Wedding March." There was frantic
applause as the Professor embraced the bride with an emotion that
struck me as overdone, while the Rev. Ninian, Miss Rakestraw, and
Chuck, offered their congratulations and Mr Sawkins presented the
happy couple with a silver biscuit-box (it may have been
electro-plated), and a Tantalus spirit case.

But for that unfortunate slip of the razor, those gifts would have
been mine--but I was in no mood to think of that just then, when I had
lost what was so infinitely more precious.

I looked on dully till the party left the arena, declining with
excellent taste to return in answer to repeated calls and bow their
acknowledgments, and then, as the electric lights were hoisted up
again and the elephant was led in to remove the lion's cage, I thought
it was time to go.

It was all over; there was nothing to stay for now, and most of the
people were leaving, so I joined the crowd which streamed down the
staircase and along the broad passage to the main exit. Once in the
open air, I hurried blindly past the flaring shops in the High Street,
neither knowing nor caring where I was going, with only one thought
possessing my numbed brain--how different it might all have been if
only things had happened otherwise!

Wherever I looked I saw Lurana's lovely scornful face and flashing
eyes painted with torturing vividness on the murky air. How flat and
stale all existence would be for me henceforth! Life with Lurana might
not have been all sunshine; it might have had its storms, even its
tempests--but at least it would never have been dull!

I cursed the treachery which had induced her to link herself for life
with a lion-tamer. Happy, I knew she could not be, for of one thing I
was confident--she loved me; not perhaps with the passionate
single-hearted devotion I felt for her, but still with a love she
would never feel for any other. Perhaps she was already beginning to
repent her desertion of me, and wishing she could undo that rash
irrevocable act.

I was pounding up Highgate Hill, with no object beyond escaping by
active motion the demons of recollection and regret that haunted
me--when suddenly, as I gained the top of the hill, a thought struck
me. _Was_ the act irrevocable after all? Was it so absolutely certain
that this Onion had the legal right to claim her as his wife?

He had certainly personated me. Had he borrowed, not only my frock
coat, and trousers, but also my name for the ceremony? If he had, and
if Lurana was, as she could hardly help being, aware of the fact, it
did not require much acquaintance with the law to know that there was
a chance, at all events, of getting the Court to declare the marriage
null and void.

But he might have been married in his own name; I could not tell,
owing to the indistinctness of Mr Skipworth's utterance, only Lurana
or those in their immediate neighbourhood could say. I must know that
first; I must examine the register, if there was one, and then, if--if
Lurana wished to be saved, I might be able to save her.

I knew that a sort of wedding high-tea had been prepared at Canonbury
Square, where the whole party would be assembled by this time, and I
hurried back to Canonbury Square as fast as the tramcar would take me.
My blood was roused; she would not be Niono's if I could prevent it. I
would snatch her from him, even if I had to do so across the
wedding-cake!

But when I reached the well-known door and raised the familiar
knocker--a fist clutching a cast-iron wreath--in my trembling fingers,
there were no sounds of festivity within; the house was dark and
deserted.

I waited in the bitter January air; the street lamp opposite--the
identical one under which Lurana had first agreed to marry
me--flickered at every gust of the night wind, as though troubled on
my account. They must have transferred the feast to the Circus, or to
some adjacent restaurant; evidently there was no one there.

I was just turning hopelessly away, when I heard the bolt being
withdrawn, and the door was opened by a maid.

"Where is your mistress?" I asked breathlessly. I could not bring
myself to ask for Lurana as Mrs Onion.

"In the drawing-room, upstairs," was the unexpected reply, "with the
'istericks."

So long as she was not with Niono, I cared little; I bounded up, and
found her alone.

As I entered, she raised her flushed, tear-stained face from the
shabby sofa on which she had thrown herself. "Go away!" she cried,
"why do you come near me now? You have no right--do you hear?--no
right!"

"I know," I said humbly enough, "I deserve this, no doubt; and yet, if
you knew all, you would find excuses for me, Lurana!"

"None, Theodore," she said; "if you had really loved me, you would
never have deserted me!"

"I could not help myself," I retorted; "and really, Lurana, if it
comes to desertion----!"

"Ah, what is the use of wrangling about whose fault it was," she
moaned, "now, when we have both wrecked our lives! At least, I know
I've wrecked _mine_! Why was I so insane as to set my heart on our
being married in a den of disgusting lions? If you had only been
firmer, Theodore, instead of giving way as you did!"

"At least it was not cowardice," I said. "When I show you the state of
my chin----"

"Theodore!" she cried, with a little scream, "you are hurt! Tell me;
was it the tiger?"

"It was not the tiger," I said. "Never mind that now. I was betrayed
by that infernal Onion, Lurana. I never knew till it was too late--you
_do_ believe me, don't you?"

"I do; we were both deceived, Theodore. I should never have acted as I
did if that horrid Frenchwoman hadn't told me--Oh, _what_ would I not
give if all this had never been?"

"If you are truly sincere," I began, "in wishing this unlucky marriage
cancelled----"

"If I am! Are _you_, Theodore? Oh, if only there is a way!"

"There may be, Lurana. It all depends on whether my name was used at
the ceremony or not. Try to recollect and tell me."

"But I can't, Theodore. You were there--you must know!"

"Mr Skipworth wouldn't speak up; and I was much farther away than you
were."

"Than _I_ was, Theodore! But--but I wasn't there at all!"

"Not present at your own wedding?" I cried, "but I saw you!"

"It was not me!" she said, "it was Mlle. Léonie. Is it possible you
didn't know?"

My heart leaped. "For heaven's sake, explain, Lurana; let us have no
more concealments."

"When I arrived," she said, "Mademoiselle explained about the tiger,
and how sorry she was it was too late to remove it, since she
understood I had an antipathy to tigers; and I said, not at all, I
adored tigers, so she took me to see the cage, and I--I only tried to
tickle the tiger, but he was so dreadfully cross about it--I nearly
fainted. And she said it was simply madness for me to go in, and that
you were every bit as frightened as I was."

[Illustration: "If only you had been firmer, Theodore."]

"She had no right to say that," I said; "it's absolutely untrue!"

"I know, Theodore," she replied; "you have proved that you, at least,
are no coward--but I believed her then. And I wrote you a line to say
that I had altered my mind, and did not think it right to expose you
or myself to such danger, and that I would wait for you by the
Myddelton Statue. She promised to give you the letter at once!"

"I never got it," I said.

"No, she took care you should not. And I waited for you--how long I
don't know--_hours_, it seemed--but you never came! Then I saw the
people beginning to come out, and--and I went across and asked someone
whether there had been any marriage or not, and he said, 'Yes, it had
gone off without any accident, the bridegroom looked pale but was
plucky enough, and so was the bride, though he couldn't tell how _she_
looked, because of her veil.' And then of course, I knew that the
deceitful cat had taken my place and managed to make you marry her!
And at first I wanted to go back and stab her with my hat pin, but I
hadn't one sharp enough, so I came home instead. And oh, Theodore, I
_do_ feel so ashamed! After boasting so much of my Spanish blood, and
taunting you with being afraid as I did, to think that you should have
shown the truer courage after all!"

I could not triumph over her then; I was too happy. "Courage, my
darling, is a merely relative quality," I said. "Heaven forbid that we
should be held accountable for the state of our nerves--even the
bravest of us."

"But this marriage, Theodore," she said, "what can you do to have it
set aside?"

"Do! Nothing," I replied; "after what you have told me, I no longer
care to try."

"You despise me, then, because I broke down at the critical moment?"

"Not at all. I can never be grateful enough to you!"

"Grateful! Then do you mean to say you prefer that coarse,
middle-aged, lion-taming person to me, Theodore?"

"Lurana," I said, "prepare yourself for a great surprise--a _pleasant_
surprise. If anybody is now that lady's lawful husband it is
Niono--not I; and a very suitable match too," I added (I saw now why
the authorities had been compelled to waive their objections to it).
"The fact is, I never went into the cage at all."

"You didn't go into the cage, Theodore! but how, why?"

"Do you imagine," I asked, "can you really suppose I should be capable
of entering that cage with anybody but yourself, Lurana? How little
you know me! Of _course_ I declined!"

"But you didn't know I had run away _then_, Theodore! Why, you thought
only a few minutes ago _I_ was the person Mr Niono married! Perhaps
you will kindly explain?"

For the moment I was in a fix, but I saw that the moment had arrived
for perfect candour, and accordingly I told her the facts pretty much
as they have been set down here.

She could hardly blame me for having behaved precisely as she herself
had done, or refuse to admit that by taking any other course I should
have imperilled our joint happiness, and yet I thought I could see
that, with feminine unreason, she was just a _little_ disappointed
with me.

The true explanation of that marriage, if it was a marriage, in the
den of lions, I have never been able to discover, nor for that matter
have I been particularly curious to inquire whether Onion attempted to
get rid of me in order to secure Lurana; whether Mdlle. Léonie played
upon Lurana's fears with the hope of becoming my bride, or his; or
whether the Lion King and his fellow artist gallantly sacrificed
themselves to get the management out of a difficulty, I don't know,
and, as I say, I haven't cared to ask.

But however it was, they were ably seconded by old Polkinghorne, who
was naturally unwilling to be called upon to refund the money he had
got for his free tickets, and by Miss Rakestraw and Archibald Chuck,
whose reputations were also more or less concerned.

Nevertheless, although every effort was made to keep the public off
the scent, and the circus people behaved, I am bound to say, with
commendable discretion, sundry garbled versions of the facts _did_ get
about, and altogether Lurana and I have found the task of denying or
correcting them such a constant nuisance that I have felt compelled,
as I said at starting, to furnish, once for all, a statement of what
actually occurred.

Now that it is written I have no more to add, except to append a
cutting from an announcement which appeared not long ago in the
principal papers. The arrangements for its publication were entrusted
to Archibald Chuck, who I think must have added the last two words on
his own responsibility.

     _Blenkinsop_--_De Castro_.--On the 15th inst., at the Parish
     Church of St Mary, Islington, by the Rev. Merton Sandford,
     D.D., Vicar, THEODORE PIDGLEY BLENKINSOP, of Highbury, to
     LURANA CARMEN DE CASTRO, only daughter of the late Manuel
     Guzman de Castro, formerly Deputy Sub-Assistant Inspector of
     Spanish Liquorice to the Government Manufactory at Madrid. No
     lions.

                                THE END.


    PRINTED BY

    TURNBULL AND SPEARS,

    EDINBURGH



Transcriber's Note:


Inconsistent and archaic spelling retained.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Love Among the Lions - A Matrimonial Experience" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home