The Brazilian Cat
It is hard luck on a young fellow to have expensive tastes, great
expectations, aristocratic connections, but no actual money in
his pocket, and no profession by which he may earn any. The fact
was that my father, a good, sanguine, easy-going man, had such
confidence in the wealth and benevolence of his bachelor elder
brother, Lord Southerton, that he took it for granted that I, his
only son, would never be called upon to earn a living for myself.
He imagined that if there were not a vacancy for me on the great
Southerton Estates, at least there would be found some post in
that diplomatic service which still remains the special preserve
of our privileged classes. He died too early to realize how
false his calculations had been. Neither my uncle nor the State
took the slightest notice of me, or showed any interest in my
career. An occasional brace of pheasants, or basket of hares,
was all that ever reached me to remind me that I was heir to
Otwell House and one of the richest estates in the country. In
the meantime, I found myself a bachelor and man about town,
living in a suite of apartments in Grosvenor Mansions, with no
occupation save that of pigeon-shooting and polo-playing at
Hurlingham. Month by month I realized that it was more and more
difficult to get the brokers to renew my bills, or to cash any
further post-obits upon an unentailed property. Ruin lay right
across my path, and every day I saw it clearer, nearer, and more
What made me feel my own poverty the more was that, apart from
the great wealth of Lord Southerton, all my other relations were
fairly well-to-do. The nearest of these was Everard King, my
father's nephew and my own first cousin, who had spent an
adventurous life in Brazil, and had now returned to this country to
settle down on his fortune. We never knew how he made his money,
but he appeared to have plenty of it, for he bought the estate of
Greylands, near Clipton-on-the-Marsh, in Suffolk. For the
first year of his residence in England he took no more notice of me
than my miserly uncle; but at last one summer morning, to my very
great relief and joy, I received a letter asking me to come down
that very day and spend a short visit at Greylands Court. I was
expecting a rather long visit to Bankruptcy Court at the time, and
this interruption seemed almost providential. If I could only get
on terms with this unknown relative of mine, I might pull through
yet. For the family credit he could not let me go entirely to the
wall. I ordered my valet to pack my valise, and I set off the same
evening for Clipton-on-the-Marsh.
After changing at Ipswich, a little local train deposited me at
a small, deserted station lying amidst a rolling grassy country,
with a sluggish and winding river curving in and out amidst the
valleys, between high, silted banks, which showed that we were
within reach of the tide. No carriage was awaiting me (I found
afterwards that my telegram had been delayed), so I hired a dogcart
at the local inn. The driver, an excellent fellow, was full of my
relative's praises, and I learned from him that Mr. Everard King
was already a name to conjure with in that part of the county. He
had entertained the school-children, he had thrown his grounds open
to visitors, he had subscribed to charities--in short, his
benevolence had been so universal that my driver could only account
for it on the supposition that he had parliamentary ambitions.
My attention was drawn away from my driver's panegyric by the
appearance of a very beautiful bird which settled on a telegraph-
post beside the road. At first I thought that it was a jay, but it
was larger, with a brighter plumage. The driver accounted for its
presence at once by saying that it belonged to the very man whom we
were about to visit. It seems that the acclimatization of foreign
creatures was one of his hobbies, and that he had brought with him
from Brazil a number of birds and beasts which he was endeavouring
to rear in England. When once we had passed the gates of Greylands
Park we had ample evidence of this taste of his. Some small
spotted deer, a curious wild pig known, I believe, as a peccary, a
gorgeously feathered oriole, some sort of armadillo, and a singular
lumbering in-toed beast like a very fat badger, were among the
creatures which I observed as we drove along the winding avenue.
Mr. Everard King, my unknown cousin, was standing in person
upon the steps of his house, for he had seen us in the distance,
and guessed that it was I. His appearance was very homely and
benevolent, short and stout, forty-five years old, perhaps, with a
round, good-humoured face, burned brown with the tropical sun, and
shot with a thousand wrinkles. He wore white linen clothes, in
true planter style, with a cigar between his lips, and a large
Panama hat upon the back of his head. It was such a figure as one
associates with a verandahed bungalow, and it looked curiously out
of place in front of this broad, stone English mansion, with its
solid wings and its Palladio pillars before the doorway.
"My dear!" he cried, glancing over his shoulder; "my dear, here
is our guest! Welcome, welcome to Greylands! I am delighted to
make your acquaintance, Cousin Marshall, and I take it as a great
compliment that you should honour this sleepy little country place
with your presence."
Nothing could be more hearty than his manner, and he set me at
my ease in an instant. But it needed all his cordiality to atone
for the frigidity and even rudeness of his wife, a tall, haggard
woman, who came forward at his summons. She was, I believe, of
Brazilian extraction, though she spoke excellent English, and I
excused her manners on the score of her ignorance of our customs.
She did not attempt to conceal, however, either then or afterwards,
that I was no very welcome visitor at Greylands Court. Her actual
words were, as a rule, courteous, but she was the possessor of a
pair of particularly expressive dark eyes, and I read in them very
clearly from the first that she heartily wished me back in London
However, my debts were too pressing and my designs upon my
wealthy relative were too vital for me to allow them to be upset by
the ill-temper of his wife, so I disregarded her coldness and
reciprocated the extreme cordiality of his welcome. No pains had
been spared by him to make me comfortable. My room was a charming
one. He implored me to tell him anything which could add to my
happiness. It was on the tip of my tongue to inform him that a
blank cheque would materially help towards that end, but I felt
that it might be premature in the present state of our
acquaintance. The dinner was excellent, and as we sat together
afterwards over his Havanas and coffee, which later he told me was
specially prepared upon his own plantation, it seemed to me that
all my driver's eulogies were justified, and that I had never met
a more large-hearted and hospitable man.
But, in spite of his cheery good nature, he was a man with a
strong will and a fiery temper of his own. Of this I had an
example upon the following morning. The curious aversion which
Mrs. Everard King had conceived towards me was so strong, that her
manner at breakfast was almost offensive. But her meaning became
unmistakable when her husband had quitted the room.
"The best train in the day is at twelve-fifteen," said she.
"But I was not thinking of going today," I answered, frankly--
perhaps even defiantly, for I was determined not to be driven out
by this woman.
"Oh, if it rests with you--" said she, and stopped with a most
insolent expression in her eyes.
"I am sure," I answered, "that Mr. Everard King would tell me
if I were outstaying my welcome."
"What's this? What's this?" said a voice, and there he was in
the room. He had overheard my last words, and a glance at our
faces had told him the rest. In an instant his chubby, cheery face
set into an expression of absolute ferocity.
"Might I trouble you to walk outside, Marshall?" said he. (I
may mention that my own name is Marshall King.)
He closed the door behind me, and then, for an instant, I heard
him talking in a low voice of concentrated passion to his wife.
This gross breach of hospitality had evidently hit upon his
tenderest point. I am no eavesdropper, so I walked out on to the
lawn. Presently I heard a hurried step behind me, and there was
the lady, her face pale with excitement, and her eyes red with
"My husband has asked me to apologize to you, Mr. Marshall
King," said she, standing with downcast eyes before me.
"Please do not say another word, Mrs. King."
Her dark eyes suddenly blazed out at me.
"You fool!" she hissed, with frantic vehemence, and turning on
her heel swept back to the house.
The insult was so outrageous, so insufferable, that I could
only stand staring after her in bewilderment. I was still there
when my host joined me. He was his cheery, chubby self once more.
"I hope that my wife has apologized for her foolish remarks,"
"Oh, yes--yes, certainly!"
He put his hand through my arm and walked with me up and down
"You must not take it seriously," said he. "It would grieve me
inexpressibly if you curtailed your visit by one hour. The fact
is--there is no reason why there should be any concealment between
relatives--that my poor dear wife is incredibly jealous. She hates
that anyone--male or female--should for an instant come between us.
Her ideal is a desert island and an eternal tete-a-tete. That
gives you the clue to her actions, which are, I confess, upon this
particular point, not very far removed from mania. Tell me that
you will think no more of it."
"No, no; certainly not."
"Then light this cigar and come round with me and see my little
The whole afternoon was occupied by this inspection, which
included all the birds, beasts, and even reptiles which he had
imported. Some were free, some in cages, a few actually in the
house. He spoke with enthusiasm of his successes and his failures,
his births and his deaths, and he would cry out in his delight,
like a schoolboy, when, as we walked, some gaudy bird would flutter
up from the grass, or some curious beast slink into the cover.
Finally he led me down a corridor which extended from one wing of
the house. At the end of this there was a heavy door with a
sliding shutter in it, and beside it there projected from the wall
an iron handle attached to a wheel and a drum. A line of stout
bars extended across the passage.
"I am about to show you the jewel of my collection," said he.
"There is only one other specimen in Europe, now that the Rotterdam
cub is dead. It is a Brazilian cat."
"But how does that differ from any other cat?"
"You will soon see that," said he, laughing. "Will you kindly
draw that shutter and look through?"
I did so, and found that I was gazing into a large, empty room,
with stone flags, and small, barred windows upon the farther wall.
In the centre of this room, lying in the middle of a golden patch
of sunlight, there was stretched a huge creature, as large as a
tiger, but as black and sleek as ebony. It was simply a very
enormous and very well-kept black cat, and it cuddled up and basked
in that yellow pool of light exactly as a cat would do. It was so
graceful, so sinewy, and so gently and smoothly diabolical, that I
could not take my eyes from the opening.
"Isn't he splendid?" said my host, enthusiastically.
"Glorious! I never saw such a noble creature."
"Some people call it a black puma, but really it is not a puma
at all. That fellow is nearly eleven feet from tail to tip. Four
years ago he was a little ball of back fluff, with two yellow eyes
staring out of it. He was sold me as a new-born cub up in the wild
country at the head-waters of the Rio Negro. They speared his
mother to death after she had killed a dozen of them."
"They are ferocious, then?"
"The most absolutely treacherous and bloodthirsty creatures
upon earth. You talk about a Brazilian cat to an up-country
Indian, and see him get the jumps. They prefer humans to game.
This fellow has never tasted living blood yet, but when he does he
will be a terror. At present he won't stand anyone but me in his
den. Even Baldwin, the groom, dare not go near him. As to me, I
am his mother and father in one."
As he spoke he suddenly, to my astonishment, opened the door
and slipped in, closing it instantly behind him. At the sound of
his voice the huge, lithe creature rose, yawned and rubbed its
round, black head affectionately against his side, while he patted
and fondled it.
"Now, Tommy, into your cage!" said he.
The monstrous cat walked over to one side of the room and
coiled itself up under a grating. Everard King came out, and
taking the iron handle which I have mentioned, he began to turn it.
As he did so the line of bars in the corridor began to pass through
a slot in the wall and closed up the front of this grating, so as
to make an effective cage. When it was in position he opened the
door once more and invited me into the room, which was heavy with
the pungent, musty smell peculiar to the great carnivora.
"That's how we work it," said he. "We give him the run of the
room for exercise, and then at night we put him in his cage. You
can let him out by turning the handle from the passage, or you can,
as you have seen, coop him up in the same way. No, no, you should
not do that!"
I had put my hand between the bars to pat the glossy, heaving
flank. He pulled it back, with a serious face.
"I assure you that he is not safe. Don't imagine that because
I can take liberties with him anyone else can. He is very
exclusive in his friends--aren't you, Tommy? Ah, he hears his
lunch coming to him! Don't you, boy?"
A step sounded in the stone-flagged passage, and the creature
had sprung to his feet, and was pacing up and down the narrow cage,
his yellow eyes gleaming, and his scarlet tongue rippling and
quivering over the white line of his jagged teeth. A groom entered
with a coarse joint upon a tray, and thrust it through the bars to
him. He pounced lightly upon it, carried it off to the corner, and
there, holding it between his paws, tore and wrenched at it,
raising his bloody muzzle every now and then to look at us. It was
a malignant and yet fascinating sight.
"You can't wonder that I am fond of him, can you?" said my
host, as we left the room, "especially when you consider that I
have had the rearing of him. It was no joke bringing him over from
the centre of South America; but here he is safe and sound--and, as
I have said, far the most perfect specimen in Europe. The people
at the Zoo are dying to have him, but I really can't part with him.
Now, I think that I have inflicted my hobby upon you long enough,
so we cannot do better than follow Tommy's example, and go to our
My South American relative was so engrossed by his grounds and
their curious occupants, that I hardly gave him credit at first for
having any interests outside them. That he had some, and pressing
ones, was soon borne in upon me by the number of telegrams which he
received. They arrived at all hours, and were always opened by him
with the utmost eagerness and anxiety upon his face. Sometimes I
imagined that it must be the Turf, and sometimes the Stock
Exchange, but certainly he had some very urgent business going
forwards which was not transacted upon the Downs of Suffolk.
During the six days of my visit he had never fewer than three
or four telegrams a day, and sometimes as many as seven or eight.
I had occupied these six days so well, that by the end of them
I had succeeded in getting upon the most cordial terms with my
cousin. Every night we had sat up late in the billiard-room, he
telling me the most extraordinary stories of his adventures in
America--stories so desperate and reckless, that I could hardly
associate them with the brown little, chubby man before me. In
return, I ventured upon some of my own reminiscences of London
life, which interested him so much, that he vowed he would come up
to Grosvenor Mansions and stay with me. He was anxious to see the
faster side of city life, and certainly, though I say it, he could
not have chosen a more competent guide. It was not until the last
day of my visit that I ventured to approach that which was on my
mind. I told him frankly about my pecuniary difficulties and my
impending ruin, and I asked his advice--though I hoped for
something more solid. He listened attentively, puffing hard at his
"But surely," said he, "you are the heir of our relative, Lord
"I have every reason to believe so, but he would never make me
"No, no, I have heard of his miserly ways. My poor Marshall,
your position has been a very hard one. By the way, have you heard
any news of Lord Southerton's health lately?"
"He has always been in a critical condition ever since my
"Exactly--a creaking hinge, if ever there was one. Your
inheritance may be a long way off. Dear me, how awkwardly situated
"I had some hopes, sir, that you, knowing all the facts, might
be inclined to advance----"
"Don't say another word, my dear boy," he cried, with the
utmost cordiality; "we shall talk it over tonight, and I give you
my word that whatever is in my power shall be done."
I was not sorry that my visit was drawing to a close, for it is
unpleasant to feel that there is one person in the house who
eagerly desires your departure. Mrs. King's sallow face and
forbidding eyes had become more and more hateful to me. She was
no longer actively rude--her fear of her husband prevented
her--but she pushed her insane jealousy to the extent of ignoring
me, never addressing me, and in every way making my stay at
Greylands as uncomfortable as she could. So offensive was her
manner during that last day, that I should certainly have left had
it not been for that interview with my host in the evening which
would, I hoped, retrieve my broken fortunes.
It was very late when it occurred, for my relative, who had
been receiving even more telegrams than usual during the day, went
off to his study after dinner, and only emerged when the household
had retired to bed. I heard him go round locking the doors, as
custom was of a night, and finally he joined me in the billiard-
room. His stout figure was wrapped in a dressing-gown, and he wore
a pair of red Turkish slippers without any heels. Settling down
into an arm-chair, he brewed himself a glass of grog, in which I
could not help noticing that the whisky considerably predominated
over the water.
"My word!" said he, "what a night!"
It was, indeed. The wind was howling and screaming round the
house, and the latticed windows rattled and shook as if they were
coming in. The glow of the yellow lamps and the flavour of our
cigars seemed the brighter and more fragrant for the contrast.
"Now, my boy," said my host, "we have the house and the night
to ourselves. Let me have an idea of how your affairs stand, and
I will see what can be done to set them in order. I wish to hear
Thus encouraged, I entered into a long exposition, in which all
my tradesmen and creditors from my landlord to my valet, figured in
turn. I had notes in my pocket-book, and I marshalled my facts,
and gave, I flatter myself, a very businesslike statement of my own
unbusinesslike ways and lamentable position. I was depressed,
however, to notice that my companion's eyes were vacant and his
attention elsewhere. When he did occasionally throw out a remark
it was so entirely perfunctory and pointless, that I was sure he
had not in the least followed my remarks. Every now and then he
roused himself and put on some show of interest, asking me to
repeat or to explain more fully, but it was always to sink once
more into the same brown study. At last he rose and threw the end
of his cigar into the grate.
"I'll tell you what, my boy," said he. "I never had a head for
figures, so you will excuse me. You must jot it all down upon
paper, and let me have a note of the amount. I'll understand it
when I see it in black and white."
The proposal was encouraging. I promised to do so.
"And now it's time we were in bed. By Jove, there's one
o'clock striking in the hall."
The tingling of the chiming clock broke through the deep roar
of the gale. The wind was sweeping past with the rush of a great
"I must see my cat before I go to bed," said my host. "A high
wind excites him. Will you come?"
"Certainly," said I.
"Then tread softly and don't speak, for everyone is asleep."
We passed quietly down the lamp-lit Persian-rugged hall, and
through the door at the farther end. All was dark in the stone
corridor, but a stable lantern hung on a hook, and my host took it
down and lit it. There was no grating visible in the passage, so
I knew that the beast was in its cage.
"Come in!" said my relative, and opened the door.
A deep growling as we entered showed that the storm had really
excited the creature. In the flickering light of the lantern, we
saw it, a huge black mass coiled in the corner of its den and
throwing a squat, uncouth shadow upon the whitewashed wall. Its
tail switched angrily among the straw.
"Poor Tommy is not in the best of tempers," said Everard King,
holding up the lantern and looking in at him. "What a black devil
he looks, doesn't he? I must give him a little supper to put him
in a better humour. Would you mind holding the lantern for a
I took it from his hand and he stepped to the door.
"His larder is just outside here," said he. "You will excuse
me for an instant won't you?" He passed out, and the door shut
with a sharp metallic click behind him.
That hard crisp sound made my heart stand still. A sudden wave
of terror passed over me. A vague perception of some monstrous
treachery turned me cold. I sprang to the door, but there was no
handle upon the inner side.
"Here!" I cried. "Let me out!"
"All right! Don't make a row!" said my host from the passage.
"You've got the light all right."
"Yes, but I don't care about being locked in alone like this."
"Don't you?" I heard his hearty, chuckling laugh. "You won't
be alone long."
"Let me out, sir!" I repeated angrily. "I tell you I don't
allow practical jokes of this sort."
"Practical is the word," said he, with another hateful chuckle.
And then suddenly I heard, amidst the roar of the storm, the creak
and whine of the winch-handle turning and the rattle of the grating
as it passed through the slot. Great God, he was letting loose the
In the light of the lantern I saw the bars sliding slowly
before me. Already there was an opening a foot wide at the farther
end. With a scream I seized the last bar with my hands and pulled
with the strength of a madman. I WAS a madman with rage and
horror. For a minute or more I held the thing motionless. I knew
that he was straining with all his force upon the handle, and that
the leverage was sure to overcome me. I gave inch by inch, my feet
sliding along the stones, and all the time I begged and prayed this
inhuman monster to save me from this horrible death. I conjured
him by his kinship. I reminded him that I was his guest; I begged
to know what harm I had ever done him. His only answers were the
tugs and jerks upon the handle, each of which, in spite of all my
struggles, pulled another bar through the opening. Clinging and
clutching, I was dragged across the whole front of the cage, until
at last, with aching wrists and lacerated fingers, I gave up the
hopeless struggle. The grating clanged back as I released it, and
an instant later I heard the shuffle of the Turkish slippers in the
passage, and the slam of the distant door. Then everything was
The creature had never moved during this time. He lay still in
the corner, and his tail had ceased switching. This apparition of
a man adhering to his bars and dragged screaming across him had
apparently filled him with amazement. I saw his great eyes staring
steadily at me. I had dropped the lantern when I seized the
bars, but it still burned upon the floor, and I made a movement
to grasp it, with some idea that its light might protect me. But
the instant I moved, the beast gave a deep and menacing growl. I
stopped and stood still, quivering with fear in every limb. The
cat (if one may call so fearful a creature by so homely a name) was
not more than ten feet from me. The eyes glimmered like two disks
of phosphorus in the darkness. They appalled and yet fascinated
me. I could not take my own eyes from them. Nature plays strange
tricks with us at such moments of intensity, and those glimmering
lights waxed and waned with a steady rise and fall. Sometimes they
seemed to be tiny points of extreme brilliancy--little electric
sparks in the black obscurity--then they would widen and widen
until all that corner of the room was filled with their shifting
and sinister light. And then suddenly they went out altogether.
The beast had closed its eyes. I do not know whether there may
be any truth in the old idea of the dominance of the human gaze, or
whether the huge cat was simply drowsy, but the fact remains that,
far from showing any symptom of attacking me, it simply rested its
sleek, black head upon its huge forepaws and seemed to sleep. I
stood, fearing to move lest I should rouse it into malignant life
once more. But at least I was able to think clearly now that the
baleful eyes were off me. Here I was shut up for the night with
the ferocious beast. My own instincts, to say nothing of the words
of the plausible villain who laid this trap for me, warned me that
the animal was as savage as its master. How could I stave it off
until morning? The door was hopeless, and so were the narrow,
barred windows. There was no shelter anywhere in the bare, stone-
flagged room. To cry for assistance was absurd. I knew that this
den was an outhouse, and that the corridor which connected it with
the house was at least a hundred feet long. Besides, with the gale
thundering outside, my cries were not likely to be heard. I had
only my own courage and my own wits to trust to.
And then, with a fresh wave of horror, my eyes fell upon the
lantern. The candle had burned low, and was already beginning to
gutter. In ten minutes it would be out. I had only ten minutes
then in which to do something, for I felt that if I were once left
in the dark with that fearful beast I should be incapable of
action. The very thought of it paralysed me. I cast my
despairing eyes round this chamber of death, and they rested upon
one spot which seemed to promise I will not say safety, but less
immediate and imminent danger than the open floor.
I have said that the cage had a top as well as a front, and
this top was left standing when the front was wound through the
slot in the wall. It consisted of bars at a few inches' interval,
with stout wire netting between, and it rested upon a strong
stanchion at each end. It stood now as a great barred canopy over
the crouching figure in the corner. The space between this iron
shelf and the roof may have been from two or three feet. If I
could only get up there, squeezed in between bars and ceiling, I
should have only one vulnerable side. I should be safe from below,
from behind, and from each side. Only on the open face of it could
I be attacked. There, it is true, I had no protection whatever;
but at least, I should be out of the brute's path when he began to
pace about his den. He would have to come out of his way to reach
me. It was now or never, for if once the light were out it would
be impossible. With a gulp in my throat I sprang up, seized the
iron edge of the top, and swung myself panting on to it. I writhed
in face downwards, and found myself looking straight into the
terrible eyes and yawning jaws of the cat. Its fetid breath came
up into my face like the steam from some foul pot.
It appeared, however, to be rather curious than angry. With a
sleek ripple of its long, black back it rose, stretched itself, and
then rearing itself on its hind legs, with one forepaw against the
wall, it raised the other, and drew its claws across the wire
meshes beneath me. One sharp, white hook tore through my
trousers--for I may mention that I was still in evening dress--and
dug a furrow in my knee. It was not meant as an attack, but rather
as an experiment, for upon my giving a sharp cry of pain he dropped
down again, and springing lightly into the room, he began walking
swiftly round it, looking up every now and again in my direction.
For my part I shuffled backwards until I lay with my back against
the wall, screwing myself into the smallest space possible. The
farther I got the more difficult it was for him to attack me.
He seemed more excited now that he had begun to move about, and
he ran swiftly and noiselessly round and round the den,
passing continually underneath the iron couch upon which I lay. It
was wonderful to see so great a bulk passing like a shadow, with
hardly the softest thudding of velvety pads. The candle was
burning low--so low that I could hardly see the creature. And
then, with a last flare and splutter it went out altogether. I was
alone with the cat in the dark!
It helps one to face a danger when one knows that one has done
all that possibly can be done. There is nothing for it then but to
quietly await the result. In this case, there was no chance of
safety anywhere except the precise spot where I was. I stretched
myself out, therefore, and lay silently, almost breathlessly,
hoping that the beast might forget my presence if I did nothing to
remind him. I reckoned that it must already be two o'clock. At
four it would be full dawn. I had not more than two hours to wait
Outside, the storm was still raging, and the rain lashed
continually against the little windows. Inside, the poisonous and
fetid air was overpowering. I could neither hear nor see the cat.
I tried to think about other things--but only one had power enough
to draw my mind from my terrible position. That was the
contemplation of my cousin's villainy, his unparalleled hypocrisy,
his malignant hatred of me. Beneath that cheerful face there
lurked the spirit of a mediaeval assassin. And as I thought of it
I saw more clearly how cunningly the thing had been arranged. He
had apparently gone to bed with the others. No doubt he had his
witness to prove it. Then, unknown to them, he had slipped down,
had lured me into his den and abandoned me. His story would be so
simple. He had left me to finish my cigar in the billiard-room.
I had gone down on my own account to have a last look at the cat.
I had entered the room without observing that the cage was opened,
and I had been caught. How could such a crime be brought home to
him? Suspicion, perhaps--but proof, never!
How slowly those dreadful two hours went by! Once I heard a
low, rasping sound, which I took to be the creature licking its own
fur. Several times those greenish eyes gleamed at me through the
darkness, but never in a fixed stare, and my hopes grew stronger
that my presence had been forgotten or ignored. At last the least
faint glimmer of light came through the windows--I first dimly
saw them as two grey squares upon the black wall, then grey turned
to white, and I could see my terrible companion once more. And he,
alas, could see me!
It was evident to me at once that he was in a much more
dangerous and aggressive mood than when I had seen him last. The
cold of the morning had irritated him, and he was hungry as well.
With a continual growl he paced swiftly up and down the side of the
room which was farthest from my refuge, his whiskers bristling
angrily, and his tail switching and lashing. As he turned at the
corners his savage eyes always looked upwards at me with a dreadful
menace. I knew then that he meant to kill me. Yet I found myself
even at that moment admiring the sinuous grace of the devilish
thing, its long, undulating, rippling movements, the gloss of its
beautiful flanks, the vivid, palpitating scarlet of the glistening
tongue which hung from the jet-black muzzle. And all the time that
deep, threatening growl was rising and rising in an unbroken
crescendo. I knew that the crisis was at hand.
It was a miserable hour to meet such a death--so cold, so
comfortless, shivering in my light dress clothes upon this gridiron
of torment upon which I was stretched. I tried to brace myself
to it, to raise my soul above it, and at the same time, with the
lucidity which comes to a perfectly desperate man, I cast round for
some possible means of escape. One thing was clear to me. If that
front of the cage was only back in its position once more, I could
find a sure refuge behind it. Could I possibly pull it back? I
hardly dared to move for fear of bringing the creature upon me.
Slowly, very slowly, I put my hand forward until it grasped the
edge of the front, the final bar which protruded through the wall.
To my surprise it came quite easily to my jerk. Of course the
difficulty of drawing it out arose from the fact that I was
clinging to it. I pulled again, and three inches of it came
through. It ran apparently on wheels. I pulled again . . . and
then the cat sprang!
It was so quick, so sudden, that I never saw it happen. I
simply heard the savage snarl, and in an instant afterwards the
blazing yellow eyes, the flattened black head with its red tongue
and flashing teeth, were within reach of me. The impact of the
creature shook the bars upon which I lay, until I thought (as far
as I could think of anything at such a moment) that they were
coming down. The cat swayed there for an instant, the head
and front paws quite close to me, the hind paws clawing to find a
grip upon the edge of the grating. I heard the claws rasping as
they clung to the wire-netting, and the breath of the beast made me
sick. But its bound had been miscalculated. It could not retain
its position. Slowly, grinning with rage, and scratching madly at
the bars, it swung backwards and dropped heavily upon the floor.
With a growl it instantly faced round to me and crouched for
I knew that the next few moments would decide my fate. The
creature had learned by experience. It would not miscalculate
again. I must act promptly, fearlessly, if I were to have a chance
for life. In an instant I had formed my plan. Pulling off my
dress-coat, I threw it down over the head of the beast. At the
same moment I dropped over the edge, seized the end of the front
grating, and pulled it frantically out of the wall.
It came more easily than I could have expected. I rushed
across the room, bearing it with me; but, as I rushed, the accident
of my position put me upon the outer side. Had it been the other
way, I might have come off scathless. As it was, there was a
moment's pause as I stopped it and tried to pass in through the
opening which I had left. That moment was enough to give time to
the creature to toss off the coat with which I had blinded him and
to spring upon me. I hurled myself through the gap and pulled the
rails to behind me, but he seized my leg before I could entirely
withdraw it. One stroke of that huge paw tore off my calf as a
shaving of wood curls off before a plane. The next moment,
bleeding and fainting, I was lying among the foul straw with a line
of friendly bars between me and the creature which ramped so
frantically against them.
Too wounded to move, and too faint to be conscious of fear, I
could only lie, more dead than alive, and watch it. It pressed its
broad, black chest against the bars and angled for me with its
crooked paws as I have seen a kitten do before a mouse-trap. It
ripped my clothes, but, stretch as it would, it could not quite
reach me. I have heard of the curious numbing effect produced by
wounds from the great carnivora, and now I was destined to
experience it, for I had lost all sense of personality, and was as
interested in the cat's failure or success as if it were some
game which I was watching. And then gradually my mind drifted away
into strange vague dreams, always with that black face and red
tongue coming back into them, and so I lost myself in the nirvana
of delirium, the blessed relief of those who are too sorely tried.
Tracing the course of events afterwards, I conclude that I must
have been insensible for about two hours. What roused me to
consciousness once more was that sharp metallic click which had
been the precursor of my terrible experience. It was the shooting
back of the spring lock. Then, before my senses were clear enough
to entirely apprehend what they saw, I was aware of the round,
benevolent face of my cousin peering in through the open door.
What he saw evidently amazed him. There was the cat crouching on
the floor. I was stretched upon my back in my shirt-sleeves within
the cage, my trousers torn to ribbons and a great pool of blood all
round me. I can see his amazed face now, with the morning sunlight
upon it. He peered at me, and peered again. Then he closed the
door behind him, and advanced to the cage to see if I were really
I cannot undertake to say what happened. I was not in a fit
state to witness or to chronicle such events. I can only say that
I was suddenly conscious that his face was away from me--that he
was looking towards the animal.
"Good old Tommy!" he cried. "Good old Tommy!"
Then he came near the bars, with his back still towards me.
"Down, you stupid beast!" he roared. "Down, sir! Don't you
know your master?"
Suddenly even in my bemuddled brain a remembrance came of those
words of his when he had said that the taste of blood would turn
the cat into a fiend. My blood had done it, but he was to pay the
"Get away!" he screamed. "Get away, you devil! Baldwin!
Baldwin! Oh, my God!"
And then I heard him fall, and rise, and fall again, with a
sound like the ripping of sacking. His screams grew fainter until
they were lost in the worrying snarl. And then, after I thought
that he was dead, I saw, as in a nightmare, a blinded, tattered,
blood-soaked figure running wildly round the room--and
that was the last glimpse which I had of him before I fainted once
I was many months in my recovery--in fact, I cannot say that I
have ever recovered, for to the end of my days I shall carry a
stick as a sign of my night with the Brazilian cat. Baldwin, the
groom, and the other servants could not tell what had occurred,
when, drawn by the death-cries of their master, they found me
behind the bars, and his remains--or what they afterwards
discovered to be his remains--in the clutch of the creature which
he had reared. They stalled him off with hot irons, and afterwards
shot him through the loophole of the door before they could finally
extricate me. I was carried to my bedroom, and there, under the
roof of my would-be murderer, I remained between life and death for
several weeks. They had sent for a surgeon from Clipton and a
nurse from London, and in a month I was able to be carried to the
station, and so conveyed back once more to Grosvenor Mansions.
I have one remembrance of that illness, which might have been
part of the ever-changing panorama conjured up by a delirious brain
were it not so definitely fixed in my memory. One night, when the
nurse was absent, the door of my chamber opened, and a tall woman
in blackest mourning slipped into the room. She came across to me,
and as she bent her sallow face I saw by the faint gleam of the
night-light that it was the Brazilian woman whom my cousin had
married. She stared intently into my face, and her expression was
more kindly than I had ever seen it.
"Are you conscious?" she asked.
I feebly nodded--for I was still very weak.
"Well; then, I only wished to say to you that you have yourself
to blame. Did I not do all I could for you? From the beginning I
tried to drive you from the house. By every means, short of
betraying my husband, I tried to save you from him. I knew that he
had a reason for bringing you here. I knew that he would never let
you get away again. No one knew him as I knew him, who had
suffered from him so often. I did not dare to tell you all this.
He would have killed me. But I did my best for you. As
things have turned out, you have been the best friend that I
have ever had. You have set me free, and I fancied that nothing
but death would do that. I am sorry if you are hurt, but I cannot
reproach myself. I told you that you were a fool--and a fool you
have been." She crept out of the room, the bitter, singular woman,
and I was never destined to see her again. With what remained from
her husband's property she went back to her native land, and I have
heard that she afterwards took the veil at Pernambuco.
It was not until I had been back in London for some time that
the doctors pronounced me to be well enough to do business. It was
not a very welcome permission to me, for I feared that it would be
the signal for an inrush of creditors; but it was Summers, my
lawyer, who first took advantage of it.
"I am very glad to see that your lordship is so much better,"
said he. "I have been waiting a long time to offer my
"What do you mean, Summers? This is no time for joking."
"I mean what I say," he answered. "You have been Lord
Southerton for the last six weeks, but we feared that it would
retard your recovery if you were to learn it."
Lord Southerton! One of the richest peers in England! I could
not believe my ears. And then suddenly I thought of the time which
had elapsed, and how it coincided with my injuries.
"Then Lord Southerton must have died about the same time that
I was hurt?"
"His death occurred upon that very day." Summers looked hard
at me as I spoke, and I am convinced--for he was a very shrewd
fellow--that he had guessed the true state of the case. He paused
for a moment as if awaiting a confidence from me, but I could not
see what was to be gained by exposing such a family scandal.
"Yes, a very curious coincidence," he continued, with the same
knowing look. "Of course, you are aware that your cousin Everard
King was the next heir to the estates. Now, if it had been you
instead of him who had been torn to pieces by this tiger, or
whatever it was, then of course he would have been Lord Southerton
at the present moment."
"No doubt," said I.
"And he took such an interest in it," said Summers. "I happen
to know that the late Lord Southerton's valet was in his pay, and
that he used to have telegrams from him every few hours to tell him
how he was getting on. That would be about the time when you were
down there. Was it not strange that he should wish to be so well
informed, since he knew that he was not the direct heir?"
"Very strange," said I. "And now, Summers, if you will bring
me my bills and a new cheque-book, we will begin to get things into
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