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

absolutely unavoidable.



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

once more.



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

tears.



"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,"

said he.



"Oh, yes--yes, certainly!"



He put his hand through my arm and walked with me up and down

the lawn.



"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

menagerie."



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

lunch."



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

cigar.



"But surely," said he, "you are the heir of our relative, Lord

Southerton?"



"I have every reason to believe so, but he would never make me

any allowance."



"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

childhood."



"Exactly--a creaking hinge, if ever there was one. Your

inheritance may be a long way off. Dear me, how awkwardly situated

you are!"



"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

every detail."



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

river.



"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

moment?"



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

Brazilian cat!



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

silent.



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

for daylight.



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

another spring.



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

dead.



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

price.



"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

again.





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

congratulations."



"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

order."





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