Man's Story by Jack London
He had a dreamy, far-away look in his eyes, and his sad, insistent
voice, gentle-spoken as a maid's, seemed the placid embodiment of
some deep-seated melancholy. He was the Leopard Man, but he did not
look it. His business in life, whereby he lived, was to appear in a
cage of performing leopards before vast audiences, and to thrill
those audiences by certain exhibitions of nerve for which his
employers rewarded him on a scale commensurate with the thrills he
As I say, he did not look it. He was narrow-hipped,
narrow-shouldered, and anaemic, while he seemed not so much oppressed
by gloom as by a sweet and gentle sadness, the weight of which was as
sweetly and gently borne. For an hour I had been trying to get a story
out of him, but he appeared to lack imagination. To him there was no
romance in his gorgeous career, no deeds of daring, no
thrills—nothing but a gray sameness and infinite boredom.
Lions? Oh, yes! he had fought with them. It was nothing. All you
had to do was to stay sober. Anybody could whip a lion to a standstill
with an ordinary stick. He had fought one for half an hour once. Just
hit him on the nose every time he rushed, and when he got artful and
rushed with his head down, why, the thing to do was to stick out your
leg. When he grabbed at the leg you drew it back and hit hint on the
nose again. That was all.
With the far-away look in his eyes and his soft flow of words he
showed me his scars. There were many of them, and one recent one
where a tigress had reached for his shoulder and gone down to the
bone. I could see the neatly mended rents in the coat he had on. His
right arm, from the elbow down, looked as though it had gone through
a threshing machine, what of the ravage wrought by claws and fangs.
But it was nothing, he said, only the old wounds bothered him
somewhat when rainy weather came on.
Suddenly his face brightened with a recollection, for he was really
as anxious to give me a story as I was to get it.
"I suppose you've heard of the lion-tamer who was hated by another
man?" he asked.
He paused and looked pensively at a sick lion in the cage opposite.
"Got the toothache," he explained. "Well, the lion-tamer's big play
to the audience was putting his head in a lion's mouth. The man who
hated him attended every performance in the hope sometime of seeing
that lion crunch down. He followed the show about all over the
country. The years went by and he grew old, and the lion-tamer grew
old, and the lion grew old. And at last one day, sitting in a front
seat, he saw what he had waited for. The lion crunched down, and
there wasn't any need to call a doctor."
The Leopard Man glanced casually over his finger nails in a manner
which would have been critical had it not been so sad.
"Now, that's what I call patience," he continued, "and it's my
style. But it was not the style of a fellow I knew. He was a little,
thin, sawed-off, sword-swallowing and juggling Frenchman. De Ville,
he called himself, and he had a nice wife. She did trapeze work and
used to dive from under the roof into a net, turning over once on the
way as nice as you please.
"De Ville had a quick temper, as quick as his hand, and his hand
was as quick as the paw of a tiger. One day, because the ring-master
called him a frog-eater, or something like that and maybe a little
worse, he shoved him against the soft pine background he used in his
knife-throwing act, so quick the ring-master didn't have time to
think, and there, before the audience, De Ville kept the air on fire
with his knives, sinking them into the wood all around the ring-master
so close that they passed through his clothes and most of them bit
into his skin.
"The clowns had to pull the knives out to get him loose, for he was
pinned fast. So the word went around to watch out for De Ville, and
no one dared be more than barely civil to his wife. And she was a sly
bit of baggage, too, only all hands were afraid of De Ville.
"But there was one man, Wallace, who was afraid of nothing. He was
the lion-tamer, and he had the self-same trick of putting his head
into the lion's mouth. He'd put it into the mouths of any of them,
though he preferred Augustus, a big, good-natured beast who could
always be depended upon.
"As I was saying, Wallace—'King' Wallace we called him—was afraid
of nothing alive or dead. He was a king and no mistake. I've seen him
drunk, and on a wager go into the cage of a lion that'd turned nasty,
and without a stick beat him to a finish. Just did it with his fist on
"Madame de Ville—"
At an uproar behind us the Leopard Man turned quietly around. It
was a divided cage, and a monkey, poking through the bars and around
the partition, had had its paw seized by a big gray wolf who was
trying to pull it off by main strength. The arm seemed stretching out
longer end longer like a thick elastic, and the unfortunate monkey's
mates were raising a terrible din. No keeper was at hand, so the
Leopard Man stepped over a couple of paces, dealt the wolf a sharp
blow on the nose with the light cane he carried, and returned with a
sadly apologetic smile to take up his unfinished sentence as though
there had been no interruption.
"—looked at King Wallace and King Wallace looked at her, while De
Ville looked black. We warned Wallace, but it was no use. He laughed
at us, as he laughed at De Ville one day when he shoved De Ville's
head into a bucket of paste because he wanted to fight.
"De Ville was in a pretty mess—I helped to scrape him off; but he
was cool as a cucumber and made no threats at all. But I saw a
glitter in his eyes which I had seen often in the eyes of wild
beasts, and I went out of my way to give Wallace a final warning. He
laughed, but he did not look so much in Madame de Ville's direction
"Several months passed by. Nothing had happened and I was beginning
to think it all a scare over nothing. We were West by that time,
showing in 'Frisco. It was during the afternoon performance, and the
big tent was filled with women and children, when I went looking for
Red Denny, the head canvas-man, who had walked off with my
"Passing by one of the dressing tents I glanced in through a hole
in the canvas to see if I could locate him. He wasn't there, but
directly in front of me was King Wallace, in tights, waiting for his
turn to go on with his cage of performing lions. He was watching with
much amusement a quarrel between a couple of trapeze artists. All the
rest of the people in the dressing tent were watching the same thing,
with the exception of De Ville whom I noticed staring at Wallace with
undisguised hatred. Wallace and the rest were all too busy following
the quarrel to notice this or what followed.
"But I saw it through the hole in the canvas. De Ville drew his
handkerchief from his pocket, made as though to mop the sweat from
his face with it (it was a hot day), and at the same time walked past
Wallace's back. The look troubled me at the time, for not only did I
see hatred in it, but I saw triumph as well.
"'De Ville will bear watching,' I said to myself, and I really
breathed easier when I saw him go out the entrance to the circus
grounds and board an electric car for down town. A few minutes later
I was in the big tent, where I had overhauled Red Denny. King Wallace
was doing his turn and holding the audience spellbound. He was in a
particularly vicious mood, and he kept the lions stirred up till they
were all snarling, that is, all of them except old Augustus, and he
was just too fat and lazy and old to get stirred up over anything.
"Finally Wallace cracked the old lion's knees with his whip and got
him into position. Old Augustus, blinking good-naturedly, opened his
mouth and in popped Wallace's head. Then the jaws came together,
CRUNCH, just like that."
The Leopard Man smiled in a sweetly wistful fashion, and the
far-away look came into his eyes.
"And that was the end of King Wallace," he went on in his sad, low
voice. "After the excitement cooled down I watched my chance and bent
over and smelled Wallace's head. Then I sneezed."
"It. . .it was. . .?" I queried with halting eagerness.
"Snuff—that De Ville dropped on his hair in the dressing tent. Old
Augustus never meant to do it. He only sneezed."