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Leo, the Lion by Ellen Velvin

Leo was a full-grown, African lion, and one of the finest specimens of his race. Not only was he the king of beasts, but he was the king of all other lions for miles and miles around the country in which he lived.

From a little, tawny cub, when he had played and frolicked with his brother and sister, he had given proofs of his extraordinary strength. His mother had at last decided he was too rough to play with the others, so bruised and knocked about were they on more than one occasion after romping with him.

The muscles of his thick paws and sturdy limbs stood out like knotted cords even as a cub; his claws cut like little sickles, and his hard, rope-like tail could give a blow that would knock his brother or sister head over heels.

As he grew up he gave promise of the magnificent animal he eventually became. Added to his wonderful strength he had marvelous daring, even for a young lion, being absolutely fearless.

Long before his mane had fully grown the other lions stood in awe of him; for, although at times he was indolent and lazy, like the rest of his kind, and would not exert himself unless obliged to do so, there were other times when he allowed nothing to stand in his way.

His favorite food happened to be buffalo and giraffe, and although they were both extremely troublesome things to get hold of, Leo cared not. He liked buffalo and giraffe, and he intended to have them. The other lions would never go out of their way if they could get an antelope or a jaguar, because they were easy to strike down and were very good eating; but to obtain a buffalo or a giraffe meant running long distances, and this is what a lion does not care to do.

With his great strength he can give tremendous springs, but, owing to his indolent nature, he dislikes a long-continued race, which is apt, before it is finished, to be somewhat tiring, even to a lion.

Buffaloes and giraffes are made for running and think nothing of it, but the lion is built in a different manner, and, moreover, he knows that these animals are so wonderfully quick of hearing that they generally obtain a good start to begin with.

But Leo cared nothing for this: if he wanted a buffalo he had it, even if he raced half the night through for it. As a matter of fact, the longer the race the more he enjoyed the feast. What could be nicer than, after racing for miles after a nice, fat buffalo, to pull it down with his strong paws, to tear open its throat, and drink the warm blood?

Sometimes he ate a part of the flesh, but not always; he was somewhat fastidious, and so that he had the warm blood, he more often than not left the carcass for the wolves and hyenas, or any other animal who cared to have it.

There was perhaps even more delight in obtaining a giraffe than a buffalo. For a giraffe can skim over the ground at an amazing pace—so swiftly, so silently, that not a sound can be heard except the soft, gentle swish of its funny little tail.

The stately carriage of the giraffe does not appeal to the lion, and the graceful neck, with its pretty head and round, gentle eyes, has no effect on him; all he thinks of is the tender flesh and delicate flavor which belong peculiarly to a giraffe.

There is no struggle as with the buffalo when the lion springs upon the giraffe. There is no roar or noise of any kind, for the giraffe is absolutely dumb, and makes no sound even when dying.

But Leo was fastidious even about the giraffe: he only ate the parts he liked best, and left the rest for the lower animals.

At other times, when the indolence of his nature overcame him, Leo would content himself with a young antelope or any other animal which was easy to capture. When food was scarce he would use the lion's tactics to get it.

In the first place, he would be very careful to go against the wind, so that the peculiar odor, which all animals that belong to the cat tribe have, should be blown behind him, and so not convey any warning to the animals he was approaching. If he failed to find anything, he would resort to tactic number two. He would put his huge mouth close to the ground and roar, moving his head in a half-circle all the time; by doing this it was impossible for the animals to tell from which direction the sound came, and, wild with terror, the foolish creatures would rush out in all directions, very often into Leo's very mouth.

After this he would creep indolently back to his comfortable lair and have a good, long sleep. For sleep is one of a lion's greatest enjoyments. He sleeps after a night hunt; sleeps during the heat of the day; in fact, when there is nothing else to do, and whenever he has an opportunity. Belonging to the cat tribe, he has the cat's love of sleep and ease very strongly developed, and is about as indolent an animal on occasion as can be imagined.

When Leo was fully grown he was a magnificent animal, and even the other male lions stood in awe of him. He looked what he was—a very king of lions, when, after a long sleep, he rose up in all his majesty of strength, shook his magnificent mane and lashed his tail, with its curious little black tuft, to and fro as though eager for a fight.

He was acknowledged by all his brethren, almost before he had reached his maturity, to be the king of them all; and Leo took the honor as a matter of course, and kept up his reputation to the very letter.

He was the terror of the villagers by night, for he had already become known, and the animal creation lived in deadly fear of him.

He would stalk into the villages in the coolest and most daring manner, passing under the very noses of the guns, take up some lamb or sheep or other small animal, and walk coolly off with it, growling in his most impudent manner the while. In vain did the guns blaze forth fire and smoke; in vain were traps set in all directions. Leo was not to be caught: he eluded them all, and went his way, and became more and more a living terror and a dread.

When he took unto himself a wife he grew fiercer still, and his rage and passion at the slightest sign of any intruder kept all other members of the tribe at a safe distance.

In due course of time he had a small family, and once in possession of these precious cubs his strength and fierceness increased, and his daring knew no bounds. His roars struck terror into all hearts, and his craftiness and extraordinary cunning inspired a superstitious fear among the natives, which made them speak of him with hushed breath.

But pride must have a fall, and Leo's fall came in a somewhat curious manner.

It happened that food was very scarce, and that the young cubs were growing more and more hungry as the days went on.

Leo was a proud father, and the fine, sturdy cubs which belonged to him were the admiration of all the other lions who had ever had the privilege of seeing them. He would go through almost anything for himself, but for his wife and cubs he cared not what he faced or what he dared, so that he obtained what he wanted.

They had eaten up most of the young things which had been thriving on the various farms, and there seemed to be nothing left but either a sheep or a bullock. Being lazy, Leo did not care to carry either a sheep or a bullock to his lair; he preferred something lighter.

And so it happened one evening that, as he made his way towards the village—making up his mind that if there was nothing else he must have a sheep—he suddenly came across the dead body of a little Kaffir boy lying by the wayside.

The Kaffirs very seldom bury their dead, and so the mother had laid her beloved one under a shady bank, and left him with a few leaves strewn over him.

At first Leo hesitated. He had never tasted Kaffir, and he also knew that it was a bad thing to eat. But he was very hungry himself, and his wife and family were hungry, too; and the little Kaffir boy would be light to carry.

After smelling and turning over the body, he decided first to taste it and see whether it would be good for his family to eat.

Alas! once having tasted it, Leo was done for. It was the most delicious food he had ever tasted, and he was unable to stop eating until he had made a full, heavy meal. Then he looked at the poor little carcass; there would still be enough for the cubs, and yet he hesitated.

He knew it would be bad for them; he knew that, once having given it to them, they would be spoilt for all other food; but he had eaten so heartily himself, and was already getting so lazy and sleepy from the effects of his meal, that he had no energy nor inclination to hunt for any other food that night. So, taking the remains of the little Kaffir boy in his strong mouth, he trotted swiftly off to his lair, and put it down temptingly in front of the cubs.

There were two of them, and they were ravenously hungry; without more ado they set to work, and tore and crunched with their sharp teeth and strong little jaws, until there was not a vestige of the little Kaffir boy left.

The lioness, seeing there was only sufficient food for the cubs, did not attempt to take any, but, hungry as she was, looked placidly on while the young ones satisfied their hunger.

[Illustration: "HE WOULD TAKE UP SOME SMALL ANIMAL AND WALK COOLLY OFF
WITH IT."]

Leo looked at her guiltily, and expected reproaches. But, as it happened, his wife had not noticed what kind of food he had brought; it had been too much torn to be recognizable, and she concluded it was the remains of some small animal he had killed.

At any other time he would have gone out again to fetch some food for his wife, but he was so heavy and sleepy that, with one big yawn, he sank down, stretched out his huge paws in front of him, and, nestling his handsome head comfortably between them, sank into a deep sleep.

From that day Leo was no longer the same. He was restless and irritable, snappy and fierce even to his wife and children. He raced no more after buffaloes or giraffes, or even for antelopes or jaguars; all he wanted was human flesh.

Once having tasted it, he cared for and could eat no other. And as time went on his magnificent coat began to come off in great, unsightly patches, his eyes and mouth got sore and red, and his limbs grew weak and rickety. His roar was no longer the fierce, grand, triumphant roar that it had been; it resembled a hoarse cry of pain now, and his little ones—instead of being sturdy little cubs as they had been—had grown thin, miserable, and mangy.

Altogether Leo was in a miserable state; and, to add to his misery, his wife turned against him. The sight of his mangy coat and bloodshot eyes, not to speak of the sore, drooping mouth, filled her with disgust, and she growled fiercely whenever he came near her.

In vain he brought her food to eat; but the food was always dead
Kaffir, and she would not touch it.

She appeared, too, to turn against the cubs, and, instead of fondling and caressing them as formerly, kept them aloof and chastised them severely with her heavy paws whenever they came too near.

Soon after this one of the cubs died, and Leo's grief was painful to witness. He licked it all over, put his huge paw on it, and turned it from one side to the other, uttering queer little sounds all the time, and, when he found it would neither move nor respond to his caresses, gave a prolonged howl of misery which struck terror into his wife's heart.

She had had enough of it by this time; she disliked a mangy husband and scrofulous children, and so the next evening quietly took her departure to some other place where the surroundings were more congenial.

Leo tottered back to his lair that night with staggering, uneven steps to find his wife had gone and that his last remaining cub had just died.

With a cry of pain, something between a roar and a deep growl, Leo stretched himself over the two little, dead bodies of his children and pined and fretted away.

He no longer went for food, not even for Kaffirs, and the villagers and animals in the neighborhood wondered what had become of him, and whether his absence meant some fresh daring on his part.

But there was no more daring for Leo. From the time he laid his long, warm body over the cold forms of his children he never rose again.

For three days he lay there, doing his best to bring them back to life; but on the third day his great head, with what remained of its magnificent beauty, sank for the last time on his heavy paws, and Leo, the king of lions, was dead.

And so this grand, strong, noble animal lost his life through eating human flesh, which he knew quite well he ought not to touch.