Outside the little village of Katrine,
Just where the country ventures into town,
A circus pitched its tents, and on the green
The canvas pyramids were fastened down.
The night was clear. The moon was climbing higher.
The show was over; crowds were coming out,
When, through the surging mass, the cry of "fire!"
Rose from a murmur to a wild, hoarse shout.
"Fire! fire!" The crackling flames ran up the tent,
The shrieks of frightened women filled the air,
The cries of prisoned beasts weird horror lent
To the wild scene of uproar and despair.
A lion's roar high over all the cries!
There is a crash—out into the night
The tawny creature leaps with glowing eyes,
Then stands defiant in the fierce red light.
"The lion's loose! The lion! Fly for your lives!"
But deathlike silence falls upon them all,
So paralyzed with fear that no one strives
To make escape, to move, to call!
"A weapon! Shoot him!" comes from far outside;
The shout wakes men again to conscious life;
But as the aim is taken, the ranks divide
To make a passage for the keeper's wife.
Alone she came, a woman tall and fair,
And hurried on, and near the lion stood;
"Oh, do not fire!" she cried; "let no one dare
To shoot my lion—he is tame and good.
"My son? my son?" she called; and to her ran
A little child, that scarce had seen nine years.
"Play! play!" she said. Quickly the boy began.
His little flute was heard by awe-struck ears.
"Fetch me a cage," she cried. The men obeyed.
"Now go, my son, and bring the lion here."
Slowly the child advanced, and piped, and played,
While men and women held their breaths in fear.
Sweetly he played, as though no horrid fate
Could ever harm his sunny little head.
He never paused, nor seemed to hesitate,
But went to do the thing his mother said.
The lion hearkened to the sweet clear sound;
The anger vanished from his threatening eyes;
All motionless he crouched upon the ground
And listened to the silver melodies.
The boy thus reached his side. The beast stirred not.
The child then backward walked, and played again,
Till, moving softly, slowly from the spot,
The lion followed the familiar strain.
The cage is waiting—wide its opened door—
And toward it, cautiously, the child retreats.
But see! The lion, restless grown once more,
Is lashing with his tail in angry beats.
The boy, advancing, plays again the lay.
Again the beast, remembering the refrain,
Follows him on, until in this dread way
The cage is reached, and in it go the twain.
At once the boy springs out, the door makes fast,
Then leaps with joy to reach his mother's side;
Her praise alone, of all that crowd so vast,
Has power to thrill his little heart with pride.