Chapter XII

CHAPTER XII

The Lion a Noble Animal

Androcles and the Lion

Many, many years ago, the Romans ruled a large part of the world; for they were a great nation. Their territories included the north of Africa. A rich Roman, who lived there, had many slaves. One of his slaves was called Androcles (An´ drō clēz). The Roman treated Androcles very cruelly. So Androcles ran away from him.

But the Roman sent out many soldiers to capture Androcles. So after hiding in many places, Androcles was at last compelled to flee into wild regions, where there were few inhabitants. As the soldiers followed him even there, he had to go still farther into the interior of the country, till he came to the jungle. There he lived by eating fruits.

One day, toward evening, he was sitting on the ground, when suddenly he saw a lion before him. Poor Androcles gave himself up for lost, as he had no weapon with him with which even to try to fight the lion. He knew it was useless to try to run away, as the lion could catch him with a couple of bounds. So he thought that his only chance was to sit quite still, for then the lion might go away.

But the lion looked at him, and then came toward him. The animal did not rush toward him or leap. Instead, the lion just walked toward Androcles.

That was strange, Androcles thought. The lion came nearer and nearer—and then Androcles noticed that the lion walked in a peculiar manner. That puzzled Androcles. But he sat quite still, hoping that the lion would yet go away.

But instead the lion came right up to him. Now he would be eaten up, poor Androcles thought.

Then a wonderful thing happened. Instead of eating him, the lion held out a paw toward him. Then Androcles understood.

He looked at the lion's paw closely. He saw that the paw was swollen. Yes, that is why the lion had been limping.

Androcles took the paw in his hands and examined it. On the under side he found a large thorn embedded deep in the flesh. It must have been there for several days, and must have caused the lion intense pain.

Androcles pulled out the thorn carefully; then he squeezed down the swelling. That relieved the lion's pain.

Immediately the lion showed his gratitude. He wagged his tail, fawned on Androcles, and gambolled around him playfully like a dog. He could not do more to show his feelings.

After a time the lion went away to the jungle.

A year passed. Androcles still lived in hiding. Then at last he was captured by the soldiers, and brought before the judge.

It used to be the law in those days to condemn runaway slaves to death. Also, it used to be the custom to put to death Christians and condemned slaves by casting them to lions.

So one afternoon all the Romans in that place were gathered to make a holiday. It was a kind of circus they had come to see, only, instead of having the usual clever tricks which you now see in a circus, the Romans had fights between men and men, between men and animals—and finally, as a grand finish, the Christians and the condemned slaves were thrown to wild lions. Many of the lions had recently been captured from the jungle; so they were quite wild. And as they had been kept without food for two or three days on purpose, they were very ferocious and quite eager to eat the Christians and the condemned slaves.

When it came Androcles' turn to be eaten, he was thrown into the enclosure, which was called an arena. Then a wild lion, which had been recently caught from the jungle, was let loose into the arena from a cage.

Ten thousand Romans looked on to see Androcles die. And Androcles looked up to the Romans, and found no mercy in them. He looked at the famished and furious lion—and knew that he must die.

For the lion crouched ten yards before him, lashing his tail in fury. The lion gave a bound, and came within five yards of Androcles. There the lion crouched again for a moment—then made a rush at Androcles. Everyone thought that now the lion would kill Androcles.

But a still more wonderful thing happened. Instead of killing Androcles, the lion gambolled around him, and fawned on him—as if he were glad to meet again an old friend.

Then Androcles understood. He had for gotten all about the lion he had met in the jungle the year before, whose pain he had relieved. But the lion had not forgotten him.

Who says that animals have no memory? This lion had a memory! He carried in his memory the gratitude of his heart for the pain that Androcles had relieved. Although Androcles was now dressed differently—in fact, most of his clothes had been stripped from him—the moment the lion had drawn near enough to him, he had recognized Androcles as his old friend and benefactor of the jungle.

Famished as he was, and furious at being kept without food, the lion would gladly suffer the pangs of hunger rather than injure a hair of his friend's head. Instead, the lion fawned on him, then lay down before him like a lamb.

Then something melted in the cruel Romans' hearts; perhaps they realized that there was some Great Power beyond them, who had inspired a raging beast of the jungle to be as gentle as a lamb.

The Romans asked Androcles to explain this marvel. He told the story of his adventure with that lion in the jungle—just as I have told it to you.

Then Androcles was pardoned, and given his freedom, in memory of this great wonder.

My dear children, this story has a special meaning for us. We are told that if we cast our bread upon the waters, it shall be returned to us. That means that if we do an act of kindness, we shall have our reward. Androcles did an act of kindness to the lion in the jungle. In return Androcles was given back his life in the arena.

The Lady and the Lioness

I shall close this chapter by telling you another true story. It happened quite recently, in America. In a zoo there was a lioness. She had two little cubs. She was very fond of them, and she used to lick them with her tongue many times every day to keep them clean. They used to trot around her and scramble over her, then lie down beside her, one on each side, to have another cleaning with her tongue.

One day the lioness and her two cubs were lying like that quite close to the bars of the cage. One of the visitors there happened to be a man who had an umbrella. Very foolishly he poked one of the cubs with the umbrella.[164] He did not mean to hurt the cub; I suppose he only wanted to feel it. But still it was very foolish to poke the cub with the umbrella.

In an instant the lioness jumped up with an angry roar, and thrust out her paw between the bars. Luckily for the man, she could not quite reach his arm; otherwise she would have dragged him to the bars of the cage and killed him instantly. Instead, she could only reach the umbrella. So she seized the umbrella, and wreaked her vengeance on it. She smashed it to a thousand bits. The man, of course, ran away.

Then gradually the lioness quieted down. She lay down as before in front of the bars, with the cubs beside her, one on each side. Now and again she gave them an affectionate lick with her tongue, first one, then the other. That helped to sooth her feelings somewhat. Still, as you may well understand, she was bitter at heart at the foolishness of some people.

Now it so happened that a lady had observed the whole incident. She had been standing all the time in front of the cage, a few yards away. And this lady had two little girls with her, one four years old, and the other six years old.

You may be sure that the lioness saw the lady and the two little children. After a time the lady came a little nearer to the cage, the two little girls standing beside her, one on each side. The lady tried to catch the lioness's eye. Presently their eyes met. While the lioness was still looking at her, the lady patted her two little girls on the cheek.

Then the lady came a step nearer the cage. As the lioness licked her cubs, the lady patted her own little children; and she smoothed their cheeks and hair.

The lioness saw that.

The lady was just waiting for that. She came still nearer to the cage. Each time the lioness licked her cubs, the lady stroked the cheeks of her own children affectionately.

Then the lady began to speak. She spoke in a very soft voice, very gently and very slowly. She spoke softly as if she meant only the lioness to hear her. This is what she said:

"I at least understand you. I too am a mother, like you. See, these are my two children! I love them as you love yours."

Then the lady took up the children, one on each arm. She kissed the children, first one, and then the other—and the kiss seemed almost like the act of the lioness in licking the faces of her own cubs. By that the lady meant the lioness to understand that the children were just the same to her as the cubs were to the lioness.

Then the lady spoke again, as softly and tenderly as before:

"My children also love your children. Wouldn't it be nice if they could play together!"

Then the lady held the smaller girl in front of her. Very timidly the little girl held out her hand—while her mother looked into the lioness's eyes.

Well, my dear children, I cannot tell how it happened. Perhaps some message of love and sympathy and understanding passed between the two mothers—the mother of the two little girls, and the mother of the two little cubs. At any rate, this is what actually happened:

Very timidly and very slowly the lady stepped to the cage. The little girl put her hand between the bars, and petted the cub nearest to her. The lady moved a little, and the girl petted the other cub. The lioness looked on all the time.

Then something still more wonderful happened. As the little girl was petting the cub, the lioness also began to lick the cub; then the lioness's tongue passed over the cub's body and came to the child's hand—and the lioness began to lick the child's hand as if the child were her own.

Remember that this was a wild lioness, and untamed. Nobody had ever dared before even to come within her reach.

Then the lady turned a little, and brought the other girl to the bars of the cage—and she too petted the cubs. Lastly, the lady put the girls down, and passed her own hand through the bars. She too petted the cubs, then finally she stroked the lioness herself.

And that was like a kind of handshake as a good-bye. They parted friends—like two mothers who had met by chance on the roadside, and each had admired the children of the other.