I always admired the wild animal trainers. There was Mabel Stark, fair
and tiny, a little feather of a woman. I think that fear and Mabel had
never met; yet no performance of hers was without a thrill or two.
Something always happened, which she took as a matter of course. All
of her tigers were twice as large as she. 'Cats,' she called them. She
dressed near me in the tent, and one day she came in from her act, put
her great whip in the handle of her trunk, hung her uniform coat on
its hanger, and started to go out. I asked her where she was going,
and she said to the doctor's tent, that one of her cats had bitten
her. He had, twice, through the leg, and she spent most of the next
two or three weeks in bed. As soon as she could hobble, she was on the
lot looking out for her eats. She said the cat that bit her had fallen
off his seat on the side of the arena and at the same moment she had
stepped backward and stumbled against him, and that he was a nice well
behaved tiger and would probably never do it again. She ought to know
-- she knows her tigers.
And there is Olga Celeste, whom you see so much in pictures. She had a
leopard act in the show in which I appeared, and dressed at the end of
the aisle. Her leopards were temperamental; two of them seemed to
dislike each other, and periodically they would start a row. And right
into that mass of snarling, spitting, sure death she would go. A cut
with a whip here and a sharp command there, and the row was over. I
said to her: --
'But, Olga, suppose they should turn on you! Not for anything would I
ever try to settle an argument like that! No one would ever catch me
refereeing a fight, right among the fighters.'
'Yes, and no one will ever catch me balanced in the air on a little
tiny trapeze bar.'
I think the saddest looking thing in all the world is the circus lot
on a rainy day. Everything droops, even the spirits of the dressing
room, and the band in the big top has a hollow, unearthly sound. But
of course it has to rain. I have waded over and across and through so
many muddy lots that I think I could identify a clod of mud from
almost any section of the United States. Down South it is stickier. In
some places it is black and in some brown; and some of it is a deep
red; but it always is just mud. In the big top it is nicely covered
with sawdust, but we have no trouble in finding it.
On a muddy lot one day, I finished my act and came down my rope
looking for a nice spot in which to land. I chose a spot that looked
innocent of guile, and was deceived -- I went in up to my thighs, and
it took two property men to fish me out.
A muddy lot, especially on a rainy day, works the greatest hardships
on the stock and workingmen. They are right in the thick of it, for
the heavy wagons must be brought to the lot and placed. I have never
seen kinder drivers than those who travel with the circus. They love
their teams; they care for them as though they were children. I have
seen them with tears streaming down their faces, calling out to their
horses when they were half buried in the mud themselves. On a dull,
cloudy day, a bridge that we were crossing caved in beneath the weight
of the cookhouse steam wagon. Four of the six horses had successfully
crossed. On the seat of the wagon as it went down, the driver loosened
the reins and called to his team, and steady and sure they pulled.
They dug their hoofs into the pavement and, fighting for a foothold,
strained with all their strength. The driver, cut about the head, was
fast losing consciousness, but still he called to them, and as long as
they heard his voice they pulled. Help was soon there, and men cut the
traces and released the team. The driver sobbed like a child for one
horse that had broken a leg so badly that it had to be shot.