Paul T. Gilbert

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Bertram and the Lion

by Paul T. Gilbert, Illustrations by Minnie H. Rousseff
published in Child Life Magazine, September 1934

Bertram had had a bad dream, and Julia Krause had come in to comfort him. Julia Krause, you remember, was Baby Sam's new nursemaid. His mamma had hired her after the baboon Bertram got to mind Baby Sam had carried him up in a tree and tried to teach him to hang by his toes. It was a mercy!

Julia Krause was sixteen years old, and very pretty. Bertram liked her very much. And now, perched upon the foot of his bed, like a little Harlequin, in her pink pajamas, she was telling him a story. She was telling him about Androcles and the Lion.

"And then," Julia was saying, "circus day came round. And in the morning there was a parade with elephants and gold band wagons and a steam calliope and everything. People came from miles around and brought their little boys and girls. And they had red lemonade and peanuts and balloons."

"Did they feed any peanuts to the elephants?" asked Bertram.

"Sure, they did," said Julia. "Bushels of them. Pop! Right into their greedy, red mouths! Then, after the bareback riders and the acrobats had got through performing, the circus man said, 'All right, Androcles, you can go in and tame that lion now.'

"And Androcles said, 'Don't I get a whip or anything?' So the circus man gave him a little penny switch, and shoved him out into the ring, and laughed."

"That wasn't very nice, was it?" said Bertram.

"Of course it wasn't nice. But wait till you hear what happened." And Julia went on to tell him how the lion bounced out with his mouth open, and made for Androcles with a roar that sent cold chills down his spine.

"Then, just as Androcles thought he was going to be bitten, the lion fawned on him and licked his hands. It was the very same lion whose paw he had taken the thorn out of, when he was a runaway slave and living in that cave in the mountains. The king was so pleased that he let Androcles go, and Androcles and the lion lived together in the cave and became friends."

"Gee!" said Bertram sleepily. "I think it would be keen to have a lion you could be friends with."

"I don't know about that," said Julia, poking her toes into her little bedroom slippers, which had fallen off. "Androcles lived a long time ago, and lions may have changed since then. Of course you might find one who would be chummy if you pulled a thorn out of its paw, but I wouldn't count on it too much. If I had my choice, I'd rather have a kitten."

"Aw, kittens are girls' pets," said Bertram. "Lions are lots nicer."

"Well, the next day Bertram was playing that he was a runaway slave. There was a little cave in the side of a hill back of his house, and he had fixed it up with a rag rug and magazine pictures on the wall as Androcles did. It was almost supper time when he heard an awful yowling outside. Bertram was scared at first, but he peeked out, and there, not ten feet away, he saw a great, big, yellow lion. The lion was limping along on three legs and holding up one of his front paws. He was yowling and groaning like everything.

"What's the matter?" asked Bertram. "Have you got a thorn in your paw?"

"Yes," said the lion. "Pull it out. It hurts something awful."

"Well, don't you bite then," said Bertram. And the lion crossed his heart.

"This is going to hurt a little," said Bertram, "and it'll bleed too, but you mustn't cry." So he took the lion's paw in his lap and pulled out a perfectly nasty sharp thorn. The lion said, "Ouch!" but didn't bite. Then Bertram put a dandelion leaf over the wound and tied it up nicely with his clean pocket handkerchief.

The lion fawned on Bertram and began to lick his hands. Then he stood up on his hind legs and licked Bertram's face. Only Bertram didn't like that very much because the lion's tongue was sticky.

"Now we are friends," said the lion, "and if you love me as I love you, no knife can cut our love in two. Do you live here in the cave?"

"No," said Bertram. "I live in a house. That house over there with the green roof."

"All right," said the lion. "I'll go home with you and we can live together. Won't that be nice?"

So Bertram took the lion home. He found an empty drygoods box and put some hay in it and nailed some slats across it.

"There," he said, "that's your cage."

But the lion didn't like his cage. He wanted to live upstairs in the house. But Bertram's mamma, when she heard about it, shook her head. "I don't quite approve of your keeping a lion in the house," she said. "Lions are so likely to bite."

"Oh, he won't bite," said Bertram. "He's a tame lion, Mamma. And anyway, he's crossed his heart."

"Well, just to be on the safe side," said his mamma, "I insist on his wearing a muzzle. Even if he only bit in play, he might tear your pants, and then I'd have to mend them, I suppose. As if I didn't have enough to do already!"

So Bertram bought a muzzle at the five-and-ten-cent store and put it on the lion. And Bertram's mamma made an extra place at the supper table for the lion. Bertram's daddy wasn't there, of course. He had gone to Omaha on business.

"I'm glad to see," said the lion, after he had tucked his napkin under his chin, "that my little friend is eating his spinach. Spinach is so good for him."

"That's what I always keep telling him," said Bertram's mamma.

"I think he wants a second helping," said the lion.

"No, I don't," said Bertram. But he got the second helping just the same.

Then the lion noticed that Bertram was picking at his meat. He was picking all the fat off and eating only the lean.

"See here, my little friend," said the lion. "That won't do at all. You eat that fat—every bit of it. I'm not going to see you getting thin."

"But it's all cold," protested Bertram.

"That doesn't make any difference," said the lion. "Eat it." So Bertram had to eat the cold fat, and it just spoiled his supper.

When bedtime came, the lion made a fuss about going down to his cage. "I want to sleep with my little friend," he said. "It will be lots chummier than sleeping in a cage, and we can tell each other stories. Besides, I have bad dreams when I sleep alone."

So Bertram gave the lion one of his daddy's nightgowns, and after they had brushed their teeth, the two crawled into bed, and Bertram's mamma tucked them in.

However, the lion snored so that Bertram couldn't sleep a wink. And the lion kept rolling over and pulling off all the covers. No wonder Bertram had a cold next morning and had to take camomile tea.

When Bertram's mamma came to make the bed she said, "See here. If you're going to let that lion sleep with you, you'll have to wash him. Look at this bed! Just look at it! All full of hair and sand and burrs."

Then Bertram took the lion down cellar and put him in the laundry tub and gave him a good scrubbing. But the lion wiggled and squirmed and carried on so when Bertram tried to wash his ears, that he slopped water all over Bertram and got him wet to the skin. And Bertram had to change his clothes and take more camomile tea. He just hated camomile tea.

"Now let's play something," said the lion. "Let's play parchesi or something."

Bertram got out the parchesi board and they began to play, only the lion didn't play fair. He made a fuss every time Bertram sent one of his men home. And he'd take the man and put it back on the board again. And so, of course, he always won. The lion won seventeen games in succession.

"This isn't any fun," said Bertram. "You cheat. It's no fair when you win all the time."

"It is, too, fun," said the lion. "It's more fun than I've had in a dog's age. It's your turn to shake first." And the lion handed Bertram the dice box.

Well, they might have gone on playing all the afternoon, only George Fish came over and yoo-hooed for Bertram. But the lion went out on the front porch and said, "What do you want?"

"And George Fish said, "I want Bertram."

"Well, you can't have him," said the lion. "He's playing parchesi with me, and I'm his chum. You go away or I'll bite you."

"I won't," said George Fish. "Go away yourself."

Then the lion bounced up in the air and made for George Fish with a wowl. George Fish turned and ran. He ran as fast as his fat legs would carry him. And all the people cried, "Look out!" and climbed up lamp posts. Only George's mamma saw him coming and opened the door just in time for him to tumble in headfirst before the lion could grab him. It was a mercy!

Bertram had hidden the parchesi board, and when the lion came back, he said, "I've got to do my home work."

"Oh, all right," said the lion. "Then I'll look at your picture book."

"So Bertram began to study his arithmetic, and the lion got down one of his favorite picture books and turned the pages with his tongue and got them all sticky. And when Bertram tried to take the book away from him, the lion made a fuss.

"You're a fine friend!" said the lion. "Can't a fellow even look at your book?"

"I'm not going to be friends any more," said Bertram, "if you treat my nice new picture book like that."

Bertram was disgusted with the lion, only he didn't know how to get rid of him. At supper time the lion made Bertram eat more spinach and fat. And when they went to bed, the lion snored and pulled off all the covers. This time, Bertram's mamma scolded him and made him soak his feet in mustard water.

Then Bertram came down with the measles, and no wonder! Bertram's mamma sent for the doctor, but the lion wouldn't let him come into the room. "He'll give him nasty medicine," he said, "and make him stick out his tongue and say 'Ah!' You leave my little friend alone."

And every time Bertram's mamma or Julia Krause would try to get into the room, the lion would shoo them away too.

So the doctor said, "Well, I guess he's got measles all right. Measles are going around now something awful. Keep him in a dark room and give him plenty of spinach but no pie. And here are some pills. Give him one of these pills three times a day."

At first they didn't know how to get the pills to Bertram. But finally Julia Krause thought of a way. She took Bertram's little toy locomotive and wound it up and put the pills in the tender. Then she tied a string to the locomotive and ran it in, and Bertram took one of the pills and felt better. Then Julia put Bertram's spinach on a little wagon with spool wheels—it was Baby Sam's wagon—and tied that to the locomotive, and the locomotive pulled it in.

But Bertram got lonesome without anybody but the lion to keep him company. "I want Julia Krause," he said. "I want Julia to tell me a story."

But the lion said, "I'll tell you a story. And he began: "I'll tell you a story about Jack-a-Nory, and now—"

"But I don't want that story," said Bertram. "That's Mother Goose. I'm not a baby. I want one of Julia Krause's stories—about the oyster mayor or the Duchess."

"Oh, all right," said the lion. "I'll tell you another about his brother—"

"I don't want that one either," said Bertram. And he began to kick and cry. And Julia Krause peeked in and felt so sorry for him that she began to cry too.

"Oh, I wish you'd go home where you belong, you old lion," sobbed Bertram. "I hate you, and you're just a horrid old donkey, so there."

But the lion only fawned on him and licked his hands.

Well, you'd never guess what happened. The very next day the lion came down with the measles, and, my, didn't he fuss and carry on like a spoiled child! He wanted Julia Krause to tell him a story, but she wouldn't.

Then the doctor came and felt his pulse and made him stick out his tongue and say "Ah!" And then he said, "Plenty of spinach, but no fresh meat of any kind, and no pie. And give him a tablespoonful of sulphur and molasses every half hour."

Now sulphur and molasses is about the most disagreeable medicine anybody can take. So when the lion saw the medicine and smelt it, he crawled under the bed and tried to hide like a naughty little boy. But Julia Krause pulled him out by the tail and held his nose while she poured the sulphur and molasses down his throat. And how the lion screamed and yowled and acted up!

Then Julia put Bertram to bed in the spare room and gave him ice cream.

After a while both Bertram and the lion got well. And the lion came and poked his nose into the spare room and made a face and said, "All right for you! That's what I get for being nice to a squirmy little pollywog like you. You go and give me the measles and I can't have any pie, and have to take awful medicine. Bah! I'm mad at you. I think you're an old meanie."

And with that, the lion stalked majestically out of the house. But Bertram only laughed. That night Julia sat on the foot of his bed again, telling a story.

"And so the oyster mayor said that if I'd teach him some of my cat's cradles, he'd take me to the codfish ball. And then—"

But Bertram was asleep.