One evening in the nineties I went to dine at the house of a friend in
Burma, and was unexpectedly greeted at the entrance by a leopard
almost fully grown. He received me with the same restful manner of
dignified armed neutrality that may be seen on the features of a
domestic cat, or of an old family servant, observing a strange
“Do the others know?” I asked the host, meaning the other
dinner-guests, not yet arrived.
“Yes, they all know him, but none of them like him, or maybe it is
that he does not like them, I don’t exactly know what is the matter.
He seems to feel by instinct that you’re a friend. Dear old fellow!”
and the big cat laid its head confidentially on his thigh, and rolled
its eyes dubiously in the way cats do, while a fat hand caressed its
fine fur tenderly, lovingly.
“It’ll be rare fun to see the rest arrive.” It was indeed a pleasant
entertainment to see that bachelor’s house being entered as if a very
distinguished hostess were receiving the visitors. The sight of
“Mr Spots” made the most free-and-easy a little constrained in manner.
They kept their eyes upon him; and as he moved about at his ease, they
made way for him with an agility of quick politeness more common in
Frenchmen than in Englishmen. But though he engrossed their
conversation as much as their thoughts, there was a lack of heartiness
in their appreciation which seemed to sadden their host. He tried to
keep the fine animal beside himself.
“Pets should always be young and growing creatures,” he said, as he
scratched its head, and with many mingled puffs and sighs went on to
say, “They are a nuisance when they grow up…. You lose their
affection, you see…. Women are just the same…. This beautiful
beast does not heed me now, and at one time no puppy could be
fonder…. He would lie on his back to be tickled by a straw, and play
with me by the hour…. He hardly ever snarled, even at the servants.
Look at him!” The gentle beast was made to show his teeth and opened a
“Yes, indeed,” said one. “I’ve done nothing but look at him since I
came in, and have had my hand on my pistol already, once.”
“He won’t hurt you. He’s _had_ his dinner.”
Another visitor sent his dog home, and opportunely remarked that as
leopards were fond of eating dogs, they felt at home with humanity as
lions or tigers never could. It was hunger only that made these bigger
beasts eat men. The normal tiger or lion would run away from a child,
or at any rate pass it by. But even a well-fed leopard might take to
“long pig,” meaning humanity, in simple wantonness, for a change.
“I hope he always has plenty of salt with his food,” said one. “Might
I tell the boy to fetch some for him now?”
“Why, in all the world?”
“Because it is the salt in human flesh that is said to be the great
“You don’t suppose my leopard spends his time in studying chemistry,
do you? I tell you he would not eat you if you offered yourself. His
“Mr Spots” yawned and looked round the company with an air of royal
indifference. His master continued to scratch his head. In obedience
to a gesture, he submitted quietly, when a servant fastened a chain on
his neck, and reluctantly but unresistingly he let himself be led
“I’m very sorry,” said his master, looking after him affectionately,
almost as if apologising to the pet. “That’s what is hurting his
feelings,” he explained to us.
“The chain–the restriction–the want of confidence is spoiling his
fine temper.” After a pause he added: “As I was saying, it’s the
lapse of time. Pets should always be adolescent, and women too.”
“Not women,” protested one, who quoted “Age cannot whither her nor
custom stale her infinite variety.”
“It’s not variety that _I_ want,” cried he. “I hate change. I would
like my pets never to grow up. It’s the change I object to. It’s
horrid, these transfers….”
“Hillo! Are you transferred?” we cried, more interested than
surprised; for, as readers are probably aware, the Europeans of every
kind in the east are at the best respectable vagabonds, globe-trotters
by trade, and only a few derelicts, who are settling down to die, can
have a fixed abode.
“Transferred? No, no–I don’t mean that. I was thinking of transfers
of affection,” he explained, and he proceeded to discuss the claims of
various Zoos, and the chance of poor “Mr Spots” being more happy in
one than another, like a mother discussing her daughter’s suitors.
Amidst the merriment that arose when all constraint was ended, he was
advised to wed, and seemed to take the advice most seriously. He did
send away the leopard, and did take a wife, not long afterwards; and
as he was a good-hearted man, I believe she is a happy woman; but she
little suspects who was her predecessor in her husband’s affections.