Page 22 of Dracula

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_Interview with the Keeper in the Zoological Gardens._

After many inquiries and almost as many refusals, and perpetually usingthe words _Pall Mall Gazette_ as a sort of talisman, I managed to findthe keeper of the section of the Zoological Gardens in which the wolfdepartment is included. Thomas Bilder lives in one of the cottagesin the enclosure behind the elephant-house, and was just sittingdown to his tea when I found him. Thomas and his wife are hospitablefolk, elderly, and without children, and if the specimen I enjoyed oftheir hospitality be of the average kind, their lives must be prettycomfortable. The keeper would not enter on what he called "business"until the supper was over, and we were all satisfied. Then when thetable was cleared, and he had lit his pipe, he said:--

"Now, sir, you can go on and arsk me what you want. You'll excoose merefoosin' to talk of perfeshunal subjects afore meals. I gives thewolves and the jacka

ls and the hyenas in all our section their tea aforeI begins to arsk them questions."

"How do you mean, ask them questions?" I queried, wishful to get himinto a talkative humour.

"'Ittin' of them over the 'ead with a pole is one way; scratchin'of their hears is another, when gents as is flush wants a bit of ashow-orf to their gals. I don't so much mind the fust--the 'ittin'with a pole afore I chucks in their dinner; but I waits till they've'ad their sherry and kawffee, so to speak, afore I tries on with theear-scratchin'. Mind you," he added philosophically, "there's a deal ofthe same nature in us as in them there animiles. Here's you a-comin' andarskin' of me questions about my business, and I that grumpy-like thatonly for your bloomin' arf-quid I'd 'a' seen you blowed fust 'fore I'danswer. Not even when you arsked me sarcastic-like if I'd like you toarsk the Superintendent if you might arsk me questions. Without offence,did I tell yer to go to 'ell?"

"You did."

"An' when you said you'd report me for usin' of obscene language, thatwas 'itten' me over the 'ead; but the 'arf-quid made that all right. Iweren't a-goin' to fight, so I waited for the food, and did with my 'owlas the wolves, and lions, and tigers does. But, Lor' love yer 'art, nowthat the old 'ooman has stuck a chunk of her tea-cake in me, an' rinsedme out with her bloomin' old teapot, and I've lit up, you may scratchmy ears for all you're worth, and won't get even a growl out of me.Drive along with your questions. I know what yer a-comin' at, that 'ereescaped wolf."

"Exactly. I want you to give me your view of it. Just tell me howit happened; and when I know the facts I'll get you to say what youconsider was the cause of it, and how you think the whole affair willend."

"All right, guv'nor. This 'ere is about the 'ole story. That 'ere wolfwhat we called Bersicker was one of three grey ones that came fromNorway to Jamrach's, which we bought off him four year ago. He was anice well-behaved wolf, that never gave no trouble to talk of. I'm moresurprised at 'im for wantin' to get out nor any other animile in theplace. But, there, you can't trust wolves no more nor women."

"Don't you mind him, sir!" broke in Mrs. Tom, with a cheery laugh. "'E'sgot mindin' the animiles so long that blest if he ain't like a old wolf'isself! But there ain't no 'arm in 'im."

"Well, sir, it was about two hours after feedin' yesterday when I firsthear any disturbance. I was makin' up a litter in the monkey-house fora young puma which is ill; but when I heard the yelpin' and 'owlin' Ikem away straight. There was Bersicker a-tearin' like a mad thing at thebars as if he wanted to get out. There wasn't much people about thatday, and close at hand was only one man, a tall, thin chap, with a 'ooknose and a pointed beard, with a few white hairs runnin' through it. Hehad a 'ard, cold look and red eyes, and I took a sort of mislike to him,for it seemed as if it was 'im as they was hirritated at. He 'ad whitekid gloves on 'is 'ands, and he pointed out the animiles to me and says:'Keeper, these wolves seem upset at something.'

"'Maybe it's you,' says I, for I did not like the airs as he give'isself. He didn't get angry, as I 'oped he would, but he smiled a kindof insolent smile, with a mouth full of white, sharp teeth. 'Oh no, theywouldn't like me,' 'e says.

"'Ow yes, they would,' says I, a-imitatin' of him. 'They always likea bone or two to clean their teeth on about tea-time, which you 'as abagful.'

"Well, it was a odd thing, but when the animiles see us a-talkin' theylay down, and when I went over to Bersicker he let me stroke his earssame as ever. That there man kem over, and blessed but if he didn't putin his hand and stroke the old wolf's ears too!

"'Tyke care,' says I. 'Bersicker is quick.'

"'Never mind,' he says. 'I'm used to 'em!'

"'Are you in the business yourself?' I says, tyking off my 'at, for aman what trades in wolves, anceterer, is a good friend to keepers.

"'No,' says he, 'not exactly in the business, but I 'ave made pets ofseveral.' And with that he lifts his 'at as perlite as a lord, and walksaway. Old Bersicker kep' a-lookin' arter 'im till 'e was out of sight,and then went and lay down in a corner, and wouldn't come hout the 'olehevening. Well, larst night, so soon as the moon was hup, the wolveshere all began a-'owling. There warn't nothing for them to 'owl at.There warn't no one near, except some one that was evidently a-callin' adog somewheres out back of the gardings in the Park road. Once or twiceI went out to see that all was right, and it was, and then the 'owlingstopped. Just before twelve o'clock I just took a look round aforeturnin' in, an', bust me, but when I kem opposite to old Bersicker'scage I see the rails broken and twisted about and the cage empty. Andthat's all I know for certing."

"Did any one else see anything?"

"One of our gard'ners was a-comin' 'ome about that time from a 'armony,when he sees a big grey dog comin' out through the gardin 'edges. Atleast, so he says; but I don't give much for it myself, for if he did'e never said a word about it to his missis when 'e got 'ome, and itwas only after the escape of the wolf was made known, and we had beenup all night a-huntin' of the Park for Bersicker, that he rememberedseein' anything. My own belief was that the 'armony 'ad got into his'ead."

"Now, Mr. Bilder, can you account in any way for the escape of thewolf?"

"Well, sir," he said, with a suspicious sort of modesty, "I think Ican; but I don't know as 'ow you'd be satisfied with the theory."

"Certainly I shall. If a man like you, who knows the animals fromexperience, can't hazard a good guess at any rate, who is even to try?"

"Well then, sir, I accounts for it this way; it seems to me that 'erewolf escaped--simply because he wanted to get out."

From the hearty way that both Thomas and his wife laughed at the jokeI could see that it had done service before, and that the wholeexplanation was simply an elaborate sell. I couldn't cope in badinagewith the worthy Thomas, but I thought I knew a surer way to his heart,so I said:--

"Now, Mr. Bilder, we'll consider that first half-sovereign worked off,and this brother of his is waiting to be claimed when you've told mewhat you think will happen."

"Right y'are, sir," he said briskly. "Ye'll excoose me, I know, fora-chaffin' of ye, but the old woman here winked at me, which was as muchas telling me to go on."

"Well, I never!" said the old lady.

"My opinion is this: that 'ere wolf is a-'idin' of, somewheres. Thegard'ner wot didn't remember said he was a-gallopin' northward fasterthan a horse could go; but I don't believe him, for, yer see, sir,wolves don't gallop no more than dogs does, they not bein' built thatway. Wolves is fine things in a story-book, and I dessay when they getsin packs and does be chivvin' somethin' that's more afeared than they isthey can make a devil of a noise and chop it up, whatever it is. But,Lor' bless you, in real life a wolf is only a low creature, not half soclever as a good dog; and not half a quarter so much fight in 'im. Thisone ain't been used to fightin' or even to providin' for hisself, andmore like he's somewhere round the Park a-'idin' an' a-shiverin' of,and, if he thinks at all, wonderin' where he is to get his breakfastfrom; or maybe he's got down some area and is in a coal-cellar. My eye,won't some cook get a rum start when she sees his green eyes a-shiningat her out of the dark! If he can't get food he's bound to look for it,and mayhap he may chance to light on a butcher's shop in time. If hedoesn't, and some nursemaid goes a-walkin' orf with a soldier, leavin'of the hinfant in the perambulator--well then I shouldn't be surprisedif the census is one babby the less. That's all."

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