The Lady Or The Tiger?

In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose

ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness

of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and

untrammelled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a

man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible

that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was

greatly given to self-commu
ing; and when he and himself agreed upon

anything, the thing was done. When every member of his domestic and

political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature

was bland and genial; but whenever there was a little hitch, and

some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more

genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked

straight, and crush down uneven places.

Among the borrowed notions by which his barbarism had become

semified was that of the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of

manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and


But even here the exuberant and barbaric fancy asserted itself. The

arena of the king was built not to give the people an opportunity of

hearing the rhapsodies of dying gladiators, nor to enable them to

view the inevitable conclusion of a conflict between religious

opinions and hungry jaws, but for purposes far better adapted to

widen and develop the mental energies of the people. This vast

amphitheatre, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults,

and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which

crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an

impartial and incorruptible chance.

When a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to

interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day

the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king's

arena--a structure which well deserved its name; for, although its

form and plan were borrowed from afar, its purpose emanated solely

from the brain of this man, who, every barleycorn a king, knew no

tradition to which he owed more allegiance than pleased his fancy,

and who ingrafted on every adopted form of human thought and action

the rich growth of his barbaric idealism.

When all the people had assembled in the galleries, and the king,

surrounded by his court, sat high up on his throne of royal state on

one side of the arena, he gave a signal, a door beneath him opened,

and the accused subject stepped out into the amphitheatre. Directly

opposite him, on the other side of the enclosed space, were two

doors, exactly alike and side by side. It was the duty and the

privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and

open one of them. He could open either door he pleased: he was

subject to no guidance or influence but that of the afore-mentioned

impartial and incorruptible chance. If he opened the one, there came

out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be

procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces,

as a punishment for his guilt. The moment that the case of the

criminal was thus decided, doleful iron bells were clanged, great

wails went up from the hired mourners posted on the outer rim of the

arena, and the vast audience, with bowed heads and downcast hearts,

wended slowly their homeward way, mourning greatly that one so young

and fair, or so old and respected, should have merited so dire a


But if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth

from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his

Majesty could select among his fair subjects; and to this lady he

was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence. It mattered

not that he might already possess a wife and family, or that his

affections might be engaged upon an object of his own selection: the

king allowed no such subordinate arrangements to interfere with his

great scheme of retribution and reward. The exercises, as in the

other instance, took place immediately, and in the arena. Another

door opened beneath the king, and a priest, followed by a band of

choristers, and dancing maidens blowing joyous airs on golden horns

and treading an epithalamic measure, advanced to where the pair

stood side by side; and the wedding was promptly and cheerily

solemnized. Then the gay brass bells rang forth their merry peals,

the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by

children strewing flowers on his path, led his bride to his home.

This was the king's semibarbaric method of administering justice.

Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of

which door would come the lady: he opened either he pleased, without

having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be

devoured or married. On some occasions the tiger came out of one

door, and on some out of the other. The decisions of this tribunal

were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused

person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty; and if

innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not.

There was no escape from the judgments of the king's arena.

The institution was a very popular one. When the people gathered

together on one of the great trial-days, they never knew whether

they were to witness a bloody slaughter or a hilarious wedding. This

element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it

could not otherwise have attained. Thus the masses were entertained

and pleased, and the thinking part of the community could bring no

charge of unfairness against this plan; for did not the accused

person have the whole matter in his own hands?

This semibarbaric king had a daughter as blooming as his most florid

fancies, and with a soul as fervent and imperious as his own. As is

usual in such cases, she was the apple of his eye, and was loved by

him above all humanity. Among his courtiers was a young man of that

fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional

heroes of romance who love royal maidens. This royal maiden was well

satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree

unsurpassed in all this kingdom; and she loved him with an ardor

that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and

strong. This love-affair moved on happily for many months, until one

day the king happened to discover its existence. He did not hesitate

nor waver in regard to his duty in the premises. The youth was

immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trial

in the king's arena. This, of course, was an especially important

occasion; and his Majesty, as well as all the people, was greatly

interested in the workings and development of this trial. Never

before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to

love the daughter of a king. In after-years such things became

commonplace enough; but then they were, in no slight degree, novel

and startling.

The tiger-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and

relentless beasts, from which the fiercest monster might be selected

for the arena; and the ranks of maiden youth and beauty throughout

the land were carefully surveyed by competent judges, in order that

the young man might have a fitting bride in case fate did not

determine for him a different destiny. Of course everybody knew that

the deed with which the accused was charged had been done. He had

loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else thought of

denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing any fact

of this kind to interfere with the workings of the tribunal, in

which he took such great delight and satisfaction. No matter how the

affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of; and the king

would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events,

which would determine whether or not the young man had done wrong in

allowing himself to love the princess.

The appointed day arrived. From far and near the people gathered,

and thronged the great galleries of the arena; and crowds, unable to

gain admittance, massed themselves against its outside walls. The

king and his court were in their places, opposite the twin

doors--those fateful portals, so terrible in their similarity.

All was ready. The signal was given. A door beneath the royal party

opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. Tall,

beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of

admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a

youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a

terrible thing for him to be there!

As the youth advanced into the arena, he turned, as the custom was,

to bow to the king: but he did not think at all of that royal

personage; his eyes were fixed upon the princess, who sat to the

right of her father. Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in

her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there; but

her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an

occasion in which she was so terribly interested. From the moment

that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate

in the king's arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but

this great event and the various subjects connected with it.

Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any

one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done

what no other person had done--she had possessed herself of the

secret of the doors. She knew in which of the two rooms that lay

behind those doors stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front,

and in which waited the lady. Through these thick doors, heavily

curtained with skins on the inside, it was impossible that any noise

or suggestion should come from within to the person who should

approach to raise the latch of one of them; but gold, and the power

of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to

emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she

knew who the lady was. It was one of the fairest and loveliest of

the damsels of the court who had been selected as the reward of the

accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of aspiring

to one so far above him; and the princess hated her. Often had she

seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing

glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes

she thought these glances were perceived and even returned. Now and

then she had seen them talking together; it was but for a moment or

two, but much can be said in a brief space; it may have been on most

unimportant topics, but how could she know that? The girl was

lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the

princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood

transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors,

she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent


When her lover turned and looked at her, and his eye met hers as she

sat there paler and whiter than any one in the vast ocean of anxious

faces about her, he saw, by that power of quick perception which is

given to those whose souls are one, that she knew behind which door

crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected

her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured

that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this

thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king. The only

hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was

based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery;

and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in

his soul he knew she would succeed.

Then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question,

"Which?" It was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he

stood. There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked

in a flash; it must be answered in another.

Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised

her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one

but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the


He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty

space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye

was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation,

he went to the door on the right, and opened it.

* * * * *

Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that

door, or did the lady?

The more we reflect upon this question the harder it is to answer.

It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through

devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our

way. Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the

question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded,

semibarbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined

fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have


How often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in

wild horror and covered her face with her hands as she thought of

her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the

cruel fangs of the tiger!

But how much oftener had she seen him at the other door! How in her

grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth and torn her hair when

she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the

lady! How her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to

meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eye of

triumph; when she had seen him lead her forth, his whole frame

kindled with the joy of recovered life; when she had heard the glad

shouts from the multitude, and the wild ringing of the happy bells;

when she had seen the priest, with his joyous followers, advance to

the couple, and make them man and wife before her very eyes; and

when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of

flowers, followed by the tremendous shouts of the hilarious

multitude, in which her one despairing shriek was lost and drowned!

Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for

her in the blessed regions of semibarbaric futurity?

And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made

after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she

would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without

the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered,

and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person

able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out

of the opened door--the lady, or the tiger?