Bit by Snake
by Ellis Parker Butler
It was hot in the sideshow tent, and the big top had drawn the crowd away, for the regular circus performance had begun. The lecturer had withdrawn to one corner and had taken off his shoes, to give his feet a rest. Some thirty or forty boys and men still lingered in the sideshow, but the "freaks" were off duty and chatted with one another without paying any attention to the few spectators. Midway down the row of platforms, Mile. Zozo, the Peerless, Fearless Snake Charmer, dozed in her chair. Her head had dropped forward upon her bare chest, her arms hung limp, and her feet, crossed at the ankles, reached to the edge of the platform. She snored. On the floor beside her lay the frightful African python, coiled in a box of sawdust. He, too, slept.
Before the sleeping beauty two townsmen stopped. They looked at the snake, and then they looked at the sleeping Zozo. She was no frail, fairy-like beauty, and the townsman with the new straw hat expressed his admiration.
"Now, she's what I call shapely. Hennery," he said.
"Humph!" said Henry scornfully.
"Yeou can't fool me! Them calves is padded."
"Betcha they ain't!"
"Betcha they is!"
"How ye goin' t' find aout?"
"I'm goin' t' ask that feller; that's how!"
"That feller" happened to be the ticket taker, and he happened to be Mile. Zozo's husband, and it happened that Mile. Zozo had given him a word dressing that very morning that he could not forget in a year. At the moment the two townsmen approached, he was contemplating a divorce. He listened to them with all the solemnity of a hardened ticket taker. As they put the question he brightened.
"Padded?" he said. "Sure them calves is padded! Them is the reg'lar patent rubber calves -- solid injun rubber."
"What'd I tell ye, John?" said Henry triumphantly.
"Yeou go 'long!" said John scornfully. "This gentl'm'n is stuffin' you."
"What's that?" cried the ticket taker fiercely. "Do you mean you doubt my word?"
"I'm from M'souri, mister; you gotta show me, that's all. I don't mean no harm," said John apologetically.
"All you got to do," said the ticket taker gravely, "is to show yourself. All you got to do is to take a pin and stick it into them rubber pads. Why, you can stick a pin right into them up to the head, and she won't even wake up."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that!" said John.
"Don't you worry," said the ticket taker. "Zozo's used to it. Why, some nights she's as full of pins as a pin cushion when she comes to disrobe. Takes her an hour picking pins out of herself before she can take off her stockings."
John looked doubtful and the two townsmen wandered off, but they gravitated back to the platform, where Mile. Zozo still slept. There the argument began again, and, to his joy, the ticket taker saw Henry take a pin from the lapel of his coat, poise it in his fingers, aim carefully, and ram it deep into the right calf of Mile. Zozo.
Instantly there was a yell that could have been heard a mile, and Mile. Zozo jumped to her feet, her eyes shooting sparks of rage. Her first motion was toward the injured calf, but the second was toward the frightful African python. With her burly right hand she grasped the long, moist serpent by the tail, swung it around her head, and, with a splashy thud, hit Henry a blow on the neck that sent him head over heels in the sawdust. The next instant the head of the serpent caught John on the right cheek, and he lit just clear of the center pole. In two jumps they were out of the tent and streaking it across the field for the town, yelling like wild Indians, while Mile. Zozo proceeded to clear out the tent. Her husband went down at the third swing of the frightful African python, and at each blow, as she swung the heavy, soggy snake around her head, some one dropped.
Henry was the better runner, and he reached the doctor's office first. He fell up the stairs and tumbled into the office, his eyes wild and his breath short.
"Doc, bit by snake, bit by snake!" he gasped pantingly.
"Now, now!" said the doctor. "Be calm! There are no poisonous snakes in this" --
John tumbled into the room, his face as white as a sheet.
"Bit by snake, doc, bit by snake!" he groaned. "Quick! Bit by snake!"
"See here, are you fellows intoxicated?" asked the doctor; but he placed them in chairs and began looking them over. The closest examination showed no wounds of snake teeth. Henry had a severe contusion on his neck, and John on his jaw, such as might have been made by a tent stake, but no signs of a snakebite.
"Well, boys," he said, "you did your best to get me to prescribe a whiskey, but I can't do it. The laws in this State are very strict on this matter of prescription for snakebites. The scheme has been worked too often."
Meanwhile Mile. Zozo was caressing her pet snake, from which, for sake of security, the poison fangs had been drawn.