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Harris Collins was fifty-two years of age. He was slender and dapper, and in appearance and comportment was so sweet- and gentle-spirited that the impression he radiated was almost of sissyness. He might have taught a Sunday-school, presided over a girls' seminary, or been a president of a humane society.
His complexion was pink and white, his hands were as soft as the hands of his daughters, and he weighed a hundred and twelve pounds. Moreover, he was afraid of his wife, afraid of a policeman, afraid of physical violence, and lived in constant dread of burglars. But the one thing he was not afraid of was wild animals of the most ferocious sorts, such as lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars. He knew the game, and could conquer the most refractory lion with a broom-handle--not outside the cage, but inside and locked in.
It was because he knew the game and had learned it from his father before him, a man even smaller than himself and more fearful of all things except animals. This father, Noel Collins, had been a successful animal trainer in England, before emigrating to America, and in America he had continued the success and laid the foundation of the big animal training school at Cedarwild, which his son had developed and built up after him. So well had Harris Collins built on his father's foundation that the place was considered a model of sanitation and kindness. It entertained many visitors, who invariably went away with their souls filled with ecstasy over the atmosphere of sweetness and light that pervaded the place. Never, however, were they permitted to see the actual training. On occasion, performances were given them by the finished products which verified all their other delightful and charming conclusions about the school. But had they seen the training of raw novices, it would have been a different story. It might even have been a riot. As it was, the place was a zoo, and free at that; for, in addition to the animals he owned and trained and bought and sold, a large portion of the business was devoted to boarding trained animals and troupes of animals for owners who were out of engagements, or for estates of such owners which were in process of settlement. From mice and rats to camels and elephants, and even, on occasion, to a rhinoceros or a pair of hippopotamuses, he could supply any animal on demand.
When the Circling Brothers' big three-ring show on a hard winter went into the hands of the receivers, he boarded the menagerie and the horses and in three months turned a profit of fifteen thousand dollars. More--he mortgaged all he possessed against the day of the auction, bought in the trained horses and ponies, the giraffe herd and the performing elephants, and, in six months more was quit of an of them, save the pony Repeater who turned air-springs, at another profit of fifteen thousand dollars. As for Repeater, he sold the pony several months later for a sheer profit of two thousand. While this bankruptcy of the Circling Brothers had been the greatest financial achievement of Harris Collin's life, nevertheless he enjoyed no mean permanent income from his plant, and, in addition, split fees with the owners of his board animals when he sent them to the winter Hippodrome shows, and, more often than not, failed to split any fee at all when he rented the animals to moving-picture companies.