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"Guess I'll have to wash my hands of him," Collins told Johnny. "I know Del Mar must have been right when he said he was the limit, but I can't get a clue to it."
This followed upon a fight between Michael and Collins. Michael, more morose than ever, had become even crusty-tempered, and, scarcely with provocation at all, had attacked the man he hated, failing, as ever, to put his teeth into him, and receiving, in turn, a couple of smashing kicks under his jaw.
"He's like a gold-mine all right all right," Collins meditated, "but I'm hanged if I can crack it, and he's getting grouchier every day. Look at him. What'd he want to jump me for? I wasn't rough with him. He's piling up a sour-ball that'll make him fight a policeman some day."
A few minutes later, one of his patrons, a tow-headed young man who was boarding and rehearsing three performing leopards at Cedarwild, was asking Collins for the loan of an Airedale.
"I've only got one left now," he explained, "and I ain't safe without two."
"What's happened to the other one?" the master-trainer queried.
"Alphonso--that's the big buck leopard--got nasty this morning and settled his hash. I had to put him out of his misery. He was gutted like a horse in the bull-ring. But he saved me all right. If it hadn't been for him I'd have got a mauling. Alphonso gets these bad streaks just about every so often. That's the second dog he's killed for me."
Collins shook his head.
"Haven't got an Airedale," he said, and just then his eyes chanced to fall on Michael. "Try out the Irish terrier," he suggested. "They're like the Airedale in disposition. Pretty close cousins, at any rate."
"I pin my faith on the Airedale when it comes to lion dogs," the leopard man demurred.
"So's an Irish terrier a lion dog. Take that one there. Look at the size and weight of him. Also, take it from me, he's all spunk. He'll stand up to anything. Try him out. I'll lend him to you. If he makes good I'll sell him to you cheap. An Irish terrier for a leopard dog will be a novelty."
"If he gets fresh with them cats he'll find his finish," Johnny told Collins, as Michael was led away by the leopard man.
"Then, maybe, the stage will lose a star," Collins answered, with a shrug of shoulders. "But I'll have him off my chest anyway. When a dog gets a perpetual sour-ball like that he's finished. Never can do a thing with them. I've had them on my hands before."
* * * * *
And Michael went to make the acquaintance of Jack, the surviving Airedale, and to do his daily turn with the leopards. In the big spotted cats he recognized the hereditary enemy, and, even before he was thrust into the cage, his neck was all a-prickle as the skin nervously tightened and the hair uprose stiff-ended. It was a nervous moment for all concerned, the introduction of a new dog into the cage. The tow-headed leopard man, who was billed on the boards as Raoul Castlemon and was called Ralph by his intimates, was already in the cage. The Airedale was with him, while outside stood several men armed with iron bars and long steel forks. These weapons, ready for immediate use, were thrust between the bars as a menace to the leopards who were, very much against their wills, to be made to perform.