By Katelyn D
There is a lion at the dinner table. Not a small, domesticated kitten, but a full-fledged wild cat sitting in Mr. Pringle’s chair at the head of the table. How did he get here? Did he perhaps wander in through an open door? I don’t recall lions being native to South Carolina. Is this roughly 450-pound cat the children’s new pet? I stopped questioning the Pringles’ methods and ways long ago. They train that out of us at manners school, but I have to say in all my fifteen years of working as a butler to the Pringles family, this has been the strangest I’ve seen yet. I was willing to overlook the private islands for each of the five Pringles children, shrug at the fifteen cars for Mr. Pringle, and sidestep the robotic maid, but this? A lion? Now that is quite the situation.
I set my tray of appetizers down and take a moment to look at the lion. His golden fur looks well kept, and he sits at the table in a chair as a human would. Perhaps he is a trained lion? His claws are long and curved, and as he yawns I catch a glimpse of elongated, pearly white teeth. I back out of the dining room and into the kitchen, keeping my eyes on the feline. Mrs. Pringle comes down the stairs a few minutes later wearing an elegant gown and some of her finest jewelry.
“Is dinner ready for the children?” she asks, peering into the hall mirror to adjust her pearl necklace.
“Ah yes, ma’am, but there does seem to be an issue . . . did you perhaps adopt a new pet?” I ask, peeking back into the dining room. The lion is still sitting there, although he appears to be reading the newspaper now.
“Certainly not. I just purchased some new white furniture and having fur and bite marks on it won’t do. Why do you ask?” She replies, stepping over to a closet full of handbags.
“I see. Well, um . . . just out of curiosity, did you and your husband take a safari to Africa recently?”
“Not since the Joneses went to India. Mrs. Jones was reading there that exotic animals are all the fashion now. We couldn’t go to Africa and look cheap after the Joneses. Why, just the thought makes me feel terribly ill.” The Joneses were the eccentric family that lived in the estate neighboring the Pringles. Both families were constantly trying to outdo the other with exquisite purchases and vacations to the most dazzling of places. The two Jones children were also at war with the Pringles children.
“Is everything alright, Theodore?” Mrs. Pringle asks me, peering at herself in the mirror.
“Well Miss, it would seem that there is, in fact, a lion at your table,” I say as professionally as possible in the current situation. Mrs. Pringle looks at me for a second and then bursts out laughing.
“Oh, Teddy, you goose!” She says wiping a tear and chuckling. “Don’t forget to feed the children, and could you fetch Mr. Pringle? I don’t want to be late to the gala tonight” She says, patting me on the shoulder and making her way to the limousine.
Well, that conversation had not gone as planned. Taking one last peek into the dining room where the lion still sits, I walk briskly up the stairs to Mr. Pringle's office.
“A lion you say?” Mr. Pringle is adjusting his tie in the mirror. “Now that would be an interesting purchase! Sure to outshine the Joneses!” He exclaims. I sigh in relief.
“So the lion is yours then sir,” I reply.
“Oh heavens no, the wife has a terrible dislike of cats, though I’m sure she would fancy a a new rug . . . ” Mr. Pringle laughs as he too pats me on the shoulder, and steps down the stairs.
“Do feed the children, Theodore.” Again I am left in stunned silence.
“Teddy Teddy!” I can hear the shouts of the five children as they come barreling down the staircase. I sit on a stool in the doorway to the dining room thinking and watching the cat, when James, Martha, Cecilia, and Daniel all burst into the kitchen at once. In their chatter, I hear a mix of, “That’ll show them!” “It will take weeks to clean up!” and “We mustn’t tell mother or father!” I suspect this recent chatter has something to do with the Jones children, but that is the least of my concerns now. Martha is the eldest child at 15, James is second, Cecelia third, Daniel fourth, and Lucy is the youngest at 6, though the latter of the five seems to not be present in the kitchen.
“Children! Where is little Lucy?” I ask, turning away from the lion.
Martha tosses her dark hair. “How should I know, she’s probably in her room, playing with her two kittens, George and Ginger.” Now that is a secret not to be shared. If Mrs. Pringle found out about three cats in her home, there was sure to be a fight.
“Daniel, could you go back upstairs and fetch your sister for dinner?” I ask. Lucy likes Daniel best of the children, as he was the kindest to her.
“Well, Mr. Teddy, I would, but she’s right over there petting the kitty in Father’s chair,” he replies, pointing to the lion who was munching on the chicken I had prepared for supper.
Martha, James and I gasp. Cecilia turns pale, and Daniel just smiles sweetly. I had preferred to leave the children out of this, but it’s not possible to hide a lion from children in this family.
“Look Teddy! it’s Tigger from my show!” Lucy exclaims with a giggle as she strokes the lion’s mane. He doesn’t even look her way but instead lets out a yawn.
“Lucy, come away from there. The lion could be dangerous!” I exclaim, in horror, but Lucy just grins.
“Don’t worry, Teddy, he won’t eat me. He told me so.” The child has a strange connection with animals and is always bringing them inside, to Mrs. Pringle’s horror, so it wasn’t a shock that she would try to adopt a lion. Suddenly, all five of the children are gathered around the big cat, petting him and cooing to him.
“Children, get away from the lion!” I shout as I urgently dial animal control.
“Can’t we keep him, Mr. Teddy? He’s very well behaved. He can sleep on my bed with me!” Daniel says with a toothy grin.
“I’m afraid we can't, young sir. Come away from there so we can devise a way to get this animal out of the house before your parents return home,” I order, with the phone propped up under my head.
Animal control refuses to come as the children have prank called too many times. So steaks are laid in a trail leading out the door, and all the children are sent to the porch to wait for the cat to come outside, where they would lead him out to the trailer left by the yard crew, and I would drive him to the closest shelter. Lucy stands holding Daniel’s hand.
“Danny, will Gawy be okay? What if he gets lonely at the shelter?” she asks. Lucy had apparently named the lion Gary, but she hasn’t learned to pronounce her R’s so it comes out as “Gawy.”
“Don’t worry, Lucy, he’ll be shipped back to Africa in no time where there will be endless gazelles to hunt and many friends for him!” Daniel replies, squeezing her hand.
It turns out that things do not want to go to plan as Gary ignores the steaks, and the five children and I are led on a wild goose chase around the property. Gary climbs up into the treehouse. The children begin to argue, and then once again, Gary disappears, only to be found again, swimming in the pool. After an hour of chasing and coaxing, the lion is finally loaded into the trailer, right as two police cars pull up.
“Excuse me, sir, but we’ve just received a call about a stolen pet in your yard. Please step away from the trailer,” one of the men says, shining a flashlight into the back of the trailer where Gary rests with his head on his paws. Apparently, Gary belongs to the Joneses, who are, of course, arrested for owning a lion, and Gary is returned to his home in Africa. Mr. and Mrs. Pringle are never informed about the feline in their home, and life goes back to normal. Well, normal for the Pringles. The next week I decide to take a vacation from this job, and it isn’t until a few days later when I am basking on a cruise ship that I realize, I forgot to feed the children their supper.