Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

The Story of Alois the Lion

Was thus: his mother had given birth to him and had died immediately.

He had tried in vain to wake her up with his round paws that were as soft as powder puffs, for he was dying of thirst in the scorching midday heat.

“The sun is going to drink up his life the way it laps up the dewdrops in the morning,” the wild peacocks up on the ruined temple murmured pompously fanning out their tails in a rustle of shimmering steely blue.

And that was bound to have happened had the Emir's flocks of sheep not come along.

Then, however fate turned aside.

“Shepherds we don't have — touch wood — that are allowed to interfere,” the sheep said, “so why shouldn't we take this young lion along with us?”

Well I'm sure Widow Bovis will be happy to do it, after all bringing up children is her passion. Since her eldest ram got married in Afghanistan (to the daughter of the Prince's senior ram) she feels a bit lonely anyway.”

And Mrs Bovis said not a word, took in the lion cub, suckled and looked after him — along with Agnes, her own child.

Only Mister Baa-baa Ceterum from Syria — black locks and bandy back legs — was against it. Putting his head on one side, he said in melodic tones, “Fine things are goin' tae come oot ae that,” but since he was an incorrigible know-all, no-one bothered about him.

— The little lion grew at an astonishing speed, and was given the name of ‘Alois’.

Mrs Bovis stood there, wiping the tears from her eyes now and the Communal Wether wrote an “Alois +++” down in the Book — the three crosses instead of a surname. However since anyone could see that it was probably an illegitimate birth, he wrote it on a separate piece of paper.

Alois' childhood flowed along like a little stream.

He was a good boy and never — apart from certain secret activities perhaps — gave cause for complaint. It was touching to see him grazing ravenously with the others and laboriously chewing on the yarrow, that kept getting stuck round his long teeth.

Every afternoon he went to play with little Agnes and her friends in the bamboo copse and there was no end to their joking and jollity.

“Alois,” you kept hearing then, “Alois, show me your claws, please, please,” and when he really stretched them out, the little girls all blushed and, giggling, put their heads together and said “Yeuch, how gross;”—but they still wanted to see them again and again.

Early on Alois very quickly developed a deep attachment to little, black-haired Scholastica, Baa-baa Ceterum's dear daughter.

He could sit beside her for hours and she would weave him a crown of forget-me-nots.

If they were entirely alone he would recite the beautiful poem to her:

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Gave thee life and bid thee feed

By the stream and o'er the mead?

And when he did, she shed tears of profound emotion. Then they would gambol again through the lush green until they fell over.

If he came home in the evening, hot from their childish play, Mrs Bovis would always say, thoughtfully looking at his mane, “Young folk are always the same,” and “You look completely dishevelled again, my lad,”

(She was so good.)

Alois grew into an adolescent and learning was his joy. He was a model pupil at school, always standing out through his diligence and good behaviour and he always had top marks in Singing and Rhythmical Dancing.

“And yes, Mama,” he was always saying when he came home with praise from his teacher, “and yes, I can become head of a theatre when I grow up, can't I?”

Every time he said that Mrs Bovis had to turn away and shed a tear. “He doesn't know yet, the dear lad, that only a real sheep can do that.” Then she would stroke him, give him a wink full of promise and watch him, moved, when, tall as he was, with his slightly thin neck and the soft knock-knees of adolescence, he went back out to do his school work.

Autumn came across the land, and one day it was said, “Children be cautious, don't go so far out walking, especially not at twilight — we're coming to a dangerous region now, the Persian lion, you see, goes around murdering and throttling animals here.”

And the Punjab became ever wilder and the look on its face ever darker.

The stone fingers of the mountains of Kabul dig into the valleys, jungles of bamboo bristle like hair standing on end and the fever demons with lidless eyes hang lethargically over the swamps breathing out swarms of poisonous midges into the air.

The flock went through a narrow pass, fearful and silent, deadly danger behind every rock.

Then a dreadful hollow sound made the air quiver and the flock stormed off in wild, blind fear.

From behind a rock a broad shadow shot out at Mr Baa-baa Ceterum, who wasn't going away quickly enough.

A huge old lion!

Mr Ba-baa would have been hopelessly lost if something remarkable had not happened at that point. Crowned with daisies, a bouquet of dahlias behind his ear, Alois came galloping past with a thunderous “Baa-baa.”

The old lion held back from his jump, as if struck by lightning, and stared, mightily amazed, at the fleeing sheep. For a long time he couldn't make a sound and when he finally let out a furious roar, Alois' “Baa-baa” already came from a far distance.

For a whole hour the old lion stayed there pondering; everything he'd ever heard about hallucinations went through his mind.

In vain!

Nightfall is quick and cold in the Punjab; shivering, the old lion buttoned himself up and went to his cave.

But he couldn't get to sleep and when the gigantic greenish cat's eye of the moon stared through the clouds, he got up and set off after the flock that had fled.

It was towards morning when he found Alois, the flowers still in his hair — sweetly slumbering behind a bush.

He put a paw on his breast and Alois woke up with a horrified “Baa!”

“Sir, don't keep on saying ‘baa’. Are you crazy? You're a lion, for God's sake,” the old lion roared at him.“I'm afraid you're wrong there,” Alois replied shyly, “I'm a sheep.”

The old lion was shaking with rage. “Are you perhaps trying to pull my leg? Be a good fellow and go and tease Mrs Blaschke for me…”

Placing his paw on his heart, Alois looked him innocently in the eye and said, deeply moved, “On my word of honour — I'm a sheep.”

At that the old lion was horrified at how far his tribe had sunk and got Alois to tell him the story of his life.

“All of that,” he then said, “is a complete mystery to me, but what is certain is that you're a lion and not a sheep. And if you still refuse to believe it — for God's sake! — just compare the reflections of the two of us in the water here. And now first of all you're going to learn to roar properly — like this: Waaah, waaaah.”

And he roared so loud that the surface of the water became quite disturbed and looked like emery paper.

“Now you try, it's quite easy.”

“Uah,” said Alois timidly, choking, and had to clear his throat.

The lion, irritated, looked up to the heavens. “Well, as far as I'm concerned you can practise when you're alone. I have to go off home now.”

He looked at the clock. “Oh my God! Already half past four again. Cheerio then,” and with a brief wave of his paw he disappeared.

Alois was dazed — so that was it after all!

It was only a very short time since he'd left the high school — and he had it in black and white that he was a sheep — and now this!

Now when he was to devote himself to the dramatic arts.

And… and… Scholastica!

He had to cry… Scholastica!!

It was so beautiful the way they'd arranged everything, how he would go to Papa and Mama and so on.

And Mama Bovis had said to him, quite recently: “Old Baa-baa, you just keep buttering him up, he's got tons of money, he'd be just the father-in-law for you with your enormous appetite.” And the events of the last few days went through Alois' mind: the way he'd praised Mr Baa-baa's radiant health and his wealth: “As I've heard, Mr Baa-baa Sir, you've kept up a flourishing export business with drumsticks and that, so I've been told, is the foundation of your wealth?”

“I have done some business in that way,” Mr Baa-baa had replied somewhat hesitantly, but giving him a truly suspicious sideways glance.

‘Could I perhaps have said something stupid there?’ had been Alois' immediate thought, but it is generally well-known…

A noise startled him out of his dream. So everything, yes everything was over now!

Alois laid his head on his paws and cried long and bitter tears.

One day and one night passed and he had come to a decision.

Worn out from lack of sleep and with deep shadows under his eyes he went to the flock, stood there right in the middle of them, stood up majestically and cried, “Waah wah!”

Laughter broke out all round.

“Sorry, what I meant was,” Alois stammered in embarrassment, “I just meant to say… you see I'm a lion.”

There was a moment of surprise, silence all round, then the noise broke out again, derisory remarks, warning cries, loud laughter.

The tumult only died down when Reverend Simulans came over and in severe tones ordered Alois to follow him.

It must have been a long, serious conversation the two of them had had, for when they came out of the bamboo thicket together the Vicar's eyes were bright with pious zeal. “Just thou take heed, my son,” were his last words, “many are the wiles of the evil enemy. Day and night doth he tempt us to kick against the pricks, while we do walk in the flesh down here on earth. Behold that should be all our endeavour down here on Earth, to cast out our inner Lion and spend our days in humility that a new bond may be forged and our pleas may be heard — both here in time and there in eternity.

And thou must forget what thou heard at the pool yestermorn; it was not reality but fiendish sorcery of the Evil Enemy. Anathema!

And one more thing, my son. To marry is good and will drive away the dark urges of the flesh, that are pleasing to the Devil, so woo thou the maid Scholastica Ceterum and may ye be as numerous as the sand by the sea.”

He raised his eyes to Heaven. “That will help thee to bear the burden of the flesh and —” (at this his speech became song:)

Learn ye to suf-fer

with no be-wailing

And with that he strode hence.

Alois' eyes were filled with tears.

For three whole days he said not a word, he was just restlessly clearing his inner being of all impurities and when one night a lioness appeared to him in his dreams, claiming to be his mother and spitting out contemptuously three times before him, he went, head held high, to see the Vicar — rejoicing that the traps of the Devil had been now put behind him and that from now on he could let thinking be and submit all the more blindly to the guidance of His Reverence.

The Vicar for his part recommended him strongly as worthy of the hand of the maid Scholastica to her parents.

At first Mr Ceterum would have nothing of it, was furious and said, “He's nothing, he's got nothing,” but eventually his wife found the key to his heart: “Darling,” she said, “What do you actually want, what have you got against Alois. Look — after all he is blond.”

And the wedding was held the next day.