Home  »  The World’s Wit and Humor  »  The Alligator

The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Viktor Rákosi (Sipulus) (1860–1923)

The Alligator

ONE morning, when some of the keepers of the zoological gardens went into the alligator’s cave, they found protruding from the animal’s jaws an elegantly dressed leg, and a foot clad in a patent-leather boot. They pulled at the leg and extracted a man; and it was none other than Alfons Csokor, the bank cashier, who was wont to spend his leisure hours inspecting the animals.

The alligator had been his favorite. He had fed it with buns, petted it, and finally established so close an intimacy with it that he would have entrusted it with the key of the cash-vault, which was under his care.

But one day that false friend ate him up, and they died of it, both cashier and alligator. Half an hour later a man and a woman were moaning in the alligator’s cave. The woman was the cashier’s wife, the man was the alligator’s keeper.

“You will never, never shed a tear again!” wailed the keeper, and stroked the stiff scales.

“Who will take me to the Paris Exhibition?” sobbed the woman.

“That he should go and swallow a cashier!” said the keeper. “I’m sure I fed him very well. If he had only chosen some one who was lean, whom he could have swallowed without choking!”

The end of all the weeping was that the widow brought a suit for damages against the zoo. But the zoo, in its turn, brought a counter-suit against the widow, on the ground that an alligator is more valuable, and more difficult to procure, than a husband. The widow demanded the employment of expert testimony in the decision of these relative values. The government threatened a criminal investigation, in which several old alligators were to be brought up as witnesses. The authorities of the zoo declared that an alligator is an unintelligent animal; not so a cashier. It was therefore the latter’s duty to see that he was not swallowed, not the former’s to refrain (the opportunity being given) from swallowing.

At that time I was senior assistant in the law office of Dr. Bihalek, and my employer had entrusted the conduct of the case to me. We represented the widow. I protested against zoos in general, and alligators in particular, and described the widow’s grief in such moving terms, that my employer said to me:

“Look here, Kondor, a novelist was lost in you. Did you ever try your hand at literature?”

“To be sure. I once translated a cook-book.”

“Why did you not continue?”

“I am only taking a rest.”

“To work, then; to work, young man!”

And so I began, taking as my central theme the alligator, for with the intricacies of this subject I was now thoroughly well acquainted. Another might have written a humorous novel on this subject, but in literature I was an adherent of realism; and, according to the custom of this school, I went straight for my subject, went for it without mercy. On every page of the novel there was some gloomy thought, on every other page a gross offense against good taste. Children defied their parents; young men fell in love with their mothers-in-law; the houses were all dirty, and in them not a single healthy human being could be found. Those were most fortunate who became insane. I was very proud of the novel, for I felt sure it would be forbidden in Austria, but would run through fifty editions in France. Upon the story proper I did not expend much effort, but treated with compensating fulness the inner life of the man, the woman, and the alligator. Whenever my flow of thought weakened, I would introduce endless irrelevant matter. There was a description of the building of a house that occupied a hundred pages.

When at last the work was complete, I went to submit it to a famous publisher known to be in sympathy with the realistic school. He asked me whether my novel was bad. With a modest smile I answered:

“On the contrary, I believe it is good, and will excite attention.”

“Then I can find no use for it.”

“No use for a good novel?”

“I should like to well enough, but the public won’t have it. People are deadly sick of these ‘good’ novels. The critics praise them, but no one buys them. But I tell you what you might do: write a bad novel.”

“By which you mean?”

“Here is a recipe. A couple of suicides, faithless women, perjured men, a great deal of myth, and a handful of secrets. I’ll have it illustrated, and print it in instalments at fifteen Kreutzers apiece.”

I consented to this plan, and wrote a blood-and-thunder story of the worst kind. I described the director of the zoo as an enemy of mankind, who imported the man-eating alligators of the Nile for his evil purposes. I depicted the widow as a scandalous flirt who drove her husband to death—that is, into the alligator—by her faithlessness. Her husband was represented, of course, as a defaulting cashier. At the beginning of each instalment there was a picture, and what a picture! A dark night—a street corner—a man with somber cloak and dagger drawn! At the fifth instalment the widow sued me; at the sixth the director of the zoo.

My situation was comic enough. I was to buy the zoo a new alligator, and marry the widow. Upon these conditions alone was I to be forgiven, and the suit discontinued. Yes, there was a third condition: I was to discontinue my novel. But the instalments were sold in editions of twenty thousand, and I would have been a fool to discontinue it. Hence I married the widow. So she forgave me the libel, and, since she had a new husband, she forgave the zoo, which in turn forgave me.

The zoo still had no new alligator, and still held my wife responsible for the loss.

One day, taking part by chance in a great raffling and drawing of lots at the zoo, I won an elephant. I magnanimously presented the elephant to the zoo, which consented to cancel its claim against my wife.

I am now a happy man and novelist, but fearful suspicions arise in me whenever my wife proposes a walk in the zoo.