The Royal Menagerie- Places in my books, part 2

Today is the second post in my series about real places featured in my books. Last month, we looked at Russell Square and the British Museum.  Today, I am discussing another location from my book Not In Want of a Wife: The Royal Menagerie.

The Royal Menagerie is considered to be London’s first zoo. Located within the Tower of London, from 1210 A.D. when King John began keeping lions there, until its closure in 1835, the Royal Menagerie was home to many species of exotic animals. 

Animals which lived at the menagerie at various times in its history included lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears, elephants, baboons, monkeys, muscovy-cats, raccoons, jackals, eagles, foxes, antbears, and a variety of exotic birds. 

Conditions were not always favorable for these animals; many of them died due to being fed the wrong type of diet, differences in climate from their natural habitat, or being housed together with animals of a different species. In one instance, a lion was put in the same cage as a pair of Bengal tigers and the lion died as a result of a fight between the animals.

Cages were cramped, and the fencing separating the animals from the visitors was often inadequate to prevent visitors from coming too close to the animals. Animals that were provoked often retaliated. In 1698, a visitor named Mary Jenkinson attempted to pet a lion. The lion tore her arm with his claws and mouth, and despite the amputation of her arm, Mary died soon after the attack. Other guests who were foolish enough to poke their parasols and umbrellas into the cage often had them snatched by the animals.

In 1830, 150 of the animals were moved to a new home in Regents Park, where they became the first attractions at the newly-built London Zoo. The remaining animals were sold to circuses and other zoos when the menagerie closed permanently in 1835. 

In my book Not In Want of a Wife, Darcy and Elizabeth use a visit to the Royal Menagerie as a means of reuniting Jane and Bingley. Caroline, who does not want her brother to be with Jane, tries to provoke one of the leopards, but her attempt does not have the effects she intended.

Here is the menagerie scene from the book:

Darcy paid for their tickets at the gate. The Royal Menagerie was housed within the Tower of London on the bank of the Thames. A small plaque near the entrance read that animals had been housed there since the reign of King John in the thirteenth century. Caroline opened her parasol and rested it along her shoulder.

“Oh, look! It is an elephant!” Georgiana cried. She raced over to look at the large, lumbering, gray beast. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst followed at a distance. Caroline clung to Darcy’s arm and bade him take her to see the “filthy beast.” Mr. Bingley walked behind them, holding his hands behind his back, his expression calm but happier than Darcy had seen him in weeks.

The elephant stuck his trunk through the bars, and Georgiana reached out a timid hand to pet it. She giggled with delight.

“Careful, Georgiana,” Darcy cautioned.

“He does seem to be a gentle sort of beast,” Bingley mused, “though I would hate to be trampled by those large feet.”

Caroline refused to get too close. She held a gloved finger to her nose. “The smell here is awful,” she said.

The corners of Darcy’s mouth turned up. “Did you expect anything different from a place that houses animals?”

After Georgiana had her fill of entertainment from the elephant, they headed to see the exotic birds. As they rounded the corner, they came face to face with the Gardiners and their nieces.

Bingley’s jaw dropped at the sight of Jane. She was holding hands with a little boy, her smile lighting up her whole face as she laughed at the antics of her little cousins.

She stopped in surprise when she saw Mr. Bingley in front of her.

The two stared at each other for a minute before they recollected their manners.

“What a surprise to see you all here,” Jane said. This time her smile was forced. She grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and tried to calm her nerves.

“Likewise, Miss Bennet,” Mr. Bingley replied. He took off his hat and gave them a slight bow.

“My aunt you already know.” Jane gestured to Mrs. Gardiner, who curtsied to them. “And here is my uncle, Mr. Gardiner.”

“How d’you do?” Mr. Gardiner shook hands with the gentlemen.

Mr. Darcy stepped forward. “It is a beautiful day for the menagerie, is it not?” It took all his willpower not to wink at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth cocked her head at Caroline. “It has been some weeks since we last met you at the theater, Miss Bingley. My sister and I called on you several times at Grosvenor Street when we first arrived in town but were told you were out or feeling unwell. Did you never happen to see our card that we left?”

Miss Bingley tittered. “Oh, my butler must have forgotten to give it to me. I shall have to have words with him. He has been very absent-minded as of late.”

She reclaimed Darcy’s arm. “Come Darcy, we must let the Bennet sisters and their family enjoy their outing in peace. We were about to go see the exotic birds, were we not?”

“We are heading to see the birds, as well,” Elizabeth said.

“Well, since we are all here together, why do we not all go along as one big party?” Darcy suggested. Now was the moment of truth. Would Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet be amenable, or would one of them object?

Both of them looked awkwardly at each other. Finally, Mr. Bingley said, “I can think of no reason why we should not all see the animals together.”

“Yes,” Jane said nervously. “After all, why not?” She laughed.

It was like watching a play, Darcy thought. Bingley held out his arm to Jane, who timidly accepted it. The pair led the way, with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their children next, followed by the Hursts. Mr. Darcy offered his arm to Elizabeth, which left Caroline and Georgiana to trail behind.

When Bingley had first heard about Jane’s engagement having been called off, he was incredulous. Then, he had been unwilling to accept Darcy’s adamance that Jane truly cared for him. Darcy could not reveal his source, naturally. But it seemed that Darcy’s words had worked to unravel Bingley’s mistrust of Jane. He had admitted to Darcy, only the other night, that if he had the opportunity to meet her again, he would give Miss Bennet another chance. Let time and intimacy prove her true feelings for him. Seeing them arm in arm, Darcy hoped that this marked a new start for his friend.

“Look at the scarlet plumage on that parrot!” Jane exclaimed to Mr. Bingley. “Isn’t it spectacular?”

Bingley tried to coax the bird to speak for her. “Hullo, parrot. Say ‘hullo’ for us, will you? Hullo. Hullo,” he repeated.

“Awwk, hullo!” the bird cheerfully copied Bingley’s greeting.

Jane laughed. “How delightful!”

Mrs. Gardiner, who always had some sort of snack tucked away in her bag for the children, pulled out a handkerchief tied around a pile of white, flaky biscuits. She handed them out for the children to feed to the birds. Baby Robbie chose to eat his instead, shoving his chubby fits into his mouth along with the snack. The rest of the children were delighted when the parrots and other birds nibbled broken pieces of biscuit right from their hands.

“Mind you don’t let them nip you, now,” Mrs. Gardiner cautioned.

Darcy watched as Elizabeth tried to coax a beautiful, bright-blue peacock into unfurling his tail. He was more interested in pecking at the crumbs she tossed into the cage, however.

Caroline pushed her way in between Bingley and Jane and picked up one of the biscuits that little Eddie had dropped. She held it between the bars towards the scarlet macaw. “Talk, bird! Talk!” she commanded.

The parrot reached down from its perch and grabbed the biscuit from her fingers, pinching some of Caroline’s skin in the process with its beak.

“Ouch! It bit me!” Caroline recoiled.

Bingley laughed. “Should have listened to Mrs. Gardiner, sister!”

Caroline huffed. “These birds are boring. Let us go see something more interesting. I propose we visit the cats next.”

They wandered over to the leopards’ pen. Three beautiful leopardesses resided within. One was prowling around and around in circles. The other two dozed lazily, one on the floor, and the other on a large hammock-looking piece of leather that had been stretched across the corner of the pen.

“Now here are some beauties,” Caroline praised the feline beasts.

“Keep your distance, and don’t cross the outer railing,” Darcy warned. “These animals have been known to attack guests who are foolish enough to provoke them.”

His injunction was enough to send Eddie wailing. He begged his mother to pick him up, but she was already holding Robbie, not having brought her perambulator-cart with her that day. He did not want his father either, and screamed when Mr. Gardiner picked him up. He finally calmed down when his cousin Elizabeth took him into her arms.

The commotion awakened the other two leopards, and they came over to the edge of the pen with interest.

Caroline noticed Jane standing with her back towards her, engrossed in watching the cats. Folding her parasol, she leaned over the outer railing and poked it through the bars at the first leopard. Darcy saw her try to taunt the cat towards Jane. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”

The leopard pawed at the parasol, snagging the lace trim with her claws. She yanked, and only just managed to get the parasol back from the cat’s grasp.

Caroline watched as her brother put his hand possessively on the small of Jane’s back as he pointed out the unusual markings that one of the leopards had around its eyes. Jealousy welled up within her at their closeness. Pretending to trip, she bumped into Jane, hard. Jane, who had been leaning a little over the railing to see the leopards better, lost her balance and went tumbling over. She shrieked. The leopard closest to her, spotting the plumage on Jane’s bonnet, stuck her paw though the bars and swatted at it playfully, eliciting more screams from Jane. She tugged the end of the ribbon to free it from her head, and the leopard snatched it right off, pulling it into the cage. Bingley jumped over the rail and swooped Jane up into his arms, carrying her back to safety. The leopardess grabbed her prize bonnet in her mouth, took it off to the corner, and sat down with the hat between its paws as if to gloat over the other leopards that she had got a toy and they hadn’t.

“Are you all right, Miss Bennet?” a worried Bingley asked.

Jane was still shaking after her frightening incident. “Yes, thanks to you, Mr. Bingley. I am no worse for the wear, save the loss of my favorite bonnet.”

Caroline, who had not expected things to get so out of hand, was visibly frightened. She pressed her hand to her heart. “Goodness me! What an awful incident! It is good that no harm has come to you, dear Miss Bennet.”

But Elizabeth had seen the whole thing. “Save your pity, Caroline. It was you who pushed Jane over the rail. Had Jane been wounded or worse, it would have been entirely your fault.”

“I…I…” Caroline stammered.

The others could only look on with a mixture of shock and horror.

“Try anything like that again, and I shall feed you to the leopards!” Elizabeth threatened.

Mrs. Hurst tittered. “Come, now. Surely it was an accident!”

“Yes, yes, an accident!” Caroline echoed. “I never meant for her to come to any harm. Truly!” She began to quiver. She mumbled something like an apology to Jane, who assured her all was forgiven, though lightning still flashed from Elizabeth’s eyes.

Darcy thought to mention that he had seen Caroline taunting the leopard with her parasol, but the look of remorse on Caroline’s face made him decide to keep silent. Perhaps she had underestimated the danger she had put Miss Bennet in and regretted it. She would be dealt with later, regardless.

Mr. Bingley turned back to Jane and her family. “I must offer my sincere apologies for my sister’s behavior. It is unacceptable. Please, allow me to make amends by offering to have you all come to dinner with us at Hurst Place later this week. That is, if my brother-in-law is amenable.”

The Hursts were all too happy to have the Gardiners and the Bennet sisters join them, to mitigate their shame over Caroline’s stunt.

They decided to defer seeing the rest of the menagerie for another day. Jane was still too shaken up to enjoy any more that day. Mrs. Gardiner put her arm around Jane and escorted her.

As they walked towards the exit, Darcy and Elizabeth let the others get ahead of them. Once they were out of earshot, Darcy whispered to Elizabeth, “There is something I need to tell you. Caroline recognized my carriage in Russell Square the other day and said something to Georgiana about it. There is a possibility that she saw us together.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened in alarm. “Then let us hope that she hasn’t.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt, I hope you will check out the rest of the story, available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Not In Want of a Wife, I hope you will check out the rest of the story, available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Until next time, Happy Reading

– Amanda Kai

Have you gotten your FREE copy of Elizabeth’s Secret Admirer yet? Sign up for my email list to get your copy– a newsletter subscriber exclusive story!

On Valentine’s Day, Elizabeth Bennet is surprised to receive a card from a mysterious sender.  This marks the start of an ongoing correspondence between her and her secret admirer.  But what will she do when she learns that the man she has been writing to is none other than the man she despises most?  And what will happen when she realizes that she no longer hates him, but has fallen in love with him?  A sweet variation on Pride and Prejudice sure to make your heart melt.

6 responses to “The Royal Menagerie- Places in my books, part 2”

  1. Linny B Avatar
    Linny B

    What an interesting post and I often read about our favorite characters visiting the Royal Menagerie. Looking forward to reading your story..

  2. Glynis Avatar

    Thank you for this post. I loved the ‘accidental’ meeting although I’m not sure Caroline was as delighted with it? She obviously overplayed her hand in this book, just desserts seem to be in order. Hmmmm I doubt she’ll be pleased with the results of her actions! Great story!

  3. Regina Jeffers Avatar

    I love how you add the bits of history which make the story real.

  4. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Great excerpt! Love to read more! Glad Caroline got what she deserved!lol Interesting facts about the royal menagerie.

  5. Riana Everly Avatar

    I always feel so sorry for the animals in those old zoos and menageries. Still, what an opportunity for people to see creatures they would otherwise only know from books, if that.

  6. Susan Heim Avatar

    I feel sorry for those poor animals. Thanks for a fascinating article!

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