It was fall in Hillsboro when Jezebel died.
At first Jane thought she'd cremate Jezebel's body. The rented farm was up for sale so Jane couldn't bury her there. Jez was too big for any of the local funeral parlors. Even the people at the shelter balked, worried about the public cost of so private an expense. Finally, Jane found Paul Mills, who came in his pick-up, wrapped Jezebel in a blanket and buried her in a hole he dug with his backhoe on a hill under a maple in his pasture. Jane planted flowers.
Now it looks as if Jane Elvin may lose her other lion, too.
Jezebel's brother, Justin, is tall and proud and 10 feet long. He is 4 years old and his mane glows with the same fiery reds and browns and golds as the leaves in the valley below the Blue Ridge Mountains in farthest Loudoun County, where he and Jane live.
Jane, 63, has been given until Nov. 15 to move from the farm and take Justin with her. The new realtor believes the farm will sell more quickly without Jane and especially Justin around. So Jane, a waitress at Springwood Psychiatric hospital, is looking for a farm to rent for less than $250 a month.
If she doesn't find one, the lion and the lady will soon be parted.
There's no inkling of the crisis in the 12-ounce brain of this 530-pound lion. He still spends his days as he always did, in a 60-by-60 foot compound, 10 steps from the door of the gray house with the wood stove where Jane lives alone. He lounges on his stomach and squints with honey-colored eyes that are crossed and clouded by cataracts.
"I'd like to find him a good home, but nobody wants lions," Jane says. She hooks her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and frowns, the soft wrinkles around her mouth deepening: "I guess I'll . . . If I can't give him away, we'll just have to put him to sleep."
That, says Jane's daughter, Marty, is almost too terrible to think about. "Mom feels safe with Justin there. She goes up and talks to him and plays with him and pets him all the time. He keeps her from being lonely. He depends on her. She depends on him."
Justin and Jezebel came to Jane rather suddenly, when Marty brought the two cubs home four years ago last March. She was working at an animal petting farm in Fairfax, and someone had to feed them their eight-ounce bottles of baby formula every four hours, testing it first with a few drops on the wrist.
When the cubs were 6 months old -- as old as any lion is allowed to be in Fairfax -- their owner, a Maryland man with 12 lions of his own, was going to put them to sleep. Jane bought them for about $300.
She planned to give them away, but soon learned that lions "are a dime a dozen." They reproduce so well in captivity -- one pair in the Dresden Zoo mated 360 times in eight days -- that no zoos would take them. Then she decided to send them to Africa to be de-civilized and set free by the Adamsons, made famous by the movie Born Free.
That plan was given up after Justin, then 1 year old, regally rode the Queen's float in the Seventh-day Adventist Fourth of July parade in Rockville, and someone noticed white spots on his eyes. He had cataracts, and an animal opthomologist offered to operate for $500 an eye. Jane declined and that ended any chance of Justin returning to Africa.
But Justin prospered. He became popular among the people of Hillsboro, the town where Susan Koerner Wright, mother of Orville and Wilbur, was born in 1831. Jane hardly ever had to buy the 15 pounds of meat Justin ate every day. Sheriff's deputies brought deer they had shot and farmers delivered cows that had died or calves still-born. Justin became such a novelty in Hillsboro that he even attracted prison work crews from Camp 26 in Haymarket when they came to repair the roads.
"They oohed and aahed like little kids at a circus," Jane says.
But that doesn't make much difference for the future, unless Jane and Justin can find somewhere to live. Inside his compound Justin stirs. Rising on powerful legs, he tilts his head to the ground, draws in his flanks and roars, the force of his wind raising dust along the ground.
"He's such a ham," Jane says. "It's like he's saying, 'I guess that shows you who's the lion around here.' It's good he doesn't know all that's happening."