Occasionally a too-inquisitive visitor with a taste for natural history became obtrusive and sought close investigation. It was part of Nickie’s duty to fill such visitors with a proper respect for Missing Links, but ninety-nine out of every hundred accepted Mahdi in good faith. It is an axiom in the show business that the people who can’t be deceived are so few that they are not worth considering.
It was a hot day, life in the cage was very oppressive. Nickie the Kid was painfully thirsty. Probably no Missing Link since the day when man began to emerge from the monkey had ever been so sorely afflicted with the craving for alcoholic stimulants.
Mahdi had a fixed allowance his beer supply was rigorously prescribed by Professor Thunder, and precisely measured by Madame Marve. It was this precision that prevented Nickie being quite content with an artistic career.
He had had his first pint. The second pint was not due for two hours. Nicholas Crips was not satisfied he would survive the time. The place was stifling.
“Yar-r, get to blazes!” snorted the Darwinian hypothesis, and hurled his water tin at Ammonia.
Ephraim, the pig, grunted pitifully, and Matty Cann, the bone man, drowsed in his chair. Madame Marve was sleeping, too, and the ripple of a monotonous snore came from the Egyptian tent.
There were no patrons, the town was still, prone under the great heat. Professor Thunder entered, mopping his brow, and the Missing Link pressed against the bars.
“How is it for a drink?” he said. “You’ve got to be generous, Professor, or I resign. There you are, a drink, or my resignation—the loss of the most versatile Link in the profession.”
The Professor entered the Egyptian tent, and presently returned with a pint pannikin which he passed through to Mr. Crips. Nickie seized it greedily, raised it to his lips, and then changed his mind, and hurled it at Thunder with a furious imprecation.
“Water!” snarled the Missing Link, “Water! You have the heart to insult a Christian thirst with water on a day like this, you blastiferous heathen! Let me out! I resign. Let me out of this monkey house.”
Professor Thunder laughed and returned to his post at the door, and the baffled Link pushed his face through the bars and poured a torrent of frantic objurgations in the direction of the street door.
“Nickie, fer th’ love iv ’Eaven let er man sleep,” pleaded the Living Skeleton pitifully. “I was just a-dreamin’ iv pickled pigs’ feet an’ fried taters—crisp, brown, fried taters. Oh, Lord!”
“Be quiet!” snarled the Missing Link, “and do a perish here from thirst while that cow of a man swills his fill and makes a fortune out of my mortal agony? No, hanged if I do.”
The Missing Link howled again, and Madame Marve, that she might sleep peacefully, broke rules and regulations, and smuggled him another half pannikin of beer.
“Lucky dog!” sighed the bone man. “If I was t’ tear the place up they wouldn’t give me half yard iv grilled steak an’ er pint iv chips.”
After tea, Mahdi was very quiet on his straw. The Professor and Madame Marve were making their usual dinner of cold boiled leg of mutton, bread and beer, in the Egyptian tent. The other animals were sleeping.
The Link was not sleeping, he was amusing him self in a quaint way at the back of his cage. He had a small lassoo made of cord, and was throwing it at an object near the wall at a distance of five feet.
Every time Nickie failed he swore in a patient heart-broken way, but he persisted, and eventually success crowned his efforts. An exclamation of great joy burst from his lips.
“No silly business there, Mahdi,” cried Madame warningly from her tent. “The public will be here in half a tick.”
Mahdi dropped his string and curled in a knot, but presently he started cautiously hauling in his prize. A long hairy arm reached out and clutched it, and hastily hid the object in the straw. The treasure was a bottle three-parts full of brandy, Professor Thunder’s extra special.
The Missing Link’s performances during the next hour were curious and perfunctory: the animal was not himself. If Missing Links were habitually intemperate one would be inclined to say this Missing Link had taken something too much. During a quiet quarter of an hour Mahdi got the key of his cage from the Professor’s ordinary vest, which had been left hanging within his reach, opened the door, and going quietly along the wall behind the cages, reached the back door, opened it, and stepped into the night.
Two minutes later a monstrous shape came out of the shadows of a right-of-way into the well-lighted City Street, a strange, misshapen animal, with a head half-human half-monkey, with a body like that of an ourang-outang and long, flapping feet. The brute was covered with short, tufted, reddish hair, and in its hand it carried a brandy bottle containing about half-a-cup of spirit.
The first to confront Nicholas Crips, the Missing Link, was a woman. She did not attempt to escape, but stood right in his way, staring at him with eye frantic with terror. Fear had struck her motionless but not dumb; she shrieked in Mahdi’s face again and again. Her screams echoed along the street.
“Thash all ri’, missus,” said the Missing Link affably, “I don’ know you, an’ excuse me; I don’ wanter hear you sing.” He brushed her aside, and rolled drunkenly into a wine shop.
In the wine shop a large mirror served as a door screen. Nickie saw his grizzly shape reflected in this, and after surveying it in stupid surprise for a few moments, smashed the glass with his bottle, and rolled out again.
Amazed men assembled at the door, fell back in awe before the Missing Link, and Mahdi crossed the road, carrying the neck of the broken bottle, his quaint feet, like huge hands, flopping in the dust. Mahdi’s make-up did Professor Thunder great credit—it was grotesquely inhuman. The shape of the costume demanded a stooping attitude and shambling gait. Only in a good light and at close quarters could the deception be seen.
People came running from all directions. A cab horse backed in terror before the monster, reared, plunged furiously and bolted into a peanut stall.
Nickie waddled on, blissfully unconscious of the sensation he was creating. He invaded a secondhand clothes shop.
“Shemima, mother of der brophet!” gasped Moses Aaronstein, throwing out his palms in a gesture terror, and Moses bolted through a side door.
The Missing Link appropriated a spangled skirt and trailed it after him down the street. The shouting crowd followed at a respectful distance. In a small eating-house the Link encountered two men eating fried steak and onions. They beheld him with indescribable emotion, glared for a moment and fled. A girl coming in with a tureen of stew dropped the lot on the floor, threw her apron over her head, and fainted amongst the broken crockery and scattered viands.
For a moment the strange inebriate stood swaying over the prostrate girl, making a grave, drunken effort to grasp the situation, then the Italian proprietress came into the room humming a cheerful strain, and carrying a burden of fried sausages. She beheld the horror, uttered a piercing scream, and dashed up the narrow stairs. Nickie went up the stairs after her, anxious to explain. The horrified people pressing at the front door and the windows saw him pass out of sight. There was now a large, excited crowd in the street. All sorts of rumours were afloat. Already it was stated that the mighty gorilla had killed three men and eaten half a horse. Two policemen were busy beating back the crowd, and collecting evidence from excited onlookers who had seen nothing.
At this stage, Professor Thunder dashed through the assemblage. The Professor was in an agitated frame of mind.
“What is it?” he cried. “Has anyone seen a Missin’ Link—a dark brown Missin’ Link?”
Ten persons explained at once.
“He’s in there now,” cried a bewildered cabman, pointing to the eating-house. “He’s ate er girl, an’ he’s out after the missus with a club.”
“’T went up them stairs,” cried a trembling woman.
Yells from the crowd in the road brought the people surging into the middle of the street. Mahdi had opened a front window, and stepped out on to the roof of the verandah. He was dancing clumsily on the corrugated iron, and gesticulating, with his long, shaggy hands. Nickie was declaring with the warmth of absolute conviction that he was a king, but the yelling of the crowd rendered his speech inaudible.
“I’m a king!” cried the Missing Link. “Behold in me your rightful sovereign. Bow down t’ ye ri’ful sovereign, ye base born!” He threw five fried sausages into the crowd.
The crowd continued yelling, and Nickie broke into a vain-glorious song, and capered like an idiot brandishing a Vienna loaf.
Professor Thunder beat on his forehead like the baffled villain in the play. “Ten thousand furies!” he howled, and dashed for the stairs.
While the Missing Link was still capering, Professor Thunder appeared at the window. He climbed through. The crowd loudly applauded his courage. He descended upon Mahdi, he seized him. The crowd cheered vociferously. Professor Thunder kicked the Missing Link. He dragged him back to the window, and kicked him through. The crowd nearly went frantic in its appreciation of such heroism.
Presently the Professor appeared on the stairs, dragging the hairy monster after him. He dragged it by the leg. It bumped cruelly on the steps. The Professor pulled the Missing Link to his feet, took him by his rudimentary tail and the scuff of his neck, and ran him out of the shop. He ran the grizzly monster up the street as a publican ejects the unwelcome drunk. The crowd followed, cheering still.
It was an inspiriting sight. The Missing Link running on tip-toes, his eyes projecting, seemingly in imminent danger of falling on his nose, the Professor furious, two wild policemen with drawn clubs following after, ready to do or die should the terrible brute break loose again.
The Professor ran Mahdi into the show, kicking him through the door. He kicked him into his cage, and ten seconds later was vociferating on his kerosene box again, strenuously inviting the crowd to roll up, roll up, roll up, and see the wonderful Missing Link, the only genuine man-monkey in captivity.
The rush that followed was unprecedented in the history of Professor Thunder’s Museum of Marvels. The people flocked in. Prices were put up to a shilling all round, but still the people flocked, and Letitia took nearly a bucketful of silver before public interest was exhausted.
Meanwhile, Madame Marve stirred up Nickie in his cage, and made him grin and howl and caper for the edification of the crowd, whose souls his street escapades had filled with awe.
Next day the papers contained an account of the excitement occasioned in the city by the escape of a huge monkey from Thunder’s Museum of Marvels, and the Missing Link demanded an increase of salary and a double allowance of beer, and got both, in view of his increased importance as the greatest draw the show had ever known.