The Professor flattered himself there was not a more seductive “spruicher” in the business, and, mounted on a gin case at a shop front plentifully papered with screaming posters depicting the more popular attractions, he reckoned that he could always lure a given number of people into the show by the sheer force of his eloquence, and so make up the rent, provided there were men and women in the street willing to listen.
Professor Thunder had found a vacant shop to suit him near the end of Main-street, Wangaroo. He would have preferred a central site at the same price, or even less, but none was available. However, business was so good on the first afternoon and evening that he resolved to extend his Wangaroo season into the following week. This involved a day of idleness, an unemployed Sunday, a boon that rarely came to the partakers in Professor Thunder’s godless enterprises, the day of rest usually being given over to travel and arduous preparations for a Monday matinee.
Nicholas Crips was well content with the change of dates. He certainly took a good deal of natural pride in his marked success as the most artistic and realistic representative of the missing link, and toyed in the reputation he was rapidly making for himself in the show business; but for all that, it was a great relief to throw off the hide of the celebrated man-monkey, drop the exactions of art, and be himself for a whole day.
Nickie did not find, as many celebrated actors have done, that the work of sustaining a grand role day after day, night after night, week after week, and month after month, was too exacting; he bore the strain with consummate ease; moreover, the most conscientious artist wishes to be himself once now and again, if merely for a change.
The shop in Wangaroo occupied by the Museum of Marvels was rented from a Chinese greengrocer, who carried on a business next door. The place had originally been one shop, but Kit See, with the frugality of his race, had partitioned it roughly, and with Oriental astuteness let the half for nearly as much as he paid for the whole.
Kit See was a stout, cream Confucian with an oleaginous smile, and the gentle, propitiatory man of an inferior people, cunning enough to realise that if you cannot dominate it is wisest to be docile. He had a good stock, a good business, a half-caste wife, and a noiseless, placid, slit-eyed baby about the size of a Bologna sausage.
The Missing Link discovered this much through a crack in the partition, and amused himself with his eyes glued to the slit when there were no professional demands on his time and talents.
Most things that Mahdi did irritated Ammonia, whose jealousy and hatred were intensified by Nickie’s habit, when in a playful humour, of teasing the gorilla by ostentatiously devouring delicacies Ammonia particularly affected in Ammonia’s sight, almost within his reach.
Nickie’s interest in that hole in the wall was a course of consuming anxiety to Ammonia. While Mahdi had his eye to the wall, the gorilla would cling to the bars of his cage, pushing his blunt nose through, and gibber and spit and protest in a high-pitched, querulous growl.
“Blime, yiv got the noble Ammonia goin’ this trip, Nickie,” said the Living Skeleton.
“Yes,” replied Nickie, still with his eye to the crack, “that beast will have to learn decency and good conduct, Matty, my man. I aspire to teach him moral restraint.”
“He’ll do you a bad turn one o’ them days, mark me.”
“I believe not,” said the Missing Link. “I’ve got something here that will always reduce him to reason.” Nickie touched his breast. “I say, Matthew, this Chow next door is a luxurious heathen. He’s got all sorts of lovely preserved fruits in beautiful juices, and cakes, and ginger floating in its own gravy, and there is a bottle of Chinese brand under the counter. Now, Matthew, I think it is a sin to encourage the inferior races to indulge in intoxicants.”
“Don’t,” cried the Living Skeleton, a ring of anguish in his tones. “Yeh know, it’s agin the rules t’ talk t’ me of things t’ eat. It makes me fat.” Poor Matty Cann groaned aloud. “Is there anythin’ substantial?” he asked pitifully.
“Not just now,” said Nickie, “but last night I watched the Chow and his missus dining on roast duck. You notice there’s a door in this partition just at the back of my cage. Curious, is it not? Well, I found an old rusty key in the crack under the wall, and it fits the lock of that door. Remarkable that, don’t you think? Now, I shan’t be surprised if some of those Chow delicacies find their way in here most unaccountably.”
“What’s it t’ me if they do?” sighed Matty. “I wouldn’t dare t’ eat ’em. If I did the boss would find I was puttin’ on flesh, an’ I’d be doin’ a bunk.”
“But I suppose a drop of Chinese brandy wouldn’t entirely spoil your figure, my boy.”
The Chinese delicacies did find their way into the cage of the Missing Link, quite a fine assortment of them, also the bottle of Celestial spirits. Ammonia witnessed the process of transference that night, and nearly went mad in his cage, springing about wildly, clinging to the bars, squealing and certainly blaspheming in his peculiar monkey gibberish, and Nicholas Crips sat in his cage, impishly eager to goad his enemy to fury, and ate luscious figs and fine preserves, while the gorilla strained at the intervening bars and shrilled his anguish.
After this there were other casual visits to the shop of Kit See, and Ammonia’s curiosity concerning the mysterious place from which the Missing Link drew such delectable supplies kept him at the back of his cage for hours together, peering at the wall, scratching it, and whining impotently.
Evidently Kit See was troubled in his mind, too, for he came into the show to examine the door in the wall, and finding the cage of the Missing Link right up against it, and the formidable monster sleeping in the straw, was satisfied that the petty larcenist found access to his goods in some other way.
On the Sunday, Nickie and the Living Skeleton walked abroad, seeing the sights of Wangaroo, including a waterfall; a hanging rock, and a cemetery, the latter the favourite resort of the elite and fashion of Wangaroo on Sundays. Mat’s skeleton proportions were disguised in a long overcoat, and Nickie wore a loud theatrical suit, and a conspicuous clean-shave. He thought he looked like Henry Irving. He didn’t see why he shouldn’t.
The company ate a late dinner in a room behind the show that evening. Amiable Madame Marve had prepared an excellent meal, in which the regulation beer and boiled leg of mutton course was relieved of monotony with vegetables and dumplings. There was soup before and pudding after, and in a burst of gratitude the Missing Link proposed the health of the Egyptian Mystic which was being drunk with enthusiasm in Chinese brandy, when suddenly a great racket arose in the yard, shouts and screams were heard from the street, and Kit See burst in upon the dinner party, his Celestial fade pale with terror, his usually benignant eyes round with apprehension.
“What’ for? Wha’ far?” screamed the Chinaman at Professor Thunder. “Come! Come! You come dam quick! Monkey he stealem my baby.”
“Wha—at?” yelled the Professor.
“The monkey cally baby away alonga house-top si’.” Kit pointed to the ceiling. He was dancing with anguish.
The Professor dashed for the caravan cage, and was back in a minute. “It’s Ammonia,” he cried, wild with excitement. “He’s broke loose. He’s got the Chinaman’s baby on the roof.”
Kit See ran into the street, the Professor turned to follow, but Nickie seized him.
“Hold hard,” he said, “there’s no hurry, no hurry in the world. Let us think this thing out.”
“No hurry!” snorted the Professor, “and that infernal gorilla waltzing round up there with a live baby?” The Professor’s tragic manner would have been the making of a cheap melodrama.
“Did you ever know Ammonia drop anything he’d once taken a good grip of? The youngster’s safe for a while. It strike me we can make a hit out of this. How will it read in the Wangaroo ‘Guardian’: ‘Child stolen by a gorilla. Rescue by Professor Thunder’s famous Missing Link’?”
Professor Thunder stopped with a gasp. “Holy Joseph!” he said, “that’s a noble thought, my boy. Can it be done?”
“You get out there and keep the crowd from overexerting itself. Leave the rest to me.”
Professor Thunder dashed out by the front door. There was already a large and vociferous crowd in the road, staring up at the gorilla, gesticulating and yelling, and people were coming running from all directions. On the side of the road stood Kit See, weeping, and brandishing his arms helplessly in the face of this grand calamity. Aloft, on the top of one of the chimneys, about three feet above the roof, sat the gorilla. In one of his hind claws he held the baby’s clothing, and the youngster dangled, apparently disregarded by Ammonia, who, despite the terrors of the situation, cut a most ridiculous figure, for he was composedly sucking the milk from the baby’s bottle, keeping his vindictive eyes on the crowd the while.
“For God’s sake keep quiet,” thundered the Professor to the excited crowd. “Do not irritate him, and all will be well.” He dragged to the ground a heroic Cousin Jack miner who was climbing the verandah post. “Back, man, back,” he cried, “or all is lost.”
The Professor strode up and down with all a heavy villain’s impressiveness and orated. His eloquence was drowned by a great hullabaloo at the next corner, and with a rattle and a yell four firemen came tearing down the road with a hose-reel. Some excited individual had, rung the fire-bell. The firemen attached the hose to a plug, and came on, hydrant in hand. It required all the Professor’s energies, supplemented by the frenzied protestations of Kit See, to prevent them turning a full stream of water on the gorilla.
The crowd was now a large one, gathered far out on the road, where a good view of the roof was obtainable, and when the excitement occasioned by the fire men had subsided, a fresh outburst was provoked by the appearance of another huge monkey, the great bulk of which came up slowly over the left ridge. The second monkey, which was much larger than the gorilla, sat upon the apex of the roof, jabbered at Ammonia, and the gorilla turned towards him, baring his teeth in a hideous grin of malice.
“Keep still!” yelled Professor Thunder. “Keep quiet, for the love of heaven! Mahdi, the Missing Link, will save the che—e—ild! Mahdi, the animal that approaches nearest to man, captured by me in the dark jungles of Darkest Africa. Observe.”
The gorilla seemed animated with an implacable hatred for the larger monkey. The shades of night were falling, but the people in the street could divine this enmity from Ammonia’s attitude and his gestures. His flat, ugly face was thrust towards the Missing Link. He grimaced horribly. With his eyes always on Mahdi, the gorilla slowly lowered the baby to the roof and let it go. The roof was shaped like an M, and the child rolled harmlessly into the gutter between the ridges. For a moment Ammonia faced the Missing Link, his venomous little eyes luminous as those of a cat, and then he ran along the ridge.
A cry broke from the crowd, but when Ammonia was within couple of feet of the Missing Link he stopped as if shot, let go his hold, and rolled down the roof, and lay in the gutter beside the child, limp and inanimate.
Mahdi clambered down the ridge, took up the baby, and, nursing it gently on one arm, came along the roof and down the sloping verandah, and lowered the son and heir of Kit See into Professor Thunder’s arms amidst a storm of cheering such as had never been heard at Wangaroo.
Nickie had predicted rightly. The Wangaroo ‘Guardian’ next morning contained a thrilling account of the rescue, and in a leading article the editor pointed out that the humanitarian action of the Missing Link was proof that it approached nearer to the standard of man than any other known animal.
The enthusiasm provoked by Mahdi’s action brought a tremendous rush of business. In fact, the attention excited threatened to lead to an exposure of Professor Thunder’s daring imposition. Leading men wanted to interview Mahdi; a section of the people of Wangaroo were even talking of having the Missing Link adorned with the Humane Society’s medal, and another section prepared an illuminated address. Eventually the great showman left the town in something of a hurry to escape notoriety that promised to be dangerous, but he had done a record six-days’ business, and was content.
“But how’d yeh beat the blanky gorilla?” asked the Living Skeleton on the morning after the rescue, as the Missing Link sat in his cage munching preserved fruits presented to him in abundance by the grateful Kit See.
“How do you think?” replied the intelligent animal. “With an ammonia squirt, of course. When he came at me I squirted a dose into him that nearly killed him. I’m never without that little weapon, and I think, Matthew really think that we shall teach the gorilla proper respect for the superior animals before we have done with him. His desire to supplant me in the scheme of evolution is contrary to science, my boy, and a defiance of natural law, and must not be countenanced for a moment.”