The Missing Link

Chapter XIII

The Widow and the Link

Edward Dyson

THE MUSEUM OF MARVELS was “resting” at Devil’s Head. The Professor was resting, personally and particularly, on a stretcher bed in a small, hot, fly-infested room in “The Devil’s Head” Hotel, pending the mending of divers injuries sustained in a disaster that put the show temporarily out of action. Thunder did not travel with his own horses, finding it much cheaper to hire a team to pull his caravan from one pitch to another. The pair of bays engaged to tow the museum, and traps and wares from Field Hill to Corner Stone had been so upset by the eccentric conduct of a frenzied inebriate, who fled along the stone road in a woman’s nightdress, being pursued by purely imaginary griffins, dodoes, unicorns and dragons, all in primary colours, that they wheeled and bolted with the whole caboodle, and running into a bridge railing upset Professor Thunder and Professor Thunder’s Museum of Marvels into Billy’s Creek, greatly to the detriment of the show, and to the serious discomfort of the Professor who was pulled from under Ammonia, the gorilla, just when that amusing animal had almost succeeded in stifling him in the slurry for which Billy’s Creek was famous.

While the Professor rested and underwent repairs, and whiled his time negotiating for damages with the owner of the horses and the frantic person in the woman’s nightdress, Matty Cann, the’ Living Skeleton, and Nicholas Crips, the Missing Link, were allowed their liberty. The Living Skeleton went home to the bosom of his affectionate family, with stern instructions to carefully regulate his diet, and Nickie went on to Winyip, sworn to preserve professional secrets, and bound to hold himself in readiness for resumption of duties at a day’s notice.

Nickie wore a good suit of store clothes, he bore on his rascally head quite a reputable hat, his linen was fairly meritorious, his boots were above reproach, he wore socks like a man accustomed to luxuries, he was clean-shaven, he jingled money in his pocket. In his varied career Nickie had had ups and downs; true, his “ups” had been brief, but they were frequent enough to keep him almost in touch with respectability. At Winyip, a considerable township in its way, he passed quite easily for a dramatic artist taking rest and change to dissipate brain fag, the result of too studious application to his art.

When the Professor was himself again he called his company together and descended upon Corner Stone. The caravan remained at Corner Stone for a night and a day, and then moved on to Winyip. Nickie the Kid, for some reason of his own, strongly opposed the trip to Winyip; possibly because he was reluctant to appear as a mere man-monkey with a demoralised head and a rudimentary tail in a township in which he had recently figured to great advantage as Crips Nicholas, the eminent Shakespearean actor.

Winyip proved to be an excellent show town and Mahdi, the Missing Link, came in for a good deal of attention, although his performance was more subdued than ordinarily, and he showed little of the actor’s natural anxiety to monopolise the limelight, but a local moral reformer wrote to the “Winyip Advertiser and Porkkakeboorabool Standard” enlaring on the shocking action of a depraved showman in keeping this poor heathen, which was “almost a human creature,” confined in a cage like a beast of the field. The disputation that followed was kept alive by Professor Thunder.

People flocked to see the wonderful man-monkey, and on the afternoon of the second day came a tall, stern woman of about forty. She was nearly six feet high, her nose was large, her chin small and sliding, and she wore glasses. Across her left arm she nursed a large, shabby umbrella, and her habitual expression was that of one who has discovered a smell of drains.

This big woman was very curious. She peered into every hole and corner, she examined Bonypart, the Living Skeleton, very closely through her glasses, looking critically at his features, and was equally curious with the monkeys. She even inspected Professor Thunder with such minuteness, and with such an air of one who has at last detected a shameful imposition, that at length the celebrated showman exclaimed with some grandeur: “Excuse me, ma’am, but I’m not an exhibit.”

“Oh,” gasped the female, “I beg your pardon. My name is Martha Spink; I live at ‘The Nook.’ Do you happen to know a—eh—theatrical person named Nicholas—Crips Nicholas?”

Professor Thunder had learned caution. “I fancy I have heard the name,” he said.

“You haven’t such a person in your employ?” said the lady.

“No,” said the Professor, thoughtfully, as if mentally running over the names of numerous celebrities on his long pay-roll. “No, I am sure there is no artist of that name in my company.”

“I’ll find him,” said Mrs. Spink, decisively, firing up, and making dangerous gestures with her umbrella. “Mark me, I’ll find him, and when I do—” The sweep of her bulky gamp nearly knocked Bonypart off his platform.

“Carefully, ma’am, carefully,” said the Professor, “you came near breaking a valuable exhibit then. Living Skeletons have to be handled gingerly, madam. I am sure the ruffian deserves all you can give him. May I inquire what villain’s work he is guilty of?”

“He’s been proposin’ marriage, that’s what he’s been doin’,” cried Mrs. Spink. “I’m a widder lady, and he’s been proposin’ marriage to me.”

“Dangerous, dangerous—very dangerous,” said the Professor.

The Living Skeleton looked apprehensively to wards the cage of the Missing Link, and Mahdi growled fiercely and retreated into the shadows.

“He stayed at my house two weeks,” continued the widow, “paid nothing for board and residence, but made me an honourable proposal of marriage, and then ran off. But I’ll find him.”

The Professor was called away to give his scholarly address on the Darwinian hypothesis for the edification of his patrons, and the fierce female hung on the outskirts of the audience, and examined the exhibits suspiciously. When Thunder came to that scale of creation represented by the Missing Link, Nickie exhibited great ferocity, growling and gnashing his teeth in a most terrifying manner, but keeping sedulously to the shadows at the back of the cage. Madame Marve stirred him up with the long stick kept for the purpose, and the Professor dwelt with feeling on the worst features of the animal’s character. Mrs. Spink peered with especial eagerness.

Mrs. Martha Spink paid twice for admission before sundown, and at night she came again. She betrayed extraordinary curiosity concerning the characteristics and peculiarities of missing links, and her concern had a powerful effect upon Mahdi. His diffidence was so marked that the Professor was constrained to excuse it in his descriptive address. “The poor animal is afflicted with toothache to-day,” he said. “Like the best of us he has his morbid moments.”

“S’pose she’ll be lookin’ yeh up agen t’day, Nickie,” whispered the Living Skeleton through Mahdi’s bars next morning.

The Missing Link snorted. “I wish the Professor would get out of this hole,” he said. “If that terrific creature discovers the truth, I am lost.”

Nickie had not left the cage all night, preferring to sleep in his skin rather than risk a sudden descent on the part of the enemy.

“What’d yeh do it fer?” said the Skeleton; “a great lath-an’-plaster she-emu like that, too.”

“Not having anything else to do, Matthew,” moaned the Missing Link. “I always was tender with women.”

“Well, yiv gotter look out, ol’ man. If she nails yer, yer a gone link, that’s er cert.”

“For two pins I’d retire from the profession,” said Nickie. “It exposes a man to too much temptation.”

The lorn widow did not appear that morning. The afternoon passed, and Mrs. Spink had not been heard from. There was a good crowd in at half-past eight, and Professor Thunder was giving his instructive and entertaining description of the life and habits of the Missing Link in the dark jungles of Central Africa. The Link had recovered confidence somewhat. He ventured to show himself at the front of the cage, he capered and gibbered, and at that point where Thunder dwelt upon the courage and fierceness of the man-monkey in fighting for his young, Nickie jumped forward, clawing through the bars, and uttering blood-curling growls.

At that moment his eye fell upon a face that thrust itself forward out of the press; his gaze encountered the eager scrutiny of a grim, green eye, behind glass. It was the eye of Widow Spink.

“It’s him,” cried the widow. She rushed for ward; she battered at the Missing Link with her umbrella, and the terrified animal retreated to his straw. “You villain!” screamed Mrs. Spink, “you double-dyed, lyin’ villain, I’ve got you!” She was reaching as far as possible through the bars, prodding at the man-monkey, and the audience were gazing in stupid surprise.

“Madam, madam, my dear madam!” expostulated the Professor, “you must not irritate the animals.”

He pulled her back from the cage.

“Don’t tell me,” cried the justly-indignant widow. “I know him I’d know him out of a thousand, robber of the widow and the orphan that he is.”

The Professor spoke to her soothingly.

“There, there, madam, do not excite yourself, you’ll be all right in the morning.”

“Meanin’ I’m drunk!” shrieked the widow, raising her gingham threateningly. “I know what I’m talking about. He promised me marriage.”

She made another lunge at the Missing Link.

“Yes, he did; he said we’d be married in a fortnight, the villain, and I’ll have the law on him.”

“Most distressing hallucination,” said the Professor, pressing Mrs. Spink through the crowd. “Will nobody take charge of the poor lady?”

He pushed her towards the door, the crowd following, delighted with the unexpected diversion, confident that Mrs. Spink was drunk or mad. The widow retired, fighting, the people pressing her.

“I’ll have the law on him,” screamed Mrs. Spink. “I’ll have a thousand pounds damages for breach of promise. I’ll teach him, deceivin’ a lone widder, the villain!”

Outside she enlarged upon her wrongs, telling the crowd of the infamous conduct of these actors, who go about the country imposing upon innocence and virtue. She went off, still flourishing her sturdy gamp, and reiterating her determination to have the law on the infamous Missing Link.

“That widow means business, Crips, my boy,” said the Professor after the show; “somethin’s got to be done. She swears she’ll see a lawyer, and she will. Now look here, I can’t have my Missing Link dragged into a law suit. If you get sued for breach of promise, you’re no good to me, the game’s up so far as missing links are concerned, and my show’s reputation gone. Is this to be the end of a long and honoured public career? What’s to be done?”

Madame Marve, Letitia, Matty Cann, Nickie, and even the educated pig sat in council to consider ways and means of averting the pending catastrophe, and Nickie bore the fierce rebukes showered upon him with proper humbleness. Never was seen a more depressed and humiliated missing link.

The next day was Sunday and in the morning, dressed becomingly in his part as the naturalist and teacher, Professor Thunder called upon the Widow Spink at “The Nook,” and held a long consultation with her. As a result of the Professor’s arguments, the lady was persuaded to visit the Museum of Marvels and have a private audience with the Missing Link.

The widow said she was going to town to see a lawyer on Monday morning, but agreed to Professor Thunder’s proposal, and called on the Missing Link in his cage.

“I think, madam, you will admit that you are mistaken,” said the Professor, at the door of the cage, “and will see that you have cast a serious aspersion on the character of an innocent animal and the genuineness of a reputable museum.” He stirred up the huge, hairy body lying in the straw in the Missing Link’s cage. “If you come inside the creature may attack you, but you are welcome to do so.”

Mrs. Spink, after looking closer at the hideous head the Professor lifted out of the straw, and brought close to her own at the back bars, decided not to enter the cage. She had a painful impression that perhaps she was mistaken after all.

“I admit, madam, that we build the animal up to some extent to make him look large. That is a mere showman’s trick, and innocent enough in itself, but I am determined to convince you that this is a genuine man-monkey, as your story has done me much mischief in my profession. Pray look closely at the beast.”

Mrs. Spink did look closely. There was not the slightest doubt that the animal she beheld, although somewhat faked, was one of the monkey tribe. She confessed her error, she became contrite and tearful, and promised an apology if the Professor would not persist in his threatened action for defamation of character.

“I was told the wretch was seen with your company,” said the tearful Mrs. Spink.

When the widow was well out of range, Nickie crept from the tent of the Egyptian Mystic, and breathed a great sigh of relief.

“I shall probably never make love to a widow again,” he said, sadly; “they are so ungrateful.”

He was dressed in his ordinary clothes, and the creature in the Missing Link’s cage sprang towards him spitting and clawing spitefully. It was Ammonia, the Gorilla, in the Missing Link’s skin, padded and faked to twice his size to deceive a poor, weak woman.

“I believe after all we ought to frighten something in the way of compensation out of the gorgon,” said Nickie, vengefully. Our reprobate hero was a man who knew no remorse of conscience.

The Missing Link - Contents    |     Chapter XIV - Mahdi Has a Night Off

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