The Missing Link

Chapter XV

Hobbs Versus Mahdi

Edward Dyson

IT WAS shortly after noon, and the day was warm and still. No one was stirring in Waddy. Professor Thunder had given up the idea that his eloquence could conquer the general lassitude, and was snoring in the tent of the Egyptian Mystic. Madame Marve was shopping in the township, and Matty Cann, the Living Skeleton, had come down from his throne and was curled up on a horse-rug. Ammonia, the orang-outang, sprawled on the floor of his cage, and the other monkeys were chattering angrily.

Nickie sat with his back to the wall of his compartment, sweltering in the hot garb of the Missing Link, drowsing and day-dreaming of beer. He thought he was sitting in a sylvian glade, with an attendant nymph, where a cascade splashed over crystal rocks, and the cascade was beer—all beer.

“’Ello there!” said a thick voice. Someone was shaking the bars of the cage. “Get up and do some thin’, blarst yer eyes! What have I paid yeh for?” continued the voice.

Tish had taken sixpence at the door, and admitted a patron without giving due warning to the exhibits. It was a rule that the public was not to be admitted to the Museum of Marvels without proper notice being given to the company. The precaution was necessary to obviate the chance of the Egyptian Mystic being discovered in the act of preparing onions for the stew, or engaged upon some other menial task, to the destruction of her dignity and mystery as a distinguished foreigner with supernatural powers. Or the people might have come upon the Missing Link in heated debate with the Living Skeleton, or in the hearty enjoyment of a long beer, or possibly reading a sentimental novel.

Nickie bared the long tusks of his mask in a malignant grin, but did not stir. He couldn’t be expected to waste his arts and graces on a common drunk.

The man rattled the bars of the cage again. “’Ello! ’Ello!” he cried, “shake yourself up! Le’s see what yer made of. Get goin’. Give us a specimen of yer arts.”

The Missing Link yawned hideously, stretching his long hairy limbs, and blinked his little eyes at the visitor.

“Tha’s not so bad,” growled the man. “You’re a bit of an artist, anyhow, but I reckon you ain’t nothin’ t’ some of the Missin’ Links I’ve come across in my time. I’ve been in the business myself, so you can’t monkey me, my man.”

Nickie sat up, growled in his best style, and scratched with the dull laziness of a tired ape.

“’Ere, ’ere,” cried the man, “’ere, ’ere, Bravo! Not too rotten That’s first rate monkey business, take it from Ivo Hobbs. Let me interdoose myself. Mr. Mahdi. Ivo Hobbs, late o’ Kitts and Killjammer’s Whole World Show.”

Nickie walked along the back wall of his cage two or three times with simian ungainliness, turning with a peculiar spring that Mr. Crips had learned from the Orang.

“Good enough!” said. Ivo Hobbs. “Good enough. There’s no ticks on you, you’re a stoodent, I can see. How’s the game mate?”

It was necessary to convince this beery intruder of his grievous error in taking Professor Thunder’ celebrated Missing Link, Mahdi, from the tangled jungles of Darkest Africa, for a cheap fake. Nickie sprang to the perch with great agility, caught it with one hand, slowly drew up a leg, hooked a hind claw to the bar and hung so, blinking unconcernedly.

“What oh!” said the audience, with enthusiasm.

“That’s a bit of all right. You’re a husker. But there ain’t no reason for this reticence with a brother professional. I was the bearded woman with Kitts and Kiljammer’s show for over two years, I was Shake, mate.” The visitor thrust a hand through the bars.

Nickie dropped from his swing, landing lightly on four paws, ambled daintily across the cage, ran up the bars, and seated himself on a limb propped in a corner.

The audience applauded generously.

“Bli’ me,” he cried, “you’re a fool t’ waste them talents on a side show like this. You orter hitch on at one o’ the great circuses.”

Nickie slid down the rope and resumed his leisurely scratching, prospected his ribs for a few seconds, and then made a sudden dash at Ammona, the orang, grappled with him through the bars, snatched away a little fur, and maintained a fierce scratching and snapping squabble for half a minute or so.

This was one of Nickie’s most effective bits of business. Whenever he heard an audience casting doubts on his authenticity as a genuine member of the monkey family, he work up a spluttering dispute with Ammonia and the battle was so realistic that it dispelled all doubts.

“Well I’m jiggered.” murmured Mr. Ivo Hobbs. “I could have sworn he was a fake.” He pressed more closely to the bars, and peered at Nickie with a critical, if somewhat beery eye, and the Missing Link posed languidly in a monkey attitude. Suddenly Ivo jabbed at him with a stick. The stick was pointed, and it took Nickie in the ear.

“Hell!” cried the Missing Link, bounding across his cage.

Ivo burst into a roar of laughter. “That’s all right, old bloke,” he said. “You’re a bonzer, but we all have our weak moments.”

Nickie was furious. This assault, combined with the heat and burden of the day, had dispelled his natural apathy. There was always a loose bar in the front of his cage, placed there for effect, so that the Missing Link might work up an occasional sensation by an apparent attempt to break away. Nickie dashed at this bar. It broke before him, and he came through, falling bodily on Ivo Hobbs, and bearing him to the ground. Ivo uttered a yell of apprehension. His beery doubts seemed to fly before this animal attack, and when he realised that he was being bitten and clawed mercilessly, he howled for help at the top of his voice.

Professor Thunder rushed from his slumber, and discovered his Missing Link and a total stranger rolling and tumbling on the ground. By this time Nickie had inflicted no little grievous bodily harm upon the unhappy Ivo, and he allowed Thunder and the Living Skeleton to drag him off, and thrust him back into the cage.

Ivo arose in great wrath.

“This is unprovoked assault and battery,” he cried, shaking his fist at the Missing Link. “I’ll have the law on you.”

“But, my dear sir,” protested the Professor, “you must have provoked the poor animal.”

“Animal be blowed. You can’t jolly me. Think I don’t know a fake when I see one, I’ll have him run in in half a tick.”

Professor Thunder endeavoured to argue with Ivo, and hinted at compensation, but the injured man fled from the tent in a state of blind anger.

“Let him go.” said the Missing Link, vindictively. “He won’t come back, He’s had all the damages he wants.”

But he did come back. Ivo returned in a quarter of an hour and he brought a policeman with him, and on their heels came quite a crowd, Professor Thunder, with business-like precision, charged a shilling a head to all seeking’ admission.

“There he is!” cried Hobbs, “There he is!” He pointed to the Missing Link growling viciously and baring alarming fangs at the back of his cage. “I give him in charge for grievous assault and attempted murder.”

“Come, what’s all this, me friend?” asked Constable Dunne, addressing the Professor.

Hobbs had evidently had a few more beers to restore his faculties. He was now courageous enough, but vague in his mind and unsteady on his legs.

“The man irritated my Missing Link, and the animal attacked him, as he deserved,” said the celebrated showman.

“Animal be blowed!” yelled Hobbs. “He’s ’a man, and I give him in charge.”

“Nonsense!” laughed the Professor; “The fellow’s drunk!”

Constable Dunne peered at the Missing Link through the cage, and that intelligent animal never looked more malignant.

“A man” said the officer, dubiously; “sure, he ain’t lookin’ it.”

“Arrest him!” said Ivo Hobbs.

“Devil a wan o’ me,” answered Dunne. “You’d better proceed by summons, me man. ’Tain’t me juty to arrist monkeys, an ’twould not be becomin’ t’ the’ dignity iv an officer iv th’ law, anyway, t’ be seen draggin’ a baste iv thim proportions through the street.”

Mr. Hobbs protested indignantly, and beerily, but the constable explained that according to a strict reading of the Act, dogs were not liable to arrest, “and in the oye iv th’ law,” he said, “monkeys is dogs.” Eventually, Ivo Hobbs went away in Constable Dunne’s company to take out a summons. The policeman endeavoured to persuade him to summon Professor Thunder, as the Missing Link’s next of kin, but Hobbs stood drunkenly to his belief that the monkey was a man, and so the summons was made out against Mahdi, and was solemnly delivered, citing the Missing Link to appear at the Waddy Police Court on the following morning at 10 o’clock.

“Here’s a pickle,” growled the proprietor of the world-famous Museum of Marvels.

The Missing Link scratched his head over the document. “I’m nothing of a lawyer,” he said, “but I’ve had a good deal of experience of police courts, and never knew a monkey to be proceeded against for assault—in fact, nothing lower in the animal kingdom than a Chinaman is amenable to the law.”

As a result of a long conference, Professor Thunder went out that evening and cultivated the acquaintance of John Lidlow, J.P., John Lidlow, Esq., J.P., was the local butcher, and Professor Thunder found him a very companionable man with an amiable weakness for raw whiskey. Affectionately they made a night of it, and in the morning they had a mutual pick-me-up. The pick-me-up was concocted of knock-me-down rum and colonial beer, and ran into several editions.

John Lidlow, Esq., J.P., was uncommonly sleepy and preternaturally solemn in court when the case of Hobbs versus Mahdi was called on for hearing. Ivo Hobbs explained his grievance clearly, and when the defendant was called upon, Professor Thunder stepped forward and explained:

“The defendant, Your Worship, is my justly-celebrated man-monkey, Mahdi, the Missing Link.”

“Is he a man or a monkey?” asked the court, drowsily, opening one eye.

“He’s a bit of both, but mainly monkey, Your Worship.”

“It’s a lie, he’s a man,” cried Hobbs.

“Silence in the Court!” said His Worship, with portentous hauteur, “or I’ll give you ten days for contempt. The defendant must be brought before us.”

“But, Your Worship,” exclaimed the Professor, “it would not be safe, I assure you, The animal is wild. He was irritated by this man, it would not be safe to take him from his cage. He might attack the court.”

“Eh, what’s that?” ejaculated the magistrate. “Attack the court? We don’t allow that kind of thing here. I’d give the beggar twelve months.”

Constable Dunne whispered to the court, and Professor Thunder enlarged upon the shocking temper of the Missing Link when roused.

“Very well,” said the Magistrate, “if he cannot be brought to this court, the court will go to him. Justice must be done. This court stands adjourned to Professor Thunder’s Museum of Marvels.”

Very gravely John Lidlow, J.P., led the court to Professor Thunder’s tents, and sedately he established himself behind a table before the cage of the Missing Link, and again the case was called on.

“The Missing Link pleads guilty, Your Worship,” said Constable Dunne. Professor Thunder whispered to him. “Through his next iv kin, Yer Worship,” continued Dunne.

“With extenuating circumstances. Your Worship,” said the Professor. “This man attacked my Missing Link with a stick.”

The Missing Link at this moment bounded against the front of the cage with a blood-curdling growl, making seemingly frantic efforts to get at Ivo Hobbs. One of the bars broke before his terrific onslaught, and through the apperture Mahdi snatched and snapped at his adversary of yesterday, growling horribly the while.

With a yell of terror Hobbs fled into a cement barrel.

The Missing Link flopped from his cage, and advanced upon the J.P.

The sight so upset the court in the person of John Lidlow that it sat for a moment, staring in blank horror across the table set for its convenience, then slowly tilted over in its chair, and fell heavily on the back of its neck, picked itself up, and made a bolt for the open. At the tent door the court turned for a moment, and cried breathlessly:

“Fined five shillings or two days,” and then it dashed out and away.

Professor Thunder paid the fine with the greatest goodwill, considering the advertisement an ample recompense. Besides this presentation at court was a useful testimony in support of the his claims of the Missing Link, and the Waddy Bugle’s grave account of the trial under “Police Court News” was added to the archives of the Museum.

The Missing Link - Contents    |     Chapter XVI - The Kidnappers

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