Nickie’s close application to an artistic career as the leading feature of Professor Thunder’s Museum of Marvels had lifted him out of what had become an habitual impecuniosity, and in his brief unprofessional moments he wore a whole suit and boots that did not openly advertise his sockless condition.
In addition, Nickie was leading a fairly fat and easy life; he had put on condition; he was quite at his best; and a flirtatious matron might have found him a fairly presentable person. Madame Marve, the Egyptian Mystic, was a good wife to Professor Thunder, and a good mother to Letitia, according to the lights of show people at the conventions of the game, but she was still young enough to appreciate genuine admiration, and had sufficient of the vanity of the profession to roll a lively, dark eye for effect now and again.
Naturally, the lively, dark eye rolled in Nickie’s direction once in a way, and Nickie responded with the beams of a tender, grey orb. He had a way of languishing a little when only Madame Marve was near, and he breathed sighs of simple eloquence.
Mr. Nicholas Crips had the primitive instincts of the pure individualist; fine notions of honour and delicate concepts of propriety had no influence on his modes of conduct.
It may be inferred in these circumstances that Mr. Crips had no compunction, about coveting his neighbour’s wife.
Madame Marve had a light heart and a plump waist, She did not take Nickie’s advances very seriously, but she found a certain piquancy in the situation, and was not above a reciprocal sigh or a responsive hand pressure.
This unlooked-for development in the internal economy of the Museum of Marvels might have provided Professor Thunder’s patrons some amazing novelties had they been permitted peeps behind the scenes. For instance, there were occasions when the public was deaf to Professor Thunder’s appeals, and resolutely passed by on the other side. On such occasions the Egyptian Mystic might have been discovered in the small, back tent, with white, well-shaped arms bare to the shoulder, busily engaged fabricating an Irish stew for the evening meal. The Museum was very partial to Irish stew, even the Living Skeleton liked the smell of it. Ten to one the Missing Link would be found hovering about Madame at such a time, garbed in his simian costume, but with the mask-like make-up turned back, exposing Nickie’s florid countenance and rakish grin. Possibly at such moments Nickie would presume to squeeze Madame’s waist. He might even venture to steal a kiss. If so, Madame’s protest might be forcible, but it would not be vindictive.
Madame was not disposed to quarrel with Nickie; he was a profitable adjunct; the Museum had never possessed so versatile a missing link, and, as for a little philandering—pooh, it was all in a lifetime.
The tents were pitched at Catcat. The situation was similar to that described above, but Professor Thunder had the bad taste to intrude when Nickie was in the act of forcibly extracting a kiss in revenge. Madame Marve having playfully covered him with flour.
Professor Thunder was a jealous man, and an inflammatory one. He uttered a roar that would not have discredited the Missing Link in its native jungle in the wilds of Darkest Africa.
“You infernal blackguard!” he yelled.
“Now, Jim,” cried Madame Marve in sudden alarm, standing between the men with her paste pin.
“Out of my way, woman!” cried the Professor, tossing her aside.
Professor Thunder fell upon Nicholas Crips, and smote him hip and thigh. He was not content to smite—he kicked. He kicked hard—and often. His fury increased with the measures he took to wreak it.
“Jim! Jim!” pleaded Madame Marve, “you’ll ruin the skin.”
The Missing Link’s skin was an expensive item, but the Professor forgot his cupidity in vindicating himself as an outraged husband. He continued to kick, and then, taking Nickie by the scruff and the back, he rushed him from the tent, and pitched him headlong into the garish day.
There were a few youths and half a score of children loitering about. Fortunately, the mask-like structure covering Nickie’s nose, cheeks and chin, had fallen into place, and what the loiterers saw was infuriated man kicking a gigantic monkey, and assailing him with vehement profanity. The sight was sufficiently amazing. The children fled, screaming, to carry the astonishing news through the township. The youths stood off and yelled.
The Missing Link rolled to some distance, and backed against a tree.
“Don’t show your nose inside my show again, you dirty crawler!” said the great entrepreneur. “If you do, by the Lord Harry, I’ll break every bone in your body.”
People were coming from all directions, and a small crowd had already gathered from the adjacent houses. The inhabitants of Catcat drew as near as they dared, and gazed in open-mouthed amazement from Thunder to the Missing Link.
“I’ll teach you to come creepin’ and sneakin’ into a man’s home, tryin’ t’ ruin his happiness,” the Professor roared, and he made another dash at Nickie.
The Missing Link slipped round the tree, and Madame Marve caught her husband, by the arm and dragged him hack.
“What’s he done, mister?” asked a bystander.
“What’s he done?” bellowed Thunder, the actor instinct in him coming out strongly. “What’s he done, sir? This infamous scoundrel has tried to wreck my home, sir, to blight my peace of mind.”
“What, th’ bloomin’ Missing Link?”
“Yes, sir, the perfidious Missing Link; the ungrateful Missing Link that I warmed in this bosom, and that has turned and stung the hand that fed him. But now I know all, the villain is unmasked, and if the slimy trail of the serpent enters the abode of peace again, by Heaven! I’ll beat the life out of him.”
A crowd had now collected, and when Madame Marve dragged her husband into the tent all attention was turned upon Nickie, who cowered against the tree, his mind busy on a way out of the peculiarly unpleasant situation. Thunder was still storming inside, and presently he reappeared, and hurled an armful of shirts, boots, trousers and other human habiliments into the air. These were the belongings of Nicholas Crips.
The people of Catcat maintained a respectful distance, not knowing for certain what so formidable an animal might do next.
“Better mind out,” said one youth; “he bites! He bit the bloke inside. Didn’t yeh ’ear him say?”
On the whole the attitude towards the Missing Link was hostile. It was felt that here was a dangerous brute at large. Several armed themselves with stones and sticks. Inside Professor Thunder was still raving to drown Madame’s rational arguments. Twice he burst into the open with fresh invectives for Nickie, and some trifling piece of dress or property to hurl at him; but Madame Marve and the Living Skeleton hung on his coat-tails and dragged him back.
Nickie had a thought of lifting his mask and letting his humanity be known to the crowd, but there were many present who had paid to see the show, and these might take it into their heads to resent the imposition. Besides, Professor Thunder might relent. On the whole, it seemed better to await developments. Crouched against the tree, the Missing Link glowered at the people. If they came too near, he bared his fangs and growled ominously, and the venturesome ones backed away precipitately.
Somebody threw a clod of earth, and it smote Mahdi on the side of the head. The Missing Link sprang towards the crowd with a fearful cry. His antics were most alarming. The people ran, but they edged back again, and another clod thrown. Then came a stone. A second stone hit Nickie on the shin, and with a yell of pain he took cover behind the butt.
There was a burst of laughter from the crowd, and a rush for stones. Missiles fell about Nickie in a shower. Suddenly the situation had assumed a dangerous complexion. The crowd opened in a circle to get at the monster; stones rattled about his head.
With a horse cry, with eyes rolling and teeth bared in a shocking grimace, the Missing Link dashed at the spot where the circle was weakest, broke through, and went bounding up the township’s single street.
Believing now that the great monkey was afraid, the crowd trooped after him, yelling as they ran, snatching up stones and other missiles from the road. Terror lent wings to the Missing Link. He raced up the dusty road in the white heat of a blinding summer day, and the stones flew about him as he ran.
Those of the inhabitants of Catcat who had had no hint of the partial disruption of Thunder’s unparalleled show ran to their doors, and beheld the hunt with speechless wonder. They saw a huge, monkey-like creature speeding up the street, pursued and pelted by a clamorous throng.
Nickie’s physical condition was not good, he was ill-trained for a footrace, his wind was bad; he felt that he must presently succumb, and then Constable Daniel Mack loomed before him as a possible saviour.
Constable Mack had stepped from Hogan’s store, drawn forth by the yells of the pack. He looked and beheld a terrific creature rushing towards him, erect like a man, but covered with thick, short, reddish hair, and displaying a face of demoniacal ugliness. Constable Mack had his good points; one of them an appreciation of the fact that discretion is the better part of valour. He turned to run for his valuable life, but too late; the monster was upon him, it grappled with him, it hung on, and the pair rolled in the dust together.
The zealous and intelligent officer thought his last day had come, but awoke presently to the knowledge that no harm was being done, and a voice was crying crying in his ear:
“For God’s sake, run me in! Arrest me! They’ll kill me!”
Constable Mack sat up in the dust, and stared stupidly at the Missing Link.
“Blarst me if it ain’t Perfessor Thunder’s man-monkey!” he said.
“Yes, yes,” gasped Nickie. “Run me in. Be quick about it.”
The crowd was forming about them, only refraining from using missiles out of respect for the law.
“Be th’ holy, th’ baste can spheak!” murmured the policemen.
“They’ll kill me. Put me in the cell,” pleaded the Missing Link.
“Troth an’ I will,” answered Mack; “but niver a one iv me knows iv ut’s lagel arristin’ monkeys.”
Nickie was run in. Next morning he appeared to answer a charge of insulting behaviour, inciting a breach of the peace, and assaulting the police. Thanks to Matty Cann, a change of raiment was made in the cell, and Nickie Crips appeared in court in his proper person, and was fined two pounds.
Nicholas Crips paid his fine, collected his belongings from the Museum of Marvels, and went forth into the great world again, a man amongst men. His career as an artist was ended.