A TANKARD of Stout had just squashed a wasp as it crawled on the arm of Miss Postlethwaite, our popular barmaid, and the conversation in the bar-parlour of the Anglers' Rest had turned to the subject of physical courage.
The Tankard himself was inclined to make light of the whole affair, urging modestly that his profession, that of a fruit-farmer, gave him perhaps a certain advantage over his fellow-men when it came to dealing with wasps.
“Why sometimes in the picking season," said the Tankard, "I've had as many as six standing on each individual plum, rolling their eyes at me and daring me to come on."
Mr. Mulliner looked up from his hot Scotch and lemon.
"Suppose they had been gorillas?" he said.
The Tankard considered this. "There wouldn't be room," he argued, "not on an ordinary-sized plum."
"Gorillas?" said a Small Bass, puzzled
"And I'm sure if it had been a gorilla Mr. Bunyan would have squashed it just the same, said Miss Postlethwaite, and she gazed at the Tankard with wholehearted admiration in her eyes.
Mr. Mulliner smiled gently.
"Strange," he said, "how even in these orderly civilised days women still worship heroism in the male. Offer them wealth, brains, looks, amiability, skill at card-tricks or at playing the ukulele . . . unless these are accompanied by physical courage they will turn away in scorn."
"Why gorillas?" asked the Small Bass, who liked to get these things settled.
"I was thinking of a distant cousin of mine whose life became for a time considerably complicated owing to one of these animals. Indeed, it was the fact that this gorilla's path crossed his that nearly lost Montrose Mulliner the hand of Rosalie Beamish."
The Small Bass still appeared mystified.
"I shouldn't have thought anybody's path would have crossed a gorilla's. I'm forty-five next birthday, and I've never so much as seen a gorilla."
"Possibly Mr. Mulliner's cousin was a big-game hunter," said a Gin Fizz.
"No," said Mr Mulliner. "He was an assistant-director in the employment of the Perfecto-Zizzbaum Motion Picture Corporation of Hollywood: and the gorilla of which I speak was one of the cast of the super-film 'Black-Africa', celluloid epic of the clashing of elemental passions in a land where might is right and the strong man comes into his own. Its capture in its native jungle was said to have cost the lives of seven half-dozen members of the expedition, and at the time when this story begins it was lodged in stout cage on Perfecto-Zizzbaum lot at a salary of seven hundred and fifty dollars a week, with billing guaranteed in letters not smaller than those of Edmund Wigham and Luella Benstead, the stars.
In ordinary circumstances (said Mr. Mulliner this gorilla would have been to my distant cousin Montrose merely one of a thousand fellow-workers on the lot. If you had asked him, he would have said that he wished the animal every kind of success in its chosen profession, but that, for all the chance there was of them ever as it were, getting together, they were just ships that pass in the night. It is doubtful, indeed, if he would even have bothered to go down to its cage and look at it, had not Rosalie Beamish asked him to do so. As he put it to himself, if a man's duties brought him into constant personal contact with Mr. Schnellenliamer, the President of the Corporation, where was the sense of wasting time looking at gorillas? Blase about sums up his altitude.
But Rosalie was one of the extra girls in "Black Africa" and so had a natural interest in a brother-artist. And as she and Montrose were engaged to be married her word, of course, was law. Montrose had been planning to play draughts that afternoon with his friend, George Pybus, of the Press department, but he good-naturedly cancelled the fixture and accompanied Rosalie to the animal's headquarters.
He was more than ordinarily anxious to oblige her to-day, because they had recently been having a little tiff. Rosalie had been urging him to go to Mr. Schnellenhamer and ask for a rise of salary: and this Montrose, who was excessively timid by nature, was reluctant to do. There was something about being asked to pay out money that always aroused the head of the firm's worst passions.
When he met his betrothed outside the commissary, he was relieved to find her in a more amiable mood than she had been of late. She prattled merrily of this and that as they walked along, and Montrose was congratulating himself that there was not a cloud in the sky when, arriving at the cage, he found Captain Jack Fosdyke there, prodding at the gorilla with a natty cane.
This Captain Jack Fosdyke was a famous explorer who had been engaged to superintend the production of "Black Africa". And the fact that Rosalie's professional duties necessitated a rather close association with dim had caused Montrouse a good deal of uneasiness. It was not that he did not trust her, but love makes a man jealous and he knew the fascination of these lean, brown, hard-bitten adventurers of the wilds.
As they came up, the explorer turned, and Montrose did not like the chummy look in the eye winch he cocked at the girl. Nor, for the matter of that did he like the other's hold smile. And he wished that in addressing Rosalie Captain Fosdyke would not preface his remarks with the words "Ah, there girlie."
"Ah, there, girlie," said the Captain. "Come to see the monk?"
Rosalie was staring open-mouthed through the bars. "Doesn't he look fierce!" she cried.
Captain Jack Fosdyke laughed carelessly.
"Tchah!" he said, once more directing the ferrule of his cane at the animal's ribs. "If you had led the rough, tough, slam-bang, every-man-for-himself life I have, you wouldn't be frightened of gorillas. Bless my soul, I remember once in Equatorial Africa I was strolling along with my elephant gun and my trusty native bearer, "Mlongi, and a couple of the brutes dropped out of a tree and started throwing their weight about and behaving as if the place belonged to them. I soon put a stop to (hat, I can tell you Bang, bang, left and right, and two more skins for my collection. You have to be firm with gorillas. Dining anywhere to night, girlie?"
"I am dining with Mr. Mulliner at the Brown Derby.
"This is Mr. Mulliner."
"Oh, that?" said Captain Fosdyke, scrutinising Montrose in a supercilious sort of way as if he had just dropped out of a tree before him. "Well, some other time, ch?"
And, giving the gorilla a final prod, he sauntered away.
Rosalie was silent for a considerable part of the return journey. When at length she spoke it was in a vein that occasioned Montrose the gravest concern.
"Isn't he wonderful!" she breathed. "Captain Fosdyke, I mean."
"Yes?" said Montrose coldly.
"I think he's splendid. So strong, so intrepid. Have you asked Mr. Schnellenhamer for that raise yet?"
"Er—no," said Montrose. "I am—how shall I put it?—biding my time."
There was another silence.
"Captain Fosdyke isn't afraid of Mr. Schnellenhamer," said Rosalie pensively. "He slaps him on the back."
"Nor am I afraid of Mr. Schnellenhamer." replied Montrose, stung. "I would slap him on the back myself if I considered that it would serve any useful end My delay in asking for that raise is simply due to the fact that in these matters of finance a certain tact and delicacy have he observed. Mr. Schnellenhamer is a busy man, and I have enough consideration not to intrude my personal affairs on him at a time when he is occupied with other matters."
"I see," said Rosalie, and there the matter rested. But Montrose remained uneasy. I here had been a gleam in her eyes and a rapt expression on her face as she spoke of Captain Fosdyke which he had viewed with concern. Could it be, he ask himself, that she was falling a victim to the man's undeniable magnetism? He decided to consult his friend, George Pybus, of the Press department, on the matter. George was a knowledgeable young fellow and would doubtless have something constructive to suggest.
George Pybus listened to his tale with interest and said it reminded him of a girl be had loved and lost in Des Moines, Iowa.
"She ditched me for a prizefighter," said George. "No getting away from it, girls do get fascinated by the strong, tough male"
Montrose's heart sank.
"You don't really think——?"
"It is difficult to say. One does not know how far this thing has gone. But I certainly feel that we must lose no time in drafting out some scheme whereby you shall acquire a glamour, which will counteract the spell of this Fosdyke. I will devote a good deal of thought to the matter."
And it was on the very next afternoon, as he sat with Rosalie in the commissary sharing with her a Steak Pudding Marlene Dietrich, that Montrose noticed that the girl was in the grip of some strong excitement.
"Monty," she exclaimed, almost before she had dug out the first kidney, "do you know what Captain Fosdyke said this morning?"
"If that fellow has been insulting you," he cried, "I'll . . . Well, I shall be extremely annoyed," he concluded with a good deal of heat.
"Don't be silly. He wasn't talking to me. He was speaking to Luella Benstead. You know she's getting married again soon . . . "
"Odd how these habits persist."
" . . and Captain Fosdyke said why didn't she get married in the gorilla's cage. For the publicity."
Montrose laughed heartily. A quaint idea, he felt. Bizarre, even.
"She said she wouldn't dream of it. And then Mr. Pybus, who happened id standing by, suddenly got the most wonderful idea. He came up to me and said why shouldn't you and I get married in the gorilla's cage."
Montrose's laughter died away. "You and I?"
George Pybus suggested that?"
Montrose groaned in spirit. He was telling himself he might have known something would have been the result of urging a member of the Press department to exercise his intellect. The brains of members of the Press departments of motion-pictures studios resemble soup a cheap restaurant. It is wiser not to stir them.
"Think what a sensation it would make! No more extra work for me after that I'd get parts, and good ones. A girl can't get anywhere in this business without publicity."
Montrose licked his lips. They become dry. He was thinking harshly of George Pybus. It was just loose talking like George Pybus's, he felt, that made half the trouble in this world.
"But don't you feel," he said, "that there is something a little undignified about publicity? In my opinion, a true artist ought to be above it. And I think you should not overlook another, extremely vital aspect of the matter. I refer to the deleterious effect which such an exhibition as Pybus suggests would have upon those who read about it in the papers. Speaking for myself," said Montrose "there is nothing I should enjoy more than a quiet wedding in a gorilla's cage. But has one the right to pander to the morbid tastes of a sensation-avid-public? I am not a man who often speaks of these deeper things—on the surface, no doubt, I seem careless and happy-go-lucky—but I do hold very serious views on a citizen's duties in this fevered modern age. I consider that each one of us should do all that lies in his power to fight the ever-growing trend of the public mind towards the morbid and the hectic. I have a very real feeling that the body politic can never become healthy while this appetite for sensation persists. If America is not to go the way of Babylon and Rome, we must come back to normalcy and the sane outlook. Ii is not much that a man in my humble position can do to stem the tide, but at least I can refrain from adding fuel to its flames by getting married in gorillas' cages."
Rosalie was gazing at him incredulously.
"You don't mean you won't do it?"
"It would not be right."
"I believe you're scared."
"Nothing of the kind. It is purely a question of civic conscience."
"You are scared. To think," said Rosalie vehemently, "that I should have linked my lot with a man who's afraid of a teentsy-weentsy gorilla."
Montrose could not let this pass.
"It is not a teentsy-weentsy gorilla. I should describe the animal's muscular development as well above the average.
"And the keeper would be outside the cage with a spiked stick."
"Outside the cage!'" said Montrose thoughtfully.
Rosalie sprang to her feet in sudden passion.
"But you haven't finished your steak-pudding."
"Goodbye," she repeated. "I see now what your so-called love is worth. If you are going to start denying me every little thing before we're married, what would you be like after? I'm glad I have discovered your true character. Our engagement is at an end. "
Montrose was pale to the lips, but he tried to reason with her.
"But, Rosalie," he urged, "surely a girl's wedding day ought to be something for her to think of all her life—to recall with dreamily smiling lips as she I knits the tiny garments or cooks the evening meal for the husband she adores. She ought to be able to look back and live again through the solemn hush in the church, savour once more the sweet scent of the lilies-of-the-valley, hear the rolling swell of (he organ and the grave voice of the clergyman reading the service. What memories would you have if you carried out this plan that you surest? One only—that of a smelly monkey. Have you reflected upon this, Rosalie?"
But she was obdurate.
"Either you marry me in the gorilla's cage, or you don't marry me at all. Mr. Pybus says it is certain to make the front page, with photographs and possibly even a short editorial on the right stuff being in the modern girl despite her surface irresponsibility."
"You will feel differently tonight, when we meet for dinner."
"We shall not meet for dinner. If you are interested, I may inform you that Captain Fosdyke invited me to dine with him and I intend to do so."
"There is a man who really is a man. When he meets a gorilla, he laughs in its face."
"A million gorillas couldn't frighten him. Goodbye, Mr. Mulliner. I must go and tell him that when I said this morning that I had a previous engagement I was mistaken."
She swept out, and Montrose went on with his steak-pudding like one in a dream.
It is possible (said Mr. Mulliner, taking a grave sip of his hot Scotch and lemon and surveying the company with a thoughtful eye) that what I have told you may have caused you to form a dubious opinion of my distant cousin Montrose. If so, I am not surprised. In the scene, which I have just related, no one is better aware than myself that he has not shown up well. Reviewing his shallow arguments, we see through them, as Rosalie did: and, like Rosalie, we realise that he had feet of clay—and cold ones, to boot.
But I would urge in extenuation of his attitude that Montrose Mulliner, possibly through some constitutional defect such as an insufficiency of hormones, had been from childhood timorous in the extreme. And his work as an assistant director had served very noticeably to increase this innate pusillanimity.
It is one of the drawbacks to being an assistant director that virtually everything that happens to him is of a nature to create an inferiority-complex—or, if one already exists, to deepen it. He is habitually addressed as "Hey, you" and alluded to in the third person as "that fathead". If anything goes wrong on the set, he gets the blame and is ticked off not only by the producer but also by the director and all the principals involved. Finally, he has to he obsequious to so many people that it is little wonder that he comes in time to resemble one of the more shrinking and respectful breeds of rabbit. Five years of assistant-directing had so sapped Montrose's morale that nowadays he frequently found himself starting up and apologising in his sleep.
It is proof, then, of the great love which he had for Rosalie Beamish that encountering Captain Jack Fosdyke a few days later, he should have assailed him with bitter reproaches. Only love could have impelled him to act in a manner so foreign to his temperament.
The fact was, he blamed the Captain for all that had occurred. He considered that he had deliberately unsettled Rosalie and influenced her mind with the set purpose of making her dissatisfied with the man to whom she had plighted her troth.
"If it wasn't for you" he concluded warmly, "I feel sure I could have reasoned her out of what is nothing but a passing girlish whim. But you have infatuated her, and now where do I get off?"
The Captain twirled his moustache airily.
"Don't blame me, my boy. All my life I have been cursed by this fatal attraction of mine for the sex. Poor little moths, they will beat their wings against the bright light of my personality. Remind me to tell you some time of an interesting episode which occurred in the harem of the King of the 'Mbongos. There is something about me which is - what shall I say? - hypnotic. It is not my fault that this girl has compared us. It was inevitable that she should compare us. And having compared us what does she see? On the one hand, a man with a soul of chilled steel who can look his gorilla in the eye and make it play ball. On the other - I use the term in the kindest possible sense - a crawling worm. Well, goodbye, my boy, glad to have seen you and had this little chat," said Captain Fosdyke. "I like you young fellows to bring your troubles to me."
For some moments he had gone, Montrose remained motionless, while all the repartees which he might have made surged through his mind in a glittering procession. Then his thoughts turned once more to the topic of gorillas.
It is impossible that it was the innuendoes uttered by Captain Fosdyke that now awoke in Montrose something which bore a shadow resemblance to fortitude. Certainly, until this conversation, he had not intended to revisit the gorilla's cage, one sight of its occupant having been ample for him. Now, stung by the other's slurs. He decided to go and have another look at the brute. It might be that further inspection would make it seem les formidable. He had known this to happen before. The first time he had seen Mr. Schnellenhamer, for example, he had had something not unlike a fit of what our grandparents used to call the "vapours". Now, he could bear him with at least an assumption of nonchalance.
He made his way to the cage, and was presently exchanging glances with the creature through the bars.
Alas, any hope he may have had (hat familiarity would breed contempt died as their eyes met. Those well-gnashed teeth, that hideous shagginess (a little reminiscent of a stockbroker motoring to Brighton in a fur coal) tilled him with all the old familiar qualms. He tottered back and, with some dim idea of pulling himself together, he took a banana from the bag which he had bought at the commissary to see him through the long afternoon. And, as he did so, there suddenly Hashed upon him the recollection of an old saw which he had heard in his infancy—The Gorilla Never Forgets. In other words, do the square thing by gorillas, and they will do the square thing by you.
His heart leaped within him. He pushed the banana through the bars with a cordial smile, and was rejoiced to find it readily accepted. In rapid succession he passed over the others. A banana a day keeps the gorilla away, he felt jubilantly. By standing treat to this animal regardless of cost, he reasoned, he would so ingratiate himself with it as to render the process of tiding married in its cage both harmless and agreeable. And it was only when his guest had finished the last of the fruit that he realised with a sickening sense of despair that he had got his facts wrong and that his whole argument, based on a false premise, tell to the ground and became null and void.
It was the elephant who never forgot—not the gorilla. It all came bark to him now He was practically sure that gorillas had never been mentioned in connection with the subject of mnemonics. Indeed, for all he knew, these creatures might be famous for the shortness of their memory—with the result that it later on he were to put on pin-striped trousers and a top-hat and enter this animal's cage with Rosalie on his arm and the studio band playing the Wedding March, all recollection of those bananas would probably have passed completely from its fat head, and it would totally fail to recognise its benefactor. Moodily crumpling the bag, Montrose turned away. This, he felt, was the end.
I have a tender heart (said Mr Mulliner), and I dislike to dwell on the spectacle of a human being groaning under the iron heel of Fate. Such morbid gloating, I consider, is better left to the Russians. I will spare you, therefore, a detailed analysis of my distant cousin Montrose's emotions as the long day wore on. Suffice it to say that by a few minutes to five o'clock he had become a mere toad beneath the harrow. He wandered aimlessly to and fro about the lot in the growing dusk, and it seemed to him that the falling shades of evening resembled the cloud that had settled upon his life.
He was roused from these meditations by a collision with some solid body and, coming to himself, discovered that he had been trying to walk through his old friend, George Pybus of the Press department. George was standing beside his car, apparently on the point of leaving for the day.
It is one more proof of Montrose Mulliner's gentle nature that he did not reproach George Pybus for the part he had taken in darkening his outlook. All he did was to gape and say:
"Hullo! You off?"
George Pybus climbed into the car and started the engine.
"Yes," he said, "and I'll tell you why. You know that gorilla?"
With a shudder which he could not repress Montrose said he knew the gorilla. "Well, I'll tell you something," said George Pybus. "Its agent has been complaining, that we've been throwing all the publicity to Luella Benstead and Edmund Wigham. So the boss sent out a hurry call for quick thinking. I told him that you and Rosalie Beamish were planning to get married in its cage, but I've seen Rosalie and she tells me you've backed out. Scarcely the spirit I should have expected in you, Montrose. "
Montrose did his best to assume a dignity which he was far from feeling.
"One has one's code," he said. "One dislikes to pander to the morbidity of a sensation avid . . ."
"Well, it doesn't matter, anyway," said George Pybus, "because I got another idea, and a better one. This one is a pippin. At five sharp this evening, Standard Pacific time, that gorilla's going be out of its cage and will menace hundreds. If that doesn't land him on the front page."
Montrose was appalled.
But you can't do that!" he gasped. "Once let that awful brute out of its cage it may tear people to shreds."
George Pybus reassured him.
"Nobody of any consequence. The stars have all been notified and arc off the lot. So are the directors. Also the executives, all except Mr. Schnellenhamer, who is cleaning up some work in his office. He will be quite safe there, of course. Nobody ever got into Mr. Schnellenhamer's office without waiting four hours in the ante-room. Well, I must be off," said George Pybus. "I've got to dress and get out to Malibu for dinner."
And, so speaking, he trod on the accelerator and was speedily lost to view in the gathering darkness.
It was a few moments later that Montrose, standing rooted to the spot, became aware of a sudden distant uproar: and, looking at his watch, he found that it was precisely five o'clock.
The spot to which Montrose had been standing rooted was in that distant part of the lot where the outdoor sets arc kept permanently erected, so that a director with—let us suppose—a London street scene to shoot is able instantly in lay his hands on a back-alley in Algiers, a mediaeval castle, or a Parisian boulevard - none of which is any good to him but which make him feel that the studio is trying to be helpful.
As far as Montrose's eye could reach, Spanish patios, thatched cottages, tenement buildings, estaminets, Oriental bazaars, Kaffir kraals and the residences of licentious New York clubmen stood out against the evening sky: and the fact that he selected as his haven of refuge one of the tenement buildings was due to its being both tallest and nearest.
Like all outdoor sets, it consisted of a front just like the real thing and a back composed of steps and platforms. Up these steps he raced, and on the topmost of the platforms he halted and sat down. He was still unable to think very coherently, but in a dim sort of way he was rather proud of his agility and resource. He felt that he had met a grave crisis well. He did not know what the record was fur climbing a flight of steps with a gorilla loose in the neighbourhood, but he would have felt surprise if informed that he had not lowered it
The uproar which had had such a stimulating effect upon him was now increasing in volume: and, oddly, it appeared to have become stationary. He glanced down through the window of his tenement building and was astonished to observe below him a dense crowd. And what perplexed him most about this crowd was that it was standing still and looking up.
Scarcely, felt Montrose, intelligent behaviour on the part of a crowd with a savage gorilla after it.
There was a good deal of shouting going on, but he found himself unable to distinguish any words. A woman who stood in the forefront of the throng appeared particularly animated. She was waving an umbrella in a rather neurotic manner.
The whole thing, as I say, perplexed Montrose. What these people thought they were doing, he was unable to say. He was still speculating on the mailer when a noise came to his ears.
It was the crying of a baby.
Now, with all these mother-love pictures so popular, the presence of a baby on the lot was not in itself a thing to occasion surprise It is a very unambitious mother in Hollywood who, the moment she finds herself and child doing well, does not dump the little stranger into a perambulaior and wheel it round to the casting-office in the hope of cashing in. Ever since he had been with the Perfecto-Zizzbaum, Montrose had seen a constant stream of offspring riding up and trying to break into the game. It was not, accordingly, the fact of a baby being among those present that surprised him. What puzzled him about this particular baby was that it seemed to be so close at hand. Unless the acoustics were playing odd tricks, the infant, he was convinced, was sharing this eyrie of his. And how a mere baby, handicapped probably by swaddling-clothes and a bottle, could have shinned up all those steps bewildered him to such an extent that he moved along the planks to investigate.
And he had not gone three paces when he paused, aghast With us hairy back towards him, the gorilla was crouching over something that lay on the ground And another bellow told him that this was the baby in person: and instantly Montrose saw what must have occurred. His reading of magazine stories had taught him once a gorilla gets loose, the first thing it does is to snatch a baby from a perambulator and climb to the nearest high place. It is mere routine.
This, then, was the position in which my distant cousin Montrose found himself at eight minutes past five on this misty evening. A position calculated to test the fortitude of the sternest.
Now, it has been well said that with nervous, highly-strung men like Montrose Mulliner, a sudden call upon their manhood is often enough to revolutionise their whole character. Psychologists have frequently commented on this. We are too ready, they say, to dismiss as cowards those who merely require the stimulus of the desperate emergency to bring out all their latent heroism. The crisis comes, and the craven turns magically into the paladin.
With Montrose, however, this was not the case. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of those who knew him would have scoffed at the idea of him interfering with an escaped gorilla to save the life of a child, and they would have been right. To tiptoe backwards, holding his breath, was with Montrose Mulliner the work of a moment And it was the fact that he did it so quickly that wrecked his plans. Stubbing a heel on a loose board, in his haste, he felt backwards with a crash And when the stars had ceased to obscure his vision, he found himself gazing up into the hideous face of the gorilla.
On the last occasion when the two had met, there had been iron bars between them: and even with this safeguard Montrose, as I have said, had shrunk from the creature's evil stare. Now, meeting the brute as it were socially, he experienced a thrill of horror such as had never come to him even in nightmares. Closing his eyes, he began to speculate as to which limb, when it started to tear him limb from limb, the animal would start with.
The one thing of which he was sure was that it would begin operations by uttering a fearful snarl: and when the next sound that came to his ears was a deprecating cough he was so astonished that he could keep his eyes closed no longer. Opening them he found the gorilla looking at him with an odd, apologetic expression on its face.
"Excuse me, sir," said the gorilla, "but are you by any chance a family man?" For an instant, on hearing the question, Montrose's astonishment deepened. Then he realised what must have happened. He must have been torn limb from limb without knowing it, and now he was in heaven. Though even this did not altogether satisfy him as an explanation, for he had never expected to find gorillas in heaven.
The animal now gave a sudden start.
"Why, it's you! I didn't recognise you at first. Before going any further, I should like to thank you for those bananas. They were delicious. A little something round about the middle of the afternoon picks one up quite a bit, doesn't it."
Montrose blinked, he could still hear the noise of the crowd below. His bewilderment increased.
"You speak very good English for a gorilla," was all he could find to say. And, indeed, the animal's diction had been remarkable for its purity.
The gorilla waved the compliment aside modestly.
"Oh, well, Balliol, you know. Dear old Balliol. One never quite forgets the lessons one learned at Alma Mater, don't you think? You are not an Oxford man, by any chance?"
"I came down in '26. Since then I have been knocking around a good deal, and a friend of mine in the circus business suggested to me that the gorilla field was not overcrowded. Plenty of room at the top, was his expression. And I must say," said the gorilla, "I've done pretty well at it. The initial expenditure comes high, of course . . . you don't get a skin like this for nothing . . . but there's virtually no overhead. Of course, to become a co-star in a big feature film, as I have done, you need a good agent. Mine, I am glad to say, is a capital man of business. Stands no nonsense from these motion-picture magnates."
Montrose was not a quick thinker, but he was gradually adjusting his mind to the facts.
"Then you're not a real gorilla?"
"No, no. Synthetic, merely."
"You wouldn't tear anyone limb from limb?"
"My dear chap! My idea of a nice time is to curl up with a good book. I am happiest among my books."
Montrose's last doubts were resolved. He extended his hand cordially.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. . . ."
"Waddesley-Davenport. Cyril Waddesley-Davenpon. And I am extremely happy to meet you, Mr. . . ."
"Mulliner. Montrose Mulliner."
They shook hands warmly. From down below came the hoarse uproar of the crowd. The gorilla started.
"The reason I asked you if you were a family man," it said, "was that I hoped you might be able to tell me what is the best method of procedure to adopt with a crying baby. I don't seem able to stop the child. And all my own silly limit, too. I see now I should never have snatched it from its perambulator. If you want to know what is the matter with me, I am too much the artist. I simply had to snatch that baby. It was how I saw the scene. I felt it ... felt it here," said the gorilla, thumping the left side of his chest. "And now what?"
Montrose reflected. "Why don't you take it back?"
"To its mother?"
"But . . ." The gorilla pulled doubtfully at its lower lip. "You have seen that crowd. Did you happen to observe a woman standing in the front row waving an umbrella?"
"Precisely. Well, you know as well as I do, Mulliner, what an angry woman can do with an umbrella."
Montrose thought again. "It's all right," he said. "I have it. Why don't you sneak down the back steps? Nobody will see you. The crowd's in front, and it's almost dark."
The gorilla's eyes lit up. It slapped Montrose gratefully on the shoulder.
"My dear chap! The very thing. But as regards the baby . . ."
"I will restore it."
"Capital! I don't know how to thank you, dear fellow," said the gorilla. "By Jove, this is going to be a lesson to me in future not to give way to the artist in me. You don't know how I've been feeling about that umbrella. Well, then, in case we don't meet again, always remember that the Lotos Club finds me when I am in New York. Drop in any time you happen to be in that neighbourhood and we'll have a bite to cat and a good talk."
And what of Rosalie, meanwhile? Rosalie was standing beside the bereaved mother, using all her powers of cajolery to try to persuade Captain Jack Fosdyke to go to the rescue: and the Captain was pleading technical difficulties that stood in the way.
"Dash my buttons," he said, "if only I had my elephant gun and my trusty native bearer, 'Mlongi, here, I'd pretty soon know what to do about it. As it is, I'm handicapped."
"But you told me yesterday that you had often strangled gorillas with your bare hands."
"Not gor-illas, dear lady—por-illas. A species of South American wombat, and very good eating they make, too."
"Afraid? Jack Fosdyke afraid? How they would laugh on the Lower Zambesi if they could hear you say that."
"You are! You, who advised me to have nothing to do with the man I love because he was of a mild and diffident nature."
Captain Jack Fosdyke twirled his moustache.
"Well, I don't notice," be sneered, "that he . . ." He broke off, and his jaw slowly fell. Round the corner of the building was walking Montrose Mulliner. His bearing was erect, even jaunty, and be carried the baby in his arms. Pausing for an instant to allow the busily-clicking cameras to focus him, he advanced towards the stupefied mother and thrust the child into her arms.
"That's that," he said carelessly, dusting his fingers. "No, no, please," he went in. "A mere nothing."
For the mother was kneeling before him, endeavouring to kiss his hand. It was not only maternal love that prompted the action. That morning she had signed up her child at seventy-five dollars a week for the forthcoming picture "Tiny Fingers", and all through these long, anxious minutes it had seemed as though the contract must be a total loss.
Rosalie was in Montrose's arms, sobbing.
"How I misjudged you!"
"We all make mistakes."
"I made a bad one when I listened to that man there," said Rosalie, darling a scornful look at Captain Jack Fosdyke. "Do you realise that, for all his boasting, he would not move a step to save that poor child?"
"Not a step?"
"Not a single step."
"Bad Fosdyke," said Montrose. "Rather bad. Not quite the straight bat, eh?"
"Tchah!" said the baffled man; he turned on his heel and strode away. He was still twirling his moustache, but a lot that got him.
Rosalie was clinging to Montrose.
"You aren't hurt? Was it a fearful struggle?"
"Struggle?" Montrose laughed. "Oh, dear no. There was no struggle. I very soon showed the animal that I was going to stand no nonsense. I generally find with gorillas that all one needs is the power of the human eye. By the way, I've been thinking it over and I realise that I may have been a little unreasonable about that idea of yours. I still would prefer to get married in some nice, quiet church, but if you feel you want the ceremony to lake place in that animal's cage, I shall be delighted."
She shivered. "I couldn't do it. I'd be scared."
Mom rose smiled understandingly.
"All, well," he said, "it is perhaps not unnatural that a delicately nurtured woman should be of less tough stuff than the more rugged male. Shall we be strolling along? I want to look in on Mr. Schnellenhamer, and arrange about that raise of mine. You won't mind waiting while I pop in at his office?"
"My hero!" whispered Rosalie.