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A short story by Francis Metcalfe

The Amorous Baboon

Title:     The Amorous Baboon
Author: Francis Metcalfe [More Titles by Metcalfe]

Thanks to the busy Press Agent, the fame of Jocko the Jealous, the amorous baboon, had preceded him to America, and when the animals from the Paris Hippodrome had been safely transferred to their dens in the Arena at Dreamland he was the center of attraction as he limbered up his muscles in the large monkey cage, after the cramped accommodations of the small traveling box. He had gained a reputation as a masher in Paris; but never had the menagerie attendants seen him so madly in love and so insanely jealous as upon his first introduction to American beauty, as exemplified by the fair woman who stood before his cage.

Jocko was not the first male being who had been fascinated by the charms of the Prima Donna during her career; for she had been through the marriage ceremony so often that she could say it backwards, never forgetting to cross her fingers before saying, "Until death do us part." The Proprietor drew the Stranger's attention to the group before the cage, a mischievous smile on his face as he looked over the half dozen of callow youths who are always in the train of the Prima Donna.

"Watch out for squalls over there," he said. "Jocko is affectionate now, but there will be something doing in a few minutes." The monkey was using all of the blandishments known to an amorous baboon and although the words of his soft chattering were unintelligible, their import could not be mistaken by a past mistress of the gentle art of love making; but the Prima Donna could not be beguiled into placing herself within reach of the hairy paws. Suddenly his mood changed, for one of her male companions placed his hand on her arm to attract her attention and Jocko, giving a howl of rage, danced madly up and down on all fours, showing a vicious set of fangs as his lips curled back in a hideous snarl. The bars of his cage were strong and so close together that he could not get out to attack his rival; but he gathered up a mass of litter from the floor and showered Prima Donna and callow youth alike. His screams echoed through the Arena and caused even the majestic lions and the haughty tigers to look in the direction of the cage of the despised "Bandar Log," and made the smaller animals uneasy. The woman who was described on the programme as "Miss ----, Famous Society Woman," had torn herself away from her arduous social duties with the Four Hundred to exhibit a troupe of leopards to a Coney Island audience, her identity concealed by a small black mask, and her performance in the big cage was interrupted by the noise; so the Proprietor thought it time to interfere.

The Prima Donna laughed good-naturedly as he helped to brush the sawdust and litter from her dress and tactfully drew her away, and Jocko quieted down and implored her to return; but she was accustomed to gentler wooing, and refused to put her dainty gown again in jeopardy.

"Jocko gave quite a performance to-night," said the Proprietor as he joined the Press Agent and the Stranger at the table, after the show. "That baboon is crazy about women; but he hasn't the discrimination of Consul, the most intelligent monkey that ever lived. You may remember that he was never quiet in his cage, but if a specially well-dressed woman stopped in front of it he played entirely to her and when she moved away his eyes followed her as long as she was in sight."

"There will never be another like Consul," said the Press Agent, shaking his head sadly. "He made my job a sinecure, for he was good for a column any day and a full page on Sundays."

"Never until the Missing Link is discovered," replied the Proprietor. "I don't believe a more human monkey will ever be found, and I attribute his wonderful intelligence to the fact that he associated entirely with human beings, almost from the day of his birth. I got him from the captain of a tramp steamer which traded to the West Coast, and I paid a goodish bit of money for him too. I have never dared to tell his early history as it was told to me, for fear I should be laughed at for a liar; but stranger things happen in the animal business than ever get into print, and if I dared risk my reputation by telling the things which actually occur in a menagerie, I should never need a Press Agent; but a plausible lie is accepted where a truth which sounds improbable is turned down."

The Press Agent looked at him reproachfully, but agreed with the proposition.

"Do you know, I have found that to be true when I have visited the newspaper offices," he said. "I have actually had to embroider some of the accounts of things which have happened here."

"I suspected it, for I didn't recognize some of the stories when I saw them in print," answered the Proprietor, smiling at him approvingly. He consented to tell the history of Consul, the famous chimpanzee, when the Stranger expressed his entire credulity and the Press Agent assumed an encouraging and sympathetic attitude.

"Of course, I have to take the ship captain's word for what happened before I bought him, but from the way the chimp developed and the intelligence he displayed after he came into my possession, I am prepared to believe it. He told me that he got him from the natives at the mouth of a small river on the West Coast, where he anchored his steamer to trade. They came off about the ship in their canoes, but he did not care for the rubber and ivory they had to offer and he was about to hoist anchor when one of them, who was in a small canoe with a woman, motioned to him to stop. The woman was crouched up in the stern, nursing what the captain thought was a baby, but when the man dragged it away from her, in spite of her voluble protest, he saw that it was a small chimpanzee. The man seemed desperately anxious to trade--and I imagine the captain's trade goods were not the sort to meet the entire approval of the missionaries--so that a bargain was concluded and the woman's grief allayed by a generous share of the purchase price. As nearly as he could make out, she had found the little thing in the jungle when it was only a few days old and had reared it in place of a baby which had just died. She was a low type of woman, even for an African savage, but the maternal instinct was strong enough to make her grieve for little Consul, as the captain christened him. The monkey grieved over the separation, too, but sailors make much of animals and he soon became reconciled to it.

"Thousands of people saw him after I purchased him, and you can judge of the reputation he attained when I tell you that I was getting fifteen hundred dollars a week for him in Berlin when he died, and he was booked for the entire season at that price. People had seen him eat with a knife and fork, smoke a cigar, use a typewriter and do all of the stunts which simply aped humanity, but you had to live with the little beast to appreciate how intensely human he was. Everybody connected with the show loved him, and when I wanted to find any one of the employees who was off duty, or not in his proper place, I always went first to Consul's cage and I was pretty sure to locate him. That monkey was never still, and the things he would do and the pranks he would play off his own bat were more amusing than any of the things he had been taught.

"When he was in company he was as well mannered as most men, but, of course, he had his prejudices and had to be watched. His special aversion was a negro, which is strange when you consider his early associations, and if one came around when he was loose he was apt to attack him. We had to consider that in traveling, for Consul always stopped at the hotels with his trainer and sat about the lobbies, smoking his cigar like any other guest, but if there were negro servants about, we had to be very careful not to let them come near him.

"He had the reasoning power of a child of ten years old; he was patient when anything was wrong and we had to do disagreeable things to him, appreciating that it was for his benefit. Only once did we have to use force, when it was necessary to pull a tooth, and I am glad it wasn't oftener, for it took seven men to control him and they thought they had done a day's work when we finished. The last time he went abroad he was the life of the ship, but he pretty nearly killed himself. The doctor prescribed a cough medicine for him and Consul liked it so well that he got up in the night, after his trainer had gone to sleep, opened the valise in which it was kept and emptied the bottle. I guess there must have been laudanum in it, for they had to work over him the rest of the night to save him.

"He would walk the deck with the lady passengers, who made a great deal of him, and when the customary concert was given, nothing would do but that he must perform and then pass the plate for the collection. He was in evening dress and behaved like a perfect gentleman, and the collection was a large one. It was heaped on the plate, and he was just about to present it to the captain when Booker Washington stepped forward to make a contribution. The money for the Seaman's Home went flying to the four corners of the salon and the trainer had a difficult time in persuading Consul to retire without tearing the clothes off of the man whose only offense was his color. This was Consul's last voyage, for he contracted pleurisy and died in Berlin, and I felt worse over his death than I did over the burning of my whole menagerie in Baltimore a few years ago."

"Have you found that early association with human beings makes the other animals easier to train?" asked the Stranger, and the Proprietor shook his head.

"No; I would rather train one taken in the jungle than an animal born in captivity. They do raise the pumas in South America and have them about the houses as we do cats; but I wouldn't trust one of 'em. And as for the bigger cats, the lions and tigers, there is no such thing as taming them. They may be trained to do certain things, but they are never trustworthy. We had a queer illustration of that when I was traveling with a caravan circus in France. One of the lionesses had a litter of three cubs, and in the excitement of the moving and strange surroundings, she killed two of them. We took the other one away and the woman who cooked for us volunteered to raise it. She became very much attached to it and developed the theory that she could overcome its savage instincts by diet, and for a time it looked as if she were right. The beast was with her for about two years and grew to a fine animal, but she never let him taste raw food. One day, when he was comfortably lying before the stove, she pushed him with her foot to get him out of the way and he resented it. Whether it was that alone, or whether the odor of meat which she was about to cook appealed to him, I don't know; but all of his savage instincts were aroused and when we secured him we found that he had taken most of her scalp off."

"It's funny how some people are always looking for a chance to get damages," said the Press Agent, settling himself comfortably in his chair. "We had a case of it when Merritt and I were running a dime museum out West. The freaks all lived together at a large boarding house and one morning, when they reported for duty, the 'Tattooed Lady' was missing. It was before the days when they were so common and we had spent a lot of money to have her decorated and made her our star attraction. Of course, none of the tattooing was visible when she was in street costume, but when she sat on the platform dressed in low neck and short skirts the lecturer had something to talk about, for the menagerie pictured on her was a thing of beauty, and the few choice texts like, 'Be good and you will be happy,' which were scattered in between the animals, were highly moral and elevating, and that was one of the strong points of our show. Merritt used to spread himself when he was telling how she was shipwrecked on a desert island and held captive by the cruel cannibals, whose high priests spared her from the menu to tattoo her with the symbols of their heathenish worship. It gave him a great chance to come in strong on the moral part, when he explained about the texts and told how they were added after the cannibals had been converted to red flannel shirts, silk hats and a vegetable diet, by the missionaries, and I have seen ancient maiden ladies moved to tears by his recital. So when he had to give his lecture without her, he got mixed up and called attention to the marvelous growth of hair on the face of the 'Circassian Beauty,' thinking she was the 'Bearded Lady,' and nearly pulled the ears off of the 'Dog Faced Boy,' trying to explain that he was 'The Man With The Rubber Skin.' Of course, that made trouble among the freaks, who are a mighty touchy lot anyway, and I have noticed that trouble always comes in bunches in the show business, so I wasn't surprised when a husky guy that looked like a farmer came in with blood in his eye and asked for the manager. I looked around for Merritt, but he had gone around the corner to get something to drown his sorrow, so I slipped a piece of lead pipe under my coat and acknowledged the soft impeachment.

"'Look'ee here, wot kinder a skin game be youse fellers runnin' here?' says the guy, and I took a good grip on the lead pipe and tried to turn away wrath by a soft answer, and quoting from our advertisement that it was a highly moral and intellectual entertainment.

"'Not by a dern sight, it ain't,' says he. 'It's a blasted man-trap to ketch the unwary, an' I'll have the law on ye an' make yer pay fer trifling with my young affections.' I have had some pretty tough things said to me in my day, but that was about the worst ever, and pretty nearly took my breath away, but he went right on.

"'I deliver milk to that boardin' house down the street an' I see a likely lookin' gal there lately an' I wanted some one to help milk an' look after the house, so I asks her to marry me. She says she will, so we hitched up an' I never knew she was one o' yer dern freaks until it was too late. She says she's a "Tattooed Lady," an' she's all covered with picters.'

"'Well, what's the matter with 'em?' says I. 'Aren't they good pictures?'

"'Good enough,' says he, 'for them as likes 'em; but I don't hanker after no decorations o' that kind an', b'gosh, I'll make yer pay fer palmin' off a damaged article on me. She's all over snakes an' other beasts an' it makes me sick ter my stummick every time I thinks of 'em.' I tried to convince him that we were not responsible and that it was his wife's duty to have informed him.

"'That's what I told her, dod gast her! But she says it's my own fault if I didn't know she was a "Tattooed Lady," because I never asked her, an' blamed if she isn't proud o' them picters, too.'"

"How did you settle it--did he get damages?" asked the Stranger.

"Damages!" exclaimed the Press Agent as he wiped the foam from his moustache. "Why, Merritt came in, and when he heard the guy's kick he lit right into him.

"'Blame your skin!' he yelled. 'I've a good mind to have you arrested for stealing the pictures from my art gallery. I have a claim on 'em, for I paid for the liquor to keep a sailor drunk for six weeks while he was doing that job.' The Rube got onto the fact that she was valuable, so they adjourned to a saloon to talk it over."

"With what result?" asked the Proprietor, as he rose from the table.

"Well, Merritt got her back on the platform, the Rube sold his farm, and within six weeks he was wearing more yellow diamonds and throwing a bigger chest than the husband of a grand opera prima donna."

[The end]
Francis Metcalfe's short story: Amorous Baboon