Author(s)Léo d'Hampol : Nothing known.
Link to Tarzan of the ApesA doctor is summoned to treat a mysterious patient whose face he is not allowed to see. Is the patient man or ape?
Suggested by Marc Madourand
Léo d'Hampol. 1910. "Le Missing Link." Nos Loisirs No. 44, p. 1411-1415 (30 oct. 1910)
Text from Marc Madourand.
Modifications to the text
"The Missing Link"
Through the tinted windows of my work quarters, I distractedly watched the large trees stripped of their leaves, shaken roughly by the wind. The sky was menacing: large brick- hued clouds ran across a clear, bright, almost blinding background. The silence was almost complete. From time to time, however, the sound of steps was heard, muffled by the road's brown dirt. A shadow passed quickly, then all returned to the torpor of a hushed landscape.
I had spent the night with a patient, an old man who feared the hereafter and I was exhausted, completely exhausted, my legs were heavy, my head nodded. I diverted my eyes, stung by the unbearable glare of the winter sun piercing through the screen of clouds.
Mechanically, I scanned the newspaper which my butler had tossed, fully open, on the desk before which I was sitting. In what possible manner could the news I had just come across in the society pages interest me? Nonetheless, I reread it twice. It concerned a duel, after a quarrel amongst a circle of friends, between Mr. de Videmar and Count Ladislas Wosky. I was unacquainted with the latter; the other, Mr. de Videmac, I had crossed paths with years ago. He was simply mad about duels, and almost always successful. Like our military leaders, he had fought great hosts of pretty eyes, blue ones, black ones, grey ones and violet.
How long ago that was!
The wind rose, the big trees' branches creaked plaintively, exposing their winter scars to the white sun. I listened for what? I was not sure I sensed someone was coming.
Often at night, I was prone to strange premonitions which unsettled my scientific training. My ears rang, so this time again, I believed it to be an auditory hallucination. Not at all, the bell at the gate has sounded its long, desolate peal. Someone had rung at my door.
I was in a state I would qualify as one of telepathic receptivity. I was waiting for someone, before the bell rang my ears had perceived the sound of steps, I stood up trembling. At the garden gate, I saw the shadow of a human form stretch out. An old man was waiting for someone to answer his call. My butler would open the door.
The visitor, who refused to give his name, yet insisted on seeing 'the doctor' was allowed in. Framed in the doorway, he stepped forward, wan, trembling, prey to a most violent excitement.
I designated a chair, which he failed to sit in. He waited impatiently for my butler to leave and the door to close behind him. We were alone.
My life experience, study of society, and strong common sense had taught me to quickly recognize someone's social standing. However, in the present case, my empirical science failed me. Who was the man before me? The future would tell.
The individual, straight as a picket, appeared to be roughly sixty years of age. There was snow on the roof and an abundant mass of hair spread over the collar of his vest. The face was pleasant, somewhat haughty, but his manners were timid, almost embarrassed.
His eyes scanned suspiciously around him. Finally upon my assurance that he could speak without fear, he decided to say:
"Doctor, I have at home a wounded individual whose condition is worrisome come right away. The case is the result of an accident." He emphasized the last word of his incoherent utterance.
"No problem, if it isn't too far from here," I replied in a somewhat disillusioned manner.
Why so mysterious?
The old man pondered for a few seconds, then, with sudden resolution, continued:
"I am not permitted to tell you who you will be treating. I cannot even tell you where the injured has been taken."
"This whole story sounds like something out of a dime novel," I exclaimed with a somewhat forced good humour.
"Please God it were so, but it is sad reality."
"However, for me to reach the one who sends you, you must give me their address, unless as in the novels I alluded to, you blindfold me."
The old man did not seem to notice the irony of my comments; but pronounced himself gravely:
"I won't blindfold you, but I will take the precautions I was instructed to. You will have to submit to them."
Though I remained polite, I frowned, annoyed at my interlocutor's enigmatic attitude.
"And if I accept your conditions?"
"Then my friend will pay any fee you care to ask for, we won't haggle."
I indicated by a gesture that I was not a man to take advantage of a situation. The old man did not seem to notice, saying in a lugubrious tone which sent a shiver down my spine:
"You must, should you choose to accompany me, swear not to attempt to uncover the mystery which envelops this entire affair."
"I swear!" I quickly replied.
"Then let's go a carriage awaits us some hundred meters from here, I will drive."
"I'll follow you."
In less time than it takes to state, I slipped into my overcoat, put on my fur hat, and took up my cane. The old man was already outside when I caught up with him.
The road stretched out monotonously straight only to sink into the horizon, allowing me to immediately pick out the parked carriage my guide had mentioned.
We walked without exchanging a word. Having arrived near the carriage, I noticed that one of the horses had been tied to a tree by the road.
The old man ordered:
So imperious had become his voice, that I hesitated. I attributed this tone to his eagerness to return to his friend and quite willingly settled into the carriage. I had barely sat down when I was plunged into complete darkness. Most likely thick blinds had been lowered from the outside. While I was not the least bit frightened, instinctively I wished to get out, but the doors resisted my efforts. I was a prisoner. Besides, in truth, these excessive precautions were nothing unusual, I had been duly warned.
The carriage sped off. The road was long, and by design, hesitant and seemingly random. I understood that one was trying to confuse me, in case my sense of direction was particularly well developed.
After a period of time, which I would estimate at an hour and a half, the carriage stopped, the blinds went up as if by magic, and before me, grey and morose, notwithstanding the melancholy caresses of the January sun was the featureless landscape which extends across all of Paris' suburbs.
Where was I? Between you and me, I could not have cared less, dominated as I was by a natural curiosity which rendered me impatient in my wait for further developments in this adventure.
My guide opened the carriage's left-hand door, and most politely, this time, begged me to step down. I jumped to the ground and waited until he was ready to tell me where we were going, for I could not see any residence nearby.
He tied his horse to a tree, which led me to think that we still had some walking to do before reaching our destination. My predictions were confirmed; the old man asked me to follow him along a narrow path enclosed on either side by a quickset hedge.
This path penetrating into the darkness by degrees, led to a modest looking cottage, a residence admirably suited to cover up a crime or mask an adventure.
The cottage was located in the middle of a large wall- enclosed garden, a rather ordinary-looking gate allowing one a glimpse of the full property within, and particularly of how messy it was.
Before going in, the old man stated quietly, albeit not without betraying some deeper feelings:
"I forgot to mention that the injured person, not wishing to be recognized, will have his head covered with a thick veil. You will limit yourself to examining the wound he received full in the chest."
"But," I began, "to come to a firm diagnosis it is indispensable."
"I disagree," the old man abruptly interrupted, who took offense every time something did not go his way. "There's still time to pull out, to say no!"
I gave up.
Sighing and shrugging my shoulders I said, "I understand, I will do whatever it is you wish. Only by a sense of professional duty did I make such a valid observation." The stranger ignored me and opened the gate, crossed the porch and signaled me to stop.
"Wait for me here for a couple of seconds, I will come back and get you."
I took advantage of the fact that I was alone to more carefully look over the property that sheltered the mysterious patient. My survey was quite short, as the old man returned almost immediately.
"You may come now."
I followed my guide, who having crossed the vestibule, climbed a rather steep staircase leading to the room. To the left, an open door; we had arrived.
In a spacious and soberly decorated room, on a four- poster bed thickly enveloped in cretonne drapes, a creature was moaning. I say creature because I could not as yet see the injured person who had called for my expertise. The red sheet which covered him outlined a human form. It was all I could see of it.
I drew closer.
Even though I had been warned, I could not refrain from responding with surprise: the injured person had his head wrapped up in a thick shawl it was impossible to see his features, only the hairy chest, abnormally large and powerful, could be seen, with a deep red wound gaping, resembling lips prepared to cry out. It was from a sword thrust, of this there was no doubt.
The injured person moaned softly as I probed the wound and nodded my head. There was no use deluding oneself, the wound was fatal.
Did he read in my features the inexorable end? Whatever the case may be, the old man was now livid, his hands convulsively shaking. He stumbled, overcome with grief, before collapsing into a chair.
Rather than going to his aid, I returned to the patient's bed, and naturally threw off the cover which hid the lower half of the body. My loud cry was answered by an angry outburst. The old man was in front of me, wild and threatening, a revolver in his hand pointed at my chest.
"Wretch!" he howled, "is this how you respect your solemn vow? You take advantage of my weakness to uncover my secret, but you will not leave here alive, this house will be your grave!"
Wretch!" he howled, "is this how you respect your solemn vow?
And as I tried to protest, he added, even more vehemently:
"I wished to have a colleague's opinion, for I too am a doctor, but I have no use for you now."
And still threatening me, he added.
"Walk in front of me. At the rear of the vestibule through which you came here, there is a staircase which leads to a cell where you will be at leisure to consider the dangers of not reining in one's imprudent curiosity. Make no attempt to resist, you understand. Do not attempt to escape, I will show no pity. I will gun you down like a mad dog."
I don't claim to be any braver than my fellows, but I must admit that I was little afeared by these wild threats. Rather, I was overcome with thoughts brought on by the events I had witnesses. Reasonable prudence led me to obey my captor. Without turning around, I went down the steep staircase I had climbed before, with unfeigned calmness, still under the threat of the revolver whose barrel followed my every move. I found the cell and entered without putting up the least resistance.
Behind me the clash of metal on metal indicated that some large bolts had been drawn in order to prevent my escape. Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, I could not help but smile when I considered that in a moment I would perhaps be called upon to undertake, for a brief moment, one of the most interesting endeavours of Mei prigoni: escape.
My prison was dark, receiving its only light through a vent covered with narrow steel bars. I ran headlong into a short step-ladder. The cell was less sinister than I had been expecting, one could at least sit down. For a moment I forgot where I was, to ponder what I had seen: those powerful hairy and oddly developed pectorals, and the lower extremities this patient had never walked upright, it would have been impossible. His skin was indeed that of a human, but his anatomy was that of an ape. It was some sort of monster whose features I had been barred from seeing. What a fearful mystery! Given the strange circumstances, perhaps I was the victim of a hoax, but no, I don't think so. Besides, if the old man's anger was any indication I remained confused. This was all very nice, but I must escape this wasp's nest. I was strong and limber and little disposed to end my days in this cell.
My colleague had forgotten that I carried a small surgery kit on me, which could serve as well for a burglar as a doctor. The bars were nothing to fear, an athlete could easily have broken them, but I was content to dig them out.
With even greater precaution, I put myself to the task. The cracked plaster broke off and fell to the floor with a reassuring ease. Within an hour, if nothing came to interrupt me, my work would be done. I worked tirelessly, without a sound to disturb me. Night fell. I waited for the darkness to be complete. It was unlikely that I had been simply abandoned; my jailer must have been keeping watch, ready to shoot if I stuck out the tip of my nose.
By the glow of a match, I looked at my watch: eight o'clock. Night had indeed come -- dark night, complicit night.
Would the vent be large enough? Could I get through? I was anxious. The time came to begin my escape. I climbed up the step-ladder, pulling myself through by the strength of my wrists my head was through, I waited, waited for the bullet which would punish my temerity nothing.my body was through now. Did the pebbles crunch beneath my footsteps? No, I guess not. I was just about over the wall when a door opened, there was a sound of hasty steps. Oh well! I jumped down quickly as a shot rang out. I had been shot at, but felt no pain, I had not been hit. I ran, someone speeding along behind me. I continued to run -- the dark trees dancing in the dark sky -- another shot, farther this time. I dropped exhausted. I perked up my ears, nothing, complete silence -- he had lost my trail.
I got hold of myself, my strength returning bit by bit. I walked, notwithstanding my fatigue, I walked on and on. Suddenly I saw a glimmer of light, a vehicle's headlights -- a vegetable farmer's truck.
I tried to steady my voice.
"Hey pal! Where in blazes am I?"
"On the road to Poissy," he answered rudely.
I have often asked myself whether I should have reported this adventure to the police, but my professional scruples prevented me from doing so. I was assaulted, that is true, but should I speak up about it? Besides, would anybody believe me? The best thing is to forget about it.
I have returned to my usual occupations.
This morning not being so busy, I am looking as usual through the tinted window panes of my quarters, the white snowflakes falling haphazardly, turning my garden's flowerbeds to a cottony white.
Someone rings at the gate.
It is Dr. Debert, an old school friend who practices in Versailles. When he crosses the V‚sinet, he never fails to come and visit me.
We are chatting of trivial things, when he suddenly exclaims:
"Ah! I forgot to relate a most interesting thing I did. I was, a few days ago, witness at a duel, a serious duel, my dear man, between your old enemy Mr. de Videmar and a Polish gentleman."
"Well! I saw that in the newspaper, but your name was not mentioned."
"Could be, the press has indeed not made much of it since de Videmar's adversary, count Ladislas Wolsky is a strange individual, enigmatic a profoundly distasteful. The count was struck fully in the chest."
My ears perked up. Debert continued:
"The wound seemed serious, but oddly enough the wounded man and one of the witnesses, a haughty and unpleasant- looking old man, refused my care.
"Go on," I said breathlessly.
"What's wrong with you?"
"For God's sake, go on!"
"I spoke again of this to Videmar, who seemed only mildly surprised and who passed on rather strange information regarding Wolsky. It seems this Polish count had mouldered for some time in a Siberian prison, where he would have contracted a deforming type of rheumatism, which required him to almost always lie down or sit. However, he has a reputation as a swordsman which somewhat belied the condition which should rather have kept him bedridden."
"How is he physically?" I blurted out, prey to unutterable emotions.
"The count is ugly; of a simian ugliness. The forehead is low and retreating, the bright eyes lost in bushy eyebrows, the exceedingly narrow razor-cut lips thrust forward in a queer prognathism. Overall he is massive, almost repugnant. The quarrel arose over a dropped glove. The count, no doubt to mock de Videmar, who is rather myopic, got down on hands and knees to find it. Videmar, who did not take well to the joke, wished to punish the Polish man, and without the intervention of several friends the scene would have degenerated into fisticuffs.
As Debert spoke, a veil was torn aside. I understood and was terrified.
"Do you not know the name of the old man who was his witness?"
"It was spoken before me wait."
"Was it not Bronzkowitch?"
"Well then, your count Ladislas, the Polish aristocrat who crossed swords with Videmar is not a man."
Debert's eyes opened particularly wide.
"No, it is not a man it is a monster or rather, an individual which stands between the ape and man."
"No, I'm quite sane. I remember something told me in confidence by a Russian colleague regarding the son of one of his friends, doctor Bronzkowitch. The latter, a great admirer of Lamarck, Huxley, Darwin and H‘kel, was passionately involved in discovering the 'missing link,' -- the link missing between the ape and man; he sought it frenetically, madly!
"Then, Nature, as if she wished to avenge herself of this man who sought to expose her most intimate secrets, recreated in a child which the brilliant doctor's wife bore, the archetype of the link Darwin had searched for.
"The friend who told me all this, described to me in such a manner that I would be hard pressed to duplicate, the horror of the situation. Bronzkowitch dedicated his life and his wealth to make a man out of his ape. Thankfully, like the missing link, even if an upright stance was painful to him, he only stood up long enough to mislead those around him, and he was capable of articulate speech. It is frightening! Do you understand now the story of the Siberian prison, why the centre of attention was always tired, sitting or lying down -- because he was only comfortable on all fours.
"If you aren't yet convinced, the story I'm going to tell you will dissipate your doubts," and immediately I gave him a complete account of my adventure.
When I was finished, Debert, who was deep in thought, said to me:
"We must get to the bottom of this affair."
Thanks to my recollections, I was able to find the path I had followed in escaping the homicidal bullets. Here was the wall I climbed over in the wet soil one can still see signs of my footsteps, and those of another, those of the old man, desperate to see me dead.
But where is the house? I can only see ruins. We get inside the wall, nothing is left, a few unstable walls some calcinated beams. The old man kept his secret, blew himself up with his son, the ape-man.
The old man kept his secret
Debert and I look at one another.
"It is a shame," he muttered, "what a lovely presentation we could have made to the Academy of Sciences."
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