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Mr. Columbus Coriander's Gorilla

My article on the Origin of the Human Species had been months in preparation. Much of the fame which I have since secured by its publication in that widely circulated magazine, the Interoceanic Monthly, is due to the fact that I spent weeks in deep investigations in ethnological science, comparing results, and especially examining the points of resemblance which exist in the brute creation and the nobler race of man. To say that I utterly overthrew the Darwinian theory, and quite demolished the tribe of pretenders who have since attempted to imitate that great apostle of error, may not be strictly in accordance with modesty, but hosts of candid friends will admit that it is strictly true. I know very well that, though my untiring labors in the cause of science are not yet thoroughly appreciated, an admiring posterity will dwell with delight on the name of Samuel Simcox as the benefactor of his race, who showed where that race had its birth and from what primitive elements it sprang. For further particulars, see the Interoceanic Monthly for June, 18—.

My favorite haunt during the progress of this article was Coriander's Menagerie; having resolved that this should be the masterpiece of my life, I spared neither labor nor expense upon it, and actually procured a season ticket to the menagerie, and passed many pleasant hours in watching the wild animals, studying their habits, and drawing many valuable conclusions from their points of resemblance and difference. Consequently, though the apes and monkeys had furnished me with an inexhaustible fund of amusement and interest, I was delighted beyond measure when it was announced that Coriander had secured a live gorilla for his collection of wild beasts. An agent had been dispatched to Africa, and had sent home, with great secrecy, a real live specimen of this dreadful beast; and so well had all the negotiations been kept that nobody knew of what was being done, until the monster was fairly caged and on exhibition at Coriander's Menagerie. I entered with zest upon a study of the creature's habits and peculiarities; and while the idle curiosity of mere wonder-mongers kept a vast crowd about the cage wherein the furious beast was confined, calmly I surveyed it from a safe distance and made my scientific observations for the benefit of mankind. And when vulgar wonder at the strange beast had somewhat subsided, and I could get nearer the cage and watch the gorilla, I was more and more impressed with the human traits which I discovered in the extraordinary animal. His manner of reclining was, though impish, half human; and his grotesque gait, as he sprang from side to side of the narrow prison, was suggestive of his supposititious congener-man; even his terrible howl, which rent the air of the museum constantly, had a human shade of sound.

One rainy day, when the great hall of the museum was unusually vacant of visitors, I almost leaned against the cage in my eager watch of the movements of the gorilla. I fancied him roaming his native African jungles, the terror of every living thing, or rearing, with a strange grotesque solicitude, his young family. I wondered how much akin to human love and hate were the passions that raged beneath that hairy breast, and how much of real feeling was in the loud and anguished howl that occasionally burst from those fanglike jaws. Thus speculating, I drew incautiously near the bars of the cage where the monster restlessly paced up and down, and was inexpressibly startled at feeling his hot breath on my cheek, while from his huge, hairy lips came the sound—"Sam!" I actually jumped with astonishment, whereupon the creature beseechingly said: "Hush, hush, for Heaven's sake do not leave me!" I mustered courage enough to ask what all this meant. The gorilla answered: "I am your old friend, Jack Gale; don't leave me."

So Coriander's famous gorilla was no other than my old crony, Jack
Gale.

And this is how Jack happened to be a gorilla:

Coriander's keepers were too watchful to permit much conversation, but taking from the gorilla—for such he still was to me—the address of Jack Gale, No. 1283, Morusmulticaulis Street, I went home to revise some of my deductions relative to the origin of the human species, founded on observations of the gorilla in a state of comparative wildness. The menagerie closed at ten o'clock in the evening, and precisely at half-past ten I was at Jack's lodgings, to which I climbed up four flights of crooked and very dark stairways. The room was small and cheerless; the windows were carefully guarded by thick curtains; three or four swinging bars depended from the ceiling for the practice of its inmate in acrobatic exercises; across the foot of the bed lay a well-dressed gorilla's skin, and at a small table, and absorbing the contents of a pot of beer, sat the wearer of this discarded robe. This was the haunt of the African gorilla. He told his story in a few words.

"When you and I were used to talk with each other along the Tallapoosa and Athens wire, I never thought to meet you as a live gorilla; but here I am. After the war was over and the Government discharged so many telegraph operators, it was hard scratching for a while; and after you and I left the Decapolis office, I was well-nigh broke more than once, only a few cents standing between me and beggary. But I kept a stiff upper lip and struggled up to Cincinnati, where I met with Coriander. He was out there with his menagerie and was about to come on to this city and open a big show. He is a great old villain, but he has the sweetest, nicest little daughter that ever was given to man. You haven't seen Clara Coriander, have you? No? Well, you have not seen the loveliest and best girl in the world, then. But, as I was saying, old Coriander was preparing for a year's campaign in this city, and allotted a great deal on a real, live gorilla which had been captured in the wilds of Africa somewhere. Oh, curse that gorilla; I wish I had been dead before I ever heard of him."

And here Jack groaned.

"I love Clara Coriander. I suppose you have guessed that out already. But it was the old story; poor young man, without fortune or friends; cruel parents determined that their only daughter shall not marry a beggar; young lady inconsolable and devoted to aforesaid young man, but dreadfully afraid of papa, whose only child she is. Well, Coriander came on here and I followed, the old man giving me the job of writing his posters and advertisements—to keep me from starving, I suppose. The long-expected Gooroo arrived from Zanzibar, but no gorilla was there on board for Mr. Coriander; there was a skin of that celebrated animal, the beast himself having departed this life off the island of St. Helena, an imitation of the example of another much-feared person who once resided in that locality.

"Coriander was frantic. The great card of his menagerie was not to be his. His long-cherished plans were a wreck; his money was spent for naught; he had no gorilla. After all, I rather like the old wretch (Coriander, I mean). He has an absolute passion for his 'profession,' as he calls it, and was more in despair because he had no gorilla, than because it was a bad financial operation, which left him without that for which he had spent so much money. He was wretched in his disappointment, and postponed indefinitely the opening of his menagerie, though my elegant advertisements were in all the papers, and our flaming posters covered the walls of the city from one end to the other. Gloom reigned in the house of Coriander.

"This was my opportunity. I was in love with Clara and without any permanent occupation. Presenting myself before the old man, I said: 'Mr. Coriander, you want a gorilla?'

"'To be sure,' said he, testily.

"'I will furnish you with one.'

"'The devil you will!'

"'Look here,' said I, stepping back a few paces. Grasping the top of a heavy wardrobe that stood in the room, I swung myself up, clambered along the top, sprang up and down over chairs and tables, raced around the room with huge strides and jumps, and finally wound up my performances by rushing at the astonished Coriander, and, beating my breast, gave a terrific howl, that fairly made the old man quail as he writhed in his chair. I had not been practicing for nothing, evidently. Coriander was actually frightened.

"'What does this mean,' he gasped, with some rage mingled with his perturbation.

"'I am the live gorilla from the wilds of Africa,' said I. 'Give me my skin that arrived by the Gooroo from Zanzibar, and I will scare this city out of its senses when the menagerie opens, after a brief delay on account of the difficulty of preparing for the enormous additions, which a discriminating public will be delighted to see.'

"Old Coriander embraced me with tears in his eyes, declaring that I was a real genius, and was born to the show business.

"'But,' said I, 'though I am poor and need the money which you will pay me, I have one other condition, and that is that you shall give me your daughter's hand if I succeed.'

"The old man was rather taken aback at this, and flatly refused at first; and we wrangled over the matter for two or three days, but, after seeing me in the skin of the gorilla, and go through my antics and performances, he reluctantly gave in and agreed that after one year of gorilla life in his service, I should have the happiness of marrying Clara. He only stipulated that I should not hereafter tell anybody of the cheat, and that not even Clara should know of it now.

"I am aware that my profession is not high art as you call it, and on hot days it is precious uncomfortable. But what won't a fellow do under the pressure of an exchequer in distress, and enticed by the promise of the hand of the prettiest and best girl in the world? The pay is not much, but I keep soul and body together, which is more than some poor devils do in this great city. By the way, Sam, have you got five dollars about you?"

Now, if there was anything that Jack Gale specially loved, it was the state of being in debt. He was never so happy as when in debt, and when by accident, or the interference of friends, he got out of it, he was uneasy and wretched, apparently, until he got in again. The normal condition of the man was debt; so when he asked me for a loan, I could not help laughing; and I told him that he had undoubtedly found one of the greatest privations of his gorilla life to be the difficulty of contracting new debts.

"That's a fact," said Jack. "The menagerie opens at eight o'clock in the morning; it takes me a good hour to get myself up for the day; and we don't shut up until ten o'clock at night; so you see my professional duties are very confining, and a real, live African gorilla is not supposed to have first-rate credit with the people who poke stale sandwiches and peanuts through his cage-bars by day."

I promised Jack that if old Seanecks, of the Interoceanic Monthly, accepted my article on the Origin of the Human Species, I would divide the proceeds with him. Jack and I had shared and shared alike with our little gains too often in years gone by, for me to remember which owed the other now. Besides, I told him that I had studied his habits as a gorilla, and he had some claim upon the profits of an article in which his personal peculiarities figured so largely.

During the next few days I observed the characteristics of Coriander's African gorilla with new interest. He performed wonderfully well; it was difficult to realize that the hairy, ravening, agile, and grotesquely-moving beast, from which every visitor shrank back aghast, was only jolly Jack Gale serving out his hard servitude for an anticipated bride, very much after the ancient fashion of Laban's kinsman. The cunning rascal had a fashion of leaping at the bars when curious people came too near, driving them away from a narrow inspection by his hideous yells and angry mouthings. But his roars, which were really artistic in their brutal sonorousness, served us a good purpose. As I was night editor on the Daily Highflyer, and kept pretty close from ten until three o'clock in the morning, and Jack was caged until the hour at which I went to work, it was not easy for us to meet. So we exchanged the salutations of the day and a few scraps of news by using our old signals, learned long ago in the telegraph office. Instead of the rat-tat-tat of the little instrument so familiar to both of us, Jack, by a series of long or short howls and grunts, gave me his message, to which I replied by careless taps of my cane or hand, nobody suspecting that my casual movements meant anything, nor supposing for an instant that a sudden burst of African forest yells, which sent a fat lady nearly into hysterics, and made two small children howl with apprehension, merely meant "She with the pink bonnet is my Clara."

And it must be confessed that Clara Coriander was an exceedingly attractive young person. Blonde, slight in figure, and with one of those fair transparent complexions that make you think of a light shining through an alabaster vase, Clara Coriander was certainly as lovely a girl as one ever lays eyes upon. Besides, she was an only daughter, and old Coriander had grown rich in the menagerie business. Jack was a lucky dog (gorilla, I should say), to gain her hand—if he ever did; but one could not help thinking, as he noted her dainty manner and delicate, somewhat distingue face, that she was hardly the girl to fancy a fellow who had personated a gorilla, even for her hand. I was afraid that Jack had made a mistake in thus debasing himself to the absurd passion of her cruel parent for the possession of a gorilla. Moreover, by debarring himself from her society for a greater portion of the time (Sundays only excepted), he left the field open for some more fortunate rival who might, in the meantime, carry off the prize.

But Jack felt sure that he was all right, and by a precious bit of deception he had led Clara to believe that he was hard at work, night and day, at some legitimate calling, earning money for his future ambitious designs in life. The poor little thing believed in him, but Jack said it was very hard for him to be obliged to see his beloved flirting, right before his eyes at the menagerie (for the girl had a taste for natural history, and was there often), with some perfumed dangler who was in love with her pretty face and old Coriander's money. On these occasions, he hated himself for his mean disguise, and found satisfaction in howling at the gay party in such dreadful fashion as sent them quaking from his cage; and then he cursed himself for having driven away his lovely angel, and was smitten with sudden remorse as he saw her rose-hued cheeks blanch at his terrific cries. At such times he could with difficulty restrain himself from shouting: "Don't be frightened, dear, it's only Jack!" But he was fortunately preserved from such an untimely exposure.

Old Seanecks was very mean, and, though he accepted my article on the Origin of the Human Species, only paid me the pitiful sum of twenty dollars for that valuable contribution to knowledge. Twenty dollars for the labor and thought of weeks! Was ever anything so absurd! And there was Jack confidently expecting at least twenty-five dollars to purchase a birth-day present for Clara. Jack loved to make presents, and the deeper he got into debt, the more presents did he bestow on his friends. Such another whole-souled fellow as he was, to be sure.

But I pocketed the disappointment along with the money and went straightway to the menagerie. There was quite a little crowd about Jack's cage, standing at a respectful distance. In his capacity as the real African gorilla, Jack had just avenged himself on a dangerous rival by snatching off his matchless wig. This gentleman had long deceived his friends with his ambrosial locks, but Jack's quick eye had discovered the cheat, and he seized a favorable moment to make a grab for it. To his inexpressible joy, it came off in his paw, and the discomfitted gallant stood with his bare poll in the presence of the giggling and amused Clara Coriander. The amateur gorilla was in a frenzy of delight, and tore up and down his cage, scattering Mr. Jonquil's chestnut curls with savage glee. Old Coriander afterwards had to pay for the wig, of course, but he was so delighted with the stroke of showman genius displayed in its destruction, that he paid the bill without a murmur. None but a wild and savage animal, of course, would "snatch a gentleman bald-headed," as the old man expressed it. I suppose some of my readers, who now recollect the occurrence, will agree with Mr. Coriander in his opinion.

After the little crowd which this amusing affair had drawn around the cage, dispersed in various directions, I drew near enough to hand Jack a ten-dollar note, which was his share of the proceeds of my article in Interoceanic Monthly. He snatched it furtively, for the keepers were not far off, and cramming it into his ferocious jaws (lined with blood-red velvet), he howled in his usual staccato style, "Didn't I scalp old Jonquil, though!"

One of the keepers approaching me, said, suspiciously, "Look a-here, young man, you make entirely too free with that ere beast. He's awful, he is, and some day he'll just go for you, if you ain't keerful. Why, this afternoon, he jest tore a gentleman's skelp clean off his head, and he was borne out in a fainting condition. Jest see the hair of him all scattered over the cage."

I humbly thanked him for the caution, and drew off, asking for information as to the creatures's habits. He was very talkative, and enlightened me with much valuable knowledge relative to his diet, averring that he invariably was fed before the menagerie was opened, the raw meat and live rabbits which he devoured exasperating him by their blood to that degree, that it was not safe for any person but the keeper to come into his sight. The gorilla enjoyed this confidential communication, and roared his approval thus: "He's the head liar of this menagerie."

Jack and I kept up a casual correspondence from day to day by means of our telegraphic signals, for I had little time to see him when off duty. Occasionally I strolled in of an evening to commiserate his ennui and cheer him up with a friendly sign, or when opportunity offered, to chat furtively with the man-gorilla, who swore dreadfully at the bad bargain which he had made. His confinement was growing excessively irksome, and though his constant exercise kept him in good bodily health, poor Jack lost his spirits and grew positively wretched in mind. One night, when I had managed to find time to visit him at his "den" in Morusmulticaulis Street, he grew quite plaintive over his unhappy condition.

"Hang it, Sam," said he, "you have no idea how mad it makes me to think that I have shut myself up in that cage for a year, and with no chance of getting out without telling Clara what I have been doing. And there she goes pottering about the out the least idea that Jack, unhappy Jack, is glowering at her from his cursed gorilla prison, longing to say the words that would bring confusion and dismay upon all of us. And then when I see some other fellow flirting around with her, and old Coriander leering over her head at me, knowing full well how aggravated I am, why, it just makes me wild."

I comforted Jack as well as I could, and bade him hope that some stroke of luck would yet deliver him from his voluntary thraldom and bring him to his love. He was hopeful that old Coriander would find the gorilla business unprofitable, and would offer to buy him off, or consent to shorter terms. He vowed one day that unless relief soon came, he would address the crowd about his cage and inform them that he was an unmitigated humbug; that he was no gorilla at all, but only a distressed gentleman, John Gale by name, temporarily held in duress by that old rascal, Columbus Coriander. But he restrained himself and waited. It was well that he did.

One evening, finding an unemployed half-hour at my disposal, I sauntered into the menagerie hall, and watched the poor weary beasts slowly composing themselves to their unquiet slumbers. It was nearly time to close the show for the night, and not many people were left to stroll about among the cages. Old Coriander was there with his fat wife, the lovely Clara floating about in a cloudy white dress, and followed by a train of admiring swains. The poor gorilla was stretched at full length on the floor of his cage, with his face sullenly turned to the rear partition. Passing by the poor fellow, with a little pang of regret, I stopped before a cage of apes, poor Jack's next door neighbors. No wonder that he felt blue sometimes.

Suddenly there was a rush of hurrying feet; a strange confusion pervaded the whole place, lately so quiet and still; and above the pungent odor of the menagerie, I detected that of burning wood. The place was on fire, and instantly everybody ran for the exits. The hall was filled with blinding smoke; the red tongues of flame thrust themselves eagerly through the thin partitions which separated the main exhibition hall from the lumber-rooms in the rear. And the people who rushed selfishly down the narrow stairways fled not only from the flames, but from the poor beasts who cowered in their cages, or roared angrily as they caught the mad excitement around them. The scene was terrible; the crackling, roaring fires sweeping out into the long room; the wild terror of the caged animals; the shrieks and cries of flocks of suddenly-liberated strange birds; and the surging clouds of smoke which rolled through the high arches overhead. Passing near the gorilla's cage I heard Jack's voice, as he yelled with stentorian lungs: "Will nobody let me out? Oh, will nobody let me out?" Quick as thought I ran behind his cage, and unfastened the narrow flap that closed the opening. In another moment the African gorilla was out and across the hall, to where a blonde young lady in a white dress was being helplessly borne along by old Coriander, also encumbered by the stout mother of Miss Clara—for Jack had seen that his beloved was in mortal danger. Raising the fainting girl in his strong arms, the hairy monster rushed down the stairs, astounding the coming firemen with the sight of a ferocious gorilla carrying off a respectable young lady, whose flaxen curls lay lovingly over the dreadful shoulders of the beast, which, with ludicrous failure, endeavored to caress the pallid face of the young lady with his hairy jaws, stiff with padding and whalebone, and nicely lined with blood-red velvet.

The gorilla fled up the street, bearing his dainty burden—for, once in sight, he could not stop with out exposure. Plodding travellers on the illuminated sidewalks were startled by the swift apparition of a gorilla carrying off a young lady, who was borne into dark alleys to be eaten in the obscurity of some hidden den. Casual wayfarers through back streets shrieked and ran as they beheld a flaming hairy dragon leaping with enormous strides, and carrying the corpse of a nice young person hanging over his shoulder. Good Mrs. Harris, who keeps the lodging-house at No. 1283, Morusmulticaulis Street, fell down in a deadly swoon at her own doorway, as she was returning from a class- meeting, to see the Evil One, equipped with the traditional head, horns, and tail, breathing fire and sulphurous smoke, violently deporting a beautiful young lady, who had for love of dress and other worldly vanities, sold herself to Old Nick. Vaulting over the prone body of the insensible Mrs. Harris, Jack eluded his few pursuers, and darted up the stairs to his own private den, were he shut and locked himself and his fair burthen from the world.

The lovely Clara revived shortly, and opening her eyes shut them again with a great scream. She was in the den of the African gorilla. There was more fainting, and more anguish on the part of Jack, who cursed his luck and his folly together. "It's Jack; it's only Jack," he cried, with real agony, as he tore off his mask; and the young lady, slowly returning to her senses, once more opened her eyes and beheld her lover, a real African gorilla from his chin downwards, but possessing a very resolute yet anxious human head, very like Jack Gale's, with the scalp and grinning jaws of the defunct monster hanging behind his ears.

This was an extraordinary situation; a nice young lady in a strange garret, confronted by an erratic young man in semi-gorilla costume; his countenance flushed with excitement and exercise; his eyes wild with anxiety and alarm, and his whole manner that of a person who is in a state of utter quandary. The truth of history compels me to record the fact that Miss Clara Coriander threw up her hands and laughed as she would die. She was a sensible girl, and liked a good joke. Old Coriander's plans were laid bare to her clear vision in one moment; she saw through the whole trick; and laughed in the face of the astonished Mr. Gale. "Oh, Jack," she said, as soon as she could recover her breath, "how could you be such a fool? Where Oh, oh, oh!" To all of which Jack could only reply by instalments. But by secluding the young lady on the stairway, he succeeded in preparing for their return to the Coriander mansion. Through the half-deserted streets the young couple went in different guise from that in which they had before astonished those who saw them flee. The gorilla delivered up the old man's daughter, and was glad to be told that the menagerie, not quite ruined, must needs he closed for a few months for repairs.

The show opened again in due season with new attractions, under the management of Coriander and Gale. But in all the lines of cages of rare beasts, no African gorilla was to be found. In lieu thereof they showed a handsomely stuffed skin of the much lamented beast, which came to an untimely end in consequence of a cold caught by exposure at the great menagerie fire. Coriander's heart relented when Jack saved his daughter from the burning building, and he found his inventive genius invaluable in the show business.

I have seen the only young gorilla born on American soil, of which there is any account. It has pink cheeks and blue eyes, and is learning to answer to the name of Clara Gale.