CHAPTER VI: THE MISSING GIRLS ARE FOUND
No, that big dead monkey, dressed as a man and wearing an eye-glass like Balaoo, was not Balaoo. A few hours later, it was known that he was Gabriel, the big Java ape from the Jardin des Plantes. As he had played many a prank in his time and repeatedly shown signs of temper, his formidable vagary was easily explained: he had made his escape by taking advantage of the boozy negligence of the keeper, who was always slipping away to the wine-shop round the corner.
Was there any reason to be surprised that, with his irresistible instinct for mimicry and assimilation, he had prigged a suit of clothes and put them on? No, from this point of view, we need be astonished at nothing, in monkeys.
Gabriel's cage, like many others at the Jardin des Plantes, was a double cage, with a railed open-air compartment and another railed compartment inside the lion-house. The communicating-door was usually left open, so that Gabriel could seek sun or shade according to the temperature and the time of day. As the keeper or the visitor can see only one compartment at a time, each must have thought that Gabriel was in the second when he was looking into the first and vice versa. And this explained how Gabriel was able, for several days and nights, to scour the roofs of the capital and frighten the town with his sinister exploits before his absence from the Jardin des Plantes was discovered.
But then where was the famous pithecanthrope, the monster, half man and half brute, who spoke the language of men? What had become of Coriolis' invention? The police were much too glad to be rid of one monster to saddle themselves with another. They declared, with out delay, that Coriolis' invention was a figment of that diseased brain, treated the professor as a monomaniac and asked him to go and cloister his monomania in his house in the Rue de Jussieu, holding himself meanwhile at the disposal of the police.
The day that saw the deliverance of Paris saw also that of the missing girls. They were discovered by the greatest of accidents, at a moment when people were despairing of ever learning what Gabriel had done with them.
Maddened by the hue and cry, the great ape had ended by carrying the poor things to the roof of the Louvre and had managed to fling them more dead than alive into an attic, where he locked them up. They were all found safe and sound, though obviously very ill. Nevertheless, the ape had done them no harm.
The books written by travellers in the equatorial forests furnish us with examples of this kind of rape in which the "wild men of the woods" take a futile and childish pleasure and which can only be compared with the passion of the thieving magpie for collecting objects which it accumulates in hiding-places known to itself alone.
The girls owed their life to the scientific and naval curiosity of a certain M. Benezebque, a schoolmaster in a small parish not far from Montauban; for they would all have died of hunger and thirst in their sequestered attic, if M. Benezecque, driven by a wish to inspect some models of ships, had not climbed to the top floor of our famous old palace, where a long series of dull blows informed him that some one was calling for help, blows struck against a door near the thirteenth-century gallery which you can see to this day, between the hours of eleven and four, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays.
Professor Coriolis was returning to his house in the Rue de Jussieu when an evening edition of the Patrie en danger acquainted him with the fortunate delivery of the victims of Gabriel's demoniacal freak; and he was not at all astonished not to find Madeleine's name among those of the missing girls. He well knew that Madeleine had not been carried off by Gabriel.
When he entered his hall, feeling so despondent that he thought of suicide, he saw a letter lying on the floor.
The letter bore the postmark of Saint-Martin-des-Bois and was worded:
"I am waiting for you at the Big Beech at Pierrefeu.