A MEETING

Of all places in the world the Zoo is, perhaps, the most uninspiring to
your diffident lover, but Mr Hancock was fond of zoology. It was a mild
sort of hobby which he cultivated in his few leisure moments, and he was
not displeased to air his knowledge before his pretty friend, and to
show her that he had a taste for things other than forensic. Accordingly
in the Bird House he began to show off. This was a mistake. If you have
a hobby, conceal it till after marriage. The man with a hobby, once he
lets himself loose upon his pet subject or occupation, always bores. He
is like a man in drink, he does not know the extent of his own
stupidity; lost in his own paradise he is unconscious of the trouble
and weariness he is inflicting on the unfortunates who happen to be his
companions–unlike a man in drink, he is rarely amusing.

There were birds with legs without end, and birds apparently with no
legs at all, nutcracker-billed birds, birds without tails, and things
that seemed simply tails without birds.

Before a long-tailed bird that bore a dim resemblance to himself, Mr
Hancock paused and began to instruct his companion. When he had bored
her sufficiently they passed to the great Ape House, and from there to
the Monkey House.

They had paused to consider the Dog-faced Ape, when Fanny, whose eyes
were wandering about the place, gave a little start and plucked her
companion by the sleeve. “Look,” she said, “there’s old Mr Bridgewater!”

“Why! God bless my soul, so it is!” cried Hancock. “What the–what
the–what the—-”

The appearance of shame and conscious guilt that suffused the face and
person of Bridgewater caused the wild idea to rush through his
employer’s mind that the old man had, vulgarly speaking, “scooped the
till” and was attempting evasion.

Defaulters bound for America or France do not, however, as a rule, take
the Monkey House at the Zoo _en route_, and the practical mind of James
Hancock rejected the idea at once, and gripped the truth of the matter.
Bridgewater had been following him for the purpose of spying upon him.

The unhappy Bridgewater had indeed been following him.

When, emerging from the bar, he had perceived his quarry he had followed
them at a safe distance. When they went into the Vienna Café he waited;
it seemed to him that he waited three hours: it was, in fact, an hour
and a quarter. For, having finished her ice and its accompaniments,
Fanny had declared that she was quite ready for luncheon, and had
proposed that they should proceed to the meal at once without seeking a
new café.

When they came out, Bridgewater took up the pursuit. They got into a
hansom: he got into another, and ordered the driver to pursue the first
vehicle at a safe distance. He did this from instinct, not as a result
of having read Gaboriau, or the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

The long wait, the upset of all his usual ways, and the fact that he had
not lunched, coupled with his dread of a hansom–hitherto when he had
moved on wheels it had always been on those of a four-wheeler or
omnibus–conspired to reduce him mentally to the condition of an
over-driven sheep.

They left the part of the town he knew, and passed through streets he
knew not of, streets upon streets, and still the first vehicle pursued
its way with undiminished speed. He felt now a dim certainty that his
employer was going to be married, and now he tried to occupy his
scattered wits in attempting to compute what this frightful cab journey
would cost.

At the Zoo gates the first hansom stopped.

“Pull up,” cried Bridgewater, poking his umbrella through the trap.

He alighted a hundred yards from the gates. At the turnstile he paid his
shilling and went in, but Fanny and her companion had vanished as
completely as if the polar bear had swallowed them up.

He wandered away through the gardens aimlessly, but keeping a sharp
look-out. He had never been to the Zoo before, but guessed it was the
Zoo because of the animals. The whole adventure had the complexion of a
nightmare, a complexion not brightened by the melancholy appearance of
the eagles and vultures and the distant roaring and lowing of unknown
beasts.

He saw an elephant advancing towards him swinging its trunk like a
pendulum; to avoid it he took a path that led to the Fish House. His one
desire now was to get out of the gardens and get home. He recognised now
that he had made a serious mistake in entering the gardens at all. To
have returned at once to Miss Hancock with the information that her
brother had simply taken Miss Lambert to the Zoo would have been the
proper and sensible course to have pursued.

Now at any moment he might find himself confronted with the two people
he dreaded to meet. What should he say suppose he met them? What _could_
he say? The anguish of this thought drove him from the Fish House, where
he had taken temporary refuge. He took a path which ended in an
elephant; it was the same elephant he had seen before, but he did not
know it. A side path, which he pursued hastily, brought him to the polar
bear. Here he asked his way to the nearest gate of a young man and
maiden who were gazing at the bear. The young man promptly pointed out a
path; he took it, and found himself at the Monkey House.

He took off his hat and mopped his head with his bandana handkerchief.
Looking round in bewilderment after this refreshing operation he saw
something approaching far worse than an elephant; it was Mr Hancock, and
with Mr Hancock, Fanny, making directly for him.

He did not hesitate a moment in doing the worst thing possible; as an
animal enters a trap, he entered the Monkey House. He would have shut
and bolted the door behind him had such a proceeding been feasible.

Bridgewater had a horror of monkeys; he had always considered the common
organ-grinder’s monkey to be the representative of all its kind, and the
last production of nature in frightfulness; but here were monkeys of
every shape, size, and colour, a symphony of monkeys, each “note” more
horrible than the last.

If you have ever studied monkeys and their ways you will know that they
have their likes and dislikes just like men. That some people “appeal”
to them at first sight, and some people do not. Bridgewater did not.
When he saw Fanny entering at the door he retreated to the furthest
limits of the place and pretended to be engaged in contemplation of a
peculiarly sinister-looking ape, upon which, to judge from its
appearance, a schoolboy had been at work with a brushful of blue paint.

The azure and sinister one endured the human’s gaze for a few mutterful
moments, and then bursting into loud yells flew at the bars and
attempted to tear them from their sockets; the mandrills shrieked and
chattered, the lemur added his note, and Bridgewater beat a retreat.

It was at this moment that Fanny’s wandering gaze caught him.