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The Ape-Box Affair

A good deal of controversy arose late in the last century over what has been referred to by the more livid newspapers as “The Horror in St. James Park” or “The Ape-Box Affair.” Even these thirty years later, a few people remember that little intrigue, though most would change the subject rather abruptly if you broached it, and many are still unaware of the relation, or rather the lack of relation, between the actual ape-box and the spacecraft that plunked down in the Park’s duck pond.

The memoirs of Professor Langdon St. Ives, however, which passed into my hands after the poor man’s odd disappearance, pretty clearly implicate him in the affair. His own orang-outang, I’ll swear it, and the so-called Hooded Alien are one and the same creature. There is little logical connection, however, between that creature and “the thing in the box” which has since also fallen my way, and is nothing more than a clockwork child’s toy. The ape puppet in that box, I find after a handy bit of detective work, was modeled after the heralded “Moko the Educated Ape” which toured with a Bulgarian Gypsy fair and which later became the central motif of the mysterious Robert Service sonnet, “The Headliner and the Breadliner.” That the ape in the box became linked to St. Ives’s shaven orang-outang is a matter of the wildest coincidence—a coincidence that generated a chain of activities no less strange or incredible. This then is the tale, and though the story is embellished here and there for the sake of dramatic realism, it is entirely factual in the main.

* * * * *

Professor St. Ives was a brilliant scientist, and the history books might some day acknowledge his full worth. But for the Chingford Tower fracas, and one or two other rather trivial affairs, he would be heralded by the Academy, instead of considered a sort of interesting lunatic.

His first delvings into the art of space travel were those which generated the St. James Park matter, and they occurred on, or better yet, were culminated in 1892 early in the morning of July 2. St. Ives’ space craft was ball-shaped and large enough for one occupant; and because it was the first of a series of such crafts, that occupant was to be one Newton, a trained orang-outang who had only to push the right series of buttons when spacebound to motivate a magnetic homing device designed to reverse the craft’s direction and set it about a homeward course. The ape’s head was shaven to allow for the snug fitting of a sort of golden conical cap which emitted a meager electrical charge, sufficient only to induce a very mild sleep. It was of great importance that the ape remain docile while in flight, a condition which, as we shall see, was not maintained. The ape was also fitted with a pair of silver, magnetic-soled boots to affix him firmly to the deck of the ship; they would impede his movements in case he became restive, or, as is the problem with space travel, in case the forces of gravity should diminish.

Finally, St. Ives connected a spring-driven mechanism in a silver-colored box which puffed forth successive jets of oxygenated gas produced by the interaction of a concentrated chlorophyll solution with compressed helium—this combination producing the necessary atmosphere in the closed quarters of the ship.

The great scientist, after securing the ape to his chair and winding the chlorophyll box, launched the ship from the rear yard of his residence and laboratory in Harrogate. He watched the thing careen south through the starry early-morning sky. It was at that point, his craft a pinpoint of light on the horizon, that St. Ives was stricken with the awful realization that he had neglected to fill the ape’s food dispenser, a fact which would not have been of consequence except that the ape was to receive half a score of greengage plums as a reward for pushing the several buttons which would affect the gyro and reverse the course of the ship. The creature’s behavior once he ascertained that he had, in effect, been cheated of his greengages was unpredictable. There was nothing to be done, however, but for St. Ives to crawl wearily in to bed and hope for the best.

* * * * *

Several weeks previous to the launching of the craft (pardon the digression here; its pertinence will soon become apparent) a Bulgarian Gypsy caravan had set up a bit of a carnival in Chelsea, where they sold the usual salves and potions and such rot, as well as providing entertainments. Now, Wilfred Keeble was a toymaker who lived on Whitehall above the Old Shades and who, though not entirely daft, was eccentric. He was also the unloved brother of Winnifred Keeble, newly monied wife of Lord Placer. To be a bit more precise, he was loved well enough by his sister, but his brother-in-law couldn’t abide him. Lord Placer had little time for the antics of his wife’s lowlife relative, and even less for carnivals or circuses of gypsies. His daughter Olivia, therefore, sneaked away and cajoled her Uncle Wilfred into taking her to the gypsy carnival. Keeble assented, having little use himself for Lord Placer’s august stuffiness, and off they went to the carnival, which proved to be a rather pale affair, aside from the antics of Moko the Educated Ape. Actually, a far as Keeble was concerned, the ape itself was nothing much, being trained merely to sit in a great chair and puff on a cigar while seeming to pore over a copy of the Times which, more often than not, it held upside down or sideways or chewed at or tore up or gibbered over.

Olivia was fascinated by the creature and flew home begging her father for a pet ape, an idea which not only sent a thrill of horror and disgust up Lord Placer’s spine, but which caused him to confound his brother-in-law and everything connected with him for having had such a damnable effect on his daughter. Olivia, her hopes dashed by her father’s ape loathing, confided her grief to Uncle Wilfred who, although he knew that the gift of a real ape would generate conflicts best not thought about, could see no harm in fashioning a toy ape.

He set about in earnest to create such a thing and, in a matter of weeks, came up with one of those clockwork, key-crank jack-in-the-boxes. It was a silver cube painted with vivid circus depictions; when wound tightly, a comical ape got up as a mandarin and with whirling eyes would spring out and shout a snatch of verse. Wilfred Keeble was pretty thoroughly pleased with the thing, but he knew that it would be folly to go visiting his brother-in-law’s house with such a wild and unlikely gift, in the light of Lord Placer’s hatred of such things. There was a boy downstairs, a Jack Owlesby, who liked to earn a shilling here and there, and so Keeble called him up and, wrapping the box in paper and dashing off a quick note, sent Jack out into the early morning air two and six richer for having agreed to deliver the gift. Having sat up all night to finish the thing, Keeble crawled wearily into bed at, it seems, nearly the same hour that Langdon St. Ives did the same after launching his spacecraft.

* * * * *

Three people—two indigent gentlemen who seemed sea-captainish in a devastated sort of way, and a shrunken fellow with a yellow cloth cap who was somehow responsible for the chairs scattered about the green—were active in St. James Park that morning; at least those are the only three whose testimony was later officially transcribed. According to the Times report, these chaps, at about 7:00 AM, saw, as one of them stated, “a great fiery thing come sailing along like a bloody flying head,”—an adequate enough description of St. Ives’ ship which, gone amok, came plunging into the south end of the Park’s duck pond.

This visitation of a silver orb from space would, in itself, have been sufficient to send an entire park full of people shouting into the city, but, to the three in the park, it seemed weak tea indeed when an alien-seeming beast sailed out on impact through the sprung hatch, a bald-headed but otherwise hairy creature with a sort of golden dunce cap, woefully small, perched atop his head. Later, one of the panhandlers, a gentleman named Hornby, babbled some rubbish about a pair of flaming stilts, but the other two agreed that the thing wore high-topped silver boots, and, to a man, they remarked of an “infernal machine” which the thing carried daintily between his outstretched hands like a delicate balloon as it fled into Westminster.

There was, of course, an immediate hue and cry, responded to by two constables and a handful of sleepy and disheveled horse guards who raced about skeptically between the witnesses while poor Newton, St. Ives’s orang-outang, fuddled and hungry, disappeared into the city. At least three journalists appeared within half an hour’s time and were soon hotfooting it away quick as you please with the tale of the alien ship, the star beast, and the peculiar and infernal machine.

Newton had begun to grow restless somewhere over Yorkshire, just as the professor had supposed he would. Now all of this is a matter of conjecture, but logic would point with a stiffish finger toward the probability that the electronic cap atop the ape’s head either refused to function or functioned incorrectly, for Newton had commenced his antics within minutes of takeoff. There were reports, in fact, of an erratic glowing sphere zigging through the sky above Long Bennington that same morning, an indication that Newton, irate, was pretty thoroughly giving the controls the once-over. One can only suppose that the beast, anticipating a handful of plums, began stabbing away at the crucial buttons unaffected, as he must have been, by the cap. That it took a bit longer for him to run thoroughly amok indicates the extent of his trust in St. Ives. The professor, in his papers, reports that the control panel itself was finally dashed to bits and the chlorophyll-atmosphere box torn cleanly from the side of the cabin. Such devastation couldn’t have been undertaken before the craft was approaching Greater London; probably it occurred above South Mimms, where the ship was observed by the populace to be losing altitude. This marked the beginning of the plunge into London.

Although the creature had sorted through the controls rather handily, those first plum buttons, luckily for him, activated at least partially St. Ives’s gyro homing device. Had the beast been satisfied and held off on further mayhem, he would quite possibly have found himself settling back down in Harrogate at St. Ives’s laboratory. As it was, the reversing power of the craft was enough finally to promote, if not a gentle landing, at least one which, taking into account the cushion of water involved, was not fatal to poor Newton.

* * * * *

Jack Owlesby, meanwhile, ambled along down Whitehall, grasping the box containing Keeble’s ape contraption and anticipating a meeting with Keeble’s niece whom he had admired more than once. He was, apparently, a good enough lad, as we’ll see, and had been, coincidentally enough, mixed in with Langdon St. Ives himself some little time ago in another of St. Ives’s scientific shenanigans. Anyway, because of his sense of duty and the anticipation of actually speaking to Olivia, he popped right along for the space of five minutes before realizing that he could hardly go pounding away on Lord Placer’s door at such an inhuman hour of the morning. He’d best, thought he, sort of angle up around the square and down The Mall to the park to kill a bit of time. A commotion of some nature and a shouting lot of people drew him naturally along and, as would have happened to anyone in a like case, he went craning away across the road, unconscious of a wagon of considerable size which was gathering speed some few feet off his starboard side. A horn blasted, Jack leapt forward with a shout, clutching his parcel, and a brougham, unseen behind the wagon, plowed over him like an express, the driver cursing and flailing his arms.

The long and the short of it is that Jack’s box, or rather Keeble’s box, set immediate sail and bounced along unhurt into a park thicket ignored by onlookers who, quite rightly, rushed to poor Jack’s aid.

The boy was stunned, but soon regained his senses and, although knocked about a good bit, suffered no real damages. The mishaps of a boy, however, weren’t consequential enough to hold the attention of the crowd, not even of the Lord Mayor, who was in the fateful brougham. He had been rousted out of an early morning bed by the reports of dangerous aliens and inexplicable mechanical contrivances. He rather fancied the idea of a smoke and a chat and perhaps a pint of bitter later in the day with these alien chaps and so organized a “delegation,” as he called it, to ride out and welcome them.

He was far more concerned with the saddening report that the thing had taken flight to the south than with the silver sphere that bobbed in the pond. The ship had been towed to shore, but as yet no one had ventured to climb inside for fear of the unknown—an unfortunate and decisive hesitation, since a thorough examination would certainly have enabled an astute observer to determine its origin.

It was to young Jack’s credit that, after he had recovered from the collision, he spent only a moment or so at the edge of the pond with the other spectators before becoming thoroughly concerned over the loss of the box. The letter from Keeble to Olivia lay yet within his coat, but the box seemed to have vanished like a magician’s coin. He went so far as to stroll nonchalantly across the road again, reenacting, as they say, the scene of the crime or, in this case, the accident. He pitched imaginary boxes skyward and then clumped about through bushes and across lawns, thoroughly confounded by the disappearance. Had he known the truth, he’d have given up the search and gone about his business, or what was left of it, but he had been lying senseless when old grizzled Hornby, questioned and released by the constables, saw Jack’s parcel crash down some few feet from him as he sat brooding in the bushes. In Hornby’s circles one didn’t look a gift horse in the fabled mouth, not for long anyway, and he had the string yanked off and the wrapper torn free in a nonce.

Now you or I would have been puzzled by the box, silvery and golden as it was and with bright pictures daubed on in paint and a mysterious crank beneath, but Hornby was positively aghast. He’d seen such a thing that morning in the hands of a creature who, he still insisted, raged along in his wizard’s cap on burning stilts. He dared not fiddle with it in light of all that, and yet he couldn’t just pop out of the bushes waving it about either. This was a fair catch and, no doubt, a very valuable one. Why such a box should sail out of the skies was a poser, but this was clearly a day tailor-made for such occurrences. He scuttled away under cover of the thick greenery until clear of the mobbed pond area, then took to his heels and headed down toward Westminster with the vague idea of finding a pawn broker who had heard of the alien threat and would be willing to purchase such an unlikely item.

Jack, then, searched in vain, for the box he’d been entrusted with had been spirited away. His odd behavior, however, soon drew the attention of the constabulary who, suspicious of the very trees, asked him what he was about. He explained that he’d been given a metallic looking box, and a very wonderful box at that, and had been instructed to deliver it across town. The nature of the box, he admitted, was unknown to him for he’d glimpsed it only briefly. He suspected, though, that it was a toy of some nature.

“A toy is it, that we have here!” shouted Inspector Marleybone of Scotland Yard. “And who, me lad, was it gave you this toy?”

“Mister Keeble, sir, of Whitehall,” said Jack very innocently and knowing nothing of a similar box which, taken to be some hideous device, was a subject of hot controversy. Here were boxes springing up like the children of Noah, and it took no longer than a moment or two before two police wagons were rattling away, one to ferret out this mysterious Keeble, in league, like as not, with aliens, and one to inquire after Lord Placer down near the Tate Gallery. Jack, as well as a dozen policemen, were left to continue futilely scouring the grounds.

* * * * *

Somehow Newton had managed, by luck or stealth, to slip across Victoria Street and fall in among the greengrocers and clothing sellers along Old Pye. Either they were fairly used to peculiar chaps in that section of town and so took no special notice of him, or else Newton, wittily, clung to the alleys and shadows and generally laid low, as they say. This latter possibility is most likely the case, for Newton would have been as puzzled and frightened of London as had he actually been an alien; orang-outangs, being naturally shy and contemplative beasts, would, if given the choice, spurn the company of men. The incident, however, that set the whole brouhaha going afresh was sparked by a wooden fruit cart loaded, unfortunately, with nothing other than greengage plums.

Here was a poor woman, tired, I suppose, and at only eight o’clock or so in the morning, with her cart of fresh plums and two odious children. She set up along the curb, outside a bakery. As fortune would have it, she was an altogether kindly sort, and she towed her children in to buy a two-penny loaf, leaving her cart for the briefest of moments.

She returned, munching a slab of warm bread, in time to see the famished Newton, his greengages come round at last, hoeing into handfuls of the yellowy fruit. As the Times has the story, the ape was hideously covered with slime and juice, and, although the information is suspect, he took to hallooing in a resonant voice and to waving the box like a cudgel above his head. The good woman responded with shouts and “a call to Him above in this hour of dreadful things.”

As I see it, Newton reacted altogether logically. Cheated of his greengages once, he had no stomach to be dealt with in such a manner again. He grasped the tongue of the cart, anchored his machine firmly in among the plums, and loped off down Old Pye Street toward St. Ann’s.

Jack Owlesby searched as thoroughly as was sensible—more thoroughly perhaps, for, as I said, he was prompted and accompanied by the authorities, and as soon as the crowd in the park got wind of the possible presence of “a machine,” they too savaged the bushes, surged up and down the road behind the Horse Guards, and tramped about Duck Island until the constables were forced to shout threats and finally give up their own search. The crowd thinned shortly thereafter, when a white-coated, bespectacled fellow hailing from the Museum came down and threw a tarpaulin over the floating ship.

Jack was at odds, blaming himself for the loss, but mystified and frustrated over its disappearance. There seemed to be only one option—to deliver the letter to young Olivia and then return the two and six to Mr. Keeble upon returning to the Old Shades. He set out, then, to do just that.

* * * * *

Inspector Marleybone was in an itch to get to the bottom of this invasion, as it were, which had so far been nothing more than the lunatic arrival of a single alien who had since fled. Wild reports of flaming engines and howling, menacing giants were becoming tiresome. But, though rumors have always been the bane of the authorities, they seem to be meat and drink to the populace, and here was no exception. Bold headlines of “Martian Invasion” and “St. James Horror” had the common man in a state, and it may as well have been a bank holiday in London by 9:00 that morning. A fresh but grossly overblown account of the plum-cart incident reached poor Marleybone at about the time he arrived back at the Yard, just as he had begun toying with the idea that there had been no starship, nor hairy alien nor dread engine, and that all had been a nightmarish product of the oysters and Spanish wine he’d enjoyed the night before. But here were fresh accounts, and the populace honing kitchen knives, and a thoroughly befuddled Wilfred Keeble without his cap, being ushered in by two very serious constables.

Keeble, who normally liked the idea of romance and grand adventure, didn’t at all like the real thing, and was a bit groggy from lack of sleep in the bargain. He listened, puzzled, to Marleybone’s questions, which seemed, of course, madness. There was no reference, at first, to strange metallic boxes, but only to suspected dealings with alien space invaders and to Marleybone’s certainty that Keeble was responsible, almost single-handedly, for the mobs which, shouting and clanking in their curiosity, came surging up and down the road at intervals on their way to gaze at the covered ball in the pond, and to search for whatever wonderful prizes had rained on London from the heavens.

Keeble pleaded his own ignorance and innocence and insisted that he was a toy-maker who knew little of invasions, and would have nothing to do with such things had he the opportunity. Marleybone was wary but tired, and his spirits fell another notch when Lord Placer, his own eyes glazed from a night of brandy and cards at the club, stormed in in a rage.

Although it was all very well to ballyrag Keeble, it was another thing entirely with Lord Placer, and so the inspector, with an affected smile, began to explain that Keeble seemed to be mixed into the alien affair, and that a certain metallic box, thought to be a threatening device of some nature or another, had been intercepted, then lost, en route from Keeble to Lord Placer. It wasn’t strictly the truth, and Marleybone kicked himself for not having taken Jack Owlesby in tow so that he’d at least have someone to point the accusatory finger at. Lord Placer, although knowing even less at this point than did his brother-in-law (who, at the mention of a silver box saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel) was fairly sure he could explain the fracas away even so. Wilfred Keeble, he stated, was clearly a madman, a raving lunatic who, with his devices and fables, was attempting to drive the city mad for the sake of company. It was a clear go as far as Lord P. could determine, and although it did not lessen the horror of being dragged from a warm bed and charged as an alien invader, it was at least good to have such a simple explanation. Lunacy, Lord Placer held, was the impetus behind almost everything, especially his brother-in-law’s actions, whether real or supposed.

Finally Marleybone did the sensible thing, and let the two go, wondering why in the devil he’d called them in in the first place. Although he believed for the most part Keeble’s references to a jack-in-the-box, he was even more convinced of Lord Placer’s hypothesis of general lunacy. He accompanied Lord Placer to his coach, apologizing profusely for the entire business. Lord P. grunted and agreed, as the horses clopped away, to contact Scotland Yard in the event that the mysterious machine should, by some twist of insane fate, show up at his door.

Lady Placer, the former Miss Keeble, met her husband as he dragged in from the coach, mumbling curses about her brother. If anyone in the family had, as the poet said, “gone round the bend,” it was Winnifred, who was slow-witted as a toothpick. She was, however, tolerant of her brother, and couldn’t altogether fathom her husband’s dislike of him, although she set great store in old Placer’s opinions, and thus often found herself in a muddle over the contrary promptings of her heart and mind. She listened, then, with great curiosity to Lord Placer’s confused story of the rumoured invasion, the monster in the park, and his own suspected connection with the affair, which was entirely on account of her damned brother’s rumminess.

Winnifred, having heard the shouting newsboys, knew something was in the air, and was mystified to find that her own husband and brother were mixed up in it. She was thoroughly awash when her husband stumbled away to bed, but was not overly worried, for confusion was one of the humours she felt near to and was comfortable with. She did wonder, however, at the fact that Lord Placer was involved in such weird doings, and she debated whether her daughter should be sent away, perhaps to her aunt’s home near Dover, until the threat was past. Then it struck her that she wasn’t at all sure what the threat was, and that spaceships might land in Dover as well as London, and also that, at any rate, her husband probably wasn’t in league with these aliens after all. She wandered out to her veranda to look at a magazine. It was about then, I’d calculate, that the weary Marleybone got wind of the plum business and headed streetward again, this time in the company of the Lord Mayor’s delegation.

It’s not to be thought that, while Scotland Yard was grilling its suspects, Newton and Jack Owlseby and, of course, old Hornby who was about town with one of the two devices, stood idle. Newton, in fact, set out in earnest to enhance his already ballooning reputation. After making off with the plum cart, he found himself unpursued, and deep into Westminster, heading, little did he know, toward Horseferry Road. It’s folly for an historian in such a case to do other than conjecture, but it seems to me that, sated with plums but still ravenous, as you or I might be sated with sweets while desiring something more substantial, he sighted a melon cart wending its way toward the greengrocers along Old Pye. Newton moored his craft in an alley, his box rooted in the midst of the plums, and hastened after the melon man, who was anything but pleased with the ape’s appearance. He’d as yet heard nothing of the alien threat, and so took Newton to be an uncommonly ugly and bizarrely dressed thief. Hauling a riding crop from a peg on the side of the cart, the melon man laid about him with a will, cracking away at the perplexed orang-outang with wonderful determination, and shouting the while for a constable.

Newton, aghast, and taking advantage of his natural jungle agility, attempted to clamber up a wrought-iron pole which supported a striped canvas awning. His weight, of course, required a stout tree rather than a precariously moored pole, and the entire business gave way, entangling the ape in the freed canvas. The grocer pursued his attack, the ruckus having drawn quite a crowd, many of whom recognized the ape as a space invader, and several of whom took the trailing canvas, which had become impaled on the end of Newton’s conical cap, to be some sort of Arab headgear. That, to be sure, explains the several accounts of alien-Mohammedan conspiracies which found their way into the papers. References to an assault by the invader against the melon man are unproven and, I think, utterly false.

When Newton fled, followed by the mob, he found his plum cart as he had left it—except for the box, which had disappeared.

* * * * *

Jack Owlesby hadn’t walked more than a half mile, still glum as a herring over Keeble’s misplaced trust, when, strictly by chance, he glanced up an alley off St. Ann’s and saw a plum cart lying unattended therein. The startling thing was that, as you can guess, an odd metallic box was nestled in among the plums. Jack drew near and determined, on the strength of the improbability of any other explanation, that the box was his own, or, rather, Olivia’s. He had seen the thing only briefly before it had been wrapped, so his putting the gypsy touch to it can be rationalized, and even applauded. Because he had no desire to encounter whoever stole the thing, he set out immediately, supposing himself to have patched up a ruinous morning.

Old Hornby had not been as fortunate as had Jack. His conviction that the box was extra-terrestrial was scoffed at by several pawnbrokers who, seeming vaguely interested in the prize, attempted to coerce Hornby to hand it over to them for inspection. Sly Hornby realized that these usurious merchants were in league to swindle him, and he grew ever more protective of the thing as he, too, worked his way south. His natural curiosity drew him toward a clamoring mob which pursued some unseen thing.

It seemed to Hornby as if he “sniffed aliens” in the air and, as far as it goes, he was correct. He also assumed, this time incorrectly, that some profit was still to be had from these aliens, and so, swiftly and cunningly, he left the mob on Monck Street, set off through the alleys, and popped out at about the point that Horseferry winds around the mouth of Regency Street, head-on into the racing Newton who, canvas headgear and all, was outdistancing the crowd. Hornby was heard to shout, “Hey there,” or “You there,” or some such, before being bowled over, the ape snatching Hornby’s treasured box away as it swept past, thinking it, undoubtedly, the box that had been purloined in the alley.

Jack Owlesby, meanwhile, arrived at Lord Placer’s door and was admitted through the rear entrance by the butler, an affable sort who wandered off to drum up Miss Olivia at Jack’s insistence. Lord Placer, hearing from the butler that a boy stood in the hall with a box for Olivia, charged into Jack’s presence in a fit of determination. He’d played the fool for too long, or so he thought, and he intended to dig to the root of the business. He was well into the hall when he realized that he was dressed in his nightshirt and cap, a pointed cloth affair, and wore his pointy-toed silk house slippers which were, he knew, ridiculous. His rage overcame his propriety, and, of course, this was only an errand boy, not a friend from the club, so he burst along and jerked the box away from an amazed Jack Owlesby

“Here we have it!” he shouted, examining the thing.

“Yes, sir,” said Jack. “If you please, sir, this is meant for your daughter and was sent by Mr. Keeble.”

“Keeble has a hand in everything, it seems,” cried Lord Placer, still brandishing the box as if it were a great diamond in which he was searching for flaws. “What’s this bloody crank, boy? Some hideous apparatus, I’d warrant.”

“I’m sure I don’t know, sir,” replied Jack diplomatically, hoping that Olivia would appear and smooth things out. He was sure that Lord Placer, who seemed more or less mad, would ruin the thing.

Casting caution to the winds, Lord Placer whirled away at the crank while peering into a funnel-like tube that protruded from the end. His teeth were set and he feared nothing, not even that this was, as he had been led to believe, one of the infernal machines rampant in the city. Amid puffings and whirrings and a tiny momentary tinkling sound, a jet of bright chlorophyll-green helium gas shot from the tube, covering Lord Placer’s face and hair with a fine, lime-colored mist.

A howl of outrage issued from Lord Placer’s mouth, now hanging open in disbelief. It was an uncanny howl, like that of moaning elf, for the gaseous mixture, for a reason known only to those who delve into the scientific mysteries, had a dismal effect on his vocal cords, an effect not unnoticed by Lord P., who thought himself poisoned and leapt toward the rear door. Winnifred, having heard an indecipherable shriek while lounging on the veranda, was met by Olivia, fresh from a stroll in the rose garden, and the two of them were astounded to see a capering figure of lunacy, eyes awhirl in a green face, come bellowing with an elvish voice into the yard, carrying a spouting device.

Winnifred’s worst fears had come to pass. Here was her husband, or so it seemed, gone amok and in a weird disguise. Lady Placer, in a gesture of utter bewilderment, clapped a hand to her mouth and slumped backward onto the lawn. Olivia was no less perplexed, to be sure, but her concern over her mother took precedence over the mystery that confronted her, and she stooped to her aid. Lady Placer was a stout-hearted soul, however, and she was up in a moment. “It’s your father,” she gasped in a voice that sounded as if it knew strange truths, “go to him, but beware.”

Olivia was dumbfounded, but she left her mother in the care of the butler, and launched out in the company of Jack Owlesby (who was, by then, at least as confused as the rest of the company) in pursuit of her father, who was loping some two blocks ahead and still carrying the box.

It was at this point that the odd thing occurred. Newton, having lost the crowd, still swung along down Regency past stupefied onlookers. He rounded onto Bessbourough and crossed John Islip Road, when he saw coming toward him a kindred soul. Here then came Lord Placer in his own pointed cap and with his own machine, rollicking along at an impressive clip. Now apes, as you know, are more intelligent in their way than are dogs, and it’s not surprising that Newton, harried through London, saw at once that Lord Placer was an ally. So, with an ape’s curiosity, he sped alongside for the space of a half block down toward Vauxhal Bridge, from which Lord Placer intended to throw himself into the river in hopes of diluting the odious solution he’d been doused with. Why he felt it necessary to bathe in the Thames is a mystery until we consider what the psychologists say—that a man in such an addled state might well follow his initial whims, even though careful contemplation would instruct him otherwise.

Inspector Marleybone, the Lord Mayor, and the delegation whipped along in their brougham in the wake of the mob. As is usual in such confusion, many of those out on the chase knew little or nothing of that which they pursued. Rumors of the alien invasion were rampant but often scoffed at, and secondary rumors concerning the march of Islam, and even that the walls of Colney Hatch had somehow burst and released a horde of loonies, were at least as prevalent. Marleybone blanched at the sight of clubs and hay forks, and the Lord Mayor, aghast that London would visit such a riot on the heads of emissaries from another planet, demanded that Marleybone put a stop to the rout; but such a thing was, of course, impossible and they gave off any effort at quelling the mob, and concentrated simply on winning through to the fore and restraining things as best they could. This necessitated, unfortunately, taking a bit of a roundabout route which promoted several dead-ends and a near collision with a milk wagon, but finally they came through, careening around the corner of Bessborough and Grosvenor and sighting the two odd companions hotly pursued by a throng that stretched from the Palace to Millbank. Here they reined in.

The Lord Mayor was unsure as to exactly what course of action to take, considering the size and activity of the crowd and the ghastly duo of cavorting box-carriers that approached. If anyone remembers Jeremy Pike, otherwise Lord Bastable, who served as Lord Mayor from ‘89 almost until the war, you’ll recall that, as the poet said, he had a heart stout and brave, and a rather remarkable speech prepared for the most monstrous audience he was likely to encounter.

So the Lord Mayor, with Marleybone at his heels, strode into the road and held up his hands, palms forward, in that symbolic gesture which is universally taken to mean “halt.” It is absurd to think that there is any significance to the fact that Newton responded correctly to the signal, despite the suggestion of two noted astronomers, because their theory—the literal universality of hand gestures—lies in Newton’s other-worldliness, which, as we know, is a case of mistaken identity. Anyway, the pair of fugitives halted in flight, I believe, because it was at that point, when presented with the delegation, that Lord Placer’s eyes ceased to revolve like tops and it looked as if he were “coming around.” He was still very much in some nature of psychological shock, as would anyone be if thrown into a like circumstance, but he was keen-witted enough to see that here was the end of the proverbial line. As Lord Placer slowed to a stop, so did Newton, himself happy, I’ve little doubt, to give up the chase.

The mob caught up with the ambassadorial party in a matter of moments, and there was a great deal of tree climbing and shoulder hoisting and neck craning as the people of London pressed in along the Thames. Marleybone gazed suspiciously at Lord Placer for the space of a minute before being struck with the pop-eyed realization of the gentleman’s identity.

“Ha!” shouted the Inspector, reaching into his coat for a pair of manacles. Lord Placer, sputtering, profferred his box to the delegation, but a spurt of green fume and the tick of a timing device prompted a cry of, “The devil!” from Marleybone and, “The Infernal Machine!” from a score of people on the inner perimeter of the crowd, and everyone pressed back, fearing a detonation, and threatening a panic. Another burst of green, however, seemed to indicate that the device had miscarried somehow, and a smattering of catcalls and hoots erupted from the mob.

Lord Placer, at this point, recovered fully. He tugged his cloth cap low over his eyes and winked hugely several times at Olivia as she pushed through to be by his side. Olivia took the winks to be some sort of spasm and cried out, but Jack Owlesby, good lad he, slipped Lord P. a wink of his own, and very decorously tugged Olivia aside and whispered at her. Her father made no effort to rub away the chlorophyllic mask.

The Lord Mayor stepped up, and with a ceremonious bow took the glittering aerator from Lord Placer’s outstretched hands. He held the thing aloft, convinced that it was some rare gift, no doubt incomprehensible to an earthling. He trifled with the crank. As another poof of green shot forth, the crowd broke into applause and began stamping about in glee.

“Londoners!” the Lord Mayor bawled, removing his hat. “This is indeed a momentous occasion.” The crowd applauded heartily at this and, like as not, prompted Newton, who stood bewildered, to offer the Lord Mayor his own curiously wrought box.

A bit perturbed at the interruption but eager, on the other hand, to parley with this hairy beast who, it was apparent, hailed from the stars, old Bastable graciously accepted the gift. It was unlike the first box, and the designs drawn upon the outside, although weird, seemed to be of curiously garbed animals: hippoes with toupees and carrying Gladstone Bags, elephants riding in ridiculously small dog-carts, great toads in clam-shell trousers and Leibnitz caps, and all manner of like things. Seeing no other explanation, the Lord Mayor naturally assumed that such finery might be common on an alien star, and with a flourish of his right arm, as if he were daubing the final colours onto a canvas, he set in to give this second box a crank-up.

The crowd waited, breathless. Even those too far removed from the scene to have a view of it seemed to know from the very condition of the atmosphere that what is generally referred to as “a moment in history” was about to occur. Poor Hornby, his feet aching from a morning of activity, gaped on the inner fringe of the circle of onlookers, as Lord Placer, perhaps the only one among the multitude who dared move, edged away toward the embankment.

There was the ratchet click of a gear and spring being turned tighter and tighter until, with a snap that jarred the silence, the top of the box flew open and a tiny ape, singularly clad in a golden robe and, of all things, a night cap not at all unlike Lord Placer’s, shot skyward, hung bobbing in mid-air, and, in a piping voice called out Herodotus’s cryptic and immortal line: “Fear not, Athenian stranger, because of this marvel!” After uttering the final syllable the ape, as if by magic, popped down into the box, pulling the lid shut after him.

The Lord Mayor stared at Marleybone in frank disbelief, both men awestruck, when Lord Placer, his brass having given out and each new incident compounding his woe, broke for the stairs that led to the causeway below the embankment and sailed like billy-o in the direction of home. About half the mob, eager again for the chase, sallied out in pursuit. When their prey was lost momentarily from view, Jack Owlesby, in a stroke of genius, shouted, “There goes the blighter!” and led the mob around the medical college, thus allowing for Lord Placer’s eventual escape. Marleybone and the Lord Mayor collared Newton, who looked likely to bolt, and were confronted by two out-of-breath constables who reported nothing less than the theft of the spacecraft by a white-coated and bearded fellow in spectacles, ostensibly from the museum, who carried official looking papers. After towing Newton into the brougham, the delegation swept away up Mill-bank to Horseferry, lapped round behind Westminster Hospital and flew north back across Victoria without realizing that they were chasing phantoms, that they hadn’t an earthly idea as to the identity or the whereabouts of the mysterious thief.

The Lord Mayor pulled his folded speech from his coat pocket and squinted at it through his pince-nez a couple of times, pretty clearly worked up over not having been able to utilize it. Marleybone was in a foul humour, having had his fill of everything that didn’t gurgle when tipped upside down. Newton somehow had gotten hold of the jack-in-the-box and, to the annoyance of his companions, was popping the thing off regularly. It had to have been at the crossing of Great George and Abingdon that a dog-cart containing a tall, gaunt gentleman wearing a Tamerlane beret and with an evident false nose plunged alongside and kept pace with the brougham. To the astonishment of the delegation, Newton (a powerful beast) burst the door from its hinges, leapt out running onto the roadway, and clambered in beside Falsenose, whereupon the dog-cart howled away east toward Lambeth Bridge.

The thing was done in an instant. The alien was gone, the infernal machine was gone, the ship, likewise, had vanished, and by the time the driver of the brougham could fathom the cacophony of alarms from within his coach, turn, and pursue a course toward the river, the dog-cart was nowhere to be seen.

A thorough search of the Victoria Embankment yielded an abandoned, rented dog-cart and a putty nose, but nothing else save, perhaps, for a modicum of relief for all involved. As we all know, the papers milked the crisis for days, but the absence of any tangible evidence took the wind from their sails, and the incident of “The Ape-Box Affair” took its place alongside the other great unexplained mysteries, and was, in the course of time, forgotten.

How Langdon St. Ives (for it was he with the putty nose), his man Hasbro (who masterminded the retrieval of the floating ship), and Newton the orang-outang wended their way homeward is another, by no means slack, story. Suffice it to say that all three and their craft passed out of Lambeth Reach and down the Thames to the sea aboard a hired coal barge, from whence they made a rather amazing journey to the bay of Humber and then overland to Harrogate.

This little account, then, incomplete as it is, clears up some mysteries—mysteries that the principals of the case took some pains, finally, to ignore. But Lord Placer, poor fellow, is dead these three years, Marleybone has retired to the sea-side, and Lord Bastable… well, we are all aware of his amazing disappearance after the so-called “cataleptic transference” which followed his post-war sojourn in Lourdes. What became of Jack Owlesby’s pursuit of Olivia I can’t say, nor can I determine whether Keeble hazarded the making of yet another amazing device for his plucky niece, who was the very Gibraltar of her family in the months that followed the tumult.

So this history, I hope, will cause no one embarrassment, and may satisfy the curiosities of those who recall “The Horror in St. James Park.” I apologize if, by the revelation of causes and effects, what was once marvelous and inexplicable slides down a rung or two into the realm of the commonplace; but such explication is the charge of the historian—a charge I hope to have executed with candor.

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