WANTED: A BABOON!
The sad, sad story of the monkey who joined the Staff
W. W. MURRAY
ADREARY, drowsy morning. The headquarters signaller, numb with lack of sleep,
poked his head past the gas blanket which screened his own bit of dugout from that wherein Holborn, the adjutant, was doing dog-watch.
“Message, sir, from Brigade.”
Holborn stifled a yawn, and seizing the pink form he scanned it in the guttering candlelight. As he read, he puckered his brows and, breathing a soft expletive, laid the message down.
“Brains” was Harrow, the battalion Intelligence Officer. He was lying awake on a chickenwire bunk farther along the tunnel.
“Sh-h! Don’t wake the colonel.”
With a protesting growl Harrow creaked out of the bunk and sidled past the double tier from which emanated resonant and contented snores.
“Fact is, Brains, I’ve got the suspicion I may be going a bit nutty—just the merest shade coo-coo. Take a squint at this. D’you see what I saw?”
Holbom turned over the message. Harrow looked, and gasped.
“Sh-h!” Holbom raised a cautioning hand. “The colonel—light sleeper. Read it out.”
“The Divisional Commander is organizing a new headquarters unit and would appreciate the co-operation of Battalion Commanders in furnishing him with a baboon.
“Passed to you for necessary action and reply direct to ‘Q’ Branch, Division, please.”
“That’s that,” commented Holbom. “Now the document is from—from whom, Brains?”
“Staff Captain, Brigade—meaning, of course, Chelsey.” Holbom sighed. He took the message wearily. “This war works on these old palookas at Division just like bad licker—like bad—” He stopped and shook his head mournfully. “Have you any helpful suggestion you’d like to make toward the solution of this problem?”
“Exactly.” Holborn’s voice sank to a deep whisper. “A baboon.”
“But in the name of—”
“Still a mystery, eh? Well, don’t let this go any further, but they’re giving it a staff job. Birds of a feather—you know what 1 mean. However,” Holborn yawned, “I suspect the general to be pottering around with some nice new gas; in which case, of course, the baboon would be ‘it.’ ”
“Gas?” Harrow nodded and the scowl that had furrowed his forehead slowly vanished. “But why shove the job on us?”
“How refreshing you are! The dear old infantry—Lord, Brains, have you any idea what they start world wars for? Just to hand us little chores like this.” The adjutant coughed softly. “Blasted gaspers,” he explained. “Now,
Harrow, I can see you’re a lad with the big. practical mind. Listen to this. When we get back to billets I want you to scour the highways and also. I may add, the byways. May’s well scour ’em both. If you can
smell out a good, healthy, presentable baboon—not too old. I should imagine—just snick the thing and bring it here. Nothing simpler. Nice, soft job. I'd take it on myself if I wasn’t so busy.”
“And if I can’t, what then?”
“You’ve simply got to; that’s all.”
“Aw, blah ! How d’you suppose I’m going to get hold of a thing like that in this country?”
“The order,” snapped Holbom, “is very definite.” He turned away with a cavernous yawn. “Buzz off,” he commanded peremptorily. "Good hunting!”
By the time the battalion marched back to divisional reserve, Holborn, with all the preoccupation of his kind, had forgotten; but not so Harrow. He was one of those conscientious lads, a bit keen on winning the war; and if baboon hunting could advance this end by the smallest
step, he was all for it. Holborn was reminded of the job when Brains brusquely sought his permission one morning for the use of a riding-horse.
From the padre, Harrow had received a lead that indicated possibilities. Down near Frevent there lived the Vicomte de Bonnechasse, who in his youth had served the republic in its eastern dependencies. The villagers credited to the vicomte many heroic exploits as a big game hunter. His chateau was filled with trophies. It was believed he also maintained a modest, inconspicuous zoo. The distinguished nobleman, according to local report, was thought further to be slightly off his rocker.
Harrow set off for Frevent. He had no trouble in finding the gloomy and dilapidated chateau, and none in obtaining access to its proprietor. Raoul Marie Joseph, Vicomte de Bonnechasse, was what is sometimes described as podgy: he was small and rotund. A long linen coat enveloped him; on his head was a beret, drawn at a rakish angle, while his bespectacled features were adorned with a straggling whisker. No sooner had Harrow crossed the threshold than the vicomte sprang convulsively forward with hand outstretched.
“Mon colonel—oui—non? It is lieutenant, hein? That matters not. I am honored. Pardon, monsieur, I—” The old gentleman stopped and looked around, “I have but one chair, mon lieutenant,’’ he said regretfully. “You will have to stand.”
“O.K. with me.” commented Brains politely. “Très
“Excellent. I felicitate monsieur on his command of our language.” The vicomte smiled engagingly but at once became grave. “What do you want?” he rapped out.
Harrow started abruptly. "I—er—a baboon—”
“Pas possible. A baboon, hein?” The nobleman stroked his beard thoughtfully and nodded. The request was perfectly natural, quite in order.
“A baboon.” He grabbed Harrow’s sleeve suddenly and pattered across the room to a door which he threw open with an expansive gesture. “Regardez!”
The room was heaped with animals. They were stuffed and mounted in every posture known to taxidermy. Snarling lions leaned feebly against others that were merely yawning; some slept, more stared balefully out of their glass eyes. There were tigers, bears, panthers, baboons -all in advanced stages of deterioration. Not a few had burst their seams and the stuffing was strewn around. The whole mass was thick with dust and alive with moths. Rapidly and incoherently, the vicomte enumerated them. He stopped of his own accord.
“Why,” he asked, “does monsieur want a baboon?”
Brains answered haltingly. He was looking for a live one. His general was conducting experiments. The vicomte looked sad.
“Helas! My baboons are all dead. But a monkey!” A happy light (lashed into his features. “It is really a monkey you want. There is, indubitably, a physiological difference between a baboon and a monkey,” he explained "but—” he shrugged his shoulders. “Now willingly would I give you Fernand. Look! Le voilà!"
He pointed to a trembling little simian seated on its haunches and attached by a length of chain to a ring in the wall. The monkey, catching the motion, gave a screech of distress and made a frightened leap to the mantelpiece where it sat chattering excitedly.
“Fernand,” continued the vicomte, “is old. He is nervous. Sometimes the Boche airplanes—ah, monsieur— Boom! Fernand trembles. He eats nothing; he sleeps not at all. He will die—helas! Well, if it is to be,” the vicomte’s voice became deep and vibrant with dignity, “let him give his all for France.”
Gently he laid hold of Fernand and unsnapped the chain. The monkey snuggled up to him.
"I am desolate, mon pauvre." murmured the vicomte in sepulchral tones. "I weep. But that is only my homage to Fernand. Our association ends. It is destiny.”
With a cough, the distinguished nobleman gathered himself and dived suddenly into a corner from which he emerged with a wicker cage. Into this he tumbled the unhappy Fernand, banging down the lid. Almost in the same motion, and before Brains could utter a protesting word, he had bundled the whole business into Harrow’s
“Mon lieutenant. I salute him!”
Raising a hand to his brow, he held it there while with the other he tugged Harrow out of the room. Before the dazed Brains could collect what was left of his wits, he found himself again on the front door step.
“Adieu, mon lieutenant!”
With a low courtly bow, Raoul Marie Joseph, vicomte de Bonnechasse, slammed the door.
r"PHAT’S torn it.”
Holborn was in the orderly room when Harrow crashed in excitedly and told his story.
“That’s ripped it right up the back. For Pete’s sake, what’s the next move?”
“Search me. One thing I do know is that I’m through.”
Holborn shook his head. “That’s exactly what you’re not,” he said emphatically. "Figure it out, Brains. I sent
you into the highways and places like that for a baboon, and you report back with this blasted thing.”
“Well, it’s something, anyway, isn’t it?” growled Harrow. “I didn’t come back empty-handed. You can’t say that.” “Quite right, Brains.” Holborn pondered for a few moments. “If there’s any credit coming for this, I’d hate to see you done out of it.”
“That little Jocko here will have to go up to Division, and I know of no one better qualified than you to act as escort.”
Thus it came about. In the cool of the evening, Major Heath Slocum of the general staff, strolling in front of the chateau wherein divisional headquarters were established, saw a half-limber drive up to the main gate. A second later, Harrow ranged alongside, picked a wicker cage from the vehicle and, acknowledging the sentry’s salute, approached the brass hat. Slocum’s eyes ignored the bearer of the cage; they rivetted themselves with bulging incredulity upon its occupant. A few paces from him Harrow halted. He smiled affably and, setting Fernand’s temporary billet on the ground, saluted and introduced himself.
“Well, major,” he began cheerily, “here we are. I managed to get something like it, anyway.”
Slocum’s face was expressionless, cold and stony.
A fleeting thought that this reception was a bit on the chilly side flashed into Harrow’s mind. Reassuringly, however, he recalled that the staff simply got that way. “Isn’t a baboon, though,” he observed.
Slocum stroked his chin pensively and gazed at Brains with a dubious look.
“Not a baboon, eh? No, you’re absolutely correct.” “There isn’t much difference.”
The major frowned at Fernand and shifted his glance to Brains.
“Isn’t there?” he asked.
“Not much,” declared Harrow. “Purely physiological. It’s a monkey.”
“So I gathered.”
“I couldn’t get a baboon anywhere.”
“You don’t say so! You couldn’t, eh?”
“S'pose the G. O. C. ’ll be annoyed?” asked Harrow diffidently.
“Annoyed? Well, now Harrow, I’d hate to go that far.
I hadn’t given the matter much thought, as a matter of fact. But I’d say offhand it was an open question.” Slocum pushed his hands into his pockets and faced Brains with a strained expression. “I’d be the last chap in the world to pry into another man's affairs, Harrow; but what’s the big idea of lugging that frowsy beast around with you?” Something in Slocum’s severe countenance tuned in on the misgivings that had haunted Brains from the start. His smile faded.
“It’s most distinctly prejudicial to good order and military discipline,” rumbled Slocum pontifically, “for Canadian officers to be seen carrying monkeys inside the divisional area. Between ourselves, we’re working hard-to stamp out that sort of thing.”
“Well, now, major, listen, listen—”
“I don’t get you. I brought this as the only substitute available.”
"Substitute? For what—or. perhaps, I should put it, for whom?” asked Slocum caustically.
“For the baboon—that blasted baboon the general wants in his new gas experiments.”
Slocum shook his head. “First I’ve heard of it.”
“But don’t you remember that message—”
“Slocum—Slo—Ah! There you are.” Major-General Sir Brixton Rhodes, K.C.B., strode briskly into view from behind a shrubbery. “Lovely night, isn’t it? I’ve ordered the band to play for an hour for Countess de Bellemain de Sans Atou.”
SIR BRIXTON was an impressive looking officer. The suns of other campaigns had tanned his face to a leathern brown; his nose had a slight strawberry complex; hut his hair, his thick and ample eyebrows and waxed mustache were black and forbidding. The general affected pinkish breeches, and the whole riot of color was triumphantly rounded off by his scarlet tabs and gold-braided headpiece. He carried a hunting-crop with which he savagely flicked the bushes.
“Charming woman, the countess. Bugs on music. D’you know, Slocum, a little more practice an’ that band won’t be so hard on the ears.” The general ignored Brains altogether.
“Quite, sir,” agreed Slocum.
“By the way, did y’ever do anything about that—ugh!— that funny what’s-its-name the bandmaster—the bandmaster—” The general turned his head. “The . . . band . . . master ...”
His voice trickled away. Fernand, cringing wistfully at the bottom of the cage, was looking up with pathetic longing. The general’s eyes popped.
“Well, I’ll be—”
“This, sir, is Mr. Harrow.”
Sir Brixton’s ferocious scowl fell alternately on Harrow and on the monkey.
“Me, sir,” gulped Brains stupidly.
“Lousy?” snapped Sir Brixton.
“I don’t mean you. I mean—” he pointed to Fernand “—your confrère.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” ventured Harrow.
“Any fleas?” The general fixed Brains with a steely glare. “Again I mean this colleague of yours.”
“I didn’t find out, sir.”
“Careless.” The general turned to Slocum. “Whose is it?”
“Mr. Harrow brought it here, sir.”
“Oh, oh.” Sir Brixton burned Brains with a sizzling scowl. “Very thoughtful of him. Do the subaltern officers of your battalion make a practice of cavortin’ around with monkeys?”
“No, sir. But—”
“No? Did you say, no? Slocum, was the answer, No?” “Mr. Harrow replied in the negative, sir.”
“Did he? In the negative, eh? Impudent young cub. Well, sir, I take it you’ve a barrel-organ secreted about you somewhere. Let’s see the performance.”
“Negative again, eh?” The general spread his legs apart and bent his elbows, his clenched fists resting on the small of his back. “That’s all you’ve got to say for yourself.” Sir Brixton sniffed contemptuously. “Platoon commander?” he asked in a subdued voice.
“Intelligence Officer, sir.”
“Merciful heavens!” Sir Brixton looked aghast. “Intelligence—aha! I’ve got it. You’ve been receivin’ a new draft. Is that it? Speak up, sir,” roared the general.
“I brought it on orders of the adjutant, sir.”
“You what? I’ll be—Who’s your adjutant?” demanded Sir Brixton. “Slocum, who’s his adjutant?”
“Holborn, sir. Very capable man.”
“Apparently,” snorted the general. “Yes,” he turned again to Harrow, “go on, sir, go on. An’ then, what?”
“It seemed, sir, that Division wanted a baboon—”
“A ba—what?” Sir Brixton ejected a bellow. “A ba— blast your infernal impudence, sir ! A baboon? Even if we did want a baboon,” shouted the general, “d’you—look at it—d’you call this a baboon?”
“It’s a monkey, sir.”
“Is it? Is it, really? A mortkey, eh? How very fascinatin’! You tell me Division ordered a baboon; an’ yet you turn up here with a lousy little brute which you now acknowledge isn’t a baboon at all. That’s the situation, isn’t it?”
“Very well, then. Let’s examine this. Assumin’ we did ask for a baboon—I don’t say we did, you understand; I only say, s’posin’ we did—why the devil didn’t you bring
“Couldn’t find one,” snarled Harrow recklessly. “Ain’t any around.”
“Couldn’t find one. That’s the answer, eh? Did you write Selfridge’s, or Harrod’s, or even the Regent’s Park people?” badgered Sir Brixton.
“Dear me. But, of course, as Intelligence Officer, you exercised whatever claim you may have to the title by gettin’ in touch with some old-established menagerie, didn’t
“No, I didn’t do that, sir.”
J’Odd, very odd. Did it occur to you to hire a party of assassins to shoot one for you?”
Brains preserved a truculent silence. Sir Brixton was enjoying himself hugely.
“Perfectly bewilderin’,” mused the general. “I now feel quite convinced you didn’t even apply for leave to the tropics to go an’ trap one. Did you?” he snapped.
“In short, you did not exhaust all possibilities before you decided to foist this blasted thing on us.”
“I did my best, sir.”
“An’ this is the sum of your achievements?”
Harrow nodded and scowled.
“Slipshod work,” pronounced Sir Brixton. He turned from Brains with a sniff of scorn, and bending down began to examine Fernand at close quarters. He lifted the cage. "Dyin’ with the mange,” he diagnosed.
A NUMBER of things happened, but of these the most important was that the peg securing the lid dropped out, and Fernand made his dash for liberty. Perhaps in the dim recesses of his simian mind he had already associated the fierce, glowering face before him, and the throaty barks that issued from it, with some far-off terror of his jungle days. The vicious snarl of the panther, the bellow of the water-buffalo, the fearsome mocking of the hyena. Who knows? With a scream of fright he landed on Sir Brixton’s gold-braided cap. The general’s spluttering roar as he dropped the cage stimulated Fernand to quicker action. Using Sir Brixton’s ample nose as a springboard, he kicked off, and the next instant was swarming up the trunk of a
Continued on page 35
Wanted: A Baboon
Continued from page 24
stately poplar in whose shadow the whole drama had been enacted.
Like the reverberating cough of a howitzer, the general’s explosive bark, in which pain and anguish vied for supremacy with outraged dignity, halted the brisk pace of the sentry athwart the gateway. No general ever shouted in such deafening earnestness without the guard being implicated in some way. An old and a wise soldier and a man of infinite resource, he took immediate action.
“Ga-a-a-rrd. Turn Out!”
With a noisy, businesslike clatter, one sergeant, one corporal, six glistening, well appointed privates, and one bugler tumbled from a Nissen hut behind the château wall. Meticulously precise, they lined up by the gate.
Sir Brixton became apoplectic. He stamped, he raged, he swung his huntingcrop viciously above his head in impotent effort to flay the unhappy Fernand now ensconced in the topmost boughs. The sergeant of the guard, reasoning that a bit of work was expected of him. gave the command to ‘‘present arms.” The bugler sounded the “general salute.”
This was the nerve-shaking spectacle that greeted Holbom and Captain Brentwood Chelsey, staff captain brigade, when, dashing furiously from a service car that had grinded through the gateway, they rushed wild-eyed upon the scene. Under his arm Chelsey carried a long, narrow, leathern case. He had dropped in on Holbom en route to Division. One thing leading to another, something he told the adjutant caused them both to pile into the brigade flivver and break all control orders in an effort to head Harrow off. They were too late.
Their arrival synchronized with a comprehensive, lengthy and pointed diatribe
which, delivered by a purply-faced Knight Commander of the Bath, embraced all soldiers from the dawn of history. It reviewed the infantry in particular, with special bearing on its inadequacy when it was commanded by morons. A few historic references designed to cast doubt on the integrity of its origin were interlarded with brusque comments on the ancestry of the officers about him. Sir Brixton, in fact, made it clear that they gave him a pain in the neck.
Cold-blooded murder surging within him, Harrow was standing beneath the poplar, coaxingly snapping his fingers but neutralizing that blandishment by the bitter imprecations he snarled at the ill-starred Fernand. He turned to see Slocum, Chelsey, and Holbom staring silently and with rigid fortitude at the general. Brains caught Holborn’s eye. With gross deliberation he placed his thumb on his nose and, performing the operation by numbers, spread his fingers out, wiggling them with insulting energy. This moving ritual solemnized, he slid silently into the shrubbery and vanished.
“May I explain, sir,” ventured Chelsey courageously.
Sir Brixton’s hurricane showed signs of abating. It died.
“No,” he wheezed viciously. His voice was thick; he breathed heavily. There was blood in his eye. “Well, go on, sir.”
“An unfortunate error in signal transmission, sir,” began Chelsey.
“About the—well, I brought one with me, sir. A ba—”
“What!” The general’s howl sent shivers running up and down their spines. “Another baboon!”
“No, sir. No, sir. Allow me to explain.”
Bending down, Chelsey extracted from the leathern case a brand new bassoon, —'