Arthur Weston was dozing in his armchair. The Times on his lap was unopened and ignored, and the fug of pipe- and cigar-smoke permeated his brain, making his thought sluggish and slow. This state of happy relaxation was short-lived, however, murdered by a commotion raised by a voice he recognised too well, calling out his name. The other members of the Bounders’ Club harrumphed and grunted; servants were not permitted on the premises – other than those employed to bring drinks, of course.
Weston roused himself and waved the newspaper like a finishing line flag. His man, Saunders, saw it at once and made a beeline for his employer.
“Oh, there you are, sir!” he cried as he bounded across the room, leaving a trail of exasperation in his wake. “I’m sorry to protrude, sir, but I think you had better come home, sir.” There was a note of urgency beneath the servant’s characteristic Cockney bonhomie.
“What is it, man?” Weston was reluctant to leave his comfortable seat near the fireplace.
“You’ve had a visitor, sir.” Saunders tapped the side of his nose. Weston was instantly galvanised. He dashed the newspaper to the floor and tossed the remains of his brandy down his throat. He strode purposefully from the Club without bothering to collect his hat and coat from the cloakroom.
The Kensington air was dense with a fog far less pleasant than the atmosphere in the Club, but Weston had no time for anything as trivial as breathing. He climbed into the Hackney Saunders hailed for him and spat out his address. The horse maintained a brisk and steady pace through the midnight streets but Weston wished it would break into a full gallop.
He sprang from the carriage and hurtled down the stairs to the basement of his town house while Saunders paid the cabbie.
The servant found his master in the laboratory, circling the figure Saunders had gagged and bound to a chair.
“I wouldn’t get too close, sir,” Saunders advised.
The captive was unconscious, Weston saw; a homeless tramp from the gutter, lured into the basement by a trail of sweetmeats and an unlocked door.
“…on account of the pong, sir,” Saunders added redundantly; his master was already holding a handkerchief to his nose.
“There is no time to lose!” Weston’s voice was muffled. “Hand me the serum.”
Saunders placed a hefty syringe in Weston’s hand then, gingerly and with a grimace, adjusted the tramp’s lolling head so that Weston could inject luminous green liquid into a vein in the fellow’s filthy neck.
They stood back and watched and waited.
Eventually, the indigent began to stir. His eyelids flickered and opened. He scanned the room and quickly apprised himself of his situation.
“I wasn’t going to steal nothing, guvnor,” he cried. “I just wanted some place warm for the night; honest I did.”
He recoiled as the two men peered at him.
“He don’t look no different,” said the one in servant’s livery.
“How do you feel?” asked the other, a gentleman by his togs and no mistake.
“Fit as a fish,” said the tramp. “You let me go and I won’t never come back; honest I won’t.”
The gentleman and his servant backed off a little and muttered to each other.
“Hard to tell, ain’t it, sir? I mean, he was a hairy bleeder to begin with.”
“Hmm…” Weston rubbed his chin. “Let’s try a banana.”
Saunders retrieved the fruit in question from a drawer and handed it to his employer. The tramp’s eyes widened as the gentleman approached him with what he took to be a bright yellow weapon.
“Here! What you gonna do with that thing?” The tramp tried to shrink from it. “Here – ack”
His voice caught in his throat. With an agonised cry, he thrashed about in the chair. His chest expanded and his arms elongated, snapping the ropes and bursting through his clothes. His lower jaw and forehead thickened and coarse, black hair sprouted all over his body.
With a screech he snatched the banana from Weston and knocked him to the floor with one swipe of a leathery paw. He smashed his way through the door and leapt up the stairs into the street and the foggy night beyond.
Saunders helped Weston to his feet. “You did it, sir! You reversed evolution! You made a monkey out of that man. You’re going to be rich, sir! And famous! Rich and famous! You’ll be as famous as whatsisname – Mr Darwin, sir.”
But Arthur Weston could not speak. His lips curled back and he made oo-ooh noises as he scratched his armpit.
He had fallen on the syringe.