Jan was the last born of Philip Maas, and Philip Maas was the custodian of the main temple in Rotterdam. Formerly dedicated to Saint Lawrence, the huge building has maintained its Catholic name. It remains the Great Church, with an amphitheatric interior for professing grave things such as are common in Protestant churches, walls cold and unadorned under their whitewash, pews arranged in tiers. In the Groote-Kerk, guides, printed or living, wishing to show the "curiosities," describe a half-dozen marble mausoleums and the copper grille separating the nave from the choir. Forced to mention the 1,25 F entrance fee, these guides would likely fare better were they to omit mentioning ahead of time that there is nothing to see. However, this emptiness is a good reform, as, unlike in Italy or as in former times in Belgium, one avoid the triple tedium of being forced to run between several chapels, to admire one masterpiece and a couple of crusts. When the Joanne and Bædeker travel guides mistakenly fail to incite travellers to the daily use of their gullibility in favour of recommending the packing of flannels, the only result can be a daily decline in the gullibility of tourists. As the visitors, aside the lure of the tombs, the organ and the metal work, are never abundant in the Great Church, Philip Maas, the caretaker, seldom added tips to his meagre fixed income.
Now his family was large: first, his wife, then, between Adrian his eldest and Jan his last, ten other children. A thin partition divided his caretaker's quarters, in a corner recess of the aisle, into two rooms. With one alcove and a closet that could fill each of the two rooms, they could already barely fit the first child's crib; for the others, Philip had to look in the city for supplemental housing, or give up his position. He rented one of those basements that impart such a distinctive look to the cities of his country, a kind of cave from which one reached the street by way of steep steps between the foot of the house and the top of the sidewalk, and into which the daydreaming loiterer is at risk of tumbling while browsing along the shops. It was in an alley between the square and the street that housed the city's richest stores. From there, by climbing the stairs and extending their neck a bit to the left, one of the children kept watch on the caretaker's quarters, as well as he would have beside the church, near the door.
The father, as an old man, was returning to his old trade of a tailor. Nevertheless, in a basement, particularly a basement in Holland, it is altogether too dark for sewing. Not to mention that this brave little caretaker-man, always with a slight cough, was so vibrant, so nervous, so perpetually in motion, that he could not stay put a quarter of an hour without jumping up suddenly from his rest, like the little devil in a jack-in-the-box. He found employment more gainful and more to his tastes: the raising of song birds.
Compared with the many stores where birds from the islands press the ruffles of their fine multicolored striations against the support rods of their aviaries, motionless as the skylarks skewered and barded by the dozen by food purveyors'; where innumerable species of parrots chirp and perform gymnastics on the end of the fine chain that holds them, like a galley-slave, to their perch; next to the famous market in Anvers, where showmen and circuses from all over Europe supply themselves in animals of all sorts, Philip, Philip Maas of the narrow roadway to the Church, in Rotterdam, patiently developed a most deserved reputation. There were only a dozen cages, hung, on pleasant days on the bar of the rail surrounding the top step of the sunken entrance-way that led to his home, and brought in, at night or in winter, to the room downstairs. And each held but one bird of drab plumage, but which he knew how to make into an incomparable artist.
To the starlings he gave hemp seed and biscuits; to the robins, a mixture of poppy flour and chopped calves' heart. The calf's heart cost him less than a quarter florin, roughly 0,50 F per week; the poppy flour, six sous a pound, and he did not even use a pound a month. As the robins, at the time of their migration, tore out their feathers, flayed themselves, tore themselves apart trying to take flight, Philip padded the wires of their cage roofs in cotton batting, and was often forced to blind them. Good and gentle, he hesitated, disturbed at no longer seeing them shake themselves, shift their eyes and puff up their crop in anticipation when he shouted to them "Attention" when showing them their treat, a cockroach --- an insect that thrives in moist places. He was only comforted from this horrible operation by hearing them sing better later, and in selling them at a higher price.
His triumph was the common lark, the grey lark, with the dark speckling of the throat and chest, with the forked tongue, sober, retaining any music one whistled to it, quiet at night. He had some that knew the national anthems of all the countries; an Englishman, brought by the child who was on lookout at the Great Church that day, had bought one which repeated God Save the Queen like a flageolet of the queen's Scottish guard, seventy-five florins, more than 150 F. The robins learned these melodies, but with greater difficulty because of their habit of always returning to the banality of their usual serenades.
With only one child more per year, their living quarters took on the appearance of a rabbit-hutch to such an extent that Philip took advantage of the fortune he had made with the Englishman, to annex the ground floor. Thus emerging from a cave, the light of the new rooms was an endless joy to all. The birds themselves sang louder. A number of windows opened on the alley. When the fog broke up, there were summer days during which, unless one had to work, one need not light the lamps before three o'clock in the afternoon. The house was finally ready for honest and peaceful happiness. Death entered the premises.
Adrian, the eldest child, was married and living in Haarlem. The others, except the last few, were still in school, worked here and there in the city, only returning to the family domicile to eat and sleep. Nearing twenty, the youngest son fell sick, lingered awhile, then died of consumption. A daughter, the third eldest, began coughing at the same age, and followed her brother from the heavy Utrecht-velvet armchair where he himself had sat for hours under a pile of covers, to the cemetery. Then it was another daughter; she did not live much past the fatal age. Then a son. One daughter returned to the status of eldest; when the disease began, terrified, she, one dark December night, went and drowned herself in the Meuse. Her corpse was found the next day, crushed between the sides of two of the many barges tied up at the Boompjes docks. Three younger ones, taken on as ship's boys as soon as they could climb the rigging, sought in vain to escape. The sickness boarded with them, allowed them to grow, develop, to think themselves safe, to laugh and cry, even to forget, and, at the fated time took them and laid them to rest forever. Two had died in the East-Indies, at Batavia, the third on the open seas. The poor mother, the least touched went mad and was committed to an asylum. When the old custodian, long on the brink of death, finally died, there only remained the eldest and youngest sons, Adrian, thirty-seven and Jan less than a third his age, to serve as pallbearers.
The funeral over, the elder took the young by the hand and brought him home to Haarlem with him. Neither one dare look behind them.
On their way, wishing to break with their past, they opened the cage of the last skylark their father had trained. Disoriented, it perched momentarily on little Jan's finger, tottered as if inebriated with its sudden liberty, flapped its wings, rose, turned, and, tore off towards sunnier climes, beyond the horizon where the big windmills seem to grind up the fog continually --- without even a word of goodbye
Adrian's wife was older than he. Widowed, already a mother, she had made him understand the very day of their nuptials, that her late husband having been rich, and he not being so, she did not wish to have any new children who would be beneath, as she put it, their uterine sister, and consequently that they would have no children together. Dumbfounded, the young man could only mutter:
"If only you had told me earlier!"
"What for? It was time enough tonight."
"But I'll make money, I'll work..."
"I certainly hope so, I chose you for that very reason,"
Adrian had lowered his head, and never since raised it.
On the whole, Adelaide Brinckleymann was a good woman. A barmaid whom Brinckleymann had married after a country fair, and whom he had put in charge of the Brinckleymann caf‚, she had almost been forced to a quasi-avaricious stinginess. An easy-going drinker, gambler, eater and drinker, and not, like most of his race, of a cold and near-melancholic disposition, his bursts of laughter were enough to split a beer stein. As long as the party went on all night, he was always ready to put the tab he had encouraged his friends to build over the day onto his own tab, the ledger of profits and losses. With his potbelly, his widely-set jaws so well adapted to chowing-down that his cheeks seemed horizontal, and especially the crimson blush of his bloated face, Brinckleymann should have lived in the days of Franz Hals, whose wide-ranging and bold genius would have immortalised him, among the marvels of a nearby museum, in the forefront of his banquet of freebooters. The cellar was emptying without the till filling. A few more years would have brought ruin. Adelaide having brought nothing more into the marriage than her corsage and her work ethic, was constantly careworn. Nevertheless, that husband dead, dead of natural-causes, of no other sickness than a week of partying, she had set promised herself a husband who would take on all the worries, and would keep quiet as she had.
She could have found no better.
The clientele changed: the old, now fewer since they could not pay up their tabs on a regular basis, were complemented by a more profitable one of merchants and landlords. The establishment kept the name of its founder: Caf‚ Brinkleymann, but the new manager, Adrian Maas, appeared more like a servant in his own home.
The good folk, sitting side by side on the moleskin- covered benches lining the walls, enveloped in the smoke of large cigars and long clay pipes, rarely moving but to unfold a newspaper or pick up a glass, their lips speechless, their motions noiseless, resembled a row of well-oiled, silent automatons arrayed behind smoky windows. Adrian served them, often leaning against the door with his towel under his arm, glancing around but oblivious, given that he lived there, to the originality of this Haarlem landmark. The bells and the famous organ pealed out their songs in the church over to the left, but Adrian heard none of it. However, a single sharp clang struck by his wife had him scurrying to see who needed him. One of the automatons wished to pay, or was in need of oil; there was change to make, a stein to fill. Then he would return his post.
When the museum opened, a few strangers wandered past, some countrymen from adjoining provinces, Friesian whom a stray beam of sunlight would on occasion light up the forehead- strap and pendant-decorated blinders in a glitter of gold. Dogs, their tongues hanging out, followed the bakers' and herb-sellers' carts. Adelaide rang again. Adrian leaned his elbow on the marble top of the waxed oak counter behind which she sat in state. The great array of windows behind her allowed a view of a narrow courtyard with tiers of red geraniums that conferred a pinkish hue to the nape of her neck and the rims of her ears. He admired her at length: pink-complexioned, fresh, blond, chubby, bearing a vague smile, as if dozing from the rocking of her ample bosom and its endless drone. When she drew him from his reverie, her finger stretched out, her rings glistening less than her skin, pointing out a drop of spirits or the ring left by a saucer on the last table vacated by a customer, he would sigh, and wipe it down.
This love, which the wife's crabby dominance only allowed to blossom on rare occasions, Adrian's simple heart ended up reallocating in friendship upon Saskia, his predecessor's daughter. She believed him to be her father, and every time she, in chatting with her dolls, called him "dad" he would hug her and feel his life was not so bad after all. He missed her more than she he when they sent her off to school as a day- boarder. Every morning he would prepare her little lunch-basket, hiding all sorts of treats, which her mother pretended not to see, under her primers. He would see her there and pick her up again at the end of the day.
On his way back from Rotterdam, he was not without some apprehension as to how the imposing Adelaide, decidedly stingy, would welcome little Jan, now their dependant. A last hesitation was slowing his steps across the square, when Saskia, serving a doll's dinner-party on an outdoor table on the terrace, spying them out, left her games, jumped up to hang on Jan's neck, whom she then breathlessly pushed towards the counter, her hands clapping, crying out loudly: "Oh! mommy, daddy's brought a little brother."
The mother did not contradict her, smiled at the lad, and Adrian always reckoned that it was thanks to Saskia's intervention that his wife had not pouted for more than a minute.
The two children grew up together.
The part of the bench along the great array of windows was their little nook, usually empty, for the customers generally lined up near the entrance. They play acted a wedding, being husband and wife. They imitated their mother and father: Jan set the table, did the cooking, the groceries, the big jobs; Saskia sat and made tick marks on a chalkboard with the gravity of her mother tabulating accounts on the counter, losing patience with his slow progress, accusing him of being good-for-nothing, then, seeing him heavy-hearted and on the brink of tears, she would quickly give up her shrewish role, call him silly for crying over nothing, sit him in her place, fix the awkwardness brought on by her scolding, and climbed up on her knees onto the bench to hug him and force-feed him the better part of their play meal. His cheeks bloated, he hesitated between hugs and cookies, eventually passively accepting both. However, being timid and no glutton, he preferred the kisses, not daring to return to the candies.
One day, Adelaide told her daughter that it was not appropriate always be to hugging little boys. Jan moved off to the other end of the caf‚ to sulk, and Saskia, surprised, asked which boy; Jan is not a little boy as he is her brother. The mother did not answer, but that night in her room she asked her husband point-blank what kind of future he intended to provide for Jan. Was he addressing the situation, had he even considered the question? At fourteen he was no longer a child. Why continue sending him to school? Given that he is penniless would it not be better for him to learn a trade, a useful job which would allow him to be self-sufficient later? She recounted the earlier events. Without reading into these games more than was reasonable, she wished them to stop. Any minute now these children will learn that they are in no way related, their friendship can blossom into love, and their separation would then be far more painful than now.
So much foresight dumbfounded the good man.
"My poor little Jan!" he repeated, having indeed never thought of such things. These children are so happy together. Jan is still only fourteen. He congratulated himself at seeing him playing and laughing so nicely, eating and running so well. For a thought frequently torments him: it is that the others, his other brothers and sisters, died as a result of their closeted life, their wretched roach's life in a Rotterdam basement. Here, in the open air, with the care and food that were lacking there, he heartily wishes to save the last-born, the little Jan. Honey, the others, it was only in their twentieth year that the horrible sickness...and my little brother is still only. My God! how dreadful, at the least cough...
He was almost sobbing. Adelaide, even-tempered, powerfully moved, comforted him, multiplied her words of support in her good-times voice. He is not thinking. He cannot see clearly! He has daguerreotype of the poor brothers and sisters of which he speaks. Well, all are good looking, drawing it from their father --- Philip Maas their father --- dead of a weak chest. Adrian, meanwhile, has survived and his young brother, Jan, will live because they take from their mother, still alive, if off her head. You need only compare, look at yourself, then look at Jan. Look, look, my big puppy-dog, do you not both share the same nose, mother Maas' nose? See for yourself.
Adrian checked. A teardrop was hanging from the inner crease of his left eye. In squishing it to dry it under the pad of his thumb, he felt his nose, verified his wife's assertion, and went into the room next door, where Jan slept and from whence he thought he had heard a groan. Yes, the sleeping child also clearly showed, his face sunken in the white of the pillowcase, their mother's nose, long, round and pendulous at the tip, the colour of unripe prunes.
Jan was not sleeping, had listened and had indeed moaned plaintively. He kept quiet, pretended to be sleeping when Adrian came in, but alone again in the darkness, he opened his eyes and burrowed under his covers to cry at his leisure. So, he had been mistakened until now, Saskia was not his sister. The lie exposed tore him apart. They would send him away. He recalled the need, expressed by Adelaide, for a quick separation, and what was no less heart-wrenching, what she had said about his resembling his brother. He feared being ugly, of making Saskia laugh at him. Remembering, finally, the remainder of the conversation, he understood, without trying to figure out why, that his nose, which he already imagined flushed red in response to Saskia's malice, was, on the other hand a kind of guarantee of good health. He fell back to sleep, bewildered and not knowing whether to rejoice or lament.
Keeping all he had heard that night to himself, Jan unknowingly took on the habit of scratching his nostrils. The frequency of this gesture surprised Saskia, who teasingly asked why he always looked like a preening cat. He shut himself up in silence, kept to the shadows, intimidated by the least glance his way, imagining that which he most feared was occurring: that his nose was expanding and reddening by the minute. From then on he bore the humble smile and resigned sadness that were to be his forever.
They apprenticed him to a gardener. At first he would spend his evenings at home with his family, but during the winter he would often stay in a room at his employer's, a small bachelor- pad, simple and clean, at the back of the garden atop a storage- shed for the greenhouses. As the heater, the upkeep of which was his responsibility, was located in this shed, he enjoyed, on the floor above, a temperature that allowed him to spend a portion of his nights engaged in one of his favourite pursuits: the books which, little by little, filled the shelves he had built around his room. His master limited himself to jokingly chiding him when he had to call on him several times after a long night. Jan provided him, in a seemingly carefree manner, with the welcome results of a number of horticultural techniques forgotten and rediscovered in old books. The good man, guileless and honest, soon let him sleep, allowing him to work how and when he wished, telling all, with a wink of his eye, that his apprentice would go far, would bring back --- who knows? --- the Haarlem of legend, where the bulb of certain tulips sold for several thousand florins.
Saskia, having become a beautiful young woman, blond, pink-complexioned, her bosom giving, like a summer's peach, a longing for a bite, happy with the excellent reputation garnered by the one she continued to call her brother, would greet him with a bright smile, reproaching him for his infrequent visits. He was smart enough yet, he still buried himself in those terrible books. If only that would shrink my nose, Jan would answer, smiling. She told him off for bearing a grudge so long, thinking that he was referring to some childish teasing from long ago, and she insisted, to punish him, that he take her for an outing every Sunday.
When one day, at the noon hour, sitting pensive behind the cash where she was taking her mother's place, she had, after her customary greeting to him, more quickly than usual returned to her embroidery and thoughts, he had laughingly wagered with her that he could guess what she was thinking about. What an idea! She was thinking...no she was not thinking of anything, really. Bending over he whispered a name in her ear, that of Martin Heltzius, the son of a textile manufacturer, and, seeing her blush and her bosom heaving, he tenderly apologized. A few days before, Heltzius junior, for whom Jan had fagged when they were together in school, accosted him, something he never did, and feigning a cheerfulness that the jiggling of his chubby body belied, had him come to his home, offered him tea and cigars, took him to soak up the sun along the shores of the Spaarne, arm in arm as if they were inseparable. Jan, wishing to calm his fears, told him to relax, that he understood the friendly interest he bore towards his dear sister Saskia, and would happily pass on a message. Martin jumped up and hugged him around the neck in the middle of the street. He was a good boy, one of wealthiest born of the Haarlem merchant-class. Jan became the two lovers' confidant, not, however, without having assured himself, with a tactful honesty, that her mother would approve of such a marriage for Saskia.
In the middle of a flowerbed, having perused the newspaper he had just received, he returned his attention to unpotting some hyacinths, when his master, unfolding the newspaper he had tossed on a bench, asked him what number had come up in the Amsterdam Orphans' lottery. Jan had not looked. He had some tickets, but had given them to Saskia as a present. The florist insisted this was not the case, that Saskia had only accepted half the tickets, if he would keep the other half. He eventually remembered that he must indeed have, somewhere up there in the drawer of his table, among some seed packets, five extra tickets. Once he was done, he would try to remember to go and have a look.
The old fellow, less patient, wants to see right away, climbs the stairs, turns over the drawer, full of a jumble of things, moves over into the light of the open window, tickets in one hand, newspaper in the other, reads, tries to call the one he loves like a son, but can only frantically wave the ticket, held out at arms' length, choking, collapsing in joy against the casement-window. Jan rushes up to help him, compares the ticket with the newspaper, sees that to avoid any error they reprint the winning number several times throughout the paper, in letters and in numbers, and says calmly that he is lucky, for now he can buy Saskia the long-chain pocket watch she has so long wished for.
"At least go and tell your parents."
"Not the way I am, no sir"
Then, his hands black with potting soil, his sleeves pulled up, without a tie, in gardeners' boots and apron, he slowly proceeded to wash up.
Before he was even finished, his boss, who could wait to bring the story to the Brinckleymann Caf‚, or to disseminate it on the way, brought back a good part of the city with him, Adelaide and her husband in the lead. The crowd was arriving from everywhere, and two young French painters seeing all these people usually so calm, waving about wildly as they ran towards the same garden, admonished a group of Englishmen to observe the punctuality of a behaviour where all had simultaneously been taken with a bout of colic. The clapping had died down and the staircase was cracking under the press of those wishing to congratulate him. Among all those there, including the silent and intimidated winner and his crazed employer, dancing with joy, the happiest was Adrian, who wrapping his little brother up in his arms, could only speak in monosyllables. The floor of the little room was at risk of collapsing. Those who could, got in where they could. Many curiosity-seekers were still coming in, to see the newspaper in which it was printed, to see the ticket, and especially to see Jan, the winner of the jackpot, who when poor had only had friends, and now shook the many hands extended towards him and mumbled some thank-yous, overcome in the end, not by his sudden fortune, but by the emotions of others. Upon the request of those below, he had to present himself in the window frame in the image of a conqueror. The bravos rang out twice as loud in a last burst. Jan, returning to his elder brother, held out his hand to him.
"Well you know, brother, it's halfsies."
"You won't refuse me. Accept half..."
"No, it's yours, and yours alone. Not a guilder for me or my wife. We don't need anything. You, you're young."
Adelaide had pinched her husband on the elbow, but not early enough to interrupt his answer. Besides, Adrian was delighted at his own quickness, for he knew and understood that to avoid the domestic scene he now foresaw, he would now have hesitated to appear disinterestedness, however sincere it might be. He further added, in the faint hope of softening his irascible wife:
"My word, little brother, you'll be able to buy the little Saskia a lovely present."
"Ah now, you blabbermouth, we can't hear anyone but you," said Adelaide with the ghost of a smile, "Mr. Jan knows better than you what he should do."
She curtsied, then embraced and invited Jan, now Mr. Jan, my dear Mr. Jan, and went home repeating: "'Til this evening, 'til this evening," at the bottom of the stairs. Adrian followed her. Jan, delivered, went back to his cleaning up. Then, dressed, with several hours to kill, he chose a book and decided to go for a walk. The remarks, the glances, the exclamations, the questions with which each passerby assailed him, his story already spread everywhere, not to mention a group of children who stuck to him like glue, forced him towards an alley into which he entered, in order to take a shortcut. Gossips to the left and to the right, assembled and drawing close to look him over and complement him, formed two rows of ample bosoms between whose happy jiggling he had to proceed slowly and prudently, like a river-pilot entering one of those difficult canals, from which he knows he will never emerge if he unfortunately comes under the sway of the canal-bank eddies. This pass traversed, he escaped to the Brinckeylmann Caf‚. Quite another surprise awaited him there. Adelaide, turning over the cash to her husband and forbidding him to leave it, immediately dragged him off to the dining areas, and there, wham! in a stuttering declamation, the words escaping as if from a release valve behind which they were boiling, she congratulated him again, but also congratulating herself and all of them, for he could, if he so wished, forever assure the family's complete happiness...by marrying Saskia. Jan nearly fainted. She sprinkled him with cologne, and explained she. Her daughter suspected nothing as she had been visiting a school friend since breakfast. He is to tell her himself, upon her imminent return, of his newfound wealth, and she, her mother, will devote herself within the next few days to prepare her.
Jan came to attention. He thinks the girl does not love him. She grumbled that she very much like this to occur, but a single motion on his part quelled her angry outburst. He added: she loves me as a brother, not as one should love a fianc‚. Besides, it is immediately, as soon as she returns, that, without hiding anything from her, without prior coaching, her mother will ask her. Lord! as much as he adores her, and though this is the first and probably the last time that he will admit it, it is not for his own sake that he insists on this procedure. No indeed, it is for her, the dear child, who thus surprised will allow her innermost feelings to be apparent. We will see, will we not? At the very idea that he might have dreamed of her as his wife will bring her to tears; or rather, no, he swears to himself, she will burst out laughing.
Poorly concealing his uneasiness, Adelaide signalled him to be quiet: Saskia was coming in. Breathless she gave Jan a great big hug. What! was he not happier than that? Well! she, as soon as she found out, could not stay away another minute, and ran over all aflutter. To think he wanted to give her all ten tickets, today she would have been the one winning the jackpot, thirty thousand florins! Now she will go and take flowers from his lovely gardens. She no longer dared do so, since she had heard, not from him but another source that he reimbursed his employer for the bouquets she picked. Was she not a silly girl to ignore the fact that flowers were sold and are to be paid for like any other merchandise?
"Yes, everything is sold," said her mother in an oddly grave tone, as much to interrupt this pointless prattling as to confer some honest counsel. From this tone Saskia concluded that there was some important news, and she quietly listened. Then, furious that Jan was forcing her to act so quickly, but, her voice, even more deliberate, trying to hide the fury which would have given away the fears which assailed her, Adelaide, trying to bore her eyes and her thought into those of her daughter, informed her than Jan, Mr. Jan, did her the honour of asking for her hand in marriage. She should answer truthfully, frankly.
"My hand? What for? Ah!"
And suddenly, with great candour --- yes, truly! with great candour --- she burst into unquenchable laughter. She, at her age, to be taken in by such a silly story! And my dear mother lending herself to such silly games. For she was truly taken in for a moment. "Fie upon you, naughty joker!" she went on, jumping up on Jan's knees and patting his cheeks; and I who no longer allowed myself to pull pranks on him. Had she said yes! After all, he would certainly be a good husband, were they not almost brother and sister, and had they not loved one another.
Jan, interrupted her in turn, addressing himself first to Adelaide, then to her, while letting her dance on his knees as she had as a little child.
"Well then, has your gamble fallen sufficiently flat? Imagine this, Saskia, that believing you incredibly naive, she bet she could make you believe that I was asking for your hand in marriage. Thankfully, you didn't fall into her trap, for then I would have lost. I, like you, could no longer keep a straight face, and was dying to burst out laughing."
Holding it back too long, he, like Saskia, burst out laughing, even louder than her, laughing to tears.
Adelaide had run off.
"What's she so furious about, losing?" Saskia asked.
"Well, yes. Didn't you see how she slammed the door? So, what did you win?"
"Why, the jackpot, thirty thousand florins."
"I know, I know, I was talking about your bet with mom."
'I promised not to tell."
"Oh, come on, tell me right now, for I'm dying to know."
"Why...why, we bet that if I won, I would be the one to set the date for your wedding with Martin Heltzius. You'll need to get cracking on putting your trousseau together."
The young woman ran off to give her mom a great big hug.
Jan had had put aside for her, at the great jeweller's on Bartel Joris St., the watch she had long admired, and made his way towards a nearby park. Night was falling and he still walked. The street lights, the great signal-lights in the railroad station in front of him, all shone out. Remembering, he lowered his brow and stepped back into the shadows. A light this red had lit up in his mind when Adelaide had so rudely proposed to have him for her son-in-law. Had they both hoped that Saskia, knowing him to be rich, would answer yes? The mother, perhaps, but he could witness to the fact that he had never had such a reprehensible thought, but had always judged Saskia to be what she was, adorable in her ignorance of vile connivings. No, flowers are not sold; yet they are sold. Thus his love had been more than disdained, but rather ignored or unsuspected. Hurt, his pain had a strange, sweet, almost suave quality in seeing that the object of his love had not, even for an instant, done anything to forfeit the esteem he held her in the humble and pure altar of his heart. Raising his head, he returned to the city.
The day he was handed, upon simply presenting his winning ticket at the lottery offices, thirty thousand florins, more than 60,000 F, Jan, accompanied and advised by his brother, deposited them with one of his bankers in Amsterdam, where honour was as hereditary and solid as his huge fortune. Adrian, on their way back, asked him of his future plans. He said he had decided, most definitely, to be content to live off the interest, without making any attempt to build upon them. Fate brought them to him; well then, he would prove his gratitude to generous fate, by showing himself forever satisfied. This was the old family principle of a simple life. Adrian lauded his choice. Saskia and Martin Heltzius married. The nuptials over, Jan, notwithstanding his good-hearted employer's wish to leave him the gardens, the client-base and the firm's excellent reputation for half the price offered by a young business competitor, untied his florist's apron and dove into what ran the risk of becoming his only passion, books.
Having lived in Saskia's old room that faced onto the square, right in from of the statue of Laurent Coster, he bought the small house of an old French painter, who had washed up in Haarlem, and had made a living making endless copies, for the small frames of the second-hand market, of Frans Hals' masterpiece, where he groups the portraits of nineteen musketeers around their officer, along with his own in the back on the left, as if the light-hearted master by placing himself in the background, had counted on posterity, which had not failed him, to bring him to the forefront.
Jan loved the French. As a child, in Rotterdam, he sought them out in particular among the visitors to the Great- Church. Their prayers were a bit long; they were asked to pay the admission fee, they would argue about it, they would be brought before the fee written on the walls of the caretaker's quarters, and no doubt remembering Belgium, they remarked that both catholic and protestant always ended having a hand in your pocket. However, they did end up smiling and paying up faster and more generously than other foreigners.
At the Caf‚ Brinckeylmann, he had been, from the day after his arrival, a friend to the old artist who ate there; he followed him to the museum, on his walks, and to his home. The old man would set up an easel, a canvas, leaving him to break open the pencils and pierce the paint tubes, answering his questions in Dutch, in the argot of Parisian studios, and they understood one another perfectly.
He was a sketch-artist, sent over by one of Paris' illustrated dailies when the great lake was being drained, with no family, already older, with no talent, but no longer deluding himself about it. Well over any fevered ambitions or desire to engage in pointless struggles to reach the top, this stranger had grown old alone, calmly, silently, a voluntary exile not only from his country, but from life, yet nonetheless of a gay disposition. No one remembered his name, not even himself it seemed; they called him the Frenchman, and he was held in esteem, loved, greeted wherever he went. While the will left to the city's homeless shelter the little he owned, in particular the receipts from the sale of his home, a request, though not a condition, was attached. It was to hang, in some corner of the museum a painting of his he had designated, which was found in the middle of shambles of unfinished pieces. Haarlem accepted the bequest and fulfilled the request. The painting, signed with two initials, was the portrait of a woman --- apparently a Parisian woman --- before a lovely French landscape.
Jan converted a vacant lot into a garden, extended the ground floor with a greenhouse, containing, as at his former employer's, a circulating hot water heater. A spiral staircase led to the floor above, where two rooms, one long and narrow, where he slept, and another, the artist's studio which he converted into an office, constituted his true residence. He continued to take his meals at his brother's. His home being behind the railroad, in a wedge of land between the river and the canal beltway, he would, at the same time every day, with the short steps of a small landowner, saunter down the shores of the Spaarme to the street facing the square, and then return the same way.
The regularity of his passage cheered up the river folk. Besides these self-imposed outings, he rarely wandered outside his neighbourhood, but remained in the lovely park set above the early fortifications, hand behind his back or holding a book, daydreaming, muttering to himself. If one tried to accost him, he would evade one, if one insisted, he would rudely break away and take refuge at home. Given his new state one might have accused him of being prideful, but this did not occur to anyone, as he was too well known.
He would receive books from everywhere, Germany, France; he neglected his garden and greenhouse; his light remained lit until dawn, the glow from the bay-window in his office remaining almost all night, shaded from time to time when he moved about, by the great shadow of his silhouette. In former times one might have thought him a sorcerer or an alchemist, but today the good folk whose greetings he barely and only absent- mindedly acknowledged, would, behind his back, tap their foreheads with a finger, in the universal sign of a mind gone astray.
His visits to Saskia upon her giving birth tore him somewhat from his stay-at-home ways. Mrs. Martin Heltzius, tied to her business, was forced to place her child with a wet-nurse. The store returned to its former routine, and Jan's visits returned to their former infrequency. At the dinner table he answered so queerly that his brother and sister-in-law stopped speaking to him. Finally, when an Amsterdam newspaper commented upon the baroque lucubration he had just published, there were no doubts left: clearly, he was mad.
He was devoting himself to natural history.
Had he limited himself to those descriptive domains, such as exist in botany, requiring little more than memorization, underpinned by themselves alone, being immediately accessible to all, he could have acquired some hard and fast knowledge, something whereby his long nights would have contributed important new information to the field of taxonomy. Unfortunately, he had quickly been captured by those generalisations, whose careful laying out was the purview of great minds, but of which vague projects penciled in the margins of science were more closely associated with an entire class of harmless, powerless cranks. Jan was certainly among these, thrusting blindly between two well-established pillars of knowledge to emerge somewhere in a morass, off the beaten path, a path which he had at one time trod. Losing themselves all the more, that, their backs are to the goal, they press forward, simple-minded folk, crushed by doubt, incapable of being content with mere theoretical estimates arrived at through pure reason. Such an agenda for duly witnessed certainty, for something henceforth undeniable, does not bother them, for its discovery exalts the seeker and provides him with the ecstasy of certainty, which once tasted, render him insensible to all other pleasures. Their imagination, neither powerful nor expansive is instead smoky, scattered, foggy. Capable only of dreaming, yet not poets, they cannot supply their own materials, but must find them in an arithmetic text, never seeing in science, but what is not there. Naysayers or believers, the seekers of the absolute are recruited among them. They require vast quantities of money and conceit for them to be dangerous, and their attributes being generally contrary to their temperament, the majority, like Jan, remain harmless creatures, innocuous reformers of humanity and healers of its woes: poverty, war, prostitution, vivisection. Their books deal with everything, and besides run the gamut from the sun to the moon, supporting scripture upon Mesmer's teachings, and true geniuses upon such innocents as themselves. While in medi‘val times they had their chance to write, on occasion some modern scholar will dig up one of these "Summas," and not wishing to admit to the pointlessness of having exhumed it, they will demonstrate, with footnotes, commentary, prefaces and afterwords, that the author was one of those great forgotten geniuses, who in an age of darkness illuminated the glittering achievements of the future. All this was child's play, as everything can be predicted, mothers and doctors assert, from the babbles of a child or from hallucinatory ramblings.
Jan had named his book: H‘mo, drawn from the Greek word "blood." H‘mo was the name with which he baptised the new-blooded man, the renewed-man generated by his method. The Adam of old was subject to Nature, to the world, but the world would be subject to H‘mo. An explanation of the world was then indispensable, for man must know what he must tame, so Jan established immediately and completely his cosmogony.
God, the Divine Spirit exists throughout eternity. No one, not even Moses in the Hebrew Genesis, had ever stated --- as Voltaire had correctly pointed out --- that anything was made from nothing, or that the Divine Spirit is literally the Wind stirring the Waters. In criss-crossing it, these wind-driven currents filled the universe. At every crossing point, a gas burst forth --- oxygen --- forever bearing the creative spark, inseparable from God, and whose different manners of condensing led to all the celestial bodies in the universe. The universe is thus God incarnate in all things through his breath; the universe is the Spirit and the Spirit is God; whence arises that mystery which greater number of religions admit to, from the Hindu Trimouty to the Christian Trinity: God the father, creator; his breath, the Holy Spirit; and the universe, starting with man, his creation, his creature, his son. The divine breath which is in everything, which is everything, the overall single causative agent, of which matter and its multiple phenomena --- life, sound, light, heat, magnetism --- are but its objective manifestations, which current science has proven that these supposedly different processes are different forms of motion. This principle which is cause and effect, matter and energy, body and action, creation and creator, universe and God, is electricity. Jan then broached the subjects of transcendental anatomy and physiology, comparing the small blueish veins on a young woman's brow to the Milky Way, tiny veins on the brow of God, tumbling along suns like blood cells. The human brain is a gathering of stars, a nebula link to a central sun: the soul. The soul, as everything else in the universe is an electrically charged fluid. Adam and Eve's sin was to have usurped God's role in mixing their fluids; they created, but in by lessening themselves. Every man is the result of a such a reduction in two prior beings, those which have created him, and this loss constitutes original sin. Man and woman, brought together, burn in a supreme collision, sparking love at the sacred moment when the melted portion of their two fluids breaks away as a soul of its own. This man and this woman, if they love each other without reproducing themselves, thus lose part of their electricity, diminishing God by the entire quantity of divinity that they have not passed on to a child. It is the crime perpetrated by Onan and recommended by Malthus, the crime of nations that shall perish. And Jan, rising to heady moral speculations, invoked the God within him to purify his lips from vulgar words and maintain chaste his overheated thoughts. Perhaps here, the image of Saskia had arisen in his memories. Anyway, this invocation completed his work. Admitting with a scrupulous honesty his need to undertake further studies, the author begged his philosopher colleagues to wait for the complete exposition of his conclusions, in order to judge the system at once, as a whole. The cornerstones are set, the world explained, man as he is, understood. The true Hæmo, man as he must be, would be the topic of the second volume.
The philosophers waited.
His humble horticultural work abandoned, Jan tossed out the rarest flowers from his beds to bury maceration vats. Cow and horse heads, entire carcasses of dogs, rabbits, and birds, picked up here and there, were thrown in. The vats exhaled a charnel stench over the ramparts. The neighbours complained. He apologized, and emptied the vats, too early, into the greenhouse. Needing to tear off the greening flesh, to scrape the tendons and ligaments from the still fatty bones, his hands in the rotting matter, his nose hovering over plates in anatomy texts, he was prone to continuous bouts of nausea whose retching clouded over his eyes. Threatened finally, because of the reek pervading his clothing and entire body, of being refused a place at Adeliade's table, he buried the bones and with them his project to mount himself a collection of them. Upon the counsel of his doctor, he went to see a naturalist in Antwerp very skilful in preparing skeletons.
While he did not find what he wanted, for the naturalist only undertook custom work --- he discovered something better. The famous wild animal fair was in town. He went wandering through. Around the auction block, the avenues were lined with the sheds, tents and caravans of the menagerie owners, come to renew or complete their personnel, before winding their way through Europe. All the curses of Babel, dominated by the "goddamns" of the great British circuses, coalesced into a single argument startlingly accompanied by all of the creatures' voices, from the ill-tempered gibberish of the parrots to the roars of the wild beasts. The ebony gavel's short sharp strikes seemed to fracture and split apart the enormous mass of noise into thousands of smaller echoes, whose last vibrations fell into silence. A huge African elephant, brought out unfettered, shifted heavily a back resembling granite rounded and scored by diluvial pebbles, its motionless eyes seemingly maintaining over the crowd it dwarfed, the soft pensive gaze of a patriarch who has seen the worst and overcome it. At the door of the Zoological Gardens, where the parade of buyers and their purchases did not end, was the exit, far from Ararat, of a new Noah's Ark. Jan after mature consideration brought back a cockatoo and some monkeys: living forms of nature, no longer the dead remains which narrow minds of no synthetic capacity continue to manipulate.
The cockatoo belongs to the small Philippine species, with a white body, wings and tail, and a red crest. Attaching him to a bronze perch by way of a silvery chain around his leg, Jan did not bother with him, except to maintain a supply of seeds and water. His studious contemplations were immediately taken up by the monkeys.
He had four of them, in three cages: one langur, one Alouatta howler-monkey, and two marmosets. Lining them up on a trestle between the office window and his desk, he would only take his eyes off them to flip through stories about them in travelogues, where nothing would surprise him, his imagination far outstripping the most bizarre descriptions. The squirrel-like marmosets, agile and restless, perched on the crossbars at the top of the cage, their tail, longer than their body, twisted around their neck like a woman's boa, were of little interest to him, even often annoyed him with their high-pitched squalling when they argued over a sowbug or a spider, But the langur, old and morose, crouching with his feet in his hands, his black, hooded face and stiff dirty-white beard lowered, closed his eyes as if remembering the splendour of the Brahman temples where he had leapt about free and venerated. His dreaming took him to the land of the huge Buddhas, of the sun splitting the bark of the guava trees, beneath which the fakirs let the nails of their clenched fists grow through their flesh for fifty years. The Alouatta, while rather sick, huddled in a corner like the langur, silent, almost inert, the goitrous sac of his laryngeal pouch hanging loosely, thought he heard the frightening cries with which these monkeys nightly terrify the American forests.
Reading those works of popular science where good folk tire themselves out debunking ideas which scientists have never themselves had, he threw himself into tearing down the latter and coming to the rescue of the former, easily addressing, here as elsewhere, the toughest questions. He, who placed oysters with fish and eels with snakes, would then, with an ineffable degree of ignorance, make categorical statements regarding the field of heredity and the hypotheses of the fixity of species and evolution. Thus, would he say, do alleged scholars place monkeys amongst their ancestors? This vile creature, which spends its days delousing itself in front of me would be among my ancestors! Bah! to the answer so often cited from the French naturalist Edouard ClaparŠde, who assured a bishop that he would rather be an improved monkey than a degenerate Adam. Such opinions struck Jan as insulting, and he mulled over them continuously.
Worse off yet, one night, as he was just about to blow out the light, he discovered a chapter in a zoology text that described the great cynocephalic apes as having a sexual interest in Black women. He was haunted with nightmares. In the middle of the night he woke, terrified, feeling --- feeling in an indubitable manner --- the bastard born of such an unholy alliance tugging on his hair, puckering up to kiss him like a human would, while strangling him with a triple wrapping of its long prehensile tail. Wishing to wipe a sweat born of fear from his brow, he met with a furry hand and almost fainted. It was one of the marmosets, which had managed to spread apart the arched wires of their aviary-like cage. They had taken refuge in the warmest part of the room, Jan finding them curled up under the corners of his pillow. He let them stay, petted them, laughed at his fears, but nonetheless dared not go back to sleep, but rather began to smoke.
Saskia's son, a great big child, now five months old, was out to nurse some leagues away, near a small fishing village served, during the bathing season which was now just beginning, by a number of train lines from the city. He decided to go and give it a hug, and the better to stretch his legs and refresh his mind, he left on foot in the wee hours of the morning.
The beach rising in a series of imperceptible undulations formed at its top a first hog-backed dune followed by a much steeper one. Built against the second, a score of homes made up the hamlet. Built all askew , miserable, sinking, cracked, their ends almost spanning the narrow vale, their doors consequently only on the sides, these homes seemed to have slid down from the top of the slopes, settled there, resigned to their fate, and already half buried beneath the sands that surrounded them. There are a few gardens plots sheltered between a home and the black limbs of a dried up Tamarix hedge, where onions and lettuce grow thinly and do not thrive, even with constant watering. Even the most rustic of plants cannot take root in this shifting aridity. When the great winds powder the flat roofs, were it not for the thin wisps of smoke that, in the rapidly quelled air quickly resettling into a heavy inert layer within the funnel-like vale, rise straight up, as if a motionless column, to swell, waver and dissipate at the elevation where the breezes blow, one might think each house to be a gigantic mole- hill rising from the ground.
The men, all fishermen, spend their days outside this hole, on the sea, where their hard, rough work stretches their lungs. The children, if they manage to get out of the cradle, climb on all fours to the crest of the slope, then they too run down the seaward side, in the salubrious air that allows their growth. But the women and the elderly, remaining indoors, their eyesight eroded by the glittering reflection of the sun on the white sand, drag themselves about with withered limbs, worn out with an‘mia, their chests shaken by endless bouts of coughing, the sand insinuating itself into the narrowest ramifications of their bronchi and choking them, as it does those of sandstone miners, whose watches, notwithstanding boxes double-stuffed with cotton and suet, constantly stop.
The families succeed one another in lesser and lesser numbers, though the mothers spew babies from their flaccid bellies like doe-rabbits their litters, and that no adults ever permanently leave this miserable hovel, all permeated by a strange love of the land which depresses, makes them languish and even die under more favourable climates. In this they resemble the Inuit taken from the cold, the hunger and the stark bareness of the Pole, or a colony of madrepores taken from the reef it was born on. The good season is horribly stifling, without a breath of fresh air; the winter one long night under a low cloud ceiling. The only resource, the sea, is close, but miserly with its bounty, always difficult, too frequently in a fury. Calmly it beats against the dune, at ebb-tide like a great howling pack, at high-tide the barkers smelling carnage and throwing themselves in angry but futile assaults; during storms, men fear the creatures' victory, the dune at risk of collapsing, a great rumble rolling over their heads, combined with the chaos of the skies from which the great off-shore birds, lost and injured, drop.
A few hundred metres away, visible from the vale's wasteland, whose dismal aspect it increases by its startling contrast, a green paradise, enclosed in flagstone walls and a quickset hedge spreads across a hillside which is nothing more than the end of the abundant pastures of the mainland. The trees are, under the influence of the sea-winds, gnarled on the crest and twisted and bare towards the flats, becoming, as they penetrate further and further into the vale, smoother and thinner, their foliage in softly rustling tufts. Long ago, the homes arranged there formed a leper-colony; nowadays vegetable growers live there in the quiet routine of a simple and profitable existence. They have cattle, pigs, bees, vegetables, fruit, and the rabbits expand their warrens and multiply in this nacient dune whose soil has become resistant, yet easy to till.
They have, among other things, managed to transform the bottom of the valley, where there converges as in a concave mirror the least ray of sunlight, into a true natural greenhouse, and the hiker on the high trails, leaning over the gulf carpeted in vegetation like an oversized bowl, is intoxicated by all his senses with warm breaths, delicately blending colours, and suave aromas.
It goes without saying that as good neighbours the fishermen and farmers are close enemies. The adults content, in their rare meetings to glare suspiciously and mutter curses under their breath; the children, more up front, disdain the appearance of a false peace. On the shore, their games are separate; frequent fights tear the clean clothes of little gardeners, finish tattering those of the little cabin-boys, flattens the noses and blacken the eyes of both. Lucky are they when the parents, drawn by their cries or the tales of the beaten, do not take things into their own hands for one side or the other, and finish the fight between themselves, with more serious cuffs.
Enmity had long reigned, but a serious incident broke the camel's back. The women took in nursing infants, the farmers to increase their prosperity, the fishermen from below to lessen their misery. The former asked for more pay and never bargained; the lovely location of their bright little homes, and their placid and gay disposition providing them a good reputation. Their work at hand, near the hedges, under the shade of the trees, they helped their spouses, wandered about the vegetable beds in the garden, without ceasing from keeping an eye on the sleepers in the cradles, so as to be able to rush over at the slightest call from the charming and avid lips. The caring, patience and genuine mothering of one, saved, kept alive a rachitic premature birth, not deemed viable by the obstetrician. Its body wrinkled and with the appearance of being macerated, looking, amidst the lacy frills, like a museum fotus specimen drawn from its vat of alcohol, had become the wildest little demon, laughing, rolling and splashing about in the puddles along the shoreline. The father, a rich textile-manufacturer, was ecstatic. No ingrate, he showered the good woman with gifts which, should she have wanted to, would have allowed her to wait out her old age in well deserved retirement. Furthermore, he took steps to see that she receive a large sized gold medal from the Haarlem Medical Board.
The honour of this deserved reward was reflected on her companions, the tenderest upper class woman of the city giving birth to a poor weak little creature, preferred, notwithstanding their distance away, to have it raised by the farmers' wives, than by the best wet-nurse she might have had at home. They were hotly contested, hired eight months in advance. It became fashionable to put new-borns in their hands, even the healthiest of them. Stout-hearted, they knew, while remaining worthy of the fad, how to profit by it; always suckling they demanded after each weaning, more love from their husbands, and more money from their customers.
Their competitors, the fisherman's wives, vexed at not being able to present such credentials, thought of taking on more than one at once. They kept the prices where they were, but took on two infants; some even tried to have three at once. Of course, they were not able to keep them satisfied, and also bottle fed them. It is quicker to fill than a woman's breast and the milk is just as good they would affirm; it is better, they should have said, should they have wished to talk of that which the poor little creatures left with them were forced to draw, drop by drop, from their withered breasts. Soon their trade became rather shady. Factory workers, serving wenches at country fairs, homeless itinerants now stuffed themselves with men, fearless of any consequences, ran off to rendez-vous without fear of what had at one time held them back a little, coming back with four ears rather than two. They quietly gave birth , brought their bastards to the fisherman's wives, paid three months in advance at a set price, and need not add a word to be relieved of any future worries. Within the first fortnight the child was tossed in a corner, given a bottle never rinsed out and almost always with air at the nipple. Retting and stinking in its diaper, it soon looked upon this world with distrust, seemingly knowing that the best thing to do was leave it, and simply died. The courts, with their habit of sticking their noses where there is a bad smell, soon managed to nose out these more than once reported charnel-houses of the innocents. The investigation was simple, the evidence was abundant. The most capable of these angel-makers was imprisoned, and all were condemned to end their activities.
Their ancient jealousy toward the farmer's wives grew even more inflamed. They refused the free vegetables which these women, unselfish as are common folk with their prosperity offered them quite frequently. This help admittedly consisted of cabbage stumps, scraps of food, and useless morsels, for the farmers' wives combines frugality with charity.
It was then that the sickness which declared itself among the children changed the jealousy to hatred. The farmers thought that their children had contracted it from the fishermen's children, dirty, atrophied by a slow hunger; the sickness from below, they called it. The sickness from above, clamoured the fishermen's wives, who, on this occasion were right.
The affliction, very insidious, began with a light spotting on the chest and especially on the arms. Pink, only skin deep, hardly visible prior to rubbing, the one washing the first infant stricken accused herself of having made them appear washing down the child too vigorously and using rough towels. They are so tender, these little lettuce-hearts, she wrote the mother, telling her of a simple effervescence of the blood caused no doubt by the summer heat.
The mother, an actress from Amsterdam playing at the Kuursal in Ostende for the holidays, received the letter at the very moment she was locking up her suitcases. Even though she had left quickly, she stopped off to visit her son, surprised by the redness which would disappear only to reappear under the softest sponge. She recommended calling the doctor if things got worse, and made her way back to the railroad, the call of her blood relieved by the five minutes she had devoted to family matters. Until the end of the season she gave herself entirely to her art. An impassioned fan taking her away to Italy, she contented herself with sending off a six-month's advance, and warning them that she would come by as soon as she returned, probably the next spring.
At the same time she found aphthae in the child's mouth, she found others on her breasts. She believed them to be fissures as she had once had before, and neither she nor the child seemingly suffering from them, she attached no importance to them. One morning when she was working some distance away, a neighbour, to quieten down the wakeful and crying little one, suckled it in her place, a common courtesy they had among themselves. The neighbour's areola also developed the same cracking, but she was not overly concerned about it. Many children thus transmitted these sores to one another , which moved from the lips, spread out, became raw, pallid, coppery.
To all, these were milk-crusts, common little sores which they greased with the forth from stews, their universal recipe. They got used to it, and only began to worry when some of the youngest, no longer able to suckle, began to waste away.
No one had yet notified the doctors. As the first to call them was liable for their travelling fee, everyone else would profit from the presence of one of them to only pay for a simple consultation. But an abundance of anonymous denunciations reached the district intendant, in which neighbours mutually accused each other of have brought scabies or tinea to the community. The district intendant referred the matter, according to the chain of command to the provincial governor. The provincial governor, after mature reflection, promised to consult the hygiene committee which he presided over.
However, it was on the eve of the elections for the Upper House. A rather unpleasant candidate threatened to win, which would have represented a horrible failure for the minister in power and his minions. The governor in particular saw his chances for advancement evaporating; so, ignoring everything else, he did his best to direct the spontaneity of the vote towards his best interests, providing the voters with good counsel from behind the scenes, in such a manner as not to provoke to their doltish suspicions. He was successful. Leaving the opposition to fulminate, with a strong understanding of modern concepts of liberty, he recognized their right to criticize. He then laid siege to his superiors, striking while the iron was still hot, boasting of his victory, obtaining the posting he deserved. And, named to that post, he left, satisfied in leaving it in the hands of his successor and best friend, upon whom the opposition critics took their revenge by contesting his qualifications and affirming him to be far inferior to his predecessor. For the new governor, taking care of the many files which were in arrears, right from the start, would go a long way towards proving his abilities and diligence.
On holidays, but anxious to get to work, the new title holder moved into his government offices a week after his holidays were over. He received and made the necessary official visits, then those of convenience, changed the office's personnel, and sent useful circulars to his representatives, asking them what improvements might be made in terms of the respective services they provided, but especially to enjoin them not to reform or modify the wise traditions heretofore enforced. Then moving on to things of lesser interest, yet nonetheless requiring a solution, he convened the hygiene commission for the next fortnight.
The committee members quickly gathered, but in insufficient numbers to form a quorum. It was proposed to reconvene in a week or so. The elected secretary complained that he was marrying off his daughter on that date, and that one should at least put it off for a fortnight. This time, however, the question entered the stage of a definite inquiry: three members were designated to lead the inquiry, a pharmacist, a veterinarian, and an engineer second-class for bridges and canals. In a touching spirit of accord, rather rare it is true, the doctors had refused to take part in this investigatory commission, putting forward as a pretext that if they went there for free, as hygienists, to a village infected by an alleged epidemic, the inhabitants would bank on being able to call upon them in this manner all the time, so that in the end the administration would have encouraged the most foolish and blame- worthy of peasant traits, avarice. Is not the primary responsibility of the sick to heal themselves?
The delegates put in a lot of work. Vegetable farmers and fishermen, men and women were questioned, and the names, addresses and professions of the infants' parents, consigned to a statistical databank. Samples were taken from every well, every piece of salted meat and fish kept in the households. The cows, and as a secondary form of animal production the goats, were first examined themselves, then the grasses in which they were pastured, then their stables, which were measured and their cubic feet of volume determined. They were then each milked individually, and twenty vials of milk, sealed and labelled made up the rest of the samples. Plans were drawn up, the scope determined, the surveys required determined. A monument of science, of understanding and patience, a clear account shedding light on everything, of what had been done and what was left to do, of the results obtained and of those to obtain, these gentlemen's report received in the General Assembly the congratulations of the president, and unanimous praise from their colleagues.
Each one of them insisted, with noble modesty, on the items which remained to be elucidated. The pharmacist admitted that the chemical and microscopic analyses of already over a kilogram of lard and of fish which had been seized, had not revealed anything. The veterinarian, a rather wordy speaker, but a scrupulous experimenter, was feeding the suspect milk samples to small rabbits, and formally promised to persevere, though the young animals in the laboratory which he had set up, at his own expense, in the two halves of a sawn-through barrel, had not yet presented anything abnormal, except a quantity of fleas which he thought to be well above average, an observation he made in passing, reserving the right to later draw whatever conclusions from it suggest. The engineer second-class of bridges and canals presented estimates for the most urgent expenses, digs to be made to see whether drinking-water wells or fountains were receiving any infiltrations from septic systems.
Without hesitation, the council agreed upon opening a line of credit. It offered to provide its time and energies, without discussion and without asking anything for itself. Was it not desirable for the State not haggle over the necessary expenditures to continue the studies so well undertaken? But the honourable governor, who had taken on the responsibility of forwarding the request to whom it may concert, did not end up needing to do so. A wet-nurse, who might be excused of having maintained in this backwater town some of the common folk's doubts regarding the administration's vigilance, decided to bring in a doctor who would quickly rule out the wells, the animals or the latrines. There had been much exaggeration; all it was was syphilis, indeed a contagious disease, but well known and which the honourable governor, thankful of one less worry, did not have to take care of. The sessions of the hygiene committee suspended, the pharmacist left off his analyses of the drinking water for the more remunerative task making up hydrargyrum pills and salves, and the veterinarian, not without some regrets drowned the dogs, and returned the young rabbits to their mother's warren.
At this point, eight children were contaminated; two wives, one widow, and four men: the two husbands of the two wives, and the widow's two lovers.
The families of the uninfected infants were ordered to take them back. Alas! the little Heltzius has shown symptoms the day before. Jan, whose visit, after a night of insomnia, had occurred right after the doctor's had been the first to bring back the deplorable news. And Saskia took to crying from morning 'til night, frightened by all that was withheld from her, that one whispered in each others' ears, and especially by the prudent interdiction made to her against bringing her child home, or even to go and cuddle it.
The disease, now that it had been diagnosed and fought with all the means that could be put into practice, and that specific recommendations limited its ravages to the fifteen people already stricken, seemed to hurry to do the most damage possible to its victims. In some odd injustice, the actress' kid who had brought it to the community seemed to have gotten over it. It also remained benign in the well-fed and well tended children of the farmers, as well as Saskia's which had little more than an inflammation of the throat. It incubated slowly in the humans. But it progressed unchecked in the weak flesh of the fisherman's rough brats; their eyelids and nostrils were stuck together, pale, ichorous; their joints knotted; their cracked lips receding, pursed like the opening of a tightly tied draw- string bag, tearing when the pill was pushed between them; on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet blisters grew, burst, and emptied of their fetid sanious fluid, joined their irregular edges in a large purplish sore.
Jan did not wait for Saskia to plead with him before going for further news. Sometimes with Martin Heltzius, but more frequently alone, he arrived on foot, handing out alms and pity. The fishermen who at first ran from him with the wariness of the poor, now invited him to relax for a moment. One afternoon, he took shelter in one woman's house during a violent summer storm. Black as ink, the low cloud cover seemed to have captured a strange light which did not emanating from any distinct sun, and which insinuated itself into the darkest recesses, attenuated and even erased the distinction between objects and their shadows, bathing everything in an uncertain, static, dead pallor. Most of the women, before going down to the beach, where they walked about anxiously, listening, watching the waves, trying to discover behind the great swell which the North Sea sent to crash at their feet, their men and elders' vessels, had collected the sick little ones in the same hovel as Jan was in. The convalescents slept; one, almost a corpse, showed no movement of the chest; the face of another whom the virus had bloated with confluent tumours, look as though the pustules of a toad were crawling over his face; and all were breathing and droning with such monotony as to render Jan sleepy, and make him dream of, on this doleful day, to the cruel limbo into which innocent new- borns expiate some heinous sin of their father's.
The sky having cleared up, the fisherman's wife whom he thanked, climbed with him the switch-backed trail he took over the dunes to take a breath of fresh air and view from a greater height the horizon over the sea, where she too had her man. Before the farmers, comparing their homes on the fertile lands to her hovel in a bare sand pit, she spat out spitefully:
"Oh! those monsters, to think they are the ones that poisoned us all. They accuse the infants of having brought to the beach the rot of the cities. Who knows? These soils which only they dare cultivate are indeed rich, but rich with corpses, those having formerly belonged in the leper colony. Traitors, they allowed the old boats which had fed their ancestors to fall into disrepair, for their cowardly mole's life sheltered from the storms. By stirring up the burial grounds and sowing their filthy wheat, have they not brought forth into the air the germs of pestilence which were buried there? Horrors! the white bread of their harvests, which they showed us from afar to taunt us, they ate leprosy and the pox with it."
Jan calmed her down with a little money and sent her on her way.
He found Saskia's son to have already regained, thanks to the efficacy of the treatment, his initial vivacity and good humour. The doctor allowed the wet nurse to bring him back permanently to Haarlem, and for the mother to smother him in kisses. But Jan always feared a relapse. He read medical texts, and as the ignorant do not realize that the authors are forced to describe all the cases, emphasizing the worse and enumerating them one after another, but that any given individual may only show the least dangerous symptoms at any given phase of the disease. All their lives, long or short, he saw those children which were thought to be cured, bu tainted by the foul virus, transmitting in turn this eternal menace to their children's bone marrow. Then he remembered his big brothers and sisters, inheriting their father's consumption, this even worse disease which had killed off ten of the twelve, in their youth, in the midst of happy, healthy times.
Stung with disgust by man's fate, a peculiar pity for the sadness and rancours of life, brought him to blame life itself. What insanity is it that wishes to bring to life creatures doomed to misery, he would say, while he preserved that of a pregnant beggar-woman extending her hand to him. The listeners at the Brinckeylmann Caf‚ would sit wide-eyed at his thoughts on the subject, took up their conversation again with a wing of the eye, and a tapping of fingers on their brows.
"Poor Mr. Jan! his walks along the seaside, this summer, had chased away his bizarre thoughts, but since he's been keeping himself cloistered again, here they are again, worse than ever."
He went back to keeping strictly to himself as he had in the past, of muttering to himself as he walked along with great strides. Even his best friends, Saskia and his brother Adrian, had no conviction in their whispered voices, when they defended him from accusations of being mad.. Then, one morning, at dawn, after another one of his many sleepless nights, he got up, leaned on his elbows at his open window, and gave in to his oft-envisaged yet vague desires.
The old French painter, who had smoked so many pipes under the same roof, came to mind without him knowing why. The exile had seen the seas outside Haarlem, upon the horizon which he, today, under the lingering fog little by little drawn away by the sun, saw the spongy soil of the polders spread out in vast pastures. Everything changes, everything passes, thought Jan, except those great men whose name, on occasion, survives even their works.
That morning, the neighbours and passers-by found him finally settled down. He walked calmly, singing to himself, hands in his pockets, no longer waving about madly like a free-whirling windmill. Truth was that after months of experiments by trial and error and further studies, his small obsession had led his visionary's mind, bubbling with ideas, to set a goal for him: he was going to work at regenerating the human race.
He distributed among his parents and friends his parrot and his monkeys, this giving up of the menagerie convincing many he had regained his sanity. His books, atlases, and tools of all sorts, packed in crates, were secretly taken to the railroad station. He told his brother he was taking a trip to Belgium, but quickly left Brussels for Paris, and Paris for Marseilles, from where he wrote to Adrian and Saskia, not to wait for him for another year, for, given that he was already so close to Algeria, he had decided to visit it. His collection of books, atlases and equipment complete, under the cover of a humble protestant missionary he took ship for the Pillars of Hercules, Guinea, Gabon and the unknown.
The cabin, very large and round, has a wall built of woven bamboo and bark, whose fissures are filled with a coating of clay, and for a roof a solid conical structure of narrow, thick planks five to six metres long, which support palm leaves sown together with straps made from lianas. The hinges and lock on the woven-reed-door are made with knots of similar lianas, and the whole place is painted with white-wash. Matting covers a portion of the floor; the fireplace is in the middle on some stones, and it's smoke rises freely through an opening left in the top of the roof. The table is made from slabs of slate nailed to three posts driven into the soil, and bears some coarse pottery and some books. Chests, stools, pitchers, mats, pineapple fibre nets, kindling and logs for the fire are strewn on the ground; animal pelts, fish, clusters of fruit, bananas, grapes, cobs of corn, and yaw tubers are drying on the wall, amongst a number of weapons hanging from water-buffalo horns; hung so as to dangle in the smoke are legs and shoulders of antelope and boar, turning under the radiating heat.
The fire no longer burns, but the heated atmosphere and a heap of warm coals indicates that it had been burning for a long time. No light, other than the red coals and the reflections they made here and there on various objects: gun barrels, tool blades, and the curved surfaces of a glazed jar.
A man in tattered clothing, chest, legs and arms bare, crouched near the fire, elbows on knees, face held in his hands. From time to time he rose and on his tip-toes crossed over to a place where darkness accumulated, bent over a low, wide cot built of rushes, leaves, grass and pelts. At his approach, a moan came from the darkness; he arranges and carefully spreads the covers as if for someone sick, whispers a few soft, calming words and returns to his place, no longer hearing --- the moans having ended --- anything but the irregular, halting, rough and sometimes wheezy breathing of the poor creature, his mate, whom even in sleep seems a martyr.
He lights upon the revived fire a hemp wick soaking in a bowl of oil, draws a stool close to him and leans a large octavo volume on it. The light flickers in the column of air drawn up by the chimney's opening, but provides sufficient light. It is indeed Jan Maas, little changed; still Jan Maas the meek baby-faced dreamer from the land of tulips, except that he is clothed in rags, that his nose is more prominent between his thin tanned cheeks, and that his eyes, deep and sparkling, indicate a fever. And always, as was the case when he attended lectures, his mind wandered in spite of himself, while his finger flipped through the pages.
The book is a treatise on child birth. Among the medical illustrations which follow one another under his absent- minded thumb, one strikes his attention. Representing the methodology for undertaking one of the most difficult manipulations with the forceps, it appears abominable, and his gaze troubled by a brighter flicker of the fire, believes it to be spotted with blood. He blows out his light as if he hopes it would also put out his fear, pushed away the book, and slipped back into the shadows. "My God, let's hope this case is not the same. Let's wait...I've seen so many already!" he sighed, drawn by these words to review his past.
The long crossing, his arrival at the French mission in the Bay of Gabon, going up the river, the joys and fears, the wild beasts, savages worse than the beasts, fevers worse than the savages, numerous dangers besides that of being eaten by a tribe of Pahouins who had kept him fattened --- all these things, though they had lasted months and months, were of so little importance to Jan, that they floated about his mind in an indistinct fog. Adventures whose true yet brief description would have been enough to cover ten explorers with glory were forgotten before the motives he had to undertake them. A walking, talking mummy, he has walked amongst the most fearsome and spectacular of what central Africa has to offer, his eyes turned inward, hypnotised by the intensity of this internal contemplation. Nothing having taken hold of his mind outside those facts or thoughts directly linked to his goal, his memories began with first encounter with the great apes in their free state.
Having become the pampered guest of the Pahouins who were preparing to devour him, when he had administered large doses of quinine to their sick chief and saved him from a malignant fever, and himself by a singular cause and effect, from being impaled and roasted, he joined a few of their warriors in beating out antelopes. A very young girl, an intrepid huntress, followed them. Having remained behind, to admire her already chubby nakedness in a fountain --- attention to style, following findings which Jan thought to be new, existing in all latitudes --- they suddenly heard her cry out for help. A gorilla was kidnapping her, a huge male holding her by the waist in one of his arms. In his attempt to escape, half-erect, he compensated for the extra breadth of her hips, by using his second hand; with the top of his bent-over phalanges he supported himself against the soil. The young Pahouin's fianc‚, boldly running after the kidnapper, struck him from a distance with a poisoned arrow. Sensing himself injured, the d'ginna, such was the name the other hunters were shouting, stopped, softly put her down in the grass and began to rape her, disdainful of the menacing screamers which leapt after him, driven mad by an overbearing desire to satisfy his lust, before he died. To drag him from the body of his victim, they had had to finish him off with spears and clubs. Thrown onto his back, the herculean grasp of his arms had relaxed. His lips, in spite of having receded over his canines, seemed rather to flutter for a kiss than to tense for a bite, and his look, rather than the cruel expression which ought to have been imparted upon them by his bloody death, maintained a the fluid languor of ecstasy. The young Pahouin girl, with the annoyed gesture with which a European woman flounces her dress, slapped around her kidneys to erase the grass marks, and smiled. On the way back, under her breath, he told Jan that she had not been very afraid, the hairy men of the woods never hurt women; and Jan, still studying their manners, asked why then had she cried out for help. She answered that had she not, considered tainted for seven weeks, her marriage into the tribe would have had to been delayed.
He thanked God, for thus had he unravelled the tangled mess which his numerous predecessors had accumulated: differing observations, simple exaggerations or legends collected among the natives. He guessed that in the attending chaos the office-bound naturalists admit or reject certain facts, according to whether they find that they support current theories or not. He is struck by the weakness of other peoples' frequent accusations of the French being weak-minded; is it not instead among them, that so many scientists, when they present the results of their most conscientious studies, always fear offending religious sensibilities? Is it not among them that many, to avoid taking a position, join that school of dishonest cheats in which the positivists boast of their disdain for the big questions, and of ever coming to any hard and fast conclusions? Weak minds, he tells himself in an echo of sermons heard in the temple in his youth, cannot grasp that Creation, as one studies it in greater and greater detail, will manifestly reveal the Creator in his inherent justice and eternal beauty. He vows to himself not to retreat before any new truths, certain that they cannot but support his faith. It is for allowing him to so quickly elucidate the question of contact between native women and apes, that he thanks God.
He lives some two leagues from the Pahouin village, in the middle of a clearing deliberately chosen amidst the old- growth forest, the limits of which are unknown to him, except towards the village where it ended among the mangroves on the shores of the Como River.
His new friends had built his cabin in the shelter of a huge fig tree, standing there alone like some great king of the vegetation. They had cleared and planted a wide zone around it, and had offered to organize a great beating out of elephants and d'ginnas of whose terrible proximity they had warned him of, insisting rather that he abandon his project of living alone and continue to live among them. Bearing a sincere affection for him, even revering him, after the cure he had effected on Akayrawiro, their chief, as equal to the most skilled of shamans, these brave folk could not have conceived, given his refusal to eat them, that on the contrary, the proximity of the fierce apes led him to speed up the construction of his shelter. He accepted their services as carpenters and gardeners, but not as hunters, hoping to make them understand that it was not dead and not in order to tan their hides that he wanted gorillas and chimpanzees, but living, so he could educate them, help them to climb the last rung of the animal ladder, to finally raise them, not only to the level of the guileless and naive cannibals, but to his, evolutionary philosopher and fervent Lutheran.
A troop of young elephants destroyed his crops. One night when he was returning from nursing a sick man in the village, a panther lurked around him, without however attacking him. At noon, on a day of blazing sun, as, leaning against the inner wall of his cabin, he reads, he hears above him and outdoors a strange scraping, slow and heavy: a magnificent python, as large as a man's thigh in the middle, is climbing sideways up the slope of his cone-shaped roof, festooning it like a sculpture of barbaric splendour, the jewel-like scintillations of its scales barely muted by the deep shadows imposed by the fig tree. No longer being a novice tourist, Jan does as he has seen the blacks do in similar circumstances; the tail, on the edge of the roof, hangs; he grabs it with two hands, tears across the clearing pulling the snake, which thus dragged cannot coil itself, unwinding like a inert and monstrous blood-sausage, then smashes its head against a tree trunk by throwing it like a stone from a sling. To hill his larder he hunts kudus, slender antelopes with the gracefulness of a gazelle, and, with fewer regrets, the Phacochorus, frightening boars which resemble hairy hippopotami.
The rainy season arrives. The floods doubling the width of the rivers, the frequency and intensity of storms only allow for short outings and prevent any visits to the Pahouins. Tropical storms where the storm clouds crash to the ground in a wild cavalcade of leaps and sounds, and spread, even in the daytime, such a nocturnal opacity over the land, that neither the straight nor the crooked bolts of lightning can penetrate, and dissolve into huge livid flashes.
After one such storm, during which he, for forty- eight hours, had believed his uprooted home to be constantly spinning through the air, he heard plaintive human voices calling him from the edge of the forest. He goes and bursts out with happiness. Finally the gorillas have come, the long-expected and mysterious guests, of whom he had not seen a trace since the one he had seen trying to rape the native woman.
They are this time a couple, a large older male and a female appearing, with her lesser size, to be much younger. The moaning comes from her. In the fork of the tree where they are both sheltered, she has been caught by the stem a nearby tree, half-broken during the storm, but which had straightened up afterwards, pinning her wrist like a vice. The male is shaking her around the waist. Immediately, Jan, his gun thrown over his shoulder, climbs the lianas to reach their refuge. At first, the male is content to make, with one hand, the same gestures with which a man might warn away the importunate, then, seeing him continue to climb, lets go of his mate, growls, slips down onto the lower branch upon which Jan's foot is about to alight. While instinctively loading his rifle, the good Jan continues to talk to the other as if he knew Dutch, repeating that he wishes him no harm, but rather to help release his mate, and putting a tender intonation like that of an indulgent school teacher into his voice he appeases the infant's anger. Bloodshot eyes, bared teeth grinding, nostrils flared, the hair on its brow erect, the large square bulk of his pectorals rounding at every breath, the d'ginna continue to advance. Jan, to keep him at a distance, extended the rifle like a stick. In a fury it advanced, takes the barrel by the end, bites it, and, the shot going off by itself, he tumbles down, the back of his head blown off, from branch to branch, into the thick understory, with a unique quasi-human cry, whose imaginary echo, like the last gasp of a murdered man, would later, on several occasions, lead his adversary to wake up with a start.
However, the female by her uncoordinated and futile movements was exhausting herself. Her feet leaving the fork in the tree, she spun hanging freely by an arm like some ancient martyr. Jan even if he already blames himself for her death, even though he did not shoot deliberately, rids himself of his gun and approaches. She claws him in the face. He pets her, puts her back on her feet, lifts her to relieve the tension and ease the pain of her pinched muscles. All this he does with such precautions that she calms down, quiets down little by little, and her eyes follow him and seem to implore and encourage him, while, with a saw-toothed knife he widens the cracks in the tree limb with successive notches, so as not to further damage her wrist. Freed she holds on to him, wraps her good arm around his neck, and allows herself to fall to the ground, her pain such a rapid and capable tamer. Having barely reached the ground, she already cannot stand, and falls fully onto her side, her moans worsening. Jan believes her to be more severely injured than he first thought. He carefully feels her limbs, ascertaining that besides her right hand being crushed to a bloody pulp, she has a contusion on her left knee. He picks her up and takes her off like a mother would her infant.
Nothing disturbed his devotion or his patience. "How are you my little d'ginna?" he would ask her minute to minute, so baptising her individually with her generic name. D'ginna turned herself over on the bed, silent, sleepy from fatigue, refusing warm honey-flavoured herbal teas. She would like cold water, her looks and the fingers of her left hand extended toward the water jug indicating this on several occasions. He dare not give her any because of her fever. The knee was improving, the swelling going down under a simple clay compress, a treatment borrowed from the Pahouins, and she would support herself, walking without much of limp. In vain did he employ all the medical knowledge he had acquired during his voyages or in the books he constantly flipped through. The wound, in this miasmatic atmosphere, ill-suited to healing, took on more and more the aspect of bad wounds, the flesh as if bleached, the pus fotid, ragged tears, weeping and pale, ran deeply through the scattered, crusty boils. A cold turgidity, which kept the imprint of a finger, was spreading over the wrist and forearm. Jan was frightened having noticed the corpse-like odour of gangrene, which he had so often smelled among lightly injured natives who nonetheless died soon after, had decided to allow, according to the expression of an old surgeon he had known, the "boon of steel" to intervene. Until now he had hesitated. No help. One of his best knives, some boiled batting, a needle and thread were prepared; he restrained the patient in a veritable straight- jacket and amputated the arm above the elbow, in the healthy portion, where a series of tourniquets stopped the blood flow, allowing him to delay the ligature of the larger blood vessels. He need not have tied up the patient for she was so low that she barely reacted and fell, after the bandaging was complete, into a torpid sleep.
He watched over her, barely sparing himself quarter hours of sleep. The trauma-induced fever lifted, all fear of complications gone, he took off the bandage, and ascertained, to his great joy, the complete success of the operation. On the rounded stump, free of suppuration and of a magnificent purple, the folded back flaps of skin were knitting, and in the middle, the sawn off end of the humerus now only offering a bare surface to observation. The healing finished, he still continued to apply the dressing and batting to the injured area, a precaution born of tenderness and to continue to protect from any shock or abrupt change in temperature, the soft scar tissue, prone to soreness. Her appetite and strength were returning. Eating, moving about with the ill-considered precipitation of convalescents, who seemingly wish to make up for lost time, she gave herself stomach and muscular aches. He had to ration her food and playtime. She growls, even once bites his thumb, so hard he collapses in pain, stretched out on the ground. The remains of the day came in from outside through door that was ajar. She leapt towards it, sucked in noisily, then, as if dizzy from this breath of fresh air, she closed the door, came back inside on her three limbs, and stumbling on her still somewhat stiff knee and swinging her stump about, she lay down next to her saviour, put her arm across his shoulders and caressed him softly, with the motion he himself had so often cajoled her with, to calm the irritation of her fresh wounds and stop her from removing the dressings.
Awakened, he takes a few seconds to completely come to. D'ginna continues to rock him, with the monotonous and sleep- inducing hum of an unspoken canticle. She licks his hands. Not thinking, he scratches her head like one would with a young dog, he thanks her for the affection which, for the first time, she is showering him. Suddenly he sits up halfway, surprised by an unusual contact. The darkness is unfathomable. Blushing at sensing himself blushing, ashamed of his own shame, he had supposed the animals's caresses to be without motive. When these same caresses, now so precisely directed that, even chaste as he has been, he cannot but comprehend their intention, he runs outside, troubled and silent with disgust.
He quickly recovers in the coolness of the open air. Believing them once again to be the result of happenstance, or that he had a nightmare when he was passed out, he mechanically swallows a few mouthfuls of manioc and smoked meat, and prepares himself for a night of forgetfulness by stuffing a number of pipes with a Gabonese plant which is more intoxicating than tobacco, a sort of hashish-hemp whose smoke has the added property of repelling mosquitoes. D'ginna is not hungry either, and sleeps so calmly that he ends up being reassured. Obviously he was overcome with an unhealthy urge. Smiling at his alarm regarding his modesty, he goes to sleep somewhat overexcited, rolling from side to side before finding a comfortable position.
Were it empty the cabin would be no quieter.
Jan's bed consists simply of leaves and grasses swept over towards D'ginna's bed, richer by a pile of mats and dried pelts. Exhausted by the night's madness, he barely slept, when, upon the same caresses as before he felt the same excitement as before. It was no longer possible to have any doubt. He lit the lamp and dared not blow it out. D'ginna returning to her spot and leaning her shoulder against the wall of the hut, was resting as she had during her life in the wild, when she would sit with her back to the truck of a tree in the fork of a tall, strong limb. Her hands knotted under her knees, her eyes closed, she feigned sleep, but the movement of her lips thrust forward like a snout, and arranged in the familiar pout of grumpy children to whom one has refused something, belied this. Jan, walking to relieve his nervous excitement, saw her as he passed back and forth before her, batting her eyes at him in the same way the young serving girls in Haarlem, tried to goad him from his reticence, when upon festival nights he would saunter alone along the walkways of Kenau Park. Perhaps it was a trick of the light wavering under the winds of his comings and goings; for the tenth tune at least, he felt that insomnia and fatigue were abusing his senses, and he returned to his bed. D'ginna softly slipping in beside him brought him back to reality. Should he sneak off to the cold of the tall grasses? He knew too well the treacherous of such nights, when miasmas constantly emanating from the soil which accumulates, activates and incubates in centuries of organic matter, the most pernicious of viruses, slow but more pitiless killers than the wild beasts. He was staggering about, asleep on his feet. Taking refuge in his books, the usual cure for his pains and troubles, he came across the modern theories on the origins of man, theories whose complexities and apparent contradictions he had a great deal of difficulty in sorting out, his lack of a bold outlook never allowing him a sufficient understanding of the concepts of space and especially of time so important to such studies. Automatically he turned to examine the false calmness of D'ginna still leaning against the wall. Thus this creature was not his immediate ancestor, as so many frivolous minds would accuse the scientists of teaching, and which the latter appropriately concur in denying, but descended with him, like two branches of a same genetic tree, from an animal awkward in walking erect and without articulate speech. His imagination inflamed, Jan eliminated the immeasurable time passed and thought of this common ancestor, a four-legged giant, hairy and without speech, unknown and unseen since the Miocene. From one side were the great apes born, which must be those amongst the current anthropoids which would most resemble him; from the other, primitive man, still similar to him, but who would soon flake the flints of Thenay, and appropriating unto himself the sun, domesticating it for his short-term needs by discovering fire and keeping it alive in the shelter of caves. So D'ginna looked not so different from him; of an inferior but related race. His life among the Pahouins aided in him accepting this conclusion, as soon as it began to emerge as the germ of an idea in his brain. He dropped to his knees under the massive blow of a sudden idea. His arteries carried this excitement through him. Does he not bear the renown, the scientific glory of all his dreams, for which he has suffered so much? The possibility of sexual relations would it not prove an identity in nature? He got up, drew closer, and believing himself to be acting in the fullness of his free will, judging himself not to be giving int to the excitement of any vile desires, he took D'ginna, now reticent, and married her.
The next day, the experimenter's enthusiasm having waned, he believed his actions to be the result of a diabolical temptation, that he was now forever among the fallen, weeping in regret for his former candour, he ran off into the forest, avoiding the puddles of water where he could have mired himself. But the night, inciting him troubling memories worse than his remorse, he fought in vain. Insidious doubts assailed him, the monstrous sexual relationship was well consummated, and the poor Jan soon presented a rare case of a splitting of the will. In the day, he tended to the ordinary chores of a new Crusoe, more carefree than he has been in the past, remembering nothing, indifferent to the tattoo-like traces of D'ginna's howling embraces. As soon as dusk came, like poorly healed wounds of a rabid dog, which reopen and needle him to more ferocious battles, each of the former caresses seemed to spread, to become poisoned; and he would run to his mistress begging her for new ones, deeper and harsher.
He was only cured of this form of sleep-walking one morning while gardening, when he noticed his mate's pregnancy. Picking fleas from the folds of her groin, squatting in the sun, leaning back a bit, her belly in this position cast a rounded shadow so ridiculous that at first Jan refused to believe what was right before his eyes. Floored when he understood, the pact broken, the bewitchment dissipated, his memory now clear, he accepted, as a form of expiation, the reality of his adventure, and vowed he would confess to his crime with complete candour. I shall be dishonoured, he thought, but immortal; the good, ignorant, common folk will hound me from civilised countries so that my sight will not taint their women and girls, but in deference to the results that will bring them the experimental solution to the most difficult anthropological questions, the fanatics of this science, in their conscience, in their spoken teachings if not in their written works, would forgive me that which the vulgar would term my filthy bestiality.
Months went by.
The river back within its banks, the trails practicable, the Pahouins arrived to consult him regarding their sick, the number of which increased after each winter season. Still believing him capable of outperforming their shamans, and conquered besides by his goodwill, they spared him nothing, renewing his supplies of oil, honey, corn, fishing tackle, hunting snares for birds and other small game, and happy to finally see his dream of possessing a great ape fulfilled, they congratulate him in having found a pregnant female, knowing, they told him, that when they are in this state their male with defend them to their last breath. One of their javelins, with shark-like sawtooths, could not have slashed Jan's heart any worse than this complement. He hid his sudden sadness. Having accompanied them back to the banks of the Como and being alone, the thought that perhaps they were right, that D'ginna was probably already pregnant when he had killed her powerful mate, plunged him into such a cruel perplexity that he did not eat or sleep for several days.
For the simple calculation which would remove any doubt, the required elements were all missing. As eddies, chasms and cataracts conceal the direction of torrents, as admiring the marvels of the forest takes away any leisure one might have to pick out landmarks, the disgust, the regrets, the triumphs and delirium of kisses exchanged has prevented him from counting the days. He does not know when he settled in the clearing, when he met D'ginna, when their lovemaking began, at what date he noticed her pregnancy and the number of months since. Had he this information, the main element would still be missing, the gestation period of the African great apes. The best of his books, a well known medical dictionary translated into French, only indicates that they menstruate periodically, a capacity incorrectly assessed by naturalists as being limited only to human beings, and the suppression of which in the woman is a clear sign of impending motherhood. D'ginna never having shown such a flow was thus either pregnant before their intimate relations, or became so immediately after. And in this was Jan's despair, being unable, of these two mutually exclusive truths, definitely eliminate the first.
For what seemed minutes, centuries to Jan, D'ginna was bracing herself, howling out in her agonizing exertions, her mouth foaming over, her body twisted into a bow, held up from the bed by only the nape of the neck and the heels. She collapses. It was immediately clear that this was but a false respite for an animal machinery at the brink of collapse, husbanding its strength for another terrible fit, the foam between her lips continuing to escape, bloody, spuming, and localised contractions sweeping like knots across the muscle mass, leaving behind furrows of hairs erect and vibrant on the skin, as if they were on the vocal cords.
As he was leaning over her to whisper encouraging words, trying to avoid looking at her or touching her, as her fiery eyes would burn into him, and at the least contact she would throw him back with a near galvanic jolt, a cry, a thousand fold sharper than all the others, and which one might have thought to be the rending arising from the release of a soul from it bodily housing, penetrated Jan to his very bones. He had pulled her sideways, on the edge of the covers, and held her knees up and bent over her pelvis, a position he believed to be conducive to the widening of the birth canal. Sudden he felt his thighs soaked, the amniotic sac had broken. Amongst the shapeless, tepid, pale wastes which followed and wriggled at his feet, and from which wails emerged which made him mad with both joy and terror combined, Jan, abandoning the mother fallen quiet again, untangled, not without difficulty, the new born and undertook the complete removal of the placentary membranes and the ligature of the umbilical cord.
Had he there, in his arms, simply a young gorilla, or the feverishly awaited and yet unnamed first and immortal originator of a new race? A pure ape, or an ape-man? Anthropoid or anthropopithecus?
Having wiped it and covered it in old rags, specially prepared, he brought it outside, not wishing to undertake under the artificial light of his lamp the examination upon which would depend his defeat or triumph, his shame or his pride. Beneath the stars, glittering so brightly in a blue so deep that they seemed diamond encrusted water-lilies undergoing the barely perceptible rocking of an infinite sea, he pushed aside the swaddling clothes. A quick look was sufficient to confirm his glory. It was indeed a little human being, his child, his son. Kneeling and shaking, suddenly drunk with joy, his chest set back and his face beaming in exaltation, he raised his son in his two hands and held him out to each of the cardinal points, as if to have him adopted and blessed by all the sky bearing witness.
However, D'ginna woke with a long sigh of deliverance. He cleaned her bed, changed the wet, soiled grasses and pelts, rolled up in the opposite corner the refuse and dirty objects until they could be sorted, washed, kept or buried. She remained stretched out on her back; he put the little ne down beside her, and immediately saw him extend his mouth towards her breasts, take one and begin suckling on it, his cheeks bulging at each suction, his eyelids lowered like a taster entirely wrapped up in his cup, and its tiny hands, already useful, caressing the maternal bosom and pressing upon it to facilitate the flow of the savoury stream between his lips. Jan smiled, attentive to the safety in and precision of this admirable instinctive movement, and did not lay down beside the fire he wished to keep going all night, until his mate fell asleep again, exhausted but still hugging to her breast, with her single arm, the satiated infant, who nonetheless would not let go of her.
In order to stop her from going out or oven to get up, having read in an obstetrics book how much the good health of the delivered mother depended on her remaining in bed, he did not leave the cabin for several days. The provisions were abundant. Thankfully so, because the wet-nurse, without choice foods, would have been unable to satisfy the glutton whose ravenous hunger was a constant torment. He did profit by it, for he rapidly grew physically stronger, and was soon capable of hanging from his parents' necks.
One morning, holding him thus in one arm and giving the other to D'ginna, weak still, Jan took them to the Zondag- Zay, basin, a gigantic bowl at the base of an outcropping of granite, rising in terraces into a sort of natural pyramid resting against a hillside. After each flood, the retreating river would leave behind a pond which the springs of the adjacent slope would also supply. The water remains there, between two overflows, abundant and clear, its evaporation slowed by the powerful shadows of the overhanging outcrops. Given the day he had discovered it, Jan called this place, barely a kilometre from his cabin and unknown before him to the natives, Zondag-Zay, from the two Dutch words for "Sunday" and "lake."
Stepping up the pace they arrived at dawn.
Water striders skated over the lake, the circular ridges born beneath their delicate legs alone troubling, and this almost imperceptibly so, the stillness of the surface, whose cobalt hue, darker near the rocks, softened towards the edges into a soft blue. Not a reed, not a moss hung on the rocky walls. Not a sound. A ray of light slipping between the canopy of two trees extended an oval of light to the very depths, a dormer- window of golden daylight open in this huge mirror of blue. Having waded in at this location, while D'ginna was sitting on the bank resting, Jan detached the soft sleeping bundle still hanging from his neck, woke it with a kiss, held it under the armpits, and dipped it into the luminous water.
"I baptise you Hemo," he said.
And extending him to all four cardinal points of mariner's card, like the night of his birth, and shouting out each time: "Hemo! Hemo! Hemo! Hemo!" he offered him to the sun, which upon its first contact dried him and enveloped him in a transparent haze similar to the radiant halos with which the painters of the Adoration of the Magi surround the divine child's cradle. He added:
"Yes, as I decided, when I daren't hope for you in my secret dreams, you will be named Hemo, for the new blood which flows in your veins. Yes, baptised by this water, free from all other contact until now, go, Hemo, grow, and true saviour of our worn out races, be the founder of a regenerated humanity, purified of all original sin, I mean of all unhealthy traits, through its return to the primitive womb."
As a king in his swaddling-clothes is not cognisant of the future splendours of his destiny and prefers his bottle to the honours bestowed upon his by the Senate and ambassadors, Hemo wailed, extending his lips and limbs, made active by the coolness of the bath, towards his motionless mother. Jan, the ceremony finished was readying himself to join her, when he stopped, one foot in the air, frozen. A real voice, and not an echo, was repeating with a dreadful clamour: "Hemo! Hemo!" Jan leapt out of the Zondag-Zay, held the infant to his chest and put it before D'ginna alarmed at his sudden movement, but as indifferent to the vociferations as if she were unable to hear them.
Mandrills were filling in the upper tiers of the pyramid. Having his back to them, entirely wrapped up in his role as Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan, Jan had not seen them; frightened at first, he laughed at his fear and soon understood the calm maintained by D'ginna. From where she sat she had seen the arrival of the mandrills, and used to their jabbering, she was not surprised by it. They were indeed their usual cries, the howling of a bewildered crowd: "Oh! Oh! Oh!" they cried out, and which the first moments of surprise had poorly translated as Jan. Having come down little by little, they lined themselves up on the other side; the females entering the lake would dip the curled up feet of their infants, and raising them in their fisted hands howled to the four winds, accompanied by the males who sedately crouching on the shore waited for them.
At this disgraceful parody, Jan, in a fit of anger, lost the indulgence of disdain, put Hemo down on the grass, loaded his rifle which he kept across his shoulder, and fired in a rapid uncontrolled motion into the middle of them. One dead tumbled under the water; the troop, for whom it was child's play to leap across the great crevasses and to climb the irregular terraces, disappeared as if by magic onto the other flank of the rocky outcrops. Alone, a large stout one, no doubt the leader such troops have, pretended to be brave, approaching along the shore. D'ginna, of a species akin to his own, was, generally speaking, no great surprise to him. But before the Dutchman, upright on two legs, his face pink, the poor cynocephalus, looking positively timid, embarrassingly brought to bay, after, it is true, having assured himself that all his subjects, having all fled in a cowardly manner, would have nothing to jeer at. Now, annoyed at seeing Jan redder in the face from an urge to laugh than his former disgust, he wished to show that he too bore other colours than the hideous blue off his wrinkled cheeks, and turning his back, he went off slowly trumpeting in a deep baritone, and raising the stump of his rudimentary tail, so as to allow one to long admire, between the violet calluses of his flaming red rump, the bright crimson of his crotal sac.
Jan and D'ginna took other walks, but the Zondag-Zay remained their favourite.
In the afternoon, the nocturnal mists having dissipated, they travelled in the forest, undisturbed, the friendliness of the natives and especially this need, this great educator of Crusoes, which had taught Jan of the riches and dangers of the fauna and flora.
They were at ease among the forests of palm trees, their terminal limbs ending at such great heights, impenetrable to rains and to light, so that all other plants were choked out beneath and that the smooth trunks, propylaea opening upon the infinite, framed to all sides vistas of bare colonnades. They were crushed by the low ceiling of the colossal baobabs, whose branches, fallen back to earth, formed, under the most blinding of light, dark labyrinths seemingly dug out amidst the mysterious greenery. They were caressed by the swinging of the lianas in the undergrowth or about each tree trunk, with countless morning- glories, orchids, bignonias, vines, and passion-flowers springing forth, climbing, twisting, dishevelled and taking on every shape, every colour, every aroma. Here Jan would harvest large quantities of a type of mango whose seed crushed into a paste was as good as cacao; excellent oils which could be made to pour down from the least incision into a wide variety of trees; kola nuts which bind so tightly to the lingual papillae that they become insentive to unpleasant flavours and make one think brackish water is fresh; ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamum seeds so aromatic that they were termed seeds of paradise, gamboge, elimi resin, rubber. He avoided the terrible ranks of the venemous plants, some misleading by the smiling hypocrisy of the pale nuances and suave aromas, but most on the contrary marked in such a manner as to warn the traveller ahead of time, with their succulent, hairless, verdigris-coloured stems, sweating death into ampullae, tumours pockmarking them like the back of a toad, with eczema and dartre eating away at them like chancres of some secret disease, and as well with their huge flowers, calices yawning scarlet maws with poorly excised fangs, adhering like the lips of a lurid pus-filled wound, swelling out into muzzles ready to spit out their venom, their phlegm a tainted mucus, their skin peeling off like that of lepers. A mere atom drowned among the triumph of rising sap, before virtually identical sister species of Apocynum, one secreting a delightful honey, the other a narcotic milky latex, beneath the eternal indifference of a sun which cooks to a tee poisons and balms, incubates and hatches crocodile eggs in the mud and those in the fifty bird nests suspended in the radiant sky, on the midrib of a single banana leaf, Jan understood the disheartening triteness of human endeavours before Nature personified, and tired, intoxicated, ashamed of working, he would mold himself a bed with grasses and would loll in it, curled up in ball, as if frightened of dissolving into the enormity of ambient life.
D'ginna, langorous after her childbirth, usually left him to co back into the cabin. Even when she accompanied him all the way, he continued to take care of Hemo alone, since the time when he had entrusted her with him to pick some grapes, and she had moved and forced him to search for an hour before finding them. Having climbed up into a clump of fig trees, baby at her breast, she had not responded to his repeated calls either by signal or by noise. When, attracted by the happy droneof the suckling infant, he had found her motionless and silent in the middle of the freshening dusk spread over them by the abundant silvery foliage, she had purposefully hidden herself with all the care of a hunted creature. Had she wished to escape? From the ill- tempered manner in which she received his harmless scolding once upon the ground, to her stealing longing looks into the far distance, he believed so. Overcome by a great sadness at this discovery, he vowed to keep an eye on her and never again leave her alone in charge of Hemo.
Inside, outside, on the matting, on the mosses, she seemed quiet, eyes half-closed, finding no fun in games, in the amusing, noisy boisterousness which with Hemo would regale the cabin and neighbouring area from morning 'til night. Those first babbling words which resonate like ineffable music in the heart of a mother, the first gesturing in begging to be given a toy which a mother senses intuitively, the first steps she encourages, backing up little by little, luring the child with the promises of refreshment at her breast and a warm bosom between her arms, all of these left D'ginna indifferent and in no way altered her sleepiness or her boredom. She only moved to scratch her own itches, and the little one was only deloused and washed by Jan, who was quite capable of all these tasks, father from head to toe, and even so much so that he was only that.
Haarlem's incorrigible dreamer, the fanatical theoritician of progressive evolution, the discoverer of Eden, the rejuvenator of humanity, the Adamite ancestor were all dead, and D'ginna's mate no less. He no longer took care of her, and would in good faith have denied their lovemaking, had she suddenly been gifted with the power of speech and had spoken of it. Forgetful of the past to the extent that today, prolonging their midday nap because of an impending storm, he rejected her from the bed where she came to brush against him, perhaps tempt him, asking her with some impatience what sort of bee was in her bonnet. Like those old men, who at the happy age of lost virility wish to get rid of their mistresses in order to devote themselves to the adoration of the son she bore them, adopting him as sole heir to name and fortune, so Jan, even if ensured himself of never be unpleasant with her, to never deviate from the strictest propriety, his attitude belied his words, and nervous yawns would complete a smile with which he attempted to correct the inflexibility of his resistance to her nonetheless frequent flirting. Completely separated from her, he even secured himself against the recurrence of any such desires by building himself, near the crown of the roof, a kind of small loft, with a hamac from which he could draw up the ladder and so completely isolate himself . Every night he went up alone; during the day he played with Hemo.
One such days, when they had capered about a great deal and the little one, thirsty, held onto the hamac with one hand and waved the other towards his mother crouched below, Jan brought him down, and a little tired, went back up for a nap.
The slamming of the door woke him. He bent over the side of the hamac.
The cabin was empty.
Leapin to the threshold at the risk of breaking a leg, he sees D'ginna taking Hemo and having already travelled two thirds of the way across the clearing. Five minutes later and they would have been in the forest, and most likely lost to him. For there was no mistake: turning every ten paces, and tearing off at great speed as soon as she sees herself being pursued, she was trying to escape.
Almost reaching the woods and to be concealed from observation, she leapt to the side and skirted the forest. Was she frightened by some snake, the terror of all apes, or did she reflect upon the fact that her lone functional arm, beside the burden of Hemo at her neck, would make the climbing of trees too difficult, and the lianas would only tangle her up and lessen her chances of escape? She now seemed to no longer hesitate, and headed straight for a point where the cover gradually thinning gave way to open country. Jan had never explored the limits of this blind alley of the clearing, which D'ginna knew full well from their walks together. Hoping to better lose him there, she boldly moves forward.
They arrive somewhere in that open country which is unknown, at least to Jan. The terrain rises in a series of bare knolls and grassy slopes. Behind the ridge a steep slope, then, as far as the eye can see, a swamp, a veritable forest of reeds.
The water having nowhere the necessary depth to support crocodiles or hippotami, sleeps in thousands of irregular puddles, the remains of a huge lake sunburned away. Spread out in soft curves are marshes so large that the ripples upon them seemingly form the beginnings of currents, and which take on, beneath the undulating vegetation, the appearance of slow sinuous rivers, it disappears into dark places edged in peat, beneath the magnificent spherical umbels of the papyrus, marvellous reeds, genuine little trees whose sharp-edged triangular stem is adorned, three meters up, with great downy white feathers.
Jan, standing on the ridge, before further pursuing D'ginna into these marshes made one last appeal to her, promising to forgive her. Seeing that she ignored him he cried out in despair and regret for not having his rifle on hand. Still armed he would have fired. He then moved forward, stepping on the mat of roots so as not to sink into the mud, hanging on to the gigantic galdioli, whose sharp lanceolate leaves cut like barbarian blades. The innumerable flocks of water birds were barely disturbed and Jan, notwithstanding his fevered condition, recalling one of Darwin's observations on his voyage to the Galapagos, himself concluded upon seeing the fearlessness of the creatures, that this countryside had clearly not heretofore been visited by man. Ranks upon ranks of ibises standing up like pickets on their spindly legs, their heads scarlet, with the most softly fading rose on the wings and neck, twisted eel-like into hieroglyphic contortions. They align themselves along the shore with the black ducks of the golden brown wing-quills, and the kingfishers with their metallic green-bronze reflections. Above, pelicans, their goiterous mandible above their swan-like crop, perched at rest upon the trees burned by their guano, and whose dead branches bear the empty skins of snakes, left behind at their time of molting, now floating flaccidly, in like ribbony mummy wrappings, shaking their ruby dust and old gold scales. Finally, higher still, bald vultures fly about, and hover in the yellow patches of mist.
He is about to reach her.
A stream separates her from a soot-coloured soil turning blue in large dull wet patches, and cracked like a compost heam too long exposed to the sun. She feels around to see how deep it is, sinking to her knees, and to get herself out more quickly she gathers what strength she has left and steps over onto the other side. What seems a fairly dense soil is nothing but horrible muck. She nonetheless continues to advance. Hemo piggy-backed on her shoulders, she slips along almost flat on her belly in order to reduce as much as possible the weight she places in a single point. The two banks of rotting matter on either side of the furrow she has left behind slowly close up together and on the levelled over surface bubbles expand, burst, exhale and propagate their pestilences. The silt loses even more of its consistency, becomes so soft that little wavelets skirt across it; she continues to push forward, now up to her waist, drawing herself up forcefully amidst a spattering of mud which both drowns and poisons her. Jan after a single step was forced to throw himself quickly out of the horrible quick-sand; he watches her, trembles, his teeth chattering even though he is streaming with sweat from every pore beneath the crust of mud which covers him.
Now the poor wretch can no longer walk, no longer slips over the surface, but rather swims in a lake of muck, mouthfuls of which stifle the cries of terror coming from her mouth. Her head has disappeared more than once, when she believes she sees a solid rock a couple of strokes away; an agonising moment and she is able to touch it. It is the corpse of an elephant no doubt a victim of the last flood. While the Siberian ice preserves such corpses intact for thousands of years, the tropical sun, powerful incubator of rots which hasten the recycling of matter, has already made of this a disgusting piece of carrion whose flanks ripple under the thrust of worms. D'ginna climbs, but the hideous raft tears, sinks little by little, and knowing herself to be doomed she no longer fights, no longer attempts to escape, turning towards the kneeling Jan, in a voice and gestures which plead and beg for help for the littlest of them, she shows him Hemo and extends the child out to him as far as she can reach. Having quickly taken off his clothing, Jan ties together two great bundles of reeds which he tears up by handfuls and which in turn tear open his flesh. He uses these bundles as a pair of life-buoys, pushing them one then another further in front of him, to support himself as he sinks into the quick-sand. D'ginna, submerged except for the hand which supports her dearest responsibility above the level of the march, fortunately has seen him coming. She throws him the child, with the miraculous accuracy of a mother on the brink of death, such that he strikes against his chest.
Back on solid ground, safe akong with Hemo, Jan's overexcitemnet had the better of him and he passed out. When he came to, he saw himself naked, filthy, and was some time at rubbing his eyes in order to remember. Hemo, sitting calmly beside Jan, was stroking and looking through his hair. The sun was going down. Upon the marsh nothing moved but clouds of mosquitoes. Likewise, nothing could be heard but a deadened clamour of fright, like the voices of those buried alive, emanating from the long, dry, hollow bamboos transformed into mysterious organ pipes by the dusk's breezes.
The rainy season was back: thirty to thirty-five weeks of rains, two thirds of which came as hurricanes and torrential downpours. The cabin, warm, well sealed, took on the harsh and strong reek of the slaughter-house and tannery, mixed with that of the meats smoking in the rooftop, two "carbatine" rolled up, fur side out, in one corner, as well as water buffalo and antelope killed yesterday. From all the other pelts, dried and laid out on the floor, Jan, kneeling near the light, cut out the clothes and shoes which he would assemble during the evenings of this overwintering period, which the evidence of abundant stores indicated was in its early stages.
Hemo slips down from the hamac in which he was swinging, drags a pelt over towards the fire, and sitting there breaks open sugar cane stalks, sucks on them and tosses them on the coals. Green, they are at first blackened, suppressing the flames and giving forth thick smoke, then they catch and crackle in a shower of sparks. He stretches out fully and falls asleep.
Interrupting his tailoring, Jan stares at him so fixedly that one have thought him to also be asleep, were it not for two big tears rolling down from his staring eyes. He remained many hours examining him thus, for months he has been wondering if the creature before him is or is not his son, is a human being or a little ape; but this is the first time he cries, his thoughts never having taken such a cruel turn.
Doubt had not assailled him all at once.
His native friends' assurance that they saw in Hemo a young d'ginna which he was attempting to tame, rather than eat, had nothing to do with it, for to this he saw the counterpoint in an instance recounted by one of the greatest naturalists of modern times, where he had drawn a picture of a newborn monkey, only to have woman who had recently given birth claim she saw the features of her little boy in the portrait. In the moonlight, the birthing over, Hemo recognized as his son, all his old fears evaporated, he was exultant and joyful, psychically intoxicated with the certainty of his paternity. Nothing remained of his past. Quivering with pride he now lived only in the present, but his brain, after D'ginna's death, so long overexcited that it was a miracle that it had not been overcome by apoplectic shock, naturally cooled down. Alone with Hemo, always cuddling and kissing him, he could not help but see the physionomy, the behaviour, the whole being, rather than continuing its upward progress, beginning to stagnate, even to regress towards increasingly maternal traits, growing worse and worse as time went on. Little by little, during these rainy days of reclusive, forced indoor confinement, his uncertainties grew. He consulted his books and observed Hemo in the hope that some idea, some remark, a clue, a mannerism previously unseen and suddenly discovered would force him to either admit him into his family, or reject him as purely animal in Nature.
In two columns labelled "Hemo-Man" and "Hemo-Ape," facing each other in a copybook, every piece of evidence supporting one or the other thesis were tabulated; the two columns remained basically equivalent in length.
Hemo was two years old, smaller in terms of height and more burly that most European children of his age; but such traits vary so greatly on an individual basis that one cannot conclude much. If his brow bulges outward, and his eyebrows are prominent, the belly has a protruding navel which one might think about to burst open like an abcess, the little Pahouins are the same, their noses are even more flattened. How often, in his proudest moments, wiping D'ginna's son's nose, had he believed himself to be wiping the characteristically elongated nose of the sons of the Maas of Rotterdam, one of those noses like his own, at which Saskia used to laugh so heartily, out there beyond the desert, the oceans, at the Brinckeylmann Caf‚ in Haarlem! Hemo hardly had a chin, but neither do a great number of Christians, his rounded ears with the outer edge of the conch rolled inward, like those of men, were closer to these by their lack of mobility, than those of so many monkeys met in the tropical forests, including amongst others, the galago lemur which, when he spied out their narrow snout among the foliage, Jan always took to be an aerial hare, a sort of strangely perched sentry.
The heavier hair grew quickly. Matching everywhere the pattern seen in man, the hairs are upturned on the forearm --- a trait Jan knows to be of particular importance. This trait has led to the belief that the common ancestor was in the habit of sheltering itself from the rain by crossing its hands over its head. This orientation of the hairs towards the elbow in front would offer a preferential path for the water to run off, and so become hereditary. The hairs are black, heavy on the nape of the neck, few at the joints. So, not counting those men in every country in whom a probable atavism confers a hirsuteness like unto Hemo's, for example the famous Krao from upper Laos, whom the first scientists in London who saw her hesitated to categorize as a woman or a she-ape. Are there not entire races reknowned for the extreme development of their pillosity, for example the A‹nos of the Kuriles Islands and Amur River delta, who, according to La P‚rousse, Broughton and all the navigators who followed in their wake, seem to literally be covered with a bristly fleece?
The wrinkled face, the hands and feet having remained hairless are suntanned. Jan observed, after many others, the strange commonality of skin colour between the men and apes inhabiting the same climes. As black with D'ginna as it is with Africa's black natives, so it is a yellowish-red in Oceania among the Malay as with the orang-outang. Similarly the gorilla and black man have an elongated skull, the orang and the Malay a short skull. Feeling Hemo's then his, Jan discovered that they were similarly constructed, and within the two extremes.
The noblest organs of this face, the eyes, separated by a thin nasal septum, directed forwards, bright or dimmed when some surprise wrinkles the brow, are imminently human.
The extremities of the limbs are so to the same degree, except that on the hands the first two fingers, the index and the middle finger are less distinctly separated, and on the feet the thumb is apposable and the sole of the foot not curved into a pretty arch. But this similarity of the limbs still means nothing to Jan in terms of anatomy, for he knows that most apes present these traits; that the expression quadrumane has been expunged from present day science; that rather than compare the ape's foot to that of civilised man, compressed within shoes and for thousands of generations only employed for walking, one should compare it to that of the black man, and one will see them as flat one as the other, and both with an opposable and prehensile big toe, which so many savages demonstrate by handling tools equally well with their feet or hands. He knows that while other anthropomorphs resemble us, the orang, especially by its brain, and the chimpanzee by the bone structure of its head as well as its teeth, the gorilla undergoes its evolution primarily in terms of the structure of its limbs. Jan remembers in his Haarlem laboratory having first chosen the orang for his future experiments, based on its advanced intellectual faculties and its habitat in the Dutch colonies; however, there being nothing which evolves more slowly than the skeleton, and this Oceanian great ape having an extra bone in the wrist, he had rejected it as a more distant cousin than its Gabonian counterpart. And as he reflects on the large effects brought on by a small cause, he states: "One less small bone in the orang-outang's carpal region and it wouldn't have been D'ginna I married."
Hemo takes his first steps like a child, the feet pointed inwards and only touching the ground along their outer edge.
If he wants something he cannot reach, he indicates it with his finger, whines like a child wishing to suckle, strikes the ground with the palm of his hand to draw attention. If one refuses it to him, he sulks, his face scowling, his mouth thrust forward in a sullen pout, his arms linked over his head by interlaced fingers. Then, when truly angered, he screams, lips retracted, throwing his arms about left and right, and rolling on the ground. If one annoys him, he turns his back, makes the hand gesture common to all men wishing to chase away the importunate; if one tickles him, he smiles, eyes sparkling, eyelids creased, the commissure of the lips drawn back in a satisfied purr. If something or other amazes him, his eyebrows are drawn up, his entire physionomy takes on the expression of bewilderment taken on by an actor who plays dimwitted servants. Presented with an unpleasant smell, he sniffs, shakes his head, blocks his nose. Jan having left birds loose inside the cabin to entertain him, he would feign sleep, blink his eyes while they approached unsuspecting, and pluck and torture with the wicked pleasure of a young boy, when he caught them. 'Tis true he never cries, but as the lower monkeys and many other animals cry, even tears cannot be admitted as a priviledge reserved to man.
Thus he resembles a child of his age, no more or less than them. He does not present, or at least Jan does not see in him any specific trait, which drawing him closer to man or differentiating him from any other pure-bred gorilla, would supply an irrecusable proof of his immortal bastardness.
Jan had discovered in the books in which he sought the principal distinctive trait of humanity that a baboon dissected by Galen has served as the basis of his anatomy. Since then, as they progressed in their studies, scholars had recognized that between men and the great apes the leapt was less abrupt than that between these larger apes and the class of apes immediately beneath them. This held true for the intellect, the emotional baggage, the inclinations, for the soul, in a word in all ways as with the body. This was, of course, as long as one compared the chimpanzee or the orang to their nearby Pahouin or Dayak and not to Rembrandt or Newton, following the mistakened belief of those who cite as specific to man his religiosity, his capacity for self-awareness, for linking cause and effect, while no doubt ignoring that the Hottentot has no more interest than the mandrill in those who comment upon Plato and Hegel, and that in this regard more than three-quarters of the world, including Europe, is populated with Hottentots. Between the intelligence of the many savages with whom he had lived and that of D'ginna, his even more intimate friend, Jan would only admit to small differences in quantity, not quality. If he allowed that savages have a soul, albeit one still in Limbo, as proud son of the janitor of the Great-Church of Rotterdam, he would affirm with equal energy the existence of D'ginna's soul, and with even greater pleasure, given certain memories. While he was a theoritician rather carried away with the concept of progressive evolution, seeing a golden age in the future and not in the past, he compared the universal assent of races, which he has heard invoked in the past, to the belief of all indigenous people that the apes with which they have daily intercourse, have the same origins as they, belonged to their own tribe in primitive times, and having been chased out for their laziness and depravity; a belief, the young Jan added, just warming up, identical to that of the Catholic writer who, thurifer to both pope and executioner, places science and civilisation in the garden described in Genesis, and considers, during his evenings in St. Petersburg, the savages to be degenerate branches, broken away from the social tree.
At least, if he does not have what he is looking for, Jan knows what he must look for. The most characteristic capacity of man being not only that of language --- the majority of animals, perhaps all, having one they understand and by which they communicate quite well --- but that of articulated speech. If Hemo displays it, then the experiment is concluded. Again here the range of abilities is very wide: from Spinoza's most sensitive hiatus to the Australian aborigene whose language only includes a couple of hundred words; from the aborigene to monkeys' rising clamour during their games or their disagreements. There is no need for Hemo to discourse like Demosthenes or like an honest businessman advertising his damaged wares. No! let him articulate, like the most humble of savages sound to which he attaches a specific meaning, let him acquire speech, the principal prerequisite for concious thought, let him speak then and the proof will be irrefutable.
Jan reproaches himself the silence he has kept almost constantly since D'ginna's death. Never hearing a vice, how would Hemo develop his own? Those deaf at birth are they not also dumb? Little boys, be they French or Italian remain mute when with a mute, and will at best resoprt to the sort of indistinct prattling which would draw from a mother a kiss upon the lips like unto flowers noisy with the sound of tame bees.
He then chats incessantly, does not ask for or hand over an object without carefully enunciating its name, pretends he is not paying attention when presented with any gesture, until it is accompanied by some babble or other. The child, impatinet to reach towards a fruit, towards his fruit and drink, gets angry, makes a great fuss, and his squalls thrill Jan, to whom they seem more complex than his earlier cries.
Besides this he sings: ancient Dutch ballads by Cats the storyteller, Fockenbroch the macaronic, or the peasant Cornelius Poots, tales of country fairs, battles with the English and Flemish, waking no memories in Jan other than those of the nice old lady who would mutter them by his bedside. A more modern one by Tollens, about some sailors' victory over the polar ice, he cannot begin without remembering his faher, good ol' Philip Maas, serenading the first verses to a parrot for an entire year, with a fit of coughing after every verse, so that the bird, coughing in the same manner, sounded like a polyglot with a cold, adding to refrains pertaining to Holland the sneezings of Poniatowski. Presenting concepts quite at odds with what he expressed, Jan's features and words, along with his appearance and his social hierarchy were in such poor concordance that even a student more attentive than Hemo would have been confused. Happily, he usually would hum children's rhymes which reminded him of Saskia's beaming face as a child. An involuntary smile became so commonplace to him that by force of smiling he soon was blessed with only clean thoughts and happy songs.
Fearing that a nigh uninterrupted reclusiveness be detrimental to Hemo, who, so it seemed to him, was losing some of his vivacity, he took him for a noontime walk when the rain allowed it, not too far from the cabin, so that they could come back in quickly in case of a storm. The magnificent forest, perpetually green, shelters them well, but he fears the ambush of fevers more pernicious than ever hiding beneath the strong aromas of the reawakened sap. Between the stones, recently flooded cavities teem with fish. In these fresh waters, blessed with the warmth of an incubator, the fry, drawn away by the river, hatch in mere minutes. The temperature in these climes is always moderate and free of sudden fluctuations. Jan fished, and got Hemo used to them, where at first he refused to touch the flopping creatures. He wishes to rid him gradually of the fear of reptiles which he has inherited from his mother, such a fear that amongst the entire race the sight of snake paralyses them and they allow themselves to be bitten, when they could easily have moved aside. Hemo, certainly more educatable than certain urban street urchins whose rickety frames and idiocy, caused alas by lingering hunger and alcohol, took pleasure in this game. Boiling over with impatience, leaping on the fyke, he would grab everything, adults and fry, and enjoy squeezing them to see their gills gape open. Fishing with igongo, a lovely leguminous plant whose leaves, when torn up in the tiny pond, poisons the fish, or rather, puts them to sleep, for they remain fine to eat even if one need only take them belly up from the surface, where they lie stunned and yawning. Jan must however stop Hemo from going into the deeper recessed in order to catch the smaller fry. His cries of happiness durin these moments of freedom differ so much from his racous, angry cries or mutterings when in a bout of sulking, that Jan, the dreamer, wondered to himself whether sounds so simple but so diverse might not be a step along the path to those interjections and onomatop‘ia which must constitute the basis of any truly primitive language. Has it not been shown that the vowel a tied to a given sound, such as ba, pa, da, ta, and thus constituting the easiest sound for the child to vocalise, signify, almost everywhere in the world father, mother?
A storm kept them trapped inside for several days. The locked door was windowless, and daylight only barely filtered through the narrow slits between it and its frame. Hemo is very bored and he finds no pleasure in his favourite games. Crouching near the fire, almost in the fire, stationary, listless, he barely eats, chewing on sugar cane, irritating his throat by breathing the smoke, coughing, dying of thirst, always wanting to drink something. If he shakes off his listlessness it is to circle around like a wild beast in a cage, to measure out on hands and knees the messy indoors, following the curved wall, which he strikes with his elbow as if he hoped to move it outwards, or to cut as window out of it. Then he stops before the door, lays down flat to see the outdoors beneath it. Jan is worried. He has tried everything in vain and does not know how to distract him. He notices with great sadness that the poor little contabescent has become silent again, has again regressed, no longer makes a sound or utters a word, even to complain, and does nor even sigh. Jan well knows that the best would be to find him a friend. A child, a little pahouin of his own age with whom to play, with whom to spend long hours of forced inactivity, this would indeed render his recovery so likely that to not make such an attempt would be barbaric. Unfortunately for this occur one must wait for the dry season. His native friends then come and offer him, of the own accord, a portion of their first hunt. He will ask them for one of their young children, certain that they will all be at odds as who first will give over his own to the gentle and agreeable white shaman. With a few more fishing expeditions Hemo will perhaps manage to ride it out. But it is not two or three weeks of delay, but rather four months, four! Thousands of times longer than is needed for consumption to sap Hemo, to sap him unto death. Jan decides to anticipate this situation by going to visit the Pahouins.
Helmeted, dressed, shod in freshly greased boots, axe strapped on his hip, rifle under the arm, a bag of supplies, food and bullets on his back, and Hemo, carefully covered, bundled up in woolens, carried piggyback, he closes the door and leaves. The bit of forest he must traverse is soo behind them. A series of quagmires follow one upon the other, and he takes his first break in order to cut himself a pole with which to probe them. Hemo in a livelier mood, chatters above his head and drums on his chest with his heels. Jan slips, falls to his knees, walking almost bent in half under his mule's burden, rises again, often mired in water up to his hips, falls again, which amuses the little one to no end, who smacks his lips more loudly and searches, his appetite renewed, in the pouch which Jan has taken from his shoulder and handed him intact so he can choose at his leisure. Jan hears him bite down on something, senses him become a dead weight, holding on about his forehead, falling asleep under his rocking gait. His back nearly broken, groaning, Jan holds back a moan lest he wake him. Laid low by hunger and fatigue, wishing to eat in turn, he looks about him in vain. Hemo having sated himself and lost the remainder of the food, had held on to a bundle of corn cobs. Of these he refuses categorically to share even a single grain, howling and grinding his teeth when they are threatened. Admiring the little one's determination in defending that which he has every reason to think belongs to him, Jan takes another bite of a kola nut he always keeps on his person, lights a pipeful of marihuana, reenergizes himself, and moves on. But the smoke rising in his face annoys Hemo, who tears the pipe away, breaks it, burns himself on the bowl, throws it far away and whimpers until a hug and a song console him.
The rumble of the cataracts announces their proximity to the river. Night falls. On the road since dawn, not wishing to risk passing through the marshy thickets along the banks, in the impenetrable darkness unbroken by even the brightest of summer suns, they camp in the shelter of a sort of cave formed by an overbeetling rocky outcrop, not much bigger than a cupboard, which Jan selects over others given its contrary orientation to that of the wind. Laying with his back to the outdoors, protecting Hemo, fallen asleep in his arms after crunching up the corn, from the humidity outside, Jan only left him to stock the fire, necessary in all seasons, not so much against the cold, as against the mosquitoes and carnivorous ants. In the morning, the little one wishes to remian, to sleep some more, and the Jan has the hardest time calming him down. Jan walks while rocking him in his arms. For hundreds of steps me must jump from root to root, around the flooded trees, so as not to get mired down. At other times he must climb to the top of one of these trees to map out his way. The Como has tripled in width. The breakers making a frightful din like the rumbling of thunder tearing the skies asunder; frothing whirlpools sparkling in the sun carried down entire forests, in a single second torn from their centuries-old haunts and still festooned with flowering lianas. Two Pahouin hunters of hippopotamii and manatees, on a small island, are keeping watch. Jan draws their attention with two shots from his gun, which he fortunately had loaded before Hemo had lost his ammunition. They recognize him, untie a canoe, and with their ability and boldness of consummate paddlers, they pass through the reefs, the torrents, the thousand of pieces of floating debris which to threaten capsize them.
The village was celebrating.
At the beginning of the overwintering, they had fought against the Bakalay, who inhabited the lower reaches of the river to the west, over the possession of some poorly cleared areas, when upstream, to the right and to the left were limitless savannahs, more fertile, more arable, and entirely unclaimed. The true reason, this land claim being but a pretext, was that each tribe wished to, at their neighbour's expense, stock their larder of human flesh.
Victors, the Pahouin warriors had brought back a dozen prisoners to the quartering enclosure, while their spouses, who from afar had supported them in their combats, ran onto the field of victory where, of simple tastes and not yet having acquired a refined taste for aged meat, they ignored the dead, to finish off, carve up and bring back those of the wounded, which remained presentable. The kitchens were smoking, stews bubbling, steamed dishes hissing, roasts browning, and all day the children were peeling vegetables for seasoning, and orgy of Balakays served with carrots. Poor elderly an‘mics regained their adult vigour; the rickety were cured; sad little girls not yet married because of their ballooning bellies, gained enough energy to evacuate in one fell swoop, great bundles of tapeworms with which they had been stuffed.
Until the moment when, in public meals cunningly scheduled so that the guests would avoid having their indigestions come too soon one after the other, they were served as the pièce de résistance, the prisoners were submitted to a progressive fattening, well taken care of, kept in constant confinement. Chained by the neck in the back of the council hall of the greater dignitaries, they were released, under the watchful eye of numerous guards, so they could stretch their muscles; they were forced to amuse themselves, to gambol about, to laugh, under penalty of the rod; they were washed, shaved, anointed all over their bodies with palm oil, as well as their little mates, and they were only brutalised in their best interest. One of them, lacking in dignity in his role as royal cattle, refused all food, seeking to lose weight and pull one over on the cooks, was slowly cooked alive so he would not lose any further weight. Even his tribemates applauded his fate. Honourable players, they would have as victors relished some Pahouin meat; defeated, the Pahouins would do the same. Resigned to the will of Amara-Widdah-Booloo, the great serpent which laid the world, and whose knotted coils move about the sun and moon, the Bakalays sang, stuffed themselves all day, pridefully competing to be the best fattened on the banquet table.
Akayrawiro, the chief Jan had cured of the fever still reigned.
Jan had already often damned the practice of cannibalism, in particular during his first passage among them, when, about to be eaten, he had pleaded with all the ardour which someone with a less ardent temperment would have devoted to such an intensely personal issue, begna a dialogue in which his limited grasp of African languages forced him to supplement three quarters of his words with gestures, elevating himself to the eloquence of the greatest pantomime. He had stopped one day seeing Akayrawiro, his most faithful listener, listening and applauding him, while picking clean, with his teeth, a leg of man. Calmly the king had answered his reproaches.
"Certainly, my dear white shaman, it is a poor habit, but it is of such ancient date that to abandon it would show a lack of respect to innumerable generations of our ancestors who passed it on to us. Tradition, old fellow, tradition! And in respecting tradition, you see, everything is knitted together and linked. I grant life to my enemies, this would seem an insignificant detail, wouldn't you say? But then who knows if tomorrow my own subjects, that is my goods, my inheritance, my merchandise, would not blame me for using them as I saw fit, would not regret that I gave them as cat food to my favourite lion Irro, who will not deign to eat anything else? Do continue your discourses, they interest me --- unless you'd like to share my humble breakfast...What! Let me lose my throne if I can only understand your fear. From the moment I kill a Bakalay, have I not forgiven him for the crime of being a Bakalay if I eat him myself rather than leave him to Hoo-Too-Vah, the eternal, the loner, the immutable, the infinite?"
Jan asking about this awful Hoo-Too-Vah, the chief had concluded:
"Too-Hoo-Vah, He who is. In the heavens, on earth, everywhere. The one of whom even the Bible, the white man's book you have been reading to me, exalts the sovereign grandeur; the king of kings, the uncreated, that is to say born from nothing..."
"Hoo-Too-Vah: Jehovah!" Jan cried out, deeply moved.
"No, Hoo-Too-Vah, the one who is without navel, without feet, without eyes, without ears and without a mouth, born of all creation, always like unto himself, going everywhere, seeing, hearing, devouring all..."
"Why yes, Jehovah!"
"No, Hoo-Too-Vah, god of the maggots."
Remembering the adage on morality or rather morals which vary according to the latitude, not knowing besides how to answer the native's question as to why the white man perceived a difference between eating his dead enemy or leaving the worms eat him. Jan fell silent, less so to avoid future discussions than to avoid the prime minister's unending obsession with having him honour him by marrying his wife for the duration of his stay among them. All he had gotten out of them was that while he was present his friend Akayrawiro would no longer surrender himself, nor let any of his subjects surrender themselves to such delicacies. So he demands today, having caught them preparing the manducation of the last prisoner: the village alarmed, the pots and clay jars lined up before each doorway, the stake erected in the middle of the main street. Akayrawiro apologises, the white man's visit was unexpected, how were they to hide the feast from him? The worse part was that he could not put it off, as the women had invited a number of friends. But Jan is no longer listening: overcome with a saintly furor in seeing the Bakalay stupidly watching the preparations of his own cooking, he runs forward, unties him, tells him he is free. The other, never having seen a white man, remains stunned for a moment, and assuming him to be an invited guest at the banquet, is terrified at the prospect of passing through the stomach of this pale monster. He jumps on him, bites him deeply on the hand, on the shoulder, and would have bitten his throat out had Jan not, losing his composure, had not struck him down with a blow from his axe. It is the first time he has had any trouble with a savage; it seems to him a poor omen for his continued work. He cries upon heraing the famished cries of the crowd accompanying the cooks taking away the corpse, and he cries harder upon receiving the congratulations of the executioners upon his skill; they only suggest that in a similar circumstance he should not strike the skull for it damages the brain, a choice morsel.
Happy cries from Hemo, playing with a group of children from which he only differs by his slightly more intelligent features, draw him from his lamentations. Believeing himself to already be smelling the odours of the fierce kitchens, he wishes to leave the village as quickly as possible, and states the purpose of his trip. The assembled elders smile, have the young girls parade before him, and he is forced to once more explain that he is not asking for a wife for himself, but a playmate for his young...ape, he alledges, hesitating to renounce D'ginna's son. A child? A little boy no doubt? And the elders laugh uproariously, declaring themsleves to be flattered that he has finally adopted their manners. He blushes at their disgusting insinuation, and moves off with Hemo. Akayrawiro asks him to sit down again; no one wishes to offend him; they were all laughing because all felt great pleasure in advance at allowing him to choose in their seraglio of both sexes. They were mistaken, but all in good faith, and their white cousin should not hold it against them. And the good king, commanding the chief among his favourites, one always ready to play the role of being indispensable, to gather up a cohort from the families' sons under his watchful supervision, he makes a sign to the elders, tapping himself on the forehead, to ignore the white man's poor manners: the white friend has enough qualities that fashionable society can cut him some slack.
One of the great dignitaries rises and kow-tows deeply before this sound observation. Akerawiro has for the good of his kingdom, and the needs of the next war, just cast off
half of his progeny into the army, at the rank of colonel. Who will then, in the Pahouin nobility, will supply replacements? Why, does not this great dignitary have on his knee, at this very moment, his last born son, which he drags everywhere in the hope that the king will notice him; in his paternal foresight he is gripped by the fear that Jan will strip him of his favourite and unknowingly causes irreparable damage to his ancestor's honor. To get off cheaply from this quite conceivable turn of events, he rushed off and brought back one of his daughters for the white friend, the little Kaylinkah.
Jan is effusive with his thanks and leaves, Hemo in one hand, Kaylinkah in the other.
The Pahouins accompany him on the way back, helpin him across the river and through the marshes, then return quickly for a Balakay dinner.
From then on in the isolated cabin there is constant commotion, high spirits, and an endless liveliness.
Hemo is no longer the same. He who yesterday sulked sluggishly when presented with any sort of meal, today cannot hold himself back at the table. Now lively, he finds everything tasty, stuffs himself, like a schoolboy takes his dessert, to finish it during recess, and makes Kaylinkah hurry up too. Between the three daily meals, at every moment one must be ready to prepare them a slice of bread and jam, to hand them out fruit, to pour them something to drink. The move and upset everything. The first one to stop remaining prey to the other's teasing, they only quiet down when fatigue overcomes them both simultaneously; even then they are inseparable, wherever they happen to be they drop in one another's arms, and Jan, at the risk of waking them and their racket, must move them and put them to bed as one.
At first, in spite of the liitle native girl's constant prattle, Hemo's language skills showed no sign of improvement. But by dint of listening to him, Jan discerns that his many vocalisations are reproduced in an indentical manner when the circumstances are same, that an undeniable logic guides his comparisons when he designates several objects by the same sound. He utters genuine "hee, hee!" and "ah, ah" sounds when presented with anything shiny: the morning sun, the lamps which allow him to see clearly and continue his games, the coals which warm him, the debris of a broken mirror which he picks up. Thunder and gunshots make him utter the same "hoo! hoo!" sounds, and anything which surprises him leads him to exclaim "oh! oh!" Along this path Jan goes from discovery to discovery, and the intelligence of this little bit of a man almost floors him. Grumpy, Hemo puffs up his cheeks and blows "f, f, f," on a wisp of down to indicate that the wind had blown in a similar manner over his hat. The next day, having released a little bird which Jan had managed to find for him, he blew once again, "f, f, f," crying and showing his empty hands. Kaylinkah asked the names of the plants they picked in the clearing, and Jan to answer her consulted his guidebook to local flora, Hemo tore up some grass in turn, grabbed the huge manual of botany, opened it, pretended to be looking for a page, put his ear to it, waited, gravely for the book to speak, and the book, alas! kept quiet, so he tossed it way, annoyed. On another occasion, rolling on some pelts spread out to dry, he sudden surprise was made manifest in such a way that his gesturing caught Jan's attention. On his knees near Kaylinkah, who was resting on her back, Hemo made a detailed examination of the pretty girl's body, then of his own, underscoring by noisy "oh! oh!" the anatomical details which he discovered to differ, wishing then to continue his investigations on his father, who, to keep him away had to flick him on the fingers.
That night Jan's dreams changed.
For a long time, since his doubts as to Hemo's origins had originated, the perplexities which haunted him every night brought him D'ginna's ghost. As soon as he fell asleep, the only door to the cabin solidly closed, she entered, came up to his hamac, squatted on his chest, identical in aspect and pose to the grimacing demons of nightmare in old prints, but even more hideous in form and features as the most Medusa-like of monsters improvised by the black fancy of a Goya or a Rops. For she came forth from the marsh which had swallowed her up, her fur plastered down, a shroud of mud on her decomposed corpse, with growths and tumours crawling beneath, finally bursting open in infectious maws.
Awakened, dripping with sweat at thinking her ichor had dribbled on him, he accepted the horrible vision as a just remorse. Yes, D'ginna reproached him for ignoring her once she had delivered. Had not contempt he had shown her then contributed to her running off, and then to her suicide? The ardour of their passion had so often united their two souls as one! Supposing he had merely been ungrateful towards D'ginna, had he not acted like a selfish coward towards his other mistress, science, to which he had pledged himself, to which he had promised eternal fidelity, even if this fidelity brought him derision and accusations of criminal behaviour. Was it not indeed drawing himself away from the experiments he himself had conceived and consented to, than to abandon the poor D'ginna at a time when delivered of her fotus which he feared to be a bastard, remained pure, tame, solitary, and finally ready to supply him with a child whom no one could have contested the paternity of, the genuine Hemo which no other male, this time, could have claimed as their son, his hero, his miracle, his god, his immortal half-breed. On this slope of regrets, rather than a D'ginna turning green in the stinking muck, he saw once more the one he had known before, a wounded creature whose gestures were wighed down by weakness; the convalescent whose big eyes, until then dull, were fixed upon him in the soft alacrity of tender gratitude; the lover so burning with desire that upon their bouts in the dark, he black pelt seemed to sparkle, to phosphoresce, and render the surrounding shadows luminous. Delirious, he could well close his eyes, and recover his pallet with fresh leaves, but the reignited sparks penetrated his eyelids, his arms caressed emptiness, his whole body tingled, flogged with the nettles of remembrance.
Today, better dreams complement his hours of rest, coddle his hopes, leaving him in a warm nervous excitement, which allows him to better taste the calm of the nights.
In some bright obscure paradise of the adjoining woods, where an intense release of aromas makes the flowers steam and sing; better yet in the very centre of the clearing, far from the curtains of lianas, at midday, on the sand, between the implacable and dazzling of the bare ground and the sun spread over the immensity of the cloudless sky, he seem to see Hemo and Kaylinkah, drunk with the sap of their youth, naked, copulating, with no more vile modesty or shame than awesome Nature, which envelops them, places in the other matings, infinite in number, of its plants and animals. He gives them his blessing, and soon gobbling up time, blesses and maries their little ones, then their great-grandchildren, who swarm in families of simple, pure giants, forming a people at whose feet the others all together appear as an anthill They build cities in the others' squares to enclose old growth forests, send out their sons and daughters to the world which salutes their coming to save poor, shattered humanity by infusing it with some of their new blood, their strength, the candour and their goodness.
Sitting in the hut, the sound of the two little ones around him, or with summer returned, when holding their hands during a walk, he often continues this dream, forgetting his usual concern, Hemo's linguistic education, and remains silent for hours, rocking on his stool. When he takes along the two children which skip and run themselves ragged at his side, it happens that he, as Moses must have done when leading the Jews to Canaan, to turn around to see if he is followed by the peaceful army which he already believes himself to be leading, not to conquest, but to the salvation of the worn down old world.
Forcing himself to get back to the task which he correctly considers to be his most pressing duty, teaching Hemo to talk, he sets himself a task.
Every night he reads aloud for an hour and forces him to listen. Fairy tale, lies of an alledged religious nature with which one is in the habit of stuffing the imagination of youngsters, placing such an impression on the malleable minds of civilised children, that this nonsense is never entirely erased from their memory, and that sooner or later sharply resurface, be it in their death throes, when the sensible ideas developped later on disappear in the inverse order with which they were acquired, the latest ones first, the first ones next. Jan wishes to spare his student this problem suffered by so many philosophers, falling back in their elder days into the superstitions which they had fought all their lives; he never teaches him his error be it even purely for entertainment purposes or in poetry. Rather than torture the Bible with attempts at rational explanations, he hides it entirely from him, agreeing with the preacher, who, denying himself the right chose amongst the miracles, entreated his brothers to thank God for the evident generosity which he had manifested for their weak- mindedness, in having Jonas swallowed by a whale, when instead he could have had them believe the whale to have been swallowed by Jonas. He told him no more stories, as he only knew a few legends anyway, resolved, besides, to trying to make him understand, to supply him with cornerstones to build a solid base of understanding for any future studies, with those concepts whose truth is no longer in doubt.
He spoke to him of the vast Earth, its great rivers and deserts, its poles and its tropics, from its abysses to its Himalayas, turning upon its equator and about the sun. About the Earth turns its own satellite, the moon, dead down to its geological activity and concealing beneath the suavity of its borrowed light all the gloomy horror of emptiness; he tells of the other planets, of the enormity of Jupiter, of the mysteries of Saturn. All of them, from Neptune the eldest to Mercury the youngest, like Earth, spin upon themselves and about the sun which created all of them, and which in turn rotates upon itself as it traverses absolute space at a velocity of two hundred thousand leagues per day, towards a shore as yet unknown, around anther more central sun, star of the constellation of Hercules, of Perseus or even Halcyon, the brightest of the Pleiades. Every star is a sun, ours but a single speck in the Milky Way, and the Milky Way, that agglomeration of solar systems which all the generations of humanity, past, present and future would be unable to number, but a narrow projection in motion through the infinite. His mind unable to grasp the complex concatenation of lunar, planetary and solar orbs, man comes back down to Earth, and on this speck of dust finds himself, a mere mildew, a nothing, which standing erect on two legs contemplates the universe, dividing it into two parts me and the rest, believing the rest to exist expressly for him, for a him who does not even have his own self.
He speaks of the plant kingdom, from the microscopic to the gigantic, from the athlete's foot fungus to baobabs and sequoias; he speaks of the animal kingdom, those in existence and those which are extinct, in a word, of life, from its appearance on the primitive landscape, --- that is from the Precambrian, including the problematic Foraminiferae of the Laurentian strata, and the algae which gave rise to beds of graphite mixed within the same strata, the oldest on Earth --- to the creature which incarnates it sovereign form, man.
He speaks of matter, of the Force of which all other forces, including the soul, are but modalities, all emanating from the warmth of the sun, true father, supreme creator of that which has lived, lives and will live, such that in the final analysis, present day man, almost returning to the religion of his savage forbearers in the most remote of ages, salutes the sun as sole God. And the good Jan fell back into his daydreams. The quantity of matter which makes up the Earth, if one ignores the negligeable input of meteorites, is as invariable and inalterable as the amount of force, since matter and force are inseparable terms. The portion of this matter and force circulating within living things, necessarily limited, must be divided to a greater and greater degree with each rise in births. Does this not explain from a material perspective the wearing down of the human race as the number of individuals rises, and from a dynamic perspective the growing rarity of genius as the surge of mediocrity builds. Does this not explain why wild plants and animals disappear under domestication and cultivation, as do inferior races upon contact with the civilised races? To these questions which he ask himself, the good Jan remains silent, and listens to Hemo snore.
The latter, like most schoolboys, sitting still with his cheeks in his hands, seems to listen when the teacher is watching, but scratches his head, rubs his eyes, sucks on his tongue, steals a glance at a fly buzzing by or to sparks crackling from the fireplace, when his teacher turn back to his reading. Finally, like all schoolboys, he cannot stand it anymore and falls asleep. Jan who never has the heart to wake him carries him to where Kaylinkah already sleeps, and gets used to only teach him during their outings.
In the presence of the objects he shows him and speaks to him of --- pebbles, flowers, birds --- he manages to hold his attention upon those elements of natural history with which he wishes to begin his education. He takes advantage of every encounter: having gone bathing in the Zondag- Zay, he remarks to what degree a group of cynocephalic apes crouching on the rocks exposes the errors of certain modern scholars, sitting-room explorers too quickly discounting the geographers of antiquity, thus denying what could easily be understood. For example, would apes seen thus, with no neck and their body bent over below their shoulders, not resemble the fantastic Blemyes described as having faces in the middle of their chest? Are gorillas not the satyrs of which only the face was human? And the Ogipans, with a man's head on a goats body, whose existence was so commonly accepted that Pomponius Mela did not bother to describe its features (1), contenting himself with confirming that they were indeed those attributed to it, is it not a she-ape in the process of stripping fruit from the garden ?
It is upon his return from one of these visits to the Zondag-Zay that Jan felt the first symptoms of malaria. Rather than determination to continue his work and the vivacity of his limbs, of the clearheadedness which the pure waters of the lake usually conferred upon him, he began to tremble, to have cramps, almost drown, he the former expert diver, a kid from the port city of Rotterdam. He managed to reach the bank, dressed and made his way back quickly. But even upon trails basking in the sun, or cooking before a great fire he had built, he could not overcome the chill which dogged him day and night.
Long had he awaited this fever, endemic to the region, and surprised to have remained untouched, he under up forgetting about it and believing himself to be immune. One easily accustoms oneself to good health, the true state of man. This is in contrast to the views of some misanthropic individuals , who already bewildered at the very threshold of the anatomy rooms by the infinite ratios of gears which drive the animal machine, are amazed to see that it does not break down at every moment; that neither is disease the law, nor does euthesia occur by accident. They do not think that if this fabulous machine did not work well it would not have lasted, it would have broken down completely or adapted itself in a different manner, and that in the latter case they would still be amazed by the state of its final organization, were it entirely different from what it is.
He did not treat himself right away, hoping once again to recover without any help; but the chills, the insomnia, the lack of appetite would not leave him, and he had to resort to the medicines which he was saving for his Pahouin friends. Quinine cut off his fever, but unfortunately his supply of arsenicals and martials was exhausted, and the an‘mia which followed persisted, always serious under such debilitating climates. Soon he was unable to get up, and after long hesitating was finally forced to have both his children, for Hemo would not let his little friend go alone, contact the village. Their trip in this season would pose little danger, by the river they would certainly find some fishermen who would get them across and lead them; and so it happened. As early as the morrow, Akayrawiro himself, his ministers and his most trusted shaman hastened t his cabin, brought back by the two brave little messengers.
Jan wished to be treated at home. The shaman, upon a sign from Akayrawiro was formally opposed to it, stating with some dignity that he would never, under such circumstances, take responsibility for a such course of treatment, when a basic element of the treatment was to distance the patient from any marshy land, placing him in clean, dry, healthy fresh air. Jan, forced to agree with him, was taken on a stretcher into the royal hall, As soon as he was there, and they had proceeded at a quick trot, the shaman, upon a second sign, declared that this location was no better, the mists still too thick; what is needed are the true mountains, for example the isolated and fortified palace where his Majesty retires when he himself is sick.
The good Akayrawiro did not hesitate, immediately ordering the warriors who bore the stretcher to get on their way, and following on behind with his servants, ministers, physicians, seraglio, slaves and priests. His people, thus abandoned, cried out, trying to hold him back, tortured with sadness, prostrate at his feet. He calmed them down with the abundant application of a cudgel and a hippopotamus-hide whip, upbraiding them for their ingratitude. How is it that his white cousin cured him, saved him --- the Sunbeam --- for them, the dregs, and they cannot understand that he must in turn sacrifice himself for his white cousin! It is almost enough for him to give up in disgust his reign over such brutes. They apologize, grease their wounds and contusions, and the procession, slowed for a moment, picks up the pace.
The countryside where they are headed is only two leagues away, but a gorge impassible in their dugouts, forms an elbow which doubles the distance. Sheltered from the sun by the esparto mosquitoe netting forming a canopy over the litter, softly swaying under the porters' careful cadence, Jan remained in a dull torpor of which he was concious, which he tried to overcome, but which he was unable to shake. As they approached the village, the river circumvented, the dying echoes of a gunbattle nonetheless made him jump. He bend over to question someone, and realized that the royal caravan, triumphant at first, now seemed to be in a disordered retreat. Worried, he asked for his children. A porter, in answer, showed him, far ahead, as they bore no baggages, the party of chiefs. Besides a rear-guard of slaves, the litter ended the procession. Jan assumed that Hemo had preceded him, and broken by his slight effort, fell back onto his pallet.
It was indeed, in the distance, the echo of rifles, and amongst the ranks, a disordered retreat.
Now, in spite of the sharp slope of the trails, all were running silently: warriors, cooks, musicians, holding to themselves sabers, kitchen utensils and tambourines to stop them from clashing, breaking or resonating. Jan, jostled hard, holding onto the edges of the litter, fearing more than one that he would go for a header.
Finally they arrived. The king absorbed in affairs of state, now seldom came to his country estate; the dozen or so huts making up his palace had collapsed little by little to the ground. They hastened to rebuild one, in which they housed the patient now exhausted, delirious, almost unable to speak and moaning constantly.
"What can he possibly want?" the king asked his ministers.
"Your Majesty, we, as yourself, do not know; perhaps Kaykinkah and the ape."
"The ape!" Jan heard; concluding that neither the king nor his ministers had understood him, he gathered up his strength to stammer out:
"Yes, yes, my children, Hemo and Kaylinkah, Hemo! Hemo! Hemo!"
The king smiled and deigned to lower himself and pat his cheeks in friendship.
"Why, sure as the devil, cousin, you had me worried there, naming as your children that little girl which is not of you, which perhaps you have not even married, and that animal. I was wondering if you hadn't entered into some sort of secret marriage, that you might not have had a genuine son which I would have been loath to leave behind. For, you see..."
The entire sky was turning red at the point on the horizon which his august finger was indicating.
"Fire," exclaimed Jan.
"Yes, fire, fire in my capital. Oh the monsters, how fortunate you are that you saved my life. Otherwise I would not have been able to stop my subjects from taking out their vengeance upon you and yours, upon your hideous white brethren."
"White brethren? Do tell!"
"But your fever..."
"No, no, I beg you, tell me."
Neighbouring kingdoms had, over the last several days, told him of the approach of a troop of white men. These whites, in great numbers, an army of no less than six or seven people, not counting the natives they borrowed from each successive region they went through, were coming, not like Jan up the river from the sea, but from the other side, they east, and they must have traversed Africa in its greatest and most mysterious breadth. If one impeded their progress, tried to bargain with them with respect to supplying them with food, shelter or other assistance, if one tried to lead them astray, they fought and won, took what they wanted, drew information from even the most ardent of patriots by showering them with compliments and gifts. He thought that having Jan in his capital would facilitate his relations with these pale-faced devils. While he was getting along with his household and his loyal nobles, he had nonetheless preferred high-tailing it out of there. The change in climate which Jan's sickness required was an excellent excuse, one could not have come up with a better one. His people, towards whom the greatest secrecy had been maintained, would deal with it as they could. He is quite happy to be safe. Even the fire, which can be seen from here does not bother him; it proves to him how wise he was to absent himself. Indeed, if the town is burning it is that the people tried to defend it. Present he would have had to fight, either with the white men against his own subjects, or with his subjects against the white men; either way would have been dangerous, very dangerous, too dangerous for he whose sole ambition was to live to a ripe old age. so as to devote himself longer to upholding the love, prosperity and glory of his country.
Crack! Boom! It was his throne, two drums stacked one upon the other, which had burst under the gestures which accompanied his eloquence.
Thus the white men, Europeans no doubt, his countrymen perhaps, will have passed near Jan, in the depths of Africa, without him having a chance to shake their hands. A meeting with them would have, the poor exile thought, at least tided him over until his work was done. And this stupid king...
"Wretched coward," he cried out, "why have you brought me along? Is it so I can attest to your cowardice?
"It is the way it had to happen, since I wished, in avoiding the situation, to make it appear as if I were accompanying you. Why, think of it, in such a manner, in the eyes of my people the business which brings me here is one of devotion to you. I followed you, I did not go back."
Turned towards the white men for a moment, Jan's thoughts returned to Kaylinkah and Hemo. Would Akayrawiro have forgotten them? The king remianing patient, again answered.
"Why yes, besides my capital is crawling with little girls like that, even fatter ones, entirely at your disposal. As for your little gorilla, notwithstanding that you seem to attach some undue importance to having hm, we'll find him again. As for Kaylinkah, that's the name isn't it? you don't care one way or the other if it's her or another..."
Or another! Jan fainted.
They left the village to settle some ten leagues father away, in the opposite direction, so as to throw off the white explorers if perchance they had had the intention of having themselves led towards the court by the villagers. They camped in the forest. The meat sizzled. Mouths followed each other in rapid succession on the spouts of the large jars bearing the supreme delight of palm wine and rancid termite oils. Wild music got even the most tired among them moving, raised the drunkenness of the drunkest by two-fold, and made the beasts kept at bay by the fires roar. Every night, in the smoke, more exciting than the drink, the furious beat of the orchestra, or the aromatic herbs thrown on the fire to keep away the ants and flies, were the dances, running, whirling frenetically, in devilishly lascivious embraces, uniting every rank, every age, every sex in every sort of laughter, sobbing, kissing, moans, in every wild, indulgent behaviour, ending only in the morning, when the young, the adults and the elderly collapsed in hideous piles about the collapsed heaps of coals, whose last flickers, like the bulging manganese- glazed surfaces of Etruscan brown-clay pottery, were reflected outward from the sweaty curves of piled up bodies, arms barely relaxed, they anger not yet full expended.
However, the security forces announced the departure of the white men. The king reentered his liberated capital; imposed taxes which would help compensate those who had shared his hardships in exile; had those plotters who had led the defense and now bore a certain embarrassing glory impaled; softened the mob with great feasts organized in honour of his return; and busied himself trying to satisfy Jan, who was still asking him about Hemo and cursing the weakness which nailed him to his pallet, preventing him from finding out on his own.
Alas, all the accounts agreed. All the villagers interrogated stated that there had been six of the invaders. Calm at first, the king's absence, which they claimed to have foreseen, still irked them. To punish him they had lodged in his own huts. One of their black servants having through his negligence caused the fire during the very first night, they had him beaten to show that it was his fault, not theirs, and had pitched their tents in the open space. Stupidly, they freely handed out guns, cloth, and glass trinkets in exchange for bows, spears, head-garb, and pelts, rather than taking what was theirs by right of conquest. In vain was their barbarity concealed, for the next day it was revealed: they refused the young women, looked over everything, dirtied with black scrawlings a beautiful white material which they called paper, picked useless flowers, and finally, horrors! they broke, inside the temple, the twenty- headed, hundred-limbed God, replacing it with with their fetish, the representation of a man on a cross, with only one head, bent over and crying.
As for Hemo, the pale devils had taken possession of him as follows. Yet another of their stupidities: able to acquire him for nothing, they paid for him with a magnificent revolver. Having seen him playing in the street with Kaykinkah, they were very much pleased. Why do the white men all have such a passion for d'ginnas? Night they be, with their faces as hairy as the apes, themselves the apes of their own countries? Hemo no doubt believing so, allowed his legs to be bound, and expressed no anger until they tried to tie his hands together, He fought, screamed, bit, and finally leapt upon Kaylinkah's shoulders, who ran off carrying him. The ferns protected them. A white man, losing hope of catching them, took aim, but afraid, lowered his weapon; a Pahouin then took down Kaylinkah with an arrow, took the living d'ginna and exchanged it --- see here --- for this brand new revolver.
"Vile wretch! it is then you who slaughtered my poor little Kaylinkah!"
"Not exactly. Having fallen near the river with my arrow in her lower bqack, she cried out for help."
"And you didn't run to her assistance?"
"Why, yes, to retrieve my arrow!"
"What do you expect? She might have remained alive, but crippled. But don't feel bad, she didn't suffer much. She was screaming so loudly that the crocodile soon heard her. One bite took her to her grave. Well now! enough chatting or I'll be reprimanded. Lord, cousin to the king, please grant that I may leave you now. The nobles are astir, and I am the one to cook the stew."
The nervous collapse which tortured Jan for a full hour had, overall, a two-fold benefit: he was cured of his pernicious fever, and a sort of crack opened in his mind through which the remembrance of his difficulties, his aborted work, his vanished glory were lost. He no longer complained of them but in a vague manner, accidentally, as if sympathizing with the misadventures of an old friend. He hiked around, devoured his meals, slept --- he the eternal dreamer --- twelve dreamless hours, silent and only opening his mouth to repeat the last words of the Pahouin who had told him of Kaylinkah's death: "grant that I may leave you now." Akayrawiro, in spite of his indulgent nature, ended up finding his behaviour rather dull, and in a spontaneous moment, such as even the most considered of leaders has, he ended up granting him his wish, to the joy of the courtiers, jealous of his friendship with this vile white man, but to the chagrin of the people, who, with their base mundane concerns, were taken with affection for this sort of crazy man who never did them any harm, protected them from soldiers, and babysat the infants whose parents were off in the fields or hunting.
His luggage packed, a notebook and a few fruit tied in a kerchief to the end of a stick, Jan Maas tied on his bark leggings, and left with an air of resignation, which the good king, regretting his quick decision, forced him to accept an escort of ten sturdy men, veterans of extended expeditions, who knew how to prepare for such things.
Half a league away, to these twelve warriors were added another thirty, encountered along the road where they were working off their taxes. In vain did Jan object to their accompanying then; with their sickles they hewed a sort of shield upon which they hoisted him with a portion of his luggage, handed him a fern-frond parasol, and took him away at a brisk pace.
The pleasure of being useful was not their only motivation. The explorers who had taken Hemo had preceded them along this same road, tearing asunder obstacles. The fiercest of regions, terrified, would open up their gates, chicken coops, and silos at the approach of this second caravan, which they thought was a continuation of the first. Jan, on his throne, appeared as a bold white chieftain. Happily taking advantage of the circumstances, the Pahouins, to better abuse the neighbouring tribes, spoke with authority, ravaged crops, torching and raping; and if Jan, shaking off his torpor tried to calm them down, they answered the inhabitants pleas by saying that the pale-faced chief was ordering them to ravage, burn and rape even more. At each stop, a fresh orgy, and those taken from each location, in turn, joined the takers in the next day's skullduggery.
Jan threatened the killers with his rifle; they might well have strangled him and thrown himto the crocodiles, but his presence among them was their safeguard, his pale face the flag before which all disagreements were silenced, any attempt at defending a village or hint of revolt was brought to its knees. They contented themselves with shrugging their shoulders at his reprimands, whistling derisively at his morals, and grating into his soup bark of the icaja bush, whose strange narcotic effects kept him in a mummy's sleep for several consecutive days. Once, the dose being too large, the poison had the opposite effect; instead of falling asleep, the poor Jan, shaken by a terrible drunken frenzy, rushed among the dancers and behaved so lewdly that, though at first amused, they quickly found his behaviour more embarassing than when, free of drugs, he was enjoining them to behave sensibly.
Balakay, Fawn, Bulu, Shaykiany, Mpongos augmented the numbers of the troop by some ten-fold, creating a great moving horde., stretched out helter-shelter, blazing tangled trails through the old growth forest. The stragglers and laggards hand not finished sacking one place, when those in the lead were already receiving gifts from the next village, the inhabitants having run out to meet them in the hope of buying themselves off from being pillaged. Jan no longer left his litter. The clever Pahouins kept him prisoner within it, served him, prostrated themselves to him like priests before an idol, and, in order to maintain the preeminence of their companions, boasted of his strength, declaring him to be a powerful missionary from the white civilisation, who had chosen their tribe as allies, and did not deign entertain a direct interchange but with them.
Day, by shortened day, the dark bacchanale nonetheless advanced, finally reaching the estuary of the Gabon. The river dwellers, less gullible given their frequent contact and traffic with Europeans, smelled a rat, searched the litter and unmasked the leader. Finding the one they thought so fearsome in such a pitiful state, the Bakalay understood that they had been duped by the Pahouins; the ancient hatred was rekindled and argument, then fighting broke out, which opportunity Jan availed himself of to escape from his protectors.
On the shore of the river widened into a sea inlet, he came down from the awful Calvary which he had climbed upon his arrival in Africa. Already alone back then, carrying munitions, his cartridge belt, his coat, a well-stocked pharmacy, bearing weapons and especially having faith in his work, confidence in the future drawing him forward, insensitive to the cruellest agonies, laughing at the greatest dangers, certain that the hour of his death would not toll until he had accomplished his mission. Comparatively, he is now sick, worn out, has lost everything, and though still disdainful of the savages, the beasts and the climate, it is because he is getting farther from his goal, returning to the disgust of a mundane life, and he knows that the tomb is never ready for the poor cowards who pine for it like him, for they have been left with only one certainty: that of the ultimate mercy of death.
And in a sign ultimate derision he sees the Nature which surrounds him striken with the very death he seeks in vain. The mangrove zone: neither breeze nor sunbeam penetrates the immutable night of the motionless coppery green canopy. Beneath its prop roots, hideous black crabs stir the much like a horde of monstrous spiders. In the steamy air the slightest noises reverberate as through a solid medium, and when they disturb one of the rare nests in the branches, the raucous, lugubrious, strangely extended cry of the touraco sounds like an invisible finger tearing a shroud, the thick shroud of fog. He eats these crabs and the filthy oysters stuck on the rotting roots which emerge from the waters. Having fallen into a bottomless marsh, he hoped at last to never rise again, when the nuns of a nearby French convent, spying him from the dugout in which they were fishing, paddled from midstream towards him. Their devotion, their practical experience in treating the fevers prevalent in the region quickly rid him of his symptoms. He thanked them in their tongue, which he remembered from his youth at the side of the old Parisian painter who had taken up residence in Haarlem; and these good folk, thinking they had saved a countryman were all that much happier. They continued to lend him a hand even when, undeceiving them he confessed part of the truth, that he was Dutch and a naturalist, but keeping quiet with respect to his experiments on animal hybridization. His severely compromised health precluding his further stay among them, their superior paid his way on a mail-ship headed for Marseilles. From France it would be easy for him to get home.
After Port Gabon the ship put in at Saint Louis. Jan remained aboard, keeping to himself for the entire crossing. As silent and isolated in the dining room as in his cabin, his favourite spot was a corner of the between-deck lounge; his elbow on the back of a bench, he could follow, through the narrow opening of the portholes, the ever changing passage of the coastline, now near, now distant. What he sees of it in this manner suffices, he neither shifts his head to follow a particular point beginning to disappear to the rear, nor to try to anticipate what new shores will present themselves towards the front. In front of the Bay the Bay of Arguin, a group to whom an English tourist, as voluble as the English are when they wish to be, was telling of the wreck of the Medusa, rushed onto the bridge to sound the horizon open with their glasses, and a Parisian clapped as if, in his sights, he had rediscovered the magnificence of Jericho. Jan stays put. At the edge of the great desert, which begins at the White Cape, the more placid, the curious, driven to distraction by the monotony of the show on the right, lost themselves on the other side in a contemplation of the immensity of the open sea, awestruck as if they could breathe the heady aromas of the West Indies and Mexico. Still at his porthole, he pleasures in his solitude. These three hundred leagues of unchanging cliffs lull him into a soothing forgetfulness from which he seldom wakes, except to envy the land spread out behind these endless rocky ramparts: the bare Sahara, almost as lifeless as a lunar landscape, flatter than the ocean, without a wisp of grass, without a sound, without movement save for the tigering of its surface by a cloud as it moves in from offshore, and having barely made an appearance, dissipates in the vast shimmering of a mirage. He would like to walk there. In the silence he would be free to proclaim his dispair. Or better yet, no! He would not trace even the narrowest of furrows for his bed, he would lay down upon it, his face up, eyes wide: it would not be enough for all this sun to eat away at his retinas, to search his chest, to dry his tears and warm his anguish; not enough of all this death to symbolise the one he feels in his soul. At Cape Noon, a milestone the ancient navigators had not crossed, he sighs a goodbye to the last of the granite upon which the ceaseless surf of the waves strikes. But his imagination, once again free to roam, is his solace. Beyond the slim past of the Babylons, Memphises and Troys, whose histories do not appear much different to him than the stories told in yesterday's big city newspapers, he follows the geological eras back, and turning towards the ocean, looks for the Atlantis of Tertiary times which cemented together two worlds and carried a torrent of silt in huge rivers whose deltas one can recognize in Spain by the very thickness of their silt deposits.
A few days later, in the small Marseille hotel where he waits for the money he has requested from his relatives in Haarlem to finish his trip he continues to daydream in this manner, in this room beneath the roof. The street which narrows between the double row of whitewashed facades nightly becomes a chalky ravine upon whose cliffs, in a long ago epoch, he dwells; the tramway passing below, its two large headlights lit, is a mastodon with huge eyes; and if the car stops to let off a passenger, he imagines the animal crouching, ridding himself of one or another of its excrements, which hardened into coprolites in the ensuing centuries, are enough for the scientists to reconstruct the intestines, the stomach, the teeth, the head, and finally the entire original creature.
Having received his money, his clothing purchased, he went to the railway station. An employee showed him, upon his humble request, to a car which would not be too full and wherein one could be comfortable. Only one other passenger, but what a passenger! what luggage! Jan could well push himself into a corner and pretend to sleep, but the packages overflowed onto his knees, pressed into his hip, and their owner forced him to listen to his adventures, the battles he had recently fought with the lions of the Atlas range. Bing! bang! the rifle shots, the roars of the injured beasts, marvelous stalking in the dead of night, the leaps, the battles, the horrors of thirst in dried up wadi transformed into thickets of cacti and gladioli, whose spines are like darts and edges like sabers. Jan heard, saw everything, suffocating, barely occupying a quarter of the space in the corner of the compartment, where the frightening gestures with which the intrepid hunter accompanied his no less frightening accounts, pushed him, brought him to bay, flattened him.
"So friend, where are you coming from, yourself?"
Directly interrogated, Jan, who had remained silent throughout, was forced to answer.
"From Gabon! And this is all you are bringing back?" With a laugh that could crack the window had they been up, the friend weighed with his hand, dangling from the nail of his little finger, the kerchief which bore the entirety of Jan's possessions, a spare shirt given to him by the monks in Libreville. Jan embarrassed, picked up his pitiful bundle and sat upon it to hide it. The Provencal, a good man in spite of his bragging, fearing he had hurt his feelings, ended his playfulness and adding "my good mans" one after another, took up once again his bing! bangs! and exuberant mimicry. Jan's ears were buzzing, the blood was going to burst forth under the din of this voice wherein the death rattle of lions, which it had provoked, rumbled. At this moment the conductor announced: "Tarascon, Tarascon!" The mad hunter, having reached his destination, ran to the carriage door, into the arms of all of Tarascon's delirious citizenry, who, clapping excessively, awaited his return.
"Hurrah for Tartarin! Hurrah for the lion slayer! Hurrah for Tartarin of Tarascon!"
Tartarin, for it was Tartarin, the immortal Tartarin of Tarascon (2), was hard pressed to escape the crowd's enthusiasm, pulling out pell-mell his packages unto the right of way, giving Jan an embrace,, saying goodbye to him as if he were an old friend. Will they never see each other again? Alas! who knows? Back in his native lodgings only long enough to equip himself with new weapons, Tartarin will soon he too, get back in the car, but this time to go poke his rifle at the terrible bear of the polar ice, the monstrous polar plantigrade, in Switzerland.
Paris, Brussels, and Jan finally breathes in the peaty smell of the polders. Even though it is December, the red cows, they long horns smoothly curving with their tips to the front are still in the pastures, excited by the cold, and looking even more gluttonous than in the summer, as if the light sleet spangling the grass blades was dusting them with sugar. Against the background of the sky, which seldom changes in any season, the same brownish mists still drifted about, rounded smooth by such high altitude winds, that the windmill vanes deployed everywhere seemed only to capture their lost wisps and then turn backwards. In the canals the long, flat barges, the trekschuiten, harnessed to a horse, still made their slow way, barely rippling the dark and ever sleepy waters. On the level rails the same solid cars roll smoothly on, filled with smokers, but where not a single traveller taps the ashes from his cigar anywhere else but in the small wooden box, nailed for that very purpose to the lower portion of the window frame. "Haarlem! Haarlem!" In front of the station three cabs are lined up, their three drivers solemnly aligned in a row, offering themselves to the occasional tourist. Along the streets the children are playing, and Jan, who walks alone, having forgotten to warn them of the time of his arrival, shivers the first time in a long while and hastens his sleepwalker's steps, believing he recognizes in certain of the childrens' cries, an echo of Hemo's rowdiness.
He heads to the closest place, Saskia's home.
Martin Heltzius' store is open and merchandise overflowing from all its shelves, but free of any customers or boss. He knocks, he rings. A five to six year old child, his fingers numb, runs up from the garden where they make up two opposing sides bombarding each other with snowballs.
"Do you wish to buy something sir?"
"Are you then the salesperson, son?"
"Oh! no sir, I just keep an eye on the store. If it's to buy something I'll go and get my dad and uncle Adrian's, at the Brinckeylmann caf‚. I say my uncle, but he isn't really, he's my grandmother's husband, but not my grandfather either. I call him my uncle Adrian, because I love him very much.
"And your mother?"
"Mommy is at the church, praying for another uncle whom I don't know, who will be back one of these days from...from...I don't know, from far, far away."
"Do you not know this other uncle's name?"
"Why yes! He is my uncle Jan. And mother wanted to name me after him. My name is Jan too."
Jan cried. Given his two large teardrops, his leanness, his arched back, his bundle, his leggings, his walking stick, his pathetic exterior, the child, moved by a certain thought, asks if he has come to beg for alms. Indeed, his mother is not here, but she always gives to the destitude, he can give in her stead. And drawing a copper piece from his pocket, shiny from having been rubbed by the marbles he keeps there, he extends it to him, timid for not having more.
"Here my good man, don't worry, my mother will give it back to me."
Jan hugs him and thanks him. No, his is not begging for charity, at least not for money. Let him tell his mother and father that a friend wishes to speak with them, nothing more, a friend who has been far, far away.
The child is already trotting off towards the caf‚, when he changed his mind. One could read on his worried features his parents injunction to not go far from the store, and his hesitation at leaving the stranger there alone. Anyways, looking him over once again, with one of those children's gazes which skim over the surface of things yet nonetheless unravel its thread, appearances and posturing for the gallery having no hold on their innocence, trusting the tender meekness of his features, ran off again, this time for good.
Jan's hand resting on the counter touched a newspaper. He picked it up. The Amsterdam Gazette, several days old, but still in its wrapper.
Dear sheet! thought Jan who unfolded it unconciously. He no longer remembers how many years ago, but it was from it that he had learned of the drawing of the Orphan's lottery, and of the fortune which suddenly fell to him. Had he not won the jackpot, what would his life have been? A digit greater or lesser in his ticket's number and he would have stayed, cultivating tulips, his universe limited to his flower beds, D'ginna unknown to him, he would not be beset with that sadness, his memories of Hemo, which will kill him, kill him all te better by burdening him with a secret which he can never rid himself of by speaking of it.
Hemo! Who has whispered the name? Through what strange coincidence have his lips pronounced it, while his eyes read it, nay devoured it, on a back page of the Gazette. Written as plain as day, alomost on every line, here indeed are the two triumphant syllables: Hemo! Hemo! Hemo! He spells them out, his sight clouded, mumbles them in a choked voice, and suddenly rushes off like a madman from his cell, out of Martin Heltzius' store, returning to the train station, just in time to catch the express to Amsterdam. For there is no doubt. Hemo, D'ginna's son, Kaylinkah's playmate, the native of the Pahouin country, his pupil, and perhaps much more than his mere pupil, is in this city, or at least was on the date on the newspaper, in which he rereads over and over again an article entitled: Peter the mattress-maker.
No more is it Peter the Mattress-maker that our headline should read, but Peter the assassin. Last night we were no longer on the theatre beat, but at the Assize Court. No longer tearing our white gloves applauding the actors, we have soiled them with blood handling a corpse. Indeed, last night, blood soiled our magnificent Palace of Industry Theatre.
NEWS REPORT FROM The Amsterdam Gazette
Since we are not critiquing a play, but recounting a true crime, there is no need to obey the laws of stage propriety by holding back on the emotional scenes, or delaying the outcome until the end. So then, the outcome, here it is, right away, in all the simplicity of its horror: last night, in the middle of the show, before the eyes of the public, one actor murdered another. For one must not deceive ourselves, this was no accident, it was murder, and premeditated.
I leave it for you to judge.
One will remember that a troop of English pantomimes were making their d‚but at the Paleis voor Volksvlijt a fortnight ago; our dear readers can find the exact date in our newspaper's back issues. We were the first to note this troop's immense success, thanks to a singular act, one of those great attractions, well designed, we must admit, to draw a crowd. The main role was held by a young gorilla from Gabon. The leads had also given us a complete run down on the strange animal, and we will remind you in this regard, that these details were reproduced by a number of our colleagues, without one having the decency to cite the Gazette, from whence they had taken them.
Let us then repeat for those who might have forgotten, that this ape had been brought to Europe by one of the sailors who had escorted Sir Thomas Stayel, the illustrious English traveller sent to Africa by the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Jonathan Doyce --- such was the sailor's name --- with a broken revolver which was no longer good for anything, had bought him near the sources of the Como, one of the upper affluents of the great Gabon River which flows into the Atlantic just above Senegal, from some Pahouin savages in whose village, if one can term a jumble of noisome huts a village, it lived tame.
Had these Pahouins been raising this young quadrumanous beast so they could devour it, rather than their own children, in leaner days? This would seem to be the case. Farther upstream, sir Thomas Stayel had discovered hideous mounds of cooking wastes, which the pen refuses itself to describe, within which the bones of men and chimpanzees putrified together. Alas, how slowly does barbarism retreat before civilisation! How many more lives like that of Sir Stayel, entirely devoted to progress, will be needed to bring light to the very confines of the world where the deepest darkness reigns! That is the question, shall we, along with the illustrious explorer, repeat in the language of Shakespeare and Byron.
We know that France exerts her protectorate over those regions of Gabon where the gorilla's habitat is situated. Nonetheless, the Paris Natural History Museum only owns one specimen...stuffed. Hence did it try to acquire the one it knew to be in the possesion of the English sailor. Jonathan Doyce would consent to part with it, but --- who would blame him --- in drawing the greatest profit possible. Unfortunately for the Paris Museum, the budget with which it operates did not allow it, in these circumstances, to compete with the circus owners, and the ape was finally awarded to some English clowns, who, his education completed, undertook a tour of all the great cities of the continent with him. Having disembarked in Antwerp, they had already drawn applause from Belgium, when they made their d‚but in Amsterdam.
Hemo, such is the name of this unique actor, the same name he bore among the savages. However that may be, the name, given first billing on the posters displayed at the Paleis voor Volkslijt, sold out the hall every night. We have analysed, in this very column, the pantomime he played. We stated that it was what one might suppose such a thing should be: an excuse for extraordinary gambols.
Pierrot the Mattress-maker, such was the title.
Hemo, that is the ape, included in his role as Pierrot the functions of mattress-maker and of Colombine's husband. Colombine was played by the ravishing Miss Betty. The Harlequin with whom, as always, she always hoodwinked Pierrot, was William Ochter, the most stunning clown, bar none, to ever have donned the traditional and elegant red and black diamond- patterned costume. As soon as Pierrot's back was turned, he came to laugh and frolick with his mistress, drink and eat with her Pierrot's wine and pat‚. The latter quickly guessed what was going on between them. He watched them, caught them, and threatened Harlequin, who answered him with a hail of blows with a washerwoman's beater.
Pierrot locked up his wife. While he worked on one side of the stage, on could see her pining in the lonely house which filled the other side. He combed out his mattresses; when they were finished, he rolled them up, tied them up and brought them inside; Harlequin slipped into one of them, after having distracted him with a call from offstage; completely unawares he brought him into his shop, such that the two lovers, Harlequin having quick left his hiding spot, caressed each other on the mattress prepared and brought in by the poor husband.
Upon hearing their kisses, Pierrot caught them again. This time there was an mad chase, such an emulation of grimaces, of contortions, of tumbling between Harlequin and Pierrot, that one could no longer tell, between the two, who was the ape and who was the man. They scuffled about on the second floor of the house, in the trees in the yard, on the roof; they tumbled down from prodigious heights, turning several times upon themselves, and bounding off faster than ever.
Harlequin finally escaped, and Pierrot, aching all over, limping, pondered, trying to figure out how he had gotten into his store, sounding the walls, checking the shutters, the door, with the bewilderment of a screamingly funny grotesque. Upon seeing the untiedmattress amongst the others, he blinked and tapped his brow with his finger to indicate that he had understood. In the following act, when Harlequin was sneaking his way in again, he pretended not to notice anything, but, once the mattress was rolled up and tied, rather than dragging it into his home with the others, he drew it up to the bottom of a tree, and ran him through with several thrusts of a sword. The trick was simple, but very cleverly executed; Harlequin as one will have guessed, had disappeared through a trap door in the flooring; bladders of dark red wine designed to be burst open by the sword bubbled forth a stream of blood, and Pierrot would smear his whiteface with it in one of those exagerations typical of the English stage, which, as we know, never holds back from presenting the public with the most trivial and repugnant reality. Harlequin, offstage, imitated the cries of a pig being slaughtered; as in the best developed of melodramas, the women were all atremble. Not yet appeased, took up the bloody mattress and like a reaper might his wheat, he beat it mercilessly, sat on it, trampled on it, and finally unrolled it to admire his work, to wallow in his vengeance.
From the basement, Harlequin had slipped in his place in the mattress a flattened, life size portrait of himself painted on an inflatable gold-beater's skin. The crowd was in stitches. Colombine, drawn by the joyful cries of her fierce husband, was almost unconcious as she tenderly ran her fingers over her lover, reduced to a pancake. So when policemen passed through at the rear of the stage, she ran after them to denounce the crime.
Having remained alone, poor Pierrot began to shake, seeing himself judged, convicted and hung, and previewing the noose about his neck, he kicked about, croaked, his tongue drawn out by the sudden jerk of an irremediable snap. But suddenly his face changed, a glimmer of malice came over it; he loosened the slipknot which he imagined was already be about his neck, sighed deeply like one asphixiated now reborn to life, ran home, came back out with something hidden under his smock, and having made sure he was alone, he raised it in triumph. A bellows! It was a bellows of which he fitted the nozzle in the nose, the mouth, the ears, even in the lower back of the inflatable man, with such a drollness of motions that it covered for what was the rather risqu‚ nature of the last joke. There were indeed a few shocked "oh! oh!," but these were quickly drowned out by the laughter upon seeing the inflatable figure growing round, its arms and legs spreading apart, and Pierrot putting it back into the mattress with endless precautions so as not to deflate it. When the police officers, led by a Colombine in tears, proceeded to investigate, it was, of course, the real Harlequin who, back in place, rose up better than ever, between the two spouses whose amazements during the proceedings, were equal but pleasantly contradictory: the wife, thrilled, the husband dumbfounded. Harlequin showed the police officers his close-fitting vest pierce by the sword; and Pierrot, handcuffed, was taken away, but not fast enough for him not to see his supposed victim and his unfaithful Colombine pay out to one another their arrears in kisses.
From this pantomine like unto so many others, the gorilla created a strange work of art through the intense expression of his features, and his frantic capers. Let us cut to the quick. As much as our readers have had a hunch, so we are certain: it was in the act where Pierrot runs through the mattress with the sword that the murder occurred.
The crowd, gayer, and more tumultuous, was packed into the hall even more densely than on the previous nights. Let the reader forgive us a word of backstage slang: it gave itself wholeheartedly to the actor.
Pierrot, the Ape, Hemo to give him his true name, had never shown such verve. A single one of his leaps took him right across the scenery; he shouted like Othello, the first time he discovered Harlequin, and looked at his as if he wished to devour him: one could hear his fangs grating. The waves of applause followed one upon the other without end. Given the meagre week in the theatres, nothing drawing us elsewhere, we had come to occupy our seat for a second time. We can say: "I was there." Thus, we were approaching the scene with Harlequin in the mattress.
"The business scene," such as the illustrious Parisian speaker who deigned to honour us with his remarks, if we daren't say his friendship, during his recent trip to our beloved Amsterdam on the occasion of the Exposition --- M. Francis Quarcey does indeed thus qualify the most important scene, the scene where the intrigue is knit. We know that his theories on the theatre have contributed to him being categorized among the master writers of his country, at least as much as his Le Roi des Dunes, that marvelous novel which ignorant and jealous reviewers (these alas can only be found in Paris!) said was plagiarized from Rolla, a ridiculous Italian poem. And this reparation is only right, so have we assured ourselves in the numerous, yet all too infrequent conversations which he has allowed us to profit by --- we mere pupils --- conversations whose recollection remain among the highlights of our already long literary career. For M. Francis Quarcey, whose modesty will be vexed if perchance his eyes come to peruse these few words , joins the tactfullness of a Pascal, to the profundity of a B‚ranger, and we understand why his countrymen have awarded him the flattering yet deserved name of La BruyŠre's grand-son.
Those whom, like us, had attended the first show, noticed a few changes in the details, but without attaching any importance to them.
Until now Pierrot had only tied the mattress containing Harlequin in the middle, with a loose piece of twine. Last night, on the contrary, he tied it at both ends, tying it tight, thus creating a huge bolster, solidly sealed at both ends. He believed it to be a complication designed to better conceal the disappearance of the clown and his replacement with the life size inflatble simile. Then, rather than leaning it against a tree, he propped it up at the other end of the stage, near the wall of the house; we supposed that the trap door had been moved. Finally, when he brandished the sword and lanced the mattress with even fiercer blows, and the mattress gave a start as if shaken through the frothing of red blood, we applauded with greater warmth what appeared to us to be an improvement on the old trick. O! fatal error!
Poor William Ochter, the clown, was indeed wrapped up like a dumpling, emprisoned in a sack. It was indeed him, in the flesh, which the sword was relentlessly running through. It was indeed his blood that was flowing. And when, after an uproar, at first indistinct, was heard backstage, came the cries of the entire cast of actors, walk-ons, stage-hands, and firemen, frightened and frantic, completely forgetting to lower the curtain when they unravalled the horrible bedding, it was no longer a mock-corpse, a deadman-for-laughs which appeared before the speechless and as yet uncomprehending audience, but...
We shall not describe this butchery. We are among those who respect the reader, not of those whose pen takes pleasure in laying out all the gruesome facts of certain events, to dissect the wounds, to count the pustules, to search through revolting remains which no longer bear a name in the speech of good folk.
Harlequin was hiccoughing out his agony, and was even more upsetting than the normal figure of someone dying, the painted face's last convulsions loosening the paint, the white of pearl and the rice powder in large flakes.
The crowd, the curtain finally lowered, was dumb with fright. On the stage, now invisible, the hubbub grew. Suddenly, it ended, and from the room, on the contrary, burst forth a single awful cry.
Hemo, divested of his black headband, of his white shirt with blue tassel buttons, his clown-pants, his laced yellow boots, in a word of all his Pierrot togs except his floured face, had climbed, with the help of the scenery supports, to the upper rod supporting the curtain, from which he sprang, once again the great wild ape of the old growth forests, toward the top of the room, towards the vault lost in shadow, among the jumble of arches, right-angled joints, iron beams and girders supporting the huge glassed over roof. And through this dizzying escape, which might have seemed a minor episode in such an abominable tragedy, he took with him, holding her to his hairy chest with one arm, who? Colombine, the poor little English actress, miss Betty, unconscious, almost dead, and whose head, the long braids of which she had loosened, and her limbs, all dangled motionless at every leap her fierce abductor made.
The firemen quickly gave up on pursuing him, and the trrop director to bring him down with a pistol shot. Would Miss Betty not likely be killed by the horrible drop that would result from bringing down the assassin. The authorities proceeded with reason by first having the Palace evacuated. All the doors and windows bolted, en entire squad, armed with ropes, planks and ladders took to the chase; a terrible chase, whose outcome the growing, anxious crowd outside awaited. For the story had already spread through all the city. Among the groups of people, comments were exchanged, they generally agreeing to lay the blame on the chief of police. What was he thinking, allowing the English pantomimes to have, on stage with them, a supposedly tame beast, but whose true ferocity, alas! was no longer a topic of discussion. Does it not seem that in the last little while those governing us&ellip;
As soon as he had finished reading this article, where the editor of the theatre beat, flattered to have for once been one step ahead of his colleagues in the field of politics, and seeing his prose rise from the newspaper's backpages to the headline, had filled the four columns of the front page, Jan started reading it again, while unconciously rocking back to front and then front to back, as children do to hasten the forward and backward motion of a swing.
Night was falling. Standing upright in the middle of the car, he continued his reading under the light. When the train stopped he could not but stifle a cry in response to that of the employees calling out "Amsterdam," throwing his ticket at them, jostling the most hurried of travellers, leaving the station and heading towards the Palace of Industry.
The box-office was not open. He wandered around the square, reading posters annoucing a concert followed by a ball. Prey to a growing apprehension he asked left and right, from police officers and from passers by, who yawned in indifference at his haggard look and choppy speech. In the vestibule of the Palace, a boutique owner informed him that, since the night of the murder, the pantomime show was no longer playing; the administration, under orders, had immediately revoked any contract with the English troop; the morning edition of the Gazette still had still not reported what had happen with the infamous ape; as for the clowns and dancers, a gentleman can easily get news of the latter --- added a smiling old gossip, her hand extended --- by visiting the alleyways near the Rokin Canal. Were the gentleman a stranger to the city, she offered to lead him there. He paid her for her information, but refused her company.
Besides, he had no need for a guide; however timid his life as a young man, this had not saved him from hearing, long ago in Haarlem, the old fellows at the Brinckeylmann caf‚ sing the praises of the alleyways in question, and to compare them, in joyful whispered confessions, to the Ryddeck in Antwerp.
Kalver-Straat was the busiest street in Amsterdam. Along its two rows of store fronts, the butcher's markets sparkled, their windows without a speck of dust, their hams seemingly of freshly varnished mahogany, the scarlet wrapping of the tongue pat‚s livening up the immaculate whiteness of the pyramids, grottos and rock gardens built of lard; at intervals a caf‚ presents a contrast, its first room dark and without any other light upon the curtain which separates it from the restaurant proper, than that of the glowing end of cigars upon the lip of smokers preferring this isolation in the shadows to the gaslight and sound of billiards from behind. He made his way up as far as the Dam Plaza, turned around and changed sidewalks, now following that which ran parallel to the Rokin Canal. The boutique owner had been correct in indicating the alleys to him; after a number of coarsely painted and gaudily rigged out chubby- cheeked girls, who insistence on pushing him towards some vague half-open doors at the street corner had embarrassed him, a young woman brushed against him, and whispered to him in passing: "G'night blondy, you're lookin' good." He recognized in her, notwithstanding the impudent tone of her French, that she was a young Englishwoman.
"You wouldn't happen to be Betty?"
"No, Betty, that ain't me, that's my sis', but it's same thing."
She slipped her arm under his and drew him towards the canal as she answered him. Both of them, in a tacit agreement avoided the most frequented places; he felt her trembling against him when they crossed police officers walking their beat or doing sentry duty. On Warmoes St. she stopped him before a darkened passage. At the end a doubtful light trickled down from the first floor, illuminating as best it could, but rather worse than best, a spiral staircase. However, upon their approach a door closed, everything turned black again, and she had to lead him by the hand.
A coal heater gave off an asphyxiating heat. Lighting a candle of which she allowed a few drops to drip on the mantelpiece so as to stick it there, the woman brought the fire back to life with a few booted kick on the bars of the grate, then impatient and as if to warm herself up faster, she began to dance, to pirouette on her toes around the table, the only piece of furniture in the narrow room, besides an iron cot with sordid bed linens and a chair upon which Jan let himself drop.
After the fog outside, the kiln-like temperature dried up his throat. He was made noxious by the odour of greasy cooking, left over from what one could only surmise had been pastry scraps cooked in beer, mixed with some yet more disgusting odours emanating from the toiletry implements spread out over the floor: soured washbasins of frothing water, jars and vials of rancind pommade and of brillantine which had lost it's bouquet. In short, not having eaten and long consumed by fever, he had to hold his head together with two hands to gather the thoughts he sensed were slipping away. Some old dancers' skirts, in yellow satin decorated with fake pearls and painted-glass jet, unsown and nailed right into the only window's wooden frame, served as drapes, but prevented any air circulation. As he wished to open the door on the landing, but the little one refused to do so, some creaking of the floor led him to ask id someone was not spying on them; no, it is nothings, just one of her brothers listening to see if she was home. To reassure him she bolted the door and pulled the bed over against it.
Thin, pale, a rash on her cheeks, coughing, her shoulders drawn together by a bodice of tacky velvet with threadbare braiding, she took up her dance again, paused to look at him, and suddenly unclipped herself, sitting on his knees, tapping playfully on his cheeks and under his arms. Jan only then understanding that she had mistakened his intentions, drew back, she thinking he did so because of the rather unappealing look o fher yellowed undergarments. Embarrassed, her eyes lowered, sighing, coughing harder, almost sobbing, she apologized for her poverty.
Her family had had a string of bad luck. They had spent their advances on their costumes as soon as their engagement at the Paleis voor Volkslijt had been confirmed. Such profitable conditions! The premiere, such a success! With her elder sister Betty, they had brought some lovely bargains from Paris, where they were part of the scene on Richelieu St. and at the Royal-Palace, until their parents had called them back to begin this European tour which was to make them rich. What a bizarre dream their father had had to acquire that hideous ape and to have imagined turning him into an actor!
Upon hearing Hemo's name, Jan remembered the object of his visit. He had come to have the whole story told him, the details published in the Gazette being insufficient. First, what had been done with the ape?
A fist pounding and a rough voice shook the door.
She opened up and debated with a large man on the threshold. Until now she had spoken in French, but now she and her father spoke English. Still, Jan understood them well enough to grasp a few snippets of their conversation, amongst which the word "reporter" was frequently repeated. The man came in: a sort of monstrous dwarf whose strength must have been herculean, wider than tall, gap-toothed, shaved, with reddish brown brush-cut hair resembling a calfskin skull-cap, with jowls hanging to his shoulder blades, mutton chop hands, and feet so wide, beneath his spindly legs and knock-knees, that one would have thought them to be webbed. His moleskin vest thrown on with nothing underneath so constricted his chest that his flesh protruded out in great rolls from between the buttons. Even had he not been staggering, his face and small, bloodshot eyes would have been sufficient indication of his inebriated state. In a stupor, grumbling at the tiresome task of having to answer the reporters' endless questions and repeating the story over and over again, he muttered to Jan, whose thinness and clothing he disdainfully measured up, that he should have at least come to him, the troop's director, and not waste the time of his lazy daughters, who need no encouragement to loiter about. Jan offered him, awkwardly, as he feared offending him, a ten florin gold piece. It disappeared by slight of hand and the dwarf, his features and words softened, asked Jan to join him in the adjoining room, the current one being his daughters'.
On the same floor and barely larger, during the day this second room only receives the false light from a peephole in the partition of the hallway. But right now a kerosene lamp was hanging from the ceiling by a wire. The empty chimney had, in lieu of a wind screen, a piece of packing cloth held on the mantel by a rudimentary kitchen utensil, plates, bottles, rusted pots, in one of which a bottle stood upright, allowing some hard liquor to seep out of its cracked bottom. A narrow cast iron stove, with a long, elbowed chimney pipe, roared redly, supporting a large pot of potatoes. On the cots, piles of rags which were children were stirring; the mother in the middle of them is feeding the smallest of them, whose irritation at vainly suckling on the flaccid breast is rising; a skeletal boy in a clown suit is standing reading beneath the lamp. The reek, the heat, the thickness of the sweat and fetid breaths are such that Jan, inured to the Pahouins' huts, must nonetheless lean on a wall so as not to collapse.
His tongue loosened by a full cup of liquor drawn directly from the pot on the mantelpiece and swallowed in one gulp, the Director, having chased away with his foot, as one would a nest of vermin, the infants on one cot, he lowered himself into a weightlifter's squat, inviting Jan to join him and lamenting himself about his dog's life, past, present, and future.
In order to provide for his needs and those of his family, he only had his take as a mountebank lifting weights on the street. On a rainy day, no curious folk out, not a penny in his cup, he had considered, rather than coming home to clamours of hunger, to take a header into the Thames. The posting of an advertisement for the sale of a young gorilla by a sailor back from Gabon, gave him a brilliant idea, which a large sum, wired for and received two days later from his eldest daughters, dancers in Paris, allowed him to accomplish. He bought the animal, a bit dearer than he might have liked, because of an agent of the Paris Museum who kept overbidding him and thought he could compete with the purse of an English entertainer.
As much as Jan insisted on knowing immediately of Hemo's whereabouts, the director kept drinking shot after shot and rattling off his clap-trap story, an arranged translation which he spouted between pauses. Once, however, he interrupted himself. His "Darlin'," right in front of him, was warming her hands by the stovepipe, but he had no yet taken notice of her. Brandishing his fist at her, he asked her what she was doing there.
"I'm a-warmin' meself," she answered, completely indifferent to his threat. His fist striking her on the back with a hollow thud, she did not move any more than before. The father said nothing, but forcing her to stumble down the stairs under a hail of blows, sent her to her job on the street. The door having barely closed, the girl came back in, just as calm as ever, looked for her mantle on the cots, slapped one of her little brothers who was curled up in it, then leaving it to him, went back to the landing, when a bout of coughing bent her in half so violently that Jan interceded on her behalf.
"Stay Darlin', the man's done changed his mind."
At Jan's gesture of denial, she sighed, disappointed, having for a minute hoped she could stay warm. The father, moved to pity, comforted her with a glass of liquor. She drank it and left, resigned, while he described how Hemo had been trained. Skilful in training of all sorts, this was his proudest achievement; he named off and boasted of each progressive phase with an abundance of technical terms. Jan, getting carried away, asked him to make it short; then, paralysed at the fear of giving away his secret, he resolved to shut up and listen; in all the verbiage he would manage to sort out the truths which would be of use to him.
"Listen to me, as fer tellin' ya where the ape's at, I dunno, or rather I ain't sure. Prob'ly at the Zoological Gardens."
Jan suddenly lit up and got up to run off there, when the other convinced him otherwise. Dammit, hold up a minute! He misses having company. The displays are closed until next morning, but Betty will be back any minute now, and she will have had some news during the day which she will be happy to pass on to him. While he waits, if he wishes to read the proof that the ape was taken among the savages, Pancks will lend him the book. At these words the clown handed him a book, whose illustrations he flipped through. It was the authentic account of Sir Thomas Stayel's voyage. Understanding written English better than spoken English, Jan found the passage where the author related in a few lines, with the man of action's disdain for long exposition, his meeting of a young tame gorilla living in king Akayrawiro's capital; he tried to tie him up, a little savage girl freed him and ran off with him. He hesitated to use his rifle, given his membership, one he bore most proudly, in the Society for the Protection of Animals, fearful of injuring the ape and only wishing to bring down the thief. While he mulled it over, a savage, promised a gift, aimed, so skilled with his bow that he transfixed the black girl through and through, without even grazing the creature sitting piggy-backed on her shoulders.
Had Jan been harbouring the slightest suspicion, the concordance between this account and that he had formerly heard from the very mouths of the Pahouins', had dispelled them. It was only out of curiosity that he waited for Betty, to meet someone so intimately involved in Hemo's melancholy adventure. Steps made the stairs creek. A rough voice swore in the darkness, that of a man Betty was bringing to the room with the iron cot. The father prayed that Jan would be patient a bit longer, then went and scratched at the door, a discrete and agreed upon signal to have the girl speed things up. The man, to which she wished a good night, left her and stumbled down the stairs. She came in, handed over a wad of cash to her father, who presented Jan to her as a generous journalist who wished to ask her some questions. She exclaimed with a tired shrug.
"Well damn it! this is turning into such a bore."
With such a clear command of French, she was able to explain how she had acquitted herself of the mission of gathering information her father had entrusted her with. The police were considering whether Hemo should be tried as a common murderer! Here's a lovely chance at ridicule that few would pass up, she is surprised they haven't persevered. Seats at the trial would sell for more than they do at the theatre. Without being snoopy, she would give her eye teeth to be there on the day the judgment was handed down, to watch Hemo, the accused, surveying the magistrates. As intelligent, good looking and strong as he is, and they as ugly as they are, one can bet that Hemo would take them for some inferior brothers, apes like him, but of some degenerate species.
In short, he is in the Zoological Gardens, chained and hidden away, but as soon as the public's memory of the dramatic events will have died down, as soon as one will no longer fear a public outcry, he will be afforded the relative liberty of the large cage. They, for now, must relax; a secretary, a charming boy whom a common friend has introduced to her, had received her in private audience, and would forward them a large sum in compensation, which the father could cash in at the central administration.
At this outcome, though expected, they were overcome with joy. The clown danced a jig, the kids on the bedrolls squawked their hoarse cheers, and the one that was suckling on empty purred in hope as his mother switched him to another breast. Darlin', back in haste, completed the scene. She was out of breath. Had she not dragged into the dark alleyway a police constable, whom she had thought to be a john. He would have arrested her had she not slipped through his fingers. In Paris, in such a case, one could scream and put up a fight, and passers- by, who are always on your side, would berate the officer and force him to let you go. By comparison, here people are so stupidly thick that one wonders if they would not side with the police.
The father comforted her with a kiss on her brow, and to celebrate the entire family being reunited, promised to buy a seed-cake, if Jan would consent to buying a few bottles of pale ale; the caf‚ on the corner sold some that was excellent. Jan accepted and emptied out his pocket, happy to be able to chat with Hemo's last friend.
Betty was only too glad, having been mistakened as to what interest she had aroused. Half laying on a mattress, her head held up by a plaid rolled up as a bolster, her legs stretched out and her feet leaning high up on the stove pipe, she confessed, between puffs on her cigarette, to things which she had heretofore kept secret.
The clown's murder did not surprise her, actually she had almost been expecting it; and if she only admitted it now, it was that the case having been closed she no longer feared that she would be harassed, or that her admission could be used against her, to accuse her of not having done anything to prevent the calamity which she suspected would occur. It is unbelievable, but a reporter --- is that not the case? --- is used to hearing all sorts of things. Well then, the truth is: the ape was in love with her, and jealous of the clown.
Like an actress or an orator who has uttered some powerful lines and listens for the crowd's response, she paused. A shudder or a murmur of indignation would have pleasantly tickled her perverse fancy. But Jan, after the painful alternatives of his suppositions regarding Hemo's origins, did not even give a start. Betty disconcerted, wondering if she had a common man or a refined one with peculiar tastes on her hands, put her elbows on Jan's knees, to better gauge his impassiveness, and in a pique of self-esteem, in an effort to compete professionally, continued, giving greater detail to her story, particularly upon hearing her younger sister needle her that she was wasting her breath.
In his opinion, her father's pride in Hemo's education was not legitimate. Only she managed to win him over, for the poor beast was simply going to kick the bucket before she began to nurse him. Blows, caresses, even holding back his food left him indifferent; always shivering with cold, he would stay entire days motionless and silent on the bench which had been built for him over the stove, not even pulling up the covers which were placed on his back. His lips and around his eyes paled, his four little hands grown thin, he pulled his hair out like a mangy dog, panting feebly; a veterinarian whom they had consulted did not require a long exam to draw his diagnosis and predict his coming demise; Hemo, apparently was becoming consumptive, like most animals of his species transplanted to Europe. He was beginning, besides, to cough in little dry bursts, such as, you see, seldom leave Darlin', our little daughter whom the doctors say is seized with a similar sickness.
Thankfully she immediately took a liking to him. Curled up, his chin on his knees, sitting up in spite of the most blazing fire, or during his fits, his chest with sunken ribs bulging out, his mouth agape in an attempt to draw in the air he was missing. He drew close to her, came down from his shelf and held his arms out as he watched her. Tired of rolling on the carpet, in a gesture easily understood in thirsty children, he pointed at his nurse's bosom. She picked him up under the arms and led him playfully around the room. Just like a wheedling child, he held on to her, crossing his hands on her shoulder, placing his cheek against hers, his eyes half-closed in contentment, and jumping on the bent arm with which she supported him at the least lagging in his walkabout. Such a great sadness would then overcome her, so that she reproached herself for being strict with him, and this would fade until sleep loosened him from her neck.
The father's training scarcely went beyond the typical tricks which the circus riders taught the lowliest of carnies: being drawn apart between the top of two ladders, archery, cup and ball, dominoes, gun play, swordplay with sabers and bayonet. It was she, more ambitious, imagined trying to turn him into an actor. One of her lovers altered, according to her directions, the script of an old pantomime play. The other players required having been recruited, the troop organized, her student, as early as the first rehearsal, knew his role better than anyone else, but then also showed himself to be more jealous than the stupidest of men. Everyone laughed about it, including William Ochter, the object of this jealousy. Only she worried about it, and then only to herself; even, she would get angry if anyone brought it up in front of her. Did they take her to be a she-ape?
This William, her lover in the play, had become so in private. Not that they loved each other, but it was difficult to live together as they did without such a thing happening. Besides, the men, the poor devils, made so lithe; they would be rather penny-pinching, would they not, to refuse them what they could not buy elsewhere? Will a very good-looking boy, was a great favourite of the young ladies of the casinos and skating parties; quite intelligent, he kept himself for a better match, a would only stand still on stage for the opera-glasses of the wealthy bourgeois women . He reasoned correctly; these are the most generous, but they demand that their favourite not run around. In sleeping with him, they simply acted as good friends; they allowed him to wait, without risking his health with the streetwalkers, that what filled his tights be appreciated by some honest women.
Whatever the case, Hemo was jealous.
And to do as much as confess, she admitted to be deserving of a few reprimands. Since everybody laughed about this jealousy, she, who didn't laugh about it, should have been more careful. But see! Even the best take pleasure in having a man languish; who in her place would have resisted, especially when the man languishing was an ape. The joke was so funny! If she kissed William, Hemo closed his eyes as if not to see her, and, as if he could not control himself, growled, blew out hard, tugged on her skirt, and made faces that would put a smile on a coroner. If William kissed her it was much worse, he no longer growled, he threw himself against him, pushed him away, and ended up grinding his teeth, to the point of making him retreat. "Filthy creature!" stormed William, ending his caresses. Once when he left her open-mouthed, waiting in vain for his kiss, in jest she took an angry tone. "Let Harlequin go to the devil, he doesn't know how to protect Colombine." It was stupid, but it nonetheless vexed the clown, who came up to her and took her in his arms. Pretending to be fighting him off, she called for help. Hemo then leapt on the poor man, knocked him over, and stomped on him so violently, that she was forced to order him to let go, and repeat the command several times and even strike him, he who would usually obey her least signal. Will then wished to take vengeance upon him, to kill his...indeed, yes, his rival; she calmed him down and made a solemn promise never to play that game again.
All of this, already somewhat bizarre, became altogether so on a certain morning, or rather a certain afternoon. Some men had taken she and her sister out, the night before, to dinner, and had kept them out until breakfast the next morning. Darlin' having something to do in town, she had gone home alone. Will gone, with the whole household, for a walk, the house was empty except for Hemo. She stoked up the fire, and very tired, she went to bed. The night's champagne and truffles, and especially her beau, a very nice beau, but older, had gotten her all excited. She tossed in her sleep, the sheets drawn away, feeling herself kissed, snuffled, on her eyes, her lips, her breasts. She knew she was not dreaming of the older man, his kisses were too different. Wonderful in their awkwardness, she guessed in them a well built cherubim fearful of pushing things too far, the poor innocent one, and so as not to trouble him or further intimidate him, she kept still, and even though she was awake she kept her eyes closed, almost. All of sudden, a storm broke, that stupid William tore Hemo from the bed like an idiot, and where, at first, she was disconcerted, she was then convulsed with laughter, until she had to jump down to separate them, for they were giving themselves up to a genuine duel, the brave ape opposing his fangs and nails to the brutal clown's knife. From that day forward, Harlequin watched Pierrot as much as Pierrot watched Harlequin. To maintain the peace she had to avoid both of them. But the theatre drew them together. The crowds would have had to be awfully dumb not to notice that the ape and the clown, Pierrot and Harlequin, were not playing a part, but really despised each other, throwing each other around in earnest, and that the screams which escaped her were not all in feigned fear.
The newspapers, seeing an easy story, only scrutinized the details of the murder, not of their background.
Betty, her throat dry after such a long tale, nonetheless added an account of her memorable vaulting, in the gorilla's arms, through the rafters of the Palace of Industry. She would remember it all her life. The newspapers say she had fainted. She had when he grabbed her and launched himself upward, but soon reawakened and immediately understood that she was running no risk. He held her so tightly, yet so tenderly on his vast hairy chest that during the wildest leaps she thought herself merely swinging from a richly appointed hammock, elastically woven in horsehair. He kissed her ears with such heated breath that she still wonders whether he was not then, in his language and with his ape's tongue, whispering words of love to her. And when, cornered by twenty firemen, stagehands, soldiers, pursuing him with a forest of poles, stakes, ladders and scaffolding, he puts her down safely in a recess in the wall. Taking a last look at her so full, so long, so drowned in regrets, shattered hopes, in youth betrayed, that at the moment he charged towards his aggressors and provoked them with a grinding of his teeth, signalling his readiness to fight, she could not keep quiet and cried out, her hands extended: "Hemo! Come to me! Come back! I love you."
The soldiers finally took hold of him, loaded him in chains, dragged him away, and the uproar muffled her voice. Had this no been the case, she would have been mercilessly jeered at.
"Not me, my girl, not me!"
It was Jan, who could not keep quiet either. Oh no, he would no laugh at her for speaking of Hemo as a human being. Bent over her, he grazed her brow with his lips, fevered by the thought she might not have confessed everything, that a false sense of propriety held her back, that she had guessed Hemo's nature, that they had shared hours of intimacy, decisive, demonstrative of the equality of the two races, or at least of the similarity of their two races to the point of confusion. He brooded over her with great affection, amused himself curling behind her ear the wild wisps of her fine hair. She thought she had conquered his cold facade and with a scornful pout she called her little sister an ignorant scamp, incapable of inspiring anything in a serious man. But she laughed in her face, Jan showing himself so serious indeed that he was heaving like a good man t whom one might propose an incestuous relationship.
The father kept an eye on the goings-on between them, though apparently absorbed in his reading of Sir Stayel's voyages. He burst out in curses, and both asked him simultaneously.
"What is it?"
"There is that it's just bloody disgraceful," he turned towards Jan, taking him to witness. Reopening the book which he had a suddenly slammed shut, he read the episode of a meeting between Stayel and a slave caravan, the Arab merchant placidly upon his donkey while his servants whipped long lines of wretched blacks in wood and iron carcans whose edges skinned them alive. And as if the misery of the blacks had recalled his white man's misery to him, he finished his beer and cakes, and cursed his daughter's laziness. Let them beat it, since they are too stupid to please a distinguished guest. The theatres are letting out, the streets are filling for the last time tonight. Their buns will be history if they don't improve on the evening's take!
Jan blushed, searched through his pockets, found not a single guilder, and apologising for his departure, he followed the girls down. At the bottom of the stairs, as they were going back to the Dam Plaza and Kalver-Straat, their usual hunting grounds, he went his own way.
His rash desire to return to the site of the most recent events in Hemo's life, led Jan back to the Palace of Industry. The festivities were at their height, the bay windows, the glassed-in cupolas blazed with light, burst with music, and these rays, these echoes of happiness contrasted so painfully with the poor man's state of mind, mournful, silent, sad unto death, that as soon as he arrived he ran away. But the same desire guides him again, going across the Amstel he heads for the Zoological Gardens. Over the wall, a tree limb appears to him as a arm reaching out and lowering itself to grab him on his passage; upon the deep sighs of some great beasts in their nearby lodgings, he cries out oblivious to his own actions: "Hemo, Hemo, is that you?" and, surprise by the sound of his own voice, he again runs off into the distance.
He wanders about the sleeping city, by preference along the alleys and canals. The few who are still out late take him for a drunkard, because, his head on his chest, staggering with weakness, he does not see them and jostles them with his elbow. The rich folk coming back from an evening's entertainment go out of their way to avoid him; a homeless man, his nose to the wind, follows him, takes a hard look at him under a street light, but given his pitiable state believes it useless to feel inside his pockets.
He has not slept since his departure from Marseille and has not eaten since the day before. The fault is not in his not having money, even rich he would no more look for a bed or dinner, no longer feeling hunger or fatigue. His body to him is simply a worthless rag; only his brain works, and with a life force that much more intense that fever, and general wear and tear have amplified, and pushed ordinary sights into a realm of delirium. The least impression transmitted to him by his senses, a reflection, an odour, a whisper, leads to sequences of mad analogies, bringing forth memories which condense into hallucinations, and which he perceives as present, coexistent, no longer ordered in their proper place in the past. In the same minute he is ten, he is forty, he is a thousand years old, and he contemplates, modifies, perfects, admires his old dreams, now fixed, solidified into visible and tangible realities.
The places and the night meld together. Exhausted, he crumples to the ground on the edge of the dock, among the loads of cargo.
Around him are stacked merchandise from all over the world, wooden crates in pale pyramids, bales and bags in shapeless piles stuffed under coarse canvas covers, barrels one on top of another in uniformly stacked fortifications whose tops stand out in rounded waves, unlike a pile of coal whose crest shows a jagged profile. One might think it a dead city of collapsed buildings, some having remained partly standing, and one would situate it in the tropics or in the fjords, according to whether the draughts blowing through the maze of apparent ruins bring warm aromas of a shipment of spice or the harsh aroma of Norway spruce, and if the strong odours which always mask others blow in heavily, the empyreum of tar and the stale mustiness of fish, it would still recall the sea.
She is in basin facing him, her sides braced against the docks.
Ships are filling her; all the sails taken down from the rigging and folded away. The masts are raised in a bare, polished forest. They seem to form, their lines streaked pale across the night, with the horizontal and oblique tangling of the yards and rigging, a gigantic web supporting with the thickness of its links the less dense tissue of the great patches of darkness piled up behind. Different coloured fires open her and there huge eyes of red hot coals, sulphur, emerald, and are enveloped in the fog with purplish halos, of which more than one, lighting at intervals some carved and gilded nymph on the prow of a ship, makes of it a livid and floating drowning victim, which the shadows that play about its recesses when the ship rocks seem to surround with its greenish hair. A transatlantic liner, proud, conceals its massive cathedral. Nothing stirs. Not a sound. Suddenly, at the rising of a breeze, everything oscillates with the same rhythmic roll, some flames die out slowly at the swashing of the water, pullies creak, mooring cables strain briefly then slacken, chains rattle against one another, the canvas covers snap, and the sides of the ships which come in contact with each other crack like great spindles. Once again it stops and one can only hear the harsh grinding or rats nibbling on garbage, the roar of a steamer starting up its engines for departure, a strident whistle-blast, and occasionally, on a big barge, the flat deck of which is barely dented by the roof of the cabin, a guard dog does his rounds and howls.
The moon is rising on the other side. Clouds continue to interpose themselves in its slow ascension, tiring it. At first wide, swollen and of a heavy crimson hue, by the time it reaches its zenith, where it waits listlessly, it is no more than a collapsed, empty, pale mask against a ceiling of darkness. During a short lull, she lights up again, come back to life with new blood, giving back to the vast slumbering lands under her influence a bit the redness of life. Her gaze cast into the shadowy abysses changes them into black velvets upon which ancient scumbles of phosphorus paste turn blue, and myriads of tiny waves on the surface of the water are crested with ephemeral glows.
She continues her course, and the battle with the clouds is enjoined again. She goes down towards the sea while they emerge from it. Livid, far over the waves, they emerge as granite islands bordered at the base by a narrow bar of horizon, while their compact masses, as if solidified, proceed from the fathomless depths of the sea where nothing can intercept the breath which pushes them. The ridge atop them is crowned with shifting crenellations, arrows, gigantic towers, which endlessly collapse and recreate their nightmarish architecture. The silence of their collapse is not the least of the horrors, the silent storm suffocates one with fear, as if, presented with the lightning bolts of cosmic chaos, one waited endless minutes for the final peal. And the moon, in the middle of these fuliginous blocks which endlessly rise and disaggregate, grows bloody in the parting of the cracks between them, wanes, cadaverous and half eaten by their smoky fringes, and is then completely eclipsed beneath their opaque curtain, drawing along in a spectral dance, with its many, rapid intermittences, everything of Heaven and Earth.
The lurkers draw near to Jan.
The different states of calmness and well-being which exist over the lowly haunts teeming with restless needs and vices, lead to the welling up of, along with the rats from the vacant lots and sewers and bats, those human larvae which traverse back and forth through the sleeping city. Like those beasts of prey, vermin or jackals, whose voracity is deceived by the meaty smell of certain harmless flowers, they make their way towards Jan, who seem to them, motionless and alone, a lost derelict, at the disposal of the first one to smell him out.
First, a woman. Through the inky night and the dock's thousand obstacles, she moves towards him, shakes him, believes him to be drunk and searches him. Nothing, and the poor woman's weak smile turns into a heart-broken grimace. Where to work at such an hour? They drive her out of basements, from the most abject of hovels, because of her far too pungent rags, of the cancer which eats away at the middle of her upper lip, and exposes at the base of her nose the stump of three bluish teeth, teetering in their bleeding alveoli. Others preceding her, she believes, must already have stripped the good drunkard with the fine clothes. After having tried in vain to get his overcoat off, she resigns herself to her bad lot, slips against him to borrow some of his warmth, turns her face towards his so as to be ready for the kiss that luck might bring.
A naked beggar sits down to his left, so thin as to make his joints crack, while on his neck and arms, the veins, dissected and hardened by alcohol, stood out in knotted bundles. Then, of all of them the most wretched, two children draw near. Brother and sister, they hold each other's hands, furtive, suspicious, on the look out for the police of whom the have a hereditary fear, but nonetheless innocent and who will remain so, even when later they are thieves and murderers. For it is the city alone that is guilty, which abandons them to every perverse contagion and to ravenous hunger, the seed of crimes for the so- called future justice of the courts and prisons. Instinct reveal to them their true fellows in this regimen of misery; they avoid Jan and crouch between the knees of the ragged fellow and the prostitute with the confidence of homeless dogs.
A light rain, having threatened all day, now whips, ice-cold, across them. Their backs to it, the group draws closer. The kids are racked with bouts of coughing which tear their chests apart, turns their faces purple, and whistle in their throats,
Indifferent to the bad weather, the half-naked old man burns over every inch of his tanned skin, like a lamp wick without oil. For he has not had his full ration of alcohol, and his frame growing free of alcohol is curling up in horrible contractions, and, sucking the inside of his cheeks, he draws a thin stream of blood which he swallows growling: "Gimme something to drink." The woman scratches her itchy labial chancre, needled by the cold. She thus increases the unbearable burning, laments herself, digs her nails into the palm of her hands to stop herself from tearing her face off.
Jan, a the children's coughing, the fetid breath of the drunkard, at the poor creature's pain, remembers his older siblings who died of consumption, the epidemic among the suckling infants in the fishermen's village, and his generous ambition to fight against and conquer the afflictions and destructive vices of the species. He had gone out, without hesitation, not even drawing back before the worse accusations of obscenity and lying, placing over all else putting his theory into practice, right up to his choice of wife, not some Gabonese or Hottentot savage, but poor D'ginna, whom he no longer thinks of since his return to Europe, through scruples, which at this precise moment, seem to him more like cowardice.
Why had he not told Betty everything? Had he not vowed to sacrifice himself to the end, to deliver his good name to the boos, to opprobrium? But Betty would not have understood, and why harp over his regrets? Has he not reached his goal? Is not Hemo nearby, and will he not see him in the morning? Who cares if the ignorant, the brutish had not seen in Hemo any traits which might have led them to suspect irregularities in his genealogy? Is that sufficient proof that these traits are absent, have they not instead already drawn naturalists to investigated them, scholarly authorities whose doubts will become convictions, as soon as Jan confesses to them the frightful love which they will be forced to absolve him of, forced as they will be to glorify the results?
Betty's adventures are the beginning of a proof, and the strange passion she admits to have shared, she must have been driven to by an undeniable, secret instinct.
He is discouraged, yet is on the verge of triumph. The theft of Hemo by an English sailor, his voyage, his sale, his arrival in Holland, his internment in the Zoological Gardens, in the country and location where he himself had aspired to submit him for examination by the stunned academies, all of this done miraculously, should this not give him a certain faith in the future, showing him that so he has been favoured by the mysterious fate without which the best laid plans of man come to naught.
These thoughts and thousands of others whirled around in his mind to the rapid rhythm of his carotids.
Jan thought to himself that one sentence spoken by Hemo, would have forced even the greatest dolts to pay attention, and would have already caused a considerable stir everywhere, but that overwhelmed with his new life whose every detail must appear a prodigy, tied up, jostled, perhaps struck, the free child of the virgin solitudes must have isolated himself in a fierce silence. Besides, those words that Jan, mad with enthusiasm, used to hear him stammer out, who knows if, tired of repeating then without success, the first days of their separation, in the hands of the Pahouins' or the white men speaking a different language, he had not forgotten them, but that tomorrow, recognizing the beloved and patient voice which taught him, he would not suddenly recover his ability to speak, to cry out in happiness and filial tenderness to the worse of the incredulous mob.
And the mad dreamer, as always setting foot right in the middle of his dream, saw the crowd break open the disgraceful cage from whence Hemo harangued them, and kneel before this human being mistakened for an ape, as if before the victim of the most extraordinary, most cruel error. And he hears himself hailed as the scientific heir of his countrymen, the embryologist Swammerdam and Leuvenhoek the microscopist who discovered zoosperms; he sees his name inscribed next to theirs, in the immortal list to which the Lamarcks, the Darwins and the Haeckels had risen. Back in his small house in Haarlem, he would complete at leisure Hemo's education, supported this time by the good will and counsel of all the world's scholars, now become his attentive correspondents and frequent visitors. As Hemo grew and adapted himself to his environment, any trace of motherly influence would diminish, while that of the father would increase. Hemo would lose most of his hair, by the same process of evolution which, before birth, rids the child of the woolly fleece it wears during its first months in utero, and which are the last vestiges of its ancestral simian hairiness. Hemo would marry, reproduce, marry off his sons, and perpetuate himself in numberless generations who would soon deny him, considering it an any allusion to their origins an insult, and would end up discovering a solar myth in the union of their forefather Jan with D'ginna.
Jan smiles at this ingratitude of his offspring and forgives them in advance. He has done his duty; if he was successful in retarding the bastardization of the human race by infusing it with the pure scarlet of new blood, he demands no recognition.
A short respite in the light, after which his thoughts turn more towards the darkness, thinking that heredity never abdicates its rights. Progress marches onward, which has the principal effect of undertaking selection in reverse, to bring the strong to debauchery, to the celibacy of army life, to war, to the overwork necessary to the continuous rise in demand which typifies civilisation. It also saves the weak, the sick, those with birth defects, by exempting them, giving them social assistance, opening its hospitals to a growing army of rickety children and as if throwing out the baby with the bathwater, abandoning the healthy street urchin. Through Christian charity it soils its mittens trying to rehabilitate fallen young women, leaving without a job that can support them those who have not yet fallen. Ah! civilisation...Along with a French doctor who had told him of some of his visits to Pacific islands infected by European sailors, Jan intones: "Civilisation: syphilisation."
Still prey to his obsession, he now sees his descendants, Hemo's descendants, struck down in turn by physical and moral wretchedness. Science has conquered leprosy, the plagues which in medi‘val times cut down entire nations like a scythe, and will overcome scourges just as dreadful yet more insidious which still strike at the source of life: consumption, scrofula, cancer, neuroses, alcoholism. But, science, who will conquer her?
Outside of measurable time, the last men appear to Jan. They have completely subdued Nature, its every law has been enunciated. Convinced of the truth that only life is real, and that life is only a short passage in a certain state of aggregation, each one of them practices the ultimate wisdom which can be summarized, in the last analysis, as one of enduring as long as possible in the momentary state of time and matter which it represents. Joy, sadness, vices, virtues, desires, lusts have been so many causes of wear over the past centuries. All the mysteries dissected, weighed, even the scientist's curiosity is dead. Upon being born even the cretins know everything. Why would they budge. The Earth, modified to their use from Pole to Equator, is everywhere identical, and it suffices, to know it as it is anywhere, to give a quick circular glance around the point where one has remained fixed.
The vertebrate man no longer exists except as skeletons which hang beneath museum tags. His body as atrophied little by little, at the ever growing profit of his mental capacity. It is the reign of the Pure Cerebrals, crab-like creatures made up only of a brain and a few organs, the excessive division of physiological labour having continued to perfect, in each individual, such and such special adaptation at the detriment of others, so as to give this specialised organ, under a reduced volume, all the possible power and ability to discriminate. Straight away, without the help of ancient instruments, the astronomer resolves all the questions regarding nebulas; the physicist reads a telegraphic missive by the vibrations in the wire; the musician need only listen to hear the roar of comets through the ‘ther; don Juan, with a single kiss shot from the tip of his fingers fertilises his thousand and three lovers.
It is the penultimate era, that of the blossoming of the mind. After, an irremediable collapse. The lack of balance between the thought and the action grows still; in the same way that man condensed himself into a brain, so the brain has condensed itself into a single cell, a recreation of H‘ckel's amoba from which every organised creature was born amidst the Laurentian seas. But life is a cycle, the cycle is closed, and as the primordial cells evolved through every animal form to reach man, the last disintegrated into they simple elements, returned to mineral dust, and finally, it is thus, with regards to the human race, the end.
What good would attempts at regeneration be? the poor Jan asks himself, if it is not to put off the final degeneration for a few million centuries, a mere split-second in the infinity of time. Just so, the wretched who have come to sit near him have slipped off the bench, have snuggled up to each other in a shapeless group, and he takes their faces, their only feature visible in the opacity of night, for those human larvae he had earlier visualized. They will have fallen in his dream, into the mud, and under the play of the moon which hides and unhides them, they hop, palid toads, at his feet. He gets up, steps over them, and takes his sudden disgust for his former hopes out onto the dock.
Suicide is something which best distinguishes us from other animals. How do those who maintain any hint of faith in any individual immortality, resist the temptation to experience it right away? What would they risk? Beyond the grave cannot be any worse than what precedes the grave.
And he was probably going to decide to throw himself in the water to elucidate this question from some other place, when some distant rumours made him draw himself up. People were running through the streets, and their cries where getting louder as they approached.
"In the Zoological Gardens."
"The Zoological Gardens?"
"Yes, in the monkey enclosure."
The enclosures for the wild beasts were laid out in two rectangular areas, on the right and on the left of the huge half-moon shaped cast iron and steel cage, paved with bitumen, with a water basin in the middle and a gigantic perch, a fake tree whose thick libs were debarked oak trunks. A trapeze and some rings hung from the domed roof. The floor, in freestone, is divided regularly into shelters to protect the monkeys during the night and the bad season. This cage, as yet unfinished, serves, as it waits for its future inhabitants to frolic about it in almost complete freedom, as the contractor's storage area. A long service hallway stretches out behind, allowing cleaning, ‘ration, heating, feeding, and also for visitors with special passes to visit in the winter, when the front grillwork is closed up.
It was in these new constructions that Hemo had been imprisoned after the tragedy at the Palace of Industry. The honour of the hangman's noose and guillotine demanding that they be reserved for human criminals, the authorities were content to keep it quiet; the public furor appeased, perhaps he would be allowed to live and once more be exhibited. Well, in twenty-four hours they had not only forgiven him, but he became the top attraction at the Zoological Gardens, even all of Amsterdam. Hotel pageboys, guides and carriage drivers would mention him to tourists even before the Art Museum. The La Ronde de Nuit was no longer the only object to hear, from thirty feet away and before anything had been seen of it, the oohs and ahs of admiration on command. They lined up. Treats rained down on his litter. He did not touch any of it, not even the hazelnuts he usually adored; not even at mealtime. The administration, whose fortunes he doubled in doubling the attendance were worried, consulting his former masters the English pantomimes, who, well paid, diagnosed correctly that he was languishing with boredom, not being used to such isolation.
An orang-outang couple lived in the next cell over. Three months off a ship from the Malaysian colonies, they were still ashamed to have fallen in the Dayak hunters' treacherous traps, but understood the pointlessness of delayed anger, enviable in the dignity of their defeat, they kept quiet, and motionless among the woolen blankets with which they formed a veritable cocoon, only their face sticking out, like Peruvian mummies wrapped up with their knees against their chests. On visiting day, when the umbrellas and canes of the rubber-neckers forced them to move, the male would turn his back, draw over his mate, sit her down, protected her in the soft fur of his reddish chest, and wrapped her up in his overlong arms, shielding her from their vile taunts and almost from their view. She would begin to cough: the consumption which kills them all, in spite of all the care given them, under the healthier climates of Europe, they remarkably being native to old growth forests pumping for all eternity, from the stagnant waters of a spongy soil, venomous mists sweated forth beneath an implacable sun. Resigned to her fate, she circled with her arm, like a child its mother, the neck of the veterinarian who slowly picked her up to look her over, and only weakly resisted the brutal keeper who would roughly rub her ribs with tincture of iodine, filled her carelessly with prescription drugs, applied vesicatory ointment, and even, if no one was watching, spat on her and struck her, furious of his low wages for such an irksome task. And from the point when, the male seeing her beaten for no reason, had launched himself to her rescue and had received a heavy kick in the stomach, which had left him laid out and howling in pain, she stifled her least discomfort and offered herself the boor's feet, letting him tear the skin off her or strangle her on the pretext of bandaging her or having her yawn so he could toss some pills down her throat.
To cure him of his boredom, Hemo was placed beside them, at the risk of having him contract the tuberculosis whose contagiousness was yet only admitted by the theoreticians, those whom people with common sense call empty headed, until they themselves, constrained to accept a new idea, affirm disdainfully always having known it to be so. Hemo first pulled a good prank on their keeper. Having noticed that in the presence of the overseers he always pretended to be as patient as he was mild, he pinched him in the calf one morning that the veterinarian, his consultation ended, was walking away. The individual slapped at him; he dodged it and began to execute a thousand contortions of despair, to scream like a burn victim, to hold his jaw as if it were broken, all with gestures and looks of fear so clear, so precisely targeted, that the doctor, having run back, understood that the keeper was abusing them, called him a dirty coward, an idiot, and had him fired, overcome with the expressive caresses with which Hemo, kissing his hand as he used to with Colombine, clearly indicated that he understood his charitable intervention, his actions brought on by pity. Then, Hemo got rid of the curious, especially the nasty little urchins whose compact hordes succeeded one another before their bars on general admission days, by surrendering himself to a series of manipulations so obscene that the administration's sense of decency led them to close up the shutters. Finally, he taught the patient how not to swallow the pills given her; she seemed to accept them, but concealed them in the recess of her cheek, spitting them out when the keeper had left. Naturally, she was no better or worse; if anything she gained by it. Believing the first treatment to be ineffective, they began a second; instead of grains of arsenic to upset her stomach, she received rations of good quality liquor; and the ruse which had hastened this pleasant change did not cause any problems, since her sickness was incurable.
Even though the veterinarian had long known that a taste for alcohol is amongst those which the great apes, like savages, most readily borrow from man, the poor creature relished the liquid in such perfect beatitude that he took upon himself the pleasant task of serving her, to see her half close her eyes, smack her lips and curl up her tongue in anticipation, crest- fallen when upon entering he hid in fun the bottle in his coat. As gluttonous as her as he, the other orang and Hemo would end up each betting a spoon full themselves. It was then the keeper, who looked upon the flask with such strangely covetous eyes, that the veterinarian in handing it back to him to put away, made sure to take note of the height in the bottle, and to smell its strength.
She soon no longer had the strength to rise. Besides her glass of liquor she would take in nothing else, lying on her side for days on end, her arms crossed or, when her mate tried to perk her up by playing, extended them, one under her head as a pillow, the other below on her charms, like the Venus of the Medicis. Her nails were curling more and more into claws. The arch of her ribs seemed to flatten, and along her protruding spine, spots long in contact with the floor lost their hair and excoriated began to bleed. They brought her a mattress of kelp, a second blanket, larger, warmer, and the gesture was lamentably human when she tucked this blanket beneath her, shivering at the least breath of air, shaken after the least effort by bouts of coughing which left her breathing raspy. She dies. A boy loaded her into a wheelbarrow, to take her to the amphitheatre where the naturalists' aides waited. It was indeed a body, not some sort of carrion. To bend the stiffened body, the boy had to push with his foot on her lower belly. But the head, thrown back, rubbed on the wheel, and upon the chest thus bent back, the breasts showed two little cups of bare flesh, streaky , with purplish nipples, while the larynx's dangling resonating chambers, lay flattened on her neck, like the flaccid pouch of a goitre.
Hemo, who always carefully studied the comings and goings of the staff, grabbed the key which the amphitheatre boy had left in the lock, with the ring attached to it, hid it in the straw and sat on it. The boy, his wheelbarrow delivered, came back to look on the ground, to search through his overalls, hesitating for a moment, and decided to only lock up with the bolt, supposing that the keeper had picked up his keys. The latter came to the same conclusion when coming to stoke the heater for the night, and Hemo, hearing him going off, remembering the English clowns, danced a jig in front of the orang-outang which had remained motionless and stunned since the body had been taken away. But having lost the habit of such exercise, he quickly tired of it; sitting then near his fellow ape, he stared at the thin streaks of the pale dusk which filtered in through the shutters, saw them slowly disappear, and, as soon as he judged that night was fallen, left the shutters, headed for the door, slipped his hand between two bars, pulled the bolt, and slipped into the hallway.
A few night-lights hung from the ceiling, their flat wicks giving just enough light to allow him to stay in the middle of the path. The wild beasts which were already sleeping, not recognizing their keeper, stirred; at the bars claws ready to grab him were stretching out, great bulks were rising to their feet, strongly sniffing the air, like the puff of a working steam engine, growling; finally the disturbed creatures when back to some forgotten bone from their last meal. Hemo thus seemed to wake from cage to cage the sounds of great maws, and to light in pairs of dull eyes into living carbuncles.
His little walk assured him he was sole master of the place. At the end, from the door through which the last lamp in the hallway sent a light which, too feeble to outline itself on the black of the growing medium, melted into an indistinct reddish glow, there came the heavy atmosphere of a greenhouse saturated with the humid warmth and smells of vegetation which reminded him of his native country; he drew it in, thrilled. The only things lighted were the tree ferns from Brasil and New Zealand, some with an upright stem, covered in what resembled scales, left behind by the ancient attachment point of leaves, the others with their middle fronds curled up in a fiddlehead and hairy like an animal's tail, along with a giant screw-pine, immediately climbing and lost in the heights, allowing its long striped leaves to hang down into the uncertain light, which washed out their colour and left them like so many motionless tapeworms. At the edge of the shadows, a shelf of cacti was bristling with needles, twisting prone stems into a tangled nest of snakes. And beyond that many other shapes waited in ambush for Hemo, who guessed at their presence in the darker clumps distinguishable in the greater darkness, his fears restraining him from going any farther.
In front of his shelter was a sort of store-room, a large cupboard containing the maid's equipment. All he needed to do to gain access to the flask of alcohol, when he came back, was to lift the catch. He took the three-quarters for himself and poured the remainder into the orang's dish, who, not educated by miss Betty, did not know how to pour drink straight down his throat, scooping it in his hand instead. Tipsy, but not satisfied, he searched some more, finding in the messy pile of objects a carboy of oil, which he tilted towards his lips, and dropped so abruptly in suddenly drawing away from it in disgust that it broke into pieces. The nauseating liquid spread through the small drains used in washing out the cages and the hallway, soaked into the pine flooring and litter, when Hemo, bumping against the long fire-iron which he saw the keeper use to rake up the coals, in his imitative rage he grabbed the tool and rummaged around in the heater with it. When the first bits of the hot coals fell outside the heater, trails of fire immediately sprung up everywhere.
Between the two furrows on either side of the hallway, he dragged the orang, stopping only to turning in glee towards his work. The oil, the slope of the drains directed towards them was catching up to them; a large vestibule offer a closer shelter to them than did the greenhouse. They pushed, at the back, a very tall doorway with swinging doors, and thought themselves free. They were only in their future palace, huge but with no way out, and of which they tried in vain to loosen the iron bars. Furious at this failed escape, Hemo nook vengeance in a cruel inspiration. He went back into the hallway, pulled, across the line of fire, the bolts of four of the cages that had been closed no better than his, and running back to his companion, at the top of their huge perch, waited to cheer on the ferocious battles and all of the spectacle which, with the help of chance, he had so ably prepared.
The first victim of his malice was a poor little chevrotain which one had isolated from the park in which he belonged to a family of eight to ten individuals, to protect him, one leg already broken, from the unappeased rancour of an old buck whose lovemaking he interfered with. The new layout not allowing him to be put anywhere else, left him neighboured with a panther who, in spite of several dividers being interposed, scented him, and whose mewing kept him pinned to his litter, trembling, taking up as little space as possible, his limb wrapped up in a splint as well as his others bent under his stomach. Forgetting his fear, he came along, limping, to troat before the bars of the monkey palace, and his doe was already answering him from far away in the park, when he expired, his flanks and neck torn open by the panther which had followed him.
Two lions next door did not bother moving except to turn their backs to the fire and immediately take up their sphinx- like poses again. A calming of nerves flattening their hindquarters, they rejoiced at their ease, calm except for a few twitches of pleasure at the base of the tail, and did not sharpen their nails, to face the danger and leap, in bounds of several metres, right into the greenhouse, until the heat became unbearable. Upon their roaring out, as if at a signal, all at once the hallway rang out with the cries of all its denizens, with all the howls of a sinking ark. The fire, as if fanned by these cries of terror, burst out more violently. The large cage in turn was on fire, where everything seemed to have been set out to facilitate the fire: the contractor's equipment thrown in haphazardly, sheets of flooring piled up in a corner, wood chips left over from carpentry covering the ground, scaffolding poles and platforms leaning on the perch, pots of coloured paint, and barrels of thinner and oil, for the painters. And if, in the hallways, the fire smouldered without one being able to see much from outside, here it formed an open air pyre that lit up the surroundings, scattering its sparks over the sleeping creatures scattered about the gardens. Aviaries became animated like a chicken coop at the approach of a fox. From the edge of their deep pool the sea-lions, believing themselves back in the land of the aurora borealis, dove happily to rise back up every minute and, just above the surface, salute the sudden wavering glow with short barks. Blinded by the smoke, the panther left its meal, followed the inside of the bars or sometimes drew up against them, the black velvet of his coat gaining the lustre of magnificent moir‚ patterns, as crimson as the blood which his still dripped from his chops. And in all the walkways, help was arriving, at the sound --- sinister in the night --- of the trumpet and drums.
Upon seeing the panther, the museum's employees cried out that the big cats had escaped, and were panicked into headlong flight, which had at least one tangible benefit, it left the way open for the firemen. One of the latter, immediately close enough to the beast that it could hope to strike him with its claws, threw an axe at it through the bars, missing it, but, getting closer, the fire and its fury bringing it back towards him, this time he split its head open to the neck. Another, resolved to get into the hallway, which he thought to be the seat of the fire, by way of the yet intact greenhouses, cut, his safety light in one hand, his pickaxe in the other, an easy breach in the windowed structure, only to be confronted by a lion's mouth, before which he drew back. The cowards decidedly had not overstated the danger, the big cats had indeed been released.
The officers pushed back the curious and met briefly. They just had to keep the fire from spreading, and to stop the beasts from taking their carnage or at least their disorder into the city. Cordoning off the area, men with rifles cocked, finger on the trigger, were ready to bring down the surviving beasts when the walls would collapse. At the same moment terrible cries drew everyone's eyes to the top of the monkey enclosure. It was Hemo and the orang who had been forgotten there. Asphyxiated no doubt, the latter tumbled down, bouncing off the bars, and in spite of the fact that they were heated to a brownish red, clenched them and bit them in pain, leaving behind torn shreds of his hands and lips, howling lamentably until the very moment he fell, finally dead, into the blazing mass where his flesh sizzled, his skull exploded, and where his large, fierce body was soon no more than a mass of blackened axle grease stinking of melted fat.
But Hemo, who, held onto by him, had had to knock him out with a punch to the face in order not to follow him, still had not given up. The perch, half burnt away at the base was weakening, so he took to the arches and cross-braces supporting the top of the building. Swinging down the trapeze which the masons, whom he had disturbed in their handling of their ladders, had attached by the end with a lozenge of wire to the structure supporting the glassed over ceiling, and sliding straight along the horizontal bar, he sent it careening like a swing. The flames were almost touching him, but the wind from his rocking to and fro blew them back, to the front, to the back, farther away at each successive and faster pass,. He appeared above them and amidst them like the demon which emerges invulnerable from the bubbling cauldron in which witches reduce aspics and toads, and the roots of euphorbia and mandrake to an unguent which they apply upon the Sabbath. The crowd, recognising him, called out his name, when a bizarre scene suddenly quieted a thousand voices at once, the scene of Jan Maas arriving from the docks, pushing aside the guards, falling to his knees before the monkey enclosure, and his arms extended towards Hemo, crying and calling him his son. And the sympathy of a sincere pity soon replaced the laughter and mockery which had at first risen at every hand. As soon as they saw how thin he was, how haggard he looked, how downtrodden and fevered the stranger was, and how he tried to force his way through the ranks of the firemen, who held him back, they knew him to be insane. For what party had the devil that night let the animals out of their pens and the insane out of their asylums?. Two men dragged him off. A poor angry sheep, in tears, he plead with them, begged that he be allowed to save his child, since the firemen themselves refused to do so. And as if feeling him to be so weak, posing so little danger, the hands around him would loosen, allowing him to throw himself back on his knees and cry out anew: "Hemo! Hemo! My son!"
At this distinctive voice , Hemo stops short on the trapeze, jumps to the bottom of the cage, and in spite of the smoke which chokes him, in spite of the sparks which light up his fur in little bouquets of oakum, in spite of the coals he crushes beneath his feet, he too kneels, his arms towards Jan, and sobbing in genuine sobs, crying real tears, until, out of breath, he was forced, in order to breath to regain his trapeze and get it swinging again quickly. But now no one was in doubt that these two wretches, the madman and the gorilla, knew each other, and the question of knowing where and how their friendship was born was the topic of every conversation. One could not suppose Jan to be an old employee of the circus which had brought the creature to Amsterdam; he was not English, and from the language he spoke, without an accent, they could not deny him the attribute of being one of their countrymen, even if he had not out and out said it. For now here he was telling the whole story, his family in Rotterdam and Haarlem, his trip, his dreams of regenerating the human race, the Pahouins, and finally ashamedly he told of his tropical lovemaking, of D'ginna and the birth of Hemo. The apparent bestiality of this type of monomania surprising the men somewhat, they drew back in exaggerated disgust, while the greasy throated gossips lowered their eyes and demanded all the gruesome details.
It was then that Hemo, whom none had heard proffer the least sound since his departure from Africa, not even the Englishmen who had long educated him, not even the spectators who had seen him murder the clown and escape with Colombine into the theatre's rafters, intoning a strange concert, brief and strident cries from a coppery throat, guttural muffled croaks, prolonging the same note as the wind through the deep recesses of marine conchs, the tremoloes of a tongue rolled up against the pallet. Jan, in ecstasy, heard in it a speech expressed almost entirely in onomatopoia, but which he understood, and consequently which all could understand, and which finally supplied that proof so long hoped for, the indisputable proof of the success of his experiment: Hemo sang, Hemo spoke, Hemo was thus born of man, was thus indeed his son.
Hemo, for Jan, improvised a hymn to the glory of fire, a superb recapitulation of a number of lectures and teachings which Jan had lavished upon him in their hours of common solitude.
Having little faith in chance, Hemo does not believe that the discovery of fire is the result of lightning in the forest prim‘val setting a fire in giant ferns having dried up under a sun larger than the one which appears today, or by the striking together of dead branches in a hurricane. It rather probably occurred during some terrible winter of the Ice Age. Alpha male among the males, among the males of an era lost many thousands of centuries in the past, a man extends his arm bearing a club cut from a tree trunk, over the women he prefers, over the children he has had by them, over the ancestors which bore him and whom before him, when they no longer could follow the shifting camps of the tribe, we killed, over the orphans whose fathers have been smothered to death by the great cave bears, or gutted by the four incredibly rigid and sharp tusks of the mastodon, and states: "This share is my share. Beware all who try to lay a hand on it!" And the human family, thus barely constituted under primordial justice and consecrated by force, defeated by the eternal cold, is in its final agonies, and will die.
The cave which it inhabits, chosen for its depth, opens halfway up a hill by a narrow entrance which overhanging rock makes even smaller. Racing brooks; rivers so slow that ripples from cross-current winds lead one to misidentify the direction of flow; great lakes whose limpid surface the great stag takes for a stretch of sky fallen to earth, and where, thirsty, he would, in admiring his four metre wide antlers, forget to drink.; torrents the steps of whose cascades seem an atomizer of light ; all these water now but a chaos of ice, piles of jagged blocks, their tumult congealed in place, and hardened into silence. Around them, neither the mountain nor the plains have, under the universal shroud of snow, any define shadows, distances and elevations being confounded. The whole Earth is levelled by a sepulchral whiteness, barely tinged, deep in the abyss of night, with a blue metallic sheen.
Their skin slashed on the edges of the ice; the callosities on their feet crushing the rounded pebbles of granular glacier snow; their nails, like genuine claws, scratching even the smoothest of the slippery surfaces; sinking to their navels and sometimes even completely disappearing into hidden crevasses, the men are headed to the forest in a tight file. The father is in front, erect and spreading wide his hairy chest to protect his elders behind him from the squall which has taken them unprepared. The hollowness of their eyes, their cheeks, their hypochondriums, indicates months of famine, and the frightful emaciation that strips the very meat from their bones, brings out the husky nature of their skeleton. Their veins and tendons stand out like taut ropes, their joints as knotty masses, and their spines resemble the angular backbones of the hyena. Naked, a stone axe in their fist, a spear on their shoulder, their hair full of pellets of ice, two steady streams of steam as their breath exits through their nostrils, between which gleam their sharp chattering teeth. The last hope which led them out to the hunt rises as they approach the forest; the red sun set in a pale sky seeds the understory with shifting gleams, which they take to be the eyes of wild creatures watching them. And they speed up, straining their pace and voices, throwing their weapons by the wayside to lighten themselves, drunk with lust, believing already that after the fierce embrace of starvation they would eat and drink their belly-fulls of fresh meat and warm blood at the very breast and neck of the monsters whose glowing ambushes they can make out. The men's hunger defies that of the monsters.
In the forest where they rush, loosened from the treetops by their passage, chunks of ice lapidate them; they find, rather than the eyes of carnivores, the cold purples of dusk pouring over the ground through the low branches, they hear only the echo of their own cries. Exhausted, failing, they lean on the fir trees, and beneath the sweat which chills their backs and the rest of their bodies, they feel a tightness around their hearts, their joints stiffen, as if they were being petrified alive.
However, the women, the children and the elderly having remained behind, crouch down in a single group to share their remaining warmth. No longer having even their animal-hide or bark clothing to chew on and appease their hunger, they suck on the gravel they have picked up at the base of the moraine and clasp their hands around their middles. A girl, Adah, leaving the shapeless group, sits away from the others, her legs stretched out on her bed of moss and dry leaves. Her love for the strongest of her brothers, now hunting with her father, drives her last hopes. Before dying, she dreams of flaking him a flint axe sharper than all those found among the natural chips of rock split by the frost or broken off by avalanches. Holding the rock she has chosen upright between her knees, she strikes at it with another, work which she has already begun outdoors, without noticing, as here in the shadow of the cave, the sparks which are ejected from the striking point and which she vainly attempts to catch. She believes them to be day-flies suddenly born around her, or the drops of a mysterious, previously unknown blood which escapes from the secret heart of rocks which one breaks, leaving no more trace than the lightning- or meteor-like blood spatters. Now warmed up, she strikes harder, only pausing to rearrange the pads of moss which help her to better stabilize the stone whose edges she sharpens, between her shaky thighs.
Drawn up suddenly in a jerk of her back and hamstrings, she drops her tool, shakes the sprigs of moss warmed by their contact with her maiden's lap, and which the sparks have lit. Bent over the dancing redness, which from the mattress spreads to bundles of bark-based twine and scattered tree limbs, she wants to catch them, put her finger in them, crying out more in surprise than pain at the slight burn. She quickly teaches the elders, the women, the children, who are now awake, amazed, and fearful, to bring their benumbed limbs near the young god, which manifests itself in bringing them warmth, light and joy, and all the life of the bright sun of their lost summers. Fire is discovered and men, having come home without killing anything, paralysed with cold and thinking they have nothing left to do but die, lay down near it and are saved. In Adah's honour the young women are consecrated to serving the hearth. The adults now pursue their prey until they reach it and wherever it takes them, and prolong their lying in wait well into the night; they no longer fear getting lost; back there the coals glow red to guide their return, and the smoke rises and flies in the breeze, as if to carry afar the amorous thoughts of the keepers, the proof of their vigilance, and of their tranquil state. During the rests which come with stormy weather, the elderly who no longer sleep, along with all the rest, free of dull tedium in the warm and well lit shelter, inventors of future arts, cook pottery; string shells to adorn themselves with bracelets, necklaces and hair decorations; carve, onto slabs of ivory and schist, now fabulous beasts which then existed: elephants with manes, bears with bulging foreheads. Emptying the leg bones of the Dinornis, a bird before which the ostrich would look like a crow, make a quiver, boring holes into smaller ones make musical instruments, sculpt stag and reindeer antlers into staffs and whistles of command for the chiefs, into dagger handles and barbed harpoons.
Finally, at a second memorable date, fire gives man, now become the king of creation, the first and best servant to his sovereignty.
As the ice receded slowly towards the poles, restraining their empire to their immutably dismal regions, the seeds of flora and fauna which were spared rapidly multiply in the liberated areas, and the fight for survival becomes so harsh that the family of man has its development more at risk, amidst the irresistible thrusts of life, than when it laid about its caves amidst the apparent death of creatures and things. Humble grasses like Sigillaria, which children's steps now cut down in tufts, grew up as great columns, losing their green domes in the clouds, and which the anger of a herd of rhinocerii no more unsettled at their base than a swarm of ants. Fires set by man free him from the encroachment of the forests, but his huts built, when he should be enjoying the sun and breathing a little easier, it is only by surrounding himself with logs that he guarantees his safety from the ceaseless animal attacks, that he purges the cinders of his clearing of the even more deadly reptiles and insects; and if the circle of fires burns low, he sees behind them another blaze approach, almost as bright, that of the wild beast's eyes watching him.
A woman crying out as if she had been gutted had the camp leaping to their feet one morning. A mother has entrusted the fire she is pledged to maintain to her daughter, named Adah in remembrance of her great ancestress. When she comes back to find her, she discovers her asleep, rolled over, with, near her, almost on op of her, an animal with frothy and bloody shear-like canines. The whole tribe drawn up around see, in the place of the carnage they expect, the child playing at pulling the fluffy tail and pointy ears of the beast, and the latter not only does not get angry, but licks the cute little hands and begs for their caresses. Then turning her snout without otherwise moving towards the clubs already lifted over her, she shows in all her appearance and especially in her long imploring glances which beg for mercy, such a humble and submissive meekness, that rather than striking her, the clubs spare her, as perhaps she spared the little body she had at her disposal. A she-wolf or jackal, one of diverse genus, she is bitten all over, one of her hips is crushed, she has a wide tear on her flank, and the blood which flows from her lips comes from her own wounds which she continues to stanch. Besides, she is gravid, and this state as much as her weakness explains why she too refuge near the fires, the only way she could escape the attacks of the large carnivores. Out of curiosity regarding what will come of her, they wash her and bandage her; the little Adah, under her necklace of winkles which slaps her face, and laughing through it all, leans on her as a companion, and refusing to let her go, her arm around her neck, the mother takes them both along. The litter having come to term, wolf cubs and children nestle together on the same litter and play-fight over the she-wolf's breasts; and soon, both, grown up, having the same needs, sharing the same passionate interests, loping along the in unison on the trail of some prey, guile, patience, speed, courage, strength, all the power of man multiplied ten-fold, a hundred-fold by the first faithful pack to help them out, by the dog forever become man's liege-animal.
At this point in the story, Hemo was getting excited. The roar of the lions in the heavily damaged greenhouse, as they were shot, served as an appropriate accompaniment to the savagery with which he exalted the pride with which primitive man must have flared his nostrils when, upon the signal of a blast of horns, the first dogs lost their series of bites and rabid baying at the throat of elands, boars and aurochs, and delivered their still quivering flesh to the hunger-driven sharing of the flint and obsidian knives. And in singing he continued to swing, not being able to stop lest the flames begin climbing up straight to envelop his legs.
The lions dead, the firemen who no longer feared releasing further large carnivores, all by then cooked or asphyxiated, entered the hallway from the greenhouse, where they attacked the fire in the hottest of its foci. The nozzles of their fire hoses were spewing forth water in great streams, when the barrels of oil and thinner which the painters had put away in the monkey enclosure blew up in turn, feeding such gerbes of flame that Hemo, suffocated, dropped from the trapeze and was swallowed up by the heap of red hot coals, his final shriek answered only by Jan, who fainted in the crowd and was taken away.
"What, somebody injured?"
The good folk to whom everybody who met them asked this question, answered that it was simply a stranger, a poor madman who claimed to be related to monkeys, and which the police commissioner ordered taken to the asylum.
The last of the curious gone, the night which had been interrupted now became thicker and more silent, though still somewhat disrupted in the eagle's aviary by the frightened rustle of large wings spreading out in response to the unusual sounds, and, in the basin at the rear of the gardens, by the raucous barking of the sea-lions, still believing in an aurora borealis, and continuing to salute the smoky red which remained in the sky above the ruins.
Jan Maas' identity easily established, the asylum notified his family. His brother Adrian, Saskia his step- sister, and Martin Heltzius, all came in from Haarlem the same day, recognized him and him with them against the better judgment of the director, who wished to see him submitted to a medical examination before releasing him. Hearing Jan name them all, inquire about the health of each of them, of their occupations, their financial situation, remembering obscure details of their common past, which they themselves had forgotten, but which the precision of his words and memories helped them recover, they thought it the director who must be crazy.
However, Saskia and her husband were both very much surprised, when, having asked him what had made him rush off when he had barely arrived home, he initially hesitated and then answered that a newspaper, which he happened to find at hand, had proved to him the presence in Amsterdam of the best, of the most faithful companion of his years in Africa, and , his anger concentrated, his sobs poorly concealed he explained that this companion was a young ape, which he had the right, even the obligation to immediately reclaim from the ever-cursed people who had taken him.
The director then said to him, in a very natural manner, that his friendship for this lovely animal, this gorilla which the English clowns had been forced to give up to the Zoological Gardens, where he died in so singular a manner that night, could easily be understood. Was Hemo not his relative? his...?
"Alas! sir, he was my son," sobbed Jan.
"So then you had knowledge of, you understand me well, I say...knowledge of...his mother?"
"D'ginna! Yes I knew D'ginna"
And this time Jan allowed his tears to flow. Adrian's wife and daughter no longer knew what sort of face to put on , Martin chuckled heartily, and Adrian drawing the sick man to him in his big arms, hugged him, and cried out: "My brother! my poor brother!"
The director was no fool. He authorized his departure; but before, thrilled to be able to lay out a bit of science with no medical intern there to shrug his shoulders, he drew the two women and Heltzius off to the side and explained to them, gravely nodding his head, that the brain was a kind of piano, with a keyboard made up of thousands of keys, and that madness often consists in only one of these being out of tune, and thus that people seemingly quite rational to the layman are indeed found mad by the alienist, whose experienced finger presses the sensitive spot, knowing how to detect the broken note. Let them surround the poor boy with every precaution and always somewhat suspicious of him, given that his monomania of believing himself the father of an ape and thus the former --- how can he express this --- husband of a she-ape, indicated most likely some strange aberration to his reproductive instinct.
These recommendations offered in wisdom were met in a similar manner, and the family thanked the director.
During their return, Jan could not look out the door of their train carriage to see some forgotten landscape that his brother did not gently restrain him from behind, like a father his dizzy child. Intimidated, put as always not wishing to complain, he sat down straight again. The big Heltzius would then drum on his ribs with his elbow and say: "you jokester, you damn jokester!" and whispered in his ear: "When we're talking man to man, you'll tell me all your jokes, won't you?" with concealed winks that Jan no more understood than why his brother was being so excessively careful with him, which annoyed him a great deal more. As for the old widow Brinckeylmann, their gazes barely came to cross each other that she would pout in profound aversion. To change the mood, perhaps to rekindle an ancient fondness, we wished to hold the hands of Saskia sitting across from him; the gesture and the shriek with which she drove him off betrayed such fright, that the other travellers in the coach suspecting him of some inappropriate behaviour all turned their angry faces towards him. Even a respectable matron of some fifty years, with mucus hanging from her truffle-nose, judiciously reflected aloud that it was horrible that those of her sex must be exposed to certain lewd individuals; and, a few minutes later, seeing Saskia, who, somewhat embarrassed at her outburst was smiling at Jan, she added that besides, such dissolute people were well acquainted with those to whom they chose to address themselves; she, had never been attacked. But Jan, remaining still, pretended to sleep.
Once off the train, Adrian, blinded by brotherly love, begged them all to reveal nothing of Jan's bizarre ideas, to say nothing of what asylum they had found him in. A family would be rather stupid not to keep to itself, as much as possible, the stain of one of its members.
His wife loudly demanded to be heard. "There is this, how can Mr. Maas repeat 'one family, one family?' Jan is of the Maas family, yes but not of the family of they two, widow and daughter of Brinckeylmann, and not any more of the Heltziuses, don't you agree my son-in-law?" She put the emphasis on "my son-in-law," to clearly recall to her second husband, who had not said another word, that Martin was her son- in-law, but not his. And to disengage herself from any responsibility in events that were to follow, she confided her fears to her friends as early as the first night; if it was entirely on my shoulders, she said, I would have taken on, as I often repeated to my husband, insisting that he bring back the poor devil, the burden he represents; but, you see, according to the asylum's director, the most inoffensive looking madman is necessarily a constant menace, his psychoses can erupt at any moment, under the most diverse and unpredictable of circumstances. In making such a solemn admission regarding person of this nature, she had overcome her pride and felt it her duty to at least inform her most intimate friends. These good folk comforted her, and so that their relations not be strained, and so that her unfortunate brother-in-law not become the object of idle curiosity, they promised her to keep the secret. The next day all the city knew about it.
Jan lived a tortured life.
In the street, the children gathered around his footsteps, calling out to one another to follow him like a mask, or, if he sent them away with some anodyne scolding, they would ambush him at every milestone to shout: "Beware the madman! Beware the madman!" They would then run off laughing, jostling passers by and the rubber-neckers drawn out on the threshold. Women pointed him out to one another, young women looked at him sideways, pushing each other, stifling their laughter. At the museum, the guard never took his eyes off him, and drawing near every time he stopped in front of a piece, repeated an injunction to not touch anything, told him to move on, as if he always expected him to deface the canvas.
Through the double windows of the shop-front and of the inner verandah of the Brinkeylmann caf‚ he could see his step- sister at the counter, her large bosom overflowing onto the marble, and to see to it having to hold her crocheting up, her rump filling the width of the chesterfield, her ample figure dozing open-eyed. With a stereotypical smile for the clients on her face, she offered, unwiltingly pink in the cloud of pipe smoke, the image of a majestic idol of congealed fat, calmly and without disdain accepting the usual offerings of incense. His hand on the door handle, this fat trembled, he mouth was pinched, the gaiety of her complexion faded. He nonetheless entered, building up all his courage: her eyebrows became furrowed, and her features dropped as if the tobacco smoke had settled on her like jaundice. The customers, disturbed in the normal silence of the digestion, whispered. He sat down. His step-sister sighed, turned her eyes up to the ceiling, and finally left, having closed her accounts ledger with a sharp smack, an invariable sequence of events after which her brother brayed, in a whimpering voice, that it would be best if he went back to look after himself in his room.
This room was in the Heltzius' house, on the first floor, facing the garden. If he closed himself up to read, the maid would interrupt him until Saskia herself would have to go up and berate him for trying to make himself sicker. Saskia also forbade him to go and pick up the children at the baby-sitters, an pointless interdiction since the little girls, terrified, would burst into tears as soon as he touched their hands, and the eldest, the boy, refused categorically to be seen with him, because his friends would then laugh at him. In the store downstairs, he would not have penetrated into the place for more than a few minutes when he was shoved out, a buyer having arrived, while in the kitchen the kitchen-maid would badger him, complaining that he was always in her way. If he took refuge on a bench in the garden, Saskia would again bother him, asking him how he expected to get better if he was always day-dreaming. Let him instead get about and do something. To obey her he tried to take walks outside the city, but fared little better. Sitting one day, for example, very calmly on the edge of the smooth waters of a sleepy canal, he suddenly felt himself picked up from behind around the waist. A farmer thus dragged him off to his house, locked him up without even answering his bewildered questions, and ran off to get Heltzius, who brought him home like a truant child, having him run in front of him, and berating him for wishing to drown himself and bring down all sort of trouble on the family. Patience. He'll do something that will have us regretting we allow him his liberty. And from the outskirts to the house, everyone on their passage were telling each other how he was already under the water when they dragged him out.
The next day he found some piece and quiet a little further out in the country. But upon his return the police were waiting for him. A little girl having been victim, one night in the woods, of an indecent assault, public rumour had formally accused him, and he would have been arrested had they not discovered at the same moment, a stranger, an Englishman, who truthfully admitted to having acted with the consent, dearly paid, of the mother. Long after this day, the poor Jan, whom the insulting suspicions had crushed, kept hearing the cries of the pack of gossips gathered during his interrogation, and threatening to break into his home to punish him immediately.
Newspapers from Amsterdam calmed him down to some extent, plunging him back into his old obsessions, and teaching him that Hemo's corpse, barely singed by the flames, had been dissected in the greatest detail. In spite of a century of research, one of them said, it is good nowadays to seize upon such opportunities, of which none will deny the extreme importance in these sorts of studies. One has again not found the existence of any significant differences in anatomy between man and this Gabonese ape; he has two feet, two hands, and the term quadrumane coined by the Frenchman Cuvier is clearly inappropriate; the circumvolutions of the brain, except for some insignificant differences are the same; in a word, the gorilla approaches the Hottentot bushman as closely as the bushman approaches civilised man, another Frenchman, Bory de Saint- Vincent, considering the bushman to be a transitional form between man and ape. There remains the question of articulated language, but would it be extending logic too far than to hesitate at categorising those born deaf and dumb...
Alas! Jan remembered having gone over these points and many others in every which way, when he was searching for proof of his paternity. Since the autopsy did not show the least unusual characteristic, he concluded in a flash of lucidity that D'ginna had been pregnant before their relations, that Hemo was in no way a part of him, and that only his fever had made him believe that this true ape spoke intelligible words the night of the fire. Finally he realized that the dangers he faced, the suffering, his lost youth, his dreams of glory, he could put them out of his mind like water under the bridge. Well then, so be it, he will resign himself to this, but not without first satisfying a last fancy, which is to give a last goodbye to Hemo's skeleton, displayed, according to the same newspapers, in the comparative anatomy galleries. And without mentioning it to anyone, he took the train to Amsterdam.
At first he wandered from room to room, around the one he knew to be his goal, as if to increase his desire by a voluntary delay. One of these galleries brought on bitter disgust, there, labelled jars bearing fotuses preserved in alcohol were lined up on shelves, displaying the innumerable and multiple forms of hideousness of all the monstrosities, larvae more frightening in the reality of their repose than when they swarmed onto a nightmare-ladder, their greenness as if spread out and diffused in the cold light of the tall bay windows seemed to mottle the light, changing to the light of a vent-hole. In another, the arsenical smell of stuffed birds revolted him, but caught his eye with their bright colours. Then, on both sides of a narrow vestibule, glassed-in cases devoted to bats frightened him again. Examples of their numerous species, arranged in every pose, rotted there slowly. To distance himself from the great spectre of a vampire bat, spread, a metre wide in wingspan, as if in flight, the fangs sticking out like halberds beneath its nose, he drew nearer a group that was uglier still, the kalongs of Timor, arrayed in their natural sleep position, their marten-like heads bent downward, their angular wings completely enveloping them, such that they resembled the monks long ago condemned to suffer hunger and thirst for having drunk at the black mass, who were then hung by one foot, with their robes accentuating the bony protrusions of their emaciated bodies, and whose gibbets one would have seen lined up in the background.
The sequence of the mammals was begun with these bats. To the right and left of the entrance to the next suite of rooms, the bony frames strung on iron rods followed, one after the other, a what a mere layman would see as an inextricable tangle. Completely in the back, in the middle of the walkway, widened into a round-about, Jan recognized Hemo, without consulting the notice. The skeleton was erected in a normal posture. His two feet nailed down to a waxed oak platform, he further supported himself by the curled up underside of his right hand's phalanges, while the left hand, raised up, held onto a branch which came off horizontally from a tree trunk beside him. Prepared with great care, the matte whiteness of the bones was brought to life by the yellowed polish of the natural ligaments left on the joints. He was huge, his rounded rib cage capable of serving as the framework for a forge bellows, his mouth bearing a wonderful grin, the ridge of the eyebrows still shading the eye sockets. As from the bottomless urn of a great river's spring, from his coxal region, almost as big and harmoniously curved as a man's, generations could have eventually issued forth, until they formed a people. And Jan admired the solid base, and thought that action must be a pleasure for muscles endowed with such leverage, an action for which he himself bore only antipathy. At this hour, more than any other, the gallery had no other visitors to stop him from sinking back into his reveries.
Unaware in this situation that he perhaps is experiencing the remaining fragments of his parental pride, in his prolonged contemplation he hypnotizes himself, until his wobbly legs force him to sit down. The harsh daylight spread out in the middle of the polished floor, sprinkling with gold dust a steel bar, a screw head, the edge of a varnished table, but was chased from along the walls by great swaths of shadow rolling out their transparent airiness, crepe curtains beneath where, as the paleness of the bones was projected upon them, Jan saw the skeletons grow and move about.
Having long practised the teachings of the Bible, Jan recalled from afar the readings of his childhood, the Valley of Josephat, that valley of carnage where Joel summoned the reborn nations to listen to the lion-like roars of the Lord. Jan believed himself to be witnessing a sordid parody of the Last Judgment. Indeed it was not the dead rising from the universal putrefaction, trying to hide their wounds and their vices from God on his throne of clouds, trying in a supreme and derisive hypocrisy to thicken about their rediscovered flesh and soul, the folds of the shroud and of repentance; it was the skeletons which he had examined, of beasts existing or extinct, detaching their feet from the pedestals, slipping down from the half-open cabinets, ridding themselves of their supporting structures, jostling each other in confusion, rushing forward, prancing, climbing onto one another. An elephant with an ostrich on its back, frogs standing on his tusks, walking on their hind legs, those in the front carried on the shell of a fossil glyptodon, with which early man sheltered themselves; about the seven cervical vertebrae of a giraffe, all those of a boa were wrapping themselves; mice, cats, dogs and bears chased after one another, while off on the side, an assemblage of heavy bones which had been a lion, its head buried inside the rib cage of a sheep, but unable to bite because its lower maxillary, which, its copper staples rusted, had unhooked itself and hung, chattering in anger. These skeletons expressing the same fears and hungers that they expressed, struggling in a ridiculous continuance of interspecific competition as it had been, supplied not the last of the episodes of the parade which Jan saw march by beneath his eyelids and in front of Hemo. For all of them, the hunters and the hunted, the executioners and the victims, the cruel and the meek, the giants and the vermin, ended up coming to bow before the great ape, who, with the phalanges of his left hand, anointed each of them with a quick and disdainful benediction.
Since they then disappeared, the comedy was coming to an end, when the door at the back of the room opened. No one was pushing them. The two leaves of the folding door leaned themselves without a creak against the doorframe. Beyond, instead of the vestibule which Jan had passed through in coming in, an arched canal, a half-full sewer stretched out, stretched out to the point of narrowing down to a point imperceptible from the other end, with, and the only lighting allowing one to plumb the smooth spread of its fissureless walls, arising from the pale life of its waters. Indeed, these waters, while they at first glance seemed to stagnate and gave off a fotid stench, like a motionless and deserted cess-pool, supported creatures which in leaping from the surface spread a lunar-like reflection upon it. Jan, noxious, suddenly felt his heart clench and fail him, as he recognized these creatures which he had been unable to distinguish at first, the fotuses of monsters escaped from their jars.
There were those that flopped about like fish, some that looked like geckoes, which climbed with the stumps of their rudimentary limbs, or with limbs emerging worm-like from their bellies, and dropped from the curved arch where they had left a glistening mucous-laden trail. However, they did not produce in their fall any more than a soft gelatin-like rippling of the surface. Glimmers, bleached and dull, but variable, greenish, sulphurous, of the pale lilac hue of cyanogen flames to the pale blue of steel, left Jan no need for the belches it let off, to compare them to the phosphorescent infections which certain storm- driven tides wash up on tropical strands. The light seemed to spread with the pestilence, as if these embryos were anxious to spotlight their putrefaction. And perhaps the most hideous was that they did not exhibit that vague allure of life where the squirming of larvae animates corpses, but instead their own joyous activity
Jan wished to escape. Too late. The water was seeping into the gallery; in order not to get his feet wet he had to draw them up with two hands crossed over his knees, and even then the foetuses stuck to his legs, unclean leeches which he detached in epileptic spasms. They all then headed for Hemo, but instead of saluting him and disappearing, they wrapped themselves around his tibias, his femurs, in two uninterrupted columns which filled up his pelvic region. More were coming up; to fit them in, the skeleton grew in every dimension; his pelvis became a vat and this vat a charnel-house spreading like a nebulous soft roe, which drew from the abysmal depths of the darkness new things which Jan recognized in turn as the bats from the first glassed- in displays. They hovered and perched on Hemo's head, now as wide as his pelvis, and there watched, through the disjointed sutures the inside of the skull, where the foetuses, continuing their ascension along the vertebrae, penetrated through the occipital. The bats then seized upon them at their arrival, and swallowed them without bothering to tear them to pieces, almost pumped their unnameably denatured meat into a sticky, juicy, macerating porridge.
The last glow thus extinguished, Jan felt on his brow the glancing touch of sticky wings and the sharp bite of tiny teeth on the fat of his arm. Satiated, would the vampires suck his blood to wash down their disgusting treat? As he drove them away, a tender voice woke him. It was still broad daylight. His brother Adrian begged him to calm down, sponged off his bristly face, which was clammy with sweat, and pinched his arm to draw him from his lethargy. Martin Heltzius accompanied him, and a third individual which Jan did not remember every having met, though Martin presented him as a friend. All four leave the gallery, passing back through the hallway with the bats, where Jan cannot hold back a shiver of fear, which his brother, who assists him in his still torpid gait, notices and asks him the reason for. He answered that it was a silly dream he had just had, already forgotten, but in which these vile beasts played the main role.
"Ah! you hear, sir," Adrian then said to the stranger, "he was dreaming, merely dreaming, and that happens to the healthiest among us."
"It's that, you see, my poor friend, that you certainly surprised us when we came up to you. Your back was curled, your legs up, and you were swinging your arms over your head like a windmill."
The stranger remained silent and impassive, but Martin lightly shrugged his shoulders.
Outdoors, Jan struck by the reddened eyes of his elder brother, questioned him in turn. It was clear he had been crying. Over what? Was someone sick at home? It was Martin who, when they all got into a carriage and left the museum, reassured him; no, everything was fine in Haarlem, they were only a bit worried that morning upon discovering his sudden disappearance; but the scattered newspapers in his room, in telling of the public exposition of Hemo's skeleton, allowed them to easily guess where to find him, especially since at the train station they questioned the very employee who had told him his ticket to Amsterdam. And with his usual cordial demeanour, pretending to interest himself in what he knew interested Jan, he insisted on discussing the skeleton.
"So, how did you feel seeing that big devil of a skeleton? I bet you gave each other a hug? that you talked of your adventures in the land of the savages and that you were both homesick for those lands and savages, especially for those native women, now weren't you, you little prankster."
But already surprised by his brother's behaviour, who with a finger on his lips and big tears in his eyes was indicating to him he should keep quiet, Jan was even more surprised when the carriage stopped far from the train station. The stranger got out first and invited him to follow, while his brother, to whom he appealed for an explanation, drew him to himself by his neck and repeated through his kisses:
"Forgive me my poor Jan, my poor beloved, forgive me. I didn't want to do it, it was the others..."
"Let's get it over with, gentlemen, let's get it done."
And the stranger, untangling the two brothers' arms, took hold of Jan, and closing the carriage door, shouted to Adrian and Martin who had remained in the carriage, "Goodbye, gentlemen," and "Go on!" to the driver, who turned around and went off at a trot.
Jan was put back in the asylum.
He remained two days without moving, laying on his stomach, his head up on his elbow, in he middle of a room padded from top to bottom, refusing to answer. He did not sleep, even though his meditations had the intensity of a hibernating sleep. He was left alone. The morning of the third day, he opened his eyes to the incomprehensible manoeuvres of people his keepers claimed were nurses, and who, when they forced a long, hard rubber stick between his teeth, seemed more like awkward contortionists trying to impale him backwards. As he struggled the men asked: "Why will you not eat with good will?" "Simply because I was thinking of other things," he confessed in good faith, sitting down to savour with as sincere an appetite as was his confession, the fine stew which was offered him. While not convinced by his good humour, he nurses were no less happy to see their work ending in a friendly manner; they were convinced that the doctors were wrong not to immediately allow more violent measures. "Until proof of the contrary!" they muttered, taking along the osophagian probe.
It turned out to be the only unpleasant incident in his new life. His two days of thought had not been lost. This peaceful serenity which the most fortunate rarely ever have complete, were it only to have the almost indestructible germ of doubt as to its duration, he had it, along with the certitude that it would be forever. From a material perspective, he felt a great relief at no longer having to worry about a place to live, food, clothing, relationships or money; to be able to isolate himself from landscapes, his surroundings, his neighbours, to do or not do like everyone else, to warm himself in the summer, to wander about at night and sleep during the day, to talk aloud to himself; to no longer be interrogated, the butt of criticism, or what is worse, to those marks of respect or sympathy to which one must at least smile politely; to close oneself off and ignore the face or the backside of a passer-by. It might indeed be absurd, that to suffer no more than the pricking of needles, rather the myriad of little nothings that make up daily life, he had nonetheless suffered. He considered his incarceration as his emancipation, as complete as it was unexpected, and the fat Heltzius could have, to bring him there, saved on his malice; he would have come on his own, had he known the calm and solitude he would find there.
"Everything works out in life, as long as one waits," he would say.
Thanks to his brother's generosity, which he warmly thanked him for with all his heart, he enjoyed a small suite and a portion of park all to himself, in the paying customers' section. His keeper, once he had assured himself that it was pointless to watch him, only came by to bring his meals. He was also allowed to walk around the huge common courtyard, which all the lunatics classified as posing no danger to others were. He noticed with pleasure that these good folk, if they harboured their madness like the well-behaved outside the institution, at least had the advantage over them of leaving their neighbours each to their own; bu any human figure having become insufferable to him, he remained in his corner of the garden, where he sometimes accused himself of being self-centred and lacking in charity, to then absolve himself in considering that his presence, here or there, would be of no help to anyone.
So why get into trouble?
Always finding a practical reason, he judged that one did not require such a great deal of space to stretch out one's limbs, and shut himself up in his room so as to continue more comfortably to ponder the questions which were familiar to him. Why bother going anywhere? It would only be to see; assuming one could go anywhere, and one cannot go everywhere at once, and especially, especially! one cannot go at all times. The same eyes will only view but a ridiculously minute portion, compared to the eternal and capricious metamorphoses of Nature, rays, reflections, colours, topographies, plants, forests, oceans, clouds, skies; and he who cannot see all of this in himself will see nothing. In the same way we do not touch, taste, smell, or hear but less than nothing, in the immensity of shapes, tastes, odours and sounds. One might as well then close all these windows of our senses, which only allow us to communicate with such a miserably small part of our environment; and, reducing the beast in oneself as much as possible, concentrate entirely on one's soul, which alone can imagine, reproduce and compass all the phenomena of the universe in their doubly infinite dimensions of space and time.
Drowning so pleasantly in illusion, he would blush in modesty, embarrassed to remember his crazy old ideas. What stupidities had he dared publish after his early readings, the good boy-gardener of yesterday, who, before having assimilated the elements of science upon which he had gorged, had belched them forth barely digested into a filthy magma? And his attempt to regenerate the human race, that blossoming of vibrios which stir themselves for the duration of a lightning bolt! And his wish to leave behind a famous name! Fame...leaving his name...to whom? to what? When the scoria which already stain the surface of the sun meld into one opaque layer, the Earth, immediately reduced to a block of ice, will have no more rivers, no more seas, no more winds, no more exchange between air and water; it would come back to life with short and rare intermittence, by the heat which the centre of the sun, still in fusion, would send it, dislocating from time to time its crust to shine again briefly; oh! how little then would those dominant names, Jesus, Cesar, Shakespeare weigh upon the pale and trembling lips of the last man, holding his benumbed hands out towards the abolished aurora, from this dead Earth still spinning around a black sun, in a night which will get darker, all the stars being suns that will also die, and the pale smoke of the nebulas being the last to bring light to the few points remaining in the complete darkness.
He no longer moved, no longer opened his eyes, no longer needed light. Someone fed him some food or other. Cautery with platinum rods heated to white, which were applied to his spine from the nape of the neck to the lumbar regions, and which made his flesh sizzle, he sensed as only a few recollections of a world exterior to his own, to which he no longer belonged, except to perceive in his internal visions an unutterable serenity. In the angelic paradise where he dwelt in ecstasy, he pitied the doctor and his assistants, who moved around his bed to operate on him, as unfortunate shades not yet afforded the gift of his restful state. They rolled him around in a wheelchair. "Where am I going?" he would sigh in a single breath. "Outdoors in the air, to stop you from mouldering away on your sheets," the nurse spat back in a gruff tone, which nonetheless charmed his ears like the chirpings from a nest.
And his blind man's eyelids guessed of the light at the limits of his dreams, silvered by a warm beatitude. Jan having become without knowing it the most divine of gods, Buddha, congratulated himself of at last having attained supreme wisdom, which consists in preparing for the supreme emptiness while merely existing in the realm of life.
(1) Tum primos ab Oriente Garamantas, post Augilas et Troglodytas, et ultimos ad Occasum Atlantas, audimus. Intra (si credere libet) vix jam homines, magisque semiferi, Aegipanes, et Blemyes, et Gamphasantes, et Satyri, sine tectis ad sedibus passim vagi, habent potius terras, quam habitant. [De Situ Orbis, Book I, chap iv]
(2) Daudet, Alphonse. 1872. Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon. Paris: Dentu, 265 p.
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