Author(s)Grégoire Le Roy (1862-1941): Grégoire Le Roy was a member of the Ghent group of Belgian Symbolist writers whose name is often encountered in connection with Maeterlinck, Rodenbach and Verhaeren.. He is known especially for his collections of poems titled. La Chanson du Soir (1887), Mon coeur pleure d'autrefois (1889) and Le Rouet et la Besace, the latter illustrated by himself, and dealing with the sufferings of the poor. La Couronne des Soirs (1911), Contes d'apres Minuit (1913) and Joe Trimborn (1913) are collections of short stories.
Link to Tarzan of the ApesIn a scathing depiction of the Roman Catholic church's subversion of science, Le Roy tells of a priest's discovery of the last surviving members of a 'missing link' species. However, his superiors understand that his discovery must be suppressed at all cost.
Originally: Grégoire Le Roy. 1913. "L'Étrange aventure de l'abbé Levrai". In: Joe Trimborn. Paris. Eugène Figuière. Source for translation: Grégoire Le Roy. 1975. "L'Étrange aventure de l'abbé Levrai". p. 73-87 In La Belgique fantastique avant et après Jean Ray Verviers, Belgium: André Gérard)
Modifications to the text
"Brother Levrai's Strange Adventure"
To my friend Brother Levrai,
among the incurables at the public lunatic asylum.
Sleep-walkers interest us; we flee from the insane. Nevertheless, the mysterious kingdoms of their subconscious are remarkably similar to one another.
As for me, I have always been keenly curious about certain forms of insanity and I remain the last friend of the poor brother who was locked up at Petites-Maisons.
This is his story.
I tell it as a composite of several talks we had together. If I do not present the story in the teller's own voice it is that I had to put some order amongst certain details and place in chronological order generally disjointed and episodic facts and remembrances, such as poor lunatics generally provide.
The words may be different, but I have maintained intact the meaning and intention, which represent the understanding of a story.
One may complain that the story is full of crazy and improbable things. How could it be otherwise?
Besides, wisdom can draw more than one lesson from lunacy, just as the man of wit discovers, in his neighbour, what makes him an idiot and from which he only differs in that he avoids allowing others the same perspective.
Rome had not yet admitted as orthodox the theory of evolution. She reserved judgment, in her obliging attention to all that relates to knowledge, and closed her eyes on the battles raging around the great principle.
Without having given safe haven to the working hypothesis that God had perhaps contented himself in creating the first cell, leaving it its care the perfection of his work, it neither encouraged nor discouraged anyone. Like a mother watching over her children's gambols, if ready to intervene at the first sign of danger, she measured the risks incurred, in such intellectual games, to those of hers who were following the new doctrine.
She was conscious of her authority and that she would know, at the appropriate time, to either draw them back to a respect of the doctrine or make it conform to scientific necessities, if the clear interests of the church required such a sacrifice.
In the favoured shadow of this maternal tolerance, brother Levrai had given himself, body and soul, to questions of anthropology, and later, tempted by the example of the glorious adventurers who had exiled themselves to India in the hope of finding the vestiges of the putative ancestor, he had exchanged his secular priest's cassock for the earnest missionary's frock and had shipped out to the mysterious lands of the Malay archipelago.
Driven by his hankering for knowledge -- to experience, as he stated, Truth fulfilled -- strong in the priest's vocational sacrifice which extends to the sacrifice of one's life, he scornfully ignored the already explored regions of Borneo, to rush off, enraptured in faith and science, into the most fearful jungles of a fearful land.
To say that in his scientist's soul he had forgotten God, would be to misrepresent the sincerity of his faith, but it would be equally true to state that he did not chose the most inhabitable regions, when other regions could have, with greater likelihood, been presumed to house tribes in need of conversion. When the scientist and the believer are at odds over things which are so closely related, it is very rare that one does not come to lead the other on.
Furthermore, having met with truly isolated troglodytic races, consumers of raw roots and meat, which supplanted the less and less numerous hordes of Dayaks and Papous; having descended step by step the scales of barbarity, the brother had eventually lost all traces of humanity.
The mystery of the jungles deepened along with the rising dangers associated with wild beasts, these as much to be feared as were men. But Nature beautified herself so solemnly; the vegetation transformed the earth into a marvelous world; the interlaced lianas and flowers formed such wild and fantastic arabesques; the clearings which suddenly opened up into fairyland chambers were the site of such fascinating silence that all notion of fear, all instinct of self-preservation was extinguished under the intoxicating influence to share in the multifaceted life of dominant and virginal Nature. And the brother had ever pressed forward, towards the heart of the mystery, untouched by any other emotion, living off the few roots which science helped him identify as being able to satisfy his hunger.
Only night was worrisome, for then the monkeys would chase him, their numbers growing daily, accumulating in living garlands hanging from the trees to the left and right of his path, advancing with him and only stopping at night, no doubt curious of his sudden stop, and then only to burst out in such a racket that sleep would not close his tired eyelids.
Thus, for many days, was it an extraordinary existence in which even his consciousness dwindled as he distanced himself from humanity, as he left it behind, as he thought, much as one leaves a country behind.
Amidst this prodigious and incredible vegetation, he soon no longer conceived of his individuality from the rest of Nature. He ended up seeing himself, in a conceptualization that was only in part under his control, as only one more unit in this bewildering profusion of wildlife and vegetation.
Like his inferior fellows, did he not live at the whim of the Unknown? Like them, had he not lost his sense of self- preservation, only to find it again when suddenly face to face with impending danger? Yes indeed, it was their awe and wide-eyed surprise before all things, their continuous ecstatic state, softly slipping into an underlying unconsciousness, pushing him towards blissful animality.
On occasion he would remember his mission, which he somewhat neglected; but in absolving himself he reasoned that perhaps God would one day show him the marvelous things which bear within them the science behind all creation. Then, having beheld such a thing face to face, he would draw from his soul lyrics worthy of the loveliest hymn to God, words which would proclaim his Truth.
This one thought, almost a hope, was enough to retemper his will; he would move on again fresh and renewed, like the greatest seekers of knowledge, against all odds, even ready to undergo a missionary's martyrdom, for, in the end, were he not the one to bring truth to others, but rather he who seeks it unto death, would he be any less a missionary of Truth?
Thus discovering in his passion the very justification for his passion, he once again considered the other goal of his mission: to find the mysterious link which ties man to his unknown ancestor, the pithecoid, in a word, that which represents the Holy Grail of the anthropologist's science, the yet inviolate tabernacle of revealed truth.
The brother, lifting his eyes to those accompanying him on his way, cried out: "A bit more than you, a wee bit more! I couldn't even express what, but, well . . . that something, that nothing which nonetheless differentiates you from us . . . ;"
Upon this, the monkeys afforded him their sympathy and forgot their nightly carousing. Who knows, he thought, perhaps they are angels which the Lord has sent me to lead me as he once did Toby; they are perhaps to me what the star was to the Wise Men! In his simplicity, it had never occurred to the brother that he would have guessed so accurately.
A few days later, as he proceeded on his way, following his supernatural guides, these -- as the Wise Men's star did when they were in sight of Bethlehem -- suddenly stopped; their raucous cries were muffled; soon there was only a great whispering, as if the wind, unknown in this thick jungle, had begun to blow the reeds and palms.
The brother stopped. What did his angels want? Left and right, all there was were thousands of glittering, apprehensive eyes. The monkeys, oscillating in counter-point the garlands of their intermingled bodies and interlaced tails, slowly, very slowly drew back and disappeared, one after another, in the direction whence they had come.
The brother felt abandoned, alone, terribly alone, as if his guardian angel had forsaken him. What could he do, it was not time to retire to sleep; definitely, he would not go back. Besides, some vague prescience warned him that great things were going to happen.
Night was not yet complete; he went on, less assuredly perhaps, hesitating as to which direction to take. Finally a sort of winding passage among the lianas opened up before him. It was almost a path, but a path arched over by the tree canopies. Surprisingly, the leaf litter showed signs of trampling! But now, a few paces farther, a clearing opened up, where, for reasons known only to Nature, the vegetation had reined in its exuberant growth. It was a veritable green-walled and roofed crypt, whose twilight sparkled with myriads of phosphorescent insects. The smells of moist soil and succulent flowers thickened the warm air.
The brother stopped, intimidated, composing himself as when he entered a church. A greenish half-light obscured the clarity of things -- his eyes were acclimating to it -- he soon was able to distinguish, along with the walls and columns the jungle simulated, a few raised beds upon which were strewn sets of bones. It was a cemetery, the catacomb of a new species. He moved forward a step at a time, dumbfounded.
His anthropologist's eye could not deceive him.
This cranium! These femurs! These jaw-bones! He began to measure them, to estimate their volumes, and who knows what else? His heart was pounding, his hands clenched the bones; he held truth! And suddenly he trembled. Was it not a sin to know so intimately what God had seemingly wished to keep hidden for so many eons, that which he had so carefully hidden! Truth! Was this not God's treasure, and did man truly have the right to appropriate it in this manner, though patience and perseverance?
Ah! How difficult it was to distinguish good from evil!
How clearly he comprehended the huge import of the parable of the forbidden fruit! God and the devil were right; the Lord because it was true that man in eating of the fruit of science transgressed upon the mysteries which surrounded him; the devil because it was true that through science man attained absolute wisdom.
What was he to do? And, like Hamlet, he held a skull in his hand -- and, like Eve, he thought he held the forbidden fruit in his hand; he hesitated.
Hamlet won out. Besides it was too late, since he already knew. He had measured and estimated the volume of everything. He was convinced; he even wondered if he would go further, for this cemetery led to the unavoidable conclusion that a colony of pithecanthropes was present.
He would go on! But which way? His angels were no longer there. It was only a passing hesitation; a mysterious certainty drove him as if, having so distanced himself from humanity and come closer to his less evolved fellows, an innate sense of direction had been added to his other faculties. Besides, the path took up again on the far side of the clearing, and as he straddled roots monstrously twisted and knotted like the coils of a giant serpent, how his soul took flight! His attention was soon entirely devoted to the silence which, in these impenetrable jungles, was of an unusual nature: it is not the silence of the plains or mountains, where the slightest sound expands infinitely through space or echoes and dies out; it is a living silence, alive with thousands of imperceptible sounds which an innumerable, invisible fauna creates through the efforts of their hidden but continuing life.
However, a remarkably regular series of blows, muffled by their distance, broke through the silence. The brother went on. The blows became more distinct, and, had it not been for the improbability of such a supposition, Levrai would have taken them to be the sound of a hammer or axe.
This was also the call of the Unknown, echoing through the missionary and scientist's heart. Was he going to find himself among an unknown people? How would first meeting unfold? Bloody visions of martyrdom clouded his eyes.
The blows had suddenly stopped. The brother took a few quiet, tentative steps, careful not to disturb the cover of silence which spread out around him. And again he found himself in front of a clearing; frozen he tried to peer in. No one! Had they fled at his approach? And notwithstanding his earlier visions of torture and death, he was wracked with regret. The words gorilla, orang-outang trembled on his lips.
But here it was that his eyes suddenly stopped, awestruck, on some sort of huge nest built of screw-pine leaves and woven branches, a genuine hut supported on the main limbs of a tree and reaching to the upper limbs for support as it circled about the trunk.
O! what minutes of anticipation! The anticipation of the big game hunter who sees the tiger's head emerge from the jungle like a blossom suddenly bursting open. The nest's leaves were suddenly thrust apart; a sudden leap, and an extraordinary creature, half-man, half-beast was standing there erect, right in front of the brother. A tragic moment, for ape or man, it held a great club in its hand.
Their eyes met and the anger burning in the apes eyes died out why it observed the brother's humble, not to say pitiable aspect.
On his side, the brother, seeing the gradually mellowing mood of the . . .man and wishing to ensure his goodwill, said to him in his most fawningly sympathetic voice, nonetheless tinged with his overwhelming emotion:
"Good day, my friend…"
He would have preferred something better suited to the solemnity of the occasion, but nothing had come to him.
The ape, on his part, replied with an inarticulate grunt, which nonetheless indicated his seemingly great forbearance for the inoffensive and hang-dog look of the one engaging him in an exchange.
The brother was already saying to himself that he had here, at hand, the celebrated mystery of human history, the truth regarding creation. His emotions overwhelmed him; the large ape appeared beautiful to him, particularly in terms of moral beauty, for, when all was said and done, if he had wanted to, he could have sent the brother sprawling ten feet away with one blow of his club.
How shameful to think that a man would have acted thus! He was so overwhelmed, that had the brave anthropologist dared he would have given the ape a great big hug, but he did not even risk a handshake. But such moments cannot last forever, as impressive and eternal as the first meeting between man and his ancestor might appear in the eyes of Levrai. Again he would have liked to have something grand, unforgettable to say, words which would have consecrated this unique instant of Eternity; he was too awestruck to be inspired.
"Good day, my friend . . .;" he repeated with a smile.
The ape affectionately took hold of his arm, and drawing him towards the tree, made a soft little cry. His mate showed herself.
Levrai, for all that he was a priest, could not help but find her somewhat attractive. She was not overly hairy -- for that matter, her husband was not either -- more so than ordinary women, certainly, even those with the most abundant hair, the bushiest eyebrows, the most shadowed lips, but this detail only proved a greater attraction to him. The brother was going to look her over in even greater detail when he remembered his youth and saw himself on the slippery slope of covetousness, nay, even perhaps adultery!
He nonetheless had some difficulty during the days which he stayed with his new hosts, to avoid, without offending her with a blunt rebuff, to the ever mounting attentions of his hostess. He thought, more than once, he could read in his friend's eye a small glint of jealousy. He was wrong; everything pointed to. man being above such feelings, but the brother saw with bitterness that the sins of lust and adultery were older than man, and that no bloodline went back far enough, for these sins sank their roots even unto our ancestral animality. How well he now understood the inefficacy of laws and religions in proscribing physical love!
It was only these matters of the flesh, which troubled the fortnight he spend among his hosts -- like those cold, nasty winds which sometimes mar a lovely spring morn. Besides, he quickly regained his composure, and, his missionary's conscience regaining an upper hand, he tried, at every appropriate opportunity, to draw the exchange into the domain of his apostolate. It was rather difficult; they understood each other so little, not to mention the difficulty in discussing the divine in a place yet so close to prim‘val nature.
To the brother, however, they were men, rough and uncouth, but men! He even had to admit, to his disarray, that they understood him better in all things than he did them. But every time he had said to himself: "now is the right moment to broach the great question," and had begun to talk, by gestures as much as by words, of the Infinite, while his hosts' eyes had indeed followed the mysterious signs of the Absolute he traced out in the air, when, carried away with his subject, he tried to have them understand the great questions of the faith, he had found his listeners distracted, dozing off, just like peasants during a Sunday sermon. His flock even had the unfortunate habit, at the most solemn moments, for example when he extolled the supreme importance of only considering one's salvation in the hereafter, they would scratch with their fingers the sores which plagued the brother's neck.
He had to face the facts; these people were not yet at the stage of considering God. Beyond food and drink and letting Nature provide for them, the only thing which worried them was the extinction of their race.
The had managed to explain quite clearly that they were the last of their species, and that notwithstanding their diligent efforts they had not borne any children, and that their name, which for them was the equivalent, was going to be forgotten and lost in nothingness. It was through a feeling of pride, born from the remarkable things they believed they had done, but that pretty much inexplicable instinct, which pushes our middle-class to wish for a boy in order to perpetuate the family name, which, only really manages to perpetuate their name and their misery.
When, finally, the missionary became disillusioned as to the efficacy of his zealous preaching and he saw, more clearly than ever, the dangers of this ménage-à- trois, he resolved to part from his friends. The anthropologist took the upper hand; he foresaw a mission to accomplish, that of going to announce to the scientific world what he had seen, that is the very truth regarding the theory of evolution. His self-esteem was excited by the importance of such a mission, and with all the tenderness one can convey in gestures, he opened up to his friends.
The woman was greatly saddened, a rather human emotion, for one knows that a man will most regret the departure of his mate's friend, while the woman with rather more cry over the departure of a friend.
On the day of their separation, the goodbyes were touching and even, miraculously, at certain moments, tears wetted his hostess's eyelids; the man was awestruck, he had never seen the likes of it, neither he, nor his mate, nor any of his species had ever cried.
It was the first sobs of the race and it was love which had brought them on! The poor unfortunate went sadly back to her nest and the only his friend remained to escort back out.
They followed each other in silence, but already the split had occurred in their hearts. The steps they took together tread on the ground of parting, the ground which separates, the ground which draws apart; memories interposed between them as one made his way back to the land of men and the other, in spirit, turned back to the lonely place where his mate waited for him.
In such a manner they reached the crypt. The wild man stopped and the brother understood that this was the spot which he had tacitly chosen as the farthest point he would go. The brother made it understood with friendly gestures that he would have been well pleased were he to walk along farther with him, but in vain. By other gestures the primitive man made him to understand that this cemetery represented the ends of the earth to him, and that none of his race would ever consent to go beyond the territory where his ancestors had settled for eternity, that it was an intangible law not to see beyond the death, and it would have shown a lack of respect for them to go on.
Thus then, the brother considered, the cult of the past and the sadness of love which had been recently manifest in the spouse, these two characteristics of our civilization, the great apes knew and were subject to them already.
There was nothing that could be done, the reasons were among those one does not discuss; the moment of parting had arrived. Friend held out a hand to the friend who placed his in it; the priest lifted ceremoniously his right hand and was going to make the sign of the cross over the ape's head, when the latter, taken by who knows what fear, turned suddenly and disappeared into the jungle.
After much trials and tribulations and yet more dangers, the brother had finally reached Pontianak.
His spiritual headquarters was the Capuchin convent where he found Father Palud, his director of conscience, in flourishing health. He had been anxious to see him again, especially since such great but fearful things had occurred in his shaken soul, and that he felt the need to retemper his faith in the strong, perhaps somewhat sectarian faith of his confessor, and to draw from it that blind confidence in God that one loses too easily when alone with Nature.
He had just giving a truthful account of his incredible adventure, increasingly apprehensive of Father Palud's obstinate silence, when the latter, in a curt, cold voice which cut like a knife, cried out in irritation:
"What you have done is a crime. You have betrayed the Church's eternal truth for the adulterous love of worldly truth. You have picked the forbidden fruit and I understand that you would wish other men to bite into it."
"For the sake of simple scientific curiosity you would abandon all your spiritual learning. This will not happen! Even if it is the death of me, I will save the eternal truth. Follow me!"
And without further delay, the monk, shoving in front of him, sad and discouraged, the missionary who dare not further disturb Father Palud's stubborn silence, they left the convent and headed to the jungle, retracing step by step the unbelievable and dangerous route the brother had already covered twice, full of hope upon leaving, with the scientist's pride of having discovered upon his return.
It would take to long to tell of this expedition. Every day they got lost, the brother could barely make out where he was going now that the monkeys were no longer there.
What was it then which cried betrayal from the bottom of his heart? Yes, he was committing an act of betrayal, and though it wasn't clear to him if in consisted in the great ape or science, he understood that he had not behaved in a loyal manner. But his soul was that of a child and the hard, severe monk was pressing upon it with the fierce ardency of his faith.
The few times Father Palud broke the silence it was to utter harsh rebukes:
"What exactly drew you to that damned couple?"
"It is said that we descend…"
"Ah! I know! Common ugly traits have led atheists to believe . . . ;But it is rank falsehood! It contradicts the Scriptures."
"I believed I was drawing near to the Truth, that is God himself."
"Shut up! God cannot contradict the Church, and that truth, differing from that of the Church, can only be in opposition to God!"
"But, Father, cannot there be two truths?"
"Indeed! There is the devil's truth; and there is that of God! Mere physical appearances can be deceiving, but the latter is nothing before the one, clear, eternal truth of the Church. This truth is simple, well ordered, complete; it forms of system which has passed all the tests the best scholars have put it to. And what are your scientific observations, those hunches of the intellect, those dispersed crumbs, compared to the bastions of theology, built upon the greatest minds?"
"Father, I thought that the eternal truth was made up of thousands of small truths that one gathers up along the way like little white pebbles, as Tom Thumb did in order to find his way, and that these small truths, they too, were eternal; that they fill the world and surround us, but that we don't always perceive them, undoubtedly because of their very smallness."
"Blasphemer! Those are material truths, truths of the flesh, truly pebbles compared to pure crystal; in a word, the devil's work! God's truth cannot be found on the open road, but in the soul; not in Nature, but in the purely spiritual."
"Yes, but, Father, it is precisely that I perceived the soul of my two friends being in some many ways akin to the human soul. Thus, when I preached to them. . . ;"
"Eh! what, you dared bring the word of God to such creatures?"
"Did not St. Francis preach to the animals?"
"Yes but they were birds, chickens, ducks, geese, all sorts of inoffensive lower forms of life, simple farmyard animals, and not huge, vile apes, barely covered with hair, abominable brutes, entirely abnormal creatures which resemble man!"
"This is true," the brother had to agree, in spite of his scientist's hopes.
"But I am thankful that I am mistaken," added the monk, "how could you have spoken to apes?"
"I admit it was difficult; but through gesture . . .;"
"Oh! gestures, they are meaningless . . . ;"
"That's to be seen, to my mind, it was through gestures that they best understood me. In this regard, I often wondered if it is not rather with gestures than words that one should try to convey the Infinite. This is to some degree what people do anyway, for, have you not noticed how quickly one reverts to gestures in exchanges of this sort? Thus is it not clear that the symbol and image are but thoughts which make motions and would well love to be understood? When I want convey by speech what transcendent inspirations reveal to me of the absolute, I first realize that the words' meaning changes as they flow from my mouth; my sentences obscure the precision of my thought and in the end come to express the opposite of that I thought myself to be revealing. Thankfully the arms got involved and at least indicated the general direction of my thought; were one to simply add a few images and symbols which, in turn, display gestures, things would be much clearer."
"He is insane," thought the monk. "He is a simpleton. God will pardon him!"
The brother put a finger to his lips; the monk understood.
The moment grew in solemnity; the time was coming; they were coming to the end of their expedition.
Though they had not crossed through the crypt -- the brother had more than once lost his way -- the bower, the famous bower opening on the clearing was only a few steps away. They took them, these steps, but how slowly and carefully were they taken, in what silence! Both their hearts were beating and a light sweat cooled the monk's brow.
Suddenly, a shot went off, over the brother's shoulder and the pithecanthrope which had just appeared between the parted branches of its suspended home, dropped, face forward, at the foot of the family tree.
The brother caught the monk's arm, wishing to protect she he believed still hidden, but not another leaf stirred.
"Father, what have you done?" the brother asked sadly.
"I have saved God's creation."
It was only after a long search that they found his mate, but she was dead and lying on a bed of leaves, her head resting against a tree, still holding tightly in her hand the tiny crucifix, which the brother, naive as he was, had left her upon his departure, after explaining to her as best he could the salvation that would come to her through it.
"A profanation!" Father Palud screamed, while the brother, unsophisticated, was already rather proud to see that his mission had not been entirely in vain.
There was nothing further for them to do there, the just had to make their way back.
And so, there followed the return to Pontianak, a mournful, silent, lugubrious, during which the brother saw the strength of his apostle's faith dwindle little by little. No longer knowing where his duty lay, in doubt as to whether he had sinned or acted meritoriously towards God, have lost from his soul that clarity which calls and guides vocations through great sacrifices, like the little light in the woods which brings hope to the lost, the brother wept more than once over himself, the fruitlessness of his work, on his shattered faith and on the growing antipathy between his conscience and science.
Disillusioned, wishing only to rest, like aged sailors after their last trip, he asked to be repatriated and donned once again the robes of a parish priest, hoping to find, as a country vicar in some remote provincial place, forgetfulness of his adventure and aspirations.
Unfortunately, his sufferings were not over, and the last trial would be the hardest.
Barely disembarked in Marseilles, he found out that an anthropological congress was to hold an extraordinary session and that brother Buissonnire would be the speaker, and that was enough for him to wish to attend.
When the day arrived it was clear that the assembly was prey to an extraordinary excitement. An unforgettable day was to be inscribed in the annals of anthropology. So, when brother Buissonire rose, a stirring of attention, like a wave on the sand, expired into silence; the very air of the hall seemed steeped in solemnity.
Having quickly reviewed his previous discoveries; after saluting the authors which led him to them, brother Buissonire began the description of his own finds.
Levrai was worried, he wondered if the speaker had indeed remained the orthodox brother which he had known, or if, like so many others, he had ended up falling into the Darwinian abyss. His worry was short-lived; Buissonire, as if he had sensed it, quickly dissipated it.
"But before I tell you what my discovery was, I feel I must clear up a certain amount of ignorance, which while absent from those assembled here, nonetheless merits attention and are worthy of the respect of a priest, such as I am."
"Some overzealous polemists, neglecting to keep up with the new teachings of Rome, go from door to door spreading their hatred and contempt for evolutionism."
"It is time that they learn that this theory is now nothing less than highly orthodox, and that it is the opinion amongst our best theologians that God might well have contented himself in creating the first cell, foreseeing in his wisdom and eternal will, the successive stages through which his creation would evolve over the passage of time."
"I wished to bring this up, to restore things to their proper perspective, and avoid that, in the future, God's ministers, such as myself, do not pass in the eyes of certain among the faithful as impious or renegades, and become victims of an underhanded persecution, when they undertake the noblest function of their calling, preaching the truth."
Levrai was crimson! So, his perilous travels in the jungle, the pithecanthropes' cemetery, the days spent among his hosts, all that was not the devil's truth, as Father Palud had stated. Instead it was his second expedition and the ensuing massacre which were affronts to the truth?
Levrai thought he would choke.
"Are you feeling poorly?" asked his neighbour.
"It's nothing, just a little dizziness."
"This isn't all," continued the orator, "and if I thought it necessary to admonish rather severely those on my side, a have a few words for those -- in the other camp -- who make themselves out as the virtuosos and cultivators of doubt."
"Certain scientists are averse to any new theory, simply because it is new, or because it too closely describes factual observations and Nature. They will gladly accept a philosophical principle as long as they believe it to be a simple witticism, that is to say doubtful, but they rebel as soon as they are asked to admit as genuine, facts and phenomena whose recognition would make a scientific truth of the theory, to the exclusion of all other systems. Oh! then they retreat in orderly, serried ranks."
"Thus was it that, at first, they found evolutionism rather to their liking; however, they added that such a theory would not be of value until specific facts came to confirm it."
"And they dozed off, convinced that such facts would not be forthcoming, since nothing of the sort had been seen in centuries."
"Man, one might say, fears the truth; his instinct is to avoid any knowledge of it; he avoids it as much as he can, with the excuse that doubt is the scientist's top attribute. He denies like someone on the stand, demanding proof and more proof, only giving up when he senses himself caught in the web of truth, like a fox in a trap or the starling in a snare."
"Truth be told, truth envelops us on every side in a huge net of which natural phenomena from the mesh. However, this mesh is not so tight that the rankest stupidity cannot escape. Must we have counted one by one all the elements of the mesh before agreeing that the net exists?"
"There are theories before which one is struck by a sense of their truth, just as one has feelings of love when presented with Beauty. Indeed, such feelings are not sufficient to consecrate theories, for, in such a case, the faith of a coal- miner would be a sufficient criterion, but it is not rash to assert that, without this sense, no intellect is capable of understanding, completely and in its universality, a concept of such scope. The entrenched sectarian doubt is a form of mental short-sightedness which bars one from distinguishing simultaneously the whole and the details of a concept."
"It has been said that to believe or to deny everything are equally easy, for they dispense with thought. They are the two subterfuges of the lazy -- and, it is time to state it -- man bears in his inherited traits the monkey's main fault: laziness."
"But let me return to my subject."
"We were told: 'Show us vestiges of the intermediate race, and we will believe.' Until then nothing will fill the abyss which separates man from the beast, and this abyss is as unbridgeable as the faults which split open entire mountain ranges, forming with their debris the continents between which, today, the Oceans circulate. And the scientists dozed off again with the conviction, the great number even with the hope, that the absence of proof would wear down with time the grandeur and the attraction of the Darwinian principle."
"To better circumscribe the problem, with the ulterior motive of rendering it unsolvable, they went as far as outlining in advance the conditions of their surrender."
"You know these conditions: walks upright (erectus!), cranial volume, etc."
"And the faithful disciples began to look. The scratched through, one after the other, so far as to wear down their nails, the geological strata, which for so many centuries had come to accumulate on the primitive Earth."
The brother outlined chronologically the remarkable discoveries made in the last fifty years, a half-century of heroic patience.
"But," he added, "all these skulls, all these sets of bones, as convincing as they might be, had the defect of presenting themselves completely naked, without any accessories which might denote some progress towards civilization, as, for example, a tool, a weapon, in a word, an irrefutable vestige of comfort and intellect."
"Well, I won't hesitate to state, I believe I have found it."
"It is in the mysterious CorrŠze cave, near the Monkey's Chapel, that I discovered the venerable remains which are now before your eyes!"
"For years I had been searching, I dug carefully with my hands in the sands and silts which the tides of the seasons had brought there, when, O tragic moment! I saw the remains and that in circumstances of remarkable interest."
"In a long rectangular trench, clearly dug by a human being, rested a skeleton lying on its back, oriented in an east-west direction, the head raised up against the wall of the grave, which proves overwhelmingly that, following a custom still alive among some races, one had placed the deceased facing the east, as if one had wished to signify by doing so that another sun, the sun of a new life, would rise before the deceased's soul. Flint and quartz tools, those which he had no doubt used to sustain and protect his life, were arranged around him, as is still done today, with the weapons and medals of honour of our dead. Besides this, the abundance of bones told of the diverse fauna which has been partaken of in the funerary banquets which the anthropoids gave, as we do, in honour of their departed parents."
"As you can see, there were there the hints of a budding civilization. Like us they avoided solitude and silence; like us, they ate and pondered things in a group; like us, they called upon their dead to preside over the principal actions of life."
"But they were men, you will say! Eh! well, no! For there to be no possible doubt, one need only carefully consider these remains from a morphological point of view. The features of the skull are bestial; all the traits of simians are present together; the cranium was flattened, the prominent brow, and beneath the superciliary arch, the nose was separated from it by a deep depression resembling the notch of an axe. To all of this, add a facial prognathism even more hideous as among the descendants of Charles Quint. So tell me, does there remain any doubt on the simian identity of our precious subject?"
"You see, gentlemen, if, for years, we have searched, our ancestors now, after ten or twenty thousand years of sleep and waiting, seem to be rising from their graves to claim from their descendants the recognition of their paternity."
Brother Levrai thought he was dreaming. We would not have described it otherwise if he had had to give an account of what he had recently seen in Borneo. What to do? Would he speak of his own discovery? His faith no longer stopped him. But how could he confess to his pointless crime? Also, he thought, the question is resolved, and it would be rather poor manners, not being registered as a speaker, to get involved in a discussion wisely organized in advance.
Already the illustrious Dr. Moyen had reached the podium.
This professor enjoyed a most envied reputation as a prudent scientist, resistant to immoderate enthusiasm regarding bold theories, faithful to the wisdom of learned men of the old school.
"I shall begin by paying homage," he said, "to my eminent colleague; it is our duty to encourage the researchers whose discoveries are the very spring from whence science drinks. However, let us not be carried away in our desire to attain certainty. Truth is not so simple. As long as it was only a theory, one could close one's eyes and let young minds get heated through its contact, but today, when events appear to confirm their thesis, we must see things in another light. Besides, it would be unworthy of a scientist to believe for an instant that truth could let itself be captured."
"But, especially consider the noble and genuine monuments of intellect, which such a truth would undermine to their ultimate collapse. What would become of the admirable inventions of the philosophers and creators of the book of Genesis? Let the members of this assembly take hold of themselves and return to a wiser conception of things."
"Why, then, would these discoveries that one cannot deny not incite us to proclaim that these half-simian, half-human remains, those of a lost species, a species which would stand -- I would propose officially -- the happy medium between man and ape, an inferior race not ascending but parallel, and which would be to the human being what the curate is to the priest, the clergy to the bishop, or in a well- structured society, the poor to the rich."
"Man would thus remain the centre of the universe."
"This is a new theory, you will say, yes, but a theory which leaves the question open and does not rattle too forcefully the doors of the sanctuary within which we must leave truth inviolate."
"Nothing," he added, "would allow us to settle the question today. The proof has not been made. What have been brought are, I will admit, suggestive hints, but doubtful, incomplete hints. I believe I express the opinion of the majority in affirming that true scientists will only face the facts when one among us will come and tell us: I saw him with my own eyes, I touched with my own hands Pithecanthropus erectus."
"I am the one," Levrai cried out, "no longer able to silence the truth which leapt from his heart to his lips; I have seen it, I have touched it, I have spoken to it, I have even killed it."
The rest was lost in the general din and indignation.
The most charitable among them thought him mad.
The ushers drew around him quietly; they took him away; he allowed himself to be taken, already regretting the scandal he had caused. It was only in the cabin where the Brothers of Charity locked him up that he finally understood the reality of things.
The kindest care, the most persuasive treatments were never able to overcome his insanity, and, many years later, his keeper, more in compassion than in irony, would still tell visitors who felt sorry for the meek and taciturn man:
"That one, he's the man who has seen truth."
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