Good Lord, she was magnificent! Edgar thought.
Infuriatingly bold. He had many times fantasized about women such as this
Jane Porter, but he honestly believed they existed only in his imagination.
The vicious heckling she had endured for the past hour in the darkened
room would have broken the strongest of men, yet there she stood at the
podium casting a shadow on the startling image projected by the whirring
episcope on the screen behind her, back straight as a rod, head high, trying
to bring order back into the hall.
Her age was indeterminate—somewhere approaching thirty,
but her presence was one of striking vitality and self-assurance. She was
tall and slender beneath the knee-length suit coat of fine brown wool.
Her honey-colored hair was tucked up beneath a simple toque of black felt,
not one of those large frivolous feathered creations that these days hung
perilously cantilevered over a woman’s face. Emma wished desperately for
one of those freakish hats, and Edgar was secretly glad they were still
too poor to afford it.
“These claims are preposterous!” cried a man seated halfway
back in the crowded room. He had the look of an academic, Edgar thought.
“These are not claims, sir. They are the facts as I know
them, and physical evidence, here, right before your eyes.” There were
hoots of derision at that, and catcalls, and Jane Porter’s chin jutted
an inch higher.
“This is clearly a hoax,” announced a portly bearded man
who brazenly walked to the table in front of the podium and swept his hand
above the massive skeleton displayed on it. “And a bad hoax at that. Why,
you haven’t even tried to make the bones look old.”
The audience erupted in laughter, but the woman spoke
over the commotion in a cultured British accent with more equanimity than
Edgar thought humanly possible.
“That is because they are not old. I thought I made it
clear that the bones came from a recently dead specimen.”
“From a living missing link species,” called out another
skeptic. The words as they were spoken were meant to sound ridiculous.
“All you’ve made clear to us today, Miss Porter, is that
you should be locked up!”
“Can we have the next image, please?” the woman called
to the episcope operator.
“I’ve had enough of this claptrap,” muttered the man sitting
just in front of Edgar. He took the arm of his female companion, who herself
was shaking her head indignantly, and they rose from their seats, pushing
down the row to the side aisle.
This first defection was all it took for others to follow
suit. Within moments a mass exodus was under way, a loud and boisterous
one with rude epithets shouted out as hundreds of backs were turned on
the stoic presenter.
Edgar remained seated. When someone threw on the electric
lights, he could see that the episcope operator up front in the center
aisle was wordlessly packing up the mechanism of prisms, mirrors, and lenses
that threw opaque images onto the screen as the speaker began her own packing
Finally Edgar stood and moved down the side aisle to the
front of the meeting hall. He rolled the brim of his hat around in his
hands as he approached Jane Porter. Now he could see how pretty she was.
Not flamboyantly so, but lovely, with an arrangement of features— some
perfect, like her green almond eyes and plump upward-bowed lips, and some
less so, like her nose, just a tad too long and with a small bump in it—that
made her unique.
She was handling the bones as if they were made of Venetian
glass, taking up the skull, shoulders, arms, and spine and laying them
carefully into a perfectly molded satin receptacle in a long leather case.
She looked up once and gave him a friendly, close-lipped
smile, but when he did not speak she went back wordlessly to her task.
Now it was the lower extremities that she tucked lovingly away, using special
care to push the strange big-toe digits into narrow depressions perpendicular
to the feet.
Edgar felt unaccountably shy. “Can I give you a hand?”
“No, thank you. They all fit just so, and I’ve had quite
a lot of practice. London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin.”
“I have to tell you that I was completely enthralled by
She looked at Edgar with surprised amusement. “You don’t
think I should be locked up?”
“No, quite the contrary.”
“Then you cannot possibly be a scientist.”
“No, no, I’m a writer.” He found himself sticking out
his hand to her as though she were a man. “The name’s Ed Burroughs.”
She took it and gave him a firm shake. He noticed that
her fingernails were pink and clean but altogether unmanicured, bearing
no colorful Cutex “nail polish,” the newest rage that Emma and all her
friends had taken to wearing. These were not the hands of a lady, but there
was something unmistakably ladylike about her.
“What do you write, Mr. Burroughs?”
He felt himself blushing a bit as he pulled the rolled-up
magazine from his jacket pocket. He spread it out on the table for her
to see. “My literary debut of two months ago,” he said, unsure if he was
proud or mortified.
“Pulp fiction.” He flipped through the pages. “This is
the first installment in the series I wrote. There was a second in March.
My pen name’s Norman Bean. It’s called ‘Under the Moons of Mars.’ About
a Confederate gentleman, John Carter, who falls asleep in an Arizona cave
and wakes up on Mars. There he finds four-armed green warriors who’ve kidnapped
‘the Princess of Helium,’ Dejah Thoris. He rescues her, of course.”
She studied the simple illustration the publisher had
had drawn for the story, something that’d pleased Edgar very much.
“It really is fiction,” she observed.
“Fiction, fantasy . . .” He sensed that the woman took
him seriously, and he felt suddenly at ease. It was as if he had always
known her, or should have known her. She exuded something raw and yet something
“When I was ten I came home from school one day and told
my father I’d seen a cow up a tree,” Edgar said, startling himself with
his candor with a complete stranger. “I think I said it was a purple cow.
I was punished quite severely for lying, but nothing stops a compulsion,
does it?” When she shook her head knowingly, he felt encouraged. “A few
years later I moved to my brother’s ranch in Idaho and stayed for the summer.
By the time I was enrolled at Phillips Academy I could spin a pretty good
yarn about all the range wars I’d fought in, the horse thieves, murderers,
and bad men that I’d had run-ins with. It was a good thing my father never
heard about them.”
A slow smile spread across Jane Porter’s features. “Well,
you’ve shown him now, haven’t you. A published author.”
“I’m afraid my old man has yet to be convinced of my myriad
She snapped both cases closed and took one in each hand.
“Here, let me help you with those.”
“No, thank you. Having the two of them balances me out.”
“I was hoping you’d let me take you out to dinner. Uh,
I’d like very much to hear more about your ape-man.”
She stopped and looked at him. “Honestly?”
“You must pardon my suspiciousness. I have been booed
and hissed out of almost every hallowed hall of learning in the world.
This is the last. I tried to have my paper heard at the Northwestern and
Chicago universities, but I’m afraid my reputation preceded me and they
said absolutely not. That’s why you had to listen to my presentation at
a meeting room at the Chicago Public Library.”
“So will you come out with me?”
The woman thought about it for a very long moment. She
set down her cases and walked to the man at the episcope, quietly conferred
with him, and returned. “It’s really not a good idea for us to talk in
public, but my hotel is nearby. You and I can go up to my room.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Edgar said. “Chicago
police keep an eye on even the nicest hotels. They might arrest you for
soliciting. But my apartment’s not too far. The wife and kids have gone
to her mother’s for the weekend. I mean . . . sorry, that sounds . . .”
“Mr. Burroughs, your apartment’s a fine idea. I’m not
afraid of you. But don’t you care about the neighbors?”
He eyed the woman’s bulky luggage. “I’ll tell them you’re
selling vacuum cleaners.”
She smiled broadly. “That will do.”
They were largely silent on the taxi ride across town
to his Harris Street walk-up, except for the exchange of pleasantries about
the lovely spring weather they were having and how April was almost always
horrible in England.
It was just Edgar’s rotten luck that the only neighbor
who saw them come in was the landlord, a petty, peevish little man who
was looking for the rent, now more than a week late. Edgar was relieved
to get Jane Porter up the three flights and inside, shutting the door behind
them, but he cringed to see the empty cereal bowl and box of Grape-Nuts
that he’d left on his writing desk. There was a pile of typewritten pages
on letterhead lifted from the supply closet of the pencil sharpener company
he worked for, a mass of cross-outs and arrows from here to there, scribbled
notes to himself in both margins.
“It’s a novel I’m writing, or should say rewriting . .
. for the third time. I call it The Outlaw of Torn.” Edgar grabbed the
bowl and cereal box and started for the kitchen. “I turn into a bit of
a bachelor when my wife is away. By that I don’t mean . . .”
“It’s all right,” she called after him. “You have children?”
“A boy and girl, two and three. Why don’t you sit down?
Can I get you something to drink? Tea? A glass of sherry?”
“Yes, thank you. I’ll have a cup of water. Cool, please.”
When Edgar returned from the kitchen, his guest was sitting
at the end of the divan in an easy pose, her back against the rounded arm,
her head leaning lazily on her hand. She had taken off her suit coat, and
now he could see she wore no stiff stays under the white silk blouse, those
torturous undergarments that mutilated a woman’s natural curves. She wore
no jewelry save a filigreed gold locket hanging between shapely breasts,
and it was only when she was opening the second of the two cases holding
the skeleton that he saw she wore a simple gold wedding band. He could
see now where she had meticulously pieced together the shattered bones
of the apelike face.
He set the water down and sat across from her. Now she
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Edgar asked, praying
silently that she did.
“Well, I’ve never told this in its entirety. The academics
don’t wish to hear it. But perhaps your ‘pulp fiction’ readers will. I
can tell you it’s a story of our world—a true story, one that will rival
your John Carter of Mars.”
“Is it about you?”
“A good part of it is.”
“Does what happened to you in the story explain your fearlessness?”
“I told you, I’m not frightened of you. I . . .”
“I don’t mean me. You took an awful lot of punishment
this afternoon . . . and in public, too. You’re a better man than I.”
She found Edgar’s remark humorous but grew serious as
she contemplated his question. “I suppose they did toughen me up, my experiences.”
She stared down at her controversial find, and he saw her eyes soften as
though images were coming into focus there.
“Where does it begin?” he asked.
“Well, that depends upon when I begin. As I’ve said, I’ve
never told it before, all of it.” She did some figuring in her head. “Let
me start in West Central Africa, seven years ago.”
“Africa!” Edgar liked this story already. Nowhere on earth
was a darker, more violent or mysterious place. There were to be found
cannibals, swarthy Arab slave traders, and a mad European king who had
slaughtered millions of natives.
“It just as well could start in England, at Cambridge,
half a year before that.” She smiled at Edgar. “But I can see you like
the sound of Africa. So, if you don’t mind me jumping around a bit . .
“Any way you like it,” Edgar said. “But I know what you
mean. It’s not easy figuring out how to begin a story. For me it’s the
“Well then . . . picture if you will a forest of colossal
trees. High in the fork of a fig, a great nest has been built. In it lies
a young woman moaning and delirious. Her body is badly bruised and torn.”
“Is it you?” Edgar asked.
Jane Porter nodded.
“I have it in my mind. I can see it very well.” Edgar
could feel his heart thumping with anticipation. He allowed his eyes to
close. “Please, Miss Porter . . .” There was a hint of begging in his voice.
“Will you go on?”
It was the hurt that woke me—white-hot needles at shoulder
and calf, and deep spasms the width and length of my back. My head throbbed.
Fever seared. Limbs like lead. Bright patterns dancing behind closed lids.
Too much effort to move a finger, a toe. Frightening. Did I have the strength
to open my eyes? And what was the cause of my agony? What had happened?
Where was I? Then I remembered. Recalled the last sensation that was pure
terror made corporeal.
I was a leopard’s next meal.
Why was I not dead? Was I even now in the cat’s lair?
Would I open my eyes to a pile of bones and rotting corpses of its earlier
prey? Was the cat waiting an arm’s length away to finish me?
No. Beneath me was softness. My arms and legs were gently
positioned and cushioned. But this was not a bed. The air was fresh, fragrant.
I was outdoors. I could make no sense of it. I strained to remember. Called
out for help.
I dared to hope.
“Father?” My voice was so weak. How would he ever hear
me? I drew a long breath to give me strength, but that small act was a
knife to my ribs. I fought to raise my lids, but the minuscule muscles
“Fah-thah.” It was a male voice, deep and resonant, even
in its youth. Fevered as I was, a chill ran through me.
Who was this stranger? Dare I speak again?
A wave of pain assailed me and crushed the words into
meaningless cries and moans. I was so weak, buffeted, helpless in a sea
of suffering. Then two strong, comfortable arms cradled me, lifted me tenderly,
held me to a broad male breast as a father would a small, ailing child.
Relief flooded me and I sank gratefully into my protector’s
chest. The skin was smooth and hairless, the scent richly masculine. The
throbbing heartbeat against my ear was strong and I heard the mindless
humming, a familiar lullaby. I was rocked so gently that I fell into a
swoon of safe repose.
How long it was before I awoke again I did not know. But
with the pain having substantially subsided, when I opened my eyes this
time I could see very clearly indeed, and my mind had regained sense and
I was in the crook of a tree where four stout limbs came
together, lying on a thick bed of moss. I saw the naked, heavily muscled
back of the man I remembered only for his fatherly embrace. He squatted
beside me in what could rightly be called a “nest.” His skin was mildly
tanned, marred only by several fresh scratches and puncture wounds, the
hair a matted black mass hanging down below his shoulders.
When he turned, he was spitting a just-chewed blue-green
substance from his mouth into his hand, and was as startled at my waking
state as I was at the entirety of him.
We were equally speechless. He never took his eyes from
me as he finished chewing, then spat the rest of the paste into his palm.
I lifted onto my elbows but winced at the pain this caused my left shoulder.
I turned my head and saw the appalling injury—four deep gouges in the flesh.
He gently pushed me down and began to pack the green substance
into the wounds. His ministrations were straightforward, and in the silence
as he tended the shoulder scratches and another set on the back of my right
calf, I gazed steadily at his face, overcome with a sense of wonder and
He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Perhaps
twenty, he was oddly hairless on his cheeks, chin, and under his nose,
with only a soft patch at the center of his chest. The face was rectangular
with a sharp-angled jaw, the eyes grey and widely set, and alive with intensity
and inquisitiveness. Jet-black brows matched the unruly mane.
Though a stranger and clearly a savage, he touched me
intimately, but he did so unreservedly, like a workman at his job, and
I felt no compulsion to recoil from that touch.
Then he did the strangest thing. He raised his hand to
my face and, turning the palm up, laid the back of it on my forehead, as
a mother would to her child to check for fever. I thought I detected satisfaction
in what he’d found, and indeed, I felt the fever had gone from my body.
Now he met my gaze and held it with terrible intensity.
His lips twitched for several moments before any sound emerged. Then finally
“Fah-thah,” he said.
“Fah-thah?” I repeated. Then understood. “Father.”
The sound of the word and the thoughts it evoked suddenly
tore through my being and, lacking all restraint, I began to wail. Where
was my father? Was he alive or dead? Did he have any knowledge of my whereabouts?
Everything in me hurt, but most of all my heart.
The young man moved to take me into his arms as he’d done
before, but now I began to struggle, pushing him away, crying out with
pain of my torn shoulder and thoughts of my father. With a stern countenance,
the man opened his palms and, spreading them across my chest, pushed me
back down in the moss.
My face and body went slack in surprise, and I ceased
struggling. He withdrew his hands and in time I calmed. I never took my
eyes from him. Now I placed my own hand on my chest and spoke again.
“Jane,” I said.
He was silent, eyeing me closely.
“Jane,” I repeated, this time tapping my chest.
Understanding glittered in his eyes.
“Jane,” he said.
I refused to give in to false or premature hope, but I
rewarded his victory with a small smile.
He grew excited. He tapped his own chest and said, “Tarzan.”
So this was his name? Odd. Tarzan. He placed his hand over my hand, then
said his name once more.
But I shook my head and finally said “no.”
He nodded his head yes. “Tarzan. Tarzan,” he repeated.
I laid my head back, closing my eyes and sighing deeply.
I wanted to shout, “No, I am not Tarzan. You are Tarzan!” But I must be
And then very suddenly, as though he, too, was spent from
the frustrating conversation, he left me and climbed from the nest, disappearing
from my sight.
I lay there alone, trying to order my mind. There had
been a brief moment when I thought the savage might possess intellect,
and my heart had soared. He was able to mimic words. I must have uttered
“Father” in my delirium, and he’d remembered it. And he had repeated “Jane”
instantly and clearly, and even appeared to understand that this was who
I was. And then . . . oh, I grew heavy with disappointment—he had called
us both by the same strange name: Tarzan. He was clearly an imbecile, a
feral child, grown up. A freak of nature. And while he was at least gentle
and had nursed me so carefully, I despaired that this creature was the
one and only key to my salvation, if that was in fact a possibility.
Now that he was absent from the nest, I gazed around.
It was a rough home to be sure, but a home all the same. I saw a depression
in the moss beside where I lay—long and deep. It was clearly where the
tameless man had been sleeping—so close to me. There were few artifacts.
A stone-tipped spear. Near my head a pair of half coconut shells, and next
to them a pith helmet—my own?—all of them filled with clear water.
But where was I?
I looked up and around me. I recognized the tree as a
fig, and a large one at that.
It seemed that this nest was quite high off the ground.
How on earth had I gotten here? Certainly it was by virtue of the gentle
savage, but I had been injured. As a deadweight, I’d been carried up a
Although every movement was still an agony, my mind was
clearing moment by moment. But still I found myself tumbling fearfully
in an avalanche of questions.
How serious were my injuries? Will I live or die? Where
was my father? We had come together into this forest. Was he even alive?
Deathly ill? What has he been told about my whereabouts? Was he searching
for me even now? And who or what, in heaven’s name, was this man . . .
Then suddenly, unaccountably, the pain subsided like an
outgoing tide. I found myself soothed, lulled into comfort by the sounds
and the scents around me. It was an incessant thrum—trilling, piping, and
whistling of birdsong. Calls and answers. Clicking and chip-chipping of
insects. The rumbling roar of a distant waterfall.
I should think! Plan! But I could not. The sudden absence
of pain, the delicious stillness of my body, the comfort of the bed, the
sweet and pungent fragrances and the sounds. Oh, the sounds made me lazy,
indolent. I allowed my mind to drift. Not like me. Not like me at all.
Always too busy. So much to accomplish. So much to prove. Here there was
no accomplishing. Here there was only being, and gratitude that I was alive
and safe and not a leopard’s dinner . . .
Only then did I think to look down at my body. My left
shoulder was bare—the sleeve from my bush jacket gone. The terrible wound
packed with green-blue paste no longer throbbed. Was it this strange medicine
that relieved the pain? The rest of my jacket, I could see, covered me,
but the front—still buttoned—was lying atop my chest like a small blanket.
I felt with my right hand. The jacket’s back was beneath me, the two parts
unattached, the seams apparently ripped apart.
I needed to lift my head to observe my lower body, but
the spasm that racked my neck and back with even the smallest movement
forced a speedy look. It revealed a similar configuration. The lower right
trouser leg was gone. A dull ache in my right calf reminded me of the claw
wounds there and the blue-green poultice that packed it. The front of my
trousers loosely covered my bottom half, and I assumed the backs were underneath
my buttocks and legs.
The thought struck me that such an arrangement of my clothing
had to have been accomplished by my new friend, and I wondered at his inventiveness.
Would an imbecile have achieved so ingenious a sickbed? He had applied
medicine that appeared to have prevented infection of my wounds, ones that
while severe showed neither redness nor swelling nor suppuration, and provided
How long had I been unconscious? I realized with horror
that my modesty must certainly have been compromised. What of my bodily
functions? I felt clean and dry below, and detected no unsavory odors from
my nether regions. Stop! I ordered myself. The accomplishment of urination
and defecation in the presence and with the help of a strange male was
certainly an embarrassment, but it was far from my greatest concern.
Suddenly a tight packet of leaves plopped down on the
opposite side of the nest and a moment later came the man, leaping with
utter grace and agility up over its side. Thankfully, his private parts
were covered with a loincloth of sorts, really just a short animal skin
tied at the waist covering the front of him, with what appeared as the
wooden hilt of a large weapon protruding across his taut, rippling belly.
His long legs were exquisitely muscled, as were his buttocks, and even
his feet, bare of coverings of any kind, possessed great definition and
obvious strength. As he came close and squatted unselfconsciously beside
me, I thought that the sinuous toes, flexible and as powerful as fingers,
were much like an ape’s—good for climbing.
He held my gaze, seeming pleased at the clarity he saw
in my eyes, and spoke.
“Tarzan,” he uttered with great certainty.
All right, I thought, he is not an imbecile. We have simply
not learned proper communication with each other. I touched the center
of my chest lightly with my right hand.
“Jane,” I said and nodded my head, smiling. I touched
my breastbone again. “Tarzan . . .” I shook my head with definitive negativity
His expression was at first quizzical. Then he smiled.
He tapped my chest lightly. “Jane,” he said. Then he tapped his own. “Tarzan.”
I returned the smile to encourage him, though to be honest,
my smile was entirely sincere. There was hope to communicate with this
creature. No, I corrected myself. Not a creature. A man.
And a beautiful one at that.
I lay still and quiet as he opened the banana leaf he
had tied up with thin vine and revealed inside it wood mold and nuts, and
the fruit of the pawpaw tree.
He first applied the delicate fuzz to my wound, and the
moist paste caused it to disappear. Then he grabbed the flat rock from
the nest’s rim and, pulling out his blade, broke the nuts’ shells with
the hard handle. He offered the nut meat to me in the palm of his hand.
Yet I did not take or eat them. I was staring hard at the blade.
He held it out flat in front of me to see.
“Boi-ee,” he said proudly.
“Bowie?” I said, astonished. What was this man, this “Tarzan,”
doing with a Bowie knife, and how on earth did he know its proper name?
My father had such a blade in his collection of weapons. I had heard the
story of Jim Bowie, the frontiersman who had died at the American Battle
of the Alamo and had given the famous knife its name. There was nothing
else about the man squatting beside me, or his home, that remotely bespoke
of the civilized world.
And suddenly a Bowie knife.
This was a mystery, but perhaps more confounding was my
trust in the man—Tarzan. I’d not questioned the grey mold he had rubbed
into the poultices on my shoulder and calf, but I somehow assumed that
it would improve my condition. How had I come to trust this wild man, a
being whose life and mind were becoming more bewildering to me with every
He again extended his hand holding the nuts, and though
I felt no hunger I was moved to accept them. It was a token of faith and
friendship. Indeed, he seemed pleased when I put them in my mouth and chewed.
He smiled and went to work peeling the pawpaw, gutting it of its black
When he held out a portion to me—the simple sharing of
food between members of a family—I wondered how it had come to this so
I brought the yellow fruit to my lips and took a bite.
Nothing I had tasted in my life, I thought, had ever been so sweet.
Together we quickly devoured the meal, and when he rose
again, I knew that he was off to gather more. As he stood on the lip of
the nest preparing to slide the Bowie knife into its sheath, a rare ray
of sunlight pierced the thick canopy above to glint blindingly off the
blade. I closed my eyes and saw . . .
. . . reflected January sunlight glittering off the razor-edged
scalpel in its small wooden chest. The sight of the serrated bone saw,
knives and drills and probes with their ebonized handles filled me with
satisfaction. My very own dissection kit.
Yet standing there alone in the bright high-ceilinged
chamber with two rows of sheet-draped cadavers—alone if one did not count
the bodies of the deceased—I could feel a nervous flutter in my chest.
The sickly sweet and acrid smell of formaldehyde, and the flesh it prevented
from putrefying, stung my nose. Get your bearings, girl. You’re in the
gross-anatomy laboratory at Cambridge. No time for floundering!
The medical students would be arriving any moment. Would
it be the jocular, shoulder-bumping playfulness that I saw in the lecture
hall, courts, and arches, I wondered, or would they quiet and grow still
in this strange sepulcher?
There was a clattering at the door as a laboratory servant,
his arms piled with tin pails, hurried in and began placing one at the
foot of every table, for discarded parts I guessed.
I recognized the young man, Mr. Shaw, a graduate of the
medical college who had yet to find a position in the world. The professor
of human anatomy had happily taken him on to this posting that was both
lowly in its tasks and most necessary to the smooth functioning of the
laboratory. Servants, though they were called, were valued very highly,
and the best of them, like Mr. Shaw, fetched and carried and mounted specimens
that were produced by the students’ work. Some servants were paid as much
for their services as college lecturers.
“Your first day, Miss Porter?” Shaw inquired.
“Make sure you keep the face covered,” he said of the
corpses. “That’s the bit that can give you a nasty shock. My first day
the towel fell off and I found myself staring at a granny with half of
her skin flayed down to the muscle and an eyeball hanging down by the optic
nerve. I retched into one of these buckets every few minutes till the end
of the session.” He set down one of the pails near my feet. “Apparently
it was a record-breaking spew . . . my classmates never let me forget it.”
“I’ll take your advice, Mr. Shaw. I’ll wait a bit to uncover
“Good luck to you, miss.”
The laboratory was filling with young men, two to a table.
Presently one of them took his place across from me. He was a freshfaced
boy with skin so pale and translucent that blue veins formed a delicate
map across his cheeks and forehead.
“I’m Woodley,” he said. “You’re Jane Porter.”
I could hear snickering from the tables on either side
of us and the row across the aisle. I’d prepared myself for all manner
of derision. The first woman to gain entry into this hallowed laboratory
was sure to stir controversy and even indignation. I have every right to
be here, I repeated to myself for the hundredth time that day and almost
unconsciously pulled back my shoulders and thrust out my chin.
The movements, subtle as they were, did not go unnoticed
by a too-handsome young man I knew from the anatomy lecture hall. Arthur
Cartwright’s family was old, and they had managed to preserve their wealth
and prestige in the previous century that had seen so many of them collapse
into genteel poverty. Cartwright wore his arrogance like a badge of honor.
All he did was smirk at me.
“Shall we?” Woodley asked.
Leaving the face covered with a small towel, Woodley pulled
the sheet away, revealing what looked to be a middle-aged man. It was already
a partly dissected cadaver, as I had joined the class in the middle of
its term. I could see that the skin of one forearm had been peeled away,
revealing musculature that looked decidedly like the stringy meat on a
dried-out turkey carcass. A large opening in the abdomen exposed the intestines
and multitudinous folds of the mesentery tissue. A repulsive odor wafted
up from the belly and hit me with a force that knocked me back on my feet.
“I know,” said Woodley. “The gut stinks far worse than
the rest. You’ll get used to it. Or you won’t.”
I was aware that even though work had begun on all the
tables around mine and Woodley’s, everything that was being said here,
and probably my reel backward from the odor of the abdominal cavity, was
being closely observed by Cartwright and the others. They were all most
certainly waiting for an opportunity to chime in with a barb, a pun, or
their idea of a witty rejoinder . . . at my expense, of course.
“Mr. Woodley,” said Cartwright in a most unctuous tone,
“perhaps you should help Miss Porter with the dissection of the rectum.”
I thought how apropos was my fellow student’s choice of
body parts, as that was the precise orifice I’d just silently affirmed
I would associate with Arthur Cartwright for the rest of my days.
But what I said aloud was, “Thank you, but I can take
care of myself very well.”
“I’m quite sure you can.” The five words were spoken by
Cartwright with such lewd innuendo that his corner of the laboratory erupted
I gathered my wits and fixed my eyes on the flayed corpse.
In the most demure tone I could summon, I said, “Mr. Woodley, might you
show me this man’s testicles?”
There were roars of laughter, hoots and howls. Not a full
minute had passed before the professor of anatomy, the most revered of
lecturers, was in our midst. He was a clean-shaven man, and his barrel
chest lent power to his otherwise tall, rangy appearance.
“Gentlemen!” The single word was close to a shout, and
he spoke it with blatant irony. These were ruffians he was addressing,
his tone revealed—anything but well-bred university men. The professor’s
usual good nature and easy manner had vanished. His Midwest American twang
seethed with gravitas as he continued. “You are working on human cadavers
that were once living, breathing men and women. Somebody’s father, mother,
child. It is the reason that we in the dissection room wear black coats,
not the white of scientists and physicians—out of respect for the dead.
There will be no laughter in the anatomy laboratory. No horseplay. Ever.
Now get on with it.”
In that moment, the silence of the dead filled the room,
and the students returned, chastened, to their grisly business.
I felt the professor looming above me, He whispered into
my ear, “You should have known better.”
I turned and spoke so softly I doubted Woodley, across
the table, could hear. “Sorry, Father. You may come to regret the mountains
you moved to get me into this classroom.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said and, moving away,
called over his shoulder, “Button up that coat, Mr. Cartwright. You look
like a trash collector.”
I returned my eyes to the cadaver.
Woodley addressed me with mock dignity. “Was it the testicles
you wished to be shown, Miss Porter? Or the scrotal sac?”
“Neither, Mr. Woodley. I think I’ll investigate the larynx.”
I felt his eyes on me as I removed the smallest of the
scalpels from the instrument kit and attempted to make my first incision,
this to remove the skin in the center anterior of the neck. Nothing happened
under the knife.
“The human hide is tougher than you think,” Woodley told
me. “Pressure should be firm, but not so firm as to slice through any more
than the derma. Think of cutting into an overcooked heel of roast beef.”
I tried again. To my delight, the bloodless flesh parted.
Having exposed what lay beneath, I closed my eyes and recalled what I had
studied so carefully in my anatomy text.
“I had the larynx last term,” Woodley said. “Remove the
mucous membrane posteriorly to expose the laryngeal muscles and the inferior
laryngeal nerve. Then you can remove the lamina of the thyroid cartilage
on one side to view the remaining laryngeal muscles.”
I thanked him and set to work carefully and assiduously
in the soft tissue. I found myself handling the new knives and probes with
unexpected dexterity. It was as though I had used the tools all my life.
Nothing was so sublime or miraculous as the human body. So many secrets
buried in flesh and bone.
Ah, there they were, the vocal cords!
I paused, awestruck, as a treasure hunter would before
opening a long-lost cask of golden coins. I was startled when Woodley spoke
“You seem to know what you’re looking for in there.”
“Are you familiar with Dubois’s paper on the development
and evolution of the larynx? That the mammalian larynx issues from the
fourth and fifth branchial arches of the embryo, implying,” I continued,
perhaps too zealously, “that the human voice box evolved from the gill
cartilage of fish? Those structures that once filtered oxygen from water
now filter air . . . and make sound!” I remembered then that I ought to
keep my voice down.
“Ah, this is what all the excitement is about,” Woodley
said. “Dubois’s ‘missing link.’ His ‘Java man’ fragments.”
“I’d say they’re rather more than fragments. A tooth.
A thighbone . . . and a complete skullcap.”
“It hasn’t been proved that they’ve come from the same
“Rubbish! They were found at the same depth, and only
fifteen yards away from each other. Their color and texture are identical.”
Woodley never took his eyes from the long, ropy intestines
he had extracted from the cadaver and placed for examination on its still-intact
“Well,” I demanded, “do you have an opinion on it?”
“Not really. I’m studying to be a physician, not a fossil
“Certainly you have an opinion on so important a scientific
“It’s important to some people.”
“Some people?” I was incensed. “So you don’t care whether
your forebearers were ape-men, or creatures that came magically out of
Woodley was clearly unused to such a highly opinionated
“The apes, I suppose,” he finally muttered.
Truly, I would have been shocked had he chosen the rib.
Few educated men and women denied Darwin, but fewer still were courageous—or
some said idiotic—enough to make paleoanthropology their career. In other
than the scholarly crowd, such a calling was laughable. This was a contradiction
that drove me mad.
“Are you coming to hear Dubois at the congress?” I asked.
“The International Congress of Zoology. He’s presenting
his Java man finds here, later this month. Are you coming?”
“Oh, Mr. Woodley. I really hope you’re not the type who’s
always answering a question with a question.”
He gave me a sharp look. “I’m trying to like you, Miss
Porter. You make it very difficult.”
Aware that my impatience was getting the better of me,
I resumed my dissection. “Yes, I’m going. My father and Eugène Dubois
are friends. But you knew that.”
“Everyone knows that.” There was a strained silence. “Miss
Porter . . .”
“Be careful with the vocal folds. They’re very delicate.”
“Thank you,” I said, contrite. Perhaps Woodley was a decent
sort of man after all. There were so many I would just as soon send to
the bottom of the ocean. I looked up and managed a smile. “Can you tell
me which tool you suggest?”
Unladylike though it was, I dashed across the Newnham
College green clutching my valise in one hand, hat to my head with the
other. The scarf ties flew out behind like wind-whipped banners, and the
young women walking two by two with great decorum skewered me with the
evil eye. But my father was waiting just beyond the hedge in the Packard,
eager to make an end to his week’s work at the university. And I hated
to keep him waiting.
As many weekends as I was able, I went home with the professor.
I lived for these times, working with him in the manor laboratory and keeping
company with my animals. The courses at Newnham— one of the two women’s
colleges at Cambridge—were adequate, and I appreciated the extreme privilege
of participating in higher education, but the restrictions imposed upon
my sex irked me beyond measure. Women could attend classes at Cambridge
and write examinations. But Newnham had its own library and separate laboratories,
as girls were prohibited from sullying those hallowed halls in the men’s
colleges. Worst of all, females could not graduate or qualify for a degree
of any kind. It was maddening!
That was why my admission into the anatomy laboratory—the
only one at Cambridge—had been such an unimaginable coup. Certainly it
had stirred numerous debates and ruffled whole hatsful of feathers, even
prompting several of the fellows to suggest my father’s termination as
But to hell with them! None of the other girls at Newnham
had a fraction of the ambition that I did. I was going to make something
of myself. Leave a mark on the world. And that was that.
It had been my great good fortune to have a champion for
a father—one who so openly applauded my audacity and who, in every way
within his power, was clearing the path for my success.
As I came around the high hedge, I heard the Packard running
before I saw Father—Professor Archimedes Phinneaus Porter— behind the wheel
of his pride and joy—the bright blue two-seater Mother had recently given
him for his fiftieth birthday. I smiled whenever I thought of my father
thusly. “Archie” was what he called himself, undistinguished as that might
sound. He’d never forgiven his parents for saddling him with such a ridiculously
antiquated name, which was why, he explained, he had given his daughter
such a plain one.
I strapped my bag to the back platform and slipped in
beside him. The door was barely shut before the car lurched into forward
motion and we were off. I grabbed the two side scarves and tied them under
my chin for the drive into the countryside south of Cambridge town.
“Will I ever get the smell of formaldehyde out of my hair?”
I needed to shout to overcome the wind blown directly into our faces and
the “infernal combustion engine,” as my father called the Packard. I put
my wrist to my nose. “I think the stuff’s in my skin as well!”
“It is!” Father called out cheerily. “Formaldehyde is
organic and seeps into the skin. You’ll smell like a cadaver for the rest
of the term! Perhaps longer. Every year before the summer break all the
anatomy students get together on King’s Court, set a huge bonfire, and
burn their odious black coats!”
I liked the sound of that tradition and imagined the heat
of the fire, the raucous shouts, and the glow of the flames on the faces
of the Messrs. Woodley, Shaw, and even Cartwright. There was something
wonderfully pagan about the ritual.
Everyone knew Professor Porter’s blue Packard and waved
merrily to him as we tooled along Gwydir Street and the Brewery, then passed
the Mill Road Cemetery and on out of the city limits. Cambridge was a smallish
town. It wasn’t long before we were driving southwest on Whimpole Road
through green farm and pasturelands.
“Well,” Father said, “what did you find in your specimen’s
“All the organs and structures necessary for the muscles
of speech! The hyoid bone, the larynx, the tongue and pharynx. I took a
good hard look at the supralaryngeal air passage. I’ve studied the voice
box in theory and lecture, but it was amazing to finally see the very organ
that makes our species human!”
“Don’t let’s forget upright posture in all the excitement.
You’d have quite a fight on your hands with our fellow evolutionists if
you showed them a knuckle-dragging ape, even if he could sing ‘The StarSpangled
I carefully considered my father’s words. He was right.
Sometimes my enthusiasm got the better of me. I tended to forget the obvious.
“Remind me tomorrow,” he continued, “but I think I’ve
got the larynx of a mountain gorilla in the pantry!”
Much to Mother’s dismay, Archie Porter called the specimen
closet in his home laboratory the pantry. It truly was a grotesque chamber,
worse in ways than the human dissection laboratory at the university. Before
Father had become a lecturer of human anatomy, he had been a morphologist—a
comparative anatomist—studying and dissecting a variety of animal species.
He therefore kept, in row upon row in his pantry, body parts, embryos,
specimens, and skeletons of every sort of wild and domesticated animal.
In this one instance, and possibly this one instance alone,
I found myself in agreement with Mother. Even as a young girl I’d hated
the sight of half a dog’s head in a jar, the rather large phallus of a
stallion, a pig embryo, a skinned cat. And not because they were hideous
or frightening. In fact, they’d fascinated me. But I adored animals (in
their living condition) and felt nothing but pity for the poor creatures
who had been so unceremoniously cut into pieces, ending up pickled in Father’s
closet. It suddenly occurred to me that I’d had no such qualms that morning
in the human anatomy laboratory. But then, I had more love for animals
than I did most people I knew.
“While the human is fresh in your mind,” Father said,
“you should have a look-see at the ape!”
“That would be brilliant!” I called out, grateful enough
for the extraordinary opportunity just offered to overcome the revulsion
I felt for the unfortunate simian.
Father was proud of his collection. Every summer for the
past six years he had gone on expedition to Kenya, timed between that country’s
two rainy seasons, in furtherance of his lifelong quest. He, like his friend
and associate Eugène Dubois, had been searching for Charles Darwin’s
missing link. Dubois, in 1891, had had the good fortune to find in the
wilds of Indonesia the fossil remains of Java man, what my father believed
was “stunning proof” of an interim species, part ape, part man. But this
had, ironically, proved to be only the beginning of the poor man’s travails.
The scientific establishment had, by and large, repudiated Dubois’s finding.
Ever since his return to Europe with his precious bones, having nearly
lost the case holding them in a shipwreck, the Limburgian paleoanthropologist
had been compelled to defend his fossils against those “too dense or jealous,”
as Father would say, to admit his accomplishment. And all this after years
of intensive work and massive personal sacrifice— the appalling loss of
an infant daughter to a tropical fever and a wife who had lost her love
for the man with the death of their child.
Father’s only dispute with his friend was one of location.
Eugène Dubois, on the urgings of his professor at Jena University—the
esteemed Ernst Haeckel—had gone looking for the ape-human link in the jungles
of Asia. Professor Porter, a more literal Darwinist, was certain the fossils
would be found in equatorial Africa.
Dubois had returned home from Java carrying tangible evidence
of an upright anthropoid with a large brain—far larger than any ape’s,
though not quite as fulsome as the Neanderthal skulls discovered in Europe.
Alas, it had no neck vertebrae or any evidence of the power of speech.
But Father had so far found less than that. Nothing at all but fossils
of extinct flora and fauna of the Pleistocene epoch. He had also harvested
quite a collection of unwanted body parts as specimens from the carcasses
of apes taken down by the numerous great white hunters now making a fine
living in Kenya with their wealthy clientele, out for adventure and trophies
for their library floors and walls.
Certainly he was frustrated, but each year without fail
he mounted a new, insanely expensive expedition, financed by my mother’s
vast fortune. The money was grudgingly given, as Samantha EdlingtonPorter
loathed the months her husband disappeared into the “Dark Continent.” She
was mortified by his theories and endeavors, which were similarly disavowed
by his fellow scientists. While they might agree with Darwin’s theories
in Descent of Man, few had any interest in finding physical proof of them.
Well respected though Archie Porter might be in his professorship at Cambridge,
he was merely an “enthusiastic amateur” in his paleoanthropological adventures.
I always thought it to my mother’s credit that despite her dreaded misgivings
and the whiff of scientific heresy that surrounded the hated safaris, she
repeatedly funded them.
Father did, however, pay a price. There were the acid
comments at Mother’s dinner parties and the incessant harping about the
dangers of these expeditions. In one respect, at least, she did have firm
ground upon which to level her assaults.
For beating in Archie Porter’s broad, manly chest was
a questionable heart. It was a family thing, he liked to say, much like
the Hapsburg lip. His father, two uncles, and a brother had died young
from what Father referred to as “a bum ticker.” But he insisted—quite rightly,
I thought—that his kin had been wholly unfit individuals, carrying before
them massive bellies and jowls hanging heavily from their chins that shook
like beef aspic on a platter. Father was an altogether different sort—a
bona fide outdoorsman. He fished, he rode, he bicycled. He took miles-long
striding constitutionals every single day that weather permitted. And I,
the only one of his and Mother’s children who had survived infancy, had
taken very much after my father.
Samantha cringed when anyone called her daughter a tomboy,
but that was a perfectly reasonable description of me. Much as I loved
reading and the study of science, I honestly preferred the out-of-doors.
Never was I happier than on the back of a galloping horse, my yapping hounds
running alongside. Not to brag, but I was a crack shot, too. I could outshoot
Father at skeet, and my begrudging nickname on the college archery range
was “Robin Hood.” Long ago, Mother had given up seeing me descend the staircase
slowly and decorously, my hand pressed lightly on the rail. I had proved
myself to be little more than a female ruffian.
“So were they horrible to you today, the young men in
the class?” Father shouted over the wind.
“Only one true dolt!” I shouted back in answer to his
question, thinking of Mr. Cartwright.
I noticed that Father’s wavy brown hair, blown backward,
was growing rather longer than Mother liked, and it was always an unruly
mess by the time we returned from the college. He had refused to grow the
full beard that was all the rage now, especially among English academic
men, choosing instead the clean-shaven American style. His wife approved
of the beardless look but strenuously objected to the too-long hair. “You
look like the Wild Man of Borneo,” she would complain every time he came
in from a drive. And when it attained a dangerous length—as it had now—Samantha
would have the barber make a special house call.
“But it makes me so angry, Cambridge segregating the men
and the women!” I said. “Why haven’t they come into the new century? Look
at Marie Stopes at University College London. Not only are females training
side by side with male physicians, but Marie, a girl my age, is already
a lecturer there!”
“You could have gone to University College!”
“I know I could. But then I would have had to leave you!”
I looked over at my father, affection threatening to spill over as tears.
“And your laboratory!”
“Our laboratory!” He smiled, never taking his eyes off
the road. Archie Porter was nothing if not a careful man.
I was warmed to be reminded that he trusted me as his
assistant in his private work at home. Depended on me more and more all
the time. It was why I relished every weekend I could steal away from the
university. To work at his side.
“If you test well in human dissection—you’re already top
of the class in lecture—you just might open some doors for young ladies
in the future!”
The Packard turned into the long manor drive and pulled
up to our stately home—the Edlington-Porter manor house with its fine stonework
and high arched windows. Now Father spoke in normal tones, filled with
the warmth and familiar affection I so loved.
“Meanwhile, you’d best sneak upstairs and stick your head
in a bucket of lemon juice before coming down to dinner. I’m afraid I’ll
never hear the end of ‘our reeking daughter smelling of the dead.’ ”
The doorman came to my side and opened the Packard’s door.
“Welcome back, Miss Jane.”
Then the hounds were there to greet me, setting up a fine
racket, sniffing wildly at my new and enticing fragrance.
“Come on, boys,” I said, eager to get to the stables,
“let’s go see if Leicester wants to have a ride”