Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
The Chimpanzee--Imperfect Negro, or Perfect Ape--The Harmonies of Nature--A Handful of Paws--A Stone Skin--Seventeen Spectacles on one Nose--Animalculę--Pelion on Ossa--Ptolemy--Copernicus to Galileo--Metaphysics and Cosmogonies--A live Tiger.
"The chimpanze or chimpanzee," says Buffon, the French naturalist, "is much more sagacious than the ourang outang, with which it has been inaccurately confounded; it likewise bears a more marked resemblance to the human being; the height is the same, and it has the same aspect, members, and strength; it always walks on two feet, with the head erect, has no tail, has calves to its legs, hair on its head, a beard on its chin, a face that Grimaldi would have envied, hands and nails like those of men, whose manners and habits it is susceptible of acquiring."
Buffon knew an individual of the species that sat demurely at table, taking his place with the other guests; like them he would spread out his napkin, and stick one corner of it into his button-hole just as they did, and he was exceedingly dexterous in the use of his knife, fork, and spoon. Spectators were not a little surprised to see him go to a bed made for him, tie up his head in a pocket-handkerchief, place it sideways on a pillow, tuck himself carefully in the bed-clothes, pretend to be sick, stretch out his pulse to be felt, and affect to undergo the process of being bled.
The naturalist adds that he is very easily taught, and may be made a useful domestic servant, at least as regards the humbler operations of the kitchen; he promptly obeys signs and the voice, whilst other species of apes only obey the stick; he will rinse glasses, serve at table, turn the spit, grind coffee, or carry water. Add to his virtues as a domestic, that he is not much addicted to chattering about the family affairs, has no followers, and is very accommodating in the matter of wages.
It was neither more nor less than a chimpanzee that Fritz had caught in the dark at Falcon's Nest.
"Now then, old fellow," said he, "you will help us to clear up this mysterious affair."
The caged stranger made no reply to this observation; Willis and Jack then questioned him, the one in English and the other in French.
Still no reply.
He did not submit, however, to be interrogated quietly; on the contrary, his struggles to get away were most vigorous, so much so that Fritz adopted the precaution of binding him.
"If it had been one of our sailors," said Willis, "he would have recognized my voice long ago."
"Who are you?" asked one.
"Where do you come from?" inquired another.
"Do not attempt to escape," said a third.
"We mean you no harm; on the contrary, we are friends, disposed to do you good if we can."
"If all his brothers and sisters are as talkative as himself," remarked Jack, "they must be a very amusing sort of people."
"He can walk at all events," said Fritz giving him a smart push.
The chimpanzee fell flat on the floor.
"It appears, sir, that you are determined to have your own way, we must therefore wait till daylight."
An hour passed in polyglot expostulations with the stranger on the score of his obstinacy, but all to no purpose; to use a popular expression, he was as dumb as the Doges. He deigned, however, to empty at a single draught a calabash of Malaga that Willis gave him, but there his condescension stopped.
The Pilot, who now encountered mosquitoes in all directions, made preparations for smoking; the light he struck, however, instead of clearing up the mystery, only perplexed them more and more; there lay their new companion, stretched on the ground, staring at them with a ludicrous grin.
If, on the one hand, it occurred to them this man was an animal, on the other the animal was a man, and Buffon did not happen to be there at the time to assign him officially a place in the former kingdom.
The next difficulty that presented itself was, how they were to get him along; when they broke in the onagra, they ran a prong through his ear; in reducing the buffalo to subjection, they did not feel the slightest compunction in thrusting a pin through the cartilage of his nose; then, in order to give elasticity to the legs of the ostrich, they yoked him to two or three other animals, and, willing or unwilling, he was compelled ultimately to yield obedience to the lords of creation. But whether the creature before them was a lower order of negro or a higher order of ape, there was too great a resemblance between the captured and the capturers to admit of any of these methods of impulsion being adopted. It was, therefore, stretched on a plank, like a nabob in his palanquin, that the chimpanzee made his first appearance at Rockhouse.
When the cavalcade arrived there, all the family, with the exception of Ernest and Frank, were still asleep. The first thing they did was to clothe the creature they had captured in a sailor's pantaloons and jacket, with which he seemed rather pleased, and the result of this operation was, that he began to assume a less ferocious aspect, and behave more respectfully towards his captors. All the family had sat down to breakfast, when Fritz and Jack, taking him by the hands, led him gravely into the gallery. A cord was attached to his legs, allowing him to walk, but was so arranged that he could not run.
On his appearance the young girls fled at once; and, more accustomed to drawing-rooms than the rude realities of savage life, Mrs. Wolston's first impulse was to do the same.
"Goodness gracious!" she cried with an air of alarm, "what horror is that?"
"That, madam, is precisely what we have been anxious for the last two or three hours to find out," replied Fritz.
"Does the creature speak?"
"Up till now, madam," replied Willis, "he has only opened his mouth to swallow my calabash of Malaga; beyond that, he has kept as close as a purser's locker."
When the first shock had passed, and the company had regained their self-possession, Jack related, with his customary originality, the incidents of the nocturnal expedition, of which Fritz was the originator, leader, and hero. The ladies then, for the first time, were made acquainted with the doubts, fears, perplexities, and battues, which, out of gallantry, they had hitherto been kept in ignorance of. Becker then, having carefully investigated the creature, pronounced it to be (as we already know) a full-grown specimen of a kind of ape, called by the Africans "the wild man of the woods," and by naturalists the jocko or chimpanzee.
"It is naturally very savage," added Becker; "but this individual seems already to have received some degree of education."
As a proof of this, the chimpanzee seated himself amongst them very much at his ease; he scanned the faces surrounding him with an air of curiosity, and seemed to search for a particular countenance that it annoyed him not to find. Some fruit and nuts that were given him put him in excellent humor.
"He has, without doubt, been on board some ship, wrecked on the coast," said Wolston, "for I recollect having read that his kindred are only found in Western Africa and the adjacent islands; do you not recognize him, Willis, to belong to the Nelson, like the plank of the other day?"
"So much the better."
"We do not ship such cattle on board his Majesty's ships," added the Pilot.
The girls, ashamed of their fear, now came peeping in at the door, and, seeing that nobody had been devoured, took refuge by the side of their mother.
"Look here, father," said Ernest, feeling the creature's crania, after having facetiously begged pardon for the liberty, "its head is precisely like our own; that is very humiliating."
"Yes, my son, but his tongue and other organs are also exactly like ours, yet he cannot utter a word. His head is of the same form and proportion, but he does not for all that possess human intelligence. Is this not a very striking proof that mere matter, though perfectly organized, neither produces words nor thought; and that it requires a special manifestation of the Divine will to call these attributes into existence?"
"True; but, father, some writers say that apes have been observed to profit by fires lighted in the forest, and have gone and warmed themselves when the travellers left."
"That, my son, is instinct, nothing more; the operation of keeping up a fire, by throwing a few branches upon it, is exceedingly simple, but their instinct has never been known to rise to that amount of intelligence."
"You recollect, father, that heathcock we saw some years ago displaying his glossy plumage to the dazzled hens; is that not a well-marked proof of coquetry? and is not this coquetry an indication of something more than mere instinct?"
"You will permit me to believe, my son, at least till the contrary has been proved, that these actions to which you refer have nothing at all to do with coquetry. Those brilliant colors are designed for a purpose other than that which you suppose; they serve as signals to keep the community together, or, in other words, they are a common centre round which the hens may revolve."
"The transition from apes to heathcocks," remarked Jack, "appears to me somewhat abrupt."
"Not so abrupt as you think, Master Jack," said Wolston; "those who take the trouble to study Nature, observe an admirable gradation and easy progression from a simple to a complex organization. There is no race or species that is not connected by a perceptible link with that which precedes and that which follows."
"What relation is there, for example," inquired Jack, "between an oyster and a horse?"
"No immediate relation certainly, but there are intermediate links by which the two are brought together: they may be regarded, however, as the opposite extremes of the brotherhood--the two poles in the chain of existence. A horse bears even less resemblance to a turnip than to an oyster; a relationship may, nevertheless, be traced, step by step, between them, dissimilar as they are. There is the polypus, that singular product of Nature, which, regarded in one light, performs all the functions of animal life, whilst, when regarded in another, it has the ordinary attributes of a plant; does this not clearly and distinctly mark the transition from the vegetable to the animal kingdom? Again, certain species of worms blend the animal with the insect tribe, those which are covered with a horny substance unite them with the crustaceae. These approach fish on the one hand, and reptiles on the other, whilst reptiles in some species become moluscs."
"And what is a molusc?" inquired Willis.
"The term molusc is applied by naturalists to creatures which have no vertebrae, as for example, the cuttle fish and the oyster."
"I believe you, Mr. Wolston; but if I had asked Ernest or Jack, they would have told me that it was a commodore or an admiral."
"Reptiles, I was going to say, are connected at one end of the chain with moluscs by the slug, and at the other with fish by the eel. From flying-fish to birds the transition is by no means abrupt. The ostrich, whose legs are like goat's, and runs rather than flies, connects birds with quadrupeds; these again return to fish through the cetacea."
"Yes, but the interval between such creatures and man is still great."
"True; to connect the two would be a process replete with insurmountable difficulties, and only possible to creative power. The projecting snout would have to be flattened, and the features of humanity imprinted upon it--that head bent upon the ground would have to be directed upwards--that narrow breast would have to be flattened out--those legs would have to be converted into flexible arms, and those horny hoofs into nimble fingers."
"To accomplish which," remarked Frank, "God had only to say, 'Let it be so.'"
"Assuredly; and as there is nothing incongruous in Nature, as everything is admirably adapted for its purpose, as unity of design is perceptible in all things, as every effect proceeds from a cause, and becomes a cause in its turn of succeeding effects, so God has willed that there should be a chain of resemblance running through all his works, and the link that connects man with the animal kingdom--the highest type of the mammiferous race, and the nearest approach to humanity amongst the brutes--is the creature before you."
As if to illustrate this position, and prove his title to the place awarded him, the chimpanzee quietly laid hold of Mr. Wolston's straw hat and stuck it on his crispy head.
"He is, perhaps, afraid of catching cold," said Jack, thrusting a mat under his feet.
"Compare birds with quadrupeds," continued Mr. Wolston, "and you will find analogies at every step. Does the powerful and kingly eagle not resemble the noble and generous lion?--the cruel vulture, the ferocious tiger?--the kite, buzzard, and crow preying upon carrion, hyenas, jackals, and wolves? Are not falcons, hawks, and other birds used in the chase, types of foxes and dogs? Is the owl, which prowls about only at night, not a type of the cat? The cormorants and herons, that live upon fish, are they not the otters and beavers of the air? Do not peacocks, turkeys, and the common barn-door fowl bear a striking affinity to oxen, cows, sheep, and other ruminating animals?"
During these remarks, Jack's monkey, Knips, had found its way into the gallery, and, observing the newcomer, went forward to accost him as if an old friend; the latter, however, uttered a menacing cry, and was about to seize Knips with evidently no amiable design, but was prevented by the cords that bound his legs. Knips leaped upon the back of one of the boys, and there, as if on the tower of an impregnable fortress, commenced making a series of grimaces at the chimpanzee, these being the only missiles within reach that he could launch at his relation. The enemy retorted, and kept up a smart fire of like ammunition.
"It appears," remarked Mrs Wolston, "that apes are something like men: the great and the little do not readily amalgamate."
"We must make them amalgamate," said Jack, taking one of Knips's paws, whilst Ernest held that of the chimpanzee; thus they compelled them to shake hands, but with what degree of cordiality we are unable to state.
"You ought to oblige them now to take an oath of fealty," said Mrs. Wolston.
"Chimpanzee," said Jack, speaking for Knips, "I promise always to treat you in future with smiles, delicacies, and respect."
"Knips," replied the wild man of the woods, through the organs of Ernest, "I promise to have for you only the most generous intentions; to share with you the nuts I may have occasion to crack, that is, by giving you the shells and keeping the kernel; I promise, moreover, not to immolate you at the altar of my just rage, unless it is impossible for me to avoid an outburst of temper."
"Now the embrace of peace."
"Ah, madam," said Jack, "you must excuse that ceremony, their friendship is too new for such intimacy, and Knips don't much like being bitten."
"Need we other proofs," remarked Becker, when the scene between the monkeys was concluded, "that everything has been premeditated, weighed, and calculated? It was necessary for that most arid country, Arabia, that we should have a sober animal, susceptible of existing a long time without water, and capable of treading the hot sands of the desert. God has accordingly given us the camel."
"And the dromedary," remarked Ernest.
"So everywhere," continued Becker; "and add to these evidences of Divine wisdom the brilliant colors, the silken furs, the golden plumage, and the ever-varying forms, yet, in all this diversity, there is unison--a harmony. Like the various objects which a clever artist introduces into his sketch, they are placed without uniformity, but still with reference to their effect upon each other, and so to the unity of the general design."
"Therefore," remarked Ernest, "we have an animal whose skin is of stone, which it throws off annually to assume a new one--whose flesh is its tail and in its feet--whose hair is found inside in its breast--whose stomach is in its head, which, like the skin, is renewed every year, the first function of the new being to digest the old one."
Here the Pilot manifested some symptoms of incredulity.
"That is not all, Willis," continued Ernest, "the animal of which I speak carries its eggs in the interior of its body till they are hatched, and then transfers them to its tail. It has pebbles in its stomach, can throw off its limbs when they incommode it, and replace them with others more to its fancy. To finish the portrait, its eyes are placed at the tip of long flexible horns."
"Do you really mean me to believe that yarn?" inquired Willis.
"Yes, Willis, unless you intend to deny the existence of lobsters."
"Lobsters! Ah! you are talking of them, are you!"
"Have not," continued Ernest, "six thousand three hundred and sixty-two eyes been counted in one beetle? sixteen thousand in a fly? and as many as thirty-four thousand six hundred in a butterfly? Of course, facets understood."
"Supposing these facets myope or presbyte," observed Jack, "that gives seventeen thousand three hundred and twenty-five pairs of spectacles on one nose!"
"How wonderfully varied are the forms of Nature. If, from the mastodon and the fossil mammoth, to which Buffon attributes five or six times the bulk and size of the elephant, we descend to those animalculae, of which Leuwenhoek estimates that a thousand millions of them would not occupy the place of an ordinary grain of sand."
Here Willis lost all patience and left the gallery, whistling as usual, under such circumstances, the "Mariner's March."
"Malesieu has detected animals by the microscope twenty-seven times smaller than a mite. A single drop of water under this instrument assumes the aspect of a lake, peopled by an infinite multitude of living creatures."
"Therefore," observed Wolston, "it is not the great works of Nature, or those of which the organization is most perfect, that alone presents to the mind of man the unfathomable mysteries of creation; atoms become to him problems, that utterly defy the utmost efforts of his intelligence."
"Which," suggested Becker, "does not prevent us believing ourselves a well of science, nor hinder us from piling Pelion on Ossa to scale the skies."
"What becomes, in the presence of these facts, of the metaphysics and cosmogonies that have succeeded each other for two thousand years? What of all the theories, from Ptolemy to Copernicus, from Copernicus to Galileo, Descartes and his zones, Leibnitz and his monads, Wolf and his fire forces, Maupertuis and his intelligent elements, Broussais, who, in his anatomical lectures, has oftener than once shown to his pupils, on the point of his scalpel, the source of thought; what, I say, becomes of all these?"
"There is less wisdom in such vain speculation than in these simple words: 'I believe in God the Father, the Creator of all things.'"
"Worlds," says Isaiah, "are, before Him, like the dew-drops on a blade of grass."
"We are now, however, getting into the clouds," remarked Wolston; "let us return to the earth by the shortest route. What do you mean to do with the chimpanzee?"
"Why, we must cage him in some way," replied Becker; "to let him loose again would be to create fresh uneasiness for ourselves. To kill him would be almost a kind of homicide."
"Can I come in now?" inquired Willis, thrusting his head into the gallery.
"Yes, with perfect safety."
"You see, when Master Ernest begins to spin, he gets into the chapter of miracles, and forgets that we have ears."
"I cannot help seeing them sometimes though, Willis; when they are a little longer than usual, it is difficult to hide them altogether."
"Well," replied Willis, "I confess I am a bit of a fool, and as you are at a loss what to do with our friend here, I shall take him over with me to Shark's Island: there will be a pair of us there then."
"If you will undertake to be his guide and instructor, he is yours, Willis."
"What shall I call him?"
"It shall go hard with me if I do not make a gentleman of him in a month's time."
"I should like," said Frank, "if you could convert him into a tiger."
"Yes, we want a footman in livery to fetch Mrs. Wolston's carriage next time she calls for it."
"I feel highly flattered by the compliment," said Mrs. Wolston, "but fear you will not be able to turn him out entire."
"Why so, madam?"
"Where are the top boots to come from?"