A signet book planet of the apes



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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Zaius came back a few days later, and bis visit was the signal for a complete reorganization of the room. But I must first describe how I had meanwhile distinguished myself still further in the eyes of the apes.


The day after the orangutan's first inspection an avalanche of new tests descended upon us, the first at mealtimes. Instead of putting our food in the cages as they usually did, Zoram and Zanam, the two gorillas whose names I had finally learned, hoisted them to the ceiling in baskets by means of a system of pulleys with which the cages were equipped. At the same time they placed four fairly big wooden cubes in each cell. Then, stepping back, they observed us.
It was heartrending to see my companions' discomfort. They tried to jump, but none of them could reach the basket. Some climbed up the bars but, having reached the top, they stretched out their arms in vain since they could not get hold of the food, which was some distance away from the sides of the cages. I was ashamed at the stupidity of these men. I, needless to say, had found the solution to the problem immediately. One merely had to pile the four cubes one on top of another, then climb onto this scaffolding and unhook the basket. This is what I did, with an air of detachment that concealed my pride. It was not a stroke of genius, but I was the only one to show myself so skillful. Zoram and Zanam's obvious admiration went straight to my heart.
I started to eat, without concealing my contempt for the other captives, who were incapable of following my example even after having watched the maneuver. Nova herself could not imitate me that day, although I repeated the action several times for her benefit. She diThat morning I took pity on her and threw her two of the best bits of fruit through the bars. This gesture earned me a caress from Zira, who had just come in. I allowed myself to be stroked by her hairy hand, much to the displeasure of Nova, whom these demonstrations enraged and who forthwith started jumping up and down and whimpering.
I distinguished myself in many other tests; but above all, by listening carefully, I managed to retain a few simple words of the simian language and to understand their meaning. I practiced pronouncing them whenever Zira went past my cage, and she looked more and more astounded. I had reached this stage when Zaius' new inspection took place.
Once again he was escorted by his secretary, but accompanied also by another orangutan as solemn as he and wearing the same decoration, and who chatted with him on an equal footing. I assumed he was a colleague who had been called into consultation over the disturbing case that I represented. They started a long discussion in front of my cage with Zira, who had meanwhile joined them. The she-ape spoke at great length and with fervor. I knew she was trying to plead my cause, pointing out the exceptional keenness of my intelligence, which no longer could be contested. But the only result of her intervention was to provoke an incredulous smile from the two scientists.
I was once again required to undergo the tests at which I had proved so adroit. The last one consisted in opening a box that was closed by nine different systems (bolt, pin, key, hook, etc.). Someone on Earth, Kinnaman, I think it was, had invented a similar device to assess the discernment of monkeys, and this problem was the most complicated any of them had succeeded in solving. The same no doubt applied here in the case of men. I had acquitted myself with honor after the first few attempts.
Zira herself handed me the box, and I saw from her air of entreaty that she was fervently hoping to see me perform brilliantly, as though her own reputation was involved in the test. I did my best to satisfy her and operated the nine mechanisms in a flash, without a moment's hesitation. Nor did I confine myself to that. I took out the fruit that the box contained and gallantly offered it to her. She accepted with a blush. Then I revealed my major achievement and pronounced the few words I had mastered, pointing out the objects to which they corresponded.
This time I felt it was impossible that they could entertain further doubt as to my true condition. Alas, I did not yet know the blindness of orangutans! They again gave that skeptical smile that enraged me so much, paid no attention to Zira, and went on with their discussion. They had listened to me as though I were a parrot. I felt they were only prepared to attribute my talents to a sort of instinct and a keen sense of mimicry. They had probably adopted the scientific rule that one of our learned men at home summarized as follows: "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty if it can be interpreted as the outcome of one that stands lower in the psychological scale."
Such was the obvious meaning of their jargon, and I began fuming with rage. No doubt I should have yielded to some angry outburst had I not intercepted a glance from Zira. It was plain to see that she did not agree with them and felt ashamed to hear them talking like this in front of me.
His colleague having eventually gone off, doubtless after pronouncing a categorical opinion on my case, Zaius embarked on some other exercises. He did the rounds of the hall, examining each of the captives in turn and giving fresh instructions to Zira, who noted them down. His movements seemed to indicate numerous changes in the occupancy of the cages. It did not take me long to discover his plan and to understand the purpose of the evident comparisons he was making between certain characteristics of such-and-such man and those of such-and-such woman.
I was not mistaken. The gorillas were now carrying out the boss's orders, which Zira had passed on to them. We were redistributed in couples. What fiendish tests were indicated by this pairing off? What peculiarities of the human race did these apes, with their mania for experiments, wish to study? My acquaintance with biological laboratories had suggested the answer to me: to a scientist who has chosen instinct and reflexes as his field of study, the sexual instinct has an exceptional interest.
That was it! These demons wanted to use us—to use me, who found myself attached to this herd by an extravagant whim of fate—to study in captivity the amorous practices of men, the methods of approach of the male and the female, the manner in which they copulate, in order to compare them perhaps with earlier observations of the same men in the wild state. Doubtless they also intended to experiment with sexual selectivity?
As soon as I understood then- plan, I felt more humiliated than I had ever been in my life and swore to die rather than lend myself to these degrading schemes. Yet my shame was substantially reduced, I must admit, although my resolution was still firm, when I saw the woman whom science had assigned as my mate. It was Nova. I felt almost inclined to forgive the old pedant his stupidity and blindness, and I made no protest when Zoram and Zanam seized me around the waist and flung me at the feet of the nymph of the torrent.



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