During the week preceding the congress Zaius paid me several visits, multiplying the ridiculous tests, while his secretary filled several notebooks with observations and conclusions concerning me. I hypocritically did my best not to appear more intelligent than he wished.
The long-awaited date finally arrived, but it was only on the third day of the congress that they came to fetch me, the first two having been devoted to theoretical debates. I was kept informed of the proceedings by Zira. Zaius had already read a long report about me, presenting me as a man with particularly sharp instincts but totally devoid of the capacity for thought. Cornelius asked him a few leading questions to discover how, in that case, he explained certain aspects of my behavior. This revived old disputes,and the last discussion had been a stormy one. The scientists were divided into two groups: those who refused to acknowledge that an animal had a soul of any sort, and those who saw only a difference of degree between the mentality of beasts and that of apes. No one of course suspected the real truth, except Cornelius and Zira. Yet Zaius' report described such surprising characteristics that, even though this imbecile was not aware of the fact, it made a deep impression on certain impartial observers, if not on the decorated scientists, and a rumor began to spread around the town that an absolutely extraordinary man had been discovered.
Zira whispered in my ear as she took me out of the cage, "There'll be a vast crowd and the whole of the press. They're all on tenterhooks and know there's something unusual afoot. It's excellent for you. Take courage!"
I badly needed her moral support. I felt terribly nervous. I had rehearsed my speech all night. I knew it by heart and it was bound to convince the most limited minds; but I was haunted by the fear that I might not be allowed to speak.
The gorillas led me off to a caged-in truck and I found myself among several other human subjects, likewise considered worthy of being introduced to the learned assembly because of some peculiarity or other. We arrived outside an enormous building surmounted by a cupola. Our guards led us into a room furnished with cages, adjoining the assembly hall. There we waited at the scientists' pleasure. Every now and then a majestic gorilla, clothed hi a sort of black uniform, pushed open the door and shouted out a number. Then the guards would put one of the men on a lead and drag him off. My heart thundered at each appearance of the usher. Through the half-open door I could hear the hubbub in the hall, an occasional exclamation, and also bursts of applause.
Since the subjects were driven away immediately after their introduction, I eventually found myself alone in the room with the guards, feverishly going over the main passages of my speech. They had kept me till the end, like a star performer. The black gorilla appeared for the last time and called out my number. I rose to my feet quickly, took from the hands of a flabbergasted ape the^ lead he was about to fasten to my collar, and adjusted it myself. Then, flanked by two bodyguards, I entered the assembly hall with a firm tread. As soon as I had crossed the threshold I halted, dazzled and abashed.
I had seen many a strange sight since my arrival on Soror. I thought I was so accustomed to the apes and their actions that I could no longer be astonished by them. Yet confronted with the singularity and proportions of the scene before my eyes, I was seized with giddiness and once again asked myself if I was not dreaming.
I was in a gigantic amphitheater (which put me strangely in mind of Dante's conical inferno) of which every row of seats both around and above me was swarming with apes. There were several thousands of them. Never before had I seen so many apes gathered together; their multitude transcended the wildest dreams of my poor terrestrial imagination; their numbers overwhelmed me.
I stumbled and tried to pull myself together by looking for some guiding light in this crowd. The guards pushed me toward the center of a circle, resembling a circus arena, where a platform had been erected. I slowly glanced all around me. The tiers of apes rose as high as the ceiling, to a height that seemed to me incredible. The seats nearest me were occupied by the members of the congress, all of them learned scientists dressed in striped trousers and dark frock coats, all of them wearing decorations, almost all of a venerable age, and almost all orangutans. I made out, however, among their group a small number of gorillas and chimpanzees. I looked for Cornelius among the latter, but could not see him.
Beyond the authorities and behind a balustrade were several rows reserved for the junior colleagues of the scientists. A gallery at this level was for the journalists and photographers. Finally, still higher up and behind another barrier, surged the crowd, a simian public which, from the loud murmurs that greeted my appearance, was evidently in a state of great excitement.
I also tried to see Zira, who was bound to be sitting among the assistants. I felt I needed the support of a glance from her. There again I was disappointed and could not discern a single familiar face among the hellish throng of apes surrounding me.
I switched my gaze to the pontiffs. Each of them was seated in an armchair draped in red, whereas the rest were entitled only to stools or benches. Their appearance reminded me forcefully of Zaius. Their heads sunk almost to the level of their shoulders, one immensely long arm half folded and placed in front of them on a blotter, they scribbled down an occasional note or perhaps a childish drawing. In contrast to the excitement prevailing on the higher benches, they looked utterly listless. I had the feeling that my entrance and the announcement about me that had been made over a loud-speaker were only just sufficient to revive their flagging attention. In fact, I distinctly remember seeing three of these orangutans give a start and suddenly shake their heads, as though roused from a deep sleep.
Yet they were now all wide awake. My introduction was no doubt the high spot of the meeting, and I felt I was the cynosure of thousands of pairs of simian eyes with a variety of expressions ranging from indifference to enthusiasm.
My guards made me mount the platform where an impressive-looking gorilla was sitting. Zira had told me that the congress was presided over not by a scientist, as had once been the case—in those days the apes -of science, left to then- own devices, used to lose themselves in endless discussions without ever coming to a conclusion— but by an organizer. To the left of this important figure was his secretary, a chimpanzee, who was making a verbatim report of the meeting. To her right was a seat occupied in turn by each of the scientists who was to read a paper or introduce a subject. Zaius had just taken this seat amidst some lukewarm applause. Thanks to a system of loudspeakers in conjunction with some powerful projectors, nothing happening on the platform was lost even at the uppermost levels of the hall.
The president gorilla rang his -bell, obtained silence, and announced he was giving the illustrious Zaius leave to speak for the purpose of introducing the man about whom he had already addressed the assembly. The orangutan then rose to his feet and began on his discourse. During this time I was doing my best to assume as intelligent an attitude as possible. When he spoke about me I bowed, putting my hand to my breast, which at first gave rise to some laughter that was promptly stifled by the bell. I quickly realized I was not advancing my cause by indulging in these tricks, which might be interpreted as the mere result of good training. I stood still, waiting for the end of his speech.
He summarized the conclusions of his report and described the tricks he was going to make me perform, the equipment for his damnable tests having been set up on the platform. He ended by declaring that, like certain birds, I was also capable of repeating a few words, and he hoped to be able to make me do this in front of the assembly. Then he turned around to me, picked up the box with its multiple fastenings, and handed it to me. But instead of manipulating the locks, I embarked on another sort of exercise.
My hour had come. I raised my hand, then, tugging gently on the lead held by a guard, I approached the microphone and addressed the president.
"Illustrious President," I said in my best simian language, "it is with the greatest pleasure that I shall open this box; it is with the utmost willingness, too, that I shall perform all the tricks in the program. Before beginning this task, however, which is rather an easy one for me, I beg permission to make an announcement that, I swear, will astonish this learned assembly."
I had articulated very clearly and each of my words drove home. The result was what I had anticipated. All the apes remained glued to their seats, dumbfounded, holding their breath. The journalists even forgot to take notes, and none of the photographers had the presence of mind to record this historic moment.
The president gaped at me. As for Zaius, he seemed to be in a towering rage.
"Mr. President," he yelled, "I protest . . ."
But he stopped short, overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of a discussion with a man. I took advantage of this to go on with my speech.
"Mr. President, I insist with the greatest respect, but also with the utmost firmness, that this favor be granted me. Once I have explained myself, I swear on my honor that I shall bow to the demands of the very illustrious Zaius."
After a moment's silence, a hurricane shook the assembly.
A raging storm swept the rows of seats, transforming all the apes into a hysterical mass hi which were mingled exclamations, bursts of laughter, sobs, and cheers, all this in me midst of a continuous flash of magnesium, the photographers having at last recovered the use of then- limbs. The tumult lasted a good five minutes, during which the president, who had recovered some of his composure, never took his eyes off me. He eventually came to a decision and rang his bell.
"I . . ." he stammered, "I really don't know how to address you."
"Just call me monsieur," I said.
"Yes, well, er . . . monsieur, I think that, in view of the exceptional nature of the case, the scientific congress over which I have the honor to preside is entitled to listen to your announcement."
A fresh wave of applause greeted this decision. I did not ask for more. I stood bolt upright hi the middle of the platform, adjusted the microphone to my height, and started the following speech.