It was some time before I recovered consciousness, so intense had been the strain of this session. I found myself lying on a bed in a room. Zira and Cornelius were attending me, while some gorillas in uniform held back a crowd of journalists and curious onlookers who were trying to approach me.
"Magnificent!" Zira whispered in my ear. "You've won."
"Ulysse," said Cornelius, "together we're going to do great things."
He told me that the Grand Council of Soror had just held a special meeting and had decided on my immediate release.
"There were some who opposed it," he added, "but public opinion demanded it and they had to yield."
Having himself requested and obtained permission to take me on as his collaborator, he was rubbing bis hands at the thought of the assistance I would provide in his research.
"This is where you'll be living. I hope this apartment will suit you. It is quite close to mine, in a wing of the institute reserved for the senior personnel."
I looked around in bewilderment, thinking I was dreaming. The room was provided with every comfort; it was the beginning of a new epoch. After hoping so long for this moment, I was suddenly overwhelmed by an odd feeling of nostalgia. My eyes met Zira's and I saw that the clever she-ape had read my thoughts. A rather ambiguous smile came over her face.
"Here, of course," she said, "you won't have Nova with you."
I blushed, shrugged my shoulders, and sat up. I had recovered my strength and was eager to embark on my new life.
"Do you feel well enough to attend a little party?" Zira asked. "We've invited a few friends, all of them chimpanzees, to celebrate this great day."
I replied that nothing would give me greater pleasure, but I was no longer willing to appear stark naked. I then noticed I was wearing some pajamas, Cornelius having lent me his. But though I was able, hi a pinch, to wear a chimpanzee's pajamas, I should have looked grotesque in one of his suits
"We'll fit you out completely tomorrow and you'll have a decent suit for this evening. Here's the tailor."
A little chimpanzee came in and greeted me with great courtesy. I discovered that while I was still lying unconscious, the best tailors had competed for the honor of dressing me. This one, the most famous of all, had the most noted • gorillas in the capital as clients.
I admired his speed and dexterity. In less than two hours he had succeeded hi making me an acceptable suit. It felt quite strange to be wearing clothes again, and Zira looked at me as though she had never seen me before. While the artist was making the final adjustments Cornelius admitted the journalists who were hammering at the door. I was put through a catechism for over an hour, riddled with questions, under fire from the photographers, and required to furnish the most intriguing details about the Earth and the life men led on that planet. I lent myself willingly to this ceremony. A journalist myself, I realized the scoop I represented to these colleagues and knew what a powerful support the press could be.
It was late by the tune they left. We were just on our way to join Cornelius' friends when we were detained by the arrival of Zanam. He was obviously acquainted with the latest developments, for he gave me an obsequious bow. He had come to tell Zira that things were not going too well in her department. Furious at my long absence, Nova was making a great racket. Her mood had infected all the other captives, and no amount of pike blows would calm them down.
"I'll go and see," said Zira. "Wait for me here."
I looked at her with a pleading expression. She hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders.
"Come along if you like," she said. "After all, you're free and perhaps you'll be able to calm them down better than I can."
Together we entered the room with the cages. The captives calmed down as soon as they saw me, and the uproar was followed by a strange silence. They recognized me in spite of my clothes and seemed to understand that they were in the presence of something miraculous.
Trembling with emotion, I walked over to Nova's cage, my own cage. I went right up to her, I smiled at her, I spoke to her. For a moment I had the impression that she was following my train of thought and was about to answer me. This was impossible, but my mere presence had calmed her down like the others. She accepted a lump of sugar that I handed to her and ate it while I made my
way out of the room with a heavy heart.
Of that party, which took place in a smart night club— Cornelius had decided to launch me forthwith into simian society, since in any case I was now destined to live in it—I have only a confused and rather disturbing memory.
The confusion was caused by the alcohol that I started swilling as soon as I arrived, and to which my system was no longer accustomed. The disturbing effect was an odd sensation that was to come over me later on many other occasions. I can only describe it by saying that the nature of the figures around me became progressively less simian, whereas then- function or the position they held in society became dominant. The head waiter, for instance, who came up obsequiously to show us our table, I saw only as the head waiter, and the fact that he was a gorilla tended to be obscured. The figure of an elderly she-ape with an outrageously painted face was replaced by that of an old coquette, and when I danced with Zira I forgot her condition completely, and my arm merely encircled the waist of a dancer. The chimpanzee orchestra was nothing more than an orchestra, and the elegant apes exchanging witticisms all around me were simply men about town.
I shall not dwell on the sensation caused by my presence among them. I was the focus of all eyes. I had to give my autograph to a number of fans, and the two gorillas whom Cornelius had had the prudence to bring along were hard-pressed to protect me from the swarm of she-apes of every age who competed for the honor of having a drink or dancing with me.
It was getting late and I was already fairly tipsy when the thought of Professor Antelle crossed my mind. I felt steeped in black remorse. I was not far from shedding a tear or two over my own infamy as I reflected that here I was making merry and drinking with a lot of apes while my companion was shivering on some straw in a cage.
Zira asked me why I was looking so sad. I told her. Cornelius then informed me that he had made inquiries about the professor and that he was hi good health. There would be no opposition now to his being released. I insisted that I could not wait a minute longer before bringing him this good news.
"After all," Cornelius agreed, after thinking it over, "one can't refuse you anything on a day like this. Let's go. I know the director of the zoo."
The three of us left the nightclub and drove to the garden. On being waked up, the director bestirred himself. He knew all about me. Cornelius told him the true identity of one of the men he held locked up in a cage. He could hardly believe his ears, but he, too, was eager to do all he could for me. We should have to wait, of course, until the next day and go through various formalities before he could release the professor, but meanwhile there was nothing against our having a talk with him at once. He offered to accompany us.
Day was breaking when we reached the cage In which the luckless scientist lived like an animal in the midst of fifty men and women. These were still asleep, huddled together in couples or in groups of four or five. They opened their eyes as soon as the director switched on the lights.
It did not take me long to find my companion. He was stretched out on the ground like the others, huddled against the" body of a girl who looked quite young. I shuddered to see him like this, and at the same time was moved by the debasement to which I, too, had been reduced for four months.
I was so upset that I could not speak. The men, who were now awake, showed no sign of surprise. They were tame and well trained; they began performing their usual tricks in the hope of some reward. The director threw them some pieces of cake. Immediately scuffles and disputes broke out, as they did during the day, while the quietest of them assumed their favorite position, squatting by the bars and stretching out an imploring hand.
Professor Antelle followed their example. He came up as close as possible to the director and begged for a titbit. This humiliating behavior gave me a sickening feeling that soon became an unbearable anguish. He was three paces away; he was looking at me and appeared not to recognize me. In fact, his eyes, which had once been so keen, had lost all their gleam and suggested the same spiritual void as those of the other captives. I was horrified to see in them no more emotion than that aroused among the other captives by the presence of a man in clothes.
I made a great effort and managed at last to speak in order to put an end to this nightmare.
"Professor," I said, "Master, it is I, Ulysse Merou. We are saved. I came here to tell you . . ."
I stopped hi sheer amazement. At the sound of my voice he had reacted in the same way as the men of the planet Soror. He had suddenly lowered his head and shrunk away.
"Professor, Professor Antelle," I beseeched him, "it's I, Ulysse Merou, your traveling companion. I am free, and in a few hours you will be too. These apes you see here are our friends. They know who we are and welcome us like brothers."
There was no response. He showed not the slightest sign of comprehension but, with another frightened gesture like that of a startled beast, recoiled still further.
I was in despair, and the apes seemed extremely puzzled. Cornelius wrinkled his brow, as he did when he was trying to find the solution to a problem. It crossed my mind that the professor, frightened by their presence, might well be pretending to be witless. I asked them to move away and leave me alone with him, to which they readily agreed. When they had disappeared, I walked around the cage to reach the corner in which the scientist had taken refuge and again I spoke to him:
"Master," I implored him, "I understand your caution. I know the danger to which men from Earth are exposed on this planet. But we are alone, I give you my word of honor, and our ordeals are over. You must believe me, your companion, your disciple, your friend, Ulysse Merou."
He shrank back still further, darting furtive glances in my direction. Then, while I stood there trembling, not knowing what else to say, he half opened his mouth.
Had I succeeded at last in convincing him? I watched him, hoping against hope. But I remained speechless with horror at the manner in which he expressed his emotion. I said that he had half opened his mouth, but this was not the spontaneous gesture of a creature preparing to speak. He emitted from it a gurgling sound similar to those uttered by the strange men on this planet to express satisfaction or fear. There in front of me, without moving his lips, while my heart went numb with horror, Professor Antelle gave vent to a long-drawn-out howl.