Cornelius has not told me anything more and I feel he is reluctant to do so, but what I already detect in his theories gives me a strange elation.
The archeologists have laid bare a whole city, buried in the sands of a desert, a city of which nothing remains, alas, but ruins. But these ruins, I am convinced, hold an extraordinary secret that I have vowed to solve. This should be possible for anyone who can observe and deduce, which the orangutan who is directing the excavations s'eems hardly capable of doing. He welcomed Cornelius with the respect due his senior position but with barely concealed contempt for his youth and the original ideas he sometimes expressed.
Digging among stones that crumble at every move and in sand that sinks under every step is no easy job. It is now a month since we have been at it. Zira left us some tune ago, but Cornelius insists on prolonging his stay. He is as enthusiastic as I am and convinced that only here, among these relics of the past, is to be found the solution to the great problems tormenting him.
The extent of his knowledge is really remarkable. First of all, he insisted on verifying personally the antiquity of the city. For this the apes have a process similar to our own, involving deep-rooted principles of chemistry, physics, and geology. On this point the chimpanzee is in agreement with the official scientists: the city is very, very old indeed. It is much more than ten thousand years old, and therefore constitutes a unique record, tending to show that simian civilization did not burst forth miraculously out of the void.
Something existed before this present era. But what? After this month of feverish investigation we are disappointed, for it seems that this prehistoric city was not very different from those of the present day. We have discovered remnants of houses, traces of factories, vestiges showing that these forebears had motor cars and airplanes, just as apes of today do. These remains indicate that the origins of mind can be traced far back into the past. This is less than Cornelius was expecting, I feel; it is less than I was hoping for.
This morning Cornelius has gone ahead of me to the spot where the workmen have laid bare a house with thick walls made of a sort of reinforced concrete, which seems better preserved than the rest. The inside is filled with sand and debris that they have undertaken to sift. Until yesterday they had found nothing more than in the other sections: fragments of piping, household appliances, kitchen equipment. I am still idling outside the tent that I share with the scientist. From here I can see the orangutan giving his orders to the foreman, a chimpanzee with a crafty look in his eye. I cannot see Cornelius. He is hi the trench with the workmen. He often takes a hand in the digging, for fear they might do something stupid and thereby lose an interesting item.
Here he is emerging from the hole, and it does not take me long to realize he has made an exceptional discovery. He is holding in his hand a small object that I cannot make out. He thrusts aside the old orangutan who tries to take it from him and puts it down on the ground with infinite care. He looks in my direction and beckons me over. As I approach I am struck by the change in his expression. "Ulysse. Ulysse!"
Never have I seen him in such a state. He can barely talk. The workmen, who have also climbed out of the trench, gather around the find and prevent me from seeing it. They point it out to one another but they seem merely amused. Some of them laugh out loud. They are almost all hefty gorillas. Cornelius tells them to keep their distance.
"Whatever is it?"
I see the object lying in the sand at the same moment that he mutters in a strangled voice:
"A doll, Ulysse, a doll!"
It is a doll, an ordinary china doll. By a miracle it has been preserved almost intact, with vestiges of hair and eyes that still reveal a few chips of color. It is such a familiar sight to me that at first I cannot understand Cornelius' emotion. It takes me several seconds to realize . . . then I've got it! Its strangeness dawns on me and immediately I am overwhelmed. It is a human doll representing a little girl, a little girl like one on Earth. But I refuse to let myself be taken in. Before proclaiming a miracle, every possibility of a more commonplace cause must be examined. A scientist like Cornelius must have done so already. Let us seer The- dolls of child apes do include a few—a very few, but nevertheless a few—that have an animal or even human form. So it cannot be the mere presence of this one that moves my chimpanzee so deeply. . . . Let us go a step further: The toys of child apes representing animals are not made of china; and above all they are not usually clothed; in any case, not clothed like rational creatures. And this doll, I tell you, is clothed like a doll at home—the remnants of a frock, a blouse, a skirt and knickers can still be clearly seen—dressed with the taste that a little girl on Earth might show in adorning her favorite doll, with the care that a little she-ape on Soror would take to clothe her ape doll, a care that she would never, never show to dress up an animal figure like the human figure. I realize, I realize more and more clearly, the reason for my clever chimpanzee's emotion.
And this is not all. The toy presents another anomaly, another oddity that makes all the workmen laugh and even provokes a smile from the solemn orangutan directing the excavations. The doll talks. It talks like a doll at home. In putting it down, Cornelius happened to press the mechanism, which has been preserved intact, and it talked. Oh, it was not much of a speech! It uttered one word, one simple word of two syllables: pa-pa. "Papa," the doll repeats as Cornelius picks it up again and turns it round and round hi his nimble hands. The word is the same in French and in the simian language, and no doubt in many other languages of this mysterious cosmos, and it has the same meaning.
"Papa," the little human doll repeats, and this, above all, is what makes my learned companion's muzzle turn red; this is what affects me s'o deeply that I have to make an effort not to cry aloud as he leads me aside, bringing his precious discovery with him.
"The monstrous imbecile!" he mutters after a long silence.
I know whom he means and I share his indignation. The old orangutan with all his decorations has seen nothing more in it than a simple child ape's toy that an eccentric manufacturer living in the distant past has endowed with speech. It is useless to suggest another explanation to him. Cornelius does not even try to do so. The one that comes naturally 'to his mind, however, seems so disturbing that he keeps it to himself. He does not breathe a word of it even to me, but he knows that I have guessed it.
He remains wrapped in thought and silent for the rest of the day. I have the impression he is now frightened of pursuing his research and is regretting his semi-revelations. Now that his excitement has subsided, he is sorry I have witnessed his discovery.
On the very next day I am given proof that he regrets having brought me here with him. After a night's reflection he informs me, avoiding my eyes, that he has decided to send me back to the institute, where I shall be able to continue with more important work than in these ruins. My seat on the aircraft is booked. I shall be leaving in twenty-four hours.