Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Rhesus Monkey

By Jesse Halsey

A “Rhesus monkey,” the paper said. Did he know it? He must have had intelligence, that little fellow, for he ran away from the experimenting doctors, jumping from the fifth floor of the Children’s Hospital around which there are no big trees, only low shrubbery. That must take skill, even in a monkey.

Surely he sensed something. Did he hear them talking about sleeping sickness and sera serums and anti-toxins; about inoculations and incubation periods? Who knows? At any rate he ran away from it all. Four others stayed; he must have been brave to make the leap. Or is that a monkey’s way—just to jump? Why didn’t the others jump too?

And then when he got out people were afraid of him—those Americans. Afraid of what? Hundreds of his ancestors and contemporary cousins overseas play around the villages of India. The temple areas throng with them; a sort of reverence clings to them there, with their antique human-like faces. Just little brown monkeys, that is all; not Pithecus Rhesus!

Yes. He may have known. At least he had the sense to run away—with his big name inherited from a Thracian ally of the ancient Trojans, which he and his kind share with a Bithynian river-god, and two rivers of Asia Minor! With such a classic nomenclature back of him he must have known something. Maybe, however, he was only a classicist and had no scientific knowledge so that it was not fear of serums but just innate-monkey-jumping-instinct that sent him out from the warm laboratory to the chill of fall nights in Clifton treetops.

Of Indian ancestry, he liked the heights; his ancestors have climbed the Himalayas for centuries; nine thousand feet up you find them, this “Rhesus” kind. So to the heights of Clifton he went and into the highest trees.

But he liked warm places, too, so all last night, though spent on a housetop, he hugged the warm side of a chimney, where escaping heat units of a fall-furnace radiated warmth. In the attic of the Henkel home he found fruit and peanuts that Jimmy and his grandma had placed near the open window. The room was warm but native caution—and hospital experience—had made the little brown simian wary and with nightfall he climbed out along the ridge to seek the shelter and heat of the big chimney.

What did he dream about in this snug security? Did he plan new pranks for the school children next morning; or did the nameless terror of the toxins haunt his sleep? Who can guess?

Up with the sun, he found the attic window closed, so down into the garden, hunting insects and the remainders of frost-touched vegetables he went. Breakfast over, he put on his best monkey behavior for the youngsters trooping along the avenue. When the bell had finished ringing and all the children gone in doors, the school clock tolled nine. Then came the firing squad.

Rhesus grey matter and native cunning were of no avail; quick movement or high climbing of no help now. The sharp crack of a rifle and the little fellow, brown and pathetic, came hurtling down through the branches, his wanderings over, to rest on a soft bed of autumn leaves.

[Ed note: dated Nov 1, marked at the end with an "A" grade. I am unable to locate the news item from which this story is derived and note, too, the comment accompanying the grade: "This is a clever piece of work, skillfully imagined and reasoned out, and it uses classical lore gracefully. For the reader who missed the news item, however, you would have to supply more facts."]

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