An African Pet, by Paul B. du Chaillu

from The African Forest and Jungle

Toward twelve o'clock, when we were crossing a kind of high table-land, we heard the cry of a young animal, which we all recognized to be a nshiego mbouve. [Footnote: Nshiego mbouve: a species of ape.] Then all my troubles at once went away out of mind, and I no longer felt either sick or hungry.

We crawled through the bush as silently as possible, still hearing the baby-like cry. At last, coming out into a little cleared space, we saw something running along the ground toward where we stood concealed. When it came nearer, we saw it was a female nshiego running on all fours, with a young one clinging to her breasts. She was eagerly eating some berries, and with one arm supported her little one.

Querlaouen, who had the fairest chance, fired, and brought her down. She dropped without a struggle. The poor little one cried, "Hew! hew! hew!" and clung to the dead body, burying its head there in its alarm at the report of the gun.

We hurried up in great glee to secure our capture. I cannot tell my surprise when I saw that the nshiego baby's face was pure white—very white indeed—pallid, but as white as a white child's.

I looked at the mother, but found her black as soot in the face. The little one was about a foot in height. One of the men threw a cloth over its head and secured it till we could make it fast with a rope; for, though it was quite young, it could walk. The old one was of the bald-headed kind, of which I had secured the first known specimen some months before.

I immediately ordered a return to the camp, which we reached toward evening. The little nshiego had been all this time separated from its dead mother, and now when it was put near her body, a most touching scene ensued. The little fellow ran instantly to her, but, touching her on the face and breast, saw evidently that some great change had happened. For a few minutes he caressed her, as though trying to coax her back to life. Then he seemed to lose all hope. His little eyes became very sad, and he broke out in a long, plaintive wail, "Ooee! ooee! ooee!" which made my heart ache for him. He looked quite forlorn, and as though he really felt his forsaken lot. The whole camp was touched at his sorrows, and the women were especially moved.

All this time I stood wonderingly staring at the white face of the creature. It was really marvelous, and quite incomprehensible; and a more strange and weird-looking animal I never saw.

While I stood there, up came two of my hunters and began to laugh at me. "Look, Chelly," said they, calling me by the name I was known by among them; "look at your friend. Every time we kill gorilla, you tell us look at your black friend. Now, you see, look at your white friend." Then came a roar at what they thought a tremendous joke.

"Look! he got straight hair, all same as you. See white face of your cousin from the bush! He is nearer to you than gorilla is to us!" And another roar.

"Gorilla no got woolly hair like we. This one straight hair, like you." "Yes," said I, "but when he gets old his face is black; and do you not see his nose, how flat it is, like yours?"

Whereat there was a louder laugh than before; for so long as he can laugh, the negro cares little against whom the joke goes. I may as well add here some particulars of the little fellow who excited all this surprise and merriment. He lived five months, and became as tame and docile as a cat. I called him Tommy, to which name he soon began to answer.

In three days after his capture he was quite tame. He then ate crackers out of my hand; ate boiled rice and roasted plantains; [Footnote: Plantain: a fruit which closely resembles the banana.] and drank milk of a goat. Two weeks after his capture he was perfectly tamed, and no longer required to be tied up. He ran about the camp, and, when he went back to Obindij's town, found his way about the village and into the huts just as though he had been raised there.

He had a great affection for me, and used constantly to follow me about. When I sat down, he was not content till he had climbed upon me and hid his head in my breast. He was extremely fond of being petted and fondled, and would sit by the hour while any one stroked his head or back.

He soon began to be a very great thief. When the people left their huts he would steal in and make off with their plantains or fish. He watched very carefully till all had left the house, and it was difficult to catch him in the act. I flogged him several times, and, indeed, brought him to the conviction that it was wrong to steal; but he could never resist the temptation.

From me he stole constantly. He soon found out that my hut was better furnished with ripe bananas and other fruit than any other; and also he discovered that the best time to steal from me was when I was asleep in the morning. At that time he used to crawl in on his tiptoes, move slyly toward my bed, look at my closed eyes, and, if he saw no movement, with an air of great relief go up and pluck several plantains. If I stirred in the least he was off like a flash, and would presently reenter for another inspection. If my eyes were open when he came in on such a predatory [Footnote: Predatory: plundering.] trip, he at once came up to me with an honest face, and climbed on and caressed me. But I could easily detect an occasional wishful glance toward the bunch of plantains.

My hut had no door, but was closed with a mat, and it was very funny to see Tommy gently raising one corner of this mat to see if I was asleep. Sometimes I counterfeited sleep, and then stirred just as he was in the act of taking off his prize. Then he would drop everything, and make off in the utmost consternation.

He kept the run of mealtimes, and was present at as many meals as possible; that is, he would go from my breakfast to half a dozen others, and beg something at each. But he never missed my breakfast and dinner, knowing by experience that he fared best there. I had a kind of rude table made, on which my meals were served in the open part of my house. This was too high for Tommy to see the dishes; so he used to come in before I sat down, when all was ready, and climb up on the pole which supported the roof. From here he attentively surveyed every dish on the table, and having determined what to have, he would descend and sit down at my side.

If I did not immediately pay attention to him, he began to howl, "Hew! hew! hew!" louder and louder, till, for peace's sake, his wants were satisfied. Of course, I could not tell what he had chosen for dinner of my different dishes, and would offer him first one, then another, till the right one came. If he received what he did not want, he threw it down on the ground with a little shriek of anger and a stamp of his foot; and this was repeated till he was served to his liking. In short, he behaved very much like a badly spoiled child.

If I pleased him quickly, he thanked me by a kind of gentle murmur, like "hooboo," and would hold out his hand to shake mine. He was very fond of boiled meat,—particularly boiled fish,—and was constantly picking bones he picked up about the town. He wanted always to taste of my coffee, and, when Makondai brought it, would beg of me, in the most serious manner, for some.

I made him a little pillow to sleep on, and this he was very fond of. When he was once accustomed to it he never parted from it more, but dragged it after him wherever he went. If by any chance it was lost, the whole camp knew it by his howls; and sometimes I had to send people to look for it when he had mislaid it on some forest excursion, so that he would stop his noise. He slept on it always, coiled up into a little heap, and only relinquished it when I gave him permission to accompany me into the woods.

As he became more and more used to our ways, he became more impatient of contradiction and more fond of being caressed; and whenever he was thwarted he howled in his disagreeable way. As the dry season came on, it became colder, and Tommy began to wish for company when he slept, to keep him warm. The negroes would not have him for a companion, for he was for them too much like one of themselves. I would not give him room near me. So poor Tommy was reduced to misery, as he seemed to think. But soon I found that he waited till everybody was fast asleep at night, and then crawled in softly next some of his black friends, and slept there till earliest dawn. Then he would up and away undiscovered. Several times he was caught and beaten, but he always tried it again.

He had a great deal of intelligence; and if I had had leisure I think I might have trained him to some kind of good behavior, though I despaired of his thieving disposition. He lived so long, and was growing so accustomed to civilized life, that I began to have great hopes of being able to carry him to America. But alas! poor Tommy. One morning he refused his food, seemed downcast, and was very anxious to be petted and held in the arms. I got all kinds of forest berries for him, but he refused all. He did not seem to suffer, but ate nothing; and the next day, without a struggle, died. Poor fellow! I was very sorry, for he had grown to be quite a pet companion for me; and even the negroes, though he had given them great trouble, were sorry at his death.

—PAUL B. DU CHAILLU.

[Footnote: Paul du Chaillu was born in Paris in 1835. At the age of sixteen he made some exploratory tours around his father's trading station in West Africa, and in 1855 he came to America, where he made his home. Later he undertook a botanic and zoologic exploration to Africa which lasted for four years.]

[Footnote: What qualities of "Tommy" endeared him to his captors? Do you know whether the monkey family is capable of the training which the author hoped to give to his pet? Does the author succeed in making you like or dislike "Tommy"? What human qualities does "Tommy" show? Does this story seem to justify a belief in the origin of species? Could you infer anything about the writer's character from this sketch?]

Louise de la Ramee