Balaoo/3/Epilogue

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Epilogue

Balaoo was saved on the day when he set eyes once more on the place where he had seen his mother for the last time. It was three days' march from Batavia, a few hundred yards from the mangroves which, for a thousand years and more, had been digging their roots to the very heart of the earth. He recognized the disposition of the glade and the thick leafy vaults that cast the same shadow and the same light; for it takes hundreds of centuries to alter those landscapes created by the last upheavals of the world and the first vigour of the universal sap.

"This is it," he said, stopping his companions. "This is my Forest of Bandong. These are the woods of my childhood. Here I played with my mother and my little brother and sister. I was strong and lusty even then, though still a baby, scarcely three or four years old. My little brother and sister were only just beginning to walk, while I gambolled and frisked about and called and beckoned to my little brother and sister and invited them to come and share my sports . . . The little fellow tried a skip or two, to follow me, but they were vain efforts. I can still see him tottering on his little legs that were hardly strong enough to bear his weight. He fell; and my little sister fell also; and our mother picked them up tenderly and encouraged them with word and gesture . . . What followed I shall remember to my dying day. My mother, seeing the little ones so clumsy and so tired, took them in her arms and began to sing them to sleep, rocking them and crooning a sweet lullaby of the swamps. O Patti Palang Kaing! Then they of the Race arrived. And they threw a net over me, in which I struggled while my mother fled to save my little brother and sister, flinging me a cry of farewell, the cry of a pithecanthrope mother, which is like nothing else in the world: it rings in my ears even now . . . It was lucky for them of the Race that my father was engaged elsewhere in the forest that day . . . Yes, this is it. This is my Forest of Bandong. O Patti Palang Raing, shall I ever see them again: my father, who thundered so loud; and my mother, who watched over our games; and my little brother and sister, who rolled and tumbled in the grass, like awkward little kittens!"

Balaoo did not find his relations. And he came to the conclusion that he had long since been forgotten by his friends. The village in the swamps had disappeared. But Balaoo rebuilt the huts on the triangles formed by the three roots of the giant mangroves. And all the four of them — Gertrude, Coriolis, Zoé and he — lived at that spot in peace and quietness.

Gertrude had grown very old and no longer budged from her seat, busied eternally in knitting socks which Balaoo never wore, for he now went about on his unshod finger-toes. Zoé had become the active and more and more untamed servant of her two masters. She never addressed Balaoo except in the third person of the monkey language. She had forgotten her Paris fashions and dressed in leaves. And she was glad to learn no more geography. Coriolis had lost the habit of talking man language and confined the expression of his thoughts to a few anthropoid monosyllables. He took a keen delight in returning to what he considered the starting point, the source of human life, the monkey race. The unhappy man no longer had the cerebral force to conceive that this set-back was perhaps sent to him as a punishment from Heaven for daring to amuse himself with the sport forbidden by nature, the sport of mixing the species!

Balaoo, who went to Batavia every six months to fetch a letter from Madeleine at the poste restante and who was constantly reading Paul and Virginia, Balaoo alone retained nearly all his acquired civilization. In this he was greatly aided by the memory of Madeleine. He lived with the thought of his young mistress ever before his mind.

She was now a solicitor's wife at Clermont-Ferrand and had two little boys, who played in the house in the Rue de l'Écu with that contemptible General Captain.

"If ever those two youngsters want anything in this life," said Balaoo, "they have only to make a sign: I'm there! . . . Tourôô! . . . Woop! . . . Tourôô!"

I have said that Balaoo retained nearly all his acquired civilization, in his Forest of Bandong. But he did not become proud on that account. And, when the denizens of the forest, the real wild brothers of Bandong, gradually drew closer to the new family in the mangrove village and, on spring evenings, formed a circle around Balaoo and listened to his tales of men, Balaoo would say in their language, after a short prayer to Patti Palang Raing:

"Animals are animals and gods are gods, but men are nothing at all! . . . In short," Balaoo concluded, putting his fingers up his nose, after the insulting fashion of pithecanthropes, "men are gods spoilt in the making!"


A PLAINTIVE HYMN TO PATTI PALANG KAING,
GOD OF ALL THE ANIMALS IN THE
FOREST OF BANDONG

By
BALAOO

(Dedicated to Mlle. Madeleine Coriolis Boussac Saint-Aubin.)


Voopwoooppwoooppwooopp! [1]

Patti Palang Kaing! Patti Palang Kaing!
Could not the God of Christian man
Say that these fingers bound should be,
The toes on the shoe-hands of me?

Patti Palang Kaing! Patti Palang Kaing!
Why change the language of my song
From my native Forest of Bandong
And teach me to weep at right and wrong,
If He could not also bring His mind
The toes of my shoe-hands to bind?

I roamed through the garden of man
Like one of the race in woe.
Not one of them saw my tears:
Not she whom I love the best,
Though she heard how I beat my breast
In a grief that none can know.
To the other, who strolled with his nose on high,
She said, "It is thunder passing by."

If only there were bands
To the toes of my shoe-hands,
I should say to Patti Palang Kaing:
"Patti Palang Kaing! Patti Palang Kaing!
Keep thou, across the seas,
Thy plantains, mangroves, mango-trees,
Since thou hast put me bands
To the toes of my shoe-hands!
Patti Palang Kaing!
Balaoo knows no pang!"

And I should say to Madeleine,
In the softest voice of men:
"Madeleine, my fair,
I fain would kiss thy hair!"
If only there were bands
To the toes of my shoe-hands!

Alas, did not the other say:
"I would kiss thy hair to-day!"
Silent I watch and stand,
Waiting to kiss her hand!

Patti Palang Kaing! Patti Palang Kaing!
Appeal to the God of Christian man
To restore the language of my song
From my native Forest of Bandong!
And give me back my mangrove-trees,
With my hands that were not as these!


THE END


  1. This exclamation is equivalent to the "Ororororoi!" of the Greek tragic author and means "Alas" — Author's Note