Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/December 1893/The Story of Bob

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1220057Popular Science Monthly Volume 44 December 1893 — The Story of Bob1893David Starr Jordan








WE called him Bob. We never knew his real name. That had been left in the jungles of Borneo. He was born in 1890, a prince of the tribe of Cercopithecus which inhabits the palm forests of the south sea islands. Stolen from his parents by a south sea trader, he was brought to San Francisco, exchanged for a keg of beer, and found his way at last to a Kearny Street curiosity shop.

Not long after, a student of evolution saw him there, ransomed him by a subscription from his fellow-students, and Bob was transferred to a new home in the university beside the Tall Tree. Here he was placed in the custody of a young naturalist from Japan. Otaki being likewise Asiatic by birth, understood the wants and feelings of Bob better than did any of the others by whom he was surrounded.

We first knew Bob as a wild and suspicious creature, who looked at all who came near him with fear or hatred. If any person touched him. Bob would look him straight in the eyes, with scowling face and lips rolled back, every muscle tense for action in case of any injury or indignity. Whenever he was lifted from the ground, all these expressions would be intensified; but he never ventured to bite any one who seemed beyond his size, or to escape from any one he thought able to hold him. Toward women he showed from the first great aversion, for they had poked him in the ribs with their parasols while he was in prison in Kearny Street. Furthermore, he seemed seriously to disapprove the unseemly freedom allowed to women in our country. In such matters, our manners and customs are very different from those which prevail in the tribe of Cercopithecus in Borneo.

After a time, under protest, he let one young woman lead him about by his chain, and refrained from open enmity; but he never gave her either trust or affection. Children he held in utter abhorrence, for it was their delight to ridicule him and to vex his dignity with sticks and clods of earth. When any of Bob and the Napa Soda. them came near him, he would jump at them, hissing and scolding, and often only the strength of his chain saved them from injury.

When Bob came from Kearny Street his hair was infested with the small, louselike parasite (Hæmatopina quadrumanus) which always abounds where those of his race are gathered together. Bob did not try to conceal this fact; he made it the joy of his leisure. A large part of his time was spent in searching his arms and legs in quest of the insect. When he found or pretended to find one, he would eat it with much appearance of satisfaction, keeping up all the while a vigorous smacking of the lips. A young entomologist became interested in this, and sought to make for himself a collection of these insects from Bob's hair. But while he made his explorations, putting his captures in a small vial, Bob conducted a similar search among the hairs on his friend's hand. The bystanders laughed heartily, but Bob saw nothing funny about the affair. If one could judge by his movements and the smacking of his lips, he was more successful than the naturalist himself. But all this with Bob was simply an excess of politeness. In his tribe of Cercopithecus it is the height of courtesy for one individual to go over the head and shoulders of his friends, taking hold of hair after hair, drawing them through his fingers, so that no parasite can escape. If a stranger in any way earns his good will, Bob will show it by devoting himself to this search either on hand or coat sleeve. At these times Bob is the perfection of courtesy. He pretends to find numberless Hæmatopinæ on his friend's hands, even though you can see with your own eyes that he finds nothing at all. And all the time he chuckles and smacks his lips as though each discovery were an object of personal satisfaction to him.

Of snakes, large or small. Bob has always stood in abject terror. If he is held firmly and the snake is placed near him, he looks piteously in the face of his keeper, and sometimes, more in sorrow than in anger, he will bite if he is not let go. At one time a snake in a paper bag was shown him. When the paper bag was afterward left near him, he would furtively approach and open it, to peep a moment shiveringly into its depths, and then retreat ignominiously, only to approach for another peep when he had summoned sufficient courage.

A live salamander was placed on the table by his side. This he looked at with a great deal of interest, finally taking it in his hands, with many precautions. When he saw how inert it was, he laid it down and lost all interest in it.

Toward a flat skin of a coyote and one of a wild cat, used as parlor rugs. Bob showed the same fear as in the presence of the snake. If one brought them near him he would jump wildly about or cower in terror behind a chair. This instinctive fear is apparently an inheritance from the experience of his fathers, whose kingdom was in the land where tigers and snakes were dominant and dangerous. A similar skin without hair and eyes he cared nothing for. At one time he climbed on the back of a chair to get away from the coyote skin. The chair was overturned by his efforts. He saw at once that when the chair fell it would carry him backward to the coyote, so he let go of the chair and, seizing his chain, swung himself off out of the reach of the coyote, while the chair was allowed to go over. This was repeated afterward with the same result.

Bob grew very expert in the use of this chain, which he came at last to regard as a necessary part of his environment. In climbing chairs or trees he always took it into consideration. He never learned to untie knots in it, but would very deftly straighten it whenever it became tangled or kinked. Sometimes he would break fastenings, escaping to the top of the house, clanking his chain as he went. It was not easy to catch him then, for he delighted in freedom. At such times he would manage the chain most skillfully, going back to set it free if it caught on any projection. When very hungry, however, he would come down to the ground or sit patiently outside the kitchen window, waiting to be coaxed and caught. At one time, after we had been entreating him for an hour, he came down After Claret—Katzenjammer. from the house in a rage to scare away some boys who were mocking him from below, and who fled in terror at his approach. When loose in the tall grass. Bob would walk on his hinder limbs, holding his head high, and looking about for birds, in whom he seemed to take much interest. For some reason their calls attracted him. His hands meanwhile were held with drooping wrists like the wrists of persons afflicted with the Grecian bend. Toward most animals and toward persons he could not frighten he usually affected perfect indifference, often not deigning to grant them even a glance.

Toward horses and cows, and to other animals "big and unpleasant" to him, he held a great dislike. When Billy, the saddle horse, came near him, Bob would crouch like an angry cat, erecting his hair, humping his back, and scolding vehemently. When in his judgment he was safely out of Billy's reach, he would advance boldly and scold loudly. When he thought Billy too near, he became as small and inconspicuous as possible, to avoid the horse's notice. At one time he was placed on Billy's back, where he went into spasms of fear. When taken into the house, he grew bolder, and, climbing on the back of a chair, he described his adventures volubly and with many gestures to his friend Otaki, who understood it all.

To the big dog Rover he also had strong objections. Rover looked down on Bob with tolerant contempt, as a disagreeable being, not to be shaken like a rat because possibly human. But when Bob would strike him in the face with the flat of his hand. Rover would snap at him, barking indignantly; but he never caught him, and Bob was careful to keep out of his reach. His discretion could be counted on to get the better of his courage. With the little terrier, Dandy, Bob's relations were often friendly, although there was very little mutual trust. At one time Dandy was deep in the ivy in search of a rat, while Bob had also entered the ivy by another opening for other reasons. They met in the dark in a rat-hole through the ivy leaves, and a sharp conflict ensued, marked by much scolding on the one part and pulling of hair and barking on the other. When Dandy had dragged Bob In Devotions. to the light, both were very much surprised, and they parted with mutual apologies and much shamefacedness.

Being offered a glass of milk. Bob looked at it for a moment, then took the glass in both hands and drank from it. His mouth being small, much of the milk was spilled on the floor. Being then offered a glass partly full, he handled it more deftly, seeming to understand how to use it. When offered a pewter cup with a handle, he took it in both hands and drank as from the glass, but, noticing the handle, he set the cup down and raised it again properly. Then he drank from it as a child of any other race would have done. He soon learned to drink water from bottles. If the bottle were large, he would use one of his hands to hold it, guiding it to his mouth by his hinder legs. At the first trial he understood the purpose of the cork, which he would draw with his teeth. Then he would look down into the neck of the bottle to see if the water were really there and no deception practiced on him. He also usually shook the bottle before drinking, apparently a custom in Borneo. Once a bottle of carbonated mineral water ("Napa soda") was given him. He drew the cork, much surprised at the explosion, and the character of the water caused him equal surprise; still he drained the bottle and was apparently pleased with it. A bottle of claret being offered him, he drank eagerly and became much exhilarated, but at the same time much confused. After this he always refused claret, putting the bottle away with a gesture of disapproval. Of water colored by fruit juices he was very fond.

Being left alone in a student's room, he experimented on the bottles there. He drew the cork from bottles of ink and of bay rum; not relishing the contents of either, he poured both into the wash basin.

When he was offered an empty egg shell, he raised it up and looked into the crack from which the contents had been taken. Then he would use his fingers to pull the shell apart, licking the inside of the shell, but apparently disgusted with the small amount of food it contained.

Being shown his reflection in the mirror, he advanced toward it scowling, but soon detecting the sham, he lost all interest in it. A hand glass was given him, but he paid very little attention to his reflection in it, laying it down and turning to other things.

The life of Bob was not without its tender passages. He was loved in turn by the vivacious Mimi and the gentle Nanette. The two stood in much the same relation as the

". . . ladies twain
Who loved so well the tough old dean."

In Borneo, among the tribes of Cercopithecus, the male is easily the lord of creation. The female expects to be crowded aside and frequently punished, and takes rude treatment as a matter of course. A kind expression now and then, an occasional hour devoted to hunting Hæmatopinæ in her hair, or even a cessation of blows and bites, and she is thankful and satisfied.

Mimi was of the tribe of Macacus, gentle in manner, excessively quick of foot, impatient of restraint or even touch from any hand except that of her chosen lord and master. She had large, projecting gray eyes—"pop-eyes" her rivals might have called them—and a wrinkled face suggestive of an age she did not possess. Her face readily assumed an expression of most impatient contempt if any one not of her race attempted to caress her or to take any liberty with her. Mimi had been brought as a child from the south sea islands, and had grown up in a Mayfield beer hall, where she had learned to drink beer with the rest of them, and in general "knew the world," as most of us who live outside the jungles of Borneo are compelled to know it.

Mimi pleased Bob from the first, though he was careful never to let her forget her proper station. If, for example, she had any food he wanted, or if others showed her special attention, he would seize her chain, draw her up to him, and bite her forcibly in the neck, which is the time-honored sign of domestic supremacy in Borneo. At this she would squeal lustily, but she never offered resistance or showed any kind of resentment. Masculine supremacy is acknowledged in the tribe of Macacus as in that of "Chummy." Cercopithecus. Often Bob would draw Mimi to him to bite her in the neck, apparently to remind her of his superiority. At night they slept together in one box, each with a soft arm round the other's waist.

Nanette, who came later, was also of the tribe of Macacus, but she was of a different branch of the great family. She was much larger than Mimi, nearly as large as Bob himself. She had lived in a French family, where she had acquired her name and her calm, considerate manner. She was a gentle blonde, with a pensive, averted face, as though the present was merely an object of toleration with her. Evidently Nanette had had a history, but what that history was no one now can tell. Perhaps there was no history, and her sadly patient expression came from the absence of one.

Mimi was soon very jealous of Nanette, but without good reason, for Bob treated Nanette with uniform contempt, pushing her about and biting her in the neck whenever she came near him. In this Mimi would assist, often seizing Nanette's chain and pulling her about till she was brought within Bob's reach. After a time Mimi's former master returned; she went back to her drinking of beer, grimacing at visitors, and Bob and this history see her no more.

Meanwhile Nanette and Bob were left together. He remained contemptuous toward her, robbing her of her food and treating her with indignity. Often, when others were looking, Bob would show his authority over her by ostentatiously drawing up her chain and nipping her in the neck; but at other times, when no one was watching, he would relax his dignity and the two would Aspirations. lie for hours in the sunshine, each picking fleas from the other's hair. However, roughly as she was treated, Nanette never showed resentment. and seemed only too glad to be the slave of her royal Bob.

At one time Bob had treated Nanette with peculiar severity, for which reason Lady Jane gave him a good beating. Nanette, the gentle, took his part, turned on the lady, and would have severely bitten her had she not been taken off. For two months after, whenever the Lady Jane approached Nanette, she would fly into a passion, scolding, trying to bite, and showing every sign of hate possible to the race of Macacus. But Bob had only contempt for feminine wrath and its manifestations. Whenever Nanette made any demonstration against the lady, Bob would seize her and bite her in the neck until she cried for pain. But all this time she would not look at him, but kept her wrathful eyes fixed on the lady, willing to suffer anything rather than have Bob's feelings hurt.

Nanette would often leap into the lap of her keeper, seeking the caresses she did not always secure from Bob. This she would do with the manners of a lapdog or a pampered cat. But Bob never sought caresses. He was always serious, never in the least playful or sentimental. Any new proposition he always takes seriously. He expects the worst, and scowls and shows his teeth until the matter is thoroughly understood, when he usually becomes indifferent.

One day the children vexed him overmuch, and breaking his chain he came out among them. They fled in consternation, all but the younger one, who was a brave little knight and who stood his ground, though at the cost of a serious biting.

And thus it came that after two years of freedom Bob has returned to the curiosity shop in Kearny Street—not the one on the right as you go up Pine Street, but the other one, where the red-tailed parrots scold and swear, and among whose oaths you may hear all the varied languages of the south sea islands. And there in a little iron cage he remains cramped and unhappy. All day long he rolls back his sneering lips, shakes the cage by pulling against the bars, and swings himself to and fro, trying to overturn the cage and cast it on the floor. And here he waits till his ransom is paid again. Fifteen dollars, I believe, is the sum at which it is fixed. Whoever does this will open for him the door to another series of adventures.