The Naturalist and the Monkeys
A Swedish Professor of Natural History came out to the farm to ask me to intervene for him with the Game Department. He had come to Africa, he told me, to find out at what phase of the embryo state the foot of the monkeys, that has got a thumb to it, begins to diverge from the human foot. For this purpose he meant to go and shoot Colobus monkeys on Mount Elgon.
“You will never find out from the Colobus monkeys,” I said to him, “they live in the tops of the cedar trees, and are shy and difficult to shoot. It would be the greatest luck should you get the embryo you want.”
The Professor was hopeful, he was going to stay out till he had got his foot, he said, even if it was to be for years. He had applied to the Game Department for permission to shoot the monkeys he wanted. The permission he was, in view of the high scientific object of his expedition, certain to get, but so far he had had no reply.
“How many monkeys have you asked to be allowed to shoot?” I asked him.
He told me that he had, to begin with, asked for permission to shoot fifteen hundred monkeys.
Now I knew the people at the Game Department, and I assisted him to send in a second letter, asking for a reply by return of post, since the Professor was keen to get off on his research. The answer from the Game Department did, for once, come by return of post. The Game Department, they wrote, were pleased to inform Professor Landgreen that, in view of the scientific object of his expedition, they had seen their way to make an exception from their rules, and to raise the number of monkeys on his license from four to six.
I had to read the letter over twice to the Professor. When the contents at last were clear to him, he became so downcast, so deadly shocked and hurt, that he did not say a single word. To my expressions of condolence he made no reply, but walked out of the house, got into his car and drove away sadly.
When things did not go so much against him, the Professor was an entertaining talker, and a humorist. In the course of our debates about the monkeys he enlightened me upon various facts and developed many of his ideas to me. One day he said: “I will tell you of a highly interesting experience of mine. Up at Mount Elgon, I found it possible to believe for a moment in the existence of God, what do you think of that?”
I said that it was interesting, but I thought: There is another interesting question which is,—Has it been possible to God, at Mount Elgon, to believe for a moment in the existence of Professor Landgreen?