Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days by Michael Bishop Read Free Book Online

Book: Ancient of Days by Michael Bishop Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Bishop
Tags: Fiction, General, Science-Fiction
to turn a profit. It was the perfect assignment for Rutherford.
    “Two years after his arrival on Zanzibar, about the time he was scheduled to return to this country, Rutherford caught wind of an extraordinary group of blacks—pygmies, it was rumored, or hairy Bushmen—who had been taken to the Sultan’s representatives in the continental port city of Bravanumbi by several Kikembu warriors and sold for immediate shipment to either Zanzibar or Pemba to work on Sayyid Sa’īd’s clove plantations. The Kikembu warriors called their captives ‘little ones who do not speak’ and claimed they’d found all nineteen of these uncanny quasi-human specimens in a system of caves and burrows in the remote Lolitabu Hills of Zarakal. The warriors had stumbled upon the system by accident, after watching one of these funny little people, a male, sneaking through a gulley with two dead hares and a kaross of nuts and tubers. The hunters then proceeded to smoke the manikins out. Four or five of the little ones preferred to die in their arid labyrinth rather than to emerge to face the laughing Kikembu, but the remainder were captured and bound.
    “An Omani retainer in Sa’īd’s court told Rutherford to go to the slave market there on Zanzibar to see these wonderful ‘monkeymen.’ At present, they were being kept apart from the other slaves to spare them injury at the hands of the larger blacks with whom they would compete for masters. It was also likely that outraged potential buyers might harm them. After all, said the retainer, you looked for strength in a slave, not delicacy or sinewy compactness. Rutherford went to the market and arranged to see the Zarakali imports in private. Apparently, the sight of these creatures entranced him. He wanted the entire lot. He bought them from Sayyid Sa’īd’s representatives with cash and a promise to do his best to establish a cacao-for-cloves trade between Montaraz and Zanzibar. When he left the Sultan’s court, he sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in a vessel laden with silks, spices, and a small cargo of habilines—although, of course, nobody called them habilines then. They were manikins, or monkey-folk, curiosities. Rutherford hoped not only to put them to work on Montaraz but also to breed them into a self-perpetuating population. Later, in the States, he would exploit them—some of them, anyway—for their novelty value.”
    “He never did that, I take it.”
    “Rutherford died on Montaraz in 1844, the same year Santo Domingo regained its independence from the Haitian interlopers. His holdings on the island were seized by followers of Pedro Santana. What happened to the fourteen diminutive blacks who survived the journey from East Africa—Rutherford’s wife once referred to them in a letter to the wife of another diplomat as ‘endearing little elves, albeit, most likely, the offspring of chimpanzees and debauched Zarakali niggers’—well, at this point, their fate is unclear. We have knowledge of them at all only because Mrs. Rutherford acted as her husband’s secretary and carried on voluminous correspondences with her relatives in Boston and Montpelier. I obtained some of this information, Mr. Loyd, from interlibrary loans and photocopying services, and I’m virtually certain that no one else in the world has an inkling of the importance—the staggering importance—of the material I’ve assembled and synthesized in only two and a half weeks. It’s the major scientific accomplishment of my life.”
    “Beats injecting macaques with No-Dōz, huh?” I had begun setting my tables, single-handedly flapping open parachutes of linen and laying out silverware. Just as Nollinger was about to parry my sarcasm, Livia George appeared. As the anthropologist shuffled the photographs of Adam out of her line of sight, I told her, “This is my cousin from Atlanta. He’ll be staying with us a few days.”
    “Nephew,” Nollinger corrected me, standing for the

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