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Monkey Stories, edited by Andrew Lang


Before telling you more stories about monkeys, we must tell you some dry facts about them, in order that you may understand the stories. There are three different kinds of monkeys—apes, baboons, and monkeys proper. The difference is principally in their tails, so that when you see them at the Zoo (for there are none wild in Europe, except at Gibraltar), you will know them by the apes having no tails and walking upright; baboons have short tails and go on all fours; and monkeys have tails sometimes longer than their whole bodies, by which they can swing themselves from tree to tree. Apes and monkeys are so ready to imitate everything which men do, that the negroes believe that they are a lazy race of men, who will not be at the trouble to work. Baboons, on the contrary, can be taught almost nothing.

There are two kinds of apes, called oran otans and chimpanzees. They are both very wild and fierce, and difficult to catch, but, when caught, become not only tame, but very affectionate, and can be taught anything. Nearly two hundred years ago, in 1698, one was brought to London that had been caught in Angola. On board ship he became very fond of the people who took care of him, and was very gentle and affectionate, but would have nothing to do with some monkeys who were on the same ship. He had had a suit of clothes made for him, probably to keep him warm. As the ship got into colder regions he took great pleasure in dressing himself in them, and anything he could not put on for himself he used to  bring in his paw to one of the sailors, and seem to ask him to dress him. He had a bed to sleep in, and at night used to put his head on the pillow and tuck himself in like a human being. His story is unfortunately a short one, for he died soon after coming to London. He could not long survive the change from his native forests to the cage of a menagerie.

Two oran otans sitting on the deck of a ship


Another, a female, was brought to Holland nearly a hundred years later, in 1776, but she, too, pined and died after seven months’ captivity. She was very gentle and affectionate, and became so fond of her keeper that when they left her alone, she used to throw herself on the ground screaming, and tearing in pieces anything in her reach, just like a naughty child. She could behave as well as  any lady in the land when she liked. When asked out to tea, she used to bring a cup and saucer, put sugar in the cup, pour out the tea, and leave it to cool; and at dinner her manners were just as good. She used her knife and fork, table napkin, and even toothpick, as if she had been accustomed to them all her life, which, of course, in her native forest was far from being the case. She learnt all her nice habits either from watching people at table, or from her keeper’s orders. She was fond of strawberries, which she ate very daintily, on a fork, holding the plate in the other hand. She was particularly fond of wine, and drank it like a human being, holding the glass in her hand. She was better behaved than two other oran otans, who, though they could behave as well at table as any lady, and could use their knives and forks and glasses, and could make the cabin boy (for it was on board ship) understand what they wanted, yet, if he did not attend to them at once, they used to throw him down, seize him by the arm, and bite him.

A French priest had an oran otan that he had brought up from a baby, and who was so fond of his master that he used to follow him about like a dog. When the priest went to church he used to lock the oran otan up in a room; but one day he got out, and, as sometimes happens with dogs, who cannot get reconciled to Sunday, he followed his master to church. He managed, without the priest’s seeing him, to climb on the sounding board above the pulpit, where he lay quite still till the sermon began. He then crept forward till he could see his master in the pulpit below, and imitated every one of his movements, till the congregation could not keep from laughing. The priest thought they were making fun of him, and was naturally very angry. The more angry he became the more gestures he used, every one of which the ape overhead repeated. At last a friend of the priest stood up in the congregation, and pointed out the real culprit. When the priest looked up and saw the imitation of himself, he  could not keep from laughing either, and the service could not go on till the disturber had been taken down and locked up again at home.

Another kind is called the Barbary ape, because they are found in such numbers in Barbary that the trees in places seem nearly covered with them, though there are quantities as well in India and Arabia. They are very mischievous and great fighters. In India the natives sometimes amuse themselves by getting up a fight among them. They put down at a little distance from each other baskets of rice, with stout sticks by each basket, and then they go off and hide themselves among the trees to watch the fun. The apes come down from the trees in great numbers, and make as though they were going to attack the baskets, but lose courage and draw back grinning at each other. The females are generally the boldest, and the first to seize on the food; but as soon as they put their heads down to eat, some of the males set-to to drive them off. Others attack them in their turn. They all seize on the sticks, and soon a free fight begins, which ends in the weakest being driven off into the woods, and the conquerors enjoying the spoil. They are not only fierce but revengeful, and will punish severely any person who kills one of them. Some English people who were driving through a country full of these apes in the East Indies, wished, out of sheer wantonness, to have one shot. The native servants, knowing what the consequences would be, were afraid; but, as their masters insisted, they had to obey, and shot a female whose little ones were clinging to her neck. She fell dead from the branches, and the little ones, falling with her, were killed too. Immediately all the other apes, to the number of about sixty, came down and attacked the carriage. They would certainly have killed the travellers if the servants, of whom there was fortunately a number, had not driven the apes off; and though the carriage set off as fast as the horses could lay legs to the ground, the apes followed for three miles.

The baboons eat as the man looks on


Baboons are as ugly, revolting creatures as you could wish to see, and very fierce, so they can seldom be tamed nor even caught. There are, of course, few stories about  them. When people try to catch them, they let their pursuers come so near that they think they have them, and then they bound away ten paces at once, and look down defiantly from the tree-top as much as to say, ‘Don’t you wish you may get me?’ One baboon had so wearied his pursuers by his antics that they pointed a gun at him, though with no intention of firing. He had evidently seen a gun before, and knew its consequences, and was so frightened at the bare idea, that he fell down senseless and was easily captured. When he came to himself again he struggled so fiercely that they had to tie his paws together, and then he bit so that they had to tie his jaws up.

Baboons are great thieves, and come down from the mountains in great bodies to plunder gardens. They cram as much fruit as they possibly can into their cheek pouches to take away and eat afterwards at their leisure. They always set a sentinel to give the alarm. When he sees anyone coming, he gives a yell that lasts a minute, and then the whole troop sets off helter-skelter.

They will rob anyone they come upon alone in the most impudent way. They come softly up behind, snatch away anything they can lay their hands on, and then run off a little way and sit down. Very often it is the poor man’s dinner that they devour before his eyes. Sometimes they will hold it out in their hands and pretend they are going to give it back, in such a comic way that I would defy you not to laugh, though it were your own dinner that had been snatched away and then offered to you.

Monkeys live in the tree-tops of the forests of India and South Africa, where they keep up a constant chattering and gambolling, all night as well as all day, playing games and swinging by their tails from tree to tree. One kind, the four-fingered monkey, can pass from one high tree-top to another, too far even for a monkey to jump, by making themselves into a chain, joined to each other by their tails.  They can even cross rivers in this way. There are any number of different kinds of monkeys, as you can see any day in the monkey house at the Zoo. One kind is well named the howling monkey, because they howl in chorus every morning two hours before daylight, and again at nightfall. The noise they make is so fearful that, if you did not know, you would think it was a forest full of ferocious beasts quite near, thirsting for their prey, instead of harmless monkeys a mile or two away. There is always a leader of the chorus, who sits on a high branch above the others. He first howls a solo, and then gives a signal for the others to join in; then they all howl together, till he gives another signal to stop.

The egret monkeys are great thieves. When they set to work to rob a field of millet, they put as many stalks as they can carry in their mouths, in each paw, and under each arm, and then go off home on their hind legs. If pursued, and obliged for greater speed to go on all their four legs, they drop what they carry in their paws, but never let go what they have in their mouths. The Chinese monkey is also a great thief, and even cleverer about carrying away his booty. They always set a sentinel on a high tree; when he sees anyone coming, he screams ‘Houp, houp, houp!’ The others then seize as much as they can carry in their right arm, and set off on three legs. They are called Chinese, not because they come from China, but because the way the hair grows on their heads is like a Chinese cap. It is long and parts in the middle, spreading out all round.

In many parts of India monkeys are worshipped by the natives, and temples are erected for them. But monkeys of one tribe are never allowed to come into any of these sanctuaries when another tribe is already in possession. A large strong monkey was once seen by some travellers to steal into one of these temples; as soon as the inhabitants saw that he did not belong to their tribe, they set on him to drive him out. As he was only one  against many, though bigger and stronger than the others, he saw that he had no chance, and bounded up to the top, eleven stories high. As the temple ended in a little round dome just big enough for himself, he was master of the situation, and every monkey that ventured to climb up he flung down to the bottom. When this had happened three or four times, his enemies thought it best to let him alone, and he stayed there in peace till it was dark and he could slip away unseen.