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Mona, the Monkey by Ellen Velvin

A Senegal forest in Western Africa is an ideal home for a monkey—a perfect paradise, in fact.

The trees, with their delightful branches, which seem to be just made for monkeys to sit on; the nice, bushy leaves, which form such cosy hiding-places, and the delicious nuts, berries and various kinds of fruit, all combine to make monkey life extremely happy.

In this delightful place, one fine, warm evening, Mona was born.

His mother had prepared her nursery some time before; she had built a nice little hut, where it was warm and dry, under the outgrowing boughs of a tree; had carpeted it with thick, dry leaves and grass, twined and interlaced twigs and branches overhead to keep out the fierce rays of the midday sun and the occasional heavy showers, and had, in fact, made it just as cosy as it was possible for a monkey nursery to be.

So, in one way, Mona's birth took place under good auspices, and he, being her first-born, more than came up to his mother's expectations. In her eyes he was the finest, the strongest and the most beautiful monkey that had ever existed, and although he whimpered all through that night, and squirmed and wrinkled up his already wrinkled little face into the most hideous contortions and grimaces, he was, notwithstanding, an ideal and lovely baby.

His mother forgot all her anxieties and troubles respecting him, and gathered him to her motherly breast with a little guttural cry of joy.

Unlike most of her tribe, Monica, Mona's mother, was somewhat reserved, and had not, as is usually the case with matronly monkeys, chattered and gossiped about her private affairs. And, as she clasped her little son to her, with her mother's heart swelling with love and pride, she thought, with pleasurable anticipation, of the surprise and gossip there would be in the morning when the wonderful event became known.

But Monica understood little of her own species if she thought this great secret was to be kept until the morning; for several neighbors heard that little whimpering cry, and pricked up their sharp little ears, while their little eyes glinted about, and in a very short time their active bodies scrambled down from their various night abodes, and peeped, with true monkey curiosity, into Monica's hut.

Instantly there was the very greatest excitement. Most of the newcomers were mothers themselves, and therefore understood all about it, and the way in which a baby monkey should be treated from the very first. One and all began telling Monica what to do, giving her good advice, and many scoldings for not letting them into the secret.

But Monica took very little notice; she hugged her baby all the closer, and her bright little eyes glanced quickly and furtively round at the newcomers, only she felt prouder than ever.

She was induced, after much persuasion, to allow the baby to be inspected, which the newcomers did thoroughly. Not an eye, a limb, a finger-nail, or even a hair, escaped their attention, but were examined and criticized with the utmost gravity.

One old mother monkey, who had a large family herself, regarded the baby gravely, and her worried, careworn old face looked a little more worried and a little more careworn, if possible, while criticizing him.

"Isn't he lovely?" Monica whispered proudly.

"Not a bad baby," the old mother monkey said, gravely, "but delicate,
Monica, delicate—and born under an unlucky star."

The young mother started, and grasped her baby as though it were going to be torn from her.

"He will never have any luck," the mother monkey went on, gravely; "but he will never come to very much harm.

"He will never have any luck, but he will never come to very much harm." This significant sentence Monica repeated to herself, over and over again, all through that night, never losing the dread which this ominous saying had implanted in her heart. The dreadful words seemed to be ringing in her ears all the time the chattering of the neighbors was going on, and when they had left her, and had gone back to their respective homes, full of the new event, she listened to their chattering dying away in the distance, and then suddenly a few hot tears fell on the baby's head. And these few tears were Mona's christening.

The next day, however, Monica began to think she had been very foolish in paying any attention to what the old mother monkey had said. The joy of motherhood, and the proud possession of a baby monkey of her own, eclipsed everything else, even the ominous warning. She was so busy, too, with the cares and duties of motherhood; there was so much to be seen and attended to, and the new baby required so much attention.

Monica was very, very proud of him, but as the days grew into weeks she began to wish that Mona, as she had called him, and which was a family name, would not whimper quite so much; it made her nervous sometimes, and irritated her, and once she had even gone so far as to give him a smart slap in reprimand. She began to realize, too, as time went on, that there was something in what the mother monkey had said: Mona was decidedly delicate and undoubtedly unlucky.

When he was about a week old, his mother left him for a somewhat longer time than usual to get a little fresh fruit for herself. Before leaving Mona, however, she had given him his breakfast of nice, warm milk, and covered him over with dry leaves and grass. Not that it was cold, but by covering him up she guarded against danger. His funny little, brown head and face were so much the color and so like the dry leaves and grass he was lying in that it would have been very difficult for anyone but a mother monkey to know that there was anything there at all.

Monica waited until she was quite sure that he was asleep, and then stole away.

But, for some reason or other, Mona was not particularly sleepy that morning, and after a short nap opened his bright little eyes and glanced quickly round. His mother was not to be seen, but he did not mind that very much; he was not hungry and he was very comfortable; so he just lay where he was, and amused himself by picking to pieces some of the long grass and ferns which formed his bed with his nimble little fingers. At the same time he pricked up his sharp little ears so he would be able to hear his mother a long way off.

There was a little rustle, presently, and for a moment Mona thought his mother was returning, but yet it did not sound quite like her. It was a peculiar rustling of leaves and grass, which kept on softly and continuously. His mother rustled the grass and leaves, it is true, but she always made sharp little pats and thumps as she came along. There were no pats and thumps now, only one long, soft, continued rustle.

Mona had no fear, simply from the fact that as yet he knew nothing to be afraid of. And so, as the rustling went on, he poked up his small head sharply, and peered curiously around. There was nothing to be seen, however, and from the moment he made the movement the rustling had ceased.

What could it be? he wondered. He was a born monkey, and he had as much curiosity as any other member of his tribe, and, baby as he was, he determined to find out; so, keeping perfectly still, he waited until the rustling began again.

This time it was much nearer, and in some vague, incomprehensible way Mona felt horribly frightened, at what he could not think or imagine; but he had a curious, uncanny feeling, and he shivered all over, while from some reason or other he was unable to move anything but his quick little eyes, which darted hither and thither, up and down, although his small head was as motionless as a statue.

Suddenly, however, his quick little eyes stopped darting hither and thither, for in one corner of the hut a something, which was lying coiled up there, drew his eyes in spite of himself, and, do what he would, he could not turn them back again.

The Something was a long, long, thick coil, with a curious flat head, horrible eyes, and a frightful thing, in the shape of a two-pronged fork, which darted in and out of his wide mouth so quickly that it was difficult to tell when it was in and when it was out.

The horrible thing began to wave its head to and fro with a weird, graceful movement, and, as it waved, so Mona's eyes followed it—to and fro, to and fro—followed it because he could not help himself.

He was so young that as yet he could only crawl feebly round the hut, but at this moment he felt bound to go towards this horrible thing, although he was frightened, and although he did his very best to keep back.

Trembling all over, and too terrified to utter one little cry for his mother, Mona found himself at last outside his bed, getting nearer and nearer to that horrible thing in the corner. His poor, little head began to feel sick and dizzy; his poor little limbs were shaking so that he could scarcely move, and yet he was going on and on, closer and closer, and not once since he encountered the gaze of those terrible eyes had he been able to move his own.

At this moment he became so frightfully sick and giddy, while his eyes were getting so strained that they ached painfully, that he began to forget where he was. He seemed to be going off in some dreadful dream from which he had no power to rouse himself; and there was a curious hissing going on, which seemed to have a dreadful menace in it.

Just as he was going off in this dream, however, he heard faintly in the distance his mother's voice. He did his best to call to her, to cry out, but he was going deeper and deeper into the dream, and in a very few seconds knew nothing more.

When Mona woke up it was to find his little mother's arms round him; his little mother raining tears of joy and thankfulness upon his face, and a number of sympathizing neighbors chattering at the very top of their voices.

Mona, it seemed, had had a terrible adventure. Such a narrow escape, in fact, that it was a great wonder he was still alive. For the horrible thing in the corner turned out to be a dreadful snake.

"One of our greatest enemies," his mother told him, her motherly eyes still full of tears. "Monkeys have such a lot of enemies, Mona," she said, gently. "There are snakes, and leopards, and parrots and—"

"Tut, tut!" the old mother-monkey interrupted, sharply. "What is the good of telling the child all that? He will get to know fast enough."

"But if he had known," Monica said, gently, caressing her little one with a tender air, and feeling thankful—oh, so thankful!—that she had arrived just in time to call off the snake's attention. "If he had known, he might have—"

"Well, what could he have done?" the old mother monkey said, sharply.
"You know what snakes are."

All the monkeys gathered together, shivered, and glanced round uneasily.

"You know what snakes are; what can you do when you are brought face to face with them like that, and both in a hut?"

Monica nodded gravely, and felt more thankful than ever that her baby had been spared to her.

"I told you he was unlucky," the old mother monkey said, gravely, "but
I also told you that he would never come to much harm."

And so it proved. For Mona, as life went on, was always unlucky, but he never came to much harm, although he had some exciting adventures.

As he grew up he became stronger, but always remained a quiet monkey, inclined to whimper.

Quiet monkeys, when inclined to whimper, always have a bad time. Their fellow-monkeys have no patience with their delicacy or whimpering, and do their very best to impress this upon their fellow-creatures as much as possible, in a practical manner. Slaps, sharp tweaks of the tail, and continual teazing, are considered good for both these complaints, and of these little Mona got the full benefit. Altogether, he had an extremely hard time of it.

To begin with, none of the other monkeys seemed to care to associate with him. They never gambolled about and let him join; never asked or even attempted to attend to his toilet for him; and the only part of his person which appeared to form any attraction was his tail, which, he being a Mona monkey, was an extremely long one.

There were times when Mona wished he had no tail; it was impossible to keep it still; he was busy all day long whisking it about out of the way of mischievous fingers.

Unlike all the other monkeys, who sat about in groups, chattering, screaming, laughing and scolding, as they felt inclined, Mona generally sat quite alone, with his pathetic little face looking very miserable, and his sad eyes following the many groups of monkeys from place to place.

Mona was a great admirer of the beautiful, and the Vervet monkeys were his chief admiration. Now, these little Vervet monkeys think a great deal of themselves, and consider, in their own way, that they are the masters of the Senegal woods; they are deeply insulted and fiercely angry should a stranger intrude into their domain, and make no scruples about showing what they feel.

They sit about on the branches in immense troops, and are so wonderfully quick and active that at times it is almost impossible to follow their movements.

Very knowing, and cautious, too, are the little Vervets; a stranger may be sitting underneath the very tree on which they are crowding, and not have the faintest idea that there is a monkey near him; should he suddenly look up, however, he would see some hundreds of little heads peeping through the branches, and hundreds of sharp little eyes watching his every movement. Should they wish to attract the stranger's attention, they will drop a stick so cleverly, and with such precision, that it often hits his nose.

Many a morning Mona passed watching the gambols and the amusing tricks of the little Vervets; but they never invited him to come and play with them or to take any part in their games. For one thing, he was a Mona monkey, and the families or tribes in the Senegal forest are very particular about keeping together.

There was one monkey, of another family, that Mona took great interest in, and this was a little white-nosed lady-monkey.

This white-nosed monkey was a curious little creature; she had a big, white spot on her nose, like all her family, and a little fringe of white hair all around her face, which looked as though she had put her collar round her face instead of her neck, and gave her a somewhat ludicrous air.

But not in Mona's eyes. In Mona's eyes she was absolutely beautiful, and her long tail—nearly black at the top and dwindling to a peculiar greyish hue at the bottom—was another source of admiration to him.

The little white-nosed monkey was a born flirt; graceful, petulant and coquettish to a degree, and she knew perfectly well from the very first that Mona admired her. She was quite content to be admired, and was, in fact—like all white-nosed monkeys—particularly fond of notice and admiration, not to speak of nuts.

She took care to come, day after day, to some conspicuous place where Mona could have a good view of her. But this was not all for Mona's edification; she had another admirer, and this was a Patas, or red monkey.

This red monkey was a big fellow, three feet in length, who, with his bright, chestnut fur, with its deep shade of red, and his darkish, cream-colored legs, thought a good deal of himself.

He detested Mona monkeys, and waged war on them continually; but it was not until the fourth day that he discovered the presence of Mona, and found, to his very great disgust, that he was admiring the little white-nosed monkey, too.

This was quite enough. Down came the red monkey so quickly, so softly and swiftly, that he was on Mona before he realized his presence.

The wicked little white-nosed monkey knew perfectly well what was going to happen, and sat up on her branch, put on her most coquettish air, and prepared to thoroughly enjoy herself.

As a rule, Mona had not much spirit, but he realized that his beloved one was looking on, and he made a brave fight. But the red monkey of Senegal is a very powerful animal when provoked, and he was not going to stand any nonsense from a Mona monkey, and so it came to pass that, after a few minutes' sharp fight, poor little Mona was only too thankful to creep painfully away and hide himself under some bushes, where he cried bitterly.

Sad to relate, the little white-nosed monkey, after this, took no further notice of Mona, but sneered and jeered at him whenever an opportunity offered. She did her best to show him that she despised him, and wished to have nothing more to do with him. And Mona took it meekly, as he took most things.

There was one tribe of monkeys, however, that even Mona would have nothing to do with, and these were the "Knuckle-Walkers." These Knuckle-Walkers had not yet become civilized enough to learn how to walk on the palms of their hands, and no monkey tribe, who thinks anything of itself, ever associated with the Knuckle-Walkers. They were a distinct race of monkeys, and this fact was impressed on them rather forcibly occasionally.

Mona had lost his mother by this time. Loving and gentle as she had been when Mona was a baby, as he grew up she grew tired of him, and, as she had other children since his birth, she had moved off with them to another part of the forest.

Mona had learned by this time that if ever the other monkeys were friendly towards him, it was simply that they wanted to make use of him in some way or other.

One eventful day they had invited him to a feast of parrots' feathers. The young tail feathers of these birds, if plucked out properly, contain some delicious juicy stuff in the quill parts which all monkeys love. Perhaps, it is the difficulty of obtaining this delicious stuff which makes it seem doubly delightful; but, whatever it is, all monkeys will go through a great deal to obtain it.

Mona was deputed to stand in front of the parrots to take off their attention. He was told that this was not nearly so dangerous as pulling the feathers out, and so he believed what was told him, and did his best to attract the parrot's attention, while his fellow- monkeys got behind and pulled out its feathers.

In doing this, careful as he was, poor Mona got some terrific pecks, one of which nearly blinded him; for a parrot's beak can inflict a bad wound, especially if he is really angry.

As Mona did not get a single feather as a reward, he never again consented to attract a parrot's attention while the others obtained their feast.

It was always the same; Mona never came to much harm, yet he was always unlucky.

Once he had really been very much in love with a little lady monkey of his own tribe, and for a time she had seemed very fond of him. But, alas, just as they were getting on so beautifully, the little lady monkey was killed in a quarrel, and poor Mona was left lonely once more.

Another time Mona was sitting on a branch of a tree, thinking about many sad things, when a little movement in front attracted his attention. In an instant his bright little eyes glanced down, and there, creeping slowly up the thick trunk of the tree, was a jaguar.

All the other monkeys were away; they had seen him long ago, but Mona had been dreaming.

With a shrill shriek of terror, Mona looked round for some way of escape, but there was none. To jump would be fatal; to stay where he was would be also fatal. And so Mona crouched down, crying so bitterly, and making such pathetic, little gestures of appeal that even the heart of a jaguar ought to have been touched.

But jaguars have very little heart, and they are extremely fond of monkeys; so, notwithstanding Mona's little beseeching prayers, with one soft spring the jaguar leaped, and in a few moments Mona was no more.

His sad little life, with all its troubles and loneliness, was at an end, and there was not even one monkey to mourn for him.

"A very good thing," the red monkey said, disdainfully. "I hated that Mona monkey. If it hadn't been for him, I should have married the little white-nosed monkey; as it was, she ran away, and married one of her own tribe."

[Illustration: MONA DID HIS BEST TO ATTRACT THE PARROT'S ATTENTION"]

"I always said," the old mother monkey remarked, who had looked on at the death from a safe corner. "I always said that Mona was unlucky."

"Yes," jeered the red monkey, "but you also said that he would never come to much harm. And he was killed by a jaguar."

"He never came to much harm in life," the old mother monkey said, impressively; "but he died as a great many other monkeys do, a quick death. Far better that"—with a sad and somewhat grave shake of the head—" far better—far more happy—than to grow old and stiff and feeble. But I always liked Mona, and I am sorry that he is dead."

And so it came to pass that the only one who felt the least sorrow or faintest regret was the old mother monkey, who had been one of the first to see Mona after he was born.