You Shall Know Them

by Vercors

translated by Rita Barisse


All man's troubles arise from the fact that we do not know what we are and do not agree on what we want to be.

-- D. M. Templemore
(Plus ou moins bête).

Chapter 1


      Of course, to be awakened at five in the morning doesn't exactly stir one's sense of humor -- not even a doctor's. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that Dr. Figgins, called out as he was at crack of dawn, did not take things as we would after a comfortable breakfast in bed. Even the dramatic look on Douglas Templemore's face -- for you or me a reason more to chuckle over this whole comedy of errors -- was for Dr. Figgins a reason more for gloom. So too, was the peculiar nature of the corpse he was shown. For this story, naturally, starts with a corpse. I apologize for so trite an opening, but it is not my fault.

      Anyway, it was only a very small corpse. And certainly Dr. Figgin's career had afforded him ample opportunity for meeting corpses, both large and small. So at first this particular one caused him no surprise. He merely bent over the cot for a moment and then, straightening himself, fastened on Douglas a gaze in which professional sternness mingled with his best coffinside manner: his face puckered into an artistic network of wrinkles, expressing at once gravity, tact, blame and compassion. He maintained this eloquent silence for some time before announcing through the bristles of his heavy mustache:

      "You've called me in a little late, I fear . . ."

      Which reminded him, with a sting of resentment, of the early hour. Douglas nodded. His voice was expressionless:

      "Quite so, doctor. That's what I wanted you to establish."

      "I beg your pardon?"

      "The child's been dead for half an hour or so, I suppose?"

      Dr. Figgins thereupon forgot the hour and all the rest his mustache swayed under a positive gale of indignation.

      "Then why, in heaven's name, did you not call me sooner?"

      "I'm afraid you did not understand me, doctor," said Douglas. "I gave him a shot of strychnine chlorhydrate."

      Dr. Figgins recoiled a step, and knocked over a chair which he tried to retrieve as, unable to help himself, he foolishly cried:

      "But . . . but that's -- murder!"

      "Don't doubt it."

      "But what the dev . . . why . . . how could you . . .?

      "If you don't mind, doctor, I'll keep my explanations till later."

      "I must notify the police!" the doctor declared, much agitated."

      "I was going to ask you to."

      Figgins took the receiver with a hand that shook a little. He rang up the Guildford police, asked for the inspector; in a voice that had meanwhile recovered its firmness, he requested him to come at once to Sunset Cottage where, he said, a crime had been committed against the person of a newborn baby.


      "Yes. The father's already admitted everything."

      "Good heavens! Don't let him get away, doctor!"

      "No . . . yes . . . well, he doesn't seem to want to."

      He hung up and went back to the child. He lifted its eyelids, opened its mouth. He gazed with slight surprise at the small lobeless ears that were set unusually high, but he did not seem to give them much thought, for he said nothing.

      Instead he opened his bag and carefully collected a drop of the child's saliva on a swab of cotton. This he placed in a small box. Then he closed his bag and sat down. Douglas had already been sitting for some time. Thus they remained in silence until the police arrived.

      The inspector was a shy, courteous man with flaxen hair and beautiful manners. He interrogated Douglas with gentle deference. After the usual caution, he asked:

      "You are the father, I gather?"

      "I am."

      "Your wife's upstairs?"

      "Yes. I can call her if you like."

      "Oh no," the inspector hastened to assure him. "I wouldn't ask her to get up in her condition! I'll go and see her presently."

      "I'm afraid you are under a misapprehension," said Douglas. "The child is not hers . . ."

      The inspector's pale eyelids flickered a little. It took him a moment to grasp it.

      "Oh . . . ah . . . well . . . is the -- er -- the mother here, then?"

      "No," said Douglas.

      "Ah . . . where is she?"

      "She was taken back to the Zoo yesterday."

      "The Zoo? Does she work there?"

      "No. She lives there."

      The inspector's eyes goggled.

      "I beg your pardon?"

      "The mother is not a woman, properly speaking. She is a female of the species Paranthropus erectus."

      For a moment the doctor and the policeman gaped at Douglas without uttering a sound. Then they furtively exchanged an uneasy glance.

      Douglas could not help smiling.

      "If the doctor," he suggested, "cares to examine the child a little more closely, he will doubtless be struck by certain anomalies."

      Only for a second did the doctor hesitate. Then he strode over to the cot, uncovered the little body, and removed the diaper.

      He simply said, "Damn!" and furiously seized his hat and bag.

      This brought the inspector to his side with anxious speed.

      "What's the matter, doctor?"

      "This isn't a boy," barked Dr. Figgins. "It's a monkey."

      "Are you sure?" asked Douglas in an odd voice.

      Figgins grew very red in the face.

      "What do you mean, am I sure! Inspector," he said, "we've been the victims of a stupid hoax. I don't know what you propose doing, but I for my part . . ."

      He did not bother to finish the sentence: he was already making for the door.

      "Just a minute, doctor, if you don't mind," Douglas intervened, in a voice that brooked no denial. He held out to him a sheet of paper that he had taken from a drawer in his desk. The paper bore the heading of the Australian College of Surgeons. "Will you read this?"

      After a moment's hesitation the doctor took the paper and put on his spectacles. He read:

I hereby certify that this day at 4:30 A.M. I have delivered a pithecoid female, known as Derry, of the species Paranthropus erectus, of a male child in sound physical condition; and that the said birth took place as a result of an artificial insemination carried out by me in Sydney on December 9, 19__ for the purpose of scientific investigation, the donor being Douglas M. Templemore.


      Figgins's naturally globular eyes bulged behind their spectacles to surprising dimensions. "He's going to lay them like eggs . . . " Douglas thought. Without a word, the doctor handed the document to the inspector, glared at is as though he were the ghost of Cromwell, and walked back to the cot.

      "Never heard of such a thing!" he muttered dully. "What is this . . . this Paranthropus?"

      "Nobody knows yet."

      "What do you mean?"

      "A sort of anthropoid. Some thirty of them have just arrived in this country. They're being studied at the moment."

      "But what have you . . ." the doctor began, but broke off and turned back to the cot.

      "It's a monkey all the same. It's four-handed." There was a note of relief in his voice.

      "That's rather jumping to conclusions," said Douglas mildly.

      "There are no four-handed human beings."

      "Doctor," said Douglas, "suppose, for instance, that a railway accident . . . look, let's cover up the legs. There, a little corpse with the feet gone. Would you be quite so categorical?"

      There was a pause.

      "His arms are too long," the doctor said at last.

      "But his face?"

      The doctor raised his eyes in a helpless perplexity that bordered on a panic.

      "His ears . . ." he began.

      "And suppose," said Douglas, "that in a few years' time we'd manage to teach him to read, write and reckon?"

      "You can suppose anything you like since we'll never know," said Figgins hastily, with a shrug.

      "Perhaps we shall. He has brothers, doctor. Two have already been born at the Zoo, by other females. Three more soon will be."

      "Time enough then," stammered the doctor, wiping his forehead.

      "Time for what?"

      "To . . . to see . . . to know . . ."

      The inspector drew nearer. His pale eyelashes were fluttering like moths.

      "Mr. Templemore, what exactly do you expect us to do?"

      "Your job, Inspector."

      "But what job, sir? This little creature is a monkey, that's plain. Why the dickens do you want to . . ."

      "That's my business, Inspector."

      "Well, ours is certainly not to meddle . . ."

      "I have killed my child, Inspector."

      "I've grasped that. But this . . . this creature isn't a . . . it doesn't present . . ."

      "He's been christened, Inspector, and his birth duly entered at the registry office under the name of Garry Ralph Templemore."

      Fine beads of perspiration broke out on the inspector's face. He suddenly shot a question at Douglas.

      "Under what name was the mother entered?"

      "Under her own, Inspector: 'Native woman from New Guinea, known as Derry.'"

      "False declaration!" cried the inspector triumphantly. "The whole registration is invalid."

      "False declaration?"

      "The mother isn't a woman."

      "That remains to be proved."

      "Why, you yourself --"

      "Opinions are divided."

      "Divided? Divided about what? Whose opinions?"

      "Those of the leading anthropologists, about the species the Paranthropus belongs to. It's an intermediate species: man or ape? It resembles both. It may well be that Derry is a woman after all. It's up to you to prove the contrary, if you can. In the meantime her child is my son, before God and the law."

      The inspector seemed so disconcerted that Douglas took pity on him.

      "Perhaps," he suggested kindly, "you would like to refer the matter to your chief?"

      The tow-colored face brightened.

      "Yes, if you don't mind, sir."

      The inspector lifted the receiver and asked for Guildford. He could not help flashing a grateful smile towards the murderer.

      The doctor drew a few steps closer.

      "But then," he said, "if I've understood you rightly . . . you're going to find yourself father of five more little monkeys, just like this one?"

      "You're beginning to understand, doctor," said Douglas.