Isabella Bird and the apes of Hugh Low


First meeting with Mahmoud and Eblis

My acquaintance with these fellow-creatures was made just after I arrived. I saw the two tied by long ropes to the veranda rail above the porch, and not liking their looks, went as far from them as I could to write to you. The big one is perhaps four feet high and very strong, and the little one is about twenty inches high.
After a time I heard a cry of distress, and saw that the big one, whose name is Mahmoud, was frightening Eblis, the small one. Eblis ran away, but Mahmoud having got the rope in his hands, pulled it with a jerk each time Eblis got to the length of his tether, and beat him with the slack of it.

She manages to rescue Eblis

I went as near to them as I dared, hoping to rescue the little creature, and he tried to come to me, but was always jerked back, the face of Mahmoud showing evil triumph each time. At last Mahmoud snatched up a stout Malacca cane, and dragging Eblis near him, beat him unmercifully, the cries of the little semi-human creature being most pathetic.
I vainly tried to get the Sikh sentry to interfere; perhaps it would have been a breach of discipline if he had left his post, but at the moment I should have been glad if he had run Mahmoud through with a bayonet.
Failing this, and the case being clearly one of murderous assault, I rushed at the rope which tied Eblis to the veranda and cut it through, which so startled the big fellow that he let him go, and Eblis, beaten I fear to a jelly, jumped upon my shoulder and flung his arms round my throat with a grip of terror; mine, I admit, being scarcely less.

Eblis becomes her new friend>

I carried him to the easy-chair at the other end of the veranda, and he lay down confidingly on my arm, looking up with a bewitching, pathetic face, and murmuring sweetly "Ouf! ouf!" He has scarcely left me since, except to go out to sleep on the attap roof. He is the most lovable, infatuating, little semi-human creature, so altogether fascinating that I could waste the whole day in watching him.
As I write, he sometimes sits on the table by me watching me attentively, or takes a pen, dips it in the ink, and scribbles on a sheet of paper. Occasionally he turns over the leaves of a book; once he took Mr. Low's official correspondence, envelope by envelope, out of the rack, opened each, took out the letters and held them as if reading, but always replaced them.
Then he becomes companionable, and gently taking my pen from my hand, puts it aside and lays his dainty hand in mine, and sometimes he lies on my lap as I write, with one long arm round my throat, and the small, antique, pathetic face is occasionally laid softly against mine, uttering the monosyllable "Ouf! ouf!" which is capable of a variation of tone and meaning truly extraordinary.

Mahmoud is just polite

Mahmoud is sufficiently polite, but shows no sign of friendliness, I am glad to say. As I bore Eblis out of reach of his clutches he threw the cane either at him or me, and then began to dance.

Dullness is out of the question

The apes are always doing something new, and are far more initiative than imitative. Eblis has just now taken a letter of yours from an elastic band, and is holding it wide open as if he were reading it; an untamed siamang, which lives on the roof, but has mustered up courage to-day to come down into the veranda, has jumped like a demon on the retriever's back, and riding astride, is beating him with a ruler; and jolly, wicked Mahmoud, having taken the cushions out of the chairs, has laid them in a row, has pulled a table cover off the table, and having rolled it up for a pillow, is now lying down in an easy, careless attitude, occasionally helping himself to a piece of pine-apple.

The other apes are jealous of Eblis

When they are angry they make a fearful noise, and if you hinder them from putting their hands into your plate they shriek with rage like children, and utter much the same sound as the Ainos do when displeased. They seem frightfully jealous of the sweet little wah-wah Eblis. Mahmoud beats it and teases it whenever it is not with me; he takes its food, and when it screams with rage he laughs and shows his white teeth. He upset all the chairs in the veranda this morning, and when I attempted to scold him he took a banana which he was peeling and threw it at me. I am sure that he would have a great deal of rough wit if he could speak our tongue.

Hugh Low arrives

Mr. Low's arrival has inflicted a severe mortification on me, for Eblis, who has been absolutely devoted to me since I rescued him from Mahmoud, has entirely deserted me, takes no notice of me, and seems anxious to disclaim our previous acquaintance! I have seen children do just the same thing, so it makes the kinship appear even closer.
He shows the most exquisite devotion to his master, caresses him with his pretty baby hands, murmurs ouf in the tenderest of human tones, and sits on his shoulder or on his knee as he writes, looking up with a strange wistfulness in his eyes, as if he would like to express himself in something better than a monosyllable.

Daily life with the apes

I have wasted too much of my time to-day upon the apes. They fascinate me more daily. They look exactly like familiar demons, and certainly anyone having them about him two hundred years ago would have been burned as a wizard. When Mr. Low walks down the veranda, these two familiars walk behind him with a stealthy tread. He is having a business conversation just now with some Rajahs, whose numerous followers are standing and lying about, and Eblis is sitting on his shoulder with one arm round his neck, while Mahmoud sits on the table opening letters, and the siamang, sitting on the rafter, is looking down with an unpleasant look.

Eblis stil likes Isabella

Eblis condescends to notice me to-day, and occasionally sits on my shoulder murmuring "Ouf! ouf!" the sweet sound which means all varieties of affection and happiness. They say wah-wah distinctly, and scream with rage like children, but have none of the meaningless chatter of monkeys. It is partly their silence which makes them such very pleasant companions.
At sunrise, however, like their forest brethren, they hail the sun for some minutes with a noise which I have never heard them make again during the day, loud and musical, as if uttered by human vocal organs, very clear and pleasant.

Mahmoud gets drunk

Major Swinburne and Captain Walker arrived in the morning, and we had a grand tiffin at twelve, and Mahmoud was allowed to sit on the table, and he ate sausages, pommeloe, bananas, pine-apple, chicken and curry, and then seizing a long glass of champagne, drank a good deal before it was taken from him.
If drunkenness were not a loathsome human vice, it would have been most amusing to see it burlesqued by this ape. He tried to seem sober and to sit up, but could not, then staggered to a chair, trying hard to walk steadily, and nodding his head with a would-be witty but really obfuscated look; then, finding that he could not sit up, he reached a cushion and lay down very neatly, resting his head on his elbow and trying to look quite reasonable, but not succeeding, and then he fell asleep.

Eblis gets sick

Just now I saw Mahmoud and Eblis walk into my room, and shortly following them, I found that Mahmoud had drawn a pillow to the foot of the bed, and was lying comfortably with his head upon it, and that Eblis was lying at the other end. I do hope that you will not be tired of the apes. To me they are so intensely interesting that I cannot help writing about them. Eblis has been feverish for some days. I think he has never recovered from the thrashing he got the day I came. He is pining and growing very weak; he eats nothing but little bits of banana, and Mr. Low thinks he is sure to die.

Eblis might be dying

Eblis is surely dying. He went to the roof, where the half-tamed siamang was supporting him hour after hour as gently as a mother would support a sick child. This wild ape has been very gentle and good to Eblis ever since he became ill. The little bewitching thing, which is much emaciated, clings to its master now the whole time, unlike other animals, which hide themselves when they are ill, puts out its feeble little arms to him with a look of unspeakable affection on its poor, pinched face, and murmurs in a feeble voice ouf! ouf!

The next day Isabella Bird is traveling back to Taiping and a few days later to Penang

Just before sailing I had the satisfaction of getting this telegram from Kwala Kangsa; "Eblis is a little better this morning. He has eaten two grasshoppers and has taken his milk without trouble, but he is very weak.

In her book this is followed by a footnote:

Those of my readers who have become interested in this most bewitching ape will be sorry to hear that, after recovering and thriving for a considerable time, he died, to the great grief of his friends.