De Camp, L Sprague - The Gnarly Man v1.0

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De Camp, L Sprague - The Gnarly Man v1.0


     Unknown, June 1939 by L. Sprague de Camp (1907 )

     DR. MATILDA SADDLER first saw the gnarly man on the evening of June 14th, 1946, at Coney Island. The spring meeting of the Eastern Section of the American Anthropological Association had broken up, and Dr. Saddler had had dinner with two of her professional colleagues, Blue of Columbia and Jeffcott of Yale. She mentioned that she had never visited Coney and meant to go there that evening. She urged Blue and Jeffcott to come along, but they begged off.

     Watching Dr. Saddler's retreating back, Blue of Columbia crackled: "The Wild Woman from Wichita. Wonder if she's hunting another husband?" He was a thin man with a small gray beard and a who-the-Hell-are-you-Sir expression.

     "How many has she had?" asked Jeffcott of Yale.

     "Three to date. Don't know why anthropologists lead the most disorderly private lives of any scientists. Must be that they study the customs and morals of all these different peoples, and ask themselves, 'If the Eskimos can do it why can't we?' I'm old enough to be safe, thank God."

     "I'm not afraid of her," said Jeffcott. He was in his early forties and looked like a farmer uneasy in store-bought clothes. “I’m so very

    thoroughly married."

     "Yeah? Ought to have been at Stanford a few years ago, when she was there. It wasn't safe to walk across the campus, with Tuthill chasing all the females and Saddler all the males."

     Dr. Saddler had to fight her way off the subway train, as the adolescents who infest the platform of the B.M.T.'s Stillwell Avenue Station are probably the worst-mannered people on earth, possibly excepting the Dobu Islanders of the Western Pacific. She didn't much mind. She was a tall, strongly built woman in her late thirties, who had been kept in trim by the outdoor rigors of her profession. Besides, some of the inane remarks in Swift's paper on occulturation among the Arapaho Indians had gotten her fighting blood up.

     Walking down Surf Avenue toward Brighton Beach, she looked at the concessions without trying them, preferring to watch the human types that did and the other human types that took their money. She did try a shooting gallery, but found knocking tin owls off their perch with a .22 too easy to be much fun. Long-range work with an army rifle was her idea of shooting.

     The concession next to the shooting gallery would have been called a sideshow if there had been a main show for it to be a sideshow to. The usual lurid banner proclaimed the uniqueness of the two-headed calf, the bearded woman, Arachne the spider-girl, and other marvels. The piece

    de resistance was Ungo-Bungo the ferocious ape-man, captured in the Congo at a cost of twenty-seven lives. The picture showed an enormous Ungo-Bungo squeezing a hapless Negro in each hand, while others sought to throw a net over him.

     Although Dr. Saddler knew perfectly well that the ferocious apeman would turn out to be an ordinary Caucasian with false hair on his chest, a streak of whimsicality impelled her to go in. Perhaps, she thought, she could have some fun with her colleagues about it.

     The spieler went through his leather-lunged harangue. Dr. Saddler guessed from his expression that his feet hurt. The tattooed lady didn't interest her, as her decorations obviously had no cultural significance, as they have among the Polynesians. As for the ancient Mayan, Dr. Saddler thought it in questionable taste to exhibit a poor microcephalic idiot that way. Professor Yogi's legerdemain and fire-eating weren't bad.

     A curtain hung in front of Ungo-Bungo's cage. At the appropriate moment there were growls and the sound of a length of chain being slapped against a metal plate. The spieler wound up on a high note:

     --ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Ungo-Bungo!" The curtain dropped.

     The ape-man was squatting at the back of his cage. He dropped his chain, got up, and shuffled forward. He grasped two of the bars and shook them. They were appropriately loose and rattled alarmingly. Ungo-Bungo snarled at the patrons, showing his even yellow teeth.

     Dr. Saddler stared hard. This was something new in the ape-man line. Ungo-Bungo was about five feet three, but very massive, with enormous hunched shoulders. Above and below his blue swimming trunks, thick grizzled hair covered him from crown to ankle. His short stout-muscled arms ended in big hands with thick gnarled fingers. His neck projected slightly forward, so that from the front he seemed to have but little neck at all.

     His face-- Well, thought Dr. Saddler, she knew all the living races of men, and all the types of freaks brought about by glandular maladjustment, and none of them had a face like that. It was deeply lined. The forehead between the short scalp hair and the brows on the huge supraorbital ridges receded sharply. The nose, though wide, was not apelike; it was a shortened version of the thick hooked Armenoid or "Jewish" nose. The face ended in a long upper lip and a retreating chin. And the yellowish skin apparently belonged to Ungo-Bungo.

     The curtain was whisked up again.

     Dr. Saddler went out with the others, but paid another dime, and soon was back inside. She paid no attention to the spieler, but got a good position in front of Ungo-Bungo's cage before the rest of the crowd arrived.

     Ungo-Bungo repeated his performance with mechanical precision. Dr.

    Saddler noticed that he limped a little as he came forward to rattle the bars, and that the skin under his mat of hair bore several big whitish scars. The last joint of his left ring finger was missing. She noted certain things about the proportions of his shin and thigh, of his forearm and upper arm, and his big splay feet.

     Dr. Saddler paid a third dime. An idea was knocking at her mind somewhere, trying to get in; either she was crazy or physical anthropology was haywire or something. But she knew that if she did the sensible thing, which was to go home, the idea would plague her from now on.

     After the third performance she spoke to the spieler. "I think your Mr. Ungo-Bungo used to be a friend of mine. Could you arrange for me to see him after he finishes?"

     The spieler checked his sarcasm. His questioner was so obviously not a--not the sort of dame who asks to see guys after they finish.

     "Oh, him," he said. "Calls himself Gaffney-Clarence Aloysius Gaffney. That the guy you want?"

     "Why, yes."

     "Guess you can." He looked at his watch. "He's got four more turns to do before we close. I'll have to ask the boss." He popped through a curtain and called, "Hey, Morrie!" Then he was back. "It's okay. Morrie says you can wait in his office. Foist door to the right."

     Morrie was stout, bald, and hospitable. "Sure, sure," he said, waving his cigar. "Glad to be of soivice, Miss Saddler. Chust a min while I talk to Gaffney's manager." He stuck his head out. "Hey, Pappas! Lady wants to talk to your ape-man later. I meant lady. Okay." He returned to orate on the difficulties besetting the freak business. "You take this Gaffney, now. He's the best damn ape-man in the business; all that hair really grows outa him. And the poor guy really has a face like that. But do people believe it? No! I hear 'em going out, saying about how the hair is pasted on, and the whole thing is a fake. It's mortifying." He cocked his head, listening. "That rumble wasn't no rolly-coaster; it's gonna rain. Hope it's over by tomorrow. You wouldn't believe the way a rain can knock ya receipts off. If you drew a coive, it would be like this." He drew his finger horizontally through space, jerking it down sharply to indicate the effect of rain. "But as I said, people don't appreciate what you try to do for 'em. It's not just the money; I think of myself as an ottist. A creative ottist. A show like this got to have balance and proportion, like any other ott . .

     It must have been an hour later when a slow, deep voice at the door said, "Did somebody want to see me?"

     The gnarly man was in the doorway. In street clothes, with the collar of his raincoat turned up and his hat brim pulled down, he looked more or less human, though the coat fitted his great sloping shoulders badly.

    He had a thick knobby walking stick with a leather loop near the top end. A small dark man fidgeted behind him.

     "Yeah," said Morrie, interrupting his lecture. "Clarence, this is Miss Saddler, Miss Saddler, this is our Mister Gaffney, one of our outstanding creative ottists."

     "Pleased to meetcha," said the gnarly man. "This is my manager, Mr. Pappas."

     Dr. Saddler explained, and said she'd like to talk to Mr. Gaffney if she might. She was tactful; you had to be to pry into the private affairs of Naga headhunters, for instance. The gnarly man said he'd be glad to have a cup of coffee with Miss Saddler; there was a place around the corner that they could reach without getting wet.

     As they started out, Pappas followed, fidgeting more and more.

     The gnarly man said, "Oh, go home to bed, John. Don't worry about me." He grinned at Dr. Saddler. The effect would have been unnerving to anyone but an anthropologist. "Every time he sees me talking to anybody, he thinks it's some other manager trying to steal me." He spoke General American, with a suggestion of Irish brogue in the lowering of the vowels in words like "man" and "talk." "I made the lawyer who drew up our contract fix it so it can be ended on short notice."

     Pappas departed, still looking suspicious. The rain had practically ceased. The gnarly man stepped along smartly despite his limp. A woman passed with a fox terrier on a leash. The dog sniffed in the direction of the gnarly man, and then to all appearances went crazy, yelping and slavering. The gnarly man shifted his grip on the massive stick and said quietly, "Better hang on to him, ma'am." The woman departed hastily. "They just don't like me," commented Gaffney. "Dogs, that is."

     They found a table and ordered their coffee. When the gnarly man took off his raincoat, Dr. Saddler became aware of a strong smell of cheap perfume. He got out a pipe with a big knobbly bowl. It suited him, just as the walking stick did. Dr. Saddler noticed that the deep-sunk eyes under the beetling arches were light hazel.

     "Well?" he said in his rumbling drawl.

     She began her questions.

     "My parents were Irish," he answered. "But I was born in South Boston-let's see-forty-six years ago. I can get you a copy of my birth certificate. Clarence Aloysius Gaffney, May 2, 1910." He seemed to get some secret amusement out of that statement.

     "Were either of your parents of your somewhat unusual physical type?"

     He paused before answering. He always did, it seemed. "Uh-huh. Both of 'em. Glands, I suppose."

     "Were they both born in Ireland?"

     "Yep. County Sligo." Again that mysterious twinkle.

     She paused. "Mr. Gaffney, you wouldn't mind having some photographs

    and measurements made, would you? You could use the photographs in your business."

     "Maybe." He took a sip. "Ouch! Gazooks, that's hot!"


     "I said the coffee's hot."

     "I mean, before that."

     The gnarly man looked a little embarrassed. "Oh, you mean the gazooks'? Well, I-uh--once knew a man who used to say that."

     "Mr. Gaffney, I'm a scientist, and I'm not trying to get anything out of you for my own sake. You can be frank with me."

     There was something remote and impersonal in his stare that gave her a slight spinal chill. "Meaning that I haven't been so far?"

     "Yes. When I saw you I decided that there was something extraordinary in your background. I still think there is. Now, if you think I'm crazy, say so and we'll drop the subject. But I want to get to the bottom of this."

     He took his time about answering. "That would depend." There was another pause. Then he said, "With your connections, do you know any really first-class surgeons?"

     "But-yes, I know Dunbar."

     "The guy who wears a purple gown when he operates? The guy who wrote a book on God, Man, and the Universe?"

     "Yes. He's a good man, in spite of his theatrical mannerisms. Why? What would you want of him?"

     "Not what you’re thinking, I'm satisfied with mu--uh--unusual

    physical type. But I have some old injuries-broken bones that didn't knit properly-that I want fixed up. He'd have to be a good man, though. I have a couple of thousand in the savings bank, but I know the sort of fees those guys charge. If you could make the necessary arrangements-"

     "Why, yes, I'm sure I could. In fact I could guarantee it. Then I was right? And you'll-" She hesitated.

     "Come clean? Uh-huh. But remember, I can still prove I'm Clarence Aloysius if I have to."

     "Who are you, then?"

     Again there was a long pause. Then the gnarly man said, "Might as well tell you. As soon as you repeat any of it, you'll have put your professional reputation in my hands, remember.

     "First off, I wasn't born in Massachusetts. I was born on the upper Rhine, near Mommenheim, and as nearly as I can figure out, about the year 50,000 B.C."

     Dr. Saddler wondered whether she'd stumbled on the biggest thing in anthropology or whether this bizarre man was making Baron Munchausen look like a piker.

     He seemed to guess her thoughts. I can't prove that, of course,

     But so long as you arrange about that operation, I don't care whether you believe me or not."


     "I think the lightning did it. We were out trying to drive some bison into a pit. Well, this big thunderstorm came up, and the bison bolted in the wrong direction. So we gave up and tried to find shelter. And the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground with the rain running over me, and the rest of the clan standing around wailing about what had they done to get the storm-god sore at them, so he made a bull's-eye on one of their best hunters. They'd never said that about me before. It's funny how you're never appreciated while you're alive.

     "But I was alive, all right. My nerves were pretty well shot for a few weeks, but otherwise I was all right except for some burns on the soles of my feet. I don't know just what happened, except I was reading a couple of nears ago that scientists had located the machinery that controls the replacement of tissue in the medulla oblongata. I think maybe the lightning did something to my medulla to speed it up.

     Anyway, I never got any older after that. Physically, that is. And except for those broken bones I told you about. I was thirty-three at the time, more or less. We didn't keep track of ages. I look older now, because the lines in your face are bound to get sort of set after a few thousand years, and because our hair was always gray at the ends. But I can still tie an ordinary Homo sapiens in a knot if I want to."

     "Then you're-you mean to say you're-you're trying to tell me you're-" -

     "A Neanderthal man? Homo neanderthalensis? That's right"

     Matilda Saddler's hotel room was a bit crowded, with the gnarly man, the frosty Blue, the rustic Jeffcott, Dr. Saddler herself, and Harold McGannon the historian. This McGannon was a small man, very neat and pink-skinned. He looked more like a New York Central director than a professor. Just now his expression was one of fascination. Dr. Saddler looked full of pride; Professor Jeffcott looked interested but puzzled; Dr. Blue looked bored. (He hadn't wanted to come in the first place.) The gnarly man, stretched out in the most comfortable chair and puffing his overgrown pipe, seemed to be enjoying himself.

     McGannon was asking a question. "Well, Mr.--Gaffney? I suppose that's your name as much as any."

     "You might say so," said the gnarly man. "My original name was something like Shining Hawk. But I've gone under hundreds of names since then. If you register in a hotel as 'Shining Hawk' it's apt to attract attention. And I try to avoid that."

     "Why?" asked McGannon.

     The gnarly man looked at his audience as one might look at willfully

    stupid children. "I don't like trouble. The best way to keep out of trouble is not to attract attention. That's why I have to pull up stakes and move every ten or fifteen years. People might get curious as to why I never got any older."

     "Pathological liar," murmured Blue. The words were barely audible, but the gnarly man heard them.

     "You're entitled to your opinion, Dr. Blue," he said affably. "Dr. Saddler's doing me a favor, so in return I'm letting you all shoot questions at me. And I'm answering. I don't give a damn whether you believe me or not."

     MeGannon hastily threw in another question. "How is it that you have a birth certificate, as you say you have?"

     "Oh, I knew a man named Clarence Gaffney once. He got killed by an automobile, and I took his name."

     "Was there any reason for picking this Irish background?"

     "Are you Irish, Dr. McGannon?"

     "Not enough to matter."

     "Okay. I didn't want to hurt any feelings. It's my best bet. There are real Irishmen with upper lips like mine."

     Dr. Saddler broke in. "I meant to ask you, Clarence." She put a lot of warmth into his name. "There's an argument as to whether your people interbred with mine, when mine overran Europe at the end of the Mousterian. It's been thought that the 'old black breed' of the west coast of Ireland might have a little Neanderthal blood."

     He grinned slightly. "Well-yes and no. There never was any back in the Stone Age, as far as I know. But these long-lipped Irish are my fault."


     "Believe it or not, but in the last fifty centuries there have been some women of your species that didn't find me too repulsive. Usually there were no offspring. But in the Sixteenth Century I went to Ireland to live. They were burning too many people for witchcraft in the rest of Europe to suit me at that time. And there was a woman. The result this time was a flock of hybrids-cute little devils they were. So the 'old black breed' are my descendants."

     "What did happen to your people?" asked McGannon. 'Were they killed off?"

     The gnarly man shrugged. "Some of them. We weren't at all warlike. But then the tall ones, as we called them, weren't either. Some of the tribes of the tall ones looked on us as legitimate prey, but most of them let us severely alone. I guess they were almost as scared of us as we were of them. Savages as primitive as that are really pretty peaceable people. You have to work so hard, and there are so few of you, that there's no object in fighting wars. That comes later, when

    you get agriculture and livestock, so you have something worth stealing.

     "I remember that a hundred years after the tall ones had come, there were still Neanderthalers living in my part of the country. But they died out. I think it was that they lost their ambition. The tall ones were pretty crude, but they were so far ahead of us that our things and our customs seemed silly. Finally we just sat around and lived on what scraps we could beg from the tall ones' camps. You might say we died of an inferiority complex."

     "What happened to you?" asked McGannon.

     "Oh, I was a god among my own people by then, and naturally I represented them in dealings with the tall ones. I got to know the tall ones pretty well, and they were willing to put up with me after all my own clan were dead. Then in a couple of hundred years they'd forgotten all about my people, and took me for a hunchback or something. I got to be pretty good at flintworking, so I could earn my keep. When metal came in I went into that, and finally into blacksmithing. If you put all the horseshoes I've made in a pile, they'd-well, you'd have a damn big pile of horseshoes anyway."

     "Did you limp at that time?" asked McGannon.

     "Uk-huh. I busted my leg back in the Neolithic. Fell out of a tree, and had to set it myself, because there wasn't anybody around. Why?"

     "Vulcan," said McGannon softly.

     "Vulcan?" repeated the gnarly man. "Wasn't he a Greek god or something?"

     "Yes. He was the lame blacksmith of the gods."

     "You mean you think that maybe somebody got the idea from me? That's an interesting idea. Little late to check up on it, though." Blue leaned forward, and said crisply, "Mr. Gaffney, no real Neanderthal man could talk as entertainingly as you do. That's shown by the poor development of the frontal lobes of the brain and the attachments of the tongue muscles."

     The gnarly man shrugged again. "You can believe what you like. My own clan considered me pretty smart, and then you're bound to learn something in fifty thousand years."

     Dr. Saddler said, "Tell them about your teeth, Clarence."

     The gnarly man grinned. "They're false, of course. My own lasted a long time, but they still wore out somewhere back in the Paleolithic. I grew a third set, and they wore out too. So I had to invent soup."

     "You what?" It was the usually taciturn Jeffcott.

     "I had to invent soup, to keep alive. You know, the

    bark-dish-and-hot-stones method. My gums got pretty tough after a while, but they still weren't much good for chewing hard stuff. So after a few thousand years I got pretty sick of soup and mushy foods generally. And when metal came in I began experimenting with false teeth. I finally

    made some pretty good ones. Amber teeth in copper plates. You might say I invented them too. I tried often to sell them, but they never really caught on until around 1750 A.D. I was living in Paris then, and I built up quite a little business before I moved on." He pulled the handkerchief out of his breast pocket to wipe his forehead; Blue made a face as the wave of perfume reached him.

     "Well, Mr. Caveman," snapped Blue sarcastically, "how do you like our machine age?"

     The gnarly man ignored the tone of the question. "It's not bad. Lots of interesting things happen. The main trouble is the shirts."


     "Uh-huh. Just try to buy a shirt with a 20 neck and a 29 sleeve. I have to order 'em special. It's almost as bad with hats and shoes. I wear an 8-1/2 and a 13 shoe." He looked at his watch. "I've got to get back to Coney to work."

     McGannon jumped up. "Where can I get in touch with you again, Mr. Gaffney? There's lots of things I'd like to ask you."

     The gnarly man told him. "I'm free mornings. My working hours are two to midnight on weekdays, with a couple of hours off for dinner. Union rules, you know."

     "You mean there's a union for you show people?"

     "Sure. Only they call it a guild. They think they're artists, you know."

     Blue and Jeffcott watched the gnarly man and the historian walking slowly toward the subway together. Blue said, "Poor old Mac! I always thought he had sense. Looks like he's swallowed this Gaffney's ravings hook, line, and sinker."

     "I'm not so sure," said Jeffcott, frowning. "There's something funny about the business."

     "What?" barked Blue. "Don't tell me that you believe this story of being alive fifty thousand years? A caveman who uses perfume? Good God!"

     "N-no," said Jeffcott. "Not the fifty thousand part. But I don't think it's a simple case of paranoia or plain lying either. And the perfume's quite logical, if he were telling the truth."


     "Body odor. Saddler told us how dogs hate him. He'd have a smell different from ours. We're so used to ours that we don't even know we have one, unless somebody goes without a bath for a couple of months. But we might notice his if he didn't disguise it."

     Blue snorted. "You'll be believing him yourself in a minute. It's an obvious glandular case, and he's made up this story to fit. All that talk about not caring whether we believe him or not is just bluff. Come on, let's get some lunch. Say, did you see the way Saddler looked at

    him every time she said 'Clarence'? Wonder what she thinks she's going to do with him?"

     Jeffcott thought. "I can guess. And if he is telling the truth, I think there's something in Deuteronomy against it"

     The great surgeon made a point of looking like a great surgeon, to pince-nez and Vandyke. He waved the X-ray negatives at the gnarly man, pointing out this and that.

     "We'd better take the leg first," he said. "Suppose we do that next Tuesday. When you've recovered from that we can tackle the shoulder."

     The gnarly man agreed, and shuffled out of the little private hospital to where McGannon awaited him in his car. The gnarly man described the tentative schedule of operations, and mentioned that he had made arrangements to quit his job at the last minute. "Those two are the main things," he said. "I'd like to try professional wrestling again some day, and I can't unless I get this shoulder fixed so I can raise my left arm over my head."

     "What happened to it?" asked McGannon.

     The gnarly man closed his eyes, thinking. "Let me see. I get things mixed up sometimes. People do when they're only fifty years old, so you can imagine what it's like for me.

     "In 42 B.C. I was living with the Bituriges in Gaul. You remember that Caesar shut up Werkinghetorich-Vercingetorix to you-in Alesia, and the confederacy raised an army of relief under Caswallon."


     The gnarly man laughed shortly. "I meant Wercaswallon. Caswahlon was a Briton, wasn't he? I'm always getting those two mixed up.

     "Anyhow, I got drafted. That's all you can call it; I didn't want to go. It wasn't exactly my war. But they wanted me because I could pull twice as heavy a bow as anybody else.

     "When the final attack on Caesar's ring of fortifications came, they sent me forward with some other archers to provide a covering fire for their infantry. At least that was the plan. Actually I never saw such a hopeless muddle in my life. And before I even got within bowshot, I fell into one of the Romans' covered pits. I didn't land on the point of the stake, but I fetched up against the side of it and busted my shoulder. There wasn't any help, because the Gauls were too busy running away from Caesar's German cavalry to bother about wounded men."

     The author of God, Man, and the Universe gazed after his departing patient. He spoke to his head assistant. "What do you think of him?"

     "I think it's so," said the assistant. "I looked over those X-rays pretty closely. That skeleton never belonged to a human being."

     "Hmm. Hmm," said Dunbar. "That's right, he wouldn't be human, would

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