They told Grace they’d found her curled into a nest of leaves, that since dawn they’d been following a strange spoor through the bush, and then, just as they’d begun to smell her, there she was, staring up at them through a cloud of iridescent flies.

They peered through the mottled gloom. Flies were clustered on her nose and eyes and mouth, and yet she didn’t move, didn’t even blink. “It’s dead,” said one of them, stretching out a stick to prod her.

That’s when she sprang, scattering the flies and baring all her teeth in a dreadful high-pitched screech. They leapt back, reaching for their knives. She was up on her haunches now, biting at the air between them with her jagged teeth. But with the leaves and flies swirling, and her furious, wild hair, it took some time before they understood that it was a girl raging before them, just a girl.

“Hau!” they whispered, and they lowered their knives. She was skinny as a stick—filthy and naked, and the nest smelled foul. One of the men dug into his pocket for some nuts. “Mê,” he said, holding them out to her, “Mê.”

She lifted her chin, trying to sniff at the air. But her nose was swollen and bloody, one arm hung limp at her side.

“It will be easy to catch her,” the older man said. “How do we know the Master won’t pay? Even half?”

Julian de Jong stormed out into the midday sun. “What on earth’s the matter out here, Grace?” he said. “Why’ve you locked the dogs away?”

One of the men held the girl up, the other lifted her hair so that the Master could see her face.

“They found her in the bush, Master,” Grace said, not looking up. She never wanted to see the girls when they were brought in. “They say if they put her back, maybe the jackals will get her.”

The girl writhed and twisted to free herself from the grasp of the men. She bared her teeth, screeching pitifully. All the way up the hill, she had screeched and struggled like this, and all the way baboons had come barking after her.

De Jong stepped out into the yard and the men dropped their eyes courteously. Everyone knew he was not to be looked at when he was inspecting a girl, even an ugly one like this, even their own daughters. The girl stopped her squirming when he walked up, as if she too knew what was good for her. She stared at him as he questioned the men, breathing lightly through her mouth like a dog.

He put his monocle to his eye and, for several minutes, examined the girl in silence. And then, at last, he stood up and said, “Grace, clean the creature up. Here,” he said to the men, digging around in his pocket for change. “Take this and divide it between you.”


“Bring me the scissors!” Grace said to Beauty. “Bring me the Dettol!”

Beauty held the girl down while Grace took the scissors to her hair. “Ag!” she said, handing the tangle of hair and grass and blood to the garden boy. “Burn that,” she said. “And bring me the blade for shaving. And the big tin bath.”

By the time the bath was filled with hot water, the girl was almost bald, her scalp as pale as dough, and bleeding here and there from the blade. When they tried to lift her in, she struggled even more, twisting and thrashing and working one leg free so that she slashed at the flesh of Grace’s arm with a toenail.

“Be still, you devil!” Grace cried, giving her a hard slap on the flesh of her buttock. “You want to go back to the bush? You want the jackals to get you?”

But the creature would not be still. By the time she was clean, the kitchen floor was awash with dirty water and she was cowering against the side of the bath, shivering, the teeth chattering. Now that she was clean, they could see that the nose and arm had been badly broken, and that the skin was sallow where the sun had not caught it. It was covered in scratches—some old, some new—and her hands and feet were calloused as hooves.

“He’ll send her back after all this trouble,” Beauty said. She was standing in the kitchen doorway with an armful of clothes. They were the same clothes each time, flimsy things that the girls loved to wear. “They will only be spoiled,” she said. “It’s a big shame.” She put them on the kitchen table.

Grace pulled a small chemise out of the pile. She didn’t understand these clothes, she hadn’t understood them when she’d had to wear them herself. “Hold up her arms,” she said to Beauty.

But it was hopeless. One by one, the clothes were tried, torn, bitten, abandoned. The best Grace could do was to pin a dishcloth onto the girl as tightly as she could. And then once it was on, the creature only squatted on her haunches like a monkey and clawed at the cloth with her good hand, drawing blood in her madness to have it off.

“It’s too cruel,” said Grace. “Let’s take it off.”

And so the girl was carried onto the veranda, naked and bald, to be presented to the man who would decide what would become of her.

Over the years, there had been rumors in the local villages of children living with baboons in the forest—of children snatched by baboons if you left them outside unguarded. Some children the baboons ate, the rumor went, some they kept for themselves. But only the old women ever believed this.

“Look again,” Julian de Jong said to the local administrator. “See if anyone reported a baby missing—six or seven years ago, white, half-breed, anything you can find. I don’t want any trouble later.”

But no one had reported such a thing, not in the whole province. No one would challenge his claim.

“She could have been thrown away as a newborn and left for dead,” said Doctor McKenzie, leaning over to examine the arm. “Some desperate teenager, who knows? I suppose it’s not out of the question that baboons could have taken her up. But it hardly seems plausible, does it? Mind you, these fractures could very well be the result of a fall from a tree. She could have grown too big, I suppose. And she’s malnourished, which would make her prone to fractures. Anyway,” he said, straightening up, “there it is, and something needs to be done about the teeth. Don’t mind telling you, old boy, I’m glad I’m not the dentist. Oh, and here—don’t leave without the worm powder. Sure you’re up for this one, Julian?”

The first night, de Jong had Grace lock the girl into the storeroom in the servants’ quarters. But all through the night, the creature screeched and wailed, keeping the servants awake. The next morning they found that the sling on her arm had been bitten away, the bandage torn from her nose. Even her calloused hands and feet were bloodied and raw from trying to climb to the small, barred window above the door.

“It’s cruel to lock her in there, Master,” said Grace. “She’s like an animal. We must train her like a dog.”

De Jong looked at the girl. All night she had visited him in dreams—more like presences, really, than dreams—but, when he woke up, he could still not put a face to the creature. Usually he knew just what he had. At first they’d cry and beg to be sent home. Sometimes it would go on for weeks, and then he’d have to punish them. But in the end Grace always managed to have them ready for him, cleaned and oiled and docile.

If there was a principle that drove Julian de Jong, it was never to obscure his motives. And so, from the outset, there’d never been a question of theft. He was doing the girls a favor, everyone knew that, even their families. How else could it be that old McIntyre the missionary had never got any of them to talk? They’d just shake their heads when he came calling, press their lips together. They knew that when he was finished with them, the girls would fetch a decent bride price regardless. There was the money, of course, but there were other things too, things they’d learned from Grace—how to lay the table and mend the sheets, and sometimes even how to make a pudding or a soup. And so, when he finally sent them home, they seemed not to know where they’d rather be. And who was the worse for it then?

He stretched out his hand to touch the rough skin of the creature’s cheek. He wanted to stroke it as he would stroke one of the others when she was new, for the pleasure of the life under his hand—grateful, warm, blameless. But just as his fingers came near her, she whipped her head around and tore at the flesh of his thumb with her teeth.

“Good God!” he cried, watching the blood well into the wound. He grasped the wrist tightly with his other hand as if to restrain it from grabbing her by the throat. And all the while, she was staring at him, panting, waiting, ready.

Grace lowered her eyes. She had seen him take the riding crop to a girl for staring. She had seen him take the crop to a girl for doing nothing at all.

“I’ll call Beauty to fetch the Gentian, Master,” she said quickly.

He turned then, as if he had forgotten she was there. A breeze was up, playing with his frizzy gray hair. But there was nothing playful in his face, she knew. It was flushed with fury, ready for the Lord knew what.

“Grace,” he said, “I want you to tell the rest of them that no hand is to be laid upon this girl, not even if she bites. You will treat her like any of the others. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Master.”

“De Jong,” McKenzie said, smoothing down the last of the plaster of paris, “she will need to be restrained to a board if this is to do any good. And I’ll have to fashion a bucket collar so that she can’t get at the nose. No one come forward to claim her?”

“No one.”

“Well, the word is out, you know. The papers are bound to dig it up sooner or later.”

“Let them dig. I have Dunlop’s word he’ll fix things. Anyway, who’d want her? She’s an animal—just look what she did to my hand this morning.”

McKenzie took the hand and turned it over. “It’ll need a stitch,” he said, “and we should test her for rabies. Here, keep still.”

Grace took the girl to the chair in the corner. She held her there by the wrists, securing the girl’s hips between her own copious thighs. But still the girl strained forward, as if she wanted another go at de Jong’s hand.

“How long till the bones knit?” de Jong said.

“Bring her back in four weeks, and we’ll take a look.”

For four weeks, the girl was kept strapped to a board on the sleeping porch of the upstairs veranda. There Grace fed and cleaned her, and there, every night, de Jong himself slept in the bed next to hers, talking softly to her, telling her things he wouldn’t have told the others. The hot season was beginning to die down, but when he tried covering her with his knee rug, she gasped and gagged, straining against the straps that held her head in place. So he took it off again.

After a while, he began to sit at the edge of her bed, and then place a hand on her forehead, almost covering her eyes. He’d hold it there until she stopped struggling, and, when she did, he’d run his fingers around the coil of an ear and under her jaw, down into the curve of her neck and shoulders. And then, if she was quiet, he’d feed her a piece of raw liver, which she loved best of all.

And so, soon he had her suffering his touch without struggling. She would lie still, staring at him around the plaster on her nose. Once, as his hand slipped itself over her rump, she even closed her eyes and fell asleep; he could hear her breathing settle. But when he stood up to leave, she was instantly awake again, following him with her eyes through the fading light to his own bed.

As the fourth week approached, de Jong had a cage built and placed at the back of the sleeping porch. Inside, Grace placed a tin mug and bowl, his knee rug and a driving glove that had lost its mate. The girl was to be lifted so that she could see every stage of the preparations, and Grace was to hold the bowl for her to sniff before she put it inside, and then the rug, and then the glove.

“Master,” Grace said, “maybe she’s not so wild now. Maybe we can let her walk for herself when the arm is better.”

But the minute the plaster was off and the girl was given the freedom of the cage, she began to rage and screech again as if she had just been caught. With both arms growing stronger, she began to climb and swing and leap as well. She bit and tore at the blanket until it lay in shreds on the floor of the cage. The glove she examined carefully, turning it this way and that way, and then testing it with her teeth. The teeth themselves had been drilled and cleaned before the plaster came off. But they were still brown, and a few had been pulled out, giving her an even wilder look.

No one could work out how old she really was. Certainly, she was the size of most of the girls they brought to him. But the dentist seemed to think she was a bit older, which made the whole thing a little more urgent. All night and much of the day, de Jong stayed up there, talking softly to her. The servants watched and listened. It was the voice that he used for the dogs, and for the girls when they were first brought in. Never for anyone else. After a while even the girl herself seemed to listen. She would stare at him through the bars of the cage, frowning her baboon frown. And then he would pour some water into her mug, showing her how to drink it without lapping.

Over the weeks, she became quiet for longer and longer stretches of time. Even when de Jong went away and Grace came up to sit with her, she would wait quietly for her water, for her food. It was Grace herself who found a way to stop the girl tearing up the newspaper that was placed there day after day for her mess. And then one day, when the girl messed on it by chance, Grace began to sing. “You are my sunshine,” warbling in her high-pitched vibrato, and the girl cocked her head like a bird. She ran to the bars and hung on, waiting for more. But Grace just waited too. And the next time the girl messed on the newspaper, she sang the song again, adding a line or two. And so, with singing, Grace managed to coax the creature into a pair of pants and a vest, and by the time de Jong returned, she’d learned how to pull them off and put them on herself.

“Master,” Grace said, “maybe we can unlock the dogs now.”

And so the dogs were led one by one to the cage, ears back, straining at the leash. When the girl heard them coming, she ran wildly for the far corner of the cage, upsetting the bowl, climbing the bars and hanging there, screeching with all her teeth. The dog itself would jump up, wagging, barking wildly, only to be scolded, corrected, made to sit and stay.

Day after day the ritual was repeated until dog and girl could stare at each other without fright. After a while, de Jong could trust the dogs to approach the cage unleashed. And then, at last, when the girl was ready to be taken out, the dogs ran beside her without incident.

“Master,” Grace said, “I can’t make her stand straight like you said. She still wants to bend over like a baboon. I think she was living with the baboons over there. I think she can still be like them.”

De Jong smiled down at the girl. Thick black curls were beginning to cover her head. And her face was beginning to reveal itself, the nose long and straight, a high forehead, small ears, olive skin and the wide black eyes of a gypsy. Considering only the head, she could be any child, any dark, silent girl, no breasts yet, no body hair either. If she still stooped, what difference would it make? She was ready, baboons or no baboons, he could see it in the way she looked at him. It was Grace who was trying to hold her back for some reason.

“You’ll bring her to me tomorrow evening,” he said, “the usual hour.”

Grace bowed her head. Usually, she was only too glad to hand a girl over because then she’d have her two weeks off. When she did return, as often as not the girl would be over the first fright of it. So what had come over her this time? “Maybe a few more days?” she said.

He smiled at Grace. It was almost as if she’d known from the start how it would be with this girl. And now that he was taking pride—well, not so much pride in the girl herself as in the things she could do, the way he could make her obey him—now that he was waking each morning to the thought of what he might make the girl do for him next, now came Grace with her suggestions.

“She does not even have a name yet,” Grace said.

They were walking down to the river, which the girl always liked to do. Once he’d thought he heard her laugh—laugh or bark, it was hard to tell which. The sun was shining brilliantly on the muddy water, and she’d looked up into his face, her mouth and eyes wide. And then, freeing her hand from his, she’d bounded down the hill with the dogs, down to the water’s edge.

“Tomorrow evening. In the atrium. The usual time.”

Grace had dressed the girl in a simple silk shift. There was a pool in the middle of the atrium, with a fountain at its center. Most of the girls couldn’t swim, but the pool was shallow, and he’d be sitting in it, naked, waiting for them with his glass of whiskey. The girls themselves always stopped at the sight of him there, the pink shoulders and small gray eyes. And then he’d rise out of the water like a sea monster and they’d make a run for it, every one of them, never mind how much Grace had told them there was no way out.

Men in the village liked to say they’d come to the house one night and cut off his manhood like a pawpaw. But Grace knew it was all talk. Without his money, where would they all be? Where would she be herself? The Master himself knew that, standing there, shameless, before her. But when he had finished with this one, where would she go? Usually, they’d run home with the money, and then, sooner or later, they’d be back at the kitchen door, wanting work. But what about this one? Where could she go except back to the baboons?

Quickly, Grace turned and walked out of the atrium.

He held his hand out to the girl, but she didn’t take it. She was leaning over the low wall, splashing one hand into the water. He caught it in his own then, and took her under the arms and lifted her in. She didn’t struggle, she was used to his lifting her here or there. But this time he was lifting her dress off her too, throwing it aside. She wasn’t wearing any panties, he never wanted them wearing panties when they came to him. So now there was nothing but her smooth olive skin. He ran his hands down her sides and cupped one around each buttock—small and round and girlish, the rest of the body muscled like a boy’s.

She let him coax her down into the water, lapping at it happily. And when he moved one hand between her legs, she just glanced down there through the water with the frown she always wore when Grace tried to show her how to wipe herself after she’d used the toilet. But he was stroking her, prodding into her with a finger so that she jumped away and stared hard at him. And still he came after her, taking her by the arms before she could scramble up onto the fountain. He was pushing her backward to the side of the pool and his smile was gone, he was holding her arms wide so that he could force his knee between her legs.

Caught like that, she slammed her head wildly then from side to side against the edge of the tiles, shrieking piteously. A trickle of blood ran down her neck, and when at last he had her legs apart and was thrusting himself into her, she was bleeding there too. He knew from her narrowness that she’d be bleeding properly when he’d finished with her, that her blood would cloud out beautifully into the pool, turning from red to pink. It was the moment he longed for with every new offering, first the front, then the back, and always the mouths open in astonishment like this, the eyes wild and pleading, and for what? For more? More?

By the time he was finished with her and resting his head against the side of the pool, she was moaning. They all moaned like this, and what did they expect? What did this one expect after all these months she’d kept him waiting with her grunts and squawks? He stretched out an arm to grab her neck. Usually that’s all it took to shut them up. If it didn’t, he’d duck them under the water until they were ready to listen. “Quiet,” he’d croon in his deep, soft voice. And if that didn’t work, he did it again, and for longer. “Do you hear me now?” he’d whisper. “I said quiet!”

But with this one words were useless. And just as he was about to push her under, she slipped free, twirling herself into the air, twisting, leaping, springing out of reach until, at last, he had caught her by an arm. But then she only doubled back, sinking her teeth into his wrist, and, when he’d let her go, into an ear, and, at last, as his hands flew to his head, she took his throat between her jaws. And there she hung on like a wild dog, only tightening her bite as he bucked and flailed for air. But the more he struggled the deeper she bit, never loosening her jaws until he was past the pain, past the panic. Only then, only after the last damp gurgling of breath had left him limp, did she rip away the flesh and gristle she’d got hold of, and, gulping it down as she ran, leap out through an open window.

When they came in with the tea things, the whole pool was pink, pinker than they’d ever seen it, even the fountain. At first they just stood there, staring at what was left of his throat. But then they remembered the girl, and they ran, one for a kitchen knife, another to lock the doors and windows of the house.

But she never returned. And the generations that followed were inclined to laugh at the whole idea of a baboon girl—of any girl killing that demon like a leopard or a lion. They were inclined to doubt the demon himself as well. Surely someone would have reported him to the authorities? they said. Surely one of his girls would have told her story to the papers?