A House-Boat on the Styx by John Kendrick Bangs
Chapter XI: As to Saurians and Others
It was Noah who spoke.
"I'm glad," he said, "that when I embarked at the time of the heavy rains that did so much damage in the old days, there weren't any dogs like that fellow Cerberus about. If I'd had to feed a lot of three- headed beasts like him the Ark would have run short of provisions inside of ten days."
"That's very likely true," observed Mr. Barnum; "but I must confess, my dear Noah, that you showed a lamentable lack of the showman's instinct when you selected the animals you did. A more commonplace lot of beasts were never gathered together, and while Adam is held responsible for the introduction of sin into the world, I attribute most of my offences to none other than yourself."
The members of the club drew their chairs a little closer. The conversation had opened a trifle spicily, and, furthermore, they had retained enough of their mortality to be interested in animal stories. Adam, who had managed to settle his back dues and delinquent house-charges, and once more acquired the privileges of the club, nodded his head gratefully at Mr. Barnum.
"I'm glad to find some one," said he, "who places the responsibility for trouble where it belongs. I'm round-shouldered with the blame I've had to bear. I didn't invent sin any more than I invented the telephone, and I think it's rather rough on a fellow who lived a quiet, retiring, pastoral life, minding his own business and staying home nights, to be held up to public reprobation for as long a time as I have."
"It'll be all right in time," said Raleigh; "just wait--be patient, and your vindication will come. Nobody thought much of the plays Bacon and I wrote for Shakespeare until Shakespeare 'd been dead a century."
"Humph!" said Adam, gloomily. "Wait! What have I been doing all this time? I've waited all the time there's been so far, and until Mr. Barnum spoke as he did I haven't observed the slightest inclination on the part of anybody to rehabilitate my lost reputation. Nor do I see exactly how it's to come about even if I do wait."
"You might apply for an investigating committee to look into the charges," suggested an American politician, just over. "Get your friends on it, and you'll be all right."
"Better let sleeping dogs lie," said Blackstone.
"I intend to," said Adam. "The fact is, I hate to give any further publicity to the matter. Even if I did bring the case into court and sue for libel, I've only got one witness to prove my innocence, and that's my wife. I'm not going to drag her into it. She's got nervous prostration over her position as it is, and this would make it worse. Queen Elizabeth and the rest of these snobs in society won't invite her to any of their functions because they say she hadn't any grandfather; and even if she were received by them, she'd be uncomfortable going about. It isn't pleasant for a woman to feel that every one knows she's the oldest woman in the room."
"Well, take my word for it," said Raleigh, kindly. "It'll all come out all right. You know the old saying, 'History repeats itself.' Some day you will be living back in Eden again, and if you are only careful to make an exact record of all you do, and have a notary present, before whom you can make an affidavit as to the facts, you will be able to demonstrate your innocence."
"I was only condemned on hearsay evidence, anyhow," said Adam, ruefully.
"Nonsense; you were caught red-handed," said Noah; "my grandfather told me so. And now that I've got a chance to slip in a word edgewise, I'd like mightily to have you explain your statement, Mr. Barnum, that I am responsible for your errors. That is a serious charge to bring against a man of my reputation."
"I mean simply this: that to make a show interesting," said Mr. Barnum, "a man has got to provide interesting materials, that's all. I do not mean to say a word that is in any way derogatory to your morality. You were a surprisingly good man for a sea-captain, and with the exception of that one occasion when you--ah--you allowed yourself to be stranded on the bar, if I may so put it, I know of nothing to be said against you as a moral, temperate person."
"That was only an accident," said Noah, reddening. "You can't expect a man six hundred odd years of age--"
"Certainly not," said Raleigh, soothingly, "and nobody thinks less of you for it. Considering how you must have hated the sight of water, the wonder of it is that it didn't become a fixed habit. Let us hear what it is that Mr. Barnum does criticise in you."
"His taste, that's all," said Mr. Barnum. "I contend that, compared to the animals he might have had, the ones he did have were as ant- hills to Alps. There were more magnificent zoos allowed to die out through Noah's lack of judgment than one likes to think of. Take the Proterosaurus, for instance. Where on earth do we find his equal to- day?"
"You ought to be mighty glad you can't find one like him," put in Adam. "If you'd spent a week in the Garden of Eden with me, with lizards eight feet long dropping out of the trees on to your lap while you were trying to take a Sunday-afternoon nap, you'd be willing to dispense with things of that sort for the balance of your natural life. If you want to get an idea of that experience let somebody drop a calf on you some afternoon."
"I am not saying anything about that," returned Barnum. "It would be unpleasant to have an elephant drop on one after the fashion of which you speak, but I am glad the elephant was saved just the same. I haven't advocated the Proterosaurus as a Sunday-afternoon surprise, but as an attraction for a show. I still maintain that a lizard as big as a cow would prove a lodestone, the drawing powers of which the pocket-money of the small boy would be utterly unable to resist. Then there was the Iguanadon. He'd have brought a fortune to the box-office--"
"Which you'd have immediately lost," retorted Noah, "paying rent. When you get a reptile of his size, that reaches thirty feet up into the air when he stands on his hind-legs, the ordinary circus wagon of commerce can't be made to hold him, and your menagerie-room has to have ceilings so high that every penny he brought to the box-office would be spent storing him."
"Mischievous, too," said Adam, "that Iguanadon. You couldn't keep anything out of his reach. We used to forbid animals of his kind to enter the garden, but that didn't bother him; he'd stand up on his hind-legs and reach over and steal anything he'd happen to want."
"I could have used him for a fire-escape," said Mr. Barnum; "and as for my inability to provide him with quarters, I'd have met that problem after a short while. I've always lamented the absence, too, of the Megalosaurus--"
"Which simply shows how ignorant you are," retorted Noah. "Why, my dear fellow, it would have taken the whole of an ordinary zoo such as yours to give the Megalosaurus a lunch. Those fellows would eat a rhinoceros as easily as you'd crack a peanut. I did have a couple of Megalosaurians on my boat for just twenty-four hours, and then I chucked them both overboard. If I'd kept them ten days longer they'd have eaten every blessed beast I had with me, and your Zoo wouldn't have had anything else but Megalosaurians."
"Papa is right about that, Mr. Barnum," said Shem. "The whole Saurian tribe was a fearful nuisance. About four hundred years before the flood I had a pet Creosaurus that I kept in our barn. He was a cunning little devil--full of tricks, and all that; but we never could keep a cow or a horse on the place while he was about. They'd mysteriously disappear, and we never knew what became of 'em until one morning we surprised Fido in--"
"Surprised who?" asked Doctor Johnson, scornfully.
"Fido," returned Shem. "'That was my Creosaurus's name."
"Lord save us! Fido!" cried Johnson. "What a name for a Creosaurus!"
"Well, what of it?" asked Shem, angrily. "You wouldn't have us call a mastodon like that Fanny, would you, or Tatters?"
"Go on," said Johnson; "I've nothing to say."
"Shall I send for a physician?" put in Boswell, looking anxiously at his chief, the situation was so extraordinary.
Solomon and Carlyle giggled; and the Doctor having politely requested Boswell to go to a warmer section of the country, Shem resumed.
"I caught him in the act of swallowing five cows and Ham's favorite trotter, sulky and all."
Baron Munchausen rose up and left the room.
"If they're going to lie I'm going to get out," he said, as he passed through the room.
"What became of Fido?" asked Boswell.
"The sulky killed him," returned Shem, innocently. "He couldn't digest the wheels."
Noah looked approvingly at his son, and, turning to Barnum, observed, quietly:
"What he says is true, and I will go further and say that it is my belief that you would have found the show business impossible if I had taken that sort of creature aboard. You'd have got mightily discouraged after your Antediluvians had chewed up a few dozen steam calliopes, and eaten every other able-bodied exhibit you had managed to secure. I'd have tried to save a couple of Discosaurians if I hadn't supposed they were able to take care of themselves. A combination of sea-serpent and dragon, with a neck twenty-two feet long, it seemed to me, ought to have been able to ride out any storm or fall of rain; but there I was wrong, and I am free to admit my error. It never occurred to me that the sea-serpents were in any danger, so I let them alone, with the result that I never saw but one other, and he was only an illusion due to that unhappy use of stimulants to which, with shocking bad taste, you have chosen to refer."
"I didn't mean to call up unpleasant memories," said Barnum. "I never believed you got half-seas over, anyhow; but, to return to our muttons, why didn't you hand down a few varieties of the Therium family to posterity? There were the Dinotherium and the Megatherium, either one of which would have knocked spots out of any leopard that ever was made, and along side of which even my woolly horse would have paled into insignificance. That's what I can't understand in your selections; with Megatheriums to burn, why save leopards and panthers and other such every-day creatures?"
"What kind of a boat do you suppose I had?" cried Noah. "Do you imagine for a moment that she was four miles on the water-line, with a mile and three-quarters beam? If I'd had a pair of Dinotheriums in the stern of that Ark, she'd have tipped up fore and aft, until she'd have looked like a telegraph-pole in the water, and if I'd put 'em amidships they'd have had to be wedged in so tightly they couldn't move to keep the vessel trim. I didn't go to sea, my friend, for the purpose of being tipped over in mid-ocean every time one of my cargo wanted to shift his weight from one leg to the other."
"It was bad enough with the elephants, wasn't it, papa?" said Shem.
"Yes, indeed, my son," returned the patriarch. "It was bad enough with the elephants. We had to shift our ballast half a dozen times a day to keep the boat from travelling on her beam ends, the elephants moved about so much; and when we came to the question of provender, it took up about nine-tenths of our hold to store hay and peanuts enough to keep them alive and good-tempered. On the whole, I think it's rather late in the day, considering the trouble I took to save anything but myself and my family, to be criticised as I now am. You ought to be much obliged to me for saving any animals at all. Most people in my position would have built a yacht for themselves and family, and let everything else slide."
"That is quite true," observed Raleigh, with a pacificatory nod at Noah. "You were eminently unselfish, and while, with Mr. Barnum, I exceedingly regret that the Saurians and Therii and other tribes were left on the pier when you sailed, I nevertheless think that you showed most excellent judgment at the time."
"He was the only man who had any at all, for that matter," suggested Shem, "and it required all his courage to show it. Everybody was guying him. Sinners stood around the yard all day and every day, criticising the model; one scoffer pretended he thought her a canal- boat, and asked how deep the flood was likely to be on the tow-path, and whether we intended to use mules in shallow water and giraffes in deep; another asked what time allowance we expected to get in a fifteen-mile run, and hinted that a year and two months per mile struck him as being the proper thing--"
"It was far from pleasant," said Noah, tapping his fingers together reflectively. "I don't want to go through it again, and if, as Raleigh suggests, history is likely to repeat herself, I'll sublet the contract to Barnum here, and let him get the chaff."
"It was all right in the end, though, dad," said Shem. "We had the great laugh on 'hoi polloi' the second day out."
"We did, indeed," said Noah. "When we told 'em we only carried first-class passengers and had no room for emigrants, they began to see that the Ark wasn't such an old tub, after all; and a good ninety per cent. of them would have given ten dollars for a little of that time allowance they'd been talking to us about for several centuries."
Noah lapsed into a musing silence, and Barnum rose to leave.
"I still wish you'd saved a Discosaurus," he said. "A creature with a neck twenty-two feet long would have been a gold mine to me. He could have been trained to stand in the ring, and by stretching out his neck bite the little boys who sneak in under the tent and occupy seats on the top row."
"Well, for your sake," said Noah, with a smile, "I'm very sorry; but for my own, I'm quite satisfied with the general results."
And they all agreed that the patriarch had every reason to be pleased with himself.