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    Ch. 5: Some Notes on Cain and Abel

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    My acquaintance with my great-uncles, Cain and Abel, was not particularly intimate and in later years they are seldom spoken of by members of the family for reasons sufficiently obvious to need no mention here. Every family must sooner or later develop an undesirable or two, and on the whole I think that we have done tolerably well in having up to this time only one portrait in our Rogues' Gallery. Just what has become of Cain no one at this writing is aware, but wherever he is I hope when these memoirs of mine are published he will read them far enough to note that one member of the family at least holds him in pleasant recollection for the fun he has afforded him in the past. The two first boys of creation were not bad fellows at all, although as was natural, their bringing up resulted in a general condition of pure cussedness that at times became appalling to their parents. The fact that there had never been any other boys in the world before placed Adam and Eve at a considerable disadvantage in rearing these two youngsters. There were no precedents to go by, and as a consequence the lads were permitted to do a good many things that our modern boys would not dream of doing. There were no schools to send them to, and no Sunday Newspapers with Woman's Pages to instruct Eve in the Complete Science of Motherhood, so that when Cain and Abel came along to bless the world with their presence, neither their father nor their mother knew what on earth to do with them. Then, too, Eve's household duties were such that they very nearly absorbed all her time, and for years the youthful scions of this first family in the land were left to the tender mercies of a kindly old Gorilla who, however amiable and willing she may have been, was hardly the kind of person a modern mother would choose as an influence in the formative years of her children's development. I am quite aware that in some sections of the country to-day this oldtime custom of leaving the young to the care of servants still prevails, and in some cases it has its distinct advantages considering the moral characteristics of the parents who so leave them, but as a social custom to be commended it is an entire failure, and was adopted by Eve not from choice, but from necessity. It was not through any desire to shine in society as a constant attendant at the Five O'Clock teas of her time, or, because she deemed that her duty lay in trying to secure the alleged Emancipation of her Sex from imaginary shackles at the expense of her home life and its responsibilities; or, because she believed that the primary duty of a mother was to provide her offspring with a maternal relative who could expound the most abstruse philosophies of the age with her eyes shut, that led Mother Eve into an apparent neglect of her children. It was simply the inevitable result of the life of her time. One can hardly be all that she had to be whether she wanted to be it or not and at the same time fulfill all the functions of motherhood. The daily labors of a large ranch such as the world practically was at that time were of enormous proportions, and with all due respect to Adam it has always been my profound belief that a good ninety per cent. of them were performed by Eve. It was she who had to look after the domestic details of the hour, day in and day out, while he after the fashion of mankind, led the freer life of the open. Indeed I have never found that in the matter of manual labor Adam was in any wise noted. The naming of the animals was a purely intellectual achievement, and while, of course, he was the provider when it came to getting in the food supply, I have never observed that any man yet created ever regarded a day on a trout stream with a fly and a rod, or a chase through the forest after a venison steak, or a partridge, as in any way even remotely resembling work. On the contrary Adam lived the life of a Naturalist and a Nimrod, while Eve faithfully did the chores. It was inevitable then that the children when they first came along, should be allowed to grow wild, to associate with their inferiors, and to become confirmed in habits that were deplorable and reprehensible. I am entering upon no defense of my Uncle Cain. I do not excuse his misbehavior in the least, but when a censorious world holds up its hands in holy horror whenever he is mentioned, and uses his name as a synonym for evil, I would merely beg it to remember the lad's bringing up, and to ask itself whether under similar conditions it would do much better itself. Particularly do I ask that branch of human society, now growing rather larger than I like to see it, who are themselves allowing their children to grow up, not only removed but far away from all parental influences whatsoever, if they realize that they will have only themselves to blame if they add to the stock of unfortunates who bear the mark of Cain? Of course, a woman who would rather play Bridge than rock her baby to sleep would be a bad influence upon a budding soul at any time, and her child is to be congratulated when its mother's engagement card is full from Sunday to Sunday, but even a mother of that sort owes it to society to see that her place is filled not by any old gorilla from the handiest intelligence office that comes along as poor Eve was forced into doing, but by some capable person in whom the love of motherhood rules as strong as does the passion for the grand-slam in her own breast.

    But enough of this moralizing! I had not meant to preach a sermon, and it is only because I see so many wistful little faces of motherless youngsters around me day after day--Social Orphans, whose mothers have not gone to Heaven, but to Mrs. Grundy's; children who with the qualities of service in their souls are treading dangerously near to the footsteps of the original scapegrace for lack of attention; that I have been led into this garrulous homily. It must not be supposed, either from what I have said that there was never any discipline in the Home of Adam and Eve. Later on there came to be a lot of it, and I am not sure that its excesses in later periods were not as evil in their influence as its utter lack at a time when ten minutes with the hair-brush would have done Cain more good than ten years in the county jail.

    To the world at large these two boys are interesting because of the fact that they introduced humor into the world. Adam never had any, and Eve, as we have seen, was rather too busy to joke, but not so with the youngsters, who, doubtless from their constant association with the monkeys bubbled over with a kind of fun that though necessarily primitive, was quite appealing. It was Cain who invented that immortal riddle, "When is a door not a door?" the true answer being, "when it is a bird." This is as far as I have been able to discover the first thing in the nature of a joke ever known on this planet, though whether it was the one that made the original Hyena laugh I have not been able to ascertain. It is a joke that has appeared in modified form many times since. Even that illustrious pundit, Senator Chauncey M. DeMagog uses it as his most effective peroration at this season's public banquets. I heard him myself get it off at The Egyptian Society Dinner last month, as well as at the Annual Banquet of The Sons and Daughters of the Pre-Adamite Evolution, the month before, changing the answer, however, to "when it's a jar"--which I personally do not consider an improvement, for when a door becomes a jar I must confess I cannot see. A jar, as I understand it, is a vessel, a receptacle, a jug, a sort of demijohn, or decanter that people use to store up water, or to keep the juice of the grape in, like a pitcher, or an amphora; and how by any stretch of the imagination a door could become such a thing is beyond my ken, although I must say that the jest when told by the Senator in his own inimitable way, was received with shouts of laughter every time he got it off. For my own part I think that Cain's version is infinitely more humorous and instructive as well, because a "door is not a door" when it is a "daw," which is, indeed, as Cain's answer to the riddle claims it to be, a bird. It is, of course, a great compliment to Cain that the Senator and a hundred others I might name like him should go back to him for their humor, but I think they would do better if they took his jests exactly as they found them instead of trying to improve them to their destruction.

    I find also in our family records that it was Abel who first asked the question, "Why is an elephant like an oyster? Because it cannot climb a tree," a jest that similarly to Cain's riddle, possesses not only true humor but is at the same time educational, as the best humor must always be, in that it teaches the young certain indubitable facts in the Science of Natural History, viz., that neither the pachyderm nor the bivalve, in common with several other carnivorous botanical specimens, is gifted similarly to the squirrel, the ant, or the grizzly bear.

    Mother Eve, who always took a naïve delight in the droll sayings of her offspring, used to tell with great glee of Cain's persistent habit of asking questions of his father, some of which used to tax all the old gentleman's powers of invention to answer intelligently. One of these that I recall most vividly was as follows:

    "Say, Pa," said Cain, one Saturday afternoon, when the whole family were off on a picnic together, "did you have any sisters?"

    "No, my son," replied Adam, plucking a bottle of olives from a neighboring tree, and placing them on the outspread table-cloth on the grass.

    "Well, did Ma have any sisters?" persisted Cain.

    "No," said Adam. "Your mother had no sisters, either. Why do you ask?"

    "Oh, nothin'," replied the lad with a puzzled expression coming over his face as he scratched his back. "I was just wonderin' where the Ants came from."

    * * * * * * *

    It was Abel on the other hand who asked his father why he had not named the male ants uncles, a question that to this day has not been satisfactorily answered. Indeed I have frequently found myself regretting that there was nobody at hand to ask Adam these very pertinent questions earlier in his life, and before it was too late to instil in his mind the idea that a little more consistency would be desirable in his selection of names for the creatures he was called upon to christen. Zoölogy might have been a far simpler science in the matter of nomenclature than it is now ever likely to become, had Adam been surrounded at the beginning with inquiring minds like those of Cain and Abel, not necessarily to dispute his conclusions or his judgments, but to seek explanations. Why, for instance, should a creature that is found chiefly on the Nile, and never under any circumstances on the Rhine, be called a Rhinoceros? And why should a Caribou be called a Caribou entirely irrespective of its sex? There are Caribou of both sexes, when we might have had Caribou for one and Billibou for the other, and yet Adam has feminized the whole Bou family with no apparent thought about the matter at all. Then there is the animal which he called the Bear. He is not bare at all--on the contrary he wears the shaggiest coat of all the animals, except possibly the Buffalo, who, by the way, is not buff, but a rather dirty dull brownish black in color. The Panther does not wear pants, and the Monkey far from suggesting the habits of a Monk is a roystering, philanderous old rounder that would disgrace a heathen temple, much less adorn a Monastery. And finally if there is anything lower than a Hyena, or less coy than a Coyote, I don't know what it is.

    There is considerable evidence in Mother Eve's Garden Book, in which she jotted down now and then little notes of her daily life that most of these points, or at least similar ones, were brought to Adam's attention at one time or another by his sons, and not always in a way that was pleasing to him. Indeed, as we read these notes we observe a growing tendency on Adam's part to be irritated by the enquiries which seem to have formed an inevitable part of the family conversation. At random I select the following:

    August 3rd, 5569. Cain spanked and put to bed without his supper for asking his father why he had not called the male Kangaroo a Kangarooster.

    September 5th, 5567. Cain sentenced to the wood-pile for four hours for enquiring of Adam why he called the Yak a Yak when everybody knew he looked more like a Yap. Adam is getting very nervous under this persistent questioning.

    January 4th, 5565. Adam has just retired to the wood-shed with poor Abel on what he termed a "whaling-expedition," to explain why he had named the elephant of the sea a whale instead of a sealephant. I judge from Abel's blubbering that his father is giving him an object lesson in the place where it is most likely to impress itself forcibly on his understanding, though I must say I think the child's idea a rather good one, and I often wish my dear husband would not be so sensitive on the subject of his possible mistakes.

    May 25th, 5563. Adam has forbidden the children to ask any more questions about the names of the animals, Cain having exasperated him by asking how much a guinea was worth.

    "About five dollars," said Adam.

    "Gee!" cried Cain. "You must have got stung on the guinea-pigs, then. They're dear at a dollar a dozen."

    * * * * * * *

    It may interest modern readers who seem to have created a demand for what is known as the Mother-in-Law joke that this style of humor found its origin in an early remark of Abel's, if his mother's Diary is to be believed. A visitor once interrupted him in the midst of a ball game that he was playing with Cain and a number of his Simian friends, to ask him how his grandmother was.

    "Never had one," replied Abel, with a grin.

    "Poor boy," sympathized the visitor. "And don't you wish you had?"

    "Yes," said Abel. "I think a Mother-in-Law around the house would have done Pa good!"

    I will close my remarks concerning these famous boys with a little poem which their mother had clipped from an Egyptian paper and pasted in her book. It seems to me to be a pretty accurate picture of two very interesting figures in our family history.

    I don't suppose that Cain and Abel Were very mannerly at table. From what I've read by those that knew 'em They'd speak when none had spoken to 'em, And in a manner unbefittin' Upon their shoulders they'd be sittin', And sundry dinosaurs be treating With scraps the while themselves were eating. I fear they smacked their lips while pickin' The bones of tarpon and spring chicken, And each the other would be hazin' To see who got the final raisin. The notion in my brain-pan lingers They ate their flapjacks with their fingers-- Not that their mother fair assented, But knives and forks were not invented. When there was pie, I fear they grabbed it, Unless their Pa'd already nabbed it; And that in fashion most unmoral O'er cakes and puddings they would quarrel. I don't believe that either chapkin E'er thought at lunch to fold his napkin, And if one biscuit graced the platter 'Twas ever less than fighting matter, Or if they'd beans--no doubt they had 'em-- They failed to snap a few at Adam. I fear me as they ate their salade They hummed some raw primeval ballad, And when the Serpent came to dinner, They made remarks about the sinner. No doubt they criticised the cooking And hooked the fruit when none was looking, And when they'd soup--O my! O Deary! The very notion makes me weary. About these youngsters let's stop writing And turn to subjects more inviting!

    I have never been able to ascertain the authorship of this poem, but if the poet ever sees this I hope he will be glad to know that I heartily agree with Mother Eve's memorandum written underneath the clipping in her book,

    "I guess this scribe has had boys of his own!"
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