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    Ch. 7: The International Marine and Zoo Flotation Company

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    I have never yet been quite able to make up my mind with any degree of definiteness in regard to the sanity of my son Noah. In many respects he is a fine fellow. His moral character is beyond reproach, and I have never caught him in any kind of a wilful deception such as many parents bewail in their offspring, and I know that he has no bad habits. He has no liking for cigarette smoking, and he keeps good company and good hours. His sons Shem, Ham and Japhet, are great favorites with all of us, and as far as mere respectability goes there is no family in the land that stands higher than his, but the complete obsession of his mind by this International Marine and Zoo Flotation Company of his is entirely beyond my comprehension, and his attempts to explain it to me are futile, because its utter impracticability, and the reasons advanced for its use seem so absurd that I lose my temper before he gets half way through the first page of his prospectus. From his boyhood up he has been fond of the water, and when the bath-tub was first invented we did not have to drive him to it, as most parents have to do with most boys, but on the contrary we had all we could do to keep him away from it. I don't think any one in my household for five hundred years was able to take a bath on any night of the week without first having to clear away from the tub the evidence of Noah's interest in marine matters. Nothing in the world seemed to delight his spirit more as a child than to fill the tub full of water, turn on the shower at its fullest speed, and play what he called flood in it, with a shingle or a chip, or if he could not find either of these, with a floating leaf. Many a time I have found him long after he was supposed to have gone to bed sitting on the bath-room floor singing a roysterous nautical song like "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep," or "A Life On the Ocean Wave," while he pushed a floating soap dish filled with ants, spiders and lady-bugs up and down that overflowing tub; and later in his life, when more manly sports would seem to be more to any one's tastes, while his playmates were out in the open chasing the Discosaurus over the hills, or trapping Pterodactyls in the bull-rushes, he would go off by himself into the woods where he had erected what he called his ship-yard, and whittle out gondolas, canoes, battle-ships, arks and other marine craft day in and day out until one could hardly walk in the dark without stubbing his toe on some kind of a boat. I recall once coming upon him on the farther slopes of Mount Ararat, putting the finishing touches to as graceful a cat-boat as any one ever saw--a thing that would have excited the envy of mariners in all parts of the world, but in spite of my admiration for his handicraft, it worried me more than I can say when I thought of all the labor he had expended on such a work miles away from any kind of a water course. It did not seem to square with my ideas as to what constituted sense.

    "It is very beautiful, my son," I observed, after inspecting the vessel carefully for a few moments. "Her lines are perfect, and the model indicates that she will prove a speedy proposition, but it seems to me that you have left out one of the most important features of a permanently successful sailing vessel."

    Noah looked at me patronizingly, and shrugged his shoulders as much as to inquire what on earth I knew about boat-building.

    "If you refer either to the bowsprit or to the flying balloon-jib," he replied coldly, and acting generally as if he were very much bored, "you are entirely wrong. This isn't a sloop, or a catamaran, or a caravel. Neither is it a government transport, an ocean gray-hound, or a ram. It's just a cat-boat, nothing more."

    "No," said I. "I refer to nothing of the sort. I don't know much about boats, but I know enough to be aware without your telling me, that this affair is not a battle-ship, tug, collier, brig, lugger, barge or gravy-boat. Neither is it a dhow, gig or skiff. But that does not affect the validity of my criticism that you have forgotten an important factor in her successful use as a sailing craft."

    "What is it?" he demanded, curtly.

    "An ocean," said I. "How the dickens do you expect to sail a boat like that off here in the woods, where there isn't enough water to float a parlor-match?"

    He laughed quietly as I advanced this objection, and for the first time in his life gave evidence of the haunting idea that later took complete possession of his mind.

    "Time enough for that," said he. "There'll be more ocean around here some day than you can keep off with a million umbrellas, and don't you forget it."

    Somehow or other his reply irritated me. The idea seemed so preposterously absurd. How on earth he ever expected to get an ocean out there, half way up the summit of our highest mountain, no sane person could imagine, and I turned the vials of my wrathful satire upon him.

    "You ought to start a Ferry Company from the Desert of Sahara to the top of Mount Ararat," I observed, as dryly as I knew how.

    "The notion is not new," he replied instantly. "I have already given the matter some thought, and it isn't impossible that the thing will be done before I get through. There will be a demand for such a thing all right some day, but whether it will be a permanent demand is the question."

    It may interest the public to know that it was at this period that I invented a term that has since crept into the language as a permanent figure of speech. Speaking to my wife on the subject of the day's adventure that very evening, after I had expressed my determination to apply for the appointment of a Commission De Lunatico Enquirendo on Noah's behalf, she endeavored to quiet my anxiety on the score of his good sense by saying:

    "Don't worry, dear. He is very serious in this matter. He has always had a great storm in his mind ever since he was a baby."

    "I guess it's a brain-storm," I interjected contemptuously, for I could not then, and I cannot now conceive of any kind of a shower that will make the boy's habit of building caravels in the middle of ten-acre lots, and submarines on fifteen-by-twenty fish ponds, and schooner yachts on mill-dams only three feet deep at high tide a reasonable bit of procedure.

    Occasionally one of my neighbors would call upon me to remark somewhat critically on this strange predilection of my son, and several of them advised me to take the matter seriously in hand before it was too late.

    "If you lived on the seaboard, it would be a fine thing to have such a son," they said, "but off here in the lumber district it would be far more to the point if he went in for the breeding of camels, or some other useful vehicle of transportation, instead of constructing ferry-boats that never can be launched, and building arks in a spot where the nearest approach to an ocean is a leak in the horse-trough."

    I could not but admit that there was justice in these criticisms, but when it came to the point I never felt that I could justify myself in interfering with the boy's hobby until it was too late, and the lad having passed his three hundredth birthday, was no longer subject to parental discipline. I reasoned it out that after all it was better that he should be building dories and canal-boats out under the apple trees, and having what he called "a caulking good time," in an innocent way, than spending his time running up and down the Great White Way, between supper-time and breakfast, making night hideous with riotous songs, as many youths of his own age were doing; and when our family physician once tried to get him to join a football eleven at the Enochsville High School in order to get this obsession of a deluge out of his mind, I was not a little impressed by the impertinent pertinence of his ready answer.

    "No rush-line for mine, Doctor," he said, firmly. "I'd rather have water on the brain than on the knee."

    I had hoped that as the years passed on he would outgrow not only his conviction of the imminence of a disastrous deluge by which the world would be overwhelmed, and the predilection for nautical construction that the belief had bred in him, but alas for all human expectation, it grew upon him, instead of waning, as I had hoped. Our prosperous farm was given over entirely to the demands of his ship-yard, and when his sons, Shem, Ham and Japhet came along he directed all their education along lines of seamanship. He fed them even in their tender years upon hard-tack and grog. Up to the time when they were two hundred years old he made them sleep in their cradles, which he kept rocking continuously so that they would get used to the motion, and would be able to go to sea when the time came without suffering from sea-sickness. All clocks were thrust bodily out of his house, and if anybody ever stopped at the farm to inquire the time of day he was informed that it was "twenty minutes past six bells," or "nineteen minutes of three bells," or some other unmeaning balderdash according to the position of the sun. When the farmhouse needed painting, instead of renewing the soft and lovely white that had made it a grateful sight to the eye for centuries, Noah had it covered with pitch from roof to cellar, until the whole neighborhood began to smell like a tar barrel. And then he began his work upon this precious ark of his--Noah's Folly, the neighbors called it; placed in the middle of our old cow-pasture, twenty-five miles from the sea; about as big as a summer hotel, and filled with stalls instead of state-rooms! He mortgaged the farm to pay the first instalment on it, and when I asked him how on earth he ever expected to liquidate the indebtedness he smilingly replied that the deluge would take care of everything that stood in need of liquidation when the date of maturity came round. He was even flippant on the subject.

    "Don't talk about falling dew," he remarked. "There'll be something dewing around here before many days that will make you landlubbers wish your rubbers were eight or nine million sizes larger than the ones you bought last February; and as for liquidation--well, father dear, you can take my word for it that when this mortgage of mine is presented at my office for payment by its present holder there will be liquid enough around to float a new bond issue in case I can't pay in spot cash. If that is not satisfactory to my creditors, you still need not worry. I have a definite fund in mind that will take care of them."

    "That is a relief," said I, innocently. "But may I ask what fund you refer to?"

    "Certainly, father dear," he replied. "I refer to the Sinking Fund which will be in full working order the minute the deluge arrives."

    This was about all the satisfaction I was ever able to get out of my son on the subject of his Ark, and after two or three hundred years I stopped arguing with him on the futile extravagance of his course. As we have seen in the last chapter of my memoirs, I did write a bit of verse on the subject which made him very angry, but beyond that I did nothing, and then the great scandal came!

    It was the blackest hour of my life when it came to be rumored in and about Enochsville that Noah, now grown to independent estate, had method in his madness, and was about to embark upon a questionable financial enterprise. One of the yellow journals of the day--for we had them even then, although they were not put forth from printing presses, but displayed on board fences in scare-head letters six or eight feet high--one of the yellow journals of the day, I say, issued a muck-raking Extra, exposing what it termed The International Marine and Zoo Flotation Company, and most unfortunately there was just enough truth in the story in so far as its details went, to lend color to its sensational accusations. It could not be denied, as was stated in The Enochsville Evening Gad, that Noah had built a large, unwieldy vessel of his own designing in the old pasture up back of our Enochsville farm, miles away from tide-level. That it resembled what The Gad called a cross between a cow-barn and a Lehigh Valley Coal-Barge, was evident to anybody who had merely glanced at it. But what was its apparent purpose? asked the reporter of The Gad. Stated to be the housing of a menagerie during a projected cruise of forty-odd days! "What philanthropy!" ejaculated the editor of The Gad. What a kindly old soul was the projector of this wonderful enterprise, that he should take a couple of tired old elephants off on a Mediterranean trip out of the sheer kindness of his heart! Was it not the acme of generosity for a man who had lately been so hard up that he had mortgaged his farm to go to the expense of building a huge floating barge on which the gorillas, giraffes, and rhinoceri of the land, having lately shown signs of enfeebled health, might take a winter's trip to the Riviera, or to the recuperative sands of the Sahara?

    The article was indeed a scathing arraignment, a masterpiece of ridicule, but as it went on it became even worse, for it now got down to the making of serious charges against my son's integrity.

    "Such are the alleged purposes of this project," said The Gad. "Let us now consider its real purpose, far more insidious than any one has hitherto suspected, but which is now seen to be that of separating the widows and orphans of this land from their accumulated savings, and diverting them into the pockets of Noah and his family!"

    I thought I should sink through the floor when this met my eyes, and I was appalled when I read on and realized how many thousands of people would believe the plausible tale of villany The Gad had managed to construct out of a few innocent facts. Noah's plan was in brief stated to be a scheme for the impoverishment of innocent investors, by selling them shares of stock, both common and preferred, in his International Marine and Zoo Flotation Company. According to the writer of this infamous libel, immediately the vessel was finished at a cost of about $79.50, it was Noah's intention to incorporate his enterprise with himself as President and Treasurer, and Shem, Ham and Japhet as his Board of Directors, the capital being placed at the enormous sum of $100,000,000.

    "This capitalization," said the exposure, "will be divided into fifty millions of preferred stock, and fifty millions of common, all of which will be sold to the public at par; subject to a first mortgage already existing, and held by Noah and his sons, which it is intended to foreclose, and the company reorganized, the minute the $100,000,000 of the public's money has passed into the treasurer's hands.

    "Talk about your deluge!" continued the article. "This is indeed the biggest thing in deluges this little old world has ever known. The Preadamite Steel Trust is a dewdrop alongside of it. Noah gets the salvage, but the people get the water!"

    * * * * * * *

    Such was the attitude of the public toward my son's great project, and all I could ever get him to say in reply to these and other equally nefarious charges was, while he had intended to have quarters for every kind of beast on board his boat, he had now definitely decided to leave out Mastodons, Muck-Rakers and Yellow Journalists!

    Verily there seems to be some foundation to the belief that devotion to the life of a seaman makes a man callous to assaults on his personal reputation!
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