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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 9
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    It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no
    distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    When one glances at the map the members of the stupendous island
    wilderness of the Pacific seem to crowd upon each other; but no, there is
    no crowding, even in the center of a group; and between groups there are
    lonely wide deserts of sea. Not everything is known about the islands,
    their peoples and their languages. A startling reminder of this is
    furnished by the fact that in Fiji, twenty years ago, were living two
    strange and solitary beings who came from an unknown country and spoke an
    unknown language. "They were picked up by a passing vessel many hundreds
    of miles from any known land, floating in the same tiny canoe in which
    they had been blown out to sea. When found they were but skin and bone.
    No one could understand what they said, and they have never named their
    country; or, if they have, the name does not correspond with that of any
    island on any chart. They are now fat and sleek, and as happy as the day
    is long. In the ship's log there is an entry of the latitude and
    longitude in which they were found, and this is probably all the clue
    they will ever have to their lost homes."--[Forbes's "Two Years in
    Fiji."]

    What a strange and romantic episode it is; and how one is tortured with
    curiosity to know whence those mysterious creatures came, those Men
    Without a Country, errant waifs who cannot name their lost home,
    wandering Children of Nowhere.

    Indeed, the Island Wilderness is the very home of romance and dreams and
    mystery. The loneliness, the solemnity, the beauty, and the deep repose
    of this wilderness have a charm which is all their own for the bruised
    spirit of men who have fought and failed in the struggle for life in the
    great world; and for men who have been hunted out of the great world for
    crime; and for other men who love an easy and indolent existence; and for
    others who love a roving free life, and stir and change and adventure;
    and for yet others who love an easy and comfortable career of trading and
    money-getting, mixed with plenty of loose matrimony by purchase, divorce
    without trial or expense, and limitless spreeing thrown in to make life
    ideally perfect.

    We sailed again, refreshed.

    The most cultivated person in the ship was a young English, man whose
    home was in New Zealand. He was a naturalist. His learning in his
    specialty was deep and thorough, his interest in his subject amounted to
    a passion, he had an easy gift of speech; and so, when he talked about
    animals it was a pleasure to listen to him. And profitable, too, though
    he was sometimes difficult to understand because now and then he used
    scientific technicalities which were above the reach of some of us. They
    were pretty sure to be above my reach, but as he was quite willing to
    explain them I always made it a point to get him to do it. I had a fair
    knowledge of his subject--layman's knowledge--to begin with, but it was
    his teachings which crystalized it into scientific form and clarity--in a
    word, gave it value.

    His special interest was the fauna of Australasia, and his knowledge of
    the matter was as exhaustive as it was accurate. I already knew a good
    deal about the rabbits in Australasia and their marvelous fecundity, but
    in my talks with him I found that my estimate of the great hindrance and
    obstruction inflicted by the rabbit pest upon traffic and travel was far
    short of the facts. He told me that the first pair of rabbits imported
    into Australasia bred so wonderfully that within six months rabbits were
    so thick in the land that people had to dig trenches through them to get
    from town to town.

    He told me a great deal about worms, and the kangaroo, and other
    coleoptera, and said he knew the history and ways of all such
    pachydermata. He said the kangaroo had pockets, and carried its young in
    them when it couldn't get apples. And he said that the emu was as big as
    an ostrich, and looked like one, and had an amorphous appetite and would
    eat bricks. Also, that the dingo was not a dingo at all, but just a wild
    dog; and that the only difference between a dingo and a dodo was that
    neither of them barked; otherwise they were just the same. He said that
    the only game-bird in Australia was the wombat, and the only song-bird
    the larrikin, and that both were protected by government. The most
    beautiful of the native birds was the bird of Paradise. Next came the
    two kinds of lyres; not spelt the same. He said the one kind was dying
    out, the other thickening up. He explained that the "Sundowner" was not
    a bird it was a man; sundowner was merely the Australian equivalent of
    our word, tramp. He is a loafer, a hard drinker, and a sponge. He
    tramps across the country in the sheep-shearing season, pretending to
    look for work; but he always times himself to arrive at a sheep-run just
    at sundown, when the day's labor ends; all he wants is whisky and supper
    and bed and breakfast; he gets them and then disappears. The naturalist
    spoke of the bell bird, the creature that at short intervals all day
    rings out its mellow and exquisite peal from the deeps of the forest. It
    is the favorite and best friend of the weary and thirsty sundowner; for
    he knows that wherever the bell bird is, there is water; and he goes
    somewhere else. The naturalist said that the oddest bird in Australasia
    was the Laughing Jackass, and the biggest the now extinct Great Moa.

    The Moa stood thirteen feet high, and could step over an ordinary man's
    head or kick his hat off; and his head, too, for that matter. He said it
    was wingless, but a swift runner. The natives used to ride it. It could
    make forty miles an hour, and keep it up for four hundred miles and come
    out reasonably fresh. It was still in existence when the railway was
    introduced into New Zealand; still in existence, and carrying the mails.
    The railroad began with the same schedule it has now: two expresses a
    week-time, twenty miles an hour. The company exterminated the moa to get
    the mails.

    Speaking of the indigenous coneys and bactrian camels, the naturalist
    said that the coniferous and bacteriological output of Australasia was
    remarkable for its many and curious departures from the accepted laws
    governing these species of tubercles, but that in his opinion Nature's
    fondness for dabbling in the erratic was most notably exhibited in that
    curious combination of bird, fish, amphibian, burrower, crawler,
    quadruped, and Christian called the Ornithorhynchus--grotesquest of
    animals, king of the animalculae of the world for versatility of
    character and make-up. Said he:

    "You can call it anything you want to, and be right. It is a fish,
    for it lives in the river half the time; it is a land animal, for it
    resides on the land half the time; it is an amphibian, since it
    likes both and does not know which it prefers; it is a hybernian,
    for when times are dull and nothing much going on it buries itself
    under the mud at the bottom of a puddle and hybernates there a
    couple of weeks at a time; it is a kind of duck, for it has a
    duck-bill and four webbed paddles; it is a fish and quadruped
    together, for in the water it swims with the paddles and on shore it
    paws itself across country with them; it is a kind of seal, for it
    has a seal's fur; it is carnivorous, herbivorous, insectivorous, and
    vermifuginous, for it eats fish and grass and butterflies, and in
    the season digs worms out of the mud and devours them; it is clearly
    a bird, for it lays eggs, and hatches them; it is clearly a mammal,
    for it nurses its young; and it is manifestly a kind of Christian,
    for it keeps the Sabbath when there is anybody around, and when
    there isn't, doesn't. It has all the tastes there are except
    refined ones, it has all the habits there are except good ones.

    "It is a survival--a survival of the fittest. Mr. Darwin invented
    the theory that goes by that name, but the Ornithorhynchus was the
    first to put it to actual experiment and prove that it could be
    done. Hence it should have as much of the credit as Mr. Darwin.
    It was never in the Ark; you will find no mention of it there; it
    nobly stayed out and worked the theory. Of all creatures in the
    world it was the only one properly equipped for the test. The Ark
    was thirteen months afloat, and all the globe submerged; no land
    visible above the flood, no vegetation, no food for a mammal to eat,
    nor water for a mammal to drink; for all mammal food was destroyed,
    and when the pure floods from heaven and the salt oceans of the
    earth mingled their waters and rose above the mountain tops, the
    result was a drink which no bird or beast of ordinary construction
    could use and live. But this combination was nuts for the
    Ornithorhynchus, if I may use a term like that without offense.
    Its river home had always been salted by the flood-tides of the sea.
    On the face of the Noachian deluge innumerable forest trees were
    floating. Upon these the Ornithorhynchus voyaged in peace; voyaged
    from clime to clime, from hemisphere to hemisphere, in contentment
    and comfort, in virile interest in the constant change Of scene, in
    humble thankfulness for its privileges, in ever-increasing
    enthusiasm in the development of the great theory upon whose
    validity it had staked its life, its fortunes, and its sacred honor,
    if I may use such expressions without impropriety in connection with
    an episode of this nature.

    "It lived the tranquil and luxurious life of a creature of
    independent means. Of things actually necessary to its existence
    and its happiness not a detail was wanting. When it wished to walk,
    it scrambled along the tree-trunk; it mused in the shade of the
    leaves by day, it slept in their shelter by night; when it wanted
    the refreshment of a swim, it had it; it ate leaves when it wanted a
    vegetable diet, it dug under the bark for worms and grubs; when it
    wanted fish it caught them, when it wanted eggs it laid them. If
    the grubs gave out in one tree it swam to another; and as for fish,
    the very opulence of the supply was an embarrassment. And finally,
    when it was thirsty it smacked its chops in gratitude over a blend
    that would have slain a crocodile.

    "When at last, after thirteen months of travel and research in all
    the Zones it went aground on a mountain-summit, it strode ashore,
    saying in its heart, 'Let them that come after me invent theories
    and dream dreams about the Survival of the Fittest if they like, but
    I am the first that has done it!

    "This wonderful creature dates back like the kangaroo and many other
    Australian hydrocephalous invertebrates, to an age long anterior to
    the advent of man upon the earth; they date back, indeed, to a time
    when a causeway hundreds of miles wide, and thousands of miles long,
    joined Australia to Africa, and the animals of the two countries
    were alike, and all belonged to that remote geological epoch known
    to science as the Old Red Grindstone Post-Pleosaurian. Later the
    causeway sank under the sea; subterranean convulsions lifted the
    African continent a thousand feet higher than it was before, but
    Australia kept her old level. In Africa's new climate the animals
    necessarily began to develop and shade off into new forms and
    families and species, but the animals of Australia as necessarily
    remained stationary, and have so remained until this day. In the
    course of some millions of years the African Ornithorhynchus
    developed and developed and developed, and sluffed off detail after
    detail of its make-up until at last the creature became wholly
    disintegrated and scattered. Whenever you see a bird or a beast or
    a seal or an otter in Africa you know that he is merely a sorry
    surviving fragment of that sublime original of whom I have been
    speaking--that creature which was everything in general and nothing
    in particular--the opulently endowed 'e pluribus unum' of the animal
    world.

    "Such is the history of the most hoary, the most ancient, the most
    venerable creature that exists in the earth today--Ornithorhynchus
    Platypus Extraordinariensis--whom God preserve!"

    When he was strongly moved he could rise and soar like that with ease.
    And not only in the prose form, but in the poetical as well. He had
    written many pieces of poetry in his time, and these manuscripts he lent
    around among the passengers, and was willing to let them be copied. It
    seemed to me that the least technical one in the series, and the one
    which reached the loftiest note, perhaps, was his:

    INVOCATION.

    "Come forth from thy oozy couch,
    O Ornithorhynchus dear!
    And greet with a cordial claw
    The stranger that longs to hear

    "From thy own own lips the tale
    Of thy origin all unknown:
    Thy misplaced bone where flesh should be
    And flesh where should be bone;

    "And fishy fin where should be paw,
    And beaver-trowel tail,
    And snout of beast equip'd with teeth
    Where gills ought to prevail.

    "Come, Kangaroo, the good and true
    Foreshortened as to legs,
    And body tapered like a churn,
    And sack marsupial, i' fegs,

    "And tells us why you linger here,
    Thou relic of a vanished time,
    When all your friends as fossils sleep,
    Immortalized in lime!"

    Perhaps no poet is a conscious plagiarist; but there seems to be warrant
    for suspecting that there is no poet who is not at one time or another an
    unconscious one. The above verses are indeed beautiful, and, in a way,
    touching; but there is a haunting something about them which unavoidably
    suggests the Sweet Singer of Michigan. It can hardly be doubted that the
    author had read the works of that poet and been impressed by them. It is
    not apparent that he has borrowed from them any word or yet any phrase,
    but the style and swing and mastery and melody of the Sweet Singer all
    are there. Compare this Invocation with "Frank Dutton"--particularly
    stanzas first and seventeenth--and I think the reader will feel convinced
    that he who wrote the one had read the other:

    I.

    "Frank Dutton was as fine a lad
    As ever you wish to see,
    And he was drowned in Pine Island Lake
    On earth no more will he be,
    His age was near fifteen years,
    And he was a motherless boy,
    He was living with his grandmother
    When he was drowned, poor boy."

    XVII.

    "He was drowned on Tuesday afternoon,
    On Sunday he was found,
    And the tidings of that drowned boy
    Was heard for miles around.
    His form was laid by his mother's side,
    Beneath the cold, cold ground,
    His friends for him will drop a tear
    When they view his little mound."

    The Sentimental Song Book. By Mrs. Julia Moore, p. 36.
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