I lunched at my lodgings on the Quai Malthus, and I had
but little appetite, having fed upon such an unexpected variety of emotions
during the morning. Now, although I was already heels over head in love,
I do not believe that loss of appetite was the result of that alone. I
was slowly beginning to realize what my recent
attitude might cost me, not only in an utter collapse
of my scientific career, and the consequent material ruin which was likely
to follow, but in the loss of all my friends at home. The Zoological Society
of Bronx Park and the Smithsonian Institution of Washington had sent me
as their trusted delegate, leaving it entirely to me to
choose the subject on which I was to speak before the
International Congress. What, then, would be their attitude when they learned
that I had chosen to uphold the dangerous theory of the existence of the
Would they repudiate me and send another delegate to replace me? Would
they merely wash their hands of me and let me go to my own destruction?
“I will know soon enough,” thought I, “for this morning’s proceedings will
have been cabled to New York ere now, and read at the breakfast-tables
of every old, moss-grown naturalist in America before I see the Countess
d’Alzette this evening.” And I drew from my pocket the roll of paper which
she had given me, and,
lighting a cigar, lay back in my chair to read it.
The manuscript had been beautifully type-written, and I had no trouble
in following her brief, clear account of the circumstances under which
the notorious ux-skin had been obtained. As for the story itself, it was
somewhat fishy, but I manfully swallowed my growing nervousness and comforted
myself with the belief of
Darwin in the existence of the ux, and the subsequent
testimony of Wallace, who simply stated what he had seen through his telescope,
and then left it to others to identify the enormous birds he described
as he had observed them stalking about on the snowy peaks of the Tasmanian
My own knowledge of the ux was confined to a single circumstance. When,
in 1897, I had gone to Tasmania with Professor Farrago, to make a report
on the availability of the so-called “Tasmanian devil,” as a substitute
for the mongoose in the West Indies, I of course heard a great deal of
talk among the natives
concerning the birds which they affirmed haunted the
summits of the mountains.
Our time in Tasmania was too limited to admit of an exploration then. But
although we were perfectly aware that the summits of the Tasmanian Alps
are inaccessible, we certainly should have attempted to gain them had not
the time set for our departure arrived before we had completed the investigation
for which we were
One relic, however, I carried away with me. It was a single greenish bronzed
feather, found high up in the mountains by a native, and sold to me for
a somewhat large sum of money.
Darwin believed the ux to be covered with greenish plumage; Wallace was
too far away to observe the color of the great birds; but all the natives
of Tasmania unite in affirming that the plumage of the ux is green.
It was not only the color of this feather that made me an eager purchaser,
it was the extraordinary length and size. I knew of no living bird large
enough to wear such a feather. As for the color, that might have been tampered
with before I bought it, and, indeed, testing it later, I found on the
fronds traces of sulphate of
copper. But the same thing has been found in the feathers
of certain birds whose color is metallic green, and it has been proven
that such birds pick up and swallow shining bits of copper pyrites.
Why should not the ux do the same thing?
Still, my only reason for believing in the existence of the bird was this
single feather. I had easily proved that it belonged to no known species
of bird. I also proved it to be similar to the tail-feathers of the ux-skin
in Antwerp. But the feathers on the Antwerp specimen were gray, and the
longest of them was but three feet
in length, while my huge, bronze-green feather measured
eleven feet from tip to tip.
One might account for it supposing the Antwerp skin to be that of a young
bird, or of a moulting bird, or perhaps of a different sex from the bird
whose feather I had secured.
Still, these ideas were not proven. Nothing concerning the birds had been
proven. I had but a single fact to lean on, and that was that the feather
I possessed could not have belonged to any known species of bird. Nobody
but myself knew of the existence of this feather. And now I meant to cable
to Bronx Park for it, and to
place this evidence at the disposal of the beautiful
My cigar had gone out, as I sat musing, and I relighted it and resumed
my reading of the type-written notes, lazily, even a trifle sceptically,
for all the evidence that she had been able to collect to substantiate
her theory of the existence of the ux was not half as important as the
evidence I was to produce in the shape of that
enormous green feather.
I came to the last paragraph, smoking serenely, and leaning back comfortably,
one leg crossed over the other. Then, suddenly, my attention became riveted
on the words under my eyes. Could I have read them aright? Could I believe
what I read in ever-growing astonishment which culminated in an excitement
that stirred the very hair on my head?
“The ux exists. There is no longer room for doubt.
Ocular proof I can now offer in the shape of five living eggs of this gigantic
bird. All measures have been taken to hatch these eggs; they are now in
the vast incubator. It is my plan to have them hatch, one by one, under
the very eyes of the International Congress. It will be the greatest triumph
that science has witnessed since the discovery of the New World. [Signed]
I cried out, in uncontrollable excitement— “either that girl is mad or
she is the cleverest woman on earth.”
After a moment I added:
“In either event I am going to marry her.”
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