At nine o’clock in the evening, July 31, 1900, the International
Congress was to assemble in the great lecture-hall of the Belgian Scientific
Pavilion, which adjourned the Tasmanian Pavilion, to hear the Countess
Suzanne d’Alzette read her paper on the ux.
That morning the Countess and I, with five furniture vans, had transported
the five great incubators to the platform of the lecture-hall, and had
engaged an army of plumbers and gas-fitters to make the steam-heating connections
necessary to maintain in the incubators a temperature of 100? Fahrenheit.
A heavy green curtain hid the stage from the body of the lecture-hall.
Behind this curtain the five enormous eggs reposed, each in its incubator.
The Countess Suzanne was excited and calm by turns, her cheeks were pink,
her lips scarlet, her eyes bright as blue planets at midnight.
Without faltering she rehearsed her discourse before me, reading from her
type-written manuscript in a clear voice, in which I could scarcely discern
a tremor. Then we went through the dumb show of exhibiting the uxen eggs
to a frantically applauding audience; she responded to countless supposititious
encores, I leading
her out repeatedly before the green curtain to face the
great, damp, darkened auditorium.
Then, in response to repeated imaginary recalls, she rehearsed the extemporaneous
speech, thanking the distinguished audience for their patience in listening
to an unknown confrère, and confessing her obligations to me (here
I appeared and bowed in self-abasement) for my faith in her and my aid
in securing for her a
public hearing before the most highly educated audience
in the world.
After that we retired behind the curtain to sit on an empty box and eat
sandwiches and watch the last lingering plumbers pasting up the steam connections
with a pot of molten lead.
The plumbers were Americans, brought to Paris to make repairs on the American
buildings during the exposition, and we conversed with them affably as
they pottered about, plumber-like, poking under the flooring with lighted
candles, rubbing their thumbs up and down musty old pipes, and prying up
planks in dark
They informed us that they were union men and that they hoped we were too.
And I replied that union was certainly my ultimate purpose, at which the
young Countess smiled dreamily at vacancy.
We did not dare leave the incubators. The plumbers lingered on, hour after
hour, while we sat and watched the little silver thermometers, and waited.
It was time for the Countess Suzanne to dress, and still the plumbers had
not finished; so I sent a messenger for her maid, to bring her trunk to
the lecture-hall, and I
despatched another messenger to my lodgings for my evening
clothes and fresh linen.
There were several dressing-rooms off the stage. Here, about six o’clock,
the Countess retired with her maid, to dress, leaving me to watch the plumbers
and the thermometers.
When the Countess Suzanne returned, radiant and lovely in an evening gown
of black lace, I gave her the roses I had brought for her and hurried off
to dress in my turn, leaving her to watch the thermometers.
I was not absent more than half an hour, but when I returned I found the
Countess anxiously conversing with the plumbers and pointing despairingly
at the thermometers, which now registered only 95?.
“You must keep up the temperature!” I said. “Those eggs are due to hatch
within a few hours. What’s the trouble with the heat ?”
The plumber did not know, but thought the connections were defective.
“But that’s why we called you in!” exclaimed the Countess. “Can’t you fix
“Oh, we’ll fix things, lady,” replied the plumber, condescendingly, and
he ambled away to rub his thumb up and down a pipe.
As we alone were unable to move and handle the enormous eggs, the Countess,
whose sweet character was a stranger to vindictiveness or petty resentment,
had written to the members of the ornithological committee, revealing the
marvellous fortune which had crowned her efforts in the search for evidence
to sustain her
theory concerning the ux, and inviting these gentlemen
to aid her in displaying the great eggs to the assembled congress.
This she had done the night previous. Every one of the gentlemen invited
had come post-haste to her “hotel,” to view the eggs with their own sceptical
and astonished eyes; and the fair young Countess and I tasted our first
triumph in her cellar, whither we conducted Sir Peter Grebe, the Crown-Prince
of Monaco, Baron de
Becasse, and his Majesty King Christian of Finland.
Scepticism and incredulity gave place to excitement and unbounded enthusiasm.
The old King embraced the Countess; Baron de Becasse attempted to kiss
me; Sir Peter Grebe made a handsome apology for his folly and vowed that
he would do open penance for his sins. The poor Crown-Prince, who was of
temperament, sat on the cellar-stairs and wept like a
His grief at his own pig-headedness touched us all profoundly.
So it happened that these gentlemen were coming tonight to give their aid
to us in moving the priceless eggs, and lend their countenance and enthusiastic
support to the young Countess in her maiden effort.
Sir Peter Grebe arrived first, all covered with orders and decorations,
and greeted us affectionately, calling the Countess the “sweetest lass
in France,” and me his undutiful Yankee cousin who had landed feet foremost
at the expense of the British Empire.
The King of Finland, the Crown-Prince, and Baron de Becasse arrived together,
a composite mass of medals, sashes, and academy palms. To see them moving
boxes about, straightening chairs, and pulling out rugs reminded me of
those golden-embroidered gentlemen who run out into the arena and roll
up carpets after the
acrobats have finished their turn in the Nouveau Cirque.
I was aiding the King of Finland to move a heavy keg of nails, when the
Countess called out to me in alarm, saying that the thermometers had dropped
to 80? Fahrenheit.
I spoke sharply to the plumbers, who were standing in a circle behind the
dressing-rooms; but they answered sullenly that they could do no more work
that day. Indignant and alarmed, I ordered them to come out to the stage,
and, after some hesitation, they filed out, a sulky, silent lot of workmen,
with their tools already
gathered up and tied in their kits. At once I noticed
that a new man had appeared among them—a red-faced, stocky man wearing
a frock-coat and a shiny silk hat.
“Who is the master-workman here?” I asked.
“I am,” said a man in blue overalls.
“Well,” said I, “why don’t you fix those steam-fittings?”
There was a silence. The man in the silk hat smirked.
“Well?” said I.
“Come, come, that’s all right,” said the man in the silk hat. “These men
know their business without you tellin’ them.”
“Who are you?” I demanded, sharply.
“Oh, I’m just a walkin’ delegate,” he replied, with a sneer. “There’s a
strike in New York and I come over here to tie this here exposition up.
“You mean to say you won’t let these men finish their work?” I asked, thunderstruck.
“That’s about it, young man,” he said, coolly.
Furious, I glanced at my watch, then at the thermometers, which now registered
only 75?. Already I could hear the first-comers of the audience arriving
in the body of the hall. Already a stage-hand was turning up the footlights
and dragging chairs and tables hither and thither.
“What will you take to stay and attend to those steam-pipes?” I demanded,
“It can’t be done nohow,” observed the man in the silk hat. “That New York
strike is good for a month yet.” Then, turning to the workmen, he nodded
and, to my horror, the whole gang filed out after him, turning deaf ears
to my entreaties and threats.
There was a deathly silence, then Sir Peter exploded into a vivid shower
of words. The Countess, pale as a ghost, gave me a heart-breaking look.
The Crown-Prince wept.
“Great Heaven!” I cried; “the thermometers have fallen to 70?!”
The King of Finland sat down on a chair and pressed his hands over his
eyes. Baron de Becasse ran round and round, uttering subdued and plaintive
screams; Sir Peter swore steadily.
“Gentlemen,” I cried, desperately, “we must save those eggs! They are on
the very eve of hatching! Who will volunteer?”
“To do what?” moaned the Crown-Prince.
“I’ll show you,” I exclaimed, running to the incubators and beckoning to
the Baron to aid me.
In a moment we had rolled out the great egg, made a nest on the stage floor
with the bales of cotton-wool, and placed the egg in it. One after another
we rolled out the remaining eggs, building for each its nest of cotton;
and at last the five enormous eggs lay there in a row behind the green
“Now,” said I, excitedly, to the King, “you must get up on that egg and
try to keep it warm.”
The King began to protest, but I would take no denial, and presently his
Majesty was perched up on the great egg, gazing foolishly about at the
others, who were now all climbing up on their allotted eggs.
“Great Heaven!” muttered the King, as Sir Peter settled down comfortably
on his egg, “I am willing to give life and fortune for the sake of science,
but I can’t bear to hatch out eggs like a bird!”
The Crown-Prince was now sitting patiently beside the Baron de Becasse.
“I feel in my bones,” he murmured, “that I’m about to hatch something.
Can’t you hear a tapping on the shell of your egg, Baron?”
“Parbleu!” replied the Baron. “The shell is moving under me.”
It certainly was; for, the next moment, the Baron fell into his egg with
a crash and a muffled shriek, and floundered out, dripping, yellow as a
“N’importe!” he cried, excitedly. “Allons! Save the eggs! Hurrah! Vive
la science!” And he scrambled up on the fourth egg and sat there, arms
folded, sublime courage transfiguring him from head to foot.
We all gave him a cheer, which was hushed as the stage-manager ran in,
warning us that the audience was already assembled and in place.
“You’re not going to raise the curtain while we’re sitting, are you?” demanded
the King of Finland, anxiously.
“No, no,” I said; “sit tight, your Majesty. Courage, gentlemen! Our vindication
is at hand!”
The Countess glanced at me with startled eyes; I took her hand, saluted
it respectfully, and then quietly led her before the curtain, facing an
ocean of upturned faces across the flaring footlights.
She stood a moment to acknowledge the somewhat ragged applause, a calm
smile on her lips. All her courage had returned; I saw that at once. Very
quietly she touched her lips to the eau-sucrée, laid her manuscript
on the table, raised her beautiful head, and began:
“That the ux is a living bird I am here before you to prove—”
A sharp report behind the curtain drowned her voice. She paled; the audience
rose amid cries of excitement.
“What was it?” she asked, faintly.
“Sir Peter has hatched out his egg,” I whispered. “Hark! There goes another
egg!” And I ran behind the curtain.
Such a scene as I beheld was never dreamed of on land or sea. Two enormous
young uxen, all over gigantic pin-feathers, were wandering stupidly about.
Mounted on one was Sir Peter Grebe, eyes starting from his apoplectic visage;
on the other, clinging to the bird’s neck, hung the Baron de Becasse.
Before I could move, the two remaining eggs burst, and a pair of huge,
scrawny fledgelings rose among the debris, bearing off on their backs the
King and Crown-Prince.
“Help!” said the King of Finland, faintly. “I’m falling off!”
I sprang to his aid, but tripped on the curtain-spring. The next instant
the green curtain shot up, and there revealed to that vast and distinguished
audience, roamed four enormous chicks, bearing on their hacks the most
respected and exclusive aristocracy of Europe.
The Countess Suzanne turned with a little shriek of horror, then sat down
in her chair, laid her lovely head on the table, and very quietly fainted
away, unconscious of the frantic cheers which went roaring to the roof.
This, then, is the true history of the famous exposition scandal. And,
as I have said, had it not been for the presence in that audience of two
American reporters nobody would have known what all the world now knows—nobody
would have read of the marvellous feats of bareback riding indulged in
by the King of
Finland— nobody would have read how Sir Peter Grebe steered
his mount safely past the footlights only to come to grief over the prompter’s
But this is scandal. And, as for the charming Countess Suzanne d’Alzette,
the public has heard all that it is entitled to hear, and much that it
is not entitled to hear.
However, on second thoughts, perhaps the public is entitled to hear a little
more. I will therefore say this much—the shock of astonishment which stunned
me when the curtain flew up, revealing the King-bestridden uxen, was nothing
to the awful blow which smote me when the Count d’Alzette leaped from the
over the footlights, and bore away with him the fainting
form of his wife, the lovely Countess d’Alzette.
I sometimes wonder—but, as I have repeatedly observed, this dull and pedantic
narrative of fact is no vehicle for sentimental soliloquy. It is, then,
merely sufficient to say that I took the earliest steamer for kinder shores,
spurred on to haste by a venomous cablegram from the Smithsonian, repudiating
me, and by another
from Bronx Park, ordering me to spend the winter in some
inexpensive, poisonous, and unobtrusive spot, and make a collection of
The island of Java appeared to me to be as poisonously unobtrusive and
inexpensive a region as I had ever heard of; a steamer sailed from Antwerp
for Batavia in twenty-four hours. Therefore, as I say, I took the night-train
for Brussels, and the steamer from Antwerp the following evening.
Of my uneventful voyage, of the happy and successful quest, there is little
to relate. The Javanese are frolicsome and hospitable. There was a girl
there with features that were as delicate as though chiselled out of palest
amber, and I remember she wore a most wonderful jewelled, helmet-like head-dress,
bangles on her ankles, and when she danced she made most
graceful and poetic gestures with her supple wrists—but that has nothing
to do with isopods, absolutely nothing.
Letters from home came occasionally. Professor Farrago had returned to
the Bronx and had been re-elected to the high office he had so nobly held
when I first became associated with him.
Through his kindness and by his advice I remained for several years in
the Far East, until a letter from him arrived recalling me and also announcing
his own hurried and sudden departure for Florida. He also mentioned my
promotion to the office of subcurator of department; so I started on my
homeward voyage very much
pleased with the world, and arrived in New York on April
1, 1904, ready for a rest to which I believed myself entitled. And the
first thing that they handed me was a letter from Professor Farrago, summoning