The Eggs of the 

Silver Moom

by Robert W. Chambers
In the new white marble Administration Building at Bronx Park, my private office separated the offices of Dr.  Silas Quint and Professor Boomly; and it had been arranged so on purpose, because of the increasingly frequent personal misunderstanding between these two celebrated entomologists.  It was very plain to me that a crisis in this quarrel was rapidly approaching. 
          A bitter animosity had for some months existed on both sides, born of the most intense professional jealousy.  They had been friends for years.  No unseemly rivalry disturbed this friendship as long as it was merely a question of collecting, preparing, and mounting for exhibition the vast numbers of butterflies and moths which haunt this insectivorous earth.  Even their zeal in the eternal hunt for new and undescribed species had not made them enemies. 
          I am afraid that my suggestion for the construction of a great glass flying-cage for living specimens of moths and butterflies started the trouble between these hitherto godly and middle-aged men.  That, and the Carnegie Educational Medal were the causes which began this deplorable affair. 
          Various field collectors, employed by both Quint and Boomly, were always out all over the world foraging for specimens; also, they were constantly returning with spoils from every quarter of the globe. 
          Now, to secure rare and beautiful living specimens of butterflies and moths for the crystal flying-cage was a serious and delicate job.  Such tropical insects could not survive the journey of several months from the wilds of Australia, India, Asia, Africa, or the jungles of South America—nor could semi-tropical species endure the captivity of a few weeks or even days, when captured in the West Indies, Mexico, or Florida.  Only our duller-coloured, smaller, and hardier native species tolerated capture and exhibition. 
          Therefore, the mode of procedure which I suggested was for our field expeditions to obtain males and females of the same species of butterfly or moth, mate them, and, as soon as any female deposited her eggs, place the tiny pearl-like eggs in cold storage to retard their hatching, which normally occurs, in the majority of species, within ten days or two weeks. 
          This now was the usual mode of procedure followed by the field collectors employed by Dr.  Quint and Professor Boomly.  And not only were the eggs of various butterflies and moths so packed for transportation, but a sufficient store of their various native food-plants was also preserved, where such food-plants could not be procurred in the United States.  So when the eggs arrived at Bronx Park, and were hatched there in due time, the young caterpillars had plenty of nourishment ready for them in cold storage. 
          Might I not, legitimately, have expected the Carnegie Educational Medal for all this? I have never received it.  I say this without indignation—even without sorrow.  I merely make the statement. 
          Yet, my system was really a very beautiful system; a tiny batch of eggs would arrive from Ceylon, or Sumatra, or Africa; when taken from cold storage and placed in the herbarium they would presently hatch; the caterpillars were fed with their accustomed food-plant—a few leaves being taken from cold storage every day for them—they would pass through their three or four moulting periods, cease feeding in due time, transform into the chrysalis stage, and finally appear in all the splendour and magnificence of butterfly or moth. 
          The great glass flying-cage was now alive with superb moths and butterflies, flitting, darting, fluttering among the flowering bushes or feeding along the sandy banks of the brook which flowed through the flying-cage, bordered by thickets of scented flowers.  And it was like looking at a meteoric shower of winged jewels, where the huge metallic-blue Morphos from South America flapped and sailed, and; the orange and gold and green Ornithoptera from Borneo pursued their majestic, bird-like flight—where big, glittering Papilios flashed through the bushes or alighted nervously to feed for a few moments on jasmine and phlox, and where the slowly flopping Heliconians winged their way amid the denser tangles of tropical vegetation. 
          Nothing like this flying-cage had ever before been seen in New York; thousands and thousands of men, women, and children thronged the lawn about the flying-cage all day long. 
          By night, also, the effect was wonderful; the electric lights among the foliage broke out; the great downy-winged moths, which had been asleep all day while the butterflies flitted through the sunshine, now came out to display their crimson or peacock-spotted wings, and the butterflies folded their wings and went to bed for the night. 
          The public was enchanted, the authorities of the Bronx proud and delighted; all apparently was happiness and harmony.  Except that nobody offered me the Carnegie medal. 
          I was sitting one morning in my office, which, as I have said, separated the offices of Dr.  Quint and Professor Boomly, when there came a loud rapping on my door, and, at my invitation, Dr.  Quint bustled in—a little, meagre, excitable, near-sighted man with pointed mustaches and a fleck of an imperial smudging his lower lip. 
          “Last week,” he began angrily, “young Jones arrived from Singapore bringing me the eggs of Erebia astarte, the great Silver Moon butterfly.  Attempts to destroy them have been made.  Last night I left them in a breeding-cage on my desk.  Has anybody been in there?” 
          “I don’t know,” I said.  “What has happened?” 
          “I found an ichneumon fly in the cage yesterday!” he shouted; “and this morning the eggs have either shrunk to half their size or else the eggs of another species have been secretly substituted for them and the Silver Moon eggs stolen! Has he been in there?” 
          “Who?” I asked, pretending to misunderstand. 
          “He!” demanded Quint fiercely.  “If he has I’ll kill him some day.” 
          He meant his one-time friend, Dr.  Boomly.  Alas! 
          “For heaven’s sake, why are you two perpetually squabbling?” I asked wearily.  “You used to be inseparable friends.  Why can’t you make up?” 
          “Because I’ve come to know him.  That’s why! I have unmasked this—this Borgia—this Machiavelli—this monster of duplicity! Matters are approaching a point where something has got to be done short of murder.  I’ve stood all his envy and jealousy and cheap imputations and hints and contemptible innuendoes that I’m going to—” 
          He stopped short, glaring at the doorway, which had suddenly been darkened by the vast bulk of Professor Boomly—a figure largely abdominal but majestic— like the massive butt end of an elephant.  For the rest, he had a rather insignificant and peevish face and a melancholy mustache that usually looked damp. 
          “Mr.  Smith,” he said to me, in his thin, high, sarcastic voice—a voice incongruously at variance with his bulk—“has anybody had the infernal impudence to enter my room and nose about my desk?” 
          “Yes, I have!” replied Quint excitedly.  “I’ve been in your room.  What of it? What about it?” 
          Boomly permitted his heavy-lidded eyes to rest on Quint for a moment, then, turning to me: 
          “I want a patent lock put on my door.  Will you speak to Professor Farrago?” 
          “I want one put on mine, too!” cried Quint.  “I want a lock put on my door which will keep envious, dull-minded, mentally broken-down, impertiment, and fat people out of my office!” 
          Boomly flushed heavily: 
          “Fat?” he repeated, glaring at Quint.  “Did you say ‘fat?’” 
          “Yes, fat—intellectually and corporeally fat! I want that kind of individual kept out.  I don’t trust them.  I’m afraid of them.  Their minds are atrophied.  They are unmoral, possibly even criminal! I don’t want them in my room snooping about to see what I have and what I’m doing.  I don’t want them to sneak in, eaten up with jealousy and envy, and try to damage the eggs of the Silver Moon butterfly because the honour and glory of hatching them would probably procure for me the Carnegie Educational Medal—” 
          “Why, you little, dried-up, protoplasmic atom!” burst out Boomly, his face suffused with passion, “Are you insinuating that I have any designs on your batch of eggs?” 
          “It’s my belief,” shouted Quint, “that you want that medal yourself, and that you put an ichneumon fly in my breeding-cage in hopes it would sting the eggs of the Silver Moon.” 
          “If you found an ichneumon fly there,” retorted Boomly, “you probably hatched it in mistake for a butterfly!” And he burst into a peal of contemptuous laughter, but his little, pig-like eyes under the heavy lids were furious. 
          “I now believe,” said Quint, trembling with rage, “that you have criminally substituted a batch of common Plexippus eggs for the Silver Moon eggs I had in my breeding-cage! I believe you are sufficiently abandoned to do it!” 
          “Ha! Ha!” retorted Boomly scornfully.  “I don’t believe you ever had anything in your breeding-cage except a few clothes moths and cockroaches!” 
          Quint began to dance: 
          “You did take them!” he yelled; “and you left me a bunch of milkweed butterflies’ eggs! Give me my eggs or I shall violently assault you!” 
          “Assault your grandmother!” remarked Boomly, with unscientific brevity. 
          “What do you suppose I want of your ridiculous eggs? Haven’t I enough eggs of Heliconius salome hatching to give me the Carnegie medal if I want it?” 
          “The Silver Moon eggs are unique!” cried Quint.  “You know it! You know that if they hatch, pupate, and become perfect insects that I shall certainly be awarded—” 
          “You’ll be awarded the Matteawan medal,” remarked Boomly with venom. 
          Quint ran at him with a half-suppressed howl, his momentum carrying him halfway up Professor Boomly’s person.  Then, losing foothold, he fell to the floor and began to kick in the general direction of Professor Boomly.  It was a sorrowful sight to see these two celebrated scientists panting, mauling, scuffling and punching each other around the room, tables and chairs and scrapbaskets flying in every direction, and I mounted on the window-sill horrified, speechless, trying to keep clear of the revolving storm centre. 
           “Where are my Silver Moon eggs!” screamed Dr.  Quint.  “Where are my eggs that Jones brought me from Singapore—you entomological robber! You’ve got ‘em somewhere! If you don’t give ‘em up I’ll find means to destroy you!” 
          “You insignificant pair of maxillary palpi!” bellowed Professor Boomly, galloping after Dr.  Quint as he dodged around my desk.  “I’ll pull off those antennæ you call whiskers if I can get hold of em—” 
          Dr.  Quint’s threatened mustaches bristled as he fled before the elephantine charge of Professor Boomly—once again around my desk, then out into the hall, where I heard the door of his office slam, and Boomly, gasping, panting, breathing vengeance outside, and vowing to leave Quint quite whiskerless when he caught him. 
          It was a painful scene for scientists to figure in or to gaze upon.  Profoundly shocked and upset, I locked up the anthropological department offices and went out into the Park, where the sun was shining and a gentle June wind stirred the trees. 
          Too completely upset to do any more work that day, I wandered about amid the gaily dressed crowds at hazard; sometimes I contemplated the monkeys; sometimes gazed sadly upon the seals.  They dashed and splashed and raced round and round their tank, or crawled up on the rocks, craned their wet, sleek necks, and barked—houp! houp! houp! 
          For luncheon I went over to the Rolling Stone Restaurant.  There was a very pretty girl there—an unusually pretty girl—or perhaps it was one of those days on which every girl looked unusually pretty to me.  There are such days.  Her voice was exquisite when she spoke.  She said: 
          “We have, today, corned beef hash, fried ham and eggs, liver and bacon—” but let that pass, too. 
          I took my tea very weak; by that time I learned that her name was Mildred Case; that she had been a private detective employed in a department store, and that her duties had been to nab wealthy ladies who forgot to pay for objects usually discovered in their reticules, bosoms, and sometimes in their stockings.  But the confinement of indoor work had been too much for Mildred Case, and the only out-door job she could find was the position of lady waitress in the rustic Rolling Stone Inn. 
          She was very, very beautiful, or perhaps it was one of those days—but let that pass, too. 
          “You are the great Mr.  Percy Smith, Curator of the Anthropological Department, are you not?” she asked shyly. 
          “Yes,” I said modestly; and, to slightly rebuke any superfluous pride in me, I paraphrased with becoming humility, pointing upward: “but remember, Mildred, there is One greater than I.” 
          “Mr.  Carnegie?” she nodded innocently.  That was true, too.  I let it go at that.  We chatted: she mentioned Professor Boomly and Dr.  Quint, gently deploring the rupture of their friendship.  Both gentlemen, in common with the majority of the administration personnel, were daily customers at the Rolling Stone Inn.  I usually took my lunch from my boarding-house to my office, being too busy to go out for mere nourishment. 
          That is why I had hitherto missed Mildred Case. 
          “Mildred,” I said, “I do not believe it can be wholesome for a man to eat sandwiches while taking minute measurements of defunct monkeys.  Also, it is not a  fragrant pastime.  Hereafter I shall lunch here.” 
          “It will be a pleasure to serve you,” said that unusually—there I go again! It was an unusually beautiful day in June.  Which careful, exact, and scientific statement, I think ought to cover the subject under consideration. 
          After luncheon I sadly selected a five-cent cigar; and, as I hesitated, lingering over the glass case, undecided still whether to give full rein to this contemplated extravagance, I looked up and found her beautiful grey eyes gazing into mine. 
          “What gentle thoughts are yours, Mildred?” I said softly. 
          “The cigar you have selected,” she murmured, “is fly-specked.” 
          Deeply touched that this young girl should have cared—that she should have expressed her solicitude so modestly, so sweetly, concerning the maculatory condition of my cigar, I thanked her and purchased, for the same sum, a packet of cigarettes. 
          That was going somewhat far for me.  I had never in all my life even dreamed of smoking a cigarette.  To a reserved, thoughtful, and scientific mind there is, about a packet of cigarettes, something undignified, something vaguely frolicsome. 
          When I paid her for them I felt as though, for the first time in my life, I had let myself go. 
          Oddly enough, in this uneasy feeling of gaiety and abandon, a curious sensation of exhilaration persisted. 
          We had quite a merry little contretemps when I tried to light my cigarette and the match went out, and then she struck another match, and we both laughed, and that match was extinguished by her breath. 
          Instantly I quoted: “‘Her breath was like the new-mown hay—’” 
          “Mr.  Smith!” she said, flushing slightly. 
          “‘Her eyes,’ I quoted, ‘were like the stars at even!’” 
          “You don’t mean my eyes, do you?” 
          I took a puff at my unlighted cigarette.  It also smelled like recently mown hay.  I felt that I was slipping my cables and heading toward an unknown and tempestuous sea. 
          “What time are you free, Mildred?” I asked, scarcely recognising my own voice in such reckless apropos. 
          She shyly informed me. 
          I struck a match, re-lighted my cigarette, and took one puff.  That was sufficient: I was adrift.  I realised it, trembled internally, took another puff. 
          “If,” said I carelessly, “on your way home you should chance to stroll along the path beyond the path that leads to the path which—” 
          I paused, checked by her bewildered eyes.  We both blushed. 
          “Which way do you usually go home?” I asked, my ears afire. 
          She told me.  It was a suitably unfrequented path. 
          So presently I strolled thither; and seated myself under the trees in a bosky dell.  Now, there is a quality in boskiness not inappropriate to romantic thoughts.  Boskiness, cigarettes, a soft afternoon in June, the hum of bees, and the distant barking of the seals, all these were delicately blending to inspire in me a bashful sentiment. 
          A specimen of Papilio turnus, di-morphic form, Glaucus, alighted near me; I marked its flight with scientific indifference.  Yet it is a rare species in Bronx Park. 
          A mock-orange bush was in snowy bloom behind me; great bunches of wistaria hung over the rock beside me. 
          The combination of these two exquisite perfumes seemed to make the boskiness more bosky. 
          There was an unaccustomed and sportive lightness to my step when I rose to meet Mildred, where she came loitering along the shadow-dappled path.  She seemed surprised to see me. 
          She thought it rather late to sit down, but she seated herself.  I talked to her enthusiastically about anthropology.  She was so interested that after a while she could scarcely keep still, moving her slim little feet restlessly, biting her pretty lower lip, shifting her position—all certain symptoms of an interest in science which even approached excitement. 
          Warmed to the heart by her eager and sympathetic interest in the noble science so precious, so dear to me, I took her little hand to soothe and quiet her, realizing that she might become overexcited as I described the pituitary body and why its former functions had become atrophied until the gland itself was nearly obsolete. 
          So intense her interest had been that she seemed a little tired.  I decided to give adequate material support to her spinal process.  It seemed to rest and soothe her.  I don’t remember that she said anything except: “Mr.  Smith!” I don’t recollect what we were saying when she mentioned me by name rather abruptly. 
          The afternoon was wonderfully still and calm.  The month was June.  After a  while—quite a while—some little time in point of accurate fact—she detected the sound of approaching footsteps. 

End of PART ONE..... GO TO PART TWO..... 

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