The Eggs of the 

Silver Moom

by Robert W. Chambers

          I remember that she was seated at the opposite end of the bench, rather feverishly occupied with her hat and her hair, when young Jones came hastily along the path, caught sight of us, halted, turned violently red—being a shy young man—but instead of taking himself off, he seemed to recover from a momentary paralysis. 
          “Mr.  Smith!” he said sharply.  “Professor Boomly has disappeared; there’s a pool of blood on his desk; his coat, hat, and waistcoat are lying on the floor, the room is a wreck, and Dr.  Quint is in there tearing up the carpet and behaving like a madman.  We think he suddenly went insane and murdered Professor Boomly.  What is to be done?” 
          Horrified, I had risen at his first word.  And now, as I understood the full purport of his dreadful message, my hair stirred under my hat and I gazed at him, appalled. 
          “What is to be done?” he demanded.  “Shall I telephone for the police?” 
          “Do you actually believe,” I faltered, “that this unfortunate man has murdered Boomly?” 
          “I don’t know.  I looked over the transom, but I couldn’t see Professor Boomly.  Dr.  Quint has locked the door.” 
          “And he’s tearing up the carpet?” 
          “Like a lunatic.  I didn’t want to call in the police until I’d asked you.  Such a scandal in Bronx Park would be a frightful thing for us all—” He hesitated, looked around, coldly, it seemed to me, at Mildred Case.  “A scandal,” he repeated, “is scarcely what might be expected among a harmonious and earnest band of seekers after scientific knowledge.  Is it, Mil—Miss Case?” 
          Now, I don’t know why Mildred should have blushed.  There was nothing that I could see in this young man’s question to embarrass her. 
          Preoccupied, still confused by the shock of this terrible news, I looked at Jones and at Mildred; and they were staring rather oddly at each other. 
          I said: “If this affair turns out to be as ghastly as it seems to promise, we’ll have to call in a detective.  I’ll go back immediately “ 
          “Why not take me, also?” asked Mildred Case, quietly. 
          “What?” I asked, looking at her. 
          “Why not, Mr.  Smith? I was once a private detective.” 
          Surprised at the suggestion, I hesitated. 
          “If you desire to keep this matter secret—if you wish to have it first investigated privately and quietly—would it not be a good idea to let me use my professional knowledge before you call in the police? Because as soon as the police are summoned all hope of avoiding publicity is at an end.” 
          She spoke so sensibly, so quietly, so modestly, that her offer of assistance deeply impressed me. 
          As for young Jones, he looked at her steadily in that odd, chilling manner, which finally annoyed me.  There was no need of his being snobbish because this very lovely and intelligent young girl happened to be a waitress at the Rolling Stone Inn. 
          “Come,” I said unsteadily, again a prey to terrifying emotions; “let us go to the Administration Building and learn how matters stand.  If this affair is as terrible as I fear it to be, science has received the deadliest blow ever dealt it since Cagliostro perished.” 
          As we three strode hastily along the path in the direction of the Administration Building, I took that opportunity to read these two youthful fellow beings a sermon on envy, jealousy, and coveteousness. 
          “See,” said I, “to what a miserable condition the desire for notoriety and fame has brought two learned and enthusiastic delvers in the vineyard of endeavor! The mad desire for the Carnegie medal completely turned the hitherto perfectly balanced brains of these devoted disciples of Science.  Envy begat envy, jealousy begat jealousy, pride begat pride, hatred begat hatred—” 
          “It’s like that book in the Bible where everybody begat everybody else,” said Mildred seriously. 
          At first I thought she had made an apt and clever remark; but on thinking it over I couldn’t quite see its relevancy.  I turned and looked into her sweet face.  Her eyes were dancing with brilliancy and her sensitive lips quivered.  I feared she was near to tears from the reaction of the shock.  Had Jones not been walking with us—but let that go, too. 
          We were now entering the Administration Building, almost running; and as soon as we came to the closed door of Dr.  Quint’s room, I could hear a commotion inside—desk drawers being pulled out and their contents dumped, curtains being jerked from their rings, an unmistakable sound indicating the ripping up of a carpet—and through all this din the agitated scuffle of footsteps.  I rapped on the door.  No notice taken.  I rapped and knocked and called in a low, distinct voice. 
          Suddenly I recollected I had a general pass-key on my ring which unlocked any door in the building.  I nodded to Jones and to Mildred to stand aside, then, gently fitting the key, I suddenly pushed out the key which remained on the inside, turned the lock, and flung open the door. 
          A terrible sight presented itself: Dr.  Quint, hair on end, both mustaches pulled out, shirt, cuffs, and white waistcoat smeared with blood, knelt amid the general wreckage on the floor, in the act of ripping up the carpet. 
          “Doctor!” I cried in a trembling voice.  “What have you done to Professor Boomly?” 
          He paused in his carpet ripping and looked around at us with a terrifying laugh. 
          “I’ve settled him!” he said.  “If you don’t want to get all over dust you’d better keep out “ 
          “Quint!” I cried.  “Are you crazy?” 
          “Pretty nearly.  Let me alone—” 
          “Where is Boomly!” I demanded in a tragic voice.  “Where is your old friend, Billy Boomly? Where is he, Quint? And what does that mean—that pool of blood on the floor? Whose is it?” 
          “It’s Bill’s,” said Quint, coolly ripping up another breadth of carpet and peering under it. 
          “What!” I exclaimed.  “Do you admit that?” 
          “Certainly I admit it.  I told him I’d terminate him if he meddled with my Silver Moon eggs.” 
          “You mean to say that you shed blood—the blood of your old friend—merely because he meddled with a miserable batch of butterfly’s eggs?” I asked, astounded. 
          “I certainly did shed his blood for just that particular thing! And listen; you’re in my way— you’re standing on a part of the carpet which I want to tear up.  Do you mind moving?” 
          Such cold-blooded calmness infuriated me.  I sprang at Quint, seized him, and shouted to Jones to tie his hands behind him with the blood-soaked handkerchief which lay on the floor. 
          At first, while Jones and I were engaged in the operation of securing the wretched man, Quint looked at us both as though surprised; then he grew angry and asked us what the devil we were about. 
          “Those who shed blood must answer for it!” I said solemnly. 
          “What? What’s the matter with you?” he demanded in a rage.  “Shed blood? What if I did? What’s that to you? Untie this handkerchief, you unmentionable idiot!” 
          I looked at Jones: 
          “His mind totters,” I said hoarsely. 
          “What’s that!” cried Quint, struggling to get off the chair whither I had pushed him: but with my handkerchief we tied his ankles to the rung of the chair, heedless of his attempts to kick us, and sprang back out of range. 
          “Now,” I said, “what have you done with the poor victim of your fury? Where is he? Where is all that remains of Professor Boomly?” 
          “Boomly? I don’t know where he is.  How the devil should I know?” 
          “Don’t lie,” I said solemnly. 
          “Lie! See here, Smith, when I get out of this chair I’ll settle you, too—” 
          “Quint! There is another and more terrible chair which awaits such criminals as you!” 
          “You old fluff!” he shouted.  “I’ll knock your head off, too.  Do you understand? I’ll attend to you as I attended to Boomly—” 
          “Assassin!” I retorted calmly.  “Only an alienist can save you now.  In this awful moment—” 
          A light touch on my arm interrupted me, and, a trifle irritated, as any man might be when checked in the full flow of eloquence, I turned to find Mildred at my elbow. 
          “Let me talk to him,” she said m a quiet voice.  “Perhaps I may not irritate him as you seem to.” 
          “Very well,” I said.  “Jones and I are here as witnesses.” And I folded my arms in an attitude not, perhaps, unpicturesque. 
          “Dr.  Quint,” said Mildred in her soft, agreeable voice, and actually smiling slightly at the self-confessed murderer, “is it really true that you are guilty of shedding the blood of Professor Boomly?” 
          “It is,” said Quint, coolly. 
          She seemed rather taken aback at that, but presently recovered her equanimity. 
          “Why?” she asked gently. 
          “Because he attempted a most hellish crime!” yelled Quint. 
          “W-what crime?” she asked faintly. 
          “I’ll tell you.  He wanted the Carnegie medal and he knew it would be given to me if I could incubate and hatch my batch of Silver Moon butterfly eggs.  He realised well enough that his Heliconian eggs were not as valuable as my Silver Moon eggs.  So first he sneaked in here and put an ichneumon fly in my breeding-cage.  And next he stole the Silver Moon eggs and left in their place some common Plexippus eggs, thinking that because they were very similar I would not notice the substitution. 
          “I did notice it! I charged him with that cataclysmic outrage.  He laughed.  We came into personal collision.  He chased me into my room.” 
          Panting, breathless with rage at the memory of the morning’s defeat which I had witnessed, Quint glared at me for a moment.  Then he jerked his head toward Mildred: 
          “As soon as he went to luncheon—Boomly, I mean—I climbed over that transom and dropped into this room.  I had been hunting for ten minutes before I found my Silver Moon eggs hidden under the carpet.  So I pocketed them, climbed back over the transom, and went to my room.” 
          He paused dramatically, staring from one to another of us: 
          “Boomly was there!” he said slowly. 
          “Where?” asked Mildred with a shudder. 
          “In my room.  He had picked the lock.  I told him to get out! He went.  I shouted after him that I had recovered the Silver Moon eggs and that I should certainly be awarded the Carnegie medal. 
          “Then that monster in human form laughed a horrible laugh, avowing himself guilty of a crime still more hideous than the theft of the Silver Moon eggs! Do you know what he had done?” 
          “W-what?” faltered Mildred. 
          “He had stolen from cold storage and had concealed the leaves of the Bimba bush, brought from Singapore to feed the Silver Moon caterpillars! That’s what Boomly had done! 
          “And my Silver Moon eggs had already begun to hatch!!! And my caterpillars would starve!!!!” 
          His voice ended in a yell; he struggled on his chair until it nearly upset. 
          “You lunatic!” I shouted.  “Was that a reason for spilling the blood of a human being!” 
          “It was reason enough for me!” 
          “Let me loose! He’s hidden those leaves somewhere or other! I’ve torn this place to pieces looking for them.  I’ve got to find them, I tell you—” 
          Mildred went to the infuriated entomologist and laid a firm hand on his shoulder: 
          “Listen,” she said: “how do you know that Professor Boomly has not concealed these Bimba leaves on his own person?” 
          Quint ceased his contortions and gaped at her. 
          “I never thought of that,” he said. 
          “What have you done with him?” she asked, very pale. 
          “I tell you, I don’t know.” 
          “You must know what you did with him,” she insisted. 
          Quint shook his head impatiently, apparently preoccupied with other thoughts.  We stood watching him in silence until he looked up and became conscious of our concentrated gaze. 
          “My caterpillars are starving,” he began violently.  “I haven’t anything else they’ll eat.  They feed only on the Bimba leaf.  They won’t eat anything else.  It’s a well-known fact that they won’t.  Why, in Johore, where they came from, they’ll travel miles over the ground to find a Bimba bush—” 
          “What!” exclaimed Mildred. 
          “Certainly—miles! They’d starve sooner than eat anything except Bimba leaves.  If there’s a bush within twenty miles they’ll find it—” 
          “Wait,” said Mildred quietly.  “Where are these starving caterpillars?” 
          “In a glass jar in my pocket—here! What the devil are you doing!” For the girl had dexterously slipped the glass jar from his coat pocket and was holding it up to the
          Inside it were several dozen tiny, dark caterpillars, some resting disconsolately on the sides of the glass, some hungrily travelling over the bottom in pitiful and hopeless quest of nourishment. 
          Heedless of the shouts and threats of Dr.  Quint, the girl calmly uncorked the jar, took on her slender forefinger a single little caterpillar, replaced the cork, and, kneeling down, gently disengaged the caterpillar.  It dropped upon the floor, remained motionless for a moment, then, turning, began to travel rapidly toward the doorway behind us. 
          “Now,” she said, “if poor Professor Boomly really has concealed these Bimba leaves upon his own person, this little caterpillar, according to Dr.  Quint, is certain to find those leaves.” 
          Overcome with excitement and admiration for this intelligent and unusually beautiful girl, I seized her hands and congratulated her. 
          “Murder,” said I to the miserable Quint, “will out! This infant caterpillar shall lead us to that dark and secret spot where you had hoped to conceal the horrid evidence of your guilt.  Three things have undone you—a caterpillar replete with mysterious instinct, a humble bunch of Bimba leaves, and the marvellous intelligence of this young and lovely girl.  Madman, your hour has struck!” 
          He looked at me in a dazed sort of way, as though astonishment had left him unable to articulate.  But I had become tired of his violence and his shouts and yells; so I asked Jones for his handkerchief, and, before Quint knew what I was up to I had tied it over his mouth. 
          He became a brilliant purple, but all he could utter was a furious humming, buzzing noise. 
          Meanwhile, Jones had opened the door; the little caterpillar, followed by Mildred and myself, continued to hustle along as though he knew quite well where he was going. 
          Down the hallway he went in undulating haste, past my door, we all following in silent excitement as we discovered that, parallel to the caterpillar’s course, ran a gruesome trail of blood drops. 
          And when the little creature turned and made straight for the door of Professor Farrago, our revered chief, the excitement among us was terrific. 
          The caterpillar halted; I gently tried the door; it was open. 
          Instantly the caterpillar crossed the threshold, wriggling forward at top speed.  We followed, peering fearfully around us.  Nobody was visible. 
          Could Quint have dragged his victim here? By Heaven, he had! For the caterpillar was travelling straight under the lounge upon which Professor Farrago was accustomed to repose after luncheon, and, dropping on one knee, I saw a fat foot partly protruding from under the shirred edges of the fringed drapery. 
          “He’s there!” I whispered, in an awed voice to the others. 
          “Courage, Miss Case! Try not to faint.” 
          Jones turned and looked at her with that same odd expression; then he went over to where she stood and coolly passed one arm around her waist. 
          “Try not to faint, Mildred,” he said.  “It might muss your hair.” 
          It was a strange thing to say, but I had no time then to analyze it, for I had seized the fat foot which partly protruded from under the sofa, clad in a low-cut congress gaiter and a white sock. 
          And then I nearly fainted, for instead of the dreadful, inert resistance of lifeless clay, the foot wriggled and tried to kick at me. 
          “Help!” came a thin but muffled voice.  “Help! Help, in the name of Heaven!” “Boomly!” I cried, scarcely believing my ears. 
          “Take that man away, Smith!” whimpered Boomly.  “He’s a devil! He’ll murder me! He made my nose bleed all over everything!” 
          “Boomly! You’re not dead!” 
          “Yes, I am!” he whined.  “I’m dead enough to suit me.  Keep that little lunatic off—that’s all I ask.  He can have his Carnegie medal for all I care, only tie him up somewhere—” 
          “Professor Boomly!” cried Mildred excitedly.  “Have you any Bimba leaves concealed about your person ?” 
          “Yes, I have,” he said sulkily.  There came a hitch of the fat foot, a heavy scuffling sound, heavy panting, and then, skittering out across the floor came a flat, sealed parcel. 
          “There you are,” he said; “now, let me alone until that fiend has gone home.” 
          “He won’t attack you again,” I said.  “Come out.” 
          But Professor Boomly flatly declined to stir. 
          I looked at the parcel: it was marked: “Bimba leaves; Johore.” 
          With a sigh of unutterable relief, I picked up the ravenous little caterpillar, placed him on the packet, and turned to go.  And didn’t. 
          It is a very sickening fact I have now to record.  But to a scientist all facts are sacred, sickening or otherwise. 
          For what I caught a glimpse of, just outside the door in the hallway, was Jones kissing Mildred Case.  And being shyly indemnified for his trouble with a gentle return in kind.  Both his arms were around her waist; both her hands rested upon his shoulders; and, as I looked—but let it pass!—let it pass.  Deliberately I fished in my pocket, found my packet of cigarettes, lighted one.  Tobacco diffugiunt mordaces curae et laetificat cor hominis! 


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