One Over

by Robert W. Chambers


Professor Farrago had remarked to me that morning: 
          “The city of New York always reminds me of a slovenly, fat woman with her dress unbuttoned behind.” 
          I nodded. 
          “New York’s architecture,” said I, “—or what popularly passes for it—is all in front.  The minute you get to the rear a pitiable condition is exposed.” 
          He said: “Professor Jane Bottomly is all facade; the remainder of her is merely an occiputal backyard full of theoretical tin cans and broken bottles.  I think we all had
better resign.” 
          It was a fearsome description.  I trembled as I lighted an inexpensive cigar.  The sentimental feminist movement in America was clearly at the bottom of the Bottomly
          Long ago, in a reactionary burst of hysteria, the North enfranchised the Ethiopian.  In a similar sentimental explosion of dementia, some sixty years later, the United
States wept violently over the immemorial wrongs perpetrated upon the restless sex, opened the front and back doors of opportunity, and sobbed out, “Go to it, ladies!” 
          They are still going. 
          Professor Jane Bottomly was wished on us out of a pleasant April sky.  She fell like a meteoric mass of molten metal upon the Bronx Park Zoölogical Society
splashing her excoriating personality over everybody until everybody writhed. 
          I had not yet seen the lady.  I did not care to.  Sooner or later I’d be obliged to meet her but I was not impatient. 
          Now the Field Expeditionary Force of the Bronx Park Zoölogical Society is, perhaps, the most important arm of the service.  Professor Bottomly had just been
appointed official head of all field work.  Why? Nobody knew.  It is true that she had written several combination nature and love romances.  In these popular volumes trees,
flowers, butterflies, birds, animals, dialect, sobs, and sun-bonnets were stirred up together into a saccharine mess eagerly gulped down by a provincial reading public, which
immediately protruded its tongue for more. 
          The news of her impending arrival among us was an awful blow to everybody at the Bronx.  Professor Farrago fainted in the arms of his pretty stenographer;
Professor Cornelius Lezard of the Batrachian Department ran around his desk all day long in narrowing circles and was discovered on his stomach still feebly squirming
like an expiring top; Dr.  Hans Fooss, our beloved Professor of Pachydermatology sat for hours weeping into his noodle soup.  As for me, I was both furious and frightened,
for, within the hearing of several people, Professor Bottomly had remarked in a very clear voice to her new assistant, Dr.  Daisy Delmour, that she intended to get rid of me
for the good of the Bronx because of my reputation for indiscreet gallantry among the feminine employees of the Bronx Society. 
          Professor Lezard overhead that outrageous remark and he hastened to repeat it to me. 
          I was lunching at the time in my private office in the Administration Building with Dr.  Hans Fooss—he and I being too busy dissecting an unusually fine specimen of
Dingue to go to the Rolling Stone Inn for luncheon—when Professor Lezard rushed in with the scandalous libel still sizzling in his ears. 
          “Everybody heard her say it!” he went on, wringing his hands.  “It was a most unfortunate thing for anybody to say about you before all those young ladies.  Every
stenographer and typewriter there turned pale and then red.” “What!” I exclaimed, conscious that my own ears were growing large and hot.  “Did that outrageous woman
have the bad taste to say such a thing before all those sensitive girls!” 
          “She did.  She glared at them when she said it.  Several blondes and one brunette began to cry.” 
          “I hope,” said I, a trifle tremulously, “that no typewriter so far forgot herself as to admit noticing playfulness on my part.” 
          “They all were tearfully unanimous in declaring you to be a perfect gentleman!” 
          “I am,” I said.  “I am also a married man—irrevocably wedded to science.  I desire no other spouse.  I am ineligible; and everybody knows it.  If at times a purely
scientific curiosity leads me into a detached and impersonally psychological investigation of certain—ah—feminine idiosyncrasies—” 
          “Certainly,” said Lezard.  “To investigate the feminine is more than a science; it is a duty!” 
          “Of a surety!” nodded Dr.  Fooss. 
          I looked proudly upon my two loyal friends and bit into my cheese sandwich.  Only men know men.  A jury of my peers had exonerated me.  What did I care for
Professor Bottomly! 
          “All the same,” added Lezard, “you’d better be careful or Professor Bottomly will put one over on you yet.” 
          “I am always careful,” I said with dignity. 
          “All men should be.  It is the only protection of a defenseless coast line,” nodded Lezard. 
          “Und neffer, neffer commid nodding to paper,” added Dr.  Fooss.  “Don’d neffer write it, ‘I lofe you like I was going to blow up alretty!’ Ach, nein! Don’d you write
down somedings.  Effery man he iss entitled to protection; und so iss it he iss protected.” 
          Stein in hand he beamed upon us benevolently over his knifeful of sauerfisch, then he fed himself and rammed it down with a hearty draught of Pilsner.  We gazed
with reverence upon Kultur as embodied in this great Teuton. 
          “That woman,” remarked Lezard to me, “certainly means to get rid of you.  It seems to me that there are only two possible ways for you to hold down your job at the
Bronx.  You know it, don’t you?” 
          I nodded.  “Yes,” I said; “either I must pay marked masculine attention to Professor Bottomly: or I must manage to put one over on her.” 
          “Of course,” said Lezard, “the first method is the easier for you—” 
          “Not for a minute!” I said, hastily; “I simply couldn’t become frolicsome with her.  You say she’s got a voice like a drill-sergeant and she goose-steps when she
walks; and I don’t mind admitting she has me badly scared already.  No; she must be scientifically ruined.  It is the only method which makes her elimination certain.” 
          “But if her popular nature books didn’t ruin her scientifically, how can we hope to lead her astray?” inquired Lezard. 
          “There is,” I said, thoughtfully, “only one thing that can really ruin a scientist.  Ridicule! I have braved it many a time, taking my scientific life in my hands in pursuit
of unknown specimens which might have proved only imaginary. 
          Public ridicule would have ended my scientific career in such an event.  I know of no better way to end Professor Bottomly’s scientific career and capability for
mischief than to start her out after something which doesn’t exist, inform the newspapers, and let her suffer the agonising consequences.” 
          Dr.  Fooss began to shout: 
          “The idea iss schön! colossal! prachtvol! ausgezeichnet! wunderbar! wunderschön! gemütlich—” A large, tough noodle checked him.  While he labored with Teutonic imperturbability to master it Lezard and I exchanged suggestions regarding the proposed annihilation of this fearsome woman who had come ravening among us amid the peaceful and soporific environment of Bronx Park. 
          It was a dreadful thing for us to have our balmy Lotus-eaters’ paradise so startlingly invaded by a large, loquacious, loud-voiced lady who had already stirred us all out of our agreeable, traditional and leisurely inertia.  Inertia begets cogitation, and cogitation begets ideas, and ideas beget reflexion, and profound reflexion is the fundamental cornerstone of that immortal temple in which the goddess Science sits asleep between her dozing sisters, Custom and Religion.  This thought seemed to me so unusually beautiful that I wrote it with a pencil upon my cuff. 
          While I was writing it, quietly happy in the deep pleasure that my intellectual allegory afforded me, Dr.  Fooss swabbed the last morsel of nourishment from his plate with a wad of rye bread, then bolting the bread and wiping his beard with his fingers and his fingers on his waistcoat, he made several guttural observations too profoundly German to be immediately intelligible, and lighted his porcelain pipe. 
          “Ach wass!” he remarked in ruminative fashion.  “Dot Frauenzimmer she iss to raise hell alretty determined.  Von Pachydermatology she knows nodding.  Maybe she leaves me alone, maybe it is to be ‘raus mit me.  I’ weis’ ni’! It iss aber besser one over on dat lady to put, yess?” 
          “It certainly is advisable,” replied Lezard. 
          “Let us try to think of something sufficiently disastrous to terminate her scientific career,” said I.  And I bowed my rather striking head and rested the point of my forefinger upon my forehead.  Though crystallises more quickly for me when I assume this attitude. 
          Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lezard fold his arms and sit frowning at infinity. 
          Dr.  Fooss lay back in a big, deeply padded armchair and closed his prominent eyes.  His pipe went out presently, and now and then he made long-drawn nasal remarks, in German, too complicated for either Lezard or for me to entirely comprehend.  “We must try to get her as far away from here as possible,” mused Lezard.  “Is Oyster Bay too far and too cruel?” 
          I pondered darkly upon the suggestion.  But it seemed unpleasantly like murder. 
          “Lezard,” said I, “come, let us reason together.  Now what is woman’s besetting emotion?” 
          “Very well; assuming that to be true, what—ah—quality particularly characterizes woman when so beset.” 
          “Ruthless determination.” 
          “Then,” said I, “we ought to begin my exciting the curiosity of Professor Bottomly; and her ruthless determination to satisfy that curiosity should logically follow.” 
          “How,” he asked, “are we to arouse her curiosity?” 
          “By pretending that we have knowledge of something hitherto undiscovered, the discovery of which would redound to our scientific glory.” 
          “I see.  She’d want the glory for herself.  She’d swipe it.” 
          “She would,” said I. 
          “Tee—hee!” he giggled; “Wouldn’t it be funny to plant something phony on her—” 
          I waved my arms rather gracefully in my excitement: 
          “That is the germ of an idea!” I said.  “If we could plant something— something—far away from here—very far away—if we could bury something— like the Cardiff
          “Hundreds and hundreds of miles away!” 
          “Thousands!” I insisted, enthusiastically. 
          “Tee-hee! In Tasmania, for example! Maybe a Tasmanian Devil might acquire her!” 
          “There exists a gnat,” said I, “in Borneo— Gnatus soporificus—and when this tiny gnat stings people they never entirely wake up.  It’s really rather a pleasurable catastrophe, I understand.  Life becomes one endless cat-nap— one delightful siesta, with intervals for light nourishment....  She—ah—could sit very comfortably in some pleasant retreat and rock in a rocking-chair and doze quite happily through the years to come....  And from your description of her I should say that the Soldiers’ Home might receive her.” 
          “It won’t do,” he said, gloomily. 
          “Why? Is it too much like crime?” 
          “Oh not at all.  Only if she went to Borneo she’d be sure to take a mosquito-bar with her.” 
          In the depressed silence which ensued Dr.  Fooss suddenly made several Futurist observations through his nose with monotonous but authoritative regularity.  I tried to catch his meaning and his eye.  The one remained cryptic, the other shut. 
          Lezard sat thinking very hard.  And as I fidgetted in my chair, fiddling nervously with various objects lying on my desk I chanced to pick up a letter from the pile of still unopened mail at my elbow. 
          Still pondering on Professor Bottomly’s proposed destruction, I turned the letter over idly and my preoccupied gaze rested on the postmark.  After a moment I leaned forward and examined it more attentively.  The letter directed to me was postmarked Fort Carcajou, Cook’s Peninsula, Baffin Land; and now I recalled the handwriting, having already seen it three or four times within the last month or so. 
          “Lezard,” I said, “that lunatic trapper from Baffin Land has written to me again.  What do you suppose is the matter with him? Is he just plain crazy or does he think he can be funny with me?” 
          Lezard gazed at me absently.  Then, all at once a gleam of savage interest lighted his somewhat solemn features. 
          “Read the letter to me,” he said, with an evil smile which instantly animated my own latent imagination.  And immediately it occurred to me that perhaps, in the humble letter from the wilds of Baffin Land, which I was now opening with eager and unsteady fingers, might lie concealed the professional undoing of Professor Jane Bottomly, and the only hope of my own ultimate and scientific salvation. 
          The room became hideously still as I unfolded the pencil-scrawled sheets of cheap, ruled letter paper. 
          Dr.  Fooss opened his eyes, looked at me, made porcine sounds indicative of personal well-being, relighted his pipe, and disposed himself to listen.  But just as I was about to begin, Lezard suddenly laid his forefinger across his lips conjuring us to densest silence. 
          For a moment or two I heard nothing except the buzzing of flies.  Then I stole a startled glance at my door.  It was opening slowly, almost imperceptibly.  But it did not open very far—just a crack remained.  Then, listening with all our might, we heard the cautiously suppressed breathing of somebody in the hallway just outside of my door. 
          Lezard turned and cast at me a glance of horrified intelligence.  In dumb pantomime he outlined in the air, with one hand, the large and feminine amplification of his own person, conveying to us the certainty of his suspicions concerning the unseen  eavesdropper. 
          We nodded.  We understood perfectly that she was out there prepared to listen to every word we uttered. 
          A flicker of ferocious joy disturbed Lezard’s otherwise innocuous features; he winked horribly at Dr.  Fooss and at me, and uttered a faint click with his teeth and tongue like the snap of a closing trap. 
          “Gentlemen,” he said, in the guarded yet excited voice of a man who is confident of not being overheard, “the matter under discussion admits of only one interpretation: a discovery—perhaps the most vitally important discovery of all the centuries—is imminent. 
          “Secrecy is imperative; the scientific glory is to be shared by us alone, and there is enough of glory to go around. 
          “Mr.  Chairman, I move that epoch-making letter be read aloud!” 
         “I second dot motion!” said Dr.  Fooss, winking so violently at me that his glasses wabbled. 
          “Gentlemen,” said I, “it has been moved and seconded that this epochmaking letter be read aloud.  All those in favor will kindly say ‘aye.’” 
          “Aye! Aye!” they exclaimed, fairly wriggling in their furtive joy. 
          “The contrary-minded will kindly emit the usual negation,” I went on....  “It seems to be carried ....  It is carried.  The chairman will proceed to the reading of the epoch-making letter.” 
          I quietly lighted a five-cent cigar, unfolded the letter and read aloud: 
          “Joneses Shack, Golden Glacier, Cook’s Peninsula, Baffin Land, March 15, 1915. 
          “Professor, Dear Sir: 
          “I already wrote you three times no answer having been rec’d perhaps you think I’m kiddin’ you’re a dam’ liar I ain’t. 
          “Hoping to tempt you to come I will hereby tell you more’n I told you in my other letters, the terminal moraine of this here Golden Glacier finishes into a marsh, nothing to see for miles excep’ frozen tussock and mud and all flat as hell for fifty miles which is where I am trappin’ it for mink and otter and now ready to go back to Fort Carcajou.  i told you what I seen stickin’ in under this here marsh, where anything sticks out the wolves have eat it, but most of them there ellerphants is in under the ice and mud too far for the wolves to git ‘em. 
          “i ain’t kiddin’ you, there is a whole herd of furry ellerphants in the marsh like as they were stuck there and all lay down and was drownded like.  Some has tusks and some hasn’t.  Two ellerphants stuck out of the ice, I eat onto one, the meat was good and sweet and joosy, the damn wolves eat it up that night, I had cut stakes and rost for three months though and am eating off it yet. 
          “Thinking as how ellerphants and all like that is your graft, I being a keeper in the Mouse House once in the Bronx and seein’ you nosin’ around like you was full of scientific thinks, it comes to me to write you and put you next. 
          “If you say so I’ll wait here and help you with them ellerphants.  Livin’ wages is all I ask also eleven thousand dollars for tippin’ you wise.  I won’t tell nobody till I hear from you.  I’m hones’you can trus’ me.  Write me to Fort Carcajou if you mean bizness.  So no more respectfully, 
          James Skaw.” 
          When I finished reading I cautiously glanced at the door, and, finding it still on the crack, turned and smiled subtly upon Lezard and Fooss. 
          In their slowly spreading grins I saw they agreed with me that somebody, signing himself James Skaw, was still trying to hoax the Great Zoölogical Society of Bronx Park. 
          “Gentlemen,” I said aloud, injecting innocent enthusiasm into my voice, “this secret expedition to Baffin Land which we three are about to organise is destined to be without doubt the most scientifically prolific field expedition ever organised by man. 
          “Imagine an entire herd of mammoths preserved in mud and ice through all these thousands of years! 
          “Gentlemen, no discovery ever made has even remotely approached in importance the discovery made by this simple, illiterate trapper, James Skaw.” 
          “I thought,” protested Lezard, “that we are to be announced as the discoverers.” 
          “We are,” said I, “the discoverers of James Skaw, which makes us technically the finders of the ice-preserved herd of mammoths— technically, you understand.  A few thousand dollars,” I added, carelessly, “ought to satiate James Skaw.” 
          “We could name dot glacier after him,” suggested Dr.  Fooss. 
          “Certainly—the Skaw Glacier.  That ought to be enough glory for him.  It ought to satisfy him and prevent any indiscreet remarks,” nodded Lezard. 
          “Gentlemen,” said I, “there is only one detail that really troubles me.  Ought we to notify our honoured and respected Chief of Division concerning this discovery?” 
          “Do you mean, should we tell that accomplished and fascinating lady, Professor Bottomly, about this herd of mammoths?” I asked in a loud, clear voice.  And immediately answered my own question: “No,” I said, “no, dear friends.  Professor Bottomly already has too much responsibility weighing upon her distinguished mind.  No, dear brothers in science, we should steal away unobserved as though setting out upon an ordinary field expedition.  And when we return with fresh and immortal laurels such as no man before has ever worn, no doubt that our generous-minded Chief of Division will weave for us further wreaths to crown our brows—the priceless garlands of professional approval!” And I made a horrible face at my co-conspirators. 
          Before I finished Lezard had taken his own face in his hands for the purpose of stifling raucous and untimely mirth.  As for Dr.  Fooss, his small, porcine eyes snapped and twinkled madly behind his spectacles, but he seemed rather inclined to approve my flowers of rhetoric. 
          “Ja,” said he, “so iss it besser oursellufs dot gefrozenss herd von elephanten to discover, und, by and by, die elephanten bei der Pronx Bark home yet again once more to bring.  We shall therefore much praise thereby bekommen.  Ach wass!” 
          “Gentlemen,” said I, distinctly, “it is decided, then, that we shall say nothing concerning the true object of this expedition to Professor Bottomly.” 
          Lezard and Fooss nodded assent.  Then, in the silence, we all strained our ears to listen.  And presently we detected the scarcely heard sound of cautiously retreating footsteps down the corridor. 
          When it was safe to do so I arose and closed my door. 
          “I think,” said I, with a sort of infernal cheerfulness in my tones, “that we are about to do something jocose to Jane Bottomly.” 
          “A few,” said Professor Lezard.  He rose and silently executed a complicated ballet-step. 
          “I shall laff,” said Dr.  Fooss, earnestly, “und I shall laff, und I shall laff—ach Gott how I shall laff my pally head off!” 
          I folded my arms and turned romanesquely toward the direction in which Professor Bottomly had retreated. 
          “Viper!” I said.  “The Bronx shall nourish you in its bosom no more! Fade away, Ophidian!” 
          The sentiment was applauded by all.  There chanced to be in my desk a bottle marked: “That’s all!” On the label somebody had written: “Do it now!” 
          We did. 

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

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