One Over

by Robert W. Chambers


It was given out at the Bronx that our field expedition to Baffin Land was to be undertaken solely for the purpose of bringing back living specimens of the five-spotted Arctic woodcock— Philohela quinquemaculata—in order to add to our onomatology and our glossary of onomatopœia an ontogenesis of this important but hitherto unstudied sub-species. 
          I trust I make myself clear.  Scientific statements should be as clear as the Spuyten Duyvil.  Sola in stagno salus! 
          But two things immediately occurred which worried us; Professor Bottomly sent us official notification that she approved our expedition to Baffin Land, designated the steamer we were to take, and enclosed tickets.  That scared us.  Then to add to our perplexity Professor Bottomly disappeared, leaving Dr.  Daisy Delmour in charge of her department during what she announced might be “a somewhat prolonged absence on business.” 
          And during the four feverish weeks of our pretended preparations for Baffin Land not one word did we hear from Jane Bottomly, which caused us painful inquietude as the hour approached for our departure. 
          Was this formidable woman actually intending to let us depart alone for the Golden Glacier? Was she too lazy to rob us of the secretly contemplated glory which we had pretended awaited us? 
          We had been so absolutely convinced that she would forbid our expedition, pack us off elsewhere, and take charge herself of an exploring party to Baffin Land, that, as the time for our leaving drew near we became first uneasy, and then really alarmed. 
          It would be a dreadful jest on us if she made us swallow our own concoction; if she revealed to our colleagues our pretended knowledge of the Golden Glacier and James Skaw and the supposedly ice-imbedded herd of mammoths, and then publicly forced us to investigate this hoax. 
          More horrible still would it be if she informed the newspapers and gave them a hint to make merry over the three wise men of the Bronx who went to Baffin Land in a boat. 
          “What do you suppose that devious and secretive female is up to?” inquired Lezard who, within the last few days, had grown thin with worry.  “Is it possible that she is sufficiently degraded to suspect us of trying to put one over on her? Is that what she is now doing to us?” 
          “Terminus est—it is the limit!” said I. 
          He turned a morbid eye upon me.  “She is making a monkey of us.  That’s what!” 
          “Suspendenda omnia naso,” I nodded; “tarde sed tute.” When I think aloud in Latin it means that I am deeply troubled.  “Suum quemque scelus agitat.  Do you get me, Professor? I’m sorry I attempted to be sportive with this terrible woman.  The curse of my scientific career has been periodical excesses of frivolity.  See where this frolicsome impulse has landed me!— super abyssum ambulans.  Trahit sua quemque voluptas; transeat in exemplum! She means to let us go to our destruction on this mammoth frappé affair.” 
          But Dr. Fooss was optimistic: 
          “I tink she iss alretty herselluf by dot Baffin Land ge-gone,” he said.  “I tink she has der bait ge-swallowed.  Ve vait; ve see; und so iss it ve know.” 
          “But why hasn’t she stopped our preparations?” I demanded.  “If she wants all the glory herself why does she permit us to incur this expense in getting ready?” 
          “No mans can to know der vorkings of der mental brocess by a Frauenzimmer,” said Dr. Fooss, wagging his head. 
          The suspense became nerve-racking; we were obliged to pack our camping kits; and it began to look as though we would have either to sail the next morning or to resign from the Bronx Park Zoölogical Society, because all the evening papers had the story in big type—the details and objects of the expedition, the discovery of the herd of mammoths in cold storage, the prompt organization of an expedition to secure this unparalleled deposit of prehistoric mammalia— everything was there staring at us in violent print, excepting only the name of the discoverer and the names of those composing the field expedition. 
          “She means to betray us after we have sailed,” said Lezard, greatly depressed.  “We might just as well resign now before this hoax explodes and bespatters us.  We can take our chances in vaudeville or as lecturing professors with the movies.” I thought so, too, in point of fact we all had gathered in my study to write out our resignations, when there came a knock at the door and Dr. Daisy Delmour walked in. 
          Oddly enough I had not before met Dr. Delmour personally; only formal written communications had hitherto passed between us.  My idea of her had doubtless been inspired by the physical and intellectual aberrations of her chief; I naturally supposed her to be either impossible and corporeally redundant, or intellectually and otherwise as weazened as last year’s Li-che nut. 
          I was criminally mistaken.  And why Lezard, who knew her, had never set me right I could not then understand.  I comprehended later. 
          For the feminine assistant of Professor Jane Bottomly, who sauntered into my study and announced herself, had the features of Athene, the smile of Aphrodite, and the figure of Psyche.  I believe I do not exaggerate these scientific details, although it has been said of me that any pretty girl distorts my vision and my intellectual balance to the detriment of my calmer reason and my differentiating ability. 
          “Gentlemen,” said Dr. Delmour, while we stood in a respectful semi-circle before her, modestly conscious of our worth, our toes turned out, and each man’s features wreathed with that politely unnatural smirk which masculine features assume when confronted by feminine beauty.  “Gentlemen, on the eve of your proposed departure for Baffin Land in quest of living specimens of the five-spotted Philohela quinquemaculata, I have been instructed by Professor Bottomly to announce to you a great good fortune for her, for you, for the Bronx, for America, for the entire civilized world. 
          “It has come to Professor Bottomly’s knowledge, recently I believe, that an entire herd of mammoths lie encased in the mud and ice of the vast flat marshes which lie south of the terminal moraine of the Golden Glacier in that part of Baffin Land known as Dr. Cook’s Peninsula. 
          “The credit of this epoch-making discovery is Professor Bottomly’s entirely.  How it happened, she did not inform me.  One month ago today she sailed in great haste for Baffin Land.  At this very hour she is doubtless standing all alone upon the frozen surface of that wondrous marsh, contemplating with reverence and awe and similar holy emotions the fruits of her own unsurpassed discovery!” 
          Dr. Delmour’s lovely features became delicately suffused and transfigured as she spoke; her exquisite voice thrilled with generous emotion; she clasped her snowy hands and gazed, enraptured, at the picture of Dr. Bottomly which her mind was so charmingly evoking. 
          “Perhaps,” she whispered, “perhaps at this very instant, in the midst of that vast and flat and solemn desolation the only protuberance visible for miles and miles is Professor Bottomly.  Perhaps the pallid Arctic sun is setting behind the majestic figure of Professor Bottomly, radiating a blinding glory to the zenith, illuminating the crowning act of her career with its unearthly aura!” 
          She gazed at us out of dimmed and violet eyes.  “Gentlemen,” she said, “I am ordered to take command of this expedition of yours; I am ordered to sail with you tomorrow morning on the Labrador and Baffin Line steamer Dr. Cook. 
          “The object of your expedition, therefore, is not to be the quest of Philohela qu inquemaculata; your duty now is to corroborate the almost miraculous discovery of Professor Bottomly, and to disinter for her the vast herd of frozen mammoths, pack and pickle them, and get them to the Bronx. 
          “Tomorrow’s morning papers will have the entire story: the credit and responsibility for the discovery and the expedition belong to Professor Bottomly, and will be given to her by the press and the populace of our great republic. 
          “It is her wish that no other names be mentioned.  Which is right.  To the discoverer belongs the glory.  Therefore, the marsh is to be named Bottomly’s Marsh, and the Glacier, Bottomly’s Glacier. 
          “Yours and mine is to be the glory of laboring incognito under the direction of the towering scientific intellect of the age, Professor Bottomly. 
          “And the most precious legacy you can leave your children—if you get married and have any—is that you once wielded the humble pick and shovel for Jane Bottomly on the bottomless marsh which bears her name!” 
          After a moment’s silence we three men ventured to look sideways at each other.  We had certainly killed Professor Bottomly, scientifically speaking.  The lady was practically dead.  The morning papers would consummate the murder.  We didn’t know whether we wanted to laugh or not. 
          She was now virtually done for; that seemed certain.  So greedily had this egotistical female swallowed the silly bait we offered, so arrogantly had she planned to eliminate everybody excepting herself from the credit of the discovery, that there seemed now nothing left for us to do except to watch her hurdling deliriously toward destruction.  Should we burst into hellish laughter? 
          We looked hard at Dr. Delmour and we decided not to—yet. 
          Said I: “To assist at the final apotheosis of Professor Bottomly makes us very, very happy.  We are happy to remain incognito, mere ciphers blotted out by the fierce white light which is about to beat upon Professor Bottomly, fore and aft.  We are happy that our participation in this astonishing affair shall never be known to science. 
          “But, happiest of all are we, dear Dr. Delmour, in the knowledge that you are to be with us and of us, incognito on this voyage now imminent; that you are to be our revered and beloved leader. 
          “And I, for one, promise you personally the undivided devotion of a man whose entire and austere career has been dedicated to science—in all its branches.” 
          I stepped forward rather gracefully and raised her little hand to my lips to let her see that even the science of gallantry had not been neglected by me. 
          Dr. Daisy Delmour blushed. 
          “Therefore,” said I, “considering the fact that our names are not to figure in this expedition; and, furthermore, in consideration of the fact that you are going, we shall be very, very happy to accompany you, Dr. Delmour.” I again saluted her hand, and again Dr. Delmour blushed and looked sideways at Professor Lezard. 

End of PART TWO..... GO TO PART THREE..... 

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