- cahpter: CHAPTER VIII. A GERMAN NATURALIST.
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A GERMAN NATURALIST.
"GRANDPAPA," Mark exclaimed, one morning, as the docteur was passing to and fro in the little workroom adjoining the library, where poor Mark usually could be found, seated eternally, with his books and writing materials conveniently disposed about him: "grandpapa, here is a letter you will enjoy, from Professor Römer."| | 126
"Römer! indeed, I shall much delight in dat!" responded the docteur, hastening into the library, regardless of his peculiar appearance, being clad in a long blue linen blouse over his usual attire, having his head tied up in a bright bandana handkerchief, to keep off the dust; his hands being extended outwards from his person, for they were full of paste and gum--he had been occupied in rebinding some of his treasures of old or rare books--his long, narrow, thin, French face sparkling with anticipated pleasure.
"Dat is great man! Römer! great botaniste! I like his books ver mooch. I have zem all bound in zie beautiful red lezzer. I do it myself. I like Römer!"
Victor had been reading George Sand's last romance, with his heels higher than his head, as he lay upon a sofa in the library. He put down his book and sat upright as his grandfather came running in, so hill of eagerness about the letter Mark held open in his hand. Victor was not at all scientific, but he had heard of Minor, whose reputation was world-wide.
"Where did you meet Römer?" asked Victor, with interest.
"I met him in Berlin," said Mark. "I saw a good deal of him, and grew to be much attached to him, and we have corresponded in a desultory sort of fashion ever since. He is now in South America, | | 127 and this letter has been wandering about a good deal, being first brought down one of the tributaries of the Amazon on the head of one of the Indian swimmers who transport the mail in that region of cataracts and vast trackless forests."
"I am altogedder attention," said Docteur Canonge; "read on, Mark."
"Does he write English?" asked Victor; "it does not look like English from here."
"No; he writes in German, and that's the reason it has been so long reaching me," replied Mark. "Our postmasters don't generally read German text."
"I don't understand it either, Mark; so you had better translate," proposed Victor. "I should like to hear what Römer says for himself."
Mark glanced over the letter. "Well, it is great injustice to Römer, who is really quite eloquent in his own tongue; but here goes for an off-hand translation, literal, of course."
You do not think that I have forgotten you, because I have not found time this present year to write to you, noble friend. I have been very busy, and in many wild regions of the earth, where correspondence was not a possibility; where there were no roads and no mail facilities, not even such as are here, of an Indian swimmer to convey a letter upon his head, down the rivers for many miles, to points of civilization. Owing to the | | 128 frequent cataracts and pathless forests, there is no other good route for anything less persevering than an enthusiastic botanist, who discovers here in this untrodden wilderness a true paradise, in which, I assure you, serpents abound, although the Eves are by no means tempting. I have been wandering, since the last year, gathering abundance of finest specimens of plants for the Berlin museum. I have been extremely successful and immensely happy. I have found several new varieties of cinchona, and one fern, which grows only in a cavern on a certain tributary of the Amazon, a fern never known before, and which I risked my life, with joy, to obtain. It grew in a cave, into which I had to be lowered by a grass rope, on the side of a mountain much broken by rocks, about three hundred feet. The Indians who were my guides objected to my descent; but I gave them my only overcoat, well lined with sable (a present from King William, which had served me well on my travels), but I had forgotten to bring any money from the last town whence I started to make this little tour, so I had bartered away all I had with me, except my pipe, a shirt, my trowsers and this overcoat, which I now gave to be permitted to make this descent. I had no shoes, save the cowskin sewed boots of this country, and I have now an overcoat like a Tartar's, made of dressed sheepskins, so I could not make a creditable appearance with you as formerly 'Unter | | 129 den Linden,' in Berlin. I was in a little danger lest the rocks might cut my grass rope, at the end of which I dangled for a half hour; but at last I made my footing safe into the mouth of the cavern, and I found the fern. Oh, mein lieber Mark! but it was an hour of joy. I grasped my treasure, and put it safely into my little silver box in my bosom; then I seized another handful--roots and all--and gave the signal to be hoisted up, which was done quickly; but, having to guard my precious plant, I could not protect myself from the rocks so well, and so I received some rather sharp blows on my body, which have rendered me somewhat stiff in the shoulders and elbows, and forced me to rest a few days. So I am compelled to take leisure, and I write up my letters: this one to you, dear beloved Mark: I had a small attack of fever of the country this year, for about two months. It was intermittent in type, and gave me an opportunity of testing the strength of the different varieties of the cinchona, which I took in infusion and also in decoction. I am, therefore, now prepared to give experimental information in regard to the qualities of the different plants as ferbrifuges I tried some of the coarser and weaker sorts faithfully for several weeks; but they did not relieve disease so quickly as others. I can advise the government positively on this matter. I did not mind retaining my fever somewhat longer, in order to attain to this certain knowledge.| | 130
"This is a splendid country for a botanist. I do not know when I can persuade myself to leave it. I find so much that is delightful here. I have learned to live like the people here, and it does very well indeed. Sometimes I find I can go very well for several days, as the Arabs do, with the sustenance of small balls of ground coffee, which I can generally obtain in this latitude. It is very convenient, and easily portable."
"Good Lord!" ejaculated Victor, "what a diet!"
Mark smiled as he glanced up from his letter. Docteur Canonge was rubbing his hands in glee. Homer was a man after his own heart.
"Oh, but I should like to eat coffee wiz such a compagnon!" said the docteur; "it would be nectare of zie gods!"
"Besides," continued Mark, reading,
I have frequently much fruits and many plants which are edible and known to me, so that I fare well. Some day you will find me knocking at your gate, dear Mark, when, if ever, I can persuade myself to quit this land of interest and wonders. Make my compliments to your venerable and most admired grandfather, Monsieur le Marquis and Docteur Canonge, whom I hope some day to see, and to lay at his feet my most respectful homage. With unchanging friendship, believe me, my dear Mark,"Yours, "RöMER."
"Dat is a man! a man among zouzands!" commented Docteur Canonge, clasping his paste-covered fingers together enthusiastically. "It is a friend to be proud for, my dear Mark!"
Victor ran his fingers through his soft, dark curls and looked laughingly at his grandfather.
"Yes," responded Mark, earnestly, "Römer is a magnificent fellow! I am proud of his friendship. Oh, how gladly I would partake in his fatigues and dangers, if it were but possible!" and Mark sighed heavily as he glanced at his faultless but helpless legs.
Docteur Canonge's face changed. He never could bear to hear Mark sigh over his helpless condition.
"I mus' go and complete zie binding of my 'Bœthius,'" he said, "while zie paste remains still soft. I zank you, dear Mark, for reading me Römer's beautiful letter."
The old docteur never forgot his graceful courtesy towards the most intimate associate; he smiled gratefully on his grandson, and disappeared into his own sanctum to his work.
He had hardly got his leather straight upon his book's back before the door opened.
"Grandpapa," cried Natika, entering hurriedly into his laboratory, "you'll have to stop your work! Here come three carriages, containing, I think, all the Smiths and all the Clarks to pay their party call!"
Docteur Canonge held up his pasty hands in despair, shrugged his shoulders, and then, with a comical grimace, said:| | 132
"Zey make attack in a phalanx! How sall we meet zis enemy?"
Natika laughed. "I don't know, grandpapa. Let's bring them all in here, where Mark and Victor can help us; and tell Lizbette to send up a tray of wine and little cakes as soon as possible, and some of her home-made orange syrup and water."
"Yes; zat will be a diversion to occupy zie army for a while," said Docteur Canonge, laughing. "And we will tell zem about Römer, and I will show zem my workshop. So, now we have arrange our plan of battle, I will go wash my hands and take off zis workman's costume!"
When Docteur Canonge returned to the salon after making a hurried toilette, he came in all the splendor of his black suit, in the buttonholes of which dangled the ribands of several scientific associations, among them the red riband of the French academy. He found "the army," as he had called it, already in line of battle. The angular Mr. Clark, the exuberant Mrs. Clark, the shy Miss Clark, occupied one sofa in a straight line; immediately at right angles sat the three Misses Smith, with their mamma flanking them, and their brother truing to look graceful, nonchalant and accustomed to the easy performance of all social duties. Natika sat facing this formidable array, talking volubly and despairingly--making enormous courts to get some replies more than monosyllabic from her over- | | 133 whelming and portentous guests. But they, the guests, had come to be entertained, not to entertain. So they sat up for their rights, and Natika found that even her Parisian skill failed when she had to do the "frais" of all the conversation for a party comprising six women, who had very few ideas, and who jealously kept those few sacredly within the miserly recesses of their own minds.
This séance was held in the chief salon, and Natika could have embraced her grandfather, when after making his graceful and gracious salutations, he invited the whole party to adjourn to the library. So that his poor Mark "also might have zie pleasure of zie ladies' conversation."
The "whole party" followed the bright little docteur, who preceded then, throwing open the library door, then stepping briskly back with a profound bow to the ladies as they entered the more sociable apartment. There was quite a little bustle as everybody shook hands with Mark, who received the greetings with a cordial smile. Victor came gracefully forward, and by the time Lizbette's tray arrived the social ice was fairly broken. The stiff people lost some of their starch. Fat Mrs. Smith was laughing jollily, and Mr. Clark was talking so fast about botany, of which he knew nothing, and of Römer, of whom he actually had heard something, that Docteur Canonge could not keep pace with him comprehendingly, but he was making the most | | 134 amiable though rather impotent attempts to reply with understanding and propriety. In one of his entangled sentences he broke down so plainly and so preposterously that even Natika's elegance and decorum gave way, and she burst out into an irrepressible, merry laugh over her grandfather's palpable mistakes, that was contagious. Docteur Canonge also laughed, and so did stiff Mr. Clark, while fat .Mrs. Smith shook her fat sides like "a bowlful of jelly."
After a rather prolonged visit, the whole party took leave en masse as they had come, evidently pleased with the visit.
"Thank heaven, that's over!" said Natika, throwing herself exhausted into an easy-chair.
"I sink," said her grandfather, "zat children should be educated wiz knowledge of conversation as a social duty. It would ver' much lighten zie burden of life, if every soul net his fellow wiz frankness and amiable desire to please; and zis is matter of cultivation which Americans do much neglect."
"There seems to be a fierté in the English and American peoples," said Natika.
"A remnant of ancient savagery and isolation that has not been yet evolved out of them," put in Victor.
"Zey was a strong and fierce race, zose nordern peoples," said Docteur Canonge. "Zey were like | | 135 zie carnivorous animals who seize zeir prey each for himself, and go off to zeir dens to devour it in silent peace. Zere still remains great inclination to division and individuation among zem which is not human, and truly not Christian."
"But, grandpapa, you know you are almost socialistic in your theories," said Victor.
"Perhaps! zere is someting of de Frenchman in me. Zie first impulse of zie Frenchman, when any proposition is made to him, is to say, 'I doubt.' Zey are a nation of doubters, true disciples of Descartes! Dey can nevare be very dogmatique because zey do nevare ver' strongly believe much. Zey can nevare see whole trutts anywhere; it is all half-trutts, and sometimes zey don't see noting true at all."
"They understand co-operation, though, and are ready to work and associate with others. So they have done much for science," said Mark.
"Yes, and all de great socialist theories have generally sprung out of French brains," replied the docteur. "I sink zey are probablement developed out of zose leetle tent-caterpillars who make a nation of zemselves, who form one huge tent on a single tree, who eat and sleep and make zeir diurnal promenades togedder every day."
"Grandpapa, Swedenborg says that the ordinary duties of society are to give 'breakfasts and dinners and suppers.' he has a long chapter about it," said Mark.| | 136
"Well, Swedenborg is right zere. It is always been considered a mark of amity to eat togedder among all nations in all periods of time. From zie earliest period among zie Hindoos, who are strict people of caste, zere has been zie highest honor awarded to Jagernath, whose festival drew zie largest crowd of Pilgrims in zat ole world, by reason of de fact zat zere all zie people were equal, and zey all did eat togedder, zereby showing zie wide brotherhood of man. Jagernath have been ver' much calumniated idol. His car did nevare run over nobody, but have ever been zie symbol of love and fraternity among zie Hindoos. Zere is also zie traditional feasts of zie Scandinavians. Zey did eat togedder at Yule-tide and on odor times wen zie chiefs did assemble for council. And zere is zie old symbol of zie order of Freemasons--zie ver' name came from 'mas,' zie Gothic for 'a table.' Zey were band of brodders who do eat together all over zie world. And zere is zie higher mystery of zie mass, or zie Eucharist, among zie Christians. It is a remarkable fac' zat zie Divine bounder of our religion nevare invent noting new by way of symbols. he take old sings and gave zero new and infinite meanings. He take zie washing of zie Hindoos and he turn it into baptism. He take zie fraternal feasts and he make it zie bond of union among all Christians, a sign of amity, equality, fraternity and true liberty."| | 137
"Oh, grandpapa! what would the priests say to hear you talk?" said Natika.
"Zey might say what zey like. I must trutt speak. I am Catolique out of respect to my ancestors and to my famille. But I make my own explanation of all zese matters to myself. I am a Christian, but I go much round a large circle of metaphysics before I get back to zie elementary mysteries, but I do get zere after while, and it contents me. I believe zie best I know, and zie most I can. But I see zere appears Mr. Antony Coolidge. He do come to see you, Natika, .in' you can ver' well entertain one poor young man, wizout assistance from me or anybody," said Docteur Canonge, his eyes twinkling merrily. "So I will go again back to zie blouse and zie book-binding. I fear much my paste is all hard by zis time."
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