When the Museum Took Boarders
by Charles Hoy Fort
What's this they're saying about Superintendent Maxwell and his fads and fancies? The discoosion has died out some, and it ain't for me to go reviving nothing, but while there's a voice in me that voice says:
"Superintendent Maxwell, you're the grand, fine man, and you saved three hooman lives, and where's those detractors you done the same for their country?"
Me and Billy Heffy was sitting on a bench in Central Park, telling lies of all the money we had once and thinking desprit of where was a meal to come from. We was that hungry we was going to catch a squirrel and take him to some vacant lot and broil him there, only when we says: "Chip! Chip!" or however you'd spell conversations to squirrels, and a little, gray lad jumps up on our knees and up to our collars and all over us, nosing for a peanut, we couldn't be that heartless to grab him by the throat and twist the head off him. We tried again, hoping there'd be a mean or suspicious or scrappy squirrel, so's we could eat him without compunction. All the little gray lads was so frank and trustful we just couldn't murder none, and was as wishful we had peanuts for them as we was for gratifying our own animal passions.
Billy Heffy was a most exasperating lad as ever was. When he ain't hungry there's scarce a word out of him; when his animal passions is aroused this is his line of conversation:
"Say, how'd something with oyster crabs in it go? How'd you like to see a lobster-a-la-newburg come down the path and beckon to you? Would you take something instinctive to a oyster cocktail?"
One more word like that and I'd 'ave had my knee on his buzzum. But down on the next bench is a tall, skinny lad.
He says: "Pardon me for overhearing your imagination, but, though I can't promise no such tenderloin feeds as you're speculating, if a nice chicken pie and termatters put up in the hull berry would reinforce you and make you better, truer men, it's me would be pleased with your company for dinner."
Billy has him by one arm, I has him by the other arm, and we're expatiating upon the fellowship of man and saying all men is brothers and we'd accompany our brother anywheres there's a larder.
Skinny says, "And after them ablutions I diagnosed to you, if you'd like to repose, there's a hull house for you to woo Morpheus in. I ain't promising no feather beds, but you can help yourself, as there's tons and tons of feathers."
"You can't eat feathers nor yet a hull house," says Billy, "but let me see them termatters put up hull and pleasing to all the passions."
"Then, come on," says Skinny. And where does he lead us but to the Mooseum of Natural History.
"Is this what we're going to eat?" says Billy, pointing to the imposing eddy-fice.
"Maybe you'd like a little catsoop on it to aid dig-gestion," says Skinny, scornful. "Come on," he says; "It's most closing time." And we go to the hall where the birds is, only it's now taken up down the centre of it by Philippine exhibits. Down to the farther end is the house Skinny has reference to. It's a hull house, and no doubt of that, only it's the model of a Negrito house in the Philippines. It's about eight feet long and has room in plenty for all of us."
"You see that lad?" says Skinny, pointing to an attendant who's pacing down and then up the hall. "Well when his back's turned, in that little house with you!" His back is turned, and in all three of us sneaks, and hides where you couldn't see us without rubbering all the ways in. The attendant comes back and sort of hesitates, us looking out through cracks at him. He's sort of uneasy, but don't know why. It's because he seen three lads and then there wasn't any, but he not really noticing, but only having the impression. He don't know what's bothering him and can't think, and we're safe for the night's lodgings, because it's pretty soon the Mooseum closes.
It's dark when we begin to nudge the hospitality of our host.
"Did you say the termatters is put up hull?" says Billy.
"Termatters is soft; they'd sure break," I hint, for by this time my animal passions is something feerocious.
Says Skinny, "Then one of you lads wash up the dishes and silver and the other set the table, and I'll be right back with the banquet." He crawls down the dark hall, looking out for watchmen, and passing stuffed lions, none too pleasant to look at in the dark when you can't see them. He's gone a tremendous time, leaving us on the key vive, expecting shots fired.
"He's a looney!" says Billy. "Termatters ain't natural history, even if chicken pie is, so what are they doing here? He ain't got no intelleck and don't know them birds and animals is stuffed, and thinks he can go up to a deer and just slice off an embalmed steak for us. The night's lodgings is comfortable, if not luxurious, and I ain't despising blessings, but what has canned termatters got to do with natural history?"
"Cheese it! Youse can be heard a mile!" whispers Skinny, crawling up to the Negrito dommycile and pushing lushious burdens before him.
"Mince Pies?" says Skinny. "Take it. Some nice little cakes? Help yourself to them! I could run across no chicken pie in the dark, but here's other things."
I opens a jar and thereupon arises the intoxicating aroma of sliced pineapple. Like a rat with an egg, Billy is extracting sustainance from a jar of peaches, only he's more like a cat, because he's purring. We says for Gawd's sake keep still or there'll be a sangnary interruption to the banquet, but Billy keeps right on purring. There's bread, but we disdains it, and on cake and pie satisfies our animal passions. What has cake and pie got to do with natural history? Is it ever shot or trapped or caught in nets like the other specimens around us? We didn't care; we wasn't asking no questions. Skinny is the gods; and we take what the gods provides us. So Billy goes on purring like a cat, enough to scare all the stuffed birds in the cases; Skinny gorges and gorges till he can't gorge no more and then lays down with a slice of mince pie by his nose, so's he can revel in its perfume, even if he's past eating more; I cuddles the pineapple jar to me and on it lavishes all the affection of my nature, and all three of us goes to sleep in the Philippines.
It's late in the morning when we gets up. There's the attendant pacing back and forth, and, one by one, we sore perplex him, though for his life he don't realize what's worrying him, as he leaves the further end of the hall with no one there and turns to see a lad with deep interest examining specimens of Philippine matting.
"Your hospitality was bounteous," we say to Skinny, when we meet him out by the stuffed monkeys. "You are one of Nature's noblemen, and we are much beholden to you for your knowledge of natural history."
"Tain't ended yet," says Skinny. "I was much circumscribed in my deppydations, and with conseentious robbery the supplies is good for a week yet."
"Will you show us?" we implores. "Will you show us what has mince pie got to do with natural history?"
"Sure!" says Skinny. "I got nothing to be ashamed of and ain't concealing nothing."
He takes us where there's this sign:
"Public School Exhibit. East Hall, Second Floor."
We goes through and ain't much interested. It's compositions and drawings and answers to what's the capital of Siam and bounds Ohio, done by school kids. We comes to a case. And low comes our hats off. It's then we pays our respects to Superintendent Maxwell, grand, good man he is! It's the exhibit of the cooking school fad. There's pies and cakes and preserves that fills our inner being with ambition and kinder, better feeling. In awed and hushed tones we congratulates each other on being the Mooseum's boarders.
Says Skinny--and all his better self is uppermost in him--"My! But education is the grand blessing! What with them little school kids instructed in the arts that's culinary and my education not neglected but specialized on lock picking, here's three vally-able lives saved for the good and glory of our country!"
We boards a week in the Philippines, and, though no one seemed to've noticed, the larder is depleted down scandalous, and to look in their house you'd be astonished at evidences showing the high and luxurious living of them Negritos. But we're scared our board bill will be presented. On our last morning we go mighty cautious down the Mooseum steps, because we're lumpy and bumpy all over like first-class shop-lifters. Outside, our hats come off again. What we say we say something fervent and grateful and no hypocrisy.
"Three cheers for Superintendent Maxwell and his fads and his fancies!"
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