Ignatius Cassidy in a Greenhouse
by Charles Hoy Fort
Ignatius Cassidy with great interest examined the smoked-beef plant. Though with scrambled eggs it probably would not have been a success, its red leaves had the iridescent gleam that you have noticed on a shaving of smoked beef, and it looked very much like a box of the packing-house product tousled apart. Near by, the antlers of a moose were growing from a moose's nose, only the antlers were thin, green leaves, and the brownish nose was the covering of roots. And there grew the kind of lanky pitcher that you have seen in hall bedrooms, only it was smaller and green. It was the pitcher plant.
"Well, if this ain't worth seeing!" said Ignatius, and he went to another of the greenhouses in the park. He looked at a tall stalk neatly covered as if with a coating of cherry stain, shooting out leaves ten feet long. On a little tag he read "banana palm."
In a downtown commission house Ignatius had handled thousands of bunches of bananas, and bananas as articles of commerce were no more interesting to him than were potatoes or onions. But here was what bananas came from! Ignatius was enchanted. He was so strongly attracted that, knowing a man who would "speak" for him, he was now wearing the gray uniform of an attendant in the palm house.
Said the head gardener, or arboriculturist, or horticulturist, for words thrive and grow fat in a greenhouse: "There ain't much for you to do here, Cassidy; just learn about the plants so's to answer questions and observe rule 5, which bars out children not with parents or guardians."
Something most fascinating occurred. A fat, red blossom broke out on a banana palm. A leaf curled up and disclosed under it a ragged, yellow fringe. Each thread in the fringe would develop into a banana, of course, if it should survive the struggling that goes on in this world whether on Broadway or on the stalk of a growing fruit tree. Another leaf curled up when the first leaf dropped off, and there were more fuzzy, little yellow bananas that turned green and some day would ripen into yellow again, struggling in a spiral up the stalk, crowding and pushing off the weaker ones, until into a compact bunch they settled.
Temptation was working upon Ignatius. Ten feet over his head the bunch was ripening. He wanted to know what the bananas felt like. He wanted to snip off just one, which never would be missed, and keep it as a curiosity; he very much wanted to know what one tasted like and whether it was so very much better than the finer, and bigger but commonplace kind that sell three for five cents.
This temptation grew and ripened until one day after four o'clock, when the plants went off duty and the doors were closed, Ignatius ran from the greenhouse and crept back with a long ladder. And up to the living, growing bunch he climbed to find out what it felt like and what it looked like when seen close by. But in his fear of the head gardener, who was not far away, he was careless. The ladder slipped, and down from a South American palm Ignatius fell into something from Madagascar. Broken off close, the bunch went with him, Ignatius on his back, protecting the bananas rolling into a product of southern China. He then scrambled through Java and Arabia, and at any moment the head gardener might come in from New York.
But in a leap and a swish and a dart Ignatius had seized a long, curved needle and a bit of stout twine, and again he was up the ladder, tying the bunch back in place, sewing, rivetting, and then concealing the marks he made. Even Nature could not have hung that bunch of bananas more securely, there was a slight jauntiness to it that was even an improvement upon Nature, and it seemed unlikely that the head gardener could be observing enough to notice a barely noticeable difference.
"And," said Ignatius, "'tis my hope the bunch will graft on." I've heard of such things. No one will ever know then."
The next morning the bunch of bananas still hung securely and jauntily, and showed not a sign of wilting.
"It will surely graft," said well-pleased Ignatius.
"Be the powers!" he heard the head gardener shout, "who's been up that tree? 'Tis you, Ignatius Cassidy, and for two cocoanuts I'd stuff that bunch down your wicked throat!"
"I didn't do it!" stammered Ignatius. "I mean it was an accident. I mean to say I wasn't there!"
"You did it, and no one else!" shouted the angry gardener. "I know someone was there, and couldn't know it better did I climb up and see, or if I caught him in the act. Here's the work of all winter gone for naught, and you'd best give in, for was it an accident I'm not the one to hold an accident against no man."
So reasonable was this that Ignatius confessed, stammering that his curiosity had overcome him. And for his curiosity he was punished with extra work for a week or so, and was given not one of the bananas, which would not graft on as he had hoped they would.
Ignatius tramped through the hothouse jungle shaking his switch at children, trying to enjoy the brook with a delicate tracery of fern-like leaves running along the banks, just like frosting on a window pane, only that it was green; but nothing could he enjoy while curiosity was working upon him. He tried to divert himself with scorn, because flower pots showed in the jungle; whoever heard of flower pots in a jungle? But only curiosity could he feel, and even the conch shells could not divert him. Most discordant he thought these conch shells in the brook were, for who ever heard of sea shells in Central Africa? Ignatius could centre his mind only upon one question:
How had the head gardener known what had occurred to the bananas? If he had been asked real questions by sightseers he would have had something else to think of. But whoever ask questions for information in a greenhouse? Someone would say "Is this not the cocoa palm?" Of course it was, and the questioner, leaving no time for an answer, would go on to tell all he knew about the cocoa palm and every other palm that one could think of. Or someone would say "Is this not the coffee bush?" Of course it was. And the questioner would tell the story of the discovery of coffee, the injurious qualities of coffee, and methods of preparing it in many lands.
"But how did he know?" thought preoccupied Ignatius. It seemed best to ask, or there could be no happiness.
"How did I know?" said the head gardener. "Foolish man! How many bunches of bananas have you handled in the commission business?"
"And hung them up how?"
"By the stalks, and the bananas hanging down."
"Of course you did, as anyone would; but you looked at that bunch every day for months, and never got an impression of its way of growing."
"Oh!" said Ignatius, who did have an impression, but had to have it pointed out to him.
For bananas grow on a tree point upward, and, unlike bunches of anything else, grow with their stalks hanging below, looking as grapes would look if hung from the apex grape of a bunch, with the stem dangling.
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