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8 - At The Zoo

We had not travelled far from the office of Aesculapius when my little
carriers turned from the broad and beautiful corridor into a narrow
passage, through which they proceeded with some difficulty until we
reached the other side of this strangely constructed home of the gods.
As we emerged into the light of day, the view that presented itself
was indescribably beautiful. I have looked from our own hills at home
upon many a scene of grandeur. From the mountain peaks of New
Hampshire, with the sun streaming down upon me, I have looked upon
the valleys beneath through rifts in clouds that had not ventured so
high, and were drenching the glorious green below with refreshing
rains, and have stood awed in the presence of one of the simplest
moods of nature. But the sight that greeted my eyes as I passed along
that exterior road of Olympus, under the genial auspices of those
wonderful gods, appealed to something in my soul which had never
before been awakened, and which I shall never be able adequately to
describe. The mere act of seeing seemed to be uplifting, and, from the
moment I looked downward upon the beloved earth, I ceased to wonder
that gods were godlike--indeed, my real wonder was that they were not
more so. It seemed difficult to believe that there was anything
earthly about earth. The world was idealized even to myself, who had
never held it to be a bad sort of place. There were rich pastures,
green to the most soul-satisfying degree, upon which cattle fed and
lived their lives of content; here and there were the great cities of
earth seen through a haze that softened all their roughness; nothing
sordid appeared; only the fair side of life was visible.

And I began to see how it came about that these Olympian gods had lost
control over man. If the world, with all its joys and all its
miseries, presents to the controlling power merely its joyous side,
what sympathy can one look for in one's deity? There was Paris and
Notre Dame in the sunlight. But the Morgue at the back of Notre
Dame--in the shadow of its sunlit towers--that was not visible to the
eye of the casual god who drove his blackamoors along that entrancing
roadway. There was London and the inspiring pile of Westminster
showing up its majestic top, lit by the wondrous light of the sun--but
still undiscovered of the gods there rolled on its farther side the
Thames, dark as the Styx, a very grave of ambition, yet the last
solace of many a despairing soul. London Bridge may tell the gods of
much that may not be seen from that glorious driveway along the
exterior of Olympus.

I found myself growing maudlin, and I pulled myself together.

"Magnificent view, Sammy," said I.

"Yassir," he replied, trotting along faithfully. "Dass what dey all
says. _I_ 'ain't nebber seen it. 'Ain't got time to look at it."

"Well, stop a moment and look," said I. "Isn't it magnificent?"

The blackies stopped and looked.

"Putty good," said Sammy, "but I doan' care fo' views," he added. "Dey
makes me dizzy."

I gave Sammy up from that moment. He was well carved, a work of art,
in fact, but he was essentially modern, and I was living in the
antique.

"Hustle along to the Zoo," I cried, with some impatience, and I was
truly "hustled."

"Here we is," said Sammy, settling down on his haunches at the end of
a five-mile trot. "Dis is it."

We had stopped before a gate not entirely unlike those the Japanese
erect before popular places of amusement they frequent.

I descended from the chair and was greeted by an attendant who
demanded to know what I wished to see.

"The animals," said I.

He laughed. "Well," he said, "I'll show you what I've got, but truly
most of them have gone off on vacation."

"Is the Trojan Horse here?" I demanded.

"No," said he. "He's in the repair shop. One of his girders is loose,
and the hinges on his door rusted and broke last week. His interior
needs painting, and his left hind-leg has been wobbly for a long time.
It was really dangerous to keep him longer without repairs."

I was much disappointed. In visiting the Olympian Zoo I was largely
impelled by a desire to see the Trojan Horse and compare him with the
Coney Island Elephant, which, with the summer hotels of New Jersey and
the Statue of Liberty, at that time dominated the minor natural
glories of the American coast in the eyes of passengers on in-coming
steamships. I think I should even have ventured a ride in his
capacious interior despite what Sammy had said of his friskiness and
the peril of his action to persons susceptible to sea-sickness.

"Too bad," said I, swallowing my disappointment as best I could.
"Still, you have other attractions. How about the Promethean vulture?
Is he still living?"

"Unfortunately, no," said the attendant. "He was taken out last year
and killed. Got too proud to live. He put in a complaint about his
food. Said Prometheus was a very interesting man, but as a diet he was
monotonous and demanded a more diversified _menu_. Said he'd like to
try Apollo and a Muse or two, for a little while, and preferred Cupids
on toast for Sunday-night tea."

"What a vulturian vulture!" said I.

"Wasn't he?" laughed the attendant. "We replied by wringing his neck,
and served him up in a chicken salad to a party of tourists from
Hades."

This struck me as reasonable, and I said so.

"Well, whatever you happen to have on hand will satisfy me," I added.
"Just let me see what animals you have and I'll be content."

"Very well," replied the attendant. "Step this way."

He took me along a charming pathway bordered with many a beautiful
tree and adorned with numerous flowers of wondrous fragrance.

"This path is not without interest," he said; "all the trees and
shrubs have a history. That laurel over there, for instance, used to
be a Daphne. She and Jupiter had a row and he planted her over there.
Makes a very pretty tree, eh?"

"Extremely," said I. "Have you many similar ventures?"

"Oh yes. Our botanical gardens are full of them," he replied. "Those
trees to the right are Baucis and Philemon. That lotos plant on the
left used to be Dryope, and when Adonis isn't busy valeting at the
hotel, he comes down here and blooms as an anemone, into which, as you
are probably aware, he was changed by Venus. That pink thing by the
fountain is Hyacinthus, and over there by the pond is where Narcissus
blooms. He's a barber in his off hours."

I had already learned that, so expressed no surprise.

"That's a stunning sunflower you have," I ventured, pointing to a
perfect specimen thereof directly ahead of us.

"Yes," said the attendant. "That's Clytie. She's only potted. We don't
set her out permanently, because the royal family like to have her on
the table at state dinners. And she, poor girl, rather enjoys it.
Apollo is generally to be found at these dinners either as a guest or
playing a zither or a banjo behind a screen. Wherever he is, the
sunflower turns and it affords considerable amusement among Jupiter's
guests to watch it. Jupiter has christened Clytie the Sherlock Holmes
of Olympus, because wherever Apollo is she spots him. Sometimes when
he isn't present, he has to be very careful in his statements about
where he has been, for long habit has made Clytie unerring in her
instinct."

This seemed to me to be a rather good revenge on Apollo for his very
ungodlike treatment of Clytie, and if half the attendant told me that
day at the Zoo is true, this excessively fickle Olympian is probably
sorry by this time that he treated her originally with such uncalled
for disdain.

"Come over here and see the bear-pit," said the guide. I obeyed with
alacrity, and, leaning over the rail, had the pleasure of seeing the
most beautiful bruin my eyes had ever rested upon. She was as glossy
as a new silk hat; her eyes were as soft and timid as those of a
frightened deer, and, when she moved, she was the perfection of grace.


[Illustration: CALLISTO]

"Good-morning, Callisto," said my guide.

"Same to you, my dear Cephalus," the bear returned, in a sweet
feminine voice that entranced me.

"How are things with you to-day?" asked Cephalus, with a kindly smile.

"Oh, I can't growl," laughed Callisto--it was evident that the
unfortunate woman was not taking her misfortune too seriously. "Only I
wish you'd tell people who come here that while I undoubtedly am a
bear, I have not yet lost my womanly taste, and I don't want to be fed
all the time on buns. If anybody asks you what you think I'd like,
tell them that an occasional _omelette souffl�e_, or an oyster p�t�,
or a platter of _petits fours_ would please me greatly."

"I shall do it, Callisto," said the keeper, as he started to move
away. "Meanwhile, here's a stick of chewing-gum for you." Callisto
received it with a manifestation of delight which moved me greatly,
and I bethought myself of the magic properties of my coat, and
plunging my hand into its capacious pockets, I found there an oyster
p�t� that made my mouth water, and an _omelette souffl�e_ that looked
as if it had been made by a Parisian milliner, it was so dainty.

"If madam will permit me," said I, with a bow to Callisto.

"Thank you kindly," the bear replied, in that same thrillingly sweet
voice, and dancing with joy. "You are a dear, good man, and if you
ever have an enemy, let me know and I'll hug him to death."

As we again turned to go, Cephalus laughed. "Queer case that!" he
said. "You'd have thought Juno would let up on that poor woman, but
she doesn't for a little bit."

"Well--a jealous woman, my dear Cephalus--"

"True," said he. "That's all true enough, but, great Heavens, man,
Juno ought to be used to it by this time with a husband like Jupiter.
She's overstocked this Zoo a dozen times already with her jealous
freaks, and Jupiter hasn't reformed once. What good does it do?"

"Doesn't she ever let 'em off?" I asked. "Doesn't Callisto ever have a
Sunday out, for instance?"

"Yes, but always as a bear, and the poor creature doesn't dare take
her chance with the other wild beasts--the real ones. She's just as
afraid of bears as she ever was, and if she sees a plain, every-day
cow coming towards her, she runs shrieking back to her pit again."

"Poor Callisto," said I. "And Act�on? How about him?"

"He's here--but he's a holy terror," replied Cephalus, shaking his
head. "He gets loose once in a while, and then everybody has to look
out for himself, and frankly," Cephalus added, his voice sinking to a
whisper, "I don't blame him. Diana treated him horribly."

"I always thought so," said I. "He really wasn't to blame."

"Certainly not," observed Cephalus. "If people will go in swimming
out-of-doors, it's their own fault if chance wayfarers stumble upon
them. To turn a man into a stag and then set his own dogs on him for a
thing he couldn't help strikes me as rank injustice."

"Wonder to me that Jupiter doesn't interfere in this business," said
I. "He could help Callisto out without much trouble."

"The point about that is that he's afraid," Cephalus explained. "Juno
has threatened to sue him for divorce if he does, and he doesn't dare
brave the scandal."

We had by this time reached a long, low building that looked like a
stable, and, as we entered, Cephalus observed:

"This is our fire-proof building where we keep our inflammable beasts.
That big, sleeping creature that looks like a mastodon lizard is the
dragon that your friend St. George, of London, got the best of, and
sent here with his compliments. I'll give the beast a prod and let you
see how he works."

Cephalus was as good as his word, and for a moment I wished he wasn't.
Such a din as that which followed the dragon's awakening I never heard
before, and every time the horrible beast opened his jaws it was as if
a fire-works factory had exploded.

"Very dangerous creature that," said Cephalus. "But he is splendid
for f�tes. Shows off beautifully in the dark. I'll prod him again and
just you note the prismatic coloring of his flames. Get up there,
Fido," he added, poking the dragon with his stick a second time. "Wake
up, and give the gentleman an illumination."

The scene of the moment before was repeated, only with greater
intensity, and even in the sunlight I could see that the various hues
his fiery breathings took on were gorgeous beyond description. A
bonfire built of red, pink, green, and yellow lights, backed up by
driftwood in a fearful state of combustion, about describes it.

"Superb," said I, nearly overcome by the grandeur of the scene.

"Well, just imagine it on a dark night!" cried Cephalus,
enthusiastically. "Fido is very popular as a living firework, but he's
a costly luxury."

I laughed. "Costly?" said I. "I don't see why. Fireworks as grand as
that must cost a deal more than he does."

"You don't know," said Cephalus, pressing his lips together. "Why,
that dragon eats ten tons of cannel coal a day, and it takes the
combined efforts of six stokers, under the supervision of an expert
engineer, to keep his appetite within bounds. You never saw such an
eater, and as for drinking--well, he's awful. He drinks sixteen
gallons of kerosene at luncheon."

I eyed Cephalus narrowly, but beyond a wink at the dragon, I saw no
reason to believe that he was deceiving me.

"Then he sets fire to things, and altogether he's an expensive beast
Aren't you, Fido?"

"Yep," barked the dragon.

"Now, over there," continued the guide, patting the dragon on the
head, whereat the fearful beast wagged his tail and breathed a
thousand pounds of steam from his nostrils to express his pleasure.
"Over there are the fire-breathing bulls--all the animals here are
fire-breathing. The bulls give us a lot of trouble. You can't feed 'em
on coal, because their teeth are not strong enough to chew it; and you
can't feed 'em on hay, because they'd set fire to it the minute they
breathed on it; and you can't put 'em out to pasture because they'd
wither up a sixty-acre lot in ten minutes. It's an actual fact that we
have to send for Jason three times a day to come here and feed them.
He's the only person about who can do it, and how he does it no one
knows. He pats them on the neck, and they stop breathing fire. That's
all we know."

"But they must eat something. What does Jason give them?" I demanded.

"We've had to invent a food for them," said Cephalus. "Dr. �sculapius
did it. It's a solution of hay, clover, grass, and paraffine mixed
with asbestos."

"Paraffine?" I cried. "Why, that's extremely inflammable."

"So are the bulls," was Cephalus's rejoinder. "They counteract each
other." I gazed at the animals with admiration. They were undoubtedly
magnificent beasts, and they truly breathed fire. Their nostrils
suggested the flames that are emitted from the huge naphtha jets that
are used to light modern circuses in country towns, and as for their
mouths, any one who can imagine a bull with a pair of gas-logs
illuminating his reflective smile, instead of teeth, may gain a
comprehensive idea of the picture that confronted me.

I had hardly finished looking at these, when Cephalus, impatient to
be through with me, as guides often are with tourists, observed:

"There is the ph[oe]nix."

I turned instantly. I have always wished to see the ph[oe]nix. A bird
having apparently the attractive physique of a broiler deliberately
sitting on a bonfire had appealed strongly to my interest as well as
to my appetite.

"Dear me!" said I. "He's not handsome, is he?"

He was not; resembling an ordinary buzzard with wings outstretched
sitting upon that kind of emberesque fire that induces a man in a
library to think mournfully about the past, and convinces
him--alas!--that if he had the time he could write immortal poetry.

"Not very!" Cephalus acquiesced. "Still, he's all right in a Zoo. He's
queer. Look at his nest, if you don't believe it."

[Illustration: I MEET THE PH[OE]NIX]

"I never believed otherwise, my dear Cephalus," said I. "He seems to
me to be a unique thing in poultry. If he were a chicken he would be
hailed with delight in my country. A self-broiling broiler--!"

The idea was too ecstatic for expression.

"Well, he isn't a chicken, so your rhapsody doesn't go," said
Cephalus. "He's little short of a buzzard. Useful, but not appetizing.
If I were a profane mortal, I should call him a condemned nuisance.
Most birds build their own nests, and a well-built nest lasts them a
whole season. This infernal bird has to have a furnace-man to make his
bed for him night and morning, and if, by some mischance, the fire
goes out, as fires will do in the best-regulated families, he begins
to squawk, and he squawks, and he squawks, and he squawks until the
keeper comes and sets his nest a-blazing again. He has a voice like a
sick fog-horn that drives everybody crazy."

"Why don't you fool him sometimes?" I suggested. "Make a nest out of a
mustard-plaster and see what he would do."

"He's too old a bird to be caught that way," said Cephalus. "He's a
confounded old ass, but he's a brainy one."

At this moment a blare of the most heavenly trumpets sounded, and
Cephalus and I left the building and emerged into the garden to see
what had caused it. There a dazzling spectacle met my gaze. A regiment
of Amazons was drawn up on the green of the parade and a superb gilded
coach, drawn by six milk-white horses, stood before them, while two
gorgeously apparelled heralds sounded a fanfare. Cephalus immediately
became deeply agitated.

"It is his Majesty's own carriage and guard," he cried.

"Whose?" said I.

"Jupiter's," said he. "I fancy they have come for you."

And it so transpired. One of the heralds advanced to where I was
standing, saluted me as though I were an emperor, and, through his
golden trumpet, informed me that eleven o'clock was approaching; that
his Majesty deigned to grant me the desired audience, and had sent a
carriage and guard of honor.

I returned the salute, thanked Cephalus for his attentions, and
entered the carriage. A brass band of a hundred and twenty pieces
struck up an inspiring march, and, preceded and followed by the
Amazons, I was conveyed in state to the palatial quarters of Zeus
himself.

It suggested comic opera with a large number of pretty chorus girls,
but I could not help being impressed in spite of this thought with the
fact that Jupiter knew how to do a thing up in style. I was indeed so
awed with it all that I did not dare wink at a single Amazon while _en
route_, although strongly tempted to do so several times.

John Kendrick Bangs

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