A Mushroom of Collingsville
A Mushroom of Collingsville
There were three men in the hotel office that Monday evening: Jared Parker, the proprietor; Seth Wilber, town authority on all things past and present; and John Fletcher, known in Collingsville as "The Squire"—possibly because of his smattering of Blackstone; probably because of his silk hat and five-thousand-dollar bank account. Each of the three men eyed with unabashed curiosity the stranger in the doorway.
"Good-evening, gentlemen," began a deprecatory voice. "I—er—this is the hotel?"
In a trice Jared Parker was behind the short counter.
"Certainly, sir. Room, sir?" he said suavely, pushing an open book and a pen halfway across the counter.
"H'm, yes, I—I suppose so," murmured the stranger, as he hesitatingly crossed the floor. "H'm; one must sleep, you know," he added, as he examined the point of the pen.
"Certainly, sir, certainly," agreed Jared, whose face was somewhat twisted in his endeavors to smile on the prospective guest and frown at the two men winking and gesticulating over by the stove.
"H'm," murmured the stranger a third time, as he signed his name with painstaking care. "There, that's settled! Now where shall I find Professor Marvin, please?"
"Professor Marvin!" repeated Jared stupidly.
"Yes; Professor George Marvin," bowed the stranger.
"Why, there ain't no Professor Marvin, that I know of."
"Mebbe he means old Marvin's son," interposed Seth Wilber with a chuckle.
The stranger turned inquiringly.
"His name's 'George,' all right," continued Seth, with another chuckle, "but I never heard of his professin' anythin'—'nless 't was laziness."
The stranger's face showed a puzzled frown.
"Oh—but—I mean the man who discovered that ants and—"
"Good gorry!" interrupted Seth, with a groan. "If it's anythin' about bugs an' snakes, he's yer man! Ain't he?" he added, turning to his friends for confirmation.
Jared nodded, and Squire Fletcher cleared his throat.
"He's done nothing but play with bugs ever since he came into the world," said the Squire ponderously. "A most unfortunate case of an utterly worthless son born to honest, hard-working parents. He'll bring up in the poor-house yet—or in a worse place. Only think of it—a grown man spending his time flat on his stomach in the woods counting ants' legs and bugs' eyes!"
"Oh, but—" The stranger stopped. The hotel-keeper had the floor.
"It began when he wa'n't more'n a baby. He pestered the life out of his mother bringing snakes into the sittin'-room, and carrying worms in his pockets. The poor woman was most mortified to death about it. Why, once when the parson was there, George used his hat to catch butterflies with—smashed it, too."
"Humph!" snapped the Squire. "The little beast filled one of my overshoes once, to make a swimming-tank for his dirty little fish."
"They could n't do nothin' with him," chimed in Seth Wilber. "An' when he was older, 'twas worse. If his father set him ter hoein' pertaters, the little scamp would be found h'istin' up old rocks an' boards ter see the critters under 'em crawl."
"Yes, but—" Again the stranger was silenced.
"And in school he did n't care nothing about 'rithmetic nor jography," interrupted Jared. "He was forever scarin' the teacher into fits bringin' in spiders an' caterpillars, an' asking questions about 'em."
"Gorry! I guess ye can't tell me no news about George Marvin's schoolin'," snarled Seth Wilber—"me, that's got a son Tim what was in the same class with him. Why, once the teacher set 'em in the same seat; but Tim could n't stand that—what with the worms an' spiders—an' he kicked so hard the teacher swapped 'round."
"Yes; well—er—extraordinary, extraordinary—very!—so it is," murmured the stranger, backing toward the door. The next moment he was out on the street asking the first person he met for the way to George Marvin's.
On Tuesday night a second stranger stopped at the hotel and asked where he could find Professor Marvin. Jared, Seth, and Squire Fletcher were there as before; but this time their derisive stories—such as they managed to tell—fell on deaf ears. The stranger signed his name with a flourish, engaged his room, laughed good-naturedly at the three men—and left them still talking.
On Wednesday two more strangers arrived, and on Thursday, another one. All, with varying manner but unvarying promptitude, called for Professor George Marvin.
Jared, Seth, and the Squire were. Their mystification culminated in one grand chorus of amazement when, on Friday, the Squire came to the hotel hugging under his arm a daily newspaper.
"Just listen to this!" he blurted out, banging his paper down on the desk and spreading it open with shaking hands. As he read, he ran his finger down the column, singling out a phrase here and there, and stumbling a little over unfamiliar words.
The recent ento-mo-logical discoveries of Professor George Marvin have set the scientific world in a flurry. … Professor Marvin is now unanimously conceded to be the greatest entomologist living. He knows his Hex-a-poda and Myri-a-poda as the most of us know our alphabet. … The humble home of the learned man has become a Mecca, toward which both great and small of the scientific world are bending eager steps. … The career of Marvin reads like a romance, and he has fought his way to his present enviable position by sheer grit, and ability, having had to combat with all the narrow criticism and misconceptions usual in the case of a progressive thinker in a small town. Indeed, it is said that even now his native village fails to recognize the honor that is hers.
"Jehoshaphat!" exclaimed Seth Wilber faintly.
Fletcher folded the paper and brought his fist down hard upon it.
"There's more—a heap more," he cried excitedly.
"But how—what—" stammered Jared, whose wits were slow on untrodden paths.
"It's old Marvin's son—don't you see?" interrupted Squire Fletcher impatiently. "He's big!—famous!"
"'Famous!' What for?"
"Zounds, man!—did n't you hear?" snarled the Squire. "He's a famous entomologist. It's his bugs and spiders."
"Gosh!" ejaculated Jared, his hand seeking the bald spot on the back of his head. "Who'd ever have thought it? Gorry! Let's have a look at it." And he opened the paper and peered at the print with near-sighted eyes.
It was on Monday, three days later, that Jared, Seth, and the Squire were once more accosted in the hotel office by a man they did not know.
"Good-evening, gentlemen, I—"
"You don't even have to say it," cut in Jared, with a nourish of both hands. "We know why you're here without your telling."
"An' you've come ter the right place, sir—the right place," declared Seth Wilber, pompously. "What Professor Marvin don't know about bugs an' spiders ain't wuth knowin'. I tell ye, sir, he's the biggest entymollygist that there is ter be found."
"That he is," affirmed the Squire, with an indulgently superior smile toward Wilber—"the very greatest entomologist living," he corrected carefully. "And no wonder, sir; he's studied bugs from babyhood. I've known him all his life—all his life, sir, and I always said he'd make his mark in the world."
"Oh, but—" began the stranger.
"’Member when he took the parson's hat to catch butterflies in?" chuckled Jared, speaking to the Squire, but throwing furtive glances toward the stranger to make sure of his attention. "Gorry—but he was a cute one! Wish 't had been my hat. I'd 'a' had it framed an' labeled, an' hung up on the wall there."
"Yes, I remember," nodded the Squire; then he added with a complacent smile: "The mischievous little lad used my overshoe for a fish-pond once—I have that overshoe yet."
"Have ye now?" asked Seth Wilber enviously. "I want ter know! Well, anyhow, my Tim, he went ter school with him, an' set in the same seat," continued Seth, turning toward the stranger. "Tim's got an old writin'-book with one leaf all sp'iled 'cause one of young Marvin's spiders got into the inkwell an' then did a cake-walk across the page. Tim, he got a lickin' fur it then, but he says he would n't give up that page now fur forty lickin's."
The stranger shifted from one foot to the other.
"Yes, yes," he began, "but—"
"You'd oughter seen him when old Marvin used ter send him put to hoe pertaters," cut in Jared gleefully. "Gorry!—young as he was, he was all bugs then. He was smart enough to know that there was lots of curious critters under sticks an' stones that had laid still for a long time. I tell yer, there wa'n't much that got away from his bright eyes—except the pertaters!—he did n't bother them none."
A prolonged chuckle and a loud laugh greeted this sally. In the pause that followed the stranger cleared his throat determinedly.
"See here, gentlemen," he began pompously, with more than a shade of irritation in his voice. "Will you allow me to speak? And will you inform me what all this is about?"
"About? Why, it's about Professor George Marvin, to be sure," rejoined Squire Fletcher. "Pray, what else should it be about?"
"I guess you know what it's about all right, stranger," chuckled Seth Wilber, with a shrewd wink. "You can't fool us. Mebbe you're one o' them fellers what thinks we don't know enough ter 'preciate a big man when we've got him. No, sir-ree! We ain't that kind. Come, ye need n't play off no longer. We know why you're here, an' we're glad ter see ye, an' we're proud ter show ye the way ter our Professor's. Come on—'t ain't fur."
The stranger drew back. His face grew red, then purple.
"I should like to know," he sputtered thickly, "I should like to know if you really think that I—I have come 'way up here to see this old bug man. Why, man alive, I never even heard of him!"
"What!" ejaculated three disbelieving voices, their owners too dumfounded to take exceptions to the sneer in tone and words. "Zounds, man!—what did you come for, then?" demanded the Squire.
The stranger raised his chin.
"See here, who do you think I am?" he demanded pompously, as he squared himself before them in all his glory of checkered trousers, tall hat, and flaunting watch-chain. "Who do you think I am? I am Theophilus Augustus Smythe, sir, advance agent and head manager of the Kalamazoo None-Like-It Salve Company. I came, sir, to make arrangements for their arrival to-morrow morning. They show in this town to-morrow night. Now perhaps you understand, sir, that my business is rather more important than hunting up any old bug man that ever lived!" And he strode to the desk and picked up the pen.
For a moment there was absolute silence; then Seth Wilber spoke.
"Well, by ginger!—you—you'd oughter have come ter see the Professor, anyhow," he muttered, weakly, as he fell back in his chair. "Say, Squire, 'member when Marvin—"
Over at the desk Theophilus Augustus Smythe crossed his t with so violent an energy that the pen sputtered and made two blots.