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Beverly's Egg Pedigree and Dating Machine

Beverly's Egg Pedigree and Dating Machine


"I AM sure, gentlemen," said the Colonel. "that all of you will be interested, with the possible exception of the Judge, who seems to be asleep—"

"I am not asleep!" the Judge broke in, sharply. "Mv eyes have been closed for some time past because I have been thinking. When I think, I always close my eyes: to the end that I may safeguard my mind in its ratiocinative processes from the disturbing intrusion of trivial extraneous objects of an annoying nature. In the present instance, if you desire that I shall be specific, I may say that the trivial extraneous object of an annoying nature from which I have sought to detach myself is the Doctor—who, during the past half-hour or so, has been twiddling his thumbs and fingers in a manner so vacuous as to be to the highest degree exasperating."

"Stop right there. Judge!" said the Doctor. "I have been doing some ratiocinative stunts myself, and in using the word 'vacuous' you are away off your eggs. In point of fact—"

"Excuse me. Doctor." interrupted the Colonel. "Your reference to eggs is precisely in line with the matter to which I am in the act of inviting general attention. As I have said. I am sure that all of you will be interested—"

"Excuse me ,Colonel," said the Doctor, warmly. "I am not going to let the Judge whack at me that way without having my whack back at him. When I was 'twiddling my fingers and thumbs.' as he politely calls it, I was going through the various cat's-cradle motions (as even he would have seen if I'd had the string on my fingers) which Dr. Cunnington, the eminent English ethnologist, has found in use among certain savage tribes in East Africa. Dr. Cunnington thinks that being able to do them is a proof of exceptional intellectuality, and I was trying to find out how much intellectuality it takes to put them through. My notion is, it takes about as much as you'll find in an average kitten. But that is a side issue. The nub of the matter is that what the Judge calls a vacuous performance really was top-notch ethnological investigation—and I reckon it began at a point a long chalk ahead of where his blessed half-asleep ratiocinative processes stop short. The trouble with the Judge is, he's too much, given to bossing: but I want him to understand that when he tries his pig-headed hectoring court ways on me—"

"Tut! Tut! My dear Doctor," interjected the Bishop in kindly tones, "I am willing to concede—and I am sure that the Judge, on second thought, will be willing to concede—that a little warmth on your part is quite excusable. But let us not go too far. Remember King Solomon's just observation that 'he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty': and the similar, and equally apposite, counsel given in his General Epistle by St. James. Forgive, my dear Doctor, this not wholly uncalled-for interpellation; and believe me when I say that it is prompted as much by my warm friendship for yourself and for the Judge as it is by the duty that I owe to my cloth.

"And now, my dear Colonel," continued the Bishop, with a winning episcopal smile, "I trust that—similarly pardoning my obviously well-meant interruption—you will resume your narrative. You had got as far as stating that what you were about to add would interest us; and from the few other words which you let drop I inferred that the subject of your intended discourse was not unrelated to eggs. Much may be said about eggs that usefully may be listened to, and especially about cooking them. Personally—my tastes being simple both by natural disposition and by cultivation—I prefer them boiled; to be exact, medium boiled. In that way— But it is you, my dear Colonel, from whom we are waiting to hear. How do you like them cooked yourself?"

"The matter concerning which I have endeavored—but, so far, conspicuously have been unable—to speak," said the Colonel, wearily, "has nothing whatever to do with egg-cooking: save in that, to be quite accurate—the initial production of an egg being a necessary precedent condition to its subsequent culinary treatment—it relates to egg-cooking's first cause. However, I will take advantage of the present momentary lull in the very animated general conversation—which, so far, a little has checked my effort to add to our common stock of rational entertainment—and proceed. I repeat, gentlemen, you all will be interested—"

"I am sure we will be!" interjected the Bishop, genially.

"—in knowing that my friend Beverly, during one of his rare seasons of abstention from inventive creation, devoted his energies to chicken-raising. Partly for the sake of mental relaxation, partly that he might make sure of always having fresh eggs at breakfast, he applied himself—"

"Pardon me a single word of interruption, Colonel," said the Bishop. "But a moment ago I asserted that we certainly would be interested in what you were about to tell us. Permit me now to add that the line on which your theme is developing makes my assurance—so far as my own individual interest is concerned—doubly sure. As a boy—being wisely encouraged by my excellent parents to engage in productive industry—I myself raised chickens. Whatever you have to tell of your friend Mr. Beverly's efforts and experiences in that avocation will make to me a very strong appeal; and the stronger as the perturbations which I am well satisfied beset him approximate to my own. In this connection I remember, and recall because of the amusement that a recital of my boyish troubles will afford you, the difficulties I had with one particular old hen—she was brown, and was named 'Peggy'—who was the most inveterate strayer you ever saw! To me, at the time, there was no amusement in her erratic performances. Her breed was of the best—she was my only Cochin-China—and I was keenly desirous of knowing both when and where she laid her eggs: that, collecting them, I might put them to set under a hen of a more stable—"

"Unwittingly, Bishop," the Colonel broke in a little desperately, "you have touched upon the precise point of my present narrative. My friend Mr. Beverly found himself 'up against'—if I may be permitted to use an expressive colloquialism—the very difficulty that you have mentioned; and his creation of a simple but most effective mechanical device to overcome such ovarian irregularities—and thereby to reduce chicken-raising to an exact science—affords yet another illustration of the unlimited inventive genius and endless resourcefulness with which he was endowed."

"Did he patent it?" asked the Judge. "I trust, in his own interest, that he did not. My own wide experience in patent causes has led me to the curious conclusion, gentlemen, that the wisest course to pursue for the safeguarding of a valuable invention is not to patent it. You see, the moment that specifications are filed—"

Permit me. Judge," interposed the Colonel, "to stay the flow of your lucidly inapplicable charge by the statement that Mr. Beverly's invention was not patented: and to add—merely, of course, as a suggestion—that you will manifest a nicer sense of the requirements of common courtesy by reserving your interpellative questions and comments until a direct request on my part shall prompt their deliverance.

"To continue: Being a man of ample means, my friend was in a position to fill his poultry-yard with a superb collection of fowls of the finest breeds. Naturally, from such blooded stock he expected—both in strain and for breakfast purposes—the best results; and he suffered, therefore, an equally natural disappointment when, in the matter of strain, a most bewildering confusion of races attended his first spring hatching: and when, almost from the time that egg-laying began, he encountered at his breakfast-table a series of the most disagreeable surprises. Investigation on Mr. Beverly's part led to the discovery—as you, Bishop, will infer from your experience with your hen 'Molly'—"

" 'Peggy,' " corrected the Bishop, and added: "Yes, I see just how it was. The hens had been laying in each other's nest, and the eggs got mixed up when it came to setting them. The surprise eggs, of course, were strays. Why, I remember once—"

"You have hit it exactly, Bishop. Investigation on Mr. Beverly's part led to the discovery that the annoying emergence of three or four different sorts of chicks from the same setting was due to the vagrant disposition of the hens to lay their eggs in any nest that happened to come handy, with a resultant uncertainty as to their genesis when they were put to set; and to the farther discovery that the surprise eggs at breakfast had been laid in such out-of-the-way places that they had not been found and collected until long after their period of edible usefulness was past. His admirable invention was intended to remedy these objectionable conditions—"

"I wish he'd got along with it on the egg I struck yesterday morning!" said the Doctor, with feeling. "That egg was a corker! Why, when I cracked it—"

"—and in theory, at least," continued the Colonel, with insistence, it did compass that desirable result. In principle—as was the case with all of his more important inventions—my friend's Egg Pedigree and Dating Machine combined efficiency with simplicity to a very remarkable degree. Stated briefly, it was constructed in the following manner:

"Along the sides of the poultry-house were placed commodious nests—adequate to the requirements of all the hens on the establishment—which severally were numbered, and also severally were colored, with a conspicuous clearness. Each of these nests was poised on a simply contrived spring balance; in the bottom of each was a small hole—just large enough for an egg to pass through it easily—that gave access to a padded cup poised on a spring lever directly beneath the orifice: in the rear of each was a simply operated wooden arm with an extensible attachment: and above each was a double-action spring plunger fitted at its lower extremity with a dating apparatus—a rubber cylinder set each morning by an auxiliary clockwork connection—that carried also the number of the nest on a supplementary rubber stamp."

"Did I understand you to say, Colonel, that simplicity was one of the more obvious characteristics of Mr. Beverly's egg-machine?" asked the Judge.

"You did, sir," replied the Colonel. "If there is anything that you would like me more fully to explain I shall—"

"No! No! I beg of you don't," exclaimed the Judge. "I've had about as much explaining now as I can stand. Go right ahead, Colonel, in your own way."

"Motive power for the extensible arms and the plungers," continued the Colonel, "was supplied by a small hot-air engine: so contrived—Mr. Beverly's constant effort was toward the economical utilization of conserved forces—that its surplus energy heated the poultry-house in cold weather, turned a grindstone as occasion demanded, and drove an ingenious little machine in his kitchen (one of his by-inventions) that at one operation cleaned the table-knives and polished the family shoes. In addition to these several simple appliances, a tank of suitable capacity—its faucet governed by a simple connection with the appropriate plunger—was placed over each nest; and these tanks severally were filled with innocuous fluids severally identical in color with the colors, severally, of the nests over which they were ranged. Finally, to the back of each hen was gummed fast each morning a suitably proportioned sheet of paper—tough in texture, but light in body and pliable, that carrying it around on their backs might impose upon the hens the minimum of annoyance—so adjusted as to be precisely in place for the records which they were destined to receive."

"How did it all work?" asked the Doctor. "Did the hens use the jugs of different-colored inks to make notes with their claws on their backs about when they laid their eggs, and what they thought they were worth a dozen?"

"To a mind of the most moderate apprehensive grasp," replied the Colonel, coldly, "the general working of Mr. Beverly's admirably simple mechanism is self-evident. However, as I obviously have to reckon with at least one mind of a rudimentary type, I will explain how it worked in terms of a rudimentary simplicity. The entry of a hen into any one of the spring-balanced nests—by disturbing the nest's nicely adjusted equilibrium—released a spring that operated a simple clutch which coupled up the motive power with the extensible wooden arm and the double-action plunger. Thereafter the egg—being laid, and necessarily dropping through the orifice at the bottom of the nest provided for its exit—fell into the padded cup, and by its weight so depressed the lever to which the cup was attached that another spring was released that moved a crank by which the machinery was set in motion. Then, gently but firmly, the plunger came down upon the hen's back: and the stamping apparatus there recorded—on the paper arranged to receive these statistics—the number of the nest in which, and the date on which, the preliminary maternal duties, of that particular hen had been discharged—a record that was transcribed from the hen's back into a properly tabulated stock-book at a later period in the day.

"The dating of the hen being accomplished, the plunger returned to its place, and the extensible wooden arm gently but firmly ejected the hen from the nest: whereupon the plunger—again descending, but operating with a relatively greatly lengthened stroke—passed down through the hole in the bottom of the nest, and similarly numbered and dated the egg in the receptacle below. Finally—the second return upward of the plunger momentarily opening the appropriate faucet—a few drops of the colored liquid in the superposed tank fell through the roof of the nest and through the orifice in its bottom upon the egg: and thus assured beyond a peradventure—the colors of the several liquids and the colors of the several nests being, as you will remember, identical—the egg's positive identification. Date and pedigree being thus—"

"Did Mr. Beverly take opium habitually, Colonel?" asked the Judge.

"Mr. Beverly did not take opium," the Colonel replied, severely, "habitually or any other way. May I inquire what prompts a question at once so offensive and so irrelevant?"

"Oh, nothing in particular. It just happened to occur to me, that is all. Pardon me if I have said anything to ruffle you, Colonel. What you are telling us is most curious and most interesting. Pray continue. You have said that Mr. Beverly did not patent this very original apparatus. May I ask if he brought it into effective working order for his own use?"

"In theory," replied the Colonel, "he did: but I regret to add that his first—and, indeed, only—attempt to make it operative was not crowned with a complete practical success. By an unfortunate error in the adjustment of the mechanism—a mere detail, but productive of most serious consequences—the order of the action of the plungers was inverted: that is to say, the long down stroke calculated to pass through the bottom of the nest and date the egg preceded the short down stroke calculated to stop midway in the nest and date the hen. The result is painfully obvious. On that lamentable occasion no less than twenty-seven of the nests were occupied—as it happened, by the choicest of Mr. Beverly's blooded stock—and twenty-three of their unfortunate occupants instantly perished. Moreover, the excessive action of the plungers unduly operated the faucets of the tanks: with the farther result that the whole quantity of colored liquid in each of the several tanks was discharged into each of the several nests—and in a stream so sudden and so overwhelming that the crushed hens collectively looked like a disarranged rainbow, and the four which miraculously had escaped crushing: simultaneously were colored tastefully and drowned. By way of completing this very general devastation, the several wooden arms—being set in motion by the dropping of the several eggs into the several poised cups before the catastrophe began—were driven so irresistibly against the several immovable masses of pressed hen that they severally were snapped off short: thereby inducing a sudden stoppage of all the machinery that reacted—by dislocating the connecting-gear—on the hot-air engine and caused it to explode with such violence that what little remained intact of the apparatus was shattered, and the poultry-house was entirely destroyed."

"Well, I'll be—" began the Doctor; but, meeting the Bishop's cautioning reproachful glance, checked himself and substituted: "What did old Beverly do, anyway, Colonel, when it was all over?"

"Perceiving the futility of attempting to repair material damages of so radical a nature," replied the Colonel, "and having lost in the general wreck almost the whole of his stock of poultry, Beverly presented to a deserving charitable institution for culinary purposes the negligible remainder, and engaged in other pursuits."

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.