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"I SAW a paragraph this morning," said the Colonel, "in the Daily Telephone, which I have been reading about once a year ever since I began to read newspapers. It was that standard old paragraph about the strength of a flea—the one which mentions that he can jump about seven hundred and thirty-two times his own length. I can't understand why that paragraph is so popular. What has the flea ever done for us that we should be for ever advertising him, and calling attention to his superiority in the matter of jumping? It just stimulates his ambition, and sets him to trying to break the record, which is so much the worse for us. However, that isn't what I started out to say."

The Colonel paused, and was evidently waiting for an invitation to pursue his theme, which we promptly gave him.

"You remember my old friend Professor Van Wagener," continued the Colonel. "I was talking with Van Wagener once about this very flea question, and he was mightily enthusiastic about it. He was an electrician by profession, but there is so much in common between fleas and electricity, that he naturally took a good deal of interest in the latter. He told me all the regulation paragraph says about the flea as an athlete, and a great deal besides; and when he had got through with his statements, some of which were tougher than anything I've ever seen in print, he went on to say what a shame it was that such an insignificant insect as a flea should be able to outjump anything else, from men up to kangaroos.

"'It's your own fault. Professor,' said I. 'Why don't you call in the aid of science, and invent some way by which a man can jump seven hundred and thirty-two times his length, and so show the fleas that man is their superior?'

" 'That's a grand idea. Colonel,' says he, 'and I'll do it.'

" 'You haven't any doubt that you will succeed, have you?' said I, meaning to do a little sarcasm.

" 'Of course I haven't,' he replied. 'There are no limits to what science can do, and I think you'll admit that there are few men who can lay over me in the matter of inventing things.' Of course, I don't pretend to give his words exactly, but that was the gist of what he said.

" 'Yes,' says I, 'but now and then your inventions don't altogether seem to invent, as you might say. You remember your electric tricycle, and the difficulties that you got into through it.'

" 'Yes, yes,' said the Professor, 'I admit that it didn't turn out to be all that I, or rather Mrs. Van Wagener, could have desired, but for all that it was a good invention. Now I'm going to set to work to invent a way by which man can show his superiority to the flea, and if betting was not a grossly unscientific thing, I'd be willing to bet you that I will succeed.'

"Well, Van Wagener set to work, as he said he would, and he must have spent pretty much the whole of the next two months on that invention, for the greater part of that time he was both lame and black and blue, as any man who tries to jump in competition with a flea would naturally be. One day, however, he came to me and said: 'Colonel, you remember our conversation about fleas? Well, I have kept my promise about that invention, and have got things into such shape that I can jump nine hundred and fifty times my own length, and at least forty times my own height'

" 'Oh, I don't doubt your word, Professor,' said I, 'but, as you know, seeing is believing, that is to say, with us chaps that don't go in for science. Now with you scientific fellows it's different. You don't believe anything you see, and you do believe most anything that neither you nor anybody else can see.'

" 'That's all right,' says he. 'You shall see what my new invention can do, and if you like you shall jump nine hundred and fifty times your own length. You may not like the sensation at first, but you will get used to it after a while, that is, if you don't meet with any serious accident.'

" 'When do you propose to exhibit this invention?' said I.

" 'I'll exhibit it in any quiet place, where nobody but you and I are present, just as soon as you please.'

" 'Very well,' said I; 'this afternoon I shan't have anything in particular to do, and we can go down to Deacon McFadden's pasture where nobody will see us except the crows, and there you can jump till every flea in New Berlinpolisville, that hears about it, will wish that he had never been born. But hadn't we better get Doctor Sabin to come along with a supply of liniment and things for setting broken legs and such? They might come in very handy.'

" 'Colonel,' says he, 'you're a mighty nice man in your way, but you don't know the resources of science. My invention is complete without any medical attachment, and we will dispense with Dr. Sabin's presence, if you please.'

"Well, about two o'clock that afternoon the Professor calls for me with a big bundle under his arm, and a fishing-pole in his hand. He said that people might think it a little strange to see him going down to Deacon McFadden's pasture with me, but if they supposed that we were going fishing it would allay all suspicion, and nobody would think of following us. There was no water within five miles of the pasture, but that didn't strike the Professor as any reason why we should not pretend that we were going there on a fishing excursion. That's always the way with scientific men. The minute they attempt to reason without a slate and pencil they are no sort of good. To see a man going into McFadden's pasture with a fishing-rod on his shoulder would have been the very thing to induce every man or boy who saw him to follow after him. Luckily no one happened to meet us, and before long we were in the pasture, and the Professor leaned his fishing-pole up against the fence, and proceeded to get his invention into working order.

"This wonderful invention consisted of four steel springs, that were tremendously powerful. Van Wagener's idea was to fasten a spring on the palm of each hand, and on the bottom of each foot. Then he meant to stand on the top of the fence, or of some middling high rock, and take a big jump, landing on all fours. The springs were expected to get in their work the moment the Professor should strike the ground, and, after giving him a boost that would throw him nine hundred and, fifty times his length, the springs would be compressed automatically, by the weight of the Professor and the force of his contact with the ground, and so would start him on a fresh jump. He explained all this to me while he was fastening his springs in position, and admitted that what he had said about being able to jump over nine hundred feet wasn't quite true as yet. 'According to my calculations,' said he, 'I can make and wear springs that will enable me to jump nearly a thousand feet, but in order to do it safely more practice would be required than I have had time to indulge in. I am satisfied that the principle of my invention is all right, but for the present I content myself with springs that will carry me about fifty feet. They will do very well to illustrate the nature of the invention, and I promise you, that just as soon as I can make a set of springs of a thousand-feet jumping power, you shall be the first to use them.'

" 'You're very kind, I'm sure,' said I, 'but I'm not in any hurry to convert myself into a flea. That's a queer idea. of yours,' I continued, 'to fasten springs on your hands as well as your feet. Do you want to make a quadruped of yourself!'

" 'To tell the truth,' said the Professor, 'I tried at first to jump with springs on my feet only, but I couldn't manage to keep right side up. You may notice that I am a little bruised. That came from using only one pair of springs. I found that whenever I jumped with them I landed on my head or on my back, and after trying the thing for a dozen times with the same result, I saw that it wouldn't do. The flea, you will take notice, does his jumping feats with all his legs at once, and it is only reasonable that if we wish to rival him in his own line we should make up for our deficiency in point of legs by using our hands.'

"I admitted that the Professor was logical in his remarks, but my faith in his invention was beginning to be a little shaken. When a man has got to reduce himself to a quadruped before he can accomplish what he sets out to do, it doesn't seem to me that the game is worth the candle. However, the Professor was a mighty clever man, and a truthful one, so far as his devotion to science would allow him to be. So I had no doubt that he would be able to jump a distance of fifty feet, and do it in a way that wouldn't be disastrous to his legs and trousers.

"Van Wagener got his springs into position, after a good deal of trouble, and then I helped him to climb up on the top of the fence, which was an old-fashioned rail fence, about ten feet high. He found it wasn't an easy job to balance himself on the top rail, but he was a mighty persevering man, and he stuck to it, till he was able to stand upright, with the help of a hop-pole that I found for him. Then, when all was ready, he told me to stand aside, and made his jump.

"He landed on his feet, and the minute he struck the ground the springs flung him about ten feet into the air. They didn't however, send him forward to any great extent, and he came down on his head only a foot or two in front of the place from which he had started. I picked him up, and when he had got the mud out of his mouth, and found that his neck wasn't broken, he was as cheerful as ever, saying that he had made a slight mistake in his way of jumping, but that he would try it again, and show me what he could do. This time, when he jumped from the fence, he lit on all fours, and then sailed away, skimming over the ground and keeping about four feet above it, until he had covered a good thirty feet. Then he lit again, and this time the springs lost a good deal of their power, for his next jump wasn't more than twenty feet in length. He made another little mistake this time, for in doing those twenty feet he somehow turned over, and finally struck the ground on his back, and as there wasn't any spring in it he stopped where he was, and waited for me to help him up. He wasn't hurt, you understand, but he was a little discouraged, for the tail of his coat had got twisted around his head, and for a few minutes he didn't precisely know where he was.

" 'Seems to me,' I began to remark. But Van Wagener interrupted me in a way that showed that his temper was getting a little ruffled. 'I don't care how it seems to you, Colonel!' he said. 'You're not a scientific man, and you can't appreciate the difficulties which a pioneer in a new scientific path has to overcome. Wait till I get those springs tightened up a bit, and you'll see that I can do fifty feet with ease and safety.'

"Well! the Professor went to work again, and wound up his springs with a monkey wrench, and then he limped back to the fence and made ready for a fresh start. I wanted to warn him that his bones weren't warranted to stand his jumping experiments with impunity, but there would have been no use in trying to influence him. So I let him alone, resolving, at the same time, that if he did break his neck, I would leave town in a hurry, and let some one else carry the news to Mrs. Van Wagener, who was one of those unreasonable women who are always blaming their husbands' friends for their husbands' faults.

"The Professor made a tremendous effort this time, and landed fifteen feet in front of the fence, with a headway that gave the springs a chance to show just what they were worth. They sent him soaring along for a distance that I calculated, by carefully pacing it, was a little over fifty feet. The Professor continued on in a series of most successful jumps, each one of which was about ten feet shorter than the previous one, for, of course, the springs couldn't do a uniform rate of work, for, if they had done it, they would have solved the problem of perpetual motion. I followed after Van Wagener at a run, but I couldn't keep up with him. There were some pretty bad places in the pasture, and I was afraid that my old friend would come to grief. However, he skimmed clean over a bush that stood in the middle of the pasture, and by the time I had run around it he was a long way ahead of me, and heading straight for a stone wall. I suppose he calculated to jump over the wall, or, perhaps, he was so much occupied with keeping himself right side up, that he didn't notice the obstacle. Anyway, he sailed on, and just in the middle of his seventh jump he struck the wall good and fair with the top of his head, and lay on the grass completely insensible, when I reached him.

"Now this stone wall was at one end of the pasture, and the high road was just the other side of it. I had noticed that three or four people were standing in the road, watching the Professor as he came along through the air, with his arms and legs and coat-tails stretched out, and looking for all the world like a new style of spider; but I hadn't noticed, until I was close to the wall, that one of these persons was Mrs. Van Wagener. I knew well enough that she must have recognised her husband, for there was nobody else in New Berlinopolisville who would have made that sort of a spectacle of himself, and I foresaw that things would be made pretty lively for me.

"I turned the Professor over on his back, and felt his neck and head, to find if he had sustained any serious breakage. Finding that his damages were only skin-deep, I loosened his collar, and poured a little whiskey down his throat, and brought him round all right by the time that Mrs. Van Wagener had contrived to climb over the wall. I'll admit that he wasn't a very soothing spectacle to an affectionate wife, for he was covered with blood and dirt, and his clothes were mostly rags. Still, it wasn't my fault, as far as I could see, and Mrs. Van Wagener ought to have been thankful that I was on hand with my whiskey flask to bring him round. But there! what is the use of expecting a woman to be reasonable? As soon as Mrs. Van Wagener saw that the Professor was alive, she just cast off her tongue lashings and went for me in her best style. The poor Professor was too dazed to say anything, and, of course, I wasn't going to contradict a lady; but when I had helped to hoist the Professor over the stone wall, and into a waggon that happened to come along just then, I did tell her that if her husband chose to transform himself into a flea, and could thereby be able to hop about fifty thousand miles away from her, no sensible man could possibly blame him. Then I went back home cross-lots, and it was a fortnight before the Professor was able to get out of his room.

"He never found those springs again, and he never dared to make another pair, for Mrs. Van Wagener warned him that if he ever tried to jump again she would apply for a divorce the very next day. Well! he was a mighty ingenious man, and I'm not sure that if he had been allowed to work out that invention, and hadn't killed himself while working it out, it might not have superseded the bicycle in time. As for me, I'm contented with my own legs. They may not be handsome, but they suit me well enough, and I don't propose to fit myself up with any wheel or spring attachment that any one may invent."

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