The Show And The Camel
( Originally Published 1915 )
Winfield had his lecture perfect, and Mr. Dion was delighted at the brisk way in which he went through the talk. Some of the words had to be polished up, somewhat, and others considerably modified in pronunciation.
He was told that he would have to take the stand the following day at ten in the morning, for two hours, then at three o'clock for two hours more, and a like term in the evening.
Shortly after Stanwood arrived that evening Mr. Dion departed. Winfield was very much interested in hearing at the first opportunity Stan-wood's account of the camels.
"I am going to make my first trip in the morning. There are lots of people who want to say they have ridden a camel, you know, and I think I can do a good business," said Stanwood.
"Well, how does it feel to be up on that gawky-looking thing?" inquired Winfield.
"It's the most tiresome thing in the world; but a fellow told me this afternoon that you've got to get used to it. Somehow, you must fit yourself into the funny motion that the camel makes, and then, they say the riding is easy," and Stanwood described a great many details of the day's work.
"How many trips do you intend to make each day'?" asked Winfield.
"Oh, a dozen or more."
"Then that will be $2.00 a trip, and your share will be 40 cents."
"Yes," responded Stanwood.
"Nearly five dollars a day; whew! that's making money almost too fast," suggested Winfield.
"But how is the natural history lecture getting along'?" asked Stanwood.
"Do you want to hear it?" asked Winfield. "Certainly; fire away!"
Winfield threw the manuscript on the table, licked his lips a few times and turned his head around, just as many orators do when they try to create the impression that they are perfectly at ease and are just trying to size up the audience, and began:
"My friends; just step up this way,—"
Stanwood began to laugh, and held his hand against his mouth to smother his feelings. Winfield was disconcerted, and Stanwood recovered sufficiently to say " `My friends'? Why didn't you say `Ladies and Gentlemen'?"
"Well, this is the way I have it. It sounds better, too, and Mr. Dion says it makes an orator more familiar like with the audience. I wish you'd stop your laughing until I get down to the real speech itself."
"All right; go ahead."
"Just step up this way and see the greatest aggregation of living animals that has ever been brought together in a single collection."
"Golly, but that's steep," said Stanwood.
Winfield was just in the act of raising his arm to bring it down with a sweep, so as to emphasize the next sentence. Instead he looked at Stan-wood, but the embarrassment was a momentary one only.
"We have here the leading representatives of prehistoric quadrupeds, from the giant Dinosaur to the diminutive Rodentia, and while the antediluvian specimens and the extinct species are shown in casts taken from the originals now on exhibition by the Natural History Museum at Washington, the living types are so numerous and wonderful as to elicit the admiration of all who examine them."
Stanwood could hardly hold in any longer, but first he pursed his lips and tried to act the part of an attentive audience, and then opened his mouth and made great round eyes to imitate the wondering attitude of the listeners.
This was too much for Winfield, and he forgot the next sentence.
"That sounds big," said Stanwood, "but go on. I like the way you pronounce the long words. Are you sure you've got them right?"
"Stop your joking," said Winfield. "You've got me all off."
"What'll you do if somebody interrupts you when you're getting off all that stuff?"
"Don't you worry about that; let me see ! Elicit the admiration of all who examine them. Come right this way, ladies and gentlemen, see the great exhibit and hear the—"
A rugged meow was followed by a roar from a large animal, while the monkeys began to chatter, and pandemonium seemed to be ushered in.
Winfield dashed out the door, followed by Stan-wood, in time to see the keeper with a huge poker trying to separate two combatants within a cage. When he returned after the temporary disturbance, Stanwood could hardly restrain himself, the speech and the interruption seemed so highly amusing.
"I only wish I could be around when you make the first trial," he said. "Don't you think you will be frightened to death to get up there and spout?"
"Of course not," answered Winfield, and he certainly assumed an air of bravery as he contemplated the task before him.
But Stanwood was just as much perturbed at the new work which would occupy his personal attention that day. His duty would be to escort the camel around the course alone for the first time, with passengers aboard.
Meme, the camel's name, seemed to be docile, and readily responded to Stanwood's proddings on the way to the stand. It would be amusing to see his appearance as he ushered from the pavilion in his gaudy apparel.
Imagine a pair of shoes, about four sizes too large, made of some soft material, which had a long toe that curled up like the runner of a skate. The garment which enveloped his figure was in one piece, the trousers in bright red being composed of two leggings of ample size, the lower ends of which were brought together and strapped around the ankles.
The jacket was of yellow and green stripes, with immense flowing sleeves, and a broad black band, while the head was surmounted by a turban which had all the colors blended, and from the top of which were numerous little streamers of silk ribbons, that fluttered about in the wind.
Stanwood was happy over one thing, at any rate. Winfield was not there to guy him. He never felt so ridiculous before, but the costume seemed to fit the occasion, and Nashir tried, in his imperfect way, to impress on the boy the importance of that kind of a garment, saying that the camel would not be at home in any other surroundings.
Meme walked along and he had no trouble in guiding her to the space where the passengers were to mount. "0llogoloolo," said Stanwood, and the beast slowly sank to her knees, not, of course without some urging, but Stanwood was shrewd enough not to use any English during the operation.
Four passengers mounted the wicker basket. "Aw-bee, aw-bee," said Stanwood, and the animal quickly responded. It was then an easy matter to start off the camel on her route. Stanwood was really pleased at the simplicity of the work, and before he got half way round the first trip was feverishly anxious to see Winfield and tell him what an easy job he had acquired.
The trip around occupied a little less than a half hour, thus enabling him to make six trips be-fore the noon hour, with full loads at each tour. This done he hurried to the Menagerie to talk to Winfield.
He found the latter in his room, and Mr. Dion was there also. As Stanwood entered he found the manager congratulating Winfield on his success as an orator. Winfield fairly gasped when he saw Stanwood, and Mr. Dion had a merry laugh at the unique costume. Winfield's was striking enough, to be sure, but Stanwood's outfit would certainly have taken the prize if startling effects counted for anything.
Winfield wore a Senegalese cap, a cross between a fez and a Hindu head gear, with a tassel at the top. The coat was of blue, with strips of gold lace along the front, and the flaps of the coat were held together by braid loops of yellow material.
The trousers were striped and the legs tucked into high-topped boots of shiny leather, so that while his apparel was of a nondescript character, it was attractive, and gave him a dashing appearance, the very thing, of course; that the management aimed at.
"How did you make it?" asked Stanwood, eagerly.
"Make it?" answered Winfield, somewhat languidly, and with a self-satisfied air. "That was too easy. I woke them up. You should have seen them crowd around when I began with the big words and explained the habits of the animals in the collection."
"Well, what did you do when you got to the end of the speech? It didn't take two hours to tell it."
"Why, I just started in right at the first and said it over. I don't think anybody ever noticed it. But what success have you had?"
It was Stanwood's turn to assume the air of importance. "Well, I made $4.80."
Winfield gave a little gasp as he glanced at Stanwood. "And how long do you intend to keep it up at that rate?" he asked.
Stanwood began to reflect, and thought of the contract. Its terms provided that they must ac-cumulate not more than twenty dollars at any one place, so that with the amount Winfield was now making, a few days' work would end the employment there if they intended to live up to the terms of the agreement.
"I forgot about the contract," said Stanwood. "I wouldn't break that for anything. Of course, I might not be as successful tomorrow, but it's lots of fun, and I like Meme. She begins to shake her head whenever I go up to her, and I really hate to leave the job."
The following day was unusually windy, and that means something for the coast in the region of San Francisco, where there is more or less wind all the time. As a result Stanwood was able to make only two trips, but this did not at all disconcert him.
Winfield, on the other hand, had the busiest day of his career. The occupation was very fascinating and gave him confidence in himself. He found that he became more and more independent of the written speech, and would occasionally branch off into little sallies of his own, but he had some very amusing experiences, nevertheless.
One evening, after a large crowd had been attracted, and he had fully exploited the natural history phase of the animals, some one in the crowd began to banter him and also question his accuracy concerning certain assertions.
A portion of his speech referred to the "giant Dinosaurus, that great antediluvian specimen," when some wit in the audience asked him what he meant by antediluvian.
Winfield was taken off his guard as he wasn't quite sure what it meant and his confusion increased as he detected smiles on the faces of his auditors, who were no doubt eager to see a little verbal scrimmage.
The proprietor, seeing the dilemma in which Winfield was placed, quietly walked past the boy, and as he did so, whispered hurriedly: "Tell him that it was the time before the flood."
Winfield, although he wasn't sure of the last word, caught on instantly, and he slowly responded: "My friend wants to know what the word `antediluvian' means. I am glad he asked the question, as it is part of our duty to instruct the public. It means the time before the fire."
There was silence for a moment, and then pandemonium broke loose. Men cheered and surged around the stand. Winfield was bewildered as the proprietor threw back his head and laughed. What was the trouble? Why all this hilarity?
To understand the force of the explanation it should be explained that the great event in San Francisco, the epoch, it might be said, was the great earthquake and fire of 1906. When refer-ring to things in the past, the coast inhabitant al-ways considers it in terms which date since or be-fore that great catastrophe.
Winfield heard a great deal about the calamity, and it had impressed him. Mr. Dion saw that Winfield made a hit and shouted out : "Probably our inquiring friend is satisfied with the answer?"
This brought out another round of cheers, be-cause the crowd assumed that Winfield had made the answer in order to guy the inquirer. The crowd increased to such proportions that it took on the aspect of a mob, and the ticket takers were kept busy.
Stanwood returned when the excitement reached its height, and was alarmed at the crushing, pushing crowd. But he was soon reassured as he saw the laughing people, and Winfield on the stand simply bubbling over and enjoying the spectacle.
After the show Mr. Dion, still hugely enjoying the event of the evening, came in where the boys were chattering, and Winfield said :
"What was the trouble?. Did I say something funny that caused all the excitement?"
"That was a master stroke," said Mr. Dion. "I told you to say 'Before the flood,' and you put it `Before the fire,' and the crowd caught on to the answer immediately. Ah, that was a stroke of genius!"
Winfield looked at Stanwood, in a sort of sheepish, bewildering look, as he replied : "That was simply an accident. I didn't mean to make the mistake."
"Why, you don't have to apologize for it at all. Some of the most wonderful things in the world have been done just in that way. The greatest discoveries have been blundered into. People find out many, many things because they have made mistakes. On account of this error your wages are increased five dollars a week."
Stanwood laughed, and Winfield could hardly find words to express his satisfaction at this new turn of affairs. After Mr. Dion left Winfield said: "And what luck have you had today?"
"Things were simply rotten; had only two loads today; it was so windy that people wouldn't ride, and I am so tired I can hardly walk. But I have been around a good deal, and have seen some funny things."
"Well, if I can get a day off tomorrow, I want to see some of the sights," said Winfield.
The bad luck of the previous day did not seem to weigh heavily on Stanwood's mind when he started for the Oriental quarters the next morning. In five days he had made $7.60, and as this was Saturday he hoped to have a good day; be-sides he was assured that Sunday would be a record day.
Meme, the camel, regarded him with the usual show of friendship, and he directed her to the Platz, as the stand 'was called. Shortly after ten o'clock he completed the first load and was off, returning at the regular times for the second and third loads.
The fourth load, comprising three women and a young miss, made Stanwood happy, because he was now doing good business, while his passengers constantly plied him with all sorts of questions about camels and their habits, and as he knew something about them, of course, was delighted to give them information.
They passed along the lower tier of streets, and he then turned to the left to reach Palm Avenue, past the Tower of Jewels. As the corner was rounded Meme, for some reason or other, swayed from side to side, and then stopped.
This was something unusual, and he could not account for it. All at once Meme sank down on her knees, and quietly turned on her side, with the result that the passengers were tilted to one side within the basket, and hung there, and it was some time before they could extricate themselves.
Stanwood used all the cabalistic words he had learned, but Meme lay there quietly and refused to heed his frantic appeals. Several boys gathered around, one of them munching a banana. Meme quietly reached up and took the unconsumed portion and quietly munched it.
This, in itself, was sufficient to indicate to Stan-wood that the animal was not ill, as one of the bystanders suggested. A crowd collected, and this annoyed Stanwood beyond measure. He was almost frantic, and was at a loss what to do.
Winfield, who was passing, saw the crowd, and forced his way through. The appearance of his chum was a relief. "Stay here," said Stanwood. "I must go to the Platz and get Nashir. Some-thing is wrong with Meme."
He flew to the place and reported the difficulty, and Nashir was quick to respond.
The moment he spied the camel he unfastened the girth bands, and Meme arose without a word. "What was the trouble?" asked Stanwood.
"Belt he too tight; him have bad back," was the reply.
When the stable was reached at the Oriental quarters, it was found that Meme's back had been rubbed sore, and it was then explained that one of the characteristic traits of the camel is to lie still and refuse to budge if the load is not properly put on, or if there is the least chafing.
It hurt Stanwood's pride considerably to be heckled by the crowd when he was put in the humiliating position of trying to drive an undrivable camel, for these animals are far more obstinate than the most annoying mule if things do not happen to suit their fancy.