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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter II. Adam Quain, the Resurrectionist

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Chapter II. Adam Quain, the Resurrectionist.

Situated in the vicinity of Galveston, no common school was that over which Maximilian Arnold presided. Thirty thousand dollars had he spent on the building alone, and the grounds around it covered an area of three square miles. Pine-forests hemmed it around. Within its confines the pinus insignis and canariensis, the araucaria excelsa, or Norfolk Island pine, the beech, the fir, the larch, and the sycamore abounded. The golden bloom of the mimosa skirted its extensive grounds, where many a cricket match and baseball battle in inter-collégiate contests had been fought and won by the Galveston boys.

In Spring-time the large garden was one mass of gorgeous bloom. Petunias, white, crimson and parti-coloured; yellow asters, syringas and zinias of rainbow hues; mounds of violets; rock-geraniums and gloire de Dijon roses joined with the rich magenta Virginia creeper, the clematis and the cape-jessamine in swelling out its floral bosom with, a wealth of inflorescence.

From all parts of the Southern States of America and the islands of the West Indies came the flower of the land for academical training. Scores every year left the college for the universities. It outstripped all other colleges in training and erudition, and poured numbers every following year into the university to undergo a further embellishment before entering the legal and medical professions. Among its tutors were the most distinguished scholars in the continent, and Maximilian ruled over all with a velvet glove. He was the presiding genius for forty years.

A proud man, and a man of great ability, no master ever made his boys feel so much at home, or in their leisure hours was more homely amongst them. The rudimentary departments shared, equally with the higher and advanced branches, the great advantage of breathing the same atmosphere and feeling the personal touch of the master mind of Maximilian ipsô persona while they tarried, under his fostering care.

"What I teach you, you will never forget," he would say; and if they did forget before they left that school, the attitude of Maximilian would do credit to a horrified actor on the stage. The look of genuine chagrin, the whites of his rolling eyes shutting out the blue, and his hands fidgetttng and jingling the dollars in his pockets, were potent incentives to the youthful memory. In the mortified stare of Maximilian there was more than a Philippic oration.

"Here is this boy Whitworth from the common school of a man from Battersea translating Virgil, and mine can't. Come away into my office!" he would exclaim in a great theatrical passion, when his Own pet pupils had been found wanting and Eugene in the first year won the gold medal. page 7Many a penalty was paid in his little cell-like office, but never a thrashing was ever known to be given. His look and his attitude, as he thumped his fist on the table, answered all purposes, whereas words were quite superfluous and might have spoiled the very pronounced and effective reproof.

It was one bright morning in September. The garden was never more luxuriant, or the academical routine in fuller swing, when there plodded his heavy clod-hopping way to the seat of learning, with a broken-down old hollow-backed prod1 and a load of firewood in tow, one Adam Quain. Ninety-five was his age, although judging by his appearance he must have passed one hundred and fifty.

No living soul ever saw Adam wearing a coat, albeit he alleged that he kept one at home, in a beautiful carpet bag, for tea-fuddles, weddings, and funerals; and no living soul ever saw Adam perfectly sober. When making any important assertion, his cheeks would tremble like jellies, his arms would spread out like the wings of an albatross, his hands would wave and the tips of his fingers quiver until he had stated the case, when he would drop them into the position of attention at once. The load of wood was intended as a propitiatory offering to Maximilian to pave his way to the interior of the college and obtain for him an interview with Eugene, whom old Adam imagined he had adopted.

Fearing that the prod might run away with the load, he unfastened the bar of the great iron college gates that led into the star-studded temple, and, unable to read the motto—Sic itur ad astra—emblazoned in gold beneath the shield of Minerva, he swung the ponderous battle-axe-mounted barriers wide open and, towing inside the whole concern, shutting the gates and stalking over the beds of petunias, asters, and the exquisite lawn, he strode straight for the big front door. So did the prod, carrying all down before him with the load of wood in tow, to watch the petals of the victoria regia2 unfold in the mirror lake, and then lay him down on the bank, as if he were in for an afternoon's sport with the gold-fish.

Opening the big front door without ringing the bell, the straggling Adam first encountered the scholarly Maximilian himself. "I coomed a' seein' on my boy Eugene, and I brought ye some good box and birch, yer lordship. I want him to make out a bill for me, and I want ye to send him out to my place at Christmas. Me and my old 'ooman will be glad if ye can come yerself: bring yer wife and family, and all the other boys for a few days shootin' amongst the parrots, for they're a killin' and eatin' o' me wholesale."

"Sit there, my good man," said Maximilian (the load of box and birch in his eye), "and I'll send for Master Eugene."

"Aye, aye, yer lordship, thankye, he's a good boy so he is, and a good shot among the birds. He's very handy with the pen, and if its not axin' too much on yer lordship ye oughter let him come out with me to-day in my dray. Will yer 'ave a drink, yer honour? I've got a bottle of beer in this sack."

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The seraphic, recondite Maximilian was getting disgusted, and left in a most unmannerly style, when in marched Eugene to interview the gentleman who he was told had come to see him. The interview was short, and resulted in a promise to spend the Christmas holidays with old Adam Quain and old Bathsheba—the old woman of Adam.

Practical and experienced man of the world was old Adam Quain. He left the gates wide open on leaving, without depositing the box and birch, to make it appear some other hollow-backed, old, and broken-down black prod, with a load of box and birch in tow, had been enjoying an afternoon's fishing; and although the truth was closely suspected, the mystery of who opened those gates was never solved by his "Lordship" or his "Honour."

Three weeks brought in the Christmas holidays and Eugene to the cockspur of the ranges by the Colorado River3 where for fifty years Adam Quain was monarch of the land for miles. His locale was notified to the public, consisting of an occasional tramp, by an enormous signboard, on which he had daubed with a tar-brush the following words:—"Adam Quain, carpenter and jiner, clock-mender, blacksmith and wheelrite, paint and paperanger, glacier, farior, undertakor and General Repairs," although most of his time he was what he called "cockatooing."4

There was no chimney in Adam Quain's mansion; the end of the kitchen was simply built out a few feet with long stones left open at the top, and an ordinary fire consisted of a tree put into the cavernous fireplace. You had to sit at the sides of the hobs near the fire to let the heat shoot past, or else be roasted at the farthest end of the room.

There sat the venerable Adam performing every evening. The inns and outs of his dreams he related, and his grounds for the affirmation that he was to be the last man left on the face of the earth. He sang several times every evening a song called "The Farmer's Boy," and the lucky day-ay he came that way-ay for to be a far—mer's boy; alternating the refrain on special occasions with one called "Bonfire Nights," and another with the paradoxical appellation of "The Bag of Water."

Bathsheba was never united to Adam in the holy bonds of matrimony. He bought her and paid seventeen pounds for her—a fair and just computation—to her lawfully-wedded husband, who had been committed to jail for seven years for sheep-stealing. After the term of seven years was done, the lawful husband was always made quite welcome to his wife's domicile. He would spend half his time under her roof, sleeping on the sofa in the kitchen, generally reserved for sundowners5 and swag-tinkers6, and observing the conditions of the covenant and sale with the most scrupulous honour. Adam always treated him as a perfectly honourable man; the sheep-stealer would blow Adam's trumpet wherever he went, and would tell everybody that "old Adam is very good to I; very good to I is old Adam."

The singing of the old veteran of so many trades was the feature of the evening performance. He had a tremendous goitre in his neck, the hollow of which gave greater vocal resonance to his basso-profundissimo page 9voice, and made it sound as if a kettle-drum were reverberating inside the goitre; yet notwithstanding the tuneful melodies of the old man Bethsheba complained of nightly headaches.

Returning from his multifarious labours one evening, he displayed a horny hand with a large splinter sticking into the palm. Eugene pulled it out, and old Adam asserted far and wide that he performed the operation with such consummate skill that Eugene was born to be a doctor. He undertook to provide a corpse for Eugene to practise upon out of the adjoining grave-yard. So interested in the matter did the old man become that he would solemnly declare, and positively seemed to believe, that a spirit came and ordered him to procure a fresh live corpse from a new grave, hinting at one of the shepherds, who had died a week before. Ready and willing he always professed himself to overcome the demurs of Eugene and obey the spirit's manifesto.

One bright moonlight night, when not a sound could be heard but the swaying and soughing of the giant pine-trees, the harsh screech of the lonely wild-goose, the wawa, and the croaking of the frogs in the marsh, with a spade and a pick, iron hooks, tackling, and the old black mare in the shafts of the creaky old cart, he undertook to go to a spot where, twenty years before, he said, a Red Indian had been buried. Inducing the boy to go with him on the pretence of shooting owls, through the dismal pine-tree forest he led the old black mare, over fallen logs and ditches and through the thick acacia scrub, to discover the grave of the red-skinned heathen, unearth his bones, and cart them back to the hut.

Not even the bark of a dog or the cry of a bear disturbed the silence of the night; but hooting owls and bats hovered around in hundreds. Nearing an old shanty where, years before and still, sly-grog7 was sold by an ancient widow whom he called "Green-gin Mag," he deemed it best to sheer off the light, burning as it was then at two o'clock in the morning, and going around a meandering way he finally reached the scene of the grave.

Coming to a halt, his brawny arms spread out like wings, the tips of his fingers vibrated, and he ordered Eugene to stand about a hundred yards away, under the dark shade of a pine-forest king, where he was to mount guard, and if anything occurred, to fire.

Pulling up a small wooden cross, he threw it to one aide, and set to work in real earnest to dig out the contents of the grave. His old hardened thews and limbs worked with the regularity and strength of a digging machine till, when half-way down, he called for beer, which he had in the cart.

Still no sign af anything to frighten him or interfere with his gruesome work, and again he picked and shovelled and picked, the clink of the pick against the stones echoing afar in the dead silence of the night. Fully eight feet had the old man sunk in the grave, and could not be seen from the sentinel's post, when the light in the shanty went out, and a dark form appeared where it had been just before.

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Bang! from the mounted guard, and up from the grave in terror sprang the old digger, to pause till all was safe again.

"That's old Mag—never mind old Mag," he walked to the outpost and said, with the fluttering pinions out again. Into the grave again, he soon came upon a bit of a pillow-slip and a tin plate, whereon a name had been painted, but corroded by the worm and the rust. His old lanky bony hands grovelling in the pastime, next he clutched at a worm-eaten bronze-coloured skull, with a hole in the base; thigh-bones, leg-bones, one foot, and the bones of the upper and lower arms, but no ribs could the old man find, though he dug two feet below the level of the skull. Strange, no ribs!

Uneasy about the disappearance of the light and the appearance of the dark form amongst the swaying trees, he shovelled back the earth into the grave, stuck the cross in the middle of the mound again by driving it in with the head of the pick, hurriedly put the remains of that once living form into the creaky old cart, and back to the hut again they meandered just as the moon had described her circle and the dawn appeared in the eastern sky.

As if balanced on the ends of an ethereal see-saw, the moon set and the glorious sun arose, diffusing his matutinal beams through the window of the old bark hut. Adam emptied the bag of bones from the rifled grave upon the greasy kitchen table, and proceeded to scrape away the clay clinging to the ridges and in the crevices where the tendons of powerful muscles once had found their attachments; and to scoop out the debris from the cavity of the exhumed grim and ghastly skull. Holding up the skull, into the round orifice where the spinal column had been jointed with it he poked his horny thumb, and, smacking his very lips, he cried, "By George! look at yon for a throat, my boy; many a good quart of swipes from old Mag's has gone down there."

The notion of their scientific uses was soon exploded. From an anatomical point of view they were of no use at all. Time had effaced the markings for the insertion of muscles, the grooves for the conduit of nerves and bloodvessels; it had corroded away the condyles about the joints, and in places had produced a general absorption of the osseous tissues. An anthropologist might have deemed them a rare prize, but an anatomist would have thrown them away.

The embryo doctor kept them, and a few days afterwards trudged home with them, away from the monarch of the Colorado ranges for thirty-five miles to Galveston, where, musing and praying over those of her own lost darling, he met his bereaved mother in Lily Cottage.

Disconsolate and despondent, she sat knitting socks at the little cottage window as he marched into the room with the gun, the bones and the skull strapped over his shoulder. In enthusiasm over the great acquisition which he had made, he unfastened the straps of the resurrected bones, and displaying them before his father he related the history of the previous night.

Sickened at the gruesome spectacle, Miriam swooned away and fell with page 11a thud on the floor. Christopher, raising her from the floor, strong intelligent man as he was, and always in sympathy with the earnest efforts of his aspiring son, gathered them together, and, taking them out of the room, nailed them down in a box, avowing that he would take them back and replace them in the despoiled grave that night himself.

"When you wanted to be a lawyer," he said, facing him with a look of reproval, "I told you that they were nothing but a gang of rogues and scoundrels, preying upon the simpleness of the living; but here are tokens that you have already begun, which is worse, to rifle and ravish the sacred tomb of the helpless dead."

"They are only some old Red Indian's bones," replied Eugene; "and the grave was not in a consecrated cemetery."

"All God's earth, my son," he rejoined, "is consecrated wherever beneath its surface repose the remains of man. Consecrating the cemetery is merely a formality ordained by man: 'dust to dust' was the fiat of the great Creator Himself. I'll stand over that old villain to-night while he digs up that grave again and puts every bone in that box back into its appointed place."

This noble intention was never fulfilled. It soon spread about the town that old Mag had been sitting up late that night baking scones, and had reported to the police that she had seen two men with a horse and cart, apparently camping out for the night, near the little bush graveyard. She had heard them digging and picking at stones; further, that out of curiosity she next day had visited the place and had found the wooden fence removed, the cross stuck upside down, and the grave itself disturbed.

The myrmidons of the law scoured the country round about, examined the loosened earth, and dug up the grave again. Startling and sensational reports of the Mystery of the Colorado Ranges appeared in the daily newspapers as Eugene Percival Whitworth left the scene and his name was enrolled in the lists of students in arts and medicine at the university and the hospitals of Philadelphia.

Many and absurd were the theories propounded for the elucidation of the mystery, some declaring that the body had been removed by relatives contrary to the refusal of the Minister of Justice to grant an order for its exhumation and transference to a private tomb; some, that the body bad been removed to prevent any traces of murder being discovered, and the name of old Mag was mentioned as having poisoned the man with green gin.

The majority, however, inclined to the theory that the spoliation of the grave had been the work of some anthropologist or medical student, and among the majority was included the whole police force of the United States.

On shooting excursions, young Whitworth had frequently been seen in the vicinity of the grave, and it was surmised by the detectives in charge of the case that he had been aided and abetted in the perpetration of the deed by his college tutor, William Swinbourne. Government detectives page 12called upon the tutor of language and logic, and hung about the gorgeous garden for hours, their whole acumen and search-lights impinging upon the quiet bookworm who was as innocent of the deed as Miriam herself, and in every way morally unfit for it. The sight of the skull would have made William quail. The captious Maximilian, fully convinced that the swoop of the detectives was properly directed, twitted and jeered at the simple-minded tutor till he could suffer the taunts no longer, and left the school in umbrage and disgust.

"Mister Swinbourne." he would sarcastically say, jingling the dollars in his pocket. "I give you four hundred and fifty dollars a year, and you go picking up bones," following William about the school every chance he could get.

No admission or incriminating points could be elicited from Adam, and before the clue was relinquished, a visit to Eugene himself was determined upon, and carried out with creditable skill and adroitness. Three of the most celebrated mouchards8and informers were marshalled into the operating theatre of the Philadelphia hospital one morning, when an operation for the removal of a malignant tumour was being performed in splendour by the bejewelled Professor Garde. The spokesman of the three sleuthhounds introduced himself as detective Lloyd, and his colleagues, detective Trail and detective Floyd, as well as the subject of the mystery of the Colorado ranges to Eugene.

The suspect candidly avowed that he had some bones, and that he would be glad to demonstrate them at his lodgings near the meadows of the university. Three o'clock was appointed as the hour for the meeting, and the three detectives, who had conducted themselves in the most affable and gentlemanly manner, quietly withdrew from the operating theatre. Instead of waiting till three o'clock, one of them placed himself in possession of the lodgings forthwith; one loitered about the vicinity of the hospital gates, and the third kept guard at the outside of his rooms until they met at an hour later than had been arranged for Eugene to meet them all together again.

Pouncing upon the flat bones of the hip, detective Floyd wanted to know why a saw-cut had been made in the bone. He appeared somewhat crestfallen when Eugene explained that it had been done to expose the pyriformis muscle, whereas the hole, where according to Adam Quain the quarts of beer had gone down, Trail thought was a sign of a brutal murder.

Finding nothing to convince them that the bones which he showed had come out of a grave made twenty years before, and inclining to the belief that they were, as Eugene stated, supplied to him from the dissecting rooms of the university, and were those of a highwayman who had been lynched, the articulations of the hanged bushranger's skeleton were pieced together again by the medical student, and hung up on the hat-peg of the bedroom door; whereupon Eugene awaited the further pleasure of the police mouchards.

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Quietly came the staggering question from the mouth of detective Lloyd,—"Have you got the gun you were shooting with that night, Mr. Whitworth? I found one of your cartridges when we dug up the grave among the loosened earth."

"There is the gun," replied Eugene, "there in the corner."

"Will yon oblige me by fitting that cartridge into the barrel of the gun?—or perhaps I had better do it myself," said detective Lloyd.

Convicting confidence and a smile lit up the face of detective Lloyd as he took the cartridge from his waistcoat pocket. Dismay sponged out that smile, and that confidence was disconcerted in toto when he found that the cartridge was too large and would not fit into the barrel. It was a number 11 cartridge, but the bore of the barrel was number 12.9

To leave no stone unturned, the dissecting room of the university was visited in company with Eugene. When he had conducted the three detectives thither, the first salutation they received was a realisation of Tam o' Shanter's dream10 and a broadside of human beef-steak. Professor Scarpa confirmed the account given by Eugene of his receipt of the bones by the medical school. The government detectives had done their duty; no further clue was obtained and the other bones were consigned to permanent rest at last by the Flying Dutchman beneath the bows of the good ship "Baltimore," or to make pastime for the great leviathan and the things creeping innumerable—deeper than plummet lies—in the sea.

Adam Quain had disturbed the grave of no red savage in his lengthy life. What he had unearthed were the bones of a man almost forgotten at the time, but never forgotten nor forgiven by Adam—the bones of one who had worked with him on the same farm in his earlier days, of one who had been as good a customer at the sly-grog shanty as old Adam Quain himself, and of one who had betrayed and seduced his only daughter, the only ray of sunshine in the old man's life.

Laban Jarves he had been called by such as knew him. He had died of alcoholic pneumonia. The old man knew whose grave he ravished beneath that moonlit sky, and he chuckled in his very soul at the thought.

This wretch had lodged in the old man's hut; he had been fostered by him and employed by him. In return he had led astray the idol of the old man's heart, and had haunted that old man's dreams for years after his body was committed to the grave. He had been the bane and curse of the life of Adam Quain, who like a red Indian waited for his revenge, and grovelling like a fiend dragged his remains in pieces from the ground.

1 A horse (Australian slang). OED Onlinen.2

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 A gigantic species of waterlily. (Now known as Victoria Amazonica.) OED Online, 2, sense 2, and informal.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Referring to the Colorado River in Texas, originating in Dawson County and flowing generally southeast.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 Australian slang for a small farmer; used contemptuously or deprecatingly.Partridge 1972.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 In Australian/NZ slang, a tramp who arrives at a station around dusk, to get a night's shelter under the pretense of seeking work. Green 2005.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 An itinerant salesman of either small items or stolen goods or both.Partridge 1972.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 Illegal alcohol. Partridge 1972. See sly.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

8 Undercover agents or investigators. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

9 The 'gauge' or ‘bore’ size of gun (usually shotgun) cartridges relates to a standard fraction of one pound of lead. A ’12-bore’ was the diameter which would fit a lead ball weighing exactly one twelfth of a pound; thus a size 11 cartridge, which would be 1/11th of a pound, is larger. Nutt 1994-2010.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

10 Referring to Robert Burns' poem, Tam o'Shanter. Tam views a witches' feast, and, 'upon the haly table,/ A murderer's banes'.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]