Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Un-Natural History" by Anonymous

Un-Natural History

Mr. and Mrs. Moon were so very happy when they moved into their new home. Here they were, in real country, surrounded by woodland, brooks, hills, dales and practically every other form that untouched nature takes. A full quarter acre of all this countryside belonged to the Moons. They thought of it fondly as the Moon Ranch. And although Mr. Moon wasn't elated at the prospect of four hours each day in a commuters' train, Mrs. Moon was quick to point out the great advantage of rural life.

"It will be so good for Marvin," she said, simply. That wrapped up everything, and now the Moons were firmly rooted under their own vine and their own fig tree.

Master Marvin Moon, aged ten, the only son, nay, the only child, of Mr. and Mrs. Moon, deserves a bit of description. He looked like a chimpanzee with a shave. To say that Marvin was an active lad would be a hideous under-statement. He seemed to be always up to something. And the things that Marvin was always up to were either downright wicked, or at least distasteful.

Once settled in their home, the Moons worried about Marvin. The child was delicate—about as delicate as Dempsey at Toledo—and all his life had been spent in the city. Would country living prove dull and distasteful to this sensitive tot? Would stronger, over-grown country lads bully this tender plant? Mrs. Moon spent considerable time worrying about this.

Mrs. Moon's fears were resolved one Saturday afternoon, when one of the neighbors, a Mr. Gatley showed up with a complaint. According to Mr. Gatley, Master Marvin had, in a moment of pique, broken the nose of Mr. Gatley's son and heir, twelve-year-old Squint Gatley. It took Mr. Moon the better part of an afternoon and all of one of Mrs. Moon's chocolate cakes to sooth Mr. Gatley's feelings.

Broke noses, in that part of the country, seemed to form a basis for solid friendship, because Marvin and Squint soon became practically inseperable. The first look she took at Squint almost floored Mrs. Moon. While Marvin could hardly be considered handsome, Squint immediately made you think of the electric chair. Criminality was written on the lad's face in letters a mile high. But Marvin loved him, jug ears and all.

It was Squint who introduced Marvin to the mysteries of nature, but it was Marvin who had the idea of building the zoo. This was a series of wire-covered boxes neatly arranged in Marvin's backyard. Seeing the lads engaged in constructive work, Mrs. Moon was pleased.

"What is it you're building, boys?" she asked.

"A zoo," said Marvin.

"Fer anny-mulls," said Squint, who liked to keep everything clear.

"How nice," said Mrs. Moon, thinking of teddy bears and stuffed dogs in the boxed cages. "Children are so imaginative," she thought, as she went in to take a bath.

Mrs. Moon was about to draw her tub, when she noticed that it was already drawn. And there was something in it—green, slimy, swimming things—frogs!

Mrs. Moon had barely time to shriek out an "eek" when Marvin and Squint streaked into the bathroom to rescue their pets. Having gathered the last of them out of the tub, Squint stopped in the doorway long enough to reprimand Mrs. Moon.

"Gosh, ma'am," said Squint, "you came mighty nigh to settin' right on our collection of bull-frogs! You mighta hurted them!"

A week passed, when one evening Marvin entered the living room carrying a small black animal in his arms.

"Look what Squint give me," said Marvin, as he placed the beast on the rug.

"A pussy-cat! How nice!" said Mrs. Moon absently. "Now isn't that a much nicer pet than those awful frogs?"

By this time the pussy-cat was making a hammering noise with his forepaws on the rug and was assuming a somewhat unorthodox stance. Mr. Moon remembered his days as a boy scout.

"That's no cat!" screamed Mr. Moon. "That there's a skunk!"

"Sure," admitted Marvin blithely. "But he's harmless. Squint and me..."

"Squint and I, dear," said his mother.

"Yuh! Squint and I been feeding him chlorophyll pills. He can't do nothin' after that! Chlorophyll kills scent, you know," explained the young naturalist.

At that moment, Mr. Moon, trying to take cover, yelled "Look out!" but it was too late. The skunk had zeroed in, laid down a wild field of fire, and all was lost. It became immediately apparent that chlorophyll doesn't work with skunks.

Marvin and his parents spent the next ten days at the local inn, while their home was being fumigated from top to bottom. Upon their return, Marvin, assisted again by Squint, resumed his nature studies.

This time, the zoo, which still stood, was ominously quiet. But Marvin and Squint seemed to be always busy poking about their small, wire-faced cages. Like most women, Mrs. Moon was curious. She approached the two boys, not without a slight shudder at the sight of Squint's face.

"I hope you boys aren't collecting any more animals," said Mrs. Moon.

"Gosh, no, Mom!" goshed Marvin.

"We're all through collectin' anny-mulls, Mrs. Moon," added the unspeakable Squint.

"What's in that cigar box under your arm, Marvin?" asked Mrs. Moon, with an edge of suspicion in her voice.

"N-nothin', Mom," stammered Marvin. Even Mrs. Moon had to admit to herself that her child was acting like a perjurer being questioned by a smart lawyer. However, she did not want to unveil Marvin's deception in front of Squint. After all, at the age of thirty, Squint would probably be a professional blackmailer. Why ply him with ammunition?

Grabbing Marvin, Mrs. Moon hauled him into the house, and there, in decent privacy, grabbed his cigar box from him and threw it open with a flourish. That was her mistake. The cigar box contained about two hundred of those small, pink amphibians that the English call newts and that the Americans call water-dogs. In a matter of seconds, the room seemed to be full of newts, literally thousands of them, scuttling across the floor in every direction, and seeking cover and concealment. Mrs. Moon refused to re-enter the living room until her lord and master returned from the city. It took Mr. Moon the entire week-end, spent on his hands and knees, until the last fugitive newt had been flushed from under the living room furniture. It was late Sunday before Mr. Moon had a chance for a word with Marvin.

"Son," he began sternly, "you deliberately lied to your mother!"

"How, Pop?" asked Marvin.

"You distinctly told your mother that you didn't have any more animals! And all the time you were talking to her, you carried 197 water-dogs—if my figures are correct—in a box under your arm!"

"I didn't lie, Pop," announced Marvin. "Water-dogs ain't animals. They're amphibians—sort of reptiles."

"Marvin," said Mr. Moon softly. "Do you have any more animals... or amphibians... or reptiles?"

"Yes, Pop," replied Marvin. "I have fourteen snakes in my zoo!"

Mr. Moon had a deathly fear of snakes. Marvin, who believed in reasoning with difficult adults, took him out to the "zoo." Taking a beautifully colored red racer from one of the wired cages, Marvin draped it around his neck to show how harmless the little animal was.

"This is a red racer, father," explained the boy naturalist. "Isn't he beautiful? Absolutely harmless and gentle!"

Mr. Moon was in a spot. A man can't let his ten-year-old son make a poltroon of him. Opening the door of one of the pens, Mr. Moon reached in, grabbed a snake and draped it around his neck.

"Daddy isn't afraid of snakes either, Marvin," said Mr. Moon, nervously.

"Gosh, no, Daddy," said Marvin. "You've got plenty of moxie!"

"What species does this fellow belong to, Marvin?" he asked, cavalierly.

"That's a diamond-back rattlesnake, Daddy," replied the child.

Since Mr. Moon was basically in good health, it only took him five weeks in the hospital to recover from his heart attack. The diamond-back hadn't bitten him. Mr. Moon had dropped in a faint so quickly that the terror of the Everglades couldn't get a bite. Marvin had a different theory.

"He liked you, Daddy," he said. "Nobody was ever nice to him before!"

Mr. Moon shuddered.

"You have given away all your snakes as Daddy told you to, haven't you, Marvin?"

"Every last one," said Marvin. "I traded them to a boy in India."

"Well, well," said Mr. Moon. "And what is the boy in India giving you in return, Marvin?" asked Mr. Moon.

Marvin did not get a chance to reply, for just then the doorbell rang. Opening it, Marvin and his father saw an employee of the United States Post Office Department.

"I got a crate here for a Master Marvin Moon!" said the government official. "Sign here!"

Marvin, always handy with tools, had the crate opened in no time. Inside was a Cobra! Fortunately, the reptile was somewhat sleepy on his arrival. By the time he had raised his head, distended his hood and taken a good look around, Mr. Moon, with Marvin under one arm and Mrs. Moon at the end of the other, was half-way to the city, using no transportation except his legs. He displayed better form than Paavo Nurmi at his best.

Now the Moons are living in a pleasant apartment in the city. If you know anyone who would like to buy a nice, eight-room country house, complete with all modern conveniences, including a hungry cobra, Marvin's father will be glad to sell you one—cheap.

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