"It lived the tranquil and luxurious life of a creature of independent means. Of things actually necessary to its existence and its happiness not a detail was wanting. When it wished to walk, it scrambled along the tree-trunk; it mused in the shade of the leaves by day, it slept in their shelter by night; when it wanted the refreshment of a swim, it had it; it ate leaves when it wanted a vegetable diet, it dug under the bark for worms and grubs; when it wanted fish it caught them, when it wanted eggs it laid them. If the grubs gave out in one tree it swam to another; and as for fish, the very opulence of the supply was an embarrassment. And finally, when it was thirsty it smacked its chops in gratitude over a blend that would have slain a crocodile.
"When at last, after thirteen months of travel and research in all the Zones it went aground on a mountain-summit, it strode ashore, saying in its heart, 'Let them that come after me invent theories and dream dreams about the Survival of the Fittest if they like, but I am the first that has done it!
"This wonderful creature dates back like the kangaroo and many other Australian hydrocephalous invertebrates, to an age long anterior to the advent of man upon the earth; they date back, indeed, to a time when a causeway hundreds of miles wide, and thousands of miles long, joined Australia to Africa, and the animals of the two countries were alike, and all belonged to that remote geological epoch known to science as the Old Red Grindstone Post-Pleosaurian. Later the causeway sank under the sea; subterranean convulsions lifted the African continent a thousand feet higher than it was before, but Australia kept her old level. In Africa's new climate the animals necessarily began to develop and shade off into new forms and families and species, but the animals of Australia as necessarily remained stationary, and have so remained until this day. In the course of some millions of years the African Ornithorhynchus developed and developed and developed, and sluffed off detail after detail of its make-up until at last the creature became wholly disintegrated and scattered. Whenever you see a bird or a beast or a seal or an otter in Africa you know that he is merely a sorry surviving fragment of that sublime original of whom I have been speaking--that creature which was everything in general and nothing in particular--the opulently endowed 'e pluribus unum' of the animal world.
"Such is the history of the most hoary, the most ancient, the most venerable creature that exists in the earth today--Ornithorhynchus Platypus Extraordinariensis--whom God preserve!"
When he was strongly moved he could rise and soar like that with ease. And not only in the prose form, but in the poetical as well. He had written many pieces of poetry in his time, and these manuscripts he lent around among the passengers, and was willing to let them be copied. It seemed to me that the least technical one in the series, and the one which reached the loftiest note, perhaps, was his
"Come forth from thy oozy couch, O Ornithorhynchus dear! And greet with a cordial claw The stranger that longs to hear
"From thy own own lips the tale Of thy origin all unknown: Thy misplaced bone where flesh should be And flesh where should be bone;
"And fishy fin where should be paw, And beaver-trowel tail, And snout of beast equip'd with teeth Where gills ought to prevail.
"Come, Kangaroo, the good and true Foreshortened as to legs, And body tapered like a churn, And sack marsupial, i' fegs,
"And tells us why you linger here, Thou relic of a vanished time, When all your friends as fossils sleep, Immortalized in lime!"
Perhaps no poet is a conscious plagiarist; but there seems to be warrant for suspecting that there is no poet who is not at one time or another an unconscious one.