Left Half Harmon
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Oh, hello!” greeted McNatt cordially. “Come in. Sorry to keep you waiting, but this thing’s out of order somewhere.” He leaned down to examine a bolt on the door frame, and then followed with his eyes a wire that proceeded from the bolt to the ceiling and across the latter, through a number of screw-eyes, to a point above the study table in the middle of the room. From there it descended to within convenient reach of a person seated at the table, terminating in a wooden knob. Willard viewed it with amused interest.
“Quite a scheme,” he said. “Your invention, McNatt?”
“Yes, it saves time, you see. Trouble is, though, it will get out of order. Ought to have small wheels for it to run on instead of those eyes. Let’s see now.” He pulled the knob down and the bolt slipped obediently from its socket with a business-like click. McNatt shrugged expressively. “All right now, you see. It binds somewhere, I guess. Sit down, Harmon.” He indicated a Morris chair in need of repair and Willard seated himself and looked around. The rooms in Upton were slightly larger, it seemed, than those in the newer dormitories, and Willard considered it a most fortunate circumstance, since a smaller room would never have accommodated all the articles that met his gaze. Besides the ordinary furnishings, there were two bookcases, a set of book shelves that hung on a wall and several boxes up-ended to serve as auxiliary tables. McNatt was telling Willard of his failure to find information regarding the use of the diving-rod in the location of metals and saying some bitter things about the reference department of the Academy library, but Willard was too much interested in the room to pay much heed.
The place looked like a compromise between a museum and a laboratory. Stuffed birds and small animals peered down with glassy eyes from all sides, a badly mounted pickerel on a board presented a hungry mouth, a snake skin depended from the corner of a framed picture that showed, in colors, what was probably a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Garden of Eden. It was an engaging picture, and Willard studied it curiously before his gaze went past. All the animals of which he had ever heard were depicted in it, and all were grouped about in peace and friendliness, even the lions in the foreground smiling on the beholder with truly benevolent countenances.
Methods of saving time or labor were apparent on every hand in the shape of mechanical appliances. A complicated arrangement of cords allowed of the lowering or raising of the window shades without approaching the windows; although Willard could not see that it was any farther from the table to the windows than it was to the side of the room where the cords hung! On the chair in which he sat a home-made bookholder was attached to one arm, while, by reaching underneath, one could pull forth an extension that accommodated one’s legs and feet, though probably not very comfortably. Later he discovered that a switch attached to the wall beside the head of McNatt’s bed in the alcove allowed that ingenious youth to put on or off the electric light without arising.
The bookcases held all sorts of things except books, although there were plenty of the latter distributed about in such unusual places as the window-seat and the tops of the two chiffoniers.Indeed, a set of encyclopedias of ancient vintage found lodgment along the baseboard on the floor. The bookcases had been consecrated to Science, it appeared, for in the nearer one dozens and dozens of birds’ eggs peered forth from cotton-batting nests and in the other McNatt’s collection of minerals was installed. The study table overflowed with a motley d?bris of books, papers, a microscope, pieces of wire, bits of wood, a blowpipe, a specimen-jar half filled with a dark-brown liquid that from its appearance and odor was plainly “working,” a mouse-trap – empty, as Willard was relieved to discover – and so many other things that it would be useless to attempt an enumeration of them. Willard was still looking about when McNatt interrupted his inspection.
“Would you like to see my minerals?” he asked.
Willard politely replied that he would and McNatt opened the doors of the case and thereupon held forth for some ten minutes, during which time Willard pretended interest in various specimens and said “Really?”, “Is that so?” and “Indeed!” dozens of times. When it came to the birds’ eggs he had the courage to say that he wasn’t very much interested, and McNatt passed them by. “I’m thinking of getting rid of them,” he announced. “I need the space for other things. If you hear of anyone who’d like a nice collection I wish you’d let me know.” Willard agreed and was shown some choice things in cocoons, an extensive collection of butterflies and moths which occupied the two lower drawers of McNatt’s chiffonier, several specimens of tree-fungus, a cigar-box full of shells gathered along the river, a pair of chameleons in a shoe-box, a number of small phials filled with liquids of various hues which McNatt assured him were vegetable dyes, another phial of whitish powder that its exhibitor called kaolin, and numerous other wonders. McNatt was quite impressive about the kaolin.
“I guess I’m the only one who knows about it,” he said, lowering his voice and looking guardedly toward the door. “It’s immensely valuable, you know.”
“Is it?” asked Willard.
“Oh, yes. It’s what they make porcelain from. China clay they call it sometimes. There’s a big deposit of it where I found this, and maybe some day I’ll buy the land and develop it. Meanwhile, of course, I’m keeping very quiet about it.”
“Of course,” murmured Willard.
“And here’s another thing,” continued McNatt. “Take these vegetable dyes. There isn’t one of those you couldn’t make just as well as I did, Harmon!”
“You don’t say?”
“Yes, sir! And every one is made of something that grows right beside your door, as you might say. Now take this.” He shook a phial until the sediment at the bottom turned the liquid to a muddy purple as seen against the light. “Nothing but poke-berry! I don’t mind letting you in on that because lots of people know about getting color from poke-berry. But here’s one, by ginger, you won’t often see!” He held up a second bottle and Willard gazed on a quite gorgeous crimson. “How’s that for color?” asked McNatt. “You don’t find anything finer than that, I’ll bet!”
“Mighty pretty,” responded Willard. “What’s that made from?”
McNatt chuckled, winked portentously and shook his head. “That’s a secret. I’d tell you only I might want to go into the business some day, Harmon. Not as a life-work, you understand, but – Know anything about mycology?”
“No, what is it?”
“The study of mushrooms and fungi. Awfully interesting. I’m just taking it up. Some of them make wonderful dyes, and that’s what started me. I’ve found thirteen varieties of mushrooms already, and I’ve been out only four times.” He looked approvingly out at the rain. “There’ll be lots of them tomorrow, I guess. I found a giant puff-ball over near where I met you that day, only it was rotten. They’re delicious eating. Some day when I find one that’s in good condition I’ll let you know and we’ll have a feast. I’ve got a little alcohol stove in there that you can cook almost anything on. I had a few the other night and they were mighty good. Winfred – Winfred Fuller, you know; he rooms here with me – Winfred said they made him feel sort of sick, but I guess it was more likely something he had for dinner.”
“Still, some mushrooms are poisonous, aren’t they?” inquired Willard doubtfully.
“Lots of them, but it isn’t difficult to tell them from the others, you know. I’ve got a book that tells all about it. Where is it?” McNatt looked rather hopelessly about him. “I don’t see it just now. Winfred’s mixed my things up again, I dare say. He’s a very decent fellow, but he hasn’t any idea of orderliness. Next time you come it will probably be around.”
Their travels had brought them back to the corridor end of the room and Willard’s attention was attracted by a small bottle hanging by a string from a thumb-tack beneath the electric light switch. “What’s that for?” he asked.
“Eh? Oh, that?” McNatt removed it as he spoke. “That’s no good any more. I had a glow-worm and a firefly in there, but the firefly ate the glow-worm, or maybe it was the other way around: I forget now; and then the one who’d eaten the other one died, too.” He took the stopper from the bottle and inverted it, allowing the dried remains of some small occupant to fall out. “Besides,” he added, “you can buy little dinkuses made of radium that’ll do the same thing now.”
“Well, but – but what was it they did?” asked Willard.
“Oh, they glowed, you know, in the dark, and showed where the switch was.” McNatt tossed the empty bottle to the table. “Trouble was they didn’t always glow when you wanted them to and sometimes you had to stand around and wait quite a while.”
Seated again, McNatt tilted back in his chair and observed Willard thoughtfully for a moment. Then: “Returning to the subject we were discussing the other day, Harmon,” he announced, “I’ve been sort of outlining a system along the lines we spoke of. I haven’t gone into it thoroughly, of course, but I’ve estimated that the number of possible situations in a football game approximate one hundred and sixty. I may be slightly in error, of course, for I haven’t played recently and there have been several alterations in the rules, but I’m not far out of the way. That number includes situations occurring both in attack and defense. I’ve got a rough summary here somewhere.” He began to rummage over the table. “It’s a piece of yellow paper. Is it on your side anywhere? Now I wonder what I did with it. Well, never mind, it’ll show up again some day. Anyway, my idea would be to – ah – catalogue them, as one might say, according to their locations on the field of play. I’d divide the gridiron into, say, ten zones longitudinally and three zones laterally, giving thirty areas in all. Numbering – perhaps lettering would be better, though: lettering such area – Have you got to go?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” replied Willard. “I – it’s getting along toward six o’clock. I’d like to hear about it some other time, though, McNatt. I say, why don’t you come over to my room some evening and let Mart Proctor hear it? He’d be awfully interested, I’m sure. Mart’s on the team, too, you know; plays guard. I wish you would.”
“Why, I don’t visit around much,” answered the other hesitantly, as he reached for the knob that unbolted the door. “I don’t have time, you see, and just now I’m most interested in mycology, Harmon. By the way, don’t forget about that mushroom supper we’re going to have!”