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had read and what I had seen, he seemed in this preliminary going-over in no wise concerned to find what I knew about fossils, rocks, animals, and plants: he put aside the offerings of my scanty lore. This offended me a bit, as I recall, for the reason that I thought I knew, and for a self-taught lad really did know, a good deal about such matters, especially as to the habits of insects, particularly spiders. It seemed hard to be denied the chance to make my parade; but I afterwards saw what this meant, that he did not intend to let me begin my tasks by posing as a naturalist. The beginning was indeed quite different, and, as will be seen, in a manner that quickly evaporated my conceit.
Agassiz’s laboratory was then in a rather small twostoried building, looking much like a square dwellinghouse, which stood where the College Gymnasium now stands. In this primitive establishment Agassiz's laboratory, as distinguished from the store-rooms where the collections were crammed, occupied one room about thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide — what is now the west room on the lower floor of the edifice. In this place, already packed, I had assigned to me a small pine table with a rusty tin pan upon it.
When I sat me down before my tin pan, Agassiz brought me a small fish, placing it before me with the rather stern requirement that I should study it, but should on no account talk to anyone concerning it, nor read anything concerning fishes, until I had his permission so to do. To my inquiry, “What shall I do?” he said in effect, "Find out what you can without damaging the specimen; when I think that you have done the work I will question you.”
In the course of an hour I thought I had compassed that fish; it was rather an unsavory object, giving forth the stench of old alcohol, then loathsome to me, though in time I came to like it. Many of the scales were loosened so that they fell off. It appeared to me to be a case for a summary report, which I was anxious to make and get on to the next stage of the business. But Agassiz, though always within call, concerned himself no further with me that day, nor the next, nor for a week. At first, this neglect was distressing; but I saw that it was a game, for he was, as I discerned, rather than saw, covertly watching me. So I set my wits to work upon the thing, and in the course of a hundred hours or so thought I had done much, a hundred times as much as seemed possible at the start. I got interested in finding out how the scales went in series, their shape, the form and placement of the teeth, etc., etc.
Finally, I felt full of the subject and probably expressed it in my bearing; as for words about it, there were none from my master except his cheery "Good morning.” At length, on the seventh day, came the question, “Well?” and my disgorge of learning to him as he sat on the edge of my table, puffing his cigar. At the end of the hour's telling, he swung off and away, saying, “That is not right.” Here I began to think that, after all, perhaps the rules for scanning Latin verse were not the worst infliction in the world. Moreover, it was clear that he was playing a game with me to find if I were capable of doing hard, continuous work without the support of a teacher, and this stimulated me to labor.
I went at the task anew, discarded my first notes, and in another week of ten hours a day labor I had
results which astonished myself and satisfied him. Still there was no trace of praise in words or manner. He signified that it would do by placing before me about half a peck of bones, telling me to see what I could make of them, with no further directions to guide me. I soon found that they were the skeletons of half-adozen fishes of different species; the jaws told me that much at a first inspection. The task evidently was to fit the separate bones together in their proper order. Two months or more went to this task, with no other help than an occasional looking over my grouping, with the stereotyped remark, “That is not right.” Finally, the task was done, and I was again set upon alcoholic specimens — this time a remarkable lot representing, perhaps, twenty species of the side-swimmers, or pleuronectidæ.
I shall never forget the sense of power in dealing with things which I felt in beginning the more extended work on a group of animals. I had learned the art of comparing objects, which is the basis of the naturalist's work. At this stage I was allowed to read, and to discuss my work with others about me. I did both eagerly, and acquired a considerable knowledge of the literature of Ichthyology, becoming especially interested in the system of classification, then most imperfect. I tried to follow Agassiz's scheme of division into the order of ctenoids, and ganoids, with the result that I found one of my species of side-swimmers had cycloid scales on one side and ctenoid on the other. This not only shocked my sense of the value of classification in a way that permitted of no full recovery of my original respect for the process, but for a time shook my confidence in
my master's knowledge. At the same time I had a malicious pleasure in exhibiting my find to him, expecting to repay in part the humiliation which he had evidently tried to inflict on my conceit. To my question as to how the nondescript should be classified, he said, “My boy, there are now two of us who know that.”
THE MUSKRATS ARE BUILDING
BY DALLAS LORE SHARP
We have had a series of long, heavy rains, and water is standing over the swampy meadow. It is a dreary stretch, this wet, sedgy land in the cold twilight, drearier than any part of the woods or the upland pastures. They are empty, but the meadow is flat and wet, naked and all unsheltered. And a November night is falling.
The darkness deepens; a raw wind is rising. At nine o'clock the moon swings round and full to the crest of the ridge, and pours softly over. I button the heavy ulster close, and in my rubber boots go down to the river and follow it out to the middle of the meadow, where it meets the main ditch at the sharp turn toward the swamp. Here at the bend, behind a clump of black alders, I sit quietly down and wait.
I am not mad, nor melancholy; I am not after copy. Nothing is the matter with me. I have come out to the bend to watch the muskrats building, for that small mound up the ditch is not an old haycock, but a halffinished muskrat house.
The moon climbs higher. The water on the meadow shivers in the light. The wind bites through my heavy coat and sends me back; but not until I have seen one, two, three little figures scaling the walls of the house with loads of mud-and-reed mortar. I am driven back by the cold, but not until I know that here in the