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The Golden Pigeons





"Old Grizzly Adams" was quite candid when, in his last hours, he

confessed to the clergyman that he had "told some pretty large stories

about his bears." In fact, these "large stories" were Adam's "besetting

sin." To hear him talk, one would suppose that he had seen and handled

everything ever read or heard of. In fact, according to his story,

California contained specimens of all things, animate and inanimate, to

be found in any part of the globe. He talked glibly about California

lions, California tigers, California leopards, California hyenas,

California camels, and California hippopotami. He furthermore declared

he had, on one occasion, seen a California elephant, "at a great

distance," but it was "very shy," and he would not permit himself to

doubt that California giraffes existed somewhere in the neighborhood of

the "tall trees."



I was anxious to get a chance of exposing to Adams his weak point, and

of showing him the absurdity of telling such ridiculous stories. A fit

occasion soon presented itself. One day, while engaged in my office at

the Museum, a man with marked Teutonic features and accent approached

the door and asked if I would like to buy a pair of living golden

pigeons.



"Yes," I replied, "I would like a flock of 'golden pigeons,' if I

could buy them for their weight in silver; for there are no 'golden'

pigeons in existence, unless they are made from the pure metal."



"You shall see some golden pigeons alive," he replied, at the same time

entering my office and closing the door after him. He then removed the

lid from a small basket which he carried in his hand, and sure enough

there were snugly ensconced a pair of beautiful living ruff-necked

pigeons, as yellow as saffron and as bright as a double eagle fresh from

the mint.



I confess I was somewhat staggered at this sight, and quickly asked the

man where those birds came from.



A dull, lazy smile crawled over the sober face of my German visitor, as

he replied in a slow, guttural tone of voice:



"What you think yourself?"



Catching his meaning, I quickly answered:



"I think it is a humbug?"



"Of course, I know you will say so; because you 'forstha' such things

better as any man living, so I shall not try to humbug you. I have color

them myself."



On further inquiry, I learned that this German was a chemist, and that

he possessed the art of coloring birds any hue desired, and yet retain a

natural gloss on the feathers, which gave every shade the appearance of

reality.



"I can paint a green pigeon or a blue pigeon, a gray pigeon or a black

pigeon, a brown pigeon or a pigeon half blue and half green," said the

German; "and if you prefer it, I can paint them pink or purple, or give

you a little of each color, and make you a rainbow pigeon."



The "rainbow pigeon" did not strike me as particularly desirable; but,

thinking here was a good chance to catch "Grizzly Adams," I bought the

pair of golden pigeons for ten dollars, and sent them up to the "Happy

Family," marked "Golden Pigeons from California." Mr. Taylor the great

pacificator, who has charge of the Happy Family, soon came down in a

state of perspiration.



"Really, Mr. Barnum," said he, "I could not think of putting those

elegant golden pigeons into the Happy Family--they are too valuable a

bird--they might get injured--they are by far the most beautiful pigeons

I ever saw; and as they are so rare, I would not jeopardize their lives

for anything."



"Well," I replied, "you may put them in a separate cage, properly

labeled."



Monsieur Guillaudeu, the naturalist and taxidermist of the Museum, has

been attached to that establishment since the year it was founded, 1810.

He is a Frenchman, and has read everything upon Natural History that was

ever published in his own or in the English language. He is now

seventy-five years old, but is lively as a cricket, and takes as much

interest in Natural History as he ever did. When he saw the "golden

pigeons from California," he was considerably astonished! He examined

them with great delight for half an hour, expatiating upon their

beautiful color, and the near resemblance which every feature bore to

the American ruff-neck pigeon. He soon came to my office and said:



"Mr. B., these golden pigeons are superb, but they cannot be from

California. Audubon mentions no such bird in his work upon American

Ornithology."



I told him he had better take Audubon home with him that night, and

perhaps by studying him attentively he would see occasion to change his

mind.



The next day, the old naturalist called at my office and remarked:



"Mr. B., those pigeons are a more rare bird than you imagine. They are

not mentioned by Linnaeus, Cuvier, Goldsmith, or any other writer on

Natural History, so far as I have been able to discover. I expect they

must have come from some unexplored portion of Australia."



"Never mind," I replied, "we may get more light on the subject, perhaps,

before long. We will continue to label them 'California Pigeons' until

we can fix their nativity elsewhere."



The next, morning, "Old Grizzly Adams," whose exhibition of bears was

then open in Fourteenth street, happened to be passing through the

Museum, when his eyes fell on the "Golden California Pigeons." He looked

a moment and doubtless admired. He soon after came to my office.



"Mr. B," said he, "you must let me have those California pigeons."



"I can't spare them," I replied.



"But you must spare them. All the birds and animals from California

ought to be together. You own half of my California menagerie, and you

must lend me those pigeons."



"Mr. Adams, they are too rare and valuable a bird to be hawked about in

that manner; besides, I expect they will attract considerable attention

here."



"Oh, don't be a fool," replied Adams. "Rare bird, indeed! Why, they are

just as common in California as any other pigeon! I could have brought a

hundred of them from San Francisco, if I had thought of it."



"But why did you not think of it?" I asked, with a suppressed smile.



"Because they are so common there," said Adams. "I did not think they

would be any curiosity here. I have eaten them in pigeon-pies hundreds

of times, and shot them by the thousand!"



I was ready to burst with laughter to see how readily Adams swallowed

the bait, but maintaining the most rigid gravity, I replied:



"Oh well, Mr. Adams, if they are really so common in California, you had

probably better take them, and you may write over and have half a dozen

pairs sent to me for the Museum."



"All right," said Adams; "I will send over to a friend in San Francisco,

and you shall have them here in a couple of months."



I told Adams that, for certain reasons, I would prefer to change the

label so as to have it read: "Golden Pigeons from Australia."



"Well, call them what you like," replied Adams; "I suppose they are

probably about as plenty in Australia as they are in California."



I fancied I could discover a sly smile lurking in the eye of the old

bear-hunter as he made this reply.



The pigeons were labeled as I suggested, and this is how it happened

that the Bridgeport non-believing lady, mentioned in the next chapter,

was so much attracted as to solicit some of their eggs in order to

perpetuate the species in old Connecticut.



Six or eight weeks after this incident, I was in the California

Menagerie, and noticed that the "Golden Pigeons" had assumed a

frightfully mottled appearance. Their feathers had grown out, and they

were half white. Adams had been so busy with his bears that he had not

noticed the change. I called him up to the pigeon cage, and remarked:



"Mr. Adams, I fear you will lose your Golden Pigeons; they must be very

sick; I observe they are turning quite pale!"



Adams looked at them a moment with astonishment; then turning to me, and

seeing that I could not suppress a smile, he indignantly exclaimed:



"Blast the Golden Pigeons! You had better take them back to the Museum.

You can't humbug me with your painted pigeons!"



This was too much, and "I laughed till I cried" to witness the mixed

look of astonishment and vexation which marked the "grizzly" features of

old Adams.



"These Golden Pigeons," I remarked, "are very common in California, I

think I heard you say? When do you expect my half-dozen pairs will

arrive?"



"You go to thunder, you old humbug!" replied Adams, as he marched off

indignantly, and soon disappeared behind the cages of his grizzly

bears.



From that time, Adams seemed to be more careful about telling his large

stories. Perhaps he was not cured altogether of his habit, but he took

particular pains when making marvelous statements to have them of such a

nature that they could not be disproved so easily as was that regarding

the "Golden California Pigeons."





Next: The Whale The Angel Fish And The Golden Pigeon

Previous: Old Grizzly Adams



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