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Kingdom Under Glass
WINTER, 1883. BROOKLYN
WAS THIS REALLY IT? BEFORE HIS LIFE HAD EVEN BEGUN, TO BE cast out and condemned to sit day in, day out in this basement dungeon before a great pile of dead birds? It was like a bad dream. The pile, heaped on the table, never got any smaller. He might think for a while that it was shrinking. He'd work his way into one corner for a while, skinning birds in one particular quadrant, digging a small cave, chipping away at the side of the mountain one dead bird at a time, but then another plume hunter would arrive in his muddy hip boots with a sack over his shoulder, stinking of gunpowder and bird shit. Then Wallace, the ogre who owned this dismal chop shop, would step out of the shadows to negotiate a price, and another sack of terns and egrets and robins and warblers would come tumbling out on the table, and the work would be just as daunting and endless as before.
He had really flubbed his one great chance to have ended up here. One day you've got your whole life ahead of you; the next you're condemned for an eternity to keep pushing yourself back up a mountain of dead birds. It was the most barbaric work in the world, skinning birds for ladies' hats. It was a world away from the future he'd been promised at Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York. There he might have eventually seen his own handiwork end up in the world'sgreatest natural history museums. But then there'd been a kind of misunderstanding. He'd been too ambitious. He'd been too careless, and yes, possibly even arrogant. Mistakes were made. And then Professor Ward--the great maestro--had gone and cast him out of the only Eden he'd ever known. He'd been fired.
And now Carl Akeley was a virtual prisoner in this dank basement of a moldy warehouse below the Brooklyn Bridge, where he could barely hear his own gloomy thoughts over the screech of tugboat whistles and the drone of the oil barges and naval vessels that crowded the East River. The sickening stench of the workshop, lit by the sallow light of gas jet lamps, was ghoulish. John Wallace was a short, intense man with a cockney accent often thickened by beer as he lorded it over his underground realm, dealing brashly with the hunters who brought him birds by the sackload daily, and the boys who worked for him, turning the flightless lumps of feather into cash.
Carl and several other young men came in the morning before sunup, hung their coats by the door, and sat on wooden benches around a large table heaped with the day's work. The hunters came in from the rookeries on Long Island and the forests of New Jersey, bringing in as many as four hundred birds a day. They were dumped onto the table--bluebirds, sparrows, grebes, waxwings, all mixed together in a welter of beaks and bloodied plumage. Carl would reach into the heap, where it was sometimes still warm in the center, take hold of a bird, skin it, quickly shape it into something that might look chic on a lady's head, and then move on to the next. The boys' fingers were nicked and scratched and bled from the sharp talons and sewing needles. Loose feathers dusted the floor in drifts. At best, the work was a sort of assembly line: One boy skinned a bird, passed it along to the next, who wound tow for the body. Another bent wire for the necks; another cleaned wings with turpentine. Another might poison skins all day long. In the end they were dried, boxed, and shipped off to the milliners in the fashion district of Fourteenth Street, where they were affixed to ladies' hats for J. Gurney & Son, the New York Millinery Supply Co., and others. Given how this peculiar fashion was at its absolute zenith, Mr. Wallace had earned a reputation as the most prolific stuffer of birds in the long and sordid history of taxidermy. He always had need for skilled and semiskilled boys.
Akeley had had no trouble getting the job.
To sit before this avalanche of dead birds that would never grow any smaller--this was his punishment for having had the temerity to try to make something of himself. The worst part was the stinging regret that never went away, that never got smaller, that stared back at him out of a thousand cooled eyes. If only Professor Ward had given him a chance to explain himself! Working at Ward's Natural Science Establishment had been the closest he would ever get to serious museum taxidermy. His only crime had been youthful ambition. Well, that, and falling asleep on the job; but Carl felt certain Professor Ward would have been kinder if only he'd known about the late-night experiments he'd been conducting, if he'd only bothered to ask before giving him the boot. If only whichever envious snake hadn't destroyed his experiments before he'd had the chance to show the professor. He'd actually thought he was on the verge of reinventing the art of taxidermy. How stupid he'd been. There was nothing artful about this work. It was brutal and disgusting. He was no sculptor, like he'd boasted. He was a nobody. That was all there was to it, and all that was left was to accept the fact that he'd been sentenced to a lifetime of utter insignificance--skinning birds for ladies' hats.
Things could have turned out so differently! He thought of all the countless hours he'd spent as a boy cloistered in his room, studying the spattered copy of the taxidermy manual ordered from the back of Youth's Companion--he'd passed right over the ads for the Velocipede and the Reading Machine, even if he did go in for the adventure stories where explorers faced off against rabid panthers and savage Indians, the serialized features like "Cast Away in Japan"--the ad had been right there between the flexible rubber mittens and a kit for becoming a licensed telegraphy operator. Price one dollar. As small as a chapbook of poems, the book was bound by a dark brown cloth cover with gold embossed letters that read, simply, Taxidermist's Manual. The author was a Professor J. W. P. Jenks. Taking heed of the manual's first and primary admonition to work in secret so that "none may know the mysteries of the art," he had hidden himself in his room to begin his experimentations. Under his bed and crowding every free surface, splayed on sheets of newsprint, were the victims of his education. On his window ledge rested the frail skeletons of chipmunks, robins, and defleshed wrens bleaching in the sun. His desk was littered with awls and thread and scissors and pins--much of which had been pilfered from his mother'ssewing basket. In the summer, flies thrummed outside his open window but seemed to know better than to light on any of the still lifes inside; however tantalizing they may have looked, the poison that preserved the illusion of life had a tendency to ward off intruders.
To 1/2 pt. of 60 per cent. alcohol add an ounce each of arsenic, camphor, alum, and two drs. strychnine. Shake it well and let it stand 12 hours. It is then fit for use.
Label "Poison," and keep the bottle well corked.
(Ingredients easily obtained from Bishop's Drug Store)
To Carl, this was more than a hobby. It was liberation. An escape from the pall that hung over the house, cast by the ghosts of his three dead infant brothers and his mother's grief, which kept her trapped in its dark weeds. Something "unnatural" had happened to this house, to this family. A friction had grown over the years, and his mother, more and more, put the blame on Carl's father, turning all her bitterness toward him, castrating him for failing to give her a life as good as her well-to-do and puritanical sisters'. Even though it had been she who refused to go west, as her husband wanted, to make a better go, to be free of their "clay slab" of a farm. But she did not want to leave her sisters, her family. She'd already lost enough. Blaming her husband only got easier once he'd lost his nerve and made the foolish mistake of paying another man a thousand dollars to go fight in the Civil War in his place. The substitute survived the war and lived long enough to collect interest on the debt for many years, further sinking them into poverty, and each season the farm grew more crabbed and worn-out.
Perhaps his mother had become so numbed by her own melancholy, which now trailed from her pores like a noxious gas, that she didn't notice the stench that had taken over the upstairs of her home. But at some point one of the sisters, Carl's aunt, who lived just down the street, became alarmed at the way the boy was turning into a pale, unwholesome thing, and how his mother was doing nothing to stop it. A thirteen-year-old shouldn't spend all his time hiding in his bedroom, she said, doing God knows what to those poor animals. Young Carl had heard the whispers, eavesdropping at the top of the stairs, while his aunt conspired to rob him of his chief pleasure in life. It was an unnatural obsession.A disgusting habit. Other children taunted him now for his queer hobby. Did she know that? Yes, his mother knew, she knew, but what could be done?--the boy's father would not lift a finger. Well, of course not, her husband had no backbone. (This was not said so much as it hung in the air: his father's failures commingling with the odor of the child's playthings.) The aunt was scared for his future. Frightened for his soul, too, since the boy didn't even have the decency to quit his unholy labors on the Sabbath. The county insane asylum was only half a day's buggy ride from their hometown of Clarendon, New York. Surely, there, the boy might be cured of his morbid whims.
Who knew? Perhaps he'd have more freedom to do as he pleased in an asylum. At the very least, he would have escaped, like his father had tried. Carl resented his mother for what she had done to his father. For the constant nagging. For wanting his father to suffer for his poor choices. For destroying his morale.
His mother did not suffer the shame of her husband's cowardice with grace. But still she wasn't going to ship her son off to an asylum. Truth be told, she was fond of the white rabbit Carl had mounted for her birthday. It was perched on a stump in the front yard. His aunt would soon enough change her song, too, after the boy worked his magic on her pet canary--this, after she'd forgotten to put the drape back over its cage one freezing winter night.
In any event, he'd been happy to finally move away from home. Lucky to get away.
He could still remember the first moment he'd seen the outside of Ward's Natural Science Establishment; it was as if he'd arrived at his true home at last. He'd learned of its existence from his first employer, an interior decorator named David Bruce, who managed to earn quite a tidy living off the current nature craze, painting wildlife murals in the parlors of Brockport, New York's most well-heeled citizens, the sort who spent their leisure time chasing butterflies with silk nets, collecting snails at the beach, or stomping through the woods in high-button shoes in quest of the latest fern de rigueur for their terraria. The obsession with collecting, some might have said, fit the country's growing acquisitiveness. Bruce happened to live just a few miles down the road from Carl's family's farm. Before hiring Carl as his assistant, he had taken him out for an oyster dinner, but as the shells piled up on the older man's plate, he could see the boy was only ravenous for information aboutthe business of stuffing animals and whether it was true a person could make a living doing something so much more edifying than growing potatoes. He could see the boy had an almost feverish air about him, as if he had a true calling. After a few weeks it was clear Carl had no knack for mixing paints or cleaning brushes or sketching starfish or seashells--or anything for that matter that didn't involve a flensing knife. On the other hand, whenever the chance arrived to stuff a bird or chipmunk for one of the cabinets Bruce assembled for his clientele, the youth's display of talent far surpassed that of his employer's. Ultimately, Bruce had had to let him go--the kid was never going to make it as a decorator--but in so doing suggested he might look into getting a position at a place in Rochester called Ward's Natural Science Establishment.
That would mean moving away from home. Rochester was twenty miles away from Clarendon. But he was almost eighteen, and at Ward's, he would be working for the country's premier supplier of specimens for the new natural history museums popping up everywhere. For a young aspiring taxidermist, it would be the equivalent of enrolling in the École des Beaux-Arts. There, Bruce assured him, he would meet other young men similarly afflicted with his zeal, and he would earn a good dollar doing what he really loved.
So there he'd found himself, standing outside the jawbone of a blue whale that served as the front gate to Ward's Natural Science Establishment, trying to screw up the courage to knock on the door. To walk off his nerves, he'd wandered around Rochester, pacing along the busy Erie Canal, and up Buffalo Street where the deafening steam-powered flour mills, whirring and grinding, generated a mist of pulverized flour, which hung in the frigid air like fine snow. (If he had wandered along the canal long enough, he might have taken notice of a skinny young man just a few years older than himself by the name of George Eastman, who was conducting his own dubious experiments with odd-looking glass plates that glistened with a transparent chemical skin.) Finally, Carl ended up back outside the whale's jawbone. It was an all-or-nothing moment. This was the only place where he conceivably belonged. But to think: that he could knock on the door, and this man whom he'd never met, this Professor Ward, could take one look at him and snuff out his young life by simply saying no.
For one afternoon in a person's life to have such freight. Everything until now had been mere preparation for this moment.
After lingering for what seemed like an eternity on College Avenue, gaining and losing his courage with each passing carriage, he finally built up his nerve to walk under the looming jawbone. Inside the courtyard was like a peddlers' village, or the campus of a New England preparatory school, if stranger. There were fourteen white frame buildings in all, adjoining an orchard. One had a moose skull dangling from the gable. Where you might expect a weather vane on another building was what appeared to be a giant gastropod shell, or maybe a prehistoric snail. Skeletons and bleaching bones were scattered on the ground outside what was evidently a converted bowling alley.
When he stopped to ask a man carrying what looked like a stiff, giant anteater where he might find Professor Henry Augustus Ward, he was directed to the building where a stuffed ape sat propped on the front porch. Above the door was a sign. COSMOS HALL. A distracted-looking older man answered his knock and acknowledged, after Carl's stammered introduction, that he was indeed Professor Ward, upon which Carl mutely presented the handmade business card he had hastily prepared the night before.
CARL E. AKELEY ARTISTIC TAXIDERMY IN ALL ITS BRANCHES
The professor was a balding man with a trim silver beard, a noble alert face, and oddly squarish ears. He took the card and looked it over, while his free hand rummaged in the pocket of a well-worn Prince Albert frock coat overflowing with newspaper clippings and crumpled letters, and, amid the rustling, Carl could have sworn he made out the sound of metal bits jinking about. He later learned that the professor had the habit of picking up and pocketing stray nails off the shop floor, a custom which caused his wife endless grief, given how it mangled his clothes.
As disheveled as he may have seemed, Professor Ward was a highly esteemed man who'd helped many of the country's best natural history museums get off the ground. He had no interest in the spiritual or religious view of nature--the prevailing belief at the time that if only man peered deeply enough into Nature, he would see its inner Design, and how the divine watchmaker had precision-engineered all of creation to benefit humankind and its works (a belief echoed from the pulpits andfrom most best-selling natural history authors)--but believed that all of the major fields of science (geology, paleontology, mineralogy, botany, and zoology) were interconnected and revealed the true nature of existence as a sort of interdependent mechanism. That there existed a kind of fragile wovenness between the world of organisms to the spheres they inhabited. An animal was not separate from his habitat but was in fact part of a larger relationship. This was a fascinating new concept. It had even spawned a new term: ecology. Part of the reason this notion was taking root, no doubt, was that some people were gradually waking to the realization that what they had formerly perceived as limitless--namely, that is, America's supply of natural resources--was finite indeed. Wilderness was the one commodity the nation had always believed it possessed in inexhaustible abundance. It had shaped America's image of itself. Defined the boundaries of its potential--that is, there were no boundaries. But by the mid-1880s not only was the frontier conquered, it was closed. The world had become smaller. Yet inside that smaller world everything was tied together in a fragile union. This ecumenical philosophy would ultimately become the model for all museums and was reflected in the arrangement of Ward's cabinets, whereby the spectator could move from one realm easily into the next: stones, birds, trees.
Whether you were a geologist who wanted a rare gem, a paleontologist in need of a Glyptodon skull, or a museum in need of a Megatherium, Professor Ward was the dealer you sought. His business prepared exhibits representative of every natural kingdom--animal, plant, and mineral--and he had agents and collectors working for him all over the planet. As a young man he'd gotten his start collecting specimens for Louis Agassiz, who was then still cobbling together his Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, but as natural curios became increasingly in fashion Ward quickly realized he could make a killing selling prepared fossils, gemstones, and mounted animals to private collectors, colleges, and the upstart natural history museums. There were great profits to be made. To meet the demand, he had traveled to Persia to collect meteorites, climbed Mount Vesuvius for volcanic rocks, collected mummies and inscribed scarabs in Egypt, and had even brought back the skeleton of a Siberian mammoth. He had gone in search of fossils in Abyssinia, minerals in India, and skins in Zanzibar, Java, Japan, Borneo, New Zealand, Patagonia, and Zululand. When he was twenty-five years old, on a collecting expedition along the Niger River, he'd comedown with blackwater fever and was left to die on a small island by his riverboat crew. He was taken in by a native woman named Calypso, who nursed him back to life in the idyll of her grass hut, and for a time tried to make a husband of the professor, but once he'd regained his strength, he left the heartbroken Calypso to continue his life of rock collecting. By the time he was twenty-seven years old, in 1861, he had the best geologic collection in America. The truth was, Carl was lucky to have found the professor himself actually on the premises. He was a man in perpetual motion, constantly dashing off to one corner of the world or other to track down an exotic fish skeleton or to purchase the meteorite collection of a Russian noble.
The company he kept was as legendary as his travels. He had hobnobbed with David Livingstone, even given the older man advice on how to proceed up the Niger, having made the trip himself before the famous missionary. Darkest Africa had given Professor Ward a peculiar and priestly aura himself; it was as if he'd visited the mythical center of the earth and returned to tell about it. A missionary of divine curiosities. He counted among his friends Buffalo Bill and P. T. Barnum, a collector of natural wonders himself, even if many of the showman's artifacts were as unnatural in the extreme as his Feejee Mermaid or his Elephantus-Hippo-Paradoxus. Barnum's most recent and favorite acquisition, however, had not been a hoax, but an African elephant named Jumbo. Ward had promised to mount Jumbo, the largest Loxodonta africana in captivity, in the event anything ever happened to the circus impresario's biggest crowd-pleaser.
By the time Akeley arrived, in 1883, Ward's emporium had become a virtual assembly line to the museum world, and an Ivy League training camp for all types of naturalists, many of whom would go on to become among the most prominent curators and scientists in the field. Frederic Lucas, the future director of the American Museum of Natural History, had himself started at Ward's skeletonizing pigs. It was foul and backbreaking work, and the hive of resurrectionists Ward kept busy filling his orders for the new "temples of science" were vulnerable to a host of diseases like anthrax, rabies, sarcoptic mange, even the bubonic plague--just a few of the occupational hazards faced by those who played with dead animals for a living. Arsenic powder was stored in barrels like cake flour. The lethal yellow motes swirled in the shafts of sunlight that fell on the studio floor.
Nonetheless, Professor Ward was used to turning away eager young men with trilobites in their eyes. Yet when he looked at Carl's little homemade card, foremost in his mind, no doubt, was the enormous contract he was now in the middle of fulfilling to supply the American Museum of Natural History with a specimen of every known bird and mammal in North America. That would have been enough, but then a second contract had followed to supply the museum with a specimen of every known monkey in the world. More than fate, Carl Akeley had the luck of good timing on his side.
Ward absently pocketed Akeley's card, where it was swallowed by the other detritus, gruffly let him know that "anything he might already know about taxidermy would be more of a liability than an asset," and, fiddling with his clumsily knotted black silk string tie, told him that he would report at 7:00 A.M. sharp, work a twelve-hour day, earn $3.50 a week, minus room and board, that there were no holidays and no sick days, and upon penalty of being stuffed and mounted himself he was to refrain from smoking in the studios. Ward had already suffered one fire in 1869 and lost every damn last thing, so smoking was strictly verboten. And so was sleeping on the job. Therefore, when Carl was discovered six months later taking a nap on a pile of skins in the attic, he was called back down to Professor Ward's office and promptly fired.
IT WAS THE tedium of the Brooklyn dungeon that would kill him faster than all the arsenic in a herd of elephant skins. At Ward's at least there had been a splendid variety of animals. Here the monotony was as rigid as each stiffened little wing. Carl himself might skin a hundred or more in a single shift, though he couldn't help but put as much art and care as possible into each bird. Hunched over the table, bluebird firmly in hand, he would first press his thumbs under the armpits to dislocate the wings, snip off its feet, and then pluck out its eyes--stuffing cotton into the empty sockets, its beak, and, using a small pair of forceps, its miniature cloaca to prevent unwanted leakage. Drawing the tip of his blade from its breastbone to its tail, his ankles crossed beneath his chair, concentrating, careful to push, rather than pull with his thumbnails, he degloved the bird, dropping its rib cage and innards in a pail. Every few moments he stopped to daub away with a damp rag a spot ofblood that had seeped onto the feathers. Despite the gory nature of the work, he tended toward fastidiousness.
Once a skin was scraped clean, he sprinkled it with the camphor-scented arsenic powder, rubbing it liberally into the feathers, in and around the intricately hinged and interlocked quills and carpal joints of the wing, fanning out the secondaries to work the poison into every barb and vane.
The last thing he did before handing it off was to sever the bird's head, scoop out its little dollop of brain, and stuff the hollowed cranium with cotton before impaling the skull on a short stem of wire. The next boy--or Carl, when he worked this station--then unspooled a length of medium-gauge wire, the full length of the bird plus a third, bending back and curving the wire so it conformed to the contour of the bird's body: a dipper-shaped armature around which twine was quickly wound until it resembled (roughly) a flaxen tuber with the dimensions of the original bird. The skin was then affixed with sewing pins to the string manikin, stitched on, and then passed off to the last boy, who pierced a thinner-gauge wire through the bird's shoulders, carefully lacing on the wings under the coverts, bending them into the semblance of flight. Then the pins were removed, stray feathers straightened to hide the artist's hand, arsenic brushed off, and glass eyes glued into the empty sockets. When Carl worked this end he tried his best to give the eyes a look of believable consciousness. Even if his own were blunted dull by the repetitive nature of the work.
It was devoutly uninspiring. Oh, how he missed the exciting buzzy atmosphere of Ward's. Whenever he pictured his old workstation, or his first tour of the maze of studios, through rooms filled wall-to-ceiling with shelves of lizards and fetal pigs afloat in jars, the workshops where men assembled cabinets resembling alien dollhouses filled with ammonites, mollusks, and cephalopods; the Invertebrate Rooms; the Zoological Museum; the osteology shop, where beet-faced Germans stood over vats of boiling bones; and, of course, the taxidermy studio itself, which shimmered with saws, cleavers, and fleshing knives--that chaos of brightly colored feathers and furs and exotic beasts in various stages of disassembly and reassembly that filled his heart with joy, oh, how it stung to remember. How he missed the giant snakeskins that hung like kites from the rafters! The skins of colobus and chimpanzees, golden monkeys and vervets slowly leaching out their essence in great moundsof salt on the floor. He had been right there, one of the young men in a leather apron, one of Ward's boys, surrounded by a reeking halo of preserving alcohol, ankle-deep in crimson blood-soaked straw. In his memory all of it was as sparkling as the gems below them in the Mineral Department, from which now and then through the spattered floorboards came the sharp whine of a steam-saw cutting sections of a meteorite.
Not that after a while he hadn't noticed a certain lack of artfulness in the taxidermy done at Ward's. When it came down to it, no matter how happy he had been there, he'd still been disillusioned to learn how crude the art of professional taxidermy really was. There was hardly much more to it than what he'd learned in the manual out of Youth's Companion. The work primarily consisted of turning a skin upside down and unceremoniously stuffing handfuls of sawdust into its deflated pelt until the animal resembled a clownish effigy more than the living thing it had once been in the wild. It required hardly any knowledge of anatomy whatsoever. The misshapen, lumpy monsters, literally stuffed like empty bags, embarrassed Carl. The salt and alum tanning left the skins stretched and uneven and generally so distorted they almost looked immoral. The blank-eyed corpses were no more expressive than parlor room sofas. In truth, the art of taxidermy was still indistinguishable from the craft of crude upholstery.
Dissatisfied with the limitations of his trade, Carl had begun independently studying anatomy in his spare time and conducting experiments at night. He thought he might have a few ideas for bringing their craft into the modern age. But because Ward didn't want employees using company time in pursuit of pipe dreams, Carl had to stay late to develop his new techniques, using the studio after hours, sacrificing sleep and meals to save money to buy his own lantern fuel and supplies.
He wasn't the only one at Ward's who had ever tried to improve on the old methods. William Hornaday, who'd left a year before Akeley's arrival to become chief taxidermist for the United States National Museum in Washington, D.C., had created, in 1879, a family of orangutans cavorting amid the canopy of a durian tree, using clay to render more realistic, natural attitudes. Others had tried excelsior as a substitute for muscle, and even Charles Willson Peale, who had built the very first natural history museum for the public in Philadelphia back in 1786, had experimented by carving the musculature of his manikinsout of wood. But these were the most significant advances since the discovery of arsenic, and since Ward frowned on wasting time, taxidermy had not progressed much further within his august halls.
Before he began to tinker around with the manikins underneath, Carl was determined to attack the problem of removing the skin itself. If only it could be done in a way that the finished mount didn't look like a wharfside indigent stitched together by a hasty and tremulous coroner. He had been thinking a lot about sculpture. How materials like bronze or clay could be used by a sculptor to capture the animal's true spirit--its deeper animal essence beneath the skin. Why, then, did they, who worked with the animal's actual skin, do no better? A true artist would no sooner butcher the skins the way they did than a painter would mount his canvas with roofing nails. His first experiment was to see if he couldn't peel the animal more discreetly and harvest the skin intact. Or more nearly intact, with a minimum of incisions. It was not an easy challenge and called for his deepest stores of patience. Using a zebra he'd shanghaied one night, and working on it through dawn, he had carefully removed the zagged skin, laboring to make his cuts less conspicuous.
He would trick it out of its skin if necessary.
Without resorting to a single extra incision, he had managed to slowly inch off the leg skins, working with the patience of a Zen monk--shoulder-deep in its belly, his clean-shaven cheek resting against the zebra's bristled haunch, only dimly aware of the sound of its hoof clopping against the floor--until he had finally slipped each off like a stocking. Once he had the zebra husked, it truly looked as if the animal had stepped out of its skin voluntarily, and he hung it to dry. But when he returned the next day, his eyes yoked with dark circles, he found that his work had been cruelly sabotaged! Slashed from leg to abdomen, his perfect skin hung in ribbons.
Indeed, someone seemed to have it in for Carl. No doubt, some of the others had begun to think of Akeley as nothing more than a loafer. After working all night he tended to spend his days at his cluttered desk staring into space, making weird sketches of vivisected animals, and overzealously studying anatomy textbooks. Repeatedly he was sabotaged. Each time he'd get so far, he would find his skins cut to ribbons, or his molds of the animal smashed and left in the trash heap out back. Certainly he wasn't the only one who saw there was room for improvementat Ward's. But the issue turned moot the day the foreman found the young apprentice asleep on a pile of tanned hides in the attic, exhausted from his nights spent spelunking zebra carcasses, and went and finked him out to Professor Ward. If only he'd been able to make Ward listen! On the other hand, maybe he should have just kept his daydreams to himself. They were what had got him exiled to Brooklyn. Even if he knew taxidermy could be done better, now it was too late. He would never have the chance to prove himself. Each of the little birds mocked him for having flubbed his one chance at greatness.
KINGDOM UNDER GLASS. Copyright © 2010 by Jay Kirk. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.