CHAPTER 3: As Master Wishes
THREE SECONDS before the arrival of J. B. Hobson's letter,
I no more dreamed of chasing the unicorn than of trying for
the Northwest Passage. Three seconds after reading this letter
from the honorable Secretary of the Navy, I understood at last that
my true vocation, my sole purpose in life, was to hunt down this
disturbing monster and rid the world of it.
Even so, I had just returned from an arduous journey, exhausted and badly
needing a rest. I wanted nothing more than to see my country again,
my friends, my modest quarters by the Botanical Gardens,
my dearly beloved collections! But now nothing could hold me back.
I forgot everything else, and without another thought of exhaustion,
friends, or collections, I accepted the American government's offer.
"Besides," I mused, "all roads lead home to Europe, and our unicorn
may be gracious enough to take me toward the coast of France! That fine
animal may even let itself be captured in European seas--as a personal
favor to me--and I'll bring back to the Museum of Natural History
at least half a meter of its ivory lance!"
But in the meantime I would have to look for this narwhale in
the northern Pacific Ocean; which meant returning to France by way
of the Antipodes.
"Conseil!" I called in an impatient voice.
Conseil was my manservant. A devoted lad who went with me on all
my journeys; a gallant Flemish boy whom I genuinely liked and who
returned the compliment; a born stoic, punctilious on principle,
habitually hardworking, rarely startled by life's surprises,
very skillful with his hands, efficient in his every duty, and despite
his having a name that means "counsel," never giving advice--
not even the unsolicited kind!
From rubbing shoulders with scientists in our little universe
by the Botanical Gardens, the boy had come to know a thing or two.
In Conseil I had a seasoned specialist in biological classification,
an enthusiast who could run with acrobatic agility up and down
the whole ladder of branches, groups, classes, subclasses,
orders, families, genera, subgenera, species, and varieties.
But there his science came to a halt. Classifying was everything
to him, so he knew nothing else. Well versed in the theory
of classification, he was poorly versed in its practical application,
and I doubt that he could tell a sperm whale from a baleen whale!
And yet, what a fine, gallant lad!