A while back, I posted a very creative test answer given to me by one of my former students. I want to post something else that she wrote. It’s not what you normally see on this blog, but I enjoyed it immensely. I hope you do, too.
A Tale of Two 19th Century Gentleman Scientists Living in the 21st Century in Six Short Scenes
~January 21, 20—~
It has been said, though by whom I cannot say, that every good story starts with a bad decision, and that is precisely what a certain Mr. Tobias Newton was thinking he had made in accepting the chairmanship of the S. O. O. S. S. Like so many societies of its kind, the Something-or-other Science Society had been founded with the best of intentions. It was to be a society for the local pursuers of all branches of scientific knowledge to aid one another by exchanging ideas, hypotheses, and data, and for some time this was what it had been. In past times Newton had brought those who were flagging in their scientific zeal to the society meetings and it almost never failed to invigorate their studies, but now it had fallen into disrepair due to that same lack of zeal on the part of its leading members. It could now be best described as a meeting of rather glum persons, mostly men and mostly chemists, who came together to complain of the weather, their health, and the lack of available Cesium. Newton had hoped to be able to revive the society that he had enjoyed so much in the past by accepting the position of chairman, but he found that instead of influencing the members for good, their persistent pessimism was wearing away his resolve.
Hence it was a rather dejected Mr. Tobias who arrived back at his extensive Edwardian abode. It was a house with that strange sort of charm peculiar to antiquated buildings which have not yet been allowed to fall into disrepair. But to one so accustomed to its premises as Newton, these finer qualities were for the moment swallowed by his many other preoccupations. Not the least of these other worries was the guests he had coming to stay with him. His cousin, Rutherford—a chemist—was coming to visit Newton later that week. In general Newton felt inept at entertaining company, but he was always at his ease around his cousin. The trouble was not (as it so often was) Rutherford, but his much younger lab assistant who simply went by Tertius. Newton knew next to nothing about the young scientist, but in all probability he would be a sorry addition to their customary twosome. But whether he really was or not, Newton needed to try to make his cousin’s assistant feel welcome, and we will leave him to attempt that very thing.
~January 25, 20—~
It snowed heavily the on the day that Rutherford and Tertius arrived at Newton’s residence. The weather drove them quickly indoors to the front room where a large fire helped to thaw the travelers, and where hot tea (Rutherford’s customary beverage) awaited the company. Introductions were quickly made by Rutherford who introduced Tertius as a “capital fellow” and Newton as “my better in everything.” To which remark Newton protested that he was not and would never be a chemist. After a brief pause Rutherford inquired, “Say, do you still go to those wonderful little meetings? There were quite a few chemists there.”
“Yes, I do,” Newton replied hesitantly.
“You were made chairman a little while back weren’t you? Capital society.”
“Yes, I am the chairman, but I must say the society days are coming to an end. I really think I could manage better without them.”
“Well I’m sure you’re the brightest of the lot, but it can’t be all that bad. It is just the kind of thing that Tertius here would like—what say you to us dropping in on the next meeting?”
Newton deliberated a little before replying, “I don’t think it is at all the kind of thing to interest your young companion.”
“Nonsense, it is highly interesting; they are a capital lot.”
“I am sure that anything Rutherford finds interesting, I would not be bored by,” input the heretofore silent Tertius.
“We may give it a try, but do not hold high expectations. I must seem strangely reticent to you, Rutherford, but indeed the society has fallen on bad times,” said Newton.
“Well, we shall see on Tuesday, assuming they still meet on Tuesdays. In the meantime we will put away a subject that makes you so unusually unenthusiastic, and inquire after Laska,” spoke Rutherford with a genial finality, turning to a subject that seldom fails to please anyone—the wellbeing of their dog.
~January 28, 20—~
“I understand now why you were so unenthusiastic,” granted Rutherford as our three scientists exited the Tuesday meeting of the S.O.O.S.S.
“We are not in our heyday,” replied the unhappy chairman.
“I would say not. I would have thought that Bascome though, he ought to have been above such trivialities as all that. He was rather renowned in his day… ”
“Trivialities have been the favorite object of the society for some time now.”
“Well it really is a shame how it turned out. I hope you can find some way to turn things around for the better. You have a knack for inspiration.”
For the sake of my long-suffering and worthy readers, I will fill out the picture put before you. Our Scientists had indeed attended that Tuesday’s society meeting. Newton had known what the gathering would be like, and Tertius had nothing but vague expectations, but to Rutherford, who had fond prior memories of the society, recalling it as a place of excitement and scientific ardor, the meeting was particularly disappointing. However, we will not dwell long on this disappointment, but rather turn to the other events of our story…
~February 1, 20—~
It was the day before Rutherford and Tertius were scheduled to leave when the accident happened. Tertius was taking notes for Newton on an experiment he was conducting, and Rutherford had gone to remedy the lack of tea and some such sundry things. At around 2 p. m. the telephone rang. Having attained a somewhat secretarial position in the house, Tertius answered. When he came back, an anxious Tertius related that Rutherford had managed to land himself in the hospital.
“That is just like him,” answered Newton. “What did he do this time?”
“I think he was in a small car collision, and broke one of his wrists. He said it was a bad break, but not much besides the wrist.”
“Well, it certainly could have been worse, but we ought to see what help we can offer.”
The friends of the unfortunate arrived at the hospital in all haste and after waiting nigh on an hour found Rutherford almost without difficulty.
“Well, I see they’ve beat you up cousin,” commiserated Newton upon seeing the harried Rutherford.
“I’m afraid they have,” Agreed the invalid. “It was good of you to come, and you too Tertius.”
“We could hardly have done anything else. How did it happen?” inquired a concerned lab assistant. And as is the fate of most who have received visitors in the hospital, Rutherford commenced a retelling of his mischance, not for the first time, and not for the last. “It isn’t all that bad, but it is terribly annoying… It is very annoying. It means no work for quite some time, and what am I to do without work? And it means Cecil…well, never mind about Cecil.” He concluded letting his last phrase trail off.
“Cecil will understand.” Answered Tertius, while Newton wondered why he hadn’t heard of the said Cecil before.
“But it is so annoying,” reiterated Rutherford in frustration.
“Nothing keeps you down for long. I am sure this is no exception. In the meantime, we will be of what service we can,” chimed in Newton with optimism.
“Well if you are in earnest, it would be capital if you could get a real cup of tea. The only kind they have here is that nasty, pre-packaged, green stuff.” Once the request was issued it was scarcely two minutes before Tertius and Newton were on the trail of some
“Mr. Newton,” Tertius ventured once they were out in the hall, “I gather that you suppose Rutherford is irritated by his overall lack of mobility and the changes that will make in his general daily life, but in fact there is a much more specific reason why he is so bothered.”
“Is it this Cecil? I have never heard of him, who is he?”
“He is a recent acquaintance, who had cause to come to Rutherford for help. You see, Rutherford has promised to get him certain lab results by a certain time, and will now be unable to.”
“Can the fellow not wait?”
“I understand that it was rather important. I do not know all the particulars. I am just a lab assistant, but I know that it vexes Rutherford sorely to have to rescind a promise.”
“What else is there to do, though?”
“Perhaps if you were to ask some of the science society members, they could help. I know what experiments need to be done, and I understood that many of them were chemists.”
Newton’s brow lowered a little at this suggestion. “Maybe the two of us could do it ourselves.”
“But I do not think that your lab has all of the equipment for the experiments.”
“And you don’t think that a physicist could do it anyway,” replied Newton, correctly reading Tertius’ mien. “You can try what you may to get one of the society fellows to help, but do not expect great results. As soon as you confront them with what is in fact real research that requires some work they will mow you down with half a dozen excuses. They are in fact more suited to philosophy than the sciences.”
~February 3, 20—~
Newton had no trouble in assembling a group of society members soon after. He had invited ten of the members and eight of them appeared, but he had expected fewer. After a brief introduction, Newton allowed Tertius to explain the dilemma and lay down his proposition.
“I believe that all of us here are acquainted with my friend Rutherford,” the assistant began. “Yesterday, he broke his wrist in a car accident. Fortunately, there was little real damage, but he will be unable to use his left hand for weeks.” There was very little reaction to this, and after an awkward silence Tertius continued, “Before all of this happened Rutherford had promised to run an experiment for a friend of his, who needed the results by the end of this week. But, now, he will be unable to finish it, and hence, unable to fulfill his promise.”
“Well, I’m sure we’re all very sorry for ‘im, but what has this got to do with us? Asked one of the more prominent (and vocal) members, a certain Archibald Scrubb.
“My friend is more upset about not being able to finish his work than he would like to admit. It would mean a lot to him if some of us could finish it for him. It is tedious, but not particularly challenging if you have the equipment.”
“Well, that is another thing. These setbacks happen, but you can’t get all worked up about them. Everyone has promises they can’t keep, and it doesn’t mean that everyone else has to go and make it right, does it?” replied the same Mr. Scrubb.
“But you are a scientific society. This is what you do. You help each other with your scientific pursuits! Why is this any different?”
“I understand it is a bad lot, but you can’t come to others to fix your problems. And it wouldn’t work anyway. You—being an assistant—would like to lump us all in as chemists, or worse, scientists. What you don’t see is that we are all different species of chemist and that it would be almost impossible for us to all work together. I am a Geochemist, very different from the others here. Jones here is a biochemist, and Mr. Miller is a nuclear chemist, while Bascome over there is really just a pseudo chemist.” (Bascome made some small interjection here, but was largely ignored.) “We ‘aven’t much at all to do with each other. You can give Rutherford our sympathies, but I’m afraid there isn’t much more I can spare.”
“And is this how all of you feel?” asked Tertius, not without some annoyance.
“I am sure we would love to help in some other way, but I think Scrubb is right. We couldn’t work together,” put in Jones apologetically. There was murmured assent from the rest of the group, confirming Newton in his hypothesis.
“Well, in that case I suppose there is not much more for me to say,” said Tertius, looking deflated. It did not take long for the meeting to adjourn, as it had already grown so uncomfortable. And again Newton and Tertius were left alone.
“I have always thought it better to be a physicist,” was all that Newton had to offer.
~February 7, 20—~
Rutherford and the very loyal Tertius were scheduled to leave the next day, as there had been no complications with Rutherford’s injury, and, while he had very little use of that hand, he had been able to adapt quite nicely. Not for the first time (and we shall hope not the last) were the three assembled in the front room enjoying a large fire and “real tea”. All pretense of a conversation had dropped as each sank into his own thoughts. At a violent knocking on the front door all three started and reverie was banished. Tertius’ face lighted up and he quickly offered to see who the visitor was.
“I wonder who he could be expecting,” said Newton more to clear away the silence than for an answer.
“I don’t think he could be expecting anyone. He doesn’t really know anyone around here, does he?” answered Rutherford.
In answer to his question, into the room walked four thoroughly bundled figures of varying heights, with Tertius at their heels. It was not until they had divested themselves of their outer layers, that they were recognizable as Messrs. Scrubb, Jones, Miller, and Bascome of the S.O.O.S.S.
“Good evening, Chairman,” greeted Scrubb, “Sorry to drop in on you this way—all of a sudden, I mean—but we had a bit of business with your friend here before he leaves.”
“With my cousin?” asked Newton incredulously.
“Yes, sir, with ‘im,” replied Scrubb, relapsing into his habit of clipping his “h’s”.
“Capital! It is very good to see all of you again,” put in Rutherford.
“Well to get right to point, you see, we all ‘eard how you were injured from this young man here, and ‘e asked us to do something to ‘elp. At first we all thought it was none of our business and that there really wasn’t anything we could do. But I went ‘ome and I went to thinkin’ a bit, and I thought how bad it would be if that young man, a mere sapling in the sciences, thought that all of us were old and past our prime and not up to anything of real purport. And Jones was a’thinkin’ the same. So, the point of it is,” repeated Scrubb wringing his hands a little,” that the four of us have gone and finished some work of yours, that we understood you were unable to do, so there it is,” finished Scrubb in a hurry.
“Well, I don’t really know what to say,” answered Rutherford in genuinely perplexed, “what work was it?” He asked, as if he could not tell whether they had written a treatise or washed his car.
“It was the work for Cecil,” Answered Tertius, “We all finished it together, and I wrote up the report.”
Rutherford made no attempt to conceal his astonishment and Tertius hurriedly continued his explanation. “It’s all done, but it turned out rather differently than you were expecting.” Tertius continued to explain the details of the experiment to Rutherford, while Newton arose and came towards the four dissimilar chemists.
“This is very decent of you,” he began, but was quickly interrupted.
“Oh, don’t start that, chairman,” said Scrubb.
“We are leading members of a scientific society. What else could we do?” added Bascome.
“Well, I hardly expected it.”
“You mean to say, you hardly expected it from us… Well, maybe we’ve given you reason to doubt us. We’ve been a bit cantankerous at times, and really haven’t held up our edge of the table,” conceded Scrubb.
“It was difficult at first, since we hadn’t done much scientific work lately, but we all had such a good time of it, that it made me sorry I ever stopped that kind of work,” put in Jones.
“We’ve all agreed to give it our best in the future. Ahh, but I am not fit for this kind of schoolboys’ penitence,” said a somewhat flustered Scrubb.
“I am very glad of it, and congratulate you heartily. The Something-or-other Science Society has a brighter future now.”
“And since we had such a good time, we wanted to invite you to come with us tomorrow. We’ve pooled what potassium we have and are going to toss it into a retaining pond tomorrow. It will be great fun, even for a physicist.”
I need not inform my readers that Rutherford was profusely grateful and that he and Tertius traveled back with eased minds on account of the finished work. As for the society, it is resuscitated for the moment, and seemingly doing well. It remains to be seen if it will last. The moral of this story? Why, surely not every story must have a moral. But you may come to the conclusion that the moral is when trying to get out of homework, land yourself in the hospital, so I see I have no choice but to provide one. This story lacks much depth, but if you wish to find any, it is this: when in need of help and encouragement, helping others can be the best medicine. And with that I bid you adieu.