In wonderment, we leaned on our elbows before these show windows, and our stunned silence remained unbroken until Conseil said:
"You wanted to see something, Ned my friend; well, now you have something to see!"
"How unusual!" the Canadian put in, setting aside his tantrums and getaway schemes while submitting to this irresistible allure. "A man would go an even greater distance just to stare at such a sight!"
"Ah!" I exclaimed. "I see our captain's way of life! He's found himself a separate world that saves its most astonishing wonders just for him!"
"But where are the fish?" the Canadian ventured to observe. "I don't see any fish!"
"Why would you care, Ned my friend?" Conseil replied. "Since you have no knowledge of them."
"Me? A fisherman!" Ned Land exclaimed.
And on this subject a dispute arose between the two friends, since both were knowledgeable about fish, but from totally different standpoints.
Everyone knows that fish make up the fourth and last class in the vertebrate branch. They have been quite aptly defined as: "cold-blooded vertebrates with a double circulatory system, breathing through gills, and designed to live in water." They consist of two distinct series: the series of bony fish, in other words, those whose spines have vertebrae made of bone; and cartilaginous fish, in other words, those whose spines have vertebrae made of cartilage.
Possibly the Canadian was familiar with this distinction, but Conseil knew far more about it; and since he and Ned were now fast friends, he just had to show off. So he told the harpooner:
"Ned my friend, you're a slayer of fish, a highly skilled fisherman. You've caught a large number of these fascinating animals. But I'll bet you don't know how they're classified."
"Sure I do," the harpooner replied in all seriousness. "They're classified into fish we eat and fish we don't eat!"
"Spoken like a true glutton," Conseil replied. "But tell me, are you familiar with the differences between bony fish and cartilaginous fish?"
"Just maybe, Conseil."
"And how about the subdivisions of these two large classes?"
"I haven't the foggiest notion," the Canadian replied.
"All right, listen and learn, Ned my friend! Bony fish are subdivided into six orders. Primo, the acanthopterygians, whose upper jaw is fully formed and free-moving, and whose gills take the shape of a comb. This order consists of fifteen families, in other words, three-quarters of all known fish. Example: the common perch."
"Pretty fair eating," Ned Land replied.
"Secundo," Conseil went on, "the abdominals, whose pelvic fins hang under the abdomen to the rear of the pectorals but aren't attached to the shoulder bone, an order that's divided into five families and makes up the great majority of freshwater fish. Examples: carp, pike."
"Ugh!" the Canadian put in with distinct scorn. "You can keep the freshwater fish!"
"Tertio," Conseil said, "the subbrachians, whose pelvic fins are attached under the pectorals and hang directly from the shoulder bone. This order contains four families. Examples: flatfish such as sole, turbot, dab, plaice, brill, etc."
"Excellent, really excellent!" the harpooner exclaimed, interested in fish only from an edible viewpoint.
"Quarto," Conseil went on, unabashed, "the apods, with long bodies that lack pelvic fins and are covered by a heavy, often glutinous skin, an order consisting of only one family. Examples: common eels and electric eels."
"So-so, just so-so!" Ned Land replied.
"Quinto," Conseil said, "the lophobranchians, which have fully formed, free-moving jaws but whose gills consist of little tufts arranged in pairs along their gill arches. This order includes only one family. Examples: seahorses and dragonfish."
"Bad, very bad!" the harpooner replied.
"Sexto and last," Conseil said, "the plectognaths, whose maxillary bone is firmly attached to the side of the intermaxillary that forms the jaw, and whose palate arch is locked to the skull by sutures that render the jaw immovable, an order lacking true pelvic fins and which consists of two families.