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´╗┐Title: A House-Boat on the Styx
Author: Bangs, John Kendrick, 1862-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A House-Boat on the Styx" ***

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Transcribed from the 1902 Harper and Brothers edition by David Price,


A HOUSE-BOAT ON THE STYX
by John Kendrick Bangs


CHAPTER I: CHARON MAKES A DISCOVERY


Charon, the Ferryman of renown, was cruising slowly along the Styx one
pleasant Friday morning not long ago, and as he paddled idly on he
chuckled mildly to himself as he thought of the monopoly in ferriage
which in the course of years he had managed to build up.

"It's a great thing," he said, with a smirk of satisfaction--"it's a
great thing to be the go-between between two states of being; to have the
exclusive franchise to export and import shades from one state to the
other, and withal to have had as clean a record as mine has been.
Valuable as is my franchise, I never corrupted a public official in my
life, and--"

Here Charon stopped his soliloquy and his boat simultaneously.  As he
rounded one of the many turns in the river a singular object met his
gaze, and one, too, that filled him with misgiving.  It was another
craft, and that was a thing not to be tolerated.  Had he, Charon, owned
the exclusive right of way on the Styx all these years to have it
disputed here in the closing decade of the Nineteenth Century?  Had not
he dealt satisfactorily with all, whether it was in the line of ferriage
or in the providing of boats for pleasure-trips up the river?  Had he not
received expressions of satisfaction, indeed, from the most exclusive
families of Hades with the very select series of picnics he had given at
Charon's Glen Island?  No wonder, then, that the queer-looking boat that
met his gaze, moored in a shady nook on the dark side of the river,
filled him with dismay.

"Blow me for a landlubber if I like that!" he said, in a hardly audible
whisper.  "And shiver my timbers if I don't find out what she's there
for.  If anybody thinks he can run an opposition line to mine on this
river he's mightily mistaken.  If it comes to competition, I can carry
shades for nothing and still quaff the B. & G. yellow-label benzine three
times a day without experiencing a financial panic.  I'll show 'em a
thing or two if they attempt to rival me.  And what a boat!  It looks for
all the world like a Florentine barn on a canal-boat."

Charon paddled up to the side of the craft, and, standing up in the
middle of his boat, cried out,

"Ship ahoy!"

There was no answer, and the Ferryman hailed her again.  Receiving no
response to his second call, he resolved to investigate for himself; so,
fastening his own boat to the stern-post of the stranger, he clambered on
board.  If he was astonished as he sat in his ferry-boat, he was
paralyzed when he cast his eye over the unwelcome vessel he had boarded.
He stood for at least two minutes rooted to the spot.  His eye swept over
a long, broad deck, the polish of which resembled that of a ball-room
floor.  Amidships, running from three-quarters aft to three-quarters
forward, stood a structure that in its lines resembled, as Charon had
intimated, a barn, designed by an architect enamoured of Florentine
simplicity; but in its construction the richest of woods had been used,
and in its interior arrangement and adornment nothing more palatial could
be conceived.

"What's the blooming thing for?" said Charon, more dismayed than ever.
"If they start another line with a craft like this, I'm very much afraid
I'm done for after all.  I wouldn't take a boat like mine myself if there
was a floating palace like this going the same way.  I'll have to see the
Commissioners about this, and find out what it all means.  I suppose
it'll cost me a pretty penny, too, confound them!"

A prey to these unhappy reflections, Charon investigated further, and the
more he saw the less he liked it.  He was about to encounter opposition,
and an opposition which was apparently backed by persons of great
wealth--perhaps the Commissioners themselves.  It was a consoling thought
that he had saved enough money in the course of his career to enable him
to live in comfort all his days, but this was not really what Charon was
after.  He wished to acquire enough to retire and become one of the smart
set.  It had been done in that section of the universe which lay on the
bright side of the Styx, why not, therefore, on the other, he asked.

"I'm pretty well connected even if I am a boatman," he had been known to
say.  "With Chaos for a grandfather, and Erebus and Nox for parents, I've
just as good blood in my veins as anybody in Hades.  The Noxes are a
mighty fine family, not as bright as the Days, but older; and we're
poor--that's it, poor--and it's money makes caste these days.  If I had
millions, and owned a railroad, they'd call me a yacht-owner.  As I
haven't, I'm only a boatman.  Bah!  Wait and see!  I'll be giving swell
functions myself some day, and these upstarts will be on their knees
before me begging to be asked.  Then I'll get up a little aristocracy of
my own, and I won't let a soul into it whose name isn't mentioned in the
Grecian mythologies.  Mention in Burke's peerage and the Elite
directories of America won't admit anybody to Commodore Charon's house
unless there's some other mighty good reason for it."

Foreseeing an unhappy ending to all his hopes, the old man clambered
sadly back into his ancient vessel and paddled off into the darkness.
Some hours later, returning with a large company of new arrivals, while
counting up the profits of the day Charon again caught sight of the new
craft, and saw that it was brilliantly lighted and thronged with the most
famous citizens of the Erebean country.  Up in the bow was a spirit band
discoursing music of the sweetest sort.  Merry peals of laughter rang out
over the dark waters of the Styx.  The clink of glasses and the popping
of corks punctuated the music with a frequency which would have delighted
the soul of the most ardent lover of commas, all of which so overpowered
the grand master boatman of the Stygian Ferry Company that he dropped
three oboli and an American dime, which he carried as a pocket-piece,
overboard.  This, of course, added to his woe; but it was forgotten in an
instant, for some one on the new boat had turned a search-light directly
upon Charon himself, and simultaneously hailed the master of the ferry-
boat.

"Charon!" cried the shade in charge of the light.  "Charon, ahoy!"

"Ahoy yourself!" returned the old man, paddling his craft close up to the
stranger.  "What do you want?"

"You," said the shade.  "The house committee want to see you right away."

"What for?" asked Charon, cautiously.

"I'm sure I don't know.  I'm only a member of the club, and house
committees never let mere members know anything about their plans.  All I
know is that you are wanted," said the other.

"Who are the house committee?" queried the Ferryman.

"Sir Walter Raleigh, Cassius, Demosthenes, Blackstone, Doctor Johnson,
and Confucius," replied the shade.

"Tell 'em I'll be back in an hour," said Charon, pushing off.  "I've got
a cargo of shades on board consigned to various places up the river.  I've
promised to get 'em all through to-night, but I'll put on a couple of
extra paddles--two of the new arrivals are working their passage this
trip--and it won't take as long as usual.  What boat is this, anyhow?"

"The _Nancy Nox_, of Erebus."

"Thunder!" cried Charon, as he pushed off and proceeded on his way up the
river.  "Named after my mother!  Perhaps it'll come out all right yet."

More hopeful of mood, Charon, aided by the two dead-head passengers, soon
got through with his evening's work, and in less than an hour was back
seeking admittance, as requested, to the company of Sir Walter Raleigh
and his fellow-members on the house committee.  He was received by these
worthies with considerable effusiveness, considering his position in
society, and it warmed the cockles of his aged heart to note that Sir
Walter, who had always been rather distant to him since he had carelessly
upset that worthy and Queen Elizabeth in the middle of the Styx far back
in the last century, permitted him to shake three fingers of his left
hand when he entered the committee-room.

"How do you do, Charon?" said Sir Walter, affably.  "We are very glad to
see you."

"Thank you, kindly, Sir Walter," said the boatman.  "I'm glad to hear
those words, your honor, for I've been feeling very bad since I had the
misfortune to drop your Excellency and her Majesty overboard.  I never
knew how it happened, sir, but happen it did, and but for her Majesty's
kind assistance it might have been the worse for us.  Eh, Sir Walter?"

The knight shook his head menacingly at Charon.  Hitherto he had managed
to keep it a secret that the Queen had rescued him from drowning upon
that occasion by swimming ashore herself first and throwing Sir Walter
her ruff as soon as she landed, which he had used as a life-preserver.

"'Sh!" he said, _sotto voce_.  "Don't say anything about that, my man."

"Very well, Sir Walter, I won't," said the boatman; but he made a mental
note of the knight's agitation, and perceived a means by which that
illustrious courtier could be made useful to him in his scheming for
social advancement.

"I understood you had something to say to me," said Charon, after he had
greeted the others.

"We have," said Sir Walter.  "We want you to assume command of this
boat."

The old fellow's eyes lighted up with pleasure.

"You want a captain, eh?" he said.

"No," said Confucius, tapping the table with a diamond-studded
chop-stick.  "No.  We want a--er--what the deuce is it they call the
functionary, Cassius?"

"Senator, I think," said Cassius.

Demosthenes gave a loud laugh.

"Your mind is still running on Senatorships, my dear Cassius.  That is
quite evident," he said.  "This is not one of them, however.  The title
we wish Charon to assume is neither Captain nor Senator; it is Janitor."

"What's that?" asked Charon, a little disappointed.  "What does a Janitor
have to do?"

"He has to look after things in the house," explained Sir Walter.  "He's
a sort of proprietor by proxy.  We want you to take charge of the house,
and see to it that the boat is kept shipshape."

"Where is the house?" queried the astonished boatman.

"This is it," said Sir Walter.  "This is the house, and the boat too.  In
fact, it is a house-boat."

"Then it isn't a new-fangled scheme to drive me out of business?" said
Charon, warily.

"Not at all," returned Sir Walter.  "It's a new-fangled scheme to set you
up in business.  We'll pay you a large salary, and there won't be much to
do.  You are the best man for the place, because, while you don't know
much about houses, you do know a great deal about boats, and the boat
part is the most important part of a house-boat.  If the boat sinks, you
can't save the house; but if the house burns, you may be able to save the
boat.  See?"

"I think I do, sir," said Charon.

"Another reason why we want to employ you for Janitor," said Confucius,
"is that our club wants to be in direct communication with both sides of
the Styx; and we think you as Janitor would be able to make better
arrangements for transportation with yourself as boatman, than some other
man as Janitor could make with you."

"Spoken like a sage," said Demosthenes.

"Furthermore," said Cassius, "occasionally we shall want to have this
boat towed up or down the river, according to the house committee's
pleasure, and we think it would be well to have a Janitor who has some
influence with the towing company which you represent."

"Can't this boat be moved without towing?" asked Charon.

"No," said Cassius.

"And I'm the only man who can tow it, eh?"

"You are," said Blackstone.  "Worse luck."

"And you want me to be Janitor on a salary of what?"

"A hundred oboli a month," said Sir Walter, uneasily.

"Very well, gentlemen," said Charon.  "I'll accept the office on a salary
of two hundred oboli a month, with Saturdays off."

The committee went into executive session for five minutes, and on their
return informed Charon that in behalf of the Associated Shades they
accepted his offer.

"In behalf of what?" the old man asked.

"The Associated Shades," said Sir Walter.  "The swellest organization in
Hades, whose new house-boat you are now on board of.  When shall you be
ready to begin work?"

"Right away," said Charon, noting by the clock that it was the hour of
midnight.  "I'll start in right away, and as it is now Saturday morning,
I'll begin by taking my day off."



CHAPTER II: A DISPUTED AUTHORSHIP


"How are you, Charon?" said Shakespeare, as the Janitor assisted him on
board.  "Any one here to-night?"

"Yes, sir," said Charon.  "Lord Bacon is up in the library, and Doctor
Johnson is down in the billiard-room, playing pool with Nero."

"Ha-ha!" laughed Shakespeare.  "Pool, eh?  Does Nero play pool?"

"Not as well as he does the fiddle, sir," said the Janitor, with a
twinkle in his eye.

Shakespeare entered the house and tossed up an obolus.  "Heads--Bacon;
tails--pool with Nero and Johnson," he said.

The coin came down with heads up, and Shakespeare went into the
pool-room, just to show the Fates that he didn't care a tuppence for
their verdict as registered through the obolus.  It was a peculiar custom
of Shakespeare's to toss up a coin to decide questions of little
consequence, and then do the thing the coin decided he should not do.  It
showed, in Shakespeare's estimation, his entire independence of those
dull persons who supposed that in them was centred the destiny of all
mankind.  The Fates, however, only smiled at these little acts of
rebellion, and it was common gossip in Erebus that one of the trio had
told the Furies that they had observed Shakespeare's tendency to kick
over the traces, and always acted accordingly.  They never let the coin
fall so as to decide a question the way they wanted it, so that
unwittingly the great dramatist did their will after all.  It was a part
of their plan that upon this occasion Shakespeare should play pool with
Doctor Johnson and the Emperor Nero, and hence it was that the coin bade
him repair to the library and chat with Lord Bacon.

"Hullo, William," said the Doctor, pocketing three balls on the break.
"How's our little Swanlet of Avon this afternoon?"

"Worn out," Shakespeare replied.  "I've been hard at work on a play this
morning, and I'm tired."

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," said Nero, grinning
broadly.

"You are a bright spirit," said Shakespeare, with a sigh.  "I wish I had
thought to work you up into a tragedy."

"I've often wondered why you didn't," said Doctor Johnson.  "He'd have
made a superb tragedy, Nero would.  I don't believe there was any kind of
a crime he left uncommitted.  Was there, Emperor?"

"Yes.  I never wrote an English dictionary," returned the Emperor, dryly.
"I've murdered everything but English, though."

"I could have made a fine tragedy out of you," said Shakespeare.  "Just
think what a dreadful climax for a tragedy it would be, Johnson, to have
Nero, as the curtain fell, playing a violin solo."

"Pretty good," returned the Doctor.  "But what's the use of killing off
your audience that way?  It's better business to let 'em live, I say.
Suppose Nero gave a London audience that little musicale he provided at
Queen Elizabeth's Wednesday night.  How many purely mortal beings, do you
think, would have come out alive?"

"Not one," said Shakespeare.  "I was mighty glad that night that we were
an immortal band.  If it had been possible to kill us we'd have died then
and there."

"That's all right," said Nero, with a significant shake of his head.  "As
my friend Bacon makes Ingo say, 'Beware, my lord, of jealousy.'  You
never could play a garden hose, much less a fiddle."

"What do you mean my attributing those words to Bacon?" demanded
Shakespeare, getting red in the face.

"Oh, come now, William," remonstrated Nero.  "It's all right to pull the
wool over the eyes of the mortals.  That's what they're there for; but as
for us--we're all in the secret here.  What's the use of putting on
nonsense with us?"

"We'll see in a minute what the use is," retorted the Avonian.  "We'll
have Bacon down here."  Here he touched an electric button, and Charon
came in answer.

"Charon, bring Doctor Johnson the usual glass of ale.  Get some ice for
the Emperor, and ask Lord Bacon to step down here a minute."

"I don't want any ice," said Nero.

"Not now," retorted Shakespeare, "but you will in a few minutes.  When we
have finished with you, you'll want an iceberg.  I'm getting tired of
this idiotic talk about not having written my own works.  There's one
thing about Nero's music that I've never said, because I haven't wanted
to hurt his feelings, but since he has chosen to cast aspersions upon my
honesty I haven't any hesitation in saying it now.  I believe it was one
of his fiddlings that sent Nature into convulsions and caused the
destruction of Pompeii--so there!  Put that on your music rack and fiddle
it, my little Emperor."

Nero's face grew purple with anger, and if Shakespeare had been anything
but a shade he would have fared ill, for the enraged Roman, poising his
cue on high as though it were a lance, hurled it at the impertinent
dramatist with all his strength, and with such accuracy of aim withal
that it pierced the spot beneath which in life the heart of Shakespeare
used to beat.

"Good shot," said Doctor Johnson, nonchalantly.  "If you had been a
mortal, William, it would have been the end of you."

"You can't kill me," said Shakespeare, shrugging his shoulders.  "I know
seven dozen actors in the United States who are trying to do it, but they
can't.  I wish they'd try to kill a critic once in a while instead of me,
though," he added.  "I went over to Boston one night last week, and,
unknown to anybody, I waylaid a fellow who was to play Hamlet that night.
I drugged him, and went to the theatre and played the part myself.  It
was the coldest house you ever saw in your life.  When the audience did
applaud, it sounded like an ice-man chopping up ice with a small pick.
Several times I looked up at the galleries to see if there were not
icicles growing on them, it was so cold.  Well, I did the best could with
the part, and next morning watched curiously for the criticisms."

"Favorable?" asked the Doctor.

"They all dismissed me with a line," said the dramatist.  "Said my
conception of the part was not Shakespearian.  And that's criticism!"

"No," said the shade of Emerson, which had strolled in while Shakespeare
was talking, "that isn't criticism; that's Boston."

"Who discovered Boston, anyhow?" asked Doctor Johnson.  "It wasn't
Columbus, was it?"

"Oh no," said Emerson.  "Old Governor Winthrop is to blame for that.  When
he settled at Charlestown he saw the old Indian town of Shawmut across
the Charles."

"And Shawmut was the Boston microbe, was it?" asked Johnson.

"Yes," said Emerson.

"Spelt with a P, I suppose?" said Shakespeare.  "P-S-H-A-W, Pshaw, M-U-T,
mut, Pshawmut, so called because the inhabitants are always muttering
pshaw.  Eh?"

"Pretty good," said Johnson.  "I wish I'd said that."

"Well, tell Boswell," said Shakespeare.  "He'll make you say it, and
it'll be all the same in a hundred years."

Lord Bacon, accompanied by Charon and the ice for Nero and the ale for
Doctor Johnson, appeared as Shakespeare spoke.  The philosopher bowed
stiffly at Doctor Johnson, as though he hardly approved of him, extended
his left hand to Shakespeare, and stared coldly at Nero.

"Did you send for me, William?" he asked, languidly.

"I did," said Shakespeare.  "I sent for you because this imperial
violinist here says that you wrote _Othello_."

"What nonsense," said Bacon.  "The only plays of yours I wrote were
_Ham_--"

"Sh!" said Shakespeare, shaking his head madly.  "Hush.  Nobody's said
anything about that.  This is purely a discussion of _Othello_."

"The fiddling ex-Emperor Nero," said Bacon, loudly enough to be heard all
about the room, "is mistaken when he attributes _Othello_ to me."

"Aha, Master Nero!" cried Shakespeare triumphantly.  "What did I tell
you?"

"Then I erred, that is all," said Nero.  "And I apologize.  But really,
my Lord," he added, addressing Bacon, "I fancied I detected your fine
Italian hand in that."

"No.  I had nothing to do with the _Othello_," said Bacon.  "I never
really knew who wrote it."

"Never mind about that," whispered Shakespeare.  "You've said enough."

"That's good too," said Nero, with a chuckle.  "Shakespeare here claims
it as his own."

Bacon smiled and nodded approvingly at the blushing Avonian.

"Will always was having his little joke," he said.  "Eh, Will?  How we
fooled 'em on _Hamlet_, eh, my boy?  Ha-ha-ha!  It was the greatest joke
of the century."

"Well, the laugh is on you," said Doctor Johnson.  "If you wrote _Hamlet_
and didn't have the sense to acknowledge it, you present to my mind a
closer resemblance to Simple Simon than to Socrates.  For my part, I
don't believe you did write it, and I do believe that Shakespeare did.  I
can tell that by the spelling in the original edition."

"Shakespeare was my stenographer, gentlemen," said Lord Bacon.  "If you
want to know the whole truth, he did write _Hamlet_, literally.  But it
was at my dictation."

"I deny it," said Shakespeare.  "I admit you gave me a suggestion now and
then so as to keep it dull and heavy in spots, so that it would seem more
like a real tragedy than a comedy punctuated with deaths, but beyond that
you had nothing to do with it."

"I side with Shakespeare," put in Emerson.  "I've seen his autographs,
and no sane person would employ a man who wrote such a villanously bad
hand as an amanuensis.  It's no use, Bacon, we know a thing or two.  I'm
a New-Englander, I am."

"Well," said Bacon, shrugging his shoulders as though the results of the
controversy were immaterial to him, "have it so if you please.  There
isn't any money in Shakespeare these days, so what's the use of
quarrelling?  I wrote _Hamlet_, and Shakespeare knows it.  Others know
it.  Ah, here comes Sir Walter Raleigh.  We'll leave it to him.  He was
cognizant of the whole affair."

"I leave it to nobody," said Shakespeare, sulkily.

"What's the trouble?" asked Raleigh, sauntering up and taking a chair
under the cue-rack.  "Talking politics?"

"Not we," said Bacon.  "It's the old question about the authorship of
_Hamlet_.  Will, as usual, claims it for himself.  He'll be saying he
wrote Genesis next."

"Well, what if he does?" laughed Raleigh.  "We all know Will and his
droll ways."

"No doubt," put in Nero.  "But the question of _Hamlet_ always excites
him so that we'd like to have it settled once and for all as to who wrote
it.  Bacon says you know."

"I do," said Raleigh.

"Then settle it once and for all," said Bacon.  "I'm rather tired of the
discussion myself."

"Shall I tell 'em, Shakespeare?" asked Raleigh.

"It's immaterial to me," said Shakespeare, airily.  "If you wish--only
tell the truth."

"Very well," said Raleigh, lighting a cigar.  "I'm not ashamed of it.  I
wrote the thing myself."

There was a roar of laughter which, when it subsided, found Shakespeare
rapidly disappearing through the door, while all the others in the room
ordered various beverages at the expense of Lord Bacon.



CHAPTER III: WASHINGTON GIVES A DINNER


It was Washington's Birthday, and the gentleman who had the pleasure of
being Father of his Country decided to celebrate it at the Associated
Shades' floating palace on the Styx, as the Elysium _Weekly Gossip_, "a
Journal of Society," called it, by giving a dinner to a select number of
friends.  Among the invited guests were Baron Munchausen, Doctor Johnson,
Confucius, Napoleon Bonaparte, Diogenes, and Ptolemy.  Boswell was also
present, but not as a guest.  He had a table off to one side all to
himself, and upon it there were no china plates, silver spoons, knives,
forks, and dishes of fruit, but pads, pens, and ink in great quantity.  It
was evident that Boswell's reportorial duties did not end with his labors
in the mundane sphere.

The dinner was set down to begin at seven o'clock, so that the guests, as
was proper, sauntered slowly in between that hour and eight.  The menu
was particularly choice, the shades of countless canvas-back ducks,
terrapin, and sheep having been called into requisition, and cooked by no
less a person than Brillat-Savarin, in the hottest oven he could find in
the famous cooking establishment superintended by the government.
Washington was on hand early, sampling the olives and the celery and the
wines, and giving to Charon final instructions as to the manner in which
he wished things served.

The first guest to arrive was Confucius, and after him came Diogenes, the
latter in great excitement over having discovered a comparatively honest
man, whose name, however, he had not been able to ascertain, though he
was under the impression that it was something like Burpin, or Turpin, he
said.

At eight the brilliant company was arranged comfortably about the board.
An orchestra of five, under the leadership of Mozart, discoursed sweet
music behind a screen, and the feast of reason and flow of soul began.

"This is a great day," said Doctor Johnson, assisting himself copiously
to the olives.

"Yes," said Columbus, who was also a guest--"yes, it is a great day, but
it isn't a marker to a little day in October I wot of."

"Still sore on that point?" queried Confucius, trying the edge of his
knife on the shade of a salted almond.

"Oh no," said Columbus, calmly.  "I don't feel jealous of Washington.  He
is the Father of his Country and I am not.  I only discovered the orphan.
I knew the country before it had a father or a mother.  There wasn't
anybody who was willing to be even a sister to it when I knew it.  But G.
W. here took it in hand, groomed it down, spanked it when it needed it,
and started it off on the career which has made it worth while for me to
let my name be known in connection with it.  Why should I be jealous of
him?"

"I am sure I don't know why anybody anywhere should be jealous of anybody
else anyhow," said Diogenes.  "I never was and I never expect to be.
Jealousy is a quality that is utterly foreign to the nature of an honest
man.  Take my own case, for instance.  When I was what they call alive,
how did I live?"

"I don't know," said Doctor Johnson, turning his head as he spoke so that
Boswell could not fail to hear.  "I wasn't there."

Boswell nodded approvingly, chuckled slightly, and put the Doctor's
remark down for publication in _The Gossip_.

"You're doubtless right, there," retorted Diogenes.  "What you don't know
would fill a circulating library.  Well--I lived in a tub.  Now, if I
believed in envy, I suppose you think I'd be envious of people who live
in brownstone fronts with back yards and mortgages, eh?"

"I'd rather live under a mortgage than in a tub," said Bonaparte,
contemptuously.

"I know you would," said Diogenes.  "Mortgages never bothered you--but I
wouldn't.  In the first place, my tub was warm.  I never saw a house with
a brownstone front that was, except in summer, and then the owner cursed
it because it was so.  My tub had no plumbing in it to get out of order.
It hadn't any flights of stairs in it that had to be climbed after
dinner, or late at night when I came home from the club.  It had no front
door with a wandering key-hole calculated to elude the key ninety-nine
times out of every hundred efforts to bring the two together and
reconcile their differences, in order that their owner may get into his
own house late at night.  It wasn't chained down to any particular
neighborhood, as are most brownstone fronts.  If the neighborhood ran
down, I could move my tub off into a better neighborhood, and it never
lost value through the deterioration of its location.  I never had to pay
taxes on it, and no burglar was ever so hard up that he thought of
breaking into my habitation to rob me.  So why should I be jealous of the
brownstone-house dwellers?  I am a philosopher, gentlemen.  I tell you,
philosophy is the thief of jealousy, and I had the good-luck to find it
out early in life."

"There is much in what you say," said Confucius.  "But there's another
side to the matter.  If a man is an aristocrat by nature, as I was, his
neighborhood never could run down.  Wherever he lived would be the swell
section, so that really your last argument isn't worth a stewed icicle."

"Stewed icicles are pretty good, though," said Baron Munchausen, with an
ecstatic smack of his lips.  "I've eaten them many a time in the polar
regions."

"I have no doubt of it," put in Doctor Johnson.  "You've eaten fried
pyramids in Africa, too, haven't you?"

"Only once," said the Baron, calmly.  "And I can't say I enjoyed them.
They are rather heavy for the digestion."

"That's so," said Ptolemy.  "I've had experience with pyramids myself."

"You never ate one, did you, Ptolemy?" queried Bonaparte.

"Not raw," said Ptolemy, with a chuckle.  "Though I've been tempted many
a time to call for a second joint of the Sphinx."

There was a laugh at this, in which all but Baron Munchausen joined.

"I think it is too bad," said the Baron, as the laughter subsided--"I
think it is very much too bad that you shades have brought mundane
prejudice with you into this sphere.  Just because some people with
finite minds profess to disbelieve my stories, you think it well to be
sceptical yourselves.  I don't care, however, whether you believe me or
not.  The fact remains that I have eaten one fried pyramid and countless
stewed icicles, and the stewed icicles were finer than any diamond-back
rat Confucius ever had served at a state banquet."

"Where's Shakespeare to-night?" asked Confucius, seeing that the Baron
was beginning to lose his temper, and wishing to avoid trouble by
changing the subject.  "Wasn't he invited, General?"

"Yes," said Washington, "he was invited, but he couldn't come.  He had to
go over the river to consult with an autograph syndicate they've formed
in New York.  You know, his autographs sell for about one thousand
dollars apiece, and they're trying to get up a scheme whereby he shall
contribute an autograph a week to the syndicate, to be sold to the
public.  It seems like a rich scheme, but there's one thing in the way.
Posthumous autographs haven't very much of a market, because the mortals
can't be made to believe that they are genuine; but the syndicate has got
a man at work trying to get over that.  These Yankees are a mighty
inventive lot, and they think perhaps the scheme can be worked.  The
Yankee _is_ an inventive genius."

"It was a Yankee invented that tale about your not being able to
prevaricate, wasn't it, George?" asked Diogenes.

Washington smiled acquiescence, and Doctor Johnson returned to
Shakespeare.

"I'd rather have a morning-glory vine than one of Shakespeare's
autographs," said he.  "They are far prettier, and quite as legible."

"Mortals wouldn't," said Bonaparte.

"What fools they be!" chuckled Johnson.

At this point the canvas-back ducks were served, one whole shade of a
bird for each guest.

"Fall to, gentlemen," said Washington, gazing hungrily at his bird.  "When
canvas-back ducks are on the table conversation is not required of any
one."

"It is fortunate for us that we have so considerate a host," said
Confucius, unfastening his robe and preparing to do justice to the fare
set before him.  "I have dined often, but never before with one who was
willing to let me eat a bird like this in silence.  Washington, here's to
you.  May your life be chequered with birthdays, and may ours be equally
well supplied with feasts like this at your expense!"

The toast was drained, and the diners fell to as requested.

"They're great, aren't they?" whispered Bonaparte to Munchausen.

"Well, rather," returned the Baron.  "I don't see why the mortals don't
erect a statue to the canvas-back."

"Did anybody at this board ever have as much canvas-back duck as he could
eat?" asked Doctor Johnson.

"Yes," said the Baron.  "I did.  Once."

"Oh, you!" sneered Ptolemy.  "You've had everything."

"Except the mumps," retorted Munchausen.  "But, honestly, I did once have
as much canvas-back duck as I could eat."

"It must have cost you a million," said Bonaparte.  "But even then they'd
be cheap, especially to a man like yourself who could perform miracles.
If I could have performed miracles with the ease which was so
characteristic of all your efforts, I'd never have died at St. Helena."

"What's the odds where you died?" said Doctor Johnson.  "If it hadn't
been at St. Helena it would have been somewhere else, and you'd have
found death as stuffy in one place as in another."

"Don't let's talk of death," said Washington.  "I am sure the Baron's
tale of how he came to have enough canvas-back is more diverting."

"I've no doubt it is more perverting," said Johnson.

"It happened this way," said Munchausen.  "I was out for sport, and I got
it.  I was alone, my servant having fallen ill, which was unfortunate,
since I had always left the filling of my cartridge-box to him, and
underestimated its capacity.  I started at six in the morning, and, not
having hunted for several months, was not in very good form, so, no game
appearing for a time, I took a few practice shots, trying to snip off the
slender tops of the pine-trees that I encountered with my bullets,
succeeding tolerably well for one who was a little rusty, bringing down
ninety-nine out of the first one hundred and one, and missing the
remaining two by such a close margin that they swayed to and fro as
though fanned by a slight breeze.  As I fired my one hundred and first
shot what should I see before me but a flock of these delicate birds
floating upon the placid waters of the bay!"

"Was this the Bay of Biscay, Baron?" queried Columbus, with a covert
smile at Ptolemy.

"I counted them," said the Baron, ignoring the question, "and there were
just sixty-eight.  'Here's a chance for the record, Baron,' said I to
myself, and then I made ready to shoot them.  Imagine my dismay,
gentlemen, when I discovered that while I had plenty of powder left I had
used up all my bullets.  Now, as you may imagine, to a man with no
bullets at hand, the sight of sixty-eight fat canvas-backs is hardly
encouraging, but I was resolved to have every one of those birds; the
question was, how shall I do it?  I never can think on water, so I
paddled quietly ashore and began to reflect.  As I lay there deep in
thought, I saw lying upon the beach before me a superb oyster, and as
reflection makes me hungry I seized upon the bivalve and swallowed him.
As he went down something stuck in my throat, and, extricating it, what
should it prove to be but a pearl of surpassing beauty.  My first thought
was to be content with my day's find.  A pearl worth thousands surely was
enough to satisfy the most ardent lover of sport; but on looking up I saw
those ducks still paddling contentedly about, and I could not bring
myself to give them up.  Suddenly the idea came, the pearl is as large as
a bullet, and fully as round.  Why not use it?  Then, as thoughts come to
me in shoals, I next reflected, 'Ah--but this is only one bullet as
against sixty-eight birds:' immediately a third thought came, 'why not
shoot them all with a single bullet?  It is possible, though not
probable.'  I snatched out a pad of paper and a pencil, made a rapid
calculation based on the doctrine of chances, and proved to my own
satisfaction that at some time or another within the following two weeks
those birds would doubtless be sitting in a straight line and paddling
about, Indian file, for an instant.  I resolved to await that instant.  I
loaded my gun with the pearl and a sufficient quantity of powder to send
the charge through every one of the ducks if, perchance, the first duck
were properly hit.  To pass over wearisome details, let me say that it
happened just as I expected.  I had one week and six days to wait, but
finally the critical moment came.  It was at midnight, but fortunately
the moon was at the full, and I could see as plainly as though it had
been day.  The moment the ducks were in line I aimed and fired.  They
every one squawked, turned over, and died.  My pearl had pierced the
whole sixty-eight."

Boswell blushed.

"Ahem!" said Doctor Johnson.  "It was a pity to lose the pearl."

"That," said Munchausen, "was the most interesting part of the story.  I
had made a second calculation in order to save the pearl.  I deduced the
amount of powder necessary to send the gem through sixty-seven and a half
birds, and my deduction was strictly accurate.  It fulfilled its mission
of death on sixty-seven and was found buried in the heart of the sixty-
eighth, a trifle discolored, but still a pearl, and worth a king's
ransom."

Napoleon gave a derisive laugh, and the other guests sat with incredulity
depicted upon every line of their faces.

"Do you believe that story yourself, Baron?" asked Confucius.

"Why not?" asked the Baron.  "Is there anything improbable in it?  Why
should you disbelieve it?  Look at our friend Washington here.  Is there
any one here who knows more about truth than he does?  He doesn't
disbelieve it.  He's the only man at this table who treats me like a man
of honor."

"He's host and has to," said Johnson, shrugging his shoulders.

"Well, Washington, let me put the direct question to you," said the
Baron.  "Say you aren't host and are under no obligation to be courteous.
Do you believe I haven't been telling the truth?"

"My dear Munchausen," said the General, "don't ask me.  I'm not an
authority.  I can't tell a lie--not even when I hear one.  If you say
your story is true, I must believe it, of course; but--ah--really, if I
were you, I wouldn't tell it again unless I could produce the pearl and
the wish-bone of one of the ducks at least."

Whereupon, as the discussion was beginning to grow acrimonious,
Washington hailed Charon, and, ordering a boat, invited his guests to
accompany him over into the world of realities, where they passed the
balance of the evening haunting a vaudeville performance at one of the
London music-halls.



CHAPTER IV: HAMLET MAKES A SUGGESTION


It was a beautiful night on the Styx, and the silvery surface of that
picturesque stream was dotted with gondolas, canoes, and other craft to
an extent that made Charon feel like a highly prosperous savings-bank.
Within the house-boat were gathered a merry party, some of whom were on
mere pleasure bent, others of whom had come to listen to a debate, for
which the entertainment committee had provided, between the venerable
patriarch Noah and the late eminent showman P. T. Barnum.  The question
to be debated was upon the resolution passed by the committee, that "The
Animals of the Antediluvian Period were Far More Attractive for Show
Purposes than those of Modern Make," and, singular to relate, the
affirmative was placed in the hands of Mr. Barnum, while to Noah had
fallen the task of upholding the virtues of the modern freak.  It is with
the party on mere pleasure bent that we have to do upon this occasion.
The proceedings of the debating-party are as yet in the hands of the
official stenographer, but will be made public as soon as they are ready.

The pleasure-seeking group were gathered in the smoking-room of the club,
which was, indeed, a smoking-room of a novel sort, the invention of an
unknown shade, who had sold all the rights to the club through a third
party, anonymously, preferring, it seemed, to remain in the Elysian
world, as he had been in the mundane sphere, a mute inglorious Edison.  It
was a simple enough scheme, and, for a wonder, no one in the world of
substantialities has thought to take it up.  The smoke was stored in
reservoirs, just as if it were so much gas or water, and was supplied on
the hot-air furnace principle from a huge furnace in the hold of the
house-boat, into which tobacco was shovelled by the hired man of the club
night and day.  The smoke from the furnace, carried through flues to the
smoking-room, was there received and stored in the reservoirs, with each
of which was connected one dozen rubber tubes, having at their ends amber
mouth-pieces.  Upon each of these mouth-pieces was arranged a small meter
registering the amount of smoke consumed through it, and for this the
consumer paid so much a foot.  The value of the plan was threefold.  It
did away entirely with ashes, it saved to the consumers the value of the
unconsumed tobacco that is represented by the unsmoked cigar ends, and it
averted the possibility of cigarettes.

Enjoying the benefits of this arrangement upon the evening in question
were Shakespeare, Cicero, Henry VIII., Doctor Johnson, and others.  Of
course Boswell was present too, for a moment, with his note-book, and
this fact evoked some criticism from several of the smokers.

"You ought to be up-stairs in the lecture-room, Boswell," said
Shakespeare, as the great biographer took his seat behind his friend the
Doctor.  "Doesn't the _Gossip_ want a report of the debate?"

"It does," said Boswell; "but the _Gossip_ endeavors always to get the
most interesting items of the day, and Doctor Johnson has informed me
that he expects to be unusually witty this evening, so I have come here."

"Excuse me for saying it, Boswell," said the Doctor, getting red in the
face over this unexpected confession, "but, really, you talk too much."

"That's good," said Cicero.  "Stick that down, Boz, and print it.  It's
the best thing Johnson has said this week."

Boswell smiled weakly, and said: "But, Doctor, you did say that, you
know.  I can prove it, too, for you told me some of the things you were
going to say.  Don't you remember, you were going to lead Shakespeare up
to making the remark that he thought the English language was the
greatest language in creation, whereupon you were going to ask him why he
didn't learn it?"

"Get out of here, you idiot!" roared the Doctor.  "You're enough to give
a man apoplexy."

"You're not going back on the ladder by which you have climbed, are you,
Samuel?" queried Boswell, earnestly.

"The wha-a-t?" cried the Doctor, angrily.  "The ladder--on which I
climbed?  You?  Great heavens!  That it should come to this! . . . Leave
the room--instantly!  Ladder!  By all that is beautiful--the ladder upon
which I, Samuel Johnson, the tallest person in letters, have climbed!  Go!
Do you hear?"

Boswell rose meekly, and, with tears coursing down his cheeks, left the
room.

"That's one on you, Doctor," said Cicero, wrapping his toga about him.  "I
think you ought to order up three baskets of champagne on that."

"I'll order up three baskets full of Boswell's remains if he ever dares
speak like that again!" retorted the Doctor, shaking with anger.  "He--my
ladder--why, it's ridiculous."

"Yes," said Shakespeare, dryly.  "That's why we laugh."

"You were a little hard on him, Doctor," said Henry VIII.  "He was a
valuable man to you.  He had a great eye for your greatness."

"Yes.  If there's any feature of Boswell that's greater than his nose and
ears, it's his great I," said the Doctor.

"You'd rather have him change his I to a U, I presume," said Napoleon,
quietly.

The Doctor waved his hand impatiently.  "Let's drop him," he said.
"Dropping one's biographer isn't without precedent.  As soon as any man
ever got to know Napoleon well enough to write him up he sent him to the
front, where he could get a little lead in his system."

"I wish I had had a Boswell all the same," said Shakespeare.  "Then the
world would have known the truth about me."

"It wouldn't if he'd relied on your word for it," retorted the Doctor.
"Hullo! here's Hamlet."

As the Doctor spoke, in very truth the melancholy Dane appeared in the
doorway, more melancholy of aspect than ever.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Cicero, addressing the new-comer.
"Haven't you got that poison out of your system yet?"

"Not entirely," said Hamlet, with a sigh; "but it isn't that that's
bothering me.  It's Fate."

"We'll get out an injunction against Fate if you like," said Blackstone.
"Is it persecution, or have you deserved it?"

"I think it's persecution," said Hamlet.  "I never wronged Fate in my
life, and why she should pursue me like a demon through all eternity is a
thing I can't understand."

"Maybe Ophelia is back of it," suggested Doctor Johnson.  "These women
have a great deal of sympathy for each other, and, candidly, I think you
behaved pretty rudely to Ophelia.  It's a poor way to show your love for
a young woman, running a sword through her father every night for pay,
and driving the girl to suicide with equal frequency, just to show
theatre-goers what a smart little Dane you can be if you try."

"'Tisn't me does all that," returned Hamlet.  "I only did it once, and
even then it wasn't as bad as Shakespeare made it out to be."

"I put it down just as it was," said Shakespeare, hotly, "and you can't
dispute it."

"Yes, he can," said Yorick.  "You made him tell Horatio he knew me well,
and he never met me in his life."

"I never told Horatio anything of the sort," said Hamlet.  "I never
entered the graveyard even, and I can prove an alibi."

"And, what's more, he couldn't have made the remark the way Shakespeare
has it, anyhow," said Yorick, "and for a very good reason.  I wasn't
buried in that graveyard, and Hamlet and I can prove an alibi for the
skull, too."

"It was a good play, just the same," said Cicero.

"Very," put in Doctor Johnson.  "It cured me of insomnia."

"Well, if you don't talk in your sleep, the play did a Christian service
to the world," retorted Shakespeare.  "But, really, Hamlet, I thought I
did the square thing by you in that play.  I meant to, anyhow; and if it
has made you unhappy, I'm honestly sorry."

"Spoken like a man," said Yorick.

"I don't mind the play so much," said Hamlet, "but the way I'm
represented by these fellows who play it is the thing that rubs me the
wrong way.  Why, I even hear that there's a troupe out in the western
part of the United States that puts the thing on with three Hamlets, two
ghosts, and a pair of blood-hounds.  It's called the Uncle-Tom-Hamlet
Combination, and instead of my falling in love with one crazy Ophelia, I
am made to woo three dusky maniacs named Topsy on a canvas ice-floe,
while the blood-hounds bark behind the scenes.  What sort of treatment is
that for a man of royal lineage?"

"It's pretty rough," said Napoleon.  "As the poet ought to have said,
'Oh, Hamlet, Hamlet, what crimes are committed in thy name!'"

"I feel as badly about the play as Hamlet does," said Shakespeare, after
a moment of silent thought.  "I don't bother much about this wild Western
business, though, because I think the introduction of the bloodhounds and
the Topsies makes us both more popular in that region than we should be
otherwise.  What I object to is the way we are treated by these so-called
first-class intellectual actors in London and other great cities.  I've
seen Hamlet done before a highly cultivated audience, and, by Jove, it
made me blush."

"Me too," sighed Hamlet.  "I have seen a man who had a walk on him that
suggested spring-halt and locomotor ataxia combined impersonating my
graceful self in a manner that drove me almost crazy.  I've heard my 'To
be or not to be' soliloquy uttered by a famous tragedian in tones that
would make a graveyard yawn at mid-day, and if there was any way in which
I could get even with that man I'd do it."

"It seems to me," said Blackstone, assuming for the moment a highly
judicial manner--"it seems to me that Shakespeare, having got you into
this trouble, ought to get you out of it."

"But how?" said Shakespeare, earnestly.  "That's the point.  Heaven knows
I'm willing enough."

Hamlet's face suddenly brightened as though illuminated with an idea.
Then he began to dance about the room with an expression of glee that
annoyed Doctor Johnson exceedingly.

"I wish Darwin could see you now," the Doctor growled.  "A kodak picture
of you would prove his arguments conclusively."

"Rail on, O philosopher!" retorted Hamlet.  "Rail on!  I mind your
railings not, for I the germ of an idea have got."

"Well, go quarantine yourself," said the Doctor.  "I'd hate to have one
of your idea microbes get hold of me."

"What's the scheme?" asked Shakespeare.

"You can write a play for _me_!" cried Hamlet.  "Make it a farce-tragedy.
Take the modern player for your hero, and let _me_ play _him_.  I'll bait
him through four acts.  I'll imitate his walk.  I'll cultivate his voice.
We'll have the first act a tank act, and drop the hero into the tank.  The
second act can be in a saw-mill, and we can cut his hair off on a buzz-
saw.  The third act can introduce a spile-driver with which to drive his
hat over his eyes and knock his brains down into his lungs.  The fourth
act can be at Niagara Falls, and we'll send him over the falls; and for a
grand climax we can have him guillotined just after he has swallowed a
quart of prussic acid and a spoonful of powdered glass.  Do that for me,
William, and you are forgiven.  I'll play it for six hundred nights in
London, for two years in New York, and round up with a one-night stand in
Boston."

"It sounds like a good scheme," said Shakespeare, meditatively.  "What
shall we call it?"

"Call it _Irving_," said Eugene Aram, who had entered.  "I too have
suffered."

"And let me be Hamlet's understudy," said Charles the First, earnestly.

"Done!" said Shakespeare, calling for a pad and pencil.

And as the sun rose upon the Styx the next morning the Bard of Avon was
to be seen writing a comic chorus to be sung over the moribund tragedian
by the shades of Charles, Aram, and other eminent deceased heroes of the
stage, with which his new play of _Irving_ was to be brought to an
appropriate close.

This play has not as yet found its way upon the boards, but any
enterprising manager who desires to consider it may address

_Hamlet_,
_The House-Boat_,
_Hades-on-the-Styx_.

He is sure to get a reply by return mail, unless Mephistopheles
interferes, which is not unlikely, since Mephistopheles is said to have
been much pleased with the manner in which the eminent tragedian has put
him before the British and American public.



CHAPTER V: THE HOUSE COMMITTEE DISCUSS THE POETS


"There's one thing this house-boat needs," wrote Homer in the complaint-
book that adorned the centre-table in the reading-room, "and that is a
Poets' Corner.  There are smoking-rooms for those who smoke, billiard-
rooms for those who play billiards, and a card-room for those who play
cards.  I do not smoke, I can't play billiards, and I do not know a trey
of diamonds from a silver salver.  All I can do is write poetry.  Why
discriminate against me?  By all means let us have a Poets' Corner, where
a man can be inspired in peace."

For four days this entry lay in the book apparently unnoticed.  On the
fifth day the following lines, signed by Samson, appeared:

"I approve of Homer's suggestion.  There should be a Poets' Corner here.
Then the rest of us could have some comfort.  While playing _vingt-et-un_
with Diogenes in the card-room on Friday evening a poetic member of this
club was taken with a most violent fancy, and it required the combined
efforts of Diogenes and myself, assisted by the janitor, to remove the
frenzied and objectionable member from the room.  The habit some of our
poets have acquired of giving way to their inspirations all over the club-
house should be stopped, and I know of no better way to accomplish this
desirable end than by the adoption of Homer's suggestion.  Therefore I
second the motion."

Of course the suggestion of two members so prominent as Homer and Samson
could not well he ignored by the house committee, and it reluctantly took
the subject in hand at an early meeting.

"I find here," said Demosthenes to the chairman, as the committee
gathered, "a suggestion from Homer and Samson that this house-boat be
provided with a Poets' Corner.  I do not know that I approve of the
suggestion myself, but in order to bring it before the committee for
debate I am willing to make a motion that the request be granted."

"Excuse me," put in Doctor Johnson, "but where do you find that
suggestion?  'Here' is not very definite.  Where _is_ 'here'?"

"In the complaint-book, which I hold in my hand," returned Demosthenes,
putting a pebble in his mouth so that he might enunciate more clearly.

A frown ruffled the serenity of Doctor Johnson's brow.

"In the complaint-book, eh?" he said, slowly.  "I thought house
committees were not expected to pay any attention to complaints in
complaint-books.  I never heard of its being done before."

"Well, I can't say that I have either," replied Demosthenes, chewing
thoughtfully on the pebble, "but I suppose complaint-books are the places
for complaints.  You don't expect people to write serial stories or
dialect poems in them, do you?"

"That isn't the point, as the man said to the assassin who tried to stab
him with the hilt of his dagger," retorted Doctor Johnson, with some
asperity.  "Of course, complaint-books are for the reception of
complaints--nobody disputes that.  What I want to have determined is
whether it is necessary or proper for the complaints to go further."

"I fancy we have a legal right to take the matter up," said Blackstone,
wearily; "though I don't know of any precedent for such action.  In all
the clubs I have known the house committees have invariably taken the
ground that the complaint-book was established to guard them against the
annoyance of hearing complaints.  This one, however, has been forced upon
us by our secretary, and in view of the age of the complainants I think
we cannot well decline to give them a specific answer.  Respect for age
is _de rigueur_ at all times, like clean hands.  I'll second the motion."

"I think the Poets' Corner entirely unnecessary," said Confucius.  "This
isn't a class organization, and we should resist any effort to make it or
any portion of it so.  In fact, I will go further and state that it is my
opinion that if we do any legislating in the matter at all, we ought to
discourage rather than encourage these poets.  They are always littering
the club up with themselves.  Only last Wednesday I came here with a
guest--no less a person than a recently deceased Emperor of China--and
what was the first sight that greeted our eyes?"

"I give it up," said Doctor Johnson.  "It must have been a catacornered
sight, whatever it was, if the Emperor's eyes slanted like yours."

"No personalities, please, Doctor," said Sir Walter Raleigh, the
chairman, rapping the table vigorously with the shade of a handsome gavel
that had once adorned the Roman Senate-chamber.

"He's only a Chinaman!" muttered Johnson.

"What was the sight that greeted your eyes, Confucius?" asked Cassius.

"Omar Khayyam stretched over five of the most comfortable chairs in the
library," returned Confucius; "and when I ventured to remonstrate with
him he lost his temper, and said I'd spoiled the whole second volume of
the Rubaiyat.  I told him he ought to do his rubaiyatting at home, and he
made a scene, to avoid which I hastened with my guest over to the
billiard-room; and there, stretched at full length on the pool-table, was
Robert Burns trying to write a sonnet on the cloth with chalk in less
time than Villon could turn out another, with two lines start, on the
billiard-table with the same writing materials.  Now I ask you,
gentlemen, if these things are to be tolerated?  Are they not rather to
be reprehended, whether I am a Chinaman or not?"

"What would you have us do, then?" asked Sir Walter Raleigh, a little
nettled.  "Exclude poets altogether?  I was one, remember."

"Oh, but not much of one, Sir Walter," put in Doctor Johnson,
deprecatingly.

"No," said Confucius.  "I don't want them excluded, but they should be
controlled.  You don't let a shoemaker who has become a member of this
club turn the library sofas into benches and go pegging away at
boot-making, so why should you let the poets turn the place into a verse
factory?  That's what I'd like to know."

"I don't know but what your point is well taken," said Blackstone,
"though I can't say I think your parallels are very parallel.  A
shoemaker, my dear Confucius, is somewhat different from a poet."

"Certainly," said Doctor Johnson.  "Very different--in fact, different
enough to make a conundrum of the question--what is the difference
between a shoemaker and a poet?  One makes the shoes and the other shakes
the muse--all the difference in the world.  Still, I don't see how we can
exclude the poets.  It is the very democracy of this club that gives it
life.  We take in everybody--peer, poet, or what not.  To say that this
man shall not enter because he is this or that or the other thing would
result in our ultimately becoming a class organization, which, as
Confucius himself says, we are not and must not be.  If we put out the
poet to please the sage, we'll soon have to put out the sage to please
the fool, and so on.  We'll keep it up, once the precedent is
established, until finally it will become a class club entirely--a
Plumbers' Club, for instance--and how absurd that would be in Hades!  No,
gentlemen, it can't be done.  The poets must and shall be preserved."

"What's the objection to class clubs, anyhow?" asked Cassius.  "I don't
object to them.  If we could have had political organizations in my day I
might not have had to fall on my sword to get out of keeping an
engagement I had no fancy for.  Class clubs have their uses."

"No doubt," said Demosthenes.  "Have all the class clubs you want, but do
not make one of this.  An Authors' Club, where none but authors are
admitted, is a good thing.  The members learn there that there are other
authors than themselves.  Poets' Clubs are a good thing; they bring poets
into contact with each other, and they learn what a bore it is to have to
listen to a poet reading his own poem.  Pugilists' Clubs are good; so are
all other class clubs; but so also are clubs like our own, which takes in
all who are worthy.  Here a poet can talk poetry as much as he wants, but
at the same time he hears something besides poetry.  We must stick to our
original idea."

"Then let us do something to abate the nuisance of which I complain,"
said Confucius.  "Can't we adopt a house rule that poets must not be
inspired between the hours of 11 A.M. and 5 P.M., or in the evening after
eight; that any poet discovered using more than five arm-chairs in the
composition of a quatrain will be charged two oboli an hour for each
chair in excess of that number; and that the billiard-marker shall be
required to charge a premium of three times the ordinary fee for tables
used by versifiers in lieu of writing-pads?"

"That wouldn't be a bad idea," said Sir Walter Raleigh.  "I, as a poet
would not object to that.  I do all my work at home, anyhow."

"There's another phase of this business that we haven't considered yet,
and it's rather important," said Demosthenes, taking a fresh pebble out
of his bonbonniere.  "That's in the matter of stationery.  This club,
like all other well-regulated clubs, provides its members with a suitable
supply of writing materials.  Charon informs me that the waste-baskets
last week turned out forty-two reams of our best correspondence paper on
which these poets had scribbled the first draft of their verses.  Now I
don't think the club should furnish the poets with the raw material for
their poems any more than, to go back to Confucius's shoemaker, it should
supply leather for our cobblers."

"What do you mean by raw material for poems?" asked Sir Walter, with a
frown.

"Pen, ink, and paper.  What else?" said Demosthenes.

"Doesn't it take brains to write a poem?" said Raleigh.

"Doesn't it take brains to make a pair of shoes?" retorted Demosthenes,
swallowing a pebble in his haste.

"They've got a right to the stationery, though," put in Blackstone.  "A
clear legal right to it.  If they choose to write poems on the paper
instead of boring people to death with letters, as most of us do, that's
their own affair."

"Well, they're very wasteful," said Demosthenes.

"We can meet that easily enough," observed Cassius.  "Furnish each
writing-table with a slate.  I should think they'd be pleased with that.
It's so much easier to rub out the wrong word."

"Most poets prefer to rub out the right word," growled Confucius.
"Besides, I shall never consent to slates in this house-boat.  The
squeaking of the pencils would be worse than the poems themselves."

"That's true," said Cassius.  "I never thought of that.  If a dozen poets
got to work on those slates at once, a fife corps wouldn't be a
circumstance to them."

"Well, it all goes to prove what I have thought all along," said Doctor
Johnson.  "Homer's idea is a good one, and Samson was wise in backing it
up.  The poets need to be concentrated somewhere where they will not be a
nuisance to other people, and where other people will not be a nuisance
to them.  Homer ought to have a place to compose in where the _vingt-et-
un_ players will not interrupt his frenzies, and, on the other hand, the
_vingt-et-un_ and other players should be protected from the wooers of
the muse.  I'll vote to have the Poets' Corner, and in it I move that
Cassius's slate idea be carried out.  It will be a great saving, and if
the corner we select be far enough away from the other corners of the
club, the squeaking of the slate-pencils need bother no one."

"I agree to that," said Blackstone.  "Only I think it should be
understood that, in granting the petition of the poets, we do not bind
ourselves to yield to doctors and lawyers and shoemakers and plumbers in
case they should each want a corner to themselves."

"A very wise idea," said Sir Walter.  Whereupon the resolution was
suitably worded, and passed unanimously.

Just where the Poets' Corner is to be located the members of the
committee have not as yet decided, although Confucius is strongly in
favor of having it placed in a dingy situated a quarter of a mile astern
of the house-boat, and connected therewith by a slight cord, which can be
easily cut in case the squeaking of the poets' slate-pencils becomes too
much for the nervous system of the members who have no corner of their
own.



CHAPTER VI: SOME THEORIES, DARWINIAN AND OTHERWISE


"I observe," said Doctor Darwin, looking up from a perusal of an asbestos
copy of the _London Times_--"I observe that an American professor has
discovered that monkeys talk.  I consider that a very interesting fact."

"It undoubtedly is," observed Doctor Livingstone, "though hardly new.  I
never said anything about it over in the other world, but I discovered
years ago in Africa that monkeys were quite as well able to hold a
sustained conversation with each other as most men are."

"And I, too," put in Baron Munchausen, "have frequently conversed with
monkeys.  I made myself a master of their idioms during my brief sojourn
in--ah--in--well, never mind where.  I never could remember the names of
places.  The interesting point is that at one period of my life I was a
master of the monkey language.  I have even gone so far as to write a
sonnet in Simian, which was quite as intelligible to the uneducated as
nine-tenths of the sonnets written in English or American."

"Do you mean to say that you could acquire the monkey accent?" asked
Doctor Darwin, immediately interested.

"In most instances," returned the Baron, suavely, "though of course not
in all.  I found the same difficulty in some cases that the German or the
Chinaman finds when he tries to speak French.  A Chinaman can no more say
Trocadero, for instance, as the Frenchman says it, than he can fly.  That
peculiar throaty aspirate the Frenchman gives to the first syllable, as
though it were spelled trhoque, is utterly beyond the Chinese--and beyond
the American, too, whose idea of the tonsillar aspirate leads him to
speak of the trochedeero, naturally falling back upon troches to help him
out of his laryngeal difficulties."

"You ought to have been on the staff of _Punch_, Baron," said Thackeray,
quietly.  "That joke would have made you immortal."

"I _am_ immortal," said the Baron.  "But to return to our discussion of
the Simian tongue: as I was saying, there were some little points about
the accent that I could never get, and, as in the case of the German and
Chinaman with the French language, the trouble was purely physical.  When
you consider that in polite Simian society most of the talkers converse
while swinging by their tails from the limb of a tree, with a sort of
droning accent, which results from their swaying to and fro, you will see
at once why it was that I, deprived by nature of the necessary apparatus
with which to suspend myself in mid-air, was unable to quite catch the
quality which gives its chief charm to monkey-talk."

"I should hardly think that a man of your fertile resources would have
let so small a thing as that stand in his way," said Doctor Livingstone.
"When a man is able to make a reputation for himself like yours, in which
material facts are never allowed to interfere with his doing what he sets
out to do, he ought not to be daunted by the need of a tail.  If you
could make a cherry-tree grow out of a deer's head, I fail to see why you
could not personally grow a tail, or anything else you might happen to
need for the attainment of your ends."

"I was not so anxious to get the accent as all that," returned the Baron.
"I don't think it is necessary for a man to make a monkey of himself just
for the pleasure of mastering a language.  Reasoning similarly, a man to
master the art of braying in a fashion comprehensible to the jackass of
average intellect should make a jackass of himself, cultivate his ears,
and learn to kick, so as properly to punctuate his sentences after the
manner of most conversational beasts of that kind."

"Then you believe that jackasses talk, too, do you?" asked Doctor Darwin.

"Why not?" said the Baron.  "If monkeys, why not donkeys?  Certainly they
do.  All creatures have some means of communicating their thoughts to
each other.  Why man in his conceit should think otherwise I don't know,
unless it be that the birds and beasts in their conceit probably think
that they alone of all the creatures in the world can talk."

"I haven't a doubt," said Doctor Livingstone, "that monkeys listening to
men and women talking think they are only jabbering."

"They're not far from wrong in most cases if they do," said Doctor
Johnson, who up to this time had been merely an interested listener.
"I've thought that many a time myself."

"Which is perhaps, in a slight degree, a confirmation of my theory," put
in Darwin.  "If Doctor Johnson's mind runs in the same channels that the
monkey's mind runs in, why may we not say that Doctor Johnson, being a
man, has certain qualities of the monkey, and is therefore, in a sense,
of the same strain?"

"You may say what you please," retorted Johnson, wrathfully, "but I'll
make you prove what you say about me."

"I wouldn't if I were you," said Doctor Livingstone, in a peace-making
spirit.  "It would not be a pleasant task for you, compelling our friend
to prove you descended from the ape.  I should think you'd prefer to make
him leave it unproved."

"Have monkeys Boswells?" queried Thackeray.

"I don't know anything about 'em," said Johnson, petulantly.

"No more do I," said Darwin, "and I didn't mean to be offensive, my dear
Johnson.  If I claim Simian ancestry for you, I claim it equally for
myself."

"Well, I'm no snob," said Johnson, unmollified.  "If you want to brag
about your ancestors, do it.  Leave mine alone.  Stick to your own
genealogical orchard."

"Well, I believe fully that we are all descended from the ape," said
Munchausen.  "There isn't any doubt in my mind that before the flood all
men had tails.  Noah had a tail.  Shem, Ham, and Japheth had tails.  It's
perfectly reasonable to believe it.  The Ark in a sense proved it.  It
would have been almost impossible for Noah and his sons to construct the
Ark in the time they did with the assistance of only two hands apiece.
Think, however, of how fast they could work with the assistance of that
third arm.  Noah could hammer a clapboard on to the Ark with two hands
while grasping a saw and cutting a new board or planing it off with his
tail.  So with the others.  We all know how much a third hand would help
us at times."

"But how do you account for its disappearance?" put in Doctor
Livingstone.  "Is it likely they would dispense with such a useful
adjunct?"

"No, it isn't; but there are various ways of accounting for its loss,"
said Munchausen.  "They may have overworked it building the Ark; Shem,
Ham, or Japheth may have had his caught in the door of the Ark and cut
off in the hurry of the departure; plenty of things may have happened to
eliminate it.  Men lose their hair and their teeth; why might not a man
lose a tail?  Scientists say that coming generations far in the future
will be toothless and bald.  Why may it not be that through causes
unknown to us we are similarly deprived of something our forefathers
had?"

"The only reason for man's losing his hair is that he wears a hat all the
time," said Livingstone.  "The Derby hat is the enemy of hair.  It is
hot, and dries up the scalp.  You might as well try to raise watermelons
in the Desert of Sahara as to try to raise hair under the modern hat.  In
fact, the modern hat is a furnace."

"Well, it's a mighty good furnace," observed Munchausen.  "You don't have
to put coal on the modern hat."

"Perhaps," interposed Thackeray, "the ancients wore their hats on their
tails."

"Well, I have a totally different theory," said Johnson.

"You always did have," observed Munchausen.

"Very likely," said Johnson.  "To be commonplace never was my ambition."

"What is your theory?" queried Livingstone.

"Well--I don't know," said Johnson, "if it be worth expressing."

"It may be worth sending by freight," interrupted Thackeray.  "Let us
have it."

"Well, I believe," said Johnson--"I believe that Adam was a monkey."

"He behaved like one," ejaculated Thackeray.

"I believe that the forbidden tree was a tender one, and therefore the
only one upon which Adam was forbidden to swing by his tail," said
Johnson.

"Clear enough--so far," said Munchausen.

"But that the possession of tails by Adam and Eve entailed a love of
swinging thereby, and that they could not resist the temptation to swing
from every limb in Eden, and that therefore, while Adam was off swinging
on other trees, Eve took a swing on the forbidden tree; that Adam,
returning, caught her in the act, and immediately gave way himself and
swung," said Johnson.

"Then you eliminate the serpent?" queried Darwin.

"Not a bit of it," Johnson answered.  "The serpent was the tail.  Look at
most snakes to-day.  What are they but unattached tails?"

"They do look it," said Darwin, thoughtfully.

"Why, it's clear as day," said Johnson.  "As punishment Adam and Eve lost
their tails, and the tail itself was compelled to work for a living and
do its own walking."

"I never thought of that," said Darwin.  "It seems reasonable."

"It is reasonable," said Johnson.

"And the snakes of the present day?" queried Thackeray.

"I believe to be the missing tails of men," said Johnson.  "Somewhere in
the world is a tail for every man and woman and child.  Where one's tail
is no one can ever say, but that it exists simultaneously with its owner
I believe.  The abhorrence man has for snakes is directly attributable to
his abhorrence for all things which have deprived him of something that
is good.  If Adam's tail had not tempted him to swing on the forbidden
tree, we should all of us have been able through life to relax from
business cares after the manner of the monkey, who is happy from morning
until night."

"Well, I can't see that it does us any good to sit here and discuss this
matter," said Doctor Livingstone.  "We can't reach any conclusion.  The
only way to settle the matter, it seems to me, is to go directly to Adam,
who is a member of this club, and ask him how it was."

"That's a great idea," said Thackeray, scornfully.  "You'd look well
going up to a man and saying, 'Excuse me, sir, but--ah--were you ever a
monkey?'"

"To say nothing of catechising a man on the subject of an old and
dreadful scandal," put in Munchausen.  "I'm surprised at you,
Livingstone.  African etiquette seems to have ruined your sense of
propriety."

"I'd just as lief ask him," said Doctor Johnson.  "Etiquette?  Bah!  What
business has etiquette to stand in the way of human knowledge?
Conventionality is the last thing men of brains should strive after, and
I, for one, am not going to be bound by it."

Here Doctor Johnson touched the electric bell, and in an instant the
shade of a buttons appeared.

"Boy, is Adam in the club-house to-day?" asked the sage.

"I'll go and see, sir," said the boy, and he immediately departed.

"Good boy that," said Thackeray.

"Yes; but the service in this club is dreadful, considering what we might
have," said Darwin.  "With Aladdin a member of this club, I don't see why
we can't have his lamp with genii galore to respond.  It certainly would
be more economical."

"True; but I, for one, don't care to fool with genii," said Munchausen.
"When one member can summon a servant who is strong enough to take
another member and do him up in a bottle and cast him into the sea, I
have no use for the system.  Plain ordinary mortal shades are good enough
for me."

As Munchausen spoke, the boy returned.

"Mr. Adam isn't here to-day, sir," he said, addressing Doctor Johnson.
"And Charon says he's not likely to be here, sir, seeing as how his
account is closed, not having been settled for three months."

"Good," said Thackeray.  "I was afraid he was here.  I don't want to have
him asked about his Eden experiences in my behalf.  That's personality."

"Well, then, there's only one other thing to do," said Darwin.
"Munchausen claims to be able to speak Simian.  He might seek out some of
the prehistoric monkeys and put the question to them."

"No, thank you," said Munchausen.  "I'm a little rusty in the language,
and, besides, you talk like an idiot.  You might as well speak of the
human language as the Simian language.  There are French monkeys who
speak monkey French, African monkeys who talk the most barbarous kind of
Zulu monkey patois, and Congo monkey slang, and so on.  Let Johnson send
his little Boswell out to drum up information.  If there is anything to
be found out he'll get it, and then he can tell it to us.  Of course he
may get it all wrong, but it will be entertaining, and we'll never know
any difference."

Which seemed to the others a good idea, but whatever came of it I have
not been informed.



CHAPTER VII: A DISCUSSION AS TO LADIES' DAY


"I met Queen Elizabeth just now on the Row," said Raleigh, as he entered
the house-boat and checked his cloak.

"Indeed?" said Confucius.  "What if you did?  Other people have met Queen
Elizabeth.  There's nothing original about that."

"True; but she made a suggestion to me about this house-boat which I
think is a good one.  She says the women are all crazy to see the inside
of it," said Raleigh.

"Thus proving that immortal woman is no different from mortal woman,"
retorted Confucius.  "They want to see the inside of everything.
Curiosity, thy name is woman."

"Well, I am sure I don't see why men should arrogate to themselves the
sole right to an investigating turn of mind," said Raleigh, impatiently.
"Why shouldn't the ladies want to see the inside of this club-house?  It
is a compliment to us that they should, and I for one am in favor of
letting them, and I am going to propose that in the Ides of March we give
a ladies' day here."

"Then I shall go South for my health in the Ides of March," said
Confucius, angrily.  "What on earth is a club for if it isn't to enable
men to get away from their wives once in a while?  When do people go to
clubs?  When they are on their way home--that's when; and the more a
man's at home in his club, the less he's at home when he's at home.  I
suppose you'll be suggesting a children's day next, and after that a
parrot's or a canary-bird's day."

"I had no idea you were such a woman-hater," said Raleigh, in
astonishment.  "What's the matter?  Were you ever disappointed in love?"

"I?  How absurd!" retorted Confucius, reddening.  "The idea of _my_ ever
being disappointed in love!  I never met the woman who could bring me to
my knees, although I was married in the other world.  What became of Mrs.
C. I never inquired.  She may be in China yet, for aught I know.  I
regard death as a divorce."

"Your wife must be glad of it," said Raleigh, somewhat ungallantly; for,
to tell the truth, he was nettled by Confucius's demeanor.  "I didn't
know, however, but that since you escaped from China and came here to
Hades you might have fallen in love with some spirit of an age subsequent
to your own--Mary Queen of Scots, or Joan of Arc, or some other spook--who
rejected you.  I can't account for your dislike of women otherwise."

"Not I," said Confucius.  "Hades would have a less classic name than it
has for me if I were hampered with a family.  But go along and have your
ladies' day here, and never mind my reasons for preferring my own society
to that of the fair sex.  I can at least stay at home that day.  What do
you propose to do--throw open the house to the wives of members, or to
all ladies, irrespective of their husbands' membership here?"

"I think the latter plan would be the better," said Raleigh.  "Otherwise
Queen Elizabeth, to whom I am indebted for the suggestion, would be
excluded.  She never married, you know."

"Didn't she?" said Confucius.  "No, I didn't know it; but that doesn't
prove anything.  When I went to school we didn't study the history of the
Elizabethan period.  She didn't have absolute sway over England, then?"

"She had; but what of that?" queried Raleigh.

"Do you mean to say that she lived and died an old maid from choice?"
demanded Confucius.

"Certainly I do," said Raleigh.  "And why should I not tell you that?"

"For a very good and sufficient reason," retorted Confucius, "which is,
in brief, that I am not a marine.  I may dislike women, my dear Raleigh,
but I know them better than you do, gallant as you are; and when you tell
me in one and the same moment that a woman holding absolute sway over men
yet lived and died an old maid, you must not be indignant if I smile and
bite the end of my thumb, which is the Chinese way of saying that's all
in your eye, Betty Martin."

"Believe it or not, you poor old back number," retorted Raleigh, hotly.
"It alters nothing.  Queen Elizabeth could have married a hundred times
over if she had wished.  I know I lost my head there completely."

"That shows, Sir Walter," said Dryden, with a grin, "how wrong you are.
You lost your head to King James.  Hi!  Shakespeare, here's a man doesn't
know who chopped his head off."

Raleigh's face flushed scarlet.  "'Tis better to have had a head and lost
it," he cried, "than never to have had a head at all!  Mark you, Dryden,
my boy, it ill befits you to scoff at me for my misfortune, for dust thou
art, and to dust thou hast returned, if word from t'other side about thy
books and that which in and on them lies be true."

"Whate'er be said about my books," said Dryden, angrily, "be they read or
be they not, 'tis mine they are, and none there be who dare dispute their
authorship."

"Thus proving that men, thank Heaven, are still sane," ejaculated Doctor
Johnson.  "To assume the authorship of Dryden would be not so much a
claim, my friend, as a confession."

"Shades of the mighty Chow!" cried Confucius.  "An' will ye hear the
poets squabble!  Egad!  A ladies' day could hardly introduce into our
midst a more diverting disputation."

"We're all getting a little high-flown in our phraseology," put in
Shakespeare at this point.  "Let's quit talking in blank-verse and come
down to business.  _I_ think a ladies' day would be great sport.  I'll
write a poem to read on the occasion."

"Then I oppose it with all my heart," said Doctor Johnson.  "Why do you
always want to make our entertainments commonplace?  Leave occasional
poems to mortals.  I never knew an occasional poem yet that was worthy of
an immortal."

"That's precisely why I want to write one occasional poem.  I'd make it
worthy," Shakespeare answered.  "Like this, for instance:

   _Most fair, most sweet, most beauteous of ladies_,
   _The greatest charm in all ye realm of Hades_.

Why, my dear Doctor, such an opportunity for rhyming Hades with ladies
should not be lost."

"That just proves what I said," said Johnson.  "Any idiot can make ladies
rhyme with Hades.  It requires absolute genius to avoid the temptation.
You are great enough to make Hades rhyme with bicycle if you choose to do
it--but no, you succumb to the temptation to be commonplace.  Bah!  One
of these modern drawing-room poets with three sections to his name
couldn't do worse."

"On general principles," said Raleigh, "Johnson is right.  We invite
these people here to see our club-house, not to give them an exhibition
of our metrical powers, and I think all exercises of a formal nature
should be frowned upon."

"Very well," said Shakespeare.  "Go ahead.  Have your own way about it.
Get out your brow and frown.  I'm perfectly willing to save myself the
trouble of writing a poem.  Writing real poetry isn't easy, as you
fellows would have discovered for yourselves if you'd ever tried it."

"To pass over the arrogant assumption of the gentleman who has just
spoken, with the silence due to a proper expression of our contempt
therefor," said Dryden, slowly, "I think in case we do have a ladies' day
here we should exercise a most careful supervision over the invitation
list.  For instance, wouldn't it be awkward for our good friend Henry the
Eighth to encounter the various Mrs. Henrys here?  Would it not likewise
be awkward for them to meet each other?"

"Your point is well taken," said Doctor Johnson.  "I don't know whether
the King's matrimonial ventures are on speaking terms with each other or
not, but under any circumstances it would hardly be a pleasing spectacle
for Katharine of Arragon to see Henry running his legs off getting cream
and cakes for Anne Boleyn; nor would Anne like it much if, on the other
hand, Henry chose to behave like a gentleman and a husband to Jane
Seymour or Katharine Parr.  I think, if the members themselves are to
send out the invitations, they should each be limited to two cards, with
the express understanding that no member shall be permitted to invite
more than one wife."

"That's going to be awkward," said Raleigh, scratching his head
thoughtfully.  "Henry is such a hot-headed fellow that he might resent
the stipulation."

"I think he would," said Confucius.  "I think he'd be as mad as a hatter
at your insinuation that he would invite any of his wives, if all I hear
of him is true; and what I've heard, Wolsey has told me."

"He knew a thing or two about Henry," said Shakespeare.  "If you don't
believe it, just read that play of mine that Beaumont and
Fletcher--er--ah--thought so much of."

"You came near giving your secret away that time, William," said Johnson,
with a sly smile, and giving the Avonian a dig between the ribs.

"Secret!  I haven't any secret," said Shakespeare, a little acridly.
"It's the truth I'm telling you.  Beaumont and Fletcher _did_ admire
_Henry the Eighth_."

"Thereby showing their conceit, eh?" said Johnson.

"Oh, of course, I didn't write anything, did I?" cried Shakespeare.
"Everybody wrote my plays but me.  I'm the only person that had no hand
in Shakespeare.  It seems to me that joke is about worn out, Doctor.  I'm
getting a little tired of it myself; but if it amuses you, why, keep it
up.  _I_ know who wrote my plays, and whatever you may say cannot affect
the facts.  Next thing you fellows will be saying that I didn't write my
own autographs?"

"I didn't say that," said Johnson, quietly.  "Only there is no internal
evidence in your autographs that you knew how to spell your name if you
did.  A man who signs his name Shixpur one day and Shikespeare the next
needn't complain if the Bank of Posterity refuses to honor his check."

"They'd honor my check quick enough these days," retorted Shakespeare.
"When a man's autograph brings five thousand dollars, or one thousand
pounds, in the auction-room, there isn't a bank in the world fool enough
to decline to honor any check he'll sign under a thousand dollars, or two
hundred pounds."

"I fancy you're right," put in Raleigh.  "But your checks or your plays
have nothing to do with ladies' day.  Let's get to some conclusion in
this matter."

"Yes," said Confucius.  "Let's.  Ladies' day is becoming a dreadful bore,
and if we don't hurry up the billiard-room will be full."

"Well, I move we get up a petition to the council to have it," said
Dryden.

"I agree," said Confucius, "and I'll sign it.  If there's one way to
avoid having ladies' day in the future, it's to have one now and be done
with it."

"All right," said Shakespeare.  "I'll sign too."

"As--er--Shixpur or Shikespeare?" queried Johnson.

"Let him alone," said Raleigh.  "He's getting sensitive about that; and
what you need to learn more than anything else is that it isn't manners
to twit a man on facts.  What's bothering you, Dryden?  You look like a
man with an idea."

"It has just occurred to me," said Dryden, "that while we can safely
leave the question of Henry the Eighth and his wives to the wisdom of the
council, we ought to pay some attention to the advisability of inviting
Lucretia Borgia.  I'd hate to eat any supper if she came within a mile of
the banqueting-hall.  If she comes you'll have to appoint a tasting
committee before I'll touch a drop of punch or eat a speck of salad."

"We might recommend the appointment of Raleigh to look after the fair
Lucretia and see that she has no poison with her, or if she has, to keep
her from dropping it into the salads," said Confucius, with a sidelong
glance at Raleigh.  "He's the especial champion of woman in this club,
and no doubt would be proud of the distinction."

"I would with most women," said Raleigh.  "But I draw the line at
Lucretia Borgia."

And so a petition was drawn up, signed, and sent to the council, and
they, after mature deliberation, decided to have the ladies' day, to
which all the ladies in Hades, excepting Lucretia Borgia and Delilah,
were to be duly invited, only the date was not specified.  Delilah was
excluded at the request of Samson, whose convincing muscles, rather than
his arguments, completely won over all opposition to his proposition.



CHAPTER VIII: A DISCONTENTED SHADE


"It seems to me," said Shakespeare, wearily, one afternoon at the
club--"that this business of being immortal is pretty dull.  Didn't
somebody once say he'd rather ride fifty years on a trolley in Europe
than on a bicycle in Cathay?"

"I never heard any such remark by any self-respecting person," said
Johnson.

"I said something like it," observed Tennyson.

Doctor Johnson looked around to see who it was that spoke.

"You?" he cried.  "And who, pray, may you be?"

"My name is Tennyson," replied the poet.

"And a very good name it is," said Shakespeare.

"I am not aware that I ever heard the name before," said Doctor Johnson.
"Did you make it yourself?"

"I did," said the late laureate, proudly.

"In what pursuit?" asked Doctor Johnson.

"Poetry," said Tennyson.  "I wrote 'Locksley Hall' and 'Come into the
Garden, Maude.'"

"Humph!" said Doctor Johnson.  "I never read 'em."

"Well, why should you have read them?" snarled Carlyle.  "They were
written after you moved over here, and they were good stuff.  You needn't
think because you quit, the whole world put up its shutters and went out
of business.  I did a few things myself which I fancy you never heard
of."

"Oh, as for that," retorted Doctor Johnson, with a smile, "I've heard of
you; you are the man who wrote the life of Frederick the Great in nine
hundred and two volumes--"

"Seven!" snapped Carlyle.

"Well, seven then," returned Johnson.  "I never saw the work, but I heard
Frederick speaking of it the other day.  Bonaparte asked him if he had
read it, and Frederick said no, he hadn't time.  Bonaparte cried,
'Haven't time?  Why, my dear king, you've got all eternity.'  'I know
it,' replied Frederick, 'but that isn't enough.  Read a page or two, my
dear Napoleon, and you'll see why.'"

"Frederick will have his joke," said Shakespeare, with a wink at Tennyson
and a smile for the two philosophers, intended, no doubt, to put them in
a more agreeable frame of mind.  "Why, he even asked me the other day why
I never wrote a tragedy about him, completely ignoring the fact that he
came along many years after I had departed.  I spoke of that, and he
said, 'Oh, I was only joking.'  I apologized.  'I didn't know that,' said
I.  'And why should you?' said he.  'You're English.'"

"A very rude remark," said Johnson.  "As if we English were incapable of
seeing a joke!"

"Exactly," put in Carlyle.  "It strikes me as the absurdest notion that
the Englishman can't see a joke.  To the mind that is accustomed to snap
judgments I have no doubt the Englishman appears to be dull of
apprehension, but the philosophy of the whole matter is apparent to the
mind that takes the trouble to investigate.  The Briton weighs everything
carefully before he commits himself, and even though a certain point may
strike him as funny, he isn't going to laugh until he has fully made up
his mind that it is funny.  I remember once riding down Piccadilly with
Froude in a hansom cab.  Froude had a copy of _Punch_ in his hand, and he
began to laugh immoderately over something.  I leaned over his shoulder
to see what he was laughing at.  'That isn't so funny,' said I, as I read
the paragraph on which his eye was resting.  'No,' said Froude.  'I
wasn't laughing at that.  I was enjoying the joke that appeared in the
same relative position in last week's issue.'  Now that's the point--the
whole point.  The Englishman always laughs over last week's _Punch_, not
this week's, and that is why you will find a file of that interesting
journal in the home of all well-to-do Britons.  It is the back number
that amuses him--which merely proves that he is a deliberative person who
weighs even his humor carefully before giving way to his emotions."

"What is the average weight of a copy of _Punch_?" drawled Artemas Ward,
who had strolled in during the latter part of the conversation.

Shakespeare snickered quietly, but Carlyle and Johnson looked upon the
intruder severely.

"We will take that question into consideration," said Carlyle.  "Perhaps
to-morrow we shall have a definite answer ready for you."

"Never mind," returned the humorist.  "You've proved your point.  Tennyson
tells me you find life here dull, Shakespeare."

"Somewhat," said Shakespeare.  "I don't know about the rest of you
fellows, but I was not cut out for an eternity of ease.  I must have
occupation, and the stage isn't popular here.  The trouble about putting
on a play here is that our managers are afraid of libel suits.  The
chances are that if I should write a play with Cassius as the hero,
Cassius would go to the first night's performance with a dagger concealed
in his toga, with which to punctuate his objections to the lines put in
his mouth.  There is nothing I'd like better than to manage a theatre in
this place, but think of the riots we'd have!  Suppose, for an instant,
that I wrote a play about Bonaparte!  He'd have a box, and when the rest
of you spooks called for the author at the end of the third act, if he
didn't happen to like the play he'd greet me with a salvo of artillery
instead of applause."

"He wouldn't if you made him out a great conqueror from start to finish,"
said Tennyson.

"No doubt," returned Shakespeare, sadly; "but in that event Wellington
would be in the other stage-box, and I'd get the greeting from him."

"Why come out at all?" asked Johnson.

"Why come out at all?" echoed Shakespeare.  "What fun is there in writing
a play if you can't come out and show yourself at the first night?  That's
the author's reward.  If it wasn't for the first-night business, though,
all would be plain sailing."

"Then why don't you begin it the second night?" drawled Ward.

"How the deuce could you?" put in Carlyle.

"A most extraordinary proposition," sneered Johnson.

"Yes," said Ward; "but wait a week--you'll see the point then."

"There isn't any doubt in my mind," said Shakespeare, reverting to his
original proposition, "that the only perfectly satisfactory life is under
a system not yet adopted in either world--the one we have quitted or
this.  There we had hard work in which our mortal limitations hampered us
grievously; here we have the freedom of the immortal with no hard work;
in other words, now that we feel like fighting-cocks, there isn't any
fighting to be done.  The great life in my estimation, would be to return
to earth and battle with mortal problems, but equipped mentally and
physically with immortal weapons."

"Some people don't know when they are well off," said Beau Brummel.  "This
strikes me as being an ideal life.  There are no tailors bills to pay--we
are ourselves nothing but memories, and a memory can clothe himself in
the shadow of his former grandeur--I clothe myself in the remembrance of
my departed clothes, and as my memory is good I flatter myself I'm the
best-dressed man here.  The fact that there are ghosts of departed unpaid
bills haunting my bedside at night doesn't bother me in the least,
because the bailiffs that in the old life lent terror to an overdue
account, thanks to our beneficent system here, are kept in the less
agreeable sections of Hades.  I used to regret that bailiffs were such
low people, but now I rejoice at it.  If they had been of a different
order they might have proven unpleasant here."

"You are right, my dear Brummel," interposed Munchausen.  "This life is
far preferable to that in the other sphere.  Any of you gentlemen who
happen to have had the pleasure of reading my memoirs must have been
struck with the tremendous difficulties that encumbered my progress.  If
I wished for a rare liqueur for my luncheon, a liqueur served only at the
table of an Oriental potentate, more jealous of it than of his one
thousand queens, I had to raise armies, charter ships, and wage warfare
in which feats of incredible valor had to be performed by myself alone
and unaided to secure the desired thimbleful.  I have destroyed empires
for a bon-bon at great expense of nervous energy."

"That's very likely true," said Carlyle.  "I should think your feats of
strength would have wrecked your imagination in time."

"Not so," said Munchausen.  "On the contrary, continuous exercise served
only to make it stronger.  But, as I was going to say, in this life we
have none of these fearful obstacles--it is a life of leisure; and if I
want a bird and a cold bottle at any time, instead of placing my life in
peril and jeopardizing the peace of all mankind to get it, I have only to
summon before me the memory of some previous bird and cold bottle, dine
thereon like a well-ordered citizen, and smoke the spirit of the best
cigar my imagination can conjure up."

"You miss my point," said Shakespeare.  "I don't say this life is worse
or better than the other we used to live.  What I do say is that a
combination of both would suit me.  In short, I'd like to live here and
go to the other world every day to business, like a suburban resident who
sleeps in the country and makes his living in the city.  For instance,
why shouldn't I dwell here and go to London every day, hire an office
there, and put out a sign something like this:

   WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
   DRAMATIST

   Plays written while you wait

I guess I'd find plenty to do."

"Guess again," said Tennyson.  "My dear boy, you forget one thing.  _You
are out of date_.  People don't go to the theatres to hear _you_, they go
to see the people who _do_ you."

"That is true," said Ward.  "And they do do you, my beloved William.  It's
a wonder to me you are not dizzy turning over in your grave the way they
do you."

"Can it be that I can ever be out of date?" asked Shakespeare.  "I know,
of course, that I have to be adapted at times; but to be wholly out of
date strikes me as a hard fate."

"You're not out of date," interposed Carlyle; "the date is out of you.
There is a great demand for Shakespeare in these days, but there isn't
any stuff."

"Then I should succeed," said Shakespeare.

"No, I don't think so," returned Carlyle.  "You couldn't stand the pace.
The world revolves faster to-day than it did in your time--men write
three or four plays at once.  This is what you might call a Type-writer
Age, and to keep up with the procession you'd have to work as you never
worked before."

"That is true," observed Tennyson.  "You'd have to learn to be
ambidextrous, so that you could keep two type-writing machines going at
once; and, to be perfectly frank with you, I cannot even conjure up in my
fancy a picture of you knocking out a tragedy with the right hand on one
machine, while your left hand is fashioning a farce-comedy on another."

"He might do as a great many modern writers do," said Ward; "go in for
the Paper-doll Drama.  Cut the whole thing out with a pair of scissors.
As the poet might have said if he'd been clever enough:

   _Oh, bring me the scissors_,
   _And bring me the glue_,
   _And a couple of dozen old plays_.
   _I'll cut out and paste_
   _A drama for you_
   _That'll run for quite sixty-two days_.

   _Oh, bring me a dress_
   _Made of satin and lace_,
   _And a book--say Joe Miller's--of wit_;
   _And I'll make the old dramatists_
   _Blue in the face_
   _With the play that I'll turn out for it_.

   _So bring me the scissors_,
   _And bring me the paste_,
   _And a dozen fine old comedies_;
   _A fine line of dresses_,
   _And popular taste_
   _I'll make a strong effort to please_.

"You draw a very blue picture, it seems to me," said Shakespeare, sadly.

"Well, it's true," said Carlyle.  "The world isn't at all what it used to
be in any one respect, and you fellows who made great reputations
centuries ago wouldn't have even the ghost of a show now.  I don't
believe Homer could get a poem accepted by a modern magazine, and while
the comic papers are still printing Diogenes' jokes the old gentleman
couldn't make enough out of them in these days to pay taxes on his tub,
let alone earning his bread."

"That is exactly so," said Tennyson.  "I'd be willing to wager too that,
in the line of personal prowess, even D'Artagnan and Athos and Porthos
and Aramis couldn't stand London for one day."

"Or New York either," said Mr. Barnum, who had been an interested
listener.  "A New York policeman could have managed that quartet with one
hand."

"Then," said Shakespeare, "in the opinion of you gentlemen, we old-time
lions would appear to modern eyes to be more or less stuffed?"

"That's about the size of it," said Carlyle.

"But you'd draw," said Barnum, his face lighting up with pleasure.  "You'd
drive a five-legged calf to suicide from envy.  If I could take you and
Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte and Nero over for one circus season we'd
drive the mint out of business."

"There's your chance, William," said Ward.  "You write a play for
Bonaparte and Caesar, and let Nero take his fiddle and be the orchestra.
Under Barnum's management you'd get enough activity in one season to last
you through all eternity."

"You can count on me," said Barnum, rising.  "Let me know when you've got
your plan laid out.  I'd stay and make a contract with you now, but Adam
has promised to give me points on the management of wild animals without
cages, so I can't wait.  By-by."

"Humph!" said Shakespeare, as the eminent showman passed out.  "That's a
gay proposition.  When monkeys move in polite society William Shakespeare
will make a side-show of himself for a circus."

"They do now," said Thackeray, quietly.

Which merely proved that Shakespeare did not mean what he said; for in
spite of Thackeray's insinuation as to the monkeys and polite society, he
has not yet accepted the Barnum proposition, though there can be no doubt
of its value from the point of view of a circus manager.



CHAPTER IX: AS TO COOKERY AND SCULPTURE


Robert Burns and Homer were seated at a small table in the dining-room of
the house-boat, discussing everything in general and the shade of a very
excellent luncheon in particular.

"We are in great luck to-day," said Burns, as he cut a ruddy duck in
twain.  "This bird is done just right."

"I agree with you," returned Homer, drawing his chair a trifle closer to
the table.  "Compared to the one we had here last Thursday, this is a
feast for the gods.  I wonder who it was that cooked this fowl
originally?"

"I give it up; but I suspect it was done by some man who knew his
business," said Burns, with a smack of his lips.  "It's a pity, I think,
my dear Homer, that there is no means by which a cook may become
immortal.  Cooking is as much of an art as is the writing of poetry, and
just as there are immortal poets so there should be immortal cooks.  See
what an advantage the poet has--he writes something, it goes out and
reaches the inmost soul of the man who reads it, and it is signed.  His
work is known because he puts his name to it; but this poor devil of a
cook--where is he?  He has done his work as well as the poet ever did
his, it has reached the inmost soul of the mortal who originally ate it,
but he cannot get the glory of it because he cannot put his name to it.
If the cook could sign his work it would be different."

"You have hit upon a great truth," said Homer, nodding, as he sometimes
was wont to do.  "And yet I fear that, ingenious as we are, we cannot
devise a plan to remedy the matter.  I do not know about you, but I
should myself much object if my birds and my flapjacks, and other things,
digestible and otherwise, that I eat here were served with the cook's
name written upon them.  An omelette is sometimes a picture--"

"I've seen omelettes that looked like one of Turner's sunsets,"
acquiesced Burns.

"Precisely; and when Turner puts down in one corner of his canvas,
'Turner, fecit,' you do not object, but if the cook did that with the
omelette you wouldn't like it."

"No," said Burns; "but he might fasten a tag to it, with his name written
upon that."

"That is so," said Homer; "but the result in the end would be the same.
The tags would get lost, or perhaps a careless waiter, dropping a tray
full of dainties, would get the tags of a good and bad cook mixed in
trying to restore the contents of the tray to their previous condition.
The tag system would fail."

"There is but one other way that I can think of," said Burns, "and that
would do no good now unless we can convey our ideas into the other world;
that is, for a great poet to lend his genius to the great cook, and make
the latter's name immortal by putting it into a poem.  Say, for instance,
that you had eaten a fine bit of terrapin, done to the most exquisite
point--you could have asked the cook's name, and written an apostrophe to
her.  Something like this, for instance:

   _Oh, Dinah Rudd! oh, Dinah Rudd_!
   _Thou art a cook of bluest blood_!
   _Nowhere within_
   _This world of sin_
   _Have I e'er tasted better terrapin_.
   _Do you see_?"

"I do; but even then, my dear fellow, the cook would fall short of true
fame.  Her excellence would be a mere matter of hearsay evidence," said
Homer.

"Not if you went on to describe, in a keenly analytical manner, the
virtues of that particular bit of terrapin," said Burns.  "Draw so vivid
a picture of the dish that the reader himself would taste that terrapin
even as you tasted it."

"You have hit it!" cried Homer, enthusiastically.  "It is a grand plan;
but how to introduce it--that is the question."

"We can haunt some modern poet, and give him the idea in that way,"
suggested Burns.  "He will see the novelty of it, and will possibly
disseminate the idea as we wish it to be disseminated."

"Done!" said Homer.  "I'll begin right away.  I feel like haunting to-
night.  I'm getting to be a pretty old ghost, but I'll never lose my love
of haunting."

At this point, as Homer spoke, a fine-looking spirit entered the room,
and took a seat at the head of the long table at which the regular club
dinner was nightly served.

"Why, bless me!" said Homer, his face lighting up with pleasure.  "Why,
Phidias, is that you?"

"I think so," said the new-comer, wearily; "at any rate, it's all that's
left of me."

"Come over here and lunch with us," said Homer.  "You know Burns, don't
you?"

"Haven't the pleasure," said Phidias.

The poet and the sculptor were introduced, after which Phidias seated
himself at Homer's side.

"Are you any relation to Burns the poet?" the former asked, addressing
the Scotchman.

"I _am_ Burns the poet," replied the other.

"You don't look much like your statues," said Phidias, scanning his face
critically.

"No, thank the Fates!" said Burns, warmly.  "If I did, I'd commit
suicide."

"Why don't you sue the sculptors for libel?" asked Phidias.

"You speak with a great deal of feeling, Phidias," said Homer, gravely.
"Have they done anything to hurt you?"

"They have," said Phidias.  "I have just returned from a tour of the
world.  I have seen the things they call sculpture in these degenerate
days, and I must confess--who shouldn't, perhaps--that I could have done
better work with a baseball-bat for a chisel and putty for the raw
material."

"I think I could do good work with a baseball-bat too," said Burns; "but
as for the raw material, give me the heads of the men who have sculped me
to work on.  I'd leave them so that they'd look like some of your
Parthenon frieze figures with the noses gone."

"You are a vindictive creature," said Homer.  "These men you criticise,
and whose heads you wish to sculp with a baseball-bat, have done more for
you than you ever did for them.  Every statue of you these men have made
is a standing advertisement of your books, and it hasn't cost you a
penny.  There isn't a doubt in my mind that if it were not for those
statues countless people would go to their graves supposing that the
great Scottish Burns were little rivulets, and not a poet.  What
difference does it make to you if they haven't made an Adonis of you?  You
never set them an example by making one of yourself.  If there's
deception anywhere, it isn't you that is deceived; it is the mortals.  And
who cares about them or their opinions?"

"I never thought of it in that way," said Burns.  "I hate
caricatures--that is, caricatures of myself.  I enjoy caricatures of
other people, but--"

"You have a great deal of the mortal left in you, considering that you
pose as an immortal," said Homer, interrupting the speaker.

"Well, so have I," said Phidias, resolved to stand by Burns in the
argument, "and I'm sorry for the man who hasn't.  I was a mortal once,
and I'm glad of it.  I had a good time, and I don't care who knows it.
When I look about me and see Jupiter, the arch-snob of creation, and
Mars, a little tin warrior who couldn't have fought a soldier like
Napoleon, with all his alleged divinity, I thank the Fates that they
enabled me to achieve immortality through mortal effort.  Hang hereditary
greatness, I say.  These men were born immortals.  You and I worked for
it and got it.  We know what it cost.  It was ours because we earned it,
and not because we were born to it.  Eh, Burns?"

The Scotchman nodded assent, and the Greek sculptor went on.

"I am not vindictive myself, Homer," he said.  "Nobody has hurt me, and,
on the whole, I don't think sculpture is in such a bad way, after all.
There's a shoemaker I wot of in the mortal realms who can turn the
prettiest last you ever saw; and I encountered a carver in a London
eating-house last month who turned out a slice of beef that was cut as
artistically as I could have done it myself.  What I object to chiefly is
the tendency of the times.  This is an electrical age, and men in my old
profession aren't content to turn out one _chef-d'oeuvre_ in a lifetime.
They take orders by the gross.  I waited upon inspiration.  To-day the
sculptor waits upon custom, and an artist will make a bust of anybody in
any material desired as long as he is sure of getting his pay afterwards.
I saw a life-size statue of the inventor of a new kind of lard the other
day, and what do you suppose the material was?  Gold?  Not by a great
deal.  Ivory?  Marble, even?  Not a bit of it.  He was done in lard, sir.
I have seen a woman's head done in butter, too, and it makes me
distinctly weary to think that my art should be brought so low."

"You did your best work in Greece," chuckled Homer.

"A bad joke, my dear Homer," retorted Phidias.  "I thought sculpture was
getting down to a pretty low ebb when I had to fashion friezes out of
marble; but marble is more precious than rubies alongside of butter and
lard."

"Each has its uses," said Homer.  "I'd rather have butter on my bread
than marble, but I must confess that for sculpture it is very poor stuff,
as you say."

"It is indeed," said Phidias.  "For practice it's all right to use
butter, but for exhibition purposes--bah!"

Here Phidias, to show his contempt for butter as raw material in
sculpture, seized a wooden toothpick, and with it modelled a beautiful
head of Minerva out of the pat that stood upon the small plate at his
side, and before Burns could interfere had spread the chaste figure as
thinly as he could upon a piece of bread, which he tossed to the shade of
a hungry dog that stood yelping on the river-bank.

"Heavens!" cried Burns.  "Imperious Caesar dead and turned to bricks is
as nothing to a Minerva carved by Phidias used to stay the hunger of a
ravening cur."

"Well, it's the way I feel," said Phidias, savagely.

"I think you are a trifle foolish to be so eternally vexed about it,"
said Homer, soothingly.  "Of course you feel badly, but, after all,
what's the use?  You must know that the mortals would pay more for one of
your statues than they would for a specimen of any modern sculptor's art;
yes, even if yours were modelled in wine-jelly and the other fellow's in
pure gold.  So why repine?"

"You'd feel the same way if poets did a similarly vulgar thing," retorted
Phidias; "you know you would.  If you should hear of a poet to-day
writing a poem on a thin layer of lard or butter, you would yourself be
the first to call a halt."

"No, I shouldn't," said Homer, quietly; "in fact, I wish the poets would
do that.  We'd have fewer bad poems to read; and that's the way you
should look at it.  I venture to say that if this modern plan of making
busts and friezes in butter had been adopted at an earlier period, the
public places in our great cities and our national Walhallas would seem
less like repositories of comic art, since the first critical rays of a
warm sun would have reduced the carven atrocities therein to a spot on
the pavement.  The butter school of sculpture has its advantages, my boy,
and you should be crowning the inventor of the system with laurel, and
not heaping coals of fire upon his brow."

"That," said Burns, "is, after all, the solid truth, Phidias.  Take the
brass caricatures of me, for instance.  Where would they be now if they
had been cast in lard instead of in bronze?"

Phidias was silent a moment.

"Well," he said, finally, as the value of the plan dawned upon his mind,
"from that point of view I don't know but what you are right, after all;
and, to show that I have spoken in no vindictive spirit, let me propose a
toast.  Here's to the Butter Sculptors.  May their butter never give
out."

The toast was drained to the dregs, and Phidias went home feeling a
little better.



CHAPTER X: STORY-TELLERS' NIGHT


It was Story-tellers' Night at the house-boat, and the best talkers of
Hades were impressed into the service.  Doctor Johnson was made chairman
of the evening.

"Put him in the chair," said Raleigh.  "That's the only way to keep him
from telling a story himself.  If he starts in on a tale he'll make it a
serial sure as fate, but if you make him the medium through which other
story-tellers are introduced to the club he'll be finely epigrammatic.  He
can be very short and sharp when he's talking about somebody else.
Personality is his forte."

"Great scheme," said Diogenes, who was chairman of the entertainment
committee.  "The nights over here are long, but if Johnson started on a
story they'd have to reach twice around eternity and halfway back to give
him time to finish all he had to say."

"He's not very witty, in my judgment," said Carlyle, who since his
arrival in the other world has manifested some jealousy of Solomon and
Doctor Johnson.

"That's true enough," said Raleigh; "but he's strong, and he's bound to
say something that will put the audience in sympathy with the man that he
introduces, and that's half the success of a Story-tellers' Night.  I've
told stories myself.  If your audience doesn't sympathize with you you'd
be better off at home putting the baby to bed."

And so it happened.  Doctor Johnson was made chairman, and the evening
came.  The Doctor was in great form.  A list of the story-tellers had
been sent him in advance, and he was prepared.  The audience was about as
select a one as can be found in Hades.  The doors were thrown open to the
friends of the members, and the smoke-furnace had been filled with a very
superior quality of Arcadian mixture which Scott had brought back from a
haunting-trip to the home of "The Little Minister," at Thrums.

"Friends and fellow-spooks," the Doctor began, when all were seated on
the visionary camp-stools--which, by the way, are far superior to those
in use in a world of realities, because they do not creak in the midst of
a fine point demanding absolute silence for appreciation--"I do not know
why I have been chosen to preside over this gathering of phantoms; it is
the province of the presiding officer on occasions of this sort to say
pleasant things, which he does not necessarily endorse, about the sundry
persons who are to do the story-telling.  Now, I suppose you all know me
pretty well by this time.  If there is anybody who doesn't, I'll be glad
to have him presented after the formal work of the evening is over, and
if I don't like him I'll tell him so.  You know that if I can be counted
upon for any one thing it is candor, and if I hurt the feelings of any of
these individuals whom I introduce to-night, I want them distinctly to
understand that it is not because I love them less, but that I love truth
more.  With this--ah--blanket apology, as it were, to cover all possible
emergencies that may arise during the evening, I will begin.  The first
speaker on the programme, I regret to observe, is my friend Goldsmith.
Affairs of this kind ought to begin with a snap, and while Oliver is a
most excellent writer, as a speaker he is a pebbleless Demosthenes.  If I
had had the arrangement of the programme I should have had Goldsmith tell
his story while the rest of us were down-stairs at supper.  However, we
must abide by our programme, which is unconscionably long, for otherwise
we will never get through it.  Those of you who agree with me as to the
pleasure of listening to my friend Goldsmith will do well to join me in
the grill-room while he is speaking, where, I understand, there is a very
fine line of punches ready to be served.  Modest Noll, will you kindly
inflict yourself upon the gathering, and send me word when you get
through, if you ever do, so that I may return and present number two to
the assembly, whoever or whatever he may be?"

With these words the Doctor retired, and poor Goldsmith, pale with fear,
rose up to speak.  It was evident that he was quite as doubtful of his
ability as a talker as was Johnson.

"I'm not much of a talker, or, as some say, speaker," he said.  "Talking
is not my forte, as Doctor Johnson has told you, and I am therefore not
much at it.  Speaking is not in my line.  I cannot speak or talk, as it
were, because I am not particularly ready at the making of a speech, due
partly to the fact that I am not much of a talker anyhow, and seldom if
ever speak.  I will therefore not bore you by attempting to speak, since
a speech by one who like myself is, as you are possibly aware, not a
fluent nor indeed in any sense an eloquent speaker, is apt to be a bore
to those who will be kind enough to listen to my remarks, but will read
instead the first five chapters of the _Vicar of Wakefield_."

"Who suggested any such night as this, anyhow?" growled Carlyle.  "Five
chapters of the _Vicar of Wakefield_ for a starter!  Lord save us, we'll
need a Vicar of Sleepfield if he's allowed to do this!"

"I move we adjourn," said Darwin.

"Can't something be done to keep these younger members quiet?" asked
Solomon, frowning upon Carlyle and Darwin.

"Yes," said Douglas Jerrold.  "Let Goldsmith go on.  He'll have them
asleep in ten minutes."

Meanwhile, Goldsmith was plodding earnestly through his stint, utterly
and happily oblivious of the effect he was having upon his audience.

"This is awful," whispered Wellington to Bonaparte.

"Worse than Waterloo," replied the ex-Emperor, with a grin; "but we can
stop it in a minute.  Artemas Ward told me once how a camp-meeting he
attended in the West broke up to go outside and see a dog-fight.  Can't
you and I pretend to quarrel?  A personal assault by you on me will wake
these people up and discombobulate Goldsmith.  Say the word--only don't
hit too hard."

"I'm with you," said Wellington.  Whereupon, with a great show of heat,
he roared out, "You?  Never!  I'm more afraid of a boy with a
bean-snapper that I ever was of you!" and followed up his remark by
pulling Bonaparte's camp-chair from under him, and letting the conqueror
of Austerlitz fall to the floor with a thud which I have since heard
described as dull and sickening.

The effect was instantaneous.  Compared to a personal encounter between
the two great figures of Waterloo, a reading from his own works by
Goldsmith seemed lacking in the elements essential to the holding of an
audience.  Consequently, attention was centred in the belligerent
warriors, and, by some odd mistake, when a peace-loving member of the
assemblage, realizing the indecorousness of the incident, cried out, "Put
him out! put him out!" the attendants rushed in, and, taking poor
Goldsmith by his collar, hustled him out through the door, across the
deck, and tossed him ashore without reference to the gang-plank.  This
accomplished, a personal explanation of their course was made by the
quarrelling generals, and, peace having been restored, a committee was
sent in search of Goldsmith with suitable apologies.  The good and kindly
soul returned, but having lost his book in the melee, much to his own
gratification, as well as to that of the audience, he was permitted to
rest in quiet the balance of the evening.

"Is he through?" said Johnson, poking his head in at the door when order
was restored.

"Yes, sir," said Boswell; "that is to say, he has retired permanently
from the field.  He didn't finish, though."

"Fellow-spooks," began Johnson once more, "now that you have been
delighted with the honeyed eloquence of the last speaker, it is my
privilege to present to you that eminent fabulist Baron Munchausen, the
greatest unrealist of all time, who will give you an exhibition of his
paradoxical power of lying while standing."

The applause which greeted the Baron was deafening.  He was, beyond all
doubt, one of the most popular members of the club.

"Speaking of whales," said he, leaning gracefully against the table.

"Nobody has mentioned 'em," said Johnson.

"True," retorted the Baron; "but you always suggest them by your
apparently unquenchable thirst for spouting--speaking of whales, my
friend Jonah, as well as the rest of you, may be interested to know that
I once had an experience similar to his own, and, strange to say, with
the identical whale."

Jonah arose from his seat in the back of the room.  "I do not wish to be
unpleasant," he said, with a strong effort to be calm, "but I wish to ask
if Judge Blackstone is in the room."

"I am," said the Judge, rising.  "What can I do for you?"

"I desire to apply for an injunction restraining the Baron from using my
whale in his story.  That whale, your honor, is copyrighted," said Jonah.
"If I had any other claim to the affection of mankind than the one which
is based on my experience with that leviathan, I would willingly permit
the Baron to introduce him into his story; but that whale, your honor, is
my stock in trade--he is my all."

"I think Jonah's point is well taken," said Blackstone, turning to the
Baron.  "It would be a distinct hardship, I think, if the plaintiff in
this action were to be deprived of the exclusive use of his sole
accessory.  The injunction prayed for is therefore granted.  The court
would suggest, however, that the Baron continue with his story, using
another whale for the purpose."

"It is impossible," said Munchausen, gloomily.  "The whole point of the
story depends upon its having been Jonah's whale.  Under the
circumstances, the only thing I can do is to sit down.  I regret the
narrowness of mind exhibited by my friend Jonah, but I must respect the
decision of the court."

"I must take exception to the Baron's allusion to my narrowness of mind,"
said Jonah, with some show of heat.  "I am simply defending my rights,
and I intend to continue to do so if the whole world unites in
considering my mind a mere slot scarcely wide enough for the insertion of
a nickel.  That whale was my discovery, and the personal discomfort I
endured in perfecting my experience was such that I resolved to rest my
reputation upon his broad proportions only--to sink or swim with him--and
I cannot at this late day permit another to crowd me out of his exclusive
use."

Jonah sat down and fanned himself, and the Baron, with a look of disgust
on his face, left the room.

"Up to his old tricks," he growled as he went.  "He queers everything he
goes into.  If I'd known he was a member of this club I'd never have
joined."

"We do not appear to be progressing very rapidly," said Doctor Johnson,
rising.  "So far we have made two efforts to have stories told, and have
met with disaster each time.  I don't know but what you are to be
congratulated, however, on your escape.  Very few of you, I observe, have
as yet fallen asleep.  The next number on the programme, I see, is
Boswell, who was to have entertained you with a few reminiscences; I say
was to have done so, because he is not to do so."

"I'm ready," said Boswell, rising.

"No doubt," retorted Johnson, severely, "but I am not.  You are a man
with one subject--myself.  I admit it's a good subject, but you are not
the man to treat of it--here.  You may suffice for mortals, but here it
is different.  I can speak for myself.  You can go out and sit on the
banks of the Vitriol Reservoir and lecture to the imps if you want to,
but when it comes to reminiscences of me I'm on deck myself, and I
flatter myself I remember what I said and did more accurately than you
do.  Therefore, gentlemen, instead of listening to Boswell at this point,
you will kindly excuse him and listen to me.  Ahem!  When I was a boy--"

"Excuse me," said Solomon, rising; "about how long is this--ah--this
entertaining discourse of yours to continue?"

"Until I get through," returned Johnson, wrathfully.

"Are you aware, sir, that I am on the programme?" asked Solomon.

"I am," said the Doctor.  "With that in mind, for the sake of our fellow-
spooks who are present, I am very much inclined to keep on forever.  When
I was a boy--"

Carlyle rose up at this point.

"I should like to ask," he said, mildly, "if this is supposed to be an
audience of children?  I, for one, have no wish to listen to the juvenile
stories of Doctor Johnson.  Furthermore, I have come here particularly to-
night to hear Boswell.  I want to compare him with Froude.  I therefore
protest against--"

"There is a roof to this house-boat," said Doctor Johnson.  "If Mr.
Carlyle will retire to the roof with Boswell I have no doubt he can be
accommodated.  As for Solomon's interruption, I can afford to pass that
over with the silent contempt it deserves, though I may add with
propriety that I consider his most famous proverbs the most absurd bits
of hack-work I ever encountered; and as for that story about dividing a
baby between two mothers by splitting it in two, it was grossly inhuman
unless the baby was twins.  When I was a boy--"

As the Doctor proceeded, Carlyle and Solomon, accompanied by the now
angry Boswell, left the room, and my account of the Story-tellers' Night
must perforce stop; because, though I have never heretofore confessed it,
all my information concerning the house-boat on the Styx has been derived
from the memoranda of Boswell.  It may be interesting to the reader to
learn, however, that, according to Boswell's account, the Story-tellers'
Night was never finished; but whether this means that it broke up
immediately afterwards in a riot, or that Doctor Johnson is still at work
detailing his reminiscences, I am not aware, and I cannot at the moment
of writing ascertain, for Boswell, when I have the pleasure of meeting
him, invariably avoids the subject.



CHAPTER XI: AS TO SAURIANS AND OTHERS


It was Noah who spoke.

"I'm glad," he said, "that when I embarked at the time of the heavy rains
that did so much damage in the old days, there weren't any dogs like that
fellow Cerberus about.  If I'd had to feed a lot of three-headed beasts
like him the Ark would have run short of provisions inside of ten days."

"That's very likely true," observed Mr. Barnum; "but I must confess, my
dear Noah, that you showed a lamentable lack of the showman's instinct
when you selected the animals you did.  A more commonplace lot of beasts
were never gathered together, and while Adam is held responsible for the
introduction of sin into the world, I attribute most of my offences to
none other than yourself."

The members of the club drew their chairs a little closer.  The
conversation had opened a trifle spicily, and, furthermore, they had
retained enough of their mortality to be interested in animal stories.
Adam, who had managed to settle his back dues and delinquent
house-charges, and once more acquired the privileges of the club, nodded
his head gratefully at Mr. Barnum.

"I'm glad to find some one," said he, "who places the responsibility for
trouble where it belongs.  I'm round-shouldered with the blame I've had
to bear.  I didn't invent sin any more than I invented the telephone, and
I think it's rather rough on a fellow who lived a quiet, retiring,
pastoral life, minding his own business and staying home nights, to be
held up to public reprobation for as long a time as I have."

"It'll be all right in time," said Raleigh; "just wait--be patient, and
your vindication will come.  Nobody thought much of the plays Bacon and I
wrote for Shakespeare until Shakespeare 'd been dead a century."

"Humph!" said Adam, gloomily.  "Wait!  What have I been doing all this
time?  I've waited all the time there's been so far, and until Mr. Barnum
spoke as he did I haven't observed the slightest inclination on the part
of anybody to rehabilitate my lost reputation.  Nor do I see exactly how
it's to come about even if I do wait."

"You might apply for an investigating committee to look into the
charges," suggested an American politician, just over.  "Get your friends
on it, and you'll be all right."

"Better let sleeping dogs lie," said Blackstone.

"I intend to," said Adam.  "The fact is, I hate to give any further
publicity to the matter.  Even if I did bring the case into court and sue
for libel, I've only got one witness to prove my innocence, and that's my
wife.  I'm not going to drag her into it.  She's got nervous prostration
over her position as it is, and this would make it worse.  Queen
Elizabeth and the rest of these snobs in society won't invite her to any
of their functions because they say she hadn't any grandfather; and even
if she were received by them, she'd be uncomfortable going about.  It
isn't pleasant for a woman to feel that every one knows she's the oldest
woman in the room."

"Well, take my word for it," said Raleigh, kindly.  "It'll all come out
all right.  You know the old saying, 'History repeats itself.'  Some day
you will be living back in Eden again, and if you are only careful to
make an exact record of all you do, and have a notary present, before
whom you can make an affidavit as to the facts, you will be able to
demonstrate your innocence."

"I was only condemned on hearsay evidence, anyhow," said Adam, ruefully.

"Nonsense; you were caught red-handed," said Noah; "my grandfather told
me so.  And now that I've got a chance to slip in a word edgewise, I'd
like mightily to have you explain your statement, Mr. Barnum, that I am
responsible for your errors.  That is a serious charge to bring against a
man of my reputation."

"I mean simply this: that to make a show interesting," said Mr. Barnum,
"a man has got to provide interesting materials, that's all.  I do not
mean to say a word that is in any way derogatory to your morality.  You
were a surprisingly good man for a sea-captain, and with the exception of
that one occasion when you--ah--you allowed yourself to be stranded on
the bar, if I may so put it, I know of nothing to be said against you as
a moral, temperate person."

"That was only an accident," said Noah, reddening.  "You can't expect a
man six hundred odd years of age--"

"Certainly not," said Raleigh, soothingly, "and nobody thinks less of you
for it.  Considering how you must have hated the sight of water, the
wonder of it is that it didn't become a fixed habit.  Let us hear what it
is that Mr. Barnum does criticise in you."

"His taste, that's all," said Mr. Barnum.  "I contend that, compared to
the animals he might have had, the ones he did have were as ant-hills to
Alps.  There were more magnificent zoos allowed to die out through Noah's
lack of judgment than one likes to think of.  Take the Proterosaurus, for
instance.  Where on earth do we find his equal to-day?"

"You ought to be mighty glad you can't find one like him," put in Adam.
"If you'd spent a week in the Garden of Eden with me, with lizards eight
feet long dropping out of the trees on to your lap while you were trying
to take a Sunday-afternoon nap, you'd be willing to dispense with things
of that sort for the balance of your natural life.  If you want to get an
idea of that experience let somebody drop a calf on you some afternoon."

"I am not saying anything about that," returned Barnum.  "It would be
unpleasant to have an elephant drop on one after the fashion of which you
speak, but I am glad the elephant was saved just the same.  I haven't
advocated the Proterosaurus as a Sunday-afternoon surprise, but as an
attraction for a show.  I still maintain that a lizard as big as a cow
would prove a lodestone, the drawing powers of which the pocket-money of
the small boy would be utterly unable to resist.  Then there was the
Iguanadon.  He'd have brought a fortune to the box-office--"

"Which you'd have immediately lost," retorted Noah, "paying rent.  When
you get a reptile of his size, that reaches thirty feet up into the air
when he stands on his hind-legs, the ordinary circus wagon of commerce
can't be made to hold him, and your menagerie-room has to have ceilings
so high that every penny he brought to the box-office would be spent
storing him."

"Mischievous, too," said Adam, "that Iguanadon.  You couldn't keep
anything out of his reach.  We used to forbid animals of his kind to
enter the garden, but that didn't bother him; he'd stand up on his hind-
legs and reach over and steal anything he'd happen to want."

"I could have used him for a fire-escape," said Mr. Barnum; "and as for
my inability to provide him with quarters, I'd have met that problem
after a short while.  I've always lamented the absence, too, of the
Megalosaurus--"

"Which simply shows how ignorant you are," retorted Noah.  "Why, my dear
fellow, it would have taken the whole of an ordinary zoo such as yours to
give the Megalosaurus a lunch.  Those fellows would eat a rhinoceros as
easily as you'd crack a peanut.  I did have a couple of Megalosaurians on
my boat for just twenty-four hours, and then I chucked them both
overboard.  If I'd kept them ten days longer they'd have eaten every
blessed beast I had with me, and your Zoo wouldn't have had anything else
but Megalosaurians."

"Papa is right about that, Mr. Barnum," said Shem.  "The whole Saurian
tribe was a fearful nuisance.  About four hundred years before the flood
I had a pet Creosaurus that I kept in our barn.  He was a cunning little
devil--full of tricks, and all that; but we never could keep a cow or a
horse on the place while he was about.  They'd mysteriously disappear,
and we never knew what became of 'em until one morning we surprised Fido
in--"

"Surprised who?" asked Doctor Johnson, scornfully.

"Fido," returned Shem.  "'That was my Creosaurus's name."

"Lord save us!  Fido!" cried Johnson.  "What a name for a Creosaurus!"

"Well, what of it?" asked Shem, angrily.  "You wouldn't have us call a
mastodon like that Fanny, would you, or Tatters?"

"Go on," said Johnson; "I've nothing to say."

"Shall I send for a physician?" put in Boswell, looking anxiously at his
chief, the situation was so extraordinary.

Solomon and Carlyle giggled; and the Doctor having politely requested
Boswell to go to a warmer section of the country, Shem resumed.

"I caught him in the act of swallowing five cows and Ham's favorite
trotter, sulky and all."

Baron Munchausen rose up and left the room.

"If they're going to lie I'm going to get out," he said, as he passed
through the room.

"What became of Fido?" asked Boswell.

"The sulky killed him," returned Shem, innocently.  "He couldn't digest
the wheels."

Noah looked approvingly at his son, and, turning to Barnum, observed,
quietly:

"What he says is true, and I will go further and say that it is my belief
that you would have found the show business impossible if I had taken
that sort of creature aboard.  You'd have got mightily discouraged after
your Antediluvians had chewed up a few dozen steam calliopes, and eaten
every other able-bodied exhibit you had managed to secure.  I'd have
tried to save a couple of Discosaurians if I hadn't supposed they were
able to take care of themselves.  A combination of sea-serpent and
dragon, with a neck twenty-two feet long, it seemed to me, ought to have
been able to ride out any storm or fall of rain; but there I was wrong,
and I am free to admit my error.  It never occurred to me that the sea-
serpents were in any danger, so I let them alone, with the result that I
never saw but one other, and he was only an illusion due to that unhappy
use of stimulants to which, with shocking bad taste, you have chosen to
refer."

"I didn't mean to call up unpleasant memories," said Barnum.  "I never
believed you got half-seas over, anyhow; but, to return to our muttons,
why didn't you hand down a few varieties of the Therium family to
posterity?  There were the Dinotherium and the Megatherium, either one of
which would have knocked spots out of any leopard that ever was made, and
along side of which even my woolly horse would have paled into
insignificance.  That's what I can't understand in your selections; with
Megatheriums to burn, why save leopards and panthers and other such every-
day creatures?"

"What kind of a boat do you suppose I had?" cried Noah.  "Do you imagine
for a moment that she was four miles on the water-line, with a mile and
three-quarters beam?  If I'd had a pair of Dinotheriums in the stern of
that Ark, she'd have tipped up fore and aft, until she'd have looked like
a telegraph-pole in the water, and if I'd put 'em amidships they'd have
had to be wedged in so tightly they couldn't move to keep the vessel
trim.  I didn't go to sea, my friend, for the purpose of being tipped
over in mid-ocean every time one of my cargo wanted to shift his weight
from one leg to the other."

"It was bad enough with the elephants, wasn't it, papa?" said Shem.

"Yes, indeed, my son," returned the patriarch.  "It was bad enough with
the elephants.  We had to shift our ballast half a dozen times a day to
keep the boat from travelling on her beam ends, the elephants moved about
so much; and when we came to the question of provender, it took up about
nine-tenths of our hold to store hay and peanuts enough to keep them
alive and good-tempered.  On the whole, I think it's rather late in the
day, considering the trouble I took to save anything but myself and my
family, to be criticised as I now am.  You ought to be much obliged to me
for saving any animals at all.  Most people in my position would have
built a yacht for themselves and family, and let everything else slide."

"That is quite true," observed Raleigh, with a pacificatory nod at Noah.
"You were eminently unselfish, and while, with Mr. Barnum, I exceedingly
regret that the Saurians and Therii and other tribes were left on the
pier when you sailed, I nevertheless think that you showed most excellent
judgment at the time."

"He was the only man who had any at all, for that matter," suggested
Shem, "and it required all his courage to show it.  Everybody was guying
him.  Sinners stood around the yard all day and every day, criticising
the model; one scoffer pretended he thought her a canal-boat, and asked
how deep the flood was likely to be on the tow-path, and whether we
intended to use mules in shallow water and giraffes in deep; another
asked what time allowance we expected to get in a fifteen-mile run, and
hinted that a year and two months per mile struck him as being the proper
thing--"

"It was far from pleasant," said Noah, tapping his fingers together
reflectively.  "I don't want to go through it again, and if, as Raleigh
suggests, history is likely to repeat herself, I'll sublet the contract
to Barnum here, and let him get the chaff."

"It was all right in the end, though, dad," said Shem.  "We had the great
laugh on 'hoi polloi' the second day out."

"We did, indeed," said Noah.  "When we told 'em we only carried first-
class passengers and had no room for emigrants, they began to see that
the Ark wasn't such an old tub, after all; and a good ninety per cent. of
them would have given ten dollars for a little of that time allowance
they'd been talking to us about for several centuries."

Noah lapsed into a musing silence, and Barnum rose to leave.

"I still wish you'd saved a Discosaurus," he said.  "A creature with a
neck twenty-two feet long would have been a gold mine to me.  He could
have been trained to stand in the ring, and by stretching out his neck
bite the little boys who sneak in under the tent and occupy seats on the
top row."

"Well, for your sake," said Noah, with a smile, "I'm very sorry; but for
my own, I'm quite satisfied with the general results."

And they all agreed that the patriarch had every reason to be pleased
with himself.



CHAPTER XII: THE HOUSE-BOAT DISAPPEARS


Queen Elizabeth, attended by Ophelia and Xanthippe, was walking along the
river-bank.  It was a beautiful autumn day, although, owing to certain
climatic peculiarities of Hades, it seemed more like midsummer.  The
mercury in the club thermometer was nervously clicking against the top of
the crystal tube, and poor Cerberus was having all he could do with his
three mouths snapping up the pestiferous little shades of by-gone gnats
that seemed to take an almost unholy pleasure in alighting upon his
various noses and ears.

Ophelia was doing most of the talking.

"I am sure I have never wished to ride one of them," she said,
positively.  "In the first place, I do not see where the pleasure of it
comes in, and, in the second, it seems to me as if skirts must be
dangerous.  If they should catch in one of the pedals, where would I be?"

"In the hospital shortly, methinks," said Queen Elizabeth.

"Well, I shouldn't wear skirts," snapped Xanthippe.  "If a man's wife
can't borrow some of her husband's clothing to reduce her peril to a
minimum, what is the use of having a husband?  When I take to the
bicycle, which, in spite of all Socrates can say, I fully intend to do, I
shall have a man's wheel, and I shall wear Socrates' old dress-clothes.
If Hades doesn't like it, Hades may suffer."

"I don't see how Socrates' clothes will help you," observed Ophelia.  "He
wore skirts himself, just like all the other old Greeks.  His toga would
be quite as apt to catch in the gear as your skirts."

Xanthippe looked puzzled for a moment.  It was evident that she had not
thought of the point which Ophelia had brought up--strong-minded ladies
of her kind are apt sometimes to overlook important links in such chains
of evidence as they feel called upon to use in binding themselves to
their rights.

"The women of your day were relieved of that dress problem, at any rate,"
laughed Queen Elizabeth.

"The women of my day," retorted Xanthippe, "in matters of dress were the
equals of their husbands--in my family particularly; now they have lost
their rights, and are made to confine themselves still to garments like
those of yore, while man has arrogated to himself the sole and exclusive
use of sane habiliments.  However, that is apart from the question.  I
was saying that I shall have a man's wheel, and shall wear Socrates' old
dress-clothes to ride it in, if Socrates has to go out and buy an old
dress-suit for the purpose."

The Queen arched her brows and looked inquiringly at Xanthippe for a
moment.

"A magnificent old maid was lost to the world when you married," she
said.  "Feeling as you do about men, my dear Xanthippe, I don't see why
you ever took a husband."

"Humph!" retorted Xanthippe.  "Of course you don't.  You didn't need a
husband.  You were born with something to govern.  I wasn't."

"How about your temper?" suggested Ophelia, meekly.

Xanthippe sniffed frigidly at this remark.

"I never should have gone crazy over a man if I'd remained unmarried
forty thousand years," she retorted, severely.  "I married Socrates
because I loved him and admired his sculpture; but when he gave up
sculpture and became a thinker he simply tried me beyond all endurance,
he was so thoughtless, with the result that, having ventured once or
twice to show my natural resentment, I have been handed down to posterity
as a shrew.  I've never complained, and I don't complain now; but when a
woman is married to a philosopher who is so taken up with his studies
that when he rises in the morning he doesn't look what he is doing, and
goes off to his business in his wife's clothes, I think she is entitled
to a certain amount of sympathy."

"And yet you wish to wear his," persisted Ophelia.

"Turn about is fair-play," said Xanthippe.  "I've suffered so much on his
account that on the principle of averages he deserves to have a little
drop of bitters in his nectar."

"You are simply the victim of man's deceit," said Elizabeth, wishing to
mollify the now angry Xanthippe, who was on the verge of tears.  "I
understood men, fortunately, and so never married.  I knew my father, and
even if I hadn't been a wise enough child to know him, I should not have
wed, because he married enough to last one family for several years."

"You must have had a hard time refusing all those lovely men, though,"
sighed Ophelia.  "Of course, Sir Walter wasn't as handsome as my dear
Hamlet, but he was very fetching."

"I cannot deny that," said Elizabeth, "and I didn't really have the heart
to say no when he asked me; but I did tell him that if he married me I
should not become Mrs. Raleigh, but that he should become King Elizabeth.
He fled to Virginia on the next steamer.  My diplomacy rid me of a very
unpleasant duty."

Chatting thus, the three famous spirits passed slowly along the path
until they came to the sheltered nook in which the house-boat lay at
anchor.

"There's a case in point," said Xanthippe, as the house-boat loomed up
before them.  "All that luxury is for men; we women are not permitted to
cross the gangplank.  Our husbands and brothers and friends go there; the
door closes on them, and they are as completely lost to us as though they
never existed.  We don't know what goes on in there.  Socrates tells me
that their amusements are of a most innocent nature, but how do I know
what he means by that?  Furthermore, it keeps him from home, while I have
to stay at home and be entertained by my sons, whom the Encyclopaedia
Britannica rightly calls dull and fatuous.  In other words, club life for
him, and dulness and fatuity for me."

"I think myself they're rather queer about letting women into that boat,"
said Queen Elizabeth.  "But it isn't Sir Walter's fault.  He told me he
tried to have them establish a Ladies' Day, and that they agreed to do
so, but have since resisted all his efforts to have a date set for the
function."

"It would be great fun to steal in there now, wouldn't it," giggled
Ophelia.  "There doesn't seem to be anybody about to prevent our doing
so."

"That's true," said Xanthippe.  "All the windows are closed, as if there
wasn't a soul there.  I've half a mind to take a peep in at the house."

"I am with you," said Elizabeth, her face lighting up with pleasure.  It
was a great novelty, and an unpleasant one to her, to find some place
where she could not go.  "Let's do it," she added.

So the three women tiptoed softly up the gang-plank, and, silently
boarding the house-boat, peeped in at the windows.  What they saw merely
whetted their curiosity.

"I must see more," cried Elizabeth, rushing around to the door, which
opened at her touch.  Xanthippe and Ophelia followed close on her heels,
and shortly they found themselves, open-mouthed in wondering admiration,
in the billiard-room of the floating palace, and Richard, the ghost of
the best billiard-room attendant in or out of Hades, stood before them.

"Excuse me," he said, very much upset by the sudden apparition of the
ladies.  "I'm very sorry, but ladies are not admitted here."

"We are equally sorry," retorted Elizabeth, assuming her most imperious
manner, "that your masters have seen fit to prohibit our being here; but,
now that we are here, we intend to make the most of the opportunity,
particularly as there seem to be no members about.  What has become of
them all?"

Richard smiled broadly.  "I don't know where they are," he replied; but
it was evident that he was not telling the exact truth.

"Oh, come, my boy," said the Queen, kindly, "you do know.  Sir Walter
told me you knew everything.  Where are they?"

"Well, if you must know, ma'am," returned Richard, captivated by the
Queen's manner, "they've all gone down the river to see a prize-fight
between Goliath and Samson."

"See there!" cried Xanthippe.  "That's what this club makes possible.
Socrates told me he was coming here to take luncheon with Carlyle, and
they've both of 'em gone off to a disgusting prize-fight!"

"Yes, ma'am, they have," said Richard; "and if Goliath wins, I don't
think Mr. Socrates will get home this evening."

"Betting, eh?" said Xanthippe, scornfully.

"Yes, ma'am," returned Richard.

"More club!" cried Xanthippe.

"Oh no, ma'am," said Richard.  "Betting is not allowed in the club;
they're very strict about that.  But the shore is only ten feet off,
ma'am, and the gentlemen always go ashore and make their bets."

During this little colloquy Elizabeth and Ophelia were wandering about,
admiring everything they saw.

"I do wish Lucretia Borgia and Calpurnia could see this.  I wonder if the
Caesars are on the telephone," Elizabeth said.  Investigation showed that
both the Borgias and the Caesars were on the wire, and in short order the
two ladies had been made acquainted with the state of affairs at the
house-boat; and as they were both quite as anxious to see the interior of
the much-talked-of club-house as the others, they were not long in
arriving.  Furthermore, they brought with them half a dozen more ladies,
among whom were Desdemona and Cleopatra, and then began the most
extraordinary session the house-boat ever knew.  A meeting was called,
with Elizabeth in the chair, and all the best ladies of the Stygian
realms were elected members.  Xanthippe, amid the greatest applause,
moved that every male member of the organization be expelled for conduct
unworthy of a gentleman in attending a prize-fight, and encouraging two
such horrible creatures as Goliath and Samson in their nefarious
pursuits.  Desdemona seconded the motion, and it was carried without a
dissenting voice, although Mrs. Caesar, with becoming dignity, merely
smiled approval, not caring to take part too actively in the proceedings.

The men having thus been disposed of in a summary fashion, Richard was
elected Janitor in Charon's place, and the club was entirely reorganized,
with Cleopatra as permanent President.  The meeting then adjourned, and
the invaders set about enjoying their newly acquired privileges.  The
smoking-room was thronged for a few moments, but owing to the
extraordinary strength of the tobacco which the faithful Richard
shovelled into the furnace, it developed no enduring popularity,
Xanthippe, with a suddenly acquired pallor, being the first to renounce
the pastime as revolting.

So fast and furious was the enjoyment of these thirsty souls, so long
deprived of their rights, that night came on without their observing it,
and with the night was brought the great peril into which they were
thrown, and from which at the moment of writing they had not been
extricated, and which, to my regret, has cut me off for the present from
any further information connected with the Associated Shades and their
beautiful lounging-place.  Had they not been so intent upon the inner
beauties of the House-boat on the Styx they might have observed
approaching, under the shadow of the westerly shore, a long, rakish craft
propelled by oars, which dipped softly and silently and with trained
precision in the now jet-black waters of the Styx.  Manning the oars were
a dozen evil-visaged ruffians, while in the stern of the approaching
vessel there sat a grim-faced, weather-beaten spirit, armed to the teeth,
his coat sleeves bearing the skull and cross-bones, the insignia of
piracy.

This boat, stealing up the river like a thief in the night, contained
Captain Kidd and his pirate crew, and their mission was a mission of
vengeance.  To put the matter briefly and plainly, Captain Kidd was
smarting under the indignity which the club had recently put upon him.  He
had been unanimously blackballed, even his proposer and seconder, who had
been browbeaten into nominating him for membership, voting against him.

"I may be a pirate," he cried, when he heard what the club had done, "but
I have feelings, and the Associated Shades will repent their action.  The
time will come when they'll find that I have their club-house, and they
have--its debts."

It was for this purpose that the great terror of the seas had come upon
this, the first favorable opportunity.  Kidd knew that the house-boat was
unguarded; his spies had told him that the members had every one gone to
the fight, and he resolved that the time had come to act.  He did not
know that the Fates had helped to make his vengeance all the more
terrible and withering by putting the most attractive and fashionable
ladies of the Stygian country likewise in his power; but so it was, and
they, poor souls, while this fiend, relentless and cruel, was slowly
approaching, sang on and danced on in blissful unconsciousness of their
peril.

In less than five minutes from the time when his sinister-craft rounded
the bend Kidd and his crew had boarded the house-boat, cut her loose from
her moorings, and in ten minutes she had sailed away into the great
unknown, and with her went some of the most precious gems in the social
diadem of Hades.

The rest of my story is soon told.  The whole country was aroused when
the crime was discovered, but up to the date of this narrative no word
has been received of the missing craft and her precious cargo.  Raleigh
and Caesar have had the seas scoured in search of her, Hamlet has offered
his kingdom for her return, but unavailingly; and the men of Hades were
cast into a gloom from which there seems to be no relief.

Socrates alone was unaffected.

"They'll come back some day, my dear Raleigh," he said, as the knight
buried his face, weeping, in his hands.  "So why repine?  I'll never lose
my Xanthippe--permanently, that is.  I know that, for I am a philosopher,
and I know there is no such thing as luck.  And we can start another
club."

"Very likely," sighed Raleigh, wiping his eyes.  "I don't mind the club
so much, but to think of those poor women--"

"Oh, they're all right," returned Socrates, with a laugh.  "Caesar's wife
is along, and you can't dispute the fact that she's a good chaperon.  Give
the ladies a chance.  They've been after our club for years; now let 'em
have it, and let us hope that they like it.  Order me up a hemlock sour,
and let's drink to their enjoyment of club life."

Which was done, and I, in spirit, drank with them, for I sincerely hope
that the "New Women" of Hades are having a good time.





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