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Title: Coffee and Repartee
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 "Coffee and Repartee" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: "'ARE YOU RELATED TO GOVERNOR McKINLEY?'"]



                           COFFEE AND REPARTEE

                                   BY

                           JOHN KENDRICK BANGS

                               ILLUSTRATED

                           NEW YORK AND LONDON
                       HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS

                                  1899



                  Harper's "Black and White" Series.

                Illustrated. 32mo, Cloth, 50 cents each.

In the Vestibule Limited.               Lowell. By G. W. Curtis.
    By Brander Matthews.
                                        George William Curtis. By
This Picture and That. A                    John White Chadwick.
    Comedy. By Brander Matthews.
                                        Slavery and the Slave Trade
The Decision of the Court.                  in Africa. By Henry M.
    A Comedy. By Brander Matthews.          Stanley.

A Family Canoe Trip. By                 Whittier: Notes of His Life
    Florence W. Snedeker.                   and of His Friendships. By
                                            Annie Fields.
Three Weeks in Politics. By
    John Kendrick Bangs.                The Japanese Bride. By
                                            Naomi Tamura.
Coffee and Repartee. By
    John Kendrick Bangs.                Giles Corey, Yeoman. By
                                            Mary E. Wilkins.
Travels in America 100 Years
    Ago. By Thomas Twining.             Seen From the Saddle. By
                                            Isa Carrington Cabell.
The Work of Washington
    Irving. By Charles Dudley           BY W. D. HOWELLS.
    Warner.
                                        Farces: A Letter of Introduction.--The
Edwin Booth. By Laurence                  Albany Depot.--The Garroters.--Five
    Hutton.                               O'Clock Tea.--The Mouse-trap.--A
                                          Likely Story.--Evening Dress.--The
Phillips Brooks. By Rev.                  Unexpected Guests.
    Arthur Brooks, D.D.
                                        A Little Swiss Sojourn.
The Rivals. By François
    Coppée.                             My Year in a Log Cabin.

               PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.



Copyright, 1893, by Harper & Brothers.

_All rights reserved._



TO F. S. M.



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                      PAGE

"'Are you related to Governor McKinley?'"                   _Frontispiece_

"Alarmed the cook"                                                       5

"'What are the first symptoms of insanity?'"                            13

"'Reading Webster's Dictionary'"                                        17

"'I stuck to the pigs'"                                                 23

The conspirators                                                        25

"'Weren't your ears long enough?'"                                      33

"'The corks popped to some purpose last night'"                         37

"'If you could spare so little as one flame'"                           43

The school-master as a cooler                                           47

"'Reading the Sunday newspapers'"                                       51

Bobbo                                                                   55

Wooing the Muse                                                         67

"'He gave up jokes'"                                                    71

"'A little garden of my own, where I could raise an
  occasional can of tomatoes'"                                          75

"'A hind-quarter of lamb gambolling about its native heath'"            77

"'The gladsome click of the lawn-mower'"                                80

"'You don't mean to say that you write for the papers?'"                85

"'We wooed the self-same maid'"                                         87

Curing insomnia                                                         91

"Holding his plate up to the light"                                     97

"'I believe you'd blow out the gas in your bed-room'"                  101

"'His fairy stories were told him in words of ten syllables'"          105

"'I thought my father a mean-spirited assassin'"                       109

"'Mrs. S. brought him to the point of proposing'"                      115

"'Hoorah!' cried the Idiot, grasping Mr. Pedagog by the hand"          119



[Illustration: Coffee and Repartee]



I


The guests at Mrs. Smithers's high-class boarding-house for gentlemen
had assembled as usual for breakfast, and in a few moments Mary, the
dainty waitress, entered with the steaming coffee, the mush, and the
rolls.

The School-master, who, by-the-way, was suspected by Mrs. Smithers of
having intentions, and who for that reason occupied the chair nearest
the lady's heart, folded up the morning paper, and placing it under him
so that no one else could get it, observed, quite genially for him, "It
was very wet yesterday."

"I didn't find it so," observed a young man seated half-way down the
table, who was by common consent called the Idiot, because of his
"views." "In fact, I was very dry. Curious thing, I'm always dry on
rainy days. I am one of the kind of men who know that it is the part of
wisdom to stay in when it rains, or to carry an umbrella when it is not
possible to stay at home, or, having no home, like ourselves, to remain
cooped up in stalls, or stalled up in coops, as you may prefer."

"You carried an umbrella, then?" queried the landlady, ignoring the
Idiot's shaft at the size of her "elegant and airy apartments" with an
ease born of experience.

"Yes, madame," returned the Idiot, quite unconscious of what was coming.

"Whose?" queried the lady, a sarcastic smile playing about her lips.

"That I cannot say, Mrs. Smithers," replied the Idiot, serenely, "but it
is the one you usually carry."

"Your insinuation, sir," said the School-master, coming to the
landlady's rescue, "is an unworthy one. The umbrella in question is
mine. It has been in my possession for five years."

"Then," replied the Idiot, unabashed, "it is time you returned it. Don't
you think men's morals are rather lax in this matter of umbrellas, Mr.
Whitechoker?" he added, turning from the School-master, who began to
show signs of irritation.

"Very," said the Minister, running his finger about his neck to make the
collar which had been sent home from the laundry by mistake set more
easily--"very lax. At the last Conference I attended, some person,
forgetting his high office as a minister in the Church, walked off with
my umbrella without so much as a thank you; and it was embarrassing too,
because the rain was coming down in bucketfuls."

"What did you do?" asked the landlady, sympathetically. She liked Mr.
Whitechoker's sermons, and, beyond this, he was a more profitable
boarder than any of the others, remaining home to luncheon every day and
having to pay extra therefor.

"There was but one thing left for me to do. I took the bishop's
umbrella," said Mr. Whitechoker, blushing slightly.

"But you returned it, of course?" said the Idiot.

"I intended to, but I left it on the train on my way back home the next
day," replied the clergyman, visibly embarrassed by the Idiot's
unexpected cross-examination.

"It's the same way with books," put in the Bibliomaniac, an unfortunate
being whose love of rare first editions had brought him down from
affluence to boarding. "Many a man who wouldn't steal a dollar would run
off with a book. I had a friend once who had a rare copy of _Through
Africa by Daylight_. It was a beautiful book. Only twenty-five copies
printed. The margins of the pages were four inches wide, and the
title-page was rubricated; the frontispiece was colored by hand, and the
seventeenth page had one of the most amusing typographical errors on
it--"

"Was there any reading-matter in the book?" queried the Idiot, blowing
softly on a hot potato that was nicely balanced on the end of his fork.

[Illustration: "ALARMED THE COOK"]

"Yes, a little; but it didn't amount to much," returned the
Bibliomaniac. "But, you know, it isn't as reading-matter that men like
myself care for books. We have a higher notion than that. It is as a
specimen of book-making that we admire a chaste bit of literature like
_Through Africa by Daylight_. But, as I was saying, my friend had this
book, and he'd extra-illustrated it. He had pictures from all parts of
the world in it, and the book had grown from a volume of one hundred
pages to four volumes of two hundred pages each."

"And it was stolen by a highly honorable friend, I suppose?" queried the
Idiot.

"Yes, it was stolen--and my friend never knew by whom," said the
Bibliomaniac.

"What?" asked the Idiot, in much surprise. "Did you never confess?"

It was very fortunate for the Idiot that the buckwheat cakes were
brought on at this moment. Had there not been some diversion of that
kind, it is certain that the Bibliomaniac would have assaulted him.

"It is very kind of Mrs. Smithers, I think," said the School-master, "to
provide us with such delightful cakes as these free of charge."

"Yes," said the Idiot, helping himself to six cakes. "Very kind indeed,
although I must say they are extremely economical from an architectural
point of view--which is to say, they are rather fuller of pores than of
buckwheat. I wonder why it is," he continued, possibly to avert the
landlady's retaliatory comments--"I wonder why it is that porous
plasters and buckwheat cakes are so similar in appearance?"

"And so widely different in their respective effects on the system," put
in a genial old gentleman who occasionally imbibed, seated next to the
Idiot.

"I fail to see the similarity between a buckwheat cake and a porous
plaster," said the School-master, resolved, if possible, to embarrass
the Idiot.

"You don't, eh?" replied the latter. "Then it is very plain, sir, that
you have never eaten a porous plaster."

To this the School-master could find no reasonable reply, and he took
refuge in silence. Mr. Whitechoker tried to look severe; the gentleman
who occasionally imbibed smiled all over; the Bibliomaniac ignored the
remark entirely, not having as yet forgiven the Idiot for his gross
insinuation regarding his friend's _édition de luxe_ of _Through Africa
by Daylight_; Mary, the maid, who greatly admired the Idiot, not so much
for his idiocy as for the aristocratic manner in which he carried
himself, and the truly striking striped shirts he wore, left the room
in a convulsion of laughter that so alarmed the cook below-stairs that
the next platterful of cakes were more like tin plates than cakes; and
as for Mrs. Smithers, that worthy woman was speechless with wrath. But
she was not paralyzed apparently, for reaching down into her pocket she
brought forth a small piece of paper, on which was written in detail the
"account due" of the Idiot.

"I'd like to have this settled, sir," she said, with some asperity.

"Certainly, my dear madame," replied the Idiot, unabashed--"certainly.
Can you change a check for a hundred?"

No, Mrs. Smithers could not.

"Then I shall have to put off paying the account until this evening,"
said the Idiot. "But," he added, with a glance at the amount of the
bill, "are you related to Governor McKinley, Mrs. Smithers?"

"I am not," she returned, sharply. "My mother was a Partington."

"I only asked," said the Idiot, apologetically, "because I am very much
interested in the subject of heredity, and you may not know it, but you
and he have each a marked tendency towards high-tariff bills."

And before Mrs. Smithers could think of anything to say, the Idiot was
on his way down town to help his employer lose money on Wall Street.



II


"Do you know, I sometimes think--" began the Idiot, opening and shutting
the silver cover of his watch several times with a snap, with the
probable, and not altogether laudable, purpose of calling his landlady's
attention to the fact--of which she was already painfully aware--that
breakfast was fifteen minutes late.

"Do you, really?" interrupted the School-master, looking up from his
book with an air of mock surprise. "I am sure I never should have
suspected it."

"Indeed?" returned the Idiot, undisturbed by this reflection upon his
intellect. "I don't really know whether that is due to your generally
unsuspicious nature, or to your shortcomings as a mind-reader."

"There are some minds," put in the landlady at this point, "that are so
small that it would certainly ruin the eyes to read them."

"I have seen many such," observed the Idiot, suavely. "Even our friend
the Bibliomaniac at times has seemed to me to be very absent-minded. And
that reminds me, Doctor," he continued, addressing himself to the
medical boarder. "What is the cause of absent-mindedness?"

"That," returned the Doctor, ponderously, "is a very large question.
Absent-mindedness, generally speaking, is the result of the projection
of the intellect into surroundings other than those which for want of a
better term I might call the corporeally immediate."

"So I have understood," said the Idiot, approvingly. "And is
absent-mindedness acquired or inherent?"

Here the Idiot appropriated the roll of his neighbor.

"That depends largely upon the case," replied the Doctor, nervously.
"Some are born absent-minded, some achieve absent-mindedness, and some
have absent-mindedness thrust upon them."

"As illustrations of which we might take, for instance, I suppose," said
the Idiot, "the born idiot, the borrower, and the man who is knocked
silly by the pole of a truck on Broadway."

"Precisely," replied the Doctor, glad to get out of the discussion so
easily. He was a very young doctor, and not always sure of himself.

"Or," put in the School-master, "to condense our illustrations, if the
Idiot would kindly go out upon Broadway and encounter the truck, we
should find the three combined in him."

The landlady here laughed quite heartily, and handed the School-master
an extra strong cup of coffee.

"There is a great deal in what you say," said the Idiot, without a
tremor. "There are very few scientific phenomena that cannot be
demonstrated in one way or another by my poor self. It is the exception
always that proves the rule, and in my case you find a consistent
converse exemplification of all three branches of absent-mindedness."

"He talks well," said the Bibliomaniac, _sotto voce_, to the Minister.

"Yes, especially when he gets hold of large words. I really believe he
reads," replied Mr. Whitechoker.

[Illustration: "'WHAT ARE THE FIRST SYMPTOMS OF INSANITY?'"]

"I know he does," said the School-master, who had overheard. "I saw him
reading Webster's Dictionary last night. I have noticed, however, that
generally his vocabulary is largely confined to words that come between
the letters A and F, which shows that as yet he has not dipped very
deeply into the book."

"What are you murmuring about?" queried the Idiot, noting the lowered
tone of those on the other side of the table.

"We were conversing--ahem! about--" began the Minister, with a
despairing glance at the Bibliomaniac.

"Let me say it," interrupted the Bibliomaniac. "You aren't used to
prevarication, and that is what is demanded at this time. We were
talking about--ah--about--er--"

"Tut! tut!" ejaculated the School-master. "We were only saying we
thought the--er--the--that the--"

"What _are_ the first symptoms of insanity, Doctor?" observed the Idiot,
with a look of wonder at the three shuffling boarders opposite him, and
turning anxiously to the physician.

"I wish you wouldn't talk shop," retorted the Doctor, angrily. Insanity
was one of his weak points.

"It's a beastly habit," said the School-master, much relieved at this
turn of the conversation.

"Well, perhaps you are right," returned the Idiot. "People do, as a
rule, prefer to talk of things they know something about, and I don't
blame you, Doctor, for wanting to keep out of a medical discussion. I
only asked my last question because the behavior of the Bibliomaniac and
Mr. Whitechoker and the School-master for some time past has worried me,
and I didn't know but what you might work up a nice little practice
among us. It might not pay, but you'd find the experience valuable, and
I think unique."

"It is a fine thing to have a doctor right in the house," said Mr.
Whitechoker, kindly, fearing that the Doctor's manifest indignation
might get the better of him.

"That," returned the Idiot, "is an assertion, Mr. Whitechoker, that is
both true and untrue. There are times when a physician is an ornament to
a boarding-house; times when he is not. For instance, on Wednesday
morning if it had not been for the surgical skill of our friend here,
our good landlady could never have managed properly to distribute the
late autumn chicken we found upon the menu. Tally one for the
affirmative. On the other hand, I must confess to considerable loss of
appetite when I see the Doctor rolling his bread up into little pills,
or measuring the vinegar he puts on his salad by means of a glass
dropper, and taking the temperature of his coffee with his pocket
thermometer. Nor do I like--and I should not have mentioned it save by
way of illustrating my position in regard to Mr. Whitechoker's
assertion--nor do I like the cold, eager glitter in the Doctor's eyes as
he watches me consuming, with some difficulty, I admit, the cold pastry
we have served up to us on Saturday mornings under the wholly
transparent _alias_ of 'Hot Bread.' I may have very bad taste, but, in
my humble opinion, the man who talks shop is preferable to the one who
suggests it in his eyes. Some more iced potatoes, Mary," he added,
calmly.

[Illustration: "'READING WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY'"]

"Madame," said the Doctor, turning angrily to the landlady, "this is
insufferable. You may make out my bill this morning. I shall have to
seek a home elsewhere."

"Oh, now, Doctor!" began the landlady, in her most pleading tone.

"Jove!" ejaculated the Idiot. "That's a good idea, Doctor. I think I'll
go with you; I'm not altogether satisfied here myself, but to desert so
charming a company as we have here had never occurred to me. Together,
however, we can go forth, and perhaps find happiness. Shall we put on
our hunting togs and chase the fiery, untamed hall-room to the death
this morning, or shall we put it off until some pleasanter day?"

"Put it off," observed the School-master, persuasively. "The Idiot was
only indulging in persiflage, Doctor. That's all. When you have known
him longer you will understand him better. Views are as necessary to him
as sunlight to the flowers; and I truly think that in an asylum he would
prove a delightful companion."

"There, Doctor," said the Idiot; "that's handsome of the School-master.
He couldn't make more of an apology if he tried. I'll forgive him if you
will. What say you?"

And strange to say, the Doctor, in spite of the indignation which still
left a red tinge on his cheek, laughed aloud and was reconciled.

As for the School-master, he wanted to be angry, but he did not feel
that he could afford his wrath, and for the first time in some months
the guests went their several ways at peace with each other and the
world.



III


There was a conspiracy in hand to embarrass the Idiot. The School-master
and the Bibliomaniac had combined forces to give him a taste of his own
medicine. The time had not yet arrived which showed the Idiot at a
disadvantage; and the two boarders, the one proud of his learning, and
the other not wholly unconscious of a bookish life, were distinctly
tired of the triumphant manner in which the Idiot always left the
breakfast-table to their invariable discomfiture.

It was the School-master's suggestion to put their tormentor into the
pit he had heretofore digged for them. The worthy instructor of youth
had of late come to see that while he was still a prime favorite with
his landlady, he had, nevertheless, suffered somewhat in her estimation
because of the apparent ease with which the Idiot had got the better of
him on all points. It was necessary, he thought, to rehabilitate
himself, and a deep-laid plot, to which the Bibliomaniac readily lent
ear, was the result of his reflections. They twain were to indulge in a
discussion of the great story of _Robert Elsmere_, which both were
confident the Idiot had not read, and concerning which they felt assured
he could not have an intelligent opinion if he had read it.

So it happened upon this bright Sunday morning that as the boarders sat
them down to partake of the usual "restful breakfast," as the Idiot
termed it, the Bibliomaniac observed:

"I have just finished reading _Robert Elsmere_."

"Have you, indeed?" returned the School-master, with apparent interest.
"I trust you profited by it?"

"On the contrary," observed the Bibliomaniac. "My views are much
unsettled by it."

"I prefer the breast of the chicken, Mrs. Smithers," observed the Idiot,
sending his plate back to the presiding genius of the table. "The neck
of a chicken is graceful, but not too full of sustenance."

"He fights shy," whispered the Bibliomaniac, gleefully.

"Never mind," returned the School-master, confidently; "we'll land him
yet." Then he added, aloud: "Unsettled by it? I fail to see how any man
with beliefs that are at all the result of mature convictions can be
unsettled by the story of _Elsmere_. For my part I believe, and I have
always said--"

"I never could understand why the neck of a chicken should be allowed on
a respectable table anyhow," continued the Idiot, ignoring the
controversy in which his neighbors were engaged, "unless for the purpose
of showing that the deceased fowl met with an accidental rather than a
natural death."

"In what way does the neck demonstrate that point?" queried the
Bibliomaniac, forgetting the conspiracy for a moment.

"By its twist or by its length, of course," returned the Idiot. "A
chicken that dies a natural death does not have its neck wrung; nor when
the head is removed by the use of a hatchet, is it likely that it will
be cut off so close behind the ears that those who eat the chicken are
confronted with four inches of neck."

[Illustration: "'I STUCK TO THE PIGS'"]

"Very entertaining indeed," interposed the School-master; "but we are
wandering from the point the Bibliomaniac and I were discussing. Is or
is not the story of _Robert Elsmere_ unsettling to one's beliefs?
Perhaps you can help us to decide that question."

"Perhaps I can," returned the Idiot; "and perhaps not. It did not
unsettle my beliefs."

"But don't you think," observed the Bibliomaniac, "that to certain minds
the book is more or less unsettling?"

"To that I can confidently say no. The certain mind knows no
uncertainty," replied the Idiot, calmly.

"Very pretty indeed," said the School-master, coldly. "But what was your
opinion of Mrs. Ward's handling of the subject? Do you think she was
sufficiently realistic? And if so, and Elsmere weakened under the stress
of circumstances, do you think--or don't you think--the production of
such a book harmful, because--being real--it must of necessity be
unsettling to some minds?"

[Illustration: THE CONSPIRATORS]

"I prefer not to express an opinion on that subject," returned the
Idiot, "because I never read _Robert Els_--"

"Never read it?" ejaculated the School-master, a look of triumph in his
eyes.

"Why, everybody has read _Elsmere_ that pretends to have read anything,"
asserted the Bibliomaniac.

"Of course," put in the landlady, with a scornful laugh.

"Well, I didn't," said the Idiot, nonchalantly. "The same ground was
gone over two years before in Burrows's great story, _Is It, or Is It
Not?_ and anybody who ever read Clink's books on the _Non-Existent as
Opposed to What Is_, knows where Burrows got his points. Burrows's story
was a perfect marvel. I don't know how many editions it went through in
England, and when it was translated into French by Madame Tournay, it
simply set the French wild."

"Great Scott!" whispered the Bibliomaniac, desperately, "I'm afraid
we've been barking up the wrong tree."

"You've read Clink, I suppose?" asked the Idiot, turning to the
School-master.

"Y--yes," returned the School-master, blushing deeply.

The Idiot looked surprised, and tried to conceal a smile by sipping his
coffee from a spoon.

"And Burrows?"

"No," returned the School-master, humbly. "I never read Burrows."

"Well, you ought to. It's a great book, and it's the one _Robert
Elsmere_ is taken from--same ideas all through, I'm told--that's why I
didn't read _Elsmere_. Waste of time, you know. But you noticed
yourself, I suppose, that Clink's ground is the same as that covered in
_Elsmere_?"

"No; I only dipped lightly into Clink," returned the School-master, with
some embarrassment.

"But you couldn't help noticing a similarity of ideas?" insisted the
Idiot, calmly.

The School-master looked beseechingly at the Bibliomaniac, who would
have been glad to fly to his co-conspirator's assistance had he known
how, but never having heard of Clink, or Burrows either, for that
matter, he made up his mind that it was best for his reputation for him
to stay out of the controversy.

"Very slight similarity, however," said the School-master, in despair.

"Where can I find Clink's books?" put in Mr. Whitechoker, very much
interested.

The Idiot conveniently had his mouth full of chicken at the moment, and
it was to the School-master who had also read him that they all--the
landlady included--looked for an answer.

"Oh, I think," returned that worthy, hesitatingly--"I think you'll find
Clink in any of the public libraries."

"What is his full name?" persisted Mr. Whitechoker, taking out a
memorandum-book.

"Horace J. Clink," said the Idiot.

"Yes; that's it--Horace J. Clink," echoed the School-master. "Very
virile writer and a clear thinker," he added, with some nervousness.

"What, if any, of his books would you specially recommend?" asked the
Minister again.

The Idiot had by this time risen from the table, and was leaving the
room with the genial gentleman who occasionally imbibed.

The School-master's reply was not audible.

"I say," said the genial gentleman to the Idiot, as they passed out into
the hall, "they didn't get much the best of you in that matter. But,
tell me, who was Clink, anyhow?"

"Never heard of him before," returned the Idiot.

"And Burrows?"

"Same as Clink."

"Know anything about _Elsmere_?" chuckled the genial gentleman.

"Nothing--except that it and 'Pigs in Clover' came out at the same time,
and I stuck to the Pigs."

And the genial gentleman who occasionally imbibed was so pleased at the
plight of the School-master and of the Bibliomaniac that he invited the
Idiot up to his room, where the private stock was kept for just such
occasions, and they put in a very pleasant morning together.



IV


The guests were assembled as usual. The oatmeal course had been eaten in
silence. In the Idiot's eye there was a cold glitter of expectancy--a
glitter that boded ill for the man who should challenge him to
controversial combat--and there seemed also to be, judging from sundry
winks passed over the table and kicks passed under it, an understanding
to which he and the genial gentleman who occasionally imbibed were
parties.

As the School-master sampled his coffee the genial gentleman who
occasionally imbibed broke the silence.

"I missed you at the concert last night, Mr. Idiot," said he.

"Yes," said the Idiot, with a caressing movement of the hand over his
upper lip; "I was very sorry, but I couldn't get around last night. I
had an engagement with a number of friends at the athletic club. I
meant to have dropped you a line in the afternoon telling you about it,
but I forgot it until it was too late. Was the concert a success?"

"Very successful indeed. The best one, in fact, we have had this season,
which makes me regret all the more deeply your absence," returned the
genial gentleman, with a suggestion of a smile playing about his lips.
"Indeed," he added, "it was the finest one I've ever seen."

"The finest one you've what?" queried the School-master, startled at the
verb.

"The finest one I've ever seen," replied the genial gentleman. "There
were only ten performers, and really, in all my experience as an
attendant at concerts, I never saw such a magnificent rendering of
Beethoven as we had last night. I wish you could have been there. It was
a sight for the gods."

"I don't believe," said the Idiot, with a slight cough that may have
been intended to conceal a laugh--and that may also have been the result
of too many cigarettes--"I don't believe it could have been any more
interesting than a game of pool I heard at the club."

"It appears to me," said the Bibliomaniac to the School-master, "that
the popping sounds we heard late last night in the Idiot's room may have
some connection with the present mode of speech these two gentlemen
affect."

"Let's hear them out," returned the School-master, "and then we'll take
them into camp, as the Idiot would say."

"I don't know about that," replied the genial gentleman. "I've seen a
great many concerts, and I've heard a great many good games of pool, but
the concert last night was simply a ravishing spectacle. We had a Cuban
pianist there who played the orchestration of the first act of
_Parsifal_ with surprising agility. As far as I could see, he didn't
miss a note, though it was a little annoying to observe how he used the
pedals."

"Too forcibly, or how?" queried the Idiot.

"Not forcibly enough," returned the Imbiber. "He tried to work them both
with one foot. It was the only thing to mar an otherwise marvellous
performance. The idea of a man trying to display Wagner with two hands
and one foot is irritating to a musician with a trained eye."

[Illustration: "'WEREN'T YOUR EARS LONG ENOUGH?'"]

"I wish the Doctor would come down," said Mrs. Smithers, anxiously.

"Yes," put in the School-master; "there seems to be madness in our
midst."

"Well, what can you expect of a Cuban, anyhow?" queried the Idiot. "The
Cuban, like the Spaniard or the Italian or the African, hasn't the vigor
which is necessary for the proper comprehension and rendering of
Wagner's music. He is by nature slow and indolent. If it were easier for
a Spaniard to hop than to walk, he'd hop, and rest his other leg. I've
known Italians whose diet was entirely confined to liquids, because they
were too tired to masticate solids. It is the ease with which it can be
absorbed that makes macaroni the favorite dish of the Italians, and the
fondness of all Latin races for wines is entirely due, I think, to the
fact that wine can be swallowed without chewing. This indolence affects
also their language. The Italian and the Spaniard speak the language
that comes easy--that is soft and dreamy; while the Germans and
Russians, stronger, more energetic, indulge in a speech that even to
us, who are people of an average amount of energy, is sometimes
appalling in the severity of the strain it puts upon the tongue. So,
while I do not wonder that your Cuban pianist showed woful defects in
his use of the pedals, I do wonder that, even with his surprising
agility, he had sufficient energy to manipulate the keys to the
satisfaction of so competent a witness as yourself."

"It was too bad; but we made up for it later," asserted the other.
"There was a young girl there who gave us some of Mendelssohn's Songs
without Words. Her expression was simply perfect. I wouldn't have missed
it for all the world; and now that I think of it, in a few days I can
let you see for yourself how splendid it was. We persuaded her to encore
the songs in the dark, and we got a flash-light photograph of two of
them."

"Oh! then it was not on the piano-forte she gave them?" said the Idiot.

"Oh no; all labial," returned the genial gentleman.

Here Mr. Whitechoker began to look concerned, and whispered something to
the School-master, who replied that there were enough others present to
cope with the two parties to the conversation in case of a violent
outbreak.

"I'd be very glad to see the photographs," replied the Idiot. "Can't I
secure copies of them for my collection? You know I have the complete
rendering of 'Home, Sweet Home' in kodak views, as sung by Patti. They
are simply wonderful, and they prove what has repeatedly been said by
critics, that, in the matter of expression, the superior of Patti has
never been seen."

"I'll try to get them for you, though I doubt it can be done. The artist
is a very shy young girl, and does not care to have her efforts given
too great a publicity until she is ready to go into music a little more
deeply. She is going to read the 'Moonlight Sonata' to us at our next
concert. You'd better come. I'm told her gestures bring out the
composer's meaning in a manner never as yet equalled."

[Illustration: "'THE CORKS POPPED TO SOME PURPOSE LAST NIGHT'"]

"I'll be there; thank you," returned the Idiot. "And the next time those
fellows at the club are down for a pool tournament I want you to come up
and hear them play. It was extraordinary last night to hear the balls
dropping one by one--click, click, click--as regularly as a metronome,
into the pockets. One of the finest shots, I am sorry to say, I missed."

"How did it happen?" asked the Bibliomaniac. "Weren't your ears long
enough?"

"It was a kiss shot, and I couldn't hear it," returned the Idiot.

"I think you men are crazy," said the School-master, unable to contain
himself any longer.

"So?" observed the Idiot, calmly. "And how do we show our insanity?"

"Seeing concerts and hearing games of pool."

"I take exception to your ruling," returned the Imbiber. "As my friend
the Idiot has frequently remarked, you have the peculiarity of a great
many men in your profession, who think because they never happened to
see or do or hear things as other people do, they may not be seen, done,
or heard at all. I _saw_ the concert I attended last night. Our musical
club has rooms next to a hospital, and we have to give silent concerts
for fear of disturbing the patients; but we are all musicians of
sufficient education to understand by a glance of the eye what you would
fail to comprehend with fourteen ears and a microphone."

"Very well said," put in the Idiot, with a scornful glance at the
School-master. "And I literally heard the pool tournament. I was dining
in a room off the billiard-hall, and every shot that was made, with the
exception of the one I spoke of, was distinctly audible. You gentlemen,
who think you know it all, wouldn't be able to supply a bureau of
information at the rate of five minutes a day for an hour on a holiday.
Let's go up-stairs," he added, turning to the Imbiber, "where we may
discuss our last night's entertainment apart from this atmosphere of
rarefied learning. It makes me faint."

And the Imbiber, who was with difficulty keeping his lips in proper
form, was glad enough to accept the invitation. "The corks popped to
some purpose last night," he said, later on.

"Yes," said the Idiot; "for a conspiracy there's nothing so helpful as
popping corks."



V


"When you get through with the fire, Mr. Pedagog," observed the Idiot,
one winter's morning, noticing that the ample proportions of the
School-master served as a screen to shut off the heat from himself and
the genial gentleman who occasionally imbibed, "I wish you would let us
have a little of it. Indeed, if you could conveniently spare so little
as one flame for my friend here and myself, we'd be much obliged."

"It won't hurt you to cool off a little, sir," returned the
School-master, without moving.

"No, I am not so much afraid of the injury that may be mine as I am
concerned for you. If that fire should melt our only refrigerating
material, I do not know what our good landlady would do. Is it true, as
the Bibliomaniac asserts, that Mrs. Smithers leaves all her milk and
butter in your room overnight, relying upon your coolness to keep them
fresh?"

"I never made any such assertion," said the Bibliomaniac, warmly.

"I am not used to having my word disputed," returned the Idiot, with a
wink at the genial old gentleman.

"But I never said it, and I defy you to prove that I said it," returned
the Bibliomaniac, hotly.

"You forget, sir," said the Idiot, coolly, "that you are the one who
disputes my assertion. That casts the burden of proof on your shoulders.
Of course if you can prove that you never said anything of the sort, I
withdraw; but if you cannot adduce proofs, you, having doubted my word,
and publicly at that, need not feel hurt if I decline to accept all that
you say as gospel."

"You show ridiculous heat," said the School-master.

"Thank you," returned the Idiot, gracefully. "And that brings us back to
the original proposition that you would do well to show a little
yourself."

"Good-morning, gentlemen," said Mrs. Smithers, entering the room at
this moment. "It's a bright, fresh morning."

"Like yourself," said the School-master, gallantly.

"Yes," added the Idiot, with a glance at the clock, which registered
8.45--forty-five minutes after the breakfast hour--"very like Mrs.
Smithers--rather advanced."

To this the landlady paid no attention; but the School-master could not
refrain from saying,

"Advanced, and therefore not backward, like some persons I might name."

"Very clever," retorted the Idiot, "and really worth rewarding. Mrs.
Smithers, you ought to give Mr. Pedagog a receipt in full for the past
six months."

"Mr. Pedagog," returned the landlady, severely, "is one of the gentlemen
who always have their receipts for the past six months."

"Which betrays a very saving disposition," accorded the Idiot. "I wish I
had all I'd received for six months. I'd be a rich man."

[Illustration: "'IF YOU COULD SPARE SO LITTLE AS ONE FLAME'"]

"Would you, now?" queried the Bibliomaniac. "That is interesting enough.
How men's ideas differ on the subject of wealth! Here is the Idiot
would consider himself rich with $150 in his pocket--"

"Do you think he gets as much as that?" put in the School-master,
viciously. "Five dollars a week is rather high pay for one of his--"

"Very high indeed," agreed the Idiot. "I wish I got that much. I might
be able to hire a two-legged encyclopædia to tell me everything, and
have over $4.75 a week left to spend on opera, dress, and the poor but
honest board Mrs. Smithers provides, if my salary was up to the $5 mark;
but the trouble is men do not make the fabulous fortunes nowadays with
the ease with which you, Mr. Pedagog, made yours. There are, no doubt,
more and greater opportunities to-day than there were in the olden time,
but there are also more men trying to take advantage of them. Labor in
the business world is badly watered. The colleges are turning out more
men in a week nowadays than the whole country turned out in a year forty
years ago, and the quality is so poor that there has been a general
reduction of wages all along the line. Where does the struggler for
existence come in when he has to compete with the college-bred youth
who, for fear of not getting employment anywhere, is willing to work for
nothing? People are not willing to pay for what they can get for
nothing."

"I am glad to hear from your lips so complete an admission," said the
School-master, "that education is downing ignorance."

"I am glad to know of your gladness," returned the Idiot. "I didn't
quite say that education was downing ignorance. I plead guilty to the
charge of holding the belief that unskilled omniscience interferes very
materially with skilled sciolism in skilled sciolism's efforts to make a
living."

"Then you admit your own superficiality?" asked the School-master,
somewhat surprised by the Idiot's command of syllables.

"I admit that I do not know it all," returned the Idiot. "I prefer to go
through life feeling that there is yet something for me to learn. It
seems to me far better to admit this voluntarily than to have it forced
home upon me by circumstances, as happened in the case of a college
graduate I know, who speculated on Wall Street, and lost the hundred
dollars that were subsequently put to a good use by the uneducated me."

"From which you deduce that ignorance is better than education?" queried
the School-master, scornfully.

"For an omniscient," returned the Idiot, "you are singularly
near-sighted. I have made no such deduction. I arrive at the conclusion,
however, that in the chase for the gilded shekel the education of
experience is better than the coddling of Alma Mater. In the
satisfaction--the personal satisfaction--one derives from a liberal
education, I admit that the sons of Alma Mater are the better off. I
never could hope to be so self-satisfied, for instance, as you are."

[Illustration: THE SCHOOL-MASTER AS A COOLER]

"No," observed the School-master, "you cannot raise grapes on a thistle
farm. Any unbiassed observer looking around this table," he added, "and
noting Mr. Whitechoker, a graduate of Yale; the Bibliomaniac, a son of
dear old Harvard; the Doctor, an honor man of Williams; our legal friend
here, a graduate of Columbia--to say nothing of myself, who was
graduated with honors at Amherst--any unbiassed observer seeing these, I
say, and then seeing you, wouldn't take very long to make up his mind as
to whether a man is better off or not for having had a collegiate
training."

"There I must again dispute your assertion," returned the Idiot. "The
unbiassed person of whom you speak would say, 'Here is this gray-haired
Amherst man, this book-loving Cambridge boy of fifty-seven years of age,
the reverend graduate of Yale, class of '55, and the other two learned
gentlemen of forty-nine summers each, and this poor ignoramus of an
Idiot, whose only virtue is his modesty, all in the same box.' And then
he would ask himself, 'In what way have these sons of Amherst, Yale,
Harvard, and so forth, the better of the unassuming Idiot?'"

"The same box?" said the Bibliomaniac. "What do you mean by that?"

"Just what I say," returned the Idiot. "The same box. All boarding, all
eschewing luxuries of necessity, all paying their bills with difficulty,
all sparsely clothed; in reality, all keeping Lent the year through.
'Verily,' he would say, 'the Idiot has the best of it, for he is
young.'"

And leaving them chewing the cud of reflection, the Idiot departed.

"I thought they were going to land you that time," said the genial
gentleman who occasionally imbibed, later; "but when I heard you use the
word 'sciolism,' I knew you were all right. Where did you get it?"

"My chief got it off on me at the office the other day. I happened in a
mad moment to try to unload some of my original observations on him
apropos of my getting to the office two hours late, in which it was my
endeavor to prove to him that the truly safe and conservative man was
always slow, and so apt to turn up late on occasions. He hopped about
the office for a minute or two, and then he informed me that I was an
18-karat sciolist. I didn't know what he meant, and so I looked it up."

"And what did he mean?"

"He meant that I took the cake for superficiality, and I guess he was
right," replied the Idiot, with a smile that was not altogether
mirthful.



VI


"Good-morning!" said the Idiot, cheerfully, as he entered the
dining-room.

To this remark no one but the landlady vouchsafed a reply. "I don't
think it is," she said, shortly. "It's raining too hard to be a very
good morning."

"That reminds me," observed the Idiot, taking his seat and helping
himself copiously to the hominy. "A friend of mine on one of the
newspapers is preparing an article on the 'Antiquity of Modern Humor.'
With your kind permission, Mrs. Smithers, I'll take down your remark and
hand it over to Mr. Scribuler as a specimen of the modern antique joke.
You may not be aware of the fact, but that jest is to be found in the
rare first edition of the _Tales of Bobbo_, an Italian humorist, who
stole everything he wrote from the Greeks."

[Illustration: "'READING THE SUNDAY NEWSPAPERS'"]

"So?" queried the Bibliomaniac. "I never heard of Bobbo, though I had,
before the auction sale of my library, a choice copy of the _Tales of
Poggio_, bound in full crushed Levant morocco, with gilt edges, and one
or two other Italian _Joe Millers_ in tree calf. I cannot at this moment
recall their names."

"At what period did Bobbo live?" inquired the School-master.

"I don't exactly remember," returned the Idiot, assisting the last
potato on the table over to his plate. "I don't know exactly. It was
subsequent to B.C., I think, although I may be wrong. If it was not, you
may rest assured it was prior to B.C."

"Do you happen to know," queried the Bibliomaniac, "the exact date of
this rare first edition of which you speak?"

"No; no one knows that," returned the Idiot. "And for a very good
reason. It was printed before dates were invented."

The silence which followed this bit of information from the Idiot was
almost insulting in its intensity. It was a silence that spoke, and what
it said was that the Idiot's idiocy was colossal, and he, accepting the
stillness as a tribute, smiled sweetly.

"What do you think, Mr. Whitechoker," he said, when he thought the time
was ripe for renewing the conversation--"what do you think of the
doctrine that every day will be Sunday by-and-by?"

"I have only to say, sir," returned the Dominie, pouring a little hot
water into his milk, which was a bit too strong for him, "that I am a
firm believer in the occurrence of a period when Sunday will be to all
practical purposes perpetual."

"That is my belief, too," observed the School-master. "But it will be
ruinous to our good landlady to provide us with one of her exceptionally
fine Sunday breakfasts every morning."

"Thank you, Mr. Pedagog," returned Mrs. Smithers, with a smile. "Can't I
give you another cup of coffee?"

"You may," returned the School-master, pained at the lady's grammar, but
too courteous to call attention to it save by the emphasis with which he
spoke the word "may."

"That's one view to take of it," said the Idiot. "But in case we got a
Sunday breakfast every day in the week, we, on the other hand, would get
approximately what we pay for. You may fill my cup too, Mrs. Smithers."

"The coffee is all gone," returned the landlady, with a snap.

"Then, Mary," said the Idiot, gracefully, turning to the maid, "you may
give me a glass of ice-water. It is quite as warm, after all, as the
coffee, and not quite so weak. A perpetual Sunday, though, would have
its drawbacks," he added, unconscious of the venomous glances of the
landlady. "You, Mr. Whitechoker, for instance, would be preaching all
the time, and in consequence would soon break down. Then the effect upon
our eyes from habitually reading the Sunday newspapers day after day
would be extremely bad; nor must we forget that an eternity of Sundays
means the elimination 'from our midst,' as the novelists say, of
baseball, of circuses, of horse-racing, and other necessities of life,
unless we are prepared to cast over the Puritanical view of Sunday which
now prevails. It would substitute Dr. Watts for 'Annie Rooney.' We
should lose 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay' entirely, which is a point in its
favor."

"I don't know about that," said the genial old gentleman. "I rather like
that song."

"Did you ever hear me sing it?" asked the Idiot.

"Never mind," returned the genial old gentleman, hastily. "Perhaps you
are right, after all."

[Illustration: BOBBO]

The Idiot smiled, and resumed: "Our shops would be perpetually closed,
and an enormous loss to the shopkeepers would be sure to follow. Mr.
Pedagog's theory that we should have Sunday breakfasts every day is not
tenable, for the reason that with a perpetual day of rest agriculture
would die out, food products would be killed off by unpulled weeds; in
fact, we should go back to that really unfortunate period when women
were without dress-makers, and man's chief object in life was to
christen animals as he met them, and to abstain from apples, wisdom, and
full dress."

"The Idiot is right," said the Bibliomaniac. "It would not be a very
good thing for the world if every day were Sunday. Wash-day is a
necessity of life. I am willing to admit this, in the face of the fact
that wash-day meals are invariably atrocious. Contracts would be void,
as a rule, because Sunday is a _dies non_."

"A what?" asked the Idiot.

"A non-existent day in a business sense," put in the School-master.

"Of course," said the landlady, scornfully. "Any person who knows
anything knows that."

"Then, madame," returned the Idiot, rising from his chair, and putting a
handful of sweet crackers in his pocket--"then I must put in a claim for
$104 from you, having been charged, at the rate of one dollar a day for
104 _dies nons_ in the two years I have been with you."

"Indeed!" returned the lady, sharply. "Very well. And I shall put in a
counterclaim for the lunches you carry away from breakfast every morning
in your pockets."

"In that event we'll call it off, madame," returned the Idiot, as with a
courtly bow and a pleasant smile he left the room.

"Well, I call him 'off,'" was all the landlady could say, as the other
guests took their departure.

And of course the School-master agreed with her.



VII


"Our streets appear to be as far from perfect as ever," said the
Bibliomaniac with a sigh, as he looked out through the window at the
great pools of water that gathered in the basins made by the sinking of
the Belgian blocks. "We'd better go back to the cowpaths of our
fathers."

"There is a great deal in what you say," observed the School-master.
"The cowpath has all the solidity of mother earth, and none of the
distracting noises we get from the pavements that obtain to-day. It is
porous and absorbs the moisture. The Belgian pavement is leaky, and lets
it run into our cellars. We might do far worse than to go back--"

"Excuse me for having an opinion," said the Idiot, "but the man of
enterprise can't afford to indulge in the luxury of the somnolent
cowpath. It is too quiet. It conduces to sleep, which is a luxury
business men cannot afford to indulge in too freely. Man must be up and
doing. The prosperity of a great city is to my mind directly due to its
noise and clatter, which effectually put a stop to napping, and keep men
at all times wide awake."

"This is a Welsh-rabbit idea, I fancy," said the School-master, quietly.
He had overheard the Idiot's confidences, as revealed to the genial
Imbiber, regarding the sources of some of his ideas.

"Not at all," returned the Idiot. "These ideas are beef--not
Welsh-rabbit. They are the result of much thought. If you will put your
mind on the subject, you will see for yourself that there is more in my
theory than there is in yours. The prosperity of a locality is the
greater as the noise in its vicinity increases. It is in the quiet
neighborhood that man stagnates. Where do we find great business houses?
Where do we find great fortunes made? Where do we find the busy bees who
make the honey that enables posterity to get into Society and do
nothing? Do we pick up our millions on the cowpath? I guess not. Do we
erect our most princely business houses along the roads laid out by our
bovine sister? I think not. Does the man who goes from the towpath to
the White House take the short cut? I fancy not. He goes over the block
pavement. He seeks the home of the noisy, clattering street before he
lands in the shoes of Washington. The man who sticks to the cowpath may
be able to drink milk, but he never wears diamonds."

"All that you say is very true, but it is not based on any fundamental
principle. It is so because it happens to be so," returned the
School-master. "If it were man's habit to have the streets laid out on
the old cowpath principle in his cities he would be quite as energetic,
quite as prosperous, as he is now."

"No fundamental principle involved? There is the fundamental principle
of all business success involved," said the Idiot, warming up to his
subject. "What is the basic quality in the good business man? Alertness.
What is 'alertness?' Wide-awakeishness. In this town it is impossible
for a man to sleep after a stated hour, and for no other reason than
that the clatter of the pavements prevents him. As a promoter of
alertness, where is your cowpath? The cowpaths of the Catskills, and we
all know the mountains are riddled by 'em, didn't keep Rip Van Winkle
awake, and I'll wager Mr. Whitechoker here a year's board that there
isn't a man in his congregation who can sleep a half-hour--much less
twenty years--with Broadway within hearing distance.

"I tell you, Mr. Pedagog," he continued, "it is the man from the cowpath
who gets buncoed. It's the man from the cowpath who can't make a living
even out of what he calls his 'New York Store.' It is the man from the
cowpath who rejoices because he can sell ten dollars' worth of
sheep's-wool for five dollars, and is happy when he goes to meeting
dressed up in a four-dollar suit of clothes that has cost him twenty."

"Your theory, my young friend," observed the School-master, "is as
fragile as this cup"--tapping his coffee-cup. "The countryman of whom
you speak is up and doing long before you or I or your successful
merchant, who has waxed great on noise as you put it, is awake. If the
early bird catches the worm, what becomes of your theory?"

"The early bird does get the bait," replied the Idiot. "But he does not
catch the fish, and I'll offer the board another wager that the Belgian
block merchant is wider awake at 8 A.M., when he first opens his eyes,
than his suburban brother who gets up at five is all day. It's the
extent to which the eyes are opened that counts, and as for your
statement that the fact that prosperity and noisy streets go hand in
hand is true only because it happens to be so, that is an argument which
may be applied to any truth in existence. I am because I happen to be,
not because I am. You are what you are because you are, because if you
were not, you would not be what you are."

"Your logic is delightful," said the School-master, scornfully.

"I strive to please," replied the Idiot. "But I do agree with the
Bibliomaniac that our streets are far from perfection," he added. "In my
opinion they should be laid in strata. On the ground-floor should be the
sewers and telegraph pipes; above this should be the water-mains, then
a layer for trucks, then a broad stratum for carriages, above which
should be a promenade for pedestrians. The promenade for pedestrians
should be divided into four sections--one for persons of leisure, one
for those in a hurry, one for peddlers, and one for beggars."

"Highly original," said the Bibliomaniac.

"And so cheap," added the School-master.

"In no part of the world," said the Idiot, in response to the last
comment, "do we get something for nothing. Of course this scheme would
be costly, but it would increase prosperity--"

"Ha! ha!" laughed the School-master, satirically.

"Laugh away, but you cannot gainsay my point. Our prosperity would
increase, for we should not be always excavating to get at our pipes;
our surface cars with a clear track would gain for us rapid transit, our
truck-drivers would not be subjected to the temptations of stopping by
the way-side to overturn a coupé, or to run down a pedestrian; our fine
equipages would in consequence need fewer repairs; and as for the
pedestrians, the beggars, if relegated to themselves, would be forced
out of business as would also the street-peddlers. The men in a hurry
would not be delayed by loungers, beggars, and peddlers, and the
loungers would derive inestimable benefit from the arrangement in the
saving of wear and tear on their clothes and minds by contact with the
busy world."

"It would be delightful," acceded the School-master, "particularly on
Sundays, when they were all loungers."

"Yes," replied the Idiot. "It would be delightful then, especially in
summer, when covered with an awning to shield promenaders from the sun."

Mr. Pedagog sighed, and the Bibliomaniac, wearily declining a second cup
of coffee, left the table with the Doctor, earnestly discussing with
that worthy gentleman the causes of weakmindedness.



VIII


"There's a friend of mine up near Riverdale," said the Idiot, as he
unfolded his napkin and let his bill flutter from it to the floor,
"who's tried to make a name for himself in literature."

"What's his name?" asked the Bibliomaniac, interested at once.

"That's just the trouble. He hasn't made it yet," replied the Idiot. "He
hasn't succeeded in his courtship of the Muse, and beyond himself and a
few friends his name is utterly unknown."

"What work has he tried?" queried the School-master, pouring
unadmonished two portions of skimmed milk over his oatmeal.

"A little of everything. First he wrote a novel. It had an immense
circulation, and he only lost $300 on it. All of his friends took a
copy--I've got one that he gave me--and I believe two hundred
newspapers were fortunate enough to secure the book for review. His
father bought two, and tried to obtain the balance of the edition, but
didn't have enough money. That was gratifying, but gratification is more
apt to deplete than to strengthen a bank account."

"I had not expected so extraordinarily wise an observation from one so
unusually unwise," said the School-master, coldly.

"Thank you," returned the Idiot. "But I think your remark is rather
contradictory. You would naturally expect wise observations from the
unusually unwise; that is, if your teaching that the expression
'unusually unwise' is but another form of the expression 'usually wise'
is correct. But, as I was saying, when the genial instructor of youth
interrupted me with his flattery," continued the Idiot, "gratification
is gratifying but not filling, so my friend concluded that he had better
give up novel-writing and try jokes. He kept at that a year, and managed
to clear his postage-stamps. His jokes were good, but too classic for
the tastes of the editors. Editors are peculiar. They have no respect
for age--particularly in the matter of jests. Some of my friend's
jokes had seemed good enough for Plutarch to print when he had a
publisher at his mercy, but they didn't seem to suit the high and mighty
products of this age who sit in judgment on such things in the
comic-paper offices. So he gave up jokes."

[Illustration: WOOING THE MUSE]

"Does he still know you?" asked the landlady.

"Yes, madame," observed the Idiot.

"Then he hasn't given up all jokes," she retorted, with fine scorn.

"Tee-he-hee!" laughed the School-master. "Pretty good, Mrs.
Smithers--pretty good."

"Yes," said the Idiot. "That is good, and, by Jove! it differs from your
butter, Mrs. Smithers, because it's entirely fresh. It's good enough to
print, and I don't think the butter is."

"What did your friend do next?" asked Mr. Whitechoker.

"He was employed by a funeral director in Philadelphia to write obituary
verses for memorial cards."

"And was he successful?"

"For a time; but he lost his position because of an error made by a
careless compositor in a marble-yard. He had written,

    "'Here lies the hero of a hundred fights--
      Approximated he a perfect man;
    He fought for country and his country's rights,
      And in the hottest battles led the van.'"

"Fine in sentiment and in execution!" observed Mr. Whitechoker.

"Truly so," returned the Idiot. "But when the compositor in the
marble-yard got it engraved on the monument, my friend was away, and
when the army post that was to pay the bill received the monument, the
quatrain read,

    "'Here lies the hero of a hundred flights--
      Approximated he a perfect one;
    He fought his country and his country's rights,
      And in the hottest battles led the run.'"

"Awful!" ejaculated the Minister.

"Dreadful!" said the landlady, forgetting to be sarcastic.

"What happened?" asked the School-master.

"He was bounced, of course, without a cent of pay, and the company
failed the next week, so he couldn't make anything by suing for what
they owed him."

"Mighty hard luck," said the Bibliomaniac.

"Very; but there was one bright side to the case," observed the Idiot.
"He managed to sell both versions of the quatrain afterwards for five
dollars. He sold the original one to a religious weekly for a dollar,
and got four dollars for the other one from a comic paper. Then he wrote
an anecdote about the whole thing for a Sunday newspaper, and got three
dollars more out of it."

"And what is your friend doing now?" asked the Doctor.

"Oh, he's making a mint of money now, but no name."

"In literature?"

"Yes. He writes advertisements on salary," returned the Idiot. "He is
writing now a recommendation of tooth-powder in Indian dialect."

"Why didn't he try writing an epic?" said the Bibliomaniac.

[Illustration: "'HE GAVE UP JOKES'"]

"Because," replied the Idiot, "the one aim of his life has been to be
original, and he couldn't reconcile that with epic poetry."

At which remark the landlady stooped over, and recovering the Idiot's
bill from under the table, called the maid, and ostentatiously requested
her to hand it to the Idiot. He, taking a cigarette from his pocket,
thanked the maid for the attention, and rolling the slip into a taper,
thoughtfully stuck one end of it into the alcohol light under the
coffee-pot, and lighting the cigarette with it, walked nonchalantly from
the room.



IX


"I've just been reading a book," began the Idiot.

"I thought you looked rather pale," said the School-master.

"Yes," returned the Idiot, cheerfully, "it made me feel pale. It was
about the pleasures of country life; and when I contrasted rural
blessedness as it was there depicted with urban life as we live it, I
felt as if my youth were being thrown away. I still feel as if I were
wasting my sweetness on the desert air."

"Why don't you move?" queried the Bibliomaniac, suggestively.

"If I were purely selfish I should do so at once, but I am, like my good
friend Mr. Whitechoker, a slave to duty. I deem it my duty to stay here
to keep the School-master fully informed in the various branches of
knowledge which are day by day opened up, many of which seem to be so
far beyond the reach of one of his conservative habits; to assist Mr.
Whitechoker in his crusades against vice at this table and elsewhere; to
give the Bibliomaniac the benefit of my advice in regard to those
precious little tomes he no longer buys--to make life worth the living
for all of you, to say nothing of enabling Mrs. Smithers to keep up the
extraordinarily high standard of this house by means of the hard-earned
stipend I pay to her every Monday morning."

"Every Monday?" queried the School-master.

"Every Monday," returned the Idiot. "That is, of course, every Monday
that I pay. The things one gets to eat in the country, the air one
breathes, the utter freedom from restraint, the thousand and more things
one enjoys in the suburbs that are not attainable here--it is these that
make my heart yearn for the open."

[Illustration: "'A LITTLE GARDEN OF MY OWN, WHERE I COULD RAISE AN
OCCASIONAL CAN OF TOMATOES'"]

"Well, it's all rot," said the School-master, impatiently. "Country life
is ideal only in books. Books do not tell of running for trains through
blinding snowstorms; writers do not expatiate on the delights of
waking on cold winter nights and finding your piano and parlor furniture
afloat because of bursted pipes, with the plumber, like Sheridan at
Winchester, twenty miles away. They are dumb on the subject of the
ecstasy one feels when pushing a twenty-pound lawn-mower up and down a
weed patch at the end of a wearisome hot summer's day. They are
silent--"

"Don't get excited, Mr. Pedagog, please," interrupted the Idiot. "I am
not contemplating leaving you and Mrs. Smithers, but I do pine for a
little garden of my own, where I could raise an occasional can of
tomatoes. I dream sometimes of getting milk fresh from the pump, instead
of twenty-four hours after it has been drawn, as we do here. In my
musings it seems to me to be almost idyllic to have known a spring
chicken in his infancy; to have watched a hind-quarter of lamb
gambolling about its native heath before its muscles became adamant, and
before chopped-up celery tops steeped in vinegar were poured upon it in
the hope of hypnotizing boarders into the belief that spring lamb and
mint-sauce lay before them. What care I how hard it is to rise every
morning before six in winter to thaw out the boiler, so long as the
night coming finds me seated in the genial glow of the gas log! What man
is he that would complain of having to bale out his cellar every week,
if, on the other hand, that cellar gains thereby a fertility that keeps
its floor sheeny, soft, and green--an interior tennis-court--from spring
to spring, causing the gladsome click of the lawn-mower to be heard
within its walls all through the still watches of the winter day? I
tell you, sir, it is the life to lead, that of our rural brother. I do
not believe that in this whole vast city there is a cellar like that--an
in-door garden-patch, as it were."

[Illustration: "'A HIND-QUARTER OF LAMB GAMBOLLING
    ABOUT ITS NATIVE HEATH'"]

"No," returned the Doctor; "and it is a good thing there isn't. There is
enough sickness in the world without bringing any of your _rus_ ideas
_in urbe_. I've lived in the country, sir, and I assure you it is not
what it is written up to be. Country life is misery, melancholy, and
malaria."

"You must have struck a profitable section, Doctor," returned the Idiot,
taking possession of three steaming buckwheat cakes to the dismay of Mr.
Whitechoker, who was about to reach out for them himself. "And I should
have supposed that your good business sense would have restrained you
from leaving."

"Then the countryman is poor--always poor," continued the Doctor,
ignoring the Idiot's sarcastic comments.

"Ah! that accounts for it," observed the Idiot. "I see why you did not
stay; for what shall it profit a man to save a patient if practice, like
virtue, is to be its own reward?"

"Your suggestion, sir," retorted the Doctor, "betrays an unhealthy frame
of mind."

"That's all right, Doctor," returned the Idiot; "but please do not
diagnose the case any further. I can't afford an expert opinion as to my
mental condition. But to return to our subject: you two gentlemen appear
to have had unhappy experiences in country life--quite different from
those of a friend of mine who owns a farm. He doesn't have to run for
trains; he is independent of plumbers, because the only pipes in his
house are for smoking purposes. The farm produces corn enough to keep
his family supplied all the year round and to sell a balance at a
profit. Oats and wheat are harvested to an extent which keeps the cattle
and declares dividends besides. He never suffers from the cold or heat.
He is never afraid of losing his house or barns by fire, because the
whole fire department of the neighboring village is, to a man, in love
with the house-keeper's daughter, and is always on hand in force. The
chickens are the envy and pride of the county, and there are so many of
them that they have to take turns in going to roost. The pigs are the
most intelligent of their kind, and are so happy they never grunt. In
fact, everything is lovely and cheap, the only thing that hangs high
being the goose."

[Illustration: "'THE GLADSOME CLICK OF THE LAWN-MOWER'"]

"Quite an ideal, no doubt," put in the School-master, scornfully. "I
suppose his is one of those model farms with steam-pipes under the walks
to melt the snow in winter, and of course there is a vein of coal
growing right up into his furnace ready to be lit."

"Yes," observed the Bibliomaniac; "and no doubt the chickens lay eggs in
every style--poached, fried, scrambled, and boiled. The weeds in the
garden grow so fast, I suppose, that they pull themselves up by the
roots; and if there is anything left undone at the end of the day I
presume tramps in dress suits, and courtly in manner, spring out of the
ground and finish up for him."

"I'll bet he's not on good terms with his neighbors if he has everything
you speak of in such perfection. These farmers get frightfully jealous
of each other," asserted the Doctor, with a positiveness that seemed to
be born of experience.

"He never quarrelled with one of them in his life," returned the Idiot.
"He doesn't know them well enough to quarrel with them; in fact, I doubt
if he ever sees them at all. He's very exclusive."

"Of course he is a born farmer to get everything the way he has it,"
suggested Mrs. Smithers.

"No, he isn't. He's a broker," said the Idiot, "and a very successful
one. I see him on the street every day."

"Does he employ a man to run the farm?" asked the Clergyman.

"No," returned the Idiot, "he has too much sense and too few dollars to
do any such foolish thing as that."

"It must be one of those self-winding stock farms," put in the
School-master, scornfully. "But I don't see how he can be a successful
broker and make money off his farm at the same time. Your statements do
not agree, either. You said he never had to run for trains."

"Well, he never has," returned the Idiot, calmly. "He never goes near
his farm. He doesn't have to. It's leased to the husband of the
house-keeper whose daughter has a crush on the fire department. He takes
his pay in produce, and gets more than if he took it in cash on the
basis of the New York vegetable market."

"Then you have got us into an argument about country life that ends--"
began the School-master, indignantly.

"That ends where it leaves off," retorted the Idiot, departing with a
smile on his lips.

"He's an Idiot from Idaho," asserted the Bibliomaniac.

"Yes; but I'm afraid idiocy is a little contagious," observed the
Doctor, with a grin and sidelong glance at the School-master.



X


"Good-morning, gentlemen," said the Idiot, as he seated himself at the
breakfast-table and glanced over his mail.

"Good-morning yourself," returned the Poet. "You have an unusually large
number of letters this morning. All checks, I hope?"

"Yes," replied the Idiot. "All checks of one kind or another. Mostly
checks on ambition--otherwise, rejections from my friends the editors."

"You don't mean to say that you write for the papers?" put in the
School-master, with an incredulous smile.

"I try to," returned the Idiot, meekly. "If the papers don't take 'em, I
find them useful in curing my genial friend who imbibes of insomnia."

"What do you write--advertisements?" queried the Bibliomaniac.

"No. Advertisement writing is an art to which I dare not aspire. It's
too great a tax on the brain," replied the Idiot.

"Tax on what?" asked the Doctor. He was going to squelch the Idiot.

"The brain," returned the latter, not ready to be squelched. "It's a
little thing people use to think with, Doctor. I'd advise you to get
one." Then he added, "I write poems and foreign letters mostly."

"I did not know that you had ever been abroad," said the clergyman.

[Illustration: "'YOU DON'T MEAN TO SAY THAT YOU WRITE FOR THE
PAPERS?'"]

"I never have," returned the Idiot.

"Then how, may I ask," said Mr. Whitechoker, severely, "how can you
write foreign letters?"

"With my stub pen, of course," replied the Idiot. "How did you
suppose--with an oyster-knife?"

The clergyman sighed.

"I should like to hear some of your poems," said the Poet.

"Very well," returned the Idiot. "Here's one that has just returned from
the _Bengal Monthly_. It's about a writer who died some years ago.
Shakespeare's his name. You've heard of Shakespeare, haven't you, Mr.
Pedagog?" he added.

Then, as there was no answer, he read the verse, which was as follows:

     SETTLED.

    Yes! Shakespeare wrote the plays--'tis clear to me.
      Lord Bacon's claim's condemned before the bar.
    He'd not have penned, "what fools these mortals be!"
      But--more correct--"what fools these mortals are!"

"That's not bad," said the Poet.

[Illustration: "'WE WOOED THE SELF-SAME MAID'"]

"Thanks," returned the Idiot. "I wish you were an editor. I wrote that
last spring, and it has been coming back to me at the rate of once a
week ever since."

"It is too short," said the Bibliomaniac.

"It's an epigram," said the Idiot. "How many yards long do you think
epigrams should be?"

The Bibliomaniac scorned to reply.

"I agree with the Bibliomaniac," said the School-master. "It is too
short. People want greater quantity."

"Well, here is quantity for you," said the Idiot. "Quantity as she is
not wanted by nine comic papers I wot of. This poem is called:

     "THE TURNING OF THE WORM.

    "'How hard my fate perhaps you'll gather in,
      My dearest reader, when I tell you that
    I entered into this fair world a twin--
      The one was spare enough, the other fat.

    "'I was, of course, the lean one of the two,
      The homelier as well, and consequently
    In ecstasy o'er Jim my parents flew,
      And good of me was spoken accident'ly.

    "'As boys, we went to school, and Jim, of course,
      Was e'er his teacher's favorite, and ranked
    Among the lads renowned for moral force,
      Whilst I was every day right soundly spanked.

    "'Jim had an angel face, but there he stopped.
      I never knew a lad who'd sin so oft
    And look so like a branch of heaven lopped
      From off the parent trunk that grows aloft.

    "'I seemed an imp--indeed 'twas often said
      That I resembled much Beelzebub.
    My face was freckled and my hair was red--
      The kind of looking boy that men call scrub.

    "'Kind deeds, however, were my constant thought;
      In everything I did the best I could;
    I said my prayers thrice daily, and I sought
      In all my ways to do the right and good.

    "'On Saturdays I'd do my Monday's sums,
      While Jim would spend the day in search of fun;
    He'd sneak away and steal the neighbors' plums,
      And, strange to say, to earth was never run.

    "'Whilst I, when study-time was haply through,
      Would seek my brother in the neighbor's orchard;
    Would find the neighbor there with anger blue,
      And as the thieving culprit would be tortured.

    "'The sums I'd done he'd steal, this lad forsaken,
      Then change my work, so that a paltry four
    Would be my mark, whilst he had overtaken
      The maximum and all the prizes bore.

    "'In later years we loved the self-same maid;
      We sent her little presents, sweets, bouquets,
    For which, alas! 'twas I that always paid;
      And Jim the maid now honors and obeys.

    "'We entered politics--in different roles,
      And for a minor office each did run.
    'Twas I was left--left badly at the polls,
      Because of fishy things that Jim had done.

    "'When Jim went into business and failed,
      I signed his notes and freed him from the strife
    Which bankruptcy and ruin hath entailed
      On them that lead a queer financial life.

    "'Then, penniless, I learned that Jim had set
      Aside before his failure--hard to tell!--
    A half a million dollars on his pet--
      His Mrs. Jim--the former lovely Nell.

    "'That wearied me of Jim. It may be right
      For one to bear another's cross, but I
    Quite fail to see it in its proper light,
      If that's the rule man should be guided by.

    "'And since a fate perverse has had the wit
      To mix us up so that the one's deserts
    Upon the shoulders of the other sit,
      No matter how the other one it hurts,

    "'I am resolved to take some mortal's life;
      Just when, or where, or how, I do not reck,
    So long as law will end this horrid strife
      And twist my dear twin brother's sinful neck.'"

"There," said the Idiot, putting down the manuscript. "How's that?"

"I don't like it," said Mr. Whitechoker. "It is immoral and vindictive.
You should accept the hardships of life, no matter how unjust. The
conclusion of your poem horrifies me, sir. I--"

[Illustration: CURING INSOMNIA]

"Have you tried your hand at dialect poetry?" asked the Doctor.

"Yes; once," said the Idiot. "I sent it to the _Great Western Weekly_.
Oh yes. Here it is. Sent back with thanks. It's an octette written in
cigar-box dialect."

"In wh-a-at?" asked the Poet.

"Cigar-box dialect. Here it is:

    "'O Manuel garcia alonzo,
      Colorado especial H. Clay,
    Invincible flora alphonzo,
      Cigarette panatella el rey,
    Victoria Reina selectas--
      O twofer madura grandé--
    O conchas oscuro perfectas,
      You drive all my sorrows away.'"

"Ingenious, but vicious," said the School-master, who does not smoke.

"Again thanks. How is this for a sonnet?" said the Idiot:

    "'When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
    I summon up remembrance of things past,
    I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
    And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
    Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
    For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
    And weep afresh love's long since cancel'd woe,
    And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
    Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
    And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
    The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
    Which I now pay as if not paid before.
    But if the while I think of thee, dear friend!
    All losses are restored and sorrows end.'"

"It is bosh!" said the School-master. The Poet smiled quietly.

"Perfect bosh!" repeated the School-master. "And only shows how in weak
hands so beautiful a thing as the sonnet can be made ridiculous."

"What's wrong with it?" asked the Idiot.

"It doesn't contain any thought--or if it does, no one can tell what the
thought is. Your rhymes are atrocious. Your phraseology is ridiculous.
The whole thing is bad. You'll never get anybody to print it."

"I do not intend to try," said the Idiot, meekly.

"You are wise," said the School-master, "to take my advice for once."

"No, it is not your advice that restrains me," said the Idiot, dryly.
"It is the fact that this sonnet has already been printed."

"In the name of Letters, where?" cried the School-master.

"In the collected works of William Shakespeare," replied the Idiot,
quietly.

The Poet laughed; Mrs. Smithers's eyes filled with tears; and the
School-master for once had absolutely nothing to say.



XI


"Do you believe, Mr. Whitechoker," said the Idiot, taking his place at
the table, and holding his plate up to the light, apparently to see
whether or not it was immaculate, whereat the landlady sniffed
contemptuously--"do you believe that the love of money is the root of
all evil?"

"I have always been of that impression," returned Mr. Whitechoker,
pleasantly. "In fact, I am sure of it," he added. "There is no evil
thing in this world, sir, that cannot be traced back to a point where
greed is found to be its main-spring and the source of its strength."

"Then how do you reconcile this with the scriptural story of the
forbidden fruit? Do you think the apples referred to were figures of
speech, the true import of which was that Adam and Eve had their eyes on
the original surplus?"

"Well, of course, there you begin to--ah--you seem to me to be going
back to the--er--the--ah--"

"Original root of all evil," prompted the Idiot, calmly.

"Precisely," returned Mr. Whitechoker, with a sigh of relief. "Mrs.
Smithers, I think I'll have a dash of hot-water in my coffee this
morning." Then, with a nervous glance towards the Idiot, he added,
addressing the Bibliomaniac, "I think it looks like rain."

"Referring to the coffee, Mr. Whitechoker?" queried the Idiot, not
disposed to let go of his victim quite so easily.

"Ah--I don't quite follow you," replied the Minister, with some
annoyance.

"You said something looked like rain, and I asked you if the thing you
referred to was the coffee, for I was disposed to agree with you," said
the Idiot.

"I am sure," put in Mrs. Smithers, "that a gentleman of Mr.
Whitechoker's refinement would not make any such insinuation, sir. He is
not the man to quarrel with what is set before him."

[Illustration: "HOLDING HIS PLATE UP TO THE LIGHT"]

"I ask your pardon, madam," returned the Idiot, politely. "I hope that I
am not the man to quarrel with my food, either. Indeed, I make it a
rule to avoid unpleasantness of all sorts, particularly with the weak,
under which category we find your coffee. I simply wish to know to what
Mr. Whitechoker refers when he says 'it looks like rain.'"

"I mean, of course," said the Minister, with as much calmness as he
could command--and that was not much--"I mean the day. The day looks as
if it might be rainy."

"Any one with a modicum of brain knows what you meant, Mr. Whitechoker,"
volunteered the School-master.

"Certainly," observed the Idiot, scraping the butter from his toast;
"but to those who have more than a modicum of brains my reverend
friend's remark was not entirely clear. If I am talking of cotton, and a
gentleman chooses to state that it looks like snow, I know exactly what
he means. He doesn't mean that the day looks like snow, however; he
refers to the cotton. Mr. Whitechoker, talking about coffee, chooses to
state that it looks like rain, which it undoubtedly does. I, realizing
that, as Mrs. Smithers says, it is not the gentleman's habit to attack
too violently the food which is set before him, manifest some surprise,
and, giving the gentleman the benefit of the doubt, afford him an
opportunity to set himself right."

"Change the subject," said the Bibliomaniac, curtly.

"With pleasure," answered the Idiot, filling his glass with cream.
"We'll change the subject, or the object, or anything you choose. We'll
have another breakfast, or another variety of biscuits _frappé_--anything,
in short, to keep peace at the table. Tell me, Mr. Pedagog," he added,
"is the use of the word 'it,' in the sentence 'it looks like rain,'
perfectly correct?"

"I don't know why it is not," returned the School-master, uneasily. He
was not at all desirous of parleying with the Idiot.

"And is it correct to suppose that 'it' refers to the day--is the day
supposed to look like rain?--or do we simply use 'it' to express a
condition which confronts us?"

"It refers to the latter, of course."

"Then the full text of Mr. Whitechoker's remark is, I suppose, that 'the
rainy condition of the atmosphere which confronts us looks like rain?'"

"Oh, I suppose so," sighed the School-master, wearily.

"Rather an unnecessary sort of statement that!" continued the Idiot.
"It's something like asserting that a man looks like himself, or, as in
the case of a child's primer--

"'See the cat?'

"'Yes, I see the cat.'

"'What is the cat?'

"'The cat is a cat. Scat cat!'"

At this even Mrs. Smithers smiled.

"I don't agree with Mr. Pedagog," put in the Bibliomaniac, after a
pause.

Here the School-master shook his head warningly at the Bibliomaniac, as
if to indicate that he was not in good form.

"So I observe," remarked the Idiot. "You have upset him completely. See
how Mr. Pedagog trembles?" he added, addressing the genial gentleman who
occasionally imbibed.

[Illustration: "'I BELIEVE YOU'D BLOW OUT THE GAS IN YOUR BED-ROOM'"]

"I don't mean that way," sneered the Bibliomaniac, bound to set Mr.
Whitechoker straight. "I mean that the word 'it,' as employed in that
sentence, stands for day. The day looks like rain."

"Did you ever see a day?" queried the Idiot.

"Certainly I have," returned the Bibliomaniac.

"What does it look like?" was the calmly put question.

The Bibliomaniac's impatience was here almost too great for safety, and
the manner in which his face colored aroused considerable interest in
the breast of the Doctor, who was a good deal of a specialist in
apoplexy.

"Was it a whole day you saw, or only a half-day?" persisted the Idiot.

"You may think you are very funny," retorted the Bibliomaniac. "I think
you are--"

"Now don't get angry," returned the Idiot. "There are two or three
things I do not know, and I'm anxious to learn. I'd like to know how a
day looks to one to whom it is a visible object. If it is visible, is it
tangible? and, if so, how does it feel?"

"The visible is always tangible," asserted the School-master,
recklessly.

"How about a red-hot stove, or manifest indignation, or a view from a
mountain-top, or, as in the case of the young man in the novel who
'suddenly waked,' and, 'looking anxiously about him, saw no one?'"
returned the Idiot, imperturbably.

"Tut!" ejaculated the Bibliomaniac. "If I had brains like yours, I'd
blow them out."

"Yes, I think you would," observed the Idiot, folding up his napkin.
"You're just the man to do a thing like that. I believe you'd blow out
the gas in your bedroom if there wasn't a sign over it requesting you
not to." And filling his match-box from the landlady's mantel supply,
the Idiot hurried from the room, and soon after left the house.



XII


"If my father hadn't met with reverses--" the Idiot began.

"Did you really have a father?" interrupted the School-master. "I
thought you were one of these self-made Idiots. How terrible it must be
for a man to think that he is responsible for you!"

"Yes," rejoined the Idiot; "my father finds it rather hard to stand up
under his responsibility for me; but he is a brave old gentleman, and he
manages to bear the burden very well with the aid of my mother--for I
have a mother, too, Mr. Pedagog. A womanly mother she is, too, with all
the natural follies, such as fondness for and belief in her boy. Why, it
would soften your heart to see how she looks on me. She thinks I am the
most everlastingly brilliant man she ever knew--excepting father, of
course, who has always been a hero of heroes in her eyes, because he
never rails at misfortune, never spoke an unkind word to her in his
life, and just lives gently along and waiting for the end of all
things."

[Illustration: "'HIS FAIRY STORIES WERE TOLD HIM IN WORDS OF TEN
SYLLABLES'"]

"Do you think it is right in you to deceive your mother in this
way--making her think you a young Napoleon of intellect when you know
you are an Idiot?" observed the Bibliomaniac, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Why certainly I do," returned the Idiot, calmly. "It's my place to make
the old folks happy if I can; and if thinking me nineteen different
kinds of a genius is going to fill my mother's heart with happiness, I'm
going to let her think it. What's the use of destroying other people's
idols even if we do know them to be hollow mockeries? Do you think you
do a praiseworthy act, for instance, when you kick over the heathen's
stone gods and leave him without any at all? You may not have noticed
it, but I have--that it is easier to pull down an idol than it is to
rear an ideal. I have had idols shattered myself, and I haven't found
that the pedestals they used to occupy have been rented since. They are
there yet and empty--standing as monuments to what once seemed good to
me--and I'm no happier nor no better for being disillusioned. So it is
with my mother. I let her go on and think me perfect. It does her good,
and it does me good because it makes me try to live up to that idea of
hers as to what I am. If she had the same opinion of me that we all have
she'd be the most miserable woman in the world."

"We don't all think so badly of you," said the Doctor, rather softened
by the Idiot's remarks.

"No," put in the Bibliomaniac. "You are all right. You breathe normally,
and you have nice blue eyes. You are graceful and pleasant to look upon,
and if you'd been born dumb we'd esteem you very highly. It is only your
manners and your theories that we don't like; but even in these we are
disposed to believe that you are a well-meaning child."

"That is precisely the way to put it," assented the School-master. "You
are harmless even when most annoying. For my own part, I think the most
objectionable feature about you is that you suffer from that
unfortunately not uncommon malady, extreme youth. You are young for your
age, and if you only wouldn't talk, I think we should get on famously
together."

"You overwhelm me with your compliments," said the Idiot. "I am sorry I
am so young, but I cannot be brought to believe that that is my own
fault. One must live to attain age, and how the deuce can one live when
one boards?"

As no one ventured to reply to this question, the force of which very
evidently, however, was fully appreciated by Mrs. Smithers, the Idiot
continued:

[Illustration: "'I THOUGHT MY FATHER A MEAN-SPIRITED ASSASSIN'"]

"Youth is thrust upon us in our infancy, and must be endured until such
a time as Fate permits us to account ourselves cured. It swoops down
upon us when we have neither the strength nor the brains to resent it.
Of course there are some superior persons in this world who never were
young. Mr. Pedagog, I doubt not, was ushered into this world with all
three sets of teeth cut, and not wailing as most infants are, but
discussing the most abstruse philosophical problems. His fairy stories
were told him, if ever, in words of ten syllables; and his father's
first remark to him was doubtless an inquiry as to his opinion on the
subject of Latin and Greek in our colleges. It's all right to be this
kind of a baby if you like that sort of thing. For my part, I rejoice to
think that there was once a day when I thought my father a mean-spirited
assassin, because he wouldn't tie a string to the moon and let me make
it rise and set as suited my sweet will. Babies of Mr. Pedagog's sort
are fortunately like angel's visits, few and far between. In spite of
his stand in the matter, though, I can't help thinking there was a great
deal of truth in a rhyme a friend of mine got off on Youth. It fits the
case. He said:

    "'Youth is a state of being we attain
    In early years; to some 'tis but a crime--
    And, like the mumps, most agèd men complain,
    It can't be caught, alas! a second time."'

"Your rhymes are interesting, and your reasoning, as usual, is faulty,"
said the School-master. "I passed a very pleasant childhood, though it
was a childhood devoted, as you have insinuated, to serious rather than
to flippant pursuits. I wasn't particularly fond of tag and
hide-and-seek, nor do I think that even as an infant I ever cried for
the moon."

"It would have expanded your chest if you had, Mr. Pedagog," observed
the Idiot, quietly.

"So it would, but I never found myself short-winded, sir," retorted the
School-master, with some acerbity.

"That is evident; but go on," said the Idiot. "You never passed a
childish youth nor a youthful childhood, and therefore what?"

"Therefore, in my present condition, I am normally contented. I have no
youthful follies to look back upon, no indiscretions to regret; I never
knowingly told a lie, and--"

"All of which proves that you never were young," put in the Idiot; "and
you will excuse me if I say it, but my father is the model for me rather
than so exalted a personage as yourself. He is still young, though
turned seventy, and I don't believe on his own account there ever was a
boy who played hookey more, who prevaricated oftener, who purloined
others' fruits with greater frequency than he. He was guilty of every
crime in the calendar of youth; and if there is one thing that delights
him more than another, it is to sit on a winter's night before the
crackling log and tell us yarns about his youthful follies and his
boyhood indiscretions."

"But is he normally a happy man?" queried the School-master.

"No."

"Ah!"

"No. He's an _ab_normally happy man, because he's got his follies and
indiscretions to look back upon and not forward to."

"Ahem!" said Mrs. Smithers.

"Dear me!" ejaculated Mr. Whitechoker.

Mr. Pedagog said nothing, and the breakfast-room was soon deserted.



XIII


There was an air of suppressed excitement about Mrs. Smithers and Mr.
Pedagog as they sat down to breakfast. Something had happened, but just
what that something was no one as yet knew, although the genial old
gentleman had a sort of notion as to what it was.

"Pedagog has been good-natured enough for an engaged man for nearly a
week now," he whispered to the Idiot, who had asked him what he supposed
was up, "and I have a half idea that Mrs. S. has at last brought him to
the point of proposing."

"It's the other way, I imagine," returned the Idiot.

"You don't really think she has rejected him, do you?" queried the
genial old gentleman.

"Oh no; not by a great deal. I mean that I think it very likely that he
has brought her to the point. This is leap-year, you know," said the
Idiot.

"Well, if I were a betting man, which I haven't been since night before
last, I'd lay you a wager that they're engaged," said the old gentleman.

"I'm glad you've given up betting," rejoined the Idiot, "because I'm
sure I'd take the bet if you offered it--and then I believe I'd lose."

"We are to have Philadelphia spring chickens this morning, gentlemen,"
said Mrs. Smithers, beaming upon all at the table. "It's a special
treat."

"Which we all appreciate, my dear Mrs. Smithers," observed the Idiot,
with a courteous bow to his landlady. "And, by the way, why is it that
Philadelphia spring chickens do not appear until autumn, do you suppose?
Is it because Philadelphia spring doesn't come around until it is autumn
everywhere else?"

"No, I think not," said the Doctor. "I think it is because Philadelphia
spring chickens are not sufficiently hardened to be able to stand the
strain of exportation much before September, or else Philadelphia people
do not get so sated with such delicacies as to permit any of the crop to
go into other than Philadelphia markets before that period. For my
part, I simply love them."

[Illustration: "'MRS. S. BROUGHT HIM TO THE POINT OF PROPOSING'"]

"So do I," said the Idiot; "and if Mrs. Smithers will pardon me for
expressing a preference for any especial part of the _pièce de
résistance_, I will state to her that if, in helping me, she will give
me two drumsticks, a pair of second joints, and plenty of the white
meat, I shall be very happy."

"You ought to have said so yesterday," said the School-master, with a
surprisingly genial laugh. "Then Mrs. Smithers could have prepared an
individual chicken for you."

"That would be too much," returned the Idiot, "and I should really
hesitate to eat too much spring chicken. I never did it in my life, and
don't know what the effect would be. Would it be harmful, Doctor?"

"I really do not know how it would be," answered the Doctor. "In all my
wide experience I have never found a case of the kind."

"It's very rarely that one gets too much spring chicken," said Mr.
Whitechoker. "I haven't had any experience with patients, as my friend
the Doctor has; but I have lived in many boarding-houses, and I have
never yet known of any one even getting enough."

"Well, perhaps we shall have all we want this morning," said Mrs.
Smithers. "I hope so, at any rate, for I wish this day to be a memorable
one in our house. Mr. Pedagog has something to tell you. John, will you
announce it now?"

"Did you hear that?" whispered the Idiot. "She called him 'John.'"

"Yes," said the genial old gentleman. "I didn't know Pedagog had a first
name before."

"Certainly, my dear--that is, my very dear Mrs. Smithers," stammered
the School-master, getting red in the face. "The fact is,
gentlemen--ahem!--I--er--we--er--that is, of course--er--Mrs. Smithers
has er--ahem!--Mrs. Smithers has asked me to be her--I--er--I should say
I have asked Mrs. Smithers to be my husb--my wife, and--er--she--"

"Hoorah!" cried the Idiot, jumping up from the table and grasping Mr.
Pedagog by the hand. "Hoorah! You've got in ahead of us, old man, but we
are just as glad when we think of your good-fortune. Your gain may be
our loss--but what of that where the happiness of our dear landlady is
at stake?"

Mrs. Smithers glanced coyly at the Idiot and smiled.

"Thank you," said the School-master.

"You are welcome," said the Idiot. "Mrs. Smithers, you will also permit
me to felicitate you upon this happy event. I, who have so often
differed with Mr. Pedagog upon matters of human knowledge, am forced to
admit that upon this occasion he has shown such eminently good sense
that you are fortunate, indeed, to have won him."

"Again I thank you," said the School-master. "You are a very sensible
person yourself, my dear Idiot; perhaps my failure to appreciate you at
times in the past has been due to your brilliant qualities, which have
so dazzled me that I have been unable to see you as you really are."

"Here are the chickens," said Mrs. Smithers.

"Ah!" ejaculated the Idiot. "What lucky fellows we are, to be sure! I
hope, Mrs. Smithers, now that Mr. Pedagog has cut us all out, you will
at least be a sister to the rest of us, and let us live at home."

[Illustration: "'HOORAH!' CRIED THE IDIOT, GRASPING MR. PEDAGOG BY THE
HAND"]

"There is to be no change," said Mrs. Smithers--"at least, I hope not,
except that Mr. Pedagog will take a more active part in the management
of our home."

"I don't envy him that," said the Idiot. "We shall be severe critics,
and it will be hard work for him to manage affairs better than you did,
Mrs. Smithers."

"Mary, get me a larger cup for the Idiot's coffee," said Mrs. Smithers.

"Let's all retire from business," suggested the Idiot, after the other
guests had expressed their satisfaction with the turn affairs had taken.
"Let's retire from business, and change the Smithers Home for Boarders
into an Educational Institution."

"For what purpose?" queried the Bibliomaniac.

"Everything is so lovely now," explained the Idiot, "that I feel as
though I never wanted to leave the house again, even to win a fortune.
If we turn it into a college and instruct youth, we need never go
outside the front door excepting for pleasure."

"Where will the money and the instructors come from?" asked Mr.
Whitechoker.

"Money? From pupils; and after we get going maybe somebody will endow
us. As for instructors, I think we know enough to be instructors
ourselves," replied the Idiot. "For instance: Pedagog's University. John
Pedagog, President; Alonzo B. Whitechoker, Chaplain; Mrs.
Smithers-Pedagog, Matron. For Professor of Belles-lettres, the
Bibliomaniac, assisted by the Poet; Medical Lectures by Dr. Capsule;
Chemistry taught by our genial friend who occasionally imbibes; Chair in
General Information, your humble servant. Why, we would be overrun with
pupils and money in less than a year."

"A very good idea," returned Mr. Pedagog. "I have often thought that a
nice little school could be started here to advantage, though I must
confess that I had different ideas on the subject of the instructors.
You, my dear Idiot, would be a great deal more useful as a Professor
Emeritus."

"Hm!" said the Idiot. "It sounds mighty well--I've no doubt I should
like it. What is a Professor Emeritus, Mr. Pedagog?"

"He is a professor who is paid a salary for doing nothing."

The whole table joined in a laugh, the Idiot included.

"By Jove! Mr. Pedagog," he said, as soon as he could speak, "you are
just dead right about that. That's the place of places for me. Salary
and nothing to do! Oh, how I'd love it!"

The rest of the breakfast was eaten in silence. The spring chickens were
too good and too plentiful to admit of much waste of time in
conversation. At the conclusion of the meal the Idiot rose from the
table, and, after again congratulating Mr. Pedagog and his fiancée,
announced that he was going to see his employer.

"On Sunday?" queried Mrs. Smithers.

"Yes; I want him to write me a recommendation as a man who can do
nothing beautifully."

"And why, pray?" asked Mr. Pedagog.

"I'm going to apply to the Trustees of Columbia College the first thing
to-morrow morning for an Emeritus Professorship, for if anybody can do
nothing and draw money for it gracefully I'm the man. Wall Street is too
wearing on my nerves," he replied.

And in a moment he was gone.

"I _like_ him," said Mrs. Smithers.

"So do I," said Mr. Pedagog. "He isn't half the idiot he thinks he is."

THE END



By LILIAN BELL


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