Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Half-Hours with the Idiot
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 "Half-Hours with the Idiot" ***

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



scanned images of public domain material from the Google
Print archive.



HALF HOURS WITH THE IDIOT



By John Kendrick Bangs

       *       *       *       *       *

  A LITTLE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS
  A LINE O' CHEER FOR EACH DAY O' THE YEAR
  HALF HOURS WITH THE IDIOT



HALF HOURS WITH
THE IDIOT


BY
JOHN KENDRICK BANGS


[Illustration]


BOSTON
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
1917



_Copyright, 1917,_
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
     I AS TO AMBASSADORS' RESIDENCES                                   1
    II AS TO THE FAIR SEX                                             22
   III HE GOES CHRISTMAS SHOPPING                                     43
    IV AS TO THE INCOME TAX                                           65
     V A PSYCHIC VENTURE                                              84
    VI ON MEDICAL CONSERVATION                                       101
   VII THE U. S. TELEPHONIC AID SOCIETY                              119
  VIII FOR TIRED BUSINESS MEN                                        137



I

AS TO AMBASSADORS' RESIDENCES


"I am glad to see that the government is beginning to think seriously of
providing Ambassadors' residences at the various foreign capitals to
which our Ambassadors are accredited," said the Idiot, stirring his
coffee with a small pocket thermometer, and entering the recorded
temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit in his little memorandum book.
"That's a thing we have needed for a long time. It has always seemed a
humiliating thing to me to note the differences between the houses of
our government officials of equal rank, but of unequal fortune, abroad.
To leave the home of an Ambassador to Great Britain, a massive
sixteen-story mausoleum, looking like a collision between a Carnegie
Library and a State Penitentiary, with seven baths and four grand pianos
on every floor, with guides always on duty to show you the way from your
bedchamber to the breakfast room, and a special valet for each garment
you wear, from sock to collar, and go over to Rome and find your
Ambassador heating his coffee over a gas-jet in a hall bedroom on the
top floor of some dusty old Palazzo, overlooking the garage of the
Spanish Minister, is disconcerting, to say the least. It may be a
symptom of American fraternity, but it does not speak volumes for
Western Hemispherical equality, and the whole business ought to be
standardized. An American Embassy architecturally should not be either a
twin brother to a Renaissance lunatic asylum, or a replica of a four
thousand dollar Ladies' Home Journal bungalow that can be built by the
owner himself working Sunday afternoons for eight hundred dollars,
exclusive of the plumbing."

"You are right for once, Mr. Idiot," said the Bibliomaniac approvingly.
"The last time I was abroad traveling with one of those Through Europe
in Ten Days parties, I could not make up my mind which was the more
humiliating to me as an American citizen, the lavish ostentation of one
embassy, or the niggardly squalor of another; and it occurred to me then
that here was a first-class opportunity for some patriot to come along
and do his country's dignity some good by pruning a little in one place,
and fattening things up a bit in another."

"Quite so," said the Idiot, inhaling a waffle.

"And I have been hoping," continued the Bibliomaniac, "that Congress
would authorize the purchase of suitable houses in foreign capitals for
the purpose of correcting the evil."

"That's where we diverge, sir," said the Idiot, "as the lady said to her
husband, when they got their first glimpse of the courthouse at Reno. We
don't want to purchase. We want to build. The home of an American
Ambassador should express America, not the country to which he is sent
to Ambass. There's nothing to my mind less appropriate than to find a
diplomat from Oklahoma named, let us say, Dinkelspiel, housed in a Louis
Fourteenth chateau on the Champs Eliza; or a gentleman from Indiana
dwelling in the palace of some noble but defunct homicidal Duck of the
Sforza strain in Rome; or a leading Presbyterian representing us at
Constantinople receiving his American visitors in a collection of
bargain-counter minarets formerly occupied by the secondary harem of the
Sublime Porte. There is an incongruity about that sort of thing that,
while it may add to the gaiety of nations, leaves Uncle Sam at the wrong
end of the joke. When the thing is done it ought to be done from the
ground up. Uncle Sam should always feel at home in his own house, and I
contend that he couldn't really feel that way in an ex-harem, or in one
of those cold-storage Roman Palazzos where the Borgias used to dispense
cyanide of potassium _frappé_ to their friends and neighbors. He doesn't
fit into that sort of thing any more than he fits into those pink satin
knee-breeches, and the blue cocked hat with rooster feathers that
diplomatic usage requires him to wear when he goes to make a party call
on the Czar. So I am hoping that when Congress takes the matter up it
will consider only the purchase of suitable sites, and then go on to
adopt a standardized residence which from cellar to roof, from state
salon to kitchen, shall express the American idea."

"You talk as if there were an American idea in architecture," said the
Doctor. "If there is such a thing to be found anywhere under the canopy,
let's have it."

"Oh, it hasn't been evolved, yet," said the Idiot. "But it soon would be
if we were to put our minds on it. We can be just as strong on evolution
as we always have been on revolution if we only try. The first thing
would be for us to recognize that in his fullest development up to date
the real American is a composite of everything that is best in all other
nations. Take my humble self for instance."

"What, again?" groaned the Bibliomaniac. "Really, Mr. Idiot, you are
worse than the measles. You can take that only once, but you--why, we've
had you so often that it sometimes seems as if life were just one
idiotic thing after another."

"Oh, all right," said the Idiot. "In that case, let's take you for a
dreadful example. What are you, anyhow, Mr. Bib, but the ultimate result
of a highly variegated international complication in the matter of
ancestry? Your father was English; your mother was German. Your
grandparents were Scotch, Irish, and Manx, with a touch of French on one
side, and a mixture of Hungarian, Danish, and Russian on the other. It
is just possible that without knowing it you also contain traces of
Italian and Spanish. Your love of classic literature suggests that
somewhere back in the ages one of your forbears swarmed about Athens as
a member of that famous clan, the Hoi Polloi. The touch of melancholy in
your nature may be attributed to overindulgence in waffles, but it
suggests also that Scandinavia had a hand in the evolution of your Ego.
In other words, sir, you are a sort of human _pousse-café_, a mighty
agreeable concoction, Mr. Bib, though a trifle dangerous to tackle at
breakfast. Now, as I wanted to say in the beginning, when you intimated
that I was in danger of becoming chronic, I am out of the same box of
ancestral odds and ends that you are. I am a mixture of Dutch, French,
English, and Manx, with an undoubted strain of either Ciceronian Roman
or Demosthenesian Greek thrown in--I'm not certain which--as is
evidenced by my overwhelming predilection for the sound of my own
voice."

"That much is perfectly clear," interjected the Bibliomaniac, "though
the too-easy and overcontinuous flow of your speech indicates that your
veins contain some of the torrential qualities of the Ganges."

"Say rather the Mississippi, Mr. Bib," suggested Mr. Brief. "The
Mississippi has the biggest mouth."

"Well, anyhow," continued the Idiot, unabashed, "whether my speech
suggests the unearthly, mystic beauty of the Ganges, or the placid
fructifying flow of the Mississippi, the fact remains that the best
American type is a composite of all the best that human experience has
been able to produce in the way of a featherless biped since Doctor
Darwin's friend, Simian, got rid of his tail, preferring to sleep
quietly on his back in bed rather than spend his nights swinging
nervously to and fro from the limb of a tree. Since we can't deny this,
let's make a virtue of it, and act accordingly. What is more simple,
then, than that a composite people should go in for a composite
architecture to express themselves in marble, stone, and brick? Acting
on this principle let our architecture express the glory that was
Greece, the grandeur that was Rome, the utility that was England, the
economy that was Scotch, the _espièglerie_ that was France, the
simplicity that was Holland, and the efficiency that was Germany, not to
mention the philandery that was Constantinople. The problem will be how
to combine all these various strains and qualities in one composite
building, and that, of course, will have to be solved by architects. It
isn't a thing like banking that under the theories of modern
Statesmanship can be settled by chauffeurs, tobacconists, and
undertakers, but will require expert handling. I don't know very much
about architecture myself, but off-hand I should say that the exterior
of the building might be a combination of late Victorian Queen Anne,
softened somewhat with Elizabethan suggestions of neo-Gothic
Graeco-Roman Classicism; with a Byzantine fullness about the eaves,
relieved with a touch of Hebridean French Renaissance manifested in the
rococo quality of the pergola effect at the front, the whole building
welded into a less inchoate mass by a very pronounced feeling of
Georgian decadence, emphasized with a gambrel roof, and the façade
decorated with flamboyant Dutch fire escapes, bringing irresistibly to
mind the predominance in all American art of the Teutonic-Doric, as
shown in our tendency to gables supported by moorish pilasters done in
Hudson River brick. Not being an architect myself I don't know that a
building of that kind could be made to stand up, but we might experiment
on the proposition by erecting a Pan-European building in Washington,
and see whether it would stand or not. If it could stand through one
extra session of Congress without cracking, I don't see why it couldn't
be put up anywhere abroad with perfect confidence that it would stay up
through one administration, anyhow."

"A nightmare of that kind erected in the capital city of a friendly
power would be just cause for war to the knife!" said Mr. Brief.

"Well, I have an alternative proposition," said the Idiot, "and I am not
sure that it isn't far better than the other. Why not erect a Statue of
Liberty in every capital abroad, an exact reproduction of that
monumental affair in New York Harbor, and let our Ambassadors live in
them? They tell me there's as much room inside Liberty's skirts as there
is in any ordinary ten-story apartment house, and there is no reason
why it should not be utilized. My suggestion would be to have all the
offices of the Embassies in the pedestals, and let the Ambassador and
his family live in the overskirt. There'd be plenty of room left higher
up in the torso for guest chambers, and in the uplifted arm for
nurseries for the ambassadorial children, and the whole could be capped
with a magnificent banquet hall on the rim of the torch, at the base of
the brazen flame."

"A plan worthy of the gigantic intellect that conceived it," smiled the
Doctor. "But how would you have this thing furnished, Mr. Idiot? Would
that be done by the Ambassadors themselves, or would the President have
to call a special session of Congress to tackle the job?"

"I was coming to that," said the Idiot. "It has occurred to me that it
would be a fine thing to have forty-eight rooms in the statue, each
named after one of our American States, and then leave it to each State
to furnish its own room. This would lend a pleasing variety to the
inside of the building that could hardly fail to interest the visitor,
and would give the foreigners a very clear insight into our resources
along lines of interior decorations. Think of the Massachusetts Room,
for example--a fine old horse-hair mahogany sofa in one corner; a
rosewood highboy off in another; an old-fashioned four-poster bed
projecting out into the middle of the room, and a blue china wash-bowl
and pitcher on a spindle-legged washstand near by; and on the wall three
steel engravings, one showing John Hancock signing the Declaration of
Independence, another of Charles Sumner preaching emancipation, and a
third showing Billy Sunday trying to sweep back the waves of a damp
Boston from the sand dunes of a gradually drying Commonwealth. Then the
Michigan room would be a corker, lavishly filled with antique furniture
fresh from Grand Rapids, and a bronze statuette of Henry Ford at each
end of the mantelpiece for symmetry's sake, the ceiling given over to a
symbolical painting entitled The Confusion of Bacchus, reproducing
scenes in Detroit when announcement was made that the good old State had
voted for grape-juice as the official tipple. Missouri's room could be
made a thing of beauty and a joy forever, with its lovely wall paper
showing her favorite sons, Dave Francis and Champ Clark alternately,
separated by embossed hound-dogs, rampant, done in gilt bronze, and the
State motto, Show Me, in red, white, and blue tiles over the fireplace.
Really I can't imagine anything more expressive of all-America than that
would be. Florida could take the Palm Room; New York the rather frigid
and formal white and gold reception room; Maine as the leading
cold-water State of the Union could furnish the bathrooms; California
could provide a little cafeteria affair for a quick lunch in mission
style, and owing to her pre-eminence in literature, the library could be
turned over to Indiana with every assurance that if there were not books
enough to go round, any one of her deservedly favorite sons, from George
Ade to George McCutcheon, would write a five-foot shelfful at any time
to supply the deficiency.

"Murally speaking, a plan of this sort could be made historically
edifying also. Florida could supply a handsome canvas showing Ponce de
Leon discovering Palm Beach. In the New Jersey room the Battle of
Trenton could be shown, depicting the retreat of Jim Smith, and the
final surrender of Democracy to General Wilson. Ohio could emphasize in
an appropriate medium the Discovery of the Oil Fields by Mr.
Rockefeller. Pennsylvania could herald her glories with a mural painting
apotheosizing William Penn and Andrew Carnegie in the act of forging her
heart of steel in the fires of immortality, kept burning by a
never-ending stream of bonds poured forth from the end of a cornucopia
by Fortune herself. An heroic figure of Governor Blease defying the
lightning would come gracefully from South Carolina, and Rhode Island,
always a most aristocratic little State, could emphasize the descent of
some of her favorite sons from Darwin's original inspiration by a frieze
depicting a modern tango party at Newport, in which the preservation of
the type, and a possible complete reversion thereto, should be made
imperishably obvious to all beholders.

"Then, to make the thing consistent throughout, the homes of
Ambassadors having been standardized, Congress should order a standard
uniform for her representatives abroad. This would settle once and for
all the vexed question as to what an Ambassador shall wear when
presented to King This, or Emperor That, or the Ponkapog of Thingumbob.
I think it ought to be a definitely established principle that every
nation should be permitted to choose its own official dud, but not the
duds of others. There is no reason in the world why the King of England
should be permitted to dictate the style of garments an American
Ambassador shall wear. Suppose he ordered him to attend a five o'clock
tea clad in yellow pajamas trimmed with red-plush fringe and gold
tassels emerging from green rosettes? It would be enough to set the
eagle screaming and to justify the sending of a Commission of Protest
headed by Mr. Bryan over to London to slap Mr. Lloyd George on the
wrist. Nor should the Kaiser be permitted to say how an American
representative shall dress when calling upon him, compelling him to
appear perhaps in a garb entirely unsuited to his style of
beauty--something like the uniform of a glorified White Wing, for
instance, decorated with peacock feathers, and wearing an alpine hat
with a stuffed parrot lying flat on its back on the peak, on his head.
That sort of thing does not gee with our pretensions. We are a free and
independent nation, and it is time to assert our independence of the
sartorial shackles those foreign potentates would fasten upon us. Let
the fiat go forth that hereafter all American Ambassadors wheresoever
accredited shall wear a long blue swallow-tail coat with brass buttons,
and forty-eight stars, lit by electricity from a small battery concealed
in the pistol pocket, appliquéd on the tails; red and white-striped
doeskin trousers, skin tight, held down by straps under the boots; and
an embroidered waist-coat, showing a couple of American eagles standing
on their hind legs and facing the world with the defiant cry of We
Pluribus Us; the whole topped off with a bell-crowned, fuzzy beaver hat,
made of silver-gray plush, which shall never be removed in the presence
of anybody, potentate or peasant, plutocrat or Cook tourist. If in
addition to these items the Ambassador were compelled to wear a long,
yellow chin whisker, it would be just the liverest livery that ever came
down the pike of Brummelian splendor. It would emphasize the presence of
the American Ambassador wherever he went, and make the effete nations of
Europe, Asia, Africa, and Pan America sit up and take notice."

"Doubtless," said the Bibliomaniac, rising impatiently. "And do you
suppose the President could find any self-respecting American in or out
of jail who would be willing to wear such a costume as that?"

"Well," said the Idiot, "of course some of 'em might object, but I'll
bet you four dollars and eighty-seven cents' worth of doughnuts against
a Chautauqua rain check that any man who offered you seventeen thousand
five hundred dollars a year for wearing those duds without having the
money to back the offer up would find your name at the head of the list
of his preferred creditors in less than three shakes of a lamb's tail!"



II

AS TO THE FAIR SEX


"I observe with pain," said the Idiot, as he placed the Bibliomaniac's
pat of butter under his top waffle, "that there is a more or less
acrimonious dispute going on as to the propriety of admitting women to
the Hall of Fame. The Immortals already in seem to think that
immortality belongs exclusively to the male order of human beings, and
that the word is really 'Him-mortality', and decline to provide even a
strap for the ladies to hang on in the cars leading to the everlasting
heights, all of which causes me to rejoice that I am not an Immortal
myself. If the one durable joy in life, the joy that neither crocks nor
fades, association with the fair sex, a diversion which age cannot
wither nor custom stale its infinite variety, is something an Immortal
must get along without, it's me for the tall timbers of fameless
existence. I rejoice that I am but a plain, common-garden, everyday
mortal thing, ready for shipment, f. o. b., for the last terminal
station on the road to that well-known Irish settlement, O'Blivion."

"I didn't know that you were such an admirer of the fair sex, Mr.
Idiot," said the Doctor. "Many years' residence in a refined home for
single gentlemen like this would seem to indicate that the allurements
of feminine society were not for you."

"Quite the contrary," said the Idiot. "It proves rather my interest in
the fair sex as a whole. If I had specialized sufficiently upon one
single blessed damozel with pink cheeks, snappy brown eyes, and a
pompadour that might strike a soaring lark as the most desirable nest in
the world, to ask her to share my lot, and go halves with me in an
investment in the bonds of matrimony, it might have been said--I even
hope it would have been said--that the allurements of feminine society
were not for me. Marriage, my dear Doctor, is no symptom that a man is
interested in women. It is merely evidence of the irresistible
attraction of one person for another. It's like sampling a box of
candy--you may find the sample extremely pleasing and gobble it up
ferociously, but if you were to gobble up the whole box with equal
voracity it might prove hateful to you. In my case, I confess that I am
so deeply interested in the whole box of tricks that it is the sample I
fight shy of, and I have remained single all these years because my
heart is no miserable little one-horse-power affair that beats only for
one single individual, but a ninety-million horse-power dynamo that
whirls madly around day and night, on time and overtime, on behalf of
all. I could not possibly bring myself to love only one pair of blue
eyes to the utter exclusion of black, brown, or gray; nor can I be sure
that if in some moment of weakness I were to tie up irrevocably to a
pair of black eyes, somewhere, some day, with the moon just right, and
certain psychological conditions wholly propitious, a pair of
coruscating brown beads, set beneath two roguish eyebrows, would labor
in vain to win a curve of interest from my ascetic upper lip. To put it
in the brief form of a cable dispatch, rather than in magazine language
at fifteen cents a word, I love 'em all! Blonde, brunette, or in
between, in every maid I see a queen, as Shakespeare would have said if
he had thought of it."

"That's rather promiscuous, isn't it?" asked the Bibliomaniac.

"No, it's just playing safe, Mr. Bib," said the Idiot. "It's like a man
with a million dollars to invest. It isn't considered quite prudent for
him to put every red cent of that million into one single stock. If he
put his whole million into U. S. Hot Air Preferred, at 97-7/8, for
instance, and some day Hot Air became so cheap that the bottom dropped
out of the market, and the stock fell to 8-3/8 that man would
practically be a busted community. But if like a true sage he divided
his little million up into twenty fifty-thousand dollar lots, and put
each lot into some separate stock or bond, the general average would
probably maintain itself somewhere around par whether the tariff on
lyonnaise potatoes was removed or not. So it is with my affections. If I
could invest them in some such way as that I might have to move out of
here, and seek some pleasant little domestic Eden where matrimony is not
frowned upon."

"I rather guess you would have to move out of here," sniffed Mrs.
Pedagogy the Landlady. "I might be willing to forego my rules and take
somebody in here with one wife, but when a man talks about having
twenty--why, I am almost disposed to give you notice now, Mr. Idiot."

"Don't you worry your kindly soul about me on that score, Mrs. Pedagog,"
smiled the Idiot. "With ostrich feathers at seventy-five dollars a
plume, and real Connecticut sealskin coats made of angora plush going at
ninety-eight dollars, and any old kind of a falal selling in the open
market at a hundred and fifty per frill, there is no danger of my
startling this company by bringing home one bride, much less twenty. I
was only speculating upon a theoretical ideal of matrimony, a sort of
_e pluribus unum_ arrangement which holds much speculative charm, but
which in practice would undoubtedly land a man in jail."

"I had no idea that any of my boarders could ever bring themselves to
advance a single word in favor of polygamy," said the Landlady sternly.

"Nor I," said the Idiot. "I don't believe even Mr. Bib here would
advocate anything of the sort. I was merely trying to make clear to the
Doctor, my dear lady, why I have never attempted to make some woman
happy for a week and a martyr for the rest of time. It is due to my deep
admiration for the whole feminine sex, and not, as he seemed to think,
to a dislike of feminine society. The trace of polygamy which you seem
to find in my discourse is purely academic, and it is clear to me that
you have quite misunderstood my scheme. A true marriage, one of those
absolutely indestructible companionships that we read about in poetry,
involves so many more things than any ordinary human being is really
capable of, that one who thinks about the matter at all cannot resist
the temptation to speculate on how things might be if they were
different. The active man of affairs these busy times needs many diverse
things in the way of companionship. He needs a helpmate along so many
different lines that no single daughter of Eve can reasonably hope to
supply them all. For example, if a man marries a woman who is deeply
interested in Ibsen and Bernard Shaw abroad, and deep thinkers like
William J. Bryan and Thomas Riley Marshall at home, she no doubt makes
him ecstatically happy in those solemn moments when his mind wishes to
grapple understandingly with the infinite. But suppose that poor chap
comes home some night worn to a frazzle with the worries and
complications of his business affairs, his spirit fairly yearning for
something fluffy and intellectually completely restful, do you suppose
for a moment that he is going to be lifted out of the morass of his woe
by a conversation with that lady of his on the subject of the
Inestimable Infinitude of the Protoplasmic Suffragette as outlined by
Professor Sophocles J. Plato in the latest issue of the _South American
Review_? Not he, my dear Mrs. Pedagog. What he wants on that occasion is
somebody to sit alongside of him while he pulls away on his old
briarwood pipe, holding his tired little paddy in her soft right hand,
while she twitters forth George Ade's latest Fable on 'The Flipper that
Flapped', or something else equally diverting. The reverse of the
picture is equally true. If there is anything in the world that drives a
man to despair it is to have to listen to five o'clock tea gabble when
he happens to be in a mood for the Alexander Hamilton, or Vice-President
Marshall style of discourse. The facts are the same in both cases. The
Bernard Shaw lady is a delight to the heart and soul in his Bernard Shaw
moods. The George Ade lady is a source of unalloyed bliss in a George
Ade mood, but they don't reverse readily, and in most cases they can't
reverse at all. Then there are other equally baffling complications
along other lines. A man may be crazy about poetry, and he falls in
love, as he supposes, with a dainty little creature in gold-rimmed
eyeglasses, who writes the most exquisite lyrics, simply because he
thinks at the moment that those lyrics are going to make his life just
one sweet song after another. He marries the little songbird, and then
what happens?"

"Never having married a canary, I don't know," said the Landlady, with
a glance at her husband.

"Well, I'll tell you," said the Idiot. "He has a honeymoon of lovely
images. He feels like a colt put out to pasture on the slopes of
Parnassus. Life runs along with the lilt of a patter song--and then, to
indulge in a joke worthy of the palmiest days of London Punch, he comes
out of Patter-Song! There dawns a day when he is full chock-a-block up
to his neck with poetry, and the inner man craves the re-enforcement of
the kind of flapjacks his mother used to make. One good waffle would
please him more than sixty-seven sonnets on the subject of 'Aspiration.'
Nothing short of a lustrous, smoking, gleaming stack of fresh buckwheats
can hold him on the pinnacle of joy, and the lovely little lyrist, to
whom he has committed himself, his destinies, and all that he has under
a vow for life, hies herself singing to the kitchen, mixes the
necessary amount of concrete, serves the resulting dishes at the
breakfast table, and gloom, gloom unmitigated, falls upon that house.
After eating two of her cakes poor old hubby begins to feel as if he had
swallowed the corner stone of a Carnegie library. That lyric touch that
Herrick might have envied and Tennyson have viewed with professional
alarm has produced a buckwheat cake of such impenetrable density that
the Navy Department, if it only knew about it, would joyously grant her
the contract for furnishing the armor plate for the new
superdreadnoughts we are about to build so as to be prepared for Peace
after Germany gets through with us. While eating those cakes the victim
speculates on that old problem, Is Suicide a Sin? A cloud rises upon the
horizon of his joy, and without intending any harm whatsoever, his mind
involuntarily reverts to another little lady he once knew, who, while
she couldn't tell the difference between a sonnet and a cabriolet, and
had a dim notion when she heard people speaking of Keats that keats were
some sort of a shellfish found on the rocks of the Hebrides at low tide,
and much relished by the natives, could yet put together a tea biscuit
so delicately tenuous of character that it melted in the mouth like a
flake of snow on the smokestack of a Pittsburgh blast furnace. Thus an
apparently secured joy loses its keen edge, and without anybody being
really to blame, life becomes thenceforward, very gradually, but none
the less surely, a mere test of endurance--a domestic marathon which
must be run to the end, unless the runners collapse before reaching the
finish."

"For both parties!" snapped the Landlady, pursing her lips severely.
"You needn't think that the men are the only ones to suffer--don't you
fool yourself on that point."

"Oh, indeed I don't, Mrs. Pedagog," said the Idiot. "It's just as bad
for the woman as for the man--sometimes a little worse, for there is no
denying that women are after all more chameleonic, capable of a greater
variety of emotions than men are. A man may find several women in
one--in fact, he generally does. It is her frequent unlikeness to
herself that constitutes the chief charm of some women. Take my friend
Spinks' wife, for instance. She's the most exacting Puritan at home that
you ever met. Poor Spinksy has to toe a straight mark for at least
sixteen hours out of every twenty-four. Mrs. Spinks rules him with a rod
of iron, but when that little Puritan goes to a club dance--well,
believe me, she is the snappiest eyed, most flirtatious little tangoer
in ninety-seven counties. Sundays in church she is the demurest bit of
sartorial impressiveness in sight, but at the bridge table you want to
keep your eyes wide open all the time lest your comfortable little
balance at the bank be suddenly transformed into a howling overdraft. I
should say that on general principles Mrs. Spinks is not less than nine
or ten women, all rolled into one--Joan of Arc, Desdemona, Lucrezia
Borgia, Cleopatra, Nantippe, Juliet, Mrs. Pankhurst, Eve, and the late
Carrie Nation. But Spinks--poor old Spinksy--there's no infinite variety
about him. At most Spinks is only two men--Mr. Henpeck at home and Mr.
Overworked when he gets out."

"I suppose from all of this nonsense," said the Landlady, "that your
matrimonial ideal would be found in a household where a man rejoiced in
the possession of a dozen wives--one frivolous little Hebe for his
joyous moods; one Junoesque thundercloud for serious emergencies; one
capable seamstress to keep his buttons sewed on; one first-class
housekeeper to look after his domestic arrangements; one suffragette to
talk politics to; one blue-stocking for literary companionship; one
highly-recommended cook to preside over his kitchen; one musical wife to
bang on the piano all day; one athletic girl for outdoor consumption,
and a plain, common-garden giggler to laugh at his jokes."

"I think I could be true to such a household, madame," said the Idiot,
"but please don't misunderstand me. I'm not advocating such a scheme. I
am only saying that since such a scheme is impossible under modern
conditions I think it is the best thing that ever happened to my wife
that she and I never met."

"Do you think a household of that sort would be satisfied with you?"
asked the Bibliomaniac.

"The chances are six to one that it wouldn't be," said the Idiot. "I'd
probably get along gloriously with Hebe and the giggler, but I guess the
others would stand a fair show of finding marriage a failure. Wherefore
am I wedded only to my fancies, content that my days should not be
subjected to the strain of trying to be all things to one woman,
preferring as I do to remain one thing to all women instead--their
devoted admirer and willing slave."

"Well, to come back to the Immortals," said the Doctor. "You don't
really think, do you, that we have any women Immortals?"

"Of course, I do," replied the Idiot. "The world is full of them, and
always has been."

Mr. Brief, the lawyer, tapped his forehead significantly.

"I'm afraid that screw has come loose again, Doctor," he said.

"Looks that way," said the Doctor, "but we'll tighten it up again in a
jiffy."

He paused a moment, and then resumed.

"Well, Mr. Idiot," he said, "of course our ideas may differ on the
subject of what makes an Immortal. Now, I should say that it is by their
fruits that ye shall know them."

"A highly original remark," observed the Idiot, with a grin.

"That aside," said the Doctor, coolly, "let's take up, for purposes of
discussion, a few standards. In music, Wagner was an Immortal, and
produced his great trilogy. In poetry, Milton was an Immortal, and
produced 'Paradise Lost.' In the drama, Shakespeare was an Immortal,
and produced 'Hamlet', and, coming down to our own time, let us grant
the obvious fact that Edison is headed toward immortality because of his
wizardry in electricity."

"Sure thing!" said the Idiot.

"It is good to have you grant all I say so readily," said the Doctor.
"Now then--let me ask you where in all history you find four women who
in the matter of their achievement, in the demonstrated fruits of their
labors, even measurably approached any one of these four I have
mentioned?"

"Why, Doctor," grinned the Idiot, "why ask me to steal candy from a
baby? Why suggest that I try to drive a tack with a sledgehammer, or cut
a mold of currant jelly with the whirring teeth of a buzz saw--"

"Sparring for time as usual," cried the Doctor triumphantly. "You can't
name one, and are simply trying to asphyxiate us with that peculiar
variety of natural gas for which you have long been famous."

"I'll fill the roster with examples if you'll sit and listen," said the
Idiot. "I can match every male genius that ever lived from Noah down to
Josephus Daniels with a woman whose product was of equal if not even
greater value. Begin where you please--in any century before or since
the flood, and I'll be your huckleberry--Wagner, Milton, Cromwell,
Roosevelt, Secretary Daniels, Kaiser Wilhelm, Methuselah--I don't care
who or what he is--I'll match him."

"All right," said the Doctor. "Suppose we begin low with that trifling
little frivoler in literature, William Shakespeare!"

"Good!" cried the Idiot. "He'll do--I'll just mark him off with Mrs.
Shakespeare."

"What?" chuckled the Doctor. "Anne Hathaway?"

"No," said the Idiot. "Not Anne Hathaway, but Shakespeare's mother."

"Oh, tush!" ejaculated the Bibliomaniac impatiently. "What rot! A wholly
unknown provincial person of whom the world knows about as much as a
beetle knows about Mars. What on earth did she ever produce?"

"Shakespeare!" said the Idiot, in an impressive basso-profundo tone that
echoed through the room like a low rumble of thunder.

And a silence fell upon that table so deep, so abysmally still, that one
could almost hear the snowflakes falling upon the trolley tracks sixteen
blocks away.



III

HE GOES CHRISTMAS SHOPPING


"Mercy, Mr. Idiot," cried Mrs. Pedagog, as the Idiot entered the
breakfast room in a very much disheveled condition, "what on earth has
happened to you? Your sleeve is almost entirely torn from your coat, and
you really look as if you had been dropped out of an aëroplane."

"Yes, Mrs. Pedagog," said the Idiot, wearily, "I feel that way. I
started in to do my Christmas Shopping early yesterday, and what you now
behold is the dreadful result. I went into Jimson and Slithers'
Department Store to clean up my Christmas list, and, seeing a rather
attractive bargain table off at one end of the middle aisle, in the
innocence of my young heart, I tried to get to it. It contained a lot of
mighty nice, useful presents that one could give to his friends and
relatives and at the same time look his creditors in the face--pretty
little cakes of pink soap made of rose leaves for five cents for three;
lacquered boxes of hairpins at seven cents apiece; silver-handled
toothpicks at two for five; French-gilt hatpins, with plate-glass
amethysts and real glue emeralds set in their heads for ten cents a
pair, and so on. Seen from the floor above, from which I looked down
upon that busy hive, that bargain table was quite the most attractive
thing you ever saw. It fairly glittered with temptation, and I went to
it; or at least I tried to go to it. I had been so attracted by the
giddy lure of the objects upon that table that I failed to notice the
maelstrom of humanity that was whirling about it--or perhaps I would
better say the fe-maelstrom of humanity that was eddying about its
boundaries, for it was made up wholly of women, as I discovered to my
sorrow a moment later when, caught in the swirl, I was tossed to and
fro, whirled, pirouetted, revolved, twisted, turned, and generally
whizzed about, like a cork on the surface of the Niagara whirlpool. What
with the women trying to get to the table, and the women trying to get
away from the table, and the women trying to get around the table, I
haven't seen anything to beat it since the day I started to take a
stroll one afternoon out in Kansas, and was picked up by a cyclone and
landed down by the Alamo in San Antonio ten minutes later."

"You ought to have known better than to try to get through such a crowd
as that these days," said the Doctor. "How are your ribs--"

"Know better?" retorted the Idiot. "How was I to know any better? There
the thing was ready to do business, and nothing but a lot of
tired-looking women about it. It looked easy enough, but after I had
managed to get in as far as the second layer from the outside I
discovered that it wasn't; and then I struggled to get out, but you
might as well struggle to get away from the tentacles of an octopus as
to try to get out of a place like that without knowing how. I was caught
just as surely as a fox with his foot in a trap, and the harder I
struggled to get out the nearer I was carried in toward the table
itself. It required all my strategy to navigate my face away from the
multitude of hatpins that surged about me on all sides. Twice I thought
my nose was going to be served _en brochette_. Thrice did the
penetrating points of those deadly pins pierce my coat and puncture the
face of my watch. Three cigars I carried in my vest pocket were shredded
into food for moths, and I give you my word that to keep from being
smothered to death by ostrich feathers I bit off the tops of at least
fifteen hats that were from time to time thrust in my face by that
writhing mass of feminine loveliness. How many aigrettes I inhaled, and
the number of artificial roses I swallowed, in my efforts to breathe and
bite my way to freedom I shall never know, but I can tell you right now,
I never want to eat another aigrette so long as I shall live, and I
wouldn't swallow one more canvas-backed tea rose if I were starving. At
one time I counted eight ladies standing on my feet instead of on their
own; and while I lost all eight buttons off my vest, and six from
various parts of my coat, when I got home last night I found enough
gilt buttons, crocheted buttons, bone buttons, filagree buttons, and
other assorted feminine buttons, inside my pockets to fill an innovation
trunk. And talk about massages! I was rubbed this way, and scourged that
way, and jack-planed the other way, until I began to fear I was about to
be erased altogether. The back breadth of my overcoat was worn
completely through, and the tails of my cutaway thereupon coming to the
surface were transformed into a flowing fringe that made me look like
the walking advertisement of a tassel factory. My watch chain caught
upon the belt buckle of an amazon in front of me, and the last I saw of
it was trailing along behind her over on the other side of that whirling
mass far beyond my reach. My strength was oozing, and my breath was
coming in pants short enough to be worn by a bow-legged four-year-old
pickaninny, when, making a last final herculean effort to get myself out
of that surging eruption, I was suddenly ejected from it, like Jonah
from the jaws of the whale, but alas, under the bargain table itself,
instead of on the outside, toward which I had fondly hoped I was
moving."

"Great Heavens!" said the Poet. "What an experience. And you had to go
through it all over again to escape finally?"

"Not on your life," said the Idiot. "I'd had enough. I just folded my
shredded overcoat up into a pillow, and lay down and went to sleep there
until the time came to close the shop for the night, when I sneaked out,
filled my pockets full of soap, clothespins, and other knickknacks, and
left a dollar bill on the floor to pay for them. They didn't deserve the
dollar, considering the damage I had sustained, but for the sake of my
poor but honest parents I felt that I ought to leave something in the
way of ready money behind me to pay for the loot."

"It's a wonder you weren't arrested for shoplifting," said Mr. Brief.

"They couldn't have proved anything on me," said the Idiot, "even if
they had thought of it. I had a perfectly good defense, anyhow."

"What was that?" asked the Lawyer.

"Temporary insanity," said the Idiot. "After my experience yesterday
afternoon I am convinced that no jury in the world would hold that a man
was in his right mind who, with no compelling reasons save generosity to
stir him to do so, plunged into a maelstrom of that sort. It would be a
clear case of either attempted suicide or mental aberration. Of course,
if I had been dressed for it in a suit of armor, and had been armed
with a battle-axe, or a long, sharp-pointed spear, it might have looked
like a case of highway robbery; but no male human being in his right
mind is going to subject himself to the hazards to life, limb, eye, ear,
and happiness, that I risked when I entered that crowd for the sole
purpose of getting away unobserved with a package of nickel-plated
hairpins, worth four cents and selling at seven, and a couple of
hand-painted fly swatters worth ten cents a gross."

The Landlady laughed a long, loud, silvery laugh, with just a little
touch of derision in it.

"O you men, you men!" she ejaculated. "You call yourselves the stronger
sex, and plume yourselves on your superior physical endurance, and yet
when it comes to a test, where are you?"

"Under the table, Madame, under the table," sighed the Idiot. "I for one
frankly admit the soft impeachment."

"Yes," said the Landlady, "but I'll warrant you never found a woman
under the table. We women, weak and defenseless though we be, go through
that sort of thing day after day from youth to age, and we never even
think of complaining, much less giving up the fight the way you did.
Once a woman gets her eye on a bargain, my dear Mr. Idiot, and really
wants it, it would take a hundred and fifty maelstroms such as you have
described to keep her from getting it."

"I don't doubt it," said the Idiot, "but you see, my dear Mrs. Pedagog,"
he added, "you women are brought up to that sort of thing. You are
trained from infancy to tackle just such problems, while we poor men
have no such advantages. The only practice in domestic rough-housing
that we men ever get in our youth is possibly a season on the football
team, or in those pleasing little games of childhood like
snap-the-whip, and mumbledypeg where we have to dig pegs out of the
ground with our noses. Later in life, perhaps, there will come a war to
teach us how to assault an entrenched enemy, and occasionally, perhaps
around election time, we may find ourselves mixed up in some kind of a
free fight on the streets, but all of these things are as child's play
compared to an assault upon a bargain table by one who has never
practiced the necessary maneuvers. To begin with we are absolutely
unarmed."

"Unarmed?" echoed the Landlady. "What would you carry, a Gatling gun?"

"Well, I never thought of that," said the Idiot, "but if I ever tackle
the proposition again, which, believe me, is very doubtful, I'll bear
the suggestion in mind. It sounds good. If I'd had a forty-two
centimeter machine-gun along with me yesterday afternoon I might have
stood a better chance."

"O you know perfectly well what I mean," said Mrs. Pedagog. "You implied
that women are armed when they go shopping, while men are not."

"Well, aren't they?" asked the Idiot. "Every blessed daughter of Eve in
that mêlée yesterday was armed, one might almost say, to the teeth.
There wasn't one in the whole ninety-seven thousand of them that didn't
have at least two hatpins thrust through the middle of her head with
their sharp-pointed ends sticking out an inch and a half beyond her dear
little ears; and every time a head was turned in any direction blood was
shed automatically. All I had was the stiff rim of my derby hat, and
even that fell off inside of three minutes, and I haven't seen hide nor
hair of it since. Then what the hatpins failed to move out of their path
other pins variously and strategically placed would tackle; and as for
auxiliary weapons, what with sharp-edged jet and metal buttons sprouting
from one end of the feminine form to the other, up the front, down the
back, across the shoulders, along the hips, executing flank movements
right and left, and diagonally athwart every available inch of
superficial area elsewhere, aided and abetted by silver and steel-beaded
handbags and featherweight umbrellas for purposes of assault, I tell you
every blessed damozel of the lot was a walking arsenal of destruction.
All one of those women had to do was to whizz around three times like a
dervish, poke her head either to the right or to the left, and gain
three yards, while I might twist around like a pinwheel, or an electric
fan, and get nothing for my pains save a skewered nose, or a poke in the
back that suggested the presence of a member of the Black Hand Society.
In addition to all this I fear I have sustained internal injuries of
serious import. My teeth are intact, save for two feathers that are so
deeply imbedded at the back of my wisdom teeth that I fear I shall have
to have them pulled, but every time I breathe one of my ribs behaves as
if in some way it had got itself tangled up with my left shoulder blade.
Why, the pressure upon me at one time was so great that I began to feel
like a rosebud placed inside the family Bible by an old maid whose lover
has evaporated, to be pressed and preserved there until his return. This
little pancake that is about to fulfill its destiny as a messenger from
a cold and heartless outside world to my inner man, is a rotund,
bulgent, balloon-shaped bit of puffed-up convex protuberance compared to
the way I felt after that whirl of feminity had put me through the
clothes-wringer. I was as flat as a joke of Caesar's after its four
thousandth semiannual appearance in London Punch, and in respect to
thickness I was pressed so thin that you could have rolled me around
your umbrella, and still been able to get the cover on."

"You never were very deep, anyhow," suggested the Bibliomaniac.

"Whence the wonder of it grows," said the Idiot. "Normally I am
fathomless compared to the thin, waferlike quality of my improfundity as
I flickered to the floor after that dreadful pressure was removed."

"How about women getting crushed?" demanded the Landlady defiantly. "If
a poor miserable little wisp of a woman can go through that sort of
thing, I don't see why a big, brawny man like you can't."

"Because, as I have already said," said the Idiot, "I wasn't dressed for
it. My clothes aren't divided up into airtight compartments, rendering
me practically unsinkable within, nor have I any steel-constructed
garments covering my manly form to resist the pressure."

"And have women?" asked Mrs. Pedagog.

The Idiot blushed.

"How should I know, my dear Mrs. Pedagog?" replied the Idiot. "I'm no
authority on the subtle mysteries of feminine raiment, but from what I
see in the shop windows, and in the advertising pages of the magazines,
I should say that the modern woman could go through a courtship with a
grizzly bear and come out absolutely undented. As I pass along the
highways these days, and glance into the shop windows, mine eyes are
constantly confronted by all sorts of feminine under-tackle, which in
the days of our grandmothers were regarded as strictly confidential. I
see steel-riveted contraptions, marked down from a dollar fifty-seven to
ninety-eight cents, which have all the lithe, lissom grace of a Helen of
Troy, the which I am led to infer the women of to-day purchase and
insert themselves into, gaining thereby not only a marvelous symmetry of
figure hitherto unknown to them, but that same security against the
bufferings of a rude outside world as well, which a gilt-edged bond must
feel when it finds itself locked up behind the armor-plated walls of a
Safe Deposit Company. Except that these armorial undergarments are
decorated with baby-blue ribbons, and sporadic, not to say spasmodic,
doodads in filmy laces and chiffon, they differ in no respect from those
wonderful combinations of slats, chest-protectors, and liver pads which
our most accomplished football players wear at the emergent moments of
their intellectual development at college. In point of fact, without
really knowing anything about it, I venture the assertion that the woman
of to-day wearing this steel-lined chiffon figure, and armed with
seventy or eighty different kinds of pins from plain hat to safety,
which protrude from various unexpected parts of her anatomy at the
psychological moment, plus the devastating supply of buttons always
available for moments of aggressive action, is the most powerfully and
efficiently developed engine of war the world has yet produced. She is
not only protected by her unyielding figure from the onslaughts of the
enemy, but she fairly bristles as well with unsuspected weapons of
offense against which anything short of a herd of elephants on stampede
would be powerless. Your modern Amazon is an absolutely irrefragable,
irresistible creature, and it makes me shudder to think of what is going
to happen when this war of the sexes, now in its infancy, really gets
going, and we defenseless men have nothing but a few regiments of
artillery, and a division or two of infantry and cavalry standing
between us and an advancing column of super-insulated shoppers, using
their handbags as clubs, their hatpins glistening wickedly in the
morning light, as they tango onward to the fray. When that day comes,
frankly, I shall turn and run. I had my foretaste of that coming warfare
in my pursuit of Christmas gifts yesterday afternoon, and my motto
henceforth and forever is Never Again!"

"Then I suppose we need none of us expect to be remembered by you this
Christmas," said the Doctor. "Alas, and alas! I shall miss the generous
bounty which led you last year to present me with a cold waffle on
Christmas morn."

"On the contrary, Doctor," said the Idiot. "Profiting from my experience
of yesterday I am going to start in on an entirely new system of
Christmas giving. No more boughten articles for me--my presents will be
fashioned by loving hands without thought of dross. You and all the rest
of my friends at this board are to be remembered as usual. For the
Bibliomaniac I have a little surprise in store in the shape of a copy of
the _Congressional Record_ for December 7th which I picked up on a
street car last Friday morning. It is an absolutely first edition, in
the original wrappers, and will make a fine addition to his collection
of Americana. For Mr. Brief I have a copy of the New York Telephone Book
for 1906, which he will find full of most excellent addresses. For my
dear friend, the Poet, I have set aside a charming collection of
rejection slips from his friends the editors; and for you, Doctor, as an
affectionate memento of my regard, I have prepared a little mixture of
all the various medicines you have prescribed for me during the past
five years, none of which I have ever taken, to the vast betterment of
my health. These, consisting of squills, cod-liver oil, ipecac, quinine,
iron tonic, soothing syrup, spirits of ammonia, horse liniment, himalaya
bitters, and calomel, I have mixed together in one glorious concoction,
which I shall bottle with my own hands in an old carboy I found up in
the attic, on the side of which I have etched the words, When You Drink
It Think of Me!"

"Thanks, awfully," said the Doctor. "I am sure a mixture of that sort
could remind me of no one else."

"And, finally, for our dear Landlady," said the Idiot, smiling
gallantly on Mrs. Pedagog, "I have the greatest surprise of all."

"I'll bet you a dollar I know what it is," said the Doctor.

"I'll take you," said the Idiot.

"You're going to pay your bill!" roared the Doctor.

"There's your dollar," said the Idiot, tossing a silver cartwheel across
the table. "Better hand it right over to Mrs. Pedagog on account,
yourself."



IV

AS TO THE INCOME TAX


"Well, Mr. Bib," said the Idiot cheerfully, as he speared a lonely prune
and put it out of its misery, "have you made your return to the income
tax collector yet?"

"I both rejoice and regret to say that my income is not large enough to
come under the provisions of the act," said the Bibliomaniac, "and
consequently I haven't bothered my head about it."

"Then you'd better get busy and send in a statement of your receipts up
to January first, or you'll find Uncle Sam after you with a hot stick.
For the sake of the fair name of our beloved home here, sir, don't
delay. I'd hate to see a federal patrol wagon rolling up to our door for
the purpose of taking you to jail."

"But I am exempt," protested the Bibliomaniac. "I don't come within a
thousand dollars of the minimum."

"That may be all true enough," said the Idiot. "You know that, and I
know that, but Uncle Sam doesn't know it, and you've got to satisfy him
that you are not a plutocrat trying to pass yourself off as a member of
one of those respectable middle-class financial families in which this
land is so pleasingly rich. You've got to lay a statement of your
financial condition before the government whether your income is
ninety-seven cents a minute or forty-seven thousand dollars an hour.
Nobody is exempt from that nuisance. As I understand it, the government
requires every man, woman, and child to go to confession, and own up to
just how little or how much he or she hasn't got. All men stand equal in
the eyes of the law when it comes to the show-down. There is no
discrimination in favor of the rich in this business, and the
inconvenience of having a minion of authority prying into your private
affairs is as much a privilege of yours as it is of Uncle John's, or
good old Brother Scramble, the Egg King. Uncle Sam is going to put his
eye on every man-jack of us and find out whether we are any good or not,
and if so, for how much. He will have sleuths everywhere about to
estimate the cubic financial contents of your trousers' pockets, and
whether you keep your money in a bank, in a trust company, in a cigar
box, your sock, or your wife's name, he is going right after it, and
he'll get his share or know the reason why. There isn't a solitary
nickel circulating in this land to-day that can hope to escape the eagle
eye of the Secretary of the Treasury and his financial ferrets."

"You surprise me," said the Bibliomaniac. "If what you say is true, it
is a perfect outrage. You don't really mean to tell me that I have got
to give a statement of my receipts to some snoopy-nosed old government
official, do you?"

"Even so," said the Idiot, "or at least that is the way I understand it.
You've not only got to tell how much you've got, but you must also
disclose the sources of your revenue. If you found a cent on the corner
of Main Street and Desdemona Alley on the fifteenth day of December,
1916, thereby adding that much to your annual receipts, you have got to
enter it in your statement, and so clearly that the authorities will
understand just how, when, and where it came into your possession, all
under oath; and you are not allowed to deduct your current living
expenses from it, either. If in stooping over to pick up that cent you
busted your suspenders, and had to go and pay fifty cents for a new
pair, thereby losing forty-nine cents on the transaction, you aren't
allowed to make any deductions on that account. That cent is 'Net'--not
'Nit', but 'Net.' Same way if in a crowded car you put your hand into
what you presumed to be your own pocket, and pulled out unexpectedly a
roll of twenty dollar bills amounting to two hundred dollars in all, and
then in an absent-minded moment got away with it before you realized
that it belonged to the man standing next to you, you'd have to put it
down on your statement just the same as all the rest of the items, under
penalty of prosecution for concealing sources of revenue from the
officers of the law. Oh, it's a fine mess we smart Alexanders of the
hour have got ourselves into in our effort to establish a pipe line
between the plutocratic pocketbook and the United States Treasury. We
all hypnotized ourselves into the pleasing belief that the income tax
was going to be a jolly little club with which to hit old Brother Plute
on the head, and make him fork over, while we Nixicrats sat on the fence
and grinned. It was going to be great fun watching the Plutes disgorge,
and we all had a notion that life was going to be just one exgurgitating
moving picture after another, with us sitting in front row seats
gloating over the Sorrows of Croesus and his coughing coffers. But,
alas for our dreams of joy, it hasn't worked out quite that way. The
vexation of the blooming thing is visited upon every one of us. Them as
has has got to pay. Them as hasn't has got to prove that they don't
have to pay, and I tell you right now, Mr. Bib, it is going to be a
terrific proposition for a lot of chaps in this land of ours who are
skinning along on nothing a year, but making a noise like a
ten-thousand-dollar proposition."

"I fear me their name is legion," said the Bibliomaniac.

"I know one named Smythe," said the Idiot. "If a painter were looking
around for a model for Ready Money in an allegorical picture Smythe
would fill the bill to perfection. You ought to see him. He walks about
the streets of this town giving everybody he meets a fifteen-thousand
per annum look when, as a matter of fact, he hasn't got ten cents to his
name. If he was invited to a submarine masquerade all he'd have to do
would be to swallow a glass of water and go as a sponge. He makes about
as big a splurge on a deficit as you or I could make if our salaries
were raised nine hundred ten per cent., and then some. As a weekender he
is in the A 1 class. He hasn't paid for a Sunday dinner in five years,
nor has he paid for anything else in earned cash for three. His only
sources of revenue are his friends, the pawn-shops, and his proficiency
at bridge and poker. His only hope for staving off eventual disaster is
the possibility of hanging on by his eyelids until he dawns as the last
forlorn hope on the horizon of some freckle-faced, red-haired old maid,
with nine millions in her own right. He owes every tailor, hatter, and
haberdasher in town. When he needs twenty-five dollars he buys a
fifty-dollar overcoat, has it charged, and takes it around the corner
and pawns it, and ekes out the deficiency with a jackpot or a grand
slam, in the manipulation of both of which he is what Socrates used to
call a cracker-jack. If you ever saw him walking on the avenue, or
entering a swagger restaurant anywhere, you'd stop and say to yourself,
'By George! That must be Mr. Idle Rich, of whom I have heard so much
lately. Gosh! I wonder how it feels to be him!'"

"Him?" sniffed the Bibliomaniac, always a stickler for purity of speech.

"Sure thing!" said the Idiot. "You don't stop to think of grammar when
you are dazzled by that spectacle. You just give way, right off, to your
natural, unrestrained, primitive instincts, and speak English in exactly
the same way that the caveman spoke his tongue in those glorious days
before grammar came along to curse education with its artificial
restraints upon ease of expression. 'Gosh! I wonder how it feels to be
him', is what you'd say as old Empty Wallet passed you by disguised as
the Horn of Plenty, and all day long your mind would continue to advert
to him and the carefree existence you'd think to look at him he was
leading; and you, with a four-dollar bill within your reach every
Saturday night, would find yourself positively envying him his wealth,
when, as a matter of fact, he hasn't seen a single red cent he could
properly call his own for ten years."

"Oh, well--what of it?" said the Bibliomaniac. "Of course, there are
sponges and snobs in the world. What are they to us?"

"Why, nothing," said the Idiot, "only I wonder what Smythe and his kind
are going to do when the income tax collector comes along and asks for
his little two per cent. of all this showy exterior. It will be a
terribly humiliating piece of business to confess that all this
ostentatious show of prosperity is nothing but an empty shell, and that
way down inside he is only an eighteen-karat, copper-fastened,
steel-riveted bluff; fact is, he'll have the dickens of a time making
the tax collectors believe it, and then he'll be face to face with a
federal indictment for trying to dodge his taxes. And that business of
dodging--that brings up another phase of this income tax that I don't
believe many of us realized when we were shouting for it as a means of
shackling Mr. Plute. Did you ever realize that it won't be very long
before the government, in order to get this income tax fixed right, will
have a lot of inspectors who will be delegated to do for you and me, and
all the rest of us, what the Custom House inspectors now do for
travelers returning from abroad? Every man and woman traveling upon the
seas of life, Mr. Bib, will be required to enter the port of taxation
and there submit a declaration of the contents of their boxes to the
tax inspectors, which will be followed, as in the case of the traveler
from abroad, by a complete overhauling of their effects by those same
inspectors. The tesselated pave of your safe deposit companies and banks
will look like the floor of an ocean steamship pier on the arrival of a
big liner, only instead of being snowed under by a mass of shirts,
trousers, Paris-made revelations in chiffons, silks, and brocades,
necklaces, tiaras, pearl ropes, snipped aigrettes, and snowy drifts of
indescribable, but in these free days no longer unmentionable, lingerie,
it will be piled high with steel bonds, New Haven deferred dividends,
sinking fund debenture certificates, government five eighths per cent.
bonds, certificates of deposit, miscellaneous stocks, mining,
industrial, railway, gilt-edged and wildcat, in one red unburial blent;
while the poor owner, fearful lest in the excitement of the ordeal he
may have neglected to mention some insignificant item of a million or
two in Standard Oil, will sit by and sweat as the inspector tears his
ruthless way through his accumulated stores for wealth."

"It will be almost enough to make a man sorry he's rich," said the
Doctor.

"Oh, no," said the Idiot, "for the rest of us will be in the same
pickle, only in a more humiliating position as the intruder reveals that
the sum total of out lifetime of endeavor consists chiefly in unpaid
bills labeled Please Remit. The Custom House inspectors are harder on
the man with nothing to declare than they are on those whose boxes are
full. They slam their things all over creation, and insult the owner
with the same abandon with which they greet a recognized past-mistress
in the arts of smuggling. Innocence is no protection when a Custom House
inspector gets after you, and it will be the same way with the new
kind. None of us can hope to escape. The income tax inspectors will come
here just as eagerly as they will go to that palatial mausoleum in which
Mr. Rockernegie dwells on the corner of Bond Avenue and Easy Street, and
they'll rummage through our trunks, boxes, and bureaus in search of such
interest-bearing securities as they may suspect us of trying to get by
with. Mr. Bib will have to dump his bureau drawer full of red neckties
out on the floor to prove to Uncle Sam's satisfaction that he hasn't got
a fourteen-million-dollar bond issue concealed somewhere behind their
lurid glow. The Doctor will have to sit patiently by and unprotestingly
watch the inspectors going through the pockets of his unrivaled
collection of fancy waist-coats in a heart-breaking quest for undeclared
interests in mining enterprises and popular cemeteries. Trunks, chests,
hatboxes, soapboxes, pillboxes, safety razor boxes--in fact, all kinds
of receptacles in this house, from Mrs. Pedagog's ice chest to Mr.
Whitechoker's barrel of sermons--will be compelled to disgorge their
uttermost content in order to satisfy the government sleuths that we who
dwell in this Palace of Truth, Joy, and Waffles, have not a controlling
interest in Standard Oil hidden away lest we be compelled to pay our due
to the treasury."

"You don't mean to say that the law so provides, do you?" said the
Bibliomaniac.

"Not yet," said the Idiot, "but it will--it's bound to come. In the very
nature of the beast it is inevitable. There never was a tax yet that
found a warm spot awaiting it in the hearts of its countrymen. The human
mind with all its diabolical ingenuity has never yet been able to
devise a tax that somebody somewhere--nay, that most people
everywhere--did not try to dodge, and to catch the dodgers the
government is compelled to view everybody with suspicion, and treat hoi
polloi from top to bottom as if they were nothing more nor less than a
lot of unregenerate pickpockets, horse-thieves, and pastmasters in the
gentle art of mendacity."

"Frightful!" said Mr. Whitechoker. "And is not a man's word to be taken
as a guarantee of the accuracy of his return?"

"Not so's anybody would notice it," grinned the Idiot. "When the
government finds it necessary to nab leaders of fashionable society for
trying to smuggle in one-hundred-thousand-dollar pearl necklaces by
sewing them up in the lining of their hats, and to fine the most
eminently respectable citizens in the country as much as five thousand
dollars for returning from abroad portly with five or six-hundred yards
of undeclared lace wound inadvertently about their stomachs, having in
the excitement of their homecoming put it on in the place of the little
flannel bands they have worn to ward off cholera and other pleasing
foreign maladies, it loses some of its confidence in human nature, and
acquires some of that penetrating inquisitiveness of mind which is said
to be characteristic of the native of Missouri. It wants to be shown,
and if the income tax remains in force, we might as well make up our
minds that the inquisitorial inspector will soon be added to the
official pay roll of the United States of America."

"But," protested the Bibliomaniac, "that will be a plain common-garden
espionage of so intolerable a nature that no self-respecting free people
will submit to it. It will be an abominable intrusion upon our rights
of privacy."

The Idiot laughed long and loud.

"It seems to me," said he, after a moment, "that when Colonel John W.
Midas, of the International Hickory Nut Trust, advanced that same
objection against the proposed tax a year or so ago, Mr. Bib, you sat in
that very same chair where you are now and vociferously announced that
there was nothing in it."

"Oh, but that's different," said the Bibliomaniac. "Midas is a rich man,
and I am not."

"Well, I suppose there is a difference between a prune and a Canadian
melon, old man, but after all, they're both fruit, and when it comes to
being squeezed, I guess it hurts a lemon just as much as it does a lime.
I, for one, however, do not fear the inspector. My securities are
exempt, for they all pay their tax at the source."

"What are they, coupon bonds?" grinned the Lawyer.

"No," said the Idiot; "pawn tickets, interest on which is always paid in
advance."



V

A PSYCHIC VENTURE


"I beg your pardon, Doctor," said the Idiot, as he laid aside his
morning paper and glanced over the gastronomic delights spread upon the
breakfast table at Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog's high-class home for single
gentlemen. "I don't wish to intrude upon this moment of blissful
intercourse which you are enjoying with your allotment of stock in the
Waffle Trust, but do you happen to have any A No. 1 eighteen-karat
psychrobes among your patients that you could introduce me to? I need
one in my business."

"Sike whats?" queried the Doctor, pausing in the act of lifting a
sizable section of the eight of diamonds done in batter to his lips.

"Psychrobes," said the Idiot. "You know what I mean--a clairvoyant, a
medium, a sike--somebody in the spiritual inter-State commerce business,
who knows his or her job right down to the ground and back again."

"H'm! Why--yes, I know one or two mediums," said the Doctor.

"Strictly up-to-date and reliable?" said the Idiot. "Ready to trot in
double harness?"

"Oh, as to their reliability as mediums I can't testify," said the
Doctor. "You never can tell about those people, but I will say that in
all respects other than their psychic indulgences I have always found
those I know wholly reliable."

"You mean they wouldn't take a watch off a bureau when the owner wasn't
looking, or beat a suffering corporation out of a nickel if they had a
chance?" said the Idiot.

"That's it," said the Doctor. "But, as I say, you never can tell. A man
may be the soul of honor in respect to paying his board bill, and
absolutely truthful in statements of the everyday facts of life, and yet
when he goes off, er--when he goes off--"

"Psychling," suggested the Idiot. "Bully good title for a story
that--'Psychling with a Psychrobe'--eh? What?"

"Fair," said the Doctor. "But what I was going to say was that when he
goes off psychling, as you put it, he may, or may not, be quite so
reliable. So if I were to indorse any one of my several clairvoyant
patients for you, it would have to be as patients, and not as
psychlists."

"That's all right," said the Idiot. "That's all I really want. If I can
be sure that a medium is a person of correct habits in all other
respects, I'll take my chances on his reliability as a transient."

"As a transient?" repeated the Bibliomaniac.

"Yes," said the Idiot. "A person in a state of trance."

"What has awakened this sudden interest of yours in things psychic?"
asked the Doctor. "Are you afraid that your position as a dispenser of
pure idiocy is threatened by the recorded utterances of great thinkers
now passed into the shadowy vales, as presented to us by the mediums?"

"Not at all," said the Idiot. "Fact is, I do not consider their
utterances as idiotic. Take that recent report of the lady who got into
communication with the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte, and couldn't get
anything out of him but a regretful allusion to Panama hats and pink
pajamas, for instance. Everybody thought it was very foolish, but I
didn't. To me it was merely a sad intimation of the particular kind of
climate the great Corsican had got for his in the hereafter. He needed
his summer clothes, and couldn't for the moment think of anything else.
I should have been vastly more surprised if he had called for a pair of
ear-tabs and a fur overcoat."

"And do you really believe, also for instance," put in the Bibliomaniac
scornfully, "that with so many big questions before the public to-day
Thomas Jefferson would get off such drivel as has been attributed to him
by these people, having a chance to send a real message to his
countrymen?"

"I've only seen one message from Jefferson," said the Idiot, "and it
seemed to me most appropriate. It was received by a chap up in
Schenectady, and all the old man said was 'Whizz--whizz--whizz,
buzz--buzz--buzz, whizz--whizz--whizz!' Lots of people considered it
drivel, but to me it was fraught with much sad significance."

"Well, if you can translate it, it's more than I can," said the
Bibliomaniac. "The idea that the greatest political thinker of the ages
could stoop to unmeaning stuff of that sort is to me preposterous."

"Not at all," said the Idiot. "You have not the understanding mind.
Those monosyllabic explosions were merely an expression of the rapidity
with which poor old Jefferson was turning over in his grave as he
realized to what uses modern statesmen of all shades of political belief
were putting his name. It must be a tough proposition for a simple old
Democrat like Jefferson to find his memory harnessed up to every bit of
entomological economic thought now issuing from the political asylums of
his native land."

"Pouf!" said the Bibliomaniac. "You are a reactionary, Sir."

"Ubetcha," said the Idiot. "First principles first, say I. But to come
back to clairvoyants. I am very anxious to get hold of a medium, Doctor,
and the sooner the better. I'm going to give up Wall Street. I can't
afford to stay there any longer unless I move out of this restful
paradise of food and thought and take up my abode in a Mills Hotel, or
charter a bench in the park from the city. The only business we had in
our office last week was a game of poker between the firm and its
employés, and the firm tided itself over the emergency by winning my
salary for the next six weeks. Another week of such activity would
prostrate me financially, and I am going to open a literary bureau to
deal in posthumous literature."

"Posthumous literature is the curse of letters," said the Bibliomaniac.
"It generally means the publication of the rejected, or personally
discarded, manuscripts of a dead author, which results in the serious
impairment of the quality of his laurels. It ought to be made a
misdemeanor to print the stuff."

"I agree with you entirely as to that, Mr. Bib," said the Idiot. "This
business of emptying the pigeonholes of deceased scribes, and printing
every last scrap of scribbling to be found there, whether they intended
it to be printed or not, is reprehensible, and I for one would gladly
advocate a law requiring executors of a literary estate to burn all
unpublished manuscripts found among the decedent's papers merely as a
matter of protection to a great name. But it isn't that kind of
posthumous production that I am going in for. It's the production
posthumously produced that I am after, and I need a first-class medium
as a side partner to get hold of the stuff for me."

"Preposterous!" sniffed the Bibliomaniac.

"Sounds that way, Mr. Bib," said the Idiot, "but, all the same, here's a
lady over in England has recently published a book of short stories by
the late Frank R. Stockton, which his genial spirit has transmitted to
the world through her. Now, if this thing can be done by Stockton, I
don't see why it can't be done by Milton, Shakespeare, Moses, and
others, and if I can only get hold of a real Psyche I'm going to get up
a posthumous literary trust that will stagger humanity."

"I guess it will!" laughed the Doctor.

"Yes, sir," said the Idiot enthusiastically. "The first thing I shall do
will be to send the lady after Charles Dickens and good old Thackeray,
and apply for the terrestrial rights to all their literary subsequences,
and, as a publisher really ought to do, I shall not content myself with
just taking what they write of their own accord, but I'll supply them
with subject matter. My posthumous literary trust will have a definite
policy.

"Can't you gentlemen imagine, for instance, what those two men could do
with little old New York as it is to-day? What glorious results would
come from turning Dickens loose on the underworld, and setting
Thackeray's pen to work on the hupper sukkles of polite s'ciety! If
there ever was a time when the reading public were ripe for another
'Oliver Twist' or another 'Vanity Fair', that time is now, and I can
hardly sleep nights for thinking about it."

"I don't see it at all," said the Bibliomaniac. "'Oliver Twist' is quite
perfect as it is."

"No doubt," retorted the Idiot, "but it isn't up-to-date, Mr. Bib. For
example, think of a scene described by Dickens in which Fagin, now
become a sort of man higher up, or at least one of his agents, takes
little Oliver out into a Bowery back yard and makes a proficient gunman
out of the kid, compelling him to practice in the flickering glare of an
electric light at shooting tailor's dummies on a rapidly moving
platform, with a .42-caliber six-shooter, until the lad becomes so
expert that he can hit nineteen out of twenty as they pass, missing the
twentieth only by a hair's breadth because it represents a man Fagin
wants to scare and not kill.

"Or think of how Thackeray would take hold of this tango tangle and
expose the cubic contents of that Cubist crowd, and handle the exquisite
dullness of the smart set, not with the glib brilliance of the man on
the outside, who novelizes what he reads in the papers, but with the
sounder satire of the man who knows from personal observation what he is
writing about! Great heavens--the idea makes my mouth water!"

"That might be worth while," confessed the Bibliomaniac. "But how are
you going to get the facts over to Dickens and Thackeray?"

"I shall not need to," said the Idiot. "All they'll have to do will be
to project themselves in spirit over here into the very midst of the
scenes to be described. As spirits they will have the entrée into any
old kind of society they wish to investigate, and in that respect they
will have the advantage over us poor mortals who can't go anywhere
without having to take our confounded old bodies along with us. Then
after I had arranged matters with Dickens and Thackeray, I'd send my
psychic representative after Alexander Dumas, and get him to write a
sequel to 'The Three Musketeers', and 'Twenty Years After', which I
should call 'Two Hundred and Ninety Years After, a Romance of 1916', in
which D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis should return to modern
times and try their hands on trench work, introducing the aëroplane, the
submarine, and all the other appurtenances of war, from the militant
brick to the dynamite bomb. Why, a good, rip-staving old Dumas tale of
adventure of to-day, with those old heroes of his mixed up with the
Militant Suffragettes and the Crown Prince of Germany, would be what old
Doctor Johnson would have called a cracker-jack, if he had had the
slightest conception of the possibilities of the English language."

"Wouldn't interest me in the least," said the Bibliomaniac coldly, "If
there is anything under the canopy that I despise it is so-called
romance. Now, if you could get hold of some of the solider things, such,
for instance, as Macaulay might write, or"--

"Ah!" said the Idiot, triumphantly, "it is there that my scheme would
work out most beneficently. My special articles on historic events by
personal participators would thrill the world.

"From Adam I would secure the first and only authentic account of the
Fall, with possibly an expression of his opinion as to the validity of
the Darwinian theory. From Noah, aided and abetted by Shem, Ham, and
Japhet, would come a series of sea stories narrating in thrilling style
the story of The Flood, or How We Landed the Zoo on Ararat. A line or
two from Balaam's Ass on the subject of modern Socialism would fill the
reading world with wonder. A series of papers specially prepared for a
woman's magazine by Henry VIII. on 'Wild Wives I Have Wedded', edited,
possibly, with copious footnotes by Brigham Young, would bring fortune
to the pockets of the publishers.

"And then the poets--ah, Mr. Bib, what treasures of poesy would this
plan of mine not bring within our reach! Dante could write a new
'Inferno' introducing a new torture in the form of Satan compelling a
Member of Congress to explain the Tariff bill. Homer could sing the
sufferings and triumphs of arctic exploration in a new epic entitled
'The Chilliad', or possibly expend his genius upon the story of the rise
and fall of Bryan in immortal periods under the title of 'The
Billiad'"--

"Or describe your progressive idiocy under the title of 'The Silliad!'"
put in the Bibliomaniac.

"Ubetcha!" cried the Idiot. "Or tell the sad tale of your life under the
title of 'The Seniliad.' And in addition to these wonders, who can
estimate to what extent we should all profit were our more serious
reviews to secure articles from Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and old
Ben Franklin on the present state of the nation! Why, an article
dictated off-hand by the shade of Lincoln on the thousands who are now
flattering themselves that they occupy his shoes, illustrated with those
apt anecdotes of which he was a master, and pointed with his gloriously
dry humor, under the title of 'Later Links', would alone make the
venture worth while, even if nothing else came of it."

"Oh, well," said the Bibliomaniac, rising, "perhaps there is something
in the idea after all, and I wish you success, Mr. Idiot--and, by the
way, if the scheme works out as you expect it to, and you happen to come
across old Æsculapius, ask him for me for an authoritative statement of
the origin and proper treatment of idiocy, will you?"

"Sure," said the Idiot, turning to his breakfast, "but it really isn't
necessary to do that, Mr. Bib. Our good old friend, the Doctor here, is
quite capable of curing you at any time you consent to put yourself
unreservedly in his hands."



VI

ON MEDICAL CONSERVATION


"I see by the paper this morning," said the Idiot, as he put three lumps
of sugar into his pocket and absent-mindedly dropped his eyeglasses into
his coffee, "that, thanks to the industry of our Medical Schools and
Colleges, the world is richer by thirty thousand new doctors to-day than
it was yesterday. How does the law of supply and demand work in cases of
that kind, Doctor Squills?"

"Badly--very badly, indeed," said the Doctor, with a gloomy shake of his
head. "The profession is sadly overcrowded, and mighty few of us are
making more than a bare living."

"I was afraid that was the case," said the Idiot sympathetically. "I was
talking with a prominent surgeon at the Club the other night, and he was
terribly upset over the situation. He intimated that we have been
ruthlessly squandering our natural internal resources almost as
riotously and as blindly as our lumbermen have been destroying the
natural physical resources of the country. He assured me that he himself
had reached a point in his career where there was hardly a vermiform
appendix left in sight, and where five years ago he was chopping down
not less than four of these a day for six days of the week at a thousand
dollars per, it was now a lucky time for him when he got his pruning
knife off the hook once a month."

"That vermiform appendix craze was all a fad anyhow," said the
Bibliomaniac sourly. "Like the tango, and bridge, and golf, and
slumming, and all the rest of those things that Society takes up, and
then drops all of a sudden like a hot stick. It looked at one time as if
nobody could hope to get into society who hadn't had his vermiform
removed."

"Well, social fad or not," said the Idiot, "whatever it was, there is no
question about it that serious inroads have been made upon what we may
call our vermiforests, and unless something is done to protect them, by
George, in a few years we won't have any left except a few stuffed
specimens down in the Smithsonian Institution.

"I asked my friend Doctor Cuttem why he didn't call for a Vermiform
Conservation Congress to see what can be done either to prevent this
ruthless sacrifice of a product that if suitably safeguarded should
supply ourselves, and our children, and our children's children to the
uttermost posterity, with ample appendicular resources for the
maintenance in good style of a reasonable number of surgeons; or to
re-seed scientifically where the unscientific destruction of these
resources is uncontrollable. How about that, Doctor? Suppose you remove
a man's vermiform appendix--is there any system of medical, or surgical,
fertilization and replanting that would cause two vermiforms to grow
where only one grew before, so that sooner or later every human interior
may become a sort of garden-close, where one can go and pluck a handful
of vermiform appendices every morning, like so many hardy perennials in
full bloom?"

"I'm afraid not," smiled the Doctor.

"Anybody but the Idiot would know that it couldn't be done," said the
Bibliomaniac, "because if it could be done it would have been done long
ago. When you find men successfully transplanting rabbits' tails on
monkeys, and frogs' legs on canary birds, you can make up your mind that
if it were within the range of human possibility they would by this time
have vermiform appendices sprouting lushly in geranium pots for
insertion into the systems of persons desiring luxuries of that sort."

"You mustn't sneer at the achievements of modern surgery, Mr. Bib," said
the Idiot. "There is no telling how soon any one of us may need to avail
himself of its benefits. Who knows--maybe a surgeon will come along some
day who will be able to implant a sense of humor in you, to gladden all
your days."

"Preposterous!" snapped the Bibliomaniac.

"Well, it does seem unlikely," said the Idiot, "but I know of a young
doctor who without any previous experience planted a little heart in a
frigid Suffragette; and though I know the soil is not propitious, even
you may sometime be blossoming luxuriantly within with buds of cheer and
sweet optimism. But however this may be, it is the unquestioned and sad
fact that a once profitable industry for our surgically-inclined
brothers has slumped; and they tell me that even those surgeons who have
adopted modern commercial methods, and give away a set of Rudyard
Kipling's Works and a year's subscription to the _Commoner_ with every
vermiform removed, are making less than a thousand dollars a week out of
that branch of their work."

"Mercy!" cried the Poet. "What couldn't I do if I had a thousand dollars
a week!"

"You could afford to write real poetry all the time, instead of only
half the time, eh, old man?" said the Idiot affectionately. "But don't
you mind. We're all in the same boat. I'd be an infinitely bigger idiot
myself if I had half as much money as that."

"Impossible!" said the Bibliomaniac, chuckling over his opportunity.

"Green-eyed monster!" smiled the Idiot. "But speaking of this
overcrowding of the profession, it is a surprise to me, Doctor, that so
many young men are taking up medicine these days, when competent
observers everywhere tell us that the world is getting better all the
time.

"If that is true, and the world really is getting better all the time,
it is fair to assume that some day it will be entirely well, and then,
let me ask you, what is to become of all the doctors? It will not be a
good thing for Society ever to reach a point where it has such an army
of unemployed on its hands, and especially that kind of an army, made up
as it will be of highly intelligent but desperately hungry men, face to
face with starvation, and yet licensed by the possession of a medical
diploma to draw, and have filled, prescriptions involving the whole
range of the materia medica, from Iceland moss and squills up to prussic
acid and cyanide of potassium.

"It makes me shudder to think of it!" said Mr. Brief, the lawyer, with a
grin at the Doctor.

"Shudder isn't the word!" said the Idiot. "The bare idea makes my flesh
creep like a Philadelphia trolley car! Coxey's Army was bad enough, made
up as it was of a poor, miserable lot of tramps and panhandlers, all so
unused to labor as to be really jobshy; but in their most riotous moods
the worst those poor chaps could do was to heave a few bricks or a dead
cat through a millinery shop window, or perhaps bat a village magnate on
the back of the head with a bed slat. There was nothing insidiously
subtle about the warfare they waged upon Society.

"But suppose that, laboring under a smarting sense of similar wrongs,
there should come to be such a thing as old Doctor Pepsin's Army of
Unemployed Physicians and Surgeons, marching through the country, headed
for the White House in order to make an impressive public demonstration
of their grievances! What a peril to the body politic that would be! Not
only could the surgeons waylay the village magnates and amputate their
legs, and seize hostile editors and cut off the finger with which they
run their typewriting machines, and point with alarm with; but the more
insidious means of upsetting the public weal by pouring calomel into our
wells, putting castor oil in our reservoirs, leaving cholera germs and
typhoid cultures under our door mats, or transferring a pair of
jackass's legs to the hind-quarters of an old family horse, found
grazing in the pasture, would transform a once smiling countryside into
a scene of misery and desolation."

"Poor, poor Dobbin!" murmured the Bibliomaniac.

"Indeed, Mr. Bib, it will be poor, poor Dobbin!" said the Idiot. "I
don't think that many people besides you and myself realize how
desperately serious a menace it is that hangs over us; and I feel that
one of the first acts of the Administration, after it has succeeded in
putting grape juice into the Constitution as our national tipple, and
constructed a solid Portland cement wall across the Vice President's
thorax to insure that promised four years of silence, should be an
effort to control this terrible situation."

"You talk as if it could be done," said the Doctor doubtfully.

"Of course it can be done," said the Idiot. "Doctors being engaged in
Inter-State Commerce--"

"Doctors? Interstate Commerce?" cried Mr. Brief. "That's a new one on
me, Mr. Idiot. Everybody is apparently in Interstate Commerce in your
opinion. Seems to me it was only the other day that you spoke of
Clairvoyants being in it."

"Sure," said the Idiot. "And it's the same way with the doctors. In
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, where a man passes from this state
into the future state, you'll find a doctor mixed up in it somewhere,
even if it's only as a coroner. This being so, it would be perfectly
proper to refer the matter to the Interstate Commerce Commission for a
solution.

"Anyhow, something ought to be done to handle the situation while the
menace is in its infancy. We need the ounce of prevention. Now, my
suggestion would be that the law should step in and either place a limit
to the number of doctors to be turned out annually, on a basis of so
many doctors to so many hundreds of population--say three doctors to
every hundred people--just as in certain communities the excise law
allows only one saloon for every thousand registered voters; or else,
since the State permits medical schools to operate under a charter,
authorizing them to manufacture physicians and surgeons ad lib., and
turn them loose on the public, the State should provide work for these
doctors to do.

"To this end we might have, for instance, a Bureau of Disease
Dissemination, subject perhaps to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of
the Interior, under whose direction, acting in coöperation with the
Department of Agriculture, every package of seeds sent out by a
Congressman to his constituents would have a sprinkling of germs of one
kind or another mixed in with the seeds, thus spreading little epidemics
of comparatively harmless disorders like the mumps, the measles, or the
pip, around in various over-healthy communities where the doctors were
in danger of going over the hill to the poorhouse. Surely if we are
justified in making special efforts to help the farmers we ought not to
hesitate to do the doctors a good turn once in a while."

"You think the public would stand for that, do you?" queried the
Bibliomaniac scornfully.

"Oh, the public is always inhospitable to new ideas at first," said the
Idiot, "but after a while they get so attached to them that you have to
start an entirely new political party to prove that they are
reactionary. But, as the Poet says,

  "Into all lives some mumps must fall,

"and the sooner we get 'em over with the better. If the public once
wakes up to the fact that the measles and the mumps are as inevitable as
a coal bill in winter, or an ice bill in summer, it will cheerfully
indorse a Federal Statute which enables us to have these things promptly
and be done with 'em. It's like any other disagreeable thing in life. As
old Colonel Macbeth used to say to that dear old Suffragette wife of
his,

  "If 'twere done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
  It were done quickly.

"It's like taking a cold bath in the morning. You don't mind it at all
if you jump in in a hurry and then jump out again.

"But even if the public didn't take that sensible view of it, we have
legislative methods by which the thing could be brought about without
the public knowing anything about it. For instance, supposing somebody
in Congress were to introduce an innocent little bill appropriating five
hundred thousand dollars, for the erection of a residence for a United
States Ambassador to the Commonwealth of California, for the avowed
object of keeping somebody in San Francisco to see that Governor Johnson
didn't declare war on Japan without due notice to the Navy Department,
what could be simpler than the insertion in that bill of a little joker
providing that from the date of the enactment of this statute the
Department of Agriculture is authorized and required to expend the sum
of twenty thousand dollars annually on the dissemination, through
Congressional seed packages, of not less than one ounce per package of
germs of assorted infantile and other comparatively harmless disorders,
for the benefit of the medical profession? Taxidermists tell us that
there are more ways than one to skin a cat, and the same is true of
legislation.

"There's only one other way that I can see to bring the desired
condition about, and that is to permit physicians to operate under the
same system of ethics as that to be found in the plumbing business. If a
plumber is allowed, as he is allowed in the present state of public
morality, to repair a leak in such a fashion to-day that new business
immediately and automatically develops requiring his attention
to-morrow, I see no reason why doctors should not be permitted to do the
same thing. Called in to repair a mump, let him leave a measle behind.
The measle cured, a few chicken-pox left carelessly about where they
will do the most good will insure his speedy return; and so on. Every
physician could in this way take care of himself, and by a skilful
manipulation of the germs within his reach should have no difficulty not
only in holding but in increasing his legitimate business as well."

"Ugh!" shuddered Mrs. Pedagog. "You almost make me afraid to let the
Doctor stay in this house a day longer."

"Don't be afraid, Madame," said the Doctor amiably. "After all, I'm a
doctor, you know, and not a plumber."

"I'll guarantee his absolute harmlessness, Mrs. Pedagog," said the
Idiot. "We're perfectly safe here. It is no temptation to a doctor to
sow the germs of disorder among people like ourselves who have reduced
getting free medical advice to a system."

"Well," said Mr. Brief, the lawyer, "your plan is all right for the
doctors, but why the Dickens don't somebody suggest something for us
lawyers once in awhile? There were seventy thousand new lawyers turned
out yesterday, and you haven't even peeped."

"No," said the Idiot, "it isn't necessary. You lawyers are well provided
for. With one National Congress, and forty-eight separate State
Legislatures working twenty-four hours a day, turning out fifty-seven
new varieties of law every fifteen minutes, all so phrased that no human
mind can translate them into simple English, there's enough trouble
constantly on hand to keep twenty million lawyers busy for thirty
million years, telling us not what we can't do, but what few things
there are left under the canopy that a man of religious inclinations can
do without danger of arrest!"



VII

THE U. S. TELEPHONIC AID SOCIETY


"Well, Mr. Idiot," said the Doctor, as the Idiot with sundry comments on
the top-loftical condition of the thermometer fanned his fevered brow
with a tablespoon, "I suppose in view of the hot weather you will be
taking a vacation very shortly."

"Not only very shortly, but excessively shortly," returned the Idiot.
"Its shortliness will be of so brief a nature that nobody'll notice any
vacant chairs around where I am accustomed to sit. But let me tell you,
Dr. Squills, it is too hot for sarcasm, so withhold your barbs as far
as I am concerned, and believe me always very truly yours, Nicholas J.
Doodlepate."

"Sarcasm?" said the Doctor in a surprised tone. "Why, my dear fellow, I
wasn't sarcastic, was I? I am sure I didn't mean to be."

"To the listener's ear it seemed so," said the Idiot. "There seemed to
me to be traces of the alkali of irony mixed in with the tincture of
derision in that question of yours. When you ask a Wall Street man who
declines to carry speculation accounts these days if he isn't going to
take a vacation shortly, it is like asking a resident of the Desert of
Sahara why he doesn't sprinkle a little sand around his place.

"Life on Wall Street for my kind, my good sir, of late has been just one
darned vacation after another. The only business I have done in three
months was to lend one of our customers a nickel, taking a subway
ticket and a baseball rain check as collateral security."

The Idiot shook his head ruefully and heaved a heart-rending sigh.

"What we cautious Wall Street fellows need," said he, "is not a
VA-cation, but a VO-cation."

"Oh, well, a man of your fertility of invention ought not to have any
trouble about that," said Mr. Brief. "You should be able without killing
yourself to think up some new kind of trade that will keep you busy
until the snow-shoveling season begins anyhow."

"Yes," said the Idiot. "Ordinary by the exercise of some ingenuity and
the use of these two brazen cheeks with which nature has endowed me, I
can always manage to pull something resembling a living out of a
reluctant earth. If a man slips up on being a Captain of Industry he can
lecture on a sight-seeing coach, or if that fails him under present
conditions in this old town, by a little economy he can live on his
tips."

"And at the worst," said the Bibliomaniac, "you always have Mrs. Pedagog
to fall back on."

"Yes," said the Idiot. "The state of my bill at this very moment shows
that I have credit enough with Mrs. Pedagog to start three national
banks and a trust company. But, fortunately for me, I don't have to do
either. I have found my opportunity lying before me in the daily
newspapers, and I am about to start a new enterprise which is not only
going to pull a large and elegant series of chestnuts out of the fire
for me but for all my subscribers as well. If I can find a good lawyer
somewhere to draw up the papers of incorporation for my United States
Telephonic Aid Society, I'll start in business this very morning at the
nearest pay station."

"If you want a good lawyer, what's the matter with me?" asked Mr. Brief.

"I never was any good at riddles," said the Idiot, "and that one is too
subtle for me. If I want a good lawyer, what is the matter with you? Ha!
Hum! Well, I give it up, but I'm willing to be what the ancients used to
call the Goat. If I want a good lawyer, Brudder Bones, what IS the
matter with you? I ask the question--what's the answer?"

"I don't know," grinned the Lawyer.

"Well, I guess that's it," said the Idiot. "If I want a good lawyer I
want one who does know."

"But what's this new society going to do?" interrupted the Poet. "I am
particularly interested in any sort of a scheme that is going to make
you rich without forgetting me. If there's any pipe-line to prosperity,
hurry up and let me know before it is too late."

"Why, it is simplicity itself," said the Idiot. "The U. S. Telephonic
Aid Society is designed to carry First Aid to the Professionally
Injured. You have doubtless read recently in the newspapers how Damon, a
retired financier, desirous of helping his old friend Pythias, an
equally retired attorney, back into his quondam practice--please excuse
that word quondam, Mrs. Pedagog; it isn't half as profane as it
sounds--went to the telephone and impersonating J. Mulligatawny Solon,
Member of Congress from the Chillicothe District, rang up Midas,
Croesus, and Dives, the eminent bankers, and recommended Pythias as
the only man this side of the planet Mars who could stave off the
ruthless destruction of their interests by an uncontrolled body of
lawmakers."

"Yes," said Mr. Brief. "I read all that, and it was almost as unreal as
a page out of the Arabian Nights."

"Wasn't it!" said the Idiot. "And yet how simple! Well, that's my scheme
in a nutshell, only I am going to do the thing as a pure matter of
business, and not merely to show the purity of my affection for any
Pythian dependent.

"To show just how the plan will work under my supervision let us take
your case first, Mr. Poet. Here you are this morning with your board
bill already passed to its third reading, with Mrs. Pedagog tacking
amendments on to the end of it with every passing day. Unfortunately for
you in your emergent hour, the editors either view your manuscripts with
suspicion or, what is more likely, refuse to look at them at all. They
care nothing for your aspirations or your inspirations.

"Your immediate prospect holds nothing in sight save the weary parcel
postman, with his bent form, delivering daily at your door eleven-pound
packages of unappreciated sonnets. You do not dare think on the morrow,
what ye shall eat, and wherewithal shall ye be clothed, because no man
liveth who can purchase the necessities of life with rejection
slips--those checks on the Banks of Ambition, payable in the editors'
regrets."

"By George," blurted the Poet feelingly, "you're dead right about that,
old man. If editors' regrets were legal tender, I could pay off the
national debt."

"Precisely," said the Idiot. "And it is just here, my dear friend, that
the U. S. Telephonic Aid Society rushes to your assistance. Your case is
brought to the society's attention, and I, as President, Secretary,
Treasurer, and General Manager of the institution, look into the matter
at once.

"I find your work meritorious. No editor has ever rejected it because it
lacked literary merit. He even goes so far as to print a statement of
that fact upon the slip he sends back with it on its homeward journey.
Like most other poets you need a little food once in awhile. A roof to
cover your head is essential to your health, and under the existing laws
of society you simply must wear clothes when you appear in public, and
it becomes the Society's worthy job to aid you in getting all these
things.

"So we close a contract providing that for ten dollars down and fifteen
per cent. of the gross future receipts, I, or the Society, agree to
secure the publication of your sonnets, rondeaux, limericks, and
triolets in the Hyperion Magazine."

"That would be bully if you could only pull it off," said the Poet,
falling naturally into the terminology of Milton. "But I don't just see
how you're going to turn the trick."

"On the regular 'Damon and Pythias' principle, as set forth in the
newspapers," said the Idiot. "Immediately the contract between us is
signed, I rush to the nearest pay station and ring up the editor of the
Hyperion Magazine, and when I get him on the line we converse as
follows:

     "Me--Is this the editor of the Hyperion Magazine?

     "Editor--Ubetcha. Who are you?

     "Me--I'm President Wilson, down at the White House.

     "Editor--Glad to hear from you, Mr. President. Got any more
     of that new Freedom stuff on hand? We are thinking of
     running a Department of Humor in the Hyperion, and with a
     little editing I think we could use a couple of carloads of
     it.

     "Me--Why, yes, Mr. Bluepencil. I think I have a bale or two
     of remnants in cold storage down at Trenton. But really that
     isn't what I am after this morning. I wanted to say to you
     officially, but confidentially, of course, that my
     Ambassador to Great Britain has just cabled his resignation
     to the State Department. What with a little breakfast he
     gave last week to the President of France and his tips at
     his own presentation to the King, he has already spent four
     years' salary, and he does not feel that he can afford to
     stay over there much after the first of September.

     "Editor--I'm on. I getcha.

     "Me--Now, of course, I've got to fill his place right away,
     and it struck me that you were just the man for the job. In
     the first place you are tolerably familiar with the language
     they speak in and about the Court of St. James's. I am told
     by mutual friends that you eat peas with a fork, can use a
     knife without cutting your lip, and have an intuitive
     apprehension of the subtle distinctions between a
     finger-bowl and a sauterne glass. It has also been brought
     to my attention that your advertising pages have for years
     been consistent advocates, in season and out, of the use of
     grape juice as a refreshing beverage for nervous
     Ambassadors.

     "Editor--That's right, Mr. President.

     "Me--Well, of course, all of this makes you unquestionably
     _persona grata_ to us, and I think it should make you a
     novel and interesting feature of diplomatic life along
     Piccadilly.

     "Editor--It sounds good to me, Mr. President.

     "Me--Now to come to the difficulties in our way--and that is
     what I have rung you up to talk about. There seems to be but
     one serious objection to your appointment, Mr. Bluepencil.
     At a Cabinet meeting called yesterday to discuss the matter,
     Mr. McAdoo expressed the fear that if you go away for four
     years the quality of the poetry in the Hyperion Magazine
     will fall off. In this contention, Mr. McAdoo was supported
     by the Secretary of Agriculture, whose name escapes me at
     this moment, with the Postmaster General and the Secretary
     of War on the fence. Mr. Daniels was not present, having
     gone West to launch a battleship at Omaha. But in any event
     there is where the matter rests at this moment.

     "For my own part, however, after giving the matter prayerful
     consideration, I think I can see a way out. The whole
     Cabinet is very much interested in the poems of Willie
     Wimpleton Spondy, the boy Watson. McAdoo is constantly
     quoting from him. The Postmaster General has even gone so
     far as to advocate the extension of the franking privilege
     to him, and as for myself, I have made it a practice for the
     last five years to begin every day by reciting one of his
     limericks before my assembled family.

     "Editor--I never heard of the boob.

     "Me--Well, you hear of him now, and the whole thing comes
     down to this: Mr. Spondy will call at your office with a
     couple of bales of his stuff at ten o'clock to-morrow
     morning, and you might have something besides a pink
     rejection slip dripping with regrets ready for him. I don't
     know what his rates are, but his stuff runs about ninety
     pounds to the bale, and what that comes to at fifty per you
     can figure out for yourself.

     "Editor--How does Champ Clark stand on this thing?

     "Me--He and Tommie Marshall are with us to the last
     tintinnabulation of the gong.

     "Editor--Then I am to understand just what, Mr. President?

     "Me--That you don't go to England on our account until we
     are absolutely assured beyond peradvanture that there will
     be no deterioration in the quality of Hyperion poetry during
     your absence.

     "Editor--All right. Send the guy around this afternoon. He
     can send the bale by slow freight. We always pay in advance
     anyhow."

The Idiot paused to take breath.

"Then what?" asked the Poet dubiously.

"You go around and get what's coming to you," said the Idiot. "Or
perhaps it would be better to send a messenger boy for it. The more
impersonal we make this business the better."

"I see," said the Poet dejectedly. "But even at that, Mr. Idiot, when
the Hyperion man doesn't get the Ambassadorship, won't he sue me to
recover?"

"Oh, well," said the Idiot wearily, "you've got to assume some of the
burdens of the business yourself. We can't do it all, you know. But
suppose they do sue you? You never heard of a magazine recovering
anything from a poet, did you? You'd get a heap of free advertising out
of such a lawsuit, and if you were canny enough to put out a book of
your verses while the newspapers were full of it, they'd go off like hot
cakes, and you could retire with a cool million."

"And where do I come in?" asked the Doctor. "Don't I get any of these
plums of prosperity your Telephonic Aid Society is to place within the
reach of all?"

"On payment of the fee of ten dollars, and signing the regular
contract," said the Idiot. "I'll do my best for you. In your case I
should impersonate our good old friend Andrew Rockernegie. Acting in
that capacity I would ring up Mr. John D. Reddymun, and you'd hear
something like this:

     "Me--Hello, Reddy--is this you?

     "Reddymun--Yes. Who's this?

     "Me--This is Uncle Andy. How's the leg this morning?

     "Reddymun--Oh, so so.

     "Me--Everybody pulling it, I suppose?

     "Reddymun--About the same as usual. It's curious, Andrew,
     how many people are attached to my limb, and how few are
     attached to me.

     "Me--Yes, it's a cold and cruel world, John. But I'm
     through. I've found the way out. They'll never pull my leg
     again.

     "Reddymun--By George, old man, I wish I could say as much.

     "Me--Well, you can if you'll only do what I did.

     "Reddymun--What's that?

     "Me--Had it cut off.

     "Reddymun--No!

     "Me--Yep!

     "Reddymun--When?

     "Me--Just now.

     "Reddymun--Hurt?

     "Me--Never knew what was happening.

     "Reddymun--Who did it?

     "Me--Old Doctor Squills. He charged me ten thousand dollars
     for the job, but I figure it out that it has saved me six
     hundred and thirty three million dollars.

     "Reddymun--Send him around, will you?

     "Me--Ubetcha!"

"And then?" said the Doctor.

"And then?" echoed the Idiot. "Well, if you don't know what you would
do if you were offered ten thousand dollars to cut a man's leg off I
can't teach you, but I have one piece of advice to give you. When you
get the order don't go around there with a case full of teaspoons and
soup-ladles, when all you need is a good sharp carving knife to land you
in the lap of luxury!"

"And do you men think for one single moment," cried the Landlady, "that
all this would be honest business?"

"Well, in the very nature of the case it would be a trifle 'phoney',"
said the Idiot, "but what can a man do these days, with his bills
getting bigger and bigger every day?"

"I'd leave 'em unpaid first!" sniffed the Landlady contemptuously.

"Oh, very well," smiled the Idiot. "With your permission, ma'am, we
will. You don't know what a load you have taken off my mind."



VIII

FOR TIRED BUSINESS MEN


"Poor old Binks!" said the Idiot sympathetically, as he put down a
letter just received from his friend and turned his attention to the
waffles. "He's spending the good old Summer time in a sanitarium, just
because he thinks he's got nervous prostration, and the Lord knows when
he'll be back in harness again."

"Who's Binks?" asked the Lawyer. "You talk as if the name of Binks were
a household word."

"Well, it is, in a way," said the Idiot. "Binks is one of those tired
business men that we hear so much of these days. The kind they write
comic operas and popular novels for, with all the thought taken out so
that he may not have to burden his mind with anything worth thinking
about. He's one of these billionaire slaves who's lost his thumb cutting
off coupons and employs seventeen clerks with rubber stamps to sign his
checks for him. He's succumbed to the strain of it all at last, and now
the gobelins have got him. Do you approve of these sanitariums, Doctor?"

"I most certainly do," said the Doctor. "Sanitariums are the greatest
blessings of modern life, and, for my part, I'd like to see a law passed
requiring everybody to spend a month in one of them every year of his
life, where he could be under constant scientific supervision. It would
add ten years to the lives of every one of us."

"Well, I hope you are right, but I don't know," said the Idiot
dubiously. "Seems to me there's too much coddling going on at those
places, and mighty few people get well on coddling. I've given the
matter some thought, and I've known a lot of men who had nothing but a
pain in their toe who got so much sympathy over it that they became
hopeless invalids inside of a year. There's more truth than humor in
that joke about the little Irish boy who was asked how his mother was
and replied that she was enjoying poor health this year."

"O, that's all tommyrot," said the Doctor. "Perfect nonsense--"

"I hope so," said the Idiot, "but after all nobody can deny that there
are a great many people in this world who really do enjoy bad health who
wouldn't if it weren't for the perquisites."

"Perquisites?" frowned the Bibliomaniac. "Great Heavens, Mr. Idiot, you
don't mean to insinuate that there is graft in ill health, just as there
is in everything else, do you?"

"I sure do," replied the Idiot. "Take me, for instance--"

"I for one must decline to take you until I know whether you are a
chronic disorder, or merely a temporary epidemic," grinned Mr. Brief.

"Idiocy is pretty contagious," smiled the Idiot, in reply, "but in this
case I wish to be taken as a patient. Let us say, for instance, that I
am off in the country at a popular hotel, and all of a sudden some fine
morning I come down with a headache--"

"That's a debatable hypothesis," said the Lawyer. "Is it possible for
the Idiot to have a headache, Doctor?"

"I have known similar cases," said the Doctor. "I knew an old soldier
once who lost his leg at Gettysburg, and years afterward could still
feel the twinges of rheumatism in one of his lost toes."

"Thanks for the vindication, Doctor," said the Idiot. "Nevertheless,
just to please our learned brother here, I will modify the hypothesis.

"Let us suppose that I am off in the country at a popular summer hotel,
and all of a sudden some fine morning I come down with a violent pain in
that anatomical void where my head would be if, like Mr. Brief, I always
suffered from one. I am not sick enough to stay in bed, but just badly
enough off to be able to loll around the hotel piazzas all morning and
look forlorn.

"Everybody in the place, of course, is immediately sympathetic. All are
sorry for me, and it is such an unusual thing for one of my volatile,
not to say fluffy, nature to suffer that a vast amount of commiseration
is manifested by my fellow guests, especially by the ladies.

"They turn me at once into a suffering hero. As I lie listlessly in my
steamer-chair they pass me by on tip-toe, or pause and inquire into the
progress of my aches and show a great deal more interest in my condition
than they do in bridge or votes for women. One fetching young creation
in polka-dotted dimity, aged twenty-three, offers to stay home from a
picnic and read Robert W. Chambers aloud to me. Another goes to her room
and brings me down a little jar of mint jelly, which she feeds to me on
the end of a macaroon or a lady finger, while still a third, a pretty
little widow of twenty-seven summers, now and then leaves her embroidery
to put a cool little hand on my forehead to see if I have any fever--"

"A most alluring picture," said the Doctor.

"It almost makes my head ache to think of it!" said the Idiot. "But to
continue, this goes on all morning, and then when afternoon comes they
hang a nice little hammock for me, filled with dainty sofa cushions, out
under the trees, and as they gently swing me to and fro a charming
creature from Wellesley or Vassar sits alongside of me and fans my
fevered brow, driving away dull care, flies, and mosquitoes until
twilight, when, after feeding me on more macaroons, washed down with
copious libations of sparkling lemonade, a bevy of elfin maids sit
around in a circle and sing 'My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean', while the
aforesaid little widow comes now and then to brush my scalp-lock back
from my brow with the aforesaid pink paddy."

"Oh, well, what of it?" interrupted the Doctor. "I've known many a
stronger man than you made a fool of--"

"What of it?" demanded the Idiot. "What of it? There's a lot of it. Do
you suppose for one minute that I am going to get well under those
circumstances?"

"I wouldn't," said the Lawyer.

"Not on your faith in the Materia Medica!" cried the Idiot. "That
headache would become immortal. As undying as a poet's fame. Life would
become for me one blissful eternity of cerebellian suffering under those
conditions. Rather that lose my job as the cynosure of all that lovely
solicitude I'd hire a bellboy to come to my room in the morning with a
croquet mallet and hammer my head until it split, if I couldn't get one
in any more legitimate fashion.

"The quiet joy of lying off there with all those ministering angels
about me, secretly enjoying the discomfiture of all the other men about
the place--they nursing their wrath; their sisters, cousins, aunts,
rich grandmothers, and best girls nursing me--get well? me? never,
Doctor!

"But if, on the other hand, nobody came near me all day long save a
horse marine of a landlady armed with a bottle of squills, with the
request that I go to bed until I felt better, why then I'd be a well man
in just seven and a half minutes, dancing the tango, and challenging all
the rheumaticky old beaux about the place to a hundred yards' dash for
the fifteenth turkey trot with the little widow at the Saturday night
hop."

"Yes, I admit that there is such a thing as too much coddling," said the
Doctor. "There are people who are inclined to hug their troubles, and
for whom too much sympathy is a positive deterrent in the process of
recuperation, but after all, my dear fellow, until we find something
better the sanitarium must serve its purpose, and a great many people
are unquestionably helped along by its beneficent operations."

"I haven't a doubt of that," said the Idiot, "and here's to them! Long
may they wave! I quaff this pony of maple syrup to the health of the
sanitariums of the land--but just the same, for the tired business man,
and his name is not only Smith, but Legion, there should be some other
kind of an institution where this coddling process is frowned upon."

"Why not devote that massive brain of yours to the working out of the
idea?" suggested the Bibliomaniac. "The great trouble with you, Mr.
Idiot, is that you are prolific in thinking out things that ought to be
done, but there you stop. How to do them you never tell us. Why don't
you give us a constructive notion once in awhile?"

"Thank you, Mr. Bib," said the Idiot, with a grateful smile. "I've been
fishing for that particular nibble for the past eighteen minutes, and I
was beginning to fear the shad were shy this morning. You have saved the
day, Sir. Speaking of Mr. Bib's idea that we ought to have something to
take the place of the sanitarium for the tired business man, Doctor, how
do you think an irritarium would pay?"

"A what?" cried the Doctor, holding his waffle like Mohammed's coffin,
suspended in midair.

"An irritarium," repeated the Idiot. "An institution of aggravation,
where, instead of being coddled into permanent invalidism, we should be
constantly irritated, provoked, exacerbated, or, as my old friend
Colonel Thesaurus says in his Essay on Excitation, exasperated into a
cantankerously contentious pugnacity!"

"And for what purpose, pray?" demanded the Bibliomaniac.

"As an anti-coddling resource for the restoration of our pristine
powers," said the Idiot. "Just take our old friend, the tired business
man, for example. He has been working forty-eight hours a day all winter
long, and with the coming of spring he is first cousin to the frazzle,
and in the matter of spine twin brother to the jellyfish. His middle
name is Flabby, and his nerve has succumbed to the superior numbers of
nerves.

"He is headed straight for the Down-and-Out Club. His lip quivers when
he talks, and his hand is the center of a seismic disturbance that turns
his autograph into a cross between a dress pattern and a futurist
conception of a straight line in the cold gray dawn of the morning
after. He has prolonged fits of weeping, and when it comes to making up
his mind on any definite course of action he vacillates between two
possibilities until it is too late, and then decides wrong.

"Now, under present conditions they railroad this poor wreck off to a
sanitarium, where the very atmosphere that he breathes is the dread
thing that has haunted his sleepless hours all winter long--that of
retirement. He is made to believe that he is a vurry, vurry sick man,
and the only real pleasure that is left to him is bragging about his
symptoms to some other unfortunate incarcerated with him; and after each
period of boastful exposure of these symptoms in the exchange provided
for the swapping of these things in the sanitariums of the day, he goes
back to his room more than ever convinced that his case is hopeless;
and, confronted by the bogey of everlasting ill health, he lets go of
himself altogether and a long, long, tedious period of rehabilitation
begins which may or may not get him into shape again in time for the
fall season."

"It's the only way," said the Doctor. "Don't fight your doctor. Just let
go of yourself, and let him do the rest."

"Well, I'd like to see my system tried for a while," said the Idiot.
"I'll guarantee that any tired business man who will go to my irritarium
will get his spine and his spunk, his nerve and his dander, back in a
jiffy.

"The first morning, after giving him a first-class breakfast that fills
his weary soul with peace, I'd turn him loose in a picture gallery on
the walls of which are hung soft, dreamy reproductions of pastoral
scenes calculated to lull his soul into an unsuspecting sense of calm,
and while he is looking placidly at these lovely things I'd have a husky
attendant wearing sneakers creep quietly up behind him and give him such
a kick as should for a moment make him feel that the earth itself had
blown up. It wouldn't be a pleasant, sympathetic little love tap
calculated to make him feel that he never even wanted to get well, but a
violent, exacerbating assault; utterly uncalled for and unexpected; a
bit of sheer, brutal provocation.

"Do you suppose for an instant that the party of the second part would
throw himself down forthwith upon a convenient divan and give way to a
fit of weeping? Not he, my dear Doctor. The tire of that tired business
man would blow out with a report like a crash of distant thunder. All
the latent business manhood in him would be aroused into instant action.
Nerves would fly, and nerve would return. Spinelessness and uncertainty
would give way to spunk, and a promptitude of truculent reprisal worthy
of the palmiest days of his commercial pre-eminence would ensue. Worn
and weary as he was when he entered the irritarium, he would be so
outraged by the rank discourtesy and utter injustice of that kick that
he would beat up that attendant as if he were a world's champion
battling with a bowlful of cold consommé for a ten-thousand-dollar
purse."

"Tush!" said the Doctor. "What do you suppose the attendant would be
doing all this time? You seem to think your tired business man would
find beating him up as easy as mashing potatoes with a pile driver."

"It would be part of my system," said the Idiot, "that the attendant
should allow himself to be thrashed, so that the tired business man,
irritated into a show of spirit and deceived into thinking that he was
still some fighter, would leave the place next day, his courage renewed
and his confidence in himself completely restored. Instead of
inoculating him with Nut chops and hot water for a weary period of six
months, I'd pin the red badge of courage on him at the very start; and
I miss my guess if he wouldn't go back to business the next morning as
fit as a fiddle, and spend most of his time for the next two years
telling everybody who would listen how he walloped the life out of one
of the huskiest attendants he could find in a month of Sundays."

"And you really think such brutal methods would work, do you?" asked the
Bibliomaniac.

"I have eight dollars that are willing to state it is a fact to any
two-dollar certificate ever printed by Uncle Sam," returned the Idiot.
"Why, Mr. Bib, I had a very dear friend once who was paralyzed. So
completely paralyzed was he that he couldn't move without help, and,
what was worse, couldn't even talk.

"He went to a sanitarium, and for seven long and weary months he was
dipped in a warm bath every morning by two attendants, an Irishman and
a Dutchman. One held him by the shoulders and the other by the ankles,
and day after day for nearly a year they dipped, and dipped, and dipped
him. He showed no signs of improvement whatsoever until one bitterly
cold winter's morning, the two attendants, having been off on a spree
the night before, forgot to turn on the hot-water faucet and dipped him
into a tub of ice water!

"The effect was electrical. The patient was so mad that he impulsively
broke the dam of silence that had afflicted him for so long and let
loose a flow of language on those attendants that made the wrath to come
seem like the twittering of a bird; and before they had recovered from
their astonishment he had leaped from the tub, pinked the Irishman on
the eye with a cake of soap, and, after chasing the Dutchman downstairs
into the parlor, spanked him into a state of coma with a long-handled
bath brush he had picked up off the floor."

"And I suppose he is giving lessons in the tango to-day!" interjected
the Lawyer, with a laugh.

"Nothing so mild," said the Idiot. "The last time I saw him he was
starting off with old man Weston on his walk to Chicago. He told me he
was going as far as Albany with Weston."

"Well," said the Doctor, "it might work, but I doubt it. I should have
to see the scheme in operation before I recommended it to any of my
patients."

"All right," said the Idiot. "Send 'em along, Doctor. Mr. Bib and I can
take care of them right here."

"Leave me out," snapped the Bibliomaniac. "I don't care to be a partner
in any of your idiotic nonsense."

"No, Mr. Bib," smiled the Idiot, genially. "I wasn't going to use you
as a partner, but as a shining example of the effectiveness of my
theory. I've been irritating you constantly for the past twenty years,
and you are still able to eat your thirty-seven and a half flapjacks
daily without turning a hair, and that's some testimonial."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Half-Hours with the Idiot" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home