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CHAPTER V

THE MUNICIPAPHONE

Armed with the Copperation Counsel's opinion authorising him to do whatever he pleased next, the Hatter decided that he would give Alice a demonstration of the workings of the Municipaphone.


"YOU CAN TALK ALL YOU PLEASE"

"Which," said he proudly, "I consider to be the most Democraticising thing I have ever invented. You can talk all you please about Universal Brotherhood, Unlimited Sisterhood, and the Infinity of Unclehood, but all of these movements put together haven't done as much to promote the equality of everybody as that Municipaphone idea of mine."

Alice thought the Cheshire Cat's grin expanded slightly as the Hatter spoke, but she was not sure, although he most assuredly did wink at her.

"I should admire to see it," she said. "What is it, just?"

"It is the result of the Municipal Ownership of the Telephone," returned the Hatter proudly. "We have taken over everything that works by electricity — electric lighting, the telegraph, the telephone——"

"Even the thunder and lightning," interrupted the White Knight. "And under our management everything runs so smoothly that even the lightning doesn't strike any more. That's a great thing in Municipal Ownership. There aren't any more strikes under it."

"What he says is true, my child," said the Hatter, "and in time we expect to get the thunder itself under control so that it will serve some useful purpose — I don't know yet exactly what, but I am having experiments made in storage batteries which will catch and hold the thunder with the idea of saving the noise it makes for fire-crackers, or Presidential salutes, or other things and occasions where the fracturing of silence seems desirable. Surely if we can take electricity and under suitable Municipal supervision make it serve as a substitute for a tallow dip, why shouldn't we extract the reverberance with which it is fraught to add to the general clangour of joyous occasions?"

"No reason at all," said Alice. "I wonder no one has ever thought of that before. Just think of all the magnificent noises that go to waste in a thunderstorm."

"You will discover in time, my dear child, that only under the Municipal Ownership of Brains such as we have here, can such great ideas be seized from the infinity of nothingness and turned into an irresistible propaganda," said the Hatter loftily.

"He's the biggest gander of the bunch," whispered the March Hare.

"But it isn't what we are going to do, but what we have done that we propose to show you," continued the Hatter, eyeing the March Hare coldly. "And as I have said, the Municipaphone is my crowning achievement. Just come here and I will show you."

The Hatter led Alice to a nearby lamp-post, and pointing to a little box fastened to the middle of the pillar explained to her that that was the Municipaphone.

"We have them in every room in every house in the City, on all the lamp-posts, hydrants, telegraph poles, in fact everywhere where there is a chance or room enough to hang one," the Hatter explained.

"It's just like a telephone, isn't it?" said Alice. "Only it looks like a hat instead of a funnel."

"Exactly," said the Hatter, "but we don't call it a telephone any more. The word telephone struck me as being a misnomer. You don't tell the 'phone anything when you talk into it. You tell the person at the other end of the line, and so, I changed its name to the Municipaphone, which shows that it's a 'phone that belongs to the City. Just to sort of moralise the thing I had the mouth-piece changed to look like a hat instead of a funnel, because funnels are apt to suggest alcoholic beverages and sometimes people who aren't at all thirsty are made so by the mere power of suggestion. The hat, however, has always commended itself to our greatest statesmen as a vehicle best suited for the transmission of ideas, and I therefore adopted it.

"It is very pretty," commented Alice. "Only I think a few ribbons would improve it a little."

"Possibly," said the Hatter. "We haven't had time yet to look after the millinery aspect of the situation, but we'll take that up at our next Cabinet meeting. I thank you for the suggestion. But you see how the thing works. This little book here has a list of the names of everybody in town with their Municipaphone numbers attached. The lowly as well as the highly, from the newsboy up to the Bridge Whist set, are all represented here, so that all are connected in one way or another with each other. There is no man, woman, or child so poor and humble of birth, that he or she cannot get into immediate relations with the haughty and proud. Everybody is on speaking terms with everybody else, and we have thereby reached socially a condition wherein all men though not related are nevertheless connected. You frequently hear a wash-lady remark that while she has not met Mrs. Van Varick Van Astorbilt or Mrs. Willieboy de Crudoil personally, they are nevertheless connections of hers if not by blood or marriage at least by wire, which is stronger than either. Some day instead of having Societies of the Cincinnati, and Sons and Daughters of the Revolution I hope to see associations of Brothers and Sisters of the Municipaphone which shall become a factor of overwhelming solidarity in all social and political affairs.

"It's a splendid scheme," said Alice.

"It is a tie of material strength which binds together our first and last families, increasing the pride of the latter, and diminishing that of the former until we have at last reached an average of self-satisfaction which knows no barriers of class distinction," said the Hatter. "But it wouldn't have worked if we hadn't formulated strict rules by which every household in town is governed. One of our rules is that the person called upon must answer immediately and truthfully any question which the person at the other end asks, and of course in perfectly polite language. For instance, suppose you try it yourself. Just ring up Number 83115, Bloomingdale, and ask for Mrs. S. Van Livingston Smythe. She's the biggest swell in town. Ask her anything that comes into your head, and you'll see how it works. Tell her you are Mrs. O'Flaherty, the Head Wash-Lady of the Municipal Laundry."

Alice took her place at the Municipaphone and called 83115 Bloomingdale, as instructed.

"Hello!" she said.

"Hush! Don't say that — say Ah there!" interrupted the Hatter. "Hello comes under the head of profanity, which is against the law."

"Excuse me," said Alice. "Ah there!" she added. "Give me 83115 Bloomingdale, please, Central."

"Name, please," said Central.

"Bridget O'Flaherty," replied Alice.

"Address?" asked Central.

"Tub 37, Municipal Laundry," said Alice.

"Occupation?" continued the other.

"Wringer," laughed Alice.

"All right, there you are," said Central, making the desired connection.

"Is this Mrs. S. Van Livingston Smythe?" asked Alice.

"Yes," said a sweet voice from the other end of the line. "What is it?"

"I am Bridget O'Flaherty," said Alice, "of the Municipal Laundry, and I wanted to ask was your grandfather ever a monkey?"

It was not a very polite question, but under the excitement of the moment Alice could think of nothing better to ask.

"I don't believe so, Mrs. O'Flaherty," came the sweet voice in answer. "I have looked over every branch of our family tree and there isn't a cocoanut on it. Why, are you looking for a missing grandfather of your own?"

"No," smiled Alice, "but I've read all the books in the public library and I thought he might have a tail to tell that I would find amusing."

"Well, I'm very sorry," said the sweet voice. "Grandfather died forty years ago, so I don't believe he can help you. I would advise you to go up to the Monkeyhouse and ask one of your own brothers. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said Alice.

"Well?" asked the Hatter with a grin. "What do you think of it?"

"Why — it's perfectly wonderful," said Alice. "If that were to happen in New York or even in Brooklyn or Binghamton Mrs. S. Van Livingston Smythe would have been very indignant, not only over the question, but for the mere fact that the — er — wash-lady dared ring her up at all."

"Exactly," said the Hatter, with a bland smile of satisfaction. "This Municipaphone controlled by strict rules which people must obey is a great social leveller."

"But why did Central want my name and address?" asked Alice.

"Because Central has to keep a record of all that everybody says for the Inspector of Personal Communications," explained the Hatter. "Every word you and Mrs. Smythe spoke was recorded at the Central Office, and if either of you had used any expression stronger than Fudge, or O Tutt you would have been fined five dollars for each expression and repetition thereof. We expect to establish Civic Control of Public and Private Speech within the next year, and we have begun it with supervision of the Municipaphone."

"But," cried Alice, "If I had said something that required a fine, wouldn't Mrs. O'Flaherty, who is innocent, have had to pay?"



"FINED FIVE DOLLARS"

"Yes," said the Hatter. "But in all cases where the public welfare is concerned, private interests must yield however great the hardship. That is one of the fundamental principles of Municipal Ownership. Mrs. O'Flaherty would have to suffer in order that the great principle involved in Polite Speech for all Classes might prevail. The strict enforcement of our anti-Gosh legislation has resulted almost in the complete elimination of profane speech in Blunderland — so much so in fact that in the new Dictionary we are compiling such words as Golramit, Dodgastit, and Goshallhemlocks are being left out altogether."



"THE DICTIONARY WE ARE COMPILING"

"It is a great moral agency," said the White Knight. "It increases the self-respect of the submerged, curbs the pride of the rich, and holds in complete subjection those evil communications which corrupt good manners."

"And nothing but the result of Municipal Ownership," put in the March Hare enthusiastically, forgetting his grouch for a moment.

"It has other advantages, too," said the Hatter, "to which I feel I should call your attention. These phones being in every room in town with which anybody may be connected at any moment and thus overhear what other people are saying, gossip is gradually dying out, and people everywhere are more careful of what they say even in private, for nowadays the walls literally have ears. To give you an example, I will connect you at once with the home of the Duchess whom you met, if you remember, in your journey through Wonderland and you may judge for yourself of how useful this Municipaphone is to us in ascertaining the general trend of public opinion."



"ALICE TRANSFIXED AT THE PHONE"

The Hatter gave the order to Central and in a minute Alice stood transfixed at the phone listening intently. She recognised the voice of the Duchess immediately.



"THE BIGGEST JACKASS FROM DAN TO BEERSHEBA"

"As for that old fool of a Hatter," she was saying, "he is the biggest jackass from Dan to Beersheba."

"Well?" said the Hatter. "Can you hear her?"

"Yes," giggled Alice. "Very plainly."

"What does she say?" asked the Hatter, simpering.

"Why," said Alice reddening, "she — she's talking about you."

"The dear Duchess," ejaculated the Hatter, with a foolish smirk. "I'm very much afraid — ahem — that the Duchess has her eye on me."

"She has," said Alice. "She is referring to you in the warmest tones — she thinks you're big — great — the very greatest from Dan to Beersheba."

"Ah me!" sighed the Hatter. "If I were only a younger man!"

"They'll make a match of it yet," said the White Knight in a soft whisper to Alice.

"Yes," sneered the March Hare, who had overheard, jealously, "and a fine old sulphur-headed lucifer of a match it will be too.

"Well, it's all very nice," said Alice, very anxious to change the subject. "But I can't say that I'm sure I'd like it. Why, you can't have any secrets from anybody."

"And why should you wish to, my dear child?" asked the Hatter, coming out of his dream of romance. "Why not so order your life that you have no need for secrecy?"

"Yes," said Alice. "I suppose that is better, but then, Mr. Hatter, isn't there to be any more private life?"

"Not under Municipal Ownership," said the Hatter. "Carried to its logical conclusion that with all other so-called private rights will be merged in the glorious culmination of a complete well rounded Municipal Life. It is toward that Grand Civic Eventuation that I and my associates in this noble movement are constantly striving."

"Are you going to have Municipal Control of Marriage?" asked Alice, slyly.

The Hatter blushed and smiled foolishly. "I — ah — am thinking about that," he said with a funny little laugh. "It would be a most excellent thing to do, for in my opinion a great many people nowadays get married too thoughtlessly. Just because they happen to love each other they go off and get married, but under Municipal Control it would be much more difficult for a man or a woman to take so serious a step. For instance, if I had my way the Common Council would have to be asked for permission for a man to marry. The question would come up in the form of a bill, which would immediately be referred to the Committee on Matrimony, who would discuss it very thoroughly before bringing it before the Council. If a majority of the Committee considered that the application should be granted, then the matter should be placed before the whole Council, by which it should be debated in open public sessions, the applicant having been invited to appear and under cross-examination by the District Attorney demonstrate his fitness to be married. All others knowing any reason why he should not be married should also have the opportunity to appear and state their reasons for opposing the granting of the application. I am inclined to believe that this would put a stop to these hasty marriages which have given rise to that beautiful proverb, Married in Camden, Repent at South Dakota."

"I should think it would," said Alice. "And when do you propose to start this plan along?"

"Well, you see," said the Hatter with a giggle, "before I take final steps in the matter I wish to have a few words with — er — well — you know who — I —"

"The Duchess," Alice ventured.

"Ah, you precocious child!" cried the Hatter, tapping Alice on the shoulder coyly. "You must not believe all you overhear the Duchess say about me. She is so prejudiced, and blind to my faults. I — I'm almost sorry I connected you with her over the Municipaphone."


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