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"LET'S write a book," suggested the Idiot, as he took his place at the board and unfolded his napkin.
"What about?" asked the Doctor, with a smile at the idea of the Idiot's thinking of embarking on literary pursuits.
"About four hundred pages long," said the Idiot. "I feel inspired."
"You are inspired," said the School-Master. "In your way you are a genius. I really never heard of such a variegated Idiot as you are in all my experience, and that means a great deal, I can tell you, for in the course of my career as an instructor of youth I have encountered many idiots."
"Were they idiots before or after having drank at the fount of your learning?" asked the Idiot, placidly.
Mr. Pedagog glared, and the Idiot was apparently satisfied. To make Mr. Pedagog glare appeared to be one of the chiefest of his ambitions.
"You will kindly remember, Mr. Idiot," said Mrs. Pedagog at this point, "that Mr. Pedagog is my husband, and such insinuations at my table are distinctly out of place."
"I ask your pardon, Mrs. Pedagog," rejoined the offender, meekly. "Nevertheless, as apart from the question in hand as to whether Mr. Pedagog inspires idiocy or not, I should like to get the views of this gathering on the point you make regarding the table. Is this your table? Is it not rather the table of those who sit about it to regale their inner man with the good things under which I remember once or twice in my life to have heard it groan? To my mind, the latter is the truth. It is our table, because we buy it, and I am forced to believe that some of us pay for it. I am prepared to admit that if Mr. Brief, for instance, is delinquent in his weekly payments, his interest in the table reverts to you until he shall have liquidated, and he is not privileged to say a word that you do not approve of; but I, for instance, who since January 1st have been compelled to pay in advance, am at least sole lessee, and for the time being proprietor of the portion for which I have paid. You have sold it to me. I have entered into possession, and while in possession, as a matter of right and not on sufferance, haven't I the privilege of freedom of speech?"
"You certainly exercise the privilege whether you have it or not," snapped Mr. Pedagog.
"Well, I believe in exercise," said the Idiot. "Exercise brings strength, and if exercising the privilege is going to strengthen it, exercise it I shall, if I have to hire a gymnasium for the purpose. But to return to Mrs. Pedagog's remark. It brings up another question that has more or less interested me. Because Mrs. Smithers married Mr. Pedagog, do we lose all of our rights in Mr. Pedagog? Before the happy event that reduced our number from ten to nine —"
"We are still ten, are we not?" asked Mr. Whitechoker, counting the guests.
"Not if Mr. Pedagog and the late Mrs. Smithers have become one," said the Idiot. "But, as I was saying, before the happy event that reduced our number from ten to nine we were permitted to address our friend Pedagog in any terms we saw fit, and whenever he became sufficiently interested to indulge in repartee we were privileged to return it. Have we relinquished that privilege? I don't remember to have done so."
"It's a question worthy of your giant intellect," said Mr. Pedagog, scornfully. "For myself, I do not at all object to anything you may choose to say to me or of me. Your assaults are to me as water is to a duck's back."
"I am sorry," said the Idiot. "I hate family disagreements, and here we have Mrs. Pedagog taking one side and Mr. Pedagog the other. But whatever decision may ultimately be reached, of one thing Mrs. Pedagog must be assured. I on principle side against Mr. Pedagog, and if it be the wish of my good landlady that I shall refrain from playing intellectual battledore and shuttlecock with her husband, whom we all revere, I certainly shall refrain. Hereafter if I indulge in anything that in any sense resembles repartee with our landlord, I wish it distinctly understood that an apology goes with it."
"That's all right, my boy," said the School-Master. "You mean well. You are a little new, that's all, and we all understand you."
"I don't understand him," growled the Doctor, still smarting under the recollection of former breakfast-table discomfitures. "I wish we could get him translated."
"If you prescribed for me once or twice I think it likely I should be translated in short order," retorted the Idiot. "I wonder how I'd go translated into French?"
"You couldn't be expressed in French," put in the Lawyer. "It would take some barbarian tongue to do you justice." '
"Very well," said the Idiot. "Proceed. Do me justice."
"I can't begin to," said Mr. Brief, angrily.
"That's what I thought," said the Idiot. "That's the reason why you always do me such great injustice. You lawyers always have to be doing something, even if it is only holding down a chair so that it won't blow out of your office window. If you haven't any justice to mete out, you take another tack and dispense injustice with lavish hand. However, I'll forgive you if you'll tell me one thing. What's libel, Mr. Brief?"
"None of your business," growled the Lawyer.
"A very good general definition," said the Idiot, approvingly. "If there's any business in the world that I should hate to have known as mine it is that of libel. I think, however, your definition is not definite. What I wanted to know was just how far I could go with remarks at this table and be safe from prosecution."
"Nobody would ever prosecute you, for two reasons," said the lawyer. "In a civil action for money damages a verdict against you for ten cents wouldn't be worth a rap, because the dances are you couldn't pay. In a criminal action your conviction would be a bad thing, because you would be likely to prove a corrupting influence in any jail in creation. Besides, you'd be safe before a jury, anyhow. You are just the sort of idiot that the intelligent jurors of to-day admire, and they'd acquit you of any crime. A man has a right to a trial at the hands of a jury of his peers. I don't think even in a jury-box twelve idiots equal to yourself' could be found, so don't worry."
"Thanks. Have a cigarette?" said the Idiot, tossing one over to the Lawyer. "It's all I have. If I had a half-dollar I should pay you for your opinion; but since I haven't, I offer you my all. The temperature of my coffee seems to have fallen, Mrs. Pedagog. Will you kindly let me have another cup?"
"Certainly, said Mrs. Pedagog. "Mary, get the Idiot another cup."
Mary did as she was told, placing the empty bit of china at Mrs. Pedagog's side.
"It is for the Idiot, Mary," said Mrs. Pedagog, coldly. "Take it to him."
"Empty, ma'am?" asked the maid.
"Certainly, Mary," said the Idiot, perceiving Mrs. Pedagog's point. "I asked for another cup, not for more coffee."
Mrs. Pedagog smiled quietly at her own joke. At hair-splitting she could give the Idiot points.
"I am surprised that Mary should have thought I wanted more coffee," continued the Idiot, in an aggrieved tone. "It shows that she too thinks me out of my mind."
"You are not out of your mind," said the Bibliomaniac. "It would be a good thing if you were. In replenishing your mental supply you might have the luck to get better quality."
"I probably should have the luck," said the Idiot. "I have had a great store of it in my life. From the very start I have had luck. When I think that I was born myself, and not you, I feel as if I had had more than my share of good-fortune — more luck than the law allows. How much luck does the law allow, Mr. Brief?"
"Bosh!" said Mr. Brief, with a scornful wave of his hand, as if he were ridding himself of a troublesome gnat. "Don't bother me with such mind-withering questions."
"All right," said the Idiot. "I'll ask you an easier one. Why does not the world recognize matrimony?"
Mr. Whitechoker started. Here, indeed, was a novel proposition.
"I — I — must confess," said he, "that of all the idiotic questions I — er — I have ever had the honor of hearing asked that takes the —"
"Cake?" suggested the Idiot.
"— palm!" said Mr. Whitechoker, severely.
"Well, perhaps so," said the Idiot. But matrimony is the science, or the art, or whatever you call it, of making two people one, is it not?"
"It certainly is," said Mr. Whitechoker. "But what of it?"
DEMANDS TICKETS FOR TWO
"The world does not recognize the unity," said the Idiot. "Take our good proprietors, for instance. They were made one by yourself, Mr. Whitechoker. I had the pleasure of being an usher at the ceremony, yielding the position of best man gracefully, as is my wont, to the Bibliomaniac. He was best man, but not the better man, by a simple process of reasoning. Now no one at this board disputes that Mr. and Mrs. Pedagog are one, but how about the world? Mr. Pedagog takes Mrs. Pedagog to a concert. Are they one there?"
"Why not?" asked Mr. Brief.
"That's what I want to know — why not? The world, as represented by the ticket-taker at the door, says they are not — or implies that they are not, by demanding tickets for two. They attempt to travel out to Niagara Falls. The railroad people charge them two fares; the hackman charges them two fares; the hotel bills are made out for two people. It is the same wherever they go in the world, and I regret to say that even in our own home there is a disposition to regard them as two. When I spoke of there being nine persons here instead of ten, Mr. Whitechoker himself disputed my point — and yet it was not so much his fault as the fault of Mr. and Mrs. Pedagog themselves. Mrs. Pedagog seems to cast doubt upon the unity by providing two separate chairs for the two halves that make up the charming entirety. Two cups are provided for their coffee. Two forks, two knives, two spoons, two portions of all the delicacies of the season which are lavished upon us out of season — generally after it — fall to their lot. They do not object to being called a happy couple, when they should be known as a happy single. Now what I want to know is why the world does not accept the shrinkage which has been pronounced valid by the church and is recognized by the individual? Can any one here tell me that?"
No one could, apparently. At least no one endeavored to. The Idiot looked inquiringly at all, and then, receiving no reply to his question, he rose from the table.
"I think," he said, as he started to leave the room — "I think we ought to write that book. If we made it up of the things you people don't know, it would be one of the greatest books of the century. At any rate, it would be great enough in bulk to fill the biggest library in America."