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"I SEE the men are at work on the pavements this morning," said the School-Master, gazing out through the window at a number of laborers at work in the street.
"Yes," said the Idiot, calmly, "and I think Mrs. Pedagog ought to sue the Department of Public Works for libel. If she hasn't a case no maligned person ever had."
"What are you saying, sir?" queried the landlady, innocently.
"I say," returned the Idiot, pointing out into the street, "that you ought to sue the Department of Public Works for libel. They've got their sign right up against your house. No Thorough Fare is what it says. That's libel, isn't it, Mr. Brief?"
"It is certainly a fatal criticism of a boarding-house," observed Mr. Brief, with a twinkle in his eye, "but Mrs. Pedagog could hardly secure damages on that score."
"I don't know about that," returned the Idiot. "As I understand it, it is an old maxim of the law that the greater the truth the greater the libel. Mrs. Pedagog ought to receive a million — By-the-way, what have we this morning?"
"We have steak and fried potatoes, sir," replied Mrs. Pedagog, frigidly. "And I desire to add, that one who criticises the table as much as you do would do well to get his meals outside."
"That, Mrs. Pedagog, is not the point. The difficulty I find here lies in getting my meals inside," said the Idiot.
"Mary, you may bring in the mush," observed Mrs. Pedagog, pursing her lips, as she always did when she wished to show that she was offended.
"Yes, Mary," put in the School-Master; "let us have the mush as quickly as possible — and may it not be quite such mushy mush as the remarks we have just been favored with by our talented friend the Idiot."
"You overwhelm me with your compliments, Mr. Pedagog," replied the Idiot, cheerfully. "A flatterer like you should live in a flat."
"Has your friend completed his article on old jokes yet?" queried the Bibliomaniac, with a smile and some apparent irrelevance.
HAS YOUR FRIEND COMPLETED HIS ARTICLE ON OLD JOKES?
"Yes and no," said the Idiot. "He has completed his labors on it by giving it up. He is a very thorough sort of a fellow, and he intended to make the article comprehensive, but he found he couldn't, because, judging from comments of men like you, for instance, he was forced to conclude that there never was a new joke. But, as I was saying the other morning —"
"Do you really remember what you say?" sneered Mr. Pedagog. "You must have a great memory for trifles."
"Sir, I shall never forget you," said the Idiot. "But to revert to what I was saying the other morning, I'd like to begin life all over again, so that I could prepare myself for the profession of architecture. It's the greatest profession in the world, and one which is surest to bring immortality to its successful follower. A man may write a splendid book, and become a great man for a while and within certain limits, but the chances are that some other man will come along later and supplant him. Then the book's sale will die out after a time, and with this will come a diminution of its author's reputation, in extent anyway. An actor or a great preacher becomes only a name after his death, but the architect who builds a cathedral or a fine public building really erects a monument to his own memory."
"He does if he can build it so that it will stay up," said the Bibliomania. "I think you, however, are better off as you are. If you had a more extended reputation or a lasting name you would probably be locked up in some retreat; or if you were not, posterity would want to know why."
"I am locked up in a retreat of Nature's making," said the Idiot, with a sigh. "Nature has set around me certain limitations which, while they are not material, might as well be so as far as my ability to soar above them is concerned — and it's well she has. If it were otherwise, my life would not be safe or bearable in this company. As it is, I am happy and not at all afraid of the effects your jealousy of me might entail if I were any better than the rest of you."
"I like that," said Mr. Pedagog.
"I thought you would," said the Idiot. "That's why I said it. I aim to please, and for once seem to have hit the bull's-eye. Mary, kindly break open this biscuit for me."
"Have you ideas on the subject of architecture that you so desire to become an architect?" queried Mr. Whitechoker, who was always full of sympathy for aspiring natures.
"A few," said the Idiot.
Mr. Pedagog laughed outright.
"Let's test his ideas," he said, in an amused way. "Take a cathedral, for instance. Suppose, Mr. Idiot, a man should come to you and say: 'Idiot, we have a fund of $800,000 in our hands, actual cash. We think of building a cathedral, and we think of employing you to draw up our plans. Give us some idea of what we should do.' Do you mean to tell me that you could say anything reasonable or intelligent to that man?"
"Well, that depends upon what you call reasonable and intelligent. I have never been able to find out what you mean by those terms," the Idiot answered, slowly. "But I could tell him something that I consider reasonable and intelligent."
"From your own point of view, then, as to reasonableness and intelligence, what should you say to him?"
"I'd make him out a plan providing for the investment of his $800,000 in five-per cent. gold bonds, which would bring him in an income of $40,000 a year; after which I should call his attention to the fact that $40,000 a year would enable him to take 10,000 poor children out of this sweltering city into the country, to romp and drink fresh milk and eat wholesome food for two weeks every summer from now until the end of time, which would build up a human structure that might be of more benefit to the world than any pile of bricks, marble, and wrought-iron I or any other architect could conceive of," said the Idiot. "The structure would stand up, too.
"You call that architecture, do you?" said Mr. Pedagog.
"Yes," said the Idiot, "of the renaissance order. But that, of course, you term idiocy — and maybe it is. I like to be that kind of an idiot. I do not claim to be able to build a cathedral, however. I don't suppose I could even build a boarding-house like this, but what I should like to do in architecture would be to put up a $5000 dwelling-house for $5000. That's a thing that has never been done, and I think I might be able to do it. If I did, I'd patent the plan and make a fortune. Then I should like to know enough about the science of planning a building to find out whether my model hotel is practicable or not."
"You have a model hotel in your mind, eh?" said the Bibliomaniac.
"It must be a very small hotel if it's in his mind," said the Doctor.
"That's tantamount to saying that it isn't anywhere," said Mr. Pedagog.
"Well, it's a great hotel just the same," said the Idiot. "Although I presume it would be expensive to build. It would have movable rooms, in the first place. Each room would be constructed like an elevator, with appliances at hand for moving it up and down. The great thing about this would be that persons could have a room on any floor they wanted it, so long as they got the room in the beginning. A second advantage would lie in the fact, that if you were sleeping in a room next door to another in which there was a crying baby, you could pull the rope and go up two or three flights until you were free from the noise. Then in case of fire the room in which the fire started could be lowered into a sliding tank large enough to immerse the whole thing in, which I should have constructed in the cellar. If the whole building were to catch fire, there would be no loss of life, because all the rooms could be lowered to the ground-floor, and the occupants could step right out upon solid ground. Then again, if you were down on the ground-floor, and desired to get an extended view of the surrounding country, it would be easy to raise your room to the desired elevation. Why, there's no end to the advantages to be gained from such an arrangement."
"It's a fine idea," said Mr. Pedagog, "and one worthy of your mammoth intellect. It couldn't possibly cost more than a million of dollars to erect such a hotel, could it?"
"No," said the Idiot. "And that is cheap alongside some of the hotels they are putting up nowadays."
"It could be built on less than four hundred acres of ground, too, I presume?" said the Bibliomaniac, with a wink at the Doctor.
"Certainly," said the Idiot, meekly.
"And if anybody fell sick in one of the rooms," said the Doctor, "and needed a change of air, you could have a tower over each, I suppose, so that the room could be elevated high enough to secure the different quality in the ether?"
"Undoubtedly," said the Idiot. "Although that would add materially to the expense. A scarlet-fever patient, however, in a hotel like that could very easily be isolated from the rest of the house by the maintenance of what might be called the hospital floor."
"Superb!" said the Doctor. "I wonder you haven't spoken to some architectural friend about it"
"I have," said the Idiot. "You must remember that young fellow with a black mustache I had here to dinner last Saturday night."
"Yes, I remember him," said the Doctor. "Is he an architect?"
"He is — and a good one. He can take a brown-stone dwelling and turn it into a colonial mansion with a pot of yellow paint. He's a wonder. I submitted the idea to him."
"And what was his verdict?"
"I don't like to say," said the Idiot, blushing a little.
"Ha! ha!" laughed Mr. Pedagog. "I shouldn't think you would like to say. I guess we know what he said."
"I doubt it," said the Idiot; "but if you guess right, I'll tell you."
"He said you had better go and live in a lunatic asylum," said Mr. Pedagog, with a chuckle.
"Not he," returned the Idiot, nibbling at his biscuit. "On the contrary. He advised me to stop living in one. He said contact with the rest of you was affecting my brain."
This time Mr. Pedagog did not laugh, but mistaking his coffee-cup for a piece of toast, bit a small section out of its rim; and in the midst of Mrs. Pedagog's expostulation, which followed the School-Master's careless error, the Idiot and the Genial Old Gentleman departed, with smiles on their faces which were almost visible at the back of their respective necks.