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THE Idiot was unusually thoughtful — a fact which made the School-Master and the Bibliomaniac unusually nervous. Their stock criticism of him was that he was thoughtless; and yet when he so far forgot his natural propensities as to meditate, they did not like it. It made them uneasy. They had a haunting fear that he was conspiring with himself against them, and no man, not even a callous school-master or a confirmed bibliomaniac, enjoys feeling that he is the object of a conspiracy. The thing to do, then, upon this occasion, seemed obviously to interrupt his train of thought — to put obstructions upon his mental track, as it were, and ditch the express, which they feared was getting up steam at that moment to run them down.
"You don't seem quite yourself this morning, sir," said the Bibliomaniac.
"Don't I?" queried the Idiot. "And whom do I seem to be?"
"I mean that you seem to have something on your mind that worries you," said the Bibliomaniac.
"No, I haven't anything on my mind," returned the Idiot. "I was thinking about you and Mr. Pedagog — which implies a thought not likely to use up much of my gray matter."
"Do you think your head holds any gray matter?" put in the Doctor.
"Rather verdant, I should say," said Mr. Pedagog.
"Green, gray, or pink," said the Idiot, "choose your color. It does not affect the fact that I was thinking about the Bibliomaniac and Mr. Pedagog. I have a great scheme in hand, which only requires capital and the assistance of those two gentlemen to launch it on the sea of prosperity. If any of you gentlemen want to get rich and die in comfort as the owner of your homes, now is your chance."
"In what particular line of business is your scheme?" asked Mr. Whitechoker. He had often felt that he would like to die in comfort, and to own a little house, even if it had a large mortgage on it.
"Journalism," said the Idiot. "There is a pile of money to be made out of journalism, particularly if you happen to strike a new idea. Ideas count."
"How far up do your ideas count — up to five?" questioned Mr. Pedagog, with a tinge of sarcasm in his tone.
"I don't know about that," returned the Idiot. "The idea I have hold of now, however, will count up into the millions if it can only be set going, and before each one of those millions will stand a big capital S with two black lines drawn vertically through it — in other words, my idea holds dollars, but to get the crop you've got to sow the seed. Plant a thousand dollars in my idea, and next year you'll reap two thousand. Plant that, and next year you'll have four thousand, and so on. At that rate millions come easy."
"I'll give you a dollar for the idea," said the Bibliomaniac.
"No, I don't want to sell. You'll do to help develop the scheme. You'll make a first-rate tool, but you aren't the workman to manage the tool. I will go as far as to say, however, that without you and Mr. Pedagog, or your equivalents in the animal kingdom, the idea isn't worth the fabulous sum you offer."
"You have quite aroused my interest," said Mr. Whitechoker. "Do you propose to start a new paper?"
"You are a good guesser," replied the Idiot. "That is a part of the scheme — but it isn't the idea. I propose to start a new paper in accordance with the plan which the idea contains."
"Is it to be a magazine, or a comic paper, or what?" asked the Bibliomaniac.
"Neither. It's a daily."
"That's nonsense," said Mr. Pedagog, putting his spoon into the condensed-milk can by mistake. "There isn't a single scheme in daily journalism that hasn't been tried — except printing an evening paper in the morning."
"That's been tried," said the Idiot. "I know of an evening paper the second edition of which is published at mid-day. That's an old dodge, and there's money in it, too — money that will never be got out of it. But I really have a grand scheme. So many of our dailies, you know, go in for every horrid detail of daily events that people are beginning to tire of them. They contain practically the same things day after day. So many columns of murder, so many beautiful suicides, so much sport, a modicum of general intelligence, plenty of fires, no end of embezzlements, financial news, advertisements, and head-lines. Events, like history, repeat themselves, until people have grown weary of them. They want something new. For instance, if you read in your morning paper that a man has shot another man, you know that the man who was shot was an inoffensive person who never injured a soul, stood high in the community in which he lived, and leaves a widow with four children. On the other hand, you know without reading the account that the murderer shot his victim in self-defence, and was apprehended by the detectives late last night; that his counsel forbid him to talk to the reporters, and that it is rumored that he comes of a good family living in New England.
HE WAS NOT MURDERED
"If a breach of trust is committed, you know that the defaulter was the last man of whom such an act would be suspected, and, except in the one detail of its location and seat, that he was prominent in some church. You can calculate to a cent how much has been stolen by a glance at the amount of space devoted to the account of the crime. Loaf of bread, two lines. Thousand dollars, ten lines. Hundred thousand dollars, half-column. Million dollars, a full column. Five million dollars, half the front page, wood-cut of the embezzler, and two editorials, one leader and one paragraph.
"And so with everything. We are creatures of habit. The expected always happens, and newspapers are dull because the events they chronicle are dull."
"Granting the truth of this," put in the School-Master, "what do you propose to do?"
"Get up a newspaper that will devote its space to telling what hasn't happened."
"That's been done," said the Bibliomaniac.
"To a much more limited extent than we think," returned the Idiot. "It has never been done consistently and truthfully."
"I fail to see how a newspaper can be made to prevaricate truthfully," asserted Mr. Whitechoker. To tell the truth, he was greatly disappointed with the idea, because he could not in the nature of things become one of its beneficiaries.
"I haven't suggested prevarication," said the Idiot. "Put on your front page, for instance, an item like this: 'George Bronson, colored, aged twenty-nine, a resident of Thompson Street, was caught cheating at poker last night. He was not murdered.' There you tell what has not happened. There is a variety about it. It has the charm of the unexpected. Then you might say: Curious incident on Wall Street yesterday. So-and-so, who was caught on the bear side of the market with 10,000 shares of J. B. & S. K. W., paid off all his obligations in full, and retired from business with $1,000,000 clear.' Or we might say, 'Superintendent Smithers, of the St. Goliath's Sunday-school, who is also cashier in the Forty-eighth National Bank, has not absconded with $4,000,000."
SUPERINTENDENT SMITHERS HAS NOT ABSCONDED
"Oh, that's a rich idea," put in the School-Master. "You'd earn $1,000,000 in libel suits the first year."
"No, you wouldn't, either," said the Idiot. "You don't libel a man when you say he hasn't murdered anybody. Quite the contrary, you call attention to his conspicuous virtue. You are in reality commending those who refrain from criminal practice, instead of delighting those who are fond of departing from the paths of Christianity by giving them notoriety."
"But I fail to see in what respect Mr. Pedagog and I are essential to your scheme," said the Bibliomaniac.
"I must confess to some curiosity on my own part on that point," added the School-Master.
"Why, it's perfectly clear," returned the Idiot, with a conciliating smile as he prepared to depart. "You both know so much that isn't so, that I rather rely on you to fill up."