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IT was Sunday morning, and Mr. Whitechoker, as was his wont on the first day of the week, appeared at the breakfast table severe as to his mien.
"Working on Sunday weighs on his mind," the Idiot said to the Bibliomaniac, "but I don't see why it should. The luxury of rest that he allows himself the other six days of the week is surely an atonement for the hours of labor he puts in on Sunday."
But it was not this that on Sunday mornings weighed on the mind of the Reverend Mr, Whitechoker. He appeared more serious of visage then because he had begun to think of late that his fellow-boarders lived too much in the present, and ignored almost totally that which might be expected to come. He had been revolving in his mind for several weeks the question as to whether it was or was not his Christian duty to attempt to influence the lives of these men with whom the chances of life had brought him in contact. He had finally settled it to his own satisfaction that it was his duty so to do, and he had resolved, as far as lay in his power, to direct the conversation at Sunday morning's breakfast into spiritual rather than into temporal matters.
So, as Mrs. Pedagog was pouring the coffee, Mr. Whitechoker began:
"Do you gentlemen ever pause in your every-day labors and thought to let your minds rest upon the future — the possibilities it has in store for us, the consequences which — "
"No mush, thank you," said the Idiot. Then turning to Mr. Whitechoker, he added: "I can't answer for the other gentlemen at this board, but I can assure you, Mr. Whitechoker, that I often do so. It was only last night, sir, that my genial friend who imbibes and I were discussing the future and its possibilities, and I venture to assert that there is no more profitable food for reflection anywhere in the larders of the mind than that."
"Larders of the mind is excellent," said the School-Master, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice. "Perhaps you would not mind opening the door to your mental pantry, and letting us peep within at the stores you keep there. I am sure that on the subject in hand your views cannot fail to be original as well as edifying."
"I am also sure," said Mr. Whitechoker, somewhat surprised to hear the Idiot speak as he did, having sometimes ventured to doubt if that flippant-minded young man ever reflected on the serious side of life —" I am also sure that it is most gratifying to hear that you have done some thinking on the subject."
"I am glad you are gratified, Mr. Whitechoker," replied the Idiot, "but I am far from taking undue credit to myself because I reflect upon the future and its possibilities. I do not see how any man can fail to be interested in the subject, particularly when he considers the great strides science has made in the last twenty years."
"I fail to see," said the School-Master, "what the strides of science have to do with it."
"You fail to see so often, Mr. Pedagog," returned the Idiot, "that I would advise your eyes to make an assignment in favor of your pupils."
"I must confess," put in Mr. Whitechoker, blandly, "that I too am somewhat — er — somewhat —"
"Somewhat up a tree as to science's connection with the future?" queried the Idiot.
"You have my meaning, but hardly the phraseology I should have chosen," replied the minister.
"My style is rather epigrammatic," said the Idiot, suavely. "I appreciate the flattery implied by your noticing it. But science has everything to do with it. It is science that is going to make the future great. It is science that has annihilated distance, and the annihilation has just begun. Twenty years ago it was hardly possible for a man standing on one side of the street to make himself heard on the other, the acoustic properties of the atmosphere not being what they should be. Today you can stand in the pulpit of your church, and by means of certain scientific apparatus make yourself heard in Boston, New Orleans, or San Francisco. Has this no bearing on the future? The time will come, Mr. Whitechoker, when your missionaries will be able to sit in their comfortable rectories, and ring up the heathen in foreign climes, and convert them over the telephone, without running the slightest danger of falling into the soup, which expression I use in its literal rather than in its metaphorical sense."
YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF HEARD IN SAN FRANCISCO
"But —" interrupted Mr. Whitechoker.
"Now wait, please," said the Idiot. "If science can annihilate degrees of distance, who shall say that before many days science may not annihilate degrees of time? If San Francisco, thousands of miles distant, can be brought within range of the ear, why cannot 1990 be brought before the mind's eye? And if 1990 can be brought before the mind's eye, what is to prevent the invention of a prophetograph which shall enable us to cast a horoscope which shall reach all around eternity and half-way back, if not further?"
"You do not understand me," said Mr. Whitechoker. "When I speak of the future, I do not mean the temporal future."
"I know exactly what you mean," said the Idiot. "I've dealt in futures, and I am familiar with all kinds. It is you, sir, that do not understand me. My claim is perfectly plausible, and in its results is bound to make the world better. Do you suppose that any man who, by the aid of my prophetograph, sees that on a certain date in the future he will be hanged for murder is going to fail to provide himself with an alibi in regard to that particular murder, and must we not admit that having provided himself with that alibi he will of necessity avoid bloodshed, and so avoid the gallows? That's reasonable. So in regard to all the thousand and one other peccadilloes that go to make this life a sinful one. Science, by a purely logical advance along the lines already mapped out for itself, and in part already traversed, will enable men to avoid the pitfalls and reap only the windfalls of life; we shall all see what terrible consequences await on a single misstep, and we shall not make the misstep. Can you still claim that science and the future have nothing to do with each other?"
"You are talking of matters purely temporal," said Mr. Whitechoker. "I have reference to our spiritual future."
"And the two," observed the Idiot, "are so closely allied that we cannot separate them. The proverb about looking after the pennies and letting the pounds take care of themselves applies here. I believe that if I take care of my temporal future — which, by-the-way, does not exist — my spiritual future will take care of itself; and if science places the hereafter before us — and you admit that even now it is before us — all we have to do is to take advantage of our opportunities, and mend our lives accordingly."
"But if science shows you what is to come," said the School-Master, "it must show your fate with perfect accuracy, or it ceases to be science, in which event your entertaining notions as to reform and so on are entirely fallacious."
"Not at all," said the Idiot. "We are approaching the time when science, which is much more liberal than any other branch of knowledge, will sacrifice even truth itself for the good of mankind."
"You ought to start a paradox company," suggested the Doctor.
"Either that or make himself the nucleus of an insane asylum," observed the School-Master, viciously. "I never knew a man with such maniacal views as those we have heard this morning."
"There is a great deal, Mr. Pedagog, that you have never known," returned the Idiot. "Stick by me, and you'll die with a mind richly stored."
Whereat the School-Master left the table with such manifest impatience that Mr. Whitechoker was sorry he had started the conversation.
The genial gentleman who occasionally imbibed and the Idiot withdrew to the latter's room, where the former observed:
"What are you driving at, anyhow? Where did you get those crazy ideas?"
"I ate a Welsh-rarebit last night, and dreamed 'em," returned the Idiot.
"I thought as much," said his companion. "What deuced fine things dreams are, anyhow!”