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I WONDER what would have happened if Columbus had not discovered America?" said the Bibliomaniac, as the company prepared to partake of the morning meal.
"He would have gone home disappointed," said the Idiot, with a look of surprise on his face, which seemed to indicate that in his opinion the Bibliomaniac was very dull-witted not to have solved the problem for himself. "He would have gone home disappointed, and we would now be foreigners, like most other Americans. Mr. Pedagog would doubtless be instructing the young scions of the aristocracy of Tipperary, Mr. Whitechoker would be Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bibliomaniac would be raising bulbs in Holland, and — "
"And you would be wandering about with the other wild men of Borneo at the present time," put in the School-Master.
THE BIBLIOMANIAC WOULD BE RAISING BULBS
"No," said the Idiot. "Not quite. I should be dividing my time up between Holland, France, Switzerland, and Spain."
"You are an international sort of Idiot, eh?" queried the Lawyer, with a chuckle at his own wit.
"Say rather a cosmopolitan Idiot," said the Idiot. "Among my ancestors I number individuals of various nations, though I suppose that if we go back far enough we were all in the same boat as far as that is concerned. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a Scotchman, one of them was a Dutchman, another was a Spaniard, a fourth was a Frenchman. What the others were I don't know. It's a nuisance looking up one's ancestors, I think. They increase so as you go back into the past. Every man has had two grandfathers, four great-grandfathers, eight great-great-grandfathers, sixteen great-great-great-grandfathers, thirty-two fathers raised to the fourth power of great-grandness, and so on, increasing in number as you go further back, until it is hardly possible for any one to throw a brick into the pages of history without hitting somebody who is more or less responsible for his existence. I dare say there is a streak of Julius Cæsar in me, and I haven't a doubt that if our friend Mr. Pedagog here were to take the trouble to investigate, he would find that Caesar and Cassius and Brutus could be numbered among his early progenitors — and now that I think of it, I must say that in my estimation he is an unusually amiable man, considering how diverse the nature of these men were. Think of it for a minute. Here a man unites in himself Caesar and Cassius and Brutes, two of whom killed the third, and then, having quarrelled together, went out upon a battle-field and slaughtered themselves, after making extemporaneous remarks, for which this miserable world gives Shakespeare all the credit. It's worse than the case of a friend of mine, one of whose grandfathers was French and the other German."
"How did it affect him?" asked Mr. White-choker.
"It made him distrust himself," said the Idiot, with a smile, "and for that reason he never could get on in the world. When his Teutonic nature suggested that he do something, his Gallic blood would rise up and spoil everything, and vice versa. He was eternally quarrelling with himself. He was a victim to internal disorder of the worst sort."
"And what, pray, finally became of him?" asked the Clergyman.
"He shot himself in a duel." returned the Idiot, with a wink at the genial old gentleman who occasionally imbibed. "It was very sad."
"I've known sadder things," said Mr. Pedagog, wearily. "Your elaborate jokes, for instance. They are enough to make strong men weep."
"You flatter me, Mr. Pedagog," said the Idiot. "I have never in all my experience as a cracker of jests made a man laugh until he cried, but I hope to some day. But, really, do you know I think Columbus is an immensely overrated man. If you come down to it, what did he do? He went out to sea in a ship and sailed for three months, and when he least expected it ran slam-bang up against the Western Hemisphere. It was like shooting at a barn door with a Gatling gun. He was bound to hit it sooner or later."
"You don't give him any credit for tenacity of purpose or good judgment, then?" asked Mr. Brief.
"Of course I do. Plenty of it. He stuck to his ship like a hero who didn't know how to swim. His judgment was great. He had too much sense to go back to Spain without any news of something, because he fully understood that unless he had something to show for the trip, there would have been a great laugh on Queen Isabella for selling her jewels to provide for a ninety-day yacht cruise for him and a lot of common sailors, which would never have done. So he kept on and on, and finally some unknown lookout up in the bow discovered America. Then Columbus went home and told everybody that if it hadn't been for his own eagle eye emigration wouldn't have been invented, and world's fairs would have been local institutions. Then they got up a parade in which the King and Queen graciously took part, and Columbus became a great man. Meanwhile the unknown lookout who did discover the land was knocking about the town and thinking he was a very lucky fellow to get an extra glass of grog. It wasn't anything more than the absolute justice of fate that caused the new land to be named America and not Columbia. It really ought to have been named after that fellow up in the bow."
"But, my dear Idiot," put in the Bibliomaniac, "the scheme itself was Columbus's own. He evolved the theory that the earth is round like a ball."
"To quote Mr. Pedagog — "began the Idiot.
"You can't quote me in your own favor," snapped the School-Master.
"Wait until I have finished," said the Idiot. "I was only going to quote you by saying 'Tutt!' that's all; and so I repeat, in the words of Mr. Pedagog, tutt, tutt! Evolved the theory? Why, man, how could he help evolving the theory? There was the sun rising in the east every morning and setting in the west every night. What else was there to believe? That somebody put the sun out every night, and sneaked back east with it under cover of darkness?"
"But you forget that the wise men of the day laughed at his idea," said Mr. Pedagog, surveying the Idiot after the fashion of a man who has dealt an adversary a stinging blow.
"That only proves what I have always said," replied the Idiot. "Wise men can't find fun in anything but stern facts. Wise men always do laugh at truth. Whenever I advance some new proposition, you sit up there next to Mrs. Pedagog and indulge in tutt-tutterances of the most intolerant sort. If you had been one of the wise men of Columbus's time there isn't any doubt in my mind that when Columbus said the earth was round, you'd have remarked tutt, tutt, in Spanish." There was silence for a minute, and then the Idiot began again. "There's another point about this whole business that makes me tired," he said. "It only goes to prove the conceit of these Europeans. Here was a great continent inhabited by countless people. A European comes over here and is said to be the discoverer of America and is glorified. Statues of him are scattered broadcast all over the world. Pictures of him are printed in the newspapers and magazines. A dozen different varieties of portraits of him are printed on postage-stamps as big as circus posters — and all for what? Because he discovered a land that millions of Indians had known about for centuries. On the other hand, when Columbus goes back to Spain several of the native Americans trust their precious lives to his old tubs. One of these savages must have been the first American to discover Europe. Where are the statues of the Indian who discovered Europe? Where are the postage-stamps showing how he looked on the day when Europe first struck his vision? Where is anybody spending a billion of dollars getting up a world's fair in commemoration of Lo's discovery of Europe?"
"He didn't know it was Europe," said the Bibliomaniac.
"Columbus didn't know this was America," retorted the Idiot. "In fact, Columbus didn't know anything. He didn't know any better than to write a letter to Queen Isabella and mail it in a keg that never turned up. He didn't even know how to steer his old boat into a real solid continent, instead of getting ten days on the island. He was an awfully wise man. He saw an island swarming with Indians, and said, 'Why, this must be India!' And worst of all, if his pictures mean anything, he didn't even know enough to choose his face and stick to it. Don't talk Columbus to me unless you want to prove that luck is the greatest factor of success."
"Ill-luck is sometimes a factor of success," said Mr. Pedagog. "You are a success as an Idiot, which appears to me to be extremely unfortunate."
"I don't know about that," said the Idiot. "I adapt myself to my company, and of course— "
"Then you are a school-master among school-masters, a lawyer among lawyers, and so forth?" queried the Bibliomaniac.
"What are you when your company is made up of widely diverse characters?" asked Mr. Brief before the Idiot had a chance to reply to the Bibliomaniac's question.
"I try to be a widely diverse character myself."
"And, trying to sit on many stools, fall and become just an Idiot," said Mr. Pedagog.
"That's according to the way you look at it. I put my company to the test in the crucible of my mind. I analyze the characters of all about me, and whatever quality predominates in the precipitate, that I become. Thus in the presence of my employer and his office-boy I become a mixture of both — something of the employer, something of an office-boy. I run errands for my employer, and boss the office-boy. With you gentlemen I go through the same process. The Bibliomaniac, the School-Master, Mr. Brief, and the rest of you have been cast into the crucible, and I have tried to approximate the result."
"And are an Idiot," said the School-Master.
"It is your own name for me, gentlemen," returned the Idiot. "I presume you have recognized your composite self, and have chosen the title accordingly."
DIDN'T KNOW ENOUGH TO CHOOSE HIS OWN FACE
"You were a little hard on me this morning, weren't you?" asked the genial old gentleman who occasionally imbibed, that evening, when he and the Idiot were discussing the morning's chat. "I didn't like to say anything about it, but I don't think you ought to have thrown me into the crucible with the rest."
"I wish you had spoken," said the Idiot, warmly. "It would have given me a chance to say that the grain of sense that once or twice a year leavens the lump of my idiocy is directly due to the ingredient furnished by yourself. Here's to you, old man. If you and I lived alone together, what a wise man I should be!"
And then the genial old gentleman went to the cupboard and got out a bottle of port-wine that he had been preserving in cobwebs for ten years. This he opened, and as he did so he said, "I've been keeping this for years, my boy. It was dedicated in my youth to the thirst of the first man who truly appreciated me. Take it all."
"I'll divide with you," returned the Idiot, with a smile. "For really, old fellow, I think you — ah — I think you appreciate yourself as much as I do."