"I WONDER what it costs to run a flat?" said the Idiot, stirring his coffee with the salt-spoon — a proceeding which seemed to indicate that he was thinking of something else.
"Don't you keep an expense account?" asked the Bibliomaniac, slyly.
"Hee-hee!" laughed Mrs. Pedagog.
"First-rate joke," said the Idiot, with a smile. "But really, now, I should like to know for how little an apartment could be run. I am interested."
Mrs. Pedagog stopped laughing at once. The Idiot's words were ominous. She did not always like his views, but she did like his money, and she was not at all anxious to lose him as a boarder.
"It's very expensive," she said, firmly. "I shouldn't ever advise any one to undertake living in a flat. Rents are high. Butcher bills are enormous, because the butchers have to pay commissions, not only to the cook, so that she'll use twice as much lard as she can, and give away three or four times as much to the poor as she ought, but janitors have to be seen to, and elevator-boys, and all that. Groceries come high for the same reason. Oh, no! Flat life isn't the life for anybody, I say. Give me a good, first-class boarding, house. Am I not right, John?"
"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Pedagog. "Every time. I lived in a flat once, and it was an awful nuisance. Above me lived a dancing-master who gave lessons at every hour of the day in the room directly over my study, so that I was always being disturbed at my work, while below me was a music teacher who was practising all night, so that I could hardly sleep. Worst of all, on the same floor with me was a miserable person of convivial tendencies, who always mistook my door for his when he came home after midnight, and who gave some quite estimable people two floors below to believe that it was I, and not he, who sang comic songs between three and four o'clock in the morning. There has not been too much love lost between the Idiot and myself, but I cannot be so vindictive as to recommend him to live in a flat."
JANITORS HAVE TO BE SEEN TO
"I can bear testimony to the same effect," put in Mr. Brief, who was two weeks in arrears, and anxious to conciliate his landlady.
"Testimony to the effect that Mr. Pedagog sang comic songs in the early morning?" said the Idiot. "Nonsense! I don't believe it. I have lived in this house for two years with Mr. Pedagog, and I've never heard him raise his voice in song yet."
"I didn't mean anything of the sort," retorted Mr. Brief. "You know I didn't."
"Don't apologize to me," said the Idiot. Apologize to Mr. Pedagog. He is the man you have wronged."
"What did he say?" put in Mr. Pedagog, with a stern look at Mr. Brief. "I didn't hear what he said."
"I didn't say anything," said the lawyer, "except that I could bear testimony to the effect that your experience with flat life was similar to mine. This young person, with his customary nerve, tries to make it appear that I said you sang comic songs in the early morning."
"I try to do nothing of the sort," said the Idiot. "I simply expressed my belief that in spite of what you said Mr. Pedagog was innocent, and I do so because my experience with him has taught me that he is not the kind of man who would do that sort of thing. He has neither time, voice, nor inclination. He has an ear — two of them, in fact — and an impressionable mind; but — "
"Oh, tutt!" interrupted the School-Master. "When I need a defender, you may spare yourself the trouble of flying to my rescue."
"I know I may," said the Idiot, "but with me it's a question of can and can't. I'm willing to attack you personally, but while I live no other shall do so. Wherefore I tell Mr. Brief plainly, and to his face, that if he says you ever sang a comic song he says what is not so. You might bum one, but sing it — never!"
"We were talking of flats, I believe," said Mr. Whitechoker.
Yes," said the Idiot, "and these persons have changed it from flat talk to sharp talk."
"Well, anyhow," put in Mr. Brief, "I lived in a flat once, and it was anything but pleasant. I lost a case once for the simple and only reason that I lived in a flat. It was a case that required a great deal of strategy on my part, and I invited my client to my home to unfold my plan of action. I got interested in the scheme as I unfolded it, and spoke in my usual impassioned manner, as though addressing a jury, and, would you believe it, the opposing counsel happened to be visiting a friend on the next floor, and my eloquence floated up through the air-shaft, and gave our whole plan of action away. We were routed on the point we had supposed would pierce the enemy's armor and lay him at our feet, for the wholly simple reason that that abominable air-shaft had made my strategic move a matter of public knowledge."
"That's a good idea for a play," said the Idiot. "A roaring farce could be built up on that basis. Villain and accomplice on one floor, innocent victim on floor above. Plot floats up air shaft. Innocent victim overhears; villain and accomplice say 'ha ha' for three acts and take a back seat in the fourth, with a grand transformation showing the conspirators in the county jail as a finale. Write it up with lots of live-stock wandering in and out, bring in janitors and elevator-boys and butchers, show up some of the humors of flat life, if there be any such, call it A Hole in the Flat, and put it on the stage. Nine hundred nights is the very shortest run it could have, which at fifty dollars a night for the author is $45,000 in good hard dollars. Mr. Poet, the idea is yours for a fiver. Say the word."
"Thanks," said the Poet, with a smile; "I'm not a dramatist."
"Then I'll have to do it myself," said the Idiot. "And if I do, good-bye Shakespeare."
"That's so," said Mr. Pedagog. Nothing could more effectually ruin the dramatic art than to have you write a play. People, seeing your work, would say, here, this will never do. The stage must be discouraged at all costs. A hypocrite throws the ministry into disgrace, an ignoramus brings shame upon education, and an unpopular lawyer gives the bar a bad name. I think you are just the man to ruin Shakespeare."
"Then I'll give up my ambition to become a playwright and stick to idiocy," said the Idiot. "But to come back to flats. Your feeling in regard to them is entirely different from that of a friend of mine, who has lived in one for ten years. He thinks flat life is ideal. His children can't fall down-stairs, because there aren't any stairs to fall down. His roof never leaks, because he hasn't any roof to leak; and when he and his family want to go off anywhere, all he has to do is to lock his front door and go. Burglars never climb into his front window, because they are all eight flights up. Damp cellars don't trouble him, because they are too far down to do him any injury, even if they overflow. The cares of house-keeping are reduced to a minimum. His cook doesn't spend all her time in the front area flirting with the postman, because there isn't any front area to his flat; and in a social way his wife is most delightfully situated, because most of her friends live in the same building, and instead of having to hire a carriage to go calling in, all she has to do is to take the elevator and go from one floor to another. If he pines for a change of scene, he is high enough up in the air to get it by looking out of his windows, over the tops of other buildings, into the green fields to the north, or looking westward into the State of New Jersey. Instead of taking a drive through the Park, or a walk, all he and his wife need to do is to take a telescope and follow some little sylvan path with their eyes. Then, as for expense, he finds that he saves money by means of a co-operative scheme. For instance, if he wants shad for dinner, and he and his wife cannot eat a whole one, he goes shares on the shad and its cost with his neighbors above and below."
MY ELOQUENCE FLOATED UP THE AIR–SHAFT
"Yes, and his neighbors above and below borrow tea and eggs and butter and ice and other things whenever they run short, so that in that way he loses all he saves," said Mr. Pedagog, resolved not to give in.
"He does if he isn't smart," said the Idiot. "I thought of that myself, and asked him about it, and he told me that he kept account of all that, and always made it a point after some neighbor had borrowed two pounds of butter from him to send in before the week was over and borrow three pounds of butter from the neighbor. So far his books show that he is sixteen pounds of butter, seven pounds of tea, one bottle of vanilla extract, and a ton of ice ahead of the whole house. He is six eggs and a box of matches behind in his egg and match account, but under the circumstances I think he can afford it."
"But," said Mrs. Pedagog, anxious to know the worst, "why — er — why are you so interested?"
Well," said the Idiot, slowly, "I — er — I am contemplating a change, Mrs. Pedagog a change that would fill me — I say it sincerely, too — with regret if — "The Idiot paused a minute, and his eye swept fondly about the table. His voice was getting a little husky too, Mr. Whitechoker noticed. "It would fill me with regret, I say, if it were not that in taking up house-keeping I am — I am to have the assistance of a better-half."
"What?" cried the Bibliomaniac. "You? You are going to be — to be married?"
"Why not?" said the Idiot. "Imitation is the sincerest flattery. Mr. Pedagog marries, and I am going to flatter him as sincerely as I can by following in his footsteps."
"May I — may we ask to whom?" asked Mrs. Pedagog, softly.
"Certainly," said the Idiot. "To Mr. Barlow's daughter. Mr. Barlow is — or was — my employer."
"Was? Is he not now? Are you going out of business?" asked Mr. Pedagog.
"No; but, you see, when I went to see Mr. Barlow in the matter, he told me that he liked me very much, and he had no doubt I would make a good husband for his daughter, but, after all, he added that I was nothing but a confidential clerk on a small salary, and he thought his daughter could do better."
"She couldn't find a better fellow, Mr. Idiot," said Mrs. Pedagog, and Mr. Pedagog rose to the occasion by nodding his entire acquiescence in the statement.
"Thank you very much," said the Idiot."
"That was precisely what I told Mr. Barlow, and I suggested a scheme to him by which his sole objection could be got around."
"You would start in business for yourself?" said Mr. Whitechoker.
"In a sense, yes," said the Idiot. "Only the way I put it was that a good confidential clerk would make a good partner for him, and he, after thinking it over, thought I was right."
"It certainly was a characteristically novel way out of the dilemma," said Mr. Brief, with a smile.
"I thought so myself, and so did he, so it was all arranged. On the 1st of next month I enter the firm, and on the 15th I am — ah — to be married."
The company warmly congratulated the Idiot upon his good- fortune, and he shortly left the room, more overcome by their felicitations than he had been by their arguments in the past.
The few days left passed quickly by, and there came a breakfast at Mrs. Pedagog's house that was a mixture of joy and sadness — joy for his happiness, sadness that that table should know the Idiot no more.
Among the wedding-gifts was a handsomely bound series of volumes, including a cyclopedia, a dictionary, and a little tome of poems, the first output of the Poet. These came together, with a card inscribed, "From your Friends of the Breakfast Table," of whom the Idiot said, when Mrs. Idiot asked for information:
"They, my dear, next to yourself and my parents, are the dearest friends I ever had. We must have them up to breakfast some morning."
"Breakfast?" queried Mrs. Idiot.
"Yes, my dear," he replied, simply. "I should be afraid to meet them at any other meal. I am always at my best at breakfast, and they — well, they never are."