The IdiotJohn Kendrick Bangs / Humor
JOHN KENDRICK BANGS
Author of Coffee and Repartee The Water Ghost, and Others ThreeWeeks in Politics Etc.
New YorkHarper & Brothers Publishers1895Copyright, 1895, by Harper & Brothers.All rights reserved.
TO WILLIAM K. OTIS
CERTAINLY. I ASKED FOR ANOTHER CUP
THE NUISANCE OF HAVING TO PAY
SHE COULD NOT POSSIBLY GET ABOARD AGAIN
DEMANDS TICKETS FOR TWO
THEY ARE GIVEN TO REHEARSING AT ALL HOURS
'HA! HA! I HAVE HIM NOW!'
HAS YOUR FRIEND COMPLETED HIS ARTICLE ON OLD JOKES?
YOU FISH ALL DAY, AND HAVE NO LUCK
HE COULD BE HEARD THROWING THINGS ABOUT
HE WAS NOT MURDERED
SUPERINTENDENT SMITHERS HAS NOT ABSCONDED
THE INSPIRED BOARDER PAID HIS BILL
I KNOW YOU CAN'T, BECAUSE IT ISN'T THERE
YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF HEARD IN SAN FRANCISCO
I GRASPED IT IN MY TWO HANDS
PIANO-PLAYING ISN'T ALWAYS MUSIC
THE MOON ITSELF WILL BE USED
DECLINES TO BE RIDDEN
THE BIBLIOMANIAC WOULD BE RAISING BULBS
DIDN'T KNOW ENOUGH TO CHOOSE HIS OWN FACE
JANITORS HAVE TO BE SEEN TO
MY ELOQUENCE FLOATED UP THE AIR-SHAFT
For some weeks after the happy event which transformed the popular Mrs.Smithers into the charming Mrs. John Pedagog all went well at that lady'sselect home for single gentlemen. It was only proper that during thehoney-moon, at least, of the happy couple hostilities between the Idiotand his fellow-boarders should cease. It was expecting too much ofmankind, however, to look for a continued armistice, and the morningarrived when Nature once more reasserted herself, and trouble began. Justwhat it was that prompted the remark no one knows, but it happened thatthe Idiot did say that he thought that, after all, life on a canal-boathad its advantages. Mr. Pedagog, who had come into the dining-room in aslightly irritable frame of mind, induced perhaps by Mrs. Pedagog'sinsistence that as he was now part proprietor of the house he should bea little more prompt in making his contributions towards its maintenance,chose to take the remark as implying a reflection upon the way thingswere managed in the household.
Humph! he said. I had hoped that your habit of airing your idioticviews had been put aside for once and for all.
Very absurd hope, my dear sir, observed the Idiot. Views that are notaired become musty. Why shouldn't I give them an atmospheric opportunityonce in a while?
Because they are the sort of views to which suffocation is the mostappropriate end, snapped the School-Master. Any man who asserts, as youhave asserted, that life on a canal-boat has its advantages, ought to gofurther, and prove his sincerity by living on one.
I can't afford it, said the Idiot, meekly. It isn't cheap by anymanner of means. In the first place, you can't live happily on acanal-boat unless you can afford to keep horses. In fact, canal-boat lifeis a combination of the most expensive luxuries, since it combinesyachting and driving with domesticity. Nevertheless, if you will put yourmind on it, you will find that with a canal-boat for your home you can doa great many things that you can't do with a house.
I decline to put my mind on a canal-boat, said Mr. Pedagog, sharply,passing his coffee back to Mrs. Pedagog for another lump of sugar,thereby contributing to that good lady's discomfiture, since before theirmarriage the mere fact that the coffee had been poured by her fair handhad given it all the sweetness it needed; or at least that was what theSchool-Master had said, and more than once at that.
You are under no obligation to do so, the Idiot returned. Though if Ihad a mind like yours I'd put it on a canal-boat and have it towed awaysomewhere out of sight. These other gentlemen, however, I think, willagree with me when I say that the mere fact that a canal-boat can bemoved about the country, and is in no sense a fixture anywhere, showsthat as a dwelling-place it is superior to a house. Take this house, forinstance. This neighborhood used to be the best in town. It is still farfrom being the worst neighborhood in town, but it is, as it has been forseveral years, deteriorating. The establishment of a Turkish bath on onecorner and a grocery-store on the other has taken away much of that airof refinement which characterized it when the block was devoted toresidential purposes entirely. Now just suppose for a moment that thisstreet were a canal, and that this house were a canal-boat. The canalcould run down as much as it pleased, the neighborhood could deteriorateeternally, but it could not affect the value of this house as the home ofrefined people as long as it was possible to hitch up a team of horses tothe front stoop and tow it into a better locality. I'd like to wagerevery man at this table that Mrs. Pedagog wouldn't take five minutes tomake up her mind to tow this house up to a spot near Central Park, if itwere a canal-boat and the streets were water instead of a mixture ofwater, sand, and Belgian blocks.
No takers, said the Bibliomaniac.
Tutt-tutt-tutt, ejaculated Mr. Pedagog.
THE NUISANCE OF HAVING TO PAY]
You seem to lose sight of another fact, said the Idiot, warming up tohis subject. If man had had the sense in the beginning to adopt thecanal-boat system of life, and we were used to that sort of thing, itwould not be so hard upon us in summer-time, when we have to live inhotels in order that we and our families may reap the benefits of aperiod of country life. We could simply drive off to that section of thecountry where we desired to be. Hotels would not be needed if a man couldtake his house along with him into the fields, and one phase of lifewhich has more bad than good in it would be entirely obliterated. Thereis nothing more disturbing to the serenity of a domestic man's mind thanthe artificial manner of living that prevails in most summer hotels. Thenuisance of having to pay bills every Monday morning under the penalty oflosing one's luggage would be obviated, and all the comforts of homewould be directly within reach. The trouble incident upon getting thetrunks packed and the children ready for a long day's journey by rail,and the fatigue arising from such a journey, would be reduced to aminimum. The troubles attendant upon going into a far country, andleaving one's house in the sole charge of a lot of servants for a monthor two every year, would be done away with entirely; and if at any timeit became necessary to discharge one of these servants, she could be putoff the boat in an instant, and then the boat could be pushed out intothe middle of the canal, so that the discharged domestic could notpossibly get aboard again and take her revenge by smashing your crockeryand fixtures. That is one of the worst features of living in a stationaryhouse. You are entirely at the mercy of vindictive servants. They knowprecisely where you live, and you cannot escape them. They can come backwhen there is no man around, and raise several varieties of Ned with yourwife and children. With a movable house, such as the canal-boat would be,you could always go off and leave your family in perfect safety.
SHE COULD NOT POSSIBLY GET ABOARD AGAIN]
How about safety in a storm? asked the Bibliomaniac.
Safety in a storm? echoed the Idiot. That seems an absurd sort of aquestion to one who knows anything about canal-boats. I, for one, neverheard of a canal-boat being seriously damaged in a storm as long as itwas anchored in the canal proper. It certainly isn't any more dangerousto be in a canal-boat in a storm than it is to be in a house thatoffers resistance to the winds, and is shaken from roof to cellar atevery blast. More houses have been blown from their foundations thancanal-boats sunk, provided ordinary care has been taken to protectthem.
And you think the canal-boat would be healthy? asked the Doctor. Howabout dampness and all that?
That is a professional question, returned the Idiot, which I think youcould answer better than I. I don't see why a canal-boat shouldn't behealthy, however. The dampness would not amount to very much. It would beoutside of one's dwelling, and not within it, as is the case with so manyhouses. A canal-boat having no cellar could not have a damp one, and ifby some untoward circumstance it should spring a leak, the water couldbe pumped out at once and the leak plugged up. However this might be,I'll offer another wager to this board on that point, and that is thatmore people die in houses than on canal-boats.
We'd rather give you our money right out, retorted the Doctor.
Thank you, said the Idiot. But I don't need money. I don't like money.Money is responsible for more extravagance than any other commodity inexistence. Besides, it and I are not intimate enough to get along verywell together, and when I have any I immediately do my level best to ridmyself of it. But to return to our canal-boat, I note a look ofdisapproval in Mr. Whitechoker's eyes. He doesn't seem to think anymore of my scheme than do the rest of you--which I regret, since Ibelieve that he would be the gainer if land edifices were supplanted bythe canal system as proposed by myself. Take church on a rainy morning,for instance. A great many people stay at home from church on rainymornings just because they do not want to venture out in the wet. Supposewe all lived in canal-boats? Would not people be deprived of this flimsypretext for staying at home if their homes could be towed up to thechurch door? Or, better yet, granting that the churches followed out thesame plan, and were themselves constructed like canal-boats, how easy itwould be for the sexton to drive the church around the town and collectthe absentees. In the same manner it would be glorious for men likeourselves, who have to go to their daily toil. For a consideration, Mrs.Pedagog could have us driven to our various places of business everymorning, returning for us in the evening. Think how fine it would be forme, for instance, instead of having to come home every night in anovercrowded elevated train or on a cable-car, to have the office-boy comeand announce, 'Mrs. Pedagog's Select Home for Gentlemen is at the door,Mr. Idiot.' I could step right out of my office into my charming littlebedroom up in the bow, and the time usually expended on the cars could bedevoted to dressing for tea. Then we could stop in at the court-house forour legal friend; and as for Doctor Capsule, wouldn't he revel in drivingthis boarding-house about town on his daily rounds among his patients?
What would become of my office hours? asked the Doctor. If this housewere whirling giddily all about the city from morning until night, Idon't know what would become of my office patients.
They might die a little sooner or live a little longer, that is all,said the Idiot. If they weren't able to find the house at all, however,I think it would be better for us, for much as I admire you, Doctor, Ithink your office hours are a nuisance to the rest of us. I had to elbowmy way out of the house this morning between a double line of sufferersfrom mumps and influenza, and other pleasingly afflicted patients ofyours, and I didn't like it very much.
I don't believe they liked it much either, returned the Doctor. Oneman with a sprained ankle told me about you. You shoved him in passing.
Well, you can apologize to him in my behalf, returned the Idiot; butyou might add that he must expect very much the same treatment wheneverhe and a boy with mumps stand between me and the door. Sprained anklesaren't contagious, and I preferred shoving him to the other alternative.
The Doctor was silent, and the Idiot rose to go. Where will the house bethis evening about six-thirty, Mrs. Pedagog? he asked, as he pushed hischair back from the table.
Where? Why, here, of course, returned the landlady.
Why, yes--of course, observed the Idiot, with an impatient gesture.How foolish of me! I've really been so wrapped up in my canal-boat idealthat I came to believe that it might possibly be real and not a dream,after all. I almost believed that perhaps I should find that the househad been towed somewhere up into Westchester County on my return, so thatwe might all escape the city's tax on personal property, which I am toldis unusually high this year.
With which sally the Idiot kissed his hand to Mr. Pedagog and retiredfrom the scene.