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The Inventions of the Idiot By John Kendrick Bangs Characters: 12302

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


A Suggestion for the Cable-cars

"Heigh-ho!" sighed the Idiot, rubbing his eyes sleepily. "This is a weary world."

"What? This from you?" smiled the Poet. "I never expected to hear that plaint from a man of your cheerful disposition."

"Humph!" said the Idiot, with difficulty repressing a yawn. "Humph! and I may add, likewise, tut! What do you take me for-an insulated sun-beam? I can't help it if shadows camp across my horizon occasionally. I wouldn't give a cent for the man who never had his moments of misery. It takes night to enable us to appreciate daytime. Misery is a foil necessary to the full appreciation of joy. I'm glad I am sort of down in the mouth to-day. I'll be all right to-morrow, and I'll enjoy to-morrow all the more for to-day's megrim. But for the present, I repeat, this is a weary world."

"Oh, I don't think so," observed the School-master. "The world doesn't seem to me to betray any signs of weariness. It got to work at the usual hour this morning, and, as far as I can judge, has been revolving at the usual rate of speed ever since."

"The Idiot's mistake is a common one," put in the Doctor. "I find it frequently in my practice."

"That's a confession," retorted the Idiot. "Do you find out these mistakes in your practice before or after the death of the patient?"

"That mistake," continued the Doctor, paying apparently little heed to the Idiot's remark-"that mistake lies in the Idiot's assumption that he is himself the world. He regards himself as the earth, as all of life, and, because he happens to be weary, the world is a weary one."

"It isn't a fatal disease, is it?" queried the Idiot, anxiously. "I am not likely to become so impressed with that idea, for instance, that I shall have to be put in a padded cell and manacled so that I may not turn perpetual handsprings under the hallucination that, being the world, it is my duty to revolve?"

"No," replied the Doctor, with a laugh. "No, indeed. That is not at all likely to happen, but I think it would be a good idea if you were to carry the hallucination out far enough to put a cake of ice on your head, assuming that to be the north pole, and cool off that brain of yours."

"That is a good idea," returned the Idiot; "and if Mary will bring me the ice that was used to cool the coffee this morning, I shall be pleased to try the experiment. Meanwhile, this is a weary world."

"Then why under the canopy don't you leave it and go to some other world?" snapped Mr. Pedagog. "You are under no obligation to remain here. With a river on either side of the city, and a New York Juggernaut Company, Unlimited, running trolley-cars up and down two of our more prominent highways, suicide is within the reach of all. Of course, we should be sorry to lose you, in a way, but I have known men to recover from even greater afflictions than that."

"Thank you for the suggestion," replied the Idiot, transferring four large, porous buckwheat-cakes to his plate. "Thank you very much, but I have a pleasanter and more lingering method of suicide right here. Death by buckwheat-cakes is like being pierced by a Toledo blade. You do not realize the terrors of your situation until you cease to be susceptible to them. Furthermore, I do not believe in suicide. It is, in my judgment, the worst crime a man can commit, and I cannot but admire the remarkable discernment evinced by the Fates in making of it its own inevitable capital punishment. A man may commit murder and escape death, but in the commission of suicide he is sure of execution. Just as Virtue is its own reward, so is Suicide its own amercement."

"Been reading the dictionary again?" asked the Poet.

"No, not exactly," said the Idiot, with a smile, "but-it's a kind of joke on me, I suppose-I have just been stuck, to use a polite term, on a book called Roget's Thesaurus, and, if I want to get hold of a new word that will increase my seeming importance to the community, I turn to it. That's where I got 'amercement.' I don't hold that its use in this especial case is beyond cavil-that's another Thesaurian term-but I don't suppose any one here would notice that fact. It goes here, and I shall not use it elsewhere."

"I am interested to know how you ever came to be the owner of a Thesaurus," said the School-master, with a grim smile at the idea of the Idiot having such a book in his possession. "Except on the score of affinities. You are both very wordy."

"Meaning pleonastic, I presume," retorted the Idiot.

"I beg your pardon?" said the School-master.

"Never mind," said the Idiot. "I won't press the analogy, but I will say that those who are themselves periphrastic should avoid criticising others for being ambaginous."

"I think you mean ambiguous," said the School-master, elevating his eyebrows in triumph.

"I thought you'd think that," retorted the Idiot. "That's why I used the word 'ambaginous.' I'll lend you my dictionary to freshen up your phraseology. Meanwhile, I'll tell you how I happened to get a Thesaurus. I thought it was an animal, and when I saw that a New York bookseller had a lot of them marked down from two dollars to one, I sent and got one. I thought it was strange for a bookseller to be selling rare animals, but that was his business, not mine; and as I was anxious to see what kind of a creature a Thesaurus was, I invested. When I found out it was a book and not a tame relic of the antediluvian animal kingdom, I thought I wouldn't say anything about it, but you people here are so inquisitive you've learned my secret."

"And wasn't it an animal?" asked Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog.

"My dear-my dear!" ejaculated Mr. Pedagog. "Pray-ah-I beg of you, do not enter into this discussion."

"No, Mrs. Pedagog," observed the Idiot, "it was not. It was nothing more than a book, which, when once you have read it, you would not be without, since it gives your vocabulary a twist which makes you proof against ninety-nine out of every one hundred conversationalists in the world, no matter how weak your cause."

"I am beginning to understand the causes of your weariness," observed Mr. Pedagog, acri

dly. "You have been memorizing syllables. Really, I should think you were in danger of phonetic prostration."

"Not a bit of it," said the Idiot. "Those words are stimulating, not depressing. I begin to feel better already, now that I have spoken them. I am not half so weary as I was, but for my weariness I had good cause. I suffered all night from a most frightful nightmare. It utterly destroyed my rest."

"Welsh-rarebit?" queried the Genial Old Gentleman who occasionally imbibed, with a tone of reproach. "If so, why was I not with you?"

"That question should be its own answer," replied the Idiot. "A man who will eat a Welsh-rarebit alone is not only a person of a sullen disposition, but of reckless mould as well. I would no sooner think of braving a Welsh-rarebit unaccompanied than I would think of trying to swim across the British Channel without a lifesaving boat following in my wake."

"I question if so light a body as you could have a wake!" said Mr. Pedagog, coldly.

"I am sorry, but I can't agree with you, Mr. Pedagog," said the Bibliomaniac. "A tugboat, most insignificant of crafts, roils up the surface of the sea more than an ocean steamer does. Fuss goes with feathers more than with large bodies."

"Well, they're neither of 'em in it with a cake of soap for real, bona-fide suds," said the Idiot, complacently, as he helped himself to his thirteenth buckwheat-cake. "However, wakes have nothing to do with the case. I had a most frightful dream, and it was not due to Welsh-rarebits, but to my fatal weakness, which, not having my Thesaurus at hand, I must identify by the commonplace term of courtesy. You may not have noticed it, but courtesy is my strong point."

"We haven't observed the fact," said Mr. Pedagog; "but what of it? Have you been courteous to any one?"

"I have," replied the Idiot, "and a nightmare is what it brought me. I rode up-town on a trolley-car last night, and I gave up my seat to sixteen ladies, two of whom, by-the-way, thanked me."

"I don't see why more than one of them should thank you," sniffed the landlady. "If a man gives up a trolley-car seat to sixteen ladies, only one of them can occupy it."

"I stand corrected," said the Idiot. "I gave up a seat to ladies sixteen times between City Hall and Twenty-third Street. I can't bring myself to sit down while a woman stands, and every time I'd get a seat some woman would get on the car. Hence it was that I gave up my seat to sixteen ladies. Why two of them should thank me, considering the rules, I do not know. It certainly is not the custom. At any rate, if I had walked up-town, I should not have had more exercise than I got on that car, bobbing up and down so many times, and lurching here and lurching there every time the car stopped, started, or turned a corner. Whether it was the thanks or the lurching I got, I don't know, but the incidents of the ride were so strongly impressed upon me that I dreamed all night, only in my dreams I was not giving up car seats. The first seat I gave up to a woman in the dream was an eighty-thousand-dollar seat in the Stock Exchange. It was expensive courtesy, but I did it, and mourned so over the result that I waked up and discovered that it was but a dream. Then I went to sleep again. This time I was at the opera. I had the best seat in the house, when in came a woman who hadn't a chair. Same result. I got up. She sat down, and I had to stand behind a pillar where I could neither see nor hear. More grief; waked up again, more tired than when I went to bed. In ten minutes I dozed off. Found myself an ambitious statesman running for the Presidency. Was elected and inaugurated. Up comes a Woman's Rights candidate. More courtesy. Gave up the Presidential chair to her and went home to obscurity, when again I awoke tireder than ever. Clock struck four. Fell asleep again. This time I was prepared for anything that might happen. I found myself in a trolley-car, but with me I had a perforated chair-bottom, such as the street peddlers sell. Lady got aboard. I put the perforated chair-bottom on my lap and invited her to sit down. She thanked me and did so. Then another lady got on. The lady on my lap moved up and made room for the second lady. She sat down. Between them they must have weighed three hundred pounds. I could have stood that, but as time went on more ladies got aboard, and every time that happened these first-comers would move up and make room for them. How they did it I can't say, any more than I can say how in real life three women can find room in a car-seat vacated by a little child. They did the former just as they do the latter, until finally I found myself flattened into the original bench like the pattern figure of a carpet. I felt like an entaglio; thirty women by actual count were pressing me to remain, as it were, but the worst of it all was they none of them seemed to live anywhere. We rode on and on and on, but nobody got off. I tried to move-and couldn't. We passed my corner, but there I was fixed. I couldn't breathe, and so couldn't call out, and I verily believe that if I hadn't finally waked up I should by this time have reached Hong-Kong, for I have a distinct recollection of passing through Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Honolulu. Finally, I did wake, however, simply worn out with my night's rest, which, gentlemen, is why I say, as I have already said, this is a weary world."

"Well, I don't blame you," said Mr. Whitechoker, kindly. "That was a most remarkable dream."

"Yes," assented Mr. Pedagog. "But quite in line with his waking thoughts."

"Very likely," said the Idiot, rising and preparing to depart. "It was absurd in most of its features, but in one of them it was excellent. I am going to see the president of the Electric Juggernaut Company, as you call it, in regard to it to-day. I think there is money in that idea of having an extra chair-seat for every passenger to hold in his lap. In that way twice as many seated passengers can be accommodated, and countless people with tender feet will be spared the pain of having other wayfarers standing upon them."

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