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The Inventions of the Idiot By John Kendrick Bangs Characters: 12741

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Transatlantic Trolley Company

"If I were a millionaire," began the Idiot one Sunday morning, as he and his friends took their accustomed seats at the breakfast-table, "I would devote a tenth of my income to the poor, a tenth to children's fresh-air funds, and the balance to the education through travel of a dear and intimate friend of mine."

"That would be a generous distribution of your wealth," said Mr. Whitechoker, graciously. "But upon what would you live yourself?"

"I should stipulate in the bargain with my dear and intimate friend that we should be inseparable; that wherever he should go I should go, and that, of the funds devoted to his education through travel, one-half should be paid to me as my commission for letting him into a good thing."

"You certainly have good business sense," put in the Bibliomaniac. "I wish I had had when I was collecting rare editions."

"Collecting rare books and a good business sense seldom go together, I fancy," said the Idiot. "I began collecting books once, but I gave it up and took to collecting coins. I chose my coin and devoted my time to getting in that variety alone, and it has paid me."

"I don't exactly gather your meaning," said Mr. Whitechoker. "You chose your coin?"

"Precisely. I said, 'Here! Most coin collectors spend their time looking for one or two rare coins, for which, when they are found, they pay fabulous prices. The result is oftentimes penury. I, on the other hand, will look for coins of a common sort which do not command fabulous prices.' So I chose United States five-dollar gold pieces, irrespective of dates, for my collection, and the result is moderate affluence. I have between sixty and a hundred of them at my savings-bank, and when I have found it necessary to realize on them I have not experienced the slightest difficulty in forcing them back into circulation at cost."

"You are a wise Idiot," said the Bibliomaniac, settling back in his chair in a disgusted, tired sort of way. He had expected some sympathy from the Idiot as a fellow-collector, even though their aims were different. It is always difficult for a man whose ten-thousand-dollar library has brought six hundred dollars in the auction-room to find, even in the ranks of collectors, one who understands his woes and helps him bear the burden thereof by expressions of confidence in his sanity.

"Then you believe in travel, do you?" asked the Doctor.

"I believe there is nothing broadens the mind so much," returned the Idiot.

"But do you believe it will develop a mind where there isn't one?" asked the School-master, unpleasantly. "Or, to put it more favorably, don't you think there would be danger in taking the germ of a mind in a small head and broadening it until it runs the risk of finding itself confined to cramped quarters?"

"That is a question for a physician to answer," said the Idiot. "But, if I were you, I wouldn't travel if I thought there was any such danger."

"Tu quoque," retorted the School-master, "is not true repartee."

"I shall have to take your word for that," returned the Idiot, "since I have not a Latin dictionary with me, and all the Latin I know is to be found in the quotations in the back of my dictionary, like 'Status quo ante,' 'In vino veritas,' and 'Et tu, Brute.' However, as I said before, I'd like to travel, and I would if it were not that the sea and I are not on very good terms with each other. It makes me ill to cross the East River on the bridge, I'm so susceptible to sea-sickness."

"You'd get over that in a very few days," said the Genial Old Gentleman who occasionally imbibed. "I have crossed the ocean a dozen times, and I'm never sea-sick after the third day out."

"Ah, but those three days!" said the Idiot. "They must resemble the three days of grace on a note that you know you couldn't pay if you had three years of grace. I couldn't stand them, I am afraid. Why, only last summer I took a drive off in the country, and the motion of the wagon going over the thank-ye-marms in the road made me so sea-sick before I'd gone a mile that I wanted to lie down and die. I think I should have done so if the horse hadn't run away and forced me to ride back home whether I wanted to or not."

"You ought to fight that," said the Doctor. "By-and-by, if you give way to a weakness of that sort, the creases in your morning newspaper will affect you similarly as you read it. If you ever have a birthday, let us know, and we'll help you to overcome the tendency by buying you a baby-jumper for you to swing around in every morning until you get used to the motion."

"It would be more to the purpose," replied the Idiot, "if you as a physician would invent a preventive of sea-sickness. I'd buy a bottle and go abroad at once on my coin collection if you would guarantee it to kill or to cure instantaneously."

"There is such a nostrum," said the Doctor.

"There is, indeed," put in the Genial Old Gentleman who occasionally imbibes. "I've tried it."

"And were you sea-sick?" asked the Doctor.

"I never knew," replied the Genial Old Gentleman. "It made me so ill that I never thought to inquire what was the matter with me. But one thing is certain, I'll take my sea-voyages straight after this."

"I'd like to go by rail," said the Idiot, after a moment's thought.

"That is a desire quite characteristic of you," said the School-master. "It is so probable that you could. Why not say that you'd like to cross the Atlantic on a tight-rope?"

"Because I have no such ambition," replied the Idiot. "Though it might be fun if the tight-rope were a trolley-wire, and one could sit comfortably in a spacious cab while speeding over the water. I should think that would be exhilarating enough. Just imagine how fine it would be on a stormy day to sit looking out of your cab-window far above the surface of the raging and impotent sea, skipping along at electric speed, and daring the waves to do their worst-that would be bliss."

"And so practical," growled the Bibliomaniac.

"Bliss rarely is practical," said the Idiot. "Bliss is a sort of mugwump blessing-too full of the ideal and too barren in practicability."

"Well," said Mr. Whitechoker. "I don't know why we should say that trolley-cars between New York and London never can be. If we had told our grandfathers a hundred year

s ago that a cable for the transmission of news could be laid under the sea, they would have laughed us to scorn."

"That's true," said the School-master. "But we know more than our grandfathers did."

"Well, rather," interrupted the Idiot. "My great-grandfather, who died in 1799, had never even heard of Andrew Jackson, and if you had asked him what he thought of Darwin, he'd have thought you were guying him."

"Respect for age, sir," retorted Mr. Pedagog, "restrains me from characterizing your great-grandfather, if, as you intimate, he knew less than you do. However, apart from the comparative lack of knowledge in the Idiot's family, Mr. Whitechoker, you must remember that with the advance of the centuries we have ourselves developed a certain amount of brains-enough, at least, to understand that there is a limit even to the possibilities of electricity. Now, when you say that just because an Atlantic cable would have been regarded as an object of derision in the eighteenth century, we should not deride one who suggests the possibility of a marine trolley-road between London and New York in the twentieth century, it appears to me that you are talking-er-talking-I don't like to say nonsense to one of your cloth, but-"

"Through his hat is the idiom you are trying to recall, I think, Mr. Pedagog," said the Idiot. "Mr. Whitechoker is talking through his hat is what you mean to say?"

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Idiot," said the School-master; "but when I find that I need your assistance in framing my conversation, I shall-er-I shall give up talking. I mean to say that I do not think Mr. Whitechoker can justify his conclusions, and talks without having given the subject concerning which he has spoken due reflection. The cable runs along the solid foundation of the bed of the sea. It is a simple matter, comparatively, but a trolley-wire stretched across the ocean by the simplest rules of gravitation could not be made to stay up."

"No doubt you are correct," said Mr. Whitechoker, meekly. "I did not mean that I expected ever to see a trolley-road across the sea, but I did mean to say that man has made such wonderful advances in the past hundred years that we cannot really state the limit of his possibilities. It is manifest that no one to-day can devise a plan by means of which such a wire could be carried, but-"

"I fear you gentlemen would starve as inventors," said the Idiot. "What's the matter with balloons?"

"Balloons for what?" retorted Mr. Pedagog.

"For holding up the trolley-wires," replied the Idiot. "It is perfectly feasible. Fasten the ends of your wire in London and New York, and from coast to coast station two lines of sufficient strength to keep the wire raised as far above the level of the sea as you require. That's simple enough."

"And what, pray, in this frenzy of the elements, this raging storm of which you have spoken," said Mr. Pedagog, impatiently-"what would then keep your balloons from blowing away?"

"The trolley-wire, of course," said the Idiot. Mr. Pedagog lapsed into a hopelessly wrathful silence for a moment, and then he said:

"Well, I sincerely hope your plan is adopted, and that the promoters will make you superintendent, with an office in the mid-ocean balloon."

"Thanks for your good wishes, Mr. Pedagog," the Idiot answered. "If they are realized I shall remember them, and show my gratitude to you by using my influence to have you put in charge of the gas service. Meantime, however, it seems to me that our ocean steamships could be developed along logical lines so that the trip from New York to Liverpool could be made in a very much shorter period of time than is now required."

"We are getting back to the common-sense again," said the Bibliomaniac. "That is a proposition to which I agree. Ten years ago eight days was considered a good trip. With the development of the twin-screw steamer the time has been reduced to approximately six days."

"Or a saving, really, of two days because of the extra screw," said the Idiot.

"Precisely," observed the Bibliomaniac.

"So that, provided there are extra screws enough, there isn't any reason why the trip should not be made in two or three hours."

"Ah-what was that?" said the Bibliomaniac. "I don't exactly follow you."

"One extra screw, you say, has saved two days?"

"Yes."

"Then two extra screws would save four days, three would save six days, and five extra screws would send the boat over in approximately no time," said the Idiot. "So, if it takes a man two hours to succumb to sea-sickness, a boat going over in less than that time would eliminate sea-sickness; more people would go; boats could run every hour, and Mr. Whitechoker could have a European trip every week without deserting his congregation."

"Inestimable boon!" cried Mr. Whitechoker, with a laugh.

"Wouldn't it be!" said the Idiot. "Unless I change my mind, I think I shall stay in this country until this style of greyhound is perfected. Then, gentlemen, I shall tear myself away from you, and seek knowledge in foreign pastures."

"Well, I am sure," said Mr. Pedagog-"I am sure that we all hope you will change your mind."

"Then you want me to go abroad?" said the Idiot.

"No," said Mr. Pedagog. "No-not so much that as that we feel if you were to change your mind the change could not fail to be for the better. A mind like yours ought to be changed."

"Well, I don't know," said the Idiot. "I suppose it would be a good thing if I broke it up into smaller denominations, but I've had it so long that I have become attached to it; but there is one thing about it, there is plenty of it, so that in case any of you gentlemen find your own insufficient I shall be only too happy to give you a piece of it without charge. Meanwhile, if Mrs. Pedagog will kindly let me have my bill for last week, I'll be obliged."

"It won't be ready until to-morrow, Mr. Idiot," said the landlady, in surprise.

"I'm sorry," said the Idiot, rising. "My scribbling-paper has run out. I wanted to put in this morning writing a poem on the back of it."

"A poem? What about?" said Mr. Pedagog, with an irritating chuckle.

"It was to be a triolet on Omniscience," said the Idiot. "And, strange to say, sir, you were to be the hero, if by any possibility I could squeeze you into a French form."

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