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The Inventions of the Idiot

The Inventions of the Idiot

Author:John Kendrick Bangs


It was before the Idiot's marriage, and in the days when he was nothing more than a plain boarder in Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog's High-class Home for Single Gentlemen, that he ...
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  It was before the Idiot's marriage, and in the days when he was nothingmore than a plain boarder in Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog's High-class Home forSingle Gentlemen, that he put what the School-master termed his "allegedmind" on plans for the amelioration of the condition of the civilized.

  "The trials of the barbarian are really nothing as compared with thetribulations of civilized man," he said, as the waitress passed him apiece of steak that had been burned to a crisp. "In the Cannibal Islandsa cook who would send a piece of broiled missionary to her employer'stable in this condition would herself be roasted before another day haddawned. We, however, must grin and bear it, because our esteemedlandlady cannot find anywhere in this town a woman better suited for thelabors of the kitchen than the blank she has had the misfortune to drawin the culinary lottery, familiarly known to us, her victims, asBridget."

  "This is an exceptional case," said Mr. Pedagog. "We haven't had a steaklike this before in several weeks."

  "True," returned the Idiot. "This is a sirloin, I believe. The laststeak we had was a rump steak, and it was not burned to a crisp, Iadmit. It was only boiled, if I remember rightly, by mistake; Bridgethaving lost her fifth consecutive cousin in ten days the night before,and being in consequence so prostrated that she could not tell agridiron from a lawn-mower."

  "Well, you know the popular superstition, Mr. Idiot," said the Poet."The devil sends the cooks."

  "I don't believe it," retorted the Idiot. "That's one of those proverbsthat haven't a particle of truth in 'em--nor a foundation in reasoneither, like 'Never look a gift horse in the mouth.' Of all absurdadvice ever given to man by a thoughtless thinker, that, I think, bearsthe palm. I know a man who didn't look a gift horse in the mouth, andthe consequence was that he accepted a horse that was twenty-eight yearsold. The beast died in his stables three days later, and the beneficiaryhad to pay five dollars to have him carted away. As for the devilsending the cooks, I haven't any faith in the theory. Any person who hadcome from the devil would know how to manage a fire better thanninety-nine per cent. of the cooks ever born. It would be a good thingif every one of 'em were forced to serve an apprenticeship with thePrince of Darkness. However, steak like this serves a good purpose. Itserves to bind our little circle more firmly together. There's nothinglike mutual suffering to increase the sympathy that should exist betweenmen situated as we are; and as for Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog, I wish her tounderstand distinctly that I am criticising the cook and not herself. Ifthis particular dainty had been prepared by her own fair hand, I doubtnot I should want more of it."

  "I thank you," returned the landlady, somewhat mollified by this remark."If I had more time I should occasionally do the cooking myself, but,as it is, I am overwhelmed with work."

  "I can bear witness to that," observed Mr. Whitechoker. "Mrs.Smithers-Pedagog is one of the most useful ladies in my congregation. Ifit were not for her, many a heathen would be going without garmentsto-day."

  "Well, I don't like to criticise," said the Idiot, "but I think theheathen at home should be considered before the heathen abroad. If yourcongregation would have a guild to look after such heathen as the Poetand the Doctor and myself, I am convinced it would be more appreciatedby those who benefited by its labors than it is at present by thebarbarians who try to wear the misfits it sends out. A Christian whoseplain but honest breakfast is well cooked is apt to be far more gratefulthan a barbarian who is wearing a pair of trousers made of calico and acoat three sizes too small in the body and nine sizes too large in thearms. I will go further. I believe that if the domestic heathen werecared for they would do much better work, would earn better pay, andwould, out of mere gratitude, set apart a sufficiently large portion oftheir increased earnings to be devoted to the purchase of tailor-madecostumes, which would please the cannibals better, far better, than theamateur creations they now get. I know I'd contribute some of mysurplus."

  "What would you have such a guild do?" queried Mr. Whitechoker.

  "Do? There'd be so much for it to do that the members could hardly findtime to rest," returned the Idiot. "Do? Why, my dear sir, take thishouse, for instance, and see what it could do here. What a boon it wouldbe for me if some kind-hearted person would come here once a week andsew buttons on my clothes, darn my socks--in short, keep me mended. Whatbetter work for one who desires to make the world brighter, happier, andless sinful!"

  "I fail to see how the world would be brighter, happier, or less sinfulif your suspender-buttons were kept firm, and your stockings darned, andyour wardrobe generally mended," said Mr. Pedagog. "I grant that such aguild would be doing a noble work if it would take you in hand andcorrect many of your impressions, revise your well-known facts so as tobring them more in accord with indubitable truths, and impart to yourcustoms some of that polish which you so earnestly strive for in yourdress."

  "Thank you," said the Idiot, suavely. "But I don't wish to overburdenthe kind ladies to whom I refer. If my costumes could be looked after Imight find time to look after my customs, and, I assure you, Mr.Pedagog, if at any time you will undertake to deliver a course oflectures on Etiquette, I will gladly subscribe for two orchestra-chairsand endeavor to occupy both of them. At any rate, to return to the mainpoint, I claim that the world would be happier and brighter and lesssinful if the domestic heathen were kept mended by such a guild, and Ichallenge any one here to deny, even on so slight a basis as the loosesuspender-button, the truth of what I say. When I arise in the morningand find a button gone, do I make genial remarks about the joys of life?I do not. I use words. Sometimes one word, which need not be repeatedhere. I am unhappy, and, being unhappy, the world seems dark and dreary,and in speaking impatiently, though very much to the point, as I do, Iam guilty of an offence that is sinful. With such a start in themorning, I come here to the table. Mr. Pedagog sees that I am not quitemyself. He asks me if I am not feeling well, an irritating question atany time, but particularly so to a man with a suspender-button gone. Iretort. He re-retorts, until our converse is warmer than the coffee, andour relations colder than the waffles. Finally I leave the house,slamming the door behind me, structurally weakening the house, and go tobusiness, where I wreak my vengeance upon the second clerk, who takes itout of the office-boy, who goes home and vents his wrath on his littlesister, who, goaded into recklessness, teases the baby until he yellsand gets spanked by his mother for being noisy. Now, why should a loosesuspender-button be allowed to subject that baby to such humiliation,and who can deny that, if it had been properly sewed on by a guild, suchas I have mentioned, the baby never would have been spanked for thecauses mentioned? What is _your_ answer, Mr. Whitechoker?"

  "Truly, I am so breathless at your logic that I cannot reason," said theMinister. "But haven't we digressed a little? We were speaking of cooks,and we conclude with a pathetic little allegory about a suspender-buttonand a baby that is not only teased but spanked."

  "The baby could get the same spanking for reasons based on theshortcomings of the cooks," said the Idiot. "I am irritated when I amserved with green pease hard enough to batter down Gibraltar if properlyaimed; when my coffee is a warmed-over reminiscence of last night'sdemi-tasse, I leave the house in a frame of mind that bodes ill for thejunior clerk, and the effect on the baby is ultimately the same."

  "And--er--you'd have the ladies whose energies are now devoted towardsthe clothing of the heathen come here and do the cooking?" queried theSchool-master.

  "I leave if they do," said the Doctor. "I have seen too much of theeffects of amateur cookery in my profession to want any of it. They aregood cooks in theory, but not in practice."

  "There you have it!" said the Idiot, triumphantly. "Right in a nutshell.That's where the cooks are always weak. They have none of the theory andall of the practice. If they based practice on theory, they'd cookbetter. Wherefore let your theoretical cooks seek out the practical andinstruct them in the principles of the culinary art. Think of whattwelve ladies could do; twelve ladies trained in the sewing-circle totalk rapidly, working five hours a day apiece, could devote an hour aweek to three hundred and sixty cooks, and tell them practically allthey themselves know in that time; and if, in addition to this, twelveother ladies, forming an auxiliary guild, would make dresses and bonnetsand things for the same cooks, instead of for the cannibals, it wouldkeep them good-natured."

  "Splendid scheme!" said the Doctor. "So practical. Your brain must weighhalf an ounce."

  "I've never had it weighed," said the Idiot, "but, I fancy, it's a goodone. It's the only one I have, anyhow, and it's done me good service,and shows no signs of softening. But, returning to the cooks,good-nature is as essential to the making of a good cook as are applesto the making of a dumpling. You can't associate the word dumpling withill-nature, and just as the poet throws himself into his work, and ashe is of a cheerful or a mournful disposition, so does his work appearcheerful or mournful, so do the productions of a cook take on theattributes of their maker. A dyspeptic cook will prepare food in amanner so indigestible that it were ruin to partake of it. Alight-hearted cook will make light bread; a pessimistic cook will serveflour bricks in lieu thereof."

  "I think possibly you are right when you say that," said the Doctor. "Ihave myself observed that the people who sing at their work do the bestwork."

  "But the worst singing," growled the School-master.

  "That may be true," put in the Idiot; "but you cannot expect a cook onsixteen dollars a month to be a prima-donna. Now, if Mr. Whitechokerwill undertake to start a sewing-circle in his church for people whodon't care to wear clothing, but to sow the seeds of concord and goodcookery throughout the kitchens of this land, I am prepared to prophesythat at the end of the year there will be more happiness and lessdepression in this part of the world; and once eliminate dyspepsia fromour midst, and get civilization and happiness controvertible terms, thenyou will find your foreign missionary funds waxing so fat that insteadof the amateur garments for the heathen you now send them, you will beable to open an account at Worth's and Poole's for every barbarian increation. The scheme for the sewing on of suspender-buttons and themiscellaneous mending that needs to be done for lone-lorn savages likemyself might be left in abeyance until the culinary scheme has beenestablished. Bachelors constitute a class, a small class only, ofhumanity, but the regeneration of cooks is a universal need."

  "I think your scheme is certainly a picturesque one and novel," said Mr.Whitechoker. "There seems to be a good deal in it. Don't you think so,Mr. Pedagog?"

  "Yes--I do," said Mr. Pedagog, wearily. "A great deal--of language."

  And amid the laugh at his expense which followed, the Idiot, joining in,departed.