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"Boswell," said I, the other night, as the machine began to click nervously. "I have just received a letter from an unknown friend in Hawaii who wants to know how the prize-fight between Samson and Goliath came out that time when Kidd and his pirate crew stole the House-Boat on the Styx."
"Just wait a minute, please," the machine responded. "I am very busy just now mapping out the itinerary of the first series of the Boswell Personally Conducted Tours you suggested some time ago. I laid that whole proposition before the Entertainment Committee of the Associated Shades, and they have resolved unanimously to charter the Ex-Great Eastern from the Styx Navigation Company, and return to the scenes of their former glory, devoting a year to it."
"Going to take their wives?" I asked.
"I don't know," Boswell replied. "That is a matter outside of the jurisdiction of the committee and must be decided by a full vote of the club. I hope they will, however. As manager of the enterprise I need assistance, and there are some of the men who can't be managed by anybody except their wives, or mothers-in-law, anyhow. I'll be through in a few minutes. Meanwhile let me hand you the latest product of the Boswell press."
With this the genial spirit produced from an invisible pocket a red-covered book bearing the delicious title of "Baedeker's Hades: A Hand-book for Travellers," which has entirely superseded, according to the advertisement on the fly-leaves, such books as Virgil and Dante's Inferno as the best guide to the lower regions, as well it might, for it appeared on perusal to have been prepared with as much care as one of the more material guide-books of the same publisher, which so greatly assist travellers on this side of the Stygian River.
Some time, if Boswell will permit, I shall endeavor to have this little volume published in this country since it contains many valuable hints to the man of a roving disposition, or for the stay-at-home, for that matter, for all roads lead to Hades. For instance, we do not find in previous guide-books, like Dante's Inferno, any references whatsoever to the languages it is well to know before taking the Stygian tour; to the kind of money needed, or its quantity per capita; no allusion to the necessity of passports is found in Dante or Virgil; custom-house requirements are ignored by these authors; no statements as to the kind of clothing needed, the quality of the hotels--nor indeed any real information of vital importance to the traveller is to be found in the older books. In Baedeker's Hades, on the other hand, all these subjects are exhaustively treated, together with a very comprehensive series of chapters on "Stygian Wines," "Climate," and "Hellish Art"--the expression is not mine--and other topics of essential interest.
And of what suggestive quality was this little book. Who would ever have guessed from a perusal of Dante that as Hades is the place of departed spirits so also is it the ultimate resting-place of all other departed things. What delightful anticipations are there in the idea of a visit to the Alexandrian library, now suitably housed on the south side of Apollyon Square, Cimmeria, in a building that would drive the trustees of the Boston Public Library into envious despair, even though living Bacchantes are found daily improving their minds in the recesses of its commodious alcoves! What joyous feelings it gives one to think of visiting the navy-yards of Tyre and finding there the ships concerning the whereabouts of which poets have vainly asked questions for ages! Who would ever dream that the question of the balladist, himself an able dreamer concerning classic things, "Where are the Cities of Old Time," could ever find its answer in a simple guide-book telling us where Carthage is, where Troy and all the lost cities of antiquity!
Then the details of amusements in this wonderful country--who could gather aught of these from the Italian poet? The theatres of Gehenna, with "Hamlet" produced under the joint direction of Shakespeare and the Prince of Denmark himself, the great Zoo of Sheolia, with Jumbo, and the famous woolly horse of earlier days, not to mention the long series of menageries which have passed over the dark river in the ages now forgotten; the hanging gardens of Babylon, where the picnicking element of Hades flock week after week, chuting the chutes, and clambering joyously in and out of the Trojan Horse, now set up in all its majesty therein, with bowling-alleys on its roof, elevators in its legs, and the original Ferris-wheel in its head; the freak museums in the densely populated sections of the large cities, where Hop o' my Thumb and Jack the Giant Killer are exhibited day after day alongside of the great ogres they have killed; the opera-house, with Siegfried himself singing, supported by the real Brunhild and the original, bona fide dragon Fafnir, running of his own motive power, and breathing actual fire and smoke without the aid of a steam-engine and a plumber to connect him therewith before he can go out upon the stage to engage Siegfried in deadly combat.
For the information contained in this last item alone, even if the book had no other virtue, it would be worthy of careful perusal from the opening paragraph on language, to the last, dealing with the descent into the Vitriol Reservoir at Gehenna. The account of the feeding of Fafnir, to which admission can be had on payment of ten oboli, beginning with a puree of kerosene, followed by a half-dozen cartridges on the half-shell, an entree of nitro-glycerine, a solid roast of cannel-coal, and a salad of gun-cotton, with a mayonnaise dressing of alcohol and a pinch of powder, topped off with a demi-tasse of benzine and a box of matches to keep the fires of his spirit going, is one of the most moving things I have ever read, and yet it may be said without fear of contradiction that until this guide-book was prepared very few of the Stygian tourists have imagined that there was such a sight to be seen. I have gone carefully over Dante, Virgil, and the works of Andrew Lang, and have found no reference whatsoever in the pages of any of these talented persons to this marvellous spectacle which takes place three times a day, and which I doubt not results in a performance of Siegfried for the delectation of the music lovers of Hades, which is beyond the power of the human mind to conceive.
The hand-book has an added virtue, which distinguishes it from any other that I have ever seen, in that it is anecdotal in style at times where an anecdote is available and appropriate. In connection with this same Fafnir, as showing how necessary it is for the tourist to be careful of his personal safety in Hades, it is related that upon one occasion the keeper of the dragon having taken a grudge against Siegfried for some unintentional slight, fed Fafnir upon Roman-candles and a sky-rocket, with the result that in the fight between the hero and the demon of the wood the Siegfried was seriously injured by the red, white, and blue balls of fire which the dragon breathed out upon him, while the sky-rocket flew out into the audience and struck a young man in the top gallery, knocking him senseless, the stick falling into a grand-tier box and impaling one of the best known social lights of Cimmeria. "Therefore," adds the astute editor of the hand-book, "on Siegfried nights it were well if the tourist were to go provided with an asbestos umbrella for use in case of an emergency of a similar nature."
In that portion of the book devoted to the trip up the river Styx the legends surpass any of the Rhine stories in dramatic interest, because, according to Commodore Charon's excursion system, the tourist can step ashore and see the chief actors in them, who for a consideration will give a full-dress rehearsal of the legendary acts for which they have been famous. The sirens of the Stygian Lorelei, for instance, sit on an eminence not far above the city of Cimmeria, and make a profession of luring people ashore and giving away at so much per head locks of their hair for remembrance' sake, all of which makes of the Stygian trip a thing of far greater interest than that of the Rhine.
It had been my intention to make a few extracts from this portion of the volume showing later developments in the legends of the Drachenfels, and others of more than ordinary interest, but I find that with the departure of Boswell for the night the treasured hand-book disappeared with him; but, as I have already stated, if I can secure his consent to do so I will some day have the book copied off on more material substance than that employed in the original manuscript, so that the useful little tome may be printed and scattered broadcast over a waiting and appreciative world. I may as well state here, too, that I have taken the precaution to have the title "Baedeker's Hades" and its contents copyrighted, so that any pirate who recognizes the value of the scheme will attempt to pirate the work at his peril.
Hardly had I finished the chapter on the legends of the Styx when Boswell broke in upon me with: "Well, how do you like it?"
"It's great," I said. "May I keep it?"
"You may if you can," he laughed. "But I fancy it can't withstand the rigors of this climate any more than an unfireproof copy of one of your books could stand the caniculars of ours."
His words were soon to be verified, for as soon as he left me the book vanished, but whether it went off into thin air or was repocketed by the departing Boswell I am not entirely certain.
"What was it you asked me about Samson and Goliath?" Boswell observed, as he gathered up his manuscript from the floor beside the Enchanted Typewriter. "Whether they'd ever been in Honolulu?"
"No," I replied. "I got a letter from Hawaii the other day asking for the result of the prize-fight the day Kidd ran off with the house-boat."
"Oh," replied Boswell. "That? Why, ah, Samson won hands down, but only because they played according to latter-day rules. If it had been a regular knock-out fight, like the contests in the old days of the ring when it was in its prime, Goliath could have managed him with one hand; but the Samson backers played a sharp game on the Philistine by having the most recently amended Queensbury rules adopted, and Goliath wasn't in it five minutes after Samson opened his mouth."
"I don't think I understand," said I.
"Plain enough," explained Boswell. "Goliath didn't know what the modern rules were, but he thought a fight was a fight under any rules, so, like a decent chap, he agreed, and when he found that it was nothing but a talking-match he'd got into he fainted. He never was good at expressing himself fluently. Samson talked him down in two rounds, just as he did the other Philistines in the early days on earth."
I laughed. "You're slightly off there," I said. "That was a stand-up-and-be-knocked-down fight, wasn't it? He used the jawbone of an ass?"
"Very true," observed Boswell, "but it is evident that it is you who are slightly off. You haven't kept up with the higher criticism. It has been proven scientifically that not only did the whale not swallow Jonah, but that Samson's great feat against the Philistines was comparable only to the achievements of your modern senators. He talked them to death."
"Then why jawbone of an ass?" I cried.
"Samson was an ass," replied Boswell. "They prove that by the temple episode, for you see if he hadn't been one he'd have got out of the building before yanking the foundations from under it. I tell you, old chap, this higher criticism is a great thing, and as logical as death itself."
And with this Boswell left me.
I sincerely hope that the result of the fight will prove as satisfactory to my friend in Hawaii as it was to me; for while I have no particular admiration for Samson, I have always rejoiced to hear of the discomfitures of Goliath, who, so far as I have been able to ascertain, was not only not a gentleman, but, in addition, had no more regard for the rights of others than a member of the New York police force or the editor of a Sunday newspaper with a thirst for sensation.
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