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"We were talking about University Extension the other day, Mr. Pedagog," said the Idiot, as the School-master folded up the newspaper and put it in his pocket, "and I, as you remember, suggested that it might better be called Social Expansion."
"Did you?" said Mr. Pedagog, coldly. "I don't remember much about it. I rarely make a note of anything you may say."
"Well, I did suggest the change of name, whether your memory is retentive or not, and I have been thinking the matter over a good deal since, and I think I've got hold of an idea," returned the Idiot.
"In that case," said the Bibliomaniac, "we would better lock the door. If you have really got hold of an idea you should be very careful not to let it get away from you."
"No danger of that," said the Idiot, with a smile. "I have it securely locked up here," tapping his forehead.
"It must be lonesome," said Mr. Pedagog.
"And rather uncomfortable—if it is a real idea," observed the Doctor. "An idea in the Idiot's mind must feel somewhat as a tall, stout Irish maid feels when she goes to her bedroom in one of those Harlem flat-houses."
"You men are losing a great opportunity," said the Idiot, with a scornful glance at the three professional gentlemen. "The idea of your following the professions of pedagogy, medicine, and literature, when the three of you combined could make a fortune as an incarnate comic paper. I don't see why you don't make a combination like those German bands that play on the street corners, and go about from door to door, and crack your jokes just as they crack their music. I am sure you'd take, particularly in front of barber-shops."
"It would be hard on the comic papers," said the Poet, who was getting a little unpopular with his fellow-boarders because of his tendency, recently developed, to take the Idiot's part in the breakfast-table discussions. "They might be so successful that the barber-shops, instead of taking the comic papers for their customers to read, would employ one or more of them to sit in the middle of the room and crack jokes aloud."
"We couldn't rival the comic papers though," said the Doctor, wishing to save his dignity by taking the bull by the horns. "We might do the jokes well enough, but the comic papers are chiefly pictorial."
"You'd be pictorial enough," said the Idiot. "Wasn't it you, Mr. Pedagog, that said the Doctor here looked like one of Cruikshank's physicians, or as if he had stepped out of Dickens's pages, or something like it?"
"I never said anything of the sort!" cried the School-master, wrathfully; "and you know I didn't."
"Who was it said that?" asked the Idiot, innocently, looking about the table. "It couldn't have been Mr. Whitechoker, and I know it wasn't the Poet or my Genial Friend who occasionally imbibes. Mr. Pedagog denies it; I didn't say it; Mrs. Pedagog wouldn't say it. That leaves only two of us—the Bibliomaniac and the Doctor himself. I don't think the Doctor would make a personal remark of that kind, and—well, there is but one conclusion. Mr. Bibliomaniac, I am surprised."
"What?" roared the Bibliomaniac, glaring at the Idiot. "Do you mean to fasten the impertinence on me?"
"Far from it," returned the Idiot, meekly. "Very far from it. It is fate, sir, that has done that—the circumstantial evidence against you is strong; but then, mercifully enough, circumstantial evidence is not permitted to hang a man."
"Now see here, Mr. Idiot," said the Bibliomaniac, firmly and impressively, "I want you to distinctly understand that I am not going to have you put words into my mouth that I never uttered. I—"
"Pray, don't attack me," said the Idiot. "I haven't made any charge against you. I only asked who could have said that the Doctor looked like a creation of Cruikshank. I couldn't have said it, because I don't think it. Mr. Pedagog denies it. In fact, every one here has a clear case of innocence excepting yourself, and I don't believe you said it, only the chain of circumstance—"
"Oh, hang your chain of circumstance!" interrupted the Bibliomaniac.
"It is hung," said the Idiot, "and it appears to make you very uncomfortable. However, as I was saying, I think I have got hold of an idea involving a truly philanthropic and by no means selfish scheme of Social Expansion."
"Heigho!" sighed Mr. Pedagog. "I sometimes think that if I had not the honor to be the husband of our landlady I'd move away from here. Your views, sir, are undermining my constitution."
"You only think so, Mr. Pedagog," replied the Idiot. "You are simply going through a process of intellectual reconstruction at my hands. You feel exactly as a man feels who has been shut up in the dark for years and suddenly finds himself in a flood of sunlight. I am doing with you as an individual what I would have society do for mankind at large—in other words, while I am working for individual expansion upon the raw material I find here, I would have society buckle down to the enlargement of itself by the improvement of those outside of itself."
"If you swim in water as well as you do in verbiage," said the Bibliomaniac, "you must be able to go three or four strokes without sinking."
"Oh, as for that, I can swim like a duck," said the Idiot. "You can't sink me."
"I fancied not," observed Mr. Pedagog, with a smile at his own joke. "You are so light I wonder, indeed, that you don't rise up into space, anyhow."
"What a delightful condition of affairs that suggestion opens up!" said the Idiot, turning to the Poet. "If I were you I'd make a poem on that. Something like this, for instance:"I am so very, very light
Mr. Pedagog grinned broadly at this.
"You aren't entirely without your good points," he said. "If we ever accept your comic-paper idea we'll have to rely on you for the nonsense poetry."
"Thank you," said the Idiot. "I'll help. If I had a man like you to give me the suggestions I could make a fortune out of poetry. The only trouble is I have to quarrel with you before I can get you to give me a suggestion, and I despise bickering."
"So do I," returned Mr. Pedagog. "Let's give up bickering and turn our attention to—er—Social Extension, is it?"
"Yes—or Social Expansion," said the Idiot. "Some years ago the world was startled to hear that in the city of New York there were not more than four hundred people who were entitled to social position, and, as I understand it, as time has progressed the number has still further diminished. Last year the number was only one hundred and fifty, and, as I read the social news of to-day, not more than twenty-five people are now beyond all question in the swim. At dinners, balls, functions of all sorts, you read the names of these same twenty-five over and over again as having been present. Apparently no others attended—or, if they did, they were not so indisputably entitled to be present that their names could be printed in the published accounts. Now all of this shows that society is dying out, and that if things keep on as they are now going it will not be many years before we shall become a people without society, a nation of plebeians."
"Your statement so far is lucid and logical," said Mr. Pedagog, who did not admire society—so called—and who did not object to the goring of an ox in which he was not personally interested.
"Well, why is this social contraction going on?" asked the Idiot. "Clearly because Social Expansion is not an accepted fact. If it were, society would grow. Why does it not grow? Why are its ranks not augmented? There is raw material enough. You would like to get into the swim; so would I. But we don't know how. We read books of etiquette, but they are far from being complete. I think I make no mistake when I say they are utterly valueless. They tell us no more than the funny journal tells us when it says:"'Never eat pease with a spoon;
They tell most of us what we all knew before. They tell us not to wear our hats in the house; they tell us all the obvious things, but the subtleties of how to get into society they do not tell us. The comic papers give us some idea of how to behave in society. We know from reading the funny papers that a really swell young man always leans against a mantel-piece when he is calling; that the swell girl sits on a comfortable divan with her feet on a tiger-skin rug, and they converse in epigram. Sometimes the epigram is positively rude; when it is not rude it is so dull that no one wonders that the tiger's head on the rug represents the tiger as yawning. But, while this is instructive, it teaches us how to behave on special occasions only. You or I might call upon a young woman who did not sit on a divan, who had no tiger-skin rug to put her feet on, and whose parlor had a mantel-piece against which we could not lean comfortably. What are we to do then? As far as they go, the funny papers are excellent, but they don't go far enough. They give us attractive pictures of fashionable dinners, but it is always of the dinner after the game course. Some of us would like to know how society behaves while the soup is being served. We know that after the game course society girls reach across the table and clink wine-glasses with young men, but we do not know what they do before they get to the clink stage. Nowhere is this information given. Etiquette books are silent on the subject, and though I have sought everywhere for information, I do not know to this day how many salted almonds one may consume at dinner without embarrassing one's hostess. Now, if I can't find out, the million can't find out. Wherefore, instead of shutting themselves selfishly up and, by so doing, forcing society finally into dissolution, why cannot some of these people who know what is what give object-lessons to the million; educate them in savoir-faire?
"Last summer there was a play put on at one of our theatres in which there was a scene at a race-track. At one side was a tally-ho coach. For the first week the coach was an utterly valueless accessory, because the people on it were the ordinary supers in the employ of the theatre. They did not know how to behave on a coach, and nobody was interested. The management were suddenly seized with a bright idea. They invited several swell young men who knew how things were done on coaches to come and do these things on their coach. The young men came and imparted a realism to the scene that made that coach the centre of attraction. People who went to that play departed educated in coach etiquette. Now there lies my scheme in a nutshell. If these twenty-five, the Old Guard of society, which dines but never surrenders, will give once a week a social function in some place like Madison Square Garden, to which the million may go merely as spectators, not as participators, is there any doubt that they would fail to be instructed? The Garden will seat eight or ten thousand people. Suppose, for an instance, that a dozen of your best exponents of what is what were to give a dinner in the middle of the arena, with ten thousand people looking on. Do you mean to say that of all that vast audience no one would learn thereby how to behave at a dinner?"
"It is a great scheme," said the Doctor.
"It is!" said the Idiot, "and I venture to say that a course of, say, twelve social functions given in that way would prove so popular that the Garden would turn away every night twice as many people as it could accommodate."
"It would be instructive, no doubt," said the Bibliomaniac; "but how would it expand society? Would you have examinations?"
"Most assuredly," said the Idiot. "At the end of the season I should have a rigid examination of all who chose to apply. I would make them dine in the presence of a committee of expert diners, I would have them pass a searching examination in the Art of Wearing a Dress Suit, in the Science of Entering a Drawing-room, in the Art of Behavior at Afternoon Teas, and all the men who applied should also be compelled to pass a physical examination as an assurance that they were equal to the task of getting an ice for a young lady at a ball."
"Society would get to be too inclusive and would cease to be exclusive," suggested Mr. Whitechoker.
"I think not," said the Idiot. "I should not give a man or a woman the degree of B.S. unless he or she had passed an examination of one hundred per cent."
"B.S.?" queried Mr. Pedagog.
"Yes," returned the Idiot. "Bachelor of Society—a degree which, once earned, should entitle one to recognition as a member of the upper ten anywhere in Christendom."
"It is superb!" cried Mr. Pedagog, enthusiastically.
"Yes," said the Idiot. "At ten cents a function it would beat University Extension out of sight, and, further, it would preserve society. If we lose society we lose caste, and, worse than all, our funny men would have to go out of business, for there would be no fads or Willieboys left to ridicule."
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