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10 - An Extraordinary Interview

I had expected to witness a scene of grandeur, and my fancy had
conjured up, as the central figure thereof, the majestic form of Jove
himself, clad in imperial splendor. But it was the unexpected that
happened, for, as the door closed behind me, I found myself in a plain
sort of workshop, such as an ordinary man would have in his own house,
at one end of which stood a rolling-top desk, and, instead of the
dazzling throne I had expected to see, there stood in front of it an
ordinary office-chair that twirled on a pivot. Books and papers were
strewn about the floor and upon the tables; the pictures on the walls
were made up largely of colored sporting prints of some rarity, and in
a corner stood a commonplace globe such as is to be found in use in
public schools to teach children geography. As I glanced about me my
first impression was that by some odd mischance I had got into the
wrong room, which idea was fortified by the fact that, instead of an
imperial figure clad in splendid robes, a quiet-looking old gentleman,
who, except for his dress, might have posed for a cartoon of the
accepted American Populist, stood before me. He was dressed in a plain
frock-coat, four-in-hand tie, high collar, dark-gray trousers, and
patent-leather boots, and was brushing up a silk hat as I entered.

"Excuse me, sir," I said, "but I--I fear I have stumbled into the
wrong room. I--ah--I have had the wholly unexpected honor to be
granted an audience with Jupiter, and I was told that this was the
audience-chamber."

"Don't apologize. Sit down," he replied, taking me by the hand and
shaking it cordially. "You are all right; I'm glad to see you. How
goes the world with you?"

"Very well indeed, sir," I replied, rather embarrassed by the old
fellow's cordiality. "But I really can't sit down, because, you know,
I--I don't want to keep his Majesty waiting, and if you'll excuse me,
I'll--"

"Oh, nonsense!" he retorted. "Let the old man wait. Sit down and talk
to me. I don't get a chance to talk with mortals very often. This is
your first visit to Olympus?"

"Yes, sir," I said, still standing. "And it is wholly unexpected. I
stumbled upon the place by the merest chance last night--but you
_must_ let me go, sir. I'll come back later very gladly and talk with
you if I get a chance. It will never do for me to keep his Majesty
waiting, you know."

"Oh, the deuce with his Majesty," said the old gentleman, testily.
"What do you want to see him for? He's an old fossil."

"Granted," said I. "Still, I'm interested in old fossils."

The old gentleman roared with laughter at this apparently simple
remark. I didn't see the fun of it myself, and his mirth irritated me.

"Excuse me, my dear sir," I said, trying to control my impatience.
"But you don't seem to understand my position. I can't stay here and
talk to you while the ruler of Olympus waits. Can't you see that?"

"No, I can't," he replied. "Can't see it at all, and I'm a pretty good
seer as a general thing, too. If you didn't wish to see me, you had
no business to come into my room. Now that you are here, I'm going to
keep you for a little while. Take off that absurd-looking tile and sit
down."

At this I grew angry. I wasn't responsible for the helmet I wore, and
I had felt all along that I looked like an ass in it.

"I'll do nothing of the sort, you confounded old meddler," I cried.
"I've come here on invitation, and, if I've got into the wrong room,
it isn't my fault. That jackass of a Major Domo told me this was the
place. Let me out."

I strode to the doorway, and the old gentleman turned to his desk and
opened a drawer.

"Cigar or cigarette?" he said, calmly.

"Neither, you old fool," I retorted, turning the knob and tugging upon
it. "I have no time for a smoke."

The door was locked. The old gentleman settled back in his twirling
chair and regarded me with a twinkle in his eye as I vainly tried to
pull the door open, and I realized that I was helpless.

"Better sit down and enjoy a quiet smoke with me," he said, calmly.
"Take off that absurd-looking tile and talk to me."

"I haven't anything to say to you," I replied. "Not a word. Do you
intend to let me out of this or not?"

"All in good time--all in good time," he said. "Let's talk it over.
Why do you wish to go? Don't you find me good company?"

"You're a stupid old idiot!" I shouted, almost weeping with rage.
"Locking me up in your rotten old den here when you must realize what
you are depriving me of. What earthly good it does you I can't see."

[Illustration: "THE DOOR WAS LOCKED"]

"It does me lots of good," he said, with a chuckle. "Really, sir, it
gives me a new sensation--first new sensation I have had in a long,
long time. Let me see now, just how many names have you called me in
the three minutes I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance?"

"Give me time, and I'll call you a lot more," I retorted, sullenly.

"Good--I'll give you the time," he said. "Go ahead. I'll listen to you
for a whole hour. What am I besides a meddler, and a stupid old idiot,
and an old fool?"

"You're a gray-headed maniac, and a--a zinc-fastened Zany. A doddering
dotard and a chimerical chump," I said.

"Splendid!" roared he, with a spasm of laughter that seemed nearly to
rend him. "Go on. Keep it up. I am enjoying myself hugely."

"You're a sneak-livered poltroon to treat me this way," I added,
indignantly.

"That's the best yet," he interrupted, slapping his knee with delight.
"Sneak-livered poltroon, eh? Well, well, well. Go on. Go on."

"If you'll give me a copy of Roget's _Thesaurus_, I'll tell you what
else you are," I retorted, with a note of sarcasm in my voice. "It
will require a reference to that book to do you justice. I can't begin
to carry all that you are in my mind."

"With pleasure," said he, and reaching over to his bookcase he took
thence the desired volume and handed it to me. "Proceed," he added. "I
am all ears."

"Most jackasses are," I returned, savagely.

"Magnificent," he cried, ecstatically. "You are a genius at epithet.
But there's the book. Let me light a cigar for you and then you can
begin. Only _do_ take off that absurd tile. You don't know how
supremely unbecoming it is."

There was nothing for it, so I resolved to make the best of it by
meeting the disagreeable old pantaloon on his own ground. I lit one of
his cigars and sat down to tell the curious old freak what I thought
of him. Ordinarily I would have avoided doing this, but his tyrannical
exercise of his temporary advantage made me angry to the very core of
my being.

"Ready?" said I.

"Quite," said he. "Don't stint yourself. Just behave as if you'd known
me all your life. I sha'n't mind."

And I began: "Well, after referring to the word 'idiot' in the index,
just to get a lead," I said, "I shall begin by saying that you are
evidently a hebetudinous imbecile, an indiscriminate stult--"

"Hold on!" he cried. "What's that last? I never heard the term
before."

"Stult--an indiscriminate stult," I said, scornfully. "I invented the
word myself. Real words won't describe you. Stult is a new term,
meaning all kinds of a fool, plus two. And I've got a few more if you
want them."

"Want them?" he cried. "By Vulcan, I dote upon them! They are nectar
to my thirsty ears. Go on."

"You are a senseless frivoler, a fugacious gid, an infamous
hoddydoddy; you are a man with the hoe with the emptiness of ages in
your face; you are a brother to the ox, with all the dundering
niziness of a plain, ordinary buzzard added to your shallow-brained
asininity. Now will you let me go?"

"Not I," said he, shaking his head as if he relished a situation which
was gradually making a madman of me. "I'd like to oblige you, but I
really can't. You are giving me too much pleasure. Is there nothing
more you can call me?"

"You're a dizzard!" I retorted. "And a noodle and a jolt-head; you're
a jobbernowl and a doodle, a maundering mooncalf and a blockheaded
numps, a gaby and a loon; you're a _Hatter_!" I shrieked the last
epithet.

"Heavens!" he cried, "A Hatter! Am I as bad as that?"

"Oh, come now," I said, closing the _Thesaurus_ with a bang. "Have
some regard for my position, won't you?"

I had resolved to appeal to his better nature. "I don't know who the
dickens you are. You may be the three wise men of Gotham who went to
sea in a bowl rolled into one, for all I know. You may be any old
thing. I don't give a tinker's cuss what you are. Under ordinary
circumstances I've no doubt I should find you a very pleasant old
gentleman, but under present conditions you are a blundering old
bore."

"That's not bad--indeed, a blundering old bore is pretty good. Let me
see," he continued, looking up the word "bore" in the index of the
_Thesaurus_, "What else am I? Maybe I'm an unmitigated nuisance, an
exasperating and egregious glum, a carking care, and a pestiferous
pill, eh?"

"You are all of that," I said, wearily. "Your meanness surpasseth all
things. I've met a good many tough characters in my day, but you are
the first I have ever encountered without a redeeming feature. You
take advantage of a mistake for which I am not at all responsible, and
what do you do?"

"Tell me," he replied. "What do I do? I shall be delighted to hear.
I've been asking myself that question for years. What do I do? Go on,
I implore you."

"You rub it in, that's what," I retorted. "You take advantage of me.
You bait me; you incommode me. You--you--"

"Here, take the _Thesaurus_," he said, as I hesitated for the word.
"It will help you. I provoke you, I irritate you, I make you mad, I
sour your temper, I sicken, disgust, revolt, nauseate, repel you. I
rankle your soul. I jar you--is that it?"

"Give me the book," I cried, desperately. "Yes!" I added, referring to
the page. "You tease, irk, harry, badger, infest, persecute. You gall,
sting, and convulse me. You are a plain old beast, that's what you
are. You're a conscienceless sneak and a wherret--you mean-souled blot
on the face of nature!"

Here I broke down and wept, and the old gentleman's sides shook with
laughter. He was, without exception, the most extraordinary old person
I had ever encountered, and in my tears I cursed the English language
because it was inadequate properly to describe him.

For a time there was silence. I was exhausted and my tormentor was
given over to his own enjoyment of my discomfiture. Finally, however,
he spoke.

"I'm a pretty old man, my dear fellow," he said. "I shouldn't like to
tell you how old, because if I did you'd begin on the _Thesaurus_
again with the word 'liar' for your lead. Nevertheless, I'm pretty
old; but I want to say to you that in all my experience I have never
had so diverting a half-hour as you have given me. You have been so
outspoken, so frank--"

"Oh, indeed--I've been frank, have I?" I interrupted. "Well, what I
have said isn't a marker to what I'd like to have said and would have
said if language hadn't its limitations. You are the infinity of the
unmitigated, the supreme of the superfluous. In unqualified,
inexcusable, unsurpassable meanness you are the very IT!"

"Sir," said the old gentleman, rising and bowing, "you are a man of
unusual penetration, and I like you. I should like to see more of you,
but your hour has expired. I thank you for your pleasant words, and I
bid you an affectionate good-morning."

A deep-toned bell struck the hour of twelve. A fanfare of trumpets
sounded outside, and the huge door flew open, and without a word in
reply, glad of my deliverance, I turned and fled precipitately through
it. The sumptuous guard stood outside to receive me, and as the door
closed behind me the band struck up a swelling measure that I shall
not soon forget.

"Well," said the Major Domo, as we proceeded back to my quarters, "did
he receive you nicely?"

"Who?" said I.

"Jupiter, of course," he said.

"I didn't see him," I replied, sadly. "I fell in with a beastly old
bore who wouldn't let go of me. You showed me into the wrong room. Who
was that old beggar, anyhow?"

"Beggar?" he cried. "Wrong room? Beggar?"

"Certainly," said I. "Beggar is mild, I admit. But he's all that and
much more. Who is he?"

"I don't know what you mean," replied the Major Domo. "But you have
been for the last hour with his Majesty himself."

"What?" I cried. "I--that old man--we--"

"The old gentleman was Jupiter. Didn't he tell you? He made a special
effort to make you feel at home--put himself on a purely mortal
basis--"

I fell back, limp and nerveless.

"What will he think of me?" I moaned, as I realized what had
happened.

[Illustration: "'WHAT?' I CRIED. 'I--THAT OLD MAN--WE'"]

"He thinks you are the best yet," said the Major Domo. "He has sent
word by his messenger, Mercury, that the honors of Olympus are to be
showered upon you to their fullest extent. He says you are the only
frank mortal he ever met."

And with this I was escorted back to my rooms at the hotel, impressed
with the idea that all is not lead that doesn't glitter, and when I
thought of my invention of the word "stult," I began to wish I had
never been born.

John Kendrick Bangs

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