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When Mr. Snobbe sat down after the narration of his story, there was a thunderous outburst of applause. It was evident that the exciting narrative had pleased his fellow-diners very much—as, indeed, it was proper that it should, since it dealt in a veiled sort of way with characters for whom all right-minded persons have not only a deep-seated admiration, but a feeling of affection as well. They had, one and all, in common with the unaffected portion of the reading community, a liking for the wholesome and clean humor of Mr. Van Bibber, and the fact that Snobbe’s story suggested a certain original, even in a weak sort of fashion, made them like it in spite of its shortcomings.
“Good work,” cried Hudson Rivers. “Of course it’s only gas in comparison with the sun, but it gives light, and we like it.”
“And it’s wholly original, too, even though an imitation in manner. The real Van Bibber never failed in anything he undertook,” said Tenafly Paterson. “I’ve often wished he might have, just once—it would have made him seem more human—and for that reason I think Tom is entitled to praise.”
“I don’t know about that,” observed Monty St. Vincent. “Tom hadn’t anything to do with it—it was the dinner. Honor to whom honor is due, say I. Praise the cook, or the caterer.”
“That’s the truth,” put in Billie Jones. “Fact is, when this book of ours comes out, I think, instead of putting our names on the title-page as authors, the thing to do is to print the menu.”
“You miss the point of this association,” interjected Snobbe. “We haven’t banded ourselves together to immortalize a Welsh rabbit or a mince-pie—nay, nor even a ruddy duck. It’s our own glory we’re after.”
“That’s it,” cried Monty St. Vincent—“that’s the beauty of it. The scheme works two ways. If the stuff is good and there is glory in it, we’ll have the glory; but if it’s bad, we’ll blame the dinner. That’s what I like about it.”
“It’s a valuable plan from that point of view,” said the presiding officer. “And now, if the gentleman who secured the ball numbered two will make himself known, we will proceed.”
Hudson Rivers rose up. “I have number two,” he said, “but I have nothing to relate. The coffee I drank kept me awake all night, and when I finally slept, along about six o’clock next morning, it was one of those sweet, dreamless sleeps that we all love so much. I must therefore ask to be excused.”
“But how shall you be represented in the book?” asked Mr. Harry Snobbe.
“He can do the table of contents,” suggested St. Vincent.
“Or the fly-leaves,” said Tenafly Paterson.
“No,” said Huddy; “I shall ask that the pages I should have filled be left blank. There is nothing helps a book so much as the leaving of something to the reader’s imagination. I heard a great critic say so once. He said that was the strong point of the French writers, and he added that Stockton’s Lady or the Tiger took hold because Stockton didn’t insist on telling everything.”
“It’s a good idea,” said Mr. Jones. “I don’t know but that if those pages are left blank they’ll be the most interesting in the book.”
Mr. Rivers sat down with a smile of conscious pride, whereupon Mr. Tenafly Paterson rose up.
“As I hold the number three ball, I will give you the fruits of my dinner. I attribute the work which I am about to present to you to the mince-pie. Personally, I am a great admirer of certain latter-day poets who deal with the woes and joys of more or less commonplace persons. I myself would rather read a sonnet to a snow-shovel than an ode to the moon, but in my dream I seem to have conceived a violent hatred for authors of homely verse, as you will note when I have finished reading my dream-poem called ‘Retribution.’”
“Great Scott!” murmured Billie Jones, with a deep-drawn sigh. “Poetry! From Tenafly Paterson! Of all the afflictions of man, Job could have known no worse.”
“The poem reads as follows,” continued Paterson, ignoring the chairman’s ill-timed remark:
Writ a pome about a kid.
Finest one I ever did.
Heaped it full o’ sentiment—
Very best I could invent.
Talked about his little toys;
How he played with other boys;
How the beasts an’ birdies all
Come when little Jamie’d call.
’N’ ’en I took that little lad,
Gave him fever, mighty bad.
’N’ ’en it sorter pleased my whim
To have him die and bury him.
It got printed, too, it did
That small pome about the kid,
In a paper in the West;
Put ten dollars in my vest.
Every pa an’ ma about
Cried like mighty—cried right out.
I jess took each grandma’s heart,
Lammed and bruised it, made it smart;
’N’ everybody said o’ me,
“Finest pote we ever see,”
’Cept one beggar, he got mad.
Got worst lickin’ ever had;
Got my head atween his fists,
Called me “Prince o’ anarchists.”
Clipped me one behind my ear—
Laid me up for ’most a year.
“’Cause,” he said, “my poetry
’D made his wife an’ mother cry;
“’Twarn’t no poet’s bizness to
Make the wimmin all boo-hoo.”
’N’ ’at is why to-day, by Jings!
I don’t fool with hearts an’ things.
I don’t care how high the bids,
I’ve stopped scribblin’ ’bout dead kids;
’R if I haven’t, kinder sorter
Think ’at maybe p’r’aps I’d oughter.
The lines were received with hearty appreciation by all save Dobbs Ferry, who looked a trifle gloomy.
“It is a strange thing,” said the latter, “but that mince-pie affected me in precisely the same way, as you will see for yourselves when I read my contribution, which, holding ball number four as I do, I will proceed to give you.”
Mr. Ferry then read the following poem, which certainly did seem to indicate that the man who prepared the fatal pie had certain literary ideas which he mixed in with other ingredients:
I bought a book of verse the other day,
And when I read, it filled me with dismay.
I wanted it to take home to my wife,
To bring a bit of joy into her life;
And I’d been told the author of those pomes
Was called the laureate of simple homes.
But, Jove! I read, and found it full of rhyme
That kept my eyes a-filling all the time.
One told about a pretty little miss
Whose father had denied a simple kiss,
And as she left, unhappy, full of cares,
She fell and broke her neck upon the stairs.
And then he wrote a lot of tearful lines
Of children who had trouble with their spines;
And ’stead of joys, he penned so many woes
I sought him out and gave him curvature ’f the nose;
And all the nation, witnessing his plight,
Did crown me King, and cry, “It served him right.”
“A remarkable coincidence,” said Thomas Snobbe. “In fact, the coincidence is rather more remarkable than the poetry.”
“It certainly is,” said Billie Jones; “but what a wonderfully suggestive pie, considering that it was a mince!”
After which dictum the presiding officer called upon the holder of the fifth ball, who turned out to be none other than Bedford Parke, who blushingly rose up and delivered himself of what he called “The Overcoat, a Magazine Farce.”
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