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POTATOES, sir?” said Mary, the waitress at Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog’s High-Class Home for Single Gentlemen, stopping behind the Idiot’s chair and addressing the back of his neck in the usual boarding-house fashion.
“Yes, I want some potatoes, Mary; but before I take them,” the Idiot replied, “I must first ascertain whether or not you wear the union label, and what is the exact status also of the potatoes. My principles are such that I cannot permit a non-union housemaid to help me to a scab potato, whereas, if you belong to the sisterhood, and our stewed friend Murphy here has been raised upon a union farm, then, indeed, do I wish not only one potato but many.”
Mary’s reply was a giggle.
“Ah!” said the Idiot. “The merry ha-ha, eh? All right, Mary. That is for the present sufficient evidence that your conscience is clear on this very important matter. As for the potatoes, we will eat them not exactly under protest, but with a distinctly announced proviso in advance that we assume that they have qualified themselves for admission into a union stomach. I hesitate to think of what will happen in my interior department if Murphy is deceiving us.”
Whereupon the Idiot came into possession of a goodly portion of the stewed potatoes, and Mary fled to the kitchen, where she informed the presiding genius of the range that the young gentleman was crazier than ever.
“He’s talkin’ about the unions, now, Bridget,” said she.
“Is he agin ’em?” demanded Bridget, with a glitter in her eye.
“No, he’s for ’em; he wouldn’t even drink milk from a non-union cow,” said Mary.
“He’s a foine gintleman,” said Bridget. “Oi’ll make his waffles a soize larger.”
Meanwhile the Bibliomaniac had chosen to reflect seriously upon the Idiot’s intelligence for his approval of unions.
“They are responsible for pretty nearly all the trouble there is at the present moment,” he snapped out, angrily.
“Oh, go along with you,” retorted the Idiot. “The trouble we have these days, like all the rest of the troubles of the past, go right back to that old original non-union apple that Eve ate and Adam got the core of. You know that as well as I do. Even Adam and Eve, untutored children of nature though they were, saw it right off, and organized a union on the spot, which has in the course of centuries proven the most beneficent institution of the ages. With all due respect to the character of this dwelling-place of ours—a home for single gentlemen—the union is the thing. If you don’t belong to one you may be tremendously independent, but you’re blooming lonesome.”
“The matrimonial union,” smiled Mrs. Pedagog, “is indeed a blessed institution, and, having been married twice, I can testify from experience; but, truly, Mr. Idiot, I wish you wouldn’t put notions into Mary’s head about the other kind. I should be sorry if she were to join that housemaid’s union we hear so much about. I have trouble enough now with my domestic help without having a walking delegate on my hands as well.”
“No doubt,” acquiesced the Idiot. “In their beginnings all great movements have their inconveniences, but in the end, properly developed, a housemaid’s union wouldn’t be a bad thing for employers, and I rather think it might prove a good thing. Suppose one of your servants misbehaves herself, for instance—I remember one occasion in this very house when it required the united efforts of yourself, Mr. Pedagog, three policemen, and your humble servant to effectively discharge a three-hundred-pound queen of the kitchen, who had looked not wisely but too often on the cooking sherry. Now suppose that highly cultivated inebriate had belonged to a self-respecting union? You wouldn’t have had to discharge her at all. A telephone message to the union headquarters, despatched while the lady was indulging in one of her tantrums, would have brought an inspector to the house, the queen would have been caught with the goods on, and her card would have been taken from her, so that by the mere automatic operation of the rules of her own organization she could no longer work for you. Thus you would have been spared some highly seasoned language which I have for years tried to forget; Mr. Pedagog’s eye would not have been punched so that you could not tell your blue-eyed boy from your black-eyed babe; I should never have lost the only really satisfactory red necktie I ever owned; and three sturdy policemen, one of whom had often previously acted as the lady’s brother on her evenings at home, and the others, of whom we had reason to believe were cousins not many times removed, would not have been confronted by the ungrateful duty of clubbing one who had frequently fed them generously upon your cold mutton and my beer.”
“Is that one of the things the union would do?” queried Mrs. Pedagog, brightening.
“It is one of the things the union should do,” said the Idiot. “Similarly with your up-stairs girl, if perchance you have one. Suppose she got into the habit, which I understand is not all an uncommon case, of sweeping the dust under the bureau of your bedroom or under the piano in the drawing-room. Suppose she is really an adept in the art of dust concealment, having a full comprehension of all sixty methods—hiding it under tables, sofas, bookcases, and rugs, in order to save her back? You wouldn’t have to bother with her at all under a properly equipped union. Upon the discovery of her delinquencies you would merely have to send for the union inspector, lift up the rug and show her the various vintages of sweepings the maid has left there: November ashes; December match-ends; threads, needles, and pins left over from the February meeting of the Ibsen Sewing-Circle at your house; your missing tortoise-shell hair-pin that you hadn’t laid eyes on since September; the grocer’s bill for October that you told the grocer you never received—all this in March. Do you suppose that that inspector, with all this evidence before her eyes, could do otherwise than prefer charges against the offender at the next meeting of the Committee on Discipline? Not on your life, madam. And, what is more, have you the slightest doubt that one word of reprimand from that same Committee on Discipline would prove far more effective in reforming that particular offender than anything you could say backed by the eloquence of Burke and the thunderbolts of Jove?”
“You paint a beautiful picture,” said the Doctor. “But suppose you happened to draw a rotten cook in the domestic lottery—a good woman, but a regular scorcher. Where does your inspector come in there? Going to invite her to dine with you so as to demonstrate the girl’s incompetence?”
“Not at all,” said the Idiot. “That would make trouble right away. The cook very properly would say that the inspector was influenced by the social attention she was receiving from the head of the house, and the woman’s effectiveness as a disciplinarian would be immediately destroyed. I’d put half portions of the burned food in a sealed package and send it to the Committee on Culinary Improvement for their inspection. A better method which time would probably bring into practice would be for the union itself to establish a system of domiciliary visits, by which the cook’s work should be subjected to a constant inspection by the union—the object being, of course, to prevent trouble rather than to punish after the event. The inspector’s position would be something like that of the bank examiner, who turns up at our financial institutions at unexpected moments, and sees that everything is going right.”
“Oh, bosh!” said the Doctor. “You are talking of ideals.”
“Certainly I am,” returned the Idiot. “Why shouldn’t I? What’s the use of wasting one’s breath on anything else?”
“Well, it’s all rot!” put in Mr. Brief. “There never was any such union as that, and there never will be.”
“You are the last person in the world to say a thing like that, Mr. Brief,” said the Idiot—”you, who belong to the nearest approach to the ideal union that the world has ever known!”
“What! Me?” demanded the Lawyer. “Me? I belong to a union?”
“Of course you do—or at least you told me you did,” said the Idiot.
“Well, you are the worst!” retorted Mr. Brief, angrily. “When did I ever tell you that I belonged to a union?”
“Last Friday night at dinner, and in the presence of this goodly company,” said the Idiot. “You were bragging about it, too—said that no institution in existence had done more to uplift the moral tone of the legal profession; that through its efforts the corrupt practitioner and the shyster were gradually being driven to the wall—”
“Well, this beats me,” said Mr. Brief. “I recall telling at dinner on Friday night about the Bar Association—”
“Precisely,” said the Idiot. “That’s what I referred to. If the Bar Association isn’t a Lawyer’s Union Number Six of the highest type, I don’t know what is. It is conducted by the most brilliant minds in the profession; its honors are eagerly sought after by the brainiest laborers in the field of Coke and Blackstone; its stern, relentless eye is fixed upon the evil-doer, and it is an effective instrument for reform not only in its own profession, but in the State as well. What I would have the Housemaid’s Union do for domestic servants and for the home, the Bar Association does for the legal profession and for the State, and if the lawyers can do this thing there is no earthly reason why the housemaids shouldn’t.”
“Pah!” ejaculated Mr. Brief. “You place the bar and domestic service on the same plane of importance, do you?”
“No, I don’t,” said the Idiot. “Shouldn’t think of doing so. Twenty people need housemaids, where one requires a lawyer; therefore the domestic is the more important of the two.”
“Humph!” said Mr. Brief, with an angry laugh. “Intellectual qualifications, I suppose, go for nothing in the matter.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said the Idiot. “I guess, however, that there are more housemaids earning a living to-day than lawyers—and, besides—oh, well, never mind—What’s the use? I don’t wish to quarrel about it.”
“Go on—don’t mind me—I’m really interested to know what further you can say,” snapped Mr. Brief. “Besides—what?”
“Only this, that when it comes to the intellectuals—Well, really, Mr. Brief,” asked the Idiot, “really now, did you ever hear of anybody going to an intelligence office for a lawyer?”
Mr. Brief’s reply was not inaudible, for just at that moment he swallowed his coffee the wrong way, and in the effort to bring him to, the thread of the argument snapped, and up to the hour of going to press had not been tied together again.
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