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I SUPPOSE, Mr. Idiot,” observed Mr. Brief, as the Idiot took his accustomed place at the breakfast-table, “that you have been putting in a good deal of your time this week at the Horse Show?”
“Yes,” said the Idiot, “I was there every night it was open. I go to all the shows—Horse, Dog, Baby, Flower, Electrical—it doesn’t matter what. It’s first-rate fun.”
“Pretty fine lot of horses, this year?” asked the Doctor.
“Don’t know,” said the Idiot. “I heard there were some there, but I didn’t see ’em.”
“What?” cried the Doctor. “Went to the Horse Show and didn’t see the horses?”
“No,” said the Idiot. “Why should I? I don’t know a cob from a lazy back. Of course I know that the four-legged beast that goes when you say get ap is a horse, but beyond that my equine education has been neglected. I can see all the horses I want to look at on the street, anyhow.”
“Then what in thunder do you go to the Horse Show for?” demanded the Bibliomaniac. “To sleep?”
“No,” rejoined the Idiot. “It’s too noisy for that. I go to see the people. People are far more interesting to me than horses, and I get more solid fun out of seeing the nabobs go through their paces than could be got out of a million nags of high degree kicking up their heels in the ring. If they’d make the horses do all sorts of stunts, it might be different, but they don’t. They show you the same old stuff year in and year out, and things that you can see almost any fine day in the Park during the season. You and I know that a four-horse team can pull a tally-ho coach around without breaking its collective neck. We know that two horses harnessed together fore and aft instead of abreast are called a tandem, and can drag a cart on two wheels and about a mile high a reasonable distance without falling dead. There isn’t anything new or startling in their performance, and why anybody should pay to see them doing the commonplace, every-day act I don’t know. It isn’t as if they had a lot of thoroughbreds on exhibition who could sit down at a table and play a round of bridge whist or poker. That would be worth seeing. So would a horse that could play ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ on the piano, but when it comes to dragging a hansom-cab or a grocery-wagon around the tanbark, why, it seems to me to lack novelty.”
“The idea of a horse playing bridge whist!” jeered the Bibliomaniac. “What a preposterous proposition!”
“Well, I’ve seen fellows with less sense than the average horse make a pretty good stab at it at the club,” said the Idiot. “Perhaps my suggestion is extreme, but I put it that way merely to emphasize my point. I’ve seen an educated pig play cards, though, and I don’t see why they can’t put the horse through very much the same course of treatment and teach him to do something that would make him more of an object of interest when he has his week of glory. I don’t care what it is as long as it is out of the ordinary.”
“There is nothing in the world that is more impressive than a fine horse in action,” said the Doctor. “What you suggest would take away from his dignity and make him a freak.”
“I didn’t say it wouldn’t,” rejoined the Idiot. “In fact, my remarks implied that it would. You don’t quite understand my meaning. If I owned a stable I’d much rather my horses didn’t play bridge whist, because, in all probability, they’d be sending into the house at all hours of the night asking me to come over to the barn and make a fourth hand. It’s bad enough having your neighbors doing that sort of thing without encouraging your horse to go into the business. Nor would it please me as a lover of horseback-riding to have a mount that could play grand opera on the piano. The chances are it would spoil three good things—the horse, the piano, and the opera—but if I were getting up a show and asking people from all over the country to pay good money to get into it, then I should want just such things. In the ordinary daily pursuits of equine life the horse suits me just as he is, but for the extraordinary requirements of an exhibition he lacks diverting qualities. He’s more solemn than a play by Sudermann or Blanketty Bjornsen; he is as lacking in originality as a comic-opera score by Sir Reginald de Bergerac, and his drawing powers, outside of cab-work, as far as I am concerned, are absolutely nil. A horse that can draw a picture I’d travel miles to see. A horse that can’t draw anything but a T-cart or an ice-wagon hasn’t two cents’ worth of interest in my eyes.”
“But can’t you see the beauty in the action of a horse?” demanded the Doctor.
“It all depends on his actions,” said the Idiot. “I’ve seen horses whose actions were highly uncivilized.”
“I mean his form—not his behavior,” said the Doctor.
“Well, I’ve never understood enough about horses to speak intelligently on that point,” observed the Idiot. “It’s incomprehensible to me how your so-called judges reason. If a horse trots along hiking his fore-legs ’way up in the air as if he were grinding an invisible hand-organ with both feet, people rave over his high-stepping and call him all sorts of fine names. But if he does the same thing with his hind-legs they call it springhalt or stringhalt, or something of that kind, and set him down as a beastly old plug. The scheme seems to me to be inconsistent, and if I were a horse I’m blessed if I think I’d know what to do. How a thing can be an accomplishment in front and a blemish behind is beyond me, but there is the fact. They give a blue ribbon to the front-hiker and kick the hind-hiker out of the show altogether—they wouldn’t even pin a Bryan button on his breast.”
“I fancy a baby show is about your size,” said the Doctor.
“Well—yes,” said the Idiot, “I guess perhaps you are right, as far as the exhibit is concerned. There’s something almost human about a baby, and it’s the human element always that takes hold of me. It’s the human element in the Horse Show that takes me and most other people as well. Fact is, so many go to see the people and so few to see the horses that I have an idea that some day they’ll have it with only one horse—just enough of a nag to enable them to call it a Horse Show—and pay proper attention to the real things that make it a success even now.”
The Doctor sniffed contemptuously. “What factors in your judgment contribute most to the success of the Horse Show?” he asked.
“Duds chiefly,” said the Idiot, “and the people who are inside of them. If there were a law passed requiring every woman who goes to the Horse Show to wear a simple gown in order not to scare the horses, ninety per cent. of ’em would stay at home, and all the blue-ribbon steeds in creation couldn’t drag them to the Garden—and nobody’d blame them for it, either. Similarly with the men. You don’t suppose for an instant, do you, that young Hawkins Van Bluevane would give seven cents for the Horse Show if it didn’t give him a chance to appear every afternoon in his Carnegie plaid waistcoat?”
“That’s a new one on me,” said Mr. Brief. “Is there such a thing as a Carnegie plaid?”
“It’s the most popular that ever came out of Scotland,” said the Idiot. “It’s called the Carnegie because of the size of the checks. Then there’s poor old Jimmie Varickstreet—the last remnant of a first family—hasn’t enough money to keep a goat-wagon, and couldn’t tell you the difference between a saw-horse and a crupper. He gives up his hall bedroom Horse-Show week and lives in the place day and night, covering up the delinquencies of his afternoon and evening clothes with a long yellow ulster with buttons like butter-saucers distributed all over his person—”
“Where did he get it, if he’s so beastly poor?” demanded the Lawyer.
“He’s gone without food and drink and clothes that don’t show. He has scrimped and saved, and denied himself for a year to get up a gaudy shell in which for six glorious days to shine resplendent,” said the Idiot. “Jimmie lives for those six days, and as you see him flitting from box to box and realize that he is an opulent swell for six days of every year, and a poor, down-trodden exile for the rest of the time, you don’t grudge him his little diversion and almost wish you had sufficient will power to deny yourself the luxuries and some of the necessities of life as well to get a coat like that. If I had my way they’d award Jimmie Varickstreet at least an honorable mention as one of the most interesting exhibits in the whole show.
“And there are plenty of others. There’s raw material enough in that Horse Show to make it a permanent exhibition if the managers would only get together and lick it into shape. As a sort of social zoo it is unsurpassed, and why they don’t classify the various sections of it I can’t see. In the first place, imagine a dozen boxes filled with members of the Four Hundred, men and women whose names have become household words, and wearing on their backs garments made by the deft fingers of the greatest sartorial artists of the ages. You and I walk in and are permitted to gaze upon this glorious assemblage—the American nobility—in its gayest environment. Wouldn’t it interest you to know that that very beautiful woman in the lavender creation, wrapped up in a billion-dollar pearl necklace, is the famous Mrs. Bollington-Jones, who holds the divorce championship of South Dakota, and that those two chaps who are talking to her so vivaciously are two of her ex-husbands, Van Bibber Beaconhill and ‘Tommy’ Fitz Greenwich? Wouldn’t it interest you more than any horse in the ring to know that her gown was turned out at Mrs. Robert Bluefern’s Dud Studio at a cost of nine thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars, hat included? Yet the programme says never a word about these people. Every horse that trots in has a number so that you can tell who and what and why he is, but there are no placards on Mrs. Bollington-Jones by which she may be identified.
“Then on the promenade, there is Hooker Van Winkle. He’s out on bail for killing a farmer with his automobile up in Connecticut somewhere. There is young Walston Addlepate, whose father pays him a salary of twenty-five thousand dollars a year for keeping out of business. There’s Jimson Gooseberry, the cotillon leader, whose name is on every lip during the season. Approaching you, dressed in gorgeous furs, is Mrs. Dinningforth Winter, who declined to meet Prince Henry when he was here, because of a previous engagement to dine with Tolby Robinson’s pet monkey just in from a cruise in the Indies. And so it goes. The place fairly shrieks with celebrities whose names appear in the Social Register, and whose photographs in pink and green are the stock in trade of the Sunday newspapers of saffron tendencies everywhere—but what is done about it? Nothing at all. They come and go, conspicuous but unidentified, and wasting their notoriety on the desert air. It is a magnificent opportunity wasted, and, unless you happen to know these people by sight, you miss a thousand and one little points which are the sine qua non of the show.”
“I wonder you don’t write another Baedeker,” said the Bibliomaniac—”The Idiot’s Hand-book to the Horse Show, or Who’s Who at the Garden.”
“It would be a good idea,” said the Idiot. “But the show people must take the initiative. The whole thing needs a live manager.”
“A sort of Ward MacAllister again?” asked Mr. Brief.
“No, not exactly,” said the Idiot. “Society has plenty of successors to Ward MacAllister. What they seem to me to need most is a P. T. Barnum. A man like that could make society a veritable Klondike, and with the Horse Show as a nucleus he wouldn’t have much trouble getting the thing started along.”
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