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WELL, I see the Ideal Husband has broken out again,” said the Idiot, after reading a short essay on that interesting but rare individual by Gladys Waterbury Shrivelton of the Woman’s Page of the Squehawkett Gazoo. “I’d hoped they had him locked up for good, he’s been so little in evidence of late years.”
“Why should you wish so estimable an individual to be locked up?” demanded Mr. Pedagog, who, somehow or other, seemed to take the Idiot’s suggestion as personal.
“To keep his idealness from being shattered,” said the Idiot. “Nothing against the gentleman himself, I can assure you. It would be a pity, I think, once you have really found an Ideal Husband, to subject him to the coarse influences of the world; to let him go forth into the madding crowd and have the sweet idyllic bloom rubbed off by the attritions of the vulgar. I feel about the Ideal Husband just as I do about a beautiful peachblow vase which is too fragile, too delicate to be brought into contact with the ordinary earthen-ware of society. The earthen-ware isn’t harmed by bumping into the peachblow, but the peachblow will inevitably turn up with a crack here and a nick there and a hole somewhere else after such an encounter. If I were a woman and suddenly discovered that I had an Ideal Husband, I think at my personal sacrifice I’d present him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or immure him in some other retreat where his perfection would remain forever secure—say, up among the Egyptian mummies of the British Museum. We cannot be too careful, Mr. Pedagog, of these rarely beautiful things that are now and again vouchsafed to us.”
“What is an Ideal Husband, anyhow?” asked Mr. Brief. “Has the recipe for such an individual at last been discovered?”
“Yes,” put in Mrs. Pedagog, before the Idiot had a chance to reply, and here the dear old landlady fixed her eyes firmly and affectionately upon her spouse, the school-master. “I can tell you the recipe for the Ideal Husband. Years, sixty-three—”
“Sixty-two, my dear,” smiled Mr. Pedagog, “and—er—a fraction—verging on sixty-three.”
“Years, verging on sixty-three,” said Mrs. Pedagog, accepting the correction. “Character developed by time and made secure. Eyes, blue; disposition when vexed, vexatious; disposition when pleased, happy; irritable from just cause; considerate always; calm exterior, heart of gold; prompt in anger and quick in forgiveness; and only one old woman in the world for him.”
“A trifle bald-headed, but a true friend when needed, eh?” said the Idiot.
“I try to be,” said Mr. Pedagog, pleasantly complacent.
“Well, you succeed in both,” said the Idiot.
“For your trifling baldness is evident when you remove your hat, which, like a true gentleman, you never fail to do at the breakfast-table, and, after a fifteen years’ experience with you, I for one can say that I have found you always the true friend when I needed you—I never told how, without my solicitation and entirely upon your own initiative, you once loaned me the money to pay Mrs. Pedagog’s bill over which she was becoming anxious.”
“John,” cried Mrs. Pedagog, severely, “did you ever do that?”
“Well, my dear—er—only once, you know, and you were so relieved—” began Mr. Pedagog.
“You should have lent the money to me, John,” said Mrs. Pedagog, “and then I should not have been compelled to dun the Idiot.”
“I know, my dear, but you see I knew the Idiot would pay me back, and perhaps—well, only perhaps, my love—you might not have thought of it,” explained the school-master, with a slight show of embarrassment.
“The Ideal Husband is ever truthful, too,” said the landlady, with a smile as broad as any.
“Well, it’s too bad, I think,” said the Lawyer, “that a man has to be verging on sixty-three to be an Ideal Husband. I’m only forty-four, and I should hate to think that if I should happen to get married within the next two or three years my wife would have to wait at least fifteen years before she could find me all that I ought to be. Moreover, I have been told that I have black eyes.”
“With the unerring precision of a trained legal mind,” said the Idiot, “you have unwittingly put your finger on the crux of the whole matter, Mr. Brief. Mrs. Pedagog has been describing her Ideal Husband, and I am delighted to know that what I have always suspected to be the case is in fact the truth: that her husband in her eyes is an ideal one. That’s the way it ought to be, and that is why we have always found her the sweetest of landladies, but because Mrs. Pedagog prefers Mr. Pedagog in this race for supremacy in the domain of a woman’s heart is no reason why you who are only bald-headed in your temper, like most of us, should not prove to be equally the ideal of some other woman—in fact, of several others. Women are not all alike. As a matter of fact, a gentleman named Balzac, who was the Marie Corelli of his age in France, once committed himself to the inference that no two women ever were alike, so that, if you grant the truth of old Balzac’s inference, the Ideal Husband will probably vary to the extent of the latest count of the number of women in the world. So why give up hope because you are only forty-nine?”
“Forty-four,” corrected the Lawyer.
“Pardon me—forty-four,” said the Idiot. “When you are in the roaring forties, five or six years more or less do not really count. Lots of men who are really only forty-two behave like sixty, and I know one old duffer of forty-nine who has the manners of eighteen. The age question does not really count.”
“No—you are proof of that,” said the Bibliomaniac. “You have been twenty-four years old for the last fifteen years.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bib,” said the Idiot. “You are one of the few people in the world who really understand me. I have tried to be twenty-four for the past fifteen years, and if I have succeeded, so much the better for me. It’s a beautiful age. You feel that you know so much when you’re twenty-four. If it should turn out to be the answer to ‘How old is Ann?’ the lady should be congratulated. But, as a matter of fact, you can be an Ideal Husband at any old age.”
“Humph! At seven, for instance?” drawled Mr. Brief.
“Seven is not any old age,” retorted the Idiot. “It is a very certain old youth. Nor does it depend upon the color of the eyes, so long as they are neither green nor red. Nobody could ever make an Ideal Husband out of a green-eyed man, or a chap given to the red eye, either—”
“It all depends upon the kind of a man you are, eh?” said the Bibliomaniac.
“Not a bit of it,” said the Idiot. “It depends on the kind of wife you’ve got, and that’s why I say that the Ideal Husband varies to the extent of the latest count of the women in the world. Take the case of Mr. Pedagog here. Mrs. Pedagog accuses him of being an Ideal Husband, and he, without any attempt at evasion, acknowledges the corn, like the honorable gentleman he is. But can you imagine Mr. Pedagog being an Ideal Husband to some lady in the Four Hundred, with a taste for grand opera that strikes only on the box; with a love for Paris gowns that are worth a fortune; with the midnight supper and cotillion after habit firmly intrenched in her character; with an ambition to shine all summer at Newport, all autumn at Lenox, all winter at New York, with a dash to England and France in the merry, merry springtime? Do you suppose our friend John Pedagog here would be in it with Tommie Goldilocks Van Varick as the Ideal Husband of such a woman? Not on your life. Well, then, take Tommie Goldilocks Van Varick, who’d be the Ideal Spouse of this brilliant social light Mrs. Van Varick. How would he suit Mrs. Pedagog, rising at eleven-thirty every day and yelling like mad for the little blue bottle which clears the head from the left-over cobwebs of yesterday; eating his egg and drinking his coffee with a furrow in his brow almost as deep as the pallor of his cheek, and now and then making a most awful grimace because the interior of his mouth feels like a bargain day at the fur-counter of a department store; spending his afternoon sitting in the window of the Hunky Dory Club ogling the passers-by and making bets on such important questions as whether more hansoms pass up the Avenue than down, or whether the proportion of red-haired girls to white horses is as great between three and four P.M. as between five and six—”
“I don’t see how a woman could stand a man like that,” said Mrs. Pedagog. “Indeed, I don’t see where his ideal qualities come in, anyhow, Mr. Idiot. I think you are wrong in putting him among the Ideal Husbands even for Mrs. Van Varick.”
“No, I am not wrong, for he is indeed the very essence of her ideal because he doesn’t make her stand him,” said the Idiot. “He never bothers Mrs. Van Varick at all. On the first of every month he sends her a check for a good round sum with which she can pay her bills. He presents her with a town house and a country house, and a Limousine car, and all the furs she can possibly want; provides her with an opera-box, and never fails, when he himself goes to the opera, to call upon her and pay his respects like a gentleman. If she sustains heavy losses at bridge, he makes them good, and when she gives a dinner to her set, or to some distinguished social lion from other zoos, Van Varick is always on hand to do the honors of his house, and what is supposed to be his table. He and Mrs. Van Varick are on the most excellent terms; in fact, he treats her with more respect than he does any other woman he knows, never even suggesting the idea of a flirtation with her. In other words, he does not interfere with her in any way, which is the only kind of man in the world she could be happy with.”
“It’s perfectly awful!” cried Mrs. Pedagog. “If they never see each other, what on earth did they ever get married for?”
“Protection,” said the Idiot. “And it is perfectly splendid in its results. Mrs. Van Varick, being married to so considerate an absentee, is able to go about very much as she pleases backed with the influence and affluence of the Van Varick name. This as plain little Miss Floyd Poselthwaite she was unable to do. She has now an assured position, and is protected against the chance of marrying a man who, unlike Van Varick, would growl at her expenditures, object to her friends, and insist upon coming home to dinner every night, and occasionally turn up at breakfast.”
“Sweet life,” said the Bibliomaniac. “And what does the Willieboy husband get out of it?”
“Pride, protection, and freedom,” said the Idiot. “He’s as proud as Punch when he sees Mrs. Van V. swelling about town with her name kept as standing matter in every society column in the country. His freedom he enjoys, just as she enjoys hers. If he doesn’t turn up for six weeks she never asks any questions, and so Van Varick can live on easy terms with the truth. If he sits up all night over a game of cards, there’s nobody to chide him for doing so, and—”
“But where does his protection come in? That’s what I can’t see,” said the Bibliomaniac.
“It’s as plain as a pike-staff,” said the Idiot. “With Mrs. Van Varick on the tapis, Tommie is safe from designing ladies who might marry him for his money.”
“Well, he’s a mighty poor ideal!” cried Mr. Pedagog.
“He certainly would not do for Mrs. Pedagog,” said the Idiot. “But you would yourself be no better for Mrs. Van Varick. The red Indian makes an Ideal Husband for the squaw, but he’d never suit a daughter of the British nobility any more than the Duke of Lacklands would make a good husband for dusky little Minnehaha. So I say what’s the use of discussing the matter any further with the purpose of arbitrarily settling on what it is that constitutes an Ideal Husband? We may all hope to be considered such if we only find the girl that likes our particular kind.”
“Then,” said Mr. Brief, with a smile, “your advice to me is not to despair, eh?”
“That’s it,” said the Idiot. “I wouldn’t give up, if I were you. There’s no telling when some one will come along to whom you appear to be the perfect creature.”
“Good!” cried Mr. Brief. “You are mighty kind. I don’t suppose you can give me a hint as to how soon I may expect to meet the lady?”
“Well—no, I can’t,” said the Idiot. “I don’t believe even Edison could tell you about when to look for arrivals from Mars.”
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