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FOR some weeks after the happy event which transformed the popular Mrs. Smithers into the charming Mrs. John Pedagog all went well at that lady's select home for single gentlemen. It was only proper that during the honey-moon, at least, of the happy couple hostilities between the Idiot and his fellow-boarders should cease. It was expecting too much of mankind, however, to look for a continued armistice, and the morning arrived when Nature once more reasserted herself, and trouble began. Just what it was that prompted the remark no one knows, but it happened that the Idiot did say that he thought that, after all, life on a canal-boat had its advantages. Mr. Pedagog, who had come into the dining-room in a slightly irritable frame of mind, induced perhaps by Mrs. Pedagog's insistence that as he was now part proprietor of the house he should be a little more prompt in making his contributions towards its maintenance, chose to take the remark as implying a reflection upon the way things were managed in the household.
"Humph!" he said. I had hoped that your habit of airing your idiotic views had been put aside for once and for all."
"Very absurd hope, my dear sir," observed the Idiot. "Views that are not aired become musty. Why shouldn't I give them an atmospheric opportunity once in a while?"
"Because they are the sort of views to which suffocation is the most appropriate end," snapped the School-Master. "Any man who asserts, as you have asserted, that life on a canal-boat has its advantages, ought to go further, and prove his sincerity by living on one."
"I can't afford it," said the Idiot, meekly. "It isn't cheap by any manner of means. In the first place, you can't live happily on a canal-boat unless you can afford to keep horses. In fact, canal-boat life is a combination of the most expensive luxuries, since it combines yachting and driving with domesticity. Nevertheless, if you will put your mind on it, you will find that with a canal-boat for your home you can do a great many things that you can't do with a house."
"I decline to put my mind on a canal-boat," said Mr. Pedagog, sharply, passing his coffee back to Mrs. Pedagog for another lump of sugar, thereby contributing to that good lady's discomfiture, since before their marriage the mere fact that the coffee had been poured by her fair hand had given it all the sweetness it needed; or at least that was what the School-Master had said, and more than once at that.
"You are under no obligation to do so," the Idiot returned. "Though if I had a mind like yours I'd put it on a canal-boat and have it towed away somewhere out of sight. These other gentlemen, however, I think, will agree with me when I say that the mere fact that a canal-boat can be moved about the country, and is in no sense a fixture anywhere, shows that as a dwelling-place it is superior to a house. Take this house, for instance. This neighborhood used to be the best in town. It is still far from being the worst neighborhood in town, but it is, as it has been for several years, deteriorating. The establishment of a Turkish bath on one corner and a grocery-store on the other has taken away much of that air of refinement which characterized it when the block was devoted to residential purposes entirely. Now just suppose for a moment that this street were a canal, and that this house were a canal-boat. The canal could run down as much as it pleased, the neighborhood could deteriorate eternally, but it could not affect the value of this house as the home of refined people as long as it was possible to hitch up a team of horses to the front stoop and tow it into a better locality. I'd like to wager every man at this table that Mrs. Pedagog wouldn't take five minutes to make up her mind to tow this house up to a spot near Central Park, if it were a canal-boat and the streets were water instead of a mixture of water, sand, and Belgian blocks."
"No takers," said the Bibliomaniac.
"Tutt-tutt-tutt," ejaculated Mr. Pedagog.
THE NUISANCE OF HAVING TO PAY
"You seem to lose sight of another fact," said the Idiot, warming up to his subject. "If man had had the sense in the beginning to adopt the canal-boat system of life, and we were used to that sort of thing, it would not be so hard upon us in summer-time, when we have to live in hotels in order that we and our families may reap the benefits of a period of country life. We could simply drive off to that section of the country where we desired to be. Hotels would not be needed if a man could take his house along with him into the fields, and one phase of life which has more bad than good in it would be entirely obliterated. There is nothing more disturbing to the serenity of a domestic man's mind than the artificial manner of living that prevails in most summer hotels. The nuisance of having to pay bills every Monday morning under the penalty of losing one's luggage would be obviated, and all the comforts of home would be directly within reach. The trouble incident upon getting the trunks packed and the children ready for a long day's journey by rail, and the fatigue arising from such a journey, would be reduced to a minimum. The troubles attendant upon going into a far country, and leaving one's house in the sole charge of a lot of servants for a month or two every year, would be done away with entirely; and if at any time it became necessary to discharge one of these servants, she could be put off the boat in an instant, and then the boat could be pushed out into the middle of the canal, so that the discharged domestic could not possibly get aboard again and take her revenge by smashing your crockery and fixtures. That is one of the worst features of living in a stationary house. You are entirely at the mercy of vindictive servants. They know precisely where you live, and you cannot escape them. They can come back when there is no man around, and raise several varieties of Ned with your wife and children. With a movable house, such as the canal-boat would be, you could always go off and leave your family in perfect safety."
"How about safety in a storm?" asked the Bibliomaniac.
"Safety in a storm?" echoed the Idiot. "That seems an absurd sort of a question to one who knows anything about canal-boats. I, for one, never heard of a canal-boat being seriously damaged in a storm as long as it was anchored in the canal proper. It certainly isn't any more dangerous to be in a canal-boat in a storm than it is to be in a house that offers resistance to the winds, and is shaken from roof to cellar at every blast. More houses have been blown from their foundations than canal-boats sunk, provided ordinary care has been taken to protect them."
"And you think the canal-boat would be healthy?" asked the Doctor. "How about dampness and all that?"
"That is a professional question," returned the Idiot, "which I think you could answer better than I. I don't see why a canal-boat shouldn't be healthy, however. The dampness would not amount to very much. It would be outside of one's dwelling, and not within it, as is the case with so many houses. A canal-boat having no cellar could not have a damp one, and if by some untoward circumstance it should spring a leak, the water could be pumped out at once and the leak plugged up. However this might be, I'll offer another wager to this board on that point, and that is that more people die in houses than on canal-boats."
"We'd rather give you our money right out," retorted the Doctor.
"Thank you," said the Idiot. "But I don't need money. I don't like money. Money is responsible for more extravagance than any other commodity in existence. Besides, it and I are not intimate enough to get along very well together, and when I have any I immediately do my level best to rid myself of it. But to return to our canal-boat. I note a look of disapproval in Mr. Whitechoker's eyes. He doesn't seem to think any more of my scheme than do the rest of you — which I regret, since I believe that he would be the gainer if land edifices were supplanted by the canal system as proposed by myself. Take church on a rainy morning, for instance. A great many people stay at home from church on rainy mornings just because they do not want to venture out in the wet. Suppose we all lived in canal-boats? Would not people be deprived of this flimsy pretext for staying at home if their homes could be towed up to the church door? Or, better yet, granting that the churches followed out the same plan, and were themselves constructed like canal-boats, how easy it would be for the sexton to drive the church around the town and collect the absentees. In the same manner it would be glorious for men like ourselves, who have to go to their daily toil. For a consideration, Mrs. Pedagog could have us driven to our various places of business every morning, returning for us in the evening. Think how fine it would be for me, for instance, instead of having to come home every night in an overcrowded elevated train or on a cable-car, to have the office-boy come and announce, 'Mrs. Pedagog's Select Home for Gentlemen is at the door, Mr. Idiot.' I could step right out of my office into my charming little bedroom up in the bow, and the time usually expended on the cars could be devoted to dressing for tea. Then we could stop in at the court-house for our legal friend; and as for Doctor Capsule, wouldn't he revel in driving this boarding-house about town on his daily rounds among his patients?"
SHE COULD NOT POSSIBLY GET ABOARD AGAIN
"What would become of my office hours?" asked the Doctor. "If this house were whirling giddily all about the city from morning until night, I don't know what would become of my office patients."
"They might die a little sooner or live a little longer, that is all," said the Idiot. "If they weren't able to find the house at all, however, I think it would be better for us, for much as I admire you, Doctor, I think your office hours are a nuisance to the rest of us. I had to elbow my way out of the house this morning between a double line of sufferers from mumps and influenza, and other pleasingly afflicted patients of yours, and I didn't like it very much."
"I don't believe they liked it much either," returned the Doctor. "One man with a sprained ankle told me about you. You shoved him in passing."
"Well, you can apologize to him in my behalf," returned the Idiot; "but you might add that he must expect very much the same treatment whenever he and a boy with mumps stand between me and the door. Sprained ankles aren't contagious, and I preferred shoving him to the other alternative."
The Doctor was silent, and the Idiot rose to go. "Where will the house be this evening about six-thirty, Mrs. Pedagog?" he asked, as he pushed his chair back from the table.
"Where? Why, here, of course," returned the landlady.
"Why, yes — of course," observed the Idiot, with an impatient gesture. "How foolish of me! I've really been so wrapped up in my canal-boat ideal that I came to believe that it might possibly be real and not a dream, after all. I almost believed that perhaps I should find that the house had been towed somewhere up into Westchester County on my return, so that we might all escape the city's tax on personal property, which I am told is unusually high this year."
With which sadly the Idiot kissed his hand to Mr. Pedagog and retired from the scene.