"Well, why should you have read them?" snarled Carlyle. "They were written after you moved over here, and they were good stuff. You needn't think because you quit, the whole world put up its shutters and went out of business. I did a few things myself which I fancy you never heard of."
"Oh, as for that," retorted Doctor Johnson, with a smile, "I've heard of you; you are the man who wrote the life of Frederick the Great in nine hundred and two volumes—"
"Seven!" snapped Carlyle.
"Well, seven then," returned Johnson. "I never saw the work, but I heard Frederick speaking of it the other day. Bonaparte asked him if he had read it, and Frederick said no, he hadn't time. Bonaparte cried, 'Haven't time? Why, my dear king, you've got all eternity.' 'I know it,' replied Frederick, 'but that isn't enough. Read a page or two, my dear Napoleon, and you'll see why.'"
"Frederick will have his joke," said Shakespeare, with a wink at Tennyson and a smile for the two philosophers, intended, no doubt, to put them in a more agreeable frame of mind. "Why, he even asked me the other day why I never wrote a tragedy about him, completely ignoring the fact that he came along many years after I had departed. I spoke of that, and he said, 'Oh, I was only joking.' I apologized. 'I didn't know that,' said I. 'And why should you?' said he. 'You're English.'"
"A very rude remark," said Johnson. "As if we English were incapable of seeing a joke!"
"Exactly," put in Carlyle. "It strikes me as the absurdest notion that the Englishman can't see a joke. To the mind that is accustomed to snap judgments I have no doubt the Englishman appears to be dull of apprehension, but the philosophy of the whole matter is apparent to the mind that takes the trouble to investigate. The Briton weighs everything carefully before he commits himself, and even though a certain point may strike him as funny, he isn't going to laugh until he has fully made up his mind that it is funny. I remember once riding down Piccadilly with Froude in a hansom cab. Froude had a copy of Punch in his hand, and he began to laugh immoderately over something. I leaned over his shoulder to see what he was laughing at. 'That isn't so funny,' said I, as I read the paragraph on which his eye was resting. 'No,' said Froude. 'I wasn't laughing at that. I was enjoying the joke that appeared in the same relative position in last week's issue.' Now that's the point—the whole point. The Englishman always laughs over last week's Punch, not this week's, and that is why you will find a file of that interesting journal in the home of all well-to-do Britons. It is the back number that amuses him—which merely proves that he is a deliberative person who weighs even his humor carefully before giving way to his emotions."
"What is the average weight of a copy of Punch?" drawled Artemas Ward, who had strolled in during the latter part of the conversation.
Shakespeare snickered quietly, but Carlyle and Johnson looked upon the intruder severely.
"We will take that question into consideration," said Carlyle. "Perhaps to-morrow we shall have a definite answer ready for you."
"Never mind," returned the humorist. "You've proved your point. Tennyson tells me you find life here dull, Shakespeare."
"Somewhat," said Shakespeare. "I don't know about the rest of you fellows, but I was not cut out for an eternity of ease. I must have occupation, and the stage isn't popular here. The trouble about putting on a play here is that our managers are afraid of libel suits. The chances are that if I should write a play with Cassius as the hero, Cassius would go to the first night's performance with a dagger concealed in his toga, with which to punctuate his objections to the lines put in his mouth. There is nothing I'd like better than to manage a theatre in this place, but think of the riots we'd have! Suppose, for an instant, that I wrote a play about Bonaparte! He'd have a box, and when the rest of you spooks called for the author at the end of the third act, if he didn't happen to like the play he'd greet me with a salvo of artillery instead of applause."
"He wouldn't if you made him out a great conqueror from start to finish," said Tennyson.
"No doubt," returned Shakespeare, sadly; "but in that event Wellington would be in the other stage-box, and I'd get the greeting from him."
"Why come out at all?" asked Johnson.
"Why come out at all?" echoed Shakespeare. "What fun is there in writing a play if you can't come out and show yourself at the first night? That's the author's reward. If it wasn't for the first-night business, though, all would be plain sailing."
"Then why don't you begin it the second night?" drawled Ward.
"How the deuce could you?" put in Carlyle.
"A most extraordinary proposition," sneered Johnson.
"Yes," said Ward; "but wait a week—you'll see the point then."
"There isn't any doubt in my mind," said Shakespeare, reverting to his original proposition, "that the only perfectly satisfactory life is under a system not yet adopted in either world—the one we have quitted or this. There we had hard work in which our mortal limitations hampered us grievously; here we have the freedom of the immortal with no hard work; in other words, now that we feel like fighting-cocks, there isn't any fighting to be done. The great life in my estimation, would be to return to earth and battle with mortal problems, but equipped mentally and physically with immortal weapons."
"Some people don't know when they are well off," said Beau Brummel. "This strikes me as being an ideal life. There are no tailors bills to pay—we are ourselves nothing but memories, and a memory can clothe himself in the shadow of his former grandeur—I clothe myself in the remembrance of my departed clothes, and as my memory is good I flatter myself I'm the best-dressed man here. The fact that there are ghosts of departed unpaid bills haunting my bedside at night doesn't bother me in the least, because the bailiffs that in the old life lent terror to an overdue account, thanks to our beneficent system here, are kept in the less agreeable sections of Hades. I used to regret that bailiffs were such low people, but now I rejoice at it. If they had been of a different order they might have proven unpleasant here."
"You are right, my dear Brummel," interposed Munchausen. "This life is far preferable to that in the other sphere. Any of you gentlemen who happen to have had the pleasure of reading my memoirs must have been struck with the tremendous difficulties that encumbered my progress. If I wished for a rare liqueur for my luncheon, a liqueur served only at the table of an Oriental potentate, more jealous of it than of his one thousand queens, I had to raise armies, charter ships, and wage warfare in which feats of incredible valor had to be performed by myself alone and unaided to secure the desired thimbleful. I have destroyed empires for a bon-bon at great expense of nervous energy."
"That's very likely true," said Carlyle. "I should think your feats of strength would have wrecked your imagination in time."
"Not so," said Munchausen. "On the contrary, continuous exercise served only to make it stronger. But, as I was going to say, in this life we have none of these fearful obstacles—it is a life of leisure; and if I want a bird and a cold bottle at any time, instead of placing my life in peril and jeopardizing the peace of all mankind to get it, I have only to summon before me the memory of some previous bird and cold bottle, dine thereon like a well-ordered citizen, and smoke the spirit of the best cigar my imagination can conjure up."
"You miss my point," said Shakespeare. "I don't say this life is worse or better than the other we used to live. What I do say is that a combination of both would suit me. In short, I'd like to live here and go to the other world every day to business, like a suburban resident who sleeps in the country and makes his living in the city. For instance, why shouldn't I dwell here and go to London every day, hire an office there, and put out a sign something like this:
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE DRAMATIST
Plays written while you wait
I guess I'd find plenty to do."
"Guess again," said Tennyson. "My dear boy, you forget one thing. You are out of date. People don't go to the theatres to hear you, they go to see the people who do you."
"That is true," said Ward. "And they do do you, my beloved William. It's a wonder to me you are not dizzy turning over in your grave the way they do you."
"Can it be that I can ever be out of date?" asked Shakespeare. "I know, of course, that I have to be adapted at times; but to be wholly out of date strikes me as a hard fate."
"You're not out of date," interposed Carlyle; "the date is out of you. There is a great demand for Shakespeare in these days, but there isn't any stuff."
"Then I should succeed," said Shakespeare.
"No, I don't think so," returned Carlyle. "You couldn't stand the pace. The world revolves faster to-day than it did in your time—men write three or four plays at once. This is what you might call a Type-writer Age, and to keep up with the procession you'd have to work as you never worked before."
"That is true," observed Tennyson. "You'd have to learn to be ambidextrous, so that you could keep two type-writing machines going at once; and, to be perfectly frank with you, I cannot even conjure up in my fancy a picture of you knocking out a tragedy with the right hand on one machine, while your left hand is fashioning a farce-comedy on another."
"He might do as a great many modern writers do," said Ward; "go in for the Paper-doll Drama. Cut the whole thing out with a pair of scissors. As the poet might have said if he'd been clever enough:
Oh, bring me the scissors, And bring me the glue, And a couple of dozen old plays. I'll cut out and paste A drama for you That'll run for quite sixty-two days.
Oh, bring me a dress Made of satin and lace, And a book—say Joe Miller's—of wit; And I'll make the old dramatists Blue in the face With the play that I'll turn out for it.
So bring me the scissors, And bring me the paste, And a dozen fine old comedies; A fine line of dresses, And popular taste I'll make a strong effort to please.
"You draw a very blue picture, it seems to me," said Shakespeare, sadly.
"Well, it's true," said Carlyle. "The world isn't at all what it used to be in any one respect, and you fellows who made great reputations centuries ago wouldn't have even the ghost of a show now. I don't believe Homer could get a poem accepted by a modern magazine, and while the comic papers are still printing Diogenes' jokes the old gentleman couldn't make enough out of them in these days to pay taxes on his tub, let alone earning his bread."
"That is exactly so," said Tennyson. "I'd be willing to wager too that, in the line of personal prowess, even D'Artagnan and Athos and Porthos and Aramis couldn't stand London for one day."
"Or New York either," said Mr. Barnum, who had been an interested listener. "A New York policeman could have managed that quartet with one hand."
"Then," said Shakespeare, "in the opinion of you gentlemen, we old-time lions would appear to modern eyes to be more or less stuffed?"
"That's about the size of it," said Carlyle.
"But you'd draw," said Barnum, his face lighting up with pleasure. "You'd drive a five-legged calf to suicide from envy. If I could take you and Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte and Nero over for one circus season we'd drive the mint out of business."
"There's your chance, William," said Ward. "You write a play for Bonaparte and Caesar, and let Nero take his fiddle and be the orchestra. Under Barnum's management you'd get enough activity in one season to last you through all eternity."
"You can count on me," said Barnum, rising. "Let me know when you've got your plan laid out. I'd stay and make a contract with you now, but Adam has promised to give me points on the management of wild animals without cages, so I can't wait. By-by."
"Humph!" said Shakespeare, as the eminent showman passed out. "That's a gay proposition. When monkeys move in polite society William Shakespeare will make a side-show of himself for a circus."
"They do now," said Thackeray, quietly.
Which merely proved that Shakespeare did not mean what he said; for in spite of Thackeray's insinuation as to the monkeys and polite society, he has not yet accepted the Barnum proposition, though there can be no doubt of its value from the point of view of a circus manager.
CHAPTER IX: AS TO COOKERY AND SCULPTURE
Robert Burns and Homer were seated at a small table in the dining-room of the house-boat, discussing everything in general and the shade of a very excellent luncheon in particular.
"We are in great luck to-day," said Burns, as he cut a ruddy duck in twain. "This bird is done just right."
"I agree with you," returned Homer, drawing his chair a trifle closer to the table. "Compared to the one we had here last Thursday, this is a feast for the gods. I wonder who it was that cooked this fowl originally?"
"I give it up; but I suspect it was done by some man who knew his business," said Burns, with a smack of his lips. "It's a pity, I think, my dear Homer, that there is no means by which a cook may become immortal. Cooking is as much of an art as is the writing of poetry, and just as there are immortal poets so there should be immortal cooks. See what an advantage the poet has—he writes something, it goes out and reaches the inmost soul of the man who reads it, and it is signed. His work is known because he puts his name to it; but this poor devil of a cook—where is he? He has done his work as well as the poet ever did his, it has reached the inmost soul of the mortal who originally ate it, but he cannot get the glory of it because he cannot put his name to it. If the cook could sign his work it would be different."
"You have hit upon a great truth," said Homer, nodding, as he sometimes was wont to do. "And yet I fear that, ingenious as we are, we cannot devise a plan to remedy the matter. I do not know about you, but I should myself much object if my birds and my flapjacks, and other things, digestible and otherwise, that I eat here were served with the cook's name written upon them. An omelette is sometimes a picture—"
"I've seen omelettes that looked like one of Turner's sunsets," acquiesced Burns.
"Precisely; and when Turner puts down in one corner of his canvas, 'Turner, fecit,' you do not object, but if the cook did that with the omelette you wouldn't like it."
"No," said Burns; "but he might fasten a tag to it, with his name written upon that."
"That is so," said Homer; "but the result in the end would be the same. The tags would get lost, or perhaps a careless waiter, dropping a tray full of dainties, would get the tags of a good and bad cook mixed in trying to restore the contents of the tray to their previous condition. The tag system would fail."
"There is but one other way that I can think of," said Burns, "and that would do no good now unless we can convey our ideas into the other world; that is, for a great poet to lend his genius to the great cook, and make the latter's name immortal by putting it into a poem. Say, for instance, that you had eaten a fine bit of terrapin, done to the most exquisite point—you could have asked the cook's name, and written an apostrophe to her. Something like this, for instance:
Oh, Dinah Rudd! oh, Dinah Rudd! Thou art a cook of bluest blood! Nowhere within This world of sin Have I e'er tasted better terrapin. Do you see?"
"I do; but even then, my dear fellow, the cook would fall short of true fame. Her excellence would be a mere matter of hearsay evidence," said Homer.
"Not if you went on to describe, in a keenly analytical manner, the virtues of that particular bit of terrapin," said Burns. "Draw so vivid a picture of the dish that the reader himself would taste that terrapin even as you tasted it."
"You have hit it!" cried Homer, enthusiastically. "It is a grand plan; but how to introduce it—that is the question."
"We can haunt some modern poet, and give him the idea in that way," suggested Burns. "He will see the novelty of it, and will possibly disseminate the idea as we wish it to be disseminated."
"Done!" said Homer. "I'll begin right away. I feel like haunting to- night. I'm getting to be a pretty old ghost, but I'll never lose my love of haunting."
At this point, as Homer spoke, a fine-looking spirit entered the room, and took a seat at the head of the long table at which the regular club dinner was nightly served.
"Why, bless me!" said Homer, his face lighting up with pleasure. "Why, Phidias, is that you?"
"I think so," said the new-comer, wearily; "at any rate, it's all that's left of me."
"Come over here and lunch with us," said Homer. "You know Burns, don't you?"
"Haven't the pleasure," said Phidias.
The poet and the sculptor were introduced, after which Phidias seated himself at Homer's side.
"Are you any relation to Burns the poet?" the former asked, addressing the Scotchman.
"I am Burns the poet," replied the other.
"You don't look much like your statues," said Phidias, scanning his face critically.
"No, thank the Fates!" said Burns, warmly. "If I did, I'd commit suicide."
"Why don't you sue the sculptors for libel?" asked Phidias.
"You speak with a great deal of feeling, Phidias," said Homer, gravely. "Have they done anything to hurt you?"
"They have," said Phidias. "I have just returned from a tour of the world. I have seen the things they call sculpture in these degenerate days, and I must confess—who shouldn't, perhaps—that I could have done better work with a baseball-bat for a chisel and putty for the raw material."
"I think I could do good work with a baseball-bat too," said Burns; "but as for the raw material, give me the heads of the men who have sculped me to work on. I'd leave them so that they'd look like some of your Parthenon frieze figures with the noses gone."
"You are a vindictive creature," said Homer. "These men you criticise, and whose heads you wish to sculp with a baseball-bat, have done more for you than you ever did for them. Every statue of you these men have made is a standing advertisement of your books, and it hasn't cost you a penny. There isn't a doubt in my mind that if it were not for those statues countless people would go to their graves supposing that the great Scottish Burns were little rivulets, and not a poet. What difference does it make to you if they haven't made an Adonis of you? You never set them an example by making one of yourself. If there's deception anywhere, it isn't you that is deceived; it is the mortals. And who cares about them or their opinions?"
"I never thought of it in that way," said Burns. "I hate caricatures—that is, caricatures of myself. I enjoy caricatures of other people, but—"
"You have a great deal of the mortal left in you, considering that you pose as an immortal," said Homer, interrupting the speaker.
"Well, so have I," said Phidias, resolved to stand by Burns in the argument, "and I'm sorry for the man who hasn't. I was a mortal once, and I'm glad of it. I had a good time, and I don't care who knows it. When I look about me and see Jupiter, the arch-snob of creation, and Mars, a little tin warrior who couldn't have fought a soldier like Napoleon, with all his alleged divinity, I thank the Fates that they enabled me to achieve immortality through mortal effort. Hang hereditary greatness, I say. These men were born immortals. You and I worked for it and got it. We know what it cost. It was ours because we earned it, and not because we were born to it. Eh, Burns?"
The Scotchman nodded assent, and the Greek sculptor went on.
"I am not vindictive myself, Homer," he said. "Nobody has hurt me, and, on the whole, I don't think sculpture is in such a bad way, after all. There's a shoemaker I wot of in the mortal realms who can turn the prettiest last you ever saw; and I encountered a carver in a London eating-house last month who turned out a slice of beef that was cut as artistically as I could have done it myself. What I object to chiefly is the tendency of the times. This is an electrical age, and men in my old profession aren't content to turn out one chef-d'oeuvre in a lifetime. They take orders by the gross. I waited upon inspiration. To-day the sculptor waits upon custom, and an artist will make a bust of anybody in any material desired as long as he is sure of getting his pay afterwards. I saw a life-size statue of the inventor of a new kind of lard the other day, and what do you suppose the material was? Gold? Not by a great deal. Ivory? Marble, even? Not a bit of it. He was done in lard, sir. I have seen a woman's head done in butter, too, and it makes me distinctly weary to think that my art should be brought so low."
"You did your best work in Greece," chuckled Homer.
"A bad joke, my dear Homer," retorted Phidias. "I thought sculpture was getting down to a pretty low ebb when I had to fashion friezes out of marble; but marble is more precious than rubies alongside of butter and lard."
"Each has its uses," said Homer. "I'd rather have butter on my bread than marble, but I must confess that for sculpture it is very poor stuff, as you say."
"It is indeed," said Phidias. "For practice it's all right to use butter, but for exhibition purposes—bah!"
Here Phidias, to show his contempt for butter as raw material in sculpture, seized a wooden toothpick, and with it modelled a beautiful head of Minerva out of the pat that stood upon the small plate at his side, and before Burns could interfere had spread the chaste figure as thinly as he could upon a piece of bread, which he tossed to the shade of a hungry dog that stood yelping on the river-bank.
"Heavens!" cried Burns. "Imperious Caesar dead and turned to bricks is as nothing to a Minerva carved by Phidias used to stay the hunger of a ravening cur."
"Well, it's the way I feel," said Phidias, savagely.
"I think you are a trifle foolish to be so eternally vexed about it," said Homer, soothingly. "Of course you feel badly, but, after all, what's the use? You must know that the mortals would pay more for one of your statues than they would for a specimen of any modern sculptor's art; yes, even if yours were modelled in wine-jelly and the other fellow's in pure gold. So why repine?"
"You'd feel the same way if poets did a similarly vulgar thing," retorted Phidias; "you know you would. If you should hear of a poet to-day writing a poem on a thin layer of lard or butter, you would yourself be the first to call a halt."
"No, I shouldn't," said Homer, quietly; "in fact, I wish the poets would do that. We'd have fewer bad poems to read; and that's the way you should look at it. I venture to say that if this modern plan of making busts and friezes in butter had been adopted at an earlier period, the public places in our great cities and our national Walhallas would seem less like repositories of comic art, since the first critical rays of a warm sun would have reduced the carven atrocities therein to a spot on the pavement. The butter school of sculpture has its advantages, my boy, and you should be crowning the inventor of the system with laurel, and not heaping coals of fire upon his brow."
"That," said Burns, "is, after all, the solid truth, Phidias. Take the brass caricatures of me, for instance. Where would they be now if they had been cast in lard instead of in bronze?"
Phidias was silent a moment.
"Well," he said, finally, as the value of the plan dawned upon his mind, "from that point of view I don't know but what you are right, after all; and, to show that I have spoken in no vindictive spirit, let me propose a toast. Here's to the Butter Sculptors. May their butter never give out."
The toast was drained to the dregs, and Phidias went home feeling a little better.
CHAPTER X: STORY-TELLERS' NIGHT
It was Story-tellers' Night at the house-boat, and the best talkers of Hades were impressed into the service. Doctor Johnson was made chairman of the evening.
"Put him in the chair," said Raleigh. "That's the only way to keep him from telling a story himself. If he starts in on a tale he'll make it a serial sure as fate, but if you make him the medium through which other story-tellers are introduced to the club he'll be finely epigrammatic. He can be very short and sharp when he's talking about somebody else. Personality is his forte."
"Great scheme," said Diogenes, who was chairman of the entertainment committee. "The nights over here are long, but if Johnson started on a story they'd have to reach twice around eternity and halfway back to give him time to finish all he had to say."
"He's not very witty, in my judgment," said Carlyle, who since his arrival in the other world has manifested some jealousy of Solomon and Doctor Johnson.
"That's true enough," said Raleigh; "but he's strong, and he's bound to say something that will put the audience in sympathy with the man that he introduces, and that's half the success of a Story-tellers' Night. I've told stories myself. If your audience doesn't sympathize with you you'd be better off at home putting the baby to bed."
And so it happened. Doctor Johnson was made chairman, and the evening came. The Doctor was in great form. A list of the story-tellers had been sent him in advance, and he was prepared. The audience was about as select a one as can be found in Hades. The doors were thrown open to the friends of the members, and the smoke-furnace had been filled with a very superior quality of Arcadian mixture which Scott had brought back from a haunting-trip to the home of "The Little Minister," at Thrums.
"Friends and fellow-spooks," the Doctor began, when all were seated on the visionary camp-stools—which, by the way, are far superior to those in use in a world of realities, because they do not creak in the midst of a fine point demanding absolute silence for appreciation—"I do not know why I have been chosen to preside over this gathering of phantoms; it is the province of the presiding officer on occasions of this sort to say pleasant things, which he does not necessarily endorse, about the sundry persons who are to do the story-telling. Now, I suppose you all know me pretty well by this time. If there is anybody who doesn't, I'll be glad to have him presented after the formal work of the evening is over, and if I don't like him I'll tell him so. You know that if I can be counted upon for any one thing it is candor, and if I hurt the feelings of any of these individuals whom I introduce to-night, I want them distinctly to understand that it is not because I love them less, but that I love truth more. With this—ah—blanket apology, as it were, to cover all possible emergencies that may arise during the evening, I will begin. The first speaker on the programme, I regret to observe, is my friend Goldsmith. Affairs of this kind ought to begin with a snap, and while Oliver is a most excellent writer, as a speaker he is a pebbleless Demosthenes. If I had had the arrangement of the programme I should have had Goldsmith tell his story while the rest of us were down-stairs at supper. However, we must abide by our programme, which is unconscionably long, for otherwise we will never get through it. Those of you who agree with me as to the pleasure of listening to my friend Goldsmith will do well to join me in the grill-room while he is speaking, where, I understand, there is a very fine line of punches ready to be served. Modest Noll, will you kindly inflict yourself upon the gathering, and send me word when you get through, if you ever do, so that I may return and present number two to the assembly, whoever or whatever he may be?"
With these words the Doctor retired, and poor Goldsmith, pale with fear, rose up to speak. It was evident that he was quite as doubtful of his ability as a talker as was Johnson.
"I'm not much of a talker, or, as some say, speaker," he said. "Talking is not my forte, as Doctor Johnson has told you, and I am therefore not much at it. Speaking is not in my line. I cannot speak or talk, as it were, because I am not particularly ready at the making of a speech, due partly to the fact that I am not much of a talker anyhow, and seldom if ever speak. I will therefore not bore you by attempting to speak, since a speech by one who like myself is, as you are possibly aware, not a fluent nor indeed in any sense an eloquent speaker, is apt to be a bore to those who will be kind enough to listen to my remarks, but will read instead the first five chapters of the Vicar of Wakefield."
"Who suggested any such night as this, anyhow?" growled Carlyle. "Five chapters of the Vicar of Wakefield for a starter! Lord save us, we'll need a Vicar of Sleepfield if he's allowed to do this!"
"I move we adjourn," said Darwin.
"Can't something be done to keep these younger members quiet?" asked Solomon, frowning upon Carlyle and Darwin.
"Yes," said Douglas Jerrold. "Let Goldsmith go on. He'll have them asleep in ten minutes."
Meanwhile, Goldsmith was plodding earnestly through his stint, utterly and happily oblivious of the effect he was having upon his audience.
"This is awful," whispered Wellington to Bonaparte.
"Worse than Waterloo," replied the ex-Emperor, with a grin; "but we can stop it in a minute. Artemas Ward told me once how a camp-meeting he attended in the West broke up to go outside and see a dog-fight. Can't you and I pretend to quarrel? A personal assault by you on me will wake these people up and discombobulate Goldsmith. Say the word—only don't hit too hard."
"I'm with you," said Wellington. Whereupon, with a great show of heat, he roared out, "You? Never! I'm more afraid of a boy with a bean-snapper that I ever was of you!" and followed up his remark by pulling Bonaparte's camp-chair from under him, and letting the conqueror of Austerlitz fall to the floor with a thud which I have since heard described as dull and sickening.
The effect was instantaneous. Compared to a personal encounter between the two great figures of Waterloo, a reading from his own works by Goldsmith seemed lacking in the elements essential to the holding of an audience. Consequently, attention was centred in the belligerent warriors, and, by some odd mistake, when a peace-loving member of the assemblage, realizing the indecorousness of the incident, cried out, "Put him out! put him out!" the attendants rushed in, and, taking poor Goldsmith by his collar, hustled him out through the door, across the deck, and tossed him ashore without reference to the gang-plank. This accomplished, a personal explanation of their course was made by the quarrelling generals, and, peace having been restored, a committee was sent in search of Goldsmith with suitable apologies. The good and kindly soul returned, but having lost his book in the melee, much to his own gratification, as well as to that of the audience, he was permitted to rest in quiet the balance of the evening.
"Is he through?" said Johnson, poking his head in at the door when order was restored.
"Yes, sir," said Boswell; "that is to say, he has retired permanently from the field. He didn't finish, though."
"Fellow-spooks," began Johnson once more, "now that you have been delighted with the honeyed eloquence of the last speaker, it is my privilege to present to you that eminent fabulist Baron Munchausen, the greatest unrealist of all time, who will give you an exhibition of his paradoxical power of lying while standing."
The applause which greeted the Baron was deafening. He was, beyond all doubt, one of the most popular members of the club.
"Speaking of whales," said he, leaning gracefully against the table.
"Nobody has mentioned 'em," said Johnson.
"True," retorted the Baron; "but you always suggest them by your apparently unquenchable thirst for spouting—speaking of whales, my friend Jonah, as well as the rest of you, may be interested to know that I once had an experience similar to his own, and, strange to say, with the identical whale."
Jonah arose from his seat in the back of the room. "I do not wish to be unpleasant," he said, with a strong effort to be calm, "but I wish to ask if Judge Blackstone is in the room."
"I am," said the Judge, rising. "What can I do for you?"
"I desire to apply for an injunction restraining the Baron from using my whale in his story. That whale, your honor, is copyrighted," said Jonah. "If I had any other claim to the affection of mankind than the one which is based on my experience with that leviathan, I would willingly permit the Baron to introduce him into his story; but that whale, your honor, is my stock in trade—he is my all."
"I think Jonah's point is well taken," said Blackstone, turning to the Baron. "It would be a distinct hardship, I think, if the plaintiff in this action were to be deprived of the exclusive use of his sole accessory. The injunction prayed for is therefore granted. The court would suggest, however, that the Baron continue with his story, using another whale for the purpose."
"It is impossible," said Munchausen, gloomily. "The whole point of the story depends upon its having been Jonah's whale. Under the circumstances, the only thing I can do is to sit down. I regret the narrowness of mind exhibited by my friend Jonah, but I must respect the decision of the court."
"I must take exception to the Baron's allusion to my narrowness of mind," said Jonah, with some show of heat. "I am simply defending my rights, and I intend to continue to do so if the whole world unites in considering my mind a mere slot scarcely wide enough for the insertion of a nickel. That whale was my discovery, and the personal discomfort I endured in perfecting my experience was such that I resolved to rest my reputation upon his broad proportions only—to sink or swim with him—and I cannot at this late day permit another to crowd me out of his exclusive use."
Jonah sat down and fanned himself, and the Baron, with a look of disgust on his face, left the room.
"Up to his old tricks," he growled as he went. "He queers everything he goes into. If I'd known he was a member of this club I'd never have joined."
"We do not appear to be progressing very rapidly," said Doctor Johnson, rising. "So far we have made two efforts to have stories told, and have met with disaster each time. I don't know but what you are to be congratulated, however, on your escape. Very few of you, I observe, have as yet fallen asleep. The next number on the programme, I see, is Boswell, who was to have entertained you with a few reminiscences; I say was to have done so, because he is not to do so."
"I'm ready," said Boswell, rising.
"No doubt," retorted Johnson, severely, "but I am not. You are a man with one subject—myself. I admit it's a good subject, but you are not the man to treat of it—here. You may suffice for mortals, but here it is different. I can speak for myself. You can go out and sit on the banks of the Vitriol Reservoir and lecture to the imps if you want to, but when it comes to reminiscences of me I'm on deck myself, and I flatter myself I remember what I said and did more accurately than you do. Therefore, gentlemen, instead of listening to Boswell at this point, you will kindly excuse him and listen to me. Ahem! When I was a boy—"
"Excuse me," said Solomon, rising; "about how long is this—ah—this entertaining discourse of yours to continue?"
"Until I get through," returned Johnson, wrathfully.
"Are you aware, sir, that I am on the programme?" asked Solomon.
"I am," said the Doctor. "With that in mind, for the sake of our fellow- spooks who are present, I am very much inclined to keep on forever. When I was a boy—"
Carlyle rose up at this point.
"I should like to ask," he said, mildly, "if this is supposed to be an audience of children? I, for one, have no wish to listen to the juvenile stories of Doctor Johnson. Furthermore, I have come here particularly to- night to hear Boswell. I want to compare him with Froude. I therefore protest against—"
"There is a roof to this house-boat," said Doctor Johnson. "If Mr. Carlyle will retire to the roof with Boswell I have no doubt he can be accommodated. As for Solomon's interruption, I can afford to pass that over with the silent contempt it deserves, though I may add with propriety that I consider his most famous proverbs the most absurd bits of hack-work I ever encountered; and as for that story about dividing a baby between two mothers by splitting it in two, it was grossly inhuman unless the baby was twins. When I was a boy—"
As the Doctor proceeded, Carlyle and Solomon, accompanied by the now angry Boswell, left the room, and my account of the Story-tellers' Night must perforce stop; because, though I have never heretofore confessed it, all my information concerning the house-boat on the Styx has been derived from the memoranda of Boswell. It may be interesting to the reader to learn, however, that, according to Boswell's account, the Story-tellers' Night was never finished; but whether this means that it broke up immediately afterwards in a riot, or that Doctor Johnson is still at work detailing his reminiscences, I am not aware, and I cannot at the moment of writing ascertain, for Boswell, when I have the pleasure of meeting him, invariably avoids the subject.
CHAPTER XI: AS TO SAURIANS AND OTHERS
It was Noah who spoke.
"I'm glad," he said, "that when I embarked at the time of the heavy rains that did so much damage in the old days, there weren't any dogs like that fellow Cerberus about. If I'd had to feed a lot of three-headed beasts like him the Ark would have run short of provisions inside of ten days."
"That's very likely true," observed Mr. Barnum; "but I must confess, my dear Noah, that you showed a lamentable lack of the showman's instinct when you selected the animals you did. A more commonplace lot of beasts were never gathered together, and while Adam is held responsible for the introduction of sin into the world, I attribute most of my offences to none other than yourself."
The members of the club drew their chairs a little closer. The conversation had opened a trifle spicily, and, furthermore, they had retained enough of their mortality to be interested in animal stories. Adam, who had managed to settle his back dues and delinquent house-charges, and once more acquired the privileges of the club, nodded his head gratefully at Mr. Barnum.
"I'm glad to find some one," said he, "who places the responsibility for trouble where it belongs. I'm round-shouldered with the blame I've had to bear. I didn't invent sin any more than I invented the telephone, and I think it's rather rough on a fellow who lived a quiet, retiring, pastoral life, minding his own business and staying home nights, to be held up to public reprobation for as long a time as I have."
"It'll be all right in time," said Raleigh; "just wait—be patient, and your vindication will come. Nobody thought much of the plays Bacon and I wrote for Shakespeare until Shakespeare 'd been dead a century."
"Humph!" said Adam, gloomily. "Wait! What have I been doing all this time? I've waited all the time there's been so far, and until Mr. Barnum spoke as he did I haven't observed the slightest inclination on the part of anybody to rehabilitate my lost reputation. Nor do I see exactly how it's to come about even if I do wait."
"You might apply for an investigating committee to look into the charges," suggested an American politician, just over. "Get your friends on it, and you'll be all right."
"Better let sleeping dogs lie," said Blackstone.
"I intend to," said Adam. "The fact is, I hate to give any further publicity to the matter. Even if I did bring the case into court and sue for libel, I've only got one witness to prove my innocence, and that's my wife. I'm not going to drag her into it. She's got nervous prostration over her position as it is, and this would make it worse. Queen Elizabeth and the rest of these snobs in society won't invite her to any of their functions because they say she hadn't any grandfather; and even if she were received by them, she'd be uncomfortable going about. It isn't pleasant for a woman to feel that every one knows she's the oldest woman in the room."
"Well, take my word for it," said Raleigh, kindly. "It'll all come out all right. You know the old saying, 'History repeats itself.' Some day you will be living back in Eden again, and if you are only careful to make an exact record of all you do, and have a notary present, before whom you can make an affidavit as to the facts, you will be able to demonstrate your innocence."
"I was only condemned on hearsay evidence, anyhow," said Adam, ruefully.
"Nonsense; you were caught red-handed," said Noah; "my grandfather told me so. And now that I've got a chance to slip in a word edgewise, I'd like mightily to have you explain your statement, Mr. Barnum, that I am responsible for your errors. That is a serious charge to bring against a man of my reputation."
"I mean simply this: that to make a show interesting," said Mr. Barnum, "a man has got to provide interesting materials, that's all. I do not mean to say a word that is in any way derogatory to your morality. You were a surprisingly good man for a sea-captain, and with the exception of that one occasion when you—ah—you allowed yourself to be stranded on the bar, if I may so put it, I know of nothing to be said against you as a moral, temperate person."
"That was only an accident," said Noah, reddening. "You can't expect a man six hundred odd years of age—"
"Certainly not," said Raleigh, soothingly, "and nobody thinks less of you for it. Considering how you must have hated the sight of water, the wonder of it is that it didn't become a fixed habit. Let us hear what it is that Mr. Barnum does criticise in you."
"His taste, that's all," said Mr. Barnum. "I contend that, compared to the animals he might have had, the ones he did have were as ant-hills to Alps. There were more magnificent zoos allowed to die out through Noah's lack of judgment than one likes to think of. Take the Proterosaurus, for instance. Where on earth do we find his equal to-day?"
"You ought to be mighty glad you can't find one like him," put in Adam. "If you'd spent a week in the Garden of Eden with me, with lizards eight feet long dropping out of the trees on to your lap while you were trying to take a Sunday-afternoon nap, you'd be willing to dispense with things of that sort for the balance of your natural life. If you want to get an idea of that experience let somebody drop a calf on you some afternoon."
"I am not saying anything about that," returned Barnum. "It would be unpleasant to have an elephant drop on one after the fashion of which you speak, but I am glad the elephant was saved just the same. I haven't advocated the Proterosaurus as a Sunday-afternoon surprise, but as an attraction for a show. I still maintain that a lizard as big as a cow would prove a lodestone, the drawing powers of which the pocket-money of the small boy would be utterly unable to resist. Then there was the Iguanadon. He'd have brought a fortune to the box-office—"
"Which you'd have immediately lost," retorted Noah, "paying rent. When you get a reptile of his size, that reaches thirty feet up into the air when he stands on his hind-legs, the ordinary circus wagon of commerce can't be made to hold him, and your menagerie-room has to have ceilings so high that every penny he brought to the box-office would be spent storing him."
"Mischievous, too," said Adam, "that Iguanadon. You couldn't keep anything out of his reach. We used to forbid animals of his kind to enter the garden, but that didn't bother him; he'd stand up on his hind- legs and reach over and steal anything he'd happen to want."
"I could have used him for a fire-escape," said Mr. Barnum; "and as for my inability to provide him with quarters, I'd have met that problem after a short while. I've always lamented the absence, too, of the Megalosaurus—"
"Which simply shows how ignorant you are," retorted Noah. "Why, my dear fellow, it would have taken the whole of an ordinary zoo such as yours to give the Megalosaurus a lunch. Those fellows would eat a rhinoceros as easily as you'd crack a peanut. I did have a couple of Megalosaurians on my boat for just twenty-four hours, and then I chucked them both overboard. If I'd kept them ten days longer they'd have eaten every blessed beast I had with me, and your Zoo wouldn't have had anything else but Megalosaurians."
"Papa is right about that, Mr. Barnum," said Shem. "The whole Saurian tribe was a fearful nuisance. About four hundred years before the flood I had a pet Creosaurus that I kept in our barn. He was a cunning little devil—full of tricks, and all that; but we never could keep a cow or a horse on the place while he was about. They'd mysteriously disappear, and we never knew what became of 'em until one morning we surprised Fido in—"
"Surprised who?" asked Doctor Johnson, scornfully.
"Fido," returned Shem. "'That was my Creosaurus's name."
"Lord save us! Fido!" cried Johnson. "What a name for a Creosaurus!"
"Well, what of it?" asked Shem, angrily. "You wouldn't have us call a mastodon like that Fanny, would you, or Tatters?"
"Go on," said Johnson; "I've nothing to say."
"Shall I send for a physician?" put in Boswell, looking anxiously at his chief, the situation was so extraordinary.
Solomon and Carlyle giggled; and the Doctor having politely requested Boswell to go to a warmer section of the country, Shem resumed.
"I caught him in the act of swallowing five cows and Ham's favorite trotter, sulky and all."
Baron Munchausen rose up and left the room.
"If they're going to lie I'm going to get out," he said, as he passed through the room.
"What became of Fido?" asked Boswell.
"The sulky killed him," returned Shem, innocently. "He couldn't digest the wheels."
Noah looked approvingly at his son, and, turning to Barnum, observed, quietly:
"What he says is true, and I will go further and say that it is my belief that you would have found the show business impossible if I had taken that sort of creature aboard. You'd have got mightily discouraged after your Antediluvians had chewed up a few dozen steam calliopes, and eaten every other able-bodied exhibit you had managed to secure. I'd have tried to save a couple of Discosaurians if I hadn't supposed they were able to take care of themselves. A combination of sea-serpent and dragon, with a neck twenty-two feet long, it seemed to me, ought to have been able to ride out any storm or fall of rain; but there I was wrong, and I am free to admit my error. It never occurred to me that the sea- serpents were in any danger, so I let them alone, with the result that I never saw but one other, and he was only an illusion due to that unhappy use of stimulants to which, with shocking bad taste, you have chosen to refer."
"I didn't mean to call up unpleasant memories," said Barnum. "I never believed you got half-seas over, anyhow; but, to return to our muttons, why didn't you hand down a few varieties of the Therium family to posterity? There were the Dinotherium and the Megatherium, either one of which would have knocked spots out of any leopard that ever was made, and along side of which even my woolly horse would have paled into insignificance. That's what I can't understand in your selections; with Megatheriums to burn, why save leopards and panthers and other such every- day creatures?"
"What kind of a boat do you suppose I had?" cried Noah. "Do you imagine for a moment that she was four miles on the water-line, with a mile and three-quarters beam? If I'd had a pair of Dinotheriums in the stern of that Ark, she'd have tipped up fore and aft, until she'd have looked like a telegraph-pole in the water, and if I'd put 'em amidships they'd have had to be wedged in so tightly they couldn't move to keep the vessel trim. I didn't go to sea, my friend, for the purpose of being tipped over in mid-ocean every time one of my cargo wanted to shift his weight from one leg to the other."
"It was bad enough with the elephants, wasn't it, papa?" said Shem.
"Yes, indeed, my son," returned the patriarch. "It was bad enough with the elephants. We had to shift our ballast half a dozen times a day to keep the boat from travelling on her beam ends, the elephants moved about so much; and when we came to the question of provender, it took up about nine-tenths of our hold to store hay and peanuts enough to keep them alive and good-tempered. On the whole, I think it's rather late in the day, considering the trouble I took to save anything but myself and my family, to be criticised as I now am. You ought to be much obliged to me for saving any animals at all. Most people in my position would have built a yacht for themselves and family, and let everything else slide."
"That is quite true," observed Raleigh, with a pacificatory nod at Noah. "You were eminently unselfish, and while, with Mr. Barnum, I exceedingly regret that the Saurians and Therii and other tribes were left on the pier when you sailed, I nevertheless think that you showed most excellent judgment at the time."
"He was the only man who had any at all, for that matter," suggested Shem, "and it required all his courage to show it. Everybody was guying him. Sinners stood around the yard all day and every day, criticising the model; one scoffer pretended he thought her a canal-boat, and asked how deep the flood was likely to be on the tow-path, and whether we intended to use mules in shallow water and giraffes in deep; another asked what time allowance we expected to get in a fifteen-mile run, and hinted that a year and two months per mile struck him as being the proper thing—"
"It was far from pleasant," said Noah, tapping his fingers together reflectively. "I don't want to go through it again, and if, as Raleigh suggests, history is likely to repeat herself, I'll sublet the contract to Barnum here, and let him get the chaff."
"It was all right in the end, though, dad," said Shem. "We had the great laugh on 'hoi polloi' the second day out."
"We did, indeed," said Noah. "When we told 'em we only carried first- class passengers and had no room for emigrants, they began to see that the Ark wasn't such an old tub, after all; and a good ninety per cent. of them would have given ten dollars for a little of that time allowance they'd been talking to us about for several centuries."
Noah lapsed into a musing silence, and Barnum rose to leave.
"I still wish you'd saved a Discosaurus," he said. "A creature with a neck twenty-two feet long would have been a gold mine to me. He could have been trained to stand in the ring, and by stretching out his neck bite the little boys who sneak in under the tent and occupy seats on the top row."
"Well, for your sake," said Noah, with a smile, "I'm very sorry; but for my own, I'm quite satisfied with the general results."
And they all agreed that the patriarch had every reason to be pleased with himself.
CHAPTER XII: THE HOUSE-BOAT DISAPPEARS
Queen Elizabeth, attended by Ophelia and Xanthippe, was walking along the river-bank. It was a beautiful autumn day, although, owing to certain climatic peculiarities of Hades, it seemed more like midsummer. The mercury in the club thermometer was nervously clicking against the top of the crystal tube, and poor Cerberus was having all he could do with his three mouths snapping up the pestiferous little shades of by-gone gnats that seemed to take an almost unholy pleasure in alighting upon his various noses and ears.
Ophelia was doing most of the talking.
"I am sure I have never wished to ride one of them," she said, positively. "In the first place, I do not see where the pleasure of it comes in, and, in the second, it seems to me as if skirts must be dangerous. If they should catch in one of the pedals, where would I be?"
"In the hospital shortly, methinks," said Queen Elizabeth.
"Well, I shouldn't wear skirts," snapped Xanthippe. "If a man's wife can't borrow some of her husband's clothing to reduce her peril to a minimum, what is the use of having a husband? When I take to the bicycle, which, in spite of all Socrates can say, I fully intend to do, I shall have a man's wheel, and I shall wear Socrates' old dress-clothes. If Hades doesn't like it, Hades may suffer."
"I don't see how Socrates' clothes will help you," observed Ophelia. "He wore skirts himself, just like all the other old Greeks. His toga would be quite as apt to catch in the gear as your skirts."
Xanthippe looked puzzled for a moment. It was evident that she had not thought of the point which Ophelia had brought up—strong-minded ladies of her kind are apt sometimes to overlook important links in such chains of evidence as they feel called upon to use in binding themselves to their rights.
"The women of your day were relieved of that dress problem, at any rate," laughed Queen Elizabeth.
"The women of my day," retorted Xanthippe, "in matters of dress were the equals of their husbands—in my family particularly; now they have lost their rights, and are made to confine themselves still to garments like those of yore, while man has arrogated to himself the sole and exclusive use of sane habiliments. However, that is apart from the question. I was saying that I shall have a man's wheel, and shall wear Socrates' old dress-clothes to ride it in, if Socrates has to go out and buy an old dress-suit for the purpose."
The Queen arched her brows and looked inquiringly at Xanthippe for a moment.
"A magnificent old maid was lost to the world when you married," she said. "Feeling as you do about men, my dear Xanthippe, I don't see why you ever took a husband."
"Humph!" retorted Xanthippe. "Of course you don't. You didn't need a husband. You were born with something to govern. I wasn't."
"How about your temper?" suggested Ophelia, meekly.
Xanthippe sniffed frigidly at this remark.
"I never should have gone crazy over a man if I'd remained unmarried forty thousand years," she retorted, severely. "I married Socrates because I loved him and admired his sculpture; but when he gave up sculpture and became a thinker he simply tried me beyond all endurance, he was so thoughtless, with the result that, having ventured once or twice to show my natural resentment, I have been handed down to posterity as a shrew. I've never complained, and I don't complain now; but when a woman is married to a philosopher who is so taken up with his studies that when he rises in the morning he doesn't look what he is doing, and goes off to his business in his wife's clothes, I think she is entitled to a certain amount of sympathy."
"And yet you wish to wear his," persisted Ophelia.
"Turn about is fair-play," said Xanthippe. "I've suffered so much on his account that on the principle of averages he deserves to have a little drop of bitters in his nectar."
"You are simply the victim of man's deceit," said Elizabeth, wishing to mollify the now angry Xanthippe, who was on the verge of tears. "I understood men, fortunately, and so never married. I knew my father, and even if I hadn't been a wise enough child to know him, I should not have wed, because he married enough to last one family for several years."
"You must have had a hard time refusing all those lovely men, though," sighed Ophelia. "Of course, Sir Walter wasn't as handsome as my dear Hamlet, but he was very fetching."
"I cannot deny that," said Elizabeth, "and I didn't really have the heart to say no when he asked me; but I did tell him that if he married me I should not become Mrs. Raleigh, but that he should become King Elizabeth. He fled to Virginia on the next steamer. My diplomacy rid me of a very unpleasant duty."
Chatting thus, the three famous spirits passed slowly along the path until they came to the sheltered nook in which the house-boat lay at anchor.
"There's a case in point," said Xanthippe, as the house-boat loomed up before them. "All that luxury is for men; we women are not permitted to cross the gangplank. Our husbands and brothers and friends go there; the door closes on them, and they are as completely lost to us as though they never existed. We don't know what goes on in there. Socrates tells me that their amusements are of a most innocent nature, but how do I know what he means by that? Furthermore, it keeps him from home, while I have to stay at home and be entertained by my sons, whom the Encyclopaedia Britannica rightly calls dull and fatuous. In other words, club life for him, and dulness and fatuity for me."
"I think myself they're rather queer about letting women into that boat," said Queen Elizabeth. "But it isn't Sir Walter's fault. He told me he tried to have them establish a Ladies' Day, and that they agreed to do so, but have since resisted all his efforts to have a date set for the function."
"It would be great fun to steal in there now, wouldn't it," giggled Ophelia. "There doesn't seem to be anybody about to prevent our doing so."
"That's true," said Xanthippe. "All the windows are closed, as if there wasn't a soul there. I've half a mind to take a peep in at the house."
"I am with you," said Elizabeth, her face lighting up with pleasure. It was a great novelty, and an unpleasant one to her, to find some place where she could not go. "Let's do it," she added.
So the three women tiptoed softly up the gang-plank, and, silently boarding the house-boat, peeped in at the windows. What they saw merely whetted their curiosity.
"I must see more," cried Elizabeth, rushing around to the door, which opened at her touch. Xanthippe and Ophelia followed close on her heels, and shortly they found themselves, open-mouthed in wondering admiration, in the billiard-room of the floating palace, and Richard, the ghost of the best billiard-room attendant in or out of Hades, stood before them.
"Excuse me," he said, very much upset by the sudden apparition of the ladies. "I'm very sorry, but ladies are not admitted here."
"We are equally sorry," retorted Elizabeth, assuming her most imperious manner, "that your masters have seen fit to prohibit our being here; but, now that we are here, we intend to make the most of the opportunity, particularly as there seem to be no members about. What has become of them all?"
Richard smiled broadly. "I don't know where they are," he replied; but it was evident that he was not telling the exact truth.
"Oh, come, my boy," said the Queen, kindly, "you do know. Sir Walter told me you knew everything. Where are they?"
"Well, if you must know, ma'am," returned Richard, captivated by the Queen's manner, "they've all gone down the river to see a prize-fight between Goliath and Samson."
"See there!" cried Xanthippe. "That's what this club makes possible. Socrates told me he was coming here to take luncheon with Carlyle, and they've both of 'em gone off to a disgusting prize-fight!"
"Yes, ma'am, they have," said Richard; "and if Goliath wins, I don't think Mr. Socrates will get home this evening."
"Betting, eh?" said Xanthippe, scornfully.
"Yes, ma'am," returned Richard.
"More club!" cried Xanthippe.
"Oh no, ma'am," said Richard. "Betting is not allowed in the club; they're very strict about that. But the shore is only ten feet off, ma'am, and the gentlemen always go ashore and make their bets."
During this little colloquy Elizabeth and Ophelia were wandering about, admiring everything they saw.
"I do wish Lucretia Borgia and Calpurnia could see this. I wonder if the Caesars are on the telephone," Elizabeth said. Investigation showed that both the Borgias and the Caesars were on the wire, and in short order the two ladies had been made acquainted with the state of affairs at the house-boat; and as they were both quite as anxious to see the interior of the much-talked-of club-house as the others, they were not long in arriving. Furthermore, they brought with them half a dozen more ladies, among whom were Desdemona and Cleopatra, and then began the most extraordinary session the house-boat ever knew. A meeting was called, with Elizabeth in the chair, and all the best ladies of the Stygian realms were elected members. Xanthippe, amid the greatest applause, moved that every male member of the organization be expelled for conduct unworthy of a gentleman in attending a prize-fight, and encouraging two such horrible creatures as Goliath and Samson in their nefarious pursuits. Desdemona seconded the motion, and it was carried without a dissenting voice, although Mrs. Caesar, with becoming dignity, merely smiled approval, not caring to take part too actively in the proceedings.
The men having thus been disposed of in a summary fashion, Richard was elected Janitor in Charon's place, and the club was entirely reorganized, with Cleopatra as permanent President. The meeting then adjourned, and the invaders set about enjoying their newly acquired privileges. The smoking-room was thronged for a few moments, but owing to the extraordinary strength of the tobacco which the faithful Richard shovelled into the furnace, it developed no enduring popularity, Xanthippe, with a suddenly acquired pallor, being the first to renounce the pastime as revolting.
So fast and furious was the enjoyment of these thirsty souls, so long deprived of their rights, that night came on without their observing it, and with the night was brought the great peril into which they were thrown, and from which at the moment of writing they had not been extricated, and which, to my regret, has cut me off for the present from any further information connected with the Associated Shades and their beautiful lounging-place. Had they not been so intent upon the inner beauties of the House-boat on the Styx they might have observed approaching, under the shadow of the westerly shore, a long, rakish craft propelled by oars, which dipped softly and silently and with trained precision in the now jet-black waters of the Styx. Manning the oars were a dozen evil-visaged ruffians, while in the stern of the approaching vessel there sat a grim-faced, weather-beaten spirit, armed to the teeth, his coat sleeves bearing the skull and cross-bones, the insignia of piracy.
This boat, stealing up the river like a thief in the night, contained Captain Kidd and his pirate crew, and their mission was a mission of vengeance. To put the matter briefly and plainly, Captain Kidd was smarting under the indignity which the club had recently put upon him. He had been unanimously blackballed, even his proposer and seconder, who had been browbeaten into nominating him for membership, voting against him.
"I may be a pirate," he cried, when he heard what the club had done, "but I have feelings, and the Associated Shades will repent their action. The time will come when they'll find that I have their club-house, and they have—its debts."
It was for this purpose that the great terror of the seas had come upon this, the first favorable opportunity. Kidd knew that the house-boat was unguarded; his spies had told him that the members had every one gone to the fight, and he resolved that the time had come to act. He did not know that the Fates had helped to make his vengeance all the more terrible and withering by putting the most attractive and fashionable ladies of the Stygian country likewise in his power; but so it was, and they, poor souls, while this fiend, relentless and cruel, was slowly approaching, sang on and danced on in blissful unconsciousness of their peril.
In less than five minutes from the time when his sinister-craft rounded the bend Kidd and his crew had boarded the house-boat, cut her loose from her moorings, and in ten minutes she had sailed away into the great unknown, and with her went some of the most precious gems in the social diadem of Hades.
The rest of my story is soon told. The whole country was aroused when the crime was discovered, but up to the date of this narrative no word has been received of the missing craft and her precious cargo. Raleigh and Caesar have had the seas scoured in search of her, Hamlet has offered his kingdom for her return, but unavailingly; and the men of Hades were cast into a gloom from which there seems to be no relief.
Socrates alone was unaffected.
"They'll come back some day, my dear Raleigh," he said, as the knight buried his face, weeping, in his hands. "So why repine? I'll never lose my Xanthippe—permanently, that is. I know that, for I am a philosopher, and I know there is no such thing as luck. And we can start another club."
"Very likely," sighed Raleigh, wiping his eyes. "I don't mind the club so much, but to think of those poor women—"
"Oh, they're all right," returned Socrates, with a laugh. "Caesar's wife is along, and you can't dispute the fact that she's a good chaperon. Give the ladies a chance. They've been after our club for years; now let 'em have it, and let us hope that they like it. Order me up a hemlock sour, and let's drink to their enjoyment of club life."
Which was done, and I, in spirit, drank with them, for I sincerely hope that the "New Women" of Hades are having a good time.