Coffee and Repartee
COFFEE AND REPARTEE
JOHN KENDRICK BANGS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
Harper's "Black and White" Series.
Illustrated. 32mo, Cloth, 50 cents each.
|In the Vestibule Limited.|
By Brander Matthews.
This Picture and That. A
Comedy. By Brander Matthews.
The Decision of the Court.
A Comedy. By Brander Matthews.
A Family Canoe Trip. By
Florence W. Snedeker.
Three Weeks in Politics. By
John Kendrick Bangs.
Coffee and Repartee. By
John Kendrick Bangs.
Travels in America 100 Years
Ago. By Thomas Twining.
The Work of Washington
Irving. By Charles Dudley
Edwin Booth. By Laurence
Phillips Brooks. By Rev.
Arthur Brooks, D.D.
The Rivals. By François
|Lowell. By G. W. Curtis.|
George William Curtis. By
John White Chadwick.
Slavery and the Slave Trade
in Africa. By Henry M.
Whittier: Notes of His Life
and of His Friendships. By
The Japanese Bride. By
Giles Corey, Yeoman. By
Mary E. Wilkins.
Seen From the Saddle. By
Isa Carrington Cabell.
BY W. D. HOWELLS.
Farces: A Letter of Introduction.—The
PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.
Copyright, 1893, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved.[Pg 4]
F. S. M.[Pg 5]
- "'Are you related to Governor McKinley?'"
- "Alarmed the cook"
- "'What are the first symptoms of insanity?'"
- "'Reading Webster's Dictionary'"
- "'I stuck to the pigs'"
- The conspirators
- "'Weren't your ears long enough?'"
- "'The corks popped to some purpose last night'"
- "'If you could spare so little as one flame'"
- The school-master as a cooler
- "'Reading the Sunday newspapers'"
- Wooing the Muse
- "'He gave up jokes'"
- "'A little garden of my own, where I could raise an occasional can of tomatoes'"
- "'A hind-quarter of lamb gambolling about its native heath'"
- "'The gladsome click of the lawn-mower'"[Pg 7]
- "'You don't mean to say that you write for the papers?'"
- "'We wooed the self-same maid'"
- Curing insomnia
- "Holding his plate up to the light"
- "'I believe you'd blow out the gas in your bed-room'"
- "'His fairy stories were told him in words of ten syllables'"
- "'I thought my father a mean-spirited assassin'"
- "'Mrs. S. brought him to the point of proposing'"
- "'Hoorah!' cried the Idiot, grasping Mr. Pedagog by the hand"[Pg 8]
The guests at Mrs. Smithers's high-class boarding-house for gentlemenhad assembled as usual for breakfast, and in a few moments Mary, thedainty waitress, entered with the steaming coffee, the mush, and therolls.
The School-master, who, by-the-way, was suspected by Mrs. Smithers ofhaving intentions, and who for that reason occupied the chair nearestthe lady's heart, folded up the morning paper, and placing it under himso that no one else could get it, observed, quite genially for him, "Itwas very wet yesterday."
"I didn't find it so," observed a young man seated half-way down thetable, who was by common consent called the Idiot,[Pg 9] because of his"views." "In fact, I was very dry. Curious thing, I'm always dry onrainy days. I am one of the kind of men who know that it is the part ofwisdom to stay in when it rains, or to carry an umbrella when it is notpossible to stay at home, or, having no home, like ourselves, to remaincooped up in stalls, or stalled up in coops, as you may prefer."
"You carried an umbrella, then?" queried the landlady, ignoring theIdiot's shaft at the size of her "elegant and airy apartments" with anease born of experience.
"Yes, madame," returned the Idiot, quite unconscious of what was coming.
"Whose?" queried the lady, a sarcastic smile playing about her lips.
"That I cannot say, Mrs. Smithers," replied the Idiot, serenely, "but itis the one you usually carry."
"Your insinuation, sir," said the School-master, coming to thelandlady's rescue, "is an unworthy one. The umbrella in question ismine. It has been in my possession for five years."
[Pg 10]"Then," replied the Idiot, unabashed, "it is time you returned it. Don'tyou think men's morals are rather lax in this matter of umbrellas, Mr.Whitechoker?" he added, turning from the School-master, who began toshow signs of irritation.
"Very," said the Minister, running his finger about his neck to make thecollar which had been sent home from the laundry by mistake set moreeasily—"very lax. At the last Conference I attended, some person,forgetting his high office as a minister in the Church, walked off withmy umbrella without so much as a thank you; and it was embarrassing too,because the rain was coming down in bucketfuls."
"What did you do?" asked the landlady, sympathetically. She liked Mr.Whitechoker's sermons, and, beyond this, he was a more profitableboarder than any of the others, remaining home to luncheon every day andhaving to pay extra therefor.
"There was but one thing left for me to do. I took the bishop'sumbrella," said Mr. Whitechoker, blushing slightly.
"But you returned it, of course?" said the Idiot.
[Pg 11]"I intended to, but I left it on the train on my way back home the nextday," replied the clergyman, visibly embarrassed by the Idiot'sunexpected cross-examination.
"It's the same way with books," put in the Bibliomaniac, an unfortunatebeing whose love of rare first editions had brought him down fromaffluence to boarding. "Many a man who wouldn't steal a dollar would runoff with a book. I had a friend once who had a rare copy of ThroughAfrica by Daylight. It was a beautiful book. Only twenty-five copiesprinted. The margins of the pages were four inches wide, and thetitle-page was rubricated; the frontispiece was colored by hand, and theseventeenth page had one of the most amusing typographical errors onit—"
"Was there any reading-matter in the book?" queried the Idiot, blowingsoftly on a hot potato that was nicely balanced on the end of his fork.
[Pg 13][Pg 12]"Yes, a little; but it didn't amount to much," returned theBibliomaniac. "But, you know, it isn't as reading-matter that men likemyself care for books. We have a higher notion than that. It is as aspecimen of book-making that we admire a chaste bit of literature likeThrough Africa by Daylight. But, as I was saying, my friend had thisbook, and he'd extra-illustrated it. He had pictures from all parts ofthe world in it, and the book had grown from a volume of one hundredpages to four volumes of two hundred pages each."
"And it was stolen by a highly honorable friend, I suppose?" queried theIdiot.
"Yes, it was stolen—and my friend never knew by whom," said theBibliomaniac.
"What?" asked the Idiot, in much surprise. "Did you never confess?"
It was very fortunate for the Idiot that the buckwheat cakes werebrought on at this moment. Had there not been some diversion of thatkind, it is certain that the Bibliomaniac would have assaulted him.
"It is very kind of Mrs. Smithers, I think," said the School-master, "toprovide us with such delightful cakes as these free of charge."
[Pg 14]"Yes," said the Idiot, helping himself to six cakes. "Very kind indeed,although I must say they are extremely economical from an architecturalpoint of view—which is to say, they are rather fuller of pores than ofbuckwheat. I wonder why it is," he continued, possibly to avert thelandlady's retaliatory comments—"I wonder why it is that porousplasters and buckwheat cakes are so similar in appearance?"
"And so widely different in their respective effects on the system," putin a genial old gentleman who occasionally imbibed, seated next to theIdiot.
"I fail to see the similarity between a buckwheat cake and a porousplaster," said the School-master, resolved, if possible, to embarrassthe Idiot.
"You don't, eh?" replied the latter. "Then it is very plain, sir, thatyou have never eaten a porous plaster."
[Pg 15]To this the School-master could find no reasonable reply, and he tookrefuge in silence. Mr. Whitechoker tried to look severe; the gentlemanwho occasionally imbibed smiled all over; the Bibliomaniac ignored theremark entirely, not having as yet forgiven the Idiot for his grossinsinuation regarding his friend's édition de luxe of Through Africaby Daylight; Mary, the maid, who greatly admired the Idiot, not so muchfor his idiocy as for the aristocratic manner in which he carriedhimself, and the truly striking striped shirts he wore, left the roomin a convulsion of laughter that so alarmed the cook below-stairs thatthe next platterful of cakes were more like tin plates than cakes; andas for Mrs. Smithers, that worthy woman was speechless with wrath. Butshe was not paralyzed apparently, for reaching down into her pocket shebrought forth a small piece of paper, on which was written in detail the"account due" of the Idiot.
"I'd like to have this settled, sir," she said, with some asperity.
"Certainly, my dear madame," replied the Idiot, unabashed—"certainly.Can you change a check for a hundred?"
No, Mrs. Smithers could not.
"Then I shall have to put off paying the account until this evening,"said the Idiot. "But," he added, with a glance at the amount of thebill, "are you related to Governor McKinley, Mrs. Smithers?"
"I am not," she returned, sharply. "My mother was a Partington."
"I only asked," said the Idiot, apologetically, "because I am very muchinterested in the subject of heredity, and you may not[Pg 16] know it, but youand he have each a marked tendency towards high-tariff bills."
And before Mrs. Smithers could think of anything to say, the Idiot wason his way down town to help his employer lose money on Wall Street.[Pg 17]
"Do you know, I sometimes think—" began the Idiot, opening and shuttingthe silver cover of his watch several times with a snap, with theprobable, and not altogether laudable, purpose of calling his landlady'sattention to the fact—of which she was already painfully aware—thatbreakfast was fifteen minutes late.
"Do you, really?" interrupted the School-master, looking up from hisbook with an air of mock surprise. "I am sure I never should havesuspected it."
"Indeed?" returned the Idiot, undisturbed by this reflection upon hisintellect. "I don't really know whether that is due to your generallyunsuspicious nature, or to your shortcomings as a mind-reader."
"There are some minds," put in the landlady at this point, "that are sosmall that it would certainly ruin the eyes to read them."[Pg 18]
"I have seen many such," observed the Idiot, suavely. "Even our friendthe Bibliomaniac at times has seemed to me to be very absent-minded. Andthat reminds me, Doctor," he continued, addressing himself to themedical boarder. "What is the cause of absent-mindedness?"
"That," returned the Doctor, ponderously, "is a very large question.Absent-mindedness, generally speaking, is the result of the projectionof the intellect into surroundings other than those which for want of abetter term I might call the corporeally immediate."
"So I have understood," said the Idiot, approvingly. "And isabsent-mindedness acquired or inherent?"