by Ellis Parker Butler
I remember reading somewhere that Dr. Guillotine, who invented the efficient instrument for cutting people's heads off, managed to get in wrong with the authorities with the result that he was himself beheaded by his machine. Which reminds of Emmons O. Perthwether.
I believe Emmons is what is called a brilliant conversationalist. Clever little quips flash from his tongue like little jets of pleasant lightning. He is electric in his quickness to see the opportunity for a witty word. And he is well posted, too. He goes over the papers carefully, reads all the new books, attends all the lectures and plays, and no matter what the subject of conversation may be, he is able to step right into it and turn it from a drowsy, stupid affair into a warm, lively event.
It is this gift that makes men like Emmons O. Perthwether such desirable club members. In some corner of the club a dreary conversation will be dragging along in a dull fog of words, let us say.
"Well, what do you think of the Russian situation now?" one of the men will ask, not that he cares a cent.
"Well, I don't know! If it don't get better soon, Joe, I'm inclined to think it may get worse," another will remark. "It's just like this Irish situation and the kind of cigars the house committee is stocking these days. I tell you, I can't smoke that Idura Perfecto. What I like is a mild domestic cigar --"
"I stick to a pipe," another member will cut in. "And that reminds me that when I was up in the Maine woods last summer --"
"How'd you go up?" another member will ask.
"In my car -- I've got a Doojik runabout. She only holds --"
"Mine's a Pipipip. The trouble with a Doojik --"
That's the miserable, foggy way the average members of my club -- the Troglodyte -- carry on a conversation about Russia, but Emmons O. Perthwether is not that sort of talker. A conversation will be droning along like that and Emmons will come up and -- snap! -- there is life where there was ashes. He leaps into the breach. He grabs the breach and smacks it on the back. He tosses the breach into the air and shoots it full of holes. His eyes sparkle, his face beams, he spills golden statistics and winged words and aphorisms and general Grade A talk by the yard.
"Russia? I'll tell you something about Russia," he will say, pulling up a chair and shaking a virile forefinger at us. "Russia is done! Now, you'll ask why; I'll tell you why -- eighteen versts northeast of Koppakallij, just on the verge of the Dubjobju Desert, is the town of Nijnitojnigob. It is the principal market place of the Khamtartars and the Mullinogors from the Dan-Baikal region south of Koobah. Today -- today, gentlemen -- you can buy in the market there 18,654,000 rubles for thirty-four Chilian sesterci, and a pood of No. 2 Chinese whiffik costs 564 yellow piyen in the same market! Only day before yesterday, at five o'clock in the afternoon -- or, to be quite frank, in the P.M. -- I met Hunga Dinga Din, the eminent Hindu snake charmer, on Fifth Avenue, and I quoted these figures to him and asked what they meant. And he knows! He was in Calcutta only ten years ago, and he knows! He said to me -- I give his exact words -- 'It means, mister, that Russia is done!' So, I say, Russia is done! Thoroughly and completely done!"
Thus he will take the conversation and toss it in the air and spin it and bite pieces out of it and spit them back, and enlighten us in fine shape.
With Emmons O. Perthwether in the club there is no longer any excuse for dullness. If he sees a group of ancient valetudinarians droning away, with one of them saying:
"But, on the other hand, professor, I have seen among the Celtic remains at Glof-na-Mnagl, in the Diocese of Ossory --" up will step Emmons O. Perthwether and say:
"And speaking of Ossory, old dears, have you heard the story of the two Irishmen of Kilkenny? It seems that one was named Mike and one was named Pat -- or, no! I've got that wrong; one was named Pat and the other was named Mike. Well, neither of them had ever seen a Ford car --"
To the members of the Troglodyte Club, whose rooms resemble nothing so much as a gloomy cave, a fresh and zippy member like Emmons O. Perthwether was indeed a real blessing. Indeed, I more than once heard members say, as Emmons approached, "Ah, here comes our little ray of sunshine!" To see him remove his overcoat and glance around, his eyes beaming through his gold-rimmed spectacles and the rays of the electrics causing his bald head to gleam like a gold globe, was to see something!
I admit frankly that I was the man who proposed Emmons O. Perthwether for membership in the Troglodyte Club.
"Join us! We need you!" I told him. "The club is becoming moss grown and moldy. We require freshness and youth. The average age of the members is now seventy-two years and eight months, and it should be lowered. The dues are $100 per annum, payable in advance, plus the initiation fee of $200. Join us, Emmons; we need you."
I need not say that as soon as Emmons O. Perthwether joined the club he gave us the benefit of his advice. He gave it eagerly and freely. His suggestion that the gloomy brown curtains, brown upholstery, and brown walls be changed to something lively and more resembling the interior and furnishings of the Razzjazz Cafe was enthusiastically received, and, at the monthly meeting of the board of governors, referred to the committee on draft riots. This committee, it developed, had not met since the Civil War (1861-1865), and nothing was ever done about the refurnishing of the club rooms, because, when the committee met it discovered that fourteen of the original eighteen members were dead, and until the committee had formulated resolutions of regret for each of the fourteen, and passed them, and had them engrossed, no other business could be considered. Unfortunately the members of the club and of the committee are so elderly that long before the eighth resolution was adopted, four other members had passed away, and since then they have been dying at the rate of two members for each resolution finished. Still, we may have a report on Emmons O. Perthwether's suggestion sooner or later.
Perthwether's other suggestion, that the club have the windows washed, needed no action by the board of governors, for Emmons prepared a subscription paper and pinned it on the bulletin board, heading it with:
Emmons O. Perthwether . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.00
Eight months later the subscription paper was still there, but no one had signed it. The only difference in it was that so many flyspecks had accumulated on the sheet that it looked as if the row of dots between the name of Emmons O. Perthwether and the $1.00 had married and had a very large family of dots, now old enough to play at large over the surface of the paper.
The other suggestions of Perthwether -- that we have Tuesday afternoon teas for the wives of members, Friday evening dances, and organize a tennis and bowling team, were laid on the table pending the arrival of a time when the club accumulated enough money to pay the head steward's back salary, which was twelve years in arrears.
There is no doubt that the members of the club did bore one another. Most of us had been members for twenty-five or thirty years, and we knew each other too well. I have heard members groan when the aged Professor Vimblick entered the rooms, and I have seen members dodge behind curtains when Major Mikkus strolled through looking for a victim to whom to tell that interminable lion hunt tale of his. We were, I am afraid, to each other a lot of disgusting old bores.
Emmons O. Perthwether had this in mind when he approached me with his idea.
"Percy," he said in that beamingly eager way of his, "I have an idea! Do you know why the members of this club hate one another? They have 'gone stale' on each other. In the last year you have elected eighty-six members, all youngish men, and they never come to the club. Why? Because these old fellows bore them stiff! And the old fellows bore each other stiff. The trouble is that in this club no one can escape from any other member. They all know each other; they have all been properly and formally introduced. Each man is entitled to go up to any other man and speak to him -- yes, talk to him. What this club needs is an official extroducer!"
"A what!" I exclaimed.
"An official extroducer," repeated Perthwether. "It is my own idea; I invented the word. An introducer, as you know, is one who introduces one person to another; an extroducer would therefore be one who extroduces one person from another. If you and I are formally introduced we have the right to speak to each other; if, on the other hand, you and I know each other, and we are formally extroduced by the club's official extroducer, we would become strangers instantly. We would have no right to speak to each other or even to recognize each other. If you and I were extroduced we would pass each other with unrecognizing eyes, as if we were invisible.
"Think what it would mean to this club, Percy! Suppose you were elected official extroducer -- you would cast your eye over the room here. You would see old Vimblick yonder boring old Mikkus, as they have bored each other for years. You would walk up to them and say, in a calm but kind voice, 'Professor Vimblick, permit me to extroduce Major Mikkus; gentlemen, it gives me pleasure to make you unacquainted.'
"From that moment onward Professor Vimblick would not 'know' Major Mikkus, and Major Mikkus would not 'know' Professor Vimblick. They would not speak, they would not bow, they would be absolute and total strangers until some one introduced them again. And you, as official extroducer, could immediately extroduce them again if you thought best.
"In two days, Percy, you could extroduce every man who has been bored or boring. The new members could come to the club with the assurance that they had been extroduced from all those they fear might bore them.
"I give this idea to the club, Percy, free of charge, but I reserve all other rights in it. I mean to push the idea. I have no doubt that in a few years every city, town and village will have its official extroducer. New York should have a Department of Extroduction, with a staff of official extroducers -- say one extroducer to each ten thousand inhabitants. Upon request the official extroducer would extroduce any one who made application.
"Suppose you are introduced to a pleasant man, and he turns out to be the agent of the Rubber Heel Insurance Company. He comes and sits with you on the train; he stops you on the street; he calls on you at your office and in your home. He talks rubber heel insurance until you hate him. Presto! You apply to the Department of Extroduction, the official extroducer brings you together and extroduces you, and he dare not speak to you again. If he does he becomes subject to five hundred dollars fine and six months in jail.
"Think of being extroduced from your mother-in-law!"
When I brought Emmons O. Perthwether's suggestion to the attention of the board of governors of the Troglodytes I saw every aged eye brighten. It was amusing to see the eager gleam and then the effort made to hide it.
"Ah -- I think the suggestion might be considered," said our president.
Professor Vimblick spoke up promptly.
"I move its adoption," he said. "For forty years I've suffered that infernal old bore, Major John J. Mikkus, to pour his insufferable lion tales into my poor ears until I'm half insane. We want this thing -- we want this official extroducer. I move it!"
To my amazement the motion carried unanimously, and so did the one creating me official extroducer.
"Gentlemen," I said, "I will try to deserve this honor. I will try to use this power sanely. Before extroducing any one I shall use every means at my disposal to make sure they should be extroduced. I shall also establish an extroduction box into which a member may drop a slip bearing his own name and that of any member from whom he wishes to be extroduced, or that of any two members he thinks should be extroduced."
"Look here!" said Professor Vimblick, just before the board arose. "This extroducer idea is all well enough, but can't any young fool of a jackanapes step right up and reintroduce me to that perpetual talking machine of a Mikkus the next moment? I move an amendment to the rules that any persons extroduced shall not be introduced for six months."
The motion was unanimously carried.
The next morning I opened for the first time the extroduction box I had placed on the clerk's desk. To my amazement the box was half full of slips bearing the names of those who wished to be extroduced from others. As I was sorting them out, Emmons O. Perthwether strolled into the clerk's office.
"Hello, Percy," he said in his sunny voice. "Getting on the job, I see. I flatter myself I've done this club a deal of good by suggesting this idea. When --"
We were interrupted by the entrance of Professor Vimblick.
"Mr. Perthwether," I said, "permit me to extroduce you from Professor Vimblick; Professor Vimblick, it gives me great pleasure to make you unknown to Mr. Perthwether."
"Not half as much pleasure as it gives me," said the testy old gentleman. "No, not half!"
"But -- but --" stammered Emmons O. Perthwether, "I didn't ask to be extroduced from --"
He stopped short, and turned rather red, for there was Major Mikkus edging up and grinning and nudging me and "standing over." In fact, all the usual morning habitues of the club were arriving in the clerk's office, lining up behind Major Mikkus, grinning meaningly, waiting to be extroduced from Emmons O. Perthwether. They had, if I may say so, beaten Emmons O. Perthwether to it.
I don't know what the moral of this is. Perhaps it is "Why invent guillotines?"