Sommaire
CHAPTER THIRTEEN

WHAT TOTTLES MEANT


MEIN HERR unrolled the manuscript, but, to my great surprise,instead of reading it, he began to sing it, in a rich mellow voice thatseemed to ring through the room.

`One thousand pounds per annum
Is not so bad a figure, come!'
Cried Tottles. `And I tell you, flat,
A man may marry well on that!
To say "the Husband needs the Wife"
Is not the way to represent it.
The crowning joy of Woman's life
Is Man!' said Tottles (and he meant it).

The blissful Honey-moon is past:
The Pair have settled down at last:
Mamma-in-law their home will share,
And make their happiness her care.
`Your income is an ample one:
Go it, my children!' (And they went it).
`I rayther think this kind of fun
Wo'n't last!' said Tottles (and he meant it).

They took a little country-box--
A box at Covent Garden also:
They lived a life of double-knocks,
Acquaintances began to call so:
Their London house was much the same
(It took three hundred, clear, to rent it):
`Life is a very jolly game!'
Cried happy Tottles (and he meant it).

`Contented with a frugal lot'
(He always used that phrase at Gunter's),
He bought a handy little yacht--
A dozen serviceable hunters--
The fishing of a Highland Loch--
A sailing-boat to circumvent it--
`The sounding of that Gaelic "och"
Beats me!' said Tottles (and he meant it).

Here, with one of those convulsive starts that wake oneup in the very act of dropping off to sleep, I became conscious that thedeep musical tones that thrilled me did not belong to Mein Herr, but tothe French Count. The old man was still conning the manuscript.

`I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting!' he said.`I was just making sure that I knew the English for all the words. I amquite ready now.' And he read me the following Legend:

`In a city that stands in the very centre of Africa, andis rarely visited by the casual tourist, the people had always bought eggs--adaily necessary in a climate where egg-flip was the usual diet--from aMerchant who came to their gates once a week. And the people always bidwildly against each other: so there was quite a lively auction every timethe Merchant came, and the last egg in his basket used to fetch the valueof two or three camels, or thereabouts. And eggs got dearer every week.And still they drank their egg-flip, and wondered where all their moneywent to.

`And there came a day when they put their heads together.And they understood what donkeys they had been.

`And next day, when the Merchant came, only one Man wentforth. And he said "Oh, thou of the hook-nose and the goggle-eyes, thouof the measureless beard, how much for that lot of eggs?"

`And the Merchant answered him "I could let thee havethat lot at ten thousand piastres the dozen."

`And the Man chuckled inwardly, and said "Ten piastresthe dozen I offer thee, and no more, oh descendant of a distinguished grandfather!"

`And the Merchant stroked his beard, and said "Hum! Iwill await the coming of thy friends." So he waited. And the Man waitedwith him. And they waited both together.'

`The manuscript breaks off here,' said Mein Herr, as herolled it up again; `but it was enough to open our eyes. We saw what simpletonswe had been--buying our Scholars much as those ignorant savages boughttheir eggs--and the ruinous system was abandoned. If only we could haveabandoned, along with it, all the other fashions we had borrowed from you,instead of carrying them to their logical results! But it was not to be.What ruined my country, and drove me from my home, was the introduction--intothe Army, of all places--of your theory of Political Dichotomy!'

`Shall I trouble you too much,' I said, `if I ask youto explain what you mean by "the Theory of Political Dichotomy"?'

`No trouble at all!' was Mein Herr's most courteous reply.`I quite enjoy talking, when I get so good a listener. What started thething, with us, was the report brought to us, by one of our most eminentstatesmen, who had stayed some time in England, of the way affairs weremanaged there. It was a political necessity (so he assured us, and we believedhim, though we had never discovered it till that moment) that there shouldbe two Parties, in every affair and on every subject. In Politics, thetwo Parties, which you had found it necessary to institute, were called,he told us, "Whigs" and "Tories".'

`That must have been some time ago?' I remarked.

`It was some time ago,' he admitted. `And this was theway the affairs of the British Nation were managed. (You will correct meif I misrepresent it. I do but repeat what our traveler told us.) Thesetwo Parties--which were in chronic hostility to each other--took turnsin conducting the Government; and the Party, that happened not to be inpower, was called the "Opposition", I believe?'

`That is the right name,' I said. `There have always been,so long as we have had a Parliament at all, two Parties, one "in", andone "out".'

`Well, the function of the "Ins" (if I may so call them)was to do the best they could for the national welfare--in such thingsas making war or peace, commercial treaties, and so forth?'

`Undoubtedly,' I said.

`And the function of the "Outs" was (so our traveler assuredus, though we were very incredulous at first) to prevent the "Ins" fromsucceeding in any of these things?'

`To criticize and to amend their proceedings,' I correctedhim. `It would be unpatriotic to hinder the Government in doing what wasfor the good of the Nation! We have always held a Patriot to be the greatestof heroes, and an unpatriotic spirit to be one of the worst of human ills!'

`Excuse me for a moment,' the old gentleman courteouslyreplied, taking out his pocket-book. `I have a few memoranda here, of acorrespondence I had with our tourist, and, if you will allow me, I'lljust refresh my memory--although I quite agree with you--it is, as yousay, one of the worst of human ills--' And, here Mein Herr began singingagain.

But oh, the worst of human ills
(Poor Tottles found) are `little bills'!
And, with no balance in the Bank
What wonder that his spirits sank?
Still, as the money flowed away,
He wondered how on earth she spent it.
`You cost me twenty pounds a day,
At least!' cried Tottles (and he meant it).

She sighed. `Those Drawing Rooms, you know!
I really never thought about it:
Mamma declared we ought to go--
We should be Nobodies without it.
That diamond-circlet for my brow--
I quite believed that she had sent it,
Until the Bill came in just now--'
`Viper!' cried Tottles (and he meant it).

Poor Mrs. T. could bear no more,
But fainted flat upon the floor.
Mamma-in-law, with anguish wild,
Seeks, all in vain, to rouse her child.
`Quick! Take this box of smelling-salts!
Don't scold her, James, or you'll repent it,
She's a dear girl, with all her faults--'
She is!' groaned Tottles (and he meant it).

`I was a donkey,' Tottles cried,
`To choose your daughter for my bride!
'Twas you that bid us cut a dash!
'Tis you have brought us to this smash!
You don't suggest one single thing
That can in any way prevent it--'
`Then what's the use of arguing?'
`Shut up!' cried Tottles (and he meant it).

Once more I started into wakefulness, and realized thatMein Herr was not the singer. He was still consulting his memoranda.

`It is exactly what my friend told me,' he resumed, afterconning over various papers. `"Unpatriotic" is the very word I had used,in writing to him, and "hinder" is the very word he used in his reply!Allow me to read you a portion of his letter:

`"I can assure you," he writes, "that, unpatriotic asyou may think it, the recognized function of the "Opposition" is to hinderin every manner not forbidden by the Law, the action of the Government.This process is called "Legitimate Obstruction": and the greatest triumphthe "Opposition" can ever enjoy, is when they are able to point out that,owing to their "Obstruction", the Government have failed in everythingthey have tried to do for the good of the Nation!"'

`Your friend has not put it quite correctly,' I said.`The Opposition would no doubt be glad to point out that the Governmenthad failed through their own fault but not that they had failed on accountof Obstruction!'

`You think so?' he gently replied. `Allow me now to readto you this newspaper-cutting, which my friend enclosed in his letter.It is part of the report of a public speech, made by a Statesman who wasat the time a member of the "Opposition":

`"At the close of the Session, he thought they had noreason to be discontented with the fortunes of the campaign. They had routedthe enemy at every point. But the pursuit must be continued. They had onlyto follow up a disordered and dispirited foe."'

`Now to what portion of your national history would youguess that the speaker was referring?'

`Really, the number of successful wars we have waged duringthe last century,' I replied, with a glow of British pride, `is far toogreat for me to guess, with any chance of success, which it was we werethen engaged in. However. I will name "India" as the most probable. TheMutiny was no doubt, all but crushed, at the time that speech was made.What a fine, manly, patriotic speech it must have been!' I exclaimed inan outburst of enthusiasm.

`You think so?' he replied, in a tone of gentle pity.`Yet, my friend tells me that the "disordered and dispirited foe" simplymeant the Statesmen who happened to be in power at the moment; that the"pursuit" simply meant "Obstruction"; and that the words "they had routedthe enemy" simply meant that the "Opposition" had succeeded in hinderingthe Government from doing any of the work which the Nation had empoweredthem to do!'

I thought it best to say nothing.

`It seemed queer to us, just at first,' he resumed, aftercourteously waiting a minute for me to speak: `but, when once we had masteredthe idea, our respect for your Nation was so great that we carried it intoevery department of life! It was "the beginning of the end" with us. Mycountry never held up its head again!' And the poor old gentleman sigheddeeply.

`Let us change the subject,' I said. `Do not distressyourself, I beg!'

`No, no!' he said, with an effort to recover himself.`I had rather finish my story! The next step (after reducing our Governmentto impotence, and putting a stop to all useful legislation, which did nottake us long to do) was to introduce what we called "the glorious BritishPrinciple of Dichotomy" into Agriculture. We persuaded many of the well-to-dofarmers to divide their staff of labourers into two Parties, and to setthem one against the other. They were called, like our political Parties,the "Ins" and the "Outs": the business of the "Ins" was to do as much ofploughing, sowing or whatever might be needed, as they could manage ina day, and at night they were paid according to the amount they had done:the business of the "Outs" was to hinder them, and they were paid for theamount they had hindered. The farmers found they had to pay only half asmuch wages as they did before, and they didn't observe that the amountof work done was only a quarter as much as was done before: so they tookit up quite enthusiastically, at first.'

`And afterwards--'? I enquired.

`Well, afterwards they didn't like it quite so well. Ina very short time, things settled down into a regular routine. No workat all was done. So the "Ins" got no wages, and the "Outs" got full pay.And the farmers never discovered, till most of them were ruined, that therascals had agreed to manage it so, and had shared the pay between them!While the thing lasted, there were funny sights to be seen! Why, I've oftenwatched a ploughman, with two horses harnessed to the plough, doing hisbest to get it forwards; while the opposition-ploughman, with three donkeysharnessed at the other end, was doing his best to get it backwards! Andthe plough never moving an inch, either way!'

`But we never did anything like that!' I exclaimed.

`Simply because you were less logical than we were,' repliedMein Herr. `There is sometimes an advantage in being a donk--Excuse me!No personal allusion intended. All this happened long ago, you know!'

`Did the Dichotomy-Principle succeed in any direction?'I enquired.

`In none,' Mein Herr candidly confessed. `It had a veryshort trial in Commerce. The shop-keepers wouldn't take it up, after oncetrying the plan of having half the attendants busy in folding up and carryingaway the goods which the other half were trying to spread out upon thecounters. They said the Public didn't like it!'

`I don't wonder at it,' I remarked.

`Well, we tried "the British Principle" for some years.And the end of it all was--' His voice suddenly dropped, almost to a whisper;and large tears began to roll down his cheeks. `--the end was that we gotinvolved in a war; and there was a great battle, in which we far out-numberedthe enemy. But what could one expect, when only half of our soldiers werefighting, and the other half pulling them back? It ended in a crushingdefeat--an utter rout. This caused a Revolution; and most of the Governmentwere banished. I myself was accused of Treason, for having so stronglyadvocated "the British Principle". My property was all forfeited, and--and--Iwas driven into exile! "Now the mischief's done," they said, "perhaps you'llkindly leave the country?" It nearly broke my heart, but I had to go!'

The melancholy tone became a wail: the wail became a chant:the chant became a song--though whether it was Mein Herr that was singing,this time, or somebody else, I could not feel certain.

`And, now the mischief's done, perhaps
You'll kindly go and pack your traps?
Since two (your daughter and your son)
Are Company, but three are none.

A course of saving we'll begin:
When change is needed, I'll invent it.
Don't think to put your finger in
This pie!' cried Tottles (and he meant it).

The music seemed to die away. Mein Herr was again speakingin his ordinary voice. `Now tell me one thing more,' he said. `Am I rightin thinking that in your Universities, though a man may reside some thirtyor forty years, you examine him, once for all, at the end of the firstthree or four?'

`That is so, undoubtedly,' I admitted.

`Practically, then, you examine a man at the beginningof his career!' the old man said to himself rather than to me. `And whatguarantee have you that he retains the knowledge for which you have rewardedhim--before-hand, as we should say!'

`None,' I admitted, feeling a little puzzled at the driftof his remarks. `How do you secure that object?'

`By examining him at the end of his thirty or forty years--notat the beginning,' he gently replied. `On an average, the knowledge thenfound is about one-fifth of what it was at first--the process of forgettinggoing on at a very steady uniform rate--and he, who forgets least, getsmost honour, and most rewards.'

`Then you give him the money when he needs it no longer?And you make him live most of his life on nothing!'

`Hardly that. He gives his orders to the tradesmen: theysupply him, for forty, sometimes fifty years, at their own risk: then hegets his Fellowship--which pays him in one year as much as your Fellowshipspay in fifty--and then he can easily pay all his bills, with interest.'

`But suppose he fails to get his Fellowship? That mustoccasionally happen.'

`That occasionally happens.' It was Mein Herr's turn,now, to make admissions.

`And what becomes of the tradesmen?'

`They calculate accordingly. When a man appears to begetting alarmingly ignorant, or stupid, they will sometimes refuse to supplyhim any longer. You have no idea with what enthusiasm a man will beginto rub up his forgotten sciences or languages, when his butcher has cutoff the supply of beef and mutton!'

`And who are the Examiners?'

`The young men who have just come, brimming over withknowledge. You would think it a curious sight,' he went on, `to see mereboys examining such old men. I have known a man set to examine his owngrandfather. It was a little painful for both of them, no doubt. The oldgentleman was as bald as a coot--'

`How bald would that be?' I've no idea why I asked thisquestion. I felt I was getting foolish.