`It'll make very little difference to the authors,' I suggested. `Instead of saying "what book shall I write?" an author will ask himself "which book shall I write?" A mere verbal distinction!'
Lady Muriel gave me an approving smile. `But lunatics would always write new books, surely?' she went on. `They couldn't write the sane books over again!'
`True,' said Arthur. `But their books would come to an end, also. The number of lunatic books is as finite as the number of lunatics.'
`And that number is becoming greater every year,' said a pompous man, whom I recognized as the self- appointed showman on the day of the picnic.
`So they say,' replied Arthur. `And, when ninety per cent. of us are lunatics,' (he seemed to be in a wildly nonsensical mood) `the asylums will be put to their proper use.'
`And that is--?' the pompous man gravely enquired.
`To shelter the sane!' said Arthur. `We shall bar ourselves in. The lunatics will have it all their own way, outside. They'll do it a little queerly, no doubt. Railway-collisions will be always happening: steamers always blowing up: most of the towns will be burnt down: most of the ships sunk--'
`And most of the men killed!' murmured the pompous man, who was evidently hopelessly bewildered.
`Certainly,' Arthur assented. `Till at last there will be fewer lunatics than sane men. Then we come out: they go in: and things return to their normal condition!'
The pompous man frowned darkly, and bit his lip, and folded his arms vainly trying to think it out. `He is jesting!' he muttered to himself at last, in a tone of withering contempt, as he stalked away.
By this time the other guests had arrived; and dinner was announced. Arthur of course took down Lady Muriel: and I was pleased to find myself seated at her other side, with a severe-looking old lady (whom I had not met before, and whose name I had, as is usual in introductions, entirely failed to catch, merely gathering that it sounded like a compound-name) as my partner for the banquet.
She appeared, however, to be acquainted with Arthur, and confided to me in a low voice her opinion that he was `a very argumentative young man'. Arthur, for his part, seemed well inclined to show himself worthy of the character she had given him, and, hearing her say `I never take wine with my soup!' (this was not a confidence to me, but was launched upon Society, as a matter of general interest), he at once challenged a combat by asking her `when would you say that property commence in a plate of soup?'
`This is my soup,' she sternly replied: `and what is before you is yours.'
`No doubt,' said Arthur: `but when did I begin to own it? Up to the moment of its being put into the plate, it was the property of our host: while being offered round the table, it was, let us say, held in trust by the waiter: did it become mine when I accepted it? Or when it was placed before me? Or when I took the first spoonful?'
`He is a very argumentative young man!' was all the old lady would say: but she said it audibly, this time, feeling that Society had a right to know it.
Arthur smiled mischievously. `I shouldn't mind betting you a shilling,' he said, `that the Eminent Barrister next you' (It certainly is possible to say words so as to make them begin with capitals!) `ca'n't answer me!'
`I never bet,' she sternly replied.
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