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 that seemed to ring through the room.
`One thousand pounds per annum
Here, with one of those convulsive starts that wake one up in the very act of dropping off to sleep, I became conscious that the deep musical tones that thrilled me did not belong to Mein Herr, but to the 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 am quite ready now.' And he read me the following Legend:
`In a city that stands in the very centre of Africa, and is rarely visited by the casual tourist, the people had always bought eggs--a daily necessary in a climate where egg-flip was the usual diet--from a Merchant who came to their gates once a week. And the people always bid wildly against each other: so there was quite a lively auction every time the Merchant came, and the last egg in his basket used to fetch the value of two or three camels, or thereabouts. And eggs got dearer every week. And still they drank their egg-flip, and wondered where all their money went 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 went forth. And he said "Oh, thou of the hook- nose and the goggle-eyes, thou of the measureless beard, how much for that lot of eggs?"
`And the Merchant answered him "I could let thee have that lot at ten thousand piastres the dozen."
`And the Man chuckled inwardly, and said "Ten piastres the dozen I offer thee, and no more, oh descendant of a distinguished grandfather!"
`And the Merchant stroked his beard, and said "Hum! I will await the coming of thy friends." So he waited. And the Man waited with him. And they waited both together.'
`The manuscript breaks off here,' said Mein Herr, as he rolled it up again; `but it was enough to open our eyes. We saw what simpletons we had been--buying our Scholars much as those ignorant savages bought their eggs--and the ruinous system was abandoned. If only we could have abandoned, 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--into the Army, of all places--of your theory of Political Dichotomy!'
`Shall I trouble you too much,' I said, `if I ask you to 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 the thing, with us, was the report brought to us, by one of our most eminent statesmen,
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