Two Little Tales

First Story: The Man with a message for the Director-General

Some days ago, in this second month of 1900, a friend made an afternoon call upon me here in London. We are of that age when men who are smoking away their time in chat do not talk quite so much about the pleasantnesses of life as about its exasperations. By and by this friend began to abuse the War Office. It appeared that he had a friend who had been inventing something which could be made very useful to the soldiers in South Africa. It was a light and very cheap and durable boot, which would remain dry in wet weather, and keep its shape and firmness. The inventor wanted to get the government’s attention called to it, but he was an unknown man and knew the great officials would pay no heed to a message from him.

“This shows that he was an ass—like the rest of us,” I said, interrupting. “Go on.”

“But why have you said that? The man spoke the truth.”

“The man spoke a lie. Go on.”

“I will prove that he—”

“You can’t prove anything of the kind. I am very old and very wise. You must not argue with me: it is irreverent and offensive. Go on.”

“Very well. But you will presently see. I am not unknown, yet even I was not able to get the man’s message to the Director-General of the Shoe-Leather Department.”

“This is another lie. Pray go on.”

“But I assure you on my honor that I failed.”

“Oh, certainly. I knew that. You didn’t need to tell me.”

“Then where is the lie?”

“It is in your intimation that you were not able to get the Director-General’s immediate attention to the man’s message. It is a lie, because you could have gotten his immediate attention to it.”

“I tell you I couldn’t. In three months I haven’t accomplished it.”

“Certainly. Of course. I could know that without your telling me. You could have gotten his immediate attention if you had gone at it in a sane way; and so could the other man.”

“I did go at it in a sane way.”

“You didn’t.”

“How do you know? What do you know about the circumstances?”

“Nothing at all. But you didn’t go at it in a sane way. That much I know to a certainty.”

“How can you know it, when you don’t know what method I used?”

“I know by the result. The result is perfect proof. You went at it in an insane way. I am very old and very w—”

“Oh, yes, I know. But will you let me tell you how I proceeded? I think that will settle whether it was insanity or not.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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