"Of course, fully three-fourths of them never do, when one comes carefully to think of it," said my little monologist friend, quite without warning, as he shared my hotel table at dinner last evening.
Wise through fairly long experience, I refrained from comment and awaited elucidation. It came upon the heels of the first cryptic remark.
"Sorry," he apologised. "That distressing habit of mine again. I refer, of course, to human troubles and the Frenchman's proverb claiming that three-fourths of them never occur. I have had recently an enlightening example of this.
"Of all this earth's mammals, mankind alone is the one habitually apprehensive animal. It is probably the penalty of his attainment of a higher intelligence and a prescience that it is not wholly a blessing. He is ever peering into the future and seeing there dark visions of ruin and disaster. We speak of optimists; but amongst men there never yet has been a perfect optimist. Pessimism, in some degree, is general throughout the entire human race, so-called philosophers notwithstanding. With the lesser beasts it is otherwise.
"Consider the cow. Not a brainy beast, perhaps; but what a perfect picture of absolute aplomb and a complete acceptance of fate! Regard the dog. For ever looking forward to a walk or a bone or a hunt with patient confidence; but receiving a kick with pained surprise. Such timid creatures as birds and rabbits are ever watchful and alert, yet not through pessimism, merely as a wise, precautionary measure against surprise. Take the predatory beasts and those others upon whom they prey. Neither has -
"Dear me! Into what a labyrinthine tangle one's tongue does lead one. What am I talking about?
"Ah, yes. I was about to explain that I, myself, recently had an illuminating example of this peculiarly human foible - this crossing of some bridge of sighs before one comes to it - indeed, before one is reasonably aware that such a bridge exists.
"You know already how, at a New Year party of young people, an abundance of seductive and insidious cocktails had induced me to ask a very attractive young lady to dinner at this hotel. I told you of my agonies of apprehension lest I might be placed in an invidious position detrimental to my reputation in this community. That apprehension continued increasingly up to the very hour of our appointment; yet the whole of my troubles turned out to be merely a part of the Frenchman's three-fourths that never happen. Doubtless you saw us here on Saturday evening?"
"Yet I did not look altogether unhappy or ill at ease?"
I shook my head.
"Exactly. At the very beginning I discovered that my extremely attractive and picturesque guest is the daughter of a very old friend of mine with whom I had been out of touch for a number of years owing to his residence in another State. Without my knowing it, he has returned quite recently to settle again in this city. So everything was quite in order and the conventions duly observed.
"But what interested me most is this new insight I have into the minds and manners of the younger generation of today. I find I have let myself become something of an old fogey; and that is a mistake. As you perhaps noticed, the young lady is extremely attractive?'
Again I nodded.
"Yet she has many other delightful qualities - shared, I take it, by her youthful contemporaries - to supplement that physical attractiveness. She is witty and well-informed, with a curious unshyness - a confidence without impertinence that I found altogether new and delightful. This new generation amazes me. Yet - as again you may have noticed if you were watching - it lacks one of the most admirable graces of my own young days. I refer, sir, to the estimable art of listening. The younger generation has lost that art almost completely."
The monologist sat back and regarded me for a moment. Then he continued:-
"If I may be prmitted to say so, sir, in your case listening is an art which you yourself practise to quite an admirable degree. And, now, allow me to wish you a very good evening."
My bald friend wears those curious kind of spectacles which, while permitting one to see his eyes, hide, by some peculiar reflection or refraction, any expression they may hold. But I wondered as he went, if those glistening glasses did not conceal a sly twinkle of amusement.
Is he the humorless old character he seems? Or had the garrulous old humbug all this time been pulling my leg?
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002|