My little bald friend, the Monologist, had not favored my hotel dining-table for quite a while; and I had begun to wonder, if, perhaps, he had grown tired of me as a listener, when he turned up the other evening, polite, debonair and - eventually - talkative as ever.
I cannot help thinking that on such occasions the sly old humbug is patiently seeking a conversational subject which, having secured, he mentally canvasses, explores, divides and arranges into the form of an amazingly fluent and apparently spontaneous monologue while he is silently absorbing his soup.
I suspect that the old gentleman is extremely vain concerning, first, the enigmatic opening, and, second, the seeming impromptu quality of his little lectures. Anyway, the soup course with him is invariably a silent and meditative one, and I imagine that my sole and humble part in the little seance is to glow with surprised admiration and act as a kind of grateful radiator at which the loquacious old chatterbox may warm his queer vanity.
Having slowly finished his soup the other night, my vis-a-vis leant back, patted his lips delicately with his table napkin, and regarded me with a meditative eye.
"Even the brawls and bickering of connubiality," he remarked, with startling suddenness, "fail to alter the fact that the female of the species is a far more fitting instrument for the accomplishment of peace through cosmopolitanism. I perceive you agree."
"Well," I replied, determined that the radiator should for once become vocal, "it largely depends upon how -"
"Quite," he snapped, treatimg me to an angry glance of surprised reproach. "I am glad that you grasp that. As I was about to say, the real significance of the female desire for uniformity with its apparent habit of slavish imitation has been entirely misinterpreted and flippantly dismissed by the ingenuous male animal throughout the centuries."
He paused perceptibly, as if daring me to venture again on his preserves. Then, in a more mollified tone, he took up his theme.
It had been my one and only bid for the rights of free speech, and he saw that I was vanquished.
"I have no doubt (he continued) that, like myself, you are a reader, if not a student of the works of Mr H. G. Wells. For a long time now my opinion of this writer has been fluctuating between sincere admiration for his ideal of an eventual world peace, and contempt for his amazing inability to perceive the obvious means by which to achieve his end.
"Mr Wells has for a long time now preached the doctrine of cosmopolitanism as opposed to internationalism and nationalism in his efforts to point a way to peace in this war-ridden world.
"But at all times his appeal has been to men, and to man alone he looks for the organisation and propagation of an ideal that must, by its very nature, be repugnant to conservative minds.
"And what is man in the mass if not stupidly and stubbornly conservative? Woman, on the other hand, despite all appearances, is ever ready to accept and exploit new ideas once those ideas are promulgated.
"Consider, for example, man's attitude toward tonsorial and sartorial fashions. Consider his whiskers. Three centuries have seen but one change and one return to ancient custom. The eighteenth saw him clean-shaven; the nineteenth saw him adorned with a hirsute grotesquerie of amazing shape and variety; but by the twentieth he was timidly back to bald-faced security once again. It is much the same with his garments. For him, the slight alteration in the shape of a cravat is a world shaking revolution.
"And now consider the history of women's changing fashions in the same period.
"Need I go into details? Take only the female head as a single instance. At one period we considered her flowing tresses as a fixed and inevitable crowing glory. Then suddenly, overnight, at a single snip of a master scissors, as it were, and the whole world stood shingled, bobbed, barbered and shorn.
"That alone was an amazingly significant example of woman's innate readiness, not only to accept new ideas, but to accept them with rare enthusiasm.
"Then, I say, let man practise a little subtlety for once. Les us at least pretend to give unto our women's hands the accomplishment of this cosmopolitan peace that most men desire, yet are too conservative to tackle.
"Matriarchy is to be feared and avoided, but let us dissemble. Let women bring us world peace - as a fashion, a mere fad, if you like - but, once the ideal is accomplished, we may then take up our proper places and resume the reins.
"I consider," concluded the little man, "that, in this, I have discovered something of world importance."
"But," ventured the radiator timidly, "are you personally, as one of the lords of creation, prepared to step down, even temporarily, and -"
"Ah," said my strange friend, pushing back his chair. "I have anticipated that. I consider that I, as originator of this colossal scheme, should be appointed, at its inception, as world dictator. It would greatly safeguard our sex."
And with what looked very like the ghost of a roguishly satirical grin, the vain little leg-puller was gone.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003|