The slight man with the bulging brow leaned forward and addressed the complacent looking individual with a look of almost human intelligence. It was a monotonous railway journey.
“Wonderful transportation facilities to-day, sir,” he ventured. “As we have been bowling along, my mind has unconsciously been dwelling on Jane Austen. Think of it, sir, only one hundred years ago and no railroads. Have we really lost or gained? Marvelous girl, that, sir. Masterpiece of literature when she was twenty-one, and no background but an untidy English village. You’ve heard of Jane Austen, I presume?”
“Can’t say I have.”
The slight man smiled sympathetically.
“I get a great deal of pleasure from books,” he went on. “Bachelor. Marvelous solace. May know Wordsworth’s famous lines, eh? ’Books we know are a substantial world,’ etc. Perhaps you have read something of Thomas Love Peacock?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Ah! Missed a great deal. Wonderful satirist, that. But still, I must admit that neither he nor Miss Austen are common. Now there’s Mark Twain—for general reading, rain or shine, can’t be beaten. American to the core, sir. Smacks of the soil. Perhaps he missed any warm love interest—but a delightful humorist, sir. You read him regularly, I presume?”
“Can’t say I do.”
“Of course, sir, books are not all. I agree with our old friend, Montaigne, about that. By the way, which do you prefer, Dickens or Thackeray?”
“Can’t say, sir. They’re strangers to me.”
“Perhaps you’ve heard of a man named Walter Scott. As his name implies, he was born in Scotland. He wrote books, you know—novels, stories. Rather good, eh? Human interest—wholesome reading—and all that sort of thing.”
“Don’t recall him.”
The slight man rose up in his seat. He bore down hard upon the stranger.
“Possibly,” he suggested, “in the course of your deep and intimate intercourse with men and affairs, you may recall the name of an individual named Shakespeare.”
“Yes, I think I remember.”
“How about Macaulay, the greatest essayist in England, and Homer, the prince of ancient poets, with seven birthplaces? Then there’s Emerson and Longfellow and Goethe and—”
He paused and grabbed the other man by the collar.
“My friend,” he said, “you don’t seem interested in the world’s greatest authors. May I inquire what your occupation in life is?”
The other man nodded gravely, even austerely.
“Certainly, sir,” he replied. “I’m a holiday salesman in Buncum’s Department Store Book Shop.”
The code of manners enjoyed by the Germans needs scarcely any further illumination, but the following incident may serve as further light upon this threadbare subject.
A physician boarded a crowded crosstown car. A woman was standing, and a big German seated, sprawling over twice the space necessary. Indignantly the doctor said to him: