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"So am I," said the Idiot. "But such happiness."
"Well, what's it all got to do with Leap Year, anyhow?" asked the Bibliomaniac.
"Nothing at all, except that it proves that girls aren't fitted really to choose their own husbands, and that therefore the special privilege conferred upon them by the recurrence of Leap Year should be rescinded by law," said the Idiot. "That privilege, owing to woman's incapacity to choose correctly, and man's weakness in the use of negatives, is a standing menace to the future happiness of the people."
"Hoity-toity," cried Mrs. Pedagog. "What a proposition. Tell me, Mr.
Idiot, if a woman is not capable of selecting her own husband, who on earth is? Man himself--that embodiment of all the wisdom and all the sagacity of the ages?"
"I didn't say so," said the Idiot. "And I don't really think so," he added. "The whole inst.i.tution of getting engaged to be married should be regulated by the public authorities. Every county should have its Matrimonial Bureau, whose duty it should be to pair off all the eligible candidates in the matrimonial market, and in pairing them off it should be done on a basis of mutual fitness. Bachelors and old maids should be legislated out of existence, and n.o.body should be allowed to marry a second time until everybody else had been provided for. It is perfectly scandalous to me to read in the newspapers that a prominent widow in a certain town has married her third husband, when it is known that that same city contains 25,000 old maids who haven't the ghost of a show unless the State steps in and helps them out. What business has any woman to work up a corner in husbands, with so many of her sisters absolutely starving matrimonially?"
"And the young people are to have nothing to say about it, eh?" asked Mr. Brief.
"Oh yes--they can put in an application to the Bureau stating that they want to wed, and the Board of Managers can consider the desirability of issuing a permit," said the Idiot. "And they should be compelled to show cause why they should not be restrained from getting married. It is only in such a way that the state can reasonably guarantee the permanence of a contract to which it is in a sense a party. The State, by the establishment of certain laws, demands that the marriage contract shall practically be a life affair. It should therefore take it upon itself to see to it that there is a tolerable prospect at least that the contract is a just one. Many a poor woman has been bound to a life-long obligation of misery in which no consideration whatever has been paid by the party of the second part. If a contract without consideration will not stand in commerce, why should it in matrimony?"
"What you ought to go in for is Mormonism," snapped Mrs. Pedagog. "Keep on getting married until you've found just the right one and then get rid of all the others."
"That is a pleasing alternative," said the Idiot. "But expensive. I'd hate to pay a milliner's bill for a Mormon household--but anyhow we needn't grow acrimonious over the subject, for whatever I may think of matrimony as she exists to-day, all the injustices, inequalities, miseries of it, and all that, I prefer it to acrimony, and I haven't the slightest idea that my dream of perfect conditions will ever be realized. Only, Mary--"
"Yessir?" said the Maid.
"If between this and the first of January, 1905, any young ladies, or old ones either, call here and ask for me--"
"Yessir," said the Maid.
"Tell 'em I've gone to Nidjni-Novgorod and am not expected back for eleven years," said the Idiot. "I'm not going to take any chances."