Manalive HTML version

I.2. The Luggage of an Optimist
We all remember the fairy tales of science in our infancy, which played with the
supposition that large animals could jump in the proportion of small ones. If an
elephant were as strong as a grasshopper, he could (I suppose) spring clean out
of the Zoological Gardens and alight trumpeting upon Primrose Hill. If a whale
could leap from the sea like a trout, perhaps men might look up and see one
soaring above Yarmouth like the winged island of Laputa. Such natural energy,
though sublime, might certainly be inconvenient, and much of this inconvenience
attended the gaiety and good intentions of the man in green. He was too large for
everything, because he was lively as well as large. By a fortunate physical
provision, most very substantial creatures are also reposeful; and middle-class
boarding-houses in the lesser parts of London are not built for a man as big as a
bull and excitable as a kitten.
When Inglewood followed the stranger into the boarding-house, he found him
talking earnestly (and in his own opinion privately) to the helpless Mrs. Duke.
That fat, faint lady could only goggle up like a dying fish at the enormous new
gentleman, who politely offered himself as a lodger, with vast gestures of the
wide white hat in one hand, and the yellow Gladstone bag in the other.
Fortunately, Mrs. Duke's more efficient niece and partner was there to complete
the contract; for, indeed, all the people of the house had somehow collected in
the room. This fact, in truth, was typical of the whole episode. The visitor created
an atmosphere of comic crisis; and from the time he came into the house to the
time he left it, he somehow got the company to gather and even follow (though in
derision) as children gather and follow a Punch and Judy. An hour ago, and for
four years previously, these people had avoided each other, even when they had
really liked each other. They had slid in and out of dismal and deserted rooms in
search of particular newspapers or private needlework. Even now they all came
casually, as with varying interests; but they all came.