Story type: Essay
AJAX: Hullo, Socrates, what are you doing patrolling the streets at this late hour? Surely it would be more seemly to be at home?
SOCRATES: You speak sooth, Ajax, but I have no home to repair to.
AJAX: What do you mean by that?
SOCRATES: In the sense of a place of habitation, a dormitory, of course I still have a home; but it is merely an abandoned shell, a dark and silent place devoid of allure. I have sent my family to the seashore, good Ajax, and the lonely apartment, with all the blinds pulled down and nothing in the icebox, is a dismal haunt. That is why I wander upon the highway.
AJAX: I, too, have known that condition, Socrates. Two years ago Cassandra took the children to the mountains for July and August; and upon my word I had a doleful time of it. What do you say, shall we have recourse to a beaker of ginger ale and discuss this matter? It is still only the shank of the evening.
SOCRATES: It is well thought of.
AJAX: As I was saying, the quaint part of it was that before my wife left I had secretly thought that a period of bachelorhood would be an interesting change. I rather liked the idea of strolling about in the evenings, observing the pageant of human nature in my quiet way, dropping in at the club or the library, and mingling with my fellow men in a fashion that the husband and father does not often have opportunity to do.
SOCRATES: And when Cassandra went away you found yourself desolate?
AJAX: Even so. Of course matters were rather different in those days, before the archons had taken away certain stimulants, but the principle is still the same. You know, the inconsistency of man is rather entertaining. I had often complained about having to help put the children to bed when I got home from the office. I grudged the time it took to get them all safely bestowed. And then, when the children were away, I found myself spending infinitely more time and trouble in getting some of my bachelor friends to bed.
SOCRATES: As that merry cartoonist Briggs observes in some of his frescoes, Oh Man!
AJAX: I wonder if your experience is the same as mine was? I found that about six o’clock in the evening, the hour when I would normally have been hastening home to wife and babes, was the most poignant time. I was horribly homesick. If I did go back to my forlorn apartment, the mere sight of little Priam’s crib was enough to reduce me to tears. I seriously thought of writing a poem about it.
SOCRATES: What is needed is a Club of Abandoned Husbands, for the consolation of those whose families are out of town.
AJAX: I have never found a club of much assistance at such a time. It is always full of rather elderly men who talk a great deal and in a manner both doleful and ill-informed.
SOCRATES: But this would be a club of quite a different sort. It would be devised to offer a truly domestic atmosphere to those who have sent their wives and juveniles to the country for the benefit of the fresh air, and have to stay in the city themselves to earn what is vulgarly known as kale.
AJAX: How would you work out the plan?
SOCRATES: It would not be difficult. In the first place, there would be a large nursery, with a number of rented children of various ages. Each member of the club, hastening thither from his office at the conclusion of the day’s work, would be privileged to pick out some child as nearly as possible similar in age and sex to his own absent offspring. He would then deal with this child according to the necessities of its condition. If it were an extremely young infant, a bottle properly prepared would be ready in the club kitchen, and he could administer it. The club bathroom would be filled with hilarious members on their knees beside small tubs, bathing such urchins as needed it. Others would be playing games on the floor, or tucking the children in bed. It ought to be quite feasible to hire a number of children for this purpose. During the day they would be cared for by a competent matron. Baby carriages would be provided, and if any of the club members were compelled to remain in town over the week-end they could take the children for an airing in the park.
AJAX: This is a brave idea, Socrates. And then, when all the children were bedded for the night, how would the domestic atmosphere be simulated?
SOCRATES: Nothing simpler. After dinner such husbands as are accustomed to washing the dishes would be allowed to do so in the club kitchen. During the day it would be the function of the matron to think up a number of odd jobs to be performed in the course of the evening. Pictures would be hung, clocks wound, a number of tin cans would be waiting to be opened with refractory can openers, and there would always be several window blinds that had gone wrong. A really resourceful matron could devise any number of ways of making the club seem just like home. One night she would discern a smell of gas, the next there might be a hole in the fly-screens, or a little carpentering to do, or a caster broken under the piano. Husbands with a turn for plumbing would find the club basement a perpetual place of solace, with a fresh leak or a rumbling pipe every few days.
AJAX: Admirable! And if the matron really wanted to make the members feel at home she would take a turn through the building every now and then, to issue a gentle rebuke for cigar ashes dropped on the rugs or feet elevated on chairs.
SOCRATES: The really crowning touch, I think, would lie in the ice-box raids. A large ice-box would be kept well stocked with remainders of apple pie, macaroni, stewed prunes, and chocolate pudding. Any husband, making a cautious inroad upon these about midnight, would surely have the authentic emotion of being in his own home.
AJAX: An occasional request to empty the ice-box pan would also be an artful echo of domesticity.
SOCRATES: Of course the success of the scheme would depend greatly on finding the right person for matron. If she were to strew a few hairpins about and perhaps misplace a latch key now and then—-
AJAX: Socrates, you have hit upon a great idea. But you ought to extend the membership of the club to include young men not yet married. Think what an admirable training school for husbands it would make!
SOCRATES: My dear fellow, let us not discuss it any further. It makes me too homesick. I am going back to my lonely apartment to write a letter to dear Xanthippe.