Which squad is detailed for duty next?"

"The Past Definite."

"Send out and order it to the front--with chickens. And let them understand that we don't want any more of this cold indifference."

He gave the order to an aide, adding, with a haunting tenderness in his tone and a watering mouth in his aspect:

"Convey to them the conception that these are unprotected chickens." He turned to me, saluting with his hand to his temple, and explained, "It will inflame their interest in the poultry, sire."

A few minutes elapsed. Then the squad marched in and formed up, their faces glowing with enthusiasm, and the file-leader shouted:

"EBBI POLLI, I had chickens!"

"Good!" I said. "Go on, the next."

"AVEST POLLI, thou hadst chickens!"

"Fine! Next!"

"EBBE POLLI, he had chickens!"

"Moltimoltissimo! Go on, the next!"

"AVEMMO POLLI, we had chickens!"

"Basta-basta aspettatto avanti--last man--CHARGE!"

"EBBERO POLLI, they had chickens!"

Then they formed in echelon, by columns of fours, refused the left, and retired in great style on the double-quick. I was enchanted, and said:

"Now, doctor, that is something LIKE! Chickens are the ticket, there is no doubt about it. What is the next squad?"

"The Imperfect."

"How does it go?"

"IO AVENA, I had, TU AVEVI, thou hadst, EGLI AVENA, he had, NOI AV--"

Wait--we've just HAD the hads. what are you giving me?"

"But this is another breed."

"What do we want of another breed? Isn't one breed enough? HAD is HAD, and your tricking it out in a fresh way of spelling isn't going to make it any hadder than it was before; now you know that yourself."

"But there is a distinction--they are not just the same Hads."

"How do you make it out?"

"Well, you use that first Had when you are referring to something that happened at a named and sharp and perfectly definite moment; you use the other when the thing happened at a vaguely defined time and in a more prolonged and indefinitely continuous way."

'Why, doctor, it is pure nonsense; you know it yourself. Look here: If I have had a had, or have wanted to have had a had, or was in a position right then and there to have had a had that hadn't had any chance to go out hadding on account of this foolish discrimination which lets one Had go hadding in any kind of indefinite grammatical weather but restricts the other one to definite and datable meteoric convulsions, and keeps it pining around and watching the barometer all the time, and liable to get sick through confinement and lack of exercise, and all that sort of thing, why--why, the inhumanity of it is enough, let alone the wanton superfluity and uselessness of any such a loafing consumptive hospital-bird of a Had taking up room and cumbering the place for nothing. These finical refinements revolt me; it is not right, it is not honorable; it is constructive nepotism to keep in office a Had that is so delicate it can't come out when the wind's in the nor'west--I won't have this dude on the payroll. Cancel his exequator; and look here--"

"But you miss the point. It is like this. You see--"

"Never mind explaining, I don't care anything about it. Six Hads is enough for me; anybody that needs twelve, let him subscribe; I don't want any stock in a Had Trust. Knock out the Prolonged and Indefinitely Continuous; four-fifths of it is water, anyway."

"But I beg you, podere! It is often quite indispensable in cases where--"

"Pipe the next squad to the assault!"

But it was not to be; for at that moment the dull boom of the noon gun floated up out of far-off Florence, followed by the usual softened jangle of church-bells, Florentine and suburban, that bursts out in murmurous response; by labor-union law the COLAZIONE [1] must stop; stop promptly, stop instantly, stop definitely, like the chosen and best of the breed of Hads.

- - -

1. Colazione is Italian for a collection, a meeting, a seance, a sitting.--M.T.



Two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would write an autobiography they would read it when they got leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand and herewith tender my history.

Mark Twain
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