Is it a fine house-- that is, otherwise?'
'Pretty fine, yes. It is very well thought of.'
The girl was silent awhile, and sat dreamily gnawing a candle-end, apparently trying to think the thing out. At last she gave her head a little toss and spoke out her opinion with decision:
'Well, to my mind there's a breed of humility which is itself a species of showing off when you get down to the marrow of it; and when a man is able to afford two slop-tubs in his parlour, and doesn't do it, it may be that he is truly humble-minded, but it's a hundred times more likely that he is just trying to strike the public eye. In my judgment, your Mr. Vanderbilt knows what he is about.'
I tried to modify this verdict, feeling that a double slop-tub standard was not a fair one to try everybody by, although a sound enough one in its own habitat; but the girl's head was set, and she was not to be persuaded. Presently she said:
'Do the rich people, with you, have as good sleeping-benches as ours, and made out of as nice broad ice-blocks?'
'Well, they are pretty good--good enough--but they are not made of ice-blocks.'
'I want to know! Why aren't they made of ice-blocks?'
I explained the difficulties in the way, and the expensiveness of ice in a country where you have to keep a sharp eye on your ice-man or your ice-bill will weigh more than your ice. Then she cried out:
'Dear me, do you buy your ice?'
'We most surely do, dear.'
She burst into a gale of guileless laughter, and said:
'Oh, I never heard of anything so silly! My! there's plenty of it--it isn't worth anything. Why, there is a hundred miles of it in sight, right now. I wouldn't give a fish-bladder for the whole of it.'
'Well, it's because you don't know how to value it, you little provincial muggings. If you had it in New York in midsummer, you could buy all the whales in the market with it.'
She looked at me doubtfully, and said:
'Are you speaking true?'
'Absolutely. I take my oath to it.'
This made her thoughtful. Presently she said, with a little sigh:
'I wish I could live there.'
I had merely meant to furnish her a standard of values which she could understand; but my purpose had miscarried. I had only given her the impression that whales were cheap and plenty in New York, and set her mouth to watering for them. It seemed best to try to mitigate the evil which I had done, so I said:
'But you wouldn't care for whale-meat if you lived there. Nobody does.'
'Indeed they don't.'
'Why don't they?'
'Wel-l-l, I hardly know. It's prejudice, I think. Yes, that is it--just prejudice. I reckon somebody that hadn't anything better to do started a prejudice against it, some time or other, and once you get a caprice like that fairly going, you know it will last no end of time.'
'That is true--perfectly true,' said the girl, reflectively. 'Like our prejudice against soap, here--our tribes had a prejudice against soap at first, you know.'
I glanced at her to see if she was in earnest. Evidently she was. I hesitated, then said, cautiously:
'But pardon me. They had a prejudice against soap? Had?'--with falling inflection.
'Yes--but that was only at first; nobody would eat it.'
'Oh--I understand. I didn't get your idea before.'
'It was just a prejudice. The first time soap came here from the foreigners, nobody liked it; but as soon as it got to be fashionable, everybody liked it, and now everybody has it that can afford it. Are you fond of it?'
'Yes, indeed; I should die if I couldn't have it--especially here. Do you like it?'
'I just adore it! Do you like candles?'
'I regard them as an absolute necessity. Are you fond of them?'
Her eyes fairly danced, and she exclaimed:
'Oh! Don't mention it! Candles!--and soap!--'
'And carrion! and sour-krout! and beeswax! and tar! and turpentine! and molasses! and--'
'Don't--oh, don't--I shall expire with ecstasy!--'
'And then serve it all up in a slush-bucket, and invite the neighbours and sail in!'
But this vision of an ideal feast was too much for her, and she swooned away, poor thing.