THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
My middle-aged friend Gratiano, being an animalier rather than a prosy philanthropist, has set out to reform human manners and customs on behalf of the courteous friendly beasts. In the country he hunts for fragments of bottles as persons of other minds hunt for lunar moths, four-leaved clover, and Lactarius deliciosus. Every glisten in the road suspends his conversation, and draws the soul out of his eyes; he growls, pounces, retrieves, and presently inserts his ugly nugget of glass in the crevices of the next stone wall, or jabs it viciously, with a stick, deep into a bank of mud. You are to understand that this proceeding is protective; it is part of the ritual of his passion for dogs: his own big dog, your dog, and dogs alien, distant, and unborn.
Again, Gratiano dedicates no inconsiderable number of minutes during the week (to the chagrin of his family and friends) in applying the toe of his boot to banana or orange peel dropped in the city streets. He curvets obliquely and hurriedly from your side, bringing himself to a standstill among wheels and cracking whips; then he deftly and elegantly shies the offending object into its haven close under the curbstone, and returns, to take up his interrupted paradox. If there be two pulpless skins, he repeats the gesture with an impassioned lightninglike kick; his gymnastics will never cease so long as, literally, they bear fruit. Gratiano excuses this singular urban industry, if pressed on the subject, by saying that he pursues it on principle, for the sake of law and order, also of horses; but it is debatable whether some demon of unreason does not impel him to attack garbage as soon as spied, even as it repeatedly forced Dr. Johnson to number the Fleet Street posts, touching each of them with his benighted fist as he passed.
It seems to be part of Gratiano’s philosophy to take account of the fact that peel is a singularly visible object. He plays up, as actors say, to this fact. As along his line of march, down town, peel always gets into the gutter, that tends to make gutters look as if there, and there only, were the happy predestined home of peel; and so, by a long, patient, suggestive process, the good diplomatic Gratiano arranges that all folk of that neighborhood shall shortly begin to throw peel where they have seen it lying all their lives! Lastly, as boys and girls, teamsters and hoodlums are as repetitive by nature as sheep or the Chinese mind, in due time every scrap of wasted civic peel, the world over, must attach itself to the circumjacent gutter, and menace nevermore any traveling creature. But ages before the reformation of Young America in these public particulars is complete, Gratiano will have gone to Paradise, to be embarrassed throughout his new and more passive career by the effusive softnosed thanks of myriad dogs and horses who have brought away their full quota of four sound paws and four unbroken legs from the highways and byways of our perilous civilization.