Project Canterbury

A Teacher of the Violin and Other Stories

By J.H. Shorthouse

New York: Macmillan, 1888.

An Apologue

There was a pause in the game. Spades were trumps, and the two Besique Knaves were lying on the table side by side. The Professor held sequence cards almost entirely, and it required careful play on the part of his adversary to prevent his getting both the sequence and the double besique. Therefore there was a pause in the game.

The King of Diamonds and the King of Clubs were lying side by side, and began to talk. The King of Clubs was a stupid king. He always said the same thing over again. No matter what excellent reasons you gave him, nor how clearly you showed him what foolish remarks he made, he always repeated the last words he had said. This was, no doubt, very stupid; but it gave him a great advantage in argument.

The King of Diamonds, on the contrary, was very clever. His intellect was of so rare a quality, and of so hard and fine a temper, and had been so carefully and sharply cut and elaborated into crystals, that it was enabled to pierce further into a millstone than that of any other card--yes, even that of the cleverest of the Knaves, for the intellect of these latter is always spoilt by a sort of worldly cunning, and a too great reference to the gains and advantages of present good.

'I tell you,' said the King of Clubs, in a loud and positive voice, 'that it is all chance. In an affair in which I was lately engaged, and in which my suite were trumps, there were with me the two Aces, my brother, the King of Clubs, my own consort, the two Tens, and one of the Knaves. Now, I ask you, what could any skill effect against such a force as this?'

As this was the ninth time the king had related this anecdote in precisely the same words, the King of Diamonds began to feel the conversation a bore, and if his perfect culture would have permitted such a thing, he would have felt irritated, which, of course, he never did. He therefore replied with extreme politeness, in a soft and melodious voice--

'The force of your reasoning, my dear Clubs, and the interesting anecdote you have just related, admit of no reply. I see clearly that everything is the result of chance, and I also see, I think clearly, that: chance forms itself under certain contingencies into a sort of system by which unexpected results are obtained. Thus, I have often noticed that when everything seemed clear before us, and the game our own, in the most unexpected way everything is changed; instead of lying peaceably on our own side of the table, we are transferred to the enemy's camp. The play of one particular card appears to have subverted the most formidable combinations, and conclusions which I fancied certain dissolve into air.'

The King of Clubs did not understand a word of all this, but, as his companion appeared to be agreeing with what he himself had stated, he did not think it worth while to relate his anecdote over again, and remained silent.

'I think it must be plain to every one,' continued the King of Diamonds, still with extreme politeness, 'even to the most stupid, that we are governed by a higher intellect than our own; that as the cards fall from the pack, in what you so forcibly describe as chance medley merely, they are immediately subjected to analysis and arrangement, by which the utmost possible value is extracted from these chance contingencies, and that not unfrequently the results which chance itself seemed to predict are reversed. This analysis and arrangement, and these results, we cards have learnt to call intellect (or mind), and to attribute it to an order of beings superior to ourselves, by whom our destinies are controlled. These truths are taught in our Sunday schools, and will, I think, scarcely be denied. But what I wish to call your attention to, is a more abstruse conception which I myself have obtained with difficulty, but which your more robust--that is the term, I think, you Liberals use--intellect will, I doubt not, readily grasp. It has occurred to me that even the fall of the cards is the result merely of more remote contingencies, and is resolvable into laws and systems similar to those to which they are afterwards subjected. I was led at first to form this conception by an oracular voice which I once heard, whether in trance or vision I cannot say. The words I heard were somewhat like these:-

'"If we could sufficiently extend our insight we should see that every apparently chance contingency is but the result of previous combinations: that all existence is but the result of previous existence, and that chance is lost in law. But side by side with this truth exists another of more stupendous import, that, just as far as this truth is recognised and perceived, just so far, step by step, springs into existence a power by which law is abrogated, and the apparent course of its iron necessity is changed. To these senseless cards" (whom the voice here alluded to I fail to see)--"to these senseless cards, doubtless, the game appears nothing but an undeviating law of fate. We know that we possess a power by which the fall of the cards is systematised and controlled. To a higher intelligence than ours, doubtless, combinations which seem to us inscrutable are as easily analysed and controlled. In proportion as intellect advances we know this to be the case, and these two would seem to run back side by side into the Infinite Law, and Intellect which perceives Law, until we arrive at the final problem, whether Law is the result of intellect, or intellect of Law." These were the remarkable words I heard.'

I do not understand a word you have said,' replied the King of Clubs. 'I remember in an affair in which I was engaged--'

Here the King of Spades suddenly came down upon the table at his brother monarch's side, and the game was played out.

When the game was over, and the other player was gone, the Professor's little daughter came to the table, and began to play with the cards.

'Why does the Herr Councillor, who is so rich, come and play with you, papa?' she said.

'We were boys together, and he likes to come and hear me talk; for while he has been growing rich and great, I have been thinking, which he has no time to do.'

The Professor would not have said this to any one else, but it was only his little daughter, and there was no reason why he should not say what was in his mind.

'Why did you not ask God to make you rich and great?' said the little girl.

'I asked the All-father,' said the Professor, looking very kindly at the child, 'to give me all that was good, and He has given me everything, even a little girl.'

The child was taking all the royal cards in her hands and placing them side by side upon the table, so that she made a pretty picture, bright with colours and gay forms; but one card was wanting, so that the royal dance-figure was not perfect, and one place was vacant.

A card was lying on the floor with its back uppermost.

'Pick me up that card, papa,' said the Professor's little daughter. 'It is a king.'

The Professor stooped down and picked up the card. It was a paltry seven of hearts.

Now the father could not complete the picture for his child, for the wise King of Diamonds had fallen by misadventure into the large pocket of the rich councillor's embroidered coat, and was gone.

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