The Idiot was very late at breakfast, so extremely late in fact that some apprehension was expressed by his fellow boarders as to the state of his health.
"I hope he isn't ill," said Mr. Whitechoker. "He is usually so prompt at his meals that I fear something is the matter with him."
"He's all right," said the Doctor, whose room adjoins that of the Idiot in Mrs. Smithers-Pedagog's Select Home for Gentlemen. "He'll be down in a minute. He's suffering from an overdose of vacation—rested too hard."
Just then the subject of the conversation appeared in the doorway, pale and haggard, but with an eye that boded ill for the larder.
"Quick!" he cried, as he entered. "Lead me to a square meal. Mary, please give me four bowls of mush, ten medium soft-boiled eggs, a barrel of sautée potatoes and eighteen dollars' worth of corned beef hash. I'll have two pots of coffee, Mrs. Pedagog, please, four pounds of sugar and a can of condensed milk. If there is any extra charge you may put it on the bill, and some day when Hot Air Common goes up thirty or forty points I'll pay."
"What's the matter with you, Mr. Idiot?" asked Mr. Brief. "Been fasting for a week?"
"No," replied the Idiot. "I've just taken my first week's vacation, and between you and me I've come back to business so as to get rested up for the second."
"Doesn't look as though vacation agreed with you," said the Bibliomaniac.
"It doesn't," said the Idiot. "Hereafter I am an advocate of the Russell Sage system. Never take a day off if you can help it. There's nothing so restful as paying attention to business, and no greater promoter of weariness of spirit and vexation of your digestion than the modern style of vacating. No more for mine, if you please."
"Humph!" sneered the Bibliomaniac. "I suppose you went to Coney Island to get rested up Bumping the Bump and Looping the Loop and doing a lot of other crazy things."
"Not I," quoth the Idiot. "I didn't have sense enough to go to some quiet place like Coney Island, where you can get seven square meals a day, and then climb into a Ferris Wheel and be twirled around in the air until they have been properly shaken down. I took one of the 400 Vacations. Know what that is?"
"No," said Mr. Brief. "I didn't know there were 400 Vacations with only 365 days in the year. What do you mean?"
"I mean the kind of Vacation the people in the 400 take," explained the Idiot. "I've been to a house-party up in Newport with some friends of mine who're in the swim, and I tell you it's hard swimming. You'll never hear me talking about a leisure class in this country again. Those people don't know what leisure is. I don't wonder they're always such a tired-looking lot."
"I was not aware that you were in with the smart set," said the Bibliomaniac.
"Oh yes," said the Idiot. "I'm in with several of 'em—way in. So far in that I'm sometimes afraid I'll never get out. We're carrying a whole lot of wild-cats on margin for Billie Van Gelder, the cotillion leader; Tommy de Cahoots, the famous yachtsman, owes us about $8,000 more than he can spare from his living expenses on one of his plunges into Copper, and altogether we are pretty long on swells in our office."
"And do you mean to say those people invite you out?" asked the Bibliomaniac.
"All the time," said the Idiot. "Just as soon as one of our swell customers finds he can't pay his margins he comes down to the office and gets very chummy with all of us. The deeper he is in it the more affable he becomes. The result is there are house-parties and yacht cruises and all that sort of thing galore on tap for us every summer."
"And you accept them, eh?" said the Bibliomaniac scornfully.
"As a matter of business, of course," replied the Idiot. "We've got to get something out of it. If one of our customers can't pay cash, why we get what we can. In this particular case Mr. Reginald Squandercash had me down at Newport for five full days, and I know now why he can't pay up his little shortage of $800. He's got the money, but he needs it for other things, and now that I know it I shall recommend the firm to give him an extension of thirty days. By that time he will have collected from the De Boodles, whom he is launching in society—C. O. D.—and will be able to square matters with us."
"Your conversation is Greek to me," said the Bibliomaniac. "Who are the De Boodles, and for what do they owe your friend Reginald Squandercash money?"
"The De Boodles," explained the Idiot, "are what is known as Climbers, and Reginald Squandercash is a Booster."
"A what?" cried the Bibliomaniac.
"A Booster," said the Idiot. "There are several Boosters in the 400. For a consideration they will boost wealthy Climbers into Society. The Climbers are people like the De Boodles, who have suddenly come into great wealth, and who wish to be in it with others of great wealth who are also of high social position. They don't know how to do the trick, so they seek out some Booster like Reggie, strike a bargain with him, and he steers 'em up against the 'Among Those Present' Game until finally you find the De Boodles have a social cinch."
"Do you mean to say that Society tolerates such a business as that?" demanded the Bibliomaniac.
"Tolerates?" laughed the Idiot. "What a word to use! Tolerates? Why, Society encourages, because Society shares the benefits. Take this especial vacation of mine. Society had two five-o'clock teas, four of the swellest dinners you ever sat down to, a cotillion where the favors were of solid silver and real ostrich feathers, a whole day's clam-bake on Reggie's steam yacht, with automobile runs and coaching trips galore. Nobody ever declines one of Reggie's invitations, because what he has from a Society point of view is the best the market affords. Why, the floral decorations alone at the Fête Champêtre he gave in honor of the De Boodles at his villa last Thursday night must have cost $5,000, and everything was on the same scale. I don't believe a cent less than $7,500 was burned up in the fire-works, and every lady present received a souvenir of the occasion that cost at least $100."
"Your story doesn't quite hold together," said Mr. Brief. "If your friend Reggie has a villa and a steam yacht, and automobiles and coaches, and gives fêtes champêtres that cost fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, I don't see why he has to make himself a Booster of inferior people who want to get into Society. What does he gain by it? It surely isn't sport to do a thing like that, and I should think he'd find it a dreadful bore."
"The man must live," said the Idiot. "He boosts for a living."
"When he has the wealth of Monte Cristo at his command?" demanded Mr. Brief.
"Reggie hasn't a cent to his name," said the Idiot. "I've already told you he owes us $800 he can't pay."
"Then who in thunder pays for the villa and the lot and all those hundred-dollar souvenirs?" asked the Doctor.
"Why—this year, the De Boodles," said the Idiot. "Last year it was Colonel and Mrs. Moneybags, whose daughter, Miss Fayette Moneybags, is now clinching the position Reggie sold her at Newport over in London, whither Reggie has consigned her to his sister, an impecunious American Duchess—the Duchess of Nocash—who is also in the boosting business. The chances are Miss Moneybags will land one of England's most deeply indebted peers, and if she does, Reggie will receive a handsome cheque for steering the family up against so attractive a proposition."
"And you mean to tell us that a plain man like old John De Boodle, of Nevada, is putting out his hard-earned wealth in that way?" demanded Mr. Brief.
"I didn't mean to mention any names," said the Idiot. "But you've spotted the victim. Old John De Boodle, who made his $60,000,000 in six months after having kept a saloon on the frontier for forty years, is the man. His family wants to get in the swim, and Reggie is turning the trick for them—and after all, what better way is there for De Boodle to get in? He might take sixty villas at Newport and not get a peep at the Divorce Colony there, much less a glimpse of the monogamous set acting independently. Not a monkey in the Zoo would dine with the De Boodles, and in his most eccentric moment I doubt if Tommy Dare would take them up unless there was somebody to stand sponsor for them. A cool million might easily be expended without results, by the De Boodles themselves, but hand that money over to Reggie Squandercash, whose blood is as blue as his creditors sometimes get, and you can look for results. What the Frohmans are to the stage, Reggie Squandercash is to Society. He's right in it; popular as all spenders are; lavish as all people spending other people's money are apt to be. Old De Boodle, egged on by Mrs. De Boodle and Miss Mary Ann De Boodle, now known as Miss Marianne De Boodle, goes to Reggie and says, 'The old lady and my girl are nutty on Society. Can you land 'em?' 'Certainly,' says Reggie, 'if your pocket is long enough.' 'How long is that?' asks De Boodle, wincing a bit. 'A hundred thousand a month, and no extras, until you're in,' says Reggie. 'No reduction for families?' asks De Boodle, anxiously. 'No,' says Reggie. 'Harder job.' 'All right,' says De Boodle, 'here's my cheque for the first month.' That's how Reggie gets his Newport villa, his servants, his horses, yacht, automobiles and coaches. Then he invites the De Boodles up to visit him. They accept, and the fun begins. First it's a little dinner to meet my friends Mr. and Mrs. De Boodle, of Nevada. Everybody there, hungry, dinner from Sherrys, best wines in the market. De Boodles covered with diamonds, a great success, especially old John De Boodle, who tells racy stories over the demi-tasse when the ladies have gone into the drawing-room. De Boodle voted a character. Next thing, Bridge Whist party. Everybody there. Society a good winner. The De Boodles magnificent losers. Popularity cinched. Next, yachting party. Everybody on board. De Boodle on deck in fine shape. Champagne flows like Niagara. Poker game in main cabin. Food everywhere. De Boodles much easier. Stiffness wearing off, and so on and so on until finally Miss De Boodle's portrait is printed in nineteen Sunday newspapers all over the country. They're launched, and Reggie comes into his own with a profit for the season in a cash balance of $50,000. He's had a bully time all summer, entertained like a Prince, and comes to the rainy season with a tidy little umbrella to keep him out of the wet."
"And can he count on that as a permanent business?" asked Mr. Whitechoker.
"My dear sir, the Rock of Gibraltar is no solider and no more permanent," said the Idiot. "For as long as there is a 400 in existence human nature is such that there will also be a million who will want to get into it."
"At such a cost?" demanded the Bibliomaniac.
"At any cost," replied the Idiot. "Even people who know they can not swim want to get in it."