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Forty Modern Fables, by George Ade, [1901], at

The Fable of This Year's St. George & The 800 Microscopic Dragons

    FOR many years a thoughtless Man had been plugging along, eating three Square Ones each Day, gaining about a Pound a Month, and not taking any Care of himself at all.

    One Night he happened in on a Lecture Course to find out about the Germ Theory of Disease. When the Pictures were shot on the Screen, he learned that ordinary Drinking Water and many kinds of Food were chuck full of three-eyed Dinguses with curly Tails and long Feelers. The Lecturer explained that when a few Flocks of these Organisms moved into a Gentleman and began to Play House and Nibble around, it usually meant that there was going to be another Order for Satin Lining and Silver Handles.

    The Man who had been knocking around for Thirty-eight Years, drinking out of Hydrants and Troughs and eating any old Thing that could be Masticated, was Scared stiff when he realized how many thousands of times he had flirted with Death.

    From that Moment he decided that he would not touch any Water unless it had been Boiled and Skimmed. When he couldn't get Boiled Water, he would demand Vichy or Deep Rock or a certain Lithia containing Sillykilate of Polarium, which is Good for whatever you happen to have at the Time.

    Occasionally he would forget and take a Swig of Plain Water, the same as other People were drinking. Then, when it was too late, he would recall those Pictures of the Germs, and he could make out a whole Menagerie of these little Animals grazing around through his Inwards and leading bold Expeditions into the most remote Corridors of his Being. After he had thought about them for a while, they would seem to be about the size of Oyster Crabs and sometimes it seemed to him he could feel their little Claws tickle when they were doing a Mobile Buck on the smooth Surface of his Diaphragm. He wondered what would happen to him when all of them started to Gnaw their way out.

    He began to wear a haggard, persecuted Look. The Microbes were hiding at every Corner, waiting to pounce out at him. The crafty little Creatures were floating around in the Air and the only way to Baffle them was to breathe through a Sieve. They were camped out by the Millions on a moldy Piece of Bread, while one Cubic Inch of Roquefort Cheese contained 14,500,000 of them, many of them Bearded and wearing curved Horns, the same as a Billy Goat. He began to drink Carbolic Acid. It is Horrible to know that while one is Slumbering, the brutal Bacilli are climbing up the Brass Bedstead and over the flowered Spread and tunnelling into the System from all Directions. When a Man begins to realize that he is merely a Repository for a large Zoo of Micro-Cannibals, he feels Unworthy and Discouraged.

    This Man became so worried and apprehensive that he could not sleep of Nights. So he began to read up on Nervousness and learned that he would have to let up on Tea and Coffee and Cigars and Pastry and nearly everything else that he really liked. He put himself on a Diet of Asbestos Breakfast Biscuit, and some other kind of Health Fodder which resembled the Excelsior Packing that comes around Lamp Chimneys. When he was Thirsty he had a little Sterilized Milk or a nice refreshing Cup of would-be imitation Coffee, made out of parched Barley. He began to take his Temperature and examine his Blood under a Microscope. When he discovered that a minute form of Tadpole was playing hide-and-seek among the Corpuscles, he gave a low Moan and ordered a fresh lot of Insect Powder.

    Now it is well established that He who begins to scrutinize his Interior Economy and Brood over the conduct of the Germs that he happens to be Chaperoning, will get ready, sooner or later, to do what is known as the Appendicitis Act. Every time this Man had a Stitch in the Side, he went and Shaved himself and brushed his Hair and got ready to make a neat, respectable Appearance on the Operating Table. Then the Doctor would come and go over him with a silver-plated Tack Hammer and try to locate the imaginary Lumps. It would require an awful Argument to convince the Man that he was All Right.

    As might have been expected, he began to get Daffy on the Subject of Nutritive Qualities in Food. This was another wild Tack, for which the Scientific Works and the Health Hints in the Paper were responsible. At the Table he would poke suspiciously at the Dishes and want to know how much Nitrogen, Carbon, Starch, Dextrin, Sugar and Albumin they contained. It took away the Appetite of those who had to associate with him. Instead of going ahead and Eating, he merely monkeyed with Chemical Compounds and used his Stomach as a Retort. He began to exhibit the jerky Mannerisms of a Kansas Reformer and it was whispered at the Office that he was slightly Touched. But he was not. He was simply making a consistent Effort to conform to the new-fangled Science of Living, and it was wearing him to a Rack of Bones.

    One day in walked his Brother Thomas, who was travelling Auditor for an Investment Company. Thomas was Fat and Sassy, with a Patch of Red on each Cheek.

    "Ah, Brother," said the Germ Gladiator. "I judge by your nippy Appearance that you have been subsisting on Gluten and dodging the Bacilli."

    "What in Thunder are Bacilli?" asked Brother Thomas.

    "Surely you are aware that the Universe lately has been overrun by small Bugs, invisible to the Naked Eye," said the Learned Brother. "If a Buff Bacillus with a Blue Stinger gets into you, it means Lumbago. If one of the six-legged Fellows with a plaid Husk starts a Hatchery somewhere on your Preserves, then you may consider yourself elected for Spinal Meningitis, and so on. There are now over 800 Varieties running at large, seeking whom they may Devour. I have figured that it is impossible for any Person to escape them for any Length of Time. Our only Hope is to prepare for the Battle by eating petrified Wafers, drinking Anti-Septic and keeping a private Drug Store in the Closet. For three Months I have been in a hand-to-hand Struggle. I am still in the Ring, but I am getting wobbly. I never can tell what minute a Germ is going to sneak up behind me and Soak me good. It keeps one pretty Busy when one has to have one's Eye peeled for 800 different kinds, knowing that the whole Push has it in for One."

    "That is Strange," said Brother Thomas. "I have been all over the Country putting up at bad Beaneries, eating and drinking everything I wanted from Pie to Pilsner, drinking 87 different samples of Well Water in Country Hotels, and raising Cain generally. I have not carried any Drugs with me. Neither have I sat up at Night to throttle the Animalculie when they came in through the Window to do me Dirt. How does it happen that I, who have taken no Precautions, am Strong as an Ox and feeling Boss, while You, who have been making such an intelligent Warfare on the little Rascals, look as if you were ripe for a plain white Cot in the Ward for Incurables?"

    "It seems," said the Sufferer, "that the pesky Things show a Spirit of Retaliation. They get after the People who are trying to Investigate them."

MORAL: Never Arouse a sleeping Germ.

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