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

The Fable of The Crustacean Who Tried to Find Out by Reading a Book

    ONCE there was a Man who lived in the same Hall Bed-Room for 14 Years. It was a snug little Box-Stall. There were raspy Lace Curtains on the Windows. The Man used to scratch Matches on them. Also there were two Paintings. One was either a Landscape or a Marine, and the Second represented a Male Gazelle with his Hair combed the Way the Barber will comb it unless you stop him.

    The Roomer would come Home about once a Day and climb over the Paste-Board Trunk and look out at the Roof of the adjoining House, and then decide to Go Out and stay as Late as possible. He ate at a Restaurant in which Tall Waitresses with Belladonna Eyes and False Frizzes showed a Partiality for the Customers who Waxed their Mustaches. He was accustomed to Bolt his Food, while some one named Gert leaned a Tray against him and entreated Laura in the Kitchen to Cut a Hot Mince and let the Fried Sweets come along with the Medium Sirline.

    When he received his Biennial Bid to go around to some Private House he took his Chop-House Manners with him. He would feel around his Plate for the little Yellow Ticket with the Granulated Sugar caked on it, and perchance he would ask the Maid if she had an Evening Paper lying around loose.

    He had formed certain Habits inseparable from the Rank Outsiders and the Hoi Polloi. It was Second Nature for him to plant both Elbows on the Table and use the Celery as a Whisk Broom, and try to balance the Knife on the Fork, and spill some Salt on the Table-Cloth and write his Name in it with a Tooth-Pick. He needed a Check-Rein and Hobbles to hold him back in his Chair and keep him from Playing with the TableWare.

    About the Time that he was 40 and a confirmed Reuben, he got in with the Rise in, Industrials, and the Wave of Prosperity carried him out of the Hall Bed-Room and landed him in a Suite that he called a Suit.

    He crowded his Luck and Parleed his Bets. Things came his way and he decided that he might as well begin to Mingle with the Face Cards and make up for Lost Time. He had read in a Bitter Editorial somewhere that any one who had the Stuff could work the Open Sesame on the 400, and he was willing to relinquish a few Shares of Atchison Preferred in order to see his Name linked with those of the Butterflies of Fashion. He had noticed that every one Made Fun of the People in Society and tried to get Acquainted with them, and he was Willing to be a Member of the Despised Faction.

    A Piano-Player who went right into the Best Houses, unless they happened to hear about it in Time, said he would Fix it for him. So the Hall Bed-Room Man had a lot of Clothes made with Silk Lining, whether it showed or not, for he was Determined to be the real Peruvian Doughnuts, and there wasn't a Thing to it.

    He realized that he would have to get some Inside Information on Etiquette, Table Manners and Good Form, but he thought about three Lessons would put him in Condition to Saunter into any Drawing Room and set Everybody to Whispering about him.

    There were just a few Points that he wanted to straighten out before he took his Header into the Swim. He had heard that a True Gentleman must or must not wear a Bob-Tailed Coat with a Tall Hat, but he could not remember which. Furthermore, he had a Dim Idea that any one wearing a Tuxedo would have to cut out the Tan Shoes or else have the Lorgnettes pointed at him. He had heard, also, that it was considered Rough Work to eat Peas with a Spoon, or possibly a Fork, or perhaps a Knife. So he always passed up the Petits Pois when any one was watching him, and merely ate a little Bread with a Fork, because that was a Cinch.

    The Piano-Player had suggested to him in a roundabout Way that any one who put a Napkin inside of his Collar or wore a striped Bow with Full Dress would be shell-roaded, and never to wear Yellow Gloves at a Ball, or it would be a Case of the Blue Wagon.

    He found it was quite a Jump from a Hall Bed-Room and a Home-Cooked Meal for 25 cents. to the Society of Large Gloomy Ladies who used the Side of the Spoon instead of the End. He began to understand that he had shouldered quite a Contract when he tried to break away from the Herd and run forward with the Bell-Cows.

    Still, he made a Flying Start. The PianoPlayer worked him into a Dinner Party. The Hostess did not want to have just Thirteen at the Table, and that is how the Hall Bed-Room Man wedged in. He received his Invitation at 6.15, and at 6.45 he was on the Spot with a new Pair of Patent Leathers.

    He noticed that he was the only Gentleman present who wore Opal Studs, with a Black Handkerchief folded across the Abdominal Region so as to produce a Dressy Effect. He feared that he was not as de Rigeur as some of the Boys that had been in the Game for a Season or more, and it Rattled him so that he used the Large Spoon for the Blue Points and the Coffee Spoon for the Potage. He tried to watch the Others to see which Implement to pick up next, but most of them were taking Desperate Chances, the same as he was. By the Time he reached lee Cream he had no Tools left except a cute little Harpoon and something that looked like a Surgical Instrument.

    He rather Tripped up on the Conversation too, for he had not learned to play Golf and never had been to see the Rogers Brothers. Once he thought he saw an Opening, and he offered to show his new $200 Watch, but every one started to Talk about something else, and the Piano-Player kicked him under the Table.

    He went home from the Dinner wondering if he wouldn't do better on the Night Shift at the Glue Works than in the Front Row at a Function.

    When a Woman sent him her Card with "Thursdays" written in the Lower Left Corner, he did n't know whether he should Write, Mail a Card, send Flowers, or regard it as an Effort on her part to make a Date.

    He saw that there were a great many Fine Points in the Society Racket that were New Ones on him.

    So he went out and bought a Little Book written by a Space Man living in a Stag Hotel, informing People how to Behave so as to give the Impression that they were Well-Bred, no matter what the Facts might be.

    He went up to his Suite and read the Book and discovered that during the whole 40 Years of his life he never had done anything According to Hoyle.

    He had been accustomed to carry his Laundry with him each Saturday Evening. The Book said that carrying a Bundle in the Street was a little worse than Sheep-Stealing, and almost as bad as beating a Crippled Child with a Mallet.

    He nearly choked with Shame when he read that any one who played a combination of Frock Coat and low Derby was guilty of a Misdemeanor, and to omit the Stick or Umbrella was nothing short of a High Crime.

    It said that all Vegetables should be carried on the Fork. He did not believe it could be done. He was no Equilibrist.

    He read that Men must not wear Jewelry. He had always supposed that no Man could be out-and-out Genteel on anything less than 14 Carats.

    Then there was something more about the Spoon. Any one leaving a Spoon in the Cup could be set down as a Boor, whatever that meant. And any one breaking Crackers into the Soup deserved to be Drawn and Quartered.

    But what Stopped him was the Warning that no one drinking from the Saucer could be tolerated in the Best Circles. He wondered if a Man ought to Scald himself, merely to be Correct.

    When he concluded the Book and perceived that he had invariably violated every Rule from A to Z, he knew that he did not belong, and never would, so he blew out the Gas, and they found Him there in the Morning.

MORAL: To insure Peace of Mind, ignore the Rules and Regulations.

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