“’Not while you’re carrying that!’ I said, ‘Are you mad?’”
“’What? What do you – Oh!’ He laughed again, and I felt my hand moving toward my knife.”
“’This!’ he continued, ‘Ah, yes, I see. Let me explain. When I was a young man, I had an unfortunate, disgusting habit. You see, I used to pray to God that he would give me my fill of all good things.’”
“WHAT?” The patrons roared with surprise.
Bill nodded and tilted his empty glass to Fred. “Once again, that is exactly what I said. But this madman completely mistook the reason for my disbelief. ‘Oh yes, I understand your surprise,‘ he said. ‘It was such a silly habit, not at all fitting for an intelligent young man. Fortunately, I had a teacher who challenged me to undertake a most enlightening experiment which cured me of this foul habit, and now I stand before you a better man.’”
“’What experiment could lead a person to carry around their own waste?’”
“’Why, nothing less than that most excellent of experiments, which clears the mind of all superstitious belief in God. One simply prays into one hand and relieves himself into the other. Naturally, the hand which is used to relieve oneself fills up much faster. So much for gods!’”
“’But,’ said I, ‘Why would any right thinking person continue to relieve themselves into their own hand?’”
The patrons murmured in agreement.
“’Ah,’ he said, ‘I see I have misjudged you. I had thought you a reasonable man, but clearly you are a superstitious soul who cannot rid himself of the prayer habit. It is truly a shame. I had thought we might continue our conversation, but I cannot risk associating myself with the unenlightened. Please do not try to detain me.’”
“And with that, he walked off, head held high and hand dripping effluence!”
The old oak walls creaked and fire popped.
“Well,” said Fred, “I can certainly see why you were so shaken. But you know-“
Bill threw back his head and howled with laughter.
“Oh! You see why I was shaken! But I do know, I know such terrible things!”
“It got worse?”
Bill stood up and began pacing in front of the fire, clutching his mug in one hand and gesturing wildly with the other.
“Once I was sure the madman had put enough distance between us that I would not have to walk in his odor, I continued to the City. After all, we have our madmen in the country as well.”
Nods, murmurs, the old man cried “Hear hear!”
“Naturally, once I reached the City, I made my way to a proper little Inn and told my strange story to the good folk there. Most of them laughed, but a few were moved by the madman’s actions!”
“Yes! Among the sea of snickering faces, there were one or two who listened solemnly. These serious souls started arguing in the madman’s favor. The Inn, was thrown into an uproar! On this side, the vast majority who swore no man could convince them to relieve themselves into their hands, on that side, a few stubborn radicals who swore that it seemed wiser to them than prayer. I excused myself to my room, already tired of the debate.”
“I awoke the next morning and would have been sure the whole thing was a bad dream, but for the fact that I woke up in a cot instead of my own bed. So I laughed to myself as I dressed, saying ‘Surely the good patrons of this inn are gentle souls. They stick up even for absent madmen!’”
“So I dressed and walked downstairs to take my breakfast.” Bill took a slow pull from his mug. The good patrons were torn between urging him to continue and fearing what horrors would follow.
“But fate did not intend me to eat breakfast that day. When I walked downstairs, near half of the patrons were holding waste in one hand as they ate with the other!”
“Their own waste?” asked the old man.
“I can only assume,” said Bill gravely. “I did not stick around to ask. My appetite spoiled, I hurried off into the City center to attend my business.
“Here were the great men of the City, going about their business. Merchants, Judges, Soldiers, Bishops all marching through the heart of the City in their shining uniforms. The pillars of our society, with their noble gaits and sober minds, were a soothing balm to my heart. I stood in the long lines and filed papers with a happy heart, grinning at the clerks and checking boxes with a flourish.
“Having finished the day’s business, I decided to treat myself some culture. There was an opera playing that night which I was quite keen to see – the writer, cast, and director were all luminaries of the field. So I paid my ten pence and took my seat.
"The violins hummed and the curtains rose. Young men and women dressed in white lifted their voices in a celestial melody. And Madame Vestrati strode onto the stage in a shining gown – gracefully holding a pile of her own waste.”