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The Bishop's Jaegers


Thorne Smith



'SIR!' cried Yolanda. 'Are you trying to insult me?'

'Far from it,' replied Mr. Jones, striving to bring his mind to grapple with the situation. 'So many things are going on. Too many things. Aren't you the young roman who wanted to be assaulted?'

'Certainly not,' retorted Yolanda. 'This is too much. I was nearly assaulted.'

'And some one interrupted you,' exclaimed Jones, as if suddenly seeing a light. 'How extremely trying! Who was the boorish party?'

'That man!' cried Yolanda, pointing to an excited-looking gentleman now being firmly held in check by two attendants.

Mr. Jones looked quickly at the man, smiled ever so faintly, then elevated his eyes.

'No,' he said. 'You misunderstand. I mean the, interrupter.'

'Heavens!' exclaimed Yolanda. 'Have you taken leave of your senses? There was nothing to interrupt.'

'But my dear young lady,' protested Mr. Jones rather wearily, 'I thought you said "nearly"?'

'Listen,' explained Yolanda, her own voice taking on a note of weariness. 'That naked creature—that chattering baboon—climbed through my window and attempted to attack me. I fled down here. That's all there was to it."

'Not much, I'll admit,' murmured Mr. Jones. 'Scarcely anything at all.' He paused, then looked startled. 'Is it possible,' he asked, 'that you did not want to be assaulted?'

'Of course I didn't,' replied Yolanda, too frustrated to be offended.

'Then why are you dressed?' asked Jones, elevating his upturned palms. 'Don't you realize that the presence of clothes here is an open invitation to assault?'

'Do you mean that to protect her honour a woman here must first abandon her modesty?' the girl inquired bitterly.

'From your point of view,' replied Jones, 'you have stated the case concisely. Even those extraordinary garments the Bishop has on would make him subject to assault were it not for his high calling. Of course, in the case of the Bishop the assaultress would have to be a woman of great determination.'

'I don't understand it at all,' Yolanda uttered helplessly.

'Then let me explain,' said Jones, leading her to the divan where they seated themselves beside Peter.

'Hello, Yolanda,' muttered that individual huskily.

'Don't speak to me,' snapped Yolanda, 'you naked little nitwit. Should be ashamed of yourself.'

'He's not subject to assault like you,' retorted Jo, sitting down on a pillow at Peter's feet and resting her red head against one of his shrinking legs.

'I'm not so sure of that with you around,' replied Yolanda.

'Well, just to add to your happiness,' Jo answered, 'I'm not so sure of it myself.'

'Ladies,' Mr. Jones interrupted. 'Please let me explain.'

'Go on, Mr. Bones,' said Josephine. 'That's about all you are—Mr. Skin and Bones.'

Jones looked at her for a moment with pensively elevated eyebrows, then cleared his throat as if to rid himself of some disturbing impression.

'Mr. Jones,' asked Peter, 'can't you do a little something about this arm? It's had a hard morning considering it's been shot full of holes, or practically.'

'Certainly, Mr. Van Dyck,' replied Mr. Jones in great concern. 'Call Dr. Wolf,' he cried.

'Wolfie! Wolfie! Wolfie!' sang out a chorus of voices, and presently the naked physician, looking strangely out of place what with his professional air and incongruous little black bag, appeared, and with the help of a pretty assistant did things to Peter's arm.

'Well, you see,' began Mr. Jones at length, 'this little endeavour of ours, this small gathering of nudes, so to speak, is the result of too much reading, although the germ of the idea sprang from an age when books were not even printed.'

'I can well understand that,' rumbled Bishop Waller. 'The history of the world is littered with examples of the most reprehensible attempts to imitate the more shady side of the Garden of Eden.'

'No doubt,' continued Jones smoothly. 'All planets have had their pasts—their giddy moments in time. Yet, my dear Bishop, had it not been for such moments this world would not he populated to-day.'

'Is it the aim of this small gathering of nudes, as you put it, to add to the world's population?' Peter inquired.

'Not its chief aim,' replied Mr. Jones. 'We would rather raise the standard, but of course we haven't got going in earnest yet. We have only been established a short time.'

'For a short time you've done pretty well,' interposed Little Arthur with a slight sniff. 'There ain't any more left to take off unless we skin ourselves alive.'

'Jean Jacques Rousseau, Havelock Ellis, Craft Ebbing, and even that indefatigable humanitarian, Mr. H. G. Wells, not to mention innumerable other great thinkers,' resumed Mr. Jones, ignoring Little Arthur's interruption, 'have all at one time or another been preoccupied with the idea of nudity.'

'If them guys you mentioned spent their time thinking about naked bodies,' Little Arthur declared, 'they weren't great thinkers at all. Just plain nasty.'

'It was not their desire, Little Arthur,' Jones explained patiently, 'to think about nude bodies. Nude bodies meant nothing to them. They—'

'Yeah,' scoffed Little Arthur. 'They must of been old hands at it—all worn out. Why, I'm just as great as they are. Don't even want to see nude bodies, much less think of 'em.'

'Sex is entirely forgotten here,' said Mr. Jones with crushing simplicity.

'With all the reminders on every hand,' observed Josephine, 'you must have exceptionally short memories.'

'Sure,' agreed Little Arthur. 'Ain't we supposed ter use our eyes?'

'If you use no more than your eyes,' replied Mr. Jones with a significant look at the little crook, 'everything will be quite all right.'

'Ain't we supposed ter be even human?' protested Little Arthur.

'We are supposed to be,' said Mr. Jones coldly, 'but I find it hard to believe that you are.'

'If you ask me,' put in Aspirin Liz, 'when I look at some of the samples hanging about here I don't want to remember sex at all. If I had my figure back for five minutes there'd be a riot in this room.'

'It ain't patriotic,' the little thief asserted. 'A lot of American citizens going around without even a pair of drawers.'

'Look at it philosophically, my man,' said the gentleman with the fine head.

'Look at what that way?' asked Arthur.

'At everything,' replied the philosopher. 'Everything.'

'Well, if you can extract one grain of constructive philosophy from some of the things I'm looking at,' declared Josephine as she glanced round the room, 'you've got a more godlike mind than I.'

'I have,' said the philosopher.

'Please, mister, give me a pair of drawers?' the snatch-purse pleaded.

'If a bishop rates only a pair of drawers in this outfit,' Mr. Jones replied, 'where do you think you get off, you small unpleasant knave? Did you bathe this morning?'

What could be seen of Little Arthur was turning delicately pink. The small unpleasant figure was evidently engaged in blushing all over itself.

'What a question ter ask,' muttered the unhappy man.

'It was unnecessary, I'll admit,' replied Mr. Jones. 'Will a couple of you girls take him away and bathe him?'

Little Arthur's jaw fell, then disappeared with the rest of his head behind the chair. Sounds of merriment were heard in the room as several girls and a male attendant dragged the struggling figure up the stairs. Little Arthur did not contribute to these sounds. He was all for having the law on the sleek head of Mr. Jones. He went even so far as to assert that he would never rest easy until the police had raided the place. At last his threats became incoherent, and when finally seen he was babbling like an idiot and endeavouring to prostrate himself on the floor of the upper landing.

'Perhaps we may be able to talk now,' remarked Mr.Jones with one of his faint smiles when Little Arthur and his fair bath attendants had disappeared. 'You see, Yolanda—I trust you will forgive me, but I cannot resist using such a pretty name—you see, my very charming young lady, I misunderstood the situation altogether. I assumed because you were dressed you naturally had certain ideas in your mind. So many women have, you know.'

'No,' replied Yolanda. 'I don't know. I don't care to hear.'

'But you must,' persisted Mr. Jones. 'It will do you a world of good.' Here he held out the duck to an attendant standing near by. 'Will you kindly take Havelock upstairs and toss him in with the person being bathed?' he said to the man. 'The poor bird dearly loves a little romp in the tub.'

A short time after the departure of the duck, screams of anguish drifted down to those in the room below. From the sounds Little Arthur was making, Havelock Ellis was having more than a romp in the tub. He was having a regular tussle.

'A lovable duck,' observed Mr. Jones with a smile of rare sweetness. 'So fond of snapping about in a tub catching things under water.'

With an expression of horror Peter gazed at the speaker, then looked down into Josephine's amused eyes.

'Oh,' said Peter in a low voice. 'Oh, for goodness sake! Poor, poor Little Arthur.'

'Don't worry about that crook,' she said reassuringly. 'He's picked enough pockets in his time to be picked on a little himself.'

'The fact is,' Jones broke in, fixing the group with his enigmatic black eyes, 'in this colony nudity leaves us emotionally cold, or should leave us cold. Of course there are occasional localized rises in temperature which are due, we hope, entirely to lack of training. On the other hand, the average well-built woman—and you are far, far above the average, my dear Yolanda—the average well-built woman, dressed as women dress to-day, which is a little more than demi-nude, arouse our gentlemen nudes to outbursts of simply amazing ferocity. To look at them now you would be surprised.'

'I would not,' Yolanda told him. 'You forget I was the subject of such an outburst already.'

'To be sure,' exclaimed Mr. Jones. 'It was fortunate indeed you managed to save as much of your honour as you did.'

'First time I ever knew a woman's honour could be partially saved,' Josephine remarked. 'I always thought it was something you either lost outright or just couldn't give away.'

'Not only are your thoughts painfully crude,' Jones replied, 'but also crudely expressed.'

'Listen here, naked,' Aspirin Liz asked from a pile of pillows upon which she was ponderously wallowing. 'What's so wrong about a man and a woman having a little fun when they feel like it?'

'Nothing at all,' Jones hastily replied. 'I think it's both commendable and diverting—essential, in fact. What we do object to here is the undue emphasis placed on sex. Sex preoccupation day in and day out. Sex consciousness morning, noon, and night. What is the dress of woman but an invitation and a challenge to the eye, to the senses? Do women dress to keep warm? Certainly not. Do they dress to cover their nakedness? Certainly not. They dress to reveal it, to suggest it, to enhance it. A pair of high-stockinged legs against a background of frills is a far more provocative sight, with a few exceptions, than the same pair of legs nude, hairy, and garter-stripped.'

'Say, young feller,' Liz put in, a shade of respect in her voice. 'You've been round a lot.'

'And I hope to go round a lot more,' he assured her, 'but I have no intention of forgetting the fact that there are ever so many other things to do. Nor do I wish to be constantly reminded by fresh relays of sex-dominated women that there is only one inevitable end to social mingling of the sexes.'

'A guy like you doesn't have to be reminded,' Aspirin Liz declared.

'That's just the point,' agreed Mr. Jones. 'I need no reminders of sex to be brought to my attention. Very few men do. What we do need is something to get our minds on other things.'

'How about drink?' asked Jo.

'Drink is a stimulant,' Jones replied. 'and would therefore defeat its purpose.'

'I never expected to hear a naked man preaching to a naked audience words laden with so much practical morality,' observed Bishop Waller. 'I almost feel like taking off my drawers and leading you all in prayer.'

'Let me ask you a question, sir,' continued Jones, turning directly to Peter. 'What is the good of a woman spending hours and hours in scenting, anointing, and dressing her body only to undress it again in from three to five minutes—in some cases even less—for the sake of some damn fool man who probably never knew what she had on to begin with and who would have reacted the same no matter what she was wearing?'

'You said from three to five minutes,' Peter observed musingly. 'In some cases less.'

'Exactly,' said Mr. Jones. 'Sometimes even less.'

'Have you gone round timing women at it?' asked Peter.

'That is neither here nor there,' Mr. Jones replied impatiently. 'I make five minutes the maximum because I don't think the average man will wait any longer than that.'

'I know,' agreed Josephine wisely. 'Just great big, grown-up babies. After five minutes I suppose they begin to cry.'

'Should we continue this conversation?' interposed the Bishop. 'Should we?'

'Why not?' replied Josephine innocently. 'Didn't you say he was speaking words of practical morality, Bishop Waller?'

'His words were safe,' said the Bishop, 'but I very much suspect yours.'

'We order things better here,' Mr. Jones resumed. 'By taking off our clothes we forget about our bodies.'

'What's the fun in that?' asked Jo.

'I'm afraid you'd find it difficult to understand,' Mr. Jones replied, and this time his smile was a trifle too pleasant.

'I don't want to understand,' said Jo. 'Frankly, I'm very fond of my body. So much so, in fact, that if I did not have it I think I'd lose my mind.'

Mr. Jones restrained the impulse to inform the red-headed girl that her total disappearance would not be so great a loss that he personally would be unable to survive it. Perhaps, upon considering her delicate yet not reluctant proportions, as he did now, he decided he would not be speaking the exact truth. Few men could look on Jo and wish her absent.

'Here,' he continued, 'we endeavour to retain both mind and body. However, we are making an attempt to give the mind for once an even break. In the old days when people went naked they were too busy either fighting things or each other to notice the absence of clothes. To-day, when so many things are done for us, we have much more opportunity to take advantage of any sudden burst of nudity. Therefore, it is my belief that any attempt to introduce sustained nudity is as impractical as it is undesirable. In view of this we have made arrangements to enjoy at our little colony certain seasons and occasions. We have thought up names for them. They are to be called Seasons of Forgetfulness and Civilized Occasions.'

'Go on,' murmured Jo. 'You interest me strangely, Mr. Skin and Bones.'

Now, strange as it may seem, Yolanda, upon hearing Josephine's remark, allowed her eves to pass swiftly over the tanned, youthful figure of Mr. Jones. Instinctively she felt inclined to take issue with the girl. There was something about Mr. Jones that pleased and attracted Yolanda almost too much. Perhaps it was because she was fully clad, or it might possibly have been because he was not clad at all. Whatever it was, the fact remained that Yolanda felt herself slipping, and for the first time in her life admitted to herself a sensation of healthy depravity.

'During Seasons of Forgetfulness,' Mr. Jones explained, 'it is our intention to get all dressed up and to conduct ourselves as men and women ordinarily do now under this régime of prohibition. In other words, we intend to drink bad gin in garish and cleverly faked up surroundings. Women will dress as provocatively as possible and men will pursue them without stay or hindrance. The cost of destroyed garments during these seasons will be extremely high. Husbands and wives will fight with each other in the old traditional way and promptly console themselves with husbands and wives to which they are not entitled. And because I have noticed that at all rough parties pulled by nice people there is always a certain percentage of women who are not thoroughly happy unless they have attracted the eyes of all men by an exhibition of orgiastic dancing, a stage will be provided for this special purpose. Ladies suffering from exhibitionism which cannot be satisfied by one man alone can use this stage to their hearts' content and be sure of an appreciative audience. During these little seasons, which should be limited to a week's duration, we will all of us become highly civilized human beings such as exist in the world to-day. There will be very little reading except from delightfully illustrated pornographic books, no thinking whatsoever, no really constructive or artistic effort, no loyalties nor friendship. In place there will be a tremendous amount of smart talk and wise-cracking in the accepted manner. Ladies will display their wit by saying brilliant things at the expense of each other and everything else. Men and women will make screamingly funny speeches and tell each other all about the plays they were unable to sit through. In short, every little cankerous growth will have its day, and when it's all over and the attendants, somewhat wearied themselves, have dragged the exhausted bodies away, we hope to be able to settle down to a period of calm, uneventful living in which the mind will have a chance as well as the body. When, after careful observation, I discover that the majority of colonists are becoming a trifle nervous and repressed from this sort of existence, we will declare another Season of Forgetfulness and return to civilized conditions.'

'You're a bit of a wisecracker yourself, Mr. Jones,' Josephine remarked after a thoughtful silence, 'but I don't mind saying I'd feel a lot more at home if we had arrived during one of your Seasons of Forgetfulness than during this present one of embarrassment.'

'You don't appear to be so desperately embarrassed,' Mr. Jones told her.

'No,' the girl answered. 'I get used to things quickly.'

'As bad as this is,' said Bishop Waller, 'I am heartily thankful we escaped arriving at a period such as has been described.'

'I am inclined to believe,' remarked Mr. Jones, looking with significant appreciation at Yolanda, 'that a Period of Forgetfulness is rapidly approaching, or perhaps it may be merely a Civilized Occasion.'

'And what is a Civilized Occasion?' Yolanda asked under her breath.

'The same thing on a smaller scale,' Mr. Jones confided to her. 'It's more like an individual tour and is usually confined to two persons who find themselves unable to stand the strain of continuing under present conditions. You see, we have taken really every eventuality into consideration.'

'I think,' Yolanda murmured, the lids dropping demurely over her beautiful eyes, 'that I might be able to understand a Civilized Occasion. The present one is extremely trying and I do so hate publicity.'

'Arrangements can be easily made,' replied Mr. Jones, in a low and hypocritical voice. 'It is one of my duties to conduct ladies through such occasions when their companions do not feel up to it.'

What Yolanda would have said to this will never be known, for at this moment Little Arthur, pursued by a duck and a flock of women, leaped nimbly down the stairs.

'What do yer mean,' he cried out to Mr. Jones, 'by having your nasty duck chucked inter my tub? It fair gave me gooseflesh, it did!'

'How can a duck give one gooseflesh?' the philosopher wanted to be told.

'Why did God give you brains?' Little Arthur tossed back.

'Certainly not to credit the ridiculous assertion that a duck can give one gooseflesh,' the philosopher replied impassively.

'What's the difference between 'em?' demanded Arthur.

'I don't know,' admitted the philosopher. 'I have never compared the flesh of duck with that of goose. They don't taste very much alike.'

'Well, drag the feathers offa this duck and take a taste of it,' Little Arthur retorted. 'Gnaw its black heart out, for all I care. What's it doing with feathers on, anyway? Ain't we all naked?'

'Little Arthur,' put in Jones in his quiet way, 'I urge you not to suggest liberties being taken with my duck.'

'The old hooker took liberties with me,' the little crook protested. 'Just look at all them welts.'

Here Little Arthur turned and dramatically displayed the place of the welts. Even Mr. Jones was moved.

'There are some exhibitions,' he observed, 'that are difficult to bear with even in a nudist colony. Take your welts away, Little Arthur. You are dripping all over the place.'

Little Arthur, looking as if knots had been tied in all parts of his body, moved painfully towards the door and God's open spaces.

'Talk about being put on the spot,' he muttered. 'Why, a machine gun's a mere mersage compared ter the bill of that duck.'

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