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Adventure Jack London

A Discourse On Manners

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"The Yankees talk a lot about what they do and have done," Tudor said, "and are looked down upon by the English as braggarts. But the Yankee is only a child. He does not know effectually how to brag. He talks about it, you see. But the Englishman goes him one better by not talking about it. The Englishman's proverbial lack of bragging is a subtler form of brag after all. It is really clever, as you will agree."

"I never thought of it before," Joan cried. "Of course. An Englishman performs some terrifically heroic exploit, and is very modest and reserved--refuses to talk about it at all--and the effect is that by his silence he as much as says, 'I do things like this every day. It is as easy as rolling off a log. You ought to see the really heroic things I could do if they ever came my way. But this little thing, this little episode--really, don't you know, I fail to see anything in it remarkable or unusual.' As for me, if I went up in a powder explosion, or saved a hundred lives, I'd want all my friends to hear about it, and their friends as well. I'd be prouder than Lucifer over the affair. Confess, Mr. Sheldon, don't you feel proud down inside when you've done something daring or courageous?"

Sheldon nodded.

"Then," she pressed home the point, "isn't disguising that pride under a mask of careless indifference equivalent to telling a lie?"

"Yes, it is," he admitted. "But we tell similar lies every day. It is a matter of training, and the English are better trained, that is all. Your countrymen will be trained as well in time. As Mr. Tudor said, the Yankees are young."

"Thank goodness we haven't begun to tell such lies yet!" was Joan's ejaculation.

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"Oh, but you have," Sheldon said quickly. "You were telling me a lie of that order only the other day. You remember when you were going up the lantern-halyards hand over hand? Your face was the personification of duplicity."

"It was no such thing."

"Pardon me a moment," he went on. "Your face was as calm and peaceful as though you were reclining in a steamer-chair. To look at your face one would have inferred that carrying the weight of your body up a rope hand over hand was a very commonplace accomplishment--as easy as rolling off a log. And you needn't tell me, Miss Lackland, that you didn't make faces the first time you tried to climb a rope. But, like any circus athlete, you trained yourself out of the face-making period. You trained your face to hide your feelings, to hide the exhausting effort your muscles were making. It was, to quote Mr. Tudor, a subtler exhibition of physical prowess. And that is all our English reserve is--a mere matter of training. Certainly we are proud inside of the things we do and have done, proud as Lucifer--yes, and prouder. But we have grown up, and no longer talk about such things."

"I surrender," Joan cried. "You are not so stupid after all."

"Yes, you have us there," Tudor admitted. "But you wouldn't have had us if you hadn't broken your training rules."

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