163 Innocent Old Men by Christopher Morley

Story type: EssayI found Titania looking severely at her watch, which is a queer little gold disk about the size of a waistcoat button, swinging under her chin by a thin …

Story type: Essay

I found Titania looking severely at her watch, which is a queer little gold disk about the size of a waistcoat button, swinging under her chin by a thin golden chain. Titania’s methods of winding, setting and regulating that watch have always been a mystery to me. She frequently knows what the right time is, but how she deduces it from the data given by the hands of her timepiece I can’t guess. It’s something like this: She looks at the watch and notes what it says. Then she deducts ten minutes, because she remembers it is ten minutes fast. Then she performs some complicated calculation connected with when the baby had his bath, and how long ago she heard the church bells chime; to this result she adds five minutes to allow for leeway. Then she goes to the phone and asks Central the time.

“Hullo,” I said; “what’s wrong?”

“I’m wondering about this daylight-saving business,” she said. “You know, I think it’s all a piece of Bolshevik propaganda to get us confused and encourage anarchy. All the women in Marathon are talking about it and neglecting their knitting. Junior’s bath was half an hour late today because Mrs. Benvenuto called me up to talk about daylight saving. She says her cook has threatened to leave if she has to get up an hour earlier in the morning. I was just wondering how to adjust my watch to the new conditions.”

“It’s perfectly simple,” I said. “Put your watch ahead one hour, and then go through the same logarithms you always do.”

“Put it ahead?” asked Titania. “Mrs. Borgia says we have to put the clock back an hour. She is fearfully worried about it. She says suppose she has something in the oven when the clock is put back, it will be an hour overdone and burned to a crisp when the kitchen clock catches up again.”

“Mrs. Borgia is wrong,” I said. “The clocks are to be put ahead one hour. At 2 o’clock on Easter morning they are to be turned on to 3 o’clock. Mrs. Borgia certainly won’t have anything in the oven at that time of night. You see, we are to pretend that 2 o’clock is really 3 o’clock, and when we get up at 7 o’clock it will really be 6 o’clock. We are deliberately fooling ourselves in order to get an hour more of daylight.”

“I have an idea,” she said, “that you won’t get up at 7 that morning.”

“It is quite possible,” I said, “because I intend to stay up until 2 a.m. that morning in order to be exactly correct in changing our timepieces. No one shall accuse me of being a time slacker.”

Titania was wrinkling her brow. “But how about that lost hour?” she said. “What happens to it? I don’t see how we can just throw an hour away like that. Time goes on just the same. How can we afford to shorten our lives so ruthlessly? It’s murder, that’s what it is! I told you it was a Bolshevik plot. Just think; there are a hundred million Americans. Moving on the clock that way brings each of us one hour nearer our graves. That is to say, we are throwing away 100,000,000 hours.”

She seized a pencil and a sheet of paper and went through some calculations.

“There are 8,760 hours in a year,” she said. “Reckoning seventy years a lifetime, there are 613,200 hours in each person’s life. Now, will you please divide that into a hundred million for me? I’m not good at long division.”

With docility I did so, and reported the result.

“About 163,” I said.

“There you are!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “Throwing away all that perfectly good time amounts simply to murdering 163 harmless old men of seventy, or 326 able-bodied men of thirty-five, or 1,630 innocent little children of seven. If that isn’t atrocity, what is? I think Mr. Hoover or Admiral Grayson, or somebody, ought to be prosecuted.”

I was aghast at this awful result. Then an idea struck me, and I took the pencil and began to figure on my own account.

“Look here, Titania,” I said. “Not so fast. Moving the clock ahead doesn’t really bring those people any nearer their graves. What it does do is bring the ratification of the Peace Treaty sooner, which is a fine thing. By deleting a hundred million hours we shorten Senator Borah’s speeches against the League by 11,410 years. That’s very encouraging.”

“According to that way of reckoning,” she said with sarcasm, “Mr. Borah’s term must have expired about 11,000 years ago.”

“My dear Titania,” I said, “the ways of the Government may seem inscrutable, but we have got to follow them with faith. If Mr. Wilson tells us to murder 163 fine old men in elastic-sided boots we must simply do it, that’s all. Peace is a dreadful thing. We have got to meet the Germans on their own ground. They adopted this daylight-saving measure years ago. They call it Sonnenuntergangverderbenpraxis, I believe. After all, it is only a temporary measure, because in the fall, when the daylight hours get shorter, we shall have to turn the clocks back a couple of hours in order to compensate the gas and electric light companies for all the money they will have lost. That will bring those 163 old gentlemen to life again and double their remaining term of years to make up for their temporary effacement. They are patriotic hostages to Time for the summer only. You must remember that time is only a philosophical abstraction, with no real or tangible existence, and we have a right to do whatever we want with it.”

“I will remind you of that,” she said, “at getting-up time on Sunday morning. I still think that if we are going to monkey with the clocks at all it would be better to turn them backward instead of forward. Certainly that would bring you home from the club a little earlier.”

“My dear,” I said, “we are in the Government’s hands. A little later we may be put on time rations, just as we are on food rations. We may have time cards to encourage thrift in saving time. Every time we save an hour we will get a little stamp to show for it. When we fill out a whole card we will be entitled to call ourselves a month younger than we are. Tell that to Mrs. Borgia; it will reconcile her.”

A lusty uproar made itself heard upstairs and Titania gave a little scream. “Heavens!” she cried. “Here I am talking with you and Junior’s bottle is half an hour late. I don’t care what Mr. Wilson does to the clocks; he won’t be able to fool Junior. He knows when it’s, time for meals. Won’t you call up Central and find out the exact time?”

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