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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter IV

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"A short French story I once read somewhere," I said, "rather impressed me. A poet or dramatist--I am not sure which--had married the daughter of a provincial notary. There was nothing particularly attractive about her except her dot. He had run through his own small fortune and was in some need. She worshipped him and was, as he used to boast to his friends, the ideal wife for a poet. She cooked admirably--a useful accomplishment during the first half- dozen years of their married life; and afterwards, when fortune came to him, managed his affairs to perfection, by her care and economy keeping all worldly troubles away from his study door. An ideal Hausfrau, undoubtedly, but of course no companion for our poet. So they went their ways; till, choosing as in all things the right moment, when she could best be spared, the good lady died and was buried.

"And here begins the interest of the story, somewhat late. One article of furniture, curiously out of place among the rich appointments of their fine hotel, the woman had insisted on retaining, a heavy, clumsily carved oak desk her father had once used in his office, and which he had given to her for her own as a birthday present back in the days of her teens.

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"You must read the story for yourselves if you would enjoy the subtle sadness that surrounds it, the delicate aroma of regret through which it moves. The husband finding after some little difficulty the right key, fits it into the lock of the bureau. As a piece of furniture, plain, solid, squat, it has always jarred upon his artistic sense. She too, his good, affectionate Sara, had been plain, solid, a trifle squat. Perhaps that was why the poor woman had clung so obstinately to the one thing in the otherwise perfect house that was quite out of place there. Ah, well! she is gone now, the good creature. And the bureau--no, the bureau shall remain. Nobody will need to come into this room, no one ever did come there but the woman herself. Perhaps she had not been altogether so happy as she might have been. A husband less intellectual--one from whom she would not have lived so far apart--one who could have entered into her simple, commonplace life! it might have been better for both of them. He draws down the lid, pulls out the largest drawer. It is full of manuscripts, folded and tied neatly with ribbons once gay, now faded. He thinks at first they are his own writings-- things begun and discarded, reserved by her with fondness. She thought so much of him, the good soul! Really, she could not have been so dull as he had deemed her. The power to appreciate rightly- -this, at least, she must have possessed. He unties the ribbon. No, the writing is her own, corrected, altered, underlined. He opens a second, a third. Then with a smile he sits down to read. What can they be like, these poems, these stories? He laughs, smoothing the crumpled paper, foreseeing the trite commonness, the shallow sentiment. The poor child! So she likewise would have been a litterateure. Even she had her ambition, her dream.

"The sunshine climbs the wall behind him, creeps stealthily across the ceiling of the room, slips out softly by the window, leaving him alone. All these years he had been living with a fellow poet. They should have been comrades, and they had never spoken. Why had she hidden herself? Why had she left him, never revealing herself? Years ago, when they were first married--he remembers now--she had slipped little blue-bound copy-books into his pocket, laughing, blushing, asking him to read them. How could he have guessed? Of course, he had forgotten them. Later, they had disappeared again; it had never occurred to him to think. Often in the earlier days she had tried to talk to him about his work. Had he but looked into her eyes, he might have understood. But she had always been so homely-seeming, so good. Who would have suspected? Then suddenly the blood rushes into his face. What must have been her opinion of his work? All these years he had imagined her the amazed devotee, uncomprehending but admiring. He had read to her at times, comparing himself the while with Moliere reading to his cook. What right had she to play this trick upon him? The folly of it! The pity of it! He would have been so glad of her."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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