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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter V

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"I once," I said, "sat next to a country-man in the pit of a music- hall some years ago. He enjoyed himself thoroughly up to half-past ten. Songs about mothers-in-law, drunken wives, and wooden legs he roared at heartily. At ten-thirty entered a well-known artiste who was then giving a series of what he called 'Condensed Tragedies in Verse.' At the first two my country friend chuckled hugely. The third ran: 'Little boy; pair of skates: broken ice; heaven's gates.' My friend turned white, rose hurriedly, and pushed his way impatiently out of the house. I left myself some ten minutes later, and by chance ran against him again in the bar of the 'Criterion,' where he was drinking whisky rather copiously. 'I couldn't stand that fool,' he explained to me in a husky voice. 'Truth is, my youngest kid got drowned last winter skating. Don't see any sense making fun of real trouble.'"

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"I can cap your story with another," said the Philosopher. "Jim sent me a couple of seats for one of his first nights a month or two ago. They did not reach me till four o'clock in the afternoon. I went down to the club to see if I could pick up anybody. The only man there I knew at all was a rather quiet young fellow, a new member. He had just taken Bates's chambers in Staple Inn--you have met him, I think. He didn't know many people then and was grateful for my invitation. The play was one of those Palais Royal farces-- it cannot matter which, they are all exactly alike. The fun consists of somebody's trying to sin without being found out. It always goes well. The British public invariably welcomes the theme, provided it be dealt with in a merry fashion. It is only the serious discussion of evil that shocks us. There was the usual banging of doors and the usual screaming. Everybody was laughing around us. My young friend sat with rather a curious fixed smile upon his face. 'Fairly well constructed,' I said to him, as the second curtain fell amid yells of delight. 'Yes,' he answered, 'I suppose it's very funny.' I looked at him; he was little more than a boy. 'You are rather young,' I said, 'to be a moralist.' He gave a short laugh. 'Oh! I shall grow out of it in time,' he said. He told me his story later, when I came to know him better. He had played the farce himself over in Melbourne--he was an Australian. Only the third act had ended differently. His girl wife, of whom he was passionately fond, had taken it quite seriously and had committed suicide. A foolish thing to do."

"Man is a beast!" said the Girton Girl, who was prone to strong expression.

"I thought so myself when I was younger," said the Woman of the World.

"And don't you now, when you hear a thing like that?" suggested the Girton Girl.

"Certainly, my dear," replied the Woman of the World; "there is a deal of the animal in man; but--well, I was myself expressing that same particular view of him, the brute, to a very old lady with whom I was spending a winter in Brussels, many years ago now, when I was quite a girl. She had been a friend of my father's, and was one of the sweetest and kindest--I was almost going to say the most perfect woman I have ever met; though as a celebrated beauty, stories, dating from the early Victorian era, were told about her. But myself I never believed them. Her calm, gentle, passionless face, crowned with its soft, silver hair--I remember my first sight of the Matterhorn on a summer's evening; somehow it at once reminded me of her."

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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