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Tea-table Talk Jerome K. Jerome

Chapter V

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"My dear," laughed the Old Maid, "your anecdotal method is becoming as jerky as a cinematograph."

"I have noticed it myself," replied the Woman of the World; "I try to get in too much."

"The art of the raconteur," observed the Philosopher, "consists in avoiding the unessential. I have a friend who never yet to my knowledge reached the end of a story. It is intensely unimportant whether the name of the man who said the thing or did the deed be Brown or Jones or Robinson. But she will worry herself into a fever trying to recollect. 'Dear, dear me!' she will leave off to exclaim; 'I know his name so well. How stupid of me!' She will tell you why she ought to recollect his name, how she always has recollected his name till this precise moment. She will appeal to half the people in the room to help her. It is hopeless to try and induce her to proceed, the idea has taken possession of her mind. After a world of unnecessary trouble she recollects that it was Tomkins, and is delighted; only to be plunged again into despair on discovery that she has forgotten his address. This makes her so ashamed of herself she declines to continue, and full of self- reproach she retires to her own room. Later she re-enters, beaming, with the street and number pat. But by that time she has forgotten the anecdote."

"Well, tell us about your old lady, and what it was you said to her," spoke impatiently the Girton Girl, who is always eager when the subject under discussion happens to be the imbecility or criminal tendency of the opposite sex.

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"I was at the age," continued the Woman of the World, "when a young girl tiring of fairy stories puts down the book and looks round her at the world, and naturally feels indignant at what she notices. I was very severe upon both the shortcomings and the overgoings of man--our natural enemy. My old friend used to laugh, and that made me think her callous and foolish. One day our bonne--like all servants, a lover of gossip--came to us delighted with a story which proved to me how just had been my estimate of the male animal. The grocer at the corner of our rue, married only four years to a charming and devoted little wife, had run away and left her.

"'He never gave her even a hint, the pretty angel!' so Jeanne informed us. 'Had had his box containing his clothes and everything he wanted ready packed for a week, waiting for him at the railway station--just told her he was going to play a game of dominoes, and that she was not to sit up for him; kissed her and the child good- night, and--well, that was the last she ever saw of him. Did Madame ever hear the like of it?' concluded Jeanne, throwing up her hands to heaven. 'I am sorry to say, Jeanne, that I have,' replied my sweet Madame with a sigh, and led the conversation by slow degrees back to the subject of dinner. I turned to her when Jeanne had left the room. I can remember still the burning indignation of my face. I had often spoken to the man myself, and had thought what a delightful husband he was--so kind, so attentive, so proud, seemingly, of his dainty femme. 'Doesn't that prove what I say,' I cried, 'that men are beasts?' 'I am afraid it helps in that direction,' replied my old friend. 'And yet you defend them,' I answered. 'At my age, my dear,' she replied, 'one neither defends nor blames; one tries to understand.' She put her thin white hand upon my head. 'Shall we hear a little more of the story?' she said. 'It is not a pleasant one, but it may be useful to us.' 'I don't want to hear any more of it,' I answered; 'I have heard enough.' 'It is sometimes well,' she persisted, 'to hear the whole of a case before forming our judgment.' And she rang the bell for Jeanne. 'That story about our little grocer friend,' she said--'it is rather interesting to me. Why did he leave her and run away--do you know?' Jeanne shrugged her ample shoulders. 'Oh! the old story, Madame,' she answered, with a short laugh. 'Who was she?' asked my friend. 'The wife of Monsieur Savary, the wheelwright, as good a husband as ever a woman had. It's been going on for months, the hussy!' 'Thank you, that will do, Jeanne.' She turned again to me so soon as Jeanne had left the room. 'My dear,' she said, 'whenever I see a bad man, I peep round the corner for the woman. Whenever I see a bad woman, I follow her eyes; I know she is looking for her mate. Nature never makes odd samples.'"

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Tea-table Talk
Jerome K. Jerome

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