by Jerome K. Jerome
I am indebted to Darwin Catholic for reminding me of my desire to read this novel (by including it on his list of books read in 2010.) This is the novel that inspired Connie Willis’ delightful jaunt To Say Nothing of the Dog. When I saw it on Darwin’s list, I remembered my intention which had been temporarily shoved aside because I already had a large pile of books out from the library that needed to be got through. But now my stack of to be read books is a bit shorter (Ha!) and so I went ahead and put it on my library hold list.
This morning I was reading it at brunch and I almost choked on my pancakes when I began laughing out loud about the narrator’s travails with a couple of cheeses. I had to interrupt Dom’s perusing of the Sunday paper to read him the passage. We both laughed so hard that we had tears running down our faces and were gasping for breath.
The context is the narrator has been asked by his friend to bring a couple of cheeses with him on the train from Liverpool to London and to deliver them to the friend’s wife. Humorously, the cheeses clear out the compartment on the overcrowded train, winning the narrator the pleasure of having the whole compartment to himself. Where it gets really funny, though, is when he brings them to the wife:
“What did Tom say about those cheeses?”
I replied that he had directed they were to be kept in a moist place, and that nobody was to touch them.
“Nobody’s likely to touch them. Had he smelt them?”
“I thought he had, and added that he seemed greatly attached to them.
“You think he would be upset,” she queried, “if I gave a man a sovereign to take them away and bury them?”
I answered that I thought he would never smile again.
An idea struck her. She said:
“Do you mind keeping them for him? Let me send them round to you.”
“Madam,” I replied, “for myself I like the smell of cheese, and the journey the other day with them from Liverpool I shall ever look back upon as a happy ending to a pleasant holiday. But, in this world, we must consider others. The lady under whose roof I have the honour of residing is a widow, and, for all I know, possibly an orphan too, She has a strong, I may say an eloquent, objection to being what she terms ‘put upon’/ The presence of your husband’s cheese in her house she would, I instinctively feel, regard as a ‘put upon’; and it shall never be said that I put upon the widow and the orphan.”
“Very well, then,” said my friend’s wife, rising, “all I have to say is, that I shall take the children and go to an hotel until those cheeses are eaten. I decline to live any longer in the same house with them.”
She kept her word, leaving the place in charge of the charwoman, who, when asked if she could stand the smell, replied, “What smell?” and who, when taken close to the cheese and told to sniff hard, said she could detect a faint odor of melons. It was argued from this that little injury could result to the woman from the atmosphere, and she was left.
The hotel bill came to fifteen guineas; and my friend, after reckoning everything up, found that the cheeses had cost him eight-and-sixpence a pound. he said he dearly loved a bit of cheese, but it was beyond his means; so he determined to get rid of them. He threw them into the canal; but had to fish them out again, as the bargemen complained. They said it made them feel quite faint. And, after that, he took them one dark night and left them in the parish mortuary. But the coroner discovered them, and made a fearful fuss. He said it was a plot to deprive him of his living by waking up the corpses.
My friend got rid of them, at last, by taking them down to a seaside town, and burying them on the beach. It gained the place quite a reputation. Visitors said they had never noticed before how strong the air was, and weak-chested and consumptive people used to throng there for years afterwards.
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