From A Pennyworth of Chestnuts, [by Rev. David Macrae, Glasgow: Morison Brothers, c. 1897], pp. 3-48.
A PENNYWORTH OF CHESTNUTS. *
BROWN, JONES, and ROBINSON were on holiday, mainly for cycling, and were having magnificent weather. On this particular day, they had a glorious spin of thirty miles, away round the long southern skirt of the lake, then northward by the western shores to the lake head. Bob, one of the stable boys from the hotel, had been arranged with to take the short road up the eastern side, and meet them with the basket of provisions at a particular spot near the shore. They had seen a good-sized square basket packed — for they wanted what the Yankees call a good square meal — and had seen the basket left ready in the porter’s room. At the appointed rendezvous, they were to have high luncheon and a couple of hours’ rest by the banks of the lake, before setting out on the eastern turnpike, to skirt the forest, and get back to the hotel at night.
All the way up the western shores of the lake, their appetites had been sharpening under the influence of exercise and the stimulating breeze that had been in their faces all the way.4
As they passed one another, now and again, on the road, their remarks centred more and more upon the lunch to which they were looking forward with increasing eagerness.
“Won’t I have a ‘go’ at that chicken and ham!” cried Brown.
“And the boiled tongue,” said Jones.
“And the pie! — the pie!” said Robinson, with enthusiasm.
At a place where a little stream — clear as crystal — ran under a bridge, they all dismounted to go down and have a drink of water.
“It’s delicious,” said Brown, when he had lapped some up in his hand, “delicious; but oh! I’m hungry.”
“That Scotch chap at the hotel,” said Jones, “declared that we English folk are always thinking about eating. But if he had been with us to-day, he’d have been as hungry as any of us.”
“And as eager,” said Robinson, “to get a hold of that basket.”
“Did you hear the story he told about the Trossachs mutton?” said Brown.
“He said two of our English tourist who had ‘done’ the Trossachs together one summer, met one another about fifteen years after, and at once began to revive memories of their Highland tour. ‘Do you remember,’ said one to the other, ‘that 5 glorious mutton we had at the Trossachs Hotel?’ ‘Remember it, said the other, ‘I should say I did! I have been regretting ever since that I didn’t take another slice of that mutton.”
The three soon remounted and resumed their journey.
At last, they rounded the head of the lake, swept past the copsewood, and, after another mile or two’s spin, reached the rendezvous, — where, to their intense satisfaction, they found Bob waiting with the little spring-cart and the basket.
Hungry as hawks and in high spirits, they dismounted, stacked their bicycles against a tree, and dipped their hands and laved their faces in the limpid waters of the stream, and then told Bob to get the basket out of the spring-cart.
“A glorious place!” said Brown, enthusiastically, as he glanced at the sparkling river and across the blue water of the lake — “a perfectly ideal place!”
“And what a spot for luncheon!” said Jones, pointing down to the sunny bank that sloped to the water’s edge.
“And won’t I enjoy it!” exclaimed Robinson, his face radiant with anticipation, ”I have the appetite of a wolf.”
“Well, then, don’t let us lose time. Let us get at the basket,” said Brown.
The strap was unbuckled without loss of time, and the lid thrown open, revealing — what? — think 6 of it! — picture it if you can! — not the eatables, but a basket full of clean sheets, towels, and domestic linen! A photograph of the three men’s faces at that moment would have made the photographer’s fortune. There was a perfectly awful pause.
“Con-n-n-found it!” Brown broke forth at last. “They’ve sent the wrong basket!”
The three looked at one another aghast; glared at Bob, but Bob was innocent as a child unborn; he had simply brought the basket given him at the hotel. They glared again at the basket, and again, with an expression of unutterable chagrin, disappointment, and despair, at one another.
“This — is — most — annoying!” exclaimed Brown.
“Horrrible!” ejaculated Jones.
“In-fernal!” cried Robinson.
“I feel,” said Brown, “as if I could swear.”
“It would be excusable,” said Jones.
“It would be a positive relief,” said Robinson.
“At the same time,” said Brown, who was gradually recovering his usual cheerfulness, and who spoke with a twinkle of amusement beginning to light up his doleful face, “I don’t like swearing.”
“Same with me,” said Jones.
“And it would be most unseemly in me,” said Robinson. “I’m a church deacon.”
“Those two chaps that had been at the Trossachs,” said Jones, “remembered that delicious 7 mutton after fifteen years. But I can tell you, if I live to the age of Methuselah, I’ll not forget this wretched basket!”
“Well now, what in all the world are we to do?” said Brown. “I’m starving.”
“So am I,” exclaimed Jones.
“And I,” echoed Robinson.
“But what’s to be done?” reiterated Brown, looking again at the basket. “We can’t eat shirt-collars.”
“Nor chew towels,” said Jones.
“Nor digest sheets and pillow-slips,” added Robinson.
What was to be done? They might decide to give up the afternoon programme, and go straight back to the hotel and wait for dinner. But this unconditional surrender, and loss of their picnic by the shores of the lake, was no sooner mentioned than it was summarily dismissed, and it was thereupon decided to send Bob off, post haste, to the hotel with the spring-cart to bring back the proper basket.
It was done; and Bob was off.
What are we to do now?” said Brown. “How are we to put in the time till he comes back?”
“Just what I was going to ask,” said Jones.
“I’ll tell you what we might do,” said Robinson. “We might sit down on the sunny slope there, with the cool air upon our faces, and have a preliminary and preparatory feast of chestnuts!”8
“Chestnuts!” exclaimed Brown. “What do you mean?”
“Stories,” Robinson replied. “We might sit down and see who can remember the best stories about food. For three starving men nothing could be more congenial, except the food itself. It would keep our minds occupied with an appropriate topic till Bob returns.”
“Like boys looking in at a confectioner’s window,” suggested Jones.
“A feast of reason,” said Brown.
“And a flow of anecdotes,” added Jones.
“Quite so,” said Robinson. “It would pass the time, and help, I believe, to keep us from feeling so hungry. I remember once travelling in a railway compartment on a cold day, and putting my feet on the warming-pan, and getting them into a nice comfortable glow, which I attributed to the genial warmth of the pan. It was only after some time, when I happened to put down my hand upon it, that I found there had never been any heat in it at all. I had been warmed by my own imagination. Now, the chestnuts may help in the same way to make us feel less ravenous.”
It was regarded as a good idea; and the three were soon comfortably seated on the grass.
“Now, Robinson, you suggested it,” said Jones. “So you begin.”
“Suppose we start with an appropriate round of 9 puns,” said Brown. “Here is mine — ‘The first apple was eaten by the first pair.’ ”
“Which reminds me,” said Jones, “of a small boy and his small sister who had got an apple each. Willie had eaten his apple. Mabel had still hers. Willie said, Mabel, let’s play Adam and Eve. You be Eve and I’ll be Adam.’ ‘Very well, said Mabel, ‘all right. How are we to do it?’ ‘Well, it’s this way, said Willie. ‘You tempt me to eat hour apple, and I’ll do just as Adam did!’ ”
“Which reminds me,” said Robinson, “of another small boy, whose mother on coming into the room, asked what his little sister was crying about. To which he replied, with an air of offended generosity, b‘because I took her apple and was showing her how to eat it.’ ut your pun,” added Robinson to Jones, “we haven’t got your pun yet.”
Well,” said Jones, “here’s one. A gentleman at table, after taking up the carving-knife and fork, looked thoughtfully at the loin of mutton before him and said to his friend opposite, ‘Should I cut this saddlewise?’ ‘No,’ said his hungry friend, ‘cut it bridlewise, as we all want to get a bit in our mouths.’ Now for yours, Robinson.”
“Well,’ said Robinson, “this advice was given by a temperance man to some topers who were uncorking a bottle of Scotch whisky, ‘Don’t let your spirits go down!’ ”10
“That reminds me,” said Jones, “of the story of another temperance man who refused to have anything to do with water, because it was so often drunk.”
“Here is a conundrum by way of variety,” said Brown. “Why should an alderman wear a tartan waistcoat? Answer — To keep a check on his stomach.”
Jones followed with this one — “What is the most disagreeable vegetable to have aboard ship? Answer — A leek.”
Robinson said he would wind up with a double-barrelled one — “Why did the children of Israel not starve in the desert? Answer — Because of the sand-witches.”
“But how came the sandwiches there? Because Ham was there, bred, and mustered.”
“I remember,” said Brown, “long ago, we children used to be taught to repeat at the table a string of proverbs, that were made to rhyme with different dishes so as to help us in keeping them in mind. For instance —
“ ‘Set a thief to catch a thief,
Thinks of this when eating beef.’
‘All that glitters is not gold,
Think of this when that beef’s cold.’
‘Harm is done by too much zeal,
Think of this when eating veal.’
‘While grass grows the horse may starve,
Think of this when asked to carve.‘ ”
“If I get that chicken to carve that Bob’s bringing,” said Jones, “you won’t starve from being kept waiting, I can tell you.”
“But what about the food-stories,” he added. “Robinson, it was you that suggested them; so you will have to begin.”
“Well,” said Robinson, after he had stroked his beard for a few seconds to refresh his memory, “one of the best stories I ever heard about food is Charles Lamb’s account of how men came to eat roast pork. Men, he said, ate flesh raw at first — did so for seventy thousand years or so. The art of roasting was at last discovered in this way: — Yang-Pang, a swineherd, went out one day into the woods to collect meat for his hogs. During his absence his son, Ying-Ping, began to play with some burning sticks, and being careless, let one fall on some straw, which caught fire and set the house on fire, and to Ying-Ping’s consternation burnt up both the house and the piggery. When his father came home he lifted up his hands in horror when he saw nothing but heaps of smouldering ruins where he had left his house and his precious piggery. Then he flew at his son, and gave him a welting such as made him feel hotter than even the fire had done. Yang-Pang then turned to look with breaking heart at the blackened ruins of his house. But, as he stood, he gradually became conscious of a most grateful odour that he had never 12 experienced before, coming apparently from the smouldering ashes of his piggery. Drawing nearer, he saw the remains of one of the young pigs which, as it turned out, had been roasted to a turn. The delightful odour that had attracted him was coming from a crack in its skin from which some juice was dripping. Yang-Pang’s curiosity led him to put out his hand, and poke the skin to ascertain how it felt. The melted fat gushed out and burnt his finger; whereupon Yang-Pang whipped his finger (country fashion) into his mouth to cool it. The pain, however, was speedily forgotten in the novel and delicious taste of the fat upon his finger. Yang-Pang sucked it with delight, took another poke at the pig, and sucked again. He had never tasted anything so delicious in all his life. This was, indeed, the first taste of roast pork that had ever rejoiced humanity. His son was forgiven, and the two with ravenous appetites tore up and devoured bits of the roasted piggy. The thing got wind, and some of the neighbours, excited by the ecstasies of Yang-Pang and Ying-Ping, set fire to their own piggeries on purpose. The same result followed, and fires soon came to be of nightly occurrence, till the burning of piggeries spread over the whole country like a conflagration. This went on till a great genius arose who discovered that roast pork could be produced without burning the piggeries. And so, according to Lamb, began the art of roasting pork.”13
“I only wish I had a bit here,” cried Jones. “I’d do full honour to its origin.”
“Speaking of origins,” said Brown, “have you ever heard the story of the origin of stone-broth?”
The others said they had never even heard of stone-broth.
“Well,” said Brown, “it hasn’t had the popularity of roast pork, I admit. In fact I don’t know if it was ever made by any one but the inventor, and perhaps only once even by him. But it was ingenious in its way, and I’ll tell you how it was done: — A hungry man was passing a farmhouse where he saw in the kitchen a kettle of boiling water hanging over a fire. He went to the river-bed opposite the house, picked up two or three round stones about the size of eggs, went back to the kitchen door, and asked the two women inside if they would let him have the use of a pot for a short time, and some of that boiling water, to make stone-broth for himself?
“They said he was welcome, but what sort of broth could he make with stones?
“He said they would see.
“So he got a little pot of the boiling water hung over the fire, and put the stones in it. Then he got the loan of a spoon to stir it with.
“ ‘It wants some salt,’ he said, when he had stirred and tasted it.
“The salt was put in, and the man went on 14 stirring. By and by he tasted it again, and said, ‘It’s getting on nicely, but it would be greatly improved by a few of these vegetables on the dresser there, if you could spare them.’ Whereupon some of the vegetables were thrown in, and the man went on stirring. By and by he tasted it again. ‘Very fine,’ he said; ‘if a little bit of that cold meat on the shelf there were added now, it would be about perfect.’ So a bit of the meat was put into the pot next. After a time the man tasted it again, seemed satisfied, took of the pot, and supped the broth with great relish.
“ ‘It’s the best stone-broth I’ve tasted for a long time,’ he said.
“ ‘It seems to me,’ said one of the women, ‘that it would be just as good broth without the stones.’
“ ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘that’s one way of looking at it. But from any point of view, and under any name you like to give it, it’s first-rate.’ ”
“More satisfactory,” said Jones, laughing, “than the broth Sambo got. A fellow-darky said to him, ‘Well, Sambo, how do you like our new place?’
“ ‘Oh, berry well!’
“ ‘What did you have for breakfast this morning?’
“ ‘Well, you see, Missis biled three eggs for herself, and she gave me de broff.’
“But your story about the ingenuity of the 15 stone-broth man who managed to get a good dinner for nothing reminds me of an old story about two hungry Frenchmen who had just arrived in London. They had no money, and wandered about hoping to find some way of getting something to eat. After wandering vainly about for a time together, they parted, each taking his own way. At last, one of them coming to the window of an eating-house, looked in long and eagerly at the steaming stew-pans. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ and the hungry ‘Mossoo’ conceived a plan for getting his hunger appeased free of cost. He entered, and took his seat at a table. When the waiter came for his order, and asked what he would have — roast or boiled? — he answered, ‘Ah! sare, you are very good. Vat you please.’ Thereupon the waiter promptly brought a plate of roast goose, which the hungry Frenchman devoured with keen relish. After that came pie, and when the waiter came to ask if he would have cheese — ‘Stilton or Cheshire, sir?’ — Monsieur replied again, ‘Thank you, vat you please.’
“Having finished at last, he rose with beaming countenance, and prepared to go, whereupon the waiter stepped forward with ‘Your little bill, sir!’ ‘Bill! Vat you man?’ ‘Your bill is to pay, sir.’ ‘Pay! what for pay? ma foi, I call for noting, sare. You ask me to eat. You say, Vat vill 16 you take? I say, Vat you please, and I take vat you give.’ At this moment the landlord appeared, to whom the waiter told his story, and the Frenchman repeated his. Boniface looked at the Frenchman, and could not keep from smiling; and as he loved a joke, and suspected the truth, — that the Frenchman had really nothing to pay with — he let him go.
“Away the Frenchman went, delighted with his success; and soon meeting his fellow-countryman who was still on the prowl, he told him with great gusto what he had done. Fired with the story, the hungry Frenchman got him to point out the shop, and without a moment’s delay, stepped in and took his seat at one of the tables. The waiter was soon at his elbow. ‘What will you take, sir?’ ‘Ah, vat you please,’ replied Monsieur cheerfully. The waiter looked at him for a moment, and then hurrying upstairs, said to the landlord, ‘Here’s another vat you please come in, sir.’ This was too much for the landlord. He could take the joke once, but he thought it his turn now to have his innings. So, taking a horsewhip in his hand, and keeping it concealed behind his back, he went down to where the expectant Frenchman sat. ‘Good day, sir. What did you wish, sir?’ he asked. ‘Vat you please, sare.’ ‘What I please!’ said the landlord, suddenly bringing his whip down across the Frenchman’s shoulders, ‘Well, 17 that’s what I please!’ The poor Frenchman, seeing the whip go up in preparation for another cut, lost no time in darting out into the street — a sadder but wiser man.”
“Not so lucky,” said Brown, “as the little chap whose mother on coming home and looking around, said rather severely, ‘Johnny, where is that piece of cake I left here when I went out?’
“ ‘I gave it to a hungry little boy, mamma, and oh, he was so glad to get it.’
“ ‘Come to my arms, my dear,’ said his mother. ‘I am glad you did it. Who was the little boy?’
“ Me,’ said he.”
“I heard,” said Jones, “of another rather smart boy. He was in school, and it was examination day. The chairman of the examining committee said, ‘Now, boy, here’s a question for you, and speak up with your answer, so that all can hear. If I had a mince-pie, and I gave two-twelfths of it to you, and two-twelfths to your brother, and two-twelfths to your sister, and ate half the pie myself, how much would be left?’ ‘The plate,’ shouted the boy.”
“That’s exactly what would be left in five minutes if I had that mince-pie here,” said Robinson, looking at the road by which Bob was to come.
“That smart boy,” said Brown, “unless he had been an abstainer like Robinson, wouldn’t have 18 had the tale to tell that the Irish gentleman had in the Dublin steamer. When his friend awakened him in the morning he opened his eyes, stared at him for a moment, and then said, ‘Bad luck to me! I wish I had taken that whisky cold.’ ‘What whisky?’ asked his friend. ‘It was a drame,’ he said; ‘I dreamt I was in Rome, and that the Holy Father invited me to lunch. Now, Mr Rafferty, says he, what will you have to drink? Troth, your Holiness, sez I, since you put it to me, there’s nothing I’d like better than Irish whisky. Very well, Mr Rafferty, sez he, you’ll get it. Would you like to have it cowld or hot? Thanks, your Holiness, sez I, I’ll take it hot. And bedad, I was just waiting with all my might till the water was boiled, when you woke me up!’ ”
“He hadn’t been so clever,” said Jones, “as the other Irishman I heard of, who, when asked whether he would have the whisky hot or cold, said he would have some cold while the hot was getting ready.”
“There’s an old story,” said Brown, “about a man — a servant of Dean Swift’s — who lost his dinner through being a little too smart. The Dean was one day going out for a ride, and rang for his boots.
“ ‘How is this?’ he said, when his serving-man brought them. ‘Why have you not brushed them?’19
“ ‘I thought, sir,’ said the man, ‘that it was hardly worth while, as the roads are muddy, and they’ll soon get dirty.’
“Before the Dean went out the man came to ask the key of the pantry.
“ ‘What for?’ said the Dean.
“ ‘To get some breakfast, sir.’
“ ‘I think,’ said the Dean, ‘as you are sure to be hungry again so soon, it isn’t worth troubling about breakfast.’
“The Frenchman you told about,” said Robinson, “the successful one, — recalls to my mind the story of a whole party getting refreshments for nothing; but this was more of a swindle. Some young scamps, with no cash to pay, went into a country inn and ordered luncheon. When they had finished, the landlord brought in the bill. Every one held out his hand for it, and insisted that he should be allowed to pay it. As the friendly contest became quite exciting, and it seemed impossible to settle the question, each one being so eager to have the privilege of paying, one of them said at last, ‘I’ll tell you how we can decide. Let our friend the landlord here be blindfolded, and let us agree that the first of us he catches shall not be allowed to pay; and so with the next; and the next; and let the one that can keep out of his clutches longest, have the privilege of settling the bill.’20
“This was agreed to with acclamation, and the landlord, falling in with their pleasantry, allowed himself to be blindfolded, and then began groping cautiously about. Meantime the young fellows, one by one, slipped out on tiptoe and bolted, so that the landlord, when he had groped about in vain for a while, and could find no one, and heard no sound of movement, pulled the bandage down from his eyes; he found himself in the room alone, and discovered that the young scamps had vanished to be seen no more.”
“That was ingenuity in swindling,” said Jones; “but I remember about an Irishman’s ingenuity in helping his priest to a dinner to which he had been invited. This priest was standing at the corner of a square about the dinner hour, when one of his countrymen, observing him in manifest perplexity, accosted him, ‘Oh, Father O’Leary, how is your riverence?’
“ ‘Mighty put out, Pat,’ was the reply.
“ ‘How’s that, your riverence?’
“ ‘Well, I’ll tell you, Pat. I was invited to dine at one of the houses in this square, and I have forgotten the name, and I never looked at the number, and it’s now seven o’clock.’
“ ‘Is that all,’ said the quick-witted Irishman, ‘you be aisy, your riverence, and I’ll settle that for you.’
“So saying, away flew the good-natured fellow round the square, glancing at the kitchens, and 21 when he smelt a dinner, or saw a fire that denoted hospitality, he thundered at the door and inquired, ‘Is Father O’Leary here?’
“Again and again he got replies in the negative.
“At last an angry footman, who responded to his summons, exclaimed, ‘No, bother on Father O’Leary, he’s not here; but he was to dine here to-day, and the cook is in a rage, and says the dinner will be spoiled. They are all waiting for Father O’Leary.’
“Pat, leaping from the door as if the steps had been on fire, rushed away to the astonished priest. ‘All’s right, your riverence, you dine at Number 43, and take my word for it, you’ll not be kept waiting.’
“I’ll give you a case of ingenuity in another way still,” said Robinson. “It was in the way of escape from being fleeced. A Scotchman, from a place called Auchtermuchty, took a trip to Paris. When he was leaving the hotel, and the bill was brought, he scrutinised it carefully in regular Scotch fashion, and saw that he was being overcharged. He could not make out what the various items were, for he didn’t know a word of French; but he had kept a note of everything himself, had calculated what the bill would amount to, and knew that it could not amount to the sum he was being charged. Unable to speak a single word that would be intelligible to the 22 waiter, he simply handed back the bill, uttering sternly the word ‘Auchtermuchty!’ The waiter looked perplexed and said something, to which the Scotchman simply replied ‘Auchtermuchty!’ Thereupon the waiter began to expostulate volubly and excitedly. The Scotchman, who had no idea what the man was saying, simply pushed the bill farther away, saying, more sternly than ever, ‘Achtermuchty!’ The waiter, after another vain attempt, went away and brought his chief.
The chief looked at the bill, looked at the Scotchman, and began to argue the question more volubly and more excitedly than even the waiter had done. The Scotchman sat silent, and with the face of a sphinx, till the landlord had completely finished, and then placing his finger on the sum-total of the bill, looked sternly at him, and shouted ‘Auchtermuchty!” The chief looked at him, looked helplessly at the waiter, and then, picking up the bill with an expression of despair, went away to the office to get it examined. He presently brought it back with about eight francs of overcharge deducted.’
“Ignorance of the language isn’t often backed up with such resource and cleverness,’ said Brown, ‘but there is always fun to be got out of the mistakes it leads to. I have heard of a young Londoner who was showing a country cousin some of the sights of the metropolis. The cousin, 23 when he got hungry, wanted to be taken to one of the fashionable restaurants in the West End, where they were at the time. ‘Well,’ said the Londoner, ‘here’s the very place.’ They entered, took their seats, and picked up the bill of fare. As they looked over it, the Londoner remarked, ‘I always like to dine here when I can, as they have a specially good French chef.’ Thereupon his cousin, who was standing treat, startled him by calling out, ‘Here, waiter, bring French chef for two!’ ”
“These stories,” said Jones, “remind me of another very good one of an Englishman, who, when on his first visit to Paris, went into a restaurant to indulge, regardless of expense, in a regular French dinner, as he had heard a great deal about French dishes, and wanted to judge for himself.
“The waiter put down the long list of dishes before him to choose from — a dozen soups heading the list, then fish of different kinds, then an array of meats, then an array of desserts and etceteras. As all were named in French (potages, poissons, entrées, entremets, hors d’œuvres, and so on), the Englishman, who did not know a word of the language, had no idea what the items were, but he thought he would begin at the top and see what came. Soup came; he took it and enjoyed it. Not knowing that various soups headed the list, he thought, having begun so well, he would go on. So, signalling to the garçon, he pointed 24 to the second unknown item on the list. Soup again! However he took it, and enjoyed it. Signalling again, he pointed to the third item, expecting roast or boiled of some kind. Away went the waiter, and brought soup again — another sort. This was rather much soup. However he had good capacity, and got the third plate of soup stowed away with the others. He now scrutinised the long bill of fare to see if there was any name that suggested a known dish of meat or fowl, but in vain. Determined to get, at any rate, well away from soup, he resolved to begin now at the bottom of the bill, and see what came. He accordingly beckoned the waiter, and pointed to the last item, — cure-dents. The waiter immediately went and brought the toothpicks!
“ ‘Well,’ said the Englishman to himself, ‘if these French dinners they talk so much about mean nothing but soups and toothpicks, I go back to my roast beef and pudding.’ ”
“That reminds me,” said Jones, laughing, “of another story. An Englishman sat down to a restaurant table somewhere I France, and being as unable as the one you’ve told about to make anything of the bill of fare, he managed, by gesture and by running his finger all down the bill, to give the waiter to understand that he wanted a good dinner, and the waiter was just to bring what he thought best.”25
“Vat you please, in fact,” said Robinson, with a laugh.
“Just so,” said Jones. “Well, after having soup and fish, there was put down before him another dish, about the exact nature of which he was dubious. It looked like duck, he thought it smelt a little like duck, and yet it wasn’t duck. Looking across at a gentleman on the opposite side of the same able, he attracted his attention, and pointing to the contents of his own plate, said in an inquiring tone, ‘Quack-quack?’
“The Frenchman looked at it, shrugged his shoulders, and replied, ‘Bow-ow!’
“The Englishman tasted no more of that dish.”
“Naturally not,” said Robinson, “but, mind you, there was a time in Paris when ‘bow-ow’s’ were very welcome — brought, indeed, a high price as food.”
“When was that?”
“The time of the siege of Paris by the Germans in ’71. My Uncle Joseph was there all the time, and said that dog chops and shoulder sold at two francs a pound. Horses were bought up in thousands for the flesh-market, and a horse’s liver and heart cost as much as twenty-five shillings. Every eatable animal was used for food. The Jardin des Plantes and the Jardin d’Acclimatation were emptied, not only that the animals might be turned into food, but because keeping them alive 26 would have meant the consumption of food needed for the people. But the animals were themselves eaten, and Uncle Joseph declared that animals that had never been thought of as edible before were found to taste well.”
“Hunger goes a long way,” suggested Brown.
“The old adage,” said Jones, “Hunger is the best sauce.”
“I just hope we won’t have rather too much of that sauce,” said Brown, with a wistful look along the road by which Bob was to return.
“Hunger may have had something to do with it,” said Robinson, “but Uncle Joseph said that some of these animals from the Zoological Gardens made really capital food. Camel, he said, ate just like veal, seal tasted like lamb, and bear like pig. But they ate everything at last, kangaroos, parrots, eagles — even the lions and tigers. A friend of Uncle Joseph’s bought a horse’s head at the Central Market at a shilling a pound, but found it awfully tough — like gutta-percha. In spite of the fearful scarcity, good dinners of beef, mutton, and poultry could be got in some of the cafés, but Uncle Joseph declared that the cost came at last to be about a franc per mouthful.”
“That horse’s head you spoke of,” said Jones, “may have been rather tough eating; but good horse-flesh isn’t bad at all. I tasted it once, and found it very good.”27
“Perhaps we taste if oftener than we are aware of,” growled Brown.
“Likely enough; but the prejudice against horse-flesh is extraordinarily strong. I remember when a horse-flesh banquet was given in London by the promoters of hippophagy, one of the speakers said the prejudice against even the best quality was almost insurmountable. He said when the young horse they were to use had been fed up, butcher after butcher refused to slaughter it. ‘Why, gentlemen,’ said one of them, ‘if the hide or hoofs were seen coming out of the slaughter-house, it would be our ruin.’
“Even when a butcher was found courageous enough to undertake the work, it was found impossible to get any good hotel to let the banquet be held in it. At last one consented, on condition that its name should be suppressed in any public report of the banquet. The prejudice was extraordinary.”
“Do you remember,” said Robinson, “the amusing lines written by Charles Mathews, after reading an account of a great experimental dinner in London — perhaps the very one you have been telling about.
“ ‘If horse-flesh won’t suffice to feed the masses,
The next resource will certainly be asses;
And Heaven only knows where that will end,
Some people won’t have left a single friend!’ ”
“In spite of prejudice,” said Jones, with a laugh, “if horse-flesh is found to be as wholesome as beef and mutton, science and common-sense will carry the day sooner or later.”
“Later, I hope,” said Brown.
“I don’t know. Scientists speak of the special uses of particular kinds of food in building up the system, and so on. And horse-flesh may serve a purpose of its own.”
“I’ve heard,” said Robinson, “of a scientific restaurant in New York, where fat people go in and ask for the best kind of dinner for thinning them, and thin people go in and ask for dishes that develop flesh and fat. Ministers go in on Monday and ask for the dishes that recuperate exhausted brains.”
“Or exhausted jaws,” suggested Brown.
“But fish with its phosphorus is said to be really good for the brain.”
“So it seems. I heard of a student — not overly bright — who asked his professor if it was true that a fish diet was conducive to brain development. ‘Yes, yes!’ said the professor, ‘go and eat a whale!’ ”
“For exhausted cyclists,” said Jones, “I venture to say nothing has been found more recuperative than that chicken and tongue, and ham will be to us, when Bob arrives.“
“What people want,” said Brown, “is not so much daintier fare, as air and exercise to give them good appetites. I remember reading a 29 story about some soldier in the ancient days — Artaxerxes Mnemon, I think — that when he was flying before his enemies he fed hungrily upon coarse barley-bread; and when he had finished, exclaimed, ‘What pleasure I have been ignorant of till now!’ ”
“It’s a pleasure we won’t be long ignorant of when Bob arrives,” said Jones.
“Still,” said Robinson, “I’m a believer in variety, and I’m a believer also in good cookery. It not only gives enjoyment, it helps digestion. And I’m perfectly certain that amongst labouring men it helps sobriety, and all the good that follows sobriety. That’s what makes it such a pity that multitudes of young women in mills and factories don’t make a point (don’t sometimes, poor souls, get a chance) of learning to cook well. They sometimes don’t know, when they get married, how to cook their husband’s dinner. And when a hungry man comes home, and gets a junk of meat like a bit of leather that would need the jaws of a tiger to masticate, he feels, after chaw-chawing away for a while, that he hasn’t got himself satisfied, and is very apt to go away to the public-house and drink, when, if he had only got a nicely cooked dinner, he would have gone away happy and satisfied. There’s a moral aspect even in cookery, depend upon it.”
“I am with you there; thoroughly with you,” 30 said Brown. “It holds true in other classes besides the working-classes. I believe in marrying a girl who knows how to cook a good dinner. Add all you like, but don’t leave out that.”
“Miss Wise wouldn’t have done for you,” said Jones.
“Yes, you remember the verse —
“ ‘There was a young lady called Wise,
Whose brain was gigantic in size;
She knew everything,
She could paint, dance, and sing,
But she couldn’t make custards or pies.’ ”
“Perhaps,” said Robinson, “like the young wife who, at dinner, said sobbing to her husband, ‘Well, George, I think it’s mean. I made that apple dumpling as a pleasant surprise for you, and now you ask me to bring you a hand-saw to cut it in two with. I think it’s cruel of you.’ ‘An apple dumpling!’ exclaimed her husband, ‘Upon my word, Maria, I thought it was a cocoa-nut. But if you made it, my darling, and it’s an apple dumpling, I’ll eat it, if it kills me.’ ”
“Depend upon it” said Brown, “old Sam Johnson was right when he said that a man would rather have a wife that can cook him a good dinner than a wife that can talk Greek.”
“Delighted to say I’m getting one,” said Robinsons, “able to do both.”31
“Happy man!” said Brown. “Remember to invite me up when she’s got the good dinner on. And when she’s going to talk Greek, invite Jones. There’s nothing like a fair allocation of good things.”
“But you mightn’t get a dinner to your taste after all,” said Robinson, “she goes in a good deal for vegetarianism.”
“Not a bad thing at all,” said Jones. “One of the nicest dinners I ever ate was a vegetarian dinner — potato pies, savoury pies, and omelette pies, milk puddings, raisins, nuts, almonds, and what not. It was splendid. I could be a vegetarian easily. But no one need try to convert me till Bob comes, and we get the contents of that basket disposed of.”
“I remember,” said Brown, “a funny mistake made by a Glasgow lady. There’s a sect in Scotland known as ‘U.P.’s’ — United Presbyterians. Well, I was at dinner on one of the river steam-boats on the Clyde, and talked to this lady — a very nice person she was — who was sitting next me. Noticing that she was taking no butcher meat, I asked if she was a vegetarian.
“Na, na!’ she said, ‘I’m a guid U.P.’ ”
“She probably thought,” said Robinson, “that the vegetarian was some variety of the Unitarian.”
“Vegetarians speak about the cruelty of animals,” said Jones, “but that argument never seemed to 32 me very strong. Vegetables teem with animal life — microscopic — so that the cooking or eating of any vegetable means the destruction of quite a number of our little fellow-creatures.’
“That’s all very well,” said Robinson, “but it makes a difference in our feelings when the animal is a creature that can know you, and that you can have affection for.”
“I’ve heard,” said Brown, “of a lady who said to a butcher, ‘How can you be so cruel as kill poor innocent lambs?’ To which the butcher replied bluntly, ‘It’s because you want to eat ’em, ma’am.’ ”
“There’s a story about Goldsmith and the lady who afterwards became his wife,” said Jones. “You remember that verse in the ‘Hermit’ —
“ ‘No flocks that range the valley free,
To slaughter I condemn,
Taught by the Power that pities me,
I learn to pity them.’
“ ’Tis said that Goldsmith, after writing the stanza, submitted it to the lady. She suggested the following as a revised version: —
“ ‘No flocks that range the valley free,
To slaughter I condemn,
The butchers kill the sheep for me,
I buy the meat of them.’ ”
“After all,” said Robinson, “the kind of food people eat depends a good deal on what they can most easily get, and what the country produces. 33 The hunters on the Pampas eat what they kill; the Hindoos on the plains eat rice; and the Eskimos eat blubber.”
“And a man,” said Jones, “can eat blubber in Greenland that couldn’t taste it here. His system seems almost to crave for fat. The Arctic explorer, Captain Hall, said that when searching for relics of the Franklin expedition, he had eaten in one day fifteen pounds of raw meat, washed down with two and a half pints of train oil. He said with that diet, a man could bid defiance to King Cold.”
“I should think so,” said Brown, “a man who swallowed fifteen pounds of raw meat and two and a half pints of train oil could defy anything.”
“You told us a queer story about a mistake from ignorance of French,” said Robinson. “It has recalled to my mind one in our own language. A gentleman who was very fond of sole, arrived at an Irish hotel, weary and hungry after his long drive, and the first thing he said when the landlady came to inquire as to his wants was, ‘Now, have you a sole?’ ‘A sowl!’ exclaimed the landlady, looking at him with indignation, ‘Have I a sowl, did you say? Tell me, sorr, do I look like a baste?’ ”
“That reminds me,” said Brown, “of the American lady that asked her husband on the voyage home if he remembered that lovely gorge at Wolfstang. 34 ‘The gorge at that inn,’ replied the husband with enthusiasm, ‘ah! I remember it well. I’ll never forget that gorge. It was the only square meal I got in Switzerland!’ ”
This suggested a story to Jones of a mistake made by a clever young lady. It was at a dinner party. The hostess told this young lady that she might take to her partner about “Bŭddha,” as he was interested in that subject. In the drawing-room, after dinner, she asked the young lady how she had got on.
“Very poorly,” she replied. “I said everything I could think about Butter, talked away all the time to him, but could hardly get a word in reply.”
“About what?” exclaimed the hostess aghast.
“About Butter; you told me to speak about Butter.”
“Butter! good gracious, no! I told you to speak about Bŭddha. Mr H—— is a great Oriental scholar.”
“I have known funny incidents also,” said Robinson, “from misconception as to etiquette in the order at dinner. I heard of a country farmer at a dinner table, who partook very heartily of fish, which he concluded was to be the only dish, and of which he took two supplies. When he waiter came to take away his plate, and asked him if he wished another supply, he said, ‘Thankee, no, I’m full;’ but observing at that moment a 35 smoking joint being brought into the room, he added abruptly — at least as regards fish!“
“Did you ever hear,” said Brown, “about Tennyson’s little girl and the Queen? Tennyson and his family were dining at Osborne. During the meal, the breadplate near Her Majesty ran low, and the Queen took the last piece. Thereupon the little Tennyson girl, who had been taught that it was bad manners to take the last piece on the plate, pointed her finger at the Queen and said reproachfully (as no doubt had sometimes been said to herself at home when she did the same), ‘Piggy, piggy, pig.’ Some of the guests were aghast, but the Queen came smiling to the child’s relief, ‘You are quite right, my dear,’ she said, ‘nobody should take the last piece but the Queen.’ ”
“Speaking about table etiquette reminds me,” said Jones, “of a story about a small Irish farmer, in the old days when it used to be so much the fashion for people at table to drink to one another’s health. This farmer — Tim Guerin by name — had a son who went from school to college, and won such high honours that it was regarded as reflecting honour on the district to which he belonged. So the nobleman, on whose estate the father lived, invited the farmer to dine at the big house by way of compliment. The farmer, to do honour to the great dinner he expected 36 to have, took nothing that day except his breakfast, and — arrayed in his best — arrived at Lord Peppercorn’s very hungry. He was shown into the drawing-room, where he had a long time to wait while the rest of the company were assembling. Lord Peppercorn was very hearty, and talked to him about his son, but Mr Guerin got hungrier and hungrier, and wondered when he was to get anything to eat.
“The account he gave to his wife when he returned home was something like this: —
“ ‘Well, Molly, when I was most dead with hunger, the door opened, and in came a gorgeous gentleman in red velvet smallclothes, and tould ’em dinner was on the table. A canary couldn’t sing sweeter, sez I to myself. So they all got up, and every jintleman gev his arm to a lady, and in we all went in pairs. Well, I took my sate with the rest, and there the dinner was — laid and all. What’ll you take, Mr Guerin? says Lord Peppercorn. Why, thin, my lord, says I, since you’re the man o’ the house, what you have yourself will surely be best, an’ I’ll take some o’ that, if you plaze. So he ga’ me a helpin’. Well, I declare to you, Molly, hardly had I took the second mouthful, when he looked over at me, an’ Mr Guerin, says he, Lady Peppercorn is looking at you. Why, thin, my lord, says I, not knowin’ what he was at, she’s heartily welcome, 3 an’ a purtier pair of eyes she couldn’t have to do it with, says I. So they all burst out laughin’ in spite o’ themselves. I meant to say, Mr Geurin, says he again, that Lady Peppercorn will take wine with you. Oh, now I twig you, says I, with a heart and a half, me lady. Well, Molly, while I was talkin’ to Lady Peppercorn, what does one o’ the jintlemen in the red velvet do but slip in a hand under me elbow, an’ whip away the plate from me, a’most before I touched what was in it; an’ before I could ax for another helpin,’ the whole o’ what was on the table was cleared away. Oh, murther, Pether, says I to myself, is that all you’re to get to-night? But the minute afther, there was a fresh dinner laid, an’ they all went to work again as brisk as ever.
“ ‘Well, I got another cut o’ mait, an’ says I, now there’s hopes I’ll be let ait a bit in peace an’ quietness, when Mister Guerin, will you do me the honour of wine?’ says Lord Peppercorn. With pleasure, my lord, says I, bowin’ down to me plate, quite mannerly. So while I was drinkin’ wine with Lord Peppercorn, what should I see, only the same jintleman in the red velvet slippin’ in a hand for the plate again, an’ not a morsel of it touched. So I laid a hoult of it with the other hand. Aisy a while, sir, says I, if you plaze, I’m not done with that yet. Well, they all began laughin’, quite hearty. An’ thin one o’ the jintlemen 38 begun takin’ wine with me, an’ another after that, so that I couldn’t find time to ait one morsel before the table was cleared again. You’re done for now, Peter, says I; you’ll be starved alive. Sorry a bit, Molly, for there was a third dinner brought in to ’em! Oh, I see how it is, says I, when once they begin they never stop aitin’ here. Well, ’tis a bad wind that blows nobody good, I’ll get something at last, so I was helped the third time; an’ I had just took up me knife and fork, an’ was going to begin in airnest, when a jintleman that sat close by me said in a whisper — What did the ladies do to you, Mr Guerin, that you wouldn’t ax any of ’em to take wine? Why so, sir, says I, is that manners? Oh dear, yes, says he, don’t you see all the jintlemen doin’ it? An’, sure enough, so they wor. So, not to be unmannerly, I began and axed ’em all round, one afther another, an’ hardly had I the last of ’em done, when down comes the jintleman in the red velvet, and sweeps all away before ’em agin, without sayin’ this or that. There was no help for it.
“ ‘There I sat, a’most dead. What’ll they bring in next, I wonder? says I. ’Twasn’t long until I seen them comin’ and layin’ before every one at table a great big glass like a bowl, full of cowld spring wather. Cool comfort, Pether, says I, but here goes for manners. So I drank it. He filled it again, an’ as he did, I drank it again, just to plaze 39 him; but seein’ he was goin’ to fill it again, I couldn’t stand it any longer. No more o’ that, sir, says I, if you plaze. Well, I thought they never would stop laughin’. But, Molly, I thought the sight would be took out of me two eyes, when I seen all the ladies and jintlemen dipping their hands in their glasses, and washing ’em before me face at the dinner table. Well, Pether, sez I, such manners as that you never seen before this day anyway.’ ”
When Brown had finished his laugh over Jones’s story, he said, “After all, that old system of drinking at dinner parties is well away. It was a great snare. Some of the other changes don’t strike me as being so much of an improvement. I like the old-fashioned dinners we still have in our country districts — the old-style dinner with its soup, fish, and four corner dishes; and the haunch of mutton, and a pair of boiled fowls, carved at the table. The dishes nowadays come stealing round in a furtive fashion behind you, as if eating were almost a thing to be ashamed of.”
“I’d be glad to see dishes come round any way at this present moment.” said Jones. “But I’m an advocate of the new style, I think it more graceful, more comfortable. Carving used to be a great bore, — hindered both eating and conversation. And you’ll admit that flowers and fruit are prettier objects for contemplation than a mutilated fowl, or cauliflower in white sauce.”40
“Still,” said Robinson, “there was a hearty hospitality about the old style that one misses now — the jovial host with knife and fork in hand calling out, ‘Now, Robinson, my boy, let me give you a slice of this mutton.’ But fashions do change, as you say. Why, I was reading lately, that even forks weren’t used a couple of hundred years ago. People — even the upper ten — ate meat with their fingers. I saw it stated that in James the First’s time, a Court preacher preached a sermon against forks, which had just begun to come in, and declared that using a fork was an insult to Providence, who had given people fingers for the purpose.”
“It’s extraordinary,” said Brown, “to notice how fashions can be altered by a Queen, or some people in high position — fashions even with regard to what we eat. I remember one year — 1883 I think it was — when the Queen heard that owing to the consumption of lamb, there was likely to be a dearth of sheep, she simply caused it to be notified that no lamb was to be used in the Royal household that season; and the effect was extraordinary — went, indeed, far beyond what was anticipated. The people in multitudes wouldn’t have lamb on the table, simply because the Royal family wouldn’t have it; and it went so far that a great many farmers were nearly ruined — those that had bred lamb not for stock but for the market. But speaking about mistakes, one of the funniest 41 mistakes I’ve heard of in connection with dinner parties was owing, not to ignorance, like your Mr Guerin, but to absent-mindedness. Rogers tells it in his ‘Table Talk.’ Topham Beauclerk, a friend of old Sam Johnson’s, had a party coming to dinner. Just before their arrival, he went upstairs to change his dress. He forgot all about the party; thought it was bed-time; pulled off his clothes, and went to bed. A friend, who presently entered the room to tell him that his guests were waiting for him, found him fast asleep.”
“That reminds me,” said Robinson, “of a story of Sir Isaac Newton. Dr Stukeley, visiting him once, was shown into a room where the table was laid, and a cold fowl was on it ready for Sir Isaac when he came down. Time passed, but there was no sign of his coming; and the antiquarian knew that if in the midst of his calculations, there was no saying when he would come. In despair, at last, he sat down and made a comfortable dinner upon the astronomer’s fowl. He then resumed his seat beside the fire. By and by the astronomer came into the room, and after greeting his friend warmly, set eyes on the fowl. He thought for moment, and then said, ‘I fear, Stukeley, I am getting worse — getting more liable to fits of abstraction. I must have dined here within the last two or three hours, and yet I cannot recall it — can’t remember even coming into the room.’ ”42
“Hsh!” cried Robinson, holding up his hand, “I thought I heard the wheels of Bob’s spring-cart.”
They listened, but could hear nothing.
“No,” said Brown, “I was sure not. I’m so hungry that I believe I shall hear that spring-cart a mile off.”
“In harmony with Josh Billings’ theory,” said Jones. “Josh says, speaking of the velocity of sound, that everything depends on what sound it is. The sound of a dinner bell, he says, travels through a house, and round a ten-acre lot, with inconceivable velocity; whereas the sound of an awakening bell on a dark winter morning travels slowly upstairs, and arrives at the top in such a debilitated condition that it is unfit for further duty.”
“Speaking of mistakes,” said Robinson, “I could tell you of another — a very odd one — a mistake that enabled a man to eat his own funeral dinner. It was a real case. It occurred in our own district. There was a man of the name of John White, who died in the Stroud Workhouse. The governor sent notice to his friends at Painswick. His friends didn’t want John to be buried as a pauper — wanted him, as they said, to have a ‘comfortable coffin,’ which they provided, and also arranged for a funeral dinner, with which the friends whom they invited to the funeral were 43 to regale themselves. A cart, driven by a man who knew the deceased well, was sent from Painswick to bring the body. When, however, the driver reached the Workhouse, and saw the body, he declared that it wasn’t John White at all. The governor assured him it was John White; but the driver insisted that if it was a John White, it wasn’t the John White that he had come for. This led to inquiry, when it was found that there were two John Whites in the Workhouse, and that John White of Painswick was still there alive and well. This was explained to the driver; but the driver said the Painswick friends who had met to bury John White and eat his funeral dinner, would never believe that John White was still alive unless he appeared alive amongst them. Under these circumstances, it was arranged to fetch John White, and let him go to Painswick with the driver. This he did, and had the novel sensation of being welcomed by the tolling of the bell for his own funeral, and of sitting down with his mourning relatives, and sharing his funeral feast with them; after which he returned to the Stroud Union to die on some future occasion.”
“One of the mistakes you told about,” said Brown, “brought back to my mind an amusing incident. Some farmers had been having supper in the inn one winter night, and after supper sat drinking and talking, and singing songs, till 44 they found that it was time to make their way home. One was told to go and look out and see what sort of night it was. He went, but probably not having all his wits about him, he went by mistake to the door of a dark pantry, and after peering in for some time, said, ‘It’s a dark night — very dark — and smells of cheese!’ ”
“He had been qualifying himself for that observation with something stronger than cheese,” said Robinson.
“Speaking of cheese,” said Jones; “I remember reading a remarkable story about a victory gained with the help of cheese — a naval victory.”
“Oh, come! nonsense.”
“It’s a fact. It was in South America. The officer was Commodore Coe of the Montevidean navy, in an engagement with Admiral Brown of the Buenos Ayrean service. The commodore’s ship had exhausted her ammunition, and the first lieutenant came excitedly to the commodore asking, ‘What are we to do, sir? The lockers are empty.’ ‘All empty?’ asked the commodore. ‘Every one of them,’ said the lieutenant — ‘round shot, grape, canister, double-head, all gone!’ ‘Is the powder done?’ asked the commodore. ‘No, sir, we’ve plenty powder.’ ‘Well,’ said the commodore, ‘we had a darned hard Dutch cheese at dinner to-day; do you remember?’ ‘I ought to,’ said the other, ‘I broke 45 the carving-knife trying to cut it.’ ‘Are there any more aboard?’ ‘About six dozen; we took them from a droger.’ ‘Will they go into the 18-pounders?’ ‘By thunder! commodore,’ cried the lieutenant, ‘that’s an idea. I’ll go and try ’em.’ Presently the guns of their ship, the ‘Santa Maria,’ re-opened fire. Admiral Brown, on the opposing ship, found shot after shot flying over his head. Presently one of them struck his mainmast, and as it did so, shattered and flew in every direction. ‘What, in all creation, is that the enemy is firing?’ exclaimed the startled admiral. Before any answer was possible, another shot came in through a port, killed two men who were near him, and, striking the opposite bulwarks, burst into flinders. ‘By Jove, this is too much!’ cried the admiral. ‘This is some new infernal Paixhan or other. I don’t half like ’em.’ And, as four or five more of them came slap through the sails, he gave the order to fill away, and actually backed out of the fight, receiving a parting broadside of Dutch cheeses.’
“I wouldn’t object to have that commodore’s ship out there firing one of these cheeses this way to keep us going till Bob comes,” said Robinson.
“It would be as welcome a disaster as the burning of Yang-Pang’s piggeries,” said Brown.
“I tell you what it is,” said Jones, looking round ominously, “if Bob doesn’t come sharp, something 46 serious will happen. I never, in all my life, felt so like becoming a cannibal.”
“A cannibal!” exclaimed Brown. Then don’t look this way, please. Look at Robinson. He’s plumper.”
“Ordinarily I am,” said Robinson, “but I feel just now like a scarecrow — nothing in me. A mere vacuum, with clothes on. I feel like the Yankee editor, who said he found dependence on newspaper work was leaving him so thin and hollow that he thought of selling himself for stovepipe at three cents a foot.”
“But speaking of cannibals,” said Brown; “there’s a story of an African traveller, who asked a chief if he had ever seen a certain missionary who had once been located in those parts. ‘Yes,’ said the chief with emotion, ‘I knew him — a nice man — a very nice man — I ate a bit of him.’ ”
“A slice of cold missionary,” suggested Jones.
“I remember,” said Robinson, “a very good cannibal story. It was the case of an Englishman who made an awfully narrow escape from them — escaped through his fortunate knowledge of some of their peculiar customs and superstitions. It seems they have customs in connection with their cannibal feasts that are as imperious as etiquette is with us, and as binding as law. Well, this Englishman, Pickering was his name, was captured, and knew well that some day very soon 47 they would eat him. One day he detected the preliminary arrangements that would never have been noticed by one less versed in cannibal customs, but that made clear to Pickering that the fatal day had come, and that the feast was being prepared for, at which he was himself to be the principal dish. He pretended not to notice anything, but was really marking carefully every step taken in the preparations. One thing especially he was watching for. He knew that before they proceeded to kill him, a bowl of kava would have to be made, and a prayer said over the beverage when ready. And he knew that the person saying the prayer could not be the person eaten. Pretending utter unconsciousness of what was going on around him, he waited till the preparation of the kava had reached the stage at which the prayer was to be said, and then suddenly, in a loud voice, to the utter dismay of the cannibals, pronounced the well-known formula. No one would after that dare to touch him. The disappointed cannibals had to make the best meal they could without him; and Pickering, like John White that you told about, had the keen satisfaction of sharing with them the refreshments provided for his own funeral.”
“I’m glad you’ve told about that adventure,” said Jones, eagerly. “It has recalled one of the funniest stories I ever heard — a most extraordinary 48 story. It’s about a thing that happened to the Prince of Wales a number of years ago. It was during his visit to India, — yes, the Prince~ — ’77 I think was the year. It was a most ludicrous thing. Not many people know about it; in fact, everything possible was done at the time to keep it out of the papers. But it actually occurred, that’s certain. I had it from one who travelled with the Royal party, a man of unimpeachable veracity, who was in the jungle and very near just at he very moment when the Prince ——
“Hullo! here’s Bob!” yelled Brown, jumping up with a hurrah — “here’s Bob with our lunch at last!”
The others were on their feet in a twinkling. Even Jones though no more of his wonderful story, which remains to this day untold.
* There happens to be only six typographical errors in this text, which have been corrected (see the source code). Also, there are what appears to be typographical mistakes to us today, but are not. The absence of a period after “Mr” instead of “Mr.”, and “Dr” instead of “Dr.”, was normal and accepted usage in those days. This is very common in Italian texts still, according to Bill Thayer, who surely knows. It also occurs in older French texts.