Simply the Cooking
Simply the Cooking
BY CLARENCE DAY, JR.
MY dinner had disagreed with me again. I am convinced that when food is skilfully prepared for the table it need not disagree with one, no matter how rich (as they call it) that food may be. When it is clumsily prepared, of course it does. Take strawberry-shortcake, for example—a simple dish. If a man who eats three or four helpings of shortcake finds it going to his head, so to speak, just what is to blame? The man? No. The cake.
My wife doesn't see this.
"One thing that might restore your digestion, my dear," she presently observed, "is a little vacation. Why don't you go to the Adirondacks for a bit?"
It wasn't my digestion, I told her; it was the cooking. She smiled. The expression was one of skepticism and patient amusement. I—well, I left the table. I went off to my bedroom, and before I could strike a light I fell over the phonograph.
I had got tired of the phonograph, just as my wife had said I would, but it was her own fault. As soon as I buy a thing she begins predicting that I will shortly get tired of it. This leads to my taking particular pains to prove to her—for her own sake—that she is quite wrong; and this leads, in turn, to my using the thing too much. Whereupon I naturally do get tired of it, a little; and when my wife notices this, she says: "You see! Was I not right?" I then take a very strong hatred for the thing and never use it again, meantime explaining carefully to my wife that she is not right, nevertheless. She calls these explanations "silly!"
After I had fallen over that phonograph, I decided to put it away for good, and began looking for a box to put it in. It is not easy to find a box that will hold a phonograph; the only one I had that was big enough was full of old letters. It occurred to me that it was hardly worth while my keeping those letters; I was always meaning to look them over and think about other days and so forth, but perhaps it wouldn't be much fun, after all. Nothing is much fun when the cooking is bad. I took out a handful to inspect; they were from Aunt Martin; one was to congratulate me on the birth of a daughter that had never, and has never, had a birth; one was to ask me to call upon a former fire commissioner who was a cousin of mine, by marriage, to recommend her old coachman's son for a job. I remembered how disgusted these letters had made me when they came, and wondered why on earth I had ever kept them. I threw them in my fire.
It is queer how it makes one feel to burn old letters. One seems to be consigning not merely the letters themselves to destruction, but the senders. Aunt Martin had been dead a long time, but she seemed deader still when her letters were destroyed. It was as though I had stripped from her wraith the last film of reality that it possessed. "Her memory will be more shadowy than ever, now," I reflected, "thank goodness!" I watched the fire thoughtfully, and almost imagined I could see a tiny image of Aunt Martin sweeping angrily up the chimney.
One of the letters had fallen on the floor; not an Aunt Martin letter, either, I noticed, as I stooped to recover it, but from Commodore Filber. It was a characteristically kind-hearted missive, full of pleasant remarks about my uncle, who had been the dead Commodore's good friend. It soothed me to read it. I decided not to strip any remaining film of reality from Filber, but to walk down to my uncle's and show him this letter.
"Hattie," said I, over the banisters, "I am going out."
"I knew you were, dear," said my wife.
This was manifestly untrue. I had only just made up my mind to go. "You will have to admit that you are wrong again, Hattie," I said, firmly, "because it was but this minute that I—"
She was laughing. Laughing at her husband! "As the club's celebration lasted so very late a year ago, Niblo, dear, I sha'n't wait up for you to-night," she called. "I hope it won't add to your indigestion."
So that was where she thought that I was bound. It seems to me my wife is wrong practically all the time—there is a regular fatality about it. And yet she never can be made to see it.
As it happens, I am not going to the club," I shouted, warmly. "I am going to Uncle Wolley's."
She appeared in the hall. "Again?" she asked.
"Why 'again'?" I inquired. "Why 'again'? I haven't been there once this winter."
"Niblo Sims," she retorted, taking away a tweed cape of hers that I had brought out of the closet by mistake, and handing me my own overcoat instead, "you have started for Uncle Wolley's six times within the last month, and each time you have never got farther than the club, and you know what the doctor says. Your indigestion will get the better of you if you're not more careful, and you will be 'seeing' things. People with stomach trouble often do. Ever since they opened that late evening grill there, and began serving underdone Welsh rabbits, you—"
"I beg that you will stop, Hattie," I interrupted. "You are utterly and entirely mistaken. I am not interested in the club's Welsh rabbits. I have put an end to that sort of business altogether, and I have told you so over and over and over. I may share one with another man, at times, or order one for myself without any toast, but practically speaking I never touch them." I had got my hand on the door as I was talking, and now I opened it. "Furthermore, you are in this instance doubly wrong—doubly wrong, let me inform you—because not only am I not going to eat anything, but I am not even going near the club. You need not worry about my indigestion." She was looking mockingly at me, but I paid no heed. "I tell you plainly that I am going to Uncle Wolley's. Good night." And I immediately shut the door after me. These women always want the last word.
It is extraordinary the way people interfere with one's private affairs, it It isn't only Hattie. There are men I know who make nothing of coming up to me in the street and asserting that I look "rather thin, old chap," or "rather yellow, old chap," or rather something else that does not suit them. I am not trying to suit those people. I tell them so, too. I am apt to add that if they could only see themselves as others see them they would have plenty to do without criticizing me. Let criticisms begin at home, that is my motto.
I took a car. My wife thinks I ought to walk more, but she does not understand that if I did it would make me nervous. I am not naturally nervous; I have a serene and placid way of my own of getting through my days, but it doesn't facilitate this way to go plunging through the streets like an errand-boy. What are cars for? To look at?
The car I took being empty, I was given a good opportunity to concentrate my mind, which I consider an excellent sedative and exercise; fix your mind on some one thing—anything you like—and think only of that, and you will find that after a few minutes you feel calmer all over. It dissipates one's annoyances amazingly.
I had fixed my mind on a phonograph advertisement so successfully that I had quite forgotten the conductor's rude way of making change, when I remembered that my own phonograph would probably prove an annoyance, too. Sometimes it is simply impossible to find any object that is wholly free from annoyance, of one kind or another. I took Commodore Filber's letter out of my pocket and decided to think of that. He wasn't annoying, the Commodore. How vividly I remembered his large, bald head, his bit of whisker, his watery blue eyes and fat, pink chins and cheeks, all crinkled up into amiable expressions; and the way his stumpy little legs always seemed to be making deferential gestures of their own to one when he was talking. A very decent old fellow indeed. He was in the wholesale anchovy business, I recollected, his rank having come to him from a yacht-club, not from the government, and I was just thinking of the fact that one cannot buy any really digestible anchovies nowadays, when I observed that a pair of legs exactly like the Commodore's were coming toward me up the aisle of the car. I looked up, and there stood old Filber himself.
"I was just thinking of the fact," I told him, "that one cannot buy any really digestible anchovies nowadays. I find it, personally, very annoying."
"It is annoying," he agreed, seating himself near me. I added that I had trouble with caviare, too, and with onion dumplings. He agreed with me on them all.
"I have an old letter of yours here, by the way," said I, starting to show it to him. As I did so I suddenly realized with some perplexity that Filber was, in point of fact, not alive. This was curious. Here he was sitting next to me in a car, and yet—
I stared dully at him. It seemed to make him anxious.
"My dear fellow," he cried, "don't stare dully at me. You—it was the letter that brought me. If I intrude, I'll leave you, but I hope you won't think that is necessary. I can't tell you how much I am enjoying this little chat."
"The letter?" said I.
"Why, yes," he replied, "the letter. You understand. Since I—since 1905"—that was the year, I remembered, that he was drowned—"since 1905, the only taste I can get of existence is when somebody connects me with something tangible like that letter, and recalls my image, as it were. Even then I don't generally dare to show myself. You, now, are a calm, quiet sort of man. You would scarcely believe the way other people get excited, and shudder, and evince a repugnance for my presence; or weep, or scream, or make it unpleasant for me somehow if I appear. No matter where I go, and no matter how much I would often like to stay, I find myself being positively swept off the premises by their emotions." His left leg made a swept-off-the-premises sort of gesture. "Now why should any one behave like that? My disposition is to be companionable and jolly. It is pretty hard to be treated like a wet blanket or a spoil-sport, just because I like to join my friends occasionally. Why should everybody be so prejudiced? Why should I be shunned?"
The poor man seemed so nervous and distraught and yet so reasonable that I felt quite sympathetic. "I am not shunning you," I reminded him.
He thanked me and said, No, I wasn't; I was very sensible about it, and he was obliged. Greatly obliged. He asked where I was going. Wolley's, eh? That was too bad, because Wolley, although he loved him dearly, was one of the most prejudiced men he knew. I offered to stop at the next corner instead and take him over to the club. He thanked me again. I admit that perhaps this was a mistake on my part. But he was talking so much and so rapidly to me that I really did not have time to think.
As we walked across, he explained his situation more precisely. He had never been a spiritually minded man, he told me, and after his fatal accident no aspirations for higher scenes had made him willing to forsake his old ones. On the other hand, no evil impulses had existed, to be "burned out," as he put it. In consequence, ever "since 1905" he had drifted along pretty much as though he had not been drowned at all, except that he couldn't show himself to people. More and more he was being forgotten, though, he saw, and it was that which was gradually ending his existence, in a sense in which the mere drowning hadn't and couldn't. When his old house had been torn down he had felt "diluted at least one-half," and of recent years he had been feeling more insubstantial still, even to himself. He was so glad I had not destroyed his letter. It was only when people remembered him and thought vividly of him that he could get any little taste of life; and he ventured to hope I would think of him as often, in future, as I could.
I told him I would try, but that I had much to contend with. What with being misunderstood—wilfully misunderstood—by people who should know better, and supplied with food that would not digest, and foolishly advised by stupid doctors, and contradicted in my own home, and so forth, I was naturally kept wrapped up in my personal difficulties. I was still talking to him of this when we reached the club and made our way to the coat-room.
Our club has a celebration every year on the anniversary of its moving into the new house. It isn't much of a house to make such a fuss about, but the anniversary meetings are pleasant in themselves, and I never miss one. Champagne and a very decent supper are served all the evening. We found the members present in force, all happy and talkative, and two or three of them nodded vaguely in our direction, which seemed to please the Commodore immensely. I didn't try to introduce him to the younger men, but I did take him up to Major Hoskins, and to a few other of his contemporaries, and say, "You remember Commodore Filber, of course," and all that. They didn't any of them behave as though they remembered; in fact, their expressions seemed particularly vacant, but I disregarded this, of course, and continued on my way around the rooms. Filber, I noticed, was rather awkward at getting about. He seemed apprehensive, too, of being run into, and he kept scuttling out of people's paths and squeezing himself up against doors and walls like one in peril. "It's so very crowded," he mumbled, apologetically. "Can't we sit down somewhere?"
I motioned to some chairs near the head of the staircase, took one of them myself, and began feeling in my pockets for cigars. "Why, where are my cigars? I must have left them at home," I said, presently.
"So?" said a strange voice, not the Commodore's. "Shall I touch the bell for you?"
I turned, and there in the chair which I had just offered to Filber sat a member named Grillquist.
"Oh—er—thank you very much," I said. He got up and stepped toward a bell on a near-by table. As he did so I discovered he had been sitting on Filber!
"Come, come away from here," Filber coughed, pale and indignant. "That fellow—I'm speechless—" He hurried me down-stairs to the grill. "Now will you please take a table for two," he entreated, "and after you're seated I'll join you. Meantime, do kindly tell the waiter the second seat is reserved."
I took a table at once and looked over the bill. There was nothing worth trying on it—only a lot of elaborate dishes—so I ordered a Welsh rabbit. That seemed about the simplest thing I could eat, after all. The grill was very close, very bad air, disgracefully close. I grew conscious, suddenly, of having a splitting bad headache. My whole day had been miserable, miserable, I angrily realized. My omelet at breakfast had been so overcooked it was ropy; it was like eating an old sponge. My lunch had been an absolute failure on account of the dumpling—the heaviest, lumpiest dumpling a man ever swallowed. There it was; I could still feel it, sulking inside of me, like some unreconciled rebel in a hot concentration camp. Upon my word! if a man could manage to live without nourishment, I'd not eat at all, I think—at least on unlucky days. I speak of "luck"—that is the charitable view; it's these ignorant cooks. I waited for my rabbit with quite a black, dizzy feeling in my head.
Then Filber reappeared. He still seemed disconcerted by having been sat upon. His expression was quite peevish, I noticed. I began to dislike him. He had a dim, misty look, and I like hearty people. The waiter had tilted his chair up against the table, Broadway style, to show it was reserved. (We have the most ignorant waiters in the world at our club.) The Commodore put it straight, with some difficulty, and sat down. "Is there anything the matter with you?" he said, glaring at me. "You seem flushed."
I regarded him coldly. "The matter with me is," I replied, "that I don't believe members who have been drowned have any right in this club."
"Wh-what!" he stuttered. "Oh, come. Read the rules. Is there any rule of this club, or any other club, denying entrance to the deceased?"
"You haven't paid your dues, sir," I shouted. Several members at neighboring tables turned and stared, but I would not be downed. I felt bound to uphold the club's honor, whatever they thought.
The Commodore grew haughty. "I admit it," he said, argumentatively, "but be so kind as to remember, my young friend, I haven't been asked. I haven't resigned, and my name isn't posted. I'm a member in good standing."
The waiter happened to be passing by at that moment. He saw that the chair he had tilted was down on four legs, and, not noticing the Commodore apparently, he smartly turned it up again. This pinned Filber against the table—flattened him, in fact. He waved his arms despairingly and uttered a cry.
"Be still!" I roared. He was silent. So was everybody else. The whole room was suddenly hushed. Fixing my eyes on Filber, I drew his old letter from my pocket, struck a match, and set fire to it. He lifted his hands in silent supplication. But I was adamant. Filberts last tie to reality should be destroyed. It turned quickly to flame, and the Commodore groaned and faded away. It was rather dramatic.
"Now," I said to the waiter, "you may bring me my order." He set the dish before me with a new respect, and immediately withdrew.
A hum of conversation arose again in the room. Grillquist and two or three other members came to my table.
"How are you feeling, old boy?" said Grillquist.
I said I was feeling all right.
"Major Hoskins was asking me about you," Grillquist continued. "He says you spoke when you came in as though you'd seen Commodore Filber."
"Well? What of it?" I inquired.
"I don't quite understand," said Grillquist, blankly. "Old Mr. Filber was drowned in 1905, I believe, on his yacht."
"Exactly," I said, determinedly eating my rabbit.
Grillquist and the others looked at one another, blanker than ever. They have such stupid faces, that set. Not mobile, not intelligent. "Don't you want to tell us all about it, Sims?" they finally said.
This made me rather hot. Stop in the middle of a Welsh rabbit to tell these casual intruders about old Filber? "Oh, damn old Filber!" I angrily remarked. "You and he between you will give me indigestion if you are not careful, and my wife will think it was this innocent rabbit. I don't care to go into this matter. I don't see that it's necessary. My feeling is simply that Filber shouldn't come around here. Do you understand that?"
They didn't seem to.
I laid down my fork, pushed away the plate, and explained my views to those men from A to Z. When I had finished, Grillquist said he now understood, and did I feel quite well? I told him frankly no, I did not. Perhaps, he suggested, I would like him to go home with me in his cab. I had no objection. He hinted that possibly I needed a vacation, and said they had an excellent chef at the club inn in the Adirondacks. I said, What did I care about the confounded old inn? This constant interference never ceases. I went home at once and had a severe attack of indigestion all night.
The next morning, when I got to thinking it over, I decided there had been something curious about my experience, and determined to dismiss the whole affair at once from my mind. I also burned the rest of those old letters, just to be rid of them. That left my nice box ready to use for the phonograph. I had got it about half packed away when there was a knock. I had a horrible suspicion that it was Filber.
"Come in," I said, hurriedly, "come in." It was my wife.
"Tired of it?" she asked me, looking at the phonograph, with one of her I-told-you-so expressions.
You can imagine my feelings! "No," I replied, shortly, "I am not. I am putting it away so as not to fall over it so much, and if you think it's for some other reason you are absolutely wrong."
She laughed in a stupid, creasy sort of way. My wife is getting fat. "And was I wrong about knowing you were going to the club last night?" she queried, still smiling. "And about your eating a Welsh rabbit?"
There is nothing in this world so hopelessly provoking as a woman. If I did not have the patience of Job himself, I really believe sometimes I should go mad. "Whom have you been talking with?" I demanded, indignantly.
"Dr. Grillquist stopped at the door just now, dear, to ask how you were," she answered. "He says you think of taking a vacation."
"So I do," I assented. "I am going to the club inn in the Adirondacks."
She started to say something cheerful about its helping my digestion. Blind! Blind to the end! I raised my hand impressively to check her.
"It is not because of my digestion, my poor Hattie," said I, with a pitying look. "It is simply the cooking."