Should We Say What We Think, Or Think What We Say?
Джером К. Джером (Jerome K. Jerome), 1905
A mad friend of mine will have it that the characteristic of the age is Make-Believe. He argues that all social intercourse is founded on make-believe. A servant enters to say that Mr. and Mrs. Bore are in the drawing-room.
“Oh, damn!” says the man.
“Hush!” says the woman. “Shut the door, Susan. How often am I to tell you never to leave the door open?”
The man creeps upstairs on tiptoe and shuts himself in his study. The woman does things before a looking-glass, waits till she feels she is sufficiently mistress of herself not to show her feelings, and then enters the drawing-room with outstretched hands and the look of one welcoming an angel’s visit. She says how delighted she is to see the Bores – how good it was of them to come. Why did they not bring more Bores with them? Where is naughty Bore junior? Why does he never come to see her now? She will have to be really angry with him. And sweet little Flossie Bore? Too young to pay calls! Nonsense. An “At Home” day is not worth having where all the Bores are not.
The Bores, who had hoped that she was out – who have only called because the etiquette book told them that they must call at least four times in the season, explain how they have been trying and trying to come.
“This afternoon,” recounts Mrs. Bore, “we were determined to come. ‘John, dear,’ I said this morning, ‘I shall go and see dear Mrs. Bounder this afternoon, no matter what happens.'”
The idea conveyed is that the Prince of Wales, on calling at the Bores, was told that he could not come in. He might call again in the evening or come some other day.
That afternoon the Bores were going to enjoy themselves in their own way; they were going to see Mrs. Bounder.
“And how is Mr. Bounder?”
demands Mrs. Bore.
Mrs. Bounder remains mute for a moment, straining her ears. She can hear him creeping past the door on his way downstairs. She hears the front door softly opened and closed-to. She wakes, as from a dream. She has been thinking of the sorrow that will fall on Bounder when he returns home later and learns what he has missed.
And thus it is, not only with the Bores and Bounders, but even with us who are not Bores or Bounders. Society in all ranks is founded on the make-believe that everybody is charming; that we are delighted to see everybody; that everybody is delighted to see us; that it is so good of everybody to come; that we are desolate at the thought that they really must go now.
Which would we rather do – stop and finish our cigar or hasten into the drawing-room to hear Miss Screecher sing? Can you ask us? We tumble over each other in our hurry. Miss Screecher would really rather not sing; but if we insist – We do insist. Miss Screecher, with pretty reluctance, consents. We are careful not to look at one another. We sit with our eyes fixed on the ceiling. Miss Screecher finishes, and rises.
“But it was so short,” we say, so soon as we can be heard above the applause. Is Miss Screecher quite sure that was the whole of it? Or has she been playing tricks upon us, the naughty lady, defrauding us of a verse? Miss Screecher assures us that the fault is the composer’s. But she knows another. At this hint, our faces lighten again with gladness. We clamour for more.
Our host’s wine is always the most extraordinary we have ever tasted. No, not another glass; we dare not – doctor’s orders, very strict. Our host’s cigar! We did not know they made such cigars in this workaday world.