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An Informal Evening
by [?]

Dinner was a very quiet affair. Not a soul drew my chair away from under me as I sat down, and during the meal nobody threw bread about. We talked gently of art and politics and things; and when the ladies left there was no booby trap waiting for them at the door. In a word, nothing to prepare me for what was to follow.

We strolled leisurely into the drawing-room. A glance told me the worst. The ladies were in a cluster round Miss Power, and Miss Power was on the floor. She got up quickly as we came in.

“We were trying to go underneath the poker,” she explained. “Can you do it?”

I waved the poker back.

“Let me see you do it again,” I said. “I missed the first part.”

“Oh, I can never do it. Bob, you show us.”

Bob is an active young fellow. He took the poker, rested the end on the floor, and then twisted himself underneath his right arm. I expected to see him come up inside out, but he looked much the same after it. However, no doubt his organs are all on the wrong side now.

“Yes, that’s how I should do it,” I said hastily.

But Miss Power was firm. She gave me the poker. I pressed it hard on the floor, said good-bye to them all, and dived. I got half-way round, and was supporting myself upside down by one toe and the slippery end of the poker, when it suddenly occurred to me that the earth was revolving at an incredible speed on its own axis, and that, in addition, we were hurtling at thousands of miles a minute round the sun. It seemed impossible in these circumstances that I should keep my balance any longer; and as soon as I realised this the poker began to slip. I was in no sort of position to do anything about it, and we came down heavily together.

“Oh, what a pity!” said Miss Power. “I quite thought you’d done it.”

“Being actually on the spot,” I said, “I knew that I hadn’t.”

“Do try again.”

“Not till the ground’s a little softer.”

“Let’s do the jam-pot trick,” said another girl.

“I’m not going under a jam-pot for anybody,” I murmured.

However, it turned out that this trick was quite different. You place a book (Macaulay’s Essays or what not) on the jam-pot and sit on the book, one heel only touching the ground. In the right hand you have a box of matches, in the left a candle. The jam-pot, of course, is on its side, so that it can roll beneath you. Then you light the candle … and hand it to anybody who wants to go to bed.

I was ready to give way to the ladies here, but even while I was bowing and saying, “Not at all,” I found myself on one of the jam-pots with Bob next to me on another. To balance with the arms outstretched was not so difficult; but as the matches were then about six feet from the candle and there seemed no way of getting them nearer together the solution of the problem was as remote as ever. Three times I brought my hands together, and three times the jam-pot left me.

“Well played, Bob,” said somebody. The bounder has done it.

I looked at his jam-pot.

“There you are,” I said. “‘Raspberry–1909.’ Mine’s ‘Gooseberry–1911,’ a rotten vintage. And look at my book, Alone on the Prairie; and you’ve got The Mormon’s Wedding. No wonder I couldn’t do it.”

I refused to try it again as I didn’t think I was being treated fairly; and after Bob and Miss Power had had a race at it, which Bob won, we got on to something else.

“Of course you can pick a pin out of a chair with your teeth?” said Miss Power.

“Not properly,” I said. “I always swallow the pin.”