merkins, the ancient attendant (but not so ancient as the members), came in and poked the embers a bit.
finally wilworth broke the silence.
"that -" - nobody asked what "that " was - "reminds me of a queer thing that happened to me back in - back in the day. a damned queer thing."
"well then, let's hear it, old boy, " drawled morgan from the depths of his chair in the corner.
suddenly podwell slammed his fist on the arm of his chair, with such force as to shake the dregs of the glass of whiskey on the table beside him. "no. by god! by god i'm tired of these queer tales, these damned queer tales! doesn't anybody ever have a tale of something ordinary, eh? did not anything ordinary ever happen to any of you, eh?"
"well," chamberton observed timidly, from his chair beside the fire, " we have all spent most of our lives in exotic climes, you know. before - before ending up here, that is."
but podwell would have none of it. "but surely something ordinary has happened to someone here! when you think of all the years we have all lived -"
"what about yourself, then, " morgan interjected. "do you have an ordinary tale to tell?"
"no need for that, " put in sounderby, from his chair beside the door, "i have a tale to tell - the most damned ordinary story you ever heard."
"well then, let's hear it, " came a chorus of voices from every corner of the room.
sounderby cleared his throat. "i was back from africa, for the first time in thirty years. i thought things might have changed a bit, and maybe they had - in london or paris. but in my home village - in the west counties - time seemed to have stood still. not, of course, that i had any objection to that.
it was a dull and dreary day, with a low hanging but not particularly thick fog. i decided to go for a walk before breakfast. the old housekeeper - whom i remembered very well but who did not seem to remember me - was damnably slow about everything, but especially breakfast. so, as i say, i decided to go for a walk.
i had no destination. my mind was a complete blank. i was grateful for the fact that the road was completely deserted of humans, although an occasional rabbit crossed it. a few rabbits on the road, a few cows in the field, a few crows in the air - not even a barn or tractor in sight. i could have been in caesar's time.
the fog lingered, and the day did not brighten as it went on.
eventually i came upon a small house - hardly more than a hut, with a small garden behind it, but no sign of a barn or animals. i was a bit thirsty, and resolved to be so bold as to approach the house to request a drink of water.
i rapped on the door, and it was opened immediately by a woman. a woman plainly dressed, as you might imagine, neither young nor old, good looking nor ugly.
i asked if i might have a glass of water and she nodded and stood aside without speaking to let me in. i found myself in a small room with just a table and two chairs. i thought she might be mute but when she brought me the water she remarked in a clear voice with just the touch of a country accent that it looked like just another day.
i agreed that it looked like just another day.
she asked if i would like a bite to eat, and although i was not particularly hungry i thanked her and said that i would.
she brought me a cup of milk and a plate with two slices of bread, two smaller slices of cheese, three sardines, three radishes, four slices of cucumber, a curious little tasteless cake, and an apple.
she sat in the chair across from me and looked out the window as i consumed these humble victuals, except for the apple, which i put in my pocket.
neither of us spoke.
after a period of time difficult to measure, i thanked her and got up and left.
i walked back to my old house the same way i had come. the fog lifted and the skies darkened, but it did not rain.
a month later i was back in kenya."
no one spoke for half a minute.
"by god!" cried podwell. "if that isn't the queerest damned tale i ever heard!"
no one challenged this assertion, or otherwise spoke.
the fire burned low in the grate. merkins, who had perhaps fallen asleep, did not come in to stir the embers.