I sat in the drawing-room after dinner with my knees together and my hands in my lap, and waited for the game to be explained to me.
“There’s a pencil for you,” said somebody.
“Thank you very much,” I said and put it carefully away. Evidently I had won a forfeit already. It wasn’t a very good pencil, though.
“Now, has everybody got pencils?” asked somebody else. “The game is called ‘Furnishing a Kitchen.’ It’s quite easy. Will somebody think of a letter?” She turned to me. “Perhaps you’d better.”
“Certainly,” I said, and I immediately thought very hard of N. These thought-reading games are called different things, but they are all the same, really, and I don’t believe in any of them.
“Well?” said everybody.
“What?… Yes, I have. Go on…. Oh, I beg your pardon,” I said in confusion. “I thought you–N is the letter.”
“N or M?”
I smiled knowingly to myself.
“My godfather and my godmother,” I went on cautiously—-
“It was N,” interrupted somebody. “Now then, you’ve got five minutes in which to write down everything you can beginning with N. Go.” And they all started to write like anything.
I took my pencil out and began to think. I know it sounds an easy game to you now, as you sit at your desk surrounded by dictionaries; but when you are squeezed on to the edge of a sofa, given a very blunt pencil and a thin piece of paper, and challenged to write in five minutes (on your knees) all the words you can think of beginning with a certain letter–well, it is another matter altogether. I thought of no end of things which started with K, or even L; I thought of “rhinoceros” which is a very long word and starts with R; but as for—-
I looked at my watch and groaned. One minute gone.
“I must keep calm,” I said and in a bold hand I wrote Napoleon. Then after a moment’s thought, I added Nitro-glycerine, and Nats.
“This is splendid,” I told myself. “Nottingham, Nobody and Noon. That makes six.”
At six I stuck for two minutes. I did worse than that in fact; for I suddenly remembered that gnats were spelt with a G. However, I decided to leave them, in case nobody else remembered. And on the fourth minute I added Non-sequitur.
“Time!” said somebody.
“Just a moment,” said everybody. They wrote down another word or two (which isn’t fair), and then began to add up. “I’ve got thirty,” said one.
“Good Heavens,” I said, “I’ve only got seven.”
There was a shout of laughter.
“Then you’d better begin,” said somebody. “Read them out.”
I coughed nervously, and began.
There was another shout of laughter.
“I am afraid we can’t allow that.”
“Why ever not?” I asked in amazement.
“Well, you’d hardly find him in a kitchen, would you?”
I took out a handkerchief and wiped my brow. “I don’t want to find him in a kitchen,” I said nervously. “Why should I? As a matter of fact he’s dead. I don’t see what the kitchen’s got to do with it. Kitchens begin with a K.”
“But the game is called ‘Furnishing a Kitchen.’ You have to make a list of things beginning with N which you would find in a kitchen. You understood that, didn’t you?”
“Y-y-yes,” I said. “Oh, y-y-y-yes. Of course.”
I pulled myself together with a great effort.
“You don’t understand,” I said with dignity. “The cook’s name was Napoleon.”
“Cooks aren’t called Napoleon,” said everybody.
“This one was. Carrie Napoleon. Her mistress was just as surprised at first as you were, but Carrie assured her that—-“
“No, I’m afraid we can’t allow it.”
“I’m sorry,” I said; “I’m wrong about that. Her name was Carrie Smith. But her young man was a soldier, and she had bought a Life of Napoleon for a birthday present for him. It stood on the dresser waiting for her next Sunday out.”
“Oh! Oh, well, I suppose that is possible. Go on.”
“Gnats,” I went on nervously and hastily. “Of course I know that—-“
“Gnats are spelt with a G,” they shrieked.
“These weren’t. They had lost the G when they were quite young, and consequently couldn’t bite at all, and Cook said that—-“
“No; I’m afraid not.”
“I’m sorry,” I said resignedly. “I had about forty of them–on the dresser. If you won’t allow any of them, it pulls me down a lot. Er–then we have Nitro-glycerine.”
There was another howl of derision.
“Not at all,” I said haughtily. “Cook had chapped hands very badly, and she went to the chemist’s one evening for a little glycerine. The chemist was out, and his assistant–a very nervous young fellow–gave her nitro-glycerine by mistake. It stood on the dresser, it did, really.”
“Well,” said everybody very reluctantly, “I suppose—-“
I went on hastily.
“That’s two. Then Nobody. Of course, you might easily find nobody in the kitchen. In fact you would pretty often, I should say. Three. The next is Noon. It could be noon in the kitchen as well as anywhere else. Don’t be narrow-minded about that.”
“All right. Go on.”
“Non-sequitur,” I said doubtfully.
“What on earth—-“
“It’s a little difficult to explain, but the idea is this. At most restaurants you can get a second help of anything for half-price, and that is technically called a ‘follow.’ Now, if they didn’t give you a follow, that would be a Non-sequitur…. You do see that, don’t you?”
There was a deadly silence.
“Five,” I said cheerfully. “The last is Nottingham. I must confess,” I added magnanimously, “that I am a bit doubtful whether you would actually find Nottingham in a kitchen.”
“You don’t say so!”
“Yes. My feeling is that you would be more likely to find the kitchen in Nottingham. On the other hand, it is just possible that as Calais was found engraven on Mary’s heart, so–Oh, very well. Then it remains at five.”
* * * * *
Of course you think that as I only had five, I came out last. But you are wrong. There is a pleasing rule in this game that, if you have any word in your list which somebody else has, you cannot count it. And as all the others had the obvious things–such as a nutmeg-grater or a neck of mutton, or a nomlette–my five won easily. And you will note that if only I had been allowed to count my gnats, it would have been forty-five.1 view