The Mushroom by Barry Pain

Story type: Literature

We were at breakfast one morning in the summer when the girl entered rather excitedly and said that to the best of her belief there was a mushroom coming in the little lawn in front of the house. It seemed a most extraordinary thing, and Eliza and I both went out to look at it. There was certainly something white coming through the turf; the only question was, whether or not it was a mushroom. The girl seemed certain about it. “Why,” she said, “in my last place mushrooms was frequent. You see, being wealthy, they had anything they fancied. If I didn’t know about mushrooms, I ought to!” There is a familiarity in that girl’s manner which to my mind is highly objectionable. The establishment where she was formerly employed was apparently on a scale that we do not attempt. That does not justify her, however, in continually drawing comparisons. I shall certainly have something to say to her about it.

* * * * *

However, it was not about Jane that I intended to speak, but about the mushroom.

Eliza said that I ought to put a flowerpot over the mushroom, because, being visible from the road, some one might be tempted to come in and steal it. But I was too deep for that. “No,” I replied, “if you put an inverted plant-pot there everybody will guess that you are hiding a mushroom underneath it. Just put a scrap of newspaper over it.”

“But that might get blown away!”

“Fasten down one corner of it with a hairpin.”

Eliza said that I was certainly one to think of things. I believe there is truth in that. On my way to the station I happened to meet Mr. Bungwall’s gardener (a most obliging and respectful man), and had a word with him about the mushroom. He said that he would come round in the evening and have a look at it.

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* * * * *

I was pleased to find (on my return) that the mushroom was still in the garden under the newspaper, and had increased slightly in size.

“This,” I said to Eliza, “is very satisfactory.”

“It would make a nice little present to send to mother,” Eliza observed.

There I could not entirely agree with her. I pointed out that in a week’s time I should probably be applying to her mother for a small temporary loan. I did not think it an honourable thing to attempt to influence her mind beforehand by sending a present. I wished her to approach the question of the loan purely in a business spirit. I added that I thought we would leave the mushroom to grow for one more day, and then have it for breakfast. That ultimately was decided upon.

Then Mr. Bungwall’s gardener arrived, and said that he was sorry to disappoint us in any way, and it was not his fault, but the mushroom was a toadstool.

“This,” I said to Eliza, “is something of a blow.”

“Perhaps,” she said, “Mr. Bungwall’s gardener is mistaken.”

“I fear not. But, however, I happened to mention about that mushroom to our head clerk this morning, and he said that he thoroughly understood mushrooms, and had made a small profit by growing them. To-morrow morning I will pick that toadstool or mushroom, as the case may be, take it up to the city, and ask him about it.”

Eliza agreed that this would be the best way.

* * * * *

But at breakfast next morning she seemed thoughtful and somewhat depressed. I asked her what she was thinking about.

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“It’s like this,” she said. “If your head clerk says that our toadstool is a mushroom, while Mr. Bungwall’s gardener says that our mushroom is a toadstool, we sha’n’t like to eat it because of Mr. Bungwall’s gardener, and we sha’n’t like to throw it away because of your head clerk, and I don’t see what to do with it.”

“You forget, my dear. We have a third opinion. Jane says the mushroom is a mushroom.”

“Jane will say anything.”

“Well, we might put her to the test. We might ask her if she’d like to eat the mushroom herself, and then if she says yes and seems pleased, why, of course we’d eat it. I’ll go and pick it now.”

And when I went to do so I found that the mushroom had gone.

* * * * *

Eliza says that Mr. Bungwall’s gardener told us it was a toadstool to keep us from picking it, and then stole it himself, because he knew that it was a mushroom.

That may be. I should be sorry to believe it, because I have always found Mr. Bungwall’s gardener such a very respectful man. To my mind there is an air of mystery over the whole affair.

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